Thursday, September 30, 2010

Legacy of the Hero: The Last Meets the First-17

The Mystery of Sun and Moon Reveals Its Externalized Existence

Night fell in the Thousand Lakes. Zacharion sat next to a fire, lost in thought, just outside the homely home of the Witch of the Wastes. Across from him stood Yearling, rotating meat over that same fire while inside came the smell of a brewing broth.

“It is enormous.” Zacharion said, still in awe of the task before him, “I think I now begin, a little, to understand what came before me.”

Emerging from within, the aged Witch—with a dramatic timing honed by generations of craft—came out with bowls filled. She smiled, hearing wisdom from a boy so young, and entertained a hope of success for the future.

“Your master felt that same enormity when this task fell to him.” she said, as she passed him one of the bowls and sat beside him, “It wasn’t much different than this. He took refuge here because he had to flee from the Dark Lord of Iron and Rust, where he came from, and yet could not turn away from this calling. I was a young woman then, and the woman who taught me was the one known as ‘The Witch of the Wastes’, but I expected him because I sensed that I would take up a role in this cycle.”

Zacharion looked up, away from the fire and into the clear night sky. Quickly his eyes adjusted as he saw more and more of the distant stars filling the firmament above, and then he noted the lack of a moon. A flash fired in his brain. “This is auspicious.” He said, “The moon is hidden tonight, after your revelation earlier today. If I am not mistaken, when the moon turns away from Man’s sight it is said that this is because the Moon takes that time to renew herself for another cycle.”

The Witch nodded and motioned for Zacharion to continue.

“The Sun also has its cycles, one of the year and one of the day, and the day’s cycle varies by the year’s cycle. It is said that the cycle of the Sun is akin to the life of a man, where days change from good to bad and back again over the span of his life, but life itself—so long as it honors the Sun and adheres to its wisdom—cannot help but to be full, rich and prosperous even if it begins in a wretched state.”

Again, the Witch motioned for the boy to continue.

“The marriage of Sun and Moon is the mirroring of these cycles of the world with those of the peoples of the world, bringing us into harmony with the cycles of the world- of all that exists. It is this mirroring that the Dark Lords denied, hence why they held their titles and why their realms always became horrific realms of abomination, degeneracy, perversity and deviancy against all that is natural and pure.”

The Witch smiled, her face showing a true joy at seeing a youth come to understand such an important truth. “Without this,” she said, “the peoples of the world forget themselves and their true natures. It is because our forefathers forgot this wisdom that the Dark Lords became our overlords and oppressed for so long, yet one cannot stamp out natural law forever. Inevitably, it wins out, and acting through your master and I that did happen at last. But, as with all natural cycles, it must be renewed- and there is no way to avoid either the task or the enormity of the task.”

Yearling began carving meat off of the animal and passing it to the others. As she ate and drank, Zacharion went on. “So, then, this duty to be the Sun-husband and find my Moon-wife is as much an act of ritual drama as it is a necessary act to safeguard our freedom and retain our ties to all which is around and greater than us. If that is so, then there is no difference between these things- they are all one and the same, and the differences are illusory, merely places from which one may appreciate it.”

“It is that.” She said, “It is all that, and you shall come to appreciate more subtleties as you grow into manhood.”

Yearling took up his own bowl now, at last ready to partake.

“This time is the courtship of Sun and Moon.” she said, continuing, “Have no doubt that the daughter of that ancient warlord has one like me sitting with her, as I sit with you now, telling her about this matter as I advise you—even about this very point I speak of now—so do not think that she shall know nothing of being a Moon-wife. When you come unto her, some years from now, both of you shall be ready and able to fulfill your roles, for she is about your age and as unready for the critical knowledge as you are.”

Yearling laughed, and looked at him with a knowing smirk. “Until then, you will need some companions who are initiated into such knowledge to guide you. Wise as you are, Zacharion, you are yet a boy and lack first-hand experience.”

“Indeed.” the Witch said, “Yearling shall join you when you leave this place, which must be soon, and begin making your way to the homeland of the Sons of Ken.”

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Legacy of the Hero: The Last Meets the First-16

The Magical Marriage of Sun and Moon

“Ilker said that the Sun is the source of Civilization,” Zacharion said, “the power that drives growth in all things and compels it into ever-greater forms of complexity and refinement. The Sun does this by organizing individuals into groups and leading them so that they accomplish together that which they cannot do alone. The drive to do this compels a centralization of authority, and if left unchecked that very fire and light can scorch the land and blind the eyes of men, seizing the will and making hives of cities and drones of men in a horrific mockery of reason.”

Yearling, eager to show his quality, responded. “The Moon watches over the darkness of night, when men are removed from the prying eyes of their fellows and are truly themselves. The Moon does not care what your title is, who is above you or below you in the structures of Men, but only who you are and what you do in and of yourself. It is the leveling way, the hidden truth of the world, where none but merit makes you or breaks you. Yet, if left unchecked it men scatter into the wilds and become not men- but animals, bereft of reason and consumed by emotion.”

Now the Witch, pleased by these youths, spoke. “This is why Sun and Moon must renew their bonds. Ilker and I undertook this task in our day, and another couple must do so sometime soon- and the resurgent enemies of our peoples know this to be true. With Ilker’s death, mine is soon to follow, and our enemies will work hard to see that there is no renewal. All of us that knew Ilker realize this, in some form or another, and they will do what they can to see us fail.”

The Witch paused, gave Zacharion a good look, and smiled. “I see now why Ilker chose you, Zacharion, for you live up to your name. What you need now is a worthy Moon-wife. I think that I can help you find her. Winning her, however, is up to you.”

“You think, then, that Zebulon’s daughter is a bad choice?” Zacharion said, curiously.

The Witch shook her head. “Ilker had a wife, other than me, my boy. That he did not mention any of them to you does not surprise me, as you did not need to know. What you do need to know is that we were not married in ourselves, but in our capacities as representing the Sun and Moon. While we engaged in the ways of a married couple, we did so only in that capacity when the sacred world called for us to do so. Thus, as he took wives to further his mission as the Sun and the head of the Solar Nation, so did I have consorts from amongst the heroes of the Lunar Nations. You too shall do this in time, and in Zebulon’s daughter you’d have a fine priestess-queen for the Solar Nation, but they are not the Moon-wife you shall have.”

Yearling moved about the room, anticipating his mistress’s next move, preparing ritual tools and laying out reagents of varying kinds before her.

“Lay out the remaining icons of the other companions before me. Through them, you shall find your Moon-wife, Zacharion.”

She drew blood from him and had him spill it over the icons, and then she took some unknown liquid from a vial and spilled that over the icons. Speaking in a tongue he did not understand, in tones too low for anything but ritual work, she took a branch from the firepit and seared the smeared icons with its flame while covering it with smoke. Each icon in turn reacted, the energy of sympathy burning the catalysts and forming flaming symbols of varying colors and radiance. Yet one burned with a silver hue as bright as a full moon, an icon made of jade inlayed with silver and edged in gold with a device of a white tiger upon it.

“Your journeys are far from complete, my boy.” the Witch said, “I remember well this one. He was the Warlord of the Sons of Ken, a ravenous eater of things most foul. The White Tiger was not just a warrior, but a predator without peer, and thus first and best amongst the warband of the Sons that he led on Ilker’s behalf. When we went our own ways after we cast the last of the Dark Lords down, he was much older and often scarred, but yet mightier than ever. It would not be surprising to see that he went home, took many wives and sired scores of children.”

“Yet the Sons of Ken are as they are because it is only the men amongst them that become those fearsome feral stalkers of the unnatural and corrupt, are they not?” Zacharion said.

The Witch nodded, confirming his curiosity.

“Then this girl would be what then?” Yearling said, puzzled, “Would she be like you then, mistress?”

“I know beyond any doubt that the women amongst those changed men are no less strong or stout, because the very nature of the Sons cannot be tamed even at the very inception of its life, so it is necessary for their women to be similar in quality despite being far more like us than the men. Wisdom, not unlike what I possess, is a woman’s duty to pursue amongst the Sons. They direct the hunts, warn of threats, and possess powers of healing and cleansing that rival those of the Humble College of Medics- powers as able to kill and afflict as they are to heal and cleanse. They are not meek or weak women, or they would not live to become women, and they judge would-be husbands accordingly.”

“The Sons are far, far from here.” Yearling said, continuing, “If you visit this White Tiger last, you may yet be ready for manhood when you arrive.”

The Witch cackled. “Indeed! What awaits you, Zacharion, is not merely a tedious task of travel with some episodes along the way. It is the sacred quest of gathering new companions for the renewal of the bond of Sun and Moon. You already sense this, do you not? Have you not already taken one into your band?”

Legacy of the Hero: The Last Meets the First-15

Sun and Moon in Nature

Not long after meeting Yearling, Zacharion came before his mistress, the very Witch herself. Now worn, white-haired and withered she was, yet in her aged form a careful eye can sense the past possession of vitality and vigor in her youth for she still displayed prowess and health made possible by hard-won knowledge and age-old wisdom. In this moment, Zacharion saw what drew his master to her generations ago. Though years from the experience of man-like passion, even as a boy he could see that a younger Witch, in naught but her full-body tattoos, would be irresistible to lesser men.

For her part, the Witch quickly assessed this boy before her. Ilker’s final apprentice, just now at the point where the passage to manhood appears on the horizon, for all his skills and ability, is still a boy and not a man- certainly not a fully-matured man like his master. Yet she had heard of what he’d done, and seen some of it herself; this boy was no weakling- even at the end, Ilker’s eye for quality did not fail.

“You have that which I placed in your late master’s care.” the Witch said, bluntly, “I do not grant audiences lightly, boy, so produce it.”

Zacharion drew forth the icon with the Witch’s mark from the bag. It was a disc of carefully knapped obsidian, polished to a glass-like sheen, with the carving of a crescent moon inlayed with silver and edged likewise.

“Three of then you’ve returned now.” Yearling said to Zacharion, and then turning to the Witch he said “Why is this important?”

Zacharion answered. “Each icon is a symbol, crafted by the signifier, representing themselves as they see themselves. There are more icons here than there are companions of Ilker, and some of these icons depict scenes that are not pleasant- nor necessary.”

“Correct.” the Witch said, “Ilker understood things hidden from the eyes of men, and he used that wisdom to achieve many worthy ends, but to achieve those ends he had to engage allies that he did not trust. Using icons like this, he could achieve some reliability from those too foolish to see as he did; we who were loyal to him, we made icons to cover the purpose and hide it from those same fools who did not possess the vision and maturity necessary to understand why we did what we did so long ago.”

“That is as he put it.” Zacharion said, “If less gentle.”

“We now exist closer to a state of nature.” Yearling said, “I understand that this is possible due to the efforts of you, mistress, and the others. Yet it is not truly resolved, is it? Some of these enemies were not destroyed, but merely held in abeyance due to the fear of Ilker, were they not? It is they that now move to renew the corruption?”

“Indeed. An imperfect, yet improved, world made possible by the sacrificing of blood and bone in the wars against the Dark Lords and their cancerous corruption choking the world and degenerating the people into unnatural monsters living in hives wrought of things unliving that drive those sad thralls mad and burn them as sacrifices in pits and mazes to produce the foul fuel for the Dark Lords’ needs.”

The Witch picked up some dust and blew it out before Zacharion and Yearling, forming into an image as the dust fell through the sunlight coming into the place where they stood, an image that spoke. A montage of images, some of figures known and some unknown, showing the youths fantastic vistas both sublime in their natural glory and grotesque in mockery of the same. Then come the wars against the Dark Lords, as treacherous as they were powerful, with Ilker as the blessed commander united the many nations of Man against them. From the coastal lands of the Sea Princes, to the wastes where endured the Sons of Ken, to Solland and the establishment of the Solar Nation and its compact with the Lunar Nation in the wake of the final war- a compact that holds, for now.

Ilker and the Witch sealed the compact with a unity of words and deeds, a binding of Sun and Moon, as old as Man himself and no less sacred or powerful for it. While Ilker’s Solar allies went home to being regenerating and cleansing the war from their papers, the Witch returned with the guarantee of the compact in hand and restored the way of the many Lunar peoples to its proper place in society, by what wiles and words (and wrath) she had to use to get that done. The Sun and the Moon moved about the world, sometimes meeting, often apart, each seeing to the health and vitality of the world in their own way. Then the image dissipated.

“Where is your son?” Zacharion said, wondering.

She smiled. “Where he needs to be, doing what he should be doing, and that is all you need to know for now.” Taking up the icon, she took a moment to admire her former handiwork and see that it is now as it was then- like the moon, like the universe, like herself.

“Ilker was the sun, boy.” The Witch smiled. “He let his soul burn brightly, brining fire to the minds of men and light to the world wherein they lived. He burned away the clouds covering the lands fouled by the Dark Lords, letting them be exposed and cut down. Then he burned away the sickness so the healing could begin.”

“And you would be the moon, then?” Zacharion said.

She nodded. “I am. Where he was open, forthright and without mystery I stood away and let his shadow shelter me. In the dark, when the cool night refreshed the world and the men within it, I do my work. Mine is the hidden way, the path obscured, unable to be taught but always able to be learned. It is a way that rolls from side to side, and not from sky to earth as the sun does. Different, but neither the lesser nor the greater, for the universe needs both Sun and Moon for its health and prosperity.”

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Legacy of the Hero: The Last Meets the First-14

The Time Between Times is Always a Time of Barbarism and Chaos

Zacharion rested on the raft, again drifting down the river, having taking what he could from the slain slave of a deceased Dark Lord and quitting the minion’s lair before more of that thing’s kind arrived from whatever villainy they do. Yet, unable to wholly ignore the burning desire to purify the land clean of such filth, Zacharion made a trap of the dead Gek’s corpse. As he rested, he smiled at the plume of smoke arise from the landing site behind him, for he knew that it was—at the least—successful in part.

The other man-things, monsters like Gek with misshapen flesh, returned to find Gek slain on the floor of their abandoned hovel of a lair, his black ichor spilled out on the floor from the neck wound in a pool that flowed towards the doorway, and once the others filed into the room the trap- as Zacharion noted during his encounter- sprung. The hovel was not level, but instead slanted towards the river in a slight angle, which Zacharion found as he watched the ichor spill out. He deduced correctly that the foul nature of Gek’s hideous form held within it an essential corruption that could not abide contact with the force of purity in the world: the sun. The boy, remembering the tales of Ilker’s wars with them and their masters, moved Gek’s limp arms such that they formed a gesture known to be obscene to that kind- and thus stun them with curiosity.

So intrigued, the others would come closer for a look and lose sight of the ichor approaching the door- and exposure to the sun. The ichor ignited upon contact, instantaneously engulfing the corpse as well as those around it in purifying flames of blue and white; soon the flames engulfed the whole of the hovel, burning bright and hot, and a column of smoke arose over the tops of the trees- and Zacharion on his raft knew that his own cunning and wit had again finished a task that his master begun generations before.

Some days later, Zacharion again made contact with the Witch of the Wildlands, who came to him by means of magic and appeared to him through a black carrion bird- speaking through it.

“You will see a youth, not unlike yourself, waving to you around the next bend. Make landfall there and follow that youth, for through such shall you come unto me.”

The boy nodded, and apparently the bird understood for it flew away without comment. As he heard, he saw an older boy waving to him just after he came around the next bend in the river. He then did as told, polling himself to land where the youth stood waiting. Upon landfall, the youth helped him bring his raft ashore.

“I am the Witch’s aide.” The youth said, sizing up Zacharion, “You may call me ‘Yearling’.”

“I am Zacharion, Holy Ilker’s final apprentice.” Zacharion then saw that this youth had a mark upon his brow, one incorporated into a body-sized tattoo that reminded him of the fabled barbarians of the eras of antiquity thousands of years before the Azure Flames that his master told him about, and he knew this “Yearling” to be more than an aide- this boy, on the cusp of Manhood, was her apprentice. As such, the name given was no more his true name than “The Witch” was that of his mistress.

“This way, Zacharion Sun-Kissed,” Yearling said, pointing away from the river, “for tonight you rest with my people, as our guest. Tomorrow we embark upon the hidden hovel of my mistress.”

As they embarked away from the river, Zacharion said to his host “Then this is the Wildlands then?”

Yearling laughed. “As your people say, yes this is your ‘Wildlands’. For my people, and other tribes of these lands, this is the place that once was known as the Many-Mirrored Lands, for here we are blessed with lakes, streams, rivers and other flows of water that gleam like the moon at night.”

Zacharion smiled. “The Ten-Thousand Streams of Silver.” he said, noting an ancient name lost to most men of these days- a name now held only by savants, here and elsewhere. Yearling returned that smile, and once more Sun and Moon walked side-by-side as Day passed through Twilight into Dusk and then Night.

* * * * *

In Solland, the civil war between the Acton Faction and the Throne swiftly progressed from a thousand private wars between local parties to a true war between two factions, each with their own banner, and in so doing became a war that Zebulon and Keela could win with aplomb and alacrity- and they did. So fast did they crush their enemies, and so solidly did they destroy the possibility of revived hostility, that when first word of external invasion arrived at their pavilion they could—and did—move at once to cut off and confront the invaders.

A great and mighty army arrayed itself against a horde of howling, hideous things from lands beyond the Solar Nation, and in a single battle did that horde find itself shattered and slaughtered by means of focused, disciplined might skillfully arrayed and deployed (and redeployed) by exhaustively experienced officers fresh from a conclusive and complete campaign of consolidation. The day ended with another Solar Nation victory, and with the men of that army spending their evenings scouring the ground upon which the corpses of their foul, inhuman enemies erupted into flame and incinerated themselves so that the priests could sanctify said ground and purify it of the pollution poured upon it.

Of those that died last, one kneeled unwillingly before the Solar King and Queen. This one did tell truly of the encounter between Zacharion and Gek, for it saw the aftermath of the encounter and—by means of sorcery—divined the facts of the matter. This lead to the forming of the horde, for these barbarian monsters deemed this a provocation that could not go unanswered, and they cared not for their own lives- only that revenge be seized by slaughter of the people that slew their own.

Thus struck home to the royal couple the true depth of Ilker’s death, and their hopes for a swift and easy interregnum fell away with the ash of the fires.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Legacy of the Hero: The Last Meets the First-13

Along the River Comes Danger and Opportunity

Zacharion sat alone on a raft, a pole thrice his height sitting on his lap, drifting down a gentle small river. He’d left the Solar Nation behind weeks ago, and with it the degenerating social order that he knew that his appearance precipitated. Soon that left his mind, dismissing it as a matter best left to his hosts to handle, for his mission concerned far more—and far greater—concerns.

The Wildlands, being before him in his mind, occupied his attention. He felt a certain pull, a tug here and a nudge there, directing his travel out of Solland. In his sleep, he encounters the dream form of the very woman he seeks: the Witch of the Wildlands. Already, they dance- and they have yet to see each other with waking eyes.

“You bear my icon, and his mark, boy. That will get you to my presence, but it does not gain you my attention. Prove yourself.”

So, here on this raft, the boy Zacharion now pondered what would possibly be sufficient proof of worth to such a crafty crone. He threw his mind back, back as far as could be had, to the words of his late master: “The one men know as ‘The Witch of the Wildlands’ is old, very old, older than me despite all contrary claims- and thus remembers a time before the dawning of the sun, when the night lingered on long past its time, and thus remembered many secrets of the days before the Azure Flames. She will not yield easily to those she knows not, but she can and will yield- I conquered her, and so you must if it comes to it.”

Just then, as he rounded a bend in the river, Zacharion spotted a landing. On that landing he saw an abandoned house. Quickly, he got to his feet and pushed himself to the land and made landfall; he dragged the raft out of the water as much as he could, and then tied it to a nearby tree to prevent it from drifting away. Picking up a club-like branch on the ground, he then approached the empty house; seeing it empty, but also recently inhabited, he quickly searched it for anything useful- but as he made to leave an explosion—a loud crash and a blast of air—threw him on his back.

“Who trespasses here?” boomed a throaty voice, and as Zacharion’s vision cleared he saw that a monstrous man stood in the doorway, a man-like thing misshapen in its flesh as if it melted. The boy got to his feet, faced the thing and answered: “I am Zacharion, last apprentice of Holy Ilker, and I travel to the Wildlands to fulfill my master’s final order.”

The man-thing looked over the boy with its man-like eyes, and recoiled at the sudden flair of Ilker’s Kiss upon the boy’s brow. This did not escape Zacharion’s notice, and he pushed the thing to the floor. Kneeling on its chest, he stared into its face.

“I will fulfill that order.” Zacharion said, “Now, tell me who—and what—you are!”

Recoiling away from the sunlight from the boy’s brow, the thing’s anguished voice arose and it said “I am Gek, Chained to the Horde of the Frozen North!”

Zacharion remembered that group. Ilker destroyed them a generation before his birth, when a young man. “Ah! A survivor of the broken horde, and one of the slaves at that- you are a wretched one to live like this.”

“Not alone.” Gek said, “I am one of a band that ranges here, and soon they will come with food and loot- and they will find you quite entertaining.”

Again, recollection: Ilker once said to Zacharion “The thralls of the Dark Lords are numerous, but base in thought and deed. They are obsequious to their masters, and brutal to those weaker than they, covetous and cunning in their way. They hear and remember secrets, hoarding them as they do their treasure.”

Zacharion drew a knife from his belt and slipped it beneath a fold in the skin, near its neck. “I have killed before. I know you now, Gek. Thrall to a Dark Lord you were, and you did not fight Ilker; you fled, deserting like the coward you are, before you caught sight of my master’s steel and steed. Yet you are here, in comfort suitable to your kind, and that tells me that you deserted not to avoid battle- but to betray your master for another Lord’s banner.”

Zacharion cut away some of the rags about its neck, revealing a brand on its flesh- a brand that he knew, that of the Dark Lord of the Fel Wastes, which would explain the melted flesh. “Yes, you took up the Flesh-Shaper’s banner. Bad enough that you’re of a kind that betrayed its fellow Men, but you go on to compound your sin by committing treachery of your own will- and now you know what it wrought. What did you offer in return for the Shaper’s brand?”

Gek hesitated, and the knife cut shallow into its neck, a black ichor streaming from the wound.

Zacharion glared at Gek now, the Kiss’s sunlight now like midday, and the intensity seared Gek greatly; “I cannot!” Gek said, “It is all that preserves me!”

Zacharion drove the knife into Gek’s neck, sinking it to the hilt. “No longer shall it preserve you. Soon you die, and go where you should have long ago. Your secret is worthless now, so give it to me.”

The boy knew he risked failure, as this one was not witless, but yet it was a thing unnatural- one without a place in the world, save what it stole from others. He left the solar fire from the Kiss flow out, down his arm and out his hand, through the knife and into the brand. Gek screamed in agony.

“Tell me, Gek! Tell me and death becomes easy and swift for you!” Zacharion said, hoping that the pain scrambled the thing’s reason enough to make it talk- and it did.

“I know the Witch’s name!” Gek said, and he spoke it. The boy marked it, and let Gek die.