“There is no one belief that will enlighten us or deliver us from our pain. Rather, it is in the obliteration of designations and beliefs that we find our grace. For just as the scientist’s misbegotten and relentless delineation and categorization has separated us from truth, the mystic’s disciplined disregard for the arbitrary distinctions we have drawn between things shall always return us to it.”
~ Engraved on the Oracle of Tauren at Limbo Nexus: Rigel Minor
Sea of Tears: The Twice Forbidden Island
6000 BCE, SR (Sanctuary Reckoning)
The wild-eyed sea captain dropped to his knees on the snow-white beach and savoured the kiss of the cool wind on his sun-ravaged face. He closed his eyes and let the sense of triumph consume him entirely.
His three haggard crewmen, who now dragged the small wooden rowboat up onto the sparkling white sand were all that remained of his Arcturan clipper and her crew of eighty-five that had disembarked from Denlar.
How long had it taken him to get here to claim The Glass Grimoire: the prize of prizes? More than a year to be sure – but the specifics now eluded his ruined mind.
He fell forward into the hot sand and wept. His crewmen, having secured the landing craft, dared not approach him. Instead, they sat down on the beach to watch the remaining third of the Sojourner – their home and their curse – slip beneath the Cartigian Sea.
Named after the Cartigians, a civilization of bird-like gods that had lived on these islands millennia ago, the sea went by another name as well. Here and across all the realms of the multiverse where its rivers and tributaries flowed across and between dimensions, this body of water was also known, amongst those possessing high arcane knowledge, as the Sea of Tears.
The sailors whispered to one another about starting to look for wood, but decided instead to stay where they were lest they incur the wrath of their now wretched master.
The captain lifted his face and regarded the tree line of the tropical island. Blue pines, 200-feet-tall, lined the sparkling white beach. Were it not for the excruciating heat and the murmur of the surf, he could have mistaken the scene for a fond memory of his childhood in the Northern realms of Plaxus Main. These thoughts of his youth fanned the fire in his heart to a roaring flame. He put a hand on the sheathed Culduran cutlass at his side and launched his emaciated, nearly naked form to its full height.
With failing vision he scanned the beach and spotted the peninsula roughly a mile distant. It lay about ten feet across and stretched about a quarter-mile out to sea. At its farthest reach, a solitary pine clung to the rocks. Bent seaward by the ageless wind off the island’s mountains, it pointed like a gnarled sea hag’s finger out to the sea.
Without heed for the crewmen sitting behind him in the sand, he took the first step in the last leg of his journey toward his destiny. The pain of the scars of battle, the agony of thirst and starvation, and the torture of a conscience fragmented and rotten by the things he had done to get to this moment were forgotten. Now, there was only his future – the glorious future of one bold enough to finally possess The Glass Grimoire – a future of vigorous health and unlimited power.
Were spittle available to his dehydrated body, he would have slobbered like his lost ship’s beloved mastiff – he would have shed tears of joy – so ravenous now was his desire to claim that which no eyes had seen since the civilization of feathered gods had departed these lands in fear of its arrival.
Scrabbling across the rocky peninsula on bleeding hands and knees he finally came upon the tree. He squatted, his jaw slack, and regarded it with the awe of a religious zealot come face-to-face with his god.
It had grey bark that was not quite silver. It had that glorious, subdued patina of heirloom armour, ancient and proven. Though the tree was said to be old beyond reckoning, it was thin and whimsical in form. He worked up the courage to reach out to a low-hanging branch and found the needles to be soft to the touch. They were a green that reflected the sea, but with an inclination of the eye or a change in the light of the sky they could also take on a cool tinge of blue.
A subtle dread began to creep up through his madness, which until now had been a characterized by an obsessive fervour. Did this new feeling suggest that there was an intelligence to the tree? Yes! There was! He reluctantly accepted it into his mind, for it was gentle and inviting – soothing even. Within the tree’s intelligence, he began to sense something else as well. Could it be? Perhaps this was it – the legendary intellect of The Grimoire itself. So little was now known of his prize.
The presence of the tree's thought in his mind was reassuring and not cruel in any way. He accepted it and any worries he had abated. He now felt that it was sharing with him. Suddenly there was a new concern. In this sharing of minds, could he lose himself? He began to wonder if he would have to fight to maintain his notion of self in the presence of the ancient tree.
He was correct in this concern. Kindly, politely, the tree began urging him to stop being who he was. It was appealing to him to forsake his delusion of self – the delusion of all humanity – the misbegotten notion that his identity was distinct from the rest of existence. It murmured its truth to him, seducing him to embrace the true nature of life. The mariner’s mind began to sing with notions he had never before even begun to entertain: no beginning or end, no here or there, no me or you, no us or them.
And though he was at peace in his mind, he began shaking violently. Walking became difficult on the uneven footing of the rocky ground. His vision (or was it his mind?) tunneled down to a pinprick. Then, beneath the ecstasy of victory mingled with the grace of the mind of the tree, a deeper fear began to grow. Would the power he was about to claim cost him his sense of self? Was that the secret price of claiming the treasure of treasures?
He struggled over the rocks and around the ancient pine to stand with his back to the sea. Some portion of his mind, perhaps the small sliver that was still him and not the tree, reflected on the beauty of the ocean for the last time. And then he saw it.
The Glass Grimoire.
It was embedded in the tree about four feet from the ground. A glass rectangle with slightly rounded corners, it was roughly the size of a deck of playing cards, though slightly stretched along its height so that it was taller. A thin border of grey metal rimmed the flat glass.
It appeared as though the tree had grown up around it, embracing, nurturing and protecting it over millennia. He thought on this. Perhaps the mind of nature coveted the vast arcane knowledge contained within the Grimoire as fiercely as did as the minds of gods and men! No matter! For now, all that knowledge, and all the power that came with it, would be his.
He reached to The Grimoire and felt it connect with him even before his finger touched the hard flat glass. There was a chiming sound. It was otherworldly, almost mechanical.
Then he – at least he as he had regarded himself from childhood – was gone. The sensation was not unpleasant. For in that instant he was everyone, everywhere, everywhen. There was a blinding – or was it totally illuminating – light. Then there was nothing – or was it everything – just with all the borders removed?
The only witnesses to the end of the captain's quest were the whistling blue Cartigian seabirds. And though they cared not at all what had transpired, they saw the filthly, emaciated sea captain transformed instantly into a cloud of sparkling white sand that was borne upon a swirling breeze to be laid upon the beach.
The crewmen who had not dared to disturb their master’s final triumph experienced the same momentary peace before they too became sand upon that ancient, beautiful, mysterious beach.
Within the tree, in the rectangle of glass known for millennia across the multiverse as The Glass Grimoire, a small symbol appeared behind the glass: a small, stylized fruit. It was grey in colour and was rendered to convey that a bite had been taken from it.
The Grimoire did not belong to this brave captain or his men. It belonged to another man: a man that would not be born for another eight thousand years.
For a few more seconds, the bitten-fruit symbol remained behind the glass. Then, the quiet chime sounded again and it was gone.