Short Story: The Journey

Light cut inward at right angles around ancient, concrete block that formed the maze-like entrance of a small, former temple. Once a way-station for pilgrims, in an eon of isolationist practices, it had fallen into utter disrepair. However hidden its would-be caretakers were, they existed– even if losing faith at the world’s state.

The land around the flat-roofed temple was now a barren wasteland of petrified trees and Earthen refuse composting since time immemorial. Such grave-markers for the salted-Earth’s civilization ran far and wide. Were it not for the fiefdoms formed of generational, dictated procedures filling settlements with tradeable goods, even the most skilled and nomadic hunters would have nothing to fill their bellies.

Managing without the interference of any Empire was considered myth: the land too poor a provider otherwise.

Though little more than facades for war-lords of untold power and resource, the Empires’ glorious acts were touted regularly by town and heraldry criers, even if their names were not. These acts ensured people remained just misinformed enough to be ignorant of their Emperors’ true movements and motives.

But there was no-one in the brick-and-mortar former-temple to give care to the Empires or their backward warring. All that remained was a skittering lizard, invisible in the darkness and camouflaged in the light via slow-shifting photo-pigments in its skin.

It one-two’d across the floor. Three-four’ing both legs inversely tandem at each other. The front and back feet came together, ending their gate nearly touching. Excellent for tree-hanging, but poor for any hope of speed.

It was doing its best however, at running flat-out. Angling right. Left. Right again. Were it not for its immense length, and thus intimidating stature, it might have been comical.

It was not.

From the rear, it was a sight of relief. From beyond, one of terror. The figure atop the sandy, trunk-mined hill did not hesitate. It knelt, hands together, whispering quickly. Harsh syllabic resonance whistled with feminine sharpness over wind from nowhere. Gusts kicked up. Dirt and sand pelted debris in gale-force winds that stirred but never moved.

The charging creature reached the hill’s apex. Dexterous hands flashed, extended outward: wrists together, hands in a V.

Gale-forces boomed, focused like compressed air bolts. Wind deafened and off-balanced the creature first. Low-pressure jolted air from its lungs. The distant whistle, howled. Petrified trunks and limbs cracked and shattered at weak-points.

A phantom beam cracked, blowing the creature backward off the hilltop. It cleared the hill-bottom, landing painfully against the temple’s stone. A snap gave way to an agonized wail as it landed on its back with a series of grunting writhes. It failed to move, instead moaning pitifully.

She appeared and knelt beside it, hands together and whispering once more. One hand stroked the great eye of the fading creature as it wheezed. She soothed it with an angelic hum, it harmonized with another subsonic one, vibrating from her hand and lulling the creature into death.

The life slowly left its body without difficulty or pain.

That was always their way– her way. Never anyone else’s. How could it be? So few people understood anything anymore, let alone of themselves. One day again perhaps, the world would come to know the goodness she did. Now however, even she could not negate the need to survive. Not when it counted most.

She sat beside a small fire just inside the temple so as not to suffocate herself, but to still bathe in warmth against the nights’ growing cold. She’d scouted the place the night before, using her mind in meditation to see within it.

Seers, they’d once called them, but with one’s eyes closed “seeing” felt a misnomer. She was a sensor. Like one of the old-world’s fabled optics. People didn’t know or understand that though. How could they? The Empires had been keeping them ignorant and hungry for a millennia now.

She rose to turn the spit a while, doing so in silent contemplation.

If the information she sought to confirm was true, a new world might come of it. Something once thought lost, reborn from ash like the mythical phoenix. There was only one way to find out.

She slept with the fire’s coals still burning. Then, having eaten and secured as much of the prey as she could carry, she set out, leaving the creature’s remnants for scavengers. Were it not for them, she’d mused, the creature she’d filled her belly would never have camped here.

After all, Lord Darwin was strong in his understanding of nature. And it was he whom assured a hierarchy of life existed and affected itself and its environment. The latter’s inverse was equally, if not doubly, true: The old-world had learned that lesson the hard way, and its descendants were still suffering for it. Would be, possibly for life– like millions, billions more.

But there was only one way to be certain of any of it…

It was but a few days later she found herself on her knees, beaten and weathered from rough terrain, and her bodily wounds paling in comparison to those in her heart. She stared upward in mixed disbelief and despair, as if learning her Gods had betrayed her. It was not Gods however, nor even man. It was the Empires.

She saw it now. They were bee-hives with no queen and only one goal: maintain the self-aware Hive’s existence. The truth was staring her in the face now. She might have believed it before, but she knew it now. The evidence was here.

Long seeking some thread of stability in her confused world of war, pseudo-magic, and demi-gods that set fires but could not extinguish them, she’d thirsted for understanding, knowledge. The coven hadn’t answered her questions, even after an entire adolescence in their care. However distant she might’ve been otherwise, lack of answers increased it.

But now, there was truth. A truth she’d seen only with her own eyes, but that she would kill to ensure was known. How? Without the Empires’ interference? She couldn’t say yet. She re-read the words before her, knowing it would have to happen sooner or later.

Her jaw stiffened; learning one’s namesake bore itself a badge of responsibility in itself. Confirming hers, ensured she’d hold it to the highest standard.

There, beneath the millennia of soiled signage, Usa learned of the United States of America.

Yet the Empires had assured their existence was myth, as were what remained of their beliefs. Usa knew now it was lies and would to go to war to prove it.

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…

Bonus Poem: Steel and Blood and Bone

Through lightning, rain, and thunder,
howls a wind blowing cold.
Footsteps by the window echo,
smoke-filled hallowed air.

Come all ye together hither.
Listen and behold.
For the mountains have long listened,
to what the trees are have now foretold.

On the wind a battle rises.
Steel and blood and bone.
Sky darkened, fields ashen,
life faded and burned ‘fore old.

As the night it creeps upon us,
a hallowed horn is blown.
Up the ramparts stalk the massive-kin,
allied against our solemn throne.

And if perchance a failing wind,
should utter unto all,
Then a distant, tolling bell,
shall sing then of the fall.

And if perchance a sailing win,
should blow us from the halls.
We’ll sing then of the better times
while here we stand ever tall

Steel and blood and bone at dawn,
‘neath blackened despairing suns.
How the wizened will be vanquished,
know only the blessed ones.

Poetry-Thing Thursday: Shadows to Run

Decker?
More like Drekker;
A pile of festering filth in the night,
That’s rotted and writhing just out of sight,
from a neural-shocked matrix dump made out of light.

Corporate stooges, suits and wage-slaves,
all for creds from the brazen and brave,
he who’s in shadows runs to their grave
but is never en-chained nor known to be knave.

A ballad of futures where fortunes forgot,
those on the bottom that secured them their spot.
Is it a vision, a feature, a nightmare, or not?
Or is it our future on our heels that is hot?

The anarchic flux of states and of coin,
all at the mercy of the soft corporate loin.
For the common man it’s little but a kick to the groin,
a star-hot, bright visage, they’re never to join.

Magic bejeweled an eclipse of two worlds,
that joined at both tops and bottoms unfurled,
enmeshed to give birth to a sixth now hurled,
through death and destruction, the fire it curled.

If you’ve a long hallowed late-night to run,
beneath sewers and brewers, the setting sun,
don’t forget to keep your wits out for some fun,
‘neath the corporate pants of an blinded old nun.

For the night never tires,
nor ends before dawn,
but the sun it is setting,
and you’ve shadows to run.