Serial Killers are part of our Trembling With Fear line and are serialized stories which we’ll be publishing on an ongoing basis.

The Knowing. Part 5

Wisdom and Death, War and Song. Four powerful Divinities, two of them in exile, all of them interwoven. Variol of Drimslip and Nella of Yyrkana faced Syralis of Sendra and Crylok of Gordash, and the city trembled underfoot. Hail began to fall from the noontime, springtime sky. The people of Sendroval went inside and hid their heads.

“This is insanity!” screamed Nella, Priestess of Death. “The Goddess of Wisdom cannot possibly seek alliance with the Powers of Hell!”

Syralis loomed in the rising shadow of her avatar, Sendra Herself. “Wisdom is whole when wedded with Strength.”

“And Gordash will return, unfettered by the puling of the Council,” roared Crylok, dishonored High Priest of War. “His hand will smite whomsoever we choose, and blood will fill the lands.”

“You’re both idiots,” Variol said calmly. “No one fights unless they’re spurred by songs and tales. No one learns a teaching till it’s writ in rhyme.”

“And without War and Wisdom, you adolescent crooners would have nothing to sing about!” spat Syralis.

“Quite so. That’s why there’s a Council, not a King.”

“Drimslip was barely even a part of the Council of Gods.”

“And that’s why banishment has barely bothered Him. Bards still gather from every corner of the realms to sing and play. The powers of Gordash, on the other hand, have gravely waned.”

“Blasphemy,” snarled Crylok. “I’ll show you who has waned!”

And the Knowing began. All four priests, emerging from their bodies, were bolstered by the full power of their Gods, and the Temple of Wisdom strained at the holding of them. Dust came sifting down from the rafters, and the stained glass rattled musically in the window frames.

Crylok lanced forward with the might of swords and chariots, confident in sealing away the poet once and for all. But Variol simply pulled away the power of the minstrel, of the intellect, and the iron and the wheel became a rock, a stick, the slapping hands of feces-covered primates. The War-God’s power scattered and swirled about the chamber, blowing out the marble walls.

Then Syralis rallied, bolstering Crylok with the soaring radiance of Wisdom, and the force of military precision reconvened. Both enemies pushed forward, seeking Variol’s heart—forgetting the bulwark of his ally. They shattered on the sudden obsidian of Nella’s grim black absolute. All wisdom comes to nothing. Glory dies. All warriors are swallowed by the clay. Every candle in the Temple went out, and darkness fell over Sendroval.

But Syralis pushed past the destiny of mortals. Death was strong, but not the end. Beyond the grave was Hell. Beyond the tomb was Darkness. The reach of Sendra faltered, and that was why they called upon a greater Power. The whispering of demons filled the air.

Variol turned loose the frothing tide of lyricism: flowers, harps, and laughter, children running through golden fields of barley, rainbows over sparkling seas, love and joy and hope. The ravenous sniffing of the devils turned to yowls and whimpering, like bloodhounds that stumbled on skunk-scent.

Syralis countered by reaching across to Death. All this beauty will die: so counsels Wisdom! Nella reached across to War. Yet love is worth fighting for: so counsels Death! Crylok, flailing, reached across to Poetry. But in the end, only empty words remain: so mutters War. And Variol, smiling, reached across to Wisdom. Then let us turn from Darkness and live in the daylight while we may: so say the bards.

They stood in deadlock. The shaking of the earth grew stronger, and cracks appeared in the tiled mosaic floor. The snuffed-out candles burst into sudden conflagration, mystic torches in the dimness of the sanctuary. The River Send began to boil, and croaking toads came flooding into the byways of the city. The people howled and panicked. The sun in heaven burned like crimson gore.

“You’re too smart for this, Syralis,” Variol said over the rattle and din. “You’re too wise to believe in what you’re doing.”

“Shut up!”

“You hate us because we make your esoteric wisdom accessible to all. We take away your eminence. We make everyone elite.”

“You butcher the insights of greatness!”

“But deep down, you know that we need each other. You can’t quite stifle the voice of your own humility.”

“I. . .”

An ear-splitting crack: the foundations of the Temple were failing.

“Don’t—listen, Syralis!” Crylok growled. “He speaks only weakness.”

“This fight is over,” said the bard. “Go ahead and enter my body, Lady of Wisdom. You’ll convince me of nothing, for you already Know that what I say is true.”

Syralis dropped her arms. The spire of the Temple snapped and toppled to the courtyard far below. The Priestess fell to her knees and slumped to the earth.

“No!”

Crylok broke away and fell writhing to the floor as well, his avatar half-stuck in the Knowing as he struggled to retreat into himself. The foggy nightmare visage of Gordash reared up above them and dissolved.

Around them swirled the Power of Hell itself, now vulnerable, called up and left unmarshalled. “This is our chance, Variol,” Nella panted. “We can drive the Darkness from this world once and for all!”

“Oh,” he said. “You may have misunderstood my intentions there.”

“Wh—what?”

“I’m a bard, Lady Nella. I can’t tell a story without the Darkness. I can’t let it win, of course—but I can’t let it perish, either.”

He dropped his arms, and the crucible of Knowing came to an end. Nella returned to her body, and the celestial forms of the Gods faded away. The earth grew still. The gale outside grew calm. The fire and darkness waned.

Nella stood staring at Variol in disbelief, too shocked for rage. “You betrayed me. You betrayed us all!”

“I never said I wanted to destroy the Dark.”

“For the love of the Gods, the mortal realm could have been free of evil forever.”

“How boring! Come on, let’s get a drink.”

“Go to Hell.”

He laughed. “Time enough for that. Farewell for now, High Priestess. We’ll meet again, I’m sure.”

The metropolitan streets were empty, but for a few confused toads hopping along in the returning sunshine. Like any bard, Variol headed straight for the first tavern he saw. Inside, too frightened even to peep at the windows, a dozen people huddled by the bar. And Calavariol, High Priest of the Bard-God Drimslip, drew his flute.

“My friends! Why so worried on such a lovely day? Come, barkeep, pour me an ale and let’s have some merriment.”

And he began to sing.

J.B. Toner

jJ.B. Toner  studied Literature at Thomas More College and holds a black belt in Ohana Kilohana Kenpo-Jujitsu, he and his lovely wife have just had their first daughter, Ms. Sonya Magdalena Rose.

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