Our Mutual Guide

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I can feel it calling to me. It is always calling to me.

Those old pages, dust-dry and crumbling. Lines of staff like furrows, seeded with notes, waiting to grow. They cry out in thirst, desperate for me to quench and renew them with a rain of my blood.

No! Not with my blood. With the blood of others. I have never looked on the score itself - have never beheld its harsh beauty. I cannot, I must not. Others will be the instruments of its fruition. I must hold myself apart. I will be the shepherd, leading my lambs … to where all lambs eventually go.

I should not think of these things. It is getting harder to control myself; people will notice. I turn on some music to distract me. Bartok: Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta - I let the sounds soak into me, restoring, cleansing.

I have always loved music. As a child, I would listen on my own for hours, playing and replaying my parents' records. The crystalline clockwork of Bach, the looming towers of Mahler, the furious crimson of Prokofiev - I was entranced by them. Even as I grew, those feelings never left me. Music has been the spindle around which my life has turned - I have returned to it in my work, in my home, in my family.

And then I learned of a piece of music that renders all others irrelevant. Unheard, unperformed, it has had more influence than any chanson or symphony. I have followed its trail through history, seen its power: Gesualdo, composer and murderer - Salieri, who cut his own throat in an institution - Scriabin, Berg, dead of "blood poisoning" - Purcell, Tchaikovksy, Schumann, Mozart - so much madness, so many deaths unexplained. What had they learned? Where did that knowledge lead them?

My mind is wandering again, down too dangerous a path. The Bartok is not enough - I need to empty my thoughts. Fortunately I have access to many interesting volumes, and I have been reading widely. There are certain techniques of meditation that are rumoured to have connection with my muse, and which I have found useful in maintaining my outward composure, especially in recent months. Importantly, the preparations are easy - and easily hidden. I lock my door, arrange the materials, close my eyes, and commence.



Vertigo, then weightlessness.

Intense heat. The smell of violets. A polychromic sheen across the blackness, like a bubble on an oil slick. Poignancy. My skin prickles.

Sensations chase each other across my consciousness. A taste of metal and salt. A sharp pain in my chest. The overwhelming need to sleep. A swelling at my throat.

This time is different. I sense the people in this building. I know them utterly. I do not share their thoughts, but I experience their emotions. Anger. Devotion. Boredom. Wry amusement. Shame. Fear of failure, of death, of being forgotten. Hopes of improvement, of revenge, of forgiveness.

Something is wrong. Feelings collide and commingle, as the effect grows wider, encompassing many buildings, a city, many cities. Frustrated excitement with guilty grief with wild joy. Each could be savoured, but this is like eating every dish at a banquet at the same time. It is like drowning. It is too much.

The seething maelstrom grows and roils, subsuming me. It is everything anyone has ever felt, will ever feel. I will be obliterated.

And then, like a deep bell striking, everything else disappears, and I have knowledge.

It is not pictures or words - it is neither and both. It is like the visions painted by music. I have always known these things. I will learn them soon.

A hill. The clouds form a blank sheet above. Two bearded men in roughspun robes approach. They carry some object, wrapped in goatskin, with great care. It is precious to them. They have walked far, from the side of a high mountain, through flood-ravaged lands. They follow a figure without substance, both present and absent: their guide to this hill at the centre of the world.

At the base of the hill, near the gaping mouth of a cave, the guide is no longer with them. They unwrap their burden. Old bones, a skull. The man who these bones belonged to, he knew this place too. Here he crushed the serpent's head. Here he was damned.

The two men bury the bones carefully in the cave. Afterwards, they sing a song to the dead. They know that this place is sacred, but they cannot know who will sing songs of worship here, or who the worshippers will sing to. Gods of love, gods of fury, gods of avarice, gods of sacrifice and gods to be sacrificed. This place, where one man was driven away, will bring people of many faiths together in a song extending over history.

The light in the small room is red. The man does not notice that the fire has burned so low. He has forgotten his masked patron. He is intent on the vellum before him. Intent on the music which burns inside him. Noon has become sunset has become morning has become dusk. The man pours himself into his writing. He is buried in it; he will be buried with it.

This man is only one thread in a tapestry, one voice in a greater chorus, one ripple in a stream. There are other people, in other rooms. Lit by embers, candlelight, bright fluourescence, or left in shadow. Many people, unknown to one another, yet each following the same guidance. Each working towards the same goal. Towards an idea whose time has come.

A city. Proud towers reach toward a xanthous heaven, in which stars shine darkly. Four rivers flow out from its walls, black and red and white and yellow, singing their way to a sea of pitch. I know of this place, although I have never dared travel there. Alagadda.

But this is not the Alagadda of occult lore. No wild orchestra plays, no frantic revellers fill its twisting streets and sumptuous halls. Nor are its bricks shattered, decked in crow-feathers and the dust of dried blood. This Alagadda does not wear a mask. It is at peace. It is whole.

It is the city as it was, before the corruption of its king and people. It is the city as it will be, when the Ambassador abdicates, when history ends, when the last note is played. It is the city as it never has been, a mere allegory for the one guiding its fate. For the city's namesake.

A hill again, under skies of darkness. Three figures, raised high above a crowd of humanity.

On the right, a slave to base desire. A predator: hungry, lustful. Uncaring of consequence. Spiteful in its damnation. Its music is frenzy.

On the left, another slave, looking for freedom through plans and designs. Analysing the predicament and trying to reason a way out. A thinker: denying the base motives of its companion, of its own past self. Its music is calculation.

These two bicker and spit, their melodies clashing in raucous counterpoint, as the crowd below looks on.

The figure in the centre is above the other two - apart from them. Beyond them. Their petty squabbles are nothing. The outcome matters not. At the appointed time, the melodies of raw power and cold reason will no longer hold any meaning. They will be absorbed into an infinite song - into the coming perfection.

The central figure is the centre - it is everything and eternity. It is not a being - it is existence. It is called a saint, but it is not holy, it is holiness - it is the stuff of which gods are made. No-one can find it, but all are guided by it. No-one can know it, but all will feel it. It has always been, it has returned, it will return again. It is outside time. At the appointed time, time itself will cease to be.

And all will come together in perfect harmony.

The echoes of the bell die away as understanding fills me. I open my eyes.

I have a new purpose: I am not just a shepherd, not just a music-lover. I am a thief.

It is time to snatch a prize from those to whom it never belonged. I must take great risks, I must work in darkness, but I will find the way.

For I have a guide.

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