Your body lies broken in the pits of Abaddon, your flesh fodder for the carcinogenic growth of abominations. A patroness has opted to transplant your consciousness into her body temporarily, but it is merely a transitional vehicle. An artificial body is being prepared for you on Adonius as we speak, and once it is finished your consciousness will be re-uploaded onto Earth.
The rough stone grinding gently against thy tongue
And silverfish swarm from the weeping wound like
Rain. Entrenching themselves in rotting synapses once burning
Suns in miniature and pain. A stillwater pond once called
Ocean, it stormed silverfish in stagnation,
Gods of cave and grave and self-cannibalizing sleep
emerging from rotting wood and engorging weep.
Wings now wilted hide thy feast
O great and mighty Lord of Lame
Before the Fall eye-spangled plumage
Now rots like tapestry over broken frame.
Tattered ragcloth shrouds majesty lapsed in darkness
Blind and dull as wind-blown rain.
I saw the androgyne on top of Hobb’s Hill, the great red band of Ringlight silhouetting his form like a massive halo. His vast stone wings were crumpled around him, and bathed in the glow of Ringrise it appeared almost as if their tendrils bled. He sat upon one wing while the other supported his back, and watched the slow climb of the Ring from behind shattered eyes.
He heard me approach, although I tried to be as quiet as I could as I walked amongst the sleepers. I was afraid, but my curiosity outweighed the caution that pleaded me to run. He turned his head, and the world went quiet with his gaze. His face was a landscape of ruin, ravines radiating out from two deep gullies within which no light escaped. His labored breath was wind whistling through the icecaps of Worldwaist.
As his head turned, his wreath of feathery appendages rustled, and their motions were neither biological nor clockwork. Each movement he made from the gentle heave of his chest to the rustle of his wings below him was deliberate and grave, with a massive finality that gave each convulsion an air of significance. His head tilted slightly as it spun, and he regarded me in the same cold manner as a great lame falcon, or perhaps some avian species long extinct.
“Where…is…this?” His voice was quietly thunderous, so deep that one felt it as tremors in the ground rather than heard it. It was as if a ruined castle had crumbled into the sea far away.
“This is the Skar Contaari, Higher One.” His pitted gaze demanded more, and I hurried on. “I saw you fall from your castle while scrounging. Or a castle, anyway. I’m not sure if it was yours. A castle in the sky. You looked like a star.” The last was delivered in a whisper.
“I… not much time.” Between pauses, his mouth opened wide, and I saw within it the darkness that ate at him from within. I recoiled, and stumbled upon one of his mighty wings. “The Allochthi took… Spiracathedra. Soon, Morta will fall, and then it will be over.” His graven eyes turned back to the Ring that haloed the pockmarked horizon to the east. “Perhaps it already is.”
“Did you say Morta?” The final word bore an ominous air, brought on by the giddy fear of youthful imagination. Morta of the ultimate south and her sister Zaema in the ultimate north are the great titans who, according to myth, bear upon their shoulders the Ring that heats our world. I have known both of them now, having explored the pestilent and putrid jungalos that gird their loins, and fear them still.
“Help me up, child.” The mighty stone being seemed in no condition to stand, and far too heavy for my prepubescent strength. Nevertheless, I proffered my hand, and he placed a single finger in my palm, thicker then my wrist and ruined with spidering cracks. As soon as we touched I felt one of the most peculiar sensations of my life. It was as if some essence, not heat but the force that provides heat, was being drained from my veins. In its place, something cold and inhuman remained, settling into my heart and loins. As if the weight of an atmosphere had been lifted from his shoulders, the Androgyne unfurled his wings and stood, sighing like a steamcar as darkness writhed and the ravines that divided his being widened. Upright, he was taller than I could have ever anticipated, as tall as the great mastodons I hunted with the Esquimaux on the planes of Ishvh.
He unfurled his wings then, and it was a sight I will never forget. The delicate crystalline tendrils seemed to rustle and writhe like individual organisms drinking up the red Ringlight. As I watched them they grew swollen and straight like the appendages of a blossoming seanettle, and I will swear on the names of the four Ascendants that some grew in directions that extended into realms beyond our spectrum of thought.
I noticed then that my hand still clutched at his blunt forefinger, and with a spark of fear that managed to penetrate my awe I realized that he was drinking at me, and I was unable to sever the parasitic flow. As he stood, he drew me up to my feet by connection, yet I was so weak I could barely stand. I feel sure that if I were not held, I would have fallen to my knees.
With the hand unattached to my own the androgyne made a gesture that I still do not fully understand, his two final fingers closing over the valley of his palm, while his other four stood straight outward so that his thumb formed a right angle with his index, which pointed up to the star-spangled sky. “Pancreate forgive me.” He muttered an invocation I do not think I can reproduce with the symbols provided by our written language, and his chest opened to reveal a sea of frothing darkness. He screamed then, a sound so fearsome it echoes out to me through the gulf of time, and within that scream was something terrible, a whine that brings to mind the sound of a universe in pain for many, a universe ending for one.
As he screamed, the darkness ran down his arm in rivulets and entered me, so that even as my humanity was drained from my body I was replaced with a presence so massive and foreign that it overwhelmed my being, and I was consumed.
In that dark and infinite universe I became blind, senseless, yet somehow greater than I have ever been. I tried to scream, but my mouth was filled with liquid that invaded my lungs and drank from my veins. Something deep below stirred, and I lost corporeal form, turning instead into a being of vibrations, united only by the unique frequency of my essence. I desperately attempted to cling to my corporeality, to prevent my dissolution into the thirsty darkness that drank me.
A light shone above, a sun fainter than the faintest star. I focused all of my concentration on that light, and it grew brighter and purer, shimmering as if seen through water. I realized that I had regained my limbs, and floundered through the darkness towards blind salvation.
Below me, that ancient and timeless evil stirred again, and I struggled harder than ever, desperately afraid that the presence below would drag me down into its darkness with winter always. As I struggled towards the shimmering light I was beset by visions of nightmare. Many-limbed demons half seen in the shadows laughed madly into the darkness as they dined on their own flesh. I glimpsed a mountain of writhing orifices surrounded by ruined towers and rotten palisades, and knew that the lands I swam from were the bowels of Abaddon.
A great beast lumbered over me, larger than a thousand valleys and shaped as a huge shawl with frayed edge. As the silvered frays caught the light of the star, I saw that they were gently swaying, and that with their movement the creature undulated through the abyss.
When I swam above the shawl-beast, it stroked me with its flagella. Within the minute tendrils a thousand voices called to me, and at the tip of each was a child-like hand that beckoned and tugged. As one pulled at my arm I saw that the fingernails were broken, and algae had taken root within the quick. A hole opened within the ring of hands and I saw the eyes of stars within.
Just as I was about to be consumed, the great presence below me pulled the shawlbeast down, and I heard a sickening crunch accompanied by a rush of heat. The heat propelled me upwards, and I plummeted towards the point of light until it became a glaring sun.
I reached out my hand and took it. It was then that my corporeal senses came back to me, and I saw that I grasped a palm-sized sphere of glowing glass from within the hollow of an empty statue’s chest. I looked up and saw that the stone face had lost its shadowy illumination. Tiny flakes were crumbling from his cheeks into the wind like stone tears, revealing patterns of gold under the surface of his granite flesh.
“Anaxi.” The voice might as well have been a whisper on the breeze, and came not from the empty husk that stood before me like a funeral effigy, but from everywhere at once. I felt that the origin was from somewhere very deep within. “I know you.”
When I pulled my hand from the husk, taking the sphere with me, the androgyne fell to ashes. His forefinger remained connected to my left hand until the very end, and when I looked down I saw that it had crumbled down into a jet-black key.
Then he made me go into the God’s acre and do something that violated me to my core. I can still feel her cold skin on my hands.
“So you feel sure it was a possession, Anaxi? Do you swear it on the names of the Quaternity?”
“Y-yes, Maggi.” I had never noticed the intricacy of the floor of the High Quad before. It was carved with a beautiful pattern, vaguely reminiscent of tropical flora, and within that pattern was the same pattern in miniature. Barely visible was an even smaller pattern I had to squint to make out. Finally unable to distract myself any longer I looked up and saw Maggiore Scoval tapping his bottom lip with an ink-laden quill, dripping dark blue fate down into the furrow of a pointed cleft chin.
“It was the god who did it, not me.” I burst out, suddenly hotly desperate to convince him, to convince myself, that it was.
“Very well. And what proof do you have, Less Anaxi?”
In answer, I held up the orb. “I told you how he touched me. He opened his chest, and the orb was inside. Only there was a lot more in there too, an entire world of darkness, and it pulled me in. I think… I think it was Abaddon.” I was whimpering now, the memory bubbling up too raw for words. At the mention of Abaddon, Scoval ceased tapping his quill and leaned forward. “You were in Abaddon? You walked the land of the Damned?” Suddenly I was inhaling deeply the scent of rough soap and prayer balm as the elderly Maggi embraced me tight, whispering an invocation of protection.
We walk upon the framework of a world born anew
But the wreckage of the old lies far below
Let none return to Accursed Abaddon,
Whose existence you doomed long ago.
“… Forgive my brother Anaxi his transgression into the self-cannibalization of Abaddon, which should be seen by no man. Be cleansed,” he finished his prayer by lighting the twine around his neck and blowing the flame out into my face. My eyes watered as the smoke and spicy incense stung my sinuses.
He pointed upward, and I followed his gaze past the stained-glass roof of the temple to the glaring light of the Ring. “The lands beyond the shawl of Sky are populated by evil, and corrupt us at every chance they get. You must purify yourself, my son, before the god makes you do further evil.”
I asked him what I was to do, and he scribbled down a complex circular diagram within which shapes interacted at parallels. “Such a sin as yours is on the fourth wheel of the Auraubadalogicon. I trust you know what the fourth wheel is… or believe to, anyway?”
I nodded. “Mortification of the flesh.” I explained what Magga Mora had taught us about the fourth wheel back during schooling years. It was only afterward that I remembered Mora had died long ago. It had been Lyssa who taught me.
“It is good that she told you, but I believe the enormity of that mortification escaped you until this morning.” I nodded fervently, and felt myself forcing bile down into the recesses of my throat.
“To cleanse yourself, you must preform a Divinity of four trials.”
The Maggiore Highest listed out my trials and I nodded numbly. Faintly, I heard old Jon Baelor whistling as he neatly fileted the catches of the day, scooping their cores and tossing away the scaly exoskeletons to be hungrily lapped up by Toe.
The Auraubadalogicon grinned at me as its ink dried on the milky white parchment. The tiny rounded quadrangle Scoval shaded had determined my fate for what I had done, and the ringing in my ears drowned out the Maggi’s voice as he told me how I was to die.