TWILIGHT’S DREAMING, CHAPTER 8

Chapter 8

With an awesome force

The maiden dreams of dying

A sunlit tower

 

“When Hayaoh awoke and found the space beside him empty, his behavior was strange to behold. Rather than panic or confusion, his first reaction was a sad, resigned acceptance, as if he always feared this day would come. Perhaps she was a dream and nothing more, he thought. Perhaps her love was more than I deserved…

Then, in the pale morning light, he saw a scrap torn from Shizuka’s bedclothes, stained with threads of her blood and pinned to the wall of their bedchamber by a knife. At once he understood: his beloved Shizuka was not a cruel illusion, as he merely dreaded. She was not gone of her own will, but taken.

Fury consumed him, a rage both as hot as hellfire and cold as the depths of the eternal sea. The force of his war cry split the earth asunder, releasing great gouts of flame and molten rock from below, and the stars above trembled at the sound.

For all of Gen’s despicable acts, for all the things for which his name would be cursed in years to come, his plan was a complete success: the old Hayaoh, the merciless warrior once feared by all, was reborn…”

[Excerpt from The Legend of Hayaoh, a collection of squirrel folklore, circa Year 500]

 

It is dark. She cannot see, she cannot move… but she can feel, and she can smell, and she can hear. Above and around her, a ceaseless skittering and shuffling of legs, hundreds of legs. Padded feet cross to and fro over her, pressing into her with their weight. Their voices call to each other, some in birdlike chirrups, others in strangled mewling like that of creatures in their death throes.

Her prison encloses her body from head to tail, a soft, tight, unbreakable shell that clings and adheres and entangles every last millimeter of her fur. Escape is impossible, for her movement is restricted to fruitless rocking back and forth, a few millimeters in either direction. She cannot cry for help; her voice is too feeble for anything but moans and whispers, her lips and tongue are numb, and there is no one to hear besides… there is only them, the things with the padded feet and alien voices. Her prison seals her eyelids shut, depriving her of even a glimpse of her captors, but she knows they are always there, always moving, even when she cannot feel or hear them. Their smell never goes away: the dry, dusky stench of withered corpses.

There is no way to tell how long it has been. The outside, the sunlight, the freedom to move, all those things are fading, distant memories. The passage of time is marked only by periods of fitful sleep, and by the protests of her stomach when the hunger is too much. Usually they hear the noise when that happens, and within minutes, they push an indescribable mash of something past her lips, something with many indistinct flavors. They manipulate her weakened jaw for her that she might not choke. It is never enough; the food—such as it is—is to keep her alive, not satisfied.

She is aware that her life is slipping away, despite the feedings. All sensation in her limbs is lost, her muscles have withered from disuse. Even if by some miracle she should be freed from her confinement, she would still be all but paralyzed. When their teeth dig into her, there is only piercing pain for a few moments while their mouth-parts pour their venom into her. The venom always brings with it more weakness, more numbness, melting away her insides little by little. Their mouth-parts drink of the resulting slurry, and when sated, they go away until the next time, leaving her to sink into darkness deeper still.

She has come to long for that darkness, for the brief times when she can dream of freedom, of rescue… when the torment of slow death ebbs enough that she can feel the barest glimmer of hope.

She is not certain whether she is awake or asleep when she hears the voices. Not the screech and chitter of her captors, but words, clear and articulate. She smells them, too: not dry husks, but fresh, warm, living bodies. People, at last. Whether they are a delusion of her fevered mind or not, she surrenders to them. Maybe, maybe someone will find her at last. Vibrations rumble through her… movement. Motion. Joy fills her failing heart…

The rumble escalates into a roar. Something huge, heavy and solid crashes nearby, and her body shakes with its impact. Then another, and another. Her relief is smothered by a renewed sense of claustrophobia, and she trembles in her prison. Air whistles above her—

Crushing force. Pain, pain that she did not think herself capable of anymore. She is bleeding in too many places to count, it oozes up hot and sticky through her fur. A massive weight is crushing her lungs, forcing the air from them like someone slowly compressing a bellows. Every time she exhales, inhaling again becomes harder and harder… until coppery fluid clogs her throat, and she cannot breathe at all. She chokes, she suffocates, she drowns… and the cacophony of many more falling heavy things assaults her as her consciousness fades. She slips into an eternal sleep to the tune of a hellish lullaby…

 

Hanami collapsed against the black stone wall, her hands pressing her temples as if trying to squeeze the vision out of her brain. This newest waking nightmare was born of someone else’s memories, of one of the many helpless victims that died when she collapsed the ceiling of the spiders’ lair. How it was possible to see and feel that person’s final moments, she did not know and did not care. It was another divine punishment, that much was clear. She killed all those people in the cavern. Whether by intention or not, or whether or not they could be saved, it did not matter. She brought the ceiling down on them… and that was just one of her multitude of sins.

The Gods demanded atonement. The Gods put the little voice in her mind, whispering the litany: I should not be here. Soon, she prayed, the Gods would grant her release.

Her vision blurred by tears, Hanami scrabbled at the wall behind her, pulling herself up by her claws. She could only see the tower window as a lighter shape contrasting with the darkness of the stones. Outside was an early evening sky, blue tinged with traces of pink as the sun set… it would soon be twilight. As good a time as any. Her hands grasped the sill…

No, said the little voice in her mind. Not yet. The time is not right. Wait.

Very well, then. She would wait. Hanami sat back against the wall… and as she did so, the tower chamber shifted around her, featureless black stone melting and reshaping into a place very familiar, one that she could not forget…

More

TWILIGHT’S DREAMING, CHAPTER 7

Chapter 7

Swelling of a storm

When sorrow gives way to hope

Race against the dark

 

“Gen ventured far and wide in search of passage to the realms beyond, for only there would he find the aid he sought. By chance, he stumbled upon a white gate that led him to the depths of the world, to the Beneath itself. There he crossed the dark river to the farther shore, and there he saw Abidokuja, the HellSerpent, the God of Death. As great and perilous and awe-inspiring as the mountain that imprisoned it, the enormous ebon viper awoke from its slumber. Its blazing white eyes beheld an unbelievable sight: a mortal samurai, as lowly before it as an ant before a sentient, who now stood where no living thing had ever dared tread. Unafraid, Gen announced his name and intentions in the sacred manner, unsheathed his sword, and challenged the Serpent to a duel.

“Such a duel had never been fought before, and never would be again. One lone mortal, with nothing but his sword and armor, against a God a hundred times his size, wielding power unimaginable. How an ordinary sword managed to cut the Serpent’s black iron hide even once, none shall ever know. The weapon did not survive Gen’s strike; the Serpent’s blood was hot and red as flame, and melted the steel to slag. Yet still Gen fought on, defiant…

“Of course Gen fell, as all must fall before death, but in the aftermath, the Death God looked upon the battered samurai who dared challenge it, and it found itself amused by his audacity. ‘Take up this fang shed from my mouth as proof,’ it said, pushing forward a venomous tooth half as large as Gen himself, torn loose during the battle. It smiled… ‘As proof that you have battled and survived. In times to come, when stand you here again, a favorable judgment shall I give.’

“So Gen was allowed to leave the Beneath, empowered and emboldened. Once he returned to the mortal world, he forged the Serpent’s fang into a new sword, a terrible weapon with a sawblade’s edge. That done, he had only to wait for his chance. It came on one dread autumn night, when under cloak of darkness, Gen stole Hayaoh’s beloved Shizuka away…”

[Excerpt from The Legend of Hayaoh, a collection of squirrel folklore, circa Year 500]

 

In the fading afternoon light, all three of them stared at the open scroll, pinned to the floor of Haven Grove with the stem of a sprig of flowers… pale pink sweet pea, with rounded petals curled up at the edges.

Rowan sat in the overstuffed armchair he had donated to Hanami months earlier. It was a favorite chair of his and he had been sorry to see it go, but now it brought him no comfort, none at all. His elbows sat on the armrests, his hands folded in front of his mouth, which was a grim, hard line.

Zero stood so still that one might mistake him for a statue. The words written on the scroll ate away at his insides like acid. He was a fool, an utter fool not to see it before. When Hanami came to him, he had been so distracted by his own sorrow that he failed to notice hers. The kiss only further distracted him, taking up space in a mind already far too crowded. And now…

Only Faun made any sound. She sat in her favorite spot on the couch, head in her hands, sobbing intermittently. Her eyes were bloodshot, raw and puffy with tears. It took ten minutes of Rowan’s pleading and a bucket full of cold water to rouse her from her stupor. At first, she took his words of alarm as some kind of bizarre, alcoholic hallucination. Only when Rowan carried her to Haven Grove and she saw the scroll for herself did realization and guilt come crashing down upon her. “It’s my fault,” she said again. Her voice was husky and broken, absent of her usual brash confidence. “It’s my fault. I was so excited to finally drink with her, I never even thought about why. I’m such an idiot! I should have stopped her, I should have said something! She’s my best friend, I should have known… but I’m just a stinking drunk, a worthless, stinking drunk! Oh Gods…” Her hand flew to her mouth as she heaved.

Without a word, Rowan slid the chamber pot to her again. Any other time, he might have made a sharp remark about the consequences of overindulgence. Not now.

Zero’s claws dug into his palms. He was the first to arrive, so he was first to read the scroll, Hanami’s confession. He alone saw the final few lines, written only to him, an outpouring of her true feelings. He begged the others not to look. “This is all wrong,” he said, partly to himself. “This is all wrong. Why didn’t she say anything before now? Why didn’t she trust us?”

More

TWILIGHT’S DREAMING, CHAPTER 3

Chapter 3

Tenets and edicts

Worrisome developments

Scholar’s ponderings

 

“Hayaoh’s wanderings took him to the great forest of demons in the east, where few dared tread. He was not afraid; all the warriors of the mortal world had offered him no challenge, so why should he fear demons?

“By then, his legend had spread even to the land of spirits. Ghost, phantom, specter, and wraith alike fled at the sight of him. The very trees gave way, shuddering as they drew in their roots to form a path for him to walk. Hours passed, and as the day turned swiftly into night, Hayaoh grew weary with thirst. Coming across a mighty river, he followed the river to its source, a placid lake in a basin of granite, encircled by ancient oaks. The great samurai came to a halt and knelt at the water’s edge, removing his helmet to drink…”

[Excerpt from The Legend of Hayaoh, a collection of squirrel folklore, circa Year 500]

 

“I hate this.”

It was a phrase that Sister Camilla Quarta Viviana had already heard many times that day. The jillrabbit sighed as she adjusted the fabric. “I know, Milady. Just a moment, I’m almost finished. If you could raise your arms, please?”

Lady Nadeshiko Argenteus scowled at the arched marble ceiling of her dressing chamber as if daring it to argue. With great reluctance, she did as she was asked, holding her arms out to her sides.

“Thank you,” said Camilla as she fastened each of the straps of Nadeshiko’s ceremonial stola. When finished, she let the pristine white linen drop, and it draped itself around the floris in a pleasing fashion. Pleasing to other people, not to Nadeshiko herself.

“I do not know how my mother tolerates this,” said Nadeshiko, picking at the linen between thumb and forefinger. She ached to be out of the accursed garment as quickly as possible. “For someone of her stature, appearing in public without armor or weapons is horrendously unsafe… any lunatic could attempt to assassinate her.”

“That’s why your knights will be with you, Milady.”

“Fie on my knights.” A less mannered sentient would have spit in disgust for emphasis. “I, at least, do not need protection.”

Camilla bit back a chuckle. “I’m sure you don’t, Milady, but it’s a formality.”

More

ETERNITY AWAKES, CHAPTER 6

Chapter 6

Woe, oh ancient one

When all that you know is gone

Where will you wander?

“Never corner a fox, if at all possible. When foxes are trapped with no hope of escape and their lives in danger, their first instinct is to attempt to talk their way out of peril. Anyone who has spent sufficient time in the company of foxes could explain why this is undesirable for all parties concerned.

“Foxes, of course, think themselves quite witty. The average todd or vixen has such a high opinion of themselves and their intelligence that they will approach the task of talking themselves through life-threatening danger with the utmost confidence. One supposes they reason that once their adversary is angry or distracted enough that judgment is impaired, the fox can make their escape with impunity. Anger or distraction on the other party’s part is all but guaranteed, given that when a fox speaks at length, their words inevitably become insulting, offensive, or both.

“So provoked, the fox’s adversary will resort to violence, lose their temper, or otherwise make an effort to force the fox to stop talking by any available means. In the ensuing confusion, the fox will take advantage of their clouded judgment, and more often than not will flee the premises, laughing all the way. While the adversary may experience significant frustration over this turn of events, it is often eclipsed by relief that at least the talking has stopped. Thus, a favorable outcome for both parties, all things considered.”

[An excerpt from The Art of Diplomacy, by Gaius Primus Fulcinius]

“Look,” said Faun. “I’m just saying, there’s been some kind of huge misunderstanding here.”

The jackal did not answer.

“I mean, I get it. Three thousand years alone, you’re looking for companionship, I come along and… well.” She smirked. “Nobody would blame you.”

The jackal did not answer.

“I’m just saying. There’s better ways to solve that problem, ones that don’t involve me.”

Still the jackal did not answer.

Faun sighed and leaned against the back wall, playing idly with her tail fur. Blasting her way out of her prison was no longer an option; after a few more useless grenade volleys, Seker had taken her boom belt from her. When he grew bored of her constant attempts to retrieve it, he made both the bandolier and his hand insubstantial with a spell that Faun had to admit was rather impressive, then sank the belt into the brick floor. Now it was embedded there, completely out of reach. The only way to access the tower shaft to the lower chamber was by his will, so that was out. That left talking as her only viable option. It was not going well.

Seker stood immobile before the tower’s enormous crystalline picture window, his hands clasped behind his back, as much like a statue as the first time Faun saw him. The jackal cut a noble figure, there was no disputing that… but every time she felt faint stirrings of sympathy for him, she remembered that he intended to keep her there against her will until she agreed to be his eternal companion or died, whichever came first. Any pity she had for him shriveled in a hurry when she thought of that.

At this point, the sole comfort she had was trying to annoy him. It was something she had quite a knack for. “For example,” she said with a wicked grin, “why not try, you know, indulging yourself? I swear it doesn’t really make you go blind, that’s a myth.”

She thought she saw his shoulders twitch, but perhaps it was a trick of the light.

“Or a hobby!” said Faun. “That could help pass your time. Do you have any hobbies? Painting, sculpting, collecting bird feathers? I had a friend back in Unify once that loved bird feathers, he collected all kinds. Sparrow feathers, chicken feathers, swallow feathers, pigeon feathers, seagull feathers, duck feathers, red-tailed hawk feathers, white-tailed hawk feathers…”

As she babbled on and on, Seker was unreasonably glad that the vixen could not see his pained expression, nor his eyes rolling behind his mask. He stood in silence, trying to ignore his slowly growing suspicion that this entire situation was spiraling out of his control. However, he took solace in the fact that eventually, given enough time, she would stop talking. Eventually, given enough time, she had to stop.

Didn’t she?

The jackal suppressed a dry chuckle. Thousands of years spent yearning in vain for the sound of a voice other than his own, and now he found himself wishing for silence. What an irony.

More

ETERNITY AWAKES, CHAPTER 5

Chapter 5

Conflicting feelings

From the tower’s peak, the land

Spread out before her

 

            “Oh, to be alive in the Lost Ages, to see the Titans in their prime! What a sight that must have been! Just imagine it: great brick ziggurats and obelisks scraping the heavens themselves! A civilization that may have been more advanced than our own, spreading from the Raikaa Mountains to Earth’s End! All species united under one hand and one rule, with no squabbling or skirmishing over culture, borders, or religion! What knowledge they must have possessed, what wisdom, what secrets, now lost forever… Reader, it is enough to bring a tear to the eye of this old historian at the thought of it.

            “Alas, such is the tragedy of time: seasons change, civilizations fall, towers crumble, and the old is replaced by the new. Someday, even our beloved Unify may be but a memory, or a footnote in some future sentients’ legends…”

[An excerpt from Parts of the Whole: A Guide to World Cultures, by Ash Caeruleus]

 

“Damn,” said Faun, duly impressed. “Seriously, damn. I know you said you were good with magic, but… damn…!

As she spoke, she craned her neck up, and up, and up to see the tower better. Even when she stretched her muscles to the limit, she still couldn’t see the top from the forest floor. Circular, roughly twenty meters across, and built of pitch black stone that was too smooth to be of anything but magical origin, the tower had not been built so much as grown fully formed from the earth at Seker’s command. Sort of like what Hanami did with flowers, but on a far grander scale. And with rock instead of plants. So not much like Hanami’s powers at all, but still.

There was a distinguishing feature to the tower that marked it as derived from the squirrel mage’s power, though: from the black stone there sprouted countless vines of equally black roses in full bloom. The network of thorned vines crisscrossed the structure and left barely a meter of stone uncovered, like a kind of living fence or armor. As far as Faun could see, the rose vines were not only limited to the ground level… they climbed up the walls high out of sight. If there was a height where they thinned out, Faun couldn’t tell.

Next to her, the jackal’s voice rumbled with barely concealed pride as he stroked the Mage Flower’s crinkly petals, as if to thank it for a job well done. “Excellent,” he said. “Exactly as I pictured, apart from the roses… but they add character. A monument to me and mine that will stand the test of time. This will not so easily be forgotten, vixen.”

Faun tore her eyes away long enough to give him a wry smirk and a raised brow. “Compensating?”

A short, booming sound that might have been restrained laughter. “I hardly see the need. Come, let us enter.” One massive hand reached for Faun’s.

More

ETERNITY AWAKES, CHAPTER 4

Chapter 4

Reaching to the sky

A most ominous omen

Thinned and thickened blood

 

            “Skunk culture confuses many. How, people wonder, can a completely matriarchal society possibly function in today’s world? ‘So many females are small and delicate,’ they say. ‘How can they be fit for the traditional male duties of defending one’s home and providing for one’s family?’ And, ‘Is it not oppressive for females to dictate what rights males have, decide what they can and cannot wear, and prohibit them from holding certain jobs?’

            “Based on many conversations with skunks I have known, they ask themselves the same questions of us in reverse… the squirrels’ treatment of their females in particular is baffling to them. As their philosopher Sister Laurel Saltus once wrote, ‘Do not ask of us, ‘How can you do this thing?’ Ask yourselves, ‘Why do we not?’ One’s way is one’s way.’”

            “To begin with the basics: skunks revere Life, Family, and Motherhood. Alone among the sentient species, their sect of Tritheism elevates their Goddess of Life, Greatmother Rose, as superior to the other two. Time and Death are also Goddesses, but of far lesser stature. Unsurprisingly given these beliefs, the skunks have adopted a largely agrarian lifestyle, seeing it as their duty to tend the fields, cultivate all things that grow, and produce nourishment for the world’s population. Of course, it is the florises that do that tending and cultivating, as well as defending house and home. Who better, they ask, to enrich and safeguard Life than females, the bearers of the young?

“That is not to say there is no place in their society for others. Male skunks (or florins) take on many of what are otherwise traditionally feminine roles, the care and upbringing of children and food preparation among them. Traditionalist florins wear distinctive concealing robes when outside the home, an expression of modesty and devotion to the mate who has chosen them (or mates, as the case may be… polyamory still being popular and accepted in the culture). The life of a male skunk is seen by many outsiders as luxurious, idyllic, and uncomplicated… though the florins I have spoken to maintain vociferously that ‘uncomplicated’ is a gross exaggeration, particularly in regards to child-rearing. They are far less kind in speaking of those who see their treatment by the florises as ‘slavery’, a cross-species argument that has raged for centuries and shows no sign of abating.

“The Silver Order was a natural outgrowth of such beliefs, which began with the skunks and spread to the other species. It is a proud tradition, headed by the daughters of the Argenteus House since its inception sixty generations ago…”

[An excerpt from Parts of the Whole: A Guide to World Cultures, by Ash Caeruleus]

 

Back and forth. Back and forth. A depressed furrow in the rug marked the area where the Silver Order’s Vice-Mistress and Field Commander paced, her armored hands clasped tight behind her back. The waiting room outside of her mother’s business chamber in the heart of Aedis Centralis was not very large, so every few seconds, Lady Nadeshiko Argenteus did a sharp 180-degree turn on her heel to go back and pace in the opposite direction, her flawless platinum blonde braid whipping around to follow her. For such a young florin at only seventeen years, the skunk’s face bore such a serious, even grave expression… as if she was known to wear any other kind.

Doubtless, it would not please Nadeshiko to know that some of the lower ranks referred to her in private with the sarcastic nickname “Lady Sunshine”. Never to her face, of course… not that she would react with anything other than her usual cold stare.

More

WITHOUT A NAME, CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 3

Strangers become friends

Watching dancing fireflies

Outcasts’ gathering

“And so it was. We heeded the words, and change and new life flourished throughout the world. From our savagery, we were uplifted into civilizations, each one based upon worship of the Gods that so awed and terrified us. We called the brutal battles of our past the Last War, in hopes that it would ever be thus. We reclaimed the land, healed it as best we could, and made it our own. We tamed the animals, the goats, sheep, hogboars, and fowl, nurturing them as if they were our own children. Where there was once only ruin, we built homes, towns, villages… and Unify, our capital city.

“Built in a circle around the Shinju, the great tree that the Goddess of Life raised in the world’s center, named to remind us of the message that the Gods gave unto us, Unify spread as our numbers grew. Among the Shinju’s roots we mingled, sharing our stories and our knowledge, and under her boughs we slept in peace. When it came time to lead ourselves, those chosen by each species took to meeting high up in her crown, where the Representatives could see all of Unify spread out before them.

“For a while, it was paradise… but then, to our sorrow, our belief in the Gods led to more conflict than ever…”

[An excerpt from Godlore: Our Sacred Legacy and Foundations of Society, by Ash Caeruleus]

“Well, kitto, there it is!”

A gasp left Hanami’s lips as Faun pulled aside the underbrush blocking their view of a grassy clearing.

At the clearing’s center, under a canopy of stars, there stood a huge slab of granite. Ten meters across, it was low enough to the ground that one could step up onto it without having to climb. Its surface was almost perfectly flat, smoothed and leveled by who knew how many centuries of rain, and so polished that it reflected some of the light of the late summer moon above. In the center of the rock there were a half-dozen logs, each large enough to sit on and covered by a hand-woven blanket. The logs surrounded a shallow dip in the rock’s surface, in which lay a pile of blackened timber and ash, the remnants of a fire. All around, the air glimmered with tiny, lazily drifting yellow lights blinking off and on… there was a company of fireflies out tonight, engaged in a courtship dance.

“It’s beautiful,” said Hanami in a hushed tone as she climbed over the edge. The place was like an illustration out of the old storybooks she loved as a child.

Faun shrugged and grabbed a blanket, wadding it into a rough ball shape before she sat down on it. “It’s not much, but we like it.”

“I can see why.” Smiling, Hanami took her own seat, folding her hands in her lap… which was when she heard and felt something tear. Her ears turned back; doubtless, one of the numerous gashes the branches had made in her tunic had just split open even further. Her lip trembled as she tugged at the fabric, trying to conceal the damage.

“Oi,” chided Faun. “Leave it alone, it’ll tear even worse if you do that.  Dijo, I told you you can have some of my clothes when we get back to my den.”

“Erm,” said Hanami. While she was beyond grateful for the offer, that wasn’t exactly a comforting statement. More

COPYRIGHT

Tasakeru, tasakeru.com, and all related contents, text, and media are the Intellectual Property (IP) of BHS and BHS Productions, registered in 2009, and may not be modified, reproduced, or changed in any way, shape, or form without the author's express permission. For more information on usage rights, see the From the Author page.

ads.txt

google.com, pub-5010106122800170, DIRECT, f08c47fec0942fa0
Pets Supplies Shop online for pet supplies, pet care products for house hold pets as well as small garden animals at low internet prices and fast home delivery service - petsboutiques.eu

Member of The Internet Defense League