On a grassy knoll, far removed from any civilization, a small man sat perfectly still. Everything was quiet. There were no animals nearby, no sound of rushing water, no wind rustling through the trees behind him. He was the only thing that might make a noise, and he did not stir at all.
Instead he sat transfixed, eyes held unblinkingly towards an infinite void that stretched before him. It appeared like billows of smoke compressed thousands of times, layers and layers of wispy tendrils combining to form a single cloud, one so thick and dark as to be impenetrable. Nothing could be seen behind it, if indeed there was anything at all. The man got the sense that he was staring into the very end of the world, beyond which no existence could be.
And it was so very massive. It stretched upwards until it was lost in the gray, overcast sky. It stretched far to either side until it was lost in the haze. It absorbed the man’s entire perspective, and his mind was lost far into its depths. Staring at it made him feel dizzy, as if he were falling into it. He half expected to feel its touch at any moment, and could no longer tell how far it stood from where he sat. If it stood apart from him at all.
Indeed, all about him was a thin, gray haze. So slight that it was almost imperceptible, like a filter that dimmed all the world around him. He had not even noticed it clouding over him.
And there was the rhythm, too. The dull, deep pulsation that thudded through his core.
The man inhaled heavily through his nose. A stray thought interrupted his trance, something about how breathing was getting harder, like he had to suck longer to get enough air. He idly flexed his fingers through the dirt around him, and it felt like touching them through thick gloves: vague and formless. His eyes came out of their stupor and looking down he saw the dark-gray tendrils swirling across his lap. He stared at them listlessly, vaguely noticing how his legs and feet were growing numb.
As at once full consciousness came back and a terrible horror seized him! He felt like a bird, realizing it had stepped into a snare. He leapt to his feet, turned on the spot, and attempted to run from his perch. While his limbs flailed valiantly, there was no friction at the soles of his feet. The ground simply did not seem to be there for him to push off against.
His mouth opened in what must have been a scream, yet no sound came out. The air was truly gone now, and so his vocal chords throbbed in a vacuum. For a moment he thought he heard a dull buzzing, but it was merely the sensation of his ear-drums dissolving. All the soft tissue was fading away now: eyes, tongue, hair, the first layers of skin.
The distant trees faded entirely from view. He slid deeper and deeper into the layers of the darkness. The thicker layers of cloud now made short work of his muscle and bone, disintegrating him into nothingness. For a brief moment the black void where his form had been stood apart from the rest of the convulsing mist, retaining its humanoid shape. Its dark head cocked curiously to the side, as if self-aware. But then the full depths of the darkness pressed unceasingly onward and the cavity was swallowed entirely.
They needed somewhere to hide! Somewhere that the void would never be able to invade. But that was impossible…wasn’t it? In time the void would reach everywhere. Suddenly an epiphany settled on Allurian.
“Wait,” he said, reassuringly touching Ballos’s shoulder. Then he raised his hands, palms outstretched, and emanated a tone. All of the surrounding matter attuned itself to his signal and everything within a sphere of six feet ceased their movements, a perfect bubble of complete isolation around them.
In spite of the preceding panic, Ballos stared about in surprise. He was particularly confused by numerous particles that were frozen in the air around them. He realized that they were flecks of dust, pieces which normally swirled so erratically that his eyes could not register their tiny forms.
“What is this?” Ballos asked.
Allurian paused, knowing what it was, but unsure of how to verbalize it. Finally he spoke. “I have claimed this sector. It is frozen in time, unable to register any change that I do not allow.”
“But out there?”
“As it was.”
Ballos could see the end of the alley beyond their bubble of isolation. It appeared diffracted, as if viewing it through water or glass. Even so he could still make out the dark clouds pooling across the ground there.
“So it won’t be able to come in here?” Ballos asked.
“But will still surround everything outside of your sphere?”
“Well I don’t think we’d be able to get out once it was around us!”
“You’re probably right.”
Allurian pointed his palms upwards, and their sphere of isolation began to move upwards. No, that wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t the sphere moving upwards, rather it seemed like the entire world moved downwards while the sphere alone remained motionless in space. In either case they were now high in the air, far above the encroaching arms of black.
Allurian next moved his hands to the side, pointing away from the dark wall horizon. All the world seemed to slide beneath their feat, rippling past their point. Their speed of transfer began to increase. Mile after mile flew by, faster and faster, passing through them at a blur.
Ballos barely noticed a mountain far in the distance before it was already upon them. He raised his hands to brace for impact, but there was none. The mass rippled through them like an intangible wave. His consciousness was left perfectly intact in the midst, but for his body it felts as if invisible strands were pulling the rock rapidly through his form. In one moment his body was composed of dirt, then it freely flowed to clay, then iron. Ballos felt his body was nothing more than a temporary conglomeration of all the materials surrounding him, held together only by his infinite consciousness. Had it always been this way, he wondered, and only now he could perceive it?
They sprang out of the sloping back of the mountain range the ground continued to race beneath them. Faster and faster. Mountain range, then valley, then mountain range, then valley. And at this speed Ballos saw that they followed in larger and more prolonged intervals, escalating like a chorus. At last they came to the Great Arced Plain, which many believed extended on for eternity. Indeed, after a few seconds of passing through it Ballos thought it might be true. But then it, too, fell behind them, and now they flew over a sea that also seemed to extend for eternity. It was the World Sea.
Allurian pointed his hands downwards now and the frothing waves of that sea were rushing up to greet them. Larger and larger the water loomed. Closer and closer, they got. Never did they plunge into it, yet continually closer they became. Impossibly close. A foot, then an inch, then a hundredth of an inch away. And the waves towered above them, growing larger and larger. Or were Ballos and Allurian growing smaller?
And as the waves appeared larger, they also became slower, until they halted entirely and appeared less like mounds of water and more like crystalline towers. And up and down their forms they glinted the reflections of the sun everywhere, like so many haphazardly placed windows.
Allurian turned his focus towards one of those reflections, and as he and Ballos grew closer they saw it separate into innumerable threads of light. And still they pressed nearer, and the beams became larger and larger. Now they were weaving between the beams, and those appeared like massive tunnels of burning splendor. And now, at last, they passed into one of those tunnels and were clothed entirely in its glory.
At last Allurian put his hands down and they came to a stop. Ballos breathed out in awe and took in their surroundings. A golden haze filled the tunnel of light, and all about it was scattered with innumerable bright points of every hue.
Ballos walked about, and as he did so about those points seemed to shimmer, to slide from one shade to another. He moved to the center of the tunnel and looked at the points head-on. They were a collage presenting him a reflection of the last thing this beam of light had bounced off of: the nearby wave of water.
Ballos squinted his eyes and pushed his focus deeper down the stream of light, and as he did so he could see the reflections of its entire history. A rock it had deflected off of before it had fallen into the sea, a tree before that, a cloud as it entered into the atmosphere, another world, and every inch of space in between, all the way back to its inception at the sun. He saw it all as clearly as if he were there now. He turned about and looking the other way he could see the beam extending forever forward, an unceasing journey laid out yet to come. It would plunge into the water next, bend and move deeper, start to fray out and lose luster, covering an even wider area, then…
“Ballos, where are you?”
He heard Allurian’s voice as if from afar. How strange, they had just been beside each other hadn’t they?
“Oh here you are,” Allurian’s voice grew clearer and slowly the man materialized next to Ballos again. “You’re in the future.”
“We’re…in a beam of light?” Ballos knew that they were, yet somehow he still had to confirm it.
“In a moment of light. Time is entirely frozen in relation to us here. Not merely moving slowly, literally frozen in place. We could stay here, well, forever if we needed. We could stay forever in any of the moments along this light beam’s path.”
“And the void won’t come into here?”
“No. If it isn’t already here at this particular moment of time, it never can be.”
“Thank you, Allurian. This will do.”
On Monday I wrote about how there are only so many stories I’ll ever write in my life and how I struggled to accept that fact. In the end, though, I’ve made peace with my limitations. I have promised myself that I will write regularly, and that I will publish as many of my story ideas that I can. But beyond that, we will see what will be.
And so long as we’re admitting limitations, I also have had to accept that my chances of being a commercially successful author are pretty abysmal, no matter how skilled I might become. Few stories get picked up by publishers and even fewer become a hit. Beyond that, I honestly think the sort of stuff I write would not appeal to a wide audience even if it were given the chance.
Which I suppose sounds pessimistic, but really it isn’t. I only mean to clear the air of any unlikely expectations, so that I can instead focus on the genuine good that remains. Because the fact is, even if no one else cares to read this stuff, I absolutely LOVE a story like what I have posted here today. Maybe it isn’t a good fit for everyone, but it most certainly is for me. It is exactly the sort of thing I would want to read, and so it is exactly the sort of thing I want to write.
And I get to. There’s no one to stop me from just writing more and more of this and making it for its own sake. Isn’t that reason enough to be happy? The way to make peace with your limited resources is to love the ones that you do have. Rather than mourn the things that never were, cherish the ones that are!
For now, this is all of Cael I have to show. There are a lot more ideas for it simmering in my mind, but it’ll be a long while before they’re ready for the light of day. In the meantime I need to move forward to next week’s blog post!
On Monday I want to address a theme that presented itself in the Darkness portion of today’s story: that of being consumed by an enemy. This sort of theme has been showing up in stories for millennia, and I believe there are deep psychological reasons for its prevalence. I’d like to explore them with my next post, and until then have a wonderful weekend!