I discovered a text file with this in it, in January 2016. I think I wrote it in 2009 and intended to write the whole thing for NaNoWriMo that year, but never got around to it. The Prologue is complete, but Chapter 1 is not, and I didn't write anything further. I am still inordinately fond of Elsa and Thorn, despite never having wrriten their story.
The stars, Thorn knew, had once been thought of by some ancient civilization as giant balls of light, impossibly far away across the reaches of space. That was a silly old superstition, of course – they knew now that the stars were cracks in the vault of heaven, placed there by the spirits to illuminate the world. Of course they were still a long way distant, but in the great scheme of things... Not that far. And it was almost-closeness that drove Thorn onwards and upwards. Always, without ceasing, upwards.
At his age, fifteen, boys were declared to have become men. Often, they would find themselves in apprenticeships or wandering aimlessly in search of a goal they hadn't quite found yet. Sometimes they would embark on adventures, branching out from the City through ton after ton of rock before, somewhere out there, they found themselves. Thorn was, after a fashion, one of the latter category. But no horizontal quest awaited him, for his heart drew him upwards toward the stars themselves.
Thorn rested, bracing himself against an outcrop of rock made for this very purpose. Breathing heavily, he reached up to one of the walls of the shaft and allowed a trickle of water to gather between his fingers, slide down his palm and onto his tongue. Its taste was full, and cold, and electric, and alive. As if in a frenzy he gathered more and more, steering each drop into his mouth, bringing himself closer and closer to the damp earthen wall until he was licking the water from the surface itself. Then, all of a sudden, he stopped and slumped and closed his eyes.
The water of heaven. The tears of the stars. His guarantee that, despite how distant the stars were, he could reach them.
He blurred his finger through complex patterns above his other palm outstretched, the finger leaving blue tracery in the air that over several seconds wove itself into the image of a bowl of water. With a mere thought, the image became real and dropped into Thorn's hand.
He sipped, and sighed.
Boring old magical water. Necessary for humanity's survival, and yet, once one had tasted the water of heaven that so many scorned, utterly bland. A thousand years since Creation, a thousand years of humanity, a thousand years of magic – and still, no-one had come up with a spell to make water taste so good.
But the sky was closer now, he could feel it. Five days, now, he had been climbing – further than anyone had gone before. At least, further than anyone who had ever gone back to tell the tale. The magic wasn't fading, like they warned him it would. The air wasn't thinning, like they told him it would. It was all going well. Too well?
It was upon this that Thorn was musing, less than a day later, when the rock above him began to somehow thin and become less resistant to the spell that he was using to excavate it. His eyes would have shone, had there been anything in the way of light where he was, and he began to dig with renewed vigour, upwards and upwards, faster and faster, until the rock gave way to soil. At last, at last, the whole of the ground above him shone as if it contained a thousand tiny stars, above him and all around him. He let the magic fade and dug upwards with his own bare hands, revelling in the wet, living feeling of the earth as he pulled it down, letting it rain all over his body and down into the miles-deep shaft below him. Barely a few seconds later, his lifelong dream was realised – he pushed up through the last of the soil, pulled himself up and out of the vault of the sky, and into heaven. Light flooded into the ground, into him and into his eyes.
The world of black became the world of white, and Thorn became blind.
Elsa barely looked up as she heard what sounded like an explosion in the distance. Those, she reflected, were all too common these days. And so she carried on milking the cows. She supposed her father had been right all along – despite all the new and wonderful inventions that seemed to be cropping up all over the place, they were all still far too dangerous. Even milking, there was some kind of machine for that too, but something about getting your entire herd standing around an explosion-prone steam boiler just didn’t sound like a good idea.
Having been suitably dismissive of her culture’s finest technological achievements, Elsa moved slowly from teat to teat, cow to cow, until she had two full buckets.
With her early morning tasks completed, she took the opportunity to relax for a few minutes before returning to the farmhouse. It was a bright morning, almost cloudless, and it promised a hot day ahead. From the top of the hill on which she now sat, she could see for miles in any direction she chose. Not that it would make much of a difference, as they all consisted of nothing but rolling green and yellow fields, speckled with the occasional reddish-brown freckle of a village. And, this morning, a plume of dust from the direction she had heard the explosion.
It was only once she’d picked up the milk-filled buckets and began to set off for home that she noticed what had been odd about the noise and about the dust. It hadn’t sounded exactly like the normal sort of explosion, for there had been no hiss of steam, no popping of rivets, no ear-crippling rending of metal. The dusty plume, which had begun to dissipate on the fickle breeze, had also been somewhat close. On her family’s own land, in fact.
As Elsa rounded a copse of trees and saw the mess in the middle of the southeast field, she began to run.
Despite her speed she picked her way across the field gracefully and barely spilled a drop of milk. It was only when she approached the mound of torn-up earth that she thought to put the things down.
The centre of the field was dominated by a ring of bare soil, but inside that the ground fell away almost immediately into a crater perhaps fifty feet in diameter. In the centre, almost indistinguishable at first as it was covered with so much dirt, was a body.
Elsa was lost for words. It looked as if it had fallen from the sky like some of the Blessings! And yet, as she hitched her skirts up and made her way into the crater, there was one thing that couldn’t be explained that way. On the other side of the body was a hole, completely at odds with the rest of the damage. The width of it was easily jumpable, but the depth... The depth was consuming. Elsa made one attempt to peer into it, and resolved not to do so again.