The Architect's Essence, The Diary of Sunrise

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Continued . . .

We had attempted to roll the flabby-skin over but we had found it hard to get close enough to the bulk of its body due to the puddle of blubbery hide which surrounded it and when we had managed to get close enough and had pushed against it, our arms had sunk shoulder deep into its sweaty rolls of fat.

This isn’t working, Pulida had written. We need to think of a better plan than simply pushing it.

Well I think it needs to lose some fudging weight! Taboo had written as he’d pulled his hand free of its folds. Needs a nafing bath too by the smell of it.

A sharp snapping sound had drawn our attention to Oats. I’ve got it! He’d written. I know how to turn it over.

Wait a moment, Taboo had written. What was that plegging snapping sound you just made?

Oats had suddenly seemed self-conscious. What you mean this? he’d written. He had held out his hand and with a jerk of his wrist he had clicked his fingers.

Everyone had stared and Cloud had begun to fumble with his own fingers, trying to replicate the sound. I can’t do it, he’d written. Teach me Oats. I want to click too.

For around twenty seconds the whole group had stood around, staring at their hands and trying to click their fingers. At one point we had thought Omen had managed it but it turned out that he’d just stepped on a twig. None of us can narfing do it! Taboo had finally written. He had pointed towards Oats. It must be those extra dinglehopping fingers of his! They give him the power to click!

I think we’ve got a little off topic here, I had written, though I do admit that I too had joined in the mass clicking attempt. I think Oats has a plan. I had gestured to Oats who had now hidden his fingers deep in his pockets. Go ahead Oats.

We should use leverage, Oats had written. Wedge the long branches we collected for Sawdust under the creature and use a bolder as a fulcrum. If we all then press down on the other side, we should be able to lift it or at the very least roll it onto its side so that it can regain its footing.

Genius! Pulida had written. Let’s give it a go.

It hadn’t taken us long to organise the see-saw. Taboo and Omen had rolled a suitably sized bolder into position and Pulida had advised us to put the pivot as close to the creature as we could, insisting that it would lessen the force we would need to apply in order to lift it. We had balanced the branches atop the boulder, sliding them beneath the creature’s fatty folds.

Okay on the count of four we should all push down on this end, Pulida had written. He had held up his hand and had lowered his fingers one at a time to count us down. When his last finger had fallen, we had all pounced on the end of the see-saw. This had caused two reactions. Firstly, it had caused the flabby-skin to release a burst of flatulence the likes of which I have never known and secondly it had catapulted the creature into the air. The flabby-skin had landed with a bump which had shaken the ground and had quickly trotted away into the undergrowth apparently none the worse for its ordeal.

Yay! Butter had written. We did it.

Yeah, we sure did, Horizon had agreed. He had held up his hand to Oats. Nice plan. High four Oats!

Oats had stared blankly at Horizon’s hand.

It’s a hand gesture my previous-self used to use, Horizon had explained. Just slap my hand. You can call it a high five if you like. You are after all the only one of us who can give high fives.

Reluctantly Oats had taken his hands from his pockets and had slapped Horizon’s outstretched palm.

I want a high five from Oats too! Cloud had written, and then I want him to teach me how to click.

Me too, Skull had written. Good going Oats. High fives all around!

In the end Oats had ‘high fived’ everyone. He was the hero of the moment and I think that at that moment he had finally felt that the others had accepted him and his extra digits. As we had continued on our way toward the rocky hills, he had given Cloud, Skull and Butter a rather unsuccessful lesson in finger clicking.

We had reached the hills without further incident and had only encountered one more creature along the way, a strange, tall, flightless bird, the head of which had been equipped with ram-style horns. Luckily it had seemed more frightened of us then we were of it.

Horizon had found us a path that led up the side of the hill and I must admit that the feel of rocky slope beneath my feet had made me feel incredibly homesick for our mountain and had brought about another bought of guilt, fearful that I may have permanently separated my friends from their home.

We had found a nice spacious balcony of rock around a third of the way up the hill and, rather conveniently, one of the duck-foot trees had been growing in a pocket of soil at its rear. There had also been a weak stream which had cascaded down amongst the boulders at the rear and had flowed over the bare rock. It had barely been more than a trickle but it must have been flowing for some time as it had eroded a groove in the stone. Horizon had advised us to set up camp there, stating that the tree would offer us shelter, the view of the surrounding woods would give us clear indication of when the forest had returned to The Known Expanse and most importantly it had water which Blancmange needed for his stew.

Before long Skull and Omen had set about trying to light a fire and they had decided that they would need to utilise some of the kindling we had collected, a decision which Omen had felt sure would bring about certain doom for all involved. The lighting of the fire had seemed a near impossible task and as the sun had begun to set the temperature had once again fallen dramatically. Again, I had wished that Smoke had accompanied us, knowing he would have had no trouble enticing some flames from the damp wood. I had remembered seeing Smoke striking stones together to produce sparks and I had advised everyone to search for some similar sparking stones. This idea had paid off as just over half-an-hour later Pulida had found just what we were looking for.

Soon, Omen and Skull had managed to ignite a clump of dry moss with the sparking stones and get a fire going, a blaze which had caused Omen to search through his talismans in search an amulet which he claimed would repel something called the chimney-man, a figure he had described as a fire-hating monster which had been created long ago by a disgruntled glass-blower. Exactly why he thought this Chimney-Man would make an appearance at our camp was unclear to me but he insisted that the absence of the monster was entirely due to his amulet’s protective powers.

Blancmange had proceeded to prepare his stew, setting out his nut shell cooking pots and breaking the vegetables he’d foraged into bite sized chunks. I had stood at the fireside for some time and had happily shared in its heat, banishing some of the cold which had sunk deep into my fingers and hands. Suddenly I had remembered my spoon and, realising that Blancmange had no utensils available to stir his stew I had lent it to him, imploring him to look after it. Cloud had helped to fill one of the nut shell pots with water from the stream and it had been placed on a rock at the centre of the crackling fire.

I had watched the pot intently, fearful that it would melt into the flames and extinguish our fire but to my surprise and relief it had survived the heat and soon the water had come to a rolling boil. I can only imagine that the purple fire that had been spouted by the acetylene drone had possessed special properties which could liquidise the nut shells. Everyone had joined in with the preparation of the stew, sitting within the cocoon of the firelight, beyond which had lay a complete and absolute darkness. There had been no moon that night and only the stars had given us any sense of where the sky met the distant horizon. I had suddenly felt melancholy and I had strayed away from the fire to be alone for a while.

Seeing me in my solitude and sensing my sadness, Cloud and Horizon had come over to join me.

Something wrong Sunrise? Horizon had written. You seem glum.

Cloud had sat on the floor at my feet and had hugged my legs, his head resting on my knee.

I was just wondering why you fellows appointed me leader? I had written, placing my hand on Cloud’s head. I don’t think you should have. I’ve led you all into danger and stranded you in some unknown portion of the Expanse and for what? For a handful of alfalfa, a few dry sticks and some jingling nuts.

Yes, Horizon had replied, but there’s no doubt in any of our minds that you’ll be the one to lead us home again. We survived a volcano Sunrise. We burnt but the Architect reached down and plucked us from the ashes and made us anew. I can’t believe that He would go to all of that trouble if He didn’t have some higher purpose for us. But the Architect doesn’t seem big on explanations. He just leaves his toys out down here and lets us find our own way. At this point he’d had to turn his slate over to continue his rousing speech. When I awoke, I was lost like all the rest of us. We just stood in the ash completely directionless and confused. That was until you came along. You helped us discover our names and now you’re trying to give us purpose too. You tell us we’re here to care and it’s a good purpose Sunrise, the best purpose I can imagine and I’d like to think you’re right. I hope that’s why the Architect resurrected us, to help care for others. We would follow you the ends of the Expanse Sunrise, if such a place exists.

Horizon had borrowed Cloud’s slate so that he could continue. I could still be standing, lost in the ash without a name or a calling but I’m not, he had written. Thanks to you I am Horizon and I’m out on an adventure. I’m exploring with my friends, helping feed bunnies and coming to the aid of upturned flabby creatures. He had looked toward Blancmange and had patted his stomach. I’m also hoping to fill my belly with some delicious stew.

I cannot express my gratitude for what Horizon had said that day. His words had a profound and uplifting effect on me and, as I’d stared up at the stars, I had realised that he was right. Though I had not been fully confident in my ability to lead, my friends had believed in me and that in itself had given me poise.

Thank you, Horizon, I had simply written, tears pooling in my goggles. Thank you very much.

Horizon had followed my gaze up into the star strewn night and had procured his spyglass. Not everything here is completely alien anyway, he’d written. I recognise the stars. They’re the same stars that I see from our mountain, though they’re in a different part of the sky here. He had consulted his celestial compass and had begun to point out various constellations such as The Architect’s Crown, The Meretail, The Elemental Kettle and The Juxta-Nausa , but I’m afraid that I had been unable to make out the various shapes and so Horizon had drawn them out upon his slate to help myself and Cloud pinpoint them. He had leant us his spyglass and had relayed many intriguing tales about the star constellations but one in particular has stuck in my mind. It was the story of a constellation of six stars known as The Shirt Buttons which had once stood in a vertical line below another constellation known as the Architect’s Crown.

Some three-hundred years ago is said that the fourth star from the top of The Shirt Buttons had inexplicably fallen from the constellation and had rolled away across the night’s sky, coming to rest at the very edge of a starless void known as The Absence’s Hole. It is said that by daybreak every shirt in the Known Expanse had lost the fourth button from the top and it was rumoured that The Architect himself had travelled the Expanse and had stolen them, searching for his missing celestial button. Horizon had also pointed out a strange purple star which sat atop The Architect’s Crown. He had called it the violet diamond and had said that it was widely believed to have been a gift given to The Architect by the Tree of Creation. It is written in the Ochre Chronicles that as thanks for its life, the Tree of Creation had stretched its roots down into a subterranean world known only as Neath and had stolen the diamond which was a prisoner of the soulless rodent-like abominations which it claims dwell there. It had then lifted the diamond into its boughs and had flung it into the night’s sky to adorn the pinnacle of the Architect’s Crown.

But what are they? Cloud had asked. What are stars?

Well they’re obviously . . . Horizon had fallen short of an answer and at that moment the sound of jingle nuts had interrupted our astrology lesson. We had looked toward Blancmange who was shaking a great fist of the metallic nuts to gain everyone’s attention. He had lifted his slate above his head. It had read, Stew’s ready! Get it while it’s unbelievably hot!

Horizon had practically sprinted to the steaming pot and myself and Cloud had followed. We had sat in a circle around the fire and Blancmange had spooned out a generous portion of the steaming stew into his other nut shell pot. The pot had been passed around and everyone had taken a turn holding it, savouring in its warmth and aroma and though none of it was technically eaten it seemed to fill us all with contentedness. Horizon had held onto the pot the longest, so long in fact that Taboo had rather coarsely reprimanded him for ‘hogging all the shatanging food!’

Horizon had happily passed the pot on, stating that though it was delicious he was stuffed and couldn’t possibly eat another morsel. Clearly my eyes are bigger than my belly, he’d written.

(Ink would like the reader to know that Horizon’s comment here is a gross exaggeration of the size of his eyes and he would like to inform you that after careful measurement, Horizon’s eyes are no where near the size of his belly.)

Only Cloud had passed up a helping of the stew writing that he wasn’t a fan of vegetables and that he preferred pudding with custard instead.

There’ll be no pudding if you don’t eat your vegetables, Butter had warned. She had got herself quite comfortable next to Skull and she had rested her head on his shoulder. Skull had gone rigid with apparent fear and I recall thinking that though he was brave when faced with malevolent, toe stubbing rocks and doll-faced riders on manticores he was petrified when faced with Butter’s affections.

Taboo had stared at Butter and Skull for some time and had very slowly but decisively scratched a love heart onto his slate. He had held it up for Skull to see and Skull had discreetly made an obscene gesture in response.

A clatter of falling rocks had interrupted our revelry, sounding from beyond the threshold of the darkness.

Oh, dear me, oh dear my! Omen had written in alarm. Something is coming to eat us for breakfast! We’re doomed! With that he had scrambled to his feet and had run for the shelter of the duck foot tree.

What a complete fudging ninny! Taboo had written, though I could tell from the tremble in the beak of his mask that the noise had spooked him too.

Yeah! Bubbles had written. Doesn’t he know it’s not breakfast time? If something is coming to eat us then it’s having us for supper! She had glanced around at our blank stares. Oh, sorry, she’d written. That’s not really the issue is it. . .

Another clatter of rocks had sounded, this time from the other side of us and a strange creature had staggered into the firelight. It had been covered in leathery, tan coloured skin and it had been about the size of an abnormally large cat or a ridiculously small horse. Its face had been long and thin and it had looked up at us with large forlorn eyes. Bizarrely, though it was quadrupedal the legs on the left side of its body had been only half the length of those on its right. This had given the creature an excellent footing on the steep slope of the hillside, perfectly positioning its body on the extreme gradient.

The creature had kept its distance and had stared at us for some time, its eyes alive with curiosity rather than fear. Its small ears had perked with interest and its nostrils had flared as it had sniffed the cold night air.

We had looked to our left to discover that two more of the creatures had emerged from the darkness. Oddly the two newcomers had possessed the opposite configuration of legs to the other, having their shorter legs on their right rather than their left.

Do you think they’re dangerous? Butter had written, glancing toward the duck foot tree. Should we go and hide with Omen?

Pulida had slowly stood and had taken a few steps toward the nearest creature. I don’t think they’re dangerous, he’d written. I think they’re hungry. They were probably drawn here by the aroma of Blancmange’s delicious stew.

Blancmange had seemed delighted by the notion and he had carried his stew pot forward. Then let’s give them some, he’d written. There’s plenty left.

Pulida had accepted the pot and had cautiously approached the creature, moving with slow, careful movements.

The creature had backed off a little but had allowed Pulida to walk right up to it, enthralled by the aroma and promise of Blancmange’s stew. I can only surmise that the creatures had no natural predators and had never encountered anything quite like us before as they had showed no fear towards us whatsoever.

Pulida had held out the stew toward the creature and it had shuffled forwards, its mouth salivating with anticipation.

Blow on it Pulida! Bubbles had written. It’ll burn its mouth!

I can’t blow on it? Pulida had written back, cocking his head with confusion. I don’t have a mouth?

Oh yes of course, Bubbles had sheepishly replied. For a moment there I’d quite forgotten.

The creature had tentatively dipped its head into the pot and had lapped at the stew with a wide, pink tongue, its scalding heat apparently no deterrent to it.

They like it! Blancmange had written in delight. He had removed the other nutshell pot from the fire and had offered it to the two other creatures who, witnessing their friend’s free meal, had not hesitated to dig in.

Cloud had approached Pulida and had held out his hand toward the creature which was now licking the nut shell clean. Can I pet it? He had written.

Pulida had nodded. I should think so, he’d written in reply. They seem very trusting but don’t make any sudden movements.

Cloud had carefully reached out and had placed a hand on the creature’s head, an advance which it had allowed. He had quite happily scratched the creature behind its ears, a gesture which had sent the creature into a contented stupor.

I am very extremely good at petting things, Cloud had written. It was a claim which had been backed up by the creature’s appreciative purr. I’m going to call you Wonky, Cloud had continued, as he’d scratched the creature under its chin.

All of a sudden Wonky and the other two creatures had looked down into the darkened forest below, grumbling ominously, their ears perked. We had followed their line of sight to see the cause of their alarm. A familiar light had flared to life and was dancing through the trees below us, glinting off the metallic leaves and silhouetting the canopy in a most eerie manner.

It’s the Doll-Faced Rider! Pulida had written. It’s heading this way!

At that moment Wonky and his two companions had decided to flee but the problem had been that their opposing configuration of legs had meant that they were forced to travel in conflicting directions and unfortunately, they had blocked one another’s escape routes. They had stood and quarrelled, expressing their annoyance in a flow of loud, disgruntled jabbering, both parties too stubborn to simply step sideways and allow the other to pass.

The Rider’s light had grown ever nearer and, fearing the creatures’ bickering would gain us some unwanted attention I had reached forwards and had grabbed Wonky, heaving him onto our relatively level platform of rock. Now unobstructed the other two creatures had made their escape, hastily staggering away around the hillside on their mismatched legs.

Wonky had been quite heavy and I had been forced to put him down. Unfortunately, his disproportionate legs had unbalanced him on the level ground and he had bellowed in distress. He had attempted to run but his right-hand side had a much longer stride than his left and so he had been forced to charge around our makeshift camp in ever decreasing circles until he had collided with Butter, knocking them both to the ground. Butter had seemingly been building an immunity to her continuing collisions with terra-firma and she had climbed right back to her feet. Wonky however had not. He had seemed dazed and concussed by the impact and he had flailed and spasmed in quite an alarming manner as if having some sort of fit.

Fearful that he was going to cause himself injury, Horizon had tackled Wonky and had restrained him, using his neckerchief to bind his longer limbs whilst his shorter ones flailed helplessly in the air.

Calm down you crazy critter! Bubbles had written. You’ve just eaten a lot of stew. You’ll be sick!

The rumbling, muffled growl of the rider’s masked manticore had echoed up the hillside.

Quick, put the fire out! I had written. Though the rider had not attempted to harm us during our last encounter, something about it (probably its weapons,) didn’t sit right with me and I had been eager to avoid gaining the attention of its sword. Also, the fearful reaction of Wonky and the other two creatures had reinforced my desire to escape its notice. Wonky had been so trusting of us, allowing Cloud to pet him and practically eating from our hands and yet just the presence of the Doll-Faced Rider had sent him fleeing in fear.

After checking that Butter was quite vertical and stable, Skull had hastily filled the nutshell pots from the stream and had doused the fire, sending a great hiss of steam into the night. He had then kicked clods of soil over the drowned fire to hide its steamy death throes.

Pleg me! Smoke would cry murder if he were here! Taboo had written as he’d stamped out a few lingering embers.

Grabbing Butter’s arms, Skull and Taboo had half led, half dragged her towards the shelter of the duck foot tree. The rest of us had followed and we had crouched with Omen beneath the tree’s protective canopy.

Not wishing to leave a dazed creature in the path of the potentially dangerous rider Horizon had dragged Wonky along with him, gripping the squirming creature tightly. Wonky had begun to come back to his senses and once again he had begun to bellow in distress.

I had heard the sounds of my companions scratching out alarmed messages but with the firelight now extinguished, any hopes of communication were lost. I had surmised however that, like myself, my brethren were concerned that Wonky’s wailing would give away our position to the approaching rider.

Cloud had shuffled to Horizon’s side and had once again scratched Wonky behind his ears. The affection had almost immediately silenced him and had sent him into a contented, dream-like stupor as if Cloud’s fingertips held some powerful hypnotic powers.

The roar of the manticore had sent a collective shiver through all of us and from the cover of the duck foot tree we had watched as the Doll-Faced rider had charge into our make-shift camp atop his masked steed. The rider had slid down from its saddle and had knelt to examine the remains of our fire, placing its scaly hand amongst the sodden ash as if gauging its time of death from the heat it had retained. The small reptilian-monkey-like creature had still been perched on the rider’s shoulder, its snake-like tail curled around its owners’ arm. Though I had only made out its silhouette, I had noticed a stiffness in the rider’s movements which had not been evident during our first encounter, a slow, careful way of moving which had brought to mind the image of an elderly man with arthritic joints. I had begun to wonder if this was the same individual we had encountered the previous night or whether there was an entire legion of doll-faced riders out scouring the strange land in which we had become trapped, hunting some unknown quarry.

The rider had taken its strange box of lights from the saddle of its steed and by means of a leather strap it had hung it around its neck. The up-lighting effect of the box had once again cast eerie shadows over the rider’s mask and I had noticed that the knot of dreadlocks which hung over its shoulder were now grey and gnarled, unkempt and streaked with age. From a pouch at its waist the rider had produced a bent metal bar with a wooden handle which had resembled a hand crank, the kind that might be found upon a mangle or egg beater. The rider had inserted the crank into a hole at the side of its box of lights and the reptilian-monkey had slid from its shoulder, holding its chipped teacup above its head. Looking down into the box, the rider had begun to turn the handle, a motion which had caused a scintillating light show to erupt from within the box, sending orbs of radiant energy into the darkness. The orbs had seemingly whispered into the night as they had slowly floated downwards, speaking in a muffled, foreign tongue which had reminded me of the strange strangled acoustics you might experience whilst being submerged underwater. As the orbs had neared the ground the reptilian-monkey had danced to intercept them, deftly capturing them in its teacup. When the final orb had been collected, the reptilian monkey had delivered the cup to its master whom had stared intently at the accumulated light within. Whatever the rider had seen within the cup of light it had appeared to have enraged it and it had drawn its sword and had advanced towards the duck foot tree with an ambling gait. I had felt Skull tense beside me, reasserting his grip on the nutshell pot and I’d known that he was readying himself for a fight.

The rider had paused and had lowered the tip of its sword to the ground, seemingly too fatigued to hold it up. It had suddenly seemed breathless and extremely weak as if on the point of collapse and despite my desire to avoid its attention I had made a move to come to its aid but Skull and Blancmange had grabbed my shoulders, holding me back.

As we’d watched, the rider had procured a water skein from its belt. It had uncorked it and had slid back its mask to drink. Though the starlight had offered little definition, the rider’s face had seemed to be a mass of wrinkled skin and unkempt hair which was punctuated only by the two sunken pits of its eyes.

The swig of water seemingly had a remarkable effect upon the rider and, as it had replaced the cork in its skein it had straightened up and had again lifted its sword, its strength seemingly renewed. It had replaced its mask and had resumed its advance upon our shadowy hiding place, the stiffness gone from its movements.

The reptilian monkey had become quite agitated and it had begun to chatter manically as the rider had stepped up to the threshold of our hiding place.

Unexpectedly a plaintive cry had echoed from the forest below, a mournful, muffled shriek of anguish which had brought to mind the scream of pain which had brought silence to the forest the previous night. The cry had stopped the rider in its tracks and it had sprinted to the rocky ledge where myself, Horizon and Cloud had sat stargazing, its earlier infirmness now completely gone. It had surveyed the landscape below and had once again consulted its box of lights, cranking its handle with apparent urgency.

Again, the reptilian monkey had collected the drifting orbs of light the box had produced and had handed them to the rider. This time the rider had swirled the cup of lights as it gazed into them. Whatever information it had gleamed from this strange practice had caused the rider to hastily mount its masked manticore and charge back down towards the trees below, all thoughts of investigating our hastily extinguished fire apparently forgotten.

The mournful cry that had saved us from the rider’s attention had touched something deep within me. It had been the cry of a scared and suffering creature and as myself and my companions had emerged from our concealment, I had made a silent promise. If the creature was the rider’s quarry then we would do everything in our power to find it before the rider did, even if it meant braving the pointy end of its sword.

It was time for us to step out of the shadows.

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