Spoiler:- First post, this box has no spoilers:
Attempts to grasp at the idea of creation end, on the whole, in failure. How can they end otherwise? Creation is the point where the understood world meets, suddenly, something completely new. You can apprehend the new idea, and even wrangle it into physicality, but what can you say of the point before which there was nothing, and after there became something?
Creation always comes from nothing; I say this deliberately; I am so bold. Try to rationalise it as the product of all the influences acting on the point of creation. It sometimes acts despite them, and how is this possible without some inner force not granted it by the physical universe, where everything seeks to resolve into laws? Art abhors restrictions, of course – that is its greatest strength – it is only we poor artists who are incapable of working without them. Never say the struggle with an imperfect medium is essential to creation. Recall Blake's shrewd words: If a blight kill not a tree but it still bear fruit, &c.
Which makes the position of the first creator, the Primeval Creator (if I may), all the more fascinating. There were no media then, no rules or prohibitions. When she created – shall we suppose her a she? – it was perfectly from scratch. Before her there was nothing; after her the possibility of everything. We may try to imagine how she felt. We might even succeed.
Mothers love their children. Can we imagine her, now, denying this to her creations?
All this in a shadow
Prelude: Four variations upon a theme (composer unknown).
Wood thrummed around him with the sound of strings.
He saw its principal theme stated in his grand piano, and the development shone through everything he could see: smiling softly back at him from the panelled floor; pervading through even the golden light of the noon sun; filling his lungs with the warmth of the air; and spinning into new forms past the glowing motes of rosin dust, to turn back to the recapitulation, stated calmly in the pianoforte under his hands.
It was so familiar that he did not even notice its presence but, quite simply, in its relation to everything else. A melody was many notes, played into a single form; so the little world around him was a composition of many kinds of wood, and ebony and ivory, and light and dust and shadow and shine, that only together made the single warm impression of wood within him.
He let its sensation crescendo very slightly as he acknowledged it, and then it subsided to a low harmony. He closed his eyes. Now there was silence here. It was the void in which he would raise his song.
With the lightest press, a tone fluttered into being under his finger. Suddenly he knew its nature precisely, and spread his hands to expand it into a chord. An idea rose from the finely tensed strings, but it could have been a sudden stroke of life or death or triumph or despair; he forced it into definition; he followed it with another chord.
Sensation flared to life behind his eyelids; the shape it took was sound.
It had a rare subtlety, and he let his soul flow over it like the faintest breeze over a sea at evening. Slowly his fingers over the keyboard blurred through their transmutation into actors in his dream. Like the first star, a melody glimmered into existence against the cool. From it he could raise quiet elation, or a brightening starscape, or a sorrow calm only in its depth, or tragedy setting its dark blue through scattered clouds; but the important thing was the melody itself: it held all the key. He was almost loath to develop it; it held so many worlds within its little glimmering shell.
But as time pushed forward, his tempo was pulled along with it, and the melody stretched out into the next octave. A sight hitherto unknown came to him like a new calm, as the harmony turned slightly quicker and much softer. An arpeggio played the degrees of blue in a night sky, and lifted in instants, transcended mere sound, becoming certain vivid vision under his eyelids. The evening held over the world its long thin sapphire fingers, and all existence heard its call; creation rose to attention ever so slightly to play the secret music. Three flows covered each other to mount the sky's zenith, and as the sudden fortissimo thundered the world erupted to life below it — shadows flickered like living things over a sea that called their masters to dive into its coolest, sweetest secrets — when suddenly he opened his eyes again.
The melody flowed on in his background, but he had caught the slightest flash of something – half-unseen – though he was sure his eyes had been closed. He felt into the world around him, attempting to analyse his room as you analyse a melody, because he felt this was something he should do. It was midday and he was at home, in the piano room — what could he gain out of treating wood and stone like music? But he felt into it all the same, and as he glanced down through the window to the slender branches of his eucalyptus sapling, his mind's melody rose up as though taking its right, and entered its climax.
Rich darkness surrounded him so he swept out to meet the sky, walking into his garden where the night had at last awoken. The eucalyptus sprouted visibly before his eyes, unfolding its sharp vivid leaves to drape the sky. The stars shimmered as though mad with fever, and the shadows swooped and turned and flashed over all the world, spinning in complex counterpoints to a universal rhythm. He felt his soul spreading out, growing wings, longing to join the ancient ballet, because the variations were so grand and perfectly formed that even the principal theme seemed pale and small. Couldn't he just forget his theme's recapitulation? Forget what birthed it all, forget the root and foundation of this vision –
He faltered slightly with the melody, and the darkness flickered. Inspiration was in him! If he could only pull his flow back into proper direction, so much was possible – but somehow he had forgotten how this all had started. The sound slipped from him, and like some light robe over his reality the vision of the night did the same.
He blinked. He was wide awake; the midday sun made his world almost too clear. He was still unprepared to believe this was a hallucination. There was too much perfection here, and how could one rationally explain such an elaborate, deliberate fantasy? He could hardly control his own dreams, let alone visions without precedent, and yet nothing here had passed into being against his will, except that last failure of his art.
But reality stood calmly against the evidence of his memory. The sun was high in the sky and it shone all its lucidity into the bright garden, the few faint shadows changing just so to match the measured progress of the sunlight, with not a star in sight for all his careful vision. He had never felt thus in all his short life, nor known anything that could explain it to him, and yet he had to suppress violently the feeling that all of it, somehow, was meant to happen.
He stood there for a long time, looking down with his hands in his pockets, vestiges of rhythms repeating in his head. Then he turned to the eucalyptus tree up against his window.
It was tall enough now to spread above his roof, and its long sharp leaves draped over the windowpanes casting cool shadows. Perhaps music did last longer than its final cadence.
“What'll it be, Mr. Tarks?”
Anurek Cretala looked across the table at the flustered man playing against him. A deck of cards was scattered between them in a ragged halo surrounding two face-down centrepieces. His heavyset opponent glanced between the cards, mostly at random, trying to look deliberate.
Mr Tarks's consort stood as conspicuously as they liked around the tavern, blocking out different views of the cracked walls, the stained and shoddy furniture, and even the floor grimed with years of abuse. Mr. Tarks himself, annoyingly, blocked out the entire view of the bar in the front. Cretala's glass was empty and he felt he'd function much better if it was full. It wasn't as necessary as his unshifting gaze on Mr. Tarks's right hand, but it would definitely help.
“I blocked the Fleeting Girafarig,” the bigger man said, coming upon unfamiliar shores of retrospection.
“And I ignored the entire Trio Flock,” replied Cretala.
It wasn't of course a matter of what, out of the shuffled piles of cards they had laid out, either of them had chosen and picked up; it was what they blocked out of their minds that directed their respective progresses through the game. (Or perhaps it didn't; the art of the old card game Black on White was something mysterious and — it seemed to the uninitiated — constantly changing, so that those who did not understand how it worked couldn't be taught, and those who did understand could talk about it only with others of their kind. It was a shame that for this reason the game was dying out. It was the only bit of gambling Cretala had ever bothered with.)
In any case, whatever moves the two players made (and it was always two), whatever rules they decided as ornamentation for their round, and whichever cards the (apparently) wilful hand of luck dealt to them, the end was always the same. Almost every card would fly through their hands and be discarded, in a flurry if both players were veteran enough, until only two remained — the only two kept unknown for both players.
The cards shared a pokémon subject but differed on one important detail: a poliwhirl with clockwise or counterclockwise spirals, a purple or green shellos, a silcoon or a cascoon; only the players seemed to know exactly what it was, though even they did not know which card was which. Over the course of the game, the stakes would line up so that each player's winning card was established beforehand; then if one player picked the card that belonged to him from these two, he won the game.
Cretala always let the other player pick the card. It didn't much raise their chances of winning, but it felt a little fairer.
He let himself smile as Mr. Tarks raised his right hand gingerly. With immense care he swung it over between the two cards, and then as if shaking his hand like an old duster would help, did the very same.
It was going to be one of those moments. He felt himself widening, his awareness stretching to accommodate the instant that was to come. He saw the entire course of their hour here, all its twisting events on the table and around it, contract under the will of the game to this moment.
No, it wasn't just a card game. Not when he could do what he was about to do.
Not his little finger twitched, but as he saw Mr. Tarks's hand moving over to the man's winning card he closed his eyes and, in one snap of a thought, blocked the possibility from his mind.
The hand paused. Slow as an hour dial, it turned back and lighted on Cretala's card. Mr. Tarks flashed a glimpse, and then held it up with immense bad grace. Cretala let his smile spread into a grin as he snatched the card from his hand.
“Thank you, that'll be mine,” he said, and snatched up the pile of cash beside the cards, “and I'll take that, too. I really must be going,” he said, flashing his grin at the suddenly very unfriendly faces of the other player and his bodyguards, “so nice to have this little game.” He'd forgotten to pay for most of everyone else's drinks. Speeding up he nearly flew out of the cramped tavern, and swooped out into the air that was (if not fresh or clean) at least reasonably cold. A half moon was out and he could see just enough by its light.
He set out on a complex byway weaving through most of the Rusted Shacks that would lead him out on the wrong end of the city, so that he could turn round the outside and slip back to his apartment. Navigating this place, for all its overgrown complexity, was almost entertaining to him. The turns were nearly all T-intersections, and he always chose the right direction of the two. It was one of the many advantages of the way Cretala thought.
The alleys around him blurred, the turns snapped away and were forgotten, and he was almost out of danger when he ran into an unhappy-looking rhydon. He'd been doing so well. Mr. Tarks himself was standing a few feet behind, looking very dissatisfied by his recent entertainment.
He narrowed his eyes. “You rigged this.”
Cretala looked around. He'd stopped and everything was speeding out past him. “Just because I was lucky enough to win a game?”
“Just because you were lucky enough to win the past five games, Cretala.” And so what? What if he'd done something so stupidly obvious? Tarks was not the sharpest tool and, besides, good discretion can always be turned in for a good escape plan. These were thoughts Cretala could no longer seriously entertain.
“OH, ha ha, what a strange little coincidence, did I say coincidence, mistake really, nothing meant by it. You see – ” He trailed off. There was too much to concentrate on, even at the dead of night. He realized it was going to be one of those moments when the world spun around him and spat out too many possibilities out of sheer malice.
“Please don't explain, Anurek Cretala. The last thing you want to do is explain. You can start praying if it makes you feel better.” The unfriendly pokémon were starting to get closer than he liked.
Cretala realized, in a way he somehow had never thought of, that this was it. In a moment he'd be seized without the slightest possibility of survival. Suddenly there was very little to focus on, just his heart beating very fast and the idea that soon it was going to stop.
He looked up without thinking. There were two heavy steel spans laid across the roofs on either side of the thin band of sky. One of them was a solid line crossing the two parallel walls, but the other seemed to have rusted away until it was held up precariously by only one end. In the blackness he could see the outline of a pidgey high above.
“A man can't stay lucky forever, Mr. Cretala,” gloated the one with the bodyguards. There was more money on Cretala than what he'd filched off Tarks.
Cretala's hunted look vanished very suddenly when he heard the thunk of talons landing on an unsteady support. The pidgey fluttered off instantly, but a nudge was all it would take. “Oh, I refuse to consider it. I positively block the thought from my mind.”
As the distant but approaching rumble of heavy steel became louder and louder, Cretala began to run. He had a feeling they would be too busy to chase after him. After all, the odds that it hit someone were so close to fifty/fifty.
Down, cross, up, cross.
Four lines and it was made, four lines so identical their pairs were even parallel, four lines repeating endlessly the down, cross, up, cross, four lines that crossed every plane she could see. Of course there was more there than just this shape, but it contained almost everything she had known. The walls were rectangles, with rectangles sometimes cut out. The floors were squares within rectangles within squares in grids. The antibiotics she was told to take every morning were almost perfect rectangles. The tables were rectangles laid on rectangles propped by rectangles... but there were some things even she had to stop thinking of, if only because she might never stop.
“I asked you a question, Aridira Lays.”
She looked up, and quickly looked down. She didn't like seeing human faces — some things you have to bisect to make them repeat! — but she didn't like seeing this human face most of all. The left eye was slightly more hazel than the right eye, and it drove her mad if she let it.
“I can't help it when I do it,” she muttered. She knew the woman had only taken the severe tone to coax something, anything, out of her, but she'd seen behind that concerned-adult act a slight cringe of dislike. Why did grownups think one thing and do another thing? She knew no one liked how long and twisting her name was, that was why everyone gave her a nickname, even though she always thought the nicknames were inferior.
“Oh, Arrie,” the woman's expression softened, while the girl's expression hardened slightly at the diminutive, “I know you can't.” The girl mouthed, as if to properly complete the woman's sentence, “...help it when you do it.”
The fake bronze nameplate on the desk between the two said “COUNSELLOR: Carrenie Cisalla”. It was a hatable word because it tried to repeat but somehow failed, and also for other reasons Aridira didn't want to think about.
Why did they think she needed a counsellor? She knew she definitely didn't need a counsellor. They thought that if they found someone who didn't exactly repeat what they were used to, they had to change her. They were the irregular ones, they were used to all the wrong things. Try keeping a ticking clock in your head for weeks after you hear it, she wanted to say but didn't.
“What's so wrong with me?” she said, and didn't wait for the counsellor to hurry with 'Nothing's wrong with you.' “I'm getting all the right grades, aren't I?” And I'm saying all the right things and I'm doing all the right things. “Top marks in Geometry.”
“That's right, Arrie, you're doing wonderfully in your scores,” she said with slow, infuriating gentleness, “it's just that...”
“Yeah!” she said impatiently, cutting past her sentence. “What else do you want?”
“It's not just what we want, it's what you want for yourself. You should live every moment like it's your last. I know we tell you to concentrate on your studies and responsibilities and future, but that can't be everything in your life.”
Aridira stopped listening. The woman went on when she received no reply, but it was just background noise. There were better things to think about.
The ceiling was a pattern of white square tiles that she knew she'd seen somewhere. She tried to concentrate, but she couldn't remember where. The counsellor had pulled her out of the beat of her thoughts, that steady patter.
“I'm told you're never doing any of the things that your classmates do to have fun. In your free time you sit down and watch everyone else.” Her tone was the tone that said: There's something very wrong with this. Where had she seen the ceiling style? Square tiles, white plywood, white cameras, camera film on a steel rack, racks of... Obviously there's nothing wrong! What's wrong is the way you're thinking, and the way it creeps into my thoughts.
Camera film on steel racks, racks of groceries. It was the provision mart, only stores and public buildings had that kind of ceiling. “What makes you happy, Aridira? What do you do to have fun?”
The paint and probably the material were different, but the shape was exactly the same here as in the mart. Beauty makes me happy, Mrs. Cisalla, she didn't say. Patterns of repetition, cleanly following laws so simple that their existence is perfection. Can you even imagine something like that? “Fun, Mrs. Cisalla?” she did say. “I don't need such a little thing.”
“That's just it, my dear! You don't think you need happiness at all!”
Aridira didn't bother to show her exasperation. The front wall of the ground floor of the mart was made of glass panels, and the glass panelling was close enough like the wooden panelling on the office's walls. Sunshine came through her little window like sunshine came through the mart at evening time.
It's not supposed to be wood, she thought. Wood is wrong for this kind of rectangle. Wood was just layers on layers, parallel lines, but sometimes wood spun itself into something complicated and knotted. Well, she knew how the lines would run along glass windows when something was spilled against them, and she knew how knots would form in coffee cups when sweetener was poured into them. Somehow in the mart, past or future, this way or that way, was everything that the wood was. Glass was clear as air, but it was as much there as water was. She could see the crystal-smooth liquid in the little jug on the table, and she could see the world passing through the window as if it wasn't there. Right here in this office, in the present precisely, where she was and where she could see, was everything that the glass was.
The universe was just like a kaleidoscope. Each bit of it was exactly like everything else, each bit only broke from its patterns if you skewed it with your eyesight. But if you looked carefully...
Mrs. Cisalla was talking, so apparently involved in her disapproval of Aridira that she barely noticed the flash of light that passed over her face. The girl looked sidelong at the panelled wall and saw, like an optical illusion momentarily disappearing, a flash of the playground outside shining through thin glass.
The lines were the splashes, the knots were the sweetener swirls, the clearness was of water and the transparency was of the window — and suddenly each was a perfect copy of the other.
The counsellor screamed, breaking Aridira nearly out of her reverie. Why did the old woman have to lose it now of all times? She had almost missed the last details, she had just missed it, there was something to be done with the knots of wood, there was something that had not been done...!
“I forgot the rivets keeping the glass together!”
It was just as well that, as she had noticed, the glass panels in the mart were inclined slightly outward. What had become of the outer wall of the counsellor's office fell out into the pavement two stories below, where no one particularly heard the glass shatter.
Mrs. Cisalla began hysterically and ineffectually to thrust her own ideas of reality on basic eyewitness. Aridira ignored her; she was suddenly very entertained. Something told her being astonished at this moment was the last thing the pattern demanded.
Delighted sounded more acceptable.
Here at the centre he was anchored to everything and nothing together.
No, no. That was hardly true, that was... overambition. It was acceptable that he comprehended both sides of existence, but how much did that mean? He looked down at the fluid symbols he'd drawn into the sand. Was it safe to say... He considered their surging lines, their profound undertones and lofty conceptions.
Yes. There was power in the words he had made, of some strangely understood kind. This much he could say with authority. Why couldn't he convince the others of it?
Fryasta settled a little further into the sand. He disliked the kadabra of his tribe. They'd built authorities of their own, of course, illuminated the righteous path of enlightenment by calling everything else vulgarity. He was on the fringe; he wasn't a part of them; he often thought about humans. They weren't quite so omniscient that they could mistake, let's say, a living tree for the sum of its lifeless parts. Then they were also devoid of psychic abilities of any kind, so how could they see it as a means to achieving anything? What remained would be seeing the tree as just a tree, the real tree, the perfect abstract idea of a tree. Was this part of enlightenment? He looked down. It was self-evident in the words. What was his business with enlightenment, anyway? He decided to disdain both kadabra and human. All that remained was the words.
A cold wind was blowing from the sea; it was unusually strong and erratic. This evening was darker than he was used to at this time of day. Had fall come so quickly? That was unlikely; but ennui kept him from turning to watch the sky where it met the sea.
They hadn't understood the words. He'd ascended to kadabra form earlier than usual, almost in his childhood years, and he'd done it... imperfectly wasn't the word, just their twisted conception of it. Let's see... how was psychic ability characterised by their standards? The mind of a kadabra is like a prehensile hand — at once the most sensitive and dexterous of instruments. With it they reach out and, understanding more of the world, begin to expand the scope of their minds. In times of danger it is what manipulates enough of reality to protect them from harm.
One who could not take this earliest of steps into what (it seemed and could not seem otherwise) remained the very act of being a kadabra was a cripple. The word was absolute, it could not be turned false or twisted, even though it was the most crooked of all. A crippled body is a handicap; a crippled soul is a deep lasting inadequacy.
That was the verdict of his society. It was one way to find certainty, he supposed. Repeated, reaffirmed, passed down through so many layers of tradition, it could start sounding absolute to anyone. But he'd fought it well, he'd worked towards his own unknown feelings of absoluteness. The words had taught him tenacity as he learned to seek out the footholds that were still dark to him. He'd survived. He'd never lifted a pebble with his mind.
Words: modes of communication for most non-psychics; call-signs for most concepts the mind can comprehend; hubs of sensation for sight, sound, texture—smell, taste, pleasure, pain—joy, sorrow, good, evil, every block of the structure of the inner universe; fundamental particles of existence itself: essential and atomic. Words: the accessory to both power and learning for the psychic mind. For his mode, he had done this: he'd slashed out the literal phonetic systems of script available to him, and replaced them with representations of the abstract meanings of each word. Then he'd refined the strokes he had just created until they ceased being mere representations. For today's engagement, he had done this: he'd laid out several of these on the section of shoreline he'd restricted himself to, arranging at the large scale but still creating no greater than a narrative of the universe. This was not a major project, after all.
It would be erased in the high tide.
He paused in his forward sweep to consider this fact. Night was falling quickly, casting a few lonely shadows over the grey sand. There was a slight darkening near the sea's horizon. There was uncertainty.
Fryasta's mind groped in pitch dark, like all of his kind. Occasionally, briefly, he would feel the vague intimation of a shape: but never a glimmer of light. What was the truth of his words? What was their greatness, what their mediocrity? What would be their impact on the world, what their purpose in the higher structure? What was their span of existence, what their mortality? Fryasta would never know this. While he remained mere kadabra, he would never see a particle outside the fogged sphere of his life.
Now darkness fell with a peal of thunder (the traditional way). Fryasta snapped to attention, something like panic rushing over his scan of the now hostile horizon. The idea of the storm, planted by vague signs in his mind from long ago, suddenly discovered itself. Livid clouds had progressed dangerously close to him; he should lose more than a few writing tools if he was caught in the deluge.
Great Original, how much had he lost through his misadventures with kadabra authority? They bullied in ways Fryasta had never imagined. (Chisels, set of five: was he perfectly sure he had brought no other tools outside?) Cripples were taken as a matter of course to be fundamentally lower than true kadabra; it was no scorn or disdain but something deeper in the consciousness. (The symbols he'd etched into the shore would be washed away; he considered their intrinsic value and decided he would lose nothing by it. Of the fundamental principles of language carved into cave walls further inside, the water could do very little, he trusted.) Without some inner source of purpose a cripple's mind could suffocate in the cloud of other's beliefs thrown about him; without a calling quite beyond the social order, you could find you had put on (as Fryasta did) layers upon layers of unconscious self-loathing.
Self-loathing, and no milder: he knew its stench as it hung over his familiar urges towards health, and towards life. (He could still sprint to the nearest cave opening in time; his legs were not yet so incompetent.) Every struggle held over it, from beginning to end, the question of its worth. If he convinced himself of the answer, the question remained; if he proved it to everyone the question remained; if the question was satisfied it still remained. Inside the cave: it remained to see whether this alone would be safe or if higher ground was necessary; but now his self-preservation was beginning to fatigue. It followed him if he tried to escape, sometimes taking guises, sometimes nearly dropping its original with a flash of a more hideous countenance.
Why raise these guises now? His running was vain; the water would find him however deep he withdrew. Death was the monster's name, death behind the uncertainty and impotence. Would he run, could he run from the Storm-Blast tyrannous and strong? Death shadowed the whole span of his existence, shadowed and consumed it. Death was a beast of lashing wind and frigid water, and it could follow him into the deepest burrow or destroy it. There was nothing left for him...
...but what he had not yet found.
He stopped; he turned to face the wind. He was in a lower chamber, into which he had carved some signs of purification. He did not remember running here; it didn't matter. He was in – he was somewhere deep within, where the rocks and caves and even the wind and water were his own. The world was frozen in place as it sought to engulf him: this moment had he taken out of time.
The etchings on the walls glowed not like coals that burned to ashes, nor like silver that tarnished nor gold that corrupted, but pure thought, fevered and brilliant. He had nothing on him now: no shelter, no protection, no telekinesis to bar the waves, no breath or strength left in his bones to run, no tool but the chisel still clutched in his hand. He was cleansed of what had never mattered, and the persistent illusion that it ever had.
Iscrarta: the word rose up from him, purer than he had ever refined it. Water was the medium of this beast his mind had raised from inner dread and outer danger; through water the fourth word iscrarta flowed, like dye mixing into ink. Fryasta's delusions of mortality were shaken off with the ease reserved to such veils. Fear, danger, dread, uncertainty, were all ideas so feeble that he did not notice their departure. Death was a transformation: if he so chose he could complete it.
Alyvarui escaped from him, and swirling out to his rude sketches on the cave walls, the third word liberated from them their fundamental ideas. Pure concept should always have remained concept; tying it down to physical shapes and sounds was a temporary inconvenience. The words flowed now directly into his understanding, forgetting their imperfect vehicles.
There was more to this insight, however. As the words broke free of the limited and erroneous logic he had used to make sense of them, they revealed more perfect modes of organisation. For a moment he saw endeavours beyond the struggle with an imperfect medium that had marked genius before him. Countless thinkers had failed to reduce psychic ability to its most fundamental basis; he realised they had never seen it from this perspective. Fryasta understood it and transcended it. Absolute truth was in his hands; he neglected it, seeking something higher.
Ukkriastëa was the second word of fire: from the black ashes it drew out purity. And now intimations of sensations came to him, so bright and incomplete that he forgot the dark cave about him: skies an impossible shade of blue; a mind; a world bold and new, with powers still left to scale and depths still left to fathom; an entity absorbed in playfulness; processes and insights running too quickly through his mind to explore; an entity – a world – a mind and universe of – what?
Ravansha, the first word, arose from the confusion. The idea took hold of him even as he grasped it. Softly, but swiftly, creation began to bloom within him.