Archive for August, 2014

Storytime: Once Upon Just Now.

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

Once upon just now, in a relatively nearby nation-state, there lived a democratically-elected leader (or ‘leader’ for short) and her three daughters. Though the leader’s husband had long ago perished, that tragedy had merely knit the family together all the tighter, and the daughters in particular would do anything for their mother.
“Girls,” said the leader one Tuesday morning, “I’m feeling mighty blue. By any chance could I ask one of you to head down to the pharmacy and get me some Advil for this headache? My skull feels like it’s trying to eat its calvarium alive.”
“Sure,” said the oldest sister, Charlene. “Right on it.”
“Then take this,” said the leader. “Might come in handy.” And she bestowed upon Charlene the mightiest iPhone in all their household, with unlimited local, national, international, and interplanetary calls (10 hours of trans-solar calls per month).
“Gotcha,” said Charlene. Then she left and the rest of them waited.

And waited.

“Girls,” said the leader on Wednesday morning, “something’s happened to your sister. Could I get you two to go check in on her?”
“I’ll do it,” said the middle sister, Penelope. “Little squirt here’ll just get us in trouble. I can do it.”
“Better take this, just to be safe,” said the leader. “But be sure not to speed on the highway.” And she bestowed upon Penelope the swiftest and most agile bike in all the nation-state, with carbon fibre support structures riddled throughout its frame for maximum durability with minimal weight, and a streamlined seat and helmet to minimize wind resistance.
“Sweet,” said Penelope. “Back in a sec.” And she wheeled out onto the road and vanished in a helmet’d blur.

“Girl,” said the leader on Thursday morning, “we are decidedly in trouble here.”
“Yeah,” said the youngest sister, Tabitha. “I kind of liked those guys.”
“Me too,” said the leader. “But I can’t exactly ask you to go looking for them. You’re the youngest, and I don’t have anything to help you do it.”
“Eh,” said Tabitha. “I think I’ve got an idea of what might help me. Just lend me your old, broken, half-functioning, no-good, boring, obsolete pager. Can I borrow that for a while?”
“Sure,” said the leader.
So Tabitha left home with head held high, hair cut low, and a hunk of rare metals and rubber that had been useless since the mid-nineties at her hip. And that was all she needed.

Tabitha left home and wandered down the back alleys and the wide streets of the world, over the hills, even closer to where her Google Maps directions told her the pharmacy lay. As she was crossing a bridge over a crik (a kind of half-creek), a twig snapped, and she frowned. There was a foul smell in the air too, and that meant…
And just like that, up from under the bridge leapt three sizable trolls, gluttonous guts jiggling, drool-ropes snapping, all eighteen of their chins aquiver with delight.
“hey luk at that” said the chief troll, whose gut marked him as one to be reckoned with. “nother girl. pics or gtfo.”
“no wai,” opined his under-troll, who had sacrificed overall girth for truly stupendously packed glutes. “girls rnt real.”
“Let me through,” said Tabitha, who could almost feel a sympathetic twin to her mother’s headache brewing in her skull at that very moment. Trolls are the only creatures in all of existence that must speak entirely through their nostrils, and they possess four of them to aid in this purpose.
“git gud,” said the chief troll smugly. “other girls did.”
“first one pwned us,” said the under-troll, sadly. “such phone. much pain. so ow.”
“The second one simply out-ran us,” said the third (smallest) troll. “We were barely putting paw to bridge before she blew past us on that bicycle. A real speed fiend if you ask me. If she wasn’t wearing that helmet I’d have worried about her; you could break your neck if you so much as go over a crack funny at that speed.”
“Let me pass,” said Tabitha. “I’ll play a game with you.”
“girls don game,” scoffed the under-troll. “no girls in internet”
“It’s a riddle game,” said Tabitha.
The chief troll smiled. “riddle plox.”
“Fine,” said Tabitha. “What is this thing I’m holding in my hand?”
The chief troll squinted at it. “fone?”
“car keys?” suggested the under-troll.
The smallest troll scratched its head and frowned. “No clue, sorry. Boy, you know, this test of yours is super hard. You know who else had hard tests? Hitler. Your test is like Hitler.”
“I win. It’s a pager. It’s like a more worthless form of texting.”
The chief troll’s face was turning the colour of a freshly-squashed plum. “HAX1!” he hollered.
“Nope, it’s true. Google it.”
The trolls were slow typists, and Tabitha quietly but efficiently beat feet while they were alt-tabbing.
“Damnit,” she said, as she crested the hills that led her out of suburbia and towards the subway station, “why did we only have the one bike?

Tabitha descended into the depths of the subway station, but then she frowned. The escalator was blocked by what looked like a very long, very expensive suitcase.
She poked it. It ‘ouch’ed.
“Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry,” she said, as the tail’s owner curled around to face her, little swirls of smoke jetting from its nostrils.
“As you SHOULD be,” said the CEO severely, baring its elegant little dagger-fangs at her. “Don’t you know who I am?”
“Nope,” said Tabitha. “Sorry.”
“I’m a wheeler. I’m a dealer. I’m a tiger in the marketplace and an animal in the boardroom. I’ve got a Midas touch that’s even turned my parachutes to gold, and I have a platinum card. I can go an entire week without seeing a single product that I’m not a major shareholder in – three weeks, in America. When I beat my wings on Wall Street, a recession starts in Singapore. I eat accounting departments for breakfast and when I want lunch I eat my competitor’s and for dinner I have a 90-ounce ribeye steak, blue rare, with an entire bottle of scotch. And I do that whenever I feel like it. Now what’s your name? I’m going to buy you out of your family and fire you to a crisp.”
“I forget,” said Tabitha.
“That’s what the last one said,” said the CEO suspiciously. “The one with the bike. ‘I forget,’ she said, and then she sped off. And the one before her said that too, I remember that very clearly. ‘I forget,’ she said, and then she showed me so many pictures on her phone that I had no choice but to submit, it was very intimidating and made me cross. I haven’t fired anyone in at least two hours and it’s ticking me off – those girls! Come to think of it you look like them. Do you look like them?”
“Nope!” said Tabitha. “But I’ve got a super cool trick I can show you. Look at this!”
The CEO craned its massive spine until its skull was level with the pager in Tabitha’s hand, making a noise like a ten ton chain falling down the Eiffel Tower. “What is it?”
“A pager.”
“What’s that?”
“An employee thing.”
“I don’t like employee things,” said the CEO suspiciously. “What’s it for?”
“This,” said Tabitha. And she shoved the pager up the CEO’s right nostril.

Tabitha emerged into the light of day soot-stained, watery-eyed, and frizzily-haired, but most importantly, triumphant. Even if her pants were a lost cause. Who cared, anyways? The pharmacy was in sight; its minarets and turrets a sight to behold. She scurried to the door, each footstep faster than the last until she was in a long-haul sprint, sneakers tumbling past sneakers. The door was in front of her, then it wasn’t, and then she was in the grand hall of the pharmacy, its shelves cascading away from her, its ceiling fans humming magnificently, and its bearded, berobed proprietor glaring at her from atop his throne, behind his counter.
Tabitha approached the counter with absolutely none of the proper obeisance. “Heya,” she said. “Advil please.”
The pharmacist peered at her from behind his half-moon bifocals. “What for?” he asked suspiciously.
“Mom’s headache.”
“No, no, no, no…. what are they REALLY for?”
“Mom’s headache,” said Tabitha patiently.
“A mom? A headache?” said the pharmacist, incredulity ripening in his voice. “Moms and headaches aren’t for goddamned teenagers. You kids just want to homebrew your own drugs. I’ve heard about it on television. You’re going to make ‘lean’ aren’t you? Or maybe ‘lank’ or ‘leprosy.’ I’m sure of it. I’m positive. You goddamned punks get worse every day – why, just this afternoon I’ve already had to detain two of you?”
“Oh yeah?” asked Tabitha. “Why?”
The pharmacist smirked. “The first one was a disruptive influence; her iPhone was scaring away my elderly and senile clientbase. Plus I heard that you can use the sparks from the batteries to turn ordinary plastic into a sinus-shattering joyride. Very naughty! So she went in the jar until I could be arsed to contact the authorities.”
“The jar?”
The pharmacist rummaged behind his desk and, with some swearing, produced a large plastic bottle with a child-proof safety cap. “It has air-holes,” he said proudly.
Tabitha’s eyes narrowed. “And the second?”
“Oh, she was clever! She left her bike outside, where she thought I couldn’t see it. Very cunning, but we have cameras everywhere. I don’t approve of bicycles; cities are made for cars. Next thing you know we’ll have pedestrians wanting in on the racket!” He began to comb his fingers through his bristling beard, trying to get it under some manner of control, then a thought struck him. “Oh, and I’ve had it told from discrete and also highly reputable sources that you can get super high off snorting the air from inside a bike’s tires. So she went in the jar. For her own good, of course. Really, it’s her parents I feel bad for.”
“I’m sure,” said Tabitha. “Look, I need Advil for my mom. Now, please.”
The pharmacist leaned back in his chair and sighed, steepled fingers a study in piousness. “Advil for your ‘vibes’ and ‘420s’ and other such young people youth rascal teen nonsenses, I presume! Pray, tell me, what is your purpose? What gadget or doohickey will you combine with your ‘mother’s’ medication to produce illicit thrills and chills? My spine shudders at the thought! Inform me!”
“Nothing,” said Tabitha.
The pharmacist’s brow knit harder than a four-handed grandmother. “I’m sorry?”
“Didn’t bring anything.”
The pharmacist leaned over his counter, beard dangling. “You’re a teenager,” he hissed, all semblance of reasonableness gone. “You’re ALL up to something! You ALL have your tricks, and your smartphones, and your ‘sugar buzzes’ and your ‘herbs’ and all your, your TOMFOOLERY devoted to getting high. I know it! Now where is it?”
“On the floor,” said Tabitha.
The pharmacist looked down and got as far as “whe-” when Tabitha grasped him firmly by his beard, yanked hard, and swung up onto the counter to the musical sound of his screaming. One hand slashed out with the speed of a swatting kitten and grabbed the jar.
“Give it BACK!” screamed the pharmacist, his long, long boney fingers reaching out for her.
“Sure!” said Tabitha. She gave it back to his forehead as hard as she could , twisted it, and felt the little ‘pop’ of the safety cap dislodging and leaving a nasty welt.
The pharmacist fell over. He was aided in this by the two hundred and ninety pounds of girls that had appeared on his forehead.
“Hi, howyadoing?” asked Tabitha.
“Been better,” said Penelope.
“Yeah, that,” said Charlene. “Let’s just leave the money on the counter, ‘kay?”

They went home.
What more do you want?
Well, okay. On the way home, they took turns riding the bicycle. And Tabitha claimed rescuer’s rights on the iPhone.

“MooooOOOooooOOoooooooooooooooooM, we’re HOME,” droned the call through the house.
“Huh?” asked the leader.
“We come bearing Advil,” said Charlene solemnly as the three filed into her office.
“Tabitha got it,” said Penelope. “There was a bit of trouble. And I think we need a new pharmacist. The old one’s all creepy.”
“Oh, right, right,” said the leader. “Thank you girls, that was sweet.” She rubbed her head. “I’ll just put these aside for now and –”
“But you had a headache!” said Tabitha.
“Well, it’s sort of cleared up by now,” said the leader, half-apologetically. “No offence, but I think just having some quiet time fixed that. You girls tend to ruckus a bit.”
There were complaints, and remonstrations, and apologies, and in the end all wounds were soothed as they should be: with ice cream.
And they all lived pretty happily for a good long while.

Storytime: Common Ground.

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

Hey, can we talk?
No, no, I’m up and to your left. Woah, sorry, my mistake – MY left, your right. In the air duct. Apologies, but I’ve only really cracked your culturally-mapped navigational coding system in the last sixteen minutes, when I ate the dyslexic guy.
Well yeah I can speak English. That’s the fifth crewmember I’ve devoured down to the level of individual RNA strands, you think I’ve got some sort of learning disability? I realize that this is considered a crass insult by the standards of your species, but come on, so is what you just implied. Have some dignity. Well, as much of it as you can, seeing as you’re doing that ‘whimpering’ thing. What is UP with that?
Okay, okay, let’s get to the meat of things. Sorry, that was a bit ominous. The sharp – wait, the cutting, wait, the piercing, wait, the tearing, no no no NO the POINT of things. Right! Stupid thing, languages. Can’t you just stick to pheromones like any complex species should? Oh there I go again, starting a fight. I’m not here for that! That is precisely the opposite of what I’m here for! I want to talk!
What I want to say is, I think this whole trip got off on the wrong foot. And I’m not casting blame unevenly here; I don’t want to turn this into an exercise in finger-pointing. Yes, you have been trying to track, trap, and destroy me for the last 42 hours, but I have also been defending myself with slightly more gusto than necessary, like when I ate one-third of your co-pilot and left the remains decorating seven major corridor junctions as a territorial marker. What I’m trying to get at here is, well, maybe this is just everybody’s fault. Equally.
Why am I talking to you? Well, why not? It’s you or the captain at this point, and quite frankly, that lady scares me a bit. How do you feel comfortable around someone who’s always saying things like ‘if it can hunt, it can be hunted,’ and ‘anything that tries to hide itself has a weakness’? Psychopathic, if you ask me. Yeah, I know that word. I know how your species works: you are slow, soft, relatively fat-heavy primates that are largely peaceable and social animals who work together for the greater good, a strange state of mind likely induced by your lack of giant jagged ass-blades. Any one of you that’s this quick to switch into murder mode is clearly some sort of social defective, and honestly if I’d known this from the start I’d have pounced on her the first time she spotted me instead of hissing and spitting venom and skittering away into your air filtration system. Saved you some trouble down the road, eh? Wouldn’t have been surprised if she went bugfuck on the way home and chopped a few heads off if I wasn’t here to steal her attention. Really, you should all be grateful. My now-extensive knowledge of slasher movies thanks to your ex-maintenance man says that human-on-human violence is really painful and inefficient, whereas I can kill you guys so quickly that your nervous systems shut off before they know my mandibles even exist. Sorry wait, did I say ‘can?’ I meant ‘have.’ Whoops, and ‘killed.’ Have killed. My mistake, I’m still new at this English, and your system of tenses is utterly insufferable.
Anyways, I’m just chatting to you now in the interests of brokering some sort of peace deal. I think we can all agree that there’s been some major discomfort and awkwardness on this ship ever since I spawned in cargo hold nega-four-beta-alpha-bravo-charlie-tequila, and it hasn’t been satisfactory for anyone. I’ve missed out on the quietest and most relaxing days of my life cycle, and you’ve lost roughly two-thirds of your coworkers to various grisly deaths at my claws, other claws, backup talons, primary talons, secondary talons, jaws, venom sacs, and giant jagged ass-blades. This is something that we all have to work on, and I figured I’d be the one to start by extending the olive branch and putting the first deal on the table: why don’t we split up the ship and go our separate ways before anyone else gets hurt – say, by a flamethrower? That would be really bad. I strongly suggest that we should try to fix this before anybody tries to set anyone else on fire with a flamethrower. I know your species doesn’t like being set on fire – well, not anywhere nearly as much as mine does, but still. I think we should try to broker this deal before any hypothetical people finish work on their makeshift flamethrowers and start searching the ship for innocent bystanders to fricassee, as could potentially happen very shortly. Honestly, I don’t know how you put up with her.
The split? That’ll be plain and simple. You’ll get the emergency escape pod. The captain can have her cabin. And I’ll take everything else.
Of course it’s fair. Are you pregnant? Is the captain pregnant? ‘Cause I don’t see any egg sacs clustered along anybody’s rear limbs. Except mine, because I’m pregnant and I need as much space as possible to fill with my lustrous, pulsating eggs. I’m being over-generous as it is; I could fit an extra nine thousand eggs in the space inside your ribcage, but I’m letting you keep that. I’d appreciate a few limb donations to feed the children, mind you. I don’t think you’ll miss them, seeing as you don’t seem to use them that much – what’s the difference between four and three anyways? Barely a thing.
Woop. Feel those air currents? I think the captain just manually shut down the main oxygen filter and triggered a vent purge. Look, I’ve really got to run. I’ve got another three metamorphoses to go through in the next half-hour and I can’t do that if I’m sucked into hard vacuum. Just think about what I said, okay? And tell the captain. If she doesn’t find you first, the mucus gluing you to your bed should dissolve into your outermost layer of skin in about six minutes four seconds and free you up to go looking for that crazy bitch yourself. I know, I know, gendered insults are bad, but I don’t even HAVE a gender so I’m still getting used to this stuff, okay? Just – just cut me some slack. That’s really what I’d call the point of this conversation: we all need to cut each other some slack. There is plenty of room on this near-derelict death ship for all of us plus my ten million ravenous offspring.
See you later, eh? I don’t think you’ll see me first, though.

Storytime: Good Boy.

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Paul was a good boy, Paul was a fine boy, Paul paid attention to his elders. So when Paul was out one fine morning standing in the dawn and feeling the sun tickle him, and he heard the wind whisper: “follow-me, follow-me”…
…Well, he followed it. Can’t get much more elder than that, can you? You can’t. And because Paul was a good boy, a fine boy, a boy who paid attention to his elders, Paul followed it
Over the hill
Across the dale
Down the valley
Up the ridge
And through the trees to the water. Where it left him.

But Paul wasn’t alone for long. As he sat there, huffing and puffing and watching the surf wash in and out, he heard the waves roaring: “come-here, come-here, come-here!”
So because Paul was a good boy, a fine boy, a boy who paid attention to his elders, and because the waves were so very very elder and wiser than he was, he
Waded out through the surf
Paddled through the breakers
Cut himself quite painfully on a reef (ouch!)
And swam, swam, swam, swam, swam, swam, swam, swam, swam until his legs were numb and his shoulders were screaming and it was starting to feel like less effort to just let the water fill him up and take him away.
Then he touched the beach with one hand, then the other, and it was the warmest, softest thing against his cheek. If it had been edible, he’d have devoured it.

But Paul had no time to rest. A soft little sound was bugging at his ears, tugging at his brain, coughing at his thoughts. From up the hill, from the big dark thickets, the trees were creaking at him: “this-way, this-way, this-way…”
These were no little shrubs, no upstart ruderals. These were old trees, grand trees, the sort of trees that the plant kingdom lived in cowering fear of. Titans of green whose shade choked acres and whose branches out-thickened the trunks of their tiny brethren. Not as old as the wind and waves, but oh so old, oh so much older and elder than Paul, that good, fine, obedient boy who listened to those that were wiser and more experienced than he.
So Paul hauled his aching body to its feet, muscles muttering and cursing at him with foul, ancient tongues, and he
Put one foot in front of the other
And the other
And the other
Tripped over roots
Snared himself in branches
Wallowed in poison ivy
Stepped on a marvellously-coloured snake, which bit him
And finally, finally, finally he was in sunlight again. At least he thought it was sunlight; none of the colours he’d seen over the last leg of the trip were probably real, and the sky was starting to melt into the ground. He very much wanted to sit down and focus on trying to stop spinning for a while.

But Paul couldn’t do that. Because at that very moment a noise emerged from the dull roar of his accelerating heartbeat that was presently filling his ears. It was the long, low groan of the earth itself beneath his feet, the oldest thing he came into contact with day to day. “Here. Here. Here.”
Paul was a tired boy, an ill boy, a boy currently subject to hallucinatory images from sleep deprivation, hunger, thirst, and severely inflamed venomous snake bites. But he had always been told to mind his elders.
So he walked



And crawled

To a little ledge on a big cliff that shook when he laid his lacerated, bruised belly upon it. Far below him and spread out from here to there was all that he had travelled – the hills, the forests, the waters, the valleys, and at the very farthest point his own home, a tiny dot what seemed like a thousand miles away. Even through the haze it was beautiful, and Paul felt smaller and more special and fragile than he’d ever known before.
Then the ledge caved in.

It had been a good day, a fine day. And as the sun set over the land, the old old heartless things of it slipped with calm confidence into night-time, murmuring and whispering and rustling to one another in their own words the same message, over and over.
“Just another seven billion or so to go.”

Storytime: The Cacaphonan.

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Deep in its crypt, the cacophonan stirred.
This was entirely out of the ordinary for it – nigh-miraculous, really. This particular cacaphonan was older than the mountain over its head, and the vast majority of that life had been spent as it had been only a moment ago. Caught between ticks, but never asleep. Waiting in the quiet, where the sky could not creep in and interrupt.
(The cacaphonan did not like the sky. Too many things moved under it too quickly, all higgledy-piggledy. It was a distraction)
A waste of time, some might call it. But if there was one thing beyond all others that the cacaphonan possessed in abundance, it was time.
But now, an unfamiliar sound had crept into whatever strange place styled itself as its mind. A strange limb touching an old floor so bare that even the dust mites had given up on it millennia ago.
And so the cacophonan stirred itself into motion. It let the cloak of ages drip away from its backs. It picked up its eight staves and three rings. Its innards began to click again. Then, properly presentable, it moved to meet its guest.
It was standing in the main foyer, examining the walls with the obviously impatient patience of the testy. That was normal. It was smaller than the cacaphonan and possessed of fully a third as many appendages, which was not.
It turned at the sound of clicking and examined the cacaphonan with its sense organs. No startlement showed. That meant that it was not lost. The cacaphonan had only experienced that particular type of guest three times, but each had become extremely lively upon meeting it.
But no, this was no wanderer. There was a purpose inside its body. And then it spoke the three strange words, and the cacaphonan knew what it had already suspected: this was a guest.
The cacaphonan inclined its foremask and awaited the wish of its guest.
“I want you to bring me a book.”
And if the cacaphonan had possessed a mouth, or shoulders, or even arms, something about its bearing suggested that it would’ve slumped into a sigh at this exact moment. And perhaps muttered something under its breath that sounded very much like:
“This again?”

The cacaphonan knew of books, if a cacaphonan can be said to know of anything. Its demesne possessed several thousand, tucked in between the parchment scrolls, the clay tablets, the tin cylinders, the rune stones, the song-skulls, the endless chimes, and the whisper jars. It had no ill feelings towards books, if a cacaphonan can be said to hold ill feelings towards anything or things.
But it was always books. The past ninety milennia, always books.
Still, its guest had requested, and so it acted. The Winding stave turned in its toes and the cacaphonan turned to the right and then past the right and through nine hundred and seventy degrees before it fell out of the realm of numbers altogether and landed in a cupboard twenty thousand miles away, give or take. There was a broom jabbing into its central mass.
Something small and eerily quadrupedal opened the door and produced noise.
The cacaphonan considered this, then gave a careful spin of the Coloured stave. This replaced every single part of the thing’s body with something more towards the ultraviolet end of the light spectrum, immediately quieting it. Winding rotated once again and the closet, broom, and expanding cloud of particles were placed somewhere less inconvenient.
The book was somewhere above the cacaphonan’s head. Rooted spun and it drifted upwards through a floor that was busy trying to fall into the ceiling, then knelt down and scrabbled through the debris until it struck floorboard. Good, solid floorboard. The concept was ‘oak’ as far as it understood these things. A brief-lived thing that lived on the scale of decades and centuries that made useful tools when carefully cut up into smaller pieces.
The cacaphonan Coloured it decisively with a red shift and watched as it exploded into an open flame so intense that it ate all the oxygen in the room, vaporized the furnishings, and instantly flash-cooked the large angry biped that had thrown open the door to see what was knocking underneath his floorboards.
The book was behind a single youthful stone in the wall, mortared three hundred eleven years four months three days six hours two minutes one second ago. It yawped resentfully as the cacaphonan gripped its spine.
Winding. Spin.

The cacaphonan appeared two inches behind its guest as courtesy demanded and held the book out in respect. It took six minutes for it to be noticed; the guest was somewhat distracted examining the cacaphonan’s resting place. The indentations where its toes had rested drew special attention.
“You have it?”
The cacaphonan did not move.
It expelled air from its lungs, turned, and took it. “Well. I did not come here for your conversation, so I can scant complain. Now. Bring me the second book.”
And if the cacaphonan had possessed eyesbrows, it would have raised them.

The second book was harder to find. The cacaphonan had gone through several quiet times since its presence had been requested, or indeed been known to the world at large at all.
The cacaphonan stepped out from behind a dust speck and found itself suspended in a cloud seven miles above the surface of the planet. Excellent. There was a hot presence at the nape of its core, a gaze heavy with anger and a tiny bit of worry and then a lot more anger. It was being watched by an old thing, a thing it recalled hosting long ago. Though it didn’t recall it being quiet so large. The thing that now glared at him from within its cumulus den was the size of a mountain.
“You!” it roared – oh, such a roar, all thunder and fury. Why must the world be so noisy? Tiny bolts of lightning sparked off its mouth and slid down to the ground far below. “You! You won’t have it! You won’t! It’s mine now! You gave it!”
The cacaphonan did not judge the thing for its poor hosting skills. To play host was the role of the cacaphonan, to make demands was the role of the guest, and to be impediments to the demands of the guest was the role of most everything else. One of the ways of such impediments as this creature was a failure to realize that the roles played by the participants were fleeting. Even now it was vomiting a tornado directly into the cacaphonan’s face.
This was unacceptable. Several of the cacaphonan’s joints were in danger of discoupling. The Slipped stave hopped and air resistance ceased to apply to the creature in totality for six seconds, including its wingbeats. This removed the issue of the cacaphanon’s joint strain but grossly increased the volume of the creature’s bellows, to the point of inflicting acute pain in the cacaphonan’s mind and causing it to black out.
It woke up four inches above the ground. Rooted put a stop to that. Groans had replaced the all-consuming scream of rage; the creature’s landing had been considerably less gentle.
“Not yours,” it managed, hauling itself upright on its five remaining legs. “Mine now. You gave it to me.” Even half-upright, even with most of its body spilling out of its ruptured epidermis, it was moving. Its ears were bent and its jaws were dancing. Sparks spilled from its mouths, trees splintered under its limbs, and then the whole thing was airborne again, if just for a moment, just long enough to send it hurtling at the cacaphonan. “Mine!”
The cacaphonan Knotted its bones together with some of the trees it was knocking over and watched as it convulsed in mid-air, body snapping as weak wood came apart at the seams under stress it never could’ve imagined. By then it was awfully close though. It seemed a pity not to just reach out and take it.
Twitching jumped, and as every nerve in the creature’s body switched on and off again its mouth slid open, revealing teeth ten times the cacaphonan’s height and a single, plain-covered book, half-tucked under the gumline of the eighth mammoth canine for safe-keeping.
Winding. The Cacaphonan plucked it free. There!
Then the creature’s brain turned back on again and its mouth shut.

The book was largely unharmed, miraculously. The cacaphonan had gone to great pains to engineer that miracle. One of its younger antennae had been sacrificed.
“Good,” said the guest, as it stroked its cover with loving digits. The muscles on its skull moved in odd ways. “Good, good.”
It looked up. “Now get me the last one.”
The cacaphonan could not be surprised. But it was most definitely not prepared to hear that.

The last book the cacaphonan had not seen since it was born. It had been inside a box inside a hole under a stone within a pit inside a quarry in the bowels of a chasm below a mountain at the far end of the smallest moon of the world, the calm grey one where ten million years can drift by and see the same amount of change as ten minutes. There was only one other being who had even guessed at its existence, and the cacaphonan was currently its host.
Even a large moon is a surprisingly difficult target. It took the cacaphonan six Windings before it hit the mark. Six times it felt the hunger of the empty sky against skin, six times the Calmed stave bounced and froze it in between the moments, gave it the time to reconsider and re-aim.
On the seventh try, it was entirely encased in stone that hadn’t moved since the world began, gripped in a beautiful, tranquil slumber on a rock in the sky. The cacaphonan Knotted the air in its long spiral lung into the rock surrounding it, then Rooted the shattered stones repeatedly until the stars were smiling overhead again. It peered at them, looking for answers.

It was so quiet here. The cacaphonan was almost tempted to idle, to take its time and enjoy the calm, long silence. But there was a guest, a very important guest, and there was nothing in all its life that it could do as important as this. It would enjoy its time here, but it would not dawdle.
Four Windings to find the right mountain.
Seven rockslides to be Rooted.
An entire mile-long tunnel bored out with Coloured and Knotted staves.

The box was much smaller than it had remembered. Its toes shook as it plucked the book from its gullet.
Then the Winding stave twirled, and it was gone.

The cacaphonan’s guest was a quick reader. It finished the book in a matter of minutes, slowed mostly by the halting, jabbing, fumble-fingered movements of its pudgy little digits.
Then it looked up at the cacaphonan again. The little flaps of skin at the forefront of its skull spread wide, the muscle in its mouth danced in that odd way it had of shaping sound. “Give me your staves.”
The cacaphonan had heard this before many times. It did nothing.
The guest smiled wider, and it spoke again. This time the words it used were not shaped with its mouth. They, too, the cacaphonan had heard before. Once. The words of the third book.
“Please,” appended the guest.
The cacaphonan placed Winding on the floor hesitantly, slowly, as if it couldn’t quite understand how. But then down came Coloured, and that was faster, and then Rooted, Slipped, each quicker, more sure, more sharp, as if it had desired to do this all along but had never found the way. Knotted, Twitching, and Calmed; a pattern was brewing, a tidy little heap. Seven staves.
“The last,” said the guest.
The cacaphonan held Nothing for a moment, searching to make sure it was proper, then placed it. Symmetry had been achieved.
It watched as the guest picked up Coloured, examined it, waved it experimentally, dropped it carelessly back to the floor. It waited.
“Now,” said the guest – and the cacaphonan couldn’t help but notice that it was breathing quicker and harder now, its body speeding up against its will – “now the rings.”
The cacaphonan waited. This too was familiar.
The guest spoke again, without sound.
The cacaphonan placed the three rings on the pile. Unsupported, they lay on edge. The guest tried to push one over and seemed satisfied when this did not work in the slightest.
“Perfect,” said the guest.
The cacaphonan watched as the guest picked up one of the rings, turned it to and fro in the small light that remained from its lantern.
It had seen this all before, once. And now, if its memory was not entirely gone, there was only one thing left to do.
It picked up Nothing, spun it twice, and as the guest turned and began to open its slow strange mouth again to speak more useless words, it sank it through the cacaphonan’s core and past its central nerve cluster.

The trek towards home promised to be long, with days in the dark passing before the first hints of sunlight began to turn black to grey in the caves ahead. The staves were restless in Olno’s grip, the rings suddenly cold and gritty on her skin as a breeze from the surface touched her. The discomfort was a price worth paying. She had power in her grip that rulers would’ve burned their children for, and the knowledge of how to use it. She had found the secret demon that hid the three truths of the mind, body and soul from the world and she had defeated it so utterly that it had given up its life before her eyes. She was destined to make a mark upon the world that no-one, not even the most ignorant peasant, could ever fail to learn of.
…If only she could have some quiet. It was too noisy all the way up here, so close to the sky. No less than four times she’d thought she’d smelled surface air, she’d almost clambered her way out a side passage, and she’d been driven back by the trickle of running water, the rush of the wind, the murmur and rumble of earthworms.
No. This was spoiling her focus. She just needed some time to think. To sit and think and rest. She had plenty of time to learn of her new treasures, to ponder her new knowledge, her new self. To find somewhere cool and dark and secret, far away and under stone.
If there was one thing she had in abundance, it was time.