This is the afterword that will be included in the pdf copy of the Sixth Age of Sand, applied here to be shared easily.
In the sixth age of sand, there were seven billion clever apes roaming the world, calling themselves ‘people.’ The term meant ‘every single one of us, more or less,’ which is not uncommon for ‘people.’ Before the ‘people,’ the world belonged to towering haired mammals that were inured to the cold. Before them, the world was owned by birds, then before that, and before that, and before that, and before that ever backwards. The world is a big thing, and it was hard to say who owned them, but the ‘people’ were just another category of ‘people’ that had built things on the world like language and time and money.
The parasites and diseases and the trees all over the world that had happily spread themselves and cared very little for the fast-moving creatures of the world were not consulted as to the ownership of the world.
The world was a strange place, in the sixth age of sand. There were smartphones to record people’s runic magic. There were small countries with large natural reserves of magical history, connected to their contiguous social constructs like monarchy and cultural habit. There were people who had magical colours and there were nations with no history who used huge, open stretches of blank land to carve runes to create magical patterns thousands of times over to enable a better world. There were fights, and there were conflicts, but it only took a little bit of time for people to adjust, and adapt. The world was a place of information, now, and so it didn’t need much magic to change entirely. Children born before the internet had learned to use it every day; Children born before magic’s return learned to use it just as well.
There was legislation. There were discussions. There were collaborations. Roaming ghosts of remembered species took back parts of the wild, and started to fill the empty regions of the world that ‘people’ had deemed too hard to work. People lived their lives, wondering if they were capable of meeting the world that was going to come, the change they had now seen, in part.
The world was a strange place, in the sixth age of sand. Wasn’t it always?
Governments were not unaware of the Structure in the ocean. The chamber was the size of a mansion, drifting in a section of the sea that deformed all the weather around it. All sorts of names were used to describe it, and arguments were held on a variety of communication channels as to just who should be looking at it. To nobody’s great surprise, the loudest voices in that argument were on opposite sides of the Atlantic. The argument was, nonetheless, strangled short, however, when the storm ended around it.
The question sat amongst them with a near physical presence. Perhaps the ancient machinery around them and its unnatural magical weight could do that, could take something as conceptual and unphysical as a question and lay it upon them like a blanket with some actual mass.
“This is good,” Enk said, looking up at the translucent mechanisms, the way the light flit from surface to surface as if water in pipes. “If it responds to the King – erm, if it responds to Holland, we have something we can do.” Nervousness wracked Enk’s voice. He was trying to remember the thoughts of The Prince itself, something ancient and reformed with the magic, and that alien mind slipped through his fingers too easily. The Prince wasn’t like the other minds. Remembering the Bodyguard’s mind was alien – locked away slivers of information that Enk had somehow been open to holding, but not grasping. The Prince was a thousand times more alien. The solution was on the tip of his tongue, but it was a corrosive one.
The ceiling, a curved, grey-green expanse, seemed to sweat long strands of cold, drizzling water. A dull ache sat somewhere behind Enk’s spine, while his chest ached with a dull throb that felt like the time he’d burned his thumb on a frying pan, only excruciatingly worse. Being a teenager was hard; all your frames of reference were so small. He’d never been shot or stabbed or broken a bone and now he was trying to find some way to catalogue in his mind the sensations sent through his body after having survived a lightning strike through the chest. When the Prince was in control of his body, he’d recognised his hands, his movements, his actions, but none of it had felt real.
Now, he felt it. Continue reading
Enk wasn’t sure how to describe it, and was quietly grateful he’d never have a reason to. A swarm of cockroaches in his mouth, spilling out over his skin; a pallid greying around his vision until even the stars were just variances of the blackness that surrounded them. There was no Grey London for him; no, the Prince needed him here, needed his frame. That’s where the magic was.
Innogen’s next arcing bolt of lightning didn’t come; there was no swirl of ozone, no corrosive blast of energy and wash of ammonia on the floor after it. She ran forwards, ducking under the flying debris, hunkering behind a curl in the wall as best she could while the Prince tilted his head to the side, disjointed, like he’d broken his neck, and grinned.
“What are you waiting for?!” Barbara yelled.
“That’s my cousin! I can’t – we need to find some other way!”
How dangerous can something like hope even be?
Enk had always wanted to be normal. He wanted to be normal so badly that when the tim came to confront anything in his life, his first thought was not what should I do but what would a normal person do? There was so much hope in him to be something he wasn’t that Enk had never stopped to consider how little of himself was anything at all.
Well, Innogen wasn’t having any of it. The only reason she didn’t interrupt the Prince was a matter of aiming practice. As the thing spoke, it stood still; as it stood still, she could gather the energy in her arms and through her chest and down to the crackling, growing orb between her palms. Fingers held like a cage, to contain what was, by any measure, a bullet crafted of lightning, she lowered her arms and stood as far behind it as she could.
“Enk? Get somewhere safe.”
The last of the curse tumbled out of Angus’ mouth into a wet, sloshing sound, and the floor swung up to meet him in a perfect geometric arc, his shoulders seemingly breaking with the effort. Clothes soaked with sweat, he gasped in pain while he struggled to safe his face from a bruising, and pulled his legs up underneath him in defence. Behind him, he felt his coat pulled back as if into the hand of an insistant child, then struggled with, and then released, flopping down atop his feet. He planted his hands firmer, trying to reassert the directions of up and down, blinking and squinting as reality, with all of its colour, flooded into eyes that had wandered and wondered for literally weeks in a place where grey was all.
There are always places where very little that matters to people seems to happen. The island straits near Enk and Innogen’s home, the deserts south of Barbara’s, the entirety of Wales, or the vast scope of red and brown sand that stood on the edges of Holland’s reality. Time can pass in those places with barely a few words – months passed.
When things happen, in places where people are, however, a few short moments can take so many words.