Intermission Part Two: The True Department
Goruiren Corporate Offices
The cuffs of his tailored pants cut swaths as the CEO moved across the carpet, a thick and overly plush piece of decor which he had chosen himself. If one could lay down on the floor and be comfortable, the CEO had theorized, then it sets a standard for the other furniture to follow. After all, what chair is less comfortable than the floor? This type of thinking - amongst other, darker lubricants of industry - is the philosophy with which he lead the entire company. The result had been a disturbing level of growth.
The sixth lift loomed large before him, rising higher than his head by a little more than a meter. This lift’s panel was different from the other five in two ways. While it did feature the standard single button inscribed with a down arrow, it lacked any form of security card reader or camera. However, the absence of these objects failed to suppress the unremarkable effect made by placing six similar structures right next to each other.
As far as the CEO knew, no one save his secretaries had ever noticed its presence. If anyone did ask, he had rehearsed a speech about how it was just a facsimile, ‘put in to improve the symmetry, you understand.’ From a man as powerful and successful as the CEO, no one would question that answer.
The appointed time came: 12:15 a.m.
Without provocation or action the panel with the dummy down button opened with a snick, revealing a rectangular divot embedded in the wall. Inside of it there was a human ear.
It looked so real it might have once belonged to a living, breathing person, a pink, fleshy color associated with the flow of blood beneath skin. In fact, the CEO thought it was a great deal more lively than it had any right to be. When it had all began, he had been unsettled by the wall-ear, but time had given them the chance to grow accustomed to one another. He closed his eyes and leaned down, his lips and the lobe so close that the act could have been mistaken for a caress. “For my dark honor, to your light ends, until they do meet,” he murmured. Quickly, he stood up again, waiting.
A second later, the ear twitched and the panel shut at an anxious pace. The CEO heard a locking mechanism somewhere rattle back into place, not to activate again for another twenty-four hours. A growling sound came from behind the lift and the doors opened.
What he saw inside was familiar but so foreign that it stood out even against the bland plaster it was built into. The lift’s ceiling, floor, and surrounding walls appeared chiseled out of a single great stone, colored bluish gray with the consistency of a sponge, riddled with holes and marred by indentations. Strangely, it seemed to be lit by an overhead light, but there was no hint of a source. The CEO stepped across the threshold of the carpet into the cold stone, the heels of his shoes clicking against the hard surface. He turned around to face his office, mentally waving goodbye for the night.
As the lift doors closed, he admired the breath-taking strangeness of events. The silvery steel doors shut. He blinked, and in that span of time the steel had vanished, replaced by a solid wall of the same rock that seamlessly flowed into the rest of the whole. The CEO wondered if this was what a person would see if they were unfortunate enough to be entombed alive. He shuddered slightly, but then thought about it again and allowed a slight smile to play across his lips. No sense in getting upset now; the best part was yet to come.
The lights went out, and he was left with the sensation of standing in nowhere.
With a sound like the crunching of dozens of eggshells, cracks formed in the air around the CEO where the stone had been moments ago, now imperceptible. The cracks grew, their neon, sanguine light haunting across wherever his naked skin showed. The cracking continued from every direction - even from places that didn’t quite seem to be directions - until the CEO felt like it was all happening in his own psyche.
After a while, an absurd, toothy smile rent his face in two, the darkness of his mouth a great scythe that split the twin halos of his perfect teeth, the light giving the illusion that they were stained in blood. He thought he could hear his own laughter but wasn’t sure.
He watched the cracks take on order and form, developing into symbols, circles, engravings, and thought he could even make out some ancient letters or runes. His world rushed in, flexing inward at him until he could feel it pressing against his perspiring hands and forehead. Then, the cracks became lost in even larger cracks.
Existence seemed to lose him, and he felt like he was suspended in an ocean of sanguine opaqueness; it made him think of life. He rested in it, breathed it, bled it, loved it, hated it, and needed it. It was everything and nothing, wonderful. Then, it was gone.
He found himself leaning against a beige wall, his world now lit by normal halogen lights. He took in the surrounding office area. The space was roughly the size of a football field and hundreds of brown doors lined the walls. His ears registered the ambience of clicking, typing, printing, copying, and working.
The only thing of note was the stream of men and women who kept appearing into existence wherever the walls weren’t interrupted by a door. The CEO soaked it all in and breathed a sigh. The real work had began: subterfuge, mayhem, murder. In other words, the intelligent design of fate. He observed the orderly area, a sea of whisky-brown cubicles and personnel burgeoning inward from all around, moving to their desks. Some of them, the better dressed, exited this main space through the doors, proceeding to their places of work.
Wherever the CEO’s gaze went, eyes dropped away or seemed to suddenly have a need to look elsewhere - like over his shoulder at the wall. He knew they were staring at him though. They always did. He liked to promote the ones that didn’t look away when he stared back. He clapped his hands loudly together.
“Let’s get to work!” he shouted, raising his palms high, like a drunken fan at a sporting event. The room paused for a moment while those who hadn’t yet noticed their great superior’s arrival did so. The True Department erupted into cheers. The CEO reveled.
Merlin: On the Run
The paltry trick with light did not so much involve insinuating new light into the ceiling as it did taking light that was already there and spreading out a bit, like buttering bread. The boy seemed impressed enough though, and I was certainly not going to explain my parlor tricks, lest I found myself in an outcome where he chose to run.
I couldn’t have that, now could I? I have to guide him, lead him. Train him.
Unfortunately, I still had no idea what he looked like. First, I met him in the dark, then I turned my back on him and led him out. I’ve been waiting my whole life for this, and it would be terrible if I turned around to study his face in mid-stride. So there we were, him plodding along behind me like the pup he is, and me, well, shuffling. I would say I have a decent shuffle. I knew it was him though. I could smell excalibur’s power, a raw musk of Avalos’ gift stretching out and away from us in every direction, raising hairs on the back of my neck and skull. I could sense its destiny slowly take hold of its master, the boy, and shape his world forever into the night.
I led him out of the building where our means of conveyance awaited.
“What is that? Is that a…That,” noted the boy, “is a taxi-bike.”
I replied, “They are called rickshaws, Arthur.” I would have given him a pointed stare, but that is when one of my runes, placed several blocks out, tripped. It told me that someone was coming, someone with the intention of killing the once and future king.
This perturbed me. I had been making the part about assassin’s coming up to coax him into the bleeding rickshaw. I breathed out a sigh.
“Get in, boy.”
“Oh, now it’s boy again, is it?”
“Yes, now get in the cart or you will, in all likelihood, get shot while you tarry,” I remarked, climbing myself into the back. It only took one gunshot to convince him to get in. He put himself beside me, looking frightened. It was still too black for me to see him, which annoyed me. Then, the second shot blasted out and a moaning engine led by headlights came into view.
“Go! Onward, you junk heap!” I shouted at the rickshaw. The rickshaw hurtled forward, my magic pounding away at its peddles faster than any pair of legs could hope to match.
In England, our England, a legend is told about a great and goodly king. The court of Arthur Pendragon, the Knights of the Round Table, and the Wizard Merlin are common knowledge. It has proliferated in cinema, progressed in literature, and vaulted itself onto the constellation-like Mythos of the West. Any child of a few years will tell you that “He who pulls this sword from this stone is the true and rightful King of England.” Any child would also jump at the chance to pull such a sword from such a stone - which demonstrates how incredibly dull children are. Worse, I fear that many of adults would do much the same. In any case, it matters little. There is one, and only one, Arthur Pendragon. All that Mythos, all that rot about the knights and things, is just a legend. Well, sort of. I should say: It will be a legend.
You see, a few generations back a man named sir Thomas Malory wrote Le Morte D’Arthur, and may I say - as a fellow of the Order myself - he was balls at being a prophet. He told what is now considered the legend of Arthur. It’s wrong. We, rather I am aware of the truth. Sorry, I sometimes forget that I am the only one left. I will always be the only one left.
Little. Old. Me…A tad frightful, but that’s alright. I’m not completely unhappy.
When it rains and I look out my window into the alleyway across the street - it is said (by me) that his journey begins on a rainy day - I pour myself the last drops of cold tea from previous night’s pot. It’s Earl Grey, usually. I sip down as much of it as I can in a single go and then try to catch my reflection in the leftover residue. I can usually make out a beard, eyes, and maybe a few distinguished wrinkles. You may laugh, but this little ritual reminds me who I am. It reassures me that I am not mad; I am Merlin, the man meant to carry the weight of the truth.
It’s far less elegant than Malory would have you believe. The truth, I don’t mean being Merlin - that is fairly elegant. It is this: A University student named Arthur is going to run into that very alleyway, tug loose a screwdriver embedded in the concrete sidewalk, and go home. Shortly thereafter, people, ultimately people anyway, will begin trying to assassinate him. This is natural. I have never heard of a king who didn’t have to worry about attempts to take his crown. Ah, the point, sorry again.
Legends start as prophecies - most things do. A legend, in my experience, is a prophecy that has been carried out. Malory was writing a very poor analogy for a prophecy. The true Legend of King Arthur will not exist for many centuries. People have to confuse reality with a story first - and that is what it is, for now: a story.
Every story, even the worst ones, needs to start with an event. This one begins with a young man, a younger woman, that younger woman’s father, an accident, a screwdriver, and, of course, a rainy day.