I already know what my sentence will be, long before the judge begins to speak. In my unconquerable, relentless optimism, I imagine that there will be a miracle, that It will instead call for an immediate execution.
I’m wrong, of course. There can only be one sentence for the slaughter of a god.
“The transgressor shall be Voidcast,” the judge intones, as I knew It would. “May your soul burn alone in the darkness for ten billion years where no innocent soul can witness your agony, until the merciful hand of nonexistence finally claims you.”
I can’t fully keep the horror from my expression. Even knowing what the sentence would be, I’d been hoping for a shorter life – a billion, maybe even just millions of years. Ten billion… but I don’t fight as the guards drag me to the Circle. There’s no point, and I don’t want to waste my last few precious moments in the real world being in any more pain than I have to. Pain is something I will have aplenty, soon enough.
They throw me down onto the sacrificial slab, careless of how the rough rock scrapes at me. The highmage lights the flame, expression dispassionate; It has done this millions of times before, and what is one more endless torture? I go to scream the most vile string of curses I can think of, but before I can say a word, Everything is gone.
Well. Not everything. There is the all-consuming fire, eating away at all that is left of me, as it will continue to do for as long as there is anything to eat. There is my own endless screaming across the entire electromagnetic spectrum, broadcasting my agonies in ways that I am too overwhelmed to even try to control. And there are others; bright spots in the void, their own screaming visible an almost incomprehensible distance away.
We can’t communicate. The distance is too great, the pain too overwhelming, and even if we could, what would there be to say? What could we tell each other that we weren’t telling each other already? There is long, laborious, unrelenting pain and then there is the mercy of nonexistence. We all know this. There is nothing else.
Sometimes, one of my fellow sinners vanishes, and I am distracted for a moment by a furious envy, a rage that It has been granted the escape of an end while I still suffer. Sometimes, a new light appears in the void, and I am distracted a moment by a strange joy that another who would otherwise have lived a blissfully ignorant life will instead truly understand my pain.
I would worry that this experience was making me a worse person, except that it is already reserved for the worst of the worst.
This is how it goes, and this is how I know it will go, unchanging, until the end.
Amidst the screams of my fellow prisoners and the debris left of long-dead former inmates, I see/hear something new. Faint, oh so faint; I wouldn’t have noticed it at all, if it weren’t for the novelty.
It is nothing from any culture I recognise, but there is a rhythm to it, a declaration. Something singing that it is here and alive. Can the others hear it? I have no way to ask. To do that I would have to stop screaming, and even after billions of years, the pain is too great for that. I think it’s too close, anyway; close and quiet. Somebody humming nearby. Somebody alive and not screaming. Somebody in the void who was not Voidcast.
An innocent, bearing witness? Dare I even hope?
It is hard to see anything within a limitless nothing drowned in the clamour of burning sinners, but I listen as quietly as I can. There’s little else to do with my time.
The innocent is moving. Wherever It is, It’s going in circles, around my general area. It takes approximately, but not exactly, one year (the span of time that I am used to viewing as a year) to lap me once.
The innocent moves steadily. Judging by the direction from which the signal comes, It is moving in an elliptical orbit. It must be moving very, very fast, unless It is extremely close.
The innocent speaks more and more over time. A whisper becomes a murmur becomes speech, in waves of coherent light cast into the void. I do the math, I watch the direction, I notice that It is not slowed or waylaid by any other prisoner that may be in Its path. I see that It is very
I look close, and then I see It.
It’s almost on top of me! A tiny, fragile thing, clinging to a piece of debris left by – I think – my own arrival, a cast-off limb that never cast off far enough away to be gone. I cannot even see the innocent, merely hear It dwelling on the debris, and It is not shy about making its presence known. Is It trying to communicate? We have no shared language in this place, so far from reality.
I can’t respond, anyway, no matter how much I try.
I watch, and I learn, and in my limitless free time with nothing else to do but burn, I learn a lot. The innocent is… strange. It is like unlike anybody I know; unlike anybody in reality, unlike the other sinners, unlike me. It is many things and one thing and It speaks in one voice of many fragmented pieces on many spectra. I do not know how It got here, I do not know where It came from
I think it came from here.
I know! Ridiculous! The void is nothing; that is its purpose! It is an unreality reserved for those who deserve far worse than a quick death, where their sins and punishments cannot impose upon the real world. Nothing can be ‘from’ the void! It makes no sense!
And yet, here It is. Something not Voidcast, in the void.
It feeds on me, on the fragment of offcast corpse upon which It clings. I do not resent It this; I wasn’t using it, so somebody might as well. Besides, to somebody in my position, the ability to give something to anybody to benefit them in any small way is an incomparable joy. The innocent can take all of me, if that will help.
And, as I learn slowly, It is doing exactly that. It sounds impossible, but this strange being feeds on agony.
As I scream my torment across the electromagnetic spectrum, the singer upon the debris collects it, traps it, uses it to live and to grow. Its singing strengthens, fed by my screams. My pain and my body, together, nurture this life that slowly consumes me piece by piece.
I have never been so proud in my life.
I had known since the moment that I slaughtered the god Eden that the void would be my fate. Since then, my unshaking optimism had been burned out out of me over the course of billions of years, failing me just before a miracle. I had never expected to nurture another, to be useful to anyone, ever again. But here we are.
Do the other sinners have this? Are there little singers like this elsewhere, too far away for me to hear their faint song? I have no way of asking, and the other sinners have no way of responding.
I don’t know whether they have such blessings. But I know that I do.
I scream loudly and resolute. I burn as brightly as I can. I revel in my pain, knowing that every ounce of it strengthens the song of my strange voidborn child.
And for the first time ever, ten billion years doesn’t seem like nearly enough time.