The void inside us

He crested the edge of the Earth-Plane.

A void stood before him, a starless one. He reached over the side of the earth and his arm vanished into the darkness. The wreathe of plane-light could barely reach his fingers and he recoiled. Letting his boot slide back down into a foothold, his bunched muscles relaxed and he slid down the rock-face. His cloak snagged a sharp rock. He reached for it, feeling its familiar texture through his gloves.

‘No!’ he roared and then he leapt into the darkness.

He drifted through the cosmos, he was alone. Little would he know it but he would pass worlds at war, held in common by bridges across the empyrean. He would be seen and ignored by great minds, unable to comprehend his role in the universe. Or perhaps indifferent to him, for perhaps he deserved only indifference. He could see nothing, although he could sometimes feel the breath of gods upon his frail form. Even that subsided. He thought he had a hum, the distant beating of a dragons wings.

The thought occured to him that maybe he had fallen so far outside of time that he could not possibly turn back now. The last of his sentiment drained and he found himself desiring nothing. Finally, something tangible began to form before his eyes. Upon a flat rock of smooth obsidian, a tower seemed to rise, bands of light pulsing out from it and dissipating into crumbling rings. It was impossible yet ge accepted it as it was, having abandoned the power of logic long ago. Nor did he think much of the spindle which rose out of the tower and surrounded him like a net of crystal, gently guiding him to an open dais. Between gargantuan sculpted hands he was drawn and he accepted it. Figures stood there, vast men in vast armour, impassively staring at the drifting man. As he set down upon the smooth rock, Beorec bowed slightly. A low voice carried across the void and echoed inside the traveller’s helm.

‘It has been long since one has visited this place from your obscure plane. Who are you?’

‘I am Beorec Sertanus. Or at least I was, for my family does little to understand me and I have abandoned them. I would bargain with Azymuth.’

‘Then despair thyself. You do not belong here and shall gain nought from us.’

‘Let me. I would bargain with you, however you please. Anything!’

‘One does not simply bargain with Azymuth! Besides, what would you offer?

Beorec held himself tall and gazed into the pitless helm of the sentinel. ‘My blade’

The armoured giant lowered his hands, palms upturned. Beorec held the sword upright, smiling as the cosmic torchlight played upon its elegant hilt. With gentle ceremony he handed over his father’s old sword, and then he stepped away with a slight bow. The sentinel of Azymuth grunted and snapped the blade in half, crushing it to dust in his gauntlets.

‘Is that all?’

Beorec thought of offering his heart. He thought better of it.

The armoured giant sighed with a slight shrug. ‘Begone mortal, this is no place for you.’

‘I will slay you and take your place.’

The vast sentinel stood patiently, as if he was perplexed by what he had just heard. ‘Unlikely.’

‘Face me!’ cried Beorec, drawing a hand axe from his belt.

‘Nay.’

Beorec hurled himself at the giant and hacked into his armour, the axe-head scraping against a domed pauldron. The sentinel remained as he was, gazing down at the little man.

‘Ah, but this one has pluck. Very well, I take pity on you.’

Beorec backed away, gazing up confusedly. He swung his axe back and struck again. His arm hung in mid-air, caught by a vast gauntlet. Beorec screamed as he was lifted in the air and slung over an immense, rounded shoulder guard. Blackness followed as he was hauled into the tower like a sack of grain.

When next he awoke he was again wreathed in darkness, yet felt utterly connected with the one he had sought.

‘Is that you, great one? Where-‘

‘I am already here,’ the voice raced through his head and Beorec writhed on the ground. ‘I am inside you, as I am inside all mortals.’

‘Aaaah, wha-‘

‘I am Azymuth, and all that is sentient, all that reflects upon Nature, is part of I.’

‘What…are…you?’ he cried

‘You cannot comprehend me, for you can perceive only things only through the weak prism of your mind. To the thousandfold dimensions that make up the rest of the cosmos you are blind.’

‘Then tell me, master…tell me…’

‘I will tell you nothing if you continue to call me master, for you are not worthy to be called my slave. You are less than a slave; you are finitude to my infinity; you are nothing.’

‘Then I am no slave, but dirt, dirt at your feet, but tell me what you would have me do.’

‘You are not dirt, you are nothing.’

‘I am nothing, nothing! But tell me all I must know for I have left my home to find you! Tell me what I must do!’

‘Embrace me, seek me. Avoid me, hide from me. You shall find me, I am the void inside you. I am the feeling of carnage in your heart which loves the sight of war; I am the impulse which has you reach for your sword without provocation; I am three cups of wine too many on a night of hedonistic delight; I am that which disappoints you and yet keeps you coming back for more; I am the disconnect between morality and action which makes hypocrites of saints; I am that which prevents you from feeling empathy for life; I am that which causes you to despair at the suffering of the cosmos; I am the cyclical ennui which flattens your spirit; I am that which makes you feel alone in a full room; I am that which makes you hate yourself such that every day is a struggle against self-annihilation; I am the destruction of life, all life; I am the resolution of the universe; I am the supreme end; I am absolute entropy and negation for all of eternity. I am Azymuth, and my acolytes are legion, and I will destroy my brothers and sisters and children, and nothing will remain to oppose me.’

For a moment the voice formed into an image and Beorec’s heart exploded and his veins sundered and his ribs burst open through his mail as he saw what no mortal had yet seen and lived. As he lay upon the smooth rock and waited for the end of the vision he dimly heard the conclusion.

‘And then I will destroy the last of the Planes…’

He awoke again, against the crest of a tall, dark rock. The void lay before him, a distant city lay behind. He turned his back on the void, so that now the distant city waited before him. But now he knew he could not leave the void, that it came with him wherever he went. Beorec reached for the broadsword at his belt, it was gone. With a grim smile he trudged toward the city, he had abandoned, thankful just to feel hard stone beneath his feet.

I am waiting for you

I am waiting for you at the roots of a black mountain

At the axis of eternity where no falling stones may strike us.

I am waiting to hear of your tales in that voice:

Read me the letters sent by desperate princes from far places

Tell me where you wiped daemonic blood from you sword

And say if you found love so I can know if it is real.

Regail with battles won and lament the times you were routed

Tell of the spells you have seen cast from wizened claws

The beasts whose breath has panted on your neck

The artefacts which pulsed with power in cavernous shrines

The thousand-temple processions and the songs they sung.

Expound wild theories of the cosmos, or just speak in axioms

Say what we should do, counsel where humanity should go

Deplore idealism as you do, balance the scales as you can

Remind me of why I am alive, why we are alive.

 

I am waiting as I have been long waiting, and I will wait more

Yet I have done nothing, nothing but waiting and waiting.

I have created nothing with these fingers but brittle shapes

Sired no children in these lands and planted no great trees

I have just watched the hands of a clock pass, hidden from myself,

Seen decay turn to death, lost all purpose in a moment

Given up and given up and given up until my hands became empty

Of all but callouses and scars.

 

For as long as I remember things felt as if  they were slipping away,

At best and at worst things were unreal, illusive deception.

So know this, whilst I waited long, I know nothing, fathom nothing,

I have nothing to say, I can only hear.

I have achieved nothing and built nothing

Raised nothing and mustered nothing

As ephemeral as a pass of the sun or a moment of inspiration

But inspired no one!

You will have nothing to learn, except perhaps how a life can flash by

How a phoenix can fall back into the embers

Or a sycamore seed can miss the soil.

 

I am waiting here, in the node of oblivion, at dark gates

And I will wait til you come here to spar with me again

Lips crooked, swords drawn.

Song for the precarious generation

A merchant fallen from fortune
Might find a mere basement before his eyes

And a man safe in his lover’s arms
Might find himself alone when she dies

A king commanding a kingdom
Might find himself thrown out on his arse

And a beautiful woman of elegance
Might find herself horribly scarred

A city overlooking a river
Might find itself flooded and drowned

And a castle safe on the cliffs
Might face tremors and come crumbling down

A keeper who tends to his bees
Might find them all wiped out by disease

And a bard who depends on his fame
Might be forgotten in song and in name

One thing is for certain in life
That nothing is ever so safe as it seems.

All hearts stop beating, all bodies grow old
All beauty is fleeting, all heat goes cold.

The only strength that always remains true
Is to adapt and survive with empty hands

For you never know, when it will be you
Dispossessed and disowned of your power and lands

Human dignity – ah what a noble attitude!
But Nature is a mocking skull, who laughs at our finitude.

Absolute peace

Once there was a troubled soul who sought tranquillity. He heard of the Sage who lived deep in the forest and trusted in his reputation. So he sold his house and sold his belongings and donated the proceeds to the church, then he left his home with empty hands.
 
Finding the Sage of the forest he asked: ‘Is it true that you can show me the way to absolute peace?’
 
‘Yes’ replied the old man. ‘But first you must trust that this is what you want. Is it peace you desire over all else?’
 
‘Aye’ replied the troubled man.
 
‘Next you must trust me, trust my deeds and not just my reputation. Do you trust me? Have I ever failed one of my disciples?’
 
‘Not that I know of’ replied the troubled man. ‘So I trust you will show me the secret to absolute peace.’
 
‘Very well. First you must find the greatest oak in the forest and wait there. I will find you there.’
 
So the troubled man sought the greatest oak in the forest. In about a week he had found it and took his place beneath it. He waited hours, then days, then weeks, then months before the Sage found him.
 
‘I have been here many days. Am I on the path to absolute peace?’
 
‘Yes, you have done well.’
 
‘What must I do now that I have waited so long?’
 
‘Continue waiting. It will come to you.’
 
So the man waited beneath the tree for weeks, then months, then years. Again the Sage found him, sitting in almost the exact same spot.
 
‘Am I closer to my goal oh Sage?’ asked the troubled man.
 
‘Yes, not long to go now.’
 
‘What should I do?’
 
‘Nothing, just keep on waiting.’
 
So the troubled man waited patiently,  for months, for years and then decades, dreaming of the day he might finally reach enlightenment. Now old and haggard the troubled man felt he was running out of time. He started to worry that he had been forgotten, but then he remembered to trust the Sage and continued to wait patiently.
 
Until finally, one day in early Winter, the Sage returned bearing a bone-white cloth.
 
‘Oh  Sage, I have done as you advised. Am I close to the peace I desire?’
 
‘Very close’ replied the Sage, who watched as the troubled man took his last breath and slumped over. There was a look of peace on his lifeless face.
 
The Sage covered the body with the cloth and returned to the depths of the forest.

Dealing with duality

If you dare to love, you must dare to lose.

If you want to feel joy, you must also sense sorrow.

If you wish to live, you must also expect death.

 

I have just thought of the most succinct conception of ‘fantasy’ ever. Fantasy is when life is one thing and not the other. It is good without evil, love without loss, life without death, change without chaos, pleasure without pain, and so on.

Reality is double-edged. Everything that can sense pleasure can feel pain. Everything that can soar high will be pulled down by gravity, everything that grows will decay.

The rough ground of reality leaves no space for perfection. Imperfection and finitude is hard-wired into us. Sentience contains suffering, and acceptance of this is necessary for us to feel anything good at all.

The closest we can get to fantasy is a grim remedy. Either to deny our own emotions and effectively be already-dead, a being without total sentience, a truncated being of ignorance and inhumanity. Or we can forever seek to get high and stay high – a biological impossibility, the destruction of our brains and natural rhythms, a constant urge to stay awake, never dream until the body collapses.

Anxieties of perfect health, of immortal life, of endless pleasure, of freedom from chaos, of eternity and afterlife – all feed into the fantasy of a non-reality which is irresistible to use finite beings, yet must be acknowledged as harmful to the soul. We must accept the darkness as we accept the light; we must dispel our myths and fantasies as wishful thinking at best, and destructive ideals at worse.

How much we suffer depends on our expectations. The longer we expect to live perfectly happy lives, the longer we shall suffer. This does not mean giving up the struggle for better standards, denying happiness and accepting artificial suffering. Nor does it mean disengaging with the world around us.

It simply means being realistic about what is and isn’t possible. We should strive for better, but realistically so. We should enjoy moments of love and happiness but accept that they are ephemeral. We should add suffering aplenty into our equation. Fortunately this dark cloud need not depress us; we should know that suffering is the cause of solidarity, heroism and enlightenment.

Life without this struggle is beyond my conception.