I’d started cooking my first meal in the kitchen, corn soup with egg, when suddenly I felt a light hand on my shoulder. I turned around, and there was the previous owner of my new house, standing right behind me as if she hadn’t died the week before.
The clank of a metal-shod staff heralded the arrival of Melnock the wizard to the library of Babyl-no-Ktan.
The Taoist priest circled the rosewood pedestal that had last held the Cloud Step, absently tapping his lower lip with the bamboo spine of his fan. Master Lee Engseng ran his fingertips over the pale blue silk cushion that had held the teapot, then went down on his haunches to inspect the base of the pedestal.
It was said that in the ancient days, heroes walked the earth, as common on the ground as worms after the rain. Of course, the last bit about worms was said only by Jinye’s grandmother, a weathered crag of a woman who considered herself the authority on ages past.
Dear Lord Bezoath, I know it is a busy time for everyone with the ongoing global pandemic and the collapse of two major democracies, but I have come down ill and need to take off this weekend. I have entered the hours into the system, but it is saying I need approval from a senior manager or above.
Your mother takes you to swim in the sea every day. You’ve been going for as long as you can remember, never missing a day. When you were small, you splashed around in the tidal pools and learnt to float in the shallows. Now that you are nearly grown, the pair of you explore the entire bay. You know every rock, every current, every tide. You’ve swum through storms, broken ice, basked under sunny skies. You’ve watched others flee from sharks or be swept away by the breakers, but the sea holds no fears for you.
Every morning, the seafood vendor sets up her purple wooden stall in a small alleyway near my apartment building. She stands there, all day and most of the night. She is tireless, which makes me sometimes suspect that she might be a steam-powered robot of some sort. She comes wrapped in shawls, no matter the season, pink and cream and sky blue, and she peers from behind them with piercing eyes. When I don’t think she’s a robot, I suspect she is Indurian, but I have no way of knowing. She barely talks and her accent is undecipherable.
Idris put the finishing touches on the letter, angling the chisel to get a crisp edge on the last stroke. The dislodged sandstone whipped away in the ever-present wind. He winced as a few grains lashed his face, grateful for the wrappings protecting his skin. Bracing his legs against the wall, he leant back upon his hanging platform to admire his work.
They gave us support groups after they brought us down. We’d expected death, but they said we’d been punished enough. That was true. And there were too many of us who were still well-liked among them, even if they had decided we needed to go. So they gave us support groups, and they gave us decent apartments, and they trained us to do jobs like the rest of them. We took to it all quickly enough. Thousands of years may tend to make you inflexible, but they don't make you stupid.
Standing in their galley kitchen, Juniper sank her knife into a soft block of smoked goat cheese. She had left it out to soften for so long that the cheese practically parted before the knife touched it. She considered the other sliced and chopped hors d’oeuvres on the tray: cheeses, check; sliced cucumber and whole cherry tomatoes, check; olives stuffed with garlic, just needed straining; sliced baguette, check; blueberries from Laila’s enspelled hothouse, check; seasoned almonds for Lydia and salami for herself, check.