In dreams

Posted in Uncategorized on May 1, 2012 by jeremiah james strawhand

The power of a million suns…

Again and again these words bounced through my head but why? 

Conversations in a dark smoky room behind a heavy steel door. 

Had I been drunk?  The memories are hazy.  A man in a suit sitting behind a desk.  This is important, he said, write this down, he said.  Rings of thick cigar smoke float through the air masking all features in this dismal light.  The cigar smoking man just sits on the corner of the desk and he just…stares at me.  Sometimes the smoke is in my face and I want to cough.

The power of a million suns.

I remember the needle, the van.  The bearded man had asked me for directions and suddenly I was staring into it.  The sun. 

Some people say look up if you have to sneeze.

Sunday…Sunday…Sunday?   Easter Sunday…but…no.  Easter Tuesday.  This had been important.  But I can’t remember why.   Was it the Tuesday before or after Easter?  What did any of this have to do with me?  I’m just some nobody.

I awoke about an hour ago to the sound of screeching tires and I saw that white van speeding away.  My head pounded and I tasted copper.  I sat up to find myself in some alley in the factory district.  All decaying cobblestones and filthy smokestacks spewing black poison into the air.

No one lived down here anymore, not even bums.  My nostrils burned and my head ached as I struggled to my feet, leaning against a crumbling brick wall.  No sooner than I had stood up, I was doubled over by a twisting knot in my stomach.  I heaved twice but nothing came out. 

The copper taste, the wrenching gut, the swimming head.  The needle. 

…and the smokestacks billowed in rings that the sun could hardly pierce.

New concept

Posted in Uncategorized on April 6, 2012 by jeremiah james strawhand

It was strange, at first. 

 

Strange and terrifying.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned through this it’s that us humans are capable of adapting to just about anything.

 

I always wanted to believe in a god or the God or ghosts or aliens or anything really…anything more than just…this.  I’ve always been too much of a skeptic.  I can’t believe in something I can’t see or feel or touch.   The funny thing is that nothing has really changed.  We all still just go about our daily business like so many insects.  Hell, even more so, now.  But what are you supposed to do?  You and your family still need to eat.  You still need to go to work.  You still go bowling.  You still hang out with your friends or catch a movie.  You still take that trip to the shore.  Things are just…a little more unpredictable now.

 

No one ever really wants to think about what it would be like to no longer be at the top of the food chain.  No one wants to think that maybe aliens or gods or ghosts are somehow innately superior to us.  In this day and age half of us believed we were our own gods…we worshipped only man and our skyscrapers, our cities, our technology were a living testament to our own narcissistic self-devotion.   I’ve never considered myself the arrogant type, but it’s hard not take a little bit of pride in being the pinnacle of what creation has to offer.  

 

How we fall. 

 

Maybe we are a bit more than ants to them, but certainly no more than dogs: occasionally amusing pets that sometimes need to be punished.

 

The violent and the unreal .  The smell of electricity and the sound of the rushing wave.  The calm at the center of a nightmare storm.  The heat and glow of molten rock.  With all of these things I was now familiar.

 

When I was a kid, I remember looking at a globe and thinking, ‘so this is what the world looks like,’ with a sense of concrete permanence.  Something stable, something true.  Something not open to interpretation. 

 

The world map has been redrawn 3 or 4 times since then.  Valleys are forged and rivers are cut.  Tectonic plates shift and collide and the continents draw closer together.   A massive mountain spirals towards the heavens in the middle of the Atlantic.  “They” call it Olympus II. 

 

No one really knows what happened.  They certainly aren’t telling us and our scientists are baffled.  One day they just…woke up.

 

I was 22 when it happened.  I don’t know if it was fate or luck or maybe the opposite of both, but I found myself at ground zero.   Some friends of mine wanted to go see Wrestlemania in Miami and we had flown out for the weekend.  In retrospect, they must have been watching us for a while…why there?  Why then?

 

HHH had just entered the ring and was calling someone out for a grudge match of sorts when the clouds above the open air arena coalesced and formed into a giant human face.  The face spoke in a language I couldn’t understand, which I would later come to recognize as Greek, and a lightning bolt struck the stage in a furious blast of light and sound.

 

When the smoke cleared a man had appeared in the opposite corner of the ring as the wrestler and he was clothed in crackling electricity.   The man spoke again, this time in English.

 

“I am Zeus,” he said, “and I accept your challenge.”

Chapter 21: Metamorphosis

Posted in Uncategorized on February 1, 2012 by jeremiah james strawhand

A caterpillar crawling on the forest floor sparked a memory.  A memory of when I was a boy, when my mother was still alive.

We were walking through the woods near our village and a caterpillar caught my eye.  It was an ugly bastard.  Green and red with spiky parts poking out and my mother told me to stay away from it because it was poison.

Its very touch could kill, especially a young child like me.

My mother said that this caterpillar, this worm, was unique.  She spent her whole life wishing she could be something else and then, after emerging from her cocoon, she spread her gorgeous painted wings to fly, but there was a price.  During the transition from poison worm to fluttering butterfly, an irreversible and catastrophic change had taken place.

Flying from tree to flower, and dancing with her newfound beautiful friends, a sadness began to overcome her, for during her metamorphosis she had gained wings and beauty, and yet she had lost the ability to eat.  Her mouth no longer worked and she landed on her favorite leaves only to find that they no longer brought her joy and she realized that her time was now so very limited.

This sadness was overcome when another butterfly caught her eye and, forgotten, she left her leaves behind forever.  Now, forever isn’t very long when you can no longer eat and soon the pair died, but not before she had laid a glistening egg, ripe with the promise of new life.

She wanted to wait until the egg hatched, so she could tell her sons or daughters about their fate.  She wanted to tell them that maybe it’s ok to be a worm. She wanted to tell them not to spend their whole lives running towards a light that burns when you finally reach it.

Instead she just smiled, looked at her mate, and together they flew away.

I had often thought about this story and wondered if it was really ok to be a worm.  If you have one chance to irreversibly change your life, will you take that chance and fly or continue to wriggle through the dust?

I looked at the caterpillar now as it climbed over a twig, probing the air and ground it into a green paste with my heel.

No.

No more time to crawl.

Night fell.  My pace quickened.  A fog rolled in.

A fog so thick you could almost touch it and the heat made it hard to breathe.

The jungle got denser as I went on.  Even if there had been a path it would have been impossible to find it.  No moon, no visibility.  No smell.

A distant rustle.  They come for me. Their pride will not allow them to allow me to leave.

Just let me go.  Leave me alone.  I don’t want to have to hurt you.  Just let me go.

I’m running now.  Full speed ahead.  Skip a root, duck a branch.  A thorn bush tears at my leg and I can feel little beads of blood dripping down.  Keep moving.  Maybe if I run fast enough they will cease to follow.  Maybe if the future can become a blur, the past can too.  Maybe if the lights become a streak instead of a point, the point can disappear.

The lights.  Shining through the fog like an iridescent halo.  Gaining on me.  Faster now.  Faster.  Faster.

My boot sinks into a mud bog and I stumble at full motion.  I struggle to stay on my feet, my body leaning forward, my arms flailing and I trip into the light.

I leap to a crouch and pull my knife from belt and see I am surrounded by unfamiliar faces.  They are afraid.  They shield each other with their arms, pushed back against their tents.  I look at them and they look at me and the forest behind me bursts open with my kin that had given chase.

I turn and stand and draw Thursbanr and swing and it rings out and sings before finding a mark.  The sounds of bone and flesh being severed replace the ring, followed by a meaty thud as Oddr’s head rolls to the ground.

“Go.”  I say.  “Is this what you wanted?  You’ll find nothing but an early grave here.”

A man named Nikolas steps forward and kneels on one knee.  “Pl..please…spare us, master Kol…we didn’t come to hunt you down…we came to join you.”

I look down at Oddr’s body and in his grisly hand is clutched an amulet my father wore.

I turn to look at the strange people standing behind us and as I do so, they flinch.

I turn again and bend down to Oddr, and take the amulet from his hand.  It was a symbol of Sjofn, the goddess of love, and it had been my mother’s.

“Go.” I say.  “I am no leader and I have no use for you.  As you have cast me out, so will I to you.  Go, before I change my mind.”

The proud men standing before me visibly sank and turned to leave and a feeling I don’t often feel fills me and I say, “Wait…I’m sorry about Oddr…I didn’t know.”

Nikolas just nods and the group vanishes back into the fog.

I stop for a long while, examining the amulet in my hand and Oddr’s corpse.  Is it possible that I was less alone than I was always made to feel?  Is it possible that I can be regarded by other feelings aside fear and disgust?

I spin slowly to face these people…these strangers and sit on the ground, Thursbanr across my lap and I try my best to smile.  Crooked grin and broken maw, I smile.

I toss my axe and shield away, out of reach, and Thursbanr, too.

These people, they don’t know what to think.  A girl comes up to me and offers me something in a waterskin.  It smells foul.  It tastes foul.

I drink it anyway and I smile.

Chapter 20: Aberration

Posted in Uncategorized on January 31, 2012 by jeremiah james strawhand

Roger wore a large gold ring and I took it as proof of his death while my men finished off the rest of the guests and similarly robbed their belongings.   I looked the ring over and I realized that I had never truly looked at gold before and the vibrancy of it astonished me.  I was keenly aware of the ever-so-slight fluctuations of shade I assumed had been created by whatever the metal had been combined with to increase its strength.

The walls sighed a blood-soaked heaving sigh.

On our way out we threw the torches around the house and fled into the night.  Another tossed me a bag of coins and jewelry he had collected from the dead.

I turned back to look at the blaze to see that the shades of gold stood out among the infinitely minute reds and blues and greens, and it was beautiful.  I found that it reminded me of a time once that I had been talking to my father and as I looked at him, I was overcome with the feeling that I was seeing him in such a way as I had never seen him before.  There had been no profound change in him and nothing out of the ordinary had happened.    It was like I was simply seeing him from an angle I hadn’t encountered before, or with a light that never shone before.

I thought to ask him if he had experienced this …if he could relate to me.   I thought to ask him if there were two sides to every man as there are two sides to every story.   As I wondered if this was some skill I had somehow accidentally discovered the feeling faded as quickly as it had come on and, though I tried, I could never regain it, and I was again locked in my singular view, unable to escape.

Until now.

As I gazed into the inferno that had been the mansion I realized that this could be bliss or destruction.  This could be beauty or devastation.

Two sides to every coin, two outcomes to every story.

The smoke filled my nostrils and I told the First Three to go home, and my shadow image told them to stay and they went.

The lost souls of the recent dead swarmed around me and I told them to go home and my mirror image said stay, and they stayed.

I began to run home.  Back to Turtannus.  I stayed off the road.

The trees swayed and swerved and melted and whispered, and in my mind I could see myself running the other way…away from walls.  Away from Brand.  Away from Edwin and Marie.   I am suddenly aware of the tear in my armor…the tear in my flesh…where the neck meets the breast.

And my shadow self is unharmed.

Two sides of every coin.  Two outcomes to every story.  Two paths to every destination.

This divergence becomes obvious to me.  Becomes plain to me.  I can trace every path backward, but the one ahead is more difficult.  I can see a choice.  The same choices we all have.   Maybe Fate is not just one path.  Maybe everything is not decided.  Maybe each of the Norns has a separate plan for us, or maybe I’ve just slipped through the cracks.

I pull the ivory coffin out from under my shirt, where it has again made its home, and roll it between my thumb and forefinger.  Am I bound by this fate or are other fates bound to me?  Do I cut through this sea with my dragon’s head spewing fire before me or do I simply follow in its wake, drawn by a power greater than myself?

I continue through the forest and before long a breeze carries with it the familiar scents of the city.  The coal and wood burning.  The sex and the sweat.  The blood and the alcohol.  Even at night I can feel the warmth emanating from the thick stone walls.  I can smell a baby crying and a mother’s tears…and I laugh.  I stop and I laugh.  A long, howling laugh from somewhere deep in my gut and I’m doubled over with tears of my own streaming down my face and I can taste them in the corners of my broken grin.

And my mirror self just watches for a while, a smirk on his face, before melding into the shadow of a tall oak.

When I’ve regained my composure I walk around to the gate on the Old Turtannus side…there would be fewer questions there.

The gate guard looks at me as I approach and he recognizes me.

“Warlock,” he says, “we were hoping you were gone for good.  You’ll have to wait till the morning for me to open the gate.”

I wasn’t willing to take the risk of Reynard probing about my whereabouts so I bribed the guard with five gold coins to let me in and ten more to forget that I had come through.

By this time I was exhausted.  My body felt ready for collapse yet strangely kinetic.  I made my way as far as the stable where I had gutted the Fool and stopped a while to rest.

I laid my head down in the hay and watched it wriggle and squirm with life, but it didn’t bother me .  Soon I fell asleep.

When I woke up the sun was bright in the sky.  It was sometime after midday and I felt alright aside from some stiffness in my back and soreness where my armor had torn.

I pulled my cloak about me to hide my injury and went to pay a visit to Brand.

I walked into the usual dismal light of The Troll to find Brand upstairs, standing over a table where a man I hadn’t seen before was seated.  He was pointing and yelling but I couldn’t make out what he had said and he stopped when he saw me come through the door.  “We’ll finish this later,” he said to the man who had now turned to look at me, his eyes squinting in the darkness.

Brand walked over to me saying, “You look like shit, Warlock.  Sit down.  Have a…have a drink.”  There was a nervous note in his voice that I wasn’t accustomed to hearing.  He was usually brimming with confidence.

I took a seat at the bar and nodded at the barmaid who brought me my usual.

“You’re doing good, Kol…doin good…doin good,” Brand said as he patted me on the back.  “This was…uh…this was an important job.  That guy over there?  He thinks I should dispose of you.  Kill you in your sleep.  Poison your mead.  Something like that.”

I glanced at the drink in my hand and he chuckled, “Haha…don’t worry.  I think he’s wrong.  Those people you killed?  You said you wanted to know right?  That guy Roger?  He was the leader of the Turtannus Merchant’s Guild, which is just a fancy name for more crooks and thieves.   My competition…that’s all.  Only they paid enough to the guards and kings and dukes or whatever to become officially sanctioned.  Just more thieves in prettier clothes.  That bastard Reynard’ll be here any minute I’m sure.  Better hide you somewhere before he shows up.”

I handed him the ring I had taken from Roger’s dead hand and he rolled it over for a second before handing it back to me.

“I don’t want that, it’s all yours,” he said as he smiled and stood up, ushering me to the hidden basement door.

“I have somewhere to be,” I began, “I’ll stay out of trou…” and the door swung open and he pushed me inside.

“You’ll stay here until I tell you to leave.”

I’m tired…I’m always tired…and so I walk down the stairs where the large man waits before the door.

He stands up, checks me for weapons, and lets me through.

The door opens to an empty room.  The chandelier has only one candle lit and it casts a dim light over the room.   The empty chairs, the scarred table cast shadows across the old salt and blood stains.  Water drips down from a crack in the ceiling.

Drip.   Dripdrip.  Drip.  Dripdrip. Drip.

I walk across the room and lean against the corner, letting my back slide down the wall until my elbows are resting on my knees.

I can hear the door open upstairs followed by raised voices.  The ceiling between us makes it impossible to hear what is being said.  A minute later and he door at the top of the stairs opens and people come scrambling down and I swallow Roger’s ring.  A second after that the door bursts open.

I don’t look up.

I hear Reynard’s voice saying, “I knew the ugly bastard was in here somewhere,” and the blood haze is creeping in.

Brand is here too and he says, “Tell him to fuck off, Kol.  You’ve been here all ni…oohh,” and I look up to see him falling on the floor.

Reynard says, “I know that’s not true.  I know you were outside of the city.  You think a little bit of gold will buy your way out of this, you’re seriously fucking mistaken.”

He walks over to me and puts his hand under my chin to force my eyes to meet his.

Take your hand off me…and I clench my teeth.  Take your hand off me.

“I know you did it, Warlock.  Maybe you’re fine with being this sonofabitch’s errand boy, but not on my watch.”

I say nothing.

Brand scrambles back to his feet and wipes the blood from his mouth with the back of his sleeve saying, “I don’t think you know who you’re fucking with, Captain.”

Breathe, Kol.

Reynard turns to look at him and then back to me.  “What?  This piece of shit?”  He brings his hand back to punch me and I stand up, and he shrinks back.

I don’t say anything.

He looks at me for a long minute and says, “How’d you get so fuckin’ ugly?”

And I say something… “My mother was raped and murdered.  I was lucky enough to see it happen.”

He doesn’t know what to say.  He stutters.  “I…I ahh.”

“It was a long time ago.  You don’t have to say anything.”  And my face is a shattered stone mask.

Reynard looks back at his men and makes a motion with his hand and they come up and start to search me.

They pat me down and one of them feels the armor there and tells me to open my shirt, so I do.

It’s a mess.  I’m covered in blood and exposed bone glistens through.

“What the hell?  You see this shit captain?”

“Yeah I see it.  What’s the deal Warlock?  Let me guess, you fell.”

So I laugh and I tell him that I fell and he walks up and jams his finger into the wound on my chest.

I don’t flinch.

I grab his hand and push it away.

“I fell.  I was walking through the woods and I tripped over a stump.  It wasn’t healed yet and it tore open.  That’s all.”

The men finish searching me and find nothing.  No weapons.  No clues.  Just me, laughing and bleeding.

I glance at Brand and he winks.

Reynard says, “I know you did this, Warlock.  And I’m gonna watch you burn.  Your time is almost up.”

He turns and walks away.

Chapter 19: Tower of Bone

Posted in Uncategorized on January 4, 2012 by jeremiah james strawhand

After our battle with the Koli, the ones that were left were as terrified of me as my kin were.   We walked into their villages and they came out of their homes, offering us their jewels and gold, their daughters and sons.  We razed one village to the ground with the people trapped inside because they didn’t give us enough.  We herded them into the largest hut and shut the door and set it ablaze.

The blood haze waited just on the edge of my vision and out of the corners of my eyes it identified everyone as an enemy.

Everyone.

Then we watched the screaming fire turn to ash and some of the men were laughing and drinking.  A woman tried to escape, her hair wild forked tongues of orange and red.  She broke through one of the walls and ran and then there was an arrow through her leg and she was pushed back into the fire.  Her horrified eyes met mine for a split second before she became one with the flames.

And I felt nothing at all.  Not happy, not sad, neither unrepentant nor remorseful.  Just…vacant.  Matter-of-fact.  A way of life, nothing more.  I began to wonder if there would come a time when I would no longer be able to distinguish the lines between when I should and shouldn’t care.  When I could and could not.

When the hut was nearly demolished I noticed, for the first time, that the image of a serpent consuming itself had been etched into one of the eaves.  I recognized the symbol as that of Jormungandr, the world serpent, and wondered if he protected this place.  If so, we were surely doing the work of Thor, and that was enough to make me happy for a moment.  I smiled as the walls made their final collapse and some charred bones poked up out of the rubble.

We stayed in the area for a week or so, travelling from village to village, collecting valuables and slaves, and always asking about the tower of gold, but never finding it.

Eventually the boats were full of bloodied and beaten slaves or piled with gold and precious stones and weapons and we set sail back north up the river.

I was in the boat with the elder this time and as we went up the river the Koli started to appear on the banks again.  They wore their masks and face paint and waved their spears.   They beat on drums and danced an evil dance.

After a time, their numbers began to thin out and eventually there was just one and he stood on an island in the middle of the river, naked except at the waist and with a short stick in his hand.   He didn’t watch as the boats in front of ours passed, he just looked straight ahead.  Straight at me it seemed, or straight through me.  A boat full of slaves passed by him, pleading and crying and he did not waver.

As our boat neared, the rhythmic, wave-like drums began again, from players unseen.  The beat quickened and soon it became a frenzied rush of noise.  Our boat passed and the single man turned to follow us with his gaze.  When we were about five boat lengths away, he put the stick to his mouth and the drums stopped.  A moment later, the elder put a hand to his neck and pulled out a tiny arrow, and the man disappeared into the brush.

The elder jabbed the dart into the side of the boat as he muttered something under his breath.

Within an hour, he said he wasn’t feeling well.

Within two, he was puking and shitting blood and the boat of slaves near us was silent as the grave.

And then he was dead.

Someone sounded a horn and we pulled the boats off onto the nearest bank and made a solemn camp.

Men were stationed on the perimeter in case of attack, but no attack came.

A boat was lined with sticks and reeds and a bed of furs was made in it.  Someone had begun sewing the elder new clothes for the afterlife, but the elder’s son feared attack and procured some relatively untarnished ones for him.   The elder’s nails were cut close, lest Naglfar find us soon, and his beard and hair were trimmed.  The boat was loaded with gold and riches and a saddle and stirrups and all the elder’s weapons and armor.   Two of the new slave girls were made to drink mead until they were drunk and led to sit in the boat and finally the elder was laid on the furs, his hands folded across his chest.  A bonfire raged on the shore and the sparks and embers floated into the night as the boat was pushed out.   Three men lined up behind the fire with their bows drawn, and when the boat had floated about three lengths out, they fired their resin-soaked arrows through the bonfire and lit the funeral boat ablaze.

The slave girls shackled to the boat screamed and howled and the ones on the shore wailed and wept.

The men stood stoically and watched as the ship was consumed and the flames slowly sunk beneath the water and I fell asleep against a tall tree, as the bonfire died.

I was awoken in the pre-dawn by a commotion and I opened my eyes to see that a group of my kinsmen surrounded me.  They all talked at once until the elder’s son, the new chief, stepped forward saying, “Both our fathers are dead, and you are to blame.  That dart that killed my father was meant for you, and we don’t want you here anymore.  Go, now, before you bring more bad luck upon us.”

I looked at the men assembled there, some whom I had known my entire life.  Some I had grown up with, and they all seemed to have grown old overnight, their faces heavy and dark.

I said nothing as I stood and gathered my things.

I contemplated destroying them all…but I knew that was not the answer, and I knew they were no threat to me.  They were afraid of the consequences that killing me might entail.  They were afraid of the demon’s black blood that supposedly burned in my veins.

I owned nothing more than my implements of war.  A sword, an axe, some mismatched armor.   I looked over the armor and kept only the chainmail shirt I sometimes wore, and the weathered shield I rarely used.

Oddr, a man I had barely known, came up to me as I prepared to leave and handed me a small bag of coins.  He said he wished me luck, and that he hoped to someday avoid my vengeance, if it ever came to that.

I slung the shield and axe across my back and Thursbanr at my side and walked away without looking back, so that no one might see the tears that welled in my eyes.  Loss…you know.

Sometimes even the raging bear feels the loss that separation brings.

Chapter 18: Veil

Posted in Uncategorized on September 24, 2011 by jeremiah james strawhand

I am nothing.

And this piece of metal in my hand…reflects only the truest truth.  Divine, naked, and brilliant.

Teetering on the edge of collapse…spinning through the void.  Somewhere, there’s a foothold…somewhere there’s a handhold.  Something to grab on to if only for a little while.  Something to calm the vibration.  Something to soothe the catastrophe.

The feeling ebbs for a second and I become aware of where I am…what I’m doing.   Staring down this hill staring at my sword and thinking this nonsense, while my three soldiers stare at me.  Focus, Kol.  Control.  Breathe.  Control.

And then it comes back, stronger than ever, and I’m running down the hill, screaming at the top of my lungs, cutting at the air, cursing at the gods and no one hears me and no one smites me down.

I arrive at a gate and the guards don’t know what to make of me.  They try to talk to me.  They think I’m just some crazy person.

“Go home,” they say.  “You don’t belong here.”

“Belong here?  Where do I belong?”

Where do I belong…

The next thing I know the gate is open and I’m swinging and this time it isn’t at air.  I find truth in the definitive.  I find truth in the tangible.

Blood…

…is…

…truth.

And if there’s one thing I know it’s truth…truth.  Truth.  Truth….truth?  If you say any word enough times it starts to lose its meaning and just like that, ‘truth’ becomes a lie.

Glimmering and glistening and slick with blood and no one to cry or call out I walk down this path to the mansion.   No peace, sir, no peace at all.

No piece, just pieces.  No peace, just blood.

And I kick the door open and I smash some guest…a guest…in regular clothes…no weapons?  I smash some guest to the floor and his shattered teeth splayed out and the kaleidoscope bleeds only red and my mirror shadow image behind.

Screams now, from the other guests and they’re backing into the corners and their heading for the doors and one, two, three, find my truth.  None can escape.  I am too obvious and they would end my life just as I have ended these and maybe it would be for the best.

And one more down and two more down and you’re all unarmed…and I can feel your souls…I can see your souls, swirling through that ethereal soup and I reach out to touch you, but you’re gone…and you leave only hate and it swarms on me like a black cloud beating on my head and drowning out my ears and clawing at my flesh and eyes.

And I move through the crowd setting my target here or there and one gets past me.  I turn to chase but a spear drives through him and I see Another Still, and he tells me the doors are covered boss, but this is brutal.

This is life, I say, and life is death, and blood is truth, and it is all the same.  These souls know only hate and fear and they fear everything they don’t already hate.

And my liquid sword splashes through someone’s guts…finding life…finding blood.  Finding hate.  Finding truth.

And the screams echo through my head and the cries for help and the pleadings for mercy.  Cattle and I slaughter you.  Bleating like sheep.  Bleeding like cattle.

Where’s the one I came for?  Roger…what a stupid name.  Where is he?  Tell me or you die.  And you tell me and you die.  And the blood blossoms on the floor like a caterpillar from its cocoon.  Beautiful and metamorphic.  And your hateful soul scratches at me and tears, and the look in your eyes…the feeling of your final choking breath.  And the smell…

There is no blood, only truth.  There is no truth only life.  There is no life, only…only…

Only.

Walking through jellied corpses stomping on withered bones I find my way upstairs.

I run my fingers along the walls and I drag my blade behind me and when I reach the top a man is there and he’s throwing a net over me and kicking me down the stairs.

My world is upside down and right side up and side side down and what has changed?  I’m hurt, I can feel it and this…this…armor…it’s tearing my skin off.  My neck is a gaping wound where the flesh has separated from itself like a piece of old fabric leaving the muscle underneath exposed and I can feel it, but there is no pain.

A spear flies through the air and the man with the net comes tumbling down on top of me with crushing weight.  There is no pain but there should be.  There is no feeling except loss.  Will I ever feel again?  Is this the end of my ‘life?’  Does truth destroy life?

Now someone’s cutting the net and saying boss, get up, we can’t do this without you and I’m standing up and I’m squinting through the blood in my eyes.  No, not the blood haze, it abandoned me.  Not the rage, this is…too sterile.

No.

Life.

And I’m heading back up the stairs and I’m kicking open a door and I find two lovers and I say, “Roger?  If you’re Roger I’m here to save you,” and they say no, and I cut off both their heads and their souls scream a hateful scream, and still I breathe my life to them.

Through another door and this one’s open and a man stands alone, looking out the window and he says, “So it’s time, then?” and I say, “I suppose.”

And as he turns to face me I say “Roger?” and he says, “Yes, and you can tell…” and I run him through.  I don’t care, Roger.  I don’t care.

You think I don’t know you but I know me.  And I am you and you are me and there is no beginning or end.  One cataclysm after another or maybe all at once.

And your hateful soul screams a hateful scream.

Chapter 17: Broken

Posted in Uncategorized on September 23, 2011 by jeremiah james strawhand

Chapter 17: Broken

Ulfr had thrown me over his shoulder and carried me home.  Beaten, bloodied and broken, maybe, but with a different persective.

This gift of anger, this seething rage and cutting steel, it had its limitations.

I spent the trip home fading in and out of consciousness.  When he wasn’t yelling at me to hold on, he was filling my head with spoken knowledge of swordplay.  When to strike and when to defend, what to do against an opponent bigger or stronger than you and against one faster.   When to run.  When to hold fast.  How to flank a unit of archers and how to beat an opponent on horseback.  So many things I hadn’t ever even considered and I wondered if I could ever master them all.

My strength, he said, my determination and my abandon might be enough to beat most opponents but not all.  Skill trumps strength.  Skill trumps speed and aggression.  I had the potential to be a great warrior…among the best, but I had to learn to temper my energy with skill and knowledge.

We arrived home and there was no one to greet me, and no one to care if I was ok.

When I had recovered, we did it again.  And again.  And again.  Each time I got a little bit better.  A little bit closer to victory.  Each time I learned from my mistakes and I didn’t repeat them.  The rage and the blood haze…each time I learned a little bit more control.  A rampaging beast is of no use to anyone.  An angry bull will occasionally turn on the cows it aims to protect and have to be put down.

Once…maybe just once…I want to be the hero.

Slowly…a little bit at a time…I transformed from a liability into an asset and my body transformed into a tangle of old scars and fresh wounds.  After a month I was able to stumble home on my own.  After three I could jog.

Once…maybe just once…I want to be someone’s shining knight.

There came a day when I was sure my skill had surpassed my master’s.  I ran to meet him in the field of blood flowers and he was nowhere to be found.  I waited and waited and waited until the sun began to set and still there was no sign of him.  I went home sullenly and found that he had been by my house while I was gone and left a note with my father.

“I can train you no further, Kol.  I wish you luck.

Ulfr.”

That was it.  And I never saw him again.

Maybe just once…I’d like to know that everything isn’t going to end in the blink of an eye.

The spring came quickly after that and the men began preparing for another raid.  This time we were headed south along the big river to find the brown men, the Koli, that lived in the deserts.  It was said they had towers of gold that reached the clouds and their women were strong and beautiful.

I spent a few days cleaning my armor and sharpening my weapons and the next thing I knew the men were loading the boats with food and supplies and hugging their friends and families goodbye.

I was put into a different ship than my father this time, and none of the men talked to me, and no one waved goodbye.

We sailed out into the ocean, and then turned east to meet the mouth of the big river.  This far north the water was still freezing cold and off in the distance ice floes could be seen shifting here and there.  We reached the big river and one by one our ships turned south.  As we passed through the mouth a red spot appeared on the ice along the bank and it grew as we watched, its tiny tendrils creeping along in crystalline patterns.   After it grew to a certain point, about as big as a wagon, the center started to melt and cave in and we all watched in awe as it crumbled into itself.

Someone said it was an ill omen but the ships kept sailing two by two through the mouth of the river.    I turned to look around just as the spot disappeared and a carcass floated up through the hole and from here, it looked as if it was swarming with flies.

We picked up speed as we caught the prevailing wind and the river opened up and the men started to talk a little bit more.  One of them, Oddr, said that a Koli had come to the village and tipped us off about the tower of gold; that he had sold out his own people and that he hadn’t wanted anything in return.  He said he guessed it was about a woman and laughed and the rest of the men laughed too, but I noticed as he glanced back towards the mouth of the river that there was no joy in his face.   Our eyes met for a second and he turned away, spitting into the water.

A week down the river and the weather was getting warmer and the grass was getting greener.  We saw a few of the Koli here and there and it looked to me like they wouldn’t have any gold at all.  The ones we saw were old and hobbled and barely wore any clothes or jewelry or even shoes.

Some gathered on the river banks as we passed by and yelled things I couldn’t understand.  Oddr said that they were telling us to go home and threatening us with curses.  He couldn’t understand them either, he said, except for a few words.

The further down river we went, the more of them appeared, and the quieter they became.  Some of them had painted faces at first and then some of them had masks and shields and spears.  The men started to pull on their armor and shields and I did the same.  Not five minutes later, the lead boat sounded a horn and the boats began to dock along the eastern bank of the river in a clearing.  Some of the Koli had gathered here and they moved only far enough to allow the boats to dock without being run over.

When most of the boats had docked, the Koli started to bang their shields and spears together or clap their hands, or stomp their feet, one by one, like a rolling wave, and the sound produced a dizzying effect.

I ran to catch up to my father who was consulting with the elder as I approached, saying, “Hey, hey, what’s going on?” he turned around and pushed me backwards onto the ground and at that exact same moment, the noise stopped.

A second later a spear whizzed through the air, impaling one of the men, and then they were just everywhere.  We were surrounded and I leapt to my feet, and the blood haze crept in and my toes and fingertips boiled.  I meant to run to them but they ran to us.  I cut them down like the reeds along the river bank and they bent and crumpled all around me.

I had gotten separated from my father and I as I tried to find him, one of them tried to sneak up behind me.  I heard his breath, I smelled his blood.  I felt his bare footsteps in the sodden earth and I turned to strike, Thursbanr coming down across his shoulder and cutting through to his sternum as the top half of his torso kind of peeled away.  I turned again and just as I did so I saw one of the Koli driving an axe through my father’s face.  I watched as his eyes went dim and the blood poured out of his nose and mouth.  Instantly, reflexively, I threw my own axe and the Koli that had taken him suffered the same fate, but I felt the same.  Devastated?  Relieved?  Free?

Right now, angry would serve me best, and so I embraced it, and I became that raging beast.   As the corpses piled up around me, I eventually became aware that none of my people were even fighting anymore.  They were just watching me slaughter these poor brown men…one by one, or three by three, or ten by ten.  It didn’t matter.  Some of them tried to throw their spears, some of them threw rocks or shot darts.  One of them blew a sparkling dust in my face…and there was just no way I was ever going to stop.  My heart felt ready to burst and my veins burned and I breathed like a raging bear and I had suffered countless wounds, but I maintained control, and they just kept dying.

No challenge, here.  None at all, and I spit and threw away my weapons.  And still they kept coming and I broke their bones and I shattered their skulls and I cracked their ribs.  Some that lay moaning on the ground beneath me tried to trip me and I ground their hands into bloody chunks of bone.

Eventually one came, and he had no weapons, and he had no armor.  His face was painted and his hair stood on end in a crazy spiral.  He entered into my pit of death and he nodded to me and then he came at me.  He was fast, but I was faster.  He was strong, but I was stronger.  He drew blood, but I drew life, and I watched as he coughed his final cough and bled out into the soil, atop the bodies of his friends and family.

And I turned to find that my kin had registered in my mind as the enemy, and what was funny about it was that it wasn’t me losing control. I fell backwards, exhausted, landing on a pile of soft flesh and jagged bone, and closed my eyes.