Atlas [ Chapter 9a ]

“To become a true student of Taishôgeki and unlock its secrets, you must have seen the Great Clockwork.

But you already have, isn’t that so?” Plâton asked as Atlas sat relaxed, his eyes closed.

“I don’t know. I guess so,” he replied.

Plâton put a hand on his shoulder. “What you are, broken or not, puts you much closer to the Great Clockwork than a normal human being. Because of this, you should learn quickly. Taishôgeki is the art that remembers. One may see the clockwork as such or a similar visualization of it, but only after he has glimpsed its shape once.

Some call it ‘seeing the Daihô, or Dharma’, the order and nature of all things. The first name is more common around the Yamato Kingdom, the second around the Seventeen Yonder Islands. It happens when the first gate is opened wide, the gate of enlightenment, fueled or guarded – depending on your point of view – by soul and willpower. The flood of knowledge and understanding is so great that we cannot bear it and so the gate closes shut again and we forget, hiding the vastness of it in the recesses of our minds. But this knowledge is our birthright, written into our very souls. We learn as we remember, slowly, gradually. With every bit we recall, we unlock a piece of the understanding of the universe, the nature of existence, of reality, of origin, and once we do, we begin to bend our minds, to bend our bodies, to bend reality. As we remember, we seem to bend the world to our new understanding, while truthfully it is we who bend to this new understanding.”

Atlas kept his eyes closed, trying to empty his mind as Plâton had instructed. “And how does one do this? Also: why would we remember a martial art from that? That’s what you just implied, right? How does that fit in?”

Plâton took his hand away again. “You do this by acknowledging that you already know the answer, and that you need not seek it anywhere but within. As for the martial art: it is really more about having your body follow the movements of your soul – to achieve a new form of freedom. You would be surprised at how brutal freedom can be: more brutal and beautiful than anything in the world…

But now, to catalyze the process, I will show you once more: the shape of all things…” For a moment nothing happened, although the atmosphere seemed to noticeably tense up until Atlas realized that something was actually wrong. As he opened his eyes he saw how Plâton had assumed some sort of tensed stance, looking rather distraught. “What are you and what do you want with us?”

Atlas turned around hastily, and for a moment he couldn’t see anything in the darkness until the fire behind them cracked and a breaking log raised a plume of smoke and sparks. There was a man standing on a soft slope several feet away.

“I thought you said something like ‘people can’t sneak up on you’,” Atlas noted in Plâton’s direction, trying to sound casual.

“Normally not,” he replied quietly, “but this one hardly seems to fit that category…”

Atlas did not understand. “What category? Peo… Oh my.” He had finally registered that the man’s face wasn’t hidden in the shadows; he simply didn’t seem to have one. Either that or he was wearing some sort of smooth mask.

“Don’t stop on my account, Plâton,” the man said with a most unusual voice, sounding as if he was talking out of a cave or into a little box. “So this is where you start the training, hmm? Remarkable.”

Plâton looked alarmed as the man pulled something out of his garments, but it was just some whizzing little cube, somewhat reminiscent of the little gadget Ayveron had now inspected on several occasions. Atlas was usually so curious, why had he never asked what it was?

“Hmm,” said the man, “it’s not the right place though, is it now? I guess we just met here by coincidence. So… How have you been doing, all well I take it?”

The three of them were incredulous and still on high alarm. “Do we know you?” asked Ayveron now.

“What, know me? Well… oh I see! You don’t know me at all, do you? Outstanding, just outstanding!” There was a strangely intent moment of silence like an unwanted pause before he resumed talking. “So this is the first time we meet then! Nice to meet you, Plâton, Atlas, Ayveron. I’m John.”

The three of them exchanged a look. “How can you know our names if this is the first time we meet?” Ayveron asked slowly.

And Atlas, too, had a question: “Is there a face under that thing?” He pointed at John’s head.

“Well, I know you of course, this is also the last time we meet and we did know each other quite a while – ah, well, most of us, but I feel like I know all three of you well, if you know what I mean.”

Both Atlas and Ayveron very slowly shook their heads.

“And there is no face under here.” He knocked on the front of his head, which created a very unsettling, hollow sound. “It was a face at one time, but now it’s something different.”

Well that answered the question how this one wasn’t quite a person and in turn raised five more questions.

Plâton attempted to take back control of the conversation: “So this is the first and last time we meet and somehow you know us nonetheless?” he inquired patiently, but still wary.

“Well yes!” said John. “Though there should be no ‘nonetheless’ in there at all, we’ve met several times, after all you were in Borealis for quite a while.”

Every sentence out of John’s… … head made him make less sense in Atlas’ eyes.

It didn’t seem to go any better for Plâton. “Not even I have been in Borealis yet. Do you know Atlas from his previous life?” he tried now. Maybe he could make more sense of this after all, Atlas knowing this being from before his fight with Sameth would partially explain its odd demeanor.

“Previous? No-no, quite the opposite is the case, Plâton. It’s all about the relative perspective, I’d say. I’m still sorting it all out myself, haven’t been doing this for long. Look, this is me:” he started walking backwards in front of them. “See? This,” he kept walking backwards, “is me. It looks like I am going backwards to you, but it looks like I am going forwards to me. See, from my point of view this is the last time we meet, because it is the first time we meet from your point of view. We don’t live in the same direction anymore,” he said.

Atlas didn’t understand, but Plâton looked at John in a ponderous way and Ayveron’s expression too had changed.

“So you’re an idiot?” Plâton said now with a raised brow.

“No-no, the backwards walking is a metaphor for-“

“I get what it is a metaphor for, I am not an imbecile. I am not so sure about you though, seems like a pretty imbecilic thing to do.”

“Oh I don’t do anything, I just watch and record.”

“With no eyes and no ears.”

“Well I can hear you, can’t I? There is no need to fling semantics, Plâton.”

Now Ayveron chimed in: “When will we meet again then?” he wanted to know.

John was quiet for a while. Then he sat down by the fire. “Down in Chaos City is the last time we met. Not the nicest place to meet, but I suppose the places and times worth recording are often less than nice. Who knows, this is a fork point, my core draws me to them, maybe you won’t have to go there. Hmm… but I already remember it so I guess you will…” John was rambling, he didn’t seem to quite grasp his own situation, still sorting it out.

“I know of no place by that name,” Plâton admitted, sitting down as well now.

John held his hand close to the fire and withdrew it again, waving it before his face. “I guess you would know it under the name ‘Rimcity’ at this point in time. May I ask something as well? You have come through the Saltplains, I presume. Have you noticed anything unusual during your passage?”

Plâton shrugged to that. “Not really. The meadows are weeping a bit early, but otherwise all seems to be as it has always been. That’s a strange way to name Rimcity. Has it fallen into disarray or something?”

John made a sound that might have been a sigh, had he possessed a real voice instead of that metallic clanking. “I should not tell you too much about Chaos City, I think. I said we met there, yes? My core draws me to fork points, places in time where the people who walk this world may change the course of the Great Clockwork. If I tell you what is to come, it may not come as it should, if you catch my drift. And if it didn’t, where would I be then? Standing there with egg on my face. Well, you know what I mean.” He sounded genuinely apologetic.

“So what do you want of us now?” This time Atlas was the one asking. He felt like there was some sort of point he was missing.

John turned his head towards him. “Nothing at all, I just noticed you here and wanted to say hello. I am here for something else it seems.” He looked at the small cube again. “And I must be going again soon it seems too. No matter how you are going relative to time, it surely always manages to run out.” He rose again.

The whole situation was most strange, especially because it seemed to be beyond Plâton, a worrying thing to say the least, and it got even weirder when John actually opened his arms and hugged them in turns. “Well met, my friends. It was good knowing you! You shall see me again in the tomes of ancient past! Well, me me anyway.” And with that he walked off.

There was a long moment of quiet. “Aren’t you going after him?” Ayveron asked Plâton.

Plâton looked just as bewildered as him. “Why?”

Ayveron shrugged. “I don’t know, to take control of the situation? Interrogate him? Who was that?”

Atlas closed his eyes. “If I heard him correctly we’ll meet him again in Rimcity, we could just ask him then,” he noted. The two of them seemed as content with that answer as they could be expected to be and the fire crackled nearby as if to remind them that everything had returned to normal, whatever that was.

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