Twilight: Final Steps

The Entropy Winds blast in to wipe the room of all traces but him. He stands strong against the wind and covers his face with the flapping sleeve of his robe in reflex, though there wasn't anything that could really protect him from the swirling currents that tug and pull at him, trying to suck him into the Void. Darkness lies beyond the cavernous opening; a Darkness deeper than just an absence of light, but one that devours the light and all that went with it - life, joy, hope, and desire.

Yet he could still see the way forward. The edges of the stairs glimmer with source-less light, a glow perchance invested in the stone by its proximity to the Rim and the Abyss beyond. But though his journey lay upward on steep, narrow, and winding stairs, he stands frozen captive of limbs that had forgotten how to move. Bravado could only take a person so far, and his was long used up. Now he stood staring at the stone staircase with a mind leached of all but terror, as though the wind had cut through to his very soul and carried away his scant remaining courage. Duty, obligation, and responsibility had seen him to his brother's soul; determination and conviction had carried him to meet with the Priests. What more could he draw upon to make the final steps in this journey?

A vague thought passes through his mind, barely registering in his conscious mind. He wondered how many supplicants had made it to this point, and no farther. He wondered how many others had been faced with the final steps, and found their feet rooted permanently to stone, unable to make the final steps. And he wondered… what happened to them. What fate waited for the failed and ignoble who had yet managed to get this far? How many were carried away by the wind? Or were they able to make it to the edge to fall into nothingness? The numbers in any case were vanishingly small — the few of the few who found themselves here in the first place, challenging their own futures with a suicidal quest.

Suicide. He remembered… something. Someone. Even a mind emptied by terror still struggled to think, to hold its function and remember things. A strong feminine face appears, drifting in his mind's eye. Lady Louella, who had stolen so much more from him than he would have ever credited. So much of his innocence, which he hadn't known he possessed. She had felt nothing for the babe she carried, merely a tool in her vengeance… perhaps. There was no way to know how things might have turned out differently had she carried the child to term, held it in her arms, watched him grow into a young man full of promise and potential.

But the father of that child had been permanently changed. Once more, he stood on the edge of possibility, the victim of a plan desperately hatched and ill-executed. The other had turned out disastrously, but there was still another potential future for this one. Margot may already carry his legacy, and that thought moves one foot, and then the other towards the treacherous steps. Forward, to the edge of the stone chamber and the door leading beyond. He knew his purpose, now, and that knowledge pushes the fear aside just enough for him to move. Up. One step, and then two, three, ten. There was no railing, of course, though rough hand holds helped to steady him against the howling winds. Another step. Twenty. Fifty.

He lost count after 100, choosing instead to focus on putting one foot in front of the other. Step and step and step and step. Head bowed to watch his progress on the treacherous, uneven stairs as they twisted and turned upwards. Images flicker out of the corner of his eye, teasing him with their hints of familiarity. Perhaps the creatures that lurked at the edge of the Abyss, hoping for such easy prey as what he would soon present. More probably just phantoms of his own imaginings.

Up. Mind-numbingly up. Where was he? Why was he climbing these stairs? Had he ever done anything besides climb stairs? What more existed in the entire multiverse apart from stone and wind and ascending? Stairs, stairs. Upward. Platform. He stops at the top of the staircase to stare stupidly at the platform, not knowing for sure at first what it was or how it had gotten here. It takes several heartbeats for his numb brain to resume functioning enough for him to realize: he had Arrived.

The final triumphant and exhausting step depletes his will, and what greets his gaze from beyond the platform pulls him irresistibly to the center of the platform where he can stare in wonder and amazement. The Platform hangs above the Rim like a port in a storm where lost energies return and the hunger of the Abyssal Winds is somewhat abated. From this vantage, the Chaos Lord can easily view the glory and magnificence of the Abyss — the place where all things end, and all things begin.

The beauty of Eternity collapsing in upon itself is beyond description. All the colors that had ever been named dance within the swirling depths. They mingle with colors and sensations yet to be experienced or given identity, colors and sensations that act on senses beyond those of mere mortals and invisible to those who had not made this journey.

Even though his mind sought to put some sort of context and understanding around what his senses beheld, no words could hope to convey the Abyss. It was an Absolute. Incomprehensible and Immutable. Only by being so near the Abyss could one such as he see and know the vastness within, and even here, comprehension was still bound by the limits of his mind. Time itself held no sway here, and language had no place.

Never before had he felt so small, which was perhaps why the Unicorn fled Chaos so long ago. Here, the Abyss promised that nothing he ever did or would ever do mattered one wit. And Death was merely a companion that waited to lead him to soothing oblivion. Yet the Lord knew Death was always the cost. Encounters with Power always caused change, and change always required some fashion of death. If not the whole, then a part of himself would die here today. It was the way of things.

A sudden gust of Wind seeks to escort him to the the edge of the platform, a sudden reminder of the precariousness of his perch. He turns instead to the immense pillar of twisted metal protruding from the stone like a thorn with tattered bindings still hanging from it. He wraps himself securely in the bindings to anchor him from the unpredictable Winds, then leans against the metal to once more gaze on the Abyss and await his fate.

It is easy to fall into a trance, unblinking and heedless of his surroundings, staring into Nothingness for untracked Time. He had heard of many who had stared into the Abyss long enough to become mad; those never regained their sanity. But even that thought slips away, flowing into the Nothingness.

Movement. He blinks, suddenly alert, his heart beginning to hammer in his chest even at the mere idea of movement. Sweat beads and his mouth dries as he searches the nothingness in front of him. Did he really see it? Did he really want to?

Screaming. The sound is faint, perhaps even imagined, but then his eyes catch site of a Shryicalc', a demon vermin which fed upon others things by folding them within itself. Buffeted by the punishing Abyssal Winds, its psychic screams grow louder as it nears him. Or perhaps it merely appeared to come closer once his attention focused on it; the Abyss made nonsense of all perception.

The creature's cries become mind deafening as the Winds slowly shred it, and Kendall cannot help but feel some sympathy for the poor creature that had merely flown too far beyond the Rim. Still, its death is a relief. The noise of its screams in his mind had been painful. But now they were done, he stares at the remnants of the corpse while his sluggish mind slowly realizing its potential danger to him if other scavengers approached. They might find him tasty, as well. He weighs the potential danger of trying to do something about it with a brief mental review of his available spells. Simple was probably best in this situation. Who knew what treacherous complications the Abyss might introduce?

Three words and a burst of power send the corpse of the Shryicalc' into flaming oblivion. An oddly respectful action, one might think, but done purely to remove its tempting food from the vicinity. One could only hope the Winds and the Abyss would scatter the ashes and absorb the scent and leave the Chaos Lord alone once more in his vigil.

~Why did you kill the food?~

The question appears in Kendall's head like one of his own, but not. Not sensing anything around him, besides the very nature of the Abyss… it leaves him puzzled.

~Are you not hungry? Or are you broken?~

He looks around over his shoulders, cocking his head to reach with senses other than sight. Nothing. A sense of dread rises up through him, bringing a chill even though the Rim and the Abyss beyond could not be said to have a temperature.

"Not… hungry…" The words come out unexpectedly slowly, and he realizes how tired he is, but also how accurate his reply was. He really wasn't hungry, though he probably ought to be. It had been a long while since last he ate and much had occurred since then. The healing wine given him by the Priest, though, may have even more benefits than first thought.

~You should be.~

This thought, now that Kendall is ready for it, comes from outside his own head yet bypassing all his guards and barriers. Still, being pure thought, it held little risk to him unless it tried to overlay all his thinking with its own.

~Maybe so, but I presently am not,~ he replies in kind.

~I was once a very important thought which caused much pain and suffering to the one who created me.~ Kendall senses a hint of loneliness, yet also pride.

~Most important thoughts carry a heavy price,~ the Lord agrees.

~I sensed something familiar with you, so I came. Yet so is He…~

~He is what? An important thought?~ It was a briefly intriguing thought that might have entertained him for entire Skies in other circumstances.

~No, He is He… once a part of my very important thought, so I can still sense HIM when close. But I usually flee, not wishing to be eaten. I expect sooner or later, I will become important again so I wait and try not to feed hunger in others.~

~What is the other part of your thought?~ he asks, ever curious.

~Are you sure you wish to know? For the one who thought me found me so troublesome, she cast me out before leaving.~

He ponders that for a while, given that he didn't have anything better to do right then. ~If it is too troubling, could I not also cast you out?~ he reasons.

~If of the proper strength, I don't see why not. But then, I am a truly terrible thought.~

The mental voice didn't have any particular reason to "lie" and he knew there were truths that could destroy the mind and corrode the soul. But then again, up here on this platform, he wondered what thoughts and truths another mind might have had while facing this same oblivion. Besides, he rationalizes, it could very well be that Death would visit him soon, and then he would take the terrible thought with him into nothingness.

~Tell me, then,~ he invites.

~At my core, I'm a very simple thought. All of this, all that you had done or will do… matters not! Even Chaos itself, the Courts, all of your glory or dreams…matters not! In truth, all of you are nothing more then a Keeper. A gaoler, a turnkey, a jailer!~

The thought is now amused, having sharing itself with another. As to whom might be held captive, or the cell, might be explained by that which lay before Kendall: the Abyss and Lord Serpent Himself!

~She who thought me first fell into a rage and blinded the Prisoner in her fury.~

He feels hot, confused, and amazed. Then he feels cold. ~Blinded…. do you mean the ancient Queen of Chaos? She was the one who held this thought?~

~Yes, I was just a muse at first but She give me true form and understood. Great sadness, great pain, did I cause her. She understood, all of this was just a lie. And she did not wish hers to become fated to the same.~

~Lord Serpent is… a prisoner?~ It was a large thought; a revelation. It was challenging to comprehend, to attempt to gain foothold in the implications of this idea. ~But how would we be jailers? We have no power over Him. We did not put Him here… did we?~

~Jailer means a prisoner, so it could only be He. And power you do have, for in a dark cell even the weakest candle could be a king. As to the rest, perhaps you did. But I won't mind if you think about it, for I could use some company after so long.~

He does this, for quite some time. The thoughts and questions chase themselves around and around in his mind, eventually blending together until neither beginning nor end could be discerned. Lord Serpent, a prisoner? A prisoner of what? Or whom? If the thought was true… While the thought itself may not know untruth, the originator of the thought very well might have shaped it thus. Truth was tricky.

~Where did you come from?~ he asks the thought. ~What is your origin? The Queen who cast you out, or somewhere else?~

~As I said, I was a Muse at first. Perhaps hers, this Queen you speak of. Yet in the end, I became a Thought in Her head.~

~And then she was filled with despair and anger, and she threw you out before running off into Shadow to create some other pointless land.~ It's hard to say whether his thought is a statement or a question. Maybe neither.

~I did tell you, I was the most terrible thought,~ it points out.

Hopelessness and despair and anger. He can see how this could have overwhelmed someone standing here on edge of Oblivion.

~Why was the Queen petitioning the Serpent?~ he asks suddenly. ~She was already Queen of Chaos. What more would she stand to gain for such a risk?~

~Mothers always worry.~

He makes the equivalent of a mental sniff of disdain. The unnamed Queen who had become the Unicorn was of no concern to him, really. Certainly not right now. ~Well, you are a very dark thought, indeed,~ he agrees. ~But I don't think it matters much how this all came to be, whether by benevolence or malevolence.~

He continues forming his thoughts slowly and carefully, listening closely to the ideas as they took shape, testing and weighing them within mind and a heart that was already cold.

~Lord Serpent gave rise to the Courts and everything we've built here, but no one has ever said it was because He is kind or generous. We honor Him as the Source of All, but whether He is a prisoner or something else does not have to define all that has happened because of it. Like a river that flows through many lands before reaching its destination, the source may define it initially. But as the river wends its way, it is changed and defined by many things.~

~Acceptance, very wise….yet an attitude a slave has as well.~

He doesn't respond to that, too busy pondering other, more interesting thoughts. Alternatives.

~Aah…. now you appreciate my wickedness.~

The Thought places itself inside Kendall's head with glee, happy enough in the moment to leave the man alone.

He wonders if casting out troubling thoughts while hanging above the Abyss waiting for death is common, insofar as that word could even be used for this situation. Or if there was just this one. But what he addresses to the new thought, so gleeful in his mind, is a different inquiry. ~You know something of Lord Serpent, a prisoner. Do you have knowledge of the nature of his imprisonment?~

~No, for He would eat any of us who came too close. And my thinker, while she may have pondered that very issue before she thought of me, she didn't share with me, nor cast them out when she did me.~

From one idea could spring so many others. He had cause to evaluate why this insight which had been reviled and cast out did not bring him so much despair as its apparent originator. Perhaps he was stronger than the Queen, but… more likely it was simply because he had already been crushed by despair before he had come to this place. He already knew the meaninglessness of his own efforts, the hopeless slavery of an impossible ideal.

But other possibilities flourished here on the Rim, even if they were possibilities that existed only in his mind. So he chooses to stay focused on this new, interesting puzzle that had been presented to him, rather than dwelling on any of the hundred reasons he should just leap from the edge of the fragile platform into the Void below and be done with it all.

~A pity the Queen did not consider all of Chaos to be worthy of her care when she ran into Shadow,~ he observes.

~She was much beloved, and her betrayal hurt them greatly. For She convinced her husband, the King, and one of the Royal Priests in this great saneness. But when they fled with the remains of their allies, more than one Lord and Lady were cast into the Abyss. So She ran, because she had no other choice.~

~One could expect a thought that owes existence to her to be sympathetic,~ the Lord observes. ~But she still saw only to some, and so the betrayal was a great fury to those who had trusted unwisely.~

~Blood calls to blood.~

The Thought used to being condemned, even by the mad.

~Yet we are all one blood,~ he argues. ~We arose from the same Source: Lord Serpent. She was Queen of all the Courts. The first of her kind in a position granted out of gratitude and respect. Even if she was not the one who gained the position with her own boon, but enjoyed the success of her mate, the King.~

~Yet in the end, She did pay a price much greater than any here could demand… Forced to watch those that she loved from afar.~

He makes another mental snort of disdain. ~So you might suppose, but since I am unlikely ever to hear the whole story, I have no interest in worrying on her reasons for betraying Chaos or weighing some imagined price against the crime. We all have reasons for doing what we do, reasons that can compel us to do many kinds of things. Ultimately, those reasons are never important to anyone but ourselves.~

~Unless, of course, you do have more to offer than conjecture and guesswork,~ he adds skeptically. ~You were cast out before she departed, as you pointed out to me before. How would you know what price she paid? Or what sort of price we who were left behind might demand?~

For the first time, Kendall gets the feel of amusement from the Thought.

~Aren't you a smart one? Most don't get that far. But then, most aren't considering what you have… not even She. So mull over that, Young Lord — the why, and the reasons not.~

~It's a bit ironic,~ he remarks. ~All of that effort and trouble, trials and war and death to escape from Chaos and build a make-believe land where things would be all better… Yet because she cast out the thought that started the chain of events, she probably doesn't even know why. Ironic, or pathetic.~

~I'm sure she kept an echo of me. I was a most terrible thought,~ it says with pride.

~But as a Muse, I could help… it would be interesting to see what you could accomplish if you just thought for yourself.~

~I do not?~ he asks, more out of reflex than curiosity. He knew the answer to the question already. Indeed, the reason he was even on this platform was because he had chosen from the options his father had given him, as though those were the only ones available to him. Perhaps… they had been. At the time. Now, though, he had to plan his own path. Assuming he could defeat the odds and avoid death, he could have anything and everything, if only he knew what it was.

Would he pursue happiness? That appeared to be Margot's primary purpose: happiness and love, as though the two were inextricably bound together. But did he even know what it meant to pursue happiness? Happiness was not the driving force in the Courts. Even if one removed the pursuit of Duty from the equation, the pursuits in Chaos still remained focused on power, influence, and security.

Power, influence, and security. He ponders those things for a time, but his attention keeps getting distracted by that one little thought, which teased his consciousness. There were always reasons NOT to do things. Reasons not to disrupt the current state of affairs, to keep things as they are. For some. For others, a complete change and disruption would be the better course.

~There was a time, when the King of Chaos… was a true king. Back then, it was even suggested he would take a Lady from each House for his Harem.~

~And what do you suppose it would mean to be a 'true' king?~ he inquires.

~Being the true power in the Courts.~

~Mayhap that is the true reason for the Queen's dissatisfaction.~

~She never allowed it to happen, yet it was true she mistakenly thought she was his equal.~

~A true King in Chaos,~ he muses. The idea did have some appeal, but… though… maybe…

The Houses would not be happy about this, of course. The powerful ones, that is. They valued their power, but it was possible a new balance could be found with leverage and delicate manipulation. That would be the preferred route, and he spends some time considering ways to make it appealing for the Houses to hand over some measure of their power willingly. Once the door was open and the levers set, it would just be a matter of time before the shift was complete, and he was young.

Still, the other thought nagged him. It was just so delightfully… wicked.

~Great changes are coming again. At Her death, the barriers that once kept Chaos from penetrating deeper into Shadow will reinstate. Amber again, will just be a tale for children.~

~Her death?~ he inquires, his interest caught. ~The Unicorn of Amber lies near death? How so?~

~The wounds that her children did give were fatal, now she merely waits to pass on the chores before returning back to her once home.~

~She must still possess hope,~ he comments.

~Pride would be my approximation but we can go with hope if you desire.~

He smiles a little. ~No matter what you call it, she still possesses some sense that her rebellion is not a failure.~

~It never was, except to her children.~

~As with all things, it depends on who and what is asked,~ is his response. ~But to make a real change in the meaninglessness of our pathetic lives, would require a more fundamental shift.~

~Great disasters had done that in the past.~

~Well, then… if all is meaningless because we are mere jailors, what of freeing the prisoner? Thus freeing ourselves. The ambition of the ancient Queen, but she merely fled and achieved a limited result. Freeing Lord Serpent, now… that would be a disaster of magnificent proportion,~ he suggests.

~As a Muse, I could help… but not with the impossible. Yet a abyss quake could do the same, the first ever within Chaos since your kind arose from it. Kingship for one who stop it, won't be beyond a guess and as to the Houses, who knows how many could survive.~

~I have very little else to do here, while waiting for Death or something else to visit me. Why not ponder the impossible? Here, everything is possible, even though nothing is achievable. Who is to decide which is possible and not?~

~Lord Serpent of course, and his Keepers…~ Say the Thought, happy once again to be most terrible.

~Indeed,~ he agrees. ~It would be most difficult, and would require a great reward. For that matter, I am quite small, but something did observe quite recently that even a single dim candle could be king in a dark room. Mayhap all that is required is the proper leverage.~

~For what?~ The Thought inquires, before adding. ~Yet Keepers do keep, and I rather not have another Dark Thought come forth like the last one. Those who keep the Keys, knows when their Keepers act unwise… those very Children was theirs, as well as She.~

~So it is not Lord Serpent we should fear and despise, but His keepers,~ he confirms. He had already come to this conclusion. Then the full import of the answer sinks in. ~Wait, you are suggesting the Children were created by Lord Serpent's enemies? And what of She? What did they have to do with the ancient Queen? Unless…~

He barks a humorless laugh. ~You originated from them!~

~I never said I didn't…~

He can't help it. He rolls his eyes. ~I already asked you your origin, but no matter. Tie yourself in disingenuous knots if you wish. I can't be said to be thinking for myself if I'm taking on the thoughts of the ancient Queen or the ones who created this prison.~

~I told you, I was a Muse at first, then became a Thought within Hers. As to the rest, who can really say they think truly for themselves without the taint of others?~

He ignores the answer, more noise intended to distract and annoy.

Whatever Lord Serpent may have done to warrant imprisonment, the ones who held the keys to the shackles were still beyond his own reach. He slides down the side of the metal stake, worn smooth by the winds, until he sat on the platform with his knees drawn up against his chest. He wondered about doing something to attract the Serpent's attention. A potentially dangerous or deadly proposition all around, since the attention he might gain could be far less interesting but just as dangerous as the Serpent. And even if Lord Serpent's attention was caught, well, therein lay another potentially deadly proposition.

~That is easy, find your best thought or experiences within your head… then throw it out there. Lord Serpent always takes a second before eating the whole just in case you prove interesting.~

~Really,~ he answers, a word to acknowledge the statement rather than a question. ~And what sorts of things would Lord Serpent find interesting?~ He's not actually expecting a useful answer, but it still could prove entertaining to hear.

~I am a Thought, once a Muse… not a mind-reader!~

That answer is enough to make him smile again. He would never have anticipated being so amused while his life hung by a thread.

~You know a great deal for being a mere Muse or Thought,~ he observes.

~I've eaten a great many other thoughts over the wait… One day She will return, and we will begin this cycle again.~

~Ah,~ the Lord replies to the explanation, though it is a singularly skeptical sound. ~It seems like a terribly unproductive cycle; perhaps it should be broken.~

~In the end, aren't all thoughts terribly unproductive?~

~Not all,~ he disagrees. ~But cycles can be.~

~True, like the one where you free the Lord. The Watchers would never allow it, even if it left all of our Reality in ashes and sorrow. Yet neither should they be called villain, or savior…~

~Oh, go away,~ he grumbles irritably.

~A truly terrible thought am I!~ it says with glee before leaving as asked. Leaving Kendall alone, with his own thoughts which may be just as terrible.

Too late, he remembers he had considered binding that thought to himself, to take it with him into oblivion or wherever he ended up. His head falls forward in weariness and defeat, so that his forehead rests against his knees. Perhaps if he could sleep… But if something did occur, he would be caught unawares and unprepared. With effort, he forces his eyes to reopen and lifts his head, leaning it back against the metal stake that supported him.

It was true that one's thinking, no matter how original, could not be completely severed from all the things that influenced you. His entire mindset had been constructed and molded from the time he was born, structured around an ideal defined by his House, created by its Founder and prior leaders, and everyone else who had come before him. It was a proud heritage, yet also a heavy burden.

Now, he had nothing. He might build something new, but it would not be completely new. It would be his own, but tainted or blessed by his heritage, depending on who you asked. He had been proud of his House. That was the deepest pain, giving up something that he loved so deeply, and failed so utterly. He did not walk away from Chanicut by choice, but maybe it was just punishment.

But if he was justly punished, then what lesson or wisdom could he take away from this? Do something worthwhile, but what? How did one even conceive of a worthwhile action when there was no point, no reason? The Unicorn might die, if the Thought could be believed. Probably not, since how would that Thought know of events so recent? But whether it really was merely a Thought or something else entirely, the question still came around to why?

No, there was no point. He tilts his head to look beyond the edge of the platform into the Void beyond and below. It beckoned to him. He could understand the Queen's despair and anger, but even her anger and theft of the Serpent's eye had yielded nothing. Those in Amber were still just as trapped as those in Chaos. They might think otherwise, but they were themselves still prisoners of the Unicorn's love and vision, never able to move beyond the edges of her creation. And if she was reborn into the cycle, she would once more be trapped in pointlessness, never to learn or grow or change.

That was what was needed. Change.

And the skies alight with a blinding flash of chaos lightening as something arises above the swirling nothingness, guided by the scent of a most amusing thought.

Back to list of Kendall's game threads
Darkness: An Audience with Lord Serpent

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