1. the promise
It was my last day, so I did what I normally did—got up early, went and sat in the fields north of the village, gazed off into the glittering expanse of the ocean. I didn’t want to leave. I didn’t want to move. I was happy with the village, with the place where I’d lived for seventeen years. It was a small seaside town, Ream, and, to the best of my knowledge, it still stands, still free from the clutch of Libran governments. Free from the curse of information. It had no Hall of Lore. It was a peaceful little village, and I loved it.
Yet I was leaving.
My parents said that we needed to go, that I had some problem, and that there was someone over at Ebony Fields who could help me. I argued, “it’s only a day away by horse,” hoping that we could go, and come back, and that could be that. They said that the wise man from the city that they’d consulted regarding my condition would need to work with me over several months, so we needed to move. It was either that or send me off alone.
I chose to have the family move. Looking back now, I should have gone alone.
Either way, I was going, and bidding farewell to my birthplace. The fields were abundant with corn. The harvest was coming up. Pleasant smells filled the air and a mild sea breeze ruffled the plants nearest me. The tide coming in half a mile away lulled me into a state of semi-consciousness, and so I remained until he reached me and put his hand on my shoulder.
“Matt,” I replied without looking over at the kid. There was only one person in the village who called me Fred, and I was the only one who called him Matt. Matthias Kinjaku, two years younger than me and unfortunately short for his age, had been my friend as far back as I could remember.
“I knew I’d find you here,” he chuckled. His voice belied something other than humor. “I came to say goodbye.”
“I’ll be back in a few months,” I assured him, though I was far from sure of it myself. “It’s not a permanent thing.”
“I sure hope you do. Ream will always welcome you back, Fred. And I’ll always be here.”
“And I’ll always be here,” I replied, indicating the cornfield with a gesture. I turned from the ocean to face him. There was more to his state than his voice. His face was the picture of worry, everything from the odd creases in his forehead to his wide eyes to his trembling lips. “Come on, Matt. I’ll be back before you know it.”
“Fred, I had another dream last night.”
I froze. Nine years ago, when the old man Ronn lost his fishing boat—and thus his means to live—Matt had seen the accident take place in a dream prior to its occurrence. There were other such instances; it was general knowledge that Matt’s clear dreams were prophetic. His anxiety was suddenly palpable as I looked into his eyes. What kind of dream had he had to incite such fear?
“What about?” I asked, though I probably would have been happier not knowing.
“Death. Ebony Fields, Fred. You can’t go.”
“I have to.”
“If you go, the city will die.” I didn’t understand what he meant. I didn’t think he did, either.
“You mean, the people?” I asked, trying hard to keep the words flowing steadily from my mouth. Then wasn’t the time to have a panic attack of my own. I had readied myself to move and I was leaving my village and that was that. I would miss Matt, but—
“The city will die,” Matt repeated, his voice trembling.
—but what does he mean by those words? I reached over and patted him on the shoulder as he burst into tears. I spoke as soothingly as I could.
“I’m sure it was just a dream,” I lied. “Must have been one terrible dream.” I had to comfort him before I left. Sure, I likely wouldn’t see him again—I knew that much just from the fear in his eyes and the fact that he’d seen one of his dreams—so on what terms we parted really didn’t matter. Didn’t matter, that is, aside from the slight detail that we had been together for twelve years, and I couldn’t bear to leave him behind in that state.
“You don’t understand,” he muttered. Neither did he.
“I understand,” I assured him, “and I’ll be back. I promise.”
That was the first promise I ever made in my life, and it was the last I would ever make. I didn’t keep it—how could I? Within the week I was settled into my life at Ebony Fields, and within two months Ebony Fields no longer existed. It wasn’t just Ebony Fields that ceased to exist. I, as Fredariko Duncan, ceased to exist on that day all those decades ago.