As Above

Ahotain the Sorcereress shared her power with her twin brother Klaeth, for in the beginning, she had created the Dark of the Moon, and he the Bright Moon. Though they both held high positions within the court of Haelel Ahn, Ahotain longed to be queen with a desire that burned within her night and day, and gave her no rest.

She dared not challenge the king to ritual combat, for her magick waxed and waned with the phases of the Moon. If she struck while at the height of her power, her enemies at court would simply wait until she was helpless to challenge her.

Ahotain’s unfulfilled desire was slowly choking the life from her body.  She grew desperate, finding inspiration in the delirium and ecstasy of the black lotus — most deadly of plants. If she could trick her brother into revealing his True Name, she could steal his power and never again feel her shameful weakness.

Klaeth loved only two things in the entire world: his sister and his wine. Ahotain rarely indulged because she had no taste for the juice of the grape, but now she went to her brother bearing his favorite vintage. In a hidden vial she carried a distillation of black lotus, meant to confound his will and compel him to speak truly. They talked and drank for long hours before Klaeth became distracted long enough for her to poison his wine. The potent virtue in the plant unhinged Klaeth’s mind and he ran screaming into the street. There he met his death under the hooves of a team of horses and the wheels of a chariot.

When the shade rose from his lifeless body, it was filled with pain and the weight of betrayal. Though he tried to rise to the heavens, the weight of his misery bore him back down to the earth. Drawing strength from his True Name, he arose and flew to the Moon. There he swore an oath that bound his soul in chains.

*    *    *

The Demon of the Moon turned from his eternal vigil to gaze upon the Upper Dark. The Children of Onaul moved above him ceaselessly, watching Ilder’en with dead and hungry eyes. Beyond them, his brothers and sisters blazed with celestial glory. At the furthest limit of his senses, Klaeth could hear the Maelstrom, a sea at war with the heavens, a raging battle that never ceased.

Then he heard the music. It began as a distant reverberation, a long dead echo that promised him things he did not understand. Klaeth rose to follow the sound, but the iron chains binding his limbs held fast. The music grew louder. A god taking the universe and beating upon it like a drum could not compare to the wild abandon and the elemental fury of that sound.

Words spoken in madness two centuries ago echoed again in his mind. I vow to hold vigil until the world has crumbled into dust or I understand why my beloved sister murdered me.  He strained against his bonds until they tore into his skin and blood fell upon the ground, where it joined the pool of sweat his efforts had caused him to shed.

At last he collapsed and lay still. The music had grown distant and his strength was spent. With the last of his will, he lifted his face and addressed the sound itself. “Are you god or demon? Whither do you come and whom do you serve?”

“I am god and I am demon.” the music answered. “I am the sorrow within my lady’s heart when the Word came upon her, and I serve her child even as his children pay service unto me.”

Klaeth looked again upon the Upper Dark. The seven Archons had ceased their endless prowling between the stars. A crack appeared in space, a jagged hole that burned with spectral light. One by one they drifted toward the scar, black wings beating a slow, reluctant rhythm. The Children of Onaul vanished and the crack closed behind them.

“I name thee Lohuth Ennka. Thou art the Aeon of Incorruptible Will, for none other could have commanded those horrors as you have done.” he said.

“And I commend a dead drunkard upon his obvious learning in the sacred arts,” replied Ennka. “Follow and learn of greater mysteries.”

“How am I to follow bound in chains?”

“Only thy soul is bound. Leave it and follow if you would learn true knowledge.”

“Let the damn thing rot. I am sick of it. Take me where you will…”

*    *    *

I arose from my prison and looked with eyes unclouded. Light and darkness, the two moved upon the surface of the moon as oil moves upon water. The moon is water. Every grain of dust held the roar and crash of mighty waves, waves crested with flame. A sea ablaze and burning with the glory of the sun.

I looked down upon my soul and hoped that it would die quickly. Ennka stood before me now, a woman etched in starlight. Red hair flowed about her, a mane that moved as if blown by an unseen zephyr. She wore a brown dress and an unadorned circlet of gold. Her face was plain, but handsome. The eyes were the exception; Ennka had eyes that could shatter iron. They had looked upon the inferno of creation and the utter desolation of infinite space, and been unmoved to tears.

“The Seven wait and watch,” she said, “They bind the light within dense matter and dull the minds of men. They are the first guardians on the path, but we shall pass their station unmolested.”

My companion led me upward into the celestial vault. Below I beheld Ilder’en in its entirety. Not round as some philosophers guessed, but flat and unending in all direction. A few thousand islands scattered over an azure sea that faded into a haze at the limits of my vision. The sun descended towards a blackened and glassy isle and the waters boiled for miles around. White vapor rose; when it cleared, the sun had gone, swallowed by the earth where the great serpents and dead gods would rend it and devour its burning flesh. The sun would wander in the dark, its life pouring forth from uncounted wounds until the priests of Ilder’en ransomed it back with the blood of sacred oxen and the wailing cries of the faithful.

“I have heard the voices of the stars. They are ever filled with a sadness I fail to understand. Do they weep for themselves or for all mankind?” I asked.

“They weep as they ever have, for the death of formlessness and the pain of separation.”

“And what of the end of the path? To what do we aspire?”

“Only to that which is bornless and boundless, unnamed and unnamable. All else is naught but illusion and shadow-play.”

“Is that where we are destined?”

“Thou art unworthy of that sight. A single glance would shatter thee.”

The stars moved about us now and at the heart of each, a god stood silhouetted in brilliant white fire. It shone through their skin and illuminated the night sky. The Maelstrom roared loudly now, close but still unseen.

“Why did she poison the wine?” I shouted, finally giving words to the suffering that had chained me.

Ennka turned and met my gaze with her deadly eyes. Kingdoms fell into dust below us, and others arose while she looked within me. Then she smiled and turned away, dissolving into light and shadow as she turned. “I am needed Above.”

And she was gone.

*    *    *

Slowly I fell. Past the eternal stars. Past the tomb of my soul, waning now, looking down upon a world painted bright with autumn. The morning sun, bleeding crimson light from countless wounds, tore itself free from the earth and rose anew.

The island of my birth appeared below me. The kingdoms and baronies of the Mortal-Gods stood upon the banks of a great river valley, sheltered from the desert by the mountains on either side. The royal palace stood as it had during my lifetime, though now it was crowned with spires of silver and brass.

A half remembered instinct drew me south-east, over the Irit mountain range and along the edge of the Azhail desert. The black sand stretched to the horizon, broken only by the bleached bones of camels and men. A solitary caravan carried upon the shoulders of fifty slaves trudged its way toward the mountains. The caravan’s one remaining wheel dangled uselessly from its axle.

I continued my flight and reached the last mountain before the sea. At its base, the Blue Pillars stood as if frozen in a swaying spiral dance. Each pillar was a single shard of crystal twice the size of a grown man. Sigils and bind-runes and barbarous words of power had been etched into their surface millennia ago.

My murderer knelt among the stones, arms crossed over her chest and head bowed in supplication. It was only then that I felt the power of the Dark Moon, coiling through her prayers and into the blue stones. Reaching out with dead, unseen hands to grasp me and draw me in.

I had never trained in the sorcerous arts as my sister had, preferring the easy life of a gentleman. I did not know what words or rites would loose the fleshless hands that bound me. But I had learned secrets on the Moon. I had heard the Demons of the Upper Dark whisper blasphemies to each other and I had caught glimpses of the dreams of gods.

As I stumbled towards the stone circle, I threw my right arm over my eyes and etched a symbol in the air with my left hand. The symbol blazed with black light, an inferno raging in my outstretched hand. I had conjured the Sign of Alkemneth, a sacred mystery of High Magick, and I dared not look upon what I had wrought. I felt it grow tendrils of light, felt it writhe in my grasp like a baby squid plucked from the depths. As it sank sharp hooks into my forearm, I gasped out its True Name and the words that bind it.

“DATHAEN ANUUL! Athay! Klo! Fuethark!”

I felt my blood course through the devil on my arm. Slow, inhuman thoughts circled in the deep places of my mind, and then we joined. I opened my eyes and saw the world’s true face. Regret and black despair covered my sister like a shroud. The music of the spheres echoed through the blue crystals. Discordant notes tainted it and malignant power hid in the silences.

I lashed out with my tentacles, wrapping them around the fleshless hands that drew me towards an uncertain fate at the heart of the stone circle. I squeezed with a dozen limbs and felt bones snap under the pressure. Ahotain recoiled as her sorcery collapsed. She turned and looked into my eyes.

She looked broken. Her face was thin and haggard; her eyes dull with lotus smoke. She stroked the sides of a long-stemmed pipe with her fingers as she stared at me.

“Forgive?” Her voice was cracked with age. “Forgive me?”

“Tell me why?” I strode forward and the grass beneath my feet blackened and died. “Why?” The tendrils fell upon her like a dozen lashes. She cried as the barbs tore her flesh. “Tell me!” I lifted my hand to strike again.

She threw up her arms to shield herself and shrieked a curse, “Arsh ren Armet ash Ihl Aze-Ka!” Twin lightning bolts struck the central pillar as she spoke and the report blasted me off my feet. I watched in a daze as the pillar began to bleed from its wound. The ruby liquid formed a pool around its base. From this pool, wet and covered with blood, a monstrous creature clawed its way into reality. The Aze-Ka had a dragon’s head, the body of a great cat, and the legs and translucent tail of a moon lizard. Fiery venom fell from its angular maw in rivulets.

Then as I struggled to stand it spoke in a voice that resounded from within the very earth:    “Ahotain, daughter of Dradin, by what right hast thou called me forth?”

“I call thee forth by the dread name Ilzesisthur and by the Chains of Fire. By YAVAY, Herald of the Most High and by Sabbious the Mouth of the Abyss! Obey me or thou shalt suffer all the torments of fire and crushing earth and every foul wind and plague shall descend upon thee.”

The Aze-Ka smiled a wolfish smile, “I might happily kill thee and desecrate thy corpse O daughter of Dradin, for the affront thou hast given me. I stay my hand only for the sake of thy noble father and the accord he struck with me. Charge me and be done!”

“I charge thee to guard me from my brother’s spirit.”

The beast turned and the weight of its gaze crushed me, holding me helpless to the ground. We fought, my devil and I. We struggled to break the will of the god that bound us. The Aze-Ka took a step nearer and then another. As it loomed over me, letting its venom drip into my eyes, I felt a searing pain in my left arm and know that my devil had fled like a rat from a sinking ship.

I gathered my strength. The despair of two centuries and the inhuman beauty of Ennka flooded my mind as I sharpened my will and hurled it against the Aze-Ka. In a fit of triumphant ecstasy, I screamed a word that even the gods are forbidden to speak. The word struck the beast like a hammer blow and it staggered back. A wound opened upon its chest, burning and boiling with black ichor. Fear flashed in its eyes, and then it saw that my strength was broken and it smiled. Golden teeth closed on my neck and I died the second death.

“Thy father’s soul tasted far sweeter than thy brother. Farewell….” The Aze-Ka embraced the nearest crystal pillar and faded away into its depths. The girl lay on her side, crying silently, she had snapped her pipe in half and it lay broken on the grass.

 

 

 

First published in Libram Mysterium Vol. 1 by Pulp Mill Press.

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