7.2 – The strangest river

She spins around. Nothing. No one. „Who said that?“ she asks the red-tinted void. A fluctuating shimmer in the centre of things, near the original ring. Why does this keep happening? Brittle’s mind starts wondering as a shape coalesces out of not-air. The blood stone in the schiil. The vermillion pool in the dream tent near Breaker’s Hold. The blood moon song. The pierced heart. The red gold sap. A red singularity from which all things originate. Again and again. And now, this. Another transparent being looking like a humanoid plant, eye flowers and all. In the centre of things. „Cutting,“ she not-breathes and rushes to embrace him. The sensation is peculiar, like hugging water.

„Yes,“ he replies, „And no.“

we are your mirror though. though. though.

She looks up at his face, so familiar to her though she has never laid eyes on it in this life. „What do you mean? And how come you can speak in this place?“

Gently, he pulls away from her. „This…,“ his bark fingers indicate his ethereal form, “…individual essence you remember as Cutting. It did remain here, buried in the roots of what was later to be known as the War-Begone-Tree, from whose Deepheart both it and your first self once was born. A normal cutting of a plant is still the plant from which it sprung. We are not separate like you are. But it….I….was.“

His hands caress the red light emanating from the growth rings, like an old man leafing through the pages of his life. „I thought it would dissipate. With time. As the stump would rot and turn to mulch. But my kin, my greater self, refused to let that happen. This tree and the two you planted, Broader and Broadest, became the first specimens of a new species, a hybrid of the grey giants of old and the twisted curse in the blood iron.“ He looks at her, eye flowers silently waving. „We plants thrive on shit, you know.“

He walks towards the edge of the spirit stump and looks out towards the utter darkness. „With time, the old generation was gone, only ironseeds remained. Only ironseeds multiplied. I…we…chose it to be that way. And this stump was kept alive by my siblings, or my children, or grandchildren. It is a hard concept to translate exactly into the relational terms of your kin. I was here, apparently, remaining like an echo. Like how a memory of the Deepheart of a Daughter remains in her heartbone after death. In a timeless, dreamless sleep.“

Carefully, Brittle approaches him, her hand almost, but not quite, touching his back. „What woke you up?“ He turns. „You did.“ „What? Just now?“ „No. Your second self.” „She did? How?“ „I am not sure. But I could feel her…your anguish. Your bitterness. It concentrated my formless energies, made me return to a focused point, to a renewed awareness of the singular beingness of the name you gave me. Cutting. It made me feel the memory of love, it made me want to return, to help, to hold, to be with.“ Brittle smiles. If she were in her body right now, her heart would surely flutter like a dawnfire sparrow intoxicated with spring. „And did you?“

A sound fills the space, somewhat close to a sigh. „I was too late.“ He lies down. Just as tall as the stump is wide. She joins him. „When I had fully remembered myself, you were already gone, returned to dream. So I sent my feelers out to try and sense when you would return. And when I did, I leaped into the void, to do the impossible.“ Brittle snuggles close. „To return as a member of your Hold. In the flesh.“ A held silence. „But as you can imagine, when it comes to time and lifespans, I did tend to think too much like a tree. I forgot how short-lived you lot are, so I threw myself into the stream of life…a tad too early.“ He looks at her, his face nary a hair’s breadth from her own. „A tiny century or so. Khe. Khe. Khe.

„Brooder!?“

He looks up into the not-sky, his shape now phasing in and out between his two vessels. Of wood and flesh. „Aaahh. So this is my voice now. I have been a man for much longer than I have been a being of bark and leaf and sap. But I am ironseed through and through. Heh. And all of this I had forgotten until I returned here at the darkening hours of my skinbound life. Just like you. What a wonder. What a beautiful mess. Of course I would be the only one with a tree as my Mirror. Of course the oldfolk were surprised when they saw a new spark appear from dream, which almost never happens.“

The ground reappears.

„They could have tried to exercise their powers of imagination a bit more, though.“

The forest reappears.

„Come on, here he is, a never-before-seen being of limitless potential. Let’s give him a name reflecting his inner nature. Brood-ER. Khe. Khe. Khe.

The sky reappears.

„What am I? Brooder. Only an offshoot of my mother Brood? Heh. Or…a….hah!“

The prone bodies reappears. In the exact spot where their spirit selves lie.

„…a cutting of her.“ He smiles. „Even the strangest river returns to the ocean in the end.“ Brittle has no words. She does not know what she is feeling, but it’s rushing through her, like a thousand of those strange rivers overflooded with things for which there is no name.

The red lines start to fade as well. She can feel the pull back into her body. „Speaking of which,“ says spirit Brooder, „I need to tell you where to find the cave. Right now.“ „Whhhy noooow?“ she asks, partly moving her actual lips as if mumbling in a dream, her spirit halfway submerged in flesh. „The ocean is calling. My poor body is too cold. It won’t take me back. I guess I finally reached the limit of my potential. Khe. So, listen…“

With a mighty effort, she pulls herself up from the dense marsh of matter, her spirit self clinging onto him with Will’s Intent. „No.“ „I am old, Brittle. Way past my time. Just let me…“ „No.“ „Just listen, will you, before it’s too…“ „No. You will tell me. In the flesh.“ Brittle lets go and slams herself back into bone and blood.

Hhhhhh!“ Winter air squeezing through constricted throat. She wants to shout „Cutting!!!“, but all she gets for her effort is a horrible cough. There he is. Beside her. Blue lips. Frosty whiskers. Pulse so faint it’s barely a murmur. She scrambles to fetch his bearskin coat, wrapping it around him, kissing his forehead, his cheeks, his cold, broken lips. „Don’t die…hhhh…Don’t die from me…hhhh…Not when I’ve finally…hhhh…found you.“ A bleating cry. That’s right. Bridge. She had forgotten all about him. He comes dancing through the snow towards them and close on his tail a young man is skiing with a fervor as if snow claws were bursting through the white right and left around him. The boy stops, looking at her with a confused look on his face. His marked face. No. Not again. Not again.

She unleashes her tails at him only to find that they don’t exist. Frustrated, she grabs her ski pole and wielding it as a spear she stands protectively over Cutting’s body. Brittle roars:

„I will not…hhh…let you kill him again!!“

„What?“ says Brute with a sniffle. „I..you…wait…“ and then, latching on to a different, yet still befuddling chain of events of far more importance to him, he says with a hurt undertone:

„Did you just kiss Old Man Brooder?“

Brittle looks down at the heartbone, still in Brooder’s grasp, and with a sigh she separates herself from her first life, returning fully to the present. „Yes,“ she says to the boy, „and if you want to atone for your past deeds, you will help me bring him back to life. Right now.“

Brand makes a gulping sound.

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