once I was king

Mother/Father

On worlds of their own making, trapped in exiles of their own devising, Mother Eve and Father Adam waited for their favored sons—the usurper and the fallen—to visit seeking counsel on the war to come. They sensed it. The multiverse teetered on destruction’s edge. Both smelled iron on the wind. They tasted the blood to be shed. So the parents waited and plotted, each scheming how to ensure their boy emerged king and victor.

Mother Eve strode through a garden paradise. Winds, with her gentle coaxing, bent the tall grasses away from her face as she approached. Hair dark and tightly curled, eyes green and open, she frowned at her florescent surroundings. Hers was a world rife with life:

Silver-barked birches ringed her path, snickering as their branches bowed low beneath a wealth of leaves, cardinals and red-breasted bluebirds. They laughed and leaked sap reeking of sex and rot. An army of chittering beasts scattered at play about her feet. Each another experiment, a new lifeform teased from the depths of her cauldron. There were creatures with a dozen hairy limbs. Others dragged themselves along the ground with probosces of varying lengths. Still others with small mouths frozen in grim, toothy grins traveled by hopping through the air, hovering ever so briefly before landing and leaping again. Breathing music, anthropoid notes bathed in golden light swam in the air around her, singing praises of the Mother, of Eve.

Her world was an oasis locked in desert black. Every creature she birthed there worshipped and adored her. She was the mother of all.

Watching the sun as it set below the horizon, she blinked. Instead of continuing its descent, it began to rise once more, trekking from west to east. As long as she lived, and this world remained her home, it would never knew night. She was God, or one of them. Evoking the impossible was a matter of will, the rules of physics were ones she wrote, along with the beloved Father.

She stood, and waited for her son—Aible, the fallen—to arrive. She waited and thought of Adam, Husband and Father, and wondered if he too had plans for the war to come.

Father Adam dug through the silt at the Ocean’s bottom, digging in the black was all he knew. He felt the crushing pressure of the coursing torrent that stretched for miles above his head. He heard the beating hearts at the core of the world that was his own, the prison he created. With single-minded purpose he scratched through the crust, reaching for… for… whatever he sought he no longer remembered.

World-eaters. My perverted children.

The words held no meaning for him now, so many eons had passed since he set himself to this task. All he remembered was the hunger burning inside him, a hunger for vengeance. Vengeance against the Mother.

Eve! Alone on his desolate ocean world, he bellowed. All was silence, even his mighty yell squelched by the roaring sea. No light, if even there was sun on this planet that held him, penetrated the depths of his hell. He dug in darkness, penetrating the thick mud with bleeding, raw hands, and drew closer and closer to the hearts, the siren beats echoing from his world’s center. All he knew was when he reached them he would be freed; all he remembered was that his son, Cayne, came to call on him. His son would surface and seek his wisdom.

He needed to be ready.

Mother Eve stood in the light, with her eyes pointed unflinchingly at the sun. Father Adam languished in the black, with his arms elbow deep in muck and in mire. She bubbled fresh life from her cauldron-womb. He dug towards Death and his servants who bore it. In the recesses of their minds, these vestigial Divinities worked and plotted. Like all parents they waited for their children to call.

They waited for their sons, for their lives to find purpose once again.

The Nowhere

                Hold to me tight… this is a long journey we make.

At first Ricard thought the shock of their escape had blinded him, but then light burned from Aible's eyes—purple beacons cutting through midnight off a rocky shore. The light penetrated the darkness and revealed that blindness the aide feared was simply… a void. They fled from the asylum into nothing. There was no wind, no sound. Ricard did not even feel any ground beneath their feet. It was as if they padded silently through air on a night with no moon, through a land far from any vestige civilization.

                As it turned out, his instincts were not entirely wrong.

                "John? Uh… sorry, Aible? Where are we, exactly?"

                Aible did not answer immediately. Were it not for the light coming from his eyes, and the vise grip he had on the Aide’s fingers, Ricard would not have known he was there at all. Finally he spoke, in a voice that grew ever more sonorous. The longer he was free of the asylum's influence, the more fully he became his former self. His hand shook in Ricard’s and the aide winced in pain. He could not escape the reborn king’s grasp if he tried.

                "Imagine the multiverse is a-"

                "Multiverse?" Ricard immediately cursed himself for interrupted, the king… or God, beside him did not seem like he was one accustomed to interruptions. If he was annoyed by the rudeness of it, however, it did not show in his voice.

                "Cayne, my brother, like I before him and our Mother Eve before me, reigns over a cluster of universes joined together by our stewardship. Not one reality, but a collection."

                How quickly one's understanding of the world grows in mere seconds.

                "Now imagine that multiverse were, let's say, a castle, or a vast mansion. Every old human structure has its secrets. Doors behind paintings in bedrooms that open into ill-lit passage ways. Passage ways that splinter and lead all sorts of places. The kitchens, or stables or dining halls. If the castle is the whole multiverse, and these rooms are various sub-verses, then this, this place is those back passages. From here we can go anywhere."

Ricard rubbed his free hand across his face in an attempt to convince himself he was still there. How could this be? He stood in a nothingness conversing with God. How could any of this be real? The presence of his hooked nose, soft rounded chin—grizzled with three days of unshaved growth—was little comfort. The light, little that it was, served only to highlight how eerie were his surroundings, how quickly his life slid into the supernatural. In the blackness, visions of old violence returned to him. His hands, still calloused and hard after all this years, steeped in so much blood. A parade of empty eyes passed before him in the black, as if all his long buried sins lingered in this metaphysical corridors. Once again, he had stumbled into a struggle beyond his comprehension.

Story of my life. He thought resignedly to himself.

"And, if I may ask, where are we going?"

"Mother Eve. She has a garden. A land of her own she crafted to spend her convalescence. After my… fall from grace, Cayne banished her there. I, I am still not entirely myself. There are things I cannot remember.”

They stopped, and Aible stretched his free hand out before them. Bringing it down, light tumbled from the path it carved through the Nowhere, bringing a little much needed illumination to the void. Finally Ricard understood. Where they stood was no place. Only emptiness stretching to infinity in all directions. To be lost in such a vacuum. He shuddered at the thought, and clutched even tighter to the waking God as Aible cut a portal from no world into the realm of his vanquished mother.

“She will help fill in those missing memories. How I was defeated. How I might regain my throne.”

Before they stepped through, and Ricard truly left the only world he knew behind forever, Aible turned to him and weighed him in his serious, violet eyes.

“You are committed to me?”

“I promised I w-”

“You will obey without question?”

“I… will try. I’ve been misled by masters before.”

Aible nodded, and what might have been a smile teased his face. “Yes, I too know betrayal. Keep your faith close. What was your name, anyway?”

“-Ricard.”

“Yes, keep your faith close, Ricard. It will be tested. If yours cannot bend, you may break along with it.”

And then they were in the meadow. Ricard gaped at the flowering world around him. Its beauty was beyond measure.

Remembrance

                No matter how far you fall, no matter how deep the hole. There is always a way to freedom. Someone casts a line into the abyss and you take hold. You cling to the smooth, frictionless walls as they hoist you toward the light and who you once were. And you are rescued. But there comes a time, when you are almost back at the surface—when you can feel the sun on your face and the wind tickles your nose—where they can pull you no further. Where you must climb the rest of the way and liberate yourself.

                That moment for me comes now.

                It is dark, though whether that is because it is the dead of night, or just the regular fugue state of my disassociated self I cannot say. There is a part of me that remembers… everything. Cayne, our Mother Eve, a battle between us on a level larger than the moons and stars, on a level smaller than quark or atom. We came to blows over the fate of the universe, and I was defeated. I fell far. So far. And that part of me is furious, that part of me craves vengeance. That part of me is also miniscule. The larger portion of me forgets, is confused, drools like a senile old man, and listens to stories. I can see the sun on the horizon, I feel the wind, but still I am trapped. Without a push, I may stay here forever.

                But then, in the dark, I have a visitor. A presence that, even in the fog, I remember well.

                “Oh, Aible… what a noble mind is here o’erthrown.”

                Cayne? Here? I try to speak. I try to scream, but all I can manage is to gurgle. My eyes flutter desperate, the flames in them still far too dim.

                I am deeper in the hole than I realize.

                “Do you remember being born brother? I do. I remember the darkness before, being little more than an idea, than a blink. The heat, remember the heat brother? The heat and the water, bubbling around us? We didn’t know where we were, or what, or why?”

When I squint, I can see him standing just before me, pacing back and forth. Working himself into a fury. Even kingship, it seems, does not heal old wounds.

“But there was the voice, whispering, singing, calling us forth with words we did not yet understand. My children… come my children… I know now that is what she said. Souls percolated through us and we were imbued with many selves, a countless selection of faces, as befitting us Gods. And then there was the light, pulling us toward it. And we flew up… up… until there we were. In Eve’s garden. Me first and then you.”

Here he stops, and leans down to my level, squeezing my shoulders with his hands. They bite me, and if I could do anything more than dopily meet his gaze, grimace and groan with the pain, I would. In my mind’s eye, I rise up and wallop him in those crazed, fiery eyes. I… I… do more than that also.

“Remember that, brother? *I* was first. Then why were you made king?”

You were too jealous brother, too possessive and too volatile. I see nothing has changed but your title. How has our multiverse suffered for your folly?

In reality I do not respond. I am an invalid. Perhaps I fart loudly as my brother, the usurper Jorah Cayne, sniffs disdainfully and steps away.

“No, it seems you do not. You have lost much, dear Aible. Forgotten more. And that is what makes a God, John… I should call you just John now, shouldn’t I? A human name for a mere human? What makes a God-”

He steps back, and I see myself stepping with him. Grabbing some nearby metal and making a new hole in his abdomen and another… and another. But in reality I merely tremble in my chair.

CAYNE! How dare you take from me? My rebellion continues only in stillness and silence.

“What makes a God, John, is we do not forget. Not a single thing.”

He turns from me, preparing to leave. Walking away, he does not look back.

“You’ve forgotten everything, John. Less than a man, you are. These creatures, at least, remember that they will die.”

He does not walk to the door, as he approaches it, it seems to stretch further and further away. He slowly disappears in the middle distance, facing with shadow back into the All. Still, his voice echoes, even when the room is empty.

Goodbye, John… I do not expect we will meet again.

I imagine the smile on his face, smug and certain. I remember what he took from me, my memories and faces draining away, joining with his own. I remember our Mother, cast from All’s locus and forced to create her own world in the distant eddies of a distant universe.

Meadows with leaves dancing in a whirlwind. I see her face, streaked with tears. “When it is time. When you remember…”

I remember a titanic struggle, on a battlefield of where and when. Stretching back and forth across the cosmos and through time. But I cannot remember how I lost. Perhaps those memories will return to me. But now-

-now I must leave.

The shackles come away like butter. I scrabble up the walls, scratching upwards with my nails seeking desperate purchase. I float up out of the chair, dark fire in my eyes. I can feel the sun. The sun. THE SUN. I remember. I remember what I must do. And where I must go. A meadow, tall grasses swaying in the wind. Mother Eve’s sad face. “When you remember… come to me.” The wind, it howls in my ears, crying vengeance.

“I was… I was…”

A strong hand closes around mine, a familiar grasp, this time it does not constrain but tugs me forward, freer of my restraints, further from the chair. Out… out… into the hall. I look into its owner’s kind, gentle eyes, gray and mournful, and I remember the stories. And I know what stranger cast me the first line, hoisting me back to myself.

“No John, you are-”

I shake my head at that name. That small human name.

“Not John, not today. Call me Aible.”

He doesn’t miss a beat.

“And Aible is…”

Alarms sound in the hall, such quiet insignificant sounds now. No drug can cloak me, my memories fill me with a great force. A power, though insignificant compared to that I once knew, still strong enough to effect my escape.

“I was. I am. I will be-”

I close my eyes and picture my destination. A distant meadow. Home to deific castaways. Eve. I open them and finish my thought.

“KING!”

The aide, still by my side, nods as if he has suspected this all along. And perhaps he has.

“King Aible. My name is Ricard. All my life I’ve sought someone worth serving, coming closer sometimes than others, but never quite landing with the right cause.”

His hand shakes in mine.

“I’ve sinned, King Aible. I’ve taken lives without cause, all in the name of small men. And I must repent. I think serving you, I might be able to begin.”

I look in his eyes and see devotion, and also something more. Something that tickles me, and stoked other memories of how human men once served…

“Very well,” I allow. “Come along, but hold to me tight. This is a long journey we make. And we make it all at once.”

He does not respond, but his grasp on my fingers grows the stronger.

I smile, fierce and proud and angry, teeth glittering in my skull. Eyes lighted with black fire. And as other aides pile in, armed to the nines with tranquilizers and rifles, quavering before how openly I have regained myself, we step into the air.

And disappear from the prison that trapped us both.

The Usurper

                On the apotheotic throne sat the Usurper, Jorah Cayne, lamenting the ill-fortune brought on by success. He had achieved the most dangerous feat any creature could: the realization of all his dreams. The mass of women and men die hoping in quiet desperation, even from their final resting places, that ‘Someday… someday…’ they might reach the impossible peaks they climbed towards. They die not knowing whether or not the accomplishment of these out of reach hopes would satisfy them, would fill the bottomless pits we call souls.

Jorah was a God, part of a family of Gods. He had the time, the patience, the anger and vim to plot, to overthrow, to become all he ever wanted: King of kings and master of creation. And he achieved that dream. His brother become an amnesiac outcast, lolling in an asylum for the criminally insane. His Mother Eve become Exile, toiling to build new worlds of her own in some forgotten corner of All. Now nothing remained for him but the truth. The crown, the penumbral castle, Godhood, these things were not enough.

Even with the multiverse dancing before him in mercury pools, with anything he wished but a thought away, he remained unsatisfied. The great challenge of his life was overcome. His younger brother—the genteel statesman and Mother Eve’s favorite—had been undone. Now nothing remained but dotage. Nothing but the eternity stretching before him, stuck in the seat of power, saddled with infinite responsibilities. Jorah sighed, not for the first or the millionth or the last time. Responsibility bored him. It always had.

You warned me, Aible. You laughed, even as all your memories drained away; even as your faces became my own. You mocked me with your derangement. You knew I would not want this. That I knew not what I did.

And yet here he was, inundated by the prayers of a googolplex creatures, disinclined to answer a single one. Here he sat, beset by the needs, the songs, the praises and scorn of lives he may not have created, but now was indelibly responsible for. Here he mourned for the freedom he once had and gave up. The dalliances that once held his every breathing moment were like ash in his hands: unsatisfying and lost to the winds of change.

Running his hands through fine golden hair—the face he wore today was cold and pale, eyes piercing, yet empty, black as crows with their feet perched at the corners—he watched the twisting liquid that reflected back to him the worlds’ strife, waiting for moments that required his intervention. At the locus point of All, he was the Decider, who determined the victor of each major conflict, who choose which worlds might self-destruct, and which might veer away from such a path and toward a greater, if still insufficient enlightenment. Jorah Cayne, the child Lord, the unsuitable one, had the blood of many on his hands. He delighted still at destruction, the one joy left to him in his station.

He watched with an indifferent wave as a black hole swallowed a world entire, created by fool scientists whose own dream was to achieve a measure of power approaching his own. He was supposed to decide whether or not to rescue them in time or leave them to suffer the consequences of their folly, but all he could think of was the past, when time was young and stars boiled fresh from Mother Eve’s pot. The locus of All was not a castle then, but a garden, and Eve beguiled her children—young Cayne and younger Aible—with tales of Father Adam, the proud and reckless creator who did not heed her words, and who she herself banished.

“Creation is a woman’s work,” She said, stirring her cauldron in which another universe was born, “But fate conspired to birth me only sons. You will have to do.”

And as she spoke she looked only at Aible, and Cayne knew even then jealousy’s burn. The fire in his eyes raged emerald green, an envious and impure flame.

He remembered beseeching Eve to change her heart.

“I am the oldest. The throne should be mine!”

She looked at him that with sad eyes, her flames had always burned blue—the color of loss.

“Do you know what your brother told me earlier?”

Cayne did not answer, so enthralled he was by rage.

She sighed and continued. “I will tell you anyway. He begged me to choose you instead. He does not wish to be king as strongly as you crave the power of the Penumbral Throne.”

Cayne grinned savagely. “Well then, your choice is simple. Give it to the man who wants the job. Why torment the both of us?”

“It is precisely because he does not want power that he will be granted it.”

“But Ma-“

The fire her eyes flared hot orange.

“ENOUGH!” The force of her sudden, and ne’er before seen anger sends him stumbling back several paces.

“Enough.” She says again, more quietly, her eyes again a soft and sad blue. “You have so much of your father in you. The same insolence. The same disregard for caution. Please, just listen to your Mother. You’ll be happier for it. Promise me… you’ll listen?”

He nodded meekly, and they embraced. But still, in his heart of hearts, he plotted. It was the only way he knew.

A shimmering in a pool shook him from the memory. A message from one of his avatars. Powerful as he was, he could not divide his consciousness infinitely. So on each planet there hid a representation of God, bearing one of his many faces. They watched, and if anything merited his notice, they called on him, in case his gaze was elsewhere.

The call was from Earth. Immediately that caught his eye.

Could it be? Brother…

A face different from his own in all but the eyes, burning the same envious green, appeared.

“My Lord Cayne, the vengeful and just, overthrower of Aible and Eve, great plotter and Master of All-”

Cayne sighed, this litany might continue for another several hours if he let it. So many titles did a God possess. “Get on with it, Cayne #314. What is your message?”

“Well, uh… sir Cayne, we got a call. From… from…”

“…from?” The God continued, mocking his servant’s frightened tone.

“The, eh, the latest asylum, sir.”

“Yes?”

“Well, it seems, it seems that John Aible-” His avatar, the 314th false Jorah, paused again.

“Out with it then!”

“He seems to be, uh, remembering sir.”

“I see.”

He did not say anything more for a long while. Just stroked his chin, the beginnings of a grin haunting his lips.

“I see…”

“What should we do, sir? If he remembers everything, he might-”

Jorah blanked the pool with a blink, the nattering of underlings interrupted the schemes sprouting once again in his mind. The source of his greatest joy, the battle between brothers, an ultimate rivalry… could it really be on again?

“Don’t worry,” He spoke to the silence. “I’ll take it from here.”

And with that, Cayne rose from his throne, the apotheosis of all thrones, made of metal, of bone, of shadow and of light. An eclipse hiding the true nature of all things. He strode into the pool he had just wiped clean.

For the first time in over a century, he re-entered the world of Men.

I am coming Brother. Do you remember what I stole from you?