another year in stories: five

Almost didn’t make this in today, which would’ve set a bad habit. But the fifth story of the year is here! With about ten minutes to spare.

Drink till I Forget, till I won’t Regret

Guo entered and waved to Amiir behind the bar.

Amiir nodded in her direction and poured her ale, How’s the great white north?

She shrugged as she skipped across the bar to sit down, Not good. A dragon came and the Sami are running south and east.

A caustic laugh like a grunt came from the hairless man at the end of the bar, The Sami are all gone, ravaged by the Rocan who stole their names. I’ve seen their bones and held the faces of their broken lives in my own hands as I danced through shadows and time.

Guo sipped from her ale and stared at the man. Pale skin with sunken eyes, hairless and drowning in a greyblack robe fraying at every seam. His head hung low, bobbing over his fist clutching a shot glass of brown liquor.

Amiir said, Don’t mind him. He’s been hanging round for weeks. Only seems to drink.

The Sami still live and those who were once Rocan have bred into the Sami and taken the name upon themselves, she said. Being Sami is more about the land and the place than anything else.

Tell that to the dead and forsaken Sami, he said.

There are no one people who are Sami. The north is Sami and the Sami are the north. Those who choose to live there become Sami, whether they know it or not. Whether they want to or not.

The man downed his drink and slammed it on the bar, Another! He turned to Guo while squinting, Cenuries have wilted since the true Sami lived in the north. But I’ll take your point, he nodded. The true Sami have evolved and rolled along with spacetime. They take in all the strange humans that wander north and melt into the snow.

Guo drank more ale and Amiir leaned back, shrugging with his eyebrows. The man’s head hung limp over his new drink.

The suns came hesitantly through the windows smeared with dust and grime. The bar remained dim always, the blues and reds of daylight suffocating against the filth of the bar. Dust drifted as a haze through the bar, clinging to every surface, invading and colonizing every crack and seam.

You need to clean this place up, Amiir.

He laughed, It’s the real charm of this place. People don’t come for the food or the drink. It’s the dust they’re after.

The hairless man’s voice came as grinding glass, Don’t play jokes about the dust, aye?

Guo frowned, What do you know about dust?

Amiir’s hand came down hard on the bar causing Guo to flinch but the hairless man paid no attention. Amiir’s voice rose, If you’re going to talk crazy, head back to bed.

Guo put her hand on Amiir’s and repeated her question.

Dust dust dust, his voice sliced through the thick air, I have seen it all and wandered through its haloes. I still hear it and feel it in my rotting bones. Centuries of collecting only to finally escape. She was the ray of a golden sun. I was addicted to Her light. She is the Light. I fell without falling. This one—I—gave up on the Goddess.

You’re not the first drunk Deathwalker I’ve met.

Amiir’s eyes bulged in his skull and his jaw hung open as words refused to enter his mouth.

Guo leaned back and drank the rest of her ale. Got any wine?

Amiir gulped still eyeing the Deathwalker, What kind you want?

What you got?

His eyes dragged back to her reluctantly and he searched through his cupboards. As he named varieties Guo stared at the Deathwalker. His eyes barely open, his body weaving to a melody that did not reach past his own ears, his head still hanging drunk over an empty glass.

Plum sounds fine, Auntie.

Amiir hands opened the bottle and handed it to her. Taking it, she stood and approached the Deathwalker.

She put the bottle in front of him and placed a hand on his shoulder, which recoiled at her touch but she held on.

What’s your name? The one you’ve taken since leaving Mother.

A scowl contorted his face and he grabbed the bottle of wine with both hands and drank deep from it. Putting it back down he nodded at her as his voice slushed out of him in coarse rivers, I’ve taken no name. I’ve taken nothing. I want nothing. I want only to be free and to somehow be made whole.

She lifted the bottle to her lips and sipped. Sighing, she said, This is great stuff, Auntie. I’m sorry you’ll have to waste it on us.

Amiir exhaled loud, You got money?

Guo’s expression remained flat as she nodded, There is no wholeness for you. Even in Death you will find only nothingness. There will be no shore for you. There will be no song. For you there will only be the memory of the first time you died and the echoes of the Goddess forever rattling in your skull.

He spit, What would you know? Your kind don’t even hear her song. You don’t belong to Mother.

I’ve thought about that before. I think about it often. Why are my people the only ones not touched by the gods? Why do the Deathwalkers never approach our shores? They come to the places we’ve conquered and take the natives to Her shore. Why not us? What is it about us that She refuses?

He took the bottle from her and drank from it, then handed it back. His voice lost the harshness and came softly cruel, For centuries I’ve wondered why She took me and my manhood. Why she takes all of our manhoods. Why she exists at all and why she needs us. She who dreams all realities. She who opened the Grey and the Shade and the Light and the Dark. She who is all things and is in all things and all things spring from your womb, yet she demands everything from us, the unfortunate, the maimed. Your people are lucky to not have her or the Deathwalkers upon your shores.

They’re not in the north either, Guo sipped from the bottle. The Sami don’t know Her. When they die, they don’t turn to dust. Truthfully, I don’t know what happens to them when they die. They insist on burning the corpses. The old stories say that those unburnt rise again as demons. The Sami and their land are full of such echoes. But they have different gods. My people alone seem to be ignored and scorned by the gods. Even the Roca have their god. The north is crawling with gods so old they’ve forgotten themselves. No, it’s we alone who are deemed unfit for divinity. Even the Angels don’t touch our lands. There are no wolves howling there, no dragons spewing fire.

Let me tell you something, child of daylight. The man pointed at her with his slurring hand, You people are among the lucky. The gods are all cruel. I gave up on them long ago.

Tears poured down his face but his expression remained stoic.

Guo put her hand on his right shoulder and held it through the recoil. She pulled him in and embraced his skeletal frame as he broke down into sobs. His body collapsed in tears and she held him up, stroking his scalp.

Amiir watched as she held him. She whispered to the Deathwalker but Amiir heard only a low murmur.

Together they finished the bottle of wine and Guo carried the man upstairs, his body impossibly small, as if releasing the tears caused his body to empty of mass and energy.

Amiir cleaned the pint glass and the shot glass.

The sound of their footsteps creaked against every plank of wood. The creaking of footsteps stopped only to be replaced by the creaking of a door and then silence after the door closed.

Dust drifted lazily through the air and the suns fell past the horizons and the creaking began again. The light footsteps came down the stairs and Guo emerged from the shadows.

He’s asleep, she said as she plopped down on a stool and rested her elbows on the bar. Her chin in the palm of her hand, she watched Amiir count inventory.

How you going to pay for the wine and the night?

Guo tsked, You’re a heartless man, my dear friend.

He turned to see her smile, Does he really belong to the child goddess?

Once upon a time. It’s uncommon, but not as uncommon as you might think. Something changes in the few who leave. They give up the othersides of reality and choose to live on this side with the rest of us.

Is he human then?

Guo wiped at her eyes, His heart is still that of a man, though he will never be.

Amiir stuck out his lower lip, So there’s a dragon in the north?

Guo’s eyes widened, Things are becoming very interesting in the world, my friend.

Where will you go now that the north’s off limits?

Her smile spread wide and she waved her index finger, Didn’t you listen to what I told the Deathwalker? My people have no gods. We fear no gods. The Sami are the same. They alone will fight the gods and expect to win. We live in interesting time, sweet Amiir.

How will I get all the money you owe me if you get yourself eaten by a dragon?

They laughed together and Amiir poured two pints of mead.

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