Chapter 4:

The Last Titan


This wasn’t her sky.

From within the torn cocoon, Mayfly peered out and saw that the sunrise was all wrong. Mornings were supposed to be warm, and radiant; fall colors blooming on the fields of evening. This one was cold. Where there ought to have been stains of orange and red, there was instead the kaleidoscopic smear of a dark winter palette. Black, navy, indigo, bloody mauve. It looked sick, it looked bruised, and above all it looked like the sun was hardly paying any attention. Perhaps because it couldn’t.

The moon hung before it, closer and larger than it ought to have been, and entirely silhouetted by the light from behind. It would have blocked the bright little ball out altogether, were it not shattered nearly in half. The lion’s share of one hemisphere was nothing but rubble; the largest chunks were inkblots against the sun, the rest were lost to the dismal sky.

“Well,” she muttered anxiously. “Guess it worked.”

Emerging from the cocoon, she found herself at the base of a massive spire, nestled between hoops of steel half-buried in the dirt. Only, it wasn’t a spire. Spires didn’t bend, even gently like this one did, nor did they have juts all along their length that ran out for what must have been a mile at the longest. Their faces weren’t rough, their paint wasn’t so thick and jagged like scales or bark, and their crowns didn’t split into branching canopies that—this was a tree.

She was standing under a metal tree. She’d awoken beside roots of steel, and the ground was littered with filament leaves. Even the dirt was a clay-colored and speckled with glint.

All around her was more of the same. Metal trees, smaller than the monolith, but prolific and bizarre; bushes of sheening thread; stones that were flat like plates and round like cannonballs; even flowers, and her heart fluttered because their petals were silver. However, their stems were copper or gold, not onyx. Not moonblooms.

But close.

That had to be a good sign, right?

Mayfly scurried from one metallic flowerbed to the next, scanning every petal, every stem, and every head. Though the moonbloom had stayed in mama’s room, and mama usually tended to it herself, Mayfly remembered that the pistil was three-pronged and ruby-red, and when it had died, they shriveled out.

She looked long. She looked hard. She found nothing.

Well, that wasn’t entirely true. She did find another cat.

Its fur was orange, so despite its silence it might as well have been screaming at her. It was perched on a branch above, arms and legs dangling lazily. When she came to stand beneath it, it rose, stretched, and gave her a generous half-second to prepare before leaping down into her arms.

Woah-kay guy! Wow. You—okay. That was not safe, lil’ buddy. You could’ve missed, I could’ve dropped you. Not safe at all.” It righted itself, standing in her hands with its paws planted firmly on her cheeks. It sniffed her face, and she giggled, running a hand up and down its back. “No, I’m not mad. Actually, it’s kinda nice to see you here. Everything’s so…metal, huh? Nice to have something soft around…like…you…don’t feel soft. You don’t feel—”

She raised her hand from the cat’s head, stunned beyond words, but not thought.

That’s not my hand.

This isn’t my arm.

Panic bubbled up within her; she set the cat down gently before it boiled over. Wildly she looked around for something reflective, and finally stumbled up to a flat, polished stone embedded in the dirt. Looking down into it, she shrieked.

Her skin was the color of porcelain, and all about her arms and neck, and likely beneath her clothes was thin, gold marbling, just like the cocoon. It wasn’t in her face, which was still distinctly hers, but it was also wrong. It was perfectly smooth; gone were the blemishes, the chapped lips, the little scar on her cheek from when Dumpling had scratched her as a kitten. Her eyes were still gold, her hair was still white and fell just past her shoulders, her lips were the color of peach dust, but everything was just right in a way it never was back home. She looked like a doll of herself. Even her joints were doll’s joints, with dull-golden balls for her shoulders and elbows—she sensed them on her hips and knees and ankles too.

Most of all, she didn’t feel anything. Not the fur, not the wind. She was vaguely aware of the weight of her clothes, or the pressure of her feet on the ground, but not in a way she understood. She touched her face—hard, metal.

This wasn’t at all like wearing armor. This was being armor.

“No,” she squeaked. “Nonono. No. Ohmygod. Ealdwin!

Ealdwin didn’t answer, of course. He was who-knew how far away, along with mama, and her friends, and everyone and everything she’d ever known and why had she done this? Looking over at the cocoon, she realized she didn’t even know how to get back. Crawl in again? Find another one? She could be gone for months, years, figuring it out. God, she was going to miss the Wearytide games. Someone else was going to be the Chicken Chase champion, while she was stuck here in a weird metal body that couldn’t know the joy of petting a cat.

A cat that, despite her panic, was still following her. It batted at her leg, meowing as if to say: “hey, stop being silly.”

And it was right. She was being silly. Ealdwin had warned her that she would be very different here, and vague or not, he was right. However strange, or dangerous, or whatever this place was, she had a job to do. She had a promise to keep. 

Mayfly looked down at her reflection again with a resigned sigh. Or something like it. She did all the motions, and the sound was the same, but there was no air. She supposed that made sense—what good were lungs in a body like this? Still, even if breathing didn’t do anything for her, she wanted to keep it a habit for when she went home.

“Okay,” she said, and reached down to scratch the cat’s ears. Even if she couldn’t enjoy it, it could. “Okay, yeah. I’m a metal doll. That’s not so bad, is it? I’ve had weirder dreams, and those usually turn out alright.”

The cat purred in response. Mayfly chose to interpret it as support.

“Right, so, no luck here. That’s fine, would have been too easy I guess. What do you think, should we just start walking? El said this place isn’t endless, so I’m sure we’ll find something eventually.”

With another stretch, the cat turned away and trotted off into the metal forest. Decision made, then. There was a reason everyone in the Valley kept at least one of the clever little rascals around—they just seemed to get it. Mayfly cast a final look back to her cocoon, nestled beneath the monolith, just to test her will. Strong enough. She followed the cat.

Mama had always told her to be positive, and looking around, she tried to reason that, without all its many, many oddities, this really wasn’t so different from any of the woods in the Valley. There were…trees. Things…grew, maybe. They passed through many shallow trenches that might have once been rivers, hollows that might have been ponds. She could see knots in the gleaming trunks where birds could nest, or squirrels could stash their bounties. If someone had made all of this, they spared no detail, and even the ones that were alien to her still seemed intentional.

But she also got the feeling that no one had done this. Perhaps it had just happened. When she thought of the broken moon, though, she didn’t know which would be better.

Just as she began to wonder if the whole of Gen was metallicized, they reached the forest’s edge. Beneath her feet, the gray earth softened and darkened to something like peat, and further on, hard-packed dirt. The land was flat here, but in the distance it rolled gently, naturally, and though she saw no trees, the hills were still a livelier green than anything behind her. It was barren, but it was something.

A few steps onward, she realized she was alone. Her companion sat down on the last inches of colorless soil.

“Not coming? I know I kinda freaked out back there, but leaving home isn’t really so bad.” But the cat only watched her, blinking softly, tail swishing from side to side. Another decision made. “Alright, fair enough. Thanks for hanging out with me, maybe I’ll head back this way once I’ve found what I’m after.”

With a final meow, it returned to the forest, vanishing amidst the trees. Mayfly mourned the loss of company, but continued on anyway. If this was what morning was like, she would rather find a nice, safe place to rest before it got truly dark.

Far off beyond the hills, radiating from the horizon, was a blob of vivid color. While it couldn’t match the brightness of a Valley dawn, what it did have was variety. In the hazy lining she saw greens, and blues, soft pinks and sharp violets. It was an amalgam unlike anything she’d ever seen, and though she had no idea what it was, she knew she would go there.

So she went. 

Steward McOy