June 2020


“You’ll have to forgive me,” Sanchez said. “I’m not used to dealing with…fat detectives.”

“I’m a conglomeration of fats that accreted, precipitated, and gained sentience,” said Detective Adam Fatberg, lead detective at the Lipids, Cholesterol, and Emulsions desk of City Central PD. “Who better to handle grease-related crimes?”

“I suppose,” Sanchez said. “I’m just the landlord, though. I had no idea that the tenants were running an illegal grease-rendering racket.”

“We’ll know just how illegal once we get the numbers on the grease in your tenants’ illegal traps,” burbled Adam.

“Detective Fatberg!” cried one of the techs. “We just got the lab results back. That grease? It isn’t animal–it’s human!”

“Oh lard,” Adam said. “Looks like we got a greasy thug on our hands.”

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The man came, they say, from the north. Borne on a canoe down the flank of the Silver Sea with its tides, grievously wounded, a man named Tiris Essiba was found. By all rights the journey to find aid should have killed him, yet he clung to life stubbornly until reaching the hamlet of Alaynayn from which he had set out nearly two years before. None of the porters he had taken with returned, nor did his guide, one Farciya Riodeoro.

Znaga, one of the old trappers that also served as priest and historian when need be, tended to the man’s wounds. He had been, this Tiris, a scholar of the great explorer Le Aauin, and his ravings bore some resemblance to her own. Tiris had, he claimed, ascended to the Dreaming Moon even as he lay on the north shore of the end of the world. He spun a vivid travelogue, full of danger and bestial despair, which he hungrily recorded with the paper and ink Znaga provided him.

“I feel I must soon depart, or to fade away, or to be made to disappear,” he said at length to the old man, once his writings neared their end. “Perhaps it is the will of Vloles that whispers be preserved, and for that we explorers are permitted to tell our stories.”

“And then, having told them, to vanish?” asked Znaga.

“Perhaps,” Tiris said. “Perhaps.”

The day after completing his writing, Tiris vanished from his room. There was no sign of struggle, but all his possessions were missing, as was the canoe in which he had arrived. All he left was his book, and a small amount of payment to old Znaga for his ministrations.

With little use for such a book, Znaga gave it to a friend, who bore it hence to Korton-beneath-Køs, there forever to reside in the Dark Library. Those who, in latter days, consulted the nameless volume called it by many names, but the Moon of the North is perhaps its best-known and most evocative.

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The voices of Vloles spoke together, in unison. A city of billions, united beneath living battlements. Unknown, unknowable, and yet here, now, and present.

“Were it easy,” Vloles said. “It would be meaningless. Were it impossible, it would be equally so. Welcome, then, and take your places with the others.”

“Is this the Next Dream, the Dream-to-Come, the Deepest Dream?” Farciya said. Tiris could feel himself drifting away from her even as the great turrets of Vloles came into sharper focus.

“Perhaps,” came the answer. “Perhaps.”

Tiris could now feel himself drifting away, drifting apart. The arms of immortal Vloles were wide, its gates thrown open, and he was welcomed even as he was extinguished thereby.

Light and sun faded from frozen Harbiyyah, and he opened his eyes, painfully and tearfully, upon the rocky shores with the smell of his friend’s blood mixed with that of the salt, the sea.

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“F-Farciya…” Tiris croaked. He crawled toward her motionless form, gasping as the seashore gravel scraped across his wounds, leaving a furrowed scar in his wake. “It’s here. I see it.”

Farciya did not move or respond. She was still, her lifeblood dashed out upon the stones by the claws of the frost-paguros. Tiris gasped at the sight, and sobbed a moment even as the light that he had been seeking played over him and the Dreaming Moon arose, unseen and ignored.

“May you find your peace in the Next Dream, the Dream-to-Come, the Deepest Dream,” he said softly.

“And may you find it as well.”

Farciya reached down and gently lifted Tiris up. He watched, stunned, as he continued to mourn over his fallen friend’s body even as he ascended. It was as Ad Dakhla had written, as Le Aauin had witnessed; the ascent to the Dreaming Moon was a sort of cleaving, of two ways taken at once.

“Why…? How…?” Tiris muttered.

“I do not know,” laughed Farciya. “Perhaps we will soon learn.”

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The light.

The light.

Tiris couldn’t shut it out, as much as he wanted to slam his eyes shut and sink away from the pain and into darkness. But it was no use; before such radiance his eyelids were useless. He opened them, wincing as his pupils slammed shut.

Days and cold sunlight had been lengthening throughout the trek, but now the noon sun hung, suspended. It was at the center of a great halo, a rainbow ring, with a blazing sun of its own at each of the four corners.

And looming, behind it all…? Perhaps, just perhaps, the suggestion of a luminous moon, a crater-pocked landscape upon which perched immortal Vloles and the end of his journey.

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The land continued, narrow and rocky, as the frost-paguros continued their relentless pursuit. Tiris and Farciya had abandoned their sleds, their provisions, their fuel. All they carried were the clothes on their backs and a knife apiece as they made their final dash northwards.

Staggering over brown and lichen-covered rocks, they soon saw the deep white-flecked blue of the sea in front of them, as well. Trapped, herded onto a peninsula at what might have been the furthest north it was possible to walk in the dreamlands, they were set upon by their pursuers.

A frost-paguro batted Tiris aside like a toy as he tried to stab at it, casting him, limp, upon the gravel shore. Farciya, in rushing to his aid, sunk her own knife into the back of another, which responded with a savage strike of its long claw, opening up lines of crimson on her chest as she skidded to a dead stop mere yards from the water.

Though their intruders were unmoving and vulnerable, the frost-paguros did not press the attack. Instead they retired whence they had come, huffing noisily in the thin, cold air.

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As the spheres spiraled inward, they grew in size, from pebbles to boulders, and at the center of the spirals, there was a great bare patch, untouched by snow yet stained by gore. A great mound filled the hollow, guarded by stone sentinels, and even from the hilltop at distance Tiris recognized what they were, preserved by the cold even as they had been mangled by their creation.

“Arms,” he said. “Left arms, as you said. And icy waters as far as the eye can see on either side of the isthmus. What shall we do?”

“We cannot turn back,” said Farciya. “Not after all we have been through, all we have seen. We press on, and if death comes at the bellowing jaws of a frost-paguro, then so be it, and roll on the Next Dream, the Dream-to-Come, the Deepest Dream.”

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There were no more trees, with only the occasional windswept tops of shrubs and branches peeking from amidst the snow to suggest that anything other than endless ice and howling winds had ever existed. The only shelter lay in hollows within the land, the wind-shadows of hills, the great boulders that dotted the landscape.

Before long, Tiris noticed something strange about the boulders he and Farciya encountered in their trek through the snowscape. As they sat in the lee of one such monolith, shivering in the wind, he saw that the stone was a perfect sphere, as if it had been roughly hewn and sanded by a great invisible hand.

“I have never heard of such a thing,” Farciya said, even as she agreed that the spherical shape was unmistakable. “I fear my experience, and even the rumors we sometimes heard from travelers, ended some days south of here.”

“Perhaps it is a representation of the sun, standing still, or the glittering orbs attending to it, that Ad Dakhla wrote of,” said Tiris.

“Or perhaps it is something made naturally by the same forces that sap the living heat from our bodies,” Farciya countered.

“It could be either, or both…or a warning,” Tiris mused.

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“A frost-paguro, I think, I have heard them called.” Farciya huddled closer to the warmth that the creature’s burning body offered. “I thought they were legend, but in a dreaming that can contain the sound-gaunts, I suppose it is not too farfatched that they exist.”

“What else have you heard of them?” Tiris said, himself bundled strongly against the cold and as near to the dead thing’s greasy flames as he dared get.

“Wild stories. That they are dreamers lost to the great snowy wilderness, that there is a mound of severed left arms in the deep wilderness where they make their sacrifice for survival.” Farciya shuddered. “But also that they are simple beasts in a shape we find terrifying, searching for food and warmth, the same as we.”

“That word, ‘paguro.’ What does it mean?”

“A joke, I think. It’s an old word for crab, I suppose because one arm is so much larger than the other.”

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Based on intercepted plans for the Soviet RDS-119, the MX-202 was developed as part of Project Plowshares. Even given the limited information available on radiation exposure in 1955, it may seem ludicrous that an atomic oven was ever under consideration. But the pervasive feeling among Army brass was that every Soviet invention needed to have a possible counterpart, and as such plans were drawn up for an atomic over capable of baking thousands of goods simultaneously, though thought was also given to using it as a crematorium or a heating apparatus.

Little did the brass know that the RDS-119 was actually a private joke among the Soviet nuclear technicians involved with the Ядерные взрывы для народного хозяйства program, and never actually given any serious consideration. In fact, the leakage of the joke caused a real-life double agent to be exposed. The revelation of this to top Soviet official Sergei Kolypin reportedly caused his death due to a heart attack–induced by laughter.

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