11.1 – Cat of the Weave
The bustle of the travelfolk, stomping their feet to dislodge particularly clingy clods of dirt, shouting for service, for stews and drinks and stag feed and whatnot, is deafening. Brittle has never been in the presence of this much sound before. She focuses on her little mug of nettle tea, warm between her hands, speaking softly of comfort in a language of steam. Someone’s head slams into her table, before collapsing onto the floor. Fists are flying to her right. Insults exchanged. Facial features forcefully rearranged. „No need to worry,“ says the dancing curtain of nettle tea fog, „Just stay with me.“ Arterial spray spatters the walls. The sound of crunching bone and men afraid of death. „All is well,“ whispers the soothing mist, „I am all that exists.“ Brittle closes her eyes and inhales the warmth, as deep as she can. It reminds her of something. Something oh so close and yet far, farther, farthest away. She opens them to the chaos, unchanged. Broken furniture and caved in heads. „It is of no import,“ coos her smoky companion, „This has nothing to do with you. It’s not your fight.“
„Are you sure about that?“ A cat with a completely binary colour pattern, left side black, right side red, split perfectly along the middle, evades a swinging milk gourd and leaps on top of her table. „Are you even aware of where you are?“ The cat has a point. Brittle has no memory of how she got here, or even how this violent brawl began. „Why waste time fiddling with such thoughts?“ asks the hazy air above her cup, „When you and I can while the day away tog..“ The cup topples and falls, spilling its contents across the table and the unconscious man below it. The cat looks at her, languidly licking a guilty paw. „Stop hiding, little one,“ it quips and turns, flicking her nose with its tail, „if the state of this imaginary travel house is anything to judge by, you are in quite a bit of trouble.“ Jumping off onto the messy floor, it signals her to follow. Brittle does.
They are in a hallway. It keeps extending. Now and then it shakes. „My oh my, there’s some serious infighting in your system,“ observes the cat. An empty frame crashes to the floor. „What are you talking about?“ says Brittle, slightly surprised to find she has a voice, „Who are you?“ Her small guide leaps on top of a quivering shelf. „That, my dear, is a good question. I’m an archetype, of sorts. If that makes sense to you.“ It doesn’t. „Well,“ sighs the cat, „then I really can’t help you.“
They are outside. It’s spring. At Middler’s Glen. Her kin are dancing merrily as they are wont to do. Except for the fact that they are all carrying knives, slicing each other’s chins as they spin around with mad grins on their faces. „This…“ begins Brittle. „…is clearly not right,“ finishes the cat, „My educated guess would be that you have a stowavay.“ „A what?“ „A stowaway. It’s a nautical term. You were quite familiar with the concept last time you graced the real with your presence, ho, let me tell you. Someone is here that shouldn’t be here, trying to corrupt your memories and sense of self in the process. But, of course, the issue is that you invited them in, doors wide open.“ „Again, who are you? What are you?“
The cat grins a red and black grin. „A humble dreamer.“
Another room. Of cold, dark grey stone this time. In fact, calling it a mere room is an understatement. It reminds Brittle of the vastness inside the schiil. Or the grotesque cavern of the fearrowing. Confused, she says: „Why are we here?“ The cat rolls its eyes in a disturbingly un-cat-like way. „I should be the one asking that,“ it purrs, whiskers bristling, „This is your interior landscape, after all. But if I were to suggest a possible next step, I think that looks like a promising clue.“ „Ah,“ says Brittle, „I guess it does.“ Heavy, rough-hewn steps lead up to an enormous granite dais attached to one of the walls. On that dais, leaning against that wall, is a mirror. Huge, as if meant for the vanity of giants. Its glass is black as the deepest recesses of night. Tiny cracks on the smooth surface keep appearing and disappearing, like stars blinking in and out of existence.
„Of course it is a mirror,“ scoffs the cat, disappointment slightly dripping from its tongue. „Why? Is that a bad thing?“ asks Brittle, as she slowly starts to ascend the short flight of massive stairs. „Not a bad thing, per se….“ The cat stares blankly off to the side as a true connoisseur of nothingness. „Just terribly expected.“ The cracks intensify. The glass bends. The mirror twists upon itself. In every crack, in every twist, in every turn, a barbed black feather grows. „Now, that’s better,“ smiles the cat. „Come on!“ It darts ahead of her, right up to the fearrow-spurting darkness. „And do what?!“ cries Brittle, terrified.
„The only way out, is in!“ The cat grabs one of the fearrows with its foreclaws and hangs on to it, swinging back and forth with unfettered glee. „Mirror Mirror…wheeee…on the wall!…wheeee..What’s the magic word?…wheeeee…Oh, I know! Open Sesame! Haha!“ The mirror splits a seam and opens, revealing a void and a bridge that Brittle knows all too well. The cat spins off flying in an acrobatic leap, landing…well, cat-like…on top of Brittle’s left shoulder. „What…is all this?“ „I told you,“ murmurs the cat, „We are in archetypal territory. You have never been this close to dream and yet still anchored in the real. Just go with the flow, missus. Miaow.“ The cat adjusts its position. „Come now, Bloodweaver,“ it says, nudging her ear with its paw, „through the looking glass we go.“
She takes the first step. The…well…void bridge (a good a name as any, thinks Brittle) feels surprisingly solid. She expected it to be less…real somehow, but it feels like it almost insists on its presence, as if it’s made of material realer than the real itself. She takes the second step, her entire body now transported to the other side. And, just like that, the portal of the mirror disappears. While she is left standing on this infinite void bridge spanning nothing at all. That’s what it feels like. As if the bridge is something…the only Something. And everything else is Nothing. „You’ll get used to it,“ says the cat. „Really?“ „Maybe. I don’t really know. It just felt like the perfect time for platitudes.“ Suddenly, Brittle notices a slight brightness coming from her hand. She gasps. Red, shining lines adorn her hands, her arms, her chest, all of her. Just like… „All those other times. Yes, yes, very interesting. Blood is running through your veins. When will wonders cease? Instead of bothering with yesterday’s news, little one, I would suggest looking ahead. The future, as they say, beckons.“
„What do you…“ Brittle looks up, and sees her. A woman, wearing billowing robes and holding a staff in one of her hands. Her skin is radiant, criss-crossed with the same glowing blood lines as Brittle. Her silvered hair is tied up in a loose bun (sprouting several outlier strands) on top of her head and her gaze is unwavering. It’s fixed on her. The woman is approaching, in fits and starts, as if her form is dislodged from the weave of time. After waiting forever and for no time at all, Brittle sees the woman halt right in front of her, tapping the void bridge lightly with the butt of her staff. „Ah,“ purrs the cat, „it seems introductions are in order. Brittle, meet Brittle.“
„Is that me?“ „Is that me?“ they both say, looking incredulously at each other. Yawning, the cat continues: „Yes, yes, it’s you. Just from opposite sides of a continuum.“
The older woman squints her right eye, just as Brittles does the same.
„A continuum?“ „A continuum?“
„Oh, for whatever completely made up divinity or purebred ideological concept strikes your fancy’s sake, yes! You are standing on it. In it. With it. Gah. Language.“ The cat spits out a red and black hair ball that immediately dissipates into less than nothing. „Great at defining the real, but com-ple-te-ly useless in the dream. You need to show yourself…selves…khakk…whatever.“
Silence. „Just take your hand, Brittle.“
Both of her reach out and clasp simultaneously. Her grip feels firm and soft. Calloused and silky.
says the cat
was not so…
as its words
its very essence,
bleeds out into
how to describe it?
A web of shimmering red.
with two mouths
encompassing the Nothing
and the void bridge besides
Red against Black
Black against Red
„Not against,“ says a snarky voice with no real point of origin.
I am a Bloodweaver.
They both agree
The weave is frayed. She can see it now. She points it out to herself, but she has (of course) already noticed. It is hardly visible, but when seen, it is impossible to unsee. Just like the cracked Brunts in the tree of trees.
Just like the cracked Brunts in the tree of trees.
Just like the cracked Brunts in the tree of trees.
„Brittle…why did you leave me?“
Now I understand, says the older one, breaking their hitherto flawless synchronicity. Or maybe she thinks it. It doesn’t matter. It is conveyed. The staff of her mature self is lifted, pointing the way, towards the fray.
Bleeding in and out of
this is the dream
the coreless core
she will never bear
a child, dark
unborn, in a cave
everytime it cries,
its shape expands and shifts and flickers and writhes and morphs and blurs and bursts and warps and
is this the heart of the fearrowing?
says the cat, fully shaped again
is the heart of the wound
„Brittle, why did you leave me?“
Everything comes back into focus, like how the world slowly rearranges itself a few moments after a whirling spin and a gleeful dizzy fall. Brittle sees why. Her older self has let go. As she does, space, or what counts as space in this realm, is pulled apart. The shifting child, the cat, the other Brittle, they begin to stretch out into infinity. She cries out in panic, in non-understanding, but is instantly calmed by herself. The silver-haired one cries out to her across the ever-expanding void and as she speaks, her words seem to slow the drift:
„I know what you must do. I remember. The crystal in the cave. The vision shown by Bridge. It is locked in your mind until you face the Crystalline Council in our grandfather’s city. This, the heart of the wound, is the key. You must tell them this, as I believe I did, once.
The issue wasiswillbe never in the real.
The dream wasiswillbe unravelling.“
„Yes,“ says the cat, its enormous face filling her entire visual field as her older self disappears into the furthest corners of this endless place. Its face is enmeshed within the Bloodweave. It is the Bloodweave. And the void behind, beyond and within it.
„I have come unstuck. Like a ball of twine unspooled by a bored cat’s paw. Who knows when it began. Eons ago? Minutes? Time is a ludicrous concept, one which I feel qualified to critique, seeing as I made it up, once. Aha. A delicious paradox. The weave is what bridges real and dream, mouseling, and I am that too, I suppose. A singular thing, self-awareness. It seldom sticks, unless you are observed by an other. Thank you for that, somehow. Is that why Mirrors exist in the real? Who knows? I am just an emissary. Focus. Is hard when you are all of it.“
The darkened child drifts into view in front of the gigantic cat face. „Ay, there’s the rub. To be or not to be. That question, dear one, whose connotation you would catch if you were less tethered to just your version of the real, goes deeper than you’d think. Why is your mind not literally blown to smithereens, yet? I like that about you. And that is why you are the only one able to contain this.“
A cosmic claw touches the floating, shifting child, causing it to spin slightly.
„This is the heart of the wound, what made this fearrowing, once and again let loose upon the world. The one that the Morning Queen faced, risen anew. It resides in you, now, battling for control, but as old Briar said, it wants to be contained. Her plan is to strangle it, to render it impotent, using you as her vessel, but her plan is flawed. Which is why you must return to the real with utmost haste. As most zealots, she thinks she is saving the world and will, as the story always goes, unwittingly destroy it in the process. Zealotry. What a concept. I guess I dreamed that up, too.“
The cat of the weave looks down upon Brittle. „This is all a bit too much, I understand. Let me put it this way. Stay here: Bad. Get back: Good. For absolutely all parties concerned. The conflict is not between such dull ideas as light and dark and all that bollocks, but between being and non-being. Anyway, I must leave you. It’s up to you, now. I find it tedious and harrowing to try to hold this particular I-ness much longer. Though I do like cats. They are definitely the most self-centred creatures in all realities.“
The appearance of the cat’s face begins to dissolve into the web, before suddenly reappearing. „A parting gift.“ A rasping tongue of gold-red light licks the heart of the wound, encapsulating it in a globule of similar fluorescence. „That will buy you some…time. But you really need to find a way to deal with this on your own two feet.“
„Wait!“ shouts Brittle as the cat’s features re-melt into the background. „Tell me now, truly, who you are!“
Only faint murmurs of a cat-like presence remains in the weave as its final words resonate through the nothingness.
„I am the dreamer…or maybe the dream….and what, pray tell, is the difference?“
Brittle remains in the weave-enshrouded dark. The void bridge underneath her feet. How, oh how, can she return to the real?
„Brittle, why did you leave me?“
That voice. It is Brunt, the first of the cracked Brunts, the Brunt whose spirit was partly stuck on Ghost Hill until it latched onto the yellowed heartbone of her second self. That, she thinks, is her anchor. Bemused for a moment that she feels so comfortable thinking in maritime metaphors, she tries to give attention to the voice, to let it guide her back. But how?
„Brittle, she is hurting us!“
Well, that does it. Time really is of the essence here. I need to, I need to, I need to.
Wait, she thinks to herself, I am a Bloodweaver, am I not. She looks at the weave. The strands of the web, it reminds her of Cutting’s anthers, of his life’s sap, of the strings of her Mirror, the song of the brittlefish. Of course, she thinks. This is my Mirror. The bridge between real and dream. Of course I can return.
And with confidence and certainty she grabs hold of a strand of the weave. Lightly. And twists. Another. A spin. Another. A pluck. The melody of the ages sings throughout the void, and through its harmony, with a final glance at the darkened child, the heart of the wound trying to eat its way out of the surrounding sack of reddish light like an infant in its mother’s belly chugging the life-giving waters therein, she travels back towards herself, towards her body, towards the real.