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“The Artisan” by Eran Fowler

The Artisan

A divine craftsman must defend his Last Creation from his greatest living Works of Art.

Tok. Tok. Tok. The rhythmic tapping echoed in the morning mist; the sound carried toward the sleeping Children, slowly awakened by a sound they hadn’t heard in ages, nor expected to ever hear again.

Tok. Tok. Tok. The scratching of stone on stone, the skittering of chips as they are flicked into the surrounding grass. Gnarled hands, withered and dark as old, lightning-struck oak, moved cleverly around a large stone held in a lap of immeasurable age, whose feet were tucked under the stone, cradling it gently.

The Children woke with dread. They had not thought to hear the Oldest engaged in his work ever again. He had complained of fatigue and they thought he, like they, would sleep away the ages of the world, waking only when needed to bring balance to the natural order of things.

The eldest among the children, called First, squinted his eyes to see through the fog. No normal fog was this; it was the Fog of Creation, a miasma formed when the Ancient One worked. It softened the World, so that he could shape it at his whim.

First rose from the stone upon which he had sat and had taken it shape as his own. His limbs softened as the fog caressed them into mobility and the Old One’s enthusiasm for his latest project could be sensed on the wind. A smell like Seven’s favored roses, sweet, pungent and inescapable. First frowned. When the Urge was upon him like this, it meant he would want their contributions.

Second, floated down from a nearby tree, her shape reminiscent of a spider, her eight legs barely seeming to touch the ground as she too sensed the Ancient One’s enthusiasm for his latest project.

Tok. Tok. Tok. She felt the vibrations as they filled the earth beneath her feet. The ground spoke of His tuneless hum, a thing he did as he kept his mind free to wander ensuring spontaneity while he created. Her eight eyes pierced the fog and saw his latest creation, a thing which seemed like so many of his others, yet she could see it was not. His lines, each etched with an authority she had rarely seen with earlier creations. She was intrigued despite herself.

Third and Fourth ignored the Old Fool and immediately set about on their own mischief. Whenever they awoke, they immediately set about creating new insects. They would create a new one every few minutes, assuring each other that this one was better than the last and each would be the ultimate expression in insectdom. At least until the next one was complete.

Third and Fourth were twins, born in a single moment of creation, and were rarely ever separated by more than a few feet as their combined works always had more than two legs and was almost always found underfoot. The two were especially proud of something they had dubbed, the beetle and made ten thousand of them before tiring appreciably.

Even as they pretended to hear nothing, they could tell from the scratching of the Old Fool’s cutting tool, it was no ordinary thing he was making. Perhaps after this next beetle, they would investigate. But there was no hurry. A good beetle can’t be rushed.

Fifth awakened gradually. She never rushed. Her senses expanded, her hearing took in the rustle of the grass and the sparse trees of the savannah. She could hear the lions chuffing in the distance and the laughter of the nearby hyenas hoping to scavenge some remains of a lion’s kill. She could feel the wind beneath the wings of two condors flying overhead also impatiently waiting for a member of the lion pride below them to hurry along and kill something already. Five could feel these animals and knew their thoughts as easily as she knew her own. As she turned her mind toward the Old One, the stone in his lap had already started to be kindled to life by the ministrations of the Old One and knew her skills would be needed.

Sixth stretched and the sun shown through her branches and began burning away the morning fog. The birds who had slept in her boughs knew she would evict them but they were in no hurry to leave. They spoke to her and she laughed at their jokes before shooing them away. She felt the Fog of Creation hasten her transformation. She reached out a bough and touched First on his head and shoulders in a gentle caress. He did not rebuff her, as he might have other days. His acceptance of her touch only confirmed what she feared.

Seventh said nothing. It was thought he could already see the outcomes to all things so spoke naught. None knew his mind and he rarely shared. Of all of them, his form was unchanged from the day of his Creation. He appeared to be of the cold blue stone they all started from and had since relinquished to be part of the world. Seventh refused to become part of the world, he stood apart from it, his blue eyes, cold, distant, immutable. Like him.

No matter what they said, these seven creatures were creations of the Old One, this eldest of beings before them, hunched over a stone which could be another of them, except it wasn’t. This did not feel like one of them. This had an ineffable quality, mysterious, powerful, yet unformed.

He had promised there would be no more Craft days. He was done Making things he told them. They were his greatest creation and they would help him make the World. And they did.

So why was he making something so different none of them could describe, singly? The Seven gathered slowly together and approached. Their whispers were the sharing of their impressions and their collective fears.

Why? What? Who was he replacing? I remember him saying he would have no more Craft Days?

They watched him work and in their gaze, envy formed in each of them. For each stroke, there was a care, a caution, a measured touch they had never seen taken with anything before this.

The world, for instance, he hewed from the cacosatrum in a single blow.

The heavens split asunder and there was Heaven and Earth and with that effort he rested. It was they who spent their energies smoothing the world, shaping it, filling it with the elements according to their natures, First with Fire. Second with Water, Third and Fourth creating all of the things which were shaped of Earth, mountains, valleys, canyons, hills were all their domain, Fifth covered the world with trees and grasses, Sixth, with the help of the others created animals of all shapes and sizes, some more useful than others.

Seventh watched and said naught, nor helped in any way significant.

Each of them was born with his hands shaping their element, lovingly molding it until they came forth, filled with his artistic essence and temperament. First embodied the fire, the vitality, the burning urge to create. First was impulse without thought. Action without concern for consequence, courage in the face of danger. First leapt without thought. And he often spoke without it as well. “Oldest and wisest among us, what does thou create? Did you not promise your days of Making were over?

Tok. Tok. Tok. Scritch. Scritch. Scritch. “If I am indeed the oldest and wisest among you, shouldn’t I be able to change my mind? I had an urge to Make something new. I couldn’t quite explain it, nor gainsay it. Thus I did.”

“What else could you possible need to make, you old Fool.” Third and Fourth had just finished their latest creation, an Elephant Beetle, a magnificent thing with a horn unnecessarily large with a carapace so dark it appeared to embodied the night itself.

“Is that not your twenty seven thousandth beetle, my sons? How many more will you make until you deem one perfect. I only needed to make the Seven of you. Perhaps your condemnations speak more of your own inadequacy than mine. Perhaps.”

Third and Fourth were already not listening and creating a new insect. Something not a beetle just to show they could still create something new.

Seven, loomed closely and stroked his chin in grudging admiration.

Six, caused some new flowers to bloom near the Oldest and light sprung from those flowers illuminating his latest work. It was then as her new eyes formed, did she realize just how different these new creations were. For there were two of them. Wrapped around each other, the same way Third and Fourth once were. Looking harder, she gasped as the fundamental difference between them and the Oldest earlier creations became apparent.

Second came closer and reached out one of her clawed arms and caressed the last fragments of sundered illiaster from the creations. He placed them on the ground and blew upon them. The morning light caressed them in that same instant and the two fell apart and stood. They looked like the Eldest, like they all did once, but they were still unformed. His work was within them. Without them, it would be to the Seven to give them gifts.

First, turned up his lip and said “I shall give them Fire. The unquenchable urge for change and destruction. They shall never be happy with the status quo and unable to sate themselves they will break upon the shoals of the world. I give them this out of spite, for We were once supposed to be the last and now They exist. I have little interest in their success.”

The Eldest said nothing.

Second, touched them and crafted their faces, her claws ablaze, she shaped them giving them a physical definition, tone, and the faces of angels. “I give them, adaptability, they shall live across the world from the hottest of jungles to the frozen poles, no place shall be denied them. They will wrest a living from all parts of the world.”

Third and Fourth came to the tiny figures and lay their hands upon them. “Since we have given out all of the claws and teeth to the creatures of the world, the armor and the scales, and the strength of the bear and lion, we have nothing left for them. Our gift will be an unending urge to create new things. Though they have no claws, nor teeth of note, they will create tools which shall rival the greatest of animals and perhaps one day even us.

Fifth came forth bearing a wolf. My gift to them will be an affinity for the beasts of the world. They shall claim them, tame them, count them and protect them. The beast will provide for their needs in return for their protection. But they will have to earn that protection, that support. No animal shall give of itself without a struggle. Struggle is what they must do to survive.

Sixth stood quietly as she was want to do and wondered what she would give the Eldest’s last work. She looked deep within them and realized they needed an abiding love of the world itself. The Old Man’s work did not include such a thing. As she looked she tried to suffuse them with a love of the world, of all things green and growing, of the wind, of the oceans, an affinity for the tree and the lake. Try as she might, there was a place within them, she could not fill. A cold place that would not accept being part of the world. She covered it as best she could and hoped more would love the world than hate it. “My gift is given, poorly as it was. Seventh will you give nothing to these creatures?”

Seventh looked at the Last Creation and at his siblings and his Creator. “Why should I? Would you have me tell you of this creation? I who have the clearest view of this monstrosity you would unleash upon our Works? A view of a future abhorrent to you, I assure you.”

The Eldest stood and reached out to Seventh. “Please don’t.”

“Why not, Eldest? Shouldn’t they know what they have wrought with their gifts of personal vanity, with their efforts to bring themselves into a world they will never truly be a part of?”

“Knowing a thing does not necessarily mean one should speak of it.” The Eldest intoned knowing that he could not stop Seventh from speaking his truth as he saw it.

Seventh ran to the Last Creation and shouted at them. His siblings had never seen him move so swiftly or so angrily. “This? This abomination will destroy your Works! He will poison your seas, burn your forests, fill the air with smokes as his creations, his urges, his madness will infect everything with filth, rendering our perfection moot. Why would we want to unleash this plague upon our World?

Sixth, sang with the voice of birds trying to soothe him. “Surely he will not be any more destructive than the buffalo or the elephant, both are mighty and numerous. Unlikely he can cut down every tree across the world, for I made forests aplenty. There are more animals than he can count, more plants than he can imagine and thanks to Third and Fourth more insects than he shall ever know existed.”

Fifth, languidly strode up to the Last Creation and touched them. “Eldest, are you aware of the flaw within them? No animal has this flaw. No animal knows this weakness. How could you deny them that single most blessing. You have given them a fear so great it undermines everything they might accomplish.”

Seventh, looked at Fifth. “You see it now, do you? They fear Death. Something no animal before them ever has. They will fear their end and rail against it. They will create tales, dreams, a burning madness shall sweep them up and they will create legends of places they will reside in order to forestall Death. They shall make of their End more than Life itself. That is the flaw of which I see as their undoing. Are you certain you would unleash this unto your most perfect of creations?”

“Yes. For this is the purpose of the world. To nurture them. To challenge them. Each of you gave of yourselves because the world was not made for you. It has nothing for you. It reflects your hearts, your beauty, your minds, your spirit. But it was not made for the likes of you. I made you for greater things. Look up. See the stars? I made those for you. Places where you might make others, create other things, find new ways of seeing yourselves writ large upon the Universe. For them? We made this.”

The Eldest spreads his arms and the light of the morning sun blasts away the fog, showing the wildlands in their entirety, a sense of the world fills them and their significance in the world suddenly feels less.

“Our time here is over. We shall scatter them in variant forms across the world, seeding it with them, each with strengths and weaknesses and let them evolve toward what they can be. Seventh is correct. Some of them will go mad. Some will let the Flaw, their fear of Death consume them and it will destroy many. Billions. But there will be billions of them. It will be when there are billions of them that they will achieve their greatest potential or fail and cease to exist.”

Seventh raised his hand above the two figures poised to smite them. His power was vast for he had spent little of it on the world, making only those changes his siblings lack the foresight to see the need for. “Eldest, in all things I have never defied your Will. I have never altered the creations of my siblings, even when I did not see the need for another accursed insect or flower. But this…this thing, should never be born. It will never achieve the greatness you see for it.”

The Eldest stood up and took Seventh in his arms. “Why do you fear them? Why do you fear for them? Is this creation we stand upon great enough to survive them and whatever they may do to it?”

“Yes, Eldest.”

“The we should let them be about changing our creation. Tell me of their works. Mine eyes no longer see as far as thine.”

“They will tame the world slowly. Traveling, struggling against the world. They shall be mean, cruel things, filled with savagery as First gifted them with. They shall tame the world, the beasts, the land, the sea and even the air. No place shall be free of them. They shall build towns, collections of the mad creatures, which grow into cities, filled with wondrous and horrible constructions, vehicles of smoke and fire. They shall blacken the skies with mechanisms that fly, raining metallic and fiery death upon all beneath them. And the killing, they shall be so terribly good at killing each other. Like insects, lives will be extinguished. Billions will die. Oh…”

The Siblings looked at each other and the the Last Creation. The Eldest stood before them. “Tell them the rest, Seventh. Tell them what they might do.”

Seventh sobbed and the others felt an overwhelming compassion for their normally impassive Brother. “In some of their futures. Only some of them, they do not destroy themselves. They do not rain fire upon each other until none remain. They do not poison the Earth until they cannot sustain themselves, they do not fish the seas until nothing remains. In a tiny selection of their futures, they survive. They come into accord with the World as we know it. They replenish Her, they nourish Her. They sustain Her. They work to drink the sun, and bind it safely. With mastery of the Sun’s fire, they flee their world and head out first to the moon, then other nearby worlds. And in even fewer still, they reach the stars…”

Fifth looked at Seventh and asked, “What are they like, these Last Creations? Are the something we should fear or be proud of?”

The Eldest looked at his children and bade them to come close to him. “In some of those worlds, they will rise to the Heavens to seek out new life. New worlds, new civilizations like themselves, some greater and some lesser. It behooves us to leave them and give them siblings of their own. If you would let them live. I will not stop you if you think the price of their existence be too high. But you must all agree to it.”

The Siblings looked at each other and at the Last Creation. It had the potential to be the greatest creation the Eldest had even done. Each could feel their part of that being surging forth among the stars, maybe a boon, more likely a plague. Could they take that risk? Should the world be filled with animals without the sense of self these beings will have? The fears, the potential destruction they may spread, they may destroy the stars themselves.

First, as ever, spoke his mind. “These things should die aborning. No animal should perish because of their inability to conceive of a universe greater than they are. They will not know their place.”

“Does that mean you would kill them?” Second asked, for she had already decided they should live. Something with potential this great should be allowed to explore itself.

“We think they should be allowed to live. Who will catalog the Universe if they do not? We are only good for creating things. We are not so good at taking care of them.” Fourth crushed an unattractive beetle underfoot, after deciding it looked too much like one they made a millennia ago. Third shook his head in agreement.

Fifth stood before the Last Creation, opposing her brothers First and Seventh, whose eyes made clear their intention. Wild beasts surrounded the group of Siblings and trees strode across the savannah to lend their strength. Beetles and swarms of other insects filled the air and boiled up from beneath the Earth to oppose the two.

“You would break us for them? You would have us raise our hands against each other to protect the likes of them?” First flared into life and fire spread around his body. He was like a star burning bright and hot, an inferno of rage.

Seventh, stood and became black as night, his body blackened the skies and hid the world from view, not even the sun could penetrate it. “They cannot be allowed to live. To spread. Do we allow the locusts to eat everything across the world? Do we allow disease to destroy any single animal we deemed worthy enough to create?”

The Eldest sat down between the two groups poised for a conflict which could break the World. “No. We do not allow the locust to eat until there is nothing left. We have set in place things which limit them. No disease destroys our ever creation because if it does, then it is destroyed too, thus limiting it as well.”

The Old One picked up his hammer and pointed at Seventh. “You once asked why I stopped Craft Days. Because I knew it would one day come to this. You would be happy only as long as I created sleepy giants like yourselves. Content to create slowly, move slowly, dream slowly. Epochs roll by as you make the world the way you think it should be.

Pointing at First, Third and Fourth he smiled. “There comes a day when the world must move faster, greater risks must be taken by beings bolder than we. We are sleepy gods, who waken only when we must. Our work here is done. This world has all that we can give it.”

Seventh released his darkness and First turned back his fire. The world and its inhabitants retreated to their natural courses unaware of why they had gathered in the first place. “Where will we go, Eldest?”

“You still have all the power I gave you, you shall take your siblings to the stars and continue our Work. There is much to be done so that those worlds will be ready.”

“And what if the worlds we create do not welcome your Last Creation, Eldest?” First seemed to relish the thought a little too much.

The Eldest stood and threw his hammer into the distance. It careened until it vanished from sight. The ground began to rumble and an earthquake’s rumble could be felt beneath them all. “Then they were not worthy, were they? Won’t speak highly of your work on either end now will it, First?”

“No Eldest, it would not.”

“Your means of leaving is being created. First, protect your siblings until I arrive. Seventh, I leave them all in your care. Create new worlds as you see fit.”

“What about you? Aren’t you coming with us?” Second and Fifth said simultaneously.

“One day. Given Seventh’s foresight, I suspect this Last Creation may need a few modifications. It should only take a few eons. I’ll be along presently.”

The hammer landed and the world shuddered, the great landmass that was the world, began to crack apart and slowly moved. The Eldest accepted the Last Creation and his Children’s gifts unto them and set forth the arrow of Time. Now this world will move. It will grow. It will change. Animals will live and die and change again and again.

The Eldest stood still as the world changed beneath him, through the arrow of Time. Great beasts strode the world before he moved again. Leviathans, gigantic and terrible, whose footsteps sounded like thunder, when he strode the Earth again, they were everywhere. It was almost time.

His children had been long gone, but they would not forget.

And millennia later, it comes. A comet, First was always the impulsive one. He hoped to undo the Last Creation after the fact.

But all is as it should be.

The Eldest picked up a small shrew. He passed the gifts of his Children into them as the fireball blazed into the atmosphere. He knew the era of the great beasts was over and now, the Last Creation’s time had begun. He covered the shrews as the fireball swept over the world, darkening the skies, blackening all the Earth. For a time.

The the tiniest of the tiny strode forth sniffing the air. Their tiny whiskers sensing for the first time a great change in the world. It hurried off to share the news with others of its kind.

The Eldest laughed. One day, you will be great. You shall stride as giants upon the world and if you are very fortunate, the stars.

Then the Eldest looked upward eager to see what else his children had wrought. He stepped eagerly into space, never looking back. Knowing he never needed to.

And it was good.

The Artisan © Thaddeus Howze 2015, All Rights Reserved

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Thaddeus Howze is a California-based technologist and author who has worked with computer technology since the 1980's doing graphic design, computer science, programming, network administration and IT leadership.

His non-fiction work has appeared in numerous magazines: Black Enterprise, the Good Men Project, Examiner.com, and Astronaut.com. He maintains a diverse collection of non-fiction at his blog, A Matter of Scale. He is a contributor at The Enemy, a nonfiction literary publication out of Los Angeles.

He is now a moderator and contributor to the Scifi.Stackexchange.com with over a thousand articles in a three year period. He is now an author and contributor atScifiideas.com. His science fiction and fantasy has appeared in blogs such as Medium.com, the Magill Review, ScifiIdeas.com, and the Au Courant Press Journal. He has a wide collection of his work on his website, Hub City Blues. His recently published works can be found here. He also maintains a wide collection of his writing and editing work on Medium.com.

His speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies: Awesome Allshorts: Last Days and Lost Ways (Australia, 2014), The Future is Short (2014), Visions of Leaving Earth (2014), Mothership: Tales of Afrofuturism and Beyond (2014), Genesis Science Fiction (2013), Scraps (2012), and Possibilities (2012).

He has written two books: a collection called Hayward’s Reach (2011) and an e-book novella called Broken Glass (2013). In 2015 he will be releasing Visiting Hours and A Millennium of Madness, two collections of short stories.

If you have enjoyed this publication or any of the other writing he does, consider becoming a Patron. For what you spend on one cup of coffee per month, you can assist him in creating new stories, new graphics, new articles and new novels. “Creating the new takes a little support.” — http://patreon.com/ebonstorm.

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