Storytime: The Cacaphonan.

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.

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