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ROSALIND

RAGING ROSA | THE DANCE-DEMON | FEVERFOOT | LEAPING LINDA


There was a certain childan prayer that was often heard in the earliest days - before the flame, before Lansa, before the great divide. It was remembered by the very old, the very first to be awakened by the Guiding Spirit - and even among them, it was only remembered by those who had, in those first bewildering moments, been alert and listening to the Guiding and Mother Spirits.

Talako the Dreamer had not been of those who listened - not because he was bewildered, mind you, but because he had awakened straight into a daydream. He had often been mocked and jeered at for it, but he had never really quite noticed - the world was full of such wondrous things that he found his mind simply drifting away all the time. He would pause, for instance, by a fallen leaf and stare for endless minutes into the lines that ran across its form, then the smaller lines between those lines, then the colours - so many greens, greens within greens layered on greens perched on greens. Then he got to wondering how long, if he wished to create such a thing, it would take him. Then he got to wondering how he would create such a thing - what knowledge would he need; the purpose of all those lines, for one; the reason for all those greens, for another. And much else that he - for he was nothing but a daydreaming childan! - could never hope to know.

So he had not listened in those first moments and had not learned the prayer. In later times, however, he heard it from the women - for it was the women who remembered it, the women who had listened; not a single one among the men had listened to that prayer. In those later times, however, when their Father had left them those three days (before the knowledge of the flame came to them) Talako sat silently by the women - shivering, for he had never been able to endure the cold like the others - and he listened with wide-eyed wonder to the prayer. And it had been carved in his heart, that prayer, had caused a single tear to fall from his eye, that prayer.

So says the Father Spirit:
I will walk with you in the days that will come
And by my mercy you will come to know of many things.

Love the land, for you thrive in it.
Know this now; know kindness,
Know this now; know fear,
Know this now; know courage;
In your selves know them; strive that you may know.

Your Mother has birthed these mores of honour,
And I teach them now to you that you may know to preserve life;
Learn honour; know honour; strive ever for honour,
This is the highest tenet, the greatest knowledge, the way of living;
In your hearts know it, with your minds know it; know it above all.

Do not roam like mere beasts; do not roam in mindless war,
Do not roam like mere beasts; do not slay the tree, the fawn,
Do not dwell in starvation - feed yourselves and all who hunger,
Do not abide in the shade of violence and death,
Do not tread the path of despair,
Do not go the way of greed;
These things are the stuff of sorrow and bring the Spirits to frown.

Do not launch the gaze of scorn on others; all stand equal before the Spirits,
Protect all life - none stand above others and none stand below,
For all mortals come to the Spirits side by side and row on row.

Do not feed the cycle of cruelty; its one face hatred, the other strife,
By doing so you only fall away from the love and grace of the Spirits;
And by falling in this way, you forget all sacred things and fall prey to carnal sin,
By falling in this way, you forget all hallowed things and fall into dark profanity -
Does such life please you; to be forsaken and forgotten as you forgot and forsook the way?

Do not fall into the ways of sameness - uniformity breeds stagnation.
Do not curse fortune and life's struggle, but search for meaning, purpose;
The tools are given to you by the Spirits; your hands alone can move them.
Never declare that you have created paradise; paradise is not of this life.

Only the fool flings his face on to the pyres of death
So do not slay your self for foolish things;
Sacrifice is noble only when done in pursuit of honour's way;
This is your oath, this is your way, this is the inheritance given to you,
After this, only those who go blindly will ever stray,
While those who see reason will always turn back to the way.

He whispered it now as he wandered through the forests, whispered it gently to the birds. He had not quite understood why most of the women had left all of a sudden and why he had been left with the men. They had never liked him, so much he knew even through the veil of dreams that cushioned him against the world. He had always known, in a distant sort of way, that Wapeka and Enola, and some of the others, had always kept the worst of the other men’s jibes and jeers at bay. But he had awoken one day to find the fire out and the great majority of the women gone, and the men milling about or going their separate ways.

He had waited by the cinders when none but those last women remained, and had shivered alone in the darkness and bitterest cold of night - when neither his dreams could carry him off nor could his clothes keep the cold out. He had never understood how fire worked, never understood how it was made, and so had wandered over to the small group of women and their fire. Their glances had been nervous, sad, and so he had paused a short distance away.

“Dreamer? Why are you still here? Why have you not gone away with the other men?” A striking woman asked him, her hair as black as night.

“I d-” he began, but was swiftly cut off by one of the other women - Alona, for he knew her name.

“He wants us, wants our flame.” She sneered, standing up with anger.

“No, Alona. Now sit down before you embarrass the Mother Spirit. Dreamer has never wanted for anything but his dreams. Isn’t that right?” she gave a small smile, tossing her back.

Talako smiled back in his sheepish way - for he knew that, in one way or another, he was doing something wrong (or, at least, not quite right) - and mumbled an apology. “I- I don’t know where everyone went. W-Wapeka and Enola… uh, aren’t there. And the fire-” he pointed back to where the fire had once been, “it went out. And, well, I- I don’t know about fires.” He rubbed his shivering hands together and stood where he was in the cold, in all ways a pitiful sight. “If- if it wouldn’t be trouble to you, can I sit with you till they come back?”

“Chilali, he jests” Alona sighed, and sat back down, turning away from Talako.

Chilali stood up and beckoned him close. “They will not be coming back. Wapeka and her band headed for the far north, where none have gone yet. Come warm yourself by the fire, Dreamer. Then you must leave, or the other men might try the same.” The young man approached, and his supple form and tender face was lit up by the flames. He sat close by Chilali and brought his lanky legs to his chest, and every now and then he cast his fair brown eyes towards Alona, then back to his feet, then to Chilali.

“Chilali,” he spoke hesitantly, “why is Wapeka not coming back? Where’s everyone gone? Why do I have to leave?”

She stared into the flame. “You do not know, do you?”

“He was too busy dreaming.” Alona muttered.

“Alona… leave him be.” Chilali chastised, feeding another large stick to the flame. “Dreamer, there was a crime… A terrible deed that befell a woman- Lansa was her name. Some of the men…” Her voice caught in her throat. “She died, murdered by our fellow man. So, the women came together and it was decided we would leave the men forevermore. I am sorry Dreamer, but Wapeka is not coming back.”

Talako stared at Chilali for longer than was comfortable, then glanced at everyone else sat around the fire. “But… but that’s not allowed.” He said simply, as though that alone would undo what was said and done. “It’s against the way. Protect all life, that’s the way. Preserve life, that’s honour. That’s us.”

“Our honour was stained the moment we let Lansa die. We can only move on and ensure it never happens again. Look in the flame, Dreamer. What does it tell you?” Chilali never took her eyes off the flames. The pale lad did as she told him, and he was lost - all at once - in the dance of the fire’s licking tongues. He beheld it with wonder, its dark oranges, bright yellows, its flickering white - and the shadows it cast; light casting shadows! The crackling of the wood - why did wood crackle like that? He did not know for how long he looked into the flame, but when he drew himself out of it the night felt deeper and cold greater.

“The flame is beautiful, Chilali - and Lansa was too. But I think the flame is even more beautiful tonight. You know, she was always on her own, Lansa - just like that, her and the flame. Everyone always looked at her, but she only looked at the flame - and you know, when everyone was busy looking at her, I was looking at the flame too. And now you’re all looking at the flame, just like she did. Too late, but Lansa taught us before she went.” He sighed then and got to his feet. “I’ll go now. Thank you for letting me…” he paused and for a few seconds, his brows furrowed and eyes glistening, “and, I, uh, I’m sorry-” he cut himself off and turned into the darkness of night.

“Be well… Talako.” Chilali’s voice faded into the flame.


But all that was in the past now. He did not mind that he had been abandoned by his fellow men - in truth, it was bound to happen eventually; he was so often off in his own mind that it was not going to be long before everyone moved on and simply forgot to prod him awake. He had found the corpse of a great deer and fashioned a blanket from its skin for himself. He had wandered the forest from berry bush to berry bush, eating and wondering and wandering.

One day - to his surprise, for he had thought his wandering had taken him away from where any childan roamed - he walked into a clearing and his eyes fell upon one of his kindred, a woman. He froze where he stood and started to retreat in fear - for he remembered Alona, remembered what Chilali had mentioned of the women going north and the men elsewhere. It was too late, however, for the woman in the clearing had already spotted him.

She dropped her foraging basket and brandished a spear with a wild look in her eye. “You stay away! I-I know how to use this! My sisters are not far!” she threatened. Talako gasped, spluttered in an attempt to defend himself as he stumbled backward, and tripped right over a log. He landed heavily on his back and found his lungs were quite abruptly empty. He attempted to groan, but only let out a long, low, barely audible screech, and then lay still while trying to gather his breath.

There was silence for many moments. “A- Are you alright?” the woman eventually said. Talako mewled an inaudible response, then breathed in deeply and raised his head ever so slightly, peering over the log that had felled him and at the spearwoman.

“I- yes. I’m alright. Just- a little fall. Th- thank you. Uh, are you? Alright, I mean. S- sorry about- well, that.”

“You startled me. I thought… You are alone right? No companions? No tricks?” she asked, still pointing the spear at him. Her eyes glanced nervously around him.

“Yeah, all alone. I mean, I’m hardly a reliably companion for myself, let alone others!” He said self-deprecatingly, and then chuckled. “I... I’ll be getting up now, if it’s okay.” He glanced at her for approval, and she nodded.

“Slow. Show your hands.” She commanded. He raised his hands high, as she bid him, then struggled, rolled this way and that, then finally used his hands to push himself to his feet before swiftly raising them again.

He stood there, arms diligently raised, and took her in. Her clothes were torn and shredded, her dark brown hair unkempt and messy. She had an oval face with wide, doe-like eyes and the grip upon her spear was bone white. “Why have you come here?” She inquired.

Talako cleared his throat and spoke. “I don’t actually- well, I’m not sure where here is. I was just walking and thinking, you know. And it was cold so I found this dead deer and-” he paused, “uh, well, so I made this. It smells bad though so I wouldn’t get too close. But it’s warm, so, you know. Uh. Anyway. So I was just following the berries and eating and wandering, so I didn’t really mean to come here exactly, it just sort of- well, uh, it just happened.” He looked at her with a sheepish grimace. “Uh, sorry.” He paused and glanced around the clearing. “I- uh. I’m Talako, by the way. Everyone calls me Dreamer though. What’s your name?”

Her shoulders relaxed but only slightly. “I’m Dy-”

“Dyani! Where are you?” Another voice shouted out from somewhere behind her.

She looked at him, then behind her. “I-” she began to shout but stopped, turning back to Talako. “Leave. Go, Talako the Dreamer. It is not safe for man within these sister woods.” Her eyes were full of sadness, perhaps regret. With a brief nod and a fearful glance towards the rising voices further off, the pale young man turned and rushed into the undergrowth. As he went, he could hear Dyani shouting behind him, and soon the voices were indistinguishable over the growing distance and wall of trees and wildlife.

When Talako reflected on the course his journey had taken, there was no doubt in his mind that the meeting with Dyani - however brief - and the consequent change in the direction he was taking was a pivotal point. It was some weeks later - or it felt like weeks, he was so often lost in thought that he had lost touch with all sense of time - that he felt a strange movement not at all far from where he wandered. While he was easily awed by the wonders of the world, Talako was not the impetuously or foolishly curious sort - after all, ‘Only the fool flings his face on to the pyres of death / So do not slay your self for foolish things.’ And yet there was something about this motion that drew him, inextricably, closer and closer to its source.

As he crept through the trees, the first thing he noticed was the soil’s wetness. With furrowed brows he bent down and felt it, and he was surprised to find his fingers came away stained with a thick red and gold substance. He had seen water turn brownish red in the soil before, but this was like no water he knew. The frown deepening on his face, and all his instincts telling him to turn tail and run, he continued towards the movement, his feet squelching in the pooling red-gold stuff. And soon he was not merely squelching his way through it, but veritably wading through the stuff. It was easily ankle deep.

When at last the trees broke, he beheld one of the strangest sights of his short existence. There, in the clearing, by the dimming light of day, the strange liquid swirled everywhere in great circles. It circled and circled, swirled and swirled, gyred and gyred; great arcs rose heavenward, then descended, twisted all about the grove, again and again, rising and falling. They moved in endless circles, and those endless circles moved.

As he looked past the great red-gold mist, however, he thought he could see something at the epicentre of the great whirling, though whenever his eyes thought they had caught on to it, it seemed to shift - no, it was the shift - and escape his gaze again. He tried countless times to see it, and countless times he failed until his head began to hurt and so he simply gave up.

He had no sooner surrendered, however, then he found that he could see right past the odd motion, see all the way across the strange red-gold lake, to a small figure huddled against a tree. It was very small, far smaller than any person he had ever seen, but his eyes were strong despite his dreaming and his sight was keen. He could see, for instance, that it was a black-haired woman. He could see, immediately, that she was missing an arm, was mauled across the shoulder, and was seeping that very red-gold substance from her neck - from every wound, in fact! He shivered in disgust and horror, and looked into the blood pooled at his feet and for uncountable feet behind. He knew, then, that he had to run away.

So it was with no small degree of shock that he found himself running across the clearing, through the curving arcs of blood, towards the woman crumpled against the tree. “Protect all life,” he was thinking to himself, “preserve life,” he thought. And as he reached the epicentre of the whirling blood, any power over his limbs was lost and he found that now he was whirling, twisting, arching, gyring, tip-tap-topping across the surface of the blood lake, spinning and swirling, hurling himself with abandon into a dance not of his making. And as he wheeled and flitted and pranced with the circling of the blood arcs, his eyes widened as he came to see the thing - not thing, but yes, thing and not-thing, movement-thing; the dance and movement of everything in that grove, and his very own movement too.

It was the movement of air all around, the rustling of the trees, the flow of the woman’s lifestuff, the exhalation and inhalation of air, the running of his blood and pumping of his heart, the delirious rolling of his eyes as he tried to keep up with it all. And then, quite abruptly, he stopped trying to keep up with it all and surrendered himself into the safety of his waking dreams.

Into that darkness drifted a swirl of red with great flowing twilight hair, black eyes, long dark lashes, skin of sunset and the Spring. She hovered there, in tense stillness - like a spring coiled, pure stored motion. And in that same darkness about her, something moved - another figure, lithe, swift, smooth. The tapping of the other’s feet set her feet a-tapping too - tip-tap-top tip-tap-top tip-tap-top - the clicking of fingers joined the tapping, the breathing of the great red skirt, a shout, a clap, a stomp. She vibrated power, her eyes flashed, and behind her the darkness moved, clapped, shouted unknown words of praise - ‘aye that’s how it’s done, now,’ ‘yes, and there she goes, oh,’ ‘now that’s a dance there,’ ‘see how the tap’s done!’

Then an invisible lute was strummed, a voice rang out - high and full of such pathos as left the Dreamer trembling where he sat and stood. And the woman in the dress of crimson and hair of twilight tapped across the darkness - she the singular light - twirled once, twice, thrice; her skirt opening, flying, fluttering, cutting the crying air as she tapped and turned and twisted and clapped and sent out a bellow, tapped forth, then again- and went tapping- flying across the unseen floor- then stomped- the world quaked - and she stood there glaring, nose flared, features snarling, daring, challenging. Her hands drifted down her electric form for breathless seconds… then she turned away and all was darkness and silence but for the final strumming of the unknown lute and its player hidden in the darkness.

Talako opened his eyes and shivered, felt himself spasming with uncontained emotion - did not know what to do with it, where to put it, what to do - even - with himself. And he realised, then, that he was staring into the ink-black eyes of the mauled woman. There was no discernible pupil, no iris, no sclera; it was utter darkness - though Talako thought he spied inside them a crimson streak and an unheard lute - and he knew that all that he was lay bared and open to her in that very moment.

“When the good-wise sleep, Dreaming Talako, the foul-fools stray and lead astray. Wake, and awaken the conscience of your nation - or else lie doomed to debasement’s station.” The voice was not of any woman Talako had known, but was that of man.

“I- I am not of the wakeful.” He stammered.

“I say wake, Talako, and awaken your nation!” The voice rumbled.

“Have mercy, great Spirit; I am not of the wakeful!”

“I say unto you, Talako, wake and awaken by the dance in your soul; by the beating in your chest; by the fire that consumes; by the fevers that hotten your feet; wake and awaken the soul of your nation!”

And Talako gave no response then except that his feet burst up beneath him and he found himself flying on the lake of blood, tapping, swirling, shaking; and he could not help the impassioned cry that ripped from his mouth. “I am awake! I am awake!” And without stopping he darted from the grove, darted across the ankle-deep blood, darted through the sludge - across the forests he darted - in the darkness darted, without stopping darted until he reached that very spot, that blessed spot even, where Dyani had changed the course of his life and sent him on the journey of awakening.

He collapsed there, in that clearing, in that darkness of the newborn night, and he did not move at all, but only shivered. “Oh wind, oh frost.” He trembled. “It’s cold; oh frost, oh wind.”


ZIMA the ZIMMER

&
Mish-Cheechel the Avenger



-v.-

Phelenia




For a time after the near-death battle with the monstrosity of vile ink and viscera, Mish-Cheechel travelled from clan to clan and dam to dam. He made camp somewhat upriver or downriver, or in the woods, and he traded his knowledge of bear-taming for news on the Green Murder and the happenings with the clans. He followed rumours of wildlife acting out of the norm, but no matter where he went there was no sign of the Green Murder.

So far did he and Zima travel that the bjorks they met knew neither of Clan Rod nor of the Green Murder and the horrors it had committed. He did not fail to recount the terrible happening to them, and so they knew to count the Green Murder, the eagle god, as an enemy of bjorkkind. They looked at the burned great form of Mish-Cheechel and were full of horror and awe. In conversing with the wisebjorks of the many clans he crossed, a certain idea blossomed in Mish-Cheechel’s mind - the seed of which had been planted the moment the Green Murder struck those many moons ago.

“It is terrible what you say, friend Mish-Cheechel. May the gods aid you on this your quest, for the gods are good.” A wisebjork of some distant clan told him one day.

“Are they good though?” Mish-Cheechel asked - not aggressively, but rather curiously.

“Well of course they are. The Singing Maker is good, Old Bjork is good.” The wisebjork scoffed.

Mish-Cheechel picked up a twig and chewed on it for a few moments. “But the eagle god isn’t good, friend, and it’s a god.”

“Well, yes, but-”

“And if the eagle god’s a god, and the eagle god’s not good, then it’s wrong to say that the gods are good, isn’t it? The gods aren't all good, that’s a fact. In fact, how do we know that the Singing Maker’s good? How do we know, really, that Old Bjork’s good? Where were they when the Green Murder descended on us? Didn’t they care? If that’s true then they aren’t good. Couldn’t they stop it? If that’s true then how can we call them gods? If not, do they just not know what the Green Murder did? What kind of god isn’t aware of what’s happening to its creations? Say this stuff to your kits, friend, but don’t sit there and tell me that the gods are good.” Mish-Cheechel stood and glanced down the river, then sniffed and chucked his twig away. The wisebjork was silent, watching the half burned giant. “Let’s go, Zima.” Mish-Cheechel muttered, and the misty Zima followed quietly after him.

She was often quiet in those days, Zima. No longer did she zip about and laugh with mirth, taking new forms and marvelling at the world. No, she stuck to Mish-Cheechel’s side like a newborn kit to its mother, and when it came time for stopping and chatting she would float by quietly, saying little unless addressed. On the rare occasion that Mish-Cheechel found her alone, she always seemed to be drifting aimlessly. Several times he had to snap her out of whatever she was thinking about to get her back to the present, and each time she would apologize, say nothing more, and they would go about their day. Worse yet, her voice sounded haunted, no longer carrying that youthful charm. Now muted, softer, perhaps even a bit nervous, usually dazed and lost in thought at the initial start of any conversation. It seemed Bear’s death had taken a toll on her soul and it had not been filled with vengeance like his own at the loss. No, she had been filled with sadness instead.

Mish-Cheechel said nothing of the change, merely observing his companion and watching for any change. With time, however, there grew within him a conviction that Zima would not be able to handle the arduity of the warpath and had to, in some way, be sheltered from further pain. What truly terrified him, however, as he sat camped by streams and stoking fires on those cold nights, with her hanging not too far off, was how little her suffering made him feel. He remembered the moments of their confrontation against the the demon, remembered with slow detail the manner in which Bear had been gored and how broken Zima had become in that very instant, reflected on the echo of her former self that she now was, and was nearly brought to tears by the fact that he felt nothing. Nothing, that was, other than the cold rage that burned forever in his heart - and even that rage, even the fury at the loss of all whom he loved, had become a sort of cerebral wrath. He could look on it all with detached coolness, identify that he had been wronged and that vengeance was due. He could identify, in fact, that any sort of wrong necessitated vengeance; he saw all cries of vengeance as his own cries of vengeance. And for the sake of achieving that vengeance, his life, Bear’s life, Zima’s life - everything - was cheap.

And so Mish-Cheechel had come to the conviction that he had to, as a matter of some urgency, remove Zima from his company before she ended much the same way Bear had. It was as they were trekking between the endlessly tall trees of those northern forests, with Mish-Cheechel deep in thought on this very matter, that their path crossed that of the very being the manbjork and his companion were hunting.

At first it was nothing more than a green dot high up in the heavens. It flew into one of the darker clouds in the sky, which not soon after started to rain down upon the world. The green dot flew out of it again and then headed in the general direction of Mish-Cheechel, but landed about half a mile away from him on a branch overlooking the nearby river. The Green Murder was looking upstream seemingly in anticipation while it kept flexing its wings, ready to take off at any moment.

Mish-Cheechel, perhaps as it wanted, had spotted it as it streamed across the heavens, his coal-black eyes darting after it and snapping, at last, to where it disappeared into the forest canopy. He turned to Zima. “Stay here and don’t move. Do not move. If I’m not back in a few hours go back home - to your papa or whatever family you have. Don’t follow me.” And without a second word to Zima, he dashed through the trees at the riverbank and rushed stealthily from tree to tree, his eyes alone tearing the trees and his grip causing the wood of his spear to groan. Long minutes passed before his eyes alighted on the creature. The manbjork clenched his great teeth and glared at it. There was going to be no stealth about this - he was going to look it in the eye throughout.

“Come down, you slaughterer of innocents, come down you slayer of my kin. There’s blood on your claws, demon, and you’ll be made to pay!” His voice was as thunder and the birds all around and the little creature of the forest scrambled in fright away. He held his spear above his head, an open challenge, and he beat his tail against the earth like a war drum. “This chase is at an end, and if you have a shred of honour in you, you’ll meet death like a god - or better, learn from us and meet it like a bjork!”

The Green Murder glanced down slightly to see the bjork and tilted its head. For a second it looked up again, upstream, then flew down to land before the vengeful manbjork without showcasing even a shred of fear or remorse. “You have no idea who I am, do you?” It asked in perfect bjork tongue, as if it was a natural speaker.

Mish-Cheechel did not bother to respond, but stepped forward and leapt with all his might at the creature, spear drawn back and teeth clenched tight against each other. With a great exhalation, he lurched the spear, gripping it still, at the god’s head.

It would have felled any normal creature. But as for the Green Murder, it harmlessly bounced off its feathers. “Such arrogance. But it is only born out of ignorance.” It said as it moved its head even closer. “You have called me a god. Yet you fail to understand what that entails. Do you truly believe your pitiful tool could end me?”

Mish-Cheechel brought his face close too and glared into the god’s avian eyes. “Great though you are, eagle god, you have done pitiful things - and so things as pitiful as we, this spear and me, shall bring your greatness low. By small means shall I slay the greatest beings!” And with that final cry, his two black eyes were suddenly red and alight, and his entire form - his head, his arms, his body and his tail - exploded with a great roaring red flame. The flame engulfed his spear and his teeth, and he leapt forth - a blaze, a great burning flame of vengeance consuming him that it may, in so doing, consume the eagle god.

The flames raged and hissed and burned away the leaves and shrubs, ate away at the surrounding trees and were in all ways a terrible thing to feel and behold. But eventually they died down, revealing an untouched Green Murder standing amidst the firestorm’s remnants. It glanced at the spear pressed against its chest, then at the destruction that had been wrought all around. “Interesting,” it noted. Then its attention returned to the manbjork. “What do you know about pitiful? About greatness? Your life is but a speck upon this world; it is inconsequential and irrelevant.” A fallen tree that was lodged in the bed of the river beside them started to crack and groan. The current of the water was growing in strength. “What could you know of the things I have done? You name me Green Murder, for that is the only thing you know about me with any certainty. I am entrusted with powers and duties far beyond your comprehension. Abandon this futile quest for vengeance for it has failed. You failed. Go and find a better meaning to the life you still have.”

The flame-eyed manbjork, his fur as cinders and his flesh flayed by his fires, spoke through burst lips. “My life- and their life- is- not- ingownsil- TO ME. VENGEANCE DOESN’T CARE IF YOU’RE A GOD! JUSTICE FALLS ON GREAT AND SMALL ALIKE! YOU’VE KILLED; YOU’LL DIE!” And the flames in the bjork’s eyes roared once more, the spear pressed harder against the god, and all around them was a great conflagration and the hellish fury of he who bore the righteous vengeance of Clan Rod.

It was then that Zima darted into that great forest fire, rather clueless to what was transpiring. She looked between the burning Mish-Cheechel and the giant green eagle god, over and over again. Her form became agitated and then all at once with a gasp she yelled out with considerable emotion in her voice. "Mish?!" She floated towards him but stopped as his aura of flame consumed all within its radius. She floated back and forth, eyeing them. "Mish! Stop! You'll burn to death! You'll die! You'll die like BEAR! STOP!" She screamed at him to no avail.

Mish-Cheechel’s fire claimed everything around him and the Green Murder. Great trees caught fire. Their trunks groaned. One came down with a thunderous crack. It sent a blazing wind in all directions. Zima was pushed further and further back. Cinders and smoke filled the air around them but the Green Murder remained untouched. “What justice will there now be for the trees that you are burning.” She said coldly. “What justice is there for the fawn who lost their mother to the wolf? When does the rabbit enact vengeance upon the eagle?” She inched closer again with her head to Mish-Cheechel. “There is no such thing as vengeance beyond the borders of the conscious mind. Justice is an illusion.”

As she spoke, the current of the river picked up even more. A thunderous noise echoed through the low valley in which both the Green Murder and Mish-Cheechel stood. “You are about to witness true power. Before you leave this world I will give you my name. My real name. I am Phelenia. Goddess of life! Queen of all animals! Protector of nature! Creator of all the beauty in this world! You stand before the steward of both life and death.” In the distance a huge wave of water came roaring down the riverbend.

The burning Mish-Cheechel, barely distinguishable from the raging firestorm, turned with blistering gaze on the goddess and the coming deluge. He opened his great burning maw and a ripple of scorching heat swept the air before him. “ME, GREEN MURDER. I AM JUSTICE.” His voice was a torrid billow that stirred the burning forest around them even further. “I AM VENGEANCE! I AM MISH-CHEECHEL, AND YOU- WILL- WEEP- MY- NAME!” And then he raised a still-burning spear above him as the deluge crashed towards them, and a single blazing eye fixated on Zima. “ZIMA!” He growled. “ON ME!”

There came a moment of hesitation from the spirit. She looked to Mish-Cheechel, to the Green Murder, to the flames, to the approaching water, then stopped and stared at the burning spear. Whatever was going on inside her mind in that moment was a mystery, as her features became blank. Then she roared and leaped into the inferno. She exuded cold to protect herself but still she screamed, whether out of pain or frustration none could tell but she found her mark upon the spear and upon it - within it - she lay claim. Its flames licked her and her chill burst forth like the mighty crack of an iceberg, and thus the flames became a bright blue.

The frostfire licked at Mish-Cheechel’s blazing skin, kissed his blistered and torn lips and sent a refreshing breath of coolest air into his two vast lungs. His blazing flame-red eyes did not cool, but his flame met the flame of Zima and all was perfect harmony and concord. Served hot, revenge burned all things; and so in that very moment - with his fiery eyes on the Green Murder - Mish-Cheechel learned that vengeance was a dish best served cold. He gnashed his teeth and felt ice pulverise between them, and he lurched his arm back even as he stepped forth, and with all the might and power he could conceive of launched the spear-that-was-Zima upon the Green Murder even as the goddess’ cascading water froze up before swiftly joining the great frostfire storm. The waters that promised death mere seconds before exploded all at once and the baleful grip of burning ice most unnatural spread everywhere.

Zima the Spear's scream echoed throughout the land as she tore through the fabric of the world. She ate icy flame and frost alike as the spear lacerated the stuff that air was made of on her unfailing trajectory for the very heart - what heart! Dead, hardened stone! - of the eagle god.

When the steam and cinder and frostfire cleared up at last, Mish-Cheechel could see that Zima the Spear had pierced an inch into the chest of the goddess in her eagle form - something that left even the goddess visibly surprised. The roaring water of the flood was coursing around them. With a wing she pushed away the frozen spear and it shattered when it hit the ground. A drop of divine ichor bled out of the wound. For the first time in her life the goddess felt the pang of pain, real pain! And it summoned such fury within her.

“Your name,” she said slowly, though she said each word with pure venom, “is Mish-Cheechel.” She was looming over him now. Her green eagle form cast a great shadow over him as well. He was not worthy of basking in the light of her Father. He was not worthy to stand on His world. She leaned forward, and his unblinking, coal-black eyes hovered on the bleeding wound then met hers - there was almost a smile on his lips, a laugh in those coals. “Know that you. Are. Nothing.” With those words of pure hate spoken, she raised her claw and she rent his bjorkish form open like she had done to the kit on that fateful day oh so many moons ago. But it did not satiate her. Like an eagle she shrieked and screamed and kept clawing until there was nothing left of his body but a bloodied mess.

And as she flew up, away from the scene, her will upon the water vanished and both the shattered spear and the remnants of the manbjork were swept away.

The Green Murder flew over the flood wave traveling downstream, letting all the bjorks know that this was her divine punishment for their deafness to her words.

A bitter wind began to blow down from the north as the flood raged, bringing ominous clouds that foretold only one thing; a blizzard was coming...

Khommie Productions present:

from the Song of Yollitleco






Note: The contents of this post are the product of mortal art and in no way reflect the true actions of any gods featured.

I


Since you wonder: whence these stories?
Whence these carvings and inscriptions,
With the odours of the smoke-vent
With the heat and sigh of magma,
With the smoke of restless fires,
With the streaming forth of lava,
With their drumming repetitions,
And their fierce reverberations
As eruptions in volcanoes?

I will answer, I will tell you:
“From the tunnels and the chambers,
From the salt lakes of the crustland,
From the land of the Xochteca,
From the land of the Xalixco,
From the land of the Atlaxco,
From the tunnels, caves, and vent-lands
Where the taran, the Az-tat-pah,
Feeds on metal reeds and rushes.
I recite them as was chanted
On the tongue of Cuicamaca,
The tale-keeper, the sweet songster.”

If you ask where Cuicamaca
Found these songs so fierce and fevered,
Found these carvings and inscriptions,
I will answer, I will tell you,
“In the bird’s-nests of the stone grove,
In the hide-holes of the stone-worms,
In the dung-path of the beetle,
In the roost-place of the flame-bat!

“All the wild-crabs sang them to him,
In the saltlands and the crustlands,
In the simmering brine marshes;
Mihuiot, the wader, sang them,
Qua, the diver, cave-goose, Tlala,
The blue taran, the Az-tat-pah,
And the grouse, the Cihupeyo!”

If still further you then wonder,
Asking, “Who was Cuicamaca?
Sing more of this Cuicamaca,”
I will answer all your queries
With such pristine words as follow.

“In the Vale of Lake Iztatl,
In the white and ashen valley,
Where the boiling sa'ter courses,
dwelt the songster Cuicamaca.
Round about one zintli village
Spread the meadows and the kale-fields,
And beyond them stood the forest,
Stood the groves of singing stone-trees,
Gold as sunlight, fixed as mountains,
Ever sighing, ever singing.

“And the sa’ter, how it courses,
Can be traced throughout the valley,
By the swelling in the Boil-time,
By the salt-trees in the Hot-time,,
By the white steam in the Simmering,
By the salt lines in the Cooling;
And beside them dwelt the singer,
In the Vale of Lake Iztatl,
In the white and ashen valley.

“There he sang of Yollitleco,
Sang the Song of Yollitleco,
Sang his storied dawn and splendour,
How he saw and how he pondered,
How he spoke, and toiled, and suffered,
How he brought the long-lost wisdoms
From the time no mind remembers -
But the mind of Yoli’coztl -
And distilled them into verses
That the iyot tribes might prosper,
That he might illume his people!”

Ye who love our Yoli’coztl,
Love the bright flame on the meadow,
Love the shadow of the forest,
Love the smoke upon the branches,
And the whoosh of geyser rainstorms,
And the rushing of salt rivers
Through their palisades of stone-trees,
Love the ‘ruptions in the mountains,
Whose innumerable echoes
Flap like flame-bats in their caverns;
Listen to these fierce inscriptions,
To this Song of Yollitleco!

Ye who love a nation’s records,
Love the ballads of our hist’ry,
Spoken as though in a legend
By such ghosts as live in legends
That like voices from afar off
Call to us to pause and listen,
Speak in tones so plain and winsome,
Scarcely can hearing distinguish
Whether they are sung or spoken;
Listen to this zintli epic,
To this Song of Yollitleco!

Ye whose hearts are pure and natural,
Who have faith in Yoli’coztl,
Who believe that in all ages
Every iyot heart is iyot,
That in even ancient bosoms
There are longings, yearnings, strivings
For the good they comprehend not,
(And the good we moderns quest for,)
That their feeble eyes, though helpless -
Searching blindly in the darkness -
Find Heat's bright eye in that darkness
And are made to see, are strengthened;
Listen to this simple story,
To this Song of Yollitleco!

Ye, who sometimes, in your wanders
Through the tunnels of this country,
Where the tangled tungsten-bushes
Hang their tufts of crystal berries
Over stalagmites of pure salt,
Pause by some neglected idol,
For a while to muse, and ponder
On a half-effaced inscription,
Written with aged skill of song-craft,
Ancient phrases, but each letter
Full of wisdom and of heart-break,
Full of all the deep-born knowledge
Of the life now and what’s after;
Stay and read this old inscription,
Read this Song of Yollitleco!


II


In the realm of deepest magma
Where the world’s core warms the crustlands,
Where the iyot, th’achtotlaca,
Were the first and greatest mortals,
Were the first of tribes and great clans,
Were the first whose feet went racing,
First whose liquid hearts went pacing,
First whose claws, with help of magma,
Carved the tunnels of the crustlands,
Carved the great veins of their nation;
Settled all across the Eastlands,
Far beyond where ever iyot
Mind or claw had hoped to set foot;
Glimpsed the surface world but briefly
Felt its cold gasp on their shoulders,
Fled the frozen hell above-ground
As they dived and birthed the crustlands.

Did they wonder of the greatness
Rumbling ‘mongst the iyots westward?
Did they whisper of Tonauac
Or receive news of Tlanextic?-
Of that west-iyot, great conqueror,
Of that west-iyot, half-godking?
Or hear yet of northern Guardians -
Remnants of a settler nation
On the barrens of the Northlands -
Who had wrestled with the Xhuchi?
Lord of Mindlessness, the Xhuchi,
Sightlessness and speechless grunting,
Archdemon of the above-ground.

None of those had known Iztatl,
No one knew of that great valley,
No one knew of its wide meadows
Or its forests, stone unaltered.
Whence the tunnel to Iztatl?
Where before that great wide tunnel?
Darkness, only, knows the answer
Darkness and the neltlatotl,
Who are mountains on the mountains,
Who are valleys in the valleys,
Who are springs that gush from wellsprings,
Heart and mind of the achtlaca.

Round the valley of Iztatl
Came the nations of th’achtlaca;
Settled all about the valley,
On the white and ashen valley,
In the groves of the stone forest,
By the far-off Iztat Tunnel,
On the northern lava rivers.
There they dwelt for unknown aeons
Undisturbed by worlds around them,
Without fear the lived and prospered
Without greed or lust or anger.

But in time, as in time all must,
All the vices grew around them
Grew and blossomed well within them.
At their borders martial tribes marched,
Sundered themselves at the Iztat,
On the Atlaxco were sundered,
On those claws of darkness sundered.

Then amongst themselves the tribes looked,
Eyes of greed and envy there looked,
With covetousness their eyes looked,
And those eyes grew with suspicion
And their hearts were filled with rancour
And their claws were drawn for battle
And their tongues were bared like tumours;
In the name of tribe and nation,
In the name of newborn newtlings,
For the berry and the salt-spring
Was the valley filled with anger,
So the nation broke and splintered.

Into tribes a-warring, splintered,
Into feuding clans within them;
The Xochteca of the stone groves -
Great rock forests were the stone groves -
The Xalixco, of the north vale,
They who rode the lava rivers,
And the Atlaxco of Iztat,
Guardians of the Iztat Tunnel,
Maulers of all interlopers
Marcher lords of great Iztatl!


III


From the flame-pits of the earth-depths,
On the Red Oration-Piazza
By the great Black Pipe-stone Quarry,
Yoli’chicoztl, the feverous,
She the Dame of Heat, ascending,
On the flat salts of the piazza
Reared up high, and called the nations,
Called the iyot tribes together.

From her claw-prints surged a wellspring,
Leapt into the hearth of earth’s depths,
Roiled on itself and burst outward
Gleamed like Heat’s eye in the darkness.
And the goddess, stooping earthward,
With her claw on the salt-meadow
Traced a rounded pathway for it,
Saying to it, “Dance in this way!
“Flow in circles all the year long!”

From the black stone of the quarry
With her claw she broke a fragment,
Moulded it into a pipe-head,
Shaped and fashioned it with figures;
From the margin of the salt lake
Took a long reed for a pipe-stem,
With its metal leaves upon it;
Filled the pipe with chips of stone-tree,
With the chipped bark of the stone-tree;
Breathed upon the neighboring forest,
Made its stone boughs chafe together,
Till in flame they burst and flowed hot;
And erect upon the mountains,
Yoli’chicoztl, the feverous,
Smoked the calumet, the Peace-Pipe,
As a signal to the great tribes.

And the smoke rose slowly, slowly,
Through the torrid air of earth’s depths,
First a single line of darkness,
Then a denser, redder vapour,
Then a smoke-black cloud unfolding,
Like the tree-tops of the forest,
Ever rising, rising, rising,
Till it touched the cavern’s ceiling,
Till it broke against that ceiling,
And rolled outward all around it.

From the Vale of Lake Iztatl,
From that white and ashen valley,
From the groves of the stone forest,
From the far-off Iztat Tunnel,
From the northern lava rivers
All the tribes beheld the signal,
Saw the distant smoke ascending,
The Popochhuia of the Peace-Pipe.

And the wise ones of the nations
Those nelt’otl of the nations
Said: “Behold it, the Popochhuia!
By this signal from afar off,
Bending like a wand of stone-tree,
Waving like a claw that beckons,
Yoli’chicoztl, the feverous,
Calls the iyot tribes together,
Calls the nelt’otl to council!”

Down the rivers, from the tunnels,
Came the leaders of the nations,
Came Imati the Xochteca,
Came the Xalixco, Tenanxa,
Came Huitziqui the Atlaxco,
Came the sages, the nelt’otl-
Those Wisemanders of the Eastworld-
And all the warriors, too, who were drawn
By the signal of the Peace-Pipe,
To the quarry by the salt flats,
To the Red Oration-Piazza.

And they stood there on the saltlands,
With their drawn claws and their bared tongues,
Painted like the steam of Simmering,
Painted like the chalky ashlands,
Wildly glaring at each other;
In their faces stern defiance,
In their hearts the feuds of ages,
In their creeds six-hundred schisms
All the hatreds they’d inherited,
And the ancient thirst for conquest.

Yoli’chicoztl, the feverous,
The creator of the nations,
Looked upon them with compassion,
With maternal love and pity;
Looked upon their wrath and wrangling
But as quarrels among children,
But as feuds and fights of children!

Over them she stretched a great claw,
To subdue their stubborn natures,
To allay their thirst and fever,
By the shadow of her great claw;
Spake to them with voice majestic
As the sound of far-off ‘ruptions,
Rising up from deep abysses,
Warning, chiding, spake in this wise:

“O my children! my poor children!
Listen to the words of wisdom,
Listen to the words of warning,
From the lips of the Great Mother,
From the Dame of Heat, who made you!

“I have given you lands to dwell in,
I have given you streams and salt lakes,
I have given you root and berry,
Given you great birds of metal,
I have given you kale and melon,
I have given you bat and beetle,
Filled the marshes full of wild-crab,
Filled the sa'ters full of fishes:
Why then are you not contented?
Why then will you hunt each other?
Why then all these rifts and schisms?

“I am weary of your quarrels,
Weary of your wars and bloodshed,
Weary of your lust for conquest,
Of your wranglings and dissensions;
All your strength is in your union,
All your danger is in discord;
Therefore be at peace henceforward,
And as brothers live together.

“I will send a prophet to you,
A deliverer of the nations,
Who shall guide you and shall teach you,
Who shall toil and suffer with you.
If you listen to his counsels,
You will multiply and prosper;
If his warnings pass unheeded,
You will fade away and perish!

“Bathe now in the lake before you,
Wash the war-paint from your faces,
Wash the blood-stains from your claw-tips,
Sheathe your drawn claws and your bared tongues,
Break the black stone from that quarry,
Mould and make it into Peace-Pipes,
Take the reeds that grow beside you,
Deck them with your brightest feathers,
Smoke the calumet together,
And as brothers live henceforward!”

Then with a great push the leaders
And the nelt’otl, the wise ones,
And the warriors of the nations
Threw their drawn claws and their bared tongues,
Leapt into the boiling salt-lake,
Washed the war-paint from their faces.
Clear above them flowed the sa'ter,
Clear and limpid from the claw-prints
Of the Dame of Heat ascending;
Dark below them flowed the sa'ter,
Soiled and stained with streaks of crimson,
As if blood were mingled with it!

From the river came the leaders,
And the nelt’otl, the wise ones,
And the warriors of the nations
Clean and washed from all their war-paint;
On the banks their drawn claws they sheathed,
Buried all their lust for conquest.
Yoli’chicoztl, the feverous,
The Great Mother, the creator,
Smiled upon her helpless children!

And in silence all the leaders,
All the nelt’otl, the wise ones,
All the warriors of the nations
Broke the black stone of the quarry,
Smoothed and formed it into Peace-Pipes,
Snapped the long reeds by the lake-side,
Decked them with their brightest feathers,
And departed each one homeward,
While the Dame of Heat, descending,
Through the opening of great fissures,
Through the doorways of the earth’s depths,
Vanished from before their faces,
In the smoke that rolled around her,
The Popochhuia of the Peace-Pipe!


IV


Speak then of my Yollitleco
Who knew not to speak with his tongue
Only with his heart he e’er spoke.
Speak of Yollitleco’s coming
To the Red Oration-Piazza
At the time of the Great Synod
Yes, that Lake Iztatl Synod.
Speak then of the breathless silence
That fell on the wise ones gathered,
Fell on all the neltlatotl,
Wisest in the eastern stretches,
When Yollitleco the Whyite
Reared up inside that great circle
And spoke not, but drew his heart out!

Did the eye of one among them,
Waver from the fevered orator?
Did the tongue of one among them
Move to challenge what he now spoke
Or lambast his pearls of wisdom?
Did the heart of one among them
Cease from trembling and sighing
As that truest neltlatotl
Laid down with his sweet narration
All the wisdom from the aeons
That existed long before they-
They the race of achtotlaca-
Felt the gasp of life erupting
In their quick hot core erupting.

“You who stand beside the lake there
Who speak, spout and wisdoms shake there
Has news reached you of times yonder
Of days yonder and nights yonder and gods yonder and climes yonder?
Of the yonder chieftains who dressed
In their proud and glorious garb dressed?
Of towns yonder and vales yonder
And plains yonder and crimes yonder?
Or has the hardness taken your hearts
And the darkness ta’en your eyes? -
You who rightly claim that you are
Greatest of the great, that you are
Wisest of the wise, you are.
So I come to you greatmanders,
Come from far to you, greatmanders,
With a question not of what, now,
But of why it is you are, now!”

And so speaking, Yollitleco,
Raised his one great claw to skyward
To the great roof of the chamber
To that sky of rock he pointed,
And closed up his heart’s great maw,
Closed it now and sat among them,
Sat and listened to the silence,
Sat and listened to their murmuring,
Sat and spoke no more, no more.
The wisemanders had all listened,
Some among them wore deep frowns now,
Some wore eyes that only glistened,
Some had learned to cock their crowns now.
So the synod murmured, simmered,
Spoke in whispers did the wise ones,
Hushed tones of the neltlatotl.

Then Cocole stood and strode forth,
Strode the Whatist Cocole
In the centre of the synod,
In the heart of the great circle
On the Red Oration-Piazza:
Why, he asks! What foolishness-
Why, why! What use this question-
Why! Cursed why - why of the dead, why!
Ask not why - why is a pit of cold and darkness,
Pit that promises death and despair.
Peer you into the pit of why, then,
And look on the piled husks of achtlaca!
Be fools then and ask you why -
Rest your heads on pain and ask why;
Ask why then and only die now!
Who the answer has for why?
Who the patience has for why?
None who are not become stone, who!
Do we not know what we are, friends?
We are achtlaca, are we not?
Greatest of the great, are we not?
Wisest of the wise, are we not?
If we know so well what we are,
Then why ponder on this why?
Knowing what we must know, let us
Not ask why and let us just do -
They who know what they are know well
What it is that they must do!
We who ask what are of action -
Those of why are lethargy,
Sleepfulness and death, that also!
If you must ask, then ask what -
And when the answer stands before you
Do not pause to ponder why!
If you must ask, then ask what -
And when the answer stands before you
Do not pause to ponder why!
Let us be the what of doing,
Not who ponder why and do naught!
Hear me then, for I have spoken!
Spoken wisdoms for the ages,
Wisdoms of the ancient iyots,
Wisdoms of our great forefathers!”

And Cocole waved his forearms
And he thrashed his tail and teeth gnashed,
And he left then that great circle
All the sophomanders he left,
Left to their deliberations. ...


ZIMA the ZIMMER

&
Mish-Cheechel the Avenger



-v.-
The Dread Wehniek of the Northlands






Time: Present


Mish-Cheechel gripped his spear wordlessly and charged. He did not think, only charged. He did not pay much heed to the voice at the back of his mind that screamed at him to turn tail and get the flying fuck out of there - he only charged. He did not even bother to give off some brave warcry or wail promises or spit curses. Mish-Cheechel the Avenger only charged. Though a choice had stood before him, he had not seen it - he did not charge because he chose, he did not charge because he thought, he only charged.

Past the breaking zimmer’s form he charged, spear in hand, teeth set - he charged - silently he charged, with white breath painting the frozen air - he charged, he charged! And with all the force his speed could grant him, with all the might of his giant bjork form, he plunged the spear into the deer-horror’s black face - threw all himself into that great leap, and all his fury and all his madness - he only charged, like madness charged. Mad, perhaps, was that Mish-Cheechel - but not as mad, nowhere as mad, as the clan of the gods. And as his spear plunged into the dead deer’s face he knew that whatever had made this thing was madder - the gods were mad, the world was mad, everything was mad.

And, by all things, it made Mish-Cheechel mad. It was only right that he be mad!

The demon stumbled back, allowing the Zima’s body of ice to fall to its knees, and it threw Mish-Cheechel off as it pulled at the spear planted firmly in its face. The manbjork landed next to the icey zimmer. She looked up at him with a blank face, blue swirling within and leaking from the cracks.

“Mish!” Zima’s voice emanated from her new form, tired but full of joy. “You are alive! Good to see. Now… run.”

Her icy gaze fell upon the deer demon and they watched as it wrenched the spear free and flung it to the ground. The crazed creature was wounded beyond repair, or at least it looked that way. Most of its body was held together only by the same glowing fire that lit up its one eye. It screamed at them, then lunged upon Mish-Cheechel. Zima flung herself in front of him and the two titans fell to the earth fighting and punching for dominance.

The manbjork swept his spear from the ground then leapt forth, ignoring Zima’s order - or rather, he had not heard it at all. Even as he looked at Zima, he saw through her and into the wailing eye of the beast. Rushing forth, he jumped onto Zima’s back, leapt further up - balanced himself with his tail - then found himself atop what passed for her head. Steadying himself as she wrestled with the monster, he took one glance down, held his spear firmly, and fell upon the monster’s antlered head and rammed the spear at the top of its skull. Time froze for the briefest second and the manbjork hung in the air, his spear a whisker’s span from its mark.

There came a mighty crack as the beast pushed down upon Zima’s torso, shattering it and pushing them both down. Mish-Cheechel grazed the top of the creature's head and flew over it. Zima grunted, then punched the deer in the face, snapping an antler as it fell off her.

Landing with a grunt, Mish-Cheechel pushed off awkwardly with his tail, leapt - stumbled - and turned, then continued his steel-eyed charge. When he was less than a few feet from the creature’s back, he leapt - adding extra push with a slap of his tail against the earth - and so swept up towards the demon’s bared back, spear drawn for the strike. It landed with a splurge of viscera and grimy ink at the base of the neck before the creature buckled and flung him off with a terrible shudder.

Even without a lower half, Zima managed to grapple the creature again and stab it repeatedly with an icy spear arm in its side. Her assault was ferocious but uncalculated and soon after her icy form broke down in its entirety. Zima became formless once again and rushed over to Mish-Cheechel as the demon deer lay silent, black ink, rancid guts and other unsavory bits leaking from it like a small stream.

“M-Mish.” Zima gasped. “You do not listen well.”

The manbjork, breathing heavily and somewhat battered, but elsewise unharmed, kept his eyes on the deer demon. “Is it dead?” He asked, even as he began to stride forward. “Best put it down for good before it gets back up.”

“No!” Zima shouted at him, rushing to obscure his vision. “It plays tricks! It does not die! I know this!” She took a raspy breath, despite not needing to breathe. She hovered before of Mish-Cheechel again. “Look at me! We must leave! Now!” There was fear in her voice.

The manbjork paused and at last looked into Zima’s ethereal form. After a second of thought he almost turned, but something stopped him, and his eyes of oak - once warm and joyous - stared like ice darts at the creature. “And has running from it done you any good until now, Zima?” He strode forth towards the demon once more. “Think how many others a creature such as this has killed - think how many it will kill after it’s done with us. Leave, Zima? I won’t leave until it lies on the ground for good!” He gripped his spear in two strong hands, took two swift strides, then leapt with a thunderous crack of his tail against the frozen earth and plunged towards the demon again.

Zima only shouted, trying to stop him in vain but it was too late. His spear landed true, piercing the creature in the torso. It did not move, however, and it seemed that for once Zima’s fears had been unfounded. Tentatively she approached. “Is-is really dead?” she asked, never taking her eyes off it. Mish-Cheechel only shrugged and continued to thrust the sharpened point of his spear into the deer’s form - now into what passed for its torso, now in its skull, its neck, its stomach. It squelched in and sent sprays of ink and gore over his form.

At last, when the putrid stench had grown too much for either of them, he retreated, wiping his feet on the ground to get what passed for its blood and the stomach-churning odour off his feet. Before he could take one step more, however, something - a clawed hand - grabbed his tail.

Zima screamed.

Something echoed her scream right back, but dark and twisted, and the next thing Mish-Cheechel knew he was flying. Flying straight for a tree.

The manbjork rolled and twisted in the air and just about managed to brace himself and protect his head. His great form cracked against the tree and air whooshed out of him. He landed stunned. It was only brief, however, and with one quick gasp his breath had returned. His back had received the worst of the blow, but still he rose - with a grimace - and clutched at his fallen spear. “Let’s kill this fucker, Zima.” He growled, beating his tail against the ground and hopping lithely forward.

But Zima did not respond. She kept shifting her form between a bjork kit and a small mink. She was paralyzed with fear as the corpse demon shambled on broken limbs towards her. Sickly green vapor drifted where bone and flesh should have been. It was propelled by this unnatural force, moving as if it no longer knew how to walk. It mimicked her scream, with a deeper, more sinister laugh, and its head twisted in half circles that no living creature could have managed; its wide mouth dripped black ink.

Before it reached Zima, however, a great shadow rose up behind the morphing nishi and a great growl was loosed. Bear, eyes wide with fear and fury, leapt over its paralysed friend and, rearing on its hind legs, swept its great claws across the demon deer’s head with strikes that would fell trees and bites that would crush rock. The deer demon was flung into oblivion with each crushing blow. Like a twig being bent in a great wind, it was pummeled into the earth. Zima was finally shaken out of her daze and began to cheer Bear on as the demon was dashed into a growing cloud of dust. Bear was relentless, stomping the demon into black vileness, then obscurity. When the air grew silent, Zima blew it away with a gust of wind, sending the aroma of decay and death away from them. Bear stood over a visceral pile of mush, one that would have made any with a weak stomach gag.

The giant began to meander over them, with deep ragged breaths and the sound of exhaustion. But it was a relieved exhaustion, the exhaustion of victory well-earned. The relief of-

Bear bellowed, then a dark spike tore through his chest and up towards the tree canopy and the dark heavens above. It sent the saddle flying up in the air, an inky, green tendril, like a foul weed rearing its ugly head. The demon deer, or what was left of the skull- a simple bone plate with an eye socket, peered down upon them as it sloughed flesh and blood. It smacked Bear in the head with its own, and a giant crack rang out to affirm with a finality that now it was over.

Bear was dead.

But it was only over for Bear. The demon was an abomination, and before Bear’s blood was cold- before he had even fallen over with a great thud, the demon dropped its mortal guise and revealed to them its true form. A flaming green mass of darkness that laughed terribly before sinking into their friend like water soaking into mud.

Bear stilled, then his bones began to break with sickening cracks and pops as Zima wailed something terrible. Something mournful. Then Mish-Cheechel was beside her, his brown eyes verging on red and his pupils as pinpricks. He watched without a hint of emotion as the bear’s form rose and slowly turned on them. Mish-Cheechel’s teeth scraped against each other, his visage contorted with a terrible fury and his grip on his spear caused the wood to groan and cry out for mercy. His throat was parched and thirsted now for revenge, his red eyes did not seem red - they were red, for the fires of vengeance were alight within them.

“Zima!” His voice was thunder. “On me!” And he took one step, one step only, and hefted his spear above his head as what once was Bear - but was no more - took a shambling step towards them.

Zima however, was unmoving. Like before she was paralyzed now with fear. Her form had settled upon the bjork kit and her small hands gripped either side of her head, eyes wide with terror as she trembled uncontrollably.

"B-Bear…? N-No no no no." She said over and over again, shaking her head back and forth, eyes tightly squeezed shut. "Bear'll wake up now. Bear'll wake up. Zima is afraid. Bear is brave." Her breath quickened. "P-Papa please save Bear. Please." She gasped with fright and did not see one of Mish-Cheechel’s flame eyes fall on the image of his son. The fire in them vanished. His brown eyes were as black coals and there was silence.

The bear demon reared up before him, liquid ink painting the coldness of dusk and a great sweeping arm tipped with obsidian claws savaging the air. The black eyes of Mish-Cheechel fell on the now-green eyes of the white bear, and even as it swept its arm he too swept. A terrible explosion of heat rippled through the world around him as he moved, and what flames had darted in his eyes before were suddenly on his arm, his spear, his face. His form had become half firestorm, and the demon had no escape from his rage.

The spear’s collision with paw brought silence, then an explosion of fire caused the bear to burst alight. It screamed in a voice at once like that of Zima and Bear, and it was terrible to behold. And then a great inferno swept it up and the demon turned and fled, screaming in agony as it went, and long after they could see it no more they could hear it going still until the only sounds were Zima’s sobs.

Mish-Cheechel watched the darkness where the demon had been with his extinguished coal eyes, the right side of his form still smoking and burns lining his face and body. He did not turn even when the sound of the creature was long out of earshot, and he seemed set on following it. But something about Zima’s sobbing gave him pause, and he dropped his spear and turned to her at last. He did not say anything, but picked up the saddle in one hand, gritting his teeth as leather rubbed fresh burn. He tried to take the small kit that was Zima in the other but his grasp passed right through her. She sobbed some more, blinking open her eyes to gaze upon Mish-Cheechel, then took in his burns. There was silence and peace, as though she had closed her eyes on one world and opened them on another. Wordlessly, then, she darted to the discarded ice chunks she had worn earlier and formed up into a small shape, roughly the size of a kit.

“For…” She sniffled in a small voice, "for your burns." Mish-Cheechel shifted the saddle onto his good shoulder, the burns sighing with relief as the leather was lifted. He picked her up then, her form bringing an icy chill to his hot wounds as he brought her close to his chest, tucking her in the small of his arm like a mother would a newborn. He glanced at her peaceful kit’s face, took in a long breath, then walked silently from that wrestling pit and its odours and memories of death.

ZIMA the ZIMMER

&
Mish-Cheechel the Avenger







[Listen or skip to 00:53, then start reading]


I dream of pain
I dream of rivers and a bjorkish band
I walk in rain
I dream revenge as time runs through my hand!

I dream of fire
These crimes that tie
two hearts that just won’t die
I near the flames
And watch the shadows dance to the growl of a bjork’s desire

This fury grows
To the groan of a great-dam promise
Your river flows (Green Murder!)
No riverine dam is sweeter on my tooth than this!

My spear-arm turns
And fells great flames as only do in dreams
This vengeance burns
And I know all’s not as it seems

I dream of pain
I dream of rivers and a bjorkish band
I walk in rain
And dream revenge as time
Runs
Through
My
Hand

I dream in pain
And wonder if I sink or rise above
My heartbeat churns
And knows at last: revenge is sweeter on the heart than love
revenge is sweeter on the heart than love
revenge is sweeter on the heart than love
revenge is sweeter on the heart than love


[Listen until end, or pause, then continue reading.]


Mish-Cheechel awoke. His breath came calm and quiet and his eyes took in the darkness of night. He coughed - his throat was hoarse - and licked his two great teeth with a dry tongue. He needed water. Slowly, he rose, and his bones and muscles groaned as though he had not moved in an age. The night was dark, but he could see the great figure of Bear not too far off. He swallowed. “Djima.” He managed, running a hand over his face as he ascended to his feet. “Water.”

He followed the nearby sound of flowing water and Bear followed after him, and not long after he was lapping from a small rivulet. The cool liquid seemed to tear at his throat and he coughed and sputtered and vomited and snorted water everywhere. He breathed heavily for a good half minute then he shook his head and got up, scratching at his temple and clearing his throat.

It was only then that he thought to glance down at his chest. He was quite certain that the weird, hoofed howler had stabbed him right through the chest - in fact, he knew beyond all doubt that he had died. He felt at his chest, looked around suspiciously, then glanced back at Bear. “Am I dead? Are you dead?” Bear only panted, lolled his tongue out, and stared a the manbjork. “Yeah, dead my tail, you’re not dead you mangy bag of fur.” Putting the thoughts aside he stepped up to the saddled bear and lifted himself onto its back. He looked about with growing concern. “Where the sweet icy-frost is Zima?”

He tapped Bear with his great tail and the creature started moving off, and Mish-Cheechel launched his gaze now across the rivulet and now into the woods in search of her. He did not see her, but after a time he heard clapping and laughter and urged Bear in the direction. He paused just short of a clearing, in which was a small pond. By the pond hovered what looked to be Zima - but, Mish-Cheechel knew, was not. It shimmered a thousand different colours and seemed to be in some kind of communion with a creature in the pond. Quietly, Mish-Cheechel spurred Bear onward and from his high vantage point atop the great cave bear's back he could see that there was an oddly radiant winged creature in the pond, moving with dazzling motion. For a few seconds his breath caught in his throat.

He sat there for some time and watched the strange winged pond-creature and the nishi dance. He did not know how long it went on, but when they stopped dawn was just breaking. The nishi was stirred from its stupor and went floating away, and the fish continued dancing in the tiny pond. Mish-Cheechel descended from Bear’s back then approached and observed the fish, and he wondered how it had gotten there at all. It was not a permanent pond, he could see, but had likely been formed by the heavy rain. Such a fish should not have existed there by any means. As he watched it, however, he felt a great serenity fall upon him.

A serenity that was broken when he smelled a bjork on the air and turned towards the stranger. “Ah, what’s dis noew.” The lassiebjork said, clearly surprised. “Didna ekspect to find anyiun ‘ere.” She carried a spear in her hand and quickly circled round to the other side of the pond and glanced down at the fish.

“Good day to you, lassie. You come here often?” Mish-Cheechel leaned back on his tail.

“Ah cam by yisterday and wouldja believe it, saw dis fish. Well, I didna ave a spear or no’in, but I tol meself I loik it and wanna make soming - real noice like, like ‘at hat dat Phlat mat or soming. So oi wakes up dis mornin real orly loik and grabs Pat’s spear an’ comes a runnin. Now.” She raised the spear and eyed the fish with purpose and focus.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, lassie.” Mish-Cheechel grunted, but he had not finished his words before the spear darted with sudden speed and the lassiebjork raised the fish up in victory. Mish-Cheechel frowned and stared at the dead fish, still glistening beautifully and even its death throes oddly soothing and rhythmic. “Why-” he instinctively gnashed his teeth against each other, “why’d you do that?”

The lassiebjork glanced up at him and waved a dismissive hand. “Oh you wouldna gets it. Anyway I’m goin now.” She paused. “Or aktshilly, I think maybe I cans work on it ‘ere, lemme see now.” Feeling his anger boiling, Mish-Cheechel turned away from the muttering lassiebjork and left the clearing. He found Bear and mounted him, and they went off. But even as they continued, Mish-Cheechel could not shake off the anger he felt. It was just a fish, and it would probably have died anyway when the pond dried up. And yet he felt a certain bitterness towards the lassiebjork, as though she had offended something higher, something beyond his understanding. He tried to shake the feeling off but it plagued him all day. So much did it plague him that when the sun set at last he found himself back at the clearing, staring at the pond.

As darkness settled all around, the nishi came hovering into the clearing. It had no sooner entered, however, before it froze - for there, by the pond, were the fleshy remains of the fish that danced. Its kaleidoscopic scales were gone and the flesh had been hastily discarded - what need had bjorks for flesh, after all? The nishi was frozen there for a long while, although its form looked closer to tears, roiling about itself and struggling to stay afloat. After some time a great whine started to emanate from it, and it approached the dead fish and seemed to weep itself out.

Mish-Cheechel watched it vacantly all night, and when dawn broke again the nishi did not float away or even crawl out of the clearing. What remained of it lay sputtering by the fish and Mish-Cheechel knew that it was dead. He realised then, with sudden clarity, that it was not the fact that this was an affront to something higher that had plagued him all day and was plaguing him even now. Perhaps it was, perhaps it was not - he neither knew nor cared. No, it was the fact that it was an affront to him that had plagued him all day and plagued him even now. He did not understand that either, but he did not need or want to. He had always been a bjork of action.

He moved, then, without much thought. He gathered wood and lit a fire, and he shaped himself a new spear and rolled it slowly over the flames. He rolled it until morn was forgotten and he whispered the gnashing of teeth into it, the gnashing of teeth and rage of vengeance - muttered the cosmic hurt done on goodness and harmony that even now cried out, and wept now, to be righted. When the flame of his fury had grown into an all-consuming forest fire, he rose and allowed his nose to lead him after the lassiebjork. He found her sitting on a small dam, boasting her glistening fish-skin cape to two oohing and aahing lassiebjorks, who had likewise decorated their forms with useless apparel - from the bark of trees they'd plundered, from the otter, mink and river. But Mish-Cheechel had not come today for them, had come only for the one who slew the dance-fish, for the one who slew the nishi. Two lives stolen, two lives he'd reap.

He stood staring at the trio from the darkness of the forest, and in time his scent had grown so strong that none could miss it any longer. Curious bjorks approached and stared at the giant anxiously, and the lassiebjork was among them. “O- it’s you. Yer smellin a lil difrent.” She said nervously.

“I told you not to kill it.” He cut across her coldly.

The lassiebjork swallowed nervously, then glanced at the six other bjorks about her and regained her confidence. “Well, what’s it te yew anehwaey?” She retorted boldly. Mish-Cheechel gnashed his teeth and snarled at her as he took a single step forth, causing all the lassiebjorks to scatter and the menbjork to raise their weapons.

“Ohright yew, off widja, off widja ah sae.” The bigger of the three menbjork warned. Mish-Cheechel did not spare them a glance, but only glowered at the lassiebjork before he turned and disappeared into the trees. The bjorkmen whistled with relief and half-laughed to one another. “Wat an eedjit.” The big one chortled, then turned and looked over at Walat. “Wha d’ya dew te mak ‘im so angry, Wal-” he began, but was quickly cut-off when a massive white bear erupted from the forest and snapped his head clean off. The others screeched and rushed for the dam, but the bear ignored them all and beelined for Walat.

“No!” She cried out, jumping now left and now right in a desperate attempt to flee the wild thing. But she had nothing to fear from the bear, for it was Mish-Cheechel’s spear that felled her. He leapt from the bear’s back and approached where the whimpering Walat had fallen and placed his hand about the spear.

“Ah towl ye- ye shouldna kild eh.” Mish-Cheechel growled with her people's drawl. He pulled the spear from her back and its fire-hardened tip fell, with a terrible crack, through her neck.

There was silence then, and he heard muffled cries from the dam. Leaving the spear, he turned and - suddenly weak - stumbled over to the bear and drew himself into the saddle, and then quickly left. The darkness of the trees was welcoming, and the sounds of the forest drowned out the cries that were long out of earshot but not out of mind.




So that is what he is, Voi thought as he watched the bjork from the trees. Appearing not as bjork or any other sentient but, as a raven. Black as the night and with watchful eyes on Mish-Cheechel. He had been watching him for a while now, flying from tree branch to tree branch and getting a feel on who this bjork was, this one who had brazenly spat and promised, so that all the gods could hear him, his unwavering will to kill a god. And he was a rather curious one; one who happened to be immortal - a clear sign that another god had already given him a blessing for his quest.

The first immortal created by… Aethel, Voi thought unamused. He could sense the tampering with Mish-Cheechel’s soul and Aethel’s mark was all over it. Voi felt a pang of anger over this tampering with Mish-Cheechel’s soul. But despite that flickering flame of anger, he would not change things or tamper. For it was, Voi admitted to himself, a blessing that he might have given Mish-Cheechel himself.

Either way, now was the time for talk, so Voi flew before the bjork. Far enough that he could not be seen by Mish-Cheechel but without a doubt in his way. The god disappeared behind a tree and reemerged as an elderly bjork. There he waited patiently for Mish-Cheechel to pass by and see him.

When the bear-riding manbjork spotted him, he stopped. He stared blankly - though not coldly - at Voi for a few seconds then greeted him. “Well met, stranger. Bjorks often know better than to stand in the way of a bear, but you don’t seem all too bothered now.” He eyed Voi and looked back into the trees for others. When none emerged, he raised an eyebrow. “Alone on the road?”

“Yes, yes I am. And you seem to have that bear under control.” Voi walked slowly towards Mish-Cheechel before stopping right next to him. He looked up at the manbjork with a piercing glare, “I am actually here for a reason, that reason being you. I wish to talk to you about your quest and the Green Murder.” Their eyes bored into each other’s once the words were said and silence hung between them for a while.

At last, however, Mish-Cheechel broke the staring contest and, bringing his left foot over the saddle, dropped from the bear’s back and walked over to a nearby log and sat down. “Speak then, and while you’re at it tell me your name.”

“Call me Anam,” Voi walked over and sat on the other end of the log. Turning his head towards Mish-Cheechel, “I have heard of your call for vengeance against the one called the Green Murder. A god… though I do not know a god that goes by that name or title.” Voi briefly looked away and chose his next words with care. “I wish to learn more about this matter and you as well.” Voi looked back at Mish-Cheechel and stared him square in the eyes. “That is if you wish to speak of this.”

Mish-Cheechel leaned back with a frown, his eyes narrowing. “Has word spread then? Well, it’s good that it should, any bjork worth his honour should rage against this crime. It’s not a crime against me or my family or Clan Rod, it’s a crime against all who call themselves bjorks - the eagle god didn’t care what clan we were, it was the bjorkish way that drew its wrath. So long as the eagle god abides, all bjorks are duty-bound to destroy it. Blood must be paid for in blood, the taking of life with the taking of life, the finger with the finger, the eye with the eye, the tooth with the tooth - equal hurt and equal fury, equal death and equal mauling till the world returns to balance: equal hurts discharged on villains as those hurts they first committed. But look here, you are an old manbjork Anam - I wouldn’t call on you to join me. Does your clan have none who are young and strong? Does your clan have none whose blood boils at this crime? Does your clan have none who will swim and march against the eagle god with me?”

“My clan?” Voi pondered for a moment. “This I imagine would divide my clan, few would support your efforts against this eagle god, most would not attempt this. It is not a small endeavor to try and kill a god. I know what this eagle god did to you and your clan. Though”, Voi paused for a moment before speaking, “I can sense that someone has helped you in a way that I… would not have expected or that I at first approved of.” Voi took the moment to look at Mish-Cheechel’s bear before turning back to the manbjork. “I am unsure what aid I can give since you seem to have gotten some already. Your tamed bear is a rare sight and what I can sense from you…..” Voi then slowly looked ahead, not staring at anything in particular.

“You…” Mish-Cheechel stared at him, “you sensed?” His eyes narrowed in suspicion as realisation dawned. “You are of the god clan?”

“No, oh no…. I am just a concerned party is all,” Voi said, sounding sincere about it. He took a deep breath before continuing, “just concerned and I think I can offer you something. But,” Voi emphasized the but, part. “It will not be ready for some time. When it is done then I can offer it to you.” Then he turned his gaze on Mish-Cheechel, and it was an ice-cold stare. “As long as you do not break any rules or defile it. If so then consider said gift revoked.” Voi then returned to looking at nothing. “Is that clear?”

Mish-Cheechel leaned forward and considered the other manbjork for a few moments. “What rules, oldbjork? And do you think Mish-Cheechel would defile a gift? I’d not dishonour myself so. But sure look: my eye is on my goal and my sight is eagle-keen, I’ll abide by nothing that keeps me from the Green Murder. If that’s good by you then I’ll take whatever aid you offer, but if it doesn’t please you then I’ll waste no more of your time or mine. I’ve no quarrel with you. So there you have it Anam, make of that what you please.” Mish-Cheechel leaned back, reached around until his hand fell on a twig, then brought it to his mouth and slowly tested his teeth’s sharpness on it.

“I do not know what you will do, only wonder what could happen with vengeance being a factor. But, I agree that our business has concluded.” Voi got off the log and gazed one last time at Mish-Cheechel before heading on his way. “Whatever happens, just make sure you do not lose yourself fully to vengeance. You might do something you regret or harm one you have a friendship with.” Without another word, Voi departed the scene. Once out of Mish-Cheechel’s eyesight, he turned into a raven and flew as fast as a god could away from the forest.




Mish-Cheechel reclined on the log and glanced over at Bear. “Concerned party my tail, Bear. If that guy wasn’t from the clan of gods I’ll bite my foot off.” The bear raised his head and stared at him, then wandered off without response. Mish-Cheechel bit at the last of the twig, then flicked and spat it away. Getting up, he went off after the bear. “Now where the frozen river is Zima?”

As if to answer him, there came a great thunderous crash and a tree fell not too far from the pair. Mish-Cheechel watched as some sort of creature made of ice fell over the tree and lay still for several seconds. It slowly rose and he could make out how damaged it looked. Its left arm was missing and its entire body was cracked. It faced away from them, gaze upon the forest, so Mish-Cheechel followed its gaze.

Next thing he knew the icey creature came under the assault of a large black shape and a battle ensued before his eyes! The assailant was a creature so foul - so dark - that when the odor hit them, Bear seemed to shrink. That great dark shape looked like nothing Mish-Cheechel had ever seen before, but the ice… was that not Zima? Whoever it was, it was not faring well. Each blow from the creature of darkness shattered more and more of the ice so that quite soon none of it would remain.

And so a choice had to be made.

@LokiLeo789 What a freak you (still) are.


Laektears, once known as dancerfish, were created out of Rosa’s tears when she was first confronted by Ao-Yurin. They have great wing-like fins and can be found in great groups that murmurate through the water, their scales reflecting refracted light off one another to create kaleidoscopic pulsations of colour even as they individually dance and, in so doing, create a greater cadence as a school. These dances, whether solitary or in a group, appear to have meaning understood by the laektears. One who does not realise they understand the movements of the laektears may perceive their meanings as words or other forms of communication - this happened when the giant mother-laektear 'spoke' with Rosa.
On being exposed to Rosa's blood, the laektears were turned from the relatively small and harmless dancers they had been into an extraordinarily powerful non-sapient species. They gained the ability to grow larger than whales, though full size tends to vary by individual - some may grow no larger than tadpoles while others may grow into the largest sea behemoths. The size of laektears seems to adapt to the availability of types of food - they will tend to remain small when their small size does not hinder feeding, and will grow in size with the availability of larger food sources. Thus eco-systems made up of small-sized creatures will be home to relatively small laektears, while eco-systems that boast an abundance of large sea animals will in time result in very large laektears. Those that reach larger proportions are able to filter feed by virtue of sheer size, but laektears are also scavengers and apex predators able to hunt down even the largest whales. As they tend to move in great murmurations, their hunts are dazzling dances of mind-boggling synchrony.

ROSALIND

RAGING ROSA | THE DANCE-DEMON | FEVERFOOT | LEAPING LINDA


Rosalind the Feverfoot was quite stuck. She had wandered the length of the shore for days and had not been able to find her oar. By a stroke of luck she had happened upon the boat, half-buried in the sand and surrounded by happy, yapping seals, but of the oar there was no trace. So she sat down, at last, on the edge of the boat and huffed. The boat was of no use without an oar.

She sat thinking there for a time, seals leaping on by or lazing about, until at last her reverie was broken by a great startling boom that echoed from the far mountains. It was only a few seconds after it sounded that she realised it had been a voice - and that it had spoken. “I should have known… You'd be here...” it rumbled. The goddess stared at the mountains, eyes wide and feet trembling.

“I- well- I didn’t mean. I was just- I was about to leave.” She stammered, getting up.

“That’s right!” The voice exploded, even louder this time, making the dusk-haired Feverfoot jump.

“Ye- Yes, that’s right, I’ll be right on my wa-”

“-you have arrived at your doom!” The mountains clapped, and the echo of the deathly declaration resounded through them and into the earth, resounded even in the depths of Rosalind the Feverfoot’s hammering heart. She swallowed, trembled, and tried to speak, but her tongue was frozen and all she could think to do was run. She turned and the sea sprawled out before her, and it might as well have been a wall extending into the endlessness of the heavens. Behind her the mountains cracked and whatever it was that sought her doom spoke once more - calmly, coldly, conclusively, “fight me.”

“I- I can’t! I’m sorry! Please-” Rosalind cried out, turning to her boat and pulling it desperately towards the water. The wet sands squelched beneath her and gave easily enough, and the seals - heedless of the sound or unafraid - clapped and barked and danced around her.

“Come!” The mountains insisted, but Rosalind shook her head and pulled her boat into the waters, deeper and deeper until it was afloat, and then dragged herself - the boat rocking precariously - in. She looked back and paddled with her hand - which seemed a futile act - while the waves carried her slowly, but surely, from the coast. The mountains leered at her, and she heard that terrible voice only once more. “Fool,” it lambasted her. She swallowed and looked at the roiling waves all around and the great dark ocean extending into forever. Perhaps she was.

She sat tight as the waves carried her. They were far calmer than she had known them to be back when her boat first landed and she fell into Ao-Yurin’s furious grasp. Calmer, too, than they were during that terrible and terrifying chase to which Aletheseus had subjected her. But still, they were waves and obeyed no one now that Ao-Yurin was truly dead, and oar-less as she was they carried her hither and thither as they pleased. No waves were favourable to a boat without direction.

Rosalind the Feverfoot only sat in her boat and sighed as the waves rocked her now here and now there, and from time to time she looked up, surveyed the horizon, then slumped back down and placed her chin on her hands as day turned to night and night to day. Now and again a school of fish would pass glistening by, and the goddess would watch them in wonder and fear as they passed on. The odd pod of dolphins would leap far off or at a stone throw's distance, clicking and whistling, and at one point a great black and white beast - which she knew to be an orca - came nudging at the boat. Rosalind was rather relieved when it lost interest and let her and the boat be. She certainly did not want another dip in the waters.

Not all visitations were fated to end as well as that with a curious orca, however, for Ao-Yurin’s realm was home to things of an indubitably more sinister disposition. On one fair night, when the moon hung like a great, broken, bright pearl bedecking the broad chest of the cloudless sky, and the stars twinkled as they do only in children’s rhymes and mothers’ lullabies, a wet pair of clawed hands latched onto the side of the boat - too silently for Rosalind the Feverfoot to hear - and pulled a terrible blue-eyed visage from the murky depths. The two bright blue eyes observed the land-creature, and its face broke into a sharp-toothed smile.

“Well, hello there.” It said, causing Rosalind the Feverfoot to cry out, jerk in shock, and very nearly leap out of the boat.

“Oh! Oh my! My heart! I- what- how- you-” she scrambled away from the terrible visage, all the way to the back of the boat. “Who- what- are you? What do you want?” The creature only observed her with its unblinking crystal blue eyes- and then it suddenly blinked, which only proved more unnerving.

“My, what a pretty little morsel you are - and so many questions. I don’t mind chatting though - I’ve been awful lonely, see, no one to talk to when you’re an exile, see? The Exile, mind you - that’s me.” It dragged itself further up, its movements so gentle that the boat hardly rocked at all, and it became apparent from its manly torso that it was a male - though what species it was, Rosalind could not know. It was not of the sort - like seals and dolphins and orcas - that she simply knew, not like Voligan or Aletheseus or the Monarch whom she had simply known. “As for what I am - you look very confused, maybe you’ve never seen my like? Well, it’s no matter, for I’ve never seen your like either. I am of the Ao, and all this about you - here and here and there - all this, the Mer, it belongs to the Ao. It is our realm, our domain, our watery kingdom, and you are in it. And what of you, pretty little morsel, what form of creature are you and by what name do you go?”

Rosalind relaxed slightly, but her wary eyes remained on the Exile. “Well, I’m Rosalind. And, well, I’m not sure what form of creature I am, exactly. But my siblings are all gods so I think maybe I should be too.” She scratched her temple and moved a black strand out of her face and watched as the Exile’s smile widened.

“Ah, Rosalind the God are we? How exciting. I’ve never met god before. Here now, let me see you better.” The Exile moved his head forward and scrutinised her. “But why, what is that great black stuff erupting from your head, Rosalind the God?”

Rosalind placed a hand on her hair and half-chuckled - it became rather a quick and purposeful expiration. “Oh, but it is only hair. Do the Ao not have it?”

“Oh no no, we’ve no such thing. It looks almost like seaweed - but black! And it moves here and there, how odd - what is this hair? Is it so many tentacles, perhaps?” The Exile frowned and stared at the threadlike growth with his piercing eyes.

“Nothing like tentacles, no,” Rosalind giggled, relaxing and running a hand across her hair and bringing it over her left shoulder. It fell with a great whoosh as far as her knee and the Exile let out a whistle of admiration. “It’s just… well, hair. It doesn’t move of its own will, only with the wind and only if I move it with my hands or if I twist my head or jerk this way or that. And if you cut it, it doesn’t bleed; if you pluck it, it doesn’t much hurt. It looks pretty, but you could probably go without it if you liked.”

The Exile nodded, his eyes gleaming with a soft curiosity. “And what does it feel like? May I?” He extended a hand and Rosalind frowned. “Ah, but is it rude to touch another’s hair?”

Rosalind cocked her head. “Well, I don’t think so - but it would be odd, I think. You can’t just feel another person’s hair. Well, maybe if you liked them.”

“Ah!” The Exile exclaimed, “well, that resolves it then - for I do like you, Rosalind the God, I like you very much! You look so different and say such interesting things too, and you’re such a pretty little morsel! Wipe that frown away and let me see your smile, and if you’d honour a poor exile I’d love to feel your hair.”

Rosalind sighed and seemed unsure, but the Exile only smiled and nodded, and so she relented with reluctance. “Well, I guess it’s okay, if only a bit.” She slowly got up, stepped over the centre thwart, and sat herself down by the Exile. He leaned down on his elbow and extended an upturned hand and waited. Rosalind smiled in appreciation and took a small handful of dusky hair and placed it into the Exile’s palm. He cocked his head and felt the velvet curls.

“Now that… is so soft and sleek, I’ve never felt anything like this.” He half frowned and half smiled, incredulity lighting up his eyes. “There is nothing in all the Mer like this, nothing I’ve ever felt or seen! It is beautiful, Rosalind the God.”

Rosalind reddened slightly and her feet tip-tapped against the bottom boards. “Thank you, Exile. You are too kind.” She glanced down at the flowing locks in his palm for a few silent seconds, then a question lit up her eyes. “So, why is it that you’re an exile?”

The Exile continued to stroke the silken strands she had handed him even as he let out a great sigh at the question. “Oh, it is terrible, simply terrible. Loneliness is a terrible punishment, Rosalind the God - I would not wish it on my most hated foe, no! To be alone in the world, to be away from loved comrades and kin - what crime, however execrable, could warrant such a barbarous punishment? Away from the familiar climes of childhood, from those places one calls home - what crime, however detestable, could warrant such a heartless penalty? Shower me as you wish with shame, cast me into the abyss of lowliness, but do not rend me from those faces and places for which the heart yearns! What did I do, Rosalind the God? Is it so evil, as to require this torture, that I felled a fellow Ao? Had it not been greater mercy if they felled me as just recompense? I would have preferred that by far and justice would have been served, would it not? Why torture me lifelong? What did the slain suffer that I should suffer such? Is not death but a moment - does the one who dies even feel it? And here I am, suffering still. Were I worse than I am - that is, were I a coward - I would have slain myself, Rosalind the God, I would. But ah, the strong do as they wish and the weak suffer what they must.” He sighed and fingered the goddess’ hair.

Rosalind stared sorrowfully at him. “I am sorry for your suffering, Exile - I am sorry that you carry this name. What were you called before this all?”

“It is of no importance now. It is in the past and I am resigned to my punishment. Why, I am not just resigned - for now I have cause for happiness; had I never been cast out then I never would have had the pleasure of coming to know you. Perhaps it was destiny - the waves all flow to a destination, it is not mere whimsey, and the waves of our lives have carried us that we both, at this very moment, should meet right here.” The Exile smiled broadly and his eyes twinkled, and Rosalind too smiled.

“You speak so lucidly, I love hearing you.” She sank to the bottom boards and placed an elbow on the centre thwart even as the Exile continued to caress the dusky strands. They did not speak for a while after that, content in one another’s silent company, until the Exile glanced behind him and let out a sad sigh.

“Much as I would love to stay with you, Rosalind the God, I must leave you now. My breath grows thin and I grow hungry too, and so I must go see to my needs.” He looked sadly down at her, and she frowned and raised her head.

“I understand. It was a great pleasure to know you, Exile. I hope that your people will take you back in one day, and that you will see the faces you love and the places for which your heart yearns.” The goddess spoke sympathetically.

The Exile nodded slowly and was silent, looking at her wistfully and stroking her curls. “But before I leave, grant me only another wish - I do not know if I shall ever see you again, or someone of your kind.”

“Of course, ask freely.” Rosalind responded readily, rising to her feet and approaching.

“I have known the sleekness of your hair, but now I wish only to feel your skin. It looks nothing like that of Ao - look at me, scaled and gilled - look at these hands, webbed and leathery. Look at yours, pleasing and soothing on the eye - pleasing and soothing, surely, on the hand.” He let go of her locks and extended his hand once again. Rosalind scratched her cheek and smiled shyly.

“If that’s what you want, although I don’t think it’s as special as you think.” And so saying, she placed her hand in his palm and he wrapped his webbed and clawed hands gently around her hand, then let out a contented breath.

“Ah, with that then, farewell my sweet morsel. Farewell to you, Rosalind the God.” He descended slowly into the waters, his hand still gently about her own. She leaned forward to watch him go and as his body sank beneath the waves she slowly released his hand.

But he did not release hers. With a gentle pull - for she was leaning so far forward that all it took was a gentle pull - she hurtled head first into the briny darkness. She did not even have the time to yelp or shout in surprise. Water hurtled up her nostrils and clawed at the back of her throat, and she felt the Exile’s grip - now a vice - on her hand. She felt his form against her, felt his other arm wrap almost lovingly about her. She felt a coolness against her neck followed by quick sharp pain which exploded into agony as he ripped the flesh away. The tilting dark brine sang crimson with the blood of the divine. “Farewell, my pretty little morsel, forever farewell. It is but a brief moment, see, then I will suffer eternally while you run light and free. Can’t pass up god, see?”

And the terrible truth was that Rosalind the Feverfoot did not even mind. In fact, after the initial shock and confusion, once his teeth sank into her and she understood, she felt a sort of great relief. Now no one would think she was a coward - perhaps they would grieve her and say a few kind words, something about a tragedy, something about never again, something about too young and too soon - but no one would know she was a coward. She smiled and raised her chin, offered herself up to the Exile and awaited his next bite with nothing but a single tear that sizzled away in the cold water.

What came, instead, was a nudge and Rosalind felt herself dragged here and there for a few brief seconds before the Exile’s grip loosened and she floated bloodied and free. She opened her eyes, and through the crimson she could see the shade of the Exile swimming swiftly away, and all about her were little dancing creatures, pulsing and murmuring. Some were tiny, while others - like those that even now chased and quarrelled with the Exile - were of great size. But those ones were dwarfed by the dancerfish that rose from the depths beneath her and caught her on its nose so that she rose swiftly through the waters and soon found that she had broken through the surface and was beholding sky and sea as she sat on the enormous dancerfish’s head. She looked down at the great form of the thing and thought it more massive than even the biggest whales she had seen while floating aimlessly on the seas.

The goddess quickly scrambled for her boat, leaving a trail of golden-crimson ichor behind her, which permanently coloured the great dancerfish mother’s great head. “Th-thank you.” Rosalind managed, once she was in her boat, and turned to the dancerfish. The colossal being beheld her with unblinking eyes of turquoise.

“Like tears, Rosalind the Feverfoot, we answer the cry for help.” It spoke with soundless voice. The waves danced gently before it and little dancerfish swirled in the water, and from their midst a single familiar oar arose. “Like tears, Rosalind the Feverfoot, when lost can ne’er be found - except by tears.” Rosalind stared at the oar and her breathing came shallow as her eyes grew wet. She gulped and restrained herself, however, and reached down and took the oar. She gripped it and almost sobbed. “Like tears, Rosalind the Feverfoot, hot and true and ever with you. Like tears.”

Rosalind nodded, smiled, and shed the dancing pearl tears of creation. “Like tears.” She affirmed. And, for no reason that anyone ever quite worked out - not even those kynikos at the Academy or who ranged about, not even Epsilon, not even Yudaiel or the serpents and mushrooms and barken-visages she saw - dancerfish were never known as dancerfish again, but as laektears.

And then Rosalind the Feverfoot rowed her boat, and she found that all waves were favourable to a boat with direction.


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Mish-Cheechel the Avenger




Mish-Cheechel stalked through the woodlands, his slow breath whistling gently through his teeth. The sound of running water was not far, and he paused to grate his incisors against a tree half as old as time. It did not sigh under his chiselling as the trees of the days of yore sighed, the bark did not embrace his searching incisors - no, it screamed under each cut, it whimpered beneath his biting wrath. This was not the careful, loving chiselling away the trees had known before, it was not art or worship, this was the gnawing of war - great bites that left weeping wounds and trenches in every tree he passed. It was the warpath of Mish-Cheechel the Avenger.

The trees gave way to the river, and he placed the broken spear to the side as he bent down and took the running water into his paws, bringing it to his mouth where he lapped at it. Only then did he notice the sound of carving, which caused him to grab his spear and leap away, teeth bared and eyes glowering. When his eyes fell on a fellow bjork, however, he relaxed. “Hail, stranger. I didn’t smell you there.” His eyes were drawn to the wood that was slowly taking shape beneath the careful chiselling of the stranger’s teeth.

The stranger paused his work, though his eyes did not move from carefully examining it. He replied, “I did not intend to draw attention to myself.” His words caused Mish-Cheechel to frown and scratch at his chin.

“These are days when a manbjork would do well to go unseen and unheard - the Green Murder’s foul fiends could be lying anywhere in wait.” He took a careful step closer and sniffed at the air, and puzzlement lit up his eyes. “But… you smell of nothing at all. I’ve never known a bjork who smelled of nothing at all.” He leaned back on his tail and gripped his spear tighter. “What’s your name, friend - if friend you be - and from what tribe and clan do you hail?”

The strange bjork replied, “Do I truly smell of nothing? Certainly that can not be.” Mish-Cheechel’s tail jittered against the ground in annoyance.

“My nose doesn’t lie, friend, you smell of no-” the angry bjork paused and instinctively stepped back, his eyes widening as his nostrils flared. “That can’t be…” he muttered with a frown, his head flitting frantically here and there to take in the overwhelming smell all around. It was unlike anything he had ever sensed. Both the smell and the sheer strength were new to him, and though the power was somewhat intimidating he could not deny that the smell was in many ways pleasant. It lacked that essential wetness borne by all the bjorks he had known. It was dry and warm, fresh and recently cut - almost, but not quite, like a newly felled tree. “But manbjork,” Mish-Cheechel exclaimed, “you smell almost beautiful!” He rested on his tail and, once the awe had passed, fixed the other manbjork with a suspicious glare. “Who are you?”

“I am a carver working beside the river.” he said, his eyes still glaring down at his work. He vaguely gestured to the carving in his hand, “This belongs to a pair. You may examine the other if it pleases you.” he said, gesturing with his tail to an inconspicuous stick laying nearby. But his words did not seem to subdue Mish-Cheechel’s suspicion. He glanced at the odd wooden carving, fashioned into a shape resembling a small, debarked tree trunk that had all sorts of little shapes etched into it. Mish-Cheechel did not approach it, however.

“Alright, ‘Carver’, have it your way,” he muttered, “but you’ll forgive me if I don’t examine... whatever that thing is... further - it looks very interesting and very odd, but I’m not one to dally long with mysterious strangers with weird smells and weird carvings.” He looked out towards the river, and then his gaze drifted skyward. “And I’ve got things to be getting on with anyhow, so I bid you good day - and I’ll say this as a parting gift: I’d not dally about here too long if I were you. Skies aren’t safe, and never more so than now.” He raised his paw in farewell, and slowly shuffled back from the stranger, keeping his eyes on him as he did.

The stranger finally turned his gaze to meet the young bjork’s sight. His eyes were a deep golden brown that almost seemed to emit an ethereal glow, and looking into them caused Mish-Cheechel to subconsciously halt. He spoke, “Perhaps you could spare a few more moments of your time. Could you elaborate on this Green Murder of whom you speak?”

Blinking away his momentary reverie, Mish-Cheechel frowned at the other bjork and was silent. “You’re strange, Carver, very strange.” There was a hint of fear in his voice, but there was a steely determination - an anger - in his eyes. “You sit out here, unafraid. You smell like no bjork. You have sunlight in your eyes. Very strange. Very strange.” He gulped. “You remind me…” his nostrils flared suddenly and without warning he leapt forth towards the stranger, his tail lifting him from the ground with force so that he was upon the other bjork in seconds, his spear snaking towards his head, “of that eagle god!” But before the tip was half a whisker from the Carver, the vengeful Mish-Cheechel felt the air whoosh all at once from his lungs and power leave him. He fell like a wet leaf before his adversary.

The stranger sat, stationary and unworried. “I am unfamiliar with a god of eagles. As I asked before, mayhaps you could enlighten me.” Mish-Cheechel rolled groaning on the ground, gnashing his teeth against each other.

“Bastard.” He managed, but half a breath later he seemed fully recovered and, leaping to his feet, scrambled for the water. He turned back to the stranger and eyed him, as though expecting another strike. When none came, he shifted. “You’re not with it then? The god of the death-bears? Of the blood-eagles? Of the dread-wolves? The god that slaughters without reason - kits and lassiebjorks and the old?” His voice rose as he spoke and his anger took a hold of him, “you’re not with it! You don’t know!? A pox on you!” His outburst was followed by a grunt as he hurled his spear at the strange manbjork. The weapon flew forward and struck true, however the stranger remained unharmed while the spear fell to the ground, broken.

“If your adversary is truly a god, then such strikes will be just as ineffective. No matter how much anger you feel, no matter how righteous your cause, you will fail.” was the stranger’s only reply to the act of violence attempted upon him. Mish-Cheechel’s nostrils flared and he clenched his fist in frustration.

“By my life; by the rivers; by the trees; by the great earth and by the rolling skies; the eagle god will pay for its crime. If the spear fails, I will knaw at it with my bare teeth - and even if I perish, it will die. It will die, Carver, it will!” His tail slapped against the water, and his shoulders trembled under the weight of rage.

The stranger stood up, walking over to the second stick and picking it with his other paw. “I can not assist you in your final endeavor, but that does not mean I can offer no assistance at all. If you would have it, follow me.” he said, wandering into the woods. Mish-Cheechel stared after him for a few short seconds, then stalked out of the water and trailed the odd bjork.

After walking in silence for some time, the wary Mish-Cheechel spoke up. “You’re a god aren’t you? Are you Old Bjork? The Singing Maker? Another?” He paused, “and why would you assist me in this?”

“I can not recall ever having sung. Perhaps one day I shall.” he said, giving a thought before he continued, “I am offering this opportunity to you, however the assistance is intended for all bjorks. I trust that it will reach them.”

Mish-Cheechel scratched his nose and closed one eye as he followed. “If it’ll help me dig my teeth into the eagle god, I’ll take it and I’ll use it. I can’t promise more than that.” He glanced at the surrounding trees and his tail rose and fell in worry. “How far do we need to go anyway? I don’t like being so far from the river.” He shifted uneasily and glanced now to the strange carver and now to the shadows between the trees.

“The lands are dangerous, and so your caution is not ill-advised. However, the savagery of the wilderness is quelled by my presence. At least, when I so choose. If you are made docile by dancing shadows, will your fury last when staring down the Green Murder?” he asked, without turning around. After crossing through a brush, they arrived in a small clearing. A giant pelt was held between two trees by transparent threads. It was large enough to engulf at least one manbjork beneath it entirely. The stranger continued to walk towards it and began his arcane preparations.

Mish-Cheechel puffed air through his teeth. “I’d be a liar if I said I’m not afraid, Carver - but it’s not the wilds I fear. I know these lands, these shadows - I even know the Green Murder. What I don’t know is you. Only a fool doesn’t have some fear of what he doesn’t know.” He paused at the edge of the clearing and leaned back on his tail, watching the mysterious ritual. “What’s this now?”

The stranger did not answer. At least, not in any tongue that the young bjork could understand. However, despite not understanding the words, Mish-Cheechel still felt as though he was being imparted with meaning. Knowledge flowed like a river into him, though even what it was teaching him was obscured by inexperience and shock.

The threads holding the leather in place vanished, yet it still remained upright and unmoved by the pull of the ground. The two wooden carvings floated from the Carver’s paws and hovered beside it, growing in length to match the pelt’s size. The entire length of the enlarged wooden cylinders remained covered in the odd symbols as before. The whole rite took mere seconds, but the experience felt as though it lasted hours. When the Carver stopped, the strange hide fell to the ground swiftly but with an unusual grace.

The stranger returned to speaking in a language that Mish-Cheechel could understand, “This is my gift to you, a saddle. However, know that my gifts are not to be taken lightly. You will only know this tool’s true value if you could place it upon the back of one of those death-bears you spoke of previously. I appreciate your honest words from earlier, and thus I will elaborate further than I might have otherwise. I entrust this task to you because you have already surrendered your fate to something far more dangerous than this. Overcoming it will grant you no relief from the might of the divine, however it may allow you to survive against the Green Murder’s servents”

Mish-Cheechel approached in a slight daze and stood beside the Carver. “A ‘saddle’? And what will it do if I place it on a death-bear? Kill it?” He bent over and inspected it. “It doesn’t look like a weapon.” He paused as he continued his examination, “but I guess you won’t tell me anyway, why’d I bother. And is that…” Mish-Cheechel gagged and stepped back, “is that someone’s skin?” His tail thrashed the ground. “Not a bjork, surely? That would be sick of you.”
“It is the pelt of a death-bear.” the Carver explained. “I have imparted the knowledge you require. Understanding will come with time.” he said. Mish-Cheechel nodded, his eyes gleaming as he stared at the pelt.

“The skin of a death-bear eh? Now how did you do that I wonder.” He placed his hands on the saddle and passed his fingers through the fur. When he looked back up at the stranger, he found that he was ambling off. “Wait, you’re going?” He rushed after him, “but you haven’t even told me your name!”

“Perhaps if you survive your encounter with a death-bear, and share freely the wisdom obtained through the ordeal with the other bjorks, then we shall meet again and I shall answer your question.” he said, vanishing in an instant. Mish-Cheechel paused and blinked for a few seconds, staring at where the god had been moments before.

“Ah, fucker,” he muttered, then instinctively snapped his paws to his mouth. “Ah shodna sid tha.”


Mish-Cheechel the Avenger




Bishadnik had been a happy manbjork. And he liked to think that he had been a good manbjork too. He had wandered the riverlands in awe and had oft glorified now the Singing Maker and now Old Bjork. His life, for all the terrible predators that stalked the air and woods and waters, was a great harmony of wonder. When he hungered, he ate. When he wished after company, his clanbjorks offered joy. When work called, he answered it with gusto - none worked like Bishadnik, none sang like him, none beat their tails, none ground their teeth against the sighing bark like Bishadnik. All who beheld him knew that he was no mere workman but an artisan, a sculptor, a worshipper. When Bishadnik stood he towered above all other bjorks, when he moved through a group they parted for him and beheld his majestic form as though he were a son of the Singing Maker. And when Bishadnik wooed a lassiebjork he bent low and brought his tail between his feet, and his smiles were such as to send even the iciest of maids into a fit of embarrassed giggles. He was a happy bjork, was Bishadnik, a bjork to halt the rivers with, a bjork to down the forests, a bjork to laugh into the eyes of death beside. He was a good bjork.

But when he stood, tall, bloodied, and alone amongst the ruins of his clan, Bishadnik was not a happy bjork or even a good bjork. No, he was not even Bishadnik. On that day he was Mish-Cheechel. And Mish-Cheechel was an angry bjork. As the remnants of his people stumbled in a daze around him, Mish-Cheechel was a weeping bjork. And when his gaze fell upon one of them, it smote like thunder and struck like lightning. And when he raised his tail, it was like the trembling of a mountain. On that day, when he gnashed his teeth it was not to the sighs and giggles of wood, but to the furies of the whistling winds; he gnashed tooth against tooth and flared his snout. They did not approach him, but went trembling around him and did not meet his gaze. They knew what he was going to do, and they wanted no part of it. They scampered away in fear when he bent and took up the remnants of a wooden spear and raised it to the heavens.

"Hear me!" His voice lashed against the roiling skies like thunder. "Hear me: you Singing Maker, you Old Bjork, you Green Murder; hear me you thousand gods whose names are muttered only in the halls of forgetfulness: today I am Mish-Cheechel, and I shall never cease until vengeance is mine. So let it be heard, so let it be known, so let it be until water eats the world and nothingness consumes all! I will sink my teeth into you yet; Mish-Cheechel will be your great horror, Green Murder, your great regret, and the last thing you ever know!" Then Mish-Cheechel, whose shoulder was the mountain, whose tail was the river, whose tooth was the unyielding stone, whose eye was lightning and whose voice was thunder, Mish-Cheechel the Avenger, walked from the ruins of his people and ventured out to kill the eagle god.

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