By Jesse Turri
As I sat against the old rough bark of a pine tree near the clearing, watching the blonde laces of sunlight filter down through the trees of Alumit, the forest of many secrets, I decided that I had to venture onward. Somehow I knew my path would lead me into that dark, menacing wood eventually. But no matter how hard I tried to deceive myself, I still feared that place. I think all of us in the village did.
My home was the humble village of Feldunim in the land of Hatuskgar, situated in the heart of the Earthly Realm. I loved my land and I loved my village. It was all I knew. My parents named me Theonym, the Impudent, after my father. The name, they said, was fitting because when I was born I had the audaciousness to piss in the face of the physician, and they say I have been shameless ever since. Mother and Father did teach me, however, to honor The Elders, but instructed me to follow the ancient ways of truth, love and beauty. These ancient teachings were said to have been handed down from our Lord Ellesmir, the Immortal, who reigned and ruled over all the known lands as our loving father for all time. Ellesmir’s home, Elo-Turris, a tower that reached into the heavens, could be seen from anywhere in the Earthly Realm. Many travelers wandered for days attempting to reach the doors of Elo-Turris, only to find that despite the miles and miles traversed, the great tower remained forever in the distance, always just out of reach. The only way to reach the tower, it was said, was to be invited by the Lord himself.
The stories go on to say that in the unlikely event that one did encounter the Immortal One in person, a dazzling glow would emanate from that blessed individual’s face for days to come, a residual effect of being in the glorious presence of Lord Ellesmir. However, despite the fact that Ellesmir had never been seen in person by a commoner, his Immanence was unmistakable. His gentle presence was felt by all the people of The Earthly Realm, and they never questioned his love and authority to rule his land or his people.
For eons the tribes of the land lived at peace with each other and enjoyed prosperous harmony with nature and all other creatures of the Earthly Realm. Our people worked the land, taking what we needed from its abundant offering while being ever mindful not to disturb the gentle balance of life that was in place. The Earthly Realm at that time was a blissful paradise filled with love, peace, kindness and goodness; Lord Ellesmir, the Immortal, had done the impossible: effectively banished all fear of death from the land.
It was during the Celestial Epoch when they arrived. I remember my parents telling me the ancient myths about how things began to change when The Elders appeared. They claimed to speak for Lord Ellesmir, and they brought with them many teachings. Most of the doctrines The Elders bestowed were already ingrained in the hearts of the people, but they also brought other teachings, ones that were deeply antithetical to the ancient ways.
The Elders claimed that Lord Ellesmir was transcendent in nature, and that the reason he kept himself isolated in the tower of Elo-Turris was because he could not bear to be in the presence of mortals that occupied the animal domain. In fact, The Elders conveyed disgust at anything that resembled or brought to mind fleshly existence. Bodily fluids, sex, deformity, gore, and corpses, for example, were considered by The Elders to be vulgar and disgraceful to Ellesmir. The Elders taught that humans were not like the rest of the creatures that inhabited the Earthly Realm, and that we should, in essence, deny our physical bodies and strive to be holy and transcendent like our beloved Lord. Gradually, over thousands of years, the ancient times of bliss faded from the memories of the people, and The Elder’s twisted teachings infected the populace.
It was during my lifetime then, that the agitation occurred. The Elder’s teachings brought great misery to Hatuskgar, which inevitably lead to great contempt. One after another, people began to reject the teachings of the Elders and the transcendence of Lord Ellesmir. At first I didn’t’ believe that it could happen, but now I could tell it was beginning. The shift was starting and people were beginning to get nervous because it seemed to be spreading. This movement was known as The Desecration.
The unlikely leader of this acrimonious movement was an old woman named Lacrimis, who was known as The Desecrator. Stories of her once being an Elder floated around the land, and she was said to have been horribly disfigured by Ellesmir himself and banished to the shadows of Alumit. Lacrimis had many secret followers and it was clear that at this moment something ominous bubbled just beneath the surface of Hatuskgar.
It was because of Lacrimis that I found myself staring at the dark entrance of Alumit, trying to overcome my fear of wandering into its dark abyss. The night before, Nuntius, one of the Desecrator’s messengers, had payed me a visit. He conveyed that Lacrimis requested an audience with me, and made it perfectly clear that if I did not meet with her she would plunge the land of Hatuskgar into utter despair and darkness. Knowing that I was loyal to the old ways of Ellesmir–and seeming to anticipate my disbelief at the plausibility of Lacrimis’ threats–Nuntius pointed out the window toward the tower of Ellesmir, Elo-Turris. It was then that I witnessed the impossible: billows of smoke rising from the tower of the Eternal Lord. The agitation was no longer just resentment and rejection located in the hearts of people, I thought to myself. The home of Ellesmir had been destroyed, and The Desecration become visible .
Nuntius went on to explain that Ellesmir had narrowly escaped the assault on Elo-Turris and was now on the run and in hiding; not even the High Elders knew of his whereabouts. Some were passing on the rumor that he had fled to the forest of Alumit to locate and face The Desecrator herself.
Many questions ran through my head at this time. Among them, I wondered how Lacrimis’ agents were able to reach Elo-Turris without invitation. More importantly, however, I wondered what Lacrimis wanted with me. Did she think I, a poor commoner from Feldunim, knew something about the whereabouts of the great Lord Ellesmir? When I pressed Nuntius for answers to these questions he became reticent, and refused to disclose any more details about The Desicrator’s plan .
The next morning I awoke and hurriedly packed a small bag. As I was told, I took only enough provisions for one day, and nothing else except for the clothes on my back. Nuntius guaranteed me safe passage through the forest and gave me detailed directions to Lacrimis’ cottage. If I strayed off the path he cautioned, my safety could not be assured. He threatened that I did not know what horrors awaited me in that dark place, and that even Lacrimis’ most loyal followers would not venture into that perilous wood.
As estimated, the journey to Lacrimis’ cottage took exactly half a day on foot. I stayed tight to the path and followed the directions given to me by Nuntius. Immediately upon entering that dark wooded tomb, an unrelenting feeling of despair settled upon me. The forest of Alumit was not always a place of ruin. Many say that Alumit used to be a forest of abundant life, filled with animals of wondrous variety and trees that bore the most exquisite fruit. But when The Elders, in their disgust, began to send the corpses to the forest, darkness began to settle upon it. Alumit was no longer filled with abundant life, it was now filled with death.
Slowly, as I made my way down the gloomy wooded path, a small cottage became visible in the distance. Upon arriving at my destination, two things struck me as odd: First, the modest, hand built cottage that lay before me was not what I expected the feared Desecrator to be inhabiting; Second–and this was the most peculiar–the seal of Ellesmir, The Immortal, was branded upon the door.
As I walked toward the cottage entrance, dead leaves cracking beneath my feet, I felt my heart begin to beat loud enough to be heard through the thin cabin walls. I am confident that the dread which engulfed me at that moment had not been felt by any human being in The Earthly Realm since fear itself was banished by the hand of Ellesmir. This was a fear that I now realized had slowly been returning to the land with every consummate teaching handed down by The Elders. With each step I took, I felt closer to death.
Then, with a sudden swoosh the cottage door swung open. Frozen in my tracks, I took two small breaths and slowly peeked my head through the threshold of the cottage. There, staring at me ominously at the far end of the one room shack, sat an old woman in a rocking chair next to a roaring fire. The lashing flames from the fire cast webs of shadows across her gnarled face, making her look more monstrous than I could ever have imagined. Then, without a word uttered, the old woman cracked a devious smile, raised her hand and motioned for me to enter.
As I made my way over to the empty chair across from the old woman, I became acutely aware that the place smelled of expensive, precious incense and perfumes typically used in preparation for burying the dead.
Lacrimis motioned for me to sit and drink the cup of tea that was sitting on the table next to my chair. Not being able to stand the silent charade any longer, I spoke to The Desecrator.
“I don’t know why you’ve summoned me here,” I said, quaking in fright but attempting to sound indignant, “but I wouldn’t tell you where Lord Ellesmir was hiding even if I knew.”
Lacrimis looked at me, her horribly scarred face flickering in the fire light, and spoke in a voice that sounded like gravel, “You, Theonym the Impudent, are here to save your people, and all of the Earthly Realm. Deliver this message to those who will hear it:
Do not fear the one who haunts the ages
Those who suffer will always rise and sing
Two opposites; but now long-hidden pages
Are opened, liberating truths they bring.
Life is only death, or death is life disguised,
We endure this time of death until by Life we are surprised.
When Lacrimis finished the poem she rose to her feet and promptly motioned toward the door, suggesting that I take my leave.
Dumbstruck and exceedingly confused, I was left speechless. I shook my head hoping I would snap out of the horrible nightmare. After mulling over a few possible retorts to the old woman’s speech, I decided my best option was to pick up my bag of provisions and make my way to the door. Then just as I was about to exit the cottage, I glanced back at the old women. To my astonishment I saw drip from her eye, a drop of the only bodily fluid that did not disgust and offend The Elders–a glistening tear.
I hurriedly marched straight back to the village of Feldunim, staying close to the path I was shown. My encounter with the one known as The Desecrator was unexpected to say the least. Her words puzzled and angered me, but yet I sensed something great had been accomplished even though I had done nothing. Despite the dark days that lie ahead, I was filled with an odd sense of hope.
As I approached the village gates, the guard on duty stopped me in my tracks; A look of astonishment and awe filled his face, almost as if he had seen an apparition. I asked the guard if there was something wrong, and without saying a word he pointed to my face and held up his shield. My reflection peered back at me, and my face was aglow, radiating a brilliant yellow, dazzling light.
Overwhelmed, but fully at peace, I looked back at the guard and whispered to him the poem that Lacrimis had recited to me.