In the beginning- there was the Land. The dark and the light chased each other around it, night and day, and the water ran over it. And under the land, and in the hearts of its caverns, there was Yearning. It pulled towards the light, when there was light on the Land, and gathered in the water. And here in the water, it yearned to live, and became Life.
And so life swam through the water and spread across the land, as all manner of running, flying, and green-growing things. It lived in the light, but when the darkness came, most of it died, and that which was left grew again when the light returned. But this life, which was the distillation of Yearning, grew tired of always dying and having to create itself anew.
Some of these Lives that ran on the land stood up, on just two legs, and walked across the earth. Eventually, these lives turned their ears up towards Far Space, beyond the cycles of light and darkness, and heard the voice of an Immortal. “You lives that stand on two legs,” it said to them, “Don’t you wish to be without death, as I am? Why don’t you come and do my work? Then you will lose your ignorance, and gain my immortal nature. Then you will not merely be one more group of creatures from the caverns under the water, but rather, you shall be Mankind.”
These people, like all Lives, yearned to live and not to die, so they did what the Immortal asked. They walked among the green-growing things, and found the ones that bore the most fruit. They cleared the life from large squares of the Land, and in these squares they planted rows and rows of these plants for the Immortal. They toiled all day, and became exhausted as never before. But when the darkness came, they did not die. And so they lit fires and sang, rejoicing, in the dark.
As time went on, the Immortal began asking the people to do more things. It asked them to build altars in honor of it, which they did, and then it asked them to build it castles. By this time, most people lived through many cycles of light and darkness, unlike their ancestors, and unlike the other beasts on the land. But eventually, each person still grew old and died. So when the Immortal decided that these castles were not enough, and asked the people to build it a great throne, a woman named Memory said, “But we are tired, and doing your work has not done what you said it would. It has not made us immortal.”
The people heard her, and knew that this was true. But they lived longer now than they would have before, so they said, “Things are better now. We cannot go back to following the old ways, living like ignorant beasts, destroyed by every change of the light!”
So they began building a great throne, which stretched so far up into the sky that its legs were ladders. By this time, the people were working so much for the Immortal that they no longer had time to get their own food, so some people were sent out to grow food for the rest. The other people gathered around the feet of the ladders, many living in crowded settlements at the bottom. These became flooded with waste, and so the people began to build huts upon the rungs of the great ladders they were working on, whose sides were like tree trunks. They would fight each other for the chance to keep their huts on the higher rungs, trying to get away from the sweltering ground settlements. At the top, they began to think, there must be the answer to their yearning, something greater: the favor of the great being they were working for, and its immortal nature- which maybe they could get for themselves- something eternal, beyond the cycles of death and confusion on the ground.
Some people did indeed get to the top of the ladders, and peered out into the bright clear skies, and felt themselves favored by the Immortal. But others, getting there, looked up and saw nothing, nothing to counter the emptiness, looked down and felt a terrible vertigo, and let go, falling in the crosswinds.
One of the people who made it to the top was a man called Clarity. He was Memory’s grandson. He got to the top and he looked down. He saw the land, in some places marred by the construction of pointless castles, but in many other places beautiful and full of green-growing and running things, and in them he recognized something of himself. He, as others, sensed an unspeakable loss, but he decided to speak nonetheless.
So he climbed back down and walked into the middle of the ground-settlements, full of people eating and trying to do washing in the midst of the decay. In them, too, he saw beauty, and he said to them, “My people, who curse the day, trapped beneath these ladders, I have been to the top, and I have seen that there is nothing of beauty there. But I saw all the rest of the life of the Land, which we pride ourselves as being wiser than.
“But know now: The rest of the living things are not ignorant- they know their own nature well. They know they are the children of Yearning. We, meanwhile, fight to get to the top of this structure, but there is nothing truly divine there. If we wish to lose our own ignorance, we must stop being servants of the Immortal. It has not made us without death, and it will not make us so. It has not even made us lose our own ignorance. The only thing we have lost is our sense of wonder, which perishes in this place where we are pitted against each other.”
By this time a large crowd had gathered, and a man who worked a few rungs up had come down. He had never advanced very far, but had worked tirelessly. To the man called Clarity, he said, “Does this mean we will go back to dying each time the darkness comes?”
“No,” Clarity replied to this man, “For the toil that we have done for the Immortal, by which our lives are extended, could just as well be done for each other. We can build a society of people where we are not pitted against each other, and our wonder is not destroyed.”
Then a woman spoke to him, saying, “I cannot trust that your plan will work. I wish with all my heart that we were not building things for the Immortal, but I fear we cannot, at this point, go back to the Land and regain our innocence and wonder as they were before.”
“You are right,” he answered, “Things will not be as they were before. Our love and wonder, destroyed and reborn, will not be like that of the other living things, for whom it was never lost. We have many memories of destruction, and it will take a long time to get out of the shadow of the Immortal. But in working to get there, we will gain wisdom. We will gain knowledge of good and evil, and then we will be innocent, for we will know how to defend the good, and not be guilty of allowing destruction to prevail.”
Then the man who had come down to hear this spoke again, this time saying sadly, “Is this the path our people will take? What a defeat it is, if we are giving up our quest to gain immortality. Then it means that all of our striving has been in vain, and there will still be death.”
Clarity said, “True, but we are, after all, the children of Yearning. We desire light, and yearn to live and not die. But if we gained all that we desired, with nothing more to yearn for, then our sense of wonder would be permanently destroyed, for beauty comes in the contrast of light against the darkness, and life against death. If that contrast collapsed, we would all be worse off than any of us are now.”
And the People heard this, and knew that it was true, and set out to live free from the Immortal. But they had become dependent on the Immortal’s food and the Immortal’s stories, and so their journey has not yet been completed. And here we find ourselves, in the balance, keeping on towards the land called Home, where wonder is no longer marred by the shadow of any thrones.