Articles

Shattering / Eden Kupermintz (in progress)

Shattering- A Short Story of Maybe

Prologue

 

I grasp the wooden handle. The head of the hammer drags my hand down. The weight is the best thing that I’ve felt in the last few days. It is done. The wood of the handle speaks to me of life, of vitality, of things sliding away in the warmth of a forest bed. Lovingly, my sight runs over the edges of the head, feeling the iron calling: “Ah, to shatter! Let us feel the drive, the muscles bulge!” I am defiantly losing my mind. To me, all has faded, the room, the cliff, the edge of the precipice where once the waters of my blood ran. All is gone and what remains is this, the tool. No, not all. Above me and to the side there is a construct. In many ways, it is the opposite of the hammer. Where the wood is with seams, its glass is seamless. Where the head carries certainty, it has no fulcrum. The hammer is the construct is being. The iron sings of drive, while the glass: “Flow, flow! Never stop, for stopping is death” in an endless susurration. I am defiantly losing my mind. As my steps bring me nearer to the construct, I find that the floor is changing. No, that is sane, that is right. This exists outside me. The place where I am kept is high, high in the mountains above my city. I am not safe. To whom? No matter. The plastic of the floor fades to a golden metal. It in turn is swallowed in the gaping mouth of ultra-modern Plexiglas. From the sable a carpet is drawn, into my mind. I have already lost my mind. My steps take me closer to the construct. I can feel the muscles under the shoulder bulge, the heat off my body doing battle with the chill of this mountain abode. Abode? Prison more like it, built by the cowards of my race. Those that fear me, which fear the promise that I represent for my city. This strikes truth inside me. The echoes of that blow feel good. Now the hammer is being raised, the arm being drawn back, like a piston before it drives down. The construct before me can feel what is coming and draws away. Is it alive? Of course it is, what isn’t alive? It moves, does it not? Like my mind, it moves in all directions. Is that not being alive? There is no mind to speak of now, so lost am I. Like the ancient mariner. The hammer sings through the air, like a battle cry uttered by some long lost knight, on the brink of the charge. The heat is appalling. The cold is horrific. The screams of the glass before me are horrid. The hammer is rejoicing. I am scared. With a sound like all the waterfalls of the world giving way at once, the construct is shattered. The tinkling of glass seems to go on forever. My grip loses the hammer and the hammer loses its substance. I fall.

 

Now, the windows of the room display the panorama of the valley below the mountain on which I reside. I can see the city where I once lived. I have my mind again, or at least what remains from the shattering of my soul. Of the construct. Inside me, for the first time in a few years, emotions bestir. What is this that I feel? It must be pity I think. Perhaps remorse. In any case, I can see the thunder clouds heading towards me. They will reach here, finally. Finally, they will end me. But they must pass over the city first. Only by its destruction can they become large enough to kill me. But first they must kill my brethren. It is despair that drives me. I have been searching for decades for an end, a way to extinguish myself. It has taken me so long because I have been a coward. I do not understand why suicides are often assigned courage. To kill oneself is simple. I have wanted to do so, always. To kill the ones you love, is simple. I have wanted to do so, always. To kill ones context, the canvas, the background against which one is understood, that is difficult. It is not that you will die; it is that you will never have existed. This, I have not been able to do. But I must. I must shatter the context. Why? For I am that context. The thunderheads are growing now. They are cresting the hills that will lead to the boulevards. Their light is probably already seen on the avenues, felt, like the taste of blood in the mouth of the victim before the kill. This is good. Why? Why is this good? I ask myself in vain. Perhaps the mind is too far gone to be regained. I have lost it for good. The hammer is by my feet. I know what comes next. Next I must go down to the valley. Next I must return to the city. Next I must return to those who have exiled me. To those who used to worship me. I pick up the hammer. “I shall call you Association” I think to myself as I do. That feels right. I am the context. I yield Association. I come to shatter myself. Through you.

 

The chair is uncomfortable beneath the long, flowing robes of the woman occupying it. Her long, dark hair is shoulder length, framing a strong, angular face. Chin raised high, she surveys the long hall that she resides in. Many things have been said of this woman: she has been there for a long time now, since before the City that lies to the west. She has been there a short time, only since the recent shift in social paradigms. She’s not there at all. All of these were true. Nonetheless, her deep, brown eyes, moved not a fraction as the shadows in the center of the hall coalesced into a tall man, dressed in black. His face defied all description. At first glance, it appeared to be covered by a dark mask. On a closer look, the viewer might be shocked to realize that there was nothing beneath that mask. The face was the mask. The contrast between his clothes’ sheer blackness and the woman’s bright, flowering, red robes was immediately felt in the hall. It was more than a contrast of colors, or fabric. It was as if the two figures were on the separate ends of a spectrum, magnetic poles in direct opposition in some unimaginable cosmic model. The woman smiled. “Tzel, I am surprised to see you here. It has been years since we have last met. In the days before our next meeting, I will change much. What will bring you here?” The sigh that escaped the man called Tzel was barely audible. But sigh he did. He strode a few steps forward and spoke as he did. “I have always found it confusing to speak with you. I will not bother correcting your contradictions. Perhaps I can get brother for you. He’s always willing to correct you”. He smiled at the shadow that crossed her face. “Yes, I am not here to talk in circles”. He reached the foot of the dais on which her chair was raised and sat on the lowest step. He ran his finger across the stone on which he sat and held an imaginary dust mote between index and thumb. “Mystery Enthroned! Ta’aluma in all her enticing wisdom, shrouded by shadows!” His smile grew longer at the word. “How is it we have met so little during all these wretched years of existence? Hmm?” The woman still held the same blank expression as if staring at something far away or remembering something long ago. “So? You would keep this charade? Very well”. Tzel rose once more and faced the woman sitting on the throne. He paused a minute to survey this most unique of chairs. The arms of the chair were of worn wood. Not the wear of time but of constant, loving caresses. The back was a glorious obsidian slate. Legend had it that the carvings were found in the living stone in the quarry. They crowned the woman’s head with wings, delicate things that spoke of hope and the dawn, or some such nonsense. Tzel shook his hands and finally spoke “I will now arrive to the point. I know that you have made accord with sister. Ah, a response!” he cried, as the woman’s face tightened into a frown. “Delightful. Yes, your machinations with her against brother have been known to me for long now. I am the Shadow, am I not? Anyway, I have a deal for you”.

“I will never make a deal with the likes of you, brother” Came the cold, harsh voice of the woman. The last word was laced with poison, a skill Tzel had always envied. “While I do not share the pure hatred that sister feels for you, I nonetheless find you disgusting” Tzel smiled in response. “Oh, indeed. Well said. I knew coming in here that this would be your response. You are not half as unpredictable as you like to think.”

“Cease your posturing. You do not know the details of our plan, even if you do know of its existence. Therefore, you have nothing”,

“Really? The details? What, like the Shining Planes? Or perhaps the thing that you have awakened there?” The surprise on her face was pure delight for Tzel. Now who was the unpredictable one? They always forget that the shadows contain many things that are unknown. Mystery is not exclusive for this haughty, stiff, ice queen of a sister, Tzel mused. “I know all of your plan.” He turned to go, taking out a glove from his pocket and elegantly sliding it over his hand. Pacing down the hall, he smiled to himself as his sister shouted after him “Then why did you come? What do you want, mongrel?!” He stretched his hand inside the glove and turned one last time towards his sister. “Why, sister, what else would a shadow wants? I offer betrayal.” The shadows that engulfed him were deeper than the midst of night. In their wake, nothing of the man remained. The woman, who had set up in her chair, tense with anticipation, finally allowed herself to relax. Perhaps a smile even touched her stone-carved face. “That went well” a voice spoke from behind the throne. “I go now to the Shining Plane. Such a dawn as this will outshine them all, sister. Two brothers for one stone, who would have thought?”

 

The Broken Man

 

 

Lion

 

“The basic meaning of etiquette is to be quick at both the beginning and end and tranquil in the middle”

 

-Hagakure (In the Shadow of Leaves)

 

Currently, the apartment has a big panoramic window. It overviews a boulevard where the now-ficus trees are echoing to the moaning of the wind. A soft rain is falling, one that has been going on for hours. It is a good thing, or so Russell feels. Reclining, a PKD novel in his hand, he views the outside streets. The book is open to the last few pages. That’s when his tears usually begin to flow, although he is no policeman. Right now, his heart is close to bursting, or so he feels. He thinks to himself, no wonder it’s raining. This is more than the usual fixation that people have, thinking that the weather somehow reflects whatever emotions they happen to be feeling. Russell smiles, a sad smile, and reaches for the jacket. Rising now, he dons it, with the over exaggerated motion of someone pretending to be a knight or some post-apocalyptic vigilante. Like The Road. Only I don’t have a child and haven’t seen one in 10 years. Now, the door opens as the music sings from his earphones to the bones, to the ears, to the heart. For now, he doesn’t note the music, although he knows, feels, as it touches him. The rain is still falling outside, but the book remains dry. It’s cold, just like Russell likes it. The ficuses are surrounding the boulevard, surrounding his sight with the brown-green of their leaves. No one is around, as always. His feet start to carry him, wherever. He returns to the novel. The book is still dry. The soft darkness that is reserved to overcast afternoons washes over him, calming his tired eyes. His footsteps blend well with the music, as the perfect selection for his mood starts to play:

 

Just like an echo of light,
canned in the heart of the storm.
A wayward pulse beating, in the stillness,
beneath the snow, something’s breaking through.[1]

 

The sky changes, getting darker. The trees are even taller, the leaves embracing him even closer. He is like a cocoon of light, of life, canned in the heart of the storm, like the song. The boulevard lengthens, drawing onwards and behind him, into the night. He is still alone, but more so. His eyes never leave the page, as the tears start coming, the tears that always accompany him near the end of a PKD novel. The City is silent. Closer now the darkness closes around him, as the last few lines appear before his eyes. Now comes the pungency, the aftertaste, the longing. He always imagines he gives Philip a hug, across time, across death, when he finishes his novel. It’s going to be alright, he imagines saying to him. I want to understand you. I care to understand you. The rain is falling harder, the book is dry. The boulevard is nothing more than a faint grey presence underneath, like a backlight. The ficuses have almost faded, lurking at the edge of the vision, like trolls around a campfire. The last words unfold. Russell closes the book, closes his eyes, sighs, imagines the hug and then places the book inside his jacket. A frown appears on his face as he notices his surroundings. I’ve forgotten myself. I hope no Citizen was nearby. Ah well, it’s time to get things back in some sort of order. He smiles at that thought. Order. Such an outdated notion in the City. He begins with the darkness, flexing his hands as if in a show of physical prowess. A little light is let into the world, the boulevard coming into view. Another thought, perhaps of a shower of rain in the Manchester countryside, and the downpour slackens. Now, the trees have gained some character, as he takes a turn to a side street. Everything is like before. Except for my heart, my soul. Russell bitter-sweetly thinks to himself. A second turn and he is on an even smaller side lane, the buildings a veritable arch above his head. He knows no one lives in the buildings anymore, for years now. But they still give him a sense of security, of being alive, a part of something. Of the City, perhaps. He realizes where his feet have taken him, bidden by his soul. He stands at the ready, his eyes calmly surveying the clear ground of the square. A single tree gives him a measure of shade, unneeded in the chill and yet welcome. He waits.

 

So long it has been since he had found time to dwell on his life; the unique predicament in which his existence had place him, the skills that were his to wield, and the emotions that roiled inside him and sought to leave. Placing his head within his hands, he smells the leaves and can almost feel their shadows caressing him. Beginnings are elusive things, he thinks with a shudder, but even I must grasp something firm once in a while. But what had he of the past, of his childhood? Perhaps things were clearer then, firmer, but he could scarcely remember them. In those days, the streets were still populated, still filled with the many-faced beast that was Throngs. He could faintly remember Father walking with him down those streets, a hazy figure obscured by either the heat or his grandness. However, he could clearly remember the many-faced crowds, all those people going to and fro. It stirred fear in him but also some hope. If so many people existed, surely they would all survive. Surely no disaster was big enough, deadly enough, to end them all at once. He was wrong. In the end all it took was his Father’s will.

He shuddered as the terrible day came to his mind. He had always known his father was a great man, an important figure in the city. Wherever they would go people would bow, step out of their way or mutter some formality. No smiles came into this ritual. But he never knew exactly what his father did or had done to deserve such respect. It was one of the mysteries of life, such as any child learns to accept. He remembers how his father paused in this same square, gazing at the canopy of the trees above him. He looks up now with his outward eyes on the square. It has not changed much. He had stood there, by those two benches. There was a breeze, much like the one now blowing through the square. Back then, the square had rung with the sound of children. Children. Like him. But what sort of childhood was his? Picture him not running across boiling paving stones, screeching with glee and delight, or weaving through trees, searching for friends in play. No, instead picture him in a room, alone, his nose deep in a book. He had plenty of friends to look for but they were all imaginary. And not the normal sort of imaginary friends: no princes, magical beasts or fanciful heroes. No. Cold, intellectual, challenging, Russell’s imaginary friends were his way to challenge himself. What sort of child has those sorts of friends? He asks himself. But he knows the answer. A steward, a keeper, a man driven by duty before anything else. It takes a certain mind set to withstand standing guard over a near-empty city, filled with the manic remains of a civilization gone these ten years. But that was not the worst part, oh no. The worst part was this: deep down inside him, Russell knew with a dead certainty: His Father had known. He had known where his rage would take him and had prepared his son to take his place. What kind of man not only destroys the very civilization which he is part of but trains his child to watch over that very civilizations smoking remains? Russell didn’t know for sure, but he knew that the words Cold, hateful and bitter were part of it.

 

Presently, he is awarded for his patience as all stewards are. A pressure begins in the back of his skull, a tingling feeling akin to the moment of tension before a good sneeze. But this is no bodily function. The shadows begin to lengthen though the sun is the same yellow, murky, color it was before. The square where he has found himself, sheltered as he is under a corner building, is slowly losing form, becoming a fluid mass of leaves and shadows and hints. There was a different name, once. Russell can still recall when this was a busy fulcrum of city activity. The building at the end of the road, the one with the rusty iron fence, was a school. The square itself was packed full of children and parents, going to and from it. Now, it was called the Unclear Square, aptly named as everything was in the City. Whoever gave this excuse for a city its name, had a sorry sense of humor, thought Russell, with a measure of bitterness. This is no city. What is a dwelling without its people? Like a heart without love, a mind with no curiosity. A face with no life. That one stung a bit too deep. Luckily for Russell, the form that was now coalescing in the middle of the square demanded his undivided attention. Shrugging off his reverie, he took a few steps forward and waited for the manifestation to complete itself. And so it did. Where only shadows hung before, made by leaves moving in the gentle wind that still persisted, a face now reigned. The face of a lion. The smirking face of a lion, to be exact. “Steward! It has been long since we have met. Not a coincidence, I take it?” the face said, with a voice of gravel being churned under steeled boots. “You would do well to grow out of these sulks of yours. They do not befit the Keeper!” Russell smiled at the choice of words. “You forget yourself, Protocol. I do not care what form you now assume, you are nothing grand. I despise the formality you now assume and the words with which you choose to address me”.

“That is high talk, coming from a man such as you. Pretending to be aloof, distant, inhuman! As if that is not the very opposite of what it is to be a Keeper!”

“You would tell me what it is to be a Keeper? Truly, you forget yourself, Protocol!” Now, Russell’s anger was truly upon him. His eyes wore a fearsome glean and every mannerism which spoke of resignation earlier, now turned to coiled violence. He had even gone as far as to reach aside and call a sword to his hand, the trademark mask blazoned on its hilt. The lionshead recoiled and spoke with a much different tone: “You mistake me Keeper! I speak only for the good of the City and the benefit of its Citizens! As always! Please, put away the sword, that sword!” As if startled from some sleep, Russell checked his forward motion. The sword disappeared and his posture once again spoke of mild ennui and resignation. Have I been gone that long? That a Protocol should seek me out, remind me of my duties! He checked himself again, mentally this time, and took account of the presence before him. Fur ruffled, teeth bared, eyes shining with fear and anxiety. All manifestations of inner calculations, for-seeing danger to the City or its inhabitants. Only doing its job. And I had nearly banished it! For what? A slight? Truly, he had forgotten himself. “Protocol, forgive my harsh response”, he began, curbing his tone. “I have been alone for long now, too long. I have grown accustomed to my own thoughts rather than the demands of the City or its other guardians. Forgive me”.

“There is nothing to forgive” replied the apparition, although the smugness in its voice was unmistakable. It was pleased with the way things had turned out. “You are the Keeper and it’s your privilege to seclude yourself.” The apparition drew closer, the shadows of the leaves seeming to contort around the two, encasing them. “But let me tell you Keeper, that much has happened since you were gone.” A glint entered the apparition’s eye, speaking of hidden knowledge and clandestine whispers. “Father has returned”.

.

 

Tender

 

As everything in this world is but a sham, death is the only sincerity”

 

-Hagakure (In the Shadow of Leaves)

 

 

The sun was a forgotten blaze, making itself re-known. How could I have forgotten the sun, that jealous, devious, powerful beacon of depression? Perhaps it was the sweat off my back or the pain in my constantly working shoulders. But no, those alone would not be enough to make me overlook the largest demon in my world. There was only one answer: my sanity has finally started to fade. Even now, I realize I am broadcasting this dirge of mine to all inhabitants of this forgotten place. I think the pain is starting to erode certain parts of my brain, abolishing certain blocks and safeguards I had instilled during my long life. No matter, you bastards! You’re the ones who set me to this task and you shall live the final moments of agony alongside me! Feel the coarse texture of the rock you are forcing me to push uphill. Truly, we humans are puny, unimaginative things! What was the grand punishment you chose for your supposed grand betrayer? Nothing more than a cheap copy from an ancient mythology, though I must admit it has a certain charm. Push the rock, watch it fall again. A statement on human condition perhaps. Or maybe the statement is the sound of the asphalt being churned by my rock. Each time I pass, it thinks to itself that the worst is behind it, only to then be crushed again when I fall. Can you feel the heat radiating from this rock? Can you feel the waves of heat and light exuding from the cursed eye called the sun? Of course you can! I am the strongest telepath of the lot of you, even when I have been reduced to nothing more than skin and sweat. So, I’ve taken the liberty of giving you all front row seats to my death. That’s right, this charade called punishment is about to end. For you see, I have found a way, a way to put a stop to this torture. Ah, I can feel you there, curious to know what it is. Do you think I have grown so weak as to let creatures like you know my innermost secrets? Forget it! All shall be revealed in good time! You would do well to look to yourselves before that time comes, for I fear it shall not bear good tidings for you. Even now, I can feel your psyches cringing away from the power that is my own. Imagine what sorts of energies will be unleashed with my dying. The ultimate Irony which is Life. That such a tender thing, such a frail reality, have such ramifications when it ends. It almost makes you wonder: are we all a joke?  Which brings me to the next part in our little dance: how our very own Keeper learned the exact, to his knowledge at least, details of Father’s return…

 

Old Friends

 

“Thinking about things previously and then handling them lightly when the time comes is what this is all about”.

 

-Hagakure (In the Shadow of Leaves).

 

 

“Father is returning? What do you mean, Father is returning? Father is dead!”

“Yes, Keeper, I know. I was there that day, when the sword found Father’s stomach. We all were. You need not condescend. What I am telling you, however, is the truth” came the Protocols harsh voice, metallic voice. “See this” he continued as a small, bluish window came into life in the air between them. On it was displayed a vista quite different from the square that was all around them. Jagged rocks the colour of dehydrated plants surrounded a valley the shape of a bowl. Above, the sun was a blister, casting its rueful heat on everything that lived, which was nothing. “This is the Shining Plane. What am I meant to see?” inquired Russell with an impatient tone. The image shifted, growing closer to the ground of the valley. Now, a small figure could be seen traversing the plain. He had a long, blue coat, even though the day was scorching hot. In his hand, he held a broken hammer, the long handle carved with a name, a name Russell knew well without reading it. “Association…how is it possible?” he grasped his head in his hands and fell on the bench he had occupied before. “I saw him die, I saw him! The blood, the blade…my brother!” he was filled with a torrent of emotions, an unintelligible mass of coiling snakes, biting at his perception. His breath came short, his eyes focused on nothing at that time or place. He was seeing somewhere altogether different, a solarium, his Father, his brother, a sword. His breath was ragged, like it had been that day, when he was just a child. The smooth movement of the sword, his brother had always been an expert swordsman, blended easily with the susurration of the leaves in the square around him. He looked up now, like he had that day, only to see his Fathers eyes mirrored twice, in his memory and on the view screen. One pair was filmed with blood, staring into his soul with a blaming gaze too harsh to stand. The other was gazing with unbelievable resolve across the Plain, as if trying to pierce the City through the tons of rock that separated their wearer from it. “I know this is hard for you Keeper, but the facts must be faced. Somewhere, somehow, Hi’gaion, your Father, was kept alive. He’s back now. Look at that face! Do you remember him wearing that face and any good come of it? I wouldn’t be surprised…” the Protocol was cut off by the buzz of the sword as it pierced its electronic mane. In the seconds before the photons which made up his image, and indeed his existence, were severed from each other completely, he could hear Russell’s shout echo through the square and shatter the windows in the buildings around it. The tinkling of the glass ushered him to whatever bright, electronic light awaited him at the other side of his destruction.

 

In the aftermath of the sword blow, a sword blow which had lasted a thousand suns for Russell, the Keeper of the City That Slept, the Unclear Square resounded with the silence which was its second-obvious trademark. The first was the shadows of the leaves making a slight haze in the air, confusing all perceptions. Now, those leaves elongated to meet their shadows, turning into cruel pointing fingers that pointed towards Russell. I was entrusted with his body. I don’t understand what went wrong! I had everything that should have been done, done. The doors to the mountain fastness were closed, the lock made secure, the wards in place, the Protocols briefed on the absolute solitude that was to reign in the place. Starbo was given charge of the lake route…Starbo! Unbridled fury roared through Russell, taking him completely. The leaves shriveled back as if from a searing heat as he took to his feet once more. Starbo, you shriven son of a mating bitch! I’m coming for you, you hear? The last word rebounded off the buildings, turned the corners of every street, running through the City like venom through veins. The sword was in Russell’s hand, blazing blue. A more cynical thought emerged: You turn your back for ten years and what do you get? With a mix of mirth and rage, he took to the streets. It had been long since he had trodden these streets with a sense of purpose. He had forgotten how they seemed to accept him, to usher him along to his destination. Streets he had not remembered now sprang before his eyes, pushing him towards his mark, almost caressing him. Founder’s Avenue, with its tall, sad palm trees waving him on. The Bloodied Square, where his Father had fought for independence from an empire long forgotten, brownish cobblestones gleaming with a grin in the sun. Across to Green Avenue, its many plants and bushes kept in excellent repair by the Protocols in charge of the flora of the City. Down towards The Wise Man’s Street, where the hospital used to stand, back when it was needed, when the Citizens were not immortal. And straight to City Square, the once-vibrant center of the City. Now, it was a long field of grass, circular in shape, surrounded by what was once the foremost real estate to be had. By now, Russell’s anger was red hot, his sense of betrayal running yellow, caustic veins through it. With a shout on his lips, he burst into the Square, leaving the grass in his path curled into ash. In the center, two figures stood, as he knew they would. One was the betrayer, the path-opener, Starbo. Across from him stood a surprise, the only unknown that Russell had in this City. She was dressed in sleek black, feet planted across from her dueling partner. A long, slender, elegant sword was strapped to her side and a smile was plastered on her lips. “Avara, move aside!” Russell’s voice called harshly across the square, seconds before his shoulder slammed into Starbo’s. Quick as thunder, his hand snaked around the man’s neck, aiming to pin him into a hold from which he would not escape alive. But the coiled muscle of the man’s back, one strained eternally deep in the City’s forge, was too strong with him. Starbo shook him off and rolled him across his back with a quick turn of his waist. Now, the two men stood facing each other, panting with the beginning of adrenalin rushes to their brains. “Kid, I don’t know what the fuck has you all riled up, but you better calm the fuck down, before I splatter you all over your Father’s creation!” Spittle flew on the profanities, running a counterpoint to Starbo’s harsh tenor.  Russell smiled his crooked smile and Avara took a step back. He knew she knew quite well what was going on inside him. She knew him better than anyone still alive. Check that. Father knows me better. “Listen you overrated, Czech bastard! This is no spar at the city gates, and I am not your karateka!” Russell spat out, his voice running havoc with the winds blowing above him. The palms surrounding the square bowed down underneath the winds, fueled by his anger. That was symbolism enough for him and he charged towards the man across for him, his sword held flung out to his right side. He could see the sweat off of Strabo’s bald head, the muscles bunching in his legs. Too slow. He ducked quickly to the left. Strabo reacted with a harsh thrust, intended to halt his charge. Inwardly, Russell smiled. With barely a thought, a harsh wind picked up, throwing Strabo just off guard. It was enough. The cut sailed over his shoulder as he rolled down, slicing at Strabo’s legs. The man tried to jump but was met with Russell’s shoulder bearing on him from the outside. With a harsh thump both men took to the ground, Russell’s strong hands pinning down the Czech’s frame. Once, twice, thrice his head came down, smashing against the strong frame of Starbo’s neck. His blows reverberated across the square, carrying with them tremendous force. Another man would have ended there and then, even a Citizen. But Starbo was stronger than that. Four quick blows rained on Russell’s sides, sending waves of pain across his body. But he would not relent. A furious surge of anger racked through his body, fueling his muscles with terrible force. He could feel the Square itself, the palm trees, the pavements, the earth beneath his feet, shudder and move with his blows. The City was singing to him, a cruel song of strength and a desire to end. The heel of his hand struck Starbo’s neck, stealing his breath. A split-second after, his knee smashed into his groin. The wicked points of the fingers of his left hand, smashed their way into Starbo’s collar bone. With a harsh twist, the bone broke. Starbo stopped struggling, crying out in pain. Russell stood, anger, pain and an abyss of betrayal still coursing through his body. Panting, he said “That is why we never dueled within the City. You fool! How could you have done it? How?” The last words were laden with emotion, nearly breaking Russell’s voice. The face of the man beneath him twisted with pain but also with something more. Misunderstanding perhaps? “Listen, kid” he managed to gasp between the shudders of pain that raked him “I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about, OK? Just…relax!” That was too much. He had read many books where rage was described as a red screen, veiling the sight. Instead, he found himself surrounded in a blue field, shimmering field. It did the opposite of veil; everything came into bright detail, soothing him, slowing the scene down. The look on Avara’s face was exquisite as the masked sword was drawn. The sword catching the light of the setting sun was shattering. But he had no time for tears. His rage took hold of the tendons, the muscles of the wrist, and twisted the blade towards Starbo’s stomach. He had no time to exclamations, for complaints. The monofilament steel tore through his skin and bone like the proverbial warm knife. The blood splattered on the grass, which seemed to drink it with regret mingled with joy. Across the City the lights lit up, casting a soft and embracing glow on Russell’s face. He smiled. And then he cried.

 

Dissociation

 

“It is a good viewpoint to see the world as a dream”.

 

-Hagakure (In the Shadow of Leaves).

 

Feelings. They had always left him confused. They said his was the realm of shadow, of the unclear points between what is and what was never to be, between the real and the possible. They said it was his destiny to know things that were not known to anyone else, to gaze clear where darkness engulfed others. How then, this unknown maelstrom in his stomach, in his heart, in his mind? It didn’t even have one location! Tzel sighed as he leaned forwards on the balcony railing. Below him, the City Square was awash with a war. The dying sun was doing fierce battle with the electronic lights of the City, ignorant armies clashing before the night. In the centre of the square, there were three figures. He knew them well. One was the Keeper, holding his face in his hands, weeping. The second was Starbo, the Right Hand, prone and dead. The third was more of a mystery to him. He knew her name was Avara but not much more than that. Where was her title, those foolish things that the City-dwellers insisted on? Who was she to the Keeper? He knew they had some relation but nothing more than that. He sighed. So much was left to chance in this plan, that even he, the master of deception and uncertainty, was left uneasy. For example, this Keeper, this son of his wayward ally. The shadows around the square brought Russell’s face into clear resolution, whispering his every feature into Tzel’s ears. A sad face, young yet drawn to an inward view. Regardless of the tears now running down his face, his look was somber, fragile yet resilient. His shock of dark hair rebounded from the reverberations of his crying. The shadows fluttered in the evening lamps, caressing the man’s body. Strong, wiry muscles, hidden beneath dark clothing, surrounded by a long black jacket. Up in his eyrie, Tzel smirked. This man could be me, were I younger by a few centuries! And indeed, little difference could be seen between the two men: the colour of the hair, the colour of their clothes, their posture. But there was one difference, Tzel knew. The eyes. The Keeper’s eyes, even now in tears, contained the resolution of his father. They were shinning, piercing, exploding, excavating, crying out against the night and yearning for the flickering lamp light. Tzel’s eyes, on the other hand, were dead. Not the death of shadows or even that of night but the death of absence, the void that sucks all it sees into an embrace from which none return. An event horizon of the soul. That is what one gets from a lifetime of seeing his family burn slowly, dying but refusing to realize it. All those centuries, spinning, weaving, deceiving. They must have twisted something inside. With a shudder at his morbid thoughts, Tzel turned away from the human vista spread before him. The sensations from the shadows surrounding Avara were calmly rejected. There was only so much his mind could process at one moment. Sometimes he envied his brother, but only for short bursts. Afterwards, he returned to the pity with which he viewed most of his damned family and indeed, most of creation. Time to shake this despondent mood, I’ll soon have my hands full he thought to himself, as his eyes were drawn to the sky by some unconscious alert. A dark shape was forming in the sky, slowly descending towards the balcony on which he resided. He took care to dim the lights with a thought. Not too much. Even in his current state, the Keeper would feel such intervention.


[1] Sieges Even, Blue Wide Open.


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