“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.
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.
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.
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?
Betasticks discovers that ice sculptures are a form of mating display, and encounters the polar tonnikala. She crosses a winter-spirit with some phytoplankton to make a more colourful winter-spirit, then hears the Verse from somewhere in the Blue, and sets off to investigate.
Alphasticks changes her mind about sleeping again after the invention of nightmares, and decides to distract herself from the bad vibes by commencing work on a huge structure somewhere in the Feasting Forest. She takes a break to go have tea with Vrog.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!"
Betasticks goes through something of a crisis, being too depressed to pursue any of her goals. The Alma broadcast reminds her of Azura, though she cares very little of what happens to anyone's soul. After a few more minutes of moping, she sees her stuck-ness reflected in a small carnivorous plant, the butterwort, and comes to learn her soul-name (which she was taught about by Ya-Shuur). Beta Chopstick, now Butterwort in Midsummer, finally gets a-going, and celebrates with a new text colour. As a side note, the etymology I gave for butterworts here isn't actually accurate, they're actually named for their greasy sheen (although they can indeed be used in fermented dishes).
Her soul-name power is that she has sticky hands, and as such is nearly impossible to disarm. Hopefully she figures out how to turn them off soon.
Alphasticks learns that you can use Alma as portable laser cannons.
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.
One of the gloves pointed directly upwards.
"We don't fucking talk about that," Chopstick snapped, and turned over to tan her back.
"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.
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.
Chopstick dallies back to the Kick and makes some tropical rainforest camels. They don't have any special properties, and neither do the desert camels really, but I spent a Might on those things so I might as well make a whole bunch of varieties.
She also creates mountain camels, which are basically South American camelids, guanacos and vicunas.
She discovers that some Gemstone Gardeners have remained in the Feasting Forest. They are a flightless variation on the Emerald Kea called Olivine Kakapos, and, like everything else there, are rather grim. The Feasting Forest continues to slowly spread, though it now competes with the Gemstone Gardener forest.
She takes one of these kakapos with her and names it Liv.
She creates a sargasso sea above the Alpha Serpent. Soul supply problems solved.
She also acquires Michael's Wand of Loudspaken from Betasticks and announces a new quest: Tea party in the Feasting Forest!
Betasticks keeps the glider, though, forcing Alphasticks to make a new kite to take Liv out flying. She purchases the Dusk Kite, a powerful, living solar sail that floats around in the highest Spheres, in Galbar's shadow. Because the Sun is a focused beam and not a spherical light source, it can only really ride the sunlight that shoots past the edges of Galbar's twilight perimeter, hence the name. Its surface absorbs radiation and it is thus extremely difficult to detect when not powering itself with its organic photon engines.
In a scuffle with the Dusk Kite, which may be aggressive, but also may just be inquisitive, Choppy realises that avoiding sleep for many decades is kind of a bad idea, and something weird and dangerous has been growing inside her. She doesn't know what it is, but it's nasty enough to scare off the Dusk Kite.
8 Might (Native) 6 Might (Age of Monsters)
2 Free Points spent on a floating seaweed forest above the Alpha Serpent. 2 Free Points spent on the Dusk Kite, a powerful creature. 2 Free Points spent on the ability to assume a (as yet still locked) monstrous form rapidly.It seems that this was not, in fact, a valid use of free points this turn. As such, I've arranged to retroactively apply these points to the existential contract signed by camels to exist, which was also featured in this post. Camels are now a 3 FP species instead of a 1 FP species. Their power resides in their adaptability and the enormous debt they owe Chopstick Eyes. 0 Free Points remaining.
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.
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.
After proving her ability to use dartweed to become a living Remington, Chopstick Eyes creates... uh... horses.
Then she decides the Saluran Mendidih isn't spicy enough and adds an organometallic lava lamp forest to it. Clever mortals may be able to use these solid, if ever so slightly mobile, surfaces to build hanging bridges or swinging-ropes to get across the strait. At least if they're suicidally reckless. Where's my goblins at?
1 Free Point on glorious desert horses 2 Free Points on giant living lava lamps (1 Might towards lanterns)
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.”
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.
Ya-Shuur leads Beta Choppy to his house and they continue their discussion. Choppy is filled in about some events on the island, and is in some shock. She vows to beat the shit out of Vakk, unaware of the bond Alpha Choppy has made with him.
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.
* * *
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.
* * *
The Wand of Loudspaken shot her voice all through the realm, but there was only rain.
* * *
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.
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.
Chopstick arrives on Li’Kalla’s island, very late. She looks around the So’E and finds signs of what happened, but no Li, and eventually returns to the island.
After a while she is found by Ya-Shuur’s herder wolves, and Ya-Shuur comes to investigate. The two have a brief stand-off, Choppy being deeply suspicious, but eventually leave to go talk somewhere more sheltered, Ya-Shuur offering to answer some questions she has.
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.
The Alpha Serpent, without a source of food and souls, is experiencing severe soul decay. At the height of its suffering, it begins to sing, and is heard by a variety of sea creatures, and the souls of dead sea creatures. They sympathise somehow, offering themselves to it. How much of this is just hypnosis is up to the reader to decide.
Eventually a new, mini-soul vortex forms around the Superb Slippery Soul Serpent, bringing it sustenance in a sad, poetic kind of way.
-Route to my pad -trying to see if you can use it as a shortcut -apparently you can't -but
Chopstick Eyes drew the blade, bright as silver, sharp as a razor, and put it in her mouth. Wincing hard but unable to blink, she pulled it to the edge of her lips and drew it out, dragging it through the left corner of her mouth, opening her face that much wider. When it was done, she buckled, clutching her stomach, and made it into a bow.
"Th-there," she said, wiping the blood into a streak. "I've taught it to cut gods." She offered him the knife.