Monday, February 9, 2015

The Crossing: Backstory

[Some explanation of where this idea came from here.]
[As told by one person who has settled in the town within the crossing to someone else who has recently decided to live there.]

A long time ago the town was resettled. A cult had been drawn here by the darkness. The darkness wasn't as strong back then, but then neither was the light. The darkness of the town called out, just as it does today, but even fewer could hear it than do these days. The darkness in the souls of the cultists, though, that was enough to make a connection.

So they came. They came and found an abandoned town waiting for them to take possession. They repaired the buildings, tilled the land, and began to live here as if it were any other place. Hard to believe now, I know. For decades they lived here. It had to be decades because the ritual they wanted to preform required the death of innocents, and none of them were innocent.

They raised new children, keeping the truth of who and what they were hidden from those they planned to use. Raised from birth in this place, in the crossing, those children had within them the power to enact the townsfolk's ritual.

The ritual called for the death of twenty-three innocents over seventeen months. Lunar months, if that matters to you. For the first year of sacrifices they killed one thirteen year old each month. Thirteen deaths; thirteen months. Each child sacrificed in the month of their birth – though, again, lunar months. You would think them each thirteen years and six months old, each sacrificed six months from their birthday.

The final four sacrifices followed an escalating pattern. One twenty-three year old was sacrificed in the fourteenth month. Two nineteen year olds in the fifteenth month. Three seventeen year olds in the sixteenth month. There were to be four thirteen year olds in the seventeenth month.

The cult failed to account for a basic thing. Even as their actions sank the crossing further into darkness, a light began to glimmer. The ones they scarified were pure. Not saints or angels, but people. Human beings that were purposely kept separate from the taint of their parents and their town. Even as the cult's rituals cemented the unthinking darkness that defines this place, the ghosts of those that had died formed the first willful force of light to dwell in the crossing.

That we know of, of course. The crossing is older than sin itself, so they say, but the history we can learn goes back only so far. What went on here before cult has been lost like whispers in the wind. They came after a period of prolonged silence, and proceeded to drown out whatever secrets might have lingered with their own cacophony.

Regardless, if the cult had bothered to pay attention, they'd have noticed the push-back beginning as they carried out those last sacrifices. They didn't see it coming until it was far too late, of course. The twenty-third sacrifice at the close of the seventeenth month was when the ghosts finally had the power to really accomplish something. Twenty-two lost souls, not some divine beings but things like you or me, humans --confused, angry, hurt, muddled, but none the less compassionate human beings-- prevented the final sacrifice of the final batch from going as planned.

Twenty-two lost souls trying to save a twenty-third before it became one of their number. They didn't, quite, succeed, but neither did they fail.

The ritual utterly failed to bring the cultists dread god through the crossing. It failed because the twenty third soul was torn asunder. Neither freed nor used. The others tried to save its life, they tried to save the soul itself, they tried to make anything happen … anything but what was supposed to happen.

They succeeded in most of what they tried to do, everything but the main point. They saved the life of the last sacrifice, but it mattered little because all that remained was a soulless body. They prevented the soul from becoming trapped, like them, within the crossing, but it didn't much matter at the time because the soul was broken in the process. As the ritual held the soul in place, they tried to wrench it free, and the soul simply shattered.

Part of it lingered here, not because it was trapped but because it had some innate understanding that here was where it had the chance to become whole again. The two largest parts were thrown miles away, where they eventually became newborn twins. The other pieces were tiny by comparison to the first three. Some found their way into animals, a squirrel here, a field-mouse there. One became attached to a stick.

The twenty two lost souls remained in the crossing. The cultist's god remained beyond this world, but it wasn't pushed back to where it had been before the rituals commenced. It was instead stuck being almost free.

And so darkness and light infused the crossing for the next thirteen years. As for the state of the crossing itself, it was as if someone had stuck their foot in the door between worlds. It wasn't quite open, but it definitely wasn't shut.

Those thirteen years are why we don't know what happened before the cultists moved here. Things were calm, we know that much. They interrupted a time of subtlety and silence, that's clear. But their influence during those thirteen years erased whatever history there was.

They explored the instances and shadows, they built up the town in all its variations, they did so much to solidify the in-between that it's hard to imagine the crossing going quiet again. Hard to imagine, but it's happened before and I doubt those cultists were special enough to do something for the very first time in history, so it must be possible that it will happen again.

Still, try to find history from before they arrived and you won't. It simply isn't possible to see beyond the footprint they've left with any kind of clarity.

The reason they stayed was that they had nearly succeeded, their awakening of the crossing from its period of slumber and whispers was all the proof they needed of that. Also, I think, they somehow sensed that their time would come again.

They may not have, precisely, realized that the majority of the soul had been reincarnated, but somehow they knew that if they waited opportunity would knock. They may not have known that in thirteen years time their chance would come again, but they had a feeling that it would come at some point. So they stayed, and they waited, and they built, and their darkness grew.

Some people I've told the story to have difficulty understanding why they'd all stay. It's harder for me to imagine why they'd consider leaving. These are people who had sold their souls. Not by signing some silly contract written in blood, by doing unforgivable things without so much as a twinge of guilt or a moment's desire for forgiveness.

They'd burnt away everything good about themselves. The original project, it must be remembered, lasted a quarter of a century. They resettled the town, refurbished it, began to live here, and brought into this world the first sacrificial decades before their ritual would end. Decades before the ritual would start. Remember that the oldest was 23 at the time of sacrifice.

I don't know how you can live with someone that long and still be willing to kill them for the sake of some ritual or some god, but I have an even harder time believing that the kind of person who would do that, the kind of person who would go that far, would simply up and walk away if things didn't go precisely according to plan.

Once someone has gone that far, what could they possibly go back to?

Anyway, by the time the thirteen years were up, the cult had figured out what they needed to do. They eventually realized that parts of the soul had been reincarnated. They also gained some awareness that a large shard of it was already here. They hunted down and sacrificed the animals that housed bits of the soul in smaller rituals, ones that helped them call out to the largest missing pieces: the twins.

How magic translates to logistics is something I'll never understand, but the process worked, and soon the two pieces of the shattered soul that had escaped this place were on their way back here, in a car with their father.

The shard that remained here had spent its time learning, organizing the twenty-two who had gone before, and regaining what parts of itself it could manage. When the animals were sacrificed it readily accepted the broken bits back into itself. It didn't, and I find this impressive for a thirteen year old--however dead it might be--seem concerned with freeing itself from its broken afterlife. In fact, it tried to prevent the twins from arriving, which would have prevented it from ever being whole again.

It failed; the result was a car crash. The father lost consciousness, the boy was injured, the girl could have escaped but she wouldn't leave her twin brother. Cultists abducted the twins, but by the force of the shard that had remained here and the twenty-two lost souls that were helping it, the cultists were tricked into thinking that the father was already dead and so left him alive.

The shard led the others in trying to prevent the ritual. With twenty-three points of light against them, twenty-two of them full souls, and the crossing partially open, the cultists found themselves unable to proceed.

It must be remembered, as I said, none of the sacrificed were saints. They may have spent the thirteen years gently guiding outsiders away from the crossing, they may have been trying to prevent darkness from overrunning this world, but they were still quite capable of being pissed off. They could still find it in themselves to hold a grudge against the people who had mercilessly killed them.

There are monsters in the crossing, you've seen them. They don't just come out when people need to work out their inner demons by fighting outer demons. Ring the dinner bell and they'll be more than happy to come out in force.

It didn't take the cult long to go from thinking that leaving the father alive had been a hideous mistake to thinking that it was an incredible gain. They understood that if the shard had kept them from killing him, the shard must see some value in him, and so they attempted to trick him into working against the shard, correctly guessing that the shard would not harm him.

The good news is that they ended up failing anyway.

They nearly completed their ritual, but it served only to empower the shard, making it a whole soul once again. They may have thought that didn't matter as there were twenty-two other souls already aligned against them. They may simply not have given it much thought.

Either way the twenty-two lost souls, for all their effort and all that they had done to oppose the cult, were bound by the ritual. It was why they had lacked the power to protect the sacrifices before the twenty-third and why they had not even been able to save the twenty third. The shard, on the other hand, had never seen its ritual completed. It wasn't bound in action or location. It had spent some thirteen years as a free entity within the crossing--and not the crossing as you or I know it. The incomplete ritual had neither succeeded nor failed, it had simply been put on hold. There was a rift in those days.

I know that it probably seems like I'm hammering this too hard, but trust me, this is important.

For thirteen years the crossing was jammed, neither open nor closed, the moments of flux we see today were expanded until flux was more common than a stable state. In that environment the shard had grown, half its life as a human born in the crossing, ignorant of matters beyond the physical, half its life as a shard in the crossing in flux.

It had understanding we cannot hope to comprehend and was limited, primarily, by the fact that it was just a portion of a being. A shard of a soul rather than a whole one.

When the ritual resumed, in the moments between when it became a whole soul and when it would have been bound like the others, it rebelled. With the help of the father of the twins the ritual was ended in failure. The twenty-two lost souls were freed, the cult's god was pushed as far from this world as it had been before the first sacrifice, the cult was swept from this world into one of the echoes within the crossing, and after thirteen years of flux, the crossing was able to stabilize.

The three bodies that had belonged to the soul --the original sacrifice, the boy, and the girl-- were incinerated. I honestly don't know why the cult had bothered to keep the original body alive anyway. The soul had already been expelled from it, it was nothing but a highly damaged empty vessel.

A new body was created, in the image of the twins, which left the crossing with the father. Somehow, damned if I know how, it was able to change official records to say that there had only ever been one twin anyway. While records are just ink on paper or code on computers, memory is something that persists, thus we can know that the one who left was originally the two who came.

I won't say that the father and child lived happily ever after, no one lives a life that's quite that dull, but my understanding is that they lived well and continue to do so. Old age looks to be more likely to kill the father at this point than old gods. The child did return here once, as an adult of the younger variety, to tie up some loose ends.

The twenty-two souls are free to do whatever it is that souls do, but sometimes they come here again. You can feel them linger, and sometimes even see their light as they help the wayward out of the darkness.

I hesitate to say the cult is gone. I've thought that before and been wrong. They have certainly been kept from the human plane. They exist in the shadows, echos, reflections, semblances, parallels, counterparts, and effigies, if they exist at all. They cannot reach outside of this town, and as far as I know they've never been found unless someone went looking for them first.

The crossing became as we know it: home. No longer stuck open, transitions and reverberations became momentary shifts, not states of being. The darkness was pretty well cemented into it, but so was the possibility of redemption. The darkness calls out to its own, some who are brought here by the call wallow in it, but others shed it and leave here brighter than they would have been without the journey.

Most people who come here can't wait to get back out, but I wouldn't want to live outside the crossing. Don't get me wrong, if I were outside I'd want to live, it's not like I can't live without it or anything, but it would never be my preference to live somewhere else. I shudder to think what it would be like to be trapped in a single world. Everything … static. Nothing but what your eyes see and your ears hear.

Most people who come don't understand that any better than I understand them. I see why they want to leave --their darkness drew them here and so darkness is what they find here-- but I don't see why they want to be in a world that's what they call normal. I'm guessing you can understand me on that, since you've decided to stay.

I'm glad of that, I like the company.



  1. Interesting! I enjoyed reading this and the explanation-of-inspiration post both.

  2. That's an unusually patient cult. Still, I imagine dragging in that many innocents from the outside world would have some technical challenges.