In Beauty, Truth is a fan fiction for the Degenesis RPG. Find out more about Degenesis, and download the books for free, on their website.
Framework slowly, almost reverently, opened the large book, its covers made out of green, flimsy plastic. A Bygone relic, its every page covered with small, finely printed skulls, each one in a multitude of colors — reds, yellows, blues, greens. Their eyes stared at him as he flicked to the next page. More skulls. No text, no title. Some of the pages were frayed at the edges as if someone had deliberately torn off pieces of the paper.
Hundreds of dead, painted red eyes, watched him.
Framework turned to the last page, where several of the skulls had been removed already. He grabbed the thick paper and tore off two more. He lifted his mask, put the skulls in his mouth, returned the mask to its original position, and sat down on the floor to wait.
He focused on his breath, felt it flowing through his nostrils. In, out. His chest rose, fell. All thoughts were only noise at the edge of his consciousness. The flickering candle he placed in front of himself helped keep his mind still. He had a stack of paper and a pen ready. What felt like hours passed.
The flame started to twist and turn.
Slowly at first, his surroundings started to fall away around him. Colors danced around the candle’s flame, around his fingers. He could taste them in his mouth, smell them through his nose. His mind opened up like a flower.
Information flowed through him. His room was small, in complete darkness beside the candlelight, but even in this cramped space, he could see everything clearly. Where once had been walls, there were now only patterns.
In those walls, he saw the universe.
This was the Stream, he knew. Let his brethren dig for artifacts, piecing together the original Stream from scraps. Their search was futile, eternal. Framework did not need a quest to give him meaning. He did not need money except for food, nor did he need to hire Scrappers to find junk. He did not need to rebuild what had once been lost. He had it all here, pulsating around him. What his fellow Chroniclers would ultimately find would be nothing like this, no matter the effort. This was the pure, the purest, data.
The information was fickle though. He could stare at a flow and it would give up its secrets to him, but when he looked away he could no longer formulate exactly what he had learned. It didn’t matter. For precious seconds, Framework had seen its eternal beauty and he knew that if he studied his private Stream long enough, often enough, he would find the proper words to describe his experiences. For now, the words that he managed to put on paper couldn’t capture the full magnificence of the network that formed around him.
The diagrams he drew were unintelligible to him after he visited the uncorrupted Stream. Circles within circles, Sephira connected by new paths, mechanical instructions that made no sense, machines that would never run, mathematical formulae made of symbols he had never seen before.
Certain diagrams and formulae he had already sent off to close and trusted friends for safekeeping, together with copies of some of his written notes. He did not dare to go into too much detail in those letters. If they fell into the wrong hands…
His robes seemed to flutter in a wind he could not feel. During the days, he never saw his clothing as something more than practical, mundane. People in the streets, especially in the villages surrounding the city, would move out of the way when they saw them, sure, but for him, they were nothing special anymore. Now, in this place, the dark red cloth shone with an inner gold.
He could read the robes like a book. They had an invisible alphabet only he could understand. He saw faces and crystals and stars in them, but those mirages were not important. What was important was what they transmitted to him. Transmissions from the pure, living, breathing Stream.
The Cluster had sent agents into the Blow to send and receive transmissions from the Needle Towers. Such a pointless venture, even before the expedition had gone to shit. Framework was a towering needle right here.
He heard the door behind him open, but did not react — it felt like it was hundreds of miles away, the sound like soft music at the edge of his hearing. The footsteps were like small bells ringing in perfect unison.
Suddenly, a man stood next to Framework, with his hands on his hips. He was dressed in dark clothes, but the Chronicler saw specks of blue light sparkle in them.
“You are beautiful”, Framework told him.
The stranger looked down. His blue eyes were as golden as the robes. His makeup moved across his skin, first like feathers, then like scales, then like feathers again.
“In the library of Osman,” the man said, “there is said to be a book written by a Bygone man that talked to creatures from the sea. ‘Any good research is obsessive and compulsive’, he had written. Kinda like you, eh, mediator Framework?”
Research, yes. Framework nodded. “That’s… Poetry.”
“Poetry?”, the man answered, entertained. Trails of light followed his fingers as he moved his hands. “The guy tried talking to fish. Fuck, how much of this shit did you take?”
In a universe of eternal particles, did it matter?
“Look,” the man continued. “I didn’t want to come here, I didn’t feel like doing this, but you’re messing with stuff we can’t have you messing with. The things you write? The beauty you talk about in your letters? The book? We can’t have that spreading around. It’s bad for business. We deal in beauty, not you.”
Deal in beauty? In beauty, all truth is hidden. It can not be sold or traded away. The man spoke in riddles. The concept of business felt alien to Framework. Money changes hands, goods are handed over, but at the end of the day, on a higher level, how does business actually work? Who agreed to such odd customs? What is money? Constructs. All human traditions, all constructs. Even the betrayal of trust, a friend giving his private letters to someone else, felt abstract. He would have to write that down before he forgot that too.
“I’m sorry, friend.” The stranger hunched down, gathered up the papers that were piled up on the floor, snatched the pen from Framework’s hand. Then he produced something from his cloak. The thing wasn’t beautiful at all. It was sharp, the information flowing from it spoke only of pain and suffering. The feathers and scales on his face had turned into crawling maggots.
Panic, deep and black, grabbed Framework. He had seen friends die, he had had to run for his life more than once. Not even in those moments had he felt such panic as he felt now. The Stream wavered, its circular patterns became hard and pointed. Tentacles of raw emotion crawled their way from his gut to his throat. He could feel them pushing out of his mouth.
“The Carrion Birds send their regards”, the man said in a calm voice.
The pain Framework felt was eternal. It felt like he was walking barefoot on the sun. He saw his blood splatter across the floor in the most hideous of shapes. It crawled across the stone, into every crevice, creating patterns devoid of any meaning. He could see the faces and crystals and stars in it — they were all screaming. No, they were silent, staring like the skulls. He was the one screaming, endlessly, into the void.
In that pain, he saw the universe.