Sunny is a short story from Dan Diehn.
If you're just joining us, you can read Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV,
Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII, Part IX, Part X, Part XI,
Part XII, Part XIII, and Part XIV.
The is the end.
Duri was the first to notice it, the golden flecks within the old woman’s eyes. Kiran’s eyes. Duri dropped the piece of fruit and walked up to her cautiously. She placed her palms on either side of the woman’s wrinkled face, pulled her cheeks until they were eye to eye. The old woman smiled softly.
“You’re Kiran,” Duri said plainly. “You’re her grandmother and you are also Kiran.”
The woman nodded, quietly. Her skin felt warm under Duri’s grasp and she had a difficult time not sinking into a quagmire of personal memory, seeping in nostalgia. There was something so comforting about the way that her presence made her feel, like a fond thought of a faraway idyllic picnic, the heat of the sun cradling her skin and the cool breeze of the wind dancing between the hairs on her arm.
“And you’re her parents,” Duri continued. The woman shifted underneath Duri’s grasp until there they stood before her. “And her pesky brother!” Duri laughed, watching her skin ripple, break apart, and reform, a young jocular boy bouncing on his feet. He punched her in the shoulder and howled with glee, his boisterous voice reverberating throughout the room.
“But Kiran my roommate,” Duri’s voice trailed, “Kiran my friend.”
Kiran’s body shifted back into the old woman, who cleared her throat and rubbed her eyes. “I’m afraid she’s lost.”
“To Attila,” Fish interjected, stepping forward. “Who the hell is he?”
Kiran smiled, “Let us eat. There are many eyes and ears upon us now and some things would be best spoken of in private.”
Duri became suddenly aware how quiet it was in the massive dining hall. All attention had been directed to them, the shapeshifting Kiran, the summoner with green and purple hair, Green with Teeth, and the roommate. She shuddered to think what they were all here for, especially after hearing some of Fish’s more horrific stories about sacrifice and other student’s attempt at summoning.
Green had called them all when Kiran and Fish were at her place. When Green had first seen Kiran, when he transformed into a gigantic red pillar of energy, he had called them in a way that let Attila eavesdrop and scoop them up into his house with the creepy forest moat, let Attila take Kiran away. She glared at Green who did not seem to care or notice.
They did their best to mill about at the table, attempting to act that this situation was not at all dire and incredibly normal. Duri had lost her appetite. Fish was filled to the brim with questions and did her best to allay her desire to throw them all at Kiran while chewing on a soft roll. Kiran merely watched.
Duri’s mind wandered while she stared at a bowl of mashed potatoes. Here she was, now, surrounded by beasts and creatures of all sorts and origins, incubi and succubi, bodies with scales and leathery skin, smoke filled souls made of glass, things comprising of eyes and teeth and little else, stuff her nightmares would blush to envision.
Growing up she wished to become a mechanical engineer, to work with the machines for some great cause, medicine perhaps, nanomachines that could rebuild your lungs if one failed. School was such a distant memory, something that had happened to someone else a long time ago, a faded photograph one stumbles upon in a drawer long sealed.
Kiran, honestly, I’m worried about you, the last words she had spoken to her. Kiran had thrown her scarf around her neck and stormed out of their dorm room, spewing concern for Duri’s well-being while stomping off in a huff. Duri choked on the memory and let a loud guffaw spill out. Once the laughter had been freed, she could no longer contain it and giggled uncontrollably until tears tore down the sides of her face.
The room shifted its attention again.
“I’m sorry,” Duri shouted between snickers, “I just… I just can’t even believe how serious you all are. This is,” she gestured toward the room, “this is ridiculous. I mean, what? Where are we? What are you? What the hell is this? You’re here for Kiran? Kiran my idiot roommate? Kiran, the woman who nearly failed her freshman year because she couldn’t figure out how to use an alarm? Couldn’t wake up and get to class on time? Kiran who forgot to eat? Kiran who forgot to sleep? Kiran who asked the dumbest goddamn questions I couldn’t even imagine! I mean, come on, she once got kicked out of lecture for fighting with her physics professor about the origin of the universe even though what she said was just complete nonsense. I mean, how would she even know,” Duri’s laughter faded and she looked up at the others. “Oh,” she held a hand up to her mouth, the gears of her memory fitting everything into place until it clicked. Kiran the grandmother, the father and mother, the son, the daughter, the house at the top of the hill, the ray of light striking the earth when it was new, the dust suspended in a prism of life. Kiran the yellow. Kiran the light of the world. “Oh. I just…” she hesitated, “I had no idea. I was just always impressed at her sunny disposition.”
The room erupted in slithering laughter, but the old woman stood and calmed the crowd. Her voice was firm, “You are here because of me,” she looked to Duri, “that much is true. We are here because of a transference of power. Attila has found a way to exploit our energy. He and his god have been scheming for a long time. I did not think it possible until it happened.” She paced back and forth up and down the stairs leading to and from the sunken room. “You are all here for a reason. You, as unpledged, have lived since the beginning, have observed and intervened, doled out hope and fear equally, inspiration of dreams and nightmares, fodder for cave paintings and plays, but,” she extended a shaky finger at each and every one of them, “you are from dust. And to dust you must return.”
The room wobbled, then shook, and they collectively held their breath as matter imploded and they found themselves in a large room, a gigantic tree growing out of its center into the universe above, stretching around and connecting realities.
While the others were clutching their abdomens after the sudden shift, Duri steeled herself against the environment and walked up to the tree.
“Atilla!” she shouted. “Atilla you fucking asshole, give me back my roommate! Give me back my friend!”
The bark rustled subtly. Leaves far above them shook and the air dried out. It smelled of thorns and fire.
“Attila!” she yelled again. The others were rising to their feet and claws and wings. Thunder rolled in from the distance. Rain began to patter inward from the gaping hole in the ceiling created by Attila’s tree. “You creepy old fuck, come out here and talk to me like a man!” Lightning ripped across the sky.
Slowly, the bark at the base of the trunk peeled away and Attila stepped through, beaming with pride. “You again,” he snarled, “I thought you left.” He looked around the room. “Though it appears you have returned with friends. Am I supposed to be scared?”
Duri planted her feet into the floor and crossed her arms across her chest. She gritted her teeth and spit, “Where is Sunny?”
The crack began at the top, light years away. It would not be heard for centuries, an anomaly recorded and subsequently ignored as noise.
“Sunny? Who the hell is Sunny? Why don’t you and your… friends leave?” Attila waved his arm and Duri dug her feet into the rubble deeper. Hail crashed against the windows.
“You don’t even know her name,” Duri growled through her teeth. Fire broke out amongst the trees outside. She stepped forward, each word punctuated with the pounding of her feet, “Names. Have. Power. You. Know.” She pushed him into the massive tree god, its bark enveloping him and closing in around his skin. “Now, for the last time, give me back my friend!”
It rippled out from beneath her feet, a wave of roots and tendrils that gripped the body of everything in the room. Energy cried out. They were going home, to the dust, to the earth beneath them. Duri pulled on their strength and extended a finger until she touched the tree. The tree broke, a large gash that extended from one world into the next.
Kiran stepped forward, her long brown hair draped over her shoulders, a yellow scarf tied around her neck. She smiled at Duri. “I am so sorry,” she said. “I forgot why I came here. I got lost along the way.”
Duri hugged her hard and cried, “I’m sorry I didn’t come sooner.”
Kiran pushed her back and held her shoulders at a close distance, “Are you ready, partner?”
The word shivered through Duri’s spine. She thought about home, the way the grass bent under the sun in the summer months, the way the breeze shifted between the hills, the way dust danced in the sunlight pouring through her open bedroom window, she thought about her family, her friends, thought about how nothing would ever be the same again.
“Good,” Kiran said, “because we’re in it together until the end now. Let’s go.” She grabbed Duri’s hand. The air in the room sucked inward and they zipped away.
by Dan Diehn