The Four Arcana
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I lay in a snow ditch, bleeding. My heart beats frantically, desperately coaxing my broken body back to life. The embers die down and the flame sputters, and darkness creeps in along the edges. A night sky of black and blue settles suffocatingly on my sins, self-satisfied and sanctimonious though I have been, incapable of seeing stars through smoke. It fills my lungs and they settle, limp and exhausted - like I, a thing that was a man, now turned into dying meat and vapor.

Mother, do you see the place I am lying? Do you see the blood soaking through my shirt?

But the embers kindle the fire, and when I cough it is blood and bile and air. My lungs are filled with this frozen air and I am alive. I roll and crawl and find something hard to brace again, and with agonizing force I wrench my body upwards and I stand, grasping against a beech for support. My eyes adjust to the dark - they sting against the sweat and the blood and the smoke from my own singed flesh, but through the night’s calm I see it.

Only paces away now, though I can see where I had stood before I was thrown back. A crater, maybe a stone’s throw across and as deep as a pool, filled now with dirt and fire. I stumble towards it, my breath coming more easily now, and I pause at the foot of a thing that used to be human. His name - where is his name? A moment, then it too returns - Morehead, a bounty-man hired by the councilmen, now reduced to little more than viscera - a morbid grin seared forever into what had been the flesh of his face.

What is virtue? From where is it brought forth? Is the font of virtue so easily broken? Are its foundations so easily crumbled?

Man has a master, and man exists at the master’s whim. One day, man seeks out the master and asks him to explain why he is the slave to the master. The master says nothing. Unsatisfied by this, man finds the master as he is sleeping and breaks him. If the master can be broken, was the man ever truly a slave?

I walk past corpses, charred and smoking, some still clinging desperately to a life that has abandoned them. One reaches for me, grabs my sock with his split hand. Blood pools in the man’s open mouth and tears run down his cheeks. His eyes are wide.

Please, he begs me. Please, God, please don’t leave me.

God? Where is God? A smoking crater and sundered men - is that the God this man prays to? I stop and watch him for a few moments as he desperately grabs for my foot. He gargles and chokes, suffocating on blood and consequence. His terrified eyes meet mine a final time, and then he is still. His prayers go unanswered - but not for indifference. The God he prayed to is dead.

The night is quiet aside from the crackling of fire and the wind, but a sound across the way carries. The harsh cackling of a man, barking like a mad dog. I see him and go to him - he hangs impaled upon a tree limb through his stomach some ten feet into the air. He sees me approach and his cackling only increases. His name comes to me as well - the Alderman, presumed leader of what was once a group of occultists. He, like the other man, is already dead - but death greets him strangely. His eyes are wild but lack the fear of the man on the ground.

“Hallo there!” he shouts to me. “Hallo, and good day to you my brother! I see you’ve made it out unmolested. Few can say the same. You and I, though, we’ve survived it. We’ve made it through to the other side.”

“What have we survived?” I ask him.

“The end of the world, boy!” He cackles again, his jaw shaking like a chattering crow. “We’ve seen the world itself unmade and made whole again - a New Jerusalem, and you’re standing in it right now. A world free from miracles.”

I shiver against the cold. His voice is so loud and bright, even as blood seeps from his punctured body.

“I don’t know if you’ll make it, sir,” I tell him. “I’m not a doctor, just a scientist.

He raises an arm off the branch to gesture at me dismissively - he had been using both to hold himself up. As he does, his body slumps down slightly and makes a sound like tearing wet fabric. He grunts, but his smile does not diminish.

“Nonsense. I’ve already made it, I’m here-” he gestures around with both hands as his torso rips against its own weight. “We’re here now, you and I, we’re the first children of a world remade. Magnificent. To think that we could come this far.”

His breath caught in his chest as his eyes rolled skyward, and for a moment I thought I had seen him die. Then his eyelids flickered and he coughed, blood and spittle flying from his lips.

“What’s your name, boy?” he called down to me. “Who were you with?”

I hesitate.

“Robert,” I tell him. “I was with the Alderman’s men.”

He grimaces. “Ah. You were one of mine then, weren’t you?”

“I was, sir.”

He is still for a moment. “Remember this, Robert. Remember this feeling. Oh, this feeling. It is ecstasy.”

He paused another moment, gasped slightly, and died. I stood by his body for a while, until the cold drove me to pull my coat tight around my neck. I searched for the path through the woods where we had entered into the clearing, and began my trek back towards the village. I thought about the Alderman for a while. I thought about his face, illuminated by rendered divinity, screaming and writhing and laughing like an animal held to fire. I thought about his words, and the feeling of that moment.

He was right. It was ecstasy.


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On the long walk back through the forest, it begins to snow.

Illuminated only by the full moon above, swirling flakes of snow danced around me to the beat of an unseen drummer playing for a silent band. Each one of them that landed on my burned face was a mercy, a tiny reprieve from the blistering. A tiny reprieve from the suffering of my existence. Man is born into suffering, I surmised, and by struggle alone is he able to pull against those chains that the master has bound him in and achieve some minor comfort.

Do you see me, mother? Do you see the steps I’ve taken through the deep snow? Do you feel the chill of winter on my neck?

I remember the day like it was moments ago - a note having arrived hours prior at my offices in the city, and the carriage having borne me swiftly to the home in which we grew up. I regret that I was the last to arrive, given now the shortest time to be at your side, to hear your gasping and crying, the final moments before you became forever still. Did you see me, in those moments? Did you feel the warmth of my hand on yours?

For mine, the memory is seared into me as if by a hot iron. Your eyes fixed on mine, a moment of peace, a final breath, and then silence. Me, in desperation, shaking your body and begging for a response. The horror of that moment, mixed with the humidity of sickness in a musty room. The salt of my own tears, the last gasp of air leaving your breast - these all are now just as much a part of me as my own eyes, my own hands, my own skin.

And yet, in that moment of your passing I felt something burning within me. This feeling, rising and falling and rising again, cracking like lightning against my soul. What is it? The passing knowledge that life is fleeting and that all men die, played now before me at my mother’s side? What was it I felt when you slipped into that dark unknowingness, the power and rage and ecstasy of that moment? A life lost - the energy of the soul dispersed over the ether like water into vapor on a hot plate.

Now I am teleported to the moment it happened, standing in this dark forest outside of the village with naught but the moon overhead and the sound of wind and swaying branches. Concentric circles carved into the snow-soaked earth, scorched by the fire of incantation and sopping with the blood of sacrifice. A curved steel blade in the hand of the Alderman, his steps hesitant but his eyes wild with delight. There, bound in the center and moments from its death, a power - wretched and writhing - but held by these four arcana - blood, ice, moonlight, and steel.

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As the blade is brought down, I see your own bloodstained eyes looking back at me, mother. I see your grasping hands and feel the sweat of your failing body. I feel the power, rising and falling and rising again - this great and terrible momentum as the pendulum swings towards disorder. Oh, to break a body - this is a feeling without control or consideration; a horrid, wonderful, smothering feeling. Power - power to break, and power to be broken. This god upon the pyre, burning over the flames of blasphemy and want, screaming as it is made manifest for only the moment needed for it to be sundered and broken and then yes - the feeling. Oh, the feeling, the synergy of death and the soul. It is everything at once, a vampyric avalanche of heat that inflames the spirit.

I come through the trees and see the lights of the village closely now, and as I walk onto the street I see illuminated across the way a young woman, wrapped tightly against the cold and shuffling away. Her eyes catch my own and then I act - like an animal, uncontrollable as a primal desire seizes me again. Here under the moon, against the fallen snow, with her blood as the circle and my own long knife as the key I break her body. I bring the knife down into her, again and again, staining the snow and my own flesh in her lifeblood and completing the incantation. Yes - the moments before your death mother, and the circle in the forest. It is all connected. These moments are all the same.

And then - uncertainty. The power is there, the rising warmth along the skin and the damp heat of the breath mixed with her blood and viscera, the power of a beast of prey - but it suffices for a fleeting second. It is weak, and it sputters, and in that moment the primal desire turns into abject terror. This power, this ticking mechanism that I have fallen into and become wedged between its wheels is nothing compared to the grinding iron and blistering steel of that engine of creation and destruction that was obliterated in the forest. It is little more than gasping through a reed, clinging to a twig in a storm. I will drown in this fear if I cannot seize once again the ecstasy of that great rending.

But I am small, and weak, and do not have that knowledge of authority possessed by the Alderman and his occultists. There is no god that would answer to my cry for release, no primal deity that I could bind with my own hands. I am alone, and I am afraid.

Oh, mother. Did you know, in those final moments? Did you look into my eyes as your body faltered and see the piles of corpses in the dark beneath my father’s mill? Did you hear the screams of mothers and the cries of fathers as their children were dragged into those side streets and into the gloom of my horrible domain, and did you know the silence that would follow when those mothers and fathers are brought below as well? I cannot kill a god, mother - no more than I could save your life as it slipped through my fingers. But I can make due.

The door opens, and the screaming begins. One by one they are pulled from the pit I keep them in and dragged into the next room. Bound to this altar under the light of the moon, and through the frigid air comes I, the new harbinger, having traded my long knife for the great steel gear of my father's mill. They plead and beg and shriek, but the wheel spins and the wheel descends. I watch as it meets their bodies, as flesh is torn from muscle and muscle from bone. Man reduces to meat. Meat reduced to red mist.

I am no great student of mysticism, and I do not have their powerful incantations - but I have the spinning wheel of this dread machine, and the machine feeds me. Each new body broken upon my machine is like electricity in my blood, but still it pales in comparison. I am treading water, true, but my endurance has limits and the shoreline is so far away. The screams become muted and dull. The smell of blood becomes commonplace. The fear in their eyes means nothing. None of it can compare to the power of that moment in the woods.

I sit in the dark, alone. There are only so many bodies, and I have nearly exhausted this village. I could continue, but for what? I am digging up molehills and begging for them to become mountains. I weep, not just for myself - but for you, mother. I weep that your lessons were lost on me. We would sit in the church and you would take my hand in yours, strong and warm, and tell me to trust in God. Even now, cold and empty, I feel your dead hand on my own. Trust in God.

I look to the wheel, the great spinning gear of my father’s mill. His last, wretched gift to me. Caked in blood and gore, glimmering under the light of the moon. The wheel. Trust in God.

There is one child left among this group, one who prays every night and asks God to save her. She is small, and whatever minor relief from this agony of separation I would feel from putting her against the wheel would be fleeting, but I hear your words in my ear, mother. Trust in God. Could she be my deliverance? I have set her aside these many long months to languish in the cold and see if her faith could be broken - if she can be spoiled.

I keep her, bound and gagged in a small corner of the cellar pit for hope that her faith will be strong enough. Strong enough to fuel what must happen next. I have thought it over now for some time, and I cannot get the image out of my mind. I have been so preoccupied with the fleeting elation of breaking a person that I have not considered my wastefulness. In the darkness of my butchery an obsession forms, latching onto my mind like a parasite.

After all, if the ecstasy of breaking a body is so strong, and so intensely captivating to my soul, then what of the joy that comes with breaking a body twice?

I gather what I can from the Alderman’s books, and slowly I begin piecing back together those fractured peoples. The arm of the butcher. The hands of the smith. The eyes of the librarian. The legs of the constable. Piece by piece, until they are all together and all as one. The smell, mother - you would not believe the smell! It almost makes me sick, but I am too giddy to feel any unease. This thing I have built, this unbroken mass of meat and man, this is my deliverance. How many bodies are stitched together here? How many chopped and splattered faces staring back at me with those horrified grins? Enough, I believe. I believe it will be enough.

My faith alone will not be sufficient, no. I am not the pillar of virtue that you were, mother. I cannot reach out my hands and give this being a new life. But the belief of a child - this pure, unadulterated child, perhaps her belief can work my miracle.

I bring her into the room, under the light of the moon and in the chill of winter. She prays, as you prayed - and her face is filled not with fear, but determination. She believes more strongly than anything in the world that she will be delivered. I lay her on the table, under my grim machine, and for a moment I am overcome with her serenity. Then, as a cloud passes and the room is illuminated, she opens her eyes. For a moment, she looks at me and we are locked together - my hand on the lever but unable to throw it. Then she looks to the corner, where the mangled mass of my new messiah rests against the masonry, and I see a split second of panic.

I throw the lever, and she is broken under my horrible wheel.

The earth shakes and the mill groans, and once more I am standing beside you, mother, as the universe comes apart at the seams. I see grinding gears and bright shards of flaming metal - pistons and pulleys in an endless dance across time and space. Smoke and fire fills my lungs, and I am alight in an oil black sea that fills me until I nearly burst. I see the clearing, and the cackling Alderman, and in the center of the crater I see my wheel, embedded into the ruined body of a little girl. The ruined body of my mother. The ruined body of God.

Mother, do you see the place I am lying? Do you see the blood soaking through my shirt?

I stand, and I am no longer alone. My child - this daughter of my heresy, releases a pitiable moan. It grasps at itself, seeking answers it could not possibly comprehend, looking for some escape from this thing it has become. Mouth open and limp tongues roll out of them, eyes swivel back and forth in its skulls. Oh, my blessed child. My sweet and precious child.

I drop my wheel on it, and it is broken again.

Yes, mother. Yes, the feeling was there. Oh, and strong - stronger than any of them alone, and more than I had ever dreamed of all together. But greater than the power and wonder of that moment was that obsession that had been lingering in the back of my mind, ever since I first imagined my reformed child and first began to stitch its body back together. The parasite swells and roars, and this dream - this realized truth - is now the only truth that matters. It is the only truth that ever mattered.

Broken things can be remade, and broken things can be broken again.

Those few who remain are the first disciples of my new church - the apostles of an iron faith. They were the captive audience, converted by the authority of the breaking wheel and intoxicated by the deification of man's dominion over man. They leave the mill to spread the word of the new gospel, and before long more have joined our flock. They join me in the millroom, swaying and calling out as new sacrifices are brought beneath the glistening gear of the wheel and are shredded like pulled meat. They feel that power, and in their eyes I see the eyes of the Alderman, wild and alive.

Then - astonishingly - one of them produces a miracle of their own. A young man produces a piston that moves by itself, an autonomous machine, devoid of human intervention. He found it in a field near his home, and cannot explain where it came from or how it moves independently from any outside action. The congregation sees a strange piston, but their sight is limited. I look at the piston, dutifully pushing and pulling within its casing, and I see the twitching of a severed finger - a smaller part of the whole, a piece of something fractured. We worship it.

I give my decree, to go into the world and find these broken pieces and bring them back to me. There are no doubt a great very many, and we will need many more hands to carry the weight. The congregation is fervent and their zealotry is absolute. They return with other mechanical wonders - machines that should not work, gears that should not spin, yet are all driven by the same inexorable force. I surround myself with them, bathe in them, and the music of their mechanisms sings me to sleep.




























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I am adrift in an ocean of oil and fire, and above me hangs a spinning wheel.
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I sit in a dark room within my father’s mill. When he died, I buried him beneath the basement so his grave would never see the light of the sun again. In my arms is my son - the child of my union with one of the apostles - a cultist named Hedwig. Our son will not carry my father’s name. His name is buried beneath the basement.

My son will carry your name, mother. Bumaro. He will have children of his own, and his children will have children, and one day my bloodline will produce a child of such pure and authentic belief in this new god, this machine god, it will be unrivaled anywhere else in the world. Of this, my prophets assure me.

On that day, when that child becomes truly realized in its belief, my church will break its body on the wheel and resurrect it here, with me. On that day, we will bring that broken child out of the dirt and break it on the wheel again, and by consuming its perfect faith we will have the catalyst needed to undo the work done by the Alderman and his occultists in that forest. On that day, beneath the full moon and winter's chill, within a circle of blood and atop our steel altar, we will rebuild our Broken God.

And then bathed in the light and rapture of those four arcana I, Robert Bumaro, will break it again.

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