Maro

One of a few prequel stories leading up to the main story of my novel, The Traveler.

An elder named Maro awakens in an unfamiliar place. The mountains and valleys he loved were gone, with barren peaks and a vast, sandy wasteland taking their place. An eldritch being known only as The Architect bestows a great duty upon him - create life.

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1. Maro

Open your eyes.

With a haggard breath, he did. Tanned, sun-beaten eyelids welcomed the light of day, its blinding rays making him wince. Sitting up, he rubbed the dust from his eyes and blinked. A gasp escaped his lips as a barren, lifeless wasteland stretched out in all directions underneath a cloudless, blue sky. Not far above the horizon hung a moon unlike any he had seen before, with clouds of color spiraling over its surface. Many smaller moons encircled it, their sizes varying from peas to something like the moon he knew.

That moon was gone. Dust kicked up in a sudden breeze, the hard yet sandy floor of the plain warm under his feet. He turned frantically, searching for something, anything, that looked familiar. Behind him trickled a tiny stream, water lazily bouncing off rocks as it meandered by. In the distance, a lone mountain climbed high into the sky, its peak tinted blue by the air.

Dejectedly, he stroked his mangy beard with a wrinkled and worn hand. The furs wrapped around him were tattered and hot, making it easy to discard them. His moccasins were missing and he was not sure where they had gone. A necklace of bone and rough gems wrapped in leather dangled freely in the breeze from his neck.

“It’s not much, is it?” Someone intoned from behind him. Choking on his spit, he spun around to face the potential assailant. The man’s grey eyes grew like saucers. The sight that met him was absolutely alien.  Before him was a spider, its legs and body gleaming silvery in the sunlight. He could not identify what it was made of, but it glimmered like ice and looked as solid as stone. What was most astounding though was the humanoid upper-half that replaced the spider’s head. He recognized a torso, arms, and a head, but the shapes were jagged and unnatural. Straight lines and flat surfaces replaced the gentle and living curves of a human body. Rather than a face, an elongated shape with a shimmering, singular eye, sat atop the reflective shoulders. Its head tilted, expecting an answer.

“It is not.” The man croaked.

“It’s a veritable sandbox, a place where anything can happen.” The spider crept forward, extending an arm toward desolate infinity. The icy eye locked onto him with discomforting speed. “What should happen?”

Godsmacked, he stood in silence. Impatiently, the creature bent over, leveling its eye with his own. Unconsciously, he flinched away from the strange beast. A chill crept up his spine at such an otherworldly sight.

“Do not be afraid - I have no desire to hurt you. Now, you can have anything at all. What do you want at this very moment?”

His lips smacked together dryly, a thirst building in his throat.

“Rain.”

“Always a good choice.”  The spider-god rumbled, his voice echoed by thunder in the distance. The blue skies darkened, clouds materializing out of nothing and letting loose a heavy drizzle. Droplets of rain pitter-pattered on the creature’s body, a sound he had never heard before.

“What is your name, dreamer?” The spider asked, raising his voice over the rain. Though he could understand what it said, the words were garbled and strange. It was if it were talking from beneath the surface of a pond.

The sand between his toes grew wet, cooling his hot digits. “Maro is what my mother called me. What did yours call you?”

“I am called The Architect. Do you know where you are, Maro?”

“I cannot say I do.” What was once a calm brook bubbled into a small tributary, sending its water off to some unknown river to relieve the burden of the rains.

The Architect thrummed, stretching his arms out to the sky. “You are within The Dream. You are asleep, and as long as you sleep you will be a master of this world.”

Maro was speechless, his gaze turned to the sky. Lightning crackled overhead as the rain soothed his raw face. “Where is my family?”

“Safe in your dwelling.” The Architect responded calmly, malice or uncertainty absent from its voice.

Strangely satisfied with that answer, he went on, “Am I the only one? This land is too vast for just… me.”

“You are right. It is too much for just one, isn’t it?” The construct chuckled, its legs skittering slowly over the sand. “There are others, brothers and sisters of your kind. They made these mountains, and that river. Oceans lie beyond here as well.”

“They made all of this?” Maro gawked as he followed the spider along toward the gloomy mountain. Thick blankets of cloud shrouded its peak as the rain came down.

“That’s right. They’re probably wondering why it’s raining now, since none of them have asked for it yet.” The Architect laughed to itself at the thought of their perplexity. “They are not enough to make this dream whole, however. That is why you are here. What do you think is missing?”

His skin felt clammy and began to chill in the rain. Maro hugged his arms together, regretting dropping his gloves before. “Shelter.” Uttered the man, shivering.

Coming to a halt, they both looked to the sky. Droplets of water ricocheted off the spider’s reflective eye, splattering across Maro’s face.

“You should make one, shouldn’t you?” Was all it said.

“How?”

“Just do it. You know how.”

Lost, he looked around for building materials. Obviously he found none. There were no rocks or boughs, or even trees for that matter-

“Trees.” He grunted, falling to his knees. “I can make anything I want.”

Watching the human restate his own claim, The Architect patiently waited as Maro bunched up a pile of sand and patted it smooth. Nimbly, he plucked a pebble from the ground and dropped it into a hole he had poked.

“Creative.” The spider commented as the man covered the mound back up.

“I am going to grow a tree!” Maro said loudly, nearly shouting. He laughed at the insanity of his situation, but if a shiny stone spider-god told him he could do something, he would do it. Backing away from his little seed, he waited. Several moments passed silently with not an inch of movement.

“It is not growing.”

“Plants grow from seeds, not stones. I am surprised you understand cultivation, however.”

“I do know that! Do you see any seeds around here?”

“No, but you can make one.”

Silently, Maro looked down to his hands. He opened a palm to the sky, its pale flesh was bright despite the clouds obscuring the sun. Bringing his fingers together to form a fist, he thought of a seed. The tiny speck of black lingered in his mind as he closed his eyes. Unclenching his hand, he opened them to see that very same speck on his stark skin. Stumbling back to the mound in surprise, he buried the seed and quickly stepped back. With a cry, he jumped as a noble spruce erupted from the ground where he had just stood. A fine mist was flung into their faces as the tree’s boughs fanned the rain with their sudden growth.

“A fine tree.” The Architect complimented, eagerly scuttling under its outstretched branches.The needles did a good job of deflecting the rain, leaving the two to dry under its reaches.

“How did I make the seed?”  Maro asked, squinting up through the branches.

“You tell me. You made it, not I.” The spider responded in an amused tone.  “That seed is only the beginning, child. I need you to make more.”

“How many more?”

“Hundreds. Thousands. Billions. Cover this world in green, Maro. It has shape, and function, and purpose. What it lacks is life!” It shouted to the skies, a clap of thunder accenting his point.

“And that is why I am here?” said Maro, understanding dawning on him.

“Precisely. I have been gathering suitable caretakers for this world.” The Architect explained, “One to manage the skies, one to make sure the mountains do not turn to dust, another to keep the seas in balance. Most importantly are the final two. You will make sure life survives and thrives in The Dream, and another will make sure it meets a timely end.”

His jaw dropped, the weight of the spider’s words pulling down on his shoulders. “The cycle of life belongs to me?”

It nodded, “You and one other, yes. I have yet to find them. You will give them your creations, and they will give back the rot from which you can make more.”

Silence filled the space between his thoughts, his lips unable to form an answer.

“Would you like to take a walk? The rain is letting up.” The Architect offered, and indeed the droplets of rain had shrunk.

“Alright. I have more questions.” Maro agreed, rising from his tailor’s position.

“I was hoping you would. Let’s explore that gulch over there.”

They walked a short ways up the stream, Maro noting how the ground changed in elevation but the water did not. Relative flatness gave way to a deep and wide ditch carved out by said stream.

“Why was I chosen?” The question joined the chorus of rushing water. The rain had since ceased, the clouds still hanging low and indeterminate in shape.

“To be truthful, I do not know. The means by which dreamers are chosen is seemingly arbitrary.” Its articulated response painted Maro’s face with disatisfaction. “It is random, chance, fate. That is what I mean. I do not know why.”

“Ah. Fate.” He interjected, grasping the more familiar concept. “The others were brought by fate as well?”

“It would seem so. My only purpose is to design the world, and I will use you and your soon-to-be brothers and sisters to help me. I know nothing of your kind, so your input in what makes the perfect world is valuable to me. I chose to bring them in, but how they were chosen is beyond my control.” The Architect reiterated.

“That is a strange thing to hear, designing a world. Design. Design. Design.” The man said the word several times, its tones unusual to him. “What does design mean?”

“It is creation and planning. When you envision a shelter in your mind before you build it, that is design.”It explained, using an example Maro would relate to. “This little river needs something.”

“Moss?” The man suggested, receiving a firm nod from his gleaming companion.

“An excellent choice.” It answered. “More of those trees would look wondrous as well.”

Clenching his fist, a palmful of seeds grew from nothing. He did not know what seed made moss, but it did not seem to matter as he cast his hand out. The little black specks showered down on the creek, sprouting evergreens and carpets of moss wherever they landed. In mere moments the barren ravine was ripe with life, the gulch becoming a small forest.

“Yes, this is why you were chosen! We need more, Maro!” The construct declared excitedly. Obliging, he threw his hands out, sending seeds all across the world. With supernatural might, his reach was miles beyond as seeds coated the entirety of the planet. Before they knew it, the surface of the earth cracked open as grasses, and trees, and bushes, clambered their way up towards the sky. Past the ravine a vast woods of firs, spruces, and pines had erected itself, with boulders between them coated in thick blankets of lichens and moss. Behind him a bronze field of grass stretched for miles, their elegant blades waving gently in the breeze. Sunlight prying the clouds apart only enhanced their color as the grey backdrop was illuminated by jagged fissures of golden light.

Maro could only smile as he marveled at his work. In a handful of moments, he had turned a desert into something that resembled his home.

“It is beautiful.” He whispered, his voice rolling like gravel in the stream he stood by.

“You’ve done well, my child. I’ll leave you too it.” The Architect stated, turning to leave.

“Wait, you are going?” Maro sputtered, startled by the abruptness.

“I have matters that need my attention, you will do fine on your own. Fill the world with life, just trees and moss will not do it. I’ll be watching - you don’t have anything to fear. Make yourself a walking stick, though. Cracking your head open on a rock because you slip isn’t a good way to go about your task.” The spider chuckled, throwing its hand up to wave goodbye, “Farewell, Maro.”

Like paper burning away in a fire, The Architect disintegrated in the air, leaving him alone on the silent forest’s edge.

“Farewell, friend.” He muttered to himself. What was left of the clouds was a tattered husk of their former storms, giving the late afternoon sun a chance to bathe the earth in its love. Night would be here soon, and the day’s adventures had left him tired.

“Can I sleep in a dream?” he asked himself, unsure of the paradoxical action. A nearby boulder was shaped perfectly for sitting, inviting him to rest in the warm light. The strange being that had spent its time with him made him forget how alone he was. Not a single bird chirped, nor did a wolf howl in the distance. Only the breeze was with him how.

“I think I’ll make animals tomorrow.” Sighed Maro, gazing back up to the moons. Their colors were so strange, so unearthly. It reminded him of berries crushed together with coals and grass. This was not his home. Did he belong here like he was told?

He thought back to what The Architect had said. He would need a walking stick. The advice was sound, and without a thought he extended a hand over the ground, palm down. A twisting, woody stem grew up to touch his digits, coiling around itself to form a sturdy pole of living plant matter. A handful of oval leaves popped out from knobs, the mass writhing pleasantly in his grip.

“You are as alive as I am, little stick.” Cooed Maro, resting his new implement across his lap. Wriggling contently, it came to rest like a small animal. Such a sight would frighten a normal man, but he knew now that he was not one himself. He was a spirit now, a member of the wild.

“A member of the Korpi. The Wilderness.” He spoke his inner thoughts, strangely satisfied at his newfound significance.

With worry purged from his mind, it was not hard for him to slump against the stone and drift off to sleep. In the distance, the sun descended behind a lone mountain, plunging his world into a comforting darkness.

In a fit of coughing he awoke. Gone was the boulder he was sitting against only a moment ago, instead he was swaddled in furs.

“I am here.” He stated the obvious, looking around his small hut. Massive mammoth tusks formed the framework of his abode, with skins and furs providing the walls. At his side a woman stirred, she was older, like him, in their late thirties. Grey had begun to appear in her hair, and wrinkles eroded away the youthful softness of her face.

“What is wrong, Maro?” She asked tiredly, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Quickly, he took inventory of his home. Wife, children, brother and sister, grandchildren, supplies, all were present. With a sigh, he flopped back into the furs.

“I had a beautiful dream, Vala.”

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