The First Monastery
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You are lost inside the segment of woodland that you knew, your back facing the light of the city for too long as you trudged toward where nature had grown to its absolute thickest. Now you see it standing amongst the trees and reeds, fierce and prideful, infinite in complexion and secrecy:

A building.

A stout pile of limestone shrouded deep in ancient pines never before charted by men and map. One great dark conglomerate of brick and mortar, however many hundred feet high in its tall girth. Black clouds gather around its roofs, for often it does storm here. Rain rolls down the sides, off awnings and onto cobble paths which surround the cantankerous old structure. All those trails lead back to one entrance; two massive double doors laced with green strands of copper, hewn out of wood now brown and sunken. The doors stretch on, unwavering. To look up at the top of them is to look at the sky itself.

This is not your time. This is not the forest you had crossed, but rather a fixture of bygone plant and vine belonging to now extant sub-sections of the human genus. And those vines, oh they grow so far and frequent in these demesnes. Nare a single patch of earth not outspoken by vast swaths of archaic kudzu, too few stable havens in this land of infinite reeds. Yet the monastery remains, partly touched by the green and yet partly devoid as well, a whale half-encrusted with ivy barnacles, parasitic. All around you, topography too dense to retreat from. And the downpour grows worse by the second.

Open those doors. Step into the floor beyond and you shall see the old ways lying in wait. The interior, a cacophony of religious visages and symbols, knowledge lost to passing days. Rows of dyed panes not yet claimed by wind and rock. Mounds of clay pottery, some broken but some not, the wilting paint on them barely visible under the sparse embers of candle light. Heaps of debris in a lonely cobwebbed corner. Jars of wine surrounded by crudely shaped coins. Pious offerings to a god forgotten. Mold covered books, faded gilded edges. Many languages inside them, all no longer spoken. Lines of scripture written in charcoal. You can no longer hear the rain of the outside world, even with the double doors still hanging ajar.

Towards the end of the first room there are several lines of seats that gather around a stone effigy. Built of legs and eyes and winged arms, a great many teeth, fur in certain places. Ears like a bat. Jutting fangs, the snout of a dog. Human eyes. A mighty bipedal quadruped in all its paradox. It carries all these features and yet it is not of a man nor beast that you know. Nothing else speaks on what those artists of yore were attempting to express via the rock. The idol sits atop a marble slab covered in gifts, talismans, odd trinkets. Move on and do not take any of them.

There are tunnels on all sides of the entrance hallway, and within each of them sit rooms that lead to even more tunnels, and so on and so forth. Mostly places of rest. Hospices. The rooms which house the dead are the only ones that you refuse to go inside of; it is not the prospect of finding bodies that frightens you, but rather the idea that all those tombs could instead lie empty. Places now void of any humanity, even in remains. There are hundreds of these rooms within the construct, perhaps even thousands. All of them perchance vacant.

Staircases among the tunnels, they go up farther than can be perceived. Primordial spirals of no clear destination. Some end at new floors and others never cease. Small windows can be found along these flights where there should be none to discover. Is it possible that a space can be built before time, before logic, law, and reason? The millennia of history undocumented comes crashing before you in these stairwells. Geographic reminders of how little we really know of ancestry. There are people in pasts so far away from your own life that they would be like aliens if ever you saw them in flesh. None here to remember them save for the monastery itself.

And remember it does. Raspy voices in the wind speak of names held to no regard by the living. Only the dead knows.

There are rooms of creeks and wide caverns, throws of shrines and statues and plaques preaching quotes spoken by men you do not know, often in formats you cannot perceive. Tones of sorrow always laden somewhere within their heavy composition, coating over the meaning of the words themselves like a line of shining grease upon a silver spanner. Oft you gaze paintings, most chipping away at the seams and crumbling into brown piles of dust. In one artwork, a blueprint for some stick-and-paper contraption. Long and spindly and important. And fragile. Another depicts three plumes of fire billowing off of a blackening barn.

Many imperceptions ago this was a site of blissful empyrean victory. Something so great happened here, once. They drank fine liquid from embedded chalices and sang hymns, not to one another, but to the church itself. It was as much of them as they were of it. And they would tend to the weeds that surrounded it and polish the billions of dormers, casements, and other glass apertures. And they swept the trillion tiles of all their dust over and over until their colors had changed entirely, for only then was the work considered done. Then they pour more gold into the smelters and continued building, building. Never to stop. They would add to that sprawling monastery until it became the world entire. That they were sure of. And at night the palace would protect them from all predators; the raptors, the sabers, the sunken, and every other thing to follow.

In reality, it protected them from the march of time itself. Only they would never know. Only they should wake up again, and drink and pray and build and sleep for what their lord and their residence had intended to be eternity. Only they should never die, and never rot.

But eternity is instable.

In the end, only they would crumble. Not the paintings or the windows or the shrines, nor their statues and offerings of wine and coin and keepsakes. Those might age, but they would never fall completely. If you've seen both then you know that age is something far different from rot. Rot is a prospect much more hateful. Because even dust, even ash— Even those were something that at least remained in the monastery. But rot does not allow for such comforts.

Grey piles of lost coagulate. Bundles of brittle nerves. Teeth. Flakes of something that no divinity could hope to put back together.

Sludge, essentially.

That's all that rot would leave behind in its wake.

Or maybe it was just all that the monastery could save.

You make a turn. It all vanishes. You look back for the faith, but find none. Later you return to whatever home you have. And you do not sleep. Every year or so you go back to retrace your steps. Every year you feel like you are getting closer, yet every year you find nothing out there. And what do you know? What can you tell people? Anything you want— yet nothing ever does it justice.

Our town used to have old pawn shops that nobody ever entered. Their own sleeping elders. In the winter their windows were too fogged up to see inside, and in the summer the rays of light glared too brightly to decipher. To me they were full of ghosts.

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