Thursday, June 16, 2011

VI. The Gimbal Cross

           The Trumpeter awoke to shouts and chaos, as always now that he travelled with the impetuous swordsman known as the Fencer.  Uiha moved with Hues frantic efforts to staunch the blood flowing from her chest, while the Fencer brought his addled head up to fix the scene with those damn reasonable grey eyes of his as the others scrambled to their parts in the mad production of life. 
            This was why the musician had envisioned a different setting than cold, violent Winter.  Looking past the dying and the conflicted the rolling hills showed white with snow and purple with the coarse grass capable of soaking in the anemic sunlight.  Distantly the sea, as calm and motionless as poor Uiha, mentioned itself in fits of grey, while the tall spire of singular Haga Ephos reached up its artificial peaks through the shrouded sky.  The Trumpeter could still remember the sands.
            The instrument for the telling floated before the mad musician.  The Gimbal Cross, as it had presented itself to him.  It had come and took their minds, those of his companions, but not his.  He would like to think that his was too unruly, too full of strange odds and ends to be easily processed by the dream machine.  As it turned out it wasnt who he was, but what he carried.  The Trumpet, the instrument of solemn duty of his now-vanished people, was of the same make as the silver box, the enabler of the present scene.
            He had reached out and saw the light resonating in the endless space within the cube.  What it reflected it understood and what it understood it collected, going about this duty since forever.  Yet, with the silver Trumpet in his hands the Trumpeter had been shown these workings, and his broken mind saw the colors for what they were.  He descended into a past dream and took the others with him.  He was a sharing sort.
            Perhaps he had been carried away by the warmth of it all, the sand, the power, the perfumed cushions and pleasant company.  If he admitted this he would be admitting to a lie.  He enjoyed being in control of time for a change, rather than its subject.  Winter bore down on its hapless peoples, determining their lives, allowing little, granting less.  The Trumpeter determined to give each of his fellows the dream they wanted, within his own, as was sensible.  And how this went wrong.
            The Fencer rose bleeding, angry, desperate to not be in the wrong, yet unable to deny the dead woman.  The old man, in his role as the high priest, had brained him with his holy cane, but still the swordsmans infectious words had done their damage.  Omya had believed and now sweet, marked Uiha was dead.  The Trumpeter shrugged with the pain of acceptance.
            It was a mechanism for dreams, a collector of sorts, said the Trumpeter as he sat down on a patch of dried grass and began cleaning the Trumpet.  You are all welcome.
            The band took a few beats to grow still in the face of the mad comment.  The Fencer, weakened from the concussion, swaggered against the fuming rage of the warrior woman Omya as she attempted to redress her own wrong by committing another, skewering the swordsman whose advice she had followed.  Hue had grown ashen as the life within Uiha had vanished and the old man Aglyss was busy ministering his worries to his invisible gods above.  Only the Fencer managed the smile a little.
            After I make lawful revenge upon the cursed duelist I will give like to you, sorcerer, hissed Omya towards the Trumpeter, infuriated at her own complicity in the act, feeling terribly used.
            Shouldnt we return to your village for another idiotic trial and sentencing? grinned the Fencer sardonically.  I would hate to be cause for any more broken taboo.
            Then you could be given the same punishment as I, said Hue as he laid Uihas body on a half-melted snow bank.  The young man seemed amazed at the blood which now complemented his already crimson appearance.  Perhaps we could be told to execute each other.
            I will now invoke the eighty beings to see after the likewise many-faceted parts of this childs soul.  With this old Aglyss began a frantic muttering which overran the party’s venomous silence.  In the end it was Omya who lost her nerve.
            The spear which the warrior woman brought up to the Fencer was heavy bladed, suited for downing large and dangerous prey.  So when she lunged the Fencer caught the crude iron end with a hand calloused and scarred.  Red showed as he turned the point away and drew his own weapon, swaying, a bit uneasy on his feet.  Omya swung the weapon now in a great cleaving arc, which the swordsman batted away with a sharp clang. 
            I have no intention of accepting the blind judgments of your people, smirked the Fencer.  So if I have to kill you now just to prove this point then, well, better than succumbing to the brainless, punitive entertainments which your people inflict on each other in their ignorance.
            Omya seethed with the insult and spun her spear upwards and suddenly struck again.  The Fencers instincts were quick; he blocked the swing but suddenly realized he faced the point of the weapon, which the brave fluidly jabbed at his face.  He moved enough that the blade didnt find his skull but instead suffered a gash along his shoulder.  With a curse he snapped the haft of the spear and made to finish off the damned woman in front of him.
            How did all this come to be? asked Hue now that his shock had receded a bit.  Omya dropped what was left of her spear and drew a dagger; the two fighters made no indication that they could hear the strange man in red, but he continued on.  How did Uiha get that wound?  Which one of you lunatics did this thing?
            Go on, Im listening, lied the Trumpeter despondently while he watched the duel.  Omya lunged for the Fencer, who sidestepped and let the flat of his weapon fall across one of her bare arms.  Her shriek of alarm and pain mingled with the ecclesiastical murmurs from the self-declared priest. 
            At first all I saw or knew was a silver void, shouted the red-clad man against the noises of continued hostilities.  Then a center of things became clear, into which numerous rays of color descended, some indescribable with the language I have at my disposal.  I felt a presence insinuate itself upon me.
            A presence? asked the Fencer, letting his curiosity get the best of him.  He only just managed to dodge another of Omyas desperate attacks.
            I can describe it in no other way, said Hue.  It is difficult to describe, like the colors the experience was groundless.  I know I interacted with the thing, though it wasnt quite like speech, and not quite like artifice.  There was an alien quality to the experience; vast, strange concepts lay just out of my minds reach.
            And then what? asked the Fencer, who by now had Omya disarmed and immobilized with the point of his sword against her neck.  She fumed at the state of things.
            There was noise, blood, we were back here and this woman was dead, he said, gesturing to Uihas cooling form.
            Lies, hes a murderer, this is all his doing, said Omya.  Phosians have strange powers, as is described by their cursed hair and eyes.  It is most likely that he brought the demonic cube, trapped us inside, and compelled us to kill each other.
            What do you say to that?  The Fencer grimaced with renewed pain in his head from the wound.  Omya dashed free and pulled the blade of her spear from the wet snow, but was suddenly interested in different hostilities.
            Its his fault, she gestured to Hue.  His brain is warped by the strange energies of Haga Ephos and from communing with the frozen things found on the slopes.  To listen to his words is to allow in the same damnation which has mutated his form.
            I didnt kill anyone, began Hue sadly.  The fight was quickly leaving the young man and he seemed to resolve himself to whatever happened next.  But what does that matter; youll believe what youll believe, frozen in the Riddle of Winter.
            The reasoning took the Fencer by surprise.  He grew angry and solemn, but he couldnt condemn the crimson man.  He was determined to know more before making any judgments, and even those thoughts were further cooled by the farcical trial which had brought them all together in the first place.
            Lets go then, said the Fencer putting his weapon away and testing his bloody mat of hair gingerly.  We can think along the way and maybe some sense can come of all this.
            Our lives grow ever more complicated, smiled the Trumpeter as he stood up.  You know the next moment will smash into us before we can ever fully grasp our situation.
            Yes, and by then we will have no cause to exact petty revenge on our fellow traveler, which is certainly in his favor, if not ours, reasoned the Fencer.
            Indeed, it wouldnt do to drag another brightly plumed, though dead, bird into another village.
            They buried their dead first.  Purple grass gave way to black, pungent earth.  The Fencer beheld a vision of his other memories, the garden soaked with rainwater and choked with flower petals.  Bittersweet, the recollection passed, and the marked woman was buried on the slope of a hill from which both distant seas could be seen.  Aglyss began a eulogy but the others tramped off in search of their destination.  Not much was said.
            At some point the cube unfolded itself from the group’s minds.  These memories, like any tactile medium, were easy enough to manipulate through the strange metaphysics it commanded.  It was memories it was after, strange light, paths glimmering to the past and winnowing the future from the raw Lattice.  The long task continued.  It had beheld strange new light paths, but after eons of collecting there was little for it to comment on and no purpose to the exercise.  Crossing back along its path of strange futures the Gimbal Cross continued on its way with a new passenger.  She wondered all the while at her body being left behind, the grand stretch of infinities being shown, debating which one she should explore first.
            Tumbling purple hills stretched out before them with soft blankets of snow clinging to the valleys and away from the sunlight.  The day showed overcast, though there were hints of blue sky beyond.  Wild clouds moved in layered procession all about the travelers.  Dark mote birds rode the updrafts and went about their business.  There was no sign of any habitation, though the lands were rich in tolem tubers, wild snow wheat, fey berries, and other, more exotic plants, unknown to the two men from the polar south. 
            That night they camped out under the stars, except Omya, who cowered on a far hill to avoid the unsightly stare of Haga Ephos.  The clouds had passed and only the strange lights above gave light, the moon yet to rise or merely absent, as was its want. 
            Now is our chance Fencer, whispered the Trumpeter after some consideration.  We can leave our warden behind and make Phos on our own.  Im certain they will welcome us after a proper introduction by Hue.
            I wouldnt be so sure, stated the crimson man flatly as he stared to the distant shores of night.
            I was fair with you before and now youll be fair with us; what exactly was this murder they accuse you of?  The Fencer was testing his bruised skull.  They had come across a small, fast stream an hour or so before making camp, and there he had cleaned the blood from his scalp, along with the help of a litany of curses. 
            I was traveling south on an errand of whimsy, began the young man carefully, choosing his words.  After a few days I met the western sea and a coastline and a man fishing with a great net.  The net was of such size that one simply casts it out just before the tide recedes and then pulls it in after the waters return.  The action of the waves drags the thing far out into the depths, where the best catches lie.
            Hue stopped his telling.  In the falling starlight his features grew troubled before he continued.
            I hid and watched the man, trying to learn what I could of his actions.  Few in Phos need fish, convenience conspires to keep us well fed, and most would prefer to concern themselves with the Telling.
            The Telling? asked the Trumpeter with an interest in all proper nouns.  Hue continued his story, ignoring the question.
            Engaged in pulling in his catch the man found tragedy along with the fish.  There was a great frothing of the sea and the fisherman fought with his net.  Suddenly he was pulled off his feet, into the shallows and I ran after, which would prove to be my undoing.  When I arrived the fisherman was tangled in with his own catch, screaming warding words against his mindless taboos.  I tried to save him, but he was too caught up and the thing out at sea was too strong.  I lost him, but in turning back to shore I found the other village fishermen watching.  That was my crime.
            The Trumpeter laughed at the absurdity of it all while Hue, drifted on the memory and glowered at the heavens.  Despite his throbbing skull he felt some sympathy for the youth; he too had been the victim of community madness and he scratched the scars on his neck where the stone of shame once was chained.
Why did you leave Phos in the first place? he asked finally, jumping to the blank spot on the tales canvas.  You yourself said there was no want there, then why leave?
            You will see shortly, responded Hue as he snapped out of whatever cold place his heart had sunk.  Right now we should escape while that hag Omya is resting.
            The Fencer sighed at the delay.  He was intent on reaching the fabled mountain.  His taciturn ambivalence which had forced the pair northwards from the civilized lands was revealing its prescience.  A gut feeling told him that some portion of the Riddle of Winter could be found somewhere near the strange village of Phos.  Once before, when he was escaping his fellow narwhal hunters and meeting the Trumpeter for the first time, he had chosen a path out of sheer bloody-mindedness, up and over the Wondering Mountains and down into the forbidden lands.  Now he had that same inkling, though he could give no specifics. 
            They made their preparations for a quiet exit while the stars looked on.  Aglyss was awoken with little excitement and he nodded in understanding; he was a man well used to slipping away from authority.
            By now the moon was in full brightness, casting the dreaming hills into glares of snow and pools of darkness.  They hadnt gone far when a tall shadow barred their path.
            My ancestors came and whispered in my dreams, said Omya with solemn rage.
            You talk too loud Trumpeter, sighed the Fencer before directing his voice at the warrior woman.  Care to come along to the forbidden village of Phos?  I hear it is a cursed place, full of madmen and sorcerers.  It is to our deaths that we venture, but we have our punishments, and you are welcome to share in them.
            Omya, partially disarmed, exhausted, alone against their gathered company, stood silent for a time.  It was obvious that her net of taboo, law and compulsions was pulling tight against her will.  Faced with such a conflict she responded with silence.  The Fencer smiled at the effect that a bit of travel and strange company has on ones assumptions.
            I still have a task to perform concerning you all, she said with determination.  So let us make for damned Phos.
            The Trumpeter tried to explain that there were no more hells and hence very little chance of damnation, but it soon became clear that she was working on an entirely personal underworld.  The band tromped wearily to the north as the east grew in fire and color.  Caught, they had no reason to set out early, but each was increasingly anxious to make their destination, as if a strange force was pulling them forward one step at a time.

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