Before God made Himself, He made Teacher.
That was a little over 10,000 years before Crux’s moldering sclera would first feel the abrasive caress of the Ninth’s recycled atmosphere, desiccated by an entire civilization’s worth of corpse dust. Crux was born an old man, and he died an old man, bitter as spoiled nutritional paste and stubborn as a canker-sore. The one soft spot on his heart, like the one soft spot on the one soft apple on the whole of the Ninth, was where he kept his affection for Teacher.
Teacher wasn’t born, as previously described. He was created by God, personally, or as personally as a person constructed of thousands of other persons could be. Teacher was a time capsule but for souls. He was a demolished bridge over the River. He was a living escape pod for what remained of the population of the First, before God became God, before hope could be hoped.
Their first contact came in the form of a letter – the same as their last. Teacher had been acting as the King Undying’s herald from time literally immemorial, and so when Crux first received correspondence from the Emperor it was really from Teacher. Crux was as immediately fascinated with Teacher as he would be with the Reverend Daughter, when Pellamena presented her to him decades later.
Crux was given to acts of fervid devotion; this would serve him well, and then it would serve other members of his house very poorly. Lesser heretics might have called him obsessive, but Teacher called him faithful. Teacher praised Crux’s devotion in every letter, and in time Crux came to adore him as he adored God – his very own original sin.
Twenty years after he was promoted to marshal of Drearburh, Crux mustered the gall to return Teacher’s correspondence. Into an account of the Ninth’s annual imports and exports, as well as a reassurance that the rock was still firmly in place over the mouth of the Locked Tomb, Crux secreted a small personal missive.
At first they just exchanged pleasantries interspersed throughout the busy-ness of administrating for an entire planet (Crux) and an entire empire (Teacher). As the years bled together, Teacher became a dear friend to Crux, and eventually his only confidant. Crux lived his life alone with his duty; even more so once the Reverend Daughter took off with that indecent counterfeit cavalier. For a long time Teacher’s words were his only companion, his only friend in the darkness of Drearburh, and he worked his knobby fingers over them as gently and as reverently as sisters Aisamorta and Lachrimorta worked their knucklebone rosaries. Sister Glaurica was, of course, dead.
And then one day the letters stopped. The last piece of correspondence that Crux received from the office of the Emperor was congratulatory – the Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House was no more, and in her place now rose His Celestial Kindliness’ new necrosaint, Harrowhark the First. In honor of her service the Ninth House was to be rejuvenated. They were advised to rejoice. There was no mention of Teacher.
In the deepest, softest recess of the festering wound that had been made of his heart, Crux knew that Teacher was no more. He knew that the bridge over the River had been rebuilt, cobbled together from the myriad wailing souls once encapsulated within the floundering lifeboat that was Teacher’s organic form. He knew that Hell would come lumbering over the bridge, to open the Locked Tomb.
And so he took his rattling bones and his sagging flesh and his fetid duty and he sat the whole decaying mess down in front of the rock in front of the tomb, and he waited for the end.