3 The Way

Old woman Myra’s journey was mundane and momentous at the same time. Taking to the road every day was a task she was not prepared for. She walked slower than the other pilgrims and was soon left behind. For a while a middle-aged man accompanied her named Tarwin. There was no rush, he had said. Tarwin was a kindly man with a heavy heart. He spoke for most of the two days they travelled together, unburdening himself of his life’s story and why he was taking the Black Pilgrimage, how he had followed his father into carpentry, had helped build several halls and castles, and the various loves he had throughout his life, but nothing had come of any of it. There was nothing dramatic about it, much like her own, but there was something strangely satisfying in sharing it. It was as if it was the first time she had really listened to someone, a heartfelt transparency they both shared as pilgrims together. She heard every word he uttered, and if she did not hear a word or her mind was distracted she would ask him to repeat himself, and by doing so Tarwin knew that she was listening deeply. When they passed a family of birds which were giving themselves a dust bath, or came across the vast height and girth of a rivertree, named so because of the grooves which gave the thick bark an impression of fast moving water, or some other remarkable aspect of nature, they would stop together and witness together in silence. At first Tarwin would reflect on his thoughts, the momentuum of his mind rolling on in his memories, until he noticed how avidly and calmly Myra would look on, and soon they would take these breaks together, silently, listening to the bounty that nature provided. Once he had related his life, and they had mixed with other pilgrims, he thanked Myra for her company and headed off with them, leaving Myra to journey alone at her slow pace accompanied by another pilgrim for a few hours or a day or two, or sometimes by herself.

The journey was hard, hunger came to her on a number of occassions, but she did not complain. It was what it was. In some villages the Black Pilgrims were welcomed, in others they were shunned. She was given cheese and bread in one village, and nothing in another. She was going to die, so it did not concern her if she died on the Pilgrimage itself, something which came to many of the old especially during winter. When asked why she was on the Pilgrimage, she answered simply, it was time.

Pilgrims took different routes through the roads and forest trails. At first, Myra simply followed the trail of other Pilgrims, they seemed to know where they were going, talking of signs on the journey. She looked out for a sign of her own, and she found herself drawn to birds and butterflies. Whenever she was faced with a crossroads, there was a bird which swooped over one path, or landed on the trail itself, or a butterfly would appear from behind her and float and tumble its way down one of the routes. When she walked alone, she would follow these signs, and when with other pilgrims of her age it was often in the same direction, until her confidence was strong enough that she could made the decision to take a route which her birds signaled and depart from her fellows, who were to a fault younger. It was a liberating experience, and seemed to confirm to her that the Black Pilgrimage was indeed what she should be doing, and her road was the right road.

At last she came to what was called the Gate, where she joined a steady stream of pilgrims aged like herself, hobling criples, and a small group dressed in stained rags bound around their limbs who apologetically kept to themselves, those cursed with rotting flesh. All together, they felt guided to the place. Tired and sad, old Myra found herself curiously uplifted for having finally arrived. What would become of her? What would the Dark Lord do with her?

2 Waking

No-one saw the old woman slowly open her rheumy eyes, glistening in the dim light of the single-roomed hovel. She lay on her side on a straw matress, a woolen blanket pulled tight around her shoulders.

She closed her eyes and heard the clucking of the hens outside, her grandaughter reprimanding children in the distance. Felt the rise and fall of her chest against the weight of the linen dress and woolen overdress she had not taken off for years. The thump of her heart in the darkness of her mind. She felt small, nested within herself as if in a tree. It was such a cumbersome effort to move the tree. Far easier to take wing in her thought, or hop from branch to branch in her memory, often settling on the days her husband was alive, as she did now. She missed him. A sigh came to her, a double breath which embraced the emptiness, and as it passed she felt the passionless horizon of her life in all directions, a vast black sky, unwelcoming. Her regular breath returned and she prepared herself for rising. Today was different, she had purpose. Today she would leave her family, and begin her final journey, on the Black Pilgrimage. She would no longer be a burden to them, and soon her soul would find release as she entered a final sleep from which she would never wake.

Slowly she rose to her feet, carefully drapped a thick woolen shawl over her shoulders, her widow’s cowl, and tucked a few thin whisps of grey hair under her wimpole. Some people aged well as if harboured from the wild visiscitudes of turmoil and strain, and others weathered like exposed crags, back bent, limbs ascance, skin creased and scored. Her’s was a life of sufferance. Though the old woman had lived a life of kindness and gentle attitude, she was wracked by regret and guilt. The early death of her mother birthed a bitter shadow which followed her every step in life. As the youngest she was cared for by her siblings until she was torn from them, barefoot until an adult, her only luck was marrying a frontiersman. Though gruff and showing little patience to the children or herself should they they ever demonstrate slackness, he loved her dearly to his end. The relentless vigour he needed to eek out a living in the Outer Reaches was the same uplifting enthusiasm he met all people including his children. And it was the same vital energy which made him fiercefully protective of her, even against herself.  When she had lost her baby, it was he who had pulled her through her grief. His death had very nearly extinguished the flame of her own spirit, and a year hence her spirit had grown fainter and fainter until the motions of her body were pulled from her by routine: a spoonful of food shakely brought to her mouth not for hunger but because the spoon acted on her as it had done all her life, just as her hand was lifted to the latch and it was the door that made her pull it open.

As she shuffled out into the sunlight, her spirit rose. Tens of thousands of days encased her aged body, yet a tiny part of her felt as spritely as when she was born. It was this faint but undeminished light which would navigate the tidal force of the day ahead, would pull her free from her family ties, and set her on her final course. She had yearned for an ending for too long, eating less every day, weakening her body and mind until she had heard of the Black Pilgrimage and her soul had acknowledged the truth of it. So, when six pilgrims arrived the previous night, it had taken little to find the necessary resolve. The group would be leaving with two more pilgrims this day, and one of them would be old lady Myra.

1 Unliving

Humble trees below brooding mountains and cloudstorm sky. Carapaced wagons, improbable biped insects, black dots filtering through green forest. Particles of soot belching from the furnace of civilisation, the flame of consciousness dulled, blackened and burnt-out by disappointment. Human sludge seeping its way to my gates, filling the cesspit of unliving. The Black Pilgrimage, they call it.

This was not the plan. Exiled from my brethren, the mathematical procedure of intentional unrooting deemed unethical, or at least politically dangerous. When were the concerns of the royals of more prominance than garsu research? Such short-sighted fools! I’ve had to work in isolation, deprived of fine bright young minds which are exclusively drawn to their monasteries, while I have this human ditritus to pick through, like a monkey picking through excrement for seeds, searching for that rare core consciousness which has survived the soul-rot induced by the gut of civilisation. Agh, it sickens me!

And not only that, I assign too much of my collective mental processing to the building up of my army. An army, for Machsake! What a waste of resources. They are spiteful, the Meherim. They are not content with leaving me be. On more than one occasion their agents have come close to ending me. Assassins with garsu-studded blades, gigantic rax warriors, and now they turn to poisoned minds. For every hundred who take the black pilgrimage, there is one set to kill me. And so I must build my army, the legion of atarax which protect my halls. Such a waste of resources, this needless waste of unliving. But there is a chance I may yet bend this Black Pilgrimage to my purpose. Now that the unliving ranks have swollen with such unwanted intake, I see they may serve not only for defence against the Meherim, but for attack.

A quaint term, the Black Pilgrimage. They leave their underappreciated lives, the destitute, failed merchants, mutilated soldiers, the terminally sick, the aged, and seek an ending here with me, their nominated Dark Lord. Since the Black Pilgrimage has begun taking up the aged, the draw has spread quickly and widely beyond Bizapul. Tired of life, desolate widows, and those long steeped in loneliness, think this journey on the dark road their last. Most come with the thought of ending, but there are some who believe they come to be immortalised, and still others believe they will be rejuvinated. They are all correct, after a fashion, for their belief influences the character of their derooting. Those seeking ending make the best troops, as mentally solid as the flagstones of any stone keep. Those seeking immortality generate a more pliable servant: those edged with invective make diligent soldiers, those of placid manner useful daily minions. And those seeking transformation are the most promising for they possess the greatest potential to achieve third stage atarax, far in advance of what the Meherim can manufacture using their ethical procedures.

Such fools for ignoring my method! What is the loss to the world of a few high born princes? Such an antiquated sociology anyway, Royal Houses indeed, their days are surely numbered. And such hypocracy! Princes have been unrooted throughout their own development of fourth and fifth stage rax. Arrived by accident, those Meherim academics did not see what they had witlessly achieved: the separation of mind from body. Blind fools, even when I showed how the mind could survive the death of the original host — an undeniable route to atarax — and a legitimate path to Machus! I have made advances of me own since then. Retaining the atarax within the very same body, unrooted but locked to the same body, such is the generation of my own emobided rax, half atarax half golem. The Unliving, the called it. What they meant as slur I now take as compliment. My household of Unliving. They are an extension of me just as these walls are, this land, all mine… 

Bah! What I miss is young, fresh mind, open and receptive, in the full bloom of growth, low conditionality of acceptance, naive, the processing of awareness raw and close to the surface. Especially those who are particularly bright, capable of operating the mathix required. These shall become my adjutants, my shadow meherim, my order of litchen. But they are rare, so rare. Such high quality minds do not come to me out of their own volition. I must seek them out. I must send out my emissaries and locate them in their native lands, before they are caught by the sparkle and tricks of the Meherim. I offer them lordship, a rank of mastery of mathix which puts them in charge of a powerful army. The procedure is painful, no doubt, and the fatality risk remains too high. Of the handful of hopefuls who happen to arrive at my door — a handful in the last decade! — none have survived. All die, except my faithful servant, but he is the exception. He is hardly young, who would have thought a Guise would take the Black Pilgrimage? Only the fiercest spirits can transcend the pain. It is unfortunate that the quality of sensitivity I seek is rarely matched by fierceness of spirit. Sensitive and puny, completely worthless. I am better off with the clods of meat manning the walls, dulled by life, they can endure fathomless levels of pain. Even a division of the Pharohim’s Imperial Guard will not break my defences. But a standing army is insufficient. I need wayfairing troops, and inspired lieutenants capable of leading them. I need bright young minds! If they are not drawn to me, then I must reach out and pluck them from the greedy grasp of the Meherim.

I curse the Meherim! Their noses pressed so close to the dirt, they can not draw their eyes from the mud of consciousness to the sun that is Machus! They hold up their paltry achievements, their pathetic golem, play with their puppets of living clay. They are but children! It will take years before golem reach the operational functionality of the unliving I have now. I will show them! I shall manifest Machus, and He shall adorn me with all the gifts of humanity, honour me as His herald, His gateway into being.