The Athanat

6 Oct

It seemed natural that when the Music Academy announced it would sponsor a Panhellenic competition that he would stand out as a leading contestant for the main prize.

Short and slight, Teryx possessed surprising strength and stamina, permitting him to play an instrument and sing for hours without rest. His best would be called for, since the finest lyre-players around the Aegean Sea were coming to Miletos to compete. The person with the highest reputation was Koreos from Pergamum, a musical genius whose original compositions had become popular in all the scattered Greek lands and cities. Everyone familiar with his past victories in such contests expected him to be the sure winner among the competing musicians.

The pair of virtuosi had never met before. Students of Teryx who had heard the other man play the lyre described him as a huge bear who towered above everyone around him. “His mind is sharp and disciplined,” declared a pupil from Pergamum. “He overwhelms you with his size and magnificent presence. No one is as great a competitor as his is.”

This rival would be a formidable opponent, Teryx did not doubt. Hours of practice and preparation appeared necessary. Winning first place would bring fame and rewards without limits. Teryx had never before faced such a challenge. How was he going to cope with this Koreos? What could he do to win against such unfavorable odds?

He decided to draw upon a special gift he had long hidden and failed to make use of.

The traditional  lyre of the Greeks had five strings that presented eight notes with half steps.

In his dreams, Teryx envisioned an eight string lyre. His mind could imagine the sounds of the eight with quarter tones between them. They were arranged into a new scale with smaller than the old half-steps. The music produced was strange and enticing. No one had ever heard music played in it.

What was he to call his new scale system?

It was to be, for him, an enharmonic musical pattern. Quarter tones, major thirds, and tetrachords of four notes were to be its elements. These would produce a new, different sound and replace the conventional pentatonic system of half-tone intervals. It would enchant all who heard it.

Teryx labored a long time to construct his new instruments with its eight strings.

His plan was to shock the musical judges from several cities with music they had never before heard. But there were to be unforeseeable consequences to what he had created on his own.

The morning of the lyre contest was warm and sunny. Hundreds of people from many places stood about or sat on chairs.

The panel of judges included several men of wealth from Miletos. The city official in charge of sports and the arts was their chairman. The group occupied a small hillock separate from everyone else.

Teryx, scheduled to be the final musician to play, sat off by himself, waiting to be called to perform, in a nearby stucco cabin.

All of a sudden, a large shape stood in the doorway, blocking the sunlight. It had to be Koreos of Pergamum, according to what had been said by those who had seen him.

What is he doing here? thought Teryx. What does he want with me?

The giant from Pergamum eyed him with unconcealed anger.

“I have learned from others that you intend to use a new lyre invented for this competition. You are threatening to upset what has always been done in playing the lyre. Am I correct?”

Teryx was unable to say anything. Before he could formulate an adequate reply, the gigantic musician went on.

“You must not do anything so drastically different. It is best you quit this tournament at once. Make an excuse, such as sudden illness. That is your only alternative to being publicly exposed.”

Teryx bit his lower lip, then he muttered a reply with sharp tones to it.

“Are you accusing me of being some sort of unnatural being? A necrosite who is both dead and alive? I deny that I am a necrosite. That cannot be proven concerning me. Not at all.”

Koreos made a sarcastic grimace. “We in Pergamum who are involved with music like to keep informed about creatures active in our profession in other cities of Ionia. We know the high degree the semi-dead are drawn into all areas of music. I am here to see that I win the competition by defeating any outside necrosite such as you.”

“You are mistaken about what I am,” argued Teryx. “I deny that my existence is that of a necrosite, who is more dead than alive.” He looked into the stone-like face of Koreos. “My nature is quite different from that. I have to confess that I am an athanat, at the opposite pole from the necrosites. I am more alive than dead, unlike what you accuse me of being.” His face was now crimson with anger.

“I cannot believe what you are saying,” countered Koreos.

“As an athanat, I am unable to die like an ordinary human. For ages, then, I wander from land to land. Each chapter is different. I have seen many cities crumble to dust. Kingdoms rise and fall, but my state of being continues with no end to it. My personal existence goes on and on, despite all the separate lives that I have traveled through. These go on without any end whatever.

“My experiences prove to me that necrosites are closer to extinction than we can ever be. Our journey is a longer one than that of any necrosite that ever walked the earth.” A sudden thought occurred to the inventor of the new lyre. “Do you happen to be a necrosite yourself? Is that the reason that you are such an enemy of someone like me, an athanat who is not as near to death as you and other necrosites happen to be?”

Koreos looked down, confirming what the other musician had surmised.

“Why will you not allow me to play my new lyre with eight tones? Is it so important that you defeat me in this competition?”

“There is grave danger if the public can trace your special gifts to what you are. We necrosites in Pergamum have learned to conceal our musical advantages as much as is necessary for privacy. In order to appear as ordinary humans, we have to sacrifice our superiorities. It might become dangerous to all of us if the living population learns the nature of your extraordinary musical talent?”

The inventor furrowed his brow. “I now see that necrosites do not take chances the way that the athanati do. We are often drawn into risky adventures, unlike your kind. Your kind exist in deep, unending fear. We athanats do not.”

“So, will you keep your new instrument out of this contest?” asked the necrosite.

An idea of how to free himself from the situation he was in occurred to Teryx. “How would you like to have a look at my eight-string lyre?” he proposed.

Koreos gave a simple nod and the other motioned him into the shadowy room. With swift movements, Teryx picked up his new lyre. It was larger and heavier than traditional ones. What he did next surprised even himself.

The invention was hurled down upon the head of the necrosite with enormous force. The slow reflexes of the necrositic state handicapped any reaction by the victim of the blow. Koreos fell unconscious in one moment. He laid on the dirt floor in deep coma.

What shall I do now? Teryx asked himself.

Go out there and perform with enharmonic chords, an inner voice commanded him.

His eyes turned on the fallen necrosite. In time, he shall awaken again to his near-death existence.

In the meantime, I will begin my musical revolution.

I can show any necrosite present what an athanat is capable of achieving.

He stepped out of the cabin, the innovative lyre in his hand.


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