Book of Meridian
I knew I would find him there.
Dracnoris was perched on the lip of the Zokona Volcano, tendrils of smoke and steam swirling around his enormous form. He gazed intently into the fiery well, his golden-red scales gleaming against the waves of heat. I had to wrap a dampening field around myself just to draw near him.
As I settled next to Dracnoris, he glanced at me, then went back to staring into the swirling magma below. We sat silently beside each other, buffeted by the waves of heat.
"Are you going to splinter?" I asked.
"You still wait for me," Dracnoris rumbled. "Waiting for me to splinter so you can make sure my shards will be dispersed across Lusternia."
"Will you?" I asked softly.
"I am not sure yet," he said. "I am not a star god. What would I splinter into?"
"I do not know," I said.
"Perhaps the same thing will happen to me as what happened to Eyos."
I did not say anything. We frankly were never sure what happened to Eyos, another Primordial One who splintered. His shards were never found.
"And if I choose not to splinter?" Dracnoris asked, sending rocks tumbling to splash in the molten soup below. "Will you remain whole, Meridian? Will you and I be protectors of these mortal races as we have been for these last thousand years since Mugowumpois, Xyl and Trillillial left us?"
"If need be," I said.
"Why do you persist? Amberle has been long gone, but each day you act as if it is your penance to remain here with me. Why don't you splinter. Are your memories so important?"
"Do you wish to forget?" I asked
"No! Why would I want to? I have no desire to give up my identity, to never again have the sense of who I am. Perhaps it is cowardice. To want to hold on to this perspective that is myself. And lose it for what? Perhaps to become a mortal race, to subsume my identity among the many shards. Do you yearn to forget, Meridian?"
"I do and I don't," I said "I wish to forget the pain, but all that is left of my love for Amberle is my memories of us together."
As Dracnoris looked at me, his green eyes watered, like emerald ice melting. He raised himself up, and shook his wings.
"Yes," he said simply. "I will splinter."
With a sudden roar, Dracnoris spread his wings and dove into the roiling lava pool below. As soon as he hit the surface, great plumes of lava shot up. The mountain rumbled and fiery balls spit up into the air. I strengthened my shield and stayed to witness his splintering.
From the top of his neck to the tip of his tail, Dracnoris split in two, out of which bubbled his shimmering green essence. The essence spurted forth smaller winged forms, miniature versions of Dracnoris. They flew into the air, spinning and screeching with their newborn voices. As each one shot out of the volcano, they paused briefly before me and nodded. Hundreds rose up, circling the volcano that continued to erupt with furious explosions of rock and magma. The shards circled around like a flock of birds, then broke apart into four groups that drifted off in each of the cardinal directions. Thus, were the dragons born.
As the volcano eruption died down, I noticed the skin of Dracnoris still floated in the lava pool, foaming with a green luminescence. It slowly drifted and washed up onto a rocky ledge.
Then, something amazing happened, another race began to splinter from this final pool of essence. And they were star shaped, a new race. Finally, Dracnoris would know what it would be to be star formed. I hoped he would not be disappointed.
Later, as I spread the dracnari race throughout the world, I would occasionally come across one of the four dragon clans. They were much longer lived than the rest of the mortal races, for their ageing was so slow, perhaps they'd have a lifespan of centuries. Thus, the memories of Dracnoris were more intact, for these giants remembered more of who they once were than any other splintered race. Such powerful creatures, I imagined they would challenge the Soulless. But dragons could not go through the Portal of Fate, and they were slow to procreate so their numbers never increased at any relevant rate. Also, they rarely interacted with any other race except the dracnari, and even them rarely.
I never realised how much Dracnoris and I kept each other in check, how I had grown to rely upon his advice, his thoughts, his company. Without him I was lost, rudderless, without perspective. My only intent was to protect the mortal races, but how spread out they were now, and how relentlessly the Soulless remained. I learned being the last of one's kind breeds a deep pain born of loneliness. It was out of this melancholy that I became rash, filled with a false courage born of carelessness.
It was only a matter of time before I fell into a trap. The City of Lamerea was recently settled by a group of taurians. Like many mortal cities, they held a golden horn that would call me if in need. When the Horn of Lamerea blasted, I rushed forth, riding on the wind. Arriving, I saw thousands of auras of taurian citizens, so I landed in the town square. They were all around me, reflections of Tauro, large eyed and hot tempered. But I knew something was wrong when turned and looked at me in unison. There was a hollowness behind their eyes. I smelled something burnt and damp shifting beneath the surface.
Suddenly, the taurians began split apart, exploding in fountains of blood and bone and flesh, which twined together and rose up around me as a bloody net. The souls of the taurians still clung to the fleshy net, like flies caught in the web. It was none other than Kethuru, whose underlying pervasive presence held the screaming souls together, bound by his black hatred.
Casting domotheon spears of light, I burnt through Kethuru's foul skin, but as soon as holes opened up, they closed just as swiftly. Kethuru had trapped me, caught in a diseased skein of flesh and soul, madness made flesh, closing around me. I screamed in rage and pain but to no avail. How long I fought, I do not know, but nights and days passed, until I knew I was being toyed with, caught in a nightmare without end.
But then the skein around me shuddered. What was happening? I did not know. The thousand eyes that hungrily watched my pain and suffering suddenly looked away. And as soon as Kethuru's attention turned elsewhere, it was like a fresh wind revived me as I was no longer suffocated by his dark regard.
Self preservation finally kicked in, and I fought with renewed strength. Battling past the visions of hate and the darkness born of the void, past the souls trapped within Kethuru's cloying aura, I was finally able to burn through a thinning layer of diseased flesh. Blue sky opened up above me, and I shot up into the air, buffered by domotheon energies. Exalting in freedom, I looked down and saw what saved me.
The mortal races had come to my rescue.
Glittering armies of lucidian, tribal bands of loboshigaru and aslaran, aerial battalions of trill, furrikin, tae'dae, clangoru, orclach, sileni, igasho and many more. The mortals were throwing themselves at Kethuru. To save me. The Last Elder.
As soon as I realised what was happened, I screamed at them to retreat. Some inner strength born purely of my own terror at what they did blossomed within me and I threw roiling balls of pure immanidivinus energies at Kethuru. He shuddered and backed off, but his foul form covered the entire valley that surrounded the City of Lamerea. I tried to save as many mortals as I could, but their losses were ludicrously high.
It was clear now that I was a liability. After that battle, I did what I could to sink into obscurity, hiding myself from mortals, becoming a fading legend. How many decades passed, I do not know.
One day, as I walked along the shores where Jojobo met the sea, I met a shipwrecked company of mugwumps. They had built a temporary shelter at the edge of the trees. Covered in a cowled robe, I approached them to see if they needed assistance. At first they were cautious, but I was one and they were many. They said they were refugee scholars whose island was devoured by Illith. Indeed, they were protecting chests of books, each volume water proofed and securely bound together. It was a veritable travelling library. I gave them what information they needed about the local land and directions to get to a local settlement of dracnari. Throughout this exchange, an elderly female mugwump stared at me. When I left the company, she followed me.
"Wait, sirrah," she rasped. "Please, wait."
"Yes?" I asked. "Is there something I can do for you?"
"My name is Mlorag and I know who ye are," she said. "You are the Last Elder. Meridian."
"The shipwreck must have addled your mind, gentle lady," I said. "You speak of legends."
"I speak the truth," Mlorag said. "We are the Keepers of Mysteries and are custodians to many prophesies, ancient histories and other secrets, handed down from keeper to keeper. One such thing is a History of the Elder Wars."
Rummaging through a satchel at her side, Mlorag picked out a volume bound in white leather. Intrigued despite myself, I came forward and she handed it to me. Opening up the volume, each chapter was told from the point of view of an Elder, together comprising the history of the Elder Wars. I began reading the sad history as Mlorag stood politely beside me. Tears began to stream down my cheeks as I read about the death of Amberle, the beginning of the wars, the folly of the traitors, and even of Xyl's last thoughts. It couldn't have been fiction; too much rang true. Then I noticed it was written in the script of the Elders.
"Do you understand the Elder tongue?" I asked, surprised.
"I can read and write in that language," said Mlorag, "but only Elders can speak it."
"Where did you get this book?"
"At one time, the stories were collected in magic gems by Mugowumpois, who was our progenitor. She interviewed the first generation of each race, collecting the final thoughts and putting it together in the story you hold in your hands. After she splintered, we, her shards, transferred the history into books. We continued her great project, interviewing the first generations of lucidian, trill and dracnari. There is only one chapter left, unwritten."
"You are looking for Meridian. The Last Elder. You are waiting for him to splinter so you can finish the history?"
"How do you know that I am this Meridian?"
"Because we told her," said three voices in unison behind me. I spun around and there stood the Fates. Lachesis stepped forward and said, "Many of the secrets Mlorag and the Keepers protect are of interest to us and we keep an eye on their movements and progress. We felt this would be a good time for you to meet her."
"And why is that?" I asked.
"Do you not want to know the message Mugowumpois gave to Xyl to cause him to want to splinter?" asked Clotho.
"We have kept this for the one called Meridian," said Mlorag, pulling a chain over her head. The chain held a pendant with a small crystal. "We cannot read this crystal, for that skill has been lost to us. But it contains the message Mugowumpois wanted given to Xyl. Only the Last Elder can read it now."
With a sigh, I took the crystal from Mlorag. The Fates were watching me intently. Annoyed, I turned my back on them and released the message. The voice of a mugwump, sounding almost identical to Mugowumpois, whispered into my mind, "You want to know the secret of the Portal of Fate. Look into their eyes." That was all.
"Have you walked through the Portal of Fate, Mlorag?" I asked.
"I have," she said proudly.
Ignoring the Fates behind me, I looked into the eyes of Mlorag. She stared back at me, her eyes were gold, flecked with green. Beautiful but otherwise unremarkable. Mugowumpois wanted Xyl to look into their eyes. He must have found something for he splintered soon after. I shifted my perception and searched deeper. Yes, the eyes reflected how Mlorag perceived the world around her, her individuality, her perspective.
Then I noticed it. Beyond her own perception was that of another, as if someone or something else stared out with her. This other presence must have become entwined when she entered through the Portal of Fate.
"They are quite unaware of the Other," said Clotho quietly in the Elder tongue so Mlorag wouldn't understand. "When they step through the portal, they brush against another reality, finding another soul that resonates with their own, a quantum twin."
"They think this is a game," I said, studying the Other as it studied me. "They don't believe in this reality."
"Does it matter?" asked Clotho. "They shape its story nonetheless."
"And behind the eyes of the Other," I said, looking even deeper. "There is even another presence! Just as the Other shares space with Mlorag, so too does the Other share space with another."
The Fates said nothing.
"It is a gameboard within a gameboard," I said. "Is this what consciousness is? A fractal pattern that goes on without end? Each reflection thinking they are in control when in truth there is always someone behind them pulling strings?"
"There's always an end," said Atropos.
Without saying another word, I turned away from Mlorag and the Fates and walked out to the ocean, letting the azure waters lap my feet. I had called this the Amberle sea, for the waters were the colour of her eyes.
When the warm waters reached my thighs, I turned around. The Fates stood together, watching me along side Mlorag, witnesses to the splintering of the Last Elder.
"Does it hurt?" I asked. "Does dying hurt?"
"Oh yes," cackled Atropos. "It is very painful."
I nodded and went deeper into the ocean, swimming further out into the waters, letting myself float out on the tide. The soft voice of Clotho carried to me.
"My sister is wrong," she said. "It is not death that is painful. It is being born."
And so I was.