Header art by Erica Lahaie

Fanfic: The Keepers and the Queen

With metal beasts roaming the land, the Keepers of Sun and Moon—Aloy and Thorn—must rise together to face them.

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Dec 28 2017, 11:00pm

Header art by Erica Lahaie

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Long before my time and long, long before yours, the sun and the moon were only ever apart. And our kind, who live with our toes in the soil and not in the skies, could define them only in their isolation.

It was the Keeper of the Sun, Aloy, who brought her hands to our cheeks and warmed us during the day. And when the cold grey winds skated around our naked ankles at night, we knew it to be the Keeper of the Moon, Thorn, chasing us into our homes so she might have the wilderness to herself.

Both gods were hunters by nature. By arrow and blade each reaped the living bounty of the earth, yet like their gold and silver thrones all similarity ended with their basest role. Aloy butchered her kills with practicality in mind. She kept anything that could be put to use, and it was this that filled the hunter under the sun with her passion and her purpose. By contrast, Thorn kept only the finest of what she could cut free, surrounding herself and those rare few that she held dear with an unrivaled collection of specimens. And it was this that filled the hunter under the moon with her passion and her purpose.

Our people could no more halt the Queen’s abhorrent procession than a fish could halt the tide.

Different as they were, Aloy and Thorn felt no need to meet. They were neither friends nor lovers, and lacked a drop of shared blood between them. They were bound only by the plains and the forests and the mountains and the shores that they stalked, and chose to each give the other as wide a berth as they themselves desired. For as long as their hunting grounds were in balance, this suited both gods well.

But if balance was what existed in the world before the Queen of Beasts’ arrival, it was not what followed on her barbed heels.

“Balance” was not the name of the sharp tungsten scales that marked the ridges of her spine, nor was it the signified breed of her countless snapping children. The plains came to slate under the Queen and her kind; the forests to ash, the mountains to ice, and the shores to obsidian. No flower bloomed in her newly-claimed demesne, and no soul found its peace. And what could the world do except suffer her reign? Our people could no more halt the Queen’s abhorrent procession than a fish could halt the tide. We could only flee in the hope that she would not sweep us up in her wake, or that her children would not catch us in their infested jaws.

Staid Aloy saw the suffering the Queen rained upon the world and its people and turned her face from the sight, casting the veil of dusk across it all. This caught the brooding Thorn's attention, who rose into the sky mistaking the darkness as the hour of her hunt.

Image courtesy of Sony

While the sunlit god had seen the aura of horror the Queen carried, her shadow under the moon saw nothing but a trophy more glorious than any she yet possessed. But Thorn was no fool. Proud and skilled as the hunter was, the Queen and her progeny were an army unto themselves. Thorn had little desire to test the limits of her divinity against such a force.

Although she typically chose to keep no company but her own, Thorn knew Aloy to be an adept hunter—if not her match in talent then at least as competent as was necessary to leave the over-groomed remains that she often came upon. Even if it was not in her nature to acknowledge (nevermind praise) the strengths of others, Thorn knew she would find no partner more suitable among the immortals (and the mortals, of course, did not even bear her consideration.)

So Thorn called out, her voice ringing clear and harsh as the tolling of a morning bell. Such a bell's toll would reach the ears of every townsperson curled warmly in their beds, and so too did the god’s call reach Aloy in the shapeless glow of the abyss. It coaxed the hunter from her bower, the sun rising once more in the violet sky until it became but a golden ring encircling the bleak shadow of the moon. The two gods came together there, and they planned their pursuit.

A god's arrow is still an arrow...

I have told this story many times, you know, and nearly every time I am asked why Aloy did not simply fire one of the sun's bright arrows to end the Queen of Beasts. Or why did she not touch the divine jewel at her temple to see where the Queen was weakest? I have been asked why Thorn did not simply stalk the Queen's inheritors and ignore their poisoned bites, shrugging them off like the wine-drunk insults of a particularly feeble rival. Why did she not carve loose their horns, their hooves, and their heads as she had countless others?

Our mistake when we hear these tales is to assume that those things more powerful than us, the gods in particular, are more powerful than all. We imagine ourselves just shy of the peak of being, and whatever may step past us rests upon that peak with no further climb ahead. Consequently, it is easy for us to think that the gods' will (and their manner of exerting that will upon the world) must supersede every obstacle raised in their path. What obstacles but the clouds remain before you on such a peak, after all?

A god's arrow is still an arrow, and the rules that bind ours bind theirs just as tightly. An arrow must still be fired from a bow, and must still find purchase in its target. What good is a weakness when it cannot be struck, for that matter? What good is a trophy when it cannot be cut free?

Though she was master of every creature of skin, scale, pelt or plume, the Queen of Beasts resembled none of them. Her body gleamed, built of brilliant materials and sharp angles that together made her seem like the very concept of weaponry had stolen life's own breath for itself. She was vulgarity and desecration of the natural refined like glass in the sea, and in this way her children were her countless facets. Together they bore none of the softness of flesh.

Not on their own, at least. When the gods ceased their conspiring and parted each other's company, Aloy drew the golden disk of the sun higher than she ever had before. She did not allow it to fan across the sky in its gentle, warming arc, but shone it fiercely and singularly upon the backs of the Queen and her kin. The scorching light didn't waver until the blackened rocks began to mollify under the herd's plodding steps — until even their ashen wake came to life again with flames and flashes of searing gas.

As you may now understand, it was neither strength nor willpower that the two divine hunters needed to pool. It was wit—and wit wielded viciously.

The Queen was beyond senses and beyond concern for a principle as base as temperature, but fortunately for Aloy and Thorn her concern (or lack thereof) hardly mattered. As the rocks softened so too did the ored hides of the Queen and her young, enough that when the gods together fired their arrows and threw their knives into the beings’ backs, they sank deeply into the corrupted material.

Only then did Aloy allow her light to descend, while Thorn shot her own up in its place. Under the pallid and unforgiving light of the moon, the Queen's body once again condensed and hardened. Yet all was not as it had been before. As her spines and plates reformed around the weapons now embedded in them, the cold night chilled and made them brittle. Almost immediately they began to shatter, falling away from the Queen of Beasts and her brood like great, fragile sheets of ice loosened off a roof by an early thaw. They hit the ground and shattered as if they were, too, until eventually nothing remained but crackling heaps of husk and splintered bone.

We know that even now that the hunter gods do not keep each other company often. Aloy still kills for craft and practicality, and still finds her own light in the lives of the mortals she walks alongside. Thorn still kills for glory and pride, quick to warn off any who might interrupt. Their lives are lived in opposition to this day. But every so often they will come together in the sky again—a golden ring around a pitiless shadow—and look down over us for something worthy. Be it problem, or be it prey.

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