Dead ‘Mans Tell No Tales
It comes to him in a haze, a cloud of gray lofting amongst The Void like a puff of smoke rising from the bowl of a pipe. It is a presence, it has form about it, shape, intention, and then it splits in two. To the left of him is an elegant black; to the right, the white of wisdom. They begin to speak to Albey, without sense at first, just in noises, but at last words come through. This time they are clear and pristine, as are the beings within the wisps of black and white.
Albey the Mad Poet, aloft in The Void, holds palaver with Ram’rl the Unfallen and Iuqon the Mage.
“Albey,” says Iuqon, drawing close to him with unbelieving eyes.
“Albey!” says Ram’rl, wrapping them both in a bear hug.
“Iuqon! Ram’rl!” Albey struggles to say under the burly force of the Unfallen’s smothering hug. Finally he releases them. Albey finds that he doesn’t need to breathe, so he goes on to say, “How is this possible? You two are dead, you burned at Jericho, y–”
“Hush, Poet,” commands the Mage, “for we are in The Void now, and there is no time at all.”
“What?” gasps Albey as Ram’rl nods slowly with understanding. “Why must our time together be short? I’ve missed you both dearl–”
“As we you,” Ram’rl says, holding his hand flat as though a platter were there. A silver platter then appears, on it three loaves of buttered bread. “Please, before we commune, may we break bread together like in the olden days. Like a family.”
Each member of The Triad takes a fresh loaf of Ram’rl’s bread and inhales it like they never ate a day in their lives. The taste is utterly heavenly, spectacular on a spiritual level, the closest thing to divine the Mad Poet has ever experienced… then he looks all around him, at the dazzling and vibrant snow of the empty space which surrounds The Triad, which engulfs them, which defies Everything and defines Nothing itself.
“Why must our time here be short?” Albey asks his friend again, then, “Where is here, Iuqon? What is going on?”
“I said not that time is short, dear Poet, only that there is no time at all. We are in The Void, an Astral Plane unlike the others.”
“An Astral Plane?” Albey asks as though he were a schoolchild and Iuqon the wise old professor sage, and that’s not quite so far off, is it? “The others? Are… how many others are there, Iuqon?”
“There are others, to my knowledge,” Iuqon explains with a smile, “though I do not know how many. There could be one, there could be ten, there could be many dozens. It is not for us to know.” He pauses then, and a strange look comes about his face, a look of realization as though he’s not sure what he’s realizing. “Or mayhap not for us to remember.”
“I see,” the Poet says blindly. “You say this place–… this Plane, is called The Void? I believe I see why.”
The nothingness shimmers around him, the colorless radiance of it all impossible to look away from, impossible to stare directly into, impossible in and of itself, just like true impossibility.
“What is the Plane called where The Hillside Commons grows?”
Iuqon and Ram’rl chuckle at this question, but Albey merely looks back and forth between them.
“Have I said something funny?”
“To dead ‘mans much is funny, though we tell no jokes.”
“Tales, I believe it is,” Ram’rl corrects. “The old saying goes Dead ‘mans tell no tales.”
“Mayhap,” admits Iuqon, “although we may share certain truths. You ask of us where the endless wood grows, Albey, while you stand upon the very soil.”
Albey looks down at his feet. He doesn’t seem to be standing on anything.
“The endless wood we’ve dubbed The Hillside Commons is but a single planet,” Iuqon explains, waving his steelwood staff to conjure a circular lookingglass inside of which a moving picture emerges, a void of black dotted here and there with white stars. At the center of the picture is a vast green orb, one which seems to be growing. “It is a very special planet, one which expands forever outward, one which grows constantly to allow the endless wood to truly be endless, but it is merely one planet floating within an infinite Universe of planets. That infinite Universe,” the white Mage says as the picture zooms out, giving Albey but a taste of the grandness of it all, “is also one among many, each contained within an astral bubble, each attached to The Void by a String.”
The picture zooms out until the entire infinite Universe is but a translucent bubble floating amongst the brilliant lack of things that is The Void. The lookingglass then shatters, leaving only the bubble behind. It glides to Iuqon’s open hand and lands with the lightness of a down feather. Iuqon the Mage smiles at the Universe, his favorite of the many through which he’s spent his many lives, then outstretches his hand to Albey. Albey takes the Universe from Iuqon and cups Her in both of his hands, gazing lovingly upon Her as an ethereal warmth blooms within him.
“It… She’s beautiful,” Albey struggles to say. “Gorgeous, even… but what is a String? I see nothing by which She is attached.”
“Here it is a long Grain of Sand wrapped in a Null of Void; in other Planes it may be something else. Like many things of Existence, it is not for us to understand.”
Ram’rl puts his hand on Albey’s shoulder. Albey looks up at him, at his warm smile and his massive beard, and smiles right back. They are together again, truly The Triad lives on, floating here in The Void where infinite universes roam. Albey’s smile breaks, however, when the truth of his corporeal Life occurs to him.
“My friends,” he says, his eyes sinking away from theirs, “I… have failed you. The Lodge has burned, along with your arms, Ram’rl, along with your laboratory, Iuqon. ‘Twas Gobon, he found The Lodge and… and you warned me, you told me he was not to be trusted, you–”
“Hush now, Poet,” Iuqon demands with love. “Everything is as it should be, in the words of a wise young ‘man.”
Albey looks to his friends. Neither have faltered in their smiles.
“You must understand, my friend,” Ram’rl states plainly, “there are levels to this place, this strange thing called Existence, and ‘man is not at the top.”
“We are not?”
“Goodness no,” the Mage chuckles ecstatically. “There are but ten levels, twelve in all, and we are on the fifth. They only get higher the farther up you climb, and at some point you realize you’re not even climbing. That you’d never been climbing at all.” The Mage shrugs then, as if he doesn’t understand it himself. “I do not truly understand it myself, but I can and shall tell you this: there are a great many beings between ‘man and the divine, and all are wiser than I.”
Coming from the spirit of Iuqon, that speaks volumes to the Mad Poet; the Mage is the wisest in all The Commons, the keeper of all the world’s knowledge before it had to be burned to ashes to be kept out of the hands of the wicked ‘man in white.
“You need not worry, Albey the Poet, for everything is at it should be,” Ram’rl pleads softly. “Just as it always is, just as it always was, just as it always shall be.”
“Even Gobon, and the Plague of Decay?” Albey demands, suddenly engulfed with rage. “Even all the evil he spreads through the land for no other reason than to spread it? How can you say all is at it should be, my friends, when you both fell to his hideous hand?!”
“Because we are here with you now,” Iuqon says without a care in the world, for they are no longer on a world; The Triad holds palaver where the universes float, and all is as it should be. “There are many above us, Albey the Poet, and they are all wiser than I.”
“You must leave us soon,” Ram’rl says sadly, yet still upholding his smile. “I can feel you slipping away.”
Albey looks down and sees that his Unfallen friend is right. His legs, once defined and solid, are now turning dim. His form here is smoke, the scent of The Flower, and it’s beginning to blow away.
“You were brought here to ask for guidance, Albey; speak now or nevermore.”
“Nevermore?” he asks, looking at their faces for answers. He gets none. “Shall I never return to The Void, not even in Death? Shall The Triad truly never form again?”
“Difficult to say,” Iuqon and Ram’rl both admit at the same time, as though it was planned to happen. Then, from Iuqon only, “As I said: there are a great many beings between ‘man and the divine, and all are wiser than I. Mayhap you shall return, mayhap you shall not; plan for neither, act for the now.”
“What should I do, then?” Albey asks as the Universe glows in his cupped hands. The smoke is not blowing away, he does not see yet understands, but is merely returning home. The Universe is calling the Mad Poet back now, and She only has so much patience. “I believe something vile lurks in the burnwood forest where I now make my home. Something… something smarter than ‘man. Something I don’t know if I can best.”
“You believe,” says Ram’rl, “but do you know for sure?”
Albey doesn’t know what to say.
“The face of fear is an ugly one indeed,” Iuqon says in his great sage’s voice, “but one you must eventually gaze into. You’ll often find that it’s not so bad, but that it merely craves your attention.”
The Universe is glowing so, so brightly. Albey’s beginning to lose sight of The Void, of his friends. The voyage is coming to an end.
“But what if it is so bad?” Albey asks as if with his dying breath. “What if that which I fear is true, what if I am damned?”
“Then you shall be damned,” say the dead members of The Triad. “But at least you will know it is coming.”
The Universe inhales the spirit of Albey the Mad Poet smoothly like a toke of herb, then floats off into The Void. Iuqon the Mage and Ram’rl the Unfallen look to one another and grin, then return to their clouds of black and white, to their combined cloud of gray, to Nothing. Nothing at all.
This has been the eighth subchapter of the third chapter of The Face of Fear, a novel about bigfoot written by the writer in Untitled Bigfoot Project. Here is everything you need to know about it:
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If you’re there, hypothetical reader, thank you for being there. From this day on, we move forever forward~