The year is unimportant.
What a freeing thought, a lonely thought.
The night was vast as the open air over the ocean, a depthless vault lurching across the choppy waters. Where waves broke on rocks under starlight, he stood on the stone’s edge above. Breathing deep, salty air moved avidly, washing through his hair.
“I was dreaming,” Abal said, “…of sinking.”
Behind him stone walls curved up, but by handwork, not nature. Thousands of stacked stones, standing stacked for thousands of years. A dome-topped tower by the sea, aged and grey. He stood in the arched window, high at the top, hands in his pockets.
“You woke me,” he told them.
“You know why I’m here.” Sosias approached him from behind.
Abal slid a hand into his suit jacket, pulling a flower from the vest pocket. “Mourning?” he asked, subverting. He knew full well. “You were his one friend, you know.”
“You are his son, Abal.”
Not the past tense.
Abal smiled faintly, stared at the small flower. “A flower represents life. Birth. And we leave them for the dead. Poetic. I know you’re of a cyclical outlook, but maybe sometimes a person should just be finished. In this case, the man was torment. Move on from the memory. Forget them.”
“He’s not dead,” Sosias said, the words bringing a long silence. “You know it.”
Abal exhaled deeply, sighing. He returned the flower to his pocket, turning around to step down from the tall window lookout. He laid his eyes on Sosias for the first time since Apogee. The bearded old man was threadbare and tattooed, hardened. The man who knew the ages. The Sage.
Their gazes locked. “Remember the past or it will remember you, Stranger.”
“This is what you called me for? The Sickle pierced his side, Sosias. Aziacht fell into that sea behind me. What more would you have me do?”
The starlight had suddenly faded. A cloud roving by had blocked it.
“He is not dead. The one who came was a vain wraith. He took your name, he tried to stand at the end of all things, but all things fell. The faithless Thinker could never be the Pilgrim. Few of us remain, now, to dream this dream, to make the final journey and finish him… And it must be made, before the lights go out.”
“Please. The three are dead, no answers given. All that remains is a mortal, an old man, a young man, a girl and a twofaced demon, and a few long-forgottens. Even you can hardly live in this despairing remainder of existence. For us to have come this far, through countless time and glory, there’s just no one left willing or able. Sosias, it’s just you and me.”
“No.” The old man sat where a rogue stone stood out in the empty room. “The tangle is unraveling, Abal. Apogee came and went, but never the end. You have to make it right.”
Abal thought for a moment. “Nothing returns from that. I know it in my bones.”
“I’m calling you to it. These are the strangest days. I need you to pass on this call.”
Abal looked down the row of tower windows, where they spanned the circumference of the room, letting the night air draft through. He scratched at the short beard on his face. He cast his eyes down. “You know my answer, old man. I’ve been hiding for a long time, since Apogee. I walked the forgotten place, but not deep enough. Not decisively. I never dared to go as far into the unknown as my father. I know what I know. But…”
“Nothing can remain strange forever.” Sosias pointed over Abal’s shoulder. “The East and West are one and the same. See? Setting or rising?”
A red light was peaking over the horizon, turning deep blues a mellower, even shade.
“Rising,” Abal said, looking back.
“Then let it be so…”
When Sosias had said it, he stood. He nodded and Abal understood. Unspoken, he returned to the dark periphery of the tower. He was a long dead dream.
Abal was alone atop the tower by the sea. He was alone in this place and age.
He clenched his shaking fist, counting the time as the light began to fade again. The sunrise had shied away, back into the west. A moonless dark settled in again. Count the moments, he thought, and hold your breath. Everything will be made clear.
This was the beginning and it demanded an end.