I do not know why I did not abandon my post then. I cannot say that I held some glimmer of hope that was absent in the others. I suppose that men simply take despair down different roads. I saw no relief in abandoning this world, I suppose I assumed that our misery was of a more eternal nature, and thus could not be escaped so cheaply.
The next day six more left their post.
Things started to become very difficult now. At this point we had only been one week from the end of our circuit, but that had been assuming we could carry the wagons in one trip. Now our hands were so few that we would have to carry half of our wares a day’s journey, leave them, travel a day back to the second half, and then spend a third day dragging them up to the first half. One week had just become three.
Not only that, but we would have to leave some of our number to guard each part of the caravan when it was split up. At one point there would be a group waiting guard over the front-half of the wagon, a group waiting guard over the back-half, and a third group walking the space in between. And given the straits we found ourselves in, there was no telling but whether one of those groups would entirely abandon their post and the other two would not know it.
And that, of course, is exactly what happened. It occurred one time when I was in the party guarding the back-half. Taft, Kintil, Po’Lago, and Birrits were supposed to come back and help us carry our load up to the front-half. We were only supposed to wait for them two days. After four we finally concluded that they wouldn’t ever be coming.
It takes a minimum of three men to push a single wagon, and there were only five of us present now. Thus we could only push one wagon on our own, and we had three of them to move. We didn’t dare split our group once more, so all five of us set out with one wagon, entrusting the other two carriages to the fates. That was simply how things had to work out now.
Halfway through our journey we passed the bodies of Taft, Kintil, Po’Lago, and Birrits, sprawled out unceremoniously five paces off of the main road, each in their own direction. Shortly after that we met two of the members of the front-party coming back to see if we still lived. Obviously everyone else of their group had also surrendered to the bleakness.
At first we just stared at each other. They at us and we at they. Without words we all understood. Seven survivors meant two wagons at a time. Six wagons in all. A day’s journey, a day’s back, a day’s journey, a day’s back, a day’s journey…all to make one day forward overall. Now we had more than a month remaining in our journey. It wasn’t as if the Job knew or cared about the change in capacity, we still had to fulfill our orders or perish for our betrayal.
And right then, every one of us was wondering if it wasn’t better to perish now. Surely with five weeks we were doomed to fail already, so why prolong the inevitable? Why not die with as little suffering as we could and see if things were any better in the afterlife? Perhaps we had been the fools to not quit earlier when our companions did.
And then Ro’Kano looked me right in the eye and let himself break. His eyes filled with months of unshed tears. We were of the age that to show our fears and brokenness was a great shame, but finally he couldn’t care about that anymore, and so spilled all his shame right down his cheeks and onto his boots.
And seeing that, I could not help but weep myself. And then all the other joined as well. All seven of us heaved out our agonies, exhaled our pain, baptized each other in our rivers of sadness.
It was the only thing that could have saved us. We could not have lived a moment longer with our hearts so locked.
Without another word we all took our place alongside the wagon and began to push it forward. We remained sad as ever, but we were not sad alone anymore.
We moved our wagons forward day-by-day. Every so often one of us would break down and weep once more, then all of us would weep, then we would dry our eyes and continue forward. We took the wagons two-at-a-time and proceeded together. We did not dare dividing our numbers anymore, we needed each other. We just had to take two wagons alone and leave all the others unprotected on the side of the road. It wasn’t as if these roads were very populated anyway. Surface roads never are as a general rule, and all the more so in regions such as these.
Though it took an age, we made our next two deliveries without incident. They were to mean villages, filled with gaunt souls that had been flung out from ordinary society and left to unify over their peculiarities. In fact, they were so destitute that they lived upon the surface level, with all their homes naked under the sun, right where we could see. But they did not crawl out of those holes to see what wares we brought to them, they just peeked out from half-closed doors and half-drawn curtains while their nervous magistrate concluded the business as quickly as possible and sent us back on our way.
“We’re coming to the end of the world,” Nanth said after we left the second of these outposts. It was the perfect summation for what we all were feeling. These were barren wastelands on the surface level, and forsaken societies down below. Both space and humanity seemed to be growing thinner and thinner, signaling the end of all the world.
We did not know how literal the truth of this was. What we did know was that we were down to our last delivery: Graymore Coventry. This meant we had only two wagons remaining, and once again were able to push forward without doubling back for the rest of our load.
Knowing this, we kept our eyes ever fixed on the horizon, scraping its line for any sign of our final destination. In this region all the landscape was perfectly flat and gray, so any promontory would be immediately noticed. There was hardly even any loose gravel upon the rock. It was so pristine and flat that it seemed almost to be made of metal. We could see for miles, and thus we expected to see our destination at every moment.
It was Bayhu who did at first. He pointed out the place where he saw a single, solitary bump along the line where sky met ground. None of the rest of us could make anything out, but as we continued pressing forward we were able to verify his claim one-by-one.
Then a must peculiar sensation occurred. For not ten minutes later the bump had grown twelvefold in size and we were able to start making out individual towers and spires. And though it had grown so much within our view, still it seemed perched upon the very farthest extent of the horizon. It gave us the dizzying impression that it was yet a very great way off, yet at the same time rushing up to meet us.
“Why it must be massive,” Zolar breathed. “To already appear this large, yet still be so many miles away.”
And still the illusion continued. Five minutes later and we were counting individual windows along the tower walls, and guard posts along the bulwarks.
“But I can hear voices,” Moal scratched his head, “the voices of a city close by. It truly must be right before us…then why can we not see anything past it?”
Though we saw the road winding up to the Coventry’s gates, we took a diversion, and proceeded around the edge of the city walls. We simply had to see what defined the horizon beyond this last element of the skyline.
“Going round for a look?” an amused voice called down to us, and peering up we met the face of a guard looking over the edge of the ramparts. It was a very strange experience, looking up at a city. Evidently the entire Coventry was also built upon the surface level, just as the lowly villages preceding it had been. This was very odd, given that the size and quality of it suggested that it was not a lack of resources that had kept them from burrowing down to safer ground.
But I digress. As mentioned before, the man had said “Going round for a look?”
“Yes,” I replied. “It’s just–we don’t know–”
“Not to worry,” he said. “We don’t have many visitors here at the Coventry, but whenever we do they are just as puzzled as you. You aren’t the first to go around to settle your senses.”
“But what is it that’s going on?”
“Better for you to see. You won’t believe me if I just tell you.”
“You see over there where the walls recede? Just past the old, crumbling tower?… Yes, just around that corner you should find a little footpath to follow. Just keep to that and be sure you stop when it stops! You don’t want to be falling in.”
“Falling into what?”
“Alright, off you go, then. I’ll still be here when you return.”
He was clearly done speaking with us, so there wasn’t anything for it but to follow his instructions and continue on ahead. We pushed our wagons along the city’s edge, just far enough from the walls to keep our wheels clear of any skirting rubble. Upon rounding the corner in the wall, we found the footpath, exactly as the man had described, no doubt formed by the feet of all the passerby who had sought to satiate the same curiosity that we now held.
It was another three-quarters of an hour before we finally cleared the last of the city walls. It became apparent that the Coventry was generally triangular in shape, the outer point of it facing in the direction we had approached, and the base facing in the way of our mystery. This meant that the sloping wall beside us obstructed most of what lay behind. What degrees we could see of the horizon still seemed a paradox, though. We could only make out the landscape that ran level with the back wall of the Coventry, and then nothing beyond. We stopped trying to make sense of it, we just kept pressing on, convinced that answers would only be found at the edge of the walls.
And so it was. Just as we passed the last section of the city, so too the footpath came to its sudden stop, and so too all the ground ceased before us. It was like when one comes over the summit of a hill, and only upon cresting the very top being is able to perceive the backside of the slope running beyond. Only the difference was that there was no backside, and no sloping beyond. We had reached the summit, the edge, the very horizon…and only pure blackness stretched before us.
“What is it?” I furrowed by brow as I craned my neck over the lip and tried to focus my eyes on the blackness, tried to tell what it was all made of. And as I looked downwards, and puzzled as to what I saw, I sharply realized that what I saw was empty infinity. There was no great, black object, no other side to a chasm, no floor far down below…there was nothing.
I flung myself backwards with a cry and fell to the earth. My heart raced, and I gasped for breath. There, as I lay on my back, I saw how the fringe of the Coventry descended right over the edge of the horizon, and into that abyss. It truly was the very edge of humanity.
We had come to the end of the universe.
Well…I suppose at this time I should pause and admit what has surely already occurred to you. It was not the end of the universe that we had discovered, merely the furthest limit of our arm in the Kolv Mass. But, of course, this was long before we had discovered True Groundscape or even the Outer Networks. At that time, to us as we were then, this was the edge of all eternity. And who knows…perhaps it truly was. For who can tell if anything unseen ever existed before it was found. Perhaps we make things in the looking for them.
In any case, after we had all gathered our wits, we shook our heads in mutual awe and made our way back to the main entrance to the Coventry. As we neared it we heard the salutation of our friend, the guard.
“Quite a shock, isn’t it?” he smiled.
“Yes,” Moal nodded. “I did not know that man had discovered the world’s end. Have you lowered anything down the side?”
The man scratched his thin, for surely he knew far more than we had capacity to receive, and had to consider how to explain things in a way that we could understand.
“There have been…many experiments,” he said, “and we have gleaned many secrets of the void since far-flung antiquity. I dare say you are already acquainted with the sacrifices that are performed here at our Coventry?”
“Yes, for some reason that aspect of our work is storied abroad, but never the nature of the Void. And we know that all the world looks askance at our sacrifices, because they simply cannot be understood without the knowledge of the Void. The science of the two is one and the same, and neither can be properly contemplated alone. But come in through the gate now and you will find answers…. Or at the very least more questions.”
On Monday I promised that our Treksmen would discover another of the unexplained wrinkles in their world: that of the Void at the end of their world. A lot more questions are raised by this discovery, but the final line given by the guard is a hint to the reader that they are not about to find all the answers. Our Treksmen are going to be educated, but they are not going to obtain understanding. In this story, the more that is learned, the more unknowns are uncovered.
This a central theme to my tale. It is a story of finite beings dealing with the infinite. The people of Graymore Coventry have studied the cosmos, and by their research have discovered genuine patterns of cause and effect. But they are dealing with matters that are beyond them, and through their experiments are inadvertently bringing forth all manner of unforeseen consequences. They are pulling at the string, and all that is connected to the other end must come forward as a result, not all of which is desired.
Before we come to that end of the string, though, I want to examine a pacing pattern that I’ve enjoyed using in Raise the Black Sun. It is a diamond pattern, one of expanding and contracting scope, going broad and then going narrow. Come back on Monday where we’ll look at this technique in greater detail, and also explore some famous examples of it.