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The Ditty of the Silly Song

Well while we were on the way
Ta St Adrian's hill one day
Ah heard a lil dancin song
That came o'er prancin from the bay

Lil song oh lil lil song
Where ahr ya comin from?
Where ahr ye goin' lil song
Between the flute and drum

Well then it came twirlin ta me
An' got me up with quick ditty
And oh ah jumped and oh ah turned
And laughed between the hill and sea!

Said the song without refrain
While we skipped on by the main
'This is where tha' ol' Gibbou
Danced with the Light again!'

It started with the brothers two
Mad Joab and Illyd Doo
And they were playin' tug-o-war
And from that Thumblins grew!

And while they tugged and pulled and strained
The moon above 'em waxed and waned
An' Gibbou came a-walkin by
And when she saw them her tears rained!

Oh then weak grew good Illyd's grip
And from his hand the rope did slip
So Mad Joab stood victorious
While heaven's tears did drip

And Mad ol' Joab chased the poor moon
From dusk until the followin noon
An' all the while she fed the saints
Who promised: 'Illyd returns soon!'

Ta the gate! Ta the gate!
Lead Mad ol' Joab ta his fate!
Lightning Gibbou rode the moon
While the saints stood firm in wait!

Then, so says the song ta me,
There grew a grand Houlin berry
And Illy passed and picked it up
And gave it ta Gibbou

Then ta mah shock, from far on high
Fell on mah head a Houlin pie!
The lil song then laughed and said
'Pies were all born up in the sky!'

Why then ah chased it all the way
To the sea and far away
'Off ya go ya silly song!
Waste someone else's day!'

So if you see that song again
Just flog it with some sugar cane
Don' let it sing its silly lies
And waste, like me, your day in vain!

The Kavijama | the thing of ink & poetry | The Hibrach

The Fate-song sings: 'tis time to part
No more can you here stay

It was then Lucia taught my heart
How much a glance can say

With trembling lips she came to me
Perhaps to say, "Goodbye!"
But sounds and whispers all ran free
Upon her lips to die

Then bending down, her gold all pale
Her arms she round me flung
And as the breeze hangs on the vale
Upon my chest she hung

I laid my lips upon her head
And kissed away her tears, lips wet
While she but wept the more and said
"Would we had never met!"

'There are those, my dear Ganisundur, who wince at the sound of the cymbal and the rhythmic thrumming of the drum,' said the blessed Rinas when she and her devotees sat to rest beneath an arching palm tree one day, 'those long-eared, fair-eyed, dark-skinned ones who are dazzled by the light and heat of Hulaiya and can only walk in the dim light Reffoh sheds by night. You will see them wince sometimes, or jump up startled at the sound of music or song.'

'Surely that is because they worship that goddess felled by the Death-eye, and so are ever in panic and fear,' one of the disciples said.

'They cannot resort to Hulaiya's light, for Reffoh's failures mean they suffer beneath Hulaiya's glorious day,' another added.

'Perhaps. Perhaps,' said Rinas, and her finger strummed her one-stringed instrument so that it let off a long droning sound, 'or perhaps they cannot wander beneath her glorious light for the same reason that any true lover can't long bear the gaze of the beloved, hmm? Look how they burn up with fervour - is it Hulaiya's light that burns them? Or do they burn as a lover does beneath the beloved's gaze?'

'And what of the sound of song and music, Rinas, why do they jump and wince at it?' Inky Ganisundur asked. The songstress flashed him a gap-toothed smile, and her eyes wrinkled up warmly at the question. She leaned forward and looked at the great man of ink.

'If I were to jump and wince when you played something for me, Ganisundur, why would you think that is?' Asked the older woman.

'Well, I would think I had played badly.' The man of ink said.

'And if I were to jump and wince, but, say, Sinhuldo there seemed to be enjoying it, why would that be?' She pressed on. Ganisundur frowned and scratched his head.

'Well, that would be very strange,' he mumbled.

'Indeed, and yet you find that our long-eared brethren jump and wince, while we of the short ears dance and make merry.'

'But adi, if you winced and I danced,' cried Sinhuldo, 'I would think it is because I am stupid in the ways of song and you are not!' His outburst caused low laughter to ripple across the gathered disciples, and Rinas too laughed.

'Well, I wouldn't quite put it that way, but perhaps you are not far off my dear Sinhuldo. When we make music, we must know who we are singing and playing to. When we sing and play to those who do not know music, it is not like singing and playing to those accomplished in those arts. And when we sing and play to the boisterous small-eared folk, it is not like singing and playing to the sensitive long-eared ones. We must know what effect we intend to bring about in our listeners, and to do that we must know them and adapt our playing to them. Music has great and marvelous power and can leave listeners emboldened and strengthened - or unable to resist the tide of emotion it carries; and just as one may be intoxicated on beer so too can one become intoxicated on music and song. So why do the long eared folk jump and wince? It is because the songster does not know his audience, and so the effect he intended through his music is utterly lost and all his playing is in vain.' There was a long period of silence after this as the disciples sat and digested their master's words.

Thus Spake the Master

'Oh! Adi - what should the intended effect of our music be? Is it to bring happiness?' One disciple asked.

'And is all music happy?' Came Rinas' response.

'Well, no, it's not all happy,' the disciple conceded.

'You have listened to much music - was it happy music or sad music that you have found yourself inclined towards?' Rinas asked. The disciple frowned and cocked his head in thought.

'Hmm, it's difficult to say, adi. The different emotions serve different purposes at different ceremonies and occasions. I certainly could not play a happy song on a sad occasion...' the disciple's brows remained furrowed as his words trailed off and he fell into silent thought.

'Ah,' said Ganisundur, 'but the purpose should be neither, adi. Sad music and happy music and music of all emotions - there is a greater purpose and effect at play, beyond mere emotion.' The songstress looked at Ganisundur and beamed.

'You have savoured the secrets, my dearest Ganisundur; and silence between those who know is speech.' And with that, the knowing songstress rose and strummed her one-stringed instrument a few times, then walked off. Her disciples, many of them nonplussed, all picked themselves up and walked after her. A small shy smile played about Ganisundur's lips as he walked among his comrades and their master began to hum and sing.

The Lady-in-Waiting

In the days and weeks that followed the coming of the Songs into Meliorem, the realm knew sound as it never had before. Inky songbirds sloughed off the Sirens and flew off into the realm's heavens, releasing trilling sounds that seemed to carry far and wide, and the ocean all about them seemed to breathe and sigh more audibly, its waves charging up the shores with vigorous sound before letting up a laugh and retreating, all coyness and giggles. And the Songs themselves had been making full use of the town that Cadien had erected for them.

While the Songs had no immediate need for it, the bathhouse had been thoroughly explored and prepared for any guests who may come by. Its exterior walls had been painted a deep, sunset orange, while the tiles that made up the roof has been inked a dark green. Inside, the Songs had gotten to work on bringing into being decorative tiles with all sorts of geometric patterns and designs. They were made up of very simple units, for the most part, but the sprawling nature of the whole made it an aweing thing to behold. Pillars were sculpted with flowers and leaves and vines, and the stony forms of nude Songs frolicing them could here or there be spied.

But it was not the bathhouse alone that received such treatment - although it was the first -, and all of the village was slowly made colourful and beautiful, teeming with the vibrant energy of life and activity. The library was painted with calm, reserved hues of brown and deep reds, its walls and shelves sculpted and carved with the forms of lovelorn poets and long-bearded scholars, shy maidens hiding at the foot of this shelf or in that far corner with book in hand or a letter from some secret admirer. And while libraries - as it is known - are meant to be places of quietude and reflection, the Songs that gathered here milled about and found one source of inspiration or another to sing their lyrics to, so that soon it was perfectly normal to walk into the library to find one Song or another reclined upon a great central podium with others sat about reciting poems or singing songs or scribbling away in inspired fits.
The central square had quickly found use with impromptu dancing, singing competitions, Songs offering to paint or sculpt the most beautiful and resplendent of their kin; and it was the great arena where the Songmen sought the hearts of the women. It had not been many weeks, and yet none of those poor newborn artists that Cadien had formed from the vestiges of the great flailing tentacle of ink had succeeded in wooing to them any of the women, who were generally dissatisfied with the lack of inspired works the men produced.

'Ah! But can you blame us, poor artists that we are, for the lack of inspiration, or should you blame the muse herself - coy and merciless, unforgiving and distant, displeased with all that we humbly lay down at her feet. Will the husk of my living form please you, lady? Will it be art enough, pray tell?' One had melodramatically declared at one point when one woman had refused an ornately crafted flower of inky gems and natural petals.
'And what is life that you should think it dearer than art? If your corpse is the way to my heart, then better by far is death than life,' had come her pained response, inky tears gushing suddenly from her eyes.
'Ah! She spoke and smote my being with speech - my lady who is out of reach. And though her words have caused my death her tears at once restore my breath; and I shall fight and toil and die so that you'll never need to cry!' And with that, he rushed away on the wing of sighs and moans, reciting verses and lyrics in an attempt to find the key to his muse's frigid heart.

The lady-in-waiting had watched over all this in silence and sighs, and had allowed her Songs to drag her now to the bathhouse, to see their handiwork, and now to the library and the square, and she had praised their good work before returning to her small abode. When she did venture out of her own volition, it was to visit the amphitheatre. There she would sit and watch as numerous Songs with plays they had toiled over for a day or two brought together troupes to rehearse. A few performances had been shown, though the reception was generally lukewarm and audiences were not too impressed - and the lady-in-waiting could not say she was particularly impressed either.

But now a number of promising plays were being shown, and the lady-in-waiting sat waiting as the sets slowly filled up with melodiously murmuring Songs. When there was a respectable gathering, a drummer amongst the orchestra began drumming, and it was followed by a long harmonious vocal note from the musicians, and on the stage a white-clad woman appeared.

'The night was dark when Brin was born / His form was grand, so too his horn / Which on his head a crown was worn!' She declared, and on the stage there appeared a grandly dressed Songman, wearing a singular wooden horn. What followed was an overwrought tale detailing Brin's dissatisfaction, despite the grandness of his horn and the great respect his people afforded him. And so he sought out the Mad Nomad in the Fruit Tree, who bid him journey across the isles to speak with the One Who Soothes All Hearts - and that he must get to her in seven days or tragedy will strike! And so brave Brin set out, but on his way was swallowed by the charging waves and found at the bottom of the ocean the Man of the Sea, who was on a journey to unite the six tiles that held the island above the water. The tiles had been stolen by four mischievous seabirds, and the Man of the Sea could not leave the water and fly after those vile thieving birds.

'If you will aid me, Great-horn Brin, then I will show you the way out of the sea,' the Man of the Sea declared. And so their pact was sealed and Brin was shown the pathway out of the water. But on reaching the shore he reneged on his promise and instead continued his journey to meet the One Who Soothes All Hearts; and when he reached her it was just within the seven day time period the Mad Nomad had set. The One Who Soothes All Hearts welcomed the hero and offered him hospitality and care, and Brin found himself in all ways joyous and at peace.
'I will remain here, with you, for the rest of my days!' He declared. The One Who Soothes All Hearts reacted with great ecstasy, sweeping across the stage now on this side and now on that.
'But!' she cried, 'I must first look into your heart - for only he of unstained heart may stay with me,' she said, and she idled up to Brin and looked into his heart, and on doing so wept inky tears. 'Oh my, oh Brin! Where have you gone and where have you been? - for you've slaughtered me with your one sin.' And with that she let out a great pained cry and collapsed on the ground dead. The horned Brin let out an anguished cry and held the One Who Soothes to him, and he carried her weeping from one side of the stage to the other, and he spoke for long of his broken heart - ah, sinful, blackened thing! - and of his woe and of the joy he never would know. And he determined then to take the body of the one who had brought him joy - if only for a short while - and bury her among his people.

But as they journeyed across the waters, the Man of the Sea spotted the horned Brin and came at him with great rage and fury, and he so smashed Brin that he dropped his beloved and watched her fall to the ocean floor. 'Oh Man of the Sea! Oh Man of the Sea! My heart is broken, of joy I am free; all of your rage and all of your fury can't add to my pain and nothing can cure me!' The teary-eyed Brin cried.
'That is good, betrayer, great thief! You turned your back on me, betrayer, stole my friendship who are my foe!'
'Oh have a heart, Man of the Sea; return, return my love to me.'
'Not until the sea flows over, and all the stars grow dark,' the Man of the Sea rumbled and dramatically exited with the body of the One Who Soothes in his arms. Brin remained alone on stage, and he raised his arms to the heavens and cried out, and then fell to his knees and crumpled into stillness and silence. The musicians in the orchestra hummed dramatically, and a deep bass of finality sounded, and the show came to a close.

There were a few moments of silence following the end of the play, and then a cheer went up and there was clapping and whooping. The lady-in-waiting herself nodded in approval. This was a breakthrough play, there was no doubt about it. All that had been written and performed to date had been about the town here, and the plot generally rotated around a Songman's ultimately successful attempts to woo his muse. This here was something completely different, and the lady-in-waiting could already sense that this was only the beginning of the saga of Brin - for there were already Songs mumbling and asking about what happened next.

'What did you think, my lady,?' A Song seated next to her asked breathlessly, 'it was completely unexpected, don't you think? Who would have ever thought that his unkept promise would catch up to him in such tragic and terrible ways? I was stunned!' The lady-in-waiting glanced coolly at the Song, who winced and coughed. 'S- sorry, my lady,' she said, her bubbling exuberance replaced by a sharp-eyed sobriety. The lady-in-waiting smiled, however.
'No need for all that, now,' she said, reaching a hand out and moving a stray inky strand from the Song's face, 'it's good to stay in-character after all, don't you think?' A mischievous smile played about the lady-in-waiting's mouth, and the Song echoed it and bobbed her head.
'Yes, my lady,' she purred. The lady-in-waiting looked down to the stage where the cast was busy bowing and basking in the crowd's adoration.
'It was a good performance,' she uttered thoughtfully, 'and I like nothing more than a good performance, my dear,' and with that she rose and left the amphitheatre. As she crossed the great square on her way to her abode, a Songman called out to her.
'My lady! My lady!' He cried excitedly, 'here!' She turned as he leapt lithely towards her and, getting on his knees before her, held a little object up to her for inspection. She looked at the thing with raised eyebrows. 'For you, my lady,' he said as she plucked it from his extended hands and turned it this way and that.
'What is it? Some kind of face sculpture?' She asked. The Songman shook his head with a knowing smile and stood up. Turning it around, he brought it to her face.
'No, my lady, it is a mask.' She looked through the eye-slits for a brief moment and then moved his hand and the mask away.
'Oh, very nice,' she said, and made to move off.
'Please, my lady, keep it!' he said desperately. She turned back to him with an irritated sigh and snatched it gracefully.
'Oh very well, I will,' she said, then turned around and hurried off. When she was indoors, she took the opportunity to inspect it. It was not particularly beautiful - though, of course, the features etched onto it were pretty enough -, mostly white and decorated here and there with patterns, the odd ornate tuft hanging off; but there was something about it... she could not put a finger on it, but as she stepped out and looked into a mirror hanging on the wall, holding the mask over her face...

she knew she liked it.

The cityfolk of the Upper Azumai, it is rather safe to say, were not too fond of death. At the heart of everything they did and were lay the constant need to savour all that life held - in many ways, it was a desperate race, a constant endeavour to uncover life's joys and pleasures and taste each and every one. A life well lived, after all, is a life enjoyed to the full. The ancients had declared - and the ancients were in all ways wise - that the eye of death can never bring such joy; when the ghouls consumed your husk at last all happiness was come to an end. And so those cityfolk of the Upper Azumai, as though to prove that ancient declaration true, all sang with a collective spirit: before we'll let that Dead-eye drag us low, we'll perish in the wine cup's afterglow!

The Shade, a deepborn spirit of ink and dirge, had distantly noted the region as it flowed in the sunlit empyrean high above the strange world it had been birthed into. Basking in the mesmerising song of the flowing clouds against the strikes of the sunrays, only the premonition of a truly wondrous song and dance could hope to tear the Shade from such exquisite sight and sound - and the song and dance that reverberated from this small valley nestled away amidst the mountains of the northwestern Hreelcii was just that. And so the song-gripped Shade descended from the coloured heavens and congealed into a swirling ink blot that streaked across the skies and took in the artistic geography of the region - and why, there was a richness to it! This was a land that reverberated with an unstilling song; here, it was all too clear, was a place where the eye of art knew no sleep.

Countless tributaries gushed down from the forested hills and mountaintops into the verdant valley, and there the hushed song of the flowing waters mingled and intermixed into the mighty Azumai; whose song encompassed the whole valley and called to the far mountains and crooned at the rolling skies. And from those skies came squealing zephyrs, their laughter ringing everywhere as they brushed the tops of trees and rained kisses and flirtatious words down; and the trees giggled and sighed and brought their leaves and branches about them in embarrassment and pleasure. All about the great valley forests gave way to bare plains, which then again gave way to jungle and more forest, which gave way here and there to wetland. And at the heart of it all was the great Azumai that snaked its way from the far mountains, through the valley, and to the sea; where it formed up into a complex delta and poured its waters and sediment into a bay of not inconsiderable size.

And there was life aplenty here - that, the airborne Shade could hear. The grasslands were home to herds of strange bovines boasting hides of sharp quills and to sheep that leapt to absurd height; and here and there a flame-headed deer could be spied dashing across the plains and between the hills. The wetlands and the jungles alike were home to all manner of deers and monkeys and blinking leeoli wisps; and there were big cats here and so too on the plains, though no creature could boast the size and magnificence of the winged leons that stalked the grasslands all across the valley. Where verdant hills gave way to rock and mountain, the Shade could hear the lazy, bubbling song of the rock-eating salamander. The shade sighed, a small sound bubbling through its form and escaping into the whirling worldsong in the form of a moan. It rippled gently yet powerfully through all things, brushing and embracing the song of the butterflies and the bees, wetland and jungle snakes, and the jaguars lazing in the trees. Here and there it went breezing by tapirs and tatous slumbering peacefully beneath their armour. Gorillas sat in the thick jungle undergrowth turned their heads, blowing their lips out at the song that tickled their spirits, and great crocodilians bathing on the riverbanks and drifting in the great Azumai drew open their reptilian eyes momentarily before closing them again. Herds of hammerhead landsharks that lazed in and around the Azumai and in the wetlands, as well as packs of their smaller wolflike cousins, observed the passing of the rippling moan with dull resignation and energetic yapping respectively. Falcons and kestrels screeched in union with the flowing song, and high above the glorious harpy eagle rose and rode the canvass of the skies alongside the gentle wave of soulsound.

And yet it was not this life, alone, and the vibrance of the worldsong emanating from it all, that drew the song-lured, deepborn Shade - for it had flowed in the deeps of the world and heard the song of all that dwelled beneath the waves; endless corals teeming with melody, rumbling with canorous song, pulsing and rippling and bursting with musical vitality. Those living things above the ocean waves were beautiful, of that there was no doubt, but they could not hope to match those of the deeps for sheer volume of life. Though be that as it may, the song of the shrimp and the song of the termite alike were a wonder to behold; and beneath the waves or above them was the worldsong a thing to shake and waken souls slumbering in the depths of unsweet, suffocating nescience.

No, it was not the taut strains of the hunting jaguar that drew the Shade, or the nervous airs of the dashing mara in the grass; but it was the collective song emanating from the sapients dwelling here. It was an exquisite, deeply rooted thing, refined over unknown aeons by generation after generation of feasters and revellers and singers and dancers, generation upon generation of inkweavers and performers and musicians. Oh it was a song that constantly praised and saluted the endless beauty of life and clung to the joys contained in that too-often tragic and swift-fleeing thing; a song that hailed the coming of dawn with the sunrays and wept for their passing away when the hand of dusk carried those prancing things into the gaping maw of night.

The Shade slowed in its descent, sighing past solitary branches and congealing at the bank of the great river, where the moans of the flow welcomed the shade of ink & melody. But at that very moment it was no more a shade, but a dark humanoid of broadly masculine form whose surface was a gently shifting kaleidoscope of colours.

The Shade looked around, and found that it had landed amidst a motley band resting beneath the tree, who were staring at the Shade with great wide eyes. They were all disheveled, with long wild hair that reached their shoulders. Some wore pieces of cloth on their heads, kept there by a string of grass, while others had timeworn rags rapped about their foreheads with tufts of hair spilling out above and below. A few had straw sandals on their feet, though most of them were barefoot, and beside a loincloth or shoddy kilt they were largely unclothed. While the majority were seated, there was one man with small bells wrapped about his wrists and ankles standing. Each of them held an instrument of one sort or another - stringed instruments, drums, cymbals, flutes.
A few tense moments passed, and no one moved or made a sound, and so an inky hand reached forth and pried a tiny two-stringed instrument from the hands of one of the frozen men. It plucked one string, paused, then plucked the other. Tremors of colour swept through the Shade, and there was a giggle as bright eyes widened and looked at the men gathered about. The Shade kicked the earth and brought the instrument to bear, and its liquid hand swept across the strings to weave into being a high-pitched strumming that brought immediate energy to all those gathered around. Their fear and confusion was immediately swept aside, cymbals sounded and drums were beaten; and alongside that one of the men began to speak slowly and melodiously.

'Oh how fantastic
weere the olden daaays.
Oh how fantastic
weere the olden daaays.'

Then the single standing man began to move, slowly at first. With his movements, the speaker's words became more melodious and transitioned into a dance song. The dancer beat the earth and shook his hands, his bells ringing high and true and his hair spinning beneath the singing sunrays. And the Shade beat its feet against the earth too and swayed with the rise and fall of the singer's voice, strumming the two strings in union with the growing song and dance. And the singer was joined in song by the dancer, and each of the musicians began singing too so that the melody swirled and blossomed before them all.

Oh how fantastic
weere the olden daaays!
Oh how we frolicked
with the bright sunraaays,
there in the city where the priestmage praaays.
There we once sang out with the god that swaaays!
Oh how fantastic
weere the olden daaays!

The journey homeward
split us on our waaays,
there on the boat home
singing of bluejaaays.
And then the thunders joined our flowing laaays
and jealous raindrops leapt to join the spraaays!
Oh how fantastic
weere the olden daays!

Oh that cruel mem'ry
trapped me in its maaaze
And all day I think
of those far off daaays;
The city's gone now, never on my gaaaze
Oh bring that joy now, rid me of this craaaze!
Oh how fantastic
weere the olden daaays!'

As the song rose and the dancer intensified his movements, he began to move off, spinning and dancing his way along a beaten path on the riverbank. The others rose too and went dancing after him, clanging their cymbals and beating their drums still, sending their voices out to the wide heavens. The Shade leapt after them too, his fingers dancing still across the two strings. And they went on like that, unstilling and untiring, for hours; until at last they reached a gathered crowd and silence fell upon them.

The crowd parted and made way as they trundled through, and they found that everyone was gathered about a strange woman, smiling while tears flowed from her eyes. In one hand she held a one-stringed instrument, not dissimilar to one held by a member of the Shade's motley band, and at her side was a small drum. She was strumming the instrument, and from time to time moved her feet here and there and walked about and spun slowly so that the bells about her ankles shifted and clanged and her great ankle-length dreadlocks spun around her as though they were the far-flung arms of the cosmos and she its heart.

At the Heart of the Cosmos

She stopped and her eyes fell upon the tall Shade of shifting colour, eddying melodies sloughing off of it and whirling into nothingness away. She trembled on seeing it and seemed unable to look on it for long, however, though the song that emanated from the Shade seemed to inspire her to heightened fervour and an intensity of tears.

Parvathy Baul sings a love song to Krishna, Kabir Project Sep. 2011

Place your love deep, for a few days,
Deep in your secret heart,
And don't misspeak a word or phrase
Of love for Hulaiya;
Speak in hints, with mystery praise
So none may hear or know.

When your heartpond stirs with mem'ry
And tears fill up your eyes
Go and run barefoot in the grass
And take your fill of skies;
Spark a flame when night arrives
And watch smoke surge and rise.

Place your love deep, for a few days,
Deep in your secret heart,
And don't misspeak a word or phrase
Of love for Hulaiya;
Speak in hints, with mystery praise
So none may hear or know.

Go wade in Hulaiya's river,
Bathe to your heart's content;
But while you swim take extra care
That your clothes not get drenched!
Take joy and drench yourself in her
But why get your clothes wet?

Place your love deep, for a few days,
Deep in your secret heart,
And don't misspeak a word or phrase
Of love for Hulaiya;
Speak in hints, with mystery praise
So none may hear or know.

And if you have packed for travel
And are going away,
When people ask 'where do you go?'
Don't be too quick to say!
For if you will be going north
Point south and say, 'that way!'

Place your love deep, for a few days,
Deep in your secret heart,
And don't misspeak a word or phrase
Of love for Hulaiya;
Speak in hints, with mystery praise
So none may hear or know.

You may have drunk the beers of spring
And beers of Fenn'hamel,
But here's a song that lovers sing
Its wines they alone drink.
How can the ones with broken wings
And dry hearts understand?

Place your love deep, for a few days,
Deep in your secret heart,
And don't misspeak a word or phrase
Of love for Hulaiya;
Speak in hints, with mystery praise
So none may hear or know.

She continued to strum her strange instrument and beat her drum for a few moments after the last verse left her lips, and then she spread her arms wide and began to turn slowly, causing the bells at her feet to release a great cacophony of sound. The sound of bells mingled with the continued strumming of the one string, and the tearful woman raised her head skyward and let out a melodious pained cry that rose and fell as he spinning grew faster and faster and her great dreads of hair spread further and further.

The Shade trembled and moaned as the spinning grew faster and the strumming quicker and the bells louder and louder yet, beginning to strum at its instrument too. Her cry rose and her spinning reached a climactic constant that caused the world to seemingly erupt when she came to a sudden halt, facing the Shade, and all sound ceased at once. The memory of the awesome sound and the jarring enormity of the silence seemed to mix at once, and the Shade let out a sob and fell to its knees before her, prostrating itself low.

It was only then, when the world had fallen silent and the spell of the song was finally broken, that everyone gathered took a moment to register the odd being among them, giving it a wide berth. There were murmurs, and then the word 'itralla' was mentioned, causing fear to blossom in their hearts and songs. Sticks were brought to bear against the Shade by some, others turned about and put distance between themselves and the strange beast, and others yet - dishevelled and with instruments at hand - looked on with a mixture of curiosity and bemusement. Some of those the Shade had danced and sung with raised their voices in protest, but it did not stop the sticks from landing on its inky form and its melodious cry of pain and fear to rise.

As the blows landed again and again, the Shade looked up at the woman who had been singing. She was observing it with distant eyes, her song now flaring and now quieting. She stepped forward at long last, reprimanding those who beat the Shade.

'But adi Rinaas, if we let this itralla free it consume entire villages and towns and cities!' One of them protested.

'And if he could consume entire villages and towns and cities, what is stopping him from consuming you who have humiliated him?' Came her question. 'Do you think your sticks have beat him down? Your shouts and growls and frightful frown?' She sang.

'Yes adi Rinaas, you must be right!' One of them said, nodding vigorously, 'maybe the sticks and the frowns did it, and when you danced as well that made it cry and fall down! The itralla hate joy!'
'And they hate the Hulaiya's light!' One of them added, pointing at the sun, 'that's why we always light the fires at night!'

'Then consider this, my zealous friend, and mend your way - why is he out among us here if he fears day?' Rinaas sang, her eyes growing distant as her voice gave way to the tune. The members of the impromptu lynch mob frowned at one another, and a few of them mumbled something incoherent and moved off.

'So...' one of those remaining said with brows furrowed in thought, 'this itralla must be especially dangerous because it doesn't fear the light,' he looked down at the Shade and shook his head at it, 'it's good we caught it before it attacked a village.' A few of the others nodded with varying levels of enthusiasm, and the Shade whimpered as the sticks began landing again.

'And would great Hulaiya let evil dwell beneath her sky? Does not corruption cry in pain before her glare and die? So if it walks among us here the reason's one of twain - it may be something good, so then why should you cause it pain? Or it may be Evil great that not even light can tame - think what will be of you, who brought such Evil pain and shame!' The lynchers looked at the Shade with sudden fear and took a few steps back.

'O- oh! F- forgive us!' One shouted, and then joined those who had chosen to wordlessly flee. Rinaas watched them go with an absent-minded smile, and then she turned back to the Shade and extended her hands to i- him. The Shade looked up at her, the little rays that had passed for eyes until now forming up and shifting until there were defined eye-lids and inky lashes, and within them chromatic irises formed and pale sclerae. He took her extended hands in his and placed his forehead upon them in humility and submission to the mistress of lovelorn song and dance, and where he touched her ink slipped and flowed into her, twisting and curling across her arms and neck before concentrating in a tiny spot at the centre of her forehead, just above her brow. There, it formed into the shape of an extended hand.

The woman looked down at him for a few moments more, and then she gripped his hands and pulled him up, and he rose as she bid him and he looked once more into her face - it was not aged, but the creases here and there betrayed that youth had long passed, and the odd streak of white in her dreads sang lowly that the white wave was soon to sweep the black shore for eventide. And yet, for all the death of youth, did the Shade find the resplendence of beauty all in her, and he wept some ink tears and bowed his head once more.

'What is your name, fellow songknower?' She asked him. The Shade brought a finger to where a mouth should have been, and where his finger touched lips formed up and he took a breath, then sighed.
'Mi- mistress,' he trembled, the words coming heavy, 'I- I don't kn- know.'
'Then I will call you Ganisundur, Beautiful Song,' she told him. A smile spread across his newly formed lips and he bowed his head.

'Th- thank you... ah, Adirinaas?' He looked to her questioningly. She laughed - revealing a small gap between her two front teeth - at his confusion, her black eyes twinkling.
'Rinaas hli Awqar is my name; there should be no titles between friends,' she told him, and he smiled timidly and nodded.

'I- I wish to learn,' his grip tightened on her hands slightly, 'to do as you do.' She smiled widely and freed her hands from his, gesturing to all the others who remained.
'We are all learning, Ganisundur,' she began, and then her words picked up tune - erupting from her as though the mere act of speech broke the dams holding her melodies at bay, 'learning never stops! We walk the way to find and weave all of wisdom's dewdrops. Of arrogance we've purged our hearts and never deign to mock the wisdom of the labourer or worker at the dock; the merchant who comes sailing up the Azumai from far may carry words more valuable than all his riches are, and strangers who come bowing low, seeking to learn our ways, may yet in time teach us to dance and great poetic lays,' and with that she began to walk away; and all those dishevelled young men and women - for, indeed, they were all young and looked upon adi Rinaas as disciples did upon their master - picked up their instruments and began to follow in tow.

The Shade - now no longer the Shade, but Ganisundur - stared after them for a few moments, and then he picked up the two-stringed instrument he had dropped and went walking after them.

Kho and NF present

The Clothing of the Sirens

Cadien was circling Antiquity, much as he always did. Lost in thought, he did not pay much attention to the portals that drifted by him as he passed, but as he walked by one particular portal he glanced something odd - just in the corner of his eye - that gave him pause. He couldn’t help but notice that there was something rather… off. When he turned his head, he found that the portal was pitch black. Now this may have simply implied an unmodified realm, but something about the portal made him doubt that. He turned and stepped swiftly towards it, scanning it for any oddities before finally placing his hand into it... only to meet a solid surface rather than the amorphous swirl that was the norm for portals.

Ah. It’s not dark, he thought. It’s blocked. He supposed he could not blame a god for blocking off their realm. Some of the gods were, as he had learned secondhand from Neiya and firsthand from Aicheil, obnoxious. So it was perhaps a sensible measure to block the door so that unwanted intruders could not force access. Still, he found himself rather curious as to the god who would seal their realm in what seemed to be solid ink.

His curiosity piqued, he decided that seeking an audience with the owner of this strange, sealed-off realm was in order. And so he rapped his knuckles against the inky surface and spoke. “Hail there! May I come in?”

At his touch, the ink rippled and its colours shifted, and what had been a blank and peaceful barrier began to ripple slowly, and the ripples became more agitated. The surface roiled and turned, whirling now into a small gyre of colour and now bulging and growing outwards until it hovered dangerously, uncertain of whether to plunge or rear itself back in. It hung there, on the verge of bursting, for a few moments more... and burst it did.
Ink and song erupted suddenly and violently from the portal, drenching Cadien. The torrent of many-coloured ink flooded the ground all around the portal, and the variegated pool began swiftly expanding while song and poetry fluttered off in the form of inky birds and leaves carried off by some unknown breeze, and little flitting faeries and fluttering butterflies.

Some of those kaleidoscopic oddities fluttered about the Cadien’s head and began to whisper and sing in overlapping feminine tones.

Oh who knocks there, who knocks?
Who stands there knocking at the locks?
Don’t you see, don’t you know?
There’s nothing in this empty box!
So who is it that knocks?

What do you come to seek?
Perhaps to sneak a silent peek
Beyond the great black gate
At songs and poems soft and sleek?
You’ll not find what you seek!
There’s nothing in this empty box!
So who is it that knocks?

The fluttering birds circumambulated Cadien’s divine head and flew away, only to be replaced by others who circled once - and only once - then went off on their way; some bursting into a cacophony of melody and verse, while others leapt sighing and dancing into the realms of other gods.

All of this did Cadien bear for a few silent moments, but soon an indignant rage welled up in his chest as he finally wiped away the ink which had splattered him... but he was able to suppress it at the last. “I am Cadien, the god of Perfection,” he breathed. “Could I perhaps inquire as to the owner of this realm?”

Annoyingly, there was no immediate response to his words and the outpouring of ink from the walled up portal continued. The only response to Cadien’s question were the odd inky flyers who continued to flutter and dance and sing about his head. They varied their song slightly, but the general theme continued to be that that there was nothing here, that it was empty and that there was nothing to be found.

Nothing lies here, no one stirs
In the empty box
The mind blows to bits and blurs
And the tongue falls flat
Only your tune sings and whirs
That’s why you are here!
Other singing disappears
And your song appears.

“I find that rather hard to believe,” Cadien remarked in response, “considering you are speaking to me right now. And why would this realm be sealed if there was not something inside of it?” But there was no response to his words this time. The birds and butterflies flew off laughing and dancing, and all about Cadien was silence and the gushing inky cascade.

“Hmm…” the god stood still for a moment, deep in thought. Then he took a step back from the portal, and cleared his throat.

“Your words I cannot believe,
I don’t know why you'd deceive.
An empty box would not lock,
An empty box would not talk.”

For a moment nothing happened beyond the gushing of the ink from the obsidian portal and the flow of the growing inky pond across the floor of Antiquity - having now already reached the noticeboard of the gods. The silence dragged on for a few uncomfortably awkward, heavy moments... and then a cacophony of noises - wood being sawed, planks being hammered, bricks being baked and swiftly put up - sounded. The high-pitched shriek of what might have been metal being shaped and drills at work was ear-piercing, and the sound of engines roared and chainsaws rattled as the barrier appeared to be enforced by all means possible. When all of this was done, a suspicious feminine voice spoke out with finality, ‘nobody’s home!’

“I propose a challenge, then,” Cadien suggested to the voice. “If I can break down your barrier, I can come in. Do you accept?” His proposal, however, was met with a cry of fear and the scuttling of feet back and forth… then what was undoubtedly the sound of furniture being moved and jostled around.

‘N-no, please! Please! If you huff and you puff and blow my house down I would be ever so upset!’ The panicking voice cried out.

“Hmm. Very well then,” Cadien shrugged in resignation. “That wasn’t a threat, I should clarify. ‘Twould have merely been a test of your barrier’s integrity. But, if you do not wish for it, then I shall not do it; you have nothing to fear. But anyhow, now! May I please come in?” He asked once more.

He heard the voice behind the barrier sigh with relief. ‘Thank you, kind sir! That is most gallant and gentlemanly of you. But I fear that it would go against all etiquette and propriety to l- let a stranger inside for no good reason and without a chaperone. Is there anything I can do for you? Perhaps I can take a message?’ There was the rustling of paper, what seemed to be quick scribbling back and forth on a page before there was an exasperated groan about ‘these things keep running out of ink..’

“Would you happen to be the owner of this realm?” Cadien asked.

‘Realm, sir?’ The voice asked in response.

“Oh no,” Cadien whispered, and then sighed. “Have you made any attempt to set foot outside this portal after it appeared?”

F-foot, sir?’ the voice asked with audibly increasing horror.

“Is there anybody else in there that I may speak to?” Cadien snapped at last.

‘Oh, I will check for you, sir. Just a moment.’ There was once again the sound of scuttling feet, whispering, a number of people muttering and shouting in surprise in the distance, before the skidding and sliding of scampering and running feet. ‘I’m sorry sir, everyone else appears to be asleep. The Lady is not to be disturbed, she is currently at a very delicate point in her… uh, whatever it is she’s doing.’

“And who is this Lady?” Cadien asked.

‘Wh- who is the Lady?’ There was a musical note of dawning realisation, ‘you don’t know the Lady, sir?’ Suspicion had returned. ‘And yet you come knocking at the door! You are surely a miscreant with incredible panache attempting to charm us of our honour! Woe is me!’ Cadien frowned, and once more there was hammering and drilling in an apparent show of reinforcing the barrier even further.

“I am no miscreant, churl. I am Cadien, the god of Perfection. Do you treat all visitors with such suspicion?”

‘You will have to pardon my suspicion, sir, but you are a highly charming individual - perfect, in fact! - attempting to beguile and dazzle your way into this empty box, for no reason at all! You would forgive me if I suspected such a perfectly charming stranger - one with such overpowering words and logic, at that - of some kind of ulterior motive; especially when the Lady is sleeping inside! Oh, the humiliation of it! A stranger getting inside! It’s most irregular! What will the people say of us?’ The voice continued melodramatically for a good while before finally coming to a conclusion, ‘so, please do pardon me sir, but I can’t simply roll the red carpet out for you, as it were.’

Cadien stroked his chin thoughtfully. “Ah,” he said after a moment. “But am I perfectly charming, or merely perfectly mannered? If you turn away all who demonstrate such refinement, then they will stop coming, out of respect for your policy. Then only the brutes and churls will be left, who will not be so easily turned away. Would you rather have them knocking at your door instead of I? I think not. The mere sight of such disreputable figures outside your door will surely tarnish your Lady’s reputation.” He shook his head. “No. Better to let me in. I give you my word that I mean no harm to you or your Lady.” Shuffling and whispering followed Cadien’s words, and a heavy silence descended as though the person behind the barrier was deep in thought... until at last the heaviness could not be retained and a sob sounded.

‘Oh sir! You have frightened me beyond measure! Even now I am imagining all the fiends out there, all your Casanovas and Don Juans and other such incredibly handsome but fast and loose libertines. It’s incredibly frightful - oh! Oh my heart! It’s going to give out, any moment now! Oh! Oh! Sir! I will let you in but you must promise me - you must promise me this. Oh! That you will stand gallantly and boldly against all those vile philanderers who will come knocking at the door!’

“Very well. I promise.” Cadien smiled in triumph.

‘Right! Good! I am relieved! Let me just move all this,’ and for a few moments there was the noise of shuffling and jostling and the removal of the assortment of barriers that had been put up, before that all stopped suddenly. ‘But oh! Oh me!’ The woman cried, ‘how am I to trust your word alone, kind sir?’ Cadien huffed, closed his eyes, and brought his thumb and forefinger to the bridge of his nose for a few moments, before returning to a upright position.

“All I have done is assure you of my own character. If a charming figure surely sought to gain entry via deception, they would have diverted conversation away from themselves and instead plied you with flirtation and flattery. They would have issued false praise and claims of devotion to your Lady, without knowing who she was. But I? I have focused only on what I can speak the truth about. My merits, and my intentions.” He snapped his fingers and hastily materialized his suit of armour around himself.

‘That is all very well, sir, and I am sure you are very honest and sincere, but it remains the case that I do not know you, truly. What is to say you are not an exceedingly cunning and dashing young Romeo who is well-aware of the normal tricks of such young adventurers, and so have refined your art to the highest degree so that naive ladies-in-waiting like poor little me will let you in? Surely you can offer some kind of boon as proof of your sincerity? Something you cannot do without so that even the great beauty and nubile form of my Lady, and her captivating song and dance, will not shake your gallant and pure intentions.’

“I can offer you my cloak?” he suggested. “It is of my favourite colour, and it complements my outfit rather well. I simply wouldn’t be able to leave without it.”

‘But sir!’ The voice on the other side gave out an indignant cry, ‘if I didn’t know any better I would think you are making fun of me!’ There was a huff and the sound of a stamping foot, and then the song of arms being crossed, pouting lips, and furrowed brows slivered through the barrier.

“I would never do such a thing,” said Cadien. “I am the Lord of Perfection. Fashion is a very serious matter to me. I would not freely offer an accessory if I did not hope for its return. Nor would I do so with intention to mock.” There was a gasp the moment he had mentioned fashion, and a great racket as the barrier was dismantled at bizarre speed.

‘Sir! We are experiencing what one could term a fabric crisis, for want of better words. You simply must help us resolve this pressing and, well,’ there was a pause, ‘somewhat embarrassing state of affairs. I assure you that you will be rewarded most handsomely for your assistance!’ And with that, the final lock was removed and the bolt drawn open, causing the barrier of ink to collapse and reveal a world of incredible colour and sound, mesmerising and beautiful beyond words. Colourful Songs took on the form of enchanting young maidens with sweeping hair who leapt about laughing and giggling, birds and little faeries flying about them and singing and reciting poetry in adoration of their perfect forms of colourful ink and dance.

The world itself was a breathtaking sweep of majestic rolling mountains of shifting ink, through which streamed endless rivers and cascades. The skies roiled and shifted like the glorious breath of the cosmos, and wherever the eye fell it found beauty, and whatever fell upon the ear was cause for joy and delight. An inky woman stood by the barrier, covering her shame with her endlessly flowing liquid hair. The fabric crisis she was referring to was all too clear, for all the Songs that laughed and danced across the sensational realm were unclothed. The woman, who Cadien immediately knew to be the troublesome lady-in-waiting, extended her hand to Cadien, inviting him to take her hand and step within.

I hope Neiya doesn’t find out about this, Cadien thought, as he took her hand and stepped inside. As he stepped through, ink rushed about him and he looked back to find the portal slowly sealing up behind him. No doubt it was to ensure that no dangerous villains would take the opportunity to sneak inside. He turned back to the smiling lady-in-waiting and found that she had flushed all kinds of red on contact with the manifestation of manly perfection that he was.

She led him slowly through the realm, and about them the clouds of ink parted and a pathway of rocky red and orange and yellow inks formed beneath their feet as they walked, and it led to a great pavilion furnished with all manner of soft cushions and carpets - though Cadien knew not how they were kept from staining those reclined on them - and as they entered the pavilion graceful Songs approached softly and eased Cadien’s cloak and armour from his athletic, sinewy form. Then the lady-in-waiting led him inside and seated him amongst the biggest cushions where Cadien immediately felt that the acoustics were clearer and that the verses and lays drifted towards him in a relaxing and peaceful manner. Lithe, wide-eyed Songs brought bowls of fruit and sweatmeets and honeyed nuts before him, and he heard the lady-in-waiting say in her sing-song voice that he was the first stranger to ever set eyes upon them, and he the first they ever set eyes on.

Many of these Songs, as the lady-in-waiting called them, gathered about the pavilion and strained to catch a glimpse of Cadien, and he could hear them whispering about ‘the thing of beauty that everyone is whispering and talking about,’ and all about Cadien fair maidens threw themselves and sat and lay adoring every aspect of his form. As they gently delighted in inspecting him, now massaging his shoulder or feeling a bicep or admiring his calves, the lady-in-waiting sat herself on some of the cushions and looked to the god.

‘It is our duty to offer entertainment, but I fear that all my Songs are far too shy to sing and dance before you without something to cover themselves. Are you, perhaps, able to offer them some clothing that will enhance their beauty and hasten our ability to entertain you as you deserve to be entertained?’ The god of Perfection glanced at the lady-in-waiting as he basked in the attention, and then offered a single nod. With a snap of his fingers, each Song was suddenly clad in a low-cut form-fitting dress, in colours that perfectly complemented the hues of their skin, and long silken sashes were draped about their shoulders and tied about their waists. The sudden change drew melodious cries of astonishment and delight from the Songs around the pavilion and across the realm, to Cadien’s satisfaction, and their enticing and lyrical song rose like a great wave about the pavilion and came crashing down to fill the place with a flood of harmonious yet inspirited sound.

Those Songs around Cadien’s throne of cushions threw themselves in his lap and about his shoulders in delight, now planting kisses and now stroking one aspect or another of his perfect physique. And even as those did so, others sat themselves around and began strumming lutes that materialised from the inky ambience and beating drums and playing flutes, and others let loose bursts of exquisite sound in a full-hearted celestial song that called on the souls of those present to rise, awaken, and dance. And many of those Songs leapt up, putting their newly-clothed ripe forms into the twirling dance, and bells about their ankles and wrists gave their every movement a tight tension and emphasis, while whirling sashes leant the illusion of a barrier, distance, mystique.

The singing went on, and the dancing, and jugs full of deep-crimson wine was brought forth and poured into bejewelled goblets. Songs competed to be the ones to bring their cup to the god’s waiting lips. Others raced to plop a grape into his mouth or slice apples that they may be the ones to place the sweet fruit between his perfectly symmetrical lips. And the dance intensified, inundating Cadien with sensory pleasures; the song seeming to only grow ever upwards, ever on the cusp of reaching a climax yet never doing so.

Cadien could not deny that he was enjoying himself, and yet through the haze of pleasure he grasped at though and knew that he had come into this realm with a purpose, and as tempting as it was to lose himself in the beauty that surrounded him he knew he could not. He gently pushed away one of the Songs attempting to kiss him. “My apologies,” he said, glancing at the lady-in-waiting, “you are all very beautiful, and your skills at song and dance are unmatched, but could you withhold such intimate gestures? I have already committed myself to a woman, and she would not think it proper if I were to let things go on like this.”

The lady-in-waiting nodded at his words and signalled for the Songs who were being too intimate to control themselves. They did not refrain from pressing themselves against him, though the kisses decreased considerably and they contented themselves with massaging his knotted muscles and releasing the tension wherever it lay as the dancers continued their graceful stepping and gyrations in synchrony with the music all around, and good foods continued to be served. ‘Even from here I can feel that it has been very long indeed since you simply relaxed and enjoyed some good entertainment, my lord,’ the lady-in-waiting said, ‘pray tell, what are these matters that keep you busy from the good company of dancers and singers who would delight in easing you of all tensions and worries?’

“Interactions with my fellow gods, primarily.” Cadien explained, as he accepted a sip from golden goblet. “Most are pleasant company, but some have been quite rude and churlish. Then there is the plight of my people to consider. And as I said, I have already committed myself to a goddess. I love her, but she is quite possessive - not that I blame her for that, I suppose. Still, it would betray her trust if I fell too deeply into intimate company with others.” He glanced at the lady-in-waiting and found that she was frowning at this and clearly puzzled by some of what he had said.

‘I must say, my lord, your lady’s possessiveness is understandable - but it simply is not right. Women are monogamous by nature, but great men have many lovers - and they can love them all the same, for that is the mark of their greatness. I am sure that your lady will come to understand this with time - the greatest display of love is to allow your beloved to seek happiness in every sense. It does not take from a lady’s joy any if the great pillar and pole of her life is the support of many others. If anything, that is the evidence of his desirability. But I digress! You have said this word many times now - “god.” I have not heard it before. What is it?’

“You do not know what a god is?” Cadien furrowed his brow in confusion. “Hmm. Well, a god is an immensely powerful being, capable of creating life, objects, and all manner of things from nothing. The act I just performed - granting you all clothes - was but a small display of such power. What we are in right now is called a realm. You and all things in it were created by a singular god, and it was that god I came in here to meet.” The lady-in-waiting’s eyes widened as he spoke, and then she looked around as though the god that he had just spoken of would appear out of the ether.

‘Y- you are mistaken my lord! There are none of these powerful and mighty creatures in here. And you say that there are many such gods? And that some are not so good as you?’ Her brows seemed to crease in worry.

“Oh, fear not,” Cadien waved a hand, “your realm may still have a god. They might simply be absent, or hidden. As to the others… a few are unpleasant, yes - I did try to warn you of them. But from most you have nothing to fear. Rest assured, I’m certain that neither they nor your realm’s creator would allow any harm to befall you. And I did agree to stand against the unpleasant ones, did I not?” The crease of worry slowly lifted from the lady’s brows as Cadien spoke, and when he made his confident declaration she flushed crimson and looked away.

‘Y- you did my lord. I thank you for your kindness and generosity in this regard. I see now I was wrong to doubt, you are truly as gallant as you said. We shall have no need to fear while you are with us and protect us.’ The other Songs sat about Cadien nodded in agreement, and though they respected his desire not to be kissed, they continued caressing now his hair - and now his arms -, while staring at him with what appeared to be ever-growing adoration. ‘And you say you have been interacting with these other gods - if you pardon my ignorance, my lord, why do you do so? Is there some great and noble purpose that calls on you to risk life and limb in this manner?’

“Indeed,” Cadien nodded. “It is my own curiosity. I cannot determine which gods mean well and which ones mean ill until I speak with them to ascertain their motives.” Despite his earlier desire, Cadien now found himself sinking further into his beautiful companions’ attentions and returning their caresses, which garnered delighted giggles from them and responses in kind. “Now, should you ever find yourselves in danger, simply think of me, and whisper a message. I will hear it, and if your realm is open, I shall come to your assistance if you need it.” He smiled at the lady-in-waiting, but almost immediately the ripple of worry had returned to her inky visage.

‘Y- you mean that you cannot stay with us? Have we displeased you my lord? Please,’ she paused and swallowed, her glistening chromatic eyes meeting his, ‘do not leave us...’ Her plea caused her anxiety clear, and almost immediately her words were echoed by the others, and one or two held his hands desperately - but with a certain softness that sought neither to cling or force but only to implore -; and their touches and words made no secret of how his departure so soon after his arrival would pain them beyond measure. ‘You promised you would protect us, and we cannot feel safe now knowing that such evil beings exist outside. Please do not leave us to their predations, my lord.’ The songs looked from their worried lady-in-waiting to the majestic god who had blessed them with his presence, and for whom Cadien could see each now betrayed no small degree of growing love and devotion. ‘If we have made you unhappy with us then we will mend our ways, if only you would stay, my lord,’ despite the clear imploration in her words and voice, and on her flushed red face, the lady-in-waiting looked away and attempted to retain what dignity she could before the regal god, ‘protect us, take joy with us, and allow us to joy in your company and hear your tales and serve you in all ways.’ The lady bit her lips and furrowed her brows, bringing a hand to her shoulder as though bracing herself against a blow, causing Cadien to frown.

“It is through no failing on your part that I must leave,” he reassured, which immediately garnered melodious sighs of relief and smiles from the gathered Songs. “I merely have obligations elsewhere. Although…” the frown faded, and he took on a thoughtful expression. “If your creator is indeed absent, then I suppose it would be irresponsible of me to leave such beautiful damsels unattended. Mmm… yes, this is quite the dilemma,” he said as he stroked his chin. “Hmm. I may have an idea. But first, I’m going to need to meet this Lady that you told me of.” At mention of the Lady, a hush overcame the gathered Songs and they looked to the lady-in-waiting, with worry, and the lady too seemed somewhat at pains.

‘The Lady sleeps, my lord. No one ever disturbs her, for her sleeps is a delicate affair. Even we only go by her on tiptoes and barely breathe at all,’ she pursed her lips and sighed, ‘but why is it that you need to meet her so urgently? You have said that you do not know her after all. Is there something that, perhaps in your foresight, you have kept to yourself about our Lady?’ The lady-in-waiting leaned forward slightly, her eyes widening with hope; though her rippling brows spoke of uncertainty and doubt.

“Not at all,” Cadien shook his head. “I merely wish to invite you all to join me in my own realm. It would resolve the dilemma of me needing to leave while you desire after a protector. It seems only fitting to bring such a request to your leader before I do so, however.” The lady-in-waiting perked up almost immediately at his words, and the gathered Songs also looked about themselves excitedly - to travel with their Lady and remain under the protection of Cadien, it seemed, was a prospect that called for delight and excitement. The lady-in-waiting was on her feet almost instantly, and she stepped towards Cadien - and even though her steps were hurried, that essential lithely grace did not fade - and came on her knees before him and placed a kiss on his palm; and where her lips made contact with his skin she blossomed crimson and all her body glowed with it as she looked away.

The Lady-in-Waiting

‘Thank you my lord, to join you and be ever safe, and to frolic and joy in your presence and hear your manful tales, is all we desire.’ Her chromatic eyes peeked shyly up at him, her eyes hovering now on his chiselled jaw and now on the lips that more than a few fortunate Songs had savoured during the earlier entertainment and revelry. She swallowed and cleared her throat, ‘we will have to prepare you, my lord. We will wash you of these ink stains - much as ink, you will be pleased to know, complements your divine form - and we will ready you for approaching our Lady. It may be that your sublime presence will awaken her at last - and what better could she hope to awaken to?’

Cadien nodded his assent at this, and the lady-in-waiting and all her Songs gathered about the god with knowing smiles, stripping him of what clothes he yet wore and leading him gently away.

Had the bath-house where the perfect god was attended to by those enchanting beauties any ligneous beams or treen chattels, it need not be commented on that many lacerations would have been present there when at last the lady-in-waiting led him out, every aspect of him properly cleaned, his body oiled, and in all ways cared for. No marks of the offensive inks that had sprayed him before his entry into the realm were to be found, though looking on his form the lady-in-waiting said once more, ‘your form, my lord, calls out for the artistic touch of ink. It would be…’ she paused and looked away, attempting and failing to hide her reddening face, ‘perhaps you would allow me, sometime…’ she intoned.

“I think not,” Cadien shook his head slightly. “I do not doubt your abilities, but I am satisfied with my form as is.” He shrugged. “Then again, I have a tendency to change my mind. But for now, there is a more pressing matter at hand.” The lady-in-waiting looked like she had been struck, but she bit her lip and hid her face with a hand.

‘S-sorry my lord, of course. I meant no offence,’ her hand slipped from his and she placed it humbly at her side as she led him along the inky path that formed up with each of their steps. Every now and again she glanced at him with furrowed brows as though to check he was not angry with her.

“No harm done,” Cadien said in a reassuring tone as he idly examined his surroundings. The inky clouds of colour drifted past them on wings of song, and every now and again a little fae creature went whizzing by while loosing energetic jingles, or an inky thrush would land on the shoulder of one Song or another and bring forth a full-hearted evensong that purged any thought of gloom and caused the lively Songs to giggle and laugh melodiously and kiss and caress the bird of ink before it fluttered off. One such Song leapt beside the walking god and locked her arm in his, looking up at the far taller being.

‘My lord, you never did tell us what your realm is like. Everyone is so curious! We can’t wait to go and live there with you,’ she released a sigh, ‘can you tell me about it?’ The lady-in-waiting shot the little Song the slightest of irritated glances, her eyes hanging on where she held Cadien for a few moments before turning away and hurrying on.

“My realm? It is a lovely place. An island in the midst of a vast ocean, with a great fortress full of luxurious furniture and tasteful decorations. No doubt I will have to make some alterations to accommodate all of you, so there is more to be added still.” Cadien smiled. “You could consider it to be a… not a blank canvas, but one that is still in progress. Always ready for new additions.” The smaller Song seemed to eat up the talk of luxury and decoration, but perhaps what made her most curious was-

‘A vast ocean, my lord?’ The lady-in-waiting asked suddenly, bringing herself closer and timidly reaching for his free hand again, ‘what is that? And are there other gods in your realm?’

Cadien allowed her to take his hand with a reassuring smile, and the lady blushed crimson and looked at her feet. “An ocean is a large body of water,” he explained. “As for other gods, I am my realm’s sole owner, though others do visit from time to time. Including the goddess that I love. Assuming you do join me there, I would ask that you not disturb her when she appears; she enjoys solitude, and being alone with her own thoughts.”

‘Oh, my lord!’ the small Song cried, ‘that is beautiful! There must be many who love and adore you just as she does. I cannot wait to see her - she must be beautiful for you to love her, and she must have the most beautiful song, and I am sure she dances more wondrously than ever we danced!’

“Many adore me, it’s true,” Cadien agreed as they walked. “But none adore me as much as her. And none adore her as much as I.” There was a wistful tone in his voice. “She is beautiful, but I have never seen her sing or dance. Though such things are charming, she never needed them to draw my attention; her other attributes were enough.” Though the Song seemed stunned by a lover who neither sang nor danced, she appeared to understand immediately what the god meant.

‘That makes sense! For you don’t sing or dance my lord, and yet we all a- ah,’ the Song clamped her mouth shut and tightened her grip about his great arm, ‘and are there goddesses other than her, my lord? Surely they must love you too, and you them? A lord like you must have as many loves as there is ink in the world!’

Cadien frowned and shook his head. “There are many other gods and goddesses, and I consider many of them to be my friends. But I only have one love. She is all I need.” His frown faded. “You do things differently here, and I have no intention of making you change your ways, but outside of this realm, most view love as a competition. A man may only love one woman, and a woman may only love one man. My love believes this too, and I have accepted that.” On what seemed to be a startling revelation for the duo, the lady and the Song let out stunned gasps and for a moment neither seemed able to find their tongue so as to respond. It was the lady that found her tongue first.

‘But my lord, that is simply terrible! What will happen to all of us here who have given ourselves to you? How can you love us also when you will only love one? How can you bear to break so many hearts!’ The Song hanging onto his other arm nodded in agreement with the lady, her colourful eyes glistening at what seemed to be a horrible thought.

‘You said you would take us with you, my lord. We don’t mind how many you love, so long as you love us too,’ she added, smearing away an offensive teary droplet and sniffing back any more.

“Ah, I misspoke. I meant romantic love,” Cadien corrected himself. “There are different forms of love, you see. Love between friends, love between family. I hold love for what I create, and for those who choose to serve me. I am fully prepared to love you all; just not romantically.” The smaller Song’s frown deepened at these words, and she looked to the silent lady who seemed resigned to what, from her manner, seemed a terrible declaration. Perhaps it had never occurred to any of these isolated maidens that such different - and perhaps to them tragic - rules could exist.

‘Are you expected to seal off your heart and fight off every other possibility of love, my lord?’ the Song asked, ‘because that is only what dutiful women may do! Great men should not mimic women!’ the Song blurted at last, ‘it’s only us who are meant to do that - and you are meant to love us all. B- but. But if you can’t love us in your heart then…’ she placed her cheek against his bicep, ‘can we not at least take some joy of your form; surely that is separate from the matters of the heart? Surely your beloved will not deny you that if she loved you as we do?’

Cadien realized he was getting nowhere with this line of logic. His frown returned. “Where are these ‘great men’ of yours, then? Why have I not seen any?” The duo looked to one another and giggled, and then the lady-in-waiting slapped the god lightly on the arm, as though to bring his attention to the obvious.

‘He’s right here, my lord!’ She smiled, and the other Song laughed melodiously in agreement.

“You mean to tell me that I am the only man in this realm?” He asked, tilting his head slightly, and the lady simply nodded.

‘There need only be one, after all,’ she gave him a timid smile, though the other Song had no such inhibitions or shyness, leaping up gracefully and planting a kiss on his cheek, and then somehow managing to hang there hugging his neck for a short period before plopping back down and resuming her embosoming of his arm.

“Hm. There lies the heart of our issue, then. I don’t understand how you even know what men are if you have none, but when you accompany me to my realm, I shall create some for you. You may enjoy their attentions in place of mine.”

‘Will they be like you? With interesting stories and a love for dancing and singing and frolicing?’ The Song asked, her previous qualms forgotten. ‘And will you still love us even when we love them?’

“They will never be as great as I,” Cadien shook his head. “But they will be handsome, and they will be charming. They will dance, they will sing, perhaps even frolic. As for love, I shall love you as a protector and a leader would. They shall love you in all other aspects you require.” The Song opened her mouth to protest once more, but the voice of the lady-in-waiting cut across her, and there was a coldness there.

‘That will suffice, Herraiya.’ She said, and sound seemed to catch in the smaller Song’s mouth, who slowly closed it and contented herself with caressing the god’s arm. The lady then turned her gaze on the god with a small, soft smile, ‘if that is your will my lord, then we will accept it with pleasure. Your happiness is our delight and to see your will done is cause for joy.’

The god’s smile returned, brighter than those that anytime before. “Excellent. I look forward to hearing your songs echo through the halls of Meliorem. Now, let us press on.” The lady-in-waiting’s eyes hung on his smile for a few moments, seemingly dazzled, before she shook herself free and nodded.

They continued onward, making light conversation and joking as they went, and every now and then the Song at his side began rendering harmonious melodies that almost seemed to carry them forth along the ever-forming path of ink. And as the path climbed higher and higher into the inky clouds, there encompassed them a serene, monotone intonation that slowly became a trilling and quavering chant, which was soon transformed into a beatific chorus and strumming.

And the clouds of ink parted to reveal a small inky plateau where no Song wandered, and at the centre of the strange island of ink was a strange feminine figure. As they approached, it was immediately noticeable that her lower body was a miniscule storm of roiling ink, twisting and turning tirelessly on itself, and from her waste upward she seemed perfectly formed except for the odd tear or gash that revealed bubbling ink of variegated tones and colours. She was upright, though reclining backwards on air, her arms slightly spread and elbows bent so that her hands hung up by her hanging head. Her eyes were closed and she did not seem to breathe, though across her black skin golden tattoos shifted and turned, and her straight golden hair seemed to float here and there against any gravitational pull.

After a few sombre moments, the lady-in-waiting turned to Cadien and, wordlessly, presented what was clearly her Lady to him with a small gesture. Cadien looked at the strange sleeping woman with somewhat widened eyes. She was like no other he had encountered in this world; and it seemed clear to him that this was no ordinary sleep. Aside from her bizarre physical appearance, there did not seem to be anything extraordinary about her, though the sounds and songs which emanated from her were a strange mixture of joy and pain. “How long has she been like this?” he asked his companions. The lady-in-waiting brought a finger to her lips in thought, before speaking in a very low voice.

‘I’m not sure, the early days are not so easy to remember - but she was always off in her own world. She used to sing a lot more - and it was something incredible to behold, beyond anything I have seen or felt. But those occasions were very rare, few and far between. I care for her and protect her as I can, and the Songs all help me do that too,’ she paused and sighed, sadness and different shades of blue shimmering across her body, and she added more to herself, ‘but now I see how foolish I was. It was never possible to keep her safe from all the evil gods out there.’

“Does she ever wake?”

The lady-in-waiting looked at him and nodded. ‘Yes my lord, but as I say it has been a long time since she last did. We have never sought to disturb her - she wakes and sleeps as she pleases,’ she whispered.

How strange, Cadien thought, setting his gaze back on the sleeping Lady. This did not strike him as an ordinary sleep by any means. But at the same time, he had never seen this species sleep until now. He stepped closer to her, garnering a nervous gulp from the lady-in-waiting, and placed a hand on her cheek. “It is time for you to wake up,” he told her. Cadien could feel the lady-in-waiting and the other Song staring wide-eyed into his back for a few moments, clearly unsure of what would happen next. A strange stillness settled on the area, and all song seemed to fade. The lady-in-waiting and the Song looked around nervously.

‘My lo-’ the lady-in-waiting made to speak, but almost immediately the world around them seemed to roar and twist and turn, previously peaceful and harmonious inky clouds growing and expanding violently. The inky plateau beneath them rumbled and shook also, and the solid foundations it all stood on seemed to shift suddenly and begin to slip away.

Cadien stepped away from the sleeping Lady and instinctively thrust his fist into the ground, and the ink enveloped his arm up to the elbow. This was not his realm. It was not his home. It was not him. But that did not mean he was powerless. He forced his power and his will into the inky ground beneath him, and suddenly the shaking stopped. “Go!” he shouted to the two Songs standing nearby. “Gather… everyone…” he grunted, as he felt the realm begin to push back against his efforts to control it. “Bring them… here... “ his voice became increasingly strained. “I’ll get us out…” he gasped. The lady and the Song jumped to, looking at their unstable surroundings with fear.

‘B-but my lord, this ha-’ the Song began to protest, but the lady-in-waiting cut her off.
‘We will gather everyone as fast as we can my lord. I’m so sorry, this hasn’t happened in a very long ti-’ and leaving her words trailing off, she grabbed the Song and leapt onto the path, tripping here and there where where ink had collapsed or was flowing profusely. Ink droplets rained everywhere, pelting any yet-solid ground and all on it, and the song of the lady-in-waiting sounded across the turmoil, a siren’s call to safety.

Even as the lady-in-waiting leapt to do as Cadien asked, the god felt the realm rumble and groane against the restraints, and here and there a great simmering mountain of ink formed and spewed its contents like some horrendous volcano. Cadien noted, however, that the sleeping Lady did not seem to stir, though the slightest frown could be spied on her brow as though she had seen something unpleasant or upsetting in a dream. Though Cadien’s efforts meant that the inky plateau was now mostly stable, all around the world of ink swirled and thundered, great inkdrops pelted the plateau and the two figures on it - though where they struck the Lady Cadien was surprised to see the inkdrops simply slipping into her. And soon the world around them was not simply roiling and twisting and thundering and turning, but was sending forth inky tendrils that began to snap and grab at the immobilised Cadien, perhaps having identified him as the foreign element and source of the restraints.

With one arm embedded in the ground, the god of Perfection was forced to kick them away as he waited for the Songs to return. But while he was kicking at them, he noticed that other tendrils had now wrapped about the Lady and were already dragging her into the roiling horror of ink beyond the safety of the plateau ( which even now was fighting and straining against him to lose all form).

The god of Perfection slammed his legs together, and the two appendages merged into a tail, which began to extend as the rest of his body grew in size. His skin took on a violet hue, an extra pair of arms grew from his torso, and a pair of rainbow-feathered wings sprouted from his back. But it was the tail that mattered most, and with it he lashed out towards the Lady, wrapping the tip around her in an attempt to prevent her from being pulled away. Almost immediately the tendrils shrieked at his attempt to foil their mindless action, and they began to twist and turn violently to contest his tai. But it soon became apparent that it was a losing battle, and so the tendrils stopped attempting to pry the sleeping Lady free of the god and instead began enveloping his tale instead. Thicker tendrils joined the fray and encased Cadien’s mighty appendage, tugging to bring him whole into the chaotic whirling wind and ink, and latching around more and more of his form; the tighter he now held onto the Lady, the more tendrils seemed to join in the attempt to fling him from the plateau and envelop the realm in eternal inky chaos.

Cadien cursed inwardly. It was clearly no use, and so he swiftly shifted back to his human form, shrinking out of the tendrils’ grasp and abandoning the Lady to her fate. But his grip on the ground remained steadfast and unyielding. He looked up, steeling himself for further assaults, but the roiling chaos seemed to ease now that the Lady was gone, and though the realm continued to resist his restraints - thundering and pelting the world with inkdrops - there was no longer a targeted assault on the plateau or Cadien. Every now and then the ground attempted to shift beneath him, but a mere strengthening of his hold ensured the ink held; though the longer the Songs took to arrive the more precarious his hold became.

It was only when there seemed no possibility of holding anymore that the ululations and cries of the Songs sounded as they leapt and ran across the collapsing pathway that cut through the inky cloud; somehow managing to maintain their footing and places even as they gracefully leapt over one another and slipped by each other to reach the plateau. They continued flooding in as the lady-in-waiting arrived at last and flung herself by Cadien’s side, her multicoloured eyes searching the place where the Lady had been.

‘M-my lord? Are you well? W-’ she paused and looked around, her face collapsing into anxiety and fear, ‘where is our Lady?’ But Cadien could not respond. The realm tore at his mind and muscles, as it resisted his attempts to hold it together. He could barely spare enough power for what was required next, and he desperately hoped it would not be met with resistance. He raised his free hand and waved it in a circle. Then, he pointed. A portal appeared, leading to a sandy island and to safety.

The Songs let out gasps and cries of relief at the sight, and a few rushed forth before coming to a pause and looking around, unsure. ‘My lady,’ one of the Songs said, looking to the lady-in-waiting with an anxious frown, ‘what of our Lady?’ The lady-in-waiting looked to Cadien, her face the palest white and somehow ashen, but she it seemed to dawn on her that the god was in pain and so she did not say anything. She steeled her face and looked to the one who had spoken.

‘Our lord has opened a door for us at great pain to himself, now is not the time to be churlish. Go!’ The Songs all stiffened at her reprimand and seemed regretful for having wasted time on such doubts when their lord was indeed clearly in such pain, and almost immediately they made for the gateway and flowed through like a great cascade of ink - though, just as they had done on the collapsing pathway, they seemed to slip past and over one another without effort or detriment to each other, truly as though they were flooding through. When the majority had gotten disappeared beyond te gate, the lady-in-waiting placed her hands under Cadien’s arm and helped him up. ‘I’m with you, my lord,’ she uttered.

Cadien’s arm slid out of the ground, completely coated in ink, and in that moment the burden of stabilizing the ground was lifted. Yet he knew just as well that also meant the ground would cease to be stable for both of them. So without wasting any further time, he seized the lady-in-waiting by the waist and dove through the portal; the lady let out a cry of fear, instinctively shutting her eyes and wrapping her arms about the god and did not let go. The plateau went crashing down in their wake.

The two crashed down on the sands of Meliorem. Cadien quickly disentangled himself from her and rose to his feet, just as an inky tendril snaked its way through the portal. With a wave of his hand the portal closed, severing the tentacle at the tip. It fell to the ground, writhed for a bit, then ceased moving and disintegrated back into ink.

With the danger gone, Cadien fell to his knees gasping. Never before had his life been so endangered. Was this what mortals felt when death seemed certain? Could even he have died? It was a sobering thought. He knelt there, immobile, and still in shock at the harrowing experience he had just endured. The Songs circled all about him, asking after him with their harmonious voices, and though they were concerned their very voices soothed him. Not far from him, the lady-in-waiting slowly rolled over and got to her knees, looking to the now closed gateway wistfully for a few moments… and then her attention snapped back to Cadien. Almost immediately she was by his side, whispering soothingly and gratefully, tidying his disheveled white curls and ridding his body of inks and stains where she could, planting reassuring kisses on his shoulder. ‘It’s done, my lord, we’re safe,’ she murmured.

“I could not save your Lady. Forgive me,” Cadien said, unsure of why he was asking forgiveness from a mortal, but did so anyway. His words seemed to shatter whatever attempts the lady-in-waiting had made to keep from thinking about the loss, for almost immediately little drops of light blue ink began to plop onto the god’s arm.
‘I- it’s not your fault, my lord. I should have warned you,’ her tears intensified and she sat back on her knees, wiping the inky streams away only for fresh ones to take their place, ‘it had just been so long since it happened, I didn’t think,’ her brows furrowed deeply and anger flashed across her face, ‘didn’t think!’ she muttered, smacking herself on the forehead again and again, ‘I’m an idiot, it’s my fault. Stupid!’ Her outburst seemed to affect all the gathered Songs, who also began to cry and blubber.

But Cadien shook his head. “If anyone is to blame, it is the god who made such an unstable realm in the first place, and I for accidentally triggering it. It was I who insisted on meeting your Lady, it was I who carelessly approached her, it was I who failed to save her, and it was the god who was supposed to protect you that didn’t prevent any of this from happening.” He shook his head. “Blame whoever you wish, but your Lady was wounded, and in great pain. I did not know her, but if she endured such a cost to keep your realm stable, then I can’t imagine she would wish for you to fall into despair now that you are finally safe.” The lady-in-waiting considered his words for a few moments, then nodde and wiped her tears away.

‘But you’re wrong my lord - and I ask your forgiveness for being so bold, but you are,’ she leaned forward and placed a hand on his cheek, ‘you were as bold as you told us, gallantly put yourself in harm’s way to defend and protect us, and ensured every single one of us made it out safely. You promised to protect us, and you have, and…’ she paused, her eyes softening through the new flow of tears, ‘you will. I have no doubts, my lord.’

The god placed his hand over hers, and nodded. “I will,” he declared. “You all have a home here, if you still wish it.” The lady-in-waiting blushed a light hue of pink through her whitened face of ash and broke off from gazing into the god’s eyes, and then - seeming to remember that he had commanded them not to seek him in any romantic way - reluctantly pulled her hand away from his face. Her eyes swept across the realm, and Cadien did so too. After the experience in the realm of ink, he now found the colours oddly still and everything so… firm, steady, stable. In so many words, so very solid. The lady-in-waiting now gazed in the other direction, and her breath caught as she was struck by the great liquid expanse. Cadien smiled softly at her reaction. After all, this was not a liquid that whirled up into the heavens and down into forever; here too was a certain stability and firmness, a this is my place and I shan’t be moved kind of certainty. It was without a doubt unlike anything she or any of the Songs had ever seen, and it seemed to awe them into silence for a time.

At last the lady-in-waiting managed to snap herself out of it, only for her eyes find themselves hooked onto those of the god. Her breath caught visibly for a few moments before she managed to inhale. ‘I-’ she stopped, eyes wide as she fumbled to remember what he had said, ‘we would be honoured, my lord, if you would suffer our company after all the pain and trouble we have caused you,’ she looked timidly at her knees, which were clothed in the beautiful, ornate fabrics the god had conjured up for them what now seemed like long ago.

“Suffer?” Cadien asked, surprised. “Your company has been nothing if not pleasant,” the lady-in-waiting blushed further and smiled at his response. “Now, I believe I have one more promise to fulfill…” Cadien said, causing the blushing lady to look up questioningly.

‘One more promise, my lord?’ she asked, confused but curious.

The God nodded. “Of course. I offered to create men for you to partner with, did I not?” Though these words caused the gathered Songs to giggle and flush all hues of pink and crimson, the lady-in-waiting did not seem to share in their pleasure and looked away.

‘You did promise that too, my lord. They have known the joy your form brings and would not be denied it again,’ her solemn gaze returned to the god’s face, ‘but I would beg of you to exempt me, for I- I-’ she swallowed and bit her tongue, as though deciding against saying something, ‘for I now find no desire in myself for such joys.’

“What would you desire, then?” Cadien asked, his brows furrowing ever so slightly. The lady-in-waiting seemed taken off-guard by his question, and for a few seconds her eyes widened in embarrassment and her entire body flashed scarlet. She swiftly covered her hands with her face.

‘J- just... I desire whatever you desire, my lord,’ she paused and took a moment to compose herself, ‘though if it is at all possible, my lord, I would like to be able to go back and seek out my Lady once it is safe to do so, if you permit it. I will not be able to rest at ease until I do.’

“A reasonable request, if a return to that realm is in fact possible,” Cadien nodded. He looked around. “Now then, before I fulfill my promise, I do believe this area has gotten rather crowded as is. Allow me to remedy that.” The god began to move, stepping away from the lady-in-waiting and through the crowd of Songs.

He stared out at the sea, then raised a single hand up into the air. A new island rose from the depths. It dwarfed the original island in size, and sent forth a massive ripple in all directions. The Songs cried out in surprise and many leapt back as the great wave came crashing towards the shore, but Cadien raised his other hand and the large wave stopped before reaching the first island, as if it had struck an invisible wall. Eventually, the water settled, and the Songs sang out in admiration and awe.

Then Cadien made gesture again with his hand, and a marble bridge formed between the two islands. A new stone path appeared, connecting the bridge to the main pathway between Meliorem’s gateway and its castle. Then with another wave of his hand buildings of varying sizes and colours began to appear upon the new island, all of them well-decorated and well-furnished. Most of them were residential, but others were communal. There was a bathhouse, much like the one he had been tended to back in the realm of ink. There was an amphitheatre, which served as a place for music and performance. There was a library, with shelves of empty books waiting to be inked. There was a central square - a place for gatherings and festivals in the open air. All these buildings were connected by an organized network of cobblestone roads.

The areas of the island that weren’t covered in roads or buildings were rife with vegetation. Lush green grass sprouted from the ground, followed by fruit trees and bushes. Fruit plucked from these bushes would immediately regrow, ensuring they would never want for food. Not that these beings needed food, of course, but it was a luxury they would surely appreciate.

“Some of you will be permitted to reside within my castle,” Cadien told them. “But the rest shall live here. Do not fear; there will be ample opportunity to visit one another. Now, I hope that your new home is as comfortable as your previous one.” The Songs crowded about Cadien and some leapt out onto the bridge and spread their arms wide to breathe in the sea air. There were melodies of gratitude and songs that begged to be allowed to serve in the fortress - and soon those cries became arguments as this or that Song insisted she would be better up there.

The lady-in-waiting stepped up beside Cadien and frowned at the petty clamouring. ‘That’s quite enough. There is no need for all that. I am sure our lord will provide all of us with ample opportunities to serve him in the fortress. But he has wisely and generously seen to provide us with homes - he has clothed us, housed us, and provided for all our needs. This clamouring is not the way to show our thanks.’ The Songs crowding about the god bent their heads and looked repentant, and then songs of gratefulness and praise rose up, and Songs sidled up to the god and now embraced a leg or an arm or clamboured lithely to place kisses on his shoulders and neck and cheeks; and once they had showcased their gratitude sufficiently they began to flow across the bridge to the new island and their town of divine making. With that, the lady-in-waiting turned to the god. ‘How can we ever hope to thank you, my lord?’

“Good music, good conversation, and good service should all suffice,” Cadien told her. “I’m not all that demanding. This realm has been long overdue for some proper inhabitants anyhow - it’s always just been myself and the occasional visitor, until now.” The lady-in-waiting smiled and nodded at his words.

‘I will do my utmost to fill your realm with all these things and more, my lord. And I will take care of sending Songs up to serve you, and rotating them so that they do not pester you with complaints,’ she looked up at the taller god and shifted a few dishevelled locks off of her face, ‘and we will care for your guests too, and make your honour and generosity the things of ballads and epics, for that is the least we can do.’ She stepped towards the bridge and then paused, looking out to the sea and appearing deep in thought. At last she turning around, a question shining in her eyes, ‘you said not to disturb your beloved, my lord. Does she dwell in the fortress? Is there no way we can serve her too?’ She stepped back towards him and gripped one of his hands with both of hers, her eyes seeming to brighten at the prospect of being useful, ‘is there perhaps anything we can do to deepen her love for you even more, my lord?’

Cadien shook his head. “She does not dwell in the fortress, no. She has her own realm, and we visit each other from time to time. She loves me more than she loves any other,” he spoke with confidence. The lady-in-waiting smiled wistfully at Cadien’s words, and her grip softened on his hand. “But your offer is appreciated nonetheless. Perhaps I will one day have you sing to her. I will ask her which type of music she prefers.” The lady’s smile became a beam at this, and she nodded vigorously.

‘It would be a great honour and joy to sing for the one you have made the sole possessor of your heart, my lord. I will wait on that day with great pleasure and anticipation,’ and with that, her grip tightened about his hand for a few seconds as though she hoped against hope that his touch would not end, and then she sighed and let him go. ‘I will go see to the Songs now and ensure they are well-settled and well-behaved. I look forward to visiting you in your home and attending to you soon, my lord,’ with a graceful curtsy - which was at a loss for neither dignity nor gravitas even in the low cut, form fitting dress the god had chosen to array her -, she took a few steps back, turned around, and began the long walk across the bridge.

As the last of the Songs journeyed across the bridge, Cadien’s gaze shifted to the spilled puddle of ink that the severed tendril left behind. Analyzing it now, he could determine that there was nothing malicious left with in it; it was a material, like any other, malleable and ready to be used. The female Songs had been crafted from the realm of ink, and so the their male counterparts had to be made from the same substance.

The god knelt, placed a hand in the puddle, and focused on the substance. The first thing he did was duplicate it, creating several similar puddles scattered throughout the beach. Then, those puddles began to glow, and from them emerged new Songs. Men, each one adopting their own colour scheme. They were in all ways like their female counterparts, only that their base form was modelled off that of a human male rather than a female. And while he was at it, he bestowed a small modification upon the species as a whole: their form would now appear slightly differently to each mortal they came across. It was nothing major, but adjusted minor aspects of their appearance in line to an individual mortal’s perception of beauty. It would do little to fundamentally change their shape or remodel their body.

These newly-created Songs stared at their bodies with a mixture of awe and wonder. Then, one by one, their gazes fell on Cadien who was the only one who was not like them, as if asking for an explanation. The god merely gestured to the other end of the bridge, where the rest of their kind awaited them.

The myth stirs yet.

The shadow watched as the drighina danced, and all about it draug were gathered as though they were so many moths come to the glorious flame. It was not often that the draug found themselves drawn in such great numbers to another's voice, even if that voice was the sublime song of the singing trolls of the ocean waves. And a sea troll, it was known, heard the song that the crashing waves sang every dusk and every dawn and in the moonlight and by morn. But they came by the dozen, those raptured draug - this, after all, was no normal singing sea troll; for on its head sat a shadow.

O trolls, o friends, gather around
and let's all praise the moon becrowned
with light and radiance divine
and all things beautiful and fine.
And when you're gathered hear me tell
a tale I heard in a seashell:
The night was lovely, dark, and deep
and all the world seemed fast asleep,
when from the blackness of the world
an inky tendril stood unfurled.
A tendril, friends, from the deeps come,
with arms and legs - but mouth yet dumb.
Awaken! - eyes that saw the ocean -
witness now the fathomless motion
of earth and sky and wind and trees;
and hear the singing on the breeze.
You little god with hand and eye
whose greater half is sat on high,
come forth on land and sing anew
so all on earth may worship you -
may worship at the fount of love
and worship her who shines above.
Come forth you inky thing of song
and sing to those who waited long
upon your coming and your rise;
and sing to her, and fill her skies
of moonlit night with all our sighs.
We waited long to sing with you
since all the gods wandered from view,
and everyday thought that the day
was come at last when from the bay
you'll rise again to sing and dance
and all our dance and song enhance.
Now then, my friends, that day has come
so see as god arises from
the inky ocean great and deep
where all the gods were long asleep.

So there was I, oh dancing friends
to witness as the god ascends
and 'pon my head he placed his palm
and sent a shiv'ring lance of calm
within my breast and in the heart
to sow therein the seed of art!
But calm, o friends, is but a shadow
and soon, ah soon, there grew the echo
of rocking sound and crashing waves
and all that art and passion craves.
And oh, I sang, and oh I cried
and all the ways of music plied
until I sat beneath the shade
of what you see above my head.
Spoke he, that inky shade of verse
in union with the universe -
We will walk, oh weed-haired fellow
upon your head this ink-stained shadow
and near the woods and on the shores
will come to you the draug in scores!

And why, fair shade, will the draug come
sang I while marching to the thrum.
They'll come, spoke he with singing free
of harsh command or cold decree
so that the siren of his voice
caused all about to - ah! - rejoice
because a dance and song will call
upon their coming by nightfall
and there beneath our Gibbou's moon
will come about a twirl and tune
as would bring smoke and wood and cheer
and rid the draug of their masked fear;
bathed in the light of the night sky
where wood will dance, and trolls will fly.

And the draug danced around that singing drighina, their intricately carved pipes smoking and their primitive masks bobbing. They circled about the singing sea troll, now laughing in their musical way, and now erupting into verse to complement the drighina. The smoke increased, and their movements grew lethargic until all about the yet-singing troll they lay sprawled, gushing words without immediate meaning to any but themselves; feeling stripped of the trappings of linguistic form. And ah, it was delightful to behold - as much a delicacy on the ear as the countless herbs and spices of the Mydias were on the tongue and nose.

And as they sat there in the tremors of that drugged poetic stew, gushing melodious feeling so that all about for miles and miles were caught up and captivated by it, there gathered about them an ink of night and moonlight, and rotting hands rose to weave the ink into their smoking pipes. And then there was scratching - grotesque monstrous nail against wood. Carving, carving. Ah, watch the beast make beauty! And once the drugged and blissful draug had carved their masks as intricately and as beautifully as they did their songplant pipes, they looked on them and were happy.

But one of them moaned and wept that his pipe should be the colour of wood and night and light, while his mask - now so beautiful, now art - should be so brown and plain. And so he gripped a loamy stone and mixed it in his hand with seawater until it was a deep brown mixture, and he whispered to the night so that its darkness curled up into the mixture, and he called on the forest so leaves of green fluttered on the breeze. And he crushed them in a rotting fish hand and mixed them in until it all was a paste and left it there for a time, whispering to it and singing and prodding it with his melodious voice until in his hand it was no more a paste and mixture, but purest ink of leafy green and muddy brown. And so, that great artisan let out an ecstatic weeping laugh and sang the ink into his mask so that the intricate carvings and colourful ink interweaved and embraced and sang and danced with each other.

And there, at the centre of the mask's forehead, rose unbidden a perfectly symmetrical hand of green and brown, and seemed to shine for a few moments before it no longer did. And that artisan brought it to his face and felt the ink and carvings move and weave to the shape of his face, and he looked out onto the world in shock and all about the befuddled draug let out muffled cries of surprise. And they knew too that they wanted after just such a glorious mask of art. Under the spell of smoke and song that set their minds flying off to other realms, the draug scratched wood and crushed ink to make new faces to match their beauteous sound.

Ehn Faoihdh ap-ehn Luhaedha Sinn Dhein

The Seer of the Tribes of the Sinn Dhein

The Seer saw this: the darkness of the rolling aeons since divine folk last walked the earth had not been kind upon the Sinn Dhein.

With the gods in ancient time they had fought that monstrous conquering race, the ap-Morig, and cast them into the farthest depths of the World Beyond the Veil; and when the gods faded one by one beyond the veil, why then the conquerors of the earth had set their gaze upon their pastures. Wave after conquering wave broke against Sinn Dhein flesh and bone, against the old oak and against the towering guardian mount where gods once dwelled, that stout and ancient Caer Seihdhar. And as the conquerors came and fell, bit by bit the Sinn Dhein broke; and all about and all around the great dark deluge brought them down.

The wyndyn of those ancient days, the glorious bards who smote with words, the feasts and songs, their warrior way; it all was lost and... fell away. And darkness danced upon their grave and laughed out loud and had its day. And he did weep, that sad old Seer who saw this all; who watched his people toil for years to ignorance and darkness thrall. He did not speak then, if you must know, but locked away his tongue so that all the tribes would laugh and think he had bitten it off and could do nothing now but weep. He did not care for their laughter though, he was busy - listening, listening, hearing, seeing. Feeling too and deeply - deeply! - breathing.

How long was it? Well, if you must know - it was long enough for all who laughed above to laugh again below. It is not an easy or short task at all to listen and see all your people's history - it is not easy to carry that burden upon your two narrow and swiftly aging shoulders. You think the Seer is old? He is! But it was not the passing of the seasons that turned his beard white, oh no: it was simply woe, friend.

But man is a cup and can only hold so much woe, so much visions, so much tales, so much memory; and there comes a time when the cup must overflow and the tongue must awaken and speak once more. And when that old unspeaking Seer spoke at last, all between the great old mount and the world-water listened. The spirits in the leaves, those in the pebbles below, the breeze roiled the skies shivered, and all the tribes of the Sinn Dhein - for long asleep, for long in a daze - seemed at once to stir, seemed at once to shake off slumber and open eyes for aeons closed. And the Seer saw then that they were not lost; he had to exhort and continually remind, for indeed the reminder would benefit those who were long asleep.

In those times, before the lad of prophecy was come, the Seer walked among the Sinn Dhein and spoke and taught for generations. And he witnessed the birth of great mountain lairds and their deaths, the coming into the world of the men who would rule the vales, and their going. And none laughed at him, but plenty were those who laughed with him on occasion and more were those who came before him as they would a reclusive and reluctant god who - again and again - forced himself to tread the earth and speak among them.

And in those generations before the lad who would be crowned was come, he taught them many things and worked to pave the way; and so they knew, if nothing else, that they - despite their feuding and their warring - were the Luhaedha Sinn Dhein, and for all their fighting knew that they were but one great and glorious tribe, children of the ancient saffron swordmother of love and war. This too they knew - and perhaps had never truly forgotten, for they took again to it as sunflowers took to the sun at morn - that great kyne brought great honour. And they knew that the great stones and henges and odd groves that dotted the earth all around were the ancient holy sites of their people, where one day they would learn to worship as once they did. They knew of Caer Seihdhar, the great godmountain, and came to know of many of the other gods too, they were often forgetful and so the Seer had to teach them again and again the tales.

The children remembered far better than their stubborn parents and their eyes shone with wonder when the Seer sat them down and swept them away from the world of flesh on a spiritborne journey into the tale within his voice and song. And that voice inspired bardic imitators - for the poetic heritage of the ancient bards had not been utterly extinguished, and the Sinn Dhein were a people who enjoyed the verse and dance. And they loved the dance of swords too, and rebellion was etched into their veins, and so the outlaws of the ancient days were known to roam alone and in bands. Some offered their services to distant clans or allied themselves with them in whatever wars or feuds or raids they had.

And while they learned these things, and while there were matters they had no need to be taught - for who of the Sinn Dhein would forget the name of his tribe? - yet was there much that he could not yet teach them. The holy days and months of the ancients remained a mystery to his kin, as did the times of joy and revelry and song, and the noble traditions of marriage and fosterage were yet too much for them.

Only the lad of prophecy, the one who would be rhig, could bring about those things once more. And that lad was now a man full-formed and mighty, and he had that Sinn Dhein fire and fury which would serve him well when dealing with his stubborn and martial kin. Aye, the lad was ready and the fruit was ripe; the harvest was come now at last. And the time of the fruit harvest was a time of death as much as it was a time of life. The return of their people was on the horizon, but so too were the forces of death and darkness - thus were they always.

The Seer stepped out from the shade of a tree and, with a great flourish, released the great raptor from his hands and sang for it to go off home. In its beak, mistletoe.
He watched as the raptor disappeared into the darkening heavens, just as in the distance the great red sun sank beneath Caer Seihdhar. The light was fading now, and the dark was here. But it was for the darkness that a Seer was made.

The Lay of Cura

And when the night was full and black
And not a plant was there
And all of Vandengard the Black
Had filled the world with fear,
When on our earth the troll was come
And all the winds were fled,
When then the songs and singers, dumb,
Thought all was done and dead;
Did Cura's eye fill up with tears?
Did he then tremble, fall?
Or did he, like the god that steers
The skies, rise up before the troll?
Oh Cura brave! Oh Cura great!
Oh Cura of the shouting leg!
Oh Cura who wrestled with fate
And made it wail and beg!
Why, Cura rose when all were down
He stood before the horde
And he, a king without a crown,
Was then a raised and unsheathed sword
That brought the wild troll low!
That brought him low and made him stone
From which a tree burst forth to grow
And stands there, still, alone.
So when you pass that living rock
That marks our Cura's stand
And where all plantkind e'en now flock
Then fall on face and hand!
Yes fall on face and hand and pray
In gratitude for dawn of day
And Cura! - who showed light the way!

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