There are many times. There’s the beginning, which is impossible, because time goes in two directions. There’s the end, which is also impossible, because what is going on will never end. Some universes die, but new universes are born every moment from a churning whirlpool we only slightly understand, each universe existing with its own laws built on its own fundamentals. The heat death of your universe, dear reader, is like the death of a great tree. To a microbe that lives inside it, it might seem like the end of all, but to the forest, its death isn’t worth a second thought. If a tree falls in a forest, no god will care, and if a universe dies, reality won’t care either.
There are many places, and space itself is hard to explain. Even within one universe, it can feel limitless, but if an inhabitant of a universe was able to leave one, its mind would break. The vastness of the places that are possible aren’t something it could comprehend. Reality is huge.
This is a story of scale. It does start, and it might end, but it won’t start at the first place or time, and it won’t end at the last. In fact, the story will start in a very odd place.
Your world, reader, is built on overlayed fabrics of three dimensions. They fluctuate, like lives and nations, and become energy, which is matter. Their laws are bound in such complex ways that humans have been trying to figure them out for millennia. Only a few of them consider that other worlds could be built on other things, and far fewer take that prospect seriously.
The place this story begins in is one of those worlds. This world is built of a different type of fabric, a type of fabric that is more similar to a brain than anything else. In this world, a being’s mind isn’t a result of the matter it’s made of. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Matter itself is shaped around the mind, and beings are not bound by their minds. It is possible to change matter with thought in this world.
It is possible for someone to move from one world to another. The most relevant person is a human from your world. He got transported to this one. When transportation like this happens, all aspects of a being are rewritten to better fit the new world they’ve entered, and for this man, that meant that his mind, a consequence of his biology, was the only thing that remained when he arrived. But because every mind shapes the matter around it, he was given a form.
His mind was scared at first, so he was a timid mouse hiding beneath the pressure. He was overwhelmed with a grand confusion. Where was he? Why did he feel so weird? Soon, as his mind became calmer, he became a humanoid. His skin was light, and in the darkness, it almost seemed blue, like a dimmed fire on a gas stove, though it was hard to tell. He wore vermillion robes. His hair was a dark color, like the sea at night, and he found himself surrounded by stones of a similar color. A clocktower near the small graveyard he woke up in sounded four times, and judging by the color of the sky, it was four in the morning.
Our story begins at this place, and at this time. Yarrow had arrived, and he found himself locking eyes with a hooded man, who was waiting for him.
“Hello, Yarrow, I’ve been waiting here for you,” said the man.
Yarrow was so confused he didn’t say anything. He didn’t usually experience dreams this vividly, but nothing felt real. His sense of what was real and what wasn’t was broken. It definitely felt like he was dreaming, at least a little.
The man didn’t say anything else, but gestured over his shoulder for Yarrow to follow. Walking felt odd. It seemed like walking was more intentional than it had been before, and he couldn’t focus on it very well. “One foot after the other,” he muttered to himself. The man didn’t seem to hear, or if he did, he didn’t seems to care.
He looked at his hands poke out under his oversized robes. They were tinted blue, which he didn’t really understand, but it felt right. He tried to remember what his body felt like before, but he was having trouble conceptualizing it. Trying to remember almost hurt, so he stopped trying for the time being.
As they walked down the dim street, a cloud engulfed the moonlight, and a moment later it began to snow. Yarrow shivered and pulled his robe tighter, pulling the hood over his head. He was curious about how the weather changed so quickly, but he couldn’t find the motivation to speak.
Soon, buildings began to touch more often, and poorly kept lawns grew smaller and neater until the disappeared entirely. It was hard to tell how long they had been walking. Time felt different to experience here.
The mysterious man took a sharp left down a narrow alleyway. The walls were covered with layers graffiti written with runes Yarrow couldn’t read. The snow had hardly gotten in the ally. The man pulled a single loose key out of his pocket and unlocked a door with haste. “Quick.”
Yarrow followed him inside. The man turned on a light and turned around to face Yarrow. “Welcome.” They were in a small hallway. There were four sets of shoes lined up against the right side of the wall, and there was a mirror on the left. Yarrow looked at his reflection. He wasn’t shocked by his light blue skin, but rather by the lack of shock over it - his skin felt right. His eyes were as blue as they had been before, but they looked bluer next to his skin and popped against his robes.
“Thank you,” said Yarrow, finally. Speaking wasn’t how he imagined it before - his voice felt better than it in the past. It was almost euphoric. He felt calm for some reason. Whatever would have stopped him from following this man didn’t this time. “Why do you keep your key off a keychain?”
The man responded. “I’m not sure. It’s the only key I need, and I haven’t lost it yet, but I do have friends with spares in case I ever lose it.”
“Oh.” Yarrow followed as the man walked down the hall and into a larger room that seemed to be a general living space. There were a few stringed instruments hung up against the wall above a fireplace, and a few plants that were a deep earthy green, filled with life. There was a rocking chair and a more normal chair next to a table, and an L-shaped couch that faced a curtained window and a wooden coffee table. Yarrow clutched his robes tighter - it was getting warmer. “Sorry, I should have asked. What’s your name?”
“Lamekh,” said the man, pushing his hood off. His hair was short and red. His face was boney and covered with freckles. “I’m glad you’re finally here.”
“Why?” asked Yarrow, his vision blurring ever so slightly as he tried to listen.
“It means I get to leave this city,” said Lamekh, throwing some logs of wood into the fireplace and finding a match. “I mean, it’s not the worst place to be, but I don’t like cities that much. Tried to make this little part of it my own though.” He smiled. He found a box of matches next to the fire and lit the fire. It started to grow.
“Oh.” Yarrow peeled the curtain to the side and looked out the window. It faced a wall a few yards away with a lot of graffiti on it. “This is a nice spot, I guess.”
“Yeah,” said Lamekh. “There’s history everywhere. Like some of the graffiti dates back to decades ago. And the library has a lot of resources about this area too. They have a catalogue of photographs.”
“Mhm.” Yarrow spaced out for a moment. He was thinking about photographs. What were photographs again? He thought about pinhole cameras and film, and suddenly a more relevant thought popped into his head. “Wait, why were you waiting for me to leave?”
“Oh. Well, I guess I could have left years ago, actually.” Lamekh thought for a moment, and then, quickly, “I knew you’d come here on a Wednesday at four in the morning, but I didn’t know which Wednesday, so for the past four years, I’ve gone there every Wednesday, and if I left the city, you wouldn’t have been found.” He paused to breath. “By me. Found by me. I mean I guess someone else might have found you, but then they wouldn’t have been me.” Lamekh knelt by the fire and poked it with a fire turner, letting the flames spill out onto some of the other logs.
“How did you know when I’d show up? And my name. How did you know my name?”
Lamekh stood up, still holding the fire poker and facing away from Yarrow. “I mean, it was four years ago. But in essence, I am privy to a lot of information that nobody else around here is privy to. Or, around anywhere, really. It’s just knowledge I’ve been told about certain things.”
“Who told you?”
“I’m not exactly sure how to explain. I know part of why but not enough to explain it completely. It’s like, someone gave the knowledge to me, but I’m not sure who, or how. But they’re very powerful and very cool, whoever they are.”
“I’m still confused. Someone told you something, but you don’t know who they are?”
Lamekh waited a moment. “I mean yeah basically. I-” He waited a moment to try to find the words. “Oh. You probably don’t have magic back where you’re from. That might be why this sounds confusing.”
“Magic? What do you mean?”
“I don’t know, magic,” said Lamekh, trying to think of a good explanation.
Yarrow was silent again, still confused. He looked out the window again and watched the snow fall.
Yarrow elaborated. “It’s much weaker in the city, but yes, there’s lots of magic. Actually,” he said, letting the fire poker lean against the wall next to the fireplace, “hold on.” He knelt again and held his hands out over the fire. Yarrow watched. He breathed in and moved his hands upward, and the fire grew much larger and warmer. Then he breathed out and lowered his hands back towards the fire, and the fire returned to its previous state. Yarrow gazed at the fire, only half comprehending what was happening. “I’m not the best with fire, I guess, especially here, but that’s a good demonstration of magic, I guess. It’s just kinda a fact of life. I know you don’t understand what it is yet but other people might find that weird about you.”
“Can I try?” asked Yarrow, almost unable to pull his eyes away from the fire.
“Sure. I doubt you’ll be able to do it right away, though.” Lamekh moved to the side to make room for Yarrow.
“Wait, why?” Yarrow switched his focus to Lamekh.
“Oh. Uh,” Lamekh thought for a moment as Yarrow knelt by the fire. “A lot of kids learn how to use magic for certain things, kind of like musical instruments. But not all of them, by far, and usually when adults try to learn it, it takes them a very long time to get used to it. Not to mention the city -”
“Oh yeah, it dampens the magic, right? Why?” Asked Yarrow, who was on his knees at Lamekh’s left.
“Oh actually the full answer to that is very complicated, but I guess an easy way to explain it is that in a city, there are so many things that are made by humans, and away from cities, there are so many more things that weren’t made by humans, so the capability of a human’s magic here in the city is drawn into their surroundings.” He pulled the key out of his pocket with a sense of urgency. “If a human molds metal into a key, the key begins to sap that human’s magic very slightly. In a city, everything is made by humans. Well, except for maybe things like those plants.” Lamekh gestured to the fire. “Do you know how to get started?”
“I assume I just move my hands like you did, right?”
“I mean you can try that. I don’t think it will work.”
Yarrow tried. When he breathed in, he moved his hands up in the same way Lamekh had, but the fire stayed mostly stagnant. It was very hard to tell if anything was because of Yarrow’s efforts instead of the natural flicker of a fire. He grunted.
“Well, I mean we’re leaving the city tomorrow, and it’ll be way easier to try to do magic there.” Lamekh stood. “You can sleep in here, by the fire. I can just head to my bedroom or something.” He stood.
“Okay,” said Yarrow, who was already not completely awake. He fell to the side and passed out almost immediately, his thoughts leaving him and thinning out.
It's an interesting concept.
To humans, it’s a puzzle. They don’t actually have any control over how their worlds work most of the time. The laws of nature cannot be changed by those who are governed by them. Humans try to figure out the laws. They write about the implications of that. For humans, science is a method to figure out these laws so that they can manipulate them or take advantage of them. They use what they learn to build ships to ride the currents of time, but they are unable to change them.
To gods, it’s a rulebook. The thing that humans call “science” is more of some code that a god put together. Gods can change the code, and they already know how it all works. Gods are terraformers, shaping the landscape and creating dams to hold the waters of time, digging irrigation lines to control its flow, and drinking it like a human scientist might drink coffee.
There are a lot of gods, and their abilities are vast. They are seldom worshipped by their own names. In fact, their own names are not in a language. Rather, humans name nature and call it gods. But this isn’t different from science, because nature isn’t different from gods. Different cultures have different conceptions of what the gods are. They give them different names, divide them differently, and worship them in different ways. Some cultures worship one god while others worship a vast pantheon. Some cultures worship no gods.
When a god notices that something very similar to themselves is being worshipped, they pay attention. Sometimes they use their power to bless those who worship them. Sometimes they don’t. It depends on the god and the worship. But the gods usually notice.
Sometimes, gods speak to humans. There are a lot of humans, though, across the multiverse, so a single god is often spread thin between many people. So speaking to a god requires a level of dedication that not every worshipper is capable of. That being said, worship isn’t the only way to speak to a god, or to get one’s attention.
Yarrow could hardly remember how he arrived in the wagon. He remembered getting up and following Lamekh away from the city. As they walked, the buildings started to separate, the grass reappeared, and everything seemed to get farther and farther apart until they were almost at the countryside. He had no desire to talk as they travelled by foot, and neither did Lamekh. Finally, they reached the wagon, Lamekh talked to someone, and they were off.
Yarrow looked back at the city. They were traveling up a hill, so he could see the whole thing. It was the afternoon and the sun was close to the mountains opposite them, and part of the city was already covered in shadow, allowing the lights of the buildings to poke through. From here, he could see a river going through the city. The grandeur of the mountains in all directions was astounding. Vast mounds of green with sharp gray peaks, some white. The snow from the previous night had already melted.
He looked around him in the wagon. There were a few chests and sacks, and the stringed instruments from earlier were balanced carefully on the sacks, so they wouldn’t fall or jostle around too much on the ride. There was also a very small blue box that had a lock on it.
“Now that we’re away from the city, when can I try to use magic?” Yarrow was still tired, but he was eager as well.
“Maybe you should eat first,” yelled Lamekh from the front of the wagon. “I don’t think you’ve eaten here yet.”
“Where’s the food?” asked Yarrow, realizing that he was very hungry. In fact, he was also curious, because he had never eaten in this world before.
“The smallest chest, the one on the top.”
Yarrow opened it and found some bread. When he tasted it, he was overcome by sensations of color and sound. Because the flavor of the food was so powerful to him, he experienced it with his other senses so strongly he almost got a headache from it. He continued eating slowly, and as he did, the colors and sounds got quieter until the headache went away too. He took small bites, chewing slowly. As he chewed he thought about the flavors and how they changed. Even though his senses were no longer overwhelmed, he could still hear and see the flavors.
As they continued on the road, Yarrow found himself overcome with boredom. He closed his eyes and slowly drifted back to sleep. It seemed that he needed more rest than he thought. As he drifted off, he thought about what had happened to him. He was in a new world. Had this happened to anybody else?
There are many people, and every moment one falls asleep, another wakes. It is so that the moment that Yarrow fell asleep, another being woke. This being wasn’t a god, but it wasn’t a human either. It was a spirit, which is a type of being that is a part of nature. This spirit was very old. Time goes in two directions, and this spirit’s history was as old as the world itself. Its name had been forgotten, but it was called “the Monster,” and no human (save for Lamekh) knew of its return. The Monster began to cast a spell, an old magic from a different world that somehow fit into this one, as if one locksmith had, by coincidence, created a key that unlocked every lock made by a different one. It set the wheels in motion and fell back into a deep sleep that would last several months.
Yarrow woke to the sound of ringing bells. He got up quickly and looked around, poking his head out from the back of the wagon. Lamekh was ringing a bell that stood at the side of the road. “Hi,” said Yarrow.
“Oh, good morning,” said Lamekh. “Wait. It’s not morning.” If someone didn’t know which direction the sun set in, they might have confused it for a sunrise, but the sun was setting behind the mountains back in the direction of the city. It had been perhaps an hour since Yarrow had fallen asleep. “Good evening, I guess.”
“Why the bell?” asked Yarrow, his brain foggy.
“Oh. One sec.” He finished ringing them and poured some water from his waterskin onto the ground beneath “It’s customary to ring these bells when you travel. Then pour some water on the ground. Yeah.” He started to head back to the wagon.
Yarrow was fighting himself. He wanted to go back to sleep, but he was still curious. So he asked, “But why?”
And Lamekh shrugged. “I suppose it’s just what folks do around here. I mean, I can’t remember a time when people didn’t.”
“Mmm.” Yarrow was done asking questions, and started to fall asleep again.
“But actually, I remember someone telling me that when they started finding bells, the people they awakened from them asked them to be rung or something,” mused Lamekh, getting back on the wagon.
Yarrow was abnormally tired. Usually when he was curious he couldn’t sleep. Back where he was from, he struggled greatly with sleep in general. He would spend hours researching topics and reading books and going down rabbit holes online, but seldom before had he felt drowsy like this. He drifted back to sleep.
He slept for the next week, waking every now and then only to fall back asleep shortly after. Lamekh didn’t seem to mind. It was almost like he knew why, but Yarrow was never awake enough to ask questions. Yarrow’s short waking moments showed the progression of their journey. He saw them at the top of the hill, a small outlet of the mountain range that the city sat in. He saw them on a grassy path, the mountain range behind them, spanning the horizon. He saw them stop in a village, but he was too exhausted to pick up on any details, save for a clocktower that reminded him of the clocktower back in the city. Then he saw them in a deep wooded forest, going along a trail overgrown with tree roots. Even with the cart jostling with every bump, he fell back into slumber.
Finally, in a dream-like state, he found the tired energy he was feeling leave him and awoke with the sun, in a new place. They were at the side of a small cottage, and a huge cliff loomed directly over their path ahead. It was cold, and Yarrow reached for his clothes - and then, he realized that he hadn’t showered since he arrived. But he was surprised to find a feeling of cleanliness. He wasn’t very dirty at all.
He looked around for Lamekh, who was nowhere beyond the confines of the cottage, so Yarrow knocked on the cottage door.
A woman opened the door. “Hello.” Her skin had a very slight floral purple tint to it. It looked rough, like a flower’s petals. Her mouth was open slightly, and she was chewing something with the texture of chewing gum. She was dressed in denim.
“Hello,” said Yarrow. “Where- do you know who- who are you?” He said, trying to find the most appropriate question to ask first. “What’s your name?”
The woman laughed. “I’m Arnica,” she said, still chewing whatever it was she was chewing. “Come on in. You’re Yarrow, right?” At this, Yarrow nodded, and followed her inside.
Strings of garlic, small peppers, and onions hung from the ceiling to the left. There was an old looking stove, one with drawers under the stovetop and a drawer next to the oven, and copper cookware. There were a few other very old pieces of kitchen equipment he didn’t recognize, and a table in the middle with a bowl of fruit on it. There was a fireplace on the other side of the cottage. In between the fireplace and the kitchen area were sacks of grain, possibly. A staircase led up, and Lamekh wasn’t downstairs.
“Take a seat somewhere,” said Arnica, spitting the thing she was chewing outside onto the ground. It looked like some sort of herb, but Yarrow didn’t get a good look.
“Thank you,” he said. His attention floated to the fire and his thoughts drifted back into his exploratory nature. “Does magic work well here?” he asked, thinking about what Lamekh had done in the city.
“That’s an odd question,” Arnica smirked. “What did Lamekh tell you about magic?”
“He said it doesn’t work in cities.”
“Oh, well obviously it doesn’t. Did he tell you why?”
Yarrow thought, sitting down in a chair at the table. “I’m having trouble remembering exactly why.” His voice trailed off as he tried searching for answers.
“He must have explained it really badly, hehe.” Arnica laughed. Her laugh was a bit gravelly. “Well. I’m sure broadly what he said was true, but his head is all in his own perspective of the world and sometimes he forgets about more obvious stuff. Like the suppression stones. Did he mention them?”
“The suppression stones.”
“No I heard you, what are those?” Asked Yarrow.
“I knew it,” she said, with a chuckle. “But yes, they’re these stones the builders of the cities put underground. They enchanted them. I don’t remember all the details, but they collect the stagnant magical energy in the city and send it to the clocktower, I think. Then they use it for something. Like, to power magic that protects the city. But basically there are these stones that make magic weaker in the cities.” Arnica glanced over to the stovetop. “It’s breakfast time, do you want eggs?”
“Uh, sure,” said Yarrow. “Did lamekh just forget about the suppression stones?”
“Yeah, probably,” said Arnica, taking a whicker basket and hanging it on a hook at the left of the stove. She put a large cast iron pan over a burner and opened the drawer under it. She took some wood from a stack to the stove’s right and put it in the drawer. She snapped her fingers and the edges of the drawer started glowing red.
“What was that?” Yarrow asked quickly.
“Just set the wood on fire.” She poured some yellowish cooking oil from a flask under the table into the pan. “Now I’m not the best cook, but Lamekh tells me you haven’t eaten in a while.”
“Sorry, how can snapping your fingers set a fire?” Yarrow asked, getting up and walking over.
“The short answer is it just does. If you want the long answer, ask Lamekh, he could go on about it for hours. Anyway, as I was saying, these won’t be the best eggs ever, but you’re probably hungry enough that you’ll eat them anyway.”
“Where is Lamekh?” asked Yarrow.
“He’s upstairs, I think. Unless he left. How long has it been since you last ate, by the way?” As she asked this, the oil started sizzling and she took an egg out of the basket.
“Uhhh, I had some bread in the cart.” He started up the stairs. “That’s the only time I’ve eaten since I got here in Wednesday.”
“Oh, so nine days probably. If you left on a Wednesday.” As she cracked an egg into the pan, Yarrow ran up the stairs in search for Lamekh, more energized than he had felt in a while.
In your world, dear reader, there are thousands of languages. It’s difficult to give an exact number. A language is a dialect with an army and navy after all, which means that most lines drawn between languages are done so by force. Language is a part of culture, and culture is a part of language. Every culture has a language woven into it, but hidden within every language is a culture of idiomaticy. Language evolves and changes over time. If two people don’t have a language in common, they can’t communicate unless they learn one.
But in other worlds, communication is often defined differently. In some worlds, language is inherent. It’s woven into time like the rise and fall of great nations. Everyone knows what each other wants them to know because it’s been predefined. The world gives them that knowledge, and a simple glance is all that’s needed. None speak words from their mouths, for there is no need.
In other worlds, communication is difficult. Language is seldom needed in these worlds, because it is designed to be absent. While the people of these worlds could learn languages, they don’t, and their cultures prevail. In these worlds, language is not a part of culture, and people communicate using gestures and context. It’s a way of communicating, but it hardly differs between cultures and it is not a language.
These examples show that language isn’t just a social construct. It’s an innate property of a universe. It’s a fundamental fabric, just like physics. Language works the way it does in your universe because that is how language is defined there.
In the universe that Yarrow went to, language is defined differently. Language is easy to use. Everyone already knows how to communicate with each other. The moment language is analyzed, it breaks down. Two speakers communicating find that when they shift their focus to the sounds and grammar of the language they use, they can no longer understand each other. For this reason, those who study science never study linguistics, and everyone can communicate.
Of course, this poses an interesting question. What happens to the language of someone who moves from one world to another? We’ve seen it. Yarrow no longer speaks English, he just communicates. His language was rewritten to fit the world around him. But what if the reverse happened? If Lamekh were to visit your world, reader, would he be able to speak with every human, or would he find himself speaking gibberish? The answer to that question in particular is very interesting, but it’s not relevant, and this is a story of relevancy.
Upstairs there were four cots and a desk, among other things, and Lamekh was sitting at the desk writing in a thick book, mumbling to himself. There were no separate rooms.
“Lamekh,” said Yarrow. “How does magic work?”
Lamekh stopped writing and turned around in his chair, loudly. It was an old wooden chair, so it wasn’t very good at turning around. “Do you want the long answer or the short answer?”
“Arnica already gave me the short answer,” said Yarrow, sitting on one of the unoccupied cots.
“Oh, what did she tell you?” asked Lamekh, smiling.
“She said it just works. When she snaps her fingers, the log lit on fire.”
Lamekh chuckled to himself. “She has a very… pragmatic perspective. But no, that’s more of the non-answer, not the short answer.” He flipped to a new page in his notebook and beckoned for Yarrow to come over as he began to draw a picture, but when Yarrow arrived he had already given up and closed the book. “The short answer is that when Arnica snaps her fingers, she’s collected a lot of magical energy in between her middle finger and her thumb. When she snaps, the energy is released very quickly, and if she aims it right, it’ll hit the kindling in the fireplace and light it on fire.”
“She was lighting a log in the stove, not the fireplace.”
“Oh. Well same story there. Though I guess she’d need to do it slightly differently, because if it’s in the stove then she needs to go through the metal. So - wait, that’s the long answer, sorry.” Lamekh stood up excitedly. “I smell eggs!”
“Yeah, Arnica’s making eggs.” Yarrow followed a very energetic Lamekh down the stairs and thought about magic. Could he do that? What was the long answer? He still didn’t really get what magic was or how it worked in this world, but he did have something to go off of, and there were things to try to set on fire.
He hardly payed attention to the eggs as he ate them. He was coming up with theories about what magic could do. He knew he could ask his questions, but there were too many of them and he couldn’t decide on one to say out loud.
“So we’re going to the cliff today?” said Arnica.
“Yeah,” said Lamekh. “I have the rock from the north.” He glanced at his satchel. hanging by the door as he shoveled some eggs into his mouth.
“The cliff outside?” asked Yarrow.
Lamekh nodded, mouth full, and Arnica said “yep!” A beat. “So how are my eggs?”
“Oh. Uh.” Yarrow tasted them again. They were okay. They were a bit undercooked, but that just meant the yolk was runnier. At least, for one of them. For the other, Arnica had broken the yolk. He could see and hear the flavors again, just like with the bread, but the sounds and visions were a bit muted compared to before. “They’re good,” he said, nodding slowly.
“You don’t sound very convinced,” said Arnica, smiling.
Lamekh got up with a start, slamming his fork next to his empty plate. “We should leave now!”
As Yarrow and Arnica finished their food, Lamekh prepared. He went upstairs and came back down carrying his thick notebook and a writing implement. He put these in his small satchel along with some old bread. Through the opening of the bag, Yarrow could see something glimmering inside, but he didn’t have the energy to inquire about it.
“Should I bring anything?” asked Yarrow.
“No,” said Lamekh. “I mean, you can carry the north stone if you want,” picking up a rock that was resting on the mantle over the fire.
“Some stone Lamekh found up north,” said Arnica, putting on a heavy coat.
“It’s the key to getting up the cliff,” said Lamekh, handing the rock to Yarrow. “You’ll see.”
“I know. You’ve told me since you got here.” Arnica opened then door and they were off.
The snow seemed to get slightly harsher. It was a fifteen minute walk to the cliffs. It was snowing slightly, but there was a larger storm brewing atop the cliff. As they walked, Yarrow remained silent, but Lamekh and Arnica spoke a little.
“So what have you been up to since last we spoke?” said Arnica.
“Well, I went north, found the rock, stayed in the city-”
Lamekh paused in speech. “Oh huh. I guess there are more than one of those.”
“Yeah,” laughed Arnica. “It wasn’t the central city, was it?”
“Oh no, no no no. Definitely not.” Lamekh reached out for a snowflake which melted in his hand. “This one was in the mountains.”
“Oh?” said Arnica. “Like Walum or Tsiki?”
“Oh yeah, Tsiki. And I waited there for a bit before Yarrow showed up, and then I came back here.”
“It would have been nice to hear from you.”
“Eh.” Arnica looked into the spiraling snow. The cliffs were nearing. They walked in silence for a few minutes before she said, “I would have moved there with you if you let me know.”
“Oh, I must have forgotten. Sorry.” Something was different about Lamekh. His posture was stiffer. He started walking slower so he wasn’t side by side with Arnica anymore and his smile had gone.
Yarrow caught up with Arnica and waited until Yarrow was outside of earshot. He said quietly, “what happened?”
Arnica took a deep breath. “I’m not mad about it. He’s very forgetful.” She forced a smile and sped up slightly, but didn’t seem annoyed when Yarrow sped up too.
“Oh,” said Yarrow. “What did he forget?”
“He just got distracted.” She pointed ahead. “Look, we’re almost there.”
The cliffs were huge. They seemed unnatural. Instead of the peaks and valleys of a mountain range, it was one long line with a uniform height. The rock was gray and weathered by snow, and this close to the edge of the cliffs, more snow was falling.
Lamekh pushed ahead when they reached the cliffs. “Give me a moment.” He gestured towards the rock that Yarrow was carrying, and Yarrow handed it to him. He looked intently at the cliff until he very suddenly took a few strides to the right and held the stone up to the cliff. It fit perfectly in the jagged rock, more perfectly than a puzzle piece, closer to two pieces of a snapped pencil.
The rock started glowing blue and the area to the left opened up very slowly, huge boulders pushing themselves out of the way, revealing a staircase carved into the side of the cliff.
Lamekh smiled excitedly. “Let’s go!”
Yarrow followed, feeling more anxious than he had when he woke up.
There are many ways to categorize people. Some of these are useful. Some of them are harmful. Some of these are even dangerous. But a benign dichotomy is dividing people into their experience being in contrasting worlds.
Most people have never left their own world. Perhaps some of them muse about the existence of other worlds. Perhaps fewer of them think on what it’d be like to be in those worlds. But by definition, no member of this group has ever been to a different world, and therefore their perspective of what’s possible is limited.
Then there are people who have left their home worlds and visited one or more others. Usually, if someone visits at least two other worlds, the reason why leads them to countless others, for example a god or a purpose, as opposed to a single glitch. It’s uncommon for one person to accidentally travel to a new world more than once.
Reality is an allegory for itself, and perspective can be very misleading. Another aspect of reality that differs between universes is how objects get from one location to another. It might seem trivial to people in the first group that in order to get from one place to another, someone must walk there, or perhaps take a train, or a plane, or drive, or some other method of locomotion. In many worlds, this isn’t the case.
There are worlds where position is fixed. The fabrics of these worlds are stained, and therefore if only a single object existed in them, it could move, using those stains as a reference point. The same can’t be said for your world, reader. In these worlds, beings might live inside themselves and communicate across vast distances in ways people from the first group couldn’t comprehend.
There are worlds where position is dependent on thought. These worlds are populated by beings who can change their positions with their minds. Some can fly very fast. Some can open portals. Some can even teleport. Position as a concept is hardly limiting because it’s easy for everyone to move to a new one.
There are worlds where position is defined by the spirits. In order to move, one must be in good standings with the spirits of their world, and that means they must communicate with nature. If someone could catch the wind for long enough to have a conversation, they could gain flight. In order to walk on a mountain, they would need to speak with it first. Ancient temples exist governed by spirits that only let in those who have completed rituals for them. Children are unable to leave the rooms they’re born into until they learn how to speak to the spirits outside it. As the child grows, they explore further and communicate with more spirits.
Yarrow had found himself in a world where movement was a bit more messy. Some types of moment were locomotive, like walking, and people could travel anywhere they wanted. But some areas were sealed away by an ancient force, and accessing those places was like solving a puzzle. In order to enter a castle, you’d need to find a map to it first, and when you reached the castle, you’d find the door locked. Doors locked by this ancient magic can seldom be unlocked by force, so an explorer would need to find the key.
In this case, the key was a rock from the north. Lamekh had found it and brought it all the way to the south, and it had unlocked the clifftop. Time stretches in both directions, and it was going forward here.
The stairway opened to a door at the top that was made of stone and was hard to move, but together the three of them pushed it slowly. Strands of snow spiraled like spindles of thread stretching across the sky, their silence snuffing out any sound. Excellent structures emerged from the entropy of the snowy mist like fractals, and a short distance away they could see a temple.
As they drew closer, the wind roared wilder. They could hear a mysterious rhythmic chanting in a language they didn’t recognize. Soon, they arrived at the temple.
The door opened slowly. Lamekh led. Colored glass stained the floor with the light of the snow. As they entered their movements caused a great swelling of dust to rise from the ground and dance and swirl in this light, and the shadows danced along as if to some ancient dead music that couldn’t be heard anymore, only felt.
As they closed the doors, the howling of the wind ceased almost immediately and their footsteps sounded loudly against the huge hard walls. The sound of chanting echoed quietly throughout the temple. Crates and boxes covered in dust lined the walls.
Lamekh and Arnica both went to the nearest crate and opened it. “A giant book?” said Lamekh. “I wonder who’s inside.”
“Perhaps it has something to do with why this temple is empty,” said Arnica. “Or at least, nobody’s been here in a while. I’m still wondering what that chanting is.”
The book inside was almost as big as a child. It had a huge elaborate cover with such detail that Yarrow began to contemplate the totality of the universe. If so much effort and detail could go into just one of these books, who was he in the universe? Every pattern lining up or breaking form - what is nature? He continued like this as Lamekh and Arnica put the book back in the box and went further into the temple.
Yarrow opened the book and saw not words but a large decorated circle. He looked closer at the inscriptions and saw a form of writing he didn’t recognize. each glyph was complex and covered in elaborate vines and plants, and the details of every leaf and stem were so dense that even though it didn’t look like one, it could have very well been a fractal. While it looked old, the paper was smooth.
Yarrow quickly followed after the others. “Lamekh, what do you mean ‘I wonder who’s inside’?” he asked.
Lamekh turned around. “Oh, uh, usually when you find things that complicated there’s a person sealed inside.”
“What do you mean?”
“We’ll explain later,” said Arnica, pushing ahead towards a large pillar. The chanting was getting louder.
Yarrow didn’t protest. Instead, he started paying attention to the chanting. He wasn’t sure how, but the patterns in the chanting were starting to feel like the patterns in the book. Something about these patterns just made sense to him. Everything was coming together like chocolate and bacon, like lime and chilies.
He started to hum along to the chanting. Slowly, his humming became a soft whisper, which became a steady note, supported by his breath and the power of the patterns.
Suddenly the chanting stopped, leaving Yarrow singing. He wasn’t caught off guard. He simply finished a phrase and stopped as well. From behind the pillar came a huge wave of dust followed by an elderly man. “Hello,” he said quietly. “Is the monster gone yet?”
Arnica looked over at Yarrow with a profound look of awe and jealousy.
Lamekh gave Yarrow a knowing glance before going forward to speak with the elderly man. “Yes, the monster is gone. You’ve been chanting for quite a while, haven’t you?”
“I don’t know.”
“I do. It’s been thousands of years. Do you know who’s in the books?”
The elderly man looked troubled. “Those are the other monks.”
“Ah, so you’re a monk?”
“Yes,” he said.
“I understand,” said Lamekh. “Tell us what happened.”
The monk stood leaned forward slightly. “Since we got here there were always four monks singing. Every week at least once all monks sang. Our songs kept the cold at bay. They kept the snow from falling. But when the monster arrived, the cold grew stronger. The monks began to seal one another. We changed our song to a sealing song to keep the books sealed. Though by now, that isn’t needed. I can hardly remember how I became the last monk left, but soon the chanting got so monotonous that I fell into a trance. The only thing that snapped me out of it was you singing.” He pointed at Yarrow. “Now I will sing the song to ward the cold again. If the monster is gone, surely the books will start unsealing and the monks will return.”
Lamekh nodded lightly. “We must be going now. Good luck.”
“Thank you,” said the monk.
As the three of them walked from the temple, instead of dark chanting, there was a warm song, one voice singing alone, a song so beautiful that the three stopped and listened. Lamekh dropped and sat in the snow, and Yarrow followed. Arnica remained standing.
After a half hour of beautiful music, another voice joined it, and it was polyphony. And then a third voice. Soon the air was warm and the fresh snow was melting. instead of snow, rain fell from the sky, and then the clouds parted. A fourth voice joined in. It was hard to tell the voices apart, but the songs they sang were as complex as the books.
After the right amount of time, Lamekh stood and walked back towards the steps to head back to the forge, and the other two followed.