Sketches of Hariolus, City of Sages

Hear the sages of Hariolus, for their words are terrible and precise. Their profound utterances are plentiful and reveal nature’s true guise.

On the dead of the night, a man ran on the streets with his eyes closed and muttering the same word repeatedly whilst wringing his hands. He looked around himself, as if being given chase, even as his surroundings were completely still. A gentle warm breeze caressed bundles of cut tall grass that had been left to dry on a nearby house’s roof terrace; the nervous man climbed the stairs and sat next to them, grabbing a tuft of the half-desiccated vegetation and clutching it close to his chest. He produced a small metallic syringe from a satchel he carried across his chest and, shaking, held it above his head and against the moon. He shook it and watched the dark particles swirling in the orange-coloured liquid; with a sigh, he rolled up a sleeve of his light tunic, revealing an arm dotted with dark round wounds, looked for the vein and pressed the needle against it. A wave of nausea soon followed and his shaking stilled; soon it would be replaced with the familiar bout of stomach cramps. He stood up, feeling his finger tips pulsating and heavy.

Willingness of the flock, birds flying in quick succession, swarming around the high-ceilinged cave. An old man holding a knife grabbed a crow, mid-flight, and slit its throat. The blood poured down on the ground; the man undressed and smeared the thick liquid over his sex; suddenly, he was not a man anymore but a young woman, an elfin adult of dark skin and alabaster lips. With another incision she opened the bird’s torso, cracked its frail light bones and with her delicate fingers began to read its entrails as one might have done with a holy tome. What she saw she cannot ever tell a soul, but it was enough for her to throw the mangled corpse to the ground where a fire cracked and popped. She would not eat the cooked flesh, as the ritual demanded, not this time. Her lips still red with blood, she dressed in the clothes of a miles and left the faraway hut, the door open behind her to welcome wild and hungry human and beast alike.

Searching eyes and inquisitive surveillance, the scrying that beats the soul to the madness of the universe; we felt our secrets laid bare to merchants and our lives violated at every step we took and every word we said. Tell me, foreigner, are you familiar with the impression that a perverted old man is there behind you at all times, looking through your eyes and smelling through your nose?

For one of us – the first, perhaps – each invasion was evident: she would scream at the walls of invisible eyes that she believed surrounded her and began to speak in tongues, hoping that the diviners would keep their distance. Instead this only fed their greed and curiosity: the robed men inside the Hallowed Caves pored over ancient tomes and wrote treatises on the hidden insights of asemantic utterances. The poor woman’s words were scoured by fledgling soothsayers in search of omens; by dowsers who interpreted hear words as directions to a new vein of spice that lay hidden in a mine thought empty; by a seer who glimpsed Hariolus’s legate haruspex being immortalised in a golden statue; and by a spiritualist whose spirit revealed that spice, once metabolised and expelled from the body as urine, did not disappear but instead became ever more potent if immediately reused. “Oh hail the piss drinkers of Hariolus, enlightened sages immersed in perpetual showers of gold” was one of the last coherent utterances to exit this unwilling sibyl’s mouth.


As she drew her last breath, words once again sprouted from her. A request, mumbled in a barely coherent babble: “I am to be interred in a box of lead and my blood must be replaced with liquid lead. The eyes of the sages shall be forever blocked from spying my soul and imbibing my thoughts into theirs or from using my countenance to inspire concoctions refined from their sperm and their spells. You, little man with hands like claws and a tongue like a frog’s: I will profess no oracle, but keep your balls empty, otherwise the spice will accumulate and you will fall prey to the sickness of divination. You will become one of them, you can become one of them unless you’re an eunuch […].

The man furiously scratched new names for himself on the bare wooden walls of his home. Naked and covered in his own filth, reeking of stale piss and unwashed sweat and candida-ridden crotch, he smiled underneath a carpet of matted hair and back fur, howling whimpers of pleasure whilst carefully and quickly drawing the shape of each letter on the wall.

These were not symbols known to his neighbours or even to himself: squiggly lines, equally rough and sophisticate, whose curves echoed of frightening pasts and despicable futures, wholly illegible to anyone who was not aware of the writer’s original intent. Like a thylacine, these words galloped through the walls, penetrating stone and wood with the mindless intent of lust.

Translation is always a failed enterprise: the verb is chaos disguised as meaning and a slave to subjectivity (which is a fallacy) and history (which is but a veil that we use to obscure the terrible spectre of meaninglessness). Saints and martyrs held no truth to our man, as they were based in the myth of a saviour and our man wished for nothing less than annihilation.

He took a step back and shone torchlight on the intricate patterns he had drawn. A tapestry of lines intermingling in orgiastic fashion […] The warning was a blessing for those who seek an internal continuity that cannot be deciphered nor analysed.

“All hallowed sages of Hariolus, whose words are steeped in the knowledge of ages past and to come, hear my plea.

“I have travelled from the cold countries of the south, traversed tundra and ravine, then forest and jungle, tirelessly atop many a beast of burden, enduring sweltering heat and freezing winds […] And so it is that I now bow at your knees and ask for your wisdom.

“I do not see a nod, I cannot hear your reply and your covered faces leave your expressions a secret, so I shall continue my entreaty, but please stop me if you so desire: I am nothing if not your humble servant.”

The room was silent for a few minutes: none of the sages moved and no sign was given for the man to be escorted out, leaving the whole chamber contaminated by an unnatural stillness coloured with expectation and fear. Sickly grey light shone from gleaming stones affixed to the walls, giving an undead pallor to the beseecher’s face and lending the armoured guards a foreboding appearance of sharp angles, metal and hide. The rich man who had travelled to hear the sages’ oracle avoided looking at the wise robed men and stared at the decorated floor that swirled with iridescent shapes and ideograms from the language of auspices.


The rich man mulled over the cryptic answer as he was accompanied down another corridor with plastered walls decorated with precious gems and barely visible hand-drawn patterns. “We are capable only of being what we are and that remains our most unforgivable sin,” the old muffled voice had said. The women — for no man was accepted into the military of the city — were forceful in their manners and did not give him any chance to peek inside the many rooms that they passed by. Soon, he was out in the bustling streets of Hariolus, city of the all-seeing, all-knowing sages. Behind him, the guards closed the heavy gold-laden curtains that gave into the Hallowed Caves of the haruspices.

Weep and respect the all-seeing and all-knowing sages of Hariolus. The harshness of their linguistic excesses permeate your every act; your mind is theirs and this is your willing pact.

A child fell to the ground and scraped her knee: the sage saw it and knew it would have happened; he saw the surprise and anger and fear inside the child’s mind flare up, only to be replaced by pain.

A pregnant woman walked by and he knew her baby would be a stillborn acephalous monstrosity; he felt how her despair would drive her to madness; and yet he said nothing, greeted her with a courteous nod smile and touched the woman’s oversized abdomen, uttering words of comfort and fortune.

Weep and respect the all-seeing and all-knowing sages of Hariolus. Through mists of past and future they enact, leaving the integrity of your self ransacked.

The child, the sage knew, was the daughter of a merchant who had sold Hariolus’s prised substance to smugglers. A well-meaning chemist arrived with a healing poultice that smelled of sweet almonds. He knelt by the little girl and gave her a ring of fried peanut butter whilst he covered his nose and heated the poultice. After applying a generous amount over the open wound, he smiled, gently touched her head and left. As he walked away, he nodded at the robed sage of wise Hariolus.

The sage saw in his mind’s eye how the woman’s madness would lead her to blame the sages for her misfortune – in the middle of a crowd, atop a makeshift stage made with wooden boxes, she screams and weeps: “are their auguries a farce? Or do they know about the treacheries of fate and still decide to do nothing?” With barely a moment of concentration, a guard receives word of an urgent message she must deliver and the sage could only shake his covered head as the careless miles rushed by, mounted on a running beast, trampled the woman, crushing her skull in a brutal spray of blood.

Weep and respect the all-seeing and all-knowing sages of Hariolus.