The Seer Of Black Thorn
The hooded man was dressed in black robes, watching the sky as it turned from a blood red to a dull gray, the tip of Black Thorn probing the sky like an accusatory finger. Ash pelted the man’s face, embers glowing like fireflies, while his eyes—as pale as a spider eggs—scanned the sky for a sign.
And they came, as he knew they would. They came from the tunnels, from their caves on all fours—males and females spilling over cavernous volcanic stone, their sex indistinguishable. They came from the deepest depths of the mountain’s innards, a march of pale naked flesh. Like milk spilt on black stone they came to him, surrounding him, bathing Black Thorn in bleached ivory.
The man in black smiled, his pock-marked skin barely able to cover the man’s sallow cheeks, pulling taut over his gleaming, crooked teeth. He ran his wiry fingers through his long white hair as the wind, now howling, ripped off his hood. He closed his eyes, tapped the eye-shaped sapphire rune on his brow, inhaled the smokey, sulfuric air, and mumbled softly to himself as the pale figures lumbered among him
One by one they came, dragging chunks of gnarled driftwood brought to them by the river deep within Black Thorn, and tossed them into a heap upon the man in black’s feet. They moved silently, watching the man’s expression, tapping their empty brows as they shambled back away from the draped man.
“Enough,” said the man in black finally, as the wooden tower eclipsed him in height, and they abated. As quiet as death they watched as he reached into his robe and brought out a single gray egg. From a distance it looked like a simple stone, and yet the man in black placed it at the tip of the pyre before gingerly climbing down.
He had not yet stepped off when the egg began shaking, wobbling on a plank of driftwood. Then a crack and a glint of pinkish flesh appeared as the eggshell gave way. A weak squawk emerged and the line of pale flesh broke, trembled, and backed away.
“No,” the man in black said, and the line held with his word. He stepped forward, a hand to the sapphire rune, his eyes closed. Tears began trickling down his pale cheeks as he pointed into the crowd, who moaned, lips pulled up in a snaggletooth grin. A young man emerged, walking upright, a rune above his eyes glinting in the pale blue moonlight. The young man was the mirror image of the man in black.
The young man walked to the draped figure who, resolute in his conviction, stood with open arms—black nailed hands outstretched. The man took the boy’s head in his hands, stared into his eyes. “Be not afraid, my boy. Be not afraid.”
The man in black took the young man’s hand and walked him to an unlit torch. He gathered up splinters of wood and tinder and, with a snap of his fingers, lit it. He handed the torch, now lit, to the young man. Silently, the young man lit the pyre, and in a few moments it was ablaze, while out of the gray egg spilled the pink winged, twisted creature. And it burned, it burned. Before their eyes it shriveled, squawks turning to shrill screams, pink flesh blackening. The smell, of rendering fat, made the lumbering pale creatures sniff the air like dogs, their mouths watering.
The man in black took his boy’s head in his hands once more, and kissed him flush on the mouth. He rubbed the young man’s pale cheeks with his thumbs and hugged him. “Only flesh,” the man in black told him. “Only flesh.”
Then he pushed him into the crowd.
The first of them grabbed at the young man’s head while others pulled at his arms, dislocating bone. Teeth bit into his left cheek, blood oozing into the pallid creature’s mouth. Another bit into his armpit as the young man’s screams pelted the open air, his stomach filling with smoke, then pulling taut over his ribs.
“Into the fire,” the man in black commanded, and they listened, though they had not yet had their fill. They cast the still-live man into the pyre, which hissed and licked at his flesh.
The effect was immediate. The shriveling winged creature sprang to life, regaining its color. Its pinkish doughy body rose and fell, pulsing with life. It grew. It grew even as the young man squirmed, his lips pulling up into a gum-less sneer, wilting in the flames.
The bird squawked and Black Thorn shook, volcanic rock tumbling. The line of pale naked flesh closed their eyes, touching their brows and mumbling—their combined voices a low thrumming murmur in the night. The sour taste of fear and the coppery taste of the young man’s blood was on their tongues.
The creature was not pink anymore, it was red. It rose, flame wings flapping, beating the man in black in its hot, glowing heat—hotter than a thousand Suns.
Then it flew. Then it was gone.
The man in black scanned the horizon. A dull gray, the color of ash, blanketed the sky. His spider egg eyes darted in every direction, as one by one the procession returned to the depths from which they came, into darkness. The Seer of Black Thorn watched them go, while his boy, now a twisted chunk of coal, lay at his feet, an eye-shaped sapphire rune, all that remained, glinting in the moonlight. He reached down and ran a pale finger over what had been the bridge of his boy’s nose. It crumbled.
The winds howled and ash pelted the man’s face, embers glowing more vibrantly, enlivened by the pyre and...nothing else. The bird did not return, bringing clear skies with it—there was no sign.