Because I do not hope to know again
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again.
Ash Wednesday- T. S. Eliot
Under the twilight of that year, the warrior sat atop the summit of the cordillera like some dark and leprous atlas, gaunt limpid arms outstretched and hands risen up as if to hold some unseen and pillaged altar bereft of its tapestries and its sacristies poured out as of blood, clad in only the macre scars like popped pustules and the rotting carcass of his armor held to him by its ragged and threadbare nodes. Decrepit amphistaff coiled round his torso in some fathomable need. Gibbets of snow on him and his discarded cloak and knapsack like some predatorial moss taking what it would from those things which presented no consternation or reproach and the wind was vengeful in form and manner and butchered each atom of flesh there present as it whistled in the air. Like some piper tune leading away to death with high pitched soliloquies.
The cold was beyond his adjectives. His descriptors. Set outright in its nature as a challenge. Firmer then the rocks he'd settled and touched. Greater in height and breadth than those mountains. Both transient and corporeal as some three headed cerebrus bounding in the fog with tottering slackjaws. Fine sharpened incisors deep in his marrow and cartilage to masticate in the days. And the nights. To make itself some measurable deity for him to fall down and worship.
Above him there lingered the canopy of clouds like some ceaseless shroud stretched about the world with smoke woven threads by a seamstress so long at the wheel that her hair was aged into spider's linen and hands hook-like and epileptic and dots of free wheeling snow mingled throughout it like dust motes descended from each buried and forgotten mountain torn down in the ages by wind and water and man and war. He searched through its tresses. For what he knew in his dreams and thoughts, but it had none of it. Just figments. His hands caught snowflakes and against the length of his fingers, they stayed and did not melt.
He took the valley in. Its tern spectrum of white, gray and black; the flatness of it like the side of some felled sword acting as a fulcrum for what lay beyond the horizon's curved edge. Crossing it were thumbnail sized bipeds, more than two dozen in number, raising behind clouds and tracts as their tails swept behind them like rudders and the horns atop their heads like rotted crowns and he bade them hello but they brooked no retort and continued onward as nomads fearing not what would come but had.
He spoke to himself and each gust of wind lent a differentiation of timber to his voice and gave each sentence a sentience unknown to the warrior before the numbered years and in the two was both murderer and sinner and he said, I cannot feel my hands.
It does not hurt.
And without that pain, the gods will not hear my cries.
For I am the last of their children with whom they are much displeased.
He went to his knees and braced the ground with his forehead, mouth kissing the ice, and he smote himself with his fists as he spoke. As if to consecrate those words with motions to fill their hollow souls and make some memory of which to cling to.
He prayed to dead gods.
Past that hour, the warrior went down the slopes, cloak wrapped about his shoulders like a shawl, abetting the shivers along his skin by staying his hands to the fur. Scarred from their nature. Marked with deep written wrinkles. Calloused digits spitten with white tumoric lines. His breath trailed behind him. A vague cloud of kanjis gone beyond their half lives; transitory and swept away in any breeze that crossed his path.
He waded through the knee high snow; created a wake to be mapped and measured. Though the falling flakes would clear it from any memory or sight or thought. As he double backed on the trail he had once made, there stood two judges. Horned like devils with golden coin eyes and claws dug deep into the haunches of the biped they dragged with them. Reddened teeth and tufts of fur clumped with the same dark liquid. Their foul stench like curdled vomit. And their height like giants. They did not move but watched him, tracked him as he bowed and backed away. Face to the ground and eyes rolled upwards like a traitorous servant expectant of the axe. Taking a step. Then another, till he passed the bend and went another way. Epileptic fingers and tightened diaphragm and dry mouth with a bleeding tongue. Symptoms and villains.
Coming down, he passed fumaroles, warm and engrained with pommels of smoke like pillars and columns and when he passed his hand through them some other pulse quickened into his blood and returned to it a measure of strength and he marveled at such until the ash coated his tongue in a stale layer and he moved on. There were other wonders upon those mountains. Chasms and the ice which spanned them. Pitiless drops cradling abject splintered bones. Beam bridges lined with squatters beneath their ways and etched portents along the sides. Composed entirely of sagely blue ice. Bubbled air locked into the layers like amber. Some burst open on the surface and others like gilded spheres spun free of their momentum and left in a vacuum.
He went to his knees and crossed by making shallow cuts in the solidified frore and filling those thin raveens with his fingernails and pulling himself forward like a cripple and did not blink and nailed his eyes forward and said breathe and breathe again. He did not wander his eyes, nor his mind, nor his lips for God and when he had crossed he found a divot in the wall and slept there.
In his dream there was a trail through the mountains lit by a child with an emerald orb in one hand and torch in the other; the path trodden through by his forbearers, the snow run slipshod and trampled by their footsteps and the imprint of their boots petrified and solid. Messages scrawled into the stone with dark blood. Relics strewn behind and nailed like ancient paintings. Hairs and scalps and idols and heretics and heathen. The light just beyond him like a lure. And above those monuments, statues of men cut from the granite with open eyes and mouths. Each of them whispering a single word and verse he could not decipher and the girl herself a mute and a deaf and when he reached to succor her all fell to night and he was afraid.
He woke to the sound of concussions and the rattling of small stones above his head and in his fugue he looked up as rootlike trails of fire and smoke swept through the cloud cover and trailed across the sky with bits of shrapnel raining behind them as of crushed petals. Past the mountains they went like banshees and the ice cracked around him and splintered into numerous cleavages and the bridge he had crossed was struck down and fell into the pit and on the plains a great sigh went up with a diffuse spurt of fog as it cratered into the earth.
He could feel his heart again. The steady beat of it in his throat; the thrumming of his blood through his veins and arteries and going into his arms and legs and warming them. Like the returning of some lost prodigal son long thought dead. His mouth hung open and humid eyes. The dampness of their moment on his eyelashes freezing over and refracting his sight with multiple realities.
Brother, he said, what is this and rose up and went down the slopes as the gray light filtered down to show him the way.
He was led to the vessel by the trough plowed through the snow and he walked in the wake with a pebble in his palm. The soil he took it from was blackened and rough and it smelled of smoke and bits of metal were deposited in it and dark gradients stayed underneath his fingernails. The piece of rock itself was rough and igneous and at one time its porous shell was birthed among fire and ash but now it possessed only an alien cold and he rolled it between his forefinger and thumb.
The ship was a memory of itself and as he came near its wounds were made more real and more distinguishable. Open holes scattered throughout its hull with the sharpened metal flung inward and tears slung along its top like some foreign form of circumcision and the light of its engine dim and dead. The whole of it as divested and stripped cadaver lying about in the light with its spilled out innards draped across the ground.
He circled around the crater and peered into the cockpit where the glass was broken into canines and half of the pilot lay impaled upon a stripling of steel and he stayed there for some time and then circled to the other side. This one held a hole in its ribs the size of his own stature and he could not make anything out and he went in.
He went through the hole exposing the rib of the non-beast, taking pains to watch his step. Upon the ground were scattered…. machines… lain out as if resting from their duties, various snippets of glass scattering the artificial yellow light of the flickering sun onto the occasional outstretched hand, limp and severed. He picked it the limb up and threw aside the pebble and it clattered in the din and then explored the intersections of fate, life and love said to exist in the wrinkles. All he saw was discarded muscle carefully aligned for motor movement, a thin layer of skin wrapped round to contain it, and the loss of existence.
So he tried to whisper to it some truth to soften the owner's false soul but he was interrupted by the sudden clatter of in the rear of the ship. An abrupt sudden rustling of feet bumbling against walls in a drunken manner. The amphistaff coiled around his arm hissed slightly into the air as if challenging the survivor, its head moving side to side in a hidden rhythm.
He was unsurprised at the news that blood still flowed. He said nothing, but continued inward towards the belly hidden in shadow. The corridors swept into his peripheral, step by step, until what he saw before him was a two huddling figures holed up against a corner. One sat nestled against the leaking belly, full of dripping red life. The other was pointed at him while clutching the barrel of a blaster.
The maw of it stayed in shadow.
Stay back, the creature said. Stay back.
He said nothing, but lowered himself into a crouch and waited. Was this thing a lie?
The human was a small thing, clad in a uniform of azure and unnatural white that matched its skin. He titled his head. A woman too, young.
Not like the fortune teller.
It..she cried out again. If you move…I'll kill you.
Minutes passed by as her words remained unchanging in the air, repeated in stanzas. Her arm tried to stay steady, jerking back upwards into its original position following each strained breath. But then the light failed and her will lost its grip over her body.
He gazed at her for many moments and even more heartbeats. The trickle of blood leeking out her side and the quiet, hushed breath. The tattered clothes turned dark.
He reached over and took the blaster from her and placed it on the ground with distaste, and sat back and watched her.
He thought that he might save her but he wasn't sure.
He counted heresies for every piece of tangled cloth he pulled from chilled bodies- thirty five-, for every scrap of machinery that brushed against probing fingers or the accidental movement of a wayward limbs-innumerate-, for ever stitch he sowed into her side- sixteen- and wondered why it was, - as he sat there against the bulkhead, - why he felt like laughing.
He woke before she did. Tradition was still found in the muscles corded about his body even though the will that moved it only had dim recollections interrupted by sudden sporadic bursts of imagery. The easiness of thrusting an amphistaff through his brother's unprotected gut. The grunt of air against his ear that sounded like congratulations. How much more difficult it was to pull the blade free, let the body rock the floor as hend smiled in victory. The terrible heaviness of Al'Shimrra's the overlord's rainbow gaze.
The emerald planet held aloft in the eye of his ship which spoke of history, ancient relatives and….
He made it a point to appear as if he had never slept by standing. From there, he saw her eyes flash open and closed- thin interjections of sapphire. The slow lethargy of her limbs as they moved to study herself, moving from her stomach to the thin cut of hair on hair hidden slightly by the villip colored bandage. But then otiosity gave way to a sudden halt, as if she had frozen in fear save for her eyes and head which twisted about like a demon unleashed.
There was a question. A preponderance on his chest that needed longed to for escape. Are you Yun-Harla? he asked.
She stared. No.
He grinned and handed her the blaster in his hand.
That is a start.
For the first thirty seconds she thought of how wonderful his face would look if it were transformed into a glowing crater of burnt meatflesh. Of how those ebony eyes so filled with madness would disappear under a glorious red bolt and how his scream would be short. Oh so short, like a thread of yarn cut too soon.
For the next minute, she focused on how easy it would be to bury the body. Of how pleasure would course through her veins, spreading out from her heart to her head, along her spine with the delicate hands of a lover when she threw the last pit of snow over that cursed body.
For the next hour, she tried not to think of pyres of flesh and wood in the night or of tattooed dancers singing to gods for thanks. Hymns of sacrifice, entreaties of strength, and guttural screams of her dying world--she tried to think of anything. Anything but the face of her nightmares smiling there before her.
The rest was more trying.
She finished eating the paltry feast laid around her before she talked.
You didn't kill me, she whispered. Wondering. Confused. Anger simmering under beneath the questions.
This is hell and heaven is not within grasp.
Is that supposed to mean something?
I think so.
You don't seem to believe yourself.
It is not necessary for living.
That's not how Yuuzhan Vong live.
You are right.
That is not how they lived.
Aren't you one of them?
No. The Yuuzhan Vong are dead.
Laconism stayed the non-beast's belly till dawn, even their breaths too small to hear.
There was no light to herald morning, only snow turning grey between ground and covered sky and when she rose she went through the bodies, coveting what values and trinkets could be found in their homunculi, carrying forth her the blaster in one hand, index finger resting below the trigger, and a thin flashlight between her teeth.. She pecked through only certain passengers who bore the image of still life and whose wounds were limited by comparison, and shut their eyes with her passing. Fingers highlighted their pockets; came away with spare few credits and the odd knickknack. Some foreign coins, scraps of paper embroidered with poetry, a locket with a halfwashed out holo. She spun the picture in the air and placed it back in the pocket.
She keyed in vague treatises of existentialism and nihilism in the scattered touch displays but the monitors lay dim, unknowledgeable and possessing no samaratin inclination and in her frustration she saddled up against the wall and beat it with the base of her hand. To which he was witness. At those times she saw him do such, she gestured away with the blaster and he adhered to such biddings and waited outside on the manifold.
The lined stitches ached for her.
Some of the panels were scattered about, revealing the multicolored wiring and she traced it through the ship like some medicinal cartographer appraising the complexities of the form but not the soul and she came upon a burned and degraded area where the would be beacon uttered off a dimming and slowing red light to which it died as a thin ember. Hardly crimson. She squatted near it and pressed against its skin and came away with blackened palms and cursed with an unbefitting tongue filled with a broader base of diction and slang than appropriate. She cleaned them against her slacks; her head hung in her hands. What to do. Possibly nothing.
Hoth. The name.
She rose up, stuck to her mind longitude and latitude of that memorial hidden in the tundra, and went outside and the cold buried through her layers like a lance and she gasped. As he watched, she looked up. Light was still dim on the horizon; enough parted clouds to measure the stars. Certain ones were out whose names returned to her and she took their measure and calculated vectors and angles and came away looking at the world's edge with her estimation.
She returned to the ship and gathered what she would. Food, water, a lumilamp, a slim vibroknife, some oil from a banister. Blaster tucked into her waistband. Canteen filled. She found a knapsack and sequestered her supplies within it. Clothed herself in the heaviest raiment. Pulled the ensemble together.
Went outside once more.
You'll die if you go out there, he said, perched behind her on the hull.
I've made it through worse. I can manage a little snow.
You have much faith in your God to assume that the elements cannot break you.
She spat it out as a curse. You don't need deities to live Vong.
And forward, she went into the plains.
He piled the bodies in the hold and doused them with what oil she had not commandeered and prayed before striking out sparks with twin sheets of metal. For their lives, for their journey to God. He asked his dead lords for such. The volcanic embers rode into the oil and danced along its length, consuming the bodies, rendering them as they once were. To their basic elements. The lithe red flames overlaying the low running blue in seasonal plumage.
He kneeled outside the ship and watched the fire rise up. As pinpoints of light from which the darkness could be held off. To grasp and to hold and to be the sign and portent for things in their becoming. In their beginnings. To serve as both a beacon and a memorial for those yet unborn.
Held his face in the snow; would not sunder so much those flames with his eyes. Brother, is she the witness? Could she be? Forgive me, for I have not heard the word these many years.
Ask her of their fate and the doubts will be stripped to nothing. That the children of gods are long dead and brooked no passage beyond purgatory. As their sins remanded. There can be no question of this. What did that oracle foretell? That she should be taken for a sign and be this exile's release. This can not be.
but follow her still, in that unlikely case
She saw things in between the swirls of ice. Daggers of frozen water. Teeth of a dead legend used to scare children. Burning fire in the sculptures of snowflakes thrown from the headwind. Texts stacked together. Ink and leather bound together in matrimony. Knowledge yet undimmed, the universe held captive by trimmed fingernails and uncalloused fingertips. Poems. Epics. Ballads. Tomes. Stories of all magnitude and virtue crushed into the embers of her breath.
Frozen air, frozen past, and all the emptiness to hold it.
She swayed, hearing melodies in the whispers of bladed wind and forgot how it was to fall.
The lyrics to the forgotten song writ large in earthbound snow. Brother, my brother. Where have you gone?
The beacon of salvation called to her against the darkness and went unheard.
He stood above her and found it a simple thing to hold his amphistaff above her fallen form as white powder mounted her in thin layers. A miniscule effort of will compounded against gravity's laws in defiance. That of an avian flying against a typhoon. Meaningless, but not. So long as the eye followed its inevitable fall.
It would be so easy to plunge it into her back. To see the false red blood spilled on this galaxy's altar. A cry of tragedy that would echo on to infinity would be the proof, though there would be no judges to see, no hordes to cheer the act.
So very easy to end instead of begin…and so much sweeter on the tongue…
Not here. Not now. Not again.
She was not Vong. The curse afflicted upon his people was not hers to bear.
For the conquerors, heaven was still within reach. For the conquerors, life still glittered with their god's presence.
For the conquerors, there was still room to serve in something other than cold vacuum.
And if that was so, if there was truth in it…
…there was the possibility that redemption could be found in this wayward soul.
He laid down his weapon and plied frozen water with trembling hands.
And still he beseeched the dead.
Author's Note- I am in the process of revising the older chapters to make them, in all things, better and more pleasing to the trained reader. Thank you for bearing with me and I hope my older readers will enjoy the alterations.