The Final Scrawl of the Poet’s Hand
Eerie and complacent silence settled upon Albey’s ears as he climbed up the ladder. It seemed that whoever came knocking – still he could not fathom who it may have been, for the location of The Lodge and the camp on The Hillside where it stood was a secret, a place known only to those who lived there – had ultimately chosen to move on. This was good, Albey decided as the squeakless rungs of the wooden ladder passed invisibly before him; his duty was to protect this sacred place, and so long as nobody came to visit, he would have no more bodies to bury.
Sliding into a crevice between them, Albey’s fingers gripped the rough wooden floorboards of The Lodge and he pulled himself up out of the shaft. Rather than closing it back up and sliding the bed which would no longer hold Iuqon in sleep (not that it often did when the Mage was alive; Iuqon would go days at a time without being seen by neither Albey nor Ram’rl, full strates even, and back then they both figured he was out practicing his magicks where no innocents would be caught in the blowback; now Albey knew better) over the trapdoor, Albey merely sat upon its edge and dangled his legs into the shaft. It was dark, closer to midnight than to moonrise, and a certain kind of mood set over the Mad Poet, one which inspired him to write.
“I’ve never written a word with this quill,” he said quietly as he unsheathed his instrument and unholstered his medium. The scroll opened and flattened itself like a board of wood in his hand, as if by command. “Not by my own volition, anyway. Mayhap this will be a new beginning.”
Albey placed the tip of the quill upon the papyrus and waited, but nothing came. He tried to make his hand press symbol but it would not budge, would not even allow him to remove the feather from the page. Though Iuqon’s letter claimed differently, Albey did not feel as though he was in control of his hand… but how could that be possible? Iuqon was dead, and with his passing so too went his astral magicks. Yet not a single word was scrawled, the pen did not move.
Not until it did.
Unable to discern what he – his right hand, rather, which moved entirely outside the bounds of Albey’s control – was scrawling, Albey closed his eyes and tried to follow the motion of the quill, to paint a picture of symbols scrawled in his head… but he could see nothing. Only darkness, a darker darkness than the shroud of night provided. When the Poet’s quill finished its work Albey opened his eyes and looked down at his enchanted scroll, but could see little. He would need to get up and go to a window, and so with heavy limbs he did.
Moonlight fell into The Lodge in dim ghostly beams, but it was just enough to see with. Albey read and reread what he had written, blinking rapidly as if doing so would change the words on the page, but still they stayed the same. A worrisome message had poured out of the pen, an omen of horrible implications, one which would drive Albey to opening the door and calling out to whoever knocked, if only to lure them back and slay them where they stood. But first he would read the Mad piece of poetry one last time, just to make sure he did not misunderstand the message it conveyed.
Scrawled upon the enchanted papyrus in the bottomless black ink of Albey’s magick quill was this:
~The Lodge shall burn, but never the land/
/the final scrawl of the Poet’s hand~
There was no misunderstanding, his mind was playing no tricks; the Poet, now closer to the brink of falling Mad than ever before, had apparently scrawled his last words. It could not be so, but yet even in the twilight of a moon waning ever closer to the Calla, the bar was clear to see. The words of the Mage’s final message to his comrade echoed in Albey’s mind then as he sheathed his quill upon his chest and his scroll upon his hip, words which carried Albey across the cluttered floor without picking up but a single one of Ram’rl’s many weapons.
‘…anything written in the ink of the quill – anything you write in ink at all, for the spell has surely been absorbed into your spirit after the many strates we have endured together as The Triad, and how truly grand they were – shall come true, regardless of how impossible it may seem.’
Not a soul, lost nor found, lurked at the door of The Lodge. There was only darkness, hearkening and foreboding. The restless beating of the Mad Poet’s heart filled his ears with dread.
“Hello?” he called into the night.
Not even the bugs chirped, nor did the wind blow. The wheel of ka surely spun, but it did so with ambivalence… or mayhap that was simply how Albey felt about the way his Life was going, about the many drastic ways it changed in such a cursory time. Ambivalent. Detached, in a way.
“I heard you knocking!” he shouted into the dark, hands cupped around his bearded mouth. Any louder he would have been raving. “Someone is there, I know it to be true! Show yourself, coward, lest my ka find you first!”
“There will be no need for that,” came slithering to his ears like a venomous snake into a chipmunk’s burrow. “I am coming, great Poet. My stride is simply slow.”
The Poet knew that voice, and even then as he had gone rightly Mad with the loss of a Life that did not end with Death – not his own Death, at least – he still recognized the sickly lilt, but in an entirely different way than he regarded it when they first became acquainted. From the shadows cast by the canopy at the treeline of The Hillside came a vision of white. Gobon the In’Flu-Enz’a, his spotless eggshell suit drinking the moonlight like a vampyre may drink blood, crept forward to The Lodge, hands in his pockets.
Though this miserable fiend was the last ‘man Albey hoped to see at his door in the dead of night, he did admit (only to himself) that it was nice to see a familiar face, no matter how little that face was to be trusted.
“Gobon,” the Mad Poet said, seeing no reason to bother with the formalities of decorum. “What brings you to my door at such a time? The moon nears its peak; I believe we should both be a’slumber.”
“And yet here we stand, speaking as though it were high noon,” Gobon said, giving Albey a grin as thin as a mummified leaf pressed between the pages of a book. “I simply came by to check in on The Triad; last I saw you lot you were heading to Jericho Tower to stave off the Rotting Ents.”
“You saw true, as you do me now. The Rotting Ents rot no more.”
“I gathered,” Gobon said lowly, out the bottom of his mouth. “What of the great Mage and the other one… the Unfallable?”
“Ram’rl went by the mantle of the Unfallen,” Albey said sternly, folding his arms across his quill’s metal sheath. “You called him such yourself when we all last convened.”
“Went by,” Gobon said, ignoring the Mad Poet’s vehemence. “Yes, I believe I remember now. My mistake.”
“Indeed it was.”
They stood there for a moment, each on one side of the doorway to The Lodge, the sacred temple of steelwood which contained all the world’s secrets. Gobon’s eyes flashed up and down Albey’s body, as if sizing him up, and Albey’s did the same to the In’Flu-Enz’a. He did not appear to have any arms concealed beneath his unstained blazer, save for the witherish ones sprouting from his bony shoulders made to look fuller than they were under the cover of his shoulder pads, yet still the words of the late Iuqon–
‘he is not to be trusted’
–rang in Albey’s mind. Their eyes met once more, and Gobon was the one to speak first.
“Say sorry if I speak out of turn, great Poet, but the Mage and the Unfallab–… the Unfallen ; they are not here with us tonight, are they?”
Albey said nothing, only kept his arms tightly folded as if to protect his Poet’s quill.
“I see,” Gobon said, not entirely with misery. “In that case I shall offer my condolences to you, Albey the Poet. They were great ‘mans, your friends, truly forces to be reckoned with. No others could have bested the twisted ranks of the Rotting Ents. Only with the combined might of the Mage and the Unfallen did the sick ones find their cure.”
“And why do you say that?” Albey said, mayhap out of turn. The wound was deep and the scab had yet to form, let alone the scar; the mere mention of the names of his fallen comrades by a mouth of one who did not know them well drove a spike of rage into Albey’s heart, ice into his flowing blood. A letter from the Mage was one thing; a confession from the villain would be another, yes, would be all Albey needed to cure the world of this walking plague once and for all. It would be quick and painless vengeance, a simple disintegration; all Albey needed was a confession. “What do you know of the scourge of the Rotting Ents, Gobon? What could you possibly know of the might of my friends?!”
“I know much, great Poet,” Gobon said calmly. “More than you may hope to understand.”
Gobon reached towards Albey’s chest with a shaky hand then, but Albey stepped back, lowering his hands to his sides. The Poet may be a writer, but he grappled with the very best; Gobon’s laying a hand on him would surely end with violence, and enough violence had been seen on this day. This day of Death, as Albey now knew it.
“I did not mean to offend you,” Gobon said loosely, grinning that skinny grin. From within his suit coat he pulled out a sheet of white papyrus which glowed resplendently in the moonlight. “We’re not so different, you and I, my poetic friend. I too am skilled in the art of pressing symbol. I merely wish to borrow your quill so I may prepare a proper eulogy to commemorate the lives of Iuqon and Ram’rl, as a gift from me to you.”
Albey did not say a word, did not move a muscle, did not draw a breath. Sadness came over Gobon’s face, and his shoulders fell in a slump. The page was returned to the pocket from whence it came.
“You are not the only one in this endless wood who knows loss, Albey the Poet. Why do you think it is that I wander alone in the way I do?”
“I do not think of such things, Gobon, nor do I wish to. This day has seen enough misery…” But still, it was a kind gesture, one Albey did not expect from a creature so hideous as Gobon the In’Fluence. “Why don’t you come back after the sun rises, for we both surely could use the rest. We shall write it together and travel to their graves so we may deliver our words of sorrow to their proper audience.”
“That sounds lovely,” Gobon said, “but I’m afraid it cannot happen. You have a very bless’ed spot here in the wood, Albey the Poet; your home is not an easy one to find.”
‘And yet there you stand on my doorstep,’ Albey thought in the interim, folding his arms once more. ‘Just how did you come to be here this night, Gobon? How did you find your way?’
“It was by miracle and little else,” Gobon said, as if in answer to Albey’s suspicion, “that I turned onto the right path.” He shrugged. “The truth of the matter is that when you and your comrades declined my offer of hospitality earlier in the day – before your friends fell with your Tower – I was stricken with a great sadness. I thought, What is the point of you, Gobon the In’Fluence, if even when you offer help you are turned down and abandoned? As The Triad wandered to their fate I too took to mine; I left into the wood without so much as looking back, set in my mind to live off the land until the land deemed it time to live off of me. As the sun began to set I was overcome with regret, however, for I left my home without paying it a last visit. I abandoned it in the same way you abandoned me. And that was not right.”
“We did not abandon you, Gobon,” Albey said with sorrow as his hands fell weakly to his hips. “We simply had our own path to walk, a trail which we could not, in good faith, lead another ‘man down.”
“So I decided to turn ‘round,” Gobon continued, ignoring Albey’s abject attempt at an apology, “and go back to that place in which I invested so much, but I had wandered far. The sun quickly set and the moon slowly rose, and so I began to bumble about, unsure if I was even on a trail at all. Eventually I came here, to this clearing on The Hillside, and knocked upon your chamber door. I did not know it was The Lodge of which I’ve heard so many enviable whispers, but when you answered the door I was glad to hear your voice.” Gobon paused then, as to let it all sink in, then, “Although I’m not entirely sure you could say the same about me.”
“Nonsense,” Albey said in fear, fear that he had Gobon all wrong, fear that Iuqon was mistaken, fear that Gobon’s face – as homely as sallow as it may be – was truly the face of a friend after all, a friend who wanted nothing more than to be treated as such. “I was plenty glad to see you tonight, Gobon, and I much look forward to seeing you tomorrow under the light of day. But it is now late, we are both tired and in dire need of rest.” He put his hand on the door as if to close it. “Please, return tomorrow. Together we shall write a grand eulogy for those who fell to protect this great wilderness.”
“Ah, but I cannot, great Poet,” Gobon said sadly, “for when you did not answer my knock, I made a promise to myself. A promise I intend to keep: I shall leave at once and find a new home in which I may put my time, a place where I am wanted and not made to feel otherwise.”
Gobon turned away and began to walk off into the night, his head hanging low. Albey foolishly stepped out of The Lodge and followed him into the dark clearing.
“Wait,” he said, putting a hand on Gobon’s shoulder. Gobon shook it off but still turned around, his face beginning to light. “I… though I do not understand your impatience to leave, I do empathize with your solitude. It seems we are both plenty awake, despite the moon a’peak in the sky; draw forth your sheet of papyrus, Gobon.” ‘What harm may come? Not even I control what it writes.’ “I shall lend you my quill.”
Albey went to draw his quill for Gobon to use, but Gobon grabbed his wrist with a skeletal, calloused hand.
“Please, great Poet,” Gobon hissed through crooked teeth, “allow me.”
And so Albey did allow Gobon to place his hand upon the metal sheath of the quill, but that hand did not grasp the enchanted feather. Its fingers clutched the metal plate as if to rip it off, but neither did it do that; the fiend’s hand simply began to glow, at first a dull and deep orange, then a hot burning scarlet. Albey’s eyes rose from Gobon’s hand to the villain’s yellow eyes, and what he saw there was not friendship, nor loss, nor a single emotion nor trait which could grant Gobon even a shred of humanity. What Albey saw was emptiness, a hole as deep and bottomless as the ink in his quill, the very ink which fueled the lanterns scattered within The Lodge.
A thunderous blast of heat stole Albey’s senses and threw him backwards into The Lodge. The door slammed shut once he passed through its way. Gobon snarled with rage and slowly advanced.
This has been the second subchapter of the fourth chapter of The Face of Fear, a novel about bigfoot written by the writer in Untitled Bigfoot Project. Here is everything you need to know about it:
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