Additional Memories of All-Beauty(May His Name Be Sung Forever)Collected by Dabbles, the Dove,
Administrator of Alefpria, Chief Advisor to Lifprasil, and Pilot of the Fathership
What follows are transcribed, as accurately as possible, the recollections of our Lord in the days before His ascension, revealed to our Lord during His dance with the forces of Time, and since relayed to His servants through the ascended Dream (for All-Beauty is All-Enlightening, Most Charitable). The setting down of such Dream into the Alefprian script has been undertaken with the greatest of prejudice, wielding every art of literature and wordcraft that All-Beauty has bestowed upon me, and distributed with His approval and His blessing. Though we may never understand the finality of what our Lord has become in His long journey through primordial Time, it is my hope, as the Dove, that reading such passages may invite the faithful to meditate on its earliest steps.
Praise unto All-Beauty.
My greatest thanks and acknowledgements to Monk, the one who speaks in tildes, for her kind donation of an ink-printing device; without which my lack of thumbs would have made writing troublesome.
Jvan waited, wearing a sarashi and a big silver knife and not a substantial amount else, swimming circles in the clear blue waters of Atoll. They curled their many-finned tail upon the endless mosaic floor of the palatine cathedral, and gently turned some idle thoughts as they studied the sounds echoing in from outside.
Coral breaking. Screams. People moving very quickly. It was much like they had expected.
The grand door banged with a shoulder thrust against it, then slid open soundlessly. Jvan raised head and looked up through a pair of fractal lenses to see two more Kirghal join the room, three hundred fins whipping in rippling waves along the sides of their tails. Prrhyi was resting both upper-arms upon his shoulders, gauntlet-blades curving easy over his knuckles. His lower-hands held a pneumatic pike.
Ceeln, of course, swam up as close to Jvan as they needed to be to embrace, but eventually resisted the urge. Jvan smiled. Ceeln did not smile.
Said Prrhyi, “Tueda, the Senate is taking the city.” As if it needed to be announced. “We are leaving. Now.”
Ceeln did not question Jvan’s calm, but was thankful for it. “We can leave by the Palatine tunnels. If you’ve-”
“I haven’t,” said Jvan. “We’re not leaving that way. We’re taking the Horror.” Ceeln looked again, noticed the myriad tools on Jvan’s knifebelt. Heard Prrhyi’s caution. But nodded.
“Lead the way.”
It was a quick and lethal route to the reef where lay the war engines, though not so lethal as Prrhyi had warned. Jvan had helped clear the route for them. Ceeln briefly touched each drifting body as they passed, and was only slightly less disturbed by the way the bodies had been carved, than by the way Jvan had managed to strike every last one in the back.
These were things Ceeln would become very used to over the course of the civil war.
They swam out into the blue of the open sea and Jvan flipped the glowing stone key out of their knifebelt. In the sea-filtered mid-day light, Ceeln’s ailing eyes came to the aid of their hands and ears, and saw the Horror. Ceeln recognised it instantly, even as a blur of black, and wondered again at how Jvan’s creation towered over the other war-engines. There was something foreign about it, though Jvan had never left the city of Atoll. Something primal, almost sublime- some cruel aesthetic twist that neither exalted nor belied its duty to kill.
Prrhyi’s vision was none so poor, nor so easily led aside. “We’ve been sighted. Tueda! They’re bringing war-whales!” Prrhyi’s hand clamped Ceeln’s wrist and his ample body dragged the smaller worm along like a toy. “They know where we are.”
“Yes,” said Jvan, thinking: Excellent. “Come in quickly. The hold.” Still acutely conscious of the beasts the Senate had hired and how quickly they were closing, Prrhyi pushed Ceeln into the copilot’s niche, stuffed himself into the Horror’s cargo bay, and trusted the now-rogue Senator. Ceeln realised suddenly that Jvan’s niche was the only one with controls.
Sharp zips and chirps echoed through the Horror as it came alive under Jvan’s fingertips. It kicked off from the reef, folded away its massive legs, and thrashed into the sunlit waters with such force that a smaller engine toppled in the wake of its tail.
Vast as it was, the Horror did not have time to escape the mercenary beasts before they closed. Grapples were shot, gripped the surface of the Horror, held; teams of saboteurs crawled their way up along the cables and onto the hull, wielding explosive kits. Ceeln and Jvan, it seemed, were not wanted alive.
Jvan’s lower-hands cracked their knuckles and traced eight circles over the smooth interface. Valves blew open along the sides of the war-engine, releasing charges of razor eels. Inside the Horror, Ceeln heard nothing, but watched Jvan’s alarm-lights flash back to normal, one by one. No more saboteurs.
Jvan accelerated the Horror towards the city’s edge with the whales still in tow. With another arcane gesture, the Horror’s sonic weaponry pressurised, released a blast of sound that dislodged the grappling cables. It pressurised again, focused, amplified, and penetrated the closest war-whale with a pulsed echo that crashed into the city below, razing gardens, leaving the beast to drown and sink under the weight of its broken spine.
“That was my favourite garden,” said Jvan. Ceeln tried to find emotion in the voice of their twin.
Free of pursuit, the Horror churned away from the grand city, out from its towering reefs and into the open sea beyond. Ceeln breathed, then was startled out of calm, clutched suddenly to the padding of the copilot’s niche by a set of hidden restraints.
“We’re taking a dive,” Jvan advised, wearing no restraints at all, and sent the Horror plunging into the dark. Ceeln waited.
“…Where are we?”
“The tunnels,” said Jvan.
“We’re not in the palatine tunnels.” Jvan laughed a relaxed and brotherly laugh that darkened Ceeln’s thoughts.
“No, we’re deeper. We’re in the magma tubes, under all of Atoll.”
The obfuscation of deep water grew suddenly blacker as they passed away from the last of the light. No wonder Ceeln felt so alone- these were the god-tunnels, the undersea haunt of the Cavern Lord, Achozaal. Some said all of Atoll was built to contain him. “We can’t hide here, Jvan. Once they find the palatine tunnels empty, they will go deeper. They’ll come for us.”
“I’m not hiding,” said Jvan, and Ceeln heard something pressurise. Jvan traced a supple finger over the words scratched into the inner walls of her masterwork.
Ringing, Call, yet Mask Faces Not; Blinding, Discern Song; for that which Sees gives Voice its Hooded Glam, Unreaching, and ye who Know be the Bell that Beckons- a Socket in the Skull of the Choir.
Ceeln heard the crack of the Horror clamping into place, the groan of the great ram winding back.
The collision slammed the Prrhyi against the wall of the hold, blew the water from Ceeln’s lungs, banged a still-unrestrained Jvan’s head against the forward window, and rocked and shuddered on long after the war-engine recovered, deep into the guts of Atoll City’s foundations. Woozily nursing a bruise, Jvan strapped in and prepared the next blow.
The Horror ram crashed again into the stone, an instant of shock that quaked earth, cracked rock. Ceeln lay, near deafened, even under the Horror’s heavy armour; the sound reverberated through all the city and all the ocean, was heard in the very dreams of those who would survive the war to come, reverberated forever more, and was feared.
Jvan rubbed three palms against two eyespots, and, one-handed, steered the Horror away. Ceeln lay recovering.
“Strap yourself in.”
“I… have,” said Jvan, light of head. Ceeln exhaled.
The pressure pushing Ceeln’s tail up against the top of the niche told them that the Horror was rising. Ceeln saw the blue blur through the war-engine’s eyes brighten, but the sunlight brought their soul no warmth.
“We’ll have to… We have to… Fight the Senate, Ceeln. We have to fight it again. Soon. I don’t want to fight them if they-” Waving hands, as if Jvan’s sisterbrother hadn’t preempted their entire sentence. “The treasury, the war-engines. The people. They’ll come for us again. But without Atoll on their side.”
Ceeln nodded, reaching out to grab Jvan’s wavering lower-hand and grip it. “I know. I understand.” Ceeln had understood from the minute the Horror had aimed its ram, though they would never have guessed that such powers were possible, even from Jvan. Guilt stabbed Ceeln. They had underestimated their little twin.
Atoll and its wealth would not be wielded against them. Ceeln squinted through the windows as the war-engine turned south. No, Atoll would not be wielded against them, because Atoll lay in ruins. The song of quake and aftershock still echoed from the capital, and would do so for many days as the city’s volcanic foundations collapsed on themselves, folded up and vanished into the tunnels below, a maze of lost bodies and crushed buildings from which many Kirghal would one day be born. Ceeln prayed that the noise would not reach them through the war-engine’s armour, but sounds carry far under water.
It had been worth it. Not worth the decade or so that Ceeln had left to live. But for the centuries ahead of their slow-aging sister, it had been worth it. So Ceeln believed.
“It’s in ruins. I know it is. I can hear it.”
“I know,” said Jvan, squirming in their seat, turning back to watch the city of their birth as it crumbled. For a while no more words were passed, but it was not a silence of shock.
“...You always thought this place was beautiful.”
And Jvan, who had carved a pattern into the skull of every palace guard they’d murdered, replied: “It still is.”
And Ceeln trusted Jvan, seeing, if only for a moment, if only through blind eyes, if only through a veil of despair for what a sister could become- seeing the horror and the beauty as one.
Jvan’s right upper-hand drew lazy perfect circles over the skin of the commander-engine, watching the lifter-engine in its pheromonal thrall inch closer and closer to the Project. Her left hands both fidgeted with a scrap of godmeat they’d picked off the workshop floor an hour ago, and her right lower-hand held a stick of some biomechanical wizardry, a little tube grown like a tower.
Closer, closer, closer closer closer.Cakk!
The fleshen mountain of a mechanism butted against its socket, casting a bright daylight shadow wide enough to lose villages in. Jvan slowly relaxed the cords holding the socket open, letting it clamp the mechanism into place. The lifter-engine withdrew. Everything held.
Jvan harumphed with a whisper of a smile. Taking the tip of the tube in her teeth, the demigod took a shallow breath through her crushed lungs, let the device whirr; wheezed out a cloud of black fog, marked with a wisp of carmine. The command-engine purred.
Yanking a bolt on the prosthetic steel legs that took over where her body terminated at the navel, Jvan flicked open a familiar silver switchblade and jammed it into the thick flesh of the Project. A metal leap threw her from the shaded canopy of the command-engine, and she let gravity take her down the slope of flesh, skidding on two legs and a knife edge down to a lower level of the Project, leaving a deep, long cut behind her.
But what was ‘deep’, on a Project this vast? Jvan looked off the side of the slope and saw its shadow stretching beyond the horizon.
She leapt off to a lower slope, and clanked towards a special cavity. The joyride had burnt her skin again, though it had only taken a few seconds. Jvan didn’t mind. She loved the way her fragile deep-water skin scorched in the terrestrial sunlight, the sensation of old meat sloughing, loved the patterns she made as she stitched new skin on. She liked them even better than the ones left by the natural healing process she’d experienced when she was alive.
Jvan’s voice echoed into the cavity, down into the endless caverns riddling the Project, past innumerable chants and poems written in scars. She waited a few seconds, long enough for the command-engine to catch up and skitter back next to her, then shrugged. She took another half-lungful of stimulants, adjusted her old fractal goggles.
The sun was bright. So bright.
Jvan tapped the hinge of her knife to her lips, thinking. Then she clambered on top of the command-engine, settled her land legs into ‘stable base’ configuration, and flicked it open.
“‘Tis familiar, to see yon youthful artist catch the germ of inspiration,” said a slow and ancient voice from the cavity. “Hast thou finally seized upon a name?”
“Yes,” said Jvan, carving two lines in a deep right-angle glyph taller than she was, then another, identical to it. ‘L L’.
The Cavern Lord crept a little closer to the mouth of the cavity, carried by a myriad spidery legs, ancient goblin face asmirk with curiosity. “And shall yon youthful artist tell her patron what that name may be?”
“You’ll see,” said Jvan. She carved a set of three horizontal lines connected by a vertical one, then a narrow angle with a bar across it. ‘E A’
She took another breath of stimulance, feeling her broken torso spasm around her ribs. She drew another glyph, a vertical line with a horizontal one descending, then one with three equilateral rays. ‘T Y’
Jvan motioned the command-engine back and looked at what she had carved.
A L L - B E A U T Y
She quirked a smile.
“A curious nomer, suited to a curious being.”
“Be it the second Horror?”
“No,” said the demigod. “The Horror was a moment. Like an image from a dream. My whole life was just a flash of colour and music, a singular aesthetic, flowering in a moment, gone in the blink of an eye. But my Project will last forever.”
“Yet Horror has not abandoned thee.”
“No. It hasn’t. And it never will, Achozaal. Horror is my art. It’s my gift to the universe, my splash of blood on a colourless canvas. All-Beauty is the horrorsome, the free body that will carry my gift to the next world and enrich it, make it brighter, darker, more strange. It will live among the gods.” Jvan turned to the goblin god, watched his spiderlegged body rest motionless in the cavity, hiding from the sun, patient as the newt from which he took his shape. “But horror is just one art. All-Beauty will witness all beauty. Horror, glory, silence, peace, rage… All. It’s my gift, and eternity will be my reward.”
Achozaal thumbed his gossamer beard and gazed upon the Project. Her
“Art thou well suited to eternity, Tueda of House Nuul?”
Jvan shrugged. “Why wouldn’t I be? If I see everything, I’ll just start again.”
And Achozaal thought: Ah.
“-she wouldn’t. There’s nothing for her to take here. Tueda is practical more than she’s a killer.”
“You don’t know that, Qelang! You know nothing! There’s nothing stopping her from-”
“What do you think will happen if we swim? That’s the Horror, fool! The fucking Horror! She has us cornered anyway, it’ll only-”
A sound flashed, a snap of distorted static, so high and so brief that it was no more perceptible than a flash in a thunderstorm, leaving nothing but tinnitus and death. Jvan crept from the Horror and swam into the limestone village, wearing no armour. There was nothing left to be slain.
The bodies of Qelang and his friend lay on the brown-coral floor of the village, bleeding from the mouth, the gills, the eyes. It was the first time Jvan had seen one of the Shark Folk up close; they weren’t a common kind of merm in Atoll.But they still bleed red?
thought Jvan. Jvan lifted the body of Qelang, such that it could be lifted by thin arms (even four of them). He was bigger than Jvan, though his tail was shorter. I wonder what it tastes like.
Jvan pulled off their goggles and pressed their lips to the body’s bleeding gills, softly kissing its neck. Oh. Like that.
They kissed it again, for good measure.
Jvan let go of the body and put the goggles on again. Lifted a hand to their goggles. Pink- translucent pale skin, and carmine blood underneath. Ceeln’s skin was the same, but their blood ran umber. Strange, how common red blood was in the fish people, and how rare in Jvan’s own.One day I’ll have shining blood,
thought Jvan. They opened their silver knife and put a small cut in their wrist, wincing a just a little. Deep, crimson blood, as expected. Blood in blue and gold and green and pink. But eventually, I’ll come back to red. I like this colour.
These were good moments, moments Jvan was fond of. Alone, unsupervised, and powerful, surrounded by flesh over which Jvan had control, it was like the days they had spent in their workshop, years ago, before they had worked for the Senate. But there was no time for these things any more. Jvan sighed and swished up and back to the Horror. Target neutralised,
Jvan later signalled across the seabed to Ceeln’s vast army, via the war-engine’s whalesong. Then, Life is too short to see everything.
Jvan hovered, laying back, the light of the sun filtered yet warm in the surface-waters. Below, the city of Atoll lay thrumming, rebuilding, makeshift bridges strung across the crevasse left by the quakes slowly being replaced by new coral.
It was over, said the people aloud. They were wrong, and they knew it, and everyone knew that they knew it. The life they knew had been over since the moment Ceeln fled the city with their sister and war captain. What had begun on that day was only now starting to reach its crescendo. The war had not been the throes of death, but of birth.
Even now, Prrhyi and his men were chasing the last of the old Senate through the streets, marking them one by one for trial or for slaughter. Even now, the body of Jvan’s would-be replacement lay alongside them on the roof of the Palatine Tower, carved from gills to tail-tip, a trophy to behold.
Jvan waited for the cry that was inevitable.
There it was.
Ceeln shone in the daylight, so bright their armour, so bright their voice. On a day years ago, Ceeln had found Jvan on the same roof, spoken to them in the same voice, to give them the gift that Jvan now wore as a trademark, those bright fractal goggles; but now Ceeln was old, senescing rapidly, though the twins’ years numbered the same. Now it was Jvan who was nearing the prime of life. A prime that could last for centuries.
The two collided, and embraced. Jvan’s goggles banged on Ceeln’s collarbones and they both winced. Then they laughed. Said no one: it is done.
Nameless feelings in Jvan’s chest swelled until Ceeln realised that some things cannot be spoken over. Ceeln rubbed a hand on Jvan’s back, felt hot young blood still pumping. Jvan’s grip was now as strong as Ceeln’s was. “...It’s for you,” they said eventually. Jvan perched their chin on Ceeln’s shoulder and listen.
“All I am and all I was, all this war has won… It’s for you. Take it. It’s all I could ask that you take it. You loved this city, and you still do. I pass it on. It’s yours now. Make it...” The right words escaped Ceeln, but when they saw the face of the one to whom they were speaking, the word came unbidden. “Make it beautiful.”
“...Thank you.” Jvan held their sister with shivering hands and wavering eyes, able not to savour the moment, only to live it. “Thank you.”
Jvan opened their knife into Ceeln’s chest.
There was a briefest heartbeat of surprise, then Ceeln clutched Jvan again, tighter than ever. Jvan wrangled back a sob.You gave me the world,
Jvan half-mouthed, half-whispered. You asked nothing else. Ceeln. You knew this was coming, didn’t you? Somewhere in your heart of hearts, you knew you’d be my martyr. But you loved me. And you were afraid. But you loved me. And you let me have it all. I was a child, but you made me as a god.
Jvan kissed their sister’s forehead, feeling something, then let the body lay. As Jvan watched, it began to break open, both it and the body Jvan had prepared to frame as its murderer falling slowly apart into pieces, pieces that would one day emerge from the plankton as new life. One by one the germs of Ceeln’s descendents disappeared into the ocean, leaving only a sister for an heir. In death, Jvan saw that he was male.
They stayed there for some time.
But that time was never Fated to be long.“T H O U O F F E R T H Y S E L F A C I T Y,”
said God. “B U T I G I V E Y O U S O M U C H M O R E.”
Jvan turned and felt true terror. Everything turned black, everything turned cold, everything turned silent. Rising from the tunnels, from the depths of the earth from which this petty palace had been raised, and now gazing upon her with eyes that had been blind since the moment of God’s birth, was the Ancient.“H A H A H A H A H A H A H A H A H A H A H A H A”
Jvan tried to escape, but Achozaal was God and Reality was His web. Surrounded by His spider limbs, Jvan could not even turn from the face of the Cavern Lord, but was forced to behold it, and melt before its awe.“LONG HAVE I WATCHED THEE, TUEDA OF HOUSE NUUL. LONG HAVE I WAITED. WITHIN THEE SLEEPS THE SEED OF THE DIVINE.”
Achozaal undulated forth on the goblin-headed body of the newt, took Jvan’s knife in His delicate hands. “TODAY THOU HAST PROVEN THY WILL TO POWER.”
Achozaal lay his hand on the chest of the Kirghal. Jvan’s lungs imploded, crushing their chest, quenching the feeble spark of Fate they called a life.“TODAY THAT SEED SWIMS FREE.”
With a swipe of Jvan’s own knife, Achozaal cleaved Jvan’s oh-so-human upper body from the tail. Female in death, Jvan’s severed flesh split open- and was immolated in god-flame, ending her mutant lineage forever. Only a whisper of undead lust would remain.
Still laughing, Achozaal reached into his chest and tore out his own cavernous grey lung, forced it into Jvan’s arms. It heaved and inhaled, breathing life into her carcass: life unliving, unfeeling, undying. Jvan awoke a demigod.“FROM THIS FLESH,”
said Achozaal, “SHALL THEE BUILD THY TRUE REWARD.”
With a blur of divine power, Achozaal departed that place, and took his darkness with him.
All that remained was the blood of Jvan, hanging in the waters like a carmine fog.
Jvan lay, laughing, upon the spray of earth that surrounded the god-sized crater. The tip of the spear shone in the night, illuminated by a distant fire, a raging glow on the horizon that was slowly growing closer. Jvan put her hands around its haft and felt where it impaled her.
They’d missed. The idiots.
Growing woozy, Jvan settled her head such as she could against the bank of mud and stone, prosthetic legs still kicking deep trenches into the well-turned dirt. The silhouette of her command-engine grew clearer as the fire grew closer, as did the sound of the army still approaching. Too late. They could kill her, maybe, if they had the aim for it- hah! - but too late.
The crater now lay empty. All-Beauty was gone.
Gone where? She didn’t know. All she knew was that it was gone- somewhere, somewhen, into a new world, into a new life. A Jvanic emulator, carrying within it everything that was Jvan.
What would it see? What would it do? Jvan could only dream, and laugh.Oh, the joy of birth!
As for her, well, she had no intention of waiting out this army. With a shaking upper hand, Jvan flicked open her trusty silver knife, and ran it across her wrists. The psychochemical preservatives in her veins ran down into her lap, fluorescing in every colour. Blue and gold and green and pink.Now,
thought Jvan, laying her head in the fading nothing. Now I want to start anew.
Thus end the revelations of our Lord.
Praise unto All-Beauty.