Ve cambiar el mundo a tus
pies sabiendo quién eres.
Cierra tus ojos solo para
soñar y reír y llorar.
The bloom of the winter rose grew especially bright that year and died as soon as its petals stared at the night sky. Soon after, snow started to fall and, through the fields of white, a woman ran and a man followed.
The forest surrounding the village was a maze, black and primal, untouched and unknown. It whispered in the tongues of the earth and said: I promise a return to the moment of beginning. But in her agony, she could not hear it. A gulf beat her to her knees and a wolf, shrouded by its white mantle, watched from a ridge, eyes on her and the baby in her arms.
It would not intervene.
This was man’s hunt on man, an untouchable rite, old as the stars and of such power nature could but witness.
Kneeling in the snow, the woman pressed close the gentle body of her child offering, in whispers, the dreams and wishes she would never see fulfilled. Her eyes sharp, a blend of anguish, terror and resolve, settled in the dark distance where a shadow turned the dark to grey. There, a man like winter, clad for silence and with clutches of steel, watched. He waited for the mother to understand there was no other way. It was time, that most elusive substance, who was at fault. Time and the collective choices of a billion billion souls wanting to endure. Still, she clung to hope even as the forest insisted with its subtle roar that death has small beginnings. Her baby’s dark eyes smiled at her from between her shivering arms and it was enough for that final lesson on the future to be learned.
From the swallowing distance, like the unavoidable sunrise of a dying star, the man approached, a predator upon its prey. A hunt finished where a feast would begin. But when he stood over her, hands like claws, a breeze passed between them. It was a song of loss and joy, and with it his intent was spirited away. He was struck with the burden of empathy and the moment took life of its own. Human eyes bent with pity, their shimmer dimming from behind the mask.
It was a gaunt metallic thing, demonic and calm, as if all forms of terror, fear and anguish, all feelings of hate, wrath and powerlessness, all faces of one who stares at death under defeat, torture, famine and time, had grown serene after the storm.
“My child,” the mother whispered looking at her baby.
Having the choice to keep running, to escape and perhaps to live, she chose instead to look at her one last time in the comfort of peace. “Time,” she pleaded, staring at the earthly eyes of her child. “Give us time.”
The mask was dark, the eyes behind it closed to light but for a single bead, like a star in the black. He nodded and remained still, as if all things had forgiven him and the arrow of fate had stopped.
Time is the ever-recurring atlas of dreams. I give you time.
His voice, deep and warm, brushed against the part of her that wanted to believe. She pressed her baby close with a quiet smile, whispering the words of her failing heart and a single tear rolled down her cheek, turning solid and cold near her lips. She kissed the baby girl with a final farewell and looked at the man.
“Sara,” she said with a fierce mother’s gaze, the word steaming out of her like a ghost. “Her name is…”
“Sara, the Thirty-fourth incarnation of God!” the Archbishop Speaker of the Imperium screamed to a crowd, a cheerful audience of hundreds of thousands who stood under the searing light of a warm summer day.
When the man raised the baby for all to see the people roared in elation, their eyes bent by mournful happiness, as if they wanted to cry and scream and laugh all at once.
Knights knelt swearing allegiance, kings and emperors bowed and people prayed, their hands and their hopes united at last with a single echoing soliloquy.
“May she live a hundred years.”
Chapter 1 – God
The body is but one of the things we inhabit, an object in our field of thought. Like we move the world we move this vessel and through the power of the engine we call ourselves. It is distinct against the dark of ignorance and yet entwined into it to cohesion by the soul.
As written in the Seed of Foundation–
Phase 3, Chapter (300.036); On Our Distinct Origin
A starlit sky welcomed God in her cradle for a first night in the Royal Palace of Araboth. Already her Knights of Sil waited outside donning their Armoria under grey ruanas, holding their Bastions in hand. It was their duty and honour to guard her now and to the moment of her parting.
“I live under the light of God,” each man had sworn. “I stand joyous and proud. I breathe the Fire of God; I speak the truth always. I bear God’s Blessing; I safeguard the helpless and do no harm. I am a builder of God’s dream; I endure when defeated, I am brave when fearful, I am wise in failure, I am humble in victory, and I am as God intended.”
But, even as her holy knights stood guard beyond the closed doors to her quarters, one next to the other, their weapons unhooked, they could not notice the visitor when he came in to stare at the restless baby in the cradle.
Sara’s eyes fixed on him as if to something entirely new, a star falling for the first time through the black canvas of the night. It was a White Wolf and it had come with the wind.
The beast looked down at the baby but it was without hunger. Its eyes blinked satisfied, like shards of something broken being remade, and when the girl extended her hand it pressed its forehead onto her palm.
Sara would never recall the tender warmth that passed through her, like a current, when she touched the White Wolf, but the world remembers what we cannot and truth can wait forever. A thin white ring was drawn in her palm, like a most peculiar birthmark, and a beat, the kind that makes a world tremble, moved through the cosmos.
No one could sense it, for there was none but her who had awakened, but the world started to change and the galaxy of Solaria would once again whisper, like the forest and the earth, I promise a return to the moment of beginning.
With that the White Wolf vanished, as silently as it had come, and so Sara closed her eyes and slept her first night as the Thirty-fourth incarnation of God.
Beyond, in the sands of a world usurped by the dying light of elder stars, an ember burned to existence and a small glass sphere appeared, a heart beating in its interior and roots of crystal taking conquest of the earth.
Chapter 2 – Wanderer
God’s incarnations came to the world unannounced and unnamed for billions upon billions of years since the stars were young to the moment of their first death. Bearing the trials and tribulations of the people, he learned of pain and joy and so determined, as said before by the wise, that nothing happens to a man which he is not fitted by nature to bear.
As written in the Seed of Foundation–
Phase 7, Chapter (808.798); On the Wisdom of the Saints of Old
His wife waved him farewell with a smile but, deep down, she had to admit that, sometimes, when the night was dark and the winds stopped singing, she would regret ever meeting him, and that was true love.
Being an Exile serf had made him strong and quiet, like a young horse that works too long. He was tall, with a pensive quality about him, a posture of feigned weakness, and eyes that stared far, saying what lips silenced. He had told her of an important day, the most, he thought, since the birth of their daughter. And in such spirit, his day started.
A thin trail grew between trees and widened to reveal the dark of night, reflecting on the town’s barricades. He had come before first light to serve a lord and his men. He tended to the horses, feeding them molasses and replacing hoof shoes. He made rounds serving hot wine with cinnamon to the guards in the wall and tower. He checked wheels in chariots and carriages, and hinges in the castle’s doors and cellars. When the sun showed he came to the hangar bay, wrench in hand, to check on the engine in his lord, Ser Alfonse Joria’s Steed.
He wanted to please the man, if only today, so he made sure to check every nook of the tank. Void of ceremony, he disassembled the engine’s bottom, straightened the camshaft, checked the spark plug, polished the rotary in the crank and changed the oil. He fixed the flags as well and repainted the hull’s crest, deep green and black. Then he waited for the master to inspect the Relic.
The knight watched from his stallion’s saddle. Wearing green over grey, Ser Alfonse smiled proud, surely imagining tank-tracks prowling through the mud of another conquered land. “Is it ready?” the man asked, joining palms. A wilful command and the engine roared to life, the glass core at its heart passing the lord’s energy to every corner of the machine.
Oil stained hands turned the Relic off with the turn of a handle. He nodded, not to the lord but his scribe. Candlelight projected shivering shadows unto the stone walls and an Anzil Reader wrote on a log what the lord could not. Another Steed of canon and steel added to the list.
“Well done, lad,” the knight said. “A fine job. Lord Jiudeaw’s host awaits, you know? ’Tis an important day.”
The man dared ignore the knight’s recognition.
“I’s talking to you, Exile,” the knight said, drawing his horse close until the smell of its breath struck him. “Did well, you did. These cannons ‘ll burn God’s enemies, ‘cause of you.”
The man nodded again, eyes on the ground, thoughts anywhere but on who would be the Relic’s first victim. After a squire placed one silver coin and two bronze on his palm he bobbed his head and walked away.
“Not used to Steeds in battle yet, are ya, Exile?” the squire teased but the man carried forth. It was, he agreed with the lord, an important day.
Freemen skimmed down thick roads holding the tools of their trade: ploughs and shovels and pikes. A small group prayed near a Relic so as to pass unto it enough energy for a day’s labour while others pulled on oxen or drove sheep down the footpaths. The winds were cool with the whispers of cosmic winter and fiery leaves fell over the mud and puddles. Suns were tired after a year, like him, wanting renewal.
Leaving town he came to a nearby village, small and quiet, where his own people lived. Unlike the town’s main buildings and underground passages, which were made, like the mountain and the river, by God the sculptor, the Exile hamlet was man-born not seven decades past and without a wall. The powers that be had chosen the spot, not too close not too far, for the despised yet dependable atheists to settle. It was a small place, with small smoking houses, narrow roads of stone and moss, shallow wells that dried too fast or flooded too quickly and a silent people who kept to themselves afraid of their own beliefs.
“You must return to your duties before next dawn,” the council of Exile leaders warned before extending him leave for the day. This would cost them, but the man placed his silver coin on the table between them.
“I’ll need the windship,” he said before leaving.
“You going far?”
He nodded. “The lake. There’s something I wish to show them.”
“Take the horses.”
“I’ll use the ship, or you’ll find another to fix it, next it breaks.”
The council shared looks. “It’s the Zodiac Black, son. How’ll you make do?”
“The lord need not know,” the man said. “I’ll use oil, and may he die of silly ills.”
“May he die of silly ills,” some men added to a subtle choir that repeated the saying as a prayer. “Go, Gabriel. Memories of Brant be with you.”
With black-stained hands and sweat on his brow, Gabriel entered his cabin, kissed his wife, sat for lunch and felt his child greet him with a tug.
“Are we monsters?” she asked holding a pup in arms, dark-gold, like the tired light of a setting sun. Her fingers passed over the pup’s fur as she rocked him from one side to the other, its eyes half shut in sleepy warmth. “A boy ahorse came riding and told me,” she continued. “He said we should go away.”
He growled. “Leave that,” he referred to the pup in her arms, “and eat.”
He dove eyes to plate. It was all he could do not to think of his wife and the burden of their marriage.
Knowing there had been a better life for her at the crossroads, she spurred him with an honest smile and that was all he needed.
“Because,” he answered, turning to the child, “we deny their beliefs.”
“God?” the child asked, already knowing.
He nodded. “They face fear with comfortable lies. We don’t. And they hate us because we choose to see the world on truth’s terms. As my daughter, you’re just–”
“Are we Barbaroi?”
“No,” he answered quickly. “Not Barbaroi.”
“Exile,” she whispered knowing well what she was. She had probably heard the word more often than her name.
“We’re Alma,” he said with a nod, and though he had much more to say, found no way to continue. She wouldn’t understand yet.
The child dropped her gaze, arms losing strength as if the world had lost its balance. He could almost feel her reaching for meaning in a world without it.
“Listen,” he said. “I never wanted this for you. You’re Exile because of me, but that doesn’t mean– I just needed to… I need to live honestly. But you can choose to–”
“Father won’t tell you what to believe,” his wife said, holding his hand and looking at her. “He only asks that you think for yourself.” The woman looked at the pup in the child’s arms. “Does he need God to be happy?” she asked, petting the dog.
The child shrugged. “He’s always happy.”
“And are you?”
The girl nodded.
“That’s all that matters to us,” the woman said with a smile.
He banged his hand on the table. “Enough with God!” Cups between them rattled.
The fire on the hearth burned, wood cracking as short flames bit into hard fuel. The girl stood still and the man, unable to take a bite, stared at his stained hands feeling himself ruin what he had promised would be a good day. He dared look at his wife; big brown eyes locked on his. Out of pride, he tried to seem angry but her gaze was honest and his frustration weak. He held her hand and in a moment all was well again.
“Can I play with Surya?” the girl asked sensing the spectre of her father’s anger gone.
“Finish your meal.”
“I’m not hungry.”
A moment’s thought was all the child needed. After all, he had just told her to be herself. To act on her own will. Before he could refuse, the girl had run away, fearless of her father’s reproach.
“I told you not to get her a dog,” he said looking at the girl. She was running over the grass under the autumn drizzle with the careless spirit of one who rarely lingers on sad things.
Before they stepped out of the windship, a rusted old thing that could fly as high as the forest canopy but no more, he took special care of landing on a flattened surface close to the lake.
“This is it,” he said when wife and daughter stood on the mud and stone by the silver waters. “This is home. This is us. I’ve loaned it from lord Jiudeaw. Signed the contract not two days ago. D’you remember this place?”
It had been under that oak and by that lake, at an hour not too different from this, in a time when things seemed younger. There and then he had knelt and for the first time, though it seemed impossible, offered his promise of endless love and eternal bond in marriage. Despite the forces acting against them, there they stood, looking at each other, she holding their child, he offering them a home that would be theirs alone.
She shook her head with disbelief, a contained smile puckering her lips as her earthly coloured hair blew in the wind. “How?”
“I fought in the wars, remember? I was owed. I’ll be a serf all my life, as will you. But not her.” The girl, pretending to sleep in her mother’s arms, hinted of a quiet smile. “It’s been arranged,” he continued, “and I must pay a stipend to the temple.”
“We’ll be in debt?”
He sighed with a smirk. “What could more debt ever do to me?”
“To us,” she offered as her only condition and they smiled watching day turn to twilight.
With the hours spent and their child taken by exhaustion, they entered the airship, turned the engine on and flew their way back to the Exile hamlet of Colonia.
It had been a good day.
Evening settled turning shades of grey to stark black and the blues in the sky to vivid reds and yellows. Trees dashed beneath their ship and speckles of dust crashed on the dirty windshield. Here and there dust glowed, and he realized the year’s first snow was upon them. He opened the window on his side and reached out. “Look,” he showed his daughter, “it’s snowing.”
The girl beamed looking at the flakes of ice as they thawed over the warm fingers of her father. “Can I?”
“But then you must sit still, agreed?” said her mother.
The child stepped over him and stretched her hand out her father’s window, bright eyes staring at the dancing lights as they fell from an invisible place. Her tiny body pressed over his thighs, feet pushing down like he was the world. He felt brave then, and strong, just by holding her. Then she returned to her place, taking the pup in her arms.
The dog moaned and settled under her admiration.
“Put your strap on,” his wife told him as she sat the child between them and made sure the leather belt held firmly to both their waists.
He growled. “Checked this thing a hundred times.”
When the buckle settled in place she hissed and pulled her finger, a cut on the tip.
“Will you always be this stubborn?” she asked.
Smiling, he took her finger and sucked on it until the blood was gone.
She smiled back, shaking her head and holding his hand.
“You think your father will be waiting?”
“You don’t want to see him,” she answered turning away. “Mother’s also coming.”
“So they will be there,” he complained.
“You know they will,” she said. “It’s your daughter’s birthday.”
“Why does daddy not like grandpa?” the girl asked.
“I do,” he answered. “It’s just that… they’re going to stay a week. A week. You know how long that is?”
“A week,” the woman answered, mocking him and smiling at the child.
“That’s seven days.” The girl said, making the number with her fingers.
“I’ll find something to do with the boys.”
“Oh no, you’re not leaving me alone. I need you. And they’re your family too.”
“So you admit it. They’re–”
“They’re old, Gabriel. But they want to see their grand-daughter and there’s something they want to ask you.”
He gave a hundred-mile look, hoping silence would suffice.
“Oh, desist,” she said. “You’re always telling me how much they love me and how they just want what’s best for me. You’re always on their side. What happened now, are you going shy on them?”
“You know I can’t accept his offer,” his tone changed, now both hands on the wheel.
“You’re like a son to him,” she said. “We’re all he has. If they live with–”
“Nothing would please me more. Family should keep together, but I’m a serf. Lord Joria won’t allow it. Being married to you is all that gives me a semblance of freedom and… and I won’t ruin them. Not in their last days.”
“Maybe our lord will allow them to keep their brands, and they can help us pay our dues.”
“I can’t,” he said, frustrated as if a shadow loomed behind his thoughts.
“I regret it at times, as much as you do. But in the end, it’s my choice. You let me take it, every day… let them as well. Isn’t it possible that they too don’t want to live like Templar anymore? That they may want to be free?”
“Under a lord’s whip?”
She nodded. “Free, where it matters.” She pulled his hand off the wheel and close to her lap. “The Theocracy is no more. The Imperium has been more welcoming to us. Perhaps…”
His head shook from side to side, lips tight as if to say no more. “Alright, I’ll con–”
“Daddy, look,” the girl said lifting her pup between them.
“One moment,” he said.
“Daddy, his leg’s hurt, look,” she insisted, setting the dog on his lap. “Help him.” The dog whimpered in his lap, paws trying to find balance and stability.
“Not now,” he said, taking the pup in hand. He was about to set the dog on the cockpit floor when a loud noise startled him, a crackling thunder that rattled the windship to its core. The sky turned bright when a wave of fire, like a dragon spilling its guts to the sky, rose above the canopy of trees old and new. The ship lost power for a second too long and descended near the road home, bending a corner of the hill.
There, like an iron statue, the figure of a man stood, watching.
Gabriel fixated on the shadow cast and how it stretched under the body of his ship. A man in grey capes looked back, unmoved. He wore a mask; passive horror glaring, like the skull of innocence, and Colonia behind him, aflame.
People ran while tanks, engines roaring and escorted by knights ahorse, swerved their cannons to aim, rays blasting houses to shards after thunderous claps. A line of cavalry used spears to strike down the living as their chants drowned in the foundries of fire. Infantry bore foot-long swords, their blades of light cutting through flesh, young and old alike, as if through cold water.
With a twist of his hands, Gabriel tried to turn the vehicle around but the airship stalled, only to regain wind after giving notice to the attacking troops. A knight sat proudly over the hatch of a tank and ordered his crew to aim their efforts at Colonia’s only windship. The tank moved its cannon upwards and at them.
The windship skidded across the stone road, trying to lift, as his wife grabbed her daughter’s arm and pulled her close. She did not cry or scream. Her heart and confidence were sworn to him as she stared ahead defiant, with the courage of one who knows all will be well. Gabriel had no such courage and sweaty hands were slipping from the wheel. He pulled, as hard as ever and the tank’s cannon fired to a close miss.
By fortune, he regained control, pulling on the wheel and standing on the accelerator. The engine roared, hard as it could, but the enemy insisted. A second ray of cannon fire tried to anticipate him. Gabriel jerked the wheel and started away from collision, but it came too close.
A third ray would surely hit them.
Fingers wrapped around the wheel with unceasing grip, despite the feeling of an emptiness sworn, pressing on his immediate thoughts. It was as if a question had risen from the earth, turning him with doubt. A choice was all that remained. He tried for a smile when his wife’s brown eyes met his, and then he saw their child in her arms. A part of him wanted the moment to last forever. That part would never leave him and, as he reached for them, arms stretched towards those he loved most, he was forever changed.
The wheel, the windship and his life spun out of control when the tank’s ray struck the hind frame. Flames erupted all around and the explosion stole his words when burning winds crawled inside. They tossed and turned, their hands as one until he could hold on no longer. Before he was spat out through the opened window, he watched his wife and daughter vanish beyond the bright and searing flames, their fingers reaching towards him, begging him to be stronger.
When he struck ground, with wants of an expired life, he thought the black would remain and he would die. Instead, he breathed just in time to see the ship fall beside him. A breath of fire and heat waved through the ground baking bush and moss and bark alike.
He stood, the injuries to his body, the burning flesh over broken bone in his legs, even the shock somehow ignored by the overwhelming sensation that this could not be real. The inferno blazed before him, warm colours and deep black unfolding towards the skies.
Everything that mattered remained inside.
The invading army barked orders beyond the forest, but they had no more targets to destroy, no more people to kill. Distant explosions echoed and trees were sucked in and out of rushing winds and clouds of black. Gabriel had no mind for that. He ran to the windship and when the bones in his legs failed, he crawled.
Tears scuttled through his face as he reached the burning vessel. Engulfed in flames, the Relic looked at him like an accidental murderer, regret painted over its broken frame and scorched interior. Without a second to lose, he stretched his arms into the mouth of fire and pulled his wife and daughter from hell.
The heat licked at his skin sweltering flesh over muscle, but whatever pain may come, theirs was greater. He took her by the arms, their child fast in her embrace, and dragged them just metres from the wreckage.
Choking on his lament he could not utter the words his heart longed to hear. He wept as his hands passed over her body, from waist to chest, to head, to face, every finger holding her as if to never let go. His fingers, black and red, and white with bone under the embers, could feel nothing, not the coarse flesh of his wife or the streams of blood as it filtered through her cracked skin. Still, he held her like a treasure that cannot be stolen, the part of the universe that was only his.
When their eyes met, her head gently shaking from side to side with small quivers of pain, purpose melted and vanished.
No, she wanted to say, no. A denial of all that was.
Their daughter was now as still as tears in winter. Her eyes were shut in a deep tranquil rest, hands close to her chest, and her consciousness under the soft comfort of a single step beyond sleep.
His wife looked at the child with a whimper stuck in her eyes. Like him she said nothing. The pain of a broken family, cluttered under unknown emotions, could but try to escape into yearnings and longings. She pulled on her daughter forcing her closer into her chest and passed her hand over what remained of her soft blonde hair. She tried once more to speak, this time forcing words through a gullet too damaged by fire and too strained by pain. The sound was a whispering dirge, the kind only a mother can sing. Despite the pain, she tried into the words once more and forced her soft voice out, even if there was no meaning to be found.
He took her hard in arms, trying to find her gaze, hoping what should not be hoped and wishing though he knew it was in vain. He choked on the feeling and searched into her closed eyes, dreaming for a second breath.
Seeing him writhe in terror she stopped him, a single hand on his cheek.
Her eyes, dark and brown and beautiful like the soils of the earth, gazed at him, offering a last smile. He tried to pull onto her, hoping to fill a gap between them that was not there. He pulled and pulled to make his family all there was of the world.
“You’re alright,” he whispered. “She’s alright.” Tears fell over his lips, eyes burning with soot and salt and burned skin. “You’re alright,” he promised again.
She spoke once more, leaning her face closer to his, their cheeks rubbing together, eyes dear, staring into each other, drinking of each other’s beauty, breathing of each other. She put a hand over his cheek once more, gentle and soft. The tender love and care she offered set over him like a blanket in a cold night. It was the sea and the sky, meeting in a place of light and hope, the love that makes all things free, dressing his existence with a gift.
“What?” he asked as she took his hand into hers. “What? I can’t hear you. Please,” he leaned closer. “What? Please, say it again. Please,” he begged. “Please say it again. I can’t hear you. Say it again. What?” He cried and his words turned thin and dry. He kissed her but her lips only tried to move, to follow on that final dance. She pulled her daughter closer and shrugged into his arms, closing her eyes.
“Hol… hold me… Gabriel,” she said with a final breath. “Just… hold me.”
He lay there, embracing them with arms of ash and pain and nothing more to live for.
An armed knight, clad in armour, stepped out a smoking Steed, the banner of Inuvel, Empire of the Northern Galactic Quadrant, painted across the tank’s hull and the crest of a noble family: a wall and a spear, flying in the wind. He walked with arrogant pace, like one who is bored, and unhooked a broad, leatherbound hilt, like a sword without its blade. An arrogant smile crept up his face as the fiery steel appeared behind honeycomb patterns, burning out the rain guard.
“Get out of the way,” he sang, coming close. “It’s a busy day.”
“Please,” Gabriel whispered, but he talked, not to the man, but the wind.
The knight looked from above like one looks at a rotting carcass. Honest disgust painted his face with a mocking grin, detestable even to a mother. For him, this Exile and the ones he held were nothing, not even an obstacle in a greater plan the likes of which only true men could fathom.
“Please,” Gabriel begged again, “please.” He spoke to the lingering memories of a vanishing past and all he thought of were those last words and that sweet voice that had once given him a place in the world.
“Gabriel,” she had told him once when his anger turned violent with the transgressions of the Templar. “You carry the weight of your crimes and bear the wings of your kindness. Find peace, in me, in us… in you.”
I’m here, he had said. Always and forever. I swear it is your name I whisper under lonely nights and your eyes I see when I find the world noble and loving. But she hadn’t heard it. She was gone, her eyes closed, face bearing the soft, silent smile of a drying sea.
“Beg, Exile,” the knight said swollen with conceit.
But Gabriel could not. His eyes and mind were stuck to something that hovered above, like a cloud, like a dream.
“Should an Exile merit God’s mercy?” the knight asked, this time demanding his attention by pressing the searing fire-blade close to his face, burning flesh to a scar.
A moment too short passed them by.
“Damn you,” the knight whispered with impatience. “Call me merciful.” He pushed down so as to slice his face clean off, but the Relic failed and in an instant, its light had vanished along with the blade. The knight tried to ignite the Relic but its flame would not appear. He commanded the Relic over and again to no effect, mental orders failing him into shame. He cursed, but as he unsheathed his knife an eerie whisper forced a chill. He dropped it, turning eyes to the dark forest.
A hooded man in steel armour, grey and white of capes and heavy like an anvil in water, stared at him, shaking his head. Eyes of deep blue looked from behind a mask, fear and calm drawn into a single expression of violent peace.
The silence that stood between them forced the knight back a step. And with every step back the masked man took one forward until his shadow towered over Gabriel and his family.
“You are not afraid,” the masked man said, his voice like distant rain. He set his hand, covered in black steel, over Gabriel’s forehead and looked into hazel eyes.
Gabriel drew in his mind the blue behind the mask and the slumbering terror of the man’s fearsome guise. Closing his eyes, he let the dark run over him. With all but his life gone he wished this monster would take what was left. Safely guarded by the reality of having secured true love during his life, he was ready to pass as any man should, under the consolation of a life well-lived. Instead, a warm breeze moved through him, as if someone, something greater than himself, had breathed into him and was now breathing for him. For an instant, his eyes opened and a glow, bright and sweet, flashed from within, white flames rising.
“What are you doing?” the knight asked in surprise, joining hands as if for prayer. “Messenger, they deserve it. Why let this one live? Why help this atheist?”
“I want to see the truth of man’s heart,” the masked figure whispered, his voice deep now, but he was not answering the knight, he was talking to Gabriel. “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. You have nothing left but the power I have given you and a full life to use it.” He took a step back. “What will you do with the Power of God, Shaii?”
Forest flames subsided and the night took again what was hers.
Black and grey returned with the cold and Gabriel was no more. The man now called Shaii opened his eyes and they burned with flame, energy leaping out in cold strikes of lightning. Without realizing the presence of this new élan flowing from him, pouring into the world and promising change, he breathed the night air and stopped his inner sorrow, locking it away in a cage of memories.
He set their bodies gently over black soil, placing wife and daughter to rest, tied in the embrace he would always remember them for. As he knelt by their side to await death, his hands tightly holding theirs, the world grew cold and lonely. It was a place he would rather not live in and it would soon be gone.
But something at his back, something that lived and wanted to live, moved and touched his burnt skin. Surprise melted when the wet and cold yet caring touch of Surya’s cold nose appeared behind the dark. The pup whimpered by his feet setting big eyes on him, whites like moons. In a glance and for free he offered the love they left behind.
Shaii took the pup in arms holding him close, as she used to, and cried until he understood that he could not die, nor could he live.