Tuesday, May 27, 2014

All Men Wear Chains (A Story of the Chain-Breaker)

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. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Numino Street (A Prologue to a Book I Ought Not Be Working On)

Prologue—Numino Street  
The City of New South Satar was the pride of the Empire. The Crown of the Expansion. Emperor Arulo III himself had taken to calling it his “Favorite Son,” much to the chagrin of his own children. Seated amidst the great flatlands where the sands became grasses, and the great forehead of land creased into anxious hills, enthroned upon the ruin of what was once an old northern outpost, the city would be the greatest ever built by men, said to rival even the Golden City of the Elves (though those who said it had never seen the city in question with their own eyes).
Some said that it would be even greater than the City of Kings itself, with a temple even to outshine Arulo’s palace. But when they did, they were sure to say it in whispers. It was widely known that Sursaku, High Priest to the Order of Unashka, was personally overseeing the construction of the temple, and beside him was the Emperor’s most powerful General, Coras Hadun, both reigning with iron fists. Thousands of slaves had been dragged from the battlefronts in the north and the east and lashed to chains in the quarries. They swung picks; they hauled stones; they died; they were replaced. In the loudest voices, on every front, it was proclaimed that this city would be the greatest ever built.
Already, towers were rising from the darkness. Streets of chipped stones had been ground to dust beneath bare feet. Walls, fifty paces deep, were heaving themselves towards the stars, dragged upward by the weight of the corpses who had died to make them.
The bodies had been laid into the walls. Their souls had been poured into the foundations. “Lives to strengthen the mortar; chains fashioned from the unblessed spirits to keep our enemies away,” So had said the priests, and nobody argued with the priests. In a year, more had been accomplished than anyone had expected.
Overhead, the moon whirring in endless battery, the spires ascended, crawling like some great titans out of the very earth, dark and lumbering, black against the stars. The streets rolled out like carpets. Carpets with bodies swept away beneath them. The seething winds broke against the walls, and left the streets breezeless. Barren. Scented with sweat and dust, painted in pale moonlight.
A single road, cobbled and winding narrowly through the buildings, had been named Numino Street. As the pendulum of time spun on, no one knew who Numino was, or why the street was named for him, and nobody really seemed to care, anymore. Because the street had another name, now: Kunroc. Demon Street.
There were two kinds of people who ventured to cross Demon-Street, at night:
Those who didn’t believe in demons.
Those who were not afraid of them.
The streets were almost always empty. But those who did go there—and those who frequented them, for whatever reason—could, and had been known to tell what few other men knew, when the night grew thick and the fires burned hot, in taverns or the still watch hours:
High up on that cobbled hill, there was a tree. Not like those little garden shrubs and bushes and sprouts of ivy on the rooftops, wrapped and combed and trimmed. Not potted. This was a tree.
Roots dug deeper into the ground than even the founders of the city had dreamed of clawing, deeper than the foundations and the secret passages of Sursaku.
Fingers reached higher, blotting and gouging at the sky and its twinkling eyes, reaching for the light. It had stood for two hundred years, nearly (or the stories of it had). Swelling and erupting with power, twisting itself higher, sinews straining and flexing to grow even more. And the stories agree. The tree breathed.
They could feel the tautening and loosening of breath, captured and escaping like a tide. A breath that swept through from no direction and all of them, simply there and gone, scattering hair and thoughts and words and stealing them away them.
The taste of the wind was the taste of agony. Anguish was its language and anger and sorrow were the words it spoke, as the tree grew. But no one could hear those words. Indeed, though the roots spread through streets and crawled up walls, no one could see the tree. Nor could they hear the creak of the wind through its branches. But some, when the moon hung right, as it had on that night, centuries ago, could feel it.
And the feeling resonated with a toll like madness and a torrent of tears. Those who stood on the right stones, and breathed in the wind as it splashed through the buildings, could sense its stab in their bones and roar in their stomach. A pain, rising in the chest, the pain of a broken heart and crumpled soul. It was a knife in the wind.
When all was aligned, the stars and the moon and the wind, some could hear the words in the air. The voice of a girl. An antiquated memory, a ghostly haunting, never allowed to sleep in the mortar, like so many others had.
The stones could not sense her voice; but the little scrubs of grass tingled, like the hair on the back of the neck. The stars themselves seemed to lean in to hear. Two speakers, two voices, but one set of footsteps. Some had stood and listened to those voices for hours, from the set to the rising of the sun, and hear many words stabbed at the air.
No one knew who the voices belonged to. No names, no histories. Simply Kunroc. This was the haunting of demon street. And the gravestone to this buried suffering was that great, monstrous tree, that tree that, when the moon was right, could drive men mad.
It stood like a warning, yet it taunted. It lured. It said come.
You who think you know fear, come touch my trunk. You who think you know pain. You who think you have acquainted sorrow. You who are not afraid of demons. Touch my trunk and see. 
And none came.
None save one.