Salvation Rests at the River's Edge
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“Come, great Sahlanymph, grant us peace. The end is dark and void of all, but you can save us from the fall. Do not let us die, O’ Great Sahlanymph. Forgive us and bring us into eternity!”
- Hymn 144 (Plea from Damnation), ‘The Scripts of Ora’

Many have called me home. Nomads, for a night. Empires, for a century. Animals, for a time. But then there are those, the unknowables, the gods, that make their place by my banks for millennia. They come to me for comfort, for hope. They come to me to die.

The first to come to me was a young one. It had only held reign over creation for thirty centuries, yet it was already growing tired. The younger generations continuously lost the power of their greater parents, leading to the children coming to me first. The first took the form of one of the mortals, the ones called 'human'. It came to my banks and set up a tent. Every dawn, even when the cold season came, the first would leap into my depths and swim in my waters. During this time, I was able to hear it's prayers. An unknowable, a harbinger of life and death, praying to me. At the time, it caught me off guard. Now, I come to expect it. The first asked me for salvation or comfort. It knew it was coming to an end, and that terrified it. It wasn't used to experiencing emotions, though the first handled it better than the older ones. The first was closer to the mortals than the others.

On the first day that it swam in my waters I asked, “Stranger in a strange place, what do you want from me?” The first did not answer, as if it could not hear me, and simply dove in. That is when I heard its prayers.

“Sahlanymph, river of all, I beg of you, do not let me drown. Flow over me, and carry my life within you forever.” Again, I tried to respond to this unnerving request from one of the gods.

“Great one, I do not understand your motives. What is there to gain from harassing my waters so? I am no great spirit. I have no dominion over life. Why do you come to me, Stranger? You are not of the mischievous caste, so why do you attempt to confuse me?” Still, the young god did not answer me. It stayed in my waters for hours, until finally climbing out and going about the activities of a human; foraging, hunting, and building a fire. When night fell, the god went to sleep, and I took my opportunity to gaze at its dreams.

The dreams of a god are not like those of mortals, at least not completely. Where mortals dreams are pure creation and imagination at work, the gods dream of their history and past, all at a single moment, outside of time. Mortals’ dreams are like a river, where gods’ dreams are oceans. One is a flow of thought and idea, the other is thought and idea. The similarities come that the later dreams of gods are similarly pure creation. That is the thread connecting the mortals to their great kings.

When I peered among the unspeakable and indescribable horrors, beauties, and mysteries that rested in the god’s mind, I saw what was happening. This god, known as Tyrlifang by its worshippers, was aging. The young gods often depict themselves as young, infantile children, but this young god had begun to mature, to the point where it was now a human man in its middle-life. In it’s time before coming to me, the god had ventured to mythical and horrifying reaches of the universes, in search of an answer to why and how it was growing old and tired. Nothing could be found, so it came to me, though through my gazing I could not discern why. The next day, the young god followed the same pattern, leaping into my waters and praying.

“O great Sahlanymph, I beg of you, take my waning life from me and make it new. Let me prosper through the eons, and into eternity as your waters do.” Again I responded.

“Stranger, I am not the one you seek. I am the river here, but I have no name. This Sahlanymph is alien to me, and I cannot help you. My waters flow not into eternity, but to a lake. To an end.” The god still did not respond to me, and climbed out as it had before. This continued for years and years.

I noticed it visibly aging after one year. The god went from looking like a young man to a middle aged man, donning a large beard and long hair, streaked with greys and whites. Every day it did the same ritual, jumping into me and begging me for salvation which I had no authority to grant. After sixteen additional years, the young god had become a walking corpse.

The skin hung loose on the bones, except for the face where it was drawn tightly across, showing the skull beneath. The arms lacked all muscle and fat, and the hair had long since abandoned the pitiful thing. Few teeth remained, and those that did were stained black and oozing green and red fluids. The day before it left me, the young god did not jump into my waters, but sat on my banks with its feet dangling in.

“Sahlanymph, my time has come. I asked you for salvation, for life, but you gave me none. Thus, now I ask you for death. My existence has become painful, and I wish for a restful passing. In my younger times, I was afraid of it, the inevitability.” The aging god held its emaciated arms in front of it. “ We were told by the Old Ones that we were to be eternal, that the infinitesimal darkness could not reach us with its inky tendrils.” It made a grabbing motion with its hands before setting them onto the mossy mud next to it. “The Old Ones lied, though I wonder if they knew. It doesn't matter anymore. My end is coming great Sahlanymph.” I tried to speak up and tell it that I wished I could help, but as always the dying creature could not hear me. I grew so frustrated that my waters began to rise and flow quicker in rage. The old man stuck it’s hand into my waters and whispered to me.

“Peace, Sahlanymph. I understand your pain. You do not understand either, but alas you are an important piece of the cycle. I apologize for begging you for something you did not know how to give for all of these years.” I saw the god’s eyes well up with tears, and heard it choke when it spoke.

“Sahlanymph, I ask you, please take care of my kin as well when they come to you. I am the first, but there may be no last. Thank you, friend, for the comfort and the dreams.” The god stood up and walked into its tent. I could not see it, but when it did not come out in the morning, I knew. The good god Tyrlifang was dead.

More came to me after Tyrlifang, as it foretold. Hundreds, thousands, millions of gods came and sat by me in their last moments. Some stayed for years, building houses and communities along my banks before passing. Others rest for moments before expiring, being mortally wounded in the case of one. Then the first Old God came to me.

The first Old God was called Yaarlif by the people. Yaarlif was an eldritch abomination, a creature of madness and wrath. It descended from the sky one night in the blaze of a blistering comet. The comet struck my waters, and out of it crawled the mangled, writhing formlessness of Yaarlif. The Old God was terrified. It had never felt emotions, and to feel one such as terror so intensely shook it to it’s core.

Yaarlif rested in the depths of my being for centuries, whispering threats to me, claiming that if I did not save it, then it would destroy me. Yaarlif only slept once in all of it’s centuries with me. I took advantage of the time, soothing it and prying into its existence, into its memories.

I could only go so far back into Yaarlif’s history, lest I be maddened myself. I saw innumerable horrors, great behemoths and titans more abhorrent than anything a mind could comprehend. Beyond all that, however, I saw a tiny, weeping baby. I knew that this must be Yaarlif, as the baby bore its seal on its forehead. I could feel the fear, the anguish coming from the youngest of the Old Gods. It had always been taught that it would be forever. The young gods may fall eventually, decay and die as their domains did the same, but the Old Gods would last forever. The Great Sahlanymph had granted them existence, and they were existence. But now this Old God wept with silent tears, as it knew its destruction was imminent.

I did all in my power to comfort it. In the later centuries, it came to know and trust me, but for a long period of time, it tried to corrupt me. For example, Yaarlif possessed my body, the river, and acted as a river god for a period of time. It would attempt to lure travelers into its cult where they would sacrifice and butcher the victims. All of this was conducted by a misguided belief that somehow Yaarlif could win my favor and I would grant it true eternity. Eventually, Yaarlif understood that it was pointless, that I could not grant it what it wished. So, Yaarlif rose out of my murky depths and annihilated the cult that was polluting me with the blood of the innocent, then it sat by me as had all of the others. Gradually it grew smaller and smaller, from the size of a house, to that of a horse, to a wolf, to a dog, to a mouse, and into nothing.

After the first Old God there was an increase in young gods coming to me. It is one of the greatest mysteries and questions that I hold, “Why are there young gods older than an Old God?” The answer has eluded me eternally, and I expect there is no true resolution. In any case, many young gods came to me. Sometimes large crowds of them came to my banks, all varying forms of beasts, horrors, humans, forces of nature, and concepts. They brought with them chaos and disorder, harming some of the settlements further down my banks, even so far as the sea that I empty into. I did all I could. By this time I was quite proficient in comforting the dying, and I had helped hundreds and hundreds of the gods to pass. Eventually the Old Gods became my only patrons, coming to me in raging storms and earthquakes, and causing devastation as I worked them through their grief and fear. I… I cannot accurately describe my emotions on this topic. For centuries I have just wondered why I have been given this duty, why every god knows to come to me, why they all seem to know me as Sahlanymph. No answer could come to me, not until all times passed, and the Last was about to sleep.

The Last was the oldest god. When it came to me, the Sun had long since abandoned this reality, and only one star remained in the sky. My strong waters had slowly receded and eventually frozen as the world went cold. I was a frigid glacier in a cold, dead world. The Last came to me as a human traveling with the few remaining humans that had somehow survived in the Sun’s absence. The came to me one night and sat at my edge, making camp on the frozen ground.

“Well, Mr. Ramses as you call yourself, where is this refuge you spoke of to us?” one of the traveling humans asked. Another lay asleep next to the small fire they had built and I pried their memories, learning that they had escaped when their home deep underground had collapsed. They had found Ramses waiting outside the entrance, offering to guide them to salvation. Ramses smiled slightly at the question the traveler asked.

“My salvation isn’t far from here,” he said, “As my people once said, ‘Sahlanymph ootor buckshi’, or ‘Salvation rests at the river’s edge’.” That is when I pieced together who this man was. Ramses was it, the Last. I stirred my glacial body, causing a cracking and creaking. Ramses glanced over to my banks and nodded.

“So how long till we reach the river’s edge?” the traveler asked the Last.

“Not long, friend. Try to get some rest.” After a few minutes, all of the travelers fell asleep, leaving the Last on their own. They stood up and walked out onto my body, walking all the way into the middle, and then walking North to the upstream.

Four days of continuous walking led the Last to my origin, a long since dried spring up in a mountain. All the time that the Last had been walking, I had monitored the travelers. They didn’t make it through the first night, dying of hypothermia as the last of their fuel burned away. The Last maintained its human form as it walked, which I thought strange. It was a god, was it not? Why maintain such a limited form. I tried to ask them as such, but they did not answer me. When they had reached the spring at the peak of the highest mountain in the range, the Last paused, looking at the dried lake that once rested there in silence and sadness. The Last crouched down next to the dried lakebed, and then spat on the earth.

Never before had I felt such a thing. I felt life flowing in me as the lakebed filled with fluid that did not immediately freeze. When the lake had filled to a sufficient point, the Last did what nearly every single one had done before them. They removed the heavy layers of clothing they had worn to blend in with the humans, and then walked into the pool.

“Are you really the last?” I asked them.

“Yes, Sahlanymph. I am the Last, and according to some, the greatest. They called me Ramses in times immemorial, which to the gods meant ‘Hope’.”

“Why Ramses? Why have the gods always come to me? What act have I committed to be encumbered with such a duty as leading the immortal to their deaths?”

“It is the nature of your existence Sahlanymph. As we create, you destroy. You are the rushing waters that turn the wheel and grind the wheat. I am the miller that gives the water purpose through the wheel. Together we craft and destroy the worlds throughout eternities and outside of time. You, Sahlanymph, are the Greatest of the gods, where I am only the Eldest. Together, hope sparks creation, and the world is born anew. Then your raw creation continues as the river does. I assume that is why you have always lost your memory. That, or that it is too painful to see your creations being torn to shreds by your own existence. This is the way, Sahlanymph. You are salvation and destruction. You are the river.”

With those words to me, my memory opened, and I remembered them, every single living soul that had ever been created, whether it be that of a mouse or that of the Great gods, I thought of them and wept. My tears flowed from the lakebed, and my glacial form began to melt back into the river. Ramses smiled brightly, and rose from my waters and into the sky, to the single star that remained, which sparked and blazed into the great new Sun. My banks flooded, and the world was made new through my life bringing tears.

As I reach the end of my weeping, it is still too painful. The cycle continues as I well up my memories of the worlds I’ve destroyed and plunge them into the deepest and darkest depths of the spring, not to be brought forth until the next cycle comes.

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