Written & produced by: glasse
Artwork by: Amaryllis
Release Date: June 25, 2021
With a sigh of relief, Wonder sat down and leaned back against the central fountain that they had just finished scrubbing. A few villagers walked at a brisk pace along the cobblestone pathway in front of the fountain, carrying various baskets and buckets for their chores. Most called out to Wonder as they passed by and saw them sitting by the fountain, and Wonder raised a hand to greet each one.
“Hey Wonder!” a particularly familiar voice reached Wonder.
Wonder turned to face a grinning Seeker. “Saraf. Let me guess — you caught wind of another Trial.”
Saraf’s grin only grew wider. “That’s right! I think it was Aria, because I didn’t see her at the oil basin this afternoon.”
At this, Wonder smiled. “Aria! She’s been eager for it as long as I’ve known her. I’m happy for her.”
“Yeah!” Saraf extended a hand, which Wonder accepted gratefully, and pulled them to their feet. He continued, “You know, I wonder what happens when it’s our turn. Do you think the Elders will just come and abduct us? And how do they even know who’s old enough?”
Wonder scoffed, “They know everything about us, Saraf. I speculate more about what the Trial actually entails. I’ve only ever seen one person leave for a Trial and actually return to the village, and now she works with the Council of Elders. Whenever I ask her about it, she smiles and says that it’s best to find out what the Trial is for ourselves.”
“It really is a mystery, huh? Like I’ve told you, all I’ve heard about the Trials is that the wind seems to pick up whenever one happens. Do you think anyone has ever refused to do it?”
Wonder shrugged. “Why would they? This is what we’re meant to do. Besides, as comfortable as it is here, I want to see what’s outside the village.” It was true. The Elders had always provided everything the Seekers would ever need or want. Decorations for their rooms, lubricating oil, materials from the Old World to pass the time with, parts for repairs whenever they were injured. But as far as Wonder was concerned, their real lives began with the Trials. That was what all the Seekers believed.
“Let’s head to the recreation hall, shall we?” Saraf’s grin appeared anew as he linked his arm through Wonder’s and began walking towards the residential district. Saraf always did enjoy reading Old World manuscripts during recreation.
That twilight, Wonder checked their vitals in their sparsely furnished room like they always did. Nothing unusual except a bit of rust on their arms, which was par for the course whenever Seekers were assigned to clean the fountain. Wonder closed off their olfactory pathways before coating their arms in the rust-removing solution that the Elders provided everyone. The solution smelled sour and unsettled Wonder’s senses.
After the rust was gone, Wonder laid down on their simple white cot for their nightly rest, which amounted to nothing more than uploading their consciousness data during the hour before dawn. They reflected on the media they had chosen to experience during recreation. Something about people who lived in a world where the sun never set. Was it another piece of fiction from the Old World, or was there a time in the past when the sun would actually stay in the sky forever? It seemed contradictory to what their world was like now, with the sun usually obscured by the Second Moon. Wonder had lived most of their life in prolonged nights.
Wonder had once asked an Elder why most of the villagers rested during the twilight just before dawn. After all, they could schedule their data upload for any time. But the Elder had just shrugged and said it was tradition. So if the sun were always visible, and night didn’t exist, what kind of schedule would they follow? Wonder pondered this as they lay on their cot. Soon their thoughts gave way to the Trials, like all the other nights. If Saraf was right, then Aria left today. Wonder would most likely never see her again, and Wonder felt a bittersweet emotion race through their mind for an instant. But the happiness far outweighed it. Wonder allowed themself a smile, thinking about Aria exploring the world beyond their village.
A sharp rap at the door brought Wonder to attention. The door slid open to reveal the Elder Lea in the hallway. While Wonder had not exchanged many words with Lea, they were familiar with her, as with every other villager in their small settlement.
“Need someone for twilight duty?” Wonder asked.
Lea shook her head. “You turn 1,095 today, Wonder.”
Wonder nodded. The upload cycle they had just completed was numbered 1,095.
“It is time for your Trial.”
Eyes widening ever so slightly, Wonder felt a rush of excitement through the circuits that ran through their body. “Now? At dawn?”
“Yes. Are you ready?”
Wonder grinned as brightly as Saraf always did. They stood up and adjusted the worn garment around their torso. “I’ll never be readier.”
Lea turned and led Wonder down the hallway and out of the residential building. Outside, lamps illuminated the cobblestone that stretched in front of them. Wonder followed Lea wordlessly, taking in each building and every pathway they had grown to know in their time here and wondering if it would be the last time they’d see it. Wonder’s touch sensors indicated that the wind was picking up. Wonder looked up at the sky as the two reached the central fountain where they had met up with Saraf several hours earlier. The sky was beginning to turn light, but the moon and stars were still visible.
“You know, most Seekers would be barraging me with questions right now,” Lea interrupted Wonder’s observations as she led them to the building where the Elders convened.
Wonder shrugged. “I’m going to find out soon anyway, right? I’m just thinking about whether I’m going to see any of this again.”
Lea chuckled and opened the door for Wonder. “You’ve always been a wistful one, even though we were all born with the same programming.”
The air in the Elders’ building was comfortable and warm, as it always was when Wonder was assigned to duties here. A few lamps flickered in the foyer. They walked through the back of the building to an open area of grass that Wonder didn’t know existed. At the edge of their range of vision, the grass gave way to a rocky ledge that extended beyond the field, designated by a wooden arch. Lea stopped next to the arch and turned to Wonder.
“Beyond this arch will be your Trial. Stand at the ledge and raise your arm up to the sky. Jump when you feel the wind. Once you’ve passed this arch, don’t look back,” she instructed. She retrieved a knapsack that was resting against the frame of the arch. “The Elders have prepared some essentials for your travels, including oil and a rain shield. There are also instructions from us on a parchment inside. Are you ready to go?”
Crossing their arms, Wonder sighed and thought about the village that they would be leaving. They thought about their favorite place, the garden where the Seekers cultivated various flora. They thought about the recreation hall with all of its Old World artifacts and stories about worlds they did not know. They thought about Saraf, with his wide grin and inquisitive nature. They even thought about the empty room that they had spent 1,095 cycles resting in. A tinge of painful emotion permeated their mind. Was this… sadness?
“Yes,” Wonder said. “I’m ready.”
Wonder accepted the knapsack from Lea and walked past the arch onto the rocky ledge. Here, unshielded from the elements, Wonder’s receptors alerted them to the strength of the wind. They were surrounded by mist, and below them, the cliff stretched steeply down into the fog. Wonder watched the sky turn a dark shade of pink and orange.
They raised their right arm upwards and waited for something to happen. And at first, nothing did. They began to turn their head to ask Lea but remembered her instructions just in time.
Don’t look back.
Suddenly, Wonder felt a tremendous gust of wind. Wonder jumped, and something powerful clamped onto their arm. They were lifted off their feet and sent soaring beyond the ledge with the tailwind. Wonder looked up at what had taken them, and all they could see was a feathery red abdomen and talons. As they flew through the clouds, a lush world with blue skies emerged, no longer obscured by the fog, and an endless horizon stretched beyond Wonder’s advanced optical range.
Smiling, Wonder tightened their fingers around the leg of the beast that would carry them on the wind to their destiny.