Author's note: I initially wrote Heaven to compete in a competition, but I didn't make the deadline. I wanted to... Show full author's note »
HeavenThe boy sat down next to me and stared at the snow slowly covering up our feet as we waited. We waited for long, but neither of us knew what we were waiting for, until it hit us. In the face. It turned out to be a woman. She was yelling at us in a language we didn’t understand. We looked at each other.
My cheek still hurt as the boy and I walked down the street. Seems he had nowhere to go either. His company was good; it kept me walking even though I felt like I was going to collapse any
The sun had set and the snow continued falling. My feet were starting to feel warm. The boy next to me was humming to himself. The night fell silently but it instantly killed all the noise coming from both the nymphs and the river. Darkness surrounded us, but I wasn’t afraid. The boy’s company made me feel strangely reassured. As if nothing could happen to me as long as he was there. The stars came out to oversee the world, but the moon stayed hidden. With a voice clear and sharp as crystal, the boy sang. It was a fluid song, which calmly drifted into the night, into the river, mixed with the dark and the water and brought it to life. It was a song I knew, a song I used to sing. He was from where I was from, no doubt. It wasn’t long before a second voice joined his, a softer one, a lower, heavier one. It seemed to come from underneath us. And then a third, high-pitched, a fourth, loud. Soon, I couldn’t even count them anymore, and I sighed. Not because I was irritated, or disappointed. I sighed because I felt so calm all of a sudden. It seemed ages ago, the last time I heard singing like this. But no matter how much I enjoyed it, I didn’t sing. I swore not to.
Slowly, I rose to my feet and spread my arms. With caution not to hit or hurt anything, I put my right foot forward, bending backwards with my arms still spread like wings. Left foot followed, arms rising. Where I came from, it was not unusual to sing, or talk, or shout. But dancing, that was considered divine. Not many people were able to. The only person who could before he taught me, was my father. The movements weren’t hard to remember, it’s the rhythm that’s tricky. The songs of where I came from where known for their complex rhythm, and there were lots of things that made it even harder. If there had been music, you could have followed its beat, but we didn’t have any music. All we had were voices.
As I picked up the pace and the turns and falls were starting to fall together with the ever faster getting song, someone lit a bonfire. All around me stood people watching, people singing, people listening. Were they all from where I came from? The boy was standing next to the bonfire, leading the singers with his crystal voice. The Eternal Song some called it. And it was, in more than one way. It could be sung throughout eternity without ever ending. It would never be forgotten.
Till deep in the night I danced, they sang, they watched, they listened. But at some point, for no particular reason, people left. The voices died out and only the boy continued, his voice cutting the black silken sky dotted with diamonds. I danced, he sang. Just before dawn, I fell down and asleep with his voice in my heart. I never felt so peaceful.
It was early afternoon when I woke up to a fierce blazing sun. It hurt my eyes, but I didn’t close them. The world was gorgeous. Though the sun was burning up and the clouds had disappeared, the river had frozen in a beautiful pattern, and the snow had not yet melted. I was lying in a pile of snow, covered with leaves and branches. The boy lay next to me, staring at the sky. When I sat up, he followed. After sitting there aimlessly for some time, the boy opened his mouth and spoke. For some time I stared at him before realizing I could actually understand him. I frowned: what was it he had just said? He smiled and repeated: “Hey.”
“Hi.”, replied I, it felt strange to talk after being silent for such a long time. Strange, but good. It was the first word I had spoken since I left where I came from. And it was the last word I spoke that day. The boy and I crossed the river and started to walk through the forest on the other side. The sunlight had scorched most of the flowers growing here, and only the toughest bushes had survived the snow and heat. Surprisingly, some nymphs were still out. They glided past us, leaving no traces or prints in the fresh slush that was starting to replace the creaking snow.
We spent the night at the place we stopped when we didn’t feel like walking anymore. The next morning when I opened my eyes, the boy was already up. He was looking at my face. Slowly, as if not to scare me, he reached out to me and patted my head. He smiled and whispered: “Hey, you know what?”
“What?” whispered I back.
“Let’s find Heaven.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean it’s unacceptable.”
“This tree, that river, those people…this whole world is unacceptable.” The bearded man motioned to the spinning globe in his hands. The woman at his feet shrugged: “What’s so unacceptable about it?”
“Everything! The people are alive, but they don’t live! They have no purpose, like the nymphs. The only humans truly alive are the ones that are not supposed to. Just how much longer should I keep this world up?”
“Calm down, fool. Let’s wait and see. I’m certain there’s some good leisure waiting for us just ahead. Relax, please.” The woman got up and pushed the man gently back in his chair: “Sit down; I’ll get you something to eat.”
We didn’t know where Heaven was, or what it was. Apparently it wasn’t easy to find. But three days after our quest had started, the boy smiled: “Look.”
I nodded. There was a sign. The road we had been walking up 'til now had come to an immediate finale. The abyss at our feet dropped down to an end that was clouded with darkness. But it wasn’t normal darkness, not the kind you would expect in a ravine like this one. It looked fake. I knew it was fake. I felt it was fake. The boy next to me looked down and grabbed my hand. We took a deep breath and stepped off the cliff. The fall was long and the wind was ferocious, but we kept holding onto each other, as if our hands were fused tight together. The strange thing was, we never hit the ground. At some point we just stopped falling. It was almost like the blackness repelled us. The boy pointed down, and I looked to see what he meant. The blackness had taken on a form. A gigantic form: pitch-black feathered, razor-sharp fanged, and nightmare-like build. It was truly horrifying, but still its beauty took my breath away. So this was what they called Anguish. I wasn’t afraid; the boy’s calm aura was wrapped around me so tight I didn’t even have enough air to get stressed out. The only thing that worried me in the slightest was that we had found the wrong realm. With Anguish at its gates, this could not be Heaven. This was in all likelihood Hell.
The boy stood up and helped me on my feet, then he started walking up the backbone of Anguish. We walked for what seemed an hour before we reached its head. And its eyes…its eyes were…
We stood in awe, on the tip of its nose, just watching its eyes. They were open and looking back at us. Not entirely at us, though. They were almost looking through us. We were nothing to this monster. Just two specks on its slowly rising and dropping nostrils. Its breathing was calming, so serene. But this was Anguish, and we both could not help but feel a little uncomfortable. Just a little, on the edge of our consciousness. It fretted, it gnawed, it…warned. But we didn’t listen. We were captivated. We were imprisoned by Anguish. Anguish didn’t move. Motionless, it stared it its nose, as if trying to decide what to do with us. We didn’t move. Motionless, we stared at Anguish, waiting for its decision.
At long last, Anguish shuddered. It was a mighty shudder, throwing us off its nose. Our hands still locked, we fell down into the depths that Anguish guarded.
“You were so right, Ehkiuss. Look at them, this is getting pretty exciting.” the man smiled at the woman, who had just sat down at her place at his feet. Ehkiuss nodded: “I told you so. Just sit back and watch. I foresee much more amusement.”
“I’ll trust you on that.” chuckled the man. But as her master continued to watch, Ehkiuss got up and strolled out of the room, where she collapsed against the wall. That girl…, she thought, how could I not have recognized her? Giune…
We hit the ground before our fall had really started. The shallow crater we left wasn’t very impres-sive. Was this…Hell? The boy jumped to his feet and reached out for me to help me arise. Over our heads stood Anguish. It reached out with its right front leg and brushed us towards a door, which it opened with its talons. The doorway was of massive gold. The door itself was black: blacker than night, even blacker than Anguish. Despite the situation, I smiled. It was black like I’d never seen it before. It was a black that would eat your soul if you stared too long at it. I had not yet turned my eye to the place beyond the door. I only did that when the boy started walked that direction. And again, the horror and beauty took me breath away. Hundreds of millions of candles burned in the endless black space. I could see ceiling nor floor nor walls. It looked peculiarly desolated. Was this really Hell?
The boy stood in the doorway, his toe tips sneaking a look over the edge. He sighed and walked in, pulling me with him. It was a weird, but not completely unpleasant feeling, walking on thin air. I felt free. Together, the boy and I walked again. Past the hundreds of millions of candles, shedding their light into limitlessness. It was stunning, striking, and petrifying. The boy notices my uneasiness and stood still. He smiled a little and hugged me. He whispered softly, but his voice echoed through the shades: “Don’t worry.”
Hell was unexpectedly tedious. It was completely deserted. The hollowness of the place pained me. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who felt that way: the boy next to me didn’t seem unaffected either. The void was consuming our tranquility at a steady pace. I didn’t feel safe anymore. I wanted to leave so badly, but I had no way to express it. This was the first time I was bothered with wanting to convey anything at all. I whispered: “I want to go away from here.”
My words made me shudder; speaking made me feel so vulnerable. The things I said came from inside me, and that is where they should have stayed. The boy stared at me, and for a moment I was afraid he would let go of my hand and walk away without me. The moment lasted for a small eternity, and in that small eternity my heart was ripped out of my chest, shredded, burned and put back into place. But then the boy smiled: “I know. Me too.”
His voice patched my heart back together and soothed it. I let out a relieved sigh, and again I felt uneasy by my own conveyance.
“I told you: don’t worry.” smiled the boy and he wrapped his arms around me. We stood there for some time, but suddenly, the world around us changed. The candles shifted, a sudden draught made their flames flicker, before they all died out in an instant. My heart skipped a beat, but I wasn’t really frightened, because I was still sheltered by the boy’s embrace. His heartbeat fastened, but he kept holding onto me, seemingly not disturbed by what had so suddenly happened. The light coming from the door had long since faded away, and now we were plunged into utmost darkness. Deadly, silent darkness. The darkness would have been fine, though…if it hadn’t started stirring. From deep, deep underneath us, the darkness stirred, and churned. Precipitously, bright blue light frothed from the pits beneath us. Surprised for the first time in eons, I looked the boy next to me, who gazed back with a similar expression in his eyes. His face illuminated by the blue light gurgling underneath, he smiled. But he didn’t just smile, he laughed. The sound of it paralyzed me for a second. It was such a pure, untainted sound. It remembered me of a time I couldn’t recall. A time of freedom and happiness, of sunlight and flowers and the smell of grass. And music, music, beautiful music. Not just voices, but instruments.
It was only for a moment, but it felt unbelievably nostalgic. I longed for a time like that. I wanted that time back. Where had I left it? Before I knew it, my lips were moving and a small sound fled my mouth. It was a strange little sound, but it sounded joyful. It confused me; I didn’t really understand where it came from. But it was a laugh. Gradually, I laughed more and more openly. The boy laughed more clearly as well. The more we laughed, the faster the blue light came to get us. It looked harmful, but it didn’t frighten me. I felt like nothing could frighten me right now.
Rapidly, the blue light came to us. Rising, rising, ever faster, unrulier. The boy stopped laughing and looked at his feet, which were already engulfed. He had a peculiar look on his face, as if he was trying to think of something to compare the feeling to. By the time the light had reached his knees, he nodded slowly: “Nothing…it feels like nothing.”
It had reached me as well, and I noticed he was absolutely right. It felt like nothing. Nothing was eating my body and soul away. Nothing made me slowly disappear. Nothing…was crawling towards my head fast. The boy looked at me, frowning. In the blue light he looked so sweet, almost an imitation. Like a dream filled with impossibilities you wish so much were possibilities. He came closer and embraced me again as, at last, our heads were submerged.
“Ehkiuss, how did you do it?” asked the man, as soon as his pet had returned to her place. Ehkiuss giggled: “What do you mean, do it?”
“I mean how did you hack my world?”
“It was child’s play. Don’t worry; I didn’t change anything fundamental, just some little stuffs to get the story started.”
The man shook his head, entertained: “You never change, do you? I should’ve known this would happen.”
And again, I woke up to a perfect blue sky with a boy next to me who had taught me once more how to laugh, and speak my heart. It didn’t matter where we were. We probably…died. Right? I looked about me. I knew this place. This was where I came from. The boy sat next to me, caressing my hair: “We survived.”
I smiled: “That’s good.”
I nodded: “That’s good…I think.”
The boy nodded as well and helped me up. He pointed down the road: “That’s your way, isn’t it?”
I checked the sign. He was right.
“And you?” asked I, keeping my voice as low as possible. No one was allowed to hear me speak. No one. The boy watched me curiously: “I’ll be going the other way.”
“What about Heaven?”
“What about it?”
“Will we find it?”
“Yes. But maybe some other time.”
We both turned to walk our own road, but with every step I took away from him, my heart became weightier and excruciatingly more painful. I couldn’t stand it, and I turned around, only to see him looking back at me. The sight of him, with the exact racked, hurt look in his eyes encouraged me to walk on, looking over my shoulder every now and then. All the way the small house I used to call home. But home wasn’t home anymore. It felt somehow different. No matter how chock-full it looked and how hectic everyone was, it felt vacant, somewhat hollow. It appeared no one had yet even noticed I had left home almost three months ago, only to return torn up inside.
As soon as the sun had set, I climbed up the roof to gaze at the stars. But the sky was black as An-guish, and no stars were visible at all. This night had a distinctive smell about it. I couldn’t quite place it. It smelled like loss and melancholy, but as reminiscences and joy as well. Sitting tranquil without anything to watch, I started to ponder. And I thought about the forest I could see from my abode high above the village. So I decided to take a walk. I slipped out through the front door and strolled down the road, which was even more forsaken at night. The forest was not very far away. And usually, it was a quiet, dormant area. But not tonight. Tonight there was the distinctive smell. And I wasn’t the only one who had picked up its mysterious fragrance. Some distance away, I could see an unusual kind of small campfire. It looked like a wisp, or a fathom. Feeling strangely fascinated by it, I crept in through the impenetrable shrubberies towards the light. It was the boy. He was lying down, with his face turned away from me. My heart became feather light and my intestines fluttered around inside me, making my slightly queasy. Pleased to be able to be here with him, I walked in his direction, but he didn’t appear to have become aware of me. He was probably asleep. I sat down next to him, and only then I saw the pool of liquid surrounding his figure. In spite of the fire, it was too obscure to see it plainly. It appeared black. Fear is not the best depiction of what I felt that moment. I was scared to death.
“Wake up.”, whispered I. I was certain I had kept my voice small, but it was like I roared from the top of my lungs. I knew for sure the entirety of the region had heard me, except for the boy. He was still sound asleep, or…I kept telling myself this, but deep inside me, an idea utterly unalike had popped up, roaming the distant crypts of my heart, leaving tiny time bombs everywhere it set foot. Disquiet settled in and before I knew it, tears were running down my cheeks. I sniffed a few times before I sensed someone observing me. The person was right behind me, looking at me with shocked eyes, the remainder of his face rigid. Grandfather.
“Ehkiuss”, whispered the man, as though the people of the spinning globe in his large hands were able to hear him: “What is going on? Did you change the laws of this region?”
“No. I didn’t touch the rules. But her granddad is the chief, and she committed a serious crime. He’s not going to let her off easily, despite his love for her. She is his late son’s daughter. She’s a dancer; she’s not supposed to speak. And now a boy from their own village has heard her voice...and killed himself.” Ehkiuss stood up and took a quick fleeting look outside: “It’s about time for the gathering. Will you be going this time? I’ll make proper preparations.”
“No, I’m not going.” the man sighed: “Not today. Not as long as…”
“I understand. I’ll go report to the Realm.”
Ehkiuss left, her footsteps swift, her breath steady. But as soon as she had exited her master’s lodgings she lost it, and broke into a panicked dash. Something was wrong, something was terribly wrong. Her lord and master hadn’t left his quarters in over a year, and hadn’t attended the Realm’s gatherings in over five existences. It was time something changed. This had to stop. But first…Giune!
Grandfather hadn’t allowed it at first, but I begged and pleaded and beseeched him, and in the end he gave me permission to attend the boy’s funeral. I was bound by restraints of the densest steel existing in this world, and my mouth was covered with thick cloth and more steel. I was a dancer. I was the dancer. I was not permitted to let my voice sound. I was forbidden to speak to anyone. But the boy had been an exception. I had spoken to him. And now…now he was gone. According to my grandfather, as he was leading the burial, it was my fault. I had spoken to him, and celestial retribution was bestowed upon him for listening to me. No one bothered to even look my way.
The day before my trial, I felt like the insect colony that had been keeping me company in my cell over the past week had installed itself inside of my body. I was being consumed from inside out, it was a dreadful sensation, but still better than the pure forfeiture I had been feeling up until now. My heart had been throbbing at the places where the presumption of the boy’s death had placed the tiny time bombs. I felt broken and shattered and smashed to pieces. It would have astounded me that my body looked alright, if my mind and soul hadn’t been numbed by the feelings already filling them. I had way too much time to think in this secluded cell and my head was in total disarray. There was no doubt about this all being my fault, but did he really die because of celestial retribution? I couldn’t quite accept it. Even though I had seen Anguish with my very own eyes, I had trouble imagining celestial existences being real. If they had been, why not stop me before I could talk? Why wait until it was too late, and then murder an innocent soul? This specific soul, no less. I just couldn’t grasp the idea.
Just before nightfall, the door to my cell opened, and my grandfather stepped in: “Giune, do you know what you have done?”
I nodded, and bowed my head to show him I was deeply ashamed of myself.
“You can talk now, it’s alright. It’s just me.”, he sat down opposing me. I wavered.
“Please. Let me hear your voice just once more, before I lose you too.”
I looked up, tears had filled up his eyes, and he took a deep breath. I still hesitated, but nodded slowly: “Only…tonight.”
Grandfather smiled relieved: “Only tonight.”
“I have something I need to say.” whispered I. Grandfather looked at me: “What is it?”
“I don’t…want to die. Why didn’t the celestial existences stop me? Why did they…” I couldn’t talk anymore. My heart hurt so bad, I was barely able to breathe. Grandfather sighed and got up: “It wasn’t celestial existences that killed him. It was someone from the village. And I know who it was.”
The shock nearly knocked me out. Grandfather hugged me, and whispered: “It will be alright. You will be just fine, and I will get the individual accountable for all this disorder.”
Then, his strides mighty and lengthy, designating he was very poised about something, grandfather left my cell.
Ehkiuss dashed into the basilica and skidded to a halt: “Realm…”
The being turned around to face her: “Ehkiuss. I know.”
“Yes.”, answered the Realm, and glided closer to the woman. It raised its rune-written arms and extended a finger. At the tip a light started to glow, and the air got filled with the scent of Purpleblossom. The light grew and enclosed Ehkiuss. Then, it disappeared. And Ehkiuss with it.
The pink and orange morning light came all too soon, waking me from my slumber. As the light en-gulfed my cell, I started to sing. I had nothing left to lose. The song was very strangely called the Purpleblossom song, even though it hadn’t got anything to do with it. It was a song I remembered from very long ago. A song made for me. A song that would make anyone who heard it cry. A death song, a lullaby, a serenade and a ballad. It was everything, yet nothing. It was pompous yet selfless, it was innocent and naughty, but above all it was sad. It was pure suffering and sorrow made into melody. Wretchedness and agony forged into words. I sang and sang until the sun had fully risen. Footsteps came and went, until the fateful moment. My cell door opened, and there stood grandfather. I kept singing, softly, gently. The guardians escorting me to the village square tried to keep their faces straight, but two of them couldn’t hold back their tears and were quickly replaced by two others.
The village square was packed with villagers: children, women, men and even animals, wild and domestic, had gathered around the platform where I would most likely meet my end. I was singing. I was composed. I was fearless. But just as I was dragged up the stage, the mood changed. The people had stopped yelling and were now staring at something behind me. Slightly bothered, I turned to look. If there had been anything I had expected, anything at all, it would not have been this.
The man was sitting upright instantly: “What do you think you’re doing, Ehkiuss…?”
He stood up hastily and made his way to the window with brisk steps. He shoved aside the heavy curtains blocking out the sunlight and peeked outside. No sign of life. Not too surprising, considering the fact the gathering was about to be held.
For a moment, the man actually considered attending this time. But before that idea could get its hooks in him too far, he drew the curtains once again and returned to his chair, whispering: “Not yet…not until…”
The woman that had appeared behind me was very strangely dressed. If she had not been wearing these clothes, I would have said she was from around here. Even her face looked familiar, but the recollections were hazy, as though I only had seen her in my first dreams.
“Giune…” whispered she in my ear: “You will come with me. I will bring you home. I will bring you to where you truly belong.”
Her voice brought back remembrances of long gone times, times of feast and delight. Had I ever lived in such times?
The woman took my hands, and without any visible effort she broke the unyielding shackles. No one even tried to stop her as she led me away from the village square, into the woods. She walked the paths with the confidence of someone who had walked them before, the way I walked usually. She led us off the track, off the road to the place I knew to be dangerous. A shrine.
“Giune, do you remember me?” asked the woman when we had arrived at the shrine. I shrugged, not sure what to do. I felt like I had to answer, but I was afraid to do so. What if something happened to her too? But the gnawing feeling of familiarity had grown stronger still, and I started to feel interested for the first time in a while. I was curious where all these faint commemorations came from. The woman smiled: “Do you think you can trust me?”
I nodded. I had nothing to lose. Indisputably nothing. The woman smiled again: “Come, let’s go then. To the world you most belong in.”
The man waited. He stood by the window and watched the light drift by. Horrible place. He shivered and turned away. How long since Ehkiuss had left? Without her, I’m a disgrace, thought he. I don’t even know what time it is.
Suddenly, footfalls announced someone walking down the corridor, their thuds echoing from the iron walls, making it sound like an entire army was marching in. The man ran to his chair and spun it away from the door, forming the only blind spot in the enormous chamber. Catching his breath from the sprint he had just taken, the man sat down and waited. I’m getting too old for this, thought he just before the door was thrown wide-open. The footsteps stopped dead. For a few minutes, both people in the room held their breath. The man in the chair waiting for the person who had just busted into his chambers to identify himself. The person at the door trying to decide what to do. At last, the person spoke. His voice was soft, lisping and seemingly belonged to a young man. But the man who spoke was nothing like that. He stepped closer to the chair as he said: “So this is where you’ve been hiding your pathetic old self…”
“Yes. I like the…peacefulness. How the hell did you find me?”
“Not too hard. Thanks to your pretty…pet, I was able to locate you all the way from Reyui.”
“She went to the Realm.” it wasn’t a question. The guest laughed: “Yes, she did. She went back to virtual world through the shrine, and she left you all alone.”
The man took a deep breath: “Why are you telling me this? What would you get from making me worry about my pet?”
“Oh, but she’s not just your pet anymore, is she now?” the guest smiled foul: “She is so much more than that.”
The bearded man in the chair grinded his teeth: “What are you implying?”
“You know full well what I’m implying. I’m implying your life is as good as over if she were not to return home.”
“What have you done?” asked the man in the chair, breathless with alarm. The guest cackled maniacally: "You really think I would just tell you? First give me what I came here for!”
“By no means. I told you decades ago: the deal is off.”
“Is that your answer? Even if it means you might never see your beloved pet again?” the guest squinted at the back of the chair. The man in it quivered, but succeeded to steady his voice: “Yes. That is my unconditional answer.”
“Then this is farewell. And may I never see your face again…” began the guest.
“…until the day one of our souls leaves this world to roam the celestial paths.” finished the man.
The Pact of Sworn Nemeses.
At some point when I was being led by the hand across a field of long, waving grass, I wished I had just died along with the boy. The woman I was being led by hadn’t told me her name yet, which bothered me slightly. It was when we had reached the small shrine that I stopped, all of a sudden overwhelmed by the craving to remember. The woman turned around: “Is everything alright? Did they upset you?”
I shook my head.
“Did they…do anything to make you feel…uncomfortable?” the woman spoke as if I was a cornered animal. She was watchful, careful not to scare me. I shook my head again, and wished from the bottom of my heart she would make me able to speak, to talk, and to ask about where I belonged. Because I now knew for sure: this was not it. There was nothing that kept me here. The people had forsaken me. Yes, even my grandfather had not tried to stop the villagers from erasing my very existence from this world. And the boy…the only person that I had been able to talk with and the only person I saw as a true person…had passed away.
The woman smiled: “That’s good. Shall we go then? To the place where you belong?”
I hesitated. With the tips of my toes on the doorstep, I hesitated. This was the shrine. The forbidden abode. There was no turning back. The emotions raging through me were unknown to me. They pricked a little, but it was a good pricking. A pricking that promised me something. Something fresh, something new. My hesitation dissolved, I stepped into the shrine. Never had I seen a sight like this.
Trembling, the man made his way to the gigantic library located in the rear of his lodgings. Some-where…somewhere…his thoughts were racing, not a moment resting. His eyes were running up and down the shelves. It had to be here…somewhere…
The creature was moving, but it didn’t look like it should. It didn’t even have enough mass to be registered as a creature in my head. It looked transparent, or better put hollow. Its skin consisted out of dim glowing rotating prose, while its eyes were bright shining rhombuses. It was tall, and skinny, to human standards. I doubted those human standards were valid to compare this being to.
The being turned to face us: “Ehkiuss…and Giune. It’s been such a long time.”
The woman next to me bowed: “Demesne. It’s indeed been long.”
“Don’t bow to me, brave young Ehkiuss. I’ll take you back to the Realm.” the being seemed to smile. Its voice vibrated through my bones. I felt it shiver down my spine and rampage in the core of my soul. Now it directed its attention at me: “And you, Giune. What are you going to do?”
Before I could answer, the being nodded: “I see. Take Ehkiuss hand again. She will guide you through the Nil.”
A little reluctant, I put my hand in the woman Ehkiuss’. The creature extended an arm, if you could call it that. At once, I was blinded by a yellow light. When the light faded, I found myself standing in a large white room. There was not a single trace of Ehkiuss, or of the strange being, or of anything whatsoever. There was no visible door or other exit, nor could I find a window. In a way, it reminded me of Hell…and of…
The sudden pain in my chest forced me down on my knees. Where was everyone? Where was grandfather? Where was the woman, Ehkiuss? Where was the creature, Demesne? Where was…where was...
The suddenly upwelling surge of loneliness took my breath away. The miniature time bombs in the cellar of my heart had run out of time. I was alone. I was all alone. My heart had been shredded, as well as the rest of my body. Every tiny bit of it hurt, burned, ached… And the longing, the longing for a face, for a person, for an embrace. Anything.
The pain…the torment…the misery…
I have no idea for how long I was just lying there, wishing it would stop. It felt like eons, while it was most likely only an hour. But the duration is beside the point. Because somewhere in-between the crying and screaming, I noticed a miracle had happened. I wasn’t alone any longer. Someone was sitting at my side, stroking my hair, singing softly. This voice, this voice, clear and sharp as crystal. I looked up. He looked down. He smiled: “Hey.”
After a breathless minute, I smiled back and replied with a muffled tone: “Hi.”
Ehkiuss stood before the Realm: “What happened? Where is Giune?”
The Realm let out a sigh: “I am not sure. Demesne, though it is a part of me, has its own will. This is not the path the Celestial Potentates have chosen for her. She is where she is supposed to be.”
“No, she isn’t! She’s supposed to be with me! With me and with no one else.” Ehkiuss bit her lip, fighting to hold back the tears that had been burning behind her eyelids for so long. She had found Giune…and lost her once again. The Realm stretched out its arms and touched the slim woman’s cheek: “Do not worry. She is safer than she’ll ever be. And she will return.”
“I know, but how much longer will I have to wait?” Ehkiuss’ voice had turned harsh. The Realm sighed again: “That I cannot tell you, my dear Ehkiuss. But I can promise you I will wait and pray with you. Until the day the dearly treasured Giune comes back home.”
“Did we…find Heaven?” whispered I. The boy smiled: “I would think so. Don’t be afraid, you can talk all you want now. There is nothing here to fear.”
“But, if anyone finds out I talked to you again…”, while I said it, I knew that it was a stupid thing to say. I was free. I was unrestricted. The laws of the village didn’t hold me back anymore. The boy smiled: “I see you have realized. They can’t hurt you, or me. We are together, now, here. We are free to go wherever we want, and do whatever we want. We can dance and sing and shout. No one will try to stop us.”
“Is that what Heaven means?” asked I. The boy shrugged: “I don’t know. But I don’t care where we are. As long as you are by my side.”
We looked at each other for a long time, just because we could. And I was happy I could. The image in my mind, of him lying there in the pool of blood…motionless, like a string-puppet whose strings had been cut. It made me feel nauseous. It took my brain a few more minutes to figure out why it was miracle that I was sitting here next to him in this incredibly white space. He died. I had attended his funeral. I had seen him lying there.
I breathed in deeply and turned to him, but before I could say anything, he nodded: “Yes, I died that day.”
He wrapped his arms around me: “But I walked. I walked all the way back from the Palace of the Celestial Potentates to this place, and I waited for you. Oh, how it hurt to be able to see you in that cell. I kept wishing for you to look back at me. And then you sang. You made me cry, you know?”
I sniffed: “I’m sorry. I just…”
“It’s alright. It’s all good now. You are here now.”
Ehkiuss feigned a calm demeanor as she walked back to her master’s lodgings. The streets of the capitol started to fill with people. The gathering was over. The delicate but exposed band around her ankle was quite the eye-catcher. It was an erratic scene, a pet on the street without its master. The eyes burned in her back. These people…, she thought, they have no idea where their lovely pets and servants come from. Once, they led a life just like this.
The memories of her childhood brought a sour smile on her face. Giune…did she even remember? The days this world and ours weren’t connected. The days before the Realm and Demesne were invented. The days our world was not just for amusement and harvesting. The days we all still knew delight.
Ehkiuss sighed, but straightened herself immediately: don’t show defeat. The first unwritten law of pets. Second: don’t disobey. Third: don’t get killed before you get on the loose and, if possible, not afterwards either. The written laws were a little different. First law: don’t speak unless you’re asked to. Second: don’t listen unless you’re asked to. Third: don’t breathe unless you’re asked to.
Unwillingly, Ehkiuss scanned her ankle band at the gate and entered the building her master had given me as a home. She rarely came here. She was always at her master’s feet. Well, not that she really opposed it, he was good to her. And strictly spoken, he had saved her life.
With a relieved sigh, Ehkiuss sat down at the dinner table. What would she do now? The moment she had scanned her band outside, she was under surveillance. She had to keep her posture. Show no signs of weakness. Do not show him how disturbed you are. She doubted her master was watching over her, but lately he hadn’t been himself. He had been attentive, asking her where she had been after she had gone out. Asking her most out of the ordinary questions at random. There was no doubt something was going on. The way he clung to the other world…
Suddenly, she sat up straight: the way he clung to the other world…
She cursed. No way he had not seen her there. He has been following that girl for the past few weeks. He will be devastated. He will…
Ehkiuss’ panicky thoughts made it impossible for her to think routinely and she started pacing around the room: what do I do, what do I do, what the hell have I done?! Wandering around the house, she grew more and more worried: what would be the consequences of this horrible deed? How bad would she be punished? Would she be able to face her master ever again? All the trust he had given her: the trust she had earned over the years, the trust she had earned by forfeiting so much…
She panicked like this for about half an hour, running around the house picking everything up and rearranging it, and then she suddenly stopped in her tracks. She drew a long breath and made up her mind. Resolutely, she ran out the door and to her master’s lodgings.
“So, what do you think?” asked the boy. He motioned to the vast hills. The long, fresh green grass seemed to wave at us, calling us, inviting us to come closer and lay down in it. I smiled: “It’s amazing.”
“We’re not too far away now. It’s only three hills from here.” he took my hand and started walking, but I held him back. Confused, he looked back: “Hey, what’s wrong? It’s so close…”
I shook my head: “It’s not that.”
“Then what is it, tell me! I’ll help you, whatever it takes.” the boy looked into my eyes: “I mean it. Whatever it takes.”
I sighed, and looked up to the blue sky. It was so bright it almost made me cry, and I wasn’t that happy already. I sighed again: “I just…feel like I don’t belong here. Like I’m not supposed to be here just yet. I don’t know how to describe it.”
The boy’s expression turned unbearably gloomy: “Are you…unhappy?”
I shook my head: “No, it’s nothing like that. It’s just…weird. Uncomfortable, in a way. If you know what I mean.” I sighed, and tried to smile cheerfully: “But really, it’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.”
The boy nodded uncertainly, but didn’t push it. Gently clutching my hand, he led the way across the final three hills.
It was like no sight I had ever seen. A gigantic city, its walls brightly reflecting the afternoon sun. And in its center arose a castle. Even though I had never seen it before, I knew what this was. The famed Palace of the Celestial Potentates. And their city Alerial, the Diamond City.
The castle became more and more beautiful as we approached the city. The detail in its posts and barriers was meticulous. Every stone was engraved with symbols of purity and serenity, giving the impression they were facetted, scattering the sunlight in all directions. The city with no shadows, the city of the worthy souls, the city…of the peaceful dead.
“It’s huge, huh?” smiled the boy, as we stood in front of the main gate. People were walking in and out, without apparent reason. They seemed to be rambling around just to have something to do. I didn’t like the place already. The boy took a step forward, striding over the small line dividing the city from the wilderness. I felt a little disinclined, but I still wanted to follow him. However, the moment I set foot on the line, an invisible force kept me from it. The boy spun: “What…what is this?”
I tried to step into the city again, with the same result. Astonished, I looked at my feet. Nothing wrong with them. What was going on?
The boy held onto my hand and tried to pull me in, but I couldn’t cross the line. “Why…?” whispered I.
“Why is fate against us?” whispered the boy. We stood, each on our side of the line. Then, without hesitation, the boy passed the line to my side: “Let’s go.”
Confused, I stared into his green eyes. They had a clear, sharp feeling about them that reminded me of his voice. He stared back, and pointed towards the horizon: “Let’s go somewhere we can go together.”
I felt overjoyed, and for the fear that had snuck into my heart was no more room. I nodded: “Okay.”
“Hello? Anyone home?” Ehkiuss was joking, her master would be right here, waiting for her to return. Right? No answer. As quick as she could, Ehkiuss checked the rest of the house: the living room, the bedrooms, the bathrooms, the pool, the conference room, the study and the library. But there was no sign of her master. There were traces of him in the library; books were pulled of the shacks and one of the chairs had been knocked over. What the hell happened here? Now in a panic, Ehkiuss ran through the house, double-checking every room, every cupboard, every corner she could find. Until there was only one place left to go. The cellar. Which was locked. For numerous reasons. And Ehkiuss did not have the key. Frustrated, Ehkiuss returned to the living room and sat down on the pillow marking her spot. She had no other option: she’d have to wait.
“Look, do you see that yellow field?” asked the boy. I nodded. He smiled: “It’s dandelions. Millions of them! Want to go check them out?”
“Sure.”, answered I, and followed him in the direction of the field. He was right. Millions of bright yellow dandelions in full bloom. But it was not the dandelions that caught my attention. In the mid-dle of the field stood a tree. It was an old tree, but not like any I had ever perceived before. Curious, I came closer, and saw that the tree was surrounded by small pink plants. As I looked up, a flower head fell down on my face. It was an anomalous kind of flower head. It had small, round, violet petals and a deep purple core. The blossoms were hidden by the leaves of the tree, but now that I looked closer, the tree was full of them. “Purpleblossom.”, whispered I.
The boy grabbed my arm and pulled me away from the trunk of tree: “Don’t go near that tree.”
Confused, I looked him in the eye. He seemed honestly worried. “Why?” asked I. I didn’t understand. It was just a tree. And a Purpleblossom tree at that. It was said they had the mysterious power to bring the dead back to life. Not that I believed it, but it was still quite something to be able to see one from so close by.
But the boy shook his head: “That tree is dangerous. It…”
Ehkiuss had curled up like a cat and tried to fall asleep, but the thought of her master not being by her side made her restless. Where could he have gone? She knew there was something she was able to do to find him, but the idea of going against her master’s orders was…
Resolutely, she stood up and walked to the study. In a cabinet by the window was one drawer re-served for her. She smiled as she remembered the reaction of the other pets at the convention when she had told them how her master treated her. They had been so bitter. Though she often called her master an idiot, and she addressed him casually or even rudely as long as they were alone, she respected him immensely and she would never do anything to hurt him.
Ehkiuss opened the drawer and took out a device that looked a little like the spinning globe her master held so dear. It was in direct contact with the Realm, like most of the gadgets these days. The Realm kept track of everything that happened. The Realm had several roles at the present time. First of all, it was the gather place for all data that had ever been made in this world and was still being made. Second, it was a being that was in close touch with the celestial existences, therefor it was considered divine. The Realm had its own shrine; Ehkiuss often visited it because it once saved from a certain death. Even though the creature was otherworldly in every sense of the word, Ehkiuss considered it a friend.
But the most important task of the Realm was balancing the three worlds: Kiloes, which was the world she currently lived in, Reth, the world of the celestial existences and the dead, and Ulior, the world she and Giune originally came from.
The Realm was the only way to travel between these worlds, and in every world was a part of the Realm. In Kiloes was the Realm itself, Ulior had Demesne, and Reth had Cosmos. Every one of them had its own personality.
All this made the Realm the most complicated thing the hands of man had ever constructed. Though some argue about whether man had really fabricated the Realm, or that the Realm had assembled itself. One thing was sure: the Realm had changed the world immeasurably.
Carefully, Ehkiuss carried the sphere upstairs, and locked herself in the attic. Last year, while she was exploring the house, she had found something here. Something very old, but very useful. Most of the spheres nowadays didn’t require extra support, but the sphere Ehkiuss owned was an older model and it was pretty useless of its own accord. However, with the contraption she had discovered and with some practice, it was better than most hypermodern devices.
The screen was transparent, most likely glass of some sort, and it seemed to hover above the desk. The desk had two keyboards, one control panel, a touchscreen drawing board and two strange bowls that looked like you’d have dinner out of them.
By now long familiar with the odd sight of this piece of antique, Ehkiuss placed the sphere in one of the bowls, and sealed it off with the other. Instantly, the screen sprang to life, buzzing faintly. Ehkiuss sat down at the desk and moved the screen back a little. It was too big to sit so up close. Endless lines of code cascaded down, filling Ehkiuss’ slightly hopeful eyes. Maybe, just maybe the Realm could tell her what had happened, or even where her master was right now. Ignoring the scripts, Ehkiuss typed the codes for the security camera’s feeds: the living room, the hallways, the study and the cellar entrance. Somewhere on here, there should be a clue. The screen now displayed the situation as it was now. Ehkiuss frowned: how long had she been in Ulior? For safety’s sake, she reversed to three hours ago. Her master was sitting in the living room, just as she had left him. He was watching the spinning globe in his hands. Then suddenly, he jumped to his feet and put the globe in its place next to his chair. He walked over to the window and looked outside for a while. Then, he turned his head, as he if he was listening to something. He sprinted back to his chair and turned it away from the door. Ehkiuss saw a person walking down the hallway, but the camera only caught his back. He was clad in blue and grey. The colors of the knights of Reyui.
I blinked. It was hard to take this seriously, even though the boy evidently was serious about this. His eyes were trying to convince me as I stared in them. “It talks?” repeated I. The boy nodded agitatedly: “Not to everyone, but it did talk to one of the people who took care of me when I first arrived here.”
I looked at the tree, and then turned my gaze back to the boy, who was still holding my arm: “But why…can’t I go near it?”
“Because it’s unsafe!” replied he. He seemed honestly troubled.
“How?” asked I. I couldn’t see how a talking tree could possibly be dangerous.
“It says things that…change you.” the boy looked away: “And…I don’t want you to change the way that man did.”
I frowned: “How did he…change?”
The boy seemed at the verge of tears: “He…became insufferably mad and unspeakably livid. They took him away to somewhere. He never returned.”
I looked at the tree again. But…that couldn’t feasibly have been the tree’s doing?
But as I stood looking on, I failed to notice the branch reaching down. It stretched itself until it touched my shoulder and wrapped itself around me. The boy screamed: “No! Giune!”
What’s going on, I wondered, as the tree lifted me up between its bright green foliage and purple blossoms. It was the last thing I thought was: how does he know my name?