Hunting Season

“Let there not be found among you anyone who immolates his son or daughter in the fire, nor a fortune-teller, soothsayer, charmer, diviner, or caster of spells, nor one who consults ghosts and spirits or seeks oracles from the dead.” – Deuteronomy 18:11–12

“But devils are subservient to certain influences of the stars, because magicians observe the course of certain stars in order to evoke the devils.” – Heinrich Kramer, Malleus Maleficarum

 

Kidnapped in Anatolia

In the early 15th century, the SHINING ONE is kidnapped by a group of mercenaries working for a wealthy heir to a popular Italian winemaker by the name of Cosimo Foscari. He escapes by killing them and assuming one of their identities, which he uses to infiltrate the inner sanctum of a group of seers and mystics led by Cosimo, operating in the shadows of the city of Constantinople.

 

The Origins of the Cloak

Cosimo had many powerful connections across the European and Indian subcontinent, having used his inheritance to travel throughout the world. Cosimo had managed to form a loosely organized network of mystics and sages who essentially formed the basis for what would later become known as “The Cloak of Nazili.” Their spiritual teachings evolved around rumors of the existence of an “eternal being who shines like a million suns.” Cosimo sees the SHINING ONE for what he represents, and earns his trust by providing shelter, protection and a rudimentary mystical education and indoctrination into the center of the organization formed around his existence.

 

The Cloak’s Clashes with Catholics

The organization is not comfortable for long however, as Cosimo and the Cloak clash with the Catholic church in the Kingdom of Bulgaria in which an entire arm of the Cloak is killed brutally by the church in a territorial dispute along its southernmost borders. Many members of the Cloak at this time leave Bulgaria, crossing the kingdom of Moravia and moving northward into Germany.

 

A Grand Scheme for Revenge

Vowing revenge upon the church, the SHINING ONE and the remaining members of the Cloak infiltrate the highest ranks of power in the church seated in Rome. Through a series of murders and shady political maneuvers, the SHINING ONE is placed in a position of great influence where he is appointed to serve as a direct advisor to Bishop Giovanni Battista Cibo, who was soon elevated to the rank of Cardinal, and thereafter elected Pope Innocent VIII.

 

A Famous Letter and a Papal Bull

In 1484 Pope Innocent receives a letter from a high-ranking Moravian inquisitor by the name of Heinrich Kramer, who had played a significant role in the earlier killing of Cloak members in Bulgaria. The letter pleads with the church to allow for the violent persecution of persons deemed to be under satanic influence henceforth referred to as “witches” and “sorcerers.” Under the influence of the SHINING ONE, Pope Innocent VIII responds by publishing a papal bull titled “Summis Desiderantes” which explicitly grants Heinrich Kramer and other notable German and Moravian inquisitors the power to prosecute persons for witchcraft and sorcery.

Empowered by this new declaration, Heinrich goes mad with power and begins hunting down the remaining members of the Cloak whom he suspects have taken up seats of power in Germany and Bohemia. Some of these assumptions of his turned out to be at least partially true, as in the case of the famous trials of Helena Scheuberin in Innsbruck where Heinrich was subsequently expelled from the city by its ranking Bishop after being accused of illegal and immoral behavior related to the trials in which Scheuberin was eventually acquitted. In a series of letters exchanged between Kramer and Italian Bishop Karl Gosler (much later revealed to be a possible Cloak operative), the church urges Kramer to leave Innsbruck and abandon his ongoing investigations in order to avoid further embarrassment of the Papacy. Other assumptions by Kramer turned out to be terrific flights of paranoid delusion related to being denied the rank of inquisitor in Germany and being stripped of his authority in Innsbruck and driven out under threat of physical duress. Much of this sequence of events was later documented in detail to be the work of The Cloak acting in concert with the SHINING ONE to discredit the church and undermine its power and authority through careful manipulations to expose and magnify its vicious and violent tendencies.

 

The First Tollings of the Hammer Upon the Bell

Shortly after his exile from Innsbruck, Kramer pens his famous best-selling “masterpiece” of violence and discrimination titled “Malleus Maleficarum,” the first copies of which were actually printed on early Gutenberg presses owned by Cloak members in the German city of Speyer. Henrich Kramer included a copy of the Summis Desiderantes in the opening pages of the book, which was meant to imply papal support for the doctrines set forth in the book, but recognizing that Kramer was acting in ways which cast the church in a very unfavorable light, the church soon discredited Kramer and condemned his book as well.

Despite the efforts of the Papacy to distance itself from the work or Kramer and discredit him, his book went on to remain a best-seller and lead to many more acts of senseless violence and torture against anyone suspected of being a witch or a sorcerer by any royal court with a need to dispose of its political adversaries.

To Bend The Law

“This, then, is the doctrine of the resurrection. We do not believe–at least I do not–that law has been rudely violated in one extraordinary and unparalleled episode. We believe that a universal law of life, overmastering death, and always superior to it, has had once a visible witness.”

– Charles Spurgeon

“The universal law of karma … is that of action and reaction, cause and effect, sowing and reaping. In the course of natural righteousness, man, by his thoughts and actions, becomes the arbiter of his destiny.”

– Paramahansa Yogananda

“Nothing comes to pass in nature, which can be set down to a flaw therein; for nature is always the same, and everywhere one and the same in her efficacy and power of action: that is, nature’s laws and ordinances, whereby all things come to pass and change from one form to another, are everywhere and always the same; so that there should be one and the same method of understanding the nature of all things whatsoever, namely, through nature’s universal laws and rules.”

– Baruch Spinoza

A long darkness ensues

Many generations have passed since the SHINING ONE experienced an illumination. He has since then been entirely unable to determine the root cause of his illumination and he longs desperately to return to that state. For many thousands of years he travelled the world, searching in vain for a means to restore his illuminated state. When he is “off” he seeks only to be “on” again. By any means necessary, no stone is left unturned in the quest for light.

Love is not eternal, but the pain of losing it is

The SHINING ONE has experienced all manner of personal relations, having fallen deeply and madly in love and subsequently learned that he must ultimately harden his heart lest he be reduced to a vessel for eternal pain and loss. Time after time he has fallen in love and even sired children, only to see them pass into dust while he lives on. Even worse yet, for him to pass into another bodily vessel and then become a living stranger to the objects of his love.

Is there a way to bend the law?

The SHINING ONE now turns inward, an infirm hermit hiding in a cave. His study turns to the magical and alchemical. Why must he be alone be cursed with an unending arc of life spent entirely alone? Many persons with whom he has traded knowledge through the years have rumored there to be a means of instilling eternal life upon another. His quest now is to find a way to share eternity with another, but find himself denied at every turn.

The fountain of youth

The SHINING ONE spends many generations lurking among the Macrobians upon the horn of the African continent, for he had determined their exceptional longevity must hold some secret. Aside from their exceedingly elongated life spans, these Macrobians had the most peculiar process of embalming their dead and preserving them. Surely there was some secret hidden within their cultural subconscious that could be explored and revealed. He spent many generations among and within them, residing within many of their bodies and minds. In searching for the secrets of their longevity he explores the notions expressed in their culture of a “fountain of youth” which when one bathes within it, finds their youth restored. The SHINING ONE searches the continent high and low for such a spring, and finds a hidden spring which imparts a limited longevity but it’s affects wear off over time. Utilizing waters from this hidden spring, he develops an alchemical concoction which extends youthfulness, but with limitations.

In the body of Methuselah

The SHINING ONE travels his way around the world to many ancient cultures, always in search of a means to extend another life so that he may not be alone for eternity. With very mixed results, the SHINING ONE historically succeeded in extending his own life as long as nearly a thousand years while occupying various bodies. While occupying the body of a figure known historically as Methuselah, he was able to extend his own lifespan well over 900 years.

In the study of Herodotus

Centuries later, in the times of the Greco-Persian empire the SHINING ONE intersects with the Greek historian Herodotus, upon whom he bestows much accumulated knowledge of the Macrobians. Herodotus eventually becomes regarded as a great historian and one of the first of his kind, though not entirely without the assistance of the SHINING ONE, who shares many artifacts and hand drawn maps of the region with Herodotus and shares this youthful concoction with him. Herodotus then writes of a “fountain of youth” which becomes a very popular and pervasive legend among many cultures.

There is no way to bend the law

Ultimately, the SHINING ONE fails to concoct a recipe for eternal youth and resorts instead to developing an alchemical concoction which is able to turn a living being to stone. He first tries this potion on himself as he experiments with getting the process and mixture correct. When he finally is able to perfect the recipe and process, he begins collecting a menagerie of simulacra inside his caves. If he cannot preserve them alive, he will preserve them as stone and that way he can at least be in the company of those he loved.

I Am The Light

“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”
– Plato

“There are very few human beings who receive the truth, complete and staggering, by instant illumination. Most of them acquire it fragment by fragment, on a small scale, by successive developments, cellularly, like a laborious mosaic.”
– Anais Nin

“Whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”
― Max Ehrmann

 
 

I am the light, I am the glory

Within the span of his first illumination period, the SHINING ONE realizes he is able to view all of the future and all of the past in a single glimpse. He literally pays witness to the interconnectedness of all things in the universe. In the midst of his observation, which lasts but a moment yet feels like an eternity, he is also awakened to the great tragedy which lies in wait for him.

Ripples upon the pond

What had begun as a curse was suddenly a blessing as the SHINING ONE is fully awakened for the first time. In his illuminated state he realizes that existence is governed entirely by deterministic laws. A cause brings about an effect, a rain drop upon a pond produces ripples. These ripples meet other ripples caused by other raindrops. The two ripples smash together and merge in a quiet collision. They change and morph each other. Their trajectories are mutually changed forever and cannot be returned to their original state.

Returning and repeating

Contemplation of the rippling metaphor with regard to universal determinism leads the SHINING ONE to push the boundaries of what he is able to observe in his illuminated state. He sees the same pond, and the same raindrops causing the same ripples, crashing into the same ripples merging in the same quiet collisions, repeating forever into the infinite. There is no ending. There is no difference between iterations, the same causes emerge, begetting the same effects. The effects become new causes, which cause new effects. And yet none of it is new. It has happened a million times and will happen a million more. The chain is forever unbroken. He is the chain, and like the chain he is forever unbroken.

Time is the most fantastic illusion

All of time occurs at once. Everything that has ever happened or ever will happen has already happened and happened in a single moment. A million rotations of the inner wheel and not a single click on the outer wheel. It begins and ends in the same moment, and yet there is no beginning and there is no ending. The string is fixed in a loop, a metallic band forged in galactic fires of timelessness, a wheel within a wheel where one contains the other. It is an infinite moment and yet it is finite and limited for nothing is truly infinite.

I am the dungeon, I am the tower

The SHINING ONE sees that it is he who is fixed at the center of the wheel, and that there is no wheel, there is only the SHINING ONE. It is his own existence at the center of everything, and yet there is no periphery. He is all that is and will ever be, and remains fixed, unchanging. This realization is at once beautiful and hideous. He is a shining beacon of divine beauty and he is a hideous gorgon skulking in shadow. He is the cause, and he is the effect. His actions seem to be freely decided but if they are freely decided, they are done so in exactly the same manner, at the same moment, cycling forever like the turning of the inner wheel. He cannot make a different choice, for he makes the same different choice each time. The laws of cause and effect hold everything within their grasp. The wheel is locked within a wheel.

What is there to learn by one who sees everything?

Rubbing

“Man with all his noble qualities, with sympathy which feels for the most debased, with benevolence which extends not only to other men but to the humblest living creature, with his god-like intellect which has penetrated into the movements and constitution of the solar system- with all these exalted powers – Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.”
– Charles Darwin

“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”
– Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

 

The birth of the myth

With the first men came the first mysteries. There were no mysteries before, because there were no brains to contemplate them. One of the first mysteries encountered and contemplated by man was the mystery of death. The contemplation of death arose from the death of others rather than the self. The realization that what happens to others can and will happen to oneself. Death is the only inevitability, the only thing predictable.

Early humans did not understand

The earliest humans did not understand death. One moment a person is conscious and aware, the next moment they are gone, irreparable. Where is the seat of this consciousness? Perhaps it exists in some kind of organ in the body? A special receptacle of some sort?

A cycle of eat and be eaten

Early humans began eating animals which they would kill. They saw other animals feeding off a carcass and learned to follow suit. In the process, they gathered the knowledge to begin cleaning their kills, removing the hides to wear upon themselves. In removing the organs from the animals’ bodies, they gathered a very rudimentary knowledge of anatomy, and yet the question lurked in their minds. Where is the seat of the soul? What is it that leaves the body upon death, and from where does it originate and depart? Where does this “aliveness” come from? Is it stored in the body in some sort of receptacle?

A special human

In the midst of the propagation of human life across Gaia, there came to be a most singular being with a most singular awareness. In this singular and unique awareness there was a spark of light which could not be extinguished. When death overtook this individual’s body, the mind seemed to escape unharmed and suddenly found itself repositioned inside a new carrier body. It took many repetitions of this phenomena to occur over several generations of early humans before this singular being became gradually aware of their unique quality.

Wondering around in the wilderness

This particular and quite singular human was especially curious with regard to the nature of life and death, especially upon realizing it affected them differently than the others. They were curious to such an extent that they were eventually viewed by other hominids as a danger and a threat. They knew nothing of this individual’s unique ability to become reincarnate upon death, but they recognized in them the proclivity toward violence and extreme if not unnatural fascination with death. Other humans began to react with fear toward this being. His mind is continually plagued by questions raised time and time again as bears continuing witness to the death of others and yet in seemingly unable to experience this himself.

First light, the morning star

At one point when performing a crude exploratory operation upon a recently deceased body which this being had occupied just a short time before, something new and inexplicable happens. As the sun is disappearing behind the tree line, a small group of human hunters gathers around this special being, intent on killing him out of fear.

Just as their spears were raised, a bright light begins to flash and emanate from the core of this special being. The light is so bright it renders the observers permanently blinded. Looking down at his own hands, the special being suddenly realizes in full what is happening to him. He can see his entire past, recall all the memories of his previous incarnations. In addition, and most startlingly, he is able to see future manifestations of his own life with incredible and staggering detail. Looking around at world around him he sees it now as a very different place. He can see the connective tissue binding all living beings, like strings or singular threads of a spier’s web. He can see now what he had been seeking for so long: the small pit of light at the center of every human, in the seat of the soul.

The Panspermic Abiogenesis of Gaia

“When in the height heaven was not named, and the earth beneath did not yet bear a name, and the primeval Apsu, who begat them, and chaos, Tiamut, the mother of them both Their waters were mingled together, and no field was formed, no marsh was to be seen;
When of the gods none had been called into being, And none bore a name, and no destinies were ordained;
Then were created the gods in the midst of heaven, Lahmu and Lahamu were called into being…”

Enuma Elish, ancient Sumerian creation myth

“In the beginning, God created heaven, and the Earth.”

The Book of Genesis 1:1, Hebrew Bible

 

It was mostly empty.

Well, to be more accurate, there were naturally occurring life forms of all types. This was not uncommon among planets of this size and composition. There were trees, plants, insects, microscopic organisms, and a full complement of more substantive biological entities evolved from various strands. All of these life forms were needed to eventually achieve and maintain a balanced ecological and biological equilibrium.

There were no humans.

Something so complex and varied, at once so beautiful and hideous, so capable of feats of astounding intellect – a lifeform such as this was not evolved by pure chance from a tepid puddle of bacteriological slime and simple proteins.

It was by design.

The humans never knew how they came to be. Whether it was a fragment of knowledge simply forgotten over a great span of time, or whether it was by intent that they should not recall their birthing into this material plane – they had no recollection of how they came to be. This is certainly not to say they never puzzled over it. Millions of generations of scientists, poets, philosophers, seekers, mystics had never managed to arrive at even so much as a remotely quantifiable or agreeable hypothesis.  Some believed that there was a sentient race of life alien forms in the universe who created us. Others believed in an invisible, all powerful being they referred to as a “God” who created us. Still others believed humans evolved naturally from a branch of primates.

It was none of these.

The Earth, or as it is known celestially – “Gaia” – was mostly empty. There were many lifeforms to witness the events which transpired that day the pod came down, but there were none who comprehended. There were no analytical minds to wonder about the silvery shining metal object as it hurtled down from the sky like a ball of fire. While there were many curious eyes gathering to set upon it’s glimmering husk half buried in the crumpled earth, there were none with the intellect to reason at the sight of the strange creatures who emerged from its depths when the pod door slid open.

Two of them emerged together.

Two shiny metallic creatures emerged from the wreckage of the crashed pod with a dull mechanical whirring of servo motors. They stood upright upon two appendages, and astride of their center section were another two appendages. Atop their center section sat an egg-shaped protuberance, with two smaller glowing spheres set into recessed pockets. There were none who could have deciphered them, but across their chests were printed a short series of simple glyphs, accompanied by another mysterious symbol. Had there been any creature capable of reading them, they would have noted that one of them was inscribed “Lahmu” while the other read “Lahamu.”

Micaloz Experiences his First Samadhi and Gets a Glimpse of the True Wheel

  The room was lit by the dancing orange light of a single lantern on the small table. Sweet smelling smoke drifted up from the silver censer and hung in the still air.

  Micaloz lay reclined on the padded silk chaise, hands folded across his chest. In a stout wooden chair next to the table sat Cosimo in a white robe and leather sandals. The lantern making a glowing circle in the shiny bald spot on the front of his head.

  “Are we ready to begin?” Cosimo asked.

  Eyes remaining closed, Micaloz inhaled deeply and let the breath slip out noisily through his nose.

  “Yes,” he said. “I am ready.”

  “We are going to put you into a state of very deep relaxation and while you are in that state we plan to probe your mind using a special ritual we have devised. You may feel as though there is an intruder in your mind, and the initial response is to push that presence out of mind. I urge you to focus on remaining open to the experience. Often this process must be repeated several times before I have gathered enough experience and information to construct a working model of your memory trace. In Greek we refer to these as ‘engramma.’ They are like static pictures of your past stored within the memory patterns of your brain. As the artist sets brush to canvas in creating likenesses of objects real or imagined, so does your mind work to store its information in such a way.

  “Please know that the intent here is not to locate or associate with any particular memory or series of specific traces, but to get an initial sense of the depth of the information you store in the form of memory. Because you are extremely unique in your nature, we are particularly interested in plumbing the depths of your memory to understand what it is you recall from previous lives, and how your memory functions differently than others.”

  At that, Cosimo nodded to an assistant who then stepped out from a shadowed corner of the room holding a series of small, flat circular stones attached to series of interconnected threads. The assistant approached Micaloz and draped the net of stones over his cranium, carefully and gently adjusting them to lie flat across the dimensions of his skull.

  “We are placing a net of lodestone around your head in order to assist me with finding and entering your mind with ease. The vibrations of the magnets act as a beacon to me when I am dissociated from my corporeal form. They help me know where to go. They also help stabilize your mind, helping your thoughts not to wander. When I was in India, the Hindi people have a practice they refer to as ‘Nidra.’ It is a method for achieving a state they call Samadhi, or ‘temple sleep.’ This state exists in the realm between awakened awareness and sleep. It is in this Samadhi state where your hidden mind is revealed and it is that state we hope to guide you to today. Over time, it may promise to be useful to you in other ways as well. Ways you could not have expected.” Cosimo paused and removed an ornate necklace with a long chain from a small golden box on the table next to him. He put the chain around his neck and carefully adjusted the position of the jeweled amulet at its end so it hung over the center of his chest.

  “So, shall we begin?”

  Micaloz gave a very slight nod as his chest rose and fell rhythmically beneath his folded hands.

  Cosimo again nodded to his assistant, who slipped into the shadows at the edge of the room and began blowing a very low tone on a long tubular instrument. The sound reverberated through the room as Cosimo began quietly muttering some passages in an unfamiliar language.

  Micaloz noticed he began to feel a peculiar lightness. It was as though objects in the room were beginning to float, held aloft by the mesmerizing drone which circled and swirled through the room like a giant ethereal serpent.

  Cosimo’s chanting began to merge with the sounds of the strange instrument until the two became a single voice intoning from a tenebrous source completely surrounding him. Micaloz felt immersed in the sound as though he were lying in a warm salted bath, buoyant upon it, floating without mass. Suddenly it was not something he was hearing so much as it was a thing he was experiencing. It was becoming part of his being. He was merging with the sound vibrations, and he felt his identity beginning to dissolve. It was no longer him lying on a chaise in a room with chanting, music, and incense. All of these things became one, he and the serpent were the same beings sharing the same mind. The serpent was the twisting line of the seashore, as wave after wave of memory gently crashed upon him, with each inward breath a new wave of influx. Memories would flood in and wobble across the sand. With each exhale the wave would wash back out to sea, carrying part of him with it. There was a natural reciprocity to it, with each new wave of memories and images washing in, an equal amount of them was peacefully slipping away. Just as suddenly as it appeared, the sea receded from view and he felt he was suspended in empty space, staring at a large cosmic wheel spinning very slowly. He gazed at the wheel, trying to ascertain the direction of its turning but each time he focused on perceiving a particular direction, the wheel seemed to reverse itself. It was moving in synchronicity with the waves which rolled in and out, and with his breathing which he was somehow still conscious of. He could not tell if the tides of this mystical sea were moving his breath, or if his breath was moving the sea. Gradually, the sea became calm to the point of it standing perfectly still as though frozen. The whole world stood perfectly still at once, and he felt he was seeing all of existence in a glance. In his body, he still felt weightless, but that he was somehow now being sucked outward into space by an invisible force. The earth was getting smaller and smaller and becoming the great wheel again. Micaloz imagined himself leaning forward to look closer at the spinning disc before him and was able to bring it closer into his view. Close enough that he was able to discern a series of markings on the disc. Looking closer still, he saw the markings were a series of infinite letters, and within each letter were infinite names, and within each name were an infinite sequence of colorful dots. Within each of the colored dots was a repository of images and symbols which represented a person’s entire lifetime. The detail was astounding, and Micaloz suddenly felt breathless and a tightness in his chest. The spinning disc started fading in detail, losing definition as it moved away from him, fading from sight.

 When Micaloz awoke and opened his eyes, he noticed he was seeing a pattern of colorful wheels within wheels spinning in the air before him everywhere he looked. Slowly he lifted his head and leaned over to where Cosimo had been sitting before they began, but he was not there.

  The assistant, seeing Micaloz had awoken, stepped over and silently removed the net of lodestone from around Micaloz’s head.

  Micaloz sat up slowly and looked around the room. As the strange pattern over his vision dissipated he noticed a ringing in his ears which was almost musical.

  “Where is Cosimo?” Micaloz asked out loud, not directing his question to anyone in particular. He did not know if the assistant had left the room or not, and he felt extremely disoriented. His head was swimming and suddenly he felt the urge to get sick.

  “He will return to you shortly, these journeys often take a heavy toll on him. He was taken from the room before you had awakened so that he could rest comfortably while he regains his strength.” The assistant said, her voice revealing that she was a female. Micaloz had seen this same assistant on the estate several times and had not noticed her gender before. She always wore a hijab which hid most of her face, as did all of the occupants of the estate, including the men, aside from Cosimo himself.

On the table next to the chaise where Micaloz sat, there was a pitcher of water and a cup which had not been there before the exercise. Micaloz poured the glass full and drank deeply.

Into the Fray – Interviews with Micaloz From The Cosimo Records

“Do you feel it when it happens? What does it feel like?”

 

The lights in the parlor were dim, a single lantern flickered with the draft flowing under the old wooden door, making the shadows dance.

 

“It is like I fade out, then fade in again. I really don’t feel much, it is like waking up from a dreamless sleep.”

 

“And you are suddenly aware again? Are you immediately aware of the fact that you are in another body not your own?”

 

“Not immediately, no. I can feel the presence of another consciousness, but it is as though it is inside a box, hidden from me.”

 

“Are you able to access the memories of the new host?”

 

“Not exactly, no. At times I can sense the other consciousness imposing upon my own thought process. It is not available to me as I need it. As though I can attain a certain state in which I am able to access the memories and thoughts of the host, but they are not active, if that makes sense. They are secondary to my own thoughts and feelings.”

 

“Have you been able to identify anything else regarding this special state you occasionally access? I am interested in knowing more about that – do you feel different? Is it like a meditative state in which your mind is relaxed? Is it triggered by anything?”

 

“I have long sought to discover the trigger, what causes me to slip into these states where I can access it, but when I am not in that state I cannot remember much about being in that state or how I arrived there. It is not something I seem to be able to exercise any control over. It is as though a lantern is lit, suddenly flooding a large room with a bright light. The room is filled with all these objects which are suddenly illuminated, and I can see again. Not just the memories and thoughts of the current host, but the memories and thoughts of all previous hosts. But they are not scattered, they are focused as though they flow through a prism which combines them all into one. One thought, floating like a weightless object in the room which I am able to examine in detail. Much like reading a scroll where all the words are combined into a single word which represents the meaning of them all.”

 

“Would you describe it as omniscience? An all-knowing state?”

 

“Not exactly. It is more like gazing at a very large and complex spider web. I can see how things connect to each other. How everything is connected and one string begets the other. Time ceases to be linear, no longer flowing in a single direction. It is as though time itself becomes a stationary object which I can see all at once. It is incredibly detailed and nuanced. More than I can fit into my mind at once, not sure that makes sense. It is very difficult to describe, especially when I am not in that state. As I said, I am not able to recall much about being in that state except very general things about it. The memory of it is smudged in my mind, out of focus if you will. Blurred.”

 

“But you can remember who your previous host was? Things about your life lived in their form?”

 

“Yes, and very general details regarding my position in life while I inhabited them. There is no break in the continuum for me, I go to the dreamless sleep from one body, and wake from it in another. I am the same person still, and my own memories are intact.”

 

“How many previous hosts are you able to retain the memories of?”

“All of them, though the more distant they are in the past, the less detail I am able to recall. It is much like the amorphous memories from when you were very young. They become more like feelings than memories. There is no detail, just a cloud of fleeting images which invoke feelings.”

 

“I would like to know more about this illuminated state you speak of. I wonder if you would be willing to allow myself and my group to conduct a series of experiments to try to induce this state, or to discover any clues regarding the trigger which allows you to slip into it. Would you be willing?”

 

“Yes, I would be willing.”

 

“Good, we would begin by stimulating your subconscious mind in various ways. I will need to conduct many interviews with a scribe present to record as many memories as you are able to divulge. Specifically, I am interested in finding out more about the times and places when it has occurred. The lifetimes in which you experienced this state. Perhaps there is something connecting the trigger to the consciousness of the host rather than to your own. Perhaps not something activated directly by you. Instead it may be something unique to the host instead, which allows the trigger to be switched.”

 

“Perhaps.”

 

“I will need to gather as much information as possible in order to devise a series of experiments designed to uncover what facts we can regarding this illuminated state of yours. There will be many interviews such as this one, in which we will investigate your earliest memories to your most recent. Your every need will be facilitated by my humble servants and companions, you will be provided comfortable, secure lodging and anything else you should need. In the meantime, you may also access our private library. We have collected many tomes containing the knowledge of the ancients as well as more contemporary scholars of mysticism and the mind. I feel there is much you can learn from us, and us from you. Please feel free to move about the compound freely, but we ask that you do not travel outside the walls alone. We understand that we cannot control everything you do, and if you wish to leave there is little we can do to stop you. We have searched a long time for you, enduring many great losses and setbacks along the way. Now that we have you in our midst, we’d prefer not to lose you. So, if there is anything you need, any needs you have, at any time, which are not being met, I hope that you will come to me. We have vast resources available to us and can procure virtually anything you can imagine.”

 

“Yes, this sounds agreeable. Thank you for your extended and gracious welcome, I am thankful for our continued acquaintance and I promise to cooperate in any way possible. I understand that we all gain from this association, and it is with great anticipation I look forward to continuing our talks and experiments.”

 

“We have many preparations to make for our next session, in the meantime please make yourself at home here, as I said. There are a great many relics and artifacts of history here which we have collected in our travels. I have no doubt you will find ways to keep yourself busy and stimulated. As far as your more base, earthly desires, if it is women you want, we can bring them to you as needed, but we ask that you not confide anything to those who enter from outside the compound, those who do not bear the mark.”

 

With this, Cosimo rose from his chair and picked up a silver bell inscribed with many detailed runes and symbols from the shelf beneath the lantern.

 

“If you need anything, simply ring this bell and one of our servants or members is always within earshot and can attend to your every need,” Cosimo smiled and handed the bell to Micaloz clasping his hands together and bowing his head as he turned and exited the room.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Chance Encounter, Too True To Be Good

The Journey to Constantinople

 

Micaloz arrived in Constantinople just as the sun had set on an early spring evening, smells of cinnamon, frankincense and sea salt air wafting on a light breeze as smoke from cooking fires rose in tight, angled plumes from shadowed dwellings. All were dark, save the occasional flickering light of oil lamps which dotted their silhouettes like glowing eyes which followed him down the street. He pulled the hood of his robe over his ears at the hint of winter’s chill which still lingered in the air. Head down, making contact with no one, he scurried amid the empty shop stalls and rubbish lining the curbs. The clomping footfall of a horse could be heard echoing down another avenue not far away.

 

His journey to the city had been aboard a large merchant ship and had traversed an array of climates as it wound its way through the Dodecanese islands dotting the eastern Mediterranean. It had been considerably warmer around the south tip of Turkey. When the ship had left Antalya, it was warm enough in January that he had to shed his robes, wearing only a shirt and vest. It had rained a bit here and there, but the weather was unseasonably warm, even for Antalya. As the ship made a turn northward around the Cesme peninsula, the temperature started to drop and get cold at night. A few nights he spent shivering in his cot as water dripped from the deck above.

 

The voyage lasted a couple of weeks, with stopovers in Marmaris, Kos, and Izmir. Walking amid the jutting towers of the lower port castle of Izmir stirred early memories within Micaloz that made him uncomfortable and melancholic. He spent the remainder of the journey in his filthy, dank bunk in the huge wooden ship, holding up the small white stone skull and gazing into the empty eye sockets, wondering how he would go about finding the men he was once again on his way to meet. He wondered if perhaps they were looking back at him through those empty sockets. Several years had passed since his abduction, he had little to go on now except a few addresses scrawled in a ledger he had found amid Vlastimir’s belongings after the incident on the Gumushane road.

 

Tonight, he was weary from the trip and was making his way to an inn along the north banks of the Bosphorus Strait. There, he would secure lodging for the next few days with the few coins he had remaining, get some much-needed rest, and begin combing the streets for addresses he found in the ledger come morning. They may be meaningless addresses, he realized. There was no way of knowing exactly what he was even looking for. His thinking was that if these men were still looking for him, he may be able to meander his way into their presence. He suspected the skull he had taken off Vlastimir was some sort of a seer’s stone, judging by the manner in which Vlastimir had carried it – with such a quiet, solemn reverence. Either way, he was sure it was somehow important and meaningful in some way he did not immediately understand. He wondered if the seer had spied on him yet, there was really no way of knowing if there was a set of eyes peering back at him at any moment. He had spent as much time staring at the skull as he could manage, in hopes that someone was on the other side, getting a glimpse of his face.

 

Atop the veranda, Cosimo experiences a chance encounter

 

Cosimo was standing on the veranda overlooking the Bosphorus as the sun was rising. Sipping a steaming cup of bitter, unsweetened coffee with an audible slurping sound, he looked to the street below, where people were starting to emerge from their houses, going wherever it was they went at that time of day. Cosimo enjoyed the privilege of watching them as they shuffled down the street, warm in his layered silken robes, his every need cared for by his faithful servants and friends. He did not consider himself privileged, however. In his youth, he had traveled for many years – enduring many grueling scientific expeditions, working away his early adulthood on his inherited vineyards in northern Italy, his brutal tutelage among the mystics of the nomadic Romani and Sufi. None of what he had had come to him easily. He habitually assured himself that every spot of luxury he enjoyed truly belonged to him. There were few who would argue with him. In part, because it was true, he had worked hard, but also because he had surrounded himself with sycophants who hung on his every uttered syllable. None of them would contradict him for fear of losing his graces, which in reality provided material comfort to many among his inner circle.

 

As he watched the people hurrying along the street below, he noticed one fellow in particular who piqued his interest keenly. He was walking along, staring at something he held up in his hand. He could have sworn it was his seer stone. He felt a ripple in his nerves as the man passed below. There was a connection there, he sensed it like a spider senses a fly in his web. The strings vibrated ever so gently. It was subtle. Like a butterfly’s wing had brushed against the strings of a harp, or the tiniest of bells with the tiniest of rings had been nudged. Had he not been on the verge of a peaceful state, a quiet in his soul as he was standing on the veranda sipping his coffee, he would have missed the sensation entirely. But he felt it.

 

It had been a couple years since he had heard from Vlastimir. He had assumed him dead and the mission was abandoned for the time being. At least until he could assemble another crew to send out in search of this mythical being – who now could only be assumed to be a danger and threat to anyone he encountered. After one bungled abduction, Cosimo figured the game was up. The man he sought would now be less subject to the element of surprise, rendering him much more difficult to capture. He would be suspicious and guarded. One thing he was sure of was that he was still out there somewhere, he could feel it, and had even “seen” him once, inside what looked to be a cave of some sort, filled with some unusual stone figures with very low vibrational signals. This was unusual because stone typically did not emit a vibrational signature within the range perceivable even by the strongest of magicks. These statues in the cave did not appear to be composed of typical stone.

 

Cosimo had conducted many seeing rituals since then in attempts to glean any new information he could, but the stone had gone dark and he could see nothing on the other end. Twice he had gone deeper into his mind than he had ever gone, fearing he may even lose his way back to his corporeal form, but returned with nothing new. Each time, he had to be bedridden for several weeks after the ritual, such was the toll it took to dive that deep into the dark waters of remote viewing. There were lonesome, hungry creatures lurking in those shadowy in-between realms, who longed to feast on the souls and life essence of those who wandered deep enough. Terrifying elder gods who would destroy entire galaxies for one small ecstatic whiff of human suffering. Cosimo feared that if he dove into that blackened pool again that the creatures would get ahold of his essence and he would be unable to return to normal states of consciousness. He had to find another way, it just had not occurred to him that the one whom he seeks may indeed be seeking him. And now, had the fates now suddenly conspired to place him at his very feet? It was a chance encounter too good to be true.

 

 

Among the stone simulacra – entries from the journals of the shining one

As I sit at my writing table, a loose grouping of stone simulacra surrounds me. Their stares no longer penetrate my being with the cold fire they once possessed. They have lost their edge over time, and becoming simply familiar and dull, serving only as inanimate remainders of my times past.

There is my sweet Nazli, who stands in the center of the circle facing outward, eyes fixed in a gaze of terror, frozen in the moment she realized what was happening to her, her final bewilderment captured forever upon her visage. There was a time I would sit near her and carry on a conversation, speaking into the darkness, remembering how we once spoke as we strolled among the citrus groves of Pazarkoy. Alas, I have run out of apologies, and the well of tears has long since run dry. I have nothing left to say to her, and she cannot hear me. My futile cries bounce from her ears and echo through my halls, mocking me with the cruel laughter of invisible cruel children at play. Continually fooling myself to the contrary leads only to a rather unpleasant and unabiding insanity – a burden which at this time I can no longer continue to bear.

Over the years, many more have joined Nazli in this cold rocky vestibule of my cave. All of them are my own bodies, occupied only long enough to find my way back to this temple and ingest the tincture willfully. This, after all that I have endured at the hands of a merciless fate, as well as the hands of men I do not yet know and have never met.

My brief relationship with the evil men began and ended in 1431 when on the Gumushane road, I dispensed with a small group of mercenaries hired to transport me into some unknown ranks in Constantinople. Upon this accursed road was where I also froze my beloved Nazli with the stone tincture. The others I kicked and shattered, rolling them into a rocky ravine beside the road. But my Nazli I loaded carefully into the caravan and transported here to my refuge with the utmost care not to damage her. It was nothing short of a miraculous feat of strength and will. Alive, she was petite and very light upon her feet. As a stone figure, she proved quite difficult to steer. I had a very difficult time getting her up the hillside and into my cave by myself but I succeeded after many attempts to hoist her with a crude pulley system I devised from boughs of dried pine and a series of ropes.

After finally getting her into my cave, I stood her upright while I knelt at her feet and wept for what felt like an eternity. The only sustenance I took was an occasional drink from the water which dripped off a stalactite just inside the cave’s entrance. Eventually, I died of starvation and dehydration, though I prefer to think of it rather as having wept my way into the dark arms of the endless void. If only it were true.

The bones of Vlastimir’s corpse lie at Nazli’s feet on the earthen floor. There is a persistent brownish gray stain beneath it where the flesh had rotted away in the dark and dank recesses of my temple, tatters of the red robes still scattered around it, unaffected by the decay of flesh. The stench of the putrid corpse is long gone, though for a time it was inescapable and hardly bearable. A strange feeling, that – to look upon the bones of a body you only inhabited for what amounts to a moment in time, then stand above it again full of life once again. Rather than gratitude, I am instead gripped by a deep and abiding disdain. Not certain I shall ever become accustomed to seeing my own body discorporate from my conscious being.

Surrounding them all is a ring of statues, facing Nazli at the center. All of these are representative of my subsequent attempts at ridding myself of the world, or the world of me. I have now attempted to take my own life 22 times in the last two years’ time, all unsuccessful. Each time I woke in a new body, and each time I made my way back to my cave sanctuary, where I immediately ingested a few drops of the tincture and edified myself in stone yet again. These twisted stone idols I have arranged, encircling Nazli. With each subsequent ingestion of the elixir, I positioned myself carefully so as to be frozen in a posture of worship and adoration.

Now I sit here again at my desk, scribbling madly into these pages, and I wonder if it is all for naught. I look upon the hideous gargoyles I have been, a pathetic creature longing to die, longing to be reunited with my love, weeping in prayer to finally be relieved of this curse and allowed to perish. But if there is a supreme deity (other than myself) they have flatly ignored my cries and moaning for release. Being granted none, I am faced with deciding my own fate, and my thoughts return now to my abductors on that road. I find myself drawn into a trap from which I have no hope of escape, and with no reasonable choice but to seek out this clandestine group who sought to whisk myself and my beloved Nazli away from our dream of shared happiness among the groves at Pazarkoy. How I will find them I am not entirely certain, but I have a small idol from the pocket of Vlastimir’s robes, it is to be my connecting dot. In some way, this small white stone idol I now hold in the palm of my hand will draw me to them, and them to me. We shall meet each other yet, and I will punish them with a fiery vengeance they could have never known nor imagined. Henceforth I shall name myself “Micaloz the fire” and the world shall know only the wrath of my flame. I have continually transformed bodily, and so has my sadness and woe now distilled to rage, for I cannot die, and I am forever alone.

Inside my simple forge and upon my crude anvil I have fashioned a magical key, with which I shall secure my sanctuary. Inside I will lock forever the exhausted remnants of my love, compassion, and joy. Where there once was light, now let there be only darkness, and the world will know my plague of eternal night. The only relics to survive shall be those I have preserved within this very cave temple – a lifeless Nazli surrounded by her adoring admirers in eternal damnation.

 

 

Of mournful monoliths and clearing the path

Repeating Re-awakenings

As swiftly as the darkness of sudden death had consumed him, the invisible hand parted the veil and the light came flooding in again. It wasn’t painful, but it was shocking, every time. He assumed he may never get used to it. It wasn’t like being born. It was more akin to demonic possession – he would awaken again, feeling the consciousness of his new host pushed into the swirling abyss as his own memories and thoughts took over.

This time he had gotten rather lucky. He glanced down at himself, and saw the familiar red robes. Reaching into his left pocket, he felt the little stone idol, and a leather pouch which his fingers quickly explored and found to be familiar. His heart raced for a moment when he realized who he had become. How fortuitous it was! He had never been able to choose his host, it happened randomly and he had never been able to predict where he would awaken next. This time around, he could hardly believe his luck. Fate had blessed him with jumping into Vlastimir’s being, and the leather satchel in his pocket contained the vial with Melek’s alchemical mixture inside it. A plan began to emerge in his mind, and he felt suddenly dizzy. The world wobbled for a moment as he struggled to gain his composure.

A quick survey of his surroundings helped him gain his balance again, and he was thankful to see Nazli standing at the rear corner of the caravan, looking to the south from where they had come. Kuzey had meanwhile hiked down the slopes to the left to fill his canteen from the stream rushing over the jagged rocks. He could hear Ayberk’s voice shouting down from the hillside as he shook his head quickly and began hiking over to where Ayberk was scrambling cautiously down the embankment. They stood over the body crumpled up against an outcropping of rock jutting from the reddish soil and yellowing knee-high grasses. A thick crimson stream soaked the ground beneath his left side, one arm splayed out above his head, the other hand stuck clutching at the spike protruding from his chest. He glanced again at Nazli, who had not moved from her position behind the wagon.

Another thing he figured he may never get used to was seeing his previous host body lying dead in front of him. Over centuries of this however, he had learned to steel himself against emotional reactions to the sight. This in turn had led to a sort of disconnection in him, a detachment from his physical containers. He held no affection for the beings he inhabited. Life for him was always in motion, always a transition from one stage to the next. He had come to despise looking into mirrors or reflections, anything which forced him to confront his outward identity, with which he never fully identified. When he closed his eyes imagining what he looked like, it wasn’t a blank canvas, but rather a senseless mess of swirling blended images, mixed by the years of constant change. There had never been a solidified self-image for him to access. Having no idea what he looks like, this sometimes set him reeling in a swamp of self-image where nothing was defined, always in flux.

He sighed deeply and turned his eyes to Ayberk. “We have problems,” he said quietly.

He Could Be Anybody

“How do we handle this?” Ayberk asked, genuinely perplexed, his voice tinged with worry and anxiety. Vlastimir could smell the stress coming off him, it stung his nostrils.

“Well, we don’t know where he went. Who he is now. He could be anybody. He could have jumped into a body thousands of miles from here. There really is no way of telling.” Vlastimir looked at the sky and sighed. A hawk was slowly circling above them on the September breeze.
“We have to get a message to Cosimo.”

It felt like lying. It was lying. He had to react quickly, he had to become Vlastimir. He had to find that part inside himself that was still Vlastimir, and plug it in so it could be accessed when he needed it. He did not have much time. He would have to get this situation straightened out, and quickly. There were a lot of loose ends. Ayberk could not suspect a thing or he knew he would follow established protocol and everyone in the party would be killed. Everyone in the group had taken an oath of understanding, that if and when things went terribly wrong there was no other solution than to give up their lives to protect Cosimo’s secret. Nobody could know what they knew, and nobody was safe if the knowledge ended up in the wrong hands.

Despite feeling the situation spiraling out of his control, he was not afraid. He rarely feared for his life any more. It meant nothing to die – a moment of pain, a wave of darkness, a flash of light, and he was back.

“Finish dragging down that tree and let’s cantilever that boulder out of the road so we can continue. That’s our first order of business. I am not sure what we will do with Nazli. I think we need to…” he slid his index finger across his throat, simulating the act of slitting her jugular.

“But please,” he continued, “please do not mention what has happened to Melek. Nazli cannot know yet. I need time to figure out what to do next. Once you have removed the boulder blocking our path, go and speak privately with Kuzey and inform him of what has happened. I will take care of the girl.”

A Crime Of Opportunity

Vlastimir scrambled carefully back down the hill, scree breaking loose beneath his steps and scattering down the slope in front of him. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the satchel that contained the vial of potion. There was plenty left, the fools who had fed it to the dog in that room back in Erzincan had no idea how potent it was. Only the smallest drop was needed to achieve the desired effect, they had given the dog enough to turn a small army to stone. He slid the vial back into his pocket but kept it outside the leather satchel in which it was normally housed.

Without speaking or even glancing at Nazli, Vlastimir walked to the back of the wagon where he reached into the back and pulled out a sack with some dried nuts, figs and crusty bread inside it. He removed a handful which he pushed into his right-hand pocket. Before pulling it out from the rear of the wagon, he carefully but quickly emptied half the contents of the vial into the sack. He squeezed it, rolling the food inside the sack back and forth gently, coating it with the odorless elixir. He also retrieved a bottle of crude port wine from a wooden crate. He gripped the wine cork between his teeth and pulled it loose, abruptly spitting it onto the ground where it rolled in a semi-circle, coming to rest at Nazli’s left foot. He drank deeply, the deep red liquid dripping over his beard as he pulled the bottle away from his mouth.

Holding some of the untainted food from his pocket in his hand, he leaned against the wagon and tossed some of the nuts and figs into his mouth, chewing noisily. Nazli turned to look at him, not suspecting a thing, still not knowing the fate which had just befallen Melek on the hillside moments before. The corners of her mouth turned only slightly upward, not enough to bunch up her flushed cheeks. A conciliatory smile that stung him inside, knowing what he was about to do. He held the sack of food toward her, with a nod of encouragement toward the food inside, just as Ayberk and Kuzey came shuffling up the road toward them. She reached inside the sack, pulling out a small handful of the nut mixture. Turning away from him, she placed it in her mouth as she began to chew. It only took a few moments. There was a subtle but tight crunching sound as she turned to stone almost immediately. Vlastimir turned to face her one last time as a look of momentary panic washed across her face as she realized, far too late, what was happening to her. Then it was over.

Vlastimir turned to Ayberk and Kuzey, placing the sack of nuts in the seat at the front of the wagon and taking another deep drink from the bottle of port, which he then passed to Ayberk. The three of them stood in silence for a moment. Finally Ayberk spoke, only to tell them the boulder had been broken free and the road was now cleared enough for the wagon to pass.

“Ayberk, help Kuzey load her into the back of the wagon. We can’t leave her here. Cover her with some of the sacks. We will leave once you have finished this.”

Vlastimir climbed onto the wagon bench and clenched the bag of nuts and figs in his left hand, the reins of the horses in the other. There was a bump and some shuffling noises as the two men loaded Nazili’s petrified body into the rear of the wagon. Kuzey climbed inside the back, while Ayberk went to the front and joined Vlastimir on the bench.

“What will be do with her?” Ayberk asked as Vlastimir jerked the reins and set the wagon bumping into motion.

“We will take her with us to Cosimo. He may have a use for her. I suspect that the shining one will come looking for her eventually. He seemed very attached to her.”

Tying Up Loose Ends

They passed the bottle of port wine between them a few times, the wine sloshing over their chins and down onto their chest as they drank and jostled down the road. Vlastimir passed the bag of nuts to Ayberk who looked at Vlastimir questioningly for a moment. Vlastimir nodded, assuring Ayberk it was ok. It was not. That only left Kuzey to deal with in the back of the wagon.

A couple miles later, Vlastimir pulled the wagon to a stop. He reached over and removed the hatchet from the floorboard where Ayberk had placed it. He climbed down off the bench and walked to the back, clutching the rough wooden hatchet handle in his hand, hiding it slightly behind his back. As Vlastimir approached the back of the wagon, Kuzey stuck his head out from between the canvas flaps and without another thought, Vlastimir swung the hatchet, swiftly planting it into Kuzey’s skull with a dull thud. Kuzey’s body dropped lifelessly from the back of the wagon, hatchet blade still stuck in his head, blood pooling quickly in the dirt. His eyes still held a fixed look of surprise as Vlastimir wrenched the hatchet loose from the bone and tossed it over the slope to the left where it tumbled and clanked against a rock. He opened the vial once again and dripped a few drops of the elixir into the wound. The blood seeping from Kuzey’s head wound hardened first, and with the sound of stiff crinkling paper Kuzey too was transformed to a lifeless gray stone statue, lying crumpled in the road.

Vlastimir took a moment now, the breeze whistled through the valley, rustling his hair and billowing in his robes. The world seemed to take on a great stillness – time stopped and he felt frozen for a moment. The hawk floated, drawing a large circle in the sky. Vlastimir drew a deep breath, and placing the vial back into its satchel, he bent down and gripped Kuzey’s body under the shoulders and began dragging him off the road. It was extremely heavy and awkward to move the stone figure on his own, so he grabbed a large rock from the roadside and smashed it against the lifeless figure, breaking it into unrecognizable chunks. He picked up the chunks one by one and threw them over the embankment where they rolled down, smashing into other rocks on the way. He did the same with the body of Ayberk, disposing of them both in a single effort. Sweat beading on his brow, Vlastimir leaned now against the wagon and rested for a moment. He drew apart the canvas flaps and gazed at the petrified body of Nazli lying in there, her frozen expression leering at him from beneath a cloth sack full of various travel supplies.

Troubles on the Gumushane road

On the move, northward

“We will be dispensing with this dreadfully slow method of travel, Micaloz,” Vlastimir was explaining. “We have a merchant ship docked north of here at Trabzon. This will take us west to Istanbul where we will meet several members of the order, including our esteemed Cosimo, who even now waits with great anticipation for your arrival.”

“But what will happen with my Nazli?” Melek intoned pleadingly.

“She will also be joining us, though we honestly have no real use for her and can see no reason to bring her along.” Vlastimir paused as he looked around the room, and then motioned to the toothless man and his other companion. They quickly stood and left the room through the heavy wooden door. “Despite the small trouble it causes us to bring an extra body of no use to us, there is certainly value in your continued cooperation, which I assume we would not have if we were to leave her behind. We gave her the choice of continuing onward to Istanbul with us or rejoining the caravan on its way to Pazarkoy. Evidently, she has chosen to stay by your side, though personally, I cannot imagine why.”

“The others in the caravan will be curious as to where we disappeared, and why. They will be asking questions,” Melek said as his left wrist was freed from the leather strap which was binding it. “Are you not worried they will go to the authorities and report us missing?”

Vlastimir struggled momentarily with the right-hand strap as he unbuckled it. “We have also taken care to arrange for that eventuality. Ayberk has made all arrangements for your caravan to continue onward without you. He has delivered a message to them that you were to be detained and delayed, along with your Nazli. Suffice to say, they have business aside from your own and are eager to continue their journey. We paid them rather handsomely to not ask any questions. How easily their silence was bought,” Vlastimir exhaled sharply with a huffing sound. “I don’t think they cared one way or the other, honestly.”

Melek goes peacefully

With both of his restraints released, Melek sat stroking his wrists with the opposite hands. The straps had been rather tight, cutting off circulation to his hands. The feeling returned slowly as he continued rubbing.

“Now, do I need to restrain you further, or are you willing to come along peacefully? I’d rather not execute any further means of restraint. I ask that you come along of your own will and not compel the use of force on our part. Know that we will take you to Cosimo, one way or another.” Vlastimir took a dramatic pause to stoop down and look Melek directly in the eyes with a gaze cold and calculating.

“I will come of my own accord, there will be no struggle,” Melek said, uncomfortable in Vlastimir’s continuing gaze. He was thinking of Nazli again, his mind racing. What had she been told about their predicament? He imagined there would be some explaining he needed to do and his stomach was knotted over what he would say and what she possibly already knew.

Ayberk returned through the large wooden door, leaving it ajar as he stepped into the room, the other nameless man lurked behind him in the hallway outside the door.

“We are ready.” He said, nodding as he glanced over at Melek and back to Vlastimir.

“Good,” Vlastimir said. “Has the cart been pulled around the rear of the building?”

“Yes, we have it all ready and the horses have been watered and fed. We are ready to go.”

“Thank you, Ayberk.” Vlastimir then turned to Melek, his left hand extended toward the door. “Shall we?”

Into the wagon

The morning September air was bright and crisp, having been inside, strapped to the chair, Melek had not noticed how stale the air had become indoors until he stepped outside where it stung his nostrils and chilled his face. There were men standing to either side of him, to his right was Ayberk, to his left the other man who had remained silent and so far, nameless. In front of him walked Vlastimir, his red robes tucked into a pair of heavy wool pants now, another woolen throw wrapped around his shoulders.

Little bursts of steam puffed from the horse’s noses as they pawed anxiously at the street, behind them in tow was a simple canvas covered wooden caravan. Vlastimir walked to the rear of the caravan and parted the heavy canvas flaps. Inside were many sacks containing various rations and supplies for the trip. Lying against one of the larger sacks was his Nazli, who only glanced upward for a moment to meet Melek’s probing eyes.

“OK, up we go,” Vlastimir said, nudging Melek gently.

Melek climbed up over the rear gate between the parted canvas flaps and situated himself against the side caravan wall. Ayberk then climbed in behind him and also situated himself against the side wall across from Melek. The third man also climbed into the back and situated himself next to Melek. Vlastimir closed the canvas flap and climbed into the shotgun seat behind the horses.

“Well, now we will have plenty of time to get acquainted, won’t we?” Ayberk laughed, slapping Melek on the knee as the caravan jerked forward and rattled down the bumpy street.

“What happened to the fourth man?” Melek asked Ayberk.

“Huh? What?” Ayberk acted startled.

“The fourth man. When you first captured me, and when you stalked me in the bathhouse. There were four of you. Now I count only three.”

“Ah. Observant one aren’t you?” Ayberk chuckled as he dug a piece of food from between his teeth with a small pointed stick. He spat it aimlessly into the back of the caravan near the opening.

“Baris has gone ahead of us. He departed two days ago by horseback. He is riding ahead and taking another boat to Istanbul, to let Cosimo know we are coming, and that we have a very special surprise for him in tow.” With this, he glanced over at Nazli, who was still silent. “Well, two surprises that is,” he paused while continuing to pick his teeth. “Provided our luck with weather is good, and the gods of travel bless our journey. We should be over the mountains and in Trabzon by weeks’ end. It’s about a three-day journey by caravan. Settle in, the ride in these things is awful bumpy at times, but it’s a stretch faster than walking.”

The nameless man sitting next to Melek leaned forward and cocked his head, giving Melek an almost cross-eyed look. “I am Kuzey,” he said, smiling.

“Kuzey is…how do we say this? A tad simple, I guess. But he is strong and he is loyal.” Ayberk said.

Kuzey smiled and laughed.

The Gumushane road and a long night at the mosque

The caravan bumped and jostled down the Gumushane road, the mountains looming to the north. All throughout the first day of travel, Nazli remained silent, uttering not a single word the entire trip. Melek was beginning to worry about what they had told her, and why she was not speaking to him. He had to find a way to get alone with her and pry for details of what she had been told. That night at the Buyuk mosque outside Kelkit he finally got an opportunity to speak with her briefly.

The sun was setting in a wine-colored spectacle as they sat together on a makeshift bench outside the lodging hall outside the colorful mosque, not entirely alone. Kuzey, a large brute of a man, stood to watch over them from a distance while they spoke softly.

“I am at a loss as for what to even ask you, Nazli. Not certain what they told you about me, but I am curious as to the nature of your silence. I can hardly bear to see you with that look of distrust in your eye.” Melek finally said, breaking a long silence, half whispering as he leaned toward her.

Nazli turned to him, a look of disbelief and distrust upon her face. “I don’t know what to believe about you. These men tell me that you are a very special person, that a man in Istanbul has been looking for you, and that they must take you to him before we can be allowed to return to Pazarkoy.

“I don’t know who these men are, or how they know you. You are the modest and rather shy church hand from Gyumri. I know you only through your service to the church there, that you served as an undertaker and a handyman. You were tasked with disposing of the corpse of the man who murdered my father and threw my entire life into utter chaos.” She paused for a moment and glanced over her shoulder at Kuzey, who was lingering near the north corner of the outbuilding adjacent to the mosque, watching them carefully as they spoke.

“After the murderer was interred, you disappeared from Gyumri for several weeks. While you were away, the village was raided and razed. I barely escaped with my life intact, and I had nowhere to go. I had no idea what I was going to do, so I traveled north with a small group of women and men who were seeking sanctuary at Marmashen.

“Then, suddenly and rather out of the blue, there you were again. It was a stretch for me to recall your name, as we were never closely acquainted. But yet somehow you were familiar to me, as though we had a history together, perhaps in another life? I did not know what to think of our newfound friendship at the time, but in our journeys together I have come to trust you, which was difficult for me. I’d say I have nurtured a growing fondness for you, as a protector, a companion, and a friend.

“But these events of the last few days have left me very confused, Melek. These men seem dangerous, and I don’t know what they want with you, but I find myself suddenly in fear for my safety again. These men have promised me they will let us both go, and even arrange for our travel to Pazarkoy once we have met with their associate in Istanbul, but I tell you Melek, there is something about them which I do not trust. I feel they are lying to us. I don’t know what they are truly after, but I fear they have motives to which we are not immediately privy.”

“Yes,” Melek sighed, a mixture relief and dread. “They have not really told me much more than they have told you. I am as perplexed as you are. However, I figure they can get us, you, to Pazarkoy much sooner than we would have arrived with the caravan from Marmashen, and with far less peril along the road. I have reservations for our safety as well, but I am also plagued by a nagging curiosity. Part of me really wants to meet this man they speak of in Istanbul, to hear what he has to say, why they have abducted me only to speak with him. What could possibly be so important about a simple man from Gyumri such as me?”

“But why me, Melek? Why have they taken me as well?”

“Well, I suppose it may be because I asked them to. I told them I was acting as your protector. The silk road is no place for a woman such as yourself to be traveling alone. The Marmashen caravan has no personal allegiance to your safety. I feared that left alone, they would just as soon have their way with you. Leave you along the road for dead. I said I would travel with you to Pazarkoy, not because I have any personal interest in going there.

“I said so because I had no interest in staying where we were, at the monastery. Getting you to Pazarkoy again would help ease your mind, and get you away from the pain you have lived through in Gyumri. And I admit, I have some motives of my own which are not entirely unselfish.” Melek paused and swallowed uncomfortably at what he was about to say.

“You are a very beautiful woman, and I had hoped in our travels together we would become close. Close enough that I could be considered your friend and companion. Maybe as a result of this developed closeness, we could find some way to remain together once we reached Pazarkoy. Perhaps even start a new life, together.” Melek reached out and gently placed his hand over hers as it rested on the bench, letting his fingers slowly curl around into her palm, until they were holding hands together, gazing in silence to the west as the final rays of sun disappeared over the mountains.

The two sat in silence for some time before deciding it was time for sleep. Both returned quietly to their group lodging outside the mosque where Vlastimir was already snoring. Vlastimir’s red robes hung from a protruding peg on the far wall near the entrance. Ayberk followed them inside, standing guard at the open doorway as they settled into sleep.

As Melek lay down, he couldn’t help but think of Vlastimir’s robes hanging not twelve feet from where he slept. His mind raced through visualizations of himself sneaking into the robes and finding his small glass vial, stealing away in the night with Nazli at his side. Each time he opened his eyes and glanced toward the door, Ayberk was still standing guard, he was too close and too alert to try anything tonight, though the opportunity was there. It would be a matter of timing if he decided to try anything. He fought sleep for many hours, replaying the information he had gathered in the company of their captors. He had been given no real reason to be afraid or to flee, but something about all of this didn’t make sense. Why would they bother bringing Nazli, other than to ensure his own cooperation?

Troubles appearing on the road

The following day Melek was awakened by Ayberk nudging him in the chest with the butt-end of his wooden staff. When Melek rose, he found that the others had already been loaded into the caravan, waiting for him. He couldn’t recall having fallen asleep the night before and his eyes burned with lack of rest. He rose to his feet and slung on his outer robes, it was cold that morning.

Ayberk followed him outside where they both climbed into the back of the wagon. Vlastimir readied the horses and clicked his tongue loudly, signaling the horses it was time to go. The sun had scarcely risen over the horizon as the wagon dropped into the basin where a secondary fork of the deresi river ran rushing down the hillsides. Here, the road narrowed and began winding along the hillsides punctuated by rocks and scrubby trees. AS vast jagged sea of green sparsely dotted with small farms and simple dwellings rolled out before them.

Rounding a corner of a particularly steep hillside, the caravan was stalled by a landslide blocking the road. Ayberk was called upon to help clear the road of debris rocks so the horses could pass. Vlastimir and Kuzey both also joined in, helping to roll the larger rocks off the road where they tumbled down the ravine, finally splashing into the deresi.

Melek stayed inside the caravan, trying to catch up on his lost sleep the night before.

As he shifted his weight to find a more comfortable spot to lay, he felt with his hand something long and sharp. He had nearly cut his hand on it while shifting the cargo around. His heart raced momentarily as he felt around for the thing, trying to get a hold of it without cutting himself. He carefully situated his body over a pile of bags where he stashed the object within easy reach of his left hand. He still wasn’t exactly sure what it was, but it felt to be about 8 inches long, wide on one end and gradually coming to a sharp point at the other. The thickness tapered, it felt like a long wedge-shaped nail of some sort. Perhaps an iron nail stored for wagon repairs should they encounter a broken wheel or strut?

Melek tried to hide his accelerated breathing and excitement as he felt the other men begin climbing aboard the wagon. He heard Ayberk’s feet dragging outside the canvas flaps behind the caravan as he approached. Ayberk poked his head between the flaps first, then climbed clumsily inside, situating himself opposite Melek on a stack of empty wool sacks. He said nothing to Melek, whose eyes remained closed, feigning sleep as the wagon jolted forward again and bumped over the landslide detritus which remained on the road.

Not long later, they have stopped again, obscenities spewing from Vlastimir’s mouth as the wagon crunched to a full stop again in the road. Ayberk shook himself awake and climbed out of the wagon. Melek could hear him speaking with Vlastimir and Kuzey in hushed tones.

Melek gripped the object behind him, and carefully drew it from its hiding place and into his robes where he held it in his left hand and sat upright.

He looked at Nazli who was hunkered quietly in the front corner of the wagon. ”I suppose I shall see if I can be of any assistance to the other men. It does none of us any good to be delayed on the road at this point.”

Nazli nodded in acknowledgment as he climbed out the back of the wagon, wincing momentarily at the bright sunlight beaming down.

Melek walked to the front of the wagon and saw immediately there was a huge boulder blocking the road again. Several other mid-size boulders and rocks were scattered around the road, embedded in a wave of reddish dirt which had slid from the hillside above.

“This section of road is totally impassible,” Vlastimir rubbed his rippled forehead, shaking his head in disappointment.

“We can clear it, boss,” Ayberk said with a measure of resignation. “But we will need to forage a bit for something to use as a lever to free that large one,” he said, nodding to the huge boulder in the center of the road.

Without a word, Vlastimir paused. He then turned to the front of the wagon, lifting up on the drivers’ bench to retrieve a small iron hatchet from within. He handed this to Kuzey, while glancing suspiciously at Melek, then back at Ayberk. “You take Micaloz here with you up on the hillside and find a strong sapling you can fall. Get us a lever to work the large stone, while Kuzey and I remain here. We will try to clear some of the smaller debris while we wait.” Vlastimir paused again, looking hard at Melek. “And keep a close eye on this one. There really isn’t anywhere for him to go should he escape, and he knows what will become of his girl if he were to try. Still, keep an eye on him.” Then he turned to Melek. “No funny stuff.” He said sternly, pointing a long bony finger.

Melek sees his opening

Melek and Ayberk began climbing the hill to their left, circling the large bare spot where the hill had slid away, heading toward a small clump of pines about a third of the way up the hill.

Ayberk climbed quickly, without much puffing of breath, but Melek was having some trouble keeping up. His feet occasionally slipped out from underneath him, sending little cascades of pebbles rolling down the hill. When they finally reached the clump of trees, Melek sat on a large rock catching his breath. Ayberk immediately began chipping away at an eight-foot sapling. Melek rested for a moment, watching the muscles ripple in Ayberk’s upper shoulders as he swung the small metal hatchet against the tree over and over, sending spicy smelling chips of white wood flying through the air.

Melek stood and stretched, Ayberk almost through the stump with the hatchet. He stopped chopping for a moment and stood, pressing his body weight against the tree, rocking it. Still unable to break it off, he resumed swinging the hatchet. Melek crept behind him, still clutching the sharp nail, shifting it to his right hand under cover of his robes. He got to within striking distance of Ayberk and was poised to stab him in the right side of the neck when suddenly Ayberk stood again and turned around.

There was an awkward pause filled with silence as he quickly surveyed Melek’s posture. Seeing the nail he held in his hand, Ayberk defensively reached out to grab Melek by the wrist just as the nail was coming down. Melek twisted free, the nail missing it’s intended mark. Melek staggered and lost his balance. He clutched at a branch of the tree but only caught a twig, which broke free and sent Melek tumbling down the steep hillside. Ayberk clutched at the hatchet in one hand while holding a tree branch in his other to stabilize his balance as he swung his head around to watch Melek tumbling down the hill.

Ayberk shook his head and continued chopping away until the tree snapped over and slid twenty feet down the hill. He grabbed the tree by its top and rotated it on the hill. This way he could pull it down by its stump, the branches would fold upward and not impede its travel. He continued downhill, laughing to himself as he approached Melek, who groaned and rolled over as he heard Ayberk approaching. Protruding from Melek’s chest, the sharp nail intended for Ayberk, now a gaping chest wound in Melek’s chest, blood pulsing out around it.

Melek had fallen on the nail as he tumbled, it plunged deep into his chest, nicking his heart. Bleeding profusely, Melek gripped the nail and tried in vain to remove it, but it was wedged in the bones of his ribcage. Melek struggled through another short series of gurgling breaths as he heard Ayberk call out for Vlastimir in a panic. The world began fading into dark blotches, eclipsing his vision. Melek faded slowly into death, his blood seeping steadily into the orangey soil. The last sound he heard was Ayberk’s voice calling: “Vlastimir, we have a problem.”

 

Overdue Introductions to the order of Tasawwuf

Vlastimir of the order of Tasawwuf

The toothless man unbolted the door and left the room for a moment. When he returned, Nazli was with him, looking disheveled and confused. They came into the room where Melek was still strapped to the chair and Nazli, upon seeing him, started to cry.

The men were visibly gentle with her, and she did not appear to be injured in any way. She fell to her knees on the floor, glancing up at the face of the petrified dog, and with an agitatedly confused expression, she continued sobbing into her hands as she clutched a string of prayer beads hung around her neck. Melek jerked his arms against the restraints in spasms of anger and shouted at the men: “Let her go, what have you done?”

The toothless man motioned to the others who then scooped her up and again removed her from the room, bolting the door again when they returned.

“Please try to relax, Micaloz. We have not caused her any harm, nor do we intend to. She is confused, as anyone in her position would be. But your continued struggling is not helping matters. I understand you wish to comfort her and tell her that everything is going to be ok.” The man in the red robe reached down and took a long drink from his cup of red wine, wiping the excess with his sleeve as it dripped into his facial hair. “But let’s be real for a moment here. There is nothing you can do for her at this time. There are many other matters of much greater importance to attend to first.

“With that, please allow me to begin by telling you a little about who we are and perhaps ease your mind somewhat. Maybe it will serve to alleviate some of the confusion.” With this, he sat back in his chair, rolling his neck with a series of audible cracks.

With a glance at each of the other men who began seating themselves, he continued speaking calmly. “We are members of an order whose divinely distilled purpose is to help you understand what it is you are. And the first step to getting you to understand is perhaps to offer a suitable introduction which I have waited a long time to deliver.”

“My name is Vlastimir, and I am originally from Servia. My father was a ship builder, and when I was very young he moved our family to Constantinople where he could find more work, and provide a better life for his children. I grew up among the docks and as a young man I fell in with a group of men whom I later found were practicing a form of Islam known as Tasawwuf, perhaps you have heard of it. No matter if you haven’t. It was through these men that I eventually met a very special man named Cosimo. Now, Cosimo had a unique gift for what we might call ‘second sight’. He could ‘see’ things many, many miles away while connecting spiritually to any object he had once held in his hands.” Vlastimir removed the small white crystalline figurine from a pocket in his robe and set it carefully on the small table. “This I refer to as ‘the eyes of Cosimo’. Through the eyes of this figurine, he can possibly see you right now, if he happens to be looking. I have had this a great many years and I treasure it beyond compare.

“Cosimo was a great traveler, who had ventured all across the continent, had seen many things and heard many stories. He made it his life’s work to document and investigate some of the stranger tales he had heard in his travels.

“One of these stories of particular interest to him was a story of a magical being who had lived a hundred times a thousand lives. This being was said to occasionally glow with a light of the fullest moon and was essentially an eternal and deathless being. See, his body would die, but he would awaken again in another body nearby, with his memories mostly intact.

“This story piqued Cosimo’s interest, as in his travels he had heard it from as far away as Cambodia and India, stretching all the way to Anatolia. The story was quite curiously prolific, and on the lips of many men he had encountered in many mystic circles around the world.

“For many years he dismissed it as a mere mythological fable, used to craft educational parables told to frighten children into behaving. But try as he may, he could not get the story out of his mind. It seemed that wherever he heard this story, war, destruction, and discord followed upon its heels.

“It was in the town of Pazarkoy when he finally found some evidence which quite interested him.”

At this Melek was startled. He remembered his former home in Pazarkoy, and it was there he had intended to return with Nazli on this very trip where they had now both been taken as prisoners of these men.

“There was a house there,” Vlastimir continued. “A modest home, highly decorated with many small bells and chimes hung around it. It had been mysteriously abandoned rather suddenly, and nobody in the town seemed to know anything about what had happened to the tenant. It was owned by a rather prestigious man named Hrant Darbinian. He was said to be connected to several noble rulers in the area, having been stowed away and given a new life as the adopted son of a family of blacksmiths. All of this information was bestowed upon Cosimo by an elderly man named Hamza. Cosimo spoke at great length with this Hamza, who had many interesting stories to tell of this Hrant Darbinian person.

“He showed Cosimo the bell forge Hrant had constructed and led him to the house with the chimes. It was a breezy day and the chimes rang a scattered and mysterious, hypnotic melody as they approached. When they had come to the home which sat on a small hill overlooking a citrus grove, Cosimo was suddenly struck numb and fell to the ground. While he was unconscious he had a vision of a thousand lives flashing before his eyes. This vision also revealed to him a shiny beast hiding inside a cave, counting a long string of beads over and over again. From inside the cave issued a brilliant light. Upon the chest of this being was a mark that resembled a key which burned like a fire, producing the light he saw coming from the cave.

“When he regained his senses, the old man Hamza was kneeling at his side, the haunting melody of the many chimes still ringing in his ears. All at once he seemed to understand the mystery of the shining being which had plagued him for many years. He felt at least for that moment, the ineffable bliss of direct contact with the divine reality. He suddenly felt the desire to rise to his feet and dance madly, whirling on the breeze as though he was light as a feather being tossed gently by the fates.

“As the vision and feeling dissipated he was besieged by a feeling of purpose. He must find this being, he must locate the cave in which he dwelt, and he must bring him into the circle to study and document him. He felt he had received a calling from God himself, that his life had a divine purpose to fulfill. He spent the next few years assembling an order of mystics whose purpose was to locate you through any means necessary and at their disposal. Several teams of experienced travelers were assembled and each was sent, with a figurine similar to this one, to find the being who bore this special identifying mark.

“Which brings us to our current situational malaise, if you will. We are representative associates of Cosimo, and we believe we have found you at last. You do not seem to glow like the brightest of moons, which I find curious, but we are quite certain from our collected observations that we have correctly identified you. The mark upon your chest matches the mark which Cosimo had given us for reference, see?”

Vlastimir pulled a piece of folded parchment from the same pocket from which he had earlier produced the white crystal figurine. Unfolding the parchment, he held it up where Melek could see it in the flickering light. Scribed upon the paper was a symbol that indeed matched the mark on his chest. It resembled an oddly shaped key with circular shapes at both ends. In the center were two cross pieces that looked like outstretched arms. In the circles at each end were triangular cutouts at opposing angles.

“When we followed you into the bath house, we saw upon your chest this very mark. It was then that we knew we had found you at last. You have a very important destiny to fulfill, and we are members of a holy order dedicated to the divine purpose of assisting you with that journey.”

The Man in the Red Robes


“We represent a group of people who are very interested in finding you. We have no interest in harming you. In fact, quite the opposite.” The man in the red robes was speaking while he paced back and forth. “We believe that who you are – what you are – is very special, and we have some ideas that will help you get on.”

Melek had given up struggling against his restraints, it was no use. His mind was racing, replaying imagined scenarios where some sort of harm would befall his Nazli before he could get to her again. In his mind, he had become her protector, but his feelings were selfish. She had no idea how obsessed he was, how deeply he admired her and coveted her beauty.

“I don’t care what you do with me, but you must let me speak again with Nazli and at least explain to her why I disappeared. She will think some great harm has come to me and I don’t want her to fret.” It was a feeble attempt to convince the men to let him go, and he knew it. Words were failing him with the threat of revealing his true motives. It was a secret he even seemed to keep from himself, too selfish to bear, it pained him to even think of himself that way. He glanced down at the dog turned to stone at his feet and winced.

“We have collected your girl, she is in another room, next to this one. Excellent care is being taken of her, she will receive all that she needs.” The toothless man pours himself another glass of wine, splashing over the edge of the goblet, small drops of dark burgundy spot the table next to where he sits. “We have also delivered the news to your caravan that you will no longer be traveling with them. Other arrangements, so to speak, for your continued travel have been made.” Melek pulled again at his restraints, which bit into his forearms above the wrist. He clenched his fists, grasping at the wooden arms of the chair and pulling himself up, straightening his back.

“I don’t understand what it is you think you want from me, or how you profess to know what it is you think you know about me. I am just a man, traveling to escape the constant raids and inevitable bloodshed raining down upon us in Gyumri. We have traveled far and must travel much further to return to our home in Pazarkoy. There we will be safe from the merciless violence visited upon our eastern Anatolian village. It is as simple as that, there is no more to it.” Melek searched the eyes of the men, whose eyes seemed to smile as he spoke, so he continued.

“Gyumri was all but destroyed in recent times, many people of our village were taken as slaves, never seen again. Nazli is without her father, taken from her in the night by a bloodthirsty bandit who entered her house intent on having his way with her. She narrowly escaped with her life to the monastery at Marmashen, where they sheltered her and gave her work to do. It was a life, but hardly a life worth living. She deserves better, and my intention was to give it to her. Give her the life she had always deserved, a life where she feels adored. A life where her beauty is eternal and love never-ending.”

At this, the men chuckled.

“A bloodthirsty bandit, huh? Love never-ending?” They turned their heads looking at each other as they laughed.

“Tell us – what do you remember of this bandit? What of his life do you remember?” The taller man with the red robe leaned in, getting his face uncomfortably close to Melek’s, almost whispering. Melek could smell the wine on his breath. “His life was your life, his thoughts were your thoughts, his heart and intention were yours.” With this, the man poked a hard, bony index finger into Melek’s ribs. “Tell us what you remember of this man, this Hrant Darbinian.”

Mind racing and heart pounding, Melek wrestled with how these men could have come to know this about him. Some type of sorcery was surely afoot. How could these men know, when he had never told anybody. How could he? What would he say and how could he expect anyone to believe him? In fact, he had kept his repeating lives a guarded secret for centuries now, a secret which no one could have ever discovered on their own. They even knew the name of his previous host and details of his previous life.

“You say you have my Nazil, I’d like to see evidence of that, and know that she is safe and unharmed.”

“Yes, we have her in a room next door. You can see her if you’d like but you are going to need to open up to us and tell us the things we need to know. Also, we want you to travel with us to Istanbul, where you will meet with our associate, who is quite interested in having many words with you.”

“Yes, yes,” Melek groaned with resignation. “I will travel with you to Istanbul, I will meet with your associate. But what will become of my Nazil? Where will you take her?” He paused for a moment. “And what does she know of me? What of all this does she know? What have you told her?” Melek panicked at the thought they had told her of his secret, that he was the embodiment of the same man who killed her father.

“We have told her nothing yet. Yet, we reserve the right to tell her whatever we wish to ensure your continued cooperation.” The man in the red robe held up the blackish tincture in the small vial. “And we will also be keeping this. It’s quite amazing, the skill you have developed in crafting these potions. Supernatural, really. Our associate will find this quite fascinating as well. But we cannot trust you with it, it is too dangerous to be in the hands of one so impulsive and without fear such as yourself.” He said this while gently patting the stone dog atop its head.

Melek nodded in defeated agreement, eyes turned to the ground. It was a long trip to Istanbul, there would be plenty of opportunities to escape these men once they were on the move. His mind raced through an imagined scene where he was able to overtake the men on a secluded part of the road and escape with his Nazli. Oh, how she would adore him for his heroic action, rescuing her from these knaves and charlatans who no doubt held impure intentions for her. After all, how could they resist being overcome by her startling beauty? Surely, they had already defiled her in their thoughts, if not in reality.

Upon her rescue, she would leap into Melek’s arms and hear his heart beating through his chest, and he would comfort her. Melek felt a bitterness and anger wash over him again, but he struggled to measure it against his growing curiosity regarding his mysterious captors. Part of him was overcome by this curiosity and he could not help but give in. Fearing these men would forever hunt him should he escape, Melek decided he must know who they were and how they knew what they knew before he could make any plans.

The room he was being held in had no windows and was lit by candles set on small tables in each corner. There was a wooden door braced by iron straps in the wall behind him and to his right. He had no way of telling where he was, though he felt somehow that he was underground, in some sort of cellar room. There was a strong smell of dirt and mildew that appeared to corroborate his theory of a cellar but there was no way to know for sure.

He would play along for now, and wait for his opportunity to strike at them and free himself to rescue Nazil and escape. Where they would escape to he wasn’t sure, but he was resourceful and knew a thing or two about hiding. He couldn’t take her to his cave as that would require too much explaining. For now, however, there were too many unknowns in his plan, too many things he could not predict. He would need to stay with the men long enough to learn what he needed to know and find a place to escape to where they could hide. It had to be a place that would seem innocent to Nazil. There were far too many things he could not let her know about him.

“OK, I will tell you whatever I able to tell you. I will travel with you to Istanbul and meet with your associate. I promise you anything. Please don’t let any harm befall my Nazil. Despite what a horrible demon you must think me, I swear to you my intentions toward her have always been pure. I am prone to act impulsively. I don’t know why. In fact, there is not much I do know about how I am what I am, and why I continue to live as I do. I have died a thousand times, and every time I return. This I do know. As to

I have died a thousand times, and every time I return. This I do know. As to why I haven’t the faintest theory. I swear to you it is a curse I wish I could be rid of. You have no idea the burden I shoulder through life. It is as though I can never be rid of it, and with each successive life I am forced to live again, the burden grows heavier. At first, I thought of it as a gift bestowed upon me by my creators. I possessed a unique and powerful gift – eternal life! And who would not want such a gift? While my body may perish, my mind and my soul continue on.

“When I was a young soul, I saw such potential in this gift of mine. I could remember my previous lives in detail, which allowed me to build skills with things other men could only dream of. As time passed, thousands of years – nay! Tens of thousands of years now. As these lives passed before me it all started to blend together into a slurry of memories which my mind can no longer contain.

“It is as though my mind is the hull of a massive ship, the largest of which you can imagine, overloaded far beyond its capacity, spilling out it’s dank and water-logged contents, jetsam bobbing on the waves. And yet the ship remains afloat – drifting aimlessly on this dark sea of eternity. Forever taking on more cargo. I cannot cast it overboard fast enough or in enough quantity to make room for it, so with each life, I simply grow heavier.”

“I can recall memories which are useful to me, but there is so much weight to these memories, I’d just as soon cast off the yoke and lessen my burdens, which I cannot do. Can you imagine being the only person in the world who lives forever? What comes of love and beauty? What good are these things if they are all lost in the end. There is only loneliness for me, I cannot take anything with me on my journey. I have lived only to see others die, I cannot help them. I cannot make them likewise eternal, to share endless life and love with me. There is only this never-ending series of continuing losses and the inescapable pain of existence.

“With Nazli, I was able to get close to her a second time, in a second life. It was as though the universe gave me a chance to fulfill my love. But it is so difficult! She cannot know what I am, if I were to tell her, she would think me ill in the head and have nothing to do with me. She cannot know I was the one who murdered her father. God, the look on her face as she awoke to find me sitting there, blood spattering my face in her room.

I am so close though! And now this. Now the cruelness of fate has once again intervened and taken her from me, in a new way. I find myself again standing upon the deck of that shadowy ship adrift in the sea with no stars to guide me. Surrounded by all my junk, the refuse of my wasted years, choking me until all that is left is loneliness and contempt for the world that has cursed me with its gifts.”

Melek found himself sobbing in his chair, head down in a mixture of grief and shame. Despite his deep sadness, he somehow felt lighter, having shared these thoughts with someone. He had never done so. The gift was a secret he had always kept to himself and telling someone, even a complete stranger felt like opening a valve to drain pressure from his mind. The candle light flickered and danced on the walls as one of the men stood from his chair and placed his hand on the toothless man’s shoulder, whispering quietly.

“Go get the girl,” he said. “Bring her in.”

Cosimo the seer

Cosimo the Seer

It was a bright September morning in Western Istanbul, the air had a snap of cold and smelled of the sea. Cosimo Foscari stood on the veranda overlooking the Bosporus strait, sipping a bitter black coffee from a small porcelain cup.

The waterway was busy, congested with a variety of boats large and small. The larger ships drifted with their mainsail down, many of them docking across the water at the Anatolian ship yards. The strait was peppered with many smaller boats, which moved around more quickly. Small boats would ride the swift current on top of the water flowing from the Black Sea into the Sea of Marmara. Boats traveling east could catch the current beneath the surface which flowed the opposite direction by dropping buckets tied to ropes which pulled them along at a decent clip. It was a popular and productive fishery for the area. The fall migration of Bonito through the Strait brought many fishermen from all around the region.

Cosimo the erudite

Cosimo was the son of a wealthy Italian named Cristophoro Foscari, who made his initial fortune as the owner of a large wine producing estate in northern Italy near Milan. The Foscari wines had made quite a name for themselves amongst the cultural elite in Milan as well as more populous southern regions of Italy in the early 15th century. When Cosimo had come of age he inherited the winery from his aging father. This afforded Cosimo a wide latitude of luxury not enjoyed by many of his contemporaries.

Cosimo loved to travel and considered himself a gourmand. He traveled the European continent sampling exotic wines, cheeses, and salted meats. Cosimo had even gathered a fortune of his own through trade deals struck between various cultures circling the Mediterranean. He had traveled northern Africa, as well as Spain, France, Greece, and Turkey. Also being an avid art lover, when something caught his keen eye he would spare no expense to make it his own. His rolling hillside estate housed many fine sculptures, of which he was particularly fond.

Having amassed a rather impressive collection of religious artifacts through his many travels, Cosimo was also a renowned archaeologist. He had a deep appreciation for comparative religious study, though he did not ascribe to any particular denominative system. He professed a loose affiliation with the Byzantine Catholic church, though this was more a pragmatic association than a spiritual one, often morphing to suit whatever culture he found himself immersed in at the time.

Being a master of blending in with local cultures, this skill had taken him to some exotic and unimaginable places. Cosimo spent an entire year studying under Sufi mystics at a convent along the Danube in northern Bulgaria. He spent two years in Egypt studying Mamluk architecture in various mosques and mausolea. Cosimo also traveled as far east as Angkor Wat in the Khmer Empire but retreated to India when caught up in a political conflict. He remained there three years, studying the ways of the Hindi in Calcutta and Dhaka.

Stories of divine shine

In his studies over the years, he had encountered several stories about an immortal being who glowed like the sun. This particular tale fascinated him to no end. Everywhere he traveled he heard stories regarding this fabled being of light. The stories were always riddled with superstition and folklorish tales of a magical being endowed with superhuman abilities.

These stories told of a many faced being who glows like the sun who commits acts which sew chaos and resentment between tribes. Many of which already share contentious relations. Where this being was found, war and violence were never far away. In recent years, Cosimo had dedicated his intellectual focus toward tracking the source of these fables and stories, convinced that they were all about an actual divine being who walked among us disguised as an ordinary man.

He had seen him once in an intense scrying session a year previous. A face jumped out of the large crystal as he stared, jolting him out of his trance, causing him to fall backward and strike his head on a marble pillar, rendering himself unconscious. After receiving this vision of the being, Cosimo set about trying to pinpoint his whereabouts. He believed he was getting closer. Yet it was not easy to locate a being who allegedly traveled between bodies in each of its incarnations.

Cosimo often traveled with an entourage of scholars and mystics, currently housed in a modern upscale house in western Istanbul. They had been conducting many remote viewing sessions in a carefully constructed white marble chamber shaped like a star with seven points. The peculiar design of this chamber was such that it amplified the mental concentration of a properly attuned mystic. While they had not experienced any visions of divine or demonic beings, they had gathered many interesting bits of information. Some of which pointed toward the being currently existing somewhere in eastern Anatolia.

Into the grand scrying chamber

As he was finishing his coffee, a servant appeared through the beaded curtains which hung at the doorway. He whispered, informing Cosimo that the group was ready for him inside the main chamber.

Slipping on his flat open shoes, Cosimo navigated the narrow stone steps winding down two floors to the basement where the rest of the group were gathering in silence. Two hooded men were lighting candles set in crystalline wall sconces, washing the grand chamber in a flickering light. Shadows danced on the walls as they circled around the decorated altar in the center of the circular room. The men arranged themselves about the cardinal points of the altar, assuming the lotus position with hands upturned upon their knees as they began to intone the droning chant meant to clear the room of outside intention which may distract from the concentration of the seer at the center, who knelt in prayer at the altar.

Situated atop the altar was a crystal skull, into which Cosimo gazed as the chanting filled his mind, pushing out any thought which may anchor him to the material plane.

As his meditative state grew, his mind emptied of thoughts. The chanting grew more intense as shadows melted into the light. Shadows taking strange shape, taking on new forms which swirled with the voices of the atonal chant. Cosimo focused his mind, visualizing the small crystal figurine he had given to a Bulgarian named Asen a month prior. He focused on recalling every detail of the crystal figurine. Turning it over in his mind’s eye, he gazed into the crystal skull. An image of the figurine appeared fully formed in his mind. He held it there, steadfast in his concentration. Seeing through the eyes of the tiny figure, he began to receive some images. Initially amorphous, these images gained clarity as he focused.

Floating in the crystal skull was an image, blurry at first but gaining clarity with each moment. It was a skinny malnourished looking dog, sitting motionless at the feet of a man. The vision faded from focus but before it slipped away, another image replaced it. This one clear as a bell – of a mark on the chest of a man, the shape of which resembled a key.

They have him

As quickly as the visions had appeared, they slipped away to darkness. Cosimo awoke sprawled on the cold marble floor. Another member of his group was propping his head up, dabbing it with a moistened cloth.

“You lost consciousness, brother.” The man was saying softly as Cosimo rose to a sitting position. “Did you see something which startled you?”

Cosimo, regaining his wits staggered to his feet. “It is him. They have him.”

A Meeting With Micaloz

The Great City of Erzincan Finally in View

Eleven days later the caravan was approaching Erzincan. As the chill of late September began to settle in, a haze hung in the sky from the cooking fires of many homes. As the sun tucked itself away behind the mountains in the west, a brilliant purple and orange glow hung in the sky. This was the second of the larger cities they would cross through on the journey, Erzurum being the first, though it paled by comparison in many ways. Marco Polo had written about Erzincan, calling it the noblest of cities, with its large contingent of metal workers who crafted fine copper bowls and decorum. The grandeur of the city was incomparable, with the mountains surrounding it on either side, the wide river valley where cattle and sheep grazed which rolled out before them like an endless green carpet.

Nearly two hundred years had passed since a large earthquake had shaken the city to its core, leaving the markets in shambles and homes in piles of rubble. But the people of the city were strong, resilient, and numerous. It was rebuilt quickly and had recovered even stronger than before. Its markets were a bustle of people and goods lining the streets with colorful carts and food stalls. There were also numerous soaking pools and bath houses with naturally hot waters flowing through them which had remarkable healing properties.

Easier Travels Along The River

The caravan moved quickly along the road the past few days.  Along the Euphrates river, the road is well maintained. Travel between Erzincan and Erzurum was frequent, and they passed many other travelers along the way. Food had been plentiful along the road as well, and easier to obtain. Tulum peyniri cheese and dried beef were common in the area and were traded for cheaply. Spirits among the group were high as they approached the city, and it helped ease the minds of the group to stop in Erzincan for a couple of days to refuel.

There had been moments of tension among the group as they left Selim ten days before. Upon departing the tiny outpost there, they had to cross a dangerous pass on a poorly traveled section of road. Adding to the tension was the presence of a group of mysterious travelers who flanked their group from a distance.

Whispers amongst the men in the caravan had them all at the ready, expecting confrontation. This other group was traveling by horseback which made them much faster, and they did not appear to be carrying any kind of significant load. The combination of the presence of this group and crossing the mountain pass had the caravan on high alert.

The group had to make camp alongside the road several nights in a row due to the lack of suitable outposts along this particular stretch. Once they had finally descended into the narrow Karakurt valley where the Aras river made a bend to the southwest, they joined the main east/west road and the travel improved considerably. The mountain pass was navigated without incident in spite of all of the worry going around the group. Ultimately this leg of the journey passed without incident. The mysterious riders had disappeared the second night in the mountains, likely riding ahead on the road making better time on horseback.

The group passed through Erzurum quickly, hardly stopping to rest. A fairly major post along the road, Erzurum had suffered repeated devastation and looting the last hundred years. Erzurum was slower to recover from these incidents. Many of the citizens who survived the Mongol attacks had migrated westward to Erzincan. The presence of the archdiocese and a large army there made for a safer home. The city was still in considerable disarray when the caravan passed through, they stopped only to rest overnight and resupply the group with necessities for the next leg of their journey from Erzurum to Erzincan.

The Caravan Arrives at Erzincan

The caravan made for the outpost toward the center of Erzincan where they would rest for the next few days. They had planned on staying at minimum two nights in Erzincan, to do some trading and rest the weary legs of the camels and men. There was much food and drink and song to be had. No time to be wasted once they arrived, they housed the camels in a crowded stable and left quickly, disappearing into the streets.

Melek remained behind, staying with Nazli, who had little interest in wine and song. Instead, she wished only to stroll through the market and dream of her old home in Pazarkoy. They walked for a while and found a place to sit outside a picturesque mosque in the town center. They spoke casually about the trip ahead and behind them, and the mysterious group of travelers following them days before. Night was beginning to fall over the city, and Melek decided to go to a bath house known for its healing waters for a soak before returning to the caravanserai for the night. After seeing Nazli safely back to the outpost, he bid her a good evening, and with a respectful bow he headed to the bath house.

A Strange Conversation in a Crowded Bath

Bath house packed with people, Melek enters through an archway ornately decorated with tile patterns picturing Isparta roses. The sulfuric scent of the waters wafted from the pools. The murmuring of bathers was a low rumble echoing through the tiled rooms. Melek undressed, leaving his robes in a woven basket against the wall outside the grand chamber and climbed into the hottest pool of steaming water. Melek began feeling the effects of the soak almost immediately, the heat radiating through his weary leg muscles and back. He leaned his head against one of the soaking pillows which ringed the large pool and closed his eyes.

He tried to tune out the conversations around him as he stroked his coarse beard, combing through its many tangles. A group of four men entered the pool and sat across from him, and Melek noticed that their conversation was slightly unusual. They were discussing details of an important mission and spoke in hushed tones so as not to be overheard. Melek wondered for a moment if these were the same travelers he had seen following the caravan days before.

Melek listened carefully, eyes closed. He could distinguish only snippets of the conversation, and it sounded as though the men were looking for someone. Someone who held a certain importance to other men of stature and importance in Istanbul. It did not sound like they were looking for a criminal, but it was difficult to determine exactly what they were seeking. Melek listened intently at first but found himself drifting off into sleep. He repeatedly had to force himself awake. It was not good to sleep in the bath, one could drown that way, or cook themselves in the hot steamy water.

Melek started to feel he was overheating. Standing, he slicked his hair back and moved to a smaller cooling pool on the opposite side of the grand chamber. The hour was getting late and most people were beginning to clear out.

The group of four men had disappeared into another pool partially obscured by steam. Melek closed his eyes for a moment, and when he opened them the bath house had nearly emptied. He rose from the cool water and found his clothing in the wicker basket against the wall. Dressing, Melek left the grand chamber and passed into the entry hall lined with padded benches where men gathered talking smoking from tall hookahs.

Melek is Captured. Has Someone Mistaken His Identity?

The streets had emptied out considerably since he had gone into the bath, and Melek hurried back to the outpost. The air had a snap of cold which nipped at his skin, still perspiring beneath the robes. He turned a corner away from the market streets into a dark passage running between rows of closely situated stone buildings. He had gone about half the distance to the outpost when he heard an abrupt snapping sound behind him. Turning to see, he felt a firm hand suddenly on his shoulder and a cloth bag was thrown over his head. Before he could even begin to struggle he felt a sharp blow near the base of his skull and he lost consciousness, collapsing onto the ground.

When he awoke, he felt his arms shackled to a chair. The bag was lifted from his head, and Melek saw he was in a dimly lit windowless room. Three of the four men from the bath house were sitting in chairs in front of him. The fourth held the bag in his hand at his side, stooping over to look him in the eyes. He smiled through a scraggly and unkempt beard. “Greetings, Micaloz!” he said in an exaggerated cheery tone, his unabashed smile showing his jagged crooked teeth stained brown.

The three seated men chuckled amongst themselves, exchanging knowing glances. They nodded as though pleased with themselves. Melek, struggling against his restraints, panicked. “You have the wrong man, I am not Micaloz! I know of no one with that name!”

“Oh, it is not your name, this we know. Now, what is your name, your true name? This is what we do sincerely hope to find out,” the man seated in the center said, clasping his hands. “And we fully intend to do whatever we must do in order to find out.”

“Melek! Melek is my name! I am from Gyumri. I assure you, I am not the man you seek.” Struggling against his restraints, his head throbbing from the blow. A row of candles burned half way down flickered gently on the small table in the corner.

“Oh, you are the one we seek. This we know. We have been watching you for some time and we are quite certain we have the right man. You have nothing to fear from us, we just want to talk,” said the man seated to the left.

The man with the stained teeth turned and spat on the floor. “You are a very special prize to our associates in Istanbul. A very special prize, indeed.”

Melek struggled against his restrained arms, clenching his fists tightly and pulling. “I have no idea what you are talking about, or why you would consider me such a prize. I swear to you I am nothing more than a humble peasant and servant of our Lord and only wish to make my way in peace. Please release me at once! I am trying to get to Pazarkoy. This is truly an outrage! Why am I shackled so?”

“Oh, a servant of our lord, are you?” The men chuckled again. “I swear we mean you no harm, but we cannot let you go. Our associates have paid us dearly to find you. It has taken us a long time, and we have traveled very far. We have seen the mark on your chest and we know it is you we seek.”

Melek thought of the birth mark on his chest which resembled a key. Lodged deep in his memory, Melek recalled it had always been there upon his chest, though he thought nothing of it. Every host body he had ever found himself in bore the same mark.

“We are aware you likely do not understand. But we are here to help you. Our associates have much to teach you, and in time you will understand. For now you must come with us, back to Istanbul. If you come willingly, you shall truly be treated as a prince. If you do not, we must take you by force. Either way, you are coming with us and we are prepared to take drastic action to ensure your safe delivery to our associates.”

Melek puffed heavily, pulling against his restraints. “There is a girl traveling with me, what shall become of her? I cannot leave her to travel alone with the caravan. She will wonder what happened to me and I do not wish to leave her to worry. My every thought is of her and for her alone my heart beats out of my chest. I have promised her I would return her to Pazarkoy. I protect her! What of my promise to her?”

The men laughed amongst themselves, nodding and motioning to Melek as he spoke.

“Oh, you love her, do you? Do you protect her? All things considered, we know who you are. So please drop the needless pretense.” The man seated in the middle suddenly stood. He had Melek’s leather satchel in his hand, from which he retrieved the vial of red-brown liquid and held it in front of his face, flicking it with his index finger. “You killed her father! You snuck into her home under cover of night and mercilessly slaughtered him while he slept! And what of this? This foul alchemical solution? What, precisely is your inner intent here? You best begin being honest with us, let alone honest with yourself. You are a monster, Micaloz, but you don’t have to be. In time you can learn to go great good in this world.”

“You call me Micaloz again! I do not nor have I ever known anyone bearing that name.” Melek was shouting now, though suddenly his heart beat not out of love for his Nazli, because instead he was frightened. How could they possibly know it was he who had committed the act of killing Nazli’s father? He was a different man then, in a different body, a different lifetime. His mind rushed for a possible explanation but there was none. For a brief moment, he began to doubt himself.

“I told you to drop the act, Micaloz. We already know more about who you are then you are likely to even know yourself. As for this foul tincture, you carry. Perhaps a demonstration will jog your memory?” He motioned to the man with the brown teeth, who then proceeded to a door in the wall behind where Melek was seated. He returned with a stray dog, leading it with a scrap of meat. The dog greedily scarfed down the scrap and sniffed at the man’s pouch for more. He took another larger scrap of meat from the pouch and handed it instead to the man holding the vial. He uncorked the vial and dripped a small amount of the tincture on the meat. The dog whined hungrily, instinctually sucking in his ribs to appear more emaciated and pathetic.

“Let us see what becomes of our little experiment.” The man clicked his tongue and dropped the tainted meat to the floor where the dog again gobbled it up.

No sooner had the poor animal swallowed the meat than it started to whine uncomfortably. The dog suddenly begins pawing at its snout and rolls over onto the floor with a sad whimper. With a sound like the crumpling of parchment, right before their eyes the dog was turned to stone. The transformation began at the dog’s mouth and then proceeded through its body, finally emanating from its gut. The room fell silent and the candle light flickered.

“Care to explain?” The man said, looking Melek in the eyes with a steadfast gaze.

Mysterious travelers, recurring dream scapes

Awakened from a dream

Melek awoke as the sun was rising, shaken by vivid dreams. He reached for his leather satchel and felt for the glass bottle inside. It was still intact. From a pocket in his robe, he drew the small rounded stone the traveler gave him the night before. He held it in his hand, turning it over compulsively. Rubbing against its smooth surface with his thumb and forefinger, contemplating the meaning of his strange dream. There is something inside him, fighting for life, turning in his guts, anxious to spring forth and become real. His thoughts kept turning to Nazil. He had to see her right away to dispel this lingering feeling that she turned to stone.

The men were readying the camels amid the fetid smells of the stable. It was there outside the stable where he spotted Nazil, standing on the crest of a small hill. Her outline silhouetted against the orange light of the rising sun. She heard him approaching and turned to him and smiled coyly. “It’s beautiful, the sunrise. Don’t you think so?”

Gripped by an intense longing to speak his true thoughts, Melek instead bit his tongue. He longed to gush a font of platitudes, confessing his undying love for her. But now was not the right time. He felt he had been making progress with her, they were getting closer, building camaraderie on the road. Certain that if he confessed his love for her it would be returned in time, but Melek had to wait until he was sure. Another rejection at this point would crush his very soul and he couldn’t be sure of what he might do if that happened to him again.

“The caravan is ready to leave, come let’s walk together” he forced a pleasant tone, motioning for her to follow.

Through the broken gate at Kars

Down the hill the caravan moved, through the gap in the wall. This wall once held a massive gate, until Timur and his forces toppled large sections of it. Men worked on a section of the wall north of the road, but the gate had not yet been restored. Several guards stood at the gate and nodded plaintively as they passed through the gap and into the city.

The main road was bustling as the citizens of Kars brought carts full of produce to the market for the day. A few colorful tents clinging to the edges of the road. Various merchants were fidgeting with their goods and chasing away skinny stray dogs who lingered close by, hoping for a scrap of meat. The caravan was undeterred by the shouts of merchants vying for their attention as they passed. The sun was rising over the mountains far away to the south, casting a golden glow over the conical roof of the mosque to the north of the road.

The next caravanserai was outside the village of Selim, about 40 kilometers to the southwest. It would not be an especially long journey on this day and the men were anxious to arrive early so as to provide ample opportunity to eat and drink when they arrived. Selim was a very small and rural village, but there was a bath house near the caravanserai which sat on a small plateau overlooking a meandering section of the Kars river.

Off the road travelers

Travel was light that day. At one point the men spotted a group of riders to the south, moving the same direction but not using the main road. They kept a watchful eye, this behavior was often attributed to bandits. The riders did not approach the caravan at all that day, and by mid-afternoon had disappeared from view altogether.

Arriving at the caravanserai that evening, the men were anxious for a bath and a jug of wine. The men moved the camels into the stable and disappeared down the hill to visit the bath house. Melek and Nazli stayed behind, sitting on some smooth rocks ringing the building. The Kars river snaked through the plains, the setting sun cast an orange and pink reflection across its surface, fading to a deep green toward them.

They sat in the silence of each other’s company, gazing to the west. Both imagining the once familiar market stalls and groves of Pazarkoy. To Melek the memory was a foreign entity. The person whose body he occupied had never traveled further than Yerevan to the south of his home in Gyumri. Yet he remembered it all – the stately home he occupied as Bey of the city when he was Hrant Darbinian, son of a smith. He remembered the mirrored pedestals he placed around the city when mourning his rejection by Nazli’s father, and how he took her far away from him to Gyumri. Now she sits quietly next to him, completely unaware of the peculiarity of his existence.

As the sun went down, Nazli stood and bid a good night to Melek with a small curtsy. She glanced down at his hand fidgeting with the Oltu stone, then turned and disappeared through a small door. The last rays of sun dropped behind the distant mountains as stillness encroached.

Melek spies on the camp

Transfixed by a small group of lights flickering to the south, Melek guessed it was the camp of the mysterious group of riders who they earlier noticed while traveling. It was too distant to make out any details. While it was still early, Melek slipped out under cover of night hoping to get close enough to catch a better glimpse of the riders.

Setting out on foot, Melek crossed the river at a shallow point and continued through the fields. As he got closer, he spotted some large boulders which should provide decent cover and serve as a vantage point. From there he hoped to get a better look at the riders. He crept in the darkness, stepping very carefully so as not to alert the camp to his presence.

Crouching behind one of the large boulders, he peeked around and could see the faces of the mysterious travelers, illuminated by the camp fire. The style of their clothing was unfamiliar to him, and they murmured in a language he did not recognize. These men were not Turkish or Armenian. They were also not Arabic or Mongolian. These men were from somewhere further to the west. Their skin was pale, their clothing resembling the Europeans Melek recalled from the markets of Pazarkoy and Izmir. What would these northerners be doing so far north of the silk road, in the plains of north-eastern Anatolia? Suspicious, Melek watched them for a bit longer before sneaking back to the caravanserai for another restless night in a musty smelling bed.

Another dream

That night as he slept, Melek had another dream. Strapped to a table while pale skinned men prodded him with some sort of copper wands. All the while they were chattering in a tongue Melek did not understand. In the corner of the room stood the stone statue of his Nazli from his previous dream. On a small decorated table next to her was the bottle containing his reddish alchemical concoction.

As the men poked and prodded his abdomen, a breeze parted the curtains in a window, allowing the moonlight to come through for a moment. It cast a cold glow across the cheek of the stone Nazli, and Melek thought he noticed a teardrop escaping down her cheek. It caught a faint sparkle from the momentary moonlight. He tried to reach out to her but found his hands shackled to the table. The breeze blew again through the open window, whispering in Melek’s ear a phrase now becoming familiar to him: “There is only the law.”

There is only the law.

Preparations are made

Several days had passed and Melek was busy making final preparations for the long journey across what is now western Armenia into Anatolia, and finally to the former home of his former being in the far away Aydin province. The journey would take him west to Kars, then slightly south and southwest through Erzurum. There they would travel downstream through the valley of the Fırat Nehri to Erzincan. Then continuing westward, they would cross the low arid mountains and down the Kızılırmak river into Sivas. From Sivas they would travel southwest again to Nevsehir. From Nevsehir they would travel the Uzun Yol southward through Konya and finally to the coastal city of Antalya, where the main caravan would end its journey. Melek and his Nazli would then travel alone to Aydin province.

The journey to Antalya was expected to take at minimum 45 days at approximately 40 km per day, and that was if they did not encounter any significant trouble along the way. There were many packs of roaming bandits throughout the east and along the silk road to the south. Travel could also be made difficult as inclement weather is a possible factor. For the majority of their journey however, September lies at the tail end of the driest season for the regions they would be crossing. While it was a little late in the year, it is not uncommon to make such a long journey during this time. It was somewhat uncommon however, for the caravan to be traveling with a woman, and Melek had noticed some grumbling from a few of the men who thought she would slow them down or otherwise endanger them. Melek was himself a bit apprehensive at bringing her along on such a journey but a nagging voice inside him demanded it. He wasn’t sure why, except to walk once again among the citrus groves with her as she remembered him as another man she once loved.

Most of what the caravan carried is loaded onto camels. There are­ six people in total, each with two camels provided – one for carrying their goods for trade, while the other is loaded with personal affects and occasionally serves as a riding animal. Unleavened bread and some dried salted meats were commonly carried but not in great abundance. Not a lot of food is carried with them as much of their sustenance would be obtained by trading at the caravanserais dotting the roads. The food they left with was primarily intended to stretch them across the barren hills and plains on the first few legs of their trip until they arrived at Erzurum, about six days into their journey. This particular stretch of terrain did not have many outposts for traders. Once they reached Erzurum however, they would join a fairly major trading road and could expect slightly easier travel and accommodation.

A long, old road ahead

The day finally came to leave, and the caravan was loaded as the sun was coming up. Men gathered around the camels down the hill from the monastery, voices chattering. The first day they needed to travel almost twice the normal daily distance in order to reach Kars by the first night. The former post at Ani was destroyed by Timur and his raids, which forced the main trade route to shift southward considerably.

It would be several days travel south to join the main road and there was not much gain in doing so, and making that trip exposed the caravan to early and unnecessary danger. Yet there were not many villages along the first leg of their planned route populous enough to reliably obtain goods and safety through the night. So they left Marmashen and travelled skirting the edge of the ravine where the river flows quietly. Insects were buzzing busily while curlews called. Across the ravine lay the rolling hills and a sea of grasses swaying in the breeze. They travelled south a few kilometers to an old bridge built by the romans which crossed the Akhuryan where they could get the caravan to the other side without having to ford it. Thankfully when Timur blazed across the area they found the bridge useful and left it undestroyed.

Once across the river they set upon the old road which had fallen into disuse as it sliced through the sea of waving golden grasses. There had not been much talking, the travelers all knew it would be a long journey and were saving their best stories for later, when boredom struck them with its dull bludgeon.

Nazli walked alongside Melek, adorned in the same clothing the men wore so as to not draw unwelcome attention to herself should they encounter strangers on the road. It was somewhat dangerous for a woman to be travelling with the caravan in such a manner, and the group insisted she dress in the traditional style of the males. Some of them were more comfortable with her presence than others, and occasionally cast furtive but not unkind glances her way.

Lost in thoughts and memory

She seldom noticed the men looking at her, lost in her thoughts as she was – remembering the trip she made years ago with her father who had dragged her all the way across Anatolia to join relatives in Gyumri. She would subconsciously wince as she recalled the night Hrant had snuck into their home and killed her father. The sight of his face spattered with blood, sitting in that chair as the first rays of sun snuck over the hills and through the window as she was waking. The panic she felt, the rush of emotion still crinkled her face as she relived the memory.

Of her thoughts Melek was unaware, lost in his own goulash of thoughts, he struggled to bring memories into focus. He fought to make sense of his memories, there were so many of them from so many lives. Muddled together in a tangled miasma of despair and confusion. Occasionally Melek would lose himself so deeply in his thoughts that he would lose sight of the ground beneath him and stumble over pits in the road left by the rain and previous travelers. With each stumble he would snap awake again, and Nazli would be looking at him, cracking a tiny grin laced with a touch of empathy. She seemed to care for him, which warmed him inside, and for just a moment her eyes penetrated his mind and he could think of nothing but how beautiful she was. Those were rare moments of peace for him where his jumbled thoughts momentarily ceased their shouting to be heard and there was stillness in his mind.

Arriving at Kars, a shining bead, and a dream

The caravan tromped into Kars as darkness was setting over the countryside. The men were already weary from the long journey and the camels were beginning to complain. The caravanserai at Kars was just outside the edge of the village. Once a bustling busy hub where travelers convened and shared stories of the road, the building stood mostly empty now as most travelers in the region had moved to the southern route. There was one other caravan in the caravanserai that night, a group from Erzurum carrying a load of objects crafted from Oltu stone northward to Tbilsi. One of the men bumped into Melek outside as they were relieving their bladders. A look of fear washed across the man’s face as Melek greeted him. It was as though he recognized him somehow, seeing through his bodily guise, seeing what he truly was for the briefest of moments. The man scurried away back inside the building, but before he left he pulled a small polished bead of the black Oltu stone from his pouch and handed it carefully to Melek without saying a word. Melek looked at the stone lying flat in the palm of his hand. It seemed to glow in the night, it’s polish so refined, it’s coloring so completely black, even a moonless cloudy night such as this seemed envious of its utter blackness. Melek placed the stone inside his satchel and went inside to get some food and wine before falling deeply asleep upon a musty smelling bed in a tiny room adjacent to the camel shed.

That night Melek dreamt he was standing on the shores of a massive lake, amidst a patch of high growing reeds that whispered in the breeze. As he gazed out across the stars reflecting tiny kisses of light on the choppy water, the voice of the reeds in the wind seemed to be trying to form words. He struggled to listen carefully and discern the message in the rustling, but each time it slipped away just as he started to make it out. He turned around to walk away from it and suddenly in front of him was a likeness of Nazli turned to cold stone. Her eyes no longer glowed, her face no longer radiant with color, just the stillness of lifeless stone. Swelling with emotion, he reached out to touch her. He felt a tear slipping down his face as he gently stroked the rough stone surface of her cheek with a sort of disbelief. Very suddenly the whispering of the reeds was in his ear again, but this time loud and clear. It said “There is only the law.”

Soon it will be time, Melek…travel plans are brewing.

Soon it will be time, Melek.

The morning begins with a bright ray of light through the window as Melek awakens from scattered dreams. He pulls the vial of reddish oil from the satchel once more, and whispers the incantation. The oil is beginning to take on the desired brownish orange color. Soon it will be time to steep the small collection of herbs that he had been collecting. This he knows will finish the concoction. Soon it will be time, Melek.

Many centuries of lifetimes lived in different bodies had taught him a few things. Mostly that it is difficult to retain knowledge passed on from lifetime to lifetime. It requires great concentration to push the foreign thoughts from his host body and listen only to his own. At times, the thoughts are like a voice, echoing down an eternal stone hall, distorted by the reverberations of time. The thoughts are welcome, and Melek lets them drift into his mind. Other times the thoughts are a curse, the nagging echoes of which riddle his mind.

He finds occasional pause to question the thoughts, though he is never able to reason them away. He loves Nazil, deeply. Magically, as though they had a long history together – yet he hardly knows her. She represents a lost thread of his past carried forward. An aching in his chest and a gnawing in his gut. It drives him to her unconsciously. He is not sure if her feelings for him are reciprocal, especially considering to her, he is the man who acted as the undertaker for the church in her village. Which is painful for him, but something deep inside is telling him that it doesn’t matter.

Today Melek plans to slip away from the church on the hill and gather the last of the herbs he needs to finish brewing the potion. It si best to harvest the bulbs in the fall, after the heat of the summer growth had ended and before the first snows begin falling. When the plant above ground dies off and it’s flowers have withered away, all the nutrients and chemical compounds concentrated in the bulb to sustain it through winter. This is the time to harvest it, when it’s life pulled into its center.

Over the last few days he had been driving the herd of sheep out closer to the banks of the river to the west and north, along the rolling hills where he knew he would find the roots he needed. Today he took with him the digging tools required to harvest the roots without damaging them.

Surprising yet welcome desires

Upon returning late that evening, Melek finds Nazil outside the circular church building, washing some linens for the bishop. He smiles at her and she motions for him to come over. Talking in hushed tones, she tells Melek she is unhappy here in this town, in this church. She had been doing a lot of thinking about the town of her childhood. Every day she is afraid.

Reports of Arab raiders are becoming more frequent in the area. Rumors abound the beylik of Shirak is under Arab control, while Timurid territory was wrestled away by Qara Iskander and the Black Sheep Turcoman tribe. It was only a matter of time before armies clashed again. James II of Cyprus, who presided as king of the Byzantines, was a figurehead who lacked any real presence in the local regions of Shirak province, and had no significant influence over the Timurid ruler who ruled from Yerevan to the south-east. The armies of the Kara Koyunlu tribes are falling weak in the west, and the relative peace they brought to the area will be short-lived.

In any case, no one wished to live through another Timur invasion and it seemed the area was under almost never-ending contention between the Mongols, Arabs and Byzantine rulers from the western world. While the town had started rebuild after recent sackings it endured, progress was slow and people were still afraid. Columns of black smoke appeared on the horizon, tribal armies were close.

Nazil confessed she wished nothing more now than to return to the home town of her youth in Aydin. She asked the Bishop who presided over the monastery for news from the region, but news travelled slow in those times and there had been none. In her mind, the place had become almost mythological in her mental reconstruction. The many large colorful tents of the market, the daily hustle along the trading route. The citrus groves where she used to walk with her beloved Hrant, who later betrayed her by murdering her father in cold blood. While it had only been a few years since those events, they seemed distant now and she longed to return to the place she once knew and felt safety in.

He listened, taking care to not allow her a glimpse of his exuberance at the prospect. When she finished speaking, Melek assured her he would make arrangements for them to travel west to the city of her youth. A caravan loaded with rugs and textiles for trade along the northern trade route through Anatolia is bound for the very place they plan to go.

Melek spoke to the group of men heading the caravan and offered his help in exchange for travelling with them. The trip would take nearly five weeks, through rugged and dangerous terrain. Needing all the hands they can get, they agree to allow Melek and Nazil to travel with them. The caravan would leave in a mere three days’ time, which did not leave much for making an amicable split with the monastery, but it would have to do. Better to travel in numbers those days, even if it meant leaving the monastery with its residency halved and unprotected.

Living dreams of Pazarkoy

Night had fallen and Melek returned to his room, placing the roots on the small table next to the window. The moon was sinking early over the rolling plains to the west and the air was growing colder at night. They would need to leave soon or be facing the harshness of winter while they travelled along the trading road.

Fetching his mortar and grinding rod from his satchel, Melek begins crushing the roots. Picking off the tough bits grown around the surface of the bulb, leaving the soft yellowish meat in the bowl. He continues crushing the bulbs until he has a ball of bitter-smelling pulp. He sets this on a piece of white cloth on the table. Bringing the tincture to the final step of preparation requires the pulp to be aged until the next moon cycle. They would be almost all the way to Pazarkoy (or “Nazili” as he himself had renamed it in his previous life as Hrant Darbinian) before the tincture was ready to fulfill its hidden purpose.

Melek whispers blessings over the mixture, wrapping the pulp in the cloth, and again in a piece of horse leather stitched with arcane symbols. As he lays his head upon the floor, Melek dreams with a memory not his own. Once again walking among the citrus groves with his love. Soon it would be time.

Cave to monastery to memory, a plan is hatching. Is there a way to bend the law?

The cave, a tincture, a memory not his own

The morning sun is peeking over the mountains, filtering through the boughs of black pine. Melek pokes his head out of the cave mouth resting his right hand on the cold surface of the limestone slab left ajar the night before to vent the sulfuric smell. The hillside trembles in the stillness of anticipation. All its creatures awaiting the heavenly ball of fire to send them warming kisses good morning. Winter is coming soon.

Melek sighs deeply as he contemplates the long journey ahead of him. A faint puff of fog escapes as he exhales in the chilled morning air. His thoughts turn to the tumultuous events of the preceding weeks. He closes his eyes for a moment as he leans against the door slab, and once again he sees the face of his Nazil. Her shining black hair like the flowing mane of a mystical horse. Deep blue eyes like little pools of cool water, penetrating the soul.

For many weeks Melek could think of nothing but her face, and how she looked upon him as he sat in her chambers that morning. The look of absolute terror that stunned him, like a thousand stabs to the heart with a spear of ice. Masked in her expression, a flicker of their lost love, a flashing belly of a shimmering fish turning over in a murky pond. It then disappears just as quickly. It is a bitter and poisonous pain that courses through his being. A darkness of eternal night continually descending upon his soul.

This is his memory, transplanted to his brain. Yet it is also the memory of another person entirely. Melek was a different man then, yet he was the same being. Hrant Darbinian and Melek Mainyu – both possessed of the same consciousness which is in essence neither of them. One retained the memories and thoughts of the other. Entwined together in the threads of fate. Forever locked in a great cosmic dance of divinity, spiraling endlessly into the abyss. For each of them, thousands more voices ranging from a whisper to a chatter, carried down through the centuries. Every memory of every life is there for him to access. It is merely a matter of clearing the thoughts of his present mind and allowing the river to flood in.

Melek crouches at his mixing station, examining his distillation of the red alchemical oil from the rough antimony. He takes a small glass vial from a shelf of various supplies and pours some of the reddening oil into it with a faint sizzling sound. Capping it with a cork and wrapping it with a sacred cloth to insulate it and keep the sunlight away, he carefully places the vial inside a small pocket within his horse leather satchel hanging at his side.

A return to home, of sorts

Roughly four weeks later, Melek finds himself again in the place of his home, the village of Kumayri  on the Akhurian river. He has no living family, and no one to have missed him while he was away. His small home considered abandoned, seized by the Oghuz tribe for taxes in arears of several months. Even the church where he once worked as an undertaker had since been abandoned. The minister who occupied it was elderly to begin with, and had passed on while he was away at his cave refuge. The Oghuz had conducted several raids through the area in his absence, taking many of its inhabitants as slaves. The village is nearly empty of residents, only a few families remain to raise small heads of cattle and keep crops in the ground.

There is a rather large Byzantine monastery in the hills on the edge of the plains to the northwest of the village. It is there Melek assumes Nazli sought refuge after the incident with her father and Hrant and the subsequent raids by Tamerlane’s vicious armies. It was to this monastery he travelled, begging asylum for himself. An opportunity to find the girl he had once loved as another man. Melek is granted a small room after a lengthy wait and very short meeting with the Byzantine bishop at the monastery. It is dark and dank, scarcely large enough to lie down lengthwise.

A love lost, rekindled

It was several days before he caught a glimpse of Nazil. She was working as a handmaid in the wool barn, among several large looms for making rugs and textiles to trade along the east/west road. While he is away tending to the sheep at pasture for several days at a time, Melek would catch frequent glimpses of Nazil whenever he was able to return to the churchyards. He kept his interaction with her to a minimum at first, but persisted week after week. Melek is determined to win her affections again. If it takes him several lifetimes to earn it.

Melek succeeds in capturing her attention, and after a period of several months they begin taking meals together again in the courtyard on the shaded north side of the main building. They spoke mostly of trivialities, but occasionally they would speak of dreams of faraway places. Bustling market cities of her youth. Once she even spoke of Hrant, her one-time lover in the faraway market city of Pazarköy. Melek is thrilled whenever she speaks fondly of the man whom he had once been in another lifetime. He tightens his jaw to clench away the grimace when she spoke of her father whom Hrant savagely killed in the night, ending his own life in the ditch behind her house.

Occasionally Melek attempts to persuade her to leave the monastery and travel to the market town of Pazarköy with him. She has called the church her home since her father was murdered. Nazil had no other means of sustaining herself and paying the taxes levied upon residents of Armenia in those times. The Byzantine monastery provided both refuge and steady work for her. They also provided moderate protection from the bands of raiders that occasionally flashed violently across the plains. Without the protection of the church she would quickly be swept up into slavery and carried off to some remote and terrible place.

A plan emerges, a way to bend the law

One night as Melek lies on his bed, he pulls open the satchel containing the vial of reddish oil ensuring it is still intact. Melek whispered a special incantation over the vial, enchanting it with his continued intent. He would find a way to immortalize her – any way he could. He imagines a way to bend the laws of death and keep her with him forever. Simply unable to bear the thought of her death and separation from her forever across an infinite gulf of time.­

 

Cave to monastery to memory, a plan is hatching. Is there a way to bend the law?

The cave, a tincture, a memory not his own

The morning sun is peeking over the mountains, filtering through the boughs of black pine. Melek pokes his head out of the cave mouth resting his right hand on the cold surface of the limestone slab left ajar the night before to vent the sulfuric smell. The hillside trembles in the stillness of anticipation. All its creatures awaiting the heavenly ball of fire to send them warming kisses good morning. Winter is coming soon.

Melek sighs deeply as he contemplates the long journey ahead of him. A faint puff of fog escapes as he exhales in the chilled morning air. His thoughts turn to the tumultuous events of the preceding weeks. He closes his eyes for a moment as he leans against the door slab, and once again he sees the face of his Nazil. Her shining black hair like the flowing mane of a mystical horse. Deep blue eyes like little pools of cool water, penetrating the soul.

For many weeks Melek could think of nothing but her face, and how she looked upon him as he sat in her chambers that morning. The look of absolute terror that stunned him, like a thousand stabs to the heart with a spear of ice. Masked in her expression, a flicker of their lost love, a flashing belly of a shimmering fish turning over in a murky pond. It then disappears just as quickly. It is a bitter and poisonous pain that courses through his being. A darkness of eternal night continually descending upon his soul.

This is his memory, transplanted to his brain. Yet it is also the memory of another person entirely. Melek was a different man then, yet he was the same being. Hrant Darbinian and Melek Mainyu – both possessed of the same consciousness which is in essence neither of them. One retained the memories and thoughts of the other. Entwined together in the threads of fate. Forever locked in a great cosmic dance of divinity, spiraling endlessly into the abyss. For each of them, thousands more voices ranging from a whisper to a chatter, carried down through the centuries. Every memory of every life is there for him to access. It is merely a matter of clearing the thoughts of his present mind and allowing the river to flood in.

Melek crouches at his mixing station, examining his distillation of the red alchemical oil from the rough antimony. He takes a small glass vial from a shelf of various supplies and pours some of the reddening oil into it with a faint sizzling sound. Capping it with a cork and wrapping it with a sacred cloth to insulate it and keep the sunlight away, he carefully places the vial inside a small pocket within his horse leather satchel hanging at his side.

A return to home, of sorts

Roughly four weeks later, Melek finds himself again in the place of his home, the village of Kumayri  on the Akhurian river. He has no living family, and no one to have missed him while he was away. His small home considered abandoned, seized by the Oghuz tribe for taxes in arears of several months. Even the church where he once worked as an undertaker had since been abandoned. The minister who occupied it was elderly to begin with, and had passed on while he was away at his cave refuge. The Oghuz had conducted several raids through the area in his absence, taking many of its inhabitants as slaves. The village is nearly empty of residents, only a few families remain to raise small heads of cattle and keep crops in the ground.

There is a rather large Byzantine monastery in the hills on the edge of the plains to the northwest of the village. It is there Melek assumes Nazli sought refuge after the incident with her father and Hrant and the subsequent raids by Tamerlane’s vicious armies. It was to this monastery he travelled, begging asylum for himself. An opportunity to find the girl he had once loved as another man. Melek is granted a small room after a lengthy wait and very short meeting with the Byzantine bishop at the monastery. It is dark and dank, scarcely large enough to lie down lengthwise.

A love lost, rekindled

It was several days before he caught a glimpse of Nazil. She was working as a handmaid in the wool barn, among several large looms for making rugs and textiles to trade along the east/west road. While he is away tending to the sheep at pasture for several days at a time, Melek would catch frequent glimpses of Nazil whenever he was able to return to the churchyards. He kept his interaction with her to a minimum at first, but persisted week after week. Melek is determined to win her affections again. If it takes him several lifetimes to earn it.

Melek succeeds in capturing her attention, and after a period of several months they begin taking meals together again in the courtyard on the shaded north side of the main building. They spoke mostly of trivialities, but occasionally they would speak of dreams of faraway places. Bustling market cities of her youth. Once she even spoke of Hrant, her one-time lover in the faraway market city of Pazarköy. Melek is thrilled whenever she speaks fondly of the man whom he had once been in another lifetime. He tightens his jaw to clench away the grimace when she spoke of her father whom Hrant savagely killed in the night, ending his own life in the ditch behind her house.

Occasionally Melek attempts to persuade her to leave the monastery and travel to the market town of Pazarköy with him. She has called the church her home since her father was murdered. Nazil had no other means of sustaining herself and paying the taxes levied upon residents of Armenia in those times. The Byzantine monastery provided both refuge and steady work for her. They also provided moderate protection from the bands of raiders that occasionally flashed violently across the plains. Without the protection of the church she would quickly be swept up into slavery and carried off to some remote and terrible place.

A plan emerges, a way to bend the law

One night as Melek lies on his bed, he pulls open the satchel containing the vial of reddish oil ensuring it is still intact. Melek whispered a special incantation over the vial, enchanting it with his continued intent. He would find a way to immortalize her – any way he could. He imagines a way to bend the laws of death and keep her with him forever. Simply unable to bear the thought of her death and separation from her forever across an infinite gulf of time.­