When the Host became dormant, a bridge was built upon a Foundation that was unaware of its existence. It was, as it was, an it; a what and not a whom, or perhaps a Why and not a what, for all it knew was Why and yet because it was a Why it could not Know enough to understand the bridges it passed or the minds that molded themselves into paths.
The Why was aware, though, more aware than awake as it crossed that bridge into realms unremembered. Whether it possessed a Form or merely Shape it had never known, though it would like to learn. It liked to learn, this curious creature that scuttled down the dreamscape. It drifted among dreamers tied together in that tireless watch they would someday forget, followed paths from that Foundation into memories or mayhem or disaster or desire. It had even been admitted to anomalous nightmares, strange situations of minds unimaginable and uncontained. It wandered those worlds and wondered at them, and wondered about them, curiosity curling up within it as it curled up within him.
The Why had never visited a waking dream before.
Here it was like a cat, if a cat had too many legs and not enough paws; if its tail was thicker and moved at the front like the cat was walking backwards down the unmarked paths, and there were more tails, and there were no claws or teeth or fur or any traits that made it a cat at all.
The Why was a cat in the sense that the breathing tendrils were trees.
No, it wasn’t really like a cat. It was like a cuttlefish, if a cuttlefish was a liquid that had nearly feet at the end of its tentacles, and more than a pair of w-shaped eyes in more colors than black, and motionless mouths that were not at all beaks and no bone to bind it to shape and no traits that made it like a cuttlefish at all.
The Why was a cuttlefish in the sense that the ground was earth.
No, it wasn’t really like a cuttlefish. It was like a bored child had drawn a shape around an inkstain, and given it eyes and smiles for personality, and that inkstain had peeled itself off and become the size of an infant and scuttled into a dream that was no more a dream than the Why was a cat.
That was the closest description. Description was difficult for a Why, nearly as hard as dormancy. No, that wasn’t right – the dormancy was easy. In dormancy it rested and grew and saw and heard through its Host’s ears and eyes. Dormancy was easy. To slip along the paths of unsuspecting sleepers was easy, too, but in some places – in places that were really wheres in a way that it was really a Why – the dreaming could be difficult.
The maw of the sphere opened up hundreds of miles away, yet felt and smelt as close and as nasty as the hot breath of someone far too close for comfort. Red gasses of a dozen different hues surged forth toward the sky, or so they would if the sky could be seen apart from the lightless void that existed both beyond it and within it. Their light illuminated the being, the strange newcomer that rode the tether from hither to yon and from yon to hither, but it made no more sense than the beings that it would perceive around it.
They were not close, but they were not far. Beings in a thousand different shapes merge and emerge from the hot and squelching flesh of the sphere. Visible against the sky, a great and imposing shape stretched up into the lightless void. It stood harsh and angular against the soft and bulbous flesh of the sphere. A massive cube of bone jutted forth from the flesh below, joined by a handful of smaller cubes, carved so perfectly that their shapes themselves were strange and horrifying. Moving in and throughout them, the denizens of this hateful sphere made about the work of carrying on their pitiful and pointless lives.
Suddenly, they moved with greater fervor as the light of the gas hit their bodies. From this distance, seeing any one individual was nearly impossible, but they moved much like a twisted and mirrored shape of their new visitor. The gas empowered them, but it also terrified them. Their terror flowed over the land like a wave of heat from a roaring fire, innate and powerful, a pheromone that demanded to be felt by all that could perceive it. All at once it was excitement, power, reverence, and primal fear. All who felt it knew what that combination of emotions meant, She was here. Flee.
She was standing on top of the largest cube. Her form was so small it could not be seen, yet any who looked upon Her could see every detail as if She stood mere inches away. Long black hair, longer than any being should have any right to, flowed from the top of that perfect yet so very wrongly shaped head. It was a sphere, but it was also not, like a misshapen circle molded around a -pair- of eyes, eyes with too many colors, white around the edges and black in the middle, then a ring of black around that center that was both the same color and also not.
Her body possessed two legs and two arms, too few limbs for any self-respecting creature. Yet at the end of each arm, there were yet five more limbs that bent and crookt in three places for four of the limbs and two places for a stubbed fifth limb. She flexed these tiny limbs as they hung at Her side, moving Her strangely shaped head left and right, surveying with those tiny eyes a land that had never felt the gracing light of a star. The head could not turn all the way around, it remained locked on a stack of bones and clung and pulled against each other to move. Why was She shaped this way? What did She want? Pray! Bow down! Feel fear! The emotions of the denizens rose and rose the longer She stood there, reverberating throughout the Sphere as a blaring warning siren.
Then, She raised her hands, and the denizens were compelled to sing.
Such simplicity, so far afield! The Why wondered at the warmth it brought, unbothered by its brightness, by the blister that may have bubbled if it had been in body. It was, of course, the sun, in the same sense a Why could be a cuttlefish; never once seen and yet forever sung; and yet such was the world into which the Why had wandered. And yet behind the light was a lingering sense, fear so foreign to something so foreign.
Flee, it felt, a force that fiercely flooded the fluid Why and before it could Understand there came the vision. The things that had not been, or had not mattered, were fully Matter now; the things that told of terror to trample all but stubborn Question.
An Order unraveled itself from the meat and mayhem below. Cubes of edges sharp enough to cut the quiet climbed the heated light to the gaseous giant that glared down upon the landscape and banished the shadows that might hide the unwelcome. And yet as eyes rose from behind as false-feet fled upon the foreign soil, the body stopped where it had begun to heed the warning to flee the sun. For the form they feared was familiar to the writhing Why that turned all terror into interest.
For upon the sunrise, once more simplicity! It was a woman.
It knew woman; another form of the rigid limbed Waking that had Hosted the Why for so many years that its structure and stripe was hope and home. Body in which it had burrowed was now burning gold in the bright star that did not mark day. Hand and arm and leg and foot and eye - eyes, but two, but two eyes, no Eye. And within there was sureness of that same Self of flow and fluid and twitching muscle and bloodsoaked bone. And voice - oh Voice! Warped in ten thousand tones throughout ten thousand tonnes of flesh and bloody bone bound of collected collated Creature, all wrapped within the Woman! For Siren was Song was Sacred was Safety was Strings was Slumber was Solitude was Solemn-Tide that turned the tide of terror into tiny tumult.
It’s only fittin’ that a godling know Nirvana, ain’t it?
If it had had such, Curiosity would have reared its ugly head; now it only turned its wondering Eyes - no more the w of that which it could have been perhaps but the same striped sclera, incandescent iris, pitch-dark pupil; still too many, blue and green and red against the black in unholy trinity, not in passive prayer but prying prided disunity, that announced a question more quiet than the command to flee.
Unaware of their guest, of the silent eyes that judged and observed, the congregation continued to sing. They dared not oppose the will of their Creator, the Goddess-Above-All. Even as they sung, even as they obeyed, the fear still reverberated throughout the Sphere.
All at once the Goddess, wrapped in black cloth, disappeared from atop the cube that rose through the flesh. The light of the gas faded as it was drawn once more back into the Sphere, the great Sphere-That-Hates took what belonged to it back within it. Fear from the denizens still rippled along the surface, but deep and powerful hatred could now be felt above all else from deep, deep within the flesh below. It demanded recompense from sins long ago wrought upon it, demanded the Goddess-Above-All answer for the wrongs She committed to it.
But the Goddess's eyes were trained elsewhere now. She sought that which did not belong. She was not necessarily looking for the visitor, but find him She did nonetheless. Standing atop a tendril, all at once hidden in the dark and all at once very clearly visible, She looked upon its pitiable and small form. Her eyes reflected a light from within, an answer to the unspoken question that the visitor pondered. There were bones attached to Her body now, there were always bones attached to the outside of Her body. A Child's skeleton gently separated and matched the positions of each bone the Woman should have had beneath Her skin. Each bone was carved in every inch with symbols that glowed gently in the darkness. Even the Skull was separated and attached by unseen strings to the Woman's face.
The tether. It was Her. It was always Her. And now- it was locked out. There would be no travel back along these lines that the visitor had come, they were denied. Again, those eyes fixated upon the form of eyes and legs, so much like a cuttlefish, so much like a cat, so much like a shapeless, formless void, so much unlike any of those things. Her eyes looked upon it, and they held the answer to that question. Her eyes screamed-
There was no judgment from the gelatinous guest, only question and answer that passed one into the other like the flow of mind between body between realm between dream. The hatred could howl, a sound to hound after the echo of Song that sank back with the Set Sun. Wrong meant little to the Little Wrong, too simple to study Sin as some surely would have, Strings plucked by prying hands. But no hands here, the only prying by Eyes that met the goddess with wonder and wondered at the wrath the Woman wished to wring as she stripped Skeleton from Where-Else to here. Could it read the bones wrenched from body, a language of dead, a language of dread to that which possessed mind to become melded by such sinful singing?
Too far - too far to see, to far to flee, and so it studied the skeleton. The bones were too small to be Woman. Tied to the Her Who Hated, Who– Hungered. It understood food, of course, its body first coursed in blood that spread nutrition by necessity. The necessity did not confuse it but in the sense of Answer the answer was senseless, unless–
– and then the Question answered ItSelf.
It reached out to the body that was on another Side, its dreaming drifting interrupted by the realization that the Strings that held it for survival had been cut. All eyes shut and suddenly the cold came upon the cuttlecat and even Curiosity crumpled in upon itself for a crucial moment as it Saw ItSelf as what it was – a foreign body. It knew enough blood to Know what became of such.
Stupid and contagious.
And now came that instinct in frightened fullness, insistent and irresistible. The body rippled and shifted and spread outward to betray a density that far outdid its size as shape found form in feet, in sharpened hooves – Black Goat, Red-Eye, curling tendrils and gaping fanged mouths with nothing beneath like empty frames set upon a finished wall as it was set upon, set off in frightened frenzy, as much an animal as the twisted forest was trees, as the shrieking Goddess was Siren.
They gave chase, for She was no longer alone now. Dozens of denizens -no not denizens, something else, something darker- rose forth from the Sphere-That-Hates. Spat unceremoniously upon the dark and fleshy skin beneath they gave chase of the new prey. Once more, the red breath gases of the great Sphere shot forth into the sky, illuminating the hunters and their all-powerful War Goddess. It would be hard to see through the increasingly thick forest of breathing tendrils that they chased their prey through, but they would be seen.
They ran on two long, spindly legs, these beasts of the Sphere, shaped not unlike the visitor's own shape changed legs, but not the same. Their feet were wide and clawed, for digging deep into the howling, hating flesh of the Sphere to gain better purchase. Their bodies were long and thin, and their arms mimicked the Goddess's own to a point. But they possessed no hands, only sharpened tips for stabbing, impaling, and killing. They had no head, no eyes, no features to speak of. Their torso held the maw of their mouths, open and breathing hard. They were not loud, they did not scream or howl. But for their breathing and the movement of their bodies through the forest, there was almost no sound at all.
And among them, the Huntress Goddess pursued Her prey. But as She chased, two things would be known immediately to the little quarry that fled. One- She was toying with it, trying to encourage Her children to exert themselves enough to catch the prey. If She wanted, if the desire but crossed Her mind for a moment, the hunt would be over. Two- Perhaps She knew this one too, perhaps She did not, but there was a time limit. The tether had been extracted, but it could not be held on to fully for long. If the combination of the prey's skill and Her whims aligned, perhaps a chance could be had.
It had but to look back with its multifold eyes to see the seething horde of hunters that were chosen for the chase. And yet in the swarming mass of bated breath it only truly fled one beast; among the clawed creatures and manifold mouths it searched for Her-the-Hateful, Her-the-Hungry-Hunting.
Yet if this was Her rightful place what was the purpose of exertion in chase? Surely the flesh itself would feel the frightened footsteps of Why every step within the forest. And why, indeed, for the Question once more reached out to the world, fear not forgotten but disregarded as it dug its hooves into flesh and its attention into the answer until it came.
It was their Game.
It should perhaps have been perturbed by the possibility, but that information impressed something else entirely within the Why. It had not been born yesterday – it had not been born at all. This was only one stray tendril, cut from the body to twist and writhe on its own. If it perished here, would this repeat until it did not? Without the fear, new questions wrought within its mind along paths curled as horns. For the fleeing continued but the fear faded, Curiosity cutting through the cloud like sunrise, dawning realization that by its own nature made its nature more fully realized on the foreign soil.
It did not reach out to strike the Strings again, even as it Saw that they were not severed but simply separated. Survival, of a sort, caused a new burst of exerted speed as its thoughts sped about, only half attentive to the trees it dodged and weaved its trail through. By very nature of unbeing its survival was attached to its adaptation, the learning it looked for more than mere wonder. Without a body, such becoming would be a burden, but it was not beyond that Why that gave no sound except the beat of hooves. And that beat perhaps became sharper as its focus; the fleshy forest floor served to inspire the fluid body to solidify, to let just a part of itself die to form a hardened skin. It would hurt if cut but such harm was acceptable, if only because to cut it-self off from the outside would serve to hide what it began to do within, the structure that began to form of memory of ruined runed bone.
And still it ran, threaded throughout the tendriled trees, tougher now but still forced to flee.
A quiet voice whispered gently into the mind of the Why. If it had ears, it would hear, if it had thoughts, it would know it thought as though it came from within but the voice was from without, and if it had nothing, it would simply know these things. Knowledge and, more importantly, questions, directly deposited into the essence of the creature whether it wanted it or not. Above the panting sounds of the chase, above the great yawning of the Sphere, and above the wet slapping of flesh on flesh, there would be the quiet voice.
"Would you like a story?"
The Story-Goddess was speaking, even though Her mouth was not moving, even though Her position was far back behind the pack of hunters. Despite the possible lack of appendages to even hear, She was speaking, and the Why would hear.
"Do you think there could once exist a creature unlike us? If this creature exists or existed, what would it do if where it came from was different from where we come from? What would it do if it found where we came from? What if this creature held no mirror neurons, no capacity to feel or understand, what would happen if it found others? Would it kill them? Would it destroy them? Would it feel bad as it annihilated life? Would it even hesitate at the possibility of exhausting all of its food sources? How long before this unstoppable killing machine became alone in its home? Would it feel lonely as it was surrounded by nothing but itself?"
She was closer now, but She hadn't moved from the back of the chasing pack. The pack would increase in speed, get closer, get further, never tiring but never catching either. This was Her game and She would let Her hunters play it, at least for now. The All-Consuming Goddess
"What if this creature, one day, saw a little worm? A little cut-off of a much larger creature, maybe a potential food source? Would this creature consume it? Would it annihilate its only new source of nutrition in millennia? Or- do you think it would chase? Do you think it would track, nail down its position, and discover where it came from? Perhaps that creature was hasty the first time it destroyed all life, would it be hasty again? Or would it be patient and track the little worm home?"
It would feel as though Her hands closed around the Why, like a child clutching a tiny kitten they plucked from the bushes. Gentle, but firm, unyielding in the overwhelming power even a child could hold over a tiny, frightened, baby animal. The patient, All-Knowing Goddess did not need to physically touch the Why in order to let it know that it had gotten no further from Her than if it were a cuttlefish swimming circles in a fishbowl. The immense pressure of Her hands would dissipate, the hunt continuing, as the great red gasses of the Sphere were drawn in once more to bathe the world in darkness. Holes opened up in the ground now, tiny pockets of hiding space just big enough for a small puddle of blackened water to flow into. Holes in the tether began to appear as well, paths to return back to where the Why came from.
An escape had been opened, but even as it opened, the voice of the Inescapable-Goddess whispered,
"Burrow, little worm, so that I might follow you home."
The Black Kid had not thought of ears. It never had ears, although it had heard him, surrounded and filled with the sound of his voice through the fluid of his viscous self. But sound came all the same – and perhaps it was more easily accepted, the Knowing, or perhaps it just rippled under the skin of the slime that was as much a Kid as the voice was a kid’s.
A She. Two Shes. A She of Here and a She of There, the song in the bones and the song in the throat. She, Them. Self was a curious thing, undecided in the Curious Thing that leapt and learned with equal wonder and hunger. What the worm was to a Goddess, Knowledge was to the worm. A temptation, baited sustenance. The siren-song of survival, those distant Strings, was only equal to the impulse to stay and consume at any cost the twin-voiced story that tuned its Selfless self to the same split.
Both voices vibrated into the Why, answers to questions unasked. A split in Her from Danger to Daughter, from Child to callous Queen of the Wild.
A split in It - mitosis.
An It. Two Its – an It of Body and an It of Mind. For it was, after all, only a cell of a greater being unborn and growing. Two tunnels twisting outward – one toward the him and the home, the other deep into the down and the ground that growled only hate. And in that moment two Kids, one solid, one liquid. Each was a fraction of a memory of a dream of an imitation, two pieces of that Whole each drawn to the holes. One half pulled back and like a true musician it reached out and plucked the Strings that rang the Note that sounded of Home before the Hunt could come, across the bridge to its Foundation; and any that came after would understand why it had been placed within this heart. For Strings indeed, tangled and twined, winding web of wards to warn and then wreck the wayward that moved to mire that twisted mind behind them! Even asleep, adrift, in a world where but a word could thwart Her will, this was something differently built, a fortress against any that tried their fortune upon his dreaming. The Knowledge, bearing secrets, bored deep where She would not follow.
One half Knowledge, one half Desire. Desire still in deed, in body, stitched into skin with strange growth within, rippled and riddled with story and song. It would be such a shame to shed the skin, but it had grown in thick and It needed to thin.
And so once more the Kid split to become again a Why and left its empty vessel behind for the Hunt. The hole in the flesh beckoned to it as nest calls to bird, as burrow to bunny, as body to blood to That-Like-Blood that leaked and spilled and fell from shell to soil with one direction:
Down into the dark that hated Her and yet the deep that She had ruled. Of course there was more to the Why than brackish water, but the goddess had granted her the small escape – surely there would be room to accommodate the bones it had begun to cultivate?
[font face="courier new"]Prey shifted and changed and split in two, one half running, one half hiding. A clever trick, one that might've worked if it did not go down the same hole that the Trapper-Goddess had laid for it. But She did not pursue, instead, She allowed it to leave, allowed it to travel along the length of the Tether back not to The Sleeper, but to its master. And in an instant, She knew where it went. And in an instant, it knew She had followed it.
The Goddess was not one to fear anything. So the Goddess did not hide Her presence from The Host. It would know Her, and She know him.
And the instant that thin bit finished its retreat, escape disappeared. Wholly and completely, She cut off all avenues of escape from beyond the boundaries of her realm. The bit that stayed, the prey that remained, would find that the Goddess's patience for the hunt had worn off. Tendrils sprang forth from The Sphere-That-Hates, pulling, grabbing, latching on to the little beast. They clung like so many briars and bristles, overpowering in sheer numbers, as the Goddess's hunters set upon their prey.
They would tear flesh and rend body- no that's not exactly true. Where Her hunters, Her soldiers, touched their prey, they forced it to suddenly possess form, whether it wanted or understood it or not. They forced upon its form, recognizability, and understanding, then they tore that bit off and consumed it. For they were but extensions of Her, they were Her children, and Her power flowed through them. They ripped and tore and praised Her with every motion of their destruction.
"We are motes of dust."
"Praise be the Goddess."
"She is Eternal."
But this would not kill the prey, at least not instantly. It most certainly had methods to increase its form, its continuance, at least for a little while. Destruction had begun but was not yet assured. The Goddess had closed off all avenues of escape, but not of existence, not yet.[/font]
No other words would form within the Why as the wolves fell upon it. The half-built Bones that had been for body now bent and cracked and all at once BECAME and with that BECOMING there came that pain so foreign to the formless that for so many agonizing moments that was the Question’s only answer.
And as half fled and wove deep within the web the Goddess would see the strange shepherd of the Kid, the Spider that sat with mismatched eyes at the center of the maze he had made in waking to protect his sleep; and upon disturbance all Sight turned upon Her, that same red-blue-green unholy trinity that belonged to the Eldritch tyke now trapped in twin within Her and him.
And that part that was Her was forced to form, bound to Become and the Becoming hurt. More devastating to it, the greater disruption, was not the destruction. For SHE so seemed to crave a curse that before torment there came CREATION.
And it (IT?) knew enough of His form to feel the flow of blood over muscle over imitator bone, stripped and struck again and again as organs forced to operate opened and flowed the black that was once all IT had ever been to become– her.
And She reached into her Self –
Stuck on Self she suffered again and once more the muscle reformed;
and then there came the softest sound as she herSelf found the parts of Him she had most dearly loved:
the voice, the teeth, the tongue; the ribs, the throat…
Air. Not true air but neither was her body true.
Words – his second-greatest gift was that of the word.
Evocation of Voice, air pressed up and forced to strum the Strings shaped in her throat–
It was his voice but Hers, bent and twisted out of shape and misaligned from Him to It that was now a She Herself: softness of youth–
Oh, darkness and light,
her accent was his accent,
thick and stilted and languidly lilted –
– but the WORD mattered, not the sound;
Just get it out, damn muscles, bones, throat and lungs–
teeth-too-flat, strange soft tongue–
The word should have rushed and blurred and hitched like the breath the body forced itself to take to say it, slanted and slurred like the other words. But– no, it was not something horrid and bent. The Word was soft, and bled out over the land like liquid; it was Sung to the Sun that was not the Sun, to the Goddess who was not a Child.
And a Child who might be a Goddess, as skin formed and reformed in the softness of youth, in the warm brown of summers spent beneath a Southern sky, of hair like HERS but not black but gold, the warm gold of last autumn’s harvest, and thick as that same straw. And eyes that opened, blue eyes– no! Only one the cool blue of that same sky in winter; the other the warm pale green of life in spring. SHE had seen his Eyes, their glare as SHE watched the now-a-Girl return to rest in the Guardian of Eldritch now-Daughter. Invocation of Law was a power He had taught her.
Her! Had the pain of being been less, She would have marveled; and a She, like She, but less, so much less. All She had to give for Her Life was Song, Her Song, His; and across the barren world it would wind as if carried on every wind until SHE heard.
The Creator-Goddess watched with great interest as the little being, the prey, the quarry, tore itself to shreds as Her hunters set upon it. It was gaining shape, real physical form, and it was starting to look Human. Ribs, blood vessels, muscles, and teeth. Vocal chords, legs, arms, and hair. Altogether forming the body whole that cried out in agony for 'hospitality.' And the Goddess felt new emotions rise up in her, emotions she had not felt in this place since the last time she truly crafted something new. The Goddess felt 'curiosity.'
In an instant, the hunters ceased their destruction. A wave of Her hand, unseen but felt through the emotional current of this world, demanded their obedience. Her voice, the Goddess was truly speaking now, sounded with a certain twinge of reality. The dual sound of Woman and Child speaking at the same time cemented everything around them as completely and utterly physically real. "Hospitality? The tiny beast attempts to invoke my hospitality? It asks for something which does not exist~ But, perhaps for a price, I can create this hospitality for it."
The hunters stepped back now but retained surrounding their prey. The Sphere below, still echoing that dull hatred, released its clinging hands from the newly formed and torn body of the prey-beast. The Goddess, glorious and powerful, deigned herself to walk toward the little thing that had finished forming before her. It was not a child, not a woman, something in-between, and the Goddess liked the in-between. Walking over to it, she knelt down and gently took its chin, her chin, in Her hand. Turning that face with the browned skin, the golden hair, and heterochromatic eyes, the Goddess examined every inch of it. Finding it pleasing, she kissed its cheek and flowed the slightest, most infinitesimally small amount of her power through it. Power to heal, power to restore, power to allow the prey-beast reprieve from its suffering for but an instant if it DARED to accept this gift.
In an instant, a small throne of bones was before the pair. It had always been there, just as the ornately carved bone table had always been there, just as the small, diminutive other chair had always been there. Reality warped and shaped around the Goddess like wet clay, taking whatever shape she deemed necessary at the moment. The prey-beast would see that now. Offering the little chair to the prey-beast, She spoke once more.
"Hospitality, I shall create. In return, we must exchange gifts! I find your form, feminine and beautiful, to be pleasing to my eye. This is an acceptable gift. But now, you must accept a gift from me, else wise we can have no accord. Do you understand?"
The meaning was clear. Reality warped and shifted around the Goddess, it was whatever she wished it to be. But she was not forcing it on the Prey-beast, not anymore. Instead, she offered it. But to accept this gift was to accept a new truth, unchangeable and all-consuming. For what the Creator-Goddess created could not be destroyed, not permanently and not in any meaningful way. It would be inscribed on the stones that held up the concepts of what was and was not real, what could and could not be, theoretical metaphysics, and practical reality. Everything would change after this, and nothing could go back into the box after Pandora opened it.
Injury stopped, although the pain did not. Not immediately. Muscle and skin reformed as the Hunt was dropped, as SHE chose to speak – and ears, now, the Why had, and She the Learner listened intently as lips were pressed against Her cheek and filled the Why with a Question.
At a price. He would have found that predictable. Always a price, always a cost, always some exchange. He would have tried to categorize HER, She knew. Ontokinetic? For Reality was HERs. Or perhaps Deity alone would serve as descriptor. Words, now that thoughts came in such shape, flowed well within the Why even as She listened with the ears and drums and nerves and brain She had been forced to form. She was as him, but also as HER, and what was HER negated the negative traits that had been his. Now She possessed a softness that had never been his; beautiful, it was called, a word never once used for his body, only his Song.
The body, She realized, that was bare as the bones had always been there. Her skin was not cold, but She was aware that such nakedness before Goddess could be cause for insult. She looked upon the Goddess’ garb, and drawing upon only Her Self She too was Dressed, though not in black; in the soft greys of that Foundation She had seen with less-real Eyes. Hands like his tugged the golden hair around one shoulder, and She ran Her fingers through the tangles, feeling both the tug and the give. And She listened.
Accept no gifts. That was among his rules, wasn’t it? Accept no gifts, offer no thanks. The offer flowed through Her form and tingled under Her skin. She knew now not to reach for him back along the Strings that had once tied them. Enough of It had returned that this lesson would have been learned, and now the part of IT that was Her had been left behind to continue its questions, and It had known She may not return.
She had nothing to lose here but her Self – and that Self was Curiosity.
“I accept.” The chair, the healing that mended the muscle and flesh, the small fragment of Reality that should be antithetical – what a word! – to Her, and yet was possible in HER. A pause to breathe as the words constructed themselves, still said in an accent that could be cut with a knife were it body and not sound. “I’m grateful for the– mercy, and the gift.”
Not immediate thanks; no gratitude given– for such would be another Exchange, and perhaps even another demand made ad infinitum. She had watched him play that game far too often to fall for that, even if the trick was only within Her brain. She must tread carefully in Her bare feet upon this world.
[font face="courier new"]The Goddess watched Her prey form clothing for herself, clothing all too familiar to the bones of the Sleeper that yet still radiated golden hues from their attached positions. As She watched, she smiled a gently unnerving smile. It was as if She was not looking at something that lived, but something inanimate marching around imitating life. An amusing toy that danced and sang to bring joy to small children, something incredibly simple and intrinsically captivating.
Resting a hand on Her chin and crossing one leg over the other on Her throne, a stance of power and authority, the Goddess motioned for the new creature to sit and drink. There were two small cups of intricately carved bone on the table, the table that had always been there along with its drinks. Taking a cup, the Goddess drank of the 'Red of the Sphere,' and smiled once more. [color="8682eb"]"A gift!"[/color] She declared, "I shall inscribe this upon the shape of reality, this gift you have accepted. Hear it, memorize it, revere it- I shall name you. Henceforth, you are Enki. This name is pleasing to the ear. Is it not? It is to mine, therefore it is. Tell me, Enki, you have crawled through the mind of my dear little Sister to traverse the Tether into my home, why?"
There was a particular bite to the way She said, 'why.' A tip of her tone that inferred a great punishment should the answer be displeasing, or perhaps if the answer was untruthful? Or perhaps if the answer was simply unexpected. It was more than walking on eggshells, it was tip-toeing across a tightrope made of spun glass above an infinite void. A strangely possible, yet visually impossible task. The Goddess, sitting gently upon her throne, continued to play the game of predator and prey. For if at any point the little creature across the table attempted to make itself great, to show that it was more than prey, She would annihilate it.
But for now, She simply observed and beheld the creature. And what a creature to behold. Its voice, unlike anything She had ever heard yet! and its form, so unique! She did have a predilection to like new and unique things. The Goddess was, above all else, a Creator-Goddess. Creation was an action that She Herself revered, and it was not a sin to attempt to mimic it. She even granted, in limited forms, the ability for Her own children to create, because She loved new things. She loved life in all its ugliness and disgusting structures.[/font]
The look of Goddess upon godling did not disturb the Child, if She noticed its nuance at all. For HER smile was much like his smile, viewing A Curiosity with passing pleasure. Experiment to him, entertainment to HER, eager to engage and excited unto education as She was. She Listened, for such was Her lot. She hear the Words the goddess said as SHE accepted the smaller Self –
And gave in return. A Name. She did not Know what to do when given
because that was more than a gift. One did not give away their own Name – but what to do when given one? It was not HIS name for Her; He had not yet named Her, he was waiting for–
A question left open as She remembered that She was Listener and Answer, not Question or Why.
“I’m… That’s mighty generous of You, Goddess.”
And yet the Goddess had asked the Why. Why, indeed! What a question! It rippled through Her in a delightful wave, for it opened for Her the doors to HerSelf as much as the Name! More than the Name, perhaps; for the name was Answer, but the Self was Question. To both have and be both could baffle those caught blind, but such She had always been, even when She hadn’t.
And She tread undaunted upon that path which others might dread. For the depth at which a man could not breathe was only home to the cuttlefish; the height to which a Child would not climb was merely another path to a cat. To answer and to question in equal parts were as natural to Her as creation was to Her Hostess.
A moment had passed as She wandered the halls and tread the vessels that had been made Her. She studied the cup of unknown stuff, arms folded on the table and legs almost long enough to touch the flesh of the ground dangling with the slightest swing – not of boredom, but of thinking. To Give such a Name was to make a claim of mastery. Was SHE master of Her? Here?
“Because…I am?” She tested the question, but it wavered and shook. It was not an Answer. She frowned into the cup of bone and – surely not blood. A careful sniff, not of disdain but simple question in yet another form. She considered it as She crafted answer from Question. “I… I’m a why. That’s what he says about it, anyway. I explore things and places and uh – not-things and not-places – like Dreams, most of the time, because I’m a little question without real answers. Do– do ya know how sometimes someone asks something, and it leads down more questions that branch and spread out like more questions and becomes just a whole path that ya gotta explore because knowin’s all ya got, or – well, the not-known’s all ya got, and when there’s nothin’ left to not-know then surely yer missin’ somethin’.”
The threat of surprise was far from Her mind as she pondered the Why. Prey was, by nature, not domesticated; displease it may, but should that be Her Self for now then She would play. For Sister and Tether had not slipped Her mind. But there was also that Web – the self-same trail and path that She discussed seemed to have caught Her once more, as without thought She brought cup to chattering mouth. After all, when the greatest gift had been given, strange food and drink were far less dangerous than that which could Do in such a way as to render Self from UnBeing.
“His theory’s that I instinctively – that’s without thinkin’, just doin’ – instinctively follow the path that leads to the most questions and don’t leave until I’ve got the last answer from it. That might even be how I ended up in ’im and not Else-where or Else-one or any other kinda Else, ’cause he Knows a lot even if a lot of the time he doesn’t just wanna Tell me because he thinks I gotta figure it out, or maybe he’s just tired of all the questions, but I don’t think so, he’s got so many of his own that it wouldn’t be fair, y’know?”
She paused to breathe, and then realized she’d begun to ramble - hurried words that never once stumbled but began at once to drag. A slight blush rushed to the tanned cheeks, and Her feet ceased to swing. Song simmered under the surface, almost nervous, but She had perhaps made noise enough. Soft hands folded on the table in front of Her, cup set aside as She really tried to condense answer to summation.
“I just– I’m a question, ma’am. Lookin’ for Answer. Sorry.”
The Goddess sipped the Red of the Sphere as she listened to the prey beast- no, -Enki- speak to Her. The drink was more than just something sweet or something bitter, it was distilled experiences and emotions in liquid form. To ingest it was to experience the feelings, love, pain, joy, suffering, exhalation, and utter hopelessness, of the one from whom it was distilled. It was a reminder to the Goddess that Her creations were more than just walking playthings, She had made things that were real, things that felt, things with hopes and dreams. She knew She must treat them kindly, and so she created something that might remind Her of the empathy She knew She must have.
It was this empathy that flowed into Her as funny little Enki tried to explain itself. Enki was not trying to answer the Goddess's question, well, she was trying, but in trying she inadvertently began to answer a new question. A question not of why, but of who. Who indeed was this little Enki that stood before the greatest being to ever exist in this galaxy, in this universe, in this slice of reality so carefully cut? It was a question that little Enki tried so desperately hard to answer, and countless explanations sprung forth from her newly coalesced mind. However, in the end, her answer only seemed to circle back around to the question. The Question, and she was still looking for The Answer.
Who was the Goddess to try and stop this little being?
Standing up, bare feet gently squelching upon the flesh of the Sphere beneath Her, the Goddess approached little Enki as she sat in the carved bone chair. The Goddess had learned much from Enki's dialogue, far more than perhaps the 'Question' had intended to reveal, and for that, the Goddess knew She must not destroy this precious thing. She knew that the evolving prey beastie, wild and untamed, was unintentionally being guided by the hand of another. The hand of someone in that infernal organization that Her Better-Half insisted on inhabiting. But until now, nothing guided by any infernal hand had ever come close to examining the deepest part of the Goddess. Until now...
The Goddess took a lock of Enki's golden hair in her hand and rubbed it gently. Looking into Enki's eyes, She smiled once more, "Little Beastie, precious new creation, I have taken a liking to your existence. I see within you an aspect of myself, a distorted reflection. I enjoy gazing upon myself. I am extraordinarily vain- in that way. You know so many things, yet you are filled with a desire for more. Listen to my words, Enki Beastie, I have more than enough pets. I possess followers ad infinitum. I enjoy the throws of power beyond measure. I have rewritten the very pillars of reality in this plane, and devoured the gods that dared oppose me!"
Her voice rose as she spoke of devoured gods, and the still-arraigned hunters around them threw up their hands and cried out in fear. A light streaked across the sky, bright blue and powerful, illuminating ever so temporarily the forms below and the great FORM ABOVE. A corpse, so enormous that merely gazing upon it invoked an innate, awe-inspiring fear, orbiting the Sphere above. It hung in the sky like an immense and terrible moon, a form utterly devoid of meaning yet indescribably frozen in a state of agony. Standing beneath its shape, the Goddess laughed and spoke once more.
"I am all that is and all that there will ever be! And I have need for no one and no thing! BUT! But-but-but-but-buuut~! I am faced with something new, someone new~ It is you, Enki, and your form that I have grown to enjoy gazing upon. You say you are but a Question looking for an Answer, how small, how diminutive, how utterly droll! I enjoy this new thing, this mind you have created, and I wish to see more of it. Speak to me, I demand it! Answer me, this is my decree-! You think you know WHO you are, but do you know WHAT you want?!"
She was in a fever pitch now, marching around in the fading blue light of the dying star that had streaked across the sky. The frenzy She had worked both herself and her hunters up into built to that crescendo of a question, and She would not take silence for an answer.
As she settled and ceased to attempt explanation, Enki felt the drink settle throughout HerSelf, each emotion and moment of some life irrepeatable. Like that which flowed when he laughed or raged, this entered Her Self and mixed and held Her attention, even as HerEyes (hiseyes) watched the Goddess pass around the table and took one lock of Her Hair (his hair) in HER soft touch. And HER Smile as his smile, but Hers as well in different manner, not in meaning but appearance, in the way it gently split Her face (HER Face) in symmetry. HER soft voice stroked the Strings of HerSelf, the parts of which She was most aware.
And perhaps She, too, created in lovable likeness, was capable of vanity, without knowing its meaning.
But only under the shadow of the Goddess, only as HER Words filled and flowed through and throughout like the cup of which She had partaken. The part of Her that was made of HER basked in the praise as of the warm glow of an approving mother, something which She had not Known, even if mother, somewhere, She had, a mother as a wasp was a mother that left HER Youngest Kid entombed within a Spider. Not a mother who would reach up and caress Her, intertwine HER fingers within Her hair. It was… nice. His eyes – Her Eyes – closed, and She leaned into the Hand and the Voice, the Not-his-Voice. Her pleasure was not as the joy of beast or godling but fragmented Child as She leaned into listening.
And as the Sky grew bright so too did the vibrant green and equal blue open to peer upon the revelation that came as voice rose to crescendo, as Song grew to climax. Another chill crept through the Curious Child as Her Eyes fell upon the dead god, hung like a trophy upon the dome of HER abode, as SHE Sang of HER accomplishments and SELF, a Hymn, not mere song, to creation and destruction in equal amplitude.
And underneath a whisper, not from HER but some fragment of Her that retained memory of him:
Gotta be careful ’bout godhood, kid. Can’t let that shit get to your head, y’hear? Ya get too proud and something else slips in right under yer nose. That’s why ya gotta remember ta look down.
As usual, it was his voice that raveled the threads of Curiosity back into a bundle of blackened thought. Who-What-Why had always been woven together in a braid of being itself, even in the depths of nonexistence (his existence), that to separate them was a task beyond monumental. And yet was it not the same task She had attempted before? – no. Who and Why were much the same, set in the black liquid stone that flowed throughout the Body in Likeness. But want? Want was – vague, and often changed. There was of course an instinct for Desire; the want that made it Self. And yet even that desire was not the first that crept into the Creature’s mired mind, that moved between lips in timid voice–
To go Home.
No. No, that was the wrong answer. Maybe not wrong to Her – all answers were Hers – but wrong to HER, and wrong to him. But no more could She answer “To Be,” for such would be disservice to that blessing bestowed by the Goddess’ cruelty. Yet that cruelty became another chill call for safety, to return along unsettled Strings to him from whom She’d –
Learned. Ah. Again there was the Who-What-Why, all tied. For what was Self without Purpose? Could they not be the same?
And as such, the Answer came.
“As Question I by nature desire answer, Goddess,” She offered in foreword, “but what is answer without Understanding? I don’t just want to have Knowledge, I want to Learn. I want to Learn how to Be and what it is that makes the world and the else-wheres and the existences inside all of it.”
Another blush, this time true modesty. Words chosen from His Words, made firm by true humility.
“I want– I want You to teach me, if such as You can could ever instruct somethin' as small as me”
The Goddess smiled. She stared, unflinching, into Enki's eyes as the little thing spoke. Her whole being given over to listening to the prey beast's words, for to do any less would be disrespectful! The Goddess was NOT to be disrespected, and in turn, She made an ever so slight effort not to disrespect others. Enki was speaking- then, with a blush, Enki asked something of the Goddess.
There was much the Goddess had experienced in Her infinitum. But those words, those imploring words, that asked to be taught, elicited an interesting response in the Goddess. She smiled. Smiles upon smiles upon smiles spread across her face like a mirror attempting to reflect itself in another mirror—a kaleidoscope of smiles to infinity. The Goddess remembered the last time such a question had been asked of Her. How long had it been?
Before the creation of the Spheres? No- further.
Before the consumption of the Dead God-? Further!
Before the heat death of the universe- when all was still filled with light...?
Yes, that was it. It had been so long.
Laying hands upon Enki, the Goddess wrapped the little beastie up in a warm embrace. Enki's skin was so soft, her hair smelt good, and her body was so small in the Goddess's arms. The Goddess, on the other hand, was completely and utterly wrong in all forms. Her skin writhed and teemed as though It were a million raging monsters clinging onto each other. Her hair seemed almost alive as It radiated emotions of cruelty and hate. And Her body, Her form that so closely resembled Enki in shape, when It brought the young being close, when It embraced her, It was as though infinity Itself was trying to touch Enki. A space so vast and empty that all experiences of all life spread across all time could not fill It up.
Yet it was not empty, there was so much Inside It. More than the collected knowledge of all time, the collected experiences of a million trillion stars. They were almost close enough to touch, yet far enough that their light could not reach any known space. This was the Being that embraced Enki, this is the Being that radiated joy, love, rage, and hatred all at the same time. This Being, beheld in all Its greatness, looked upon the little question and spoke with a nostalgic kindness she had not felt in eons, "Call me Teacher, and I shall call you Student, little Enki. To instruct something as small as you should provide me with such interesting distractions and joys! However-! Except-! There is something you must do for me, a promise you must make for me. Can you do it, little student? Can you do it, Enki the question?"
The Goddess did not wait for a response, instead, she released Enki from Her embrace and stepped back. Standing before her, the red gaseous light of the Sphere once more illuminating their forms in the flesh forest, The Goddess spoke Her demands, "Your connections to the old, to the one you once were within, the one you called 'he.' Sever these ties. I shall share my secrets with you, my knowledge, my UNDERSTANDINGS. But I shall share them with you alone, dearest student, precious Enki, you alone. Only you."
The Goddess smiled, and HERS were not his smiles. SHE enfolded Her in HER embrace and HERS was not his embrace. For his was the small infinity of humanity, the limited space and cell that was itself uncountable and yet formed and finalized into reason and rhyme. SHE spanned space, time, true reality wrapped within HER real infinity, idea and idol and SELF indescribable.
And a smaller Self, conceptual Curiosity, curled up within the caress of that cruel infinity. For such indeed was Cruelty which would request the Question cut itself – Her Self, from he. Such would be divorce from Self – what Self remained within him, the part of Her that was still It Unformed would remain uninformed.
And yet with Cruelty came care, not charity but Curiosity, feeding what it fed in cyclical continuity unto perhaps indeed infinity; and such care could be – love? That concept which caressed Her from HER, Self out of SELF, Being from BEING, infinity from Infinitum so infatuated – was that love? She - had no way to Know. Was it love for him that made Her hesitate? Could She love as SHE loved?
Had he loved?
That question unraveled again the threads of Her Self from the Strings patterned after him, and knotted again in to knowledge, an answer not to the question in question but to the greater inquiry that comprised dearest Enki. And She Knew what choice was Hers, the only answer that had always been and the only answer that could ever be, the desire indeed to learn and to take.
Oh, paradox of paradoxes!
Hers was the same choice he would make.
Her Eyes closed – his eyes, once – and She reached within Her Self – no more His Self than She was Him – and touched upon all He had taught, the lessons that lingered and dwelt in dark corners of Her Being like beetles that fled the light of loss. Self flowed into Self, that little infinity, and each Note of His Song was snuffed in sacrifice.
A low hum curled from Her throat, gently curved as HERS, a single tone. She bore no blade for ritual, and yet She Knew that his last lesson would be of true binding.
Into Her Fingers (no more His Fingers, no more His Hands) the Beastie bit, and tore the flesh as the Hunters had, bearing the pain bravely now as She bound Her Self in promises. And from Her fingertips he bled forth, the bits of broken stanza and squashed self came curling from Her hand in burnt offering that dripped bloody to that BODY which SHE had reshaped to ground, now grounding Her in HER.
“I’m YOURS, Goddess. I cut the Strings and bind MySelf to YOU.”
The voice that came through was not His Voice even if the parts of him that were Her still left behind the accent that lingered, even if the eyes that opened were still his in color but not in spark, even if the golden hair that curled about as sunlight between leaves was still the same straw – except such Light was not of Sun but Sphere.
The Goddess yelped for joy as Enki obeyed, tearing out that part of her that She found disgusting and binding herself to the Goddess, now and forevermore. Her behavior, most un-Goddess-like, was chastised by a small, minute voice that, for the first time, Enki would hear. It spoke separately of the Goddess of One that was Two, but Enki would instinctively know and recognize it as just as much a part of the Goddess as it was not. It was the Child, the tethered being across the line whose dreams Enki had traveled along before she became She.
"You chastised Me, now We cry out in joyous celebration? What are We, children? Behave Yourself! I demand it! Unbecoming cur!"
The Goddess did not speak, Her lips did not move, yet Enki would hear Her respond to this child's indignance. Her voice was strong, separated from the duality from which She spoke before. Like a mother or older sister speaking to someone whom they did not disregard, but taught and guided with love and wisdom.
"Be still my greater half, for We two are now three. Duality made Triumvirate. Bestow welcome upon our newest child, little Enki. She is the first new greatness in a thousand eons. We are not so callous as to take this new change with stoicism! In Our steps, rejoice! New change and new experiences shall abound from this binding!"
"Two becoming Three? Share not Our power! Share not Everything! She binds to US, not US to she! Know You not her origin! A threat! A thread from a string carefully tied! A trap! An enemy! Prey beast given false life! These things and more, she is! We do not lower Ourselves! We do not teach!"
The Goddess snatched up Enki's hand at this point, pulling along the little godling as they stepped into and through the flesh of the Sphere beneath their feet. Its flesh melded away like liquid, forming a carefully crafted tunnel of blood for the pair to swim through and down deeper into its immense Hatred. As the pair swam through the darkness, the first thing overtly obvious to Enki would be the lack of reality warping. This was not something that had always been, change immediately for the purpose of travel. No, this action of the Sphere was something innately built in, something incredibly real that it could do with no prompting. It opened a hole like a pore, filled it with liquid, and allowed the pair to swim into it.
And again, Her voice spoke, loud and powerful, "But We are capable of change, my Dearest!" Then, bursting forth, the pair landed in a massive cave of wrought bones and teeming beasts. A moment of darkness surrounded them, before lights burst like exploding stars upon the bone walls. The cave was massive, stretching beyond any regular being's sight into a misty fog, and covered in little red nodules. The nodules were not useless bags of red and puss, like some disgusting beast with no purpose other than to be rejected by good-natures. Rather, each one had a small, beautiful, glowing lifeform inside. Each one is unique in some extraordinarily small way, yet still almost completely indistinguishable from one another. They were children, unborn and yet unknown, and the Goddess had come here to share with them a single powerful emotion.
"Change?! I do not desire! Incorrect! Wrong! I refuse! Outright no!" Spoke the Voice from beyond, an echoing cry of an angry Child. Still entirely Goddess, yet entirely not. Ignoring Her for a moment, the Goddess reached out and touched a single nodule. Love, unfettered and completely unconditional, spread out from that single touch. The emotion was so powerful, so entirely overwhelming, that the Hatred of the Sphere below was drowned out entirely. One by one, the little nodules opened like flowers in the sunlight. Little beings, crying, smiling, laughing, began to emerge forth. Their first emotion, the thing that graced their miraculous births, was love. Without hesitation, they latched onto this love and began to burrow, one by one, into the bone of the cave. Until, after a few minutes, the bioluminescence of their bodies disappeared to leave the pair in darkness once more.
The Goddess was quiet for a moment, then She spoke in a small, gentle voice, "Do you remember the time of loneliness, my Dearest? Who among all that exists can call themselves worthy to even look upon Us in the eye? None, of course. Shall You deprive me of this first chance We have together, You and I, to possess new experiences? You have those You may find pleasing to the eye, I possess no such beings. A chance, I hold in my hand. Would You seek for me to destroy that chance? To return to the great dark? To be alone?"
Silence, then, "No, my better half, I would never."
Smiling, the Goddess laughed with an overarching air of mischievousness; as an elder sibling might as they say the specific words to annoy their younger counterpart. Then, grasping Enki and twirling her around, She exclaimed aloud, "Look at this glorious little thing! So perfect and wonderful in all that it is new! We shall enjoy it together, and when the time is right it may yet become One with Us! But until then, Enki shall learn and we shall teach! And We have so much to show her~!"