another year in stories: four

This story is about a dragon and a ruler. This will likely be a story that continues throughout the year. Like a specific storyline. A recurring one.

Warning & Exile

The Kreivi is very busy so for now you will wait until you’re summoned.

Guo leaned back with a yawn and stretched her arms over her head. She turned to the guard, Will you fetch me a glass of water?

The guard snorted, her knuckles white over the staff of the halberd.

She leaned against the stone wall and studied the large wooden doors before her. Every move she made creaked against the wooden planks beneath her feet and the howling of the wind cut through the air beyond the walls.

Tell me something, Guo scratched at her handless wrist.

The guard’s expression hardened, her jaw set.

Have you ever seen what a dragon does to stone? What a dragon does to people? How spacetime itself tears and distorts around them?

The guard’s eyes unfocused and she stared past Guo and time traipsed round as Saol rolled over away from the suns.

Guo closed her eyes, the echoes of the place filling her skull. The voices of centuries wailed from beneath and around her, and then a sundering as a grey roiled and rippled across the air.

The door creaked open and a man hunched by age dressed as a fool hobbled through, his beard nearing his belt, The Kreivi’ll see you but you’re not to speak till spoken to. Come.

Guo followed the fool into the court. The room was large and conical, with the highest point five meters above. Two hearths warmed the hall, their chimneys reaching up and through the pointed ceiling. At the far end sat the Kreivi. Young but bald, he lounged in his wooden chair, legs crossed. Behind him stood a stuffed troll whose arms held up the ceiling. As Guo approached, she passed many men with stern faces, their armor made of bones, and the Kreivi began clapping. He continued clapping as they approached.

The fool walked to the Kreivi and stooped beside him gesturing towards Guo and spoke through the clapping, Taikuri has arrived from the far eastern islands. She is a wanderer and scholar and warlock respected and loved far and wide by the Sami.

Honored Kreivi, Guo stood with her arms crossed as the Kreivi still clapped, Thank you for welcoming me into your hall.

Beloved Taikuri, he slowed his clapping, What brings you to my realm?

She smiled, A dragon approaches, Kreivi.

For a moment silence and then the Kreivi laughed and clapped lazily once more. His laughter bouncing through the room, filling it as if with many voices, and the longer he laughed the more those present joined in.

Guo waited, her eyes closed, her left hand absently rubbing at the stub of her right arm.

The Kreivi wiped his eyes, faint laughter still spilling from him, We live among gods and angels and demons and giants and trolls. We live among a thousand types of legends, but a dragon isn’t one. I’ve seen too much to discount their existence, sweet Taikuri, but such a creature has never been to our northern lands. So, sweet Taikuri, why would a dragon come to our cold, barren land?

It’s not for mortals to know why dragons do what they do. It’s only for us to stay out of their way. Which is why I’ve come to you, Kreivi. You and your people must leave this place. Your northern lands are no longer safe. Soon the ice will flow and the houses will burn and a great dragon will become king of the ash left behind.

The Kreivi stared long at Guo, clenching and unclenching his jaw. He leaned over to the fool and said, Ukko, what do you know of dragons?

The fool shrugged then dived forward into a roll and sprang to his feet before Guo. On tip toes, he brought his face level with hers and studied her blackeyes from centimeters away.

Dropping back to his heels and looking over his shoulder back to the Kreivi, Lord, much has been said about dragons throughout time and across Saol. They are the eldest and wisest but they speak only to the Drache, the Dragonlords of the far south. It’s said few dragons ever lived and fewer remain in the world.

The Kreivi raised a hand, Dragons are fire made flesh. They’re the daughters of the suns themselves. What could bring them to our cold world?

Guo shrugged and a murmur went through the hall.

Is that all? You come to the home of my forefathers and tell me to abandon everything, and your only reaction is to shrug? I could have you drawn, quartered, and eaten right here and now. The Kreivi smiled as he spoke and uncrossed his legs as he leaned forward.

Guo shrugged again, Kreivi, this ancient land of the Sami will belong to the dragon, just as it once belonged to the original Sami, now gone from this world.

The Kreivi stood, We are Sami.

Guo smiled, I don’t wish to argue history with you, Kreivi. Especially not the history of your people and the people whose name you’ve inherited. Honorable one, the dragon comes. None know why it comes or what it wants, but the dragon approaches.

Then we shall fight it, he shouted to much cheer. He beat his chest and dropped back into his chair, a smile dancing over his face.

Guo threw back her head and laughed.

Ukko leapt away from her caustic laughter as if attacked and scrambled back to the side of the Kreivi. The men watching stepped forward and the Kreivi’s skin rose.

Silence, he shouted.

Guo doubled over as if struck, her laughter clanging through the hall. She tried to speak through her laughter, I’m sorry, great one. It’s just—oh, by the very moons shattering in the sky. You cannot stop a dragon. No man can. No army can. To fight a dragon is to lay waste to your home and all the people who live here. As you say, fire made flesh, the daughters of the suns. But even that says too little.

Perhaps we should listen, my lord. The voice came from a greybearded bald man.

The Kreivi raised a palm toward the man, his voice came clear and flat, Taikuri, have you any experience with dragons?

Guo shook her head, No, Kreivi. I have not had that misfortune.

So you don’t know? the Kreivi said, his smile crawling over his face.

Great Kreivi, Only the Drache know and those they annihilated to build their kingdom in the south. Do you know where Garasun gets its name from? They are called the Kingdom of Glass. Their palace and much of their capital is built of glass created by the dragons during their ancient war. Before the war and the dragonglass, they had a different name. Tsurī. That was their ancient name. The Kingdom of Trees. Oh, if only you could have seen it. If only any of us could have seen it! The palace and all their homes made from the trees themselves. They lived directly in nature as a part of it. When the dragons came and burnt their lives away, they adapted quickly. They gave up nature and learnt to live through fire, to turn it into glass.

Why do you tell us this? What are you saying? Should we turn into water as the dragon melts the snow?

No, Kreivi, she said, You should run. We all should.

Another man, this one younger, full head of hair and shaven face, Lord, would it not be prudent to at least make a plan to evacuate, should the need arise?

The Kreivi stepped forward from his chair, You ran here to tell us to run?

Dear Kreivi, I only walked quickly.

He waved her words away, Where is the dragon, Taikuri? Where is it?

Can you hear it? It buckles the very air around us, rattling the bones of Saol. It nearly tears my skin from my bones. You cannot ignore its approach. Even to be near it is Death. A Death neverending.

The Kreivi smiled, You ask too much, Taikuri. We can no more leave this land than we can give up our own heads. If the dragon comes, we’ll fight it, even if all of us rot and die and burn to ash to ride the wind like snow.

 

Guo stared at the walls of her room at the inn as a knock came to her door. Turning to the candle at her side, she leaned in, her lips puckered as if ready to blow, but then she leaned back again.

More knocking came and the thick voice of a man, Taikuri, open the door. It’s unkind of you to leave me in the hall like a commoner.

Guo sighed and crossed the room in one step to open the door.

Tall and thin, his cheeks and eyes sunk deep into his skull, he said, Invite me in.

Guo yawned and waved him inside and he walked past her.

I’ll never understand the formality of nobility, she said. You demand to enter my private room but then wait to be let in.

He turned as she spoke, Quiet. You’ve done a foolish thing, shaming the Kreivi as you did today, and within his year of mourning. That’s not how things are to be done.

Guo dropped into the bed, The dragon comes, broken social laws or no.

And you’ve forced the young Kreivi into choosing pride! Don’t you see, Taikuri? You’re said to be caustic but kind, but you’ve brought ruin upon us all if what you say is true.

Not if he gets over his pride.

His eyebrows raised as his eyes drooped and his shoulders became loose as he slumped towards her, You antagonized him! His pride is all he has! He has a realm to run and all say he’s too young, not strong enough, not willing to do what’s necessary. His father was a great warrior with a severe hand and—

Guo yawned, Ja, ja. I’ve heard it all before.

He slammed his palm on the table, It’s only your title and stature that keep me from beating the sense into you, so please listen and understand, Taikuri. You have insulted him in front of all the nobles who serve him and who may someday usurp him. Word will spread now of this conversation. Half will say he should listen to you. Half will say he should have cut off your other hand and shoved it up your woman parts while relieving you of your sharp tongue. But the worst part is that all will agree that the young Kreivi handled this poorly.

What’s your name? Guo said.

Olafur.

Olafur, has no one told you that it’s rude to enter someone’s room without introducing yourself?

This is not the time for games and jokes, Taikuri. We need to fix this problem you’ve created.

Guo’s eyebrows became a question mark.

He sighed, You have ruined him before he ever had a chance to rule.

He can rule when his town is safe. He can rule you all in the southern mountains.

Olafur shook his head, Whether we leave by his decision or through mutiny, he will never rule again. His reputation will be broken and so his only recourse is to fight.

Sitting up, Guo shook her head, You people are strange. So very unlike the rest of the Sami I know.

He snorted, You spend too much time in the mountains.

Guo’s voice came soft and she stared into the blackness of the window, Perhaps you’ve all forgotten who you are since you began building with stone.

How do we fight a dragon?

She turned to him smiling but his expression was one of desolation, which shipwrecked her lips, There is no fighting them.

What of the dragonslayers?

She scowled, Those are rare, if ever there truly was one. Perhaps a Dragonlord of the south has killed a dragon, but such things would be more than legends. Even word would reach here of her deads.

Word has reached here. I hoped—I came here hoping you may know one, from your many travels.

She waved her hand through the air as if swatting insects then fumbled in her shirt pockets until she brought out the boneflute, which she played briefly.

The dragon is coming and we must leave. That’s really the only choice.

He sighed and looked down, Then we all fall.

 

A riptide through the air cutting down sound and atomic movement. Even the dust splintered and ceased as the soundless roar tore through the countryside, the vast empty white.

Guo pulled her hood down and her cloak tight.

Behind her, a dozen humans lifted themselves back to their feet and out of the snow which swirled once more about them.

She played the boneflute as they walked, often stopping to stomp down with her boots to remove the snow.

Trudging through the valley and up the slope of the otherside, she turned to see a long stream of humans leaving Kivi behind. A horn blew and the flags came down.

One of those closest to her approached. She was young, her body and hair hidden beneath furs and skins but her face was thin and long. Her voice shivered through the air, Taikuri, has the Kreivi given up?

Guo stopped playing the boneflute, I very much doubt it. The question becomes: can he rule in exile? and how will you, his people, respond to him saving your life? Already there are those surely calling him a coward while others call him a savior. There’s no winning for those who rule.

What about the Vapaaherras and the Ruhtina?

Guo smiled, If they stay, then all is lost. The dragon comes. You can feel it in your bones. Even the bones of the world shudder at its approach. It will lay waste to those who stand in its way or it will ignore them entirely. Who can say what a dragon will do? But it’s better to be far away, just in case.

Where will we go? the tears rose in the girl’s throat.

Guo patted her head, That’s for your Kreivi to decide.

And the shadow descended as the dragon pierced the horizon, its wings blotting out the sun as it rose. The sight of it knocked the Sami to the ground, clutching their ears and eyes, holding their breath. It flew overhead and past them until it reached the Kreivi’s stone hall, where it began circling.

All who saw began running as quietly as possible.

another year in stories: three

The third Guo story is here. This one has a bit more direction but is still rather meditative.

We’ll see if I can ever write a story with more forward momentum.

That being said, I really like this one. It’s about love.

We Belong to the Mountain

The first time I saw her was years ago. Only a child then, the snow falling all around forming swirling haloes in the air. The stood out, as she always does. Her white hair, her dark eyes and dark skin. Those teeth. And then there was the missing hand and the way she spoke.

She came when my grandmother’s dreams began slipping out her head and entering the real world.

What’s to be done, Sifu? My grandfather’s voice fell from his mouth like snow on the mountain.

She smiled in that way she does, Let me see what I can do.

That’s all I remember from that day. Too young to hold memories in my head properly, everything was fleeting. She appeared like tattered parchment in my brain and existed in that way, her features faded at the edges, until she returned some years later.

But the dreams of my grandmother brought more than only things to life. They took lives.

The life of her daughter. My mother. And with it the comfort of family, for we all fell with my mother, even after grandmother was healed.

I see it still when I close my eyes.

The screams woke me. Through the condensation of my breath, I saw a strange darkness over my mother. My father stood to fight it but it knocked him through the wall, spilling him into the quiet snow. As if made of wood, it moved in a jerking motion, its great dark limbs crushing my mother.

Beside me, grandmother convulsed in her sleep. So small and weak, I only watched, my eyes flashing between my grandmother and my mother.

The sound of her spine snapping will never leave me. It was as if the very night shattered and split.

My mother’s limp body hanging from the monster’s limbs soaked in blood. It approached me and then memory fades or twists away, like snow. Like summer days from long ago.

She returned often, the woman with slanted eyes, with white hair, with animal teeth. She told us all stories from far away.

Sifu, the name we called her. It means only her here. It’s a word and title she carries from far to the southeast.

We mostly called her Lumi, because she came always with the snow.

Uncle Lumi, I said when I was only reaching her waist, Why do you come so far to see us?

She smiled in her way and tousled my hair beneath my hood, Let’s find a fire to sit by and I’ll tell you.

She held my hand as we walked through the blizzard. Blinded, I ran to meet her when I heard she had arrived and it surprises me still that I didn’t lose myself in the mountains, taken by the wolves or bears. Though I saw nothing, the warmth of her hand brought me places far away. I saw the deserts of Soare, the forests of the southern lands, and even the elkmen so far south we could reach them by going north.

We entered the tavern and the bartender only stared at us as we came in.

Uncle, she said, Bring me something hot.

Her accent was thick but easy to understand. It had a strange music to it, as if her tongue and lips wrestled so long with our sounds that the wrestling became a dance and the dance turned to lovemaking. It was beautiful and I hung on the words as they condensed in the air.

Uncle Sven brought us tea and I sipped whenever she did, sighed the way she did, my eyes never leaving her face.

What did you want to know, little one?

I’m not little, I said.

She smiled and drummed the table, Of course not. Little ones don’t run into blizzards. That’s the work of true adventurers!

Are you an adventurer?

She laughed, No, more of a wanderer. Or a collector.

What do you collect from us?

She leaned back and sipped her tea, That’s a good question. What do I collect here? Stories, mostly. Stories about your world up here.

I like your stories, I said.

I like telling them. But that’s not the only reason I come here. No, I come here to learn.

But you know so much! None here know so much as you.

She laughed and her sharp teeth peered from behind her lips, Knowledgeable is something no one’s ever said to describe me. But I’ll tell you a bit about why your land is of such interest to me.

By this point I was riveted to my seat. Her words were all that existed. Her words and her strange features.

Imagine the rest of the world as summer. What is summer missing?

Snow?

Exactly! And cold. Summer is boring because it’s missing these elements. It’s plain. The rest of the world, as grand and beautiful and mysterious as it is pales in comparison to here.

I wish I could go with you away from here.

She heard the sorrow in my voice and must’ve remembered the mangled body of my mother because she stretched an arm around me and pulled me close. She whispered, The world is beautiful wherever you go because you live. Life is beautiful. Even more beautiful where it must try hardest to shine. Cherish it. Cherish this land of yours.

And I aged. Grew into a boy and then a man. She returned often to tell us stories of the world. Of the great forest that covered most of the continent. Of dragons. Of the childgod dreaming reality and her Deathwalkers. Or the Angels and Calabanians and Ariel and a thousand other creatures, a thousand other civilisations. She told us about places that had never seen snow, of places where summer never ended, of fruit the size of our heads. She told us of places where women ruled and other gods lived, of places without mountains, of war and disaster and magic.

My father fell into drink after my mother’s Death and passed out in a blizzard. We didn’t find him until the spring thaw.

No Deathwalkers came and he saw no infinite shore, but she returned.

I was all that remained of our family, and the family trade had long disappeared. No one taught me to weave the patterns my family made famous. My family gave me nothing and so I learnt to hunt with the others. I learnt to cut and gather wood and build homes to last the winters. I had nothing of my family to hold onto when she returned except Death and bad memories.

I had no funeral for my father. I didn’t drag his body to the mountain screaming. I didn’t cut my hair or beard to start anew as so many would eventually.

There was no new beginning. My life began when Lumi appeared.

She came to me the night the snows returned in the house I built long before the Death of my father. Her ageless face, her white hair, her sharp teeth, her full lips, smiling. She brought southern wine and we finished it quickly.

I touched her face as we fell into drunkenly into the tapestries woven by my ancestors.

You’re beautiful, I said.

You’re drunk, she said but she smiled. That smile.

How is it you don’t age? My grandfather told stories of you from when he was the age I am now.

You’re still but a child, Aamu.

None are children when all their parents are dead.

Her eyebrows drooped, I’m very sorry. I wish I could have helped.

You only help with the mystical, but never with the realities of our life.

She smiled, You don’t even know what that means.

But I do! You speak to Eaddji. You cured the floating women and the girl with horns. You taught us what the singing mountains were. You told us what the gods of this land needed. You deal only with gods and all that’s beyond the world we must live in.

She sighed and touched my face, This land is a land full of what wiser humans call magic and what other humans call gods. This land is like no other. That’s why I come here so often. To learn. But you’re right. I looked to high and too far off. You here, you Sami, I often forget your needs. But it’s also not my place to change your world.

Then why come at all, if only to fetishise our land?

Her smile disappeared and her expression hardened, You don’t know what you say, so I’ll forgive you. But this land is a land like no other. You Sami never even wonder why food grows here at all or why the suns give you summer even when all the lands surrounding here are barren. You live in the mountains, away from fertile lands. The snow lasts for lifetimes and the only magic you see is the kind that disturbs you.

Why should we wonder? It has always been this way. We live here and the gods give us life.

She rolled away from me, her voice rolling soft, Maybe you’re right. It’s not for you to wonder why you live at all. That’s a road to nowhere and nothingness. Better to accept and cherish.

I met Eaddji once.

She faced me with a smile, What did he tell you?

The heat rose in my face and the words bottled in my chest, He didn’t speak to me.

Her smile broadened and the heat of her melted the ice from my bones, He rarely speaks to anyone. Few have ever seen him.

Not anymore, I said. We see him often now.

Her forehead furrowed, Yeah?

I nodded, He no longer hides himself in the mountains. He watches over us when we hunt and gather there. He gives us when we ask and we leave when he doesn’t approve of our request. He’s more active than he’s ever been before.

How does he approve your requests?

Her darkeyes swallowed me and my body steams, my skin twisting and my head reeling like the suns. I wanted to touch her again, to hold her, to feel her always against me.

I said, He nods to us and then turns to where the hunt ran.

She blinked and then rolled over laughing.

I crossed my arms, my face hot, No need to mock us. You may be familiar with hundreds of gods, but we know only of Eaddji, and he is an enigmatic god.

She wiped her eyes, I’m sorry Aamu. I didn’t mean to laugh at you. It’s just funny to me.

For a long time she stared at the roof and I watched her. She fingered a tiny flute and played notes sporadically.

We slept near one another but not touching. My body ached but I feared approaching her. Even through the drunken sludge of my brain, I restrained myself, though all I could think of all night was how I wanted her to devour me. How I wanted to devour her.

As years have gone by Eaddji has come more and more into our lives.

As the years have gone by, I have become more and more solitary.

Dozens of marriages refused, I built a new home at the base of the mountain, on the path Lumi usually takes to us. My people look at me as a stranger, as a ghost of the ancient Sami. A mountain dweller. A child of snow, rather than one of the suns.

Lumi returns every couple years, young as the first time I saw her, though my bones have grown brittle and frozen. For many years we shared a type of love.

She told me so many things.

So very many things.

And I have only the mountain to tell.

But the mountain never learns. It always knows.

Eaddji laughs when I speak to him now. He never responds but he finds it all quite amusing.

Take me with you, I said when I was still young enough.

Lumi only shook her head and touched my face, You can’t go where I go.

But I can.

She kissed me then and all the words and desires I had melted away. I wept at the tenderness and she took me inside her, comforting me.

She told me I belonged to the mountain.

And so I have never left.

I only wait for her return. For another kiss. Another night of bliss.

another year in stories: two

Story number two! I’m coming to realise that these are more fragments than they are stories with beginning, middle, and end. I’ll try to write something with more direction for next week. I suppose these last two stories are more about the world and the character, Guo, than they are about anything else.

But, yeah, I’ll try to make them more entertaining, or at least give them more narrative focus in the future.

But, for now, here we are. Guo talks to a god on a mountain.

Wait for me on the Mountain

Guo removed her hood and shook the snow from her white hair as she approached the temple door. She stopped before it, bowed, then clapped her left hand against her right wrist twice and lifted the knocker shaped like a wolf’s head and rapped it against the door. The sound dulled by the falling snow, she waited.

No answer came after an hour of rapping at the door. The temple stood between hundreds of trees and Guo sighed out her nose, donned her hood once more, stomping her feet to fight the cold, and stood beside one. She stared into the falling sky, clouds rolled flat and featureless above, then turned to the skeletal canopy thick with snow and icicles. Inhaling deep, she pulled out a small boneflute and played a few notes. High and trickling, battered down by the weight of the snow and the thickness of the air.

She wandered from the temple back to the treecrowded mountain path. She played the boneflute as she wandered farther up the mountain.

She walked for many hours, playing all the way, her hand growing colder and colder, unable to manipulate the notes into the air.

Ah, Sifu, you have returned to us.

The voice came as an avalanche and Guo dropped the boneflute in the snow and cursed with a smile. She turned to the naked hairless creature sitting in a tree above her and said, I’ve been looking for you all week, Sliabh. Didn’t you hear me?

The creature appeared as a man, skeletal as the trees but its skin was white as the snow, yet appeared to glow in the falling darkness. It blinked and cocked its head towards her, For me? For why, Sifu?

Its voice, sonorous and soft, created a break in the snow and Guo’s body surged with warmth. The texture of the air thinned and quieted to the point that Guo heard every creak of her bones as she reached through the snow to find her boneflute. The blood rushing through her body sang with the voice of billions of cells flowing together. Her skin danced.

You startled me, you old fool. I nearly lost this.

What is this?

Come down here and see, Guo smiled and removed her hood with her handless arm.

Ng, the creature drifted from the tree branch to the snow. It lay upon it, as if weightless.

Guo handed it the boneflute and its eyes expanded and its mouth pulled wide in a smile. You have kept it all this time! Oh my dearest heart, we have missed one another. Thank you, Sifu, for returning her to me.

Thank you for letting me borrow her so long. You’ve no idea how often it’s saved me in these Suomi mountains.

Ng, it nodded, The humans do not understand the world here and many are lost. We hear them calling for aid but they run from us when we come to them. They believe we are demons.

The Sami call you the Lord of the Mountains still. They believe you a god.

It nodded, What do we call them? We have no names for them.

Am I not one of them?

Oh, it laughed and light spewed from it into the air, Sifu, you are unlike so many. We call you friend and master.

They still refer to you by the ancient language, Guo said.

What is ancient?

They call you Eaddji.

What does it mean, Sifu?

Old man, she smiled.

A smile tore across its face so wide it appeared as if it would split its head in two, The children and their mocking reverence. We have forgotten that. We miss that.

It played with the boneflute and released notes into the still, thin air surrounding them, holding them in. The notes came soft and delicate but writhed between Guo’s pores.

Sliabh, can we move to the temple? I wish to see the wolves.

Ng, it nodded, We have not seen the wolves in many cycles but we will go to the temple.

Guo followed it as it danced over the snow, playing the boneflute as it went. Guo hurried to keep up and remain within the pocket of air and its wake created by the god.

When the god entered the temple, it illuminated and warmed. The temple was small with an empty basin in the center and a fireplace opposite the door. Guo closed the door behind her and removed her coat and shook out her hair with her left hand. This is better, she said.

Ng, it nodded. Why the wolves?

I wanted to trade stories with them, she said. Can we get a fire going and have some tea?

It sniffed, Ah, Sifu, why didn’t you say so?

Guo smiled and walked to the chimney, My offering to the great mountain god! She reached in her pack and threw a log into the chimney, then clapped twice and whispered into the chimney. She pinched dust from the temple floor and blew it into the chimney. As the dust drifted over the log, it took the shape of wings that erupted into flame and dove into the wood.

Sliabh, will you fill this, she said and handed it a kettle.

Ng, it nodded and stepped outside to fill it with snow.

The fire burned and the snow melted and the tea brewed.

We have missed tea, Sliabh said, its voice gentle and calming, like waves caressing the shore of infinity.

What happened to the wolves?

Wolves come and they go. There is no telling what they will do. We have watched them rise from the broken moon and become the forest around us. We have heard them singing and we have heard them screaming. We have watched over their births and Deaths. They are like you. Always wandering. Always wondering. They are an exhaustion.

Guo smiled, You’d be bored without things like us. What are gods without mortals?

The hue of its skin gradually turned from white to slate, matching the color of the temple, Even wolves are named gods. Even this mountain is a god. Even the air and the water and the suns. All things are now gods. One day you will be a god.

What is a god then?

We had no word for one before you children sprouted and flourished.

What was the world like before us?

It closed its eyes, We don’t remember. Very little seemed to happen there and it has washed away. The world was quieter. Yes. That was the change the children brought. Noise. Chaos. Inquiry. Belief.

Tell me, she said as the water boiled.

Sliabh sniffed, Ah, perhaps you are the god who brings gifts.

Guo laughed as she poured them each a glass of tea. The aroma filled the small room of the temple. My gifts are only those of company, she said. I didn’t invent or create the tea.

Ng, it shook its head, Sifu is too modest. Every day you create and discover. If gods are what gods are, then place yourself above us, for we do no such things.

The Sami believe that the mountain will die if you go.

And where would we go?

Can you leave?

Sliabh played the boneflute, the notes wavering in the air, collapsing. It sipped its tea and closed its eyes, We perceive your question as more complex than you intend.

Guo sipped her tea.

What does it mean, to leave? What are we? The children believe we are the mountain, the god of the mountain, the lord of the mountain, and the heart of the mountain. Can we be so many things? Can we leave? Can we leave this plane of existence? Can we see the Mother, the Child Endless? Can we wander Her shores? Is that to leave? Or did we leave by coming here? Truly, Sifu, you are too clever for us. We do not understand the nature of the question. We do not understand the nature of leaving or living or dying. We are. That is perhaps all we can say. We are and will be. We are here. We are now. Some time we will not be. But will we go? Will we leave? Or will we remain? We have been here so long that otherness means little to us. You ask question that you believe simple. You ask about time and what children call history. But we never understand, Sifu. We are simple. There was no before and there will be no after. Even now we see the end of the children and their beginning.

Guo sipped her tea, This is why I wished to speak to the wolves. She smiled.

Sliabh laughed and the air and time rippled over them, Sifu, you are a cruel creature.

I like you, Sliabh. Of all the gods I’ve encountered, you’re my favourite.

Sliabh smiled and they finished their tea.

Days later, Sliabh was gone and Guo woke alone, her skin aching from its absence. Her breath came as a cloud and she closed her eyes, tracing their moments together, stitching them to her life.

As she left the mountain, the horizon rolled past the redsun while the bluesun loomed overhead, growing fat as the horizon approached. The snow began to fall once more and she looked back over her shoulder to the mountain, now hidden behind fog. She clapped twice and slapped the ground, then pulled out the boneflute and played as she wandered to the nearest village.

something strange and awesome

Not sure what else to say about that video. It’s strange and awesome.

It’s bitterly cold but I feel all right.

It’s an all right day, despite the weather.

This week will be a good one.

Along with the other projects I’m doing this year, I’ve also decided to write about all the Studio Ghibli films at Entropy, so look for the first of those this week. Thursday, actually.

i want to live inside shia labeouf’s head for an hour

More than that would be too much.

I don’t know when it happened, because I still mostly think of him as Louis Stevens, because that’s who he was when I was a kid, and that’s how I’ll always remember most things from that age. But in the last year or so he’s become this sort of intensely strange entity wandering popular culture. Not that he’s doing very popular things, but he still walks those corridors, which keeps him in the public eye. It feels similar to James Franco, but only because they both seem to be doing a lot of disparate things and most of them are not what you’d expect them to be doing.

Everyone seems to hate James Franco, which I think is pretty silly. He may not be particularly good at anything he does, but I like that he tries. He aims for mountains even though he’s stuck in a wheelchair, and that’s impressive, I think, to keep fighting past your limitations. He’s not bad at everything, either. I think he’s a pretty solid actor. Just watch Milk or 127 Hours. He’s probably good in other things, too, but I can’t remember them. Oh, Pineapple Express. That was awesome.

Shia LaBeouf is different, though. He’s not so much grappling with his identity as a celebrity, which is what I think Franco’s doing. LaBeouf is seems to have fallen through this crack in media and arrived at this place where very few people exist.

This is a tremendously strange thing that’s also completely awesome.

But that’s not when I started thinking about LaBeouf, which I’ve been doing far more than I’d like to admit. I stumbled across this silent interview with him about a month or two ago. I even made a short post at Enclave about how he seems to be living in a novel written by my friend, Michael Seidlinger.

It’s all so strange, but utterly fascinating.

To be honest, I know very little of his work since he was on Disney channel. I’ve seen Transformers and I, Robot, and something he was in about an Eagle or something. He’s also in Lawless, which I’ve been meaning to watch for a long time, so I may watch it tonight. Oh, too, he was in Nymphomaniac, which is what you’d expect from Von Trier, which is to say: I hate that film.

But he as a person or even celebrity has largely not existed for me. I get that a lot of people hate him. He seems easy to dislike, I guess, but the only feeling I have towards him is one of confusion.

He flummoxes me, but in the best way. I like when famous people sort of radically unhinge themselves from who they were before. And I think it’s something that can only happen to people who are forced to be scrutinised by the world, both for their work and how they choose to live their life. I mean, a lot of people may hate my novels, but no one’s going to tell me they hate me because I wrote them, or because I choose to live my life in the odd way that I do.

But with a celebrity, they can act in a film [and that’s the biggest thing: they don’t make the film, they just show up and perform in it], and people will literally hate them forever!

It’s amusingly bizarre and deeply troubling, but that’s a different discussion.

I’m trying to tell you that I want to know what it’s like to be Shia LaBeouf. I want to live in his head for a while the way Kaufman made John Cusak live in John Malkovich’s head.

I’m sure there are far more interesting people who’d more more fun to climb inside, but LaBeouf has a certain draw to him.

Maybe it’s because I think he may be insane.

Just went to his twitter for the first time, and I think he’s writing a book a few words at a time. Or something. He’s strangely regular about posting enigmatic nothings.

This intrigues me.

I like the idea of an insane celebrity wandering around.

Though I guess we already have Gary Busey [have you seen the commercials he’s in? they’re hilarious!], so maybe we don’t need more insane celebrities wandering around our screens and popular culture. I wonder, too, if celebrity just kind of twists you this way, because, the more I think about it, the more bizarre all celebrities become to me. I mean, yeah, bizarre enough that we have a worldwide caste of people who are identified as such. But it’s especially strange that we care.

And here I am, caring.

Caring about a stranger, but in an almost clinical way, which sort of disturbs me, to be honest. He’s not really a person to me, sadly enough. He’s this entity. He’s an irregularity on the landscape of americana.

And that’s cool.

Him being an irregularity, not me dehumanising him.

But maybe living inside his skull would make me understand better.

Also, I really like this video:

It’s mesmerising and sort of haunting. It’s beautiful and vicious.

It makes me feel more than anything a celebrity has done in a long time. It’s oddly personal, and it drives inside me. It turns my heart over like an engine. It makes me breathe with ragged lungs and see through swollen eyes.

He reminds me more of a hulking colossus than a human in this video.

I like that.

Too, that little girl can dance. And Shia LaBeouf grew muscles and became even stranger.

And they made something gorgeous.

I keep saying that pop culture is becoming more surreal and bizarre and I keep meaning to write an essay about it, because it’s also becoming more nihilistic, which is interesting, considering how absurd the whole industry is.

But this is just another example of the perplexing way that pop culture [maybe better to just call this americanism] is developing.

But that’s all I have to say about this for now.

another year in stories: one

As I intended, here’s the first story of the year! I’ll try to publish these on here every Wednesday. I also have the intention of keeping these all about the same character. They’re also set in the same world as Twilight of the Wolves. Since I’ve been so heartbroken about that world that I’ve spent my whole life inventing, I’m hoping this little project will help me remember how fun it is to live in another world.

A bit plotless and maybe only really serves to introduce a character, but that’s not such a bad thing.

Also, I’m doing poetry every day, which can be found at this site: http://edwardjrathke.tumblr.com/

Anyrate, meet Guo.

Asleep Beneath the Lake and Falling Snow

The door swung open as a figure rushed inside and quickly slammed it closed.

That you, Guo?

Guo stamps her feet in the entryway, rubbing feeling into her arms and softly beating her thighs with fists, Aye, it’s me. Pour me something warm, yeah?

The wind howled against the walls, the rain battering against the windows and roof.

Guo sat at the bar, sighing heavily, her eyes closed.

The bartender sets a steaming glass in front of her with a smile, Drink that.

Guo raised her head and pulled back her hood, her white hair matted and tangled against her head, What’s it?

The bartender slaps the bar, Don’t trust me?

Never, she downed the glass. Her face twisted and she coughed, slapping the bar, Now that—she coughed again, wiping tears from her eyes—that’s a howling drink.

The bartender threw back his head and laughed, poured her another and she slammed it down again, a grimace rising and falling away.

Auntie, Guo turns her black eyes on him, Got to admit something before we go farther.

He turns and breathes loud out his nose leaning on the bar in front of her, Broke?

She smiles, Trade?

You know I got rent to pay? Taxes rising too, and the storms raging everywhere. Slows down travel, slows down business, keeps people locked in their huts. You and the fat auntie sleeping over there are the only customers in today.

I can tell you about what this place was before the Scar or the mountains of Shén Yǎn.

He waved her away, Fairytales, stories, songs, and guesses don’t pay. Suppose you need a room tonight too, aye?

Guo leaned back, drumming the fingers of her left hand on the bar, If I can bring back four people—she raised the fingers on her  left hand—to come back here and drink, we square for the night?

Seven.

Guo smiled wide, flashing her canines, You’re a good man, Amiir.

He waved her away and leaned back into his bar, watching her leave. When the door opened it swung shut again, slamming loud, waking up the sleeping woman with a start. Guo turned to the bar and laughed.

If I don’t come back, she said, it’s because the wind dragged me up to the moons.

She pulled open the door, stepped out, and it slammed behind her.

Amiir walked to the woman now sleeping again and nudged her, Auntie, wake up. Time for you to settle up and see about your man.

The woman opened her eyes and sucked in drool, What’s the time?

Don’t know. Probably near sunsdown, if suns could be seen. Storm’s still raging.

The woman smacked her lips, How about another drink? Some ale.

Pay for what you’ve had and I’ll get you another.

She sat up in her seat, a pained expression clawing over her face, Oh, you’re a cruel man. Cruel and terrible!

Aye, aye. The very face of the Mother herself.

She pulled her lips tight and narrowed her eyes, Not wise to make jokes about Her. Her hands and eyes may be listening even here, casting Death in this very bar. This dank, dirty, dark hole of a place.

Come on, or I’ll send my boy to get your man.

Her eyebrows popped up and she reached into her pocket, pulls out a jar of honey and a sack of hops. Putting them in his hand she said, How about that ale?

He smiled, Aye, auntie. Aye.

The new ale in front of the old woman, she coughed into her hands and drank a third of it in one go, sighing heavily, a smile dripping over her face. Oh, that’s good, Amiir. How’d you brew this?

Trade secret, afraid. Why you holing up in my dank, dirty, dark bar, aye?

Oh, she raised the glass to her lips, Don’t take that personal like. You know I love it here.

Just escaping the storm?

Always, my boy. Always. Who was the cripple?

If you knew, you wouldn’t call her such.

What d’you call her?

Her name, and that’s a privileged thing with her kind.

Islanders, she spat. Magicians and necromancers.

Amiir folded his arms, Recommend you not say such things when she returns.

One handed and squint-eyed, the old woman laughed, No, boy, I don’t fear such as her.

Amiir scowled, Drink your drink, auntie.

Some time later the door swung open again, the night howling through, sputtering rain, and several people rushed through at once.

Aye, auntie, I told you I’d return, Guo called over the assembled.

Amiir laughed out his nose, What ya’ll want?

Mead, if you have it, Guo said, I promised a good story, and stories are better when the drink is stronger. She threw back her head and laughed, her hood falling.

Amiir poured out ten pints as Guo began her story. The old woman wobbled in her seat, scowling, sneaking glances at Guo and the people crowded round her.

Have any here heard of the kingdom of Suomi? I take your faces to mean no. It’s far to the north. So far north that it’s the edge of the world, and if you step over you start heading south again. I’ll let you think on that a bit. The people there are enormous and pale, like the Rocans far to the west. The Sami, as they’re known, speak in a tongue that few outside their tribes know. It’s ancient and long and rambling. Not like your fine tongue, made for commerce and community!

You see, I travel. That’s how I make my way. I travel and pass knowledge from place to place, investigating legends and magic and gods. I heard whispers of a boy who brought the snow. A boy who couldn’t die from the cold but turned the world cold around him. They even said he was the reason it was cold at all up there!

Auntie! My man here is running low on drink, and we need their lips wet if they’re to listen well. Anyway, I’ve been wandering the mountains up there for months. They call them Jumala Kulmahammas, or the Fangs of God. A brutal and evocative name, but they’re not as treacherous as people there believe. You should hear the stories they tell of gods and demons roaming the mountains.

I tell you, I know better, since I’ve seen many a god with my own eyes, even touched some with my hand—she raised the left one and wriggled her fingers—but in the dark, the wind howling, much like it does tonight, and snow blinding your sight…well, you lose track of yourself and it’s easy to think that the impossible is happening everywhere. And these people are surrounded by mountains. Mountains dark and overpowering and always covered in snow.

What’s snow?

Guo blinked, Ah, right. She leaned back and laughed, took a long drink from the mead, You’ve likely never seen snow this far south. Snow is like rain but it doesn’t flow as water. It sticks to the ground like sand. If enough snow falls, it stacks higher and higher. When the suns warm up the snow enough, it turns into rain. It’s just not cold enough here or this rain falling could be snow.

But, anycase, I finally made it to the mountain village where the boy’s said to live. It’s a wolfish place, if you get me. You can feel the steps of ancient gods as if they’re right beside you. Even hearing their mournful howls in the still air, shaking your insides, rattling your bones.

I begin asking around but most will have nothing to do with me. They don’t send me away, but ignore me as if I’m not even there. It’s something about my looks, I think—she stood and made a face, her canines out and her eyes wild—but that’s no reason to stop trying. After a few hours of drinking and sitting around, a young boy approached me at the pub. You should have seen him, so covered in furs he could barely wriggle his limbs and I could barely see his face.

He said, Uncle—can you believe?—Not a boy you looking for but a girl.

I asked the boy what he meant but he only turned away and walked, so I followed.

Auntie, too many near empty glasses here, and bring out the real strong stuff. My man here wants to feel it in his chest!

Ah, that’s better. Raise your glass for the barkeep, yeah? Don’t forget to tip him and his boy neither. His poor woman had to watch over his every move, but he lost her long ago. Our drinking is the only true pleasure that yet remains for him.

So it goes.

I followed the boy to a hole in the snow beyond the village. The boy stops and tells me to go down.

So I’m standing there, colder than I’ve ever been, the air full of knives, and the sky so bright from stars and the fragmented moon that it’s almost daylight, and this boy packed in animal skin is telling me to dive into the dark world to meet a potential god.

But what can you do? I dove in.

Not sure how far I climbed down but it was farther than I wanted it to be. The air close all round me, the world sort of putting extra pressure in my skull, the stench of blood thick in the tunnel, and it’s simply not easy climbing down into the frozen world.

And there she was. A little girl dressed in a light robe. Barefooted, her skin so white it appeared like bone, and her eyes so wide I could’ve fallen inside.

So I ask her if all the snow is because of her, and you know what she tells me?

She says only one thing: I was asleep at the bottom of the lake beneath the fallen snow.

And then she turns away from me like I’m not there. She’s eating a prepared meal of vegetables and roots that the boy must be bringing her. I ask her if the boy’s her brother but she doesn’t seem to hear me.

I watched her for about an hour in the freezing underground. I touched her finally, and she was cold, like the sea at midnight, like the dead, but I heard no Deathwalkers. This girl was alive but her blood stopped beating.

I asked her to follow me outside and without looking at me or speaking, she climbed up the tunnel. I followed.

At the surface again, the snow began to fall, but not everywhere. It followed her. It followed her as if tied to her.

You believe these foreign lies? The old woman’s voice slurred and bellowed in the bar.

All turned to her and she stumbled out of her seat and approached Guo, Blah blah blah, she prattles on bout foreign lands and magic and monsters. The old woman spat and said, These island monkeys with their slits for eyes wouldn’t know a god from my arse!

Amiir stomped towards her, All right, Auntie. You’re done here. Go home to your man.

The woman laughed, My man’s been dead for years, so it seems. Can’t do nothing but lie around and sleep.

Guo’s voice came soft, Auntie, I see Death riding you. The wolves paw at the night waiting for you to drown in the ale here. You’ll not see your grandchildren again.

The old woman swung a hand wildly at Guo but was grabbed by two of the men who listened to the story. They restrained her and carried her out of the bar.

Guo yawned and stretched, Suppose that’s the most exciting reaction I’ll get tonight, yeah?

The listeners laughed and begged her to continue.

She waved a hand, Aye, aye, but first, let’s all have some of our man’s hot liquor. He gave me some earlier and it’ll make you feel like a fox.

Guo winked at Amiir who smiled and he prepared the warm liquor.

After their mouths were wet and hot from the drink, Guo leaned into Amiir, Call us square?

He slapped her on the back, You keep bringing them in like this, and you can stay as long as you like.

I’ll hold you to that, she said as she walked back to the table.

All right, where was I?

how new year resolutions are going

Well for the most part!

I’m near the end of two different videogames. I’ve written at least one poem and watched at least one film every day so far. I was going to write a short story today, but I’m still feeling pretty ill so nothing yet.

So this is how I think it’ll work:

In 2013 I planned on writing and publishing a short story every Sunday, but I think I’ll aim for Wednesdays this year.

Also, an idea came to me as I couldn’t sleep last night: I’m [possibly] going to have each story set in the same world as Girl with Ears and Twilight of the Wolves, and each is going to have the same protagonist. Or, maybe not the same protagonist, but the same character will be in every story.

Haven’t done any drawing yet and have yet to read something in translation, but I think I’ll do that tonight. Also, since I’ve been sick literally this entire year, I’ve not done any physical exercise yet. Haven’t started any novels written by women yet either, and I’ve not published anything either.

But yeah, lots of things I’m planning on doing and I think I’m doing okay, four days in.

Hopefully I feel better tomorrow. Also, I think I’m going to start publishing the poetry on the tumblr I never use.

Read them right here.

Here’s an image.