The Lonely March

As the hunters’ moon rose through the night sky they began their journey to appease. With silent air they bent down and lit their torches, quietly whispering farewell to their kin. They neither acknowledged nor denied the task that lay ahead. They knew they must fulfil their destiny or god would reign havoc until the end of their days. Since creation it had always been this way, so there could be no reprieve, no choice, no decision and no denial; as sure as cats hunt mice and mice run in fear, so it will always be this way.

One by one they lined up against the colossal barbed wall that surrounded their village. Yesterday it had seemed to protect them from the sins of the world, but now it enveloped them like a forest steals the light. They watched in endless reverence as the procession of Elders slowly approached. Above their head the myriad of stars would be the only witness to the ritual, as the scripture stated that only the Elders and the Chosen could hear the words that were to be spoken. As the Chosen looked on, a hooded figure stepped forward from the line of Elders, in his hand carrying an old, weather beaten, leather bound book. Without even looking he separated the pages as Mosses parted the Red Sea and began to recite. In a deep and powerful voice the hooded figure chanted in an archaic language and the words drifted around the camp seeping into the dreams of the villagers. The chant continued as the Chosen solemnly stepped forward and took the bags that were being offered by the remaining Elders. Slowly they turned on their heels and faced the giant gates that were slowly being opened. Without a word of good bye they raised their hoods and marched through the gates and as the final one passed, the Gate Keeper turned to the Elders and whispered ‘Two score accounted for. May god be with them’.

As the moon bore down it touched a pair of red smouldering eyes hidden amongst the twisted roots of a forest far away on the horizon. The creature was gnarled and twisted so much that it blended perfectly into the roots where it had embedded itself, yet contrary to its dark and hideous appearance, and through a gap in the forest ceiling, it stared up at the celestial orb and a single tear fell. Slowly it rose to its feet and the liquid emotion continued to follow a path through the valleys and canyons of its skin until it touched the floor and hissed as the ground around it burnt. It knew that death surrounded it and it understood loneliness like a bird knows the wind. Since creation it walked amongst the trees and in the shadows, it dwelt, knowing that despite being surrounded, it was destined to remain alone. Yet over time it craved company, it wanted so desperately to walk with another, to have a companion other then death. By the end of the last lunar cycle it had decided to reach out to the strangers that came and end its reign of isolation, so now it waited to see that moon again. That blood red moon only came once in a generation and here it was, so the creature shed a tear in joy.

Now they had passed under the gates and into the world, the enormity of the situation suddenly dawned on them all. Each step was met by a sinking of the heart, with deep sighs and soft hidden whimpers, working its way along the line until all were singing the same melancholy song. They moved through young saplings and along the muddy banks of a dirty grey river, until finally their past was out of sight and they stopped turning to look at the memories that haunted them; now their faith would have to stay burnt into their souls. 

The moon was descending rapidly and as the stars slowly faded, pinks and oranges seeped into the darkened skies and the Chosen’s melancholy was replaced by the awe of nature’s radiance. 
Up ahead, on a ridge they could see a ring of massive arches that appeared to imprison the morning Sun, and the ground around it glowed with optimism. With the morning light captured within, the edge of the arches radiated with a metallic red, like that perfect moment of a solar eclipse. As they passed beneath the arches the front of the line veered off and followed the natural contours of the ring. Forming a circle the line halted and like marionettes, the Chosen dropped to their knees and kissed the dirt with their foreheads.  They were to stay this way till the sun was above their heads, as they had been instructed. Their backs ached and the hard ground dug into their knees, but they remained until the allotted time, and then they stood, wiped the dirt from their knees and collapsed back to the floor.  With rituals end they stared at each other, desperately wanting to spill the words of fear and loneliness that plagued them, but they knew that the scripture had tied their lips with dogmatic wire. Instead of breaking their vows they reached for the bags that clung to their sides and rummaged through the pieces of parchment and scraps of food until they each decided on the insignificant colourless morsel that took their fancy. In each bag there was one item of treasure, one red piece of pure heaven that would wash away the flood of mediocrity that was their nourishment but alas like everything else along their journey, its consumption was dictated and the time had not arrived.  Now with the food gone they stood up and faced each other one last time before their daytime rest, so they bowed their head in respect and lay their robes on the ground. The time before sleep was their time, unscriptured and uncontrolled they desperately wanted to relax, but the nights march left their minds restless. They lowered themselves on the jade grass carpet and tried to ease their troubled souls, but none of them truly slept. 

The screams started early here and as sunlight hit leaf, the birds began to sing of a thousand deaths, of a thousand stolen moments of light in the dark. As the animals started feeding the blood from their kills soaked into the ground and the trees drank, osmosis was of blood here and the oxygen was putrid gas. There was no peace here, no rest, yet despite this daily turmoil, the creature was at home in the chaos, for it knew nothing else. Whilst everything around it fed on the aimless wanderers and warriors that ventured in, the creature could not bare to live off their impure blood. It wanted the pure, sweet blood of the strangers, their scriptured lives leaving no trail of sin. While it waited patiently, it lived off the wisps of white smoke that danced from the fires it lit. Sucking in deep with its scared blackened lungs, it sustained its existence in a constant state of unrest. Always dreaming but never asleep, its only grasp of reality was the sporadic outbursts of violence that ensued once they arrived but now it was fuelled by something else. It had an inner desire to break the bonds of the scriptures calling; it longed to defy its nature and turn sweet the sour blood in its veins. 

Even when they managed to quieten their souls, the voices of the Elders crept in and whispered the words of their past. At times within the circle, one of the Chosen would emit a cry or scream that would wake another; this continued all day like some insomniacs version of musical chairs, until the sun again touched the very top of the stone arches.  Slowly they stirred and wearily stood up, looking around and bowing at each other, they then picked up their robes and carefully dressed. Drawing the robes close, they sat back down and picked at the evening’s meal, forcing themselves to eat despite a rising fear quelling their appetite.

They waited until the cool night air kissed their cheeks and the waning moon lit their faces and then they lined up and departed for the second and final stage of their journey. As they left the stones behind and walked through the young forest of saplings they could see the silhouette of a giant forest looming in the distance. Nobody uttered a word, but a mutual unspoken bond had instantly formed between the Chosen; they knew that some were going to die. The scripture had told them this, but they knew that some would survive and that those that survived would be the ones to save everyone, to appease the heavens and prevent catastrophe. Determined they marched towards their fate.

Through eons it had remained untouched by sleep, through time it was kept awake by nothing but hunger. At first it stalked on the plains, but with its earthly dominance and need to kill it created a forest to hunt in. It drew the first sapling to sprout from the baron dirt and take root and as its desire grew so did the forest. As one organism as long as its black heart beat the trees would be safe from fell and fire. Once hiding behind the thin trunks and striking from cover, it learnt to ascend to the tree tops and hurl itself down in a manic spree of violence. As the forest became dense with life, none had doubt about their god, it had seen the cycle of life thousands of times and as the trees grew so did its cunning and viciousness. The one that brought death would remain perched on its thrown as long as there was tree and root. To the creature the earth was like a drum and it could feel the vibrations of every footstep the Chosen took towards the forest. The thirst in it to kill was rising and with heartless malice it writhed with the need to feed, but another voice within was trying to quell the roar. Its head was a tsunami of thoughts, which came crashing down, in wave after wave of blood licked fury, so with an almighty wail it cried out for silence and the forest held its breath. The animals stopped moving and the trees went rigid against the wind as their god wrestled with the ghosts of its creation. 

The distant silhouette was replaced by branches and trunks, as the forest loomed, their confidence slowly started to fade and their once brisk pace, became more of a determined stumble. On the very edge before the first steps were taken over the threshold they stopped. If there was ever a time where they would break their vows and talk this would be it. They all knew that these next steps could be their last, yet so entrenched and deep routed was their belief, that they never uttered a word, as they were consumed by the dark expanse. 

Surrounded on all sides by pillars of wood that stretched for the heavens, they could sense that these pillars were the refuge of their nightmares. Where there were stars, there was now only dark and the air reeked with death. The cool breeze that had blown on their faces, was now an unexplainable stifling heat that gripped their lungs and the ground was littered with tree roots, so when they lifted their feet, they played Russian roulette with gravity. These things they could deal with, but what truly unnerved them was the unbearable silence. There were no sounds of animals moving or birds singing, no rustling of leaves or creaking of branches and no cracking of twigs beneath foot. It is as if they had stepped into a woody void where no sound could penetrate. Slowly they continued their lonely march, never faltering and never deviating from the line that they had formed in the distant past that was the village. As they got deeper into the forest they started to wonder whether the stories they had been told were true. The woods were intimidating, but nothing like the nightmares that had seeped into their dreams with the voices of the Elders. 

They had slowly entered the forest and it had taken every ounce of strength to not rip apart its prey, they were lined up surrounded by the wood it had created and at any point it could skewer their souls. They were ants dancing on a flame, only the flame had decided not to burn. It was time to change the zeitgeist and bring unity and peace where there was only solitude and fear. The tides had changed and the tsunami was calmed within its soul; it was ready to bring about a new season and end its cold, hard winter. It stalked their movement through its home and waited until they seemed to be at their most relaxed and then it opened its fang encrusted mouth and spoke to the strangers.

With each step the heaviness in their heart lifted a little until they had almost forgotten where they were, but suddenly the once still pillars of wood that surrounded them started to bend and bow and the silent air was ripped apart by an unworldly screech like a cry from a banshees pale white lips; this was the omen that showed their fate. The screech caused them to drop to their knees and they clutched their ears as blood dripped down their cheeks. Their delusions were shattered and the scripture came tumbling down within their minds blinding them from thought. As they stumbled to their feet they started to run, tripping and lurching forwards only to clamber on in deranged terror.

Terrified, they ran in every direction confusing the creature, it had reached out to them and they had run. Self doubt ripped through it but that was quickly replaced by anger. It could have killed them all but it tried to show them friendship and now they were going to leave and it would be alone again. If they wouldn’t be his companions then there was no use for them, as if an earthquake had struck in its mind it swiftly gave in to the darker voices and it soared to the tree tops. As it rose, the forest knew what was coming next and the inhabitants were released from their obedient silence. Quickly glancing down as it climbed, it targeted its first victim and as it reached the canopy and felt the moons glow unframed by twig and branch it swooped. 

As the forest came alive around them they propelled themselves, fuelled by destiny, from the corners of their eyes they could see a shape ascending the trees in front of them. It climbed for what seemed like eternity until in one swift moment, they stood face to face with their nightmares as a hellish creature violently emerged from the trees and landed on one of the Chosen sending them both spiralling into a pile of blood and splintered wood. Its stature was twice that of a man, its eyes glowed with molten rage and its limbs resembled branches that flailed causing blood and sinew to cover the trees around them. Their natural reaction was to run in every direction away from this beast, but they refused to break the line. They passed the bloody mess and the monster did not falter in its feast, not breaking away from the meal for an instant. As they ran in terror, one by one it came for them and they each fell in a furious spree of fang and claw, yet despite their dread they never screamed, they never whimpered, they never made a sound. As their numbers dwindled their strength grew, with every step they knew they were closer to the end, one step closer to freedom. Then the vale lifted and sunlight hit their eyes and the heavy air was sucked from their lungs as they emerged from the forest leaving death behind. 

Once the onslaught had finished and the canyons of its skin had become gorges of red, its breathing slowly subsided. When the moment of savagery was over, there came a moment of realisation and it let out a cry that deafened the air. Its thirst had been quenched, but it knew it had been defeated by the ghosts of its past. The forest would stop growing for now, but as soon as the need returned, so would the growth of the forest. It knew that very soon the trees would have grown to the very walls of the village that housed the strangers. It remembered that the enormity of the forest it had created would mean they had nowhere left to run, so it would have one final attempt. With this in mind it embedded itself back in the roots of its creation and continued its lonely march through time. 

They breathed deeply and let the heat from the sun warm their souls and as they pulled off their hoods the wind danced on their faces and played with their hair. They felt alive for the first time since leaving the village, so alive that even though the march must continue, it was now a pleasure that they could enjoy in the blissful silence. Up ahead they spied the brook in which they were to clean the blood off their faces. They lined up along its bank and in unison they knelt and drew the cool water to their faces, washing away the panic and the visions of the fallen. They slowly turned their heads and realised that the two score had been reduced to a dozen.  With this revelation came also the knowledge that this was the time to consume their journeys reward, which waited in their bags. They drew the bags close and lifted out the dark red shape; they drew them up and bit tenderly into the pale flesh, letting the juices run down their chins. With every bite they could feel the sustenance running through their veins and giving them the strength to carry on. Once the last bite of flesh had been eaten they crossed the brook and carried on along the path with an increased and deeper understanding of what they had witnessed. Instead of deep dark forest, they were in paradise, surrounded by gold and purple carpets, with wild flowers licking at their boots. Up ahead they could hear sea gulls and they could smell the salt on the air. Their ordeal was over and now came only joy. The heavy bonds of their journey would nearly be broken and they realised now why they had to do what was next; they would remain silent and would become immortal in scripture. They knew the Elders would be content and the scripture satisfied as their deaths to the creature would stem the tide and the silence would stop panic within the village walls. They climbed the gentle sapling covered slope towards the calling sea and one by one they stepped into air and fell into lore.

This one is another blast from the past. Work has been incredibly busy, so haven’t had time to write – hope you all enjoy anyway! Like, follow, comment please – because the internet is my gallery, the words are my art.

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