The Wasteland
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rating: +57+x

In

The dish was on the table. Rhythm Linn - the first and the last customer of the day - looked at it and held his knife, pondering his missing sister, Lyrics, "Is she still alive?" The waiter beside him seemed to ignore his musings and walked away; perhaps he would pay more attention if he knew of the gold coins in Rhythm's pocket.

The decoration of the Ambrose Restaurant was, without doubt, of the lowest class: the tables, chairs, and floor were made of old wood, and their coarse corners often stuck to the clothes of careless diners; the overhead chandelier kept swinging, emitting ominous blue light. All windows were firmly sealed by steel plates, blocking any trace of light from the outdoors. Few customers chose this restaurant as their haunt. Nevertheless, the unpopularity helped keep it standing after scores of sunrises and sunsets. Days ago, Rhythm had asked the impacts of daybreak upon the attractive Ambrose Restaurants. The bartender slouched and kept shaking his head:

"Meat! Ground meat! They just clustered together as a huge, HUGE meatball, blocking the god damn entrance and crushing down the door frame, and mercilessly gobbled down everything in the restaurant! Those half-human half-meat creatures posed as if they wanted to order, but as soon as other fresh meat approached them, they intertwined into a puddle of flesh. Ambrose welcomes any beings to come here and enjoy their meal, but the half-human stuff genuinely makes me want to throw up." Ambrose's waiters served countless non-humans and half-humans, but the "humans" melted by the ruthless red sun made them shiver. Strange.

Rhythm Linn picked up a piece of cooked "meat" and blew on it, letting it cool. According to the menu, specified thaumatic manipulation allowed some parts of the meat to be heated, other parts to be frozen; the isotherm traced beautiful arcs and stung the palate of the diners. He bit the meat, savoring it, while the treated EVE particles along the isotherm burst out in his mouth, affecting him "unexpectedly" (not anymore; he had ordered it dozens of times). Now that the meat had cooled, it felt slimy and hard on his tongue. The meat stubbornly remained a single piece even as Rhythm chewed it. He had to admit — the half-cooked meat from the sun was far chewier than gum.

"Still, you guys have no ingredients other than this thing in all dishes available," Rhythm repeated his complaints the hundredth time and pointed to the dish, where large chunks of food still lying, waiting to be cleared.

"You know that, Rhythm. We only used special thaumaturgy and memes to treat our food, but the ingredient itself comes from the Earth. But, you see, well, what it is like outside. "

"But that's not an excuse! What about places that are completely hidden from the sunlight?"

"These places were trampled by the flesh monsters, already! I'd told you before! Why did you keep asking me this? Aren't you satisfied?"

Then Rhythm shut up and silently ate the muddy beef ball which had been beef and the muddy rice ball which had been rice. He ate hastily, causing all the cut-up pieces of sunlit food to naturally combine in his stomach and be digested bit by bit.

Resting for an entire hour, Rhythm finally stood up, covering his whole body with reinforced compound armor. The electronic vision module was then activated.

"I'll go now, " Rhythm walked to the door and left some coins to pay for the meal. The doorway itself was a space anomaly, so as soon as he shut the door, it would slowly disappear, waiting for another thaumatic spell to wake it up.

He gave a 5-star rating.

Out

Rhythm Linn went out of the restaurant and strode to the sunlight, searching for his sister again on the way. Hours later, as the sun was setting, he trekked across a gentle hill. A few of his memories trickled back.

He used to come here years ago, especially when he was working in the Wanderers Library; the scattered thin plastic pieces on the ground reminded him of the fading memories of roaming through the ways of the Library, linking him to outer worlds. These plastic bits should have been the Library Cards. When those old Library dwellers held the cards and chanted, a green cursor would appear on the card, guiding them back from the Earth. Now it was different. Rhythm could guess that some dwellers left Earth on that morning. When the red sun rose, humans, flowers, grass, rabbits, mice…… all animals and plants on the surface were reduced to a thin layer of bloody-red mud on the bare soil. Each time Rhythm stamped on it, the red blanket wrapped around his soles a centimeter higher. If he walked too slow, the mud would gradually climb up to the ankles, legs, body, and finally the head. However, the compound armor safely protected him, and it kept his flesh safe from the red mire underfoot. "Always OK to sleep down on the ground, maybe, "Rhythm thought as he ran uphill.

He was tired and his spirit began to falter, so he failed to notice the dirt lump in front of him. Rhythm Linn stumbled a few steps and fell forward to the red.

He looked down; the ground was illuminated by the dim light of death.

He looked up; the bloody moon tore through the darkness of this long night.

While Rhythm struggled to get to his knees, the mud wriggled up his body and started to transform its shape. For one second a pinch of grass protruded from the mire, and for another second a mouse appeared on its side. Rhythm knew that the shapes of the ever-lived manifested randomly, but shapes were only shapes after all. When a lily suddenly grew under his feet, he grabbed it with all his strength, tearing it from the mud. It turned back into a puddle of sticky liquid when it settled down in Rhythm's plastic container.

Lily was the favorite flower of Lyrics.

Rhythm used fire to dispel the red blanket climbing up his armor, and a piece of paper clung to it, which was probably brought up by the mud. On it was a song by the wanderers:

"Let there be bright!"

To the sky, a man howls.

The full moon climbs up the valley;

Under the glittering light, the flower sprouts.

"Flowers…… sea of flowers……" Rhythm mumbled.

Before expelled by the Library, Rhythm had gone here with his sister before: the flower sea - right under his feet - was planted by many humans or non-humans from different worlds. Rhythm had no idea how many others sprinkled lily seeds before, but at this moment he would rather believe the lily in his hand was what he planted years ago, right at this place. Rhythm reread the poem once more, and the picturesque scenery occurred to him.

However, after the daybreak, the beauties of the past wiped out the former world's remnants. Only a fragment of art remained. Who could enjoy it except Rhythm himself? Maybe his teammates? Maybe Library settlers? Maybe his sister? Apart from all this, sadly, one kind of people could enjoy it at any time: the sunburnt.

Rhythm did not cry, but his breath sped up. Waving goodbye to his disquieting memories, he lay on the bloody ground and slept.

He would continue his voyage the next day.






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