Ronin Sequence

GOLGOTHA - PART TEN

The holy stairway mounted up before the Ronin, seeming to float on the clouds themselves. Behind him was the temple of Ego – the godscape itself. Before him the people straggled forwards in blind wonder, pink and golden mists parting before them as they mounted up towards the godhead and – so they thought – eternal bliss.

With every step the Ronin mounted he felt the vibration of his being rise, almost indistinguishably at first, but quickly growing in intensity. The air pulsed and throbbed. Thoughts and sensation grew more intense and the barriers between himself and the universe seemed to be dissolving. He felt that everything were coming into sync. He saw the pinks and golds of the clouds, he felt God's breath on his face, warm and all-embracing, and a spontaneous laughter rose to his lips to know, truly and simply, the oneness of these things.

The experience intensified. Sensation pressed hard upon him, and he found the filters of his being dissolving, so that he was no longer in control of his mind. His identity grew confused. He found it harder and harder to remember what he was doing – found it harder and harder to distinguish between his own thoughts and those of the godhead. For these came now, thoughts and emotions the size of continents, their vastness rubbing against the substance of his mind, as an iceberg might rub against a ship-

Then, quite without warning, a psychic scream pierced him, vibrating in every atom of his being and he was transfixed – tormented – trapped-

He slumped with a gasp. Around him the clouds pressed in too close, their colours now dark and threatening. His flesh was melting wax, oozing into the cold stone of the steps. All the pains of his body were magnified into a torment – an ugly churning blackness. He felt that he must have a thousand cancers. A gong was ringing somewhere inside his brain – dull, dolorous, endless. The tone of it was vibrating out into infinity, and he did not know if he were the instrument, the listener or the mournful tone itself-

Around him others were moaning, rolling in spasm on the steps. The Ronin was Christ. And Christ was on all fours before the cross, trembling and cringing before the great, all-consuming darkness that lurked behind the fragile canvas of the world-

An eternity passed, in which he did not know himself, but was absorbed into terrible and unbalanced consciousness. He knew the suffering of all those dark worlds consumed by demons that had swarmed forth from the weeping sores of the worm-holes to feast upon the last remnants of the universe. He knew what it meant to be absorbed, to have one's soul consumed. All around him Ego's people were screaming and crying, flinging themselves from the stairway to pelt down onto the rocks below. For this was not ascension into consciousness of eternal bliss. This was absorption – absorption into a mind that burned and raged like the fires of Hell.

He trembled on the point of dissolution, wishing with every fibre to escape-

Then her voice was quiet within him:

Never to be outdone in the way of the Samurai; To be of good use to my master; To be filial to my parents; To manifest great compassion; To act for the sake of man.”

The words were a mantra. He listened as they echoed inside him, bent himself towards them as a flower bends towards the sun. Every word was an anchor. He felt himself grow calm, though his skull threatened to burst, for he knew himself again, and knew that he could not be lost so long as he held to those words.

He rose on shaking legs, climbed up the last steps and into the mouth of God.

“Ego,” He murmured, the mantra pulsing like a beacon inside him. “Must find Ego...”

He clambered over teeth like buildings up onto the giant limestone tongue. Its mouth was a black cavern. Space twanged and dilated before him, growing first terrifyingly huge, then tight enough to crush his bones. Its breath blew hot and foetid. Black shapes flitted between the stalactites of its gums.

He crawled forwards, joined the lined of moaning petitioners moving slowly along the tongue towards a pair of dangling tonsils – climbed painfully up towards the blackness of its sinuses and the brain-pan above-

The man before him tumbled – fell dead against the tongue. He reached forwards, grasped the inner sill of its sinus-

He felt the psychic enormity of what lay beyond. The gibbering madness of the godhead struck home like an electric shock. But the mantra held and he hauled himself upwards with gritted teeth as the mouth gave a deafening shriek below him, the racing winds of its breath flinging the petitioners out high over the godscape.

He toiled upwards through dark tunnels, across pools of snot and bile – semi-organic matter, the germ of dark and horrible life. Somehow the horror of it lessened the absorption of his mind; he felt the barriers of himself grow firmer, though terror pierced his brain like a thousand black needles. Then he was struggling up into a pitch-black space, his murmured vows echoing from the walls. The ground was spongy beneath his feet, covered with squelching coils and the harder outlines of bone. He heard screams ahead: human voices intermingled with an inhuman cackling, and he staggered dizzily forwards-

Black shapes surrounded him. Something grabbed at his arm, hissing in his ear-

He pulled away – the arquebus barked. He saw crouched and monstrous things undulating in the harsh, blue light. Then darkness was restored, filled with yelps and hisses and the sensation of things retreating through the murk. He staggered on in confusion, one hand against a cave wall to guide him.

Then he was stepping through an aperture into a pool of ghostly light-

The scene before him was a horrible one. In a space as warmly cramped as an ovum, a passel of tormented souls were being tortured in a pit of acid. The gourd-shaped chamber seemed to be lit from within; grotesque shadows were thrown against the walls by cavorting demon-shapes that pranced and cackled, jabbing with staves and tridents at the wailing figures who struggled in the acid pit. Organic vents opened at the rim of the pit and digestive juices were disgorged, squirting down to burn the screaming faces-

Above, the demons cackled horribly, made deft play with their tridents; above was the Ego, pinioned and held on all sides, strangled noises escaping its lips as it was forced to watch, its eyelids held open by black-nailed fingers-

The Ronin stepped forwards with a snarl, seized the nearest demon and threw it into the pit. It gave a chuckling squeal, drew a petitioner to itself and disappeared beneath the surface of the slime. The others came scuttling forwards, a gaggle of bat-winged, leathery things, to paw and squawk at him – he grasped the arquebus-snout – KA-THOOM! KA-THOOM! They hissed in outrage, shadows leaping against the walls- The chamber convulsed – its walls pressed in alarmingly and the acid pit drained itself with a belch, the screaming petitioners disappearing into the unseen depths below. The Ronin seized a scrawny neck; looked into a face that was a worm-featured nightmare-

“We bellow grief and tears – ugliness and groaning. God is dead. All hail Belphegor! The Lord of the Dead!”

Then it dissipated into a coil of smoke and the devils were swarming, squeezing themselves in a heaving mass out through the chamber's entrance; a moment later the Ego collapsed at his feet as the ovum-walls expanded once again.

There was a drip; the sound of laughing whispers. Then silence but for the words of the Ronin's vows.

Below him, the Ego stirred. It gave a low moan and he resisted the urge to strike it across its face.

“Still you dog my steps, Ronin of Edo.” It groaned. “Is there no escaping you?”

“No, Lord Ego.” He growled between verses. “I am justice. I am duty. The voice of your conscience. And I cannot be escaped. You will come with me. You will confront the evils of this world. And you will put them to an end.”

Its eyes flickered – pure, piercing blue – and it gazed up at him curiously.

“What are those words you are chanting?”

“They are the vows that I live by – the ancient and noble code of Bushido.” He growled again. “They keep me whole and sane. They protect against the corrosive madness of this place.”

His eyes swept the chamber. All was still and threatening silence. The entrance through which he'd entered was now closed, clamped shut like a tightened sphincter. In the place where the Ego had stood suspended, an artery or ventricle had opened in the chamber wall, quivering slightly, as though dilating in time to a pulse.

“You see, my lord? “ He asked quietly. “You see the godhead for what it is? This is hell. A demon-haunted hell. I witnessed the birth of this godhead. I saw it diseased and unbalanced – sick with the excesses of tyranny and destruction wrought in the name of God. I saw how it created you, sent you out into the world with your brothers, that the balance might be restored. Come with me, then. Come, do your duty – correct the evils of this world.”

But the Ego shook its head weakly.

“No, Ronin. It is you who does not see. You cling to empty words. You resist the influence of the godhead. This is not a hell. It is heaven. And these are not demons, but God's ministering angels, come to tear away the weaknesses and attachment of the flesh, so that the people may be purified-”

The Ronin grimaced. The Ego's words came to him faintly, dim and meaningless against the all-consuming madness that threatened to seize him at every instant. They were as cobwebs wafting against the hard words of his vows.

All was clear. Only one path lay open to him now.

He raised the Ego, set it gently on its feet and gestured tiredly towards the pulsating ventricle of the wall.

“Hell awaits you with open arms, my lord. Plumb its depths, if you would. I will guard your steps through the darkness.”

The Ego said nothing, but only looked at him strangely for a few moments. Finally it turned and mounted up towards the exit, murmuring a single word under its breath:

“Fool.”

The Ronin followed a moment later. He squeezed through the narrow aperture that was like a ventricle, saw the dark and narrow passage that stretched below them. The Ego hesitated, turned to look at him.

“What-?”

But the ventricle closed behind them without a sound. There was a terrific rushing sensation and like corpuscles in a blood stream they were swept screaming into the brain of God.

Blinding black lights and the images of deserts inverted-

The Ronin tried to scream – found that he had no mouth to scream with, no body, no eyes to see-

The pulsing had intensified horribly. It was within and without him; he was a speck in a lightless ocean, viewed from without so that the distinction between he and not-he grew indistinct-

The mantra was sounding somewhere, sometimes clear and close at hand, sometimes a distant echoing whisper. It was the flame of himself and its light was small and flickering in this vast, dark abyss.

He felt the Ego's fear. He felt his own fear. He felt Fear Itself pulsing like an alarm. He knew suddenly that he'd failed, that everything would end and that they'd hate and blame him for it.

The vibration grew greater. It was a vast crackling static. It was black particles crashing together in a great tide and he was splintering to fractals inside it.

He thought he would die-

He thought he would-

He thought-

He-

Black plasmic ocean stretching forever, unseen and unheard. It exists as structure (or rather a series of spaces through which vectors move) on the seventh vibratory plane, where vectors cluster and buzz like angry wasps through the dense complexity of ten-sided space-

Wasps. The thought is a sound that buzzes throughout the godhead-

Consciousness is the great differentiator. It is called Da'ath – The Demiurge – the unseen sphere. But it is really a kind of mathematical operation. It is the third point between two absolutes; a point of arbitrage, accumulation and dissolution, an organising space for the interaction of motive forces-

There was a godhead... There is a godhead. It is a hoary wasp's nest in which vectors called thoughts and actions have moved since time immemorium, making their wasp-like accumulations – it is a nest in which larvae have birthed, feeding on the black, nauseous substance of the honey made in that diseased place-

Yes, the honey is dark and bitter, tending towards the ring-chaos and it frequently denatures into mould. The honey-comb is diseased, as are all the larvae that squirm there. And all this because of a thorny crown refused-

He-

He heard-

He heard the droning of wasps, threatening to drown out the mantra. Then he shook himself with a gasp, realised he had disappeared for long moments, as though engulfed beneath the motion of a giant wave-

He sensed the swell of the next one coming; The Ego was with him, screaming somewhere in the darkness-

Then he was in the body of a god. Then he was a thought in the mind of God-

Then he-

The lords of flame move out through the planes, through the loci that have developed to accommodate them at every level. The planes grow denser as they array outwards, because mass is thrown out by the centrifugal force of motion through curved space. And because dense matter interacts with other dense matter and grows denser still, it spins out further and faster-

The flames condense down into the narrowing and tightening spaces.

Cosmoi made of stars spin around a central nexus. Planets made of matter spin around a central star. Matter made of atoms spin around central points of empty space. Up and down, in and out. Spinning forever between the rings-

Here is the Christ. He swaggers forth like a circus strongman before a crowd, flexes his muscles and approaches the forces that spin insanely around the cross-

Matter condenses. The flames roar through it. Nervous systems make a conduit for the holy flame; a home for the Holy Spirit; a centre of differentiation, a cross, coming to fruition in the crucial moment-

The vibration builds. The vibration is awareness.

But Christ turns back, frightened and ashamed before the booing crowd. He leaves the cross unmastered, unequal to the challenge-

The blackness welled up like bile, dangerous and unbalanced.

A child bites into his hand to silence tears of shame and pain as he squats bleeding in the vestry. A woman's brilliant eyes widen behind a veil as the first stone flies towards her. A face screams in agony as the iron presses into the flesh-

Every moment is an eternity of screaming as the blackness multiplies-

The points are jangled, black and cancerous. And all points are atoms in the body of God.

Then comes the instant of terror – the moment all points are flung out of orbit by their unevenly distributed mass, the deformed wasp's-nest screaming out into chaos and dissolution-

Then-

Then they were staggering out onto a desert sand dune beneath a blaring white sun. The Ego shivered, looked up at the sun that hung above, the warm sensation of it unremembered. Its face was grey and haggard, half-collapsed beneath the terror of what it had experienced.

“I... I am.” It said, touching its face uncertainly. “I have passed through the proving. Finally, I am purified...”

They reached the edge of the dune and looked out over a desert oasis. They heard splashing and the cries of happy voices. They saw the lake of deepest blue surrounded by lush vegetation in which the children played, saw the city of white tents elegantly arrayed in rows about the water's edge. At the heart of the tent-city was a solitary building: an elegant wooden structure of domes, spires and carven minarets, daubed in the golds and pinks of the desert, their spires rearing towards the vault of heaven above. The mosque bells were ringing out the call to prayer, and through the streets figures in white robes were moving eagerly towards it, nut-brown skin and dreamy eyes visible behind the brilliantly white face-veils they wore.

A sense of supreme calm hung on the air. The sensation of a gentle sigh being let out. The calm of a perfectly still ocean-

“You see?” The Ego spoke with quiet triumph. “I was right. This is nirvana. Those are my people down there, in perfect harmony with the cosmos.”

“No.” Said the Ronin wearily, in between the verses of his vows. “No, I think not. Look-”

On the opposite side of the oasis another sand dune reared. And it was here that the green and white-clothed army of knights and footmen were drawing themselves up into formation, just out of view of the tent-dwellers below-

The Ronin and the Ego saw them clearly, their features somehow magnified in the desert air: faces dusty and tired after the long march across the desert, but eager too, deadly eager as their blades flashed in the sun and the horse lines moved into position. A priest stood before them, shouting as he read from a book; the commander raced up and down calling orders before the lines as a wooden cross was brought forth and planted at the edge of the dune. The commander's sword was raised-

The Ego put out a hand to grasp the Ronin's arm.

Then the sword dropped and the the army charged with an all-consuming roar, sweeping down the dune towards the white city-

Time and space seemed to buckle. They saw the horses' hooves rising and falling as though up close – they saw the surprise of the veiled nomads, the children's open-mouthed faces. In the mosque the dervishes were whirling, their white robes billowing outwards – spinning like lotuses-

Then the swords rose and fell, red with gore – then children were running screaming before the sign of the cross and knights were moving with torches amidst the tents-

Then it was night, and the crickets were droning a funeral lament as the burning mosque was reflected in the waters of the oasis. And against the blazing orange flames stood a hundred black outlines of cruciforms in the desert, looming up at horrid angles, the tortured shadows of the things affixed to them stretched out across the sands-

“No.” Said the Ego.

The scene changed. They were in a chamber beneath a mountain fortress, and the flames were burning still in the brazier, irons resting among the coals, the orange glow reflected on the bland, expressionless face of the inquisitor and writhing shadows were thrown against the wall-

The Ronin and the Ego saw it from the perspective of the torture rack. And in those moments they were the desert nomad, and they felt his pains, and knew his god, and what it was to be him-

“Let us be absolutely clear.” Said the inquisitor. “You admit that you follow the path of Tariqah. And this means- what?”

“It is the path of universal love and service,” the nomad sobbed, the stench of burning flesh in his nostrils. “I dance to forget... to forget the pain of this life. I live in poverty, help to ease the burdens of my kinsfolk – we try to forget, to transcend this earthly world and become one with God... beloved father... Allah.”

The inquisitor shook his head slowly.

“Ah, but you see, you are mistaken. There is but one route to God, and this is to submit to his will; to obey the laws he has sent us through his son, Jesus Christ. To live in obedience to him and his ministers here on earth.” He paused for a moment to examine the man, thinking to expand upon the terror of his heart.

Oh my Marya, my Babba-ya, my sweet, sweet Gedulon... The nomad thought deliriously, his heart going out to those faces that loomed in the darkness of his memory, those faces now extinguished in flame-

“Repent.” The inquisitor said, the word rolling hard and sonorous as he reached out for the iron. “Repent your disobedience to God; beg the Lord's forgiveness and perhaps you shall find it-”

His face gleamed beyond the red-hot tip of the iron: a face hard and unyielding, blunted by an endless monotony of cant. The eyes glowed and the nomad saw that they were empty, quite empty, and he began to scream as the iron descended-

“I forgive you, brother! I forgive you! I forgive- I FORGIVE-!”

The screams echoed from the cell walls and out into the night. They went on and on into that cold and empty night, until they were extinguished-

Then the Ego was on its knees clutching at the Ronin, its eyes glazed and bulging, quivering and moaning insensibly as it still felt the iron, burning and maiming its flesh.

“Well, my lord?” The Ronin asked quietly. “Do you call that the work of a ministering angel? Do you call that the dharma of one who works to release the world from suffering?”

The Ego shuddered, closed its eyes. “To transcend this earthly world.” It murmured. “And become one with God...”

The Ronin raised its head gently, stared with pity and contempt into its enormous, innocent eyes.

“To escape from the world... to seek solace in the arms of an omnipotent father? Do you see now what happens when you abdicate your responsibility? When you refuse to confront the forces of chaos?”

The Ego shook without answer, but only held more firmly to him. The Ronin looked up tiredly, sick with the pulsing in his head. He saw the walls of Jerusalem. He saw white-washed, wattled houses clinging to the hill-sides, their faces growing warm and golden before the rising sun. He turned to look into the rising sun – saw the brow of the hill he stood upon and recognised it at once.

Golgotha.

It was today, he knew suddenly. This was when it had happened.

He turned back to the Ego and began to speak. And as he spoke quietly, he felt the godhead's understanding flowing through him, so that the words were only half-familiar.

“You have seen this Modality for what it is, Ego. It is a world that is the result of failure. You seek to go to God? You have missed the point. The divine flame came down to man, to inhabit him, to enthrone itself in his mind – to make of your souls a substance that can stand between all the chaotic forces of the universe and grapple with them, tame them. You were to set the universe to order. But the project failed. Man could not rise to the challenge. And so God remained above, remote and inaccessible, subject to the whims and interpretations of charlatans, so that the forces of chaos could act in His name, and make a mockery of His works...”

The words petered out, and already he could barely remember them. He heard a cockerel below, crowing once, twice, thrice. Below, the city came slowly to life. There was movement in the streets of Jerusalem. A procession wound its way along the main street: a troupe of ragged figures and red-clad Roman legionaries. And then the gates were being thrown open.

“Behold,” the Ronin spoke quietly. “Behold the man.”

The Ego rose on shaking legs to watch. The troupe came forth, made its way slowly up the hill and they saw the three prisoners, each with his crucifix mounted on his shoulder. They staggered forwards beneath the blows of the Roman soldiers and the jeers of the crowd that followed: three men in rags, each bleeding from the lick of a hundred scourges. But the last figure was familiar. The Ego stiffened as it saw him, let out a gasping shudder-

“Yes, Ego.” Said the Ronin. “We have come, at last, to the beginning.”

The Ego said nothing, its face grey and slack with terror.

They stood motionless as the procession passed before them. First came the legionaries and the two criminals, seeming not to notice them as they passed, each pressing on grimly with their task. Then the crowd flowed about them, unseeing and unhearing, keeping just apart from them, as though restrained by an invisible force. Then he came at last, staggering and sobbing beneath the weight of his burden, a snarling centurion at his heels – the man known as Jesus Christ.

He halted before them and set down his cross, though the centurion screamed and whipped him without mercy. And though he swayed, half-fainting with pain and exhaustion – though his eyes drooped and were bereft of reason, still he seemed to hear the quiet sobs of the Ego, and turned his head to look into its face. A moment passed. Then the Centurion's whip was working and the man Jesus picked up his cross to stagger the last few steps to the top of Golgotha hill, where a jeering crowd awaited, and a grinning legionary bowed to him, a crown of thorns held out in his hand-

The Ego turned to the Ronin and spoke with the sad desperation of a child: “I can't watch this... Don't make me watch...”

But the Ronin only shook his head.

They saw it all. They saw the blood that ran down his face as the crown was set upon his brow; they heard the terrible screams as the nails were driven into wrist and ankle and the roaring of the crowd as the crucifix was hauled aloft. Above Christ's lolling head a sign was fixed, reading, 'Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews' and the people crowded forwards to jeer and call out to him, saying, “Save yourself then, Son Of God!” and “Just come down! Just come down, mate, and we'll believe everything you say!” Among the crowd the Ronin heard angry mutterings, and he turned to look into the face of Simon, cursing beneath his breath. He knew that their time was almost up-

The godhead knew it too, for it buckled perversely and the morning sun fled across the sky, and the crowd flickered and leapt about like a skipped recording, though Christ hung motionless above them. The two criminals received their mercy; they cried out as their sides were pierced and then fell still. The crowd thinned, the afternoon sun staggered down the sky like a dying man and the man Jesus hung, grey-faced and wracked, his wrists and ankles turning black-

Finally only the Ronin and the Ego were left but for a solitary legionary, and the Ronin turned to the Ego to find that it had covered its eyes with its hands.

“Look at it.”

But the Ego shook its head mutely.

“Look at it.” He growled again.

The Ego shivered; like a child it lowered its hands and looked with frightened eyes up into the face of Christ.

“This is what you tried to escape.” The Ronin said. “This is what sacrifice looks like. This is the suffering that is necessary, if the world is to be redeemed.”

The Ego shook its head, its eyes glazing over with misery as it stared at the thing above it.

“How can he stand it?” It whispered. “How can anybody stand it?”

“We stand it because we must.” The Ronin replied quietly. “We stand it because we promised we would. Because we have no choice.”

He turned to regard the Ego once more.

“But he could not stand it either. In a little while he will give in. And so history will be made, and the balance upset forever. And so you and your brothers will be born, the inheritors of his sin.”

“I have failed.” The Ego said, its voice steady now. “I see now that I have failed-”

At that moment Christ let out a terrible moan. He raised his stricken face to the heavens and cried out:

“My God, My God! Why hast thou forsaken me?”

The Ego ran to the foot of the cross, its eyes streaming with tears-

“I am here, Father! I am here to witness your suffering!”

It looked up into the face of Christ. Christ looked down into the face of the Ego. And for a moment, something shifted; the two faces were softened by compassion, and the clouds above seemed to grow light. The heavens opened and a shaft of sunlight fell down upon the cross.

And in that moment something stirred within the Ronin. He felt, for the briefest instant, that there was hope-

But then came a black wave of terror, pulsing throughout the godhead. It rang in his skull like a funerary bell and he fell screaming to the ground.

The world lurched horribly. Time and space buckled. The screaming of the godhead echoed within the Ronin's soul and he too was screaming as a terrible darkness fell across everything-

The shaft of sunlight was extinguished. The Ego sobbed and shook at the foot of the cross.

Up the hill came the two monsters. One was small and grave and regal in its bearing, and its eyes flashed like steel in the dull light of Judea. Behind it came the other, the hulking thing of urges, the monster of rage, lust and fear – the animal that hid its face behind a mask of humanity. They walked side by side towards the son of God who hung above them, for once united in their purpose. At their backs came their disciples: Simon, Jude, Thomas, Levi and John – even hesitant John – coming with rocks clutched in their hands to do the work of monsters.

“Ego!” The Ronin cried, pulling himself up. “Ego, you must stop them!”

But the Ego only clung to the foot of the cross, its shoulders shaking silently. At its back the legionary was stepping forwards, his eyes grimly fastened on the features of Christ-

The two monsters came on, their voices echoing through all the heaving madness of the godhead.

“They hear the gospel of Christ and yet close their ears against it.” The Archon cried. “They have plotted to destroy you, Lord Jesus, to strike the word of God from the records! This cannot stand. They must be humbled. Make them surrender to God's will!”

“They have denied you, spat upon you, hurt and murdered you.” Came the snarling voice of the Beast. “They have denied your authority, Lord Jesus – taken what was rightfully yours! You must hide your glory no longer. Son of God! Be all that you were meant to be! Make them surrender to their Lord!”

Christ writhed and groaned on the cross. The Ronin shook his head, desperately clinging to the words of his vows as the sick pulsing of the godhead threatened to tear him apart. At his shoulder the arquebus swivelled blindly; at his belt the sheaths of his daisho hung empty. He was unarmed. He was helpless. But still he had his vows.

He rose with an effort, staggered down the hill towards the oncoming figures-

The legionary hefted his spear, unaware of the Israelites rushing forwards at his back. He looked into the face of Christ, saw the pain and misery there. Christ's head lolled, already half-dead. And through the darkness and the delirium of death, two voices echoed:

“They shall surrender to God's will.” Said the voice that creaked with unbending authority.

“They shall surrender to their Lord.” Said the voice that was the snarling of a maddened animal.

The spear pierced his side and Jesus threw back his head with a scream of agony-

The world was dissolving into chaos; everywhere the black tide pulsed like a magnet, drawing all into spinning madness-

Then the Ronin was between the Archon and the Beast, striking and tearing at them with his fists and teeth. With roars of outrage they threw themselves upon him. The Archon's sword rose and fell, piercing through his armour to hack at his flesh. The Beast tore away the scales of his armour, clawed bloody chunks from his breast and screamed in triumph as its talons raked across his face-

He screamed and writhed in their embrace. Blood frothed between his clenched teeth and his mind was filled with despair. But the words of his vows echoed in his soul and the memory of Himeko's proud tears was in his heart. And somehow his arms held them apart as they clawed and maimed his body.

“Surrender to God's will!” The Archon screamed.

“Surrender to your Lord!” The Beast was screeching.

Their voices echoed through the maelstrom, mingling with the screams of Christ as the spear-tip plunged into his side-

Christ's eyes rolled back in pain and despair, their words echoing inside his soul. And as the Ego looked up into its father's face, those bloodied lips began to move-

“No.” Spoke the Ego in quiet desperation.

Time had slowed almost to a halt. Every moment was an eternity in which the strength of entropy grew, pulsing darkly throughout the universe. The stars grew dim as the black tide howled and sucked behind them, drawing their essence into the void. The Ronin's body was a ruin. His mind trembled on the edge of madness. But still he held the evil ones; still he fought to hold open the space in which the divine flame might burn-

For an instant, he knew peace. For an instant, he tasted nirvana.

Then the Archon's blade plunged into his breast and his body failed him all at once. He crashed to the bloodied stones of Golgotha, the roar of chaos ringing in his ears. Before the cross, Simon snarled and raised his rock to smash the Roman's skull-

The tide reached its peak, pulling and sucking at everything.

Then the Ego stepped into the space the Ronin had made and the two monsters were screaming in outrage. With its right hand it held back the tyranny of the Archon. With its left hand it held back the rage and lust of the Beast.

It stood between those two monsters, holding them apart at great and terrible cost. And as it did so, it seemed to grow in stature with every instant that passed. Understanding came into its eyes and its expression was grave and serene.

On the cross Jesus looked down upon the Ego where it stood locked in eternal struggle with its brothers. He saw the terrible cost of that sacrifice. And he saw the necessity of it.

He looked down upon his apostles as they came forwards to murder in his name. And at the same moment, the Ronin rose in agony to his feet, a bloodied rock clenched in his fist-

But the Ego stopped him with a look, even as Simon was halted by the force of Christ's gaze, and the two cried out together in a voice filled with authority:

“No! This is my burden to bear! And I shall bear it alone!”

The rocks fell to the ground. There was a moment of final agony.

Then Jesus died, holding the forces of chaos at bay.

The black tide began to retreat. The sick pulsing of the godscape grew less as it moved back from the walls of entropy. Far above, the central sphere of the cosmos was exerting its pull, drawing the godscape up into its orbit. Christ was ascending. Jerusalem was melting into whiteness. All was growing vibration, high and sweet and pure, and the Ronin felt himself melting into it, lost to the growing melody of the spheres.

He felt the great stillness: the stillness that is back and behind of everything. He felt the gravity it asserted, felt his soul being drawn towards it, as like was drawn to like. He rose up into it. And as he rose, all that was Okami Kensho was melting away, pulled down into the lower realms so that only the divine spark remained, rising up into the eternal silence that was pure consciousness.

Okami Kensho gave in to stillness. Okami Kensho dissolved into pure light. But the mantra of his vows could not dissolve, and so the upwards motion of that soul slowed and was finally arrested. It floated at the edge of nothing, beyond beyond time, memory and meaning. Then it began to descend.

The Ronin found himself floating, without form or substance, aware only that he was in a space that was purely conceptual. Somewhere far above him was the blinding whiteness of pure being. At its edge, growing further away with every moment, he sensed a construct, or the idea of something that was like a city or dwelling place. And as his attention went to it, he saw it presented to his mind's eye as a city of glass spires: a thing like a diamond, so infinitely perfect that its beauty struck one as a blinding light and to consider it was to weep. Perfected souls dwelt there, he knew, existing in eternal harmony beyond the turning of the worlds below. Up there, he knew, they dwelt in peace, beyond all the sorrows of the world.

Himeko. Akihiko. Blood of my blood, heart of my heart-

His thought rose to them, like cherry blossom drifting on the wind. And for the briefest instant, he felt their love, washing over him like the breeze on a warm summer's day.

He became aware of a presence, felt the attention of deep blue eyes turned upon him and sensed a mind that was like the motions of a vast and perfect machine-

You have done well, Ronin. These were not words, but pure ideas, settling against his mind like pebbles washed onto a shore. The sacrifice was made. The godhead was preserved as a space in which consciousness could be concentrated, grown and developed. All were permitted free will. And though injustice still arose, and many knew fear and suffering, for those who saw the way, the route was opened – the route by which one can master the forces of the universe and begin the ascension back to eternal stillness. The godhead ascends now. But you cannot ascend with it. For you are not of it, and you have your dharma still.

The Ronin felt them, far above. He knew he was drifting from them, back down into the darkness of a dying universe. He knew the weight of the vows he'd sworn a lifetime ago, drawing him away from the two souls he could not live without. He knew all this. And he accepted it.

The light pulsed but once. And then there was nothing. Nothing but his vows.

 

***

 

When he gained consciousness, he was lying on a cold grated floor. Whirrs and clicks sounded all around him and a white light was blazing through his eyelids.

“Ibu...” He groaned.

“Ronin.” Came a voice, cool, silky and flat. “Awake, my lord. Our situation is... unusual.”

He rose unsteadily to his feet, found himself on Ibu's bridge. Before him white light was blazing through the polarised visor. He narrowed his eyes as shapes swam in the light, realised he was looking at the surface of the MODALITY – that it was beginning to glow like the plasmic surface of a star-

“Ronin, the surface temperature already exceeds 10,000 degrees and is quickly rising. My shields cannot take much more-”

“Take us out then, Ibu.”

The ship's engines pulsed in response and the the MODALITY fell away, so that a giant glowing human figure was revealed: a human figure with arms outstretched, growing brighter and brighter with every instant, even as it shrank before his eyes.

Finally he saw it, the size of a doll, hanging against the infinity of a cold and barren universe. It grew brighter and brighter, the purest of white light-

There was a final blinding flash. The godscape exploded in a geyser of crystalline light that rushed outwards like a birth of a nebula. It passed in a great wave over the ship, so that she groaned and rocked and alarms flashed on her panels. And in the wave that flowed over them the Ronin saw the memory of all that had passed, and all that might be, and the dim outline of a perfect diamond city and the beloved souls that dwelt there-

The wave receded, dwindled into a dance of ionised motes. Chaos resumed its march and the cosmos was dark once more.

He stood in silence for a time, considering the stars that glimmered dimly before him. Then Ibu's voice came smoothly, cutting off his thoughts.

“Ronin, I do not understand any of this. I crash on a failed modality and power down for several days. I return to active cycle to find myself on the surface of a star, my power-reserves somehow restored to capacity-”

The Ronin laughed.

“Deus Ex Machina.” He said with a smile.

“Ronin, I do not understand-”

He turned from the vision of the dying cosmos.

“Do not call me this.” He said quietly.

“Ronin?”

“I am a Ronin.” He replied. “I am a samurai without a master. And yet I am more than this, Ibu. You may call me Kensho, or Lord Okami, or whatever title you think fitting. For I am Kensho, Lord of the Okami clan, and my honour has been restored.”

“Very well then, Lord Okami.” The ship returned with the barest trace of irony. “Where would you have us go?”

He waved his hand.

“It is of little importance really. The demon lords threaten. The tide of chaos rises all around us and I have no shortage of foes to struggle against. Scan for distress signals; take us to the nearest source.”

The console whirred, set its coordinates with a click.

“As you wish, Kensho.”

He turned back to the visor. Before him span infinity. The stars were dying and their lights glowed coldly in the night. But behind them was the quiet stillness of nirvana. Behind them was the possibility of redemption.

Okami Kensho looked out at the dying universe and began to whisper with a smile:

“Never to be outdone in the way of the Samurai...”

Christopher Moiser