By Midnight Orchid 0 Comments
These are the stories of the Man-Made Gods as told during the KOV tournament. This may not be a complete collection, and some of that which is contained may be apocryphal.
In the beginning, the gods of nature planted the seed of a world on a sphere of fallow rock. They watered it with darkness, and grew it with light. Eventually the seed sprouted, and the crop could be reaped: Life. It grew plentiful, for the nature gods knew their trade well. Was it their fault that there was a fungus on the seed? It sunk its roots into the world, entwined them with the life force that ran throughout. The spreading corruption expressed itself as Man. Man laughed in the faces of the nature gods. Man would watch them wilt away, and create NEW gods: Gods of metal and fire, gods of destruction and mutation. And among these new gods the one that held the strongest sway on the human mind was Entertainment. Tyrant Entertainment led hordes into wars, or drained away minds on trivial performances. And Entertainment’s crowning glory, its eternal shrine, was the great Coliseum of Rome.
In days of old, the heavens were Utopias. Places of ecstasy without depravity. The Natural Gods ruled here, looking down upon the Earth and those that dwelt there. In these days, the upper realms were different. Spheres of quintessence remained unchanging, suspended in the ether. Man looked up and wondered…but alas, he was Earthbound and could only dream of one day residing in the realm of Natural Gods. It was not to be. That which Man could not have he would reshape in his own image. First, Man corrupted the very nature of the heavens. Mathematical equations ate away at the impossible ether. The Song of the Spheres was cut off mid note, as they became insensible balls of rock and gas. The Natural Gods cowered as their domain shrank…Man was the prodigal child, the unstoppable force of destruction. The final blow was dealt on July 16, 1969, when Man laid claim to the gateway of the Natural Gods’ world. The Man-Made Gods swarmed forth from the battleship, driving the Natural Gods way to the prison of the Dark Spheres…a place below space itself. Now the Man-Made Gods watch over us, and you, little one, are their champion. Do not fear the dark places. Awake now, for your next challenge waits. The Man-Made Gods watch eagerly, it would not do to disappoint…
Let me tell you a story, one of betrayal and revenge. It is an old tale, one known by very few in these days. It is a tale of when the gods walked the Earth in mortal forms, subject to the lusts and losses of those they resided amongst. At this time, there were still many, many gods, more than one for each aspect of their clockwork world. Most of them got along with their counterparts: Insanity and Madness. Destruction and Ruin. War and Slaughter. Yet there were two who constantly quibbled: Machine and Automaton, both presiding over mechanical life. Machine believed in the creation of a better world through a Utopian society; robot slaves and human savants. Automaton believed in beauty of Dystopia, gears slowly stopping as all fell into disrepair. And so the two seemed ready to eternally sabotage each other, Automaton destroying Machine’s works, and Machine repairing Automaton’s. Now, this eventually came to the attention of the higher gods. Half sided with Machine, and half with Automaton. Machine though, disagreed with them all. None shared in his picture of the Utopia…not as he pictured it anyway. They imagined worlds of metal feeding off flesh, and when all was artificial, then was the rise of the Dystopia. Glory and knowledge were only means to a decrepit end. So Machine left the city of the Gods, and voyaged out, disgusted with his fellows. But to fill the void left by him, a new God was born…Rust, He Who Devoured. But Rust could not ascend to full godhood until his predecessor was destroyed. In the early morning, dew glistening on wilted grass, Rust caught up with Machine. Machine did not die, no…but the cancer had been planted in him, and it would only be so long before he was one of Automaton’s frozen Dystopian structures.
Later, as a reward for his insight into the nature of true beauty, Automaton was granted a great gift…he was given a son. This son’s name…was Dystopia.
This is the ancient story, as it was told to me by the LED-eyed automatons that toil away for a better tomorrow. And now I have passed it on to you.
Long, long ago, when the Man-Made Gods still resided deep within the Earth, sleeping within the dull ores, Man decided he wanted to reach the heavens and live with the Natural Gods. When prayer alone would not suffice, Man decided that this was a task given him by the Natural Gods, and he would be welcomed if he only obtained heaven on his own. So Man set to work on a tower, deforesting vast areas in his quest for materials. Of wood it was…and metal. On the 6.02*10 day (for time was fluid then, and the problem of aging had not yet creased the brow of Man) the tower was completed. Man eagerly scaled it, blessing the metal for its smoothness…for the wood splintered under his hands. For many months he climbed, sustained by the Western winds, until at last he reached the domain of the Natural Gods. They looked down at him in anger. “Look what you have done in your quest to invade our sanctum. The land is barren, and the clouds are defiled.” Man looked down, only now noticing the swathes of arid land where he had dug desperately for precious metal. Then he looked to the clouds, tinged gray with the smog of his forging. Yet he was still defiant, “I prayed, and when you did not answer I took it as a challenge. I have braved the cold winds that would push me from the sky, and I have fought the dark animals that would tear out my throat in protection of their dank forest homes. Embrace me, for I have risen above it all and become more than I am. Embrace me, or I will throw you down to Earth” Angered by Man’s insolence, the Natural Gods threw him down. Man lay broken and beaten, his tower destroyed as a lesson to him. For 6.02*10 days he lay, nursed back to health by those he had brought into existence…the Man-Made Gods had risen, woken by the burnt offering of smelting iron. When Man awoke, he had no memory of his climb, no memory that he had ever touched the heavens. The next time Man would touch the sky would be during the Man-Made Gods’ coup d’état, when they displaced the Natural Gods from the heavens. But this tale has already been told.
Ring around the refinery
Pockets full of artillery
Ashes, Ashes, we all fall down
Hush little Siren, don’t say a word
Man-Made Gods gonna build you a brand-new world.”
Accalia began to shiver violently, her cheeks bright with fever.
“And if that brand-new world don’t turn,
Man-Made Gods will make sure it burns.”
Accalia grew rigid, as if her joints were swollen. The buboes were growing, and had turned a toxic black.
“And if that burn just isn’t bright,
Man-Made Gods will bring the Blight.”
With a final choking exhalation, Accalia grew still, her face a mask of pain and betrayal.
“And if the blight don’t kill
The Man-Made Gods’ blessing surely will
Hickory Dickory Dock,
The rat ran up the clock.
The clock struck one,
Death was outrun,
Hickory Dickory Dock.
Hickory Dickory Dock,
The rat sits on the clock.
The clock struck two,
Her last word, ‘adieu’
Hickory Dickory Dock.
Hickory Dickory Dock,
The hands fell off the clock.
Plague bells ring three
“Bring out the dead to bury”
Hickory Dickory Dock
Hickory Dickory Dock
The ringing never stops
The streets are dead
Smeared black and red
Hickory Dickory Dock
Rock-a-bye baby on the rooftop
When the world burns the foundations will drop
When the slate quakes the baby will fall
And down will come Dystopia, the Apocalypse at his beck and call
Lo, Toilers of the Earth! Drop your hoes; let your livestock roam free! Let your seeds rot away, forgotten. Pick up your drills, don your caps. For I have made a discovery that will turn our world upside down. Within the Earth lie riches beyond imagining; gold, gems, ores ripe for smelting! Down below is the true domain of the gods! Journey with me to the center of the Earth, where we shall reside forevermore! Our path will be lit by the glowing of a thousand uranium lamps, and we need never want again…for the ancients could not have been more wrong! Below is heaven, not hell. Who would want to attain the barren stars?--–Jules Krupp, patron saint of those that are buried alive. Considered one of the first Speakers for the Man-Made gods.
And of ye Man-Made Gods, none is Stranger than he who is knowne as Dystopia. Though they were most talkative, providing me with plentifulle anecdotes of their Glory, and things Yet to Be, ye other Gods were highly Reticent when it came to discussion of Dystopia. He is apparently an Abnormality amonge them, possessing more than one Name. Names are very importante to ye Man-Made Gods, as each is an aspecte of an unknowne Greater Whole. Yet Dystopia is often knowne as Entropy, or occasionally Dissolution. He is a being of Endings, of the winding downe into Chaos. It is saide that He will be laste to walk ye Earth, long after alle has gone to Rust. It is also saide that alle goes to Rust only because it is the Will of Dystopia. It is of note that while I discussed Dystopia with ye other Gods, my watch, a trusty Relic from my grandfather’s day, stopped and coulde not be restarted. —An excerpt from ‘A Briefe History of ye Man-Made Gods’, written by the mad scribe known only as Fe. (Circa 1750)
[The old radio crackles into life, projecting the announcer’s voice into an empty room. The dial rests between stations, where until now only static broadcasted day and night.] Behold the rusted sands of Mars! Named for the Greek god of War, for centuries Mars has fascinated astronomers and stargazers alike. While Earth’s rouged twin may appear barren and dead, recent scientific evidence points to an ancient civilization that once thrived here, a society well more advanced than our own. Studies suggest that Mars resembled Venice in many ways, relying on a series of planetary canals to transport goods and civilians. The evaporation of these canals is believed to be what made Mars the barren wasteland it is today. [The hearty tones of the announcer crack, as if he had bronchitis.] Two gods were worshipped on Mars: the God of Rust and the Goddess of Water, Dsltzky and Aiaina. The red fertile sands supposedly represented their union. [The transmission quality worsens, and now the voice that comes through the meshed speakers is one on the brink of death, the voice of one dying of dehydration.] In the end, Dsltzky consumed, destroyed, or drove away Aiaina, and rust crept over the planet like some foul fungus. It is believed that under a new name Dsltzky came to Earth. If anyone is listening, anyone at all, burn your cities, drive hot irons into your brains, but do not fall under Dsltzky Dystopia’s spell-- [The transmission ends abruptly, and static fills the empty room. It is 1969, and boot prints lace the surface of the moon with fine threads of rust.]
Turning and turning in the narrowing gyre
Twin moons know not that their father is dead;
Things come together, the center will take hold
Dystopia and Atrophy are loosed upon the world,
The desert dunes creep forth, and everywhere
The illusion of destiny’s blind eye is boiled away;
The best die young, while the worst
Roam wild in the concrete jungles of nightmare.
Surely entropic death is at hand;
Surely the rise of the Clockwork is at hand.
Clockwork! Hardly is the word out when
The gaze of yonder cuckoo clock seems to
Bore malevolently: A harbinger of things to come;
See cogs and gears in fearsome shape of man,
Gaze cold and bleak as the space between stars,
Moves keeping slow time to
The metronome of dying bird-song
The darkness comes again but now I know
That untold centuries of boiling sleep
Were vexed to madness by a ticking time bomb,
And what strange gods, their hour come at last
March to Xanadu waiting to be crafted?
[He saw the shapes in his dreams, and took them for manifestations of the Second Coming. How could Yeats have known what he beheld was something far worse?]
The Sündestadt Cycle
Once, long ago, there was a village called Sündestadt. The people were lazy and shiftless; they would rather lie in the rain than patch a hole in the thatched roofs of their homes. And with the undeserved luck such people often have, they did not need to. Sündestadt was shared with the Rattenkönigreich, the Kingdom of Rats, who resided there by value of an ancient treaty. These were not the rats of today: These rats were hardworking and industrious, fluffy and meticulously groomed. They would not tolerate the shabbiness of the village they called home. So the rats would patch the roofs, harvest the crops, bake the bread, and do any number of such tasks. Meanwhile the people of Sündestadt grew lazier and lazier, growing fat off the rats’ work. After many seasons of this, the rats grew sick of supporting the useless people. They called upon a man widely renowned for his musical skills. The rats planned to make the people dance and dance, until they agreed to pull their own considerable weights. It would be a festival of sorts.
When the man arrived, things began to go awry. His musical talents had not been exaggerated, but his character had. The Pied Piper (called so because of his multi-colored clothing, stitched together from the skins of hundreds of rodents) played a ditty so enticing that the rats had no choice but to follow. They were made to dance for the laughing people of Sündestadt. This mockery continued all of that that day, and only became more hideous as night fell. The Pied Piper led the dancing rats out of town, towards the lake. One by one, the rats were forced to dive in, sinking to the bottom.
There was an ancient temple here, a place of strange metal and stranger worship. A being that resided there came out to greet the rats, “Oh friends look what has become of you! You tried your best to help, and this is what you get? You deserve better. I am of the Man-Made, and I offer you a chance at revenge. We shall write up a new treaty, one that treats the Rattenkönigreich with the respect it deserves. Will you join with me little rats?” One by one the rats agreed, and one by one they began to change. Their fluffy tails grew slimy and wormlike. Their teeth grew sharp and long. One by one, they swam to the surface. Their once lustrous fur was grey and matted from the water. The Piper slept by the bank, the rats’ riches in a bag under his head. He awoke to the rats’ dark screeching, and reached for his flute. But it had no effect! The rats swarmed him, and he made a bargain with them in exchange for his life. In the dead of night he went back to Sündestadt. He played his enticing song once more, and now all the children followed him. To the lake they danced, where the Man-Made consumed them. But the once-honorable rats were now liars. They devoured the Pied Piper, leaving his tattered garb as a warning to others.
In Sündestadt, the people mourned. Visions of the children stolen away from them cavorted in front of their eyes. Long since had the Pied Piper’s garish garment rotted away in the rain. With the rats gone, insects were free to multiply without predators…they swarmed and bit, and spread horrid illnesses from which death was a relief. In addition to this, strange sounds were heard from the lake on the outskirts of the town…odd clanking and grinding, like nothing anyone had heard before.
That year, locusts devoured the crops. Famine was imminent. People wandered the streets like ghosts who had not yet realized they were dead. With hope lost, there was only one place left to go. That haunted lake that was the root of the town’s misfortune. Weary and ill the villagers marched to the village. “Oh, guardian of the ruins, inhabitant of the river bed, please grant us mercy.” There was no response. “Oh, god of the rats, please grant us mercy.” Still nothing. “Oh bringer of pestilence and sorrow, please hear our prayer…grant us mercy.” There was a great stirring from beneath the water, and a colossal eye emerged. It was of metal worked finer than that of the most skilled blacksmith. Where the cornea would be, a vast gear turned incessantly. And some hideous force animated the darkness of the pupil. “People of Sündestadt, I hear your plea.” A voice like the booming of a funeral bell came from that dismal lake. “What is it you desire?” The people were stunned by this monstrosity from the depths, but one old man managed to find his tongue, “We wish to live in peace once more. We wish for our crops to thrive. We wish the pests that sicken us would vanish. And we wish for our children back.” The thing from the lake chuckled. “And why do you deserve these things?” Once again the man replied, “Because we have learned the error of your ways.” The clockwork eye turned to face him, regarding him closely. “You have not learned a thing. But I shall grant your request. Though there is a catch.” The thought of having everything back to the way it was outweighed whatever catch the Man-Made might have. “Just make things right. Please.”
Again the grating laughter. “Very well. Your village of Sündestadt will be idyllic once more. You will have your children back…all but four. These four will take your sins upon themselves, and one day, long after you are dust and bones, they will bring in the end of the world. The daughter of dawn will bear the weight of the quarrels that brought you to your knees. The son of noon will consume all in his path. The daughter of twilight will one day reverse the lives I give freely now. And the son of midnight will bring disease wherever he may go. Go back to your village now. Your children await. And think…when the sun dips below the horizon and you hear the world passing you by, what you have promised.”
The scene dissolved back into static, and then faded away. Lysander found himself back in the great subterranean stadium. Before the buzzing faded from his ears, he heard one last thing, “Your time is near”.
Tales of Dystopia
There was once a small rural village, in which resided a miller and his daughter. The miller was a drunk and a braggart, prone to foolishly spouting nonsense and swearing it truth. Now, in these days, Dystopia walked the Earth in human form. He overheard the miller telling his friends that his daughter could spin the coarsest straw into purest gold. This single lie would be the downfall of the entire province. Dystopia whispered the story into the ear of the king, a greedy and spiteful man. He demanded that the girl would spin him gold, on penalty of death. The girl had no choice. She sat among the straw, waiting for death. And then, at the stroke of midnight, Dystopia appeared. “Child, for a small fee, I can do this task for you. For the domain of mine brethren is that of the metal that slumbers deep within the Earth.” The girl looked at him, teary eyed. “I do not have much…but you can have this ring. It is all I have of my mother.” Dystopia laughed. “What use have I for such trinkets? Deep within the earth are rubies the size of boulders, and you offer me a twist of aged copper.” The girl started sobbing once more. “What do you want then? Why do you torment me?” Dystopia spoke without hesitation. “I want you to give me your heart, which I will replace with a stone.” The girl had no choice. Dystopia took her heart, leaving her as cold and emotionless as the quartz in her breast. But the next morning, the room was full with woven gold.
This only whet the king’s appetite. He once more demanded that the girl spin for him. Once more she cried, until at the stroke of midnight Dystopia appeared again. “Ah, how much straw can there be in a kingdom? If you continue at this rate it will be more precious than the gold you seek.” He smiled. “You know the bargain. What can you give me?” The girl could think of nothing. “Well…what about the locket you wear about you neck?” Dystopia proposed. The girl smirked. “I thought you did not want trinkets. “I don’t. I want the portrait you keep within it.” Sadly, the girl handed over the locket. Within was a painting of her made at a fair. It was drawn with uncanny skill, and she adored it. Dystopia took the locket, and by morning the room was full of braided gold. The king was not satisfied. He sent the girl back to the room, with the promise that if she wove this last batch of straw he would make her his queen. The girl waited calmly for Dystopia to arrive. He never did, but rats crept into the room and ate all the straw. When morning dawned and no gold was found, the girl was sentenced to death.
On the day of her execution, an army marched into town to seize her. Dystopia had shown the king of a foreign land the picture within the locket, and the king was determined to have her for his own. He snatched the miller’s daughter away from the scaffold, and took her back to his kingdom. The greedy king thought that he had heard of the miller’s daughter’s ability to spin gold, and deemed her a traitor. He was determined to have her head on a pike. War broke out between the two kingdoms. While the nobles fought, the people starved. All the straw had been turned to gold; there was none to feed the livestock. And in the kingdom far away, the miller’s daughter was incapable of reciprocating the love the king gave her, for her heart was unfeeling stone. The two kingdoms crumbled: one through famine and war, the other through the ending of a dynasty when the miller’s daughter did not produce an heir. The man who was the catalyst of this event was known as Rumpelstiltskin for the orange flowers of war that bloomed in his wake, resembling the flowerets of the Rumpelstiltskin plant.
In a kingdom now long forgotten, a princess had just been born. The kingdom was rife with celebration, and rulers and wise men came from far away to bestow their blessings upon her. Among them was Dystopia, disguised as the wealthy son of a shipping magnate. (And despite riches, despite prestige, what places on earth are more rat infested than the hold of a ship? No matter where one travels, no matter what oriental spices or glittering gemstones one may sell, the principal export will always be disease-ridden rats). Dystopia found the king, cradling his baby daughter, and held out a single, perfect rose. “I bring a gift for you,” Dystopia said (and to the king, who had had rather too much to drink, it appeared that the young man’s face was crumbling and falling away, revealing rusted gears turning in a grotesque mockery of expression). Warily, the king replied, “What do you bring?” Dystopia smiled, and held up the rose. “I offer your daughter the gift of eternal beauty…never fading.” The old king was wise…he knew a trick when he saw it, and Dystopia worried him. “I appreciate your offer, but I must turn you down.” Dystopia’s grin crumbled, his clockwork eyes ticked steadily, “I will have what I desire.” He vanished, leaving naught but dust in his wake.
Seventeen years later, the old king was dead. His daughter would ascend the throne very soon, and she was hard at work designing her coronation gown. A noise made her start, and she pricked her finger with her spinning wheel. A man leaned against the doorframe. “Who are you? What are you doing here?” Dystopia regarded her coolly, “I am who I am, but I have too many names to choose just one. As for what I am here for…I am here to make you an offer.” He pulled out a locket (scarred by some long ago war). Inside was a picture of the king’s daughter, as she was now. As she watched, the image aged, turning into a withered hag. “I am here to offer you eternal beauty.” Dystopia put away the locket. “What do you say? It was to be a gift for you long ago, but alas, those jealous of you prevented me from bestowing it.” This time, Dystopia’s ploy worked. The king’s daughter accepted his gift.
Dystopia placed his hand on her forehead, and stopped all the electrons in her body. She would never age, her beauty would never fade, but she would forever exist in a state just removed from death. From her still form, Dystopia took her life energy, that which he truly desired. But under his touch, it too succumbed to energy. Dystopia was enraged. “I have been given this freely…for without this energy this girl would rot away like the rest of the world. And yet the power runs between my fingers like all the rest.” The spiteful god would not have it. He stilled the kingdom, leaving it frozen and dead, yet to all appearances merely asleep. All who entered found a similar fate. Legends spread, but the curse of the Kingdom of Entropy was never lifted. At the end of time, when all has stilled, when there is not even the potential for motion, it is said that the king’s daughter will open her eyes and revitalize the world.
Discord has many forms. It may be found in the notes of an instrument that has warped and cracked. It may be found in the chaos of animals fleeing from a storm. But discord is most commonly found in the affairs of men. Such was the case in the affair of the seven princes and their sister. The kingdom in question had long since passed its prime, and whispers of rebellion circulated in the lower classes. Enemy forces gathered on the borders, waiting to swoop in and seize the kingdom.
The seven princes wanted more. They would not be content with the shambles of a kingdom left to them when the king died. However, they could not decide on how to gain the power they so coveted, and each went his separate way.
The eldest climbed to the peak of a glass mountain seeking wisdom. He slipped on the way down and broke his neck.
The second got no further than the border of the kingdom, where he met an old woman who asked him where he was headed…he told her to go to hell, which is where he promptly found himself.
The third sought treasure beneath the Earth, but found nothing but rats with eyes the size of dinner plates. It is assumed he was devoured, but since his bones were never found, his fate remains uncertain.
The fourth was assassinated while staying in the house of foreign royalty...he should have known better as the family in question were notorious cannibals, descended from the vicious mountain giants.
The fifth was lost in the woods, and may still wander there, though his form is changed and he hungers now for those lost or lead astray.
The sixth was turned into a swan by his stepmother, and left in the keeping of his sister. An ardent nature worshipper, she knit him a sweater of nettles to turn him back into a man. By a complete coincidence, the charm wore off just as the sister pulled the sweater over the swan-prince’s neck. Sadly, he was allergic to nettles and had an anaphylactic reaction, dying within minutes. Driven mad by grief, the sister devoted the rest of her life to trying to find her other brothers, who she thought must also be swans.
But the youngest…he was different. As the youngest, he knew from childhood that he would not inherit the throne. So he turned to studies of the arcane and unspeakable to increase his power. While his siblings set off to seek their fortune, he retreated to the castle dungeons. Reciting incantations from a book hewn from living rock, he summoned a god.
Dystopia stepped over the salt circle calmly, regarding his summoner with amusement. In a trembling voice, the young sorcerer tried to command him, “I have brought you here for one purpose, and one alone.” Dystopia merely laughed, extinguishing the burning candles with a wave. “Why should I listen to you? You, a boy of weak flesh and thin blood. As the last of your line, I believe you’d serve my purposes much better dead…can you not picture the anarchy?” The young heir to the throne could say nothing, faced with the specter of his own demise. “Well?” Dystopia’s good cheer was fading. “Because…because I know of Sündestadt and what you have planned for it. And…I want to help.” Dystopia looked at him for a long time with his odd gear-like eyes. “And in return?” The young prince smiled now, his eyes alight with maniac glee. “In return, I will lead them in your name when the dead Clockwork rise again.” Dystopia nodded slowly. “It shall be so. But know, young prince Romani, you will remember nothing of this, and in Nothing you must reside until the time is near. You must be taken by sister Death until the gears of the moon rust on their hinges.” The prince’s waxen face was pale with fear, but he did not back down, “It shall be so,” he whispered.
The kingdom fell mere days later, the king haven fallen gravely ill with grief caused by the loss of all his children.
Long ago, or possibly in the distant future, there was/will be a kingdom in the smog. It is inhabited by a race of giants, who though massive are capable of walking on the polluted air. Below, the Clockwork run wild, spreading their brand of sickness. The smog-cities block out the sun, and so the lower world is a place of cold gloom.
Below the clouds lived/will live a boy named Jack. Or perhaps Hans. It is unimportant, so he will simply be known as ‘the boy’. The boy struggled to support his aged mother and keep their farm, full of mutated livestock as it was. During the day he would till the soil in search for anything of value. Mostly he found only trinkets…a golden goose, a singing harp, or ancient coins marked with long-forgotten leaders, for example. But occasionally he would find gears, electrical apparatus, tires. These he could trade in the market for the stuff of life.
As time went on, he had to venture further and further from home to find his treasures, out into the dark lands beneath the smog. Pickings were scarce here, chewed over by the ravenous beasts that roamed the lands. One day, just as he was giving up hope of finding anything, he spied a tangle of wires descending from the sky. He tugged on them, but was unable to get them free. Figuring that he would cut them away at their base, the boy ascended the wires that led into the sky.
Imagine his surprise when he found the wires attached to a head! A metal head to be precise…he had heard tales of the robots, maybe even found a few pieces here and there, but never seen one whole. This one was eaten away by time, but portions of its name designation could still be seen on the tarnished torso: Z.E.L. Surrounding Z.E.L were mounds of rotting machinery the likes of which the boy had never seen before. Grabbing as much as he could carry, he shimmied back down Z.E.L’s wire hair.
He had brought back enough treasure for months, but in his dreams the boy saw Z.E.L’s expressionless face. In them, it gradually turned into a smile, and she was beautiful…
And so the boy found himself drawn back to the opening in the smog, back to where Z.E.L eternally slept. He held her in his arms, and, following some impulse he could not explain, kissed her on the mouth.
Her eyes snapped open, and the boy gazed into a rotating abyss of horror, rusted gears spinning into abysses beyond comprehension. He screamed, and dove onto the wires leading back to Earth. Z.E.L.’s hollow body split open, and legions of rats poured out. They gnawed upon the wire hair of their host, which fell to the ground in loops of glittering copper. As the boy looked up at the kingdom of smog for the last time, he saw the human faces upon those rats, and screamed.
He did not die that day, but he would wish he had.
The Mars Mythos
Dystopia and Aiaina were betrothed in an attempt to settle the feud between the Man-Made and Natural gods. No one knows quite when this occurred…time is fluid when it comes to divinity, and they may have been wed in the ancient past or the far future, when all was dust and rock. The wedding was a splendid affair, metal flowers blooming from cubes of sprouting steel. The Man-Made were all there: Automaton, Dystopia’s father-brother. Rust, his brother-son. The triplets Power, Greed, and Lust, forever squabbling among themselves. War and Destruction, sister-aunt and brother-uncle kept watch while Insanity, father-son to them all, gibbered in glossolalic syllables, which when assembled correctly would spell out the meaning of life. Ruin and Ambition, two sides of the same coin, inseparable, joined together at the hip and pivoting oddly on their three legs. And others, so many others…as many as could be named, and more. Envy, Vengeance, the base Gods of the elements (Iron, Uranium, Arsenic, Copper), Pollution, Pride. They stood side-by-side with the Natural Gods (who gave themselves no names but those their element granted them…the burble of a brook, the nearly silent stretch of growing grass).
The vows were made, (I swear loyalty as great as the pressure on the diamonds within the ground. I swear devotion as deep as the global sea. I swear it so as long as time itself turns). Dystopia and Aiaina were drawn to the budding civilization of Mars. The rich rusty soil supported a wide variety of crops. The vast cities did not need to fear flood or storm. It was a Utopia, a Martian Arcadia. Naturally Dystopia was miserable.
Though it took thousands of years, the end came quickly. The sand locked away the vast river-oceans of Mars, storing them deep within the ground…Dystopia’s domain, where ore nestled near the molten core. Aiaina was trapped with them, suffocated by the crushing Earth. Dystopia cared not for vows. Promises meant nothing (for was Deceit not his father-brother?) He had destroyed one of the Natural God’s own, their beloved daughter, and so made his own clan of the Man-Made proud. (And Mars died, dehydrated and dry, a desert in which nothing could grow. The atmosphere leached away leaving it just another ball of rock circling an oblivious star).
And now, thousands if not millions of years later, Dystopia had returned to Mars. The dormant cities stirred.
Masks are a thing to be hated and feared. Deep in the deserts of ancient Mars lurked a lupine creature capable of hiding its true form behind a veil of psychic illusion. They would often wear the veneer of an invalid and wait by the side of the path for an unwary good Samaritan to get too close. They would be devoured, the creature’s tentacle teeth their last sight before oblivion. Travelers into the desert were warned to speak to no one, and many an innocent traveler died shrieking for aid against whatever fate had stranded them there. (The lupines would suck the marrow from their bleached bones, for what cared they for the fickle hand of fate?).
An old woman lived in the midst of the desert, a priestess of Dystopia. She would sculpt the rusted earth into fantastical structures, praising Dystopia’s name. There were no canals here, only the single road, and so this priestess was largely secluded from the outside world. Nothing bothered her, for she had the Rust-God’s protection. Even the roving bandits would leave offerings of bread and gemstones at her door.
What blasphemy led the lupine to devour her, swallowing her as the priestess worked out in her rust garden? Dystopia was enraged, for he had enjoyed watching the sculptures rise and crumble back into the desert sand. Now they would rise no more. This crime would not go unpunished.
Dystopia called a meeting of the nearest town, ringing the very bell that thousands and thousands of years later would toll again (How they clang, and clash, and roar! What a horror they outpour! On the bosom of the palpitating air!) To the people assembled, Dystopia gave a promise: the one who slew the heretic beast would be marked as among the chosen of Dystopia. If the beast roamed free for longer than a week, the town itself would be on the receiving end of Dystopia’s wrath. (Yet the ear distinctly tells, in the jangling, and the wrangling, how the danger sinks and swells. By the sinking or the swelling in the anger of the bells).
A little girl, awed in the presence of her god, was the first to step forward. She looked into Dystopia’s whirling eyes and knew all she would ever need to know. He bestowed upon her a rust-red cloak to let all know that the wearer was under the protection of Dystopia. She took a sack of water and headed out into the desert.
She slept that day under a rock, hiding from the sun’s harsh gaze. As night fell, the girl set out once more to where the lupine was said to wait (Hear the tolling of the bells! Iron Bells! What a world of solemn thought their monody compels!) The rumor was that the beast was staying at the priestess’ home, feasting upon the supplies she had there.
The young girl knocked upon the door, which was opened by a ghastly replica of the old priestess. “Hello dear, are you here to pray?” it said. (In the silence of the night, how we shiver with affright, at the melancholy menace of their tone! For every sound that floats, from the rust within their throats, is a groan). “Yes priestess.” The girl replied, her rusty cloak billowing out behind her. She entered the dwelling, the door slamming shut behind her. (And the people - ah, the people, they that dwell up in the steeple. All Alone).
The priestess-that-wasn’t turned to her now, its eyes glimmering in the gloaming. (And who, tolling, tolling, tolling, in that muffled monotone)“Ah priestess, you have joined the night…what luminous eyes you have,” the girl said, stepping back slightly. “All the better to contemplate the rust flats by moonlight,” the false priestess replied. (Feel a glory in so rolling On the human heart a stone) It took a step forward, holding out its arms toward the girl. Once more the girl in the rusty cloak stepped back, “Ah priestess! What long fingers you have! They seem almost made for fishing in the world sea.” (They are neither man nor woman. They are neither brute nor human. They are Ghouls). The masked beast withdrew its hands quickly, “All the better to search for tubers in the deep sand.” The rust-cloaked girl stepped back once more, her hand closing around the hilt of the dead priestess’ sacrificial knife. The lupine had begun to shed its false skin, its slimy fur visible in patches now. “Ah, priestess, how faithless you have become,” the rust-cloaked girl said calmly. “THE GODS ARE DEAD!” howled the lupine, and leapt forward. The rust-cloaked girl calmly slid the knife into its chest. “How very wrong you are priestess,” she said as the lupine slid to the ground, its blood slurped up by the thirsty sands.
Dystopia kept his promise and the rust-cloaked girl became guardian of the great desert, forming rust sculptures for the pleasure of the great god.
Once upon the time, while Mars was still a place of oceanic beauty, there lived a race of people beneath the sea. They kept themselves to themselves, usually only seen when one would accidentally find their way into a canal or irrigation ditch. As the toilers of the earth belonged to Dystopia, so these beings belonged to Aiaina. At this time, the oceans were pristine, filled with flora and fauna of astounding range and iridescent hues. By the time the princess was born, it was no longer so. Rust had seeped in, tinting everything a murky red. Much had died…other, more fearful things had adapted and hunted in the red-black depths. So is it any surprise that the young heir wanted to leave the fearful ocean and start a new life on land?
Her name was Discordia, and she was born when the two moons, Phobos and Deimos, made a leering face in the sky.
The moons were once more risen high when Discordia began her quest. Down she swam, down to where the water was clogged with iron-rich rust. Down where the prophets and madmen swam unhindered. Was she afraid? Of course. But fear never stops the foolish.
Near the volcanic vents she found the one she sought. A twisted ocean-man, shunned at birth, who had found his place here amongst the refuse. “Welcome Discordia, daughter of the twin moons.” His voice burbled, sounding more like a drowning man than one born to live beneath the waves. Still, she swam forward, even when he reached out a tentacle and caressed her face. “Tell me what you seek, but choose your words wisely for worlds hinge on what you may speak.”
She looked him in his blind white eyes, and made her request. “It will be so,” he said. Immediately the ocean trembled, and Discordia’s ears popped in an attempt to equalize the pressure. The waters seeped away, leaving only the rust. The ocean-prophet still stood, though all else was dead. “Woe Discordia! For the gods have heard your plea! Walk the earth while you still may, for Dystopia will take it all away!”
So she fled, running on newly grown legs. And as she ran she saw what she had wrought. All was dry, dying, or dead. All but for her. And eventually she too felt the pangs of thirst, felt her gills flapping in the insubstantial air. And as she lay dying, she heard the laughter of the death-god Dystopia, who thought of it all as no more than some cruel prank. (There are other worlds than these).
There were once two sisters: Steel White and Rust Red. They were born to the ruling family of Mars, loyal followers of Dystopia. As was traditional with twins, the girls were named after the family’s patron god. They were beautiful, possessed of the Martian glamour found rarely in those rust-benighted parts. Indeed, even the elders of Mars agreed that they were prettier than the sea itself. Naturally Aiaina grew jealous (for gods are vain, gods are spiteful). And she knew Dystopia, patron god though he may be, would not be able to protect the twins forever. She would wait.
Nourished by the fruit of the bright red earth, Steel White and Rust Red grew ever more arresting. Steel had cement-pale skin, and a long flow of platinum hair. She was a gentle creature, and would frequently visit the Rust-Cloaked priestess out in the desert. Rust Red was also fair, with closely cropped burnt sienna hair that, when the wind blew through it, shifted like the desert sands. She dreamed of one day visiting the circling moons, or visiting the strange beings that inhabited the depths of the ocean.
It is unwise to voice a wish aloud, for who knows what may be present to hear it?
And so it was. On a night where the piercing stars gleamed with shimmering intensity, Rust Red whispered her dream aloud. And Aiaina heard. Rust Red was thrown into the sky, landing on rocky Phobos. With her dying breath, she kissed the dead rock, and breathed into it the half-life of corrosion (red as her lips, red as her hair).
And while Rust Red dreamed her last dream miles above the sky, another sought Steel White out. Aiaina emerged from the sea, bearing with her the submarine fruits of the tropics. She found Steel White emerging from the desert, exhausted from her trek. When she offered the luscious fruit, Steel White gladly accepted…and with the first bite found herself transported to mysterious Deimos. Dystopia, diverted while this occurred, stepped in right on time. He sent seven automatons to Deimos, creating a breathable atmosphere and welcome heat. For the time being at least, Steel White was saved.
Dystopia was enraged…would Aiaina dare destroy those under his protection? The sea-goddess merely smiled. There is no understanding the ocean. To her surprise however, Dystopia stormed off…for revenge is a dish best served cold.
Perhaps this is why he was so willing to turn his ear to a lone ocean-dweller’s plea to walk the land.
And Steel White? She lived a long, long time, tended to by the automatons. Eventually she died, her dying breath lacing her icy home with gleaming metal.
The automatons carried on for a time. Eventually they too failed, shutting down one by one.