Doria, her faith restored, began her quest anew, seeking that which the Divine had bade her to seek. To the curious, the hopeless, and the multitudes she told her story without shame, and from the conviction deep within her heart one became some. More would come, wanting to walk the path at her side — wise-ones, elders, priests and priestesses, and devotees from all walks of faith and faithlessness — until some became many.
Though Doria still walked and with only what she needed, reading the signs to guide her, heralds now gave word of her coming, and rulers would step down from their thrones to welcome her with open arms and ample supplies. During these times of rest and reflection Doria would speak of the Divine and the path of ahead, and all found faith.
The day finally came when Doria stopped walking and all rejoiced, forgetting their weariness for they had come to the end of the world. A pier of rock — verdant and sprouting wildflowers where no flora should grow below blue, sunlit skies — stretched out from the mountain top into a sea of clouds, sheer walls falling off into forever on either side. Doria turned and spoke to all assembled, telling them that the path from here was her’s and her’s alone. In an impossible silence, Doria left the Seekers behind, and walked to the very edge of eternity.
“Welcome, Doria.” came the voice of the Divine, “Your journey is at an end.”
– The Lacuna Augury
When Rocca opened his eyes, he could see only blue. He started to call out to Kwame, then fell silent, closing his eyes. He was alone.
“Why did you give up? I would have gotten you home,” he whispered, curling up as tears ran down his cheeks. He cried until the tears wouldn’t come anymore, then laid there. The truth was he didn’t know if he’d ever make it back, but Kwame would have lost all faith if he had let himself believe that. But what good had it done? Hadn’t he lost faith in the end, regardless? Rocca let out a stuttering breath. He had done all he could, he needed to believe that. Kwame was gone, and the only way to honor his memory was continue on until he made it home.
Slowly he unfurled his limbs, stretching out against the soft ground beneath him. He tried to empty his mind as he took in breaths until they became steady once again. Finally taking in the scenery around him he realized the blue had been the sky, stretching on endlessly around him. The day was sunny, clear, and silent, but as he moved his head around he couldn’t find the sun. He lifted himself up onto his elbows to get his bearings and examine the terrain.
Puffy and white, the scene before him, like the sky above, went on forever in every direction. He sat up, testing the white ground with his hand. It was slightly cool to the touch and swirled as he disturbed it. A cloud. He dug into it, trying to see what was beneath, but he found only more of the same. He got to his feet and found that he could stand firmly. The ground swirled and dispersed slightly with each step he took, but it was no more difficult than walking across a damp field.
Again he searched for the sun, but found no sign of it no matter where he looked. Despite that, the field of clouds were lit like a summer day. This wasn’t a Final Moment. Where was he? He reached out with his senses, and was floored by the tidal wave of emotion that surged through him.
He was on his back again, a broad smile working its way across his face. The only way he could describe the flood that had filled him was to call it perfect peace, and when he let his breath go, it was like the weight of every burden he had ever shouldered went with it. Now, without effort, his senses were fully open, and all that could be revealed, was. Yet all he found in that revelation was but a single notion. An idea so small it barely seemed to be. It was a direction, and when he finally stood he began to walk toward it.
Rocca had no notion of how long he had walked. There were no cues in the clouds to give him a sense of distance and the sky never changed, nor did he tire. Had it been days, or years? Perhaps no time at all. It made no difference. Onward.
When he saw it on the horizon he thought he had imagined it, but as he pressed on he could see the clouds had begun to curve upward and had a terminus. In time he ascended the rise and found himself on the edge of a great abyss in the clouds. Standing at the very edge he peered far below and was witness to primordial chaos.
Waves of rock crashed against a wall of trees, filtering between them like surf on a beach, sprouting a field of grass and wildflowers where they touched the water that had been there before. True waves crashed against ice, bursting into clouds of birds. The wind caught strange fruits on a tree, loosing them to the glimmering crystal ground beneath where they blossomed into foxes. The small pack totted to a small pool some distance away, forming a circle around it. Once each had found it place, they howled in song, dancing around the pool until it sprouted and grew into a sapling of the tree that fruited them. The foxes howled in unison, then burst into flame, their ashes filling the sky with a thick black swath of bats which swirled over aurochs pulling themselves from the earth among trees melting into streams.
Rocca peered across the void, unable to see where the clouds began again, yet knew they did, for that was where he was being pulled. He needed a boat. The clouds around him swirled violently, and for a moment Rocca feared they would release him into the abyss, but as he watched the clouds formed a bow and stern with him in the middle. The cloud ship rocked gently as it floated out onto open sky, the sail hanging limp against the mast. Rocca pulled in a deep breath, and blew. His exhale echoed and smothered the silence around him as the sail swelled and billowed against it, pulling the ship out into the unknown on a strong headwind.
As Rocca sailed high above the chaos, daylight slowly transitioned into twilight and a great thunderhead rose on the horizon, a herald to the flickering field of stars behind it. He knew it to be where his journey would end, but was still uncertain what that end was. The muted, red and purple light of twilight on the far horizon glowed dimly, but what light covered the distance made much of the thunderhead glow golden as silent lightning rippled through it. As the thunderhead loomed and the star field grew, the echoing rumble of thunder reached Rocca for the first time. He now stood, an eagerness he couldn’t explain growing in him as the wind picked up, pulling him toward his destination ever faster.
The thunderhead was upon him now, impossibly large and bursting with lightning so close he had to shield his eyes from the intense light as his body and boat shook from thunder. Through it all he could finally see where he was headed. A small break in the heart of the clouds was flanked on either side by oval, gold-wrapped glass lanterns which glowed bright with captured lightning as they swayed in the strong winds. What had seemed like a small opening grew and grew as he neared, and when he finally passed between the lanterns they dwarfed his vessel, towering several stories each.
Finally under cover, the storm which had raged so violently outside seemed very distant, both in sight and sound. Scattered clouds quickly thickened around his vessel until they became one and Rocca stepped ashore. Ahead of him was a wide stone staircase which ascended up into the thunderhead, lit with miniature versions of the great lanterns he had seen. They hung from gold sconces recessed into the cloud itself. Rocca’s heart raced as he took to the steps.
At regular intervals along the long corridor were stained-glass panes of unsurpassed quality depicting unfamiliar scenes of figures on long travels and speaking with an angel. Rocca gave only one a moment of inspection before racing ahead, now taking the steps two at a time. When he could finally see the end of the stairs he broke into a sprint.
When he had cleared the last step he hunched over and braced himself on his knees, his lungs burning from the effort. His breath still labored, he looked up to examine the large room he stood in, and his breath caught.
Rocca stood and stared high above at the intricately gilded skylight. It was split into eight triangular panes which met in the center and looked out into the dark heart of the storm. He watched as the clouds burst with bright tendrils of gray-purple light.
Flickering lanterns ringed the circular room, between which were large hourglass symbols alternating between spent and full. In a deep groove in the floor along the length of the wall, maybe half an inch wide, water flowed steadily without a beginning or end that Rocca could see. At the room’s center a large ring of braided copper and lacquered wood was set into the stone floor. In an alcove against the far wall, floating in a glass sphere, was an spent hourglass.
Rocca — eyes wide and heart pounding in his ears — turned to flee, but where there had been stairs before there was only the circular curve of the room’s wall. Rushing to it he searched it in hope of finding a way to reopen it, but found none. The great metallic rumbling of great gears turning filled the room. His back now to the wall, Rocca sunk to the floor, shielding his eyes as he looked up and saw the skylight shards receding into the walls. In each pane the storm still raged, yet through the opening Rocca a vast sunlit plain revealed itself, at the center of which was a giant mirrored sphere. The view was disorienting, not adhering to the laws of gravity, made worse as a lone figure began walking toward him on a path that led from the sphere to hole in the ceiling.
It was Her.
When she finally neared, she gently reached out her hand to him.
“The path through death which you have chosen has left you weary and alone. I offer you eternal respite from your tribulations. Please, Rocca, accept this gift and join me.”
“You mean accept your promise of death!” Rocca spat back, accusingly.
“You are mortal, Rocca, and Death comes for every mortal in time.”
“Yes, in time! I had more of it, but you took it away from me!”
“You need not fear the uncertainly of death as others might. Your death is done, and another new life awaits you. I’ve seen your heart, and it is not heavy with misdees. Your journey from here will be an easy one.”
“You’ve done nothing but lie to me, and it cost me my life. A life I want back! You made me love you…”
“I offered you happiness and every whim of your heart so that you might not lament your fate.”
“None of this is fair! I never asked for this; I didn’t do anything to deserve this!”
“How many from your world would say the same? What gives you claim where they have none?”
Rocca began to shake, tears forming in his eyes, yet he refused to look away from her. She sighed, lowering her eyes.
“No, Rocca, it’s not fair, but Agarathamn touched your world and placed in it powers which it was never meant to have. Allowances can be made for most who have been Touched, but the energy which has grown in you is greater than even he possessed. I cannot give you the wisdom you need to wield such powers, and without it you would become a terrible threat to your own world.”
“I don’t want any of this.” Rocca began to cry. “I just want to go home.”
“It’s time to go, Rocca. You have a new home now.”
“No, it’s not my time yet.”
Rocca rushed over to the sphere and crashed his fists against it. After only a few strikes the glass shattered and fell away. He reached out and grabbed the spent hourglass, a palm tightly grasping each end, and twisted it as hard as he could. It took every ounce of strength he had, but it began to turn. As it turned, the skylight began to close again, and from the corners of his eyes he could see cracks in the wall forming as the whole room began to shake. When the hourglass reached level the skylight was sealed and the shaking became violent; large chunks of the room beginning to collapse. Still Rocca turned it further. As the hourglass neared full, the whole room fell away around him, leaving only the dais, beyond which was void. When Rocca finished the dais gave way. Closing his eyes, Rocca fell into blackness.
Rocca could hear voices.
“They were using child soldiers! And you’re trying to tell us that we should support them? They’re terrorists!”
“You’re twisting the facts. The soldiers were kids, but these were young adults who were driven to their cause by necessity and an honest desire to make a difference, not brainwashed and abused like those unfortunate children in Africa that “child soldiers” refers to.”
“You’re just making excuses for killers.”
‘The travesty here is that these kids died, but I don’t blame the people who gave them guns, I blame the people that made kids feel they needed guns to be safe.”
Rocca opened his eyes. Across the room and above him two men were arguing on a television. A flash of light drew his attention to a window at the far side of the strange room. He drew in a deep breath and he became aware of the steady pulse of heart monitor. The rain pelting against the window turned into hail as a droning siren somewhere outside picked up speed and began to howl.
“Third tornado this month!” came the voice of a woman from the hallway. “You take that side and I’ll take this one.”
She strode quickly into the room without looking his way. She wore scrubs and a stethoscope around her neck, a nurse.
“No more TV for you tonight, Mr. Rocca.” She reached up and clicked off the set.
“That’s alright,” said Rocca. “I wasn’t exactly watching it anyway.”
The nurse yelped and whipped around, her features locked in shock as she stared unblinking at him.
Rocca looked down at himself. He looked as he always had to himself, though he was dressed in a hospital gown and attached via more wires than he could easily count to machines all around him. He tried to reach out with his sense, but nothing happened. He tried again. Nothing. Was it possible? Could he have made it back. There was one way he thought he could be sure.
Rocca turned back to the nurse. “Where am I?”
She was breathing hard, her gaze shooting between him and the machines, so he waived at her.
“In case you’re afraid of me, I don’t think I can get up with all these wires attached, so you’re probably safe. Could you please tell me where I am?”
That seem to shake the nurse enough to get an answer.
“You’re at the Center for Advanced Neurological Studies in Kansas City.”
“Who am I?”
“Do you not know?” Her eyes darted around the room as she moved to leave. “I…I need to get someone.”
“Please just answer me!”
Her eyes went wide again and she stared at him. He soothed his tone.
“You’re Mordecai Rocca.”
In all the lives he’d lived and died through, no one had ever known him as himself. He was home. As he broke down in tears, the nurse ran from the room.