Days passed, far too many to keep track of and I became haunted and bereft with the stress of this reality and the other during the course of our travels. I succumbed to my dislocation and fell to my knees in the hot desert sand and screamed up towards the contused sun clutching at the keys on my gauntlet as though they were my albatross or the ball and chain of these angry twin world prisons.
Ember sank beside me and offered one of the last Oneiroion blooms, but I couldn’t eat. I held it in the palm of my hand and looked into the bulb as if the answer lay within its petals. I just kept saying over and over again that I wanted to go home, but they wouldn’t let me give up.
Ember kept saying, “We’re nearly there, Architect, we’re nearly there.”
Her eyes were green as moss over the surface of a pond.
They allowed me some time to collect myself, my brooding needing the chance to cool in Cloak’s shade. I felt so used up, all endurance waning, my body channeling all that energy burnt out in desperate need of a recharge. Lightning thrived in the clouds above us comparing tensions, igniting the sky in violet and blue, and in the distance the clouds flanked the horizon in dense blockades of suppressed pain. I groaned as I sprawled out on the hard surface. Cloak stood nearby, his long coat flailing like great seraph wings, allowing the flaring garment to sweep over my body like a blanket as the desert wind turned cold and moaned its despairing cries for the true night that would never come.
I had closed my eyes only for a moment before I realized I was clambering to my feet, shoving bulbs of Oneiroion into my mouth, Ember licking the juices of the fruit off her fingers. Cloak remained where he had been before, stoically holding watch, his shrouded face held towards the southern expanse we had come from, as if wary that something might have followed us.
We clambered to our feet and began the journey again, and though I walked beside them, I was still trying to come to grips with all of this. My destiny, my exile, my life. My reality had bled into the dream and become a reality itself. The sorrow for how I had treated Mother, my rage against THE BASTARD, the destruction of Lamia and the Omphalos, all of it came rushing at me, taunting me.
There are things in me that are so tainted, so poisoned and violent, and I’ve been expressing them so freely these days I don’t even recognize myself. Maybe it was Lamia’s manipulation of me, her placing things in me to distort me into a grim mirror of what her real self had been. I can’t seem to make any head way with any of this. Even after everything, the more I think I understand, the more convoluted it all gets and I’m lost again, roaming corridors and ruins and deserts trying to find absolution that denies me. I have the power, I know that now. I have the Threads, I have my freedom from THE BASTARD and my neglectful Mother, but it doesn’t erase it all, doesn’t dry it all up and set me down upon a gilded throne where I can rule happily.
I still keep trying to understand how any of this has anything to do with me.
What if I can’t save this world?
What if I can’t save myself?
But there’s no escaping it all is there?
It makes the journey harder, even as far as I’ve come. It makes it all so hard.
There’s so much to be afraid of. But mostly I am afraid of myself. These small displays of power have proven that I am far from ready to wield what is mine. Even soul intact, I am profoundly incomplete.
The change is coming I can never go back…
Maybe Lamia’s right. I am the Nourisher of Wounds. I don’t need to be made into it to know what I already am. Hell, maybe all messiahs are torn these ways.
I shambled up to Cloak, saying nothing, just wanting to be close to someone, something. Ember slipped her hand into mine and skipped along, attempting to coerce me to join her - as if we were skipping along the Yellow Brick Road. I wished I had her optimism.
And then one day, the rain stopped falling and an answer dawned. It may not have been the one I was looking for, but no one could deny that there dwelt a renewal of hope.
Ahead of us grew a vast, daunting network of overpasses, an entwining nest of steel and stone girders, far more industrial and myriad than the ancient city that lay in the desert fog far behind us.
We had lumbered across this apocalyptic Road Warrior desert only to arrive at a volatile juncture.
And yet, the nearness of the Citadel sparked a change in the Threads. Light emanated from its myriad plates like a beacon and as I stared up beyond the tangled nest of pathways, I realized how ominously similar it and the Citadel it is, both in majesty and intricacy. The only true difference dwells in the Citadel’s mirrored surfaces are cold and black.
It soared, tyrannous with no end and no beginning, a cosmic collage of black glass, bleak and gothic in its alien architecture. It rested regally despite its apparent ruin - fractures running up and down in a multitude of stained glass fractures upon a nesting network of warped overpasses at the high and threatening meeting of the lines. I can compare it to nothing in the world I know, for it is truly as nothing I have ever seen. The tips of each of the many parapets are lost under the oppressive gloom of the ailing clouds. A massive incandescent creature lording over the corpse-laden desert. A shining black beacon, true, but one intended to inflict trepidation to the viewer. Each fractured frame of glass were like eyes staring out, watching the world from all sides, but unseen till this moment. Only it seemed so sad, so alone in the desert wastes once thronged by countless rivers, valleys, forests, and a mighty sea. A forgotten monument of a past that grew out of its memory. Unredeemed. Unsung except by little girls in masquerade masks and walking shadows.
I hesitated to follow after my companions who strode forth with a greater ambition than my own. As we made our way up this winding maze, emaciated rats cringed by on their weak little rat feet. They stopped to look up at us, their sunken eyes, their wriggly noses examining our sun beaten faces, as if to question why we had stolen into their kingdom, and if we had anything to eat. Ember plucked the petals from her Oneiroion blooms, and scattered them along the path behind us like a flower girl at a wedding. The rats instinctively summoned their strength and lurched toward these, greedily, feasting on what my blood had sown.
Rhada Khar nudged me forward and I continued up the metal and stone chaos spiraling and stair stepping, suspended over the desert in an M.C. Escher nightmare. The rafters and girders were constructed like a trail of thought gone very awry, very quickly. There was a disturbing splendor about it, but my companions were not as impressed as I was. This was what it had always been to them. But what of before, when the walls weren’t breached and the glass cracked? Had they looked upon it with the awe that I gazed upon its ruin?
Little Ember sauntered up the paths enthused with miniature ballets in every step. She told us stories as we walked, but I can’t remember their exact telling now. They were filled with her poppy buds of laughter and colorful images of the rainbow fields the Architect before me had made for her, and something to do with a waterfall who believed it was an avalanche. It was all silly and childish, but it passed the time.
Along the girders huddled the chalky remains of several Revenants, dried out from the heat, their blades sliding from tired fingers, lumped to one side like animals killed by cars. They did not bother us, but I pitied them. They lifted pale shrunken faces, their eyes cataracts of pus crusting over their sockets, leaving them blind. It was obvious they had made many failed attempts to enter the Citadel, and despite the bloody handprints smeared on the glass, they were forcibly rejected.
“Are you able to recall anything this close to your home?” Cloak said following my eyes up the dark tower.
“I…I don’t remember…anything.”
His words became distant murmurs, lost in the swirl of the wind and machines whining somewhere dark and deep. I imagined a mechanical deity existing in the dark, forced underground by its own creations, suffering and slowly going mad, just waiting to lift its ghastly hand through the crust of the earth to wrap me up and squeeze me like a grape between its mangling fingers. My vision warped and we moved closer to the top of the demented staircases. The light of the gauntlet shone brighter than the haze of light straining under the dense black clouds above us.
So many mirrors…
I paused beside the Rhylian, both of us staring up the length of the Citadel; the height immense as its spires rose to puncture the sky, a fortified bastion of glass and steel.
“I’ve never been this close before,” Rhada Khar admitted mostly to himself. “She doesn’t shine the way she used to.”
The sweeping winds drew my eyes down coils of sandy drafts to the bottom of the Citadel, where I expected to find a grand entryway standing in wait, but as we drew closer there was no doorway, no great gates preceding our entrance to the wasteland’s towering warden. While tall and soaring, I realized the tower itself extended through the surface of the earth, driven deep, leaving it half buried.
Cloak stopped ahead of me and Ember, the hem of his dark coat flailing, dust snaking around him. The bellows of the machines rose with a deafening tremble, shaking the ground under us. Ember wrapped her arm around mine and pressed her face into my sleeve.
I asked her why she came back to join us after Icarus Canto had rescued her, and her painted smile seemed to spread wider.
“I wanted to see you make it, to know that this world won’t always be like this. I know you can’t see it now, but you are going to find your way. Believe me.” She squeezed my arm tight staying close.
Cloak beckoned. I met him in front of a pane of icy black glass, my companions reflections uncannily clear and visible, while mine remained lost and unseen.
My dark guardian placed a firm hand against the glass and sighed, “It has been sometime since I have been within my master’s home. Truly this is as much my homecoming as it is yours. How I long to venture to the many libraries, to walk the grand halls, as not a shade, but as the Theurgian I am.”
I listened, but my eyes were fixated on the lack of my own reflection.
“Many have tried, but none have been permitted beyond these walls since the fall. At least I had thought as much until a little girl found me in the desert wearing a sacred relic I thought lost.”
He directed his attention to Ember who touched the side of her mask, her eyes a shimmering cat-like yellow. She giggled lightly.
Cloak continued: “These pathways were twisted and reconstructed by the Revenants who sought to breach the walls, but the true entrance is now buried under the ground.”
Cloak reached into the folds of his black coat and claimed a black box covered in silver markings. It seemed insignificant, but Cloak offered it to me.
“It was not only power I obtained in the halls of the Black Gallery. This cube is a potent relic, a Gambit’s Doorway.”
I held the cube in both of my hands, examining its lacquered surface. I traced my gloved fingers over the markings, the gauntlet responding with a pleasant tingling of bells.
“What does it do?”
Cloak stood back and opened his coat, revealing a swirling vortex of lightning churning under the folds.
“It was intended as a failsafe by my brethren, but we soon discovered there were those among us who wished to use our inventions for selfish purposes. The benevolent of us destroyed the Doorways to prevent them from falling into idle hands. All save one. When Illmatar fell, I knew the Citadel would be next. To ensure the plague and the Trespasser would not gain entrance to the Summit, I invoked the power of the Doorway to conceal the entrance and hid it within the mechanism. It will only open at your behest.”
“What do I do,” I asked rolling the box over in my hand like a Rubik’s cube.
“An Architect’s blood. The vision of the world, remember?”
I understood. I took the sharpened metal fingers of my gauntlet and opened a cut along the underside of my right arm. Before the wound could mend I quickly brought the box under the stream of pearly blood trickling down my arm. The markings lit up like the digital face of a clock and the box leapt out of my fingers and rolled on the ground pushing up against the pane of glass.
It began to spin like a dreidel and the top and side corners opened up like small angular mouths. The doorway constructed itself through the glass, manifesting on the side of the black Citadel wall. The magic of the Gambit’s Doorway erected the entrance replete with an ornate archway of carved angel’s wings.
But it was not complete.
A perfect circle was carved out of the glass.
Instinctively I lifted my hand to my neck curling my fingers around the magician’s eyeglass dangling against my chest. Without a second thought I ripped the chain from my neck and held the glass at the edges between my index finger and thumb. Through the shard I saw myself reflected onto the black mirror doorway.
I stood as I am, a nondescript, average teenager who could slip into a crowd, get lost and no one would know I was ever there. Unremarkably ordinary.
I turned to Cloak enclosing the shard in my fist. “The magician said that he saw nothing when he looked at Baphomet, but all I see when I look…Is me.”
“The glass sees truth and truth is creation. It sees what we want to see. See yourself, not as you are, as you’ve been, but who you will become.”
I took the eyeglass and I turned to face the black doorway.
“Show me the real me,” I whispered into the black glass, my breath fogging the sleek surface. “Let me be a good person, please. I’m a good person.”
“Good. Evil. In the end it is all the same thing. Light and shadow. It is in between where the truth lies. You must see through the illusion. See through the lie.”
Shadows and mirrors…
I took a deep breath and pushed the shard of glass into the opening. It fit perfectly in place with a responsive click.
I stood back and watched my reflection waver into view as though I were walking through a dense black fog. I emerged fully formed, captivated and stunned by my new materialization. I was no longer just Canaan Quintanilla anymore. His face did not look back at me. His hand did not reach up to touch the glass as the Sigil of Truth drew itself in lines of light.
It was the Architect staring back at me, earth and glass, steel and flesh. Light and dark.
I felt my legs shake watching the reflection turn from the demigod I’d become into a child, curly-haired, innocent and then remolded back into my earthly incarnation, the me writing my secrets into the final pages of this book. I was all of these things now. They were all a part of me now.
But the reflections didn’t hold. Suddenly, the mirror bled like an exposed Polaroid, and a new reflection emerged. Then another and another; a multitude of images each bearing my face, too numerous to keep track of like the monstrosities in the desert.
It became too much. I couldn’t focus. I thought I might go blind in the face of myself. I rang my fists against the glass screaming at my ever shifting reflection. It wouldn’t stop long enough for me to focus on one single image. I wanted it to stop, willfully so, but my likeness flashed in and out of recognition faster and faster, reconstructing itself over and over. I struggled to control it the way it was trying to command fire from out of nothing.
I fell backwards, scurrying away from the glass entrance. The mirrored surface swirled with storm clouds over dark water. Eerie green phosphorescence bled into the rising clouds and spread out like industrial plumes of smoke. I watched crazed and shaking, drawn into a reflection of madness as the brutal face of Simu’la Re burst through the jet black sea, staring into my very soul. His face was a hideously deformed caricature of my own, a despicable double with a sniveling smile on festered lips.
It’s not me. I know that for sure. It can’t be me.
“I…I can’t stand this!”
Without warning a bright silver flame sparked from the ends of my armored fingertips and the tattoos on my body glowed in response to the spark. The fire didn’t burn me; it enclosed around my hand, an emblazoned outline of rich, warm light. I held my hand before the glass which reflected my blazing physical effigy in a blurry haze, mesmerizing and powerful. Simu’la Re smiled, his lips an open cut teeming with maggots and blood. I made my hand into a fiery fist and plunged it deep into the black glass. Silver fire consumed the Sigil of Truth and Simu’la Re’s face melted into a pane of despair. Ripples of light shot out from the blast, cracking the doorway and shattering the carved angel wings.
The length of glass lit up like the face of a skyscraper at night, powering on in a roar of illumination. The Citadel moaned answering my call from a long forgotten slumber. I could feel it awakening under my fingertips, welcoming me. I could hear life emerging beyond the glass, roused by the energies flowing through fractured black mirrors.
I twisted my arm in the doorway like a key, causing the black mirror to rupture, silver flames reacting and waving out in a cataclysmic overload. My hand fixed to the glass as if it were going to open a portal and suck me through, a magnetic pull siphoning at the ends of my fingers. The black glass funneled inwards momentarily before boomeranging back towards me shattering the pane of my obscured reflections into thousand of glittering slivers.
The shockwave of glass rocked me off my feet and I toppled to the ground at Cloak’s airy feet. His purple aura was strong again, his power emanating in waves of joy and praise.
“Do you know though perverse under the laws of the Devourer, Lamia’s ways held one vital truth?” Cloak whispered into my ear, his invisible lips kissing the side of my face, his hand twisting under my arm to lift me up. “Suffering is the Harbinger of Resurrection.”
When I stood, he withdrew with a windy swoosh and I stood face to face with a dark, stygian gulf. Black glass rained down inside the opening, and Cloak stepped forward examining the opening with a nervous musing. The closest thing he might have ever come to laughing. The mechanical frenzy deep below the earth erupted with a furious howl.
“Even now you must realize there is no way back. Those roads have dispersed and you have new realms to venture. Descend, Canaan Quintanilla…Descend and embrace Their blessings…The Divine Devourer Demands It…”
I knelt down and gathered several shards of black glass into my hands. A piece of one was a half moon split from the magician’s eyeglass. I clutched it in my human fist until it bit into my palm and my regenerating flesh grew back over it.
“From the moment I woke up in this nightmare I’ve been told who I am and what I’m meant to do. No one asked me. No one gave me the opportunity to remember the past they say I should, or give me enough time to accept it with my whole heart and an open mind. But I’m here now, Cloak. I took the Threads on my own and I stand here looking at my reflection seeing the powerful being I’ve become and I know with all my heart I can become even more. But you can’t make these decisions for me anymore. It is my choice now whether to walk through the door, hesitate or runaway. Be my guardian. Tell me who I was, but let it be my choice. Let me be who I am.”
He stared at me, the lightning in his eyes narrowed into a single pulsation. He turned preparing to enter the cracked doorway, the air singing beyond; sirens aloft their rocky thrones.
“Whenever you are ready, young Architect. I’ll await you on the other side. Make your journey well…”
He said nothing more and I watched him walk downward into the gloom, into the steep depths of the tower.
He disappeared, leaving me alone with Ember and Rhada Khar.
The winds swirled dust and bits of glass into my eyes, compelling me to the opening. The Citadel called, and though I hesitated, I knew I would have to crawl forward.
But why do I have to?
“It is such a burden you bear, but what are we without conflict.” Rhada Khar said stepping through the entrance, his senses alive with new scents permeating through the doorway. “The beautiful thing about destruction, you can always rebuild.”
When he had passed into the darkness, I looked back over my shoulder, but The Broken City seemed so far away.
“Lower…Lower…Lower still,” Ember said tucking an Oneiroion bloom into the palm of my hand. She danced, her glass moths shimmering and white, swallowed in the darkness.
It isn’t real. No matter what happens…
It isn’t real.
I took a step just inside the doorway, letting the dark nuzzle at my form. I could see a glass staircase unfolding under my feet. I clutched the outside of the portal, wanting to turn back, but there’s nothing to go back for. I took a deep breath, and I surrendered myself to a new door; a new opportunity…
Is this a beginning or an ending? Not much room left to write, Virgil. Your pages are full, and I’m so tired.
A change is coming and I can never go back.
I do not claim to know what my future holds beyond the doorway. In the real world, the world as I have come to know it, I exist as a mundane teenager, potentially a mental case, but in Nous I am the potential savior of a dying world, the avatar of a creative, benevolent power. Both have their destinies contrary to one another as they might be, but in the end I am still me. I am both Canaan and Baphomet. I am I. Even if I must go it on my own.
The world before me and no idea where to go.
Teresa was right afterall.
I see the split in the road.
I see my face in the mirror.
I feel like giving up.
I feel like I need to scream and pinch myself to wake up only to cry myself to sleep all over again. These dreams won’t last forever, but they aren’t dreams at all anymore. Maybe I am a savior, a hero. Maybe I am a madman.
I don’t know.
Still, I am reborn. I am one. But not yet finished. Not yet complete.
All I do know is that a new day is beginning to dawn outside my window and as the sun crests the clouds I feel a little tense. Maybe there is no other choice for me. No other solace than the sanctum of my Citadel of Fractured Mirrors. My endless, precious void.
I am descending, God help me. It feels like I’m falling. I am descending, grasping for the tyrannous stars. I can’t say with complete certainty I’m going to like how it all ends. But I know, whatever the future holds, it’s the perfect place to start.
End of Volume Two
The Journals of Canaan Quintanilla Will Continue…