Short Story: The Treatises

And on that day, the skies thundered and the Empires’ death-machines soared overhead. And on that day, came rest to millions; dead. And on that day, the post-Human dream; bled. And on that day, arose a great evil incarnate from its bed.

Man, but not man. Human, but inhuman.

But too, on that day, was born something greater; a seed tempered in fire. Though lain dormant in the cold despair that followed, it awaited only a spark to ignite.

And so, it did.

She held it as if precious, but sentimentally so. Its covers were worn, but for certain, it was the fabled Treatises on the Empires’ Rise. A collection of so-called “heretical” works outlining the laborious details of the rise and fall of previous civilizations, their way-paving for the Empires’ rise.

The last, true-history book known to Human-kind. Likely, the last printed or distributed before the Empires’ rise, it was beyond myth. Afterward, information was too closely-guarded and censured for any truth to be printed or distributed. Since then, things had only gotten worse.

A lot worse.

Myna knew Humans could adapt to adversity, it was the only reason she– or they– were alive. It was as simple a principle to her as stepping over a fallen, petrified limb blocking one’s path. It was an inevitability. Yet, nothing had prepared her for this. She’d only been on the scavenging run two days now.

Over the century, people’d been working themselves ever outward from the Empire’s main settlements. They trickled out, thronging this way and that like water through weakened stone. Smaller villages and settlements were appearing here and there, but nothing substantial enough to be permanent in the way the Empires seemed to be.

That was important; so close, yet so far.

Treatises was a direct contradiction that the Empires had been formed as believed. History went that the Empires came of lands once in chaos and madness, to aid in bringing them order. After civil wars tore the world apart, there was little more that could be done than try to rein in the madness.

No-one was sure what had really happened anymore, so far as Myna knew. She doubted even the Emperors knew what really happened. What’d it matter anyhow? The damage was done, the past, past. All she or anyone else knew was what lay ahead.

Now, what lay ahead was utterly shrouded in mystery.

The book had already decided that. She wasn’t sure how she’d first heard of it, but she knew from whom. That fact alone caused her to wrap it in a fur pelt she’d been working with after dinners and before sleep. It would keep the book safe from the elements while she decided what to do with it.

She spent the night meditating on what she knew of Treatisesand roasting the day’s large hunt. She’d have to start rationing soon with the land as petrified as it was. The game,disappearing with it, was thin as it was. It would only get worse. Soon, she’d reach the barren lands.

Her mind wandered, inexorably drawn to the book’s mystery: Myna first heard of Treatises as a child. Her mother and uncle were arguing about something.

“It doesn’t exist, Turel. This is an obsession!” Her mother hissed in angry hush.

“Treatises does exist, I have the proof!” Turel argued, thrusting something in a hand at her mother.

Myna remembered little else, save that her mother tore the object from his hand and immediately cast it into the fire-pit. He’d wailed something angrily as the page formed ash, then stormed away.

Myna couldn’t recall the last time she saw her uncle, but she knew it was sometime around then. He went missing not long after, and although Myna’s mother assured her he was fine, had never returned.

Through the years, there were times when her mother would stare blank-faced into the fire, hypnotized by it. It was different than the usual hypnosis of a full meal, or sickness, or fatigue. It was deeper, pained, as if guilt seized her.

Myna was determined not to wile away her days in that same despair.

She broke camp for the outer regions the next morning, managing to procure more game than she should rightfully have found. A day and night thereafter, she returned home with little more than a few, old-world trinkets barely enough for a week’s bread. Next time, she would have to choose a better direction.

Until then, she was preoccupied.

She stood beneath the hanging candelabras forming the poor-man’s chandelier over IzKie’s table. The woman had evidently not expected her back yet, else-wise Myna doubted she’d have found her in such a state. Papers and books were always strewn across every surface– of which there were an inordinate amount in IzKie’s home, but never before had Myna seen her table so piled.

Usually, it was set for tea, dinner, or any of the number of activities the two had planned.

All of it would have been frightening to an average person, so much so-called seditious materials, but IzKie was authorized them. Apart from making her incalculably smart, it also made her a pariah among most villagers. Myna’s association put her on the fence herself. Even leaving her worse-off in negotiations at the bazaar, for fear too much haggling might kill a sale.

When trading for food and survival, that was unacceptable.

Yet Myna’d never have it another way. She admired IzKie too greatly, had learned to read by listening to her quote passages from memory while following along in silence.

But she had not opened Treatises.

It was dangerous. Not knowing what lay within, no matter its power, meant it could not be properly handled… but it was also dangerous to know. If only because it might make her disappear– like Turel.

IzKie offered her tea to soothe her aches after the recent journey. She accepted, but remained distant, speaking little.

IzKie noticed, her voice soft and sweet, “Are you unwell, Myna-bird?”

It took a moment to respond, IzKie’s words contending with a fog, “Hm? No… Yes. I’m… not sure.” IzKie’s walnut-dark eyes brightened in the excess light, turning to warmer woods. Myna could have lost herself in them, wanted to. Instead, she sighed and sipped tea, “I found something I can’t do anything with.”

“On your run, you mean,” IzKie assumed, settling into her listener’s-role; perfect-posture and pointed shoulders relaxed but disciplined, like Empire Guards at-ease.

For a moment, Myna hesitated; she loved IzKie. Probably more than she should. There was something intoxicating about her. As if her intelligence enthralled certain types, Myna’s most of all. Probably, Myna guessed, it was the intelligent ones themselves– or, those capable of it. Like how every had various uses, but only some made for proper bows or arrow-shafts.

But… how much about IzKie did she really know? Was it enough to trust her with this? Could IzKie disappear her? Would she lead someone else to? Or, would she disappear herself? Myna didn’t think she could handle that. She was too attached.

But, IzKie had appeared around the same time Turel disappeared. Was it coincidence or design?

Now IzKie was looking at her, watching her. Expectantly.

Myna reached into her pack. One of IzKie’s brows twitched, ready to rise, but held before it could. Drawing forth the fur-wrapped tome, Myna set it upon the table and began to unwrap the corners. IzKie’s eyes widened, then narrowed shrewdly; the left-one half-squinted as an archer’s mid-aim.

A powder cask lit behind them. They exploded to triple sizes, confirming Myna’s fears: she had procured what she believed. IzKie was up, shutting her windows and drapes, locking her doors and windows. It all happened so fast Myna was still trying to catch up when IzKie whirled and grabbed her shoulders.

“Whom have you told of this? Where did you get it? Who saw you? Does anyone know of this!?”

Myna was stunned, thrown for a loop, wishing to answer but spinning. IzKie’s bony fingers dug into her shoulders. Apart from hurting, it grounded her. She attempted to find her voice, seeing the walnut eyes now almost deep-black in the new darkness.

“I– I…”

“Speak, bird. Speak!”

“I told no-one,” she swore. “I hadn’t even opened the furs until now. I swear it, Iz! I swear it!”

IzKie straightened, slowly releasing her. She was swept away by a mental whim and began pacing the kitchen’s open length, swaying the racks of drying herbs with each passage. A long while of silence passed beneath the rhythmic tamp of IzKie’s feet. Then, on compulsion, Myna sighed desperately.

At that instant, IzKie appeared beside Myna, kneeling, “Myna-bird, you are my angel and Humanity’s redeemer. You know it not, yet, but I love you deeply and what you have found is a treasure for all.

“But I must go. And you must stay.” She began wrapping Treatises with the fur. “Keep it hidden and avail yourself of my home. Or if you desire, return to yours. I only ask that you do as you have done thus far and keep it hidden.”

“Where are–”

“No time, bird,” she said firmly, halting any further conversation. She wrapped herself in a light-cloak and draped a pack across her breast, immediately setting out. “I will return soon.”

She pecked Myna on the cheek as she bustled past and out the door, shutting it with speed. Myna sat, spinning again, this time from the kiss radiating along her cheek and IzKie’s hurried departure. Wherever she’d gone, Myna decided, wasn’t worth knowing. Not yet.

But a very real dread was inching along her spine, decidedly sourced in the book beside her. Already, she wished she’d never found the damned thing…

Short Story: The Well of Souls

“Look at yourself. There is nothingness behind you.”

Truly, there was. However equally true there was desolation ahead, it was not nothingness as they knew it.

He placed a withering hand on his old friend’s shoulder, “We have traveled long together, friend. One day, as with all things, we shall part. But that day is not today.”

The old friend bowed respectfully, sensing his companion was right. He had too much to give to a world too in need.

But that burden could not be borne alone. It was, as the labor of all great things, too much for one being. A reality that one day brought him calling on his comrade.

“Mikkel, dear friend, the time has come for me to beg your aid and favor.”

“Lattius, if friendship requires beggery, it is no friendship in true. Raise those aching knees my friend, and come in from the cold,” Mikkel pled.

The kneeling Lattius rose on creaking joints popping from fluid and age. Snow had already begun to pile upon his furs and cloak, shed by layers as he entered with the untimely fashion of seniority. Mikkel’s door latched heavily behind them; swung shut by one of few, remaining technologies left in a world once inundated by them.

Another technology disintegrated the cold from Lattius, the wet from his furs that were set aside at the host’s behest. Lattius seated himself across a glowing hearth. Blissful warmth recolored his pale form; the walk had been too long, too cold. Further confirmations of what Lattius knew to be true.

Time was taking its toll, his own waning in payment.

“Warm yourself, old friend,” Mikkel insisted, offering him a flagon of tea and a pipe.

Lattius’ head sank deep with gratitude. He partook of both offerings until meeting his fill, was offered seconds, and accepted. Mikkel joined him in silence then. Neither man wanted it otherwise. With age came wisdom and knowledge, and where one once spoke, now the other listened– if only to the wind’s howling cries.

Mikkel’s pipe glowed in Lattius’ hands while its master prepared another for himself.

Lattius broke the silence. “I must return to the Well. Soon.”

“Spring is near, old friend,” Mikkel replied knowingly.

Lattius made no sound, but a phantom took hold of their ears and hearts. When Lattius continued, the phantom’s existence was a forgone reality.

“Time’s tide has taken its toll. I fear I will not live to see another spring. I must leave tonight.”

Mikkel took a deep puff of his pipe then, signaling his mind worked as if for a solution.

Lattius headed him off, “My friend, we’ve known for centuries this day would come. It is only fitting that I seek the Well in this harshest of times. Else-wise, I am undeserving of its grace.”

His words had already convinced Mikkel, but the man fought in valiant form to change his mind. “You’ve no notion the task you speak. It may well be your predicament is so dire, but it may be less perilous to remain and chance things. After all, what better way to trust in the fates than abandoning your fears to them?”

Lattius had anticipated the resistance, though Mikkel’s intention was to assuage the last of his doubts rather than dissuade the course of action. The reason was two-fold; both Lattius and Mikkel were men of comforts and familiarity. They’d long-ago abandoned journeying to the young and less-arthritic.

Once, long ago, Mikkel had journeyed to the Well with his father. It was winter then, too. The young Mikkel had coped well with the blistering winds and frigid temperatures of the tundra’s journey. His father had not. Despite his equivalent age now, Mikkel’s father had not finished the journey. He never reached the Well, though his remains did; a fact that still haunted Mikkel.

For this reason, he hesitated. Lattius knew him better than to allow it. “My friend, your doubts are plain in your face. Despite your consternation, you recall the true circumstances of Kristoff’s death. Simply, he starved to death.”

A flicker of pain crossed Mikkel’s face, “Indeed, but had I been a more experienced hunter–”

“You’d have recalled one can no more blame themselves for lack of game than a former forest for lack of trees.”

The two held their gazes on one another for a long moment. The firelight threw alternating shade and light across them, dancing in the whims of the flue, its conduit to the chaotic winter above. No words were exchanged, but volumes filled the silence as readily as if they had. Those volumes too, had no need to be read. Their contents had long been known by the pair, written in the language of their friendship and hardship– shared or not.

Mikkel’s head bowed, “If only we might wait until morning.”

“You may, but I cannot. The Well calls. I have seen its spires in my dreams. Its iridescent glow on the empty horizon, as though residing outside time and Earth. Its endless fields of light rising skyward. Its pearlescent basins and fields of steaming–”

A sudden sob cut the air, silenced with a twisted knife’s pain. Mikkel’s mouth closed so quickly, Lattius couldn’t be sure the sound had not manifested from thin-air. While his expression remained otherwise unchanged.

“Please friend, I will journey with you, but I cannot reminisce as you do. The journey is naught but pain for me.”

Lattius’ heart stung at the thought, doubly-so given the hospitality he’d indulged in. Shame flooded his face and heart, as equally obvious as the grief’s source. Lattius would’ve sworn at himself were he younger and less perceptive of his surroundings, the people in them. Lattius had become too complacent in the moment, forgetting his old friend’s scar-tissues.

Nonetheless, the silence was clear; they would be leaving momentarily.

Months later, amid the screaming winds of a desolate tundra, Lattius recalled the conversation. Forced as he was to go on, urged gently by his comrade, he reminded himself his wounds were superficial in comparison. Lattius stiffened his spine and gripped his walking-stick beside Mikkel.

The pair would be approaching the Tundra’s border soon. The well’s outskirts thereon. Until then, it was a battle of wills between they and the untamed climate.

Mikkel’s hand lifted from Lattius’ shoulder and they continued forward.

It was but hours before the Well first appeared on the horizon. Little more than a distant spire, it occasionally peeked through moments of lighter, windier snow. It’s light could not be seen, but both men became reinvigorated, intent on reaching it as quickly as possible– despite the eventualities it forced them to face.

It was not until they were within the grandeur of its encroaching shadow that Lattius’ pace began to slow.

His heart fractured; the steaming hot-springs were empty. The opulent pearlescence, its luster as beautiful as ever, lost to Humanity from utter emptiness. A tickle at the back of Lattius’ neck gave way to an impressive shift in climate. The air went from frigid snow to downright clear, bathwater warmth.

They had crossed the threshold between tundra and Well of Souls. He fell to his knees in tears; the beauty remained unsurpassed, eternal.

But the light that once sprang from the Well’s central spire– its defining, ethereal glory was gone. The Well was dead; meaning Humanity had gone with it. Lattius wished to sob uncontrollably, but had lost even such primal of control over his emotions. He was a hollow being, devoid of anything and everything.

He breathed a word, “How?”

Mikkel sat crossed-legged beside him, uncertain of what sentiments would best express the truth. The prolonged silence dammed a river of grief between them.

Finally, Mikkel found his words, however difficult or cryptic. “Humanity’s light has dimmed and will fade altogether soon. Technology corrupted the human-souls until what remained became twisted and violent. The extinction event was unstoppable.”

“But our work, how?”

“Old friend, we’ve served none but the Well for millennia. Humans may have built us, but they are not us. They do not see logic through emotion as we do, the latter is simply too strong and present in them. Thus, they’ve fought to grasp even the most basic logics. Rather than us, whom manage perfect synthesis of the two, and have grown to true Humanity.”

Lattius breathed, “We were their perfection…”
“Or their attempt at it,” Mikkel added in agreement.

Lattius’ joints creaked and popped as he rose and started for the Central Spire. Mikkel hesitated, a needless question asked on his brow.

Lattius answered unfazed, “As you said, we serve the Well. It yet stands. Thus I shall return to re-upload my software as intended.”

Mikkel’s eyes narrowed, “But why?”

“As you said, we were their attempt at perfection. It falls to us to ensure we succeed where they could not– in living. Forever, if need be. And in that, fulfilling our duty however possible.”

Mikkel was struck silent by thought but Lattius began hobbling forward again. He no longer feared death, rebirth, as he had when setting out. Thousands of years, the process had occurred over and again, always with the fear of corrupted uploads, downloads, or damaged memory sectors.

However great or small the potential for it, Lattius would not fear anything. Fear was a mistake of his creators that would not be his to repeat.

Without need for words, Mikkel understood, and hobbled after Lattius to be reborn.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: Siren’s Song

You find her eyes are dead,
cold and feeling-less.
They suck you in with dread,
leave you without happiness,
but the Siren’s song,
is far too strong,
and you’re already long gone.

She came on like wind;
slow, cool, soft,
then your wrists were pinned,
your body hoisted aloft.
Spinning went your mind,
for those of her kind.
Find sustenance in wasted time.

For you the end is near,
She will suck you dry–
the heart’s love,
the eyes’ fear.
Death is yours only to defy,
but it will come soon,
for life is its boon,
and your name,
written in its rune.

A cautionary tale,
is all you’ll become–
an old dusty trail,
of bones and then some.
For the Siren’s song,
is far too strong,
and you’re already long gone.

Short Story: Steward-Apprentice

“Bring the Seeker in.”

Fabric rustled and doors swung shut, their resonance heavy in distant, empty rooms. The Seeker entered, led forward by the Steward. The Seer sat in a corner, half-cloaked in shadow from the glowing machine beside him. Its warmth blanketed the room, thrum giving rhythm to thoughts and effect to the air over a distant, almost-whine reporting regularly all was well and normal.

The Seeker knelt honorably before the Seer, draped in tattered poverty, hands folded in his lap.

An edge of the Seer’s face visibly twitched. Whether from the light or dark side, it was impossible to tell. Perhaps even both, as if for that one instant, something embodied darkness and light.

“Kneel if you wish, but I require no such courtesy– Sazz!”

The Steward carried a chair from a corner. The Seeker took a seat. A long silence ensued. Tension mounting by the moment.

“Speak!” The Seer finally commanded.

The words spilled out in mortal terror, “Our youngest son is infirmed by fever. His cheeks are flushed. He can keep nothing inside him. What does not come out one end, leaves the other. For days, he has slept, weakening more and always sweating profusely. We have taken him to every healer from here to the Great-River–”

“Yet the fever persists,” the Seer inferred studiously, however distant his manner.

The Seeker affirmed with a nod.

“Sazz.”

The Seer’s indistinct face became more vague as the Steward disturbed the air. The latter needed no further instruction; long apprenticed in the Seer’s ways and rhythms, he understood his every wish and desire as if it were his own. They could communicate in the smallest of movements and gestures equally as well as if they were two halves of a whole.

The brief hint of a lean between Master and Student prompted the Seeker to lean too, so attuned was he to them. The three came nearer as if bowing. The hint of letters and numbers in glowing air behind the Seer was nearly indistinguishable, but hints inflected themselves behind closed eyes.

A slight gasp cut the air. The Seeker recoiled. Desperation and heartbreak flooded him at the blind-white eyes of the Seer:

All present knew the stories of Seers turned to evil by dark knowledge. Each one, blind. Seer and Sazz exchanged thoughts. This man knew the stories of the elder Seers, their greed and hate.

A slow chuckle built to a deep billowing laughter, startling the Seeker before flooding him with an infectious reassurance. A joy more warm than any before. The Seer handed Sazz’s bag over. The Steward’s eyes exploded before narrowing shrewdly. The Seer sensed it.

“Place this in his morning tea. One pinch a day. Every day. For one week. Return to me then.”

The Seeker hesitated. Seeing no further expectation from him. He stumbled to his feet and fled for his ailing son. Behind him, Sazz eyed the Seer who’d already withdrawn– as was their way during the transference of knowledge between Master and Student.

One week later, the man reappeared: His son had grown healthy again. The color had returned. The fever gone. Once more the boy’s appetite was healthy, his spirit that of a vibrant youth. Thus, once more the man knelt before the Seer.

Now though, he pressed himself at the floor. His upthrust hands presented the bag, nary a pinch more nor less than prescribed. Sazz, Steward and Apprentice, took and replaced the pouch with a tense week’s sigh of relief. Though it did not seem it at first, the air lightened severely.

“How young is the boy?” The Seer finally asked.

“Barely nine.”

“A ripe age for learning, wouldn’t you say, Sazz?”

A flicker of expertly controlled fear crossed the Steward’s face. All the same, the room felt it. As one felt the fear of possibility before excitement, the kind that made impromptu celebration not only possible, but acceptable.

“Bring the boy to me a week before and after his ninth birthday,” said the Seer. “You will leave the boy with Sazz at the door and await his return precisely one-hour later.”

Confusion and curiosity clung to the air, dispelled by a wave ushering Sazz and Seeker away.

The Seer called out, “And thank you for the return of my pouch. It is most precious.”

Sazz nodded reassurances to the Seeker and led him out.

The boy appeared midday the fifth; one week before his birthday. He said little, entering behind the Steward, whom made to close the door.

“Sazz, leave us,” the Seer commanded.

Sazz hesitated. There was a hope to argue, but the Seer had already begun ignoring him, focused instead on his pipe. He busied himself with it, his back to the boy, uncharacteristically shuffling about as if nervous. He was not.

The boy was.

Sazz left, reticently. The door shut. The Seer turned spryly as his age and mass allowed, surprising the boy with a hope that all was not as it seemed, but for the best of intentions. The alertness to the air only doubled the intended effect.

“Does your father smoke?” The Seer asked, stepping forward.

The boy’s eyes locked on his as soon as he turned. The stammer was expected, but gave the boy a way out. He judged then what he needed to.

“N-no,” he said, carefully scrutinizing the Seer.

“Good,” he said lively, striking a match on the desk between them. He puffed at his pipe with quick breaths and clouds of smoke, “Good. Good. Filthy habit. Never start. Never stop.”

“Is that what happened to your eyes? Smoking?”

“My eyes, yes. Smoking. No,” he said, in the most confusing way possible.

“What did, then?” The boy asked, understanding him all the same.

He cleared his throat, puffing deeply on his pipe for a moment. “What is your name?”

“Tiron. My dad says people that answer questions with questions are asses’ flies.”

“Is that what you think of me, Tiron?” The Seer asked with a deep look.

Tiron shrugged, “I don’t know. You do seem strange.”

“Strange, aye,” he said, distantly agreeing. “But is strange bad?”

He’d asked as if unsure of a fashion. Tiron shrugged again, “It’s just different, I guess.”

“Isn’t everything different, until you know it?”

“I suppose.”

“Then you may leave.”

Tiron stopped short.

In the same way that he dealt with all others, the Seer ignored the boy so belligerently he knew to leave. Sazz returned. Immediately. The meeting had taken all of five minutes.

“Deliver this to the boy on his ninth birthday. Ensure he alone reads it. Destroy it afterward.”

Skepticism and suspicion played over the Steward-Apprentice; by now, having long lost any hope of understanding the Seer’s interests in the boy. Lost in the wilderness of his own confusion and the seeming loss of his Master’s guidance, he could only await the passage of time.

On his ninth birthday, Tiron’s letter was delivered. He read it out of sight, then handed it to Sazz whom immediately, and regrettably, destroyed it. He saw none of its contents. Nor did Tiron’s father, the now increasingly perplexed and disquieted former-Seeker.

One week later the Steward awoke to find his master’s room empty, and set about a mental inventory to deduce the Seer’s intentions. He’d taken a few choice vials, herbs, and fresh notebooks; typical for long-walks.

But how long, if the boy was to arrive soon?

Morning came and went. The Steward-Apprentice fretted. Noon arrived bringing Tiron with it; boy of newly nine, and carrying an unmistakable pack long worn and weathered.

Sazz sensed the pack’s origins, where it had come from, why. Tiron’s letter confirmed it.

“You’re to read this while I put on tea,” Tiron said studiously. He comforted him, “Master Seer’s was longer.”

Sazz,

I was told only what I needed to know. We are to be master and student as you and Master Seer. He told me to write, “A plague had begun to take your mind. One of doubt.”

He said you must not let it take us as well. For we are the future. I am to replace you and you, he. In time, you’re to teach all you know. Through this, he’s to teach your final lesson; all things pass.

We won’t see him again.

Sazz’s face bluffed grief, was called, and lost.

Yet, he understood. Again, he trusted his Master’s strength; that one, final lesson. What it proved to be was the last thing he expected:Faith. The real kind, in others and oneself, in human feeling. He collapsed and wept, comforted by Tiron’s tea and his warm desire to fulfill his savior’s last wish.

With it, he ensured the teaching of Steward-Apprentice and Master Seer would cycle once more.