An Espresso Tale
Accipiter G. Goshawk
Shaun forced himself to breathe, ignoring the sound of barely repressed magic flaring only a few feet from his head.
His captors dragged him down into the dusty tunnels under the Ghrâ’âth desert; the young reporter tried not to wince as his feet caught in yet another crack in the ground.
“Watch it, ripper,” growled the guard on his right. “You wouldn’t want to fall and break your neck now, would you?”
“Well,” began Shaun a little flippantly, “it would be easier if I didn’t have this on.” He motioned to the jute bag covering his head.
“Clever. Sorry kid; these are the rules. You want to see the Permanent? You wear the sack.”
“Fine,” grumbled Shaun sullenly. However, he soon forgot his discomfort, as he latched on to the guard’s casual mention of the mysterious rebel leader.
“Have you ever seen them? What are they like?” he whispered, insatiable curiosity tinging his voice.
The man on the right said nothing, and for a while, the only noise accompanying them along the tunnel was the gentle hiss of the wind over the sand.
“They are beautiful. They are wise,” intoned the guard to his left in a rich contralto. “They have brought the ever-flowing water to this desert; their source will fill the rivers of the world and make life anew.”
A shiver ran through him and he wondered if he’d been too quick to accept this job.
“You’ll be traveling to the driest place on the planet, son,” his boss had told him, only three days ago. “Score this interview and you’ll have it made. But be careful: the Voices of Permanence are a bunch of religious fanatics. They won’t have any trouble cutting out your tongue if you speak out against their god…watch yourself.”
He followed that advice now, and held his silence. On either side of him, the guards began to hum and the air grew cooler, more humid. A few minutes later, Shaun began to hear the echoey sound of water flowing through stone hollows, and the happy chatter of countless people. Metal clanged against metal, and somewhere at the back of the cave, he thought he heard the soft murmur of a portable generator.
They stopped short, and he had to catch his balance or risk toppling forward.
“We’ve arrived, ripper,” growled the guard to his right, removing the sack. “You are allowed to walk forward. That is all. Any step in the wrong direction and you will die.”
Shaun blinked, trying to get used to the bright sunlight filtering down through the opening in the roof of the cave. Concentrating, he looked neither left nor right but instead stepped forward into the pool of water. He kept walking, realizing that he was slowly sinking into the pool; it was as if he were made of rock.
“Impossible!” he managed to think before his head dipped beneath the surface, cutting him off from all light and sound.
He fell for a while, lost in the dark abyss under the desert. Oddly enough, he found that he had no desire nor need to breathe and any panic he might have felt was lost in the face of profound fascination.
Slowly, a light bloomed underneath him. FInally, suspended in the dark he saw them: the Permanent.
Their body was covered in the signs of their unique power, the mastery of magic that had world leaders quaking in their boots. Gold letters shone on every surface of their naked flesh; as they beckoned towards Shaun, threads of pure light trailed into the shadows, twisting water into life.
“Welcome, child of the paper-slaves,” they sang, filling the reporter’s heart with uncomprehending joy, “I know you have many questions. Are you prepared for the answers I may give?”
Shaun thought for a moment. Slowly, he nodded.
The Permanent rose to stand before him, their form shifting in the water, revealing yet mysterious.
“Come then, witness my story.”
They touched him and every muscle in his body clenched, as he was thrown from the world to another place in the far off past.
He watched as below him, a solitary figure tiredly struggled along a snowy mountain trail…-