This is the first part of an introductory chapter for a novel. It’s mainly world building – I’m not sure what form the final product will take, but this is my way of wrapping my head around what this universe looks like, how it works, and what drives the main character.
The city slept beneath the noonday sun; its streets empty, its towers pristine.
Here laid man’s potential, once realized and now forgotten. The city stood unmarred for thousands of years, host only to the memory of those who once dwelt in it. Its stones, bricks, glass and steel spurned the hand of time, enduring while all else decayed.
There was no motion within the buildings, no lights, no signs of anything or anyone lurking in its depths or watching from its heights. It waited… For what?
The young interloper, awed that his hand left no print upon the cold, gleaming metal.
The prince bore no respect for sacred ground. Rather, reverence and curiosity carried him where rules barred his path. This place was only to be entered during the seasonal feasts when the bounty of the land was shared with gods said to hide between worlds.
Outside its boundaries, food sprang from every inch of the ground. No one toiled. No one struggled to house and clothe themselves. Thunder and rain were myths nestled in tales of hardship long, long ago. The sun and stars shone through sparse clouds of perfect white. Not a snowflake fell from the sky.
But Eden came at a terrible price. The gods were ripped from man’s world, and man lost knowledge of his own wonders.
The gods sacrificed their flesh to save man from his folly, so the stories went. They lingered as spirits, unseen guides that would one day restore what was lost.
The nations offered food in gratitude. At the turn of the seasons, they gathered as much as their carts could carry and scattered their bounty across every street, staircase and alleyway while their holy men danced in tribute to their invisible guests. They built fires as large as houses within the central square, the thick smoke pillars paling in comparison to the structures around them.
They feasted to exhaustion, and once one man was encumbered by sleep, everyone else followed. The next day there would be no trace of anything upon the ground. Even the ashes from the fires were absent, as though they never burned. Only living flesh and the fibers that concealed it remained.
“The gods have accepted our offering! Our prosperity endures.” The holy men declared in unison before the nations parted.
But these were stories, thought the boy. However fervently the adults preached, the gods would not return, and had never dwelt in the realms of men. Whatever made Eden, whatever feasted on their offerings, it wasn’t spirits. Wouldn’t they, being so powerful, find some way to show themselves? Would they not speak when the crowds gathered, that there might be no confusion what they’ve said or willed?
No – it was man who made this world, and man who ripped his creations from his own hands. It was man who would restore them. It was man who would shine like the gods of old. That’s what
He was met with wary smiles. None dared accuse a prince of heresy.Not that they took him seriously. How could man forge towers that gleamed but didn’t reflect the boy’s face? Streets that paved themselves, or food that sprung of its own will?
No prince, however arrogant, dared dream he held the answer.
But the truth, whatever it was, was not in sermons or scriptures. He could feel it in his bones, solid as stone. Gods may have walked with men once, and there might be truths in those old fables for the children – which, at 11 years, he no longer counted himself among them – but to pine for salvation from something unseen baffled him.
“Father, why do they dance?”
He’d attended the ceremony for the first time that spring. His father looked kindly upon him, and knelt beside his son. He spoke quietly, almost a whisper; not for fear of being heard, but because the king was a man who spoke through his presence and his stature. He approached even the lowliest of men with common respect, and those who stirred wrath did not receive shouts and threats but abrupt and unexpected justice.
“They’re grateful. I know you have not felt the gods, but I want you to understand” the king pointed to a high priest who shouted ancient words, words whose meaning had been forgotten but could still be felt in the vibrations of his voice “it’s for them as much as the gods. The gods care not one whit whether you believe or you don’t; they give out of love, and we make offerings to them – out of love. That love changes us – it changes those people, performing the dance, speaking those words.”
The prince cocked his head, skepticism shining in his eyes.
The king chuckled. “Aderes, you are hard-headed.” The king knocked gently on the top of the boy’s skull. “It’s not for you to understand yet. You will, in time. Someday you’ll stand where I’m standing, and whether the gods have revealed themselves to you or you believe them mere fables, you’ll know why those men dance.”
Aderes looked over the crowd, his thoughts drowned out by pounding drum beats. “It looks like a waste of time to me. Why do they only come here for this? How come no one has gotten into these buildings, or climbed to the top of those towers? Why aren’t we trying to do that instead?”
The king draped his arm loosely around the boy’s shoulders. “We’re doing what we can. If there’s secrets to be found here, this place refuses to give them up. You know the stories – battering rams broken against thin doors more resilient than the thickest iron gates our ancestors forged.”
The boy opened his mouth but the king raised his hand to signal that he shouldn’t interrupt. Aderes obeyed. “It was a long time ago, yes. Maybe we would find a way? There’s no end to the what-ifs, my boy. You’re not the first to ask those questions I see bouncing behind your eyes.”
Bardrick stood, firmly gripping his son’s right shoulder while he surveyed the crowds and took in the scent of smoke rising from the fires. “All will be known, or is known. If not by us, then by the gods. Marvels cannot stay buried forever, but remember this – they must remain marvels. Do you see how they dance? Enraptured by their passions, but focused solely on their ritual?”
Aderes did. He didn’t understand his father’s words, but he nodded.
“People need a sense of awe. Don’t think that trite; some small quibble you can easily throw away.” He lowered his voice but spoke louder, staring into his son’s eyes – his words carried the weight of scripture. “You cannot rule a people who hold nothing sacred. No one can.”