We have always feared the oceans. Almost from the very rising of the waters unto their proper sphere they have been the domain of living things, and it was in them that the first of earthly life did emerge. Yet far from the sacred radiance of our own creation, it was in the choking dark of abyssal crucibles, ungraced by the light of our sister, that these simplest of creatures came to be; and soon they learned to variegate themselves, and to adapt their forms by pure contest for survival. In so doing, they absorbed the shadow of death into their very thesis of life, and wove them together into one; and the oceans were left profaned to us forevermore.
When they crawled up on the shores and debased the land and thought even to defile the sphere of air we saw them therefore as contemptible, and when the species of earthly man took unconscious grasp of his own evolution by simple scale of proliferation and began to preen over his newfound intellect we were even brought to hatred; but the oceans remained the sole subject of our fear.
When we chose to evacuate the sublunar spheres and fully embrace our birthright, it was this fear that was set at our heels. The other material realms were yet within our capacity to cleanse; but to attempt the same upon the oceans would be to scour their every drop, and we found their volume and their depths beyond even our reach. Thus our fear grew; and so powerful, so unreasonable it was, that when we raised our new Capital we laid its foundations on the pitted and scarred far-side of the Moon, so that we would escape even the light that scattered off earthly waters.
So reasoned the counsel of the saboteur, at any rate. Our counsel differed, but was disfavoured by our Lord.
[ ] Such was the nature, we would find, of our poisoned tongue. [ ] We resolved then that our tongue should be poisoned henceforth.
We held and still hold the words of the saboteur to be anathema. However it was not our place to contraindicate the decisions of our Lord, and so we bit down upon our tongue and bowed ourself to his judgment. We entertained our misgivings only privately, and when we made our own travel to the Capital we were almost convinced to forget our doubt; such was the glamer cast by its lights and stone spires. We were bid to enjoy the mildness and the quiet in the air, and the peace of mind engendered by the constancy of our days; but we found we could not be satisfied with the dissonance in our thoughts.
For a time we came even to regard our own tongue as unnecessary; unwanted; a font of disfluencies and wronghoods. Yet we would be troubled by its removing: to introduce such a flaw as bodily incompleteness into our divinity was outside the realm of consideration. Therefore we resolved that our tongue henceforth should be disused; and to this effect we spoke our curse upon the fates, and received their curse in turn, to build nothing by our poisoned words but only to visit calamities through them. We hoped, by our silence, to atone for the resentment which lingered within us.
The irony was lost to us at the time. We realised it only when the true depths of Yagokoro’s venality were revealed to us in the most recent era, and we were made starkly aware of just how far astray we had been led. Our tongue the poisoned one indeed.
Still; though the curse remain with us, we do not number it among our misfortunes. Even for poisoned words may use be found, when taken in the right doses. It was a trivial observation; one we grant lay within even the saboteur’s grasp to make.
[ ] We remember now when first we broke our silence. [ ] We remember again our first, and greatest, regret.
We recognise our epoch as the mark of an era of overturning, and we are aware of a great many heretofore-concealed and whilom-forgotten histories come now to light, and to be revealed yet. We recognise this; and yet must we be so forthwith, in tearing now at our oldest and deepest wound? The matter may hardly bear relevance to the present emergency.
If it hold any insight, we received it during the crisis of the lower divinities induced by our removal to the Moon, and to the Capital.
Our doubt, which then but smouldered within us, found new kindling when we were assembled to the sages’ estate. We were of course discomfited to learn of its location on the cismaterial plane, and upon our arrival we were displeased to see the sublunar spheres, as it were, in our sky; but the greater revelation did not strike us till come night. We came out then to observe the Sea of Sages, and to compose our thought with regard to the proceedings at hand; but upon viewing the water our attention was seized immediately by a singular area on its surface: where was reflected the pelagic blue of the earthly sphere, bright, sharp, and without distortion.
We brimmed over with disgust, and would have remarked openly upon the stillness of the water then, but for that in the same instant we were given personal acquaintance with the saboteur: through her abominable habit of invading our midst beneath our senses, and with bared weapon.
It is our admission that we were more perplexed than, properly, offended, and in truth wondered if the moment’s glinting of a broadhead at our neck were not a wine-dream after all. But the words, all the same, had been cut apart, despite that we might have been strung to different fates with their passing.
We, timeless as we are, do not mourn possibilities unrealised. We do not found regrets upon such infinite abstracta. We want only for that which we have lost.
[ ] —and the pain we suffered by its moult. [ ] —and the guilt we bear for her killing.
Our sorrows weigh upon us as peine forte et dure. We bristle at their reduction to a dull imputation of guilt. Though she were not our equal in station, yet she was our confidante and friend dearly held, and our acts had been for her sake as much as our own.
Yes; she had travelled with us, though not partaking in the plenum, and we recounted to her, as we do now, the events of the night and the source of our animus, when we had removed to our lodgings.
The saboteur had broken the silence, in our lieu, and expressed her dissatisfaction with the ongoing debate. She indulged another of her pernicious habits; that of prognostications unwanted and unsought; and spoke of her calculations, making the assertion that the question of the lower divinities would resolve itself without need of our active involvement. When we challenged her, then, whether she believed the land should pass into the remit of our Lord, or that of his sister, she gazed up at the true earth with eyes unflinching, and replied only that neither would be favoured; but that it would fall abandoned to the dominion of its autochthonous races.
She relieved us of her presence then; but her words fell so offensively on the ear of any right-thinking person that having heard them, we resolved that we would henceforth treat her as a treasonous viper, and dedicate all power we could wield to bleeding her poisons out from the vein of our civilisation.
Of course we could not express this determination to our friend, not by our cursed tongue; but we kept our faith that she would understand what we were unable to speak.
She was, properly, a messenger, and her name had been Nakime.
[ ] We admired her craft, and valued her discretion. [ ] How beautiful we found her perspective of life.
Our time with her had been cruelly short, and in truth when we yet dwelt upon the land, and among the reed beds, we were acquainted only in the ambit of our duties.
But removal to Moon and Capital had pressed greatly upon all of us in our Lord’s court, and the tumult fostered also a relaxation of bearings for a time. We came to know one another in proper warmth then, by stolen minutes and spare hours. In her midst we learned to speak, as far as we dared, freely: we, of things remembered and matters settled in satisfaction; she, of dreams and wishes and brilliant futures. We gloried in them together, and greatest of them all was her desire to soar once more over the reed beds, spiting the impurities of the sublunar spheres in celebrating its myriad notwithstanding beauties.
Thus we remember her reply, so like of her in its every respect. We were full benighted then, bare-footed and swathed together in starlight on the threshold of our lodging, and she raised her head to the earth. We remember the glister in her eyes, and yet the longing, plaintive cast they surely shewed, made all the bitterer by her silence.
When Nakime spoke finally, she said to us: “Will not the wonders of nature be lesser, absent our wings? The flowers, the winds, and the Moon itself?”
Her words brought us to lucidity. We remembered the root of our convictions, deeper than simple enmity of one saboteur. Our position, from the very beginning, had been for the full purification of the sublunar spheres, by whatever time and whatever means should prove necessary. They were ours by rights, and we could not be satisfied till we, and Nakime, could soar their skies brazenly, with neither worry of pollution nor worry of decay.
We dreamed, then, of the impossible.
Were that impossible had not become necessity at this most recent juncture.
[ ] —for this time, we have nothing left to sacrifice. [ ] We know only that we must meet her again at its conclusion.
Utterly and laughably fatalistic. And yet we must believe it true. If one impossible task be surmounted, we should hardly afterwards balk at a second one, though it send us hell-bound and back; and if we fail, we shall be joining her all the same. Magnificently axiomatised.
[ ] And should the impossible, then, be fungible; one task interchangeable with another? A concept worthy of Yagokoro’s frivolous little pet. Wake up. [ ] Do we call this “faith”? Grasping for salvation, with eyes willfully blind? What might we find, if we were to indulge?
To indulge here would be an abdication of our duties most sacred. An abdication of our post; and of our kin, and of our civilisation. We would surrender the Moon’s defence to Yagokoro’s incestuous little prodigies and the remnants of their toy army, and by extension to our invaders. We would leave the Capital, finally, deserted, its streets and edifices truly empty for the first time in its history. We would leave our charges unguarded; sopored; vulnerable. We would do all this, then, to chase an impossible dream, which would suffer us no hope of return.
Amentia, grand and intoxicating.
Yet we have sacrificed before, and dearly, to reach such a station, and we suspect that even this last should not match the sting of the feathered arrow from which we had been spared so many ages ago. And, more to the realis, our efforts thus far have given us surfeit, if nothing else, in time.
We are Amanosagume, the fifth lord Tsukuyomi, and we are exhausted.
. . . Omohikane replied, saying, “The heavenly young prince should be sent, for to subdue and pacify the savage deities of the land, so that they yet may live beneath our will.”
I declared, then, my assent. He would become the example I needed, to show our Lord the intolerable corruption rooted within the land, and the singular necessity of purification.
So our Lord bestowed upon him his bow and feathered arrows, and sent him as our emissary, and myself among his retainers. Simple, then, was my path forward; I had only to wait. But the prince, exceeding even my highest expectations, at once found favour with the lord Daikoku, and married with his daughter; and, moreover, plotting how he might usurp dominion of the land, for eight years sent back no report.
As I had anticipated a messenger was sent; and, alighting on the multitudinously branched cassia at the prince’s gate, she spoke to him according to her mandate. “The reason for which thou wast sent to the land of reed plains was to subdue and pacify the savage deities of this land beneath our will. Why for eight years bringest thou back no report?”
Upon hearing this the prince at once took the heavenly bow bestowed on him by our Lord, and made draw upon her; but I recognised only too late the figure of Nakime in the tree.
I counselled him urgently then, hoping by my cursed tongue to overturn her fate, even as the arrow were loosed. “The sound of this bird’s cry is indeed ominous; and yet, if thou wert to shoot her to earth—!”
Nakime is dead, pierced through the breast by the prince’s arrow. In another moment she will learn of this, and fall leaden from her perch by the natural laws of the lower elements, but for now she remains peacefully unaware. Her face is unreadable, but in her eyes is the light of recognition. She sees us, and knows us for who–what we are. In another moment her expression will attempt to tell us, but we will have closed our eyes, and do not remember.
The prince is dead, pierced through the breast by the self-same arrow he has just loosed, returned unto him by our Lord as the wages of his treason. He has not, strictly, received this wound yet, and will not for some hours; but, strictly, he is dead of it for some millennia. His funeral marks the last recorded appearance of the first lord Tsukuyomi, though the Capital would persist, even to the present, under the belief of his continued reign. We number among the few who have been made privy to the truth.
The princess is dead, her corpus torn and ragged with wounds. She, too, remains ignorant, though she has tungsten–nickel–cobalt for eyes and tungsten–nickel–cobalt for knees and tungsten–nickel–cobalt for a spine. A more elegant solution had not been possible to us under the circumstance.
We alone remain. Our left wing is sodden and heavy with blood of not our own. It is a paradoxical sensation, at once familiar and fremd. We had surely autotomised it in our cleansing ourself ahead of our return to the Capital, and not grown a replacement. Our courtier’s robes, too, had been burned then; and, more to our doubt, we detect no trace of impurity, though earthly soil scrape beneath our feet and the unrested dead pose round us like tasteless statuary.
[ ] We are, then, dreaming. [ ] We are, then, in a dream.
In a dream, yet not dreaming; lucid, yet not waking. The demiurge trapped within its own creation.
A thing easily rectified. We but partially express the symbol of our office, seven hundred spears manifesting beneath our one wing, and shatter the illusory scene.
Our eyes are opened to a vision of hyperuranion, a seeming plane of pure abstracta. Below us a white sigil of the Moon; above us a symbol of the earth, wreathed in roiling noosphere; and all amidst us and forever more the seething foam of probability. From it, not stars but fonts of creation of a different sort are birthed and extinguished without number or end, filling this realm with wisps and pinpricks of the first light empyrean. We see all this, and in the same moment are aware, without the necessary intercession of recognition and recall. Whether it be the effect of our mantling, or the simple nature of this realm, we cannot tell.
Yet we do recognise this place. Imetsuku’s world, to the initiated; or else simply Kaian.
We understand the universe to rest upon probabilistic phenomena in its finest structure, and to exist in a state of constant flux. In such a world we should, then, expect the simplest structures to be the most common, being predicated upon the fewest necessary interactions and therefore arising most readily; and the most complex, inversely, to be the rarest.
The same, too, must apply of observers in the universe. We, having arisen from a complete history of interactions reaching back to the primordial divinities, are least likely to exist, and must therefore be least numerous. In fact every observer with a true history must be vastly outnumbered by the simplest possibility: that of a consciousness without body, which arises spontaneously from the aetheric flux believing itself to possess a memory and to exist in a coherent world, though its every shred of worldly knowledge be wholly invented by the same fluctuation, and which expires some insignificant time later for lack of a means to propagate itself.
Imetsuku’s world is not, then, a world of dreams. It is a world of dreamers.
[ ] And what, then, should we make of bodily entry into this world? [ ] And of those dreamers which do manage to stake their foothold?
An apparent contradiction in terms. Imetsuku’s world is not a separate physical place, but a mode of perception, similar in broad respect to the spell of eternity which binds the true Moon. Yet while our Capital retains in large part the laws and properties of its constituent eigenspace, Imetsuku’s world partakes almost nothing of physical geometry, except that it be conceptually salient to its inhabitants. We perceive, therefore, substance without mass; separation without distance; process without causality: the rigors of quantity and measure least of all hold any sway here.
We recall the conclusions drawn by previous investigations into the potential applications of Imetsuku’s world.
The conventional manner of attunement, by projection through a dream-soul created and discarded in the course of ordinary sleep, renders the subject only very weakly interactive across the realm, similar to the multitude of arbitrary observers generated ex aethere, and proves largely unsatisfactory for any practical purpose.
Direct insertion of the ego, conversely, predicts significant loss of data through the encoding and retrieval process. Necessary compression occurs due to the load incurred by ouroboric propagation of self, and this burden is suffered disproportionately by such august beings as ourselves. Though the eternity of the Moon avail us all time to regenerate, the cumulative result over multiple such losses remains death of identity. The name of Imetsuku’s world is a cautionary one, and the Kaian protocols thus far established have remained in general disuse.
It is conceivable that we have in fact already undergone such compression, and ordinarily we would not then be in a position to know it had happened. However, our continued mantling and control of the eight thousand spears is contraindicative of such a possibility.
“Oh, my,” speaks the baku. “Lord . . . Tsukuyomi?”
We must place theory aside for the moment.
[ ] We would assert our identity. [ ] We would assert our office.
A self-sustaining epiphenomenon of Imetsuku’s world, feeding upon and exerting some dominion over dream-souls. We observe by the coherence of its form and its capacity for speech that some degree of assimilation to or of anthropic substrate has occurred.
The baku draws closer. “Is it truly?”
We recognise the parallels to be drawn with our own autoselenic constituent epiphenomena, the rabbits of the Moon. However, aside their similar origins, this baku remains an unknown quantity to us.
“You’re quite different from what we remember,” remarks the baku.
A provocative claim; and yet one which we are unable to falsify prima facie.
“Or,” it continues, with apparently genuine confusion, “you’ve changed? And quite severely.”
The baku searches our form, circling behind us and back around in its investigation.
“Not so,” it says, from now well within our midst. “Then, a pretender?”
Our voice escapes us: “. . . that’s not it.”
“Oh!” The baku stops in its movements, and renders an almost sheepish smile, floating back a distance. “Our apologies. In what capacity, then, do you claim yourself?”
Though we cover our mouth, yet we nevertheless speak: “A successor.”
“It seems to us,” says the baku, and lazily inverts itself, “a difference without distinction.”
We are loath to engage in the brandishing of weapons as a means of communication. However, the eight thousand spears being the sole remnant of Tsukuyomi’s lordly regalia in our possession, we needs must. We therefore express a single specimen, in the form of the leaf-bladed spear originally surrendered to our predecessor in ending the crisis of the lower divinities.
“Ah.” The baku is unfazed by its appearance. “Certainly, this is the broad spear of the lord Daikoku.”
“Former,” agrees the baku. “Then, thou wast once our Lord.”
[ ] Another extraordinary claim. [ ] Once—and now?
We suppose little harm in countenancing the baku’s claims for the present. But we must question: “Once?”
The baku hums, and drifts itself back upright. “Oh, perhaps not accounting by proper time; though you might have known of us. But,” it takes our hand, and places its other upon our chest, “you partake of Tsukuyomi’s ousia. His lordship subsists within you. In that sense, you’re one and the same. Here, at least.”
“In synchronic terms.”
“Exactly,” says the baku, and releases us, its brush-tipped tail aflutter behind it.
“Then what, precisely,” we ask, “should be taken as meant by ‘once’?”
The baku only shrugs. “That we are different now. A subject no longer.” It fixes us with ultramarine gaze. “Much like yourself, our lady heron with the cursed tongue.”
A fine trick. “We make no attempt to conceal our identity.”
“And we make no such accusation, believe us!” The baku raises its hands, feigning surprise, before settling back into its usual self-satisfaction. “Only that we assert our own office.”
It pauses then, expectantly. We oblige it the prompt. “That of?”
“Ruler of this world of dreams,” says the baku, “and dreamers.”
“And so we're led back to our point.” The baku raises a finger. “You, of a curiosity, are neither.”
“And,” we ask, bristling, “what of it?”
“Ever prickly grows the moonflower,” mutters the baku. It summarily rests itself upon a conjured pillow, lacing its fingers beneath its chin. “Really—nothing of it, but the fact itself. What hath brought thee here, sage Tsukuyomi? Only tell us. Or,” it winks, “should we rather ask this of the lady Sagume instead?”
“And expect, then, an answer?”
“Of course!” The baku smirks, and spins a dream-soul in its hand. “This is a world of all possibilities. Any matter you care to mention—fulfilled, denied, reversed, overturned—all of it is already fated, in one dream or another. What would your words change?”
Even as it speaks, the dream-soul fades into—
[ ] In a realm of infinite false worlds, might we truly chance to speak, and freely? [ ] Though the fates be deaf to us here, nevertheless it were better that we speak not.
A sorely tempting offer, were it to be trusted. But that which has been staked till now has altogether become far too great to entrust to such turbulent vagaries; and we should hardly risk to fall upon our own spear, as it were, for the simple sate of curiosity, and specially that of a self-proclaimed ruler of springtime dreams and kingdoms-in-anthills . . .
Insufficient. Or, rather, acutely disingenuous. The baku does not lie, and that which restrains us cannot be a thing as simple as doubt.
Why, then, do we hesitate?
. . . regardless of our mode of reasoning, our reply must rest at the extent of, “No.”
The baku holds the smirk frozen on its face, though a flicker in its eyes betrays its yet disappointment. “No?”
We permit our answer stand.
“You’d be very well served to tell,” it murmurs, but stops then. “No,” it sighs, deciding not to continue; “of course. Suppose it there’s no reasoning in this state, even for a lunar sage. Or especially for one, if given she’s come out of a dream like that.”
“Then,” we say, half questioning, “you understand already.”
“Yes,” says the baku; “unfortunately.”
It twists its nose, and frowns. “Call it a duty to our fellow. We may not be able to save you from your own foolishness, but all the same—”
We do not wait for its conclusion. Thirty-eight spears strike from beneath our wing, and tear the baku into as many pieces. It ‘perishes’ bloodlessly, shattering into motes of vespertine light. Another twenty spears strike behind us, immobilising the baku as it attempts to reconstitute its form there.
“—we can’t allow you to persist in it,” the baku, Imetsuku, yet finishes. It closes its one free hand around one of the spear-shafts run through its chest. “Now,” it gasps, and below us the sigil of the Moon itself stirs in response, rising to expel us back to our Capital: “turn back—”
Altogether too late. We plant a spear into its surface, commanding it halt by the pure expression of our authority.
“—ah,” Imetsuku breathes, a wordless plea colouring her eyes.
We shake our head. We recognise it now: before us lie the eighty windings of the road, and we must walk them alone.
“Then promise, at least—!”
“Till next,” we whisper, and trace a sigil of our own in the aether.