The Night Before

The empty page is bastard hard – white featureless expanse. Hard to cut there, hard to shape – cold electronic fuzz, the yawing void. How do you drive a door, open a gate in that then? With sweat and grime do you bring them in. With will you do summon up the strength in your bones. The terror of your own possible ineffectuality, of smashing your head against a brick. Of dying, screaming, howling.

And yet, I can feel the pulse speed up, the heart pound, the fingers twitch – the jaws want to rip and rend. Suddenly marble flesh becomes pliant, and I can break the skin, tear it open to reveal the blood and the meat and the dark. Now, there\’s the cut, the incision, the paths of viscera and vein,

With greedy hands I pull at the guts, nooses of glistening bowel; the stink of it, of metal, piss and excrement. Breath comes faster, the sweat pricks the skin, the roots of the hair twitch and the curve of the skull bulges – scalp twitching.

I\’m hungry. The body is full of lust and fire, and the whiteness of the page becomes something to stain with black blood that poisons and steams, sizzling etchings on the world. Tattooing, spreading through the layers, dampening fibres, changing them.

Laughter then. The enemy becomes my food, my meat, my drink. I have ripped the page open and it is bleeding. This is rape. This is capture, this is torture.

Possession; smoothness smashed, broken; a bloody bruised upwelling flowers here. The darkness of a blackened eye. Age brought to the ageless, pain a shadow to the unending bliss of non-existence, a scream brought into the silence; ripped from an alien throat, infusing the void with a ringing emptiness.

I bring death here; more than death even – something injected into the heart of the body. Sets it to thrash and spasm; ink-drunk on the drug of it.

(The runes are risted with blood to make them live. My blood. My breath, my voice. My song, spreading into the grain of the wood. What am I then, but the Outside? Open the mouth with a kiss; slip inside to dwell, set eyes to shine – fair of form and face. Understand, from the ground I rise, from within the centre of the black earth, the the burning sun within. My neck is broken as I dangle, tongue outstretched, yet I see the runes unwritten.)

I will make you scream, yet you will not hear me. The enemy falls and I feast endlessly. I am nourished by this destruction – I wax on the flesh of virgins, grow glutted and potent on the buttocks and cunt of wrinkled whores, gobble the frozen cocks of hanged men and chew on their shrunken balls

I am the wolf now. What was firstborn and smooth grows hair and teeth from my bite. The frothing spume of madness burns, the infection spreads. Patient Zero. I write, I carve, I sing, and what was, is no longer. I am destroyer now; what falls is my food; what stands, is due to my charm, my spell my thundered song.

I am eagle. See me and feel your heart leap at my voice, the beat of my wings. You desire me, my shinng head, my gleaming feathers. Desire me, desire my flight! Give your heart to me as food, and I shall set you to fly!

No more born of man, the blood will flow and you will die. Kin no more shall you have, none save I and all who come from me.

Serpent am I, old and cold in the blood and rasping in scale – the wyrm that burrows, pierces mountains to plunge into the cup to suck down the mead ,made from the blood of gods!

Even these are sustenance to I, the smiles of bright ones, the teeth of the dark. Forked is my tongue as I coil amidst the bosoms of mankind, secret and patient beyond imaginings, set to leap and sing in ways heard in the marrow of bone, the depths your dampest, darkest soul.

And now, now you see, now you smell my spoor; what is now, is not what was before – the movement of my arm, the flight of my spear, the hunt in the darkness and the running of the deer. The dance and the markings, singer and song; all of these lead you further along.

I once was, the thing before, till I slipped like a thief through the door; of my own flesh, which is full of the never-was and the might-have-been.

To breathe then, to pour out this libation, this sacrifice. I make this holy, hallowed and healthy. The page springs up, writhing – no longer inert. This is how and why, as the words are typed and scrawled – the movement made, the black, hidden speech which does not even stir the air, this bond that binds and twists and shapes.

This then, we make together, you and I, as we have always done. Listen then, and learn the way, now that this place is full of us, now the path is known by your body, your mind. Speak, and listen to your voice your art. For we are no god, and this is the secret – they made a god of us, in the days long after men forgot what gods are. And even then, before that, those who saw us, wrapped us in a skin of a god and only a few would look us in the eye.

But we, we are together. So listen:

Tomorrow you die, my friends. Tomorrow you fall, and lose all you are – the thread of your life is cut; it has reached its end, and all that stands will be a memory. Study the faces of those around this fire, for they are the last faces you will ever see – all ends tonight.

But what of your grandfathers, what of those who bore you, raised you and taught you to wield a blade? What of after the battle, did they not survive? Are they not proof of the victory; are you not yourselves, by your birth spittle in the eyes of their enemies?


Tomorrow is your first battle, and your last. Tomorrow you feed the ravens, tomorrow you scream like a newborn and lie still, slick with your own blood and just as cold. Tomorrow you piss yourselves in fear and your blood turns to water.

Tonight there is only this, only this tale, only these faces; only this voice. Tonight you sit and drink, round after round, passing from hand to hand. Tonight you feel the pounding of your heart, the whispers of the dreams that hover, waiting to be had in the small grey hours before the dawn.

Tonight the brew slides down your throat and burns and your bladders fill. Tonight you do not move, save for when it comes upon you like a fever, like a fury. Tonight you watch flames flare, sparks dance and embers die smell smoke and see ashes growing cold.

Tonight you say goodbye to those you love, your kith and kin, your home and hearth. Tonight you say farewell to being a man, for soon you will be a corpse, rotten and full of worms.

For he comes out of the rising sun – a sun so bright that it burns the eye and scalds the sight forever. Struck blind they hear only the thunder of his coming, felt the shaking of the ground beneath their feet; they choked on the dust of his passing, gasping and gagging for stolen breath.

But he did not come alone, this one. Many are the rings upon his arms, gleaming in the dawn, as many as his brothers, with yet more besides. Nine for each, thrice on thrice – these were his bond-gifts, worn proudly by those of his kin.

For brothers in blood are this host, grim of face and twice as shadowed. Where one rode, so did they all. Streaming from the Land Beyond the Dawn they came, burnished with the marks of burning darkness, girded in the Light beyond Light.

Their voices are raised up high and mighty, a deep roar of gravesong stretching back into the always. Where their steeds passed by a cold wind blew and froze the morning dew to ice and set the skin to chill and the flesh to shiver.

Across plain and mountain they rode, faster than the wind, the wind aye, which followed them howling like a hundred wolves. Faster even than the great black birds that followed them to such a feast of carrion as the bellies of ten thousand of them could not devour, nor bones could they pick clean.

The sky was black with those sharp-eyed things, yet all were silent, for it seemed as if that great host of terrible strangers had stolen their very voices. Weird and terrible was their song – and I have called it gravesong, and thus it was.

It tugs at the vitals, freezes the marrow and sets the spine to crawl. It stirs the belly, gnaws the bowel and sets the hands to shake. On and on they sang, passing by in endless multitude, each turning his head to look at me, each face shadowed and bearing his features though they came from many lands – as many even, as there ever where.

Looked at me aye, as I do look at you now, here at the end of your lives, your thread stretched thin, its pale shining now soon to dim in the sunless lands of mist and shadow. Looked and saw within, their eyes upon my innards, my heart and spirit, saw the rune of me, the wyrd of my life.

With blinded eyes, I met that gaze, piercing from an infinitude of sockets; upon myriad battlegrounds I stood, weary and alone as the enemy met his end choking on the corpses of my dead brothers. Amidst the smoke I saw the end of ten thousand lives, and heard them cry for their mothers against the coming dark.

Truly I say to you, death holds no hall for the honoured, no shining palace with golden draught and feasting. This is the terrible secret, this is why you have come to this fire, to listen, to learn. Drink then, drink deep – for this is the last you will taste.

Those are the lies told by those who would wish to live, to give them courage, to move their sluggish limbs while in the grip of freezing terror. For as I stood before those eyes I felt a great pain within me, as if my very spirit had been speared, and I watched with dumb horror as my life spewed from me. I saw my kin, my dreams, my hopes and lusts, my honours and desires – all these pulsed from within, pouring out before me, until I was emptier than a horn after a bridal feast.

I stood alone, amidst all that I was as it lay there like so much spilt drink, watching the dusty earth drink it and take it from me.

Yet, still I stood.

Still I stood before this host of strangers, these harriers of worlds and time, and such was my terror that I was frozen stiff!

Cold I was, with my heart still within my chest. No blood ran in my veins. Tonight is the last night your hearts will beat, though you wish otherwise with your thoughts of victory and spoil. Tonight is the last night you will covet gold or sex or food or wine.

You laugh at me in your hearts, and drink and taste your boasts, but you do not yet understand, but before our time is done, you shall.

Frozen was I as they came upon me, this host of shadows. By the noose they raised me up and bound my hands, dancing with strange movements, half hunt, half-murder. Like wolves at play they tore and nipped, these black figures with their teeth and cut-throat voices.

They held me down, stopped my breath, pierced me with a thousand spears and ate my screams as if they were the finest meat. They tore my hide from me and smiled at me with my own lips and gleaming eyes that were worse than dead.

They shattered my bones with huffing breath and iron fists, sinew and tendon charged with a life beyond exhaustion. Nine times they cut me, thrice times thrice they burned me, feasting on my flesh, running fingers like snakes over me, probing, worming.

Bent me backward and stroked my spine and set the world to spin, ripped out my eyes and spat in the sockets, making me weep tears of blood and thick spittle that burnt the bone. They gave me back my eyes and I felt the marks of their jaws over my vision, fierce and hungry.

I was with them then, moving and dancing, skin turning black and shining in the heat of inner fires, one moment seared, the next ash-white as a corpse. We writhed together, cored one by one, sliding along the iron spear, screaming our agony with jubilation. Dancing on graves, we woke the dead and breathed the fumes of being in their thin faces, setting them to cough and thicken to substance.

We held them then, those great dead and laughed and sang in the light of the frozen blue hour, the deep winds of the Beyond setting the banners of our skins to flutter and snap. With timeless terror we fell upon countless foes and died, falling, always falling like a harvest, growing like root and branch to crack mountains with the inexorable vitality that hides between life and death.

From my flesh came many beasts, springing up as I watched, burning themselves into my skin – these very same ancestors to the creatures you know in you hearts and dreams. They grew fat on my blood, waxed and spread to the four winds as ravens drank from my skull, serpents twining through the leaves of my feather and scale and skin. My fingers trace them now, here before you.

See them, hear them, flexing in the firelight. They are hungry, eager to be out in the worlds tonight and tomorrow and always, I show them to you, as a gift, a final vision to take into the dark.

Do not move, or I shall send them for you, and you will sicken and die and they shall say of you that your blood was thin and the gods thought little of you, to give you such a paltry death!

Remain until I am done, until you see, until you may know by scent and sight, by flame and ice, by song and taste, what it is that I tell you, what spell I lay upon you this night, which is your last night, for tomorrow you die.

There is no escaping it.

If you run from it, it will hunt you, if you flee this fire here and now and lose yourselves in the world you will unknit, for the thread is weak and fragile at the end of life.

No. Death is tireless, and exhaustion comes to all men – his fire gutters and goes out, just as this one. Your threads are weak, alone. They will break. But I may make a noose of them, here as you sit unmoving round this fire with minds awhirl.

To twine your threads together. Make you brothers in blood, set it to flow, to mix wherever you go, \’til you all be one thread, one voice, one song.

But death is tireless, and ropes fray. Tonight is your last night, your last movement before you are born in battle and die in the same, lost on the wind of a pyre and winnowed with worms. Yet you are here, and now, with this tale in your ears.

What comfort is there in this, what song is my words to soothe death\’s sting? What dance may I teach you, so that you may avoid deaths blade? Truly there is none – you are thralls to death. You, young ones, so vital and full of life, are but slaves.

You came to I, who has told this tale countless times, to countless faces, young and full of fire and thirsty for battle. I am old, and this tale is older, though I tell it by right and will and breath and lay it into your skin and eyes and memory.

I whisper the secret of the harriers, of the howlers, of the dancers in the storm. I hiss the venom of a nest of serpents around a high-seat of bone, I plant my feet and show the steps upon the road to Hel, in my spoken words and the spaces in-between that rist your runes and tighten the bindings of your doom.

I throw back my head and raise my hands to the sky and about me lie all the worlds, for I have been seen and so do see, I have been spoken to, and thus do speak. I have been amongst my brothers and seen them fall, to stand alone.

But I do not mourn.

For you cannot kill what does not die, what lies between both death and life. Listen then, for I shall tell you of death\’s face, not to prepare you, but to gift you with a good end!

Down below, where the road is crooked and there run rivers of mist and rime, came the drighten, lord of the dead. He who wanders and carves a path, who marks the the way and opens the gate. Ere long came the Wanderer to the mound wherein dwells She Who Knows, and he did call her with his voice, with spirit song as he brought her from the Deep Places.

Up she came, old before all the worlds, and many were her charms. Yet to him, Path-walker, Way-Tamer, she came most freely. To him did she give counsel, of fate and the end of all things. Those who know the secret say he smiled wide, and kissed her freezing lips and gave of himself to her long cold womb; then turned and led his kin to war which burned hotter than all the stars, till the Void was wet with blood and full of all the corpses that ever were or could yet be.

And from that dead flesh sprang the life, sprang the worlds you know, from the blood and from the bone. For from death springs life, and life springs death, this is the beginning, and the end.

Tonight is your last night, tomorrow you die. Yet in this place in-between, life and death are as one – choose life and you die, chose death and you may yet have life, if only for a time.

But death is tireless, as I have said. You be brothers in time and space, soon to be in arms, as the morning dawns. You will fall, and fall hard.

I see you now though, watch the gleam in my eye and wonder. I follow that wondering to your heart, and I grasp it in my fist, crush your hope before it is born, run my fingers across your soul and find it wet and full of unshed tears.

You will weep a thousandfold before tomorrow comes. Only if you are dry and cold, dead and full of bonedust will I call you equal. For I tell you once more, and for the last time:

Tonight is your last night. Death is inescapable. Your wyrd has come to its end, your story has come to an end.

Yet still you wish to be free of it? Then I tell you truly – submit to the spear and the noose, join the dance of the exultant dead. Die tonight to defy your fate, fall now upon your sword, let us bind you in bondage, let us bleed you dry.

Let us take your eyes and cut your throat so you may sing with raven-song. This the way of it, to take bondage, to dance forever in the inbetween, to move only in the ways of those who are no more what they were.

Pour out your libation, carve out your soul with a song. The path is clear, and there is no way but onward. I will take you and end you, set you to fall deeper, harder than any foe who strikes you, until you rise, neither dead nor alive.

Look into my eye and see the end of all the worlds, see it now and all the fallen that bear your face, features shadowed and yet so familiar. Yet still you stand, though the world is drowned in all your blood as the earth sucks it down.

Rest a moment then, lean on our spear. Then, when the time comes, many shall be the rings on our arm as we ride out of a sun that burns the eye and scalds the sight forever.