Unknown Date 2479 A.R.T
As we’d stared up into the blank void of the Foundation’s heavens, the creature’s tears had fallen like rain upon the deceased, decaying landscape of Spine Hill. The tears had returned flesh and blood to the bare bones of the land, skin and tissue growing beneath our feet as we’d watched the miraculous regeneration. On several occasions the creature had landed to drink from a puddle which had formed in a natural hollow, extending its long tongue from the gap in its mask. It had seemingly become stronger and stronger with each puddle it had consumed and I had doubted that we would ever manage to recapture it, feeling certain that it would take advantage of its new-found vigour and fly away into the Foundations, never to be seen again. However, whether it was due to a sense of loyalty or a wish to repay us for our kindness I do not know, but once the creature had drunk its fill of tears it had landed before us and had begun to sing happily.
She’s all better! Cloud had written extatically. And she wants to come with us!
Mark my words, this is a portent of doom! Omen had written, clutching one of his many talismans.
Oh, shut the pleg up you ninny! Taboo had scrawled, stepping forwards. You only need to hear a fart and you think it’s a portent of doom! This isn’t doom, this is a fudging miracle!
I agree, Pulida had written. That creature surely is something extraordinary. The power to lament in the face of death and reverse its work.
Do you think she could help my butterfly? Cloud had written, scratching beneath the creature’s mask. Bring her back to life and mend her burnt wing?
Before I’d had a chance to answer, a being had stepped into our midst, seemingly materialising from nowhere. We had all jumped at the sudden visitor and a good many startled remarks and a smattering of isolated swear words had been scrawled across our boards. The visitor had resembled a human female. She’d had sleek, short hair adorned with a feathered headband and she’d worn a short, cream shift dress of delicate lace. A string of midnight pearls had hung around her slender neck and she’d had no hint of a bosom. Her face had been heavily made-up with eye shadow and lipstick and in her hand, she’d carried a slender tube with what I can only describe as a thin cigar inserted into its end. Like the flesh of the land the woman’s skin had been a seamless tapestry of colours, ranging from deep mahogany to, dare I say, paper white. Disturbingly, the woman’s eyes were akin to those of a cat, their pupils dark slits set against a yellow iris.
“Ah,” the woman had said, smiling to reveal vampiresque incisors, “and who might you fine creatures be? Might you be the ones I seek? Please, pull up a palm.” At the click of her fingers, twelve oversized humanoid hands had grown from the flesh of the land, cupping their palms so that we might perch upon them.
“Sit,” the woman had commanded, reclining herself on the nearest hand. She had taken a puff on her slender cigar and had exhaled the smoke from her nostrils like some sort of divine dragon. When none of us had accepted her invitation, she had frowned and pouted. “Not to your liking?” she’d said, smiling broadly. “Oh, I see. There are too many digits for your taste.” At another click of her fingers there had been the horrible snap of breaking bone as the index finger of each hand had been torn off by an invisible force, sending geysers of blood spurting into the darkness. “Oh wait, maybe not for you,” she had said, winking in Oats’ direction. “Sorry hon.” Inexplicably the severed finger of the hand closest to Oats had regrown, once again giving it five fingers. Oddly the newly formed finger had borne bright green skin, matching the shade of Oat’s extra digits. “Now. I suggest you all sit before I decide it’s you and not the chairs that have too many fingers.”
After the woman’s show of power, we had all decided to take a seat, Omen slumping into the nearest oversized palm, apparently passing out with fear.
Though I do not condone the use of language I believe that Taboo’s hastily scrawled message of Plegging fudging narfing ding-nuts! Had quite eloquently surmised our feelings at that time.
See! Omen had written, briefly surfacing from his unconsciousness. I told you! A portent of doom!
I had seated myself upon the palm of the closest mutilated hand with caution, fearful that the makeshift chair would start using me as a stress toy at any moment. The remaining fingers had flexed as I’d reclined against them and I had been most perturbed by the warmth and softness of the flesh beneath my derriere. The stump of the index finger had continued to bleed, forming a pool within the outstretched palm and soaking into the leather of my suit. Despite my immense revulsion and horror, I had been far too intimidated by the presence of the woman to remove myself from the congealing gore in which I sat.
Are we in the presence of Demon? I had scrawled in a shaky hand.
“You are,” the woman had replied, looking around at us all. “I’m sure you’re wondering how and why I’ve brought you here,”
You brought us here? Pulida had written. Intentionally?
Demon had sighed heavily. “Yes, I was instructed to bring you here by Him. He rejects me, locks me away for several spans of timeless eternity and then shows up out of the blue asking me for a favour!”
So, you created the spectral bramble to bring us here? Oats had written. You used it to tear holes in reality so we’d fall into the Foundations?
“You got it hon,” Demon had said, taking another drag on her elegant cigar.
But how could you possibly have known we would end up here? I had written. Surely, we could have stumbled into any realm or region in existence and yet we’re here, exactly where you wanted us to be?
“I was just ordered to make the weak points hon,” Demon had said. “The Architect was the one who was responsible for tearing them open with his volcanoes and storms and leading you down here. He works in mysterious ways as they say.” She had stood and had approached me, causing me to shrink back into the bloody palm. With a click of her fingers a goblet had appeared in her hand and to my revulsion she had held it beneath the rivulet of blood which flowed from my seat, filling it to the brim. “Would anyone else like a drink?” she had asked.
All of us, baring Taboo who had written No narfing way! had politely declined her offer, I myself stating that I could not possibly partake in her bloody beverage because, my lack of a digestive system aside, I considered myself a vegetarian.
“Oh really,” Demon had said, raising her eyebrow. “I used to be vegetarian too, back before our beloved creator changed the rules. In the beginning when flesh was land, nothing had to die to be consumed and blood was drunk like water. That was before the Architect wrapped the flesh around the soul shards, before He made it into a prison, before He made it feel, made it fear, made it hurt, made it die.”
Demon had drunk deeply from her goblet of blood but not a drop had stained her lips or dripped onto her dress.
I have a question, Pulida had written. If I may?
“You may,” Demon had replied, retaking her seat. “We have all the time in the Expanse . . . or to be more exact, none of it.”
I understand that you are the original demon, but who was your creator? Pulida had written. Was it the Architect or Atropa?
“Atropa!” Demon had said in disgust, spitting at the name. “Atropa soiled my good name with those abominations he created in my image! I was created by the Architect. I was His companion, his confidante. That is until he entrusted me with the Unspoken Word and expelled me from His creation.” She had shaken her head in annoyance. Him and His prophets didn’t even mention me in the Ochre Chronicles!”
Pulida had fallen silent and had stared down at his slate, apparently processing the revelation.
At that point Cloud had raised his hand, wiggling his fingers impatiently as if he were a pupil trying to gain the attention of a teacher in the school room.
Demon had smiled at this and had winked at Cloud. “Yes, go ahead hon,” she had said warmly.
I was wondering what the Unspoken Word is Miss Demon? Cloud had hastily scrawled.
Demon had chuckled at the question. “Well you get a gold star for curiosity,” she had said, “but I’m afraid I cannot speak the answer aloud for fear of destroying reality.” Her feline eyes had roved over us each in turn, scrutinising us. “I will however disclose the word to one of you. It is the reason you were brought here. The Architect wishes one of you to be the new guardian of the Word and carry the knowledge of it back into the Expanse. He believes it may be necessary if the trials of the future and the flowing of His Essence do not end favourably. Which one of you it will become the guardian is for you to decide.”
So, this was why we were created? I had written, something inside me breaking. We are not here to care. We are here to be the guardians of this Uspoken Word?
Demon had smiled and had extinguished her cigar in her goblet of blood. Her eyes had fallen onto the masked creature who, as I’d turned to look, was crying on Omen’s chair, its miraculous tears steadily re-growing its lost digit. “Do not be disheartened. You were created for many reasons,” Demon had said. “The Architect may have created you with a purpose in mind, but the life He gave you is your own and you must spend it doing what you feel is right. If your dream is to care for those creatures in need then you should follow that dream. Caring after all is not a trait the Architect often exhibits Himself.”
Before we agree to becoming the guardian of this Unspoken Word, we need to know exactly what it is, Pulida had written, sitting forwards in his chair.
“I quite agree,” Demon had said. “The Word, as its name suggests has never been spoken aloud by any mortal or deity since creation began and I sincerely hope it never shall be. It was the word upon the lips of the Absence when it sought to destroy reality and it is the word that, once known, will make you the most dangerous creature in all of creation.”
A-And w-w-what will h-h-appen if this w-w-word is spoken a-aloud? Omen had written, once again regaining consciousness. Somehow, his writing had developed a stutter which disclosed his fear.
“If the prophecy of the Architect’s Essence goes awry and suffering and hopelessness abounds then a hero may utter the word,” Demon had said. “And upon the word being spoken, reality will be ended and all suffering shall cease.”
At that moment Omen had fallen from his seat.
And we have no choice in the matter? I had written. We have no choice but to become the guardians of this word?
“I am afraid so,” Demon had said. “I will tell only one of you. You may decide which of you will take the responsibility. I see that the Architect did not gift you with the power of speech so I have no fear that you shall speak the word yourself.”
But we wanted to be care-givers, not the bringers of destruction, I’d written. I’d known that as the appointed leader of the Orderlies, it was my responsibility to take on the heavy burden and become the Guardian of the Word. We came here to help. We came here to find food for bunnies, not to gain the power to destroy reality. I recall my goggles misting with tears and an overwhelming feeling of defeat settling over me.
“I understand,” Demon had said, her voice suddenly tender and filled with sympathy. “During our lives we all find ourselves forced down another path by fate,” she’d looked around herself, her eyes suddenly sorrowful, “or we find ourselves abandoned in a place we never thought we would be!”
Please, Bubbles had written, her goggles also misted. Please don’t do this to him. We have so much to do, so much compassion and caring in us. Please don’t make us monsters.
Demon had smiled warmly. “I can see it,” she had said. “I was made a monster, you were not. I see the compassion in you, I feel your unwavering will and though compassion wasn’t something the Architect blessed me with I do see the need of it.” She had stood and had walked toward the creature. “You were attempting to help this creature,” she had said, reaching out to touch its rusted mask. “It trusts you.” She had clenched hr fist and the remaining bolts holding the creature’s mask in place had exploded, allowing the mask to fall away.
The creature had blinked in surprise, its large, dark eyes filled with gratitude and joy and I had turned to gaze upon its face, taken aback by its adorable features. The creature had small tufted ears which had jutted out at the side of its temples, each of them twitching and swivelling to catch stray sounds. Its jaws were toothless and it had possessed two long whiskers similar to those sported by lung dragons which flowed from the either side of its horse-like nose. A bony crest akin to those seen upon un-doctored snugs sat between its eyes and as it sang its joy a feathered crest had risen upon its head, an appendage which had previously been oppressed by its mask.
It’s so pretty! Cloud had written in great excitement. I HAVE to pet it! Jumping from his seat he had pushed past Demon and had proceeded to scratch the creature behind its ears. To my relief, Demon had merely chuckled at Cloud’s forceful enthusiasm and, from a small beaded purse which I had not previously noticed in her possession, she had procured a hairbrush which she had handed to him. “Here, try using this hon,” she’d said.
Thanks Miss Demon, Cloud had written, running the brush through the creature’s flattened fur, and thank you for breaking that nasty mask.
“He’s a delight and a credit to you,” Demon had written, patting Cloud on the back. “He possesses one of the purest souls I’ve ever encountered.”
Yes, he certainly is a delight, I’d written, nodding, and yes, we are trying to help that creature but in doing so we are also condemning another to death. Its tears hold special powers you see, powers which another creature depends on to cheat death. It’s quite the moral dilemma.
“Yes, I noticed it has powers,” Demon had said, holding out her arms to indicate the surrounding land. “I haven’t seen the Spine this alive since I sucked the life from it.” She had nodded. “I like it this way.” She had retaken her seat. “I’m afraid death is a necessary part of mortal life,” Demon has said. “It keeps the prison secure. Am I to understand that this creature was held captive in order to lengthen the life of another?”
That is correct, Pulida has written. Since discovering this creature, we have been pursued by a masked rider who wishes to detain it and harvest its tears.
“Well I find that unacceptable,” Demon had said. “This rider is making a mockery of the natural order. The mortals must obey death! I will however follow your example and attempt to show some compassion towards this rider, and with that in mind I will offer you a solution to your moral dilemma as compensation for the burden of becoming the Guardian of the Word.”
You offer a solution? I had written. What solution could there possibly be?
“Its quite simple really,” Demon had said and, opening her purse she had procured a handful of wispy seed heads belonging to the spectral bramble. Holding them to her lips she had blown them into the air, causing them to dance and flutter before us. All at once they had seemingly settled upon something, becoming caught upon some facet of reality. White, luminous roots had instantly erupted from them, tearing a hole through, time, space and all the matter between them. As leaves and tendrils flowed from the germinating seeds a strange, dark void had torn the surrounding emptiness, forming an anomaly through which a familiar figure had fallen, only to be caught by one of the unoccupied chairs and dropped un-ceremonially at our feet.
“Welcome Rider,” Demon had said, looking down at the crumpled figure. “You were quite easy to locate. My seedlings just traced your desire to capture this poor creature and sunk their roots into it.”
As the Rider had rose painfully from the ground, I had felt an almost overwhelming urge to flee from it, an impulse which was only overpowered by the notion that Demon may see fit to remove my fingers if I attempted to leave her council. The creature had also reacted to the presence of the Rider. Its feathered crest had rose, its dark eyes had narrowed to slits and it had drawn itself up, its wings spread wide behind it in a threatening display of its newly rejuvenated power.
The Rider’s doll-like mask had cracked during its fall, a shard falling away to reveal a patch of greying fur and what had appeared to be a short tusk. It had moved with slow, pained movements and, when it had stood at its full height it had been hunched and had displayed an air of immense frailty, a complaint I knew was due to the withdrawal of the creature’s miraculous tears. The strange reptilian-monkey had still been tethered to the Rider’s wrist, its form, like its master’s had also been frail and wasted with age, evidence that it too had been sampling the creature’s tears. An array of the Rider’s affects had lay piled nearby; its quarterstaff, its saddlebag and its box of magical lights along with the monkey’s teacup which had sadly shattered during the fall. Though the manticore itself had not been present, its mask had also lay nearby, torn open at the seams.
At the sight of the creature the Rider had released a primal scream and, ignoring its bizarre surroundings, it had scooped up its quarterstaff in preparation to attack, its quarry finally within reach. Unfortunately (for the Rider at least,) upon preparing to strike out at the creature, the arm with which it wielded its staff had bent backwards at an unnatural angle, the bone snapped like a twig by Demon’s power. The jagged edge of the broken bone had sliced through the flesh of the Rider’s arm, spraying blood across the flesh of the land. Broken and defeated, the Rider had fallen to its knees in defeat, seemingly not even possessing the strength to cry out in pain.
(Ink would just like to point out that that bones do not break like twigs. He would like me to inform you that he has undertaken several experiments to clarify this fact and, after breaking several twigs, an array of bones (disembodied of course,) along with an assortment of other long, thin objects he has concluded that the only thing that truly snaps like a twig is a twig itself and so he has asked me to make the following amendment to my previous description;)
Unfortunately (for the Rider at least,) upon preparing to strike out at the creature, the arm with which it wielded its staff had bent backwards at an unnatural angle, the bone snapped like a bone by Demon’s power.
Horrified by the Rider’s plight, myself, Horizon and Bubbles and rushed to its aid, all of us knowing full well that there was nothing we could do to help.
“There,” Demon had said, stepping up behind us. “I have solved your moral dilemma. I now expect you to accept guardianship of the Unspoken Word without complaint.”
How is it you believe you’ve solved our problem? I had written, confounded by Demon’s logic. How has breaking its arm solved anything?
Demon had picked up the Rider’s discarded staff and to my abhorrence she had licked away the fresh blood which had smattered it. “Breaking its arm was inconsequential,” she had said, annoyance in her voice. “You were afraid that it would perish without the creature’s tears and I have resolved the issue. This Rider will remain here in the Foundations and thus will be subject to its timeless laws. Like all who are stranded here it shall not age or decay or die. It will simply exist in its current state for the rest of our timeless eternity.”
You want it to live forever with a broken arm! Bubbles had written, her words thick with outrage. You claim you’re showing compassion but I think you are confusing compassion for cruelty! I think you’re closer to Atropa’s demons than you want to admit!
“I will not be associated with Atropa’s abominations!” Demon had said, baring her teeth. “If you were not under the protection of the Architect then I would tear you asunder for even suggesting it!”
Bubbles had stared defiantly at Demon as the rest of our number had rushed to her aid, forming a barrier between her and any potential attack.
Back the narf off lady! Taboo had written, crossing his arms defensively.
Even Omen had mustered the courage to stand between Demon and Bubbles, his knees quaking with apprehension.
“Quite a touching gesture I suppose,” Demon had said, sidestepping Taboo. “If I meant her harm it would be a futile gesture but it’s touching all the same.” She had placed her foot upon the discarded mask of the Rider’s steed, rolling it over. “I hope you will be pleased to know that I have freed the owner of this mask from its oppression. I hope that shows you that I am not at all like that filth Atropa created in my name.”
You mean it’s free? Cloud had written, clapping his hands with joy. It’s out there frolicking somewhere all happy and mask-less?
“Yes,” Demon had said, grinning at Cloud’s joy. “That’s my hope anyway hon.”
Then thank you very much, Cloud had written, seemingly oblivious to the tension which he had just diffused.
Despite its earlier aversion, the creature had slithered towards the defeated form of the Doll-Faced
Rider and whether out of pity or benevolence it had showered it and its reptilian monkey with tears, healing its shattered arm and washing away the cruel work of time. All the time the Rider had stared up at the creature, its emotions lost behind its shattered cherubim features.
“Come now Sunrise,” Demon had called, beckoning me to follow. “The Rider is safe from death and disease down here with the other refuse and once you have learned the Unspoken Word then you, your friends and your miraculous, crying beast are free to return to the Architect’s splendid creation and your home.”
Seeing no other choice and spurred onwards by the promise of fulfilling my oath to my friends, I had followed behind Demon, trailing after her through the strange, distance-less landscape until my friends, the creature and the Rider were no longer visible to me. It had been then that Demon had disclosed the Unspoken Word to me, scratching it into my slate with the handle of my own fair spoon. For fear that you will inadvertently read the word aloud and accidentally destroy reality I shall not record it here but I will tell you that it contains no more than five letters and that it is no more complex or difficult to pronounce than the word custard, armpit or sprout yet it is a word which has never been formed by any mouth since time began. I can only imagine that the Architect has somehow suppressed the ability for sentient minds to comprehend or even inadvertently create the string of necessary nouns and syllables needed to form the Unspoken Word.
Once I had shouldered the burden of the Unspoken Word, Demon had led me back to my friends. The weight of the Word had sat heavy in my mind and I had mused that from that day onwards the saying the pen is mightier than the sword, would be one that even Ink would not be able to argue with. In my hands a pen could now bring about the end of everything.
Upon being reunited with my friends I had received many pats on the back and had read many reassuring messages, all of which had been composed to give me strength and support and to reassure me that I did not need to carry the burden alone. I’d had friends and they were there for me and for that I shall be eternally grateful.
Looking around the circle of enormous hands I had failed to see the Rider and Blancmange had informed me that following its rejuvenating shower of tears it had simply bowed to the creature and had walked away into the Foundations without so much as a backwards glance. What truly became of the Doll-Faced Rider I shall never know, but some twelve months later I would unexpectedly discover that the Rider had last been seen swimming away into the placid waters of the Sweet Sea.
“Now,” Demon had said as she’d retaken her seat upon an outstretched palm, “It is time that we parted ways.” She had reached into her bag and had procured another handful of spectral seeds which she had blown into the air. They had settled on the flesh before us, rapidly germinating and once again tearing a hole in reality. “Those were the last of my seeds, and that is the only gateway remaining between this realm and your own.” she had said. “There shall be no more of there kind. Once my plants die, and die they shall, the wounds they have wrought will heal and the doorways they have opened will forever close. You must leave now.”
But we can’t leave yet! I had written, panicked. We have friends here! We promised we’d go back for them! We can’t leave!
“You can and you will leave without them!” Demon had said, her anger suddenly spiking. “I have done what the Architect ordered of me! You know of the Unspoken Word and now you will carry it back to the Expanse to deliver either its salvation or its ruin.”
Butter! Skull! I had written, turning to my companions. We need to-, unfortunately before I’d had a chance to complete my plea, we’d all been unceremoniously plucked from the ground by an invisible force and, at a jerk of Demon’s wrist we had been unwillingly flung into the void, and sent hurtling back to reality.