"A possible memory?" Bluebird frowned at the oblong glass shard in the Merchant’s hand. "Why would I pay so much for a possible memory?"
The Merchant smiled a little instead of replying. Bluebird found this Merchant was always a little exasperating; she always had this smug, detached attitude. But she still managed to be adorable. As adorable as one of Dark’s people could ever be, anyway.
"Two reasons," the Merchant said. "One, the age. You will find that the age of this possible memory is in the uncountable aeons."
"I'm not convinced," Bluebird said. "I've paid for many an ancient memory that contained nothing but unsurpassed dullness. And this is a possible memory. So it may be altered in any number of irritating ways.”
"Then the second reason." The Merchant smiled. "The one from whom this possible memory was acquired."
Bluebird folded zir arms to emphasize zir skepticism. "Who?"
The Merchant opened a small lamp and focused it until it emitted only a single ray of light, especially bright in the dim fog of the Shadow Market. She rubbed the shard and held it up to the ray of light. "Look and see."
Bluebird leaned over to look. Zir eyes widened as zie saw the images dancing through the murky glass.
"Yes," Bluebird said. "I will pay for this. I will pay whatever you ask, for this."
The man found Cain ben Adam in the endless wildernesses of the between-places. The man was beautiful to look upon, with bronzed skin and shaggy black hair. His clothing was cut of animal skin, of fashions pleasing to the eye. But Cain was not pleased to see him.
The man knew his name.
"I am a priest," the man said. "A year ago, you passed through my village. I wished to follow you then, but I was held back by the others. Then the crop failed, and a plague swept through our village. Only I was able to save myself, and then, there were none to hold me back. I have searched for you since, and now I have finally found you."
Cain frowned. He tried to wander only those lands where the soil was wild and suffused with power enough to resist his curse, or else lands where the inhabitants knew how to refresh the lands which his curse had made barren.
When he needed to pass through civilization, he avoided the fields. He had long ago discovered that his curse had a limit — forty-eight cubits around him, or a length similar to twelve times his own height. Enough to judge with the naked eye.
But that did not account for the times he was not fully aware. Often, taken with wanderlust, sometimes not even fully awake, he would walk in a trance according to where his feet took him alone. After these periods, he could awake having destroyed the entire harvest for a village.
"I am truly sorry," Cain said.
The man looked astonished. "You are Cain, the Wanderer, father of the Lost Children and the Great Beasts. You are the god of death. The other gods, the lesser gods, could not save my village. I worshiped them once. I despise them, now. I come now to worship you."
"They were your family," Cain said. "Even if they were not, I cannot be pleased about bringing more death to those who did not deserve it."
"You are testing me, my lord." The man's teeth gleamed. "I promise you, I will not disappoint you. I will become your follower, and your priest!"
"Foolish," Cain said, and continued walking.
The man followed him.
In The Beginning
For long after the branding, Cain told himself that nothing had changed. His curse would not matter. He would make it not matter. He swallowed his sorrow and guilt and resolved to carry on.
He went to the land of Nod, the wandering land. There his curse could not touch the land, for it was too wild to even support crops, and the life there too resilient and alien.
Dwelling there seemed to calm the wanderlust that had suffused him since the branding. He would build a life in Nod, he determined, a settled, stable life, and it would be as if nothing had happened.
And Cain found, to his surprise, that he did not age. His metal parts did not rust nor decay, his skin did not wrinkle, his hair did not turn grey. His memory, though hazy when it came to his childhood and the time before the branding, now never faded in clarity. The only sign of his aging was when his brown eyes faded and shifted to become bright blue.
He was as invulnerable to the ravages of time as he was to the weapons of man. Truly, his curse was no curse at all.
The man followed Cain through the wilderness, sustaining himself with his priest's arts. But, emotionally, he began to come undone.
"They deserved to die, all of them," he said. "Inanna was a whore. Aya was false. Belshunu beat me with sticks when I was young. And all of them refused to let me choose my own path. Chains of words, but chains nonetheless. We need you, they said. They needed to use me. Let them rot in their graves!"
Cain never answered.
"Why do you remain silent?" the man asked. His face was flushed with anger.
"I have said all there is to say," Cain said. "And you should not speak ill of the dead."
"Perhaps you are right," the man said. "Perhaps they did not deserve to die. Perhaps you are not a god at all."
Cain was silent, watching him clench and unclench his fists. The sun beat down overhead.
"If you are not a god, then you are a demon. And you deserve to die." He hefted his stout metal walking-stick. "We will see if the stories are true. Or perhaps I will put an end to you now!"
Cain stood still as the man came at him. He took the blow from the stick, and felt the pain, but was, as always, unmoved. His assailant toppled backwards and sat on the ground, stunned.
Cain looked at the man as he sat on the ground, looking up at him, gawking. Fortunately, the blow had not been well-struck. The man would suffer only aches and bruises, no broken bones.
"I am not a god," Cain said. "Perhaps I am a demon. But nonetheless, I cannot fall by your hand."
He returned to walking. After some time, the man got up and followed him.
In The Beginning
In the land of Nod, the more Cain settled, the more the mark on his forehead stirred. The wandering urge grew stronger in his breast, but he ignored it.
Instead, he erected more cities. The cities grew and prospered. His curse could not extend through the Ways that filled Nod. Therefore, he built his cities around Nexii of Ways. Those who lived in his cities traveled through these Ways to tend fields in Sumer proper, and in other lands just as fertile.
Still the urge to wander increased. And the nightmares came too, sometimes every night for months. He would wake up, sobbing, incoherent, inconsolable.
He remembered every variation of his sin that he had ever performed, past, present, and future. He remembered every possible color of his brother's blood. What have you done to me, the corpse of his brother would ask. What have you done.
He would be like this forever, he realized. Forever living with this sorrow and regret.
Cain became filled with a fury unquenchable. He raged against the heavens. This is your fault. Yours!
Nod was filled with abandoned works from the dead Ancient Ones. Weapons with which Cain, Friend of the Ancient Ones, was more than familiar. He built off these to create new weapons of war for humanity. He could not fully reanimate their dead works, but he created new ways of working metal to compensate. With the treasures he received in exchange for these weapons, he built more cities, larger cities, and once he had enough large cities, he began to raise armies.
He lead these armies in wars. He stood against monstrous enemies, and laughed as their weapons destroyed their wielders as they battered his body. Whole civilizations fell before him. After, he used his curse to defile their lands.
Yet he was still filled with misery. The more death he was responsible for, the more his misery grew, buttressed by the eternally perfect memory of everything he had done.
Still the man followed Cain. Both his worshipfulness and his rage were past.
"I admit it," the man said. "I loved them. I did weep for their passing. I only tried to hide it because I wished to please you."
Cain was silent.
"You have powers beyond those of any mortal," the man said. "You can bring them back. All of them. It can return to the way it was."
"I cannot reverse death," Cain said. "My curse does not grant me such a boon. Would that it did."
"Surely you can. Surely you are testing me. What must I do to earn this favor?"
"I cannot bring them back," Cain said.
"It must be a small thing for one such as you," the man said. "Please."
"I cannot bring anyone back."
"I will travel the lands and bring you riches. My healer's powers can bring me much treasure in a great city. I can work and bring it all to you. I can be your manservant — no, your willing slave, to do with as you will. I can be your emissary, your herald, your priest. I will do anything."
"There is nothing that you or I can do."
Cain was silent.
In The Beginning
Cain resolved to cease the shedding of blood.
He could not infuriate the heavens this way. Only disappoint them. But perhaps he could please the heavens instead. Perhaps, then, his curse would become more bearable.
He would become a patriarch like his father. He would do his father better. He would become what Abel could have been. He would build cities which would last for all time.
To be a true patriarch, he would need a family. Not a family of the Children borne of the blood he had spilled, nor the Lost Children who came after. No. He needed a family that would be acknowledged by those who hated him.
Nor could he begin a family with the men he loved; no, they would not do. He considered, briefly, the men who could bear him children, the ones thought women by the traditional patriarchs like his father. No, they would not do either; his father would see them as women who thought themselves men, and would pass judgment harshly. No, he would need an ordinary woman, one who was seen as a woman by all the people of the land, and a fertile woman who could bear children. And then likely other wives as well, of the same fashion.
The ease in which this was accomplished was surprising. Within only a few years, Cain had a wife, and a son. A son named Enoch. He named a city after this son.
His son had children. Their children had children. Cain's cities grew.
The wandering urge grew stronger. He began to suffer from tremors, shaking upon the earth, sometimes for days at a time. He began to sleepwalk, wandering far outside of his cities before waking in the dawn light and returning.
The man still followed Cain. They trudged through snow and sleet in the in-between lands.
The man was silent, now, breaking silence only with occasional choking sobs. He had long ceased to eat and drink, using his healer's arts to mindlessly sustain himself. He hardly lifted his head, only putting one foot in front of the other, in Cain's footsteps.
They reached the cold shoals of the eternal sea, the sea called Never. Cain began work on building a boat.
The man could not help him in the boat-building, but Cain did not want the help; the techniques to create and forge this sort of metal boat were totally alien to this man. Cain had long experience with them; he had spent much time on the seas, where his curse had little effect.
When the boat was finished, the man boarded the boat with him. Cain did not object, only handed him an oar. They floated forth on the wintry sea.
The man muttered words between frozen tears. "I should have… I should have been a better son… a better husband… a better healer… a better human being…"
Cain was silent.
"I did it. I killed them. By abandoning them, I killed them as surely as if I had done it with my own two hands… I was the healer. They relied on me. I could have saved them, or at least some of them. But I left. If only I had stayed…"
They were on the sea for a long time.
In The Beginning
To stop his insensate wanderings, Cain had himself chained up in Enoch's palace. The wandering urge lessened and slowed, but became ever-present, a steady, horrible beat under his heart. His children and grandchildren tried to please him in his prison, but Cain found himself unable to feel almost anything. His days passed in an empty stupor, with neither pleasure or pain, beyond the ache on his forehead and in his chest.
The land of Nod changed and shifted. First one of Cain's cities was destroyed, then another. Cain found himself feeling that this, too, was a punishment from the Elohim, but he could hardly feel enough to care.
Then the end came for the city of Enoch, too. Cain was still in chains under the palace when it collapsed on his head.
He felt the pain, but did not die. Instead, he lived, trapped immobile deep in the rubble of the ancient city. Perhaps, he thought, he would be here forever. Perhaps this was his final punishment.
When they reached the terrestrial planes again, and the boat ran aground on a new shore, the man looked up for the first time in a long while. The sun was rising. They watched it together.
There was a city on the horizon, suffused with golden light.
"This is where we part ways," Cain said. "I will not go to the sun-city today. But you should."
"What will I do?" the man asked.
"You have mourned your family," Cain said. "Lay them to rest. Build shrines in their honor. And find another people. Heal others, as you did not heal your village. In this way, you can begin to atone."
"I will," the man said.
The man walked towards the city. Cain watched him until his form dwindled away.
In The Beginning
Cain's children came to him, under the earth. They whispered things to him. Secrets. Prophecies. For a long time, he ignored them.
And then he began to listen.
After some time his children came, silently, to unearth and free him. A great many of the Lost Children came, even the First, the High Golem.
As he picked his way through the rubble of his former life, he found that his human family was long dead. His cities were gone, only ruins left, swallowed by the lush and roiling wilderness of the wandering land of Nod.
The Lost Children told Cain the paths he needed to follow. He listened.
He would accept his curse. He would wander the worlds, until he found all the possible ways to atone for his sins. If peace for him was still possible, then this was how he would find peace.
Cain followed the paths, embracing the wanderlust, stepping into the wider world.
Bluebird left the Shadow Market, zir eyes wide and head held high, the possible memory in glass tucked in zir long coat.
Zie opened a Way to another world, and stepped through.