The Gate of No Returning

The god of evil is dead, and therefore evil itself is dead.

I do not believe in the heresy that says that a god may be slain, so I do not know how these events came to pass. Perhaps the eye of the universe opened, and looked upon evil, and passed through it into awakening. Perhaps evil was always an aberration, a thing that emerged from nothing, strove against its own contradictions, and descended into nothing. Certainly there was not, as some would have it, an “edition change;” nor did adventurers descend into the deepest Hells and murder evil with sword and spell, replacing it in the end with some misunderstood hero from their number—these things are not the way of Heaven and of Earth.

Nevertheless.

“The bite of a werewolf,” the werewolf hunter explained, “causes a contagion that infects one with the qualities of a werewolf; one becomes cursed upon the full moon to transform, vulnerable only to holy things and silver, and unless one uses potent magic to hold it back, one’s alignment will inevitably shift to—”

Here he hesitated.

“Well, at one time, to ‘evil.’”

“Evil has become murky to me,” I said.

“Indeed.”

“It seems to me,” I said, “that at one time it made sense to me; the concept that a person, remaining that person, could undergo a radical shift in their nature and become ‘evil,’ but now—”

“Children born today,” he said, “will grow up their whole lives without even the faintest inkling of what evil was; they will read the word in old books, and come up with the most fanciful theories, but they will not understand.”

I snorted a laugh.

He stirred the fire. “You were,” he said, to confirm, “not bitten— though?”

“I screamed,” I said. “I hid. I wriggled myself deep into a crevice between the cow-fence and the wall. I smelt its stink and I heard it killing the animals and I think that it drew close to me, but it left before it bit.”

I hesitated.

“I think it savored my fear,” I said, “perhaps. I mean, more than it would savor biting me.”

“Doubtless,” he said.

“If you had not come—”

“I did nothing,” said the werewolf hunter. “It was already gone by the time I arrived.”

There were scratches on his shining mail. There was a warrior’s look in his eyes. I knew him as my savior when he found me. But I pretended to believe.

“It will return for you,” he said, still poking at the fire. “Though. I know this because I do not believe it to be true.”

“Oh?”

He looked away. He stared up at the moon.

The night, I think, was very cold.

“It is the nature of a werewolf,” he said, after a while, “to be fundamentally misunderstood. Thus the longer I pursue them, the more acutely wrong I find my instincts to be.”

I laughed, but he was very serious.

“He will return,” he said. “I cannot say why, or, rather, my reasoning is flawed. Not to hurt you, certainly. Not to taunt me. Those occur to me, so they are wrong. But he will return, because I believe that he has fled from here. That is why I am still here, and why I will watch over you for the night.”

I put my hands together. “We are bound to the world by our ignorance,” I said.

That is what the priest had told me.

She set her hands on my mother’s brow and took the fever from her, and she made the crops that were failing grow, and she told us of desire and ignorance and of the path by which these things may be rectified—

Then she moved on.

“Escape our ignorance, and we shall fly from the prison of our lives.”

“It is harder than that,” he said.

I tilted my head.

“You are level one,” he said. “Two? Three, maybe, at the most. You are yet rich in your ignorance, so it is natural that you say, ‘it is ignorance that is binding me to the world.’

“But when you have slain monsters and unearthed forbidden treasures, you will learn the true face of our existence: that it is an endless wheel, and we are held into it by the momentum of its turning.

“Slay one beast and you have guaranteed that you will face another. Find one lost treasure and open the path to searching for a thousand more. The world is a cycle of gaining power only to face more powerful opposition, and there is no escaping it save for martyrdom, in the name of the holy gods.”

“Or,” I said, “you say that because you are ignorant.”

He laughed.

“Perhaps one day you will open your eyes,” I said, “and realize, ‘I am forging this life for myself. It is not the turning of the wheel but rather my own feet as they run.’”

“And in that moment,” he said, “I shall suspire into Nirvana, and no more the slaying of monsters, the delving for treasures, and the gods’ service for me?”

“Well,” I said, “you may still slay the werewolf— when it returns.”

He laughed. He shook his head. “There is no respite,” he said. “None.”

“I don’t have any silver,” I pointed out.

“Of course not.”

“So it’s not as if I can fight it.”

“It’s not as if you could fight it anyway,” he said. “It is a Hell-beast, evil inca— the ‘fundamentally misunderstood,’ incarnate. It is a brooding, sorrowful monster. It has claws like iron and a mouth like the gates of Hell.”

“Namu amida butsu,” I prayed.

Then I hesitated. A thought struck me.

“But what would happen,” I asked him, “if we fought?”

“Pardon?”

“If it attacked me,” I said, “and I could not fight back, and my understanding is that it would savage me; or infect me—that it is . . . what evil has become, only, isn’t that also a misunderstanding?”

“Heh,” he said.

“Heh?”

“They asked My Lady Helena,” he said, “’what is the nature of enlightenment?’ And she said, ‘it is like a blanket. It is like the stars. It is like the snow.’ But they did not comprehend, save for her disciple Aveditta, who exclaimed, ‘It is like the rain.’”

“I see,” I said, though I did not.

“’That which is not evil cannot comprehend the ways of evil, or it would become evil; that which is not good cannot comprehend the ways of good, or it would become good’—it was written, back when there was evil. The bite of a werewolf therefore is a mystery; it is a gate of no return. In the end, can we even say that a werewolf exists at all?”

“That’s going a little far,” I told him.

He shrugged.

“When it comes,” he said, “I will fight it, because that is what I know. And I will win, because that is how the wheel keeps on turning. But you cannot expect me to understand such mysteries.”

The wind was blowing colder now, and I heard a sound—

Or didn’t hear, perhaps. Perhaps it was some other sense, some other cue; or perhaps it was only that I didn’t hear it, and I misunderstood.

Let us say that I heard a sound, and that it was my only warning.

I was on my feet. He was on his feet, and the great wolf-spear in his hand, and his armor was bright in the light of the fire, and the forest was dark and the moon was bright and the wind was cold and it—

It was a thing beyond our understanding.

It was like a wolf, but it was not a wolf. It stood in the light of the moon, and it was not in the light of the moon. It moved, or rather, it was a thing like motion; and as it came in at us, as it gave a great bound and its muscles shifted and its claws moved like blades of iron through the air, I understood something, or rather, did not understand something; my mind gave a great gasp and was released from its ignorance; in that moment my mind’s eye passed through what seemed like a tunnel and unraveled itself into emptiness, and I exclaimed:

It is like the stars. It is like the snow. It is like the rain.

Its teeth were upon me; its weight in passing, and it leapt onwards; I passed through the gate of no returning, and I fell.

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