Chapter 9: Summerlight
THE next morning, I knocked at Abby’s door.
“Come in. It’s unlocked.”
I slipped in, glancing around Abby’s quarters. The layout looked like mine, but the door was on the opposite side, in front of the stairs. My quarters definitely did not have all of the girly purple things, either.
Abby sat at a desk in the loft finishing a small braid in her hair. “I’m almost ready.”
I climbed the giant staircase.
Finished with her morning ritual, Abby rose and greeted me. She wore a white sundress with purple flowers floating up through it.
“You look beautiful.” Geez, had I really just said that? I couldn’t blame Lena’s pheromones for that one.
Abby pulled back slightly, stunned. “Oh. Well, thank you.” Her cheeks flushed.
“Is there some occasion I should have dressed for today?”
“No, I just figured I could get you out of some work this morning by showing you the Old City.” She smiled with excitement as she passed by. “But first, Artie’s workshop.”
And with that, she whisked me away.
Moments later, we arrived in a room filled with tables and machinery, wires and circuit boards, and all kinds of gadgets. A short, curious-looking man in a World-War-I-fighter-pilot outfit—minus the flight cap—stood at a work bench full of furry little robotic dog parts. He was the goofy love child of the Red Barron Pizza guy and a mad scientist. Clean shaven with messy, brown hair and wide eyes, he talked to himself curiously, sorting something out. He looked only a little younger than Joseph—maybe late forties, early fifties.
“Hi, Artie.” Abby greeted him with a warm smile.
Artie started, then smiled like his best friend had just walked in. He dropped a screwdriver on the workbench and pulled his goggles from his eyes to rest atop his head.
“Abby! Oh, and you must be Ian.” He hesitated, then thrust out a hand to greet me. Before I could shake it, he pulled it back quickly, noticing it was dirty, and shrugged. “It’s good to meet you.”
“I’m showing Ian around today.” Abby gestured toward the table. “What are you working on?”
“Ah, yes.” He turned to the dismembered fuzzy dog parts. Those, along with the stone walls, gave the room a disturbing Frankenstein feel. “This is my new friend. He’s a guard dog.”
It looked like a pug. The last thing he’d be doing would be striking fear into the hearts of intruders.
“Aw, he’s cute.” A quirky smile twisted Abby’s lips. “Dismembered, but cute.”
“He is, isn’t he?” Artie’s eyes embodied excitement with their wide gape, which seemed to be their permanent setting.
Abby cocked her head, getting a closer look at the dog. “So…what does he do?”
Artie inserted legs into the body and twisted them into a locked position. “He guards the workshop and keeps me company.”
“It’s a pug,” I said. “Isn’t a guard dog supposed to look…I don’t know…scary?”
“That’s the point.” Artie inserted and twisted the dog’s head into place. “Killer, wake up.”
I stifled a laugh at the dog’s name.
Killer’s eyes opened and he hopped about an inch in the air. He panted, his tiny tongue hanging from his mouth, eerily life-like.
“What do we do to intruders?” Artie’s lip twisted up.
“Snuggle and explode,” said the robo-pug in a cute little kid voice.
I grimaced, then nearly burst out laughing. “Nice.”
Abby raised an eyebrow. “Will he attack any of us?”
“Oh, no. He’ll be programmed with visual and audible recognition of everyone in the city.” Artie patted the dog’s back. His speech was persistently rapid, hard to keep up with. “If Hunters ever attack, they’ll be in for a surprise.” He looked like he was waiting for them to attack to give him an excuse to see his little friend explode. “Oh, and I’ve programmed him to walk the Old City to create an interactive 3D rendering of it.”
Abby’s eyes lit up. “No way.”
“Oh yes.” Artie’s hands fidgeted, wanting something to do. “I figured you’d enjoy that.”
“That’s an understatement.” She gave Artie a tight hug like he’d made her day. “Thank you.”
He just smiled in response, then walked to another workbench full of mangled metal parts.
I leaned over to Abby and whispered, “What’s his power?”
She opened her hands as if presenting all of the gadgets in the room. “Do you have to ask?”
“So…he’s really smart?”
She leaned in close. “Everyone here is smart, but Artie makes them all look like idiots.”
“Sounds like he got gypped on powers.”
She shook her head. “He loves his power. It’s one thing to be smart. It’s another thing entirely to be even smarter and extremely creative. Opens a whole world of possibilities. That’s Artie.”
She pulled away from me. “I’m gonna take Ian to see some of the Old City. Have fun, Artie.”
“I always do.” He turned back to his workbench and picked up where he’d left off as if we were never there. Then his head popped up again. “Wait, are you going near the mines?”
“Yeah, pretty close. Wanna come?”
“Yes, yes.” Artie dropped a circuit board and hurried to a locker where he pulled out a small jackhammer with some strange electronics and two shoulder straps on it. “I need to take this to Robert and Euan. Should speed up the mining process.” Artie put his arms through the straps, hoisting it up on his back.
As the three of us turned to leave, the dog’s voice said, “Hello. Would you like to snuggle?” It was a little creepy.
“No, no.” Artie sounded exasperated. “Not them. They’re not intruders.”
Killer let out a sad, whining beg, wanting to come snuggle with us…and probably blow us up.
Soon, we found ourselves in the Old City, which designated everything outside the area where they lived. Where we lived. It was odd to think of the place as my home. From time to time, I wondered whether I’d leave the city or not once I was sufficiently trained. Would it help my parents to go check on them…or would it get them killed? I hated not knowing what to do.
Fiber-optic cables hung close to the ceiling, lighting the giant halls.
Artie gestured to a section of Ancient Hebrew engraving on a set of towering doors we approached. “This says the chamber was a theater.”
I moved in closer to take a look. “A theater? Wow, they were advanced back then.”
Abby put on a fake frown and playfully backhanded my stomach. “Not that kind of theater.”
We both snickered, but Artie just looked at me with a crooked smile.
Abby’s smile turned into a thoughtful endearing look that probably meant, you’re such an idiot.
She pointed to another inscription beside the door as I turned around. “This one’s not like the others. It’s—”
I flinched as Killer walked up beside me and cut Abby off. “This one has no intelligible words.”
I looked down at the dog, then to Artie. “Am I the only one here who doesn’t read Ancient Hebrew?”
Abby’s eyebrows rose. “How did he do that?”
Artie squatted to pat Killer on the back. “He doesn’t just record the texts. He reads them, too.” His grin really showed his personality. There wasn’t an ounce of pride about his intelligence. He was certainly odd too, but not necessarily in a bad way.
“That’s awesome.” Abby patted the dogs head. He panted with excitement. “Looks like Killer’s my new best friend.”
Artie grabbed Abby’s hand, pushing her back. “Uh, careful there.”
Abby drew in a sharp breath as she stood. “Oh, right. The exploding thing.”
“So why doesn’t it make sense?” I said.
Abby shrugged. “We don’t know.” She pointed to the last letter of a word. “See, this is an Ox head. It’s where we get our A from.”
“Wait, our alphabet comes from this language?”
I frowned in disbelief. “But English is a Latin language.”
“Yes,” Artie said, “but where do you think Latin came from?”
Abby nodded. “The A’s called aleph. It means strength or the head—leader.” She pointed to another letter. “See how this looks like a lowercase b on its side? It’s called bet. It’s a picture of a tent—a home. Together they mean head of the house or father.”
“Aleph-bet. Alphabet.” I cocked my head. “Our letter system’s called father?”
Abby’s eyes went wide. “You catch on quick.” She appraised me with narrowed eyes. “You know, you don’t have to be the only one of us who can’t read the language.”
“What, you’re gonna teach me Ancient Hebrew?”
“Well, technically it’s Paleo-Hebrew, but yeah, I can teach it to you.” Bright-eyed, the corners of her lips curved up.
“All right. I’ve been wondering what everything around here says.” It was a good excuse to spend more time with her too.
“Great. I’ll give you my journal. You’ll pick it up in no time with your photographic memory.” So much for spending more time with her. She turned back to the inscriptions. “Like Killer said, this inscription doesn’t make sense. It’s the only one we haven’t figured out. It dates the same as all of the other inscriptions from this period, so it’s not a different rendition of the language that we’re unaware of.”
My brain’s need to figure out puzzles kicked in, taking a snapshot of the text and toying with the letters. Without much effort, my brain started to see the characters as if they were the English characters they looked similar to. Suddenly, the first two words jumped out at me. They read, He will.
I kept at it.
Abby looked puzzled. “What is it?”
I didn’t respond at first, locked into the task at hand. A moment later, I’d adjusted to a point where the Hebrew characters immediately looked like English letters, and the entire inscription became clear. “It says, He will come to the people in darkness, having great powers. He will sacrifice them to lead them out of winter’s darkness and into the light of summer.”
Abby’s eyes narrowed. “And what makes you think that?”
“You two are trained to see the characters as Hebrew, but all I see are English letters.”
Artie moved closer to the text, his brow flattening as he examined the text. Abby did the same.
Artie was faster. “He’s right.”
Abby’s head twisted along with her features. “That doesn’t make any sense. This inscription dates exactly the same as the others in the city. Middle English wasn’t created for another thirty-five-hundred years.”
“How’s that possible?” I said.
“It has to be a prophecy.” Abby stepped closer to touch the inscription as if to bond with it. “They’re all over the city, but nothing like this one.”
“A prophecy for who?”
“That’s a good question since it’s in English.”
“What does it mean?” I said.
“Also a good question.” Abby eyed the inscription, taking it in, rereading it silently. “It looks like ‘he’ is going to sacrifice his powers to bring the people from the darkness into the light of summer.”
Artie spoke up. “Or he’s going to sacrifice the people to bring them from the darkness into the light of summer. What if this world is the darkness and death is the light of summer?”
Abby’s eyes unfocused as she considered his words, her brow furrowing slightly. “It could be good or bad.” She shook her head. “No wonder Elian couldn’t ever figure this one out. He wasn’t reading it in the right language.”
“Yeah, a guy who used to live in Winter’s Edge.” The light in her eyes seemed to smother out at the mention of Elian.
“What happened to him?”
“He was blinded outside the graveyard.” Her gaze dropped to the floor. “He said the ‘Light’ did it.”
“The ‘Light’?” I looked back and forth between Abby and Artie. “You mean…God?”
Artie gave a slow nod.
Abby ignored the question. “He wandered around the Old City, lost for hours, until someone or something led him back to Winter’s Edge and restored his sight.” She shook her head. “He asked to leave after that, claiming the Light had told him to go to a monastery in Denver, and that He would take him to Summerlight one day.”
Artie’s gaze seemed to look through the Hebrew inscription. “It’s an imaginary city between two mountain tops.” His words came out uncharacteristically slow. “The prophecies say people with powers can use them there and not age themselves or go mad.”
“We don’t know if it’s imaginary or not.” Abby backed away from the wall. “Elian taught me the language when I was a kid. He always let me hang out with him and Joseph when they explored the Old City.” She had the same unfocused look Artie had, like she were stuck in some past memory that had claimed a piece of her heart. “Some say Summerlight is the afterlife, because if you’re dead, using your powers can’t harm you anymore. And some say the Light Elian saw was a demon posing as God, who’d eventually lead him to his death—to Summerlight.”
“That’s kinda creepy,” I said. “But what does it have to do with this inscription?”
She looked at the inscription again. “The end of it is written like the other inscriptions—light of summer, which means Summerlight.”