The Quest for Eden

From Haojing

The journey begins at Haojing, a thriving coastal city whose inhabitants' jostling, jovial lives strike a terribly discordant note with the journey that the three must undertake. Final preparations are made; the last tokens cast, the last rituals undertaken. Finally, by night, carrying only what is absolutely necessary, the Brandage twins and Tsung Chang-Mai walk down to the docks at the East of the city; and on a deserted pier, they find the sea turn to a desert before them. They begin to walk East.

The journey to the Limitless Plain is one that does not remain easily in memory, and afterwards nobody is quite able to agree - even with themselves - about precisely what was seen, and what was done, on that strange, long walk. It certainly took place during a single night, but whether that night lasted an hour or a month is uncertain. It seems to some that a great, heavy beast, like a panther or tiger, strode ahead of them, marking their route with its heavy paws and steaming breath; to others, that they walked through the sky itself, and blocked their ears against the strange, sad music of the stars.

The Limitless Plain

The Limitless Plain stretches out before the adventurers, with no sign of ending before or behind. Twin shadows striding before and behind them form into odd shapes and whirlpools, teasing with knowledge unsought and mysteries unnumbered. Flashes of dream and vision, past and future, trickle into the travellers' minds; and there is an odd sensation, in later days, that you are still journeying on the Plain, and that everything since that moment has merely been a dream, or a false memory.

Stepping sideways into the South, a river presents itself; a salt-water brook which seems at once uncrossable and as narrow as a single step. At the Font of Tears, where an eyeless man lies weeping upon the ground, each sheds a single crystal tear that turns to a diamond as it falls into the river; and the Font itself freezes over, as a cold wind blows from the West, where the Hollow Spine can be heard gibbering and moaning in the mountains. Hurrying East swiftly, the three travellers rest awhile in the foothills which seem to lead to a Southern pass, and each are severally tempted to give up their road – to return South, to Zilmatillia, to the world, to safety.

It is a good thing that the route marked Desperately Unsafe is skirted, for as the travellers keep close to the Font of Tears on its Eastern side, they can hear – and see – the remnants of those who were not so lucky or foresighted as to avoid it. As the sun rises and sets in the sky (sometimes several times in a day; sometimes two suns at once; sometimes remaining at noon for what seems weeks on end), the fragments and pieces of these unlucky journeyers assail the adventurers, and are severally beaten back. The walking, headless men are terrifying the first few times, as they scream and moan in their unknown language; but they almost seem a comfort after the terrible, bubbling thing that is one man's memories joined to another man's eyes by the glue of a dying woman's prayer. Each is left behind in the Unsafe Route, and the adventurers forge a path through the thick forest that surrounds the Tenth Circle.

The Tenth Circle and the Binding of Uriel

At first, it seems a glade out of the stories of Albion; a faerie place, with odd whispers on the wind and strange lights in the trees. Motionless shapes, like humans with silver veils draped across their faces, stand silent in the moonlight that is the only light here, though it was bright sunlight under the forest canopy. There has been no fresh water since the Font of Tears, but all know better than to slake their thirst at the bubbling brook that flows in a circle about the clearing; their flasks will last another few days yet.

Tsung is asked to stay well back from the terrible ritual that David and Leah are about to perform. With chanting and ritual, they lay in a circle a chain of gold, forged by a master goldsmith from the stolen eyes of a Buddha, quenched in the lifeblood of a virgin and hung about with crystals of sunlight from the temple mount at Yom Kippur. Each then begin to add the prayer-scrolls that are the final step to this token, a terrible and dangerous combination of the Yuan Zuanshi, the Rhombus Caelestius and the Rhombus Infragilis.

The five precepts of the Tao are each written in a mixture of David and Leah's blood upon the finest parchment; and on the reverse, the terrible secrets that are the breaking of those precepts.

David, still in the body of Leah, writes that he is a murderer, as is his sister, having slaughtered innocent infants. He has stolen the eyes of a Buddha, and is thus a thief. As a Jew, he has partaken many times of intoxicating liquor; and as to sexual misconduct, both the Tao and the Torah equally prohibit his proclivities. False speech he has given in plenty, from the first congregation of Court, and long before.

He admits, too, to his pleasure in each act. David has no shame of his sexuality, and has had a most skilled and experienced partner who is, at least in spirit, a relative. Drinking its its own reward. He admits to enjoying the murder of the infant, for the prospect of the power he would gain as a result; and similarly to the theft. He has no squeamishness or guilt about these acts, as they form part of his path. He has gained pleasure from the results of his false speech, too, watching people take his words at face value and covet them as hard-won truths.

Leah, meanwhile, occupying the body of her brother, and writing in a fast and steady hand, does the same.

“I have drunk wine for pleasure, and enjoyed being drunk. I have slept with my wife, although we will never bear children together, and although her previous engagement was not appropriately broken off, and I have taken great joy from it. I have killed children to use their blood for sorcerous rituals, and taken pleasure in the power I have drawn from it. I have stolen diamonds from the vaults of the Vatican, for use as sorcerous tokens, and have taken pleasure in the power I have drawn from them. I have told lies at court to further my own ends, and taken pleasure from the simple fact of knowing more than others, and being able to fool them - I have lied so that other will think me dead, and taken great pleasure in every breath of life since.”

It is now that the great Summoning begins. As Tsung watches from a safe distance, Leah and David attempt to call into this terrible Circle the being Uriel. First, they open the Ark which they have carried with them so many trials; setting their bare hands upon the Aron Hab'rit itself, they begin to crumble the fragile stone tablets within to dust. As each one crumbles, there is a sound like a struck bell; as if the world is a bell, and the three travellers trapped within it. The ground of the Tenth Circle begins to lurch beneath their feet, and with each tremor the sky outside seems somehow… changed, though none can be certain quite how (or remember precisely how it was different before). This completed, they spread the dust of the Tablets of the Covenant within the Circle they have created, and David calls upon the True Name of Uriel; a Name so complex it is almost inaudible by mortal ears, even in this terrible place.

For a moment, nothing seems to happen. Then there is a great flash from the West, as a flaming sword, arrowing from the sky, anchors itself within the centre of the circle. It is joined by another, and another, until finally four-by-four – a full sixteen swords glow within the Circle. It is then that a shape begins to emerge from the blinding light that the flames of these weapons emit, a shape like that of a man.

“In all their affliction I was afflicted,” speaks the shape, its words oddly distorted and muffled by the effects of the circle, but terrible and forceful nevertheless. “I was the Angel of the Presence that saved them; in my love and my pity I redeemed them, and I bore them, and I carried them all of the days of old.”

The shape turns the space where its eyes should be upon Leah and David, and there is a sense of overwhelming sadness as it does so.

“I, who inflicted the fates upon Samyaza and Azazel – I, who stood when judgement was brought upon the Fallen Ones – I, who saw them; there stood the angels who had connected themselves with mortals, and their spirits assuming many different forms, defiled mankind – who would have led them astray into sacrificing to demons – I, who saw that till the day of the great Judgement they would stand, until they were made an end of. No man saw as I have seen. You stand before me, Children of Woman, Children of God, and I have failed.”

The shape bows its head, and light begins to flow out of the swords and towards its eyes. It almost seems as if the angel is weeping.

It is as much with thought as with words that Leah and David begin to manipulate the circle and the Angel within it; to convince it that its time has come to take a different role, to mark its failure and turn it to greater service. They explain that his watch has been too long; guarding, letting none pass – but it is now time for a different role. Uriel, in his wisdom, will become a judge of souls, an arbiter. It is Leah who calls upon the Yama Kings to witness the accord that is brought here; the papers and affidavits which will call Uriel to become a ranking member of the Celestial Bureacracy, and which will promote one of the Yama Kings out of Di Yu and into the Hierarchy of Heaven.

It is uncertain whether it is the Circle, the twins' silver tongues, or Uriel's own sense of failure that finally tips the balance. However, as he begins to fade from the Circle and the familiar sounds and sights of Di Yu rise from the earth, the Celestial light fades from the form of the Angel, as do the swords; and the air gathered around him begins to form itself into the robes of state of one of the Yama Kings, one of the Lords of the Cathayan Hell. As he speaks his first, faltering words of introduction in the language that Tsung and Leah recognise as the Cathayan Daemonic Tongue, the substance of the Tenth Circle itself seems to warp and bend, with the cries and terrible crushing sounds of murderers being tormented in Di Yu. The travellers flee as hastily as they can, and as the Tenth Circle of the Path to Eden falls into the Tenth Circle of Di Yu, the landscape before them seems almost scoured clean. A last few trees from the forest surrounding the Circle remain, black and broken, with the remains of murderers' souls hanging from them like strange fruit.

The Ford of Sinew

North-east, skirting Death on their left side, the travellers make their way to the Ford of Sinew. The river runs shallow here, between the Mountains and the Spiderlake. The Ford itself seems relatively easy, a quick crossing where the only concern is keeping the supplies dry in the twisting currents; fresh water is quickly taken on. However, halfway across, one of the pack-mules is suddenly torn to pieces by an unseen force, screaming in bestial agony as its very bones are split apart and every scrap – every drop of blood – is sucked into the stones of the ford, which begin to twist and warp, rising to form half-humanoid figures with blank faces which slowly advance on the travellers. It is Tsung who keeps a level head here, and though Leah and David have recourse to their firm belief that nothing can overcome their magical, their scientific expertise – it is Tsung who exerts herself to the limits of her strength, grasping each of her companions by the shoulder and hauling them over the edge of the Ford and onto the bank beyond. The monsters wail and howl as they are carried away by the current, and for a moment, all seems quiet.

The journey to the Leifeng Pagoda is almost peaceful by comparison. A wind from the South brings the scent of blossom from the Guilty Cherry-Tree, and reminds Tsung achingly of home; as her torn muscles and weakened limbs begin to heal, oddly quickly after the flight from the Ford of Sinew, all three can see images dancing in the air – visions from Tsung's childhood, of study in the great Libraries, her parents, learning to dance, puppet-shows, sweetmeats eaten hot from street vendors. Aware of the dangers that await them at the Pagoda, all three are oddly comforted by the images and sounds that accompany them.

The Leifeng Pagoda and the Exorcism of Lilith

The Leifeng Pagoda, once residence of Lady Whitesnake, now abandoned to the sighing of the wind, is a strange and inhospitable place. Preparing to create their second great working, the party make camp in one of the internal courtyards, where the most threatening sight seems the tiny golden fish that soar and flash with razor fangs in the central fountain – but show no sign of escaping. The porcelain warriors that roam the halls, hissing like angry snakes and ready to strike at any movement, seem unwilling to enter this courtyard. It is in a nearby room, which contains at its centre an apparently bottomless well, that - provided with rowan wood and assistance by Tsung – Leah, in her brother's body, prepares an exorcism which will cast Lilith out of her own body.

The two Sorcerers stretch their abilities to the limits as they do their best to safely operate the Exorcism within the Rhombus Liminalis, the combined circle created by Leah and David. It is a ceremony almost beyond their capabilities; but as David, in Leah's body, twists and screams within the circle as the creature Lilith is forced out of him, the two slowly realise that they will have success. Bound within the rowan wood, which twists and warps into the shape of a snake even as the Sorcerers do their best to bind it, Lilith utters a final, incomprehensible curse as she is cast down the Pagoda well – and the Green Snake, hissing and spitting, disappears into the bottomless depths.

The Waste of Love and Hope-Loss

North, then, to the Waste of Love; skirting the Desert of Hope, hard by the foothills of the Ancient Plateau, where strange whistling and piping fills the air, and the scent of yellow cloys in the nostrils. It is here that each who journeys must abandon that which they hold dear.

Almost as soon as they have entered the waste, a handsome man in a military coat appears, walking beside the party. Though all are certain it is only an illusion, still, the sight, the scent of Choronzon – beloved godfather, friend, lover – is all too convincing for David, who has tears standing in his eyes as he turns his back on the handsome man and begins to walk away. Blurring and shifting, from angel to demon and back again, as David leaves him behind, the handsome man calls out in a sorrowful voice; the sound is like the heart breaking.

It is only a few days into the Waste of Love when Leah has to lose her own love. By night, by stealth, and with a sorrow she can barely contain, she strikes her lover and leaves her unconscious, with Huang Fu to guard her, with food and water, with a message that she must trust her wife; though she knows not how long she will be…

Hope-Loss, when you enter it, seems at first to be a fair country of hills and valleys, something like the Moors of England. Soon, however, it becomes apparent that you have stepped within a labyrinth, an ancient castle full of twisting walls and corridors. You cannot be certain how long you wander within its towers and battlements, hearing sometimes an odd, ghostly music, as if a grand ball is continuing in some far distant room. In the occasional mirror, you catch a glimpse of a tall, ghostly man with silver hair and long, delicate fingers, who is never there when you look back.

Somewhere in the dungeons, you pass by a cell which carries from its barred door the sound of weeping. You both feel hideously tempted to look within, but you feel simultaneously a compulsion - that if you can just make one more corridor, one more twist in the labyrinth, you will be at the centre - or the end - but surely one glance cannot hurt?

Within the cell, curled in upon himself, bruised and bleeding, Nelchael whimpers and sobs in the darkness. You cannot stop. Your will carries you on. Your hope is too strong to let you stay. And soon, as you flee towards the Castle Inchoate, the sound of his weeping is gone from your ears, though not from your dreams.

The Castle Inchoate

It is a half-built place. Memories and regrets. Dreams and half-finished things.

The wood is shaved from toys you lost when you were young. The sails, you stitch together from the sheaf of playscripts you find - playscripts that William Brandage began and never finished. The ropes are spun from single threads, hairs from your own head, that grow thick and taut beneath the care of the strange, many-limbed, chittering creatures that inhabit the Castle.

It is not a very good boat, or a very strong boat; not all of it is there except when the moon shines, and you have to sing quietly and constantly to keep the rudder from turning back into the denizen of the Spiderlake it once was. But it will do. It will carry you to Eden.

Eastward to Eden

The great, broad river (that is sometimes a sea) (that encircles the Uttermost Isle) (that penetrates straight through it) splits, before you, around an island. The island. You beach your barque on the shore, gently stroking the rudder and hoping it remains quiescent for as long as you need, if you are to need the boat again.

In the East, past the island, there is an odd ruddy light, and stormclouds gather in the air.

The place where Uriel once stood with his flaming sword is a blasted spot of earth, signifying nothing. The gates hang askew.

As you begin to step into the Garden, the ground beneath your feet - the ground in your very footprints - turns grey and ashy. The luscious trees, the birds which sing more sweetly than you have ever heard - the grass which is the shade of green you have not seen since you were playing, as a child, upon the lawn in Somerset - all begins to fall to ash and dust. In haste, you begin to hurry, faster and faster, into the Garden; but you are pursued.

Cornishmen under Greyhawk, stripped to the waist, covered in woad and screaming curses in their native tongue. An assault group from the 31st Hereford. You can hear the terrible ships beach upon the Eastern shore (and how did they come here so quickly? What terrible route must they have taken?) as you make a run for the centre of the Garden.

You are not certain how many men die, in that terrible and frantic chase, as Anthony Sutcliffe - or the being who was once the man Sutcliffe - races on wings of fire to cut you off. You cannot be certain precisely who was there, or why, or how they sought to block you from your goal. But you know that as the Garden began to collapse around you, as the musket-volleys roared and the furious angels descended from the Heavens, you each managed to snatch only one apple; and neither from the Third Tree, the Tree of Divinity.

As you flee Eden with the righteous mortals behind you, as you flee to your Boat and cast off desperately against the tide of pursuit, you look back once more upon the Garden.

The walls have collapsed, the plants have crumbled to dust, and where there was once the purest and most beautiful Garden of Creation, there is now only rubble and ash. Yet - in the centre - there is one small feature in the waste; one tiny beacon of light, even as the sunset light begins to pool in the choking dust. A sapling. It is difficult to estimate precise geography, but it seems that the tiny tree has arisen where the Three Trees once stood at the centre of the Garden.

And you see, on the opposite side of the Island where the courtiers' boats have beached, a man collapsed on the deck of the lead ship, a terrible vessel with black sails. He has bright red hair and a beard, and a faint mark upon his forehead, almost too distant now to see. He sees you leave, and he raises a hand to you as if in apology.

The Return

With a heavy heart and a twisted rudder, you beach near Hope-Loss. Retreating into the trees (for you cannot be certain of what comes into the night), you lay upon the ground, your two prizes clutched carefully to your hearts, and you imagine your dashed hopes; of Divinity, of so much more, of merely a little time in the Garden without the pursuit of others.

The sky begins to fade above you as your hopes spiral down, dashed; and you find yourselves lying on a deserted beach, some way outside Exeter. The apples are still yours. But Hope-Loss, and the distant landmark of the Castle Inchoate, are gone - and you have returned to Albion.

For better or worse, you prepare to attend Court.

bonus.eden2.txt · Last modified: 2008/03/11 21:10 by helen