A Springtime Depression

Being the Second of the Chronicles of Amon'Valura. Go to the start - The Three Keys

"Before I was myself I had wondered what it would look like, but never had I dreamed it would be reflected in so grandiose a manner."
"Yes, it is beautiful. The desperation, the indifference, the resignation. Clay to mould to your hearts desire my child," replied Tellura, a cruel smile crossing her lips as her newest child revealed her deep sense of predestination. Amon, no longer Aleena, still in the form of, but no longer, a child, turned to look at the shepherd of this bleak flock.
"It is the stage of this unblemished depression upon which you must assert your will," continued Tellura, her face becoming an impassive mask under Amon's gaze. "Many come to this place to forget. It is the one gift it is capable of giving; oblivion in return for surrender of will. It is to be your test my child, your will against this unforgiving soil."
"What is it I must do father-mother?" asked Amon.
Tellura looked upon her progeny, her eyes solid blue oceans of emptiness. "I cannot say. Each is accepted or dismissed in their own way. The Wastes do not accept the weak and you must decide - accept or reject your former life as best befits it's desire. But make no mistakes my youngest, the penalty for failure is oblivion."
"And the rewards for success?" asked the once-child.
Tellura was pleased, it was the correct question. "Acceptance. Re-birth." she replied.
Amon looked out across the bleak vista of Oinos, the vast featureless plane of grey, a cold desert of dust and ash whose only signs of life were the desiccated bodies of those who had surrendered to the lands impassioned oppression of their spirit. Even in her heightened state of existence she could feel the land reaching out to her, seeking the door to her heart so that it might pry it open and leech the will from her. It was not as terrible as she had anticipated, but she would not surrender it without a fight. There were other things she would willingly give up, ties that bound her to her previous existence, but she knew they would not be enough.
"I am ready father-mother."
Tellura looked down and smiled. Reality shuddered as she bent it to her will, folding it over upon itself and removing the distance to their destination.

Standing in the shadow of the obelisk Amon felt, deeply, its age. Rising hundreds of feet into the colourless sky the marble obelisk gave off the feeling of age, and of power that even the most mindless of mortals could sense. Runes the height of a man were carved into its surface, runes of ancient aspect, of a time before gods, runes whose meaning were lost to all but the oldest of beings.
"A lodestone of misery," explained Tellura. "Not the only one of its kind, but the only one rooted in Oinos." She reached out and placed her palm upon it, caressing it like a parent to a child, a child to a parent. The stone began to hum, a distant sound, an insistent feeling, beginning at the edge of consciousness and then enforcing itself upon Amon.
"And so it begins my child," Tellura said, although whether she spoke to the stone or to her Amon could not be sure.
A flash of red light, blinding in the colourless Wastes, erupted from the lodestone engulfing the tiny child-like form of Amon. She tried to gasp but the energy of the light drove her to the ground, to her knees, before she could breathe. The insistent hum of the lodestone filled her body with an earthquake of sound as she fell forward, burying her face in the ash of the ground as she left consciousness behind.

***

The young girl stood before the man, crying. "I'm sorry papa I thought I closed it, I remember dropping the latch."
"Clearly you did not Aleena. If you had remembered then the wolves would not have gotten in, and now I have a yard full of dead animals. How do you think we will eat now you careless rat," the man spat, anger rising in his throat.
"Belth, please," pleaded the woman, moving to stand beside the girl, "she did not mean it, she said she is sor..."
Blood sprayed down upon Aleena as her mother stumbled back a step before falling to the ground. She sat there dazed, blood rolling down her face mixing with the tears that streamed from her eyes. "Stay out of this you worthless whore," the man yelled, massaging the knuckles of his hand. "Do not begin to tell me how to run my house. The rat has killed our stock, fed them to the wolves, and she will be punished." A lie. There was always a lie. Belth strode over to the prone form of the woman and struck her again, hard across the face. He leant down and grabbed her hair, twisting her face around to his. "I told you not to interfere my dear. Some things can be learnt with soft words and smiles," he forced her to turn and look at Aleena, terror stricken, huddled on the floor. "This is not one of those things," he said, looking at Aleena, his eyes glazed with madness.

He had seen Aleena lock the fence that morning, he remembered thinking that she was so smart, learned so fast. She was young, but already she could look after and feed the animals, freeing his time to work on other things that needed doing around the farm. It was a long walk to the field by the river and he hated the distance, the time wasted, if his worthless dog of a wife could walk more than 10 feet at a time she might be able to actually do some work. But her leg, lame from birth, was worse of late, and she could barely stand to cook anymore. His mind dwelt on these circumstances, slowly clouding under the perceived unfairness of his lot as if he were owed more by the world, as if he deserved better. Arriving at the fields Belth reached for the sickle he always carried at his belt but found it absent. Had it fallen without his notice as he walked here? Unlikely, the tool was big enough that he would notice if it had fallen. He swore loudly as he realised he had simply forgotten it, left it in the shed. In fact he had not even gone to the shed that morning, so caught up in his self pity he had walked right by it without even noticing. 'Worthless bitches' he thought to himself. If they weren't such a weight upon him, if they could do more than nothing he could free his mind to concentrate upon his work, but they burdened his thoughts, distracted his purpose and wasted his time. He turned and began the walk back, furious at his wife, his child who drained his will and his purse.
Arriving back at the house he kicked the gate open, breaking the latch and stormed over to the shed. Although he knew exactly where his tools were he kicked crates, slammed cupboard doors, threw tools around the room, the last rational part of his mind trying to work some of his anger out on the shed, removing thoughts of his family as effectively as possible. He began to calm down after short while, calm enough at least to take the tools he required and return to the field. Passing through the gate, its latch broken, all he could is close it and wedge it shut. It was not enough.

He wrenched his hand back cruelly, tearing hair from her head and slamming it to the floor. She let out a slow moan of pain as her head collided with the floor, her vision blurred and swam with pinpricks of light but Aleena's mother managed to stay conscious. She watched Belth stand and walk over to Aleena, curled up in the middle of the floor crying in fear.
"Aleena, you have cost this family dearly with your forgetfulness and you must learn you cannot break my rules and go unpunished," Belth spoke calmly to the child but his eyes held a sparkle of fevered anticipation as he unbuckled and removed his belt. He folded it in half and snapped it close with a crack as he leaned closer to Aleena and whispered to her, "this is meant to hurt, it is the only way you will learn."
He lifted the belt above his head and brought it down swiftly, precisely, across Aleena's face. The force of the blow split the skin of her cheek, blood flowing from the welt that had already begun to form. She cried out in pain from behind tear soaked eyes, raising her arms over her head to protect herself from her fathers rage. In doing so she exposed the rest of her body and he did not waste effort trying to go through her shield, turning instead to her side and back. Each swing of the belt accompanied by a whip-like crack on Aleena's skin, searing and hot even through her clothes. He did not stop, even as Aleena ran out of tears, ran out of energy to do more than whimper, he kept striking her, over the blood that had begun to seep through her clothes.
Aleena's mother held out her hand and caught the belt as it flew again, "stop it Belth, you're killing her," she croaked through the blood that had dried on her lips. Distracted from the target of his rage for a moment the man did not waste his energy thinking and brought his boot to bear across the side of her head. She crumpled like a paper doll over the prone form of Aleena, stars dancing before her eyes again.
"I told you do not interfere. If you were more than a pathetic cripple, more than a helpless victim we would not be here! I am but an instrument of punishment, I do what must be done and if she must die then she must die!" He kicked her again, hard in the stomach as she tried to cover Aleena, to protect her. She flew several feet across the floor, landing heavily on her back. Rolling over she tried to get to her knees, to crawl, but her body was not up to the task, blood and bile gushing from her mouth as she vomited and passed out.
Belth looked down at Aleena, whimpering, shivering on the floor. He leant down, "have you learnt my child?" he asked through clenched teeth. There was no answer, not just from Aleena, but at all, no answer that would sway him from his course. He brought the belt to bear upon the young girl, again and again, blind in his rage, locked into his path as deeply as he was he did not notice. The candlelight dimmed, barely noticeable, as a firefly passing in front of the moon, and the house creaked, the wood groaning under the weight of the night. The shadows grew, stretching across the floor as rats drawn to filth, drawing the light into itself.
Belth paused for a moment, his madness broken at the sound of the handle to the front door being jostled. He looked down at Aleena, she was unconscious, or dead, he couldn't tell and didn't care. He looked up and faced the door, noticing the shadows and the swell of darkness. The door creaked and seemed to bulge inward, an illusion born of darkness or the darkness itself come to call he could not tell, but he knew that something had come. The door exploded inward, heralding the entrance of the night, dark and full of malice, bringing with it the truth, or at least a version of truth to come. Belth staggered back a step as he was awash in the shards and splinters of the disintegrating door, piercing his face and neck. He stood and stared as the darkness entered his home, slithering in on tendrils of shadow; it crawled over the floor, flowing up the walls and across the roof. All he could do is stare, the belt falling forgotten to the ground as long fingers of darkness reached out and wrapped around his neck, holding him in place with a cold strength. His eyes widen in terror at the sound of a whispering voice, grating upon his ear drums, running across the surface of his mind as a scalpel over soft flesh. Those whispers held promises of what was to come, of his desperate fate, and his blood ran cold under the certainty of the words.
Aleena looked up and saw her father locked in that black embrace, his face awash with fear and cold sweat as he turned and fled screaming into the night. She was not sure, her body and mind alike aching and stinging from her wounds, but she thought the darkness came to her then whispering, "what is thy will little one?" as she fell back into the comfort of unconsciousness.
The young girl stood before the man, crying. "I'm sorry papa I thought I closed it, I remember dropping the latch."
"Clearly you did not Aleena. If you had remembered then the wolves would not have gotten in, and now I have a yard full of dead animals. How do you think we will eat now you careless rat," the man spat, anger rising in his throat.
"Belth, please," pleaded the woman, moving to stand beside the girl, "she did not mean it, she said she is sor..."

***

Tellura watched on impassively as the prostrate form of Amon lay twitching in the ash of the Waste. It was always the same she mused, the fear, the betrayal, the loss. Most did not return from those memories, played out as they were over and over again by the plane. It was nothing if not persistent. So many promising children had been lost here under the lodestone, succumbing to misery, surrendering their will to the soil, embracing oblivion. It amplified their emotions, the wells of feeling sapped from the weak overflowed in this place, driving the terror deep, each feeling scouring their mind like the blade of a knife, executing each fear, each betrayal a thousand fold. Only the strongest returned from that place, born again, cleansed of the impurity of those emotions, their demons laid to rest or awakened anew as the land desired.

***

Aleena looked up at her father, draped in the darkness, lost in its terrible embrace. The answer was now clear. She arose and caressed the wounds on her body, licked the blood from her fingers, a delicacy glazed by her awakening. She had been in this place a thousand times, had stood at the edge of oblivion and longed for its promises of non-existence, so comforting, so tempting. But in the end that was not her will, she turned away from those comforts, willing herself to endure. And with endurance came the answer, the key to this torture chamber of the mind. She embraced her fear, welcoming the betrayals of another life and wallowed in the loss. These were her friends now, her tools, to know them was to know herself, and therein lay the key. Aleena/Amon now stood before her former father and gazed upon him with eyes of void, her ashen hair shifting gently under an evening breeze. She tipped her head to the side, looking upon this man who had held such power over her, now a curiosity and nothing more. Lifting her hand she pointed her finger, letting it grow long and slender, a scalpel on a rose stem. Her father looked on, terror deep within his eyes, he would not be fleeing into the darkness this time. Her finger ran across his shirt, cutting it open and revealing his flesh, old and pale, the skin of a man 50 years older. For that is what he was; no longer was the man standing before her the young man of her childhood, here now was an old man, who had spent the last years of his life in hiding and in fear. This thing before him was no longer his daughter, this much he knew, but this was the fate promised to him by the darkness so long ago, and it was far more dreadful than he had ever imagined.
Aleena/Amon ran her finger across his belly, gently the first time to feel the weakness of this body and then quickly, forcefully. A line of blood traced its way across his body, slowly opening as the glue that was his blood leaked out, testing the air before spilling as a torrent. His stomach bulged as the gate that was his flesh gave way under its weight, opening like the maw of some abyssal horror as his organs were disgorged upon the floor one by one. He stood and watched it all, gagging as if trying to vomit but even that small mercy was denied him. His eyes rolled back in his head as he began to pass out.
Her voice was soft as she whispered in his ear, "no my once father, I deny you oblivion," caressing his face as she spoke. "There is much still much for you to endure for now I hold the power and I will not give you up so easily. Come now, a feast awaits, laid out upon the floor like a kings banquet. It is time to eat". As if directed from the side of this morbid stage a lone wolf moved through the shattered doorway and, sniffing the abattoir air, went over to the refuse that lay steaming at the mans feet. He watched in horror as it began to lick at and then devour his liver as the sweetest of delicacies. The wolf glanced up at him from its meal, smiling through sanguine lips as he began to scream, gurgling through the blood filling his lungs. Aleena/Amon drew lines across his chest with her finger, autopsy incisions, precise and clean. She peeled back his skin, exposing his ribcage and the heart that lay still beating beneath it.
"It is now as it will always be my once father, your heart shall not falter and your nerves shall not die, you are as the immortals now. This is my gift to you. Your skin will record the longest compact, that as my will endures so will you, and I will not die."
She set about the task of recording her will upon his skin with the words of the father-mothers as the darkness watched on through invisible eyes.

***

Amon stirred and sat up. The darkness approved. It was a rare event and one that heralded the beginning of something special.
"Welcome back my child," said Tellura, "you continue. Would that I could offer you respite but the Wastes will not wait for you."
The soil shifted subtly, ash sinking into the ground in small circular depressions around Amon as she sat with nerves tingling in anticipation. The ground under her trembled as a thin, red rope of twisted sinew erupted from the ground digging into the skin of her cheek with a talon of bleached bone, burying itself in her flesh, peeling her skin. More chains of sinew burst from the ash around her taking purchase where they could about her body as she wailed in a chorus of agony, sound spilling forth from every new wound. The ropes held her fast, lifting her up off the ground displaying their trophy for the land to see as it collapsed under her, a sinkhole into the bowels of the Grey Waste. The ash shifted violently, belching forth a cloud of blood red mist bloated with the stench of carrion as the soil grew sickly, boils forming and bursting, spewing their diseased fluids into the soil, creating an amnion of pestilence. The mist engulfed the form of Amon, clinging to her body as an acidic sweat, eating away both clothing and skin. The living ropes held her there, suspended over that grotesque serous wound, naked and bleeding from a thousand weeping burns, those bony claws digging under her skin, serrating it with precision before flaying the skin from her body in a grand theatrical gesture. Blood showered the hungry ground, gorging on the life it held before sucking her into the rancour of that wretched womb.
It was like floating in a tank of viscous acid, thick and abrasive against exposed nerves. Amon could feel the pulse of the Waste as a dull throb under the fluid swirl of her torturous embryo, a sign of life and a revelation of cold will slowly digesting her. Each moment a vicious agony, the meat dissolved from her bones, slowly, with callous delight, an experience the mundane or inconsequential could never possess or endure. This torture was a gift of the land, a re-birth, an awakening and she would abide, no, she would revel in it.
And then those terrible words, not spoken aloud but formed in her mind by force of will, melting the flesh from her bones and burning themselves into the marrow. The land trembled under their power, those words of deceit and betrayal, of calamity, of cold certainty and of creation. Her bones lengthened, her fingers twisted into claws, her skull stretched into a canine mask, her body pulled into the shape of the Wastes desire. Those words bound flesh to her frame, muscle and sinew, and blood. It engulfed the womb, black and cold, driven by a heart of malevolent strength, a heart of ash and of misery. The embryonic sac shrivelled and dried as the blood became her own, shrinking to her form as skin, binding itself to her flesh as thick fur sprouted to form a coat. She was whole once more.
Whispers from the darkness once again asked the question; "what is thy will little one?", and where before so many had faltered and failed, Amon had the answer.
"My will is my own, free of distraction, free of fear and of envy, free of doubt and of joy, free of love and of hate. My will is bound to power and to deceit, to darkness and to death. My will is bound to Evil. My will is my own."
With those words Amon was expelled from the soil and the ash, birthed into the Wastes whole and new. It lay still before the lodestone of misery, cold and naked, no longer human, no longer in between, no longer female or male it was now both and neither. It lay there upon the ash, fur matted with the black amniotic fluid of it's womb, a babe in a mothers ashen arms.
"Stand before me my child," said Tellura, her voice as cold and as deep as oceans.
Amon stood slowly, rising above Tellura, easily twice her height. It stretched it's arms before itself, looking at it's claws, dark blue poison running across their tips and dripping into the soil. "Father-mother," it said, "I am whole."
"Yes my love, you are whole and you are no longer Aleena nor Amon. You are Valura, my child, my creation, born of ancient words to unlock hidden doors."
Valura looked at Tellura, "so I am to be a slave?" it asked, bitter that this springtime depression could be despoiled by such a fate.
Tellura shook her head, "no my child, I have no need of slaves. You are an instrument of will, free of the shackles of the lesser beings and their obstacles. Do as thou will my child for that is the whole of the law."
Valura nodded it's understanding. "Then I would that I remain Amon, both old and new, the past and the future. Amon'Valura, born of innocence despoiled and reborn anew a child of the Waste." Amon'Valura stepped forward, it's first as an Arcanaloth, and stumbled under the unexpected weight of it's form. Looking down Amon'Valura saw it's left leg was gnarled and crippled, a wasted vestige, a weakness of form that collided with the strength it felt coursing through it's body. It turned to Tellura.
"What is this deformity? A callous joke in imitation of my master? You say I am not a slave yet you bind me with frailty? You say my will is my own, but how can I exercise it trapped within a broken shell?" It was not angry nor did it feel betrayed, it was merely curious as to what meaning this held.
"You will is your own my child," answered Tellura.
"Then I would that this weakness be gone."
"Make no mistake Amon'Valura. You are not a slave to the wills of others and you are free, but there are degrees of freedom and few possess freedom complete. There are works you are bound to and there those to whom you owe your allegiance. That which you view as weakness is not weakness my child, it is a birth-right, like plague and like pestilence, a gift of the land. These things chose us, and I embrace them as I do all my children, and they recognize us by these signs, marking themselves in imitation of the imperfection they desire but can never have. Disease is inimitable, eternal, it is the tool of misery and depression. You cannot fight a foe you cannot see, even the mightiest are bound as spectators to the corruption and the death that comes at the heel of plague, bound to watch as all they love decays before them, their own spirit worn away and defeated without a fight, given in to hopelessness. You are strong Amon'Valura but you have a good deal still to learn, the sooner you realise your will is not absolute, the sooner you become an effective instrument."
The lodestone of misery loomed above them both, small arcs of electricity writhed along the runes that marked it surface. Blue light washed out over the land, bathing Amon'Valura in its glow as one of the lower runes burst to life, releasing a tide of despair into the Wastes newest child. Amon'Valura reeled under its power, its body awash with the strength stolen from the untold numbers that had surrendered themselves to the promise of emptiness. It stood tall, seeming to grow under the influx of life, possessed of ancient desire and the strength of those who rise above the gods but remain hidden in darkness.
"Father-mother, I seethe with purpose, tell me what must be done."
"Patience Amon'Valura, it is the way of our kind. In time we shall craft under-currents of deceit and betrayal, wheels within wheels if you will, it has always been this way. Great works take time child, and be sure of the truth - that soon amazing things will happen."

Continue to Part Three of the Chronicles of Amon'Valura - A Shallow Scar