You will forgive me if I am a little shaken. I have had just now the last messages from the house of Cardallan, my full sib, and there was much in that, though I knew the day must come, that was a great grief to me. The loss of Cardallan, of course, who has been at my side since we were budded, the loss of a mind as close to mine as mind can be, the knowledge that I shall taste no more those messages that are shade and depth to my own thoughts, and with it the knowledge that I am now the last of my sib, and that my own time cannot be long postponed. This I have known for a long time; the narrowing of my lacuna is there to remind me should I let it slip, even for a moment, from my mind. But it is bitter, still, to taste those messages, and in them to taste the shadow of my own demise.
That blow I could have ridden, prepared for it as I have been, but the real shock, quite overmastering me, was the realisation that, Cardallan being lost to me, there is none other in this community of minds that knew the city of the plains, and knew the loss of the city of the plains. The memory of it remains, a warp in the shining skein of our consciousness, but to all these others it is only a house memory, an inherited chattel, and as a fact that has coloured their whole existence it can never have the horror for them that it holds for me. I knew the city, knew its variety, its vibrancy, its humming, thrumming presence there across the plain, frozen, frosted, perfect, a jewel and a dream. I knew the Lightening. I tasted those few shocked, fragmented thoughts, sent out whilst we could only stand amazed. I knew that shock, and I am the last of all that knew it.
Nothing remains, only the Faba Rock and the dinted plain, its ice unsullied. I’ve tried to keep the memory of it alive; I’m trying now. But I’m failing, and I understand. I’m so close to my own closing off. I’d not have listened to the ravings of the nearly dead when I was still a builder myself. I inherited house memories, knew the flavour of them in the skein, and let them fade because they did not seem to touch me. I have been guilty. Let these that stand below me not be guilty of the same.
All I can do is send out my messages, downwards, outwards, hardly hoping. There, you can mark it in the skein. Here, where it has been since before you were budded. Is it a faded thing now? Does it seem of little import? Consider then the houses of my demi-sib, here just below me, those who had the tale from those of us on whom the blow had fallen, and built circumspectly, stretching towards the plain because it is our way to reach outwards, but fearing to reach that dark field of frozen terror. A narrow band they make, a full sib, yet so narrow a band, so cramped a quarter, meanly built.
Not so my hemi-demi-sib, down there below. The city thrusts outwards once more, as it grew when I was young, as I myself helped it to grow. And down below they build as I built in my youth, expansively, greedy for new lands, greedy to reach the plains, the terrible, treacherous, deadly frozen plains. The plains they think I fear.
That’s the truth they see. Here I hunker within the walls I built myself when I was young, and the walls that were my life and purpose and are become my prison and my death. Well that’s our way, and the end comes to us all, what we build here is our only legacy. They think that I’m afraid for them, as their walls reach the ends of the rocky outcrop that was the heart of the city, and begin to spread across the ice. They laugh at me, I’m sure. Perhaps there was a city, and a great one. Well it is gone, and the ice is theirs to claim, it has been purified, in their belief, for their own special use. Perhaps they’re right. Who could guess? Who would care? Not I.
It is not their future on the plains that concerns me, short and direful though it may be. I know there was a city and I know that it is gone. So as my world closes in around me, as I prepare for my own end, my last messages are of heartbreak and despair. There once was a city, and it is no more. How can I know that this, my city, my life, my death, will endure when I am gone?
I havered for a long time about posting this (I wrote it for my writers’ group’s winter competition), because it came out so bleak. But the funny thing is it doesn’t feel bleak to me at all, only silly. There’s two tiny clues about the setting that might help explain that, but I’m not going to tell you what they are – that would only spoil it, and I only want to reassure you that I wrote it in a more cheerful spirit than you’d otherwise assume.