A Most Loving Warning
I woke up from a dream with this story fully formed in my mind. I couldn't quite remember the dream but I do think what I saw there was exactly what this story relates.
When I sat to write the story, I felt very powerfully that it story was being dictated to me from within. The words, their pattern, the style of language all were given to me exactly like this. When I tried to "update" the style... to write things as I would prefer, I felt an odd discomforting "wrongness" within myself. So I just wrote it exactly as it was given to me.
It is a disquieting piece. But for all that, I think it is important to read and understand.
I was traversing the plane of Sheol that lies beyond this world, beyond the plane of dreams, but before the first of the seven heavens.
I was walking there and I came upon an old man sitting on a rock by a placid pool. Though he seemed to sit most comfortably, still his back was bowed and his face showed strain as if he bore a heavy load upon his back.
“Greetings old man,” said I, “what do you do here.”
“Greetings, traveller,” he replied. Though grim, his eyes were kind. “Here I wait," he added, in answer to my question. “I wait and I wait.”
I looked around to see what it was he might be waiting for, but all was still and unchanging as ever it is in Sheol. My curiosity, however, would not let be and so I asked, “For what do you wait, old man?”
And with this he parted the front of his robe and there I beheld a pendant that hung from his neck. Though he bowed forward, as if it weighed heavily upon him, it was quite small. And in the most curious manner, the pendant itself did not swing free. It clung to his gaunt-ribbed chest as if it nursed from his very heart.
The pendant hung upon a chain of ancient knotted silver. Embedded in a silver setting, pitted and tarnished, was a crystalline shard of blackest night. So black was the crystal that no features might be seen. So black that my senses were absorbed and I felt my attention being drawn in.
“Do not look too deeply friend,” said he, as he quickly closed his robe hiding the pendant once more from my eyes, "for into the Void Crystal you might fall."
“It will not be the greatest tragedy, for help would come and soon enough you would be rescued. But, for all that,” his smile was thin, “you would not very much like your visit in that dark place.”
I shivered, suddenly cold, as some deep instinct felt the truth of his words.
“Tell me of this singular burden that you bear,” I asked.
He sighed deeply and stared out into the distance for a long while. Then he looked at me, meeting my eyes. It is a disquieting thing to have another look directly into your eyes, not speak and not look away. Since he was looking at me thus, I felt that I should return his gaze and not look away either. I felt all manner of thoughts arise in my mind. I felt my mind hunting around for something to say. Something to fill the dead silence that lay between us now. Something to inject some comfort into this strange, long-staring silence. But there was nothing that I might find and still he stared deep into my eyes. I continued to return his stare, but chose now to simply be at peace. I felt myself relax. I found my own centre. I found my own heart. I found my own light. And I radiated that within my being. And then his eyes, and where they were directed, ceased to bother me at all. And then I found myself not staring into a stranger's eyes, but looking into the eyes of a mirror. For but a moment, he was I, and I was he, and we were one. The same being. Looking upon itself.
And in that moment I felt the burden that hung around my neck. And I saw, in my mind's eye what it was that lay within the stygian darkness within the Void Crystal. Within it were a great multitude of wraiths. The very saddest of all beings in all the realms that ever were. Lost for an eternity. I would say they were shrieking their pain, but no sound moved in that place. I would say they were rushing hither and thither and writing in their pain, but there was no size or dimension or space within for them to do so.
Before my mind could further apprehend this terrible vision, the old man broke our locked gaze and looked away. And once again we were two distinct beings, strangers to one another.
We were silent for a long while then as I regained my composure and found once again my voice.
“Who are those poor tormented spectres?” asked I eventually.
“They are the lost ones,” he answered. “The ones who have sought to destroy themselves,” he said with sadness.
“But this is not possible!” said I, for I had walked the land of living, the place of incarnation a few times and I had seen suicide and knew that it did not lead to entrapment within that abysmal place.
“No, no, no,” he said as if he were within my mind, still reading my thoughts. “It is not suicide of which I speak. That is an act of sad desperation that will, it is true, destroy the body in which you reside. That will, it is true, end the journey that you travel. That will, it is true, conclude the particular story that you are telling. All of that is true. But the desire to end a life in a particular realm is not the same desire as utter, total, complete self-destruction. It is not the same desire as complete self-annihilation.”
He looked up at me, searching my face. “Can you comprehend,” he asked, as tears sprang to his eyes, “what it might mean for a soul to endure such pain that the only desire it has left is that it might, itself, cease to exist? Can you?” I saw a number of expressions chasing one another across his face. Pain, loss, compassion, gentle kindness, yearning... and then pain again.
“How,” asked I, “do they come to be within that stone?”
When he did not answer, I prompted again, “It hangs upon your neck and yet it contains a vast multitude. More than I could possibly count.”
“Indeed,” said he, “too many to contemplate. Too many.” His voice trailed off into the distance a while and then, as if remembering my original question he said, “Everyone must be somewhere. And everywhere must be contained and held within something. These souls must be here, within the void. And the void must be here within this stone."
In my travels through the arch of space and time I had seen many things that I did not comprehend. Well I had learned the art of knowing when to leave a puzzle to itself. And so I let his answer be.
“Do none of the lost ones ever return from that place?” asked I.
“Oh… Once every few millennia one of them might for a moment cease their self-destructive desire,” he replied. And then I saw a little light in his eyes for the first time. And with the first stirrings of excitement in his voice he continued, “It is for this that I wait. I feel the shift in the crystal. I feel the slightest stirring of life within all that endless death. I feel it!"
“And then, what do you do?” asked I, drawn into his excitement.
“Why, I set up the call”
“With this,” said he as he pulled upon the rope that cinched his robe at the waist and brought forth a trumpet of burnished brass that was tied to its end.
“This was gifted to me by the bright ones,” he said with pride. “When I feel the stirrings within the crystal, with only one blast, a number of the bright ones are summoned. And it is with immediacy that they arrive. They come upon wings of light when I call.” His pleasure in this was most apparent. “And then,” he continued, “they attempt a retrieval. A number of them will risk all. They enter the void stone themselves and attempt to bring the lost one out. Many times they cannot. Many times the lost one returns too quickly to its patterns of self-destruction.” And then his face brightened again. “But sometimes there is success. Sometimes the lost one can see the light that they shine. Sometimes the lost one can feel the love that they pour forth upon it. And with the light and the love it can be drawn out from the eternal darkness.”
“It does happen,” he said, almost at a whisper, as if to convince himself. And then the light went out of his face again as he added, “just very, very seldom.”
“You have my sympathy, old man,” said I in a kindly voice, “I can see why that shard is a heavy burden to bear.”
“Oh, these souls,” said he, “are empty of all life and so weigh nothing at all. It is not the multitude of lost ones that weighs so heavily upon me. Nor is it the veritable eternity that they spend within the stone that burdens my heart.”
And then he looked up and I could clearly see his pain as he said, “It is the fact that new ones are added all the time, in a constant stream, that causes my heart to quail.”
Grimly I asked, “Is there anything that I might do, old man, that will lighten your load?”
“There is,” he affirmed. “Traveller, you journey far and wide in the service of your own quest. I ask this one small boon of you. Wherever you go, carry this message with you. Tell them that you meet that there is always a choice. That self-destruction is an impossibility that can be chosen. But this choice leads you here to this dark, lost place. Tell them, traveller. Tell them to choose, whenever they may, for anything at all rather than self-destruction. Tell them, if they can, to choose for love and life and joy, But if they cannot, then to choose for anything at all other than self-destruction. Tell them, traveller. Carry this message far and wide and you shall do an old man a great service indeed.”
And so, gentle reader, this I do. It is not my purpose nor is it my main task, for he was correct in his estimation. I have my own quest to service. But along the way, this story I tell. And now, once again, it is told.