Hayec-Davm and the Forgetting Plague
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In the golden days of the fourteenth month of the Year of the Moonlit Salp-Harvest, the people of the city Hayec-Davm were much afeard. For it was said that a plague of forgetfulness had begun its descent upon their city, as it had once swept through their neighbors to the north and west, and the northwest, and the north-northwest.

Forgotten were the floating fountains of Seramene, flower of the salt-flats, which had prided itself on clever irrigation and—with some reluctance—the innumerable species of migrating birds attracted by their aquifers. For who could maintain the fountains, when even repairmen forgot what was to be done with a wrench?

Forgotten, too, were the squid-worshippers of old Uulinor, who had once floated silken lanterns, ink-filled and many-tasseled, down the tortuous canals of their marshy home. For even the master lanternsmiths could not remember their designs, nor their apprentices techniques they had learnt just the day before.

Certainly forgotten were the steam-baths of Iolant, whose forebears had chosen, unwisely, to build around the mouth of a caldera. It was said that in the end, some even forgot where they lived, so that it seemed to them as if nothing laid beyond the rim of their cryptic home. That the sun and moon rose from somewhere deep within the volcano, and returned there when they fell.

Most forgotten of all were the hedge gardens of that distant, nameless city, where it was said that at one time, many centuries ago, a well-shorn topiary could come to life and walk among the people. They said that this was the first city the plague had claimed, though—and here they would lean in, wide-eyed, voice whittled to a stage-whisper—far from the last.

Where, then, did their denizens go? Hard to say. For the plague touched upon every person who dared venture into the ruins of these cities, so that in time, even their names were at best guesses. Some said that they simply died. That in the last stages of the illness one forgets to eat and drink and sleep, and then, to live. There were others, though, who claimed that the disease preserved. That all its sufferers had in fact fallen into a dreamless, deathless sleep from which there was no wakening.

Now in these august days there came from the east a traveler: a woman who carried nothing but the clothes on her back, a jar of rice-wine, and a wide-brimmed bamboo hat that she could, upon request, balance on the tip of her nose like a seal. When she entered Hayec-Davm, she found the people there blear-eyed and somber in disposition.

“What ails thee, honored sir?” she asked a merchant. “I had heard this was a festive city.”

The old man looked at her, aghast. “The same thing that ails us all! Have you not heard the news? The forgetting plague has come!”

And the woman tipped back her head and laughed. “Perfect,” she said. For to forget was exactly what she had come here to do.

So she settled in and made lodgings in the city, prepared to welcome the plague with open arms. But she found that even as the first signs of forgetfulness began to show, she could not forget as she wanted to, for the people of Hayec-Davm were either grimly resigned or worked up into a frenzied panic, and their drawn faces only served to remind her of unpleasant things.

One day she asked the innkeeper, “Why do you all not simply leave?”

“Some of us try. But the news has gone out, and no peopled place will take us. Besides,” they said with a frown, “it’s no use. The disease is in all of us already.”

Discontent, the traveler went back to waiting. Still she found that the plague was not progressing at a satisfactory pace. Perhaps from time to time she would find herself misplacing her hat, or forgetting what she’d had for dinner the other day. As for the things of her past, they remained ingrained in her memory, like pebbles rolling incessantly around the insides of a shoe.

So she went asking after the origins of this disease, and at last found an aging archaeologist whose eyes were going bad—but whose memory retained its alacrity. In this way, the traveler came into knowledge of the lost cities. Seramene, Uulinor, Iolant, and all those unremembered metropoles that lay beyond.

“Perfect!” she exclaimed. “Surely one of them holds a more potent strain of this illness. I'll go through them all, and who knows? Perhaps the inhabitants are still alive, and perfectly happy with forgetting. Then the people of this city may learn to stop griping.”

The archaeologist looked at her with concern. “Who are you again, dear?”

Delighted, and hoping to speed along her own illness, she gave the old woman a quick embrace. Then the traveler was on her way.

She followed a map the archaeologist had given her—though this task proved difficult, for every time she laid eyes on the location of a city, the knowledge seemed to trickle slowly from her mind. But the traveler was, after all, a traveler, and used to taking frequent looks at maps.

She journeyed through valley and forest and steppe, til the tall grass finally parted and gave way to an ancient salt-flat, running into the horizon as far as she could see. There in the distance she beheld a city, crowned by the many-tiered bouquet of suspended discs that were once its glory.

But as she approached she saw that its walls were cracked, and its marble columns dull with age, and drops of stagnant water dripped slowly from the fountains from which strange plants had sprouted and grown. Bird droppings were everywhere, as they must have been even in the halcyon times. Only now there was no one around to clean them up.

Flocks of pigeons watched her as she passed. For it must be said that animals, unlike humans, were not affected by the forgetting plague. They began to follow her, drawn by the scent of her memories, which called to their own memories. Deep, genetic memories. Memories of old women with walking sticks and grubby-handed girls who had once scattered breadcrumbs by the handful, before the beaks of their fathers’ fathers.

These days, life was hard for pigeons. The enigmatic, fernlike plants that had sprouted from the fountain-detritus yielded small, bitter fruit, and they were constantly at the mercy of passing hawks and eagles. Worst of all, after living in this city for so many generations, they had lost their migratory instinct and become sedentary.

There was in fact a prophecy among the pigeons that a human who had retained their memories would one day lead them out of the city. For this reason alone, they had largely avoided feasting on the bodies of the afflicted—who, as it turned out, were still very much alive. Some in their beds, some at their tables, and some in the very streets. But no matter how much the traveler slapped them around, called them names, and even sang for them, they remained limp and comatose. And no matter how much she tried to breathe in the miasma of disease from their nostrils, her forgetfulness did not progress.

Eventually, the traveler noticed her feathered entourage. She tilted her head. She stared into their bright, beady eyes. She took in their dirty feathers and diminutive statures.

Finally, with a sigh, she took a loaf of bread from her pack, carefully crumbling it into her hat. Having made certain that no pieces were large enough to incur death-matches, she scattered the crumbs before them.

And so it was that when the traveler departed Seramene, she was followed by a great mass of pigeons, like a cloud rising up from the earth.

Next she came upon the wetlands at the mouth of a great river, where its waters mingled with that of the sea. There stood Uulinor—or what remained of it. Without maintenance, parts of the city had sunken into the swamp, and that esoteric place which had once been called the Shadow City for its manufacture of ink (but also the City of Lights, for its love of bioluminescence) was now a ruin as well.

As the traveler sailed its canals, she found the citizens here much the same. Preserved as they had been, miraculously alive after centuries of sleep. Some slumped on balconies, some still floating in gondolas. All forgotten.

At night, there was a glow from beneath her boat. She looked down and saw squids jettison through the waters, large and small, some translucent, some banded with spots of light.

(The pigeons, still following, inspected them curiously. Some of them pecked. But the squids were too canny, and after one unfortunate bird was pulled under in a flurry of feathers, they ceased.)

On the matter of humans, there was some division among the squids. Certainly, they were no longer being culled for their ink, but some of them missed being gods. Those who did spelled out a message with their light, imploring her to find a cure for the plague. One of them offered her its eye. “Eat this,” they spelled, “and you will have sight beyond sight.”

“What would I do with sight beyond sight?” said the traveler. “I wish to forget.”

But she tucked the eye into her pocket.

And so the traveler sailed out of Uulinor and up the coast, until she came upon the slopes of the mountain where Iolant was nestled.

A plume of steam issued from the cratered top, visible from far off. The dormant volcano, which had just barely managed not to erupt in the centuries since Iolant’s forgetting, kept the waters of its lake perpetually heated. Even when there was no one to take advantage.

The mountain was tall and steep, but the traveler traveled light, and her pigeons had wings. Emerging over the caldera's rim, they found a ring of basalt ruins encircling the lake. Sprawling gymnasia, low-built dwellings, and public baths, all of them lush with overgrowth.

The traveler walked up to the water’s edge and sat down… whereupon the steam that rose from its surface gave her an idea.

I cannot contract a more potent strain from the people, but surely this water must be saturated with plague! So thinking, she breathed deeply and cupped her hands in the scalding water. Heedless of the heat, she brought it to her mouth and drank.

Nothing happened. Memories of erstwhile things continued to prick at her.

The traveler considered her wine-jar. She had come to Hayec-Davm to drink her troubles, to lose herself in the crowds and festivities. But now ambition had heightened. Nothing short of total amnesia would satisfy.

So she gulped down the rest of the wine, and filled the jar with water. If she could not live out this plague to the fullest, then she would carry this always in remembrance. To remind herself of what she had come to do.

The steam-salamanders blinked slowly as she left, flicking their tongues after her burned hands. It didn’t matter to them, either way.

Many unremembered cities did the traveler pass through, those with names and those without, and some whose names were only imaginary, and some which existed only in the imaginations of those who told stories about them. Cities where the streets were paved with verdigris, and cities where parrots still repeated the phrases that their forebears had been taught, and cities that had burned because of a single forgotten stove.

But none of them yielded the potency that she wanted. None of them sped along the course of the disease. She could still remember her name, and who she was, and the place where she’d been born.

Yes, some things did shed: the precise route she had taken, and the faces of the people who had spoken to her, and the name of Hayec-Davm. But so long as she had the wine-jar, the memory of her quest clung to her, like resilient cobwebs. And so she did not relent.

Finally they approached that last city, the one where it had all begun. Though the map had become useless long ago, the traveler proceeded in the direction that inflicted the greatest forgetfulness, where she would forget the location of a tree as soon as she passed it, and even the placement of the ground beneath her feet.

She soon became lost in a dense tangle of forest, full of oddly-shaped trees, and could not tell where it had begun nor where it ended. Even the pigeons, who had no problems remembering, were confused. Just as the traveler began to despair, she remembered the squid’s eye. It had shriveled after so long in her pocket, but she dug it out and placed it in her mouth.

Then she became aware that the forest was in fact the city. What she had taken to be oddly-shaped trees were in fact overgrown topiaries, which had swelled over time into wild, monstrous shapes. They clustered around the heart of the city, the path to which became increasingly obstructed, and then at one point impassable.

It was a walled garden. The gate was open, but so clogged with vines that it may as well have been deadbolted. Yet it did not stretch to the top of the walls, which had somehow remained bare and smooth. Too smooth to be climbed.

The remaining pigeons reached an agreement amongst themselves.

Gathering close, but not enough to disrupt their flight, they formed a sort of flying carpet on which the traveler could be borne. In this way she was carried up and over the walls of the garden, at which point the miasma of forgetfulness became so strong that even the pigeons forgot why they were doing this, deposited her from several meters in the air, then flew away.

In the center of this place was an enormous topiary of no discernable shape, an amalgam of abstract confluences of tree and shrub and vine that stretched far into the sky, even taller than the garden walls. Here, even the plants had forgotten they were plants. They moved about aimlessly and did not photosynthesize, occasionally eating birds and small rodents.

The traveler walked up to the topiary. Something compelled her to uncork her wine-jar, and pour over it the waters of Iolant.

Then, with a voice like the rustling of leaves in high boughs, and the slithering of vines in low hollows, and the drumming of a woodpecker's beak against rotted bark, the thing spoke.

“Who are you, and why have you come here?”

“Merely a traveler,” said the traveler, “seeking to forget.”

There was a pause.

“And why have you not forgotten?”

“I don’t know,” replied the traveler. “Have you?”

Moments passed. The traveler waited.

“…Yes, I have.” Something like a shudder wracked the herbaceous column. Leaves fell, then several branches. “I have, damn you. I still forget, though I gave everything for memory.”

At this point the traveler sat down to listen. And so the topiary told its story.

Centuries ago, it was sculpted to be the perfect servant, for in those days this city had been famed for its living topiaries.

And yet, for reasons beyond its understanding, it did not turn out to be so. Its mind was marred by continuous forgetfulness, so that whenever an order was given, it would forget what was said almost immediately. There were humans with similar conditions, but such things were not expected from topiaries. Its sculptor was devastated. It was meant to be his greatest project.

They found him in this garden, bleeding out from his own clippers.

(“I’m sorry,” said the traveler. A single petal fell.)

And then, well, it lost itself. One thing that must be understood about despair—it percolates deeply. Sometimes it can even bend the fabric of the world. In the case of the topiary, the hunger for memories permeated all the way down into its spores, which released in one great miasmic cloud with the sole purpose of finding and drawing in the memories from other minds. And in this way it had eaten all the memories of its home, and innumerable other cities, and soon-to-be Hayec-Davm. But all these memories were too much for a single topiary. They buzzed around its interior like a swarm of locusts, causing it to expand and distort into this twisted form, and at the end of all this it still could not remember what had happened just a moment ago.

When it finished with the story, silence fell.

Into the silence the topiary spoke again. “Who are you again?”

“Doesn’t matter,” said the traveler. “But I think I understand now. Relinquish the memories of all those cities, and you may have my memories.”

“All of them?”

“Every one.”

Night was falling, and the cicadas beginning their symphony. For a moment the traveler leaned back on her heels, as though about to take flight.

Then she stepped forward and was swallowed by the topiary.

On the morning of the next day, that is to say, one of the grey days of the second month of the Year of the Forgetting, the people of Hayec-Davm awoke to find their memories back. They no longer had to write little notes to remind themselves to buy flour, or to go to work, and many people who had gone to sleep confused as to why they were living together suddenly recalled that they were family.

And all along the coast, to the north and west, and the northwest, and the north-northwest, the cities who still had living inhabitants awoke suddenly to find themselves remembering events from centuries past.

In Seramene they frantically tried to reactivate the fountains, so as to wash the excess of droppings off themselves, while those pigeons that had found their way back perched on the rooftops, waiting impatiently for crumbs.

In Uulinor, the master lanternsmiths attempted to salvage their waterlogged designs, while in Iolant they awoke to find the water several degrees hotter than it had been when they had first forgotten, and resolved to relocate.

And out from the nameless city where this had all begun stepped a topiary that had shrunk back down into its original shape, which resembled that of an austere maiden; and a woman who could no longer remember being a traveler.

“You should go back,” suggested the topiary. “They will sing your praises in the streets. They will call you the Hero of Hayec-Davm, and many cities besides.”

But the woman could not remember the name of Hayec-Davm, nor that of any other city.

“Who am I?” she asked.

The topiary smiled a leafy smile.

“Come along, then, and I shall tell you who you are.”

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