Within the context of the Blackwood Empire series, the following tale originates in the region known as the Divide, and is widely told in the NorEastern Empire and the northern regions of the Monteddorian Empire.
At the time of the Blackwood Empire, the story holds little spiritual or religious meaning in the largely libertine NorEastern Empire. It is mainly told with a smirk, as an amusement at tea parties and meetings of Alchemists. It does, however, reflect the nation’s fascination with the human drive to create and understand the world around them.
For the people of Monteddor, however, the story still holds much cultural significance. Ultimately, however, its purpose is a dark one, and much emphasis is placed on the dangers of human curiosity. It is used by the powers that be as a means of control, to keep the citizenry in line and maintain the status quo.
In Crowndon, the story takes on a highly antagonistic tone with the idea of a higher Creator, to be told at a later date.
As Told in the northern reaches of Monteddor:
The Man awoke, surrounded by a bone dry desert under a sun baked sky. There was no sound, but for the soft whisper of a warming wind. He named them as he perceived them, but they were not new names. They were names that existed in some deep, locked away part of himself.
The Man sat up. His head ached for the span of a heart beat, and then the ache disappeared. His eyes grew accustomed to the light, and opened, focusing upon the world around him. The desert stretched far to the horizon in all directions, completely flat except for the rows of pillars to both sides of him, 12 a piece, that reached high into the air above him and curved inward.
The sun hung in the air directly overhead, and the pillars cast no shadow but for a tiny pool of darkness on the underside of each pillar’s curve. The Man stood and stared into these shadows, and knew darkness, which gave meaning to the light.
The Man began walking along the rows. He was strong, and full of energy. He felt no desire, except for the want of knowing what lay beyond the horizon. He turned to the left, and walked through the pillars.
As they fell behind him, the Man felt a deep hollow form in his chest, as though he were leaving behind something that was a crucial part of him. He knew emptiness. He fought the urge to go back, the compulsion to see and know greater than the pull of what was already known.
The world seemed to end. The Man found himself staring into the vast blue nothingness of the sky. Until he looked down, and saw that the world continued, rolling gently downward to another flat plane of desert below. And at the base of the rise, five more pillars reached up from the sand.
Four stood together, seemingly against the fifth, who stood alone. The Man felt something else. It was similar to the hollow he felt after leaving the first stand of pillars behind, but that hollow had filled. This came from somewhere else, somewhere deeper.
That fifth pillar, standing alone against the four. A chill went through the Man. He lifted his shaking left hand. Four fingers stood together. His thumb stood alone. The Man thought on this as he walked on, unsure how to feel about what he’d found. His curiosity had begun to wane. Once again, the hollow returned. The unknown stretched before him, and doubt had shadowed his mind.
Still, the Man persisted.
As he walked, his legs became heavy, and he knew gravity. His lungs burned, and he knew air. Sensation after sensation sprung up within him, like empty spaces he had not known were there until he became aware of them.
His mouth became dry, and the ache in his head returned. Soon, he could walk no more. First, he named what he felt.
The Man fell to his knees, then forward onto his face. He heard something new, and felt something new. He lifted his aching head, and found that where it had laid came forth a bubbling spring of water.
The Man dug deep with his hands, and the water flowed more freely. He scooped it into his palms and he drank. He dug deeper, and the spring became a torrent. It rose around him, touching his knees, his feet. It came up to his waist. And the water rolled away to his left, along the shape of the land and out of sight.
The Man continued his journey, following the flow of the water and drinking from it when needed. Soon it flowed into another stream, this one much larger, and along its banks the land changed. The endless white sand became green grass, and then bushes and trees.
The Tree bore strange orange orbs that smelled sweetly. His mouth watered and his stomach called out. Even as his thirst was quenched, he became aware of his hunger. He plucked an orange from a tree and bit into it, but the skin of the fruit was tough, and bitter. Disappointed, he nearly threw the fruit away, but for a single drop of sweetness on his tongue. Juice flowed from the point where he had bitten into the fruit. He dug into the mark with his thumbs and pulled the orange open, exposing the soft flesh inside.
He ate, hollowing out the skin of the fruit. Finished, he looked once again at his hands, and at the thumb he’d used to pry the orange open. He remembered the pillars, the four standing against the one. He now knew the importance of the one. The importance of his thumb.
He shared the forest with other living things. He tried hunting monkeys. They were quick, and they had thumbs. They could climb. So he hunted deer. They had no thumbs.
Wolves hunted him, but he, like the monkeys, could climb trees. And he could build. He constructed shelters in the trees. He used them to sleep in, and to hunt deer from. He built long, sharp weapons to kill with.
The Man was crafty, and he survived, and built a life in the forest. Water and food were plenty, and his stomach was full. But still, that strange hollow he felt as he left the pillars behind remained. This hollow was not physical. It came from someplace else.
One day, he discovered a new plant with red berries unlike anything he’d seen before. He ate the berries while he hunted. But soon he felt weak, and he was unable to hunt. He weakened more, and was unable to climb. Instead he crawled into the roots of a tree, and shivered, hoping that wolves would not come.
He awoke to a strange sound. His vision was blurred, and his hearing muffled. The notion came upon him that the sound was directed at him. But it was not the growl of a wolf, or the protest of a dying deer, or the chattering of a monkey.
The Woman crouched before him. She held out her hand. Inside were naught but leaves. He had chewed them before, but they made him sick. Not as sick as he was now, but they made the food he ate come back up. The Woman insisted. The sounds she made were pitiful, worrisome…compassionate. Their tone compelled him to eat the leaves.
Sure enough, they brought his stomach up, and along with it the berries he had eaten. He felt better, afterward, but still weak. She brought him water in a deer skin. Lots of water, and she made him drink every last drop, even when he was no longer thirsty.
The Man slept a long time and when he awoke, the Woman remained. He saw her more clearly. She wore the skins of the deer, as he did. She had tools of wood, as he did. No…not like he did. She had tied rocks to them. Some of the rocks had been sharpened to points. He gestured to them and she held them out. He looked at them, admiringly. And he looked at her, the same way.
They stayed together. She showed him how to sharpen the rocks, and how to tie them to the sticks, and they hunted. When they discovered something new, they assigned a sound to it, so they could understand each other. Over time, the Man became aware that the hollow was gone.
They explored the forest by day, naming the world around them, and by night, they explored each other. They were much the same, but very different. Soon, they brought forth a little one like them, and more after that. The little ones grew, and they learned to hunt. Some of them left and never returned. Some went to sleep and never awakened.
They built a home on the ground, protected by felled trees. They grew smaller trees inside. The day came when more like them appeared. They showed them what they knew, and these people built a home beside them. More people came, and before long, they had conquered the forest and built homes made of stone.
Still others came after that, but these did not need to learn. In fact, they knew more. Some were willing to teach. Others…others only wanted to take. Over time, the spear and the arrow gave way to the sword and the gun. Over and over again the people fought. At first they fought over food and land. They fought over people. And then, they began to fight over words, and ideas. The fight over ideas were the most brutal; the ideas were stronger than any physical need. The ideas came from the same place as the Man’s strange emptiness that he could not fill. The ideas were nearly the end of them.
Until one day, a Man had an idea meant to save them. He built a colossus of iron and gears in his own image, which would hold their very being within and preserve it for eternity. He built the colossus, and in their desperation the people submitted to it. The Man was the last one inside.
And the Colossus walked across the surface of the empty world until the mountains fell and the forests turned to dust. When all life was gone, the Colossus remained. However, even it could not stand up to time. Eventually, the Colossus fell, too. It crumbled to pieces, exposing its skeletal frame, its ribs jutting up from the earth like two rows of pillars. And all was still.
Until one day, a Man awoke in a bone dry desert, under a sun baked sky…