Years later, paying last respects at the place where it all began.
The last rays of sunset turn the new born leaves of the aspens to blood and gold, shimmering in the breeze. The rustle of their motion creates a whisper that lingers in the evening air, rising and falling like the hush of voices long forgotten.
Here, at the edge of the woods where once proud paving stones peek shyly from amongst overgrown mosses, the snowflies drift in random glints only at dusk. Will 'o wisps on the breeze, here and then gone; incongorous bits of snow seen from the corner of the eye in the spring scented evening.
I reach out to catch one in my hand, once more a boy trapping lightning bugs against his palm to watch the flickering luminescence of their bodies as their fragile transparent wings hesitate a beat. But snowflies are not lightning bugs and my fingers close over nothing - like the snow they are named for they melt away at a touch, insubstantial and dreaming.
So many dreams. So many shades of past and memory. Snowflies in the mind's eye, drifting on the winds of the passing years.
The breeze stills, robbing the trees of their voice, and a hush descends like a blanket over the evening shadows.
You could lay upon the grass, looking up into the blood stained leaves as the sun sinks in firey glory, and sleep for a hundred years beneath their sheltering limbs. Lost in the quiet, cradled in the stillness.
Honey glossed with a poison core... but he was always that.
Layered memories, pasts within pasts, in a winding meditation maze that spirals endless spiderweb patterns until it comes, at last, to this place. Familiar. Unfamiliar. Twist and turn on the breeze, the path lost in gathered flecks of imagined snow.
His footsteps no longer break the hush.
Wine red and dusky shadow, like a smudge upon the breeze. His eyes look past me even as mine try in vain to draw detail to empty air. Impressions of dreams, seen in flickers between one blink and the next, shadows left in the memory of the eye.
His eyes are black as the gathering night, still and sightless.
A leaf falls, tumbling through the last rays of the sunset in a flicker of jeweled tones - crimson to gold to velvet black. A tiny fleck of insubstantial snow drifts silent in its wake, glimmering, and another blink dissolves shadows into nothing but formless night; leaf and limb and cracked, ruined stone.
"Fare thee well," I bid him, my voice too loud in the hush, "Jan."
The breeze through the leaves murmurs in their timeless dreaming and for one moment I can hear it, Dark whispers in the evening dusk. ...Commandant.
Circumdederunt me dolores mortis: pericula inferni invenerunt me.
The sorrows of death have compassed me: and the pains of hell have found me.
Silent and still, the witching hours of the night pass in cool darkness as all the world sleeps beneath the watchful dance of the stars above. If I look up I can only just see a lone light against the night sky, framed in the ragged deeper darkness of broken stone.
So much is tumbled ruin, wood rotten away to bare stone and earth. Once glorious tile is cracked and rough beneath my feet - in the darkness of night all shades are grey and black, depthless, but I can remember cream and scarlet in my dreams. My footfalls echo in the blackness, intruding into the silence. The sounds bounce back to me from the Dark, distorted, echoing, like the echo of a smooth, deep voice.
The dusty cool air still has a trace of sweet beeswax to it, as though it would recall the heat of candle flames and the sharp, spiced scent of incense hung in gold chased braziers. Moon and star light paint liquid silver across the splintered remnants of glass that once glowed in jewel rich colors, caught in pane and leaded line against the rays of the reverant sun.
And somewhere beneath it all is the sick copper tang of fresh spilled blood, etched into the very stones themselves. If I close my eyes I can smell it, taste it, and in the Dark I can reach out my hand to broken and dirt strewn tile and feel the cold, slick wetness of memory.
Beneath my boots something clatters loose, scraping; tile on clay tile, or the rusted remnants of a once bright blade.
The shadows sleep uneasy here, restless beneath the still night like the quicksilver flicker of fish in the depths of still waters. Their whispers crowd the edges of the Dark in a multitude of breathless voices that babble an endless rippling stream of dreams, ambition, hopes and prayers.
He is silent, and that alone sets him apart.
Moonlight plays tricks on eyes, drawing forth jumbled shapes and empty angles. It drenches pale gold hair in purest silver, turning sculptor and carving ivory for flesh, starlight drawn from the night sky for the gleam of metal plate. He slips between the shadows, like a prowling beast on great padded feet, ghost of night and shadows and aching memory. Wet crimson, heart's blood, stain his sullen gaze in smoldering embers of forgotten life.
But there is only moonlight here, stars and shadows and the silence of the night. Memory may ache but it has no hand to deal forth true injury, only scratching at the door of the present with strengthless claws.
I say nothing. There is nothing to say.
Regem, cui omnia vivunt, Venite adoremus. Odisti omnes, qui operantur iniquitatem: perdes omnes, qui loquuntur mendacium.
The King, unto whom all things do live, Come let us adore. Thou hatest all, that work iniquity: thou shalt destroy all, that speak lies.
The rustle of wings in the heavy branches heralds the dawn, well before the first true rays break across the sky. All around me I can hear them, the first sleep laden twitters of birdsong in the shadows, echoing across the endless splash of the stream.
It has been years since the lonely creak of the wooden wheels ceased, ground to a halt as gears long since rust encrusted failed at last. Tiny thrushes nest there now, above the cascade of water spray as it emerges, chill and clear from underground to tumble down towards the bay.
At the base of the wheel, lost in the spray of water, you can still find remnants carried to freedom in the flow. Rusted blades and the glitter of a gold etched hilt, the sparkle of a silver rood - they nest in the shadows, huddled there, held too long in the darkness beneath the earth to dare to face the light of day.
Shadows. That is all that is left, really.
A bird cries, trilling, and overhead the sky in jeweled indigo, the horizon bathed in gold. All around me the city slowly takes shape, her streets, even now, cut straight and true in the line of long shadows across cracked and overgrown stone. Her walls are tumbling, held up by the growth of twining vine, the etchings lost amidst the dapple of leaves. Her houses are long empty, home only to the birds and small creatures; mice have the run of her shops, snakes and badgers, foxes and hares, all sheltered within her ruined rubble. It is their city now. Theirs... and the shadows.
The dawn rises slowly, the sky painted in blood flushed gold, and all around the shadows, touched in the sun, remember the truth.
They flicker at the corner of the eye, there and then gone, and as the bird song rings out in greater number the streets, for one moment, may recall their past glory in the trick of shadow and light; a market square, at the base of a grand cathedral, the bustle of matrons with their baskets and bundles and the shriek of children echoed in the call of birds... ghostly colors and shifting shapes, all dancing across the eye for one moment in the haze of dawn.
It is always on the steps of the cathedral that she comes.
Pale, like a trick of dappled light on sandy stone - the graceful line of slim arms, a slender hand, and the shift of hair like faded moonlight around a pale face. Her only color is red - the kilted swatch of a skirt at her hip, the splash of rose red against cream skin on her breast, and the crimson heart red where it blossoms bright against a pale bodice.
Her eyes are as pale as the rest, white and blind in the light as she pauses for one heartbeat, turning towards the dawn.
He is always there to turn her gently away from it, the light glinting golden on his hair for one shimmering moment before the sun bursts into the sky, brilliant and blinding, and in the space between one blink and the next they are gone... the sunlight strips away fancy, baring only the dance of light and shadow through the leaves of the trees upon the ruined crumble of age worn steps.
All around me the birds are in song, the tiny noises of the day coming to life, but my eyes have sight only for the moments of the Dark.
"Goodnight," I whisper, my voice barely breaking into the emptiness, "Samantha."
On the steps the first crimson blooms of spring have forced their way through broken stone, a splash of red amongst pale light, their blossoms nodding in the warmth of dawn. There is naught but bloom and vine, stone and rotted wood, clear and stark in the light of day.
Beati mortui qui in Domino moriuntur. Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine: et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Blessed are the dead which die in our Lord. Eternal rest give unto them O Lord: and let perpetual light shine unto them.
Requiescant in pace. Amen.
Let them rest in peace. Amen.
For Joy, who first gave me their voices, and for Leah, who showed me the way.