A/N: Sorry I've been gone soooo long! University and a two and a half hour daily commute there and back has been a killer. But the government has been so good as to gut financial aid for the quarter and give me the summer off, so hopefully I'll be able to continue more regularly for the next three months. :D
WARNING: This chapter is completely infected by the old Victorian novels I've been reading, North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo, so the narration and dialogue might seem really archaic and difficult to read. My apologies. I really have to be careful what I read when I'm writing, because I always end up imitating it! On the other hand, if you like Austen, Bronte, or Eliot, you'll enjoy the style in this chapter.
WARNING #2: This chapter is heavily philosophical. But since I've gotten almost 20 enthusiastic reviews on my last philosophical chapter, I thought you guys wouldn't mind me going there again. This section especially deals with ethics and metaphysics. The discussion of ethics is fairly self-explanatory, but the metaphysics part is more confusing. I would suggest hopping over to YouTube and watching "Imagining the 10th Dimension" parts 1 and 2 (11 minutes total). It will make what Clockwork says MUCH more understandable.
You also should be aware of the concept of time reversal symmetry, which postulates that time as the 4th dimension actually flows two directions, not just the one that we lowly 3 dimensional creatures are able to perceive, so that things that happen in the future can be the cause of things that happen in the past.
Confused yet? Bwahahaha.
Enjoy. : D
P.S.: (Because this has already happened once.) Anyone who uses the review board to try to convert me to their religion will have their post deleted... or maybe posted at the end of the next chapter and pecked to bloody shreds, depending on my mood. is NOT the appropriate place to evangelize someone – especially when you choose to do it anonymously (are you serious? Why would you go declaring how great your God is but hide who you are, unless you already know that what you are doing is inappropriate?). I am not Christian, and have no desire to be. There will be Christianity as part of the backdrop of the story, since it takes place in the middle ages or renaissance, but the story itself is not of a Christian theme! Please don't go trying to use my own story to convert me. It's offensive, and makes you look really dumb, because Aristotle lived more than 300 years before Christ, so obviously that is not what he was talking about.
~ Previously ~
"You will know what is right."
Daniel lifted his head and looked at Clockwork, comprehension trickling over him. Coming from the master of time, such a comment could never be just rhetorical, for the sake of comfort alone, the prince realized. And, indeed, there was a knowing gleam in Clockwork's eyes.
"When?" Daniel asked suspiciously. "When will I know? What's going to happen?"
"That," Clockwork answered with a faint smirk, "is up to you."
Daniel straightened, epiphany pressing upon him as the time ghost began to drift away from him toward the main deck. "Wait, you could have stopped me! Why did you let me come here?" he demanded, following him.
Clockwork smiled, and began to fade out, his last words purling around Daniel on the wind. "Because it's time…"
~ Chapter Eight ~
Symmetry and Prophecy
The ocean peaked and rolled, shifting between amethyst and black as it folded over itself like a discarded piece of silk. In the distance, the inky waters merged with the descending night, dissolving the horizon so that it seemed the world above and below were melding, everything beyond evening's glimmer sliding into a void that was quickly closing in on him as he flew, and Tucker tried to keep his eyes on the middle distance.
But the behemoth of a ship that loomed before him did nothing to steel his nerves. It sat rocking in the waters like an agitated beast, and the wood groaned and creaked with more agony than all the cries of the damned. An awful winding wail and thumping reached his ears that sent a chill down his spine. The sound of raucous laughter rose from beneath it, the joyous sound a jarring, twisted dichotomy to the eerie rhythmic drone and malicious hissing of the waves, and he would have reeled back had he not already committed his form into its flight and divorced his mind from any power to divert his body from it's path.
Was that... music? Tucker's stomach rolled. A brief refrain might have suggested it, but the unnatural, interminable sound that wafted towards him was nothing like anything he had imagined from all of Daniel's books, the prose and poetry that compared heaven and glory and love to it's sublime cadences, and the paintings of gods and kings in which the invisible notes of the minstrels seemed meant to adorn with as much majesty as silk.
But this... this was a coarse, jagged, frightening sound, tormented one moment and giddy the next like a mad man.
He had a brief flash of hope that maybe Daniel would hear this, see the people laughing maniacally to it, and finally realize in horror that the world he had imagined the living realm to be was nothing like the one before him.
But almost as immediately, with a feeling like a cold stone in his gut, Tucker knew that wouldn't be the prince's reaction at all. He had seen the living fire in Daniel's eyes back in the cave, the alien gleam of a soul not content with mere existence, a light that might have been the sunlight of the other world piercing the ocean above the threshold to shine down and reflect in the prince's eyes... except that they had spent countless hours in that cavern from the time they had been boys, and however strangely the sun illuminated the cave, it had never before made Daniel look almost...
How am I going to find him? Tucker wondered despondently. The prince would be invisible. How would he know where on the ship Daniel was, or even when he left? I should never have let him get so far ahead.
He was almost upon the ship now, and he looked up at the soaring heights in tremulous awe. He had only ever seen these vessels silent and broken upon the ocean floor. To look upon it now was like beholding a corpse risen from its grave. The topmasts were lost in the darkness, their sails no more than wavering gray shapes above the immense canvass squares and jibs that hung on the yardarms like someone crucified, trying to pull free and snapping viciously. Another moment, and he would be over the main deck.
But he would not abandon Daniel...
Taking a deep breath, Tucker grimace in determination and put on a burst of speed-
And crashed head first into a wall.
He fell to the floor in a daze, his vision swimming. Green and gray blurred and ran together, and instinctively Tucker tried to sit up to better see where he was. But he had hardly righted himself when something heavy bowled into him, throwing him back to the floor.
"Oration on the Dignity of Man!"
Tucker twisted his neck to glance over his shoulder at the man sprawled across him. "Lancer?"
"What happened?" the governor croaked as he clambered woozily off the younger man's back.
Tucker grunted and pushed himself to his hands and knees – then blinked. The floor beneath him was not the wood of a deck, but stone.
He looked up in alarm that quickly burst into a dizzying rush of both relief and cold fury at once. The pulsing beat of the music had transformed into the mechanical percussions of gears and hammers, and the heaving waters settled into the silent shifting of colored light over stone, cast by the enormous lenses which draped the walls like glass ivy.
"W-Where are we?" Lancer asked, looking around him anxiously.
Tucker didn't answer the him, but rose up into the air with a growl. "Clockwork! Show yourself!" But the hall was silent. Tucker turned, looking for any sign of the man. "Clockwork!"
"I am here," a voice came from behind him, and Tucker whirled to find the ghost in his elder form, gazing at him with his perpetually serene expression. Below Tucker, Lancer drew back in trepidation at who he beheld; but Clockwork's unperturbed countenance, despite his own meddling, only raised Tucker's ire further.
His hands clenched in frustration. "Send us back."
Tucker was so used to the time ghost's cryptic replies, that the straight answer startled him for a moment. "What do you mean 'no'?"
"I cannot send you back."
"Daniel is still back there, dammit! He doesn't know he's alone."
"On the contrary, he knows it far better than you do."
Back to the riddles, Tucker thought, his teeth grinding. The implication in Clockwork's words sent a trickle of dread down his spine, but Tucker refused to rise to the bait. "I am not abandoning Daniel," he bit out. "Now send me back."
Clockwork looked at him solemnly. "You are too late."
The dread bloomed into icy fear. "What's happened? What have you done?"
"You said I was too late!"
Clockwork frowned in consternation. "That perhaps is not the right wording, since you could not be on time. But there is no way to put it to you that you would understand."
Though Clockwork sounded apologetic rather than patronizing, Tucker seethed, and Lancer watching from where he stood eye level with the tips of their tails thought it was fortunate for the other ghost that the boy had no natural powers. The prince in such a state would have erupted in a flare that would have singed the stone black and been helpless to stop it. "Does Daniel know you're meddling here?" Tucker demanded.
"I am talking to him as we speak."
"...You can split your form?" Lancer asked breathlessly, hardly daring to utter a word, only finding his voice out of some latent instinct of self-preservation which sought to know the present danger, though it might bring it down upon him to draw it's attention.
Clockwork did indeed look down to the trembling man, but with a sympathetic smile. "No."
"Duplicating myself would be redundant. You are thinking too linearly. It is more of a curling up on myself," Clockwork answered casually, as if they were figures languidly conversing in one of Daniel's pastoral paintings instead of in the midst of some doom befalling the prince. "I perceive temporality and move about it as you move about the space of this room. My existence stretches throughout time. If I want to be in two places in what you would perceive as the same moment, I simply need to move so that two parts of myself meet, not unlike how you would bring your hands together, or how a snake coils up upon itself."
"You're a damn snake, alright," Tucker snapped, and Lancer cowered, taking a step back from the two. How did Tucker dare to speak to the ghoul like that when he could not protect himself from his retaliation, especially after Clockwork had just revealed his own power to be beyond anything anyone had imagined? Yet Clockwork merely leaned on his staff in midair, considering Tucker seriously but seemingly unfazed by his wrath. "You have led Daniel into this. Bring him back, like you did us."
"Then stop whatever is happening!"
"I cannot stop now what hasn't happened yet. What is happening happened long ago, and will happen one way or another."
"ENOUGH with the conundrums! You said you can move through time. You knew when Daniel and I would come today, so don't try to tell me you can't see the future. Use your powers and save him!"
Clockwork looked at Tucker sadly. "I can see the future, yes, and the past, such as they are. But both are constantly changing. What is the past in the present may not be the past in the future, and the future may not belong to the present past. Cause is effect, and effect is cause. Time is not set in stone, Tucker. There are many paths the future may take, some more desirable than others, but the future must take some path. I do not control it. I can only try to coax it to grow the direction that is best, as a gardener tends a plant, though he cannot make it grow beyond trying to provide the right conditions."
"Then make it grow another direction! Keep Daniel from whatever is about to happen to him."
"Would you have me erase Daniel from existence entirely?"
Tucker was struck silent a moment with horror. "That can't be the only way."
"What is and is to come is an effect and a cause of what has been. They are reciprocal. Remove the one, and you remove the other. Take away one side of the scale, and the other falls. Daniel's fate is the balance to who he is, who he was. He can only become the symmetry of his own beginning. To do otherwise would tear him from the fabric of time."
Who he was... his own beginning... Realization gripped the dark man, with a shiver and chill like the tingle of passing through a threshold into the ocean's heavy, cold grip. "You know who Daniel was," Tucker breathed, "before he died." The ghost gave neither a gesture nor word of denial or assent, and his silence told Lancer the boy was right – there was no need for Clockwork to affirm what Tucker already knew to be true.
Lancer's voice shook, the words, asking what should never be known, inviting such a grotesque perversion of nature that Lancer wished he could hold them back even as they slipped from his mouth. "Who was he?"
"I cannot reveal that; but it would tell you nothing anyhow. It is not a question of who Daniel is."
Lancer stared at Clockwork in complete befuddlement, and could make nothing of the man's words. But an inkling trickled through the coils of Tucker's mind, for he had seen what the governor had not: Daniel's unbridled, unnatural passion; his fixation on the living world; the way he would forget his own powers; the strange, subtle change in his form Tucker had seen in the cave. "It's what," Tucker whispered, the terrible words falling into syncopation with the tocs of the gears. "What is he?"
Clockwork smiled thinly. "Yes."
"He's not a Reborn, is he?"
"He is, but only just."
Lancer lifted from the floor in agitation, looking back and forth between the two men, his form quavering. His incredulous gaze finally settled on Clockwork. "You're mad!" he exclaimed. But Tucker made no sound of agreement, and Lancer glanced back at him to find a disturbing expression of misery and certainty had fallen over his countenance, as if Clockwork had only confirmed something the prince's friend had long suspected, and finally knowing for sure was almost a relief. "You're both mad! I was outside the room with his father when the prince was reborn! He could not be anything else!"
"Couldn't he?" Clockwork posed.
"What do you mean?" Lancer spat sharply.
"What is a Reborn?"
"Someone who died young," Tucker supplied, "before they had lived long enough to become either good or evil."
"That is the common belief," Clockwork said, "but it is not quite right. Those who cross over are not necessarily good, and rarely are Rogues evil by nature, though they might be destructive and dangerous. But though which they become might be more complex that it would first appear, you are right in that no soul which has become moral or immoral can be reborn. For there is something which all souls must have attained before they can become either – self awareness."
"I don't understand," Lancer said.
Clockwork smiled, happy to have a chance to play the philosopher (and maybe to play with Lancer's head, who so prided himself on being the court intellectual). "Can you be moral without being self aware?" the time ghost posed. "To be moral is to chose to act rightly; but to do so one must have an understanding of oneself in relation to others and the world, or there can be no knowledge of right and wrong. Self awareness comes at different times for everyone – for some at the age of three or four, for others not until perhaps seven or even later, and awareness deepens as one matures and becomes engaged in a broader world. It is no different for Reborns than it is for humans – an infant does not know itself, and cannot make moral choices until the child has become aware of itself as an independent entity in the world able to affect others. The difference is that the Ghost Realm is stagnant. The absence of the body means an absence of bodily needs, and therefore of much suffering and pleasure. Thus there are few opportunities to act morally, and it takes souls far longer to become either good or evil."
"And that is when we finally cross over?" Tucker asked, beginning to comprehend.
"But what has this to do with the prince?" Lancer snapped.
"It is the measure of one's self-awareness which determines the shape and fate of one's soul. Death found Daniel in the very moment of epiphany. Indeed, it was the very manner of his death which forced upon him the understanding of who he was and his place in the world. Had he lived even a moment longer and had reacted to the situation with a single thought or movement of intent, he might have crossed over. But he only had time enough to realize the reality of himself, a second and nothing more. Death caught him between self-awareness and morality, and though he was no longer wholly innocent, he was not yet good or evil and could only be reborn."
"But he's not a true Reborn, then," said Tucker resignedly.
"No. He had already in that instant begun to be shaped. His soul remembers the living world, even if his mind does not. That is the reason for his fascination with the other realm. And he must be allowed to pursue his fixation. That is why I pulled you out, so that you could not stop him. Daniel's soul must follow its own impetus to completion. The choice of how to react to his reality which would have made him either good or evil is the symmetry to the epiphany of self-awareness. That decision has been postponed for almost twenty years. What happens tonight – what we must hope happens tonight – is the beginning of that evolution which should have followed the moment after the loss of innocence, which must follow as a course."
"What would have happened if we stopped him?" Lancer asked nervously.
Clockwork turned a serious gaze on the bald man. "War," he answered gravely. "Famine. Epidemics. Thousands of lives lost or prevented in the near now, millions in the time to come."
The men's eyes widened in alarm. They had been expecting an answer relating to the prince, not to the living realm. How could Daniel's soul be so tied up in the fate of the other world? Lancer wondered with a shudder.
"And to Danny?" Tucker pressed with a thin voice, as if he could hardly force himself to ask.
Clockwork grimaced. "What happens to all souls who cannot attain symmetry."
Lancer's brow furrowed in confusion, but Tucker paled as the pieces fell into place. "He'd become a Rogue..." he whispered. Lancer glanced at him in horror, and Clockwork nodded.
"You are right to accuse me of leading Daniel into this, of encouraging his fixation. But it has only ever been an effort to prevent that other, more likely fate."
Tucker blinked, as if waking from one nightmare into another. "But then who will rule? Whether Daniel follows his obsession or becomes a Rogue, either way the Ghost Realm will be without a future king. What about the fate of the people here?"
Clockwork smiled somewhere between sympathy and amusement. "There will be a king. But he is not someone you will ever bow to."
Tucker shrank for a moment with the sudden empathy of how it must feel to be a mouse before a cat, at the mercy of a creature so much bigger and more powerful that the lives it beheld were of no significance except as passing entertainment, and that if it prolonged the life it held by the tail, it was only to prolong it's own game. But at this thought, of every ghoul in the realm helpless to be nothing more than Clockwork's play things, white hot anger flashed through him, turning his fear to ash. "Who? Who is it? What is going to happen?"
Clockwork opened his mouth to reply, but before he had said a word his expression flittered, his eyes for a moment distant and glassy. When he blinked, his gaze returned to Tucker and he smiled again, if this time a little forced. "It has begun," he told them, and turned to his lenses. "Go. Go back to the castle and wait for Daniel. He will return to you yet. I know you do not like to be here."
The dark man hovered a moment, torn between worry for his friend and wanting to press Clockwork for answers. Lancer drifted over to him and pulled on his arm. "Let's get out of here," the governor urged warily. Tucker let the man begin to tow him along, but then stopped and turned back.
"What of the Ghost Realm?" he asked again. "Are the people in danger?"
Clockwork looked down at him solemnly. "There is danger, yes. A threat to the realm."
Tucker's breath quickened. "Have you told Daniel?"
"Daniel must not be told," Clockwork said sternly. "He would follow the wrong path, and become more of a threat himself than what you face now."
"But... What is the threat? Tell me!"
"I cannot," the old ghost replied. "I can only tell you that when it is over, a new king shall sit on the throne." Clockwork was silent a moment, letting Tucker absorb the dire prophecy; but the young man seemed to have realized he would get no more out of Clockwork, and remained silent.
"Come," Lancer whispered, tugging again on Tucker's sleeve. "Come on."
Reluctantly, the boy turned and followed the governor out of the hall, only pausing at the door to glance back at the ghost behind them. Clockwork heard the main doors in the foyer creak open, then shut with a hollow thud.
Clockwork tightened his grip on his staff. "It has indeed begun."
* Oration on the Dignity of Man - a humanist philosophical work by Pico della Mirandola from 1486. Just a play on words - falling flat on your face isn't very dignified, so it's kind of like him exclaiming, "Oh, my poor dignity!" ;)
A/N: I have been trying to get my writing up to a skill level that might be publishable, and tried a different technique for writing this chapter that I think worked much more smoothly than how I have worked on previous chapters. But I need to know if it makes a difference for you as the audience, if you see an improvement. So R&R! Please tell me what you think! Your critiques really help.
~ The Author