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Fiction Fantastic 2024 Winning Story: “To the Ends of the Earth” by Brianna R. Bird

The story below is a winner from our Fiction Fantastic Young Writers Contest, open to all youth in Lane County. For more information on this contest, including how to enter, visit here. Support this program with a donation.

You can purchase this story in the 2024 Winners Anthology, Realm of Forgotten Dreams.

“To the Ends of the Earth” by Brianna R. Bird, Springfield High School

Honorable Mention, High School Level, 2024


To the Ends of the Earth

by Brianna R. Bird

Springfield High School

All I had was a very fluffy white cat and a scimitar. I supposed it was probably the best they could do, but when I saw the one she had, I felt very outdated.

The girl’s weapon had all the bells and whistles of something of 1367—not near the beauty of mine, of course. She was wearing a very strange ensemble: a black tailcoat over a blouse tucked into brown trousers, a satchel, and her fiery hair in a braid around her head with the strangest pieces of machinery stuck into it, as well as in her buttonholes, jewelry, and belt.

I really did feel ancient in my blue and gold tunic. I hoped my back wasn’t acting up again. It had been so embarrassing, getting stuck in that chimney in Mesopotamia; things weren’t retractable until after that.

Anyway, she held a blunderbuss-turned-bayonet, making me look as though I had arrived at the Trojan War holding a butter knife. I flipped my hair over my other eye to get a better look at her. Her eyes were strange, it was like staring into a black pit, but her irises held flames. Of course, I surely looked strange to her.

She didn’t notice me until the cat started meowing; I had poked its tail while trying to remove it from my chest. I jumped up as soon as she saw me, and carefully removed the cat. She grinned at me, and then started to walk away.

“Wait!”

I have no clue why I thought I should try to stop her, maybe because she was the only one who might be able to understand me. The other thing that surprised me was that she actually did stop.

She turned and looked at me.

“For what?”

I looked around for the first time to see we were in a rundown train station. The marble columns next to us were beautiful but looked like they had begun their completion of the dust-to-dust cycle. The eastern wall was open to the platform, where she was heading.

I blinked a couple of times, flustered.

“Where are we?”

She grinned again.

“I haven’t the slightest idea.”

I racked my thoughts for something more original.

“Where do I know you from?”

“I was hoping you’d be able to tell me.”

“Who are you?”

“I don’t think you really want to know.”

She inspected my eyes in a way that was reassuring, like saying, “Don’t worry, I’m the hero and I’ve got this,” before turning again.

“But I do!”

I didn’t know why I was so desperate. I tried to think. The thing was, when I searched my brain, the only thing I found was the unsettling sensation that had been descending around me for the past five minutes. I found nothing.

I realized with agonizing certainty that I knew only three things. I suspected she had landed in similar circumstances. I slung the cat over my shoulder and sprinted towards her.

“Please. I don’t know what to do.” I left off, not wanting to admit the bitter truth. “I don’t remember anything.”

She nodded enthusiastically, before giving me that look again.

 “Neither do I. We might as well make introductions. I’m Achlys, and the last clear thing I remember is that I’m a daemon.”

I clutched the feline against me, trying not to let Achlys see my horror. I knew I recognized her from somewhere, but I never thought it would have been the war. I inhaled deeply though my nose and tried not to focus on her hellish pupils burning into mine.

“The name’s Auriel, and funnily enough, I happen to be an angel.”

“So, do you know how we got here?”

I spoke timidly, the last clear thing I remembered is that everything had been greatly in turmoil in the heavens. “I think I’ve been sent to search for something.”

Achlys was standing at the edge of the platform.

 “Do you think we’re searching together?” she wondered. “Or are we just racing to the trophy?”

I was put off by her light tone. My voice felt so much less confident compared to hers.

 “I suppose . . . I suppose I thought that, being the only celestial beings and everything, we were simply destined to be partners.”

Achlys stood watching the train tracks. They hung like Babylonian gardens over a deep chasm of mountains and valleys that I couldn’t see beyond. The longer I stared, I felt a sense of unease creeping up from the depths.

“Have you figured out where we are yet?” she asked. “I think it’s the answer to your question.”

I look around again. There was just a platform, decaying columns, and the train tracks. Then I looked up, and I remembered where I came from.

Earth, Gaea, whatever you care to call it, was suspended perhaps ten feet from me. I could see the milky way ringed about everything like a layer of mist, circling below the mountains, with stars catching on their peaks. The sun was eclipsed by the large mass of Earth in front of us, but I could see the other planets crowning it in the background. Clouds were circling it, some of which I realized had snagged themselves on the tops of the columns, and then I remembered absolutely everything: home.

I could feel their wings brush mine. I remembered it all, our first battle, and the way they dragged my emaciated form past the gates, the way I had lain for so long in front of the garden that I thought the grass had grown over me and the moss had filled my wounds. I remembered the waterfall, and the feeling of drowning in silence, and then the relief.

I remembered it all so vividly, my books and my friends and my favorite flavors of tea that we would drink after the battles, healing ourselves with remembrance of all that is good, and the way it felt to fall asleep with my wings wrapped around my eyes and the smell of ambrosia growing beneath my branch.

I could hear Michael’s voice in my ear, “I believe that they are weak when they see our love.” And I could feel the wind in my hair as I sailed down through the spirals and onion domes of the most magnificent temples. I remembered it, the fellowship, the color of the dirt in my garden, the way the sun looked dark compared to our assemblies. It was home.

“This is the in-between part, isn’t it?”

“Purgatory?” Achlys nodded. “I imagine what you’re seeing must be better than what I’m seeing.”

She was still staring down between the train tracks. I followed her gaze, but no matter how much I stared, all I saw was darkness. It hurt my eyes. She sighed.

“They wouldn’t have sent us to the no man’s land if they didn’t want us to work together.”

“What’s it like down there? Why did they send us?” The questions escaped before I could stop them.

“I don’t think you’d be able to understand,” she said ruefully. “And us? We’re the youngest. We won’t hate each other as much, I suppose.”

Achlys smirked at my right foot. I realized that there was a set of claws in my boot; the white cat had begun to scratch its paws against the material.

“Hey! That’s sacred leather from the Holy Land!”

I hung the cat around my shoulders.

Achlys laughed as it batted at my sheath of hair.

“You’ve got a little parasite.”

I glared at her. “How in the heavens did you get to have a bag?”

She grinned.

“Devil wears Prada and Coach. I’m surprised I don’t have an Apple watch.” She had a point. “No actually, I just like to keep my plans hidden. Part of the job description.”

At that moment, a train car pulled into the station. Achlys alighted inside the compartment.

“Well?” Achlys asked. “Listen, angel, you’ve got about five seconds.”

I felt anxiety crippling me. Suddenly, a very strange white form obscured my vision, and before I knew it, the cat had bounded onto the train.

“You little leviathan,” I muttered, grasping for its tail.

I was too slow. I was going to fall to the ground and end my immortal lifespan crushed beneath the wheels of a train in some devil’s plot. But then there were two hands catching mine. I felt myself pulled through the door with inhuman strength as our transportation departed from the station.

Achlys released my hands, bending to stroke the cat.

“It needs a name,” she remarked. “I think it looks like a Pandora.”

“I was thinking something along the lines of Judah.”

“Of course you were.” Achlys snickered. “What about Leviathan? You did accuse it of being such.”

“Pandora? Wasn’t she . . .” I racked my brains for the account I’d heard from Aristotle back in the 300s. “Wasn’t she the first woman?”

The flames flared in Achlys’s eyes.

“She made it all go wrong. Like Eve.” She thought for a moment. “I think that’s why we’re here. To make it go right. If we can stop Eve . . .” She trailed off. “We can stop the fall. Do you think . . .” her voice was breathless. “Do you think I can get my home back?”

I remembered what Seraph told me: “Once you’re down, you’re down.”

But I thought it didn’t work like that.

“I don’t know,” I said, “But what you see down there, I know that I don’t want it for anyone.”

The train ground to a halt. I had fallen asleep, and Leviathan had its head resting on my arm. Achlys lay on her back, and I realized I could see her dreams. Red clouds hovered over her scalp. The clouds shifted and I saw a face. Achlys, bending over a stream. Then her face vanished, and I realized I was looking through her eyes.

Two angels fought in the middle of an agora. One of them had wings that were growing holes. I watched as the tattered angel fell to the ground, and the other raised a sword above the first.

“Please!” Achlys shrieked. “Don’t hurt her!”

I was surprised to see the angel she spoke to was Seraph.

“You’re only a child,” he snarled. “What would you know of these sins?”

Achlys screamed as Seraph struck the ground beside the fallen angel.

“To Hell with you, Lucifer!” he howled.

Achlys seized Lucifer’s hands before she plummeted into the abyss.

“What have you done?” Achlys whispered. “I thought you said we’d be beautiful.”

Seraph pulled her off of Lucifer, who fell into the dark abyss, wings tearing from her as she sank.

Seraph hissed into Achlys’s ear. “Thieves. Do you know what you search for?” There was malice in his eyes. “Your greed for knowledge is the root of your evil.”

Achlys was desperate. I saw her wings beginning to tear.

“Creation! That’s what we were told to do!”

“You steal from your own creator, you dishonored half-breeds.”

With that, Seraph shoved her. Achlys dropped through the abyss to the cold, hard nothingness. She stared as paradise closed over her.

Achlys awoke, gasping. Then a look of the deepest, darkest shame that I have only ever seen in the eyes of one other person came into her eyes. It was the same look the man wore when he wrapped his fist around a bag of silver pieces.

The train door rolled open. We stood on a wasteland between two rivers, the trunks of dead trees and abandoned fountains surrounded us.

“What did you mean?” I hesitated, not wanting to offend her. “You said that if we succeed, you might get your home back?”

“Do you know why we are here?”

“We’re here to stop the end of the world, aren’t we?”

“We can delay it. We have to go back to Eden.”

I stared at her.

“You mean, you can’t possibly mean that you want to . . . You want to stop Lucifer?”

She nodded. I stared at her in awe.

“You can’t do this. I have to be the one.” Achlys spoke quickly, as if the words would escape her if she didn’t voice them. “Your side gave mine a choice, and I need to stop them.” Her eyes flicker. “We weren’t given free will to sabotage ourselves. It’s time I redeemed myself.”

With that, she did the thing I least expected. She took my hand.

“You saw my dreams. I just wanted to create, away from people like Seraph. He just controlled. We wanted freedom. But Lucifer was different. She destroyed.” She took a slow breath again. “I never wanted to hurt anyone. This is my battle to fight.”

With that, Achlys seized both my hands and I felt as though I were falling down, down, down. I could see layers of time peeling off the landscape. We fell through thousands of years.

And then, we were there. And there was a dragon standing before us, its wings beating the branches of a tree bearing golden apples.

I could see, across the plains of bushes and trees, two brilliantly beautiful people walking across the lawns. They were holding each other’s hands and laughing, their hair blowing around each other like clouds around mountains.

“I’m going after her.”

The pupils in Achlys’s irises were glowing, and sparks were reigning down her cheeks. Was she . . . crying?

“I don’t know what’s going to happen to me, but I want it to be worth something.”

Then she was running away from me, her hair falling loose from its braid and spilling around her shoulders. I tried to follow her on foot, but I was too slow. She was running through a stream leading to a waterfall, and at the top of the waterfall stood the gilded apple tree.

Achlys wouldn’t get up the cliffs in time without help. I relaxed all my muscles, closed my eyes, and pictured sunlight and birds and the feeling of wind whooshing through ruffled feathers. And then there they were: a pair of wings resting on my shoulder blades.

I soared across the lawn, and quickly caught up to her. I grasped her under the arms and hoisted her up the waterfall, dropped her on the bank, and then flew towards the people making their way across the grass.

I landed in front of them, my wings still outstretched. They stared at me in shock, and for a moment I was at a loss for words. What was the thing Michael always said?

“Don’t be afraid!” I stammered. “Everything’s all right.”

They still looked afraid. Michael hadn’t gone over what to do when that happened.

“Well, mostly, that is!” I started again, taking a deep breath. “Listen; I can’t change fate. But I can give you a warning. In a matter of moments, you are going to be given a choice that will alter all of human nature and their future for the rest of history.”

They still looked scared.

“I cannot stop you. But I can give you advice. Remember all that you have been given, remember who you are. Remember your love for one another.”

A scream pierced the air. I whipped around to see Achlys being lifted into the air, and I began to rise from the ground. I looked back at the couple one more time.

“Be strong. Be wise. We’re all counting on you.”

I soared towards the tree, where Achlys was now astride the dragon’s back. She had her gun pointed towards its heart, and her other hand was pressed against her side. I flew forward. An enormous claw batted at me, but I dove down toward Achlys. She gasped as I placed my scimitar in her hand, and I took the blunderbuss and began to riddle the hide of the serpent with bullet holes.

A tremendous roar nearly flayed our flesh as the dragon’s claw fell from its body; Achlys had cut herself free. And with another sweep of the scimitar, the dragon was crashing towards the ground. Achlys was nowhere to be seen, and I realized in horror that she was buried beneath the monstrous corpse.

I flew forwards, screaming her name. She couldn’t be gone, she had lived through too much. The monster had caused an enormous crater, and I realized that it was all sinking into the ground.

I hurtled towards the ground, thinking that I would surely collide with the earth, until I realized that the monster had plummeted underground. And then it struck me—I was plummeting straight into Hell.

Despair filled me. I had to turn back. But there she was; I caught sight of Achlys’s form falling deep into the black cavern below. I couldn’t leave her like this. I beat my wings together and accelerated faster than I thought possible. And then, suddenly, I caught her arm in mine, and was dragging her back into the light.

Achlys was so limp in my arms, at first I thought her dead, but I felt a faint flutter of her heart against my neck. Where was I taking her? Would they let her back? I could confront Seraph, plead her case before the Divine, but suddenly I felt her tugged away from me.

I shrieked as I felt her sliding down out of the sky. She was two feet below me, now three feet—

And then Achlys was beside me again in the clouds, and she was glowing. The sun was glinting off her mane of fiery curls, and her irises were golden. But most beautiful of all, a pair of golden wings beat the air behind her. She was rising with me into the heavens.

“How—” I started.

She cut me off. “We did it!”

“No, you did it.” I grabbed her hands. “Come on! I want to take you home!”

And then we were flying hand in hand through the vast expanse of blue, with two shining gates unfolding above us.