Under the waning tree
Horizon’s seam frayed and rent with the approaching dawn. Sunlight pierced the lingering night with prismatic shards of golden array. Casting forth from the east, drawing shadows across a still slumbering landscape that stretched and grew like ghosts disinterred from their graves. The light was brighter here, here in this world between worlds, where dreams were woven in ephemeral strands of time and being and the mouth that gives birth to all truths speaks eternal; with words of long lost prose uttered in ancient tongues only the winds can speak.
Above lay the firmament, in all its shimmering grandeur; where forefathers of generations manifested as a crown, beset by shimmering starfire adorning the night sky.
Below lay the world of men, in all its folly and turmoil. Unknowingly they lay under the sway of this land, owing to this ephemeral landscape all their dreams, visions and that cold fire of inspiration that flickered within their being. The innate primal flame that fueled their machinations, alighted their ingenuity and wove the very fibers of their dreams. For all that had been created by man had been granted to them by the beings of this land; and in their arrogance, they failed to acknowledge the gifts imparted to them as such.
As the sun rose in the east it swept back the curtain of night and revealed a landscape far removed from any other. At its center lay a glade, half obscured by morning fog that rolled and lolled about like spirits bereft of kin or hearth. Emerald grass, adorned in pinprick diamonds of dawn mist draped the ground like a fine cloth, accented here and there with swathes of deep indigo and light blue. Its edges were sheer and sudden, dropping down to an endless abyss that surpassed all sight or comprehension. The whole of the place was like an island of forest and fog, suspended above the skyline; hung, as if by invisible strands of spiders silk.
A serpentine path carved its self through the glade, circling around and about the land like a serpent. It wove and wound itself over hills and grassy knolls and all along the way still pools of pristine water could be found, adorning the path like mirrors catching the starlit sky in their glassen, opaque surface. A hill erected at the apex of the path, rose up and looked out onto the firmament. So close was it to the heavens that even in the unfettered morning sun stars and planets and brilliant, lolling gaseous clouds could still be seen in the distance, painting austere bourealic strokes of green and blue upon the dawn.
Upon the crest of the hill ziggurats and monolithic pillars rose up and bled the horizon with razor sharp tips filed and ground to spearheads by inhumane hands. Carved into the columns and pillars were circular windows that allowed the light of the heavens to peer through. They served to mark the passage of passed ancestors as they traversed the obsidian night and foretold the position of the stars better than any cartographer’s map.
The sunlight traveled away from the hill, away from the pillars and the glade until it reached a gate. Snow white and ancient it stood at the center of this land serving as a passageway between the land of waking and that of slumber. An archway formed at the top, adorned with ashen bones and the various horns and antlers of countless animals long decayed.
As the sunlight flitted across the path and over the gate it eventually reached a forest of countless, skeleton birch trees, rising up from the earth like the exposed ribcage of some long dead deity. Spindly ashen limbs stretching up and out to greet the dawn. Snowflake bits of ivory bark caught the wind and drifted about in swirling, kaleidoscope array.
As the first sunrays hit the birch trees they all at once began to split and rend at their center. A creaking and snapping echoed throughout the forest and silenced the birds greeting the dawn. The trees caught under the morning light split open as a womb and from within stepped out beings not of earthly make or design. Hermaphroditic naked forms walked out from within their living resting place. Snow white skin stretched over tall, gaunt frames. Eyes like frost peered from androgynous faces and upon their heads ivory antlers sprawled up and out like ornate crowns, surpassing the regality of any earthly king.
Lithely they stepped out and onto the path, in perfect alignment they walked two by two along the path as they had since the genesis of time itself. Up and along the path, around the still waters that beheld the sky in their opaque perfection and stillness. Onward they marched; wordless reverence hanging over them like a patchwork quilt. Along the path they had tread since the beginning of time, up and onward, to the hill and their sacred, special place.
They walked in utter silence, the silence of those that need not explain anything to one another. No words or greetings exchanged, just a silent acknowledgment of the other and a grim forbearance for the task ahead.
Like a white serpent they coiled and circled around the path, white forms upon emerald grass, antlers piercing the horizon and bobbing up and down as they passed through the gate of bones.
They made their way to the glen and in perfect accordance all filed into place. They stood in a silent crescent around the hill in reverent, bowed, silence until one stepped into the center just below the hill. She had antlers larger than the others and a body far more feminine than the others, the slit between her legs hairless and velvet smooth. Upon her slight neck a necklace of opal and sapphire was surmounted which caught the morning sun and echoed its brilliance to all around in flashes and shimmers of pale sunlight. She stood in silence, waiting for the sun, her silver hair billowing out in the wind. She stood there until the sun passed through the ziggurat and shown through the hole carved to reveal her and her alone. She raised her arms above her head in salutation and gazed into the sun as an infant gazes into her mothers face. When the sun passed she abruptly dropped her arms to her sides and bowed her head in abject piety.
As if by command the beings retreated back and grouped in clusters around the various pools that adorned the glade. They sat around them hand in hand and bowed their heads in silent prayer as an attendant would circle around them. He placed one hand upon their heads as he made his way around the circle. Guided by some unknown voice he would stop behind the seer he was drawn towards and lovingly tilt back his head to expose his neck. He drew out a long, obsidian blade and ran it along his throat. In silent compliance he allowed the attendant to hold him by their hair above the still waters, letting crimson torrents of blood spill out into the opaque pools. The other would place their ivory hands into the pool, closing their eyes in silent, communal prayer. The offering let his life force flow out of him and into the pool until the life left his eyes and he pitched forward, slipping into the waters. A reverence reserved for the presence of God(s) lay upon their faces as the waters churned and writhed, spilling out over the edges in viscous, frothing tides. Shimmering steam would rise up from the waters, as if the soul of the offering manifested as such and drifted up to the heavens. They opened their eyes as idle attendants rushed to the corpse floating in the churning waters and brought him back to the graveforest to be resurrected by the touch of dawn the following day. With the offering fulfilled the visions came, as they kept their hands in the silver waters they began to tremble and shake with great ecstasy and terror.
They all saw something different as they peered into the waters, different aspects of nature and life and the essence of man were revealed to them. Some were filled with euphoric ecstasy, tears of joy spilled forth from their faces as they reveled in the very essence of love or peace or belonging. Even embracing and entering one another in an orgy of ivory, antlered bodies as they celebrated the aspects of life and love revealed to them in the waters. Others shuddered and shook, trembling and crying out as if the waters scalded them and boiled the skin from their bones. They tore the hair from their head and gnashed their teeth in agony and despair. These were the unfortunate bearers of the principalities of death and misery, of hate and disdain, of the slaughter and rape of infants. The waters revealed the nature of all to each of them, be it of joy or of despair, and though it imparted great wisdom to each of them for many it was far too much to bare. Their gift was both a blessing and a burden which hollowed their souls and shook their minds to its foundations. Fires were lit alongside the pools by those who did not receive visions, and the ashes were poured down the abyss to reach the world of man and pass along the essence and meaning of all contained. And in such a way, the inspirations, passions, and dreams of man are woven and passed along.
As the rituals ended the leader raised a peculiar instrument carved from a rams horn. She stood before the ziggurat and brayed forth a long, melancholy note. After the third blast they all rose up from their place around the pools and assembled in a semicircle as before. She waited there, for the moon to pass through the holes carved in the pillars before bowing to their deities and dismissing her congregation. They filed together, two by two behind her and made their slow, silent way back to the grave forest.
Then it came to pass that a tree appeared in the glen, it did not grow it did not take seed it just appeared. A sickly spindly oak tree that seemed to emanate a thickness and perverseness while at the same time seeming to hint at a strange catharsis hidden beneath its branches.
The beings awoke and walked along the path as they had always done. Birthed from the birch grave forest with the touch of the morning sun, passing under and through the gate of bones, up and around the hills and knolls until they reached the hill. They stood in silence, looking at the tree that had suddenly appeared to the right of their hill. For the whole of their existence their land had been locked in stasis, preserved in perfection for the task they had been appointed. There had not been anything new here since their genesis and the presence of this tree both frightened and intrigued them.
One being stepped toward the tree and examined it quizzically, he ran its hands along its branches, scanning it for any sign of its origin until he paused and stopped. His hand had grasped something cold and hard underneath the branches. He plucked what seemed to be a glass orb from the branch. It was the size of an apple and made of a translucent glass that opened up at the top. Within the orb, brown smoke lolled and rolled about, giving off a sickly sweet smell like a honey smeared carcass left in the sun to rot. He put the opening to his nose and inhaled the smoke rolling about within the sphere.
The others gazed in curiosity as an immense calm overtook him, immediately all sorrows, pain and sadness left him. Numbed and dulled to his surroundings he slowly dropped to his feet and sat there, eyes half lidded mouth slightly ajar.
Silently they stared back for a while before returning to their task. As before the waters foamed and churned about them and the creatures were gripped in ecstatic throes of enlightenment and despair in equal parts. All save for the one who had partaken of the fruit from the tree, he sat there, vacant and expressionless in a world bereft of emotion of expression within his antlered skull.
As the day went on, more found their way to the tree and sat down by his side. The visions imparted to them became too much to bear and they abandoned their task. Preferring instead to spend the day under the boughs of the tree where they would descend into a slack jawed stupor, blissfully unaware of anything other than the sunlight peering through the branches above their heads. When the day came to an end and it was time to return to the grave forest the others had to prod them awake to join them for the trek back.
The next day they walked back along the path, the others noticed that the ones who had eaten of the tree appeared different this morning. Their ivory skin had become sallow and covered in a slick sheen of sweat which seemed out of place in the cold winter dawn. A listless manner and expressionless gaze filled their faces as they shambled out of sync with the others back to the glade and the hill beyond. Rather than joining the others however, they headed straight for the tree and reclined beneath its branches. Reaching up to take more of the fruit that granted them solace from the weight of the wisdoms imparted to them. They did not receive any wisdoms or visions from the still pools dotting the landscape, instead they spent all day sitting beneath the tree, partaking of its fruit and surrendering to an oppressive, comforting null.
As the days went on more and more found their way under tree. The fruit of which had transformed them slowly and surely the more they partook of the noxious smoke. Their skin had grown sallow and stretched, eyes grew more and more listless and the antlers of some had began to shrink and wither, flaking off like rotting tree branches. If they noticed they did not seem to care, instead taking comfort and solace in the numb vacancy that had been imposed on them by the tree. They traded their gifts for a welcome nothingness that permeated throughout each of them and grew heavier and more oppressive. When it came time to return to the grave forest for the night they instead chose to remain under the tree, sleeping beneath its branches so when the morning came they would not have to wait to breathe from its fruit.
Eventually only five seers remained. They began to grow more and more concerned for the others and for the sake and welfare of mankind below. For without them, how would man find inspiration and meaning in their existence? They were the keepers of such aspects, scribes and recorders of aspects and without the help of their comrades their task became heavier and more arduous, forced to take on the burden their kin had abandoned in exchanged for the fruit of the tree.
As they sat down by the pools their leader walked up to the multitude reclining beneath the tree, the sun catching her necklace causing it to shimmer as if aflame with every step. She looked around at them and noticed with horror that some of them had been transformed beyond recognition. Their skin shriveled and drawn, bones protruding out below their vacant eyes and along their ribcages, some of their antlers had shriveled and withered to crooked stumps, even breaking and sifting aloft as ash in the morning breeze. She begged and pleaded with them to forsake the tree, to return to the task at hand. They ignored her in silence and her concern turned to fury she stepped forth and slapped away the hand of one who reached up to the tree to pluck one of the spheres from its branches, the sphere fell and shattered on the ground, sickly orange smoke mingled with the breeze and floated off and away. Immediately a cry came to his lips and he leaped up with unexpected vigor. He sprung towards her and snapped an antler off from one laying beneath the tree, he cried out in agony, snapped into the present from his waking sleep. With his kinsman’s antler in his hand he swung at her, she stepped back and raised her hands in shock, a terrible, pleading cry of shock and fear escaping her lips. He set upon her and in his rage, thrust the sharp antler between her breast.
All were silent as they watched her cough and heave at the crest of the hill. A torrent of blood flowed from the wound beneath her breast, her hands trembled and shook as they grasped the antler protruding from her body. He stared into her eyes in fear and disbelief, the rage had left his addled mind and he stood in shock as the reality of what he had done dawned on him. She uttered a soft cry, the wind catching her blood and sending drops into the air. Then she fell and tumbled down the hill, blood flowed forth and stained the grass in crimson pools as she rolled down, finally stopping at the pool where the remaining seers sat in shock and disbelief.
The beings beneath the tree with drew within its branches, huddled together to escape the gaze of their kin huddled around the pool. The murderer stood and threatened the others, warning them to stay away from him and to take her body back to the graveforest to be resurrected with the coming dawn.
They got up and dragged her body to the grave forest, placing her within the birch tree as twilight swept over the land. They solemnly regarded each other with heavy stares, tears flowing from their sapphire eyes then placed themselves within the trees to await the morning and whatever it may bring.
That night the starry bodies of heaven shifted and changed in their place in the firmament. Constellations swirled around and about in the obsidian sky, something was happening this night, something that had not happened in many, many years. The moon spun and traversed the night sky, following its trajectory to the appointed place for this special night that would last far longer than any others. It made its way in front of the sun, blotting it from their glen and from the hill. There would be no dawn this morning, no sun to light the way and awaken the slumbering seers from within their birch trunks. And there would be no fruit under the boughs of the tree.
The following morning did not come, instead an unbroken midnight reigned over the land that day. When the beings beneath the tree arose they found to their dismay that there was no fruit for them this morning, nothing to shield them from the visions and wisdoms they had blocked out for so long. The unlit night was filled with a symphony of lamentations and dismay, of gnashing of teeth and ripping of hair. All they had blotted out did not simply go away as hoped, rather lay in wait for acknowledgement and all at once the visions and aspects of life crashed down on them with unbearable weight and pain.
The seer awoke and stepped out from the birch, greeting the others, they were wholly unaware that a whole day had passed left him to tend to their leader. He immediately went to her resting place to invite her resurrected form into the world. When he found his way in front of it, he cried out in dismay. From within the womb a corpse tumbled out, the wound still fresh between her naked breasts. He tried to rouse her but she did not stir instead her vacant body just laid there among the bark and twigs, lifeless and cold as winter’s breath. He cried out in pained confusion and despair. He ran his hands through her hair and wiped the blood from her ivory face, realizing in that instant that he had loved her the whole millennia he had spent under her care and tutelage.
After a while he got up and cradled her body in his arms. He walked along the path to show to the others what they had done, what the tree had compelled them to do. When he reached the gate he realized in horror that something was amiss. The bones had been broken off in parts and it lay in shambles, half collapsed and tilted on its axis. He walked along the path, his steps more and more apprehensive as a growing dread filled his mind.
Suddenly he heard screams In the distance, a pleading, tortured scream and then many at once. He hurried as best he could, his love still draped in his arms. And when he passed over a knoll he stood in shock and horror. All about the glade ivory bodies were strewn, stained with blood and bearing the marks of extreme violence. Snapped bones lay littered about, the pools were stained a sickly brown with blood. He recoiled in fear as he strived to take in what lay about. The bodies of his kinsman, the ones he had shared an eternity with in this sacred place lay dead all around him. Piles of broken bodies and vacant, dead eyes littered the landscape like discarded piles of lumber. Blood flowed down from the hill in rivers that conjoined at the base and stood as a stagnant, sickly pool.
He looked up and saw that two were still alive, the one who had murdered their leader stood, soaked with blood, a maddened, feral expression on his face. Another knelt before him, arms raised in a pleading gesture, blood flowing forth from a still fresh wound in his side. He screamed and cried out as the other plunged a sharp bone into his neck and kicked his body down the hill.
He stood there for a while, staring at him with a lost, bewildered look in his eyes. They stood in silence, acknowledging one another with a heavy gaze that recognized the finality of all that occurred. He raised the bone and plunged it into his throat, killing himself to escape the madness within his mind.
The seer stood there for a while, sobbing softly in disbelief, Clutching at the dead body in his arms as if it could bring some sort of comfort. He looked around in helpless disbelief at the miasma of blood and broken bodies about him. Finally he looked up at the hill and made his way forward, a lone survivor amongst a bloodstreaked landscape of death. He whispered to the corpse in his arms that it would all be ok soon, that everything would be alright. His steps slowed as he made his way to the hill and taking one more look around him before finally sitting down.
He sat there alone with his dead love, the drawing firmament cascading about his head in splendid array as he awaited the dawn there, in that special, sacred place. There, underneath the Waning Tree.