Post by UrAgahn
|"Abandon your fear. Look forward. Move forward and never stop. You'll age if you pull back. You'll die if you hesitate."|
|-the Slaying Moon|
How many times have each of us looked back onto our lives and experienced and urge to slap our forehead and exclaim, “What an idiot I used to be!” in frustration? A lot more than we would care to admit or even remember, I am sure. We would then go on to assure ourselves – everything is okay, because now I am a whole different person, and everything that had happened, happened to some other guy, whose mistakes I will not repeat.
The cold, hard truth is that there is no other person; more likely than not, the moments of shame for our past will accumulate as we grow older. It is well known – much more so when one is not thinking about themselves, but rather about their peers – that it is next to impossible to learn from others’ mistakes; we have to go through the thorns ourselves, and the scars have to be earned. No matter how appealing the thought of hiding from one’s past may be – I should know, for I have been there more than once or twice – it is completely pointless. I have done many things and have said many words that I have come to regret, some more bitterly than the others, and even though I am not proud of those, I have to hold onto my memory of them – for the path I tread led me to what I am now. Perhaps, this is the reason I write these journals, so that when I look back, I can try to see some sort of a system.
That said, I am not exactly writing an autobiography. I do not even have a clear structure of whatever it is my disjointed ramblings will turn into after I am gone. In this, much like in everything, I am not a man of long term designs. I can look ahead and prepare for my nearest future well enough (or at least, I hope so), but I am not a man with a plan. I adapt, I react to spontaneous changes in my environment, I deal with an issue at hand and I move on. The aforementioned dealing may take months, or years even, so it is no surprise even I at some point can confuse my actions for some sort of a sophisticated lifelong scheme. Even with these journals – or, should I say, especially with these journals, for I do believe they illustrate the point I am trying to make rather well – I simply wait for a moment of inspiration, a spark of creativity that will fuel my writing and allow me to vent my thoughts, chaotic more oft than not, onto paper. These thoughts fizzle and fester inside me like a tumor; they swell and fill me up until I can no longer hold them inside. I retch and I quiver and I spill my guts all over the place for hours – and when I am done, comes a prized, treasured moment of pure tranquility, when I can kick back and enjoy the blissful void inside my cranium, all the more precious for its evanescence.
Amusingly enough, these peaceful seconds remind me in many ways of wrath, or, to be precise, of its boiling point. Anger accumulates inside my body like a black, viscous, acrid liquid, crawling slowly up from my toes and burrowing into my mind. Time stretches agonizingly as rage seizes my throat and sends shudders through my burning muscles, and just when I begin to think I cannot possibly take it anymore, that this dark mass shall surely suffocate me, clarity arrives. A soft breeze washes away the heat, leaving only a sensation of a pleasant chill. My vision narrows and my thoughts focus better than I could ever make them of my own volition. All that is left within my mind is the one and only way to act, heeled with a realization both sweet and painful just why this is right. Gone is the fatigue and numbed is the pain – only inexorable drive to act is in their place.
Heed not those that would tell you, power derived from wrath is feeble, for they are starry-eyed idealists unaware of the unforgiving world around them. Heed not those that would say, a decision made in anger is a decision to be regretted afterwards, for our mind is far better at remembering the worst, rather than the best, of what had happened to us. And heed not those that preach, anger is for the weak, for they probably do not realize why they are only partly right, and why there still is a ring of truth to their words – anger can and, utilized properly, will take you upwards, but only so far. After that, you let go and move on or you perish, for stagnation is death.
I have learned it the hard way, relying on my fury until it was time to move on. And I know better than anyone that the caustic, churning darkness inside me has not gone away – I have simply learned to subdue it, and make do without relying on it – most of the time, at least; this is why I will finish this entry with a recollection of a fateful moment, a turning point in my life – the first time I came close to realizing – left unchecked, my wrath will lead me to a dead end.
I was resting after a long battle, sitting on the cold stone floor of the underground chamber, my back pressed against one of the colossal pillars holding up the ceiling. While my hands were busy cleaning my runic blade, moving almost independently from me for those simple motions have been repeated untold hundreds of times, with my head thrown back I idly gazed upon the stalactites dotting the dome. I wondered how many of those grew all the way down to become pillars, and if there were any artificial ones added during the construction of this sanctum. Simply looking upon this marvel of architecture, these decorative engravings worked seamlessly into the rocks was worth carving my way inside.
With a dank slurp most normal people would find disgusting, another pretender’s body was consumed by the now dormant defense systems. I turned my head ever so slightly just in time to see the swiftly evaporating wisps of light denoting the poor fellow’s soul being incorporated into the choir, while his skull floated upwards to take its place upon one of the pillars. I had been too busy cutting through him and the others to see if there had been any skulls belonging to the natives of my world prior to this most recent intrusion, and at the moment I did not exactly feel like recounting every participant of this free-for-all and subtracting their number from the already more than impressive collection.
My battle fury was swiftly diminishing by this point. All the little cuts and bruises across my body demanded my attention, and it felt as if there was not a single spot on me that was not aching. I did not try to shut down the pain, though – I almost welcomed, for it was the pain that comes after a job well done. I was the last one standing, and the prize I came for was rightfully mine. I felt like I deserved a moment or two of prideful relaxation before picking up the relic and departing this place.
Just when I decided I have had enough of stalactites for one day and began musing that it was not a week after the local volcanic activity led to the earthquake that unsealed this chamber, and yet more than twoscore challengers have appeared to claim the treasure held within, I heard a voice.
“Told ya, I told ya we was going to be late, nuncle!”
As I all but bolted upright, the owner of the voice swaggered in. A human male roughly my age, he was taller than me, yet with his stooping we looked about the same height. His pale skin contrasted sharply with his messy, wiry black hair; above a crooked nose that looked like it had been broken in a fight at least once were deep-set, almond-shaped bottle-green eyes. He was making quite a lot of noise as he walked; the clanking of his metal-encased boots was accompanied by his black leather duster flapping around his feet, and every so often he would lash out against the walls with a long-bladed spear.
“Aw man, look at it. We dun missed all the fun,” he whined, stopping in his tracks when he saw that the chamber was desolate save for me.
“Quite the contrary, my boy,” came a pleasant baritone, followed by the ‘Uncle’ himself – an aging, impeccably dressed man carrying a cane with graying blonde hair, a bushy beard and a grandfatherly expression on his wrinkled face. “We have arrived at precisely the right time. Were we to appear earlier, we would have to sift through both the peasant rabble trying to claim what belongs to me and the defensive mechanisms trying valiantly, yet vainly, to hold them off; a bit later and all that remained would be the aforementioned mechanisms, already reactivated. Now, however, they lie in dormancy, and all that is left to do is to cast aside this little rodent.”
My rage began coming back from the moment the ‘Uncle’ announced his intent to deprive me of my hard-won prize. Now that he had also insulted me, all the while speaking in that infuriatingly patronizing tone, I ran amok once more. I was young, rather foolhardy, had never lost a real battle before and at some level believed myself to be immortal. Thus, I inhaled a lungful of air and growled furiously, “Who’re you calling little rodent, old man?”
“What, you’d prefer big bug, dork?” the ‘Nephew’ snorted, leaning on his spear.
“Must you always jest?” the ‘Uncle’ admonished him lightly, and then turned to me with a nauseatingly warm smile. “A semblance of intelligent speech merits an attempt to communicate. What would you have us call you, child?”
I replied proudly, “Ahriman Ashwood, the Sin Lord.”
“And what sovereign, pray tell, has bestowed upon you such a, mmm, grandiose title?” the elder man prompted. I think a part of me knew even that that I was goaded, but I was much too furious to care.
“A man chooses a name for himself!” I snarled.
The ‘Nephew’ guffawed, “In that case, I’m Vanilla Thun-dah! Pleased to meetcha!”
The ‘Uncle’ silenced him with a gesture of a delicate hand, then spoke sedately, “A title has to be earned, young one. But we digress from the purpose of this conversation. Child Ahriman, the item you sought to claim entering this place rightfully belongs to me. This day has seen enough violence, and as such I offer you to step aside peacefully, treasuring the knowledge that you have helped build a stepping stone to a purpose much, much greater than you can realize.”
I stared at the strange duo for several seconds. My lips stretched into a smirk as I replied, “I shall consider your generous offer, stranger. May I counter it with a proposition of my own?”
“I know where this is going, but for the sake of civility, I am all ears,” the ‘Uncle’ sighed, patience incarnate.
“Go screw yourself with an ogre club, you dog-humping piece of goat droppings!” I spat. Literally, in that one case, my well-aimed bolt of saliva landing precisely two steps away from the elder man. “I have spilled much blood to claim this relic, and I’m leaving this place with it. I don’t care if I have to leave two more bodies behind me.”
The two of them stood silent for a moment. Then, the ‘Uncle’ shrugged almost apologetically and stepped aside, saying, “Let it never be said that I have not tried to abstain from violence. My boy, the courtesy is all yours.”
The ‘Nephew’ chuckled menacingly, his eyes locked with mine. Toying with his spear, he advanced on me lazily, never bothering to assume something resembling a guard stance.
“Stand still, will ya? Daddy’s gonna make this quick,” he taunted.
I raised my hand instead of answering, stretching my feelings towards a large, jagged stalactite that hung directly above my adversary and seemed perfect for my purposes. Just when he was about to say something else, I clenched my fist. In a blink of an eye, the massive rock was torn from its roots and fell onto the floor.
This would be my first clue to the fact that my enemies were more than they seemed. It took superhuman reaction to dodge the rock, and that was exactly what the ‘Nephew’ did, hopping away just enough so as not to be touched by the stone. Still, I was ahead of him, and what ideally would have been a one-shot kill became but a distraction move. He lost his concentration, and thus I made my move. Energy surged through me, down my arm until it was gathered in my fingertips; just when it seemed that he had regained his footing, I hurled arcing bolts of electricity into his chest. Such strength was behind my assault that it hurtled him across the room like a ragdoll, slamming him into a pillar.
An anguished cry escaped his mouth, but before it could be formed into words, I lifted the newly fallen stalactite and sent it into him. This time, the ‘Nephew’ did not dodge.
“We’re done here,” I grinned smugly, turning to the ‘Uncle’.
The latter smiled again, “My companion is so sure of himself – just like you.”
I was about to wipe that smile from his face when a completely alien sound drilled into my ears. I would compare it to the wailings of a banshee, in that it was a shriek no human throat could produce, but instead of sorrow and agony it was filled with pure, undiluted hatred.
The stalactite slowly fell forward, revealing the ‘Nephew’. Thin tendrils of smoke were rising all over him, his hair was on fire and swiftly burning down, and chunks of singed flesh were falling from his face, revealing his true grotesque countenance, heretofore hidden beneath – a skull, covered tightly with black leather that looked eerily too much like the duster he wore. In the empty eye sockets danced bright, sickly yellow flames.
“We are so not done yet, dork,” the creature screeched promisingly. “I’m gonna add your skin to my collection.”
Coming to my senses, I sent another bolt of lightning into him – it? – in an attempt to finish the confrontation, yet this time my attack was met with a beam of pale blue energy he shot from the tip of his spear.
“Anyone ever told you you’re ugly, freak?” I inquired, raising my sword. I came to the conclusion that arcane techniques alone would not win this duel, at least not fast enough for my liking. A low, steady hum announced the awakening of my weapon as a halo of purple light surrounded its blade. Though I still was overflowing with anger, common courtesy demanded I saluted my opponent before engaging him in a proper match. Which I did.
“I can count those who did and lived to tell about it on the fingers of one troll hand!” the ‘Nephew’ boasted, all the while saluting me back.
The fight that ensued remains in my memory as a blur. I had finally met my equal in skill, strength and speed, and even our condition was much alike – I was weakened by my previous encounter, he by my lucky opening attack. We circled around the chamber, exchanging blows, spells, and taunts that grew progressively more unquotable. Each feint of mine was met with a counter feint, and each slash of his I parried or dodged. Our weapons flew in wide arcs, slicing large chunks out of the pillars surrounding us.
I knew in the back of my mind that I could not maintain this tempo forever. So drawn I was into this match, so intent in winning that, apparently, I forgot completely about the ‘Uncle’, for I do not have any other explanation for the reckless move I made. It was a gamble, really, with my chances of succeeding amounting to a measly two out of three. After my overhead strike was parried, I leaned away just a little bit further than I needed to, leaving my right arm exposed; this weakness in my defense was so fine only an artisan would notice it, and only an even greater master would see that it was a trap.
With a triumphant screech, the ‘Nephew’ lunged for my arm, exactly as I had expected him to. Meeting his cry with a pained roar of my own when his blade pierced my flesh, I lashed out.
Receiving a deep cut into his midsection, my opponent collapsed onto the floor, practically bifurcated. Panting heavily and bleeding all over the stones, I staggered backwards, clutching my right arm.
“You have failed, boy,” the ‘Uncle’ observed rather callously, making me suddenly become aware of his presence once again.
“Thousand apologies, master,” the other wheezed. How he was able to speak still was beyond me at the moment.
Stunned, I found myself unable to move. I helplessly watched as the elderly man with a kindly smile approached me, drawing a thin blade out of his cane.
“His augmentations will need to be revised. This was a valuable experience and you have my gratitude for it, child,” the ‘Uncle’ spoke, raising his weapon. “Much as I dislike restating something, I shall make this quick.”
It was many things. Quick, it was not. Whatever remained of my rage was gone the moment he struck me, reducing me to a quivering wreck of a man. To this day I have never experienced such agony again, and I am not ashamed to say that I do not have the words to properly convey this sensation. My whole existence has turned into a singularity of torment that I experienced for eons. I was not aware of my surroundings, I could not even think, much less remember my own name. There was only pain.
Yet to all things comes an end, eventually. I cannot know for sure, but apparently between the moment the strike landed and the one I regained some sort of feelings as the pain began to recede, only several seconds passed. Blindly I reached to grab something, anything at all. Fate would have it that it was the ‘Uncle’s foot.
I know not how is this possible, but through the agony I heard everything he told me. I remember it still, word for word.
“Few can face a Darkbone Praetorian in single combat and triumph. Fewer still can withstand a blow from me afterwards. I am impressed, Ahriman Ashwood.
From the moment I entered this place, I have felt your anger that you rely on as a crutch. It has taken you far, but now you are at your limit. I am telling you this because I acknowledge you as someone who can one day become strong enough to be a threat – or an ally to be counted on. You and I share a drive for perfection, I can feel it. Survive. Evolve. Pursue me. Seek me. Challenge me.
My name is Nagorm Woeherald. I acknowledge you, Sin Lord Ahriman Ashwood.”
Obviously, I survived. Surprisingly, I evolved. And many years afterwards, I did meet the old man Nagorm again. But that is a whole different story.