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A Credencium story
Kaolin Imago Fire
Start at the beginning of the Credencium series
With the toll plaza drifting away behind him, Joshua stared out the window into fog. There was a buzzing in the back of his skull that he couldn't settle, and his leg was nervous. Thoughts started and stopped themselves before he could sort them. Something wasn't right—no, nothing was right. He couldn't come to terms with that. He thought he could, but the immensity of it, the... contextuality of it... was unscoped. No, his words were broken.
Spike, John Doe, and Simon were next to him in the back of the bus, but none of them seemed to have answers, either. They were just there to help him, whatever that meant. He flitted through their minds, briefly, just to make sure that he wasn't holding them still. It was hard to tell what was inside, what was outside...what that distinction really meant. What it meant, again.
Lights from the bridge flickered like gas lamps, struggling through the whorls of fog. Crossing The Bay, traveling to The City, on a bus for the first time since he'd come to Berkeley. A chill ran up his arms, and he looked inwards—it was dark in there; dark, and empty. Hours ago, he'd been filled with purpose, but it had gone like a forgotten dream, just twinges that he had to quash. Another chill shook him: his power was draining away.
Well, that would make finding himself easier, anyway. He couldn't hold onto it—it wasn't his. That's what Spike and John Doe were there for. He turned to Simon, finally. "Didn't you vow my destruction, or something like that?"
Simon glanced at John Doe, then looked back at Joshua. "Well, Dreamer, J.D. and I had a little talk about that. A big misunderstanding that our mutual friends were at the heart of. And hey, you did your time, right?"
Joshua winced, and shook his head. "Phoenix paid for that misunderstanding."
"Right. Rest her soul, and all. I got the records fixed, no big deal on my end, and life went back to normal."
"Just like that?"
"Just like that. I mean, I'm sorry about Phoenix. That's a shame, and I didn't realize that's how it went down. But that was her crowd, right?"
Joshua leaned forwards. "So why are you here?"
John Doe put his hand on Joshua's shoulder. "He's here to help, man."
Joshua shrugged it off. "I want to hear it from him. And I'm trying really hard not to make him tell me, okay?"
"Well, the short is even though it's no skin off my back, I owe them one. And from what J.D.'s intimated, I don't like where they're taking things."
"And you're... in... with this whole belief thing? It's not just some games that kids like to play?"
"Oh, it's that. But games aren't any less real just because you don't want to play. Alright, some of them are, but not when they're bigger than you. And those Golden folks, they're doing some funny things that really aren't so funny."
"And you think you can make a difference?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I do."
Joshua looked at John Doe, who nodded. "Good, then. Good. You can." He smiled.
They got off in a swirl of moist, opalescent air. The bus sat for a minute, as if waiting for them to change their mind, then closed its door and drove off. The deep hum echoed over sharper city sounds. City sounds—something about the air, and the absurdly packed skyscrapers, made the sounds here texturally different than across the bay, even downtown Oakland. Joshua stretched back, looking up and up, and goggled at the enormity of the buildings. People had put those things together with their hands. That was the power of belief.
Spike looked up and down the dark, empty streets. "So, which way now?"
Joshua watched the sky-scrapers recede into infinity. "We've got to go down."
"You mean, like, the wharf?"
"No, I mean down. There's something underground."
Spike laughed. "Sounds like a Tom Waits song." He kicked at a stray garbage can; the clang echoed and reverberated back from the varying depths of fog.
John Doe looked around. "So... which way is down, to the underground? I've heard back in the day folks believed there were hidden tunnels in Chinatown; some say that they were actual tunnels, lost in the big one... others that they were mystical things only traveled by initiates. Simon?"
"Yeah, I've heard both. Or we could start with the actual underground—BART or Muni, or both. There's a station near here, though creeping around with trains running sounds like the wrong way to do things."
Joshua found himself nodding, not sure as to what or why. He shook his head to try to clear it, or at least shake the thought loose, but he only wound up with the slightest taste of some battle being done at the edges of his mind—some self-defense kicking in against oily tendrils coming from—coming from—yes! "I don't know where we're going, but I know how to get there."
"Arguably a better state." John Doe smiled. "Lead on!"
Joshua walked into the street, and knelt down over an entrance to the storm drainage system. It was dark down there, but at least the moon was bright. Their eyes would adjust, presuming the drainage was regularly spaced along the street.
He jumped back from a gargled hissing, heart racing. John Doe and Spike raced to him. A dozen yellow eyes swarmed under the grating, two largest at the top.
John Doe laughed, putting his arm around Joshua's back. "Raccoons. We should find another way down."
"No, this is the way." Joshua's heart continued to race. "They won't bother us."
Simon took a hesitant step towards them. "Are you crazy? They're probably rabid."
Joshua shook his head. "Just determined. Come on, help me get the grate up. Everybody: take a deep breath. Right now, they're not going to hurt us. Right now, they're going to climb back down, and walk the other way to wherever their den is, and we're not going to bother them." He knelt down again, and wrapped his fingers around the grating, slowly increasing the pressure he was using to try to lift it. "Come on."
Simon sighed, and walked over. "Alright."
Together, they lifted the grating up. The raccoons hissed, but softer, as if they were simply deflating. Joshua climbed down first, and the raccoons parted around him, backing one way down the tunnel. Getting to the bottom, he took one last glance upwards, then went the other way.
"I can't believe how far these tunnels go. It's like a warren," marveled Spike.
John Doe stretched his arms, and sidestepped a slight rivulet from the surface. "Somebody has to maintain them, right? And you don't want to have to climb up and down every twenty feet. It's a big city."
"Still, we've been walking for hours. And I've done that topside, knowing where I'm going. This is just crazy. I'm sure we've re-crossed our steps a dozen times."
Joshua shook his head. "Three times, I think. But each time, it's different."
John Doe smiled. "That's what I like to hear."
"I'm not being Zen, or whatever. Well, maybe it's all connected—why not, right? No, but it's like... it's like a game. We're walking a pattern that doesn't mean anything to the world we know, but somehow it's tied into the fabric of the world that is."
Spike looked at Joshua. "What do you mean, the world that is? The world is infinite. All things are possible. Don't fuck with metaphysics when there's who knows how many raccoons, rats, and whatever else between us and getting back out of here."
Joshua chuckled. "The world that is... is all those worlds, together. There's a fabric that holds them together. They're not all real, or at least not as we experience—but they're all there just the same."
"And how does that tie into what we're doing, exactly?"
Joshua shook his head. "Whatever we're after is slipping away. I don't know if that means we're getting close, or if it's just because the city's starting to wake up. So I don't know how it all ties into what we're doing, exactly. I've just been trying to follow it—it almost seems as if it's everywhere, down here. Not all at once, but this crack or that crack, or an echo, or... or almost... no, I don't know."
The air shook as a car drove overhead. Joshua mumbled to himself, "Almost as if it's in the air, but not. The ground? Again, but not. It's in the ground, but in-between the ground...."
Spike turned to him. "Like it's in the fabric?"
Joshua paused, and reached out after all the faded hints of tendrils lining his mind like worm trails. They were there, and not there, echoing their own sort of latent self-belief. And those trails ran throughout the ground of San Francisco—throughout all the possible San Franciscos. "Oh. Oh, that's so not good."
Story and image by Kaolin Imago Fire, Copyright 2011