For my mom, love, DragonBeck
I opened the door and couldn’t believe my eyes.
Standing on the doorstep was Glenson. He was a medium built man, half an inch taller than I, with dark hair and blue eyes. The only problem was that Glenson had died two days ago. I’d seen it with my own eyes, the blood, the death rattle, and the burning of the body. And yet…
“What are you doing here?” I asked, too stunned to stop him as he brushed passed into my house and marched through to the study.
“Not much time, not much time,” he muttered, beginning to rifle though my effects, pulling things out of drawers and off bookshelves, glancing at them briefly and tossing them aside.
Some of the things were quite valuable, and others quite old and delicate, but his jitters were getting on my nerves, and I had little attention for that. And all this about not much time…that didn’t bode well. That didn’t bode well at all.
“Glenson, tell me what’s going on,” I demanded. “You…you died!”
That made him pause. “Oh, did I?” he wondered in an absent voice. “Yes, I suppose I did.”
“So what are you doing here?” It was taking all my will-power not to scream. “This is not part of the plan! What is happening in the Underealm? Where are the others? What about the Homestones?”
For the first time, Glenson turned to look at me. His eyes were different, the eyes of a man who had seen things he would never forget, things that got stuck inside the head and changed the way one thought about things. I didn’t want to know what those things were, but with him standing in front of me, I didn’t really have a choice.
“What about the Homestones, Glenson?” I demanded.
“They weren’t there,” his voice was heavy. “Someone moved them.”
“They were stolen!” I said, my heart leaping to my throat.
“No,” Glenson was shaking his head. “Much worse. They were moved.”
I tried to wrap my mind around what he was saying. “What does that mean?”
“It means the whole world is in danger,” Glenson said. “If the Homestones have been moved to other locations…”
“Then the fabric of the universe is no longer held in place,” I whispered, the full scope of our problem becoming clear to me. “Are there…” I could barely bring myself to say it, “…unravelings?”
Glenson rolled his eyes and gestured to himself. I felt like slapping myself. Of course. People coming back from the dead would be one of the first, and indeed, milder things that would be expected to happen.
“Alright, so what do we do?” I asked. “What are you looking for?”
“I don’t rightly know,” Glenson said, turning back to my study and continuing his dismembering of it. “I think…yes, I think we might have brought it back from one of our trips.”
Now I rolled my eyes at him. We had been on a thousand excursions and brought back many artifacts, some of which were in my study. Others were in the vaults at the University, and in others’ homes, and some of the most powerful pieces were held in secret places known only to a few.
“Aha!” Glenson exclaimed, holding something aloft.
It was a small carved piece, from some ancient society that was no longer with us, a man with two faces and no features, and four arms with no hands. I speculated it was from some board game, but Glenson was looking at it as though it were much more.
“What is that?” I asked, reaching out for it.
He snatched it back, cradling it in his hands, shaking his head. The strange light in his eyes flared up again, making me cold inside. I knew then that it might look like Glenson, but it was no longer completely my friend. I withdrew my hand and waited for him to explain.
“I cannot tell you accurately what it is like to travel the deep, dark rivers between here and the Underealm. The Ferrymen are silent, and their eyes…” he shuddered. “I was on my way to the Underealm when the Ferryman disappeared. The creature that replaced him was unthinkable, unimaginable, not seen above ground. It told me that the Homestones were gone, and that if I did not put them back, then everything goes poof.” His hands came together illustrating the world collapsing in on itself.
“How did you get out?” I wondered.
“I dove into the water,” he said, as if that were something similar to going out for tea. “And swam upstream.”
He smiled a haunted smile in response to the expression on my face. He was always so dedicated, so headstrong, so certain of what he was doing. I was suddenly struck by the thought that there was a reason Glenson had been the one to die that day, some strange cosmic logic too big for mortal minds to fully understand. I shook off the feeling.
“So what do we do with that?” I nodded at the figurine.
“I don’t know,” Glenson said, turning it over and over in his hands. “I think we have to find them all, and put them together, and then something will happen.”
There was that cosmic logic, I thought, but what else did we have to go on?
“I’ll get the others,” I said, making to grab my coat and my bag.
Glenson shook his head. “No. There can only be two. You, from the Upperland, and me, from Underealm. Perfect balance.” He smiled sadly. “We are the last Homestone, holding the world together and apart.”
The responsibility hung heavily in my chest, and I didn’t like it one bit. It made me feel very alone and inexplicably doomed because of Fate’s terrible sense of irony. I imagined the ground tipping under me, sending everything into chaos and darkness.
“Let’s get this over with,” I told Glenson. “I’d like the world to go on for a little while longer.”