Golgotha – “place of the skull” cattle, coyotes, deer, rabbits
Bowl, indented into the mountain
Sky is dark
Martin sat on an ancient ironwood log, hood up
“We should gather wood as the cold will kill you at this altitude”
Everything is dusted as though dipped in flour
“How resourceful and methodical you are! How delightful!
Martin builds the fire using magic, a pair of plucked and gutted rabbits fall out of the cloaks
“Let’s have dinner and palaver”
The rabbit is cooked and juices are sealed in.
The hood is pulled back revealing a face that is handsome and normal, hair is black and ragged, forehead is high and eyes dark and brilliant. Nose nondescript. Lips full and sensual and the complexion was pallid.
His apparently youth is particularly striking considering how old he is known to be.
“I’m nearly immortal as are all of you, those who’ve been touched by the beams such as we still have work to do.”
“You won’t see another sunrise for a very long time, but that doesn’t matter… all that matters is now.”
Tarot cards are brought out, a huge deck with convoluted designs on the back.
“This is a Tarot deck of a sort, a mix of standard cards and a selection of my own choosing, watch now…”
“I’m going to tell your future, 7 cards one at a time, I’ve not done this in a very long time and I’ve never told a story such as yours.”
“All of you are the world’s last true adventurers. You have no idea how close the Keep is to you now. Worlds as we speak are turning about your head. Soon you will resume your quest”
Martin laughs heartily but does not reveal what he finds so funny.
The first card: The Hanged Man – “In conjunction with nothing else, this signifies strength, not death. You are the Hanged Man or men plodding ever towards your goal of the bottomless pits of Na’ar. I wonder how many of your companions and loved ones you are willing to drop in your quest for redemption?”
The second card: The Sailor – “Note the clear brow, the hairless cheeks, the wounded eyes. He drowns and no one throws out a line. A cold and necessary sacrifice.”
The third card: The Prisoner – “A trifle upsetting, isn’t he?
The fourth card: The Lady of the Shadows – “Does she look two faced to you? She is. Two faces at least”
The fifth card: Death – “Death, yet not for you.”
The sixth card: The Tower – silence place card over the Hanged Man
The seventh card: Life – “Life, but also not for you. Where it fits into this is not for you or I to know.”
“I’m not the one you seek, but only the emissary.”
There was nothing and everyone drifted in it.
“Let there be light!”
Everyone feels that this is good.
“Darkness overhead with stars, water below……… now land…”
The stars are foreign to you, the land is red arid and sterile. Volcanos dot the landscape.
“Now some plants, trees, and grass.”
And there was as well as great lizards and amphibians. Tarpits here and there. Giant ferns and beetles with two heads. You feel large as though you were a god.
“Now bring man”
You start falling up. You see the horizon, curved as you were taught in school, but never quite believed. Now its evident. Continents can be seen obscured by clouds. The sun is rising over the edge of the planet.
“Let there be light” the voice is gigantic and booming, no longer belonging to Martin
Falling and falling… planets and asteroids whiz by… worlds and stars by the dozens, thousands, innumerable fly past.
“Light, let there be light!”
Now only darkness with pinpricks of light, distant stars.
The stars draw together, with galaxies and nebulae and start swirling around you. It’s almost too much to take.
“Renege! Cast away all thoughts of the Keep! Run away and save your miserable souls!”
“THEN LET THERE BE LIGHT!”
Light crashes in like a hammer. Consciousness being crushed and killed. You see a tiny speck of red in all that light… a single blade of grass, purple.
Grabbing onto this brings you back to reality.
“You did fairly well” voice from behind. “I’m really surprised that you aren’t drooling. Most people can’t take seeing the universe. You want the Keep? I know that nearly pushed you over the edge. That was just this universe. The Keep will kill you half a world away or make you wish you were dead. I made your father and nearly broke him, you finished that for me. Your mother bent to my will as well. I am the most distant minion of the red hand that now rules the Obsidian Keep. What has hurt you once, will hurt you yet again. This is not the beginning but the beginning’s end.”
“Hear me now, Sylas, son of Steven. Would you hear me?”
…the universe is the Great All and is a paradox too great for a finite mind to grasp… the finite mind just cannot conceive of the infinite no matter how much you think you can. The very existence of the universe defeats both the pragmatist and the romantic. There was a time, maybe a hundred, maybe several hundred generations ago, that some races had enough technical and magical prowess to chip a few splinters away from the pillars of reality. The false light of science shone in only a few kingdoms. One kingdom (or cabal is more like it) that led the way was the Tierrix Conglomerate. Although there were many facts gathered, there were few insights.
“Our many-times-great grandfathers conquered the rotting disease, aging, and even stepped foot on other worlds. They discovered maybe a thousand other marvelous baubles but no insight. There were vehicles powered by the sun and intelligent life being brought forth from nothing was but an afterthought… The truest principle of reality is thus:”
…new knowledge leads always to yet more awesome mysteries. Greater physiological knowledge of the brain makes the existence of the soul less possible yet more probable by the nature of the search.
“Do you understand? You really needn’t understand, that’s beside the point. The greatest mystery in the universe is not life, but size. Size encompasses life. The Keep encompasses size. A child might ask, What is above the sky, Daddy? And the father says, why darkness and Space. And the child asks and beyond that? Galaxies and stars… and beyond that? I don’t know.”
“Size always defeats us. For the fish, the lake is the universe. What does the fish on the line think when they are jerked up outside of the water? A universe where air drowns and the light is blue madness? Where huge bipeds with no gills stuff it into a box to die?”
“And if you go smaller, a piece of chalk isn’t really solid. It is composed of atoms, a trillion demon planets spinning. Viewed at actual size, the spaces between them are gulfs spanning leagues, gulfs, aeons. If you step down further, do you see nothing? Of course not.
Everything in the universe denies nothing; to suggest an ending is the one absurdity.
“If you fell to the edge of the universe would you find a sign that says DEAD END? No, most likely you’d find a shell and if you peck through like a chick from the inside of an egg (or find a door), what might you see?
Might you look through and discover our entire universe is but part of one atom on a blade of grass? Might you be forced to think that by burning a twig you incinerate an eternity of eternities? That existence rises not to one infinite but to an infinity of them?
“Could it be that everything we perceive is contained in one blade of grass in an alien time? And if that blade is cut? When that blade begins to rot? Maybe it seeps in to our own universe and lives turning everything brown and desiccated? Perhaps, its happening now?”
“Lets suppose further. Suppose that all worlds, all universes met in a single nexus, a single pylon, a Keep. And within it a stairway, perhaps rising to some ultimate Godhead. Would you dare climb to the top? Could be that there exists a Room? You dare not.”
You dare not echoes in your heads. It occurs to you that maybe some already has dared.
“I don’t know, and I don’t ask” Fear crosses Martin’s face. “I’m fear there may be… an accounting”
You feel very very tired yet again.
“What are you looking at?”
This night is seeming to be eternal.
“We have, or I have talked so much, yet there is so much we have to discuss yet. For it has been told to me by my master.”
“Shall we tell the truth now? No more lies?”
“We should have truth, not as friends but as equals.
Only equals speak the truth. Friends and lovers lie endlessly caught in the web of regard.
“My king’s enchantment has prolonged this night and will continue to prolong it until this palaver is done. How long? Very long, but I can tell you no better. I do not know myself. Ask and I will tell you what I know. You have caught me, for now. It is only fair. Your quest has only begun.”
Q’s and A’s
Q: Who is your king?
A: I have never seen him, but you will, but first you will meet the Ageless Stranger. This I think is not the right question, however.
Q: If you’ve never seen the king, then how do you know him?
A: He first came to me in my dreams when I was poor and unknown. Many centuries have passed since then, but you are my climax. Someone is taking you very seriously.
Q: Who is the Ageless Stranger?
A: He is known as Legion and as Maerlyn, but I do not think that is the right question either.
Q: What is the Stranger’s connection to the Keep?
A: There is no one greater than he. He is in all times. Ask me no more. To speak of such things so close to the Keep is to invite the ruination of one’s own soul.
Q: Will we succeed?
A: If I answered that you may be able to kill me. Your weapons do not open doors, only close them forever.
Q: Where do we go?
A: Go east, through the Mohaine desert, towards the eastern sea. There you find what you are looking for.
He offers everyone some very fine tobacco and some moist green leaves to wrap them in.
“You must understand, the Keep has always been, and there has always been adventurers lusting for it…….”
Martin talked and talked and talked of Gods and universes and powers beyond comprehension…..
“Someone here is invested with the power of extraction, I’m compelled to tell you partly due to the natural law of things, like water flows downhill, I must tell you. Before the end of your journey, you will extract 3 people to assist with your journey. What that means exactly, I cannot say.”
“Let the fun begin! My part is done now. The chain is still in your hands… don’t let it wrap around your neck.”
Silence… one more thing to say
“Let there be light!”
Everyone is aged 10 years. Some of you have greyed, there are deepened lines in your face and rougher skin. The charred wood had turned to stone. There was a skeleton in the same rotting black robes worn by Martin.