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Earthwizard's Realms of Faërie

January, 15, 2005

Earthwizard's Realms of Faërie

The Darkness in the soul can lead us into light...

	    
		
	    Artwork (c) Marc Potts
	       www.marcpotts.com

THE INFERNO OF MASTER BALBRIDGE

The sadness of things broke over him: the dark crackle of broken glass under his feet; the sudden appearance of an old woman in rags, slithering out of an alley, grinning and leering at him with stone cold eyes, her hair waving in the night wind like vipers mating in the darkest pit; while, a young woman whose face riddled by tears waited under a grimy yellow streetlamp for a lover who would never come.

Maybe there are such private hells, realms so deep, dark, and vast that a living being could spend eternity exploring their miraculous wastes. At least this is what Master Balbridge began to think as he walked down the night-infested streets of the city’s outer districts. The shadowy underbelly of existence loomed up before him in unexpected ways as he struggled to free his mind of the recent visit from Malcolm Thorndike.

He met Thorndike on one of those long ambling, sauntering walks into the old theatre district where the city gathered unto itself the denizens of and alien and abandoned nightlife, where children of an ancient cult of decay and elegance became habitués of the assorted dance clubs that had sprung up during the boom days of the last years of the millennium. Here amid this decaying empire of the senses, broken dreams, and forgotten memories Thorndike lived in a one-room tenement.

Thorndike loved living in the bleak lifeless world of abandoned tenements, decaying storefronts, strip joints, streetwalkers, and dingy pubs, which reminded Master Balbridge of all the forgotten moments of this man’s belated existence. Yet, in the midst of it, stood the twisted shapes of the city’s life, which cast a dark light over his thoughts with its deceptive truth: at the center of this derelict paradise their existed a doorway to an alien world opening inward into the heart of his the earth’s ancient dream of light.

The conversation with Thorndike had left him with a feeling of uneasiness. Thorndike spoke with a slight lisp, a wet bend in the tongue that wavered upon every consonant and vowel as if each letter held a deep history of meanings, as if each word were part of some vast nightmare vision of time. Thorndike spoke slowly with careful forethought and deliberation. It was as if each sentence and paragraph he spoke became solitary members of a forbidden cult, creators of an art form shadowing forth-impossible narratives of a mysterious civilization of daemonic splendor, a narratology of such power and mystery that even he fell ensconced within its black web of dark rhetoric. It was as if each word he spoke broke free of its tenuous and liminal ties to the Real, being set loose upon the world as fragments of the illusive and ever knowing inhabitants of the Mundus Imaginalis, brought forth from some hidden inferno of forsaken dreams and mysteries as reticent guests of an enigmatic ecstasy. Even now, those fatal words reverberated within Master Balbridge’s mind like hideous denizens of the deep, each one rearing its angelic head out of the undying flames of a necromantic abyss to remind him that he was the secret bearer of a lost key to the unreal realms of fear and lust. Secret memories so sinister and foreboding curled their scaly talons round his darkest thoughts that even now he was fearful that the fantastic denizens of his own private inferno might gather him into its strange light to wander forever in a maze without outlet.

Yet, hemmed in by the mundane realm of trivialities and the survivalist tactics of his day-to-day existence he relished his nightly excursions into the city’s lapidary world where he could wander unmolested among the ruins of his forlorn thoughts like a lunatic in a circle of his own dead dreams. He felt the power of Thorndike’s message moving through his mind in supple ways, the words leading him slowly but surely toward some indefinable absolute nullity. He knew that it was only a matter of time before the lesson of that terminable night would unfold its dark heritage of pain and corruption. Even now, he stood listening to the void that surrounded his solitude: to the music of dead and dying stars reaching him from the murky chasm of endless space - sirens of the impossible, whose faint music vibrated on a frequency beyond the human mind’s ability to know or reason. Music out of the hidden millennia of desperate years where the ghosts of time fell into this improbable kingdom of despair only to find themselves not so much victims of some cosmic plot as salient and formidable extensions of that spark that had long ago fallen beyond the black light of the Abyss. Creatures of a dark malaise, broken thoughts of a broken god, born in fits and extinctions, abandoned by pride and nightmares to a history of unknowing. Long ago leaving imprints of desire and lust hidden openly on the green face of this dying planet, leaving half-formed images of the great annihilation out of the beginning times, before the thought of man had formed its first cruel breath in the heart of a violent earth, the ghosts of time dispersed their music of despair into this cosmos. While, we, the dark benefactors of this strange music walk among the ruins of time like figments of a dementia gone awry, waiting for an answer to a question that has lost its meaning in the far distance of a past oblivion. These were the imponderable mysteries that attended Master Balbridge’s nightly vigils, the thoughts of a solitary scholar and poet of extreme disasters whose only philosophy rested under the purest sign of whim.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

“How many of us have been infected by the venom of language, been initiated by the alphabet of years? All my books investigate the desolation of Eden and the possibility of its reconstitution. I see them as Books of Hell and, because they are descriptive and painterly, as vanitas and archetypa, too. (I suppose, also, that because they all brood over singularities – ogres, hunger artists, murderers and sirens – they could be said to fit into that deliquescent and subtle form of literature that deals specifically with prodigies.)”

Master Balbridge listened attentively as Thorndike droned on until he overheard his friend mention something about the heretical sect of the Gnol. It seems the Gnol were one of the bitterest Gnostic sects of the ancient world, a group so bizarre that even their very name had been expunged by the Church Fathers. Thorndike briefly expounded their strange creed:

“The earth is the toy of a bitter demon. In a heretical library of Gnostic books discovered in Fayoum by fellaheen looking for bird manure, I discovered the legend of the Gnol. It is said that the Gnol were descendents of Cain, marked not so much by a physical sign of corruption as by a spiritual awareness that separated them out from the majority of mortals. They believed that the visible universe being created by an aborted monster – a hideous chimera with the face of a lion and the body of a snake – which, abandoned by Sophia – its horrified mother – to a distant corner of the universe where he could not be seen, set about to steal his mother's light. Grafting this light with the darkness, he created a world – our world. These same Gnol saw the body with its hungers as a species of demonic joke: every man, woman, and child born into a room cluttered with the archetypes of nightmares. Time, Space, and Gravity being the implacable enemies of Spirit; the planet a malignancy, and the reeling zodiac the crushing gears and pinions of a mad machine running wildly without rhyme or reason.”

Thorndike stopped for a moment, his eyes full of the mad gleam of a man who has seen some ultimate truth: the truth of a lunatic or prophet...

“And, this is the crux, my dear friend; I have found the key to their ancient mysteries, a key that will set us free of this dark prison of Time. The key that will guide us back into the first Eden, and not only guide us but help us reconstitute it stone by stone from the bitter fires of this inferno of our estrangement.”

Master Balbridge had shared a cup of tea with his friend, spoken briefly about inconsequential matters, and promised to meet Thorndike at the Green Dragon Pub in the theatre district the next evening. Yet, the meeting never took place, Thorndike had never shown, and Master Balbridge had wandered the streets wondering what his friend’s strange tales could reveal about such a mysterious and troubling matter. His visit to his friend’s apartment the next day had proved disconcerting. The proprietor informed him that Thorndike had packed up his things that very day and paid off his back rent then left without a forwarding address.. This was not like his friend to disappear without a word. Master Balbridge felt a sudden edginess, a grey veil of terror begin to shape itself around his usually calm and dignified demeanor. He walked the streets for hours trying to alleviate the sense of foreboding that after so many years of pedantic routine and methodical stewardship of the arcane mysteries left him with a sense of deep despair.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

About a week later, Master Balbridge received an unmarked brown paper parcel in the mail with no return address. In it were a short note and a strange artifact. The note was short and cryptic: “This is the key for him who has eyes to see. The Gnol are waiting for you on the edge of Time.” The artifact was a small hexagon of lustrous metal with eerie designs of dragon like angelic beings surrounding two mythical and paradisiacal trees set in the midst of an over lush paradise of artificial splendor. Something about the artifact troubled Master Balbridge - it was almost translucent, and when held up to the window allowing the light from the afternoon sun to penetrate its puzzling surface he saw a slight movement deep within its dreamlike transparency. He saw refracted within the artifact’s hidden ambiguity strange images of the marvelous and the monstrous that continually mutated in rainbow hues of delight and horror. The longer he held the artifact up to the light the more he felt an odd sense that the world around him was suddenly losing cohesion, and that reality was vanishing before his very eyes while being slowly replaced by the nightmare realms of the artifact. In fact, Master Balbridge lost all sense of time the longer he held the artifact up to the light. He felt a little unsettled and light headed which made him drop the artifact. Suddenly he was standing in the dark of his study at night, the moon having replaced the sun as the only source of light within the vague and disconcerting space of his study. He looked at the clock on his table and realized that six hours had passed since he had lifted the artifact up to the light for a look at its veiled mysteries. He turned on the study lamp and carefully reached down to retrieve the artifact without succumbing to its dark web of enchantment.

He found a spot within his glass curio cabinet where he carefully laid the artifact in a unique setting along with all the other wunderkammern; for, Master Balbridge, had collected many marvels and curiosities over the years, but none so strange and uncanny as this new guest of the Unreal. This new artifact set there quietly as if suspended on the edge of Time and Space, patient and silent ready to begin its great and terrible transmutation of the elements. The artifact seemed too rare and wondrous to place among such bric-a-brac objects of the world’s excess, as though so much savage and eccentric beauty – flamboyant birds, snakes broad as chimneys, pigs castellated with scales – could assimilate its fractious light. Master Balbridge felt a slight sense of disorientation as he contemplated these arcane objects of a disparate world. He felt that by placing this new artifact among the darkened morsels of a truant order that he had revealed a rupture at the heart of existence, an alchemy in reverse. Here in the glass silence of his curio cabinet the natural world joined a definitive order of the marvelous - an ideal display, ideal because isolated and disaffiliated from the real. As beautiful as these collections were, they betrayed a deep wound that had never ceased to fester, a chronic blindness also, an incapacity to read not only the World’s body, but its metaphysical books of days and dreams and prophesies. It is as if an alien god had given man a second chance at Eden, and man, that confirmed shopkeeper, could not dwell there but only settle on the fringes of its sublime ruins and sell tickets to its darkened dream of unreal magnificence.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

That night as he sat quietly by the fire in his master suite, Master Balbridge felt a vague sense of menacing apprehension as he contemplated the strange events of the past few weeks. The orderly world that he usually inhabited had suddenly phase shifted into a sideral realm of nacreous desire. His life, usually filled with poise and stability, was now faltering toward some terminus of impending doom. He had always considered himself a pragmatist, a man that could enter into any situation and with only fortitude and cunning awareness solve even the most abstruse puzzles. Yet, here he faced the fantastic possibility that the powers beyond his control were playing havoc with his life and that he was about to embark on a mysterious voyage beyond the real and into realms of the impossible. None of this made sense. He was perplexed and dizzy with the possibilities. What did the note mean that the artifact was a “key for him who has eyes to see”; and, what of these Gnol, this strange sect of a daemonic gnosis, keepers of arcane and diabolique mysteries – what did it mean that they were “waiting for me on the edge of Time?” Oh, he was confounded.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

That night he slept fitfully dreaming of strange beasts and sirens, blue tigers and scarlet serpents, angelic beings with flaming wings that sported upon a world of pure translucence, where rainbow moons of varying hues glowed brightly and cast their ambient light over the emerald waters of a forbidden Eden of the mind. He could hear the music of the seven sister moons as they glided through the green night of the unreal world. Voices on the edge of some indefinable emptiness began to encroach on his lucid dreaming, their malleable elegance shifting among his thoughts like magicians from some dark and languid abyss. They were calling to him. They were offering him the keys to a mystery. They were singing of an ancient realm where all light took on the vision of a luminous void. He felt that they were giving him a chance to enter a state of being such as had not been from the foundation of the universe, that he was being presented with a dream of light, guided supplely toward a realm of pure transparence and illusive delight, where obstacles and matter, form and limits no longer existed. He felt he could die of light in such an ecstatic landscape. Then it happened, he heard the Call: a voice so clear and marvelous that he awakened from his fantastic dreams full of amazement and wonderment at the simplicity of the message. The Voice spoke softly, saying: “Awaken, sleeper, come to me out of the light of lights.”

He knew what he would do.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Inspector Taggart found the mass of dark putrescence just as the butler had described it. It was something of an enigma. He had never seen a body implode and burn in such a fashion. The forensic team was at a loss for words in describing such a unique and gruesome transformation of flesh and bone. He stood watching the scene with a detached awareness of one who has seen too many broken and troubled dreams to care anymore. Then he saw the artifact rising out of the mass of grey ashes like a black angel of the apocalypse. It revolved in its own caliginous light like a small universe ready to give birth to some calamitous progeny of alien intent. This cynosure of a mutilated intelligibility, this monstrous object of fractured memories and desolate dreams held each soul within the orbit of its darkened void as if it were about to guide them into an infinite City of Pain. It rose above Inspector Toland for a solitary moment revealing to him a glimpse into the disquieting heart of a mindless chimera. Time stretched its silent wings beyond the known and into the cavernous and hallucinatory realms of the Unreal. Then the artifact fell toward a center without circumference, decomposing itself within a knot of liquid fire, fading slowly into another dimension of torment. Then it was gone. Its magic lay elsewhere: somewhere far beyond this stygian dungeon of Time, falling away from us into an ever receding abyss of darkness and chaos and gloom; a doom beyond love.

- Earthwizard, aka, Steven Craig Hickman ©December 12, 2003

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