Fernando Autran is a Spanish freelance writer, psychologist, geek, and wannabe English novelist. He’s currently working creating roleplaying games in various formats. He’s also finishing his first novel, A Star in a Glass, a cyberpunk psychological thriller about a girl who sees the truth and a man with a mask. You can read more of his writing on his website.
The scorching light of the sun fell on the valley of Sikhat, burning anything that wasn’t in the shadows. Wise travelers always walked through the orange sand. The white sand would leave you blind, and the black sand would melt your feet. Of course, it didn’t matter which sand you touched if a sandstorm was coming. Only the mad, the desperate, the lost and the faithful dared to travel here. Those who tried and triumphed arrived at the temple of the skyspeakers, a fine house of adoration carved inside a giant rock where the faithful could find knowledge, inner peace and obtain an expanded perspective of the universe.
Inside, an old priest and his apprentice were discussing the ceremony of maturity.
“OK, Grandpa Amuth, are you going to tell me the story or not?”
“Show me some respect, Neith. Inside these holy walls I’m not your grandfather. I’m your mentor. Remember that.”
Neith sat on a cushion and smiled at the old priest.
“Yes, Mentor. Thank you again for giving me this chance. My parents insisted I was too young, but I know I’m ready.”
“Don’t be arrogant, whether you’re ready or not remains to be seen.”
“Yes . . . Mentor.”
Amuth sighed. Why was it that from all his progeny, the only individual that displayed talent had to be so wild? Neith had a prodigious memory, and a natural charisma, but she lacked patience and focus, too concerned about the result and not the journey. Could he make her understand the truth within the story?
He looked around at the fruits of the work of his order: the sacred silver carvings on the walls, the cellar with the painted sky, the crystal dome that changed its opacity, all well maintained by his brothers and sisters, it always filled him with pride. A pain in his chest reminded him of his task. He instinctively grabbed his left arm. Neith raised an eyebrow.
“Grandpa, are you OK?”
“Yes, I’m fine, and don’t call me grandpa. If I have to remind you again I will cancel the ceremony.”
Neith nodded in silence. He regretted that his words were harsh, but there wasn’t much time.
“Do you know why you’re here?”
Neith stood up, cleared her throat, and began the ritual.
“The world has gone around the sun twelve times since I was born. Twelve times since the goddess dreamt about me. Twelve times in which I learned the stories of our people. Now, the time has come for me to learn the first story so I may create my own. It will be told twelve times more and beyond.”
“Why is it important that we tell the first story?”
“So we may keep our dreams strong, our souls awake, and honour the goddess.”
“Do you swear to listen with an open heart and mind?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Do you swear to share your story with the rest of us?”
Amuth nodded in approval.
“Then let the goddess be our testimony and the first story be told.”
He sat in front of his granddaughter with the altar at his left, as was customary. They were at the temple’s centre, in a depression in the ground. The idea behind the circle of meditation was to humble the prospective student, to make them understand that no one was above learning. Amuth hoped that he could teach that to his granddaughter.
“This story has been told a thousand times in a thousand different ways for a thousand generations, and it will be told for a thousand more. This is the story of our universe, of how it came to be. This is my version, the way I dreamt it, and that is how I will tell it, as tradition demands.”
Amuth closed his eyes, gathering his thoughts. When he opened them again, he was looking far away, beyond the physical realm. A place where only the soul could travel.
“In what we call our beginning, something else was ending. Just like our planet follows cycles of death and rebirth, so does the universe. It dies so it can be reborn with new possibilities. As the final moment of the old universe approached, the preparations for the new one started. The Inelai, sacred keepers of the waters from the void, and the pillars that sustain those waters, deployed their wings and went to visit the great gardener, Amair, mother of all, our beloved goddess. They joined their voices in a single, glorious song to wake her up from her sleep. The song went on for eons, for she had to wake up slowly, lest it risk her delicate frame and forever shatter her mind.
“The moment she woke up and dreamt no more, the creation of new ideas stopped, for her dreams are what brings new possibilities into our world. She opened her eyes, bright like two stars, and looked upon creation. She understood that her time had come, so she herself sang a note to call her husband, Ondaur. The Inelai rejoiced when they heard her and became Amair’s clothes and ornaments. They would help her withstand the terrible destruction that was to follow.
“Ondaur came to the call of his beloved. No longer would he wander the universe devouring the carcases of dead worlds. He would feast with his wife to celebrate her awakening. He came in his chariot made out of carved moon rocks, adorned with dark spinning wheels. Two shadow hounds with glaring white eyes pulled his chariot.
“Amair prepared the banquet, compressing all that was left of the universe into one fruit. Ondaur bowed to his lady, and she bowed in return, a sign of mutual respect. Then they embraced each other, a sign of love. The lord of destruction and the lady of creation reunited again. Ondaur opened his mouth, which was like a giant black abyss, and ate the single fruit. Winds of nothing came howling from him, submerging everything in absolute darkness, a perfect canvas from which to paint a new universe. The only light that remained in all of creation was Amair with her magnificent dress, which protected her from any harm. They kissed and he went to sleep till the universe needed culling again.
“Amair went to her Garden, outside of the universe. A place from which all universes originate. She took a group of ripe peaches and put them into a sieve. She started the slow process of filtering. The strongest peaches absorbed the energy of the weaker ones, till only one remained. The peach with the most possibilities.
“Kissing it before it drifted away, Amair took that peach with the greatest of care and freed it to the void. Cracks appeared all over the peach as the energy inside of it built up. Then, the peach exploded. Stars, planets, and everything that could be, came out of it. Satisfied, Amair went back to sleep, for the universe needed her dreams to give them form and consistency. The moment she closed her eyes, the first sentient being dreamt, and with that dream the first soul was born. More and more followed, all children of Amair, all dreamers and creators, ready to shape the universe. That, dear granddaughter, is the story of how our universe started.”
An awkward silence fell as Neith pondered his words for a long time.
“That’s it? Gra . . . I mean, Mentor. That’s the whole story?”
“That’s a story. My story.”
“The true story is contained in it, and in all the other stories that have been told.”
“But, if it’s changing all the time then what’s the point?”
“The point is to learn something new. Every time someone tells a story they’re participating in the sacred act of creation. With that creation comes new possibilities and ideas, the very essence of our beloved Amair. Every time we learn, imagine and invent, we get closer to her.”
Neith crossed her arms, frustrated.
“What am I supposed to do with this?”
“What we’ve all done in this temple, and what we will keep doing as long as it stands. Learn from it, think about it, and create something unique: your own story.”
“And once I have created it?”
“You will share it with me and the rest of the order. Then, we will meditate on it and the council will pass judgement.”
“So the archives are filled with made-up stories that the elders found interesting? I’m sorry sir, but I fail to see the wisdom in that.”
Amuth sighed, this is what he feared.
“Neith, I . . .”
The pain returned, stronger than before. This time he couldn’t pretend. Amuth grabbed his chest. Neith’s expression changed from one of boredom to one of panic. She stood up and went to his side.
“Grandpa, what’s wrong?”
Amuth slowed his breathing and repeated the sacred text of harmony. Years of meditation allowed him to bring his body back under control, but he knew it was just temporary. He needed to make her understand.
“Go back to your seat, the ceremony is not over.”
Neith obeyed him reluctantly. Amuth regained his composure as best as he could and proceeded with the lesson.
“What’s the point of telling a story Neith?”
“And to listen to one?”
“And you say there’s no wisdom in the stories of our brothers and sisters?”
“Made up stories are just entertainment, sir. There’s no truth in them.”
She looked at him confused.
“Because they didn’t happen of course.”
“And why does that make them any less true?”
Neith opened her mouth, but she didn’t know what to say.
“Our minds are limited and cannot always perceive the whole truth, it’s necessary to divide it in smaller pieces and then puzzle them together. The single piece may not be the whole truth, but it leads to the truth.”
Neith thought about his words. She looked up at the cellar and the painting of the night sky. Her eyes caught the constellation of the twins, Aneri and Asaroi, the daughters of Amair. She looked at them with curiosity and then smiled.
“Sir, may I tell my story?”
Amuth smiled. There was a lot more to learn, but he could see it in her eyes, she would be a great skyspeaker, and hopefully one day he could tell her the original first story.
She cleared her throat.
“This story has been told a thousand times in a thousand different ways for a thousand generations, and it will be told for a thousand more. This is the story of our universe, of how it came to be. This is my version, the way I dreamt it, and that is how I will tell it, just like tradition demands. There were once two twins called Aneri and Asaroi . . .”