The blossom opens to swallow the world, the eye drowning in petals while consciousness evaporates in the heady perfume of magic. In full flower the absolute grows to an apex, to the fine edge of a dream or the razor perfection of a nightmare.
There are no limits to the Method. Living things may be hatched from fruit, notions constructed from chemical noise, precious minerals grown like leaves and energy charged through the lattice of roots. Fields of possibility. Empires yet to come.
At full growth the Method reaches its climax but this is only a second beginning. What follows is the continual summation of previous incantations, both intentional and incidental. Should the gardener be alive by this stage they will behold the full fruits of their work.
The risk is that the thing grown will be left to wither on the vine, neglected, unwanted, its purpose denied. It must be used, either aesthetically or practically. If not shown in light it will shrivel into obscurity.
From high limbs the fruit must be harvested, the plant pruned and cared for. In old nature this time wore the name of a season now lost to all tongues, a fantasy. Through this fantasy the Method continues, growing a nature all of its own.
Beside the town of Jomoth’orr the White Jungle grew restless. The usually lively wilderness screamed instead of sang as the life within writhed anxious and afraid. The sound of a great beast could be heard throughout the valley, braying in focused tones.
The Fencer knew the cause and knew that some kind of demon waited for them amongst the white leaves. The Trumpeter knew as well and eagerly pestered the Jomoth about the coming hunt. So eager was he to meet the thing he had awoken that it was a foregone conclusion that he might join their expedition.
Most of the Jomoth tools were familiar to any hunter. They used long spears and short clubs. Shorn to a fine, lopsided point, he spears were light and disposable, made from hollow shoots which grew in the jungle, allowing them to be dissembled into blow guns. Each man carried steel darts tipped in anawke venom, the effects of this were quite horrible. For clothing white sheets of some bright material were passed out. When properly worn the similarities with the silken nomads were complete.
This hunt promised to be contentious. Many outsiders paid to attend. There was Hoxu the cannibal and Coyat’oc the apostate nomad. Within the ranks of the Jomoth confusion murmured, as regulars paid to stay in the village, leaving the poor, the valorous and the cunning.
As he watched the proceedings, amused, the Fencer noted two unusual volunteers. A young guard by the name of Inoke insisted on going, even though he was guaranteed a share by his station. Upon his acceptance an older man, long retired from the hunt, pressed the huntsman’s ear until he relented. His name was Velotl.
With these the band counted two dozen, as large an outing as any the hunters had had for a generation. By day they wore themselves out hacking the last of the eley trees to pieces and with the few spare hours before sundown trained for the hunt. Each weapon had a particular use. It was an almost ritualistic relationship, only without gods. As if in response, something in the jungle thrummed and a thunderclap resounded through the valley.
Two days before the hunt the Fencer woke early. He left the blue house to its opiate dreams and wandered the stone paths winding towards the gate. Just beyond the outermost homes he stopped and watched.
A procession of color drifted in a line towards the lone exit from Jomoth’orr. At this distance each figure seemed a splendid square, patterns and prints pulled taught by the steady breeze. They wore the silks they had traded for in elaborate display, the weight equally distributed for the journey towards the eastern ocean. Against the wind the occasional chirp of the Onulut told of the nomads’ passing.
He watched them go. A foolish part wanted to approach them, thank them for their guidance, but he knew it would only cut at the feelings. Between two of the nomads lay a glorious oblong and the Fencer nodded to his short-lived friend. He kept nodding, kept thinking, of mistakes and trouble and the Riddle.
The Riddle posed its question in bodies, in death, in still places where man once lived. It was the blasted tundra and the honor slaying, the broken palace and festering brothel. Deep in the mad eyes of murder it lived, ever the coward, jumping from body to body like a possessing spirit.
Something was missing. He now was possessed as well and his demon sent him back to the blue house.
The Jomoth men nodded and the women didn’t avoid him as he moved through the crowd headed towards that day’s labor. He entered the inn and hunted upstairs. Doors here were flimsy and he shouldered one open with ease. Amongst the tavern maid and her friend lay Coyat’oc, dozing in bliss.
“Get up,” said the Fencer. The brave smiled without opening his eyes. “Get up and see the colors.”
Eyes open, smile dead, the nomad looked upon the Fencer without any expression.
“He’s got your face,” laughed one of the girls. Coyat’oc chortled away his stolen composure.
The Fencer pulled the brave up and dragged him through the blue house by his long red hair. Early morning brigands laughed as they exited the door, out into the cold, over the burnished ice. Distantly a metal clang sounded.
They were too late. Already the silken nomads were past the wall, leaving their apostate brother alone in a town which seemed half familiar, half hostile.
“You’re damned Riddle-eaten, you know that?” spat the swordsman.
The Fencer threw Coyat’oc onto the ice. The naked man stood up all fire and hate, rage boiling through him.
Against this the swordsman readied, his hand near his side. He begged the Riddle for a bit of violence, for a clean cut. His inner, troubled demon demanded it.
Coyat’oc’s face softened then. He didn’t laugh, but he did smile, as he loped back into the blue house, past the gawkers who groaned at this anticlimax. There’d be no blood for breakfast today and the Fencer went hungry towards the axe fields.
The next morning the sun went away and cold clouds brought snow. With the eleys cut there was little to do except gather in the home of the elder hunter and speak of what was to come. Velotl was an efficient host, with a distant wife who didn’t speak as she served them warm rum and meat cakes, in a house which was huge and empty.
Looking about, not all were in attendance. Grou, Copa’an, Natl and most of the Jomoth came as invited, but of the outsiders only Hoxu, the Fencer and the Trumpeter took part. The cannibal joked that Coyat’oc was too busy getting dressed; the Fencer didn’t laugh.
He had a bit of sinew, a spare which he kept in case his seal skins needed mending, and he wrapped this cord around his fingers tightly, only to loosen it so he could begin again. The Jomoth spoke amongst themselves in a language full of plans.
“They know Baranti as well as we,” whispered the Trumpeter, still sensitive about being left out of so much since they had arrived. The fact that he was sharing a confidence with the Fencer meant things were on the mend, in his mind at least.
The Fencer scowled but said nothing, the silence pushing the musician back into his chair where he gave a short smile and nod to the Fencer. The mend wasn’t complete yet, it never would be.
They took stock of the room. The whitewashed walls rose two stories high at the northern end of the house. Normally the coolest portion of the dwelling, Velotl’s sported the fabulous luxury of a second fire place. Thick beams of eley wood supported the roof. The guests sat upon plush furnishings dragged up from Ahgren. Now they drank tea from gold-rimmed porcelain and ate tiny cookies, from matching saucers. Everything was new, quaint, matched and paired and coordinated. Not a speck of dust.
Velotl sat apart from the plotting Jomoth. He slouched in a high-backed chair facing the hearth, his treats and follies untouched, eyes forward and elsewhere. Loose in his hands rested his rod, of the sort which all the Jomoth carried, like the spears of their nomad kin. Unlike the rest of the house this object was old and worn, stained by use against things which didn’t bleed the usual color.
“Do you have any children?” asked the Fencer as he grimaced at the bitter tea.
“No,” said Velotl softly.
“Such a big house,” added the Trumpeter, nodding.
“Success, nothing more,” replied their host.
The Fencer watched the man’s unhappiness and tried to guess the cause. His wife, Adacala, was too busy to show the same sorrow. Deftly she took the empty plates and offered more tea and smiled faintly at token praise from her guests. The Jomoth had a lot of clothes and a lot of civilization to hide their emotions behind.
“Do you have any?” asked Velotl.
“Children? None that I know of,” explained the Fencer, his thoughts being well deflected. “It could be, but far off, new lives, no relation.”
“You seem troubled by that notion, even if it will never affect you.”
“It’s not that,” began the swordsman, his eyes narrowing on his most present worry. “I believe the nomads have cursed me.”
“Why do you say such a thing?”
“I failed them after saving them, I took from them without wanting to.”
“Do you believe in curses?” asked the host, finally making eye contact with the swordsman. His eyes were soft green, like soapstone.
“I find it reasonable to believe in nearly everything.”
With that reply he looked over to his companion but the Trumpeter’s seat was empty. He must’ve excused himself during the exchange and the Fencer missed it.
“We believe in curses,” said Velotl and he gestured with his stick. “They come from the jungle, from the witch. Unmerciful hexes spill from her lips like wind off the mountain. These hexes walk on all sorts of limbs and hunt us, even over the wall. Some are invisible, some are so small they crawl into our minds and hunt our thoughts so the women mangle their looms and the children are unfaithful.”
Velotl face was red now, though he had done his best to keep an even tone. Somber Jomoth nodded in agreement, rallying behind the man as a solid mass which no predator of thought or wayward hex would dare approach.
“Why?” asked the Fencer.
Their host calmed and leaned back in his chair.
“She has no reason for what she does. None. There can be no sympathy for her because she has no community, no civilization, nothing but the mad jungle.”
“How is it that she remains, when not barely a spell lingers where strange Sol walked the Uplifting? I do not ask to rankle your nerves but to steel myself for the trial yet to come.”
Velotl, still red in the face, nodded.
“Quite good, yes, and prudent.” The elder judged him like a father would a son. He stood up, and for a second the Fencer felt a pang of aggression. “That is because she slept during that time. The White Jungle has long been the haunt of legendary powers in the distant past. Only recently has the magic awoken.”
Noise at the door stopped the conversation and the lady of the house went to see. She returned with a colorful visitor. Coyat’oc nodded at some, smiled at other, and bared his teeth at the Fencer.
Old tensions arose with this family reunion. The Jomoth and nomad were so close, side by side, but had split in the past and now lived in worlds far removed from each other. Coyat’oc denied the chairs and couches by sitting upon the floor near the hearth, and when offered food and drink he consumed with the sort of abandon you gain when your next meal is uncertain and there is no hearth, only the ice. Smiling, he devoured his offerings while his cousins, in their coats and trousers, stood confounded at this distorted mirror image.
Now the Fencer acutely knew that he was sitting in a chair, having drunk tea from a fragile cup, after eating a pie containing choice parts, speaking in a language which had so very few words for ice. Inwardly he feared he had become half civilized.
“Where were we?” asked Velotl, wishing to be distracted from the latest guest. Coyat’oc interrupted before the Fencer could reply.
Speaking in their shared language the two, the elder and the younger, the townie and the nomad, exchanged words. At the outset the tone was insistent, but grew heated. Velotl’s face held most of his heat, going red even as his voice remained soft, even against Coyat’oc barrage of questions. Over and over again a word appeared, and though the Fencer didn’t have the Trumpeter’s taste for language he applied the term to memory.
Again and again the word popped up. Then Coyat’oc pointed to the Fencer once. The conversation turned.
“The nomad asks a ridiculous thing,” began Velotl. “He wishes to know if you want to marry the witch.”
“The Gola?” asked the Fencer.
The elder nodded.
“Tell him that this hexer may become wed with my blade, should she accost the hunt. Does that have the same kind of innuendo in your language?”
“No it does not,” sighed their host. “Also, it isn’t our language. It was our language.”
The effects of the translation were immediate and unhappy, for the swordsman. A sly look overcame Coyat’oc, who turned his attentions upon the Fencer. He took a drink of tea and smiled his smile as designs whirled behind his broken gemstone eyes. Lunch was over.
The Jomoth hunters muddled outside, soaking up one last day between the back breaking labor of the axe fields and the deathly peril of the jungle. Their songs followed the strangers through the streets.
“Did I miss anything?” asked the Trumpeter. The man fidgeted with his coat like he had lice.
“Velotl, he’s hiding something,” said the Fencer, using their old language from the polar south. They might be the last two speakers of such on the whole of Winter.
“I thought as much and did some scouting.”
Ducking them between two houses he produced a brightly colored handkerchief of glossy silk. On it played several circles of orange, crimson and yellow.
“You thief,” smiled the Fencer, examining the thing.
“I’ve seen the kind before,” said his companion. “It’s a child’s work, the kind the girls make when they first train on the loom, though this one has a most unusual theme. There is a ritual to such construction, of bars and squares and other sharp-edged shapes. Circles are downright scandalous.”
The Fencer eyed him. “How would you know?”
“While you’ve been working out your demon I’ve had little to do but observe and consider. Consider that the Jomoth and the silken nomads were the same people not long ago, that the White Jungle is far older than either, and that there is a great mystery surrounded the witch of that place.”
The swordsman digested all this silently. Some he suspected, some was new. He turned the bit of silk over in hands, smelled it and wondered.
“What tragedy would cause a couple to evaporate a child from their history?” mused the Trumpeter. “Despite your…problems I’m certain even your parents would admit to your existence, Fencer, if they still existed I mean.”
“And yours?” asked the swordsman.
“Who?” was the only reply he was given.
The singing grew close and passed by the empty alley. In the blue house they prepared for the next day, and the hunt, under cloudy night and the chaotic babble of men. A mercy at least, because the far jungle was unquiet and roared and squabbled with itself.
The Fencer kept the handkerchief. It smelled of memory.
Thin clouds hid the morning. All together the company set out, a smaller force than anticipated. The jungle’s song had frightened away three more souls who would rather pay the tree price in coin than blood. The mad, the strange, they continued on across the ice.
From glassy white to crumbling blue the ice gave way to snow. Spindly flowers and grasses grew out of this frozen topsoil, all colorless in the colorless light. The men also had no color, their heads jutting from their white hunting sheets like blossoms.
As they travelled more growth welcomed them. Klee bushes grew lush and pale, they stubbed their toes on tolem roots and trampled alabaster long grass. And then the White Jungle opened like a cavern and they entered, breath quiet, spears ready, the noise and clamor of the place deafening their reason, making them beasts.