An ending approaches. That which blossoms may in time also wither. Immortal creations provoke heroes and assassins, elegance invites the hooligan, beauty calls the plucking hand. Let me tell you of endings.
Cycles rule of the world. Turning, changing hegemonies, like the ancient seasons. They grind up the old as soil for the new. Epicycles whir within, cycles beyond cycles, the motion of stars in their massive orbits. Death and rebirth are their mantra and all things fall under this spell of fate. All things except magic.
I, who was first to hear the song of the Lattice, before it was the Lattice or had a voice, I know the break of things. Even as the world spins and men die I remain as sturdy as bedrock for I stand upon sorcery. So too is the Method.
A wedding between the natural and the supernatural, the work can both be cyclic and constant, denying fate without provoking the hidden powers. A blossom may enchant a poet before it fades and live on through song, and a monster may change an empire into a ruin so travelers many years afterwards can imagine empires greater than truth. Seeds, of all sorts, pass on the Method which may begin anew with proper care and a proper gardener. This is a magic that cannot break and cannot be denied.
Let this secret be the seed of inquiry. May the churning men be food for the future and wise creatures gardeners of that most perfect blossom, where all know their place and live according to that measure. Where kingdoms are diseases and family an ancient legend. All are but beasts except those who tend, who grow, who prune the tree of life into the outer reaches where Art and science fail.
I am Monath.
The White Jungle opened its arms, its mouths, its frond-like antennae. Tree limbs soared into a vaulted canopy, hundreds of meters tall. Broad leaves made the roof, sunlight flickers in, moving as the leaves move to the mountain-born wind. Dark at first, the shadows cast by titan branches, the white creepers and white leaves of the eley trees, a world cast in grey. Then color. The eye adjusts, stray light illuminates from above, and the jungle opens. Along the floor sprawls a civilization of tiny mushrooms, pale fronds, puff balls, violet moss, the trunks climbing with fungus terraces. A few flowers grow in sunlit patches, blossoms wide like an eye in low light, their colors flaring up from the moving touch of day and dousing with its passing. Each step produces raw sensation as a million perfumes are disturbed, the eye waters with joy, the brain does a chemical jig. Between floor and sky great plants thrive. Leaves of eight, eleven and twenty three, colors from unreal spectrums, fruit dangling by corpses, vines blooming from skulls. Birds flock curious, their colors a puzzle. Larger things promise themselves in the distance and in the shadows hunters watch with strange fire in their many eyes.
In hushed silence eighteen men braved the jungle. They moved according to the lead, the appropriately named Had’on. Natl’s even temper quieted their fears as he moved ahead, spears at his side, each man trained to watch for fey cats and falling insects. If a green scorpion stung a man they would apply a prick of anawke venom, if one went silly from a daedae blossom it was best to tie up and gag the euphoric victim before he sang the tune of the upper horrors.
Life in the jungle interlaced. Flora and fauna complemented each other as predator and prey, poison and cure. This blossom would attract that beast which would carry the blossom’s seeds on its hunt and deposit them in the flesh of its kills, thus ensuring more flowers. Complexity sang through this enclosed world.
According to plan the band made for the shadowed boughs, the favored hunting ground for the anawke. There the canopy was most dense and the dark more profound. Yet, if the chance encounter out on the valley was any indication the wooly spiders would be everywhere, collapsed up against trees, flattened upon the ground, ambush predators ready to snatch anything triggering their senses.
Each man was given a direction to watch, some eying the ground, others the sky. They were well acquainted with the notion of the dangers but the reality was far more immediate and the jungle innovated more each season. It was easy for the eye to become lost amongst the colors and movement. Surely this was the witch’s doing.
Natl signaled a halt and the men disappeared amongst the undergrowth, their white forms melting like ghosts amongst the likewise pale foliage. The Fencer could see a glinting ahead, like a treasure horde. The light was up so there must be a break in the canopy. He worked his way to the front of the troupe.
Quiet seconds turned to still minutes. Natl exhaled and at last allowed them forward. Into a little clearing the men waded amongst silver.
The trees ahead seemed metallic and in the light streaming from a fissure above they gleamed bright enough to make the onlookers squint.
“What are these?” asked the Trumpeter as he appraised the wondrous sight.
“No telling,” said Natl. “They have no smell and are unmoved by the breeze. It’s safe enough to break here for a moment as I plot a way around.”
The old men rested against the common eleys and drank from their canteens while the younger ones stood at varying degrees of closeness to the shining trunks and mirrored leaves. Of these Grou challenged more than the rest.
The Fencer and the Trumpeter made their own accounting. The earth here was changed, the fungus dead, new flowers growing in tight clusters along the swatch of sunlight. The base of the trees showed great violence where the earth had been torn up by the progress made by the sudden and unnatural growth. To one side they discovered a glitter covered bird, some large flightless thing. It had been torn to pieces without sign of tooth or claw.
Behind them a sound, like myriad tinkling bells. Rounding the copse they found Grou laughing, covered from head to toe with familiar glitter. He stood gleaming in the sunlight next to the wavering branch he had shook.
“Idiot,” spat Harx, who approached the man carefully. “Could be poison that you wear now.”
By the way the man chuckled this certainly wasn’t the case, but then Coyat’oc stiffened. Natl rushed back and hushed them and they all suddenly heard strange whooping noises as something crashed in the branches to the south.
Panic seized their hearts. Some of the men fled north through the silver trees while those with more experience waited. Figures emerged, dancing through the boughs, strange monkeys with silver skin and voices. When they caught the sun they were almost blinding.
In that moment of glare they attacked. Charging down the tree trunks and falling from the boughs they sought out poor Grou who wore their glitter. The group became a confusion of bright figures and terrified men. This close the hunters struggled with their spears as their companion’s cries of pain became shrieks.
The Fencer shielded his eyes and drew his weapon into one of his chrome foes while the Trumpeter conjured up one of his many secret knifes. Together they sought to break the ring of wild light surrounding Grou.
Dhala’s cold gave the monsters pause, which was just enough. Judging that Grou had fallen amongst the creatures the Fencer lunged high, skewering one beast through the neck. Its dead body slid free and with one seamless motion split the top of its neighbor’s skull off at an angle.
The sword memories within calculated everything just so, the strike, the follow through. The Fencer barreled into the gap and stood amongst the attackers. Yet their light was so bright he could barely see and stumbled where his foot caught on a body lying on the forest floor.
Down he went, managing just barely to avoid cutting himself on his own sword. Blinding things followed, howling, tearing at his leathers, pummeling him and laying hold, twisting and wrenching every joint. Spears and clubs fell into the horde, blood welled, and screams, those burnished simian screams, responded.
Up with a roar the Fencer swung out, cleaving through the silver bodies, removing clawed hands, making still those strange whoops. His own blood trickled from numerous cuts on his forehead and shielded his eyes from the glare, revealing, tall, thin monkeys with long, man-like hands. Into these he fell, like a nightmare.
By now the fight was out of the beasts and they went shrieking into the trees. It took the Trumpeter and three others to keep the Fencer from cutting down the silver trunks in pursuit. They wiped the blood from his eyes and he squinted against the glowing battlefield.
Grou moaned from his place on the ground. The things, langurs they were called, had bloodied him the same way they had that bird. Something about the glitter drove them to it, like a man in his cups. Normally peaceful creatures, though not normally silver. Corpses shimmered in the sun, even their blood radiant. These were new, like the trees.
No time to think. More cries came from the north and the band moved quickly and carefully through the silver elms, doing their best not to disturb the glitter leaves. Jealous whoops called out for silver.
Chaos danced amongst the trees. Here, where the sun was deflected away by the canopy, the creatures could be seen clearly. They had long, thin bodies over two meters long, with tails and limbs to match. Their bearded faces were small but their oversized teeth protruded like metal daggers.
The langurs thrashed amongst those who had fled. At some point their training must’ve come back to the men for they had their backs together, spears out and several of the creatures lay dead on the ground. But more came after the glitter-stained men.
One of the huge monkeys snatched away a spear, more flowing over the defenseless man. The remaining defenders scattered, swatting langurs with their hafts, bringing their points to bear. Normally creatures will flee such wounds. Not these, their silver blood drove them to frenzy.
With the rescue came the madness of a jungle battle. They fought around trees, at things obscured by leaves, tangled in creepers, half-drugged by wild perfume.
A Jomoth panicked and ran only to find a trio of langurs waiting for him about one of the silver trunks. His spear gone, he went for something at this side which wasn’t there. They whooped and leaped.
Black ice intervened. Dhala split the lead in two halves streaming bloody ribbons. The other two fled from the unnatural cold.
Soon the rest of the langurs were driven off, several dead, metallic blood beaded up on their fur.
“What manner of ichor is this?” asked Natl, wiping langur blood from his face. Already it was taking over his garment.
“Quicksilver,” replied the Trumpeter. “Poison. Best clean it off as well you can. Any of ours dead?”
“Luckily no,” smirked Natl. “Most of us are just pummeled and scratched but Grou looks bad enough that he won’t be rustling any silver trees soon.”
The jungle commented on the battle with annoyed bird squawks and buzzing insects which hungered after the blood.
“It was a trap,” decided the Fencer.
“Could be,” said Natl. “Those trees were new grown, those langurs already tied to them in silver. She’s waiting for us.”
Nobody said who, it was a spectral fear and without words it haunted their hearts. Power like this couldn’t be fought with sword or spear, perhaps not fought at all.
Blood cleaning and wound patching commenced. To one side Natl and Velotl planned in whispers. Several men watched for opportunistic anawke. Others stared off into the jungle in search of less obvious troubles. Where spells walked there was no sanity and this season Her magics were thick on the air.
The fear was an old one, from the time when sorcerers and thaumatons rode the world for their own pleasure, playing games of eyes, living according to morals which not even the distant stars could comprehend. Hungry gods squatted upon the tundra like monuments, wreathed in worshipers. All that gone with Sol’s Uplifting movement, though not all, and that paradox kept eyes watching the shadows for that which they didn’t understand.
“You brought some with you.” The man speaking was Copa’an, a slim creature, hawkish, his sandy hair matted with Grou’s blood.
The Fencer followed the man’s eyes to Dhala.
“Now you have a problem?” he asked.
“We thought it an outlander tool,” began the hunter. “Perhaps those from the mythical south use certain rare ice as implements.”
“What if it is a nightmare thing? A magic thing?” The Fencer’s flat expression hid menace. “What’s to be done about this cursed thing, in this cursed place, now, when we are beset by plots and monkeys?”
This stopped Copa’an’s questions but the walls closed in again. The Fencer was an outlander and they were the Jomoth and though they had worked side by side for a week as laborers this distance could only be shortened in increments while barriers could be thrown up in moments. And who could find this amusing but Coyat’oc, who began to laugh his wild, sharp laugh. The birds joined him and the men fell to wondering if any would survive the hunt.
The elders returned with a decision. Grou would return to Jomoth’orr with the help of two braves, the rest would continue on to the shadowed boughs at an oblique angle. They left with the injured man whose sobs carried off until they were drowned out by the jungle’s laughter.
The remaining fourteen men crept through the jungle like ants. Now their colors were changed. The white coverings they wore had absorbed blood and quicksilver, glitter and various saps and pollens. The material was very absorbent, like wet watercolor, so they were now creatures of silver and red, dappled with green and yellow. In this manner the hunters adapted to their environment, blending in both in terms of color and chemical. But the silver stuff wore on their minds and they wondered if the langurs would be back to claim their glittering prizes. Just in case they hacked at the thick creepers as they went and bathed in the pale green sap in hopes that the jungle would find them familiar.
Skirting the edge of the silver trees they moved once more through familiar eleys. The braches above creaked with strange life and noisome insects wailed in unison. Then light spilled down. The canopy opened again. Where sunlight kissed the ground bizarre plants plumed up, explosions of color, leaf and fruit.
Alien in design, perhaps unique, the flora rose meters into the air, opening up into leaves of every variety, from smooth triangles to serrated needles. Their blossoms shone in many phases, livid with sweet poisons and unknown scents. Fruit hung ripe, often stuck with insects, guarded by small monkeys or frighteningly left alone, perfect, the color of pale sunset. The Jomoth murmured as they went. Every trip brought new finds, from miracle cures to new colors for dye, and they were careful and interested in everything.
Stepping through a veil of broad, perfectly circular leaves, one of the braves approached a hanging blossom, a hanging cone covered in ridges of soft, amber tissue laden with syrup. He smiled and the blossom began to hiss. He fell and the wiser men kept others from going to help. In seconds he was bones and the flower grown much larger. Butterflies alighted to peck at his remains.
“These are the risks,” noted Natl as they travelled further through the strange plants. The Fencer was at his side, demanding answers.
“Fencer, Fencer,” sighed the Trumpeter besides him. “Don’t you see it’s their way to wander into things they don’t understand and die? How else are we supposed to find out about the bone-drinking snowflies?”
The Fencer was unsatisfied.
“What kind of community doesn’t look after its people?” he demanded of the lead hunter.
“The risks are heavy but the rewards are even more so,” said Natl. He moved quickly, unwilling to look back the way they came. He had others do watch the past.
“It is a waste,” said the Fencer.
“What do you care?”
“Ostensibly it is because we are stronger as a group than as weakened survivors but there is another reason. I have a problem with this world and it has a problem with me. Winter is fickle, its Riddle is madness, and it is a madness you don’t have to share.”
“You have an Answer?” said Natl, who stopped the whole party. Their eyes watched. Here the mood would turn or continue on, into the hunt.
“Go back,” said the Fencer, uncomfortable with this scrutiny. The party laughed, all of them, like hyenas or hunting wolves, like Coyat’oc, cousins in smiling madness.
“Without the silk we are plain,” said one, part of a chant.
“Without the eley we are homeless,” chimed another.
“Without the death we dare not live.”
“Without the Jungle we aren’t Jomoth.”
So ended the argument. They continued, the Fencer with them. Braves still went for fruits and berries, nabbed blossoms which they hadn’t seen before and swatted at the insects which had no name. Some finds proved acidic or caused irritation, others smelled fair but tasted foul. None were so deadly as the Idal’Ori, or skulls tongue, which they named in honor of the brave whose remains now enriched his killer’s roots. Many more of the fruits were sweet as the flowers were heady or lifted the fatigue from their bones. They took these risks even as they kept their spears pointed and ready for the dangers they chose to arbitrarily protect against. They went on, the jungle cheering.
At last the boughs grew dark as the canopy overhead thickened, blocking out even the memory of day. A dark cavern made from tree and leaf yawned open before them. Inside, cool, moist air lay still, aglow with eyes watching the men pick their way carefully through the webbed bones of previous victims.
Gloomy light cast by the fungus growing along the trucks of the eley trees illuminated this underworld. A huge, ghostly form hung from an upper branch, its harry legs nearly reaching jungle floor.
“A dead one,” rasped the brave next to the Fencer. He was the boy saved by the swordsman earlier. Despite being Jomoth he seemed as stunned by the sight of the creature as the Trumpeter.
So began the hunt in earnest. Natl lingered behind them, spear up, eyes darting around. The back part of the company had their weapons ready, all watching him. He passed the trunk of an eley, one covered with coiling fungus, part of which moved out.
The bait ran for the group just as the first Anawke scuttled atop him. Spears responded, pinning the thing against the tree as it snapped and dribbled venom from its massive fangs. They were careful not to damage its abdomen or spinnerets. Other eyes watched.
More came with a subtle rasp from their massive box lungs, moving like part of the jungle, their eyes dancing in whatever color the fungus chose at that moment. The men circled, knowing that lone hunters feared the larger mass, the prickling spears. If need be the Jomoth had torches, but that would ruin the silk. Anawke writhed at the edge of sight, fighting with each other for these new treats. There were so many, starved and eager.
A small thing, about the size of a dog, crept with care around the closest eley and onto the still-quivering body of the first kill. Effortlessly the juvenile leaped upon the Fencer.
Noise rang out. Where the spider was, in the air, became a blur of bright sound. It was flensed, split apart, evaporated. The other anawke hesitated.
Far off sounded the response. It cried out in a similar voice, the thing which haunted the jungle. Now its hunger was answered and the jungle rang with its hunting music.