Architects Of A Waking World: Origins
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Architects of a Waking World, Origins

Gary the Gardener grinned broadly as the gust of wind blew his curly purple hair backwards against his forehead. His creation stood in front of him, eyeing him placidly, before bending down to graze on the grass that grew in the Gardener’s secret clearing.

The Scrapyard, he called it. Besides his new creation lay dozens of discarded ones, their final carcasses stacked in a ring around the edge of the trees. All of them imperfect, boring, illogical, silly, and stupid. Unimpressive. Even the meat plants that Gary had thought so genius were scorned by his partner Marlin, the Mariner.

This one, however, was sure to impress. The noble and elegant Butterphant, with the majesty of an elephant and the grace of a butterfly. In shape of elephant ears were monarch butterfly wings, powerful wings that beat the air like a silent storm whenever they moved. The Butterphant was docile, Gary decided. A peaceful creature – and yet, though it was peaceful, nobody looked down upon it. The Butterphant was royal. The Butterphant was confident. The Butterphant was gentle and kind and loved. The very person Gary wanted to be.

“You’re a sweet little thing, aren’t you?” Gary whispered, rising steadily from the pointed rock in the middle of the field. He walked forward, the grass that he grew tickling the edges of his heel. To his left, the great, expansive sea stretched onwards into infinity. Marlin’s domain. Around him, though, was his home. Tall trees watched over him as he worked, the soft soil and the damp, dew-covered flowers egging him on. The sky was a crisp grey, with clouds that intertwined with sparkling sunlight. Sunbeams flew through the cracks in the cloud cover, bathing the leaves in white glitter and the ocean in shining stars.

The Butterphant looked at him. That’s all it did. It looked at him without a word, without judgement or disdain, just acknowledgement and acceptance. It went back to grazing. At this, Gary smiled.

“I love you. You know that, right? I love animals and plants like you because you won’t judge me if I make a mistake. You will always be my friend, even if you don’t understand why. Now, off you go. Be free.”

Gary walked back to the rock he’d used as a seat with a bittersweet gait. The Butterphant, though it could not speak, turned away as if it had comprehended Gary’s words. It turned slowly, passively, without a care in the world, and began to trudge off into the woods past all of Gary’s failed creations, its wings beating like a steady heartbeat in the air. Gary watched attentively, eyeing every movement.

A sudden noise broke Gary from his trance. From the ocean, a slight bubbling sound filled the air. Excitement and despair both found their way into Gary’s stomach. From the depths, a shadow emerged, shooting closer and closer to the surface. Marlin the Mariner erupted from the white froth upon the shore, seawater dripping rapidly and bits of seaweed and algae sliding off onto the wet sand below.

Marlin rose from all fours to standing upright like a zombie dragging its corpse out of a grave. His dark green tail slithered behind him as he came to his full height – well over six feet. His slick black hair cascaded like a crown of kelp around the sides of his head, and he turned his keen purple eyes to look at Gary. In seconds after exiting the water, his dark green blazer vest and his ashy grey-blue skin were completely dry. Marlin strode over to Gary, already wearing a frown on his face out of habit.

“I knew I would find you here,” Marlin said. His shadow loomed over Gary. It always did that. Gary was always in his shadow.

“Did you see my new Butterphants?” Gary asked hopefully. Marlin looked to the side at the Butterphant, which had stopped at the edge of the clearing and was eyeing the situation curiously. Marlin squinted and paused for a second. Then he let out an exasperated sigh, slapping his palm against his face and dragging it down.

“Gary, you can’t just combine two normal animals and call it a new one. The orange doesn’t mesh at all with the grey, and functionally it’s pretty useless. In fact, it’s detrimental, because how are they supposed to camouflage if their ears are bright orange?”

Gary looked to the ground, shame filling his chest. Why didn’t he think of that? It looked nice, but was he actually hurting them? Marlin was right, wasn’t he? Why did he think it was a good idea? What kind of an idiot would put butterfly wings on an elephant and dump it in the middle of a temperate forest?

“But… look at it! It’s not going to hurt anyone, is it? Look at how everything shakes when it flaps its wings. Doesn’t that make you feel something?”

“Gary, you were supposed to help me with the wind and the water cycle. We, as caretakers of this world, have a duty to uphold the environment. You can’t just pop creatures in here whenever you feel like it. Everything has to have balance. You can do your little tinkering later. Right now, we have to make sure that this world actually functions. Our little Architects have started to build some cities on the largest island. Without wind or rain, how are they supposed to get anything to drink? These Butterphants may look nice, but how do they help our people?”

“But wind is so complicated,” Gary moaned.

“That’s precisely why I need you to help me with it,” Marlin said. “Our people need to drink. We have to provide for them. I don’t want you to get so wrapped up in your own creations that you forget about the ones we made together. Every world we make is fragile. Even the slightest nudge can affect it in great ways. One mistake can spell doom for everything we’ve made. We must protect the Architects. They should be as precious to you as they are to me. I will not allow you to neglect them and let them break. If you really want to continue creating nonsensical creatures, do so in your own world, not the one we’ve made together.”

Gary trudged along behind Marlin in silence as they walked through the woods to the tallest hill on the island. From the summit, they could see the entirety of the island sprawling out before them. Marlin held out his hands and felt the air stir. Gary looked at him hesitantly and began to do the same. With the flexing of their fingers, the air began to dance, twirling among the atmosphere and swirling down the hillsides, echoing through the trees. Marlin gazed upwards at the sky, directing the wind above his head. The silver-grey clouds he had created began to darken slightly, and the gentlest drizzle began to sprinkle on their heads.

Marlin was utterly focused. Every movement was deliberate, every push and pull of his zephyrs. Gary’s wind stumbled on itself, fading out into invisible eddies. He frowned. He was already halfway to throwing his hands up in exasperation and calling it quits.

“I-” Marlin started, looking over at his struggling partner. He paused in the middle of his thought and bit his lip. He decided against trying to coerce Gary into getting it right.

“You know what? Fine. If you’re not going to put your heart into this, you might as well do something you’ll actually put in effort to do. Go back to your world. I’ll just have to figure it out myself.”

“Don’t patronize me,” Gary snapped. He fumbled with his fingers, but he was already too frustrated to corral his wind. “I’m perfectly capable of creating wind.”

“It’s not that I don’t think you can,” Marlin assured him, his voice softening. “It’s just that if you make a mistake, you could cause a terrible storm that wipes out all the life on the islands. Wind can be gentle, or it can be terrifying. It’s not something you can play around with, and if you aren’t going to take it seriously, then it’s better if you don’t help at all. Otherwise, we run the risk of destroying our entire creation.”

“So you don’t trust me to do things right?” Gary continued, his accusatory tone still lingering.
Marlin was silent. He turned away from Gary and began to fiddle with the wind, which slowly got stronger the more Marlin controlled it.

“If you’re not going to trust me with this, what do you trust me with?”

Marlin did not answer. He kept his back turned to Gary, and as such did not see the Gardener spit angrily at his feet. The spittle fell down and was whisked away by the stirring winds. He also missed the instant regret that showed on Gary’s face as he fled the scene to his private sanctuary – the Garden.

Gary found the familiar log-shaped protrusion jutting out from the earth near the newest city that the Architects had begun to build. He watched to check that none of them were using the portal to ferry supplies, and breathed a sigh of relief when he determined there was nobody in sight. He strode up to the portal and walked in with a confidence that he normally never showed.

Gary’s Garden was his personal project, his masterpiece. It was free from the strict and critical eye of Marlin, a place where he was safe to experiment and appreciate the true beauty of life. Every corner of this world oozed with life’s essence. Towering trees of all shapes, sizes, and colors flew overhead, brushing the sky with splotches of green. Gary waded through the sea of shrubs and bushes that he had nurtured and grown, and came to a grand clearing where the smell of dust filled the air.

His Architects, with their purple-eyed visages, were hard at work building yet another grand monument to him. The white skeleton framework of the triangular structure, comprised of limestone and marble pillars reaching up to rival the canopies of the trees encircling it, stood tall and magnificent. They reminded Gary of ragged teeth, or the abandoned decomposed ribs of a giant and extinct predator.

As much as he was honored by their grand professions of love, Gary could not help but feel like a fraud. He could only hope that the world he created for his beautiful Architects to thrive in would live up to their expectations. Even away from him, Marlin’s voice echoed in Gary’s mind, mixing with his own inner critic. It was a constant buzzing in his head, a screaming mess of static noise that never seemed to truly go away. For all of his otherworldly power, he was powerless to his own mind.

The Architects were hard at work. Each one of them had their assigned jobs, and he gazed at their distant figures flawlessly and orderly communicating with one another, a singular goal in mind. If only Gary knew how to create something as beautiful as his own children’s structures. Despite their weak and frail bodies, Gary’s Architects were able to accomplish the most astounding things through coordination and teamwork. If only Gary could do the same with Marlin. In a sense, he was envious of his own creations.

Gary could no longer stand to look at his Architects’ marvels. He melted back into the forest cover as he became one with the trees. He flew through the vegetation like sunlight through leaves, until he was far, far away from the reaches of civilization. He came to a giant sinkhole, almost wide enough to be called a valley. From the rising rounded cliff edges on all sides of him, several small waterfalls pitter-patted down the rock face, cascading into plunge pools of mud and stone. The swaying dance of leaves fanned him back and forth as he raised his hands to part the greenery like a crowd.

The Gardener worked until his sun fell below the horizon and his moon rose to take its place. Gary’s hands moved at impossible speeds, molding and shaping the world around him. From his fingertips sprung all sorts of new and strange animals – each one the newest idea from his mind. As the days dragged into weeks, and the weeks dragged into months, Gary finally began to smile once again. New species of trees took root, spreading their seeds through the air. Underneath them, new animals leapt and bounded underneath the twisting branches.

This was Gary’s paradise, the only real thing that ever seemed to make him happy. Yet, there was something wrong. Despite the lushness of the forest surrounding him, there was something that Gary could not help but notice. For every few vibrant, strong trees, there was one weak one, a dying one. Between two trees, impossibly large and tall, there was a pathetic little version of the same species, only a couple feet tall and leaning over like a drunkard. Its leaves were few and dry, robbed of sunlight from its two siblings beside it. It hunched over in shame as Gary approached it. Even in this moment of happiness, there would always be the reminder that he would always be overshadowed. Gary looked at the failed tree like he was looking in a mirror. This could not go on. He wanted this disgusting thing out of his sight. This failure, this abomination that stared back at him, brought out emotions he could not name nor bear.

Gary was not one for killing or death, however. The few small quarrels that he got into had already scarred him, not to mention the fact that he had lost every single one. He wouldn’t put this tree out of its misery. Instead, he would give it what he could not give himself. Gary cradled the top of the tree in his palm, letting its stems sink into his grasp. He grit his teeth as he drew some of his own life essence out and gave it to this now-everlasting tree. No more would it have to suffer the shame of its failure. This tree would far outlive its neighbors, for it had a piece of Gary within it. Like a shocked student, the tree lifted its head up and began to grow. Its leaves unfurled, turning from brown to green in seconds. Its stem became a trunk. Tremors filled the air as its roots expanded and burrowed through the earth.

The tree’s trunk shot upwards, higher and higher, until it touched the sky, an entire two miles tall. Its trunk grew thicker until its gargantuan size almost pushed its two neighboring trees, now tiny in comparison, to the side. It towered over anything else in the surrounding area and even reached above the edge of the sinkhole.

“Now nobody will ever look down on you again,” Gary said with a proud smile as he gazed at the first Green Giant.

Marlin watched anxiously as the small figures of a group of bodies clustered around the center of Domum Terra. A small procession brought forth a tied-up Elysian Lamb and placed it atop an altar in the center of the village. The Architects stood in a ring, people young and old gathering round to celebrate. The lamb, with its docile beady eyes, lay still on the elevated stone pedestal. Out from between strands of white wool were several fleshy purple eyes, budding like fruits of an alien tree.

Marlin’s Architects had brought out decorations – banners and small bits of cloth – and strung them high between the rooves of their little houses. He watched from above, levitating in the air, arms crossed and a frown on his face. Something akin to panic began to shoot through him. The festival was happening already? The last one was still fresh in his mind.

Surely, a hundred days couldn’t have passed that quickly, right? Had he really been struggling alone to develop the rain and wind for a hundred days? That simply couldn’t be.

He grit his fanged teeth and closed his eyes, imbibing the sound of all around him. There was a conspicuous lack of the wind’s howls, but other than that, the islands were lively. He could hear the gentle crashing of waves upon the stony shores, and the pleasant chatter of his Architects, communicating in a language that was beneath him. He could hear the Gardener’s little critters gallivanting about in a blissful state free from the grave responsibilities of handling power like his. In a sense, Marlin couldn’t help but envy the poor, pathetic things. They didn’t live in a world that they had to fix. That was on him. It was his duty to fix this world, his duty to hold it together, because Marlin the Mariner knew very well that without him, the world would fall to shambles in an instant. It was due to him that this world could ever thrive, and while he relished his successes and how the Architects took it upon themselves to sacrifice in his name, there was no excuse for failure.

A peculiar sound shot through the air – a steady vibration that was more felt than heard. Marlin shut his eyes and focused on the source, feeling the fabric of reality around him ripple. His undying heart beat rapidly in his chest. There he was.

“You’re back,” the serpentine man whispered as he flew down to greet the Gardener who emerged from the portal. Despite the small amount of time he’d been away – only a couple hundred days – Gary was wearing an emotion uncommon to his visage. This piqued Marlin’s interest, but only enough to make him slightly concerned for whatever Gary was up to in his own world. “How was your little excursion?”

“It went great, thanks,” Gary said with an edge to his tone. Marlin stepped back in shock. He was used to indignant sputtering, but this? Something was off. Not that Marlin really cared about the state of Gary’s private garden, or his Architects. After all, Gary’s Architects were modeled after Gary, and thus would inherit his incompetence.

“I hope you realize how difficult it’s been to take care of this world by myself. This was supposed to be a collaboration project, wasn’t it? We were supposed to build this world together.”

“In case you’ve forgotten, you were the one who told me to leave,” Gary shot back. He brushed past Marlin, walking haughtily towards the wood's edge. He stopped, stared at one of the large trees near the edge of the border of the Architect village, and heaved an exasperated sigh. Marlin noticed with his keen, narrow eyes that Gary’s fists were balled. Marlin’s crocodile tail lashed, landing with a large thump on the soft grass below. This snapped Gary out of his trance.

“I trust it that nothing went wrong?” Marlin said. Though he tried to control it, his heart rate was skyrocketing. He may have gotten heated one or two times in the past, but this encounter with his partner set him on edge much more than usual. There was something that Gary was not letting on. Marlin found himself bracing for the answer. He was already stung from his earlier words. He berated himself inwardly for forgetting that he in fact was the one who sent Gary away. It was his impatient desire to do everything himself that caused him to suffer so. If only he had been more sympathetic, maybe he would have actually finished creating proper wind by now.

“Why is that what you immediately ask me?” Gary said. “Listen. I’m here now, and that means that we can continue working on the level together. I missed my little Architects. Have you finished the rain and wind?”

Marlin looked away in shame. Half of him wanted to deny his mistake, to try and shove it from his mind, but he knew any attempt to do so would be fruitless. He shook his head slowly, almost imperceptibly.

“I wasn’t able to do it without you,” he admitted. “I can’t deny that I need your help. I’ve done a bit of reflecting and I’ve realized that I was in the wrong. So, sorry.”

He forced himself to look at the Gardener and was surprised to see a glimmer of satisfaction in his eyes. Marlin held out his hand stiffly and uncomfortably shook.

“I’m glad you came around,” Gary said with an undecipherable smile on his face. He walked further down to the forest's edge and stood, taking in the sight of his trees. “So, what will we work on next?”

What’s gotten into him? Marlin thought, eyeing him suspiciously. Should he be concerned for his partner’s well-being? Or was he simply being distrustful, like Gary said?

Marlin knew he was a diligent, upstanding person, but perhaps Gary was right. Perhaps he was a bit too distrustful, a bit too controlling. It might have been best to let things go. He was being overly worried for naught. Gary was fine. Perhaps he had simply needed a bit of reprieve. That’s right, nothing strange was going on – that is what Marlin had to believe, for it was an excuse to tell himself he was not so cynical.

“Well, I thought that, since you’re back, we might be able to work on the wind-” Marlin began, but Gary cut him off as if he’d been expecting that reply.

“You told me that you could handle it yourself,” Gary said. “You have to be true to your word.”

Marlin almost replied with a sharp admonition that the well-being of their people came before petty semantics, but bit back his words. Marlin had one folly under his belt already, he didn’t want to become a liar, too. His pride wouldn’t be able to take such a thing. But there was one thing still lingering on his mind that he could not hold in.

“You know, I feel like recently you’ve been much more argumentative than usual. I don’t want us to squabble over something like this, in fact, I don’t want to fight at all. Why are you trying to provoke me?”

“I’m not,” Gary said petulantly, crossing his arms and turning his back to the serpentine deity behind him. His tone carried the anger of someone who was frustrated enough to argue for the sake of venting instead of debating. Though he tried to stymie it, Marlin’s brain was gradually growing more concerned. But Marlin was not a cynic, he was simply a realist. At least, that’s what he told himself. And to prove it to himself, he must not doubt. He must not tarnish the shining statue of himself in his mind with harsh and unavoidable truths. So he said nothing.

The two worked in silence for the most part, keeping to their separate domains. Marlin resided in the oceans and tended to the waves and the sea life, while Gary kept the islands thriving. Though, in terms of creation, Marlin was much more productive. Every 300 days or so, Marlin would resurface and crawl onto land to check on Gary’s progress, only to find that the Gardener had barely created anything new. When questioned, Gary simply got defensive and went on about caution and how Marlin should be the one praising him for such.

“I just want to get it right this time,” Gary muttered in frustration as he bent over a small plant. Marlin recognized that this plant was an old one, not one of those new-fangled oddities that Gary usually showed him whenever he appeared.

“What do you mean this time?” Marlin said pointedly.

“Nothing. I meant nothing by it.”

“Well,” Marlin shrugged. “As long as everything is in control, I can’t fault you on that, even if you are being a bit slow.”

“I’ll take that as an accomplishment,” Gary called out bitterly as the Mariner waded back into the water, melting into the sea in a flurry of bubbles and salty foam. “I guess that’s the closest I’ll ever get to praise from someone like you.”

Gary cursed rapidly under his breath as he almost tripped upon a root growing underneath his feet, slithering like a brown snake through the dirt. That root hadn’t been here before. He pushed aside the many leaves that blocked his vision and struggled through the foliage.

“It was just one tree!” Gary muttered as if protesting the unfairness of the situation would change it one bit.

The last time Gary had visited his Garden, the tree he had placed some of his essence in had already spread its seeds, creating new saplings. Even with the tiniest fraction of the Gardener within them, they were still immortal, rapidly propagating, and out of control. These trees grew so tall that their trunks couldn’t handle their own height. They bent over backwards and grew downwards, then slunk across the forest floor, growing for several hundred feet horizontally and choking out any regular, mortal trees that they came across. Soon the ground was littered with these giant specimens, enough that Gary had to leap over them like logs to find the source of all this pandemonium.

And now that he was back, the situation was even worse.

There was nothing that he could do to stop the growth. He desperately shifted the ground around the closest immortal tree, strangling it in rising boulders and jutting rocks. The bark held, even as Gary strained with all of his might to slice the tree open. The out-of-control vegetation had nearly overwhelmed the entire sinkhole, wrapping around and killing any of the poor mortal trees that dared to grow around them. Like worms bursting forth from a carcass, the wild growth was beginning to slither out of the pit and into the rest of the forest.

It was only a matter of time until the entire world was overgrown. The closest Architect village was frighteningly near.

Gary berated himself inside his mind. He had let his emotions get to him again. Why hadn’t he controlled himself? Trying to imbue part of his essence into a tree was the stupidest idea he had ever had. Now his Architects were doomed. Now, all of the work he had done, everything that he had created, was in jeopardy because of one foolish mistake. Marlin was right. The tiniest mistake could have devastating consequences. That was how hard it was to resist entropy. That was how hard it was to be human.

Humans were too complex for someone as inexperienced as Gary to properly mimic. The way that they resisted the void, the nothingness that clawed at their feet every waking hour was something he could not emulate, for everything against entropy hung in such a delicate balance he was bound to mess it up. Now his world was bound to be swallowed up by overgrown plants, and there was nothing he could do to stop it.

A thousand scenarios ran through his mind as he stared at the sprawling mass of plant life from above. He could almost swear he saw them reaching out, growing even further. There was precious time to waste.

If he started now, there might be a chance… a chance to evacuate all the villages and save his little Architects. He would have to corral them all into one place and send them through the entrance to the islands. But that would mean he would have to see their disappointed, terrified, and angry faces. He would have to face his mistake head on. There was no guarantee that they would hold any love for him, knowing that he had destroyed their home. Once they were evacuated, Marlin would take them under his wing, and the Gardener would be left alone and ashamed. It was proof that Marlin was right. Gary could never create a world. He would never be able to handle his responsibility. He had desperately tried to prove himself, and he had failed miserably. He had let down everyone around him – Marlin, his Architects, his fragile, dying world, and even himself.

He could only imagine what the Mariner would say to him, and even picturing his face sent Gary’s stomach into his throat. He felt heat rising to his cheeks, a prickly pain that wouldn’t stop. He felt emotion cloud his thoughts once more. He tried to think soundly, but his thoughts got caught in his panic like a helpless traveler wading through waist-high mud. He was suffocating, an invisible force pressing down on his chest. Despite being immortal, Gary felt as if he was dying.

He couldn’t do it. He was a coward.

He had to hide it. No matter the circumstance, Gary could not bear to hear what Marlin would tell him. He could not bear the reprimands of the vindicated deity. He knew it was wrong, he knew that he had to come clean, but when he tried to move his body forth towards the Architect villages in order to tell them the terrible news, he found he simply couldn’t move. He felt as if he was grasping at a faraway light as invisible claws dragged him down deep into the darkness underneath him. He couldn’t do it. He was too weak. A cowardly deity.

And so, Gary fled the scene, escaping back into the islands where Marlin was waiting for him, where he could hide from the responsibilities and consequences of his mistake. So he could distract himself with mundane tasks such as growing the grass upon the fields as if mundanity would dispel the nagging worry and guilt that clawed at him from inside.
By not taking the chance to immediately evacuate his Garden, he had doomed his Architects to their demise.

It had been a few hundred days since, and Gary rarely visited his Garden. Marlin did take notice of this, but said nothing. The two worked in as comfortable of a silence as was possible between them, until Marlin left to go tend to his sea creatures. This left Gary alone.

The guilt had wormed its way into Gary’s mind and made a home. While Marlin was gone, he had to see for himself the damage he had let happen. There was an itch in his heart that could only be scratched by this knowledge, no matter how much it heart to witness. He looked from side to side, as if Marlin was peeping out from behind the trees, keeping tabs on him. Perhaps he was just being paranoid. It wasn’t a healthy way to live, that was for sure.

Gary entered the gateway, preparing for the worst.

He was greeted with the sight of a clearing, or at least, what used to be one. Surrounded by toppling and twisted mortal trees was a great field, and once again he saw his busy little Architects constructing yet another awe-inspiring structure – a great sphere, made of carved limestone. Though no doubt, whatever creations they made, no matter how hard they worked, paled in the face of nature’s power. From all directions, Gary could see the endless trunks of trees growing horizontally across the ground and into the field, like an invasion of colossal snakes. It was too late, Gary realized. In the span of only a few hundred days, a time that felt like a blink to Gary, this world was already on its last legs. Gary floated upwards and looked around, beholding the terrible sight.

As far as the eye could see, the forest had been flattened and replaced by endless writhing offshoots and trunks. There were only a few standing trees left, leaning precariously, doomed to fall. There was no sign of any other remaining village. As far as Gary knew, the ones before him were the last remaining of their kind. In what seemed like the blink of an eye to Gary, his entire creation had already collapsed. While he watched grass grow, hiding from his failure, he had let thousands die already. He felt his breath catch in his chest. This couldn’t be happening. Not again. Not again.

There was a hasty urgency behind each of the Architects’ movements. Where before they had worked with smooth efficiency, now they were spurned and motivated by fear. The Great Sphere was almost complete, and Gary watched as one of the Architects attached a plaque to the base that held the sphere in place. The Architects moved so quickly to Gary’s eye, darting about endlessly to make the most of their tiny and short lifetimes. Gary watched them for days as they bustled about before the Great Sphere was finally completed. Gary expected to hear loud celebratory whoops of joy as they looked upon their great accomplishment, but instead, all of the Architects solemnly gathered at the from of the sphere, kneeling down and touching the ground. Between their palms was the grass that he had grown himself, and Gary realized with a shock what they were doing. Their raised their voice in unison and chanted:

“We dedicate this Great Sphere of Giza to the Great Gardener
In hopes of forgiveness for the great wrong we have committed
Already our purple eyes have turned green
We have started to return to the earth, forgotten and overgrown
Our only hope is that, alone and petrified, we will not disappear
As Architects of a failed project.”

Gary couldn’t bear to hear another word. He stumbled away through the trees, not caring if any of the Architects behind him heard his distressed footsteps. He found the source of the catastrophe – the Green Giant that was now growing far beyond the edge of the sinkhole it had taken root in. It didn’t take long, as the massive crown of leaves seemed to reach towards eternity itself, and could be seen from miles away.

There was only one thing left to do before this world collapsed. It was barely anything, nothing that would even come close to redeeming him, but it was the only thing that Gary had the courage to do. He stared at the Green Giant with tears in his eyes, watching it sway back and forth, fading into white and blue as the atmosphere coated it in faraway haze. He held out the palms of his hands as he stood at the edge of the sinkhole between two massive trunks that grasped that the edge of the cliff like the fingers of an unthinkable beast.

Out from his palms came tiny little insects, glowing faintly in all sorts of colors from red to white to gold and blue. They floated through the air like lost cotton seeds looking for a purpose. So Gary gave them one.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, sorry, sorry,” he wept, crumbling to his knees. The bugs were emerging quickly now, spraying out of both of his hands like bubbles from a bubble maker.

Sorry, sorry, sorry,” they repeated, whispering the Gardener’s apologies to deaf ears. They spread out in all directions, drifting away in a storm of sorrows and grief. The last creature that Gary would ever gift upon this world. Though it was certain that none of his Architects would ever survive, let alone be around to hear his Sorries, at least he could say to himself that he had apologized. Perhaps if someone else stumbled upon this world after its destruction, they would hear the Gardener’s Sorries and understand his final message. But for now, Gary had to leave. They longer he stayed, the more Marlin would get suspicious. He couldn’t know. Marlin must never find out… for that would really be the end of the Gardener’s world. If he found out… he would cut all ties with Gary and most likely kick him out, leaving him to experience the cold and unforgiving void. The same void that he had created worlds to avoid, the void that had birthed him and the six other Children, the desolate and terrifying void of entropy. And this time, he wasn’t sure if he could escape it if he was sent back. He wasn’t even sure if he deserved to escape.

Gary left his Sorries to repopulate, spreading their words to every corner of the dying world. He turned, a made a silent trek back towards the gateway. Marlin would be waiting for him, with his keen eyes and piercing gaze. Gary wouldn’t be able to bear it – Marlin would see right through him. He would see the guilt etched plain onto his face. He had to hide.

Back on the island, Gary walked on tiptoes. He avoided his plants like the plague – even the slightest noise would alert Marlin with his unnaturally sharp hearing. Gary slunk through the forest, underneath the small and short covers of this mortal forest’s canopy. He stared straight ahead, but it was no use. All of his creations crowded around him like they were reaching to grab his hands. The ferns, the spidery trees, spindly branches and budding flowers all watched like a crowd of silent judges. They looked upon him from all angles, breathing silent words into his ears that pounded against his brain. Shame, shame. He had left their brothers and sisters to die. He was a killer, a murderer, a beast. No deity, no creator of theirs. Even if he couldn't really hear them, imagining what they would say to him if they could was just as frightening.

Even Gary’s own laurel wreath that sat atop his head screamed at him through his own mind. He took it off and thrust it to the side, launching it through the branches. It slid to a stop on the soil, becoming entangled in the leaves of a low bush.

He immediately regretted it. After all, it wasn’t the plants’ fault he had destroyed their world. There was no excuse to treat them so poorly. He stepped over the shrubs and picked the laurel wreath back up again, setting it on his head and patting it reassuringly. He could feel it reject his apologies, and he sighed inwardly. His emotions had gotten to him once again. He hadn’t learned his lesson, even after such a grievous mistake. Would he ever change? Could he? Could he wrestle back his self-control from his feelings, or was being too impulsive hard-wired into his being? Was he doomed to repeat this cycle? Did Marlin already know this… and was he right all along?

The questions swirled around in Gary’s mind as he wandered into a dimly-lit cave. The last echoes of daylight faded away and he stepped in. It was a small cave, about the size of an average room. Just the right size for reflecting. Gary opened his palm, and the last of his Sorries flitted out. Its dim bioluminescence illuminated the surrounding air just enough for Gary to see the dark outline of his arm and outstretched hand.

He would keep this Gardener’s Sorry close to his heart for the rest of his days. Even if he never ceased to disappoint, at least he could remember the time before his mistakes. He could remember the brilliant villages that rose from the ground, marvelous combinations of stone and wood. He could remember the lush trees, vibrant and variegated, swarming with life, peaceful and innocent. That brief halcyon of temporary happiness, the paradisal second, the idyllic dream, the beautiful green sky before a tornado, the light before an angler fish’s jaws, it would stay with him forever in memory.


Gary jumped as he whipped around to face Marlin in the cave entrance. No, no, no. How could he have possibly found out? It was impossible. He shouldn’t be here. He shouldn’t-

Gary quickly clenched his hand into a fist, snuffing out the light from the Sorry. The cave went pitch black. Gary tried to hide from Marlin in the darkness, but to no avail. With a simple and efficient flick of his wrist, phytoplankton shot out of Marlin’s palms and onto the cave walls. They glowed a ghostly blue, illuminating Gary in all of his shame and guilt.

“What are you doing?” he said, advancing quickly. His hawk eyes darted around the cave, taking in Gary’s slouched posture and his embarrassed expression. “Why are you hiding?”

When Gary didn’t answer, Marlin answered for him.

“I just saw a number of Architects fleeing through the entrance to your Garden. They were babbling about an overgrowth of sorts. They were panicking. I did a quick headcount, and only saw twenty refugees. Twenty. I know for a fact you have hundreds, if not thousands. What did you do, Gary?”

Gary tried to look away, but Marlin lunged forwards and grabbed his arm. He spun him around and pulled him close, grabbing onto his green scarf and tugging hard like he was a dog on a leash. Marlin pressed his face close; his breath smelled like an angry sea. Gary grappled at his scarf, feeling the air inside his chest wither and die. He knew he wouldn’t suffocate, but the fear was still there. He struggled feebly, but Marlin held him tight.

“You tried to create an ecosystem and it collapsed, didn’t it? Your creatures got out of control, and took over the world. You couldn’t take the fact that I criticized your Butterphants, and so you dumped all of your stupid little creations in your own world without thinking of the consequences. Just like last time. Am I not wrong?”

One look gave Marlin all that he needed to know. He loosened his grasp, and Gary gasped for air. Marlin’s furrowed eyebrows softened, and his eyes grew teary.

“And here I was thinking you changed. Now, if your Garden is destroyed… why are there only twenty Architects that made it here? Where are the other thousands?

Silence. Even without the scarf choking him, there was an invisible hand that closed itself around Gary’s throat. He tried to explain himself, tried to apologize, tried to say anything, anything at all, but his voice had left him. He knew he had to come clean. There was no point in trying to hide it now. He felt his heart pounding in his ears, and panic rising in his chest, but even then, he could not speak.

“Did you kill them, Gary?”

Marlin gave him a few seconds. A few precious seconds, a chance that Gary should have taken – but the words wouldn’t come. He pleaded with his eyes. They both knew the answer, and yet Gary couldn’t bring himself to admit it. Shame and embarrassment flooded his lungs, drowning them. As such, the only sound he could make was a pained gasp.

That didn’t satisfy Marlin in the slightest.

Did you kill them?” he shouted, water erupting from all sides of his body. Wind and stormy force exploded the cave, blowing the rock high into the air. Plumes of dust, mist, and dirt showered over the two as the trees around them reeled back in surprise. Gary blinked away the incoming daylight, shielding his eyes. He didn’t need to for long, though, as the hurricane-like winds that were shooting out of Marlin’s fists were already creating a vortex above them. A dark blue-grey cumulonimbus thundered overhead, lighting smiting the boundaries of the crater Marlin had made.

Gary could hear the cacophony of seawater smashing against unprepared rock as the ocean roared through the forest. They were almost a mile away from the nearest shore, and yet, colossal waves were starting to break above the canopy like an endless army of gargantuan aquatic beasts. His birds took flight, but there was nowhere for them to hide. The skies would rip them to shreds, the oceans would swallow them whole, and the forest offered no protection from either. A lone Butterphant trampled through the forest in front of Gary, wildly bowling over the small trees in its path. It charged past the two, and Gary felt the gust created from its frantically flapping wings blow his hair back. He watched it go, its trumpeting howls of fear fading into the apocalyptic storm.

You killed them. Thousands of our Architects, the beings we swore to protect, dead by your hand,” Marlin boomed. His voice snapped tree trunks in half, louder than the loudest thunderclap.

Why didn't you just ask me for help? I could have saved them. If you had put their lives before your own precious pride, I could have saved them all. I could have fixed everything for you, and yet you refused. Again.

All the emotion and pain that Gary had choked on the whole time finally burst through.

Oh, yes, because that’s always what you have to do, isn't it?” he screamed back, the force of his shout blowing Marlin back as he released his grip completely on Gary’s scarf. Marlin slammed into the trunk of a tree, the impact of which sent its roots flying out of the ground and its trunk toppling down. It landed with a deafening crunch.

It's always you who has to come and save the day, you just couldn't have it any other way. What happens once you miraculously save each and every one, then? Will you order them to kiss your feet and sacrifice my creations in your name, just like you do here?

Marlin narrowed his eyes, hauling himself to his feet, the wind began to pick up once more as he wound up for his counterattack. But his voice was quieter, strained.
“You and I both know that I don’t relish the responsibilities that we’ve been given. I take things seriously, unlike you.”

Bullshit!” Gary yelled, anger overtaking him. He thrust his palm forwards and vines burst forth from the ground, wrapping around Marlin and pulling him closer. The vines tore through the dirt like it was cotton as soil flew in a frenzy of pebbles and sediment. They pulled the Mariner back to face Gary, upon which the vines released their grasp and burrowed back into the earth. With one hand, Gary lifted Marlin up by the collar and flung him with all his might into the air. Marlin arced over the trees, tumbling head-over-heels in the air, too dizzy to reorient himself. Gary sprung off the ground and chased him, catching him in mid-air right above the Architect village of Domum Terra.

Gary could hear the gasps of terror and awe as the Architects below him realized who the two flying figures were. Relief suddenly turned to abject fear as Gary plummeted down into the town square, slamming the Mariner into the ground at impossible speed. The impact upheaved the nearby buildings off of their foundations and sent a ripple through the entirety of the island that sent all Architects trying to flee tumbling to the ground. He knew the damage he was causing, and yet all he could focus on was the violent pounding in his ears, the numbness in his heart, and the dirty feel of Marlin’s beaten body in his hands.

But despite the lethal attack, Marlin had not shed a single drop of blood. Like an incoming tide, Gary’s senses started to flow back into his mind. It was pointless to hurt him physically. He hesitated, and that hesitation gave Marlin the opportunity to wrestle himself free in front of all the helpless onlookers. Almost the entirety of the village was there to witness the tragic event, and not a single one of them could say a word.

“I am not going to work with this anymore,” Marlin growled, dusting himself off and levitating back down the street. The water had reached the city of Domum Terra now, and already half of the buildings were submerged in water. The drowning heads of trees gasped for air against the new, flooded ocean. The storm of legend rained down relentlessly, and suddenly Gary realized that Marlin had nearly flooded the entirety of the world. Only the most elevated areas remained, and since Domum Terra was the highest village, it was the only one not completely obliterated by the storm.

The statues that the Architects had erected were damaged now. Only the Gardener’s statue stood on dry land. The Mariner’s statue’s pedestal had crumbled, and the statue leaned backwards into the sea below.

“Get out,” Gary ordered. Marlin touched down and started to walk backwards into the waters, which were beginning to calm. Just as soon as it had started, the storm was dissipating.

“What, you want a third chance?” Marlin smirked to hide the realization that he had done the same crime Gary had. “You really think you can fix this world, after what you did to your last one?”

“I don’t have to prove myself to you anymore,” Gary said. “I can fix this one. I don’t need your chances. You never even gave me one in the first place.”

“Be my guest. But don’t come crying to me when you destroy this world, too.”

“So you’re just going to leave all these people here? Just going to abandon them like that?” Gary asked.

“They’re you’re people now, not mine. Don’t try and take the moral high ground after telling me to get out.” Marlin let out a chuckle, smiling for the first time Gary had even seen. It was a terrifying smile.

“You’ll never learn how to manage a world. This one won’t be any different. It’ll all be fruitless, and then you’ll realize I was right all along.”

Marlin’s backwards footsteps reached the water. The ocean rose up to reclaim its king. The Mariner’s tail swished menacingly as he gave the Gardener one last look of pure hatred.

“It’s only a matter of time.”

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