A blue-ridged dawn manifested a pioneer through this revered, sacrosanct land. Delicate thoughts met delicate steps. The sand moved like clay beneath his feet, and his thighs burned of muscles forgotten. It felt as though he had already walked for ages, though the time before this daybreak was blank—not forgotten—just as though it had never existed to begin with. But alas, his body ached like one traveled many scores, with many yet ahead.
All around him the light played tricks with imprints in the sand. Not all these shadows were inanimate. Some scurried to slithered about his ankles, finding spots to hide from the impending sun.
The spaces of sky above the far off mountain ridges made him thirsty for the clear blue water it mimicked. But the cliffs themselves, black and infinite, made him cringe in fear at the reality of being in the presence of such enormous ambiguity. The valley in which the mountains outlined stretched well beyond where the light had yet to reach—he assumed as much already, meditating on the nihility this openness left him feeling.
Somewhere now lost behind, measuring the length of an addled man’s ten minute walk, rested a cliff opening to a vast expanse with hard packed sand—where it was he must have started.
But it must be behind me for a reason, he thought.
As he dug his toes deeper into the sand, so as to feel the cool underbelly of the desert, it seemed like a rest was just the thing to cure his somnolent brain, for there was no apparent end in sight, and no destination yet unveiled.
His sandals were doing little to keep the sand from between his toes, and he found a sudden fondness in playing with his beard
Already he could feel the oppressive heat from the sun yet to peak over those peaks, but found himself unopposed to its inescapable advent since he had earlier found himself shivering without it. How much earlier, he was unable to guess.
Hidden behind a dune of sand he had just now walked around, was a scattered wall made of crumbling stone and sun-scorched wood. He walked around, careful not to step over the boundary it vaguely outlined. This was a world he knew nothing of, yet he was still aware of concepts, abstract and otherwise, such that boundaries were made to keep out some. That some is not what he meant to find out.
From atop the dune he had only just skittered around, sat two stunned men apprehensively watching. In fact, they had been watching him ever since he appeared out of the night, from an area neither one of them would ever dare wander into.
“What do you think?” the older one said.
“Let’s watch a little longer.”
“Any longer and he’s going to wander right into town.”
The other put up his finger as a sign of quiet.
The man below ran his hand along the stonewall, steadying his tired body.
“And what’s the harm in that?” the younger of the two finally managed to say.
“The man’s in pain. He needs our help.”
“What if he’s dangerous?”
The man’s sun-riped hair fell long down his back.
“Take a look at him.” As if he heard, the man below stopped to take a look around. The two atop the dune were caught off guard, standing motionless.
He had spotted them.
They watched as the startled man got his footing. To him, the men standing on top of the red dune, the sun illuminating only the top halves of their bodies, looked as divine statues do; objects to give words of warning, and godly advice of repentance. One of the statue-like figures raised their hand.
He raised his own.
Both their shoulders creeked.
The two men advance down the embankment far too unexpectedly for his comfort. He stumbled backwards over his own aching feet as he watched them approach. The two of them sunk into the sand up to their knees on every step down the dune, and slipped on every other. From the ground he hunched behind the rockwall, watching the line of sunlight follow them down.
“Skittish one, isn’t he?”
The other spat dry.
Bits of pebble fell into his beard as he ground his hands into the stone. His mustache stank. The same one raised his hand again. Again he mirrored.
“Please,” the older of the two said as he got within shouting distance, “we are peaceful people. We mean you no harm.”
He felt compelled to stand; to show he too was not either fond of violence or confrontation. He tried to speak out before he know what he was to say, but his dry and unused throat cut him off just the same.
They watched as the old man struggled with his first syllables. His eyes told of many lives lived, yet still stuck in the grasps of timidity. A bead of sweat fell from his forehead, slowly falling over his wrinkles, only to get caught in the crease of his eye. Something about the moisture took the old man by surprise. Had he never sweat before? The thought crossed both the friend’s minds as they watched the old man flinched as the moisture stung his eye.
All three bodies stood in silence, like vultures mourning the passing of one of their own. They each tried to gather as much information from each other’s eyes as they could as words seemed not to do the trick.
“You look like you could use a drink,” the younger of the two said.
The thought that he may be thirsty hadn’t yet occurred, but now with the idea presented, the need to drink was overwhelming; everything in his mouth and throat felt tight. A brown container fashioned with felt sloshed water, as it was brought into his field of vision; a sphere too narrow yet to make eye contact. He snatched it out of their hand with more force than intended.
The two friends watched in amazement as the old man drained the canteen dry. Droplets of water sparkled as they fell from the corners of his mouth and down his knotted beard, evaporating instantaneously on contact with the sand.
The cool water was a shock to his body. He could feel the movement of it in his insides as if his stomach had hands; a sectional window cut out around his bellybutton. It was all but empty. He was afraid to try and remember the last time he had eaten.
A hand on his shoulder steadied his swaying torso.
“So where did you come from, friend?” It was the questions the two friends were eager to find out. No one just stumbles into existence along the path he had.
“I’m not sure,” the old man said, wiping away the water away from his lips with his sleeve. He went back to the canteen, hoping to find more; only a taunting trickle.
“How can you not be sure? Have you lost your memory?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, what do you know?”
“Give him some room to think, boy. He’s obviously been through a lot.”
The old man swallowed, nodding and handing back over the canteen. “I remember where I live, my job, my wife—” He paused and looked up at the sky. That must be the same, he thought in solace. “But it all seems so long ago. Where I only now came from, or how I arrived here…I am not sure.”
The two friends looked at each other.
“Maybe you should come with us. If we leave to go now we can get you fed and washed before most people will have a chance to notice you. You can tell us if you happen to remember anything else on the way.”
They waited for a response. The old man still gazed up towards the sky.
“Maybe he didn’t hear,” the younger of the two friends whispered to the other.
“Unless there is something else you wish to do?”
“There is nothing I wish to do,” the old man responded. “If you suggest I go with you, then I will go with you.”
It was a strange way to answer the question, but they led him back towards town all the same. The walk was short and they reached the end of the stone wall before any had time to gather up the courage to once again speak.
The old man stopped to look out. They were above a village. Below were burnt buildings lining the few streets in meandering crosshatches. Beyond that scattered similar walls to what they had just walked next to. On the far side of the village rose another hill, this one much larger, with an out of place building on top. The old man decided in that instant he would never want to be any closer to it than he was now. It looked out of place, like a giant barn, white and filled with a mess of intricacies. The old man, so focused on taking in everything about the village below, that he had failed to noticed the large lake to their left; a beacon of hope. As his eyes rested on the froth-peaked waves on the water, he felt an overwhelming urge to rip off his clothes and dive in headfirst, regardless of what might live in ther.
They all felt it—or rather, the old man heard—a rumbling erupt from the very land he had come to consciousness in. The old man retracted and tensed like an abused dog waiting to be hit.
“Don’t tell me you’ve never heard them before?”
“Them?” the old man said out to the desert, nervously blinking his eyes.
“My god, you’re telling the truth aren’t you? You’ve never been out here before.”
“You’re not from in there, are you?” the younger one pointed back where they had come.
“I think I must be. Whatever there may be.”
He hadn’t a clue.
“Woo! Did you hear that Demetri?” the younger one said. He grabbed at his robe, far too excited for this early in the morning.
“How do I get back?” the old man asked rather quietly.
“Get back?” There was a pause. “We were hoping you could tell us.”
“Please,” the one called Demetri said, “we should go below before. Especially if you are to continue on in this way. Please sir,” he motioned to the old man, “after you.”
“So, have you got a name?” Demetri asked. “Since you now know mine.” He looked over at his younger friend who had let it slip earlier.
“Icarus? That’s a strange one.”
“It was my Father’s.”
Icarus stopped talking so as to concentrate on the first steps cleanly sculpted into the face of the igneous cliffs surrounding the sunken lake. They were smooth and slick with water sprayed by the winds. While working their way down and across the exposure Icarus began to smell a pleasant but decaying odor. The two friends were in a deep mumbling conversation that Icarus had no will or desire to engage with. It was cooler down here, being out of the sun made everything change. Icarus felt more at ease even though he was being led blindly down to a lake in a strange land he never knew existed. But none of this seemed to matter. There was an overwhelming sense that this was okay; this was what he knew he must do.
Icarus looked behind to see the two friends still in a deep, yet hushed, conversation as he reached the bottom step. They stopped when they him looking. Icarus waited for the next set of instructions. A strong odor of metal wafted up from somewhere behind in the direction of the water. He seized as a vivid memory of flying above the city with his wife and two children surged through his brain.
“Are you alright?” one of them asked when they saw his body tense and contract.
Icarus was bent over, hands fingers pressed into his temples. “Yeah,” he said between breaths. “Fine…”
Swallow the stone.
“Let’s get you down to The Foundry,” the older of the two friends said wanting to comfort him, “you could probably use something to fill your stomach.”
Icarus neither agreed nor disagreed, but allowed them to guide him inside the very thing producing wafts of metal scent. He was not altogether sure what he had just stepped into since he had failed to see what it looked while outside it. But inside—like from a badly made movie—was a rusted and sickly lit cabin. Six rows of cushioned benches, a control panel accompanied by a driver’s seat that looked theatrical and quixotic. This was all that resided within.
The two friends stood nervously behind Icarus, allowing him to take in the new surroundings at a safe distance. Icarus grabbed the top of one of the benches and let out a deep breath, trying not to become too overwhelmed.
“Please take a seat,” one of them behind said.
He sat in the second row, facing the main window at the front of the vehicle. He assumed this was going to take him to what they called The Foundry, if they had in fact mention such a place, and it wasn’t his mind being confused. He was still too wrapped up in what felt like a waking dream to be certain of much.
The younger of the two—the one whose name he was still unsure of—
The other’s name is Desmond?
—sat in the chair in front of the controls, twisted a few knobs, took hold of a lever, and gently coaxed the vehicle forward. Icarus was certain he could smell motor oil in the air. He cupped his hand over his nose to smell the grease on his hands. This was something he used to do. But as he breathed in a pain shot out of his right shoulder and up the side of his face to his temple. He seized in pain. Demetri rushed over and catch him if he were to fall.
“He’s in bad shape,” Demetri said to the one driving the thing. “Are you okay?” He could see Icarus was sweating, his eyes were dark and distant.
“I’m fine,” he said squeezing shut his eyes. The movement forward proved too much.
He allowed himself to watch the lever move forward through watery eyes.
The thing they were in had lurched forward, and was heading down towards the surface of the black lake. Until this moment, it hadn’t crossed Icarus’s mind that they were sitting in something that would allow them to go underwater; they were about to dive into the depths of this lake whilst inside—while inside a corroded, dilapidated ship that looked like it was falling apart at the seams.
The ride down was nauseatingly slow. Icarus grabbed at his stomach and closed his eyes for most of the way down. He tried bringing himself back to the one memory he had of his family. He tried to recall where he lived, if he had any friends at all, and more importantly just how the hell he had gotten here.
For whatever reason he had pictured what they had called The Foundry to be embedded into the cliffs of the lake—something small and compact, maybe to be used as an observational vantage point—not actually in the lake. But when he opened his eyes to try and fight against the ship’s motion, he saw something at the bottom of the lake far more massive and masterfully composed than anything he could have assumption prior. This surprise molded into a terror the closer they came. From this distance the building—what he now assumed must be The Foundry—was nothing more than its own shadow; a shade of the larger whole; a black silhouette residing in a vast sphere of something humans had no business to be in. This is what scared Icarus the most. It looked as though no good thing could find comfort here. He peered at the older man sitting next to him, then to the one at the controls who was lazily keeping watch of their route. They looked kind enough. Afterall, they had taken him in without much query of who it was they may be dealing with. It was as though his consciousness followed the sun. The moment the sun peaked out its first rays of the new day he had then begun to fade away. It felt like he had lived only in a photon of light until that very moment; reborn with a purpose he could not yet grasp, though was certain some part of him was aware of.
There were shadows outside the confines. He didn’t dare inspect them any further than acknowledging their existence. They shrunk and expanded around the cabin, undulating across their laps. Icarus tried not to flinch.
Sounds of air escaping, and bubbles filling the cabin both occurred while a yet another sound spanned from left to right, wholly indescribable. A new light encased the cabin. The seats no longer shone, and the dust in the air no longer caught the small spotlights of day that found its way down through the ornate waterscape.
They had hit bottom. His lower half felt numb as the machine stopped its maddening vibrations. Icarus caught himself staring at his hands. They were spotless.
Surrounding them now was not water, but candlelight. The cabin took in no extra light as the younger friend climbed up the ladder to open the hatch.
The lines in his hands didn’t shift.
They grabbed Icarus beneath his shoulders, and helped him up the first few rungs of the ladder, staying below so as to catch him if he were to fall. Icarus was unwilling to take in any new information by himself, and stood with his hands to his sides, watching as the two friends made their way up the ladder to meet him. He could sense the immense open space around him, and could hear the strange sounds traveling through the water, then glass. The two friends seemed unaffected, caught in the grooves of a monotonous repetition.
“We have a few places to sit and cool down,” the one named Demetri said.
Icarus began to slowly creep out of his self-prescribed introspection as their footsteps ticked by over hardened tiled floors.
They walked through wide hallways lined with statues carved in wood. There were other men in here as well. At first, Icarus hadn’t noticed them since their black cloaks hid them nicely behind the shadows the candlelight provided. But as he focused his attention at more of an eye’s level, there they were. Huddled under towering sculptures. They moved their lips in synchronicity, though no sounds escaped that he could hear. The two friends past through the hall as if to disturb not even the air through which they passed.
They came to a door that looked nothing special, just heavy and oppressive. Icarus was unsure of how far they had come, though his feet—still unaccustomed to the hard floor—were throbbing at the balls. He looked down at his blackened and cracked toes as a hand took him by the arm and led him to a chair half dragged away from a large desk littered with pages. The two friends watched as the old man continued to stare at his toes. They had no idea of what he could be thinking. They both had many question they wished to ask him. But there was a kind of impenetrable wall nestled somewhere deep within his white hair falling flat across his face.
Icarus wondered what it was he was meant to do next, and looked up at them with timid eyes. The men were giving no clues as to the proper next steps; no indication in the course of action that may be obvious to them, but was apparently impossible for Icarus even to accidentally stumble upon.
His empty hands found pockets of air through his hair. The two friends shifted nervously, trying not have been stare. It didn’t bother him, though. The silence of the room was actually comforting, and the thought that he may like to sit in this fashion for quite some time crossed his mind. He closed his eyes and took in and held a deep breath.
“My name is John,” the younger one blurted out. Cold drips of water answered. “Maybe you have something you would like to say yourself?”
Do I? He wasn’t at all too sure.
Nothing changed but his direction of thinking. The two friends, Demetri and John, watched as the top half of his body slowly inched to the left. The slow motion stopped, and Icarus looked right at them.
“I’ve come to save myself.”
“From what?” Demetri asked.
Icarus shook his head. “I don’t know.”
There was muffled rumbling, and Icarus watched as the two friends looked up without moving their heads.
“What is that?” Icarus was unsure if he actually cared, but needed the conversation to move forward.
“You don’t know?”
Icarus looked back and forth between their overworked eyes and for the first time could recognize their completely exposed selves. There was an instinctual need to console either of them, but there was no way in which he knew how.
“We think it’s from where you have come from. Is this not so?”
A sound such as this one, one which shook the very bedrock on the bottom of this lake, surely could not be a result of where he came from. From where have I come? He tensed his face, and twisted his forehead, but could think of no such thing. Icarus looked pained.
“Do you know nothing of the hidden city?”
“I don’t know.”
They were going in circles, and Demetri was beginning to get frustrated.
“Oh, just tell him already! Tell him where he is!”
Icarus turned to John, as John turned to Demetri, both with a look of betrayal.
“You go on, he doesn’t need to hear it from my old mouth. Brighten it up a bit for him.” If this was his way of making light of the situation, Icarus didn’t even want to hear it.
“We were just at the far edge of where a city used to be.”
“Used to be?”
“When we were on the surface.”
“I know what you meant. But what do you mean where a city used to be?”
“I mean it used to be there, and now it’s not. Vanished. Disappeared, poof!”
“But how could that be?”
“Many of us believe that it was the gods that are talked about in our scriptures, that which we call The Histories.”
“And other, more level-headed people,” John started, “believe that those fuckers are hiding it from us. That we were pushed out! None of this fleeing from vengeful gods nonsense.”
Demetri looked at him coldly and sighed. They were two friends with different beliefs, yet interested in the same thing. It was a bitter-sweet relationship, one where arguments ended in hugs, and tears ended in laughing. They accepted each other’s stubbornness—it made it easier to accept that neither of their beliefs would ever change. So John didn’t need to look over to see the face was Demetri was making, he could already feel it.
“Whatever you believe,” John was saying to Icarus, “we’d like to figure out just what is going on in there. There is still a city, that much we can all agree on.”
“Well I don’t—”
It didn’t bother Icarus that he was cut off, and that concerned him. Demetri continued to stare at John disapprovingly.
“So how do you know it’s still there?” Icarus was staring out to the blue abyss he had not been aware of until this moment. Is it true that I was afraid of the water as a child? The thought had come into his head as he tried looking deeper in. He looked away and shuddered.
“I mean, the sounds first of all,” John found himself second guessing what he had always believed. “It can’t just be coming out of thin air. Something has got to be making those noises.” A small voice told him there was no way to know for sure that it was still there. As convinced as he was, even now that a man had appeared just from where the city was supposed to be, the walls of certainly still slightly crumbled.
“At least tell me where I am.” Icarus said as a pain had crept up his back. He noticed his legs were becoming restless. “Why do you live out here? Is there no where else to go?”
“Besides the desert? That’s hard to say. Our families have lived here since the great migration from the city. I guess we stay close by incase it ever shows up again.”
The mention of mass migration struck a chord with Icarus. Did I already know this happened?
“Do you think I was part of the migration?”
“Only if you’re four-hundred years old.”
Is that out of the question?
“But why did people leave? You’re so interested in finding it again, why leave in the first place?”
“I don’t represent what my ancestors thought,” John said, slightly offended.
“I do,” Demetri snuck in before John could continue.
A deep breath. “Anyway, the first of our families to leave the city were afraid. Of what exactly is hard to pinpoint, but it was a divine fear nonetheless. They felt an obligation to leave and live solitary lives out here. A sacrifice, in other words.”
“Don’t play dumb, John. The Histories give us quite a clear picture of why they left.”
Icarus realized he didn’t care one way or the other.
“People left because they were afraid that the gods were going to destroy the city.”
Icarus reclined in his chair, nervously looking at the towering stacks of monotonous, books. This was not what he was supposed to be doing. He needed to find a way back to his family, but how?
In the middle of their arguing—
“I need to find my family.”
The two friends stopped and turned towards the man, feeling ashamed to have acted in such a way in front of someone who was grieving. John bit his lip. The old man sitting in front of them looked helpless. He was unsure if Icarus would be able to stand—he looked too defeated, too out of place, too much potential for him to hide from everything unknown around him and recluse into the safety of his own head.
“I am sorry, but this is not where I need to be. Please show me out, I must move on.”
“But we have so many questions for you.”
“Where I need to be is not so far, I think. This won’t be the last time we meet, I can assure you that.”
John looked towards Demetri. They felt silly for having brought him down here.
A gift. It is only customary. Now where did I learn that?
“I want you to have this.” Icarus reached inside his pocket and produced a small orb, like a giant pearl. “I have no idea what it is, but I want you to have it. Something is telling me that I must give it to you. Take it as a reminder to come find me, then maybe I can answer your questions.”
John reached out to gently plucked the orb from his hands. He held it between him and his friend. They could feel what couldn’t be seen; somthing inside here held a power they couldn’t comprehend.
“I must be off.”
John and Demetri tried to stay focused on their way back out of The Foundry. They no longer felt as though they were allow some vital information to be lost by allowing this man to go and find where it was he needed to be.
Above the day was still young. They watched as Icarus fell deeper into the surroundings, walking towards a new day, and a new life—a life which they both now needed to be apart of.
John sat in his humble house, his newborn baby Frederick riding on his knee. The child cooed in his arms, reaching out with his chubby fingers towards the crystalline ball resting delicately on the wooden dresser. John stroked his baby’s nearly bald head, and whispered into his ear: “This is going to change everything.”