“The method of construction is very important,” said Rosdav. “It must be an old graveyard, long enough for the consciousnesses of the dead to seep into the stones, bit by bit. And it needs to come from a place where everyone was in accord. Maybe not in peace, but at least alike in war.”

“And if they’re not?” said Ohw, looking at the anthropoid shape laid out on the hallowed ground, made entirely of moldered tombstones.

“Then the creature will tear itself apart,” Rosdav said. “And if we’re lucky, it won’t take us with it.”

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“For God’s sake, take the shot!”

Mr. Irvine looked at the revolver in Charlie’s hand, his face stony and sober beneath his ten-gallon hat.

None of the easy boasting like before, telling stories to the other hikers about how he’d picked up a revolver before he’d started walking. It took Charlie a moment to realize it, but there was fear in Mr. Irvine’s eyes, and it was paralyzing him.

“You can’t do it, can you?” Charlie whispered

“Son,” Mr. Irvine said. “It was all talk. I’m nearsighted as hell.”

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Never forget they say on the one hand
To do otherwise is to sully the memory
Of the people who died that day

Forget about it they say on the other
People shot on the street, drowning in their own lungs
Are not important enough for remembrance

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“I am Takenaka Chihiro, and this is my nephew, Takenaka Kenji.”

“My apologies,” said Fujiyama, bowing. “I head heard that you were searching for your brother, but I had not realized you had found him.”

“Ah, no apologies necessary,” laughed Takenaka. “Takenaka Kenji is sadly parted from his father as well. So I still gratefully seek any news of Takenaka Akira, and I will pay a handsomely fair price for it.”

“That is also what I had heard,” said Fujiyama. “If I did have news, you would be able to pay now…?”

“After I have prepared a sumptuous meal, yes,” said Takenaka. “I would, of course, invite you to join me! It is only fair.”

“Give me the money, then, and I will tell you.”

“Ah,” said Takenaka. “I’m afraid I must insist. Information first. You may ask any that have heard my name or eaten my food; Takenaka Chihiro is an honorable man whose word is his bond.”

Steel flashed in Fujiyama’s hand. “He is likely dead after so long,” the ronin said, “and I will take my payment now, in gold, or you will meet him and I will have it anyway.”

Takanaka raised his hands. “I carry no gold, friend,” he said. “I earn the rewards I give from the meals I prepare. If you are hungry, why didn’t you say so? I have some ingredients here, and a fire is easy to start, and I am happy to cook for you.”

Fujiyama’s blade whistled as it swept up to Takenaka’s throat, stopping just short of his jugular. “If I want food, I will exchange it for gold,” he said. “Your money, or your life.”

“I have no money, so I suppose you must do what you must do.”

The ronin drew back his sword and chopped at the cook’s neck. When the swordstroke fell, Takenaka produced his chef’s knife, the Unmei no Fuguhiki, and neatly parried the blow. While Fujiyama was off-balance, the cook darted in and made a small cut on the back of his opponent’s hand, piercing the glove and damaging a crucial tendon.

With a yelp, Fujiyama dropped his sword, which Takenaka collected. He took a moment to secret the Unmei no Fuguhiki back in his clothes, and hefted the stolen sword. “A decent-quality blade, at first glance!” he said. “Perhaps we should put it to the test.”

Fujiyama dropped to his knees. “Go on, then,” he said. “Do it.”

“As you wish, friend.” Takenaka lowered the blade and stepped on it, twisting the handle as he did so. The katana bent along both axes and, after a moment, gave way with a brittle snap.

“Ah, it seems appearances are misleading,” the cook continued. “Not decent at all. More’s the pity that you can’t always trust an honorable exterior to conceal an honorable interior.”

Reaching out to the fallen ronin, Takenaka tied a piece of cloth that he normally used for roasts around Fujiyama’s wound. “There we go,” he said. “That will heal in a month or two, I think. Now, in the meantime, Kenji will fetch us water and wood and I will serve you our meal.”

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If in fifty years they ask
Why we did what we did
We will have to tell them
Lips pursed, eyes watering
That we preferred to live
With the rampaging disease
Because medicine, the cure
Was simply too bitter
For us to consider swallowing

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“These are the cities I have built as I slept, in my dreams,” Le Aaiun said. “My life. But when I wake for the final time, or when I sleep deeply into the final sleep from which there is no return, it shall be as nothing. A passing fancy on the wind.”

“We do not know that there is any world beyond the dreamlands, or that we are not fully awake ourselves,” replied Ad Dakhla, the scribe. “I also do not know that there is any higher wakefulness on the Dreaming Moon, beneath the gaze of perfect, immortal Vloles.”

Aaiun turned to him, her face pained. “Why would you say that? The City of Bronze is proof positive of the dreamscape.”

“I say it because the thought that everything I have dedicated my life to, and all the books I have written, will pass into nothingness when this dream ends,” said Dakhla. “I cannot believe this.”

“Why not?”

“What should I live for, then? And what are you doing, working on your own book, if you think it will crumble to sand upon your waking?”

Aaiun turned away. “Some stories have to be told,” she said. “Regardless to whom, and how. They rip their way out of you like a primal howl. It scarcely matters who hears, who remembers. All that matters, in the moment, is the telling.”

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The Verdant Empire was slowly collapsing, with most of the troops being recalled to fight civil wars in the heartlands or restricted to garrisoning large cities.

But way back when, when the Empire was still expanding, their legions, the Grassblades, were known for their suicidal bravery.
“If you cut a Grassblade down, ten more will sprout in its place,” was one of their great rallying cries.

After a general conquered an area, he would divvy it up into farms for his veterans and also build a magnificent tomb complex.
Then as the veterans died they would be interred there together as an eternal army.

But with the empire fading, the dead have become restless in tombs abandoned and forgotten.

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Bai Yu, the Emperor’s chosen representative, met the ambassadors. He had devoted himself to the study of the elves’ language, so when the time came, their words fell of his tongue thickly but intelligibly.

“I am Bai Yu. Our emperor, latest in a line that stretches back over one thousand years, sends his most personal greetings,” said Bai Yu, being deeply. “I am Bai Yu, a eunuch of the Imperial household, advisor, and general.”

The elves replied, their own tongues thick. “It is said that your emperor is a direct descendent of the sun.”

Bai Yu, straightening, flicked his eyes to the trees. The elves were few in number, but they had come girded for war, with archers in advantageous places and skirmishes prepared to meet intruders in the wood, at the point when the humans’ heavy cavalry would be useless.

“I am Wystan Tathame,” the lead elf said. He was very pale, with golden hair and a hasty air.

“It is my pleasure to welcome you, Sir Wystan.”

The elf narrowed his eyes. “Who are you to address me by my personal name so familiarly, and t welcome me to my own land?”

Bai Yu’s scalp prickled with sweat. These strange creatures put their personal names first, and did not recognize the primacy of the Son of Heaven? His troops, seeing him tense, began to stir.

“You know, our high king is descended from the sun as well,” a younger elf, by the king’s side, said.

Thinking quickly, Bai Yu smiled. “Than your high king and our emperor must be cousins!”

After a moment of stone-faced deliberation, the older elf smiled to. “What a joyous family reunion this is, then.”

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You do your greatest art when the climb is at its steepest. At breakfast, you feel every extremity suffering; the only one who suspects otherwise when confronted with a sunny countenance. You’re the one used to being inside those moments, the happiness a shell. Wholly uneasy at the thought it was seen in you, or missed in someone else’s pretty Dyson sphere of a facade. This way, sir, step right up to see law of the weak: surrounded by the strong and prosperous, they dispatch false sunshine and ever so strictly produced elegance. It is your answer, and also your prison.

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Eventually, after nearly two years’ work, the thing was finished. As per the financier’s instructions, it was unveiled quietly, on a Tuesday afternoon, with only a handful of the builders and artisans involved in its construction present.

The final result: a cluster of seven monoliths, astronomically aligned to the sun. On each of their fourteen sides, they were covered with an unknown script with paragraphs, headings, and other formatting, written boustrophedonically in alternating mirrored lines. The glyphs appear to be language, but like the much older Voynich Manuscript, they have defied analysis and decipherment.

Only one part of the complex was in English: a stone at the entrance that made up a single sentence in English–as well as sixteen other modern and ancient languages.

“When the time is right, you will be able to read me.”

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