The Abstract Jungle

What is the oldest city in the world? This question is a rather tricky one to answer, not only for scientific reasons, such as difficulties in exactly dating ancient civilizations, but also for semantic reasons. It depends heavily on how one defines a “city”: Does a town become a city when it reaches a certain population density? When it constructs permanent buildings? When it demonstrates written communication? Different cities may satisfy these conditions at different times, leading to different cities being considered “the first.” But our question’s answer also depends on the precise definition of another word: “world.” If we consider the world to be the physical Earth, the subset of space-time in which all humans live and die, then the oldest city in the world could be Athens, or Jerusalem, or Uruk. But if our notion of the world is broadened to include the realm of thought and possibility, our question has a definitive answer: Old York, the abstract idea of a city.

 
How old is Old York? Trying to answer this question is like trying to describe what lies to the north of The North Pole; it just doesn’t make sense. Traditionally, a city’s age is determined by when it was built, an approach which is inapplicable to a city with no physical existence. One might try to claim Old York as being founded when it was first imagined by humans, but this is a naïve mistake. Though our imagination is a window into the world of the abstract, it is not the abstract world itself. To think Old York did not exist until we conceived of it would be no different from denying that stars existed before we first saw their light. The only other event which one might reasonably assume to have coincided with the creation of Old York is the birth of the universe itself. But even this is a dubious claim; ideas can exist independently of physical form, so there is no reason to assume that the existence of the abstract world requires the existence of the concrete world. Another possible alternative is that Old York is infinitely old, but it is difficult to precisely define what this means when time itself has only existed for a finite duration. If it is possible to quantify Old York’s age, it is by means which are yet to be imagined by mankind; currently, all that can be said for sure is that it is old enough to be worthy of its moniker.

 
Who lives in Old York? This question must have an answer; a city is defined by its citizens, after all. And the answer is that Old York is populated by Ideals. Just as Old York is the abstraction of a city, these Ideals are abstractions of people. Unlike concrete humans, these Ideals do not contain multitudes. In a city like New York, one who walks on the streets is a pedestrian, but they are always more than that. They could be a man or a woman, a child or an elder, an artist or an engineer, a saint or a sinner, and so much more. But The Pedestrian of Old York is none of these things. It has no age, gender, occupation, or any other defining characteristics outside of its endless journey through Old York, and the steps that make it up. Old York is filled with such “people,” if they can be called that. The Chef who only cooks, The Drunkard who only drinks, The Liar who only lies, and so on.

 
How does one visit Old York? Surprising as it may seem, this question does have an answer. Just because a location is abstract does not mean that it is inaccessible; for example, consider the last time you were in danger. But Old York is more difficult to reach: Only those who are wholly defined by a single characteristic are permitted within its boroughs. Throughout the ages, many have sought out Old York as a refuge from mortality, thinking a monotonous eternity to be preferable to death. Ironically, these would-be Ideals are invariably undone by their own thirst for immortality. Thus, this transcendence has only ever been achieved by accident, if at all. If you doubt the possibility that a person could live in such a way that their entire existence can be boiled down to a single idea, ask yourself the following question: Who is Benedict Arnold? Is he a human? Or is he The Traitor?

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Alice

Human Name: Alice
Demon Name: Unknown
Desire Embodied: Love*
Danger Rating: ★★★★☆

 

*It is not wholly accurate to say that any one demon embodies the desire to love, or to be loved. It is tempting to believe that this contradicts the Second Law of Demonology, since there appears to be a human desire without a demonic embodiment. But this is false, as love is embodied, not by one, but by many different demons. This is because the word “love” describes many distinct desires. For example, the love between a husband and wife is quite different from the love between a brother and sister. Accordingly, these two desires are embodied by different demons. Since all desires for love are very powerful, the resulting demons are extremely dangerous. Their conjuring should not be attempted by any who have not been awarded the distinction of Master Summoner, and even then, only with extreme caution.

 

Alice holds the distinction of being perhaps the most difficult demon to summon, barring any demons which are yet to be discovered by the demonology community. At first, her ritual seems relatively straightforward: the summoner performs a blood sacrifice sine mortem1, mixes the blood with the freshly cried tears of the hostia2, then drinks the mixture. The difficulty arises from the Third Law, which states that a demon may only be summoned by a human who is strongly experiencing the desire which it embodies. The love embodied by Alice is the love a parent has for their child: a desire to protect and nurture, to coddle and dote on, to ensure that the object of one’s affection never suffers the hardships of the cruel world they live in. Yet the blood drawn for the ritual must be from the summoner’s own child. The level of rationalization required to injure one’s own child in the name of protecting them borders on self-delusion; there are few who can go to such extremes in the name of research, and even fewer who are willing to do so.
Among these few was a man by the name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Though he is credited with neither the discovery nor the first successful summoning of Alice, he is easily the most noted researcher devoted to her study. Prior to his work in 1859, the Demonology community’s complete knowledge of the ritual was little more than the brief overview given above. It was known that the ritual was highly prone to error, but leading authorities at the time attributed this to summoners failing to perform the necessary mental gymnastics. Dodgson, however, being a man of reason, refused to accept this hand-waving explanation without proof. Through theoretical and experimental research, he discovered that the ritual’s success can be guaranteed by meeting a long list of hidden conditions. While many are of the sort that are common for rituals, e.g., the mixture must be exactly 10 parts blood to 6 parts tears to ensure success, some are more unusual, e.g., the mixture must be drunk from a bottle labeled “drink me,” at exactly 6PM, on a day which is not the birthday of the summoner or the hostia. To this day, the list of conditions compiled by Dodgson is believed to be exhaustive, describing the most complicated ritual known for any demon. The list was so long that he had to publish them as two separate books, which went on to become the most widely known texts in the history of demonology: “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” and “Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There,” published under his pen name, Lewis Carroll. Rather than publish his findings in a journal of demonology, which were difficult for summoners to obtain due to their perceived heretical nature, Dodgson encoded his results in a novel which anyone could read without suspicion. In addition to conditions on the ritual, the novels describe Alice’s behavior and appearance, the latter done through the illustrations of John Tenniel, which were based on photographs that Dodgson himself had taken of the demon. Thus, most modern depictions of Alice in Wonderland closely resemble the demon. Even the color of her clothing and hair, which are not included in the photographs or drawings, are based on notes from Dodgson’s diary. All pages including these descriptions have been confiscated by The Summoner’s Council, along with all other references to demons and their study. This has led to some consternation among mundane historians, who can only wonder at what caused the sudden rift between Dodgson and the family of young Alice Liddell. They can never know that it was Dodgson’s discovery that it is not necessary for the child used in the ritual to be related to the summoner by blood; a strong emotional connection is sufficient.

 
Since Alice embodies the unconditional love of a parent for their child, she is a tremendously dangerous demon, though not in a conventional way. Once summoned, Alice beguiles her summoner with a powerful charm that compels them to do anything to make her happy. Her requests usually start innocuously enough: play card games with her, have tea with her, tell her stories, and the like. In time, her requests become tests of the summoner’s devotion to her: “Would you put your hand on a hot stove for me? Would you stab a knife through your foot for me? Would you burn your house down for me?” The stakes of these tests escalate, leading up to her penultimate question: “Would you kill for me?” This is what makes Alice so dangerous; she has no capacity to harm, but she is extremely adept at manipulating others into harming for her. Unless the summoner possesses an extraordinarily strong will, they are powerless to stop themselves as their child falls to the ground, lifeless, before them. Driven to despair by their failure to fulfil the very desire from which Alice sprang in the first place, they always give the same answer to her final question: “Would you die for me?” Invariably, Alice’s victims are found with a ritual bottle filled with Alice’s tears, suggesting that this is the wrong answer.


Footnotes

1Without Death, i.e. a sacrifice in the summoner draws blood, but not a fatal amount

2One who is sacrificed for a ritual

The Dualists: Chapter 3

(Chapter 2 of The Dualists can be found here)

“Regina Drisby!” The winner of the Student Council President election was announced, and Clover couldn’t believe it. She lost. But that was impossible. It must have been some kind of mistake. As she looked around, she could see that everyone else looked as surprised as she felt. And with good reason. She was Clover Lie, the most popular girl in school. Everyone knew and loved her, because everyone knew and loved her father, the richest businessman in town. On top of that, her entire campaign was managed by professionals hired by her father: they wrote all her speeches, designed all her posters, and even came up with her slogan (Vote for Lie: The name you can trust). There was no way she could have lost. And there was no way Regina could have won. Though she was pretty well-known as the best student in her class, she wasn’t exactly popular. She always seemed too busy to make friends; when she wasn’t studying for class, she was studying for entrance exams, or academic competitions, or doing charity work, or even practicing fencing. When she first declared her intention to run, Clover thought it was a joke, and she wasn’t alone in thinking that. But people began changing their minds when Regina started campaigning. She didn’t have flashy posters or catchy slogans. But when she spoke, it was with a passion no one expected from her. They didn’t hear the same Regina they heard in class, who spoke only to answer teachers’ questions with mechanical responses, recalled verbatim from the textbook. They heard someone who truly cared about her school, and its students, and wanted nothing more than to do everything in her power to help them. Even when she wasn’t giving speeches, she began talking to people more. Not as a politician, but as someone concerned for the well-being of her peers. As a friend. Clover realized why she’d lost.
“I cannot express how grateful I am for this opportunity.” Regina said, standing at the podium, “Naturally, I have an acceptance speech prepared, but honestly, I practiced my speech congratulating Clover a lot more, so forgive me if I mix them up.” “Excuse me,” Clover interrupted. “I know I’ve just lost, and this is Regina’s time to shine, but… Principal Dedekind, is it OK if I give my speech first? There’s something I’d like the students to know.” The Principal wasn’t expecting this. “I guess that if Regina is fine with it, I have no objections,” he said. “Go for it!” Regina said, “If you have something to say, then it’s my job as Student Council President to make sure it gets heard.” “Thanks,” Clover said. She removed some papers from the binder she was holding, and placed them on the podium at the front of the stage. She cleared her throat, and began speaking. “My fellow students. I believe that Regina did not deserve to win this election in the manner that she did. I know that’s not what I’m supposed to say in my congratulation speech, but it’s the truth, and you’ve been told mine is a name you can trust. I also know that I sound like a sore loser, but I assure you that I’m not. Because I didn’t lose at all.” The audience murmured in confusion. Someone could be heard saying “What a spoiled brat”. “IF YOU’D JUST LET ME FINISH” she continued, unable to keep her temper in check. “I… apologize for my outburst. I didn’t lose. Because I’m something far worse than a sore loser. I’m a fraud.” She punctuated her statement by crumpling up the speech written out before her, and tossing it into the trash can. “That speech I just threw out? I haven’t been reading off of it. And you know why? Because it’s my acceptance speech. Not the victory speech that I wrote, mind you, but the one that was written for me to read. Same as all my speeches. Every single word that I’ve said to you on this podium for the past weeks was manufactured by a man in a suit who was paid money to help a teenage girl win a class election. But not today. NOT TODAY!” She sounded like she was on the verge of tears. But no one was brave enough to stop her. Even the teachers looked terrified. “The only reason I’m not reading one of their speeches right now is because they didn’t write one for accepting defeat. These bozos are paid, I’m talking real 9 to 5 jobs, probably more money than the teachers that we entrust our very futures to, to consider every possibility in my campaign, draft a response to every question, a statement on every possible issue, yet they failed to even entertain the notion that I might lose. And, now that I think about it, they really didn’t have to. Because there’s no way I could have lost. Because this wasn’t my campaign to win or lose. It was theirs. And before you guys pipe up to dismiss me as a spoiled brat again, I want to make this perfectly clear: I’m not making excuses for myself. I’m not saying ‘oh, if I had run my campaign MY way, I would have won’. I don’t know the first thing about politics. If I tried to run my own campaign, it would’ve been a landslide. And that is the victory Regina deserves. This isn’t about her beating me. Again. I can handle losing. I like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at it over the years. No, this is about me not even getting a chance to properly compete with her. I’d rather lose by my own skills than have someone else win for me.” A moment of silence. One or two people began clapping, only to be silenced by Clover continuing. “BUT… the real winner here is you, the student body. Even if you didn’t realize it, you saw through the lies, and voted for the better candidate. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you this, but Regina Drisby is… excellent. And I mean that. I sincerely believe that she excels at literally everything she does. In my life, I’ve met some powerful and influential people. Legislators, presidents, CEOs, you name it. But the single most qualified leader I have ever met is the very woman that you elected, Regina Drisby. It is my privilege to call her my Student Council President.” With that, she curtsied, and sat down.
A single clap echoed through the room. Another. The clapping picked up pace and the entire room joined in the applause that Regina Drisby started for her former opponent. She stood took Clover’s spot at the podium, straightened her papers, and cleared her throat. “My fellow students. I am… a bit worried that it sounds like I copied her speech. It is a nice way to start a speech, isn’t it?” She directly asked Clover, who nodded sheepishly. The crowd chuckled. “I am, in equal measure, thrilled and terrified by the office that I have been elected to on this day. For you see…” she trailed off. The audience grew uncomfortable. She had never seemed so flustered during a speech before. Without warning, she removed her glasses, calmly placed them on the podium, crumpled up the paper before her, and threw it to the garbage can, where it bounced off the rim and onto the ground. “Perhaps I should have removed my glasses after making the shot,” she joked, “Looks like Clover is beating me 1 and 0 in speech paper basketball.” Polite laughter. “I hope you’ll forgive me if this speech is not up to your expectations. I know I don’t really seem the type for public speaking, and the truth is, I’m not. I’m a nerd. I can barely manage private speaking.” She was visibly more nervous and uncertain than any of her previous speeches. “I speak by pouring my heart out onto the page, and then my mind edits it, again and again, until every word, comma, and period, is in exactly the right place. Then I practice it, over and over, until everything, down to the inflection, is just right. But NOT TODAY” She smiled at Clover, whose eyes were brimming with tears. “Not today,” Regina repeated, almost whispering. “Today I’m speaking from the heart.”
“I stand before you today as your Student Council President, not because I want to lead, but because I want to serve. I want to help people. I want to make this school a good place to learn, for everyone. I want to be someone who people can- er, wait, should that have been whom? Um… wait. Do-over. I want to be someone on whom people can rely to understand them and help solve their problems. And I have always truly believed that no person in this school could do that better than I could. I sometimes thought that I may be crazy for thinking that, but I never thought that I was wrong. Not until just a few minutes ago. Not until Clover Lie stood at this very podium, and did the bravest thing I’ve ever seen a person do. She admitted her flaws. I can’t even admit my own shortcomings to myself, let alone all of my peers. Well, I guess I just kind of… nevermind. What’s more, she gracefully accepted her loss. Not her loss to me in this election, which she maintains never occurred, but… she lost something today, on this stage. I may not know what it is, but it hurt her. I hurt her. And for that, I am so, so, SO sorry. But she also gained something. She gained my respect. Er, that’s not to say that I didn’t respect her before, but, I respect her a whole lot more, now.” She visibly lost her train of thought. “I’m pretty sure I was going somewhere with this. Sorry if I’m making it weird, I feel like I’m talking about Clover to the point that I’m making it weird, but I need to make sure I say what needs to be said.” Another moment passed as she tried to collect her thoughts. As she looked at her watch, she realized she was going way over time. “Oh yeah! Now I remember. I always thought that if I were president, I could help our school better than anyone else. Up until Clover inspired me in a way that I fear I could never inspire you. For the first time, my head was filled with doubts. What if she really would have made a better president than me? But then I remembered Clover’s faith in me. The faith that so many of you have in me. If I stopped believing in myself now, I’d be letting her down. I’d be letting all of you down. So I’m taking all those doubts, and I’m throwing them in the trash. And this time, I won’t miss.” The room filled with laughter, then an awkward silence. “Well, I guess that’s as good a place as any to end my speech, so… yeah.” she concluded.

 

(Chapter 4 of The Dualists can be found here)

The Dualists: Chapter 2

(Chapter 1 of The Dualists can be found here)

“IVYYYYYYYYYY!” As she started walking home from school, Ivy heard her name shouted at a volume that only one person she knew could achieve. When she turned around, she saw Coco charging at her, at speeds that she did not know Coco could achieve. Too surprised to move, Ivy found herself on the receiving end of a hug so powerful that it knocked her to the ground. “Agh? What was that?” Ivy shouted. “A glomp,” Coco said, picking herself up and offering her hand to Ivy. “Is that some kind of wrestling move?” Ivy asked, as Coco helped pull her up. She was surprisingly strong. “No, it’s a kind of hug. One person runs at another and embraces them. The second person remains standing, and the momentum of the first person causes them to spin around. I suppose I should have known that my hug game would be too strong for an amateur like you.” Ivy almost mentioned that the weight difference between the two was likely a factor, but she bit her tongue. “So is this a thing from your…?” Ivy trailed off, searching for a word she’d forgotten. “Anime? Yes,” Coco said, indignantly, “If you like, I can give you an etching which you can use as a reference for what a successful glomp looks like, but you’ll have to wait a bit.” “I remember seeing you drawing- er, etching– something during the assembly. Is that what you were working on?” Ivy asked. “I was,” Coco confirmed, “But I had to stop partway through. Those speeches were too distracting. I decide to look up just once, and she was almost crying all of a sudden!” “Yeah, I was meaning to ask about that,” Ivy said, “That whole student council election thing was unusual, yeah? Like, as a newcomer, I can’t tell if that’s just the way things go around here.” “Don’t worry, that was definitely an anomaly,” Coco assured, “This school is mostly pretty normal. Present company excepted, of course.”

 

Coco paused for dramatic effect. “Unless you believe the rumors circulating in the occult underground, that is!” “Well, I can’t really say that I do, so-” Ivy began. Coco continued, despite Ivy’s disinterest. “Word on the street is that a massive gathering of supernatural entities is fast approaching, on this, the night of the Full Moon!” This piqued Ivy’s interest. “What do you mean, ‘supernatural entities’? You mean, like… ghosts?” “That’s exactly what makes it so mysterious. No one knows for sure!” Coco said, dramatically, “Some say they’re spirits. Others believe them to be gods, or demons, or incubi, or succubi, or elves, or gnomes, or… well, anything!” “That’s kind of vague. What are they supposed to be doing at this ‘gathering’?” Ivy asked. “Well, here’s where it gets really weird. Even though no one has any idea what these things are, key members of the community, myself included, strongly believe that they’ll try to possess humans.” “Why?” Ivy asked. “To make mischief, probably!” Coco responded, “Think of all the shenanigans you could pull off with that kind of power! A few believe that they may have humanity’s best interest at heart, but I wouldn’t bet on it.” “I meant to ask why you believe they’re possessing people,” Ivy clarified. “You know, I’m not quite sure. Maybe I’ve already been possessed, and my subconscious is trying to warn me. Or maybe…” Coco’s face twisted into a grin that Ivy found at once nostalgic and terrifying. “I’m possessed right now! HAHAHAHAHAHA!”

 

Ivy was too polite to admit that she was actually frightened, but Coco didn’t need her to. As her witch-like cackling died down, she apologized. “I’m sorry, I keep forgetting that this is our first time hanging out in years. I’ve only been getting spookier, but you haven’t been leveling up with me, so it makes sense that you’d be scared.” “Then I guess I’ll just have to train extra hard!” Ivy said. “Well, if you think you’re up to the challenge, I have a bone-chilling story about this old mansion I haunted a few centuries- er, I mean, what I meant to say is that I’myourfriendCocoanddefinitelynotaghostpossessingher” Ivy laughed. Same old Coco. “But for real, though,” Coco said, in an uncharacteristically serious tone, “If you don’t believe in the supernatural, it probably means they’re not targeting you. So even if something does happen tonight, I’m sure you’ll be safe.” “Thank you,” Ivy said, in a characteristically sincere tone, “If there’s one thing I don’t need right now, it’s something else to worry about. This goddamn move is stressful enough as it is.” Coco giggled. “Well, look at my little Ivy, all grown up! Finally using some words with some fuckin’ firepower.” “Oh, sorry,” Ivy said, “I guess I picked it up from my old man.” “Why are you saying sorry?” Coco said, “You should be saying you’re welcome! It wasn’t a very high level cuss, but I could feel the heat in it.” Ivy laughed. “You really haven’t changed a bit. Anyway, I should probably get going. Those boxes at home aren’t going to unpack themselves. Anyway, be sure to tell me if anything strange happens to you tonight!” “Will do!” Coco said, “Try not to get possessed by demons while you sleep!” And with that, they went their separate ways.

(Chapter 3 of The Dualists can be found here)

The Dualists: Chapter 1

(The Prologue to The Dualists can be found here)

This story begins as so many do: with a transfer student. Namely, one Ivy Klein, who moved to the small town of Hooke Springs because of her father’s work. It was definitely a change of pace from the big city she came from, quite literally what the doctor ordered. Her father had suffered a minor heart attack, if any heart attack can truly be described as minor, which the doctors attributed to job-related stress. Thus, they prescribed him to move “out in the middle of goddamn nowhere,” as he always said. Then, like clockwork, his wife would roll her eyes and point to the swear jar, and he’d add another quarter to its impossibly vast riches. “What those-” he just barely managed to stop himself before he lost any more change. “What those dang doctors don’t seem to get is that moving is a whole-” he stopped himself again. “A whole heck of a lot more stressful than anything I’ve ever done for my job. And don’t even get me started on how much harder it is to conduct business over a conference call, rather than a good old-fashioned face-to-face meeting.” “Trust me, we wouldn’t dream of it”, his daughter would say. “Well, I was just about to go on to say that the worst part is that it puts my lovely wife and daughter under the same stress, but I guess if she’s going to be such a…” he sighed. “If she’s going to be such a smartass about it, maybe she deserves it!” At the very moment he said “smartass”, he flipped a coin in the direction of the swear jar. The very next moment, it hit the floor, several feet from its intended destination. Ivy couldn’t help but smile. “Was it worth it?” “You bet your-” he decided he’d lost enough for today. “You bet it was.” And then they’d all laugh.

 
Ivy was sure she’d miss her old friends from the city, but at least she’d always have her family. She decided to think of this move, not as the loss of her old friends, but as an opportunity to gain new friends, as well as reunite with one friend in particular. Coco, her best friend since elementary school, had moved to this very same town two years prior. No one better embodied the saying “opposites attract” than those two. Ivy was, for the most part, a perfectly normal girl. She had decent grades, performed adequately at sports, occasionally drew for fun, listened to popular music, and loved chocolate. If she had to name one unusual thing about herself, it’d be her status as an introverted extrovert (or an extroverted introvert, depending on how she was feeling that day). She enjoyed making friends and talking to people, but often had trouble striking up conversation with strangers, so she usually only had a few good friends. This, of course, only made her even more normal, but she was not aware of this. Coco, on the other hand, was… abnormal. Her grades were just good enough to get by, to the great frustration of her teachers, who could tell that she was plenty clever enough to excel. She proudly proclaimed that she “only moved when she had to,” so she was not the most physically fit person; she was far from dangerously overweight, but it was noticeable enough to get her teased. She never drew; she insisted that her creations were to be called “etchings”, and were only produced when she entered a trance-like state, or so she claimed. She insisted so ardently that her “art,” which seemed to inspire a precisely honed confusion and unease in all who gazed upon it, was the product of supernatural inspiration (or possession), that Ivy had no choice but to play along. Her tastes in music were similarly extreme, favoring either The Common Practice Era (Baroque, Classical, Romantic), various subgenres of Metal appended with creative adjectives, or something called “Neo-classical Darkwave.” She was an extrovert, but her desire to make friends was far stronger than her ability to do so. She’d always approach strangers, excitedly recounting a cool bug she saw, or a crazy song she just heard, and they’d politely play along until she left, never to speak to her again. Despite having so few friends, (or perhaps because of it) she treasured them dearly, and would go to any length to ensure their safety and happiness. She also loved chocolate, because who doesn’t love chocolate?

 
Ivy could still remember the day that she was approached by that weird girl that she’d heard unpleasant rumors about. “Hey, will you be my friend?” she asked, catching Ivy off guard. “Um, sure! But why me?” Ivy asked. “Well, I want a friend, and no one else in this school seems to want to be my friend. I think it’s because they’re boring,” Coco said, very matter-of-factly. “So you’re saying that I’m the last person in the school that you asked to be my friend? Gee, I’m honored.” Ivy said, sarcastically. She was only joking around, but this was lost on Coco. “Yeah, you’re right. Sorry, I’m just being a bother. As always. You really don’t have to be my friend if you don’t want to.” “I’m so sorry! I was just teasing. I really didn’t mean to hurt you. Of course I’ll be your friend!” Ivy said. Coco was unconvinced. “I can tell you’re just saying that because you feel sorry for me. But really, it’s fine. I’m used to it. You don’t have to feel bad for me.” “I-” Ivy wasn’t sure what to say. She DID feel sorry for the girl before her. But… “Look, since we’re friends and all, I’m not going to lie. I do feel sorry for you. But you know what? I also kind of envy you. I always want to make friends with people, but I’m too scared to say the wrong thing, so I don’t say anything. But you’re brave enough to be yourself, no matter what, and that’s awesome.” After a short silence, Coco spoke. “Soooooo… what you’re saying is that ‘being myself’ is ‘saying the wrong thing?’” “What? No, not at all! I mean, I was just-” Ivy began. “I was just teasing!” Coco said, with a wink. They both laughed. Coco said, “You know, going with the whole ‘not lying’ thing, you were kind of right. You were one of the last people I approached to be my friend, because I thought you looked boring. And I don’t think I’ve ever been more wrong about anything in my life. I’m glad that we’re friends.” “Me too,” Ivy said. “So, how do we make this official?” Coco asked, “Do we just shake hands? Or do we do that thing where we spit on our hands and then shake hands? Or is it on each other’s hands? Or do we do that thing where we cut our hands open and then shake hands? If we do that, we probably shouldn’t also do the spit thing, because infections are-” “I think just shaking hands is fine,” Ivy interrupted. They shook hands, and from that moment on, they were friends.

(Chapter 2 of The Dualists can be found here)

The Dualists: Prologue

If there is one thing that sets Man apart from his fellow creatures on this Earth, it is his recognition of the Abstract. While the animal sees only what is, Man sees what isn’t, what could be, and what cannot be. When a dog sees a tree, it sees only a tower of wood with branches. It may understand that it provides shade during the summer, and it may consider the tree to be its territory, but to the dog, the tree is nothing more than a physical object. A human, however, sees more. A human can grasp the idea of a tree, the concept of a tall, sturdy, unmoving organism, which encompasses so much more than the tree he or she sees presently. The human sees what it is that makes the collection of matter before them a tree, and what makes it different from everything that is not a tree. When the human sees a different object that shares these properties, it recognizes it as a tree, and can use its knowledge of the idea of the tree to understand how this particular tree is similar to, and different from, other trees. This idea can even be applied to the imagination, to create objects that cannot be found in real life, but may be considered trees, nonetheless. One might imagine a living tower of polished obsidian, branching off in geometric patterns, adorned with crimson blades of glass which throw the glimmer of ultraviolet fireflies at impossible angles. It takes its energy from gravitational waves emitted by the binary black holes that its home planet orbits, and slakes its thirst on the blood of any creature unfortunate enough to burrow beneath its roots. Such a terrible obelisk could surely never exist, yet the human knows that it might still be a tree, for the idea of a tree is not bound by the rules of existence.

 
It is the hubris of Mankind to suppose that they are the inventors of the abstract, that these ideas did not exist until a human conceived of them. In truth, these Ideals, as they are formally called, were not created by us. Rather, we were created by them. They exist in the Domain of the abstract, and shape the concrete world in their image. Yet there is a kernel of truth to be found in this belief. Just as the abstract shapes the concrete, the inverse process occurs, and the concrete shapes the abstract. Since the birth of humanity, the equilibrium between these two universes has been relatively stable. Just as differing ideals have sparked wars among humanity in the past, mankind has now fanned the flames of conflict among The Ideals. A great war has broken out, pitting hope versus despair, life versus death, chaos versus order, good versus evil, cats versus dogs, and so on. The futility of this war is plain to see, as it can reach no conclusion; it is, after all, impossible to kill an idea. Yet it is possible to kill everything which stands for an idea, and there are those who believe this is just as good. Since an ideal has little influence over that in the concrete world which is not a target of their domain, they must rely on humans to accomplish this. And so, they select champions, and grant them the power to fight on their behalf, on a battleground which exists somewhere between the real and abstract, mind and matter. Some fight for their beliefs, or the thrill of combat, or for a vain hope that they can put an end to the war. Yet fighting will only beget more fighting; only by bringing about Unity can we end this cataclysmic threat to the existence of our universe as we know it. And there are but four with the capability of bringing about Unity: The Dualists.

(Chapter 1 of The Dualists can be found here)

And Beyond

“And that wraps up our section on Month Theory,” The Chronology professor said to his class, “Let us now move on to the next chapter.” He could tell by the groans of his students that class was almost over. He checked his watch. He had plenty of time. “Now, now, class,” he chided, “Did you honestly hope I’d end class early? Have I ever done that?” “No!” Sam, the teacher’s pet, eagerly spoke up, while the rest lazily shook their heads. “Now, let us devote the last minute of class to studying eternities,” the professor said, “First of all, does anyone know what an eternity is?” Unsurprisingly, Jared jeered “Listening to your lectures!” The professor chuckled along with the class. “That is an example, yes,” he said, “Can you explain why that is?” Jared was dumbfounded. “W-what? I was, er, only joking, sir.” He stammered. Several students stifled giggles at his expense. “Well, I’m not,” The professor said, “So I ask again: does anyone know what an eternity is?” Sam spoke up once more. “Isn’t an eternity, like, forever?” That was the answer he expected to hear. “Sometimes, yes, in a certain sense,” he said, “But that’s not very rigorous. For a useful definition, we need something quantitative. We need to know how long an eternity is. So how long is it?” Sam began, “It’s in-” The professor cut him off. “Someone who isn’t Sam, perhaps?” Silence. “I know you know the answer,” he said, “I know you’re all thinking it. I just need someone to say it.” “Infinitely long?” he heard, from somewhere in the room. “Yes!” he said, “Exactly! An eternity is an interval of time that is infinitely long. See, that wasn’t so hard, was it?”

 

“A standard way to construct an eternity,” he lectured, “Is to suppose that an hourglass with 2 seconds of sand in the bottom is flipped. Then, for every second that elapses, an additional second of sand is added to the top. The duration of this hourglass is an eternity.” A few students nodded to indicate understanding. “Now suppose that such an hourglass, we’ll call it A, is flipped at noon. Now suppose that an identical hourglass, B, is flipped at 1 PM of the same day. Which hourglass has the longer duration?” Silence. He pointed to a student at random. “You,” he said, “What do you think?” She looked around nervously. “Me?” “Yes, you,” he said, “It’s OK if you say the wrong answer, just say something.” “Well, A, I guess,” she said. “And why’s that?” he asked. “Well, ‘cuz it’s an hour longer,” she said. “And what is infinity plus 1?” he asked. “I guess infinity,” she mumbled. “Precisely! So you see, no matter when the hourglass is flipped, the duration is the same eternity. In fact, even if it’s flipped infinitely long ago in the past, its duration is still the same. Two times infinity is still infinity.” “So what you’re saying is that all eternities are the same length?” “Not quite,” he said, “All eternities of this type, called countable eternities, are the same duration. But there is a second type of eternity, called an uncountable eternity, which is far longer. Can anyone think of what might be an example?” The entire class looked confused and bored in varying measure, except for Sam, who was visibly straining not to raise his hand. “Perhaps you can think of an example, Jared?” He said. Jared, who had sunk into his chair to avoid attracting attention, was startled upright. “Uh… your class?” “Very good!” The professor said, “Or a second or a minute or a year. Any finite interval of time contains an eternity which is longer than the previously discussed eternities.”

 

“But that doesn’t make sense,” Amelia interjected, “An interval can’t contain any intervals of larger duration, much less infinitely many of them. So how can infinity seconds be shorter than one second?” “That’s an excellent question,” the professor said, “in fact, you’ve just described the well-known ‘Eternity Paradox’, a famous unsolved problem. But a key part of it is measurement. A countable eternity is measured in seconds, which have duration, but an uncountable eternity is measured in moments, which have 0 duration. And the number of moments in a second is greater than the number of seconds in a countable eternity.” “So there are more than infinity moments in a second?” She asked, “Then how many are there?” “Well, it’s a bigger infinity,” he said, “you know how there are more irrational numbers than rational numbers? It’s kind of like that. But you’d have to ask a mathematician for a full explanation.” From the defiant look in her eyes, he could tell that she would. His work was done. “Well, that’s enough for today,” he said, “I don’t want to keep you over time, so class is dismissed…” He looked down at his watch. “Now!” The class all checked their phones, and began muttering in confusion and disbelief. “Huh? That was all in a minute?” “No way, he must’ve lied.” “Maybe it really was an eternity…” Their muttering died down as they all shuffled out into the hall.

 

All but one. Even after the rest of the students left, Sam still sat in his seat. “Hey, how come you didn’t tell them?” He asked, “Er, I mean, why didn’t you tell them, sir?” “Tell them what?” The professor asked. “How you’re the leading expert on eternities! How you practically invented them!” “It wasn’t relevant to the course,” the professor said, “besides, I’m nothing special. I just took some ideas from Cantor and Zeno and shuffled them around a bit.” “But no one else would have thought up a longer eternity that can fit inside a single second. How did you even come up with that idea?” “Well, son,” the professor said, “a long time ago – an eternity ago, in fact – your mother said that she would love me forever.”