INTO THE STRONGHOLD
I wander through life on horseback, as it were, crawling when haste is surely prudent, galloping where a trot would suffice. I have forged, by my own rough hands, the reigns, the saddle, and the spurs necessary to steer this great beast like destiny steers man. I have packed provisions; I have plotted a path into the blackest uncharted hazes of the nether regions of this beautiful, enduring torch burning the last oil of the last dying star in existence. At last I shall pierce the darkness; at last I shall know the love of nothingness on the other side of a brilliant chasm of embittered light! At last I shall know peace. I have known the touch and the deceit of women, and have been well pleased with both. I have drank in the stench of battle, and held my piquant liquor well. Now those things are nearing their end, as such things must. At last I shall know peace, and the sweet clangor of the sword as it hits, with finality, the stone promenade which my horse’s hooves have lately tread, coming gently to rest to grow cold, never again to be warmed by these blood-soaked hands, never again to cut to ribbons the swathes of this infirm, tired world. My sword disappears.
The name of my horse is Aionatem. Ask not to know my own, for this name holds mystery and honor to suffice for us both, we brothers in arms on the steppes of blood. My feet have not touched the ground since I remember not when, and through the murky shadows beneath me my eyes can no longer penetrate. That the four hooves of my tireless companion disappear completely from my gaze into the black fog is dread enough for one man to face—I inquire no further into the nature of the ground beneath my being, and upon which those four veracious hooves never fail to rhythmically fall. A sorcerer named Ameleth bid me dismount, claiming that doing so was the only way to win the freedom that justifies a man and all his petty appetites. Though his words resounded with the fleshy weight of a terrible attraction, I succeeding in rebuking the old devil at last. His twisted knuckles gripped a knotted staff with all the hatred of his sad religion, and it was the chance sight of this detail alone that gave me strength enough to sunder his hypnotic spell. I left him muttering his diabolical songs behind me, with the stronghold rising upon the horizon ahead. He, too, disappeared.