A Dream of the Crossroads
August 3 – 4, AD 1071
Within the silence of torpor arose a dream. Each prisoner suddenly found himself freed, standing before three arched, golden gates, the middle larger than the other two, and flanked by angelic bronze statues, one of Victory, the other Fortune. Above the gates, a stern, fatherly man in the armor of a Roman centurion stood in an elephant drawn chariot: the bearded man taller, prouder, than the beasts.
The Gates opened, revealing a flagstone road leading through the heart of a great city bristling with stone buildings wrapped with intricate mosaics. Golden domes reached towards the heavens, like a thousand, thousand suns, the crosses on their peaks momentarily disappearing in the rolling clouds. Marble statues of angels and saints lined the thoroughfare, hands outstretched, almost pleading with the dreamer to venture further into the city.
With each step down the boulevard, the sky grew brighter. Soon, as the clouds broke overhead, the sun’s rays rained down, warming the skin with the soft kiss of morning light. Behind the angelic sculptures flanking the roadway, lush gardens stretched out on each side, buffering the towering facades of the city’s manses and providing ample shade for weary travelers.
Each dreamer heeded their calling…
As you took in the sublime beauty of the scene, there was movement at the end of the street, a small figure darting through the willow branches. The figure, a child, ducked into the corridor between two imposing villas lording over the gardens before them. You called out, reaching after the child, your pose momentarily the inverse of the saintly statuary flanking the roadside, but he didn’t hear.
Following him through the willows, you drifted into the alley, the smell of the surrounding lilies suspended in the air. He was sitting on the ground, his back against the building. At the sound of your approach he looked up, and you saw that he wore your face. Not the deformed, monstrous visage of unlife, but the vulnerable, delicate skin of your mortal childhood. You’d chased yourself here.
Tears began to stream down your cheeks as you reached out for the boy to embrace him, to guard him from the vicious, hungry world you knew would soon be breathing down his back. Your twisted, clawed hands gripped his shoulder and arm as you pulled him in. At your touch, the boy’s face, your face, suddenly transformed from curiosity to revulsion and horror. He loosed a scream. It pierced the air as he squirmed and kicked, terrified of the bent, grasping monster.
Suddenly, as you wrestled the boy to stillness against your chest, you noticed the choking smell of smoke. Embers danced in the air and came to rest on your wretched, bald pate and face, singing like dozens of tiny punctures. The idyllic garden around you was no more, replaced by a blazing hellscape: the trees transformed into sharp, blackened bones, the lilies and ferns mere shoots of flame from the earth. Where before the city’s noble buildings and towers reached up to the sky, they now hunched like the shattered teeth of a gnashing madman. The sculptures of angels and saints that lined the road lay dashed upon the ground, and the flagstones jutted from the earth like tombstones.
And the boy… the boy was changing too. His skin was blanching, growing boils and pustules. His bones popping. His joints swelling. The boy had ceased his struggle, and his screams sunk to a whimper. Your presence had crumbled this gilded city to its foundations. Your touch had turned the boy’s purity to ruin, but you couldn’t let him go. You held him like an infant as he turned to ash in your arms.
At the end of the street a door inched open and a figure ascended from the darkness of the room beyond. At first the figure was little more than a silhouette, a ghost of shadow-play and light. As you drew closer, however, and he stepped out into the street, his features became illumined by the sanguine rays of the dawning sun. The man had broad shoulders. His shirt was dusty and his hair was as dark as the shade he’d left in the doorway. It was the eyes though, hazel like a maple leaf in early autumn, that gave him away.
For a moment, disbelief took hold, stealing away the recognition your eyes shared with his, replacing desire with doubt. The denial withered, however, as his deliberate steps brought him within the full scrutiny of the daylight. Henri smiled as the sun beat down on his face, his eyes swelling with the same revelation framed in yours. Even death hadn’t the power to dissever your love.
A cry of exultation and relief escaped your lips as you grasped him, nearly dragging him to the ground. After all the torrid nights of blood, you’d almost forgotten his smell: sawdust from his workshop, wood smoke, and something else… lilies? Tears brimmed from your eyes as you embraced one another. Sobs wracked your shoulders and back. You’d always felt so small in his arms, so whole.
Then, as you fervently pressed your lips to his, you noticed the choking smell of fresh smoke. Embers danced in the air and came to rest on your cheeks and brow, singing like dozens of tiny punctures. The idyllic garden around you was no more, replaced by a blazing hellscape: the trees transformed into sharp, blackened bones, the lilies and ferns mere shoots of flame from the earth. Where before the city’s noble buildings and towers reached up to the sky, they now hunched like the shattered teeth of a gnashing madman. The sculptures of angels and saints that lined the road lay dashed upon the ground, and the flagstones jutted from the earth like tombstones.
And Henri… his skin was being blown from his body by the fire’s hell-winds. It was flaking… no, not flaking. Burning. A feeling greater than desire and more terrible than love reared in your breast. Panic consumed you, and even a century of loneliness and longing couldn’t quench its demand. You flung yourself from him. You let him go.
His body fell backwards as it was dismantled by the flames, revealing elongating eyeteeth. Your touch had changed him into a thing of the night. As the sunlight amplified by the fallen, golden domes had its way with your love, you realized death had never been the barrier between you. It was the sun. He was barely able to whisper, “I love you,” before the conflagration took him. His dusty shirt, his raven-black hair, even his hazel eyes came apart in the air like hundreds of fireflies and were lost amidst the spiraling embers of the once beautiful, once holy city.
The street led to a great, abandoned plaza, the brilliant, domed façade of the Hagia Sophia rising before you. Above it, the moon still hung in the reddened sky as the morning sun winked over the horizon, the pair like estranged twins glimpsing one another as they pass on the road. Black-tipped spires towered from the grand shrine’s cardinal points, and the air reverberated with the stirring chorus of the Holy Liturgy.
A marble pedestal stood before the Shrine of the Holy Wisdom of God, a thick, heavily bound codex resting upon it, inviting you to open it. As you ran your wilting, psoriatic fingers across its face and spine, recognition crashed over you like a brigade of horse. Before you lay the Logos, the Wisdom of God.
A sudden sense of admonishment fell upon you, as though the celestial bodies above were profound, disapproving eyes. You lifted the weighty cover reverently… cautiously, like a starved orphan sneaking a pastry from a distracted vendor. Anticipation built in your chest, and your reaching hand quaked as you pulled the cover open, considering the mysteries to be revealed within; could you too be saved?
But the leaves were blank. Empty. Every one. Unilluminated sheets of skin. Nothing else. And as the starkness speared you, the choking smell of fresh smoke filled your nostrils. Embers danced in the air and came to rest on your mealy, stiffened cheeks, singing like dozens of tiny punctures. The idyllic garden around you was no more, replaced by a blazing hellscape: the trees transformed into sharp, blackened bones, the lilies and ferns mere shoots of flame from the earth. Where before the city’s noble buildings and towers reached up to the sky, they now hunched like the shattered teeth of a gnashing madman. The sculptures of angels and saints that lined the road behind you lay dashed upon the ground, and the plaza’s flagstones jutted from the earth like tombstones.
And the Logos… its spine was crumbling, its pages moldering. Dust fell from the text in sheets, like ashes released from an urn. Beyond, even the shrine itself had changed. Its golden dome, once a beacon for the light of God, now burned and smoldered like the grisly, bald pate of some brutish fiend depicted in a nightmarish fresco of hell’s torments. Its double doors opened, revealing eyes wide as the moon and hungrier than sun-fire, and the spires twisted and curved from the earth like sickle shaped horns. You looked on in horror and trembled to the terrible rumbling from underground.
Suddenly, you felt a hand grip your shoulder. You flinched and spun to face the aggressor, but it was no enemy, simply another soul damned as wholly as yours. Gaurin stood beside you, his eyes replaced by sunken shadow, his pale face displaying the alien serenity of a death mask. As if whispered through a reed, his voice shivered in your ear.
“It doesn’t have to be as this. The Logos can be saved. This is a vision. Your flesh is not here. You are splayed out upon a stretcher by the monks, destined to be staked and left for the sun. I can call you back to the flesh, but only if you free myself and the others of our bonds. We will save the Logos… just take my hand.”
As you reached out and your fingers touched his, a strange sensation washed over you. His hand was clammy and cold as the peak of Olympus. The stygian chill burrowed into you, stealing your brief reacquaintance with body heat and the embers’ singing kiss. The icy wave halted your pumping breast and emptied you of life’s remnants as surely as a Saracen sword. In its place was only hunger. Hunger, and the shriek of the Beast being loosed from its cage.