By the Light of all the Lanterns

Submitted into Contest #39 in response to: One day, the sun rose in the west and set in the east.... view prompt



He had been gone a long time. Even now, after all this time and all these many seasons, he was not quite sure that he was back. He stood at the end of the world and the edge of the world (for all worlds have an edge, just as they have a center or a sky), and he stood so firmly that the stones groaned and shifted under his weight. When he departed, there would be left in his wake two footprints, left as clearly in the rock as if the hard granite had been dust on a windless moon. Today there was a firm breeze from the north, which forced him to squint a little so as to resist the temptation to blink. It was very important that he not blink; tonight was a night that would put shame to all the others, a night that would be not only longer than most, but darker and richer and as colorful as oil on dead oceans. Below there shone the lights of men, and in his wisdom the Watcher could see the flickering shadows of every candle and upturned lamp, and he could see the hope and the misery in every eye that caught the glimmer of the flames.

Tonight he would travel. It was a decision that he had weighed now for no small time, for he was sure to miss much on the way. But there were places tonight where things were to happen very quickly, and he had decided that it was better to capture one moment, to hold it so perfectly so as to relish its every facet, than to watch the entirety of the picture spin on. Besides, he had missed many things in the Absence -- what harm would a few more hours do?

And so it was that he breathed deep, the Watcher of the World, and he cast his eye and his mind to the brightest of all the lights of the darkness, to the north of the dark cliffs of Dyrz and past the whispering menace of the Fell Marshes. He cast his eye to Ans, where the houses of the Lords blazed fiercely from their thrones upon the hills, and the streets were so alive and so loud as to put to shame the common idea of business. And he cast his mind to the very recesses of the Antiror districts, where the towers are many and clustered like so many pines, through cramped halls and rooms so old that their very scent could make a man lonely and sad. And this was the truth; that while there were thousands of barons and scholars and wizards that longed for a library on the scale of the Antirorian Repository, none of them would ever truly chase an endeavor of such scale, not if they had all the gold in all the worlds. Such places stank with the pain of eternity, which invaded a man until he had no thoughts in his head save those of his inevitable vanishing from the world. It is often mentioned with humor that the Repository has the largest book to human ratio yet recorded in the universe. Tonight, among the countless rows of scrolls and unopened manuscripts, there was but one breathing soul in the entirety off the place. Even the bookworms had given up and died, and their corpses had dried to join the motes of gathering dust.

Minora had not yet died. She would've been invisible to the ordinary eye; the stacks of books which surrounded her were no different from similar piles on similar tables. The Repository had no librarians, and those who came here often left in too much hurry to replace their things. Minora had come here when the sun was bright and new, and she would only leave once her bag of rations was expended. She was a soul too precious to simply be labelled as "rare." She was unique; unparalleled in her affinity to solitude. The wizards who occasionally frequented the premises were too proud to call her disquieting, but those who had seen her would mutter to their colleagues in disdainful tones, of a woman who had fallen too far and too hard from her proper sense of place, as to lie stunned and retarded among the words of the dead.

It was not the reading that shocked them. After all, any fool could sit for hours poring over the sweeping epics of the old gods and heroes of men. The texts of the Repository had no tales, and seldom any narrative at all. A man went there when all other sources of information had failed him, and left in haste when he had gotten his fill. And so they stared and wondered at the strange girl with the strange dark skin, who seemed as much a staple to the place as the gargoyles and the arches emblazoned with a tongue no one seemed to be able to read. It did not occur to a single one of them that they already knew the answers to their questions, which flocked like ornery sheep to the quiet corners of their minds.

Minora stayed because she wanted her fill, and as of yet she had not found it. It was true enough that no one could match her patience -- no one but the Watcher, who stood with idle enjoyment at the sight of her roving eyes, the way her fingers paused slightly at the turning of every page, as if in hesitation before some grand adventure. He Watched, for it was of common consensus now that the world was not long for its temporary grave, and when it had risen again this girl would not be on it. He Watched, because the schemes and wars and ravings of men who followed prophets had long ceased to draw his interest, and now that he knew their conclusions to be as meaningless as their origin, he could excuse himself from the proceedings.

The girl sought something for which she knew no name. Tonight, he hoped only that she would find it. Tonight, the fire in her eyes was brighter than ever before, and the strong stone of the walls did not flinch, though outside the crowds were bold and uncivil with the volume of their drinking and their laughter. It was quiet here, and the ceiling was high and lost in shadow. There were no lamps on the upper levels, for the books there preferred the dark, and so the weight of the night weaved through every second that passed and made it as pretty as a cloud of whispering moths. He would miss the moths; they would find their way to the Edge sometimes, and tickle the hair of his ears. They would sit upon his shoulder and gaze with him upon the sunrise, and he would sing to them in so strong and deep a voice so as to keep them fixed with wonder, until the weeks grew old and their bodies went limp and were lost. The Watcher knew death, and it saddened him, for he had no eyes that could glimpse the realms Beyond, and so he fixed upon the face of the girl Minora, so that her face would never be lost.

It was with this task that he busied himself, when he became aware of footsteps down the hall. Footsteps he knew, which would be inaudible to the mortal ears of the girl scholar. Upon hearing them, he turned, and the eyes that met him were black and deeper than the deepest seas. Men who stared for hours into the stars came away with a feeling of subdued awe, a loss for words only explainable with the idea that the black infinity had stolen a piece of their soul, so that it would drift apart from the body and into the unseen light. These eyes were like that, but they inspired no pleasure and their effect was instantaneous and certain. The Watcher, who had stood at the end of empires and the birth of gods, shivered where he stood.

"Watcher," said the god, and his voice was soft and low.

The Watcher grimaced, and hid it with a scowl. "Godling," he replied. "Scurry back to your palace in the clouds. I have no wish for company."

"This I know. And, in knowing, I wonder at a question." The god's lip curled cruelly into a half-smile. "Surely, for solitude, your perch in the clouds would serve better than the most populous city on the Sphere? Perhaps it is some wisdom too great for me to grasp, lowly immortal that I am." And he gazed with interest into the eyes of the Watcher, who averted his eyes with a pang of angry shame.

"I do not answer to you."

"True, but those you answer to are such unfortunate company. We task you with one thing, o Khavantos, and that is the vigilance over all that is good and natural in the world. And now, when that dominion grows ever smaller, and the nights grow darker and cold, I find you holed in a prison of stone, shirking your duty. Does the frost chill the Watcher's mighty bones? Shall I commission a bonfire to warm your hands in the evenings?"

"The world of Men is falling," said the Watcher. "I will watch what I have interest in watching."

"No thing in the world is certain. It is your negligence that sets the future in stone."

The Watcher did not answer. He was watching Minora, sweet Minora, who he had first encountered over the dirt of her uncle's grave, clutching the violets grown in the old man's garden and wiping the tears from her eyes.

"I did not come to preach, my friend," said the god in companionable tones. "May I sit?" He paused, but there was again only silence in reply. With a shrug, he conjured a mighty throne, adorned with sigils and coarse iron, and sat with a sigh of contentment. "Where were you?" He began again. "All those months we searched for you, but you had gone. And now we find you here -- you weren't here, were you? All alone among the scrolls, brooding and sorry?"

"I am not alone."

"We know that the Veil clouds even your sight, Khavantos. I suppose it must be frustrating."

"Maddening," said the Watcher softly, his fist clenching around the mail of his gauntlets. "But I do not mind it."

"It is not of our world."

"I do not mind it."

"Not of any world, to tell the truth. Not before nor after the life we know, not the shifting realms of dreams or shadow. None can pierce it, mighty Watcher, though many have tried." The god paused a moment, then waved his hand through the air with a flippant gesture. "Still, you cannot lose faith so easily. You have your work, the gods have theirs. I come to you on orders of our Lord, Watcher, and he demands you return to your post."

The Watcher cocked his head to one side, being careful to maintain his sight of Minora. "I do not answer to your Lord, either. How can he be our Lord, godling, if I am not his servant? If anything, we are equals, and I am so much older than He."

"The Aenselar were old," said the god, atop his burnished throne, "and yet we killed them in great numbers, and sent the others to the darkness. Do not speak so impudently of age, Watcher, lest the sword of the gods swing freely once more."

The notes of his speech rung soundly in the air, and lingered long after the tongue grew silent. It was impressive, spoken in a Voice that had sent kings to their knees in awe. But it was received with silence.

"She is beautiful," the Watcher murmured, and the god realized that he'd not heard a word of the threat. "Beautiful as the moths," he continued, and he leaned on his staff which was topped with the old stones, and looked ancient and weary and sad. His eyes, too, were deep, with the knowledge of moons too far away for men to ever even see, and the touch of stars long dead. But tonight they were grey. Tonight they stared fixedly at the one table in the room, the table where the books were scattered and piled, and the god walked towards them, and shoved them away, ignoring the sudden shout of horror from the Watcher, for a sudden sorrow had seized his own heart.

"Who do you speak of, Watcher?" he said, back turned to the figure of the Khavantos.

"Minora, sweet Minora..." The reply was faint, spoken in a mixture of desperation and longing. "Step away from her," it added, rising in sudden anger. "You've no business... step away, godling, or be damned!"

And then he knew. For he was Aermun, father of whispers, god of the seventh sky and speaker of the first words. He knew, and suddenly swore himself as a fool that he had not guessed it sooner.

"You went into the Veil," he said, and he clasped his hands behind his back. "Your Absence... but what did you see?"

Bony hands clutched him from behind. "Get away from her, damn you. She's reading -- she's almost found it, you fool, and you"--

The god turned and placed his hand over the Watcher's. His grip was cold, as cold as the Sphere was deep, but his voice had lost the mocking edge. "I need to know. You understand, though you don't want to. I need to know what you saw. You know, only you could know, so tell me."

"Minora!" cried the Watcher, but it was no use. The girl did not look up. As he yelled, she turned another page, pausing as she did, a quiet grin crossing her face as the letters revealed some unknown truth. Aermun watched him in pity for a while, then clutched the Watcher's temple with both hands, forcing those gray eyes to meet his own. Holding them there even as the great Khavantos first muttered in shock, then shouted, then shrieked in terror and fury.

Aermun spoke over him, though, in a whisper that cut through the bellowing rage. "See!" he hissed. "If Watcher you are, then I compel you to watch!"

"I tell you, I will not. The time, this Time, godling... there is but one thing that matters, there is but one truth that matters in this doomed rock of a Sphere. And she will find it," he gasped, and pointed with his staff towards the figure of the girl. The girl who had taken her uncle's studies past the eve of his grave, who had found the great mystery and had carried on regardless. "She will find it!"

But Aermun only closed his eyes, and his hands released their quarry. "I fear she already has," he said, quietly, and motioned the Watcher to look.

The god said, "that chair is empty," and the Watcher felt his great heart fall far into his chest, and was struck absolutely silent with fear.



"It is not possible. My sight..."

"Is clouded, I fear." He sighed. "The Veils... I did not know. Such extraordinary power..."

"Where has she gone?" asked the Watcher, softly.

"I do not know. If you do not, then I fear that no one does." He shook his head. "You will not tell me what you saw?" But of course he got no answer. The Watcher pawed at the papers on the table, sifting dust that had grown old before its time, and the first of many tears were shining in his eyes. There was no more to do. With a heavy heart, the god departed, passing a gate which no man had ever read, for even the masons were of illiterate stock, their hands carving only that which they had seen in maddened dreams.

"Fear not the light, but the chasing dark," the god read, and the words seemed strange there, floating through the old halls of that oldest place, and the god suddenly wished for nothing more than to leave it forever. He hastened on, and threw open the heavy doors on a day that rose anew. It had been a busy night for the world. Armies had ridden and died, great spells were risen and thousands of lives drew their first taste of the air. The seas had boiled and the ships that sailed it had slipped quietly under the waves. The Veil grew darker. But this, the god thought, was not the world. Time grew dull on a universal level, and so very cruel. The Watcher knew. He had always known. And today he wept, and where the god had expected the rays of a newborn sun, he saw only the long form of shadows, dark against the bright.

April 25, 2020 06:28

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15:59 Apr 30, 2020

Wow. I think I need to read this a second time. But the language is stunning.


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Chloe Alistar
02:13 May 04, 2020

Beautiful story!


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Pranathi G
14:24 May 03, 2020

Nice story! When I first read the title, it reminded me of the movie Tangled. Can you read my story and give me feedback? It's called "THE TIME HAS COME." It's for the same contest. Thank you!


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