Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Gloaming

Have you heard of the Gloaming Man?

She wakes, tired, sick, and homeless. The hallowed streets are muddy with her blood, paved with memories of a place she has never been. It is mourning, just before the time when sleepers wake. She raises herself up alone, out of the muck and into the cool air of the roadway.

Time falls away. We see the same wretch, hunched over books whose pages turn frantically and madness smothers her; there is an aroma of discovery so dry she might choke on it. Huge shelves, unassuming and grand, loom over her shoulders like conspirators.

We see her move backwards, the days unturning. There are other scholars, less worn than her. In a vast, empty hall, pure, with high a ceiling and windows that let in the waxen moonlight.  Clothed in layer upon thin layer. Skeletal, she and all her companions.

There is joy there. In glory, they display their revelation. Words give them the splendor that raiment does not. Formulae written in blue chalk on the floor tell laws that govern the heart of history. These are the noblest of their noble people, yet still they are certain that to be great is to serve, that the sublime is humble, and that the simple truth is essential.

We see other times, other places. Ever as we move backwards does she become less haggard. More radiant, fuller of joy, and yet perhaps more naïve. There are wonders:

A huge mass of people leave an inhuman city. In the distance, beyond the alien skyline, there is a mesa with a tower made tiny by distance. Dust in an eternal waterfall courses down the side, glinting in the setting sun. The forest intertwines the place they leave, blessing the ornate architecture with a sense of farewell otherwise absent. Those that leave have been exiled, but they are free. Behind them are their homes, livelihoods, but before them are lives worth living.

On the edge of the city, almost wistful, are their once-oppressors.

A war. Those they left have turned once more to their hatred. There is a book, the Arcane, and then the raising of the tremendous Western Gate, which leads to other worlds. Silent and doleful, out of it skulk otherworldly servants and shadows cast by another sun. The people change. They become haggard. Their eyes turn yellow with jaundice and lack of sleep. They have learned another power, and it is only with its help that the tides of the enemy are held back.

A sea crossing. Through rocky spires thrusting from the torrential ocean. Ships smash. Lives burn out. The people are hollow now, with nothing left but fleeing. No triumph, despite their victory; no hope, despite their freedom. Hurricanes lash them. The sky is black with cloud, ominous with the storm that rages about their ships. Through the firmament worm unidentifiable creatures, sleek and black and vile. A monster rises from the depths, the brother to leviathan, and only through the death of some do others survive. Cowards throw their fellows from ships, and then those ships themselves are destroyed. Only those with courage and virtue pass through.

We return to the here-and-now, and she is leaving her city. She wanders into this different wilderness, which is bleak, not forgiving. Stark, winterborn trees cling to the heavens to hold them up, and at any moment it seems their strength might give out. Her obsession led her to this. She is the progeny of scholars and the progenitor of myth. The only one in a storied history that is hoped to have found aetoras, that once-city so close to the souls and songs of the Es'mensis.

Slowly, she travels. This is the wayfaring that will make her, she knows, and so she savors it. She ignores the hunger that worms in her stomach and hobbles her mind.

She finds all things on her path. Lonely standing stones, written with lichen and neglect and carved with images perhaps a script and perhaps a painting. She embraces them like they were family and spends a night in their company. This is the closest she has come to companionship in weeks, and she is unconcerned. She is at more home with the dead and the passed than perhaps she would care to admit. Between the silent rocks, she confesses at last that she is more at ease here than even with her books. This harshness, wildness, loneliness beneath the star-studded stars is what will make her, she knows.

Seasons and leagues both pass beneath her unfeeling feet. Curious landscapes teach her visage: an expansive cliff, the peak of an nameless mountain; a wildfire that rages around her, scars her with soot but does not touch her flesh; a frozen desert. She drinks wild water, falling from her wasted fingers in shining drops, head cast back, eyes closed in generous rapture, but she eats nothing. Her hair falls out, the lustrous filaments dropping with each halting step. For a short time her path is marked with a golden trail, as the sun transforms the darkness that swathed her face to spun aurum.

She looks as if she will die. Flesh cracked, arms like twigs. The only thing that shines still are her eyes. But oh, her eyes! Bright and yellow, liquid with hope, shining with courage, like the moon at dawn shines on the tops of cliffs. Seeming to float in her cavernous face, her eyes make her beautiful.

She grows certain of death. She has traveled the whole world, walked continents, crossed oceans in this prayer of searching. But she has found nothing.

Then at last, when hope has failed, when she has walked worlds of nothing but water and tenacity, she sees a glimmer. Her sight is blinded by hope, and the sluggish blood surges in her veins. Color flees to her chalky cheeks and she breaks her fragile lips with a smile. She runs, falls, runs and is finally at the gates of her long search. We have not seen what she sought until now, but there it is:

Out of one eye we see it arrayed in its eternal radiance. The gates made of limestone and marble blur in her vision. The charcoal road that leads to the soul of the holy city. And there, its inhabitants! Those blessed keepers of aetoras! What virtue could surpass that which now fills her pitiable body? To have fought with hope and courage and fear and desperation and the desire never to see another creature. To have wagered her life on the certainty that this place was real. And now, to be here-and-now and at last. With the knowing that she has found
Out of one eye, nothing but ruins. Time dies, and her sight dims. A last scrap of light, all that remains of her ardor, lays itself on her teeth and she is quiet. Where is her tenacity now, that all is lost? Where the sting of death? Where the graven victory? At the end of her long search there are only empty stones, not even kissed with the mortar their builders laid on them in gentle benediction. And now there is no choice for her, as there was never any choice before. So, without hope, without fear, with absolutely nothing, she waits. Waits to find

the grace she had sought for so long.

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