By Steve Bian
In the age when the world was whole, there existed a small village. Located on a small jut of land that thumbed its nose at the sea in a remote corner of the world, the village had no name, nor had any been bestowed, for there was no map that marked its location. It was in a forgotten part of the world.
North of the village is a small sheltered cove, pock-marked by camp fires the village people used to cook the day's catch with the setting sun, and under the stars' light, eat the day's bounty, tell each other stories from the mist of time, and dance to songs sung nowhere else.
A forest embraced the village, harboring an abundance of plants and animals. In the clearings and fields butterflies of rainbow colors danced above the gently wavering flowers, while rabbits and deer drank timidly from the numerous streams. The birds joyfully sung their fortune whilst being spied up on by foxes, whom are shadowed in turn by the wolves.
Everywhere there are trees, trees of every variety, trees of every size. Blue stars twinkle in the green sky as the trees sway to the winds, while trunks of warm sunlight formed another forest. Leaves rustle in fare well in winds' wake, some danced the last dance, to adorn the earth in a shower of fertile green and laughing golden brown.
To the south and east formidable cliffs loomed above the crashing waves, immovable giants standing guard. Its brethren to the west straddled the neck, heads crowned by clouds, hair the white of virgin snow. Eagles soared in worship around their eyes riding on thermals, mountain goats played up on their shoulders.
In this place the gift has not been withdrawn, and the wolves, the most logical and rational of all creatures still shared its thoughts with men. All in all it was a land once blessed, when magic still held sway in the world. Since it has no name, we shall call it Eden.
The wind was born a day's ride, a ridmark in ways of old, from the shores of Eden, conceived by thermal difference between the air over the waters and land by the Sun and Sea. It raced gleefully towards Eden's cove, wallowing in their newfound freedom as all children do. Past the fishermen in their canoes it swept, rocking them in its wake, laughing at its own practical joke.
Towards the shore the wind ran, herding the waves before it, and danced through the hair of children playing on the beach, basking in the glow of free spirits. Then onwards it raced through the village, tugging at the skirts of women hard at work in the shade of their huts, teasing young-girls-soon-to-be-women as they concentrated in learning the art of keeping men in line, tussled the dogs racing after children in the streets, and flapped the many colorful flags of cloth put out to dry. Fleetingly it passed through the fields, where the stalks of corn and wheat bowed their heads in greeting. Unsatisfied, the wind and the hats of farmers re-enacted The Piper, wind the piper, hats the rats.
Soon bored with mischief, the wind skipped into the forest, stalking the young-boys-soon-to-be-men as they in turn talked the hunters, who stalked the deer. They were watched by the elusive wolves. It giggled in the leaves, bring the scent of the hunters to the hunted. The latter promptly made a quick escape. At the cursing of the hunters (which were carefully memorised by the young-boys-soon-to-be-men, to be repeated out of their mothers' hearing), it fled towards the mountains and rushed up the cliffs in a burst of youthful energy, thrusting the eagles ever higher.
After vaulting over the peaks, the wind finally ran out of energy, and deposit its burden of moisture of which it was not aware into the clouds crowning the mountains. As it faded away haunted by lethargy, it brushed past a dark figure ascending the mountain side with a bundle.
As the sun kissed the horizon later in the day, there came another wind, a cold wind from the West. It had a strength that is unnatural for this part of the world, for it was not born of nature. On its back it carried strange clouds of particles emitting enormous amounts of energy, which it quickly disposed of when it rendezvoused with the crown of clouds above the mountains. Its cold nature caused the droplets of moisture to conjugate, forming raindrops laced with energetic dust. Air in the upper reaches, chilled by the wind, started to fall, and met rising warm air in a maelstrom of temperature differences and pressure fronts. From that troubled womb, a storm sprung forth.
Heavy rain hurried villagers ringing the campfires back into their huts, and young couples seeking privacy in the darkness of trees were rudely interrupted by the shrill screams of banshee winds. The people of the village became spectators to a display of nature's power as lightnings traced sun- bright zig-zags against the dark sky to the beat of thunders' drums.
Only one person stayed the wrath of the storm, negotiating the traitorous mountain side with a burden, exercising great care.
Early morning brought with it scent of air-after-storm: that particular crispness in the air, that particular smell of moist earth and foliage. Yet to those with sharp noses, and to the wolves, it also brought with a taint. The flowers, trees and leaves glittered with fresh dew, making rainbows colors when the sunlight hit just so. But for those with an eye for detail, a taint laid over it all. Green had that particular repulsive shade, yellow and red colors hinted of disease and fever, flowers sported pedals that resembled decaying flesh. Even sound was tainted. Birds' songs had an undercurrent of madness, the leaves softly whispered of death, the sea coughed waves up against the shore. A tain laid beneath the surface in the aftermath of the storm.
The hunters gathered at the edge of the village, first to rise. Some complained of sores, others spotted fresh lesions. They numbered far few then normal, but the hunt waits for no man. They striked out into the forest, sliding in and out of shadows and gaps between trunks, snaking their way towards the mountains, wraiths in the trees.
Despite the hunter's formidable stealth, the wolves had no problems seeking them out. Hunters and wolves exchanged greetings, and from the wolves the hunters sought the right of passage, for wolves are the princes of the forest. As it has been since the gift was given, the right was granted, and the she-wolf named "born of heavens" (for she was born in a night when the fiery stars fell) imparted her morning's reconnaissance: there is a human not of village at the foot of the cliff, in the clearing where a streams emerges under a boulder. When she (wolves have no names in the sense men uses it) was question further, indifference was returned: for what concern do wolves have with a human lacking the gift? The hunters gave their thanks as the she-wolf faded into the forest to rejoin her pack, then set off at a run to rendezvous with the stranger. Shortly after, for they were swift and distance short, the hunters came up on their query.
The stranger lay unmoving on the ground in a shallow depression, as if the ground has sunken with the stranger's weight. There was a dark curved box on the stranger's chest, and loose rock scattered in the proximity. From this the hunters gather the stranger fell whilst descending the cliff at night, and from the depression in the ground, the stranger is almost certainly dead. They could not deduce however the purpose of the metal-clothing with strange protrusions, patterns and designs (one of an eagle carrying an olive branch), or of box and the peculiar hat-and-mask contraption that cradled the stranger's face. They did however discern the stranger was female: the clothing was tight enough to reveal that much at least. Further more, the stranger was roughly 2-staves (four-fifths of a meter per stave) high, and appeared to be fit and well built. All other physical properties were obscured by her strange metal-clothing
It was as they say in Eden, a diamond in a oyster found in the stomach of a chicken: a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a mystery.
The most fleet footed hunter was dispatched to fetch the elders, whilst the rest stayed and speculated. None dared however to venture near: aura of death and violence shrouded the stranger, waxing and waning as if breathing. Soon the hunters split into small groups, close friends telling each other elaborate stories (often involving characters reused from fairy tails, although in different guises) to explain how the stranger came to their part of the world. Their voices rose and fell, waves of communicate broadcasted to all whom would listen. The stranger listened, then stirred.
Silence fell in the clearing with abruptness of a guillotine. Eight pairs of white-rimmed pupils swiveled to fix themselves on the stranger, as an arm was lifted into the air, a triumphant defiance of death. From the contraption on her head came a series of coarse sounds, and although she spoke an alien tongue, the stranger's plea was obvious: help me. Compassion over ruled primal survival instincts, and the hunters converged on the stranger like ants to honey drops despite her dark auras, and carried her and the strange curved box at a brisk pace towards the village.
The hunters with their precious and alien cargo arrived at the out skirts of the village as the sun is half way past its highest point. Villagers somberly greet them with food and water, and men came to relieve them of the stranger and her belongings. As the hunters stood and watched their charge being carried into the village hall, they observed the faces of those who have came to met them were marred by worry and anxiety. It was then they learned of the Perversion.
Families woke up to children barely breathing, men and women bleeding from every orifice; skin seeping blood, and hair falling off in clumps. Some have vomited blood, and fever ran berserk amongst the stricken. Already seven have known death's caress. Few were spared the torments, and even they suffered strange pains and sores. Most of their livestock were found dead or dying, some have their insides turned into goo, their bodies oozing thick pernicious slime.
The hunters looked on with disbelieving eyes shining with horror, searching the faces around them for a hint of laughter, of jest, and found only truth. What ails them? What brought this on us? What have we done? The questions darted out and every one hit the same target: the wolves say it’s the Perversion, that the body has turned against itself.
The gathered group dispersed rapidly, school of fish sensing sharks. Each hunter ran towards their homes, yelling and screaming, demanding their loved ones to answer, to confirm they were spared. Pleading they were spared. At first nervous laughter of relieve mingled with cries of broken hopes and hearts, but soon only cries were heard. A tsunami of grief and sorrow buried the village.
Stars shone up on a village racked by loss. By nightfall, scores of children and elders had succumbed to the Perversion, and the remaining were unlikely to see the sun rise, or hear the sweet song of the Sun-waker ever again. Survivors haunted by death's long shadow drifted aimlessly in the darkness.
Despite their tragedies, the villagers have not forgotten the stranger, delicately placed on the altar in village hall, located at the east end of the village, at the top of a small rise. They have had examined her in more detail, and found the metal-clothing she wore covered her entirely, with the hat-mask contraption attached to her clothing. Some parts were soft like the cotton the villagers used, yet others were hard as stones, made of no metal their primitive smelter can produce. They were intrigued by the protrusions and the patterns, more so when some of them were found to be depressible. The box found with her proved to be similarly enigmatic: it was made of the same material as the hard parts of her clothing, and in addition to the protrusions and patterns, it also had stars trapped in it, green and yellow stars that do not twinkle, moving in straight lines. Both however had fist-sized holes from which tiny breezes came and went. Unable to find out more, the remaining villagers set a watch, and returned to their vigil.
At the stranger's first attempt to sit up, the village gong was struck, its ring attracted villagers not attending the dying. By the time they arrived, she has recovered sufficiently to sit, and was at this moment placing the food offered into a strange tube she produced from the protrusion in her back, which proved to be a pack. She pressed certain patterns on the device, and it started to emit a whirring noise like a humming bird, rapidly rising in volume and pitch. As quickly as it started, it stopped, and was plugged into a hole in her left shoulder, that to the villagers, simply appeared in the metal-clothing. After a moment, it was removed, and the lid opened. To villager's surprise, it was empty.
She made motions to request more, and more was given as its their way. Again the magic was performed, and again the villagers were awed. Once more the request was made and granted, but this time, the tube was plugged into the box found with the stranger instead. This mysterious ritual was repeated thrice more, before the stranger packed the tube away. She then executed a graceful turn, and faced the awed villagers. Crossing her arms so her hands touched the opposite shoulder, she bowed while simultaneously spreading her arms, making a graceful sweep that said with out innuendos: my heart and thanks to you. When she looked up once more, where before only flat planes were, her eyes could be seen.
They were a soft brown, the skin around them not yet marked by age or scars. When she turned just so, a fine mesh of red would glitter for a moment from behind her iris. Her gaze as she regarded her saviors was one backed by steel and things far more deadly. Before it the villagers cowered and wonder: what have we brought into our midst?
The eyes lost their steel as their owners satisfied herself no dangers lay close, waiting to strike. They smiled, and murmurs of nervous laughter began filtered through the sparse crowd. Postures, faces and fists relaxed as villagers once again flocked to the light and warmth of the village hall, away from the cold and danger of the darkness, no longer terrify by the stranger's eyes. With devout curiosity they watched as the stranger lovingly picked up the strangely curved box placed at the food of the altar, and by magic (for thats how it appeared to them) made part of it transparent. From behind the enchanted metal, a child peered at them with the fascination of pure innocence.
Towards this unexpected treasure the crowd surged, faces open in delight, eyes wide with adoration. The stranger's stance abruptly tensed for fight, and with a snap the steel was back in her eyes. The wave halted its advance, villagers aware once more of that killer gaze. As they fell back in respect and no small dose of fear, the stranger shook her head sadly and cuddled the child-carrier (for thats how they now named the strange box) closer to her body. Her eyes brimmed with tears of sorrow, the message brutally clear: you may not touch the child, for you are tainted.
Painfully reminded of their corruption, the villagers departed, leaving the stranger with her unspoiled child alone in the glow of the fires. No one wished to stay so close to such pristine jewel knowing they are unclean. She watched their parting backs with eyes leaking tragic tears. As darkness swallowed them one by one, she turned her face to regard her child, and her eyes filled with motherly love, an affection returned a thousand fold by innocent eyes velvet dark with a hint of brown.
In the semi-darkness of their huts, the surviving families softly spoke of the night’s events. Their palaver paused whenever the noises came from the where the sick lay. Hearts grew heavier as the night wore on, and inevitably, as parent’s do, they wondered at the stranger’s apparently immunity to the Perversion, they question the wisdom of asking her for aid. It was a sign of their desperation, when for a brief shameful moment they considered holding the child ransom. Guilty silence followed in after wash of that thought, punctured only by moan and cough of the dying.
Dawn found the village in a troubled slumber, further into the Perversion. Night has taken its toll, only survivors still takes breath. Even they will not survive the following night. Some were visibly limping, others painted with fresh open sores and lesions. On many skin slowly seeped blood.
The birds no longer sung, for none were left. The rabbits and deer lay in their dens, struggling for the next breath as their bodies waged battle against itself. Even the insects were not spared, ants stilled in their busy labor. Leaves covered in the ground like a plague, shades of green, yellow and red screaming sickness, decaying bark peeled from naked trunks. Stench of corruption dominated all other scents. The taint was a profound announcement matched only by death of stars.
The leaden silence was rudely broken by a sound never heard before in Eden: it was if wind was rapidly being beaten. Devil winds sprung up from the ground, driving dust and grit into the eyes of the grieving villagers that saw a boat of metal with whirling pedals suspend in the sky. Grief struck eyes watched in morbid curiosity as it dropped anchors, and men dressed in a fashion similar to the stranger followed, ravens falling to earth on spider's silk. A skull nested in sheepherder's hook grinned from their foreheads.
Into the villagers' midst death landed, bright lines of reed thin light shot from the aggressors' arms, death's own pitchfork. Those closest died with words of forced welcome on their lips, the rest scattered, their vision imprinted with brilliant afterimages. Even as they escaped with the frenzy of rabbits, the bright lines of green and blue found them still with surgical precision, linking them for a flash to their killers, energetic fingers of accusation.
To the village hall they ran, for it was stoutly built, meant as a refuge when their primitive huts can not suffice. The strange stood at its door, waiting with the patience of a mother hen. Under her wings they sought refuge, and heard her voice for the first time: do your best to protect the child, and I'll do my best to protect you. Although it sounded unnatural for it lacked inflection or tone and spoken at a mechanical pace, they understood her word was her bond, and gave their word in return. By the time bargain was sealed and the child surrounded by the body of a dozen villagers, the aggressors have arrived at the clearing before the door.
With once last glance of concern and motherly love, the stranger's eyes were lidded by metal once more, and as she turned to fulfill her part of the bargain, the boat-in-the-sky spoke: hand over the child, and we will cure you. The villagers stirred, but did none moved to touch the child-carrier. They would not trade with death's hand, they would not break their word and their bond. Steady fast they stood, faith in the stranger's word strengthened their spines.
With lethal feline grace the stranger strode boldly down to the clearing's center. The aggressors fell back before her, vultures before the Queen. She spoke to the aggressors in a foreign tongue, her voice smooth and sensual, rippling with contempt. Delivered at a tempo of absolute confidence, her message was clear: leave, or death finds you. When her ultimatum was delivered, she cocked her head to one side as if listening for a response. Then suddenly with out warning she sprung forward, a coiled spring unleashed as three lances of energy converge on the point where her head had been only a moment before. While the afterimages still burned in villagers' terrified eyes, the stranger's arms grew their own absurd veins of energy, and two heads rolled as blood red lines kiss their neck. The red lines swept in two graceful arcs as the stranger fell on her right shoulder and rolled back on her feet. Her arms were compass needles, pointing always at an aggressor even as they ran to evade. Quick as a cat the stranger side stepped to her left, neatly filling the empty space between two lines of green lightening, and her talented arms performed again their fluid orchestration. To her tune three aggressors were bisected at the waist. Whilst their bodies were still falling, the stranger arched her back and flipped backwards in a display of enviable gymnastic talent. Twice more she flipped, and where she was, green beams of death criss crossed. On the third, she flopped on her belly. Five blue lances met where her head would have been had she landed on her feet.
She swept her arms projecting energy lances around to her side, and two aggressor lost their feet, and fell into the path of the blood red spears. To her left she rolled, her passage on the ground marked by blacked glass made from sand by the heat of the predatory green lightening. With out provocation, one of the aggressor's right arm exploded in a burst of electric blue energy as his generator overloaded. This small distraction gave the stranger the breathing room she sought. In an instant she was up and running, her arms unerringly sought out the aggressors, and by the time they recovered, four more dissect bodies laid on the ground. The stranger dived as green and blue energy sought her body, and once more she slipped between their grasp as water through greedy hands.
The villagers watched as the stranger and aggressors weaved bright nets of death with energy rivaled only by the sun, their eyes tracked the stranger, dancing always one step ahead of death. They wondered briefly at the bloodless bodies littering the ground, barely registering the huts destroyed in the ripples of violence. Their hope begun to rise as the number of aggressors dwindled, and they cheered despite threat of death that came with drawing such attention.
The bad apple
From the West the wind came. It was the fruit of men's engineering that diverted the air-currents, and enslaved it to serve men. Over the defending mountains it climbed, limped through the degraded forest smothering the carcass of dead animals and agitating the plagued plants. Sickened flowers with pedals bursting with poison bobbed their heads in mad acknowledgment.
Through the village the wind haunted, past huts with sad faces of black doors and lifeless windows, and arrived finally at the east end of the village. There it grappled at the apples bursting with bacterial fluid hanging from leafless branches bowed with disease. One fell and landed with a sickening squish on the ground. Its healthy appearance a veneer for the perversion that has taken its core. With the wind the apple rolled, into the clearing where the stranger danced to death's energetic song.
Pivoted on her left heel the stranger spun left, arms out stretched as a ray of brilliant green flashed parallel to her back. Her red spears flashed into existence, impaling her attacker on electromagnetic points.
The apple rolled further into the clearing urged by the wind, past decapitated bodies and dancing combatants.
Arching her back backwards to avoid two flashes of blue and green aimed at her chest, the stranger wind milled her arms upwards, cutting the arm off one aggressor, quartering another. Then she was on her back and rolling right as the last three moved to trap her.
The wind whipped the apple relentlessly on across the bloodless grounds littered with corpses and body parts.
In a single fluid motion the stranger bounced herself up on her right hand. Balanced in mid air her left arm swept a quarter arc, her energy lance finding its mark in the neck of an aggressor just as four green forks of lightening struck the ground below her. Using the momentum of her arm's swing she flung herself back on her feet. Beneath her left foot the apple bursts, spraying its ghastly green payload across the ground, and the stranger slipped. In that brief moment of mishap (or fate as some would call it), when her body stilled for a touch, 2 arcs of green energy swept through her neck and knee.
The stranger fell, and with it the spirit of the villagers. In silence they watched her body fall to the ground in pieces, hands frozen in the act of clapping and fist waving, mouths open, encouraging cheers curdled into silent screams, faces alight with hope dissolving into dread. As the remaining aggressors turned their deadly attention on the village hall (miraculously still standing) frozen bodies were fired into action as they remembered the word and bond.
The last cry
With the child-carrier in their center, the village people formed a circle. Defiantly they stood their ground as the aggressors approached. They had no hope, but word is bond, and their word was given. The aggressors paused outside the village hall and surveyed them with flat metal eyes. One came forward and stood on the threshold, framed by the doorway, casting a shadow that snaked across the floor, up their, and consumed the child-carrier in darkness. Black flies dart froth from his mouth and buried themselves with pinpoint accuracy (courtesy of guidance hardware) into necks of the villagers.
Pain flooded their bodies, every nerve was overloaded with a single message: PAIN. Collapsing to the floor as one, some were already dead as their hearts gave away. They were the fortunate ones. The remaining survivors begun to arch backwards, tendons standing out on their limps and necks as muscles involuntarily contracted. Broken finger nails dug into palms already bleeding with sores, jaws clenched hard enough to crush rotten teeth, spines forced to bend ever more, until with sickening crunches they snapped.
The aggressor laughed, the mirthless sound somehow amplified were a grotesque accompaniment to trembling bodies with broken spines and still tensing muscles. The laughter was a child of madness, madness that manifests as violence, madness that breeds on senseless butchering and destruction. It was the madness of war that stripped away humanity until all that is left is an intelligent killing machine on two legs.
Stepping over bodies in unnatural imitation of contortionists, the aggressor approach the sacred altar on which the child-carrier was placed. As the aggressor looked down into uncomprehending eyes the dark of night (with a hint of brown), he questioned his purpose and wondered why the child before him is to die. For a heartbeat his resolve quaked and doubt leaked into his thoughts, questions long buried surfaced: For what am I fighting for? For what will I die for?
The voice that answered his questions and repaired the cracks in his foundation was not his own. It was a voice he was not aware of, a voice that whispered into his ears nightly as he lay sleeping on his bunk.
Softly it crooned: the child needs to die because his parents are not of the Faith, its blood is not pure. Gently it leashed him: you fight for the Faith, you will die gladely in its Service.
With his conscience buried once more the aggressor opened the child-carrier, and the child cried as tainted air invaded his lungs. The last cry of a child Eden will ever hear resounded in the village, filtered into the forest, echoed off the mountains: a final beacon of distress, the final plead for help.
In a blinding flash of green it was forever silenced.
The aggressors departed Eden via their metal boat-in-the-sky, its rapid thump-thump-thump adding insult to injury. As its echoes faded, a lone sicken wolf padded into the village hall. It expected no survivors for the bloodless carnage outside, a mockery of nature, had revealed the aggressor's powers. When it sniffed the body of the man it wrestled with when they were both cubs, it was surprised to find his mind lingered still. Knowing its own death was near, the wolf asked the question that has trouble his last hours: why did you do the irrational and refuse their aid? To which the man replied: for we are human, our word is our bond. With this answer the wolf was content, even if it could not grasp the concepts of honor (wolves' minds work in a different frame of thought after all). In remembrance of good times long past, it laid its head down on the man's neck. “You die well.” congratulated the wolf. “We die human” the man amended, and as his spirit faded, he managed one last good bye: we die together old friend.
Death did not wait long before kissing them eternal-night.
When the sun waved good bye to the world that day, its fair well kiss painting the clouds baby pink, a wind was spawn over the sea. Over the waters it flew, across that jut of land that thumbed its nose at sea, over the village hall where six bodies lay in freak positions. Through the clearing peppered with broken bodies, marked by a repulsive green splash of color yet not by blood the wind fled, and plunge into a forest devoid of life, filled with poisonous fertility. Dead branches grasped its passage, rotten fruits fell in its foot steps. Up the cliffs the wind rose, but no eagles rode the thermals. Over mountain peaks capped by blood red snow, and down the other side over bodies of impaled mountain goats, the wind crossed into the West.
There it was trapped by men's ingenuity, and forced down a shaft, herded deep into a mountain's corrupted heart. It finally emerged from a vent in the roof, into a cavern filled with floating images and colored displays. On the floor men and women hustled about with purpose, and one man sat hunched on a throne at its center, reading the same message for the nineteenth time: your son is dead. On the wind's thirteenth circuit around the cavern, the man lifted his head and uttered a single sentence that froze the hive of activity: activation code 1779413549797.
As the first stars emerged from the darkness of space, natures greatest abomination and mankind's greatest achievement cried its first grotesque note. In its echo the world broke, and the sea rose to embrace Eden, hiding it forever from human memory.