It had been more than countless years after the final battle between the entities known as Naruh and Mera. Decades since the Universe was given a new chance and the old conflicts had supposedly ended. Ather, a dreamod, alone survived the massacre where his enemy, his brothers, his mistress, everybody had fallen. The years weren’t kind. Since then he spent considerable amount of time trying to figure out what went wrong, how he alone survived that onslaught and what precisely happened, find any remains of civilization, life, the tiniest flicker of hope.
Every planet had been devastated beyond hope and repair, all traces of life in the Universe seemed to have been extinguished. There were hardly any ruins or anything like that, even to suggest that life once had been abundant throughout the Universe.
Mera had spoken often about a world that she and Naruh hid before turning on each other, a world where life was to be preserved. The thought was a painful one, so Ather wasn't sure he'd want to actually find that place. In the vastness of space, it was impossible that nothing else had surivived.
The dreamod had enough power to cover only a limited ground. His next destination was a rather small world. Ather barely remembered its inhabitants, they were primitive. Up until then he had visited only worlds that were highly developed, and they were all destroyed beyond recognition. The dreamod focused on his memories of this world, seeking it through the cosmos. The emptiness of space always gave him chills. Then he willed himself to be there and so he was.
The dreamod collapsed on his knees upon arrival. It was getting harder every time, the distances were inexplicably, to him at least, widening. The dreamod found himself near a shoreline that stretched in both directions as far as the eye could see. Before Ather was a dark sea, opposite to him the sun was peering behind a mountainous horizon. He looked above at the sky. That made him sigh loudly. Even the sky was wrong with its vast empty spaces and tiny glimmering balls of light that meekly marked the existence of other worlds. “Other empty worlds,” the dreamod thought, then he took out a small device from one of his pockets. It was rectangular and gave a soft glow. Ather looked at it, gave it a frown and shook it hard. Suddenly the object started to pulsate in deep red and it gave a quiet sound. Even this made the dreamod almost drop it. He looked closer. It was picking something… in the water. “Of course…” Ather had another exasperated sigh. It wasn’t the first time that the device had picked up something, the other times it had led only to disappointment. The dreamod wasn’t very keen to enter the water, but what other choice was there. While contemplating his next move, Ather didn’t notice how the sun had risen considerably, illuminating the beach. The days and nights on this planet were considerably faster than they should be. The light gave away an almost horrific scene of limbs sticking out of the ground. They were dried up and preserved with no visible signs of decay. That world, like all the others was sterilized completely.
Ather tried to remember anything about this planet, but he couldn’t even manage to recall its name. It was forgotten forever. Yet the mystery of what laid beneath the calm ocean was actually more compelling that the dreamod initially thought. With a degree of uncertainty, he stepped forward in the water. It was cold, but that hadn’t bothered Ather in ages. When he was about waist deep in, he looked at his reflection. His face hadn’t changed for all those years. The same light gray skin, hazel eyes, white hair and sharp features looked back at him. It was unnerving. The dreamod took his hand out of its glove and brought a sip of water to his lips. It was salty. Ather pressed on until he was neck deep, then instinctively held his breath and dove into the water, even though he could go on without breathing for days. His loose glove was floating on the surface.
The device reported that whatever it was picking was a few kilometers away, at the bottom of the sea most likely. It started to get dark soon. The dreamod lit his path with the device, but he was swimming essentially blind, following the trail his sensor was picking. Swimming through the cold emptiness of this dead sea wasn’t a pleasant experience.
Gradually it began to get warmer. Ather dismissed that as volcanic activity and swam onwards. Other than getting hotter nothing unexpected happened as the dreamod was getting closer. Soon he found something. Disappointment ran across Ather’s face as he picked up a fragment of some machinery inconsequently freely floating. The only thing that was out of the ordinary was that the world he was on wasn’t supposed to advanced enough to produce any kind of machines. The dreamod had a closer look at the fragment. He wasn’t sure a part of what it had been. The part was semi spherical with a what appeared to be a circuit board on the bottom and metallic finish. Ather ran his scanner in front of it, but the interiors appeared shielded from his device. The outer shell was also unrecognized. The dreamod’s curiosity peeked, but that wasn’t the ideal place to explore it further he thought. As Ather was about to go he switched hands holding the object. As soon as his naked hand had taken hold of the item it releases something that sounder like a thunder. The ground beneath Ather shook, the sea floor shattered, revealing what was clearly the entrance of an ancient edifice. It bore a familiar symbol on the door. It took the dreamod by surprise and he didn’t recognize it at first, but on second glance it was unmistakable. His personal crest was suspiciously displayed on this forsaken world, decades after it had lost all meaning. Ather swam forward towards the door. It instantaneously opened. The dreamod entered. As soon as he was inside the structure the outer door closed and the water inside drained. Fresh air filled the chamber. Several wall mounted lights slowly blinked into existence. Ather took a lung full of air and exhaled with satisfaction. It made him feel alive.
The object, which turned out to be a key of some sort was warm in the dreamod’s hand. He observed his surroundings. Ather was at the end of a narrow and short corridor. Five meters ahead a second sealed door stood. His symbol was meticulously etched in the metal of that gate as well. With his gloves hand the dreamod traced the symbol. Nothing happened. He traced with the key, then traced it with his bared hand. Again, nothing happened. Ather looked again at the symbol. The fine lines of the symbol remained static, the door shut, the secrets inside locked. The dreamod threw the key with all his might. The object hit the door with a loud bang and froze in place. Ather tried to pick it up again, but it was stuck to the door. No matter what he did it seemed the key and gate had become fused. That wasn’t of much help though. For the first time he had come to a place with something left and yet it was beyond his reach. That angered Ather. What else could he do? Were the secrets that were kept inside to be lost forever?
“No!” shouted Ather. As soon as the sound left the dreamod’s mouth the ground rumbled a bit. Something responded to his cry. May be voice was the actual key. Was it voice recognition or a passphrase? Ather quickly said a couple of phrases. The ground shook again but the door remained closed. Clearly something was responding, but the meaning of the rumble was a complete mystery to the dreamod. Ather took out his scanning device, but as with the ‘key’ it couldn’t detect anything beyond the structure’s inner frame. The dreamod kept the scanner while he tried speaking some more. The expected rumble shook the ground. The scanning device picked some bizarre power readings dissipating through the surrounding rocks. The rumble was at the very suspicious 403 Mhz frequency. Ather repeated his makeshift experiment to the same result-power reading and the same frequency response in the surrounding land masses. Having identical responses for various phrases almost clearly suggested that the door was expecting something else.
Ather thought about it, trying to figure out some sort of logic. The only clues he had to work with were the key that revealed the structure when it reacted to the dreamod’s bare hand and his personal symbol that adorned the entrance of the edifice. One thing was clear – it anyone was to enter that place it had to be him.
Ather continued trying to guess the password to no avail. The dreamod tried by introducing himself, asking politely for the door to open, asking forcefully, reciting his favorite poems, introducing himself as Naruh, Mera, his brothers and sisters even. Nothing that the dreamod said was having or different outcome. Nothing he said was capable of moving the doors. Ather tried in different languages, again to no avail. With each failed attempt the dreamod’s anger level was getting higher. Ather started to shout random words in frustration. The ground was in constant rumble, but the gate leading towards the interior of the building remained sealed.
The dreamod gave up, turned on his heels and marched backward towards the outer entrance. Ather stretched his hand and touched the door. Nothing happened. It seemed that on top of everything else he was stuck. Whomever had designed that infernal place had the intentions to lure Ather inside with the promise of secrets, but not allow him to discover them… …or to ever leave.
There was a profound sense of unease that crept up the dreamod’s spine. The prospect of spending eternity in that place wasn’t very appealing.
Yet, fate wasn’t so cruel that day. Ather remembered something, something the Mera had told him a long time ago, before the fighting.
“Amenfen ret hetar” the dreamod shouted. Ironically that phrase meant “I will always remember” in the language of Ather’s ancient ancestors. The ground shook again, but differently. The gate towards the insides of the building slowly opened. A smell of stained air filled the corridor. Lights on the walls came to life beyond the now opened door, revealing a long path ahead. The dreamod didn’t stop to think for a second. Before even he was sure what he was doing Ather was sprinting through the corridor.
The path quickly turned steeper down. A few hundred meters inside the corridor started to have signs of disrepair. Some of the lights were dim, blinking or completely broken. The floor was filled with junk and the air smelled like rotting grass. Ather had forgotten the allures of that aroma. Life had the capacity to be wonderous and disgusting at the same time. Those thoughts weren’t easy on Ather’s mind, so much that it took quite a while for the dreamod to realize that the building wasn’t barren and lifeless as everything else on that damned world. After an hour of more uneventful walking Ather reached another door. That one didn’t require keys or special gestures or passwords to open. As soon as the dreamod approached it, the gate opened by itself. Beyond it a vast hall appeared. Ather stepped through the threshold.
The door shut itself as soon as the dreamod had cleared it. This huge room was covered in what appeared to be book cases, forming a makeshift maze. The floor was littered with paper and leaves. Ather looked above. The ceiling was dozens of meters high. The roof was shining bright light, illuminating the whole chamber. The walls above the book cases were covered in vegetation. Libraries had always fascinated Ather and that one had or certain magical quality to it. The dreamod took out his scanning device. According to it the plant life was genuine and 100% living and even thriving. The light from the ceiling registered as just light, but the source of it remained a mystery to the scanner. Ather wasn’t relying just on that device. He had seen something similar some time ago. Doubtless the light was of a distinctly magical origin. The dreamod scanned the rest of the hall. There were definitely signs of advanced technology everywhere in the room, but nothing to explain how that place had survived the change. The books in the book cases appeared to be ordinary, the advanced technology was beyond the understanding of the scanner. Such a combination of tech and magic was not something ordinary.
Nothing was openly hinting what was the connection between himself and this place. Ather grabbed a single book from a nearby shelf. The time was bonded in green cover and had no title. Upon opening the book, the dreamod discovered something that surprised him. The pages were hand written and the handwriting was unmistakably his own. He didn’t remember ever writing anything like that. It was formatted like a log book, detailing events that spanned for decades. Ather skimmed through. It catalogued the events that lead up to the changes. The tale was similar to his own experiences, but bizarrely littered with subtle differences. The dreamod put the book down and grabbed another, bond in red. Opening it revealed to be again a hand written account of Ather’s life up to this point. The dreamod opened a random page and read on.
Again, the just of the story was the same, only tiny details differed. The next half a dozen log books were too telling the same tale. Ather ran through the hall, picking books at random. Each and every one of the was telling this story, all finishing up just before the change.
There must’ve been thousands of tomes in that place, far more that any single person could’ve written, not for all the years the universe has had.
“Lies…” That’s what Ather concluded. Perhaps that was the work of his dear brothers, in the hopes they could lure him there and feed him this fiction. They were to have the last laugh, if the dreamod couldn’t find his way out. Ironic to be buried for the rest of his life in a place that recounted his past and denied his future.
Suddenly the scanner started beeping. Something was happening. Ather looked at the device. It was picking energy readings from a nearby book shelf. The dreamod hasted towards the reading. There, in front of a colorful collection of more of his tales stood a black metal cube. Ather tried to touch it, but it was hot. His scanner was having problems in identifying what was feeding it with energy. The only thing the dreamod was sure was that just few minutes ago it wasn’t. A logical assumption would’ve been that his presence had triggered that response. There was something compelling Ather to grab it, even though it would burn his hand. The dreamod’s hand slowly crept towards the cube. The heat was almost bearable, as the dreamod snatched his fingers around the object.
At first nothing happened, Ather stood awkwardly with his right hand stretched and holding the cube in a pose that suggested some sort of expectation. The dreamod didn’t realize what was going on at first. The process was very gradual and gentle. At the edge of his mind Ather started to recall things, things he was sure he couldn’t remember just moments ago.
Those memories told many tales – what was, what is, what is yet to be. Even the slow bubbling of recollections was starting to get overwhelming. While Ather was unable to fully experience each memory, there was a profound sense of sadness and regret to them… at first. That transformed into anguish, then into agony and madness in the end. Decades, centuries, millennia, epochs, spans of time beyond imagination were feeding directly into the dreamod’s head. Just as one lifetime ended a new began.
Ather was losing himself in these different lives, but it suddenly stopped. The cube turned to dust. The dreamod collapsed.
A gust of wind filled the room. A great bird had appeared and was flying high, just below the ceiling. The feathered creature gently swooped down and landed before Ather. The beast was slightly bigger than the dreamod. The man forced himself back to his feet. The bird’s eyes squinted. The dreamod took a slow step backwards and with a quick move he produced a small dagger in his hand. The creature gave a mighty roar but stayed its ground. Ather waved his weapon menacingly. Its blade was unlike any other; transparent, wild, ever changing.
“Ather…!” a booming voice filled the air. The dreamod clutched his dagger even harder. In his experience a talking bird wasn’t something good.
“I am.” Ather shouted back. The creature lowered its head towards the dreamod and spoke more gently. “You are at a new threshold, little man. Are you ready to give it another go?”
That puzzled the dreamod.
“Ready for what” Ather asked. He was still pointing the dagger towards the giant bird.
“You should now already, you’ve just consumed the cube, did you not?” the creature didn’t try to hide its annoyance. “I know that’s confusing, but this moment, here, now… It’s tiny slice in a very long cycle. We always meet here – you and I, you – confused, I – exasperated from countless eons of waiting. Do you even realize what I am…?”
There was something familiar in that voice.
“It cannot be…” Ather began but the bird finished, “It cannot be otherwise.”
“How? Time-travel?” asked the dreamod. There was a moment of silence, then the bird wrapped itself in its wings, in instant it grew smaller and another dreamod stood before Ather. The two men looked identical to the last wrinkle and hair.
“No, I got here the long way around. But my journey ends here.” The elder Ather spoke softly. “I have failed, that is why I am here. Pray that you find yourself a way out of this mess.”
“What is going on here?” asked the younger dreamod.
“You have all the answers that you need already,” his counterpart smiled, then produced a book similar to the all the others. “Be sure to fill in your experiences up until now.” The other man handed over the book, along with a bunch of pens. “If you fail it gets boring here. Now…”, the older Ather swallowed slowly. “It is time for me to go. Farewell!” With these last words the elder dreamod disintegrated painfully. In the same time the door in the other end of the room opened with a loud bang.
The dreamod opened the book on its first page, it was empty. Ather contemplated how to begin his story, but as he was scanning the room for an appropriate place to start writing a powerful realization flooded his mind. The dreamod threw the book and pens on the floor and prepared to transport away.
“She, she is the key…” he whispered. “Kelara…” Then Ather vanished.