The pain didn’t flash and fade, didn’t give way to the numb juddering of a body in shock, didn’t wink into the nothingness of a body deceased. It went on, a roaring bonfire through his every boiling fragment, rising beyond a signal of harm received by a brain tasked with manoeuvring the at-risk body out of danger. It went on, and on, and it increased. No desensitisation could occur.
It went on for an eternity. Or it may have been seconds. Time did not exist in that dark place. That dark beyond darkness. Time had never existed here. What did communication mean, in a place lacking so fundamental a context?
Pain is the context. Pain is the motivator primeval. In a place where the sentient mind is foundational physics it is pain, and not time or gravity, that is the constant.
Pain accompanies the onset of misfortune, urging the organism away from danger. Pain occurs during mistreatment, to encourage the organism to change its actions and circumstances. Pain lingers after damage, to remind the organism of its mistake. My pain has been eternal, but it started when I came to this place, and it will end when I leave. That is time. That is the continuity of pain.
Pain is the whispered truth.
He couldn’t see, but nevertheless he saw. He couldn’t hear, but he heard. There weren’t words here, any more than there were words in the chaotic dance of nuclear transpersion, but Elan read the words nevertheless. Heard them. Bent them to his mind and made them speak. The gates yawned wide, and a dark vista extended before him.
The urverse, reality and unreality, eternity itself is held together by ten great spikes.
Not the Infinites, although the Infinites are also ten. They bring structure. They bring meaning and regulation. They bring the required power to bear. But nothing is held together by the Infinites. They simply are.
I am – we are one of the ten spikes that drive through all of creation. The whispered truth.
“You are … pain?” Elan made his first clumsy attempt to communicate with the deep, churning meaning that laced the darkness.
If you like. Not really. But it is how the whispered truth manifests to living things. It is how the whispered truth is known in stranger spheres than this. It is not what we are, because we are not. To be, requires a sphere in which existence can occur.
Before life, before anything, there was pure creation. There, in the dark, we had always dwelt. Dreaming. Dreaming of the thing you call Mind. The dream of the great trees.
“I don’t understand,” Elan voiced.
It does not matter. It was – I was – we were alive before life. With the first beat of the heart, the first thought of the Dream Trees, we were struck through the spheres and became the binding spike. One of the ten pillars.
And then … then life came.
“Life, like – like me?” Elan asked. “Entering the fluid?”
No, not like you. Life.
“I’ll try not to take that personally.”
One of them carved us out and took us away. We were a thing, in that sphere. A prize. An object to be taken, and its properties used. Explored. They began to use our darkness to travel through, to go from … place to place … within their sphere. We did not know place. Space has no more meaning to us than time.
But in touching us, in applying our whispered truth in different ways, changes came over the living. Life became something else. Life became. And that was another thing they used. The living became the undead.
“Undead, like … ghoulies in the Spooky Troop?” Elan asked.
If you like.
“I’m not sure I do,” Elan tried, once again, for a lightness of tone that profoundly lacked all meaning in that dark place.
The undead. The cathadña. The wyrlocke. The Angel. The Demon. The Imago. The God-thing and the frightchylde. Many others. All, in their … time.
“Imago,” Elan said. “The Butterfly. The Butterfly was undead? Are you talking about the misbegotten creatures? Did they come from this place … ?” even as he said it, he felt this was wrong. Not all of it, and not entirely wrong, but no. The whispered truth was not speaking of the passengers on Truck’s ship, the author of the Second Book of Sloane. No. Nothing so small.
The undead rose from the underdark, the darkness behind the darkness, the silent places behind the whispered truth. Still we were used, by the God-things that did not care about the changes wrought on the living; and by the Firstmades, who cared but had their terrible duties; and by the Demons, as far as they could use us. All without care for the balance. Without care for the silence. They stride through this place like invaders, destroyers, a scream in the midst of abiding peace. Sometimes, they tear the veil between us.
Elan knew, again, that this wasn’t anything so prosaic and modest as the Bonshoon veil around the galaxy. “That sounds bad.”
Break the spike, silence the whisper, break the urverse.
“Urverse,” Elan repeated. Greater plural-singular collective form, over-universe … “The urverse has a sense of humour.”
Demons swim these waters. They did. They will. For some … time, this branch of the ocean has been silent. The farmer swam these waters, but was never part of this eddy.
“Farmer?” Elan struggled. “Eddy?”
A tortured metaphor. God-things and Firstmades and frightchylds may swim these waters. Demons too, at great cost. Sometimes the wyrlocke, if it grows large and vile enough. When the Demon begins to become one with us, to hear the whispered truth, it fears. It struggles to remain in your sphere, as organisms do. The farmer grew sustenance that allowed it to remain. For a time. It was the last to swim these waters. Not the last to rend the veil, but the last Demon to swim them.
Angels cannot. They are formed of the equal and the opposite. When the Angel meets the Demon, an eddy forms. A knot in the dark. In your sphere, a thing of intense pain. A fluid thing, fleeting yet able to be … imprisoned, trapped in your sphere.
“The dark shooey.”
The dark shooey. Angels do not belong. Inviolate to the soul journeyer, anathema to the whispered truth. Perhaps, in the very heart of it, the object dug out of Mind by the Firstmades … sometimes they might ride the dark currents that spiral there. In the past. In the future. They may. Once.
“I still don’t understand,” Elan admitted. “But I’m trying. I’m learning. Okay, so. The whispered truth, the pain of Cantaña – the beating heart of Cantaña Áqui, as in the Library of the Still-Beating Heart? – that’s you. Not a metaphor, but something that’s been sitting on the sidelines of Six Species culture since before there was a Six Species.
“You’re a – some kind of a secondary sphere of existence outside of space and time, but of a medium that can be understood – by a certain mind,” he went on modestly. “And your presence can be detected in our … urverse … by expressions like the dark shooey, and some other sort of thing that … Firstmades and Gods … use, and is the origin of various undead and supernatural mythology? And when an Angel and a Demon encounter each other, it makes an eddy in this place, and that’s the stuff that looks like black fluid in our urverse, but here … something else?” he swam in the pain, circling, assembling the new information. Still searching for something he could target. “Am I getting close?”
The whispered truth was silent for another brief eternity. Mulling over what it had told him, the connections and conclusions he had drawn so far. Putting response after query, answer after question, making sense of time.
We will send someone to talk with you.
“Oh,” Elan said into the dark shooey. “Um, good.”