When a world ends, there are often survivors.
Despite the scale and severity of the destruction that the death of a god can cause, a few generally escape unscathed thanks to sheer, callous luck.
Most die shortly thereafter, either in mourning or on the hellish march into the wastes.
A few live on past that point, thanks to the cruel hand of fate. It becomes their lot then to throw themselves upon the cold mercy of another hollow god-beast's passengers, in the hopes that they be welcomed into the fold.
Some people, for whatever reason, do not elect to prostrate themselves in the path of thousands of tons of rampaging stone.
Instead, they set off on their own path. They become the Walkers of the World Beyond.
Any castoff can become a Walker, though some are more likely than others.
The most likely candidate for the unlucky life of a Walker is a Watcher.
Watchers are the people most exposed to the outside world, spending the majority of their lives in the crags and tunnels of their god's rocky skin. In some communities they are treated like professional soldiers deserving of regular cycles between leave and active service. In others, they are considered a separate caste of people who should rarely, if ever, enter their god's Hollow.
Regardless of context, Watchers are always in possession of the best knowledge of the wastes around their god-beast. They know the paths, the limited resources, and the dangers- the many, many dangers. If a god falls and the Watchers avoid being crushed, or if some other upheaval leaves them without a home, they become the most able and perhaps even willing to brave the World Beyond.
Far less likely are the common folk: Hollow dwellers. The passengers who rarely if ever leave the placid confines of their god's empty mind are, overall, ill-equipped to handle the physical or psychological challenges of existence outside of what is both figuratively and literally their whole world.
This does not completely preclude them from survival in the wastes, of course. The incalculable widths and depths of a god's unconsciousness hosts many diverse dreamscapes and societies. If the powers that be in a particular koilos has deemed it fit, the Murmurers have helped sculp desolate landscapes which are not a terribly far cry from those of the World Beyond. And if the nation is a sharply stratified one, rest assured the least affluent and most persecuted groups will wind up in those parts. In this unlikely way, survivors are forged in the furnaces built by those who hold them in such contempt.
Rarest of all Walkers are individuals with some talent for the Murmur and the Hum.
Normally, this high sensitivity to the Hum directly leads to a Murmurer's death from the psychic backlash of of a god-beast's demise. Their deaths are often very loud, and very explosive, and can easily lead to chain reactions which cause even greater destruction. This can explain--though far from justify--a fraction of the bondage and scrutiny Murmurers are often held in.
Some survive the death of their god and vessel, and though most are killed either as consequence or out of fear of Dissonance, it is at least possible for a Murmurer to set out into the Wastes. To what end is unknown.
The only group who has essentially no chance of survival outside of one's koilos is one who was literally born of it. The practice is rare, and requires a highly skilled and controlled tradition of Murmuring, but mortal life can be harmonized into shape from the Hum of a god. These beings act like mundane humans in every way, and are often treated as equal persons- not that that is saying much, depending on the koilos. Some may be slaves, others kings. They can even reproduce after a fashion resembling that of humans, though their children are also concocted from the psychic energy of their originator.
The major difference is that when these Godborn die or leave home, they leave behind no bodies. They dissipate into their base elements on the spot and rejoin the koilos, accompanied by a vague and forlorn-sounding susurration.
When a god dies, every one of its godborn is simultaneously extinguished. Large populations of them can often lead to god deaths of truly explosive proportions, their shockwaves able to be felt across the wastes.
Anywhere but here.
Resources are excruciatingly scarce in the World Beyond. Where vegetation and potable do water exist, they are not likely to remain for very long. Life is like a fickle rodent, poking its head out of one of dozens of holes leading to its burrow. This can be an especially jarring discovery to anyone whose god-mind provided all sustenance, or even suspended its passengers' need for it.
Living outside of a koilos therefore calls either for ceaseless itinerancy, or impeccable conservation- oftentimes both. Fortunately, the world is utterly massive. There is always new and unknown land to venture into. Unfortunately, all of it is almost uniformly desolate with the same few pockets of solace amid deserts, crags, brackish seas, and stranger landscapes. Whatever ruined the World Beyond was truly massive--almost incomprehensible--in scope and intensity.
Perhaps the best path to follow, or at least one that is as good as any other, is one left by others. There are hints and suggestions across the world of former habitation, of the migration of foot-people. Sometimes a strange landmass sighted in the distance by Watchers is actually a shelter built by Walkers. More explicitly (and tragically), unfamiliar human corpses sometimes turn up in the wake of a koilos after it has rampaged over a hill or crag.
If the lucky ones are learned from, perhaps they might guide you somewhere. They might even lead you to a crossroads of wanderers, where words and goods are exchanged far more freely than between passengers. The hardest lesson for many new Walkers to learn is that the stranger from over the horizon might not be your enemy.
People tend to have purpose thrust upon them in this world. They may be psychic nourishers of the koilos, protectors of a god-beast, rulers or administrators, or Murmurers. Everyone fits- everyone is forced to fit. Those who don't, simply cease to be.
When a person who has spent so long as a vessel for their station in life finds themselves suddenly emptied of it, they tend not to react positively. Many of them crack, and few who do ever uncrack. But those who either keep themselves together, or cobble a semblance of themselves back together, often attack this new crisis with a vigor they never knew themselves to possess. They have to acquaint themselves with novel new forms of purpose, such as staying free of old bonds, or living for oneself for once. Freedom--true, awful freedom--often leads to profound changes in a person.
It can be as intoxicating as the certainty and security of a slowly grinding hierarchy.
Other, more grounding motivators also exist. One is highly unlikely to survive the World Beyond alone. Whether they are cemented by blood, suffering, or coincidence, families are a rare and precious resource that few are willing to part with once they get a taste.
More rarely, this familial bond extends further outward. It dulls a bit, intensity sacrificed in the interest of broad reach. But the communities it creates are unlike any that exist anywhere in any koilosphere. They grow to fulfill needs and strike a delicate balance between forces in a very direct and approachable fashion, unlike the distant hierarchies of home. Here, you won't be executicated--that is, excommunicated from the governing religious body in an overwhelmingly lethal manner--just for hashing out a disagreement with the spouse of one's neighbor, or similar banal acts.
Communities out on the wastes are never large- just a few dozen individuals pushing the envelop on how large a population can be sustainably scavenged for. But they offer the rarest and most vexing sensation in the world to those who struggle alongside them: hope. Hope for normalcy, hope for the land, hope for the future, or even just a vague and ill-defined infection of it.
Not all who wander are lost, but all those who stay behind absolutely are.
As brutal as the march into the wastes is, staying behind when a god dies is often far worse.
When a god dies, its mindscape quickly tears asunder and shunts the vast majority of its contents out onto the dead earth. That does not mean that they cease to be, however. Fragments of a god's psyche can and do persist long after it has died. They are no longer contained within a placid mind, and they tend to bleed out of the cracks in the dead beast's titanic corpse over the ensuing centuries. Godborn unlucky enough to die in the explosion can languish this way, starving and dwindling as they haunt the area like specters.
These fragments are often highly erratic in nature, able to influence nearby phenomena and people to devastating effect. They are like palpable waves of fever dream washing over the sand and rock. This unrestrained deific energy will pool wherever it can, and mortals have always been excellent vessels. The person does not need to have previously attuned to the god, nor do they need to demonstrate any sensitivity to the Hum at all. The dying echoes will fill in whatever it can until that is all that is left.
So it is that Resonance becomes Dissonance.
The most obvious evidence of a dissonant area is the way the land warps and changes. Sand twists around itself and rises up into glassy horns. Rock crumbles and grows spongy. The air dances around and loses all uniformity, with complete vacuums accompanying highly localized fog banks or storms.
Just as the land is altered, so too is the mind of anyone who dwells overlong in those places. Of course Dissonance doesn't turn anyone it pools within into a raving, violent lunatic. As evidenced by the wars between and within dogmatic passenger cultures, startling violence is and has always been the expertise of the terribly sane.
What it does, is greatly warp one's mindset into something that is not conventionally human. There is a reason most Murmurers are kept under such excruciatingly tight control by their communities- prolonged exposure creates quirks. Context, both for the self and the rest of the world, gets greatly shaken up by immersion in Dissonance. This alien worldview makes interfacing with more hidebound societies impossible, leading the latter to shun the former at large.
Not all see it as heresy or madness, however. Some, mostly the mobile Walkers, regard it merely as a byproduct of trying to stay put- a minor issue not of their concern, to be given little more than distant pity. Others, such as residents of the precious few permanent settlements that survive and even thrive in the wastes, see it as a form of enlightenment. Some go to great lengths, going on pilgrimage to seek out the graveyards of fallen gods where Dissonance is still strong.
What would happen if a talented Murmurer communed with such a location is not known.
|Hidden Grave by Kevin Hou|
Post a Comment