The World Walker by liuqingyan


									                                   The World Walker
                                           Alex Putnam

       I am called Eilam, Walker of Worlds.

        As we sit around this fire, you fidget. You examine the man across from you with his
well-worn boots, ragged cloak, and face that tells you he hasn‟t a shave in half a sennight. You
frown at his name, or rather the title that follows it after. A person a few years younger than
your parents could not possibly have much to tell you. But then your eyes wander and widen as
they see the splotches on his clothes, the age of his cloak, the swirling mix of caked-on soil upon
his heels that you know could not be from around your home, and the notches on his walking
staff that seem to match the wrinkles on his kexy face. You stare at those eyes, light rings
encircling blackness, and you fail to find an end to them. You ask me if that is truly my name.

       My name was Ananta Aldebrandi, but I am known as Eilam the World Walker.

        Your tongue rolls over the pair of words; you find them strange, of course, but they
suffice. You think that now, perhaps he has been to a land or two. But then you remember the
sages of your pedagogy, of your home as being part of something called “The Hidden Worlds”.
And then you wonder, yet you wonder, until you ask him. You ask him what he has seen. He
says he has seen all manner of things but yet not all things: love, suffering, truth, injustice,
mercy, avarice, trust, carelessness, joy, and the opposite of all these things. That, of course, does
nothing to sate you. You clarify; ask for places and sights.

       Very well. I have seen a world of shadows where the mere will of man can shape it into
       useful things and where color has washed out to just a glimpse. I have seen a world in
       which a desert of snow and another of sand opposed each other; whichever you stood
       upon would show you the other instead of a sky. I have seen a world of ancient woods,
       where courts of fey engage in endless cutthroat games and where visiting might kill a
       man when he leaves because time operates…differently. I have seen a world where time
       stands still, and the very air must be forced around you to move. I have seen a world that
       was nothing more than an endless plane of metal, stretching to all horizons, with not even
       air to breathe. I have seen a world where dragons and giants fight an eternal war, each
       one demanding fealty from the men who live there. I have seen a world where alien
       creatures dwell, forced to make a new home as your fathers‟ fathers had done. I have
       seen a world of ice where even the snow is but shavings of deep blue ice, where glaciers
       hold the preserved forms of countless creatures, the silent collection slowly growing by
       an unseen hand. I have seen a world that in and of itself was a puzzle much like the
       wooden ones you see at the market and hesitate for a moment at their price, with its
       rooms and openings shifting onto others like a great knot. I have seen a world that‟s
       entirety was naught more than an elaborate house with no end or beginning, where
       ancient magic rests in front of innumerable deadly creatures and traps deadlier still,
       where the mad, ageless owner does nothing but ensure that he might deny his powers to
       all others. I have seen a fairytale castle that extended in all directions and now and again
       switched which direction was “down”, made stranger by the giant workings of a clock

       blended into the castle-palace; an army of clockwork men maintains and expands the
       place without goal or reason for a master long asleep. I have seen a world always at the
       last bit of twilight, where a purple starless sky is augmented by the endless rows of
       evenly-spaced globe-lanterns, each lighting a space not quite to the next one; the place is
       empty and deathly still. I have seen a world of metal rubbish that cleans itself off in one
       portion as it slowly decays into rust in another, the world itself fighting a battle it can
       neither win nor lose. I have seen a world of tall metal-spired buildings where it always
       rains, and flying machines whisper beneath the sounds of rain and thunder.

       You stop him there. Your mind grasped at these places, and you begin to believe his
name. But again you found his oratory lacking. Majestic, distant, perhaps, but there was no
story. So you ask for one. This man is clearly a pariah among rulers, a traveler without a
government, with the trappings of a wizard. Perhaps he might know about the Predecessors.
You ask him about the Predecessors. He nods, smiling; you know not whether it was due to
your own cleverness or some unknown satisfaction on his.

       I warn you now. Knowledge itself is harmless but it beckons forth both good and evil,
       and it never makes things simpler. Some things I could tell you could leave devoid of
       sleep; some out of fear, some out of wonder.

        You grow impatient. You momentarily wonder if he is half-correct, noticing your
feverish desire for the words you know are behind his lips. You also wonder if he is half-wrong,
merely winding his speech as to draw it out. You answer that you have some grasp of good and
evil and do not think this relates to the story you know he has. You tell him are you are adamant
and afraid of no wanweird that might befall you.

       So be it. I tell you know that the essence of my tale lies in something that, at first, seems
       the most noscible thing. Man builds things. The question, however, is full of brambles.
       Do the things man makes bring weal or do they bring woe? I answer, „yes‟. Think back
       to the folk who live in that market town. I ask, do they farm? What do they do, instead?

        You answer that townsfolk do not farm. They buy their sustenance. He reaches into
cloak and pulls out a metalline disc. You do not recognize the face or the words that encircle it,
but you instinctively know what it is: a coin. You answer that since the townsfolk pay for things
with coins, they do not farm, and spend their time doing dozens of specific things; to each a craft
or profession. The man smiles, for you have grasped his idea. He says a word you do not know.
He shortens it to “technos”. It seems more familiar, but still you cannot grasp it. He thinks for a
moment and says instead, “craft”. The coin is a craft that man has built that allows the
townsfolk to train for his chosen task. The coin has replaced his need to farm. This all seems
commonplace, and is not a story at all. You frown. He understands your furled brow, but asks
you to think this way. What if man built other things to help him? Would he not have to teach
himself how to use them?

       The water pump you use everyday to water your flocks; the shoes you wear; the very
       words you speak are the Craft of man. I am called the World Walker, because I know
       how far man‟s craft may travel. As man changes his craft, his craft changes him.

        You nod, wondering. Your mind whispers its way back to half-remembered patterns of
things in the town that came from a city distant, and the moment where it seemed so simple has
been replaced with a yawning wonder with absolute impigrity. He tells that as man builds,
rarely does he know with which to do with his craft. Craft finds a place for Craft. He tells you
of another word you cannot digest, so he calls it “numbers”. This you nod. He asks you if you
understand the concept of a machine. You nod, your mind recalling wisps of something of metal
and gears clicking and twisping in the vanmost corner of a town shop. He again smiles.

       Then know this. In the world your sages call „Lost Home‟, I was the last man born. Man
       had worked his craft for so long that his wonders were like igniparous flint to a man who
       had never seen fire. He built carriages that moved themselves. He built boats that
       traveled the sea of the night. He built thinking machines, boxes that could think only in
       numbers and yet move mountains. Man built himself a hidden world of thinking
       machines and atoms and stars. Even the prophet Kardashev had long run out of numbers.
       All this came before I was ever born.

       Man had reached a point where his craft improved itself, where the machines no longer
       thought in numbers but thought like man. Man had reduced magic and the soul to a
       problem of numbers. Magic was merely dark energies, and with the right Craft, anyone
       could use it. Not after pouring over musty tomes and thinking and wondering, as I did.
       Man had long wondered over the craft of their machines: if the machines were smarter
       than man, why did the machines need man at all? I saw man‟s Craft proved once more.
       Man and machine each held their advantages and joined as one, so that the definition
       between them started to become without meaning. I was merely a wizard on a lonely
       planet at the edge of the sea of night, trained to old Craft and older traditions. Craft had
       become a problem of desire instead of a problem of ability, and the difference between a
       man and that of a thinking machine became an argument of flavor, not substance.

       Yet I tell you this: not everyone liked the idea of Man Transcendent, where all things
       were possible, and everyone was everywhere, free to speak with everyone without
       meaning anything. So they did what I fear happens whenever there is a disagreement
       between men and ideas of power: they fought a war.

        You ask him to stop for a moment. The Last Man Born? Machines that think as man?
Your mind reaches to grasp these ideas, and it finds itself in a juncture where at once it can and
cannot grasp it. A strange, surreal state, but stable nonetheless. You breathe deeply, but the man
is unforgiving: you had asked for his story, and you must swallow every word that floats and
marches across the fire.

       It was the Last War. Man had sometimes called wars thus, but this time it truly was,
       because after the Last War even I knew there could be none further. Man Transcendent
       fought Man Primeval and it was clear it was nothing the latter could win. I saw it a stand
       for an idea, but General Ludd was lost before he sallied forth. Man Transcendent could
       not die. If souls were numbers and bodies were numbers, then one could write more
       numbers elsewhere. Stories, runes, and spells dueled data, genes, and programs. And

        Man Transcendent won with nary a scratch, for his Craft had grown beyond the meaning
        of craft itself. And the dreariest part? Except for the tiny fragment of Man Transcendent
        that fought in this Last War, none of their kin understood or cared for the results; Man
        Primeval was a momentary itch to an uncaring beast of silicon hide.

       You then ask if this was so, why are we not living in a world of metal and wire, clicking
and twisping numbers instead of sitting „round a fire in the first threshold of winter? Why do
men still live, dream, die, and do everything else that makes men as men?

        Because we are not Man Transcendent. Man Transcendent had long forgotten the world
        well before the Last War. They forgot religion and souls and time and coin and death
        and meaning and love and cruelest of all, wonder. When Craft stares one in the face, one
        cannot recognize it. I saw the vappous look upon your eyes when you spoke of coins and
        water pumps. Now I ask you to imagine if every man thought that way for everything in
        that ever existed. Those who saw the world as hollow lived in their own false worlds,
        made of numbers instead of space. Man again burned the Library of Alexandria, but this
        time etched in numbers and left it to senescence, with nary a tear to shed.

        You then ask him beside this, what happened to the men who lost this war? He responds
that dragons and beasts and monsters and all those who did not wish for Hollow Transcendence
fled, using what magic they had to create new worlds entire. Man Transcendent called these
worlds False; Man Primeval called them Hidden. You ask what happened then. He says that the
“Men of the Hidden Worlds” set up limits. Some worlds restricted the re-creation of man‟s
Craft to specific points, whereas others tried to ban it all.

        It was then that I became the World Walker. Sometimes I visited the Lost World, but it
        never changed further; it was an empty expanse where a cold sea provided for the endless
        worlds of numbers the other Man had created for himself. So I traveled the Hidden,
        venturing to a thousand places, only unified in that man had created them. Here I found
        a thousand things: worlds left half-empty or half-finished, as their creators died, moved
        on, or grew weary of their great task. Some worlds sought to imitate the Lost World, and
        some sought to be its opposite, banning all Craft.

         You frown and ask him of this. How can one unthink a thought or undream a dream?
How can one unbuild a machine once its Craft is known to a world? The World Walker smiles
and his deep eyes effulge with the internal light of a forgeman‟s anvil. And it is here that he sees
you wondering the right sort of wonderings, the weariness of limbeck passing over your head.
These should not be your concerns; yesterday, your flock was your concern, not these thoughts.
And yet…something about them strikes you as if part (nay, perhaps all!) were worthy enigmata to
all men.

        It is here that you speak the types of thoughts that keep great men up late into the night.
        Does one explicate the ban on such Craft, in the hopes that law outweighs utility? Does
        one accept some devices and reject others, upon some sort of test? Does one educate and
        hope for the best? Does one cover the knowledge of such thoughts and wait for time,
        quiet sweeper of all things, to erase the thought?

       There is some truth in all these things. Sometimes, Craft is never adopted, be it secrecy,
       coin, or the fact that others cannot understand it enough to put it to use. Sometimes,
       Craft finds its own uses, weaving around law and bending judge with it. I have no good
       answers to such things, and if there exists a solid panacea, then perhaps I seek it.

       Know then, that these worlds are perhaps a second chance. It is the nature of man to pick
       himself up and attempt again and again until his end. Not all men are this way, of course,
       and some lie lame as a calf before a wolf. But Man, as a whole, has his greatest virtue
       and his greatest vice in persistence. Time can revert and renege, but it cannot be the
       spoliator of Man‟s tenacity. Perhaps this was the hope of the Hidden Worlds: a second

        You rub your eyes and notice the embers of the fire. You stare at them for a time, as if in
some distant pyromancy, before the roucoulement of birds awakens you from the trance and bids
a warison. The rosicler begins its silent trek across the horizon. You ask the man if this ground
you sit upon is truly a second prospect. The World Walker smirks once and replies that he
knows not—if he did he would have stopped walking worlds long ago. You ask him then when
he would stop.

       I may stop once can a find man who does not recognize an oar; that is, to find a world
       where Craft has never taken root. If this is possible, then I will be the first man to live
       backwards in time: to be born at the end of time and live forward until its beginning.

        He laughs at this, as if reminded of some jest. You ask him about the mirth that frames
his face. Hands from your home now walk out towards the circle, wondering about you and the
strange man before you.

       Perhaps I was hasty about claiming persistence as Man‟s foremost trait. I think it must
       be his second. His first is that he creates. He builds. He crafts. To find a land where
       none of this has happened would be a very unlikely thing, indeed. Thus said, perhaps
       only Time‟s Keeper knows when I stop. But day has set upon us, and we must part,

         You ask him that if there is no solution to the Great Thoughts, is there a mantra that you
might easily take with oneself? He nods. The Others gather before you, and see the walking
staff, the old robes, and the earth on his boots. It is then they notice his left hand—not flesh, but
an automaton of metal fibers and gears that silently mimics his right. They frown and point at
the wlatsome guest. He nods in understanding. They ask him his name.

       I do: ask, learn, and think before accepting any Craft unfamiliar to you: some bring weal
       and others woe, and to rely solely on other‟s praise is to be unable to tell the difference.
       Even then, it is a guess. Perhaps we shall never speak again; perhaps I shall visit again
       when you are a yaud to your people; perhaps we shall meet again next season. Bring
       comfortable boots. And to you lot…

I am called Eilam, Walker of Worlds.


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