All Men Wear Chains
[Imagine] You are standing in a single island of light, surrounded on all sides by darkness, thick and clawing. A puddle of light. And there are chains dripping out of your chest. They hang off your arms, thick as tree-limbs. They bind your legs and cling heavy to your shoulders, all trailing off into the endless, devouring gloom.
All men wear chains.
Some we are born with. Chains, heaved out of lungs. Out of hearts. Out of eyes and ears and mouths. We are born strapped down. And as we live, we bind ourselves to more. We chain ourselves to people, things, ideas. To family, to friends, to loved ones, to possessions. And we chain ourselves to the darkness. Our tendrils trail away, and our pillar of light shrinks.
You are in the spotlight. Your audience wants to eat you. You had better perform, or you'll be dragged off.
All men wear chains. And they are heavy.
They drag and pull and tug and tear, fused to our flesh and latched to our bones. Some chains burn, but we can no more remove them than we can remove our own limbs. They become part of us, with their rust and their razors and iron, their freezing bite inside us. Their infectious metals become one with our flesh. We wear our chains and we love them and we show them off. We chain ourselves to statues, to the unreal.
They kill us. They drag us away. And we let them.
All men wear chains. From first breath to last, we are chained to Death. He holds the other end, somewhere out there, with a thousand distractions beside. Tugging demons. He wears a mask and masquerades as life.
All men wear chains. And none can tear them.
Except for one.
The chains grow heavier; there are so many, so thick, strangling and poisonous. They steal sleep, they steal innocence and beauty. They leave scars. The drain you, even as they promise to fill you up.
Then, though the weight of them shows no signs of diminishing, the pool widens. The light spreads. A new spotlight. A man draws near, huge as you grow small, as mighty as you grow weak. His muscles bulge, and they are strewn with scars not from chains, but from whips. His hands are decorated with holes, but they are strong. In them, he holds an axe. A reaper's blade. There he stands, glowing and magnificent.
Voice cracking, you peer through chains to eye him. “Who are you?”
“I am Conqueror,” he says. “Star-speaker. Death-Tamer. Chain-Breaker. The darkness will come, it will drag you off, and feast on you. But I have come to free you.”
And he lifts the axe, he who hewed death’s ankles and noosed her neck, he who climbed out of the pit. The axe falls and chains burst apart, they scatter and scream and you scream with them.
Pain. Parts of you are being removed, torn free. Your bones break under the weight of his tugging arms, your flesh tears and tendons pop. The agony of being dismantled. Your foundations are being uprooted by his plow; your trunks leveled by his blade, until there is nothing for you to hold yourself up with.
One moment, you scream for him to stop, to leave you be, to give you back everything you had. But he will not. He will not surrender you up. The next moment, your pleas change, and you shower him with tears and thanks and praise. Hatred, still rooted in your bones, fights back. But he fights harder. His scalpel is inescapable, and no part of those rusted cancers are left. He cuts them out, and he flings them away.
The axe sweeps and the coils splinter, until you are free to stand and he lifts you, your arms light and legs unbound. Fissures boil on your flesh, gaping wounds and staring bones. You are free. But next to the glorious Chain-Breaker, you feel unworthy. Naked.
There is one chain left. It hangs out of your chest, front and back, running through your heart. “It is the chain of life and death,” says the Chain-Breaker. “And it has been infected. It will be painful.”
You want to protest, but can't. You don't. Maybe you want to. Either way, he reaches out his hand and dips his fingers into your flesh. They burn and tear and the pain makes you scream, scream for him to stop, to leave. But then, the chain pulls free, snaked through you, and your heart is tugged out with it. You are hollow. You are a skeleton. A husk.
And then, the chain breaker shows you the heart, still growing around its chain, and it seems rotten, blackened and infected, polluted and dead. “You must be regrown,” he says. He reaches his hands into the hole of your chest, and in it, you feel fire growing. New flesh is squirming, a new heart. A stronger heart. Unpoisoned. Unmolested. Unbound. It swells in your chest and fills you up anew.
The Star-Speaker waves his hands over your wounds, spills his precious, shining tears onto the gaping scabs and horrible gashes. He mends your bones, and supports your wavering spirit. The flesh returns. You grow strong, and lifted by his mighty hands, you can stand. No longer do you look like you once did, when you were prisoner to the parasite darkness. Now, you look like some pale copy of the Chain-Breaker. As though, someday, you could become like him.
“Here,” says the Chain-Breaker. “I have made you a new chain. A new anchor. Bind yourself with it. Cling to it. If you do not, the darkness shall return.”
The chain he offers you is bright and made out of shining silver, untarnished, fresh-forged by some heavenly hammer. The Star-Breather's hammer. His anchor is huge; it stands upon a hill, thrust through the heart of death itself, and there he binds you, as you bind yourself. “The darkness shall be burned away, soon,” says the man. “And all those who are in it shall be swallowed. But not here. I will keep you in the light. I will keep you strong. I shall hold you here, and I shall bind you to my anchor.”
And there are no other words to say. None that seem adequate, none appropriate. Only tears, hot and new on your cheeks, washing the dark rubble that remains from your soul. “Thank you,” you cry.
He leaves his axe beside you, because the shadows will draw near again. The chains will reach out, to claim their old victim. “But they have no hold,” says he. “You are new. You do not belong to them any more. Peel them off. And if they seek to subdue you, I will return. For always, I will be with you. You are mine.”
And into the darkness he returns. There are others who must be freed.
Because all men wear chains. And none can tear themselves free.
Except one. One man who was born with chains. One man who tore them out, pried them from his bones and dug them from his chest. One man who scratched and tore and roared and could not be overpowered. One man who took the grave in his hands and broke its back.
The willing amputee. The willing dead.
One man, one God. Star-Breather. Death-Tamer. Slayer of dragons, freer of souls. He who breaks chains.
And who gives eternal ones.
He who keeps us in the light.