The Magic’s Not All Lost

THE SINGLE RED LEAF hung by a thread, the last of its kind on a bare, deciduous tree. Celeste could empathize. He peered beyond the jagged branches at the alleys and the roads which gave way to the skyscrapers and glistening neon lights of Amagasaki, Japan.

People went about their business. But they didn’t hold hands or look into one another’s eyes; they hardly spoke. Life existed outside of one’s skin. Humanity hadn’t ceased. Yet within, Homo Sapiens seemed bereft of any sort of flame to keep them warm.

For the last millennium, the color in the world had slowly drained. This made a red leaf in the year — since The Lucid — an extraordinary occurrence.

What causes leaves to change color? thought Celeste. All his life, he’d only seen them in white. That omnipresent color which only comes naturally in the dark wintra months when it covers the ground.

He grabbed his watchman’s coat by the collar and pulled it higher to stave off the chill. It smelled like his old man — pine and clove. His father saved the occult distillation in a vial, popping the cork and dabbing it on Celeste’s wrists and forehead once a year, the night of Wintrael.

The coat was the only item he cared for, for the scent filled him with memories. His father never told how he acquired the forbidden concoction.

Wearing the coat was worth the risk — a semblance of joy for the possibility of banishment; he had nothing left on Earth, anyway.

The night possessed little sound save the soughing of the wind. The branches rattled when touched.

The leaf fell from the branch and drifted with ease down to the tiled floor. The color of the dark red leaf was unlike any Celeste had ever seen.

On the ground, the leaf looked like a drop of blood on the pristine white walkway. The lights illuminating the walkway had turned on at 6pl, the moment of dusk, day in and day out.

The fading purple light in the sky reflected atop the river below.

The color of the leaf — he thought — it’s so intensely beautiful. Perhaps the ancients conjured magic in this dark color red. That is, if magic’s something you can see.

In the world of the ancients, were trees bursting with leaves this beautiful? With a world full of color like this, how could there be war?

He picked up the leaf and placed it in his handkerchief. He folded the frayed black edges methodically over the leaf, ensuring not to break its integrity. Perhaps it was the last of its kind; he couldn’t let it drift away like everything else.

He heard the slow, steady drip of water in the fountain. It matched the beating of his heart which he’d learned to master.

A grinding came from the slowing train which pulled into Amagasaki station. Always on time — that’s something you can count on. It doesn’t matter the shape of the world, nor what sort of creatures inhabit it. The train will take you where you need to go. Maybe you don’t know where that is.

Celeste didn’t. Anywhere forward would do.

The layers of reality seem independent — the train knows when to leave and when to arrive. What happens around it doesn’t matter. We’re worlds unto ourselves, Celeste thought. But how can that be true?

All I see is layers of reality, yet they aren’t separate like slabs of sediment. This world must be interdependent, where reality rolls from layer to layer like the temperatures of the deep grey sea.

We don’t know everything, his father would tell him as a boy. Not even what seems so clear, so lucid.

He boarded the train, his breath cold and outlined within the iridescent tin walls. An old man sat at the far end of the train, hunched over a steel walking stick.

The doors shut, and through the window on the other side of the train, the world unfurled for mile upon mile of wasteland. Celeste took a few measured steps to the window, burrowing his neck within his coat collar. It’s freezing in here, he thought.

Where’s the magic gone…

They say it doesn’t exist; but we don’t know everything.

The endless earth began to pass before his eyes. Dark soil. White leaves clinging to stark trees. The snow hadn’t yet fallen.

This feeling of movement always put his heart at ease; he felt the gliding tracks below his feet. At least he’s going somewhere — if he was going somewhere, he’d be okay.

That meant he hadn’t given up. That meant there was something which he hadn’t seen, perhaps, an answer to this riddle. Interdependency. Magic; how do I uncover you?

Celeste thought of being young and riding the train with his father.

Where do I go, dad. Please. I don’t know where else to look. He thought of the stories his father would convey:

For hundreds of thousands of years, Homo Sapiens worked with magic and molded the world through its powers. No matter how dark things seemed, the magic promised a brighter future.

They called it Faith.

Six-hundred years ago in the 21st-century, that bright future burst like a glass bulb when The Lucid, as they called themselves, posited the truth of our existence as separate beings.

They thought the truth would set them free; that they could do more, salvage more, be more, live for more — separated. Yet, in the stories his father told him, they had the wrong idea of truth.

The world disbanded more and more, molecule by molecule, until The Lucid pitted every faction against one another for what they considered limited resources.

Celeste looked over at the man. He propped himself up by his stick, turned his body, and gazed through the window upon the outer world. What has this man seen?

An Army of Faith stood in The Lucid’s way; they couldn’t stand forever. Brave individuals spoke out and tried to change the planet’s path. Perhaps we must study the past to create the future, proposed the Army of Faith.

Yet their claims of interconnectedness fell on closing ears. The Army of Faith looked to the ancients for their wisdom. That was the most dangerous of all.

The ancients were the sorcerers of what they called magic.

The Lucid rid the world of Faith, demoralizing cultures and stamping out tradition like fire in a ditch. Individualism would rise — not the impetus for honoring who you are as part of something greater — no.

A claim for individuals apart from all else.

People, ideas, cultures, the trees, the air, even the walls became the plague. Celeste put his hand against the glass; the thin veil of frost slowly dissipated from the warmth of his hand.

It took hundreds of years, but the rise of The Lucid was the beginning of the end. Whatever magic there was left, vanished. Homo Sapiens started wearing masks to ensure separation, for fear of what may have saved them — the smile of another’s soul.

Celeste wondered why it had occurred. That’s all his life amounted to, a question his father bequeathed upon him. A longing, a digging, a desire beyond anything he could understand. Why was he on this planet — why was anybody on it — if there was no magic?

He contemplated; he wrote offhand in carbonnote and sent his letters into the blackness of the galaxy. He tried to understand why the world had separated.

What caused hundreds of years of drifting that had resulted in this — this wasteland.

Smoke rose from a chimney in the faraway distance. He looked upon the sliver of the moon which woke as the day shut her eyes to rest.

Doing so gave him the will to continue his search. The moon would forever be his guide.

There are still traces of The Lucid among us, his father had told him before he left. They’re more prevalent than I can hope to explain. You’re ready to face the world, and the world needs you. No matter what they say, what you discover — remember that we don’t know everything.

His father, the chief of a motley band of Faith, left to explore Andromeda in search of magic.

It hasn’t all been solved. The magic’s not all lost. Celeste would seek it here on Earth. He’d searched for twenty-odd years, and had never before come across something as telling as the leaf.

A step in the right direction.

His name, Celeste, derived from the moon, that heavenly being which gave strength, love, and a will to wonder to the ancients. Whether or not I walk the Earth, said dad, the moon shall watch your every step.

The ruins of Amagasaki Castle twinkled in the moonlight. Who were the people who made things such as this? Celeste wondered.

Chunks of roof lay in the soil that had never been removed. It had an archaic energy, and whenever Homo Sapiens tried to clear the debris, they’d be warned — leave it be.

The ruins became one with the soil, part of the land. Celeste could imagine what the structure looked like: a slanted roof, swooping and ornate, its color a deep blue like that of the primordial sea he’s seen in carbonmaps.

What mattered then, before the world forever changed?

What gave a girl her smile, a leaf its color, the moon its luster; where is that which they called Faith. Celeste drew his lighter from his pocket and sparked the flame.

I don’t know what this is — this dancing flame — yet it gives me warmth.

Amidst the decaying, unnatural world, there’s still a trace of the ancient. If you can’t find magic, as many before you have endeavored and failed, his father said, use your warmth, and create it.

The window of the train continued to defrost, all the way from Celeste until his warmth reached the old man. He could now see clearly through the window.

The man looked over, and smiled. Celeste couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen the smile of another soul. The man asked:

What do you know about Faith?

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