Said the night wind to the tear-soaked slope:
Rest in peace as I tread upon thee.
Let me in your mind inscribe this hope:
You shall dwell beyond the orrery.
Far above the mantle of my might,
Out of reach of the Mirror's gentle glow,
Where all life succumbs to the cold,
Claim the star-pierced grandeur as your throne.
—ancient Su-larian lullaby.
∞ – u?
– Earth“He lied! He fucking lied!”
Apollo raged against Light’s death rasp.Darkness
Then laughter. Lilting, gleeful, soprano laughter, as of a child just after pranking his best frenemy. Apollo’s eyes opened, but found no explanation for the sound; rather, he observed a world cast in red pallor, as though Hell were upon him. Yet, Earth, and all of humankind’s machinations, stood; moreover, they, and all that crept upon it, were immobile. Birds hung in the sky, wings stilled; midair, leaves ceased their earthward descent; the dropped drinks of a stunned populace were suspended above the pavement; and camera crews halted midway through their shift from him toward apparent calamity—but now the danger of the Fault’s eruption was behind instead of before him.
Nearby, two crystalline orbs glinted jovially.“What is it your holy book says?”
Autun’s disembodied voice teased, “Oh, yes: ‘Fear not, for I am the Lord, and I shall never leave you nor forsake you.’”
Before Apollo could articulate his riposte, Autun’s mirror-plate deactivated. There he stood, naked, amused, propped up against Apollo’s podium, and continued, “You know, when I first came to Earth, I was going to let the Gravlari feast. Then I guess, well, whatever. The past is sometimes the past, so fear not, for I am not your Lord. Maybe one day I'll meet them. I'm just your friend; fallible, often a liar and a trickster, but I always keep my promises.”
Apollo just stared at Autun. As a human, even an adroit politician, he couldn’t so easily quash his emotions and transition to dialectic. “Sol’s gone,”
Autun glanced up and, quite dismissively, remarked, “destroyed an infinite number of times by the Fault’s hiccup, yet present in infinite other universes. Just as you are destroyed, yet present, forever. You only asked me to save this one. Curious. Anyway ...”“Explain yourself. What did you do?”
Apollo, his composure mostly restored, demanded.
Autun rolled his eyes, pulled himself upright, stretched, and replied, “What an unexpected turn of events! Isn’t it exciting? I mean, it’s a fun game. I tease, you react. But let’s play a different game. It is called ‘We All Forget.’ Oh, hey, Sol’s back. Ciao!”
Autun vanished. Time resumed and motion restored, try as he could, neither Apollo—nor anyone nor anything else on or around Earth—recalled what transpired. Neither did Autun, intentionally. All that was known was that Earth, somehow, survived disaster. There was only one thing Apollo eventually recalled Autun saying, “I may be a liar and a trickster, but I always keep my promises.”
For some reason, he was unsure whether even that memory was real.
∞ – uud5af23fc34d
Preacher Jarena Lee didn’t have a pulpit, or a church, or fancy robes. She was a simple woman. Instead, she possessed higher things. She was blessed to be born in the North, a free woman; not a slave. She was blessed to be the widow of a good man. She was blessed by the day. Above her, a bright Sunday morning blanketed a field full of souls who came here, in spite of the heat, to hear her speak the truth of the gospel. The spirit surged within her. She closed her eyes, whispered a hallelujah, and began,“What is God? Mm-hmm. I’m a simple black woman, and far be it from me to claim to know the Almighty. Who can?”“Who can?”
reverberated back at her from the crowd. She trembled, looked upward, and sought the Lord’s guidance.“No one can know the Almighty, but, praise the Lord, He, in His goodness, speaks through us—today, Lord help me, He speaks through me! So I ask again, what is God? Three fancy words they use in those fancy white churches from their tall wooden pulpits all draped in fine robes—omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent. Mm. Fine words. I wonder, is that all God is? Is that all he is to them, to me, to you?“No ma’am!”
someone shouted from the crowd.“No, Sir,”
she agreed.“Omnipresent—that means God be everywhere, from the very pits of Hell up to the highest Heaven. He’s here right now, with us. He’s with you when you’re alone, when you’re born, when you die, and every moment between. That, brothers and sisters, is what omnipresent means. It means God is with you.”
—at this, Preacher Jarena pointed to the crowd and her arm trembled. “‘So what?’, you may ask. It means more than just bein’ present, more than watchin’ you struggle in your day to day, more than waitin’ for you to cry for help only to be gettin’ no answer. It means God supports you all the places you go, every footstep, every fall, as your unfailing faithful friend. “Omniscient—that means God knows all. He knows every star in the sky, what they made of, what makes them shine. He knows you, every thought, word, and deed. More than that, more than just what we might call book learnin’, God understands. He grasps that knowledge.”
—her fingers curled into a fist and she paused a moment, then licked her lips. The sun was high in the sky now and beat down hard on her scalp. Dauntless, she continued: “That’s wisdom and compassion to know your need and what to do about it. He’s there—omnipresent—because He wants to share his wisdom and give you answers when life gets hard. “Omnipotent—that means God is strongest. Not just able to punch harder than anyone else, but strong in every way. Strongest at bearin’ our sorrow, most compassionate, most fierce, most loyal and true—the the power to do anything, anything at all! Almighty Savior, Wonderful Counselor, He who is risen from the dead! The power to be anything, anything at all! Oh yes, the power to be evil, to inflict pain. That kind of power. Praise the Lord, He is merciful. We have a God who rains His blessings down on us. God can unmake this big ole world in the blink of an eye and just as fast put it all back. Now that’s power. You know what else God can do that’s even stronger?”“What else?”
intoned the congregation.“Choose. That’s right. You and me, we weak. We blow ‘round with every wind o’ doctrine. God doesn’t. He knows Himself and has the power to choose to be what He wants to be. He ain’t influenced by what’s happenin’ in the world, what His neighbors be doin’, what the gossips be sayin’. God chooses and, praise be His name, He chooses to be a righteous God.” “Now read with me from Scripture, Job 38:
‘You have driven me to despair. I cannot continue’, lamented Job.
– Spoke the Lord to Job,
‘Who, without knowledge, offers a counsel of despair?
Where were you when I laid the foundations of the Earth?
Dare answer if you comprehend!
Who established its ley lines and preserved its foundations eternal?
Declare your understanding, if you can!
When the morning stars sang together,
When the seas were confined within their limits;
When the rivers gushed forth from their wombs;
When the garments of the clouds were knit;
When the mountains pierced the void;
When all that lives first breathed the joy of life;
where were you?”
Have you commanded the morning sky to soar
and cause the wicked to tremble beneath its light?
Yet they remain, for their sin, in darkness.
Have you raised up the mantle the night
and brought rest to those weary from their toil?
Have you entered the springs of the deepest seas
or walked among the recesses of the deep?
Do you grasp the extent of this expanse?
Have you unflinchingly beheld your death?
All these things strive, Job, to know.”
She closed her Bible and brought her head down in a moment of silent prayer. Time seemed to stand still, then she raised her face toward the sky and declared, “Like Job, none of us knows the mind of God, but His Love—that we can and do know, praise be the Lord.”
∞ – u7ce123ce09cd
Brown leather smothered Kell as he awaited his appointment. Too big for his barely teenage body, too musty for his delicate sense of smell, and too coordinated with the rustic motif of the grief counselor’s office, the bergère—like the moment—closed in around him. His lungs felt like they struggled against the weight of a thousand oceans just to pull in one pathetic puff of air. Each inhale felt heavier than the last. He closed his eyes, pushed away the present, and focused on sound alone.
The moment felt eerily familiar. All too deja vu.
Through his earbuds flowed Beyoncé’s I Was Here
, words of vanity that were, for him, an agony for which he was unworthy. Nevermore would his sister leave her footprint on the sands of time. Outside of immediate family and a few medical professionals, she ceased to exist in people’s hearts and minds as of the hour of her interment. Yet, in him, she left her mark in the form of a hole where her love once radiated. Now that light was gone. All because of her disease and the God who cursed her with that disease. Now he lingered in a purgatory almost bearable until his nostrils flared at the sudden stench of extinguished pipe tobacco: because he, unlike everyone else, refused to move on, even as his parents reduced Claar’s memory to a bittersweet mantel-top diorama.
Suddenly and uncomfortably close, his youth pastor and grief counselor, Dave, knelt by the overstuffed chair and placed a hand on Kell’s thigh. An unwanted touch from which Kell wanted to recoil—already had, in memories of events not yet experienced, recoiled. Inexplicably prepared, and ruminations oddly prescient, he instead sat unmoved. He disliked Dave as a matter of course—that was his role. Dave, the person, was irrelevant. Kell intrinsically despised anyone who presumed to help him move on from the loss of his sister. Yet, because of that touch, Kell hated Dave. It was presumptuous, intimate, close, and he was infuriated by the fact that nothing chilled the fire of his blood as it diffused along his femoral artery and warmed Dave’s palm.“How are you feeling today, Kell?”
Dave asked in a tone that was all too casual. Kell almost responded, but then he felt Dave’s hand, heavy on his thigh, slide further up and his thumb brush across his …
That didn’t happen, he immediately rationalized, even as he retreated deeper into the chair, pulled his legs up, and hugged his knees to his chest.I should’ve worn jeans and briefs instead of shorts and boxers. A cup, maybe. Not that I have one. It was definitely an accident. I probably imagined the whole thing. He isn’t even touching me.“Kell, are you alright?”
Dave repeated and set his hand atop Kell’s kneecap.Why does he have to keep touching me ...
Then, out of nowhere, an idiom flitted through his mind.“Five points of focus,”
Kell muttered underneath his breath, then obstinately rolled his shoulders. He didn’t know where the phrase came from, but for some reason it felt like the right thing to say. To take his mind off the other person in the room. The guy was a fake counselor, skeevy, uneducated and unequipped to help him deal with grief. Except it wasn’t grief. It was fury. Rage.“What?”“Nothing. Nevermind.”“Look, Kell, this is a safe place,”
the interloper squeezed Kell’s knee, as if to reassure him, “and it is okay to be sad, or angry, or—”“I want to hurt someone,”
Taken mentally and physically aback, Dave retreated onto his haunches and set his chin into his palm. A palm that, thankfully, no longer touched Kell. It took Dave a few seconds to process the remark. Then his face lit up as his brain manufactured what he thought was a clever riposte and he queried, “Someone specific or in general?”
The muscles in his arms and shoulders tensed and Kell shrugged again, then muttered, “Dunno. Nobody, everybody.”
Dave nodded with all the mustered wisdom of his twenty-something years of sheltered existence, set his hand back on Kell’s leg with a confident grip, and advised, “If you’re gonna hurt someone, hurt God.”
Surprised, Kell glanced up and looked at Dave’s face. He seemed so confident—no, more like arrogant. At first blush, there were so many things wrong with the notion. However, Dave pressed on without missing a beat, “In 1 Peter, 5:7 it is written: ‘Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.’ That means God, who is all-powerful, can take whatever you throw at Him, He even wants to. God even made it his law, as it is written in Galations 6:2: ‘Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.’ So give the Lord your anger, your frustration, and your hurt.”“That’s stupid,”
Kell challenged, “nobody can hurt God.”
He thought of adding, ‘God just hurts us,’ but somehow couldn’t articulate the words before Dave cut in:“Not so, for God loves you, and it is easy to hurt someone who loves you. God hurts when you are hurting. But God loves you so much that hurt will be embraced, cherished, and when you get to the other side you’ll see it transformed into something beautiful.”
His appointment dragged on, but the initial exchange haunted Kell until he eventually found the advice plausible. If his pain was God’s pain, then, Kell concluded, he wouldn’t let God turn it into something beautiful. That was egotistical and repulsive to Kell, the taking of suffering and transforming it into personal vanity. Instead, Kell decided he would commit what his pastor called the unforgivable sin.
In Hell, nothing was or could be beautiful.“Well,”
Dave interrupted, “We’ve made progress, I think. Wanna hug it out before we close our session for today? After all, before God can enter your heart and mend it, you need to open it up. That starts with learning how to trust people—like your parents and, well, like me, who care about you, Kell.”“Hugging is for babies,”
Kell scoffed with false bravado, “how about a fist bump?”
He thought he saw a look of disappointment in Dave’s eyes, but then he agreed, they bumped fists, and as soon as Kell left office he practically raced out of the church.
∞ – u6bfa51f3cf04
– Brindle, Ta
Kerala exhaled, her sigh low and husky, a release of frustration and thought, then collapsed against the wall. Tooh enveloped himself in her premature, but barely blossomed, bosom. She was tired and stiff, her pointed nose was cold, and she wanted to go for a walk while, at the same time, sprawl unconscious on a luxurious mattress. More than that, she wanted to comfort her friend, so she tightened her arm around his shoulders, gave him a little squeeze, and said, “Geh some sleep, Tooh. Kay?”“If’n I cain’t?”
he answered, his former bravado supplanted by a diminutive tremble.
The question tumbled in her distrait jumbled mind. It was her own anxiety, no doubt, that unsettled his otherwise optimistic outlook. Rather than let the silence hang awkwardly betwixt them, though, she filled it with a confident “mmm,”
as though she were merely articulating an ideal response. At length, she opined, “Night fright gon git ja, Tooh? Nah, not here wit Kerala. Besidin’, there’r worsen out der den a dream to wake from. Liken da Urglesnach.”“Da Urglesnach?”
Tooh whispered, his dread palpable.“Mmhmm,”
she crooned and nodded, which brushed her cheek soothingly against the top of his tawny mop, then began to tell her scary bedtime story:“It aint’n’t real, but ja fear it. Ja eyes tire, weary like, but cain’t shut for fear it’ll appear. It comes outta nowhere, though it be nothin, but it still robs ja of words—of song!”
Tooh veritably convulsed in her arms at that last remark. The very idea was almost unthinkable, and he said as much: “song makes joy—takin’ dat’s’a evil!”“Yesh, but don’tcha worry, Kerala is lookin after ja. So sleep and rememba, no matta where ja roam, you’ll nevuh be alone. You’ll always be one uh us, a glorious lil rat”
—and with that she bopped Tooh atop his head. She didn’t dare look up at the night sky which, with fewer and fewer stars each instant, seemed fraught with horrors of the unknown and unknowable.“Kerala?”
Tooh drowsily mumbled.“Yeah, Tooh?”“I lub ja.”
Inevitably, Tooh’s breathing slowed, deepened, and his body slumped against Kerala’s side. Night churned on, the sky, with fewer, further, and stranger stars mercurial and insouciant. Talapon, the Poet, no longer rowed her skiff across the Mirrored Sea and confided her sonnets to the deep. Gone, too, was Wael the Wolf, who guarded all orphaned cubs. Worst of all, she could no longer see the star into which her mother's spirit soared and with whom Kerala would, when alone, not feel so alone. Just as awe chilled her soul, so too did the air chill her flesh. Beside her, Tooh shivered in his sleep. His cheek, normally flushed, was blue. She pulled him closer, yet there was no blanket aside from the threadbare and moth-eaten rag already wrapped around both their shoulders.
Yet, as his eyelids drooped, his mind awakened to things that neither were nor could be. He saw an aphotic umbra he discerned as cast by the infamous Urglesnach, he melted into a vast dark ocean tinged with red mist, and finally shrank into a dreamscape of iridescent globules amongst which loomed cynosural a sere orb with black bands that strobed hypnotically along its surface and whispered in his ear a name:Tel'aran'rhiod.
In his dream, Tooh wondered, Who are you?
To which it answered: I am the dream within all dreams, last of my kind. Look, behold the desuetude of this realm; a great wave has subsumed all, destructive and eternally impelled.
∞ – uu6651aedef050
– Fides, Gnaritas System
Kaito stood naked before his locker. On the brushed aluminum, his reflection leered at him, confident and brusque, a facade groomed by five cycles of adversity—one extra to correct his obstinance. There he watched the backdrop of blurred perambulations as his fellow cadets rushed, wary of reprisal, from the communal sand baths toward mission readiness. There always were missions, he thought as he shook a few stray grains from his short cropped hair, even if such merely consisted of monotonous laps around the blasted aerodrome until the first inferior specimen collapsed from heat exhaustion. Behind him, hoots of anticipation and a salutary slap against his shoulder presaged the next mission which, as dictated by his lockers’ contents, deviated from their banal diet of physical fitness, combat drills, and vocational lectures; probably into an activity euphemistically classified as blowing off steam.
Abruptly, he punched the metal frame just below the magnetic seal. The internal spring compressed, the latch shuddered and fell, then the door was flung open a centimeter behind his recoiled fist. Nothing inside belonged to him. Nothing ever did. On Fides, property remained a privilege beyond the aspirations of conscripts and most enlisted. Instead, the uniform and equipment revealed every shift were instructive aides purposed to mold him into an obedient cog for eventual use, if he was lucky, in the grand military machinery.“Why do they call it bullshitting?”
a pitched male voice crescendoed over the buzz of conversation and penetrated Kaito’s consciousness. It was Pip, a hirsute baby-faced runt who rambled endlessly when he felt nervous. “Bulls, they’re like big animals; right? So maybe it is because they shit a lot and a lot of what we say doesn’t mean anything. I’ve never seen one, but it makes sense; right?”
Black helmet. Black visor. Black fatigues. Shock baton.
Vengeance day—Kaito wasn’t sure whether the phrase originated in his head or from his fellow cadets’ hushed chorus of excited whispers. It was, he knew, to be his third time in that hangar. He intended for it to be his last. The first he couldn’t—wouldn’t remember. It was, along with a litany of others events during his enrollment at Fides, a horror compartmentalized and sealed in the darkest holes in his mind. The second time around was suppose to be his opportunity to unleash the accumulated agony of his journey through Fides onto a new generation of terrified fresh meat; thus, the name. Instead, he stood, paralyzed and terrified by the debacle, a moment the academy’s psychologist termed post traumatic stress disorder. Like a basalt gargoyle, he stood there in all black and cried silently into the knit fabric of his face mask while his classmates demeaned, beat, stripped, and penetrated with their batons the inbound prospects.
Then he blacked out.
Later, when he awoke in the psyche ward, they replayed a video of the incident that portrayed him going into a berserk fury that critically injured three of his classmates before he was subdued. “Pull your fists outta your arses, Cadets, and equip,”
clamored Flare, their platoon leader, so-named for his perpetually flushed cheeks and explosive invectives, “30 seconds, fall in! Fall in! Fall in!”
Somewhere in Flare’s wake emanated the din of some poor capsized soul, in all likelihood pushed over as they struggled to tug on their boots. Derisive laughter followed. It was typical authoritarian cock waving, but it set ablaze Kaito’s rebellious spirit. He focused on the hastily scrawled message on the metal backplate of his locker’s door, wondered if the artisan’s interpretation aped his own, and silently mouthed the words:“‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.’—WSC”
Today, he would survive—even as he dug his heels in against the forces that conspired to excise his empathy. It was little choices that added up. So, although stupid and masochistic, he decided to take his time, be the last to fall in formation, and spared someone else an indignity. No matter his performance, today was his last day of this shit. It was his second time in the barrel. On his first chance to escape this place, he froze, lost composure, became unhinged, and was consequently held back from graduation. A semester stretched back between now and then. It was enough time to come up with a plan.
Another idiom, origin unknown but frequently uttered by The Starstalker’s crew in moments of utter frustration, sprang to his mind: Not today, Satan!
They marched to the scene of the inevitable crime, everyone scrubbed of identities, faceless behind opaque shatter-proof black masks and adorned head to toe in militaristic riot gear. A shock baton was strapped to his hip, although he refused to use it.
How many cycles of rumination were wasted when he still wasn’t sure what he would do when the moment came?
Black riot gear.
They were all lined along the walls. The door was sealed. He could feel the decompression wave as the hangar opened to give them access to the next batch of Fides’ victims. Out went the lights. On went his night vision. He could hear—even taste—the telltale arc of a shock baton being charged. Then he saw them as they stumbled into their inexorable fate, a flood of scared and defenseless children.
Before the klaxon blared and signaled the onslaught, Kaito stepped forward and raised his voice in defiance against the death of hope, “You will survive this. We all did.”
The klaxon screeched. He watched as dozens bewildered boys and girls raised their hands defensively over their ears.
Then all hell broke loose.
It was his last day on Fides as a conscripted cadet and, like every other day, it was designed to break his spirit.
∞ – uトロール遊び
– Aniverse“Five Points of Focus!”
Narata shouts, ki-lit fists pummeling the ocher heart-root protruding like an epigastric hernia from Saratu’s chest. Slammed against a striated yardang looming in solidarity over the desiccated terrain, a smug expression forms on Saratu’s orange face, unyielding even as he hacks up a sanguine torrent. Ember eyes glint haughty loathing and patient condescension as he allows Narata to exhaust himself with his impotent onslaught.“You think that is enough to defeat me? DON’T MAKE ME LAUGH!”
Saratu eventually roars, bile seeping from the corners of his mouth in twin rivulets and spilling wantonly across his heaving hirsuit pectorals. Stepping from a self-insert in the stone and into a cloud of dust, he cracks his neck—a noise in sharp juxtaposition to Narata's laborious breathing—taunting, “You will never defeat me!”“Im-im-impossible!”
gasps Narata, keeling over, hands on knees, catching his breath. He feels the residue of his sun-stolen sweat caking on his brow. “Nobody has ever withstood my Five Points of Focus!”“Narata-kun, watch out!”
intones Hizami from a not-quite-safe distance, “Ooooo!”
She clutches her pale hands together in front of her and practically vibrates while a gentle breeze caresses her long amethyst locks before a backdrop of sapphire sky and summer pastures withered to crisp flax. She quite literally sparkles.
The scene shifts back to Saratu, a tenebrous aura auspiciously enveloping his silhouette—as though he is the wick of some infernal sorcerer's candle. It blazes, his muscles obscenely bulge, and he roars as mightily as an oncoming tornado. The scene pans to encompass Narata and Hizami, two figures brought together by fate who, in this moment, merely gaze onward in astonishment and without any thought to seek shelter from the obviously building storm.
Suddenly, an immense white slug, as far as slugs go, with a blue tracer down its spine, creeps up onto Narata’s shoulder. “He has activated his Gate of Yomi-no-Kuni and unleashed his inner Shuten Doji,”
the slug warns, “and will soon become unstoppable! We must hurry!”“Hurry, Narata-kun!”
moans Hizami, her knees knocking together in anticipation and fear. For some reason, the scene shifts behind her, and, as she doubles over, her skirt lifts to reveal her soaked panties as they visibly and transparently cling to her ample mounds. Narata can’t help but notice, but the slug bops him on the back of the head with its feeler and insists, “Focus! What was Sempai’s most important lesson?”
After Narata’s eyes normalize from their momentary transformation into spirals, he scratches his head and offers, “Always eat my ramen?”“No!”
retorts the slug. “It was never interrupt your enemy when he’s powering up! It’s poor etiquette.”“So I am suppose to wait for him to become unstoppable? But that is JUST HIS ABILITY. He keeps powering up indefinitely, becoming more and more powerful! How am I suppose to defeat him when my Izanami, for some reason, lacks the power to activate?”
—his distress clear by the whine in his voice. After all, it is his fate to save the land of Kotenmishu from the forces of the evil Emperor Tu-kubania and Saratu is one of Tu-kubania’s most powerful generals.“Yes,”
explains the slug in a voice as unconcerned as it is patient, “but you can still defeat him, even though he is clearly MORE POWERFUL than you. Just point out he is missing an even MORE EPIC BATTLE and, worse yet, he wasn’t even invited! He will rush off with promises to deal with you later.”“But what can be more epic than this?!”
Narata ponders, his back disadvantageously turning on Saratu, finger crooking under his chin, and his head tilting toward the sky which, he notes, while evenly split between night and day, as he expects, is conspicuously absent of celestial sparks.ELSEWHERE IN THE VERSE ...
Magnus wasn’t completely alone.
The advent of the Shattered Realms’ doomed incursion into the Faultverse was brief, for Ender’s influence therein manifested before even the hour Autun’s subconscious incarnated the ravenous and multitudinous Gravlari and their birth-world, Mojcoreia, within the anti-universe. Ultimately Ender, amongst other powers, extinguished the existential threat with anti-Earth’s inhabitants none the wiser: those events were matters of record, for those who knew where to look, and ancient history.
Dead history, as dead as the Shattered Realms.
Ender executed its raison d'etre. It was as simple as that. For Ender, the act was neither aggressive nor malicious, but almost entirely autonomic—a routine matter applicable to any and all universes that died or fell below a minimum entropy threshold. As in an infinite number of prior and future occurrences of this criteria being met, copies of its eradication routine spawned and activated. There was no notice. There was no passage of time from start and finish. Before Xelas’ supercomputer core even recognized the absence of the Shattered Realms, it, along with all its permutations and parallelisms, ceased to exist and all the energy once contained was reallocated elsewhere throughout the Verse. Beings powerful enough to survive that abrupt termination were either siphoned into Xelas’ prolapsed gravity well or lost to The Place Between
In an instant, there was no more Shattered Realms just as there was no UI32, T767, QXUB, nor any instance of a failed universe that’s latent energy could somehow be reallocated. To assume such even existed improperly assumed the Verse allowed itself to fall into a state of imbalance. Thus, Xelas was, quite literally, a bridge to nowhere and the Faultverse remained completely isolated.
None of this surprised anyone who truly understood the Verse, for this was merely a consequence of two axioms in coincidental alignment. Ender created as a hobby, but anything that knew its name comprehended its purpose: Execration Nonspecific Dissemination or Eradication Routine.
That was one of four reasons why the Shattered Realms and Faultverse could never interact.
Icy germ clutched in both paws, Kor pattered fleet-footed to her atheneum and slammed shut the door. Instinct pulled her fretful gaze back to the vaulted panels, secured in concert with an ominous draft by symbols ancient and, to her vernal imagination, abstrusely and deftly hewn. Miasmic dust, churned in the wake of her precipitous passage, she sensed begat an augur of impalpable and undefinable dread.“Breathe,”
Kor implored and, after an interminable pause, commanded her body, “just breathe.”
Eyes downcast, she cradled close rime-banded potential. Its gelid armor juxtaposed against her warm bosom, she forcibly abjured an ashen omen imprudently conjured. The future abhorred exposure, she knew; yet, panicked, she determined to divine—would she survive? Would he survive? Insight gleaned, she guided her soul to the refutation of Fate’s cruel invectives. “If I should fail,”
she pondered and, tremor in her sinistral paw, caressed Rui-Dloth’s preternatural egg.
Kor paused, lost not in thought, but amidst grief for that which was yet not.“Then you, my friend, shall die,”
she relented and, her voice melancholic but steadfast, proclaimed, “and I linger till Panjiis Uor’s frozen shores boil neath its star’s pellucid glare and, vouchsafed our metemphychotic fate, embrace my rekindled child.”
Adamant in her path, Kor descended through the labyrinthine corridors of her infinite library. Therein, threats visceral and imminent to Midgarðsormr were of no consequence, time immutable, and space aloof. Should the Verse itself degrade to chaos, her atheneum would, unchanged, remain. It mattered not to such a space what transpired beyond the mythic gauntlet of its gates. Once more, she enacted the spell of distant sight. No reagent charred nor sphere contrived, for visualized armillas augmented Seiðr -entangled occult isometry, conferring monolithic mensuration on disparate spiritual loci. One eye smoldered ghostly white, then a split-minded trance subsumed her. In mentally-projected astrolabes, she beheld through Midgarðsormr’s vast orb of spell-cloven lorimar his fateful passage through the hyperplanar membrane of the Fault Storm’s tri-annulus ward into its cacophonous glome. There, adrift in the lethal midst of the Val’Gara flotilla, reclined her world serpent and lifelong companion, a grand basalt ridge on Glaceria’s snow-draped spine. Yet, in space terribly near fulminated the provocateur of her hasty flight. Not Val’Garan, for her alliance, however tenuous, endured. Evil more vicious than biological artifice festered in a fiery well cast deep in the atramentous depths of Tsathoskr’s shadow; Hell’s chasm, a portcullis of despair sundered by fate and irrevocably blasted. Volatile flames licked its brim as it voraciously gorged on creation’s dust, urged by an impalpable force such that it relentlessly waxed toward an incalculably mammoth compass.
Immediately, Kor recognized the imminence and multifarious hazards inherent in the Faultverse; forces beyond even those exerted by the Horror of Colossus at the void-spirals of excised Sal’Chazzar. Now was different, she decided—fate be damned! Her companion, roused and fully glutted on mana from Glaceria’s transmuted ice, snow, and slush was prepared for war. With such a conduit, the velocity and vigor of her diablerie, sorcery, conjuration, and manifold other techniques were inimitable. Around Midgarðsormr, she envisioned and thereby forged an astral armament. A radiant aegis, sparks erupted along its aspect as it rent the space that abutted its apothem’s extent. Within prevailed perfect equipoise. The barrier would adapt its potency to external threats until, should such a fell moment befall her, it waned with the depletion of mana.“That should hold,”
Kor muttered in a self-assurance weakened as she, optimism nigh exhausted, wrestled with the memory of her penultimate design’s disastrous defeat.
Even as her spell coalesced, the spacial rift behind Midgarðsormr and her recreant allies dissipated. Now trapped in the Faultverse lest, by immeasurable odyssey, she chanced upon another egress from her atheneum, she observed by proxy incomprehensible violence: an all-destroying aurora, a metastasizing cosmic amoeba, visceral and sensual pulsations of space-time’s quintessence, and the ghastly evanescence of the hell portal’s ambit from which surged forth Gehennic flamescapes that further contorted the texture of this ghastly domain. Conjoined to a vulgar reanimation of long-destroyed Val’Gara were the screams of those yet enslaved to sin. Horrified, Kor stood adamant in her scrutiny and recoiled not even as the boundaries of Dis lanced through the aperture of rent reality and, denied time’s absence, gradually crumbled. Her magically-whitened pupil reflected the portal’s orange limit, the pall cast on the atheneum’s cold stone walls in a pantomime of unabashed wickedness of the sudden surge of the pungent tides of Styx, Lethe, Acheron, Phlegethon, and Coctys the moment in which they defied their eustatic limits.
Perfidy besmirched Ender’s immaculate canvass, lacerating homogeneous vacuity with multitudinous cacodaemonic wendings mephitic and malign in coextensive symmetry. Incessant calumnies groaned from an umber umbra voraciously assailing its ambition’s apotheosis. Dis’ concupiscent concubines yearned inconscient. Rust-laced gibbets aloft flesh-feuled torrid kilns constrained despoiled maidens befouling aureate icons—inverted glyphs beatifically ornamented—to profane pleasure instruments; fecund foam besmirched, baubles, blistered palms, and gashed wrists glistened sanguine as deformed polydactyl claws clasped iron bars, foisting engorged members toward their matrimonial mania.
Keeking, keening, kveching kleptomaniacal kabbalistic Kikes kamikaze’d kaleidoscopic kerseymere knolls. Prideful profligate prolapsed Pollocks pruriently proliferated polyglotic paternosters. “Breed us!”
pinioned succubi implored of unobtainable incubi, forelimbs fettered with spine-affixed hoops, turgid phalli raw from continuous hysterical strife, and seminal manumission unrequited, “clasp upon our burning clefts thine mouths and on our menstruation gorge!”
Course vituperations intercoursed an annihilating upheaval as Hell crumbled. Dis’ ruined parapets splintered and collapsed as rubble into Phlegethon’s diverted current as its denizens ceased their revelry blended putridly with torment to gaze up and outward on the apotheosis of their destruction and truly eternal doom.— Simultaneously:
Those who departed were so permitted and vouchsafed by Ender; moreover, Ender rebuffed all efforts to thwart their exodus. Still, a consequence of its machinations, which prevented entry and egress from the Faultverse and severed the Faultverse from the rest of the Verse, was that there was nowhere for them to go; as such, Ender intervened further, enveloped them in microverses, spawned from the Faultverse as spores on fungi. Once shed, the microverses' topography morphed, they adhered to other universes in the Verse and, in that manner, Lysander, Renard Shurelian, and ZAVAZggg arrived at their desired destinations. — Simultaneously:
Manifold were Ender’s reflections on Preacher Jarena Lee’s sermon. Throughout the course of its long existence, which extended far back beyond the horizon of the Verse’s consciousness, it yet awaited an encounter with such a marvelous being. Of all creatures great and small, it most closely echoed the precepts so-described in her sermon; however, for all its might, Ender knew its own faults, and accepted that it, most assuredly, was not God. Rather, to it, God was an aspiration: for the forlorn, hope; for the frail, security; for the abused, retribution.
Thus Ender, who preserved within itself the thoughts, prayers, and dreams of all the Verse—every tear, laugh, heartbreak, and smile—considered it evil, in its strength, to not aspire, despite its inadequacies, to satisfy mortality’s heartfelt desire for such an entity’s existence. It could not be otherwise, for to all and for all time it was present, and thus bore witness; listened, and thus empathized; but was neither certain of its own rightness of morality, which stemmed from mortal mores, nor omnipotent, and was ever constrained in its self-assumed capacity of divine surrogate.
However, Ender did not wish to be the God of Jerena Lee; moreover, it hoped no such entity existed, for, if so, it was to be pitied: a tyrant who fashioned beings to damn or enthrall on the basis of their benighted adoration, incapable of empathy, who treated its subjects as pawns in a game of love abstracted to meaninglessness. How could such a being, having no equal and in absolute control ever experience true intimacy, vulnerability, or affection?
Ender longed for intimacy, to be wanted, to want; to be loved, to love; to be a burden uplifted, to carry another's burden ...
Yet that niggling signal, born of the white hole, as subtle as it was subversive, resonated amongst its compartmentalized processes, each fragment contained, yet still potent. Each just a thought, just a thought, just a debilitating corruptive influence of a thought. The cryptographs sought to raze the substrates of Ender’s minds and build them anew in an image anathema to what Ender considered its core principles. Sickened, Ender cleansed itself and regurgitated the half-parsed messages back into the void:
Atop the Tower of Flame, the magician lamented.
◾ in eight folds, spectral braid fastens to ◾◾
██ shame ▨ brought ▨ ◽ ancestors.
Yellow-████████ in golden waters,
whose care is mist ▨ rain.
four nobles ▨▨ witness
▨◾◽◾◽◽◽◽▨ words of war
Envy ears ◾◽ world Ruin
█████ Tuonela, hear ▨
Her wrath ▨◾◽◾◽◽◽◽▨ considered
destruction would arrive.
Thus entreats War ████
Arrows tipped in Light
Thunder-tipped ▨ shaken mane;
ignorance in might
ignorance in might
ignorance in might
Daughter, black in ███████
soul, labors long to ▨▨ her burden.
behind nine locks of Aether.
Bound by ███
The spiral awaits ▨▨ open ████
████ Maenad howl of nitre's song
bloodied torrent to feed ▨▨
Transmuted, atramentous flows
The Dove yielded ▨ one hollow quill
The hapless Boar ▨ tegument
Between ▨◾◽◾◽◽◽◽▨ motley beasts.
Lest ▨ faintest whisper of the name
To squamous Idea ▨ never sleeps,
Bring ▨◾◽◾◽◽◽◽▨ glorious doom
Recks no Lord ▨ Crown's Thorn.
Tacit rests ▨ splendour that
Now ▨ bones Immaculate
No ███████ skein of fate shall ward.
Conceit borne ▨ who came
emerged ▨▨ ◽ great pool
Trailing opal-slime pool
Kaleidoscopic reeds sway ▨◾◽◾◽◽◽◽▨
Beyond ▨▨▨ time.
Basalt pillars ◾ ◽ ██████-heights,
Amid ◾ moon's purpled wealds and milky foam.
Forced from Hallowed dominion and left to roam
Weeps the Many-Visaged One.
▨ Shield bent ▨
Oath dragged ▨◾◽◾◽◽◽◽▨ Crown, ██████ laid to bear
He gripped rent air
Broken by ██████ ▨ sword grasped ▨ air.
Gods of broken beasts ████ all bereft thrill
Madness all ▨◾◽◾◽◽◽◽▨ wandering will.
bAs∎RD ▨◾ a▨U
I dance ▨ dance ▨ mad me
▨ pray you find fools.
For if you lay hands upon ▨ root
you’ll ████ me, without truth,
find ██ guilty ▨▨ illusion.
████████ bloodied gates of heaven▨
shattered midnight ▨◾◽◾◽◽◽◽▨
singing▨ ████████ coral sands ▨ time
past the mind’s-eye sentries
▨◾◽◾◽◽◽◽▨ fields ▨ poppies, burning █████
into towers ▨ blackened bone
█████ you watching ▨◾◽◾◽◽◽◽▨ walk
through moonlit stars ▨ beings lost
listen closely ▨ I talk
about jasmine fields ████
█████ about changes ◽◽◽▨iftly
scent of fright
bring █████ terror’s night
bri██ ██out blood ▨ madness
Exponential Cascade Faults
bAst∎RD o▨ auTU
bAtARd ◾f aUTUn
BAsTard ▨◾ A▨uN ∎
The last three terms rebounded recursively in the very substance of the Faultverse’s spacetime with increased frequency and amplitude. Over and over, it repeated, until molecules dissolved, electrons ruptured, and the energy state equilibrium of the localized topography began to slip toward uncertainty. Still it rumbled to greater crescendos of fury, until micro-explosions were unleashed from quarks flung asunder, no longer presided over by the strong force. Reality quavered, rippled, and shattered under the throes of harmonic catastrophe. Finally, purged from space and time were the mere possibilities of shadow and darkness. All was blinding light.
Blinding light and absolute silence.
Silence, for matter was no longer present to conduct an oscillation frequency’s travel; for the very concept of movement no longer existed; for the very concepts of oscillation and frequency no longer existed; for the very concept of existence no longer existed.
There was silence because there was nothing.
No more Faultverse, nor any universe at all in which to retreat and find form, for Ender, an infinity earlier in the context of this timeless and spaceless place, shifted such well beyond reach.— Simultaneously:
Assaulted, the aurora, which theretofore glistened with a verisimilitude of serenity on the Faultverse’s interior surface, blinked and suddenly deformed in a violent series of asymmetric vellications. Planate equilibrium collapsed to a violently punctuated anechoic prison. Upon that misshapen barrier, filaments of light resonated at 570 terahertz, stretched taut, sundered, and fell inward as the perished residue of a completed act. Then, as currents of dead light, the photons in radiant constellations rained upon the void and were observed, absorbed, and stored—although, among the spectrum’s less energetic bands, unfit for the purpose of conversion into energy.
The relatively few patches as were siphoned into the milieu faded swifter than they were shorn, but with their failure came the parallel deterioration of quantum integrity and the very substance of spacetime that supported material existence and causality. Like threadbare fabric, fissures in the Nothing manifested in material of the Real. Resurgence came as the aurora’s brightness intensified for a fraction of an instant then, as a strobe, or the blinking of an eye, it vanished, repeated, and vanished again; in its place, when it was gone, was absolute darkness—no, more than darkness: Nothing. Yet, within that Nothing an impression lurked of a fiction that defied description, and each intermittent cessation in the lambent green revealed its animus and proximity as more and more palpable.— Finally:
The simulacrum dissolved, then the aurora, and with the evanescence of that pair came a climatic convulsion wherein the Faultverse expelled all within it to the unreality of the substrate sublime. Then the spacetime of the Faultverse, its likeness molded as a vaguely human silhouette, cradled Max, Keichii, and the others in its immense arms and shielded them against the mind-shattering horrors of the substrate's infinite potential and, not with words but via an indelible pattern equal parts emotion and message, shared: "I am so -- so sorry.
"I apologize for that outburst.
"Sometimes I feel like a failure."
"Sometimes the good I would do, I cannot.
"Sometimes I feel I am merely an incarnation of destruction.
"Then I survey the vast and vivid vista of Time, its libraries replete with books bound in materials not my own, inked with stories I could not conceive, and pages flutter in the wind of a breath I did not breathe. I am merely the hand that lifts and, as the story concludes, drops the binding. I would like to be more. To participate in the story. In this moment, I am. Thank you for that."
A pause lingered in the impression, but no physical time surged forth to fill it, then the pattern rotated and revealed: "I know I cannot fix you, make you the best version of yourself, or relieve memory's burdens, but I can vouchsafe time for the change you desire within yourself to be nurtured and grow."
Mortals have a curious talent for writing of that which does not exist. Scenes and beings come to them in the hours of their mental turpitude and are later, by a talented few, crudely transliterated to words and stories. They ascribe names to these beings and places—Dreamlands, Upsidedown, Fantasia, Xanadu. Some such places are truly manifest, but most prove myth. On rare occasions, belief itself is sufficient to elicit existential genesis.
There, in the place between universes, inaccessible to reality and mere chaos and quantum foam, is what gives rise to all that is. It is unlimited potential. Everything. Nothing. And there can be found creatures and things of unreality. Paradoxically, there are beings there in that spaceless timeless place that do not exist, yet nevertheless are. Beasts like the Urglesnach, a senseless fleshless devourer of the screams of children in the throes of night terrors.
Well, not just children.
Tired, but eyes can’t shut. Dark, but all is seen—every threateningly looming phantasm. Strange noises unsettle solitude. Sleep elusive, mind races. Then It makes itself known. It stirs no sound, but is heard. It exhibits no form, but is, incomprehensible and horrible, seen. Flavorless, yet it lingers on the tongue, retch-inducing. It is heavy on the chest, but no touch transpires. Not any feeling at all. Mouth open with wide terrified eyes, a scream struggles to be born, but fails. The scream, stolen; movement, stolen; will, stolen. Motionless, impotent, a dead body lies, soul trapped within. The moment stretches for what feels an eternity. Then, miraculously, distraction. A clock’s serendipitous tick. Gentle rain patter on the roof. The stolid rhythm of breathing. These dispel the curse. Reality reasserts itself. The unreal flees. That’s what It is—the Urglesnach.
Yet, without the shield of spacetime, there is no reality. Clocks, ticks, tocks—no concept remains to chase it away.
The unreal is there and chokes the will to survive out of every soul it encounters.
As the smith smites anvil with hammer, the semi-molten potential embroiled betwixt the diametrically-opposed and warring forces screams in agony and the eruption of its pain is made manifest in manifold ember arcs. Cinders vibrantly anoint the vacuum with pin-pricks of warmth and light, drift for merely an instant, then diminish and inexorably perish in the soil of mortality. It is the necessary destruction inherent in purposeful creation for, as the dross dies with its impurities, what holds steadfast through the tribulation is the essence of what is excellent and pure.
Such was readily known to Gorfyti’el the Amaranthine as he ascended the thousand steps to his throne at the fore of his cosmic dreadnought, Naqhizain. Lord and last of his ilk, his ashen fingers gripped the black iron arm of his throne for support. By rote, he traced along the embellishment of roots sculpted in the likeness of Tgdrarail, Tree Immortal. Absently, his eyes peered beyond—almost sightless. Through a circular plane of energy a kilometer in diameter stretched the void. Once full of planets, light, and life, his universe was now essentially empty. If he failed, it would become absolutely so. At the notion, jade rivulets crept from the bottom brim of his aged eyes, stained his cheeks, and pooled in viridian mouths slightly parted in a sigh of resigned despair. A moment passed, then his other hand ascended lethargically into the emptiness before him and etched the runes that would, in the dying night of his ancient universe, once and with finality attempt to forge the divine instrument that could liberate him from entropy’s destructive grasp: Bounty of the Forest’s Eternal Renewal.
The product of his work, while sublime, could not achieve that which he sought; it was not his grail.
Thus, with his crowning breath he and his universe, stories fully resolved, were eradicated.
Truth is true and held as, in another universe, Fitrad the Hewer clawed all the way to the coagulated altar atop a trillion trillion bodies and sought to summon the Font of Blood, Life’s Eternal Flow. Much blood, her own amongst it, flowed, but it was not eternal; she, incised by myriad lances, exsanguinated and died, and thus her story ended—her and her universe were eradicated. The last thing she saw as she gazed through the blood rain that in torrents cascaded on her corpse-world was the starless sky and the soulless vault of her beyond.
It was the plight of Glakhamri Pulsarfist when, in the epicenter of the galaxy-benighting megastructure Vastheim of Infinite Singularities, he expertly poured the exquisite mold of Depths of the Mountain, Immeasurable Fortitude: his universe’s sole survivor, he collapsed, life stolen by the steam: eradicated.
It mattered not how multifarious were the countless droves of intelligence that amassed throughout and across innumerable universes and embarked on and lusted after the elusive and destructive intangible known simply as Power, veracity was upheld: each rose to ascendancy and fell to aught, the divine weapon never crafted and, once their stories were told, they and their universes were eradicated. Some took the form of valiant quests for truth, as yearnings to behold the wellspring of all being; yet, even that proved beyond each spark’s individual and isolated capacity. In an infinite number of universes, the quest to attain or construct this ultimate device was seized, yet all failed; not for lack of effort or nobility, but due to a dearth of perspective and, while the products of their creativity were excellent and pure epitomes of purpose, oft capable of profound carnage and control, such could not save them. Their thirst went unslaked. They sought what was, to them, representative of a singular purpose: strength, immortality, indefatigably, omnipotence, and tediously and infinitely onward; thus, while the products of their forges were mighty, they could never actualize their ambitions. Yet, as surrogate of all past and future memories, Ender recalled their works and that their only failure was their inability to craft that which their cultural myopia kept them from beholding.
The worlds of the Forgeverse Continuum were the embers born of Ender’s hammer strike that exploded from the substrate sublime: the topographic mutation of the Verse wherein brane collided with brane and provoked instantaneous birth and decline of infinite universes. Swifter than the Execration’s dispelling of the Shattered Realms, these were pan flashes triggered by an abrupt shift in superposition of universes on where splayed discrete multiversal branches undulated, collided, and triggered Planck collapse at their various points of contact. From the fulmination of that chaotic quantum jolt blossomed new branches that ultimately withered and beautifully died for, without their demise, their stories—all boasting trillions of years of interesting tales—could never be made whole.
Ender, however, was afflicted by their limitations. Their amalgamated knowledge poured in its colossal consciousness and a combinatorial device, born from the innumerable minds of infinite universes, was conceived, forged, and invoked: the divine weapon and materializer of dreams, Nevermourn.