I codified the outline after I wrote this, but it still may be helpful: http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com/2011/03/static-lands-saga-1-worldsetting.html
Theresa awakened and everything in the world sparkled. Sunlight streamed into the bedside window, filtered through leaves of many more different kinds of green than she had known in her previous life. Her heart soared in that strange, inexplicable way it had been doing recently to spite her hunger and the ache in her bones. She heard the music she heard most mornings, played by no one.
“The world is even brighter today,” she noted to herself – looking at last night’s unwashed dinner dishes next to the sink. They gleamed with an ethereal light. “It means I’m really going, doesn’t it? Minds a goin’ along with this old body. Closer to death – hope the boy won’t be too upset about it.”
Call kept talking about a cure. He went on and on about it, a new miracle that science was on the cusp of creating that could save her and would have saved his father had it been discovered years ago. Call was a grown man now, still young and without a wife. Theresa suspected that he might prefer a husband, but she didn’t press matters even though she wanted to see him find someone who would make him happy. If he did not want a companion at this time, that was his decision. Her daughter, Korrin, had given her grandchildren so Call did not need to do that if he had no desire to create any.
Korrin and her family lived far away – in the Land of Always-Night. Theresa’s small cabin was in the Land of Always-Day. There was quite a tract of the provinces and the entirety of the Gloaming Lands between the old woman and her daughter’s small family. Her son, Call, on the other hand, lived not too far away in the national capitol, Fortissimo. He was a city official, in charge of laws – an arbiter.
Theresa’s recent illness had been of special concern to him. She had what the common people called “the Shines.” It was a mysterious disease that slowly weakened the body and did stranger things to the mind. Sufferers of the Shines began with seeing and hearing things healthy people did not. As it degenerated muscles and ate at bones, it compensated in its ravages by making the world brighter to the eyes of a victim – hence it’s common name. In its later stages, the disease had the effect of enabling “visions” that convinced most victims that they had made a connection to another world.
This is what worried Theresa’s son the most. Not only had her late husband died of the Shines in the throes of a crazy rant years ago, there were laws in the land that did not look kindly upon those that lived in any way outside of reality.
Theresa had always disliked how the conquered peoples were treated. It wasn’t enough that they’d lost so many of their members in the wars, it was clear that the majority of them did not want to assimilate into the increasingly homogenizing culture of the people whose government they now lived under. Unity could be important, but too much emphasis on it left those who were naturally different in the cold. Considering some of the things the Shines was showing her, Theresa was beginning to think that there was some truth to some of the myths of those peoples – and even though it frightened her – some truth to the ravings of her late husband at the end of his life.
Her home was small – a one-room cabin she’d moved into after the kids had left and Eyn had passed away. She had a small property with a well and pump and a pen for chickens. She didn’t know why she made repairs to the fencing… the darn things just got out and had the run of the property, anyway. They only stuck around because she fed them. The old woman had fresh eggs every morning (or at least what passed for morning in a land without night). She used to have fresh meat, too, but her hands ached too much these days to hold a heavy-headed axe and to do the plucking and other nasty business required for preparing meat had become too much trouble.
Besides, whenever one of her hens hatched a brood of chicks, Theresa couldn’t bear to imagine the cute little things growing up to a destiny upon her table. Perhaps she had grown less calloused of heart in her age – or just less practical. Fried chicken she’d seen from egg to plate had always been the best of dinners.
Most of her needs were delivered to her doorstep by the order of her son. Theresa insisted that she did not need to be daily cared for by anyone. As long as she was still able to move, she would take care of herself.
A knock came to her door, shaking her out of her personal thoughts and shattering the symphony that was playing in her head. She opened it and was greeted by booted feet and her colorful rooster, Rigel.
“Oh, Emperor Rigel!” she gently scolded, picking the bird up and cradling him in her arms, “You are tracking mud in. Out with you!”
She set the chicken down with a pat to its hindquarters to send it outside.
“Mother!” her ignored guest sighed.
“By all means, Call, come in,” Theresa said. “There’s no benefit to your standing in the doorway. You’re letting my chickens in.”
Call kicked dirt and detritus off his boots and stepped inside the cabin. “Emperor… don’t tell me you’ve started swearing fealty to them.”
Theresa laughed. “I have not gone that crazy yet, my boy. Rigel is just the Emperor of my yard, a king among a harem of hens. He didn’t attack you, did he?”
“A little, but his claws couldn’t stand up to the leather of my boots and their nice, high-cut. He gave me a good scare, though, jumping out at me like he did.”
“You must have gotten too close to his ladies. Chickens can be far braver than what most take them for and that one’s a rascal.”
“I should like to have him for dinner.”
“Sit! Sit! What brings you out this way? You do not often visit your poor old mother – not often enough!”
“I have exciting news, Mother!” Call gasped out the words, rising from the chair he’d started to sit in. “The city’s got a cute for the Shines! You do not have to die or degenerate any further!”
“I don’t want it.”
“You heard me, Call. I don’t want it.”
“You want to die, Mother?”
“Of course not. Few people ever actually want to die. I am not suicidal. I have just accepted what is to be.”
“You’ll have many years left if you take the cure.”
“I told you I do not want it.”
“Why ever not?”
“Call,” Theresa said gently, reaching up her hand to cup his cheek – her boy had become a handsome man and she was proud to have a beautiful son, “I have found benefits to my condition. The world calls it a disease, but there are good things about it. I take the herbal teas and the chemist’s medications required to save off its worst aspects but… I want no cure. I’ve been seeing colors I’ve never seen before – colors you cannot even imagine… I never did before. They are beautiful and I hope that you’ll get to see them someday, too. I’m even beginning to think your father’s ravings about the ‘otherland’ have some merit. I’ve been catching glimpses of the land that he saw – I’m sure of it.”
“Mother!” Call yelped, nearly shouting. His eyes were wide with some kind of emotion that was close to fear in them, just short of acute terror. “Don’t be like this! Don’t say such ridiculous things! Don’t make yourself worthless!”
“At my age, I’ve learned to care much less about what society thinks of me. If folk think I’m worthless, they can go right ahead. I know they’re wrong.”
“You could get locked up in a hospital!”
“I’m dying. It does not matter. I suppose I’ll be going off to one hospital or another, anyway, eventually.”
“Please consider the cure,” Call insisted. “I’d like to have you around longer – and to bring you back to your senses.”
“You’ll never know until you see for yourself.”
“I’d rather keep my mind – and give my poor mother back hers.”
Evening came. In the
it was never a true evening. The sun would dip down toward the horizon, a disk of deep orange fire, and stay there for several hours. At least, this is what it would do where Theresa lived. Her cabin and land were close to the Gloaming Lands. Further west into the Land of Always-Day, the sun stayed high. It was always mid-sky in the desert-country ruled by the vulture-people. Land of Always-Day
In the far east was the
. It had been at least three years since Theresa had been there to see the moon. The passage of a day in the connected lands of the Nation was not a matter of traveling time, but a matter of traveling space – a trip overland. The world had not always been this way and had become the way it was relatively recently, hence why words existed for concepts like “evening” and “morning.” Such words were artifacts of a bygone-but-remembered and well-documented age. The seasons and weather changed and green things grew in all the lands (though vegetables and fruits had a tendency to grow quite large in the Land of Always-Day). No one knew how this violation of natural laws worked yet, but researchers were engaged in trying to find answers. There was a legend that the world was given its current state by a lady-wizard who had been trying to control Time because she was constantly late for appointments. Her experiment failed and she died before she could figure out a way to reverse what she’d done to the cycles of the sun and moon. Land of Always-Night
Theresa dreamed vividly, both in her sleep and while awake. She saw lights and colors when she closed her eyes. She talked with a messenger from the heavens, a being that appeared to her as a woman with an eagle’s head and wings. The eagle-woman spoke of a higher world, the soul of Theresa’s late husband and of things unseen by most living people. The strange being also made sure to let the old woman know that seeing her was a symptom of the disease she had and that she may or may not be an actual entity. Theresa awakened to the usual lights, colors and music she’d been experiencing in increasing intensity since coming down with the Shines and the days wore on.
In the end, Theresa decided, she truly did not want to be cured if it meant missing out on such lovely visions and the beautiful feelings that came with them. She was seeing glory in even her melancholy moods now. She’d lived in stone-reality all of her life. It was now her time to enjoy dreams. Some young people were affected by the Shines, too. She wondered if they felt the same way as the older people did.
Call took her into the capitol center one day. Theresa did not visit Fortissimo often. She browsed and did a little shopping, for the shopping in Fortissimo was world-famous. The pigeons that flew overhead were made of white light. The stone statues in the city gleamed with colors. Theresa asked Call if they’d been painted since she’d been in the city last. Call, surprised at her question, informed her that they hadn’t.
Taking her by the arm, he led her to a place he greatly desired to show her. She paused at the office’s entrance to read the sign. “A medical facility?” she questioned.
A pair of young men as well-dressed as Call approached her. They lacked Call’s silken cape, wearing, instead, long white coats over their straight black suits.
“What’s going on?” Theresa asked in alarm. Call nodded to the men.
“Mother,” he said, “You know well that a large part of our Nation’s morality is based upon human well-being. You are unwell. You may not think that you are, but you are profoundly unwell. I have made arrangements to solve that.”
“We’ve discussed this!” Theresa pleaded.
“I am sorry, Mother.”
“If you were sorry, you wouldn’t be doing this!”
She was forcibly taken to one of the examination rooms to be given the help the fine city-arbiter had requested for her.
The newly-created cure for the Shines consisted of an injected material. It helped the body to fight the disease and repaired its damage over the course of days. It was said to be made partially of magic – of the natural kind that was commonly accepted to be a part of the land. Theresa was returned to her home and Call had to leave her alone to attend to pressing matters regarding his job.
“The world has become so dull,” Theresa lamented. “The aches are gone, but where have the colors vanished to? The shimmer? The beauty? I’ll never see visions again.”
It was all she could do to pace about her cabin and go about her daily business. She cared for her chickens and brought in water from the pump as always. She remembered what she used to feel and what she used to see. Even the ghosts of these memories told her that she had lost something special, something that had become a part of her even as it was slowly killing her.
“Maybe I was just crazy, I guess,” The old woman said to herself while she gathered eggs from the chicken coop. “It would be so much easier to accept if I did not remember any of it. What do you think, Rigel?” she asked, looking down at the trusting rooster near her feet. “Have I been acting as though the world has died? Reality feels so dead to me now. I think I’d rather be crazy.”
Theresa looked at the world around her. It had lost its luster almost completely. It was downright… normal. Mundane. There was no gleam and there was no glimmer. It was all so sanely… no…insanely rational – for lack of an adequate term. Likewise, she perceived no gateways or hints thereof to another world… No messengers and nothing superimposed over normal existence anymore.
She’d thrown out her medication as the doctors told her she did not need it anymore. She was cured. There was no need to medicate a condition she no longer had. The medicines had always been good for her – regulating her pain and keeping her mind just enough in check to function and to understand the world without killing the beauty that she’d experienced or diminishing her ability to perceive the other world that her son called dangerous nonsense.
According to Call, this was her well-being – the ultimate moral act by him and their society… Save for the fact that Theresa did not feel well at all now.
Call came for a visit. It was the last one he would ever make to the quiet little cabin.
“What in the name of the great goddess Materia-Machina went wrong?” he moaned to himself. “I thought she’d gotten better. I thought I’d given her life!”
His finger traced the words on the handwritten note. It astounded him how clean his mother’s handwriting had always been. A tear wet the page. He tried to stuff his emotion down. It was unseemly for a man to cry, even when he was alone.
The chalk-pale feet dangled in shadow and the rough rope creaked from where it had been secured to a rafter. His mother was strong for her age and retained plenty of strength even through her slow ailment, but Call wondered just how she’d been able to do it. He also had no idea where she’d gotten the rope. His eyes darted away from the horror before him and back to the paper in his hand.
I know that you are the one most likely to read this first. I bathed, used the outhouse and dressed in my finest so as not to leave too much of a mess for you. Bury me next to your father if you can. Tell Korrin that I am sorry (though I’m sure you know that I am not, or I would not have done this).
I know that you wanted the best for me, dear boy, but sometimes, well-being is a tricky subject. Once cured, life became dead for me. I was made healthy, but I was happier when I was dying. I was happier with less of what this world calls sanity. I did not want to do this to you, Call. I love you very much. Know that. I did this because I thought that maybe I’ll find that other world and see the beautiful colors again.
Maybe, one day, you shall see them, too.