After the thunder rolled and a symbol flashed, briefly incandescent, a robe appeared, hanging in near darkness. A limp wisp of milky grey, at first, it billowed and whitened, filling itself out. Again the rumble, the arcane figure, and another robe hung near the first, straightened and darkened to purple. Its folds twisted about itself like a morning glory waiting for dawn. Then a third time the noise and passing shape. Both robes seemed to turn toward a third, fluttering itself into solid brownness.
There was a pause. Silence, for a space. The white robe drifted with a look of purpose. The brown robe fluttered, unconcerned. Purple never moved, waiting. The thunder came again, three times, and three times, again, signs hung in the air.
After, the white robe glittered with gold and moved itself proudly, admiring. The gold dangled in a clinking line from cuffs and cowl and burst in embroidered whorls down its front and around its hem. After, the purple robe pulsed with silken red and uncoiled itself, examining. The red writhed silently, twisting across shoulders and down sleeves, with embroidered symbols and signs that marched along the hem in hieroglyphic order.
After, the brown robe rippled with light blue and displayed itself openly, amazed. The blue danced in waterform appliqué that covered it in turbulent whorls and waves until only the hem and cuffs were untouched brown.
Again the pause. Again the pause ended. Now silver light, in the shape of two eyes, radiated from the white and brown hoods, a curious gleam. The white robe, erect, jingled its trim in dignified perplexity. The brown robe fidgeted in absent puzzlement. Both turned to examine the purple robe, in whose cowl two steady brown glows could barely be seen.
“I am I and you are you,” said White in a hearty voice.”
“Do you think the thunder will come again?” asked Brown in a dulcet voice.
“Be silent and watch,” whispered Purple in a voice that came from everywhere and nowhere. “Remember the shapes if you can.”
And the shapes did come, after the sounds. Purple’s sleeves moved, picking out embroidered shapes to match. “We are being created,” the whisper said. “What is different, now?”
“I thought of my home,” said White, “but I know that I had it before now. It’s just that it didn’t seem so important before. What are you thinking, Purple?”
“I thought of success; thought of using these symbols to give myself power. It will take much study and planning . . . Brown?”
“What? Oh! I was thinking of the pattern of my robe and how it fits me so well. I’m sure the symbols make a fitting pattern, too. Or they make a pattern and we fit ourselves to it.”
“Fit ourselves to the pattern?” laughed White.
“Exactly!” hissed Purple. “Watch again.”
Again Purple could pick out the symbols. Two matched one of the last set.
“What is different?” demanded Purple.
“The garden in my courtyard is more orderly,” said White. “The pool is rectangular rather than round. The soft piles of pillows for sitting are now covered with pastel silk, and my self-playing harp is now carves with a stylized leaf motif. I hope you learn much from this. How has your live changed?”
“My house in the clouds,” said Purple, “now has several galleries of art to match the galleries of oddities and curiosities.”
“In the clouds, you say?” Brown was delighted.
“Yes. I am difficult to reach.”
“I’m not. I have rooms in a city. The tapestries don’t match as well, now, but I love them all more. They’re less harmonious to the eye, but their patterns have meanings that make them quite harmonious to the mind, if one ponders them. The windows are still wide and bare and the fireplace is still large. I think . . . I think I invite a wider variety of people over. Is this helpful?”
“Perhaps,” said Purple. “Watch again.”
This time no symbol repeated from the time before, though more than one were familiar. From the sleeves of each robe sprouted hands. White’s hands brushed the gold embroidery down its front, then toyed with the jingly fringe at its neck.
“I believe,” it said, “that there is great drive in these hands, but that this drive is divided. I will have to watch myself carefully, for I am destined to do great things and I must not allow myself to fail due to divided energy and attention.”
“My hands are restless,” said Brown. “They seem to have a life all their own. I’m not sure what to do with them. You, Purple?”
“My hands wish to build myself safety. They wish to grasp and hold tightly. I believe, yes, I can write in the air with them. I will make notes.”
All of the symbols had been seen before. The first two of them were the same.
“Orderliness is the key,” said White. “A generous orderliness makes life safe, and makes it worth living, safe or not.”
“Orderliness is the key,” said Purple, “but secrecy is often wise.”
“I don’t know that orderliness will do any good,” said Brown. “The Universe is an untidy place. Get too orderly and you can’t see any point of view buy your own.”
“So this glyph is order,” whispered Purple, tightly, “and the first glyph changes White, the second me, and the third you, Brown, in each cycle. And,” tighter still, “we are being manipulated.”
“No need to be angry,” soothed Brown, fluttering. “Orderliness in outlook can be an advantage.”
“It is orderliness imposed. It may undo me.”
“Only if you let yourself be trapped by it,” the liquid voice cajoled. “Only if you refuse to let yourself see beyond it. I can’t imagine you allowing that to happen. It wouldn’t be like you.”
Purple relaxed. Its hem swayed a bit, for the first time. “Perhaps.”
“The silence is long now,” boomed White. “The creation is finished.”
“Perhaps,” said Purple.
Brown lifted its hands and turned and turned and turned again, in a ripple of drapery. “If I were orderly,” it said, “I would say that since the creation began at one time, it would have to finish at another.”
“But you are not orderly, Brown,” laughed White, “so you must say something else.”
“Brown is not orderly, White,” whispered Purple, “so he is saying something else.”
“Yes, you are implying . . . “
“No, no, no!” hurried Brown, hands flapping to erase the misconception. “I mean am I a ‘he’? Are any of us?”
“It is standard,” the whisper came, “to refer to living beings of unknown gender as ‘he’.”
“But Brown is not standard.” A chuckle.
The brown and blue ripples swayed and bobble. “I believe it is standard to refer to robes as ‘it’. And I believe that, should another symbol create me female, it would feel better to go from ‘it’ to female than male to female. More like gaining something than having something taken away.”
“Nothing will have been taken away.” Purple was testy. “You are not a ‘he’ in fact. You would lose only the word, a mere sound.”
“I would lose the word, an idea. A concept. A concept is never mere, especially a self-concept.”
“Referring to oneself as ‘it’ implies that one is less than living.”
“Referring to myself as ‘he’ implies that I am something more than what I am. If I refer to myself as ‘it’, however, then I am more than what I imply, rather than less. I prefer that.”
“I believe Brown is right,” said White. “You prove it.”
“You call words mere, but refuse to call yourself ‘it’,
“You call words ‘mere’ but refuse to call yourself ‘it’, as if the word could take away your livingness. If a word can remove livingness, then a word can remove maleness, too, or can imply that maleness has been removed.”
“I am a proud being,” he continued. “I have been pleased with each added step of my creation. I wish this to continue. The addition of my sex, when it occurs, will be a solid step forward, not a step-back-then-step-forward and not a filling in of a previous pretense. ‘Til then, I am ‘it’ - - a living ‘it’, White pronounced.
“The addition of your sex if it occurs,” hissed Purple. “If our creators deign to add it. Do not assume, White.”
“The silence is different, now” said Brown. “Something is gathering.”
“The silence is certainly longer,” said White. “Perhaps we should begin some activity to pass the time.”
But again the thunder came, and this time it stayed, rumbling on and on as signs flashed, now here, now there.
“What is different?” the hiss.
“I feel . . . I feel that I am the same,” said Brown. “But I feel as if I am doing . . . I know it is not, but it feels as if I am. It feels as if I’m exerting myself mightily.”
“I also,” said White. “I would have said that nothing had happened, Brown, but now that you describe it, I must say that I, too, have this feeling. I recognize it from your description. You, Purple?”
“No, nothing. There is only a waiting and a . . . “ Purple gasped. “I am hurt!” The thunder rolled. “I am injured!”
“I must aid you!” said Brown; then, puzzled, unmoving. “I am aiding you.”
“I must protect you!” said White; then puzzled, circling, “I am protecting you. I am keeping them back. It is tiring. I do not see them or know who they are, but I am fighting them and it tires me.”
“It feels . . . “ said Brown, “as if I am healing you. Is that true?”
“It feels . . . yes. Yes, you are. Oh, alarm. Alarm!”
“Aargh! I am down.”
“White! I am coming.”
“No, down,” said Purple, and three of the red symbols upon its hem glowed.
“They are gone,” said White. “I can feel it.”
“I am coming to heal you,” said Brown, unmoving. “I do not understand this. The symbols come and we are controlled. And yet we are forced to do nothing. And the pattern of the symbols seems to be no pattern at all. Some of them are without effect.”
“Perhaps they control the others,” said Purple, “the ones we don’t see – the ones we fight and who fight us. I feel myself busy, but I do not know what I do an I am doing nothing. Can you guess what I am busy at?”
“No,” said White, “but it is important and I am anxious about it. While I am healed, I am not healed completely. This may mean that Brown’s healing is used up. I fear further injuries will be permanent. Yes. We must leave soon but not before you are finished.”
“Yes,” said Brown, “my healing is used up and we must wait for Purple. Purple does what we came here to do. What we came there to do, though we are here and not there. There may be others to fight if we are not gone soon. Curious.”
“Curious,” said Purple. “I have it. Thought what it is is unknown to me. It is heavy and we must hurry.”
“I also bear a load,” said White. “My portion is heaviest.”
“I also carry,” said Brown, “and we are leaving, hurrying to go.”
Purple by now had columns and columns of symbols glowing in the air about it. During the leaving only White, and sometimes Brown, fought from time to time. So Purple was not distracted from study, watching the symbols and listening to their tales.
Soon White declared, “We are in a safer place. We are still traveling, but we are safer, now.”
“Have you learned the symbols, yet?” asked Brown.
“Some of them, I believe. These in this column here seem to be symbols of amount. I have arranged them from lesser to greater. Often a pair of these symbols will appear. One will be nearer to you. If you feel yourself to be striking and the one nearer is the greater, then the next symbol to appear will not harm you, though the what-you-are-fighting may disappear. If the nearer is the lesser, while you fight, nothing else occurs and the fight continues.
If the pair appears while you do not feel yourself to be striking and the nearer is lesser, you will be injured when the next symbol appears. The severity of the injury will be greater as the amount is greater. If the nearer is the greater while you are not striking, nothing occurs and the fight continues.
I surmise from this that there are others; that the amount symbols describe or control a conflict, blow by blow; that we win or lose, suffer injury or inflict it, according to the symbols.”
“Yes, Brown. There is no way to be sure. It may just be the symbols we fight. But the pattern of the symbols imply ‘others’, imply that they are caused to injure us or to be injured by us even as we are forced to injure or be injured.”
“Inflicting injury . . . injuring others, others we can’t see and have to wish to harm. It’s monstrous.”
“Or necessary,” said White. “We do not know enough to know that this is not necessary. The sense of purpose I feel is strong.”
“It is not our purpose,” whispered Purple. “Remember that.”
“I feel an ending,” said Brown. “But something is beginning to happen.
Something did happen. With the familiar jarring growl, symbol after symbol flitted and faded in the air. Then other things began to appear: a sword and pouch near White, a dagger and small wooden chest near Purple, a metal-tipped pole and pouch near Brown. These things were examined.
“This is called gold,” said White, “and I have earned it. Earned it and the sword. We gave what we found to someone and kept or were given this.”
“This in the chest is called silver,” said Purple.
There was a further event, after which symbols appeared above each robe, symbols that followed them as they moved.
“These are amount symbols,” said Purple.
“It is another thing we earned,” said Brown, “when we fought. For each defeated foe the amount increased. Are they real, do you think? Do they think that we are real? Are you still injured, White?”
“No. Not now.”
“Oh, good. Perhaps the others are not, either. Do you think this will continue? I dread it.”
It did continue, at intervals, after that. The numerals crowning them grew larger and larger. The objects that had appeared were joined by others. There were pieces of armor and weapons, gold and silver, gems and jewelry, books and magical items. Though White and Purple and Brown could touch the objects, there seemed no point to it. Though White and Purple and Brown remembered their homes, they never saw them. Everything around them was featureless except for the objects, and for the symbols, of course.
Purple had sorted and resorted the symbols, had guessed at their purpose. But the symbols from the very beginning never came again. Purple was restless.
Brown was resigned. With each event Brown was quieter and quieter. White was proud. With each event he became more voluble. On the assumption that Purple needed to know, to explore the meaning of the symbols, White related every scrap of his knowing, sometimes in the form of reminiscence, long after.
Then came the time when the symbols above them, the ones that White considered their accomplishment, lessened.
“What is this?” shouted White. “I am not less, I am more. I feel it.”
“Hush,” hissed Purple. “This is new. Attend.”
Other symbols were added above the others. Different symbols. Next to White appeared a hammer. Next to Purple appeared a dagger. Next to Brown appeared a crystal orb. It ended.
“This is the Hammer of Exact Cleaving,” said White. “It is a fine prize, a fit prize for my accomplishment.”
“This is the Dagger of Marking,” said Purple. “It is powerful. I must consider how to use it.”
“This is the Eye of All-Seeing,” said Brown. “It is powerful. I fear to use it.”
Purple handled the Dagger, considering. Then it used the Dagger to mark a ‘coin’, one of the flat, blank things from the chest. Now one side of the coin was a roundness, the other a roundness with a line on it. Purple handed the marked disk to White.
“I have decided to use a symbol of my own. Since you always go first, White, you may use it first.”
“Use it? How shall I use it?”
“Toss the coin.”
Some small time passed. White stroked his golden fringe importantly and puffed out its chest. It turned the coin over and over, examining “What is it meant to do?”
“Whatever it does. It is the simplest mark I could think of.”
White tossed the coin. It spun in the air before it, then came to a rest in mid-air with the mark facing toward it. There was a shivering of the robe and a shimmering in the cowl as a face appeared at one end and feet appeared at the other of White, who had been a robe. White touched himself firmly, clapping his hands to his chest and arms and belly as he looked down at himself from a pale face half covered with a golden beard.
“I am HE!” he said, and pulled back his hood to discover long golden hair and a squarish jaw.
“Your eyes are grey, now.” Brown was interested. “Oh, you next, Purple!”
Purple spun the coin, which ended by facing her, unmarked. She was brown, very dark, with black, braided hair and dark brown eyes. She was taller than White, and slimmer, and her face was very round.
Brown was eager, now. And soon he was plumb and brown, though lighter than Purple, with short, brown hair and grey eyes. He was shortest and least gainly, yet he danced and danced and lifted up his robe to watch his legs go, humming blissfully.
“Wonderful, wonderful Purple. Your symbol worked and this is wonderful.”
“Look into the Eye, now, Brown.” The whisper was the same.
Brown stopped. “I am afraid,” he said. “I know what I must look for first and I fear what I may find.”
“You must look. We have a beginning of control, now. We must learn more before we attempt more.”
But the Eye was blank. The Eye remained blank. As Purple gripped her Dagger tightly, Brown looked and looked and saw nothing. Purple floated upward in rage, but did not float far. It was unsettling to be too far from the only things that could be seen.
It was not until the next event that the Eye began to work. Through the Eye, Brown could see the battle and grieve. The grief went deep. “I do not know if I grieve for the beings we injure and slay, or for the world I see, yet cannot reach.”
“You may grieve for either,” said White, clapping him on the shoulder and leaning in for a better view. “Or for both. Though we still do not know if these things are real.”
“How can you say that?”
“It is possible.” Purple cupped her hands around Brown’s. “If this world and these creatures cannot be seen in the Eye except during our ‘battles’, they are perhaps not real. We exist continuously, whether there is a battle or not.”
Brown continued to watch. “I find I hope that the world is real and the beings are not. Oh, but I hope that they are and that I can meet them, but I hope we do no injury, though I see them injured and slain.”
“We have been injured, too, Brown.” White was reassuring. “The injuries never last beyond the battle. They return in the next battle, but lessened.”
“Try to look beyond the battle,” Purple suggested. “Look for what controls the battle.”
With that the Eye turned strange. It showed a blur of spinning, many-sided coins or gems with symbols on each side. Purple caught her breath: an excited gasp. She clutched the Dagger out of the air beside her and pressed it to her forehead, eyes closed. She paid no attention at all to the rest of the battle. White and Brown watched avidly, thirsting in the images.
After the image faded, they looked up, reluctantly.
“Look again,” Purple’s voice was a warm murmur, “for what controls the battle.”
Brown looked. “The image is too murky to understand, and it is fading.”
“I know what must be done next.”
There was a pause. Silence for a space. White drifted with a look of longing. Brown fluttered, agitated. Purple never moved, waiting.
“It is risk, next. And for Brown, sacrifice – perhaps useless sacrifice.”
“The Eye of All-Seeing must be sacrificed. White must cleave it.”
Brown cradled the Eye against his breast, a circular form among circular forms. White patter his shoulder: consolation and support. He turned to Purple.
“What can we hope to gain from such a sacrifice?”
“Freedom. Control. Power, perhaps. Perhaps a world, a world such at the one we watch through the Eye.”
Wistfulness claimed two pair of silver-grey eyes. Slowly Brown held the Eye forth, searching within it, perhaps for an answer. Slowly White rubbed Brown’s shoulder, watching the search, watching the search fail.
“White must cleave away the roundness of the Eye. He must strike with the Hammer of Exact Cleaving twelve times to leave twelve facets, twelve faces, on the Eye. There are twelve sigils that have not been used in our battles, have not been used since our creating. I will scribe these sigils upon the Eye with my Dagger, then we will toss the Eye and see what is created.”
There was a pause. Silence for a space. White and Brown searched within Purple’s eyes, perhaps for an answer. Again, the search failed. Purple never moved, still waiting, sure.
“I am afraid,” said Brown. “I am afraid to lose what I have, what I am, with this risk.”
“I also have reservations,” said White. “We could be created into three separate worlds. I have grown used to your companionship, your support. We could also create monsters here, in this empty space: monsters we must fight in actuality rather than as a duel of symbols.”
“Hypothesis:” said Purple, “in absence of facts, we must guess. Hypothesis: when we tossed the coin, we answered the question foremost in our minds, filled the lack we most deeply felt.
Hypothesis: this will happen again. Hypothesis: when we tossed the coin separately, we obtained separate answers, separate outcomes for which, I may add, I am grateful. Hypothesis: if we tossed the Eye together, facing it from one side, together, we will obtain a single outcome, a shared outcome.”
“Perhaps,” said Brown, “It is necessary to think of the question, the purpose of the toss.”
“Stating the purpose aloud,” said White, gaining confidence, “would be best – most definite.”
There is no way to prove or refute my guess without sacrificing the Eye. You may take as much time as you like to consider the risk, the possibility of loss. But I will not forget this. This is what must be done next. I will wait. Each time you look at me, you will know that I am waiting.”
There was a pause. For a space, again, silence. White and Brown did many things. Battles began and battles ended and White and Brown watched them through the precious, threatened Eye. Symbols appeared and disappeared to fading thunder and occasionally the Eye would show the symbols, spinning in a hazy blur. Then White and Brown would look at Purple, would search in her eyes. But her eyes were more empty than the Eye between battles. Purple never moved, still waiting.
After one battle, many new objects appeared – appeared and were meaningless. Brown handed the Eye silently to White. White studied the Eye. Studied the roundness of it and the vulnerability. Through two battles, he studied it. Then he began to study how the faces might be placed. Through two more battles he studied, as silent, almost, as Purple.
The Eye rant with bell tones as the Hammer Cleaved Exactly to create the twelve faces of its surface. Brown collected the fallen shards, finding a pocket in himself – no, in his robe – for them. White handed the Eye, silently, to Purple. Purple took the Dagger and began Marking. The Marking seemed to take no time at all.
Purple, smiling, handed the Eye to Brown. She stood behind him, to the left, and placed her hand on his shoulder. White stood behind also, to the right, placing his hand opposite hers.
“Speak for all of us, Brown,” said White.
Brown studied the marked and cloven Eye. He lifted it before him. “We seek a world,” he said, “the three of us, together . . a living world, ongoing and continuous.”
“A living world where are homes are,” prompted Purple, her voice low with disuse.
“ . . . a living, continuous world containing our homes and other living beings,” finished Brown. He tossed the Eye.
They watched it spin in the air before them. It slowed only slowly, as if aware of its own importance, of the significance of this one, wild act. Gradually, it slowed to a stop.
“A waterform!” Brown clapped his hands, delighted. “A wonderful omen for me!”
There was a pause. Silence, for a space. Then the Eye dropped to the ground.
“Oh, my!” said White. “That is new.”
A further pause. And then the world changed, becoming.
“Ah!” said Purple, satisfied.