A simple thing to do.
Break things, I mean.
“And here is the last Milestone: The Empty Shrine of Feonlae,” the guide said, sweeping a hand toward the stone-sealed building. The square stone itself was seven feet tall, just as wide, and about two feet thick. The white, porous rock was covered in ceremonial hempen rope and white, curling ribbons. “The shrine has been closed for almost seven-thousand years, according to research conducted by The University of South Dareklind back in the early 1980s. However, much of what was discovered by the USD is now in dispute, and some researchers date the shrine as old as ten-or-even-eleven-thousand years old!” The guide smiled serenely, looking out at her expectant crowd. “I know what you all must be thinking… Has anyone managed to get it open? Rather, why haven’t we tried accessing other parts of the shrine, such as through the obviously wooden back door, or through the iron-lattice-covered windows?”
The guide shrugged pathetically and waved a dismissive hand, speaking slowly into her wrap-around microphone. “These shrines, as mysterious as some of them are, are still protected by three key pieces of legislation that prevent any truly invasive investigations into their origin. Fortunately, of the seven shrines today, the other six have always been accessible from the outside. As we’ve all seen, they either have openable doors, welcoming arches, or beautifully framed open windows with which to view and interact with their relics… However, Feonlae’s shrine remains the only unchristened shrine. The interior has never been seen, let alone photographed, which has led many to speculate that Feonlae’s shrine is much like Schrodinger's Cat. It’s both full of secret truths, and lacking them.”
She smirked then, saying, “Judging from this shrine’s moniker as The Empty Shrine… you can imagine what the overwhelming consensus is in these recent times.”
The shrine itself was about ten by ten feet, with a low, sloped roof. It looked like a small red cabin in the woods. The other six holy places were made of poured stone, or brick, or even metal… but not the most enigmatic of them. Feonlae’s shrine was sealed shut with a white stone, not unlike the stone that made up the whole of Godqueen Lazara’s shrine, but the rest of it was simple pine and pine tile, held together with pine sap mixed with crushed needles. It’s said, Feonlae’s shrine was once painted in fowl’s blood every New Year, giving the building a rusted appearance at any other time, but in recent years, all restorations had been done in with mahogany coloured acrylic paint. Animal abuse, otherwise, they said. Needless bloodshed.
People have forgotten the point of sacrifice.
That’s why there are no truly sacred places left.
Only those untouched by Man remained divine.
But then, I’m no different from them.
The guide clapped her hands together, bringing everyone back from whatever spell had fallen over them. “Feonlae’s shrine continues to confound and delight historians even into this modern age, but until legislation changes, we may never know what really lies behind the stone.”
The three dozen tourists filed slowly after the guide, paraded passed a conveniently placed souvenir stall, and eventually the sounds of conversation and speculation died away as the lot were herded back down the mountain’s six hundred cobble steps… leaving only I before the stone.
It’s easy enough to be ignored.
Harder still to condone it.
For me, I believe it comes easier with age.
Feonlae was wrong though. It doesn’t.
Apathy is the absence of Love, after all.
“Feonlae, Godking,” I whispered. I stepped over the metal chain barrier and stepped lightly across the manicured grass. Ten steps and I was there, pressing my hands against the white, perfect stone of the tomb. I put my cheek against the rock, breathing in the perfect, natural scent. Rain. Landslides. Flash Floods. That explosion of dust before a torrent soaks into the red earth.
Wine dashed across a flat, wooden altar.
I love your blood, Aergo. Like liquid ruby.
I jerked back, glancing down at my hands. Blinking, I raised a tentative hand to my cheek and my fingertips came away damp with crimson. I must have pressed my face a little too hard against the seal. My eyes going back to the stone, the white now had a streak of pink and rust smeared on it at eye level. I tilted my head.
“Thirsty still, even now,” I whispered. I thought, How long has it been since I destroyed you so utterly? How long since I saw your face? The years become ages, ages become eras, eras become… twisted. Before long, you’re just a story, and an abridged one at that. Infamous… but completely dismissed--a trinket found on someone’s shelf. I stepped back and sat on the chain barrier. I said aloud, “You know, they sell little figurines of me. They’re these little square mirrors that they can give to their cousins and grandkids whenever they see them next. And you know, they always remember me. They always remember whom I represent. I am yours. I am Feonlae’s Hand Mirror… but they never remember you. They’ll never know, either, will they? You will always be the sum of what the other six said about you and nothing more…”
You wound me, Aergo.
I love you, don’t I?
“But, did you ever?” I asked no one. I hugged myself against a stray wind. Without the sheep crowding about me, the very tangible mountain top made it feel like the hands of old ghosts were trying to envelope me, crush me under their intangible weights.
As if there isn’t enough sadness in the world already.
Crying is senseless.
Oceans of tears and people still collapse into each other.
I’m not like that at all.
I am Hope!
“I… I can’t do it anymore,” I whispered. “I thought I could die without you, but that’s the curse of a relic, isn’t it? As long as one person believes in your Milestone… as long as one ignorant child before your shrine asks, ‘What if…?’ you remain, don’t you? That’s how it’s always worked. Still, I thought I could destroy you… I chose the other six over you. I thought they would guide humanity with more restraint. Despite that…” I couldn’t stop the words from coming up like so much stinging bile.
“I love you, Feonlae. But wouldn’t it have been better if you’d never created me?” I stood up then and put my hands to the stone, conflict squeezing the breath out of me, making my voice come out sounding strangled. “They call you the King of Mysteries! Damn them all. They paint you as a shadow. You gave them language! You gave them morality! You gave them temperance! You gave them everything they ever asked for! Every--damn!” The tears came then, unwanted.
“The Empty Shrine of Feonlae, King of Mystery, ruler over the unknown and the mortal unknowable,” a skeptical voice said from behind me. I twisted around slightly, seeing an older girl hugging her shoulders against the wind, staring down at the information plaque set before the chain barrier. She read out loud, “He was the personification of man’s deliverance from evil. He was seen as a prisoner and a servant by the rest of The Milestone Pantheon. He is called The Secret Father, or The Lost Godking, as it is implied in Godqueen Lazara’s holy texts that he was Lazara’s secret consort. However, Godking Ohstuh’s holy texts credit Feonlae as the liaison between Man and Milestone; nothing more than a scribe or keeper of information. Modern research seems to favor Ohstuh’s writings in this regard.” The girl sniffed dismissively. “Yeah, whatever,” she mumbled to herself, “Ohstuh’s text is basically the least credible of ‘em. He said he was part lion, ate nothing but wasabi, and had sex at least a hundred times a day. He also didn’t call any of the gods divine… so how seriously should we really take the rest of his word?”
She kicked a loose cobblestone and looked up at the stone over Feonlae’s shrine. “Damn cherry pickers wanna paint ‘im like a mystery, but I know they tried to strike you from the ledger, didn’t they? They tried to erase you… but couldn’t. You loved humanity, didn’t you, Feonlae?”
Humans can’t see you.
You will always be mine alone, Aergo.
You are mine.
She was maybe sixteen or seventeen, but probably younger. It was difficult to tell those days how old young people actually were. She had dark hair, almost black, and light colored eyes that shifted between green and blue depending on the angle of the light. A light invasion of her mind gleaned the basic information. Her name was Ally. Her father was gone, dead or out of her life. She had a difficult relationship with her mother, allowing her to wander wherever she wanted. She liked knowing things. She hated mystery novels, but loved horror movies and ghost stories. At the surface of everything was this very real need to be understood.
But what was there to understand?
Everyone wants to be wanted.
I wished above everything to finally be discarded.
“He didn’t love humanity. He wanted to destroy it,” I said softly.
Ally leaned against the chain divider and squinted, putting her hand to the side of her face to block out the sun. “So simple. Vandals could have broken in years and years ago, but they didn’t. I wonder why? Ropes and ribbons… Wood and glue that’s turned into dust by now… I could just walk in, couldn’t I? Who would know?” Her eyes widened then when she realized she had stepped over the chain with little thought. “What the hell am I doing?” she wondered to herself absently. Then there was a glint in her eyes and a chill went up my spine. “Don’t you want to know?” she whispered to the mountain top, looking around. “Who would know?”
I sighed. “Don’t,” I said out loud.
She barked in surprise, spinning around, putting her back against the stone. “What--Who the f--Cairnel’s ass, you scared the shit out of me!”
Sitting on the chain with arms crossed, I wondered what I looked like to her. A spitting image surely, but somehow slightly off. Just off enough to make most only think, That’s me, but never believe it. “Don’t,” I repeated. “You don’t know what you ask.”
She frowned at me. “Excuse me, but who are you? Have you… Oh, this is embarrassing. How long have you been there?” She quickly hopped back on the safe side of the chain, but I didn’t turn to face her. I could feel her eyes studying me, watching me.
“I’m your desires and your fears,” I told her, rolling my eyes. How trite. “No one should disturb the shrine, Ally. No one. It’s better this way.” Even if I ached for any alternative to eternity.
“How do you… know my name?” she asked softly. Then she took a breath and asked, “Is this some sort of joke? I didn’t tell anyone I’d be here…”
“You didn’t have to. I’m always here.”
“Are you some sort of shrine maiden?” she asked.
“More like its guardian.”
“The other shrines don’t have a staff… I mean, other than the groundskeepers, I guess.”
“The other shrines are empty,” I told her.
“Empty?” Ally looked toward Feonlae’s shrine. “Meaning, Feonlae’s isn’t?”
“You’re sharp. But this mystery isn’t for you or anyone else to uncover.”
“Why not?” she asked, a little anger creeping into her voice. “I mean, why did Lazara seal Feonlae’s shrine? Why is everyone so damned scared about upsetting such a dead place? The gods are gone! They were only people, after all. Methuselah, maybe, but still people.”
“I thought you said you didn’t believe in Ohstuh’s writings,” I pointed out.
She blanched. “I-I don’t!” she growled. “It’s just… They don’t exist anymore. No one worships Milestones. It’s historical fact that they did exist in some capacity… but they weren’t divine. They were like pharaohs, masquerading like they had the blood of the divine flowing through their veins. Everyone knows that… So why haven’t we destroyed these? For history’s sake? No one cares anymore! Planes, cars, robotics, nanobots, immortality… Everything we have now allows us to live just as the gods did, right? What do we need these shrines for anymore?”
“There’s another tour group coming soon. You’d better leave,” I warned her.
“Why won’t anyone break the seal?” Ally demanded quietly. “It’s just wood and stone.”
“You think you know everything. Feonlae hated this about children especially.”
“I’m not a freaking child.” Ally scowled. Glancing about, she demanded, “What are you doing here?”
“Keeping fools like you from treading where you shouldn’t.”
“Why… Why do you look like me?”
“Because you look like you.”
A jabbing tendril of thought whipped out at me: She’s Feonlae’s Hand Mirror.
I rose then and turned, holding out my hands and then sketching a rather jaded bow. I said, “You got it on the first try. I commend you. But I was serious about that tour group.”
Just as the words left me, so too did my figure before her and she glanced around wildly, trying to pinpoint where I’d disappeared to. But I was still there, simply unseen. Voices from the landing of the six hundred steps could be heard, along with the tail ends of a story from the shrine one hundred steps before. The guide was saying, “… was like that for many years after. Thankfully, due to various grants from the private and public sectors, many of the Milestones remain virtually unchanged, even after the damage they suffered during World War IV. Many of the relics have also been returned to their original places, save for of course Cairnel’s Glass Dirk, which has been lost since 2022. And here is the last Milestone…”
Ally had already gone.
“... The Empty Shrine of Feonlae.”ns 184.108.40.206da2