Diary: A Novel

This one is delectably erudite and rife with half-truths. It seems that taking liberties with History is rather the point and the art of it. We must reclaim our freedom from History, from the "collective unconscious" and other forms of maieutics, as these are not emancipatory forces. Theirs is an ancient and insidious kind of domination, like the karmic cycle which we must escape.

Fight Club

It must be added to the "list of novels I did not like," not because it is poorly written or uninteresting (quite the contrary) but because I feel strongly that ...

1. ... there are many acceptable ways to be a person, and/or a man, and/or fatherless
2. ... there are at least as many legitimate ways to be free.

One can choose to be completely determined by history or not -- a cynical corporate whore or not -- a raving, Chaos-worshipping urban savage or not. One is free to do what one can with oneself, to love others and oneself. Maximum smashism is not the only -- nor necessarily the most exalted -- mode of being.

Angry folk will inevitably read some kind of hypermasculinist gospel into Fight Club even though the book does not make any unequivocal claim to that effect, and so: I can't completely like Fight Club, because there are still angry folk who read books, and I wouldn't want to endorse their interpretation.

Direction

Seems I have made great strides
though little here is certain --
neither the speed nor the direction,
not the place from whence I came
(but I’ve made strides all the same)
and the silence bearing over is
some manner of space to wonder
at the bare expanse of self
at memory, if nothing else.

Before Your Love Ran Out (Terminalia 2011)



hate blows a bubble of despair into
hugeness world system universe and bang
-fear buries a tomorrow under woe
and up comes yesterday most green and young

- e.e. cummings
. . .

My son,
I write so that you may one day understand.

. . .

It was my refection on a dark, turbid mere which gave me back to myself after seven years of exile. Sullied and discoloured, my beard and hair were tangled together, the royal purple of my youth faded to dull carmine; they would grow grey from then on. Haggard black eyes peered out of deep sockets, my aquiline nose and high cheek bones exaggerated by emaciation. The sable cloak of my office was tattered and streaked with grime. Fourscore moons I had worn myself out for the cause, neglecting all but the tools of my trade: when the quarry had been cornered at last, how could the arrows have failed in their grim purpose? Their lethal course had begun, not with the twang of a bowstring, but with the words of the sentence pronounced by the Vernal Queen. “Bahkhem Marzhdikam,” she had named me, the Bringer of Mercy, for I was to slay a sacred Shadavar.

At length a spreading haze of dark blood cast a pall on my mirrored image, waking me from my reverie. The kill had taken but an instant and was almost anti-climactic. I had tracked the diseased Shadavar to a shallow, stinking, stagnant pool near the southernmost tip of Turmar woods. I had crept into the line of fire while her humongous head bowed low to lap up water; Hirbath’s corruption so crippled the beast that she did not see or hear me slink through the bushes. With a single shot I had nailed two blessed arrows on the tree behind her, a charm to bar her escape on either side. A second fluid motion sicced a third arrow: it sank to the fletching, slightly to the right of the matted mane, deep in the heaving chest. The Shadavar’s knees and hocks had then buckled and she collapsed bleeding into the stale water.

Moments later the Corruption leapt at me from the gaunt corpse, spuming spores and shooting out desperate mycelia. I turned my back on the whole toxic mess, undoing the strap of my quiver and unpinning my cloak, abandoning both to the grasping tendrils. I then whipped around and stared at the crumpled, bubbling mass. I snatched the pouch of sulphur and lime from my belt and sprayed the environs until I was certain that fungal unlife would not escape the reeking stillness of the polluted pond.

With my boline I cut the cherished alicorn from the Shadavar’s poll, for the single, gleaming horn could not be left in this place of squalor and putrescence. The way the Shadavar’s eyes rolled into their orbits as though to stare at me gave me no pause: their blue placidity intuited a sense of infinite relief.

. . .

Would that I could have made haste to Mazdar then, to receive immediately the absolution which only the Empress of Seasons can give! All of Turmar forest hated me for the Shadavar blood on my hands: hale wild things understand neither the Corruption nor the mercy that is release from it. Roots tripped me, thorny brambles tore at me; animals devoured or fouled what edible plants could be found in advance of my passing.

Walking northward, I endured this misery for days until I was found by my Visya brethren. As they dreaded the guilt on my head they would not come close: from afar they called out, the melodious articulations of the Pari tongue sounding alien to me after so long an exile. “Bahkhem Marzhdikam!” their leader cried, “You are not to come any closer to Bahor. Zoish, daughter of Friyana, is coming to you. Food, water and fresh clothing have been prepared for you in a pavilion by a brook; listen for the babbling of the waters and the flutter of black pennons. In this place alone you may rest, that is: if your conscience allows it.”

Oh, Friyana! That name was a fresh wound, still as painful as on the day I received news of her death. Sprightly, fiery Friyana was a fellow apprentice at the herbarium and my first deep love. We married at sixty-two after only three years of being betrothed. Together for forty years, we severed loving each other still, differently – not less – than in the beginning. When all hope of children had vanished, we performed the Rite of Parting with disappointment but without bitterness. Partly out of kindness for me, Friyana had then joined the Aurvahâ, electing to take an assignment to the remotest Pari settlements as soon as she had finished her training. I entered the service of our Lady at the ancient grove, thinking to overcome my dejectedness through devotion, and eventually became an Âthrava.

News of Friyana was scarce in the ensuing two decades. By way of messengers she sent rare trinkets; holy verses inscribed on pressed flowers, seeds of exotic and useful plants ... but never any instruction as to where to write back. When she returned to Bahor at last, she introduced me to her dark-haired child. The father, she claimed, was our Ambassador to Tabestan. In her absence I had married doe-eyed Tehmina, a sister of the cult, and we were happy.

For the next ten years Friyana took fewer assignments, never journeying away from Bahor for more than a month’s time, often leaving Zoish with us. All was love then: Tehmina’s soft, quiet, soothing love; Friyana’s ebullient, verbose love – which was made sweeter by her sporadic absences; Zoish’s wide-eyed, innocent love and – not least of all – our Lady’s love, which seemed in those days as certain and steadfast as the oaks of Bahor, the heart of Turmar.

. . .

The came the Elders' decision to negotiate peace with the Naqaths chieftains; there came evil omens by way of winds and birds and from the mouths of oracles. The Vernal Queen considered both the wisdom of the seers and the necessity of diplomacy. She sent a battalion of Visyahâ along with the Aurva delegation, appointing Friyana as their leader.

You will doubtless have heard sung of the Ambush of Ealdor by the time you are old enough to read this letter. The fabulous Visyahâ and the still more sumptuous Aurvahâ met by night with the brutish Thursar on the barren wastes. By the light of tall fires they exchanged gifts: the beautiful, ornate blades of Pari silversmiths for the crude clubs of the giant vagabonds. The Aurvahâ sipped then from Thurs drinking-horns; the Naqaths chiefs quaffed fine mead from the cups of Bahor, careless with the priceless dichroic glass. They danced together, the subtle Aurvahâ twirling in silken thobes with the tramping, naked Thursar, both inebriated and vulnerable for the sake of peace-making.

The foretold danger arose, not from the fearsome giants, but out of a place unseen. The sounds of revelry disturbed the Khargolim in their subterranean hive. In droves the hulking insects scuttered out of the darkness, either seeking food or acting on their Queen’s intuition that a peaceful meeting of the races boded ill for her colony.

Thursar and Parihâ fought valiantly considering the circumstances; it is often recalled how heroes of either race saved each others' lives. Most of the Aurvahâ were carried back home, as were many of the Visyahâ, wrapped in the green velvet shrouds of Bahoran nobility. Their sacrifice cemented the peace: more than two decades later the Naqaths still respect the borders of Turmar, never venturing under her sacred canopy.

With the rest of the Âthravahâ, Tehmina and I planted frakara framarethraya, a Garden of Memory, for the fallen. We mourned Friyana for seven years as though she were our sister, taking Zoish into our home.

But even after seven years the weight of sorrow was not lifted from my soul; I could not tend the Goddess’ grove or Friyana’s many-flowered grave without anger in my heart. Unable to bear that burden, I petitioned the Elders for the right of Tebishvatô: the permission of those harbouring hatred to be sent into battle.

I was commanded, therefore, to learn the arts of war from the Visyahâ, though not before Tehmina and I exchanged our last words. She had known for long about the silent furor seething inside me: having accepted that I was no longer capable of love, she had confided that, since I was going to train on the fringes of Turmar and we would not be seeing each other, she would rather we severed. We had one last night of confused, distraught passion; the following morning we performed the Rite of Parting together, a priest of the Lady bidding her sister-priestess farewell.

I did not guess what sort of burden she bore herself; I did not think to visit either Tehmina or Zoish when after seven years of training I had been called back to Bahor to receive my sentence in the Hall of the Vernal Queen. I had not even the slightest suspicion that a nauseating melancholy had driven Tehmina out of the forest nation to seek respite in the stone habitations of the short-lived Shni’im. Most importantly, I had no idea that on my last night with Tehmina I had sired a son who would grow in that far place, a stranger in a strange land. Might it have changed things if I had known? It is impossible to say.

. . .

Thus Zoish rode on a great red elk along the gushing rill to that black pavilion. Fourteen years had elapsed since we had last seen each other; at forty she was at that awkward age, no longer a girl but not yet a woman. Her viridian eyes were full of that nonchalance of youth, only in her case the lassitude was genuine. Zoish had endured too much; the death of her mother and the inexplicable disappearance of her caregivers had made her resent life. She had refused to return to the father she did not truly know, electing, out of a mistaken sense of pride, to fend for herself instead. Perhaps one day she too will ask for Tebishvatô, though I hope that your coming will soften her heart.

“Bahkhem Marzhdikam,” she addressed me formally, refusing to call me by my old name, “I come at the bidding of the Vernal Queen. For two years I have searched for you in every corner of Turmar. You cannot go to Mazdar yet, to wash the blood from your hands, for you must now follow in the steps of Tehmina to the Shayni realm of Glean de Baine.”

“If it please the messenger,” I replied, “can you tell me why Her Majesty wishes to prolong my torment?”

“It is not the Queen’s desire to delay your absolution” Zoish explained, “for she is grateful for your service to Turmar and to the sacred Shadavarhâ. If Her Majesty has sent me, it is to relay the words brought to our Visyahâ by way of a Shayni messenger ...”

Zoish’s throat tightened too much to maintain her pretence of formality. News of Tehmina’s death to some Shayni plague revived the old sorrow: all the effort expanded in the tracking of the ailing beast, hoping to satiate the bloodlust or else to lose it along the winding trail, was rendered futile in that single moment. I would have rerouted the lifeblood from my heart with my boline but for the letter which Zoish gave me then, written in Tehmina’s careful hand:

“Deldar, father of my child,” the letter said. “After your departure I could not find joy in our forest home, and so resolved to look elsewhere. I left Zoish in the care of our brothers and sisters of the faith and walked eastward, eager to spread the teachings of the Lady as Banu Gulandam did in times long ago. Oh, that I had not been so proud as to think myself the equal of that priestess of yore! Finding myself pregnant with our son, I was forced to stop in white-washed Dùn Bùrn; the Flamines of Inealta took me in as is their custom. There I gave birth to Nevazar whom the Shni’im call Aden.

“After Nevazar was born I stayed with the sisters of Inealta until I was recovered. As I could not continue my journey in good conscience without first rewarding the Shayni women for their ministrations, I took a position teaching introductory Oroglossia at their seminary. Shayni books helped me remember the old rhymes: before long the learning of my two-hundred years was recognized by the holy sisters and I was offered to lecture on whatever subject I chose.

“There was so much that I could teach the Shni’im, so much of which they have no knowledge in the cities of dead stone! The blessing of trees, the times for pruning, the proper way to listen to the rustling of leaves... I wanted to return to Bahor, to show you our newborn son, to initiate him to the worship of our Lady, perhaps even to remarry. How I wanted to come back to Zoish, to plant and to weave with her as we did while Friyana was alive! But alas ...”

At this point, the writing became cramped and disorderly. “When the first cases of the plague came to my attention, I sent Nevazar to the abbey of the brotherhood of Sabrear: I have told Zoish of its whereabouts in previous letters; though a child, she will guide you. I helped the Shni’im in what ways I could. Even the most elementary of our medicines was to them a mystery. I aimed to turn back the tide of death with the healing prayers of Aud (which, as you will recall, we learned together from the Serpent People of Karshtas). I wanted so much to save those short lives – for brevity makes them all the more precious – that I disregarded the safety of my own. I believe it was the will of the Lady which brought me to this place.

“I have endured the plague for two years now; in this time I have saved many and taught many more. The nobles of the city having conferred upon me the authority owed to a wise-woman, I have ordered the cleaning of the waterways: the wells and the gutters will no longer spread the sickness. Still, I feel my strength failing. I dare not undertake the journey back to Bahor. Instead I write this last letter to you, the father of my child.

“Through Nevazar I have loved you – even these two years that he was away I have loved you – and through him I shall love you always.
“Give my affection to my parents, my sisters and the people of the faith,

“Tehmina.”
. . .

I rode with Zoish on her strong elk – the beast hated me, the murderer of one of the forest queens, but Zoish’s charms silenced his protest. We undertook together the perilous journey across the marshes of Ealdor, far beyond the protective influence of the Vernal Queen, out of sight of even the most keen-eyed of the Visyahâ. The Thursar barbarians of Naqaths ignored us, remembering the costly peace. We crossed into the grasslands of Glean de Baine just North of loch Blae and then, riding swiftly to the mountains, arrived at the abbey one bright morning in Aruak.

You will no doubt remember the rest. You will certainly not have forgotten how the Flamines refused to give you away – even though I was expected – on account of the fear you had of me, a fear which I am sure I also inspired in them. I do not regret having had to wrest you from the Shayni priests; I do not think it could have gone any other way. While the curse of Shadavar blood was still on my head I could not have expected sympathy; even now that it has been removed, I hope for no such thing.

You will one day understand why I had to take you, bound and furious, back to Bahor. No matter how hateful Hirbath’s Corruption is – no matter how fearful the Khargolim’s swarm – the everyday griefs of Shayni realms are held in Turmar in still higher contempt. I had to take you away from the Shni’im’s short lives lest you endure as I suffered when your beloved died before your love ran out.


I leave you with raven-haired Zoish; I leave you the priceless horn of the Shadavar; I leave you this letter, written in the shade of the redwoods of Mazdar, and with this blessing of the Lady: peace, now and forever, peace!

Another Part of Me is Missing

(Read the previous story in this two-part series here.)

Fallow-coloured brick steps, the creaking wooden planks of the balustered scaffold, the block – huge & out of place, like a shameful memory intruding on pleasant conversation – being carried over the space between all of these in a dozen laborious seconds. Half of my life, it seems – half of my world & more.

The man (or is it a woman?) wearing the hood stands neither too tall nor too straight: Brethren justice does not boast, it does not make a show of punishment. The witnesses, I know, are only there to represent the Senate’s support of the procedure – there are but very few, all of them old.

. . .

I was a cog in the machine, but saying so does not do justice to the Plethora. She does not think, it is true, & this is our weakness & our strength: our technoetic space does not so easily overflow into the world as those of our enemies. The Plethora needs her Mechanists’ prods, but always she exercises a certain pressure & so: I was a cog, turning under her weight, a fleshy cog carrying out the motions of a clockwork titaness.

Mechanists can’t easily explain to laypeople– nor even to Dancers & Gamers – what it is to be part mind, part software. We have binary intuitions, cravings for functions which have nothing to do with any known organ. We speak & dream gnosis; we surprise ourselves when, unplugged for repose, we think broken thoughts: part of ourselves does not translate outside of the silicon brain.

. . .

It is not that part which is ever at fault; mistakes are all flesh, betrayed by increasing heart rates & shallow breaths while, having been summoned to far-off places, our minds need don bodies of fluid steel & carbon mesh. This we must do always for sabotage, for murder; for war, for the survival of the Operator calling the process. We are cogs in the machine & the machine is a weapon; we obey.

Except sometimes we do not. There was Sylk, there was her prize, & there was the crowd – a crowd, I surmised, of breathing, talking, thinking beings like myself. I did not have the context: I could not know if her orders were justified. But could they ever be? Can it ever be worth it to rain ion-charged shrapnel onto a market square, on the unwitting Subjects standing between the Operator & the needed tech?

Therefore I thought – & there was my mistake. There were Servicemen beyond the square who had no such regard for life. Sylk is dead; I am considered her murderer, though I was a cog all the while.

A cog who is now being replaced. It is a woman in the black hood – I can see it now. Why does she look so much like her?

A sound -- nothing like what I expected.

Another part of me is missing; I feel I must be logging out.

We Are Forever

I am bloody dusk, when the sun sets over the Chicago Enclave, over its myriad layers of rubble, filth and glory. I am the long shadow of the collapsing Willis Tower, stretching to infinity after the South Branch has turned – liquid steel to rust, rust into black tar. I am silence, flying ahead of the evening wind, beyond the vestigial Mississippi and into the vicious quiet of the Wilderness.

They call me Sylk, and like sylk I am more resistant than iron. And indeed I have been tested, though this is not my first run, nor is it my latest. It is the tale of each one that matters.

I had just touched down East of the Flores Barony and I had dispatched Prowlers on the way. How many? I do not recall. I am no Gamer; I do not keep a tally. I am Dancer, whose truest partner is Death, whose only struggle is against that alluring embrace.

Yet you ask about the Prowlers. What is there to say? They are the faces of the Wild, many-fanged and eyeless. Under the shade of the thicket they roam, shapeless and shifting. They do not howl to call their fellows, for they share one mind: if a Prowler tastes the blood of Chicago Brethren, all of them feel it trickle down their maw – even as far as Sarajevo. They howl only for the fear it summons, but what shall I fear? I am bloody dusk, when the westering sun succumbs to Night; an eternal recurrence, not an instance.

So I dispatched them. How? How you pester me with questions!
How does one tame the forest and her shadows? With fire, from above. I was Phoenix once: it was my freedwoman’s name, before I heard the music and joined in the Dance. I have dreams of that lost Enclave my namesake, like memories of phosphorous rain. I evoke them while I waltz, whirling smoke-like into the midnight air. Fire is my favourite epiphyte.

The Flores have a dead zone no wider than Edgewater; it is easily crossed and poorly guarded. Yes, they have Servicemen, but I do not Dance with them unless I have to. Who is to say that they might not one day hear the music too? There is always an underworldly passage – a water main, a pipeline, a subway route – which they do not watch carefully enough. I sense their scattered Eyes before they can see me; it is not gnosis, merely intuition.

And so, I was into the slums some hours before dawn. I was to gift a Sleeper with words of medicine (why the Barons keep such knowledge from their Subjects is beyond understanding). I planted pamphlets as I toured our contact’s habitual hideouts; he would not like the attention this could bring him, but Freedom will not keep quiet. Besides, the pamphlets – as well you know – do not only speak of the cause: they teach the words whereby we meet in the Plethora, to give counsel and plan the Revolution.

My Sleeper hid in the sixth place I checked – the squalid little backroom of an auto repair shop. Slowly and meticulously we dealt with decorum, naming our many marks under ultra-violet light. Never rush through protocol! The Church of Peace has excellent simulacra, but imperfect knowledge of the names.

When we knew each other I delivered the words of medicine. Though somewhat relieved, my Sleeper remained sore afraid: it fell upon him to enact cures to destitute thousands, and to do so whilst escaping the notice of both Churches, and of the Servicemen. I would not see him again.

I was to bring home stolen security codes; the Sleeper was drilling me when she burst out of the closet. I would have incinerated her before I knew who she was but he threw himself in my line of fire. She was small and crying; he was simultaneously chiding and comforting her – awkward, tired, desperate. It was well outside of my mandate to ask: “Who is she?”

There was no good answer. She was one in a billion tragic lives, an orphan of the Baron’s biological warfare on their own Subjects. She was nothing and everyone; she would grow up to Serve or she would not grow up at all; to the Churches, to the Barons – and even to most Subjects – it would make no difference.

Not so to me. I made her Phoenix, and she will be Sylk. She is recurrence, not an instance. What shall she fear? We are forever.