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|This story depicts a youth burdened with the hopes of a mythic city, all residents of which believe him to be the god they worship simply due to his appearence.||
As A God
The city was a maze of tall stone walls and wrought iron gates. The cobblestones were rough, but well cared for, yet moss grew up the walls in the older regions where the gates were marked with rust and the hinges creaked. Regardless of the rust and moss, however, it was here that the most magnificent of houses and temples lay. Here the wealth of the city rested. Behind the tall, vaulted windows and thick velvet draperies slept the men and women who held sway over a world of others, their heads lolled to one side and their lips parted as they whispered words which made sense only to dreamers.
The city was Karagin, the capital of a nation similarly named, and was then of mythic proportions. It housed several hundred thousand citizens, presenting so many suburbs that it was impossible to find the defining lines between where one ended and the next began. The original walls around the city no longer held its populace and several other stone walled rings had been built over the years, though only the outermost perimeter was guarded and that sparsely so. In fact, the nation of Karagin had been at peace for over three centuries and though it kept an active armed force, that force was best known for breaking up drunken brawls and apprehending inept thieves.
The day had begun with steel-tinted rain thundering from the heavens and casting a shadow across a city that should have lightened hours earlier. The clouds were huge, dark and threatening, and too close to the ground; each foot showered sheets of water upon the buildings below. Thunder shook the windowpanes, and lightning blinded the otherwise dark alleys and shadowed doorways. It was a truly awe-inspiring storm, the like of which was seen rarely and preferably from the confines of a shelter. However, this storm found many people who could only wish for such a haven. Their footfalls thundered down the slim empty passages, over bridges and down alleys, constantly splashing through puddles of muddy rainwater.
One such set of footsteps, more hurried than the others, bore the soft clapping accompaniment of wooden sandals, each tread clattering against the cobble stones though it was a small disturbance next to the screaming thunder overhead. The tall, slim figure claiming these steps ran through the rain with his cloak flailing behind him while pulling the hood close over his head. His clothes, hair, and skin were soaked by the heavy rain, and silvery droplets dripped down his chin and cheeks and onto his lips where he attempted to ignore his heavy, laboured breaths. He was a sad sight, this cowled fugitive, hardly as impressive as he might have been had not the rain and wind so attacked him.
His named was Seioah.
He was the god of Karagin and its people.
He blinked, savoring the reprieve from wakefulness which his closed eyes presented. It would have been wonderful to rest just then and perhaps he would have, had he not been chased so persistently by the city guard. They closed in upon him, seemingly hundreds of them and all looking for the dark-clad figure who faced a storm others hid from. But he had little choice other than to face it, though if he were the god they chased perhaps this storm wouldn’t have been so bad.
“I am no god, there is no god, there is no one…” he repeated these words over and over again, mumbling them quietly though he wished to shout. “…you are no god, so you must escape through your own device…think!…”
It was true. The god of the people of Karagin was a false god, though few knew this fact and none but he would claim the truth of it. He had no especially grand powers, no abilities to grant wishes or hear prayers, and he would live and die even as a man did. His only redeeming quality, that which held him to the golden throne, was his appearance.
Take away the cloak and rain, and he was a tall youth, slim and well proportioned. His face was strong and welcoming, his lips soft and pale yet generous, while his nose was small and delicate. His cheekbones were high and well defined, and his forehead broad and marked with several deep lines which reflected an intelligent attitude towards life. It was his eyes and hair which were most startling however, as they were so entirely unique. His eyes, large and beautiful, were outlined by heavy black lashes which offered a veiled look across their violet depths. It seemed, when one looked within these two surreal mirrors, that they caught the light too easily, were too bright, that they saw what might have been seen only by the highest of kings, the most powerful of gods. And within this boy’s face they seemed to animate marble; for so he seemed, his skin so pale his dark blue veins stood in marked contrast against it, and his hair, which fell about his face in continuous disarray, was a silky, glimmering silver.
He had the exact countenance of the Karagian god, though he himself was only a man.
He paused at a door beneath which shone a pale light and knocked lightly upon it, wondering at how the sound seemed to echo a thousand times over in the small doorway . “Hello! Please, I need help!” he called, speaking in the loudest whisper he thought safe. The soldier’s heavy footsteps splashed nearer.
He heard voices behind the door, and then it was pulled open an inch and a man looked out on the street. “What do you want?”
Seioah sobbed with relief. “Shelter, Sir. Only that. The city guards seek me, though I have done nothing wrong, and I seek a place to hide and rest until I may escape the city.”
The man scowled. “And bring their wrath upon my doorstep? Hardly. Go away!”
He attempted to slam the door, but Seioah stubbornly held it open, imploring the man to help him. “Please, I only seek refuge until the storm abates. Nothing more. Surely—”
“Surely you don’t believe me stupid enough to allow a fugitive into my home and amongst my children! Your own actions have caused your ruin, now face them and be gone from my doorway!”
“I have nowhere to go, Sir. I beg you, let me stay only a moment to catch my breath and warm my hands. Please…” he sobbed, searching the merchant’s angry face for a sign of compassion. He found none, however, and the man pushed the door closed and threw the lock as Seioah continued to stand with his arm raised against the wood, water streaming down his forehead and blurring his vision.
“This way!…” a voice hissed from behind him.
He saw a flicker of movement, the shallow break of light quickly muffled, and the creak of a door as it was pushed open. He followed the sound to an opening several feet into the alley of the next closest building, a rotten piece of wood entirely prepared to fall from its hinges. “Come in, come in! Don’t dawdle and allow the light to show, or surely we’ll be found!”
He ducked through the partially open door, closed it quickly behind him and deftly threw the lock, though what little good it could be was beyond his comprehension. His eyes took a moment to adjust to the brightly lit room, which was hot and flooded by flickering candlelight. The smell of spices was heavy in the air, of basil and thyme and undertones of cinnamon, however the room was sparsely filled and it appeared these smells must have come from beyond where he stood. This room, marked by a wooden table at its centre with two chairs and various objects set upon it, was small and had a fireplace in the corner. There was a dusty painting on the far wall, nothing special and not done with any particular skill though it appeared very old. In addition, there was a pile of rags in one corner which might have served as a bed if the owner so wished, and upon the far wall a very plain tapestry partially hid an opening. It was clean however, the floors swept and the rugs free from dust and soot—in the fireplace burned fresh, almost green logs.
“Thank you,” he said gratefully, turning to the gnarled old woman whose home he had been welcomed into, though unconsciously he pulled his cowl farther forward over his head.
“Oh, take that thing off, would you? It’s dripping all over my floors,” she demanded sternly. She was a short woman, thin as most peasants were, though not emaciated. She seemed, in fact, to do well for herself; her cheeks were touched with red and when she spoke he could see that her teeth, though not straight, were well cared for. She wore what he had first assumed to be rags, however he now realized they were in fact average clothes covered with a blanket which she still held over her shoulders, presumably to keep out the cold, and her hands appeared to be afflicted by some ailment which made them stiff and slow. He guessed her age to be around sixty. Old though not ancient, her movements were quick and sure and she smiled readily. “Well, off with the cloak, M’boy. I don’t plan to steal it, if that’s what you’re thinking. We’ll let it dry over the hearth.”
He hesitated, his hands to the cords which held it around his neck, yet he couldn’t bring himself to loosen them. He had seen how others reacted to his face, seen the awe, and then the fear come over them. Every man wished to speak with his god, but none wished to be so near to him when they did so.
“Come now, you’re creating a puddle on my floor. Surely your face can’t be so ugly as these wrinkles have made me, and your voice sounded young so you’ll provide no scare to this old lady,” she approached and held out her hands patiently.
Resigned, he tugged the cords and dropped the cloak and hood into her outstretched arms in a single motion, looking to the floor rather than see the change her face would reflect upon seeing him. She took the cloak, turned abruptly and crossed to the hearth where she hung it on a wooden peg in the wall.
“Thank you,” he whispered softly.
“No need to thank me, young man. In fact, I’d be quite happy if you escaped this city and never returned. We’ve been too long in the thrall of corruption and its about time that ended, though I do believe that before recovery can begin to occur the false god must be far from our borders—”
He looked up suddenly. “You know?”
“Oh certainly. Certainly, M’boy. I’ve been around much longer than you have, seen many things this government has attempted to make the people believe. You’re one of the better ones, I’ll admit, but you are no god,” she chuckled, then coughed. “A god is more than a face and a smile. He’s a presence, something undeniably powerful and unearthly—you are neither. You are simply a lost little boy in a field of would-be believers.”
“Not so much lost as trapped,” Seioah corrected. “Trapped and attempting to escape my gilded cage.”
“Aw, well good luck to you in that endeavour, Child. It appears that you will have very little help in accomplishing such an escape.”
“Indeed,” he sighed.
She drew one of the chairs close to the fire and motioned him into it, frowning as she considered handing him a blanket in spite of the water still streaming off his clothes. “It would appear,” she said finally with a deepening frown, “that your vestments are also in need of being dried, though I’m not entirely sure how this might be accomplished while you continue to wear them.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, quickly and honestly. “I hadn’t meant to inconvenience you—”
“Oh, pish-posh! You certainly meant to inconvenience someone, pounding on the door as you did. Now let me see if I can’t find something for you to put on while your clothes dry, and perhaps then you might want to lay by the fire and rest for a time,” she replied. He nodded, not trusting himself to words, and watched her duck behind the tapestry and out of sight.
The flames flickered merrily in the hearth, licking up towards the chimney then dancing back towards the floor. They seemed to cackle as they consumed their rations, preforming for their singular audience. Fastidious, these flames were, but happy.
“You’ll have to make do with these for the time being, Child, though I don’t imagine your clothes will take long to dry,” the old woman said, pushing a pair of trousers and a heavy blanket into his hands. “They were my husband’s years ago and haven’t been used for I don’t know how long, but the blanket should keep you warm enough.”
“Thank you,” he smiled shyly, glancing around the room and wondering where would be best to change.
“Oh don’t be so bashful,” she laughed. “I raised two boys and certainly won’t see anything I haven’t already, however if you’d like I’ll retire to the next room while you change and rest.”
Seioah blushed. “Thank you,” he repeated, not meeting her gaze. He watched her leave, then with quick motions stripped and drew on the old pants, tying the strings at the top tight as the waste was several sizes too large. He hung his wet clothes on several other pegs near the fire, warming his hands as he did so. He could hear shouts outside, though very faintly, and the rain continued to pummel the city without mercy. He was safe for the moment, until they started knocking on each door and rousing the occupants. Though the merchant whose door he had first knocked upon hadn’t seen where he had gone, he was sure the man would identify him and then it was only a matter of time.
But he was so tired. He’d been running for what seemed like an eternity, and the warm fire and blankets and even the spicy scent in the air caused his mind to reel and made it very easy for him to stretch out before the blaze and close his already drooping eyes. It was very easy not to care for a time, to simply let the world turn without him.
Oblivion wasn’t an altogether unlikely place for Seioah to find himself, his mind and body being so tired they hardly wished to recreate anything resembling the real world. It was peaceful here. Very still, though not entirely quiet.
“My name is Seioah as well, you know,” a voice said softly in the absolute darkness, forming as it spoke a landscape of indiscriminate colours and shapes.
Seioah watched, realizing suddenly that this voice had been speaking for some time, though he hadn’t noticed it before. However he was quite aware now, and surprised that he remained floating in the vibrating oblivion after having acknowledged it as a place shaped by his mind. “Were you named after a god as well?” he queried in a soft, emotionless voice.
“The pronunciation of my name is a little different, however,” the voice continued, not seeming to pay heed of him. “Seaoa, not Seioah.”
“Who are you?”
“Seaoa,” the voice answered offhandedly, as though his thoughts had continued though he no longer spoke them. “Good name, that is. Has a lovely sound to it.”
“It’s the name of a god, you know.”
“Oh, it would be, wouldn’t it? A name well fitted for worship.”
“Have you ever met the god Seioah?” Seioah asked softly, looking at what he could see of his ethereal form somewhat sadly. “They say I look like him.”
“Aw, to be given the beauty of a god is a great boon, is it not? I imagine you must be very happy to be so endowed.”
Seioah shook his head slowly, flinching as the movement caused his hair to fall into his eyes. “I’ve never met him. I don’t know if we actually look alike.”
“Would you want to? Meet him, I mean. Perhaps your namesake wouldn’t live up to what pedestal you’ve placed him upon.”
“I don’t think he exists,” Seioah answered, quickly rather than thoughtfully. “If he did, he would have saved me long ago.”
“Saved you?” the voice mused. “You’re in need of saving then? I hadn’t imagined such was the fact when first you spoke. From what are you in need of rescue?”
Seioah laughed bitterly. “Many things, life being the least of them.”
“Life? Aw, life. Ever the problematic child. And yet I should imagine that fate had dealt you a very beneficial hand, seeing as you live in the image of your god.”
He sighed. “But I live the life of a false god. I’m not free to be who I am and even if I were, I think that anyone I met would rather speak to a god than a man.”
“A hasty judgement, my young friend. It reflects the curse of youth as ever I have see it.”
Seioah frowned. “The curse of youth? What is that?”
“Naiveté.” The voice laughed in his lovely, mellow tones. “Naiveté is the curse of youth, even as wisdom is the curse of age—we are forever wise enough to solve past mistakes, and yet unable to do so.”
“But what makes my belief naïve?” he asked, his frown deepening.
“The fact that no person truly wishes to speak to a god. You must know that. Most are happy with their presumptions and unreachable dreams. They don’t want to be told that what they have known for so long as fact is nothing more than an incorrect supposition which has merely lead mankind astray. They don’t want their safety net removed so that oblivion is left so close and watchful.”
“But what of all the answers that same god could provide? Those alone would be invaluable, even when faced with oblivion.”
“Answers to what though? Your god lives even as you do, what answers could he provide which you might not eventually provide yourself? Only death is left blind to your all-knowing god, and for as long as he lives he may not answer you what lies in that fearsome oblivion.”
Seioah remained silent for a time, considering fear and eventually what he feared. He feared heights, at times when a precipice was too close and a heavy wind blew too strongly in his face. He was afraid of falling from a horse as he had when he was very young, death, but then everyone was afraid of that, the bite of a snake, and— “…what if I’m afraid of life, Seaoa? Can I be afraid of living and be afraid of death at the same time?”
A weighty silence fell, heavier than most simply because of the darkness and the slowly fading colours which their voices had evoked throughout the conversation. However, it wasn’t a silence linked to tension or unease but rather one which was undeniably sad and hopeless; a silence which reflected Seioah’s heart, though it hardly ached as he himself did, and neither was it so close to the brink of something utterly indefinable and terrible upon which he was sure he stood. He held his breath, waiting for an answer and praying over and over again that it would be the warm, comforting hand upon his shoulder which he so desired: a solution to his misery.
Seaoa finally answered, his voice heavy with the importance of what it attempted to convey, but more with the hope that what was conveyed would be understood. “You may fear life as you may fear death, it is true, however you should never allow your fear of life to hinder your living of it.”
“But why? Why shouldn’t it hinder my life?”
He sighed. “Life, first and foremost, must be feared for—above and beyond death—because you have only one life which you may imagine and live, yet a million deaths which may greet you at any moment. But at the same time, within all the reasons you fear death, and there may be a great number of these, lie the answers to why you should want to live. Life is fearsome because you know it and death because you don’t, but death is inevitable and life only a possibility. The only way to fight your fear of life is to live and meet what you encounter therein. That meeting—that is what matters, not what occurs before or afterwards. That is where you live, in the meeting of the present with the moment, and that is where fear is fought. And you must fight, Seioah, because regardless of your fear you have a single opportunity before you which you will never have the chance to regret if you let it pass you by.
“Life must be lived in order to be appreciated, and though you may fear it from afar you cannot experience it so. You may always fear for life, however you may fear and live in the same moment, not giving up one for the other.”
“Fear and live, just as I may fear and die,” Seioah mused quietly to himself, then smiled. “It’s such an easy answer, isn’t it? That I may value something, make use of it, and still fear for its existence. I suppose you’re right, though I don’t know if I’ll be able to follow your advice.”
“Aw, yes. Recognizing good advice and making use of it are two entirely different things, Seioah. But you’re young yet, and I’m sure you have a great deal of time to come to a beneficial conclusion about your own actions.”
The stillness returned once more, and this time Seioah simply let himself drift, not thinking or considering but simply allowing his mind to rest. For an instant, several instants in fact, he was free of the worries and concerns which had plagued his life for as long as he knew. He glided through the shapeless darkness, finding a restfulness within it which he was grateful for. However, he wasn’t entirely ungrateful to be drawn free of it when the time came.
|The Upside-Down Palace - Part 1||Foresight: An Interview|
|The Coda||As A God - Part Three|