O, the Forests of Bhak’khu

October 22, 2016 § 1 Comment

I heard the song a Traveller sang
Which from his mouth with sadness rang
His words befouled with acrid tang
From the forests of Bhak’khu

He told me first of paths he trod14650165_10153858498955334_9193476899983822235_n
‘Cross singing sands and peat-brown sod
Away from men and dying gods
To the forests of Bhak’khu

He walked on heath and moor and fen
Tramped through valley, creek and glen
Past monuments built before men
Knew the forests of Bhak’khu

One morn upon a mist-cloaked hill
He spied an omen, dark and ill,
A corpse who told him ‘Death waits still
In the forests of Bhak’khu’.

‘You may speak true but my reply
Is everything that’s lived must die.
If Death’s both here and there then why
‘ware the forests of Bhak’khu?

The corpse collapsed back into dust
As time turns iron into rust
The Traveller knew then that he must
Reach the forests Bhak’khu

On sun-scorched pan of glass and salt
A serpent, basking, cried out ‘Halt!’
‘No man of wisdom, nor base dolt
Seeks the forests of Bhak’khu’

‘Return forthwith from whence ye came
Renounce your wealth, renounce your name
Renounce all hope that you might tame
All the forests of Bhak’khu’

‘O snake,’ our Traveller did beseech
‘Beguile me not with fork-tongued speech
For the fastness I shall surely breach
Of the forests of Bhak’khu’

The serpent hissed a venom-curse
‘For good or ill, for all things worse
Your sight will fade, your heart will burst
In the forests of Bhak’khu!’

And with such words it disappeared
As shadows spake that evening neared
The Traveller knew why many feared
Of the forests of Bhak’khu.

One night a slinking, jet-black cat
Whispered softly, slyly that
‘You’ll be as tasty as a rat
In the forests of Bhak’khu’

A girl-child wrapped in blood-stained rags
Flanked by a dozen toothless hags
Said ‘What are kings and all their flags
‘Gainst the forests of Bhak’khu?’

Yet nothing kept him from his road
Not howling shaman daubed with wode
Nor armoured knight of solemn code
From the forests of Bhak’khu

He walked for weeks and months and years
His hair grew long around his ears
His eyes were filled with countless tears
For the forests of Bhak’khu

He saw again the corpse, the knight
The cat that came in dead of night
The girl whose rags were once as bright
As the forests of Bhak’khu

They watched him from beside the trail
The knight stood strong, the girl-child frail
The cat smiled at the corpse’s wail
‘O, the forests of Bhak’khu!’

The serpent and the shaman came
Once each to mock his quest again
‘All you’ll find is loss and pain
In the forests of Bhak’khu’

‘Leave me visions, spirits all!
On my quest I’ll never stall
Even if you raise a wall
Round the forests of Bhak’khu!’

With darkness then the land was crowned
Pale ash rained down, without a sound
The Traveller knew he now was bound
For the forests of Bhak’khu

Yet slowly came into his view
A place he realised he knew
‘What is this place that comes in lieu
Of the forests of Bhak’khu?’

A town, with buildings tumbled down
Ash-stained corpses on the ground
And blackened trees grown all around
‘Like the forests of Bhak’khu…’

Down street and alley he did roam
Past crumbled well, ‘neath shattered dome
He gabbled that ‘This looks like home
Not the forests of Bhak’khu’

He found me huddled not far off
My ravaged body bound with cloth
‘What is this place?’ I spat, then coughed.
‘’tis the forests of Bhak’khu’

The Traveller gasped, fell to his knees
‘It cannot be! Recant ye, please!
My soul, my life! My heart doth freeze!
Curse the forests of Bhak’khu’

He told me then of serpent, child
The knight most stern, the shaman wild
The night-time cat, the corpse reviled
And the forests of Bhak’khu

Loss and pain his prize, they said
I made for him a ragged bed
In moonlight cold he lay there, dead
In the forests of Bhak’khu

I heard the song a Traveller sang
Which from his mouth with sadness rang
His words befouled with acrid tang
From the forests of Bhak’khu.

A Leering Little Voice

August 8, 2016 § Leave a comment

Within my ear
I hear a leering
Little voice
Who speaks not truth but lie

And now and then
I turn to fearing
Little voice
Speaks not as imp but I?

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When wakens the serpent?

August 8, 2016 § Leave a comment

“When wakens the serpent?”
The old man asks
No word returns
From he who basks.

“When wakens the serpent?”
A whisper, low
“I woke within you
Long ago”.

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Speak not to us the deeds of men

June 21, 2016 § Leave a comment

Speak not to us the deeds of men
Who come and go and come again.
Such deeds are naught but folly all
Which rise ‘pon pride and promptly fall.
When men are gone, just scattered dust
We’ll count spring’s green and autumn’s rust
Till ink doth dry on Aeon’s pen.
Speak not to us the deeds of men.

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The Miser

March 13, 2016 § Leave a comment

Not long ago, in a village not far away, a little girl was born to a farmer and his wife. She was the finest product of their meagre farm and grew unlike any crop of theirs had done before. The sun and moon themselves counted out her years, as she ran through field and forest and furrow. The farmer used to chase her, a mock-crown of ivy on his head and laughter in his throat, but always she would dart away from his outstretched arms. The farmer’s wife looked up from her tasks, sharpening tools or mending a cloak, and smiled to see them silhouetted in the evening’s light.

Yet one day, as crisp and bright as could be hoped for, the farmer stopped chasing his daughter and she looked back to see that a man much thinner than she remembered was waiting for her. “Father,” she called. “What is wrong? Why do you not chase me as you used to?” The farmer smiled quietly before replying in a voice like dust. “I am old now, daughter, and I have chased you as far as I can. My breath is spent. Go home to your mother, dear child, and I will rest here a while.” With that he rested and moved no more.

So the girl left her father and ran back to their little cottage, where a woman much thinner than she remembered was waiting for her. “Mother,” the girl called. “What is wrong? Why do you not sharpen our tools as you used to?” The farmer’s wife smiled quietly before replying in a voice like smoke. “I am old now, daughter, and I have sharpened as much as I can. My strength is spent. Go out into the wide world, dear child, and I will rest here a while.” With that she rested and moved no more.

So the girl left her mother and ran to the nearest town, her legs strong from years of running with her father, and she worked hard, her hands nimble from years of working with her mother. One day she had a husband, and later a daughter, and she gave life as it had been given to her. One day, a day as crisp and bright as could be hoped for, she found that she had given as much life as she could and she smiled quietly to herself. With that she rested and moved no more.

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Death is not a skeleton, not a withered body lying in the cold ground. Death is not the cough of lungs grown dry or the creak of bones grown stiff. These are the products of Life, because Life is always giving and gives until the very end. Death is a miser who takes everything, gives nothing.

Death is a miser and misers are to be pitied, not feared.

“I shall take the very breath from thine breast,” sayeth Death. “Thou canst not take what hast been freely given,” sayeth Life.

The left hand of Aux-Çevoires.

January 29, 2015 § Leave a comment

I went up to see him, like we all did, strapped into his swinging gibbet-cage on top of Dancers’ Hill. The thin, withered corpse naked but for a wrapping of black iron banding, its bald head angled back in a scream of agony – or of fury – with eyes plucked from the sockets, left hand hacked off at the wrist.

The left hand of Aux-Çevoires, the Alchemagos. The Poisoner of Melhaut, the Breathstealer, He-Who-Walks-In-Fog. The hand that I had seen only once, when he jabbed its discoloured fingers at my eyes before leaping through the stained glass of Our Lord Abiding’s rose window and down into the canal below.

So I went up to see him, like we all did, but I went at dusk when the night-mists begin to settle in the hollows and the sounds of the City are softer, distant. I went at dusk, to be alone.

I went at dusk, like a fool.

The walk is not long, but it is hard. Dancers’ Hill rises quickly from flat moorland on the far side of the Choke and its cover of thick gorse is left to run wild as a deterrent to the casually morbid. In the slow darkening of dusk, and as your breath begins to catch from effort, it feels as if your own life is ebbing away with every step of the climb. Yet suddenly, always suddenly, you are stood on the small tonsure of bare ground at the hill’s crown. Behind you the City’s lights glow amber and ignored. In front of you is the Dancing Master; the bent and blackened tree, impossibly ancient, that stretches out one arm to dangle the final home of the treacherous, the wickedly insane or the simply evil.

Aux-Çevoires was all of these so we hunted him down, across decades, until a time when the Dancing Master could offer him a lesson.

Nobody knows when he came to the City but it is likely that it was during, or sometime immediately before, the White Plague of AB412. Perhaps he was a young man then. Perhaps he has always been as old as he looked when I last saw him alive. Perhaps he was never even a man but simply a husk, animated by something unthinkable. Whatever he may have been, he was a murderer. A vampire, feeding off the fear of his victims.

The infamy of Melhaut is well-known; the bloated victims leaking and bursting as they staggered drunkenly in the streets; the escalating quarantine measures that couldn’t stop their screams echoing through the night; the very buildings themselves infected with malignancy, even all these years later. I remember hearing a shout go up and seeing the figure of a woman, still in the early stages but obviously lost to infection, run howling along the shallow incline of a gambrel roof. A Boxer took her with a shot from a trycklock and she burned as she fell into the streets.

Yes, Melhaut is well-known but Melhaut was a war and its atrocities on a scale that made them mercifully incomprehensible. It is the smaller crimes that make my throat burn with bile and wake me in my sleep; the candlemaker, almost suspiciously healthy in himself, whose corrupted sweat caused every 18th candle to gout yellow, choking fumes when lit; the mother who unwittingly killed her babies, driving herself into collapse as she tried to feed them more and yet more but ignorant of the fact that it was her own tainted milk that poisoned them; the sewerman, no longer aware of the difference between night and day, who went to work as the full moon rose and was found, reduced to a small pile of teeth, by the morning shift.

Yet the worst crime he ever committed was to kill the hope, the peace of mind, of thousands. The backstreet jack-a-knife can be avoided or struggled with. Hunger can be prevented with hard work or thrift. Even old age can be balanced against a life well-lived or the sight of a grandchild. When all this can be taken away on a whim, without reason, then life becomes meaningless. He killed many without lifting even a finger of his filth-stained hand.

So I went up to see him, like we all did, just to make sure that it was actually him, that it was finally over.

I looked up at him as I thought all this and realised that I’d been holding my breath. I let it out and with it came all the horror of the years gone by, all the faces pleading with me to save them when I couldn’t. I wept and howled, beating the cage with my fists until my strength left me and I fell to the ground, into blackness…

I awoke to cold seeping into my bones and a bright half-moon hanging high in the night sky, silhouetting the gibbet above me. Something tugged at my hair. A rat, no doubt, drawn by the smell of decomposition. I clutched at it, flinging it from me. Its claws raked out, leaving sharp lines of fire across my throat. I cursed it, I cursed the foolishness that had drawn me here and I cursed, as I had cursed so often before, whatever passed for the soul of Aux-Çevoires. I turned to spit but my throat was dry, hoarse with curses, so I simply glared up at the corpse.

And that is when I heard it. Under the whispering of a night-time breeze, under the creak of the settling gallows-tree, even under the distant murmurings of the slumbering City was a sound like dust falling on paper. I became silent, immobile and focusing every ounce of concentration on that sound. It became rhythmic, rising and falling like far-off waves. Like a memory of breathing.

Or of laughter.

Another sound, louder now and close by, made me spin around to see the vague smear of something crawling in the shadow of the Dancing Master.  The rat I had flung into the darkness? No! Not the rat but a spider, bloated and dragging itself along the ground. Dragging itself out of the shadows and into the light…

I howled denial into the cold, uncaring night as the moonlight shone down on the horror that crept towards me. There had been no rat. There had been no spider. Crawling slowly, impossibly, in jerking movements and with fresh blood, the blood it had scratched from my throat, glistening on its talons was a blackened, distended hand.

The left hand of Aux-Çevoires.

The left hand of Aux-Çevoires.

I fled, crazed and unthinking, as the paper-thin laughter echoed in my mind. With no distinct direction to follow my limbs took me home, back into the City. I should have disappeared into the Fen, taken this death out to the monsters and abominations that haunt the horizon. But I did not, and now I am too weak to move. Fire fills my head and my eyes steam like coals. My lungs gurgle with every breath. My hands are bound tightly with cloth but still they swell and drip with thick, grey fluid. Soon I will no longer be able to hold this pen. Soon I will be dead.

I write this note as an apology. I caught the Alchemagos, brought him to trial and to punishment, but I am his final victim and, in being so, I continue his work. I will die. I will seep foul fluids into my clothing and belongings, tainting them irreparably. I will blossom spores into the air of this room that will waft through cracks and crevices, into the lungs of others. I will be found and will be removed, spreading the infection like the soft touch of autumn mist.

It is a mist that preludes a storm, ushered in from beyond death itself by the left hand of Aux-Çevoires.

Apparent final note and confession of Procurator-Medico Alnstein. Found amongst personal effects, post-mortem. Immediate quarantine procedures instigated on discovery. 1,203 related deaths confirmed as of time of report, including 57 officers and related auxiliaries. 721 further possibles. 3 Boxer units subsequently deemed inoperable or lost-in-operations.

Recommend noted area be sanctioned Red/Black immediate, full disassociation.

Catspaw

March 15, 2014 § 1 Comment

Bone charms rattle as she lifts her gnarled paw and silences the muttering of those rag-wrapped figures huddled around her. Her eyes glimmer despite the pearlescent sheen of aged decrepitude that blinds them and she spits once, twice into the sputtering fire before her.

Ghrek hehg hehhg! Ghrek hahlg harrakh! Ghrek, ghrek heeehhhgg!

That last, awful syllable stretches out, rising, and is picked up by the mewling group at her feet in splintered disharmony. Smoke puffs up from the flames, lingering briefly in the shallow cave until the cold wind rips it to tatters. She brings silence with a low growl and claw-show. She spits again and smoke rises once again, more persistent than before.

Ghrek hehg harrakh! Ghrek hahlg hehg hehhg! Ghrek hehg hehhg Ghrek harrakh harrakhiin!

And there it is. She read the moon well, the wind, the soft ripples in the earth and the grey-white lines of the sky. Smoke, more smoke than could be expected from such a meagre fire, billows up to the roof then slows, stiffens and slides back down the cave’s sweat-slicked sides. Grey smoke black now, black even against the jittering flame-cast shadows of the gloaming cave. She smiles, in her own way, as her brood are engulfed by the solidifying fumes and start to howl, deep and somehow slowed beyond any earthly voice. She hears the Pale Warders, the skull-stick totems out on the foothills, start their wail-song rolling out across the Fen. It sounds distant, fog-dulled. The smoke-mass touches her, flows around her, passes through her and for a moment she is a young leugha again, disobeying her mistress to skulk in the cavern-holes where she first found Him.

Then nothing.

And there it is. In the slow-time drag of failing thought, a binding of consciousness given up to the voids and that ur-stuff between the voids. Some willing, some not. No division. A roiling mass of beingness borne forth.

Moulder

And there it is. The Bubbling Foment. Moulder. The One Beneath. Well Dweller. Ghrek Harrakhiin, Shadow-Behind-Shadows.

And there it is. The Sleeping Cliffs sleep no more.

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