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According to the IRC, I'm a low-grade troll. They're probably not wrong.

Most Recent Posts

Koan 5

A stargazer of Aïr said to Calign, "When the stars and planets traverse their nightly dance, they move according to the music of Heaven."

Calign sounded a loud scream.

Koan 5: The Music of Heaven

Koan 2

As he travelled around the world, Calign went into a forest, where he discovered a young man crying out in a loud voice.

Calign spoke to the man, and said, "Why are you in pain?"

The man replied, "Spirit, I feel no pain, but I am suffering."

Said Calign, "Why do you suffer?"

Said the man, "I am betrothed to a woman, but my heart belongs to another. If I marry the woman I do not love, I will surely weep the rest of my days, but if I leave my village with the woman I love, my father's house will be disgraced, and she may not love me. Now I am in despair, for I do not know what I should do."

Said Calign, "Walk with me through the forest." So they walked through the forest together.

When they had walked for one day, Calign said, "Pick up that rock and carry it up the hill." And the young man did so.

When they had walked for two days, Calign said, "Go, take off your clothes, and bathe in that river." And the young man did so.

When they had walked for three days, Calign said, "Climb up the tall tree. Tonight we will sleep in its highest branches." And the young man did so.

On the dawn of the fourth day, the young man awoke, and said, "O spirit, why have you led me like this? Now my body is weary and cold, and I am afraid."

Said Calign, "What do you desire?"

Said the young man, "I desire food and blankets."

And Calign replied, "I have taught you all I know."

Koan 2: Pain

Koan 4

A man of great wisdom said to Calign, "The task of sowing and harvesting is divine, for without it we would scavenge food from the earth like a wild dog."

Hearing this, Calign began to untie the man's hound.

Said the man, "What are you doing?"

Said Calign, "Sowing."

Koan 4: Dog


By the time the spirit set foot on the barge, it had seen much. By the time the second full moon of the flooding season rose, the men of the raft were becoming unnerved.

Calign didn’t stand on the boat. It stood on a small mass of sphagnum that had sprouted on its wooden surface the day it had come on board. Each day, or sometimes every few days, the sphagnum would move, often when the traveller itself had disappeared from view. It was the only indication the river men had that the visitant wizard was alive. They never learned its story. It seemed more confused than they were when they asked. The men wondered whether they had adopted a ghost, but the beasts it brought with it grounded the wizard firmly in the dirt of threatening reality.

The big crocodile-pig the wizard called Buaya treated them like a particularly contented cow might if it had sea legs. The gut of the beast weighed heavy on their laden raft, but it seemed content to eat no more than a few reeds each day, fed from the wizard’s hand. It was the long leggy lizard that had to be tied down, in the end, with a papyrus cord. It seemed to grow longer and leggier every day, putting on thin flappy skin rather than scales or muscle, and looked… wholly inedible.

The laughter with which the river men normally passed the second cataract (there was no longer a first cataract, not since the building of the great dam Al’ba, from which they had set forth) never materialised, and they found themselves discussing in low voices how readily they could pawn their sea-abalone and salted porpoise here, now, no more than a third of the way up the river. To their relief, it was Calign that put a stop to it.


The wizard stepped out of a sunset sunbeam with its fist upheld, a gesture far too firm for the taste of these civilised men (rough as they may be). They stared into the orange light that veiled it and found a faceful of panic. ”Halt! Stop! Stop moving your long sticks! Listen.”

The river men listened to a wizard that was no longer facing them, or anything of theirs. Calign leaned over the fore edge of the raft and fell into the mud.

The planks of the barge creaked a little. The men eyed one another.


No, said the mud. Nothing here.

When the river erupted, it did so in a heaving flurry of silt and splash and slashing blades of bone. The fish was as brown as the mud beneath it, and its mighty rostrum longer than a two-edged sword. By the time the water had stilled enough for the men to judge its length by its smooth, broad forehead (at ten or eleven cubits, as long as six men head to toe), the white robes of the wizard had reappeared, shining in the ripples.

”The fish!” They saw Calign’s teeth for the first time, grinning like a skull. ”Gergaji, the fish, the fish! It was living here for a hundred years, and its mother was living more! I trace its line back to Lalinc. Good speed be upon you! I will meet you in the great city!”

Calign mounted the leviathan sawfish with bare hands and bare feet and disappeared deep down and far ahead in the silty river, leaving them with a barge of coastal goods, a crocodile pig, and one leggy, leggy lizard.

The river lazily snaked across to what might have been a hundred distant horizons. Here and there were small villages, date groves, and farms; elsewhere the bulwark of larger cities rose up to either side, and still in other places the river seemed like a wild swampland or jungle, ruled by crocodiles and other great beasts.

The river grew narrow and swift in parts, lazy and fat in others, but always it kept going. There seemed no end, and in truth, after so many days it began to seem like all parts were the same, or close enough. But then there came a part of the river where the banks had something very unusual--there were hundreds of humans, swarming about like little ants, bearing shovels and stones. They had dug out a great ditch through the land, perpendicular to the river, and begun the process of shoring up the trench with a lining of stones. Only a narrow piece of land remained intact to separate this ditch from the great river’s edge.

It was no one’s fault, really. The retaining earth had been reinforced as much as was reasonably necessary, and the spirit was only curious. Neither it nor the company of its distant kin working on the other side had reckoned with the softness of the riverside silt, or the bulk of the elder sawfish.

The sandal-trod earth between the trench and the river gave way in a wet, slow, and heavy slide under Calign’s mount the moment it beached itself on the strip of land, and to its pleasure and the further shock of every workman present, a great gush of river water followed. The trench eagerly served its purpose, guiding the torrent up and up the canal, sweeping fish, wizard, and workman all together in a muddy catastrophe up the length of the stone-lined ditch.

Under the shade of a palm tree in the distance, Ninazu sat upon a stool. There were many a cuneiform tablet strewn by his feet; his reference figures and earlier designs had been cast into clay for safekeeping. He had before him a makeshift table though, and on it he scratched at a papyrus sheet with a piece of charcoal, making sketches and working out more ephemereal ideas...until he heard the panicked screams of his laborers, that was. The diggers and stonemasons, many of them not knowing how to swim, howled wildly as they flailed in the rushing water. Those with presence of mind tried to grasp at the stones along the sides of the channel, hoping to find purchase and climb out before the sudden rush of riverwater and the debris that it carried could drown them.

At once a bead of sweat formed upon Ninazu’s temple. “No, no,” he desperately muttered. “Everything was going right!”

He spun to face one of his attendants and a foreman on break, both of whom just stood there besides him in the shade of the tree. “This is not what we had planned!” he roared. The two flinched from his voice, but he had already broken into a sprint (or at least, as much of a sprint as he could muster in those fancy blue robes) towards the channel.

Panting, heaving, he grew close and saw a thing that defied reason and all expectation; there, amidst the mass of drowning men and churning muddy waters, was some sort of strange being locked in a sunbeam. But Ninazu paid it no mind, of course.

Ninazu was tall and well groomed, with a long black beard that was square and braided, clothes that were worth a small fortune, and a calm disposition. At least that was the picture that most who knew Ninazu conjured in their minds whenever they recalled the man, and that was as he’d been mere minutes past; now he was a disheveled and sweaty mess standing beside the canal, spots of muddy water having already splashed onto his azure clothes. He stooped down onto his knees and offered his hand to a man below. The desperate workers grasped at it and pulled so hard that it nearly brought Ninazu down into the waters too, but the noble steeled himself and heaved, and just barely managed to pull the man up. But he did not suffer the coughing man any respite. “Help the others!” he demanded.

The half-drowned man that he’d just saved could only wheeze in response, and it was only then that Ninazu took in his surroundings and saw the dozens of other people standing around uselessly, gawking at him. With another cry of frustration, he snatched up a shovel that had been lying by the edge of the trench and threw it to the closest foreman. “What am I to do with thi-”

“Save your men, fool!”

The foreman half-scrambled and half was pushed to the edge of the canal, and there he fell to his knees and with outstretched arms held out the shovel for the drowning men to take hold of.

As the trench filled and the rush lost its white edge, water-tossed men crawled, flailed or were hauled onto the bank. Shim was one of the younger foremen, not a strong swimmer, but strong enough to keep a head above water against the surge when a palm branch was held to him. It was on his powerful back that the spirit alighted, soaked to the lips in mud. The magnolias in its horns had folded into buds.

”Where is my fish?”

Shim turned a weary and sickened head to look at the stranger with the absurd question. He could only sigh in response, and Calign didn’t get much of an answer from anybody else either. In the distance, further up the canal, he saw the familiar blue of Bal Ninazu, taking command and issuing orders for the medical treatments that were to be given to the men pulled from the waters. Some were still down there in the muddy mess, limp and having to be dragged out by the others.

The young foreman soon joined their number, thrust out onto the bank by strong, sharp hands from below. The next time the wizard emerged from the water, it was carrying another man by the wrist, its loins girded, kicking against the mud with the strength and swiftness of a frog. This time it crawled out with him, dripping and slick.

”My fish has startled,” it elaborated to two men beating water out of the chest of a third, whom they pulled a little further away. Calign swiftly realised that these men were quite useless, and followed the pretty one like young does follow the aged mother. With some and rising caution, it let its robe fall and approached the shimmering peacock, skipping awkwardly in between the much larger men.

”Sire,” it said (for it had learned much!), ”What is the meaning of all this?”

The Bal straightened his back and regained some of his lordly composure when he was finally approached by the strange thing that he’d witnessed earlier. “Disaster!” he spat. “Weeks of toil has been stymied; it might take days to block the breach and repair the channel again. And who knows when the laborers will recover!”

A deep scowl appeared on his face, only thinly veiled even by his beard. And then he pointed an accusing finger right at Calign. “All of this project was carefully planned, the channels perfectly designed my own hand and the digging done under careful supervision. Are you the cause of this...this…?”

Calign looked out over the settling waters and the extent of the trench. It observed carefully the dropped and scattered tools, the bruised and heaving men, and finally turned its head back to the breach connecting it all back to the river. It rested its chin on one knuckle and thought hard.

”No,” said the wizard. ”I just brought my fish onto the earth separating the waters, that is all.”

“In one breath you deny the crime, yet in the next you freely admit to breaching the gap! Do you not understand the gravity of the destruction and mayhem that this recklessness has caused? And what do you mean ‘your fish’? That beast that was thrashing in the waters? A man who cannot control his animals and property is one worthy of little respect!”

Calign reacted to the scold as it might have reacted to being struck, raising arms, then lowering them again. That was not the way things were done here. ”She is the heir of an ancient line. She belongs to no man! Now she lies in your… pool, and I must calm her. You can,” it waved its wrist, ”address… your problems as you like. I want my fish.”

“And what, pray, are you going to do with the beast once you calm it?” he demanded.

”Begone from this place, to be sure,” said the wizard. ”You are very loud and do not know how to swim.”

“Oh? And what will be done in the way of compensating those whose work you have disrupted and whose bodies you have harmed? I think that you do not know where you stand. This is the civilized realm of Akk-ila, a kingdom of law and order, not some backward swamp where men and fish come and do as they please. And downstream, where I think your accent tells your origin to be, is Aïr, a place of similar customs. You think that the Lugal (who rules with wisdom and strength!) will suffer any crime that the masters of other kingdoms would not?”

”I don’t think he would find any quarrel with me. The Lugal and I --”

“Blasphemer!” a dozen voices called out. Where before they had just been gawking, now the peasants began to encircle the bickering duo and eye Calign more maliciously. It slowed.

”...are very similar. He is a man of lush gardens and many creatures. And I am also a magos...”

“You disrespect the Lugal (crowned with wisdom is he!) with your refusal to give his name the veneration that it is owed, and with the audacity to compare yourself to him and to refer to him as a ‘magos,’ as if he is some practitioner of petty tricks rather than a king invested with the power of the gods! And in disrespecting the Lugal (eternal glory unto him!) you disrespect the entire Akkylonian kingdom, and you insult me too, for I am named Ninazu and I am the fourth of his sons.”

The murmuring silence that followed was not punctuated by a growl. It could have been. Calign’s lips had retracted slightly from its teeth. They were not the kind that bit apples. The unsettling display had many of the murmering workers step back and tighten their fists or their grasps on whatever tools they had.

“I do not owe. The witch’s eyes found Ninazu more fully this time, observing in him the curves and lines of strength it would one day see again at the source. ”When I meet your father I will respect him with peace, as I respect you with calm. Ask nothing more from me.

The righteous indignation began to seep out of the scholarly man; near any Akkylonian would have been inflamed by the stranger’s, the invader’s destruction and its disregard for society and manners, but Ninazu had the rare presence of mind to know when it was best to deescalate. Though he had been blinded at first, the realization that this was indeed a being of power had begun to dawn upon him, and he was well aware that provoking a fight, justified as it would be, would be unwise.

“It is clear that you are not accustomed to our ways,” he began once more, now keeping a much more level tone and composure. “So, for my part, forgiveness can be attained easily enough. You have rendered neither apology for your wanton destruction nor offer of reparation, but those two things are all that I could demand. Should you encounter the blessed Lugal (crowned with wisdom is he!) then I know not how he should react, but I would be wary, for he is more wroth than I, and his might surely surpasses your own as it does that of all others.”

It was the labouring men that his words served to calm, ordering them around his wise request, and it was the change in the breath of those men that Calign followed, gradually, to calmness. “...That is all, then. This is my apology.” The spirit plucked a bud from its muddied antlers and held it. Water spilled from between its fingers, and when the bud was given, leaning forwards in a slight bow, it had bloomed into a clean, pure blossom. ”There will be no such trouble by the time I reach the Lugal… who I am sure is very great.”

The disheveled Bal gingerly accepted the flower in an outstretched hand, taking a few moments to look at it with curiosity. “A good start, then, would be to display your admiration for the Lugal (who is wisdom, arisen!) with your words, for one’s words are a reflection of his thoughts. You have blasphemed many times today, hopefully only out of ignorance, for if you should ever mention my father you must halt there in the middle of your thought to offer him a just praise, lest you would deny him the veneration he is owed by all, and risk offending the men of this country, the beasts, the very hills--all of the things beneath the sky that have ears to listen.”

”...I see,” said Calign, and nothing more. It knuckled its eyes, smearing the mud around and wiping a little off, then walked back to the edge of the nearly full trench, head flicking to catch the eyes that were on it. “I will repair the breach on my way out, if it matters so much. What is this?”

Ninazu and the assembly of men did not seem entirely satisfied with how the enigmatic…barbarian sorcerer received the explanation of his error, but the offer to stem the flow of the water was well received.

“The canal is an irrigation channel,” Ninazu answered to a blank face. “Think of it as a small river! We shall make a whole system of these channels, branching them every way to spread the lifegiving water far and wide. When it has been finished and we are ready to flood it, it will carry water a long ways inland to quench the parched drylands, and many more ploughmen will be able to till their fields and make something more productive from what has been a desolate stretch of land fit for little more than grazing. Farther downriver in Aïr, you may have seen the Al’ba--a mighty dam built under the guidance of the one called Elmer, not simply splitting the river’s flow but stopping it in its tracks altogether so as to create a great reservoir. One day, I shall build one even more glorious and magnificent, but until such time I make content with more humble projects of a modest size and nature.”

Calign’s fingers stirred the pulsing water. ”...desolate.” The broad tip of something vast and serrated stirred just enough to touch its submerged fingertips. ”When I swam in the lake of the Al’ba, I found trees on its bed. So great was the reservoir.” The saw of the great fish emerged from the water and nuzzled against its resisting hands like a dog finding its master. ”You people are quite strange.” It leaned forwards and tumbled into the water.

“Nature is a cruel, uncaring, and petty foe. The men that do not bring her to heel are left to suffer whenever she deigns to make it so. So, we who like to fancy ourselves great must bend nature to our will. To do anything less, be it from sloth or from fear, would make us lesser men.”

Perhaps the spirit didn’t hear him.

The waters of the trench gave a heavy, languid pulse, the sign of some great tail turning in the mud. They saw the water bulge with little fanfare, and the workmen of the river bore memories ever after of the body of the great gergaji, seen for a moment but seen clearly, skirting the shallow water of the breach and departing that place, only the peak of its highest fin breaking the river.

With its passage the water of the breach bloomed green, as green as crushed leaves. Mats of knotted, fibrous green scum bulged up from the waters and locked together, and died, their soggy mulch swiftly consumed by the sturdy roots of tall ferns. In an instant the broken earth was plugged by root and moss and wood, shaded by the fronds of a little grove, where before there was only mud.

A hundred water-lilies bloomed in the trench, and the spirit was seen no more.

Far down-river, where five barge gondoliers were having tremendous trouble sating the appetite of a huge crocodile-pig and had lost their lizard charge to a gnawed rope, the buaya stood and shrugged its horny shoulders, and splashed placidly into the water. With good speed and great gnashing of nails the men came upon the city Akk-Ila. But there they found no mossy spirit, nor any sign of its beasts, nor was any news of such thing heard for many miles around.

Koan 3

A lesser scribe of the house of Ashur-Lishi came to Calign and said, "O spirit, let me follow you. I will write down your words and preserve them for the teaching of nations."

Calign said, "Why?"

Koan 3: Teaching


Calign dug its bare feet into the mud as its steed shoved its big pointed snout further into the heaped-up pile of weeds and hay. The happy munching sounds coming from within the mound surely meant that they would be here for some time, probably a few hours, while the suchus ate and rested. It was the first time Calign would stop so close to a village.

The spirit rubbed one hand up against the other arm, as if cold.

They’d gone through a village before. Some of the plants here had crept over from its forest, mostly old fig trees and some water lilies, but most of it was of the other kind, maples and olives and that kind of thing. At least there were planes. Cypresses. Quite a few that it recognised, actually.

It was easier to look at the trees than make eye contact with the people.

Am I bothering them? The first village hadn’t seemed too happy when the suchus had trampled a path through their big field of grass. The second village was content to bring food for its mount, so long as the mount was in the same spot as the other big snouted animals, though they were more surprised than anything. Their food consisted of the same grass. Grass was everything to these people, apparently. They were thrilled when Cal made the the grass grow, and angry when it was stepped on.

Honestly, Calign was a bit out of its depth.

It stroked the scrabbling lizard in its collar. It hadn’t even shed its invisibility for more than a few seconds at a time yet. What a mess...

In the village proper, Elmer stared at his hands, scrubbed clean as they were, rings gleaming on each finger. The window seat's cushions were cold against his back, even as the morning sun passed through the shutters to wash his robes in slates of yellow light.

The rings were simple bands wrought with white gold, bright against his dark skin, the metal scuffed by years and use. Sunlight warmed Elmer’s right hand, but it was the rings on his right hand that shone slightly. Each one hummed, shining the light of truth upon the words of the villagers. A magi was indeed nearby.

Elmer inhaled deeply, drawing in stale air. The wind that passed through the window hot and sticky, carrying in the smell of the forest and a whiff of smoke from a cooking fire in the square nearby.

It was a fortnight ago when the thing came to a merchant's child. A bird of supernatural inception carrying a blossom they said. Word spread like wildfire and caught the ear of a student of his academia. The rest, naturally, was history. With only his rings and the words of witnesses to go on, he managed to track the rogue wizard to this village.

Curious things, magi were. It was not often that such ones of enormous power and influence left their spheres or hovels. Lugal had been a wonderful exception. A student of fire and ambition... What little he saw of him now. Only news of his exploits too the north reached him now.

What about this magi? What did this one come looking for? There was only one way to find out. Gathering himself up, Elmer left the home a family graciously offered him temporary residence and made for the fields.

By the time Calign stopped frowning closely at the wattle-and-daub wall of one of the houses long enough to flick its ears and notice someone behind him, Elmer had, by luck or keen intuition, come rather close. Cal turned its head around its neck like an owl and felt its heart jolt. A giant…

...but a giant of a different kind. This one was old, bent, and didn’t carry anything that was obviously a weapon. He had a much greyer beard. Still, he was taller than Calign on tiptoe, and after the last one, it had no intention to get tangled up so soon. With one hand still pressing the wall, Calign slowly started to tiptoe away to the far side of the house.

”Ah, does the elephant chase after gazelles?” Elmer chucked after the magi, tucking his glowing rings into the folds of his robe. ”I did not mean to startle you, I forget myself when I am especially fascinated. This one is called Elmer.”

What in Hell’s name is an elephant? Calign’s shroud dissolved, but the spirit was still shy, and didn’t emerge from behind the wall. “...Me too. I should have heard you coming. Ah. Ummm.” Cal put the lizard back down its shirt before it could climb out. “...A black bird came carrying a flower. What kind was it?”

Elmer’s face soured in an attempt to peel back the wall of fog clouding his memory. ”A blossom of some sort. I was told by a student who was told by a friend and so on and so forth. I admit I should have investigated further. I suppose my age is catching up with me.”

Calign stuck its head out from behind the wall, ears rising a little. ”Students?” It cautiously stepped out. ”You… my name is Calign. I’m… looking for answers. You found me. Are you a witch?”

A smile peeled apart the sea of grey on Elmer’s face. ” Witch. Wizard. Magi. God. There are many names for us. I prefer the lesser, or greater. A matter of perspective. Teacher. Grandmaster. Preceptor. I just may have the answers you seek.”

”If you can tell me how all these people are living on grass, we’ll already be half done,” said Calign. ”So you are a wizard. And a giant. Umm. I… don’t know what to say.” It looked around. ”Should we… sit?”

”Grass? Giant?” the wiseman began with a chuckle, gesturing the magi forward as he sat himself down on a rock. ”What you call grass, we call grain. It’s properties grant us creatures of flesh sustenance, a key to our continued survival. And all grass is as nourishing or safe to eat I might add. The kind I’m sure you’ve seen the farmers growing in the fields is good for eats.”

Calign sat on a log, and realised that it had probably been rolled here for the very purpose. ”I know. But there seems to be so much of it. And so many people. And I can’t find it growing anywhere else, this grain… Do they plant it somehow? Is it poisonous, that they cook it in fire and water? Was it here before they put this city here?” Calign gestured a little bit to the tiny frontier village around them, then frowned and shook its head. ”! I’m distracted again. I’m sorry. Take me from the beginning, Teacher, if it pleases you. Tell me about… your land.”

Elmer lit up. One who was eager to learn! And so he began from the very beginning, and detailed to him the rise of Aïr and the intricacies of grain. All that Calign sought was made known.

By the end of it, Calign sat on his log with the lizard in its lap, fiddling with a long ear of wheat. A handful of village youths, and even grown parents, had come to listen to the talk and study of the ancients among them.

”...What about you, Master Elmer? You’ve seen all this first-hand. You’ve seen Aïr… in ways I didn’t think things could be seen, even by a magus. What else do you see? Can you see the future, too?”

”Even in my youth I could not see that far! With neither might nor magic.” he guffawed, cracking a palm against his knee. ”But to see is only half the battle. You must understand. Comprehend. And apply what you learn to the world. Then your eyes will be opened to you.”

Calign sat. ”Well, I’ve been doing a lot of seeing,” it said, trying to keep up and look competent. ”Understanding is… a little hard. But I’ll try. My eyes will be opened when I apply what I’ve learned...” It stared at the wheat for a second, then half smiled. ”Hm. How would you apply what you have learned, Master Elmer?”

With great effort, the old mage bent over and took up a handful of dirt. ”I have learned a great many things. And I will learn a great many more things. But what ever accomplishments one boasts of in the world, there is someone better than you.”

With a crack and gust of wind Elmer produced a third eye that shined like a diamond in the sun. And in his hand the earth began to smoke until it flared up into a great ball of white hot fire, burning so brightly that those who looked upon it hand to turn away for fear of losing their sight.

A clap. And the light was gone. The diamond was gone.

”I suppose my age had caught up with me.” he snorted.

Calign lifted its pale green eyes from where they had lain, fixed on that terrible eye, now just another wrinkle in the old giant’s forehead. It sent its gaze down to where the dust and mud had burned its retinas. That solid matter was gone now, gone just like the smoke.


The spirit stood. ”I… I see. Thank you.” The teacher of Aïr was old. Ancient. Like the gods. And he was alive, and growing, and learning. Not like the gods. ”I have… much to learn.” Calign flickered in and out of vision like the stripes of a grass-shaded tiger, and its ears were pricked just as high. ”I will… see you… elsewhere in your land. Thank you, Teacher.” Already backed up far into the fields of verdant wheat, Calign’s footsteps were nothing but the faintest breeze as it made to flee into the wilds beyond, its lizard clinging to the front of its robe.

”You mean to leave so soon?” the old man intoned in a gust of wind and a dead sprint, and the breeze accelerated. In almost a blink the magi was just a few steps behind it, hardly breaking a sweat. ”In your rush you dropped your weapon!”

Calign reappeared, all in one go, solid and real in the field. It held a low crouch, coiled like a spring, the same way it had crouched the last time a giant had come after it. Then it stood. ”...Yes.” It looked at the bronze knife in the bundle of leaves. ”I forgot. I wanted to ask you about it. ...What is it?”

”Ah!” the old man began, holding the thing up to the sun and squinting his rheumy eyes. ”A knife. A tool of great utility, capable of cutting the flesh. Even a magi should keep such things with them.”

Calign nodded. ”Yes, it is like a claw. Or… a sharpened flint, like my people use. But the material… It’s as sharp as a flint, but stronger. It doesn’t chip or shatter, but it bends. When I strike it, it sings, and it heats like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I’ve seen giants… wearing it. And your people use it too.” Calign looked up, a new fire in its eyes. ”...I was frightened of this thing, but now I realise that I already understand it. I couldn’t name it, so I was afraid of it. I still can’t name it, but now I’m not afraid. Is this what it means to comprehend?”

Elmer thumped at his temple with an index finger. ”Having little knowledge is like having your hands tied around your neck like a slave. Each learned moment is a knot undone, Calign.” he intoned, handing the knife back, handle first.

Calign opened its mouth to ask something, and then closed it. And smiled. “Thank you, Elmer,” it said, and meant it this time. It wrapped the knife in a blade of wheat, and disappeared from view. “Fare thee well.”

Koan 2

As he travelled around the world, Calign went into a forest, where he discovered a young man crying out in a loud voice.

Calign spoke to the man, and said, "Why are you in pain?"

The man replied, "Spirit, I feel no pain, but I am suffering."

Said Calign, "Why do you suffer?"

Said the man, "I am betrothed to a woman, but my heart belongs to another. If I marry the woman I do not love, I will surely weep the rest of my days, but if I leave my village with the woman I love, my father's house will be disgraced, and she may not love me. Now I am in despair, for I do not know what I should do."

Said Calign, "Walk with me through the forest." So they walked through the forest together.

When they had walked for one day, Calign said, "Pick up that rock and carry it up the hill." And the young man did so.

When they had walked for two days, Calign said, "Go, take off your clothes, and bathe in that river." And the young man did so.

When they had walked for three days, Calign said, "Climb up the tall tree. Tonight we will sleep in its highest branches." And the young man did so.

On the dawn of the fourth day, the young man awoke, and said, "O spirit, why have you led me like this? Now my body is weary and cold, and I am afraid."

And Calign replied, "What do you desire?"

Said the young man, "I desire food and blankets."

Said Calign, "How do you know you desire such things?"

The young man grew angry, and cried, "Begone, spirit! Torment me no longer!"

And Calign replied, "Go back to your village. I have taught you all I know."

Koan 2: Pain

Koan 1

A man came to Calign and said, "Spirit, tell me the place I will go when I die."

And Calign replied, "You are a man of sheep and soil. What use is this knowledge to you?"

Said the man, "My father's house has many sons, and this land beareth little. My life is poor and of small promise. You have said, 'when a man dies, he becomes such things as a tree, a bird, or a fish'. Tell me the place I will go when I die, so that might I be a tree, I might prepare now the soil in which I will grow, and might I be a bird, I may rid that land of rats and cats, and might I be a fish, I may take a boat to the ocean and sink it for my shelter. And should I be another creature of the gods, I may travel to that creature's place and know its ways also."

Said Calign, "You are concerned with things of little consequence to yourself. How can you think of yourself beyond death, if you do not even know what you will eat tonight?"

Said the man, "O spirit, this matter is dear to me, for my life is of little value. But if I know where I shall go when I die, I shall labour greatly until my death, that I might not be so impoverished."

Said Calign, "Very well. I can send you on a journey that will answer your question. Beware, for it is long and troublesome, and you will surely suffer on it. Do you desire to take this journey?"

Said the man, "Yes, spirit, greatly."

Calign slew the man.

Koan 1: The Journey


Between two great quillwort trees of ancient stature, about four or five metres up from the forest floor, there fell a bright and dazzling sunbeam. In that sunbeam drifted nothing but the dust of travelling fern spores, and, occasionally, a wizard. The light dappled past the swaying leaves of the canopy, changing shape with the wind. Like the wizard, the flecks of sunlight were now broken, now unbroken, now here, now nowhere to be seen.

Now nothing. Now a wizard.

Calign levitated in silent upright meditation, the white folds of its robes spilling down around it, arms limp at its sides, its wooden horns blooming gently in the light of the afternoon sun. At no particular signal, it fell slightly, flicked its cervine ears, and pushed off from a bough to float weightlessly forwards to where its curios were waiting.

It was an androgyne, delicate as the doe and yet hard, antlered, like the buck. Its body was slight, its face quite soft; yet it bore the claws of a hunter, and so its people called it Sire.

They were simple people. Their women gathered pith and fern and nursed. Their men would hunt and fish. They seldom spoke, and often sang, and rarely ever thought; Calign kept them because they were family, of the tribe that had once borne him. He kept them also to study them, and for this they were left untouched, bound by his spell but labouring under no command, permitted the art of wooden spears and body paint and even the use of fire.

There was no fire here today.

Calign's feet touched the ground and he crouched over what had been brought to him without making eye contact with the men and women of his forest, without even speaking to them. They watched him with nervous, flighty eyes as he laid his hands upon the body of the outsider.

The outsider was taller than the people of the fern forest, and wore... much more. His beard was thicker, his body stronger. His muscles were honed, sculpted even, not wiry and worn like the ragged fern dwellers, not lacking in protein. Calign rested a hand against his forehead, over his bulging eyes. Vomiting, seizure, paralysis of the lungs... a sure sign of poisoning. Malnutrition. This man had taken to the fruits of this forest in hunger, without knowing how to purge their poisons.

Calign explored his clothes until he found what he had hoped not to find, and retrieved it.

Sleek as a fish and sharp as a fang, denser than granite and embedded in ornate bone. Calign saw his own delicate face reflected in the blade of the knife. Unable to touch the strange thing, his fingers fading into fog the moment he grasped it, Calign wrapped it in a leaf and took it with him, marvelling once again at the unearthly weight of the alien tool. The little gathering of foragers watched him go, then disappeared into the forest.

Kampret. Astaga, astaga...

Calign kicked off from the lichenous floor and floated in one smooth, slow motion to a second grove. He set down the knife on a bed of moss, next to seven others. He looked around.

Hung on branches and splayed over rocks were helmets, tunics, cuirasses, and cords laden with charms. Bone, bronze, and polished jade glinted at him all around. On the ground, pairs of boots arranged in a row, as if standing to attention. Between the roots of a tree, seven skulls, all of Calign's collection but one.

He stood once more over the center of the grove, and the great skeleton.

It was two heads taller than him, easily, and laid out next to its spear. The bones had been picked clean in record time by worms at Calign's command; their smooth surface belied their freshness. Calign saw once more the deep scratches on its ribs and cranium, the shattered assemblage of its left wrist. In one place, its spine had been visibly broken- in another, beneath the head, completely torn in two.


Calign picked up the lower vertebra he had broken. There was something very wrong about the way it had shattered, and the way it was formed. There was too much smoothness and growth around the break. Between the destruction of the spine and the removal of the head, this bone had healed.

As he well knew.

What is going on out there?

Materials that did not chip. Hides bathed in some concoction of brain and urine that did not rot. False armour that protected against no earthly predator. Giants that would not die.

Calign knew there were great men beyond his forests, beings like him that bore powers from the Great Before. Men of sorcery, knowledge, and influence. Wizards. Magi. He had never met such men, only heard their presence whispered on the clouds.

It was past time for that to change.

As quick as a cat, the spirit flung itself across the forest, now flying, now running. It passed pools of disc-bodied salamanders, duels of giant dragonflies, the trunks of mighty ferns that speared through the canopy like fireworks. When it emerged on the white sands of the coast, a great beast was waiting for it.

"Buaya! Datang, datang." The big suchus wiggled her huge, studded shoulders and looked at Calign with dumb eyes. "We will go. Come, now, datang. We have a great journey ahead of us."

The crocodilian beast roused itself, yawning its enormous mouth, as large as a rhino and almost as stupid, much taller than its aquatic brethren. For its part, the spirit turned back to the heavy fog of the forest and started to trill a high, resonant whistle from the back of its throat, singing far across the ocean and deep into the woods.

Before it had finished, a dozen glossy black birds had emerged from the woods before it. They were plumed like ravens, but bore teeth and horny snouts instead of beaks, claws on their wings, and a second wing on each foot. Their tails were long as lizards', and ended in sleek vanes of plumage.

"Pergi keluar. Go out over the lands and seek the great magi." As it spoke, the spirit handed each of them a magnolia blossom plucked from its horns. "Give them this, that they might know a wizard is coming. Fly safely." One by one the birds departed.

Calign mounted the waiting suchus and clicked its tongue, beckoning the beast to move, and plucked a leggy little lizard from a nearby liana as they began to saunder steadily northwards.

"Witness me," Cal murmured to the lizard, sliding it into its robe, next to the leaf-wrapped knife. "A long journey lies before us, and we have much to learn."

Dad, execute this unfortunate soul who walks the wrong path.

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