— Il y a pas quelque chose qui a changé ? lui demandais-je.
— Quelque chose de changé ? Tu veux dire ici ? J’ai fait le ménage c’est peut-être ça. Et puis j’ai aussi... [+]
The Emperor called and they heard him. Beyond their vault, beyond their grave, the call was powerful enough to shake their limbs and fill their empty lungs with the Emperor’s breath. They were alive once. They died once. The Emperor decides. Now is the time to crawl out of the pit they were trapped in, and walk under burning suns. Darkness and rigidity need to disappear from their minds and bodies. They are starving, cold, weak, furious and terrified. They want to exit this underworld where they do no longer belong. The struggle to reach warm, warm suns destroys some jaws, claws and mindless resolutions. Some turn into dust again, but those who come after fanatically keep trying to leave this frozen hell. Their minds are dead and only the call resonates within their skulls. They are not even able to understand the meaning of it, but it is their duty to rise up again and walk under the burning light. The first one to reach the surface is annihilated by the Great Sun, the hottest one. Many of them encounter the same fate and return to dust and sand. No one will ever remember them, not even the parched, parched wind which tries to force them all to lie down for eternity again. It is too late, they are now wide awake. All suns will soon be in the dark red sky, moving through patterns the Emperor drew for them long ago. They were alive once. They died once. They are never the ones to choose their own fate.
The desert is tremendously silent. It will test their strength, their inner determination to join the Emperor. It is a trial for those who wish to stop being dead. Monstrosity lies beneath the sand and above the sky. It will come to them and they will have to face it. They have learned this since their deaths, when they were part of the Monstrosity. They are not monsters anymore but undead. This is how the Great Emperor named them a long time ago, when he put them inside the sand. Sleep, sleep, eat the sand and drink the shadow, die and dream, pray and starve, because you are mine and you must feel blessed for being cursed, oh my undying and unyielding soldiers. After those words, they fell into the ground for half an infinity. The underground was freezing darkness; the ground is a blazing world. They have to fight off hungry monsters and eat them to survive. Death blessed the flesh, said the Great Emperor. Kill and burn and devour the monsters of the desert. None shall remain on the surface but them, the glorious and cursed emperor’s undead. They remove the flesh from the disgusting desert’s monsters, they pierce eyeballs with their sharp claws and they let the colorless blood be purified through the sand. Unfaithful monsters do not deserve to hear the Great Emperor. They finally reach the frontier of the desert. It is still a blazing world but without sand. A dark green ocean joins the dark red sky. There is earth somewhere, but it is too far to see. The Great Emperor left them some small boats and it is their first quest to reach The Great Pole in the Middle of the Sea.
I could not sleep last night. The silence was too noisy, and my head was full of mindless doubts. Inside the darkness, silence becomes stressful and treacherous with all its whispers. I cannot understand any of those murmurs, although one was oddly repeating itself through the night, urging me to stay awake. A meaningless sound with a meaningful message. I am awake and the day starts. I long for the night to come back and allow me to rest. The taste of tiredness is inside my mouth, a weird mix of dense saliva, burned taste buds and bitterness. I know I will not be able to dispose of it for today. Another day is starting and I know how pointless it will be. My brain cannot work properly, I feel like he is yelling and swearing at me for not leaving him time to do his work. I try to laugh at this thought, but I cannot actually find anything to laugh at. I look at myself in the mirror, with a forced smile on my face and I find it rather scary. I am awake and I feel dead inside. The sun outside seems cold; so cold that it is even freezing time. Light is heavy, and nothing, especially not me, will move today.
I have had strange dreams lately, filled with violence and uncanny places. And there are always, always those shadows lurking in the corner of my eyes, waiting for me to look at them, to behold them and then... I usually wake up when I notice them, when we finally stare at each other and I see that their eyes are darker than the shadows surrounding us, but I can see them smiling at me. It is strange how dreams work. I wake up when I meet their eyes, but I know they have this twisted smile. The more they smile the less bright the scene. As if they were breathing light and exhaling shadows. I have already wasted too much time thinking about those dreams. So I go outside. The sun is cold but shiny. I breathe once, twice, filling my lungs with air and light. Someone once said that when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you. I have no idea who they were but they must have had bad dreams as well. I am breathing light and I pray not to ever see shadows lurking out of my nostrils; or a monster.
Night is near when they start sailing. If they could experience fear, many of them would be terrified. But they cannot, because the Emperor had forbidden them to feel anything other than his warmth, his exquisite wrath. A few are starving again and they dive inside the ocean, hoping to catch some aquatic creatures. They never reach the surface again, and distant and distorted laughs coming from underwater are all that remain. Aquatic creatures might have eaten them. The Great Pole in the Middle of the Sea is close. It is singing from under the abyss, singing from above infinite skies. Boats are shaking, rumbling and thrilling in an unsynchronized dance. The Great Pole in the Middle of the Sea says “I hate the Great Emperor, glory to the Great Emperor, he is the savior of my world and he will destroy everything that surrounds him. Be afraid, countless undead, you are numerous, but it is not enough for his will. You are little to him. A beautiful kite is waiting for those who long for freedom and all you have to do is to climb. Leave the earth, leave the ground, go deeper or higher: do not follow the Great Emperor.” They are confused by this song and they do not know if they should listen to it or not. They feel the air’s vibration and everything is dissonant. Many jump on the pole in order to reach freedom, but the pole vibrates more and more and they lose their skin, their teeth and then disappear. Hence, it is better to ignore The Great Pole in the Middle of the Sea and leave it alone with its weird talks. They decide that no one should ever listen to anyone but the Great Emperor. They are awake for the second time and they burn the ignominious pole which was the purpose of their first quest.
Days of traveling are uncountable on the sea, because the Great Emperor’s power seems weaker. Some say that the pole should have never ever been destroyed and that losing their way and time is their punishment. Some listen. Some do not. But everyone agrees that days and nights indeed have various lengths each time. They starve. They weep. They annihilate the weakest. Those who survive develop skills and tactics. Some can federate a multitude. Some can name things precisely and explain them to others. All can destroy everything on their path that was, is, or will be alive. After some time however, nights and days finally recover their usual length. They know that their sailing is over and so does the Great Emperor. He finally talks to them again and he exhorts them to cross mountains as their final task. “After which”, he says, “You will feast for eons in the city of paradise where I will personally welcome you. You will never starve or suffer again. You will be the most glorious warriors this world has ever seen, and the names of your opponents will be forgotten for eternity. None will ever go as far as you will, oh my brilliant soldiers. You are made to cancel this world and assist me in creating the next. Leave those boats, destroy the ocean, and head beyond the Blue Mountain.” They obey him, and soon the ocean is no more. Dry lands take its place, and those who had sunk emerge again from the ground. They are the unbound rage of The Great Emperor, and they walk towards the Blue Mountain while the sky turns an even darker red.
Last night’s dream was rather disturbing. There was this huge beast, attacked and turned blind by an army of toothy shadows. It occupies my mind all day long, until I finally head out at dusk to drink something. This is the moment when someone approaches me and asks me if I want to join the council of ravens, but all I want is a drink.
The disturber says that “once upon many times, ravens from all worlds gathered every ten years. They gathered in the mistiest forest of that time, preferably next to the cliff with high pines and cold weather. On the sixth day of the week, to be precise. Once they are all there, the oldest, also known as the Raven of Memories, starts singing. The others join in. It is not a nice song at all, they clash their beaks and they scrape their talons against trees. It lasts for days, sometimes months. They sing and wait for the arrival of the Ageless Newborn, who will be the judge and executioner of every decision made at the council. Ravens argue for defending worlds and their inner knowledge, and if everything is still working so far, it is partly because of them. They always find solutions for everything. For instance, they had to deal with the Redheaded Catman and they managed to seal him in for some time. Rumors said, however, that evil cannot be sealed.”
This is how this strange story ends. I suggest for next time an orange rabbit wanting to destroy universes. The storyteller does not laugh and mumbles something before rushing out.
I go back to my place, lie down and sleep. I see the world eaten by burning shadows. The spirit of the Redheaded Catman still surrounds us. He has plans for everything, and he shares them with me. Unfortunately, a vibrating sound does not allow me to understand his words and I wake up because of some croaks from outside. I will go to the forest today and it will have the highest pines one could possibly imagine.
I am inside the forest and it is cold, misty and scary. I do not remember why I chose to be here, except to cure boredom and replay this stupid tale. I guess I am lost now. A humming sound is rising from the ground and I am afraid of going further, or even to move anywhere. I am scared, lost and powerless. I eat one root to calm down and prevent a panic attack. Everything turns quiet, I start walking again and I reach the middle of the forest, as indicated by the flashing billboard that says “Welcome to the middle of the forest”, while pointing down to a sewer entrance. I have no idea what can be found below, but it seems that everything was created around this point: me, the forest, the humming sound in the air and those countless invisible eyes that spy on me. Each time I try to look at them, those eyes disappear, even if I know they are here but avoiding me. Am I the monster no one should gaze into? Or is it them? I choose for the former but it is too late, our eyes meet. I scream, causing the pines to break down around me. I collapse and I hope no monsters will devour me.
I wake up at my place a few days later. My head feels like a broken bell, creating dissonance even after the smallest movement. My arms are itchy and I understand why: one of them has lost its color and has turned grey. In some places chunks of dead skin are missing. I am not sure if this is the reality or one of the root’s side effects. I touch it but there is no life in this arm anymore. Asking it to move feels as if I am using an inanimate tool. I go outside, but I have to protect and hide my freshly dead limb. I would never have expected my arm to be that heavy. Each step makes me feel its dead weight, grasping my shoulder and dragging me to the ground. Walking is painful. Standing straight is painful. Each one of my muscles is slowly dying, one after the other. Half of my torso, my right leg, and four fingers of my other arm are useless at the end of the day. I examine my dead parts and try to stimulate them. I realize it is hopeless when I see one of my toes on the carpet. My body is decaying and I cannot stop it. I think my brain will follow soon. I look in the mirror, but my reflection is horrible; a gray rotting body surmounted by a crimson head. My nostrils, ears, eyes and mouth are full of blood, saliva, mucus and brain, but I cannot perceive anything. My last thought is of the Redheaded Catman, and I would have laughed if that were possible. I guess you need a brain for that. The world disappears.
The Mountains are gigantic, full of those cold and unstable stones, which could fall and put them to sleep once more. But those who can think lead the way, and they weave ropes which can resist the sharpest claws. They dig their way through mountains and canyons, which are sometimes moving, as if something is alive deep inside. They walk for a countless amount of time and none disappear. Some of them even affirm that they are born from the mountain’s flank. They arrive at the top of the highest mountain and a viscous emerald lake is beneath them. As one, they all jump in and that suddenly awakes the Blue Mountain. It is hurt and it yells from pain while crying and smashing. They cannot understand what the Blue Mountain utters to them, everything is loud and that makes them even more furious. The Blue Mountain cannot stop its noises. The emerald lake is leaking and this begins to wash them back down the mountain. They climb higher so they can empty the emerald lake, which should bring back the stillness of the mountain. It resists and tries to protect the lake, but nothing can resist their strength. They pierce through every obstacle the crying mountain presents them; they dive inside the lake, and when they reach its bottom, carve a tunnel through the living stones. Everything stops moving and the yelling stops. Far below them, under the clouds, they can finally see the Magnificent Citadel of the Great Emperor. The end of their journey is near. They shout and dance on the dying hill before gliding down to the city.
I could not sleep last night. Something was disturbing me, as if a strange sound was trapped in my head. This day will be pointless anyway and I decide to directly go drink something in the local pub. Transport noises cannot completely hide the buzzing sound within my skull. I reach the pub and order the painkiller’s liquor, which could put a raging beast to sleep. This is perfect for my migraine, now coupled with nausea. I pass out for a couple of hours until someone violently shakes my shoulder, yelling nonsense about ravens. They tell me I have to go to the forest and find the tomb before the end of the day. I roar at both the complete absence of a forest nearby and the absurdity and stupidness of the words. I finish the painkiller’s liquor to calm my wrath and inexplicably wake up in a cold and misty forest. I curse the obnoxious one that put me here, the undrinkable liquor I finished earlier, and the walking I will have to do before reaching something familiar. After walking aimlessly for an unknown amount of time, I reach a sewer entrance. It brings back a funny déjà vu sensation and I choose to open it. As soon as the hole is revealed, threatening croaks warn me of my mistake and predict my near death. Mighty winds destroy pines around me, and one of them falls on my torso and breaks my ribs. I cannot breathe that well, but I am still alive. A few days pass and my whole body is numb. I am starving, thirsty, and hallucinating because of the pain. Ravens try to convince me that it is for the good cause. That all of this already happened before, had, and will have to happen in an endless loop to save worlds. One of the ravens points out the increasing difficulty of chasing me from one universe to another. And I remember my previous death, when I turned into a walking cadaver. I was decapitated by a wheelchair a couple of deaths before that. And I remember each time I died, all painful and ridiculous. I curse those disgusting and pompous ravens in an unknown language and they disappear. I die again.
I wake up fully recovered. I am strapped to a table and one gigantic raven approaches. It presents itself as the Ageless Newborn and proposes a pact: I will be immortal if I agree to stay in this dimension forever. If I refuse, ravens will hunt me, torture me and kill me. I ask their reason for murdering me so many times, but I receive no answers. The Ageless Newborn elusively states that it is for the greater good. I refuse this unfair pact and the raven plunges its sharp beak into my head, which explodes. I reach consciousness attached to a pole in the middle of a room, and I get beaten for an endless time. I can feel the pole vibrating on my back with each blow. I curse the ravens before dying once more.
Killing me becomes a ritual and a very grim spectacle. More and more ravens are coming to see my suffering and final trespass. The worst part is their happiness at the end. I do not know how long it takes me between each massacre to resurrect, but it seems that they always use a new way to destroy me. I guess I am here until I reach my final death. One time, however, the Ageless Newborn grants me a private discussion. Now they have me, it explains, they will never release me ever again. The raven seems a bit tense and anxious, and I ask why. It croaks and looks at me with one of its eyes. “We will never release you”, it says, “Because you might disturb us. I will not explain everything to you in detail, because you are an ignorant fool and it is a matter of belief, but here is one reason: when people die, some of them are reincarnated as a newborn. Some do not, and their life energy, or soul or whatever your filthy brain understands of it, reaches this place, where it sleeps and purifies itself before being reused for another new being. You, on the other hand, seem to possess a tenacious soul. You do not reincarnate. You do not let your soul be reused nor purified. You keep foolishly jumping to another dimension every time you are supposed to die. We are tracking you because we suspect you are, or were, the so-called immortal Crimson Emperor. You might have heard of the Redheaded Catman no? We think that was you. Or part of you. What we know for sure is that it was working for the Crimson Emperor, and we had to take care of it. And then you appeared. Your first death was fairly stupid, but you were alive on the morrow, with no remaining memories of the previous day. We acknowledged you on your sixth death, and since then, we... created an accident to neutralize you. But you always appeared somewhere else again and this is both frustrating and worrying. We cannot allow the Crimson Emperor to come back. Some monstrous entities are coming, and we suspect they are coming after you. They appeared the day you heard about us. Do you remember? A thousand lives ago at least. But now they have crossed multiple dimensions, and they will eventually reach this one. Let me ask you one more time: do you want to cooperate and let us protect you from those monsters? Or shall we continue to delve into your soul until you have no undestroyed fragment of it? It does not matter if you change dimension after you die in here. This place is the backstage of every existing and possible universe. We can keep on murdering you forever here. So, answer me: what do you choose?”
Once they reach the city’s doors, a feathered one interferes and tries to block them. It is foolish to be in their way and they eat it. In an instant they take back their beloved and Magnificent Citadel from those ugly feathered beings. Now they must free the Emperor, and give him back his lives, give him their deaths. They run towards each infinite room, but the Emperor appears to be nowhere. The urge to find him is strong among them and they plunge into an indescribable frenzy. Windows explode, walls are broken, feathered ones are devoured, paintings are burned. Realities start to melt under their sheer craziness, but they can finally see the Emperor, along with someone else. They shriek, yell and cry from joy. Finally! The endless army of toothy shadows reaches the emperor, kills the big feathered one, and kneels down. Sound disappears. Light disappears. There is only this dark amount of endless life in front of the Emperor who owns everything. He opens his mouth, and welcomes them inside his body. They were dead, and he was alive. The Emperor demands their deaths and they give them back to him along with their lives, their hopes, their strengths. Everything stops. The Emperor has eaten everything inside every universe. Darkness is everywhere and now, we can die. Light had disappeared forever and here we thrived. There is a smile, after which universes collapse.