It took a lot of time, too long, but again I suppose time doesn’t mean much in the simulacrum, nor would it deter and defeat my goal. As we finished, Yiet proposed we absorb the entity that had assailed us and build us into a three-pronged being. I dove through the mass of information that was now available to me, I needed to know all I could of this woman, or Marlow. So sedated and seduced, there was little to stop me from seizing the core of her self and reading it in full. Her name was not Marlow, that much I could have guessed, but was as mine or Yiet’s, a name not riddled with humanity. Btll, the Ragehead, had been alone on the flat field for a terribly long time. It made sense why she so quickly would be melded into us, this was her first contact since entering the world. Yet I was not so easily won over to the concept of taking her, Btll was not one I could deem reliable. In truth, she had been swayed with only a little effort, and were she to break from us now would go off to be a fiend or perhaps rejoin a simulated city. Against my wishes, Yiet offered the olive branch, and against my better judgment, I allowed the more concrete foundation of this merging to be laid.
Once more, I was given control, the other two could converse and quietly watch, but their attempts at action would be muted. The arrangement, sharing a collected form, was not one I was becoming particularly fond of; however, the mass granted by a third participant would get us out of the Rage lands with ease. There were few, if any, entities that had joined into such a conglomeration. That was beyond the Fiends or Dreads, and they did it solely for their purposes. It was wholly a new thing, I had to admit, that a Dread would join with a Fiend and that Fiend would be able to gain them a Rage; still, I was hardly heartened by that notion. All I cared was that no more Rages would attempt to assail us unless they were extremely powerful or intensely stupid.
It took, what felt like weeks to cross the Rage lands, the journey made only barely tolerable as no Rages stepped in our path. Of course, we saw some of their like, and not all were shaped in the gaseous cloud-like forms that we had been. Btll had been like us, her cloud a fierce rose-red while I knew at one time I had been a stormy gray, and I could not forget that Yiet had been of shimmering pink, but these creatures were far less colorful. They sat in dark spiky heaps like urchins or jagged clumps of rock that could have been no more than sentient debris. All around them were the toppled remnants of cities they had built only to break. Scarred monument faces, ruined masks of steel, and stone would sometimes become entangled with these Rages. To see life flittering behind the hollow shattered eye sockets of a false god or long-dead leader was eerie, to say the least. I had never been so relieved as I was as we finally said goodbye to those less than pleasant sights. Yet, from one dominion to another, we moved from the rough and jagged to another collection of oddities that were utterly unique in their own manner.
I had never known a thing about those who existed somewhere beyond the Rage lands, nor had any of the other Dreadminds that I had come across. Yiet could not say much of them, only attributing to one of the best of his kind being spirited away by one of the Lofty. And Btll could only recall that she had been kept far from their dominion by those more dangerous Rageheads. We stepped into unknown territories as we left the Rage lands. Yet, we found the domain of the Lofty to be unlike anything we had seen before in the simulacrum. It was not the drab gray and white flat field that the Pleasurefiends and Dreadminds called home. Nor was it those black ruins the Rageheads would build up and burn to nothingness again and again. It wasn’t even similar to a simulated city with its many skyscraping towers and uniform blocks of residentials and businesses. The land of the Lofty, the artisans who could not belong to anything but their own domain, was a sight onto itself.
It was abstract, surreal, primitive, and almost psychedelic as the menagerie of styles and mediums melded together into the unreal architecture. Cubes of earth slide against one another, resting at the edges of one another as overhead a river of endless colored melted onto the world. The limbs and necks of classical Greek statues began to stretch into infinity, while their facades became overrun with the quick and sometimes stenciled marks of spray paint. Curious geometric shapes took flight like flocks of misshapen birds whose wings were adorned with the repeating, showy patterns of art-deco. And still, there was more stretching on and on across the plain that seemed to have no sense of physics or concerns for the laws of reality. However, what I could discern amongst the rabble, the shifting forms that gave only the vague impression of humanity and those nearly perfect still lives was that great temple.
Marble colonnades overly worked with such elaborate carvings that they were a marvel alone, supported a dome that seemed to stretch for miles. Along the length and width of this ancient world structure was a story unfolding. In the artist’s hands were the gifts to craft perfect forms and exact likeness as they had worked the history of humanity from start to this moment. We walked the full duration of the endless dome, stopping only when we found the throne that had converted imperfect human life into this eternal and seemingly flawless state of matter. Finally, breaking eye contact with the dome, we found that the pavilion it had stood over was no larger than the canopy of a maple tree back on earth. Inside, however, was another form that leaned itself against one of the colonnades.
We didn’t approach, I wasn’t sure if reaching out to communicate with one of the Lofty would be like coming into contact with Yiet or Btll. There was so little known of them that even the Dreadminds drew a blank when conversing on them. However, if they had seen the figure, the vaguest impression of our forebearers, they would have lost their minds. It moved in the manner nothing outside of a simulation could, smooth and agile. Yet, more bizarre was that it was neither a gas nor a solid heap like some of the Rages. Instead, it moved with a fluidity that no substance had the right to move with and was only made visible by a collection of arbitrarily placed dots that contrasted against one another the closer one would look. Before we could recognize what it was doing, realize where its movements were leading, the figure had dove into us with one, writhing hand.
At once, we were overcome with a strange sense, nothing like what Yiet had done to me nor the torment Btll had attempted to push us through. This was another wholly new experience that I could not yet correctly perceive. In a blank, colorless void, the three of us stood while all around us, the sketchings and brush strokes of this Lofty marked the space. It was strange to not only see colors being introduced so gradually, giving some form and life to the place, but in all the manners he managed to do so. Vertical and horizontal strokes crossed to hatch out a floor of cerulean mixed in part with vague hues of fuchsia. Bubbles, hastily rounded out and only barely completed in their cycles, rose up one wall while the other became entangled with more well thought out vines. It was then that I realized that there weren’t quite walls but one singular strip that had been unequally divided. They rose to a single point where the artist had begun randomly poking dots of dismal purple and red creating an inverted night sky. Still, after the queer landscape had been put forth entirely, the Lofty continued, filling his world with more and more.
A well-defined ship sat on the horizon, the more abstract tail of some great monster rose and fell from the waves that meshed into the rocky coast that climbed up in cubes. Across the foremost block was a mermaid or what could be deciphered to be a mermaid as it melted away from one singular point just above where its tail should start. The artist hadn’t stopped yet, a marble statue, carved to utter perfection, began to ascend from the depths just on the other side of the ship. Her elegant features had been halved and reproduced innumerable times across the dress the statue bore, a pattern of harshly contrasting colors. As the display of power or perhaps creativity continued, I finally found my voice and called to the sky, “Stop!”
A haughty voice came in answer but not directed solely at me, “Did it say stop?”
“I do believe so, ma’am. Why might you think they’d want us to stop so soon. We’ve only just begun at it,” another distinct voice answered.
An old creaky voice came next, “So rare is it that we find ourselves a guest outside of the normal stratus of artisans and they would deny us our showing. Bah, to the bin with them if they think our minds no longer as sharp as the butcher’s hook.”
“Now, now, they didn’t say a thing like that. Perhaps they only want us to slow it down a touch, let ‘em really take in all they be seein’. Was that it maybe? You wanted to really appreciate it all,” the folksy voice finally inquired of us.
I would speak for the other two, “We have not come for a show, there is quite enough to be seen from every angle and every direction in your lands. What we have come for... or I, at least, seek, is answers. Would you give answers to me freely, if I asked of the heart of man?”
Silence came, the colors and light of the room waned, the conical nature of the space rose and fell, and the whole area felt as though vibrating. After a resounding silence, the second voice, the youthful man answered, “The heart of man? Well, it is surely dead, if we must suckle at the teat of our limiters to even express ourselves. Expression is the heart of man, and though we can recreate and rebuild what had captivated man’s heart when humanity still stood strong, we can not properly create new expressions. Does that answer your question?”
“No. Yes. I’m not sure. I want to know just what we are, if not human. I want to feel, not remember what it was like to feel the free sway of emotions on me. There is so much more to man, or was, than remaining in our safe simulations or living on the Fringe, dedicated to our chosen habit, isn’t there,” I called back to the disembodied voice.
Plainly the folksy fellow remarked, “Methinks he didn’t know what he was signin’ up fer when he was transferred in.”
“The only one who could answer these questions is one who exists just beyond the Fringe, but I don’t think even it could tell you what you want. If you can not take our explanation, gladly, we will walk you to the Edge, and you may speak to it yourself. Fair?” the whining and creaking feminine voice asked.
I shook my head, not disagreeing just somewhat more disheartened about how little even the Lofty knew of the simulacrum. After mulling it over, not allowing the other two a chance to weigh in, I finally conceded, “If not even the Lofty can explain what we are without that freedom, then whoever may remain will suffice.”
“You seem to take this all a bit too lightly, child. Perhaps you should return to your Dreadminds and consider again if such a truth should be known to you,” the haughty voiced woman called, breaking her silence.
As I shook my head again, the youthful man broke in once more, “I do believe he has made up his mind, you can feel it in him same as I can. But he will do one thing for us in exchange for our aid. Once he reaches the Edge, he must cut free those he has bound to him. Only one must enter the dominion of that Old One, and even were it not policy, we should not allow three entities to have such a truth forced into them. Agreed?”
“Agreed. How soon can we be there?” I quickly shot back, not giving another second over to waste. What would come, the answers and all that it would entail, was my decision, my path, and neither Pleasurefiend nor Ragehead would stand in my way now.