The Chamber of Twisted Echoes
Hollow prayers echoed in the
hallowed chamber. The same chant, over and over. Eight times each day. Eight
days every week, month on month, year on year.
Devout litanies and invocations reverberated throughout the temple. Ricocheting off the bone-white walls and pristine ivory floors, spiralling up to the high dome, and rebounding disfigured and distorted by a multitude of echoes. Eventually, warped and twisted, the prayers returned to their source; a lonely knight clad in resplendent silver armour with gold tracing, kneeling motionless before a large door of pure gold. The misshapen words echoed inside the knight’s ornate helm and resounded about the knight’s mind that writhed under the auditory onslaught. He could not pull back; he could not stop listening, for there was nobody else to hear his words, to answer his pleas.
How long had he been trapped here? Centuries? Millennia?
Tusk shook his head, surely it couldn’t be that long. He tried to recall when his vigil started. He was not surprised to find he could no longer remember. However, he fancied he could remember not remembering. Even his most prominent memories were now hazy recollections. Mere ghosts of ideas and events that haunted him in their absence as each day the mists of time enveloped and eroded more of his past.
To be replaced by what? Memories of prayers. Of his perpetually armoured frame rocking to and fro as he spewed forth holy words, again and again. Each word repeated thousands of times. Each word reflected and echoed back towards him. Each word chipping away another sliver of his sanity.
Prayers ended. Tusk rose from his knees revealing indents in the floor, scoured by years of the armoured knight praying. He regarded the worn flagstone and sighed.
Was he forgotten? Was this vigil all for naught?
He could not remember the last person, pilgrim or otherwise, who had visited God’s Gate. Though he was sure, there must have been some, sometime. He could almost remember.
“Yes, yes! They were here.” He said aloud, racing across the chamber to an enormous pile of gifts and tokens.
“Here, her…” The walls echoed.
“Yes here! Look, lots all sorts. Some worthy, some not.” Tusk’s haggard face smiled, radiating childlike glee. Yes, they had existed and maybe they would come again.
“Yes, it’s true! They were here. Look! Some are still here! The Unworthy. Not fit for the portal. Would not fit at all. So, I sent them through the other way. All gone now.” He said, dancing away towards a collection of skeletons filling the furthest corner of the chamber.
Every set of bones had been carefully arranged upon the marble floor, as if modelling the various stance their one time owners may have taken in life. Some were talking, some running and some fighting. There was even a couple interlocked in a passionate embrace. Yet despite the lightness of their colouring the remains held an innate darkness. Against the ever-resplendent white floor of this, most holy of temples, they appeared pallid and creamy – as if the very bones themselves were preparing to rot away, though their flesh had already long since done so.
Had he done this?
“Now, no…” Tusk’s ears caught the remnants of his last echo.
His grin turned rictus as he bent down to stroke the skeletal lovers. His hand, by its own volition, moved to the smaller corpse. Slowly, just above the skull, it stroked back and forth, back and forth; as if fondling a lost lover’s hair.
“Safe now, safe now. Mine.” He purred, rocking back and forth, all the while stroking the hair that was not.
“Mine, mi… Death!” The echo, boomed.
Tusk bolted up right, face panicked. “What, wait, no!” He shouted, his voice high, pleading with his own echo, his own voice.
He screamed in pain as memories flooded back, overwhelming him; drowning him. Tusk’s eyes rolled in his head, his vision darkened to black and he fell to the floor. Just before he lost all recollection, he thought he could hear his echo, faint yet firm.
“Yes… Gone. Dead.”
Forehead to the floor Tusk knelt whispering his prayers, re-iterating his sacred duty and his commitment to his eternal vigil. His voice echoed back off the ever-white walls of the chamber as he repeated the prayer eight times.
The echoes of the futile ritual died leaving Tusk in silence as his prayers ended. He pushed his forehead into the floor with as much force as he could manage, longing for the pain, but feeling nothing.
A single tear fell from his cheek, tumbling past the gold key hanging from his neck to splash onto the pristine white marble below. Tusk gasped and silently asked his God for forgiveness. A singularly pointless task, for he knew the Almighty could no longer hear him, could no longer give him anything anymore, let alone forgiveness for an act which was, by its very nature, unforgivable.
“Your piety is most impressive knight, almost as impressive as your legendary patience. Truly we are honoured.” A sharp voice rang out; the word honoured echoed about the chamber, and into the deepening well of Tusk’s guilt.
Slowly Tusk exhaled and, taking a deep breath, stood to face this new visitor.
Before him there stood an elderly man dressed in a rich deep-blue cloth, bearing a shaven head and long beard. A priest then, but then all were these days. Gone were the days of the pilgrims and beggars, the truly devout. They either could not or would not visit anymore. This left only power hungry priests, each seeking to be the next prophet of the Lord.
Tusk sneered slightly; God answers nobody now.
“We?” He asked of the priest.
The priest stepped forward, inspecting the chamber, and in his wake revealed a young girl. A sly smile crossed the priest’s features as he faced Tusk, and he nodded towards the girl. “Yes, Guardian. We are two.”
Tusk’s heart beat faster. How long since he had seen a woman? He could not remember. The women - no, she was a girl - had long auburn hair that framed her pale heart-shaped face. Tusk frowned, for on her face he saw a quiet but visceral fear. Her eyes were wide and darting, looking towards Tusk then fleeing away when she caught his regard upon her. She was beautiful, wasn’t she? He was not sure if he could quite remember beauty.
Tusk gathered himself, regaining his composure trying to look like the Guardian Knight he was, or at least had been. “Times have evidently changed? The Church now allows women to its most sacred of sites?” He asked.
“The Church is timeless and divine, and what is divine does not change.” The priest, intoned sternly. Tusk frowned - the priest was wrong, very wrong.
The priest continued, this time adopting a formal tone. “Hail Great Guardian of God’s Gate. If it so pleases you, allow me to introduce myself.”
Tusk gave a curt nod.
“I am Radeban the Blue, Primarch of Vistolo. Humble and true servant of the Almighty. I come seeking passage to God.” The priest announced loudly.
“God, God, Go…” The echoes rung about the chamber.
Tusk closed his eyes for a moment, focusing on the priest’s voice, trying to block out the echo and the rising tide of his guilt.
“And her?” he said sternly, “Who is she?” Gesturing in the direction of the girl.
“She is company.” Radeban added slickly.
“You come seeking God, yet you bring a woman for company? I would have expected more from a Primarch.” Tusk said, trying to sound like he was angry. “And you expect to be found worthy?”
“Oh, she is not company for me.”
“No? Who then?”
“She is for you, oh lonely knight.” The priest said in honeyed tones.
Tusk staggered back, shocked. Scared. He thought he remembered companionship, friendship, even courtship. He took a step towards the girl. At once deep yearning took hold and all else fell away. A wracked sob escaped his throat as he fell to his knees, head bowed as he was overwhelmed by the sudden and acute awareness of the loneliness of his existence. How empty his eternal vigil had become since he killed his last and only companion.
The priest stepped towards Tusk, a hand held out in front of him, palm up. “No one can blame you for being lonely, for being human. You serve a task unlike any other. The Duty Eternal.”
“Eternal, Eternal…” his voice echoed.
“Yet we, the Church, worry for you. Yes, you are the First Among Saints; but, the toil and weight of your task must be torment to even a countenance so noble, a mind so pure.” The priest’s words were soft and gentle so much so that they tore at Tusk’s mind like meat hooks.
“Pure, Pure… ” The echo twisted the hooks.
Tusk brought his hands to claw at his face as tears cascaded from his eyes. The priest was right. He was alone, so alone. In a ragged and hollow voice, he cried “Yes.”
“I know, I know. It’s alright.” The priest said his calm velvet voice, placing a hand on the knight’s shoulder. “We are here now, and she will stay with you.”
“Always?” Tusk asked, looking up towards the priest, like a starving child begging for food. All proprietary, pretence and piety gone - dead - replaced by a deeper, more primal, human yearning. The visceral need never to be alone again. “She will stay? Always?”
“She will stay for long enough, but not everyone has your gift of immortality. When that time comes, we will bring you more company. He Who Guards God’s Gate deserves more than just chamber of echoes.”
The knight nodded emphatically, “Yes, Yes. That is good. It has been so, so empty here. Just me…”
“Me, me… me”
“And that damned echo!” Tusk shouted, losing his temper, then retreating into himself, he rocked back and forth. “Stop it, stop it now. Please!”
A look of disgust flashed across Radeban’s face before he regained control and forced his mouth to wear that sweet comforting smile. “Shush, shush it’s alright. We are here now. You never have to be alone.”
Tusk stilled and nodded. “Yes, company is good. You have my thanks priest. Radeban the Blue is truly a man who understands the needs of the soul. ” He said formally, trying to regain a modicum of his composuree, of his wits.
“Yes, we are here for you. But first you must perform your duty.” The Priest said.
“My duty?” Tusk ask, confusion writ large across his features.
“Duty, Dues...” the echo whispered in his ear.
“Yes, your divine duty. The Vigil of God. The heavy task for which He granted you eternal life.” Radeban reminded him firmly. Though his voice held a slight hint of derision; as if to say you live eternal and this, this is what you have become – a pitiful crying wreck. “The task as the doorman and bodyguard to the Almightly; the task for which, when completed, we will reward you with company.”
“Yes, yes. My duty.” Tusk said eagerly, thoughts now entirely consumed by the prospect of company for the rest of his never-ending days. “Come, come. This way.” He said, beckoning the pair towards the large ornate golden door at the far end of the chamber.
Tusk paced toward the door quickly fumbling at the key chain hanging from his neck, his gauntleted hands trying and failing to remove the ornate gold key. Had they always been so dull of touch?
Behind him, the priest slowed and stopped, a look of obvious concern spread across his gnarled features. The girl had already started slowly retreating, trying to put as much distance a possible between her and the priest. Or was it Tusk she was scared of? That would not do, no not at all. Tusk flashed one of his best smiles at her.
The priest and the girl both flinched. “Knight! What are these?” Radeban asked firmly, though a waiver of uncertainty had entered the previously assured voice.
Tusk’s eyes followed the priest’s gaze, which was now locked upon a small gathering of corpses; the Unworthy. Panic swelled through the knight, were they going to take her away? Was the priest going to leave him like all the Unworthy had? Leaving him in this empty chamber, with its empty task alone with only empty prayers for company; prayers that resonated and echoed in the hollow shell of his faith.
Tusk forced his smile wider. He spoke softly. “Have no worry priest. They are the Unworthy. They were not judged err… worthy for the presence of the Lord.” He took a step towards the priest, who promptly took one backwards. The girl stood frozen in place. A picture of terror painted across her soft, sweet face.
“Here. Look,” Tusk said as he yanked at the key, breaking the chain. “You are worthy, you can go see him.” He said as he proffered the key to the priest, stepping closer.
Still the priest backed away. All confidence and assurance was lost from his countenance. His voice shook as he implored the knight advancing towards him. “Oh great Knight, Guardian of God’s Gate. How do you know we are worthy? Does he speak to you?”
“Speak, speak, spea… You!”
Tusk froze, trying and failing to block out the echo. Trying to remember if he had ever had someone with which to talk, other than the reflection of his own voice. Had he spoken to God? He had prayed to something. It must have been God. So, he must have spoken to him. Yes, he had spoken to God, so this God must have spoken to him. In fact, he had been praying just now, just before he met the priest and the girl.
“Yes, I spoke to him before you arrived.” Tusk said gently, his cheek muscles aching from maintaining his smile. To Tusk’s ears the words sounded like a lie as they slipped from his lips. They tasted empty, like his prayers. He just hoped the priest did not notice.
The priest exhaled slightly and stopped retreating though his eyes did not stop flitting between the knight and the pile bodies on the floor. “So you knew we were coming and I am to pass the gates unmolested.” He asked hesitantly.
“Yes, yes.” Tusk said quickly, nodding keenly and more than a little confused. Why would he hurt them? Why would he hurt anyone? “You can pass, go through the gate, here is the key,” he said tossing the key towards the priest, who caught it in shaking hands.
Still Radeban the Blue did not move. Would he not give the girl to Tusk for the key?
Frantically Tusk looked about, patting his body. How could he reassure this damnable coward of a priest? He tapped at his left hip and then smiled knowingly as his hand rested on his empty scabbard.
“Look good priest. I have no sword, I am unarmed. You will be safe to pass. Just leave me company. Leave me the girl.” Tusk said as sweetly as he could, though he could not keep the desperate pleading tones from his voice and the teeth from his grin.
“Girl…” his echo agreed.
The priest started to back up another step then caught himself and stood firm. Gaze still flickering towards the corpses, which all bore sword wounds of one sort or another. Finally, he inhaled a deep breath in an attempt to regain some control.
“Knight, where is you sword? Where is Glimdran, Blade of the Heavens, Knife of God?” He asked firmly.
Tusk’s brows furrowed. “Where is what?”
“What have you done with your sword?” The priest suddenly shouted, voice high in a staccato of terror.
“My sword?” Tusk asked again. He had a sword?
He looked down at his hip. Yes, there was a scabbard there, so there must have been a sword to slip into it. A large one judging by the size of the scabbard. Yes. He could remember its weight – heavy yet exquisitely balanced in his hand. He remembered its jewelled pommel and ornate cross guard. Yes, it was a thing of beauty, sleek and strong, blessed and deadly. Glimdran, the Knife of God. The blade that no armour could stop, that could cut the soul itself.
Tusk clenched his right hand shut. He found himself longing to hold his blade once more, to rain down wrath and judgement as he had so long ago. To be the purge of evil and the envy of the devout. To be the knight he had been so long ago. Why couldn’t he be again?
Then he remembered.
The vision hit, taking the smile from his face, the breath from his lungs and the hope from his heart. In his mind, he saw Glimdran’s bejewelled hilt lodged in the torso of his last victim. It was his final act of judgement, his revenge. A truly heinous and evil crime which could never be matched and for which there could be no forgiveness; for he had not only doomed himself but also the face of men with the foul and self-righteous act. As the memory returned so did the guilt. It welled about his senses like a black ocean and threaten to flood the last vestiges of his mind in darkness, as it had so many time before.
Tusk let out a short sharp laugh. Knife of God! Ha, that was funny. It had surely been true to its name. But they could never know, they would never understand. They could not even to begin to comprehend the weight and agony of eternity.
Tusk’s smile widened, revealing his yellowed teeth. He advanced on the priest, quickening his steps as the smile played unevenly across his lips.
Radeban the Blue turned to flee, but he was too slow, Tusk had already closed the distance and was upon him. The Knight of God drew his arm back and gleefully slammed his large mailed fist into the priest’s temple. A wave of jubilation surged through the knight as he felt the skull crack and give way to the force of the blow. The priest reeled, crimson blood spraying from his nostrils and mouth, painting the pure white marble with the only rain mankind ever called forth.
Radeban sagged falling to the floor. As he fell Tusk caught his head between his large hands and twisted, breaking the neck in a quick and practised motion. He could not take any chances. There could be no witnesses.
Still he did not relent; instead, he sped up to a frenzied gallop, chasing after the girl as she desperately scrambled away. She was too slow, also; he caught her within moments.
“Please, please don’t…” She begged as Tusk griped shoulder.
“Don’t, Don’t…” The echo pleaded.
“Hush, hush young one.” He said softly, gently stroking her hair. “You cannot know, nobody can understand. No one can.” The last words came out in a rasped grasp. “If they find out He is gone it will destroy them; Completely, utterly, absolutely. I am sorry but it must be this way.”
“Please, plee…” Her words became choked as Tusk started to strangle her. She resisted for a short while but against his raw strength, she could do naught. Soon her pink heart-shaped face turned a vicious crimson, which then slowly faded to white. Tusk, the Knight of God, kissed her forehead. A single tear rolled down his cheek, fell and splashed across her pale white skin, another of God’s works defiled.
Eyes red, the Guardian of God whispered to the dead innocent in his arms. “Sorry, you could not know. Not your fault.”
“Fault, Fault…fall” The echo beat about his head.
“Shush, shush.” Tusk whispered. “None can know. We must forget. He forgot us, so we will forget Him. Until He is naught but an echo in time.”
Racked sobs escaped a ravaged smile that would not leave the knight’s trembling lips.
“Even me. I must forget again, lest I be alone with my crime. No. No! It is too much. Much, much, much better just to be alone. It must not be that I know.”
Tusk’s breathing slowed and his face slackened. His eyes darkened as his pupils widened, giving his face a blank expression. No anger, no hate, no loneliness, no memory, no guilt. Just him, the Unworthy and the pristine white floor of the temple. A brilliant dazzling white marred only by a few splashes of crimson. The world would soon forget the Church defiled by blood and, in time the world would forget the dead god hidden behind the Gate, nailed to his throne by a sword of his own creation.
For a long time, there was only silence.
Then the echo ran out, bouncing from wall to wall.
“I know, I know…”