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1 yr ago
Current ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
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1 yr ago
If you're not trying to romance the Pokemon, what's the fucking point?
7 likes
1 yr ago
Can't help but read 'woah' as a regular 'wuh', but 'whoa' as a deep, masculine 'HOO-AH!'
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1 yr ago
That's patently untrue. I planted some potassium the other day, and no matter how much I watered it, all I got was explosions.
2 likes
1 yr ago
I maintain that if alien life observed earth from a distance, they would jack off to it

Bio

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

Most Recent Posts


Alpha.

&

Vrog the Accursed


What wood and brick and granite had not been stacked in huge piles across the burned field had been erected into the base of a temple, a gargantuan pagoda already three storeys tall. The fog clenched around it, pouring through its windows as if afraid of what would happen if it were seen, and even the stream it was built over babbled in relative quiet. Its footprint alone was enough to hold a congregation of ten thousand worshippers, and the ceiling of that lowermost floor alone was dozens of meters high. The unseen feasting-spirits crawled across its roofs and grounds and walls, drawn to the grim magic etched into its every brick.

“So yeah, this is my office,” said Chopstick Eyes, flicking her lighter with little satisfaction.

Vrog, who had been in the middle of a “Sure, was made for lunch”, stopped and opened his mouth wide. Almost immediately, it half-closed into a perplexed scowl. His tongue slid out and wound through the air, following the forms of the wall standing before them at a distance. Another joined it, angling as if to trace around a corner, then another, and a few more. They soon snapped back in, the whole head shaking around them. Chopstick’s hair laced out, guiding the blind tongues to the edge of the temple by touch.

”I’m tasting what you’ve got going here’s not bad,” he scratched the putrid mess between his teeth, “But gut me, I can’t get a feel of something that big.” Hooked fingers picked out a waddle of dust bound together by spittle and flicked it off to follow a chewed seed. “Maybe if I’d got someone who can see-” a scraping of a hand, “Hold on, there’s just the guy. You’ve got a call from him, actually.” No sooner had he finished speaking that something began to stir and stretch inside him, twisting the surface of his armour in misshapen jutting moulds.

Chopstick made a visible “?” noise.

Vrog barely had the time for a final “Wait, not like-” before his mouth was pulled open from inside beyond even its already loose limits. Emerging from his now grotesquely widened throat, four iron-clad clawed hands clutched its edges and pushed out, then down, widening his head in a circle and folding the upper body down under it like a sleeve. In its place, hoisting itself up from somewhere it could not possibly have been earlier, a metallic pillar rose on its evenly spaced arms, surmounted by a visored head.

The featureless jagged block swiveled around, four burning eyes lighting up in recognition. ”Skragh! Good to hear you’ve found a name that rolls out easy. It’s a pain to remember everyone else sometimes.” The head turned to glance up at the temple and bobbed admiringly. ”I see you’ve been busy too.”

For a second, Chopstick grinned almost as wide as Vrog had. “Narzhak! So good to see you again!” Chopstick waited for more words to come out of her, but they didn’t. The grin vanished. She puffed at her cigarette. “I… Yeah, I’ve been busy. Met your guy. The little one. Six arms, bad dentist? She needed a ride.” She scrubbed the back of her wrist with a spare knuckle, looking twitchily at the piles of as-yet-unused brick and the walls they were meant to be building.

”That one? I’d been wondering where it’d gotten to. I should’ve thought of giving it some way of reporting back. It’s useless as a scout now.” The crude armoured torso swayed aside, settling in a more comfortable position over the half-inside-out body. It stopped in place for a moment as a thought hit it. ”Wait, d’you say ‘she’?” Narzhak’s head wavered heavily on its quadruple shoulders. ”Hrm.” He seemed about to add more, but turned back to look at the temple again instead.

“If she cute, she a girl,” said Chopstick. She picked up a ceramic flake and massaged it in her hands, then pitched it far into the air in a blur of violent motion. A second or two later, a distant click as it fell into place on the pagoda. She grunted. “...Tell me straight, Narzhak, did your secretary slip me a roofie? I feel like spit- I mean, like shit- and the tilework ain’t helping.”

The four hands ran along the fleshy circle they held on to, spinning something below it with a faint churning sound. ”I’ll check.” The head’s topmost eyes sank into its mask, molten iron dripping down to seal them from the surface like a curtain. They soon reemerged in a fiery burst, looking as displeased as a pair of embers could. ”It’s some scrap he got from K’nell or someone. I bet he said it’d be funny. Couldn’t tell you how to get it out, but the best idea he’s got-” one of the hands let go of its support and pointed a finger at it, ”-is doing something you like.” The free hand scratched the gap below the visor’s edge. ”He’s all yours when he comes back if you get a mind to something, long as he can at least walk when you’re done.”

“Fucking dreamboat,” said Chopstick Eyes, recognising the taste of the name. She flipped herself fluidly upside down and started doing push-ups with one hand, legs high in the air. “I should manage.” She threw herself upwise, landing somewhere with an imperceptibly better view of imperceptibly better targets, and drew a throwing knife from her hair.

The steel cut a line through the air as straight as a bullet, and embedded itself on a far tree. The unseen blood of an unseen monster rolled down the bark. The gutsplattered earth looked perfectly clean. Chopstick smiled a powerful smile.

“You’re right, it does help,” she said. She flexed an arm as far as it would go and pulled another knife, a scalpel. “Hey Narzhak, what do you think of a little trade?”

”Anytime.” The free hand stretched out towards the struck tree, fingertips lengthening like freakishly fast growths of metallic grass to scrape the ground around its roots. They rasped around like a mole’s paw for some moments and drew back, most of their length folding into invisibility. Narzhak raised the hand to his eyes, inclined his head to something and leaned on it again, pushing down on the stretched mouth. ”What’re you after?”

Chopstick had nipped off to a nearby refuse pile and started rummaging again. Chopstick was a master rummager. “See, Vrog’s… dry… mouth problems can be solved, I think. At least partially. Because, I’ve been working on a very similar problem very recently. And that might not matter to you, since honestly, I have the feeling mouth boy here might have had it coming. But there are a couple things you have that I’d like to trade for! And maybe other services that I can provide.” There was a remarkably large amount of fabric in the pile, for such a rainy place.

Two pairs of shoulders rose and fell in a well-timed double shrug. ”Tell you the truth, I miss having a working mouth to visit. A drink you plug into your throat isn’t the same, you know?”

“Could do something about that,” said Skraghnaphgh. She pulled out a large silk arrangement and hung it out between her arms. Soaked though it was, it was still clearly recognisable: a torn kite, woven with an ornate eye. She handed Narzhak-Vrog the string.

An iron claw took it, the head over it following its thread over to the staring embroidery. Its own eyes dimmed and simmered down to scars of incandescent metal, luridly red like coals from a dead fire. Narzhak held a splayed hand before the kite, waved it slowly from side to side. Then, his hybrid body shuddered and dragged itself out of the kite’s gaze, leaving it to face the temple wall. Its lower half moved in awkward spasming twitches, as though directed from far away with tangled puppet strings; between this and Vrog’s already distorted proportions, it was a miracle that the sauces it still held in a rigidly frozen arm did not spill over.

Liv crooned:

Upon its magic silk festooned,
An oddish kite has odder eyes.
It watches us, like yonder moons,
For gods in distant skies.


After a brief contemplation, the god’s true eyes lit up again with a sudden crackle. ”Easier than sticking more eyes on something. There’s a lot you could do with this. How many’re you offering?”

“I’m afraid these are out of stock,” said Chopstick Eyes, taking the string of the eye-kite for herself just to make sure it was still working. “But you can still get your hands on them. I made them for my staff. They aren’t the sightsiest, see. Or the fightsiest. Which is a problem, but I feel like there’s a win for it in both of us. Scuze-moi...” The godlet nipped off under the shade of the giant pagoda, and emerged dragging a corpse under a tarp. “Here’s one,” she said, and gently lifted the canvas.

The curator lifted its head.

It was immediately clear what use such a being would have for the eye-kite. It bore for a head a large paper lantern, flickering quite wildly in the rainstorm wind. Its left hand was a little brass screw-vice, its right a thin bamboo cane. It tapped the earth around it with clumsy bewilderment. By the sound of the movement underneath its billowing robe, the rest of it was made of wood.

“They’re not waterproof yet. Or very agile. Or smart, or… Yeah. They don’t do much,” said Chopstick. “But they can count! They can count things really well, and remember a lot of stuff. And draw the stuff they remember, and put numbers together. They don’t get tired, either, and nothing hunts them. Except termites. Fucking hate termites.” She looked up. “I made them to keep track of all my stuff. I figure I’ll be able to move materials around much faster with them crunching the numbers. But I figure they’re gonna need some help, uh… Staying alive to take all those notes.” The lantern-headed curator tried to get up, muddying its robes further. Chopstick wrapped it up in the tarp and raised it overhead, jerking her head to the pagoda. “Want to wheel that thing inside? Less wet.”

The two half-bodies totteringly shifted on their uneven feet. ”Tad hard to walk in something this small,” Narzhak rumbled, doing his best to keep his weight even on the center, ”Hold on.”

He pushed the edges of Vrog's mouth closer to his body, leaving his four elbows jutting out far outwards. Their tips swelled as with a sudden tumorous burst under their iron skin, and in seconds the formless bloating resolved itself into one long, thick clawed leg on each arm. Raising himself on his new set of limbs, which stretched well past the crooked asymmetrical paws he had until then been staggering over, Narzhak-Vrog scampered towards the temple's gates like an unusually heavyset spider. No trail of rotting footprints followed him.

”Big, open place,” he mused as he went, whether to Chopstick or himself, ”If they'll be working from here, they're going to need a damn proper lot of watching all day round. Could be almost a thousand, and that's without counting shifts. I can bring that many heads over from my place, but I don't have to tell you what kind of hassle it's going to be.” His eyes shot up to the dizzying top of an arch as he passed under it. ”Else I could fly in a bunch of skestral, that'd be a lot easier on the logistics. They act up sometimes, though, you might've noticed, and can't do a lot about termites either.”

The tangle of god-parts stood, slime-filled underside swaying, as Narzhak scratched his head with an uncomfortably twisted arm. ”Making something new on the spot's not going to be any smoother. Bottom line, the best way is working with what we've already got here. You have any more of your-” he fumbled for a word, ”counters? Countants? What're you calling them, anyway?"

“Lantern heads,” said Chopstick, as they entered the pagoda and the question answered itself. About two hundred man-sized mounds lay on the ground, clothed and unclothed, or in pieces, chalk outlines marking where they were meant to go. Some were awake, and looked dimly up from where they stood or sat tapping their abacus, not fully blind after all. In the center of it all stood a Haze Man: [colour=gray][b]“[].^* !~! *^.[] coffee. .eeffoc”[b][/colour], it intoned.

“And, don’t worry,” said the goddess, tossing a coffee bean at the sentinel. “They won’t need much looking after, especially not here. This place is cursed as fuck. But if you want, they could travel with your little winged dudes, or with the ones that’re like Split, the ones that keep buying stuff from my basement. Then they can lend their kites as much as you want, and their numbers, and their maps. They’re guides, after all. Logistics is the one thing they’re kind of good at.” She shrugged. “But it would be nice if they had, like… a little bit of bite, I guess. Especially if they’re going to hang out with your boys.” Choppy clasped her hands together and looked at Narzhak spikily. “Pretty please? I can put it in a contract for you, if you want~"

”Slagspit, it's hard enough moving in this thing, and you want me to work?” the iron head rumbled, with less than genuine irritation. It looked at Choppy, then at the mannequins, then at Choppy again, and finally gave a wheeze like a rusted pipe in mock defeat. ”...Fine, I'll see what we can do. Never mind contracts, I've got a good memory for things that matter.”

Chopstick swooned. A mass of gloves materialised to hold her up in a dramatic pose.

In a few insectile strides, Narzhak's body was over one of the idle wooden figures. Three legs tremblingly balanced the bulk over them as the fourth picked over the dummy's limbs and lantern. ”Don't lift, don't hit, don't do spit except counting. I can't do much about that, but I don't think I need to…" a long finger reached into the lantern from the hole at the top, ”Going to need some raw scrap here. You got a couple knives you can spare?”

Chopstick Eyes flipped a tatami floorboard, revealing a deep, broad square pit packed to the lip with loose blades. “God provides!”

A second later, the tatami crashed down nearby. Coffee looked at it.

The blindly grasping iron hand slid over it, lifted it to the four eyes, then threw it back away and reached further into the cutting tangle. A first fistful of blades was rubbed into a thick, smooth-edged ingot, from which a few shavings were let drop into the mannequin’s lantern. Something began to scrape from inside the paper globe with the fury of an agitated cricket.

Narzhak ran a sharp finger down the wooden body, and the inner scraping followed it. ”That’s the easy part. These heads better be tougher than they look…"

Chopstick crossed her fingers and hoped Narzhak didn’t notice her glancing away.

By the time he looked up from the last of the rigid-limbed subjects, it was growing dark outside, or at least slightly more gloomy than during the daytime. In the deepening shadows of the pagoda, the bobbing lantern heads became steadily less pale as they came into their primordial role.

The final dummy was flung sitting upright by a light tap on its back, finding itself paper to mask with its improvised surgeon. ”If this doesn’t do them something, I don’t know that anything will.” Narzhak outstretched a waiting hand behind himself. ”But I’d rather be sure while I’m here. Eye?”

A fumbling and skittering around saw Chopstick emerge from the dark with another ornate kite. There were scratches around her knuckles and forearms, and some loose bricks piled up in odd ways on the ground. Having something to do beyond watch staved off the jitters. “Are they going to keep making that shreddy sound?”

”Sometimes. Should help with the termites.” The hand passed the kite from her to the dummy's vice-limb, which closed around the string with mechanical eagerness. ”As for bigger things, they've got this...”

The metallic claw suddenly clenched into a fist and struck at the mannequin's chest with the speed of a trained fighter. However, the wooden shape was no longer there to meet it - sometime between the punch's wind-up and its swing, it had leaned sideways with its usual rigidity, avoiding the blow by a hair's breadth. A swipe with another claw followed, and again the dummy leaned back just in time for the jagged fingers to miss it by the narrowest gap. It made a little hop to the side to evade a downward stomp, and suddenly riposted with its thin cane. Had Narzhak's eye not closed with godlike promptness, the bamboo tip would have stabbed it dead in the middle.

”Looks like they've learned to count the right things. If you know when to move and where to hit, you can get by even if you're slow as wood." He took a few steps backwards and rubbed his hidden throat. ”Wish I had a head like that if it wasn't paper. So, for all this, I'll just take the indefinite right to-” he rattled ahead as if through a speech he had been preparing in his mind, ”requisition the services of one or several of them, myself or through representatives, free of charge or for a token fee determined by the duration, until-” he scratched the back of his head, ”further notice. And something about the mouth here. Sounds good?” After a moment's reflection, he added ”Did I get those right?”

“Free of charge up to an amount totalling half their current number, the exact individuals making that number subject to reassignment by me or a representative to ensure that this facility remains manned during their excursion, until such time as a number of lantern heads equal to half their current number have perished, entered stasis, deserted, or otherwise become incapable of adequately performing the duties of their order in the course of their service to you; and on further condition that their services do not include aiding, abetting or perpetrating the destruction, desecration, or otherwise malevolent handling of any property or persons employed by Chopstick-Eyed™ enterprises, without prior permission from said enterprises...”

As she spoke, Chopstick scraped the now-much-emptier pit for spare knives, pulled out a dozen or so and spun them with lazy grace at the lantern head, whose grounded kite had numbered the angle and force of her motion in arcseconds and micronewtons, and dutifully calculated that it could stop nearly every knife by dropping its limbs and falling, puppet-like, into a bundle of wooden limbs on the temple floor, its elbow neatly folded over the better part of its head. After a few seconds it stood, rather shakily, picking razors off its arms without complaint (though perhaps a little indignation).

“...So don’t kill them too quickly, use them against me, or take them all at once, and we’re golden!” Chopstick collected a large scalpel from the lantern head, and touched the back of its blade with her finger, then looked up and stuck her tongue out. “You did good! Pretty cheeky, actually. Don’t worry about the mouth thing. I should be able to sort that out quite easily. You’ll just have to have this body sit still-ish for a little while, and... make sure Vrog’s not looking too hard.” Grin. “I ain’t gonna hurt him. Just gonna leave him a fun little surprise.”

It took Narzhak a few more seconds to scratch himself into focus and rearrange his eyes, which had drifted a little apart under the barrage of terms and conditions. ”We’ve got it, then,” he nodded, curling up the fingers on his legs and letting them slide apart until the joined body rested on its original, lopsided limbs. The elbow-arms continued to smoothly travel up despite having no more length of floor to go over, rising and folding back into blank metallic joints. Left to its own devices, the body tottered on Vrog’s misshapen feet, and only stood precariously still after some careful pushing from the top.

”I’ll leave it for him to find,” one of the fiery eyes gave an oblique wink, ”give you some room to go wild if you feel like it. You’ve got a big margin before he starts feeling anything.” The original four arms stretched the mouth a little wider as the god's pillar-like body began to descend with a loud scraping. It slowed down a fourth of the way in, trying to crawl back less loudly.

”Been good seeing you, Skragh,” the head sank by three short tugs, ”You need anything else, give me a shout. Just make it loud enough that I hear it from down over.” Two longer ones. ”And if you're ever going by the place, it's always open.” One long grinding pull, and it disappeared into the maw. The arms followed suit, with only the barest hint of nail-sharp fingertips glinting over its edge. ”When you're done, just push the hands in, should wake him up. Get you around!”

Chopstick saluted the descent of the warlord. Coffee waited to be sure that the foreign god was gone, then turned to its master, who was spinning the scalpel. “So long, big guy,” the goddess murmured. Then she looked back at the Vrog-body, and grinned.

The firelight glinted on the scalpel.




A bag full of fluid hung on a device like a coat rack, thin tubes running down from it and into Chopstick’s upper arm and spine. Gravity fed the elixir into her flesh through a valve.

She wore a black strip of thick, discarded fabric tightly wrapped over her mouth, the rough wool disguising how much she had bled into it. Later on she would finish the job more neatly, tidy up the loose ends and make sure she could still live her desired aesthetic, but the operation had proven complicated and for all Narzhak’s assurances she wasn’t sure Vrog wasn’t still in there somewhere, waiting to stir awake and pounce.

She wanted to have the satisfaction of being first.

Before her lay two wire frames on a craftsman’s desk. One was fixed into a plain yet stylish wooden treasure chest, albeit circular, lockless, and opening via a brass pedal, giving the impression of an abnormally classy garbage can. The other lay loose. In the former lay a flattened hunk of flesh only moving because its divinity superseded its rancid nature; in the latter, a rather nicer bag of teeth, more human and morphous. It was stitched up heavily at one corner.

“Alright...” Chopstick picked up the loose mouth that so resembled her own, placed it on a platter and ferried it carefully over to Vrog’s still silent frame, a spare arm carrying her fluid bags. Vrog’s churning visage had already regrown most of the prototypes she had cut out of him. She couldn’t tell if the biggest wound was still open because his stasis delayed the process, or because his left-hand mouth had been somewhat more permanent than the rest of his features. She didn’t care either.

She re-opened the scar and brought the smaller mouth closer.

“...”

Chopstick sniffed the air. No, same stench, as always. Nothing to make her feel queasy.

“...?”

The wave of nausea came again.

“Fuck’s sake...”

Pushing through the gut-deep repulsion and vaguely glad it had not shown itself sooner, Chopstick pushed the donor mouth onto Vrog’s meat and-

“...!”

Energy burst over her like a slimy bubble, drenching her brain in a filthy intoxication. Chopstick recoiled, ripping the mouth back with her and hacking, coughing her stitches open under her mask. Coffee was by her side in a twang of coiled metal, dragging her away. She scrabbled on the ground for the mouth.

“...!!”

A shred of meat had come away with the mouth and was squirming, roiling on the ground with wretched, pitiful life. Chopsticks’ eyes clustered on it. In a sleek instant, Coffee’s foot appeared in its place, and the abortion was stamped into a smudge.

Chopstick looked towards Coffee, who looked back with cold, hard light. She looked back to the stain. She coughed. Blood started to soak into her sticks. Her lanternheads noted this well.

“/}-_*+ +*_-{\”

“...Shut up,” rasped Chopstick Eyes, who could not understand. “Get out.” Coffee dissolved into powder and shade. She stayed there on the ground, kneeling in the lantern-light, comprehending slowly what had just been done. “...Fuck. Fuck. Shit.”

Work. That might help.

In little more than a few busy minutes, the bag’s fluids had drained a little lower, and Vrog’s new mouth had been welded into the chassis of a large pocket-watch, its shiny brass guts lying in neat piles on the workbench. A fresh wound had appeared in Vrog’s face, the meat lining the bottom of the pocket-watch, upon which rested Chopstick’s own.

She poured some rat poison down the disembodied maw. Vrog’s surface gave a half-hearted squirm. Good enough.

Chopstick flicked Narzhak’s fingers back down Vrog’s throat one by one, and when the last one was gone, she cleared her throat (it didn’t help) and said, “Wakey wakey~ you’re a cunt~”

A faint gurgling rose from deep below the many presumably convergent mouths on the fluid semblance of a face. Slowly, it articulated itself into a groggy ”Are too” without any of the roughly imitated lips having budged. Only after some more incoherent rumbling did the mouths start to move, one after another, in no particular sequence and without any more of a purpose.

Vrog's frame shuddered once, twice, then stretched itself with several cracks and a manifold yawn. The hands froze in midair as they remembered they might have been holding something when last conscious, then gave a wave and finished their ostentatious movement.

”Guts' sake, I hate it when he does-” the mouth spitting out his greeting to the world stopped when it realised it was not the right one. His hands shot up to his head, feeling their way over what passed for his face. They slowed in wonderment as they rounded the edges of the unfamiliar gaping hole they found, then jumped down over his stomach.

”Sure as spit this one didn't use to be here,” a tongue emerged from the wound and licked its edges, which were already sprouting the tips of a ring of teeth. ”And I'm gutted or I tasted something inside as it's supposed to. That you been doing it?”

Chopstick scraped up the copper gears in her hands and threw them down the pocket-mouth, followed by a bloody rag. She uncorked the rat poison and held that over the mouth, not pouring, looking at Vrog with eyebrow raised.

He made a few more scraping passes with his hooked fingers over his belly, which seemed to have slightly swollen since he had entered the temple, though it might just have been a trick of the failing light. A flickering tongue briefly smelled the liquid, and a claw gave the goddess a thumbs-up.

She exhaled, eyesticks flicking up briefly, and tilted the bottle. After a second, she started to shake it, liquid splashing onto and into the watch in messy spatters. “You weren’t supposed to enjoy that, but whatever, spit-head.”

“Hey, who you calling that?” Speaking through one mouth was not hindering Vrog from licking the rims of the others in delight. “I bust my gut letting you talk to your pal down there, and that's what I get?” For all the plaintiveness of his words, his slurping let on that he was enjoying himself a great deal. “Good stuff you got, though. You want something I hate, try sweet next time, can't stand it.”

Chopstick unhooked her intravenous drip bag from the stand, pulled down her mask, and bit through the master tube, shoving the sac of glitter-brilliant ichor down the watch. The left side of her mouth was bad stitches and skin grafts, stuck to the fabric by dry blood. The right side twitched. “Why the fuck did you feed me that pod, you dingus?

“Fed you what, scraphead?” The filthily-armoured abdomen was now clearly swelling, stretching the links between the plates covering it. While nowhere as ostentatiously heavy as it had been before its first explosion, it was steadily making its way towards an air of unhealthy gluttony. “I said it'd be fun if somebody ate it. You going to blame me when you stick a nail in your ass next?”

“Watching people shove nails in their ass isn’t fun! The sac caught on one of the watch-portal’s teeth and split open, disgorging its sugary nutrients. The god with the chopstick eyes, it seemed, preferred her fluid replacement flavoured with candy floss and unicorn semen. “I don’t even have an ass!

“And you'll never get one with this kinda thinking!” Vrog jabbed a recurve finger at her, “Things getting shoved into people are hilariouuuUURGHHH!”

He doubled over, retching, as the taste finally hit him. Something inside him churned and gargled as it tried to vomit the offending flavour, but found nothing concrete to push out. “Scumspit, you're fast, me and my big mouaAAGHLL!” A glob of some indescribable, eye-wateringly foul rejection was disgorged on the floor at his feet with a crash. A nearby lantern head clutched its chest as if to say, ‘good heavens’.

“EKHAAGH! I swear this is the spittest I've ever-” the rest of the sentence was lost in a strangled cacophony of nausea, “-gutface, got to hand it to you, nobody's ever done made me that slagged while I'm whole. You're near the worst.”

“Well don’t dish it up if you can’t take it, then!” Chopstick tried to derive pleasure from the decommissioning of her floormats, but wasn’t cruel enough. “See, now we’re even.” She drummed her fingers on the surface of the desk, then sprayed some industrial lubricant into the disembodied mouth to help wash the liquid down. “And at least you know this thing kind of works.”

“Sorta.” Vrog's tongue swept up the drips of vile spittle that rounded his still twitching mouths and distributed them on a shoulder like a hand of paint. “Think I'll let things settle before I give it a bigger try, though. You'd think I got diabwhatsitname with how I take to sweet spit.”

“Weirdo.”

He flipped a hand, hefting the rusted bong in its palm. A thin thread of steam was still somehow coming out of it. “Going to lie it out if you're done demonstrating. What's something strong you put in here?”

Chopstick finished tying a knot in her leaking intravenous tube and said, “Deep in the Bazaar, there’s a crystal that gives off magic vapours if you take a light to it. If you breathe it you become invulnerable to pain for hours, and also kind of really horny. I tried some and spent the next four days locked in a small box yanking out my own teeth. I’m not gonna sell it to you because I don’t want you to punch a hole in my pagoda.” She sighed. “But there’s tobacco in the yellow box. Hey, Vrog, before you make off with this-” she nudged the watch. “-I, uh, there was an accident while I was making it. There was...” Tap tap of a bare foot. “...I don’t think you should touch it. At least not while I’m touching it too. Probably not at all if you can help it. It’s really… Not stable. It’s got both our blood worked into it, and the two don’t sit together well. There’s some bad magical shit going on there.” She snapped it shut and palmed it off to the moderately-carved-up lantern head. “These guys probably aren’t strong enough to make it explode. We gods, we have to be careful.”

The bile-spattered shoulders that had been rolling in a gelatinous shrug stopped short at the mention of explosions. After holding up for a moment during which the head between them evidently reflected on what to do with them, they and the whole upper body slumped down in what would have been a nod for someone with a neck. “Cause if we wasn’t, we’d be the ones with nails in our asses, got it.” A long iron finger ran a line around a mouth. “But if I poked it and threw it at somebody? Akh, nah,” the whole hand gave a wave, ”Not worth a good mouth.”

“Yeah… Don’t,” she said, scratching the back of her neck.

Heavy, uneven metal-soled steps clanged and thumped their way to the gate. “So I’ll be starting with that deal you got up.” The finger snapped in the lantern-light for the bearer of the mouthed watch to follow. “Gotta figure something better when I’m travelling, but it’ll do now. I’ll be around the food-hole.”

Clang-ka-thump, clang-ka-thump-crack. Vrog’s limping moved outside down the path.

“It’s all yours. Enjoy,” Chopstick looked at the mats. “Nice meeting you.”

“Same.” The steps stopped, and another snap beckoned the lantern-head to follow. The dummy hobbled into the darkness without visible enthusiasm. “Smell you around.”

The clanking faded into the forest.

Chopstick scratched at her arms where the plastic tube entered the skin. She fiddled with it, and looked into the dark corners of the pagoda.

She picked up another brick.





Beta.


“Fuck off,” said Chopstick Eyes, waving her arms briefly around her head before wrapping them back around her skinny chest, shivering despite the weight of her bright green sukajan. The wintersprites didn’t let up, and they crowded closely around the shimmery fabric, fighting for space on her bomber hat and perching in neat rows on her chopstick eyes.

“FUCK OFF!” she yelled, waving more arms. The sprites dispersed, momentarily, frightened of being torn by the vigorous motion, but a few brave souls came back, borne on the winds of love.

Chopstick really regretted building that hundred-yard-tall blueice sculpture of herself.

The sprites had their own sculptures to attend to, though, and in time their numbers diminished enough that they were less of a problem. It was in this relatively unbothered state that Chopstick started to notice the unicellular plants that dusted the surface of the ice in a fine rain, and the sculptures of ice that the buoyant winter-spirits would never have naturally found a model for, being rather unable to submerge.

Levitating plankton, sculptures of narwhals. Chopstick was more than willing to accept that she wasn’t the spiciest mi goreng in the supermarket, but she had a good idea she knew what was up. It wasn’t long before a flotilla of flying squid passed close enough to prove her right.

Chopstick Eyes was riding her very own levitating orca by the end of the hour.

It was Azura’s work, for certain, and Ashalla’s. They must have collaborated hard on such a sea. Chopstick let the orca take her where it would, playing with one of the last remaining winter-spirits. It was curious, given the connection, that the sprites and the algae were driven by entirely different modes of photosynthesis. Chopstick dusted the spirit with patterns in green, gold and red plankton, then set it off back to the ice. Perhaps the coloured lineage would stick around and make some use of the symbiosis; perhaps its newfound requirement for trace salts would be its end. She didn’t know.

She was just taking her mind off the fact that Li’Kalla was nowhere to be found.

The blue, fresh waters she had smelled from miles away were here, dark dots marking the melt ponds where the ice was warmest. But no rain. The water here was just an emergent phenomenon, void of intent. Later she would have to voyage south again.

Until then, she could at least examine the source of that endless, lilting melody waving down from above.

She flew on.




Alpha.


The rain belted, sliding off broad leaves and strengthening the roots upon which Chopstick stood. Her saw rasped back and forwards, the noise deadened by the sound of the endless tropical streams flowing down off her hair in hot rivers. She’d given up on clothes a while ago; fashion was one thing, but even raincoats were just extra weight. Bangles and jewellery would do her just fine.

Never again.

She’d made a mistake; she’d lapsed and been burned for it. The wood was piled up in huge stacks and she carted it off to the build site by hand. No, nothing good had come of it. She’d find some other way to ameliorate her bad reflexes. Sleep wasn’t the answer.

She began to nail the planks together, the ring of her hammer the only sound penetrating the rain. Liv huddled up beside a forest-lantern in a small shelter, moodily looking on. Memories of the Bazaar’s construction were vivid, though working in the Galbarian elements was far more difficult. She had gloves to help her, this time, but she used none of them. Alone. She would do this alone.

The longer she worked, the longer she had to think about what she could do next. And it held back the memories of the night she’d woken up.

Bang, bang bang, went the hammer. She’d cleared an enormous space for this project, and already it felt far too small.

A tap on the shoulder.

“What?”

The glove pointed. A visitor. Chopstick reluctantly put down her hammer. Liv crooned.

Strangers coming o’er the strait.
A new thing for this bird.
Come now, goddess. We’ll be late.
Your call has been answered.


Well, time for lunch, she thought, flexing her wiry shoulders. She stroked Liv’s head and took her on shoulder. Wonder who it is?


Beta.


The Alma came on a midsummer morning, while Chopstick Eyes sat on a stone, watching sheep watching lambs watching butterflies over the fields.

"Good people of Galbar, I bring you grave news..."

The air flickered, and Chopstick jolted.

"Azura!"

There. Right there! Atop a whale with Asceal at her side! But Chopstick's smile faded, and the recording played on, lies and illusions all.

"...and the tools to claim your freedom. Each and everyone of you has an immortal soul, the essence of your being that contains your mind and memories. This soul is the very core of your being, more vital to your..."

It wasn't meant for her at all, no more than it was for the sheep. Somewhere, where living beings crowded the space between god and livestock, this message belonged. But not with Chopstick Eyes.

"Katharsos, the tyrant of death, has decreed that your souls, once severed from flesh should be put to the flame..."

Chopstick Eyes listened to the broadcast with growing apathy. Her thoughts were elsewhere by the time the footage of a griffin-soul burning was replayed, and she watched it as she had watched the sheep: without feeling.

"...so I ask you, I beg you, please people of Galbar, when your time comes let the Alma help you. Please use them to save yourselves! For only by your own wills can you set yourselves free!"

The bird fell silent. The two watched each other, chopsticks to eyes and back again, each waiting. The Alma, it seemed, had nowhere else to be, and nothing better to do, than to wait and see if she would die. Chopstick shook her head.

"You're wasting your time, buddy."

Perhaps mistaking this for a preemptive denial of access to her soul, the Alma preened, fluttered, and went on its way. Chopstick suspected it would find Ya-Shuur, and deliver the same message. She shook her head, picked up her shepherding crook, and stretched. She wondered if either the glowing lady or Azura actually believed that they could forestall annihilation. She suspected they both did.

How... breathtakingly naïve.

Everything burns, thought the alien shepherd, drawing an ancient fabric from the pocket of her overalls. Everything rots.

She looked out into the distant sky. Somewhere, far away, she smelled water. Fresh, fresh water. Miles and miles of it, splattered across the earth of midsummer. She looked back at the ancient kite, and wondered how many times she had reached this point, an instant away from alighting the high winds and travelling onwards, only to falter. She didn't know what she was waiting for. She didn't know why she failed.

Even me.

Azura was still out there. Sitting on an armoured whale, perhaps. Fighting a burning tyrant. Something like that. And here she was, stuck.

She sat back down on the rock. A lamb looked up at her. She looked away.

Her gaze fell upon a tiny whorl of leaves peeking out from a crack in the stone she sat on. There, too, there was something stuck: an ant, writhing on the sticky surface of the succulent mucilage. She knew this plant, had made use of it before. It was a butterwort, and true to its name, the honey with which it trapped and pickled its insect prey was also a great additive in the goatmilk that she and Ya-Shuur fermented in the spring.

The ant struggled on. The exoskeletons of its compatriots lay perfectly preserved elsewhere on the leaf. On the tip of a long pedicel, a tiny purple flower marked what their remains had fed.

Out of the eater came something to eat, thought Chopstick Eyes. Out of the strong, something sweet.

She leaned in and watched the ant struggle anew. The skewers on her face pinched off the tiny flower and dangled it before her face.

Butterwort.

She took the flower on her fingertip and shook it about, saw that it wouldn't come off. It was stuck.

Butterwort in midsummer.

The name fit her like a glove never could. One of Ya-Shuur's herder-wolves bounded up, momentarily spooking the sheep, and panted eagerly at the godlet, sensing change.

"BUTTERWORT IN MIDSUMMER!"

Chopstick's laugh echoed across the island of rain, and the molf shot a happy doggy grin as she wiped her sticky, sticky hands clean on its fur. She didn't know what it meant, quite possibly never would, but it was hers and it had stuck. She wiped more of the mysterious sticky fluid on her overalls, and unfolded the kite.

It was time to get out of this place, yes. She'd go to the north where the water was, and seek Li'Kalla's beast out there, and failing that, she would speak with Azura in its reflection. She'd check her postbox, pay her bills, and chase Kalmar over the cold flats, if she could find him. Together they would solve this riddle.

The wind picked up, and Chopstick Eyes was gone within the hour.


Alpha.


Chopstick stood on a raft of kelp, squeezed a brilliant rainbow bird under her arm, and said, "Pew!"

The Alma didn't budge. Chopstick sighed, adjusted her grip under the bird, wrapped her one hand around the creature's right leg and the other under its breast, tugged its leg sharply, and said, "PEW!"

With a squawk, the Alma lit up and blasted a mighty sunbeam into the air, shooting down a passing Skestral. The gargoyle returned to the basement of Galbar exactly as confused as it had come, only much deader. The Alma clucked. Liv croaked disapprovingly. Chopstick cackled.

"This is AWESOME!"

Edited my latest post summary

camels are now, technically, a 3 FP überspecies. their primary 'power' is their susceptibility to being redesigned by godly forces to survive in a new environment.

space camels, lava-walking camels, and other camelemental phenomena coming soon*.

*whenever the comedic timing is right.

Alpha.


Chopstick Eyes lazed in her underwear on an enormous frond of kelp, black glasses resting ever so gently on the tips of her chopsticks, about five inches away from her face. She snapped her fingers and a waterproof glove arrived, bearing yet another coconut shell with little bamboo straw. She took a long sip ('Ahh...') stretched out on the frond, and said, "So."

The various gloves awaited. One of them took out a notepad.

"You may ask yourself, 'how did this exactly happen?' You may be wondering why your life sucks, and mine is god damn peachy. And you should keep wondering that. 'Cos I'm not gonna tell ya. And that makes me feel grand."

The gloves shuffled awkwardly. Chopstick took another long, lavish sip, then threw the husk into the ocean. The sun glittered hotly on the surface of the waters.

"Psyche. Here we go."




Chopstick bounded over the Saluran Mendidih with divine alacrity, the great lava lamps dipping ever so slightly down on their stalks as she landed upon them, one by one. She'd taken care to pick one of the narrower points of the strait this time, and the journey was exceptionally fast by her standards. One could see each continent from the opposite shore, perhaps, if one had eyes that functioned as biconvex lenses and not omniscient antennae.

Unfortunately, the narrower parts of the strait were not directly adjacent to the Feasting Forest, and she had some walking to do. Pāṟa was still as densely vegetated as it had been when she'd left- perhaps more so, as the trees and ferns better-adapted to its rainy heat had begun to force their cousins into the mountains. But it wasn't lively. But for some neighbourly worms, there was not a living soul, not even a Gemstone Gardener. All the parrots, it seemed, had finished their work.

You don't know who you miss 'til they're gone, thought Chopstick, hugging herself in the eerie silence. The place needed new life.

Fortunately, she had just the thing.

Plucking a desert-horse from her pocket (it was a deep pocket), Chopstick Eyes clonked it on the head with a rock and set to work changing it somewhat. It wasn't particularly difficult labour. For all its special properties, the desert-horse was a rather simple construct, with plenty of room for change still written into the contract it had signed to exist. As the sole issuer of that contract, Chopstick had every right to request some subtle changes.

First she made it smaller, much smaller, in order to fit between the tight trees and shrubs of a tropical forest. Then she altered its coat, leaving it darker, shorter, sleek and somewhat spotty, with a tendency to green up with some of the local algae. Some tweaks to its muscles made it substantially more agile. When she let it go, the tropical camel darted happily into the ferns, looking like it had always belonged.

Chopstick dusted off her hands and continued on her merry way until she came across the mountainous regions of Pāṟa. Despite the latitude, this region was rather dry, and less alpine than it was scattered with great plateaus. Chopstick reached into her pocket for another desert-horse, and realised that she'd forgotten to bring spares.

God damn it.

She reverse-engineered a desert-horse from a forest-horse and called it a day.






There was competition among the gardener's trees as to which species would best tolerate the soil and climate of the Kick, but these plants were playing a fool's game. The woods of the Feasting Forest were thriving. Chopstick reached the edge of the forest much earlier than she had expected to do so, in a place she had never planted. The fog had spread along with the shrines, all on their own.

But the trees had had some help. Not all the gardeners had left.

Chopstick mistook it for an Emerald Kea at first. It was a good guess. But there was something more to it, some deformity, some mixture. Perhaps a hybrid. It leaned in, oh so slowly, and leered at her, and she looked at it.

"And who are you, little bird?"

In a wavering voice, one little practised in the sound-eating mist, the gardener replied:

Olivine, and a Kakapo
I dig and plant, and prune and hoe
In this place where no winds blow
But I will stay, if others go.


Chopstick ran her hand over the Olivine Kakapo's feathers and saw that it was wingless, or nearly so. Perhaps flight had done it little good over the years, or perhaps it had been born that way, and so forced to remain here.

"Do you have sisters? And who taught you not to eat from the shrines?"

A lantern ancient, from its tomb
Did speak, and save us from our doom.
Now we are many, green of plume-
Walking quiet through the gloom.


Chopstick blinked for a moment. None of the stone and clay lanterns she had left here would ever be so helpful. It took her a second to recall the single, ancient paper-lantern that she had left here years ago. She wondered where it was.

"Well, I like your style," she said. "Come with me."

The kakapo hesitated, then said,

I dream of something, now and then
Don't ask me why, or how or when-
But if you bear me from this fen
Then I would like to fly again.


"Done," said Chopstick Eyes.




"So we had a bit of a fly-around and eventually went back home. First I wrote my clone and asked her for her kite, though, but she said nah, get your own, I need it to get off this island, and also sorry for spending all your money. Pretty rude, right? It's not like it's hard to get off an island, I've crossed a boiling sea like twice so far.

"And then I was like, hey, fuck you, have you at least sorted out that problem with the superb slippery soul serpent yet? And she said no, but kinda, it'll be okay for a while, and I said, okay, whatever, I'll check in on it, also at least send me the Michael's Wand of Loudspaken, you're not exactly using it for shit. So she did. And I made a big announcement inviting anyone to come have a tea party with me in the Feasting Forest... Actually, I might've forgotten that bit. Ahem.

"Yo, anyone want to have a big tea party with me in my forest full of food? It's really fun! Great company, great times, all on me. One-time special offer, don't miss out!"


"...Anyway, so then I came back here to feed the serpent, and eh, I guess it's doing okay for something that looks like the grime on a radiator fan. But I figure it was cutting it a little thin, so I made this!"


Chopstick Eyes gestured out.

All around her was kelp and sargassum, golden in the sunlight. Sitting in the gyre that centered on the Alpha Serpent, no current disturbed them, and a dense mat had formed, stretching out in every direction for miles. There was animal life, too, all made to fit in. Mostly they were adapted from pelagic fish, or their larvae, seeking shelter. No megalodons or whales, but plenty of leopard sharks and porpoises; no colossal squid, but quite a lot of little tiny adorable squid. Most abundant were formerly planktonic crustaceans, which had not shrunk but grown. Amphipods and tiny crabs skittered and darted everywhere, even on the surface of the water, clustering together on the airy blisters of seaweed.

Her divine ears could still hear the song of the Serpent far below. Sooner or later, when its time came, everything in this forest would, too.

"Pretty nice, hey, Liv?"

The olivine kakapo creaked its warbly song from on top of the parasol floating beside her.

The gloves looked at each other and motioned quizzically.

"...What?"

One of the gloves pointed directly upwards.

"We don't fucking talk about that," Chopstick snapped, and turned over to tan her back.




Earlier.

"Enjoying the view?"

The pyres were bright as lit candles in the distance, and their smoke formed elegant nebulae in the dark. The kakapo, now Liv, gazed about them in worshipful terror.

Too long, my lady, have I been blind
The world is not so grim, I find.
But something prickles in my mind
Now that we've left the air behind.


"Don't be silly, I'm a god," said Chopstick, nodding awake. This darkness was soothing. It was hard not to sleep. "I have air for both of us. And this kite doesn't even need wind! It's sun-powered, don't you see?"

And that is what bothers me, answered Liv with perfect timing.

"Don't be like that. It's an empty plane, there's nothing and no one that could bother us here. And I'm sure we can trust..." Chopstick remembered that the deal by which she had acquired the strange kite had not included any kind of receipt. "...Whoever made this thing. Hang on." She pulled herself up by the curious cord that attached them to the kite. It wriggled slightly in her hands.

The kite was alive, no doubt. It flew in the shadow of Galbar, riding the dawn and dusk at the edge of the planet's shadow to gain energy and elevation, before falling gently and slowly into the night-side zone where the beam from Heliopolis was blocked. Then it would repeat the cycle.

In the dark periods, where they were now, the kite had some ability to move itself, ejecting the light it had previously absorbed. It was a colourful process, but it only illuminated parts of the creature. Most of it was invisible in such blackness. Chopstick fumbled around the base of the tail, looking for a label, and found none.

It had to be hidden somewhere, though. The kite was vast, at least a hundred meters in radius, and fractally assembled in three... ish dimensions. If it had organs, they were minimal. But it did have some kind of circulatory and sensory system, spread out like the tributaries of a river with its mouth in the center. Somewhere in those myriad folds and fins, there would have to be something.

Chopstick Eyes prodded a luminous node and Liv shrieked. She was torn out of her doze, and noticed the invisible net folding around her only after it had begun to spring.

Narzhak's cleaver emerged from somewhere and cut in a wide circle, cut at the nothing, and perhaps the nothing recoiled- she couldn't tell. All the lights had gone dark, and the inside of her head was meshed in exhaustion. She heaved her chopstick eyes into focus and saw the fractal unfolding, bringing arms upon arms of dark flesh into the night.

"Liv!"

The bird clutched her arm tightly, and she leapt from the center of the kite, tearing past its arms, down towards Galbar- and into more arms.

Fear pulsed through Chopstick Eyes faster than her mind could follow. It was her body that responded. Great spikes shot from her, wooden stakes that ripped from her arms and her back and spun end over end into whatever had caught her. The ends of knives jutted from her face, and the ring on her finger burned with grim power.

Torn and stung, the Dusk Kite receded into the void. Its propulsive lights flashed, and a single pulse illuminated its veins, starting from the center. Then it was gone, invisible once more.

Liv trembled like a leaf and Chopstick trembled with her as they fell back down towards Galbar. Chopstick Eyes raised her hands to feel the cuts where razors had grown from her skull. Something ugly had burst, some wall she had been weakening had finally broken, and could not be repaired. There were more dangerous things inside her, it seemed, than dreams.

She slept.



Alpha.


Chopstick Eyes looked about her and the Charnel Steppe, chewing her dartweed, and said, "Hmm."

A passing boar spotted her, sniffed assertively, and continued on its muscly way, thrusting its snout through the steely twigs and shrubbage of what the place called vegetation. Chopstick cracked another dartweed husk, munched for a second, then spat a burst of nutty flechettes that snapped through the sound barrier and reduced the boar to so much prime pork chops. Most animals learned to avoid her, after a while.

Chopstick Eyes watched the sun go down for the millionth time and said, "Hmm."

It was time to get out of this place. The sun rose and went down several times in the time it took her to formulate this idea. The no-sleep regime wasn't really doing her much good.

She took a step in some arbitrary direction.

The sun went down again.

Fuck.

What she needed to do, she realised, was develop something that would do the walking for her. She needed a vehicle... No, a steed. Something large, muscular, like the boars, but swift, elegant; something gracious and powerful, to strike fear and awe into the hearts of hot babes. What she needed, in short, was a horse.

Chopstick took out her notebook and set off briskly doodling the schematics for her new animal. It would have long legs, and be substantially taller than a man. It would have a slightly arched neck, and a long, large head thereon, and something (but not much) of a tail; it would be well suited to travelling long distances across such a steppe, and be coloured accordingly, pale browns and greys and perhaps even black. She hmph'd in pride, ripped the doodle from her notebook, and folded it into a tidy origami shape, into which she nestled a crisp dollar bill, fresh from the Bazaar. Within a minute, it took on flesh.



With a clap of her hands, the horse reduplicated itself a dozen times, forming a sizeable self-perpetuating herd. Chopstick heaved herself on top of the finest specimen and rode off back to the boiling strait. She was of a mind to return to the Feasting Forest, and have lunch.




The Saluran Mendidih, it turned out, was a rather hostile place. When Chopstick tried to swim across it astride her holy steed, her camel melted; she went back inland on foot to find another, only to have that one melt on her too. She ran through three camels, two boars and a jackalope total before she shook herself awake and realised that this wasn't such a good idea. Eventually she just swam the strait, which turned out remarkably warm and soothing, once she'd given herself a few years of tiptoeing to acclimatise.

It was an exceptionally barren place, though, all told. Deep in the water, magma pillowed, rolled, crusted and steamed, forming great misshapen stones that ambled down back into the trenches and were subducted to melt and rise again. Watching lava at play was mesmerising, but Chopstick Eyes was acutely aware that she and Ashalla were probably the only ones ever to enjoy this view. No one standing at the shore would ever enjoy anything like this, and even down here, much of the colour and glow of the affair was lost to the light-eating deepwater.

Nothing a quick trip to the Bazaar couldn't solve.

After a while, Chopstick was done wheeling and dealing. And keeling, and reeling, and... mealing and peeling. (As it turned out, the whole endeavour was financed by an unexpected uptrend in the Bazaar fruits-and-grains market.) The fruits, so to speak, of her labour rested quietly atop the surface of the waters, rocking gently side to side.

Mostly they were spheres, or spheroids, or domes, though some were more curious shapes. Chopstick spotted cubes, tangled pipes, tubas, and even the occasional self-intersecting non-orientable surface (these she gave a wide berth). Each one had a surface of heat-eating glass that did not incandesce, no matter the temperature, revealing in crisp true colour the flow of magma within. Stained by bio-alchemical ichors Chopstick could not hope to understand, the blood and innards of the lava lamps bubbled and oozed through liquid tissues, their veins glowing brightly in every colour a mortal eye could see and then some.

Each lamp was rooted deep in the strait, a segmented metal stalk holding them aloft, like the bulb of a sleek and narrow stem. From there they drained their magma and spread their roots, pushing up new sprouts. Some had scales on their stems, some rough rusted crusts, and others still smooth metal.

Chopstick Eyes congratulated herself on the bargain she had secured, and fled that place before the Architect's judging eye could see her there much longer.




Beta.





As Ya-Shuur led the god with chopstick eyes through his enclosed lands they both saw many of the animals he had domesticated. They saw foxes and cows. Ducks and horses and even buffalo. Every now and again a reindeer would go by or an ass would release its hee-haw. Chopstick spotted an old toad lording over its mud-heap, and they shared a meaningful look.

As he walked with the god he began to answer some of her questions. “I found out this name. Goat Defying the Darkness. I was at peace with it and it just stuck so I have kept it and I like it. I saw the bear for the first time when I found this name. That one was a terrible creature, and like no normal bear. Since then I have seen many bears, but none were so terrible as that first one. Normal bears are just like any other creature. They eat and they want to survive and they have children. That first bear though, was a terrible frightful sight. But anyway, I have another name as well, and I knew this name from the start. It was just there, because first I was nothing, and then I was Ya-Shuur. And then I became both Ya-Shuur and Goat Defying the Darkness. And then I gained horns and I became the Horned One too. You can call me whatever you like though I don’t mind.”

“I see,” said the god, gazing out over the gardened land. She felt flat, the wealth of the experience lost in the pit of her mood. She would have to come back here again, later. “My name’s Skraghnaphgh, I think. But most people call me Chopstick Eyes. Pleasure to meet you, uh, Goat Defying the Darkness.”

As he walked he walked Ya-Shuur repeated the name Skraghnaphgh to himself until he had memorized it. Then he saw some berries and picked them and he offered them to the god. Chopstick took them without realising, staring at them in the palm of her hand. “Now the dragon. That was a terrible terrible thing. That powerful god Vakk who is even more powerful than Li’Kalla came (and you know Li’Kalla is very powerful but I don’t think she realized). He was angry because something of his had been lost and he blamed Li’Kalla. But I never saw this thing of his. I don’t think Li’Kalla had it. Maybe it was a terrible misunderstanding. But Vakk was not just powerful he was also a bit of a criminal. Maybe his anger was too great because of his lost box. He knocked the door down and shouted and beat Li’Kalla.”

Chopstick realised that she had crushed the berries to nothing in her fist.

“She was afraid but she did not fight back. I tried to help her but I was far too weak. I only just barely put horns on my head I could never stand up to such powerful creatures. But then out of nowhere the dragon came and bits of Li’Kalla went flying everywhere. I think maybe that was when Li’Kalla and Vakk became my parents. Or maybe it was just a little bit before that. It was the blood that did it. I worry sometimes that when the blood came on me and gave me a body it might have… done something to Li’Kalla. The dragon didn’t care it attacked Li’Kalla and gobbled bits of her and it attacked Vakk as well. This beast was maybe as powerful as Vakk or maybe it just surprised him because he quickly ran away. It was a hungry beast, the dragon, and I didn’t want to be eaten. I was very scared, actually, so I ran. And then the dragon was left in there all on its own and I think it is there even until now.”

“...It’s not.”

Ya-Shuur paused and sighed at the terrible memory. He sealed his lips and looked at the god because he was surprised at the revelation that the dragon was not there anymore and then he continued walking. “So it’s not there…” he whispered. Then he quickly shook off whatever he was feeling and continued talking. “The beast Zer-Du is a different story. When it first came it was a wild thing eating goats and wolves and throwing them around just for fun. It was not called Zer-Du then. It wasn’t called anything I don’t think. These horns on my head are from one of the goats it killed. It was a frightful and powerful creature and could easily have eaten me and everything else. But I had to protect my friends, because they relied on me, so I did not listen to my fear, and I shouted at it. And when I shouted at it I found out that it listened to me. After that it was no longer a wild thing because I taught it. And I gave it a name and it became protector. And it became kinder and did not kill just for fun. It did not kill even those it had reason to, but spared them. I taught it this. And then it became he, and he fathered the molves that you see here. And after that he left. I don’t know where he went, but I have hope that he will come back one day, because he has children here, and a mate.”

So much for that beast, thought Chopstick. It didn’t matter. She had her answer.

By this time they had reached Ya-Shuur’s home. It looked like a just another part of the forest, but then Ya-Shuur lifted a hidden door, descended, and called the god to come in. He told her to watch her head because she would have to crouch a little inside, but his caution was ill placed. Chopstick was already much shorter than him, even without horns.

It was dark inside and straight away a cat came up to Ya-Shuur’s leg and stroked itself against it and then it went to the god’s leg and did the same. Chopstick picked it up and squeezed it gently against her, plucking a skewer with a spare hand to skritch behind its ear. Ya-Shuur sat down and he spread out berries and nuts and fruits he had collected.

“But I have talked so much! Please forgive me. You are the first person in the world I have ever talked to, so I have far too much to say. Please tell me who your friend is that you are searching for. If they are on this island I will definitely be able to help you. It is a lonely island, even though it is full of so many things so it will be good when you are united so they will not be all alone. It is a very terrible thing to be all alone, which is why I have made so many good friends even if I can’t talk to them like this.” He smiled, reached out, and stroked the cat, who purred in appreciation.

“...Li’Kalla,” said Chopstick, sitting crosslegged in the first available space. “I was looking for Li’Kalla. I heard her calling for help, a while ago. But she’s dead.” She sighed, and let the cat slink off her lap. Ya-Shuur frowned when he heard her words. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to tell you who exactly I was looking for, because I thought you might be responsible. But you’re not. You don’t smell like blood. You smell like rain, and shelter. And goats.” Ya-Shuur did not know that any of these things had a smell at all, besides goats, so he was a bit surprised by the comment. Then she buried her head in some three dozen hands. “Fuck.”

Ya-Shuur was not sure what to do in a situation like this, and he did not know who this Fuck was, so he did what he did whenever the goats or cats or any of the other animals were distressed. He brought his hand to her head and petted her gently. “There there now. It’s not your fault. There are some things we just don’t have control over. So we just go on doing what we can with the things we have control over and the rest will be what it will be. You came and you looked for her when she called for you and you investigated until you found out what happened. I think you have fulfilled your duty and are a good friend. I would be very happy if I had a good friend like you who came looking for me if I called for help.”

“I will,” said Chopstick Eyes without hesitating. “This was awful.” Sigh. “...And, thanks. You’re very kind.” She looked into her lap, was surprised to find neither cat nor tea nor any such thing. She pulled a steaming mug of hot cocoa out of her pocket and took a sip. “Just… give me a minute. I’m still… I’m not...” Sigh again. Her hair held up an empty mug and a tin kettle, both shaking visibly. “...Want some? Free of charge.” Ya-Shuur did not quite understand how her hair was doing that and then he realized that she was offering him a… gift?

“Oh! Ah! Yes! Thank you!” He quickly fumbled for words and reached for the cup and took it from her hair before waiting for her to pour some of the strange liquid in. When she did this he tasted it. But when he tasted it he grimaced and raised his head. The liquid was very strange and far too… weird tasting. He had never tasted anything like it and it was too intense. He didn’t know the word to describe it. If Chopstick noticed his discomfort, she made no show of it, sipping quietly for herself.

Goat Defying the Darkness, Ya-Shuur had described himself. There was something special to that, some meaning. Chopstick looked into her mug. Had she ever defied darkness? Could she?

“...I’m going to find this Vakk guy,” she said. “I’m going to fuck him up. And then I’ll hunt the dragon.” She looked back up. “If the bear is who I think she is, then… I don’t know. She was rough when I met her. She’s probably still rough. I’ll see what I can do.” She rested her head against the wall, staring at the ceiling. “But I don’t know what I’ll do next. Not really.”

Chopstick Eyes stayed among Ya-Shuur’s flocks for some time after that, but the two rarely spoke. It seemed there was nothing more to say.







Chopstick Eyes dragged herself sodden from the whipping waves of a grey ocean with rage in her heart, and a great knife in her hand. With the same pace at which she had marched across the depths of the silent sea, she advanced across the island.

* * *


The densest cloudbank had taken some time to find, hidden behind its lower, lesser kin. The portal was in there: Chopstick Eyes could sense it behind the endless, pelting grey of the rainlands. She remembered its smell.

Trudging through the mud to ascend a boulder directly beneath the stone ring, Chopstick crouched, and threw herself in a single bound, needle-straight, through the portal in the sky.

Her environment changed. She somersaulted, landed feet first upon the edge of the ring. Through the haze, she could see the shattered manor.

Oh no.

* * *


Chopstick Eyes raised the gnawed plastic to her face and took a deep sniff, then pocketed the oversized toy. The saliva was dry, but it smelled like rain. It was the tooth-marks that worried her.

She stormed out of Eurysthenes’ border-march, back to the So’E.

* * *


“Li’Kalla? Li’Kalla?

The Wand of Loudspaken shot her voice all through the realm, but there was only rain.

“Li’Kalla!”



* * *


The molves stirred when they noticed the foreign presence in the rain, one that was getting closer to the goats and to the other domesticated animals in Ya-Shuur’s enclosed lands. A few of them swiftly ran and barked at the goats to herd them deeper into the lands while others went to see what the foreign presence was and to warn it off.

Two of them approached and spotted the strange creature that was walking through the forest. In all their existence they had never seen a creature like this and when they saw that it was heading right towards Ya-Shuur’s lands they loosed loud barks. These were far louder than any wolf’s bark and were meant to scare off creatures.

Not far away Ya-Shuur heard the barks and he stirred. Ivy and moss were growing all on him and there was a bird nest on his head. He moved carefully to not disturb the nest and released himself. Then he went to investigate what his faithful molves were barking about. Behr-Aat was next to him. The voice, when it called, was tired.

“Hello?”

For the first second, the knife wasn’t visible, its polished surface reflecting too perfectly the mulch of the woods below. Chopstick changed her stance slightly, and the giant blade shifted, showing in its reflection the face of the molf that was hounding her. The beasts kept themselves low on the ground, growling and barking and cornering her, but the little godling didn’t move, did not so much as look at them. Her sticks were pointed squarely at Ya-Shuur.

“I… found your dogs,” she began. “They found me.”

Ya-Shuur looked at her and blinked in shock. It had been so long since he heard speech from anything other than those droning magpies. And the other shock was that Chopstick Eyes was quite scary in appearance. When he had shaken away the shock he told the molves to back away. They did this and quickly got behind Ya-Shuur but they shot Chopstick Eyes suspicious looks and growled slightly when she scratched the back of her neck.

“I am sorry if they scared you. They don’t take kindly to strangers.” Unfamiliar with knives, he looked at the strange sharp thing in her hand and held his herding stick warily. “Who… who are you? I have never seen you before. And… and what’s wrong with your eyes?” A look of concern was on his face and he grimaced in pain a bit as he looked more closely. “Don’t they hurt?”

Chopstick considered for a moment, one edge of her mouth tightening slightly. “...Don’t yours? They’re round and slippery. Must be a real pain to shed them.” She breathed in, exhaled.

Ya-Shuur was lost in thought for a few moments as he thought of what the strange creature had said about eyes. He had only ever seen Li’Kalla’s eyes and those of Vakk and then all the creatures that dwelled on the island. None of them had sticks coming out of their eyes unless they were injured in some way.

“Never mind. Forget the dogs, they don’t bother me. I’m looking for someone.” Her gaze had wandered, but she returned it now. “How long have you been here?” Ya-Shuur frowned and tried to work out what she meant by that.

“How long? Well… I have been here very long. I was here when Li’Kalla still lived in her manor but now there is only a terrible dragon there. I was here when it was all ruined and I was here when the goats were wild and alone and the bear and the wolf preyed on them. I was here before I saw that goat defying the darkness and felt that name was mine and then I was here after that too. I was here before the wolves befriended me and after that and also when the great beast called Zer-Du came and ate my friends.”

Chopstick’s knuckles whitened on the knifehilt.

“And I was here before I had horns and then after that as well. And before there were molves and after that. And I was here before water-goats and after water-goats and before they ran wild and after some of them were placed in the lake and became tame. And I was here when the cat was wild and when the ass was wild as well. I was here before the magpies learned to talk and after. That long! I used to count how many times the light came up but then it came and went so many times and I lost count.” Ya-Shuur was very excited to meet someone who could speak and understand him, so he had gotten ahead of himself a bit, but then he blinked and realized that the other person had not answered any of his questions.

“Oh, but you didn’t tell me who you are. I have never seen you before and I have travelled all over the island many many times. How long have you been here? Why have you come? Who are you looking for?”

“I’m the god with chopstick eyes,” said the god with chopstick eyes. “I’ve been here… I don’t know. A few weeks, maybe. Before that I was here for a long while. I’m looking for... a friend.” She shifted her weight a little. “Who are you? ‘Goat Defying the Darkness’? Tell me about the dragon, and the beast, Zer-Du. And tell me about the bear.” Ya-Shuur would have showed that he found her name delightful, but he could see now that she seemed a bit troubled and serious, so he kept his own face serious too.

“Okay.” He said, nodding. “I will tell you about all these things, but let’s get out of the rain. Come with me and we can go to my home and talk more.” He looked at her giant knife again, both curious about it and afraid at the same time. “But please don’t use that on me or my friends.”

“I… won’t,” said Chopstick Eyes. She licked rainwater off her lips, tongue running for a moment across the scar in her mouth. Even she could taste the naivety before her. “Let’s go.”

Ya-Shuur led the way through the lands he had enclosed.

Somewhere.

Time. Hearts. Hearts, time. Time passing. Hearts beating. Pump pump pump pump pump. Time.

Currents. Moving. Same direction. A wind. Slow, slow wind. Heavy. Still. Same direction. Twist yourself, align to it. Float still in the endless timeless pushing.

Sometimes, noise. Noise on the wind. Far, far noise. Noise like world cracking. Then dust. Dust on the wind. Dust from above, where the burning comes from. The dust tastes like...

...You have no words. You move your jaw. At heart, you are a simple creature.

The dust tastes like dust.

...

You are hungry. So so hungry. You are hungry in your belly. You are hungry in your soul. Time drags, rubbing against your brain, the smooth edge growing rougher every time it passes. Time burns away your simple mind like a carpet will burn skin. You can feel your brain fraying.

Motionless. Frozen. Stuck. Helpless. Collared. You start to see things moving in the dark. Flashes, patterns, burnings, reversals, palindromes. Time goes backwards forwards backwards forwards sideways up. You forget you have meat because you are made of wood. You become the ocean, feel your skin from the outside, feel the skin inside your throat. Your muscles might as well be stone.

You don't have a word for it, but it's still Hell.




In time the Alpha Serpent's scales began to dim. Unmoulted and unsmoothed by the action of the water, of which there was only the faintest current, the initial glory granted by its otherworldly meal was replaced by its old nature. Brown-grey grime leaked from its skin and caked its outer surface, solidifying in the crevices. The bright colours washed out, new tubercles grew. The light in its belly began to flicker. Soon it was so faint that only the center of each light pouch was visible, even when it shone.

The beast's jaw cracked open slowly, one millimeter at a time, and eventually, wide open, stopped. For a while, there was a silent scream.

Then the beast began to sing.




You are a squid.

Specifically, you are a large, really enormous squid, which is a state of squid that it is particularly wholesome to be. You spend your time catching things that are most certainly not large, really enormous squids, of which there are thankfully plenty. You live your life in constant danger of being encountered by something that is not an enormous squid but may somehow actually be a threat to you, like a rambunctious meteorite or a particularly peckish Kalmar, but when you are a squid you don't tend to really think of these kinds of things.

You don't have a great sense of hearing. You certainly couldn't play the piano, though you have enough limbs to. When you hear the song, it's the clearest noise you've ever heard.

It's a clicking moaning humming wailing rasping groaning gasping...

There's no melody, no rhythm. It's random, discordant, distant, and full of pain. Somewhere in your little squid soul, you taste that pain. The memory of it breeds in you and mates with pains of your own. You are but a simple squid, you do not know other minds. But pain...

You travel to end the pain. You travel with great haste.




You find it in the depths where you do not go. You find it giving light, much like your own, only weaker, older, more delicate. You find it floating over a mound of bones, tied to a trinket. You hear it singing, see its mouth.

There there, you say, embracing the side of its head with your tentacles. Its antennae brush past you, tiny dead lights rubbing your own young ones. There are others with you, not squids, some of them not alive, some of them not even embodied, all eager to find . There, there. The song changes pitch, only for a moment. There, there. I am with you. I am here for you.

You slip yourself into its open mouth. Its jaws contract, and, for a moment, the pain is over.

Today Chopstick created a postbox.

It's just a regular postbox, no supernatural stuff, but she'll check back to see if anything's in it from time to time.
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