It’s a Good Life

It’s a good life… life is good…

The man was walking through mostly empty, windy streets. Loose sheets of newspaper were being whipped around by miniature tornadoes, invisible but recognized by their tell-tale small-scale destruction. The city was bitter. The city was cold. The city was as it always had been.

It’s a good life… life is good…

There were so many things left in the past, so many beautiful memories… sometimes, it was enough that they were there – testimony that those events had taken place – to nourish the soul in light of abject poverty and abandonment.

Onan had been a family man, once. He’d had three beautiful daughters and a loving wife. That was in the distant past now. They had died, and he had lived, left with the crippling choice of ending his own life or moving along in an inertial course toward eventual death. HE had wanted it so bad, to die, to go with them… but he was left there, on his own, by himself, to wander and perchance speak with some other human being, the nourishment of dialogue, of empathy and compassion, of comraderie in the human condition.

It’s a good life… life is good…

He walked, dark beard, frizzled and dirty, face grimed, hair matted and more akin to a bird’s nest than human hair, he was a mess. Now and then he found those willing to help, though he never asked, no… it wasn’t pride, but rather a strange sense of honor, that one should not plead while being able to stand, that one should not beg while able to perform a task… so he worked as he could, where he could, when he could. Life could be tough, eking it out of nothing, ex nihilo nihil fit… but he was not nothing, was he?

It’s a good life… life is good…

They had died in an accident, and everything in his life had come tumbling down. His job, his friends, everything…

It’s a good life… life is good…

He knew he was to be patient… he knew he needed to be strong… but God, how much strength was required? How much longer?

He kept on walking, crumbling under the weight of tragedy and faith. Crumbling under the ravages of age…

It’s a good life… life is good…

Horror Vacui

Mustn’t let the emptiness win.

Mustn’t let it be empty.

Mustn’t let the emptiness win.

Fill it. Fill it. Fill it.

Laura repeated the litany under her breath, like an autistic child focused solely on this quartet of verses as if it were all in the world worth focusing on.

Mustn’t let the emptiness win.

She toiled in the basement of her house, carrying the messy bits on her apron, held like a makeshift bag, as the bits dripped their fluids which ran down in rivulets down her otherwise naked body. She was old, wrinkled, skin sagging everywhere on her once-sculptural body. The wrinkles filled with the blood and offal of the bits like rills running down her copiously-varicose legs.

Mustn’t let it be empty.

She placed the remains of many different creatures, some of them even human, arranging them in such a way that the basement’s floor was no longer visible. The flooring had been ripped out weeks before, Laura had ordered this done on the recommendation of the handyman she normally employed, as there was need to replace said flooring due to some sort of rot seeping up through it from the ground below. It was then that she had begun to hear it in her head, the hissing noises.

Mustn’t let the emptiness win.

On the day the handyman came by to pour cement on the ground she snapped and pushed the man down the stairwell. His body was badly broken by the time he hit the basement floor, but he was still alive. She shuffled down the stairs and stuck a pair of scissors through the man’s left eye. It was what she instinctively knew had to be done. He had taken the flooring off and thus been the one who let the hissing out. His had to be the first blood offering to cover the ground and keep the thing at bay.

Fill it. Fill it. Fill it.

She’d been busy since then, taking what lives she could in what ways she could. Two girl scouts she had poisoned, three door-to-door sales men, a make-up sales woman, her lawyer, four neighborhood dogs, her birds, her cat as well as any other animal she could trap – raccoons, stray cats, anything – these had all been chopped and packed on the floor so as to cover the dirt of the basement floor in an effort to smother the hissing. That infernal hissing!

Fill it. Fill it. Fill it.

There was still so much ground left uncovered.

Fill it. Fill it. Fill it.

The doorbell rang. Good. She needed more.

Fill it. Fill it. Fill it.

The Ethics of Time Travel

Many a great wonder had come to be in the 23rd century, Maxwell thought to himself as he sat in the back of his small Personal Commute Pod or PCP – no relation whatsoever to the now-obsolete illicit drug – as it hovered over the magnetic strip-wires which lined the smart pavement just underneath the surface. The PCP was carrying Maxwell to the Committee, formally known as the Committee for the Review of Temporal Queries and Requests, as he had been fortunate enough to have had his request considered under the Last Wish amendment. He still had a life expectancy of a year, give or take, before the Hyper Cancer overcame the genetic palliative stasis bindings in his genes and thus undid him quite literally at a cellular level, but this nevertheless qualified him for an appeal under the law.

Such wonders, indeed! He continued to muse, recalling when he first learned as an elementary school student about the days when a human’s lifespan was not predetermined but rather left to random chance. This was before the time of the great expansion, before the scientific and medical renaissance of the late 21st century, which in turn ushered the discovery and creation of various procedures and treatments that effectively made death obsolete. It had been mere coincidence – or perhaps divine providence and humor, he would oftentimes think snarkly – that the world socialist government had been successfully launched and the world had conformed to it without much of a hitch. The syzygy of such effective health treatments and prevention, and egalitarian political regime, and the wealth of free access to all living human beings, had all proven too good a thing for the species and so overpopulation accelerated exponentially despite all contingencies placed against it. Overpopulation plus a nigh-endless lifespan soon forced the world’s greatest leaders and thinkers to implement a very necessary set of measures. All humans would be given a set lifespan of 200 years with no exceptions – save for the very rare cases where it was, after a great deal of tribulation, decided that extending or shortening a lifespan was in the best interest of the species – and a genetically engineered form of cancer would be administered upon a person’s 150th birthday, set to detonate, as it were, within the person’s cells on the day after their 200th birthday exactly.

A plethora of different advantages were given to the person once they reached what is known as the unwinding stage of human life. They were granted freedom to travel everywhere in the world and the off-world colonies orbiting Earth. They were allowed a great many things. And most importantly, the last 50 years of their life were spent without the obligation to work at all or to be kept under the control of the world government – hence the genetic hyper cancer as it guaranteed the person’s expiration as lawfully mandated.

One of the greatest, if not the greatest of discoveries was time travel. It had been practically proven at the dawn of the 23rd and become a fact of life halfway through the century. It was not, however, something just anyone had access to. No, in fact, it was the most highly and strictly regulated of all scientific advantages of human life. And it was only ever allowed once per lifetime under very specific yet obscure criteria – surely something to do with the possible requests not conflicting with government interests and other, corrupt things, Maxwell often thought.

He had been lucky enough, he guessed, to have been chosen for such an incursion into his own past. His reasons to request this were valid enough, he was confident of it, and the fact that he was now in the last year of his government approved lifespan made his request all the more poignant. He was just happy he would get to solve the one great question of his long and otherwise bountiful life: the exact circumstances under which his wife had died.

She was only 28, Lara, when she was apparently murdered, no suspect ever determined other than Maxwell himself, though he was summarily acquitted for lack of evidence linking him to the crime scene – their apartment – beyond the circumstantial and the eventual fact that he happened to be somewhere else in town, a fortunate thing since his alibi was documented by the surveillance equipment at a store at around the time of the crime and he had no means by which he could have made it to the scene in time. He had found his wife’s body three hours after her time of death, as determined by the forensics team during the autopsy, well into the evening of that fateful day when he returned from his errands.

The PCP glided to a halt in from of the Committee building where he would be shortly questioned, a mere formality given the fact that he’d already been cleared for Trans-Temporal Incursion, before entering the Planck-Device that would take him to the moment in time and space where his wife was murdered.

It often occurred to Maxwell that these matters of time travel were convoluted and, quite frankly, a mind-bogglingly difficult affair to manage. First, there was the question of why the resource was so limited; sure, he understood that allowing all people to freely move about the timeline could potentially cause chaos in unfathomable ways, and the state of matters in general could be unbalanced by the well-documented-yet-still-theoretical butterfly effect. Yet, he found it odd, that it would not be employed for so many issues like solving crimes such as his his wife’s murder amongst a plethora of other mysteries of species-wide interest. Perhaps, he thought, it really was so in order to protect the people, but he found it difficult to trust the institution that failed to catch the person responsible for practically rendering his life meaningless.

And now there he was, walking up the steps, walking down the halls with his dapper shoes’ soles producing nary a sound, getting into an elevator that mere seconds after putting his index finger to a touch panel miraculously transported him to the 75th floor where he would break physical laws believed insurmountable only a little over a century prior.

After changing out of his plainclothes and donning a one-piece suit of a material similar to latex, he was led to the location of the Planck-Device. The room was abuzz with activity; myriad screens with readouts mounted on the walls were attended by technicians and clerks, their work positively arcane to Maxwell. The questioning went by quickly, without issue.

“Maxwell Thorpe Argyle, do you swear on pain of dissolution to disturb nothing of the past?” said one of the clerks. He held a wrist cuff that would monitor his vital signs while also somehow measuring his influence of the time-space matrix and the flow of causality, as it was explained to Maxwell in the briefings when he had signed the affidavits and waivers for the Temporal Incursion, in order to verify if any tampering was done with the events of the particular moment in space and time where he would be transported. In the event of any such violation of the Butterfly Effect Agreement, his hyper cancer would be unshackled by a signal from the bracelet and his genetic dissolution would take effect immediately as damage control for any harm done to the fabric of the past. Other contingencies would also come into effect, released form the bracelet in question, that would isolate that particular moment in space-time and, through processes Maxwell didn’t care to even attempt to comprehend – he knew it would be futile in his case – the fabric would be repaired and reinserted. He’d heard it said that it was very much like working with a holographic hard drive, but that, too, was beyond his comprehension.

“I swear,” such useless formalities, he thought as he said it, the bracelet fastening ergonomically to his wrist, tight but not uncomfortably so.

He entered the chamber of the Planck-Device after a final calibration of the bracelet, a vertical cylinder of some sort of gleaming metal with no apparent circuitry or methods of input, windowless, and stood as the metal closed like a membrane, seamlessly locking him inside.

Ten seconds elapsed, he counted them as he had been instructed, and as he mentally counted off ten-onethousand an aperture dilated in the cylinder until the entire metal contraption retracted to a sphere that hung suspended behind him. He was not bother nor surprised by the miracle of such technology, his mind was focused elsewhere, on another miracle: he was in their old apartment. It really worked!

Despite all the scientific facts and assurances and the volumes of documented time travel, Maxwell had in a way not entirely believed it possible. He wasn’t quite sure what he expected, but a part of him had fully assumed that he would be disappointed, that some last minute issue would arise and his Trans-Temporal Incursion would be cancelled, that it would have malfunctioned and his one chance taken from him, perhaps a sham all along. But there he was, there in the flesh, in a time that was once his own but no longer!

He had been instructed against dalliance, he recalled, so he quickly admonished himself mentally and proceeded to move toward their bedroom, where Lara and he had once enjoyed such love, such joy…

He could hear her, he thought, yes, he heard her. For a second his heart skipped at beat with joy at being able to see her once more, though he knew he could not touch her or otherwise interfere. But this tiny burst of euphoria ceased when he recognized the kind of sound that was being emitted from what had once been their bedroom.

She was moaning. With pleasure.

Frozen at the threshold to the room, the door slightly ajar yet hiding the sight he now feared, Maxwell felt a cold emptiness at the pit of his stomach. Nausea nearly drove him to wretch.

He was, for all intents and purposes, invisible to any person in this location of time-space. He could move and go and, while he did have the potential to alter things and persons, to affect them directly, they would never see him, the temporal disturbance that he was, thanks to the bracelet and the suit.

Bracing himself for what might lie beyond, he carefully pushed the door open until he stood in the room, his then-still-living wife lying on their bed with her pants down to her ankles while a naked man Maxwell did not recognize pleasured her orally.

For what felt like an eternity he could only stare, agog, unable to feel anything. A full gamut of emotions likely stuck at the threshold of his soul, momentarily preventing any one from taking priority, stood pushing within him, a wave threatening to break and overtake all that was at the shore. Revulsion eventually won out, following by a building rage.

For decades longer than he could describe he had mourned her. Even now he had mourned, longing for her, longing for understanding of why she had left this mortal coil. He felt so betrayed.

Still looking on at the painful scene, his wife positively squirming with waves of pleasure, he walked to the end of the bed and, unblinking, placed both his hands on her neck and almost unconsciously began to choke the air out of her.

Her lover, whoever the hell he was, did not register what was happening at first, likely thinking her overcome with ecstasy. Eager lover that he must have been, the fool continued in his endeavor until Lara no longer moved. Maxwell watched devoid of emotion as his wife’s lover looked up casually, moving like a feline to climb over her motionless body, likely to seek penetration but only to find his subject’s face blue, eyes wide open and cartoonish.

Maxwell saw the look of recognition come over the man’s face, the horrified expression contorting his comely features as he pushed himself off of her corpse and off the bed, fell naked to the floor, scrambled backwards until he hit the wall and stifled a scream with his fist.

After a few second’s panic the man picked up his discarded clothes from the foot of the bed, hastily put them on and simply ran out. Maxwell allowed him to. The man was not important.

The room was just as he remembered it, and as he recognized that he only difference was how his wife was lying dead, the manner in which she was laid out, he realized that he should be dead. He had tampered with the fabric, hadn’t he? He should have dissolved.

Or, perhaps… he hadn’t? He didn’t understand. He tried to make sense of it. If he wasn’t dead then… then that must mean that he had been the killer all along… but how could that be? Was there a beginning to the time loop that this would inevitable create? Or had it always been that way, forever to be relived and played out like some cruel play?

He absentmindedly began to clean his dead wife’s nether-regions, taking care not to leave any trance of his presence, but also to erase any sign of her treason. Despite her betrayal, Maxwell still wanted her to be remembered as a good woman. He pulled Lara’s pants and underwear back on her and moved her, placing her in such a way that it would like as though she had been attacked, splayed only partially on the bed.

He then sat, pondering, wondering of the Government had known. They must have, as they certainly had analyzed the actual time-space regional data. And they had allowed it to happen again. Why? Surely this had not been the case under some timeline that no longer was. There must have been a point, somewhere, sometime, where Maxwell had been forced, convinced, or coerced into doing this…

He simply could not know.

He should take action, however. He should take action.

He walked to his Lara’s vanity table and, taking one of her lipsticks from the many atop it, began to write on the mirror with it.

When the time comes to find out who did this, do not. Do not travel the timeline, do not. It was always you.

As he finished the last word and punctuated the period he felt the dissolution begin. With his last thoughts before his very matter became amorphous bits of information floating in space-time, he hoped that his message would be enough to effect a meaningful change.

Last Night I Dreamt I Was Paris

Last night I dreamt I was Paris. I dreamt I was that shining jewel of a city, indeed. Last night I was she, a body of stone, metal and bone. I was an ever sighing palace of earthly delights.

I dreamt I was that city, the Métro pumping blood like the main arteries, the cells each human, each animal stray, each insect, bringing me to life every single second of the oneiric fancy. Each step a sensuous caress, each word spoken mounting to a susurrous insinuation of lust that fell silken on my ears. Every corner and angle, each curving beam, each joining buttress, my corpus erogenous.

Though I cannot say I’ve ever been, I know what I know and I know what I’ve seen. Like turgid little appendages, the Barrière d’Enfer stood guard to the old wall of the Farmers-General, the senseless geography that last night was me made me dizzy with pleasure and knowing such glee. The lull of the evening as the darklings there feasted on women and men who had lost all that’s gifted. The rustling of rat-kin who steal and defile, my self-city underbelly seedy with style.

And the call of the old bones, the ossuary tunnels, within them the greatest of secret desires. More bones! More bones! More children defiled! More skin! More blood! More wood for the pyre!

Last night I did dream that Paris was I, and just like the sensuous city at night, I lived on the brink of the edge of forever, but never to see the white light of the fire that sings of the peace at the end of desire.

Incoherence THaruz

Note: Two things took place this week which prevented me from posting a full short. The first is that the short I originally intended to post is supposed to come with an illustration by a very talented friend of mine who’s been kind enough to prepare a visual treat for my otherwise drab and visually bland blog. Said story is complete but the illustration has met with a slight delay. The second is that, in light of this delay, I began to develop another seemingly short concept which proved to go deeper than I frist thought, hence it remains incomplete, a work in progress, the cursos a-blinking and awaiting my fingers’ commands. For this reason I have gone through the painful – both for you and for me – choice of posting some of my awkward prose. I hope it does not offend.

 

Sleeper deep the well is filling
Nightly whispers heart is healing
Breaking skin the wolf has fallen
Moon is free from its pursuit
Lightly kissing worm-ridden bed
Enter the head of the ones long forgotten
To the bitter’s end the boat must go
Dreamer foretells peaceful smiles
To the bitter end the fool must row
Hanging on the ice floe
Spans of giants the hills have made
Now in truth the fallen grow
Reaching further up the sky
Swollen core infects the sty
Primordial soup of pure emotion
Bifrost bridge lies further North
To the bitter’s end the captain calls
Dreamer foretells wistful nights
To the bitter end the fool must stall
Hinting at the fall
Spires onirical into ruins turned
There, below, the molten wall
Reaching further down the line
Intravenous desire unwinds
Allusion to the love ad hoc
Prurient, sleepless, thoughts amok
No embrace but the earth mother’s
Or the oceanic maiden’s, our flesh to devour
Itching to burn, burning to fire
Sightless, salacious; the vigil deflowered
Tortures to visit upon the most dire
To the bitter’s end with wind in sail
Dreamer foretells unending plight
To the bitter end the fool lest he fail

Tune In

Uhl sat placidly in the dark sphere of his vessel, the only lights white Liliputian luminosities exuding from the smooth-surfaced control panels that made up the inside of the Gap-ship. He often enjoyed the periods of observation in relative darkness, his multi-faceted eyes relaxing, resting from the harsh stimuli of light his vessel would otherwise assail him with. His head ached after long periods of brightness, so much so that he no longer enjoyed the day in the homeworld. It was a good thing that he rarely had to return, since he had no obligations but to observe here in the vast reaches of archaic space and transmit his notes quantumly.

He listened with acute, trained ears to the incredibly slow and low frequencies to the notes of the Cloud Giants, those wondrous, sentient pillars of gas and star dust, their communications like the groans of the first explosion. The tones of their songs always soothed him. Such wonderful creatures!

Uhl thought them sublime, the epitome of space-native fauna. Like the gargantuan, noble creatures from the seas of the homeworld, they appeared to languish through space at such a rate that most other sentient species had no perception or notion of their dance. So many of them had been there almost as soon as this universe came into being and still roamed the dark stellar ocean, birthing new stars, like Terra’s seahorses, spouting stellar offspring out into the far reaches, who would someday, in turn, become part of a cloud conglomerate, a gas-and-dust hive.

Their tones were a marvellous work to hear, for beings such as Uhl for whom time was malleable, perpetually mutable and non-causal. He could play them over and over.

But there was here now a change. There. A moment, a change in frequency from one of the gas pillars, the nebulae. There! Oh, what could it be? A change occurring and growing gradually into more changes to the tones. What was this?

The song sped up, the frequency modified ever-so-slightly, yet remaining in a similar range as before. But it was faster. And it was increasing in the shortness of the intervals. This was unprecedented, a change to the tapestry of this universe’s fabric.

Why was this Nebular being communicating thus, and for what purpose? Surely it must seem alike to gibberish to its similars, this mad-song, terrifyingly fast and reckless. Would the giant’s understand it? Was this one showing signs of some form of madness? No, it was not erratic. It was not haphazard or disjointed; there was still that joyous harmony threaded through the groaning notes.

Why was it behaving that way?

 

******************************************************************************

 

Mark was annoyed at Danny and Chyaki. They had been discussing his research on the so-called music of the spheres, the tones all celestial objects appear to emit at frequencies imperceptible to the human ear, but when he turned to his somewhat unorthodox ideas the conversation had devolved into jocular mockery of his posits.

In between puffs of a joint, he decided to devolve into farce himself and he joined in the fun.

“Yeah, ok, well…” he said while holding a drag of marijuana smoke, his voice squeaky with effort, like he was pushing to drop a big load of número dos in the porcelain throne. “I think I could make this a thing, you know, like a subgenre. I could make it… not classical… but something like dubstep!” He blew out a thick, sluggish cloud of smoke.

Chyaki began to laugh hysterically. Danny chuckled and snorted a little, as he reached for the joint that Mark proffered between pinched index and thumb.

“That could be your claim to fame, man, forget about naming a star or comet,” said Chyaki, having recovered from his bout of cannabis-fuelled laughter. “Mark Cronenberg, Cosmic Dubstep D,” he continued gesturing with his hands as if reading the fictional billboard.

“Wouldn’t that be something!” Mark said. “My parents would be so proud of my having wasted all of their money on tuition for a career I gave up to be a pseudo-musician.”

“You gotta think about it a little though, no?” Danny added, passing the joint to Chyaki, whose slanted eyes must be red under the heavy lids. “I mean, if there is a tune there, it would be so slow and plodding that we would never appreciate or understand them in our lifetimes,” he said slow and plodding in slowed-down, lower key for exaggerated emphasis.

Mark had thought down that kind of avenue before,” Yeah, It wouldn’t be something we could likely decipher of find even remotely intelligible. Hell, it sounds like a monotone to me all of the time. It would be the world’s most boring, monotonous beat ever! No amount of molly would make it digestible to the human ear!”

More uproarious laughter exploded from the three.

After a minute more the joint was consumed down to a roach and Danny put it out carefully by brushing the lit tip on the sole of his black moccassins. He and Chyaki stood up from the swivel chairs of the room, said their goodbyes and left Mark to his long night of vigil to continue listening for the song of the stars.

Astronomy was still his passion and he knew he was lucky to be who he was, where he was. He got plenty of time with the Galileo VII, the most powerful telescope ever assembled yet, and this was a very exclusive club. The people he worked under in the university were pretty laid back and allowed him many liberties, visitors and soon-to-be decriminalized substances among those perks.

The music of the spheres… what a lovely concept, he thought to himself. What if there were other species out there, intelligent beings, wouldn’t music, it being mathematical, be the way to communicate with them? Soooo… what if the tones were musical messages that we can’t quite grasp? Would that be sweet? Fuck, if only he could-

His train of thought was interrupted by a change registered by the equipment, specifically that which he employed to listen-in on the tones of celestial bodies. He checked the readings and thought he must be stoned to retardation or madness. There had been a change, more than just gradual, in the tone, the note being received from a nebula, one that was thought to be relatively young. He was about to check for a quick recalibration of the instruments when another change came. He nearly jumped out of his swivel chair, like someone had just said “boo!” from behind him. Some seconds later, another change, then another came more quickly, then another, until the readings looked like they were coming at the rate someone types, at the rate someone… speaks.

A Maze

It was most decidedly strange in such a familiar way. The manner in which he gravitated to the epicentre, the place of origin, ground zero, was – he suspected – a subconscious reaction. He might be lying in someone else’s bed with said someone else and automatically consider his location in relation to where his former life was led.

He considered that perhaps it was one of those habits that may never quite be eschewed, one that he might have a hard time weaning out of his system and day-to-day endeavours. He did not know how long this would remain a part of his daily repartee, or if he will manage to remove it at all.

These little mental fugues became more frequent with the years, as it were, and they didn’t seem anywhere near abating, even all this time removed from their breaking, their parting of ways.

And the strange meeting a few days prior, fortuitous? It had been very odd, seeing her again. Lucia had looked beautiful yet somehow ill, something was amiss with her. This only confirmed the rumours that had reached Irien’s ears; she was actively employing the dark flow.

Old man, I see time has paid its kindless attentions upon you.

She has been scathing, as always with her enemies and those out of her favor.

Oh but time has nary transpired on your visage, has it?

His rebuke hardly sardonic, she was as beautiful as she had ever been, perhaps even more so than when they had been on friendlier terms. How terribly vulnerable he was  when it came to her.

What brings you out of your hermitage, old man? It has been a long, sunny season without you.

She never was able to overcome his decision to leave, to sever the ties. Oh, he had intended for civil relations to be maintained with his former student and erstwhile lover, but she had simply been unable to let matters be and thus forced him to end all communications with her, secluding himself in his hermitage.

In the intervening time, while he toiled away in the winding mazes of his mind, she had effectively changed the game she played. She had climbed the political rungs and now inhabited an aery tier from which she dispensed terrible judgment on those below her. She had indeed learned much from their time of amnesty, but she appeared to have forgotten elementary lessons, maxims that guaranteed one’s continued wellbeing and enduring safety later in life.

I merely crawled out to see the sun for a spell, that I might warm my weary bones and perhaps catch a fancy flight or two. You need not be worried about me attempting a coup on one as high as you.

It was true. He would not move against anyone unless they moved against him first, and only with force at that. He was more than content to allow the terrible rumors about him and the little not-so-subtle maneuvres carried out against him to carry on freely. He didn’t mind being vilified so long as they left him alone in his diminutive and unpopulated fief.

Do not delude yourself, greybeard. I have little to fear from one such as yourself, I know. It is only curiosity that has brought me out tonight, having heard that you were around.

The signs of her being suffused with the dark flow were obvious to one who knew; the eerie gleam of the eyes, the heightened voluptuousness that seemed something other than human, the almost charged atmosphere in the user’s proximity. It was sad to recognize this in her and to know that he may have had a hand in her turning to the darkness.

I do hope we might be able to have a pleasant chat. How fare things for you aside from the obvious?

He hoped, but knew better.

Don’t patronize me, old man. I have nothing but disdain for you and all that you have become since we parted ways. You lose yourself in flights of fancy with the Aery nymphs, hardly discerning of you. I say, you will find your mind lost from such flights! And of the dark flow you have fed, insanity coming off of you and infecting those around you. Even in your little plot of land, that pitiful ghetto you call a forest, ears have mouths that repeat and bear me tidings of your so-called exploits. You really are a fool, old man. A fool and a half and more… You sicken me.

Some of it was true, yes. He did confer with the nymphs often for a time, but he had found that return to more youthful exploits quickly lustreless and so turned his attentions inward, to his labyrinth of self. As for the dark flow, he had taken the noxious vapors in on occasion, but dabbled only and regretted his poor choices almost immediately every time regardless of the superhuman abilities in conferred. He had been low for a long time after parting ways with Lucia, after all, and had only tried to fill the hole somehow, to numb the cold and merciless void he had made for himself…But of her? He knew she had been as reckless, if not more so, than he. He had learned from those common allies, ones who had been closer to her than he before she shunned them all after she had reached the upper echelons, that she struck accords of flesh and spirit with both princes and nymphs and had joined with new allies who were widely known not to be trusted. Power, after all, held an unmatched allure for her. The glamour, the shallow bright lights of the summit, they were hers now.

He could have told her, then, that he knew. Contested her accusations, mostly baseless, with rebuttal, slinging back with more eloquence than her pretty little head could possibly produce the crimes he knew she perpetrated both on others and herself. He could have retaliated with such venom as he had rarely employed in his long life. He might have taught her a lesson in words that hurt, that cut, that burn, that salt the earth of the soul. He might have shown her a study to remind her that, in governing such as she did, with iron fist and forked tongue and drinking the blood of the young, she squandered all good will and one day would find herself deserted. But he could not hate, it was beyond him. He broached no ill will and would not begin with one whom he had loved so dearly.

In the end, all he gave her for that tirade, one that truly hurt because he had once had such high hopes for her, was a sad smile and silence. He simply stood up from where he had been sitting then and walked on, refusing to brandish verbs against her. Let her think of herself as the victor. She is the aggressor, surely, but not the vanquisher. Glory is vain and feeds not the soul. Anger is a tool that breaks in the hands of the inexperienced but is sharper than sharpest silver when applied with wisdom, calculated. Her anger was as ineffectual as rain; it would get him wet and ruin his clothes, but he would eventually dry himself and the water would evaporate, leaving him cleansed.

Irien may be a hermit and largely unimportant in the current landscape, but like a master director presiding over an orchestra, he influenced events from a distance, his absence as effective, if not more so, than any movement he might effect. He still hoped his loquacious absences would yield a positive effect on her, but knew better than to actively care.

A few meters removed from her he turned to look back and say one final sentiment, a truth.

Be safe.