Font of Shadow
Written By: Blake Kilgore
The air was cool, whistling down from the northeast.
Yalan closed his eyes and extended his arms, letting the breeze swirl about him. It slipped between the folds, rustling under his grey cloak, racing over flesh and biting pleasantly. The aroma was clean and moist in his nose and on his eyelashes. Skin pulled tight across his lean frame and tiny bumps rose with the chill. Streams of joy escaped his closed eye lids and when he looked up, they fell down his cheeks, soothing cold and pure.
The wind spoke, a rumor of sadness hovering in its train, but Yalan did not understand. He ambled into a grove of Lindens and touched upon a trunk, singing softly. Joy flowed, from soil to heel, through bone and muscle. The air swayed about Yalan, permeating him with the Song, which coursed through his blood, caressing him as it was channeled through his fingertips, into the trunk.
A shoot pushed out, green, extending and swelling harmoniously with the Song. Yalan let his eyes survey the grove, painted the forest with his mind and tone, and the shoot obeyed, turning green to brown, soft to hardy, bending into unity with the other branches and trees. Soon the shoot produced its own children, new and green and supple.
A dissonance sounded from afar, inside the Song.
Mourning crept along, slowly drawing near, turning golden tones to shadows, passing step by step from root to granule of dust to root again, beneath the surface of the world. Yalan heard the supplication and he laid prone, face and palms touching soil, cushioned by the carpet of grass, each blade soft and forgetful, and he fell into a trance.
Yalan let nature speak, and he listened. There was a plea, and a warning. Yalan was a faithful gardener, loving and devoted. So he rose from the bed of grass and began striding northeast, toward the source and the sound.
He journeyed alone.
But Orvaenta, his sister, observed his passing. She was drawing her hands through the waters; the purity of the Song was washing the stones beneath. But her mind flickered and she looked up, saw the haste of Yalan, and wondered.
The feet of Yalan barely touched the ground. He was floating across the landscape, carried toward the slow crescendo of discord in the Song. His strides were long and buoyant and the Creatures came to see what he sought, forming a train of companions that ran and flew at his side. Yalan was happy for the company, but fearful of what was lurking, wondered how it would affect his gentle friends.
He paused and the Creatures became still, patient. His heart was full of gratitude and also full of pain. He intuited that he would not see these friends again if he continued his inquiry. Yet the suffering of the northern woodlands at the foot of the mountains compelled him to continue, to search out the Font of Shadow. He hummed gently to the Creatures and one at a time they departed, playful and joyous, back into the thriving bounty of nature.
Only one remained, unmoved by his melody. Aivaniin, most powerful among flying ones, was still. A low, undulating murmur hummed in the breast of his friend and the black eyes were firm. Warmness and strength poured out from the Creature, surrounding Yalan, bathing him in hope and love. Aivaniin bent her neck so that Yalan could rise on her shoulders and then she leapt into the air, soaring north, toward the sadness.
“Take me to the wound.”
Yalan’s hair swept back from his face, which went numb in the airstream. Tears trickled steady from his windswept eyes, so he nestled down into the warmth of Aiviniin’s snowy shoulder, shielding his face until his vision ceased to blur. Then, he peered over the great white feathered wings, to the world below. The lush greens and browns of the woodlands and meadows were lashed together by threads of the cleansing blues and whites that rushed down from the sacred heights.
Aivaniin shrieked suddenly, and her massive body shuddered. Then she rose into the clouds and pounded her wings with the current, forcing Yalan to cling more tightly with hands and knees. The clouds passed over his skin, tingling and cold, covering him in precipitation, soaking his hair and cloak. The white coat of Aivaniin was also dewed, and a stream of moisture trailed behind her and burst from her wings with each hammering stroke.
Yalan sang gently into Aivaniin’s ear, and she became tranquil, drifting while she warbled her sad reply. Yalan listened, and closed his eyes, and saw through hers. The expanse of beauty below was fringed at the northeastern periphery by an uneven frame of grey covering the end of the world. It had the appearance of a black vine, winding and slithering, gathering strength, coming down from the majestic mountains which stood sentry in that corner of the wilderness.
After many days, Aivaniin descended, toward the blackening feet of the mountains.
When Yalan did not return, Orvaenta became fearful. She rose and travelled after her brother, bounding over hill and brook, stopping along the path only to place her soft hands upon the stones, to listen to the rhythms vibrating within them, searching for some sign. Her soul was heavy with uncertainty, but affection moved her toward the deviant sounds resonating in the distance.
Aivaniin set Yalan gently at the foot of the mountains and then stood away, vigilant. Nothing moved. There was only silence. Yet, both felt the clamor of evil brooding beneath the surface. Yalan fell to the ground and gripped the exposed roots of a leafless, crumbling oak. A sudden crushing sob shook him, and he began to feed tears into the wounded tree. Then he heard the sad refrain, whispered at first, but building into chaos. The tree was divided, uttered two songs – one faint, desperate, the other, raucous. The apology of the quiet verse was drowned out until finally it burst across the blare of the dissonance, begging him to flee.
Yalan began to sing loudly and the dried rings became moist again. The elder tree joined him in his weeping, spewing a stream of bitter sap, which Yalan touched to his tongue. Thus, a violent grief launched him forcefully on his back. Then the oak, having faithfully delivered its message, exploded, torn asunder by the conflicting music coursing through its sinews.
Yalan stood at once, and marched toward Aivaniin.
“Hasten to my brothers and sisters, and command them to rouse our father. Darkness has hidden in the deep caverns under the mountains. A mighty Evil, not of this world, has sent forth tentacles into the ground, drying riverbeds and poisoning root and soil. Fly!”
Aivaniin understood, and did not argue.
Yalan did not watch the departure of his companion, but turned back to the withered forest, saw more exposed roots hanging over a dry and crusted creek bed. He flung himself there, on the parched soil, and began to sing with fervor, not in words but in Spirit. There was the airy sound of a rushing in the distance followed by rumbling from the mountains. Soon, a trickle of water emerged, hissing over the tired soil, which drank thirstily. Yalan beat the earth rhythmically and called out to the exposed roots, which leaned in while the water rose. It pooled around Yalan, who had risen to his knees, grasping the now submerged roots.
A breeze hovered over the oasis, and the crumpled trees began to arch their backs to the sky as the Song poured into their core, lifting them back to life. But the rumble neared and the trees sang back to Yalan a song of despair. His power had been cordoned; he could bring no more water to repair the suffering of the woodlands. Shadows were closing quickly, approaching with the sound of the deep percussion booming down the mountain and into the soil, constricting his rising sanctuary of green and renewal.
But then the trees remembered, forgot the strident melody, only sang the Song in unison with Yalan. And they became strong again, green and ruddy, flowering and pure. They were able to hold the enemy away for many days. But Yalan grew weary. He looked about his knees, saw the water was receding, and knew no more would come.
Yet, still the pond remained full, vibrant. Pure tears of affection streamed down from Yalan, giving vitality to the radiant haven. At length, the Gloom became desperate, sending forth the Distortions, monsters from the skies. An army of the gentle that wandered the wild of the northlands had been ensnared and corrupted. These now lashed at branch and trunk, ripping at the faithful trees who shielded Yalan.
He was nearly asleep now, for his power was almost gone.
Suddenly, Yalan was startled from slumber by the loud snapping of his wooden companions all around. The Distortions were breaking them apart, razing them with tooth and claw and fire. A pure light blazed, and the remnant of the pool rose from the ground into a swirling sphere of water and white flame above the head of Yalan, who was chanting almost silently.
His skin was pale, dry. Grey pockets hung beneath glazed eyes. His flesh was bleeding from cracks all over his dehydrated body. He had spent all, was almost gone, but he lashed out, turning the Distortions assailing the trees to ash. Then he fell into the creek bed, now desolate once again. Yet he still clung to the roots, which quivered with the drying and death.
A dirge filled his mind – the trees grieved, not for their own ends, but for Yalan, who loved them. A churning black rhythm grew loud, and Yalan slumped against a dying trunk. Thick, pulsating black vines entwined the tree and dragged it beneath the ground, turning it to dust. As Yalan faded, he heard the raspy chorus of Darkness, celebrating triumph, commanding that he be lifted and carried beneath the mountain, to the Font of Shadow.
Orvaenta was holding a large white feather, and she listened with growing horror. The gentle Creatures whispered; they were afraid. They told of a pool of blood in a gashed, blackened meadow – Yalan had gone with Aivaniin, but they were gone, none could find them. Sickness was coming down from the mountains. Some had searched for its cause, but none returned. Gently touching the Creatures upon their heads, Orvaenta spoke, and her words were melancholy.
“My father is at rest somewhere in the world. You must find him and tell him of this great sadness. Tell my brothers and sisters to prepare for war. Evil has come.”
Then Orvaenta marched on, alone.
She entered a narrow cavern and sat, legs folded on the stone floor, back resting against the stone walls, and hands pressed against the low stone ceiling. A muted aura hovered over her, swelling and dimming as she meditated on the atmosphere of the Song, searching for the source of the nearly imperceptible drone of sorrow.
The caverns under the far mountains, at the edge of the world, murmured, but she could not hear her brother’s voice.
Orvaenta continued her journey. Each step drifted, hurried, but slow. Days and nights blurred and her mind floated in and out of the Song, searching for Yalan, but she could not find him. She grew weary in the searching and at last, after many weeks, fell asleep upon a bed of river stones beneath a gentle waterfall.
The steady resonance of water pouring into water and over stones was at last interrupted by the scratching of talons and a hiss of corruption. Orvaenta opened her eyes and leapt to her feet defensively. One of the Distortions approached, limping, rasping for breath. Its coat was transforming from feather to hide, from pure white to sooty black. Formerly solid black eyes gleamed absently, a silvery glow on the surface. A few dirty feathers hung, broken and limp, from the tainted form.
The massive Creature leaned toward Orvaenta and bowed her sickly head in humility. Then a strange tone, hoarse and severed into high and low notes, spilled from the dying voice of Aivaniin.
“There is sickness in the mountains, but Yalan still breathes. You can heal. Come – I will take you to him.”
Orvaenta touched the head of her old friend and at once understood. Aivaniin was gone, transformed into a lie. But, Yalan was alive, and the monster would take her to him. She nodded and sang forth sorrow and regret to the beast, then mounted its blackening shoulders, and soared toward the Font of Shadow.
Aivaniin, or what had been Aivaniin, dipped and swayed through the skies unsteadily, and Orvaenta saw how she suffered. But her old friend was enslaved by power greater than her own, and so she sang only in tones of comfort, not struggle. She mourned, for the transformation of Aivaniin was nearly complete and the last of her dying feathers dropped, falling from such heights to be lost in the depths below, her greatness forgotten. She hummed to her mount, but there was no reply, only a cavernous silence and an awareness of a new name and being.
Orvaenta was looking down upon a view similar to that beheld by Yalan weeks earlier. But instead of beauty she saw leathery black wings which did not soar upon, but rather disturbed the air, bringing discontent with every stroke. When the beast landed, she felt the bitterness heaving in its body, seething out against her skin, hot. Sticky moisture leeched into Orvaenta and she fell under a spell of desperation. She saw the black hole in the side of the mountain, knew that Yalan was near death down inside the malady.
The monster that had been Aivaniin lay down beside the cavern hollow and shivered, fell into a trance. Orvaenta looked upon the body of her old friend; it was unrecognizable. She understood now that she was doomed, but also sensed Yalan was near. She stalked into the bowels of the world, conceded to accept wretched fate if it meant seeing her brother once again.
When she entered the cave she expected total darkness. But, descending the natural stone stairwell into the deep, she heard something familiar, a humming, softly at first, but gradually mounting, tingling in her feet. Soon she saw the green along the walls, flowering creeping vines lighting her way, and she grew hopeful. Yalan had survived, was still struggling against the shades! She let her hands glide along the vine, turned a delicate purple flower to gaze upon, and sang quietly, calling out to her brother.
Yalan’s voice was bewildering, weak. Orvaenta sang loudly then, and the stone walls trembled and the green vines swelled, became bright and thick, curling about the cavern, over and under and around her. Bands of light passed along the thickening limbs of the plants and the flowers flickered and radiated. The brightness was so great that Orvaenta closed her eyes, yet it still penetrated her flesh and bone, warming her mind with euphoria. Now she was carried away by the light and its hands were gentle. She heard a new song, and knew that Yalan was near. Then she thought she could see him – eyes aflame, his body glowing. She could see his mouth giving utterance, but she could not hear the words or the lovely tone of his voice.
When she was near enough she touched his face. Instantly she felt excruciating physical pain all over her body, and she opened her eyes against the light, but it was gone. Vines as thick as trees wound over she and Yalan, pushing them together. Thorns penetrated her flesh and that of her brother, who appeared to be nearly dead. She felt dizzy, and knew the thorns not only restrained her but contaminated her with poison.
Prickly leaves like fingers grew from the vines and latched upon and removed the robes of the two siblings, jostling their restrained bodies, positioning them so that Orvaenta, now barely conscious, recognized with horror that they meant to compel her brother to make incestuous penetration of her sanctity. She screamed out her chant then, and the flow from the thorns and the pressing of the vines temporarily paused, weakened it seemed.
But then she saw the increase of the vines and flowers and thorns and a black mossy film grew between them, closing the gaps so that she and her brother were completely enclosed in a rippling and fleshy pod. The thorns pushed again into her flesh, deeper, and she felt the blood streaming over her skin. A torrent was also coming from the limp flesh of her brother, and their mingled blood pooled around them until they were submerged. Then, just before her mind went black, she was coupled in defiled sacrament with her beloved brother.
Thus combined, fed from vines rooted in the Font of Shadow, Sister and Brother became Mother and Father of the enslaved multitudes who would swarm over the world, who would devour and transform their kindred so that all things would become darkness and sorrow. The Song had become silent beside the Font. Only a mourning wind hummed defiantly over the lost children.
Part Texan, part Okie – Blake Kilgore fell for a Jersey girl and followed her east. A history teacher by day, he also coaches basketball and performs original folk music.
Often disillusioned, Blake is a skeptic who still believes. As such, he is grateful for much that is still good, and particularly for his wife and four sons.
Blake’s stories have recently appeared or are forthcoming in The Alembic, Forge, The Bookends Review, and ginosko.