The Rag Temple
Kara’skance and Makoum are the strange protectors of a dilapidated temple in the middle of nowhere. They would have passed through eternity as insignificant if not for one fateful night.
Status: Work-In-Progress (Scroll down to the * for the update if you have read the first installment), un-beta-ed, please comment if you notice any grammar/spelling mistakes and such or have any constructive criticism. I’ve worked in sales, I have thick skin.
Warnings: Images and description of mild nudity and later scenes of violence. I would rate it a PG-13 if not for the boob in the picture below, as such read it at your own discretion.
____________________________________________________ The Temple of Rags was once a little known temple, high in the Askaroth mountains, it is now quite forgotten by all but the two guardian guilds. Because of it’s low status, many would question the validity of its having one powerful guardian, let alone two, but two it does have.
Kara’skance sat perched just outside of the door, keeping watch for visitors. As far as chaos angels went, she wasn’t particularly beautiful. Her vibrant hair was hacked short and she had only five tattoos, the customary three around her eyes marking her family and status. The other two were more unusual, a black sun blazon across her right shoulder and a black moon rising on her collar bone. The moon was very small for such a potent symbol of power, but she had never been one for vanity. She wore no clothes or trappings of human modesty, her shame was hidden by a guardian cap and a halo she had inherited from her predecessor in the traditional manner. In comparison to the thick, bold halos of the younger guardians in the grand temple of the south, Kara’skance’s seemed weak with it’s delicate curls. “You’ll get cold sitting out here.” He always said that even though she never did, even this late in the year. “I can feel something coming.” It had started as a tingle in her fingers and toes this last week and had now evolved into a bitter taste on the tip of her tongue. It grew sharper and more acrid the closer It got. “Probably just a pilgrim.” She felt the rolling heat of ancient magic slide up behind her. Makoum had been at the temple long before her, possible long before it had been built. He often joked he would be there long after the rags had turned to dust. ”Or it’s another flock of ja’jah birds.” His tongue lumbered around each syllable clumsily. Kara’skance was always openly amused and secretly flattered by how much effort he put into physical speech, most of his kind never bothered. She no longer teased him about it, the last time she had she had woken up with six poisonous trakar in her bed. It had taken two weeks of vomiting in order to clear her system. Makoum had, of course, denied all knowledge of the incident, but there had been a decidedly smug shine to his scales. “No, not this time. It will be here in time for Tonar.” She was certain. Makoum’s chest rumbled as he yawned. “Then I still have time for a nap.” With that he floated back inside. Kara’skance knew she’d find him coiled on the alter rags. When she first arrived she had found this blatant abuse repellent. Over the years she had realised that, try as she might, she could not get the dragon to sleep anywhere else. ”I refuse to sleep on those itchy pile of twigs you call a mattress,” he would say haughtily, “besides when you are as old as the very heart of the earth you can sleep wherever you damned well please, you upstart scrappling.” Kara’skance pulled her wings around her and was so still for a moment it seemed she had become part of the mountainside itself. Tonar was several hours away and she had yet to sweep the temple floors, but for the moment she was glued to the spot by a sense of futile dread. As the day wore on, the floors were cleaned. The temples only two inhabitants had they’re usual meal of bread, milk and honey for Makoum. Then as the day became night and the hours of Tonar approached the bitter taste in the back of Kara’sknce’s throat became a cold burn behind the eyes. “It will be here soon.” She announced as she drifted down to sit in her customary position, cross-legged in front of the alter, where Makoum dozed. When the wind chimes signaled the beginning of Tonar and the door burst open, this was how It found them. For humans and other mortal creatures the day begins when the sun rises and ends when it gives way to the moon, night then reigns and in between are the wavering moments of dusk and dawn. For creatures of the the Time Before, there is no such division, however they too mark the passing of time from one planetary rotation to the next. To them this moment is known as Tonar, a time of passing. In human terms this moment varies minutely due to the ongoing tug of war between order and chaos but it always falls between the hours of three and four, when most mortal beings sleep. At this time the barriers surrounding the residual pieces of what is left of the Time Before are weakest, and as such the creatures created there are strong. Strong but unstable. They see things that came before, that will come and what lies beneath the thin layer of reason and logic that holds our world together. Tonar was when Kara’skance had fallen to the earth and the time when Makoum had first burst from the depths of it. In this hour they could hear their brothers and sisters whispering in their ears from great distances, and this particular night they were screaming. In this hour It had escaped from the depths where they had captured it. It was as old as Makoum, possibly older, although Makoum would never admit so. Nothing from the Time Before was innately evil, they were just raw and desperate and terrified of becoming tame. It was no exception, wilder than most perhaps, but really not so different. If It had eyes, Kara’skance could not bear to meet them from where she knelt on the floor. Makoum could not look away as he rose to his full, glorious height on the alter. “Maaaakoum, I wondered what structure of sophistry I would find you in.” Kara’skance winced at the awful laugh that book-ended the simple statement. She felt her insides crawl, shift and settle only when the last echoes had died on the stone floors. She had cleaned them today, it would not do to dirty them so quickly. Do not turn around, srappling, not until I tell you to. Kara’skance was rocked with the feeling of scales sliding accross her frontal lobe, it was so rare that Makoum used mind-speak, that she often forgot that he could. A bubbly feeling made her eyes fizz as he caught her surprise. He was laughing at her, the insufferable lizard. “Cah’ahrth, what ill wind freed you from your chambers?” “Chambers? CHAMBERS?” The temple shook and tiles fell from the ceiling above coming down so close to Kara’skance that she was sure she felt the resultant breeze in the tips of her primaries. ”Those rotten caves weren’t fit for a blind ass.” Kara’skance winced again, that giggle, that pulled the liquid in her eyes making her see supernovas as small as slugs. ”No Maaaakoum, I have decided to return to my rightful place.” It laughed and her feathers turned to fire, then glass and back to down. “I cannot allow that.” Makoum’s great body shifted and became a mighty ‘S’ poised to strike. His big fists and claws, which Kara’skance had only ever thought were for swatting flies, rendered the decorative edges of the alter to slivers and powder. Kara’skance tried to find the stillness she had held so easily earlier in the day as another booming giggle ripped her scalp from her spine and pulled it down her spine. I am chaos, she thought desperately, I will not surrender to it; it is me. She fought it, the laughter that sang in her blood. This is not suicide, It whispered on the tips of her eyelashes, this is rebirth. As she fought and fought the laughter that threatened to pull her from existence she heard it, descending into the corner of the mind that keeps a being away from dreams. It settled there, blanketing her with calm. Now.
The air shivered as Kara’skance launched herself at the source of the malicious voice, but instead of feeling supernatural rip beneath her fingers and blood in her mouth she felt only displaced air on her face. She was moving to fast, having used her wings to add speed to her attack, and she went careening into the unforgiving floor. She was out of practice, she knew she should have insisted upon regular sparring sessions as per regulations, but she couldn’t even get Makoum to sleep in an appropriate bed. She pushed her self up, turning quickly, ready to launch another attack, and finally she saw It. When she had moved suddenly, It had darted to the left, only to be caught in Makoum’s formidable jaws. That was the first time she saw It, writhing there, making a sound not dissimilar to a dying helfior calf. It would have appeared to many as an old man, withered and gnarled with time and a hateful life. It’s physical skin was pale and marbled with dark veins through which putrid blood flowed, thick and viscous like the sap from a ruptured tree. It’s eyes bulged with anger or fear, it was hard to tell, and Kara’skance had learned early in her time on his world, that one could often be mistaken for the other. But that was only the form it had chosen to travel in, around the edges Kara’skance could see something else, twisting on a higher frequency. Her eyes ached as she gazed upon it, but for the first time since she had felt the tingling in her toes this morning her heart leapt. She wooped in victory and began to weave a cage to store It in when it suddenly expanded. Makoum’s jaws only stretched wider, holding fast. It then contracted, becoming smaller, loosing It’s physical shape to become a miasmic clump. But still Makoum held fast although he thrashed across the temple floor. “Calm down Makoum, the cage is finished.” Kara’skance called, stepping back to examine her work for visible signs of weakness. It spread across the floor like a carved star-map. Great gouges in the floor described the whole of space and time and yest held it’s captive somewhere quite beyond all that entailed. ”Makoum bring him here, it’s finished Makoum, stop playing with your food.” Too late she realised, the thing, Cah’ahrth Makoum had called It, was not contracting. It was pouring itself into Makoum, pervading every particle of his being. From his amorphous brain to the smallest scale at the tip of his tail. It poured itself down Makoum’s open throat as Kara’skance could only watch in horror. When it had dissappeared Makoum lay upon the temple floor shuddering, wheezing, eyes closed tight in pain. If he had been a man or an angel Kara’skance thought he would have been drenched with sweat, as it was his scales puffed out as if he was trying to intimidate some hidden foe. “Makoum!” She rushed forward, anxious for her friend’s well being. Get back! It was soft, a mere suggestion of the words compared to the certainty they had carried earlier, like when you almost remember a name but can’t quite push it past your lips. When he opened his eyes to look at her he was no longer Makoum. There was no physical change, but she saw It there, vibrating at the edges. In her anger she flung herself forward, only narrowly avoiding the cage had laid in front of the alter, rising above it at the last moment. “Get out of him!” Her nails raked futility across hard scales, however she landed a firm bite to the inside of one of his upper arms, where she knew it would hurt but cause no lasting damage. Cah’ahrth roared and she was swatted from the air and clutched tight in claw. It then squeezed, laughing low and she thought she felt her lungs ooze into her throat. “Fooooolish little pesssst.” It hissed, the voice was transformed by Makoum’s vocal chords and his enormous tongue, which snaked out to flicker across her forehead and cheeks, but it was still unmistakably the monster who had infected her friend. He then took both her ankles in the other claw and smacked head first into the hard floor. One, two, three hundred stars appeared. “Did you think I had come aaaall this way sssssimply to see my old friend Maaakoum?” Her ears crackled with the sound of bells and her head swam. “Sorry,” she spat out the blood in her mouth, “did you say something?” It gave her another smack on the floor and then dangled her in front of not-Makoum’s face until her refocused. “Do you remember a time when this place had pilgrims?” Kara’skance started to nod, but that only made her feel sick, so she answered, pleased with how strong her voice sounded to her own ears in the quite of the night. “Yes.” The line, in the beginning of her assignment here had stretched down the mountain side. “They didn’t all place offerings on the alter did they?” No some had come with binding rituals, the older ones had sometimes bypassed the temple altogether and gone straight for the small hotsprings outside. They didn’t sit in them, no one ever did. Oh gods! How can I have been so stupid? “It’s an exit point.” Her voice wavered under the sudden fear her epiphany left in it’s wake. “Veeeeery goooood little pesssst. I wassss staaaarting to think you haaaaad neither braaaains nor braaaaawn, but I can sssssee now you haaaaave a little of one, if not much of the other.” Kara’skance didn’t listen to the back-handed compliment. The screams from earlier were back, and playing in discordance with the blood rushing into her head. They morphed into shouts. Do something! Stop It! Or else… “I’m going hoooome.” It whispered it’s tongue flicking along the moon at her collar bone.
“You can’t!” “I caaaan.” He sounded, young, sweet and tuneful. “I won’t let you.” “Hoooow will you sssstop me? You aaaare alone and weak. Makooooum wassss weak and paaaathetic and now he issss gone. Ssssoon all this will be gone, it will dessssscend into the chaaaaos aaaas is right, RIGHT. Look aaaat you, you aaaare a sssshadow of foooormer glorrrry, when yoooou fell yoooou became nothing. I refusssse to exist like thissss, rejected and forgotten by these repulsive moooortaaaals who haaaad the audaaaacity to dream meeee into this woooorld and then ignoooore their ressssponsibility becaaaause it’s cheaper toooo shut their eyessss and think about theiiiir comfoooort, theiiiir convenience. Whaaaat has haaaappened to compaaaassion? What has haaaappened to meeee.” Saliva dripped from not-Makoum’s mouth. It still held her in once claw, but It now used the other to pluck her feathers out. It pulled each individual one, slowly, waiting for the point when wing became lone feather, emphasizing each syllable. “You have become disgusting, corrupted.” Kara’skance wheezed. “If I aaaam disgussssting it is becaaaause they have maaaade me thaaaat way. I wassss pure and haaaappy and loving, it issss they whoooo have made meeee cruel, it is thesssse creatuuuures who haaaave twissssted me to suit theirrrr ends. But not anymooooore, no, no, no, I’m going baaaack to the Time Before.” You would be mistaken for the Time Before was an era. It is hard to describe in human terms, but if you were to try, it would be closer to a place that existed before, after, during, in harmony and in opposition to the world you see and hear. The magic in this world, is chaos, or the tiny amounts of it left behind when logic randomly first came to be. Creatures could come from there, sporadically and almost exclusively accidentally and during the times of Tonar, when the logic and chaos merged. While everything could and would eventually descend back into chaos when it’s time came, creatures could not return at will. If they could Kara’skance would be first in line. Each creature comes into the world in a manner unique for them. For chaos angels, it usually involved a fall, either physical or from a disordered sort of grace. Like dragons they would never truly know the purpose of their arrival. It, however, knew why It had been pulled from their welter. For many they would be welcome, however sometimes, the fall from grace could occur upon or after arrival. If you can imagine being rejected from your family for the nature of your soul, then you can begin to understand the pain It felt. Normally Kara’skance revelled in the electric charge that filled the air during the times of Tonar. Some of her more changable sisters had adopted the human custom of wearing clothes, in order to emulate them or to fit in, Kara’skance didn’t know, and she would never truly understand. She didn’t want to cut herself off from the last remnants of the Time Before. She welcomed the rush of it, even the ache it left behind. It reminded her that some things were eternal, whether you welcomed them or not. Tonight, however, it filled her with he was dragged out into the courtyard behind the temple. It was protected by a high walls on either side and a sheer drop at the end. There was little vegetation there. What could grow was sparse and disfigured, they survived barely in the oppressive presence of the relic. Every temple had one, if anyone visited the Rag Temple many thought it was the altar, but the true power lurked here. An enormous skeleton tree, petrified with age rose above the wilted dandelions and weeds. It had sprouted in the Time before and had not flowered in milennia. Instead of leaves, it’s branches held threads. Each one held the dream of a single pilgrim who had sought salvation here. Time and the elements had matted them into inelegant clumps. This was the original temple. Kara’skance was hurled at the foot of the tree. She curled into it’s enormous trunk, momentarily hoping that it would shelter her from the certainty that she wouldn’t see the dawn. “Diiig!” It spat at her. “How about you go fuck yourself?” Not-Makoum’s tail whipped across her back, catching her upper arms and the sensitive join of wing and shoulder. This time she could bite back the cry of pain, but she regretted her weakness when It chuckled. He commanded she dig again, and every time she refused he whipped her, until her hand moved involuntarily. Her fingers pulled the soil, damp as if the tree had been watered at dusk, although she knew that was not possible. It clung to her flesh accusingly, marking her shame. By the time she reached what It was looking for, her wings shuddered with signs of exhaustion and her nail beds were torn and bloody. The moonstone was a soothing balm, innocuous in it’s raw form. This was her last chance for redemption and she seized it, the entire future of the logical world hidden in her grasp. “Whaaaat haaaave you got there little pesssst?” It stalked towards her. With her last remaining strength Kara’skance had she flew, higher then her muscles would allow, higher then should be possible with the remaining feathers she had left, and only just higher the It’s jaws. She landed badly and felt her ankle snap, but she surged onward. She didn’t have to make it down the mountain, just to the other side of the altar. It roared in frustration, and she could feel the heat of it’s breath. But she could see her sanctuary, her salvation in sight. She jumped, putting pressure on her ankle that it couldn’t take, but she had left her body and she was soaring, watching Makoum’s final moments beneath as she crowed in victory. by the time It realised what she had done, the cage had already begun to collapse inward. It had only taken the light touch of a single claw to activate it, the symbols coming alive, swarming up it’s scales. She crashed back into her body as the last scale turned to stone. On Makoum’s face was an expression of pure hate, so at odds with the lazy, self-satisfied creature she had know. She pulled herself across the floor, unable to stand now that she had accomplished what she needed to. She died on the floor, body bent, dirty and broken. She would remain there until years later her decade remains would be found and buried, along with the moonstone, beneath the rag tree, only to be forgotten, like so many of her peers. ___________________________________________________________
I hope you have enjoyed this little tale, it is not much, but considering it started life as a desire to fill a blank page with doodles I am very pleased with how it turned out. This is the first time I have come up with an illustration before forming a concept in words. It’s a mash up of lots of other stories I have tried to finish in the past but never got round to. Still to come (read no further all ye’ who detest spoilers): The true nature of Makoum is revealed