Imogen Gray was a prophet, and her trade was in bones and secrets. Some said she was morbid, digging up bones like that, for profit of all things. They didn’t care about the truth that bones held, or the history that they revealed. They said that once bones were buried, they should stay buried.
These were the kinds of people that would cause the end of the world.
Imogen was on a bone hunt and so, she wore the face of a teenage girl. It was either that or an older women, and Imogen knew the group she traveled with would be uncomfortable watching a wrinkled elder slog through dust and drought, night and windstorms. Not because they’d want to help her, but because they wouldn’t, and their guilt would war with their selfishness.
Imogen wasn’t in the mood to play with human emotions, right now. Not when the ground was thrumming under her feet. Not when the stench of power, of answers, of something ancient was burning in her nose.
There were bones close by. Powerful ones. Ones that had answers.
Imogen was going to find them. And once she did, she’d know how to keep the world from ending.
The ground was shuddering. Great, heaving shivers that pulled at the dust, at the sky, at anything living. It would have pulled at Imogen’s soul, too, if she’d had one. She did not, thankfully, and so, Imogen could stand on this mound of dirt, the mound she’d so patiently and diligently hunted, and face the group of people in front of her. Their eyes were the same as they’d always been, but now they were unrecognizable.
None of them could feel the ground moving.
Imogen had done this.
“We shouldn’t dig here,” she said.
The air shimmered as someone spat at her. A child wailed. A women, or perhaps a man, keened. No one helped them, no one looked at them. There was red, running in rivulets down a young man’s arm. Someone was shouting.
Someone was still shouting, but there were no women or children in this group. No one was hurt.
Too many threads, Imogen thought, as the earth shifted far, far below her. Too many possibilities for this future.
“You promised us treasure!”
Imogen didn’t see where the shout had come from. It doesn’t matter, a voice whispered in her head. In the end, men are all the same. In the end, they’ll all be buried in this dirt, no matter who they were or what they did.
“We paid you!”
This time, Imogen found the face in the group. She met the green-tired eyes of the man, took in his dusty face, his sweat-plastered red hair, the wrinkles around his mouth. In his hands, he held a heavy-looking metal shovel. If he hadn’t been here, he would have been teaching his grandson to plant corn. But he was here, and his grandson hadn’t been born yet. Looking into the man’s eyes, Imogen wondered if that grandson would ever be born, now. If corn would ever exist again. If he’d get the house in the country he’d always wanted.
Too many threads.
Another voice inside Imogen, younger than the one from the ground, but closer to her own, said, Run.
“I will find you other bones,” Imogen said, as, in front of her, the men shimmer-transformed from men to mob and back again. “There are other treasures in this world that will get you what you want.”
A hard voice sirened into the air. “She just wants this treasure for herself!”
Another voice, “Don’t listen to her. She’s going to take this treasure and leave us.”
She could have sworn the thing under her feet laughed.
Run run run run.
The thing was, Imogen could run. She wanted to. And it would be so easy, so, so easy, to slip away from this mound of earth, to let these people dig and uncover these bones, to pretend that she hadn’t helped them find this future, this history.
She could go somewhere else, anywhere else, somewhere with sun and trees, or mountains and oceans. Somewhere far away, and maybe, if she was lucky, she wouldn’t be touched by these bones.
“She tricked us this whole way. She needed food, and we gave it to her. She’ll take everything from us if we let her!”
Imogen blinked away an image of caves and failing fires.
“You will die if you dig here,” she told them. “We will all die here.”
The man in the front of the group spun around to face the others, dull green eyes flashing. “She’s lying. Don’t listen to her. Can’t you see how she’s lying? She wants this treasure for herself. There is no other treasure. She’s lying!”
The threads of the world wavered around her, spiraling backwards and then forwards, endless possibilities, but all with the same destination.
All of them, except for one.
And suddenly, Imogen knew.
This man would be dead in an hour, Imogen saw. No grandson for him, no planting corn. There was no avoiding that now. They all would be dead soon. Their deaths were just the beginning, because it would spread, oh, how it would spread, across this desert, and the ocean, to every single living thing and non-living thing on this planet.
We all die, the voice whispered inside of her. Our bones are made from the dust, and we return to it. You’re not saving him.
She couldn’t tell if it was the voice from the ground or the voice that had once been in her heart, the one that had led these hunts for years, that had spoiled these men and their futures.
She should’ve stuck with just prophecies.
Beneath her, the ground rumbled. Perhaps the men in front of her felt it. Their eyes gleamed, past reason now.
“Get your shovels! She’s lying!”
But Imogen knew what she had to do now. She’d brought them here. She’d brought the world to this. Even if she kept them from digging here today, other men would come. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but one day.
Imogen knelt to touch the ground. She felt the power under her feet, felt it laugh and slither, rejoice in her fear, in the fears of these men around her. It was so, so dark.
These were the bones that were meant to stay buried.
Imogen swallowed past her fear and prepared her fight.
She grasped the edge of a thread, the one with light, with possibility. She had to believe it would be enough. Listening for the crackling night-dark voice, and then for her own heart-voice, Imogen stood.