Posted by: lordkyler | June 11, 2016

The Apocalypse Anthology – Second Stanza

This is an excerpt from an ongoing project. One of my brothers sent me a series of short poems he had written, all revolving around similar themes of apocalypse and high fantasy. Inspired, I decided to embark on a project revolving around these poems.

I cobbled together a loose mythology based on the order and content of the poems, and then starting writing short stories, one for each poem in chronological order.

As I said before, this is still a tale in progress (get it?), but I thought I would share one of these unpolished entries with you today.


Second Quatrain

Unyielding

•••

The Iron Soldier, silent and strong,

Will march upon the Tomb.

And there unleash the Angels Death,

Which bring about their doom.

Every footfall cracked stone, shattering solid marble as though it were porcelain, fracturing the glassy surface like ice. A trail of destruction traced the path of the Iron Soldier, extending through ornate halls and silent chambers, down, down into the belly of the earth. Moonstones cast a pale light across the ruined stonework, playing with a dull gleam over the surface of the armor as it made its way inexorably toward its destination.

The air was still and dead, almost suffocating, and the noise of the Iron Soldier’s march was muted, as though coming from far away. The clang of each armored foot, the shrill of the gargantuan sword that dragged against the stone, the hollow, labored breath that echoed from inside the faceless helm; all hushed in a way that left the ear unsatisfied, wanting. The stifling atmosphere did nothing to silence the alien howls of the things behind her.

Maeris, First Mother, Champion of the Gods, the Soldier of Iron, was afraid.

She had been birthed by the gods themselves, one of the First Generation. She was the first to bring a mortal child into this virgin earth, the first to learn the secrets of soul-melding, the last to her kind to fall to the ravages of the First Harvest. But she could not hold out much longer. They were coming.

Another staircase, plunging into the stygian abyss, with no sign of the floor below. Maeris leapt heedlessly down, braced for a landing that could occur at any moment, letting gravity lend her the speed her muscles lacked. The constant descent was a blessing to her, but a hindrance to the things that pursued her. Another sign of wisdom by the Gods.

The Silent Words told of the struggle between Gods and Ungods, the embodied agents of creation and destruction, whose endless dance swirled in perfect symmetry around that impossible line where mortals could live and die of their own accords, the needle eye of a hurricane that engulfed the cosmos. But then the Ungods had cheated that balance, stealing the powers of creation to forge beings of pure destruction, to utter prophecies most dire.

But this action left an opening, a chance for the Gods to work with the powers of destruction, to leverage their will in one last desperate plan to save their children. Maeris only wished it did not come at so high a cost.

But she could not turn back, not now. She was the only one strong enough – brave enough – to complete this blasphemous task. For this purpose she had bonded the deepest fibers of her soul to the celestial steel that had fallen from the heavens, Gods-iron made flesh. For this she had overcome her gentle nature and taken up the sword. For this she would die.

All this and more, she had time to think as she fell, on and on through the endless gloom, falling until she could almost forget the world behind her, long enough to imagine she had left behind this ruined earth and fled to the starless skies. Not enough time to prepare for what lay ahead.

Iron crunched into stone, turning the tile to rubble as she landed, tearing furrows through solid granite as she slid to a halt, using the gargantuan blade to keep her balance. She took only a moment to survey this room before moving on.

The light here was not the steady, pale glow of moonstone, but rather, the writhing, snapping light of ghostfire. The flames were a vivid, almost liquid blue, but the light they cast was strange, causing light colors to glow eerily while leaving darker ones untouched. The stone was black, obsidian polished to a mirror brightness, but in this light it was impossible to discern the design of this place. The only indication of the hallway were arcane sigils, tracing phosphorescent lines at the angle between wall and floor, although some had been broken by her slide. The ceiling could have been inches above her head or miles away.

Here the walls here perfectly flat, unadorned, and reflective, although in this realm of blackness all she could see was herself, standing resolute, stalwart, unrecognizable. The ghostfire illuminated the seams of her armor, the slits of her eyes, the blood on her sword. As she made her way down the hallway, she caught a glimpse of herself – endless legions of herself – running in a great line that stretched on to eternity.

She found that strangely comforting, as though all of the loved ones she had lost to the First Harvest ran beside her. Even the keening of the creatures behind her could not entirely dispel the thought. With renewed vigor, she threw herself down the corridor. She was almost there.

Almost to the Tomb.

It was not an ordinary tomb, no shrine to a fallen friend or resting place for the deceased. This was the Tomb, a monument to the end of things, a temple to mortality. The prison of Death itself.

She flew down the corridor, and the air was stifling, now, so thick it suffocated the ringing of her footsteps and seemed to drag at her sword. Musty and yet cold, it seemed a living thing that she had to grapple with, push against, wade through, but she still moved on. Metal was stronger than air. Stronger than stone. Stronger than fear.

The endless hallway came to an end, and opened into a black cathedral of onyx and jet and obsidian, and now it was the floor and the ceiling that reflected one another, so that great pillars spanned from boundless heights to the depths of the abyss. But in this place, so close to powers beyond man, the reflections were wrong, curving and twisting in alien geometries that mortal minds were not meant to comprehend. Waterfalls of ghostfire poured from recesses around the expansive space, giving life to strange symbols that warped and blurred as she looked at them, guarding their secrets jealously.

Only a short distance away, half-shrouded by shadow, she could see the place. A pool of blood, shining with dark passion under the ghostlight, totally, unnaturally still, save for the small, perfectly timed ripples that crawled across the silky surface every few seconds. The heartbeat of the earth, all of life’s creatures reflected in the Lifeblood, with only a wrinkle to show for it.

Gods help us, Maeris thought. So few, so few. But They have promised. And yet, if she was successful, They would not be around to ensure that promise any longer. All she could do was pray to whatever fate remained, and hope that the Gods were as wise as they seemed.

As she approached, she could see the Tomb itself, suspended in the air above the Lifeblood like a scavenger, waiting for the last breath to expire before feasting on the corpse. And yet it was a beautiful thing, made by the gods themselves. It hung on nothing, spinning slowly within itself. It had the appearance of crystal, intricate beyond imagination and delicate as glass.

But at the heart of the crystalline monolith, a shadow lurked, phantasmal wings spread wide within the confines of the Tomb, grasping like spectral fingers toward Maeris as she approached. Death awaited her.

Every step was a struggle, as though she were walking upriver, but it was not just the air that fought her, but a feeling of dread that emanated from the Tomb. The fear of death. Maeris had thought she had made peace with her coming death. How could she not, when she had outlived her children’s children and waited for this day through decades? And yet every inch of her could feel the weight of that mortality. Every fiber in her body and every strand of her soul fought and bucked against that weight, struggling for life, for every second they could carve from this world.

She marched on, a soldier of iron.

The creatures were here now, parodies of life, mockeries of soul. Some created by the Ungods, others twisted and corrupted by them. The latter were the worst, and for all the destruction that the Unmade had wrought, it was the Wer that had nearly broken mankind.

The Unmade rested on the ceiling, not bound by the laws of the mortal realm. Spindly fingers and needle claws barely tapped the surface of the stone, but this provided enough grip to crawl weightlessly forward, like nightmarish spiders. Their eyes glowed with ghostfire, much as hers did, but they swirled in queer hypnotic patterns, changing each moment. The rest of their bodies varied in sickening and grotesque ways, each one seemingly designed to offend the human sense of beauty. Bones jutted from flesh at harsh angles, and bloated tissues bulged or sagged under the flesh. Eyes, mouths and other orifices gaped and gnashed lecherously, and in every spot where there were not organs and appendages, festering sores and cancerous growths riddled the creatures’ skin, oozing the black tar and oily bile that covered them.

And yet it was the Wer that seemed the most profane. So close to human, and yet all the more blasphemous for it.

When Death’s Angels did their work, Maeris would weep for the Wer, but she would be glad to see them go. She could only hope that in the new world, men would be wiser.

She reached the pool, and without hesitation stepped within. A thin ripple, like a single thread, raced across the surface, until it was consumed by the ceaseless pulse of the heartbeat waves. Maeris’s foot did not break the surface of the pool, but the ripple broke against her foot, suddenly swelling with the force of a geyser, driving her backward, as heavy as she was. It was the weight of all humanity thrown against her, driven by the desperate will to survive. It was the throb of every human heart striving to protect itself from the fate that hovered above it. It would not stop her.

An Unmade leapt for her, striking with a startling speed, a black blur streaked with ghostfire, claws driving for her heart like gnarled spears. They could not pierce her iron, but they could still hurt her, perhaps prevent her from completing her mission.

NO.

Suddenly Their voice was in her head, for the first time since her calling to this mssion, a soundless shout that was at once as big as the world and as small as a dustmote, deeper than the night sky, formless as a dream. It rang through her body, vibrated through her soul, every inch of her echoing with power and defiance. She was so close to completing her mission. Nothing would stop her now.

NOTHING.

The great blade leapt to meet the Unmade, singing as it split the air, a quicksilver flash shining blue in the ghostlight. It bisected the Unmade, slicing it to ribbons of shadow and gushing black fluids. The next suffered the same fate, bursting into plumes of smoke, and the third collapsed within itself to nothingness.

The Wer did not perish so neatly. One lurched for her, jaws slavering, and the blade severed tendon and bone as though they were paper, Blood spattered to join that in the pool, hissing and smoking as it landed. The next was sent flying with an iron-shod kick, and the third was caught in the crushing grip of living steel, to be thrown into a pack of Unmade that were trying to flank her.

Again and again the great sword swung, halos of light to protect her from evil. But for every abomination that fell, two more took its place, bigger, stronger, and more grotesque than their predecessors.

Once more into the pool, braced for the fountain of blood that burst against her foot, splattering crimson across her metal skin. Insubstantial fingers grasped at her arms, tracing lines of frost, and hooked claws rasped against her legs and ankles, trying to bring her down. Maeris kicked and slashed, cutting herself free from the clutching crowd.

When the next pulse thumped through the pool, Maeris stepped over the ripple, allowing it to burst against the Wer instead. Flesh burned as unholy blood turned to fire in their veins, trying to purge the blasphemy that tainted it. Others stepped over their fallen comrades, stepping over the ripple as she had done; and the Unmade were swelling, bodies melding and twisting to form a single horrific entity, so twisted and perverse that Maeris suspected she would go mad from the mere sight of it.

NOW, DAUGHTER. The voice beyond words left no room in her mind for doubt, no room in her heart for fear. And yet she wept.

Onward, and forward, staggering over each new wave, cutting back the mass of fur and fangs, racing to reach the center before the monstrous Unmade had finished their fusion. Only three steps away from dread duty. Two steps from heartbreak. One step from death itself.

Maeris raised her sword, ready for one final swing and then oblivion.

Something struck her in the back, driving her to her knees. The sword slipped from her grasp, sinking into the pool of blood without so much as a ripple. Maeris was buried beneath a tide of bodies, Wer in frenzy, howling and biting in mindless fury, gnashing and gnawing uselessly against her armored flesh. They could not hurt her, but they didn’t need to. Even if she managed to fight free of them, the Unmade obscenity above her would bring her down.

She had been too slow. Too weak. And now all would perish.

None now living had heard Maeris speak. The binding of soul and matter made her mighty, provided protection, lengthened life, but it had required a sacrifice of many pleasures, food, lovers, speech. And so Maeris could only scream in her mind, could only weep in her heart.

Why? she demanded, oblivious to the shrieking of talon against metal, deaf to the howls of the Wer and the ungodly screams of the Unmade. I cannot bear the fate of the world alone. So much given, so much lost, to save a mere handful. Now even that is brought to ruin. 

Battered, beaten, and broken, the Iron Soldier ceased her struggle and fell still, strength exhausted.

Please, she whispered. A hellish eternity passed by in a heartbeat, but the heartbeat of the earth had stilled, as though already snuffed out. For one endless second, the Ungodly reigned.

And then the Lifeblood exploded around her.

A tsunami of blood rose at once, ichor of the earth animated, fighting back against the monsters that held her bound, consuming them in cleansing fire, shining with glorious, heavenly brightness, powerful and pure. The Unmade were undone where it struck, wiped from existence.

In an instant, Maeris was freed, thrown to the roof by the force of the swell, but the Lifeblood was already ebbing, fading, falling, spent in one last chance at survival. The Unmade swirled, rejoining to one another, and Wer leapt from the pillars they had climbed, coming directly for her. The desperate surge of the world’s hearts had only bought her a second.

But that was enough.

Maeris fell amid a rain of blood. Next to her, a great, sanguine blade seemed to hang in the air, Lifeblood bonded with metal. Maeris took the sword from the air and prayed for forgiveness.

She swung, breaching the crystal prison and unleashing the angels of Death.

And so Maeris, First Mother, Champion of the Gods, the Soldier of Iron, slew the earth and shattered the heavens.

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