Somewhere in the darkness the leaves rustled like sharp knives. It had been thirteen days since Kolux had eaten anything but the mushrooms of the worm. He could smell the dew drop from each leaf, feel them cutting apart, the branches bending and crunching. A vast caravan descended down upon him, the pale moonlight flashing against the drums and blades. The gods had revealed themselves for this, but what is it?
The tomb was completely dark. Kolux had memorized the layout of the temple until he could smell every crevice and taste the soft tangy metal, until he could hear the oscillations of his body against the coldness of the stones. When his heart pumped and the blood coursed up through his brain the floor vibrated ever so slightly with him. He sat crossed legged, wearing nothing but a simple cloth, and his stomach growled for sustenance. I am the Earthseer. Show me, Gods damn it. He tried to quiet the sounds of his body so that he could feel again the movement of the world. He reached out his limp hand, grabbed several mushrooms of the worm and swallowed them whole. His feet spread out like roots and were absorbed into the floor. In his mouth he could taste a hundred things at once. He raised his head up to feel the blast of sound strike down upon his forehead.
The Forest! There’s something in the forest! The leaves had fallen away. They were not like knives anymore. They were like a thousand dissonant drums pounding towards him, burning into the flesh of his eyes. The sky itself lit up. The sun had fallen out of the air and crashed into the world. The stars had melted away. The people were crying. No, they are not cries. They are croaks of raw terror. His eyes loosened into a blaze of tears. The sounds came pounding louder until he held his hands against his ear drums, realizing that they were bleeding and falling away from his head. The sounds had merged into a roll of thunder, a giant shock of light and then the endless darkness beyond. The birds were all dead, or fleeing the light of it. In his mind the coming darkness was a rolling stone, building momentum, unstoppably getting larger by the second. He screamed with his might to push the stone aside, to give his tears unto the vision, to let his body flounder into nothing to shatter the boulder but it would not budge, and the force just pushed him aside like he was nothing. As the stone rolled he could see the grotesque faces carved into the curves. Would all that he had loved and lived through, all that he had ever known be undone by this fate? This is as it will be. The cycle is coming to an end, and the Gods alone will stand in judgement.
The tomb of the temple around him began to glow and resonate with the roots that were once his feet. The light was coming from within! Fifty years he had spent learning and practicing the rites of the Gods, many of them spent in the darkness of this room reflecting on their purpose, and it was only now that he finally understood it was the temple which had been the poison all along. The sister he had ignored, the wife he had rejected for the sanctity of this place had all been for nothing. The dark dreams, the endless anxiety he had suffered to favour the world beyond; all this time it had meant to destroy him. He felt his body begin to dissolve entirely and let out an epileptic scream.
The large boulder that blocked the tomb had been removed from the hole in the wall and light flooded into the space. Instead of burning it felt pleasant on his eyes. He opened them, finding his hands and feet intact. Was this the afterlife? Zalek and Tandal stood before him. Kolux’s mind quickly raced back into the stones his skin touched. The world had not yet ended, but the forest still swallowed the drums and he could hear them in the trees.
“Earthseer, do you know what time it is? Get out here and eat something now” said Zalek, standing tall and looking worried in the silhouette of the door.
“I will”, he said simply. Standing on his two feet for the first time in nearly thirty hours, he limped out into the light of the temple. The temple proper was surrounded in a smooth metallic rock that seemed to deflect light at all angles, while beams from outside shoot through small circled holes in the wall. The light on his skin made Kolux’s body appear disjointed and broken into small pieces. The light beams gave a sparkling aura to just about everything else, even the simple wooden fixtures, and the dull stone statues of the bird Gods that circled the perimeter of the room. Zalek tried to hold him up as he walked to the wooden table with fruit laid out for him and bit into a ripe banana. The color yellow seemed to bleed into his mouth. The floor tipped slightly, or was it his head that was off angle? He tried to bring himself exactly upright to no avail.
“If he keeps going like this we’ll end up carrying him around on a tree bed” Tandal complained. Kolux hated it when they talked about him parentally as if he wasn’t in the room, but he was above such trivial matters.
“Quit your babbling and get me to the altar”. Obediently they helped him limp out of the temple and unto the large stone altar that served as the religious centre for dozens of tribes all across Zenoria. Kolux’s head whirled about, his eyes blinked rapidly. Above him the first milky stars of the evening flashed and grew larger in the sky against the red and purple horizon. Their cores bled into the encroaching black. His mind seemed to drift effortlessly out into the worlds beyond. He could feel the mad stone faces still rolling towards him. He jerked his body left and turned to Tandal. “Get me a barrel of the black. Now.” Just as he was about to question him Kolux’s body began to shake uncontrollably. Tandal climbed down the altar to find the barrel.
The table at the altar had his clothes already laid out. He donned the feathers and the blue and green paints and dressed himself for the first time he could remember in weeks. He realized he still could not feel his feet. Although when he looked down nothing was amiss he knew they were still attached to the floors of the infested temple, his whole body dissolving down into roots and life paste. But somehow still his form was here, the blue paint across his cheeks, the plume of the Earthseer donning his forehead. He felt like a ghost. But the ceremony must continue. He must do what must be done.
“Where is Rooc!?” the thought occurred to him suddenly. He should have been here by now to help him with the rite.
“Did he go off with the hunters again?” Tandal asked as he climbed back up over the altar with Zalek struggling to tip the barrel up right.
“He was tending the gardens last I saw him” said Zalek. If Rooc is missing he’s in danger. As childish as he is, he’s never been a boy to shirk his responsibilities. Gods grant me the fortune to see him again before I am gone. “But Earthseer what do you want…”
“Silence! You said my name. Now trust me to do what is best.” Both Tandal and Zalek nodded reluctantly. Finally the altar had cleared and he was standing alone before the growing congregation below. The fires had been lit around the temple and the bodies of the people seemed to glow and undulate into one large mass of light. Dozens of tribes had come to listen to the rite. The words began to rumble from his chest.
“The cycle is established at the mouth of the face of the Gods.” Somehow he found the strength to lift the barrel of black and began swashing the black thickness across the wooden platform. “My arm is the vessel of the black of our ancestors” He marched into the temple and splattered the statues with it, scowling at each of them individually. The Eagle mocked him with its sharp predator eyes but he had blinded it too with the thick. Only when everything had been covered did he return back to the altar. There was confusion and murmuring within the orb of flesh that was the audience. “The settlement of the Cycha shall take place here!” He held the barrel up over his shoulders as if he was holding the answer to every question anyone had ever thought to ask. Everything returns.
Out of the forest the first glimpse of the giant stone had emerged, but it was in the form of a hundred smaller rocky beasts enclosing them from all directions. The stones had the faces of man but they were not people. As the men of the tribes drew their bows the stones plummeted into their chests within an instant and many fell crying out and bleeding into the air. The people were crying. Is this what I had seen? No, it is only the beginning. The stone creatures shouted in alien tongues. They presented captives and he spotted Rooc among them. Oh Rooc. What have you done, my son?
“The Iron bear shall come!” The stones flew into the barrel and shattered the wood. The black poured down upon his head, and he knew then that the temple had already consumed him. The stone faces rolled towards the altar like a pack of dogs chases prey. “The silver eagle shall come!” The vibrations in his body began to resonate with the drum of stones, with the pattering of the dogs come to destroy him, with the temple still humming the tether that binds him to the world. Half a dozen beasts had climbed up unto the altar and pierced him with their drums, their faces contorted with hunger. Kolux had drank the last of the black and turned to face the stone. He stared with authority and disgust into the twisted mouths and red eyes, and spat a mouthful of black at them. “The ancient Kaj shall come!” With one swift thrust the remaining pieces of the barrel were flung into a torch and the temple lit up like lightning. The dogs had been set to the fire, letting out guttural moans. Others stood back in retreat as the fixtures of the temple splintered and the flames crawled into the wood deeper into the temple. Kolux returned to his position on the altar. The flames had reached his feet and were crawling up and up, swirling in his stomach and into his bones, but he was in other places too. The pain was nothing compared to the terror of the rolling stone.
“It is the word of Gods. The Cycha shall come.”