Sentinel Serapeum

It is said that when Julius Caesar burned the Egyptian fleet, the fire spread and consumed the Great Library, but it was not so.
We found these creatures, these humans, a boundless source of fascination.
They were small, but endowed with something that drove them to great heights in mind and spirit, and great depths in destruction of themselves and their homelands.
We studied them, watched them grow and fight, love their families, conquer and rule over their enemies, worship their gods, and unlock new knowledge that, to us, had been eons old.
The earth was not large; it was a pretty runt, a bright blue fledgling in the obsidian nest of the universe, but these men were voracious in their desire to learn of its mysteries, as were we.
To that end, the smaller dragons among us visited. Some stayed to help men with their battles, but their memory was wiped from the pages of books not ascribed to myth. The voices of the faithful who proclaimed our reality were said to be insane, or possessed of the demonic; they were summarily dismissed, condemned, exiled, or put to death.
And so it was we thrived, and thrive still, for above all, we learned that men are killers of that which they fear, and determined in their hunting. With enough numbers, gnats can drive an army from the battlefield.
I saw the fleet burn. The fire made the ships dance on the waves, even as they listed, even as they slipped into the ocean’s cold embrace.
My King was saddened, but told me to go claim what was there, as the building of such a repository of man’s answers to his own questions would not be undertaken on such a scale again.
Concealed by the roiling smoke, I landed on the palace grounds, and engulfed the Great Library in flame. To the eyes of men, it burned and was no more, but it dwells now in the world of dragons, resplendent in our Grand Cave.
And now I watch the single narrow path that leads there, waiting for the one who seeks to rekindle the flame of the intricacies of their world’s knowledge, of its achievements and downfalls, its perfect balance tipped by human hands, its consuming cycles of death and rebirth.
I watch for a seeker’s lantern, a lone star shining low over a high hill.
But the path has long been empty, and my own flame, long unused, dims within me.
The books, parchments, scrolls, and treasures of the human mind are yet here, yet waiting, but time is an inexorable, incremental crucible, and eternity is yet to be.
And now the winds are rising, blowing sand across the path that I may not disturb. It is a slower, cooler form of destruction, but no less a ruin; the more so for remaining undiscovered. Though I long to know it will not become a wasteland, it is not up to me.
I am but a sentinel whose sight is dimming, watching for light upon a disappearing path that leads to a world starved for wisdom and knowledge, but slowly dying, mortal as the flames of Caesar.

 

*Art by pandiivan.deviantart.com

Sea Belles

They ring the sea bells in the harbor

for the sailors there.

Now come the dancing village girls

with flowers in their hair.

They look so lovely in the sun,

in gowns of green and blue,

to match the mighty ocean’s blush,

and fetch a husband too.

The people clap and cry and cheer

as toward the waves they go,

A sacrifice of maidens come

to join the men below.

The echoes of the knells ring out

across the dancing waves.

The sailors wait impatiently

beside their silted graves.

The singing of the maidens now goes silent

in the surf,

The curse is spared again for those who stand

on muddy turf.

The only note that’s ringing now,

a lonely seagull’s call.

That binds the briny couples to the stones

beneath the squall.

They ring the seabells in the harbor

for the sailors there.

Now come the drifting village maids

with seaweed in their hair.

The Mark

The Mark

Chapter 1:  Foundling:

A gibbous moon pressed down on the sky like the thumb pad of a jaundiced god. A ragtag band of villagers chased a boy into a forest clearing, surrounding him, but not rushing to seize him.

He felt every inch the trapped animal, save he had no claws or teeth. There was only a single knife which he clutched more as a talisman than a weapon. Crackling torches forced him to put up a hand to block the glare, and the mark on his cheek became visible again.

Murmurs of curses, prayers, and amazement buzzed and hummed in his ears. The light in the mark was fading but he could still feel its heat.

An elder couple stepped forward as a walking keg of a man thrust his torch closer to the boy’s face, making him drop the knife as he stepped back and put up his other hand. From what he briefly saw of them, the woman seemed to hold some concern for him, lightly pressing her husband’s wrist down to lower the torch; she wouldn’t stop him from doing much else, but for that at least, the boy was grateful.

Walking Keg had bristly brown and gray whiskers, the moonlight a nimbus in them as he leaned forward and glowered, his free hand poised in the air, uncertain of its purpose. He seemed to want to touch the mark, but didn’t.

The fear in his eyes belied the gruffness in his voice. “How came you by this mark, boy?” The uncertain hand now pointed a meaty finger at the mark.

The boy swallowed, and when he spoke his voice was small in his own ears. “I killed my little sister.”

*************

Thunder had ever frightened him, and this storm had proven no different. In the small cottage at the top of the hill, where he lived with his parents and younger sister, they were more vulnerable than most to lightning strikes.

Seeking his parents for comfort as he always did, the tableau he walked in on shook him to his core with horror.

      His little sister was out in the rain, naked, arms outstretched to the sky, eyes closed and a beatific smile on her face. She seemed to be speaking, or praying; he wasn’t sure, but she had a knife in her hand with blood and rainwater dripping from it, washing the blade clean.       Stomach lurching, heart pounding, he ran toward his parents’ bedroom but stopped when he saw the small, bloody footprints that lead from the open door.

      “Nylii, what have you done?” He ran from the house toward his sister, and when he came to she was dead beneath him, his hands on her throat, his cheek sliced open from the knife, and the clouds clearing to reveal the dim light of a sickle moon. Her eyes were open, and save for the fact she wasn’t breathing, she looked like she was about to tell him a secret.

      Revulsion and horror made him scramble up and make it to the edge of the wet, dank woods as he heaved up the contents of their last dinner. Gasping for air, burning with thirst and wanting to scream, he wiped the stringy, rank spit away with a handful of leaves. His cheek was on fire, and there was blood on his chest and shoulder. He touched the wound to see how bad it was, and it flared, searing under his touch.

      He opened his mouth, but the ensuing pain had him back on the ground unable to scream. He felt something go wrong with his blood.

      She’d cursed him, marked him. For what, the gods only knew.

     “Nylii, what have you done? What have you done?” He realized he was shouting. Panicking, leaving the bodies for scavengers, he ran and never looked back.

                                                 ************

     More murmurs, louder this time as what he said was conveyed to those who couldn’t hear. He’d played whisper-down- the-line with his friends; he’d be a legend or a monster by the time it got to them.

      The couple stepped back.

     “She was afflicted?” the woman asked.

    He wasn’t sure what ‘afflicted’ meant, but he nodded: “She killed our parents at Reaving Moon. A blood sacrifice.”

      Cries and gestures against evil rippled outward through the mob.

     “What should we do?” the woman asked her husband.

      “Kill him, is what we should do…”

      The boy was tired, thirsty, hungry, and his adrenaline from running had spiked and dipped several times. Now he was just scared and angry.

       “I’ve done no harm to you! You came after me!”

        The husband glared and stepped closer. “Yer damn scar was shinin’! We din’t know what the hell ye were!”

       The woman spoke again. “We’ve children in th’ village, boy. Not much older n’ yew. Y’understand?”

      The boy fell to his knees. “I beg you, for one night, let me sleep. I’ll sleep here, outside of your town, and I won’t come in. I promise. Please just go. I’ll be gone in the morning.”  

      After some hesitation, the wife took the husband aside, away from him and the crowd. He stayed on his knees; the weight of the rabble’s stare was almost palpable as they openly regarded him with an unhealthy mix of fear and fascination. The couple’s conversation, judging from gestures and faces, was brief but heated.

 Read more at the link below on Niume. 

Source: The Mark

Honeyed Magic

I see the

honeyed magic

flow

from fingers

filled with morning’s

glow.

It’s in your hair

and cheeks

and eyes.

You wring from me

such wretched sighs.

I would possess you

if I could,

But wishing so

will do no good,

for you’re above

and I’m below.

I’ll stand beneath

the light you throw

as Lady’s favor

to her Knight

in shining armor,

ere the fight

shall take him from

her brilliant arc,

and place him in

the cold and dark.

If you send

honeyed magic there,

I’ll sleep  in peace,

without a care.

 

 

Death’s Handmaiden

Let bone fingers,

gentler than colder scythe,

close my eyes

in

eternal sleep

 

I would seek

Death’s Handmaiden,

dressed in mourning finery,

And plead a softer touch,

no less final for

all its gentleness

 

For all her smiling

reassuringly in

my final moment,

I would hear

at least

the faint echo of a

woman’s heart

where

none exists

 

I would kneel

in abject

Obeisance

to her

gory majesty

 

And take her hand

in gratitude

for mercy,

though I bleed

 

No sunset,

just darkness

without stars

 

I go

and wait for

you

in the drafty caverns,

the void

of her many- shadowed palace,

in a vast and ebon realm,

disguised as

a humble cottage

in the midst

of

woods and meadow.

 

Black Snakes Cast No Shadows

It was over, just as the moon rose.

The men were exhausted, barely standing, to tired to cheer as the last of the enemy fell.

We won, but what that was exactly, then and there, I could not tell you.

I reeked of the blood and guts of others, and my own blood mingled with theirs, to drip into my eyes, down my arms, and dull the gleam of my blade in the moonlight.

Falling to my knees, unable to stand any longer, I looked around me.

Bodies everywhere, in stacks, in pieces, ending in wetness, ending in white bone.

And someone lit the field on fire, and howls began in the woods.

“Koyah, we cannot stay here.”

My second in command, Sengo, my brother in arms, long trusted, bedecked also in gore.

He grasped my forearm, helped me to my feet.

“You fought bravely,” I told him.

He nodded. “As did you, and all the others who are left to tell the tale.”

I looked around.

“We burn our dead,” he told me, “and leave theirs to rot.”

“It is done well.”

.   “Do we push on toward the city, Koyah?” Sengo asked.

“We push on, but in the morning we rest, bind our wounds, eat, and mourn our fallen.”

His smile was wan, and his nod weary. He left my side to go marshal the survivors; they weren’t as many as before, but they might prove to be enough.

Heaviness settled across my shoulders, as if the hands of a giant pushed me to the ground.

I dropped my weapon, flexed my hand, wiped my eyes free of tattered red flesh, and let the energy of the slaughtering day dissipate, and I pitched forward, and lay in a cool, clean patch of blood-soaked grass.

And not for the first time, thought that maybe it was time to set this whole fighting thing back down into the cave which spawned it, and the dream came afresh, with vivid detail, so real that I felt the breeze across my skin like a palm leaf’s kiss.

I felt my lips form a silent curse my father would have smacked me for uttering, and I turned to face the king again.

 

He shook his head, eyes full of malevolent pity; his voice was soft, deep, almost fatherly.

    “Fool boy, turn your army now, while there is yet time. Your souls are forfeit when you see the city wall. I will reap among you with all the effort of a child in high summer fields, and the vultures and dogs will glean the scraps of your corpses.

    “Koyah, do you not grow weary of this? Turn aside.”

   “I will never turn.”

   Last time, his throne had been in a natural alcove, surrounded by exotic, vibrant birds, and women that fawned on his corpulence, and guards with serpentine eyes and charcoal skin.

    This time, he was in darkened hall, with nothing of mock gaiety around him. This time, there were countless  thick black serpents, gleaming and sleek, uncoiling around his feet like living smoke, slithering in languor up the height of his throne, and cloaking his body like a scaly robe;  their eyes of fiery emerald and ruby and tourmaline glittered with preternatural intelligence as they looked at me, and almost seemed to smile.

    The chills that gripped me did not come from the wind, but the yawning, bottomless grave.

   “You had no right to kill us, enslave us, burn us…”

   “You had no right to keep my tribute, my gold, my children-“

   “OUR children, you –“

    He merely put up his hand, and I choked on my own tongue as it bent backwards in my mouth.

   He released it, speaking over my retching coughs, my eyes stinging with tears, made more acrid by the fires around me.

    “Watch your tongue, child. You only think you lead, but you are a boy playing ‘warrior,’ not fully understanding all that means, for yourself, and others.

    “Turn aside.”

     I was able to breathe enough air back into my lungs to defy him once more.

    “I will not.”

    “Then come, child-warrior, and learn at the point of my knife, as it furrows your throat, what it is to become a man.”

 

********************

I woke up sweating.

“How long was I…?”

“Not long, Koyah. The men did not see.”

“Did I…?”

“No. You did not cry out…this time.”

I put my hand on Sengo’s shoulder in gratitude.

“He put you to sleep again?”

“Yes. And commanded as he always does.”

Sengo leaned forward. “But we have nothing to counter him, brother. The closer we get, the smaller our numbers become; these …things…he sends after us, are more than dead, but less than men, and they are weeding us out, and down.”

“What are you saying, Sengo, that we turn back?”

“No. He is using rituals that were old beyond writing, dark and forbidden; these are workings, and dead things, that would drive most insane.”

He seemed to consider what he was going to say next, which meant it was portentous, but I’d known him long enough to let him form his thought.

“We need someone like him.”

“In our ranks?”

“How else can we fight him?”

The fires did their cleansing dance, and the flesh of men I spoke with only yesterday, smiled with, drank with, told ribald jokes with, wrestled with and fought beside, now curled and blackened and drifted up in red sparks under the waxing moon and the wheeling stars.

Sengo’s smile was tenuous.

“He will be here tomorrow.”

 

   

 

Reiko and the White Wolf

It was raining hard when Ko’s father helped put her straw hat on, and told her they were going fishing.

Ko looked for her mother, but she was cloaked in shadows, cooking something tangy that made Ko’s mouth water, and her stomach growl.

“It’s raining, Father.”

“Yes, I know, but Mother needs fish, and they come to the surface for fresh water when it rains. We’ll catch them quickly, and return. You’re so good at catching them, we’ll be back in no time at all.”

His words of praise warmed Ko to the task, and she eagerly followed him down to where their fishing boat was tied on the aging, rickety pier. Ko used to think it would be fun to fall in, but with the rain and wind, and the high waves out in the harbor, she hoped the planks would hold her and Father’s weight.

It was hard to see with the rain blowing in almost sideways, but Ko was determined, and driven by hunger, to see this through, and have more warm words of love from him.

As they walked, a faint roll of thunder rumbled in the distance, and Ko took her father’s hand. He held it, and smiled down at her, and she took comfort in that.

He would keep her safe.

When they arrived at the harbor, a boat was docked beside theirs, bigger, darker and foreboding, and a man in a wide straw hat with tassels stood on the deck, watching their approach.

Ko slowed down, and her father did too, but then he said, “It’s all right, Ko.”

She relaxed, but didn’t let go of his hand, part of her still wary; the boat was a ferry, and it was unusual that it was such a remote part of the river. This was a land of small farms and local fishermen, and everyone knew everyone, and their business, and their children.

The man on the deck didn’t seem affected by the rain at all, and except for a narrowing of his eyes when they got close, he hardly seemed to acknowledge them.

Her father let go of her hand, and a little thrill of fear and anxiety went through her.

He spoke quickly to the man on the deck, and then their hands touched, so quickly that Ko wasn’t even sure it had happened.

Turning around, he looked at Ko, and beckoned her to come closer.

She went, not knowing what else to do, but felt the sting of tears behind her eyes, and dread in her spirit.

“Are we using this boat to fish, Father?”

“No, Ko. I must fish alone, and you must go with this man.”

He reached for her to bring her by the hand, but she backed away, staring at him, incredulous, and her solid grounding in him turned to soaked mud.

“I will not. I will not!” Ko was turning to run, when she saw the man thrust out his right hand toward her, fingers spread, and it was as if she’d grown roots.

“Father, help me! Why are you letting him…? I can’t move! I can’t move!”

“I’m sorry, Ko. I can’t undo the bargain I struck with him.”

“Bargain? A bargain? I’m to be sold, like some market piglet?!”

The man on the deck called out: “The winds and waves rise, ‘father.’ Is she coming with us, or do we return for you?”

She saw him flinch when the man mocked him.

A realization cold as the river rain settled over her.

“Mother’s pregnant, and you can’t afford me.”

Her father began to cry. “I’m sorry, Ko, so very sorry.”

Ko walked toward the boat, and stopped beside him, but he couldn’t look at her.

She leaned as if to kiss his cheek, and spit in his face; he felt it dribble along with the raindrops that mingled with his tears.

“‘Father,’” she used the same mocking inflection, “I haven’t begun to  make you sorry.”

 

Overmorrow (2)

2:

On my walk around the grounds, I met the sexton, who only nodded in that grim way he always had, as if a perpetual crown of thorns in a black cloud burdened his brow.
I smiled, for all the good it did, and continued on.
Satisfied that no one else remained, I retired for the night, and drifting off to sleep by the light of a single candle, I dreamed I saw Xantara’s head taken, not by a demon, but by another Protector, unknown to me, a lad of strength and beauty, who’d captured her heart, only to murder her.
I felt myself tossing, but was unable to wake, when a vision from my youth emerged, as if from underwater, as if I was scrying, as an unclean oracle, or a foaming, raving prophet…

It was late, but the old librarian, the one with the tortoise-shaped head, who seemed as if, also like a tortoise, he would live forever, had taken a liking to me, confessing that I looked like the son he’d fathered on a young girl shortly before coming to the temple.
Given his age, on which I could only speculate, I had no idea how he’d know what an infant would look like in his young adulthood, but I didn’t press, and he didn’t elaborate, and it was of no great matter to me.
I had to study, and he made a pot of his special coffee, which was now thrumming in my veins, and sleep would not be forthcoming tonight.
Finding the compendium I needed, I opened it, perusing casually before I got to my subject; it seemed to contain the history of everything, written twice.
I was about to locate my subject, and turned the page, when an illuminated illustration caught my attention.
It was a picture of a young dark-haired girl, praying at night as she stood in her novice whites, in the middle of a stream, the moonlight bathing her from above, and the water from below.
Above her, in the star-strewn sky, she was circled by fierce, hideous demons, with gore filled grins, and straining jaws filled with rows of teeth made for rending flesh and snapping bone.
Their weapons were as sharp and gruesome as their assorted teeth and claws, dulled with ages of reaping hapless souls.
Grim as their visages and weaponry was, they seemed unable to break the barrier of prayer she’d erected about herself, and as I peered closer, admiring the depth of the detail and time the illustrator had taken, I saw that in their expressions there was something of a hallowed fear, and a dread anticipation…They were ensnared, about to die, and they knew it.
Fascinated, I proceeded to read the text:

These are the Protectors, weaponless watchmen standing guard between the realms of flesh and spirit, the divine and unclean, and the living and the dead.
The origins of their power are lost to time, but in their orisons, they are as lethal as any demon, the latter of which, oddly, gather to hear the prayers that ultimately destroy them.
No one has ever recorded the prayers for posterity, but the language is said to have a sibilant quality that renders it almost as whispered, and therefore as indecipherable as it is incomprehensible.
This compendium has no records of their gods or demons, their names, or when they became Protectors. Once our mutual fates were intertwined, as we relied on their protection, and they relied on us for sustenance; as such we were gradually beginning to understand each other.
They are seemingly by nature reclusive, shy, furtive to the point of sneakiness if their motives were evil.
In what few encounters we’ve engaged, they are affable, but loathe to get close. 

There is an unseen barrier, brilliant in its concealment, that we may not cross despite our best efforts, either by strength of sinew, or power of arrow.
In time, as men do when they are unable to solve mysteries, we decided the difficulty of pursuing any kind of relationship with them any further, possibly decimating the storehouses of our youth in future generations, was not worth the risk.
With the passing of years, since we could not get close, we became suspicious, and such allies as they had among us began to dwindle, and in the winter of their fiftieth year among us, we used our trade with them to gain access behind the shield, driving them out to seek and make their way some other place.
Our clerics, who’d witnessed their powers first hand in matters ceremonial, and it is rumored, in cases of demon attack and possession, advocated that we needed them, and would find ourselves at a disadvantage in their absence.
We did not listen, and when the demons tried again, they found our collective belly exposed.
If you are reading this, know that even now they are here, and my hand grows erratic as I hear the sound of their laughter mingling with the screams of the slaughtered.

And so I end, imploring that if it is at all possible, find them.
Find them soon.

Amid the din of screams and weapons smacking flesh, grunts of effort and groans of misery, pleas for mercy and cruel laughter denying it, my eyes flew open and I screamed.
My scream reverberated in my bedchamber, and something ripped my covers from me, and I scrambled backward to sit up.
At the foot of my bed, a deathly pale hand with short, sharp nails, pulled the covers to the floor, and low laughter, wrought through with ill intent, ascended through the floor.

 

Overmorrow

Kneeling by the light that beamed in a soft corona about her, not quite an aura, setting her prayer shawl and priestess gown alight, hair coiled about her head like an ebon halo, I came through the door and held my breath at the vision.

Above her was a monster, weeping in rage, his muscles bunched, his thick and heavy neck holding up his massive head and horns.

Her whispered fervent prayer was binding him, and the axe just shuddered in his trembling hands.

“Xantara, is this one yours?”

She didn’t turn, or give answer, or acknowledge I was there.

The monster turned its head, regarded me with pleading in his soulless eyes.

“You were going to kill her; I can’t allow that, and you deserve your punishment.”

At my refusal of intercession, it redoubled its effort, but Xantara never wavered; I could hear the reverberating sibilance of her foreign, arcane tongue, long vanished from these walls, long banished from these shores.

No one else knew she was here, for no one else could see her.

The colors in the stained glass windows deepened with the dying light, and the candles flared a little brighter as the power of her prayer began to manifest, and the muscled monstrosity that would have taken her head, and probably mine, seemed surprised to find its neck cleaved clean through, almost as if with the very axe it carried, and the knobbed head tumbled in ponderous slowness, to crack on the black marble floor.

Its body listed like a great old dying tree, and shattered the great oak table where the ceremonial cups and candles were, cracking and splintering it like a ruined spine.

The dust cloud was massive, and dark, acrid, smoking blood seethed across the marble, hissing and pitting it as it puddle and pooled.

She stood up and looked at me, as if the creature she’d just slain was nothing more than a reed blown over in the wind.

“Good evening, Mitre Harkin. I’m…sorry…about the mess. I’ll clean it.”

“It’s alright, Xantara. There’s no one here but the two of us, anyway. It’s no great matter.”

She smoothed her gown as she approached.

“They keep coming after me.”

“I’m afraid they won’t stop; your powers have grown.”

“I’ve thought to renounce them.”

“Your powers? You mustn’t.”

“Why not?”

“We’ve been over this, my child. You are the protector.”

“It’s the job of the gods to protect us.”

I laughed.

“Don’t laugh at me, Mitre.”

“I’m not, my dear. I’m laughing at the innocence of your youth as it concerns the gods; they choose their servants, not always willingly. Truth be told, not even always wisely.”

“Are you now saying—?“

“I’m saying, Xantara, that your role in the events to unfold is irreplaceable, and unfortunately for you, irrevocable.”

She sighed, and even in her forlorn state, was rife with divine sweetness.

“You will help guide me though, won’t you Mitre?”

“I will ever be here for you, Xantara; you have my word.”

She nodded, a tear running from her eye.

I took the corner of my prayer shawl, and dabbed it away.

“I must be going,” she said.

“I understand.” The demons didn’t regard the time of day, and she was tired. Rest replenished her powers, and exhaustion weakened them.

But she hesitated.
“Mitre?”

I inclined my head, inviting her to continue.

“Can you make it so I don’t have to kneel and pray so long?”

I thought it over; that would mean facing the Council, making them aware of her existence, or believing me insane, for which the consequences would be immediate, and final.

“You know I can’t appeal to them without revealing your presence.”

“I know, but I’m tired of hiding. Perhaps I will reveal it to them myself.”

I shook my head.

“Xantara, they will pull you from both sides like quartering horses.”

I put my hand on her cheek, and she leaned into it.

“If rest comes so uneasy to you now, child, imagine it never coming at all. They will use you until your very essence is a husk, and they will toss it in the fire, and forget you, taking the credit for your victory.”

She placed her hand over mine, removed it, but held it.

“My dear Mitre, always so wise.”

I chuckled, and she smiled. It was beatific.

“My innocence again?”

“Yes. Go, my child. The hour grows late.”

She nodded.

“Overmorrow, I will return.”

“I await the welcome vision. Farewell, Xantara.”

She gave a small, endearing curtsy. “Farewell, Mitre Harkin.”

Truth be told, I should have been afraid of such burgeoning power in the hands, heart, and mind of one so untried (for there was no fear in her at all), but I was not, and would have cause to regret it later.

Looking back to where the monster had fallen, there was no trace of severed flesh or steaming blood, and no thick hafted weapon to leave behind the threat of death.

It was as if she’d merely stopped praying, and was now leaving.

I turned back toward the doors.

She seemed to glide down the black marble path, the temple doors parted of themselves, and in the last rays of the sun, she faded like an unfulfilled wish that never came true.