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Three - Solving the Riddle                 October 23rd, 2019

        The four of us sit around a campfire at night, a moon over us, adding its own pale light to the garden. The others are finishing up a meal of boar, with the thanks of Atlas’s hunting skills since Onan and Atech haven’t grasped the concept of killing quite yet.

         Onan gives me another raised eyebrow and asks, “Why do you not join us in eating the boar?”

         I shift my body, adjusting the lower part of my gray dress to cover more of my legs and press my back against the fallen tree I am leaning against. “I do not grow hungry. This garden is my plane and I design the rules. I wish to not be hungry and I am not; my powers are limited only to my imagination.”

         Atech stops chewing, “What are our powers?”

         I glance to Atlas and he gives a slight nod, saying, “Here we have none, you both are allowed in the garden only to communicate your discoveries and understanding of your creations of life to each other.”

         Atech’s questions continue, “We have no powers, yet you say we can create life? I don’t get it, Wolf.” 

          “His name is Atlas,” Onan interjects. “The initial gave us keys to our own planes, idiot. We have absolute power there, as the Initial has power here.”

            I raise an eyebrow of my own in response to Onan’s understanding of my design. Atech examines his ring and asks again another question, “How do we go there?”

            Letting out a sigh, I respond, “First, you must give your plane a name and then simply say it out loud. Your plane is a blank canvas of rock and you may add to it whatever you desire by simply using your mind. A thought is all it takes, and it shall be shaped for you. However, there are some rules that you cannot break which I have set up for you.”

             I have their attention again, except for Atlas who has fallen fast asleep. I assume he grew bored because he knows all of this already. Standing up and taking a step toward the small fire, I stare into the flickering light, holding out my hands to feel the warmth. “I created you both and your planes for a purpose; I need your help to achieve my goal and solve the riddle. That is our reason for being. Experiment on your planes and report back to me your findings. Follow these guidelines and you will succeed I am sure of it, but it will take time, perhaps eons.” I turn my gaze to Onan, “You both have the same rules to follow, but they are an aid, not a crutch.” I pause and shift to Atech, who is also listening intently, as if eager to get to work. “First, the life you create must be cyclical, the same as here in the garden. The spirits of the beings you manifest go to your plane’s core and they choose, with the help of an Advocate of your plane, where to reincarnate after their life has ended, and in whatever form they desire. The spirit has two options, if they were created by Atech, they may return to his plane or switch over to Onan’s. Think of it as a friendly competition.”

            Onan and Atech exchange a look as Atlas, who apparently has been listening and fooled me into thinking he was asleep, speaks up. “My bet is on Onan.”

            Onan laughs as I smile myself. Atech doesn’t seem to appreciate the humor and gets to his feet. “I do not know if I am happy, so how will I make my creations happy so that they stay on my plane when they die?”

             I notice Onan rolling his eyes. “That is what we must figure out and why she said it would take a long time.” He turns to me and asks, “Did you not give this one a brain?”

             Atlas and I start to laugh. I stop myself when I see Atech with an angry stare directed at Onan. “Atech, he was only joking; please sit.” I say in a calm manner, but my attempt at diffusing the situation fails. 

             Atech holds out his hand in a fist, close to his face, and screams out in frustration while staring at his white ring, “I am ready. I name my plane, The Haven!” Atech vanishes from our sight.

             Frozen in place and bewildered, Onan looks to the empty space which contained Atech’s body a moment ago, while Atlas’s eyes meet mine. “That didn’t take long.” Atlas mutters as he stands up to sit next to Onan. “I am glad you won.”

             “I won? Atlas, my friend, what did I win?”

             “This.” I say with my heartbeat quickening, extending my hand, yet again, to gift Onan a new ring. One of silver with gold bands on each end. “This ring has a name; it is called Evenhanded and it is essential to our quest of finding a champion.”

             “I thought we are supposed to figure out what makes life happy and what gives life meaning?” Onan sounds confused for the first time. Since he has yet to accept the ring, I maneuver myself so I am kneeling in front of him and take his hand to place Evenhanded inside. A man of muscle, yet a soft touch. I hate to think about leaving so soon. I never thought I was capable of such feelings toward one of my creations. “Perhaps we shall meet again, Onan, but it is against the rules.”

              “I don’t think I like the idea of rules, if it means you are leaving me. And what of this champion? Where do I find him and why is he so important?”

             “Her.” I lean in to whisper in his ear, “She is important because she knows the answer to the riddle. You must find her and give her Evenhanded.”

             “What does it do?”

             “It is a Key Ring and gives the champion access to your plane and Atech’s, as well as this garden. She will travel freely between the planes and show all others how to be happy and live a meaningful life.”

              “And if they do not accept her teachings?”

              “She will destroy them and begin an era of cleansing; what once was created, can be erased. The champion is able to and must eliminate any mistakes I have made.” Onan nods in understanding as I stare into his brown eyes. It aches my spirit that I must follow my own rules and tell him what is vital to happen next.

              “Onan,” I begin, “Once you go to your plane, you will remain there, trapped, and cannot return to this garden. Go to it and create life as you see fit and be kind and fair to your creations and they shall give you their loyalty. Life needs an equilibrium, and I am afraid Atech is unbalanced. His greed and lack of temperance will surely be his downfall once his power to create life becomes exhausted. I believe Atech’s spirits will leave his plane for yours.” I stand up and Onan quickly follows suit. He takes my hands, as if knowing he must depart to his desolate world soon.

              “I thought you said it was a friendly competition?” Onan questions as he squeezes my hands gently. 

                I respond, admitting the truth. “It is a test. He is full of anger, but is angry at the wrong things. This is a competition, but not at all friendly, since Atech will not allow it to be. It is everything to me to understand life and its meaning. I am fearful Atech will try and break the rules I have set or find a way around them. You must find the champion first and not let Atech persuade her to help him.”

               Onan pulls me in, and we embrace. “I will not fail you,” he says in a comforting tone. “Must you leave me?” I push him away, “Yes, but know that I am out there, watching, and I know you will surely prevail. It is time, you must name your plane and go!” He takes a few steps backwards with his eyes never leaving mine. “Your wish is my command. I name my plane, Netherworld!”

               Sorrow fills my thoughts as Onan disappears, on his way to the core of the garden, and through the gateway to his plane. I return next to the fire and gaze up at the moon. “Have I done well?” I mutter as Atlas emerges from the darkness, his dark outline taking shape as he steps closer to the fires light. He sits on the opposite side of the flames.

              “I believe in your design, but now it is up to life itself to see if it is worthy enough to remain existing. If this test fails, we can always try something else.” Atlas’s words make me wonder if I should have burdened him with my own wisdom. “I must leave, I cannot risk giving in to the temptation of interfering with whatever events play out.” Atlas frowns and looks down, “I will miss you and be lonely.”

              “Do not fret, sweet Atlas. Life will thrive in this garden. Men and women will prosper, and you will watch over them and witness their deeds. You will also have help.” Reaching into the fire and grasping a flaming stick, I toss it into the air, and it lands behind the Wolf. It sparks and begins to wriggle and change shape. Turning black and white, it hisses and slithers towards Atlas before raising its head. Atlas jumps back with a fright, “What is this?” The snake’s head splits down the middle and each head grows back the missing half. The two-headed snake smiles at Atlas, its tongue peeking in and out to test the air. “Greetings.” The black head of the snake says comfortingly, “I am Yin.” The white head of the snake bats his solid black eyes and introduces himself as well: “And I am Yang!”

               I pick up the two-headed snake and it curls around my arm and its heads pop up over my shoulders, still grinning at Atlas. “Yin and Yang will keep you company and play a pivotal role in the test. Together, they can read and possess the minds of any living creature in this garden, besides you, dear Atlas. All five senses of that being is theirs to control and use to help discover the champion. Use their power to find and communicate with her.”

              The clouds above shift and allow more moonlight to shine down and illuminate a nearby meadow. An idea pops into my head as I wonder... “I believe you will need more help.” I look up to witness a meteorite falling, burning up as it enters the atmosphere. Losing size and taking shape, wings emerge as it dives toward the three of us. I extend the arm not holding Yin and Yang, and a peregrine falcon takes grip. “Quite an entrance.” Yang exclaims in awe. I ruffle the falcon’s feathers and she lets out a screech. “This is Binary. She has no power now, but she will as time passes.” Binary’s wings unfold and she gives a bow. “I live to serve that which matters most of all. I will seek out the champion and she will join our cause.” Binary announces.

               “A talking, immortal snake, bird, and wolf, we can’t lose!” Yang excitedly shouts as he and Yin unravel from my arm, to the ground.

               “Be aware that although I have blessed you with everlasting life, you will lose your power if your body succumbs to death.” Yin raises his head high, appearing concerned, “My lady, Yang here seems to be able to govern all of the animals here, whereas I cannot.”

               “How could I forget,” I throw up my arms and the startled falcon flies off to a tree limb close by. “My last creations, they will bring balance to this garden and help ensure our victory. I have already created the creatures of light; now it is time I summon those of darkness.”

               “But why bring evil here?” Yang questions. Upset at the question, I glare back at the white head of the snake. “They are not evil! They have both good and bad inside them; however, that is not to say that they are balanced.” Sweeping my hand in a circular motion, a black portal appears in the ground and my two guardians stand back, while Binary watches from above. A swarm of insects of all types emerge first from the void. Locusts, mosquitoes, wasps, and others take flight straight up into the dark night while spiders, ants, and other crawlers climb out and veer in every direction. After a short pause, and while Yin is laughing in delight, bats, rodents, reptiles, and amphibians all make their debut. As Yin continues his glee, Yang looks horrified. “I hope they help as you say they will; they are vile.” The last creature, a sloth, gradually makes its way to an embankment of trees.


               Reversing my hand motion, I close the portal. A rush of faintness hits me and I fall to my knees. Midnight approaches and I know I am out of time. “I am leaving now. Good luck, heroes.” Able to say a final word before I collapse, I whisper, “Luna.”

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