2.3 – I have named it Fearrowing
remember. remember. remember.
Brittle opens her eyes. What did she just see? It is already waning, like the remnants of a dream, just like Branch mentioned. But she has to..
„It’s fading too fast! I need help!“
help. help. help. help.
She wills herself away from the tree, still soaring on the red light stream. She tries to grasp all of it, to see their history from afar. What is it that clouds her mind so, that erases itself from her memory, time and time again? What did she see on that battlefield? What killed mother? As she thinks that last thought, she is filled with an icy clarity. Yes. Killed. Brook was killed. Her body knows, even though her mind is at a loss.
The rays radiating from her thin frame are multiplying fast, becoming agitated, as if they are directly corresponding to her thoughts. The tree fills her entire visual field. If it can be called a tree at all. Maybe it can’t be defined, just like…that…
„If you truly are my Deepheart’s Mirror, then reflect me.“ In a single, fluid movement, what Brittle likes to think of as the brittlefish tree turns all of its heartbones so their flat sides are facing her. The golden tendrils move the bones to catch the red sunbeams extending from Brittle, and as they do, the light is sent right back at her, piercing her thin skin, going in.
She is awash with memory. Flooded by a torrent of a thousand lives. Like being thrown about in spewing rapids. Impossible to make anything out. She needs something…to…hold…on…to. A floating log. A piece of flotsam.
Fear…rows. Fearrows. Anything to do with fearrows.
She stumbled and fell by the river side. Her head splashed into the water. Gasping and wiping her face with her hands, she spied her unsettled reflection. A steely woman’s face with green eyes and auburn hair. It was at that very moment she realized she didn’t know who she was. She had no idea why she was wearing metal clothes, nor why they were red and gold. Or why she was holding this weird, long, black feather-like thing. Suddenly horribly afraid, she shouted a harsh and throaty cry and threw it downriver. As she watched it float away, a sharp sound switched her attention to the opposite bank. A white stag stood there, braying at her.
Branch, the eleventh of her name, stood watching the tree of trees. In her hands was a relatively large folded piece of cured leather bound with a string of rounded granite pearls. Her delicate, young fingers caressed it with a sense of trepidation. The messenger had come from the coalition of the Rukar, the Stone Bearers, as a token of good will. What exactly had he said again? It was important that she remember, to commit it to Memory.
„According to our records, this belongs to Brittle, daughter of Brunt, of the Daughters of Bray. The Crystalline Council bade me deliver it to you, the Keepers, to show our intentions of honouring the new treaty between our peoples. It has been in our catalogues since our foundation, a hundred and two years ago.“
Branch shuddered involuntarily. This was unprecedented. Never before had a Daughter waited this long to join her family above. Going through the Memory in her head, she knew which Brunt it had to be, the one whose daughter had disappeared before her death. The first of the cracked Brunts. The story of what had happened then must be ripe with shame, since so few details were given to the Keepers and Brunt’s kin had never mentioned her daughter’s name when they offered them the damaged heartbone. Only that her blood had never come, and that her departure was somehow connected.
„Well, now, Brittle. Welcome home.“ said Branch and unpacked the slight parcel. Curious. There was the heartbone, it had a faintly yellow tint, presumably a result of the ages spent in the musty air of the Rukar’s subterranean catalogues. But the truly curious thing was what accompanied the bone. A long, black…feather? Hummmmm. For a moment, Branch looked with stark surprise at the vibrating heartbone. Until she remembered that past Keepers, even past hers, had received requests from the bones of the departed. Though never something like this, as far as she could recall. „Very well. I will allow it“ she said.
The next thing she knew, she was standing outside the schiil, blinking against the sun. Her hands were empty. Concerned, she walked back in, but was relieved when she saw that Brittle, the second of her name, was hanging at the end of her rightful line, reunited with her mother Brunt at last. Branch smiled. „You are truly an independent spirit, Brittle one.“
„Brave! Prove you deserve your name!“ Brink, the little crustling, had challenged her again. Bread and tiny Brooder, hanging in the nettle net on Bread’s back, were also egging her on. „Enter the cave, Brave!!“ Suddenly realizing to his delight that he had made an accidental rhyme, Brink turned it into a silly tune that the other kids joined in on. „Enter the cave, Brave! Enter the cave, Brave!“ „If you insist, youngfolk!“ shouted Brave at the top of her lungs. „Who wants to join me?!“ That shut them up. Well, they were all quite small anyway. And she had just had her first blood. „Very well! Here I go!“ She turned to face the yawning maw in the mountain side. It was partly overgrown with spirit creepers, their leaves a vivid violet. Brave remembered what Brood, the Seer (and Brooder and Bread’s mother), had told them about creepers, that they grew in the cracked spaces of the world which were closer to dream. And the colours of the leaves signified something about the nature of the space, no? But Brave didn’t think Brood had mentioned this particular shade. Which made it all the more exciting!
She skipped and jumped from rock to rock on the uneven and rubble-strewed ground until she reached the opening. Pushing the creepers aside made her spine tingle with anticipation. No one had probably been inside for ages and ages and ages. She took a few steps, then waited a bit to let her eyes adjust to the lack of light. A rough natural passage leading into the dark. Aho, aho, aho. Brave closed her eyes and ran further in for a couple of moments, just to dare herself. Something soft brushed against her face. What in the Seven Hardships…? Raising her hands, she touched what was definitely not a cobweb, but which felt downy and bristly and…Never one for thinking things through, Brave gave it a yank. Whatever it was, she pulled it loose. Returning to the relative light of the opening, she got a better look at it. Like a long feather, but not quite. Almost like the love child of a feather and a spider leg. Or a feather and a hedgehog spine made of cartilage. Or..Brave was suddenly overwhelmed by a feeling of extreme unease that was quite unfamiliar to her. The fine hairs on the nape of her neck rose and danced a sinuous dance. Before she knew it, she was running like mad out of the cave, shoving the creepers aside, feather-thing still in hand. As it touched the violet leaves, they wilted and dropped. Brave shouted in shock and threw whatever this nightmarish object was away, back into the dark. The creepers crumbled into nothing.
„What happened?! Why did the creepers disappear!?“ shouted Brink. Turning to face him, Brave asked, genuinely confused: „What creepers?“ Brink looked at Bread and Brooder for support, but suddenly couldn’t remember exactly why. „Uuuhh…“ He looked back at her and said „How was the cave?“ „Boring“ said Brave. „Let’s go home“.
„Look, my love. I am not helping you this time. I’ll wait for you at the bottom on the other side.“ With a swish and a turn, Brook descended the hill as quickly as she could so she wouldn’t go back on her words. It pained her to do this, but that girl had to grow up some day. Brunt had taught her the hard way that she needed to fend for herself in this world, and though Brook never wanted to end up like her embittered mother, many of her lessons had been invaluable to her. At the bottom, she swung around and stopped, waiting for her daughter. Brittle clearly took her time. Of course, she was stubborn, just like herself. Well. Brook thought to herself that she would stay here till the sun had moved past that particularly tall pine, and then she would…
„Hello! Hello! Hello!“
„Brittle?“ whispered Brook. The faint cry had come from behind her, inside a copse of trees. But that wasn’t possible. There was no way Brittle could have found her way there without her noticing.
„Hello! Hello! Hello!“
Brook felt cold, and not because of the weather. Slowly, she started skiing in between the trees, following the sound.
„Hello! Hello! Hello!“
There, in the distance, sitting on an old stump, shrouded in the shadow of a thousand pine needles, Brook could see a vague shape which seemed about Brittle-sized. It moved slightly and shouted:
„Hello! Hello! Hello!“
Brook didn’t understand. That was her daughter’s voice. But it didn’t exactly look like her. Had she disguised herself somehow? Brook skied closer. „Brittle?!“ she shouted. And far, far away, in the opposite direction, behind her, she heard an almost imperceptible „Brook?!“ The creature on the stump, however, spun around and jumped out of the shadows, enabling Brook to see it more clearly. It looked like a skewed reflection of Brittle, like a distorted echo made of black glass. Spikes and tines and outlier limbs erupted from its body, only to disappear as quickly as they turned up, like popping bubbles in a pot of simmering stew. It seemed like it was struggling to retain its shape. Three elongated mouths, one on top of the other, burst out of its face and yelled:
„Hello! Hello! Hello!“
A halo of unnerving feathery spines rose up above the mouths like a flurry of scorpion tails. wsthunk. And one of them hit Brook square in the throat. She fell on her back, completely stunned. And the thing slithered-crawled-skittered past her. For a few seconds, Brook was paralyzed, unable to process what she had just seen. Then she realized that she was still alive. Scrabbling with her fingers, she got hold of the feather-spine and pulled it out. It had become stuck in her scarf, the extremely coarse and indelicate scarf that was the only existing example of Brunt’s attempts at knitting. „Thank you, mother, for being you“ she whispered to the air. Now fear actually started setting in, sending shivers all throughout her body. Then she recalled her daughter, and the fear evaporated in an instant. Getting to her feet in a single movement, she grabbed hold of her ski pole. And darted across the snow with the speed of a starfisher swooping down at its prey. She had to get there in time. She had to.
remember. remember. remember.
Brittle snaps back to herself. The memories of Bray, Branch, Brave and Brook swim inside her blood like burning fireflies. She looks around. She is back inside of the tree again, in the center of it, red rays shining from and reflected back into almost every single pore of her skin. An unbearable heat starts to intensify around her chest. The area around her heart starts to glow like a ball of fire.
from our Deephearts to your Deepheart. we give. we grieve. we love.
„Brook?!“ No reply. Inwardly cursing her stubborn mother, Brittle got to her feet. Well, her breathing had improved a bit. She started to climb the slope, but as she neared the top, she began pretending to wheeze and cough just to make Brook feel guilty. As she got there, she looked down the other side. And….
And saw Brook standing by the tree line of a small copse, looking up at her.
Her mother gave a shout: „Hello! Hello! Hello!“ Well. Brook hadn’t noticed her attempts at trying to seem sickly at all. In the face of her mother’s infuriating cheeriness, Brittle realized she had lost, and started descending the slope.
„Hello! Hello! Hello!“
„Yes! I hear you!“ cried Brittle as she tried zig-zagging down the hillside.
„Hello! Hello! Hello!“ said Brook and walked out into the open, showing off a coat of feathers. The surprising sight made Brittle lose her balance. She fell and tumbled down, finally landing on her face. When she looked up and brushed the snow away, she saw something that was not her mother.
„Hello! Hello! Hello!“ said a dozen mouths swimming around in a shifting blackness. They merged together into one great vertical maw that opened wide for Brittle. Through the hole Brittle saw a colourless bridge disappearing into an infinite void.
„HELLOOO!“ The impossible being and the strange vision was literally broken by a Brook-wielded ski pole piercing the…
„Fearrowing“ whispers Brittle floating in the heart of the tree of trees. „I have named it Fearrowing“.
…fearrowing as easily as a starfisher’s beak breaks the surface of the river. Brook’s body, skis and all, followed suit, bursting through the horror in a violent spray of inky ichor, narrowly avoiding Brittle before crumpling to the ground. All that remained of the fearrowing was a thin snake-like sliver covered in slick fearrows which slinked away into the trees. „Mother!“ shouted Brittle and crawled over to her. The black substance was all over her face, and as Brittle watched, the skin slowly absorbed pieces of it, darkening Brook’s veins. Brook looked into Brittle’s eyes and lifted her hand towards her daughter’s cheek, but stopped herself when she noticed the streaks of ichor on her fingers. Retracting her hand and shaking her head just once, Brook, daughter of Brunt, exhaled. And did not inhale.
„Mother!!!!!!“ shouts-shouted Brittle, past and present intertwining. She remembers. How she skied home as quickly as she could. How she got to father. How all memory of the formless creature had dissipated before they found Brook dead and still, how the traces of the struggle on the ground soon also left their minds. Like with the doe. Oh. Her consciousness falters. Her vision blurs. The red lights blink out, one by one, the red stream too. Without its support, Brittle plummets to the ground. But two of the tree’s golden tendrils, two of its mother lines, sweep swiftly to the rescue and grab her just before she hits the ground. They lower her gently on to the stone, and leave two parting gifts behind.
Two heartbones. One wholly unassuming, and one with a faintly yellow tint.