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Authors: Edward J. Rathke

Twilight of the Wolves

BOOK: Twilight of the Wolves
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First published by Perfect Edge Books, 2014
Perfect Edge Books is an imprint of John Hunt Publishing Ltd., Laurel House, Station Approach, Alresford, Hants, SO24 9JH, UK
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For distributor details and how to order please visit the ‘Ordering’ section on our website.

Text copyright: Edward J. Rathke 2013

ISBN: 978 1 78279 339 7

All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations in critical articles or reviews, no part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without prior written permission from the publishers.

The rights of Edward J. Rathke as author have been asserted in accordance with the Copyright,
Designs and Patents Act 1988.

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Design: Stuart Davies
www.stuartdaviesart.com

Printed and bound by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY

We operate a distinctive and ethical publishing philosophy in all areas of our business, from our global network of authors to production and worldwide distribution.

P
ART
I

He dug and dug and dug some more. He dug until his back was sore. His hands turned black and then they bled, his mouth grew thick and dry, his face wet with tears and mud. The scent of ash, of war and hate surrounded, and he dug, hole after hole. For a day and a night and one more day, through the rain and the darkness, he dug holes in the ground and laid them to rest. One by one and shovel by shovel, he buried the dead. The dead who were once brothers, who were once mothers, who were once fathers and lovers and sisters and daughters. For each body he dug a hole and for each hole he planted a stick. Covered in mud, in forgotten blood, with newly scabbed knees, with hands torn raw, bleeding, slicking the handle of his shovel. Holes and holes and holes. Dug and filled. The soldiers all gone but their wreckage remained, the stink of war in his lungs, in his eyes, in his skin, beating through his body, coagulating in his lungs. By the first nightfall, he no longer cried. By morning his lips no longer moved. By moonlight he no longer stopped. A constant pace, digging and digging and lifting and dropping and burying. Burying. Burying. Morning again, the air thick with rain, the scent heavy with Death, the Deathwalkers watched. Fifty crows scouring the ground, slow, crossing meaningful looks but silent, speaking no words, communicating through something beyond language. The boy did not stop but dug on though he could no longer hold the shovel. On his knees, elbow deep in mud, he dug, hand over hand, the mud caking on his face, filling the wounds of his hands, his knees. Covered in mud, shivering, digging, wet, alone, eyes wide and empty, they found him. The Deathwalkers surrounded and they sang. They sang their song. Tenebrous, haunting, a disjointed melody, a ghastly harmony, far away, like piano keys across a river. The notes swirled round the boy and entered, filling him, echoing through him, opening the doors within him, in the house he built inside, one shovel of mud after another. He opened and the song blossomed and bloomed, unlocking the boy he was two days before, releasing him in tears
and screams and bloody hands and knees. The boy clawed at his eyes until a Deathwalker restrained him, kept his arms spread until the boy kicked and then other hands were on him, the Deathwalkers, surrounding, singing, holding him up, holding him against himself as he thrashed, screamed, his voice cutting through, a knife through water, the rain dancing against his skin, resonating with the notes, with the otherworld melody and he opened his eyes, staring at a bleeding moon and a girl, younger than him, with ravenhair and purple eyes at the shore of infinity. She sang with them but her voice was different, high where theirs was low, low where theirs was high, always in opposition, and his heart gave way, melted into his veins, his lungs on fire, seizing, then relaxed, full of water, drowning in the Ocean, the echoes of all the dead filling him, playing before his eyes, projected on the Oceansky behind Her, the Goddess. And then he fell away, his life drifted away, the vision inside him, growing, rebuilding, creating newness, wholeness out of neverness. The song, nothing but the song, and Her eyes, ephemeral and purple, galactic dust swallowing him, and he swam in that twilit world of nothings and nowheres until it thickened, viscous, and filled him again. And then he opened his eyes and he was nowhere but it was home.

At the temple of the Goddess he was brought before Her. She glowed gorgeous, a walking star of blazing white light. Her hair floating as though in water, shining brighter than either sun, Her eyes immaterial, only hollow spaces emitting their supernova glare. When She opened Her mouth to speak only Light came out but the Deathwalkers knelt and bowed before Her, and the demons stood beside Her, attending. Darker than black and made of feathers, they stood tall with black faces and black hands, with black wings and black eyes. To look at them was to see nothing but to fall in a hole where no light shone. The one to the left gave Her an obsidian dagger and the one to the right
spoke in a language he did not know but he understood. All the words they spoke fed straight to the base of his skull and reverberated through, echoing signification.

With this knife we make you new.

To live is to die but first we must die.

The Deathwalkers took him by the arms and led him to Her, then stopped, knelt, brought him to his knees, and they all lowered their heads, forehead to marble altar. The demons told him to rise and step forward so he did and they took his arms and legs and held them out. She took the knife and cut away his ceremonial white robe.

She stood before him and pressed Her palms together, brilliant and he closed his eyes to the light, and the words filled him, With this knife we take your life, your love, and everything before and after. We give everything to You, Mother, for we are Your daughter, and we will die forever.

She took the knife to his scrotum and penis and left him with naught.

In the light of the redsun they took the hair from his scalp, from above his eyes, and rubbed an ointment over the skin, which burnt and so he closed his eyes tight and clenched his teeth.

Above him the sky’s color smeared across the thick gloss encasing the monastery. Mucilaginous, the air adhered to their skin, all caught within the viscid aura of the Goddess and Her might.

All was black and She was light. They were shadows and She was the sun. Singular. They were Death and She was Life. She was their center standing on the stone altar and they surrounded Her in concentric circles emanating out towards the periphery.

They knelt through the night, through the rain, through the suns. The monastery filled with dark robes, with thick opaque shadows, and the demons, the Ravens.

The boy knelt with the others, some young, some old, some unknowable. All was silent, all was black. They knelt in the square, on the marble, and watched Her, The One Who Lives, shining in the Twilit Days.

The blackwood benches were long and there was no table. Each day each one received a bowl of wildrice when the suns were at their zenith. He ate. They all ate. Then he collected the bowls of all who sat on his bench and brought them to the kitchen where he washed them.

At night they were kept awake by the Deathwalkers who roamed the monastery. They kept them awake with long thin sticks made to sting.

Why, he said the first night after he was born, and he received another slash on the upper thigh, and when he yelped he received another and another and another until he no longer spoke but sat in silence.

They gave him books but he could not read. They gave him empty books and ink but he could not write. They struck him on the shoulder until he learnt. And so he learnt. He learnt the many languages of the world but could not speak. He sat amongst his brothers and read and copied and studied the texts.

The books were filled with stories of Her, the Goddess. They told of how She came from nowhere and never lived and never died. She was the Dream that the Angels found deep within the Womb of the World. They found Her existing already, the master of Death, the giver of Life. She existed before the Angels, before the Wolves, before Dragons and demons, before Calibanians and Ariel. She is the Dream behind all of existence, the Dream at the center of Life: Death.

From the start She was there and even before, on eternally
into the past, into previous worlds, with Her Ravens. Before Light there was the Black and Her. She gave Light to the world, She gave Life to the world, manifested in The One Who Lives. The One Who Lives is Her and She is The One Who Lives, reincarnated perpetually to exist in flesh and body to age as humans do, to live as humans do, while She exists, eternal, beyond spacetime, beyond boundaries, dreaming all of existence into being even as She is the Dream undreamt.

Tending the west garden, he watched a dragonfly. It flew back and forth, its wings beating rapidly. He pulled back his hood and wiped the sweat from his face but never turned from the dragonfly. He reached a hand for it and caught it by the tail. Pulling it close, watching its wings flap, its legs wriggle, confused. Squatting amongst the flowers, the monastery fell away and he smiled.

He copied the old tales of the world. From stories of the Goddess to the Chronicles of the Wolf and the Age of Dragons, all the world’s memories existed within the monastery and he read them all, wrote them all. All of them did, but he continued to read of humans, of their ancient histories stretching back to the times of the Wolves. In only a few thousand years civilisations came and went, from opulence to destruction in the turn of a page. He read of the Dragon Wars and the rise of Drache and the Dragonlords who built it, harsh and impenetrable, founded by dragonlore. He read of Arcanes and their relation to Angels. He read the countless volumes written by no one. The history of the world through the memories of those who died as recorded by the Deathwalkers since humans discovered the Goddess. The words of children, of plagues, of disease-ridden whores, of soldiers, of elderly nobles, and all in between. For hours and hours and days, they read the history of the world, but never spoke.

At the fountain they washed every morning, the water cold against their hairless bodies. He took the soap made from ash and oil and washed. First his hands three times, then his face and scalp once, the scars between his legs three times, and all else once and finally his hands three more times.

He often tended the flowers, running his hands against their bright petals, watching the insect world drift in and out, pass back and forth between the many flowers, the many species. When he could, he caught them in his hand. A bee flew and he caught it and held it through the sting. When he opened his palm to let it go, he found it dead, its stinger distended from its thorax. His eyes expanding, his heart rapid, he looked back and forth, his lips quivering, and noise came from him. Moaning, grunting, running, his hand stretched before him, his moan becoming a yell and then a scream, desperate, tripping and falling, rolled into a ball, holding his knees, wailing. All the deadeyes on him and then a Raven appeared and took him in its arms, quieting the scream and cooling the fire inside him.

It carried him through the monastery, its wings coarse, its hands strong but soft like satin. It carried him through the barrier, laid him down in the trees beyond the monastery, his first time outside since being born. His eyes grew wide and he grabbed the Raven, clung to it, pleading silently, pressing his forehead against its shin, crying onto its black boots.

The Raven lowered itself and raised his head so they were face to face. The Raven pointed to the forest where a rabbit stood motionless but for its mouth and ears. The Raven spoke inside him, You may look but never touch. You are dead and have died so now you may live but you are not to touch the living. Not now or ever. You do not exist like that rabbit does or like the insects do. Because they do not recognise you in this plane, you may not tamper with them. The world exists in a balance and you are part of that balance. To step beyond is to fight that balance, like
swimming upstream or returning to the womb or rising from the dead. You who die will live but not like them.

The boy’s tears stopped, his brow furrowed, his eyes shallow and wavering, drowning in the living world. The Raven lifted him up and carried him back to the monastery where he breathed once more.

The Twilit Days approached and he was taken to The One Who Lives.

Radiant, She stood at the Altar between two Ravens, the black to Her Light.

She beckoned him forth and he approached within a meter, then knelt and bowed, his head touching marble until She told him to rise. He leaned back, sitting on his knees but She motioned him forward once more.

He did not move, his face cast in fear. She smiled and stepped towards him, put a hand to his cheek: warm and the heat penetrated through him, his blood pumped backwards and his lungs loosened in his chest, his eyes closed in ecstasy.

She raised him to his feet but he staggered, dizzy from Her touch, intoxicated by Her presence, by Her scent. Letting go, he lurched forward after Her touch and a Raven was there to catch him before he fell. He opened his eyes and She smiled.

Who are you, Her voice inside him.

His lips quivered, his lungs light but full of ice. He had the look of desperation, of longing, of fear.

It’s okay, She said, You may speak, but only ever with Me.

Nothing, shallow, his voice weak from disuse, his mouth full of saliva, he swallowed and said, This one is no one. His gaze fell to Her feet, then back to Her face, then away and he kept his head low, his hood covering his face.

She smiled, Her eyebrows turned up, Her voice inside him, When were you born?

This one does not know.

You were born one year ago tomorrow. You died one year ago today.

What day is today?

She cocked Her head to one side and laughed behind Her left hand, Today is the Eve of Twilight. Tomorrow is the new year. Did you know you died on the 800th day of the year and were born on the first?

This one did not.

Do you know what year it is?

It is the 1,000,000,777 year of this cycle.

She nodded, Today you are born again. Remember that every new year is a new life, not only for all the world, but especially for you. Who are you?

This one is no one.

Who am I?

The One Who Lives. Mother. Death. Life. The Light.

Happy birthday, no one.

The Twilight Days began and they woke before the sunsrise, the light refracted and bent by the bubble housing them. Kneeling before Her, they sang when the dawns came, all together, all united, one voice for The One Who Lives. A thousand Deaths for Her, and a thousand voices for Her song.

The sky turned violet and became caught in a constant dusk, a spinning dawn. The bluesun in the west and the redsun in the east, for one hundred days they remained at the horizons, fixed and constant, the moons visible above throughout: The Time of the Wolves.

The howling came from far away as if from the depth of an ocean and stuck with them through the song that did not end until the day was over. They knelt, singing, and the Goddess appeared within all of them and their song lifted from mortal lungs to the infinity of the Goddess, eternal child, the Dream creating existence.

BOOK: Twilight of the Wolves
13.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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