The Ouranian Mysteries

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By: Apollodorus Posted on: December 21, 2006

The shadows move, the fierce waves crash, and darkness rolls in like a heavy fog. Upon the cliff near Tasur'ke, the faithful of the Lady's coven gather. An altar stands here, with a shrine, and the blackened forest looms all around. The Shepherd stands before the altar, stooped with age and wisdom, muttering words of ritual power. Behind him in formation stand the three sages; a kind and noble monk of the Lotus school; a wild-eyed occultist in swirling onyx robes; and a shadowed Serpentlord, tall and dark within the mystery of the night. The faithful gather around them: druids from the sacred groves; magi from their lofty towers; priests fresh-come from ivory temples; and solemn warrior knights in glinting armour.

The Shepherd's chant rises, sweeping out over the waves towards the distant horizon, and the congregation joins him as he intones the sacred words. "Chaire, Trisagia!" is on their lips, echoing and booming as more voices take up the call. Power surges, a dark wind blows, and all fall silent as, in the distance, the Lady Moon arises from beneath the waves. With bated breath they watch the sacred orb making its stately way into the heavens, and the churning waters below reflect its image with their own cool light. Along the serpent's way she moves, ascending, brilliant white against the darkness. Seven bright stars move to flank her sides, and faint chimes like silver bells drift down upon the breeze. For hours no other sound is heard, no other sight is seen. They wait as their Lady rises, basking in the glory of Her radiance.

Then the sages move. Without a sound they shift, taking their place before the altar. The middle one kneels down, a circlet gleaming on his brow, and raises his eyes to the heavens. The other two stand on either side and, as one, lift a burning brand from on the altar, holding it to their brother's chest. The sage catches flame, his robes igniting, instantly lighting the darkened cliff with scorching fire. He does not move, nor do his brothers shrink from the deed that they have done. For a long and painful moment, the burning man struggles to endure the flames in silence. Then, as the pain reaches its greatest height, the sage lets loose a wail, then a howl, and a cry of heart's despair. The lone sounds pierce the night, breaking the stillness and infusing it with bitter anguish. First the sages, then the congregation, join the burning magus in his sorrowful wail, until all are crying their grief and loss and pain beneath the stars. All save the Shepherd, who stands silent, his head bowed.

As the grim flames burn low, and the wailing sage falls forward to the ground, the desperate cries subside, and silence reigns again. The two remaining sages step toward one another, over their fallen friend, and embrace with passion. Lips meet and bodies press close together. They hold each other beneath the moonlight, then abruptly break apart. The younger sage takes hold the older and, without a word, lifts his slight frame into the air. Silhouetted against the moonlit sky he stands, his arms lifting his burden above his head. Then, with a single smooth motion, he sends his brother hurling over the sheer embankment of the ocean cliff. A long fall, a sickening splash, and one sage remains alone, his figure stark against the blackness of the night. The aged Shepherd continues to watch, with the deep pools of his eyes betraying no hint of thought or feeling.

Again, in silence, the group communes with the accumulating powers of light and darkness. Then a host of lovely maidens emerges from within the congregation. Gaily clad in festive apparel, adorned with flowers and vines, their hair is as black as the raven's wing, and their bright eyes sparkle with joy. Possessed by the Lady's spirit, Her handmaidens, they produce instruments, and begin a passionate dance. Small flutes, timbrel, silver cymbals, and light harps sing out in happy song. Entering easily into the joy, the congregation begins to dance. Inhibitions vanish, the music and the moonlight forming a more potent intoxicant than any alcohol, and a kind of wild frenzy descends upon the company. The maidens leap and whirl through the throng, inciting them to greater fervour.

In the centre of it all stands the final sage, unmoved, aware of something the others have missed. So lost are they in the spell of the music that they feel no fear when the animals come, when the deer join in the dance, when the dryads emerge from their trees, when the bears move out from the darkness to begin their own wild shuffle. Neither does the crowd notice when the wolves come, moving purposefully through their midst. No protest is uttered, no horror expressed, when those sinister wolves reach the centre of the group and seize upon the final sage. In the glory of the dance, no one hears his screams, and no one notices when again the wolves retreat, their business finished. In the sky above, the moon maintains its serene composure, as unmoved as the wizened Shepherd who stands again before the altar, watching.

For many hours the dance continues, and the magic of it works upon the souls of the dancers. In this dance there is no room for hate, no room for fear, no room for anger. It is a dance of terrible joy, all-consuming, and it is for the touch of this power that they have come. Gradually they tire, collapsing to the ground. They will sleep there for the remainder of the night, safe beneath the full moon. In the morning they will arise, refreshed, and carry themselves home. What they receive from their sleep is the province of another Lady, sister to the one they worship.

When the last dancer has fallen, the Shepherd finally looks up. He nods once, approving, and speaks into the empty air. "They did well tonight, Your children."

The shadows coalesce into a tall woman, Her figure concealed by voluminous robes, Her face obscured by a heavy veil. Silently She moves through the clearing, stepping over the fallen mortals, to approach the Shepherd. Her voice, answering his, is like the smooth darkness of deep water at the bottom of an ancient well. "Many bonds were broken tonight, and new patterns were begun. I am pleased."

He slowly nods again, and the two stand side by side. In silence they watch the sleeping bodies, and the bright moon shines high above them.