28 July, 2009

Gren post 14

A legendary figure out of ancient mythology, Asmon the Pale sat there astride the massive, multi-legged leonine beast. He, or rather the actor, Finghus had to remind himself, wore very little, in keeping with the Primordian mythology. A long violet cloak, thrown back. Tall flaring leather boots. A heavily bejewelled shiny metal codpiece, probably brass, secured with narrow bits of scarlet cloth. Oddly, he didn't seem nearly naked because of the extreme colour of his skin, a shocking white. He slowly surveyed the audience, his red-irised eyes lingering over some unseen and forbidding landscape of his imagination.
The audience rode along with him, gradually forgetting those in the seats next to them in deference to Asmon's morose, but beguiling introspection. They witnessed all one had come to expect from these tales. An old hermit to whom he could tell his story. Beautiful, yet somehow obviously mundane women for him to politely and consolingly reject. A natural disaster for him to overcome with a heroic amalgam of physical prowess and deductive wit. The dragon wouldn't come until later. It would come, inevitably, and, impossibly, Asmon would somehow defeat it.
Of course, there were the green Olnivernian dancing girls. Narrow bands of bronze tracery and engraving twining up their legs and down their arms. Each with a tiny bronze codera held over the fork of her legs by fine gold chain. Long black hair twirling and bells ringing as they spun and moved. Drums pounding with the movement of the flames behind them. Their chapter took place in the luxurious tent of an ancient nomad, and had to do with temptation and self-control, as well as providing a source of information and direction for Asmon's quest. He was apparently looking for some legendary weapon with which to secure the honour and prosperity of Primordia, and one of the dancing girls had seen it.
Finghus realised he had drifted off in thought about the voluptuous green woman. She had ultimately proved to be far more intelligent than the nomadic leader. Was this actually becoming thought provoking? Ridiculous. After all, there she was, still nearly naked, her large breasts almost bare except for two tiny roundels of polished bronze. How did they stay on? There was his proof. He wasn't even thinking about her warnings to Asmon, but about her costume. Drivel.
His mind was re-playing the evening again. Yet again. The little man up in the foothills was the intersection of everything. He had only been following him. Hadn't he? Then after his fall, they had tried to kill him. Hadn't they? Isn't that why that thing was in his flat? He shuddered again, despite himself.
Who were they, anyway? Minions of... that... what was his name? That wizard. The one sending the shipment to the Grand Test. Can't remember. Damn it! Probably the single most important bit of information in all this, and can't even remember it! That man falling off into the mist, he was some retainer of that wizard. Well, of course, idiot, you already knew that, his face was right there on the shipping documents. He must have been the wizard's agent who dealt with Tobin's. Somehow they know I saw him. They know I killed him. Well, I didn't really. It was just an accident. Oh really? And who do you think would believe you? A ridiculous little clerk, more easily erased than anything.
Asmon the Pale was on the move again, mounted upon the huge many-legged lion. Had he slept with that green woman? It hadn't been clear what the audience was supposed to think, but it certainly wasn't obvious either way. At any rate, thanks to her impassioned monologue of caution and knowledge, he was travelling now to some distant citadel. It was a fortress built about the otherworldly gateway to Olnivernia, the small violet moon.
At one point, he had to pass through a narrow, rocky valley. The precariously balanced rocks actually made Finghus nervous. He suddenly remembered he was in the last row of seats in the theatre. His momentary comfort was jarred loose by an ear-piercing scream, and the hair at the back of his neck stood up. Asmon had been a bit startled too. It was near-human, but clearly not human. Nothing showed itself. Asmon began climbing up the south side of the ravine, keeping as much potential cover as he could between himself and the unknown threat. Rocks tumbling, out of sight. Was something coming for him? He looked around again, in the heights up above, for shadows that might belie caves or ledges. Finghus' hands were clenched like claws on the arms of his seat.
Suddenly, exploding from behind a boulder, came a massive winged creature with the body of a gaunt and wiry woman, but with a gaping, fang-filled maw screaming at him, driving him back against the rocks, back into his seat. It's huge raven-feathered wings beat its sonic attack into him, crushing him, but he stood firm and rose against it. He had no time to draw his weapon as it brought a barbed spear down toward him, but instead leapt out at the thing, jumping into high open air, and grabbing desperately for the creature's face. He latched onto one of the tusk-like fangs in its lower jaw, and immediately began pulling himself upward. It couldn't close its jaw with him hanging from it, and he slammed a devastating punch into the roof of the thing's gaping mouth. It lurched backward, but he held on, grabbing for its neck as it grabbed for his own. It could no longer keep them both aloft, and it began to fall, with him piling punch after punch into its face and head as they plummeted together toward the ground.
"Kill it!! Kill it!!" Finghus was standing, both hands in white knuckled fists, his left gripping a tusk which didn't exist, his right pummelling the air in front of him. He stopped for a moment, shocked into silence. He heard others in the theatre pick up the cry, "kill it!!" Others began to stand, many of them dressed so eccentrically it could only be costume. Finghus considered shouting it again. The person directly in front of him was still sitting, though others nearby were calling out and throttling the air. His hands were slack now, and he couldn't put them back in fists. He looked about uneasily for just a moment, then watched as Asmon and the creature slammed into the ground, Asmon using the momentum to finish the thing.
He stood and swept back his mass of long, milky-white hair, blood dripping from his wounds. Amazingly, he looked out to the audience with a grim smile and lifted both arms into the air. The audience exploded into cheering.
Finghus sat down in his seat. The harpy had attacked without any known provocation, and Asmon had apparently merely been trying to fight for his own life. To stay alive so he could finish what he needed to do. But why had he, himself, become so emotional, so infuriated, as to find himself shouting and fighting the air in a theatre?
The rest of the audience was sitting now, and the curtains were opening again. Finghus realised he couldn't remember what had happened to Asmon's leonine mount, or when. He had been on foot in the valley. Finghus' breaths were deep and even, and he felt more focused than he had in days. He was relaxed now, almost exhausted. His body seemed to melt and mold into the theatre seat. There was a good, bright taste in his mouth.
Asmon had left the narrow valley, and hulking there before him was a magnificently gargantuan castle, obviously carved directly from the living rock. It was nearly white, but looked terribly ancient. The once sharp angles of the great walls and towers had cracked and crumbled, yet they still looked entirely impenetrable. He neared the ancient walls, looking for a gatehouse or some other way in which to enter. The edifice towered over him incredibly.
At the far side, Asmon discovered what appeared to be an immense bas-relief carving in the walls of the fortress. Ornately carved columns soared skyward in groups on either side. An archway as large as a sailing ship was carved above the columns, at least one hundred and fifty feet over Asmon's head. A cloud passed from before the sun, and the almost wholly eroded carvings of the titanic doors came out in the harsh shadow. Olnivernia, the violet moon, hung high and massive in the centre, below the archway, rendered in stark white. Beneath the moon stretched an alien jungle, the massive, overgrown trees, thick with burgeoning fungoid growth, plunging down into obscurity. The People of The Violet Moon lounged upon the great branches, couched in vines and giant mosses. All in bleached bone white.
He climbed up over the rubble around the base of the walls, feeling like an ant on pebbles. When he reached the base of the doors, he put his hand to the wide carven line which delineated them. It was nearly a foot deep, and wide enough to easily accept his hand and forearm, but still only carven into the surface of the wall. Yet, he thought, this must be the entrance to the fortress.
He climbed back down to the previous boulder and craned his head upward. He took a deep breath and bellowed out "I am come to the fortress of Nahk-Jahl to seek audience with Veer-Jhavhan!"
His voice echoed along the walls and up to the surrounding heights. The echoes died away into utter silence. He climbed down one more boulder, and surveyed the tops of the walls.
A dry booming voice filled the air around him, bringing him to a low crouch upon the rock. "What do you seek?!"
"I seek the Great Gate of The People of The Violet Moon!"
An echoing pause, then the booming voice returned. "What do you seek?!"
Now Asmon stopped and thought for a moment. "I seek the sword of Nahr-Laht!"
A jarringly loud and deep grating noise permeated his body. He thought he could feel his teeth shake. Inexplicably, the monumental carven doors began to swing outward, plumes of dust and dirt exploding from the edges. He turned and jumped back down over several boulders, crouching behind one for shelter. A huge shadow passed over him, like a cloud covering the sun. He looked directly above, and saw a monolithic mass of solid stone. It was one of the titanic doors, floating smoothly in its great arc as it swung open, blocking out too much of the sky to comprehend, tendrils of dust trailing away behind it as it moved. The inside surface of the door was as smooth as polished silver, and he was filled with a dizzying sensation as he watched this massive dim reflection of the world tilt away from him. With a deep, reverberating sound, the door came to a stop.
He stood and turned toward the archway, peering over the boulder. Instead of exposing a courtyard or an inner bailey, the opening revealed a gigantean interior of polished white stone, bathed in sunlight and glowing so brightly he squinted and covered his eyes. He tried desperately to make out any details or movement, but was confounded by the searing white glare.
As he hid his eyes, more clouds covered the sun, bringing a fast moving, sharp edged shadow down across the brilliant stone. Again, it was odd to see something that large moving, and he resisted the impulse to fall to his knees as the shadow hit around him and washed down over the rubble.
He looked up again, past the vast portal and into the great hall it had exposed. From down where he was he could see only the top half of the walls and the ceiling. Now, without the direct sun, the stone appeared pearlescent and silvery white, almost as though it were glazed. Looking back and up to the sun, he saw the clouds moving quickly. He hurriedly began climbing back up, in an effort to get past this vast entryway before it was again bathed in light.
Reaching the edge, he peered over. The floor was deeply worn, the centre being probably two or three feet lower than each far edge. Massive passageways let off from the chamber, two on each side wall, each one at least thirty feet wide and fifty or sixty feet high. At the distant back of the chamber was only a small archway leading off into darkness and seeming tiny in comparison to the hall. Far above this archway was a large, ornately carved balcony.
He lifted himself over the edge, and stepped inside. His boots echoed hollowly into the distance as he walked toward the small portal at the back. Everything was the pearlescent white stone. There were no seams in the rock. Everything had seemingly been carved from some impossibly homogeneous mountain.
It took far longer to walk to the back of the immense chamber than he had at first assumed. The passageways at the side walls yawned blackly, but the two closest the outside seemed to have floors which gently inclined as they disappeared. He was amazed that the small carved archway at the rear of the chamber was twelve feet tall when he reached it. The balcony far overhead was of one piece with the stone of the wall, and was carved in the form of great twining tree branches and vines, a stark contrast to the eighty or ninety feet of smooth polished stone beneath it.
He was about to enter this relatively smaller archway, despite the heavy shadows only a short distance within, when he heard movement from the great yawning passageway off to his right.
"No, this way!"
It was an old voice, thin and reedy, and spiced with impatience. Though it was barely above a whisper, it had exploded out, echoing into the silence.
"All those other ways are trapped! Well... This way is trapped too... but this is the way you want!"
The man sitting in front of Finghus chuckled lightly, abruptly bringing him back to the fact that he was in a darkened, opulent theatre, sitting in a velvet seat. Finghus looked at the back of his head contemptuously, then let go of the emotion. He pushed this reality away and went back into the fortress.

09 July, 2009

Gren post 13

More than half the people were gone, and he was still there. It was a sudden realisation, though he knew it shouldn't have been. It had been too gradual, and he had been too preoccupied. Four cups of tea? Three? This one was almost gone, as well. The pico nut pie, with its stickiness and warm spiciness and rich oily crust, had been quite comforting for awhile, but that had passed. Now his anxiety merely had a different tenor, deeper with less panic.
The remaining clientele was gathered in three groups. There was a thicket of standing people around one table, all of them having some sort of very animated discussion which Finghus couldn't make out. One table consisted of a court of people all hanging upon the words of a woman who was apparently quite well travelled. Her heavy accent was difficult to understand, which surprised Finghus, and she seemed to be from some distant part of Further Morvalia. The third group were all seated around two tables they had pushed together, and were being very restrained, almost reticent. It was this last group from which he occasionally received a quick glance.
The woman stood out, he supposed partly because the others were paying such rapt attention to her, but also because of her singular appearance. There were many of those still there who were dressed very eccentrically, but her specific sort of eccentric was perhaps engineered to be enrapturing. Her raven black hair was straight and very long and full, but seemed to originate solely from one area atop her head. It was bound there, with black lace, to the effect of a fountain cascading in locks down over her face and head, and down her back past the seat of the chair. The bare skin of her head and face, and of her bare shoulders and chest, was markedly white. The abrupt border of this alabaster expanse was a low, tight, black lace tunic, ending in ragged webs at her equally pale hands.
An elaborate necklace showered down over her chest in white stones and what looked to Finghus like it had the lustre of iridium. Her cosmetic was sharp and distinct. Firm black lines enclosed her violet lips, and surrounded her eyes with intricate patterns. As she talked, the great curving tresses that bounced down below her eyebrows, seeming short and close compared to the rest of her hair, reminded Finghus of a spider's legs, dancing along with her, arching over her forehead but kept from her eyes by the force of her will alone.
Only the waiter came out now. He was clearly asking the three groups, each in turn, if they wanted anything further. They had all said no. What would he do now? There was no one still inside the building, except those who worked there. He would have to leave, but to where?
The waiter walked over amiably and asked Finghus if he would like more tea. He hesitated for a moment, but then told the man no, and paid. He hadn't really thought of it until this moment, but as he handed the coins over he realised he had no idea how or where he might get more.
One of the groups, the quiet one, was leaving now, quickly gathering their things and heading under the entwined archway. Apparently in reaction to this, the other two groups began moving about in preparation to leave as well. As they all made their way out of the cafe and back up the avenue, the woman with the unusual accent seemed to join the other group, those who had been having the spirited discussion. Her retinue followed along, taking this opportunity to talk amongst themselves, and falling behind.
The last one passed beneath the vines. The waiter was inside.
Finghus hurriedly stood and, glancing back at the table to make sure he'd left nothing, went over to the archway. He hesitated, trying to appear as if he was trying to decide which way to go so it would appear to be mere coincidence when he followed those who had just left. He wondered if this show was for himself, trying to enjoy some illusion of self-determination.
After they had gone a respectable distance, past the cafes he had walked by earlier and up to the next intersection, he made a theatrical display of coming to a decision, barely preventing himself from saying "ah, yes!" and walked off after them.
Despite himself, he was walking faster than they, and after a few blocks had caught up to them. Without really trying to, he was virtually walking with them, or at least with the last few of the lady's court. They had wound around, down onto another wide avenue further toward the river, and as he followed the coterie around the corner onto the boulevard, he saw where they were headed. It was a theatre.
It was a large, formal building, amongst all the others, dark ornate stone, ancient and worn, but now brightly adorned and lit. The entrance was a great covered half circle peristyle, some ten or fifteen steps rising up to it from the street in great rings. The dark columns appeared to be heavily carved, but he couldn't see them well from here.
As he came closer, realising the first group must already be inside, he saw the columns were sculpted as bare branching trees, with scenes carved all over their dark stone bark. Hanging from sections of several of the columns, clearly sculpted for the purpose, he could see large vellums. There was the woman with the white skin and the accent. She was painted, very skilfully, on many of the vellums.
He dug with his tongue at a bit of pico nut stuck in his tooth as he mounted up the worn steps. Very satisfyingly, it popped loose, and he chewed it again in his front teeth, letting himself be distracted by the sweet, earthy spiciness. He knew he would have to pay to get in, but he didn't know how much. He didn't know how much he had left in his pocket either. It would be unseemly, obviously, to stop here at the top of the steps and start going through his pockets.
He walked through the tall carven doors, propped open despite the cold, as he began dwelling on how he detested the theatre. Plays. And the people who went to them, pretentious pseudo-intellectuals! In the back of his mind, he reminded himself the people from the tea house hadn't seemed that way. How ridiculous! He didn't even know them. The theatre, with all its preposterous histrionics and impossible perspectives instead of decent, believable storytelling.
Being stupid. Spoiled. What does it matter what I think of the theatre?
"Ah, you've come in costume! Wonderful!"
The ticket man's voice was like a wily conspirator. He looked unshaven and dishevelled, but clearly expected Finghus to hand him some coins.
"Twelve Mordinarion, please," with a raised bushy eyebrow and a knowing smile. He knew what the man looked like then. A beggar. A deranged beggar.
Finghus stuffed his hand in his pocket and brought out all the coins he could. Twelve Mordinarion! Could all plays be this expensive? Outrageous. It would be close, he knew, as he counted the coins out of his hand. The lustre of iridium glinting from one of them brought the woman back to his mind. Brought her chest back to his mind.
"Only Twelve tonight? Oh good," he said as he placed the coins singly in the man's hand, returning his odd smile.
"A bold choice... not many would come as Abognazzar after the fight." He bowed slightly and handed Finghus the ticket.
What in the world could that possibly mean?
He took several slow steps away from the man, not wanting him to continue any conversation, and took in the darkly luxurious lavender and black of the theatre's lobby. It felt cold and expansive, but somehow welcoming. Knowing. Like one who truly understands, but only because he has seen too much.
Beyond heavy velvet curtains, Finghus beheld a wholly different scene. It was suddenly bright, but a rich and languid brightness which didn't hurt his eyes. All around, his senses were bathed in sumptuous colour. Deep, flowing gold and shimmering brass. Kingly purples and violets fading into opulent blue. Luscious heavy greens and florid reds. Commanding all in the theatre were the sweeping golden draperies which still concealed the stage. Framing these, like the ornate jewelery of a mountainous giant king, were richly coloured medallions and roundels of fantastic size, cabochons of wood, lacquer, and satin.
He looked about for an empty seat, and finally spotted one which wasn't a mere solitary opening. He didn't want to sit immediately next to anyone. He made his way behind the seats, his gaze absently sliding over the two or three hundred people here, but still drawn toward the stage. When he was around the other side, he plunged reluctantly down the row, one of the last, with the space available. Perhaps this very part of it all was what he hated most about the theatre. The constant fear he would step on someone, or, even worse, trip over someone. He wished they wouldn't look up as they moved their legs to the side for him to pass. He forced on a weak smile of appreciation for those who looked. If only he could just continue looking at the draperies or the ceiling, but then he would almost certainly misstep. Rubbing past their legs. Were they angry with him? Did they think him a terrible imposition? Pretentious nits! Finally, he was past them. Why couldn't they leave more room between these seats and the ones in front of them?! He sat down heavily in the centre of the three empty seats.
How stupid. After everything that had happened tonight, and he was complaining about theatre seats! How small. He drew inward, pulling his coat tight about himself, despite the warmth of the theatre. He resolved to soak in his surroundings while he waited for everything to begin.
There were the musicians, up there just below the stage, and the wizard sitting there to the side of them, all of them apparently going through some last minute preparations. In a few minutes the light began to dim, and Finghus realised he hadn't seen its source anywhere as he had looked about.
As the light faded, a shimmering image grew distinct upon the stage draperies. It was suffused throughout with the golden glow of the fabric, but it was now a gigantic landscape. Sharp golden hills and ridges, dramatically barren, faded into a misty distance, from which rose up a glorious golden castle. The highest towers had glowing bronze domes. The sky rose golden, fading into violet, then deep blue and stars. The moon hung low in the sky, large and brilliantly blue in the unseen sunset, and another much smaller moon as well, even lower, a glowing violet behind the turrets of the castle.
This was to be Primordia then. A Primordian romance, or a 'romantic adventure' more probably. No wonder all the drums and horns among the musicians. The first image in answer to his imagination was the old stereotype, the voluptuous Primordian princess wearing only small bits of metal and jewelery. The image used to interest the common people in history. The image used to denigrate the past as primitive.
The draperies went back as the music began to build and pound. Impossibly, the landscape pictured on the curtain was revealed on stage, as though a portal back through... what was it supposed to be? Fourteen thousand years? Sixteen?... stood there before them. A massive golden beast with a rider could be seen coming forward from the mists about the castle, seemingly well over a mile distant. As he arrived directly on the stage, Finghus realised he couldn't pick out the moment it had become real. He smelled sand and a metallic tang. He felt a hot dry breeze wash over the audience. The magician here was excellent.
A deep, sensual female voice filled the theatre. "Come with us, as we travel back to a time when two moons rode the sky."