The Successor

Submitted by Arthur Tiberio to Contest #26 in response to: Write a story about a character obsessed with one of the long-dead “greats” in their profession.... view prompt

In the stark, forgotten reaches of the heavens, shrouded in wisps of clouds and errant dreams, the arrow of Fate draws slyly along a string of captured stars. Below him is a sea of blooming consequence, the colors both blinding and serene as a billion futures cry out to be born, and his breath stains the wind with a fragment of his purpose.

His mark is set. The string is released. The bow, creaking, sings out to the sleeping air . . .

And the shot goes wide. Fate pauses, and frowns. Below, the woman who history has chosen to lead the new Kingdoms of the Earth brakes a second too slowly on her morning commute, and is t-boned at an intersection.

By an oil truck.

With a sigh, he turned away from the blooming eruption of flames, scratching the back of his neck and stowing his arrows very carefully away. They seem to be watching him disapprovingly, and he slammed the quiver closed with a scowl. Muttering to himself, he willed himself away, into the essence of the dying dawn.


***

Man is a race of explorers. There is never a time when a part of his mind ceases to look around itself, at a world filled with, above all else, the awe of infinite perspective, and ask: "why? Why should I be born so small, and reality so dismally large? Why am I never to touch those cold tears of infinity, which smile so brightly in the night?" and so on, and so forth, until the rivers forge canyons below his weary eyes.

But in the face of the cosmic mystery, he does not resign himself to the attrition of growing age. He may concoct tales, which pass first into legend, then parable, then religion for mountainous reaches of the Earth where men breathe clearer air. He may wander, in dreams or waking life, and so map the stars and the hills and the oceans on which he will sail. He goes. He creates. He wonders, and what small gods still watch over his kind, know already that it shall be his race's salvation.

And yet, there are places still, cold and well hidden behind and above the blinking moons of dead suns, where his eyes will never venture. And here, the dull ribbons of astral dust drift in freedom from the iron laws of physics and universal expectation. They form banners of riven steel, nebulous masses of dust older than the concepts of death and life, forming no patterns save the recurring tapestries of the multiverse.

So it should come as no surprise, that it is within one of these places that the Hall of Souls is kept. Upon the metaphorical mountain of all existence, it stands taller than fishermen's tales.

How to describe it? To such a thing, adjectives are but pebbles, thrown into the darkness of a well. And yet, in seeing the vast turrets, the stones which seem to glow with a light more ethereal than the palest moon, we feel that we must somehow try to capture its image, if only in the most trivial sense.

So . . . see.

The floors were of smooth marble, curling at the edges as if in contempt at those who dared to touch its gleaming facade. Fate's footsteps clicked loudly against the slabs, and his face was grim. Around him were massive desks, behind which the vast Scales tilted in constant flux. Shadows worked behind them, there until you looked directly at them, at which point they melted into the light.

Further above, great arches put the sky of the Earth to shame. They were seas unto themselves, dizzying heights where no light should have been able to reach, and the sparks upon them were not embers, but in fact the confused remnants of wandering stars.

Fate reached a door -- one of many, embossed with enough silver to form a full dozen kitchen sets. Like mating snakes, the tendrils curled against each other, again and again and still again -- the eternal infinity of consequence. Events followed their predecessors, and belched forth a dozen more. Fate pushed the door. The door opened. And beyond lay one of the strangest rooms still extant in the universe.

Most of it was taken up by a desk, carved with an irregular number of legs and unnecessary wings. Subunits stretched luxuriously into other chambers, as if the whole of the desk were a continent frothing in civil war. The brandy cabinet was, at the moment, engaged in a cluttered conflict with the contents of last millennia's paperwork drawer, and when Fate reached in for a bottle he found he could do so only after five minutes of shuffling through a thesis he'd written on a particularly violent and wholly unnecessary supernova.

At length, he leaned back in a chair of black velvet and bony knobs, his drink held lightly in one hand. He couldn't get drunk anymore. In fact, he couldn't even taste the brandy, nor feel the fire of the alcohol. But habits were difficult to kill. Certainly more so than people. He took a long drink, and turned to the other large detail of the room.

A tapestry, long enough to take up an entire throne room on its own, with bits on the end left over. Which was odd, since the wall was only of respectable width, and yet still managed to fit the thing in its entirety. If you were to ask him, Fate would simply have waved one cosmic hand, and muttered something about dimensional confusion. As it was, though, he peered closely at the details of the shimmering fabric, at the wars and the births and the events that changed the very path of the stars, towards futures that were not better or worse, but simply were. And that was what mattered, of course. That things happened, yes? He finished his drink with a dramatic gesture, and clapped the glass on the desk. It shuddered. Slowly, the staplers were preparing a charge.

Fate scowled, unhooking his bow and quiver, hanging them on a handy hook, his eyes never leaving the tapestry. A detail: it was composed of two distinct sheens of material: delicate silk, overlapped with shades of platinum dreams, and a smaller, meek, unctuous affair which resembled something just a tad too dignified to be linen, woven with a hint of rebellious gold. The former took up at least ninety-five percent of the entire tapestry, and recorded most of the aforementioned scenes of glory and astral destiny. His end looked like a Goya painting. There were a good deal of shadows, added, he knew, not out of mysterious effect but rather out of the gaps in history, things that he ought to have gotten done but which, for some reason or other, had been stopped short or diverted. He peered even closer, and saw today's business with the oil tanker stitched behind the silhouette of a glorious palace, dotted with turrets and mighty flags. He sighed.

"Master of men indeed," he muttered.

There came a subtle ticking. It came from a watch, propped against the desk, gleaming with wondrous craftsmanship and perhaps something more, and it alone stood unchallenged upon the manic surface of the table. There was a radius around it where nothing stood or moved, as if they were afraid. Fate picked it up, and tried to regard it with scorn.

********

In the center of the Hall of Souls stands an hourglass filled with enough sand to choke a small star. The roaring fills one's ears like a tidal wave engulfing the swimmer, and it has escaped our description thus far only because to behold it is to lose, sliver by sliver, the convenient wall of precious sanity. We will glimpse it now, if briefly.

The sand falls.

The glass, thick as a planet, stands firm and dazzling in the bright light of the arches.

It is older than the Hall, and perhaps the universe itself, and it is easier to understand that fact when we learn that it has not always been an hourglass. It is simply the shape that aligns most with the current popular theory, which holds that it is counting down to the death of the multiverse. The idea's morbidity is exactly what has made it the reigning vogue, and the only entity who knew why the idea was entirely wrong has been retired for a thousand years.

********

"The cheese sandwich of the Creator," said Fate, drumming his fingers on the banister of the fifteenth floor.

"You've said that already," said a voice like shredded lilac. "I wonder what it means."

Fate turned his icy gaze to the lounging figure of a woman in a long, flowing gown. Her hair was done into a series of complex fractals, and imprisoned pulsars glowed from the diamonds on her neck. "I wish I knew," he told her. "It's something the old man used to say."

"What, your father?"

"I have no father." the response was automatic, quick as rifling. "I mean the old man."

"You're an odd little boy."

Fate bridled. "I am Fate," he intoned.

"And a young one, too." The laugh was gentle to passing ears, but it pierced Fate's patience like a honed dart. His scowl deepened.

"I have a duty," he insisted. "I have purpose that such as you could never dream of. You envy my power," he said, and drew himself up to his full, imperious height.

Madam Argenive took in the billowing mists of Fate's cloak with an amused eye. There was no annoyance in her gaze, nor the condescension that Fate had almost learned to expect. There was pity, and this enraged him to no end.

"Oh, I'm wrong to have teased," she laughed. "It was rather sudden, wasn't it? I suppose he should have taught you more, before he left. Not your fault at all, I'm sure."

"What isn't my fault?" he growled.

Argenive smiled. "Why, that business with Yvaninor!" she said. "Don't tell me that was on purpose. I was rather fond of him, you know. Height of youth, glowed like anything, and then . . . poof!" She made a fluttering gesture with one hand. "Nothing. You meant to get Drapemoor, I suppose. A pity." And, before Fate could muster a retaliatory barb, she disappeared into the darkened hall. A few other passerby looked with curiosity at the obvious fire in his eyes, but moved on with the sort of posture that indicated to Fate that he'd not long linger in their memory. A steady furnace blazed in his heart. The old man had never been treated like this. From here, he could still see his portrait, hanging on the other side of the bulb. It was dark. Foreboding. An ethereal mixture of faith and its destruction. There were tentacles. It was impressive.

Fate looked at his hands in measured displeasure. He was a good-looking man, everyone said so, and there had been a time when he'd been rather proud of his appearance. He tried for a tentacle, but retracted it with a sigh. From down the hall came again, the laugh of the Star Argenive.

*****

A typhoon raged against the unsuspecting coasts of the East. The seas, at last released from their great restraint, roared and flung its massive waves as if in retribution for an ancient sin. Lightning surged. Foam broke on rocks coated with sleeting rain. Screams floated from stranded ships, only to be torn to bleeding rags by the unrelenting blades of the wind. A lone fisherman, stranded from his crew and clutching with sobbing desperation at a single jutting stone of the reef, looked up to see twin clouds, roiling in the nebulous sky like the iris of a mad and bloodshot eye . . .

Fate watched the death of thousands, and felt peace. The shot had been good today. The winds had broken just as they should. Today, history smiled upon him, and he was not too humble to respond with a wolfish grin. From a pocket of the cloak, he drew out a wristwatch which glittered even in the dismal gloom of the mists.

"Take that!" he cried to the impassive face of the clockwork. "Who's worthless now, eh? Eh? Just you wait," he growled. "Just you sit in whatever corner of space you've chosen, and wait. A million years, a billion, and who do you suppose history will remember?" He sighed, winding down, but shot a final glare at the ticking machinery. "Tentacles indeed." And thrust it away.

So Fate sat, content with the blood before him, optimistic for the first time in a many centuries, oblivious to the fact that before the grand scales of the Hall of Souls, the shadows now clustered to explain to a gathered clutch of stars that they had no longer been born.

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7 likes 1 comment

00:49 Feb 11, 2020

beautifully descriptive and poetic in some sense. I was drawn into the otherworldly realm , eager to read more :)

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