Thursday, December 19, 2013

II. The Offering

Sacrifice is the catalyst.  It is year zero, the creation, a birth pang and the worship of entropy.  At the moment of loss everything which has come before narrows to a point and from that point the future opens up, growing.
            Any kind of flesh will do.  Bones, blood, meat, rotten or fresh, willing or not, all are fitting deposits.  Apply the seed, bath it in the offering, and plant it in the snow.  From this act great things are born.
            Don’t let nostalgia stay your hand or allow sentiment to reduce the flow of blood.  Such is the path of starvation.  It is natural for those being given over to new life to combat this enchantment, but not everything natural is correct.  Such protests promise a vigorous offering.

Amongst the pale gold of afternoon slanting in from the dying storm the strangers—nomads by their look--approached.  Together they were a rainbow, each silk-wrapped figure part of a colorful phase started by the lead creature.  The taller beings—it was difficult to determine gender under all the scarves, coats and robes—took up their narrow spears and fanned out.
            The Fencer unfolded from his snowy tomb, drawing his enchanted blade in one smooth gesture.  The black icicle caught the sunlight and dropped the temperature to a bone-chilling level.
            Through all this action the lead man moved not at all, his face shrouded by an azure hood and scarf of vermillion.  From atop his staff the little frog gave another deep chirp, to which the Trumpeter responded, having not moved from the snow caked upon him by the storm. 
            At the sound the braves moved to attack, the Fencer responding in kind, but their leader held up a hand and said “Stop.”
            There was no tone of urgency, only the surety of leadership.  His voice was gravely and dry, but it was enough to still the violence the many seemed so eager to make.
            One of the braves, his eyes glimmering beyond his silks, hissed some words in a strange language to the leader, who nodded.
            “He says you should kill us,” translated the Fencer.
            “You speak the words of the silken nomads?” asked the man with the frog, tilting his head a bit but not revealing any of his features. 
            “The language of violence is my common tongue,” smirked the swordsman, eager to prove his fluency.
            The lead nomad spoke a word to his band and stroked his frog as if to calm it.  Spears dropped and the braves were silent in their disapproval. 
            “We only wish to trade,” sighed the chief.
            “With us?” asked the Trumpeter as he stood, attempting to dust the frozen snow from his coat without success.
            “No,” said the elder.  “We make for the town to the west.  Your song coaxed us off the trail, so now we are robbed of time.  Night will come before we make Jomoth’orr.”
            He then tilted his head up, so that a lone, green eye gleamed from beneath his hood.
            “What sort of business do you two have here?”
            “Green business,” explained the Trumpeter while the Fencer stared down one of the braves. 
            “Green?” asked the nomad.
            “Of living things,” continued the musician, who distracted himself with the sun. 
            “The only living things here are white.”
            “This is a color of the mind.  Take your frog, for instance.  She’s got a tone of white, but there are shades of color haunting this whiteness.”
            “So,” began the chief, letting the word draw out, “you’re wise men?  After the secret of the jungle, perhaps?”
            The Trumpeter shrugged and nodded, wondering if there would be a fight now or later.  He had little interest in burying more bodies.  It would be dark soon enough and then the Fencer’s cold reason would be both of theirs.
            “Then we’re after the same thing, after a fashion.  Come with to Jomoth’orr, there life, of any color you wish, is for trade.  The people there make many forays into the White Jungle.  Their town is built from that bounty.  We can each make whatever fortune it is that we dare not speak to each other.”
            The afternoon turned the icy valley metallic as together they progressed to the mountain town.  Steel ravines ran eastwards, to the distant and legendary ocean, while the hills became pale silver on one side and dull lead on the other.  Alchemy came with the transit of day, as base metals phased into gold at noon, only to grow common again with the setting sun.
            Upon its perch the frog, the Onutut, stayed quiet.  She was of a snow-loving species, only singing for a mate during storms and as such was useful for keeping the nomads together during whiteouts.  Feeling bad for his false courtship the Trumpeter spent the trip catching snow flies to feed the creature.
            For the Fencer there was less pleasant company.  One of the braves repeatedly walked at his side in order to hem the swordsman in with the band.  The man would pull down his scarf to reveal a slim, youthful face full of mischief.  With a derisive giggle he’d then sprint off ahead, leading the way, laughing his dominance.
            Amongst themselves the nomads spoke their own, soft language, punctuated with staccato consonant leaps and starts.  When the Fencer and the Trumpeter attempted to converse with them in Baranti the braves would only shake their heads before returning to their own discourse.  Only the chieftain seemed to know the trade tongue, but he wasn’t the sort of person who made easy conversation.  The band murmured amongst themselves, a world away.
            In the aftermath of the storm the valley went cold.  Despite the sun the nomads shivered and wrapped their silks close.  If the Trumpeter noticed he made no complaints and the Fencer considered this the first pleasing development of the whole expedition.  He breathed easier in the dry air.
            Then something caught his legs.  Down in a tumble he went, rolling up snow like a boulder only to spring up with mad anger in his eyes. 
            Laughing above him was the eager brave from before, brandishing his narrow spear, ready to prove himself.  The nomads continued on, battling for daylight.
            The Fencer sneered and with a calm grace wiped the snow from his seal skins as he rejoined the band.  More laughter followed him, like the obnoxious wild dogs which prowled the wilderness.
            “You’ll be short a man soon,” he informed the chieftain.
            “Coyat’oc has the smiling disease,” replied the nomad as he strode tirelessly on.  The closer they came to the town the less they saw, for a wall surrounded the place at a great distance.
            Too fatigued to argue over such ignorance the Fencer lost himself in the surroundings.  The sun was nearly gone over the western cubes, sending the day to an early grave.  He almost relished the thought of more cold.
            He strode out from the party to the north, watching the far jungle.  Despite its name and color he couldn’t help feeling Clea’s presence there.  Maybe it was the fragrance of all the wildflowers or the way the storm left green clouds edging the eastern horizon.  In fact, he thought he saw something at the border of the jungle.
            His thoughts vanished as pain shot through his thigh, a bright prick followed by warm, wet blood.  Stumbling, he looked up into the face of laughter.
            Coyat’oc held his spear point down and that point was red.  He meant to prove himself against the outsider.  The wound was shallow, just a needle jab of disrespect escalating towards the presumed conclusion.  Here he made his name.
            Now the Fencer drew his blade and the nomad flinched.  All the heat from his giddy head was soaked up by the nightmare sword.  As the sun vanished he saw the weapon known as Dhala, a faceted jewel of dark ice, flickering with indigo and midnight hues and set with red gems easily mistaken for eyes.  Laughter faded, taking the smile with it.
            And then the Fencer walked on by him, doing his best not to limp.  It wouldn’t do to kill a guide on the way to a destination, not with night falling.  No, he’d save that luxury for their arrival.
            Coyat’oc’s peace was short lived.  Indeed he did have the smiling disease and it regrew on his face.  He spoke loudly with his fellows. 
            The Fencer could tell bragging by the tone and his temper flared.  Focusing on the cold, he managed to keep his eyes on the town.  Houses stared back with glass windows full of firelight.
            It was just past sunset when they spotted the sphere.  It lay across a slight gully of old ice to the south.  The band stopped and their speech became animated.
            “What’s the delay?” asked the Trumpeter.
            “We are deciding,” was the head nomad’s response as he fielded a barrage of questions from his men.
            An old brave was chosen from the group and with his spear began making his approach towards the orb.  The reasoning was simple: there could be profit in the unknown but it wouldn’t do to lose a younger, stronger member of the tribe to a foolish errand.  Realizing this, the Fencer was quick to follow.
            The old nomad found this shadow man tough to discourage.  No matter how he hissed or shooed the swordsman was right there with him.  Resigned to this partnership they jumped the gully and approached the sphere with weapons drawn.
            Eyes straining in the waning light, the two men thought it might be a snow oddity formed by chance winds during the storm.  It stood about three meters tall and was irregular now that they saw it.  Snow had formed on the windward face but the rest was white as well.  A different kind of white.
            Testing the object with the blunt end of his spear the old brave found the globe to be frozen in place by snow, much older than from that last storm.  Turning his weapon around he prodded the matter with the point, which sunk in.  Red trickled for a moment, then the hill they were next to rose up into the air.
            The Fence moved faster than the thing, that which seemed of snow but wasn’t, a mimic set in a key of white.  It was all hairy legs and the glint of dark eyes as he leapt to the old brave’s aid, his sword making a great inky arc through the sky.  The blade sheared a front limb off the monster and all three tumbled together, the brave, the Fencer and the shaggy abomination. 
            Without a second thought the nomad had dropped his spear and seized up a knotted club hanging from his belt.  The Fencer struggled to bring his long weapon to bear on the horror which cradled them all in its fastidious limbs. 
            Each of its legs ended in a kind of hook.  With its rear limbs it pulled out a mess of sticky fluid which it wound around the two men even as it drew them closer to its drooling fangs.  With a sudden spasm it sought to pin them.  The Fencer flinched as he struggled with his blade.
            The white hunter split apart with a subsonic scream, foul innards freezing at the touch of the icicle sword.  Legs writhed in its nervous death throes, tearing into them.  Then the thing was still and they clung to it, bleeding in the silk.
            Noise drifted in.  Anawke!  Anawke!  The name was repeated over and over by excited voices.  With some difficulty the Fencer was freed from the hideous mass where he caught as much clean air as he could.
            Next the old brave was freed.  He was clutched in its mouth but came out alive and yelling, his club covered in venom.  Apparently he had braced the thing against its fangs, saving him.
            “It’s an Anawke!” exclaimed the Trumpeter as he patted the furry carapace.
            “White hunters from the jungle,” said the head man, nodding approvingly.  “They sometimes come out from there if their numbers grow too great.”
            This was the most alarming thing the two men had heard in some time.  The beast was as large as a hut when fully splayed out, with a bulbous abdomen, small thorax and a head full of eyes and poison.  When they cut at the giant ball of silk, the sphere which had attracted them in the first place, a dead mammoth stared back with dead blue eyes.
            The nomads set to work.  Under growing stars they cut through the abdomen for the spinnerets and related organs.  Theses they spooled up in a practiced manner, joking and laughing amongst the gore.  Even the mammoth, a youth, didn’t go to waste.  They had its tusks out and over their shoulders before the western sky lost color.  Thus laden with treasures the band started off into the cold night, warmed by victory.
            The Fencer’s new friend offered him a present before they left.  There, in his hands, was one of the spider’s fangs, long as a short sword and wickedly curved.  Smiling, the Fencer accepted the gift graciously.
            Through all this Coyat’oc was sullen and quiet, but as they moved he regrew his smile.  They began their final moonlit approach to the walled town.  The houses within were distant and invisible, showing only their glowing windows like the eyes of a vast company of beasts.

Many eyes wondered after the travelers from the jungle.   Some were hungry for flesh, others simply noted shapes passing in the distance.  Yet one pair watched on with a frown.
            Eley stood a hundred feet in the air, feet perfectly balanced upon the mighty bough of a great jungle tree.  Warning calls brought her to the jungle’s edge but it was worry which kept the woman’s attention.  A band of color, with two drab additions. 
            She thought of the wolf, that last unwelcome visitor.  In the future more care must be taken that her trail might not be followed.  But the storm had been come, wiping away her tracks.  There was only a small chance that anyone might’ve happened across her presence.
            Blank snow, that was the past, a vanished trail, an evaporated life.  There was no town or community, only the work and the splendor.  Hers was a magic that couldn’t be broken.  Unlike the magi of legends she demanded nothing from her Art, instead sacrificing everything so that each spell might live and thrive.  Others were less willing.
            Seyo’an the monkey trilled at Eley’s sudden motion.  In a flash she rode a creeper down to the jungle floor.  There she moved quickly lest she reconsider her actions.  Out on the white she flew south under night’s shadow, greeting the moons, watching the hills as a thousand fabulous beasts watched her in return, as the architect of the space beyond white.

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