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Once upon a time, there is this girl.

There is this woman.

There is

But what can be said? How can she be described, who gave rise to description itself? What words can No words can possibly circumscribe her, who carved their shapes herself out of the area between hand and stone. Born somewhere out of the unison of the darkness between the stars and the darkness behind the eyes, the interference patterns wrought where light of sun and light of soul overlap in that void, already reaching for the horizon, already hungry.

Her eyes are brown hazel orange opal, in its siliceous fires; light splintered through a prism; resin dripping and bubbling from a log in the heat. In her hands is - they will call it subcreation, later, they will say craft and et facta est, struggling to get language around the things that are before understanding, upgrading understanding -

But suffice it to say that she is, that through her hands flows potential and skill, the flake's edge between what may be and what is, natural law unbreaking but yet bending, sinking to one knee (there is no ground, there will be no ground until it is named by one who is thinking stone and cold and grit because in every definition there must be some type, but there is something for it to descend to, lowering its sceptre and whispering I will serve -

…Let's start again.

There is this girl, and she laughs a lot. She is dark-haired and dark-eyed, built only of water and sugar and glycine and yet for all that quite wonderfully - after four billion years of practice, the world has gotten fairly good at creating organisms. She has five fingers per hand and five toes per foot, and her ossicles were once the jawbones of a fish - which is only to say that she is a human like any other human, unique only insofar as everyone is.

Her clan loves her, even if their nascent language is too clumsy to fully say so. For the laughter, and for her cleverness, and for her curiosity - not out of the bell curve, per se, on any of them, but the world is brighter with her around, a little, they think, calling all the wild animals and all the birds of the sky.

When her clan knows, they tell her. When they do not, when she has pointed out that this moss and that moss are slightly different shapes and so they should not have the same nascent proto-marker, they say whatever you say.

(All those other things above are true, as well, though. It is possible to be both dirt and eternity - are not you both yourself?)

So she says, and it is.

The girl is not alone. Because – well, you take something, you put it out into the world, and it grows there, regardless of your intention. She would have been a fool to think that just because she built the words and ideas and voices that she could control them, that they would not interact among themselves and produce new things, emergent things, even more strange and marvelous than her original devising.

And so just as she had grown in the darkness behind the eyes something someone grows in the soft place where the heart doesn’t quite touch the ribs, with a human body and a human mind and a human love. Someone who, as she sits upon the hilltop and watches the stars in their rounds, stands in the shadows and watches her.

Not a lover – that implies something too fleshy, too sticky-clay and water, and besides, the girl already has a betrothed, to fill in her bistable illusion, be the inky ground to her glossy-paper figure; she does not need another. Not a brother, because that too has too much clay in it, too much qualification and too little simple being. Comrade, perhaps? Ally?

(You see? Words: too organic, too malleable, too difficult to control.)

But what good is a relationship only watched out of the shadows? What good is love unshown? Why can he not step out, why can she not rip her mind away from those distant uncountable myriads towards the forest and turn, to find things placed beside her - marrowbone, and the bitter horsehoof, and smooth clear crystals that break into rainbows under her hammerstone. Things she wants, things she needs -

But she does not see the giver, for he is gone every time she looks, presence only marked by footprint and deposit.

Every time, faster. The barest crunch of leaves and she whirls, for eggs of flint set beside her feet. The slightest shift of air, and a pile of black-dried hickory. Twig-crack and rock clink and pith twine, bitter sorrel, clumps of honeycomb golden as sunrise.

(She sucks the sweet taste away, until there is nothing left but the wad of wax, and smiles to the woods.)

And the pathways the world runs upon hold that this would be inexorable: that one day, she is too quick, or he not quick enough, and she looks upon his face.

"Who are you?" she asks.

He smirks, offers her a one-shouldered shrug. "You are the one who names," he answers. "I rather think that is your job."

She matches the smile. "Then I will name you for this. You are no gift-giver, no watcher; no, you speak to all of us the same, do you not? High and humble, wise and foolish." She sobers. "And I want that even more than these.

"Come along, speaker," she says, and takes his hand to drag him towards the clan - the clan now with tools and salt through her. "See what you've done."

He chuckles, and follows. For she did order, and it is.

The gifts do not stop, though. Lumps of ochre and amber, glass and - the only difference is, they come from his hands now, come with his voice and the tales to which she only half-listens, always busy with grindstone or billet while he passes across substrate.

A whole armful of willow-withes, new and straight and perfect to replace her worn net.

Plantain and nettle, and the threads therein.

A full antler, new-shed and white as a winter sky.

A birchbark box, filled with the scent of anise. A faint white wisp curls up from one of the corners, bringing the scent even more strongly to her, and twin lights kindle in her eyes when she opens it and peers inside.

The night has hands too, though. Once humans - her too - were nothing but water and sugar in complicated patterns, afraid more of the dark than what lived in it, and -

(Even thinking this makes it to be, et facta est - They will come for you, she thinks, This I believe is not allowed, they we shall have to stop you, come for you) - so the night has hands, sharp-clawed and long-fingered and ever-fluid that stretch out to him. Wrapping around neck, ankles, arms they drag him back, cast him to the ground, and at his cry she looks up just in time to hear a choked “Go,” his mouth muffled and voice strangled before the next heartbeat -

And the girl takes her gift, and vanishes into the night.

She does not know if it is her mouth or others’ that finally pronounces the sentence. But it is done in her name, in her hunger, and that is enough, her eyes yellow as the hawk’s to watch him pulled away. She has wanted and wanted and wanted, and gained it always - hunger seeks first and only to fill itself and will make what it desires if necessary.

So when she had wanted justice it had been, wrought into the world since the first, since the day the girl first took up her flint and carved the human heart, arteries, veins, and a hardening when necessary, like the chert was against her hand. (She hadn’t managed to delineate the border between it and mercy with any great resolution. That border was a fuzzy thing, cut with dozens of false starts, lines curving off into one direction or the other, fragments dug out, scarred and granulated and lumped.

But the ends remained pure, and she had thought that was the important part, at the time.)

And things put into the world grow there, and justice, and prohibition, are now where before they were not. She has been betrayed unto herself, and on neither side may that offence be absolved.

There is a mountain. No different from the other mountains, placed somewhere between north and south, between east and west. Its peak is cloaked in snow, and its lower slopes draped in meadows and stiff coniferous forest. It is laid empty to the sky, cold and stony and shelterless, which is only to say that it is a mountain like any other, because what is to come is not special.

There, the man is taken, and there is bound. Bronze pins are hammered through his wrists into the stone, and through his ankles, and bronze shackles set around them, and for one day and night he is left alone there with the wind and the cold.







And on the second day, the man screams.








He tried to count the days - many times, always returning to one when he lost count and eventually he had lost count even of how many times he had done that - and now the sun is only sun, and when a shadow appears to blot it out he finally turns his head away.

If anyone looked, they would see where the salt has cut tracks through the blood and grime and rheum crusting his face. But no one looks.

He has not strength left enough to flinch, as the sound of wingbeats on air approaches. Nor cry nor fight nor beg - all that has been used up long ago. There is nothing left but tears, and even those are only instinct at this point, not any hope of mercy.

Something lands beside him with a thump and a rush of air.

He sees the girl crouching there against the sun, all black hair and dark eyes and chestnut pinions still clinging to her arms. The sun diffracts through their vanes, kindles her in pinks and yellows and oranges.

“I changed my mind,” she says, and grins at him. There are shards of his flesh still caught between her teeth, and red beneath her fingernails and slicked down her neck, and there is warmth about her stronger than the sun. I love you, he does not say, more because he does not need to than because his throat has been torn raw with every dawn. She knows, anyway.

The bronze is so corroded it breaks under her hands, crumbles azure into the dirt.

She slides an arm under his back, helps him stand on limbs grown stiff and shaky with disuse, presses a quick waxy kiss to his temple. And stumbling and slow they begin to descend, as the sunrise melts honey-golden over the mountainside, revealing a world green and new.

Flowers spring in the hollows where his shoulder blades lay.

He never thinks of asking why. the span of humanity, she would say flippantly, passing by on her way to whatever the next project would be. (Massive jointed webs stretched out between the planets, upon which pilgrims could walk to pay their homage to the stars. A fractal carven in blue jade drawing the eye down into infinity. Buildings of living trees and trees sculpted of metal and -)

And she wouldn’t be wrong. All of history is a testament to this, to things from the precious to the unloved tearing apart under the tension between justice, wrath, and mercy and clemency. To gaping hunger, and talons and teeth detatching from the digits and jaws that bore them for nothing but the efficiency of the devouring itself.

The span of humanity will cut things open just to watch them bleed.

…but so what? I love you doesn’t mean only when you’re beautiful. Only when you’re kind. It doesn’t mean but not until you wash the blood out of your teeth, because I want you to be perfect, let me make you in my image instead of me in yours -

I love you is actually very little about you, right down at the core.

There is no grand cosmic scale, he would say, if anyone asked. There is no - it is useless to attempt to quantify this, to pile every single agonizing day into one dish and try to fill up the other with all the gentle, quiet things preserved, every meal cooked and mended roof and embrace of child, put all the cold nights on one side and warm days on the other, hoping against hope that it will outweigh, will tip -

You can simply say it was worth it, you know.

He is waiting for her, outside the forge workshop office. Hands her a flower burning yellows and oranges and pinks, and its petals lick over her cheeks and lips when she lifts it to her face to smell.

(The world gives no promise of joy. She had had to cut that too - it is not an inherent thing - make lines for it too, all curved ones, with her reddish flint and pale wood and the black where she left the ends in too long. And it could be wiped away so easily, every last one of those marks, a million things have that power and she could name them all, given time, because she is the one-who-names, so there is no promise, not at all -


The girl laughs.

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