Chapter 4: Anton
Aliya stepped out of the Huntress’ Den and into the cool morning air. She didn’t know exactly what time of the day it was — no one seemed to have any measures of specific time other than the rising and setting of the sun.
Clocks, yes, that’s what this place is missing. No clocks, thought Aliya to herself.
No calendars either, it seems.
At the very least, she felt well rested. Her quarters were suitably comfortable and while it was a welcome rest from the arduous journey across the river, there was only so much rest someone needed.
But from where? Where did that journey start? Time to get some answers.
Answers. That’s what she needed, and she was going to find them, one way or another. It nonetheless seemed strange that no one else seemed as troubled as her about all of the things that didn’t make sense. And those that seemed to know some of the answers, like Pi, appeared adamant that she discovered them on her own.
Anton. That was the man that Nat, the Riverman, pointed her to. If the townsfolk say that he’s crazy, that would make him the best place to start, because as far as Aliya could work out, this world — the Bridgeworld — looked like the dictionary definition of crazy.
Especially that thing, thought Aliya, gazing up at the Star. The gargantuan structure just hovered in the skyline, the five towers, spires, whatever one could call them, gradually rotating around a core that was pitch black.
Aliya shuddered, laced up her new cloak that was left for her in her quarters, and headed for the village square.
Everything was as she remembered it the first thing she walked through the village, although there was a flurry of activity near the Village Hall as what seemed to be a marketplace was being set up.
“It’s the carnival, the children are all really excited about it,” came a voice from behind Aliya. She turned around and saw the blacksmith, the one who had been on the boat with her.
“You arrived here the same day I did,” replied Aliya.
“Yes indeed, it’s been almost a week now. Been a bit hectic, all this business of settling in and getting tooled up. The name’s Hakan, by the way, nice to meet you,” said the blacksmith.
“I’m Aliya, nice to meet you too. At least you know what you’re doing here, I’ve got no idea. And wait, did you say… a week?”, asked Aliya in confusion.
“Yep, I might not be the smartest cookie in the room, but I can definitely count from one to ten, and I can tell you that it’s been six times I’ve woken up and seen the sun rise since I got here”, replied Hakan, with a toothy grin on his face.
“And I think you’ve got a very good idea what you’re doing here as well, my girl. You’ve even got the cloak to go with it, Huntress.”, remarked Hakan.
“Wh… what? How? I just stumbled upon the cottage the first day I got here, and the door opened and…”, said Aliya as she started to explain.
“Don’t worry about it girl, you don’t owe me any explanation, everyone has their role here. In my six days here, it’s become clear to me that nothing here really happens by chance. Well, almost nothing. By chance, I did stumble upon the best bacon and eggs I’ve ever had in my life, just up there by the village hall,” said Hakan, gesturing at a little hut at the other side of the square.
“I’m looking for a man called Anton, by the way, do you know where I can find him?”, asked Aliya.
“Bacon and eggs, my girl. He’s the one cooking them.”
The aroma of smoked bacon being fried to a crisp filled the air around the patio of a little cottage, located just a couple of feet from the village hall. As Aliya drew closer, she saw a man by a fire, adding wood chips to the flames as he hung up fresh cuts of pork for smoking.
The man was well-built, tall and with a slight hunch, with long grey hair tied in a ponytail.
“So you’re the new huntress?”, said the man out loud as Aliya approached, without turning around.
Aliya stopped in surprise.
“Don’t worry, I don’t have eyes at the back of my head, even if that wouldn’t be impossible in this place. I saw you in the mirror,” the man continued, gesturing at a mirror on the wall next to him.
“Are you Anton?”, asked Aliya.
“In the flesh”, he replied, “and I’m guessing that rascal Nat sent you my way. Always does that. Now I don’t want to be rude, but if you could give me a second while I get this last piece of pork up on the smoker…”.
“Right, the crowds will be happy, I think. They’re never happy, heh. So, what can I do for you?”, asked Anton as he turned turned to face Aliya, giving her a look over, as if performing a military inspection.
Aliya looked up at him: chiselled jawline, a slightly crooked nose, large black eyes, high cheekbones, framed by that same grey hair. One would’ve said he was a handsome lad back in the day, although the wrinkles around his eyes and on his forehead suggested those days were somewhat behind him.
“Nat said you could tell me what exactly this place is, and what I’m doing here. And maybe also how it is that no one else seems to mind not knowing!”, replied Aliya, a tone of exasperation in her voice.
Anton continued staring at Aliya, then he turned around and put two rashers of bacon and a few fried eggs on a plate.
“You want answers to your questions. And you will have them, at least those that I can give. But by the look of things, those Huntresses probably fed you their healthy stuff. Caught you staring at that bacon more than once heh”, chuckled Anton.
“Here you go, this one’s on me.”, said Anton, handing the plate to Aliya.
“Sit down, have a bite and listen. This isn’t going to be your typical bedtime story.”
“Looks like I’m not the first one to come asking,” remarked Aliya as she took a bite of bacon and eggs. “This is delicious by the way, thank you.”
“To ask? You’re not the first, and certainly won’t be the last. But to understand what exactly is going on here? First place is still up for grabs. Why do you think they call me crazy eh?”, mused Anton.
“Where do we start, let’s just get a feel for what you already know. I’m guessing you’ve met one of the numeraires?”, asked Anton.
“That’s a good start, at least you haven’t lost your mind seeing an android. Had the orientation story about the leader of the Huntresses, whatever her name was, snazzy something?”, continued Anton.
“Snez’hana, they called her”, replied Aliya.
“Good memory. Right, so here’s how things work in Bridgeworld. Let’s make sure you’re on the right footing here, from the basics. You’re real, what you’re experiencing is real, these eggs and bacon strips are real. This isn’t a dream world of some sort that you can wake up from, because this is your reality. Our reality.
Whether you remember it or not, all of us chose to be here. If you were on a boat, you chose to come. That’s important. There are those who just happened to show up here, like in the ages past, and the legends hold that they all woke up struggling for air in the water, with no memory of how they got there.”
“Like Snez’hana?”, asked Aliya.
“Yes, like her. Never really got good at pronouncing that name. So anyway, for most of us, we opted to come here and most importantly, we chose to give up the memories of our previous existence and make this move permanently.”
“But why would we do that?”, said Aliya, “Why would we make such a definite choice?”
“I don’t know,” replied Anton, “each of us made our own decisions for our own reasons, but if we can’t remember them now, what end would speculating serve? Anyway, so here we are. The Bridgeworld is the world that exists between all the other worlds. Some of us are permanent denizens of this realm, while others project their existence here to share in our world.”
“But these others, they can go back?”, asked Aliya, questioningly.
“In a way, yes, although it would be more accurate to say that they were never truly here to start with. They may choose to remain, and avail themselves of the riches and adventure here, but everything that they gain and achieve while here stays here. Nothing will ever be theirs until they, too, make the choice of a permanent move”, replied Anton.
“So what draws anyone here?”, said Aliya.
“Fame, fortune, reward — the same things that, I presume, drew you to make the choice to be here. This land is untamed, it is ever-changing. Its history is ancient, yet it is as vibrant as a young sapling. You might have noticed that things often seem a little bit out of kilter: the old and the new, the known and the unknown. The treasures that you hunt, that the Huntresses hunt, are relics left behind from the past and the future. While you can count the days that pass here, and time remains linear, history isn’t. There are no rules for what must come first and what comes later — or at least, I don’t know them”, explained Anton.
“I can see why they call you crazy, this is properly doing my head in”, muttered Aliya, “But let’s assume all of this makes sense, tell me, what is that THING? The Star? And how does it just hover there?”
“That, little one, is the Citadel. Home of the Legions, Home of… mine. At least, it used to be.”, said Anton, a tinge of nostalgia in his voice.
A bell starting ringing from the village hall, as a the rest of the village erupted in a huge cheer.
“Let’s leave it at that for now, Huntress. The people want their breakfast, and I will not disappoint them. Let’s speak again soon, you’re going to need time to think all of this through”, said Anton as he picked up Aliya’s plate.
“I sure do…”, said Aliya to herself as she stood up and left.
Pi. Maybe Pi can help.