Act I: Defiler – Chapter 5: Swallowed by the Abyss

His restlessness urged him to discover more of the world. He went to the misty forests in the east and saw the giant trees stretch toward the clouds. Then he went south to where the sea of sand met the ocean. He pushed northward in the direction of the black mountain again. The splinter in his soul he could not ignore. But the never-ending stretches of tundra and snow forced him to turn back. In the middle of it all, there were lush forests and meadows where wast herds grazed. He went west and found the ragged mountains whose peaks were whipped by constant icy winds. To see what was there, he climbed the summits suffocating heights that burst through the clouds. He found nothing but cold and desolation. The search continued, but for what he did not know, maybe meaning, maybe rest. In the mountains, the seasons faded into each other without much change. He had found a place where he felt detached from the world and could forget he was a part of it.

There was a cave in the mountain face where he spent many years. It overlooked an enclave of life in a land of desolation. The valley was one of few where life could still thrive. He would watch the morbid play between the animals grazing on the sparse vegetation on the mountainside and those that stalked them in the night. The cycle of life played out before his eyes. There was a brook running through a birch forest where the sheep drank their fill before climbing the steep walls in search of mosses and lichen. They were the most abundant of the larger things living at those altitudes. He had tried to hunt them, but he was no match for their awareness and agility. Neither spear nor arrow could touch their hide. They seemed to sense his intentions before he knew he had them. If he went down to the brook for water, carrying his spear, they did not so much as look at him. If he went down for blood, they fled up the mountain face where no other could follow. He gave up hunting them many years ago. Instead, he turned his attention to the rodents inhabiting the valley, and the fish in the brook’s cold water.

On a moonlit night, he saw a white beast move through the gorge. Its pelt glittered in the moonlight even more than the fresh snow. It stopped by the brook to drink of its water or look for fish. He could not see from where he was. Then it stood up on its hind legs and walked like an impossibly tall hunched over man before disappearing behind a grove of birches. That night was sleepless. Every little sound made his heart thump so that he heard the blood rushing in his ears. He kept the fire alive until sunrise. In the morning, he went down into the valley to get water and found the mutilated carcasses of seven sheep scattered over the site. They were all missing their reproductive organs. That day, he took his largest piece of obsidian, fashioned and fitted it as a new spearhead. From then on, he kept the spear with him in his bed like a lover.

After some years, he left and went westward to where the ragged mountains met the sea. He walked the snow-clad crests overlooking the deep valleys and gorges. As the clouds dispersed, he saw something far below. Something dark contrasted the snow, and as he descended, he saw that it was a body of water. There was a lake in the valley in between the mountain peaks. It looked like a void in the mountains from where he stood. It was dark as the darkest well and would have been a suitable entrance to the underworld. An abyss of darkness, not unlike his heart. The shores of the lake were barren, and the only living things were mosses and some kind of short blue grass growing through the gravel. As he came closer, he saw that the surface was covered in a thin layer of ice but for a spot in the middle where the warmer water rising from the innards of the mountain kept it from forming. He could see a shoal of small elongated fish swim beneath. Something big stirred the open water in the middle before disappearing into the depths.

He went to the edge of the lake, where he squatted down and crushed the ice with his hand. When the water had become still, he saw the reflection of himself, and he watched it for a while. He could not remember when he last had seen it. The time spent in the harsh world seemed to exert no power over him. He looked the same as when he first was spat out by the lake of his inception. There was only less meat on his bones, and his hair and beard had grown long and made him resembled the hermit he was. Time went by in a long chain of days melting into each other like snow in the spring, forming a stream of seasons turning into years. The soul-breaking wheel of life crushed his love for living into dust scattered with the wind.

There was a lone sapling growing out of the gravel. He removed his clothing and threw them onto the ground beside it. He began to shiver. The hairs on his pale body became erect in a futile attempt to keep him warm. He emptied his bag on top of his clothes and looked around. There was a rock larger than the rest. He picked it up and put it in the bag and then the bag onto his naked back and tied it onto himself by the straps. He made multiple tight knots. His teeth started to chatter as he stepped through the ice and submerged his foot in the water. The cold burned his skin. He hesitated as the other foot touched the surface, but his even colder existence urged him on. The ice shattered into small floes as he waded toward the middle of the lake. The slope of the bottom became ever steeper toward the dark hole. He stopped at the edge where the water reached his chest. Then he took the plunge into the mouth of the mountain.