The Eight Crimes of The Iconodules

The Unwholesome Destinies of Neval Tarsus

To Neval・Tarsus, the world had scarcely consisted of anything but a house, a hill, and the rolling miles of ocean. All three of these things had, at least to her mind, always been. She knew as well, in the roundabout way that she knew most things of the world outside, that her house, built on the hill over the ocean, would stand nearly until the world ended. The tides were not quite as fast as the apocalypse these days, but they had been around much, much longer, and they had their last chance now to lap at the ankle of disintegrating earth and desperate, doomed grasses that comprised the hill. There was a tree, too, but it had long since dried and its roots had lost all strength and there was little reason to mention it. Neval・often felt for it in that regard. “The house will be yours.” her mother had said, “But not forever.”

“When will it be given to me?” Neval・asked, hands busy with the work of weaving, not really understanding what she was doing, but enjoying the patterns of no consequence as her mother watched. She had been so young, then, that she was not even bothered by the answer.

“When I am dead.” was what her mother had said, and Neval・had known it to be true.

It was not just the two of them in that house, either. Elsewhere, often in the world outside, were her father and brother, who worked to give them some comfort in this life. Their work was that which might be expected of men by a dying sea. They fished and sifted through whatever washed up from below the waters, which grew darker and more unfriendly by the day, even beneath the cloudless sky. Sometimes Neval would step out onto the cliffs by the house and watch them moving among the wood and stone that washed up more each day, burying the bodies that came with it and offering only the briefest of words for the unknown departed. Neval didn’t wonder what had happened to them. Not everyone was willing to live on the docks. She was a bit older, then, but the knowledge still did not bother her.

It did not bother her in the way that knowing what lay beyond the horizon did not bother her. It did not bother her in the way knowing that the sky was a lie did not bother her. It was all she had known, after all. And when she cared to, she knew all that she wanted. But the cares of a child were mild, and she had already seen that she could not change the world. It is beyond the power of a child, after all, and would be beyond the power of the adult she would become. So she did not concern herself. What point was there to railing against an existence that she did not ask for? It had not asked for her, either. The world and her were complete in their apathy of each other. Neval wondered if that was why she knew things. Maybe the secret of knowing without knowing, that so many had quested for in this world and the world that came before, was simply not caring about the answers.

Instead Neval cared about colors. She walked out on the cliffs and the scrubby things that grew there, dug in the sand and mud as she grew older. She ground down clay and flower and squeezed ink out of creatures that had also never asked for her, and from all them she had found color. She used the color to show the world what was coming and what had been. She saw those that would see what she made, and was happy. At least she was sharing with someone, even if they would never meet. There was some peace in that. She worked on her paintings even through the day that her mother would die, only going downstairs long enough to comfort her, though they both knew what was coming. “Goodbye.” was all that Neval before that long silence. "I will see you again, before we are all freed. Neval wasn’t sure why she said it. She knew what her mother’s answer would be, after all.

“I know.” her mother said. She died some time in that hour, as Neval cleaned clothing and thought about colors, leaving her alone with her father and brother, who would, stricken with grief, pick to fall into fugue and drink respectively. The last peaceful conversation she would have with either of them had come and gone a month ago, Neval knew. Knowing didn’t make her happy, but little did except painting. So she painted. She produced pictures of monsters and heroes that were not yet heroes, and the people they would become, sagging with knowledge and dragging themselves through a world that didn’t ask for them. But it needed them. It wasn’t really much without them. They wouldn’t be happy to know that. But who was, really?

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