Listen well, Plover. When you appear before the Academy to introduce The Courier they have contracted, our Amirah- a blessing on her every golden scale- will have you avoid any suggestion of direct action against the Academy Forefathers. It is important to understand that these ancient beings are not our enemies. They do, however, represent a threat to certain privileges we experience through our association with The Academy. Individual Academy members regard their ancestors with a mix of mythological awe and deep-seated fear. The Courier’s people, by contrast, regard the Forbearers as a wicked pantheon of bloody-handed Adversaries, and with good reason. The Founders wielded- and will soon again wield- the fully realized powers of space-time-energy projection. They were once powerful enough to stand- actually stand- in the presence of Our Fatima on her throne- forever may she reign. Their gifts made them idle; their lack of boundaries made them cruel. What you are about to learn, Plover, is one of the deep secrets- may tongues that share it be pierced by unfamiliar teeth. The Courier’s race were human once, and it is a testament to that humanity that they survive to this day. Seeded in a beautiful garden of boundless natural resources, they were given a paradise planet to settle by the Founders. There they built a thriving world. There they were hunted to extinction. Each time a Forebearer killed the last survivor they would rewind time, resetting the planet to start anew, devising increasingly brutal scenarios to entertain themselves. These uniformly ended in death. The Founders enjoyed the equivalent of untold millions of years locked in that cycle, until something broke. Plover, you must understand. Academics define relationships between predators and their prey in terms of trophic dynamics- how energy is harvested by the predator. The energetic resource The Courier’s people possessed was their own existence. In an unparalleled act of mutative antigenopsis, select members of the population spontaneously developed the ability to consciously remove themselves from spacetime. They could cease existing at will. With all their vaunted power, the Forebearers could not hunt what did not exist. They took their revenge on the remainder of the population- travelling up the timestream, culling generation before generation. They abandoned the empty garden, unaware that some of their prey survived, hidden beyond the veil of reality itself. Dozens remained where once there had been billions. Excepting the events of their self-imposed exile from time, this represents the only retreat in the history of the Founders.
Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. If you would please take your seats. Seats, please. Oh? Yes, hibiscus tea, thank you. May your kindness be revisited upon you. Are we ready? Thank you. Honorable members of l’Académie Temporelle, esteemed guests. Before we begin, I would like to extend the appropriate regards from my mistress, may her clutch be honored and sanctified. She from whom nothing is hidden acknowledges your continued respect and fidelity. Your discretion regarding the leveraging of your talent and insight has been praiseworthy. It is my lady’s wish that this partnership be strengthened. This is the reason I come before you today.
This is known: the moment is rapidly approaching when your Academy’s ancient founders- may their travel be swift and sure- will arrive in the present with… expectations. This eventuality is unavoidable. This is understood: your continued survival as an organization is contingent upon sequestering a very specific resource from your progenitors when they arrive. Your clairvoyants- and others- have foreseen the conflict this will evoke. Due to a contract my mistress- a thousand times a thousand blessings on her name- secured with your ancestors, she is restricted in ways she can directly intervene. However, I am individually bound by no such restriction, and she- may her praises be sung while the sun shines and throughout the nighttime- deigns to overlook my involvement. For my part, I propose to present this esteemed body with a novel solution. Paying all due respect to your forebearers- may they arrive in the now safely-we have studied their history extensively, and I believe ancient abuses of their temporal manipulation can be leveraged to your advantage. Please, if you would, turn your attention to the individual seated to my right. For obvious reasons, we have not learned his names. He will be your appointed Courier.
Before we were told the Indistinct were returning, we already knew the plan. It is, as always, to run. This is the diasporic instinct: Avoid and Persist. The Indistinct are returning. This is known: We can never beat them. This is understood: They have not beaten us. The plan is to run. We always run. Our body is strong, alert, and capable. It must be enough. We will avoid what we can. We will persist when we cannot. The golden woman, this Princess Crocodile, (bless her,) she has offered us a chance. We will run, and in running it is possible that we may confound the dark gods. We are singularly responsible for denying the Indistinct something they desire. It may be repeatable. That desire will be fixated on this oblong stone, what the Academy calls The Entropic Constant. They wish to deny this to their predecessors, but it cannot be unmade; it is persistence incarnate. For the Indistinct, it contains power. They do not need more power. We will hinder them. We cannot use the Constant for any purpose, and possession of it limits one’s innate ability to blink away from danger. With this stone in our possession, the distance we can travel is dramatically limited; we can scarcely reach beyond the visible horizon. The time we can linger away is severely limited as well- mere minutes of nothingness and the stone begins to pull itself back toward the real. We cannot let it out of our possession, so we will run. The Indistinct will chase me. With their eyes fixed singularly on me, the children of Empty Garden will be able to seed ourselves further and deeper in the reaches of time than ever before. We will run and we will survive.
One poem survives Empty Garden. Our mothers etched it into our flesh before we were old enough to breathe. It consists of four characters, repeated. Bending sapling; flowering bud; falling ash; patient seed… this pattern, repeated in unbroken chains around our wrists. The ink our mothers used is an extratemporal clotting agent that once failed to poison the Indistinct. It radiates a kind of warm un-light, at least to those with eyes to see. Because the children of the Garden see, we learned long ago to blink away without leaving a ripple, but most- including the Indistinct- hack and tear at spacetime in ways that leave scars. These scars imitate the tattoo’s glow. If the continuum has been bent, the scars strain with a dull glimmer, if it has been broken they bleed brightly. Slight as it is, the advantage seeing distortions in time and space gives us against the Indistinct is pivotal. They carry with them the unmistakable knots and laceration they’ve imposed on reality in an aura that burns like nothing else in this universe.
Heed my words, Plover. Inevitably, during your presentation, a member of the Academy will indelicately ask how the Courier can hope to fight the Founders. She from whom nothing is hidden insists that you reiterate this point: Our lady- desires conflict with neither the Founders nor The Academy. When pressed, offer to have the Courier demonstrate his ability to keep that damnable stone safe. Insist they give the Constant to the Courier. You will challenge anyone in the room to approach him and take it. Predictably, they will use the power at their disposal- spacetime manipulation. Aggressive intention impresses itself upon the continuum, rippling forward and backward in time. The Courier’s senses are finely tuned to not only perceive these intentions, but to react autonomously. As he slips outside the real, he will innately understand both the origin and nature of the attack he has just avoided. Exactly wherever and whenever he chooses to exist again will be automatically informed by this. Carrying the Entropic Constant will mute this ability somewhat, but even with it, he will be able to sense and evade intentional actions that specifically target him. From the moment he disappears from view while holding the stone, you may consider your duty fulfilled.
I must apologize, Ladies and Gentlemen, for the theatrical nature of this presentation. I hope the advantage of this approach has become clear. Our beloved Amirat al’temseh, whose teeth cannot be broken or worn down with age, has foreseen this. The Courier has the Constant and he is now running. He will avoid danger whenever he can, persist when he cannot. A day or a year or a lifetime from now, he will continue to run. They will hunt him; they have practice. Denied the stone, your Academy will need to be even more conservative than usual regarding the expression of its energies. Your Progenitors, powerful as they are, are not accustomed to conservation. They will spend blindly, futilely. They will tear up and down the timestream, burning out their reserves in pursuit of an individual who will simply cease to exist any time they get close. He will not tire; they will, eventually. When they finally sit down with you at the negotiation table, it will be not as masters, but as equals.
Courier, listen. Our Amirah, daughter of Sobek- who walks under the earth and learns the secrets of the dead- she will entrust you with this task. The Plover will get you into L’Académie Temporelle. These are distant descendants of the cosmic evil you call The Indistinct. Worry not, they may prove valuable allies. At the very least they will usefully distract and misdirect your enemy. The Academy members, despite their lineage, will not be able to see your past. Your people’s history, it is obscured from view, even for those with eyes that pierce the centuries. The Indistinct have hidden it; they consider it an embarrassment. It will frustrate them. It will anger them. When they finally realize what you are, it will enrage them. They are not in the habit of being denied. They will fixate on you with a singular intention. You will be equally single-minded in yours. Your ability to run will be notably dampened by the stone you carry. If you ever part with it, they will acquire it. You will neither avoid nor survive what comes after. Run, Courier. Run.