The Anomaly, or the Rise of the World-Wheel
by Gunnar De Winter
Issue 4: Faith | 3,700 words
If you believe the legends, the city of El Haifa has been around forever. Of course, most rational people know it has to have had a beginning, yet that moment is obscured by a mist of time so thick that no one has yet been able to pierce it. What is known, is that, for as far as the written records go back, El Haifa has always been a huge mixture of cultures and species. Since their arrival, the prevalence of humans has been steadily rising, but pockets of other races remain. Despite superstition and distrust, these diverse groups coexist peacefully. For most of the time, at least.
Ezeke Aliël, El Haifa: A History, pg. 218
The hole and the surrounding area quickly became known as the Anomaly. A zit on the face of El Haifa—a zit everyone ignored. Almost everyone, at least. As it goes with all unknowns, the majority is afraid, while a minority is intrigued.
The Council had quickly quarantined the area and contacted Derreck. His skills as
He put the book back in its place. Nothing there. Or in any other book he had consulted, for that matter. There was another option. Time to visit Zuq.
When doing business with Amfibians, keep an eye on your goods. And another one on your money.
Zack Danbar, Master-merchant
“Zuq? It’s me,
“Get lost. I’m busy.”
“Are you still there? Bye.”
The young man lowered his voice, “It’s about the hole.”
Slimy sounds indicated Zuq was moving. “Come again?”
“You heard me.”
The door opened and
“Close the door behind you.” Zuq turned around, his laterally flattened tail swinging around. Supported by this tail, the barrel-shaped body ended in a large, semi-circular head with two small black eyes and dorsal nostril-stripes. The longest edge of the head was characterized by a huge mouth, sheltering a substantial number of small, razor-sharp triangular teeth.
Zuq slithered to a chair at his round table in that unusual half-walking, half-swimming
The human barely managed to sit on the small, slimy chair.
“So,” Zuq said, “what do you know about the Anomaly?”
“Interesting phenomenon, though. And knowing you, you probably have some ideas about it, no?”
The Amfibian’s huge, flat dark tongue slowly traced the outline of his pointy teeth. “Perhaps. But even if I have, I can’t hand them out for free, you know. I have to respect my trade, dear
“I wouldn’t dare to imply otherwise, good Zuq. Maybe I can make it worthwhile for you to collaborate with me in this inquiry?”
A twinkle arose in Zuq’s eyes. “What do you propose?”
“Hmm…” Six uncannily flexible digits massaged a relatively large greenish head. “Two conditions.” A digit on another limb unfurled. “One, all knowledge concerning this anomalous phenomenon I might acquire is mine exclusively, meaning that you agree to a clause of secrecy in the collaborative contract I’ll set up. And two,” another digit followed, “I’ll initiate our temporary partnership only after you’ve sufficiently demonstrated that you can indeed acquire unlimited access to the Anomaly.”
“Let’s hear ’em then.”
“First, you share all potentially relevant information with regards to the thing we investigate. That means not holding anything back, as you’re prone to do.” Zuq barely managed to suppress his wide
They released their hold on each other.
“So,” Zuq said as he rummaged through one of the bulbously designed cabinets that filled his house, “let’s make it official.” He conjured up a template contract that allowed for easy modification and a black bottle of dark liquid. They agreed remarkably quickly on the contract and opened the bottle of liquor that traditionally sealed an
“Cheers,” Zuq said solemnly, unable to fully expel the ambiguous sparkle from his eyes.
El Haifa’s power structure is often illustrated by a pyramid metaphor, where each group is controlled by a less numerous, but more powerful, collective. The problem is that nobody seems to know who’s at the top of the pyramid.
Brionni Al-Awas, former Council member
They had contacted him less than a day after the quarantine had been instated.
A small person.
The moment she stepped into the bit of light that penetrated the old curtains, he recognized her.
Dame Laetia, also known as the Damselfly, was a female Wisp, completely hairless and possessing a very slight build. Despite their apparent physical fragility, Wisps were known to harbor a remarkable strength.
Keeping her gaze fixed on
The Damselfly stopped. “Mr. Laplace,” she said with her ethereal, eternally whispering voice, “the Council would appreciate your assistance in an investigation.”
“Why don’t you use your famed capacity as
“Indeed, mister Laplace. We want to know what it is, why it’s here and, if applicable, who’s responsible for it.”
“You think this has been orchestrated by someone? To what end?”
“We keep all theories open until we know more.” Her pale, almost translucent arms reflected the precarious light of the rising sun that carefully began to assert its daily authority, giving her the glowing appearance that characterized Wisps.
“What’s in it for me?”
“The chance to examine something truly mysterious.” She
The young man was unable to prevent his eyebrows from shooting upwards. “That’s sizeable indeed.” He frowned. “Well then, there’s no harm in having a look, I guess.”
“Very well,” the small glowing woman silently walked to the edge of his bed and took a badge from the inside pocket of her dark green vest. “This will give you access to the quarantined zone.” Soundlessly, she turned and walked towards the door. As she opened it, again without the usual creak, she said, “we’ll be watching,” and disappeared into the hallway.
Even though there’s no real caste system in El Haifa, it’s a simple fact that most of the resident sentient species are, due to their innate nature, more or less attuned to certain tasks. Therefore, it’s not perplexing that several vocations and avocations are, to some extent, dominated by specific peoples.
Marbo Dell’Ant, People and Policy, pg. 62
The hand disappeared, replaced by the face of the bent down Inspector Barek. “Hmm,” the stone man murmured, producing a deep, almost subsonic, rumbling.
The stone man straightened. “Very well,” he said, turning and putting on a white glove, amply illustrated with deep red glyphs. He used his gloved hand to casually push aside a heavy wooden board, one of many that lined the quarantine zone. It might not seem like the most adequate protection, but the glyphs told
Inspector Barek joined the two inside and slid the wooden
“Anything else I can do for you gentlemen?”
“Not for the moment. Thank you, Inspector.”
“Okay. I’ll get you a glove.” Barek turned and exited the quarantine zone.
“He couldn’t get away fast enough,”
“Not surprising,” Zuq responded. “Can’t you feel it?”
“It’s silly, really,” the
“I guess we just have to learn how to live with
Breathing heavily, man and
Derreck’s brow was damp with sweat as they neared the hole. Zuq seemed to have trouble keeping his facial muscles under control, resulting in tiny undulations of slimy skin, regularly hydrated by his tongue, a sign of apprehension.
“Here we are then,” the
Statistical analysis has shown that some areas of El Haifa appear unusually susceptible to unexplained phenomena. The question is whether this just an artifact originating in the tendency of sentient beings to see patterns everywhere, in other words a pattern founded in coincidence; or whether there is actually something weird going on?
Professor Aurburn Specks, El-Haifa University of Technology (EHUT)
The first few days, neither
His slimy partner stared at him blankly. “Indeed. Well, there have been some hypotheses that explore additional planes of reality. Other realms beyond—or next to, whatever formulation you prefer—ours. Perhaps this is a door to exactly such a place.”
Derreck’s face turned pensive. ‘Hmm. Sounds far-fetched if you ask me.”
“Hey, I never said that the people uttering these ideas were accepted by their peers.” Muttering, he added, “or entirely sane. But,” Zuq turned his attention back to
“Unfortunately, I can’t say that I do. This thing, hole, door, is weird. So maybe a weird explanation warrants further exploration.”
“Exactly what I thought,” Zuq said as he placed the metallic case he had carried with him that day on the ground and unlocked it. Tilting back the upper lid revealed a flat white oval shape composed of four segments. One intricate red symbol adorned the object.
Derreck’s eyes narrowed. “Is that…? Looks like something from the
“None of your business, partner.”
“Now, now. Need I remind you of our contract again? Share all information, remember?”
Zuq carefully unrolled a long, thin cable that was attached to the insect-like thing in his box. “Share all information pertaining to this case.” His voice took on a sarcastic tone. “Remember?” Before the young private investigator could respond, the
A smirk garnishing his wide face, Zuq retuned his attention to the cable. “Let’s just say that I know someone who knows someone.”
“Fair enough. At least inform me on what you’re planning to do,”
“This little thing here will allow me to take a peek at what lies beyond that veil of darkness. Hopefully.” The cable that wasn’t attached to one side of the object/insect ended in three thin needles. Accompanied by a grunt, Zuq inserted these near the back of his skull. “That’s never pleasant.”
The insect jumped up and scurried towards the edge of the Anomaly, unwinding the cable with it. It halted at the edge of darkness. Zuq closed his eyes and breathed in deeply. “Here we go.” The insect jumped in.
The long cable unwound completely in less than a second. Zuq threw his two front limbs over his head and winced as the needles were jerked out.
Derreck’s head turned back and forth in confusion before he started running towards Zuq.
Most knowledge has a price. And, just like with any other commodity, the value rises in concert with rarity. But, information that only you possess can, quite literally, be priceless. As such, the argument could be made that such knowledge should be pursued at all costs.
Zuq Siqr, knowledge merchant
Groaning, Zuq turned around with a swing of his tail. After blinking rapidly a few times, he started massaging the top of his head.
While releasing a soft sigh of relief,
Zuq stood up with a push of his tail and said, “Nothing much. Darkness. And a flash of blinding light. And then your face with a worried look.” He stopped massaging his head and grinned. “Your concern is touching, but I’m fine.” The grin disappeared and was replaced by a contemplative look.
“What are you thinking?”
“Hmm? Oh, just a feeling. There was something there. Even though I haven’t the faintest idea of why I should think that.”
“What was there?”
“I don’t know!” Zuq suddenly snapped. “Okay? I. Don’t. Know.”
Zuq seemed immersed in thought. Then abruptly, “
“What are you—” Before
A low rumble alerted Derreck seconds before the earth beneath his feet began trembling. The ground he was standing on seemed to undulate. Waves in an ocean of dirt. He staggered
The wheel, seemingly made out of wood, rolled on, making its way through whatever obstacle it came across. No ordinary wood then,
He glanced up, looking for the wheel. But the artifact was already out of sight, leaving destroyed houses and screaming people in its wake.
Quickly, it became known as the World-Wheel. It unabatedly continues its path. Using the fastest flying machines they could develop, the thaumaturgs have confirmed it effectively travels across the known lands, only to disappear over the horizon into the forbidden areas and return on the other side of the city’s furthest expanses after a period of time. No one understands where it gets its energy, or what, if anything, it’s trying to say with the recurrent pattern of symbols it leaves behind. Meanwhile, its path has been cleared and it has become a part of life among El Haifa’s residents. Just another mystery.
Ezeke Aliël. Mysteries of El Haifa (addendum c), pg. 301
He had been staring at it for weeks now. Often, he wondered whether Zuq had been able to send a message, as the
His mission was officially finished. The Council had begrudgingly accepted that a conclusive explanation for the Anomaly was probably never to be found. They told
Then, one late night, as the burgeoning daylight impatiently crept beyond his window, the shadow of the window’s edge snuck across Derreck’s desk. And suddenly, he saw it.
Zuq did send a message.
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Gunnar De Winter
Gunnar De Winter is a biologist/philosopher hybrid who explores ideas through fictional fieldwork.