THE JOURNEY OF A MAN
I no longer know myself. Time eludes my grasp. I, who once believed my hunting prowess was grand, now must contend with Time’s mocking jeers. The hunter is now the hunted, and the Wood is an inhospitable home. Listen well. Can you not here my cries? Perhaps you hear but do not comprehend them. Perhaps you do not care.
I felt the cleaving of my life when it was cut in twain. How, one might ask? I cannot give satisfactory answer. I am not speaking of Death, for that is a different sort of pain. I, who have plunged knives into countless creatures, know of that agony. They whimper so, and they pant. Their blood flows over my hands as they struggle, so hot, so moist. I have felt their lives ebbing away. The blood remains upon me and can never be removed. Yes, Death causes pain, but I am referring to the separation of mortality from immortality; the sudden realization that you no longer belong to one world or another. You are trapped with no one to give you guidance.
The cleaving of my life did not occur when the cord was cut. Of course, I was terrified and desolate, but I still felt the pull of the land, its fervent plea to bring me home. However, the true separation occurred when I slew my companion. True, he was only a dog, but a dog can often be more of a companion than a human. The different sounds of his tread, so purposeful, so stealthy, so steadfast. Many times we would hunt together in the days before I was lost. At night, he would eat from my hand and lay his majestic head in my lap.
He found me within the Wood Between. I do not know how long he had searched. I did not want to kill him. Mark me when I say this! It is true. Yet he could barely walk, and his body shook with pain. I do not know what beasts he encountered as he searched for me, but I could not allow him to suffer any longer. A quick, merciful blow with a stone. That is all it took. I will speak no more of this.
One who seeks to become a man desires companionship. The one I love still lives. I know this as surely as I know I still breathe. Curse this fact! I live, but I cannot find her. Time entangles me in its web. She must wait for me, for I will fulfill my vow. How can I dishonor my tribe by refusing to catch a beast? How can I refuse my rite of birth, the rite that all boys are born to pursue. How unjust is the world! How cruel is its treatment to those who are born in its shadow!
At night, I dream of her. I clutch her name marker to my chest, caressing its smooth beauty between my shaking, sweating palms. She is strong, one who defends those who are weak. I once longed to be like her. In fact, I thought that is what I was. But now, how do I know what I am?
A mortal approaches on a path with wary tread. These wanderers are quite common. How many of them have I led toward harm? I no longer know. I only have vague memories of one; a Crescent Woman with hair of fire. Now a young boy with eyes full of fear and uncertainty comes near to where I lurk. Accursed Time! How old am I now? How long have I wandered this labyrinthine way? The trees that laugh. The uncaring Wood itself that will not help—
But, despite the boy’s fear, he walks like one with royal blood. I can always tell those who have the imprint of greatness upon them. He has the smell of one of my kind, although he is from a time that is different from my own. What is this? A song. One I have heard before. One that promises things just out of my reach. If I follow it, where will I find myself? On another path to nowhere, no doubt. Curse it! The song fills me, and I wince at its beauty. He, too, is seeking his path. Will you follow me? Will you help him?
You may think I have no heart. After all, can a creature half-alive, half-dead even possess the same feelings as you? Scoff at me or regard me as one who only cares for myself. Do whatever you will, but know that I can be moved. Even stone can be worn away by the persistent caress of water. I will approach the boy. I do not know if I will help or harm him. He is, after all, trying to become a man. Every boy deserves to grow, to march forth to a fervent quest. Perhaps I will lead him toward his doom, or perhaps not. This Wood is vast, and who can tell?
Perhaps he will meet the one I love in his travels. Perhaps the path he takes will lead him to her. Whether it be in this Time or another, I must remind her of who I am. I know, even as that accursed song peals around me, that I may never see her again. I do not even know if this matters. I will simply give her back her name. I will profess my love yet again. It is my duty to pursue my manhood, to slay a beast and return victorious to my tribe. So, I will pursue this path as she pursues her own. The choice is not mine to make. I approach the boy and present him with my gift, a gift of freedom or slavery depending on how you view my story. Do I give my love freedom to find another, or do I bind her to more years of waiting? Who knows? Only please believe me when I say that I am a boy seeking to move on. Choose to hate or love me, whichever you prefer, but know that I, like you, am seeking something grand. May you, when you step within the dense foliage of this Wood, hold this truth within you: Keep running, for once you stop, you are done for. Many voices will call to you, but three are the most persistent. Two of these voices speak, one with the hiss of fire, the other with crystalline but mellifluous ice:
Choose my Darkness.
Tell me what you want.
The third voice sings with notes of liquid silver. The notes will find many ways into your ears. They will flow through you, so pleading, incessant and steadfast. In some ways, this voice brings to my mind the tread of a lost dog’s loyal pursuit.
Beyond the Final Waters falling,
The Songs of Spheres recalling.
When you are lost within boundless pathways,
Won’t you call to me?
Today, I choose to follow the prompting of that song. Which voice will you choose to follow?
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