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Excerpt from “A Cradle for the Fallen”

A yellow light had begun to brighten the familiar landscape of the Below. Grey mounds of garbage extended out before them like hills crowned in fog. Endless columns, support for the raised city above, marched away into the darkness. Barely visible were the slender branches that reached out from the apex of each pillar like slender limbs from the trunk of an elm. It was from high above that the light shone down.

“What is that?” Crimson asked.

Peering up, Pan and Crimson saw a glowing point of light emanating from one of the countless outlets for the garbage system that fed the Below with its lifeblood, the discarded treasure of Above. As the light grew brighter, the two fascinated onlookers perceived a strange sound.

It was as if someone were smacking bone against metal, reminiscent of the thuds one heard as the Cleavers cut their rotten meat for trade in the dangerous markets of the Below. Echoes drifted down from far above. It certainly wasn’t an under rat or a marauding gang. Crimson voiced Pan’s very thought.

“No idea,” Pan finally answered. “Go get the others.”

It was a sign of how strange of a phenomenon the light from above was that Crimson didn’t offer her usual objections and complaints when asked to do something. She stood and made her way back towards the others. The light was bright enough now that she had no need of the guideline that had led her to Pan’s lookout. She kept glancing over his shoulder up towards the growing light and shaking her head as she moved away.

As soon as Crimson disappeared over the ridge the light increased dramatically so that the entire area was lit as if by a bonfire. The cold grey of abandoned steel and the deep browns of mud and excrement burst into being with the arrival of the flickering light.

Staring up at the outlet, nearly blinded, Pan watched as the flaming body of a young boy came tumbling out of the garbage chute, the figures silhouetted against the blackness by the flames that smoldered from on his skin. He slammed into one of the peaks of discarded trash that reached perilously close to the city’s underbelly and rolled down the slope, flames shooting from beneath him. His limbs cast tall, thin shadows across the hills and columns as though some supernatural puppet were traipsing the about in the darkness. Liquid fire poured from the outlet, igniting the landscape and rapidly spreading in every direction.

Sebastian had arrived in the Below.

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