~ a short story

Altooin ran like the wind. 

Twigs cracked underfoot, branches slapped against his mask. It no longer housed enough juice to mediate the poison in the air. Running out of time. His staff cleared the threshweed, dampened the accursed auras, pulled down black apples to splat onto his path. A tactical maneuver; trails of smoke revealed his position even while they protected it.

A second-generation Seeker, Altooin did not yet risk a look back. Shadowcats trailed him, weaving around the trunks, hissing with the pain of their ancestors. Dactyls hovered above the canopy, laser sight awaiting an opening from the curl of his sigil defenses. Ghasts rose up from the greygrass, nipping at his heels; serpicores slithered through the branches, shredding the darkwood with extradimensional flames. 

Altooin sprinted to the zonewall, finally clearing the trees, and started to climb. Made of ygg roots that reached to the heavens in a tangled mess, he searched for the enemy portal. One hold after another, he kept moving. The lives of the beasts and Men he’d taken came to mind. The crook of his staff uplifted him closer to passage into the next Zone, where he’d vanquish more life.

Dactyls dove, shadowcats climbed up from below, the ghasts were already seeping into his spine. A stinging gust stung from the hole above. Yggdrasil’s source veins spiraled as a passage through time and space; the leaves and roots from the realm he’d just traversed turned to stone and snow through the blackened grid. All sunlight shielded away; the Rot ruled here, backward and forward. 

Our intrepid Seeker raced with his hands and eyes, up to the final roothold above. His cloak, shredded and on the very last of its sigils, fluttered behind. The enchanted threads at last loosed back into the woods. A stoic defiance of every element, every emotion, crisply gripped the remaining digits of his mangled hands. The mask finally slipped off; his crown of high thorns stuck fast to his scalp; the pain reminded him of the home he could never return to. 

With a desperate heave over the rim and a prayer to the Allmother, Altooin arrived at the spot of his fresh survey. Out over the cybermountains and their cloud-touching peaks, lay the enemy portal far ahead; he’d have to reach it inside the next 24 hours. 

The Seeker gasped. 

Exactly one mile ahead, where the small speck of rotted roots spiraled into the next Zone, Altooin saw a familiar shape. 

Crown, cloak and crook waving back, Altooin saw himself. He exited the hazy range just as he entered it. 

A tingle on his spine made Altooin look back. The one ahead did too. 

Elder Zampuno’s words rang in his ears, a cryptic warning from a lifetime ago. 

“Every Seeker eventually becomes sought.”

Behind him, from the enemy portal he’d emerged from only a day before, Altooin saw Altooin looking to the adventure ahead. Inexplicably, he remembered the forgotten moment from the day before. A Seeker remembers only what they need to.

Altooin faced up, sighed with grim determination at the prospect of his next day. The second half of that gospel rang into his unconscious with fearful rawness: 

“For us, finding means dying.” ~