Archive for September, 2011

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.

Chapter 16: A promise

Posted in A Story About Blood, Blood on September 19, 2011 by jeremiah james strawhand

http://astoryaboutblChapter 16: A Promise I left the Troll’s Breath again, the midday sun again blinding me to the filth that surrounded me. With enough light even the most dismal spot in the darkest corner can seem warm and inviting. In the right light, anything can be beautiful. A bag of coins jingled at my hip. Am I a monster by necessity or choice? No…certainly not by choice. No one chooses this kind of life. And again I feel the Norns plucking at my puppets’ strings. There is no life that will not come to an end and I consider myself a soul collector, although my collection is not my own. I imagine them swirling through some ethereal soup, a mess of color swarming through the air around us. If I could just see through this veil that separates our world from theirs…if I could just reach out and touch them to know that they are still there. To let them feel the breath of life just one more time before they find their way to the other realms…to hold their hands and let them know that they are not alone. Not abandoned. Sometimes I wonder if the things that I feel are truly my own, or if they are just a learned reaction to a situation. A cause and effect. The puppy dies, the child cries. A cause and effect. Something I learned, unlearned, and learned again, this reaction, and yet it seems that those who hold on most dearly, those who kick and fight and claw, are the very same that were too terrified of life to begin with. I throw my head back and my arms out and take a deep breath of sunshine. This time I walked out with not only a bag of coins, but another job. This time I would do it perfectly. No hesitation. No second thoughts. And then I would tell Brand that there would be no more jobs without knowing why. I owed myself that. I had to know ‘why.’ There is always a reason, even if an unlikely one. There is always a cause that predates an effect. My first victim…the only reason for his death was that he resembled someone else through my child’s eyes. The only reason for his death was being at the wrong place at the wrong time but that, still, is a reason. I hurried through the gates of Old Turtannus and told the guard I had business with Edwin. Time to repay an old debt. I barely felt the metal there anymore although that’s not to say it wasn’t everpresent: I had just become accustomed to it. A hundred tiny needles jabbing at my leg with every step. How much can we learn to live with? How much can we endure before we find ourselves broken? Soon I found myself staring down the once-familiar tree-lined street. Edwin’s shop sat in the middle of the block. The roof and fence still looked good, but the yard looked like a jungle. How long had it been? A month? A year? Two? Five? It becomes difficult to keep track of time when every day begins and ends the same. So many people struggle for this familiarity…this certainty…when all it does is eat their souls away. A little bit of chaos makes every day worth living. As I walked up to the house, a blonde-haired young lady in a blue dress burst through the red door and slammed it behind her. The door opened again and Edwin yelled “Marie, please!” She turned to answer him and stumbled backwards into me. I put my hands on her shoulders to stop her from falling and she turned to push me away saying, “Take your hands off of…” and then “Oh…it’s you.” “Hi,” I said, “Can I come in?” We three sat around the dinner table for a while eating a modest meal and drinking inexpensive wine. Four years it had been since we sat here, together. Me and my replacement family. Marie, the little sister I never had and Edwin, the wise old grandfather. Four years since I ran from this place to find my own way. Four years that I had spent living in filth and poverty. And yet every star will find a way to shine. They were broke. The house was in shambles and they had no customers. They were forever stained by protecting me and even my leaving didn’t change anything. Marie was ready to run off to some other city, some other country, to find a new place, a new life. After dinner I gave Edwin the bag of coins I had gotten from Brand. Half to repay my debt, and half to continue the procedure. I wanted the armor on my neck and shoulders, and covering my heart. Soon, I said, it would be of use to me. I had three days till my next job. So that night I willingly laid on the blood-stained table there in that cold back room while that familiar lantern swung on its chain, and I felt like I was home. The cutting, the stitching, the feel of cold metal. I drank to ease the pain. I looked over at Marie, in her blue dress streaked with blood and I remembered the day, years ago, when I had knocked her to the floor. The images side by side in my mind. I could see her putting her hand to her head in the place where it had hit the shelf and I can see her now, looking at me and wondering what I’m thinking. My eyes grew tired and my vision began to fade. “He’s losing too much blood,” she said, “I can see it in his eyes. You’d better hurry.” “Just about finished, my dear. Just one….more,” and I could feel the skin in my neck and chest suddenly pull tight,”…and…done!” I glanced at Edwin who smiled at me, his hands glistening red and a long needle poking out. “Go to sleep, my friend. We’ll take care of you.” And so I did. And I dreamt I was a hero. And I dreamt I saved the girl. And I dreamt I was in love. And I dreamt happily ever after. But all dreams must come to an end and I awoke to an intense burning in my chest and neck. My head was swimming and I could barely move. Marie was by my side with a bowl of water that she was using to clean the wound. When she noticed I was awake she said, “You’ve gotten an infection. Just take it easy. Are you hungry?” “No…what day is it…what time is it?” I asked as I struggled to see if any sun shone in. “It’s Thursday…Midday,” she said as she squeezed some water out of the bowl onto my chest. Of course it was. Of course I had slept until hours before my next job only to find myself in this miserable state. “I have to leave in a few hours, and I need you to make that happen. Do whatever you have to do, but I need to be able to walk out of here.” “I’m guessing if I tell you that if you get up and move around too much any time soon, you could die won’t dissuade you, huh?” she paused and frowned. “Marie, trust me when I tell you that if I had a choice, I’d stay right here. What did you two do to me?” “Nothing different than last time…Edwin thinks that because we did more this time your body was less willing to accept it. It’s trying to force it out…but it can’t. We grafted to your bones this time. It ain’t going anywhere.” To demonstrate she grabbed her arm by the wrist and shook it. “Will you be alright for a few minutes? I’ll run to the apothecary. Master is out on business, but he should be back tomorrow.” I nodded and she slipped out the door, the lantern swung gently and I closed my eyes again… I awoke to her shaking me saying , “Kol, Kol, wake up. It’s almost dark,” and I opened my eyes to find that the world seemed somehow different. Colors were brighter and crisper; sounds, more distinct. I sat up and the sensation seemed to take a second longer to catch up with the action. I stretched and yawned and felt like I had just awoken from the most peaceful sleep ever. “I gave you the medicine already. The chemist said it should take about a half an hour and you’ll feel better than ever,” she said as she handed me a small bottle. “Drink some of this if it starts to hurt again.” I leapt to the floor and, again, it felt like my mirror image was lagging slightly behind me. This is perfect. My mission tonight was a little different. I was attacking a heavily guarded man, and there would be no way to sneak in and out. It was a frontal assault. As I threw on my shirt and walked sideways to the door I realized that I wasn’t me anymore. Just some caricature of myself, going through the motions. A puppet of a puppet of a puppet. Maybe worse. Maybe better? No controls. “Kol,” a voice said and I spun around, a kaleidoscopic display in my wake, “Be careful.” And I found Marie hugging me, and I didn’t know how to react, but it felt good. I just stood there for a minute, staring at the wall and she backed up to look at my face, saying, “Holy shit…what did I give you? Are you ok?” I nodded but I was having a hard time grasping what was going on. The walls were breathing. The floor was crawling. Everything was alive. “I have to go now,” I mumbled, and as I walked out the front door I noticed an unusual spring in my step. I was ready to take on the world and my mirror image lagged a half step behind me. I made my way to the main gate quickly and the guard let me out. They didn’t really care who left or why and I guess he was happy to see me go. I avoided eye contact and moved slowly. When I stepped out into the world outside Turtannus, I became acutely aware of the feeling that I had never been there before. The world rushed at me and the lights streaked across the sky. The moon’s chest rhythmically rose and fell. I took a deep breath of the cool night air through someone else’s lungs. I headed west towards the old road. It wasn’t far but I kept getting distracted by a flower, by a star, by a blade of grass or a rock. Around the edges of my vision the blood haze crept in in undulating waves. I had to force it away, too early. I’d be exhausted before I found my mark. I reached the burnt out house on the old road and three figures stood in the dark on the hill and the moon cast long shadows that danced in stillness. I turned onto the road and noticed that the figures followed me. Slowly at first, but quickening as I quickened. No time for you. They stuttered and mumbled behind me. I couldn’t understand their alien language. They fluttered and stumbled behind me. Their footsteps sounded like a herd of cattle or horses. They were running now about to overtake me and I turned to face them and draw my weapon…had I forgotten to take one? No worries, I threw off my cloak and I couldn’t help but notice how it twitched. The three stopped short and one of them said “Kol? What are you doing? Why are you running? You’re going the wrong way.” The blood haze had taken over while I wasn’t paying attention but it was different. All energy and no fury. I realized that standing before me were One, Another, and Another Still: the dockhands I had run into after taking care of the fool and I remembered that I had asked them to accompany me. What good is building an army if you don’t utilize it? Control yet no control. This wispy world of shadow and star streaked sky, of audible heartbeats and tangible breath. “Right,” I said, in a voice that wasn’t mine, “Lead on.” And so I followed these three for what seemed like ever, and I wondered that we had not yet found the dawn. I coughed hard and sprayed green infection from my lungs. It burned and I stumbled and fell. The First Three stopped to see if I was ok and I took the bottle out of my pocket and drank some. Such a small bottle and I drank the rest. I threw it against a rock and it lit the world up in a million shimmering fragments. We kept walking for a little while as I ground my teeth to dust and then suddenly I felt nauseous. I stopped and threw up on a passing turtle who scuttled into the underbrush. I threw up again and I could taste the bitter fluid in my throat. One more time and I wiped my mouth, feeling better. When I stood up this time, there was…there was no sense in the world. Everything was upside down or sideways…or…I couldn’t even tell you. Everything was wrong. And these men in front of me? I didn’t even know them. I don’t even know who I am…this mass of flesh and bone and hair and metal and leather. This old skin tied to this liquid skeleton, melting through the dirt, eating through the grass. I oozed over the crest of a hill and someone was putting something in my hand. A sword, I think, or maybe an axe or a broom. I leaned on it like a crutch and I could feel it too, melting into the earth. I fell over and hit my head on a rock and the blood haze flickered: red, green, red, green and then stabilized. I stood up again and picked up my oar and looked down the hill towards a mansion lit with many torches and the whole thing glowed red. Enemy, enemy, enemy, my brain screamed and I looked down at my weapon: it was a sword, and it wobbled and shook and ran like water. I looked at the First Three and they looked back at me, and they were terrified and I was fearless and I began to march across the bared teeth of the soil, liquid blade in hand. ood.tumblr.com/