Who built it, none can now say. The ancestors of our ancestor’s ancestors might have known. But that knowledge—that name—was lost. It faded from memory. It even faded from myth. How it was built, none can now say. When and where it was built, none can now say.
But what the machine was and why it was is a story that still remains in the collective memory of the people who are descended from those who lived in the Age of the Arcanomen.
The dangers that afflict us now—disease, depravity, death—occur because of a terrible thing that happened once, the destruction of a great protection that, alas, was our only protection.
There remain depictions of this machine, partial depictions carved into ancient tablets, painted in faded ink onto the smooth walls of crumbling palaces, woven into torn tapestries from a time before the advent of the spoken word.
The most ancient of our ancestors had no need to utter sound. They spoke to each other through their thoughts.
We are…delicate beings. But our ancestors were even more so in some ways. They possessed powers we no longer possess, some which may lie latent within us, others which are gone forevermore.
But these powers did not protect them from all harm that might come to them.
That protection was derived from one unique thing that each and every one of them possessed from the moment of their birth. Not an object or a power. Not knowledge or skill. Not strength of body or beauty of face. It was a thing that had no shape or meaning save for its connection to the one who bore it.
The many elements that can harm us now existed then as well. Tempest and storm. Disease and death. Creatures who hunted humankind as prey. Beings who pursued humankind out of evil longing.
The name generated by the Arcanomen provided protection from all these dangers.
The name was arcane. It could never be uttered or depicted. It could only be thought. And as our ancestors could speak to each other through their thoughts, saying these arcane names was no challenge for them. The name was no passive designation, but a lively and dynamic attribute.
If any harmful influence, be it demon or disease, tried to possess a person, the name would respond.
It would twist and shift. It would examine and adapt. It would block and shield. And if that was not enough, it would attack, snapping and latching on. It would squeeze and thrash. It would contain and devour.
It would not release, even if it meant that parts of itself would be damaged, torn away, shattered.
The name would mark and it would remember.
The person who bore the name and the name itself could bear damage and losses, for each name was long and strong. So long and strong that it could abide for the span of its bearer’s life.
Each name lay silent and dormant when all was well, only rearing and expanding when danger approached.
Their purpose was to welcome all friends and forbid all foes.
Such were the names that our ancestors bore.
Until now, the story told about the Arcanomen was one of a great evil that destroyed the great machine.
Out of spite, out of envy, or just because it is in the nature of evil beings to do evil deeds.
An evil being who commanded a host of demons wanted a name, an arcane name.
All nameless beings were afflicted with all manner of ailments, so battered and beaten and broken that they themselves sometimes inflicted harm on others. But the machine only worked for humankind. Those among our ancestors who maintained its function did not know how to adjust the machine so that it would work for demonkind as well. They did not even know if such an adjustment was possible. The demons asked if they might examine the machine and try adjusting it themselves. But fearing that the demons would break the Arcanomen, or steal it, our ancestors refused the request.
And so the nameless evil being commanded the vast host of demons to surge forth and attack those who protected the machine, and then to attack the machine itself.
The Arcanomen had its own arcane name. That name protected the machine, decimating the host of demons. But there were so many demons, surge upon surge, so many that they overwhelmed the machine’s name, tore it and shattered it, broke it. They reached the machine and broke it too, scratching and dismantling, hammering, cracking, and crushing, until nothing was left but rust and dust.
Thus did a great evil destroy the great machine, leaving humankind defenseless, until they built many weak and imperfect defenses to replace their one mighty defense.
But that was a story told to comfort children, and those whose minds and hearts could not bear the burden of guilt and of responsibility for what their ancestors had wrought.
For its was no demon that destroyed the Arcanomen.
It was us.
We did not do it out of evil intent. But we did do it out of arrogance and ignorance.
The Arcanomen, it was thought, would abide for all time, and would serve all generations of people until the end.
So when the signs first shown, the subtle cracks around the base, the fading of the shimmer that lit the orbital rings, the lessening of the complexity in the names that the machine generated…when those signs first arose, our ancestors did not notice them. Or perhaps they ignored them.
But there came a time when the machine’s decay could not be ignored. The names that were given to each coming generation became weaker, unable to protect them from every harm. Already there arose the crafting of talismans, and the practices known as magic and alchemy, to extend the protections that were granted by the arcane name.
Our ancestors had thought that the Arcanomen was a great cosmic creation. But everything that had a beginning had an eventual end. Even stars, for they were born and so they would one day die.
There were some who believed that the only response to the machine’s decay was to build protections that replaced those granted by the arcane name. Protections for the body against disease and injury. Protections for the soul against the corruption of evil. Protections for the mind against ignorance and the mayhem of misperception. Protections for the heart against anguish and despair.
Some protections developed naturally. Some were purposefully made. What the oldest of our ancestors wore as decoration—clothing—become a protection against the harm that came from harsh weather. Rank was invented, as was wealth. For both afforded greater protections to those who possessed them in great measure. A multitude of languages were invented to convey meaning in many and varied ways, and to acquire and foster knowledge and wisdom.
Slow was the machine’s decay, allowing humankind to invent, try, fail, and reinvent new safeguards.
But there were some who were not ready to accept such a sad and empty fate. A world without the Arcanomen.
That there would come a day when humankind lost the protection granted by the machine was unthinkable to them. Some had already suffered, for they or their children bore names that were simpler than those born by their predecessors. Already they required the aid of tools and talismans, spells and medicines, to help their names protect themselves. They wanted to try to repair the machine. But none who then lived understood the intricate workings of the Arcanomen. How then could they know how to repair it? How could they avoid ruining the machine altogether? To dare such an undertaking was too great a risk. They were forbidden.
But they dared anyway.
Out of fear and grief. Out of arrogance and anger. Out of desperate hope.
They dared without knowing what they were daring.
And they failed.
The subtle cracks in the base widened and spread. The hands that ticked around the dials of past, present, and future when the machine was in operation, came loose and fell off. The spinning of the orbitals around the disc of destiny slowed and then stopped, forever frozen. The hollow polyhedron from whose dark and unknowable core the machine produced each arcane name rusted and crumbled into dust. The central rings that received all report of the person who would be named—all measure of their character, skill, and talent, every minor preference and proclivity, and every profound longing—those rings warped and bent, releasing wave upon wave of chaotic force.
The machine shuddered. Its working rattled.
Its arcane name contained its arcane forces, straining until it could strain no more. It shattered, leaving the machine unprotected.
The Arcanomen broke.
All those who bore arcane names would be protected until they perished. But for any who were born after the breaking, all hope of such protection was lost.
With the machine gone, humankind invented more and more safeguards and protections for themselves. They tried to devise their own names. The names became simpler and simpler. And so they lost their uniqueness. But people adapted by granting those who were newly born more than one name in the hopes that many simple names could replace one arcane name.
But there was no replacing the arcane name with only one kind of protection. Many were needed.
What functions were once performed by a single universal machine were now broken into many pieces. Spoken words. Written languages. Tiny sentries patrolling our blood. Pendants of protection. Rings dipped in holy rivers. These many threads that were once woven into an elegant intricate tapestry had come undone and now fluttered beside each other. Working in tandem and sometimes, sometimes even weaving back together for a stretch of space, for a stretch of time, these individual threads were still tasked with protecting humankind.
In time, humankind learned that the arcane names provided more than just protection against harm. As new generations replaced the old, people lost the powers they once possessed. Spoken language replaced the language of thoughts. Senses were dulled until only five remained. Some ancient senses and talents remained latent in humankind, but were unreachable for most.
Names became even simpler. They became still and silent, inert and helpless. Rather than granting protection, they sometimes rendered their bearer’s even more vulnerable. For the speaking of a name could summon a person’s attention, at the least, and at the most, could command the person’s actions. And yet, it was necessary to have names in the time of spoken words. To regain command of their own actions, people would change their names and name themselves. In the hopes of regaining some protection, some would adopt the names of others.
Few remembered how powerful the names of their ancestors had once been. For those names could not be contained by any sound that the human throat could utter, nor any marks that the human hand could make. And so few remembered and told the story of the machine that granted their ancestors such mighty and arcane names.
Sometimes what is lost can be found. Sometimes what is broken can be fixed. Sometimes what is injured can be healed, even regenerated, restored to its original state. But that can only be so when enough remains to be found or fixed, healed or restored.
The only thing that now remains of the machine that once guarded all of humankind is the story that is told of it.
And the machine’s name. Not it’s true name. Not it’s arcane name. But the modest name by which we now call it.
Some say even that name holds some power.
Not the power of protection.
But the power of potential.
And so let the story be told, humble though it may be, until it reaches those who might know how to harness that potential.
Those who might take a modest name and build from it a magnificent machine.
Copyright © 2021 Nila L. Patel