Words From a Severed Head

Shall Harmony reign, yet in his wake

Lie severed heads whose fortunes bore

Craven lies and notes of strife

But also those whose scales returned to balance with their vengeful roar

For each great circle ‘scribed thereof in single voice the headless spake:

***

There was once a man who wished to hide from the truth.  He gathered his flock and said unto them: “See how we cower in servitude before death and shadow.  Do you not wish to escape this tyranny?”  They did, the flock replied, but they could see no path, no way by which they might escape.  So the man gathered the clouds from the sky and wrapped them about his people, that when the agents of death came to find them, they encountered only mist and lies.  The man then swept his flock and his clouds both to a peak rising high above the land, and from there, they ascended to the heavens.

***

There was once a man who realized the world was a lie.  He saw what the Man of the Clouds had wrought.  He saw that what was real had been split in twain.  Others beheld the city in the clouds and declared it fantasy, an escape from reality.  But this man questioned: Was the world they had escaped any more real?  Was it so in any way that mattered?  He thought to the lies the world had told him, that when men and women ceased to be they ascended to Heaven or rested beneath the earth, in the domain of the Dead Queen they had left behind, but he had ascended and, in so doing, made true that great lie.  But though he could have rested in his Heaven, he could not avert his gaze from the tiny fracture now etched in halcyon Truth.  Through it he beheld a churning darkness, a Deep of ill portent which he knew would one day come crashing through.  Yet he did not recoil.  He did not wail in terror or seek to forget what he had seen, for in that Deep he saw salvation, a beautiful and terrible reunion of reality’s glassy shards.  So he smiled upon it and mad his preparations, for to perform his miracle of one only thing, to link once again the Heavens to the Deep, he knew he must descend and evoke his argument below the anesthetic comfort of the clouds.

***

There was once a man who sought to complete the circle.  He knew well from the river beneath his feet.  For it to flow, the reservoirs in the lands above must be emptied, struck, their discordant greed resolved.  He knew that memory, like water, lacked persistence.  With time its form would denature.  It would evaporate, would become mists and clouds and false shapes therein, once again to fall upon the stagnant reservoir.  He knew that were he to maintain the circle, ensure that the lake of discord always emptied in Harmony, his memory could not falter.  The circle could not fall victim to time.  He could not fall victim to time, so he separated himself from it, became a terrible grudge which remembered in cinder instead of dewdrops, that discord the world over might be met by righteous Vengeance and inevitable Harmony.

***

From these three came two and two

And circles stretched from sea to sky

To the Gyre did Seven headlong run

Then all the world

That’s why, that’s why

Old Times and Old Gods

A story by Leland. Not unlike this, but less saccharine and more anthrocentric.

When the ancient gods roamed the world we humans were harvested. 

Every bear with teeth and fur and claws could rip us apart and eat our soft meaty insides. The creatures of the wild were so big back then. Monstrous. All with terrible magics far greater than our soft skin. 

But the thing that truly hunted us was the Wendigo. It roamed in the forests at night, riding the winds, riding the cold. It cultivated us as a crop. The weakest were culled every season by that creature that sang in the dark. We humans fought within ourselves to avoid weakness, undermining our neighbors to save our children from the horrible screams. We humans developed emotions and manipulations to survive this thousand year torture. 

Then came the Bird, the Turtle, the Fox and humans received protection. A sweet gift of safety beneath the mountains of fur and feather they offered. Sitting atop the shell of the island Turtle we humans were not hunted for flesh, but these gods still had hunger. 

The gargantuan animals with their beautiful magics hungered for something else that the humans had: sweetness and sadness. Our strange emotions that ruled our universe and had been developed by seeing our neighbors and children die while wishing for their survival. These emotions became the sweet desserts that the old gods ate. 

Rituals upon rituals upon rituals were made for the old gods. Their massive eyes would watch them with an odd, thirsty calm as they drank our emotions in. Humans in groups learned different god’s preferences and built their society around satisfying a terrifying yet loving benefactor. 

The beautiful red Fox loved weddings and desire. It would curl around a group of young humans that were bonding themselves to each other. The fox required that this group never touch fully before they made their promise in its ear. Then that night they would lie in the mountains of soft, deep, velvety fur and make love for the first time on the old gods back. The fox would rumble and purr underneath the human moans. 

The Turtle was obsessed with mourning and the death of those long dead. It required it’s humans who lived on its island-like shell to record the names and loving acts of each person in each lineage from the very beginning of time. Parents would recite stories to their children about their grandparents and great grandparents and their great grandparents before them. Deep, powerful, emotional stories of pain, and they would all cry at the end, banging on the ground, the Turtle’s shell, as hard as they could. Every week the humans would light a fire for each loved one who had ever died and try to keep the fire going, heating the tortoise, while they sobbed. 

The Lark was fascinated by change in the bodies and in the minds of the humans. Parenting and adulthood were curious for the bird, for old gods never raised their children. The bird demanded clothes on its humans, feathers that covered the humans up and made them see shame in each other. Different colors for different ages, different colors for different genders, different colors for those who made mistakes. The change between colors was a massive affair, humans would get naked under the eyes of the bird and wait for a day and a night in the cold and the rain while the bird hunted down the fluff and trinkets that would cover them again. The bird required children to leave their parents upon the age of thirteen. Too young to feel safe, but old enough to survive their silent pain. The bird would stare into their eyes and then pick them up flying them to another nest of humans hours and hours away. 

The Wendigo never left. It’s horrible whistling and ice cold breath still rang through the woods at night. It never crossed the ancient gods, never stole from their herd. But it knew the sadness of being one of the enslaved. It offered freedom for humanity a chance to not need do anything but live in its forest. Some humans chose freedom and had their guts turned into ice. Some humans chose freedom and ate their children with the distended mouth of the Wendigo. Some humans chose freedom and moaned in the night, crying and sobbing and chewing the ice cold of their own hands and feet. 

In that way, humanity never lost its emotions and the gods never grew tired of us.

Prologue: The Merchant

The true prologue to the Crossroads story I begin writing a long time ago and then took offline. The plot and characters of that novella are much more fleshed out now, though it remains to be seen how much of it will end up on here.

Thago is burning.  The river is burning.  The Floating God is burning.  It began with unrest, an uprising among the slaves of the lower barges, made perilous by an attack by the servants of the Two-Eared Crown.  Coincidence, surely.  So the magisters and princes must have thought.  Coincidence, perhaps, they would take to their grave.  But the Merchant knows this was not coincidence.  It was fire, built and kindled and sparked by singed, practiced hands, spread by design and the carelessness of those who saw coincidence in such things.  And now Thago is burning.

With this certainty, the Merchant finds himself in the plaza before the palace which was once a temple.  The northern and eastern launches have been blockaded; the bridge to the trade barges is ablaze, and the flames now lick the palace’s western walls.  The southern dock below swarms with the enemy, and above, the Riversworn guard their trapped princes, awaiting reinforcement that will not arrive in time, hopefully and foolishly unaware that their only path out is through the force massing beneath them.  The Merchant draws his sword and locks his shield to his arm.  His task is impossible but clear: He must somehow give them enough time.

Five race up the steps now.  They are scouts meant to reconnoiter, but they charge anyway, seeing only the Merchant in their path.  Their spears stall upon his shield, and he dispatches them quickly.  One tumbles down the steps, two die to his blade, two are pushed from the plaza to the churned water fifty feet below.  One will drown, the Merchant knows.  The other will be rescued by his countrymen.  But there is little time to dwell on either fate, for a much larger host of soldiers has begun its determined ascent.

Many fall before him–seven more are hurled into the water, fifteen bleed out there on the plaza, nine thrown down the steps collide with eleven climbing, and two more collapse, skulls fractured by the spur of the Merchant’s shield–but the number on the plaza with him continues to grow.  He is driven back to the palace entryway, certainty resolving that his vain gift is reaching its limits.  Then the soldiers fall back.  They open a wide circle as a silhouette crests the stairway behind them.

The Merchant recognizes this one, recognizes the tattered regalia, the scar over his broken nose, the long knife set ablaze by magical gifts twirling in his hand.  This is Brother’s general, the one called Ignigoet, Pyrotechnic of the Left Hand.  It is betrayal then.  The Merchant suppresses a roar and hurls himself at the smirking man.

Their engagement is swift and brutal.  Ignigoet parries the first thrust, catching the Merchant’s shield with his offhand.  They separate.  Ignigoet throws a barrage of knives into the Merchant’s shield.  Then the flames upon them detonate, and the Merchant is scorched and sprawling, and time has run out.

He dimly notices the knife cut his throat as he stares up at the plumes of smoke in the night sky.  The general kneels over him, but the smirk is gone.  His face is impassive, and the burning eyes therein do not belong to Selenus Ignigoet.  The Merchant realizes too late that this is no betrayal at all.

And then he is gone.

Top Image: From Stories, by Rae Johnson

Purchase a Little Piece of Suffering Today!

Coming from here

This is so much later than “this week”, but testing shipping took a hot minute. While work is ongoing on literally everything, we’ve set up a shop! Offerings are limited right now, though we’re working to set up more soon. But still, if you’d like to buy a print and support our work, we’d be very grateful.

Humanity’s Eyes, Part 4

Continued from here. This will be the final part–I will post a unified version (like I did for the LaSein Account) soon.

I lived in the wet

For a long time

This odd striving place

Where things kept growing

I learned the humans were burning down the last bits of the forest

Hacking off the trunks and limbs of the trees

Killing the furry people who hid behind them

They were very harsh these humans

It was no matter to me

I did not depend upon the trees

I buried myself in the sand and the dirt

The drying of the forest felt good on my thick and chitinous skin

I could smell the humans, the fuzzy creatures, or my marked

From far away. I remained out of sight

Anytime I wanted I could kill a human or two

When they were particularly lingering or loud

The humans cut down the entire the forest some years in

All of the creatures that lived in the trees were dead

My marked humans began to leave

Walking up the mountain, where their scent eventually disappeared

They left me

In this moist and dirty place

And I started to reflect

Upon my life

The old man

And the little girl with the emerald eye

Maybe I had wanted too much from her

From all of them

Though, I don’t know if I had ever wanted anything 

Survival maybe

Gifts maybe

To be seen, to be near

I saw in myself for the first time a sort of softness

Beneath my now granite-like hide

I understood I really did like loving them

My former little group of marked humans

The girl

And love was what it was.

I started to take care of little creatures I found

Letting them live in my hide

Providing them little goodies, food bits, bugs I found

I enjoyed these little creatures scurrying all over my body

Then the mountain came crumpling inward

Like a strange earthquake

A horrifying sight

Dust billowing everywhere

Moaning and twisting of rock

The tops of the peaks came below the clouds

And beneath the clouds they shined like gold

I smelled smells I had never smelled before, along with metal and fresh growing plants.

There was much blood then

Those next days

I smelled much blood

And the tang, the sour taste of magic being cast

Me and my little creatures waited

Burrowing in the sands

Eating, avoiding

Living as we did.

Then I smelled my marked

The ones that had left me so long ago

Sand Lips. But not Sand Lips. A child maybe that had grown

And the unknown scent of something.  Several things, living, but mysterious.

The humans now crowded the top of the mountain

And my marked were walking down

down into the desert

Deep into the heat, the land of no water, 

the land of the dry, the beautifully dry

I walked towards them

These marked and the mysterious others

Me and my creatures were going back to the land of the hot

My true home

And I gave these new creatures little gifts

Just as the girl had done for me

I watched over them.

Not a part of them, but near them

A demon

A crag

A landmass

Sharing its home

Humanity’s Eyes, Part 3

Continued from here.

As the sun grew hotter the days grew longer

The earth became drier

Fewer and fewer plants grew up in the damned wastes that were my home

My odd little collection 

Of marked up little humans

Was suffering

Their people, the older ones, but not too old

Would go further and further into the wastes

Hoping to find and bring back a large cactus

Or find a small pool of water

Or a beast whose blood they could drink

Some of them got hurt when one of those beasts found them instead

The next days I noticed they were packing

Gathering together their little makeshift homes of canvas and bone

Loading them on sleds

They were leaving me

This land of sand and sun

Leaving this waterless pit

As they left, they left behind a final bowl for me

A final farewell of types I supposed

My shovel-like fingers took up the offering and it crunched in my teeth

I felt alone

For the first time in a long time

I wished for their odd presence near me

I missed the giggling screams of their children

Missed the strange noises they made at night

Missed their footprints in the sand

So I followed them

Their stench was lingering long in the desert

Clear tracks.

I didn’t wish them to notice me following them

I don’t know why I cared

But I wished to remain a secret

My long legs and massive arms easily moved through the desert 

I followed them many nights

Just past the point of sight, a day away, no more no less.

The ground became thicker

Moister

Dirt

The bugs were different and disgustingly plentiful

Every little nook and cranny of earth seemed to have a bug inside

It seemed grotesque

My little pack of marked humans came 

To a partially burned forest

With a mountain in the middle that stretched into a thick layer of clouds

And a massive human settlement

that stank like a decaying corpse

Full of humans

Normal humans

The kind covered in crunchy metal and hateful looks

I stayed away from this human settlement

And found the first pool of water I had ever seen since I was a child

A small puddle and I saw my face

Spikes were ripping out of my carapace in hellish angles

My deep seated eyes were even darker yellow than I recalled

My snout was sharply pointed and looked almost like a beak

I was so caught by the look on my face

The look of my face

The look of me

I did not notice the human until they screamed

I turned towards them

They were a quarter my height

An eighth my width

Built like a tree where I was a mountain

They threw a spear at me

Like I was a dog to be killed

They pulled out a small sword and screamed in rage

Their spear hit my outer carapace

Jammed inside

Stuck like a twig

They ran at me with their sword

I lifted my thick shovel like hands

Their sword bit into my wide and hardened fingers

Their sword got stuck in me

They looked down in shock

Up in fear

My hands crumpled around them

Squishing this human’s meat

Pressing their limbs into their body

Picking them up 

I held them in the air, immobile, helpless

Thinking of squishing the blood from their meat

But I instead I held them in front of my flat yellow eyes

They asked me what I was

I said I was the crag

They spoke strange

Bouncy and fluid

But a sound I oddly did not fully hate anymore

They asked me if I would kill them

I looked at their pulpy limbs

Soft squishy face, tears at the brim of their eyes

I said no

If

I looked at the human 

Told him the name Sand Lips

Confusion covered their face

But also recognition

I told them to ensure Sand Lips was safe

Along with the little ones Sand Lips kept

I told them to ensure these marked were safe

Or I would smell their scent 

And I would kill them as prey in the night.

I breathed deep into this human, learned his smell

I stared into their eyes and asked if they accepted the terms of my agreement

He said yes. The fear in his eyes was fresh, moist, and sweet.

I dropped him 

He ran.  

I smiled. 

I had no more hate for humans.  

They were small and afraid.

As they should be.

Part 4 here.

Humanity’s Eyes, Part 2

Continued from here. As before, by Leland.

The next many years were long and harsh

They were also lonely, but I had no idea what that meant at the time

In the beginning I was like a piece of sand.

I blew from place to place

I felt nothing on my insides.

I ate

I drank

I killed

I moved

Life was a never ending cycle of survival

Though my body continued to morph and change

My chitinous ledges grew larger

My fingers grew thicker and harder

I could tear out huge piles of dusty earth

And suck out the soft crunchy creatures that burrowed beneath

I was a moving land mass.

Not a monster

A thing

An object

My hate roiled inside of me

But without eyes watching me

Reinforcing that hate

It began to bake into my bones

But the eyes

The eyes of my mother

Of the only girl to give me a gift

And the smell of that lock of her hair

Was still fresh every time I remembered

I would cringe in those times.

As the years wore on that pain stayed true.

I avoided the smell of humanity

That would drift in with the dusty blasts of air sometimes

I preferred my thick and rigid solitude

As I roamed one day I smelled blood 

Fresh blood

Active blood

Human blood.

I sat on my haunches. Staring into the far setting sun.

I decided to pay back the one act of kindness I had received

And walked towards the blood.

The sun had almost set by the time I descended upon the moving human

One of the grit, the marked, the human rejects I had been raised with, was sliding in the sand.

Legs inert and twitching behind them

Blood staining the sand as they moved.

They had a fierce and hard look in their eyes, dust embedded in their teeth.

They first felt my shadow land upon them

They looked at me

A moving mountain

With my fetid yellow eyes

They showed fear on their face.  Or maybe acceptance.  Maybe denial

Something firm and unrelenting.

I spoke the language of the desert to them.

The words sounded odd and strange in my mouth

They were shocked I could speak

And relieved. 

They said their name was Sand Lips

And they needed to send a message

That the Mukori were coming

To kill the Kamai

Their exhaustion took them

And they fell into the sand.

I looked at the grit. The marked and scarred human. Helpless.  Desperate. Clinging to life over some words they claimed needed to be heard

Heard by someone human.

I stared at this breathing corpse for a while

Thinking of this message

The Mukori, the Kamai, Sand Lips

Names felt strange in the desert

I was a demon, a mountain, a pair of yellow eyes

Sand Lips.

Sand Lips.

I hated names.

I hated these monikers of humanity

I hated them in my ears

In my throat 

Along my tongue

I pounded the desert

Threw a massive boulder, 

Flung a mountain of sand

Trying to throw it out of me

But it was stuck. 

These names 

These filthy human names.

The desert could not take them from me.

For the desert was no home for humans.

Only those filthy human camps could take these names

I screamed

A sound so loud the sky quaked

And the moon cried

I lifted the filthy human over my back

Limp and helpless

A sack of barely breathing meat and pus

I moved my body weight forward

Let my legs press against the earth under me

I loped

Towards the humans

The sickening smell of the humans

I saw their little fires in the distance

The ground under me flew

The cool wind whipped into my eyes

The earth stretched and narrowed and the fires grew larger

I came to the fires, the humans all around, all marked, all cut, all children of the grit.

I crashed into their makeshift home

This little gathering of scarred humans

Humans that were so small

Looking up in terror

Shear terror

I was still a demon 

And they had no idea what I was here to collect

I put down the limp sack of meat from my shoulder

And I spoke those pus-riddled human words

The Mukori, the Kamai, Sand Lips

Told them they would die.

An old human came out

Thanked me

Whatever that meant

Said they knew not who I was

Said they had not seen one of my kind for a long time

My kind

My… kind

Tears began to leak from me

The elder lifted a bowl up to me

Some sticky nectar of the cactus fruit

I ate the bowl.

This was the second human to ever give me a gift

I left

Went back to the dark

To the desert

The sand and the rocks

The moon and the sun

The bugs and the earth

But I continued to smell these humans

And I did not go far.

More humans came

Clanking humans

Loud humans

Humans laden with the pungent, sour smell of relics

I killed these humans, before they could see me, before their eyes could look at me in disgust

Like a pack of bugs they crunched in my teeth

I Split them in half

Popped them like flies

I left them dead there.

They were too loud.

Entitled, angry, and hellishly human. 

Their trinkets smelled sweet

And I ate them 

They powdered in my teeth

Leaving my mouth sour and salivating for days

I decided this part of the desert was mine

And these cut and marked humans

The ones with the sand lips

Could stay in my piece of the desert

And stay they did

Leaving little bowls of cactus nectar out for me

I felt a touch soft towards them

Like a favored rock or time of the day

I would not choose their death

And they grew older and smaller

And I grew larger and larger

Part 3 here.

Humanity’s Eyes

A poem by Leland for Rale.

When I was born I was betrayed

My mother tried to kill me

For I was born wrong

Sickness marked me all over

I was a cur a curse a wanton filth

She thought a kindness was death

She threw me to the desert

But the desert men found me

Took me and raised me

As a second hand slave I was raised

A child of rejection and poverty and begging for scraps

I ran between the stalls of the desert men, not unhuman enough to kill, not human enough to love

We roamed through the desert

I stayed mostly with the children of the grit

Marred and scarred and blackened and raw they would not hit me

As I got older, the sickness that flaked my skin grew harder and tougher

Stranger by far, long thorns grew from me, and my eyes became a fetid yellow

I began to be called the demon.  The demon they whispered, no longer in contempt, but also in fear.

As my muscles grew thick and crusted like a humanoid crab, my eyes began to wander

I hated the world as the world had hated me

But there was one little girl who treated me with kindness

The daughter of the leader of the desert men

The daughter of their sultan

She was a kind girl with a horrible scar on her face from an injury from when she was a baby

She had one eye that was emerald green

She placed bowls of water out at night

I knew they were meant for me

Her emerald eye reminded me of the eyes of my mother

I felt that my mother had killed herself and she had been reborn, 

Now she was here to take care of me like she never had before

I got older and older and I never stopped growing

The other boys stopped growing, but five years later, they stood at my shoulder

Then they stood at my chest

Then they stood at half my height

The fear in the desert men’s eyes grew

Their deep religious belief in the martyr was being pushed

They began to talk about the “Demon among them”

I watched the little girl grow up.

She was beautiful

And kind.

Long brown hair and that emerald eye

My mother’s eye

She started to leave food behind with the water, and flowers, and then a lock of her hair.

I kissed it and nuzzled it and tried to breathe it inside of me

And I would watch her from the corners of my eyes.

As I roamed through the tent filled trading stalls, resting on my knuckles, clawing into the dirt with my back feet.

She came one night

And touched my face

Not afraid.  Not like the others.

She held my face that night

And she cried 

Her one eye pouring sweet and salty tears onto my mountainous, grotesque frame.

The people came the next night.

Her father came the next night

The torches came the next night

They told me to leave.

They pointed towards the desert

The said go anywhere but here.

My humanity had run up in their eyes

They owed me nothing

The savior owed me nothing.

I crawled into the desert

The aching moon at my back

The harsh sun on my face.

I walked through the desert, lumbering like a barge as the heat cracked my skin like stone

I licked rocks for water

I smelled foul nests of bugs using my strange and sensitive nose

I ate the creatures

While I thought of her

My mother reborn who abandoned me again.

As I walked into the heat of the sands

And the ice cold nights

I realized I was never human.

And I no longer wanted to be.

Part 2 here.

Top image: “Hazeen’s Man of the Clouds”, by Rae Johnson

Green

Through the whirring, root-lined passages of the workshop, a diminutive figure shuffles along.  Where there is open space, she observes the goings on, the maintenance of her domain, with muted interest.  At the periphery, tiny, metal spiders clink and clatter on about their thousand little tasks, sweeping away dust, digging, polishing, sometimes even melting themselves down, embedding themselves in the tunnels as struts and beams, retaining enough function, though, to click and whir and watch.  Her workshop was alive, the figure mused with a smile, so unlike the houses of men.

Where the ceilings were high enough to permit them, her other servants labored in studious silence.  Men–and women, she supposed, though it hardly mattered anymore–made of ticking metal transcribed and translated her library, organized the tables at the center of her workspace, banished her abandoned projects to the corners of the room, and, when so requested, retrieved them.  Their tasks were not difficult, but they were not easily programmable or required more heft than the spiders offered readily.  Either way, the metal men did them gladly–they were grateful for the life she had given them.

Pensively, she scaled a stool, producing a host of spindly appendages from within her black robes which carried her into the seat with the undulating grace of a centipede.  She had been traveling–not physically, of course, but through a proxy–and the effort of the conscious projection invariably wore on her.  Still, she was disinclined to display any affect outwardly, though it was doubtful her servants would have noticed or cared.  She had notes yet to make, and fatigue–even the magical variety–was an enemy to which she refused to succumb.

From a stack on the table, she drew a leaf of thin, papery material and licked her finger, secreting a drop of oily, black ink from the reservoirs in her salivary glands.  Splitting her finger into eight much finer-tipped instruments, she lowered them to the page, where their twitching, seemingly random and erratic in the air, began, precisely and rapidly, to inscribe her thoughts:

On this 1237th year of the Exsanguine Era, it has come to pass that open practice of the Way of the Green has been all but eradicated here in the Riverlands.  The popularity of anti-magical “Harmony” movements in the wake of the Incident has evidently left it little room to grow, and what texts remain of its rites all seem to have disappeared into the Papacy’s vaults, likely to be burned or twisted beyond reasonable recognition.  Thus, it has fallen to me to generate a more trustworthy record of the institution.  This is necessary, I would submit, both for the value of the knowledge in itself as well as for a speculative angle of analysis.  After all, the diaspora of the Greencircle, in more than a single sense, can be held responsible for the Riverlands’ worrying modernity.

To begin, the Way of the Green, distinct from the Greencircle as day to the sun, was a movement, and like any popular movement, it was fragmented in its purpose.  Its intentions and praxis varied wildly among its constituencies, and any anthropocentric account of its history is sure to be flawed for this reason.  This is fitting, of course, as its origin had little to do with humanity.  The Greencircle did not congregate there in the Bloodwood to found a movement, and they were certainly uninterested in teaching a way of life.  Rather, the Greencircle was a reaction, itself, to an external threat.

Some 500 years ago, by my best estimate, the folk hero known popularly as the Hunter of Beasts raised a call to arms among the aspiring heroes and scholars of the Riverlands.  He sought an alliance meant to destroy a monster deep within the Bloodwood, a ravenous, devouring mass he called the Hunger, though it was a subsequent name–the Chimera–that found its way into the local lore of the time.  A great number answered his call, for the Hunter was well-known at the time, and he soon led a host of glory-seekers on an ill-fated quest to slay the beast.  Nearly all of them perished.  Most among the company were inexperienced, blessed by talent or ambition but no art, and vanishingly few had cunning or strength to match the Hunter’s.  So bereft, they made of themselves easy food for the Chimera.  Far more notable than the casualties, though, were those that survived.  The organization they formed thereafter, though it had no formal title, became known as the Greencircle.

Chief among its members were the Wolf–also called the Masked Alpha–a powerful hermit mage and self-styled “protector” of the forest; a pair of scholars, a Botanist and an Arborist whose names were not recorded but who are noteworthy nonetheless for their success in translating the Chimera’s ability to manipulate flora into a teachable magical art; and, of course, the Strange Bird, ostensibly just a talented, one-eyed hedge witch, though her enduring influence–and the macabre nature thereof–raises serious questions as to the innocuousness of her identity.

Now, for a period of some twenty years–an average of the retellings I’ve gathered–this organization–which is to say the Hunter, those four, and their closest followers and aspirants–were an open and public institution, well-known among the villages in and around the outer Bloodwood.  Following their disastrous confluence, they tempered their aim of destroying the Chimera, instead focusing on containment: repelling the beast from woodland villages and–to a reasonable extent–keeping it confined to the wood’s heart, where it posed little threat to the “civilization” outside.  In so doing–for all the Greencircle were learned mages–they uncovered and codified magical knowledge to rival that of the ancient universities, including the bases for what I would now classify as three distinct schools of magic.  The organization was loved and respected as protectors of the people, and soon, the discoveries and philosophies of its members began to spread beyond the Bloodwood and throughout the Riverlands.

The words I have chosen, however, are very particular: The Greencircle had little in the way of a unified worldview, save, perhaps, for the agreement that the Chimera was dangerous.  Regardless, what proceeded to spread among the people, known collectively and indiscriminately as the “Way of the Green” were the ideas of the Greencircle’s individuals.

What this meant, of course, differed by both origin and adherent.  The Wolf, for instance, inspired a tradition of copycats, practitioners of his shapeshifting and cannibalism, albeit with only a fraction of his zeal for the defense of the wood.  Meanwhile, devotees to the Arborist and Botanist practiced their plant magic and maintained a calendar of rituals to honor the flora of the world, within their spheres of experience and without.  Alone among them, the Strange Bird’s followers formed a longer-lived organization, but I will return to that discussion separately.

Despite the spread of the Way of the Green, the Greencircle itself remained focused throughout this process on the danger of the Chimera, and to judiciously interpret various accounts of the Hunter’s temperament at the time, that focus was not bearing fruit.  While the creature voraciously consumed–or, perhaps more accurately, assimilated–all flesh in its path, it seemed to matter little whether that flesh was human or even faunal.  The Greencircle’s work in deterring the Chimera from human settlements had thus been admirable but futile: While the humans remained, the once-small region where the beast dwelled had increased tenfold in size, and with countless new mouths, its rate of expansion had multiplied accordingly.

Nearing a point at which he surmised they would be hopelessly outmassed, the Hunter brought the Greencircle’s considerable magical expertise to bear in an effort that was, while clearly significant, ill-documented and historically unclear.  From the accounts and scraps I have amassed, I am to ascertain that it incorporated a ritual employing numerous mages; that it was successful, insofar as the Chimera is not mentioned in any record thereafter; and that it was quite costly.  Notably, it is clear that neither the Botanist nor the Arborist survived the ordeal.  How many others might have died alongside them is, of course, unclear, but it is well-recorded that the Hunter of Beasts at that point ceased his engagement with the Greencircle, effectively dissolving the organization.

While the Way of the Green flourished for centuries thereafter amidst the Riverlands’ long-harbored thirst for a magical and cultural identity distinct from that of the eastern domains, the more interesting epilogue to this story is with regards to the Strange Bird.  Her followers, known as the Feathermen in the years after the Greencircle dispersed, remained in their secluded corner of the Bloodwood until just a decade before the Incident.  It is difficult to say what purpose they labored toward, but a few points are clear: First, for a time, the feathermen were known among the villages closer to their domain for their “exports”: trinkets, imbued with Mana, able to perform magic with little input or expertise required from their bearer.  It seems doubtful that any of these creations had much use, even at the time, but taken against the veritable–and not altogether benign–economy that thrives for such goods today, one can almost see the Strange Bird’s influence in the here and now, hundreds of years since she was last seen.  My suspicion on this point is only deepened by the list of individuals to whom I can draw affiliation with her club.

Le Marquains of the Southern Reaches, for example, made no secret of his training with the Feathermen, and his arrival in the South to quell the Saraa Sa’een well outside the monster’s known territory certainly merits comment.  Likewise, witness accounts of the individual known as the Hawk, who assumed control of the Feathermen in the last decade of their existence, bear more than passing resemblance to those of the one-eyed man who led Ka’s armies during the Incident.  And, of course, I need rely on no hearsay to recall the tufts of feathers that still clung to the Dragon’s hide the day he arrived in my village.  That all of these men became generals of the Bloodfish seems both deliberate and in poor accordance with their ideals–the Dragon, in particular, had little apparent interest in Ka’s ravings.  I do not doubt, at this point, that this was strategy on the Strange Bird’s part, though now with her pieces–her manipulable Greencircle and Bloodfish–dead and buried, it is not clear for what she aimed or whether some plan of hers might still be unfolding.