Ten Thousand Gates > An Impromptu Picnic in a Starlit, Ancient Arena

Ulvath, the Dying King's Champion

This is to be a warm rot on good ice, this place. Too far and far again the runes have thrown me, for I was to be in the fine and shining Godlands, seeking aid from Ax Hall and Spear Hall. But here ... faugh! This sand is chill enough, but there is no living bite to the air. The rocks are crumbled, these ancient arms rusted away - this is to be an old place, a dead place, gone to warm rot and forgotten.

I have seated with you, but look about, you strange folk, look about! Where are the grasses to pry their way through this dead sand? Where are the carrion birds and white wolves who picked these old bones clean? Nothing to be seen by star or burning torch, nothing save a dead place!

Aye - and yet my ax twitches, even set aside. What is to be watching us from beyond that giant's doorway of old iron, what ill spirit calls this dead place home? No, I say this is a witching place that the new priests speak against! Or have the runes thrown me yet to the Land Below and you are all but a mockery, a mockery of my quest? Answer me, you strange folk!

[ Posted by Reason on September 29, 2005 | Permanent Link ]

Bethen, the Lost Dream

Let your ax stay resting, pale warrior, just as my blades stay sheathed; though lately met we are not foes, this much I feel - and the feel of dreams is the truth of dreams. Such is why to dream is the duty of wise women, while the menfolk tend to the world of waking; save for this remoteness, it would seem. I have come far indeed from the known ways and the great spirits who guide.

Yet I must perforce agree with he of the ax, as this nighted desert and its great arena is unwelcoming - save for present company and this little torchlight in a great darkness of things I would rather not see. There is a greatness here, before us and after us, an ill brooding that is beyond and away, above and beneath. This much I feel, and the dream path twists with it.

Mayhaps our host, kind provider of cloth laid upon sand and sweatmeats laid upon cloth, feels more than I, and knows yet more again?

[ Posted by Reason on September 30, 2005 | Permanent Link ]

Leli, the Fifteenth Note

Oh, but you have such strange music in your voices, as though you sing of anger and love and hate and joy as all of one, and the notes fall away from you like waterfalls and sunlight. It is such a thing, to shivver my fingers and my heart - oh, I could have found you from far, far across this emptyness and dour and dark of a single note, and I am gladdened that I have.

Oh! But you have stopped! Please, please, pay this simple note no heed and continue. I could listen and listen and dance and sigh and never grow weary!

[ Posted by Reason on October 1, 2005 | Permanent Link ]

Master Rias, Vessel of Books Yet Unwritten

My, I am pleased to have company; it is always such a delight to meet with the original source, as it were. This is usually a rather lonely outing, you must understand - I had not planned on company, at least not in the immediate sense. But please do help yourselves, partake at will; this spread of wine and cold food springs from a short folio that will be bound to ink and consigned to dusty shelves in all too short a time. I have grown fond of it - especially these, you must try one, Leli of the Choir - and will be sorry to see it pass from view.

But of course, I will certainly try to answer your questions; I imagine you have many. My, ah, collaborator in this endeavor of life grants me a certain perspective on most issues of substance. As to where we are, well, you came here yourselves, did you not? These unhappy ruins, cast in endless night, form one of the more scenic portions of the Voids, but that tells you as little as I said, I don't doubt. As will be widely repeated by those familar with Otense, once she is born and grown, "'where' is a shiftless term, hard to employ and prone to shirked duties." Like you, I could no more act as signpost or guide to our present, sandstrewn location, but I do know the way home.

Ah, no - my home, Leli, I apologise. But why talk about me when we could talk about you? Bethen, dreamhealer and ... Ulvath, son of Ganvir, isn't it? You are shrewd in seeing that this pleasant torchlit picnic is very much more tiny than the Hunger that makes this gloomy Void its home. Please - we are in no immediate danger of extinction, or at least not until the great doorway cracks open at the allotted time. A weather eye on the stars and my trusty eggtimer have yet to fail me, however. I believe we have more than enough time for civilized conversation and to properly pack the leftovers afterwards.

So please, Bethen, Ulvath and especially you, Leli, tell me how it is that you find yourselves here in the Voids, as prospective appetizers for the oldest and most patient of the Hungers.

[ Posted by Reason on October 2, 2005 | Permanent Link ]

Ulvath, the Dying King's Champion

You are as the women of hall and castle with your words, you who know too much of my father's name. A bright day, the sun on good snow, and they would move trestles and feast on women's food, aye and even as the Witch-Queen boils the seas, flays the glaciers and spoils the hunt with rot and heat.

No, I will not eat of your women's food, fine and fancy as it is. If there is a hunger here, some witch-thing of the dark beyond the giant's door, we shall see just how it hungers when cleft in twain athwart my ax! A champion fears no witchery, even rune-bound and flung far!

[ Posted by Reason on October 3, 2005 | Permanent Link ]

Bethen, the Lost Dream

This Hunger he speaks of is not an entity to be slain by blade or ax, Ulvath, nor to be survived by you or I, this much is clear. Can you not feel it? It is ... awakening. Yes, awakening, and narrowing the path of our dream by the moment.

A suspicion is growing in me regarding the ways and events that have led me here to this Void, as you call it, but you will make that clear, will you not? Leli may find your wine and spiced plates irresistible, but I do not feel your part in this dream path - and I am not so trusting. Are you promising a timely way from this place of death, back to the known ways and spirit guides, or do you merely employ your unusual insight to taunt those who have doomed themselves?

[ Posted by Reason on October 4, 2005 | Permanent Link ]

Leli, the Fifteenth Note

Even the wine bubbles with song, listen to it, almost too much to stand still! And these foods, dancing to themselves, where did you find such things? Oh, I wish my closest notes were here to listen and dance!

But are we in danger? Is this what danger sounds like? How strange! Myrelin had said there would be danger, but I did not believe her - all the clashing harmonies are but a part of the Song. Oh, but I should be singing, I should be home! I cannot sing in this darkness, for how can a single note sing the Song by herself?

How can I even be here, hearing music that cannot exist, wishing to dance to what could only be in the Song? This is no part of our Song, there is no melody here I recognize, but these strange layers of harmony in our gathering are so beautiful. How can this be danger?

[ Posted by Reason on October 5, 2005 | Permanent Link ]

Master Rias, Vessel of Books Yet Unwritten

I must stress that I am in no way an agent of the Hunger of this doleful Void, the Hunger for Knowledge. Any misinterpretation on your part is entirely my fault. I wholeheartedly apologise, Bethen, Ulvath, Leli; I would not wish to be inconvenienced by your sharpnesses, nor saddened by your demise.

I have this tale third-hand, you must understand, for all books of Void and Hunger have long been written and rotted to dust; no more will come to pass, as the Voids and their creators are far from the center of all things and far from the attentions of the builders of gates. This is well, for Hungers such as the one beyond the great door would consume all if permitted.

The Hunger for Knowledge, as the others, was bound and chained by the Mindful Imperatives in long ages past. Since that fateful time, it has probed and worked at the chinks in its bondage, each a way to cast cunning lines far across Creation. It has buried its tendrils in dreams, in ancient tomes, in ancestral tales, in the very roots of sorcery, leaving hints of keys to gates forgotten and ways unknown. All promise much, but all lead here - to extinction.

So it is; the stars here turn and turn, and when they are right, forth comes the Hunger to see what its ten thousand lures have caught. We have time yet; tell me of your keys, and then we will go from here to leave nothing but dust and sand - and no little rightful spite - behind.

[ Posted by Reason on October 6, 2005 | Permanent Link ]

Leli, the Fifteenth Note

I forget myself in your music, but thank you, thank you for the dance in your voices and this wine. Look at your faces! The notes spring from you when I speak - it is as if I sing with your voices. Oh! But how did I come here? I danced in the old city with Myrelin, hiding behind ivy pillars while the Song was verses without us, sad and low and swirling about. Like this, but so serious, the deep notes!

Oh, but no notes go down to the old city save for Myrelin, it is cracked and worn and so beautiful, full with echoes of notes above. She sang a disharmony and so did I, and we laughed and danced into the marble towers and came to the White Book. Oh, you are all so very fine, but how I wish I hadn't touched it, I wish I hadn't turned the pages! I should have heeded Myrelin and danced on with the notes - how will the Song be sung with even a single note missing?

What will become of the Song if I cannot hear even its faintest echo? I was taken and turned away from the city, into a place of a single thin note - the Book atop its stand in riverless dust and red sun. I turned pages, oh turned them and turned them, faster and faster, but I could not come back to the Song and our marble city.

Oh but I beseech you, with all your strange music, you must help me return! The Book wrote itself while I turned pages, wrote of the Song and my closest notes, then wrote of me and here I was in darkness, and there you were shedding notes uncaring of the Song. How, how will I return?

[ Posted by Reason on March 29, 2006 | Permanent Link ]

Ulvath, the Dying King's Champion

You're as any daughter of the Shield Hall, too pretty for this darkness, but tales as you tell are spun from naught by ax-crippled and thieves - aye, the broken and fit for neither saga nor warring the Witch-Queen's slaves. You've the look of Anseme and her kith, mind, enough for any of the King's Hall to raise ax in your name. Ulvath too, were I not bound by rune and oath!

Aye, and fain I'd stay in this witching place to see the Hunger as frights you and you made to meat for my ax-arm, for the King's Champion has cleft troll and worse ... but if a tale is your hearth fee, you who know too much, then the telling of it you'll have. Then we'll be to what we'll be.

Tis a time come upon Tulsrealm, the good cold from the Godlands smothered by witchery - not the honest casting of runes, but things from the cracks betwixt runes, called by a woman! Year after year, ice melts and warm rot spreads, Halls charmed by the Witch-Queen and troll and beast gone mad for want of good clean snow!

King's Champion am I, but Tulsrealm is witched sick, and so too the King. Ax and spear we take against the Witch-Queen and her foulness, but even in winter the blood of battle does not freeze. Faugh! The ax of Ulvath cannot fight a sickness, and the old men of Rune Hall cast runes for nothing while King Vult lies dying - empty kegs and broken shields they are!

Aye, and how Ulvath came to be here, not taking ax in service to King and Hall. Blood, snow and ice, how I came to be here! Maggat, now, he came to the King's Hall two years past. Came to Tulsrealm atop the last crashing iceships from the frozen sea - what is left. Master of runes he claimed, and soon enough was straddled atop Rune Hall and King's advisor. Aye, and might the least boy of the coast halls have taken rock and ax to Maggat on the rocks and spray - for here I am, cast far with trickery!

By the bearded runes, I vowed before King Vult's pale face I would climb the First Icefall and chip true ice from the Eternal Icicle with my ax. My ax, that slew the Witch-Queen's spawn! I'll vow so to any, may warm rot and hunger-mad wolves take Maggat and all he intends!

Tis the ice of Godlands will bring Tulsrealm to clean cold once more, break the Witch-Queen's hold, restore the King, keep the vow of Ulvath, King's Champion! Maggat's smile upon my vow, upon my stepping to his runes - the smile of a troll it was. Aye, and I knew, but I am Ulvath, son of Ganvir, and my vow will tread the chill-wrapped lies of Maggat to mush! May he wear that smile when I return, for I will cleave it asunder! Aye, he will taste my ax for casting me into the rune-cracks and to this place. Aye.

[ Posted by Reason on March 30, 2006 | Permanent Link ]

Bethen, the Lost Dream

We tarry and talk in a place of growing danger; this is foolishness. I would not act as an unschooled girl, giving tales to dreamers and spirits, but the path ahead narrows to this and this alone - I have never seen such a thing, pressed on all sides by this Hunger which stirs below and beyond. By you also, I am sure, and for all I cannot feel it, for Rias is more and greater than Rias appears, no?

Very well. My path was through Amande's dream, Amande who burns with sharptongue venom. She will neither wake nor heal until I banish the serpent spirit who torments her - the vileness in it has swallowed her self and poisoned a swathe across the lands of her dream. This blackened trail I have followed for days of dreaming time though memories, wishes and desires. I have come know Amande as I would a sister since taking the womensroot and lying by her side in the healer's rooms.

Amande worked amongst the Esem menfolk at the river head. Even hard riding, Lilen and I were near too late. The venom spirit has wormed her self from the lands Amande dreams to the lands that spirits dream. She will perish before the sun rises in waking time, thus I must seek and slay the serpent with these sharp blades of silver.

Where the trail left ruins of Amande's house, venom laid waste a vision of the Three Valleys - but far above flew a golden greatwing that Amande would never dream. Spirits that guide are fickle and strange, but I took to Amande's sky to follow the guide of my mother and her mother before her. The greatwing soared on wings of dripping gold, I on wings of sharp silver, on and over the crags dividing the poisoned dream of Amande from the endless dreams of spirits.

So I followed into a purple sky and the lakes that rain from above, but a spirit-dreamed storm of black leaves and gold feathers swept me away to this place. I am so far from Amande, so pressed by this Hunger, that I cannot yet see the dream path to return - but do not think that a serpent spirit will elude me, nor that I will fail to save a lost dreamer.

[ Posted by Reason on April 1, 2006 | Permanent Link ]

Master Rias, Vessel of Books Yet Unwritten

Creation is a marvel is it not? Leli, I must offer you a belated bow, for I should have mentioned how honored I am to meet with a character written by the Book of the Choir. Few indeed are those works eternally started, eternally unfinished - I am almost inclined to forgive the Book its terrible act of self-insertion, and under a thin white cover, mind.

Yes, I watch the passing of time most carefully, Bethen. Look here, the sands still run and we have two turns of the timer left. You see and shape the future as clearly as I recall it retold; you know what will come and what must come. But I do a poor job of playing my part, and the author certainly spices the tale in any case. Writers are such terrible creatures for the most part; they cannot leave well alone.

Creation has many Pillars, you must understand - all are impossible and none may fall. All reverberates from nothing by way of the Song, written by the Book that creates itself from its own tale. All is a lost depth within Amande's venom dream. All is a Demonland in the third crack of Maggat's ill-formed Ull rune. There are ten thousand others, and all are true and impossible. It is a majesty, I feel, to match other majesties that hold sway above the Pillars.

But time is upon us, and a dry wind rises. I am sorry to say that I have no way back for you from the Pillars, but I do have a way forward. Back for me, of course, forward for you. Ah, Leli, let me show you - it is easier. See now, the far side of an Undecided Gate, a folding and rather ramshackle affair as such go, but a most useful traveling companion.

Why, because it does not know where it wishes to lead, of course. There are many Gates in the City of Ten Thousand, and there will always be those that grow bored or shiftless. Hurry, hurry, through you go - folding up the Tailkeeper's Gate is good deal harder and more time-consuming than it looks, and I am not desirous of an audience with the Hunger for Knowledge. You'll have little need of ax and shield, Ulvath - take them as you will, but your nature is fierce enough for most in the Tailings.

My, this is an excitement, isn't it? Three Pillars all in one, and Creation's voice speaking through the tale that is to come. Now we must be gone, and naught but spite for the Hunger remains.

[ Posted by Reason on April 5, 2006 | Permanent Link ]