Eventide

Jun. 2nd, 2016 12:40 pm
talonkarrde: (argopup)
A little girl stands on a beach, safely away from the water, and watches a star fall from the sky: a great, green comet that burns and burns as it drops into the ocean, somewhere beyond the horizon. She stands there for a moment, blinking slowly to clear her eyes from the afterimages, and wonders if there is more, or if the show is over.

She hears her mother calling her, but at her age, this falling star is much more interesting than anyone calling her for any reason. So she stands there, and a minute passes, and then two. And just as she thinks that there's nothing left to see, she hears a dull, building roar, and she suddenly remembers something that a sickly elder once told her, lying on a bed that he would never get up from:

"If you ever see them fall from the sky, run. Run from the cloud, Deesa. Run away and keep running."

She runs.

But it catches her anyway.

-

When that little girl comes of age and becomes a young woman, she is stronger, taller, healthier than all of the other women — and most of the other men. And she's forgotten, mostly, that one day on the beach, when she was caught by the cloud.

She remembers running, and falling, and the worry on her mother's face when she awoke in her arms. She remembers babbling about a cloud of green, about falling before she reached the grass.

She doesn't remember the whispers of blood sickness that circulated for weeks in the village, whispers of the long winter and the long death. The whispers gradually died as she grew up, not sickly at all.

But as the years went on, different whispers start. Whispers of blood magick, of rituals and rites that her mother must have done to save the child, of life leeched from others and tragedies caused by borrowing life. Dante's mother Iyala is the first to accuse her mother, after her son withers away, coughing up more and more blood every day for a month. But the community defends her; after all, only half of all children make it to their Age Day, and everyone has someone they lost.

It is the grief speaking, the elders say to Deesa and her mother, and tell them that it will all be fine. No one really believes that there is blood magic involved.

-

No one does, that is, until the tide starts coming in.

Not the regular tide, greyish green, that all children are taught never to touch. Instead, it is a green, shifting mass, one that advances just past the water itself, spreading itself across the beach, shifting, turning... waiting. Every night, it comes in as the sun sets, and every morning, it disappears, receding beneath back beneath the waves.

At first, there is no cause for alarm. There was already a firm admonition not to go to the water, and so the elders simply reinforce it. There are other things to worry about — family issues, community issues, the stocks of food for the upcoming winter, and so much more. The elders treat it practically, and turn their attention to other matters.

But then the tide starts growing, inching its way up the beach, until all of the sand is covered. At night, if you were standing in the grasslands, you could look to the beach and see this green, roiling mass, one that almost breathes.

The real alarm happens when the tide spills over to the grasslands, within sight of the village.

The real panic happens when the village discovers that the tide is killing much of the grass and shrubbery that it touches — and some of the smaller animals, too.

A meeting is called.

-

A young woman leans on the edge of a wooden tower, looking out past hastily constructed village walls, and watches as the tide comes in. The green carpet. The poisoned sea. The plague cloud. The names for it amongst the villagers are many, but everyone knows what they're talking about. And everyone knows that it's been advancing, and that tonight, there is a meeting to discuss it.

And Deesa knows a bit more than that. She's been reminded, more than once in the past fortnight, of an event that happened years and years ago, and she suspects that the village elders will have no choice but to do what the village wants. It's not just Dante's mother, this time, but many others, who know two things: that there is a green tide that is killing the land, and that it had likely once touched Deesa herself.

And to be honest, she can't blame them, because she knows those two things too, and in the absence of any other information, who is to say that the whispers aren't right — that the tide is seeking her, and will kill anything it touches to get her back?

"Deesa." A voice from the darkness, a voice that she knows well.

"Macce," she responds, a half smile coming to her face as she turns to face him. "Are you the bearer of bad news?"

He steps forward until he's next to her, smiles, and takes her hand in his before speaking.

"The green cloud has been tracking you," he says, and watches her eyes widen. "That's something that no one knew until today. Where you've been hunting - the paths that you've taken - the cloud has covered that ground faster. It — it prefers that area. It may cover the hunting grounds in a few days."

She turns back to look over the wall, and he waits, knowing her just almost as well as she knows herself.

"I must—"

"—do what’s right," he finishes, and they share a smile, though he takes a moment to cover his face, coughing. "Anyway, the village asked if I would tell you. I think they expected that you would know, but wanted a friendly face to do it, anyway."

"And you are the friendliest face I know,” she says softly, and then snorts. “It's hard not to know, when the entire village is at something that you are not invited to."

He chuckles, and they both fall silent for a bit.

"Deesa—" he starts, but she just shakes her head.

“Don’t make it harder, please. I’ll set out in the morning – can you let them know?”

He eyes her for just a second, and then nods, and leaves, after a brief hug.

-

She wakes later that night, and lies in bed for a few minutes before dressing herself. There’s a brief moment of hesitation at her mothers’ bedroom door, but, after the tears threaten to come, she knows that if she goes through that door, she won’t be able to leave. A few minutes later, she slips through the gates, gently letting them click shut behind her, and turns to look at the cloud, lighting up the darkness, as green as the poisoned frogs in the remaining forests. It’s closer to the village than it was earlier that night, and she feels a twinge of fear.

Maybe, she thinks, it’d just be better if she simply walked towards it, and let it swallow her up. But what if it stays around? What if it decides that I’m not enough?

She remembers what Macce says about it following her, and takes a few tentative steps out towards the roiling mass. It doesn’t seem to respond, and she takes a few more, and a few more, until she’s barely ten steps away. From here, it almost seems to make a sound. A slow, steady buzz, one that comes and goes. She looks at it, one more time, and then turns to her right, and starts walking. If it’s going to follow her, she’s going to give it something to follow, away from the village.

The night passes steadily as she walks, always careful to keep it to her left, but after some time, she realizes that the beach is no longer to her left, and that she’s surrounded by the grassland. The cloud is still to her left... but she realizes that she’s been going in an arc, curving back towards the village as she goes. In fact, they’re almost to the hunting grounds now, and she realizes with growing terror that the cloud has taken over all of it. It’s gotten there ahead of her.

Every inch of land where the village hunts and forages is covered by the knee high cloud of poison, and the death it brings cannot be far behind. She strains her eyes, looking for some of the wildlife, the shaggy beasts, and sees a group of them, in the distance, sleeping through it all – and most horrifyingly, she sees them inhaling and exhaling the gas, one breath at a time. As Deesa watches, the grass in front of her starts wilting.

“No- no! Our food! The village!” she cries out, starting to rush towards the beasts, ignorant of her own safety. She hears a noise behind her and turns as she runs, catches a rock, and the cloud catches her once more as she falls.

-

Deesa wakes for the second time that night, but this time, only sees the stars above her. The stars, the constellations, and a green haze. A green haze that she inhales... and exhales.

“Deesa?” she hears a voice from the darkness, and she tries to figure out where and when she is.

“Macce?” she asks, and she hears a groan. She slowly pulls herself to a sitting position, and looks around, mind still unclear. “The wildbeests – they were breathing it – I fell into the...”

And then she looks down, at the pale face of her friend, who is starting to shiver uncontrollably.

“What’s wrong? What happened? Oh, Macce, why did you follow me-?”

He forces a smile on his face, even as he can’t keep himself from shivering, twitching. “Had to- look out for you. Make sure you knew you weren’t alone.” His teeth chatter, and he pauses for a second, squeezing his eyes shut.

“What’s-“ she starts to ask, and then stops. The cloud surrounds them now, and she would swear that it’s even more active near them than anywhere else on the grass. She looks back at him, the tears starting, furious with him, and herself, and the cloud, and everything. “You should’ve stayed! I could’ve done this myself! Why is it you and not me? I thought I was the one that it wanted!”

His breath starts to come in fits and gasps, but he swallows, hard, and shakes his head, stopping her.

“No, y-see, I have... the blood sickness,” he says, coughing, and she realizes that it’s blood that he’s coughing up. “Didn’t want to tell anyone. Found out a month ago. Still okay, but-“

She tears off a part of his shirt and dabs at the blood. Tears flowing down her cheek.

“Deesa,” he says, taking her hands in his own and squeezing them tight. “You—you’re fine. You’re breathing and you’re fine. It might only—”

He coughs up more blood, and Deesa looks down at him, and then up at the beasts in the distance, realizing what he’s trying to say. “It kills— but not everything. Maybe only the sick. The blood sick. The ones that have drunk the water, or that have eaten the things that make them...”

“Slowly... die,” he finishes for her, as he’s done since they were both children. “I don’t... feel pain. I don’t know what it’s doing but it doesn’t— it doesn’t hurt. I know what happened to my grandpa, and I choose this any day.”

He coughs, again, a continuous, wracking cough as she holds him.

“Bring me back to my family,” he says.

“I will,” she says, and then they say no more.

-

She takes his body back to the village as day breaks. Some of the earlier wakers see her, and before she reaches the town hall, everyone is there, but no one says a word.

She set his body down, and backs up as his family surrounds him.

“Macce was my best and oldest friend, and he went out with me last night, after you... after I decided to leave. I wanted to lead it away from you, and went north, but the cloud had circled around to the hunting grounds. We saw it take over – we saw that everything there breathed it in, and many things died.”

She pauses.

“Macce – Macce died. But before he did, he told me that he had the blood sickness, too, that he was going to die, and that maybe – maybe the cloud only made it so that those who can’t be saved are given... release. He said – he said it didn’t hurt.”

“I don’t know what the green cloud does. I only know what it has done. I know that I’m standing here today, despite having breathed it in, and I feel healthy. I know that there has been something that has been slowly causing us to all get sick, something that our grandfathers and their grandfathers died from. Maybe – maybe this tide is one that washes away the sickness. I know that I saw the beasts this morning, and while some of them were dead, many of the young ones were not. I saw some of the grass near the beach, and it’s growing back faster than it’s ever done.”

“I think you know what I’m about to say now, what my suggestion is. But I don’t know what to do. I’m just one person, and maybe I just got lucky, and Macce got unlucky. This isn’t my decision to make. It’s yours. Macce wanted me to bring him back. And I think he wanted me to tell this story. The rest... is up to all of us. If you want me to leave again, I will.”

“And if we think that you should be killed?” A voice from the crowd.

She pauses.

“If you think I need to die and that will make it go away, that is a choice as well.”

The villages look at her for a long time.

They look at Macce's body.

And then they vote.



----------------

A/N: It's been a long time! The first part of a 30 in 30 challenge that I'm doing with some friends (so, uh, if you don't like fiction, you might want to defriend me, because you'll see a lot of it this month). With thanks to [livejournal.com profile] kickthehobbit for the prompt. A touch of nanotechnology, a dash of a post-apocalyptic world, and a nod to 'any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic'.
-
talonkarrde: (color)
It's on your first visit to the Souk — the whirling chaos that they refer to as the grand marketplace of dreams — that you meet the Adjudicator.

-

Your first thought is that it's pure, unadulterated madness, as you take a few steps forward into the space, seeing stalls on both sides, stalls above your head on the second level, people haggling over everything from scrap metal to intricate jewelry, from technogizmos to ancient fossils. Sheer, chaotic, madness, a tale full of sound and fury — for a second, it's almost too much, the shouts, the screeches, the crush of people, and you turn around, searching for an entrance — that isn't there anymore.

You stare at where the door should be in shock and then frantically look around you, turning and turning and finding yourself in the central hub of spokes that go in every direction, stalls on multiple levels above and below you. But surprisingly, after a few moments standing in the middle of it all, you realize that no one's bumped into you, that somehow, this frenetic hive of activity is something of a steady stream, one that can handle rocks in the middle — there's a purpose, a flow, and as long as you don't pay too much attention to any particular person, you can follow the flow and, you think, join it.

Of course, it's then that you start looking at the particular people, the particular merchants, and you find something odd about them — something about their faces, their mannerisms, seems just the slightest bit off. One buyer strokes his chin in contemplation with his pinky instead of his thumb and forefinger, and another itches at her shoulders constantly; for a second, her skin ripples.

You furrow your brows, trying to figure it out, until she whirls, sharply, turning on you from fifty feet away, finding you with no difficulty in the crowd, and holding your eyes with hers — amber, with flecks of crimson.

"Watch yourself, stranger. There are rules against staring, here," she says flatly, in a voice that carries itself across the distance, across the masses of bodies between you two. "Care that I — or someone else — does not invoke an Adjudication."

You almost respond, telling her that whatever an Adjudication is, you don't fear it, and that you have the right to stare where you do — but something stops you, and after a moment, you dip your head in an apology and turn away. Even though her voice is carried to your ears as she lays a few choice insults on, you pay her no heed, turning back to watch wares being traded, until a hand lands on your shoulder.

You turn and see a young man, no more than thirty-five, but with a cane in his left hand he leans heavily on. You blink, furrowing your brow. "Can I help you?" you ask, and he smiles, his eyes twinkling.

"I was thinking it would be the other way around," he says, and his voice is rough and gravely. "I thought that I could explain to you, perhaps, some of the rules around here. My name is Conor."

You gratefully nod your assent, and so the two of you walk together, following the flow of the crowd, as he points out features and oddities. Here the Doge of Venucci was selling all sorts of mechanically complex toys. There, Melchior, trading in swords and blades, weapons from a previous age. Sometimes Conor points out those in the crowd — a government official from an advanced projects agency, a visiting dignitary — and you nod, taking it all in.

Then you hear a commotion up ahead, voices steadily being raised in anger, and Conor steers you towards the sounds, an iron grip on your shoulder. When you get there, though, and see the shopkeeper and the buyer standing over a broken crystal swan, he lets go of your shoulder and steps forward.

And the crowd, simultaneously, steps back.

"Adjudicator!" The shopkeeper calls out, and bows — and you're surprised to see the buyer do the same, all anger instantly extinguished. And they're bowing to — to Conor, it seems.

"The story, please, Merovingian," Conor says lightly, but there's a surprising weight under his words.

"We were haggling over the price, but the buyer, due to his clumsiness, dropped the swan, killing it," the shopkeeper says.

But it's crystal, you think, until you look at the shelves, and see the other animals all moving, craning their heads to watch as much as anyone in the audience was.

"And your side, Rasmus?" Conor turns to the buyer.

"I believe that the swan was injured before I came upon it, Adjudicator — weakened, perhaps intentionally. I did let it fall, but I was promised that it would survive such a fall."

Conor tilts his head for a moment, and then kneels down, reaching out to take the swan's head, the only solid piece of it remaining. After a moment, he stands and straightens up, and nods. "Rasmus, your suspicions are correct — it appears that the Merovingian owes you recompense and is unfairly blaming you. I'll leave it to you to set a fair recovery."

Rasmus bows simultaneously as the Merovingian opens his mouth, but before he can protest, Conor — the Adjudicator — interrupts:

"Don't try my patience, Merovingian. I will revoke your permit to sell."

The words themselves don't seem too harsh, but the crowd gasps, immediately, and you see one of the other shopkeepers go pale. The Merovingian takes a deep breath, nods, and suddenly, the tension is gone from the Souk, and activity immediately resumes.

Conor nods approvingly as the two finish the deal. But before he's done, someone else whispers in your ear.

"Every Souk needs an Adjudicator, stranger, and he has been that for us for many years. He has seen more than most — and he seems to have found your earlier decision not to contest the Lady interesting. Beware, though — Adjudicators are servants of the Souk first, last, and always."

You turn but the speaker has already disappeared into the crowd; when Conor returns and asks what happened — your face must give it away — you can only shake your head.

-

That's your first experience with the Souk.

Afterwards, you try and get back to your life, to your concerns outside of the marketplace of dreams, but every time you turn on the TV, the brief burst of static reminds you of the kaleidoscope of one of the upper level merchants. Every time you walk past a certain alleyway, the darkness reflects in just a way that you think there's one of the shadowy sellers there, sitting on his stumps, waving you with one arm towards his wares, ones that glimmer darkly, wetly, ones you could see for what they are if you just got a few steps closer.

It never leaves your mind, so when they announce that they're coming back, and will be in Jozi, you sign up for the lottery again.

This time, you show up at the live announcement, confident that you'll get in, and you wait as the names are called.

And then you wait some more, as more names have been called.

You jump up prematurely as you mishear a name, and rise up to your feet before your brain processes that it's not you, and then shamefully sit back down. A chilling thought starts pushing its way to the forefront: that you'll get rejected.

After a bit, the names the names are called. Yours wasn't. The functionaries, the celebrating successful applicants, the dejected rejections, they all leave.

You sit there, in shock.

-

The days count down to the next bazaar and it starts to be the only thing that occupies your mind — you wonder about the wares that will be on display, the people that will be attending, the disputes that will arise, and whether the Adjudicator will be there and whether he'll still remember you.

But you can't get in. And with each day, you see more and more of the bazaar in the world, and the more and more you want to be there.

The day comes, and you have no ticket, but you go, anyway. Fuck it, you think, and you make your way to the site. It's a structure in the shape of a double helix, one that curves up and around, and you stare at the door that admits people and the guard posted at it and you know that you have no chance of making it inside. He'd stop you, certainly, definitely, absolutely, and you'd be in jail sooner than you could rush him.

But as you peer at the structure, the walls, you realize that they're a bit thin, that maybe you don't quite need to make it inside. And with a crowbar, and a mad dash, you run for the walls — the guard sees you and starts coming, and you know that you don't have a lot of time. You don't even have a little time. You search for the seams — there have to be seams, somewhere in this building that was built in five days — and run the crowbar and your hand across the surface, hoping to catch something, anything.

You do, even as you hear heavy footsteps behind you, and then you take the crowbar and you jerk on it, hard, until a hole opens — a small one, but a hole, nonetheless. And you reach in, finding, of all things, a crystal snake, and you reach for it, catching it just behind the neck as the guard catches you, just behind the neck. You pull it out with you as you're thrown back, and as the guard stands over you, you hear the word you're looking for:

"ADJUDICATOR!" The Merovingian screams, and the guard suddenly pauses, arm outstretched. It's outside of his domain now, isn't it, now that it's a dispute in the market?

You know that there will be a heavy price to pay, and you're not looking forward to it — but you also know that, at least for now, you've gotten back in. You manage to keep the smile from your face as the wall reaches out to envelope you, to bring you into the bazaar.
talonkarrde: (Default)
Hey guys, this is me trying something, well, completely different.

This is going to be a story about the choices a person gets to make on his journey for redemption. It draws in some on a few of my stories that I've written, but the special aspect of it is that you get to make choices yourself. 

The entry is here.

I apologize for the external link; I couldn't host it here, and I'm still working out some kinks with making sure everything's working.

--


Edit: Bugs fixed! Associations Restored! I am (probably obviously?) not the world's most amazing coder, and I apologize for the delay :P

Windage

Jul. 3rd, 2010 08:56 pm
talonkarrde: (Default)
He walks alone on the ocean of sand, one foot shuffling before the other, the long trail snaking behind him, disappearing over the top of one dune only to reappear at the top of another, and another, until the eye can no longer see. But he does not look back: his path has only one element, forward, as the suns rise behind him and fall in front.

For him, there is only this: the grains of sand, a thousand beneath each foot, a billion in each dune, an infinite number before and an infinite more behind. There is no life in this truest of deserts, no movement but for his march, no sound but for the grains of sand shifting as he moves.

Each step is torturous, not for the heat that beats down upon his back, nor for the chafing of sand between his toes and his fingers, wedged there and in every other crevice in his body, but for the stars that he sees in front of him, and the wind that blows to stop his movement.

During the day, he sees a new vision with each step: the suns create shimmering mirages of galaxies and universes in the sand, each step a new sight. The stars themselves are beautiful, in their raging, burning light – but his punishment is to see more than just their fiery splendor. With each step, he sees the celebration of creation and life on their planets, from the tiniest cell to the most advanced civilization and every aspect in between. Organisms that start from one cell and become many, species that discover the use of tools, he sees the greatest of unifications and the most bitter of wars…and his tears create a second set of prints beside him.

Closing his eyes makes things worse; with his imagination, his mind creates more possibilities than he could ever see with his eyes open. So he continues his journey across the planet, his eyes never closed, seeing a multitude of worlds and crying for the loss of each one, and so many more.

The daytime, however, is his respite.

At night, when the moon is high, the starscapes are no longer of galaxies and universes, his visions no longer of grandiose achievements that epic legends are based upon. Instead, every step takes him to a scene on a world where he sees personal stories. A step, and he watches as a man tenderly makes love to his wife before going off to fight for their daughter’s future. A step, and he sees a son storm out of a house after an argument with his parents. A step, and he sees three friends in old age rest against one another, sharing comfort after the passing of a fourth. He sees emotions and actions which are universal, which do not matter whether the actors in them have claws or hands, two eyes or none at all.

He stopped for a moment, once, a million years ago.

He saw with his eyes, his heart, his soul, a million lifetimes of a million species that his carelessness destroyed, a million beings that could have been but were not. And then he ran - he sped, he broke the sound barrier, he covered a thousand miles in a single stride, and then he reached a point where he could not run any further. His force was not enough to break the laws of physics themselves.


It took him eons to slow his pace, but he has. Now he walks, one foot shuffling before the other, the long trail snaking behind him. Each century, his walk slows just a bit more. Perhaps one day, he will be able to stop and bear the visions without being destroyed by them.

That day, he hopes, he will be freed.
talonkarrde: (Default)
"Excuse me," he said politely to the person in front of him. "I'm not sure where I should be going; this is my first time here, I think."

A look of surprise came over her face. "Oh? I didn't know we still had newcomers; I haven't met any in a long time. You're in the wrong line — this one is for those that have already decided where they're going. But it's quite alright - just head over to that counter, and they'll take you through the entire process."

He went as he was directed, looking up at the tall, tall man behind the counter. It didn't look at him.

"Hello, sir. I'm here for...something." He paused, searching his awareness. "A process to be started."

"Everyone is here for something. This happens to be the sorting department. Why do you require sorting? Haven't your experiences taught you enough?" The response was curt, and the giant — a nametag said Gabe — still didn't look at him, though he did shift slightly behind the counter.

"Because," the smaller one said, "I've never done it before."

The reaction was immediate: the giant abruptly bent down, inspecting him carefully, with a look that was more omniscient than piercing. "Well," Gabe said after a bit, and then again, "Well."

"You are new. Come, please, follow me." Without another word, Gabe strode away, leading him through a veritable maze of hallways and intersections, with doors spaced every so often; each door bore a different name. Every once in a while, someone would pass by the pair — an old man missing an eye; a cheerful young woman with an ankh around her neck; a man, brown of skin, with a falcon's head; and a tall, slim man with eyes of madness and a shadow that writhed — and never once was he paid any mind by them.

Finally, the giant stopped in front of another doorway, one bearing a short, four letter word on it, and gestured for the newcomer to head on in.

"End of the line, beginning of the process. You'll have to make a choice and then, well, all of those that we passed in the Crossings will start taking an interest in you, that's for sure. Now, I don't usually give advice...but it's been couple eons since we've had a newcomer, and, well, maybe it will make a difference. So, here: take risks. You'll be back."

With that, Gabe rose to his full height, clapped the young man on the shoulder, and then spread his wings and flew away.

Miles — that's what he decided his name was — watched as the angel flew away, and then stepped through the archway.

-

The room was dark and close and pulsed faintly; it enveloped him and never seemed to extend more than a few feet to any side, though he kept walking and the walls kept retreating. Eventually, he stopped, and found that two others were there with him. One, he saw, was the light, and the other darkness, and they were in balance, neither overriding the other.

The light spoke first, and it knew his name.

"You are new to this existence, Miles, and so you have a decision to make. You may choose what form you take, what responsibilities you will be given, what burdens you will bear."

The dark continued, "And you will choose what pains you will suffer, how your nights will be spent, what calamities will pass you by."

"What-" he started to ask, and then found his question answered.

"Anything at all," the light said, sinking roots into the ground, stretching above Miles and communicating in patterns of dropped leaves and sunlight peeking through branches. "You could be an oak tree, starting from a seed in the ground, forever growing towards the light, casting a canopy thirty-meters wide and providing a home for tens or hundreds of other species."

"Until the bulldozer comes," the dark continued, twisting into a whirring, mechanical maelstorm, "and sawblades cut your body apart, destroying the shelter that you provide and leaving an ugly scar where you were. But you will feel nothing; you will simply, one day, stop living."

"Or you could be a cat," the light said, stretching out a paw and batting at the air, "and play with humans, and be fed and nourished by them, and enrich their lives when they are feeling down, and be a cherished part of their lives from the time that you are born to the time that you die."

"But you will suffer," the dark responded, and gave Miles the feeling of hunger from not being fed, of pain from being mistreated by owners that saw him as nothing more than a plaything, of terror at being chased by creatures bigger than him and having no one to defend him.

They were feelings that Miles did not envy, and he asked what else he could be, and the light and the dark told him of the millions of shapes that life had taken.

-

And then, finally, they show him what being human was like.

The light smiles at Miles and lets him see visions of a father cradling his newborn daughter for the first time, the love between two octogenarians that have been married for more than half a century, the thrill of a winning goal on a team of underdogs. He shows him the wonder of thousands of people working together to make peace in a war-torn region, and the effects that one good person can have on his community, on history.

And the dark shows him the pain from losing a child to a miscarriage, a misunderstanding between a child and his parents leading to something that tears the family apart. He inflicts upon Miles the pain of losing family members to war, of innocent civilians dying for no reason, and shows him the emptiness that their deaths leave behind. The dark tells him that pain is unavoidable though happiness is far from certain, and that many will live meaningless lives and die in pain, alone, for no reason.

And when they are done, they ask him what his choice will be, and he does not hesitate. There is no amount of pain, he says, that would not make life — and self-awareness — worthwhile. The light and the darkness disappear, and where they were, Miles observes that in the middle of this dark, pulsing, enveloping room, a cell is dividing.

Soon, he knows, it will be him.

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