The Weeping Woman
A piece of short fiction introducing the first chapter of a dark fantasy universe. The light that is The Ether finds its champion in a woman who has lost everything. This is the story of her ascension. The first steps she takes on her journey to spread hope in a doomed world so that a new dawn may rise after the long night to come.
A low bonfire burns between the smooth stones of a dry riverbed, thin pillars of smoke wisp into the canopy above. A woman in plain travelling clothes sits on the most comfortable rock available, resting her chin on her clasped hands. She has drawn her hair and cloak back, bathing her face in the fire's glow. She warms herself, collecting her thoughts.
A girl, younger, but nearly a woman herself, sits nearby on a bed of pebbles, sipping from a shallow cup. She gazes into the flames, entranced as they lick the air and spit embers into the cool night.
A soft voice speaks over the crackling of the bonfire, "He came to me in my darkest moment."
The Weeping Woman's words shape the flames before them. Images form in the play of light and smoke. The young girl places her cup down beside her and listens intently. Her eyes go wide with awe as she stares into the fire, watching the story unfold.
She continues, "A part of me thought I had been caught by the ones who took my love. Come to silence me too. Stop me from taking up his cause against them... At that moment, I was ready to die. Nothing was left but the pain in my heart."
A tear falls as she speaks, the stain of anger on her voice, "I thought of turning my blade on them. Lashing out. I wanted to fight them. Kill them. I wanted revenge. Retribution."
She wipes the tear from her cheek. The memories are still fresh and raw, "But then doubt crept in, and with it fear, and sadness. Why fight them? If only to be beaten and slashed? Taken by each of them? Left ghastly in the woods as carrion for the birds and worms? This would not be my fate. They would not take anything more from me. I looked at the blade in my hands and thought of the peace it could bring me."
Another tear falls, "I wept, my eyes shut so tight I couldn't see the darkness surrounding me. I clutched my blade against my chest, torn in both directions, unsure of where to point its edge. Then I heard the footfalls silence deadly close. Panic paralyzed me. I was humiliated. I could barely catch my breath through my anguished cries, let alone fight off the mongrels encircling me. They had caught me at his shallow grave, beneath the tree where he asked me to be his wife, together forever. Soon we would be."
The Weeping Woman takes a moment for a breath, her voice is breaking, but she pushes through, "I turned the blade towards my heart. I wanted to cut out my pain and lay it on the earth before me. Leave its weight behind and float into the heavens. I would be so light... I exhaled slowly and set my hands on the hilt. And at that moment, I felt him reaching out."
Her voice calms, "As he laid his hand gently on my shoulder, I felt his transcendent power. The Ether ran through my every nerve. My anger and agony melted away, running down with my tears. My blade fell from my hands, and he knelt beside me. He held me while I cried, unashamed, my tears darkening his shirt. I felt him reaching into my heart, helping me lift the crushing weight of my sorrow. We sat together until the sun filled the grove, and I could finally open my eyes again."
The Weeping Woman smiles, remembering, "I didn't know him by his face, but in his eyes, I recognized something divine. It was as if I had found myself again. I had been brought back from the precipice of the void and its dark embrace. I was ready to abandon the world and let myself be swallowed by nothingness. He showed me that even there, at the edge of mortality and eternity, there was still a way to turn back... We sat in silence for a long moment while the sun to poured through the leaves. As the beams of light broke the early morning dawn and shone through the dew like blades of gold, I wondered. Who could this man be? How could I feel such power and peace emanating from him?
The Weeping Woman pauses, looking into the young girl's eyes, "Then he spoke... Words I will never forget. These words I pass to you now."
A hooded figure looks over the valley from a clifftop. The wind howls between the mountains, whipping his cloak behind him. The scent of turned earth and the sound of a soft whimper find their way into his awareness. The figure's vision turns slowly, scanning the terrain to the north as the sky grows darker by the second. The sun has long since set and the wind now carries storm clouds to occlude the pale light of the moon. The figure holds for a moment, focusing, shifting footing against the gale. He raises his hands, bringing his palms together as golden light flashes between his fingers. Suddenly he vanishes into a space between dimensions.
The flash pulses through the valley, bathing all things for the slightest instant in a gilded aura. The fabric of reality is revealed as it weaves its way through the cosmos. Pillars of Ether, like slowed lightning, reach into the sky connecting all things across the planes of existence and potentiality.
The most delicate strings bind the inanimate materials of the mortal plane together, the stones and earth, the water and air. They form the lattice that gives the world its form. Plantlife of all shapes and categories reach straight up from this foundation, always searching for the sun's light for nourishment to spark the growth most essential for life. The animals have brighter strands, forking from the more primal and unwavering pillars of the flora, dancing in their cycles with the seasons. The people of the valley shine out more distinctly still as thick bands of Ether that stretch out to the stars. Many of them are dulled but hold a memory of brilliance at their core. They cluster and congregate where they make their homes in the village to the east, built on the shore of the river that carved this valley. A few more trace into the forest near the town, dark wires with no light left within them, unable to shine through their sickly mottled hue. One strand, however, stands alone, deep within the forest. It blazes into the night like an inferno in one breath and fades into obsidian black in the next. It flickers like a beacon, drawing powerful energies towards it.
The hooded figure leaves words in the air, never meant to be heard but begging to be spoken, "I've finally found you."
Three men in patchwork armour and stained heraldry trudge through the woods west of the village. Cuirass and blade are the only steel they carry to be as light and silent as three pickled brutes can manage.
"I can't see anything, damn it." says the first scoundrel while struggling with his slumping cowl. He is a plump and piggish man, his pot belly straining his buttons.
"Shut up and follow me." says the second, a tall and lanky weasel-like fellow, barely able to fill out his armour. "Just don't trip over yourself."
"Both of you! Hold your tongues!" the third man growls, "Or I'll do it for you when I cut them out myself." He is built like a pit-fighting dog, with just as much bark and bite.
He raises a finger, pointing it in their faces one after the other sternly, "Do you two want to tell the boss you let the girl escape? We can't have her blabbing all over the province, making a martyr out of that man of hers. Now, be quiet and keep up."
They follow the trail through the forest until the second man notices a break in the path.
"This is it, up the hill. I can almost smell her." He is much too loud and eager.
The pit dog drives the heel of his palm into the back of the weasel's head, "I'm not going to tell you again. BE SILENT."
The piggish man is suddenly unsure if his boots have become unlaced, while the weasel rubs the back of his head with a frown. The scowl on their leader's face is louder than either of them needs to hear right now.
The wind picks up, and a flash of golden light fills the valley for a fraction of an instant. The pig, occupied by the lay of his trousers now, notices nothing. Still wincing from the chastising blow, the weasel thinks he may have seen something but dismisses it for the stars in his periphery from the bash on his noggin. The dog watches the whole valley light up and then go dark again in a blink. This does nothing for his demeanour.
As the wind passes and the trees fall silent, the leader hears a whimper and a sigh up the path, "Move it, you two."
The men creep along, following the faint sounds of a woman crying through the trees. The first man steps on a twig, snapping it with a loud pop. The second man turns to him, his index finger in front of his lips. The third grumbles under his breath, "You lot are completely useless."
They come to a thicket and can hear the woman sobbing in the grove beyond.
The leader turns to the other two and whispers, "If we go through this brush, we're gonna make a racket and scare her off for sure."
He points to the first man, "You go around to the right and look for a clearing."
He turns his finger to the second man, "You go with him and keep him from messing it up."
The two look at each other, then back, saying in unison, "Then what?"
The third man runs his palm down his face, "I'm going to the left so that when you too nitwits spook her, I can spring a trap. Now get it done."
The first two nod and set off to their task.
The third man grumbles as he sets off in the opposite direction, "I swear if they ruin this, I'm deserting."
The first two men follow the faint sound of sobbing around the thicket until they come to a large rock amongst the brush that they can scramble over.
"Give me a boost." Says the weasel.
"No chance!" Snorts the pig, "You give me a boost! You're not strong enough to pull me up, and then I'll be stuck here."
"Shut up, you crybaby and give me your bloody hoof then." retorts the weasel, boosting his companion up with a huff of effort.
As the piggish man disappears over the rock, the forest falls silent. The weasel, now alone, reaches up, beckoning for a lift to no avail.
He curses, "You prick."
As he turns to find another way through the undergrowth, he finds himself face to face with the hooded figure. Burning golden eyes are all he sees within the shadowy looming visage. The bandit cowers, unable to break his terrified gaze.
The third man prowls around the opposite side of the glade. He moves with purpose, ducking under a low branch, watching his footing. As he rises, he hears a cry, and a smile cracks his lips, reshaping the deep lines in his face into a cruel grin, "I've got you now, my sweet."
He draws his dagger partially, but it slams hard into its sheath. He finds himself face to face with the hooded figure, glowing eyes staring into his soul. The figure grips the dagger on his belt and tears the leather from his hip, sending him to the ground hard. From the dirt, he watches with fearful eyes as the figure crushes the blade effortlessly. The steel bends into a mass of useless scrap and ignites with golden fire, burning to dust.
The first man makes his way to the top of the stone, waddling to its peak. As he moves to help up his comrade, he notices a shadow before him. He looks up slowly, meeting the gaze of golden eyes. He is caught around his throat while trying to scamper away. The figure raises him high off his feet, forcing him to stare into the golden eyes burning with judgement.
The figure steps slowly, crossing the perimeter of the grove. He holds, watching. The Weeping Woman kneels before a shallow grave dug between the roots of a willow tree. Stones sit piled on freshly laid earth, the symbol for infinity carved into the bark above. As she cries, every laboured breath chokes him. Every tear falling against the ground shatters like a pane of glass to his ear. When she wails, his heart feels as if it may burst in his chest. As he draws closer, he can feel her fear. He can feel her calling for the void. He can see the rippling torrent in her heart as she holds the moment between life and death on a knife's edge. He knows she doesn't want to feel anything anymore.
The figure closes his eyes and takes a long, deep breath, "Please hold on."
He reaches into himself, summoning the power to break through the storm of darkness swirling around The Weeping Woman. The void lashes out, tearing at him. It has hungered for him since his escape. His eyes shine bright, and golden crystalline armour materializes from the immaterial realm, wrapping around him as he reaches his hand into the violent miasma that threatens to swallow her very soul.
The sun fills the grove as the figure and the woman sit together, lost in a sacred moment. The birds sing, and woodland creatures set about their business. The two break their stare, laughing as they notice that the night has slipped away. The Weeping Woman's mind races with questions she is hardly sure how to ask.
The hooded figure smiles and meets her eyes with a humble look as he lowers his hood and begins to speak. He knows what she needs to hear, "Within you is a light that knows no bounds. It is what called me to you. It guided me through the storm of despair and darkness that threatened to swallow your soul and smother your heart for fear of its power. Within you is something unbreakable, a bond of love that transcends all measure. Your connection to the true source of all things is a pure expression of The Ether, the force that flows through all living things, and the materials that make up this existence, binding reality together."
The Weeping Woman is stunned by his words as they resonate through to the very core of her being.
The figure continues, "Your light shines out to rival the stars themselves. I watched it, harmonizing with your love until the moment of his passing. At that moment, I knew I had to find you. I had hoped to meet you both in time when you came into your power together, but the forces of the dark have ways to hide their machinations. They were able to separate your connection in the mortal plane, but your love goes far beyond. It is exactly that love, its transcendent depth, that will help spread the compassion needed to bring this world together."
He reaches out, holding The Weeping Woman's hand reassuringly, "Know that you owe me nothing. I offer you this kindness for its own sake. However, if you decide to join me in my wish to unite humanity, I can grant you a greater knowledge of the truth beyond the veil. I can unlock the final gate and illuminate the hidden paths within your consciousness. You will have the ability to shape reality with your imagination and bring it into existence. This is the true power of creation. The flicker between dimensions will allow your consciousness to perceive the true vastness of the universe, all possibilities, all consequences. From there, the strength in your heart will be the only measure of your power. I can show you how to take the first steps towards using your gifts. I trust that you will find your way in time and spark others to shine their light. However, be warned, not all who use The Ether have noble goals. Some are followers of a mirror image of its understanding. They embrace the darkness and surrender their connection to humanity, inflicting pain indiscriminately through the world and sowing chaos that spreads like cancer. Should you face these users, I can only offer these words of advice..."
The figure releases The Weeping Woman's hand, and she realizes she has been staring for what seems like far too long. Her mind feels hazy. She hears a bird singing the same tune she had only just heard. She knows that she has already seen that squirrel scamper halfway up that tree. She laughs and looks away, trying to make sense of the thoughts echoing through her mind. The man beside her smiles and begins to stand. She follows him to her feet.
Their eyes meet again as she speaks, "Thank you, stranger, for the peace you have brought me. I thought I would never know it again... What am I to call you?"
The figure smiles, picking up the dagger from the ground, handing it to The Weeping Woman, "The first friends I found in need of light and guidance took to calling me The Wandering Sovereign. I thought it had a nice ring, but in truth, who I was and what people may call me now are irrelevant. I left my name behind some time ago, along with all it held, the bonds and burdens, the ties to the old ways. It all slipped away when I faced the void and returned, changed, invigorated with the purpose and power to forge a new peace. One that all who would live for justice can share. This is why I come to you. To show that there is still love and hope even at the edge of darkness when we feel most alone. Will you help me spread that light through the world, spark it to burn again in the heart of humanity, that we may stand as one against the dark that would see our world fall to despair."
The Weeping Woman takes the dagger in her hands, and The Sovereign continues, letting its weight fall from his fingers, "Be careful how you use this. It is far more powerful than you may realize."
As she holds the blade's hilt, a shimmer of golden light runs across the edge, shining so bright that she blinks involuntarily. As she looks back at the steel, it retains a flowing golden texture, mesmerizing in its beauty, etching a symbol into its surface as it dissipates, an eye shedding a single tear from its right corners, wearing the symbols for infinity as a crown.
She calls out, "Wait!" Now alone in the grove.
"WHERE THE BLOODY HELL ARE THOSE THREE IMBECILES." The leader of the gang of bandits shouts as he rips apart his encampment on the edge of town, looking for the three men he sent to execute The Weeping Woman.
A small man with a ledger and quill pipes up, "Sir, none of the men on duty saw anyone come back. Perhaps they got lost? I'm sure they found the troublemaker. Perhaps they are taking extra care with your orders."
The small man flips through his ledger, "If I recorded it correctly, you told them to... well, Sir, you used some colourful language. If they were to follow it to the letter, it might take them some time to accomplish."
The man closes his ledger and steps out of the way of the boss's rampage, "Please, Sir, that's our last ale cask. Please, put it down. You know how you get without your drink."
The big boss sighs heavily and sets down the cask. Some of his men cower in the wreckage of the tents betweens strewn spears and toppled shields.
"You're right, Scribbler." Grumbles the boss, "they probably forgot how to put one foot in front of the other, tripped right into their goddamn graves. Good riddance. Forget them and forget the girl. We move at midday. Take everything else of value from this pissant village and pack the carts. We're getting out of here."
The Scribbler jots in his ledger, muttering under his breath, "...Piss ...ant ...village, yes sir right away!"
The big boss stirs in his tent, waking from a drunken nap. As he rouses himself and finishes drinking, he notices the camp is dead silent. He gets up, lumbering out from his tent to crack the skulls of his men for shirking their work. He heads towards the village to see what is holding them up.
His men never made it past the perimeter of the village. They all stand aghast, jaws down to their chests in shock and horror. Some were shaking violently in their boots, rattling like a coin purse, others sobbing silently. Several more have collapsed.
He reaches the crowd. His arm cocked to smack some sense into his men when he catches a glimpse of what lies before them. He vomits the cask of ale into a pool on the dusty road before keeling over himself.
The Scribbler writes in his ledger, finishing with a point of punctuation before he closes the book with a clap. He caps his inkwell and places it with his quill in his satchel, whispering to himself, "Most curious."
The two women sitting at the bonfire meet each other's gaze. A flickering golden glow builds in each of their eyes. The Ether extends through and between them both as they shift into a timeless moment. The young girl hears The Weeping Woman's voice in the center of her heart, speaking the words of The Sovereign.
The words resonate with great power through the center of each of their hearts, "There is nothing left for you to fear. You have faced the void and triumphed. You have completed the first cycle, aligning yourself with your Ether, moving from the light to the dark and back again. From this moment, the finest balance point, you can reach all others. You need only focus, return to the edge of your consciousness. From there, you can shape existence to your imagination and use the power of your will to make it real. Nothing is beyond your power, as long as you believe in yourself and let your light shine out."
The world falls away as they forge a deep spiritual connection, harmonizing their Ether and holding communion with eternity. The young girl will receive her understanding in the infinite time hidden between every moment. Just as The Weeping Woman, in the grove where she laid her love to rest and found the strength to carry on with the help of The Wandering Sovereign.
Together, they will change the world, their story of friendship and discovery still yet to unfold.