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A story in seventeen symbols


1. The Lamb

To end my pre-life, I had to offer a sacrifice. There are lots of methods and practices that claim there's no need for a victim, or that a victim could be symbolic. For example, it might suffice to break a twig over an altar, or mix even amounts of salt and soda in a bowl and utter "let this offering be my pledge...."

That doesn't work. Believe me, I tried. In the end, I reached the conclusion touted by most authoritative sources: there has to be a real sacrifice, and it shouldn't mar one's karma.

At that time I had a mortgage that was half-repaid, a job as the head of sales for a company that made accounting software, a four-year-old Ford Focus, and a fiancée whom I quarreled with each time we discussed our wedding.

On the other hand, I had seven years of Judo training, a six-year degree from the Moscow Aviation Institute, fourteen class credits and six intensive workshops on marketing, and one expensive and entirely useless completed course on reading Tarot cards which I never told anyone about taking.

 On the third hand, I had thirty-four years of life experience if one counted from birth, or twenty-nine if one counted from the first memory, eighteen from graduating high school, and seventeen from losing my virginity.

This was the moment of my crisis; I didn't understand who I was, or why I existed. It felt as though the entire world intended on forcing me onto some conveyer belt, which I would ride until I was seventy-three and burdened with cancer, seven grandchildren, and my third marriage.

I decided to change my life. For eighteen months I spent all my free time searching for the way off the conveyer belt. And I found it. One early spring morning, when all of Moscow was asleep—save for a lone street sweeper mumbling something unintelligible in the Turkic dialect as he labored in the courtyard under my window—I opened my veins.

It was a conscious, confident sacrifice. My bathroom was filled with all the necessary incense and all the right symbols were painted on the blue ceramic wall tiles. At the head of the bath lay a regular deck of fifty-four playing cards. I'd always been a gambler, so when the time came to choose an object that would represent me best, I never hesitated.

At the last possible moment, I grew afraid. What if….

I died.

2. The Ant

In the beginning, there was nothing but emptiness. Emptiness that came from within, reflected without, and turned back inward, carrying with it an infinite chill.

It felt like I flew or floated, but really I remained suspended in place. It lasted for eternity, until I managed to focus long enough to create matter.

There was only a little bit of matter, a piece of lumpy rock five or seven centimeters in diameter. But it gave me a starting point. I was no longer stranded in endless emptiness; now there was a bit of solid ground at its center.

That was also the moment time began. I grew the rock and eventually it was large enough that I could lie on it and not fear I'd fall off it in my sleep. That's when I created light. The light was dim and its shade of scarlet irritated me, but it was better than darkness.

Day after day, night after night, I labored to create the world, pausing only to sleep. It took me half a year to create green hills three kilometers long and two kilometers wide. It was no longer bare rock, but fertile ground with grass and trees. Eight months later, the first apple tree bore fruit. Although I had no need of sustenance in this world, I ate the first apple whole, despite how incredibly sour it turned out to be.

That evening I discovered that I was no longer naked. I wore moccasins, a felt hat, a scarlet silk shirt, and a gray flannel suit. That same poker deck was in my pocket.

It seemed the law of cause-and-effect about being naked and then eating an apple applied not only to my home world, but to the entire universe.

3. The Cuckoo Bird

I made excellent progress in the next eighteen months. My world gained mountains and fields, lakes and rivers, gardens and hills. Mostly hills. I didn't know why, but green hills appeared whenever I was creating mindlessly. They no longer required effort on my part. Mountains and gardens were a lot more challenging.

Birds, fish, and insects appeared in my world. Rabbits, gophers, and foxes populated the hills. I was getting ready to create wolves and bears and then, eventually, humans. 

My eyebrows thickened and my beard reached down to my chest. Streaks of gray appeared in my hair, but that neither bothered nor embarrassed me.

It was evening and I was resting in the shade of a tree—the sun I'd perfected was setting—when she appeared from behind a rock formation. She looked to be in her early twenties, a brunette with a sharp if somewhat tired gaze, and delicate features. She wore a long gray robe which covered her body from the neck to her hands and down to the soles of her coarse wooden sandals.

"Help me," she demanded.

She spoke an unfamiliar tongue, but this was my world and it was impossible for me not to understand her.

"Help you with what?" I asked.

The young woman lifted the hem of her robe and I saw a steel bracelet on her left leg. The chain connected to it led somewhere out of sight.

I walked past her to discover a crystal coffin. In it lay a powerful bearded man in his fifties. He also wore a robe.

"You want me to help you remove the chain?" I asked.

"How dare you!" She was indignant. "These are the sacred bonds of marriage! Help me drag the coffin to your home and accept me as your guest."

Her name was Yulif. To be frank, my first instinct was to open the coffin, situate the lady next to her husband, and bury it under some faraway mountain so that in a few years I could check whether such seed sprouted anything interesting. But my upbringing wouldn't let me raise a hand against a guest. I didn't have a home—this entire world was my home, my fortress. But I didn't want to disappoint my guest, so while I helped her lift the coffin and we carried it past the mountains, I erected a modest cottage.

By that time, anything I created almost immediately gained a life and depth of its own, growing complex structures and minutiae so as to pretend it had existed for a long while. Having witnessed this, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that my home world, with its city of Moscow, Beowulf, and dinosaurs was created in the early twentieth century by some decadent demiurge.

Yulif had a few choice things to say about my house: it was too small, too low-class, it smelled like onions, and it lacked servants who could tend to the fireplace.

In order to feed Yulif, I had to create a few bottles of wine, a head of cheese, a roasted pork leg, and a large turkey-and-egg pie. By the end of dinner her mood had improved. She said, "As a good host, you should now help me with my ablutions and then warm my bed."

"What about your husband?" I asked.

"He's very quiet," she assured me. "And if we cover his coffin with a blanket he'd be practically unnoticeable."

I refused the dubious honor she offered. This encounter had confused me and thrown off my rhythm. When she fell asleep by the fireplace, next to the coffin, I went outside to continue creating my world.

4. The Cuckoo Bird Hatchlings

Overnight I created seventeen wolves. Two complete packs, each of whom had their own territory. One of the packs was led by an old, gray she-wolf. Young wolves who were both her children and her lovers dreamt of unseating her, but it'd be a long time before any of them could manage to do so.

Exhausted, I fell asleep among the hills in the morning. I woke up to the sound of children's voices.

"You're it!"

"No, you're it!"

"No, you!"

They were shrill and annoying—two boys and a girl wearing robes. They looked to be of kindergarten or early school age; I was never good at estimating the age of children.

"You!" I marched into the cottage and pointed my finger at Yulif. "You brought these insufferable—"

"These are your children," the woman said in a profound manner.

"I know how children are made," I retorted. "No, that's enough of your games. I'm ready to escort you, your husband, and your children out of my world."

The woman cried and begged me to spare her and her children. I gave her a day, no more, with the deadline set for the following morning.

I spent the day creating a mountain and a wellspring. At night I created a bear—just one for now, but it was an old, experienced bear with lots of scars. When I eventually create people, it won’t surprise me to learn that this bear might have mauled a few hunters in his day.

By morning I fell asleep again. But instead of awakening, I was pushed harder than I'd ever been pushed in my life.

5. The Hedgehog

I was in the nothingness again, but my heart remained in the world I had created. I tried to return, but couldn't do it. I floated around the world with green hills, but couldn't find a way in. I don't know how much time I spent trying unsuccessfully to break through. Having tired myself out and lost all hope, I suddenly realized that Yulif must've come from somewhere. She couldn't have just spontaneously appeared among the nothingness, especially not with a coffin chained to her leg and three children in tow.

The investigation didn't take long. The emptiness itself has no causes or consequences, but any object born of it immediately creates a cascade of consequences. And since so many objects are created complete with their back stories, that takes care of the causes.

When I'd created my world of green hills, this act of creation had birthed a number of neighboring territories that echoed across other dimensions. Having created my world, I also created worlds parallel to it. And those parallel worlds weren't protected.

6. Termites

Those worlds resembled my green hills in the same way a monkey in a frock coat resembles a polished dandy: the similarities fade with each approaching step. Still, there was solid ground and there was water, even if the water was dirty and occasionally poisonous.

I found a tolerable spot and drew a deck of cards from my pocket. I contemplated the four kings for a time, eventually choosing the king of diamonds. He looked to be the most sensible of the four.

I bit my lip and kissed the card, sharing my blood and saliva. Then I threw the card onto the ground, and there stood a mighty monarch with Asiatic facial features and a sarcastic smirk on his lips.

"What do you want?"

"To win my land back."


I didn't understand his meaning at first, but then I shook my head.

"All creation myths are somewhat similar… But no, not Amber. An enemy has conquered my land, and I need help."

"Raise my brothers," the King of Diamonds demanded.

"If we reach an accord," I said.

He refused to converse among the lifeless terrain. I pulled the ace of diamonds and used it to build a camp. Then, upon the insistence of my interlocutor, I brought to life the Queen of Diamonds, as well as the Eight and the Three. I had a strong suspicion that the young Three was an illegitimate son of the King, but I didn't pursue this line of inquiry.

"So." The King of Diamonds accepted a goblet of wine from his queen and reclined in a comfortable armchair. "You're offering to animate the entire deck. In exchange, you ask us to begin the game; to recapture your land. We must kill the woman Yulif, her husband, and destroy all her descendants."

"I feel like I'm initiating genocide." I shuddered. "Look, I didn't start this war. If they surrender, then I can let them live. Okay?"

"The rules are set." The King of Diamonds smiled. "I agree."

"Will your brothers abide by our agreement?" I asked.

"Of course. Everyone whom you're about to animate. Also, I can see the future a little. You can't imagine the hilarious ways the deck gets shuffled!"

That evening I animated everyone, except for the Jokers and the Jack of Spades. The King of Diamonds specifically asked me not to animate the young man, for he was too bold and had somehow fallen out of favor with the influential ruler.

By the next morning, four camps were filled with people and horses. There were a lot more than fifty-one of them; camp followers and traders and grim mercenaries without a suit on their jackets were in the mix.

I met with all four kings and we reaffirmed our accord.

"Take your time, go traveling," said the King of Spades. "As an experienced strategist I assume the siege will take seven or eight years; no more than fifteen. We'll try to enter through the mountains and via running water, but I doubt a blitzkrieg will succeed."

"Thank you," I said, and offered my hand for them to shake. The kings looked at me like I was an idiot.

The King of Hearts said, "Only knights and the lowborn show an empty palm. A ruler must always hold something in his fist, be it gold, a sword, poison, or a scepter."

As I walked away, the camp behind me kept growing. I didn’t like the idea of a years-long siege, but had no other prospects for regaining my land.

I couldn’t create a new land, either. My heart remained among the green hills.

7. The Lion

I spent several days wandering the poisoned wilderness, imagining how the army of the card kings was invading my beloved green hills with fire and fury. And then, surprising myself, I somehow found my way to those beloved hills. I stood atop the tallest of them and couldn't recognize what I observed.

My world had become harsher, fuller, and stronger. Beyond the hill, where the world used to terminate in gray nothingness, waves the color of steel beat against the shore, gulls circling above. This was still my world, but it was as though another master had taken over and continued my work.

"Do you like it?"

I jumped back, startled, and almost fell off as I turned. A vaguely familiar tall and powerful man stood before me. It took me a moment to recognize him as Yulif's husband. Instead of a robe he now wore an expensive kaftan and narrow leather pants. A barely noticeable coronet rested atop his head.

"Who are you?" I asked.

"Zevas," he said. "Forgive us for treating you harshly. You must understand, some have the talent for creating worlds while others are best at developing them. I hope you aren't holding a grudge."

He spoke calmly and carefully, yet fury boiled within me. On top of everything else, Zevas looked a little like Andrej Viktorovich, my first marketing mentor, a soft and quiet scumbag. Rather, it was probably Andrej who looked like Zevas.

"I am holding a grudge, and I will not let this stand," I declared darkly.

"Too bad." Zevas proffered a sad smile. "Time for plan B."

At that moment my arms and legs quit working and I fell to the ground. Griffons circled in the sky above. I had definitely not created any griffons. Heavy thunderclouds passed overhead. They were multilayered, beautiful, dark-gray with an occasional shade of violet.

I appreciated the majesty of my creation, and then I lost consciousness.

8. The Pig

Yulif poured wine for Zevas as I sat tied to a rocking chair. They didn't tie me up so I wouldn't run—how could I run without legs—they did it so I wouldn't keep falling out of the chair, since I had no arms, either.

"Yes, I agree, demiurges are necessary as well," Zevas continued our debate as he skewered another piece of my arm with his fork. "But tell me, who is more valued: talented administrators or the creators of worlds? In the world you hail from, who earns more money? Who has a larger house and a tastier pie?"

"Without us, there would not be you," I replied. Zevas was an experienced opponent. He managed to get me talking even after he'd cut off and cooked my legs.

"There are parts of every process that are better left unmentioned." Zevas grinned and bit off another piece, pantomiming how tasty the meat was and how foolish I would've been to refuse a portion had it been offered to me. "Take the circle of life, when dead animals fertilize the grass. No one focuses on how disgusting insects crawl over rotting corpses. Instead, everyone loves the growing grass and the grazing cattle. If one wants to be shocked, they recall how predators devour omnivores."

"Demiurges aren't rotting carrion," I said.

"You're right," Zevas agreed unexpectedly. "And I must say, you're truly valued. But only we, the best administrators, understand this. You should value me for valuing you."

He laughed, and then the ground under the table swelled up and something strange pushed through. The rocking chair fell and I couldn't see anything, only felt the heat and heard screeching, clanging, and shouting.

Eventually, Zevas picked up the rocking chair and I saw seven corpses laid on the ground. The first of them had four crimson hearts displayed on his cloak.

"You know them?" asked Zevas. His mouth was bruised and he kept spitting up blood. 

"They'll avenge me," I replied. I recalled something about the Four of Hearts; they'd said he was young and daring. Then again, anyone below a nine was young and daring.

"Vengeance is a double-edged sword," Zevas declared cryptically. On his knees, Zevas collected pieces of roasted meat from the ground and shoved them into his mouth. He swallowed without chewing.

A tall stone castle stood behind him. In front of it, his three children played a strange game involving two balls.

"I'll tell you honestly, there are parts of you I will detest eating." Zevas rose from his knees. "But I must hurry. Yulif tells me the moon will bless tomorrow's evening."

9. The Phoenix

The view from the castle window included the forest, the lake, the edge of the city wall, and a small section of road with its endless rows of travelers.

I'd been told there was a time before the war, but I didn't remember any such time; I was born after the war had begun. When I was four, the card kings killed Georg, my older brother. When I was eight, they killed my mother Yulif, but my father resurrected her. She was raving mad for several months after that, until she eventually got better.

Since my birth I'd been told I was special. Cam, my sister, whispered to me that I must end this war. That I would bring peace to our land.

It was difficult for me to watch our kingdom suffer. There were daily attacks. I got used to messengers arriving with news of devastated villages and lost battles.

Today I was turning thirteen. Instead of scheduling any sort of celebration, my father called me to him.

"Mitrius," he said gravely. "I must reveal several secrets to you. But first, tell me, do you love your mother, sister, brother, and me?"

"I love Mother best," I admitted. "I love Cam and Vilhelm, too, even if Vilhelm treats me like a child. As to you, Father, I deeply respect you, because it is your power that stands between the card kings and our lives."

"That's not the answer I expected, but there's no choice. Our world has nearly fallen, the walls between worlds have been thinned…" Father bowed his head and I understood how very old he was. "Mitrius, this isn't your first life. I will talk, while you untangle this."

He nodded toward a scarlet tangle of wool. I got to work as he spoke.

"There was a time when our world rejected us. I was placed in a coffin and your mother took your brothers, your sister, and me, and set out to search for a new home. She found a world created by a certain demiurge, but he didn't permit us to remain here. Your mother risked her life and mine to reanimate me, and I threw the demiurge out of this world."

"Why didn't you kill him?" The war steeled my heart. I didn't understand difficult decisions where a simple solution would do.

"Because he's tied to this world. His heart is here. If I were to kill the demiurge, I would strike against the world itself. But the demiurge came back, and he didn't return alone. He brought the army of the card kings with him."

"The world will survive," I said harshly. "You should have killed the demiurge."

"I found another solution." Father watched me untangle the wool. "I captured the demiurge, devoured him whole, turned him into my seed, laid with your mother, and in time she gave birth to you."

I froze.

As the tangle of wool fell from my hands and rolled away, leaving a scarlet trail, all my memories returned to me—even the disgusting summer camp "Seagull," the scumbag manager who tried to get me fired, and all the other nastiness of the sort I couldn't even imagine. Too many bad memories for any one person to handle. My father knew not what he was doing by revealing them to me.

"Will you save us?" asked Father.

"I'll try."

10. The Dragon

We met in the mountains. Over the years the King of Diamonds seemed to have grown younger. Instead of a shabby cloth cape over chainmail he now wore a fine fur mantle made of several hundred stoats over full-plate blued steel armor. 

"Milord." He smiled. "You look great. Youthful."

I sighed in relief. I wouldn't have to explain who I was and what happened.

"The war is over," I said. "You're released."

"I remind you of the terms," he replied. "We must destroy Yulif, her husband, and all his offspring. We can cease this, if they surrender to you."

"They surrendered to me."

"But you're now their son," said the King of Diamonds. "You can't surrender to yourself. That breaks the rules. It's cheating."

"What's going to happen?" I asked.

"We'll conquer your land, kill you all, and destroy the green hills. After that this world will revert into nothingness and we'll become a regular deck of cards once more."

I realized he didn't want this to happen.

"Or?" I asked.

"Or you'll find another solution." The King of Diamonds winked at me and smiled again.

I remembered, he could see a little of the future.

It meant we still had a chance.

11. The Swallow

We sat under the open sky atop the tallest tower. Father offered me wine. I drank in moderation to account for my teenage body. Even so, the alcohol rapidly clouded my mind.

"I can't find a solution," Father admitted. "How do we make it that you aren't my son?"

"Could we rewind time?"

"It's dangerous to toy with time. Anyone who has ever attempted this has only made things worse for themselves."

Zevas looked at me and shook his head. I nodded. It made sense; otherwise the universe would be a very uncomfortable place to live."

"There's a simpler way, Father," I said, suddenly reaching a solution. "But you won't like it."

12. The Black Widow

The women's half of the castle was chilly and had smelled like sherbet for as long as my young body could recall.

"No," said Yulif before Zevas even finished his thought. "No divorce! You won't get rid of me so easily, you son of an old whore and a half-dead giant!"

"What's wrong?" I honestly didn't understand.

"Come." Zevas pulled me aside. Cam studied me intently; it seemed she no longer trusted me. It was a shame to lose a sister. "You see, Mitrius, a marriage between gods or demons—which are essentially the same—establishes certain rules. It isn't a mere formality. In some ways, it's destiny. Divorce is a world-ending thing. Most gods do not remarry after the death of their mate. Many spend the rest of their lives trying to resurrect their spouse."

"I still don't get it," I said. "Why can't you divorce for half an hour, marry somebody else, then divorce them and remarry your original spouse?"

"We aren't mortals. Anything can happen in half an hour. Also, the card kings might not accept your interpretation and then we'll all die, while Yulif is married to someone else. Mitrius, find another option."

13. The Stag

They broke through our defense line by the ocean. They devastated our cavalry, crushed our infantry, and approached the city walls.

I could see the burgundy pennants of the King of Hearts, the scarlet pennants of the King of Diamonds, the gray ones of the King of Clubs, and the black ones of the King of Spades. Their army filled the entire field in front of the moat. Behind it, dozens of engineers assembled siege engines.

"We won't last a week." Vilhelm's voice broke. "Father, we must flee!"

They say Georg was far braver. But it was Vilhelm who survived. I think he often caught glances of those regretting this outcome.

Our time was running out.

"Father, where are my things?" I asked suddenly.

"What things?"

"Belongings of my old body."

It took a while to find them. One of my pockets contained a dilapidated cardboard box with a faded label: Souvenir playing cards with varnish, A-1-54, 1 deck, 54 cards. Inside there were three cards. Why three, I thought, and then I recalled the Jack of Spades.

I chose not to animate the unpredictable Jokers. The Jack was perfectly calm. His hair was raven-black like all spades. But unlike other spades he was tall rather than stocky, and his eyes were light-blue, almost transparent, rather than black.

"How long ago did you release the others?" he asked.

"Fourteen years."

"I made one mistake. Just one." Jack buried his face in his palms. "If I tell you that the Queen of Diamonds seduced me, would you believe it?"

Yulif stared at him with compassion. I realized that Mother liked the Jack of Spades. Father realized this, too.

"Jack of Diamonds?" Zevas asked.

I was the last to understand what he was asking. The Jack of Spades blushed. Mother shushed Father, but he stared at our guest.

"Yes, the current Jack of Diamonds is my son," he finally answered. "It was a plague on all our houses."

"We'll show those animals." Zevas's lips split in an unpleasant smirk. "Yulif, I hope you'll consent to temporarily divorce me for the sake of revenge upon the card rulers. Before we wanted to do this just to save our lives, but now we have an opportunity for vengeance."

"Yes, my husband." Yulif bowed her head.

14. The Trap

Father dissolved the marriage simply by repeating the word "Divorced!" three times. To be honest, I failed to see why they'd made such a big deal of it; he could've done that at any time without her knowledge. But then I saw how Mother's face changed, how she became weak and helpless, and I understood that divorce isn't such a simple thing.

"Do you consent to marry the woman named Yulif?"

Jack of Spades nodded. He did whatever I told him. The previous agreement didn't bind him; he owed everything to whomever reanimated him, which was to say, to me.

Less than five minutes after my parents' divorce, Mother was already married to the Jack of Spades.  We exited the fortress via a creaky hinged bridge. The last handful of guards, wounded and exhausted by past battles, stood behind us.

The four kings moved to meet us. The King of Diamonds stepped forward.

"I feel something has changed. Milord Dimitry, would you please explain?"

"I prefer the name Mitrius," I said. "And, of course, I'll explain. Yulif divorced Zevas and married the Jack of Spades. According to our accord, this makes the Jack of Diamonds the only child of Yulif's husband, which means he's the only one you must kill in addition to them. But Yulif and the Jack of Spades are part of this parley, which means you can't touch them."

The King of Diamonds turned. From the crowd behind him a youth, who looked much like a younger version of the Jack of Spades, stepped forward.

"Will you consider accepting him as your prisoner?" asked the King of Diamonds.

I shook my head. I thought I saw triumph in the King of Diamond's eyes. I turned to look at the Jack of Spades. He appeared sad and solemn. Somewhere nearby, a woman screamed. I was certain it was the Queen of Diamonds, who realized what was about to happen.

"On your knees, my son," said the King of Diamonds. The Jack of Diamonds, who wasn't actually his son, obediently got on his knees. There was no fear in his eyes, only doom and acceptance. I realized everything was leading to this. All of them—all the card rulers—benefited from this, except for the Queen of Diamonds.

The King of Diamonds cut his Jack's throat in a slow but sure motion. Behind me, Yulif and the Jack of Spades got on their knees.

"Accept our surrender?" asked Jack, as he was taught.

"I accept," I said.

In that moment, the war was over.

15. The Hydra

"Father must leave."

Neither my mother nor my sister understood me. To them he was a savior, the war was over, and it was time to finally live. But before he'd given me life, Father had killed and eaten me, and I couldn't forgive that.

"You won't reconsider?" He stood next to me atop the highest tower.

"Someday, perhaps."

He left on the third day. Mother, whom I didn't banish, followed him. So did my sister and brother. I was left alone, if one didn't count one-hundred-and-fifty guards, two thousand servants, several thousand townsfolk, and three hundred thousand citizens of my country.

Zevas robbed me of a piece of rock floating in space, and returned a living, breathing organism. He may not have been a demiurge, but he was a master administrator.

I stood in the throne hall, holding the coronet Father left behind.

I considered his final words to me. "My son, start a family. A proper demiurge must have a best friend, and a personal pantheon to always watch his back."

16. Lemmings

I hosted lavish balls and traveled the countryside, and I soon came to understand that I stood no chance of finding any kind of Cinderella.

This world was made of my essence. Every person, ever grain of sand, every molecule of air. Even for people who appeared here in the past fifteen years, I was ultimately their creator.

They could only obey me, whereas I sought a true partner, like Yulif was to my father. Someone capable of pushing me further than I could push myself, able to contradict me, and sensitive enough to know when to agree with me.

Someone who expected those same qualities from me.

I couldn't hope to find her in this world of green hills. The final straw was when I hosted a tournament. The knight who won it dedicated the win to some courtier girl. When I saw them together I made an innocuous comment along the lines of "You make a nice couple." They immediately wed in the nearest church, even though he had a betrothed and she had a fiancé.

This world was thoroughly mine. I could only find disobedience if and when I wanted it. A wonderful place, but not one where I could seek my intended. One day, I handed the throne off to some local nobleman, and traveled elsewhere.

17. Ouroboros

If you're a girl or woman between the ages of thirteen and infinity; if you were born and still reside on planet Earth; if you have a big heart and feel you can bring more to the universe than you're doing already, perhaps you're the one I've been searching for.

Please, don't leave this world. Don't fall into another dimension. Be careful with suspicious doors, rabbit holes, and wardrobes. I implore you, wait for me.

Have no doubt; I'm already looking for you.

I look like a fifteen-year-old kid, answer to the name Dimitry, and carry a dilapidated deck of fifty-three cards in my pocket.

If you see me, be sure to say hello. I promise you eternal love, and a little bit of trouble. Or, perhaps, eternal trouble, and a little bit of love.

We'll see how it goes.


Eldar Safin is a writer residing in Russia. At the beginning of the 21st century he was restoring facades, formatted magazines, and wrote scripts for corporate celebrations. Since 2008 he's the IT project lead at SpeechPro and is currently implementing neural network based solutions for banks and telecoms. Safin is the author of five books and 100 short stories. In the fall of 2019 he became the laureate of the "Future Time" prize, finishing in top 6 among 1200 contenders.