Content warnings for this episode include: Veins, Heartbeats
Hallows; A Prologue
Darker than your dreams, and almost at your back porch now, there is a forest where life and death meet. Ladies, gentlemen, and indescribable beings, it has been a few months since I haunted the shadows beneath your bed, or kept the skeletons in your closet company. Have you enjoyed the placid silence of your sleep? Or have you missed dreaming of hallowed pines and eyes that shine in the night? Have you missed me?
To return to these woods, for me, is complicated. I have tried and failed to ignore the significance of this place. You understand that to return to you, to speak each night in dream, to sit in the eye of the hurricane that is ever so slowly growing, and relate to you each new spiral and current of wind within it—requires coming back here, to the beginning, to this painful well of memory. To the forest that bleeds and watches and sings.
But I could never truly stay away. I am not that strong. I could never ignore his call.
I wish that I was, and that I could compartmentalize everything neatly. Continue to flit from tree to tree and eye to eye and spin my narrative and pretend that it was no burden to do so, while these pines like tombstones stand over the grave of my lover.
But I am trying not to ignore so much of myself, dreamer.
Xyzikxyz, Emptiness Between Worlds, once said it was alright to feel all the grief that I carry, that it is not wasted even now. That even though aeons have passed, it is alright to miss what I have lost. Even now, to want it back. And I believe her.
Old Afterclaps, that grinding auditor with broken chains and half-skull wreathed in fire, once said it was alright to feel concern for you. For this world of yours that is disintegrating before my eyes. That if ever the moment came where I might be able to help you, in some small way, even at the cost of the integrity of the narrative, that I might do it. I do not know if that moment will ever arrive. But nevertheless, I too, believe him.
I am sure you are ready, dreamer, to step with me again into the Hallowoods, to walk beneath sunless pines and share a nightmare in crimson light.
But I am not sure yet that I am ready. Twice now you have journeyed with me, and although we have passed through great shadow, the seasons have given way each time to a pleasanter day, the dark and roiling planets tumble away to grant us celestial peace, and life moves on.
I do not know the future, dreamer. I am not omniscient. But I do see very much, all unfolding at one time, and I am racing to make sense of it, and I dread what may be coming. That is the cost, I think, of standing in the center of the narrative, and as the tempo rises and the days grow dire, I am afraid to return to this forest. I am afraid of what is coming.
I think, before we begin, I would sit here with you, a moment. I would gather my strength. And I would ask you, if you are to turn back, to wake in the night and roll over and descend into more restful slumbers, to do it now.
Hallowed is the forest; each leaf in blackened crimson is a love letter, dark runes inscribed in the veins on the undersides. One might almost feel a pulse in them, as if holding the wrist of a lover. They fall like fading butterflies, drained of their color, and dance in vulnerable pirouettes as they catch the wind for a moment, a breath of limitless potential, before they plummet to grace the forest floor. The branches they leave behind are bare, the hands of naked skeletons holding up a grey October sky.
Hallowed are the pines, ever green, ever black, a cloak that envelops the horizon and keeps it warm for the winter to come. The wind in them is an instrument, a song whispered with a smile, and it breaks my heart to hear it, for I have heard it before. Art is like that—when it is by someone you love, you see them in every brushstroke, and the paint is heavy in the pines, drips from their weeping eyes.
Hallowed are its lakes, for there the black water pools and seeps and grows, and when they ripple in the rainstorm it is a holy communion, a past and a present reunited. Their lily flowers are a gift, their tadpoles and eels and water beetles and worms and little fish a bounty. They hold the future as if in two clutched hands, and nestle in their depths the waking eyes of a new world, a new age, that which will save all that has been lost.
...they also hold Lolgmololg, but that’s no one’s fault in particular.
Hallowed are the northmost woods, for they are the guardians of the change, and they shine with colors I have not seen in many aeons, and conceal that which dwells in the starry corridors and winds in the obsidian labyrinths of space. They are a curse upon the living, a wall to keep out those who might try to still the beating heart of the age, turn back the ever-spinning wheel of time and fortune. They will not be stopped. They will not be bound. They will not be held fast by the passing of old souls.
Hallowed are the people. The people most of all, I think. And I am sorry for them. I am sorry for you. I think I am allowed to be. Still dreaming after the end. Rising each day in hope of a better tomorrow, when there is none promised for you. Finding reasons in yourself and those around you to stay here, on the black earth of this crumbling planet, when all the reasons in the heavens are gone. But then again, I am here too. I also have no great confidence in the future. But in these final moments, I can not look away.
There is less light each day, now, in the Hallowoods, and there is fog in the morning like the shroud of memory itself. The summer is over, and its last traces slip away in the wind, replaced by a fresh chill. The ravens are all gone, and we are alone when we drift in the forest treetops, and the song of frog and thrush and cricket quiets as they seek out shelter before the first frost.
And yet, it is also the season of the harvest, of squirreling away a bounty for winter, for celebrating all that the summer has brought. And for those who live at Scoutpost Two, the summer has brought much—new friends, and new family, and refuge from their enemies. They hope that these memories, preserved in cans and jars in the cellar, will be enough to last them through the winter to come.
It is night, at the Scoutpost, and a hundred candle-lights are caught mid-flicker in the windows of little rooms and the jaws of jack-o-lanterns. Banners of spooks and frights hang from the walls, and a bonfire burns in the courtyard. Friends and lovers, families and foes are caught around it, each costume and disguise a little different from the next.
The costumes are not to scare each other, largely, for few beside the little children are frightened by a mask. It is also not much in the way of a disguise—Riot and Olivier and Clementine and Danielle and Percy and Diggory, for instance, recognize each other despite the odd clothing. It is for the fun of it, a last rousing celebration before the winter winds force them indoors, and make them to think of the expedition to come.
Riot wonders if she is too old for trick-or-treating, but then again, she has never been before, and her costume of tin knight’s armor is better than any she was able to concoct in the bunker with her mother.
Olivier would not admit that she is enjoying herself, as she has been badgered by Riot into a dress. She resists Riot’s advances by explaining that a feudal knight belonged to a different class than a princess, and would not have been allowed to kiss one. It does not stop Riot much.
Clementine has dressed like a rock star, a peace offering to her past. She is relieved that her hair is growing out, and a mullet is starting to form; that she no longer gets mistaken for Riot when running through the Scoutpost courtyard, that Violet is teaching her to garden and Bern to keep the new stock of bees.
Danielle has donned a costume that… is straw painted black like bristly fur, and she has dotted it with dozens of red wooden eyes. That is highly inappropriate, and not what I look like. I do, however, approve of her using it to scare children. This amuses me.
Percy has marked on his silver skin in black and white; a revival of the short-lived punk days of his youth. It is his first Halloween as well; there was only Fall Festival in his youth. Not even a year ago, he thinks, I dwelt in such fathomless misery. Look at all the lights I am surrounded by now.
Chief of them is Diggory Graves, whose attention drifts every so often to the wall, to the stars just beginning to appear in the twilight beyond the games and scarecrows and caramel apples. It is almost like they know, dreamer, what lies beyond. The darkness in the trees, the maw that devours and the guardian that watches, the burning crowns and the fields of ice and the fathomless temple and the heart that beats inside it.
It is almost like they know that miles away, the forest peels apart as scuttling talon and chitinous pincer pierce through the night; the Museum of Broken Promises racing for the Scoutpost, its master on a dire mission.
This is your last chance to wake, dreamer, before this nightmare begins. I cannot guarantee what the future will hold, this time. I cannot guarantee that it will be alright, for them, or for you, or for I.
But if you will press onward on this path, than I shall too, wherever it leads, and I shall hope that as paths tend to, it will bring us home again, when the narrative is spun.
It no longer brings me shame to say that I have missed this narrative, and those who dwell within it, yourself included. And it brings me joy as we return to a horizon of listening trees, and lakes that grow dark and cold with the autumn, and a sun that falls dim and red upon the living. Wherever you have wandered, I welcome you home, and bid you Hello from the Hallowoods.
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