It was the cold roar echoing through the mountains, the sound of white streams cascading down the hills to rush blindly toward gravity's unending pull, the sight of orange leaves fluttering in the currents of forest air and pelting the ground for miles on end. As we wandered through that vast world, never ceasing to inch toward our goal, they all sung to me. They all evoked the same feeling, concise and inexplicable: that there were supposed to be other people around somewhere, that the world was made for more than two.
I never understood that feeling. Only Tomilian and I existed. We travelled from land to land, continent to continent, through thriving landscapes and across vast mountain ranges. We spoke often, embraced often. He was my father, my only father, my only parent, my only love.
He was not the same type of creature as I, though he had limbs and a face like I did. His long robes and pointed fingernails were bathed in a majestic yellow light, never hard to find when I looked around for him, not that we ever strayed too far from one another. Besides the animals which lived their short lives all around us, the world was wide and empty, but it didn't feel that way when he held me, protecting me.
Our long journey lasted fifteen years. It ended suddenly at rocky precipice that jutted out toward the sea, toward the wide and writhing abyss at the edge of the world I knew.
Where did it end? Perhaps there was another land beyond the edge of the horizon. Perhaps not. Maybe the ocean stretched to the edge of the world. Maybe, beyond it, there was simply nothing. The great blue expanse was no doubt more dangerous than any lake I had ever encountered; the dark waters seemed deep beyond measure. From, the stories that Tomilian had told me, there would be no bottom as far as one could see.
For some reason, the sight of it reminded me of my birth, when I was frightened and crying and everything around me was blurry, when Tomilian took me in his arms and held me until the world finally made sense. This was the edge of all I had ever known, the one place which filled me with the same feeling I had almost forgotten: the unfamiliar, the unpredictable.
As sun passed beyond the horizon and the red light of dusk faded, I called for him.
In the place of his voice, there was a great and sudden crack behind me. The roar of wind and rocks howled around me as the ledge turned and fell, plunging into the cold sea.
Did he abandon me?
It stung my heart a second before the danger of the fall hit me. I was sure he knew what he was doing when he led me here. What… why would he do this?
As the water rushed over my face, I closed my eyes by reflex. Everything was dark, and the sound of the world above was now drowned out by the churning drone of the abyss. Nothing but black and muffled water rushing past my ears and eyes and surrounding my entire body as I fell further and further. The thick and heavy fluid flowed past every surface of my body as my heart pounded and I struggled to fight back against the unrelenting ocean.
I kicked my legs as hard as I could. The water was frigid, but my nerves felt like burning coals; it felt like I was going to die then and there, but I couldn't possibly let myself drown. It took several moments for me to me to open my eyes. Visually, there wasn't much of a difference.
Every thought in my mind faded, save the thought of getting back to the surface. It was so difficult to see any point of reference to determine which way was up and which way was down, and my entire body was swept up and carried with every sway of the massive tides.
I was nothing more than clump of mass carried back and forth in the depths, powerless to change my course… but I finally saw something in the far distance, the yellow light of Tomilian radiating somewhere on the surface of the water. It was terrifying that I was so utterly far away.
Every second was a precious moment lost, another pocket of air escaping from my lungs, another churn of the watery abyss pulling me to and fro and washing its great torrents over my face and ears until the salt-water filled my mouth and stung my eyes.
My limbs were so tired, but I never gave up. When the feeling of survival had passed, I was so utterly tempted to, but I knew he was up there, waiting. I had no luxury of wondering why he left me to fall.
My limbs burned as I paddled for my life, but for every yard of progress I made, I was pushed back three more by the tides. My nerves prickled, and the bursts of air through my mouth became sparser and sparser. In the dark depths, even the sure conscience of my mind seemed to meld away as the thick waters washed over me. Was it all real to begin with? I had to fight every single moment to ignore it, but the more I fought them, the more the delusions of my mind ate at me.
So far was I from the light that it seemed like folly, but all the folly in the world and all the fallacies of my thoughts could not keep me from the father I loved. Oh, how the depths beckoned me in. Oh, how my lungs collapsed until there was hardly a breath left in me. Too soon, and all indications were that I would be dead.
My eyes had adjusted just a bit. As I desperately tried to swim up, I glanced down. I could have been mistaken, or delusional, but I thought I saw people like myself floating lifelessly below.
It was inconceivable luck that the waters calmed enough for me to paddle upward, even as my limbs felt as if they would fall off my body and dancing sparks of light filled my oxygen-deprived vision. Still, it was unlikely. Still, I pushed forward with every bit of strength I had left in me, or perhaps the shell of what was left of me.
I gasped and hyperventilated as my face finally touched the surface-air and my blurry, weary eyes saw the night sky again. The depths rushed to take me under once more, but a firm hand grabbed mine and pulled me to safety.
I sat exhausted on the back of Tomilian as he swam toward the shoreline As soon as my thoughts were collected, tears filled my eyes, pushing away the salt water.
"Why… why did you leave me?"
He simply looked at me without a word, with the same unchanging expression he had on the journey to the ledge. When we finally stepped foot upon the shore and sat down, he draped a blanket over me and spoke.
"You are not my only child. I have had many over the years. All are gone now."
"Where did they go?"
"You saw them down there."
"Why did you let us all fall into the ocean?" I coughed, and my voice only betrayed more and more emotion as I strained to speak again. "…Why did you leave me?"
For the first time I could remember, he looked in my eyes. "There is nothing beyond this world, my son. No, not an alternate universe. Not space. Not time. This is all that exists, a pearl of life in the void, and in it, I was alone. When I made them, I was alone no more. There was no choice they could make, yet I loved them, and I did not know if they truly loved me.
Love can never be genuine, were if not for a choice. I would never let myself force you to stay with me forever. I could give you everything in the world, and it would make no difference. I would not truly love my children if I did not give them the choice to leave me or stay with me. The depths were below you, and I was above. The pull of the tide was strong, because this choice must be permanent."
"But… the others all drowned."
"Beyond this world… there is nothing. If they choose the depths over me, then there is no other option. They are gone. They were my children. They have made their choice."
He smiled and held me. The light of his body was now the light of us both.
"I loved you enough to face my own sorrow if you chose to leave me. And now I see, you love me more than the depths can pull."