Black Seas of Infinity
Background Part Three
A Spreading Madness
At the same time that the Wyrd Lady was moving from one settlement to another, quietly warning the elders of the World of the grim apocalypse to come, something else was moving among the people. An invisible influence, unnoticeable to all but an astute few, but slowly, insidiously changing the communities of human beings that populated the World. A sort of darkness of mind and soul was spreading, the attitudes of people shifting ever so subtly, reason giving way to irrationality, trust slipping into paranoia, compassion fading into divisiveness. A barely-perceptible gloom was settling over the hearts of nearly everyone, smiles became fewer and more forced, laughter began to carry a discordant tone, families and neighbors found themselves strangely at odds, watching one another with suspicion and resentment that they’d never felt before.
The mutterings of nervous folk who noticed the changes implicated the appearance of the Lady of the Wyrd, and many found it easy to believe that it was, indeed, she who was causing this new spirit of hostility and confusion. But others countered these claims, pointing to the fact that everyone who’d encountered the strange woman had felt more comfortable and clear-minded in her presence, not less. Tales spoke of her calming effect on the groups of people whom she’d appeared to, of an almost tangible lifting of melancholy or bitter thoughts while she was around. Still, there was no other scapegoat, and as the growing disturbance in the mental well-being of the populace worsened, and became more manifestly apparent to all, the conclusion that the Wyrd Lady was to blame became a widely-held and fervently accepted opinion.
The elders and leaders of each settlement seemed the worst-affected by this encroaching malaise. These were the wisest and most reasonable men and women in the World, those whose insight and level-headedness made them the natural choice to guide the people, and make critical decisions. These who were trusted and respected most of all were the ones whose personalities and reason were most egregiously twisted and eroded by whatever it was that was afflicting the minds of humanity. Calm and thoughtful fathers and mothers who had been relied upon for decades for their sensibility and integrity began to unravel, becoming erratic, delusional, unexplainably angry or uncharacteristically bewildered. At first they tried to take the Lady of the Wyrd’s warnings and advice seriously, they attempted to discuss it, to coordinate with other villages and come up with a plan of action. But their cognitive capacities were dwindling rapidly, replaced by the first hints of dementia. Without these pillars of the community to rally around and take strength from, how would lesser folk deal with these dark times?
It was the very leaders whom she’d come to warn and advise themselves that stirred up the movement against the Wyrd Lady. As their faculties slipped more and more, they became increasingly hostile and determined that she was the root of all of their problems. They began to demonize her, loudly, painting her as the agent of the World’s downfall in venomous, hateful speeches. The people, for the most part, found this very convincing, and all over the World, villages began to rise up angrily against any appearance of the Lady of the Wyrd, driving her out with curses, threats, and even some attempts at real violence. She never rose to the bait, always simply departing quickly, leaving the mobs in her wake with a poignant feeling of sadness, of her disappointment in them. The voices that came hesitantly to her defense were very few, still mildly suggesting that she’d done nothing to anyone, that she had, in fact, been making considerable effort simply to warn and prepare as many people as possible for the future. These rare detractors from the popular opinion pointed out that she’d never been anything but completely peaceful, even managing to radiate an obvious sense of warmth and caring while she was under attack. These facts were disregarded, taken as pure deception on the part of their feared villainess, evidence of her trickery and her power to manipulate folks’ minds. This seeming kindness of hers simply made her all the more terrifying, and people all over the World were strictly warned not to fall prey to her duplicitous “seductions”.
Still, the Wyrd Lady did not vanish, or give up. From one group of people to another she tirelessly traveled, watching, carefully observing each man, woman, or child that she came across. She spoke to those who would allow her, pleading now directly with the common people, no longer seeking to sway the increasingly unstable elders. Her warnings became more insistent, always with what appeared to be a truly heartfelt apology for inadvertently bringing this scourge to the World, and a call for action. The people of the World had little time, she would say, and they must begin to act immediately. She could help, she would say, she could prepare the World to face this looming threat. But it must begin now, and men and women of all walks of life must be willing to stand up and fight, to work hard and make sacrifices, if this horrific fate were to be averted. Most of all, she claimed, the people needed to trust her. She could lead them to salvation, see them through this coming darkness, but they must give her their trust. And this, they could not do. Not with the changes that were worming their way through each community, the maddening of their leadership. And so they rejected her, cast her out with shouts, spittle, and stones, and thus embraced their eventual doom.
The more influential members of the settlements reassured the rest, claiming that the Lady of the Wyrd was merely a charlatan, a devil in disguise, working to undermine the values and cohesion of the World’s society, but that there was little to fear, for her story was not true. This became the new hope that an increasingly irrational populace clung to in desperation. Surely, the Wyrd Lady was lying. There was no coming wave of sanity-eating horrors, there would be no “end of the world”! Such talk was ridiculous, surely! All a clever trick to give this mendacious phantom woman power over everyone, it had to be. This became the only “correct” way of thinking about the matter, and soon no one spoke to the contrary. Even if a few souls retained their wits and disagreed with the prevailing opinion, they kept their mouths shut, for in this new era of open suspicion and hostility, it became dangerous to dissent. The Lady of the Wyrd was made an outlaw, to be killed on sight, and it was forbidden to speak to her, or to say anything in her defense, or in support of her false claims that the World would soon be ravaged by terrible abominations.
Of course, no one could actually do anything about her. When she was spotted, angry villagers would attempt to assault or accost her, and she would frown in sorrowful sympathy and simply vanish, or fly away, or move too quickly to be touched by any of them. No one knew what she was, or the source of her mysterious powers, but it was fairly obvious that she was beyond the capabilities of anyone in the World to harm or capture. Still, the effort would drive her off, and that was considered a good and worthy thing to accomplish. So when the Wyrd Lady showed her face, the emboldened and half-crazed humans would do their best to kill her, and she’d smile her sad little smile for a moment and then leave them to their impotent rage and their absurd pride in “vanquishing” her yet again.
By this point, virtually everyone in the World was in absolute denial about any kind of danger to come, or even that there was anything wrong anymore. Of course, much was wrong. The spreading degradation of people’s minds had not ceased, and had only grown more prevalent. Formerly loving men and women were angry and isolative. Few close bonds existed between anyone, as paranoia and alienation had become the norm. Those who were in charge continued to hold sway over their communities, but had replaced wisdom and credibility with intimidation and propaganda as the primary means of persuading the people. Families, marriages, and friendships had fallen to pieces, with bitterness, jealousy, and blame all around, leaving only hazy memories of happier days, of love and belonging. Theft, violence, and even murder was on the rise, as morality itself was becoming a forgotten ideal. Yet, despite this degeneration of society and the state of misery that most folks lived in now, it had ceased to be noteworthy or alarming. It was simply accepted now. Everything was fine, and if anyone said otherwise, they were eyed with extreme suspicion.
Scattered amongst the villages and other small settlements of human beings on the World were a rare few who did not succumb to this rising insanity, who felt no different than they ever had, who could see through the growing madness and were still themselves enough to be appalled at the ways that everyone around them were changing. Most of them were young people, children or adolescents, those who’d always been a bit unusual compared to their peers anyway. A few of the older folks shared this odd immunity as well, observing the warped personalities of their neighbors, and in even more tragic cases their own family members, with great alarm. In any case, the writing on the wall was clear, and it had become very dangerous to appear different. Despite these few sane ones’ attempts to lay low and not arouse the ire of those around them, it was not easy to blend in with this twisted sickness that had infected their communities.
You were among those who had somehow miraculously avoided the spreading corruption of mind that had befallen the people of the World. Your families, friends, and neighbors, however, were not so blessed. No matter your age or place in society, you quickly found yourself surrounded by frightening people, acting in unthinkable, crazy ways, seemingly forgetful of who they had once been. Alone in these isolated communities of rising madness, you hid your true thoughts, knowing that if revealed your sanity, you’d become a target . . . and eventually, a victim. You could find no one else in your community who still held onto their mind and their values, and everyone you’d once known had become a stranger, watching you with spiteful, paranoid eyes. Somehow, they could sense it in you. Your wholeness. Your humanity, untouched by the shadow that had fallen over the collective psyche of the World. And as time went on, you knew that they hated you for it, more and more. Things began to look bleak, as each day you had to wonder if your own parents, siblings, or former best friends would come for you, tear you apart, hang your body from a tree, as they’d done to other “traitors” and “queer folk”. How much longer before they decided that you weren’t one of them? How much longer?
And then, you met her.
The Lady of the Wyrd.
No longer just a mysterious figure watching from afar, but here, approaching you directly.
She came for you, spoke with you . . . and that is when everything changed, again.