Scythia

An emaciated woman is hunched over the bleached bones of an unknown creature. Her wire thin hair hangs from her dried scalp, back and forth, back and forth, as she rocks herself in an oddly familiar fashion. From time to time, she raises her head towards a motionless sky, as if heeding the unheard call of a distant master. Finding no answer in the featureless plain of grey dust around her, she resumes the cradling motion, her ribs threatening to finally pierce her parchment-like skin. Without warning, as if prompted by a wave of unexpected lust, the woman starts to gnaw at the stump that had once been her left hand, peeling off what little flesh remains on her wrist with small, frantic bites. For a brief moment of joy, the pain almost eclipses the hunger, and a nebulous thought starts to form in the woman’s brain like a gathering storm. Somewhere far away, the wind makes a desperate cry and the memory crumbles to dust in the hollow chamber of the woman’s mind. Startled by the alien sound of the disintegrating memory, the woman makes a run for the distant horizon, where black mountains rise above the land like the jaws of a hungry god in rows without number.

No elemental spirits animate this land. The few winds that survive here were driven mad long ago by the worn, eerily smooth landscape. When the outside became unbearable to dwell on, the winds turned to themselves in regressive patterns of endless recursion. Even the Fire does not dare enter this place, burning only at an infinitesimal fraction of its undying power. The very few bonfires that have made it into the Waste protest in silent retorts at the monolithic skies, wary of the bottomless hunger pervading every atom of air. The Tides of Time, everywhere else an unstoppable force of change, come to die here in a mute discharge, spreading almost to a standstill against the featureless landscape. Only the Soul of Stone survives here, its final form and function revealed to all in a last cosmic joke whispered into the ears of a deaf audience. Having no opposition or arbiter, the earth becomes its own curator in this cursed place, where those crushed by the inevitability of death are forever thrown into a subjective eternity without beginning. Always living. Always dying. And always, always hungering.

If the Mouth of Hell is an open wound on the flesh of the world, the Scythian Wastes are a sick rim of spiritual scar-tissue, unable to heal but unable to die. Whatever is left of the times before the Fall is either dust in the raving winds or trapped in the amber of spiritual absence. Nothing lives here. Nothing dies here. And yet, the grey flatlands of the Scythian range are far from empty.

Monastery of Silence

~Truth.

~Truth?

~Yes, truth.

They were sitting on their favourite bench in the gardens of an old monastery. The place was as silent as it had been the first time they had found it on one of their occasional wanderings.

They had been visiting one of the most populated memory cores they had discovered up until that moment. That core in particular had adopted the shape of a pre-industrial crowded city. It was a place full of people and smells and noises. Beggars, priests, noblemen; the highest and the lowest mixed up, living in a perpetual state of chaos, a city inhabiting its citizens. Always in motion, ever on the brink of change, but not quite.

At first, they enjoyed it. They bathed on the pungent smells, they soared the screeching noises, they searched and found themselves in a toothless smile, a tired glance, a manic laugh; ever moving from one body to another, leaping from one soul to the next, until the presence of the city became too big and complete and their heartbeats too distant and faint and they had to run away.

They named that place Chaos, and swore to each other never to return.

The monastery had been hiding in a small mountain range next to Chaos. They had found it almost by chance, if such a thing existed in their world.

~You once asked me how I would define the world if I could only use one word, and that’s my answer. Truth. His thoughts echoed in her mind as clear and close as if they had been uttered.

To an external observer, they would have looked like a young couple sitting on a bench under an old pine tree, lost amidst the silence, not minding each other.

~That’s rather a vague answer, she sent back. Truth can mean everything or nothing at all.

They lost themselves in the silence of the monastery for a while.

It hadn’t been a conscious decision for them to use their mind-touch. As soon as they stepped into the gardens of the monastery they immediately understood why they had been drawn to that place.

The transition had been smoother than dawn. At that moment, they both had felt it, had been aware of it, but as they walked among the bushes and the trees, as they approached the old silent building, they forgot how to talk, how to speak, and they suddenly realised that words were forbidden in that sacred place.

It’s not that they couldn’t speak. That was their world after all, and they knew that they could choose to speak if they so wished, but they also knew that, as soon as they had crossed the unseen boundaries of the monastery, words had turned into meaningless blurbs of sound, careless and irrelevant, obscure references to meanings far beyond the surface of their thoughts.

~That’s precisely my point, he signalled, breaking the static of their mind-touch. Truth, or rather the absence of it, defines not only my world, but everyone’s.

She glanced at him sceptically, raising an eyebrow. She was used to this kind of categorical claims but still, his sometimes utter lack of humility never failed to surprise her… or amuse her.

~Enlighten me, she sent mockingly.

He moved, ever so slightly, and his distant expression turned into a more focused one. She watched him as he rearranged himself on the bench, turning his body towards hers, fractionally, almost imperceptibly, just like every time he was about to say something momentous (or something he had been rehearsing in his head, as she had learnt to notice).

~Take for instance the people at Chaos. They live their lives in constant motion, a perpetual process of change that never ends. Their lives are like the water-flow of a thousand rivers, only their rivers are birthless and purposeless, furious streams of raging waters preying upon one another. His thoughts flowed in an orderly row with the clarity and certainty he always tried to convey in his discourses. Each of his words was limited and constrained by its own distinct shape, instilling his speech with a rationality he sometimes lacked.

In the inner layers of her mind, she laughed secretly at that. After countless conversations, voiced and silent, he still felt the need to modulate the tone of his voice, to carefully choose every word, as if the wrong choice could destroy any possibility of communication.

Perhaps it could.

She turned her gaze towards the old monastery and, signalling the precise amount of eagerness, urged him to continue.