(Another post in the ongoing series of things I wrote in the past and that I'm now bringing together. I wrote this years ago - freshman year of college, I think. Definitely lots of things I'd change if I were rewriting it, but for now I'll just post it as it is)
If you would quiet yourself, child, I would tell you the Tale of Khun-Al-Bagara, the City of Empty Wonders.
Good. Much better. Now then – this is not, you must understand, a mere invented story that I am about to tell you. This is one of the True Tales that Yuush spoke at the dawn of the world. I am not Yuush, and my telling of it will be but a pale shadow of his, but that does not change the essential Truth of the thing. Listen closely, child. This is not a story to be ignored.
As for the tale itself…
Imagine, if you will, a place that we shall call a city. It is not truly a city, you understand – to call Khun-Al-Bagara a city is to call the Sun’s skin warm, to call the ocean damp, to call the stars several. But we have no better word than “city” to describe it, so that must suffice.
It is a city whose gates are the twin Pillars of Joy that Adrian Messerschmitt designed for Berlin’s celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War. It is a city at whose center rises the Tower of Bav-El, whose height is such that it scrapes the heavens themselves. In this city’s museums, you will find da Vinci’s great airship, the original draft of Einstein’s Grand Unified Theory, and Hotohori’s Rosepetal Stanzas. It is a city whose walls are blessed by the greatest paintings of Picasso and Johnansen, a city whose plazas are adorned by sculptures of unsurpassed beauty. One, Michelangelo’s The Dreaming Girl, is so utterly resplendent that it has been known to break into a thousand pieces the hearts of those who gaze upon it. It is a city that possesses few hospitals, for its denizens were kept hale by the power of the Metavaccine. Its streets are lit by the power of the Transinfinite Dream Engine, which can hurl a starship from Earth to Sirius if fuelled by a single laugh. Overarching it all is the glory of the Temple of Mankind, that soaring triumph of arches and spires, singing its exultant hymns with every curve and color.
You must understand, dear child, I use no poetry here. You may scoff at the idea of art that literally breaks the heart of those who gaze upon it. You may sneer when I say that the Tower of Bav-El actually did rise to the vault of Heaven. You might laugh at the suggestion that the metal bridges and minarets of the Temple of Mankind truly do call out arias of praise to humanity. You may not believe me when I say that all this is truth, and not merely a turn of phrase. But that is because all those wonders as great and glorious as that are unknown to you; they have been stolen from the world, and grace instead the streets and courtyards of Khun-Al-Bagara.
How can that be, you ask? Sit still, child, and I will tell you.
Long ago, the sullen things that would one day inhabit Khun-Al-Bagara lived upon the Earth alongside humanity. Or perhaps they were themselves human – but if they were, they certainly are no longer. They could not create – or, more likely, refused to. Their jealousy of the glories of mankind grew with each passing day, and their envies of human art and techniques knew no bounds. One day, they saw that a man had created an art by which things might be brought outside the world, and they whispered and plotted amongst themselves. They tricked the art out of its inventor, and used it to remove themselves and their dark, hollow city from the world. The technique was so puissant, so potent, that it did not merely take them outside the world – also ripped from the Earth was the memory that they had ever existed, and every proof of their being. It was as though they had never arisen at all.
Then they committed the first of the mighty thieveries that were to come. They twisted that arcane technique upon itself, and ripped it out of the world, and brought it to Khun-Al-Bagara, their city outside the world. The man who did, would have, should have invented that mighty art, instead only vaguely recalled that he had once had an idea. And then the gray and empty folk of Khun-Al-Bagara began to plunder humanity…
The magnificent watercolors that adorn the walls of the mansions in Khun-Al-Bagara, and the clean and graceful lines of their buildings, at once delicate and strong, do you see them? They were the work and the art of a great man. But his talent was ripped away by the folk of Khun-Al-Bagara, and he was left with only a scrap of his talent and a heart filled with bitterness, and millions would die before that damaged soul was ended.
Bav-El! Bav-El! Once it was the capital of the greatest empire the Earth ever knew, a kingdom of justice and a nation of peace that spanned the globe. But the folk of Khun-Al-Bagara could not abide this, and the city-tower where the Senate of Bav-El met was torn away from the Earth. It is a great testament to the glory of that empire and its tower that we remember its name at all.
The Metavaccine was so utterly taken from us that its creation is no longer even possible; Pasteur may be remembered, but merely as a great scientist, and not as the savior of all humanity. How many have died because of the greediness of Khun-Al-Bagara? We can only dream of the numbers. Einstein’s Grand Unified Theory, that flawless work that once and for all unified all science into a single perfect equation, no longer exists here. It can be found only in the guilty prize-rooms of Khun-Al-Bagara. When the Pillars of Joy were snatched out of our world, they left behind a sickened shadow of themselves – a cruel and brutal wall that shattered the lives of thousands. On the streets of Beijing you will find a girl with empty eyes, who should have become a student of art, and one day the creator of that glorious Temple of Humanity that would have been remembered for all the days that men and women walk the galaxies. But the greedy ones that inhabit Khun-Al-Bagara cut her work away from her, and so she was born with an empty soul and a useless mind and a glimmer of the pain of what she lost, and it will be a mercy when she dies.
And as for the Engine! The Transinfinite Dream Engine was the greatest work of humanity for ten million years. Its invention marked the beginning of our finest hour, a golden age that lasted for as many years as there are stars in the sky. The world was all but united, then, and the two great nations of the Earth raced with each other playfully, almost flirtatiously, to fill the stars with humanity. Even the starlanes themselves, the gossamer paths traced by those opal-winged craft, were art; their beauty almost unsurpassed. No man need hungered, and no woman knew sickness, and no child had wants unfilled. The joy of all mankind drove the Engines, and any material thing ever desired could be had before it was even thought of.
But then came the hollow sullen greedy hands of the folk of Khun-Al-Bagara, and the power and glory of the Transinfinite Dream Engine was torn from the world. The great civilizations that spread between the galaxies were vanished in the blink of an eye, and that magnificent dance of exploration and habitation was reduced to a cold-hearted militaristic squabbling between a pair of angry giants that came within a hair’s breadth of destroying all mankind. And yet all the happiness and celebration to be had in Khun-Al-Bagara barely sufficed to power the Engine enough to give a pale glow over the streets of that hollow city. Weep, child. Weep for the loss, and the crime. Or need you weep? Perhaps not. Listen on, child, and hear of the Fall of Khun-Al-Bagara – for Fall it shall.
Even with the theft of the Temple and the loss of the Engines and the plunder of the Theory, humanity’s greatest work was still left to us. Our mightiest accomplishment was a perfect synthesis of all things human; an artificial man, one who walked, danced, sang, loved, and did all that a man might do, but perfectly. This was no mere shell, you must understand, no simple machine, but truly human. And then the greedy shapes that stalk in Khun-Al-Bagara truly erred, and the mistake cost them everything.
Beholding this glorious work, they grew jealous, as they inevitably do. And they worked their undeserved art, and that joyous accomplishment they stole away to their city of stolen wonders. But he was not merely a creation of humanity – he was himself human. It did not take long for him to realize the magnitude of the crime that had been inflicted upon his people, and his wrath grew to heights never before dreamed of in that city of sullen thieves. He found within one of its museums the sword called the Dream of Nine Ravens, which is so perfectly balanced that it cannot be wielded poorly. Locked away in a hidden vault he found the shield known once as the Persean Aegis, which is so finely mirrored that it reflects the soul of those who gaze upon it. I hardly need speak of what came next, although I must admit that I wonder, on occasion – was it the blade that ended them, or the shield?
In the end, it matters little. Today, the streets of Khun-Al-Bagara are empty, and its courtyards grow dusty, and there is but a single life in that city outside the world. No joy exists to light the walkways or the bridges. There is only the silhouette of a man, who stands at the tallest peak of the Temple of Mankind, and gazes out at the world. There he awaits the day – it could come tomorrow, if we so chose – when all the thousand stolen glories of Khun-Al-Bagara are pale and ugly beside the world’s majesties that are wrought of human hands. And on that day – it could never come, if we so chose – he will work that ancient and stolen art upon himself, that technique made to remove things from the world. Where it will take him he knows not, but his destination matters little, I think. And on that day, the City of Hollow Wonders will lie empty, and it will one day be forgotten, as is only right.