The Chronologue stares at the quivering mass of meat before it, and a smile—or what probably could be described as a smile—spreads across its face. If indeed what this incarnation of the Chronologue has could still be described as a face.
“If it mattered in the least I would commend you, child of the Blood Mother,” the Chronologue says. “Nothing else I have collected for the Archive has ever so thoroughly resisted my more… mundane… methods of questioning. It is a testament of your love for your Mother… or at least to the power of Her blood running through your veins. However, as I said, it hardly matters.”
The Chronologue reaches into the trembling meat and, with a wet, sucking sound, rips two round orbs from it. The meat begins a frantic mewling and thrashes about for a moment, but then quickly subsides back to quivering.
“So you see—” the Chronologue chuckles with the sound of bone scraping bone, “—everything I devour becomes the Archive, and the Archive… is… me. So let me tell you a little story, child, and tell me if I get any of the particulars wrong. (I won’t.)
“You never really noticed the stench until you were lying in it dying. In the heat of battle, you didn’t notice it. With soldiers dying all around you from waves of black arrows hailing down onto them, you never noticed it. Through the constant sorcerous bombardment the mage artillery rained down on no man’s land, you didn’t notice it. All you really smelled was the salty iron of blood misting across your face, or the sour tang of the fresh sick you had thrown up on your boots.
But none of that really compares to this moment, to the stench of lying on your back half-buried in the remains of fellow soldiers as the sun beats down on your body. The sickly sweet stench of meat, not people, clogs your nose. It wipes its decaying hands across your face until you can’t remember that things ever smelled any different. That is the stench that you only notice when you are lying in it dying. (I am dying.)
It had just been bad luck, really. Although the others had muttered about an ill omen ever since they’d been assigned to the vanguard of the Deathborn Cavalry. Sure, the sight of the field marshal’s milky, unseeing eyes and the bones pushing through the yellowed parchment of his hands were enough to put anyone off their rations. (But wars are ugly things.) The word from higher up said this new necromantic offensive was important to the war effort. So when the captain said jump, they all jumped. The real bad luck had been stumbling into the field of soulscatter mines.
One moment everything was going fine, or as fine as you could expect with eldritch bombardments falling all around. You got used to the howling shriek of lost souls. But when your brain registered silence—an unearthly ringing silence—you knew something was wrong.
You never saw who stepped on the mine. Not that it mattered. They weren’t there afterward. Time slowed to a crawl, and all around were soldiers turned towards you. Their skin crackled, eyes dark as onyx, traceries of blackened veins writhing across their skin like serpents. Worst of all, that cursed rune blooming on their foreheads. You knew it from training. Once it appeared, your friends were gone. All that was left were hollowed out shells under some far away necromancer’s thrall.
Then time started back up with a cacophony of clashing steel and the thud of flesh on flesh. Those who hadn’t been hit knew what had to be done, and they fell upon those who had only moments among been their comrades in arms. Slashing swords glinted mercilessly under the careless sun above.
Maybe it boiled down to bad luck. Maybe, if things had gone differently, you would currently be hoisted on your comrades’ shoulders, acclaimed for having single-handedly wiped out the mage artillery nest that had been pinning down your fellow soldiers.
That could have happened. (But it didn’t.) And if it had, you never would have seen Her. You never would have lain there, your entrails spilling onto the hot, scarred earth of the battlefield, your head nestled in the viscera of another soldier, and turned that head in agony to see Her walking across the battlefield.
You know immediately who She is.
The Blood Mother.
Every soldier has heard stories about Her. Many claim they’ve seen Her, or had a wounded soldier tell of how they watched Her come for them, only to be rescued by a medic or Atlanta attachment.
But how could you know what is truth until you are lying in the stench of your own uncoiling death, and see Her striding across the battlefield toward you, Her train flowing behind in a diaphanous mist of blood and shadow, Her eyes never leaving yours, alight with a fell power that pierces through the smoke and haze to pin you to the spot. (What an INTERESTING sensation.)
And now She is standing over you, but not at all like in the stories. Soldiers tell of a leathery crone or some fallen god of shadow and teeth that consumes the entrails of the dead and fills them up again with death and smoke.
The Blood Mother is none of those things. She is tall and horrifically beautiful in a way that you will never be able to put into words. Everything about Her countenance is alien. Your mind flails to find things to compare it to, some point to moor yourself to as you stare upward. Instead, you begin to weep, your whole body wracked with the awe of Her terrible gaze.
Now She is bending over you and in a rush you realize just how large She truly is, easily twelve feet tall. She picks you up with the ease of a mother cradling a child who has fallen and skinned their knee. Up close, She smells not of the stench of the dying or the iron-sour tang of the battlefield, but instead of the sweet dusty clean of cool tombs and something else you can’t quite put my finger on.
The Blood Mother pulls you in close and you feel the press of Her alien ribs beneath the crimson robes as they open to accept your broken body. Bone and flesh begin to envelop you and cold writhing things burrow into your flesh, but all you can do is look up at Her downturned face as the Blood Mother begins to sing to you as she carries you across the battlefield. (I’ve heard this song before. But where?)
You are still afraid. You still try with broken limbs to push yourself away from Her and the things that now wrap around you, pulling you even deeper into the embrace of Her body. But even as you feel their cold tendrils slither up your neck and curl around the sides of your face, you cannot help but part your torn and bloodied lips to join Her in song.”
The Chronologue falls silent for a long moment, the sort of moment in which eternity stretches out with bone-bleaching certainty. When it finally speaks, it is in a distracted manner, as if not at all addressing the still-quivering and softly groaning meat on the table.
“So… that is the way of it. Most interesting, most interesting indeed. It seems your stay here in the Archive will be a bit more involved than I had anticipated.” (Welcome, welcome.)
At this, the meat begins piteously mewling even more vigorously than before, as the Chronologue bends down to examine at it more closely.
“Don’t worry… I will file you… appropriately.”
Jordan Shiveley lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota where he writes weird things. Sometimes they appear in games. Most recently he wrote the Codex of the Deep Spire supplement book for the SPIRE roleplaying game.
William Liu is a freelance artist from Toronto, Canada who is passionate about designing and illustrating creatures and approaches life with a calm, curious demeanor.