He had reached the end of the world… and even come back. There, he had expected to find monsters with twisted tentacles splayed on cliffs, or bleak beasts of shadow that fill the horizon with occult mist. Perhaps a spiraling hole into emptiness.
But he didn’t find that.
His name was Seeker. He was born in a small home carved from the side of a cliff, a home packed with memories and flowers, the warm years rolling one after the other, like a millwheel. They called themselves the Dwellers.
The village was settled between ranks of fields and stacked granaries, the ins and outs of the people’s lives as regular as a millwheel. Around them, the walls of their canyon curved up overhead like an upturned bowl. These were the limits of their world; bent, stone walls marking a narrow strip of brilliant blue sky.
Year after year, sunlight and starlight split the comforting shadows, tracing patterns and symbols and shapes on the rock.
Few climbed the canyon walls. Even fewer wondered what might lie beyond. One thing the Dwellers all shared in common; they worked hard to stay grounded. They’d tasted disappointment, and drunk deeply of failed hopes. They chewed on the gristle of a stoic resolve, rolling from their beds each morning with the grey grit that another sunrise would not find them on their backs.
They all disliked dreamers.
Seeker wasn’t like the rest. He stole away to climb up high. To poke into the clefts and crevices. To dream about other clusters of villages beyond the bricked up colonnades in the earth. Somehow, he knew the world had to be more than walls of stone and sky.
His grandmother sometimes said it takes a young one with an old heart to open a door. Maybe an old one with a young heart.
Seeker determined to climb out and find the real edge of the world, that one place where he could go no further, the final, firmest place in which he could stick his tent-peg and declare ‘I can go no further.’
He would ask his way to the edge of eternity.
Seeker set out on his ridiculous and terrifying task, and scaled the cliffs to leave everything behind. The village first gathered to laugh, then still with silence, and then rage as his shape slipped out over the rim of their stone bubble.
Seeker struck out across giant fields of sand, under exploding moons. He crossed rivers that seemed to flow from the heart of the world, a blood as white and pure as the stars.
There he met the Nomads. Their lives were spent following their herds across these sand fields. They laughed that the world could be edge-marked. They drew back their sleeves and showed him their tattoos and twisted cords. They explained that these showed that all was wind, rain and sand, fields to infinity.
Seeker felt that these markings were like an old fear, a memory. It was if they had once felt fire, and refused to speak of it, and hid the marks of the burns in their sleeves.
Seeker ate and drank and shared their stories, but knew he couldn’t stay with them. These people loved their lives and their families with a deep and wild love. But they didn’t love the world enough to embrace it too.
He pressed on through petrified forests, and stumbled into ruins and relics of elder kingdoms, toppled terebinths, and addled altars.
The peoples resting heavily in their marble homes were the Elders. Their food and incense was sharp and bright, their minds like careful and observant moths flitting between flames. Their homes, resting on the ruins of old libraries, were roofed with grottos and graves. They packed their museums with rituals, herbs and books. Life and birth and death was all woven together like a great mask against the sky.
He pressed an Elder with his questions to find the edge of the world, the cliff-like edge that would allow him to see who pushed the stars and sun into pattern-weaving wonders. He was told to leave his ambition, to sit and feast with them, to learn the mysteries. They explained that they lived on the back of an old god, awaiting the quakes and rains of other gods.
Seeker bowed and thanked them, ate some of their fragrant feasts, and left the long banners behind. Somewhere, somehow, there had to be an end to it all. The more he saw, the more he needed to know. He resumed his journey.
The skies darkened now, and he began to leave the stars behind. The waters turned black and still in the streams, and the oceans were soundless. He found peoples singing in cities along white beaches, all wrapped in red and saffron robes. They hummed deep and patient hymns. Some even floated like torches among the terraced pavilions. Their flames were brilliant, like none he’d ever seen.
The sands lined a dark ocean that lapped a dark horizon. They called themselves the Reflections, their opal eyes slow and wide, wide from staring into the night. They incensed the horizon, inhaling deeply and resonating with the soundless spaces. They smiled patiently at his questions. They told him that the edge was already everywhere. He himself was the edge.
Having come so far, and with nowhere left to go, Seeker asked about crossing the horizon. They spoke to him of their great traditions, and that at the end of life, each Reflection pushed off the coast in a coracle, to pass into the great abyss, to enter the great beingness of life.
So he asked for and was gifted a fisherman’s coracle, and a satchel of food. He thrust hard with his paddles, but the oceans made no noise. When the food ran out, he felt rather than saw, the great coiling movement below of elder beings, cycling in the great patterns of the stars. The water shivered and smoked up into a mist, scintillating showers of water dust that split light into silvered colors.
And then, a morning breeze swelled his lungs and he breathed deeply, inhaling air laden with the scents of home, wild spices and greening forests.
The coracle took a life of its own, racing through the mist. It faded into giant granite walls and onyx columns that pressed up and pushed away the darkness. He turned around to see a net of stars and suns and clouds of glowing light, a tapestry embracing the mist in one place. Before him, he heard the sunny shadows of an ancient city, busy with life and clustered with the spires of churches and universities, laced with markets and banners and singing and candlelight.
This was a world not made for men, but for giants. These were the Resonants, and they glowed with such a fierce, fragrant light that he shaded his eyes with his hands. When they spoke, they shivered his being with music so deep and strange that he froze, his ears blinking blindly like bats in noonday, trying to catch the harmonies. They danced around him with a weight like the hills, and terrified him that he would be crushed, a grape in a press the size of the world.
How long his journey took through this city, he didn’t know. This City of Ages, built of white marble and starred with silver suns, slowly broke apart in the center like a mosaic, fragmenting out into a void. He collapsed when he could go no farther, watching the Resonants fly into the whirling mosaic of air and stone. Everything was giving way into a new horizon of darkness.
The more he sat, allowing the music to murmur through his blood and bones, he realized that the city wasn’t flowing into a horizon. The horizon was birthing this city, and this city was birthing the world. A man with world-life could go no further in this journey. This darkness wasn’t dark. It was a light so blinding that his eyes had not the strength to comprehend it. And in and out, up and down, came legions of Resonants, foraging and forming new things that his mind knew not.
Seeker turned to explore the temples and tabernacles, the sanctuaries and sanctums of literature and liturgy. Finally, his heart could rest; he found the memorials of past mystics who had pressed through the dark abyss like him. He knelt at the tombs of the deathless dead.
Seeker had found the edge of the world, and found it a thriving frontier to a new and older world. He could rest that his question was not answered, but that it was answered in part. And that he could spend forever asking new questions, and never reach the end.
Thrilled and exhausted and shaken, Seeker took on a new name. Storyteller. He turned to leave, and a Resonant took his hands, pushed them into the earth of a garden, and helped him gather a few, small seeds of light. He stored them in a pocket close to his heart, and promised to plant them before his home.
Storyteller journeyed home, back into the abyss, back across the world, back across the unnamed sand fields. Finally, he stood at the crest of the canyon, bearing the seeds and music of the Resonants, the fire and incense of the Reflections, the colored banners and liturgy books of the Elders, the painted tattoos and twisted cords of the Nomads. His heart burst to share the good news with his family, friends, and fellows.
But the Dwellers shrank away. They were terrified. They couldn’t recognize him, for he knew strange foods, smelled of strange incense, used strange fire, and made strange music.
They told him to shake off his otherness, work his toes into the dirt and strap on the old farming leathers across his shoulders. He withdrew from them into his home, scouring his mind, music, and manuals for a way to help them see.
When his beard flowed from his cheeks like a white shroud, he learned to sit and celebrate the silence. He learned to sift truths from all peoples. Truth does not belong to the realms of men. Truth is foraged like fruits from trees, and not all trees grow in all places. It is worked into the weave of a people, and slowly, gently, becomes a part of their world.
He set aside his hunger to reveal. Instead, he wrapped himself in the blue, star-strewn robes of the storyteller, and called them to join him in his garden.
He held up the tiny, glowing seeds from the gardens beyond the edge of the world. As he guided their hands to plant them in the earth, he delved into the sprouting gardens of their minds, picturing and painting and pressing in with a simple line…
“Once upon a time…”