Schism

Apr. 21st, 2014 05:03 pm
fodschwazzle: (Sandy hole)

Schism always tried to be the most knowledgeable man in the world. He traveled, talked to strangers, and went diving into previously unexplored caverns just to mark all of these places and experiences inside his mind and journal. "After all, what could possibly hinder the pursuit of knowledge in a world without death?" he would have remarked, laughing, on any other day.


Looking at the thundercloud forming in the shadow of Mount Aramis, Schism knew exactly what could bring an end to his lust for knowledge. From the warm, if hostile, street gutter of Coburntown, the old man could see, through the crack of light that separated the dark valleys and icy tundra from the sunny cities, jungles, and arid deserts, the black air currents roiling in the sky.


Schism witnessed red lightning jut from the murderous dark mass, as tall as the mountain itself, through the sky. Instantly, he remembered the day the sun stopped moving across the sky, when weather systems vanished. In his mind, he watched as the towers were swept into the sea all over again. He recalled the quaking screams of women swallowed by the earth as it caved underneath their feet. As if it had just happened, he envisioned the entire horizon illuminated in scarlet as it roared towards him, stopping only to drop as ashes into an endless ocean. Then, the heartbreaking serenity of silence as the few remaining human voices realized that it had all stopped; they had survived.


These few people never knew why the world had ended, or why it had finished ending, or why they had been selected to live in a world with an immobile sun and no death. Schism had always tried to help them answer these questions, but people, particularly those of Coburntown, did not like to discuss what they could not control. They ridiculed his articulate speech, unkempt white hair, and emphatic facial expressions. They kicked him in the teeth, stole his clothes, and urinated on his prone body. He had felt frail before they beat him--after, however, he found his own strength.


He pulled a discarded jacket and trousers out of the waste heap behind a house in Coburntown and donned a new name: Schism. He could be the rift between the mundane and the divine, the crack between reacting with feeble anger to the injustice dealt to him and seeking solutions in a world filled with uncertainty. He had lived for forty-five years in search of the answers that could unite these lost humans. Humans who had been abandoned by a fickle god.


In all of that time, he had never seen a raincloud. Weather didn't exist in the new world, beyond what certain regions experienced all the time. The valley west of Coburntown never experienced anything but the chill of sitting in the shade of Mount Aramis. Schism felt the hairs on his arms stand up in remembrance of the day the world ended. His old body began to uncontrollably shake in his ragged clothing.


Hovering over the valley, the inky cloud reverberated with malevolent ruby flashes. Dimly visible within the rapidly swirling vapors, a pearlescent object began to protrude from the bottom of the largest cluster. A loud boom echoed across the sky, louder than any thunder crack.


In spite of his fear, Schism charged headlong at the cloud. He jumped over paupers sleeping in the city streets and slipped past people who were simply gawking at the crackling blot in the western sky. He bolted past the city gates without a care about the guards. It's connected, he thought, as he started up the cliffs overlooking the valley. This is how the world ended. As fast as his old body could carry him, he scrambled over granite protrusions while narrowly dodging pine trees. Everything I need to know is right here, in this moment. He cleared the ridge in mere minutes to look down into the valley.


He witnessed it then: the eye. A massive eye, nearly as big as the valley itself, emotionlessly gazing down on the valley while streams of air rippled up and swirled around it. It looked down upon the valley and spewed fire. It shined with a careless grace upon the carnage--a house exploded, sending timbers flying hundreds of feet through the air while the ground below blackened to ash. The eye dilated, and six pulsating, pallid, elongated appendages leapt from the cloud towards the ground, scraping at the dirt or something the old man could not quite see from the top of the ridge.


In a short moment, the tentacles were held close to the eye itself. One after another, the eye breathed fire in a brilliant ray over each of the ends of these tentacles. Schism thought he could hear screams over the crushing roar of fire that swept over the charred earth. Suddenly, just as the sixth tentacle was about to receive that beam of flame, a blinding light flashed through the sky.


The cloud, the eye, and the tentacles were all gone. Schism tried to take out his journal and write down what he had seen, but his arm was jerking uncontrollably and made all of his letters impossible to read. Although he was trembling furiously, Schism slowly walked down to the valley floor. Was that god? he asked himself, stepping over downed trees into the sprawling field of ashes.


There, he met the survivor.

fodschwazzle: (Sandy hole)

King Shannon slammed his splayed palm down on his fine oak table, desperately reaching for a glass of water to push aside the satchel of flesh rapidly swelling inside his throat.  "A king who cannot be trusted is a dead king" echoed inside his ears along with the pounding of his heart as he tried to draw breath and failed.

The wine! He thought as the nearest advisors rushed to his side and struggled to squeeze something out of him. One of the vintners must have--

After a few moments of stinging force being applied to his sternum, the king suddenly coughed in a sharp burst, sending a wide spray of frothy vintage across his table and onto the stone floor. Immediately he was able to breathe again, although the sensation seared every taut muscle in his body. Slowly, he became more relieved. His advisors shuffled away from him as he straightened his immense bulk fully upright in his chair. When he had regained his breath, he rasped:

“Bring me the man who prepared this glass of wine.”

                                                                                                                                   *****

An hour passed in tense silence. No one had ever seen the king this enraged before, although his scarlet visage could have been due to nearly choking to death. No one touched any of the remaining roasted geese, sharp cheeses, or mountain fruits. No one dared lift a fork.

King Shannon, the instigator of this fearful silence, eagerly awaited his own method of justice. It was all he could do to keep his heavy jowls from quivering with malice. Suddenly, interrupting the quiet came five sharp bell chimes, only a second apart, as quiet as a fork touching a knife. Loud enough only to be heard in this silent dining room.

Ting-Ting-Ting-Ting-Ting

And then his chair no longer existed, and he was falling. All was black, save for a perfect vision of his own body as he fell. His back slammed onto a hard surface that he couldn’t see. He could hear nothing, not even his own breath as it was knocked out of his lungs.

Moments later, he returned. He found himself sitting as before, though bewildered, in his high seat. None of the advisors or guests registered any awareness of anything amiss. Did I just experience a seizure?

The king leaned over and whispered to his first advisor, Duke Charleson. "I must retire. When the criminal arrives, detain him until I can question him personally."

                                                                                                                                  *****

Far removed from the now-familiar protests that dragged on in the city streets, the king slept cloistered within stone walls and silk sheets. His body felt mangled by his near-choking, the searing gout that surged through his joints after dinner, and the-

Ting-Ting-Ting-Ting-Ting

Just as before, the king fell into a dark world. His high down mattress evaporated as he plummeted to the floor, landing with a hard knock to his tailbone. The surface he landed on felt like stone, but he could neither see it nor determine a texture with his fingertips. He screamed, but he heard nothing.

Almost nothing. Faintly, he heard a sound like waves breaking on a shore, and he saw a dim light in the distance, like a candle engulfed in a cloud.

And then he was returned to his bed. King Shannon tried to reason why this was happening. It was in all likelihood the poisoned wine at dinner, but what kind of poison would leave its victim alive yet slowly drag him into a nether world of soundless dark?

Unable to answer the questions, even to save his own life, the king slowly drifted back into sleep.

                                                                                                                                  *****

He dreamt of the night eleven years ago when his family had met with the newly-crowned King Dosan, Queen Elizalde, and their councilors. He had been Governor Shannon then, not King. He dreamt of their discussions, calculating how long an idea could be made to hold in the minds of the population. Four years, they decided, based upon their collected experiences in leadership.

They would plant ideas in the minds of the citizens, invented notions of mistreatments at the hand of King Dosan that would distract the common folk from the true causes of their squalor. Then, a carefully-staged revolution would unseat the old king and install Governor Shannon as the new one. It would take four years for the new king to “fix” the perceived wrongdoings of the previous king. In another four years, he could create new issues to mislead and enrage the populace, before being dethroned in another staged coup. The cycle would repeat, with each new king being groomed by the previous one unbeknownst to the peasants. The old king would simply vanish into the fold of the rich, secretly dictating and pulling strings forever.

Being Governor had been an appalling occupation, but conversing with people with empty mouth due to poverty-rotted teeth could be tolerated for the promise of being king, and after that an eternal retirement in wealth. Because they would never die. No one ever died.

Truthfully, people did die. They died, but then they returned. Few people were willing to talk about the subject, lest death come for them, but it hung over their heads like a miasma. People who died became stranger after death. Perhaps the shock of death jarred people away from the things that had made them human. It made them more aware. The most vocal critics, the most cognizant individuals in the kingdom, the only people who could see through this façade of misleading politics, were those who had died.

Worse, people who had experienced death more than once could become violent public leaders in their own right. At times, Governor Shannon had had to travel through riots in a reinforced steel carriage.  On one such occasion, the leader of the uprising had leapt onto the side of the carriage and maliciously whispered through the thick bars into Shannon's terror stricken face:

"A king who cannot be trusted is a dead king."

Shannon sat bolt upright in his bed, face and sheets soaked with sweat. He shuffled over to the washbasin to cool his face, but it brought no relief. In the water, he beheld the pale, rasping face and sinewy hands grasping his shoulders as they had once grasped the bars of his carriage. He shuddered.

One of the last “reprehensible” measures that King Dosan had passed to his advisors, before quietly yielding his throne to King Shannon with a knowing wink, was the exile of dead citizens. Shannon would allow the exile to stand. But he could not banish the pale face in the washbasin.

Ting-Ting-Ting-Ting-Ting

The bells that heralded the abyss grew louder.  The faint sound of waves gradually became the howl of wind rushing through a cobblestone hallway. That thin, grey dot of light was no brighter, but it was closing in on the king.  Looking into it, he thought he could see a jagged pattern. What is that? Crenellations?

He returned to the real world with his hands gripped on the sides of the washbasin.  Once his heart had resumed its rhythm, he rinsed his face once more and stumbled back to his bed.

                                                                                                                                  *****

Mid-morning, the king awoke with a sharp rap at his bedroom door. His wife did not stir, having consumed too many glasses of wine the previous night.

"What is it?" the king inquired of the door.

"Your Grace, we have captured all of the vintners who have personally offered Your Holiness their wine over the last year. Would Your Grace deign to look upon them and offer judgment?"

This is not what I requested, the king groused. He began to arise, teetering out of bed and away from reassuring sheets.

TING-TING-TING-TING-TING

With a chiming as loud as tower bells but far shriller, the king was swept into the shadow realm. The dim light rushed towards him with riveting speed. The roar of wind morphed into the sound of fire, burning down churches along with their shrieking occupants, incinerating entire farm fields in seconds.

The image in the light was a castle! The masonry was similar to that of Shannon's own castle, though it was hard to tell as it crashed towards him. The front portcullis opened just quickly enough to clear Shannon's head as it swallowed him whole. Shannon immediately lost his footing on hazy grey stones as an unseen force dragged him down the halls and upstairs. Shannon mustered the strength to reach out for the gaps in the stone work as they rushed past his limp, thrashed body, but his fingernails cracked and bled the moment he touched them. He was moving far too quickly to have any means to stop himself.

Crack! Shannon closed his eyes as if he was fainting from the agony of several dislocated limbs, but no relief appeared. This image was the same with his eyes closed.

Finally, the dragging stopped. Senseless with what felt like hundreds of injuries, Shannon rolled over in his own blood to see where he might have stopped.

It was a throne room, empty except for the figure sitting on the throne —It was an enormously tall skeleton wearing a cloak of ashes that fell like endless dust upon the floor. The skeleton came alive as it lowered itself to the floor on hands and feet. It whispered something in a sibilant tongue long lost to man but spoken eternally among the deities of death.  The skeleton grinned and grew eyes made of piercing light as it scuttled across the stone floor to the king's pallid, crippled body.

The skeleton opened its mouth, revealing endless rows of impossible scythe-shaped teeth. All the light in the world reduced to those two brilliant eyes, as the king's own body began to vanish into the nightmare.

                                                                                                                                  *****

When the guards finally broke into the room, they found the quickly-sobering Queen sobbing over her husband. Shannon lay sprawled out on the floor, vacantly slobbering on his own naked body, tears streaming from his eyes, while eight ignored vintners watched aghast from outside the broken door.

One by one, the guards fell in to try to resuscitate their king. One by one, the vintners moved their hats to their chests in solemnity. And one vintner with a far paler face than the others, a man who had died three times, allowed just a fraction of a smirk to penetrate his cracked lips while he whispered the words that had haunted King Shannon for three years.

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