Beyond the Levanter
Chapter 1 - Beyond the Levanter
Between two minds, there exist Ten Leagues of darkness. It was here that the Candidate found himself. Before being sent off to the facility, he had woken next to the cold corpses of his youngest brother, who had succumbed to the famine gripping the land. The funeral took place that morning, the candidate's send-off in the afternoon.
“Why did you not see that I was ill brother? Could you not have spared me just a crumb of your bread? You had plenty more waiting for you.” The Ten Leagues was not a passive, neutral thing. It heard your thoughts, reverberated them back to you. It spoke loud and slow so that it bore into your ear. He had volunteered for this assignment to provide food for his peasant family. It would mean unlimited rations, a wage that would mean they never struggled for anything again. In the event of his death, they would inherit all of it and there would be no more starvations.
He had to remind himself of this as his footsteps echoed down the seemingly endless tunnel, black as obsidian. The only image one saw was their reflection beneath their feet, which showed the Candidate what he looked like out in the real world. He was on a bed, sedated with tubes running from his nose and forearm. He glanced at his kangaroo-like legs, grown more powerful with the generous food provisions given to him by the scientists. The sight of his own body reminded him that he did not have to walk slowly. At brute speed, he bounded through the Ten Leagues. The speed of his movement made the sounds less painful. Waiting for him at the end, were three pairs of eyes. The only light within the darkness. A warning growl told him that he was getting closer still. An irrational fear was felt in his stomach.
“You can’t die here, this isn’t real.” He always told himself, but these words did nothing to put him at ease as he heard approaching footsteps. They sounded methodical like something was closing in on its prey.
‘It’s coming to me this time, good.’ Candidate 5 thought. Candidate 5’s species possessed a muscular tail, which they sat on. He assumed this position as a show of strength.
The heads of three dogs emerged from the shadows. One was baring its teeth, the second growled. It was a relief for the candidate to see the third head whimpering. This creature was putting on as much of a display as the candidate was, only his biology allowed him to hide it better. One body, to which all three heads were attached, revealed itself.
The biggest battle was maintaining this self-image. It would be easy to get lost in your own mind, imagine yourself with big muscles and a handsome face, but the candidates that had attempted this never wanted to return to the real world. Besides, millennia of domestication meant that their two species had a special bond, any alteration would frighten it, cause it to attack.
And so, the candidate stretched out his hands, ignoring the angry head in the middle and held an open palm out to the ones on either side. The growling head cautiously sniffed at him, the frightened head went from frightened whimpers to excited cries. The top lip of the middle dog slowly descended.
The Candidate now had to contain his joy, this was farther than he had gotten on the previous tests. The purpose of the experiment was to get inside the Dogs’. Working on the logic that a superior intelligence could invade the mind of a lesser. Five years of failed experiments had proven otherwise. Satisfied that the dog was pacified, he looked straight ahead. A single speck of light had opened up in the end. No bigger than a pinprick. A thin concentrated beam shone on his chest. The Candidate relaxed the muscles in his tail, moved his hands down to the dog’s chins, who craned their necks in pleasure. The dog rolled over, it paws flailing stupidly in the air.
Beads of sweat were forming on his forehead like he was diffusing a bomb. The light grew bigger, now he was feeling what the dog was feeling. Pure, unadulterated joy. For a moment, he was lost in it. The Candidate buried his face in the dog’s belly, blowing on it as if it were a toddler. The dog play-nipped at his wrists and elbows.
The light had grown and grown, now the dark tunnel was illuminated. The hole was as big as a doorway.
The Candidate had to time this right. The Candidate coiled his legs up ready to unleash his kinetic energy. He heard a thud behind him, his head snapped around. In the middle of this tunnel stood a bipedal being, with straight, skinny legs and no fur. It wore a clear visor which it breathed through. It wasn’t looking at the candidate, it was looking up.
“Bloody hell.” It said as it clutched its ears. Which the candidate knew was to block out the mocking voice of the Ten Leagues. A siren blurred and the being was gone, but not before the Candidate noticed it had no reflection.
“No.” The Candidate muttered under his breath, his energy too drained to shout. That siren came from the real world, played through headphones placed on his unconscious body. It only sounded during times of emergency, they had told him upon entering the facility that the siren had never been used. The Candidate didn’t have the time to contemplate the reason for it.
All three heads were now baring their teeth at him. He spun on the balls of his feet, leaping over the dog, just as its belly opened into a roaring mouth of serrated teeth. It snapped shut, the sound of its teeth biting empty air went off like a gunshot.
The Candidate was bounding across the Ten Leagues now. He didn’t want to look back, but then again, he didn’t have to. The smooth surface stretched the dogs' reflection so that it was in the candidate's frontal view. The dog had become a monstrous hydra. The teeth of its stomach had bend backwards over the body, forming legs. It scuttled like a centipede after him, the necks had stretched outwards. The Candidates’ heart was thumping now, knowing that because of this, the Ten Leagues was reading his fear, morphing the dog.
Pain surged up from his ankle like electricity, followed by a warmth that felt soothing until he realised that was saliva and blood on his skin. The Candidate was being dragged backwards. If the dog won, the Candidate knew he wouldn’t die, but he had seen enough people wheeled out on stretchers, their arms, legs and tails strapped down onto the mattresses as they screamed their throats raw, to know that death would be preferable. He saw the pinprick of light on the opposite side, which at this point served to taunt the Candidate rather than give him hope. It was within reach, but the dog was thrashing its head, snapping his ankle. The other two heads clamped down on his shoulder and throat.
The Candidate lunged with his arms, crying out from a new kind of pain as his joints cracked, his arm stretched out to an improbable degree until his fingers were a mere brush away from the light. All it took to escape the Ten Leagues was to touch the light, for the light was his own mind. His vision blurred, jaws became hands, dark became light. The Candidate awoke with a gasp. A nurse was shaking him conscious.
He was still inebriated as he gazed at the Ten Leagues. Or more accurately, the device that transported your mind into it. No one knew exactly how it worked, archaeologists had uncovered it ten years ago. It resembled a miniature cannon, supported by two triangular pieces of metal at its side. The flap at the back was quickly shut by the nurse. That was the part you pressed your face against and the device would read your mind through your eyes. The Barrels pointed a red laser at the mind you wanted to infiltrate. On an operating table a few feet in front, the three-headed dog lay in a drug-induced stupor. Three tongues flopped lazily out of three open mouths, forming a big puddle of drool that was pouring over the sides. Candidate 5 laughed for a moment, amused at the fact that something which looked so goofy had been so dangerous. The Nurse slapped him around the face.
“We have to go.”
Startled and alert, Candidate 5 asked, “Why?”
“Something is happening.”
“Something?” That was when the Candidate noticed that the nurse’s face was grey with shock, “I don’t know.”
For the first time since he had arrived at the facility, the Candidate didn’t want to leave his cell. Each Candidate was assigned to a cell according to their number. Paper was provided by the examiners and stamped with an official seal. The candidates would have to record their experiences in the ten leagues by writing “eight-legged essays”—literary compositions with eight distinct sections. Interruptions and outside communication were strictly forbidden.
As they walked to the door, the Candidate kicked over his chamber pot. His feet soaked in his own urine, the nurse didn’t flinch, she hurried him out and into the corridor. Outside his cell, the candidate normally heard silence, now it was filled with officers giving orders, soldiers and medical staff running up and down, clutching piles of documents to their chests.
“What is that thing up there?” One soldier said to another as the Candidate passed them. The Candidate started to experience phantom pains where the dog had bitten him. His shoulder felt like it was being crushed again and he had to stop and allow the wave of agony to wash over him.
A soldier came up behind him and shouted,
“MOVE!” Pushing him through a fire exit. He scraped his palms as he landed on the concrete outside. The feeling of fresh air after so long was so dizzying that it put him in the foetal position.
He rolled onto his back and smiled as he saw the Levanter. The planet of Organon was enveloped by a gas cloud that blocked sunlight and destroyed any rocket that his species had tried to send through it. On the positive side, the Levanter gave the entire planet a warm, tropical climate and the candidate could hear the sound of palm leaves in the wind. This was not a pleasant summer breeze, however, but a violent gale. That was when he noticed bolts of lightning tearing across the Levanter. Something was disrupting the electrons in it. The Candidate rolled his head to the side and saw people looking up at the same spot. When his eyes fixed on it, the candidate had to question if he was still in the Ten Leagues, if he truly had lost his mind.
A face, behind a clear visor, as big as a country was poking through the Levanter. It blinked down at the Orgonians in confusion, Its face was framed by pure white light.
“Bloody hell,” it said. The face moved, leaving a gap that a beam that shone through and landed upon Afuda Romg, a continent that lay just across the sea.
A phantom pain crushed his throat and he couldn’t breathe, he fought to stay conscious but his mind and body had been weakened.
The Candidate pressed his hand to his head, felt the violent throb of his temples against his palms. His body convulsed, his back arched upward. He was in the space between life and death, he felt a sensation like a hot needle being driven into the back of his head. When he finally opened his eyes again, he witnessed the most important seconds in the history of Organon. Scientists had theorized that there must be something beyond the levanter. Now, the debate had been settled, through the Levanter, the Candidate saw a world of lush forest and greenery, shining holy light down on Organon. The religious half of the candidate gazed in wonder, the atheist looked on in abject terror.
Organon had never seen natural light before, that holy light became holy fire as it touched the grasslands. Green turned to black and red as fires raged along the horizon. He saw the skyscrapers of great cities melt like butter in the inferno. His mind taunted him with the names and faces of people he knew who lived there. He hoped their deaths were quick, hoped that not a millisecond of pain was inflicted on them as they vaporized, the white light started to climb back up as The Levanter almost closed again when a black blob dropped through the atmosphere. It landed in the middle of the ocean, so big that it still poked out of the surface. The ground beneath everyone rocked back and forth, the concrete ripped like paper.
The Nurse took him under the arm, they started running to a helicarrier on the landing strip.
In the air, everyone rushed to the windows, to look down on the abomination. It’s ‘top’ jutted out like a mountain, some people fainted as they witnessed the blob open up and drink the ocean. The Candidate saw a whale sucked into it, like a spider in a plughole.
The thing was thrashing in the sea like it was desperately trying to throw something off itself. Candidate 5 saw what was on it. An amber substance was coating it, having burned through the atmosphere, it was now being roasted in it. A glob hit the side of the helicarrier, throwing it off course and preventing the blades from spinning, sending it into a terminal decline. Some of it smashed through the glass and hit the candidate in the face. He felt removed from what was happening in that moment. He calmly looked at the terrified expression of his fellow passengers and wondered if he was making the same face.
When he felt the amber burn the back of his throat, the Candidate’s mind and body were reset. Something in the amber gave him boundless energy. Between the heads of the passengers, he could see a nice green field moving towards them.
He regained consciousness mid-walk.
Carrying the nurse over his shoulder, she cried out in agony. She begged the candidate to kill her as he laid her down, indifferently taking in the burns that covered her body. He swiped some amber off his face and rammed his fingers into her mouth. The screaming stopped, she got to her feet.
“What do we do now?” She asked, to which the Candidate responded by pointing to the cliff.
“There is more down there.”
They walked to the cliffside, the sea violently thrashing from the storm. Half of the helicarrier was in the water, bodies floating around it between huge globs of amber too thick to dissolve. It washed up on the rocks. The Candidate and the nurse climbed down into the raging sea.