Sunday, August 31, 2008

More Complete Draft

I suppose this could be Part I of my latest short story. It still needs revision.

Through half-closed eyes, Tonfe gazed at the chalice of eleven feathers, an imprint of Life onto stone. He rested quiet, murmuring a soft song interweaved with the music of home-bound birds, songs riding on sweet winds that bring sleep. He heard from afar, the waters of mother Nile rushing, and above, he felt the subtle rain from stars clear and high.

Out through the Temple windows, away in the darkened West, a yellow Light flamed—lonely, it faded into growing night. Tonfe stretched forth his fingers, an ice touch on curtained fire—still, smooth, silken, silent—and caressed the fading Light.

He closed his eyes. He felt the light rain falling like silver feathers descending. Yet it was warm here—safe, to some extent. But he knew this place would soon be gone, and he with it.

Rumors there had been plenty, like burrowing ants weaving among rotten wood. There was peace now. The Akroti-backed faction had brought about the end of civil war. The Temple of the Flame by the Nile, a haven of rebels, had been cast down; the great port of Haliaa razed by a black fleet from the Motherland. Order reigned.

There had been a great battle. Tonfe knew that his father had left many months ago with most of the soldiers, and had not returned. His mother was now the head of the faithful, the wife of the last Senator.

The boy opened his eyes slightly for a last look at the chalice. Curtained by shadows, but deep, like oceans poured into a little glass, pregnant with the Sun.

Tonfe closed his eyes, retreating into darkness and love. Into a womb of dreaming, of autumnal stretchings, of a yawn across lapsed time over warm seas. Of reaching, reaching for a time beyond rumors that weave like burrowing ants in rotten wood—a yearning for the silence beyond the tippety, tippety, tap, of doom. He felt a comfort and soft touch, armless, wordless, a song whispered and forgotten—yet remembered in quiet, floating echoes, like circling leaves dancing with cool dawn winds. Finally, the floating hands, cool, tender hands, of memory, uncovered yellowed pages of lost time.

Of lost time. Of time past, and time not yet come.

The boy slept. And in his sleep, he saw again the Chalice of Eleven. But this time, it was no mere imprint in stone, but a radiance hewn from living flame. And above the
chalice was a wheel, a wheel spinning with Lights of eleven hues.

The Tarasha—the Atlantean Flame, eleven yet one, armed and triumphant against the armies of Night.

One of the Eleven called—a star-fire iridescent with the Art. From that Truth came a being like a man, middle-aged, robed in white and holding a staff ringed with liquid lightning. His eyes were kind, though they were the depths of luminous valleys, plunging deep. A voice came, from the man perhaps, yet sounding from the boy’s own heart.

“I come. Do not despair.”

Then he saw in a land far to the north, many cities of radiance and a large army of men and women dressed in white seamless robes. And a man, looking surprisingly like his father, but immeasurably older, was at their head.

The man walked towards the growing mist, head hung, arms drooping, eyes shining with grey dreams of brooding night. The low light of dusk revealed white and red: a smooth, thin linen of Atlantean white streaked with the blood of old battles. He held his staff firm, but wearily.

He raised his palm, an ascending star. Diamond-white, flames, a deadly, cackling dance of meteors slicing straight, left a burnt taste wafting through the dark. A sun, then two, then multiple—conflagrations rose from the blue-red horizon, dressed in blood-stained, lethargic clouds. A march of blasting roars; then a fading, like falling leaves, of low, circling echoes.

He woke.

It was already deep night and the far hills echoed a dim red light. He gripped the white sheets about him. Cold and moist with sweat, he stirred, slipping off the bed—silent, a shadow, ignoring the strange chills that gripped him in fluttering embraces. He sought his mother.

Has the Flame truly abandoned them?

I come. He comes. But who is he?

Water streaming by the wind, wet and unheard, through a gentle cut on earth. The song of Mother Nile, mother of the Atlanteans before ever Atlantis was, flowed through the night, a solace in their seemingly last hour. And she would flow on, long after they were gone.

He left the temple. The cloudy darkness, hidden from mundane sight, seemed to thicken, a miasma of chills that covered him like the fine grey dust of corpses. The grass was withering and death’s grin stalked through the town. Greyness and fading surrounded him; the faithful and their refuge were like the sawdust of time, the leavings of labor long lost and abandoned. Tonfe’s eyes looked grey and withered, and in them were reflected the broken town of the last faithful.

He was the last child left. The rest had already perished from a strange plague. The priests reported that the plague was the physical manifestation of a dark curse, a new terror of the Traitors, a cloud of death that had weighed on the land for many months. The priests had chanted the Tarasha Hymns, they had done all they could, shepherding the children and the old into the temple. But all had perished, save one. Somehow, he had clung on.

Tonfe reached the House of the Assembly.

Atlantean architecture strived for symphonies in stone—buildings that through their proportions, materials and motifs, evoked a music beyond themselves. Mere pleasing lines and spaces, smooth functionality—these were important, but foundational. The rest involved incarnation.

Thus even in refuge and war, the House of the Assembly was a splendor and a flame. Ringed with massive white pillars and carvings upwards sweeping like many-hued fire towards high spires—it soared, heavy and strong, yet light and graceful, a lion and a swan defying Darkness. The Eleven-hued Fire was emblazoned in gold on its doors, ringed by carved Hymns that shone with soft silver radiance.

Tonfe silently entered the House that was open to all.

In the middle of the packed Elder Chamber, a soaring space reaching into carved sky, he found her—his mother, who looked down unmoving, Life’s imprint poised in stone. Her robes stirred slowly, shifting against a calm female silhouette, pegged firm and forced to return after rhythmic stray. A murmur, anxious and humming like innumerable bees, weaved around one pillar-like figure rooted in ancient time, like the sounds of circling thoughts that yet revolve around one star. She was strong. She was their leader—but perhaps, even she was not enough.

She stirred, instantly aware of her son, even though Tonfe was in the shadows.

Alkara lomberi?

A soft feminine voice sounded in silent thought. Why are you here? There was love, but there was also rebuke. And fear.

Tonfe did not answer. He was observing the radiances that filled the hall, emanating from the elders. From his mother came a cleaving light, strong, courageous, compelling. From others came other hues of the Eleven. The old chief priest sat in the middle of a soft white flame more sweet than strong, shining from the Old One of the Eleven, the heart of a crystal Rose where a cloud flaming shone. There, deep in him, far and remote even from the priest, Tonfe vaguely saw a Temple fire rising to heights unseen and the far supreme love that broods over all pain. He saw, as if, in a far-off reflection, the eyes of the One who loves.

These were elders unlike the helpless politicians that had been swept away by the black tide—no mere talkers and slave of convention mouthing ancient words. The leaders of the faithful were close to the Flame and its Power.

The Assembly had fallen silent. Many had become aware of Tonfe, who slowly came forward. Though shriveled and tortured by fever, his long eyes, a feature typical of his race, shone with exceptional intelligence. And his figure remained one of grace and gentle proportion, beautiful like a fire of spring. He stood out even in a race justly renowned for beauty. And weakened as he was, and just a boy of fourteen, his face and gait was one of just command, of rightful domination, revealing a Will that inspired or compelled obedience. In front of so many august elders, he stood respectful, but without fear, holding the eyes of his audience.

They viewed him with a mixture of love, sadness and respect. He had borne his suffering as well as any soldier—like those who had perished in the wars against the Akroti and the Traitors. He had made no complaints, not one. He had fed on an implacable will, clinging on to life even as all his closest friends had died. He had defied the dark without counting the costs.

He was the last child. Their future. And yet, it was clear to all, especially to his mother, that this future was dying. It may not last the night. An Akroti army was marching on the town, and Tonfe was being consumed. His departure from the Temple had worsened his condition. Even in the holy house of Assembly fortified with many spells and prayers, he was mostly sustained by sheer will, like a messenger of war, deeply racked and wounded, fortified and held by duty.

Concentrating Fire, he summoned his will and addressed the Assembly in clear ringing words. He spoke of his dream, of the Eleven and their Light, of a Messenger with a word of hope, of a land to the north with cities of radiance. Of a man like his father leading an army triumphing over darkness. Of the man passing into shadows.

As Tonfe spoke, a Power seemed to come out of him, a Power using him to speak, a Power entering into the veins and souls of those present. To a greater and lesser extent, they saw what he saw, felt what he felt. They partook in his dream of light and shadow.

As he ended, the atmosphere was changed. Dim still, but pregnant with the energies of the Stars that broke the darkness. Silence reigned. And In that hush, the chief priest, was the first to speak.

“ The boy was the vessel of a Word. Even among the great Seers who have left us—few could have implanted a vision of such power—and none have the skill to fuse such high power with such humble gentleness that it could rest quiet and harmless till it was unleashed. And the Power, terrible and strong as it was—was only a sign. For in the Flame unleashed, I felt hints of a Fire much greater.”

“And that would mean only two things: our annihilation or our salvation. If the first, then the Traitors have attained power and skill so sublime that they could emulate the Melchis themselves. And that message from Tonfe had come from them, a prophecy of Light but in actuality, an infernal message of deception. Hell then must reign, and humanity must end. If the second, then the greatest prophecy of our age has come true. One of the Melchis, one very close to the Eleven, has come to us. And he comes not only with Wisdom and gentleness, but with the Power to overthrow the Six.”

“Which is the truth? I know in my heart that the Flame will never abandon us. The Seers have left to search for the ancient one. Somehow, one of the Melchis had lived on from the days of the Eleven, ten thousand years ago. They have found him. The Seers will return with the ancient one at their head, and Tonfe has been chosen as his messenger.”