Thursday, January 30, 2014

VI. The Soundling

Now rises an unknown child.  Born from the ice, descendent from whatever blood or hope has guided it, rising above the ice and into truth, part mirage. 
            After the rupturing the seedling shows its first face.  This is one of lies, for at dawn we wear a different mask than at dusk and though a first blossom may be light and delicate in time it may grow tough and thorny.  As with men, armor is used to hide infirmity, and innocence is a ploy by nature to demand care and affection.  Youth is a false time.
            Should the gardener survive more care is needed.  Most likely this new life will be weak in many ways, a small mote dwindling against the endless cold of Winter.  Continue tending to its environment, the ambitious may try to key the new life towards this or that passion.  If it hungers for blood, feed it, if it seeks out light give it the sun. 
            Life is truly a ritual of chaos and the future dances without regard for the past.  The great uncertainty is truth.  Each creation might be honest, showing instead the first color of the distant blossom, without poison, pure as starlight, growing towards an ascendant dawn.

Eley fled the night, convinced red eyes followed her.  She could still see them, like a constellation of stars at the mysterious man’s side, dull and somber red.  And they all watched like demons.
            Night was a comfort.  She was used to the dark, either the cloistered shadows of the jungle or the night sky under which she scouted the valley, tending after her magics and spying on the townsfolk.  It wrapped her in a speckled web of stars.
            These were the only thoughts terror allowed her for some minutes until her heart calmed.  Across the ice, the shrill cry of an owl.
            A man who wore stars, unwholesome stars, this was a stranger kind of stranger.  Eley knew the vagabonds and capitalists who despoiled the valley well, watching their caravans lumber across the snows.  Some nights she snuck close to the blue house and listened to their bawdy songs and foul languages, learning this and learning that.  Knowing their pollution, dead men laughing.
            Most likely the horrible man was one of them, but what of the song?  Oh, the song, it still resonated in her mind, quite unlike usual music, which warped and faded with memory. 
            Thoughts boiling within the girl retreated into her jungle.  Where huge things screamed and hunted she clambered up a tree to a favorite nook.  She slept, cradled by broad leaves.

The rupture came suddenly, days later.  Another greater tone, heartbreaking in its magic, stung the air.  The jungle went silent.  The cracking followed.
            Never had Eley heard its like before, and from her own domain too.  Life ran without limit within the White Jungle but she was sure that it was all within her mind by now, allowing for certain variance.  But, at that moment, she was ignorant of the massive breaking which echoed through the canopy.
            Two kinds of things made up the jungle, though there was some overlap.  There were the Verds, which grew from seeds and remained mostly in place, producing flowers or poison or fruit.  Then there were the Crea, the animals and stranger kin, which hunted or foraged, and sang their own songs and played their own games.  Some her mighty, some were meek, but all were known to the girl for she had grown most of them.
            From her lair she entered amongst leaves of five, eight and eleven, reaching fronds, soft ferns, metallic berries and massive trunks.  Above her the trees made their wall of shadows, through which tiny beams of weak sunlight streamed in, illuminating the jungle floor.  There were massive bulb plants, and graceful orchids, blood hungry nettles and ancient fruit. 
            Despite its name the jungle held many colors, flashes of tone and glamour where rare daylight struck.  A few even glowed.  The Verd spoke to each other, part of a grand argument told in chemical words and vivid spells.  Enchantment rose at every step Eley took.
            Magic arose, swarming the air like a traumatic memory.  It became real without sight or touch or any of the usual sensation.  Down it fell.  She drowned.
            Imagine a color which cannot exist, despite all laws it shines.  Overwhelmed by sight the eyes wish to be blinded and the whole being trembles through the moments.  Time dies and, like a blossom, the world opens.
            Eley described such moments in the jungle as a smell, its color is green, and it reaches from her lost master through the halls of time to the ruptured now.  The Emerald Lady lies spattered like stars across the night sky.
            A small tugging brought back her senses.  Seyo’an the monkey clawed at her ribs for attention, its huge eyes staring up with yellow intensity.
            “You fear?” she said, gasping for consciousness.  “Let us see the child.”
            Seyo replied by climbing upon her back.  Together they moved past the magic, which swarmed like gnats under the boughs, and sought the place the sound had come from. 
            Silence was the clue.  The Jungle was a noisy place, but to the west there was a pronounced quiet.  The monkeys didn’t hoot, the insects didn’t buzz and even the trees refused to creak in the wind always streaming down from the mountains. 
            Their path led them to a clearing.  Silver-barked giants ringed the open patch of snow and ice, their tentacle arms reaching out for the sun, leaves spread like teeth.  A few snow flies played in the light.
            Suddenly Eley went still.  From the far side a narrow spindle unfolded itself, perfectly mimicking the shimmer of the trees.  On stilted legs it gently crept into the clearing, testing its wings, pincers clicking as it peered about with antennae and faceted eyes.  Its potent thoughts buzzed through the girl’s mind and she bit her lip to stay quiet. 
            Like Seyo’an, it too was frightened and moved away from the silent portion of the jungle.  It had been hiding.
            “No hooting now,” said Eley.  “Be braver than Pazur’o.  Think of that, braver than the mind-hunter, the mimic-devil.  He’s running away.  We won’t.”
            Wonder pulsed through the girl’s veins.  This wasn’t the people-dread caused by that man in shadow outside Jomoth’orr.  No, this was life and death and sweet blood on flowers.  Excitement shook through her limbs and carried the pair onward.  
            The path rested soft with pale leaves.  Black fruit hung from the trees, twitching and spinning with insect activity.  Sweet, rotten, perfume filled the chill air.  The way grew thick and quiet.
            Something flickered through the dense underbrush.  Squeezing closer, Eley pulled aside the last branches.  A bird sang without song.
            A slight shifting, like the sky moving at the corner of your vision, and she snapped her head around to look.
            Facing her, no, facing the bird, was some pale structure, hidden further amongst the tangling Verd.  Between the colossal trees and the leaf-strewn floor grew all ranges and kinds of plants, meshing together into a riddle of life.             Pawing through this tangle, which rustled as it should, Eley reached some kind of blue conical depression set in a white wall.  The wall shifted slightly but she was able to see into the depression clearly. 
            Its interior was a series of rings or steps descending to a hole, the blue color growing with each step.  The ring before the final depression had four more secondary holes spaced in such a way that the apertures made a cross.  Uncomfortable with her positioning Eley attempted to lean against the wall.
            Suddenly the sound left her.  Now the ghostly orifice faced her, the whole wall, the whole structure turning.  Silently the jungle went mad.
            It crashed through the brush after her, breaking trees and crushing flowers.  Seyo’an fled into the canopy, leaving Eley to scramble away.  Thorns cut into her flesh and branches tugged at her blossom garment.  Breaking into a small clearing she splashed into strange smelling mud.
            Here were the mammoth bulbs, huge vines which grew equally enormous pods.  Each was different, some pulsated or glowed, some had been gestating for millennia.  One was split open, the amniotic guts of the thing making a massive puddle in which the girl floundered.
            Behind her the trees parted.  What trundled out was the size of a small house.  A living monolith of white flesh, pocked with several small, blue depressions, the largest of these resting at head height.  It moved by three powerful limbs, each ending with a knotted claw, blades curled upwards so the thing could walk on the knuckles.  Overall it seemed triangular, a sort of asymmetrical pyramid.
            The primary orifice was aimed at the girl and all her sound left.  With a smile she realized that was its mouth, drinking in her noise.  Its other depressions were probably ears.  
            Eley couldn’t imagine fear at such a beautiful thing.  She felt the ground shake as it stalked towards her, the other bulbs bobbing and quaking at each footfall. 
            As it grew closer she felt a strain growing on her body and mind.  Both seemed agitated, unsettled, like a cold ache.  Eley sagged with weakness as she took out a berry from a fold in her garment.  Popping it produced an eye-watering smell which drove to the back of the sinuses. 
            The thing stopped, towering over the girl.  Then Seyo’an shrieked and the beast shot after the poor creature, crashing through the trees.  Eley’s sound returned and with it her strength.
            At least it could smell the peace berry.  She did too, and had little interest in leaving the spot until the scent faded away.  By then Seyo was tugging at her shoulders and the silence had moved elsewhere.
            “Don’t you like him?” smiled Eley as she pulled herself from the muck.  The stuff made her feet tingle and she crouched next to it, trying to find some mystery in this afterbirth. 
            The monkey squawked in negative. 
            “So handsome and strong,” she mused, leaning close to the fluid.
            The stuff was clear, gone to mud now, and reeked of harsh metals.  It also hummed.  A sound was caught up in the solution, suspended, the distant resonance of the great cry which heralded the beast’s awakening. 
            Eley frowned to herself, the creature needed a proper name.
Since coming to the jungle Eley had given all kinds of names to the things which inhabited her enchanted world.  Seyo’an was the first, though soon Pazur’o was discovered, the Tot’rot kin and the Aura’kaa.  More and more things flew and scuttled and grew in the jungle than in the rest of the world, of this Eley was certain.  Outside was dead, and the elders did always say that the lands beyond the valley were graveyards without even ghosts to keep the ice company.
            Paos was the name she landed on as she harvested particular herbs and blossoms while far off the silence moved about her jungle.  Yet, on occasion wondrous notes cried out.  She mused upon this child of song as she concocted her magic.
            That the birthing music came from the same source she heard that night she infiltrated the town was certain.  Occasionally she heard lesser works on the wind, and raced to the edges of her domain in futile hope that the player would reveal themselves. 
            Fear again, as she looked out over the snows towards Jomoth’orr, fear of those eyes, those words.  She feared the human disease, the house tombs, the spear and the lamp.  Life outside was sick, its blood was cold.  Give her a thousand abominations and she wouldn’t flinch, but show her a hearth and a family and watch her shudder.
            With preparations complete Eley followed the silence.  Finding the monster wouldn’t be difficult, but she worried she was inadequate for the creature, being part of a species mass and not unique, excepting her talent.  She stank of magic.
            Taking great pains to be quiet, the girl followed Paos through the kaleidoscope forest.  When it wished, the thing was capable of slipping through the brush with some grace, only resorting to violence when triggered by particular noise. 
            The bodies told of its passing and she stepped over many peccaries and tawlik birds left behind.  They had no sound and did not live.  These were creatures whose cries were loudest in the jungle and lived upon the shadowed floor.  In their quiet eyes she realized a new strategy.
            Circling around the silent path the girl strode between the narrow stalks and massive trunks until she came to the clutch of trees she passed earlier that day.  Branches heavy with cylindrical pods hung quiet in the air.  She shoved one and the whole thing let out a layered chiming.  Eley’s ears went numb as the thing’s sound-drinking organ shifted in her direction.
            She crept back into the shadows of a large tree and waited.  Insects buzzed about, prickling through her hair, hunting each other across the flowery expanse of her garment.  Bird friends chirped softly nearby in the low language they reserved for close kin.  Here rumbled Paos amongst the music of the chime tree.
            All noise from the willow ceased and even the movement of the boughs stopped.  Paos looked up with its bland face, the listening organ like a searching eye. 
            Eley leaned out from her shadow and blew a cloud of petals over the beast.  The pink magic settled over her victim without effect.  Paos backed away from the sorceress then crashed off into the forest once more.
            An hour passed and she found Inlos Ital murmuring to itself in a low pool of snow melt.  By now the silent drinker was far off, its bubble of nothing drowned in the teeming jungle noise.  The slim bird watched Eley as she approached, long beak turning quizzically this way and that.
            After feeding Ital a prized grub the bird began to sing.  Low, haunting hoots wove an elaborate song and soon the quiet thing came. 
            Paos approached and the Ital just stared, confused, unwilling to sing for strangers.  It had taken Eley years to gain the creature’s trust.  Now the two things, one old friend, one new, stood in silence, wondering after each other.
            One could only hear and smell, its world limited by hunger and silence.  The other was particular about sharing and chose to be silent.  Beauty held both things hostage in different ways.  A third party was necessary to break the stalemate.
            From atop her canopy perch Eley balanced across a tree limb.  Unloosing a makeshift gourd she poured out its contents carefully, making a waterfall of thick turquoise fluid which embalmed her new friend. 
            In the thick jungle air the stuff flexed and bent as it fell.  By the time it hit the beast it was a tangle of waving nerves.  In seconds the growth overwhelmed the monster.  Which each second this grew new layers, dancing according to ebb and flow of the victim’s pulse. 
            From within Paos trumpeted and the stuff died quiet.  All Eley found was a decaying black ash as sounds of escape played through the canopy.  Inlos Ital had already flown.  She was alone.
            Hours later the beast was busy drinking the noise from a gathering of white apes.  It took not only their song and screams but also their breath, their pulse, and their hearts.  Some motive, noisy life arising from the muscle could be taken away and leave such victims denuded and eternally quiet.  It was in search of a song.
            Trundling through the mayhem Paos searched the chaotic songs of the jungle.  The ones it went after were a mystery.  Some victims it drank, others it simply tore to pieces.  As a consumer it had no fill, as a critic it had options.
            Late in the day a rhythmic knocking called it to a particular tree.  High branches rose into shadow and laced the sky.  The canopy was thick here, allowing only twilight. 
            Drawing close, it moved carefully not to infect the staccato beat with its own noise.  Against one massive tree something flickered.  There, an insect rattled its carapace against the trunk, enticed by a symbol was written near it, wet and metallic.
            From above a leaf fell.  This broad kite drifted down and touched beast, which twitched as it slowly brought its mouth to bear on the beetle’s mating beat.  The leaf made a slight tone, like a huge metal drum being lightly struck.
            Then more leaves fell, each a note, a touch, building, cascading, ascending without climax.  Paos drank its fill but there was too much, it staggered, overwhelmed within the flow pouring down from the upper boughs which shook despite there being no wind.  Frames of light flickered through, allowing the luster of the leaves to shine bright for just a moment.  Amongst this shimmering storm the monster staggered back and then it sang.
            The noise erupted, more physical than heard.  Deep in the earth it seemed to live and where it touched the air distorted.  From this grinding seed the note spiked.  The tree before it cracked and splintered, the trunk shattered and left falling.
            Eley leapt to another tree before hers collapsed.  The apes she had conscripted to her service fled, leaving only herself and Seyo’an to climb to the floor and find their target missing.  And she laughed.
            It was all too beautiful, so unknown, a creature of legend grown by the Jungle.  All other things here she had come to know, that was the game of it.  Wild things were inherently distrustful of every atom and it was only by sorcery that the girl had become part of the inhuman society of the White Jungle. 
            She laughed herself to a place of soft leaves and flopped down into the heap.  More spells were forming in her mind, binding perfumes and poisonous charms.  She need only transmit her love for the thing through some medium it could understand. 
            There was some precedent for monsters in her life.  The anawke tried to hunt her, and the apes could charge and howl, but only because that was their nature, of which she had no fear.  This thing was more rarified.  Already it let her live as it went in search of great noisemakers.  Surely it knew some aspect of her love and power already.
            Then the girl shot up.  Seyo’an, often chattering, went quiet with her thoughts.  In her mind the Method presented itself and the great noise which birthed the Paos.  This thing wasn’t her creation, she realized with cold jealousy, but that of the unknown beast of the town, the one with the song.
            When the Paos had tasted all there was to taste within the White Jungle it would leave and take her heart with it.  Outsiders were playing at her magic now.
            Joy left her body in a hot flash.  What remained was unfocused anxiety and a touch of that fear she felt when confronted by the man wearing stars.  Eley crept back to her lair and tended to her witchcraft.  The men, she knew, would soon bring the hunt to the jungle.  Perhaps that musician would come with them and if they found the beast then they would take it, and in doing so cut out her heart.

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