"Deus Ex Machina" is part of the "Bound to Bones" mythos, a series of connected stories and events that shape the shared universe in which they take place. Bound To Bones is inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft and horror games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Penumbra. It tells of the battle between mind and body, light and dark, good and evil (and why there is no such thing), and the fear of the unknown.
“I shall then suppose, not that God who is supremely good and the
fountain of truth, but some evil genius not less powerful than deceitful,
has employed his whole energies in deceiving me."
- René Descartes
As a trader, I have visited many places, and seen many parts of the world. Born and raised in Nubia, I had followed in my father’s footsteps, as he had followed in his father’s footsteps and his before him. I have visited every nation around the Persian Gulf, traded spices with the people of the Indus river, and once went as far as Sri Ksetra, near the Chola Lake. Over the years I have seen many sights and experienced many things; beautiful landscapes, harrowing violence, great laughs and strange scenes. But perhaps the most memorable of my experiences was not an event, but a meeting with a rather enigmatic man.
My caravan was returning from the far east, and we had stopped to spend the night in the Syrian city of Tadmor, a settlement with mostly Islamic inhabitants. Though most of my fellow traders were of the Christian belief, like myself, a handful of them were followers of the Jewish faith. Luckily, the growing unrest of the Catholic Church towards people of other faiths had not reached Nubia, and we had seen very little religious conflict in our travels. Instead, we came together in the knowledge that our faiths are tightly interwoven – for example, Christianity, Judaism and Islam were connected through the figure of Abraham, or Ibrahim as our Islamic brethren say.
That’s why it was so strange to meet that man, that outsider amongst strangers, who didn’t seem to hold any religion I knew of. And judging by the manner he spoke of his beliefs, it was more like he had seen it all unfold before his very eyes. That night, we had taken the opportunity to associate with the local residents, and we drank wine and feasted as if we had lived there all our lives. I drank mildly, as I valued my sobriety – my drunken self turned out to be a rather feisty one, as I tended to get into minor or conflicts or even brawls. I only really drank when I was alone with my Nubian brothers, as we knew each other much better and could forgive the occasional skirmish amongst ourselves.
Among the pleasant men and women of Tadmor was that stranger, who obviously belonged with no one. I assumed he was some sort of lone traveller, and didn’t even think to ask his name when he joined my companions around the fire. His skin tone was too ambiguous to guess his origin, but he could’ve been from just about anywhere north of the Red Sea. The only thing that could betray whence he came was that he spoke Arabic, like the Tadmorians. I knew the language well enough to understand most of what he said – I was a trader after all – but did not know it well enough to discern any kind of accent he might have had.
He seemed ordinary enough, but wore a dark brown cloak with a hood obscuring parts of his facial features. It was obvious that he was the odd one out amongst those present, even though we presumably came from further than he did. I hadn’t paid much attention to the man, though I admit I threw a few puzzled glances at him, when he suddenly spoke up in the midst of an intense conversation about our religions that would’ve likely turned sour had he not interfered.
He didn’t speak of God, Allah or Yahweh, but of myths completely unheard of among the participants of the conversation. Once he spoke, he absorbed all attention and kept our attention with his strange tales – everyone was curious what this mysterious, nameless stranger had to say. He spoke not of angels or the Heavenly host, demons or djinns, nor did he say very much about mankind. Even more, in his religion’s creation story, mankind was an unforeseen, unintentional consequence of an epic divine battle, something like mould on a half-eaten bread instead of the central creation in our own religions. There were no prophets, no iconic preachers that spread his religion. If it wasn’t for his very convinced telling and his elaborate descriptions – for as far as I could understand them at least – I would have thought he’d made it up on the spot to mock us.
According to the stranger, all started with an empty void without form, and only the bodiless mind of an ancient God to occupy it. I think he called it the “Dream God”, as it dreamt up all the stars and planets as a means of having anything, just for the sake of not having nothing at all. But the Dream God quickly got bored, as it had made all in the universe and designed every law that makes it work as it does. The universe, as large and as complicated as it might seem, was to that God nothing more than seeing a bottle topple over off a table, and knowing that it would shatter and break on the floor the next moment. So, as only an omnipotent being could, it deliberately locked away a part of its own mind – the part that knew everything all of the time, and could know all that is to know in past, present and future. In doing so, it experienced surprise for the first time, and could finally be amazed by the things that happened amongst the rocks and balls of fire in the sky.
Though the Dream God now finally had something to truly enjoy, it knew something was missing, and it decided to create something similar to himself – something with a mind of its own that wasn’t simply orchestrated by the laws of the universe, but could think for itself and use rational thought. But where in our religions this would be the moment angels or mankind would be introduced, instead it turned out that the Dream God would create two new Gods – made of a similar calibre to itself, but of course with powers nowhere near the extent of its own. When one of the Tadmorians noted that the stranger had multiple Gods, like in Hinduism and some African tribal beliefs, he quickly denied that his was a polytheistic belief. There is only really the Dream God, the rest is either an illusionary dream or a crafted creation of the Dream God, he told us. The two new Gods were created by the Dream God, as was everything, so their divine power was not legitimate according to the stranger and completely dependent on the will of his almighty Dream God. But, he explained, they were still to be feared, since the Dream God does in fact allow them their power, and if it didn’t want their power to be respected it would have already taken it away.
He then explained more of the two new Gods, and how they tied in with the creation of mankind. The Dream God created the Light and the Dark God, two opposite, primal forces that were created with the intent of eternally opposing one another, and thus create an epic struggle between dark and light for as long as he willed it, purely to see what would happen – as he did not allow himself to know how it would end. Eventually, after many unfathomable eons, the Light God clashed one last time with the Dark God. The Light God was associated with light, creation and life and the Dark God with darkness, destruction and death, and the Light God was the first to use what he stood for against the other God – it made itself significantly more powerful by creating stars and absorbing their energy, supplying itself with practically endless power and armoured itself with the crusts of planets. The Dark God, who had simply not thought of using the destruction and corruption that would inevitably follow it around against his opponent, was taken by surprise by its nemesis.
The clash resounded through the universe, and pushed all the stars and planets further and further away from each other. Eventually, the Gods came upon a molten, barren planet, where the Dark God would be brought to a fitting end at the hands of the Light God. However, before the Light God could strike the final blow, the Dark God used his powers of destructions to take the Light God down with it in a final act of despair. The Dark God tore both their minds from their bodies, while the Light God kept both their minds going without bodies, having them end up in a state similar to how the Dream God started: just a mind without a body. They were now on another plane of existence, which is part of our universe but doesn’t have form. Meanwhile, their physical bodies, now dead mindless husks, withered and seeped deep into the dead planet.
And it was so that non-divine life was created. The essence of the Light God that was now engrained in the planet’s crust lead to the slow development of life on the planet, which eventually resulted in the world we see before us now. However, since the Dark God’s essence runs through the veins of our planet as well, death became a critical part of the cycle of life as well. Where the invisible glow of the Light God inspired creativity, joy and love, the ever-present void of the Dark God inspired hatred, destruction and fear. Growth, evolution and philosophy would always, as if by a law of nature, be countered by decay, extinction and censorship.
After we managed to process the magnificent tales he had just told us, I asked him whether his religion had some sort of end the world, like we had our Book of Revelation, the barbarians of the far north had their “Ragnarök” and the Muslims had their Yam ad-Din. He simply answered that the future was not set in stone, and that the coming events were extremely malleable by even the tiniest of actions. He did note, however, that both the Light God and Dark God would inevitably return. At least one of them would continually try to return to the physical realm until they succeeded, and if one of the two Gods finds a way to return, the other’s return would only be a matter of time.
One of the Tadmorians asked what became of the Dream God, and it was then that I noticed how we had all been so pulled in by his story that we had almost immediately accepted his religious tales as our own truth. The stranger answered that the Dream God was said to occasionally make itself a physical body and occupy it to witness life on Earth first-hand, and would sometimes even interfere in history itself purely out of boredom. He said that these physical embodiments weren’t “prophets”, as their purpose was not to spread the word of his existence, but to experience the world he had inadvertently created. Often, they were even animals, most of the time birds because of their amazing and freeing capability for flight.
Since it had already gotten late, I decided to call it quits for the night in order to have a good night’s sleep. I of course lay awake for at least a good hour, thinking of that peculiar, alien religion that I had never heard of until now. I thought of the questions I hadn’t got an answer to, like how did he know all about the religion if only these three Gods were involved with it? Had I not heard the full story, perhaps? Or perhaps some things had gotten lost in translation.
Before we took off I had asked around about the stranger in the city, but quickly found out that he had already left the city before the sun rose. In the many years since that strange meeting I have wondered about it plenty of times, and stranger still, I’ve never heard of a religion even slightly similar ever since. I still wonder if he was some kind of experienced traveling storyteller, who had made it his life’s work to pull people all over the world into a made-up and well-rehearsed story. Or perhaps there was truly something more about it?
I fear I will never find out the truth about that man and the stories he told. I’m sure I’m not the only around the fire that was deeply affected by it, somehow. Strange, isn’t it? How a story, if brought convincing enough, can shake your world view at its foundation? Perhaps what made us all so interested was how unfortunate the whole thing was for mankind. In all religions I’ve heard about, man plays a vital part, and its creation is an important event, but in this one it just… happens. Just because two Gods wound up on our molten rock by chance. It just sounds so random that it feels more real than any story I’ve heard so far.
I’ve felt it, too, ever since I heard the stranger’s tales. It was always there, but I never could identify it. That presence. That looming. That inherent fear of the unknown, because something is prodding our minds with the knowledge that there is something beyond our lowly existence. Something we should be scared of. No compassionate or stern God, no immortal humanoids or animal hybrids, just pure, raw primal force. I dare not speak of it, or think of it too much in fear of what I might discover about myself. For as much as I get to choose the reality of my days, where I would normally seek reason and revelation, here I will always choose wilful ignorance.
May the Gods have mercy on me.