(Personal Story/Te’ Eth ‘Es , Advent Home World)
Part Fifteen of Teir -
The Beginnings of the War –
- Te’ Eth ‘Es –
The Light screamed!!!
And Teir fell to her knees, the deep and aching pain of it washing over her. The Light wavered, threatening to fall into blackness.
She knelt, hands pressed to her knees, head bowed and saw through herself. She did not feel herself.
She was insubstantial.
A leaf pressed at the edge of a Great storm threatening to render each and every part of itself. To pass into oblivion and darkness and emptiness forever.
She felt as if a stirring breeze, the smallest of the small, were to pass over her, she would be gone,
down; in emptiness and nothingness, without even a memory to remain.
She knelt and felt the aching hurt for a thousand years.
It did not pass quickly.
Lingering in her, even after it stopped.
She rose, and stumbled on. Her weak footsteps pushing along the stone surface of the tunnel, that led out onto sand. The All Encompassing Light giving way to the overhead dimness of a dying star above a dying world.
She fell to the sand and could not move.
For long hours she simply knelt as the dim light burned her hands, her face. Blistered her lips and dried her skin to thin parchment peels of reddened flakes.
Her eyes threatened to never see again.
At dusk she shakily stumbled to her feet and moved on. Out into the deeper sand, blind, moving simply by the feel of breeze against her face, groping with her hands outstretched to guide her. Across the plain of sand, over rising sweeps of it, over small and then large hills of it, as the night fell down and the cold of chill air pressed against her aching skin.
At the top of a rise, after walking for hours, she stopped.
There was a sound here,
Barely a sound at all.
She turned to the east then, or what she assumed to be east, as it was to her left and toward the sound. The almost sound that ‘ting-ed’ inside the small space of her inner ear. Down the falling slope of the dune face to another plain, and a ruined city beyond that she could not see.
She walked until her feet felt as if they were wood, feelingless things at the end of her legs that simply moved forward, step rising, moving forward, falling down, step rising, moving forward, falling down.
Again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again...
Until her legs gave out underneath her and she fell, face forward into the sand and lay there, exhausted, trying to pull air in through her mouth half pressed into the sand.
Lay there and shivered in the cold.
As the night pressed down further,
And the small winks of stars through a blackened ruined sky peered through those dark wisps that she could not see.
The ‘ting’ became a smaller ‘tinging’ in the smallest part of her mind, down somewhere below even the sound of her own heart beat to barely feel, to barely hear, to barely be aware of…
She slept, not with any easing of mind, but as if blankness, unconsciousness that fell on her as quickly as a headsman’s axe.
When she stirred, the day was brown washed with haze. A light and darkness that swam in unknown patterns in front of her, she followed the tinging, which came in time to pinging.
Even and slow.
A sound of water dripping in a broken cistern from a shattered fountain well.
A handful lay in the bottom of the broken clay. She smoothed her hand over it and into it and brought droplets to her burnt and cracked lips.
“Aaaaahhhhhh!!” She cried at the pain, but slowly scooped another, sucking the cool liquid slowly as she winced at the pain of it. A footstep fell.
She turned, but only broken shells of half buildings lay close. Fifty spans from where she sat, half bent over the broken fountain wall.
She moved her hands underneath her and tremblingly stood, her feet now half wooden planks and her legs half wooden slates joined to her body. She turned slowly as not to fall and crossed the sand that eased itself into stone, white underneath into the cluster of one storied broken and crumbling buildings.
Was this a village then?
But as she came closer she saw the stone pavement of the road beneath her branched, in first one direction and then another and another and another. Leading out into deeper spaces and other clusters of white broken buildings, taller buildings of crumbling domes and half broken spires reaching skyward toward the blackened ruined sky above, still roiling in the burnt dimness of that barely glimpsed sun.
She followed the road, deeper, her legs moving mechanically, rise and fall, rise and fall, rise and fall… Until she came upon a building half smashed and turned to dust with white columns, some fallen and crushed, some standing with no support of brace or wall or rooftop alone, out from the others to a set of stairs that rose it seemed to heaven.
White marbled stairs ascending.
She raised her foot,
The wooden foot that still felt half of nothing and mounted the first stair.
Counting names of those she had lost.
Those she had taken, when she hadn’t meant to.
But still had taken.
It was her penance.
It was her duty to them, to remember them. Always, always, always.
The five guards whose names she did not know.
The twelve Novices that had been with her in the dining room when the roof above had collapsed in above them,
And Mother Superior.
But the stairs still rose, and she still took each one of them,
Counting her Father, A’brim,
Silas, Tick, Eleridge Colson and Mallan Ferris, Old Sam and Old man Greever’s, and all of the farmers from home that she could remember, and then her cousins and her Aunts that had stayed behind, saying they were too old of course to run anywhere and if it was time, well then the Good Lord had his reasons and that was that.
She counted until she ran out of names, but the stairs still rose, but she stopped and lay down against the cool stone and rested.
Her throat was dry and she wished for a cup of water, but the fountain was too far below to consider going back, so she simply waited until some small measure of strength welled up, then she stood and rose the steps again.
The dim daylight fell, in angled rays through the blackened sky, beams of weak light shifting like bonfire lights on a festival night in spring.
When the yeet had been brought in, and the shill still needed shearing, the n’hel stabled and fed their hay and spring was on the eve, with cool drinks and pies and cakes on aproned tables and all the farmers from across the way in their finest linen.
Good women with bonnets and bright smiles, blue lace ribbons tied in their hair, or around their collars to show that they were married.
Men in their overcoats, brushed wool or heavy tack, with sewn buttons buttoned up nice and proper with a leather cord about their collars, and tied in two knots for the married men.
Heavy beards and combed mustaches. Hair pulled back and brushed or braided. And some, like Old J’aimilk sporting hoops of ear rings in his ears, with a twinkling eye for the single ladies, and all the old ladies giggled behind their hands, for Old J’aimilk was as old as the hills. And the young ones turned away blushing and half angry that he would smile with broken teeth at ‘them’.
But he was a good dancer, none finer in the far hills, and he was always proper no matter the lady young or old, and he told good jokes about wrestling yeet in the olden days, and riding bare back on n’hel before they were even tamed.
And old war stories with the old men, like himself, or grand tall tales that couldn’t have been real to the young men, though he often smiled and said you never could tell what could and couldn’t be, with a twinkle in his eye that had even serious A’brim, Teir’s father, saying he couldn’t discount completely.
She rose and went on until she could no longer walk, and then sat on the stairs as the dim sunlight failed, coming down in weaker strains until there were no more strains to fall. And she lay down on the steps, as wide as she was tall, marble stone pressed against her back and closed her eyes.
Sleep came easier this time, and she rested, and near to what she thought was morning, she rose and in the half light, started up the stairs again.
She raised a foot, slid it forward... placed it down onto the marble step, leaned her body forward and felt the muscles pulling, shifted her weight bringing the other foot up, sliding it forward... placed it down onto the next marble step, breathed, pulling hot air into her lungs, leaned her upper body forward, slightly bent and felt the muscles pulling, stretching, aching, shifted her weight forward, pushed with her lower foot, heel rising slowly up and then on toes and then lifting away from the step below to raise to the next step... the next step... the next...
She raised a foot, slid it forward... placed it down onto the marble step, leaned her body forward and felt the muscles pulling, shifted her weight bringing the other foot up, sliding it forward... placed it down onto the next marble step, breathed, pulling hot air into her lungs, leaned her upper body forward, slightly bent and felt the muscles pulling, stretching, aching, shifted her weight forward, pushed with her lower foot, heel rising slowly up and then on toes and then lifting away from the step below to raise to the next step... the next step... the next... step. She raised her foot... sliding it forward...
Until she could no longer move.
Until she collapsed onto the marble steps and sat, her gray robe swirling in the sand swept wind around her.
She lay back on the marble stone, feeling the warmth of it through her robe, raised her arm and lay it over her face, hiding her eyes. She breathed shallowly, one breath, a beat, two beats, another breath, a beat, a beat, a third... closed her eyes and fell asleep on the stone, exhausted. Her muscles aching, her ribs throbbing with each breath.
She slept until nightfall, when the cold of the air wakened her. Then she tried to stand, slowly, her legs were like stones that were moved by someone else, by something else other than her will, her thought, her desire to step from one step to the next.
She rose, swaying in the wind, for a moment threatened to fall back down the steep incline to her death. She tried to catch herself, but again, it was as if it were someone else's body, someone else's muscles she was trying to move. She steadied and went on then, up the steps, peering into the dark at the rising stairs that kept ascending, out of her sight, moving slower than she had, slower even than when she had last rested. Slower and slower.
Would she ever finish?
Would she ever reach the top, if there was a top. Was there a top?
Would she walk until she was an old woman, bent and huddled in on herself, gray weathered and worn robe still flapping in the wind until her flesh was as thin as parchment paper and her eyes as wizened and as old as the stones around her?
Would she die on these steps, rising?
Because the sound still came to her...
in the back of her mind,
like the pulse of her own heart,
soft and barely there at all,
but still there,
She went on until nightfall again, then rested on the stairs as she had twice before. Laid down and slept and her mind was blank with no dreams at all. The tiredness had wrung it out of her. She slept, and in the early light, before the dim sun through the black sky rose, she climbed to her feet and started up the stairs yet again.
Until in the middle of the third day she came to the top, and stood there, on the edge. Staring at sand and broken columns, and turned slowly and regarded the drop to the ground, which lay as if looking at twigs and ants in the garden behind the Convent, though nothing moved on the ground here at all, except the shifting sand and the breeze.
Ahead through sand drifts and broken columns lay an alcove, a wide arch of white marble half glimpsed, half buried and she moved toward it.
Working her way through the winding maze created by the fallen columns, through them and around them toward the deeper room that lay beyond.