On The Nature of Judgment (4 of 5)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Five]

See also this legend.

It would be difficult to explain what has changed.

That shouldn’t be surprising.

If Sid’s answer were easy—if it were the kind of thing that you could just say and have it be done—then Martin would have given it to him. Not for free, not easily, but certainly after all Sid’s service.

So it is necessarily difficult to explain.

Much of it, certainly, is simply having the power to change, after all these years.

That which we hide away in the place without recourse:

It does not grow.

So some of it, certainly, is having that power of growth and changing, and the motivation to use it: returned to him, after all those years.

And some of it is the exercise of force.

Forgiveness, we should understand, is a quality of the powerful. The powerless endure; the powerful forgive.

It is not possible to forgive without an unencumbered choice.

Without power, forgiveness is indistinguishable from compliance, or at best surrender; and thus it has no value.

It has always been a dark and tasteless joke, when the powerful ask the downtrodden to forgive.

So the exercise of unrestrained power, however undesirable it might have been—that contributed.

Certainly.

And if one may go further and say that forgiveness is between equals—

A broader statement, requiring more analysis, but a plausible one—

Then it matters that Max met blow for blow, standing against the siggort a surprising length of time in the oceans of the end.

And there was the uncritical all-forgiving all-embracing never-bending flare gaze of the Good.

And there was the dancing stabbing cutting preaching whispers of the history of Mr. Kong.

And there was Tara and there were the heaps and there was the crumbled tower to the east where earlier they fought—

Yet none of these things change the character of Max’s crime.

None of these things make it better or worse that Max has done what Max has done.

None of these things change the essential or actual qualities of his deed.

None of these things prove Sid in error, relative to some natural universal law, when he says that what Max has done cannot be okay.

Arguable, perhaps.

Too critical, perhaps.

But not in error.

So one cannot say that even all of these things together have resolved Sid’s underlying dilemma, or changed the nature of his prison; at best, they have cast light on the substance of his cage.

It would be difficult to explain what has changed; and in the end, it doesn’t really matter.

It doesn’t really matter how it came to pass that Sid should forgive Max and lift the weight of Ii Ma from his wings.

Max is dead.

The world is cold.

The siggort is alone.

The knife of the legend of Mr. Kong
Reflects his answer:
“We must try to be good.”

Max had planned to do something really cool.

He wasn’t sure what, yet.

Maybe something like shouting, “Oh, yeah? Well, you can’t beat me at tiddlywinks!

Then suddenly he was winded and the world spun and just as he realized that he’d been hit in the stomach by something moving very very fast he mainlined THE END and Sid piled an island on top of him.

So now he’s drifting in the Good.

Now and again, an impulse will surface in him. He’ll surrender a bit of that ancient answer that holds him in the world faster or slower than the question that—however momentarily—had cut him out of it.

He’ll wobble, for a moment, on the border between those creatures whose stories have ended and those creatures that have no stories at all; and an impulse will arise.

Like:

“What the Hell happened when the Buddha reached enlightenment?”

And the Good does not explain.

Drifting against the beat of emptiness in the joyous, he imagines that the dharma of a Buddha is irreconcilable with the dharmas of the world—

Like Sid’s, in a way.

That the world is hollow of its gods because, in the face of the inevitability of suffering, it cannot understand how there can be a Buddha.

That the very idea of dharma—

In the face of the simple corrosive concept of enlightenment—

Has become a contradiction unto itself.

Russell’s paradox writ large; the definition of the world unravelled; the world unable to accept the concept of purpose if it does not lead to pain.

And a long time afterwards, Max grins in the burgeoning emptiness of joy, and he says, “Coward.” to the world.

That was one impulse.

Days later, another rises:

“How the Hell is this my happy ending?”

But for all the bafflement in those words, there isn’t any suffering.

By fiat?

By force?

By love?

There isn’t any suffering. This is his happy ending.

And maybe he’d like to be suffering, except that also he wouldn’t. He doesn’t really want to suffer just because he sort of thinks he should.

He’d like to think that he needs Sid to be happy, but the secret of the world is that it’s loving Sid that makes him happy, not Sid himself.

Lost in boundless happiness and joy, Max understands—and finally—that it’s an error to imagine that our happiness comes from anyone but ourselves.

It is not given unto us.

It is not forced upon us.

It is a thing we give outwards, unto the world.

People always fight
The things they love.

What is the nature of judgment?

Jane had imagined a perfect Good that came and cast away the 9/10 least worthy, straining only the brightest and the best through the holes in its net. She called this a disaster to the world.

What would it have meant, instead, to cull the half least worthy; or the whole?

The single worst of us, severed from the world; or all of us save the single best?

The idealist sees the dangers in this path and casts out judgment from the world; the pragmatist seeks a perfect middle ground; yet both of them, if they wish to live, must recognize that there is that which is desirable, and that which is correct, and that which, in turn, is not.

The hundred-handed horror that is Sid curls on the island he has made, and skitters on the surface of the sea, and dreams of the fight of centipede and tiger.

He is alone.

Ink Indestructible (I/I)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Two]

“I think that God lives at the center of the world,” says the girl.

She is sitting on the head of a monstrously oversized warbish lavelwod, a horror bound under a tower in the sea of chaos to the west of the world, and her hand is brushing gently against the surface of the sea.

“I think that he’s at the heart of the world like the seed’s at the heart of a pearl. That it surrounds him so that in every direction he may look out and see the world; and that the crust is there so that he cannot see too clearly the suffering that he works with his existence.”

The warbish lavelwod breathes: ho-ha, ho-ha.

“So that’s why I need you,” says the girl. “Not to go up and eat the sun, but to go down and devour God.”

“That’s all very well,” says the warbish lavelwod, “but I am not sure that we have been properly introduced.”

Crack the earth.
Stir the sea.
From the west comes an outpouring of virtue to make all things right.

The Island of the Centipede

Ink giggles.

“My name is Ink Catherly,” she says. “But everybody calls me the imago. ‘Cause i’m-a-go in’ to kill whomever’s on the throne of this bloody ol’ world, you see.”

“I see,” says Sukaynah.

“And you’re Sukaynah?”

“Yes.”

Ink’s hand is pink against the surface of the chaos. It is causing ripples to be. But now a sea change comes to it; and she gives a great gasp and stretches back; and the substance of Ink becomes history.

June, Tuesday 1, 2004 – Sukaynah: Once upon a time, there was a young girl named Sukaynah.

She loved the storms.

When it rained she would run out into them and play.

If there were a purpose to Sukaynah, it would have been to rush through the world into gathering storms and then take joy in them.

But this is a purpose that she did not understand.

One day Sukaynah broke a promise.

It wasn’t much. Just a little thing. But it made her ashamed.

It rained that day, and she couldn’t face the rain.

The fairies of the clouds and the dragons of the storm called to her, but Sukaynah would not come.

She curled up in her room.

She would not hear them.

And one of the truggumps that sometimes grew in the hay told her, “So make a promise that you won’t break.”

She drew on the strength in her.

“I promise that I’ll make the sun go away forever,” she said, in the face of those storms.

She became something horrible.

She became something great and terrible, a warbish lavelwod, and the skin of her was mottled and the teeth of her were sharp.

“Would you take me down below the sea?” Ink asks. “And crack for me the surface of the world?”

“If I were free?” Sukaynah says.

“Yes.”

“The currents would sweep you away,” Sukaynah says. “Then if you remained with me, we would crash into the crust of the world and hurt our heads very badly; and if I made it through, you would not.”

“That’s one thing,” says Ink, “and this is another.”

“But—” Sukaynah is frustrated. “We would find lava. And possibly some kind of magnetic thingie. Like iron or something.”

Ink laughs.

“You mustn’t be so afraid of the world,” Ink says. And points out, “You’re a gigantic horror, you know. It’s more scared of you than you are of it.”

Sukaynah breathes.

Then something in her snaps. Ink’s enthusiasm reaches her.

“Sure,” she says. “Sure, I’d do that.”

June, Tuesday 1, 2004: Sukaynah – She chased the setting sun, across the world from the east to the west, chased it out into the sea that lies beyond world and sound; and there, on a small bit of rock, she closed her eyes to sleep;

And while she slept the gibbelins chained her down beneath the sea and built a tower on her face.

If this were not enough, they fed her on no food more good than human flesh, great gobbets of it, raw, until she would rather have choked than eat another bite. But eat she did.

And if that were not enough, they went away.

They left her there to starve. And she cried out to the Heavens that she would forgive even the flesh, if someone would just feed her in that way again.

It was a lie.

What has a lavelwod to do with such forgiveness?

The bonds on Sukaynah weaken.

They strain beneath her strength.

Something is different, though the nature of it is not yet clear.

Then one by one, the ropes that bind Sukaynah snap.

Sukaynah tears herself loose and there is a monstrous turbulence and a cry of terrible pain. After all of these years freedom burns like acid admixed with fire.

The tower, weakened by her earlier thrashings, caves in above her.

Sukaynah dives.

She maketh a whirlpool of the chaos.

June, Tuesday 1, 2004: Sukaynah – And the years passed, and Abel Clay came to the tower.

Sukaynah cried out to him.

How could she not?

She cried to him that if he would feed her on sweetness and good things that it would give her the strength she’d need to break her bonds; that she could snap them and be free and rise to eat the tower and the sun; that the gibbelins had made the rope to bind a creature outcast by the world and it would not hold a creature who knew love.

And he loved her.

He loved her, but not the whole of her.

He loved the girl who’d run to love the storms and the great gnashing maw of her and the burning eye of her and the endless warbishness of her. He loved that part of her in that rough-edged way of a man beyond the boundaries of the world;

But what man could love the part of her that yearned to eat the sun?

Ink leaves contrails in the chaos as she descends.

She thinks, as the many long limbs of Sukaynah thrash at the chaos behind her: This would be a really good excuse for being named Ink.

The lavelwod’s a bit like an octopus, after all.

Ink’s streaming behind her as she jets.

She’s leaving contrails of herself—motion lines of imago. She’s warping the chaos as it tries to warp her.

But it’s hard to reduce that to a short phrase she can use in an introduction.

And all around her she can taste the chaos.

It’s not like air. It’s like Sukaynah and Tep and Ink and thousands of years of suffering.

Ahead of them in the chaos are the first wisps of the gathering storm.

With a great loud whump Sukaynah strikes the crustline of the world.

June, Tuesday 1, 2004: Sukaynah – One day she thought, as she lay imprisoned there, that perhaps she should not devour the sun, after all.

That her inherent nature as a creature driven to destroy all human life forever and leave the world horrible and cold was why nobody loved her; or, at least, the part of her nobody in the world could love.

So she promised.

She screwed up her courage and she promised that if someone would feed her on wholesome things and the substance of the world, that she would not rise. That she would stay deep, and bring no more trouble to the world. That she would let the sun to live.

She changed that day.

A person who makes a promise that a warbish lavelwod can’t fulfill can’t be a warbish lavelwod, after all.

Again and again Sukaynah pounds against the world.

It has unleashed a fiend in her, this freedom.

It has made her a creature of mad destruction, great beyond comprehension, and determined to batter her way through the chaos-weakened shell of the world.

And her head rings and her vision blurs and there is blood to glut ten thousand sharks. It floats around her like great clouds. It piles on layers upon layers and great thunderheads and some of them are green and some of them are grey.

There is a high-pitched screaming that seems too pained to be her own and far too loud to be Ink’s.

The world shudders with repeated shocks.

Her vision flares with each bump against the ground and one, maybe two seconds later she will hear the roaring of the world.

A moment of stillness comes. She is surrounded by cacophany and mist and chaos and she thinks, like a pleased child, is this mine?

Did I make this?

Everything changes when she breaks through.

June, Tuesday 1, 2004: Sukaynah – There’s nothing in the rules that says that just because someone isn’t a warbish lavelwod, that you can’t tie them up at the bottom of the sea.

If there were, then there’d be a lot fewer people on the bottom of the sea.

Like, two, or maybe eight. Twelve at the most.

Certainly not as many as there are now.

So Sukaynah’s newest promise doesn’t free her.

In fact, you could even argue that it’s kept her bound; because not too long after that latest of her cries, Martin came to the tower, and Martin’s the kind of boy who could love a lavelwod.

Of course he could.

He’s always loved things like that, great and terrible and awful, like Sukaynah, like he wishes the monster would be.

So he fed her on sweetness and on wholesome things and he loved her and she would have loved him had it not been for the stillness that had grown in her over all these thousands of years.

And one day he tried to free her; and he cast down a gift of all sweet wholesomeness; and had she been a warbish lavelwod then the sugar in it would have set her free.

But there was nothing in his gift to free a girl who rushes laughing into the gathering of storms.

And it stung her horribly, it made her writhe, because it showed her—more than anything else could—that she’d lost herself; that she’d overextended herself; that she’d made too many promises and had forgotten what to be.

And that there wasn’t any gift she could ask for that would really set her free.

Ink drifts in darkness.

She thinks: Another really good excuse for being named Ink.

There is a pressure at her back. Chaos is pushing downwards through the crack, pouring down around her in great streams.

There is a howling wind.

Her arms and legs begin to tingle as she comes to fuller consciousness.

Ink opens her eyes.

She brushes aside her hair.

Beneath the world, as everyone knows, there is a great long emptiness; she hangs above it, tangled in the roots of the world and the limbs of Sukaynah.

And far below her,

just scarcely smaller than the world that hangs above,

there is a great and seething storm.

June, Tuesday 1, 2004: Sukaynah – People always forget that it’s impossible to keep a promise that is unnatural to you.

They twist themselves up.

They try really hard.

But the truth of a person comes out, no matter what strictures you hold it to.

We don’t know the truths of ourselves.

We’d like to, but we don’t.

We only know the edges.

One of the reasons we make promises, I think, is so that we can fill them in.

Ink’s mouth is moving.

She’s saying words that Sukaynah cannot parse because of the cognitive loudness of the beauty of the world.

They are these.

“In retrospect,” Ink says, “Looking for God under the crust of the world was probably a stupid idea.”

Dedicated to Hitherby Admin. Thanks for keeping the site going all this time!

That Moldless Legacy of Hell (IV/IV)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Two]

Leaves scud about on the surface of the chaos. They are yellow, mostly.

There’s an odd amount of sky visible up above, thanks to all the heaving about of the tower.

Tep’s wearing a loose orange sweatshirt, now.

It’s the color of the powdered brick that had clung to him as he fell.

There’s an alchemy of combination to that. He knows. The brick had melded into him, right down to the bone, before his nature rejected it.

Werewolves are good that way.

They never let go of what they are.

They never let go of anything, really.

That’s why for the rest of his life, whenever he likes, he’ll be able to close his eyes and see the great sweep of Sukaynah beneath the chaos and the ancient crusted bonds that had held her down while he challenged her.

Crack the earth.
Stir the sea.
From the west comes an outpouring of virtue to make all things right.

The Island of the Centipede

“Don’t rightly know what to say,” Tep says.

Sukaynah breathes.

She does not answer.

If there is one thing he has learned from sitting irritably above her mouth for more than a century, it’s that Sukaynah doesn’t talk very much.

“How did it happen?” he says.

He’s asking about Ned.

And Sukaynah says, “He fell. He was old, Tep.”

“Oh.”

Tep had sort of forgotten that people got old. Even dogs.

“And the other thing?”

Sukaynah breathes.

“The tying-up thing?” he elaborates.

“I’d promised to make the sun go away,” Sukaynah says. “And I followed it all day, west and west, to the boundaries of the world. And the gibbelins tied me down.”

Tep whines softly.

Sukaynah breathes.

“I would surrender,” she says, “If I could. Because, in all honesty, I would not want to lose the rest of my teeth.”

“Well, that’s good,” says Tep.

He stares down.

But he can’t help grinning. It gets bigger and bigger.

“What?” Ink asks.

“I won,” he says.

The Tower of the Gibbelins
by Abel Clay

August, Tuesday 5, 1890, Today I fetched in a jellyfish that spoke & offered me three wishes, but when I asked for the death of God it offered me regrets & suggested that easier wishes would involve gold or jewels, which prompted me to great laughter as I am no doubt the richest man in all the West & I threw it back without acceptance of its offer.

January, Thursday 1, 1891. It is the new year. I have settled myself quite comfortably now and do not think I shall have the opportunity to dethrone the Tyrant; for my indisposition in its peaks and swells is worse on each occasion, and I have not cracked but the thousandth part of the gibbelins’ knowledge herein. Still I find that I am not so hard taken by this as Ned is a faithful companion & I have even grown somewhat fond of Tep & Sukaynah. How can a man find himself so comfortable with savage beasts when the Lord, that fount of goodness, proves a Tyrant? I wonder if we have been In the Wrong and goodness is topsy-turvy from the start.

January, Sunday 12, 1891. I saw him in the distance, moving on the sea, and cast my spear; but I have missed the Tyrant and so he shall remain upon his throne.

I am not certain of the date but I felt that I should close out this volume in some better fashion & not so much speak of my inefficacy as of the great and generous favors that Providence and my adversary have granted me & to acknowledge that in all the cruelty that harangues the world there is still grounds for hope for I shall not regret knowing Emma or Lily or Charles or Tep or Sukaynah & if you find this please take care to feed Ned & Tep & Sukaynah as I do not believe that they can fend well on their own;
Abel Clay.

There are a few minutes of silence, punctuated principally by the sound of turning pages. Ink is reading the journal of Abel Clay.

Then she closes it.

She taps her nose, looking very intent.

Then she takes off her backpack—pink and very flat and a bit too small for her—and puts the journal in it. In exchange, she removes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It is wrapped in plastic and looks about as ancient as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich can look without actually being green.

She tosses this to Tep.

He catches it. He looks at it more or less as anyone would.

“Sheesh,” says Ink. “You people don’t know how good you have it.”

“Oh,” says Tep.

“It’s food! You chew it and swallow it and then it’s in your stomach fueling the divine fire of your life.”

Tep looks at the sandwich sidelong.

“That is the theory,” Tep agrees.

“Hey,” Ink says.

And now she’s looking solemn.

“If you’ve won,” she says, “you can go, right?”

Tep whines again. It’s soft and under his breath and not so much an answer as a vocalization before his words; and he shortly adds, “She is tied down.”

“You’d sit here for a hundred years waiting for a dead dog to come back and fight you,” says Ink, “and now you’ll stay until someone unties a giant sun-killing horror with limbs as big as jet airliners?”

“Yes,” says Tep.

“Outside,” says Ink, “there are a billion souls to love as you’ve loved those here; and sunsets like rocketfire; and candy with chocolate inside and letters on the front, if you can hold that thought in your head without going insane from the sheer head-pounding magical majesty of it—

“‘Cause, seriously, I mean, just think about that for a moment—

“and balloons that fly up to the ceiling and get stuck there until they die; and ten hundred zillion books; and bees made out of ice and bees made out of rocks and bees that have sex with flowers. And when you breathe there’s air and it comes into your lungs and they push out and then suck in like this,” she says, demonstrating. “And sometimes people light little sticks on fire and breathe part of it into their lungs and then spit out smoke just like they were tumorous dragons.”

“There’s air here, too.”

“Huh,” says Ink. She breathes again: it makes the sound ho-ha, ho-ha, but smaller than Sukaynah’s. “So there is.”

She grins to Tep.

“But I’m taking her,” Ink says. “You can fight me over it, and she’ll stay tied up here forever, or you can say good-bye, and go, and find other people to love out in the endless immensity of the world.”

Sukaynah has been shifting softly in her bonds, pulling against them, a tiny motion that Ink did not feel and Tep did not see until it stopped.

It is still now, below Gibbelins’ Tower.

Softly, Sukaynah says, “Go.”

It is like the lifting of a shackle. It is the ending of a hundred years.

Smiling wildly, and leaning out across the chaos to touch Sukaynah’s face, Tep makes his goodbye; and then, his whole body one great moment of transition, he goes up the wall and away.

What is the imago?
Why does Sukaynah even care that fig newtons are fruit and cake?
Why, in just a few short minutes, will a quarter of Gibbelins’ Tower fall into a jumbled ruin?

Check back on Tuesday for the exciting conclusion to Chapter Two of The Island of the Centipede:
Ink Indestructible (I/I)

“What are you?” Sukaynah asks.

Ink’s hand comes down to touch the surface of the chaos.

“I’m a destroyer.”

Tep vs. Sukaynah (III/IV)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Two]

In stillness Sukaynah strains.

Ropes have bound her for thousands of years. They have become crusted with the varicolored substance of the chaos. They have grown stronger as she’s struggled. Her head rests among great stones. Her body presses in against the crust of the world. Around her head like an orthopedic pillow there is the artificial island whence the tower grows, one great hollow pillar of it fixed against her face, so that she breathes channeled air and not the chaos. From above one might not guess her presence there.

She has long since grown inured to the agony of her tangled limbs and the unpleasantness of things.

But right now she is gagging, and nausea is a unique unpleasantness.

The substance of her throat fizzes. The house caught in it trembles and rises. She is throwing up Ink, and Tep, and the house of Abel Clay.

Sukaynah’s neck has a crick. That is an agony. The swollen ropes around her left wrist and seventh limb have ground away the blood. That hurts her too. And there are promises she cannot keep and thirsts and hungers that she cannot satisfy and the harrowing monotony of time.

But it’s the little things that get past the crust of her disregard.

Like the nausea, or Tep.

Crack the earth.
Stir the sea.
From the west comes an outpouring of virtue to make all things right.

The Island of the Centipede

“It’s going to be tough for you to win,” Ink observes.

Tep wrinkles his nose at Ink.

Then he casts back his head.

He shouts, “Show your belly!

And he leaps from the porch to a protuberance in Sukaynah’s throat. And from there to the back side of Sukaynah’s teeth; and growling, as her maw gapes wide, he wraps himself around a tooth and begins shredding the enamel with his fingernails.

Ink frowns. She asks: “Isn’t that a bit eager?”

And Sukaynah says: hic.

The house of Abel Clay shoots through Sukaynah’s maw. It crashes into the wall of Gibbelins’ tower. It bows in on contact and explodes into flinders. With a whump Ink hits the wall, opens her mouth wide, and then falls onto a great long branch.

Sukaynah snaps her teeth shut.

Tep crunches until he is very thin. Then, as Sukaynah opens her maw again, he fills out, gasping for breath.

“Guh,” Tep says.

He shakes himself, hunches his back, and jumps upwards to land and claw against Sukaynah’s tender gums.

Sukaynah’s face has pulled free, just a bit, from the masonry of the tower. Chaos bubbles up around her.

With a wrench, Tep tears free Sukaynah’s tooth. It is substantially bigger than he is.

Sukaynah shakes her head.

Tep flies sideways, clutching the tooth in his arms and legs.

Tep slams into the wall.

Brick explodes under him and turns into fine powder. The shock of Tep’s impact ripples through the wall. He makes a little pained yip and his eyes water and his bones all snap.

Slowly, his body pulls back together.

He looks to Ink. He holds up the crumbling tooth. His face has a wild grin, as if to say: did you see? did you see?

Then he unsticks from the wall and lurches forward and falls into the chaos.

The Tower of the Gibbelins
by Abel Clay

May, Thursday 18, 1890, surrounded by such a peculiarity of knowledge and Things I have decided to settle rather than test the brace on my leg against the enormity of the journey home & until such time as I have a better conception of in which direction lays my adversary; thus I have begun with the help of Ned to construct a home within this tower and learn the ways of fishing these great seas & spending my nights in review of the various written materials and records herein. I am forced to revise my opinion of the gibbelins; they are not savages but rather profoundly civilized creatures possessed of greater erudition than the Universities of the East. If they are lacking in any wise it is solely their respect for the other peoples of the Earth, to whom they conceive no more greatness than the foulest savages, to which effect I would chide them had they survived the long years since this tower’s establishment.

May, Wednesday 24, 1890, Tep has followed me to the tower. At first I judged this an occasion for great sorrow & attempted futilely to drive him off with gunfire but Ned fought him with such ferocity that Tep retreated and, after some time, offered muffled apology for his rude behavior & to make amends so I have set him to work helping me with my home & yet I do not trust him for he will mutter so darkly as he works.

July, Wednesday 30, 1890, Ned and Tep fought again this day. Tep is furious that he cannot make progress against the dog & also at me but as I have allowed him to haul in the nets he has soothed a portion of his anger & glutted himself until his stomach rounded on a vicious toothed fish perhaps 10 meters long. Salting the leavings and eating well I judged myself well served as I might well have lost the nets if I had hauled them in my Self.

August, Monday 4, 1890, my condition worsens due to fever spreading from my leg which I had thought was becoming well. Tep & Ned both solicitous, but Ned does not allow Tep into the house which I think very funny. Thus Tep sits on the branches & fumes & occasionally wrestles Ned in a fury of barking and growling which leaves them both bloody but scarcely harmed.

Swaying, Ink stands.

She looks down.

She stands in the baleful gaze of Sukaynah, above that creature’s burning eye; and Sukaynah says, softly, “In truth, after all this time, I would like to see him win.”

Ink stares for a moment, and then she beams.

She jumps down. She sits, cross-legged, next to Sukaynah’s eye.

“I thought you were a talking thing,” she says. “But who?”

Sukaynah breathes: ho-ha, ho-ha.

It blows Ink’s black hair about.

“Someone who has made too many promises,” Sukaynah says.

Tep’s hand rises from the chaos.

It hooks into the wall.

“He’s coming back,” Ink says. “Be ready.”

Tep pulls himself up, hand over hand. He is burned and altered, but his body sheds the wounds of chaos as he heals. Only his clothing is left changed.

But he does not attack.

In a sad and oddly goofy voice, he says, “I did not know you were tied up, Sukaynah.”

Ink Indigestible (II/IV)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Two]

“We make of this world,” says the girl, “a great and marvelous immensity filled with pureness and lightness and darkness and things that we do not understand.”

Her voice is reverent.

“It burns the skin of us like ice or fire,” she says. “It resounds in our ears like thunder. And we worship it, naturally we worship it, we look outwards and we give it homage, because it is so very wonderful things are.”

Tep is ignoring her.

He is sulking.

He is saying, “I can’t believe I have to fight Sukaynah.”

“Wow,” says the girl.

“Hm?”

“I can’t believe that either! Also: where are we?”

Crack the earth.
Stir the sea.
From the west comes an outpouring of virtue to make all things right.

The Island of the Centipede

Normally being swallowed by a giant horror occasions great terror, uncertainty, and pain. However inside the throat of Sukaynah phosphorescent fungi manifest both light and slickness, producing an experience somewhat between that of a waterslide and Disney’s Haunted Mansion.

The house of Abel Clay rockets down her gullet and casts forth a great spray when it corners.

“We’re— that is,” says Tep. “There’s a giant, um, Sukaynah— the gibbelins—“

“Hm?”

Sometimes the simplest things are the hardest to explain.

“We’re on the porch of a house in the throat of a horror under a tower in the middle of the sea,” Tep says.

Ink’s eyes light up.

“Really?”

“Yes.”

Maliciously, Tep adds, “And you’re probably going to be digested, since you’re not a werewolf.”

Ink Catherly dips a finger in the fungus.

She tastes it.

“This is so much better than Hell,” says Ink Catherly, grinning ear-to-ear.

“What?”

“Did you know,” says Ink, “that when you’re in Hell, you can taste things, but it doesn’t matter that you can?”

“What does it taste like?”

“Terrible,” says Ink.

Then she cups her hands to the sides of her mouth. She shouts, “Sukaynah!”

There is no immediate response.

“Sukaynah! I’m covered in intangible bugs!”

The house slows in its course.

The Tower of the Gibbelins
by Abel Clay

February, Tuesday 11, 1890, having abandoned all other concerns & let Emma’s garden grow over with dark vines I set forth to California & regions beyond. With the establishment of the rail I made this journey with fewer hardships than my grandfather & arrived without incident & with the graces of that Tyrant from whom I intended to claim satisfaction. For some weeks I traveled the coastal regions, discovering no chaos but locating several homes ravaged by disease & burying the residents therein & acquiring for the first time the loyalty of my dog Ned, formerly the associate of a family unfortunately passed. (See picture.) Naturally this close acquaintance with the dead chilled me with unease but a Responsible man tends to the damage done before the revenge for it & so strongly burned my purpose that fear could not turn me from these favorable actions that I have described.

May, Friday 5, 1890, I made my first encounter with the boy whom I now know as Tep, a child whose bestial personality has manifest certain physiognomic and physiological peculiarities. To wit, when not occupied in pleasant pursuits he acquires increasingly the stigma of the wolf & behaves in outrageous fashion. Remarkably in his hunt he sheds gunfire in the same fashion that a motivated man may shake off fisticuffs and, having earned his rage thus firing upon him, I ran for some days and became quite lost, wherefore I cannot accurately mark the location of the bridge to the tower of the gibbelins upon my map, but suggest to any who may come here by sea that its approximate location is here, see X.

May, Sunday 7, 1890, I am here and safe and seeking assiduously to discover the location of the Tyrant. At first I considered this tower with its fearful abattoirs a plausible location for His eminence but have had to rethink this after finding certain scripts that indicate this as the home of “gibbelins,” which if I am not mistaken are a tribe of the savages whose presence the Spanish first reported; yet if the Spanish had been here I would be much surprised as great treasuries of jewels reside untouched within the gibbelins’ vaults. Have found a volume, “To Serve Man,” apparently a cookbook & perused the recipes with great interest but the cooks have made some manner of jest and I am unable to penetrate it. Regrettably I am unable to return to civilization as a misstep in a cellar of bones has injured my leg substantially and I reckon at least two days’ travel beyond the bridge through hard ground before I find a settlement.

May, Tuesday 9, 1890, beneath this tower I discover Sukaynah’s terrible maw. (See illustration.) This creature whose great mouth opens as one of the tower’s foundations is no doubt the very beast of Hell herself but as I am seeking vengeance on the Tyrant who made things as they are & not the beast that corrupts them I have elected to leave her be & grant her such favors as she prefers that do not entail her devouring my soul or rising free of her confinement.

Continuing the history of the imago (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

The girl’s name is Ink Catherly, but everyone calls her the imago. It’s because she’s covered in intangible bugs, she’ll tell you, and maybe that’s the truth.

Either way, she’s just announced it to the person who’s swallowed her.

“That’s mean,” says Tep, with fascination.

And Sukaynah is gagging.

You’re the one who’s going to fight her,” says Ink.

The channel in which they rest is rocking back and forth; it grows apparent that for all the things Sukaynah is willing and able to swallow, she cannot casually gulp down someone covered in intangible bugs.

“She ate Ned, so she’s alpha,” says Tep. “I have to fight her.”

Ink shrugs.

Then she grins, and says, “Oh, hey! Fig newton.”

She reaches out into the throat of Sukaynah.

She plucks it forth.

“Oh, don’t,” says Tep.

“Hm?”

“It is one thing to fight her,” says Tep, “and buggy words are just buggy words; but fig newtons are fruit and cake.”

His expression is peculiarly solemn.

“Please put it back?” he says.

Ink smiles to him.

“Then in homage to that great immensity,” she says, “that surrounds us.”

And gently and with reverence she tosses the cookie; and Sukaynah tosses hers.

Ink In Re Dyslexic Agnostics (I/IV)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Two]

There is a house improbably poised above the mouth of Sukaynah.

Sukaynah gnashes and chomps.

Above the mouth, which is five times as wide as the house is long, there are the rock walls that arise from Sukaynah. From the walls project branches, as from a tree. On some of these branches there sits the house.

Cross-legged in front of the house, sitting on a tree, and looking very sulky indeed, there is the werewolf Tep.

He is wearing jeans and a shirt.

He is young, because he is always young, because he regenerates when hurt.

A fig newton on a fishing hook hits him on the head.

He tears it from the hook.

“You’re not Ned,” he says.

Savagely, he eats the cookie. Well, the cookie-like object. It’s more than just a cookie; fig newtons are fruit and cake.

Not long after, the entire region begins to thrash.

A fifteen-year-old girl falls on Tep.

She knocks him down. Savagely, his head swells. Savagely, his eyes roll back.

“Pardon,” says the girl. She sits up, on his stomach. She is wrapped in a fine membrane, like a mummy’s cloths, which she efficiently begins to shred. Underneath she wears overalls and a blouse. She looks around. Then she stands up. She looks down at Tep.

“Are you God?” she asks.

“Gr,” he says, by way of being a werewolf instead.

Crack the earth.
Stir the sea.
From the west comes an outpouring of virtue to make all things right.

The Island of the Centipede

The girl gets to her feet.

“My name’s Ink,” she says. “But everyone calls me the imago. It’s ’cause I’m covered in intangible bugs.”

Tep sniffs the air.

He can’t smell any bugs, but since they’re intangible, he can’t dispute their presence either.

Ink scrubs shreds of membrane out of her hair.

“Go away,” Tep says.

“Why?”

“You’re not Ned,” Tep says.

“Who’s Ned?”

“A dog.”

“Oh.”

“He’s coming back,” says Tep. “Then we’ll fight. I’ll tear his throat out!”

“That’s mean!” says Ink.

Tep shrugs.

Ink walks towards the house.

“That’s Abel’s house,” says Tep. “You can’t go in.”

“Oh,” Ink says.

Ink scurries to the window. She looks in with hands cupped between the glass and her eyes.

“But he’s got a journal,” she says. “And bones!”

“He’s a little sick,” admits Tep.

“He’s choking.”

“What?”

Tep stands next to Ink. Ink points in. “See, his skull’s totally fallen off his spinal column. A man can’t breathe, like that.”

“He’s fine,” says Tep.

Tep looks sullen.

“A body don’t need to breathe,” he says, after the fashion that a perpetually regenerating werewolf might. “Or have flesh.”

“Fair point,” Ink agrees. “Anyway, it’s all right if I go in. I’m the imago.”

“No,” says Tep.

He positions himself sternly before the door.

Very reasonably, Ink says, “I have to find whomever’s on the throne of the world and kill him. How can I do that if I’m not allowed to go where I please?”

“It’s rude,” says Tep.

“It’s rude?”

“Going in just because Ned’s not here,” Tep says. “That’s like finding somebody’s feet laying around and stealing their shoes.”

Ink pops the window glass out of its frame with her elbow and, as it falls to the floor, squirms in.

“Damn it!” says Tep.

Completely unable to figure out what to do, he goes in after her.

The Tower of the Gibbelins
by Abel Clay

It being unlikely that I shall ever return myself to world and sound, owing to my indisposition and the difficulty of the trail, & wishing as I do to leave some record of this extraordinary journey to those who will follow me, herewith I assemble my various notes and hold forth the history of how I came to this unlikely occupation.

March, Wednesday 16, 1887 I made the acquaintance of Bernard, a well-met gentleman who spoke exuberantly of the chaos extending westwards from California & wherewith fashion one might apprehend it & his most peculiar claim that in its navigation a man might prevent the recurring abuses practiced upon the innocents of the world. I fear that I laughed at his words and took him a fool but I am Certain now that he shall be more well known even than Mr. Tackitt and held to greater regard in history than Mr. Cleveland and his gang of thieves.

October, Friday 5, 1888 my Emma took ill & rapidly wasted & soon followed Lily, Charles & my good neighbor Hezekiah, whereupon I first recognized the tyrannous Nature of that Lord that heretofore I had esteemed. Ruined with grief I decried Him in chapel but He offered no response & echoed hollowly from the ceilings whereupon I found myself desolate.

“I’m sorry,” says Tep.

He’s looking around at the walls. He’s very apologetic and flapping his hands. Then he looks at the bones of Mr. Clay.

“Grr,” he growls low.

Then, mercurially, he switches back to apologetic. “I’m sorry. She fell in.”

He touches Mr. Clay on the shoulder, causing the bones to fall apart.

“It’s all right,” says Ink.

She’s reading Abel’s journal.

“I think he wanted to kill God too,” she says. “But maybe it was a different God.”

“Only one God,” says Tep.

Ink chews on the end of Mr. Clay’s pen. “You say that, but you’re not the one who has to cope with the consequences of linguistic imprecision.”

“Out!” says Tep.

He hurries her out. She doesn’t protest because she’s busy reading.

“Nobody disturbs Mr. Clay until Ned gets back,” Tep says, “no matter what falls.”

Sukaynah writhes.

From the west comes a sound: Whump!

The house, Tep, and Ink slide slowly and majestically into Sukaynah’s maw.

Tep folds his arms.

Tep looks stoic.

“I didn’t do it!” Ink protests.

Sukaynah swallows. Down the throat they go; and

“Oh, hey,” says Ink, pointing.

“Oh,” says Tep.

“Is that Ned?”

“. . . think so,” says Tep. “His skull, anyways.”

There’s a pause.

“Dyslexic agnostics are so lucky,” says Ink.

Max Sets Forth to Kill God (1 of 4)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter Two]

The hardest part of that whole night is the show.

One quarter of Gibbelins’ Tower is a jumbled ruin. Claire’s scalp won’t stop bleeding even though she’s used a Sesame Street bandaid. Broderick is coughing and coughing because he’s allergic to disaster.

Nobody’s seen Sid, Mr. Schiff, or Rahu.

Martin says that the imago’s fallen—that when the tower started shaking, she just canted over and fell into a giant hole in the floor.

Max’s room is a wreck and his nerves are a jangle.

And amidst all this they must put on a performance of Hamlet 2: The Arrows of Fate, to be broadcast from the tower to a hypothetical audience outside the boundaries of the world.

“Why?” says Max.

Martin looks at him blankly.

“Dude,” Martin says, “haven’t you ever watched that play and said, ‘How can anyone possibly make a sequel?'”

Martin’s got a crushed pinky, which makes him substantially better off than Max in the current wounds department.

“The machinery’s barely even working!” protests Max.

Martin twists his hands into various positions, thinking. “You’re worried about Sid,” he says.

“Yes.”

Martin’s hair is all over masonry dust.

“Then try not being all freaky about hypothetical vivisections,” Martin says. “Sometimes you’ve got to torture somebody to death. Just look at Hell, or Guantanamo, or that old riddle about whether you’d rather torture one guy to death or let everyone in the world die. It happens.”

Max stares at Martin.

Martin looks back at him.

“It’s an inevitable byproduct of adequate force,” Martin explains.

So Max goes backstage and he helps Iphigenia unclog the pipes.

Crack the earth.
Stir the sea.
From the west comes an outpouring of virtue to make all things right.

The Island of the Centipede

They dig Mr. Schiff out of the rubble a few hours after the play. He makes protesting noises because they have woken him up.

Before they find Sid or Rahu or the imago, Martin finds Max. Max is dragging a large tumbled stone out of the way of a blocked-off room.

Martin pulls himself up on a chunk of rubble. He sits there, watching Max for a minute.

“Do you trust me?” Martin says.

“No.”

“Here’s the thing,” Martin says. “I kind of accidentally wiggled a tectonic plate by giving the wrong person a fig newton.”

Max stops pulling.

He rubs sweat off his forehead.

“I don’t believe you,” says Max.

“Eh?”

Max shrugs.

Martin thinks.

“To the west,” Martin says, “the shock’s opened up a hole in the crust of the world and there’s a fountain of good rising from it.”

“Okay.”

“I need someone to deal with it,” Martin says.

“You’d think that we could leave it be.”

“It’s difficult to improve things once they get too good,” Martin says. “An actual singularity of virtue would render fixing the world impossible.”

“Also, unnecessary.”

“Why—?” Martin says.

Then he stops himself and thinks.

“Your logic is ancillary to an inherently limited perspective,” Martin dismisses.

“So to the west there is a goodblow,” Max says, “Like God breaking forth into the world to save us all from suffering. And you want me to go stop it.”

“Yes,” Martin says. “With extreme prejudice.”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“It’s ridiculous,” says Max. “It’s fighting against what we want the most.”

“I can’t make you,” Martin admits.

Max goes back to work.

“You won’t find Sid,” Martin says.

Max stops.

“He is restless,” says Martin. “And despair is forbidden to him. He throws himself against the walls of his cage and sometimes they overcome him. He is absent from these moments in which it is too much to bear. He is scuttled from the world.”

“Oh,” says Max.

Martin drops down to his feet and strolls towards away.

“Wait,” says Max.

“Hm?”

“If I do it,” says Max, “you make Sid an is.”

“You ridiculous dolt,” says Martin.

He walks away.

Continuing from the history of Sid and Max (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 )

It is June 2, 2004.

Max wakes up and he already knows what he has to do.

He goes down to the catamaran dock.

He looks off to the dark and brooding west.

And Jane is waiting on the grass to see him off. And she is looking at him with her brow furrowed in thought, and she says, “You’re here.”

Max nods.

“Is that okay?” he says.

Little girls tend to like emanations of absolute virtue, so you can see why he asked.

Jane laughs. “Noooo,” she says. “I don’t mean here, at the dock. I mean, here.”

She looks at him.

“You had bad things in your closet. Then Sid chased them away. Then you were King of the playground. Then you played basketball.”

She is being careful with these words. She is slow and deliberate, even with the easy words and simple things.

“Then you were brave and saved Mr. McGruder. Then you loved Sid. Then you saw another siggort and talked Sid into helping Ronald Reagan become President. Then you fought a King. Then you ran away. Then you read a book and afterwards you went to the place without recourse. Then you called Sid there. Then you got out but he didn’t. Then you came here to help him put on plays. Then you shot him and now you want to sail west.”

“Yes,” says Max.

He grins a little. “And what does that mean to you?” he asks.

“The world’s bright and spits up super beauty everywhere,” says Jane.

“Oh.”

“And so there are things that Max. That go Max. Like you. That is what it means.”

Max grins tiredly. It’s pretty shocking to himself, that he has what it takes to grin. But he does.

“Thanks,” he says.

Jane holds out a box. It’s like a cribbage box, but bigger, with a slide-open top.

“Here,” she says.

“What is it?” Max asks.

Jane begins giggling. Max watches in perplexity.

Finally, she stammers out, “Severance pay.”

There are more giggles.

“Ah,” he says.

He takes the box. He frowns at her. But he can’t keep frowning.

She’s smiling at him so brightly that he hugs her.

Then he sails to the west.

Sid vs. Max (1 of 1)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter One]

The sky is golden. The sea has this red glow now. Sid’s face is in the shadow of the tower and the wind is blowing.

Max can feel it in his teeth.

He can taste his own blood and, possibly, either Rahu’s or Sid’s.

The tower shifts and shakes as he staggers back.

Whump!

Off to the distant west there’s a sound: Whump!

And strictly speaking Max should feel concerned that the tower is moving but right now there is only one thing in the world, which is Sid. Sid, standing there with the feather in his hair and the blood on his shirt and the wind tugging at his hair and clothing and the knives spinning to his left.

Max braces himself against the wall and he lunges forward to rip out Sid’s heart.

For a stupid, stupid plan, it’s remarkably effective. His fingers actually sink into Sid’s chest, bowing in the siggort’s ribs by half an inch before they stop. Sid takes half a step backwards, raises his arm, and tries to club Max across the face.

Max grabs Sid’s sleeve from beneath with his right hand. He shifts his left arm over Sid’s. He twists, putting pressure on Sid’s elbow, and as Sid stiffens, and because Max can see Sid’s face, he pushes forwards with his palm to strike at Sid’s already damaged jaw.

He hears the humming whine of the wheel of knives against his ear.

He falls sideways, trying to protect his face. The knives cut deep along his arm.

Whump!

The world shifts under his feet.

Sid is frozen, looking at him, trying to figure out whether to press the attack while Max is on the ground, cut.

So Max pulls himself back up to his feet.

He watches the wheel spin until the knives seem to slow and he can almost see the handles whirling past.

“C’mon,” he says.

And Sid’s face twists, and he hops forward, and his hand stretches at Max’s face like a claw.

Max reaches inside the wheel with his left hand. A knifehandle strikes his wrist and his arm jerks and there is agony; but the wheel stops its spinning. His plan is this: to punch Sid through its open center.

But protruding from Sid’s palm, stretching forth in tentative motion like an insect feeler, there is a spike of siggort. It is glistening and deadly, metallic in color, a tool of vivisection and terror.

So Max doesn’t punch.

He draws his gun and he shoots and he shoots and he shoots because he does not want to die.

They stagger apart.

They sit down.

Sid coughs up old, dry blood. It comes out of his mouth as powder.

Max’s world dims and shakes and his ears ring.

Then Sukaynah heaves and tears herself loose from the foundation of the tower and a good quarter of Gibbelins’ Tower caves in.

Sid is like a liquid. He flows to his feet. Then he coughs. He can’t stop the coughing.

And, weirdly, he can’t stop thinking of how he doesn’t have to be alone.

He’d figured that out once.

That he didn’t have to be.

He was in darkness and solitude and it hit him that he didn’t have to be alone, that he could be with somebody called Max—

It doesn’t matter, Sid thinks.

He starts heading towards where people might be hurt; where people might be in danger; where Martin is working and the tower is crumbling.

He slips on Max’s blood.

His world wobbles. For just a second, he lets go

Continuing from the history of Sid and Max (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 )

Sid wakes up.

He smiles eastwards towards the dawn.

It’s wonderful, sometimes, to be Sid. The birds are singing. The sun is bright. His body is fresh and practically unhurt and his hair’s just the way he’s always wanted it to be.

He takes a deep breath of pure clean air and says, “How beautiful.”

It is June 2, 2004.

It is one of those days—those gorgeous days.

Sid’s sprawled on the grass next to the tower and slowly the desperation comes back to fill him.

There are some horrors that cannot be run from. There are some things that cannot be fought.

Where Sid is, there is Ii Ma.

The Extinguishment of Karma (IV/IV)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter One]

The sea stretches out forever. On its surface the wind chases itself about. Great bulky clouds pile in the sky. To the west the sun burns yellow. Rahu shivers in Sid’s arms, stinking of blood and sweat.

Sid walks into the tower.

He casts about. He finds a room with a light on. He opens its door. In a room of shining wooden floorboards and creaky old chairs Mr. Schiff pushes back his chair and stands.

“What have you there?” says Mr. Schiff.

“Rahu,” says Sid.

“Set him down,” says Mr. Schiff.

The reflections of the ceiling light skitter away as Sid lays Rahu down upon the floor.

Mr. Schiff walks over. He squats beside Rahu. He studies him.

“It is rare,” says the geology teacher, “to see an evil planet skewered by a siggort spike, much less in pristine condition.”

He peels back one of Rahu’s eyelids, causing Rahu’s head to shift and roll a few inches upon the floor.

“He’s a planet?” Sid asks.

“Rahu is the mystery planet that occludes the sun and moon on the occasion of an eclipse,” says Mr. Schiff. “A thing-that-is-known explaining a certain body of evidence.”

He takes a clipping from one of Rahu’s nails and holds it up to the light.

“Naturally obsolete in the Newtonian model,” clarifies Mr. Schiff.

“He might be dying,” says Sid.

“Not this one,” says Mr. Schiff.

Rahu breathes harshly, eyes rolled back, mouth drooling against the floor.

“No?” Sid asks.

“He’s one of the demons who stole into the house of the sun and drank the elixir of immortality.” He looks up at Sid. “You don’t know that story?”

Sid stares at Mr. Schiff blankly.

Sid’s jaw is turning puffy where Rahu broke it.

Mr. Schiff pats Rahu down, then straightens his body and head out so that Rahu is laying more comfortably on the floor. “I’ll get a cot and a blanket for him,” Mr. Schiff says.

“How can anything be immortal?” Sid asks.

“Well, it can’t, I suppose,” says Mr. Schiff. “Everything arises from karma, and everything dies with the extinguishment of the karma that caused it to exist. But he’s tasted the amrit so he can’t really die to anything less.”

He pauses. He smiles fondly at the fingernail.

“And here I am with a sample of him.”

Continuing the history of Sid and Max (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11)

Mr. Schiff walks to the door and out, his feet ticking against the floor.

Sid watches Rahu.

The hands of the clock high on the wall turn.

After about fifteen minutes Mr. Schiff returns with a cot and some blankets. He starts to lift Rahu. Sid helps. Together they place Rahu on the cot and cover Rahu’s body with the blanket.

“How can anything be immortal?”

It’s like nothing’s changed in Sid’s head since he asked that question the first time.

Mr. Schiff looks up at him.

Suddenly Mr. Schiff is grinning wider than a geology teacher should grin, and there are shadows shifting everywhere in the room.

“When he drank the amrit, he achieved enlightenment,” says Mr. Schiff. “He became rival to the Buddha. He understood everything that is, was, and will be. But he was not free. He was chained by his karma. He said, ‘Before I claim my rightful place as lord of all things I must answer the suffering of Prajapati and atone for this theft of treasure from the sun.’

“The thundering of years did not dissuade him from this course.

“The severing of demons from the world could not dissuade him.

“He has hunted the sun and devoured it through the days of the Third Kingdom and the Fourth and not anyone who’s tried has ever stopped him in his course.

“He will not stop until such suffering as Prajapati’s is no longer possible, which even the Buddha did not achieve. He will not stop until he has expiated the crime of stealing elixir from the sun, which he cannot do, as that act will forever stain the world. He is immortal because he is not finished with these basic tasks that no creature can attempt.

“That is how Rahu is immortal.”

“Oh,” says Sid.

“But don’t be afraid,” says Mr. Schiff. “It is the nature of all karma to resolve itself given sufficient time in which to work. If it is not this year, then it may be next year; if it is not, then certainly before the passage of another three hundred trillion years.”

Sid shakes himself.

“Will you watch him?” Sid says.

“Why did you bring him here?” Mr. Schiff asks.

“I didn’t know what to do with him,” Sid says. “And I figured Martin would. But you’ll do just as well.”

It is June 1, 2004.

Sid returns to the balcony. He sits on the battlement. He’s quiet.

“Aren’t you a sight,” says Max.

Sid shrugs.

Sid looks about.

“Iphigenia?”

“She’s with Jane,” says Max.

“Did she see the spike?”

“I told her not to watch the fight. I said, you’d win, but not by any way that’s good for children to see. And then you did.”

Sid sighs.

“You okay?” says Max.

“No,” says Sid.

“No?”

“We go ’round and ’round,” says Sid, “and nothing ever changes.”

“Yeah,” acknowledges Max.

“You don’t have to be here,” Sid says.

His voice is taut. His throat is sore. It hurts to talk.

But Max ignores him.

“Didn’t ask you if I did,” Max says.

“You don’t even like it here.”

Max sighs.

“Just— let it go, Sid.”

It’s getting darker now. It’s moving on towards evening. Shadows swell across the sky.

“You weren’t worth it,” says Sid.

Max’s lips tighten.

“Don’t you get it? I waited, I waited, and you’re just some damn stupid— just—“

“Just?”

And suddenly Sid is empty and the air is cold and he says, limply, “I wasted my dreams on you.”

Max looks up.

He grins tiredly. It’s pretty shocking to himself, that he has what it takes to grin. But he does.

“You wanna go?” he says.

It’s not an invitation to leave.

It’s an invitation to fight.

And for a long moment it seems as if Sid doesn’t know what he’s talking about. And then for a long moment like Sid will hold back.

Then the siggort is off the battlement and his wheel of knives is spinning and his fist comes forward and it strikes Max’s head, thok.

The Looming Cloud (III/IV)

[The Island of the Centipede – Chapter One]

There’s red in the sunlight and gold in the sky. The damp leaves that pile up beside the bridge are a muddy brown. There’s a cold wind blowing by Sid. His black hair is wet from a shower and a lock of it clumps against his forehead.

He stands on an island of grass and trees and behind him there is Gibbelins’ Tower.

All around him there is the chaos.

The aspect of the chaos today is like water and trout scales. The chaos surges like a sea. It crests and foams. It is low, with the tower and the island and bridge above it. The surface of each wave is covered in tiny scales. Its color is pale and silver and red and brown.

Sometimes the surface will divide and part of it will jump forth like a fish, then fade back into the water when it touches the surface once again.

And Iphigenia watches from a high tower window and looking at Sid’s back she cannot see that he is afraid.

But from the front you can see it.

His face is torn with fear, and it is not the fear of a man confronting a tiger but the fear of a man putting down a dog; that is to say, the fear of a terrible and necessary loss.

He is holding himself there by grit, a substance he has little of, as Rahu walks across the bridge.

Continuing the history of Iphigenia (1, 2, 3).
See also this discussion of the nature of demons.

The air smells of dead things.

It’s hot.

It’s June 1, 2004, and Rahu is coming to the tower.

He is wearing a white shirt. He’s wearing a vest and pants of red fur. He’s got a ponytail and a collar. The ponytail’s tied to an iron screw ring screwed into his spine at the base of his neck.

If it weren’t for the ponytail and the collar his head would fall off.

Rahu sniffs as he walks. His nostrils are wide and black.

He’s smelling out the sun. He doesn’t even look up to see Sid until he’s almost there.

“The sun must be tasty,” Sid says.

Rahu’s irises are the color of almonds. His eyebrows are the color of teak. His skin is warm.

“Because,” says Sid. “So many people want to eat it. You; Sukaynah; the wolves—”

“No,” says Rahu.

Sid’s eyes, in contrast, are dark.

“The sun is intolerably bland,” says Rahu. “It burns going down. It is not a pleasure meal. It is an expiation. For me, and for her.”

“She doesn’t want to expiate,” Sid says.

Rahu’s shoulders roll like a boat on the sea. “Who does?”

Then he is punching Sid.

His fist hits Sid’s stomach.

A grey and brown feeling spreads through Sid. The skin over his stomach cracks and bleeds. But Rahu does not have time to do more damage. The wheel of knives comes down in front of Sid and Rahu is jumping back and Rahu’s arm is bleeding fresh red blood.

Sid feels a wrenching, sickening pain in his stomach.

He causes the pain to vanish.

Sid feels a distant physical panic and something is making his vision all wobbly.

He causes the restoration of his equilibrium.

Before he has quite begun to double over, he straightens his back, and he looks at Rahu.

“Don’t make me shed this body,” he says.

Like a frisbee the wheel of knives arcs out towards Rahu. The demon does not leap back again. Instead he rushes in, towards Sid, on the inside of the path of the wheel’s motion.

His hand breaks Sid’s jaw.

The knives are tracking Rahu. They turn back towards Sid. Rahu has time for a second punch, sending Sid up into the air; then Rahu hears the knives at his back and perforce must, with a knee-twisting effort, throw himself flat.

Sid lands.

Red pain spreads through Sid. He causes it to vanish.

The knives hover above him.

Slowly, Sid pulls himself to his feet. Rahu is already up. Rahu is grinning like a puppy.

“You are interesting,” he says. “You’re not like a god at all.”

Continuing the history of Sid and Max (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10)

Sid realigns his neck.

He frowns.

“Iphigenia said you’re a demon,” Sid says.

“Yes.”

Rahu nods. This is a mistake. His head falls off, showing gruesome neck-innards. This forces him to replace his head and readjust his collar.

“Yes,” he repeats, after recovering his composure. “I am a demon of Prajapati.”

“Can you help me accept something?”

“If you like,” says Rahu.

Sid is breathing heavily, though he doesn’t notice. His lungs are a little out of order.

“There is a man,” says Sid. “Named Max. And he said, ‘Sid, you’re so unworthy of the world. I’d go to Hell myself if I could just be sure of dragging you with me.'”

Rahu’s eyes are bright.

“Is that so?” he says.

“How do you forgive that?” Sid asks.

“I had a stepbrother like that,” Rahu says.

“Did you?”

“I did.”

“Did you forgive him?”

“Eventually,” says Rahu. “Because you see, he was just a man. He had tonsils and hair and an appendix and big ears and blood that ran in his veins. He considered himself very lofty and had an important dharma but he was just an ordinary man and ordinary men do things like that.”

“Ah,” says Sid.

“The world teems with them,” Rahu says.

“Does it?”

“Billions of them now,” says Rahu. “Awkward and fleshy and stupid and meaningless men.”

Here is a funny thing.

As Rahu talks to Sid, he is sweating.

His body is hot and there is tension in him.

It’s like it’s harder to talk to Sid than it is to fight him.

And “They’re just people,” Rahu says. “They hurt people. It’s what they do.”

The power of those words peaks in Sid and breaks and everything is clear and Sid sighs release.

It is strangely peaceful, that moment.

“I’d wanted him to be better than that,” Sid says.

But he’s just a man.

“So badly. So much. I’d wanted him to be better than that.”

Rahu watches Sid.

But he’s just a man.

And Sid’s eyes close and he is smiling at Rahu with genuine gratitude and then he hears a noise and opens his eyes and widens his eyes because Rahu is charging.

How could I ever have expected anything else?

Sid is still smiling.

He unlimbers a single spike of siggort from the body he’s built of mud and clay and feathers and blood. It sweeps upwards through Rahu. It hooks under Rahu’s ribcage and holds the demon suspended off the ground.

“I don’t want to kill you,” Sid says. “But you can’t have Iphigenia.”

Rahu utters a short, sharp cry and his eyes roll back and his arms and legs dangle limply, like a sleeping cat’s.

After a moment, he shudders twice and his head falls off.

Sid blinks like a man coming out of a trance. He pulls back into himself and Rahu falls.

“. . . are you okay?”

Rahu is still breathing.

The power of the demon is receding. The peace in Sid is fading.

A wild rage is rising in him; a terrible anger and betrayal; a sense of loathsomeness and the helpless awe of love.

Emotions surge through Sid.

He causes them to vanish.

Then he picks the demon up and, for lack of anywhere else to take him, carries him towards the tower.