Angles of alignment slice the light from the setting sun and toss it against the contours of the ruins where it shatters into a puzzle of shifting shards. Some corners lie suffocating beneath an intentional darkness that lies heavy like the ink used to blotch the memories of a torn mind. Other faces of stone glimmer with deceit, catching the sun and turning it into fool’s gold.
The columns that once held honor now extend into a cold expanse with stunted heads and crumbling foundations, their shadows stretching like graves to catch them should they fall.
“Why am I here?” asks a voice.
The response is little more than an earthy groan, felt in one’s gut rather than heard.
“This place is old. Too old.”
The horizon is smudged with distance, a boundary between worlds, and the terrain to reach it has been stretched into nothing more than a streaked and otherwise featureless barren. The air is dead for no breeze dares enter the stead, and the silence that holds its breath in every corner is enslaved in guilt. Secrets dread their discovery in folds of decay.
“This is no home of mine. I have never been here before.” The voice is steady as it drifts between the columns. “I do not belong in a place where the sun will never set.”
And with these words, the sun plummets and the sky goes dark like an eye sliding shut. A few seconds of oblivion slide by alone. And then a flame flares to life and the shadows hurriedly rearrange themselves. The columns sway with the light and the walls breathe the warmth of the flames like flanks of prickling skin.
“I do not understand,” says the voice. “If you wanted my light, you should have given me an opportunity to paint it over the beginnings of a new world. This world is dying. There is nothing here for me. There is nothing to be gained in relighting that which has lived its time. Unless…” And the voice pauses now as the flame turns and spits and turns again. “There are secrets. Secrets that tempt your desires for more. Not for better, not for wisdom, but for more.”
The light sweeps a circle to life, which hangs in the air like a halo of fire. “Have you not experienced enough fire? Enough sorrow and grief? Enough chaos and disaster? Or is there something else that lies in the past of this world?”
The shadows shimmer and flicker, gaining complexity the further they travel across the ruins. The light grows fiercer, until the furthest stone begins to blink. And then the voice lets out a long slow breath. “The world is watching me. It will take more than light to rekindle the spirits. A powerful honesty will be needed to grow true seeds in this soil of deceit.”
The fire spits again, and the shadows that tumble across the stones hit the far wall and echo back in a myriad of distorted images. “They are hungry for light,” the voice whispers. “But only to carry on. Not to go back.” The whisper rises with certainty. “They will never go back. Unless…Is it resolution you yearn for? A wound causes no pain to the beast that has died.”
The fire moves to the edge of the ruins where the dirt washes against the edges of the stone. It crackles at the sky. “If you will not answer me, I will reveal your every intention. And in doing so, I will answer to your challenge with knowledge of the full truth. Are you not afraid that I will then turn your offer down? Or is this all you have and the universe shall answer for us?”
The fire begins to spin. “I only have one more question,” says the voice. “Will you stop me?”
There is silence as the fire wheels into a spinning inferno. And then the voice issues a hoarse and wordless cry. The fire screams into the nearest column with a thunderclap. The stones shriek with a shattering crack, and the top half of the column topples over, landing as it will amongst the other stones. The impact shakes the earth, and the shaking only grows in intensity.
“At last, the truth!” screams the voice. “You have locked a piece of your soul in the secrets of a dead world! You will never be whole again!” The fire wheels again and cracks into a second column.
And then the world freezes. Every trickle of fire is rigid, every shard of stone is still.
The voice speaks after an eternal stillness. It is soft and thoughtful. “I did not expect such a dire plea from the oldest Master of Experience. I am the best at what I do, but I am still only a Life Artist. My work is based on the flow of creativity and imagination, the energy of inspiration that connects us all. I have no science and I have no guarantees. But you have no choice.”
The voice drifts toward the place of impact where the fire engulfs the column and the darkness holds its shape. The voice inspects the solidity of every tongue of flame. Then it confirms what it has discovered.
“There is only one way you are able to freeze time in this world. This world is your origin.” It pauses. “I accept your challenge and your offer. I will enter this world in body and flesh and seek the darkness of its past. I will bring light to its darkest secrets so that you may reclaim the part of your soul that was imprisoned in its memory. And all of this I will do for free. It is the experience that drives me.”