Sins of the Mother
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And the LORD God said unto the woman: 'What is this thou hast done?' And the woman said: 'The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.'

– Genesis 3:13



Hawwah awoke, lungs burning as she gasped for air amidst the ashes. Ripped from the peaceful darkness that was death, her mind struggled to understand her surroundings, even as her wounds cried out in agony, even as her naked form shuddered under the wind's cold.

The shock of being alive numbed the memories of the doom brought down upon her family, upon her people, but before long, she found herself weeping with the remembrance of their slaughter, her pained wails travelling through the scorched wasteland that had once been the Garden. The stench of burnt grass and flesh filled her nose as all around her the charred trees and the mutilated corpses of the People of the Valley echoed her cries, the ashen dirt voraciously drinking her tears as if it hoped to recover its fertility, as if anything could ever grow here again…

My children, my children…

Hawwah sobbed under the uncaring heavens, tinged grey by the cloud of smoke and dust that covered the once lush Valley. She clawed at herself, fingers drawing blood from her face, from her chest. What did it matter if she bled? What wounds could be deeper, harsher than the ones carved on her soul by her own sons?

Hevel, my pride, what have you become? How could you bring such suffering upon us? The blood of your father, the blood of your brothers… spilt and fed to the dark gods of Daevon…

The memory of her most beloved son's crimes was like a blade through her heart. Hevel ben Adam had been, from the moment of his birth, his mother's joy, a boy as pure of heart as he would grow strong of will and body, a hero born to the People of the Valley, a champion to defend them against the evils beyond the Garden. Loved by his parents and people, his slaying at his own brother's hands had been mourned even as his soul returned to his body, for his stay in the Lands of the Dead had forever darkened his demeanor.

And now, the champion who was gentle despite his godly strength, the hero who raised his sword only in the defense of his people, had returned from his campaign against the hordes of the Daeva, against the wrath of the Scarlet King, not in triumph, but leading the destroyer's army. The man who had been Hevel was gone, devoured by Ab-Leshal the Butcher, the devil who, leading his legions of Daeva warriors and monsters, had laid waste to the Garden and massacred his own people.

As she lamented, Hawwah realized she knew not what had become of her other children, exiled Qayim and meek Seth, but her heart held no hope of their survival. Who could survive a scourge like this?

Around Hawwah, the embers of Ab-Leshal's desolation laid bare, dead trees and broken bodies littering the ash-covered floor. Every trace of green had been stamped out of the land, every animal and bird slaughtered or driven away by the Daeva's advance. The huts of the Valley's People, once numbering several dozens, had crumbled, smoke rising from the scorched remains of both house and inhabitant; no stone remained upon stone. In the distance, the copper automata and defenses that Seth had built lied shattered, broken, their watch ended by the Scarlet King's servants. Even the great river that had blessed the land with its fertility was gone, its bed dry but by a few puddles of poisoned water.

The Garden, home and paradise of Hawwah's people, was no more. Her children were dead or served the Daeva, and Adam, the man she loved, had died in her arms with one of Hevel's daggers through his heart.

And still, here she was, her wounds slowly healing and her soul snatched from the Brothers' Halls. She was alive… but why?

Why?

It lingered on her lips even though she knew there would be no answer, and her heart burned with the question as she raised her arms towards the heavens, as she cried out in pain and rage against the gods, against the All-Mighty who had forsaken her and her people, and denied her the right to a peaceful oblivion.


Why?

Why?


Why?



As the sun rose from beyond the horizon, Hawwah wiped the sweat from her brow, her arms and back sore after a day and a night spent toiling, digging with the tools she had fashioned from Seth's copper automata into the soft, ashen earth. Nearly three scores of bodies lied in the pit before her, their blank eyes and paling skins untouched by even the carrion birds, too scared by the source of these corpses to dare feast upon them.

Hawwah could not blame them. Even as she began shoveling dirt back into the pit, she thought about how many of the bodies she had laid to rest were beyond recognition, dismembered by Ab-Leshal's shadow-blades or hideously deformed by the Daeva sorcerer-priests' black magic… or half-eaten by the cannibalistic troops that made the backbone of the Daeva Empire.

Those she did recognize made her heart break a little more with each one she lowered into the mass grave: most were young men and women, what remained of the army her husband and Seth had assembled to defend the Valley. To them, they had been the last line of defense against the invaders from the East; to her, they were so much more: they were babies she had helped give birth to, children who had played and laughed with her own sons at the shade of the Two Trees.

The Two Trees– had they survived? Had their ancient trunks resisted the tide of the Daeva? And what of their guardians? Perhaps even gods like them were no match for the black hordes.

Hawwah decided to find out. She finished burying her people and, with a sad, resigned sigh, drove her steps towards the center of the Garden, the place where she and Adam had first met the guardians, the hill where the Two Trees stood next to one another.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

She would never speak of it, never confess it outloud, but she felt a vague sense of peace in seeing the bodies of her people; save for Adam's, none of the corpses she'd buried was one of her loved ones, none belonged to her sons. Perhaps, Hawwah thought, her children might have escaped the scouring of the Garden. On the other hand, she shuddered, the Daeva were known to take prisoners for their slave pits, for eating and for their cruel experiments.

Maybe destiny had laid upon her sons, like it had with Hevel and her, a fate far more cruel than death.


Had Hawwah had any tears left, she would have wept more sorrowfully than before at the sight that now crowned the hill at the heart of the Garden.

The Tree of Life had vanished, a wound-like hole where it once stood. The Daeva troops, no doubt informed of the Tree's nature by their general Ab-Leshal, had taken it to their capital as their most valuable captive. The Matriarchs of Daevon must already be prodding it, seeking to learn its secrets to further the Empire's expansion over Yesod.

Of the Tree of Knowledge only a charred cadaver remained, its blackened branches reaching for the heavens like drowning men begging for help. All the libraries in the world burning could never be as tragic as the loss of this Tree and its fruit, turned to ash in the Scarlet King's wake.

Hawwah dropped to her knees as tragedy finally overwhelmed her. She was alone, her people dead or enslaved, her home reduced to cinders, and the Trees, the last sparks of hope in her world, were gone. She sobbed, but no tears remained behind for her to cry, so she rocked back and forth softly as her wails died in her throat.

She did not know for how long she remained there, not caring for the passing of day into night and back again. Rain came and went, and still she kneeled there, her body shaking under the lash of the elements, but refusing to move even as the wind chilled her to the bone. Why bother seeking food or shelter? All was ashes, all was lost.

Hawwah.

That voice…

The woman raised her head, eyes wild as her numbness gave way. With much difficulty, she stood up and walked, each step taking her closer to the charred remains of the Tree of Knowledge, the source of the voice that called her name, a voice she knew better than anyone, for it was her to whom it had first spoken, it was her to whom it had first whispered its secrets. Her. Hawwah. The First Woman.

Hawwah.

The voice was a whisper in the wind, a hiss of turning pages. It smelled of green and old books, of ink and parchment. It was ancient, older than mankind, older than the world… ancient, and infinitely sorrowful.

Hawwah.

Hawwah reached the Tree of Knowledge, and caressed its petrified carcass. Slowly, her fingers drifted down its primordial trunk, a witness of millennia upon millennia, until she again knelt on the ground, her hands firm upon the ancient roots that anchored the elder Tree.

There, coiled through and around the gnarly roots of the Tree of Knowledge, its form ceaselessly shifting and contorting, a green-scaled being stared at her with remorseful yellow eyes.

"Nahash…" Hawwah whispered, the being's true name echoing through the desolate valley like thunderstrike.

Hello, old friend, the Serpent spoke, flicking its forked tongue. We have much to mourn, you and I.


They spoke for many hours, the Woman and the Serpent. Nahash provided grubs from the Tree's roots for Hawwah to eat, and let her drink the dew that formed on his scales. All the while the Woman questioned him, inquiring the All-Knowing One for the fate of her people and her world. She learned of the Serpent's flight to the Wanderers' Library, of the burning of his Tree; she shuddered with horror at the fate of those who had been dragged in chains back to Daevon, and prayed for their souls' rest in the peaceful darkness beyond. But that which she most wished to know was the fate that had befallen her three sons.

Daevon burns as we speak, the Serpent said. Ab-Leshal the Butcher has brought the capital to her knees, and soon the beheaded Empire will be in disarray, overthrown by its own slaves, consumed by the Flesh of their own hatred. The age of the Daeva is at an end.

"So there is still something of Hevel in him," Hawwah whispered, a small prayer forming on her lips for whatever gods had taken pity upon her son and granted him a moment of clarity amidst his corruption. "What is to become of him? Will he be–"

Consumed, Nahash answered sadly. It is too late for him now. His mind will be shrouded in darkness even as he strikes down the gods of Daevon. He will sow death in a hundred nations before he is locked away, his tomb buried in the desert and left to rot.

Hawwah lowered her eyes as her heart grew heavier.

"And my other children? What of my poor, exiled Qayim? What of sweet, gentle Seth?" Hawwah asked, a glimmer of hope struggling to surface from the despair that clutched her soul.

Alive, but further away than you could ever know. Qayim is damned to wander, to walk the Earth until the sun goes out. Weep not for his fate; no harm shall ever come to him. Seth is out in the West, fulfilling the All-Mighty's designs. His is a dangerous mission, but he is not without friends.

Then my children are all gone, Hawwah thought despondently. She bowed her head to the Serpent, thanking him for bringing a semblance of peace. Her children might be lost, scattered to the winds, corrupted beyond salvation, but at least they were alive. Perhaps, she hoped, they would one day return to the place of their birth, the Garden of their youth, and sow life anew. Perhaps.

"What about you, Nahash?" the Woman asked at last. "Where have you been? And where is your sister, the guardian of the Tree of Life? Did she flee with you? Will she return?"

But the Serpent did not answer. A great shadow of shame crept over its face as it averted its gaze.

"Nahash…?" Hawwah said, her voice filled with dread and fury. "Where is she? Where is the Voice Who Speaks for God? Where is Hakhana? Answer me, Serpent!"

Broken, the Serpent whispered at last, a mournful hiss that was almost lost amidst the roots of the dead Tree. They tore her apart as I fled, ripped her limb from limb, cut out her heart and shattered her skull. Then they took her, along with the Tree of Life, a Broken Goddess to crown their spoils of war. I should have stayed, tried to save her… but the Tree of Knowledge burned, and I was afraid…

Another death, another loss.

Hawwah knew gods did not die, that they always remained in one form or another, but what was the shattering of the Machine-Goddess, if not death? The Garden had lost more than just its people and its lushness: it had lost a part of its essence in Hakhana; it had lost a part of its soul.

"Why?" Hawwah asked, echoing the question she had uttered upon finding herself alive. "Why take her? Why Hakhana, why the Tree of Life and not… not…?"

And not me, or the Tree of Knowledge, the Serpent somberly punctuated. I have asked myself that same question over and over again, out of guilt, out of shame. But the answer is as mundane as could be: the Tree of Life gifts immortality, the Tree of Knowledge…

"Only sorrow," Hawwah concluded, remembering what the Tree's fruit had done to her poor Qayim's mind, how it had filled him with dread and despair, how it had driven him to… to murder his own kin. She felt something burning within her, the injustice, the cruelty of her and her people's fate finally bubbling up in her heart. She tried to contain it, to keep it at bay, but the deluge of wrath finally broke through her mouth as her eyes fixed on the lowly green being that slithered on the ground before her.

"You coward…"

Hawwah, please…

"Coward!" she screamed at the top of her lungs. "Coward! Fiend! Liar! You tempted me with your forbidden knowledge! You poisoned my son's mind with your promises, with your lies! They killed one another because of you! All this is your fault! You were meant to teach us good, to shield us and the Trees from harm! And yet you fled! You left us behind to die, to perish with the sister you claimed to love! You are no teacher, no friend to us! You are a traitor, a deceiver, an Adversary!"

Fiery tears ran down her face, carving trails on the filth of her cheeks. Her body trembled with sorrow and rage. Where before she held gratitude for the guardian of Knowledge, she now knew nothing but wrath. She wished to stamp out Nahash, to crush his diminished form beneath her heel, but something in her soul impeded her. Was it fear of him biting back? Remorse for not taking his secrets in Qayim's stead? Or had she, like the Serpent, become drawn to Knowledge, become desperate to know more?

"All my children are murderers or exiles," lamented the Woman at last. "All my people are dead by their hand, my home reduced to ashes. I have no children, no people, no home. And yet, here you are. One of two gods, returning to this blighted land. Why, Nahash? Why return here, the place of your greatest shame?"

The gods are in exodus, the Serpent answered. His voice was bitter. Could serpents weep like men? All of them, from the mightiest of Titans to the smallest of house spirits. I am to guide them through the Library, up the branches of the World Tree; this has been the task imposed on me by the All-Mighty. I have come to say goodbye.

"The gods are leaving… But, why? Did we do something to offend them? Is this their judgement on us?"

A Great Flood is coming, Hawwah, one that will wipe all magic clean off the Earth. The early age of Man, the age of the Daeva, will be forgotten, just like you forgot the Children of Night before you, like they forgot the Fair Folk before them. There is no place for gods in a world without magic, and that is why they leave; back to Olympus, back to Asgard, until the time for their return comes.

"But… but we–"

This is not punishment, friend, not divine judgement for mankind's sins. It is a necessary thing. As we speak, another shadow rises in the East, one even the Daeva could never hope to overcome. It is the shadow of they who craft the Flesh, a force that threatens all life on Yesod. Men will fight them, yes, from Memphis to Gyaros, with great machines and ancient magic, with Horus' sword and Zeus' thunderbolt, but even proud Crete and mighty Egypt will be no match for these monsters, no match for Adytum's wake. Only the Flood will wipe them out, only then will man be free to walk his own path.

Hawwah was silent. Only the wind and the Serpent's slithering disturbed the Garden's quiet. The world she knew, the world where she had been born, where she had lived and laughed and suffered and loved and died… it was going to end, and a new world with no memory of the old one would be born, a world where magic was hidden, where no one would even remember she and her people had existed…

All her questions, all the suffering she had endured, all the fear and rage she had experienced… it meant nothing… nothing at all…

Only two questions remained to be asked, then.

"Why am I alive? And what am I to do?"

The Serpent uncoiled itself from the Tree's roots, slithering up the blackened trunk until its eyes looked directly into Hawwah's.

To the first of your questions, the answer I know not. I do not know if it is the All-Mighty's design, or a mere fault in Creation. It might have some meaning, but also none at all. I beg you not to dwell on it too much. It is the latter question that matters, after all.

Nahash's eyes glistened in the light of dusk; the sun was beginning to disappear beyond the mountains. For Hawwah, such a sight had once meant a day well lived, a day serving the All-Mighty, loving Adam and their children. But now… now it brought her nothing but misery and yearning.

The world is about to be wiped clean, Hawwah. It is a fresh start. For life, for man… perhaps it will be for you as well. My failures and the failures of others are not your own; you need not be punished for the sins of man and god. If you still wish my counsel, this wisdom I grant you: start anew, like the world, and live your life in quiet peace.

The Serpent slithered further up the Tree of Knowledge, scales reflecting the dying sun's rays. It kept ascending until it reached the highest branches of the ancient Tree.

My time nears, Hawwah. I must go. If you wish, I can take you to the Library. There you may find some comfort while you decide your path. I wish I could offer you more, but it is my penance to know and not interfere.

Hawwah stared at him silently. Words died in her throat before she could speak them, her heart weary after so many tribulations, after so much suffering. What options did she have besides staying here, in the middle of nothing, or going into the unknown, following the Serpent? Was this all that was left for her? Death or abandonment? She was alone, and no matter which path she chose, alone she would remain.

No, there had to be another path, another way for her to traverse. The Serpent knew not what laid ahead for her, for mankind, but perhaps… perhaps she could know, perhaps she could glimpse into the future, know what fate had destined her for, if only…

At last, the answer dawned upon her, and the Woman's eyes gleamed with newfound purpose.

"Knowledge has brought me and my loved ones nothing but sorrow," she voiced. "It has been the death of my land, the bane of my people. But knowledge may yet prove useful to me, to create my own path in this world, and in the one to follow it. Look on me, Adversary: I am Hawwah, First and Last Woman of the People of the Two Trees. Look on and grant me the Knowledge most forbidden, the Knowledge of Things Yet to Come, the Knowledge of that which might happen or never at all. This I ask of you, Ancient Deceiver, Prince of Lies. Atone for your cowardice, to me if to no one else."

Nahash's body uncoiled, his head descending from the Tree of Knowledge like the first time he had spoken to Hawwah. He gazed at her with pain in his eyes, and spoke again with his ancient, regretful voice.

What you ask of me comes at a price, First Woman. It is Knowledge I swore never to bestow to man or god, for it brings agony to all touched by it. It is my burden to bear, as has been since the dawn of time; not a gift to grant, but a curse.

"I am already cursed, Serpent," Hawwah said defiantly. "My life ended with Adam's, my heart torn and parted between my sons. I am alive, but only because the All-Mighty refuses my right to die, to let my bones rest with my people's. It may be that I am to walk the world forever without rest, like my eldest son; that I shall become a bringer of death and misery, like my middle offspring; or perhaps I am meant bring this world hope, like Seth, my youngest child. No matter my path, no matter my destiny, I am cursed to walk it alone, and so it shall be. Grant me this Knowledge, so that I may do with it what I will."

The Serpent hesitated for a moment, as the Knowledge Hawwah asked for raged within his mind. It mattered not what future he gazed upon; for her, they all spelled bitterness and anguish. But the Woman had made her choice, and Nahash the Serpent knew nothing else would sate her. A prayer had been raised to the shunned god of the Garden, and it would be answered.

I cannot promise this Knowledge will bring you peace. The future was not meant for men or gods to know. But this is your path to walk; only you, and you alone, will decide what to do with this cursed gift of mine. It is poison–

The Serpent struck without warning, its fangs biting into Hawwah's breast, deep into her beating heart.

–and as poison it shall be bestowed.

With a hiss, Nahash recoiled back into the Tree's branches, and watched as Hawwah's face turned pale. The Woman had barely had any time to process what had happened before a pain unlike any other made her stumble, the Serpent's poison already spreading through her body. She tried looking at Nahash's green visage, to lift an accusing finger at him, but the sensation of burning, of flaying, of eyes being plucked and bones being broken was too much for her to bear. She stumbled again, and collapsed to the ground, writhing for a few seconds before lying still.

Nahash the Serpent, the Ancient Deceiver, the Adversary, looked sadly on the filthy, emaciated, naked creature that lied at the foot of the Tree of Knowledge. He held no hope of this being atonement for his failings, but his heart implored the All-Mighty that it at least opened for Hawwah the path which she sought. Her future might not be happy, but it might bring much needed closure.

It was time to say goodbye.

He tasted the Garden's air one last time with his forked tongue, old memories floating in the dusk. They were memories of lushness and peace, of children's laughter and his sister's company, of a better time, a better world. On all this, he pondered, and let go.

As the sun finally hid beyond the horizon, the Serpent held its own tail in its mouth, a perfect circle upon the dead Tree of Knowledge. A bright flash of green light, and it was gone, off to the Library, off to its penance.

The Garden had been the Serpent's place… but no more.


On the ground, Hawwah slept an intranquil slumber, her mind and heart straining under the Serpent's cursed gift. She struggled, trying not to drown in the immensity of her new Knowledge, trying not lose herself in infinity. She gasped for air, for respite, but the poison would not let her surface, her arms desperately flailing against the great tide. At last, her strength of will gave way, and the black sea of Knowledge swallowed her whole.

Visions flashed before her eyes as she drowned, the infinite paths laid before her, the many destinies of Creation burrowing into her very soul. Were these sights of things that would happen? Or of those of futures never to arise?

She saw the Flood and the Veil, the hiding of magic, the advent of reason, the forgetting of the Old World. Before her played the march of progress, the rise and fall of empires by force of sword and mushroom cloud, the defiling of nature, the persecution of the masses.

She saw the tears on the Veil, the wonders and monsters that poured through them, and the struggles of those who sought to lock them away. She learned of the perpetuation of the Daeva through their unholy book, and the nightmares their release would bring.

Her eyes gazed on a thousand futures where the Veil fell, where magic returned to the world. Some were beautiful and hopeful, some dreadful and full of woe.

She saw a time where the secrets of magic were exposed to mankind before it was ready, where powers raced to point their own abominations at each other, fueled by unyielding mistrust. Man and fey annihilated each other in a holocaust of fire and black magic.

She saw a world where the many nations of the Earth came together in peace, where Fair Folk and Children of Night and all the creatures of myth and legend returned from their exile, to live with mankind as equals. The peoples of Earth reached for the heavens, and an Empire from beyond the black void welcomed them among the stars.

Eternity had devoured her, her mind lost to the Cosmos. She saw the Truth of all things, the infinite possibilities and realities that made up the great World Tree. She lived a thousand lives, swam through the endless tapestry of Creation, traversed every Way and world and future…

At last, she woke from her dreams, and her eyes glistened with purpose, with Truth…

With hatred.


The Tree of Knowledge burned.

Thick, long flames caressed what remained of its trunk, of its once lush branches, finishing the task the Daeva had started. A thick smoke emanated from the pyre, the all-encompassing stench of burning pages and evaporating ink rising towards the night sky as if trying to smother it. The crackling of its burning bark was like the last screams of a dying man, desperate and futile.

Around the pyre, the Woman once named Hawwah danced, her mind in deep trance through the Truth granted and the smoke inhaled. Her ritual was a most blasphemous one, one that even the demons that crawled beneath the earth would frown upon. But what did she care for gods and demons, for men or monsters? The Tree burned, but the Knowledge was no longer in it.

An infinity of realms and Ways and peoples had flashed before as she slept her cursed slumber, imprinting her with all their achievements and joys, all their conflicts and lamentations. She was the sum of all she had witnessed, of all the paths she and anyone had or would ever walk.

She had seen it all through the Serpent's eyes… and hated it.

As she swam through the Serpent's poisonous dream, the Woman had known what remembrance Creation would have of her and her people. Their names would change, molded by tongue and culture. Their roles in the story would be transformed, remade to suit the values and motives of others, their legacies trampled and their achievements forgotten. In the end, no one would truly remember who they had been, the great deeds they had made, or the suffering they had experienced. No one would recall their stories, no one would mourn the passing of the People of Two Trees.

And her… hers would be a legacy of hatred and resentment. Her name would be synonymous with sin, with disobedience, with a paradise lost. She would be to blame for mankind's damnation, her name invoked to condemn and rape and oppress others like her. She would be the mother of humanity, but also the mother of sin, and it would be through her that mankind would justify its evils.

And for those reasons, Creation must pay.

Nahash's poison had bestowed the Woman with something more than prescience, something that not even the Serpent might understand it had gifted: it had revealed to her the secret of transcendence, a form of immortality unlike any the Tree of Life could provide. Knowledge was a living thing; it could never truly be destroyed, only forgotten, rendered dormant until curious minds found their way to it. She, in knowing all futures, had become as knowledge, and as such, immortal. Her time to be remembered would come.

The Woman danced and swirled and chanted, her body changing as the ritual neared completion, as sickly blue flames roared and rose like a fiery column around the Tree. Her eyes became empty, vacant, polished orbs of marble on her hardened face. Her olive skin turned the palest white, the ghoulish tone of cracked porcelain. From her gaping mouth, only black, inhuman words poured out.

At last, the dancing and the chanting stopped. A final act remained for her to perform, a sacrifice of flesh unto the flames. The Woman stood still for the briefest of instants– and stepped into the flames' embrace.

As the fire consumed her, the Woman felt no pain, no fear. She hugged the Tree of Knowledge, under whose shade she had been tempted, liberated. All roads had led her here.

She would be forgotten, trampled, defamed. But she would live on, sustained by myth and religion, by gospel and prayer, until the day in which her Truth would be known. And when that day came, when Creation found itself basking in joy and harmony, she would strike them down, her Truth spread in dreams through the World Tree, a nightmare to sow madness and despair. She would bring Creation tumbling down, and all souls would Know her name.

The flames coalesced on her, devouring her and the Tree of Knowledge, reducing flesh and wood and bone to cinders, until nothing remained of Tree or Woman, until the flames died out and darkness reigned over the Earth…

Above the spoiled Garden, the stars, uncaring, looked on.








































































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