There was a bay, land closing in pincers around it, ocean rushing between two hooked peninsulas. The water was turquoise, a second sky. The air was warm and sharp with salt. The fish of the sea rivaled the birds of the sky for color and beauty. Even parrot feathers dont shimmer in flight, as scales will.
In the center of this bay, the direct center: a mountain. The mountain was ten miles fat, beaches of pale sand aproned its waterline. Those beaches were shaded by palms, their trunks bent languid by humidity. Falling coconuts cratered the sand.
The shore sloped gently upward to farmable land: vineyards, orchards, fields of corn and grassy pastures thriving on the mountains gradual incline. Higher still, civilization bloomed. Among the trees and jungle greenery, crags and rocky juts, was society. Standing at the mountains summit, looking through the inlet to the ocean beyond, the eye could observe the earths very curvature. And upon that peak stood a temple. In this temple, six statues. In the peoples hearts, six deities. One beloved pantheon and an eons-faded mythology.
The mainland was swamp. Pools of stagnant muck where malaria bred. Weeds, reeds and cattails. Twiggy, malnourished trees. Everything reeked of sulfur, decay, putrefaction. But the briny mire was populated. People amid the saltwater scum. Incestuous cannibals, warmongers, barbarians. Atheists.
The sun eased itself into the ocean. The stealthy moon, having infiltrated the afternoon hours, made its presence fully known as dying daylight set fire to a lingering herd of clouds. The stars, cold spectators, settled into their accustomed seats.
The mountaintop was clear of trees, the undergrowth razed, scorched to the roots. The forum was paved with crimson brick and purple slate, moss sponged between cracks in the cobbling. The elderly, borne up the mountain in wicker backpacks carried by their children, pulled in carts, pushed in barrows, draped over shoulder and carried up the slope, watched the drowning sun dye the western sea pink.
Children scurried about, eating sticks of peeled sugarcane, drinking honeyed milk from halved coconut husks. They ran, bare and pudgy, chasing wooden hoops, wrestling on patches of trimmed grass, their elbows green-stained, their hair dew-damp. They picked flowers from bushes bordering walkways. Lilies. Hyacinths.
In their brown tunics, the farmers spoke weather. In their white togas, the artists spoke rhyme. The magisters, in their rich purple robes, exchanged facts. The warriors strut bold in their leather kilts, wearing the Seven Bands of their Seven Codes. The mountain Cheer, highest ascended servant of Pik, passed around clay cups of potent fungal tea, teaching the imbibers how friendly each pebble, each airborne dust mote, could be. The Sooths, Faes devotees, scurried about in soft teal shawls, fretting over scrapped knees and bumped heads.
It was the Eve of the Decent. The mountain dwellers had left their cottages. The fishermen had folded their nets. The magisters had rolled their scrolls. The artists had their verses honed for recitation, their ensembles hemmed for admiration. Beachside bungalows sat empty, the waterline went unpatrolled. Sooths mixed extra salves to combat maladies born of jubilatory excitement. The Cheer and his assisting Guffs had trundled urns of wine up the mountain. He had harvested his grasses and rehearsed his bawds and jests. For on this night, the stars looked upon humanitys folly and wept six Tears. Six Tears to aggravate the ocean, to make the seas froth. Six Tears, the callous stars fleeting instance of sorrow, to make the sin-smothered earth heave in shame. Six Tears to set the sky roiling with wind and fire. Six Tears to raise a mountain, six Tears to collect their chosen and gather them thereon. Six Tears to educate the ancient mountain people, six Tears to teach them unity. Six perfect beings to sculpt an island of peace, to sow bountiful harmony among their chosen faction.
Strings of sheep intestine were stretched across turtle shells and plucked musically. Reed pipes chirruped and twittered. Wealthy artist flaunted gold chains and emerald diadems, ruby rings and bracelets of strung coral as they discussed the masterful glyphs inscribed on their latest vase, the meter of their latest ode, the embroidery of their latest gown. Guffs, with feathers in their hair, capered and cartwheeled, pouring ciders, slipping vials of opium extract into the cups of unsuspecting revelers. The Cheer danced in silk tights, the bells fasted to his slippers pointy toes chimed in four-four time with his footwork. He waltzed with wrinkled vestals, un-blossomed maids and slabs-for-abs warriors alike. He whooped, and hooted, and sang hilarious nonsense. His flips and summersaults were a direct challenge to gravity.
Magisters appraised the festivity with severe apathy, smiling only when no one watched. A fair-skinned Sooth applied peppermint lotion to a sprained calf muscle. The youthful spun with complete abandon, their sandals slapping the flagstones as their ancestors had for thousands of years. The old reminisced.
A Guff wearing a comical beak-nosed mask expertly navigated the throng: bopping, hopping, jiving between warm bodies, jibbing, tacking, swimming the current until she found the Cheer.
He was on all fours, snorting, braying, cantering on hands and knees. Two children sat astride his bucking back, their fingers plunged deep into his unkempt hair, shrieking with laughter, feverish with glee and sugar.
Seeing his assistant, the Cheer expertly unseated his riders. Springing to his feet, the Guff pushed a torch into his hand. The Cheer pulled a match from a magisters ear with overt showmanship (an audience was accumulating). He fired the match against the sole of his slipper and touched it to the cloth wadding around the flambeauxs head. It caught with a magnesium flash and, as the daze wore off, the people clapped. The torch blazed blue and green, yellow and pink.
The Guff stepped aside, the press of bodies parted with reverence. The Cheer skipped the length of the human alleyway, he sauntered, he swaggered, he pranced, he pronked. He twirled the torch, now purpled, now red. He tossed it high, a blazing baton. It spun like a burning wagon wheel. The Cheer flawlessly snagged it from midair on its earthbound return. He balanced it on his head, on his chin, on the tip of his nose. The Cheer jumped upon the lip of a great bronze fountain, turned neat pirouettes on the rim. He crouched low, shot up, leaping a Grand Jete over the Illustrious Magisters head, filling her field of vision with his taught yellow tights.
On the edge of the paved forum, on the fringe of the tree line, his squadron of Guffs assembled a row of bamboo rockets, resting on ramps projected at an upward angle, the trajectory of each perfectly calibrated (by a magister, the Cheer having been too busy calibrating the ideal rum-to-nutmeg ratio for this years batch of Bumbo). The Cheer frolicked down the line, touching his torch, fuchsia, cerulean, plumb, periwinkle, to the fuses.
The fireworks assailed the heavens, bursting reds, and blues, and greens, showering sparks, delightfully deafening. Younger children cried at the rockets report, older children marveled, adults smiled appreciatively.
The show concluded as the sun reached full submergence. The Cheer perched once more on the fountains edge. His hair (a nimbus of frizzled fluff) was singed at the ends. Soot from his pyrotechnics transmogrified him into a living shadow. His lips flew apart, his teeth were bleached white, his smile consumed his face. His laugh was melodious thunder.
The people applauded, the Cheer bowed, the Guffs cavorted and the dance continued.
Soon the dusky light dispersed and braziers were lit for visibilitys sake. Celebrants traded ales, wines and liquors for teas and milky coffee. The moon glazed the proceedings in quicksilver, the constellation were in complete attendance, to the very last pinprick of cosmic radiance.
The Illustrious Magister blew a long, mellow note on her ivory horn. The molten blast reverberated within the chest of all, summoning them to the temple at the forums heart.
The mountain dwellers, laughing, holding sweat-slick hands, ascended six broad marble steps, passed between Corinthian columns six feet thick. The friezes were decorated with bas relief depictions of the Tears Decent. The temples mirror floor was strewn with rose petals, their crushed fragrance warmly blanketed the mind. The domed ceiling was hung with long swaths of fabric, brown burlap banners for those who tilled the earth, white silk for the artists, cool teal for the Sooths, an eye-searing magenta for the Cheer and his Guffs, a prism of hues snaking together for the warriors of the Seven Codes and regal purple for the academics- the magisters.
At the temples center was the altar, a table of smooth obsidian, polished to reflect the starlight streaming through the domes gaping oculus. The mountain folk clustered around the altar, but did not face it. Rather, their eager, shimmering, joyous eyes were turned outward.
Arranged in a ring, a few yards within the temples mighty colonnade, were the Tears. And as the people faced out, the Tears faced in. Impressive works of stone standing over forty feet individually, chiseled with a staggering obsession for detail. The profession heads were assembled at the base of their guiding Tear, save for the Illustrious Magister, who paced upon the expansive obsidian plateau.
Children were shushed. Conversations tapered into whispers, then silence. The ceremony had achieved its climax: The Telling.
As the Illustrious Magister spread her arms, her robes elongated sleeves billowed like the sails of a sea-striding galleon, like the wings of a far-faring albatross. She Told the story, a story surviving thousands of years, riding from memory to memory, braving the spray of misinterpretation, daring the froth of poor recollection, the reefs of lingual shifts, the tumultuous ocean of oral tradition.
A body of clay houses only sin, vice, ignorance. But dust shed of passing comets, blown earthwards upon solar tempests, the base matter of stars, is shaped into a different vessel. An urn of enlightenment, a vase of creativity, of virtue. A lamp to illuminate.
The foison womb of terra firma holds hospitable, as any garden, to weed and flower alike. When the spark of sentience lit in those molded for its containment, it was received by both the terras and the astrals. The terras were limited in thought, powered by instinct. They guiltlessly ate the flesh of both man and beast, they copulated within familial proximity, they slaughtered heedlessly and made loud affronts to the Heavens, holding no sanctimony for the Lights Above.
The astrals created art dedicated to cosmic glory, beautified the air with verse, offered compassion to all that lived, held familial duties above personal advancement and sought knowledge of the natural world. But alas, the astrals were grossly outnumbered, swarmed by crudity, by senseless violence, doomed to extinction.
Seeing this, the stars became mournful, the progenitors wept for their offspring. Six Tears the stars cried. And those six Tears did plummet to the earth with weight and purpose. Two did splash in the sea and make the brine boil. Two did drill into the earth and make the tectonics tremble. Two were embedded in the sky and set the spirits of air at war.
The oceans churned, lightning sheered the firmament, bedrock rebelled against its sedentary slumber and broke through the surface. The mountain of our ancestors punctured the sea to stab at the clouds, a tooth from infant gums. And the Tears did shepherd the beleaguered astrals to themselves and placed them upon the mountain, where the primal drives of the terra-born would torment them not.
The Tears taught our first fathers farming, taught our first mothers song. Taught the weaving of garments, the affixation of gems, installed values befitting a family. They taught martial defense, gave us vent to our mirth and voice to our emotions. They taught healing, and comfort, and essential kindness. They entrusted us with sacred knowledge. We are the children of enlightenment. Stars ourselves, we shine.
We shine, echoed the assembly.
Praise be unto the Tears, said the Illustrious Magister.
Praise be unto the Tears, the hundreds answered.
Fae, whose seat is established in the firmament, who guards through the night, who lights the moon and gently denies Darkness its craved dominion while RDawki takes rest. The Illustrious Magister swept an arm in the direction of Fae.
The idol was porcelain with a soft ivory smile. The statues pale hands were clasped behind it, pressed softly into the dip of its anatomically idealized spine. Its poise bespoke grace and humility, a most admirable meekness. Faes hair was replicated with long silken strings that stirred readily at the breezes insistence. This towering paradigm of chiselwork was garbed in a flowing teal gown, tailored to match Faes lofty proportions. The statues turquoise eyes, precious stones of lightest blue, burned softly as they collected moonlight, harboring no trace of malice.
It is Fae who holds Entropy at heel, said the Illustrious Magister. Who reminds us that viciousness is not conquered beneath the bludgeon, will not bleed when stabbed at spear-point, is only strengthened under sword-stroke. That kindness alone is foil to chaos. It is Fae who taught the astrals healing, the application of balms and liniments, the balance of humors, how to cool fevers, splint fractures. It is Fae who favors children, who keeps them from wickedness, who looks fondly upon innocence. Fae who calls for leniency is discipline, who urges forgiveness.
Fae, your patience is known, your protection is sought, your gentleness is praised, said the mountain people in unison.
A collection of Sooths in shawls and wimples gathered at the two-ton feet of their guiding Tear. A ladder was placed against Faes porcelain figure. A chosen Sooth made the accent to pin lilies in the Tears flowing hair.
Children, edging beyond toddlerhood, still leagues from the stretch and strain of puberty, fingered dollish likenesses of Fae. The figurines had linen skin, stuffed with the shorn fleece of yearling lambs. Their eyes were pearls, little moons. Their hair was corn silk. Most were compressed, worn limp by the siblings whod loved them before. Many a plushy tribute to Fae had spent nights squeezed in the arms of sleeping children, hugged tight to dispel the nightmares that were Entropys sending.
RDawki, whose seat is established in the firmament. The Illustrious Magister spun, pointed. The people turned their collective gaze. RDawki, who gives light and courage. RDawki, who taught weaponcraft and honor, duty, loyalty, sacrifice. Who gives our warrior the Seven Codes with which to comport their every living action.
The statue of RDawki was built of copper plates riveted to steel girders, oxidized blue. Bronze armor braced the Tears torso, a studded leather kilt, ten bulls in the making, hung to RDawkis knees. Sandal straps twined like vines around athletic calves.
It is RDawki who safeguards our island home, protects us from outside evils. It is RDawki who keeps our skies tranquil, who corrals clouds and wrings them of rain for the benefit of our crop. Whose drums cause our foes to quail, whose spear slices burning white faults through the sky. Whose bow spans the horizon after the tumult has subsided. RDawki, who gives us heart.
A crested helm the size of an ox cart was rigged to an elaborate system of pulleys. Warriors arched their rippling backs against thick coils of rope, raising the helmet. Others were positioned on scaffolding, guiding the headpiece into place. RDawkis hair was rendered as sheets of brass, polished white, rattling like cymbals as the helm was lowered into place. The winged crests came near to brushing the temples dome.
Warriors stamped their spear butts. RDawkis buckler shield, fifteen feet in diameter, was a mirror reflecting the congregation. The Tears fingers wrapped around a cedar shaft, tall as the tree itd been hewn from. The lance was tipped with a pyramidal prism, fracturing moonlight, casting rainbow smears across RDawkis cheeks. War paint. Speckling the assembly with septichrome flecks. The Tears eyes were rich rubies, so deep a red that the shade cast by the helmets visor rendered them purple.
RDawki, your resolve is known, your strength is sought, your courage is praised, the people intoned.
AlReija, whose seat is established upon the earth.
The statue was rusty red granite, freckled with black spots. AlReija was dressed in a burlap tunic, belted at the waist with a frayed cincture. This statue was not standing, but kneeling. Upraised hands cupped around prime topsoil from which corn stalks exploded, bean shoots, cotton, sugarcane, tobacco, even a stunted apple tree. Grape vines, sagging with fruit, spilled over AlReijas palms. The statute held this burst of greenery aloft, offertory. The idols head was hollow as a flower planter, filled with fertilized dirt. Ivy flowed down AlReijas neck, hair that needed monthly pruning.
AlReija, who taught community, who taught human unity as a means of achieving a beneficial end. AlReija, who knows that harvestable plants thrive on sweat to an equal extent as they do water. Who finds nobility in calloused palms, in sunburnt shoulders, in fingernails bordered with honest soil. Who teaches that nothing thrives in solitude, that companionship exercised in both work and play produces food for body and for soul. Who believes that familial ties are the fertile loam in which a healthy sprig of ancestral descent finds root, from which it shoots. AlReija, who reveres mothers and fathers, who calls siblings to be as friends and friends to be as siblings.
The islands landholders set a ladder against the statue. The oldest son of the wealthiest banana plantation joined the middle daughter of the largest sugarcane plantation in steadying the ladder while the youngest son of the smallest (a mere three acres) apple orchard scampered up the rungs.
Standing in the garden that flourished between AlReijas fingers, the youngest son picked ripe grapes, and spears of sugarcane, and strawberries, and apples, tossing them to his fellow islanders below. His friends and neighbors caught/dodged them, laughing.
AlReija, your selflessness is known, your companionship is sought, your labor is praised.
AlReijas eyes were emeralds, the statues teeth formed a gritted scowl, easily translated into a smile of fierce delight.
Pik, said the Illustrious Magister, ramming pinky fingers into her ears, barricading her eardrums against the ensuing roar.
Pik, Pik, Pik, Pik! began the Guffs.
The people carried the chant.
Pik, Pik, Pik, Pik, Pik, Pik, Pik, PikPikPikPikPikPikpikpikpikpikpikpikpik-pikpikpik!
The Guffs, bodies painted, hair spiked with tallow, clambered onto each others shoulders, formed a tipsy human tower. The Cheer made a nimble ascent of his underlings stacked bodies. He summited the fleshy spire and flung himself across a formidable gap, landing clean on Piks head. Pinching a match between thumb and forefinger, holding it to his lips, spewing a mouthful of lantern oil, the Cheer capped the routine by spitting a brilliant jet of fire.
The Guffs disassembled their human scaffolding and assaulted the crowd, tossing firecrackers, blowing whistles, dumping cups of wine on the heads of the reverent, tickling children, stealing kisses. Tomfoolery. Reducing all seriousness to utter horseplay.
It is nonsense not to enjoy good scents! spoke the Cheer into a sheet of bark, rolled conically into a megaphone. So, without further adoan aromatic incentive to appease your incessant insistencethe incense!
Smoke em out! cried the Guffs. Smoke em out!
The Cheer retrieved a short bow hed prior hidden upon Piks scalp (the Illustrious Magisters forgiveness was a certainty, her permission ever a variable). Fixing an arrow to the string, he lit the tip, wrapped in an oil-soaked rag, and sent it arching over the congregation in a majestic parabola. It landed straight in a brazier set inconspicuously against a load-bearing pillar. The basin fumed. Guffs hauled similar stoves from outside and, striking flint, lit their pyres. The temple was soon hazy with smoldering cannabis. Some breathed deep, others temporarily evacuated for less intoxicating air. The Illustrious Magister covered her mouth and nose with a sleeve, needing to retain her wits for the remainder of the Telling.
An evening breeze sifting through the temples pillars eventually funneled the syrupy herbal smog out through the oculus. Coughing, mildly unsteadied, the congregation was restored to order.
We thank you, Cheer, for reliving our ceremony of the yearly repetitiveness that is its droll affliction, said the Illustrious Magister, sarcastic ichor slathered over every syllable. Her shallowly veiled admonishments were lost upon the Cheer, sprawled across Piks forehead, a cigarette of hashed cannabis plugging each nostril.
Pik, repeated the Illustrious Magister. Whose seat is established upon the earth. Who taught happiness and joy, who imbued our ancestors with a ravenous hunger for life. Pik, who transforms sorrow to gladness, who translates hundreds of inexpressible emotions without the aid of words, evoking the most overwhelming feelings with the simplest of smiles. Who reminds us that life is fleeting, that our petty worries are but shifting granules of sand in the infinite dessert of this universe, not worthy of anyones concern, least of all ours. Pik, who teaches us to laugh in defiance of the void. Who instituted the Cheer and his accompanying Guffs to remind us that we are the children of the stars and, like the stars, are intended to burn bright. To exhaust every ounce of luminescence before being snuffed, to fill the emptiness of space with divine light.
Pik, said the mountain folk. Your caprice is known, your cheer is sought, your exuberance is praised.
Piks statue was carved of rose quartz, wrapped in motley streamers. The Tears hands were pressed to its stomach, pulsing, undulating with hilarity. The statues eyes were squinted shut in the throes of laughter, mirthful tears trickled down its dimpled cheeks. From one eye gushed fermented barley, to purge the soul of sadness, to demolish the obstructing dams that would inhibit the flow of sincere emotion. From the other eye streamed an elixir to incite the purest euphoria, to speed the hearts hammering output, to brighten colors and milk the adrenal glands. A cure for depression and recurring grief Piks head was thrown back, lips tugged upwards in a taught crescent, teeth molded of silver, tongue gilt with gold. Hair of bunched copper coils, springing out at all available angles.
The Cheer was eventually coaxed from atop Piks head. He threw himself head-first into a swan dive, twisting at the last available second so his Guffs could catch him in a spread quilt.
Rytyi, said the Illustrious Magister, entering the final lap, the homebound sprint. Whose seat is established beneath the surf. Who taught beauty, the harvesting of gems, the stitching of garb, the making of instruments, the composition of verse. Who conceptualized art as a language of the soul. Rytyi, who devised aesthetics to elevate our living standards. Who raised this very temple. Whose divine intention was that we, astral-born yet still of crude mortal flesh, could aspire to the radiance of stars.
Rytyis idol was flawless white marble, diamonds sized after grapefruits were cemented in the statues gums. Strands of strung pearls for hair and sapphire eyes. A toga of silk, gold embroidered.
The musicians laid their lutes and lyres at Rytyis feet, painters their brushes, sculptors their mallets, tailors their finest spun cloth, poets their macaw-plucked quills, offering themselves as vassals to their beloved, ever-giving muse.
Rytyi, your vision is known, your inspiration is sought, your artistry is praised, rang the vox of the populi.
And now the Illustrious Magister stepped from the altar and strode to the base of the final Tear. Visibly fatigued, but genuinely determined to finish the time-honored Telling, to do justice to her deific guide. Filling her lungs, she braced for the finale, an all-out dash to the finish, a horse in view of the stable.
TÆlla, whose seat is established beneath the surf. Whose currents wash flotsam upon our shores, jetsam, wonders from beyond our realm of knowledge. Who, likewise, carries star-sent insight, beaches it upon the sand of our otherwise desolate minds. Who methodized discovery: observation, trial and theorizing. Who educates and informs. Who gave us parchment for the making of scrolls, ink for transcription thereon, printed language with which to embalm ancient ideas. TÆlla, who is the bane of ignorance.
TÆllas idol was cut from a mass of solid amethyst, the crystal given regal contours. The statue was robbed in deep purple. Robed in the islands humid, breezy, velveteen twilight. TÆlla was given opal eyes, swirling with color, swirling with infinite comprehension. Enlightened eyes. Eyes that promised to share enlightenment. Two crystalline fingers were extended, touched to the statues temple (the cranial valley, not the sacristy) in a gesture of amused contemplation. The hair was loops of silver linked into chains.
TÆlla, who gave numbers, logic, the foundations on which our society is firmly structured, the elements of prosperity. Physics, astronomy, astrology, alchemy, architecture and, yes, stories. This very Telling has been passed from magister to magister since TÆlla, in wisdom, first authored it as a history of our mountain paradise and the pantheon that continually guides us. Propelling us people of astral-descent forward, fueling our aspirations, excelling us as individuals, bonding us as a community since the Tears Descent. The Tears, whose cherished Names will be remembered, invoked, sanctified for countless generations to come.
TÆlla, your insight is known, your knowledge is sought, your wisdom is praised.
The Illustrious Magister once again ascended the obsidian altar, block of petrified ink.
Children, the Tale is Told, now away to your beds. May Fae grant you pleasant dreams, RDawki, peace of mind, AReija, close friendships, Pik, long years of happiness, Rytyi, the beauty of every eastern sunrise, TÆlla, a wealth of wisdom to bequeath to your prosperous legion of grandchildren. Tonight the stars wept six Tears and by those Tears we are saved. Praise be!
Praise be! the mountain people exalted.
The Illustrious Magister raised the sacred ivory horn to her lips, drawing breath to sound it, to mark the festivals end. But, before she could run air through the mouthpiece, an interruption:
PRAISE BE! barked a voice from the temples pillared entrance, surly, gruff.
The amassed islanders turned to view the irreverent disruptor.
The man was muscly, bare-chested, bear-hairy, smeared with muck, his skin salt-chapped, his uncut mane a snarled mullet, his beard barbarous.
The swamp man, the terra-born, drew a dented machete from the swine-skin scabbard strapped across his sinewy back.
PRAISE BE! he roared again, cleaving the air, decapitating the Cheer who was reeling nearby, oblivious on numerous levels. The merry-makers head had not yet bounced upon the temples mirrored floor when the ogre struck again, carving through a Sooths shoulder. Blood mingled with the teal of his shawl to create a dark indigo.
PRAISE BE! called second, climbing the temple stairs, a flint hatchet in both hands.
PRAISE BE! Another.
PRAISE BE! A fourth.
The temple floor was slick with blood and diced viscera, limbs with no apparent owners. The men had been methodically slaughtered, every male surpassing twelve summers. Contorted bodies, stab wounds opening like hungry mouths. Hungry mouths with bright red lips. Intestines and strings of ambiguous organ tissue trailed from vivisected cadavers. Marsh warriors collected scalps to hang from their belts. Exposed skulls, peeled, husked, shaved to the bone, were chalky white. The fecal reek of bile seeped from corpses, their stomachs punctured. Bodies were stripped of their festive apparel, some were dragged from the temple to be cremated on a beachside pyre, others were selected to serve as banquet fare at the chieftains proposed victory feast.
Children were bound hand and foot with coarse hemp ropes, marched off the mountaintop, herded down jungle paths, driven along farm roads, past burning cottages. Those that cried were kicked. Many that did not cry were also kicked. A girl with a broken nose, blood and snot leaked from her nostrils. A boy with his fingers fractured, dislocated. Hed slipped during the initial panic. His hands tread upon, crushed, mangled. The ropes rubbed their sun-smooched skin raw, their bare feet were lacerated upon stones, blistered by the gravel pathways. Arriving at the beach, they were loaded onto burned-out canoes, from which the invasion was launched, to be transported back to the mainland. To be slaves to the swamp dwellers, the bog folk.
And the world can be violent as they sea can be violent, receded a boy, his eyes wrung to dry itchiness, his lip slap-swollen. But those who love Fae, who are kind, will float as a coconut shell will float. Staying safe, enduring the storm, breasting the waves, striding the sea until
A talisman? A charm, my lardy mountain cub? inquired a swamp amazon overseeing the march. Her fingernails were long and brittle, her teeth were sharpened to points. She hooked a foot around his ankle, pulled his legs out, ripped away his balance. Spluttering in the dirt, she landed a kick to his head, his neck whiplashed. The linen Fae hed cradled close tumbled beyond reach. The marsh woman scooped it from the mud, inspected it. All gods are dead, fat island boy. We are maggots, eating sordid flesh of dead gods, taking nourishment from divine decay. You learn. In time, you learn. I will teach.
The spawn of my spawn will grow food in this soil, said Ugarok, high chieftain of the bog people. They will remember my name when comes the harvest.
They will sleep where is dry. Where the feet not fester, where the fungi not have us before our cold bodies are restored to the muck, said Scnari, his third and favorite wife, his youngest niece.
They stood upon a film of cooling blood, clumps of brain, bone fractals.
The great idols had been toppled, pulled to the ground. Their eyes levered out with knives, bickered over, fought for. Their vast garments rent and divvied. Rytryis diamond teeth pulled. Piks dual fonts indulged in. Faes hair shorn. Their stone bodies cracked and crumbled, their perfect forms desecrated, demolished.
From the altar came screaming, then silence.
Shame. Looked a good woman, said Ugarok. Best claim your reward while the body holds warmth.
Bit me, said Nokka, referring to the Illustrious Magister whose throat hed recently slit. Will not have a biting woman. Even dead. Will not touch.
Then choose another, before all are had.
The men were dead, the children enslaved, the females taken as spoils of war. Spoils of war and all that entails.
The Illustrious Magister lay across the altar, gurgling. Ugarok studied her dying body, the arterial blood that gushed from her opened throat in rhythmic spurts. Then the glossy black pedestal she bled upon.
This stone, this beautiful stone, he said. It is mine.
This victory comes at no expense. It is profit alone, winnings without cost, said Scnari. The fighters are pleased, tonight you stand in high regard and will have no contention for it.
Twelve burly swamp men, bodies like oaken casks were summoned to lift the altar. Their fingers searched the smooth obsidian for purchase, eventually finding grip along a beveled edge between the dais and the floor. They counted, heaved, grunted, lifted.
Dusty air emanated from a dark passage concealed beneath the stone. The descending stairs were free of wear, seldom used.
Treasure, said Nokka, the only word required.
The chief and his men ventured into the darkness, torches held before them. They breathed air unstirred for thousands of years, passed etchings in the rock walls, words carved in a language deceased. The ceiling lowered, the walls narrowed, the stairs became a smooth ramp, the oxygen thinned, the torches guttered. Into the mountains belly, its bowels.
At the end of the passage, an hour of downward trek, stood a circular stone. It was rolled aside. Beyond that stone, a chamber. It was entered.
Ugarok pitched forward, landing on his knees, bruising them.
The band of warriors preformed variations of these, some laughing, some embracing, one vomiting.
Do we bind them? Bring them? asked Scnari.
Hefting his war mallet, Ugarok struck the chain where it was fettered, anchored in the stone wall. It napped free. Slithered free from six sets of manacles.
No. Leave them be, said the chieftain. This island is no place for man. Come dawn, we row for home.
The conquering tribe gathered in celebration upon the beaches, roasting the flesh of their ages-envied foes, beating drums, performing shameless acts of public coitus.
Six beings climbed from a deep-sunk shaft, emerged on the mountaintop. They stepped indifferently over scattered pearls, burst from their strands. Over diamonds and sapphires. Splashed apathetically through pools of liquor and liquid narcotics. Kicked aside chunks of amethyst that once comprised a painstakingly rendered elbow. Circumvented a dented helm of polished bronze. Left footprints in porcelain dust that once formed a tender face. They walked between the temples pillars, down six stairs. Beings that smiled when cool air brushed their faces, that spun giddy circles, that skipped, that relished the open space of the abandoned forum. Being that sang old songs from beyond the reach of memory. Beings free of a forgotten tomb, whose eyes had organic gleam, not bejeweled glint. Whose skin was warm, whose hair was soft, who stood five feet on tiptoes.
On the mountain in the bay, so near to the heavens, six perfect beings danced in the starlight.