At first, I did not know what to make of it. This tome, Hazeen’s darkest secret, the sole condition of his surrender, contained nothing at all. There was no forbidden knowledge, no power warranting censure, certainly nothing that would save us. There was merely a gargantuan and sorry heap of blank, tattered parchment. I wept then, for I know for the first time that we were finished, that my dream of Haven was just that: a dream, a dewdrop world, dangling from a dry branch, mere seconds from a ruinous descent to the desert below.
My sorrow was the first thing it took.
As my tears ran onto the pages, I felt a great shadow rear up before me, and, raising a spectral hand, it wiped the anguish from my eye. I reeled back to find that, in truth, there was no demon, but nonetheless my eyes were dried and my heart emboldened, and when I peered once more over the pages of Hazeen’s grimoire, the first few were stained with a twisted scrawl. They began:
Human, would you like to hear a story? It is a story of a man with a dream. You had a dream as well, didn’t you?
I read on, unable to look away.
The man came upon his dream in a time of great impermanence, the page continued. The soil was soaked with blood, and men ended–frequently and without warning–beneath the shadow of the crow. In this tumult, the man desired a particular constancy: He desired to remain. Even in his mortality, he knew what this meant–he knew that he sought more than mere survival. To survive is to endure, and endurance is temporary. His aim was clear: he would be eternal.
The message came to him from below bloodied waters:
“When the Dragon rises, it shall devour the world, and when at last its maw reaches its tail, only Dragon shall remain.”
To remain, he knew he must become the Dragon.
In his pursuit of this transfiguration, the man wrought horrid, inelegant things upon the earth–just as you have, savior–but he learned from them. He became the greatest scholar the world would ever know, and with his knowledge, he armed himself with the trappings of Dragon-ness: shields like scales, to deflect mortal swords; flames hotter than the flesh-furnaces of Ka; and a great and devouring hunger for ever more of the earth.
They protected him, and he remained. His inelegant things rose up and cast him to the ground, and, still, he remained. He knew, though, that he was still no Dragon. His scales would rot. His flames would gutter. His hunger, still far too human, would never outlast the prolonged rale of his dying planet. It was in the fetid depths of this realization that he encountered the nascent impossibility that for so long he’d sought to emulate.
We shall pause, the page read. Savior, what do you know of the gods? We do not speak of the vermin who slouched across the wastes as our would-be Dragon did, adorned with the trappings of divinity and the trinkets of better men. We speak of those gifted with the power to transcend their becoming–to be eternally.
I did not speak, though I cannot say what recognition crossed my face. Somehow, though, the book intuited a clarification.
Read on, graced the bottom of the page.
I turned it to reveal a scene, etched by ink as if into stone, of a village in ruin. The streets were slick with blood and bodies were everywhere: pinned to walls, shredded in piles of dirt and charnel, even suspended in the sky by twisting, crimson tendrils. I exhaled. I recognized the force–a blank, man-shaped space at the bottom of the page–from which the bloody tendrils emanated. They were old stories–those that mentioned him–but so very many had been told for so long.
The Blood God, the next page read. The harbinger of our end. What do you suppose made him a god?
It certainly wasn’t fear or reverence: A great many have commanded those and died wretched, suffused in humanity’s scum. You might be forgiven for thinking it was his might. He had so very much of it, but since his time, men have held blades just as sharp and died just the same, leaving only the faintest scar upon the world.
Our Dragon surmised, thus, that godhood was that which had no counterexample: It was that which remained, that which never died. But he failed to grasp the pith of it. Something allowed the Blood God this storied immortality, and our Dragon had no notion of it until he encountered one with the true potential for godhood.
The page was blank after that. I turned to the next in hope of more to the story but found only blank parchment.
“What happened then?” I asked aloud, to myself as much as the book. The answer oozed onto the page, as if bleeding from a puddle of ink below it. Eventually, he realized his ambitions, it said. He became a god. We know you do not desire godhood, but like our Dragon, you do desire for you and your Haven to remain, no? Read on, then. For your attention, we will give you the answer you seek.
Top Image: Redemption, by Rae Johnson, commissioned for War Torn/Rale
Middle Image: The Blood God, by Hector Rasgado, commissioned for