(12/10)Her arm was bleeding. She was trying to pull twigs and leaves from her clothes, sitting at my dinner table and she didn't wince as I patted her cuts with a hot wash cloth. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen her fall.(12/11)I was speechless, absolutely without word or expression. In a movie or a commercial it would have been humorus, almost laughable. But as she fell the entire tree trembled, as if she had hit every branch, and for her the tree wept broken twigs and shriveled leaves to the snow.(12/12)The sound was what pulled me from the house - an explosion, a gunshot but different, coming from nowhere and everywhere, consuming me inside and out, I could've heard it without my ears. I couldn't even grab my coat; as I stood in the door way she hit the first branch and I started running. The snow grabbed my legs as I ran, breaking through slowly and painfully while every step she lie there waiting.(12/13)Coming upon her I began to cry. I touched her arm lightly, as if to make sure her wounds were real. Her short hair and long lashes were gathering flakes when, without waking completely, she whispered, "everything is lost."(12/14)I sprinted back to the house, little cuts on my feet beginning to shimmer red in the snow. I picked up the phone and began to dial, turning back to the window. She was standing, motionless, looking at the sky.(12/15)Her face pointed into nothingness aloft. Crimson drips walked from her forehead along her brow, to fall from the eye's corner as borrowed tears. Small streams ran from the branches' carvings on her arms and launched themselves from her finger tips toward the snow. (12/16)I hung up the phone and stepped outside, but I didn't go quickly. I didn't know what to do; she should've been dead, or insane with pain, something. As I started to say, "are you alright", she met me with an empty look, here eyebrows up and at a point - hopeless. (12/17)She had quieted me with her eyes. I needed to ask questions, I had to know, how does someone fall from above a tree? But I showed her inside, brought her to a chair, and asked to see her wounds.(12/18)I can't completely understand what held my tongue while she sat there. You may think me crazy for not demanding she tell me what was going on, and I couldn't blame you. But my curiosity was subject to something more sovereign than questions; it was a thing of peace allowing her to sit with her own thoughts for a time.(12/19)I cleaned her cuts without speaking. I thought they'd been worse than they appeared now; the blood had run unhindered from her as she stood in the yard but as I wrapped warm wash clothes about them they looked akin to scars that had been reopened. The bruise beneath her cheek added to the darkness that reigned on her face, and this strange, beautiful woman looked into me and begged me to mourn without knowing why.(12/20)I readied the couch as her bed and stoked a fire. My arm her crutch, she hobbled with me across the room and sat upright on the cushions and fleece. Her erect stillness was indefeatable.(12/21)My guesture was like a question. I cupped her shoulders and searched for a response amidst ashen eyes and lifeless lips; I led her head to the pillow. The linen met her cheek and sung a silent sonnet, whisking her to dreams in but a moment of unanticipated exhaustion.(12/22)I didn't remove myself immediately, unknowing and unconfident in the sufficiency of my actions. I paused, knelt down in front of this woman as she slept, as if she'd asked me a heavy favor that I couldn't comprehend, that she had shared with me her burden. I cupped my hands over my mouth and drew my eyes wide with my breath.(12/23)That night I woke again and again to a feeling of responsibility. It's the notion of urgency that watches you slumber; that, upon waking, you realize somehow you've already failed. I stirred like a stranger in my home.(12/24)I swung my feet onto the cold grain of old woden floors as the sun finally crested the mountains with stubborn steps. My walk down the hall was accompanied by a hundred tiny wooshes, like little windows had been opened on my walls and the drafts were running wild. Into the room in which my guest was sleeping I walked and read; notebooks of paper were pinned and taped to my walls, thrown across my floor, describing tragedies and romances, royalty, murder, deception and war.(12/25)My guest laid face down on the floor in front of the couch, her sheet woven about her below the waist, bobbing between and around her legs. I knelt and lifted her to her feet; sweat and shivers were the thieves to her strength. A fear had been breathed into her that danced in her eyes, and from the bridge of her lips it lept to me with the graceful transmission of a terrible contagion. (12/26)I felt my will break and surely the world heard it when it snapped. I imagined all the horrors of my nightmares prowling on my shingles and scampering up the logs of my little cabin, testing and taunting the two souls that remained in all the world. Outside, waiting for us to join it, was the desolation of civilization past and the ruin was kept at bay by the timid walls of a lonely home.(12/27)Something had entered my home, or my home had entered something, that could not be dismissed and the tension suggested that sooner or later my empty pleas would prove its obstinacy. I unwrapped the sheet from the woman beneath, wed to her by sweat, and saw that she was naked save the final scribbles she'd made on herself when she'd collapsed in weak exhaustion. Some words were illegible, symbols or languages I didn't know, but others were clear and their convictions unequivocal.(12/28)I sat her at the table and held her beneath the left elbow, turning her forearm upward and revealing what appeared an incomplete word. The script was beautiful, intricate and ornate. But its dips and curves were decorated with faces, peering out of the arm and at each other, of many shapes and expressions but of two distinguishable types; in the eyes of one were the licking tips of a flame, and in the other, the sharp shaft of a sword.(12/29)Yet the word itself meant nothing to me; what looked like an " i " blended so perfectly with the skin at its edges that it seemed to start inside her, moving in curves and breaking into branches before finding itself transformed into an adjacent " t ". An " o " and an " r " followed in similar fashion, disappearing into her body without border or seam. This enigma overshadowed the others on her arm, boldened with the look of permanence.(12/30)The color of the message troubled me; she must have blended red and black pens to shade the faces a morbid crimson and create their shadows in a similar hue. But none of the other words were colored, nor the symbols, nor the pictures on the walls. As I looked she exhaled heavy and sharp, elevating my eyes to hers, and in a moment I was ashamed that I'd not yet offered her clothes.(12/31)I left her, dropped the sheet and fetched a blanket from my room. I came back, my eyes downcast, and extended my hand - she ignored the gesture. She lifted her right arm from its place at her side and dropped it into her lap, inside up, with a tired thud; it too boasted the weave and crimson faces of the other arm's text.(1/1)At first in my foolishness I thought she was trying to cover herself and I insisted that she take the blanket, but her face wanted for something different. She drew in a long breath and released it slowly, crumbling her shoulders and widening her eyes in something like an apology. She detached her gaze from mine, and turned her forearms upward, bringing them together to face me; the perfect start of her left arm's " i " met the perfect end of the right arm's "a", stitching her arms together by the completion of a word, "traitor".(1/2)An awarness befell me. Lifting sweat into my palms, injecting tremors into my bones, holding my breath for fear it would betray me to some listening terror, at once I knew - for the first time - the difference between fear and dread. And then the voices could be heard.(1/3)When I was a small boy I used to lie in bed and try to deafen myself to my parents' arguments, below my room, muffled by the floor. But their anger was like caffeine in my blood, like an ether that permeated our house and crooned the lullabies of waking. I would finally drift to dreams, but they would be narrated by voices which hated each other and whose argument seemed violent and eternal.(1/4)I listened with the woman, as a pair of stones might listen to a creek, and heard voices descend upon my house in the same muffled tone as my parents', but with a hatred more ferociously stoked. They were suffocated screams; a quarrel that, while ordinarily deafening, had to be concealed in whispers. I assumed I had gone mad and my face paraded my fear, but the woman noticed me go pale and only dropped her head in a sigh of understanding powerlessness.(1/5)They were not speaking to me; they were not always speaking a language I understood. This frightened me most. They had not entered and interrupted my life, in fact, I had entered their conversation and now listened in cowardice, like a stowaway to the captain's plot.(1/6)Panick's fingers tied my throat in knots and stirred the butterflies slumbering my chest. I looked around the room like I was playing hide and seek and the hider was snapping his fingers in my ears. It is a strange thing to have something as intangible as anxiety possess you, lay waste to your nerves, and walk you into nauseating fear.(1/7)In the same stealth by which the voices came, a warmth approached my face. Perfection drew its fingers over the subtle bend of my cheek, turning my chin and my eyes and whatever fibers weave a person's spirit, away from desolation and terror. My attention was brought into a moment of freedom and the knowledge of pain relinquished its place in my mind. (1/8)Every dip and soft line of the woman's hand pressed into my skin, bringing me finally to rescue in the cradle of her stare. She had muted the voices and removed me from their speakers' presence. But I watched my liberation reflect in her eyes as they receded into a dark and empty chasm, rolled upwards into her head, and left her limp, falling from her chair.(1/9)I caught her as she tumbled. You don't realize how heavy a person is until they've no strength to help you lift them. I sat her up on the chair, slid my arms behind her back and under her knees, and carried her to my bedroom.(1/10)Her body spasmed and trembled, as if trying to wake itself, for the better part of two days. No phantom returned to my house in those hours and the only voice to echo on my walls came from her, speaking now and again incoherent words in what looked like fear and desperation. I gathered her drawings from the floors and walls, and sat with her, pouring myself over the etchings she'd left behind.(1/11)The images she'd engrained in the papers belonged in a museum of war - an exhibition on the ruthlessness with which two entities find it in themselves to hate each other more fervently than they value self preservation. She'd scattered small stanzas of text throughout the pages as well, and whether they were her poems or the regurgitations of another author's work I couldn't tell. The gore was, a few times, bifurcated by a shape or word of hope - like the obstinacy of distant and imperiled love intended to preserve itself in ink; but I turned to a page, crinkled and abused, that reenlisted chills for crawling up my spine. (1/12)My fingers traced the edges of a leaflet torn diagnally half, and almost entirely blacked out. In the corner a small figure she'd sketched crumbled into itself, resting on its knees. The page, however, had not been marked to blackness with furious scribbles like a child was coloring, but with the same sentence written again and again upon itself: "Long live the darkest of kings and may the fates bring quickly the end of good men."(1/13)I peered at her over the paper. Conscience rarely finds acceptable what the mind dares to imagine; other than insanity there were few explanations for what she had brought, or what had followed her, to me. I leaned my head against the back of my chair and closed my eyes, convincing myself that the world this made me imagine could not possibly exist.(1/14)I opened my eyes hours later. The afternoon had stolen away into evening and sitting in the last handful of rays shining through the window was my visitor, looking out at the yard. She felt me wake.(1/15)"Are you alright," I asked her, "you slept for a long time." She nodded. We sat in silence for awhile, as if waiting to see if the sunset wanted to contribute anything.(1/16)Finally I got up, going to the kitchen to fix some dinner. She hadn't eaten anything in two days and my body had begun to tremble from nerves or weakness. We had entered the unsettling limbo of indefinite safety.(1/17)There was little to be said at this point, except that I noticed everything. The milk carton sweat in my hand; the griddle sizzled on the stove; the floor creaked under my feet. My senses were running tests to see if I was still there.(1/18)She joined me in the kitchen, dressed in the clothes I had left on the night stand. Her shirt had a giant smiley face on it. I almost laughed.(1/19)A tension hung on her shoulders like she'd just finished a heavy conversation. I was two days removed from hearing the chorus of voices but they'd only left her minutes earlier. She sat in the stool she'd fallen out of days before.(1/20)I loaded a plate with a grilled-cheeze passenger and shuffled it across the counter to her. She thumbed its crust. "I am Opalia," she declared, looking up from her food, "and I need to show you something."(1/21)I suspect that people rarely think long over what it means to offer someone else their name. As a young man, living with my family, I had a neighbor, a widow, who would walk to the park across our busy avenue and sit herself on a bench, slightly stooped over, for hours. Kids would come and go and swing and run and laugh; baseball games came with the evening; young, timid couples would stroll through as the sun passed away; but she was not actually watching any of them.(1/22)I invented lives for her. I wrote stories in my mind about the ways she'd become a widow, the battles her husband once fought in, the dramas she'd suffered - I didn't realize what a terrible thing that was, then, that I was robbing her of a truth. Across the road she sat, her history my clay, subject to the ever-morphing flavors of tragedy I concocted for her.(1/23)I had moved a chair to my window, so as to better focus my creativity. Sailors at sea, clouds that promise demise, a storm; that day, her husband had been lost in water and chaos. But my preface had only begun when she turned, slowly and without pause or stumble, and looked at me from across the road.(1/24)The gray of her simple sweater was then not just gray, but textured and real, worn and peppered with the smell of a lonely home. I had never taken note of her hands before, perpetually laced through the rubber thread of the bench; I never authored a history for them, never reconstructed that day where with milky soft skin they clinched cloth on her husbands chest and pleaded with him not go to wherever it is he has gone. She looked at me, over an empty avenue from a park at dusk, asking, "write me something pleasant, just for today."(1/25)I never learned her name. But I realized that to say, "I am" and follow it with anything, let alone a name, begins a cascade of definition, a process by which people decide about each other whatever they're interested in deciding. I experienced more with that old woman than I ever had with someone whose name I didn't know - until Opalia found me.(1/26)Opalia looked out of my window at the yard, rose and moved to the door, "I have to show you something," she said again. Crossing the threshold she moved swiftly across the yard, me paces behind, and stopped beneath the tree where I'd first found her. Opalia cast her face upward, "here," she said, "this will be the place."(1/27)She began to raise her arm as if there were a weight tied to it, like it was resisting her. She spoke as she moved, "Please, close your eyes. And keep breathing." She stepped toward me, her face very close to mine, and rested her hand finally on the curve of my shoulder; I closed my eyes and in the final waning glow of twilight, from beneath the naked tree, we had left.(1/28)What made me close my eyes, I don't know. People I knew didn't often use language like Opalia did. She addressed me as if I were important, like someone of significance in need of protection.(1/29)When Opalia told me to keep breathing, I expected to succeed only with great difficulty. I expected struggle, to scavenge and barter for air, to wheeze, but from behind my eyelids the only change I felt was the swift retreat of Opalia's hand from my shoulder, and the blind awareness that she was standing very close to my face. It was the same feeling by which, without looking, one person feels the unseen approach of another.(1/30)I thought to myself that we were like children. We had gathered under a branching tree, fully expecting that the fingers splitting and running from the trunk would open and rain down a dust which might carry us to our own Terabithia. We had certainly traversed a bridge, but which and to where I did not know.(1/31)Yet, my intrigue lived only briefly, my impatience more convicted. I thought to open my eyes and end the nonsense as Opalia's voice returned, "alright." My eyelids cracked and came under siege; the expectation of the mind to return to a familiar tree, stuck in a yard of snow, warred with an ocean of golden grass stretched out before me, insisting it was reality. (2/1)I hadn't a moment to interpret the new world before a stalk of waist-high grass, captured in the breeze, rapped a gentle rhythm on my arm, like a toddler tugging on a sleeve. I turned my hand upward, and held its top in my palm. The sun ruled the field unchallenged by clouds; the breeze ran across the top of the grass, indenting and waving and conducting an ensemble of infinite parts; if my senses were to be trusted, I was standing in a field of impossible majesty, a place I had never seen, and a place very far from the cold and dark of home.(2/2)Opalia stood next to me, at my shoulder, peering at what was to her a familiar field. Without turning to her, I spoke, "where are we?" "My friend," she answered, "we have started something now that cannot and will not end until you finish it."(2/3)"I just want to know where we are," I responded. "You won't believe me," she insisted, "or worse, you will misunderstand me." "Please," she continued, "look now."(2/4)She had turned my way, and lifted her arm to point across the field behind me. At the end of her extended finger, barely noticable through the fog of distance separating us and the horizon, the dome of a mighty structure towered into the sky. From its rounded peak a single spike jumped further into the otherwise unbroken blue; Opalia paused in my eyes, and stepped away, toward the tower in the distance.(2/5)Dusk descended upon us as if night's anticipation for the secrecy of darkness had convinced day to retire in haste. My feet moved in and out of sight as I walked, falling into the deepening shadow of the grass and circling up again to the middle of the stalks still faintly illuminated gold. Opalia did not trade any words with me; I trailed my guide, tromping through a golden grass forest of breezes and nothingness, toward a structure that interrupted the field's uniform vacancy.(2/6)Our steps drew us further into night, my rising chin returning me now and again to the sky, and a trickle of realization escalated into a storm of simple ephiphany as we tread. Opalia had shed the clothes I'd given her without me noticing, somehow finding others, the writing had slipped from her skin, relics of chaos and injury no longer displayed themselves in her hair or on her face. And as I contemplated her, the mode of the sky's seduction became clear; never in a summer field, or in a book, or in a movie had I seen these constellations.(2/7)The great dome's vastness was reborn in my mind; long had I forgotten how ominous the infinite above could be if a looker allowed it. Without the familiar ceiling, the frescoed dome of a great but synthetic cathedral, the unknown became porous again; my eyes did not stop at a celestial wall, assuming the little lamps aloft were placed there in pictoral depictions of hunters and bears, but pierced through into that terrible darkness beyond. At once the sky met my face, and when I exhaled, my breath sprinted from my body away and away, forever and forever, to dance and explore a black garden of new galaxies.(2/8)I had been kissed by the sky; a lover that stole the breath off my lips and skipped away for me to give a grinning chase. But the breeze of the golden field, this field my new home, blew jealously across my ears and stole me back from the nocturnal muse. And then I was only a man again, standing below indifferent infinity, investing the promises in my eyes in an inanimate void that would not return my interest.(2/9)I paused for a moment, proclaiming the reality which exists amidst the grass and distant towers far too petty to appreciate the questions which cast themselves throughout the spaces up there. I escaped my body and looked at myself; a dark outline of a man, standing still, silhouetted by the stubborn night glow of land against the black speckled space that watches our actions and receives our most daring dreams. I was a sentinel for that world above me, a sentinel that could supply no protection or sound any warning or offer any strength, but for the allegiance in which I stood.(2/10)A million fires burned above me, impossibly distant. Then, in the black, at a mile's length toward the horizon, like the stars had dripped a burning drop into our field, a small band of flames flickered just above the grass. Opalia watched me watch the flames, and one by one small fires began appearing in the field, speckling the night.(2/11)"What is this," I asked, a twinge of desperation in my voice, "why won't you tell me?" She paused, as if to count the blazes. "This is moriah" she replied, "those are the fires of the Jephleti."(2/12)I twisted, looking at the grass stretching out behind us. The fires continued to emerge from the dense, dark prairie. They ignited in line, starting far off to our right and continuing to our left, bending toward the approaching tower, cradling it in a sprawling half circle.(2/13)"The Jephleti..." I questioned, "what does that mean, who are the Jephleti?" Opalia looked around calmly, "they are the banished, the outcast." Again she took up her stride, "We should continue, we can still make the morning bells."(2/14)By morning's full light the song of our steps abandoned the quite friction of grass for the abrasive crunch of dirt and sand. The tower did not stand alone but with a cult of small buildings in concert, like fallen apples from the parent tree. A wall three times the height of a man encircled the sprawling congregation and a thin, aimless path curled toward us from either side of the barrier, diving into the city, carrying us through its solitary gate.(2/15)I could hear an unseen clamor, camouflaged by the blind ins and outs of buildings beside our road, and I crooked my neck to study the dome now risen above us. Obstructing my view, knelt in stony fealty atop the apices of either wall's edge, two figures chisled from dark rock oversaw the entrance on one subservient knee. Suspending their arms from the hilt of their inverted swords they scrutinized our entrance as we passed; the rubicon behind us, Opalia lifter her hood in the gentle pinch of her fingers, and draped it upon her now downcast head.(2/16)I trailed my guide by a half step, swerving right with her away from the central walk into an alley staind by the trickle of spilled water and the quiet giggles of playing children. A knobby, three legged stool held a grandmother, similarly statured, to our right, leaning in an empty daze against the clay of her house as the children ran the street in front of her. We stepped in and out of shadows which shattered upon the roof tops composing our canopy, breathing the cold and damp of sun-starved air.(2/17)The pats of our steps were suddenly drowned by the creak of a giant gear, and soon a chorus of bells began their monastic moan above the rooftops. Opalia's pace had quickened; knowlingly she tip toed from crack to pothole, over puddles and eluding steps. She darted left, rounding a corner, and was gone.(2/18)I lengthened my strides and veered to the far side of the artery, trying to bend my perspective around the corner, looking for my friend. I'd reached a run, and lifted my eyes from the trail when a root, arching up from beneath the cobblestone, looped the toe of my shoe and swung me to the ground with a hollow thud. I gathered myself quickly, feeling foolish and alien, and walked around the corner measuring each step. (2/19)A voice met me at the next avenue's healm. It was thick and dampened by walls, a man yelling, ordering directions it seemed, and then silence. Alarmed I skirted my eyes to the end of the passage, discovering the outline of two enormous wooden doors, peering at me from the base of the great tower like the eyes of a face half swallowed by the earth.(2/20)I froze and stilled my breath - watching, waiting for a response or for the voice to suddenly split into the silence again. Wherever he was, the speaker had said his peace. But a low murmur, a shuffling like thunder, had begun; it was a thousand approaching footsteps.(2/21)The doors began to moan, frustrating the crowd with their inertia. As the entryway began to breach, a little voice came from my left. I looked left, and then up, and curled on top of a cross beam jutting from a rooftop, Opalia was waving to me.(2/22)She'd painted her face frantic, and her hands asked me what her words said too subtly. I put my foot through a crevasse in the wall, jumped, and pulled myself up next to her. The levvy broke; from the tower a mass of men and women dressed uniformly seeped into the street, silent save their treading.(2/23)I only noticed first that they were, well, perfect. So beautiful, everyone of them, that it confused me, made me light-headed, shook me from an understanding of what I saw. They were attractive and exotic but moreover, canonical, works of art, the men and the women both and, I couldn't help but think, they looked very much like Opalia.(2/24)Yet, their faces did not lure the heart or seduce the mind; the expression that exposed their flawlessness disturbed me. They poured from the building walking as a crowd but existing individually, never engaging or embracing the ones around them. They walked silently and their eyes split like fissures, opened involuntarily by a force ignited within them, a violence with which they could not cope.(2/25)I shuddered. Vacillating between pity and fear, I wanted them to escape but I couldn't help wondering what it was they were walking away from, what they were leaving in the tower. I looked to Opalia, but, clenching her jaw and wrinkling her chin, trying to harden herself, she said nothing.(2/26)At last she stole a glance at me, returned to the crowd, and then shot back to my face horrified, staring like I'd insulted her. She leaned in, prodded my forehead, examining me, inching across its side with the pads of her gentle fingers. She recoiled her hand and stared at a gentle crimson newly smugded on her finger tips; I was bleeding.(2/27)I scoffed at her, and then myself - embarrassed but confused. I had tumbled like an idiot but she doted on me as if I were helpless. Her hands began to move quickly, swiping at the side of my head, wiping her hand on her sackcloth - hiding my blood.(2/28)The outcropping of the roof held little room for the two of us, and since more and more the point seemed to stay out of sight, moving too close to its edge was detrimental. But as she swiped furiously at my forehead she became frustrated, impatient, and began shuffling to reposition herself between me and the crowd. She tore a piece of ragged cloth from her shawl and pressed it onto the abrasion, pausing to glance suspiciously back at the mass.(3/1)My alarm stifled my objection, her prudence rendered my independence moot. The volume of what she knew about this place, that I did not, was beginning to expose itself and I could sense increasingly the virulence of my unknowing. The pale gray-blue of Opalia's irises, those magnificent voids inlayed between her lashes, spoke to me a sincere caution entangled in a cordial request: trust me.(3/2)Hunched inches in front of me, Opalia traversed her body with her right hand, lifted mine from my side and placed in it my cloth bandage. She cupped my hand, never leaving my eyes, and placed it upon the cut with a tender instruction not to move. Turning, she remained crouched on her toes, one leg bent up beneath her, the other erect at her front, and spied the crowd like a hawk beginning its watch. (3/3)I obediently remained at the wall while Opalia took measure of the crowd. None of them looked at her, in fact, they hardly strayed their stare from what was directly in front of them - feeling no need to interpret their surroundings for themselves. The avenue filled, rumbled with the exiting congress, began to dissipate, depopulate, empty finally, into silence.(3/4)Opalia scaled down from the roof, pausing to look back at me with one foot wedged in the wall, and walked briskly into the open street. I followed clumsily, trotting to catch up as she disappeared into an alley way. Our march from day into night into day again was waring on and sleeplessness hung heavy on my eyelids, so when Opalia appeared around the last corner standing in an open doorway, the weight of the crowd was expelled from my chest and I anticipated the assurance of refuge.(3/5)The house, like the ones around it, was simple and small, a gray cottage of clay furnished with wood within. Its inside's only partitions were walls of ambience; to the right, a soot-suited stone fireplace anchored the westward wall with heavy oak chairs in stereo; to the east a small square window punctured the wall, guarded by ragged drapes and, for the time being, allowed light to shine in on a wooden table studded with lifeless candles. Cast iron pots, piled vegetables, dried meat, knives, a pair of stools, and another table worn in its center occupied the far south corner, while across from it, a low lying bed, buried under drab blankets and broken pillows, retreated from the natural avenues of home.(3/6)Silence suspended in air insulates a person from a world which petitions for attention. It hugged me in this moment and did not overwhelm or incite the claustrophobia of loneliness but invited me gently. Opalia looked at me, appearing only stronger, offering, "you should rest."(3/7)I lumbered toward the half-circled chairs, but Opalia spoke up, nodding toward the bed, "he won't mind." She took her seat at the table, and unfit for an argument, I traversed the room and crumbled into the blankets. Deflating into sleep, the quiet dark allowed me in without objection, hospitable and unfrightening once again.(3/8)An unidentifiable man, but one with whom I identified mysteriously, stood alone in a thick wood, heaving an axe into an elderly tree. His face was hidden from me, his shirt's back darkened with sweat and the steady thud of his blade against the bark accompanied his grunts. The pace was slow and constant, unwavering, when all at once the man accelerated to an convulsive rate, and the steady thud became a violent, swift rapping in a spray of wood chips. (3/9)I opened my eyes and the rapping continued, echoing in a room much darker than I'd left it - the sun had retired, for me the day spent away under blankets. Opalia was at the door welcoming a strange man; she kissed his eyelids and he likewise to hers. A brief, spoken embrace accompanied their kisses but I could only hear murmurs.(3/10)"There's someone you need to speak to", Opalia said, and I realized she was talking to me. "Come be with us awhile, surely there are answers you would like to hear." I rose off the bed's edge, moving toward the table where Opalia had set a place for this new man and myself.(3/11)He leaned over a flattened bowl filled with steaming water, neighbored by a small dish which apparently held the pedals of a dried flower. He began his address without looking up, without lowering the thin clothe that hooded his head, without pausing for niceties or the drone of introduction. He reached and took the dried pedals in his hand, crushing them easily, and dusted them into the steam now a zephyr across his face.(3/12)His presence was dangerous and uninterpretable, a sitting threat that warned and lured simultaneously, while physically he adorned himself in imperfect darkness. "So you managed not to open your eyes?" he began, anticipating no reply. Surely he was perfect. (3/13)He was not an exceptionally large man, and still quite young, but his voice was that of a creaking old growth forest, the low and confident moan of those entities that tower above and oversee life in all its more vulnerable forms. His skin glowed with the same grace that children paint on the heroes of their bedtime stories, the laquer which god chooses in the final stages of his woodworking to polish those destined for legend and lore. But the kiddish grin of princes trotting their steeds, virgin to pain or oppression, could not be found on this man; nor did the poetry that orbited him speak of any replicability in kind to that etheric in the woodshops of deities. (3/14)"This is my friend," Opalia said to me, her hand on his shoulder, "this is his house, we are his guests, he is called Intralis." Drinking down the contents of his bowl, Intralis got to his feet and circled the table toward me. I petrified, fearing some painful initiation or mangling by his interrogative hands, but he passed, momentarily resting his hand on my shoulder, saying, "drink and recover from that dreadful sleep - tonight, you know the truth."
(3/15)Opalia joined Intralis in the chairs at my back; she sat and sipped from a ceramic cup while he pampered an infant flame. They shared an intimate fellowship, one of familial comfort somehow punctuated by the formality of pertinent objective. These people were the sort who did not deal in empty embraces, and though only they existed in their moments of salutation, they exchanged nothing romantically.
(3/16)Positioned over the steam of my dish, I had lost grip on where I was and why, and if and how I might return to a world before Opalia. But something about this new world suggested I abandon the pettiness of fear and unknowing for the pricelessness of presence. Intralis knealt prodding the now churning fire; his thoughts were elsewhere but his mind was not absent.
(3/17)In a moment it occurred to me, as it never had before, that this house was subject to the perfusion of a man's history. Unavoidable between these walls, more abundant than aroma or light itself, hung the memory of events past. Like a comet's tail, it followed Opalia and Intralis only because they were people and as such, they dripped and perspired relevant experience.
(3/18)My humility burned whiter than the coals under Intralis' watch. I imagined what secrets were being told on the wafting drafts of this little cottage, moments of vulnerability and as assuredly, instances of heroism; and I wanted nothing more than to set my ear to the door which divides the now from the ever passing. To listen backwards, to arch head behind by heels and peer inverted at what others have seen in yesterday's sky.
(3/19)How decayed my sense of today had become; turned into myself, how grave my robbery of the world-besides-me had daily been. But the conversion's edge was sharp, almost traumatic, and I jumped the border without shifting a muscle in my body. To the rest of the room, to whichever of history's audiences were present, I had only passed a handful of moments in silence.
(3/20)But on Intralis' back I saw the yoke of adversity lain heavily. It demanded his day from the moment of his waking and pushed outward from within, forming fault lines in his skin which I ignorantly dismissed as scars. He offered his fealty to struggle, like a knight without a king, but a knight irrationally convinced that his allegiance was always well-placed.
(3/21)And his companion, darker and still more fortified than he, coiled herself around a self-stoking fire, protected internally by the stoney vigilance of untrusting independence. She had not enlisted in an army, but some battle raced on before her eyes that she watched unendingly, waiting for the appropriate moment of her inclusion. Still now I cannot tell you the exact moment of my transition, the arrival of understanding; I didn't hear the scales patter as they crumbled from my eyes, but I wondered who else in my world, and who else in this one, had received a comparable gift.
(3/22)I sipped the last of my drink, welcoming the alien crawl of pedals down my throat with an unexpected grin. Finding a shapeless image in the bottom of my bowl, I paused and my attention escaped to the man heaving his heavy axe in the forest. What encouraged his work?
(3/23)Looking for the last time into the flame, Intralis turned to Opalia and nodded. She brought her cup to her lips one more time, stood, and to me explained, "We'll go now, we should have plenty of time." My acceptance of not knowing still imperfect, I looked at Intralis rising from the fire place and realized that our fire had not been one lit for coziness.
(3/24)My eyes adjusted in the dark as we made our way down the street and in the last bit of twilight's glow, the city came into focus. The sun had slipped off the horizon's cliff and dragged the day's heat with it, leaving a cool vacuum that filled now with whisps of a nighttime breeze. Something emboldened me as I trailed at Intralis' heels, knowing only that we would not walk where we were walking if the light was still there to uncover us.
(3/25)At Intralis' right Opalia strode, scanning the street's edges calmly, in diligence, but without turning her head. I glanced from side to side, just doing my best not to flail in excitement. Intralis' gait was smooth and brisk, but in the breeze the hem of his shirt jumped above his waist and the ivory handle of his dagger glowed a dull white against his olive skin.
(3/26)With the weapon my senses heightened, something brushed its fingers on my neck. I swung around and found only paranoia running, laughing, darting into darkness. But back toward Intralis' house, now behind us five minutes, I was puzzled by a thin forest of chimney smoke striping the sky.
(3/27)A dozen or so thin columns billowed up and away from their quieted homes, gray and uniform, but for one which climbed in a deep, putrid black. "Don't slow down," Opalia critiqued, sensing my hesitation. I wheeled again to the front, but glanced back one more time, the distant image bouncing as I jogged.
(3/28)Intralis and Opalia, until now moving away from the city's central gate, turned left. They slowed to an easy walk and I closed the gap between us, knowing that we could not be far from the tower, from the place which dressed this city's residents in trauma and disconcerting. I walked the ground like it was glass, like if I tread carelessly I'd simply break through.
(3/29)"We will not enter it, we will not approach it, and we will not stop," Intralis said, still facing forward. Not only was it near, now glaring down on us through the breaks in overlapping rooftops, but the tower was our objective. My eyes worked around obstruction to see the edifice more clearly, ignoring the cold radiating through my chest, a neglected voice asking for safety.
(3/30)A strange thing happened then, a moment in the night that remains with me now. My head erect and pointed toward the tower, I caught the smell of Opalia and Intralis on the wind. The clash of worlds became apparent; I was comforted and encouraged by their scent, but it illuminated their infiltration, two bodies in a place they were not welcome and probably thus far undiscovered.
(3/31)Their heads did not pivot but they were mapping the avenue. And though their intention was secrecy, I couldn't understand how they moved so quickly - knowing, it seemed, that the city was desolate. A wide cross street appeared ahead of us and with that, I knew where we were; the tower's pair of doors grew near.
(4/1)Intralis' left foot reached into the open street first and quickly retracted, his arms stretched out to hold us back. To our left, in the street opposite, a pair of footsteps patted in a swift jog away from us. Intralis watched his back intently, waited for him to disappear, counted a moment still unconvinced, and finally exhaled; only then when Opalia's hand left my shoulder did I notice it was there at all.
(4/2)"The guardian?" Intralis wondered aloud, looking at Opalia over his shoulder. She nodded, still fixed on the last corner the runner turned. Glancing once back, Intralis began again across the wide lane, leaning right - right, toward the tower.
(4/3)His path was tangential; he didn't glance at the tower but remained fixed on the street which encircled it like a dried moat. I entered the street and forfeited refuge, impressed into humility by this enormous pillar anchoring the city. It possessed an essence all its own, an immotile existence that simply summoned the world to it.
(4/4)Opalia and Intralis absorbed nothing from the structure. They traversed the plaza as scouts, leaving the tower to itself as if I were the thief charged with bagging the diamond while they secured a watch. They refuted its magnetism; I simply could not.
(4/5)The world slowed and motivations scampered away from those they motivated. Crossing in my leader's footsteps, my mind suffered the assault of absent inhibition - my reason and my sentiments rescinded their claim and offered my mind's reigns to a presence that impelled me on a new course. I had twisted in body and mind, and likewise oriented myself toward the doors of the tower.
(4/6)But where the ancticipation of realizing a fantasy incites confidence and wide-eyed lust, I trembled toward this new destination, cursing my treacherous legs. Soon my silent pleas for flight were echoed by the taunting of an unseen observer. A chorus spoke to me, in different tones, male and female, questioning my strength, my conviction, and worse, suggesting I commit for them acts so guilt-worthy their consideration pulled tears to my eyes.
(4/7)The thoughts themselves guarded my ears, filtering the entrance to my mind at their own behest and turning away the calls and warning words of my friends now running toward me. I lifted from myself, elevated to a vantage point floating above my body, and watched the voices descend into my being in a smoke that entered my nose, my mouth, my eyes, and ears. It swirled in me, seized me, gripped and insulted my person and dropped me into blackness.
(4/8)Sweat stretching almost to the bottom of his shirt, the man in the woods heaved his axe ruthlessly, ignoring his broken, bleeding hands and the shudder of the weakened tree. The finish in sight, he clenched his jaw and strained his muscles more, reaching deeper for hiding strength. The tree commenced a splinter song, buckled, and fell toward its feller now calmly stepping aside.
(4/9)In the unseen wilderness behind, a scream boiled from a desperate source. It asked and begged; it pleaded and persuaded and conceded. And it died.
(4/10)In darkness, a gentle wave moved across my eyelids. Firm and sure, it asked if I was ready for light, and with my nod, offered it to me. A yellow-speckled dark blue, the blue black of deepening night, outlined Opalia's hand as it retracted from my opened eyes.
(4/11)I lied there and surveyed my body, smelling the interior of Intralis' home wafting up past our trio from the chimney reaching above us. To my right, Intralis' grip loosened and left my hand, his gaze softening. "It was almost too much," he assured me coldly.
(4/12)They'd carried me away in order to bring me back. And though immediately Intralis' roof seemed a peculiar haven for the gravely possessed, I sat up and faced an image over and far beyond the city's barrier that justified their decision. Just before the horizon, a wall of flame was burning a crescent moon into the golden field; the moriah was alight and raging.
(4/13)Alarm shook me, "what's happening...who...?" "We did," Opalia said calmly, looking up at the putrid strip of smoke slipping from the chimney, "to get you here." "We cannot do it often," she continued, glancing at me and then out beyond the wall, "but the listening city has no choice other than deploy its defense if the moriah whispers war."
(4/14)Then I saw the silhouetted line drawn at the near edge of the golden field; the city's army awaited the announced attack, unaware that one would not come. The subtlety of blackened smoke had cued the moriah, and its subsequent demonstration emptied the city at the suggestion of assault. I walked my eyes across the well organized ranks crowded into the field, and ended at Intralis now looking at me from the roof's edge; "Tell us about your dreams."
(4/15)Things were happening too quickly, I felted jolted from one location to another, one mental state to its opposite and Intralis wanted explanation. At Intralis' table this new world had temporarily befriended me, offering brief glimpses of the sorts of things I might learn here, intimations of the sort of appreciation that changes people. But then we were in the street, fleeing the comfort of home with enigmatic smoke signals rising at our backs, ending finally in the racking I'd suffered at the whims of a tower's disembodied voices.
(4/16)The voices, fully present yet fully ethereal at the tower's base, left me nauseated sitting on the rooftop. The guilt sickened me most; in all the lessons of boyhood and the literature of philosophers I'd never heard a refutation of evil sufficient to rebuke what had seized me in front of the tower. Without committing any act at all, I yearned to repent and have some magic cleanse the recesses of my mind, the places my unrealized transgressions hid.
(4/17)Opalia watched as I scurried silently from one thought to another, abandoning each unfinished before moving to the next. Agony, desperation, suffocation, what wouldn't a drowning person barter for a gulp of air? She rested her hand on my leg, the rescuer in my darkening sea, and instructed simply, "breathe."
(4/18)"I'm in a forest," I began without thinking, "and there's a man felling trees." "Who is the man?" Intalis interrupted, Opalia glancing at him. "I don't know," I continued unconsciously, "I don't ever see his face, I never identify him, but I know him."
(4/19)"As he brings the blade to the tree I hear moans, like the tree hurts, like its experiencing his work." "Is the man alone," Opalia then asked, "how many trees are there?" "No the man's not alone," I fumble, "well, he's the only person but there's screaming, a terrible scream, painful, like death."
(4/20)I cringed when they weren't surprised, I'd spoken the expected. "Are there words?" Intralis continued. "No," puzzled now, " just the scream," begging me, I thought, like I was conspiring with the assailant.
(4/21)Intralis' armored facade sheltered his thoughts but he was not processing a story for the first time, he was weighing his next words, measuring me before enlightening me. For the first time, the space between myself and these two thickened, a density which onsets between people because of secrecy and the presence of ignorance. My ignorance, their secrecy.
(4/22)I moved to Opalia for a hint, a granule of inclusion, but found her staring coldly into a void across my chest. "Why do you already know what I'm telling you?" I demanded. She looked at me, and in this look a new piece of Opalia was unsheathed before me, bourne naked to my audience, reflecting in a rare, mortal tear gathering in her eye.
(4/23)"What is it..." I managed to whisper, entangled in her face. "You're beginning to understand, to sense fully" Intralis began after a brief silence. "I want to understand, I want to know..."
(4/24)"But what you're starting to sense may not be meant for you..." Opalia paused, and searched, "this sort of...understanding...may not be meant for anyone at all." "Understanding what?, this, none of this, makes sense, I don't understand." And I didn't, I'd communed only with inexplicable guilt and irrational fear, all together void of clarity.
(4/25)Why hadn't I questioned where I was, why hadn't I suspected harm from the two now completely empowered over me? I had left what was comfortable and familiar to inspect a notion of intrigue; I expected profundity from a stranger, and without hearing more than her name and the intense rhythm of her voice I subscribed to whatever hidden things she wanted to expose me to. When had I become so foolish, so helplessly enthralled with the prospect of something better?
(4/26)"What am I doing here?" the question finally surfaced, itself surprised I'd taken this long to speak it. Their momentary silence enraged me, like I was not entitled to such simple information. "I said what..." but my words were bifurcated by Intralis, pouncing on my arrogance.
(4/27)"It may be better to understand that what this place does to you will be more important than any petty objective you can comprehend." His frankness was fresh and cutting. Taking a cooling breath, he continued, "Now, as for what this place will do to you."
(4/28)It's fitting that what was attempted next was attempted under the nakedness of a constellated sky. The infinitude of history, and the irretrievable memories of ancient inanimacy, the unwritten past of those bodies shining above us which far predate the first breaths of thinking man, encircled us on Intralis' rooftop, to bear witness. Most of material existence, stars and rivers, mountain tops, forests, and the unexplored avenues of space, untouchable to death or life, sits away from the fleeting affairs of mortals, uninterested and unimpressed; but some nights, like this night, the despondency of nature's fabled guardians relaxes and an immortal, magestic host sits with us to listen.
(4/29)Intralis let his chest rise around the incoming breath, lifting his chin upward as if sensing the cosmic attention and scrutiny which awaited his words. Opalia likewise stole a moment, provoking the piece of herself which would be needed most in the minutes to come. They settled, and began.
(4/30)"You're witnessing it through dreams first because it's then that you're least guarded," Intralis stated as a matter of fact. "There is no defense against things that make you uncomfortable, ideas that you do not necessarily welcome," he continued. "If it can grasp you unconsciously," Opalia added, "so that its implications are written in you more like instinct than revolution, then its realization in your waking self comes less violently."
(5/1)I felt like an explanation had yet to begin, they only created more questions. "Defend myself against what, what ideas?" "All ideas," Intralis answered calmly, "all needs, all wants, all fears and hopes - your consciousness defends you from the things that connect you to others."
(5/2)"We do best for ourselves when we do not feel the presence of those we affect," Opalia kept going, noting my unfragmented confusion. "For a moment, suspend what you think you know about your mind, about your needs, about the things that inspire you. Suspend what you believe about your world."
(5/3)"My world?" I responded, my brow pinched upward. "By now you've realized," she said, dismissing my shallow doubt, "that this place is not one you'll wake up from and forget, no more than it is the world where you grew up. But I'm afraid that what is profound here is not that both of our worlds exist and are not the same, but that they are connected, and in a way that binds us unrelentingly together."
(5/4)I thought about the day in my yard, Opalia had rained from the sky, the morning to follow, impossibly distant now. I replayed the voices that hud swung in my rafters, whispered their screaming arguments in my ears. I tried to define Opalia's 'connection', to tease it out of recollection’s gloom, but I maneuvered myself into memories of panic, of alien unknowing, of dread.
(5/5)Like my memory had materialized on the rooftop, and in its wretched hand offered me the perfect reality of that morning to experience again, I winced, closing my eyes, and turned away in disgust. Opalia wouldn't allow me to slip, "Imagine the things you need, not the substances that keep you alive but the knowledge that cultivates your desire to live. Find it in your mind, my friend, find it, cling to it, allow it to consume you, move you, capture your speech and enhance your hearing and then you'll know what connects us."
(5/6)Her tone rose and her pace escalated, her eyes leaving mine for some other fixture in space, her hands groping invisibly the idea she attempted to unwrap. "A person that concerns themself with tame desire, with aspirations that are easily satisfied, will always exist satisfied and will rarely sense what you’re beginning to sense now.”
(5/7)Intralis resumed, "For much longer than we've known, and to what extent we still don't know, our worlds, and others.." "Others?" I interrupted. He continued seamlessly, "...have connected themselves to each other by ideas, by intentions, by the convictions of the inhabitants of those worlds."
(5/8)They fostered no doubt for what they told me; they lectured like rogue scholars who, most days, had to batten what they knew within their minds and speak of it to no unworthy soul. "When you have to eat, you feel an urge," he slowed down, "and when you witness something that silences you, that challenges how you understand your place in your world you again feel a need, but they are not the same. Lately, you are sensing the difference.”
(5/9)On the roof they wrote me a volume, an anthology of interconnectedness. "The body enlivens idea," Opalia had said, describing persons as vehicles for packets of understanding. A notion of need sits in one person and germinates, subjecting itself to the constraints of mortality, rooting itself deep till it cannot be extricated.
(5/10)Needs are shared, communicated unconsciously between peoples. But they are not passive, intangible entities created within those that feel them; they are wild, rebellious utterances that arrive in the ears of humans and their otherworldly counterparts to stir and tease a person into wonder. A body that only wants to satiate its simplest desires - hunger, lust, safety - does so, imprisoning the weakest of needs and upheaves no rebellion within.
(5/11)"But the person that forfeits complete control of their mind to a need too powerful for them, where their obsession becomes the exploration of ideas which teeter at the lethal edge of their conscious reach, has ensanred and put into shackles a power which they do not understand and can never contain completely." When a body captivates a powerful concept, or an incorrigible need, it suffers a paradoxical restlessness. From within, something begs to be expressed, rages in order to be spoken and released, to be allowed its natural infinity; but the body is what gives tangibility to the need, the concept outside of the body yearns for the shackles of materiality.
(5/12)"It is the crying out of shared needs, held within distantly separated bodies, that connects our worlds." It has been called inspiration and enlightenment, epiphany, even prophecy. When we conceive of something very much outside of ourselves and lend our minds to awe, we elevate our unconscious to a place where expression traverses the partioning between worlds and people affect one another across otherwise immutable borders.
(5/13)Exhausted, Opalia finished, "It is the very depths of one person in one world, screaming for recognition into the similar depths of another person in another world. We do not see each other or hear each other or know of each other, but we constitute each other and are bound up together." It would seem, as my friends had told me, that my dreams and those voices, were of others - that somewhere a person was screaming and something in me was the target of their petition.
(5/14)If I had to guess, I think a person looking at the three of us from the city wall would see equals for the first time, that we had gathered there as friends to watch whether panic would seize the city's people. Opalia had shifted and sat beside my foot on the left, facing outward, and as her final words evaporated Intralis took a similar seat below us on the roof, to my right. But the looker, in his ignorance, could not know the alchemy which these two had just performed inside of me, the way they had summoned my command of life's truths for a time of reckoning and reluctant maturity.
(5/15)But they'd left some of my questions unattended to. They spoke of need and aspiration, even wonder, while my dreams were bathed in despair. It stirred with me, and I started to assemble a question when from over the edge of the roof a voice of suspicion crept.
(5/16)Intralis had all but pieced together the serene mask usually covering his face when the voice struck him. Hearing it, he broke the mask again, but when it had shattered the first time a look of cordial concern had been waiting beneath it, to invite my confidence. Now, sure serenity vacated his face and deathly certainty, cold and determined, filled his eyes and fixed his jaw.
(5/17)Expecting his alarm's reflection in Opalia I turned to her and found her already standing, peering at the edge, feet slightly separated, arms at length beside her, flexed, poised and awaiting a stimulus. "Who's there?" the voice questioned simply. Looking to the moriah, Intralis responded, "I am Intralis, this is my home."
(5/18)A second voice joined from over the edge, "Why haven't you assembled?" As the second man spoke, Intralis' resolve or his courage or something that had been holding his face steady, relaxed partially and he closed his eyes in what struck me as defeat. Neither Opalia or Intralis took the opportunity to respond and quickly the voices requested, "Please come down."
(5/19)I supposed our silence sufficed when Opalia moved toward the other side of the roof and Intralis carefully followed, signaling me behind him. They stepped down onto an adjacent roof, almost touching ours, and slipped into Intralis' house through the small side window. Last and slowest through the window, listening to the two men stood outside Intralis' heavy door knocking and requesting entrance, I dropped to my feet in time to witness my friends exchange gentle kisses on one another closed eyes; they whispered, "mortality reigns."
(5/20)Their exchange found Opalia kissing Intralis second and as her hands cradled Intralis' face the right sleeve of her shirt slipped to her elbow. Instantly I was ill; a message returned to me from the ether, a reality I thought had perished in another world removed from this one. My friends felt Anxiety enter the room to assault me but remaining focused on the men outside, Opalia simply covered her arm, its crimson text again blazing "tra."
(5/21)I kept my place beneath the window, Opalia stepped back to the middle of the room, and Intralis moved to the handle. Purpose burned in my friends again; something sinister, or its proxy, wrapped on this door unaware of the path it walked, a path on which Intralis and Opalia now waited. Intralis opened the door and kept his hands at his side, calmly receiving the cool edge of a blade at his neck.
(5/22)The men moved mechanically but with grace - no thought, just the swift exercise of imbedded protocol. Appearing impeccably trained, they used few steps and only through motion communicated with each other. The first had rested his blade on Intralis' throat, paralyzing him against the door; the second advanced on Opalia, standing submissive with her arms outstretched, inviting his authority.
(5/23)Their confidence did not waver, there was no gap in the air of importance condensing around them; not for a second did I question their lethality or their willingness. The second man, without unlocking his eyes from Opalia's, pointed his knife at me and ordered, "To the ground," as he moved. I reaked of harmlessness and his order felt to him as if he'd secured the last threat in the room; on the contrary, his order simply revealed that the two had come alone.
(5/24)The guard gripped Opalia's wrists, bundled together in one of his hands, and began to slide her sleeve toward her elbow. Then the room slowed, altogether at once a liquid vision in time: Opalia spied the empty street beyond her captor and, finding nothing, moved her eyes to Intralis awaiting her diagnosis. She silently handed the fate of these men to her friend, and the real speed of life resumed.
(5/25)The hem of Opalia's sleeve dragged across the first letter and its faces - flames and swords - stared out of her flesh into the suspecting guard. "Jephleti" he announced to the room, loud and decisive, his voice suffering a tremor he'd been without a moment earlier. But the label rang out too late, well behind the melodic twitch of Intralis' muscles now dictating the moment.
(5/26)His fist landed first in the sternum of his offendor and the guard's flexed arm let the blade recoil from Intralis' neck. His second and third movements were simply rotations about his body, effortless and concentrated, removing the hovering dagger while reaching for his own. An ivory shaft protruding from a red halo in his chest, the guard fell and I watched him cast his eyes lastly upon the body of his partner lying next to him, lifeless beneath Opalia, with a mangled neck.
(5/27)I averted my eyes but not before the image had seared them. I wretched and vomited, aware of restored safety but utterly virgin to the presence of violent death. Horror blossomed from their bodies and it wasn't a ghostly presence but the perfect emptiness of their refuse that tore my conscience.
(5/28)I moaned involuntarily, splinted against the wall. Noise became the language of my agony, a drone the brain creates so that those outside of the trauma won't leave it for dead. Blurred and distant, Opalia and Intralis reached for each other, exiting the bodies which house such terrible faculties as these, for the tenderness of two mortals who have weathered nightmares together.
(5/29)Their embrace became memorable to me; no dressing or medic's touch could benefit the wound quickly letting the life from my body, sitting on the floor. But they hugged like they intended to fuse, to enter into one another and command broken spirits back to their feet disregarding altogether the skin that so adamantly made them two, instead of one. This time when they kissed each other's eyelids they focused on receiving the kisses as intently as when they gave them; the one's priority to heal the other encouraged my own recovery.
(5/30)After the guards had been killed I remember thinking sleep would cure the illness, that it represented the first dose of time which would somehow keep at bay the dragon of a memory now chained inside of me. I appreciated the numbness I remembered associating with sleep. But that numbness, composing the banks between which my pain and trauma flowed as a white churning river, eroded.
(5/31)His shirt now completely gray from the sweat of his labor, the feller was swinging wildly, mad with rage at the tree. Simply chopping it down did not reflect the full extent of his contempt for the tree; he commanded it with his hands, directing it as the conductor of hell's orchestra, to feel what he wanted it to feel and suffer as he wanted it to suffer. His incoherence was the aftermath of frustration, the feller was retaliating for an unseen and unconfessed wrong.
(facebook part II)
(6/1)The man's ordination originated in a power whispering to him from somewhere aloft, removed from the mission it had bestowed upon this feller in the dark wood. As he neared finality, and the tree began its tumble to the decaying forest floor, the voice screaming in the wilderness erupted again and pronounced the same wordless plea I'd heard before. Now I turned to face the forest I'd never faced, the axe man at my back, and heard the scream's echo amplified and manipulated in new tones and varied pitches; for miles in a valley descending away from my feet the tall anchors of this forest fell as if their bases had been hacked from beneath them, a chorus singing out to chronicle its collapse.
(6/2)The river breached and flooded my refuge, drowning the leaves and twigs and soft pine needles I often strolled through in my slumber. I awoke in a sweat, aware of my place, aware that the activity I watch and remember too easily neglects the reality that commutes to me from beyond consciousness. My eyes adjusted to find Opalia and Intralis at the table peering into steaming bowls, with a third steaming aimlessly in front of an empty, expecting seat.
(6/3)I felt invaded, a disorienting sense of being trespassed against. From birth, through my youngest years, into that nervous dawn of manhood I watched for lessons imbedded in the world, mining the earth and its people for whatever treasure they could afford to show me. I learned from others as simply as men barter, for cattle or butter or guns, and as peacefully as a person sits and observes a river's passing; but my understanding was no longer a course that I charted at will, I was being explored by ideas acting on their own volition.
(6/4)"Come and rest," Intralis murmured, "their ranks have disengaged and they will assemble in the morning. Their guards will then be counted missing." Opalia's head rose with the steam and she finished his thought, "We only have an hour to leave the city."
(6/5)No light shown through the window, but the sun had begun its crescendo and morning's glow began to seep from the buildings outside. The night - still my first in this city - seemed unending. And the two bodies, which bore on their red sleeves a crest displaying the stone figure knelt in fealty at the city gate, laid carefully under cloth in the bottom of Intralis' wagon, reminded me of its eventfulness.
(6/6)The three of us bounced and pitched over the ruts, potholes, divots, and broken stone roads which led us slowly out of the city. The beast which tugged our burden, like a dark black mule, grunted and breathed heavily but didn't seem to mind the weight of its morning yoke. Perhaps it understood that its role in our escape could be slow and steady and still adequately absolve us, graciously shouldering the brunt of our calamity if only for the slow march back into the moriah.
(6/7)I had perched myself next to Intralis in the wagon, both of us sitting on the edge of one wall avoiding the bodies, cold and staling, beneath us. Over the bend of my shoulder the city shrank away, the distant roof of Intralis' home peaking over the city wall. Opalia sat opposite of us, watching me as she often did looking now and then to the city, while Intralis chewed a switch of grass he'd pulled from the field; I had entered the city alone at the heels of a guide, and I left the city threaded to two other souls by the fiber of our experience, by our current retreat, by the trauma of one profound night.
(6/8)I longed to know the moriah, to hear a guard refer to Opalia as this 'Japhleti' and know, as he did, the reason she's earned his fear. Opalia and Intralis remained somewhere else, on guard in a place internal to themselves that I could not go. I wanted that epic stillness which gripped my friends, the recitation of their people's creed making their resolve so impenetrable, so seductive, so elusive.
(6/9)Most of all I felt its warmth, its truth, the authenticity of the ground beneath me. Putting distance between us and the city meant breathing healthier breaths, admiring the probabilities against which you're still alive instead of fearing them. It was that point, the three of us in this clammering wagon, that I named my nemesis the presence at my back and aligned my intentions with whoever awaited us in the folds of the golden field.
(6/10)Peering forward I could see a line in the grass a few hundred yards ahead, charred and shortened. A little grin formed in the corner of my mouth and I turned to see how far we'd come from the tower, a mere ornament on the horizon. My smile broke as, in the folded-grass wake of our wagon, I watched three men, casually holding bows with quivers on their backs, rise from invisibility out of the grass and close off our trail as we passed; I had traversed the moriah's gate and entered the place of resistance.
(6/11)Charred grass, folded onto itself beneath the spokes of our wheels, crumbled and spit out ash as we rolled into the fire's devastation. But new sprouts punched up, green with gold tinges, through the ground, entering this bright world like squinting new borns. They bore no trace of the flames that had ravaged this spot the day before, entering their struggle with the purity of inexperience - it was the business of life in the moriah to recover hastily.
(6/12)I leaned over the wagon's edge like a toddler teasing his reflection in a pond. They looked like a miniature forest, the new sprouts, and I was hung above them as a gardening god. Stem to stem I bounced my eyes, realizing a new gratitude for the fact that no tree in this tiny wood had a feller at its foot.
(6/13)"We're here," I swung my head up over the edge as Opalia spoke at me with smile. Intralis started to slow the beast and Opalia jumped from the wagon, taking the reigns of the animal and slowing it to a stop. But the field remained empty, not a structure or a tent, a weapon or a blanket; the golden field continued uninterrupted in every direction save the city we fled.
(6/14)Intralis hopped down to take the reigns while Opalia, crunching through the grass for several paces, yelled into nothingness toward the uniform horizon, "Curan!, Curan!" "Mortality reigns.." came back to us from out of sight. Opalia answered quietly, "It does indeed my friend."
(6/15)From the field in front of Opalia a head appeared, levitated at the height of the unburned grass, studying the yelling woman, and then elevated farther, bringing with it a bearded face and a barreled chest. The grisly figure clutched a bow as tall as himself in his left hand, and reaching past a pair of daggers sinched in his belt, he draped the other hand to his back, fingering the leather base of his quiver. He never stood entirely straight as he walked toward Opalia; his knees remained bent and his body was twisted, coiled to strike.
(6/16)He stepped a few stalking steps, crossing one scrutinizing foot over the other, seeming to smell the wind and account for his blind spots as he eyed the three of us. But his suspicion faded like he was adjusting to a darkened room, a guard dog recognizing its master, he dropped his bow and walked to Opalia donning a generous smile and arms that welcomed prodigals. Intralis strolled casually past me with the only smile I've seen him wear, and said, "Welcome to the moriah’s gate, come meet Curan, its keeper."
(6/17)My introduction to Curan included what seemed a remarkable transformation; his face, perfect like Intralis' and Opalia's, diverged from flawlessness in just one line, a four inch scar that skidded across his heavily tanned skin from the tip of his eye to the lobe of his ear. His old wound added to the illusion of impenetrability that he painted as the gate keeper and he towered like a massive beast dressed in ragged clothing with weapons shaped for the power of his paws. But Intralis and Opalia had only to mention my presence as friendly and he welcomed me like a homecoming brother, assuring me a good meal and a sunset to heal my tired eyes.
(6/18)I looked at Curan, smiling and speaking to my friends. Where does a man come from that he would be entrusted with protecting such a place? I restowed my thoughts as his joyous growling turned to me and his hand landed on my back, "Lets get you inside," he said, "you should meet the others."
(6/19)Curan turned to walk back the way he'd come but stopped first to show Opalia and Intralis another generous smile, "Its been too long." I trailed slightly behind the trio, murmuring and laughing now like family, and watched Curan gracefully sink into the ground. Next went Opalia, and soon after Intralis' head bobbed gently until it disappeared into the grass.
(6/20)I followed and arrived at the top of a staircase just soon enough to see Intralis dip out of sight into shadow. I paused and glanced around - the stairs were marble and at one time, elegant. The steps, now jagged and succombing to an earthen coffin, boasted a few intact insignias at their edges; my descent was slow, apprehensive, captivated.
(6/21)Once inside the shadow of the entryway daylight was cut off and the ceiling came into view, while the staircase extended further and further downward. Sprawling marble arches hailed from one wall, over our heads, to the other. Everything was stone, the dirt kept out in a perfect seal, and at the final landing, a columnade of pillars led the eye down a wide, dim corridor stretched out before me.
(6/22)My steps slowed more than I realized, my feet retarded by the lethargy of awe. In my imagination, rebellions were housed in wooded alcoves or rooty holes, the damp retreats of caves embedded in lonely mountainsides where freedom fighters clung only to comforts they could manufacture within. This was a palace, a royal stronghold.
(6/23)I left the stairs and walked, watching the ceiling ascend away from me toward its domed peak. Standing beneath the summit, in the middle of the room, I peered up at the zenith and imagined the magnitude of soil hiding this place from the golden field aloft. A five arch aster splayed from the dome and each arm ran down the wall ending in a pillar, boasting on its trunk words or symbols of a language I didn't know.
(6/24)The only arm not concluding in a pillar reached back toward the entrance, stopping at the lentel above the mouth of the staircase. Its engraving was longer than the others, its carvings deeper, its meaning still hidden but its presence more prominent. I stood still in the quiet void of the cavern and looked at the message in the wall, at this point knowing I was involved in something important and at the same time, doubting whatever fate saw me fit for such an endeavor.
(6/25)"There's a great deal that's happened here," Opalia's voice echoed calmly on the walls, bringing my attention to her without startle. Her guard had come down, apparently handing it to this edifice towering around us, and she looked as I did at the messages inlaid. Looking at her, a foreign feeling returned to me, a comforting nothingness, the absence of need to be anywhere else but there.
(6/26)I didn't know why Opalia was the one who had retrieved me, whether she was sent or if I was chosen at all. But she was an entity I needed now that I had known her, one I could live without only if she had always remained hidden. My affinity for her was not a lover's attraction and couldn't be reasoned back to a rational origin, but I was convicted in knowing her and obligated by a sense of self interest to revere what she might teach me.
(6/27)I wonder often if those who anchor societies, those that embolden the spirits of others, know that they do so. Considering it simply, I placed illogical faith in Opalia. My life before her arrival, though often stalled in the gray tones of living, never endangered me and had already resigned itself to letting me live long and die unmolested by the threats of adventure.
(6/28)But I find it tragic to consider it so simply. She arrived, as I see it, on a wind. She came with the cool, thick breeze which announces the immenence of changing skies, and blew me recklessly off course she absolutely did.
(6/29)But when the seas have destined the sailor to continue easily, unhindered by wave or wind, across waters that lull a soul to silent resignation, then one finds himself searching for storms on alternative horizons. Opalia had taken me and with or without intending, shown me a world ripe with reason to savor my steps. Its not that I longed for a world on the brink of war, but that I longed for a people scrambling to remember - with all their might - why war was so worth resisting.
(6/30)My thoughts led me far off the conscious trail and my eyes had fixed on Opalia. When she stepped toward me I didn't know how long I'd been motionless. She had been frank with me before, unafraid to speak her mind without omission but this confrontation was a new closeness.
(7/1)The wind of her breath sprinted the brief emptiness separating us. She was the performer, the muse painted and draped in the stage's adoration now shattering the mirage of seclusion to address one fortunate member of the audience. The rest of the congress was dismissed and her first words scripted and weighed for only me came next.
(7/2)"Do not see perfection when you look at me. Your eyes haven't grown up in this world; they can't see flaws where flaws are many." My eyes sought rescue on her lips, seeing now that they not only awaited those of a worthy companion but from them, in every person as with her, came a soul's communion with the world, the best efforts of a being to engage all that lives external to itself.
(7/3)I saw her as I'd never seen a person; as complete, as truly sacred, as lacking no part and sparing no stroke from nature's brush, as self-contained from yet seemlessly connected to the networks of life roaring past and through us every moment. I was purely and perfectly grounded, my mind swept clear of gossiping, callow ideas, my feet enrooted in this chamber now a temple to Opalia's existence. The words came with trepidation, quivered rising from chest, but found their way to empty space, "I see nothing clearly here, nothing at all but maybe you."
(7/4)In my home so long before, as voices cascaded from my rooftop and whispered sinister intimations of future suffering she'd touched my face and intercepted my moment of ruin. This time her hand returned to my cheek more vulnerable, more inviting than then, her thumb brushing slowly the ridge beneath my eye. Watching her stroke, and then my eyes, she told me, "You have only started to see, but soon you will start to see clearly and then finally you'll understand why we - you and I and all of us - have come to be here."
(7/5)In all the ways that mattered, I divided my time in Opalia's world between two minds. In one, to be sure, despair had made permanent reservation and I learned a language of misery never spoken to me before but in the other, in the other waited all known reasons to breathe in and smile. Opalia identified purpose in me and with that I could have stopped breathing altogether and sustained myself for days.
(7/6)"Opalia," Intralis' smooth call echoed from out of sight, "they're here, are you coming?" She remained at my cheek, unmoved, "Soon, see clearly. And when you do, do not allow fear to persuade you away from how you must be."
(7/7)She turned and walked deeper into the chamber, leaving me small and alone under the marble dome. I followed and a few paces past the second doorway an ensemble of footsteps sounded their approach. Curan and Intralis casually greeted Opalia, and behind them strolled a couple, standing tall and strong, the man holding a walking cane and them both tinged gray with age.
(7/8)A whispy, white fabric flowed about the woman as she walked toward me and the dark tone of her hands reached out to mine. She brought me into herself like a son, "Welcome" she said, her actions making her words redundant, "I am Requilum." She smiled at me as if she had a playful secret, a sly innocence that regarded me as family and she began to introduce the thin man standing above us all.
(7/9)His chin tilted just slightly above level and his hands sat contentedly folded over top his staff, but his grin evaporating any hint of condescension. "This is my husband Ambolsen," Requilum continued, "welcome to our home." It was peculiar being surrounded by these five; I felt I was meeting my guards for the first time.
(7/10)Curan seemed determined to keep to his word. "We should prepare dinner," he said to no one in particular, "our friend will see the sunset tonight." The others seemed to agree; Opalia nodded to Requilum's warm smile and the four set off down the hall.
(7/11)But Ambolsen stepped toward me, lowering his head as if to offer me his quiet confidence, "You can rest here, no dream or phantom will bother you for now. This way," he grinned a grandfather's grin and directed me after the others. Down the hall the gentle thudding of his cane followed me, and became a secure reassurance of a different power under which I now lived.
(7/12)The night's table was set and I took my place with gratitude. The chamber was long, both walls studded with burning lanterns, built to seat a large fellowship though tonight many seats were empty. Smiles and laughter came from the older couple as Curan, the bearish gatekeeper, entertained us with his stories over a feast - indeed, a feast - of the same plain steaming soup I'd tasted within the city.
(7/13)"I'd climbed the wall everyday since I could walk," Curan said chuckling, "and the guards stopped yelling at me because most days I'd fall off the cursed thing and it would break their boredom." Intralis grinned knowingly, and Opalia smiled likewise at her old friend. "I'd run home crying but I'd come back everyday - Curan the Curious they'd yell at me."
(7/14)The five were silent and sipped from their steaming bowls amidst nostalgic smiles. I laughed at the thought of infant Curan cursing under his breath, constantly defeated by the moriah's walls, many times bigger than him. But something that should've been more obvious occured to me then and after a moment I asked, "so why doesn't the moriah have a wall anymore?"
(7/15)The smiles of my company faded, and they seemed to gather themselves, all the sudden aware that they'd spoken like I knew more than I did. "Actually," Ambolsen started, taking lead of the others, "Curan wasn't remembering the moriah's walls, though it did one day have them." He stopped to think and choose the next path while I waited, "he was remembering the city, where he grew up, where all of us grew up."
(7/16)Ambolsen saw my shoulders sink and my confidence in this removed place begin to unravel. "Don't worry yourself over that quite yet," he recovered, "why don't you tell us a story of your own. I think we've heard enough for now from Curan," he quieted with a grin.
(7/17)Ambolsen asked me back into my own head, into the place where it seemed, for so long now, I could only go to experience fear. At first my memories seemed too distant to be retrievable, that my history had ended at the foot of the tower or at imperiled Opalia in my house. But slowly they uncovered themselves, appeared again from their hiding places and relaxed enough to allow me to remember.
(7/18)I muttered my stories slowly at first, I guess; it probably should have been embarassing how I seemed to forget basic events of my own life. The trauma of what I had seen in recent days inflicted a certain amnesia; it sentenced me to forget myself and lose purchase on the things that I held dear, on the things from which my rightness and goodness came forth. Squeezed and constricted my perspective had become, able only to decipher one pain from another, one assailant from the inevitable next.
(7/19)I wondered, while I spoke, how long it would have taken me to step outside the world of my wound and remember anything but attack and desperate defense, had I not been asked to do so by someone else. Seeing it then, in the company of those people, my greatest fear stopped being the suggestions of violence I had heard at the tower and the way they tore my mind, and started being a life in which my self identity is irremovably trapped within a reality of paranoia and the anticipation of harm. But it seemed that this new fear stumbled, hesitated, retreated from my realized ability to remember something other than it.
(7/20)I lost myself in the room and found myself in my head, describing the land I used to roam as a young man, the women I'd loved but failed to approach, my mother and the stories she told while she was still alive. Requilum and Ambolsen laughed with me and sighed genuinely when I did, invested in my effort to remember as fully as possible. Intralis leaned back in his chair, seated next to Opalia, and the pair watched me fondly describe this other world, the one I wished so badly they could remember with me.
(7/21) My stories swooned and soothed me as a youngster's bedtime legends, naturally leading me through the bends of my mind and finally setting me back down into the physical presence of my small audience. A natural silence, perfect and well-spoken, where listeners draw their gaze into candlelight, punctuated my response to the old man's request. Ambolsen leaned on his right arm, looking at me, while his left extended to his side and held Requilum's hand atop the table; Curan's deep bellow finally broke the silence, "Well, how about a sunset?"
(7/22)The blaze of that distant, setting star - profoundly, a different star than my own sun - smeared the golden uniformity of the field across our faces, and Intralis, Opalia, Curan, and I sat in silence as humble observers to its cosmic curtain call. The healing that Curan promised had not failed to deliver; my place in front of such beauty, such tremendous, immutable truth as the movement of heavenly bodies over our heads reduced the weight of our burden, the power of sensed hatred, the dictation of tyrannous commands to a feathery nothingness, a pitiful demonstration of weakness, a failed attempt at control. A thousand golden stalks circled me and swayed in young twilight's inhalations and I declared silently that no siren, sultan, or slave could help but bend on knee before the altar of such perfection as this.
(7/23)"The Japhleti," her words returned to me from the field's memory, "the banished, the outcast," Opalia had said. To what cause had the likes of Requilum or Ambolsen, Intralis or Opalia refused their service that they'd be set apart here? At that point I couldn't say that I knew, but I had to wonder what it takes for a person to declare the beginning of their revolution, the birth of their rebellion; how does a person recognize a force inside of themself that supercedes an inkling of disobedience or a waft of dissatisfaction, and graduates to pure and whole hearted resistance.
(7/24)I found myself in a field of gold, of life, of thick and convoluted history obvious in its potency but, for me, silent toward its own content. Three strangers concerned themselves with the quality of my living and so made sure to protect my body and then my mind and then whatever it is that's comforted by the enormity of sinking stars. So then who were we opposing, I asked myself, what banishes the Japhleti?
(7/25)A piece of our sunset lingered behind my eyelids and I peaked at it again and again as I drifted to sleep that night. I laid there knowing that as far as one might walk into these caverns, to whatever length one must go to hear an echo die off, no one else would be found sleeping. I knew, and it seemed natural, that their rejuvenation came in silent treading and muffled discussion, patiently accomodating my unconscious addiction.
(7/26)I closed my eyes and opened them and the night had past by me in peace. The day became wonderfully unremarkable, an aimless tour of halls and passages scribbled meticulously with cryptic scripts for my ignorant eyes. I wandered with Opalia throughout the underground labyrinth and looked forward to the night's dinner; Ambolsen explained that a scouting patrol was returning and its members would be eager to give me their welcome.
(7/27)I remember that afternoon because it was the first time I saw the Last Wall, and that when our walk began I thought it was just a pastime before dinner. Though I didn't know what it was then, and I suppose Opalia thought it too complicated and at that point had no reason to hastily explain, I still remember its initial impression on me. I still remember how I trembled, how I touched the script, how it reached back at me.
(7/28)We had been weaving through marble halls for hours, every now and then coming upon a pile of demolished marble - a crumbled door or imploded wall. Our conversation was limited, never outreaching what we thought was necessary for the sake of formality, and I avoided questions about the damage, assuming age and pressure would take its toll on any structure. We were deep into the fortress, where lanterns became fewer, where shadows lengthened, and welcome for wayfarers noticeably thinned.
(7/29)I remember being mid-story, unfortunately distracted by my own useless talk, when Opalia climbed an approaching pile of rubble, larger than the ones previous, and paused at its summit. She waited for me to reach her and touched my shoulder, "quiet for a moment." I looked at her and nodded and stepped quickly after her down the far side of the pile, the hair on my neck in a steady rise.
(7/30)I've been told by the sniveling, bully brothers of my childhood friends that when a person shudders, as if against their will, it means they've walked through the unseen ghost of someone who's passed on before them. Their anecdote is ridiculous, I'm almost sure of it, but as Opalia led me into the next enclosure - the first without an obvious exit or continuing hallway - I felt what they would've described as a host of circling souls, a party of wraiths that packed this room and crept its perimeter invisibly. The room crawled through me and I shook, and I shook.
(7/31)It wasn't a violent place as much as tragic, empty despite the churning that rattled me. In fact, it's odd that the wall was not what I saw first, that I felt what I felt, and thought that that was all Opalia had stopped me for. But stepping deeper into the room my attention came to the edge of the stoney chamber, on our right, adjacent to the wall crumbled behind us.
(8/1)At its base a fine dust piled inches deep, speckled with larger chunks, all obviously chisled or hacked from the wall above. Remnants of what looked like footprints in the dust, disturbed from their original form, pattered along the entire length of the room. I remember staring and exhaling, exhaling so deeply, so on purpose, like I was scolding what I saw scattered up the wall.
(8/2)I could tell that the writer, or writers, had started working at the bottom. The script, a messier form of what was printed in every hall, began near the floor in neat lines and with steady shape. But as the script rose the words took on a paniced nature, their curves losing grace, their lines losing integrity; the writers had changed pace, and the message, not its appearance, became priority.
(8/3)Museums can haunt and they can distance, integrate ancient events into a present reality or more fully make fiction the archived myths of history. I felt both of those things that day: witness to an important happening but one that had simply arrived too late to understand it. Desperation had gripped the writer in his or her last lines and the words, apparently etched at a full arm's length above the head, trembled out of legible sequence, shaking eternally in their stoney parchment.
(8/4)I became sick with the thought of one, and the most obvious, detail: the wall was made of stone, so the author, even in their hurry, even in the shadow of whatever drove their haste, had to have been carving for hours if not days. It was not a simple jotting of ideas, not a note in passing. Their sweat was probably still soaking that wall; blood from chapped hands had probably dried and dusted off over time; they leaned into whatever tool they held and willed a final declaration into stone, without ceasing, until their bodies gave way or until something pulled their hand from the wall.
(8/5)"There's a great deal that's happened here," Opalia echoed herself. "Soon," she said, trying not to rush me through my thoughts, "you will see clearly." She breathed, and allowed herself a moments look at the wall, "and then you cannot be afraid."
(8/6)Those were the only words spoken that afternoon, or in any days soon to follow, about the wall. Opalia left me in the room, left me to take count of the heavily fortified walls, striped redundantly with pillars. In just one corner of one of the other three walls the room's continuity was broken; a small hole had been busted out of the wall, knee high, and the first few feet of a ragged tunnel pushed hopelessly into the soil beyond.
(8/7)We left the room behind exhausted, to be sure, but not broken as with the infecting visions. We tread silently for awhile over crumbled stone but destruction became less frequent again, and the halls took back their light, and the weight of the day lifted steadily from my chest. Opalia asked me about my home, about the land I explored, the streams I liked to wade in; she seemed to dream them while I described them, to honestly desire a place like the one I remembered, in a way I had not seen her desire anything else.
(8/8)During those days scouting parties would come in and rest, eat and laugh and smile and then reshoulder their packs and leave for undisclosed locations along the span of moriah's border. They experienced a mortal salvation; welcomed to a wealthy table whose only poverty was the actual contents of its meals, always the thin steam of ethereal soup, which in turn was dwarfed by the riches of royal company. Men and women dirtied with the soot of their work and the imperfection of their wills were washed clean in the presence of those that cared for them and anticipated their safe returns.
(8/9)It was a time of apprenticeship for me. I embraced those days as a young blacksmith might embrace the feel of a wooden hammer; he holds an illigetimate tool, by all accounts useless in practice, and stands in the shadow of a calloused, weathered master, constantly bent over the suffocating heat of his molding fire. But hold a tool the apprentice does, as he will blister his hands with the careful work of his own artisanship when the days of observation become the days of creation.
(8/10)My sleep dwindled and to no one's surprise but my own, I attributed my renewed strength to the zephyrous soup enjoyed at each meal. I would close my eyes and drift to sleep, mostly without disturbance, but wake only three hours later, then two, then barely one and feel better rested than with years of lengthy slumber. I watched Ambolsen and Requilum take the weary to themselves each evening and offer a conversation or a morsel of advice, always a meal, and return to these people a fortune of endurance on a platter of genuine gratitude.
(8/11)Their existence seemed metaphorical, the stuff of parables. I observed how Ambolsen embraced his role as the sentinel of a people against the wearing friction of self doubt and exhaustion. I chronicled Requilum's insistance to each guest at her table that the pitch and tide of conviction within a person should not become a fountain of shame but a place to recognize the vagaries of an individual's spirit, and the heights to which a person might go if the right motive can be gardened and tended wisely.
(8/12)In turn, however, the more aggressively I saw this population trying to stifle the efforts of its opposition, the clearer my ignorance toward the nature of that opposition became. What battle fields were these people returning to? What were the weapons and how were the casualties counted?
(8/13)Intralis had become uneasy, disappearing by himself for many nights at a time with little or no provisions but his knife. Opalia too had stolen deeper into herself, drifting about, disengaged from us all. They would appear at entryways, leaning on the wall as a transient audience to the activity of the fortress; they would argue with Ambolsen or Requilum, though their concerns remained unspoken in front of me.
(8/14)Nevertheless, they observed a strict allegiance to my well-being. They smiled with me and were authentic, and with their actions and attention wished me well beyond what words might attempt. But their discontent was mounting, and certainly at a rate well beyond that of anyone else.
(8/15)Two and a half weeks passed, and the rate of incoming groups only intensified. They were always called "scout parties" and their members adhered to a common schedule, never staying more than two nights, but their similarities ended there. They became the vital shards of a living mosaic, any one of the picture's pieces were fleeting, difficult to know well.
(8/16)The waning light of one afternoon brought in a large scout party from a distant edge of the border. The remoteness of their deployment tightened the knitting that bound them together and they intended to enjoy their relief. The group was elite and well discplined, hardened and soiled by the demand of their post and respected therein by fellow Japhleti.
(8/17)That night I met Calig, a member of the outskirts clan who approached me and welcomed me to the moriah, nevermind that his homecoming was much more pressing. Calig wore his experience as did Intralis and Curan, their perfect exteriors stained proudly by the trials of their service. His stories rivaled Curan's and I hung on the valor that permeated his exclamations; he spoke of Ambolsen and Requilum as father and mother.
(8/18)The evening's table found itself set to capacity and the prodigal Japhleti exuded an excitement for each other and their feast that insisted all within the chambers come and dine. But a paradox tore at me; illness was so far unseen in this place yet I found myself, all at once, stealing away from the group, then jogging and sprinting outside where I was violently sick. It came and passed, hardly a conscious thought paid to it, and I returned to my company.
(8/19)The meal harvested good will from its participants whose boisterous commuion rang loud for the city to hear. But their celebration became secondary to my sickness. Increasingly I focused on staying upright and tried to smile when I knew I should.
(8/20)I wavered in my chair, my attention bounced nautiously from the table and my eyes fell on Intralis, leaning against a distant wall; finally it occured to me. His arms folded, his brow pushed slightly down and his shoulders raised in tension, Intralis steadied his head and marched his gaze smoothly from wall to wall. Intralis did not idly guard the walls of moriah or stand aloof in condescension; his restlessness of late, like Opalia's, reflected not boredom or arrogance, but alarm.
(8/21)I looked for Opalia but didn't find her. I spun to a void between consciousness and darkness and panicked silently, hoping for the saving hand of my friend. As my eyes shriveled to blackness I could see Intralis take his first bounding steps toward me and his arms outstretched were the last light I saw before the black.
(8/22)The screaming mouth was on my ear, the breath of its howl fogging my mind, and as the forest collapsed away from me I stumbled down the hillside and cupped my ears. My legs dragged my body to a sprint before I knew to run, but soon a conscious obligation to protect brought me racing through a forest, now kindling for a young flame. The blaze burst and breathed in front of me, throwing embers on my path and taking each trunk to ashes just before my fingers could reach them.
(8/23)I tried to promise it as I ran, tried to assure a tumbling valley-forest that I would protect it from this origin-less flame. I yelled at it to hope, to live and stay standing so that I might wrap my arms around it and shield it from a sweltering death. But the fire felt its own power, drank itself drunk with its newly realized impunity, and rose up all the more to engulf leaf and root.
(8/24)A river approached, the end of the valley-forest. I threw myself into the current and surfaced at the far side. There was no flame, no forest, no valley entombed in soot, just people like pillars standing aimlessly unaware of my presence.
(8/25)A figure weaved through the crowd. As he walked he attempted to converse but his effect never changed; always the pillar-like person collapsed and turned to stone. With every metamorphosis the traveler cringed more hopelessly, and lifted the stone to his back with lonely hands.
(8/26)He seemed sentence to bare the weight on legs that would never give up. He trudged from one face to the next and awaited the inevitable mutation. His first words became unheard, preemptive apologies.
(8/27)Shivering myself dry I watched the massacre take place one by one, the assassin unable to abandon his task. The ground cracked and a mountain began its eruption from the dirt floor. The stone collector continued his task, more miserable than ever, embattled against a steepening cliff.
(8/28)Soon the man was climbing. He lifted himself up a rocky aspect, unable to walk. As he screamed, enraged and defeated on the mountainside, the stones on his back were awakened and the faces of the pillar-people returned.
(8/29)They whispered to him and jeered him and condemned him for his work. They taunted his tyrranny and each retold the story of their transformation insisting he listen closely and attend to each of their details. He tried to keep climbing; he wept; their whispers became yells and demands for more attention and his grip, and the rock face, began to weaken.
(8/30)The burden on his back rivaled the challenge in his hands and the man's will split between them. He faultered and slipped, falling a few feet to another hand hold before breaking from the cliff altogether. As he fell the stones on his back through their arms around him to his chest and they bore him without relent to a darkness below where I did not follow.
(9/1)I awoke and surged upward from my back, vomiting to my side. Opalia caught me and held me while I writhed, sucked to catch my breath. "Come back," she whispered while I hung limp in her arms.
(9/2)I stayed awake, washed in foreboding and soon Opalia left me. I could hear Intralis and Opalia pass my door throughout the day, marking my chamber with tense footprints and a warning to unnamed intruders. My illness had been kept a secret as best it could; they were looking for a source.
(9/3)The arguments I had witnessed in part between Intralis and Opalia and Ambolsen and Requilum repeated themselves outside my door. It seemed that whatever foresight had rained upon my friends in these past days was now welling-up also within the leaders of this place. Neither wise Ambolsen nor soothing Requilum would speak their darker suspicions openly, an apprehension unfound in Intralis the vigilant.
(9/4)"You realize what you're implying Intralis," I heard Ambolsen say, quiet and stiff, "things have not been that way for a very long time." Requilum sounded her thoughts next, her voice deeper, emptied of its usual embrace, "Remember what this would mean, what's necessary to achieve what you're suggesting." Intralis resumed his argument but Opalia interjected, urgent impatience woven in her warning, "We risk lives the longer we forfeit our intuition; your sentries are sounding trumpets, you have a spy."
(9/5)A quiet acceptance hung over the group outside; their common contemplation seeped into my room and I too tried to imagine the unspoken implications. The moriah had secrets, I was sure, but it felt that information may not be the medium of injury. Ambolsen's voice spoke the straightening of his spine, and the conscious sharpening of his thoughts at the presentation of danger, "Walk with me then, and tell me what you've observed."
(9/6)The preparation of dinner whirled around me, a dizzied gathering of scouts congratulating each other's survival, each of them, it felt, stopping to rest a callused hand on my back and ask me, in their beautifully brazened tones, if I was ok and to not hesitate speaking my needs. Soon the night's bowls steamed toward the marble ceiling and all but Intralis and Opalia had gathered. Ambolsen and Requilum had taken their seats and began their welcome, as any other night, when Intralis entered and filled one of few remaining seats.
(9/7)He said nothing and made eye contact with no one, entangled in a calculation or a puzzle internally. I knew some small piece of the problem but to its magnitude and to their solution I was ignorant. Meanwhile the predatorial clan of violent imaginings, usually banished from this place, stalked at the perimeter of my mind.
(9/8)They circled me, predators scanning the herd for patches of vulnerability and worry spun me. But they didn't attack. A commanding voice kept them on leash, one which did not order them, "no", but murmured, empathetic to their lust, "not yet".
(9/9)Every seat, no matter which scout filled it on which night, was inhabited by a person who had heard the reputation of Intralis and Opalia recounted around moriah's fires. Often a glaze of dumb incredulity would throw itself on a young Japhleti's face if legendary Intralis or Opalia joined them for a meal and Requilum would have to remind the young one to eat. Sometimes, it would be an hour or more into the celebration before their names were spoken and anyone from the outskirts would only then know who their dinner-mates were.
(9/10)His unrest was obvious, and Opalia's absence noted; tension became contagion. Myself and my three friends were alone in the room for a moment while the rest of the Japhleti stopped to look inside themselves, to resume their guarded natures for a moment wondering if they'd missed something the good Intralis was sensing. Attack was imminent, my safe perimeter collapsing under the piercing, amplifying call of death which pinched my eyes closed.
(9/11)But Requilum noticed as the Japhleti reflected and rearmed and she played a lulling, lying lyre of confidence to assure them back to their meal. "Please, my guests, unclench your burdens for awhile," she said with a little smirk. "This meal will be quite wasted if all we do is eat it."
(9/12)Requilum's words cooled the burn of their suspicion. Her questions left them no time for second thoughts and she whisked them away to proud explanation of their days. Death, whose hands I struggled and flailed against, hoisting me by the neck, released its cold digits one by one, setting me to my feet as Requilum reminded it of its inferiority to her; a sublime ordination armored her commands.
(9/13)Imagine the creaking of an old farm house swept by the bluster of a winter snow. It leans and shudders above you, is sturdy but moans almost inaudibly of weakness, and the cold, desolate night weasels between the walls. Requilum diverted the threat at the edge of my camp to that place, where the elements should remain tamed but nonetheless rattle and blow against your defenses, testing your walls with the squeeze of conspiracy.
(9/14)I listened to the creaking of my conscience, deaf to the laughing dinner party. My ear was pressed against a door, not actually wanting to hear clearly the dark murmuring on the other side but too curious to back away. I looked around the table - found Calig and his elite group of scouts as well as the new party that had arrived today - and was strangely thankful that none of them were feeling this, that despite my inexperience this disease seemed caged to circulate in only my veins.
(9/15)Then something approached, something rogue outside my camp not answering to the power that kept the others at bay. It came quickly, from a different task, a different objective of its own. It sprinted out of the darkness toward me and breached the perimeter bounding with legs and tail and teeth and claws borne shimmering in a night that it decidedly owned unrivaled by the opponents of death.
(9/16)I was not at a table, I was in the center of a remote village, alone in a porous hut watching a desert's hyena's careen toward their feast. Under paw and the stare of desperate hunger, dogs pushed to starvation by insatiable taste, drooling venom from mouths that were sentenced to eternal pangs of desire, I wept and cowered. For them I was not new or old, first or last, special, simple, individual, royal or meek; from them I was simply apart, and as such, dispensable enemy.
(9/17)Never had I felt so convincing a removal from my mind. Before then I had only witnessed the common capacity of the mind, the trails most easily traveled by our conscious selves. But this hunt chased me to a place exclusive from my body, where a sense of my physical surrounding was petty and negligible, unimpressive against the landscape I found myself in.
(9/18)I lost sense of foolishness, of modesty, indeed to me there existed no world to feel a fool in. My only reality was under the curling claws of this hungry pack and for me its members continued to flow unabated out of the darkness into my camp to join in the feast of my death. And so that world, the one in which I sat helplessly alone, bled into the world in which I was unknowingly surrounded by allies.
(9/19)My trauma was unbearable, my wounds were real and my pain unprecedented. I thrashed against the dogs, screamed at them, hollered in what I percieved as my last moments, promising to haunt them as the apparition of myself. Against the ground my back pressed under the weight of their savagery and the end drew near.
(9/20)But the worlds of my mind and my body were connected, regardless of how I percieved them. At the table of the Japhleti I hollered and writhed, raged against a phantom attacker which left no mark on my skin but dropped blow after blow and drew blood from my mind. I struck the scouts around me, and had they been lesser than Japhleti they may have defended themselves with all their lethal ability; instead they sheltered me from myself and tried to penetrate the shadow blacking me out from their world.
(9/21)Its then that the sun shone on the midnight desert, that god drew up the ocean to drown the sands and these wicked dogs and take me from my misery. The vail burned, more quickly than it'd been stitched and my eyes opened in groggy powerlessness to Intralis and the scouts standing over me. All eyes, of Japhleti seated and of Japhleti standing over me were fixed on my finally stilled body.
(9/22)Opalia entered and the radiance of my salvation burned ever brighter. Yet, even in my state, I could see objective draped on her. She wore the same cloak that she'd donned before the city's guards had made their fatal mistake some days ago.
(9/23)The scouts around me helped me to my chair at the end of the table and Intralis, Ambolsen, and Requilum retook their seats on guard. I didn't know what they'd heard; my memory was that of a dream in which one screams and wakes up not knowing if the cry had actually rung out. Looking about, I noticed Opalia's appearance had changed.
(9/24)She walked toward without meeting my eyes, my head clearing with incredible and confusing speed. The Japhleti on my side of the table murmured to each other, making sure they were not alone in having never seen something like this before. Few were paying attention to Opalia while she walked, few save the constant stares of Ambolsen, Requilum, and Intralis.
(9/25)Opalia had shed the simple cloth cloak which usually hooded her head and covered her arms, which were now exposed to the shoulder. Her walk, steady and intentional, took her past me where her hand rested momentarily on my shoulder and then left it without another interaction. Our table was long and our company was many, but she seemed to have a single destination.
(9/26)As the stirring over my calamity started to settle, some of the scouts across from me, on the sides of Intralis, Ambolsen and Requilum, noted the added presence of Opalia and casually watched her walk behind my row of Japhleti. Intralis' face had yet to change throughout the meal; even the glimpses I'd managed at him while on the ground were expectant, completely unsurprised. The same impermeable gaze now fixed itself on Opalia's strides and when I noted that Ambolsen and Requilum likewise were scrutinizing her walk, I turned to watch.
(9/27)None of the scouts on my edge of the table recognized the alertness seizing those opposite them. All had turned back to talking, some even chuckled in nervous relief, hoping that was the end of the night's eventfullness. Intralis, Requilum, Ambolsen, a handful of unwitting scouts and myself were audience to Opalia's march behind the table.
(9/28)She walked between the backs of dining Japhleti and a large stone wall studded with burning lanterns that left faintly lit circles on the floor. Out of one illuminated space, into shadow and then back into the light she continued. Shadows crossed her tightly drawn face and all watching fell deep into anticipation.
(9/29)Opalia neared the middle of the table, never slowing or speeding. My ignorance tore at me; I looked to Intralis for a hint and saw that he had taken his eyes off Opalia. Trying to track his stare I looked back at Opalia and her destination became obvious, her attention tunnelled toward this one body; she locked her eyes on the back of Calig's head and made her way to his seat.
(9/30)The image of a mangled guard climbed from the heaps of waste in my memory. It reexposed itself to me, reasserted its brutality. I feared what she was about to do.
(9/31)Opalia neared Calig's shoulder and without speaking, or even a suggestion of doubt she continued behind him; only now her arms were ablaze with the brand of traitors, a light strobed within her that silouhetted her collection of texts, of allegations, of faces drawn in the throes conflict. As she crossed him, one shoulder to the other, her branding surfaced boldy, convicted its audience, and disappeared again beneath her surface. Intralis looked on still unsurprised, but his expectations were the only ones that allowed such a response.
(10/1)Disbelief enchained the Japhleti beside Requilum and Ambolsen. They had never seen those scars, those markings attributed mostly to myth, given to a traitor on her day of profound banishment, messages whose illumination now could only tell one truth toward he who brought about that illumination. They sat with ashen, sunken faces and collapsed postures, refuting, battling, accepting what Opalia's forever wounded body had just spoken about this Calig.
(10/2)The scouts opposite of them, those with their backs to Opalia, quickly found the emptiness in their comrades and followed their looks of disgust to Calig. They looked at Calig in confusion and back at Opalia as she continued past the far end of the table, stopping against the far wall. She leaned there and watched; she had spoken her peace.
(10/3)A solitary scout continued, seemingly unaware of the magnitude of this moment. He bent over his steaming bowl, slowly spooning soup into his mouth, a small grin in his cheeks. He was Calig the elite, Calig the spy.
(10/4)Ambolsen's head had dropped similarly, casually, his demeanor unrushed by and unteathered to any distraction he did not welcome. He also spooned a last taste of the meal into his body. Gently, he laid his hands on either side of the bowl, keeping his head bowed, as if to say a word of thanks for the meal.
(10/5)Then the old man spoke, selecting a voice from his armament that would have won him eternity if in that voice he requested it. His first words skirted the border between tongue and cheek, dropped toward the bowl, and scattered to the ether without direction or orient, addressing not a man but an idea more ubiquitous than bodies in the physical. Ambolsen communed above us for a moment, as if speaking to an old friend - or foe - in a tongue inaccessible to the weathered and inexperienced.
(10/6)"We know that you are here," Ambolsen said. "But the hour that brought you here, which secrets you have learned and which secrets you have set in the confidence of your commander, we cannot guess. Nevertheless, the spirit that rules you has compromised an entire people."
(10/7)A description of Calig's tretchery circled in Ambolsen's soup and he watched calmly, reviewing the history of confidence and intimacy he himself had placed in Calig. He sat erect, then, and looked deep into his guest, still leaned over his bowl. Ambolsen's patience began to skirt from his skin.
(10/8)"And if this night," he continued, his tone stiffening, the depth of the insult singing blood and bone, lifting his finger to those around the table, "instead of deceiving these people, you found yourself betraying the community that sent you here, then your capture and your imprisonment would include such pain, such a slow stroll through shriveled gardens, where what you behold is no longer life nor creation, but constant and drawnout demonstration of the most diabolical creativity a person has been known to conjure..." Calig began to scoff, trying to dismiss the old man as cenile or ignorant, "Do not act as if you know..." but Ambolsen refused to loiter before the insolence, standing striking the table with his fist and raising his arm in a gesture toward the city his chair fell backward, "if tonight you made your bed in the prison of your people, an overture of misery would be played out upon your body; your limbs would recount and your mind would curse the perfect retardation of death which comes only at the hands of those willing to sit in community with one another and combine their wits so that when a night such as tonight brings a traitor to their table they know exactly the blade, exactly the elixir, exactly the suffocation that could smoke the truth from that traitor's lungs.
(10/9)"That is where you come from, my son, a coalition whose task is the comprehensive oppression of another's will and the extrication of a mind from its body, your people make ghosts of living souls. In this place," he spit, his finger pointing at the table, determined and disgusted, "you will not find a person whose wits I will insult by ordering their blades to search out your most exploitable weakness - to identify that,” Ambolsen boomed, “I need only point to the place of your allegiance.” Silence.
(10/10)Ambolsen sat. Calig quickly pushed himself from the table; almost simultaneously Opalia rose from the wall and Intralis stood, in warning. Ambolsen, nearly yelling, "You have been found out, and now the moriah awaits your lonely walk home."
(10/11)Walk home. I didn't understand. Calig had infiltrated the moriah and deceived its leaders personally, roamed with unwitting scouts, learned and perfected their patterns, realized the target of their observation, brought assault upon my mind, wounded probably forever the integrity of this refuge and now, without a scar or bruise, would walk back to his people.
(10/12)"Intralis, Opalia," Ambolsen commanded, suddenly exhausted, "bring him to Curan." My friends walked Calig out of the room, to be escorted from the moriah by its gatekeeper. Celebration and unity had long dissolved and disappeared into the walls; each of us sat quiet, alone, divided by our blemished images of the moriah's identity.
(10/13)The scouts from Calig's unit slowly began to empty their seats, returning to packs that needed organizing and refilling. They milled from task to task sober and defeated, weaker than I had seen them. Their scars suggested that they'd seen brothers and sisters dead in the muds of moriah, or friends who disappeared in the proximity of the city; but the wound which bleeds from a brother's betrayal reddens of venemous infection, a sepsis that pulses in the victims of deceit.
(10/14)I hurt for them, imagined the stories and memories Calig had surely shared with them, the way such a group inevitably - in some capactiy - makes proclamations of brotherhood and take up one another's burdens. Such proclamations build edifices in people, they constitute the home to which a person is supposed to retreat from pain and uncertainty. Calig the illusionist had slowly removed bricks from that escape and shaken their senses, introduced homelessness to their confidence; I hurt for them.
(10/15)That night was the first that seeemed orderless. I wandered outside past Curan, smoking a thin pipe and looking out on the moriah. A figure moved away from us slowly in the distance, his shamed frame dissolving into the black of the night horizon.
(10/16)I paused there and looked at the moriah's constellated ceiling, glowing ignorantly without regard for the night's happening. Curan and I were quiet together, watching the moriah's inhabitant slinking away. "He's lucky the other scouts won't hear tonight," Curan told me, "there's a good chance he'll make it home."
(10/17)I left Curan and walked through the high golden grass away from the city. Behind me Curan and a few scouts stoked a large fire, slowly accumulating onlookers from inside. I sat in the grass and lost myself in the flame.
(10/18)It's strange how the storm will mask its immensity, how the ocean keeps secret powers floating boldly in its waters. Thunder clouds rise sharply over thinkers darkened by their times and the shadow cast on their world is obvious. The ocean swells and blackens and never shies from reminding a sailor of his helplessness.
(10/19)But looking at the same sky for a moment infused with a tear of lightning, the folds and sinks, saddles and crevasses of the cloud become clear and the storm matures from an entity that rains and rumbles to a power more convoluted, more comprehensively looming. Casting one's eyes into the freezing ocean as a light burns inside the depths one sees the steady crawl of invisible, massive bergs, drifting beside and dwarfing his little boat. The true scale of the storm and dynamic sea hides in their own darkness, awaiting a revealing light.
(10/20)I knew that good was complemented with powers that disregard it, powers for which volumes of names have been jotted. But until then I hadn't paid attention to the lightning in the sky or the illuminations in the sea, hadn't appreciated the true form of what so many call evil. In this world Intralis became my lightning, Opalia my flash beneath the bergs; they illuminated new structures, naturally hidden when darkness rules unchallenged by even moments of light, and this night I endured the dark pause of a cooling sky, waiting for the next flash to silhouette bergs threatening catastrophe in my sea.
(10/21)When Ambolsen found me sitting in the grass, Opalia and Intralis sitting with Requilum by the fire, he casually joined me in the dirt among the stalks. He apologized, saying that he had promised me safety which he then didn't deliver. I accepted and refused necessity, and we sat together as simple men watching the dance of a bonfire.
(10/22)I couldn't feel the resentment surfacing until it reached my mouth, when it came in a bold question. "Why should Calig simply go free - wasn't what he did to you," I looked at my companion, "what he did to me, wasn't it unforgiveable?" He nodded.
(10/23)"Then why did you let him go," I said to him, angering, not letting him answer, "think about what he knows, about us, about the city, about the tower. You wasted so much, think of who we could've protected," I went on rhetorically, not expecting an answer. Ambolsen waited paitently.
(10/24)"You're right, my friend, Calig knows a great deal and before tonight had hurt us in many ways. I didn't imprison him because his commander would already know whatever he knows, their communication would have been frequent." I was indignant, Ambolsen was avoiding my point, "There's more to be considered than imprisoning him," I said quietly, not needing to clarify.
(10/25)I had listened to Ambolsen's message to Calig, and I always admired his nobility, but the wager was the moriah's defense and Ambolsen was not the only one betting. I anticipated that others would voice their disatisfaction in private and that my complaint might as well be the first of those to come. A tool at our discretion was left unnused, and it felt weak, cowardly, the policy of the lesser convicted.
(10/26)And yet, I would learn that night that even our deepest running convictions, those that churn our depths, can betray us. Namely we fall victim to the one that assumes those who disagree with us simply haven't given the matter enough thought. Somehow I had forgotten Ambolsen altogether, even when speaking to him, never imagined the place his decision was coming from.
(10/27)Ambolsen finally stood, staring at a void between us and the fire. "You may be right," he said with a pursed chin and pointed brow, "you may be right indeed." His murmurs barely blew past his lips and fell gently to his chest, where he felt the added weight and breathed heavily against the concession.
(10/28)He turned to me, a friendly smile forced to his lips, "I'll have to take my leave for the night." The old man twisted toward the entrance and walked silently passed the crowd. Intralis watched him disappear into the stairway and joined me soon after.
(10/29)I dipped my head, almost ashamed but frustrated even for feeling that. "You were frustrated with what happened to Calig?" Intralis asked. I raised my head and nodded, "aren't you?"
(10/30)Intralis answered without hesitation, "No, we'd already lost." Surely he was protecting his leader and his pretended blindness sickened me, "Already lost, we didn't even try." Intralis caught my reply and slowed it down, convincing it it was still to ignorant to make such accusations.
(11/1)His mouth moved slowly and, while I watched the weather lines bend and fold in his face, a face caught between the life of a man and the age of boy, his first words came and arrested me. "Many years ago, a war ended here. The end of that war brought the people of this place to a point of decision," he turned and looked me in the eye, "a point after which some things can never be done again, a point we chose to define something in us that will never recanted so long as our wills allow."
(11/2)My curiosity burned but I feared that I'd distanced myself from his confidence; I waited quietly, hoping. He began again, reaching into his mind and opening a book, one he didn't scan over lightly or return to often. But his recitation was a song, the poem of his people I'd been missing so long.
(11/3)"You remember," he said into the night, "that Ambolsen spoke of the city as a home to us all, that at one time there were no Japhleti. Mostly that's true; I lived there myself, as did Opalia and Curan and Requilum. We were, all of us, patriots in service to the power of a nation, a city built without walls or gates, a city unrecognizable to the one that stands in its place now.
(11/4)Intralis glanced at me again and back to the horizon, "You'll find that those living in this world do not seem to age as quickly as you're used to; our faces, our bodies do not change as those of the people where you come from. I served, for longer than you may believe, as one of a legion of soldiers, an army perfected by the capabilities of its assassins, of its elite. Opalia was there with me," he turned to me again, "she and I and a handful of others came into an affinity for combat well above that necessary for war or defense; our design was for the offensive, for the preemptive, for a caliber which approaches invincibility."
(11/5)Intralis paused on the rubicon of a new chapter, read the heading silently to himself, and meditated on it for a moment. He was burdened by its memory, by the chapter's authoring. The wince in his eyes brought me back to the night on his roof, the look I'd seen him make when the second guard revealed himself below us on the street; then I'd interpreted it as weakness, now I knew it was sorrow, sorrow for death, sorrow for two deaths instead of one, sorrow for many deaths.
(11/6)Intralis finally left his silence and seemed to read the heading of that chapter to me, "Another people," he began, and paused. I lifted my head toward my narrator with a long drawn face and open eyes; for some reason I'd not expected, never foreseen the fact that this world was ever home to more than those who inhabited it now. "Another people," he said again assuringly, "entered with us into conflict, and that invincibility was exercised, was overwhelming, was corrupted."
(11/7)Intralis planted himself into the memory of the city, looking outward at this other society, telling me what he saw from the recesses of time passed. "They threatened our security, endangered the future of our children, posed a threat to our way of life, to the perseverance of our people. Times became such that suspicion was the duty of all of the city's servants.
(11/8)"Our leadership understood that the war's commencement meant commitment, a struggle that would not end quickly or cleanly, and the people exalted their resolve. For a time war composed the focus of the people." Intralis looked at me as if trying to convince me, "In the beginning a common enemy tightened our bonds and our strength surged," his teeth clenched, his eyebrows lifted, his chin wrinkled.
(11/9)"But we began to recognize instabilities within our people. We embraced isolation and distrust and worked every day to hate another society more and more," his words growled, "so that our killing could come easier." Here he paused, a gap where an apology might naturally fall, and continued, "But hate was making us ill.
(11/10)"Avenues to our minds, to our hearts, ones we couldn't foresee, became pathways for vile, toxic things. Violence became the pasttime of our children; killing was in their games, in their nightmares, in their futures. But their sickness became confused and clouded by talk of honor and the dignity of a warrior.
(11/11)"Who was a parent to keep a child from the glory of defending one's home? As long as a strike or a jab or the flick of a wicked tongue was in the defense of one's identity, then assault could earn legitimacy as a sort of patriotism. Our city divided at a time it starved for unity; our unrest became our undoing.
(11/12)The city tore and became of two minds. One - including most of us who had fought longest in this war - began to dissent, to whisper at first, but then speak and yell that we were losing sight of our objective, that the powerful had given chase to something very dark, something that did not attempt to distinguish the innocent from the enemy. And the other mind - which we watched grow in the training of soldiers, and in the elder committees, in governing, then in homes and in the children's schools - decided that defeating the armies of the West would not be enough, that their ranks would recover and refill."
(11/13)"The West?" I questioned; Intralis didn't stop, expecting understanding. He pressed into memory and his voice trembled, "Our leaders insisted that these other people couldn't be understood, or changed, or tolerated. They told us that we had to be strong, to do what couldn't be done easily, to make sure this war was the last.
(11/14)"What remained of the West's armies posed substantial resistance if their combatants had to be plucked carefully from their communities. So, simply, they abandoned differentiating between soldier and civilian and a new decree ordered our soldiers to leave no one breathing, to allow no history of their people a vessle into the future, whether by a child that could grow to tell stories or a monument that told them silently. Intralis looked upward, an auditor sat in the clouds and he promised it the truth, "We were to wipe them away like pests."
(11/15)"So we marched," Intralis continued, knowing my silence would last. His narration serpentined a grisly cluster of memories, years dedicated to a newly proclaimed objective, to the only objective that would guarantee victory - complete decimation. At times, he recalled the movements of his army's elite units with closed eyes, felt again the crunch of the golden field under his unit's silent trudging, tried to offer peace to memories still reeling with trauma, and received again the refusing tantrum of a troubled veteran's mind.
(11/16)That night Intralis was losing a part of himself in front of me, stretching his efforts to explain over volumes of memory. At one point, he leaned forward and grimaced, smeared his palms down the sides of his cheek, his hands possessed with subtle convulsion. "We wandered so far from what we can be..." and he was quiet for a moment, squeezing himself to stillness.
(11/17)There had only been one war in this world, so terrible, so comprehensively merciless, so removed from the qualities of civilization and forgetful of the benefits of communion that few now dared mention the prospect of another, for fear of the ruinous faculties a second war might summon from those that survived the dead. "We marched the golden field and seiged and pummeled their gates, destroyed each of their five pillars and spread the wreckage across the golden field. We chased them through their labyrinths, pursued each pair of legs no matter how slow, how young, how frail.
(11/18)"We pinned them in their own underground," my mind cleared and I faced Intralis as he spoke. "We chased them to the edge of precedented brutality and then chased them all the faster," the palace, the halls, the five-armed dome, the truth reigned in front of me, "on the promise that it meant our own survival we championed their destruction, we finally cornered them, and we ended it all." The Last Wall, the palace itself, the stairs descending to shadow in the middle of an empty golden field, the remnant of an extinguished civilization inhabited by their destroyers.
(11/19)Intralis had returned to the natural frame of himself, the one that held like stone to my questioning. Yes, he responded to me, yes the room underground, hidden deep in the belly of moriah's palace, yes, it was the final hope of this other people, the place of their last hiding, the place their last wall fell. Yes, there the last of this other people burned, to be remembered only by their stench and colored smoke and blackened remains, and there, reading those words, Intralis turned and closed the final page of his most terrifying chapter.
(11/20)"The words you touched, the carvings in the wall, they left those, that was their message." I digested for a moment, trying not to be sick. Oh my hands, my fleeting, unworthy skin; what does a man do after pressing his palms to the dying letters of a people; what could he then touch of more worth than that story?
(11/21)"When dawn arrived the morning we entered the undergound, our soldiers poured into their palace and found a city’s worth of common people, along with soldiers eager to surrender, holed up in their own temple. That morning a group of us, most of the elite, refused their orders to persue, abandoned their weapons near the gate. But war power seduced our leaders to inaccessbile heights, altitudes that intoxicate against compassion; the reduction of our enemy to something less than living was successful; those soldiers that refused to press on were deemed mutaneers, the henceforth banished, the Japhleti among you now."
(11/22)Intralis continued, mourning the memory of a city that once welcomed him home. A nation forgets itself in the throes of conquest. His forgot the feel of a free breeze that slips in without walls to climb, forgot the growth that diverse minds endear, traded the strength of tools forged in scholarship and diplomacy for authority fashioned by blacksmiths and weapons traders.
(11/23)"Very few in the city knew anything about the people we invaded," his story kept leaking. "I see the people we killed, I see them, I hear them crying out, defending themselves with stones and their hands, but its just sounds, just empty screams, another language. It was easier, they were like animals, they couldn't beg me by name," he looked at me then, wanting me to understand, "but I can only guess what they're begging me, only imagine the things they offered, how far they had to flee from pride; and they have to die every time I remember them."
(11/24)I wanted to rewrite his history, to explain how what they did was important and brave, and I would have. But he wouldn't let me in. He commanded his guilt away from consolation.
(11/25)"The last of them ran as deep as they could in the palace, to a room built to protect the king should the palace come under seige. But the king met us at the gates, extending his sword to us, unable to speak the peace he wanted. He ate dirt from the ground, because we told him to, he gave us his clothes, because we told him to, he died ashamed and alone, because we wanted it to be."
(11/26)The king's blood soiled the ground at the gates, his people underground, aggression precipitating a kingdom's end. And so the carving began. For days this last group cowered in the underground chamber, their wall weakening beneath the blows of their persuers, and they set their hands to work.
(11/27)"Our soldiers could hear their panic, desperate digging, they were trying to escape." I remembered the hole at one end of the room. "But passed the wall there was just soil, eternities of it, suffocating their hope.
(11/28)"Hysteria almost killed them first. They wailed, as if already suffering. They cursed us as we came.
(11/29)But their defense was thick and our efforts slowed. One day passed and we pressed into the wall, still holding us back. Then a new tone filled the room, the shuffling and chaos replaced by an unsettling silence, marked only by a dull scratching.
(11/30)"The city reissued a furious order. It deployed new captains to oversee the wall's breach, to bark and snap at the heels of soldiers hacking the wall. They yelled that the enemy was planning an escape, that these soldiers were allowing the enemy to win, that they should be ashamed of their weakness.
(12/1)"They kept scratching at the walls. Large chunks fell and then a moment of silence, and then the scratching again. The calm haunted us, acceptance had penetrated the condemened and it enraged our leaders."
(12/2)"The third day, before the sun rose, the wall buckled. Our soldiers cheered and smiled, peered into the first crack and hollered their desires, their lust for the end. No response followed, but the scratching became rapid and tense."
(12/3)"Somehow, we knew, the trapped had been strengthened, but the scratching betrayed a renewed nervousness. They could feel us coming. Our worlds were no longer separated, they could listen to the foreign drone of our chatter, the way we encouraged each other forward toward their end.
(12/4)"In the city, soldiers appealed to the leadership, implored them to call off the hunt, that the war had begotten a massacre. There was no turning back. The whooping and hollering of the city's soldiers echoed in the halls, they were drunk with their task.
(12/5)"The crack in the wall grew slowly, the stone holding strong. But as it did an impossible stillness within the chamber became more prevalent. A captain ordered the pounding stopped for a moment, and the soldiers, with heavy, heaving chests, held their hammers and listened.
(12/6)"Nothing.." Intralis' voice broke and he dropped his head, tormented and losing control. "There was no sound but the desparate scratching. No sound and then, a quiet weeping, a muffled, pitiful sobbing.
(12/7)"Everyone in the hall looked at one another, confused, they were disturbed. Their rage puffed and choked and could no longer burn. The captain yelled words he didn't believe, screamed himself raw with lies he conjured right there, lost himself.
(12/8)They resumed the pounding. One soldier succumbed to his nerves, vomiting in the hall, and was screamed away by the captain. The room leaked a terrible stench.
(12/9)A final swing brought the wall tumbling, injuring soldiers and filling the chamber with dust and clattering rubble. The Last Wall fell devoid of grace, without glory or glamour. The war was over, the very ends of the civilization hunted down.
(12/10)"The captain went in first, climbing the rubble, and the carving and the weeping continued somewhere beyond the dust," Intralis struggled to push out his words. "It sounded like nonsense, orderless mumbling," Intralis' breath escaped him, he gasped once, "but the dust began to fall, it hung like dark snow, and we saw an old man stooped over in front of the wall, stretching upward pressing a stone into the wall, mumbling and weeping." But he was alone, Intralis told me, he stood with his back to a room full of his people, lifeless suggestions of an extinct race, scattered fossils of a society.
(12/11)"They'd elected him to live, to be the only one we'd kill," Intralis failed to contain his sobs, remorse drenching his voice, "he was the only one that spoke our language." Intralis didn't wipe away a tear, he risked no distracting motion. "The soldiers could not focus on the messenger at first, they were fixed on the dead, not brave, not heros, just afraid."
(12/12)But a new sound came from beneath the old man's sobs, one apart from the abstraction of another language, not at all shielded by unfamiliarity. "He spoke to us," Intralis managed, "looked at us in terror, and began speaking, in our language. And he pointed at the wall."
(12/13)He was reading. He began at the bottom, peering over mangled fingers, bloodied by stone, stretched toward his text. He dictated his epic to the oncoming mass.
(12/14)Perplexed by their discomfort, soldiers yelled at him to stop, yet would not approach him; others remained still and silent. Exhaustion opened his pores and swam out from him, his will on its knees, but couldn't stifle the voice that rose above the others. For these moments, assassins stood subdued by broken words from the meek.
(12/15)The strangeness of his message was terrifying. All objective became small and embarassing. The man spoke of the founding of his city, the rise of a benevolent monarchy, the birth of his society.
(12/16)The captains shouted orders, but they themselves appeared to be leashed. No one would move this man, profoundly alone, drooling a story from an emptied case of flesh. He declared something no one knew how to remove, proclaimed the existence of a treasure beyond pillaging.
(12/17)"He was reading us their history," Intralis whispered, broken next to me. Poets and leaders, romance and playing children, artists and musicians all strewn across generations of celebration and tragedy. He'd broken himself forcing the joy and sorrow of a civilization to endure in stone.
(12/18)The man moved quickly through memory, disappearing behind his eyes as he sifted through the years. He returned himself to the building of his city's walls, and the image pained him. He reached back further and, smiling sweetly as he cocked his head, remembered the crowning of, "the now fallen queen, always in our memory as her highness who carried the poor with her to the throne."
(12/19)But even his resolve, his intent to represent his people, was penetrated by the reality of his own life. "And my wife," he shuddered, "oh my wife, my lovely breath, my meaning." His sturdiness faultered and then broke, his chin surrendured to an uncontrolled chatter and his eyes darted aimlessly.
(12/20)A captain at the back of the room shook something from his skin, like rain from a coat, and hardened his face. He wove through the soldiers, now statues, and advanced toward the man. The captain tore his dagger from its sheath and cocked it shoulder high as he moved.
(12/21)The old man pleaded with the image of his lover as it fled his mind, its exodus returning him to the present. He dropped to his knees as the captain closed in, his chin stretched high bearing droplets of sweat, saying "and this is where we died, so writes Kleios, the last of his kind." The captain hollered, a cry of rage confused by passion, and swung his dagger as the old man's last sentence slipped out, "you see, we were so much more than war."