Note that this is not the final version and may change when the book comes out
First there was nothing. Then there was chanting.
This is a significantly different way to start one’s life than most people and cleeple. Most begin amazed and confused at the surge of new senses. The sight of bright light, the smell of air, the sounds of gibberish—because, as it turns out, babies don’t usually have the mental capacity to actually understand the world around them or the concepts of amazement and confusion or even consider this lack of understanding.
This clerpson was different.
Like the start of a song, the world was nothing and then sounds blared. Not just sounds—this clerpson’s brain was developed enough to understand that the world had gone from silence to chanting. It was even developed enough to know what songs were. Was it developed enough to understand the chanting?
Duth_Olec: Well, they later claimed the chanting sounded like “AMILAERTHIGNOFSTICOSTIN”, so that’s up to debate.
Wally_Plotch: We’ll assume yes for now.
Whether or not this clerpson understood the chanting was a moot point. The chanting was loud and incessant and rattled in their head. They felt not amazed, but they certainly felt confused.
Next came the sense of touch. This started with itchiness all over their skin, and gaddfern it, they needed to scratch, but they couldn’t move. Their skin felt stretched, and they felt waggly things emerge from the side and bottom. They moved these to scratch, but it intensified the stretching and hurt. If this was life, they wanted no part of it.
Slowly the itchiness faded and the stretching stopped, but then they felt a quick, sharp pain in the front. They screamed. The chanting stopped. Hey! They must have said the magic word.
Duth_Olec: Well, actually, they’d later learn the magic words were what had been chanted at the time, but that’s irrelevant for now. It’s also irrelevant for later.
Wally_Plotch: Good to know.
The sense of smell came next. They liked smell. Something smelled good. It smelled like… It smelled like good. Look, at not even a minute old that was the best they could do.
Duth_Olec: Really, at a minute old, knowing that good means good is probably an achievement. What did you know when you were a minute old?
Wally_Plotch: I’m not sure if that’s a question that even had meaning where I’m from. We didn’t really have time anyway.
Duth_Olec: I was speaking rhetorically. By the way, the smell in question is probably warm and musky.
Finally, the sense of sight: they realized things existed around them and that they saw those things, though hazy and dark was most of what they saw. Spread out above them was a blue almost too black to be blue, a faintly pink disc flanked by two yellowish crescents shining in the darkness. Behind them glowed a hazy, whipping orange light twice their size. In the distance stood blurry poles, the tops covered in thick, gray fuzz. The new creation looked at the dark orange dirt—they stood not half a meter off the ground.
“Are your senses clear, Guardian?”
The new sound jerked the new creature’s head to it, along with the rest of their body because, spoilers, the head pretty much made up their entire body. The voice sounded softer than the earlier sound but also foreboding, as if the boss snuck up from behind on the first day of a new job.
Their sight cleared further, and they saw standing over them a purple. A purple what? Okay, okay, don’t rush them. They still had to adjust to having sight. A purple… robe. Yes, it was a purple robe a few times their height, smooth and straight down to the ground where it rumpled in a pile. Two wide, flowing sleeves hung to the side. Blocking any view of the robe’s inside was a hood flipped up and a brown face twice as wide as the robe with round eyes and green spikes around the edge.
Others were there, each a robe of a different color, each with a face of varying shape. The newly-created whatever felt they should know who the robes were, but their head still felt fuzzy.
The new being turned to the bright light. Sharper sight showed the light danced in flickering orange and red, the yellow center hovering against the ground. The newly-created creature opened their mouth and smelled the air—that smell of good came from the light. Yes. They decided they liked this bright thing.
“Yay!” they said, their first word, and they jumped into the brightness.
Their next word was a scream. Hot melting pain enveloped them. They screamed and ran. They ran from the pain, though it kept pace with them. Everything was bright and pain. They ran into one of the robes, one of too many colors for them to pay attention to because pain.
“What is it doing?” The robe shouted as the light spread to it. “Scallu. Water.”
“You got it.”
The newly-created thing heard a loud hiss behind them, but they kept running, ignoring everything but the pain.
“We’ve got to extinguish the Guardian.”
“Hurry! It will set the whole village ablaze.”
“If we don’t catch it, it’ll set the forest ablaze.”
The new being screamed and ran and pained until finally a blast of wet, soggy, heavy air knocked them to the ground. The pain and light disappeared. The new creature would have to remember to send the wetness a gift basket.
They stood up. All the robes stared at them.
“Hello!” the new being said.
Their name was Top. That was what they decided.
The next morning Top left the village and entered the surrounding forest, a collection of black trees topped with thin, pale red leaves that grew away from one another, as if they had all come to a party but found it awkward to see each other. Top skipped along the hard ground, a dark rainbow of colors across it as if it had rained paint once years ago and the soil absorbed it. The ground was mostly barren save for the occasional pallid bush or shrub, made even more barren as Top often ate the shrubs.
Top found a cluster of bushes and jumped into them. They banked a dark indigo river flowing through the forest, and for the first time Top got a good look at themself.
It turned out Top was short due to being a beach ball. Top’s skin was a pattern of white stripes between a red, yellow, and blue stripe. Two stubby, shapeless gray arms emerged where the stripes converged, each only long enough to reach halfway across the round body. At the bottom sprouted two bigger and fatter feet about the same length as the body’s diameter.
Staring at the reflection with two tall black eyes on the red stripe, Top decided they was cute. They was downright adorable. This was a pleasing development. Top grinned at the reflection. From arm to arm, two rows of pointy, white triangles appeared between the red stripe and the white stripe below. Sharp teeth filled the edges of Top’s mouth as though someone had examined and placed inside only the biggest, whitest, sharpest triangle teeth.
Top smiled wider. This was also a pleasing development.
Top returned to the village, a clearing in the forest where stood twelve black wooden huts, each one shaped like an acorn dug about a quarter into the ground, some with a stone stovepipe on top. The smell of good from the night before was quite muffled now, the fire long gone.
The purple robe approached Top. “Guardian,” the robe said. Top continued walking. “Guardian!”
Top stopped and looked around. “Are you talking to me? Because, I’m sorry, my name is Top.”
“That’s right.” Top pointed to the robe with both arms. “Top, Top, Toppily-do.”
“Very well then. Top.”
“Yes, Mr. Purple Robe?”
“My name is Donovan.”
“Yeah, I know,” Top said. The purple robe was named Donovan. The village residents weren’t really robes, they just wore them. The masks hid their faces. They were called the Micagox. Top existed to protect them or something. The ball knew all that. They just chose to ignore it.
“Your unresponsiveness made me leery.” Donovan walked to Top and motioned to the village with a blue staff ending in a purple sphere. “This is the Micagox village. If at all possible, do not leave it. Your purpose resides only in this village, to protect it from intruders. Should someone come to harm us, you must chase them out.
“You are the latest in a very long line of Guardians. You must keep our village safe from intruders so that we need not risk overuse of our magic. For this task you must be focused, strong, prepared, capable to face assailants many times your size…”
Top walked away, watching a bug flutter wings shaped like bread slices. The bug flew closer, and Top held out an arm to the bug. A moment after it landed on their arm Top chomped it with their giant mouth. The ball bit off their arm along with the bug.
“Guardian!” Donovan said.
“Top!” the ball wailed. The arm grew back.
Donovan placed a soft sleeve on Top’s head. “I need you to pay attention. You must learn your role in this world and what it entails.”
“Yeah, but you’re boring.” Top stared into the light purple sky, lit by a small yellow sun, hints of green in the sky at the sun’s edges. “You’re boring me. If you were a book, I would say ‘This book is boring me,’ and go make a sandwich.” The ball looked at Donovan. “Speaking of which, any food around here? I’m hungry.” Top snarfed a mouthful of the ashen rainbow ground and swallowed. “Darn. No worms. No candy, either.”
A Micagox nearly Donovan’s height walked over, wearing a square white mask with a red edge, a red helix where eyes would be. “Donovan, you should know that I have been examining out new Guardian’s life signs. It seems they expend energy at a higher rate than most of our previous ones. They will be hungry often.”
Top ate another mouthful of dirt. Still no worms or candy.
Donovan looked at the other Micagox. “Myjar, is there a way to alleviate this with magic?”
“That would require a steady stream of it. I believe the best course would be to allow them to find sustenance themself so that–”
Top laughed like a child about to pet a big, furry animal. The ball ran at a bushy-tailed rodent a third their height at the edge of the village. The Micagox dudes said it was totally okay! That was definitely how Top would interpret the conversation. The ball chomped their set of chompers as they ran, and the rodent zipped to the trees as if pumped with caffeine.
“It would seem their appetite and expenditure of energy is exacerbated by their hyperactivity,” Myjar said.
A third Micagox just under Myjar’s height strolled over, this one wearing a blue mask with yellow eyes on top. “Woo, it sure is an eager Guardian, huh?”
Top jumped at the tree that the rodent fled up. Upon landing Top chomped through nearly all the tree’s base. The ball ran into the woods as the rodent jumped from tree to tree. A violent splitting sound ripped behind Top.
The tree fell into the village. The Micagox shouted as the tree smashed onto a wooden hut.
“Whoa.” The blue-masked Micagox put a sleeve on Donovan’s shoulder. “Sorry about your hut, Donovan.”
“We are going to need to train this new Guardian,” Donovan said.
Top jumped at the bottom of a tree and flailed their appendages. They failed to climb to any height at all.
After about five or maybe thirty-six minutes Top determined that wouldn’t work. They would just have to bite the tree down. Top chomped at the tree base. The ball bit something much harder—a spire of rock erupted from the ground between Top and the tree as if a shield. Top crunched the rock like it was ice.
“Guardian.” Another Micagox, hardly taller than Top and wearing a long brown mask with a green band on top, trudged up to the ball.
“Top,” the ball said.
“You are far too chaotic. You need to be focused. You need to be trained.”
Top walked away. They already forgot the Micagox was there. Most of them were so boring.
Another rock burst out of the ground in front of Top. “You are not leaving this spot until you are ready to be the Guardian.”
Top walked the other way, but another rock spire blocked the ball.
“Are you going to start listening–”
I don’t have to take this oppression! Top bit off the Micagox’s arm. Well, more precisely, they bit off the sleeve; the Micagox’s shadowy arm emerged from within the robe, jointed at several places and clawed like a fan rake.
“That does it.” A cage of rock formed around Top. “Until you are ready to be serious about your role as the Guardian–”
Top crunched through the stone bars and ran into the village, shouting gibberish. Top was a free spirit! They wouldn’t be caged by the Micagox. Top does what Top does.
This was what Top does: They ran straight through a garden in front of a hut, eating the plants along the way. Top nabbed in their mouth from a Micagox even taller than Donovan a black and white staff. The Micagox, their mask with a black centered with spiraling white, shouted after Top as the crazy ball ran into a hut.
“Hi, Top.” The blue-with-yellow-eyes-masked Micagox sat on a stool inside the hut.
“Hi Direaddle,” Top mumbled. Direaddle was one of the cool Micagox. They didn’t make boring speeches or tell Top what to do. Plus they had neat gadgets.
Direaddle stared at the staff in Top’s mouth. “Is that Yyy’s staff? You—You’re probably gonna want to give that back.”
Top shook their head and swallowed the cold, rough staff. “Nah. Hey, what’s this?” The ball hopped onto a table and placed a beret about half their diameter on their head. Top laughed. “Yay!”
“You can keep that if you give back Yyy’s staff,” Direaddle said.
“Hmm. I’ll think about it. What’s this do?” Top pressed a button on the black handle of a silver pole, and it shot a beam through the wall. “What’s this do?” They pressed a button on a purple box about half their size, and the top popped open. “What’s this do?” They pressed a button on a cylinder, and a light shone out the wide end. “What’s this do?” They pressed a button on a round, green object covered in grooves.
Direaddle yelped. “Don’t press–” Fire and black smoke blasted out the green object as the hut’s wooden walls shook. Direaddle waved away the smoke, their blue robe and mask blackened. “Are you okay?”
“No!” Top cried. “Noooo!” The ball knelt on the floor and stared at the beret. A great rip split the hat in two. “I barely even got to know you.”
Suffice to say, Top became a real pain for the Micagox. As the days passed, Top caused more destruction and disorder while hardly noticing. The season passed as the little warmth in the forest gradually grew. After two of Zhop’s moons made full orbits, some Micagox could take Top’s chaos no longer. They clamored for a meeting to do something about the Guardian.
The Micagox ruled out destroying Top. They created the Guardian with their magic, and this one seemed particularly resilient. It was possible that even all twelve Micagox could not destroy Top. Even if they did, the amount of magic buildup could result in turmoil.
Thus left two sides: They could keep and attempt to train the Guardian, or they could send Top away.
The debate bounced back and forth for some time. They would unlikely be in any danger requiring a Guardian anytime soon. But they created the Guardian. Top was their responsibility. Should they release them onto an unsuspecting world? This Guardian could devour entire societies with that appetite. Still, Top didn’t seem openly malicious. Past Guardians entered the world with no known fuss. Then there was the opinion that said, who cared about the outside world?
Finally the Micagox voted. In the end six voted for banishment and five for keeping; Donovan abstained as usual. The final decision: the Guardian would be sent away.
Top stood on a branch near the top of a tree. The trunk had rows of bite marks embedded all the way to the bottom. At the end of the branch, a fuzzy yellow bird no bigger than one of Top’s teeth stared at the ball. Top inched towards the bird.
“That tree was okay,” Top said, “but I’ll bet you taste way better.”
The ball jumped at the bird. It flew out of Top’s grasp, and the ball fell screaming to the ground below.
Top climbed out of a hole in the ground. They was tired of eating dirt.
A smell caught Top’s attention—a smell of… good! Hot, steamy, good! They wanted to eat the smell. Top bit at the air but ate nothing. They had to eat the smell. Top chased after it, biting the air, until they saw a fish on the ground, a thwibble. As long as Top, it lay fat and glistening and light brown, smoke wafting off it.
It was food. Well, to Top, just about everything was food, but this smelled delicious. Savory, sizzly, simmery. In one bite Top ate the thwibble and the ground it lay on.
It probably would’ve tasted better without the ground seasoning. But the smell remained. Another thwibble was nearby. Top ran to it and tossed it into their mouth. Yes! So delicious. Firm and moist. There was another one. And another one.
Top followed the fishy trail, eating each thwibble as they passed it. A roar filled the air, but Top was more focused on smell than hearing. Top followed the thwibble to a fast-flowing river that dropped off a cliff. In a net of vines above it sat—jackpot!—a pile of cooked thwibble.
“Fish!” Top screamed. The ball jumped onto the net of vines and gobbled the thwibble whole one-by-one. Absorbed in the fish, Top failed to notice the net unravel. The vines collapsed, and the thwibble plummeted down the waterfall with the ball.
All the way down Top snapped their teeth at the out of reach thwibble, flailing their appendages to reach the tasty fish. “Om, nom, nom!” Top wailed. “Om, nom, nom!”