So this post has some significance. First, merry christmas, or to anyone reading the archives, merry whatever. Second, this is my one hundredth post, oh how the time has flown, though where it’s flown I have no idea. And finally, without further ado, I’m announcing a story series ‘The Saga of Daraen’ which I will be posting over the coming months.
Once there was a child with an imaginary friend.
This was not a child of Terra, but was instead born thousands of light years away, on a different world and in a different age. Despite looking rather like a bipedal newt, he was still a child and did childish things. Running blindly through the fields and scaring all the sow-fish, climbing trees that never could have held his weight, and one day seeing how far he could swim without stopping, which ended up with the whole village out looking for him. And when asked why he did all these mad things he’d always reply.
“Daraen told me to.”
The adults would sigh and shake their heads, and ignored the ramblings of a child, but marveled at how the boy never seemed to come to harm. As he grew older he gradually stopped doing the foolish things, though maybe never totally losing the lunacy of youth. He learnt to read, a rare thing for a small farming village with only a single old watermill, and proved to be gifted with mechanical things. One day, when asked by a curious aunt why he’d first learnt to read he again replied.
“Daraen suggested it.”
Now this brought consternation amongst the villagers. Here was a boy destined for great things. A life beyond tending the fields and shepherding the sow-fish. But the belief in imaginary friends so far beyond his years was surely a sign of madness. They called for a priest, who had to be paid an awful lot to come such a long way but the nearest thing to a psychologist they had, and eventually, with much help from his friends and family, they convinced the child that it was all his imagination. At length he agreed.
“Daraen doesn’t exist.”
The boy left the village a few years later, with enough money generously raised by his family to pay for his education at a proper school in the capital. And so he went and he studied, and he did all the jockeying for position that all young men do. He made friends and lounged around in the daktarra houses discussing the politics of the age, industrialisation and all that. For a brief while he forgot about the outside world, or that he’d ever met Daraen.
But the outside world would not forget about him.
A war to end all wars swept across the planet. The nations of the world united against the centre of progress, of industrialisation, of everything that was wrong with the world, and as one they marched on our hero’s home country.
As an engineer in training, he fully expected for the war to pass him by, or simply be forced to spend time forging coils for the new muskets. But alas, the war went badly, and he soon found himself drafted. Flung into a world he should never have been a part of, trodden down into the muck by the gears of war, alone and afraid.
It was only his third week when his platoon was ambushed and was forced to flee into an old mill. There they fought bravely, holding out against the sword wielding masses of the enemy army, but there are only so many men even musket troops can take at once, and by the dead of night there was only one man left.
Recruit Otetto Rahen.
He crouched in one corner, tail curled tight against him, clutching his empty musket with a white-knuckle grip. He knew there was no way out. He knew that they would find him not matter what, so there was no use hiding. He knew that he didn’t have a hope of fighting the uncountable hordes of barbarians beyond the walls. What he didn’t know was how he was going to survive. Like any boy of his age, he just wanted to go home.
Movement suddenly caught his eye and he whipped round, trying to focus on the gloom with tearstained eyes. A moment later he relaxed, letting his gun splash to the floor.
“Daraen,” he said slowly, nodding with a touch of respect as he recognised the form. Daraen was somehow different from his childhood friend. He was older, and had lost that joyful glint from his eyes. Not to mention he was dressed in the same dark green scale armour that Otetto was wearing, complete with musket and bandoleer.
“Funny how you’re always here when there’s trouble.”
“Well that’s hardly fair,” Daraen admonished. “You were quite capable of getting into trouble without me.”
“Isn’t that the truth,” Otetto sighed. “Well, best get it over with.”
“Get what over with?” Daraen asked with confusion written across his jowls.
“Claiming my soul,” Otetto explained. “After these last few weeks I was expecting Mother, but hey, if you still think I can go upriver I’m not complaining.”
“I’m not God,” Daraen said simply, not seeming to be particularly perturbed by the accusation.
“Then who the hell are you?” Otetto snapped, clicking his teeth in frustration. “Fifteen years I spent thinking you were real! No kid over three has imaginary friends; they were a half step away from sending me off to a monastery. And then you just up and vanished when I needed you the most.”
“My presence wasn’t proving as helpful as it once was,” Daraen admitted, looking sheepish.
“Disappearing wasn’t very ‘helpful’ for my sanity either,” Otetto growled.
“It stopped you getting committed though,” Daraen interjected. “For what it’s worth I’m sorry. It was however the best option.”
Otetto huffed in frustration. This was too much. Being killed in battle he’d been prepared for. The possibility of losing his mind was something he hadn’t thought about for a few years.
“And it’s a thing good you weren’t committed because you certainly aren’t mad,” Daraen said casually.
“And you say you’re not God,” Otetto snorted, just taking in his stride that Daraen was reading his mind. “Who on Earth are you then?”
“Asking questions, that’s good,” Daraen noted. “Nice to see you aren’t forgetting the old times.”
“Yeah, and you’re avoiding questions just like you did then,” Otetto shot back. “Who, or what, are you? Heck, are you even real?”
“As real as you are,” Daraen replied, pulling a pellet out of his bandoleer and dropping it into the water where it made a little ‘splosh’.
“Then how come no one else can sense you?”
“I don’t want them too,” he explained, simply.
“Clear as murkwater,” Otetto muttered. “Are you at least Ewtan?”
“And you say you’re not God,” Otetto said.
“I’m no more divine than you,” Daraen explained. “I’m a… well you don’t quite have a word for it yet. Think of some kind of fantasy creature, like a fae, but not from a nearby world, from a place so far away that if you set off now your children’s children’s children’s children would be long dead before you were halfway.”
There was a pause as Otetto tried to compute this. He was kind of getting the principal of it, helped at least in part that Daraen had brought up a similar concept back when he was young.
“So, not a God,” Otetto said at length. “That still begs the question, why are you here?”
“Would you believe that you’re interesting?” Daraen queried.
“Me personally, or the world in general?” Otetto clipped.
“Both really,” admitted Daraen. “The world is full of people after all.”
“Right,” Otetto replied. “And if you’ve come all this way, you must be pretty powerful?”
“By your world’s standards I suppose,” he admitted.
“Then I would like to draw your attention to the pool full of bodies!” Otetto roared, leaping to his feat and bearing his teeth at the surprised Daraen. It was a rare outburst.
“Could you have saved them?” Otetto continued, still screaming.
“Most likely,” Daraen replied slowly, likewise getting to his own feet.
“Then why in the name of the Black River didn’t you,” Otetto snarled, gesturing at the bloodbath lapping around their ankles.
“Which ones,” Daraen growled back, with a flash of teeth. “The ones in here or the dozens that you shot beyond the walls? This isn’t my war.”
“Well it sure as hell isn’t mine,” Otetto pointed an accusing finger at Daraen. “And you could have stopped it.”
Daraen regarded the finger coldly. “Yes, I could,” he admitted, icicles hanging from his voice, and with a jolt something forced Otetto’s hand back down. “But do you know what will happen if this war stops?”
Panic sprang up in Otetto’s eyes as he realised he may have just insulted the most powerful being on the planet.
“No? Well let me explain. You’re being invaded because you’re industrialising. Everyone else says that you’re committing heresy by stealing the river’s flow for your machines, but in reality they are scared. They are scared that if you have long enough you’ll make such fearsome weapons of war that you’ll take over the entire planet. A ceasefire would be exactly the same as handing your country victory on a platter.”
“But we’re…” he began, but Daraen cut him off.
“Progress. I know,” he completed. “And you may well be right. I certainly haven’t run into any of your Gods, so I can’t say your opponents’ cause is right. But it isn’t my call. This is your civilisation’s dilemma. And while I many not agree with the ‘might is right’ attitude you guys have adopted, it’s your choice and your world. I won’t be stepping in until the nova bombs start flying and you’re a hell of a long way away from that.”
“That’s not fai…” Otetto began again, but stalled. “No. That’s the absolute fairest you could possibly be,” he admitted, slumping. “Bastard.”
“See, I always said you were smart,” Daraen continued. “And also I’ve always said intelligence should have its reward, so here’s the deal. You get one boon. Any request, as long as it’s not Earth shattering, and I will do my best to complete it. Sound fair?”
Otetto laughed bitterly, but the gears where already whirring behind his eyes. His first thought was just to get the hell out of there, but he quickly flipped to his departed squad mates. Too bad that raising the dead would probably count as Earth shattering, though maybe not as much as he thought. Then he remembered his own family. His village was no more than a few miles from the front line, by now they could very well have been conquered.
There was no real moment when he made his decision, but Otetto knew what he was going to ask.
“My family,” he began at length. “Can you make sure they don’t get caught up in this war?”
“Very well,” Daraen said, taking the musket off its strap round his shoulder and casting it away. “By my decree,” he boomed. “No member of your family shall be harmed for the duration of this war.”
“Now,” he continued, this time taking off the ammunition belt and handing it to Otetto. “If there’s nothing else. I really do have to be off.”
“Wait, this is real,” Otetto said in shock, fingering the pouches in bewilderment. “You’ve never been solid before.”
“Real and solid isn’t the same thing,” Daraen pointed out, and in an eye blink, vanished.
Otetto leapt backwards as a dozen enemy soldiers appeared in the mill with him and instinctively went for his gun. He was half way through stuffing a pellet into the coils when he noticed that none of them were responding to him. They were systematically going through the bodies stabbing them for good measure and smashing their muskets, but not one had noticed our hero in the far corner.
“Hello?” he said softly. No one responded, not even a flicker.
“No member of your family shall be harmed,” he echoed, chuckling bitterly. “What a wonderfully ambiguous statement.”
And he left.
There once was a civilisation destroyed by war, burnt for their hubris as the reached for the stars. But from this war came a man, and from this man came a dream. And one day, many years hence when the rivers flowed again, they rebuilt the broken mills. Industry and prosperity returned and the jealous armies once again rose.
This time they did not stand alone. Countries and armies bought by the power of the river and the promise of future riches, pledged their support and the war raged across the globe. When the silt settled there was a new power, the light of industry. Which shone far and wide, bettering the world, or so they believed.
Maybe it wasn’t the quite co-operation Daraen had hinted at. The world moving forwards as one. But in Otetto’s opinion, it was much better than the revenge his country had wanted after the first war, and maybe that had been his friend’s point. People had to chose, not have a choice thrust upon them. There was however one thing he was quite sure of:
Daraen was lying when he said he wouldn’t interfere.