untitled monster draft

Posted: April 27, 2015 in Uncategorized

*I’ll be working on this story for at least a few days in my 40 days of writing. I hope not all of them. Any and All input is appreciated, and will most likely affect where it goes, so, thanks, and, sorry.

Chapter 1

She had been killing boys in this river for 75 years. If some of those boys that first came had had babies waiting at home, and they almost certainly had, then those now orphans left after leaving some girl fat with child… she figured she might have killed six generations of men. It had become a ritual in the summers. An army of young men would charge the river and try to Kill The Lady, or try to drive The Lady out. They’d come with nets and spears and boats, and then they’d die. They’d build dams and set fires or poison the river, and then they’d die.

The boys today weren’t an army, but they were very dead. They were a ragtag bunch of town boys with swords stolen from some Lord or given to them for some stupid war. They weren’t soldiers, and they weren’t trying to kill her, just trying to prove they were brave. Those dead boys were very brave. Only one had a silver blade, a tiny thing unfit for battle, the boy and the blade. They were baiting her, running their silver through the water in that pool. They had come for the stories that surrounded her. They had come to catch one of the magic fish that people swore swam around her. Whose scales granted wishes, and were said to feed forty people when cut and cooked right. There were no such fish, and no golden scales or healing water. She still listened to the men along the water, she heard them all the time. They told stories, half right and half remembered. When she was in a good mood, she let them ferry down her shores. When she was in a bad one, she overturned them. The river had run rough and ugly for a long time. She used to speak to men directly, in languages that moved in and out of fashion. She told men no silver was allowed on her river, and that was a rule she tried not to hold. Still.

A good man with an iron sword or a steel anything is more dangerous than an average man with silver, but the nature of the trespass offended her. A sword forged to kill you was as much a curse as muddled words and sacrifices.

She used to feel peaceful and strong when rafts would cross her waters with full armies clad in everything but silver. Before the towns came with their fish hungry children or dirty old men in boats, before the islands rose up in the delta and quit sending tributes of plump boys and rich spices the Old Lords offered her at the source. The blood and spices ran down her river and made it pure, and strong and hers. Now it was a bloody mess of other smells and stinks and rituals. A boy adding silver into that mix would not stand.

Armies came with steel now, and she knew that. She had rows and rows of swords lined up like crooked teeth in the jagged shores and crags of her cave, at the source. They were positioned in rows like the maw of a shark; the ones nearest her den so old they were nearly shadows, rusted outlines that hung like the opposite of skeletons, like the husks of bugs. She wondered if the boys today’s fathers and grandfathers swords were in her shark’s mouth. She hoped so.

The Lady heard whispers from the fish and eels. She was still feared in these waters, but no longer loved. At least that was the whispers in the river. The reports were not reliable, only the otters even understood numbers, and they were bad at them, but man had no love for the lady. Even the big beasts of the River, the family of turtles with shells wider than a horses, and the old snake who spoke like a man had abandoned her. Sad small men tread her water fearfully, and that was her way. The monster tore up towns that struggled to hold on to her banks, and devoured whole travelers. She was happy to. Angry brave boys stormed her River, and angry brave boys filled her gut.

The Lady swam up the river. Her strong body ripping beneath the water, silently and powerfully. She moved beneath the current, her purple black eyes gleaming and scanning the River’s bed. Her tail whipped and scrapped along the rocks, churning bad memories. Her belly was fully and the River was brisk. The water chopped and roiled around her. the something from beneath the surface of the world tugged at her. Something dark and undivided. A force from nowhere that somehow surrounded her jerked at her bones away from her skin. She knew to answer such pulls. She knew it the same way smart birds could feel her in the water. She turned perfectly and whipped down the river, the current carrying her faster than flying. Her body sang with the water, her long strong arms cut the water in front of her and her whole body undulated through the green blue world. Here black scaled body stretched and swelled. Her arms and hands twisted into great winglike fins. Her body took in water or the water found her skin and surged with each spiral until she was a great engine of malice and beauty and rage. She let the power of the River warp her frame and her mind, her teeth grew too large and the daggers cut at her mouth. She grinned a bloody grin and let out the sound of an ocean howl. A malevolent howl that carries stories of blood and salt. Her face, strong and serene and what most would call beautiful, ripped away in the rushing river. It would wash up on the shoreline and drive a fisherman insane. It would fill up with spiders and bugs and other filth of the sea and walk around clumsily on full moons until it rotted. Most of the man’s family would hang themselves. As the water rushed The Lady’s howl grew louder and clearer. It was to ugly, to monsterous to ever be heard as something like laughter, but The Lady was most certainly laughing. The Water Dragon, The Lady, The Old Witch from the Sea, she raced along the bottom of her river, her giant frame dark beneath the water like a rotten patch on the surface of the earth. She swam for leagues beneath the water, until she reached what called for her, the lives she needed ended. The Lady reared and broke the surface violently, her head full of teeth and rage. There was a group of 20 at the shore, all clad in mismatched armor and leather. She rose up from the water arcing against the green blue sky. A tremendous wave frosted in white foam rose with her. The River raced on as the wave filled the air, The Great Lady Serpent smashed violently against the nearest foe, a sharp faced man with serious eyes and a spear longer than he was. Her jaws covered the man as he thrust her spear into her jaws. The Lady Serpent exploded, busting into a thousand shards of bone and scale and hard water. They road the crest of the wave, as it drove into the men on the shore line, pushing them back. The flotsam and jetsam of the shattered dragon drove through one man’s eye and killed him on the spot, and a bone shard pinned a man to the sandy ground bleeding out helplessly. The other men and boys struggled to their feet and readied their spears. She crunched happily at the first man’s body. Her body was that of a human now, but bigger, and pulsing, and a hundred times more hideous. Her head was huge and magnificent, nearly as large as the rest of her: a woman’s eyes, purple and as large as an apple. Hair, straight and brown like cocoa or dried blood, wet and shoulder length. Closer to her head the hair corded and softly wove into her skull. Her jaws were like a crocodile, gnarled and scaled and full of sharp teeth. She clamped her mouth on the man she’d attacked, and tore his head and most of his shoulder apart from his body. He hadn’t worn a helm, and she crunched his skull in her back like a nut in a salad or interesting bowl of soup. She pulled another small bite from the body and faced the men. Now in formation, soggy, and bloody, but in formation. The hideous slurping sounds and guttural hooting whistle of The Lady echoed from the shore line. It took turns bolstering and unnerving the men. It was infuriating and sickening.  They never could have known it was laughter.

The men charged well and fearlessly. Their spears were iron and heavy, but not overly sharp. They were hooked and bladed, perfect for trapping an animal, but too heavy to catch the hands or ankles of the The Lady. She tossed the stringy pile of bones and gore behind her, it tore apart in the air before it falling in the water and washing away to oblivion. She pushed the first spear away with the strike of her hand and snapped the man’s wrist as she did so, the second spear she bit down on and wrenched away from the next man. She swung her hand up, her talons tearing through the man’s chest. Two more fell to brutal snaps of her enormous jaws. Spears drove up at her but she grabbed them and wrested them from the men like a grown man to children. She picked up a man by his spear, who held on to is so desperately that his hands stayed clenched to the weapon even as she severed him into with another chomp. She raked her claws against the wall of charging men and 3 more fell as their spears that did find their mark clinked against scales or dug fruitlessly against the hide. She raised to her full height, eight or nine feet high, She raised her long strong and perfect arms to the sky and brought water up and into her body, she held it and felt in run into her thick blue veins. The water mingled with her hate and spells and perfect form. It hardened and focused and answered her requests. She drove it out and against the men and it tore 2 more apart at the waste and 3 at the knee. The water wrapped around the broken men and pulled them into to the River with intent. More men fell in quick succession until only two remained. They ran towards the shoreline, heading to the trees. The Lady held a body obscenely by a kinked leg. The head was cleaved along the jawline and bounced like a giggling fool’s, the tongue lolling out like a tail of his hat.

The Lady dropped her jester toy and marched at the two able bodied youth. Her frame was graceful and rippled with power. The water cracked about her ankles and crawled up her body as if to hold on to her. The young men were strong and fast, much faster than their peers. They were clad in simple leather jackets and pants, with the bronze helms in the fashion of mercenaries or abandoned soldiers. The nondescript but identifiable armor of killers. She broke her graceful walk to an elegant run and closed in on the men. Another 5 men, clad in the same collaborators’ helms, leaped at the lady with nets and daggers and a silver tipped spear. She raged at the men as two more cut her path to the water. They stepped in the puddle that followed her out to the shore, they broke her tether to The River. She wailed and raised her hands to the sky. She dove at the man between her in the water and shattered through him. A fine mist of red replaced his torso as his helm clattered on the ground at his feet. The Lady shrank with each step she took, she was barely taller than the men now. She still surged with power and moved with feline grace. She grabbed the man nearest her and took his blade, she threw the man so fiercely against another attacker that both men bent and broke and muttered last words. The man with the silver spear held back behind the other three. The Lady cut down two. She buried her blade deep in the second mans chest and pinned him in the water that was rushing back to her and pooling around her feet. The river filled the man’s eyes and ran into the wound in his chest. His flesh and the leathers of his armor, the cloth, his hair, and his eyes and tongue and meat all broke apart and drifted down the river. The lady spun, a net fell on her and she failed to snatch it. A spear bit into her side and she winced in pain, Her tongue lit out ancient curses, both men still standing near her went deaf. The Lady called to the River and wrapped her fists around her two long canine teeth. Dagger like she gripped them and timed her thoughts with the River’s current. She pulled and swore and ripped her teeth from her mouth. The blood spattered and mixed with the water, It soaked and fizzled at the net and sand. The spear drove at her again, she managed to dodge it, and it pinned the net to the sandy bed the stood in. The Lady’s teeth cut through the net like it was fishing line. She walked at the man with the silver spear deliberately. His friend did him the favor of slitting his throat before The Lady reached him. She shrieked in rage, She bellowed, not anguished but offended. Furious, and wronged. She grabbed the net thrower and bent his head backwards with a snap and pulled at it until it snapped free of the neck. She took a distracted bite and tossed the head in the River. She walked to the spearman’s corpse and picked it up. She held the face to her’s. Her face was beautiful now, different. When the Lady pulled her teeth from her head, it shrank and thinned to the proportions of a young woman. Her eyes were almond shaped and crisp, alert and timeless, a round nose and big full lips. Her chin was delicate, and almost demure, it was enticing when coupled with that sinister lovely big lipped smile. She turned her head lovingly to the corpse and lips curled sharply, her sunlit brow furrowed and she spit into the dead man’s face. It charred and melted to the bone. She left the body on the bank. She hoped animals would eat of him before she gave him to the River. She picked up the silver spear and dove back into The River. Her side ached wear the silver had slit into her. She kicked her legs and asked the River for help mending her wound. It obliged. She felt the Silver Sick bubble and bulge out of her side as she swam upstream, too tired to ask for more favors.

A violent earthquake shook the River, and rattled the Lady’s already loose teeth. She dropped the silver spear. Another earthquake roared down the River and pushed the Lady against the side of this deep cut of river, stone and slides of dirt slid at her from every direction, forces pulled and pushed as the water and ground reacted and acted with furies of their own. A trap.

The Lady pulled her self from the mired sludge of the River. It was not water now, but a wet war of rubble and deceit. The bastards had tricked her, they were driving her from the River. The Lady stretched and her side ripped open, precious blood seeped into the River, into the war. Another earthquake. Not an earthquake, she knew that now. Bombs. Charges. She had heard the words and seen the things before. Liars and cowards had dropped them for summers now, but this was clever beyond all measure. She would kill every damned living man to have touched this river, or taken a bite from the fields it watered. She stretched slender and long and cut out through the water, a long eel not a dragon. She had to make it to The Source of the River. These men were destroying her claim, these men were trying to kill her. She raced towards her den. She needed to get to her weapon. She needed to reach her Harpoon. A charge went off near her, there were men on the River. They were dropping charges on her, they were probably all along the banks. She called for the river to flood them, but it was too disorganized. She was now only a mile from her cave, but men on high towers, with long ropes and anchors were sending their bombs to greet her. She breached the surface and tried to knock one from his perch with a wave, but the men retreated back to stabler footing when the saw her. She went under again and swam up the River. She felt herself loosing control of it. She felt the River call out for freedom. She needed to reach the Harpoon, and cut these men down without mercy. She would lose the River, but she could take it back. The Harpoon was driven deep in the source of the River, and held it and used it, and made it The Lady’s. When she grabbed it, it would run free, but the Harpoon could kill this damn bastard boys. These great grandson avengers stealing her home. She neared her den. The men were more densely arranged, scores. They were at the banks where the source emerged. They had rope and ladder structure scaffolding as tall as trees. They lofted charges into the river, each one rattled sabers and swords from the walls.

The Lady dove past the rows of the swords caving down around her. She parted the hidden cave opening, a crevice small and secreted among jagged pillars of stone. Rocks tumbled in front of her. A charge went off near her, The explosion pushed her back and tumbled rocks about her she. Flailed helplessly. Her Harpoon was buried from her. She pushed towards the surface. Harpoon or no harpoon, she had to kill these men. Her life, her very long life, depended on it. Another charge exploded near her and annihilated her face and tore her side wide open. The force drove her body up and out of the water. She Wailed. She lost blood, the old blood, the blood that was always with her, the blood that was there before she was. She crumpled and ached and died a million times. She heard the cheers of the men who had killed her. She heard their hate and their victory and she would remember both longer than forever. She woke up screaming, still in the air. The blood spilled sewed up her face and body. She cursed at the cheers and arrows that reigned at her now. She tucked and dove to the bottom. She cut and darted along the bottom. A charge exploded above her, pushing her into the bed. The River bed was foreign to her now. New rocks and mine columns told lies on the terrain she once knew. Her upended swords made vile traps begging to tear out her belling. She slipped between them. She hid in the sludge and chaos of the depths of the water. She scrapped along the bottom, under the din. She felt tiny and sick and weak. Spears now littered the water crude metals ones tossed en mass to pin her to the river bed. More charges rattled her. She slunk and scurried down the River, beaten, and alone.

She swam past lifetimes, withered and beaten. The Lady had wrested this river, mile by mile, from everything it touched and felt. Now it bled, and throbbed and pushed her downstream. The Lady had no tears, only blood and damnation. She washed up ugly at a bend in the river. Her body bent like the water. Her body looked sad, weak, and beaten, but her eyes looked only angry. She knelt and dipped her hands in the water bitterly. She slurped up the unfaithful water and took a gift without asking. Her body and teeth straightened. Her muscular frame softened, her greenish black skin took the soft pink hue of a spoiled fat noble girl. She watched her hands shrink into weak worthless things, and for a moment, something like sadness ran across her face. She walked, trudged away from the River, through the high grass and low branches cursing her weak pink hands..

Chapter 2

The Lady walked to a town, then a city, then to the mouth of a River. She walked past languages and faiths. She walked to the edge of the water. She whispered old curses along the way to strangers and they died or they loved her. She taught an old woman the secrets of gardens that attracted fairies, and fashioned a dagger for a thief made of his partner’s bones and a candle made of his wax cast hand. The old woman and thief died ugly deaths, but that’s the trade of dealing with monsters. People fell ill, and died on her journey, but The Lady traveled, and never forgot about the River. She crafted a new harpoon. It took her years to save the children’s hair to fasten the blade to the staff, and longer to carve the words in the hilt. In a full moon, The Lady walked up this new river. She struggled with the current. This River was young and vibrant, but didn’t have the stubborn pull of an old river. This River moved with the certainty of one whose path had never changed, but with none of the guile of one whose had. She waded and swam and tread along the bottom until the sky went perfectly back, then waxed again to full. She would claim the whole thing at once. She would grow strong again.

The source of this river was a bog, a high marsh. A lush hot patch of water and thorn. It took the Lady tree years to acclimate the water to the temperature of her blood. She drove the harpoon into the heart of the bog. Vine and root grew about the harpoon and read the words in the ways they do. The river was starting to answer the questions the harpoon asked when the armies came for the Lady. They came organized and quickly all under the same banner. They rumbled up the river. Crows came with big stories, crows always came with big stories. They said two armies rode at her, and a champion of death followed them. She hated the melodramatic words of crows. She prepared herself for the armies. Cannonballs crashed into the surface of her marsh. They drove deep in the soft mud of her new home. They left pock marks on the swath of earth between the marsh and woods. She let the earth grow angry. Armies marched, she felt their feet now. Hundreds, twice. They marched under the same banner but not the same men. They marched only to kill her. The crows told her names that meant nothing to The Lady. They whispered of Death like a man and She cursed their stupid beaks. Cannon balls fell like thunder, terrible and interrupting. She remembered their timings. Men marched on her waters. They cut down trees to push the cannon closer to her. She hated learning the names of them. The cannon crashed and the Lady laughed thunder. She would not run. She could not again. She would die here, and well.

The Lady dove to the bottom of the marsh and wrapped her hands around the hilt of wood and skin. She pulled the harpoon from the floor, a gush of thought and blood rushed up from the earth. The Lady kicked to the surface, her eyes glowing and her skin hot. She rose to the surface and curled around the top. She hung on the top of the water, her body hovering on the tension. She rested, calm, focused. Men stomped through the woods towards the water. The Lady snapped to action. Her skin black and hot, her eyes glowing fiercely. Water and matter and living things rose up at her command. Thorns grew up, vines and roots as thick as wrists wrapped and tripped and pulled the iron men down. They lumbered helplessly and hacked away, but more grew up behind them. Ravens and crows came with their songs and tore at loose fingers. The water itself pushed and pulled at the earth to make it soggy and difficult to tread. The Lady skipped across the water and shred the faces of the first wave of men, she racked across outstretched spears and halbreds, and closed visors and loose armor. She tore through metal and into flesh and their blood bolstered her marsh. It pushed these intruders out with her. This reluctant tepid water still rallied for her Last stand. The Crows sang of death and she sang with them.

Men lined up and she cut them down. The Crows came with stories of men salting the woods and marsh that answered her, she screamed when she heard this, and fell to a knew when she felt their answer. The second army wasn’t rushing at her, the second was poisoning her water, and sending cannon to ruin her sky. Another cannonball ripped through the shore of her marsh, it dug deep and she felt it rattle her body. Even the errant hacks of trapped and dying men-at-arms hit her. She was slow, and slowing. She hoped to spill enough blood that this marsh could still feed. She wondered how much salt they’d brought, and how much blood. A hoard of men, clad in matching black armor and wielding fierce black swords made and charged through a clearing in the woods. Snakes and bats and fish with sharp teeth charged at their necks and ankles but did not slow down the ebony clattering attackers. A spry young one charged ahead and leaped onto The Lady, his foul stupid hands besmirching her frame and her purpose. He pulled a shimmering silver dagger from his belt as she writhed and rolled under the water. The boy was nearly as tall as she was, and long and wiry. His helmet came free in the water and his blond locks escaped like the bubbles of his last breath. He held on desperately and dug at her with the dagger. She breached the water furiously, her body swelling with rage. She was big and serpentine. Seeping and seething with the power of old black blood. She was missing an eye. More of the men in black armor charged.

Cannon came and knights died. Trees fell over like soldiers, soldiers were chopped down like trees. The ravens kept singing of death. The men in black armor had silver swords and the bastard boys in in black leather behind them fired silver arrows. The Lady shrieked and dove at the aggressors, she swung her harpoon like a long ugly finger. Its vile nail plucked out eyes and drove through hearts. She bit faces when she could. Their screams were melody to her harmony of violence. She swung and stung and bled about the water. Bodies were planted in the Marsh, piled on top of each other. A red haze hung over the water. Blood, old and new, rose like a fog, murder hung on soldiers’ tongues like fresh rain or the first snow. They would never tell anyone about it, this was a secret of monsters.

The men quit coming. An army had fallen, but only one. The Marsh filled up with silence. The moans and laments of dying men were pushed under by the overwhelming silence of the cannon, and the running of the water. The Lady asked snakes, and mean fish to seek out answers, but they’d quit listening to her, perhaps their ears were broken, perhaps her voice was faint. Even the crows and ravens had moved on. The banquet she’d prepared went ignored. She slithered to the woodline, she drug her harpoon wearily. She could feel the blood in some men’s hearts, and she wanted it, in her belly or in the water. She would not slink to the bottom again, she would not take the time to heal. They would come again, and they would not find her hidden in a hole or beneath a rock. They would find her bled dry and baked by the sun. They would split open her belly and find every face of friends she could swallow.

The Lady heard a crack of heartbeat, loud and dark like thunder from the beneath the world. She mistook it for cannon, which was foolish, this beat didn’t echo, it wasn’t even loud, only, pervasive. The Lady turned, one swollen hateful eye. A shape like a man moved through a clearing. It jerked about the periphery of her already failing sight. It moved not gracelessly, but senselessly through the wood. Large, and powerful, but without what she saw as reason. The Lady sucked the bloody air into her lungs. She pulled herself up to her full height. This was the thing that would kill her. She was glad it wasn’t some pretty young boy with blond locks.

The Ghostbear graced into the clearing. Two bright green eyes met her purple seeping one. The monster’s crooked mouth pulled back and strong mean teeth lined up at her. “You look tired it whispered.” His voice was chimes made of bone. It rattled and whispered. The words came through his mouth not from it. The came from his eyes the lady thought, or from somewhere behind him, or from here before. “Why are you here, where is the other army?” The Lady hated asking questions. She hated asking questions.

“They are dying, and why not?” He answered, turning his big shaggy head. The creature stood taller than The Lady, he hulked through space like a moose or moving tree. He looked so much like both. His shoulders were broad, and branches or horns grew from his shoulder. The looked strong but temporary. She realized they were teeth. They grew out flat from his shoulders, in spikes and tines and twisted jags. They were covered with a moss like hair, green, or black, she couldn’t tell and didn’t care. His head, a shaggy boulder atop those shoulders and toothed branches, hung loosely. His eyes were huge, but deep in his furrowed brow. When he closed them they disappeared from his leathery face. His hair was braided or knotted in a fashion. Course and wild and matching the fur covering his shoulders, back, and down his impossibly long arms. They hang loose and powerful, thick like the trunks of trees. His hands were massive, as wide as small shields. Four fingers and thumb. All splayed out and gripping at the air. Touching the secrets it held in it.

The Lady swayed, her body rocked on her tail, her Harpoon nearly fell from her hand. “You should sleep he whispered. I’ll stand here. For a while.” She drove her spear into the bank, A tendril answered her call, even now, torn and burnt, the water and world answered. It wrapped around her weapon, and another wave of thorns laced around the scar stained battlefield. Crows and Ravens and other black birds came out. Snakes and ferrets turned under the dead. The Ghostbear let it snow, and black honeyed wasps swarmed over corpses and ate out their eyes. The Lady dove to the bottom of the Marsh and curled up in a ball of herself. She whispered a thank you that rose through the water. It touched the surface and froze it. The Ghostbear turned and walked into the woods. He whispered/walked pasts the trees through the labyrinth of thorny vines. He pulled heads from trees and slurped the skulls from their helmets. He casually crunched on bones. The Ghostbear tidied in his fashion. He walked through the woods and tore apart cowards, soldiers who had turned and ran. The Ghostbear stalked them. A whole army teamed the woods, and he tracked them. He came up behind them and tore them in half, or cleaved them in two with the ax he carried over one shoulder. Some he grabbed and swung into trees, some he pulled up from nowhere and gnashed in his giant teeth. He felt them and tracked them and listened to them die. He pulled them out screaming into his clearing near the water. He made two giant piles, one of bone and one of armor. He sucked the meat of of either. He asked the Ravens and snakes to share. He could tell they didn’t like him.

The Ghostbear walked through the woods for three weeks hearing nothing from The Lady. He took him that long to pick all the bones from her vines. His piles were big like small hills. He took the giant cannon that was stranded in the woods, and burnt fires inside it. He slung it over his shoulder and trudged the woods with it. He brought it near the mouth of The Lady’s river and set it up tall, aiming at the heavens. He walked back for the other one in the same steps, in the same mind. He loved that they were sisters, and he knew it was important that they tell each other the same stories about him. He had the feeling they would gossip. The Ghostbear didn’t hate the men the way he knew The Lady did, he didn’t hate them or love them or need them in his soup. He thought their cannons were neat. He liked their iron swords and steal swords even more. He loved their fires and anything that carried them. He even loved their music, but it could make his teeth hurt.

He waited for a winter. A long winter. The Lady didn’t rouse from her slumber. He walked the woods and learned its corners. It learned his corners too. He didn’t have to walk in straight lines anymore, and he never chased anything. He walked down a troop of men the woods who’d lived there since the scarring, which was what the woods was calling it. The group of twelve sturdy men had hid and fed themselves for weeks in the walls and of thorn and storm. He split them up and followed them for as long as they could run. He learned all their names, and every face they made. He ran them until they were only bones in armor fleeing from the things he promised he would do. They ran until their hearts gave out, and then they walked. Sad dusty walks. Shadows of life, perversions of fear. They moved like wicks falling into wax. Devoid of passion or thought, but full of instinct borrowed by man, and now, asked returned. The moaning shuffling dead held something more vile in a dead thing than hate, or lust, they had hope, the vilest of all adulteration to fear. Sometimes when he grew lonely, the Ghostbear set them singing.

The winter grew cold, and their mouths filled with snow. They got stuck in the ice and cold. The Ghostbear went alone on his long walks now. He let the Woods know his corners. He glinted from edge to edge in the woods, and down the river, and sometimes, when she was sleeping soundest, to the bottom of the marsh to look at her. He cocked his head and he waited, then slipped back into the woods. The Ghostbear took the Lady’s broken and empty spear and left it in the water, he did not want to put his hands on it, he did want to give her anything she didn’t want. It floated on the surface, on full moons it sank to the bottom, but other than that, it floated. Birds had come back to the woods, and bats and mean bugs. The lizards all went deep in the earth, and plotted against spring. The Ghostbear began to understand the woods. Walking it was harder than ships or towns, the trees weren’t as impressed with him as dead things were, the stones in the woods are rarely in charge, and their admiration here meant little. They were humble and strong though. The Ghostbear walked around them and remembered where his feet touched. He drifted back and forth between the walks he took, and the ones he took before. That was the secret to The Ghostbear, walking, being there before. Things die everywhere, and and everything dies, the secret was knowing where they could, and where they were supposed to. Intention was everything he though. He through his shaggy head back and roared a laugh that echoed through mountains and taught a nest of river rats how to build fire. His teeth were polished stones or ivory daggers, a mixed set of arms. The Ghostbear was as tall as a camel, and his head was enormous. A shaggy tangle of vine and hair and hanks of chain. He wore skulls in his beard. 20 human skulls were weaved and braided into his tangle. He knew them. Now they spoke in different voices, or old ones of his. They peered out from his coarse hair vacantly. Their serenity unnerving. His shoulders were as broad as a wagon. Branches wove in and out of them like serpents in water. They arced out of each side in a tremendous display like an elk’s antlers. They were strong ironwood, grey and black, their velvety moss was black and crimson. They sprouted from bones his shoulders that were prominent under his skin. They plated like armor and then covered in the leather of his hide. His thick skin was grey textured like an old coat. His cabled arms nearly hung to the ground. Some branches stretched all the way to his wrists. They tangled around and grew out in spikes up and down his long arms. His massive hands were always in motion, undoing knots or conducting symphonies. The large seemingly sleepy monster teemed with energy. It seethed and pulsed inside him. It twisted him out from fields of vision. When distracted he twitched through time. He sometimes drug the ax to leave a furrow. The anchor held advantages. In the middle of The Ghostbear’s forehead was one prominent horn, long and slender and beautiful, a creamy mix of cream and lavender. The colors seemed to swirl in different lights and changed at different angles. It was ridged and spiked and formidable. 13 to 30 tiny horns grew out around it, supporting it. They were the ironwood of the Ghostbear’s back, mimicking the grandeur of the horn. It hung ominously above his glowing green eyes. Buried deep in that stone cave face.

The winter was long and hard. The Ghostbear expected men in the spring, the paths and brambles told him how feet fell. The Ghostbear seemed less impressed with ritual. He cut them down in camps as they slept. He tore off leaders and generals heads while they slept, and let the armies scramble about the river sides. He was never one to follow numbers. He never took offense to those escaping. The water ran as it out to ran, and The Lady grew strong at the bottom. A spring fed lake was new to the Lady, and was exactly what she needed. The water filled her and fixed her. She shed her skin twice while she slept. The first one was black like onyx, the second was clay red. The Ghostbear wept when he saw it. Where the tears hit the earth mean earthworms took hold. They lived there for years and grew big enough to eat whole corpses. The Ghostbear would never see them, and if he knew that, it would have made him sad. It was why the spells worked, and why the worms wanted to be there.

The Lady woke on the hottest day of the summer. It was hot enough to almost boil the water. That would have been beautiful. The pile of armor in the clearing sent glints and glares of light towards the sky in a hundred hundred directions. The Ghostbear had organized them to get lost chasing each other for ever. Flies and other dumb bugs would get lost in them for hours but Bees knew them inherently, The summer wasn’t good for armies, but thieves would come up the river, or troops of adventurers. He’d eaten a couple, and added new mirrors to distract flies. On the evening she woke the Ghostbear was chasing a group such men. This group had a woman with them. That was unusual. She was good with a sword and as fast as a man with knives. He’d taken an arm off with an ax and then plucked her legs off. It had disheartened her fellows fiercely. He would remember that. He was tracking two. Walking them down. He knew the woods well enough that he did not need to take every step. He swung out behind the men and snatched up their necks. 3 were left when the Ravens screamed warnings, the inverse of rosters. The crows cocked and the Ghostbear snapped to. He walked out into the clearing as her feet first touched the grass.

He stood in front of her. His giant clumsy head waiting for some gestures from her. Her body, lean and tired itched with power and restlessness. Her eyes, smoldering purple fires, locked the Ghostbear’s. She walked like a woman, a young strong mortal. Her frame was perfect like the first woman, who came in the lies of of their fathers’ religions. They women who burst from a god’s seedpod or swollen belly. Her smooth skin was unmarred by the legion of blades raised against her, even the sickness of silver was out of her. She was perfect like the sun or the first scream that turned into words. Her skin was creamy white like lace or lye. Her hair was ebony, long to the small of her back, straight, and wild. Her hands and feet were big and powerful. Her feet lined graceful steps to The Ghostbear’s face. Her hands were empty.

The unblemished snowbanks of her skin were pure like a child’s, but the curve of her face and arch of her chin and neck were those of a goddess, a mother, a warrior queen. Her teeth were straight and matched her skin. Her lips were blue and black like berries too sweet for man’s tongue. She raised her hand to the Monster’s face. Her fingernails were tinted blue like Asters, or morning glories, or the bell shaped plants that men drank in tea to go crazy. She ran one across the leathery hide of a monster’s face. He did not flinch, or break her gaze.

Her lips parted and there was an ugly unnatural scream, like the dying of a family or the birthing of a dragon. As quickly as a flame on a candle turns to smoke it was gone, and to the syrupy song of a siren filled his ears. “Are you here to kill me?” She asked again, in the language this land spoke.

“Most likely.” Said the Ghostbear.

“I don’t think you could.” said The Lady.

Neither answered.

“You’re bad at it.” She whispered.

The Ghostbear stood near a mountain of broken men and the totems of their armor that surrounded them. Birds had built nests in the trees above the carnage. They ate lazily at the rot and grew fat and warped and gossipy. They’d started singing the dead men’s songs. The Ghostbear was sad that the Lady didn’t think that was funny. He was sad she didn’t ask about her woods. He was sad she didn’t know that he would kill her. He was sad he didn’t know to tell her lies.

“I don’t know if I could kill you.” He said. It was the first time he’d thought it, and he was sad about that too.

He was dragging the ax behind him. He forgot about it most of the time. He pushed it over. It fell silently. He knew the ax wouldn’t do it. He wouldn’t have used it if it would, but gestures mean things to monsters, even confused scared monsters bent on biting and survival.

“I don’t know why I would.” He said. To himself, and the world.

“You made me.” He said. Surprised that he’d known it all along.

She spit at him. He didn’t go blind.

Years ago, in the delta of a river that’s changed names its so old. A sailor was on boat. A bad sailor. An okay man. He was a musician and a drunk and probably a thief, but certainly not a soldier. He got caught up in a war that wasn’t his and hid from it in plain sight. He was on a boat of other boys like him, and three mean men that weren’t like him at all. But they were out numbered, and none of them really wanted to be in charge anyway. They were in a boat that lingered in the back of wars and battles. They were in a boat that was really good at carrying spears and not throwing them. They had proud banners, and were punctual, and that can be mistaken for compliance. At the end of an evening where one nation burned most of another nation’s boats, and the gulf where they fought was filled with fresh faces and lives, this sailor, and his mates got drunk and played music. They were foreigners in a foreign land drinking wine rum they brought from the place where they were stolen. They sang songs from all over the world. This sailor, the musician, had a many stringed guitar with a silver head. It did nothing for the song, but it was fancy, and it impressed the sailors and the whores at port. It was remarkable it stayed with him through fight and flee and a trip across the world. Wrapped up at night drunk in a dock town, and the boy hung on to instrument. He’d developed a bit of a reputation for being able to keep it. Even when crafty old men or cunning young ones tried to take it. He strummed songs and sang lies and his other sailors or pirates or boys without homes all sang along.

There were monsters in the water. There are always monsters in the water. They were a batch or brood or smack or wolfish eels. They swam around the delta sifting for bone and steel. They mate in harbors or out in the see, or maybe at the crack of some door to what’s below they ocean. They swim and fuck and lay clutches of eggs, and eat every fish in the water. Today there was a war, and they swam through the water eating faces, chewing up fingers and ripping flesh from the middle of bigger chunks of man. Wolf eels have hands and faces and thoughts, people always say that makes it worse. The Singer didn’t think so. He didn’t want to be eaten by anything.

There were a dozen or so eel maidens, stronger than their male suitors, swimming about the deep water, rising up deftly and pulling whole men down when they hit the water. They ate so well they ached when they got to close to the bottom, with the pressure of the water. The bodies had quit hitting the surface of their buffet, and they’d returned to the sandy Delta, to scratch against the river, and let it’s current run their sins back out to see, rinse out all the bad parts. Young males hung in the delta, unsure of their fins and long arms, so sure of their sharp teeth and keen eyes. They were enraged by their sisters and lovers tales of fresh sailor. The girls brought nothing back. It filled the furious and frustrated scions of the ocean with a rage that bubbled the water.

The lingering ship, hugging the outskirts of the water sang a song across the surface of the water that was joyous and arrogant. I young man strummed the remnants of spells that offended the world beneath his feet.

A young male, big and proud, almost as strong as his sisters streaked beneath the water. He struck out in a series of jolts that ripped him towards the boat and into the air. He breached the water and spiraled though the air, he arced and lit upon the deck of the red stained ship. Men, hard men, even if lazy men, shrieked and swung daggers or oars or cups of rum. The Eel bit through two and closed on the singer. No other eels moved on the boat, none of the boys thought to swim there, and the ladies knew better than to move on a boat. Food is not food when it murders you back. She knew that… at least when she was growing.

The monster was on the boat, the eels knew when the music stopped. They did not care, they only noticed. The wolfish eel pushed at the men hulking and mean like lightning. The Singer swung his guitar, The Sailor drove it in its gaping maw. The silver head first, up into the roof of the screaming monsters mouth. The jaw was a cavernous and splayed out like the petals of a plant, it would be beautiful, were it not pulsing and filled with wicked barbs. The sliver scraped and broke the roof of the monster’s mouth with the sound of thunder crashing. I noise so harsh a man on deck went deaf and the scream of the dying twisting mass of arm and tail and teeth were too vile to ever be described by the men who heard them. The monster withered and drove at the Sailor, down on him and through the smoking guitar. The monster’s dripping teeth dug into The Singer his blood welled to the surface, his skin ripped as the the blood pushed his body apart to force that things tooth from it. It clotted and matted and formed colors like old mold and rotten fruit. He Sailor screamed and laughed dug at the monsters skull. He pushed the squeezing still hateful mass from off top of him and staggered on weary legs. His compatriots cheered and poured lies of their valor all over the see. Other ships sang of the Silver Singer and the war and the monsters and the world was all his. He sang for 12 days on the trip back to home. Home being the place where was stolen, the place that had never loved him, or held him, or kept him safe, but would now, that he’d done something pure, like kill a monster.

On the twelfth night his friends threw him overboard. They cut his throat and put rocks in his pocket and pushed him into the ocean. He really couldn’t blame them. He’d been singing every night, and in the morning the decks where filled with the bodies of seagulls and other ocean birds. He sang his songs backwards and walked on his hands like a crab or a spider. He’d been dead for at least the last 7. He cut words on his chest and on the last day the captain unbuttoned his shirt and the ship saw the scars were spreading to all of the men who ever watched him. So they all cut his throat and pushed him in the water, because none of them had the guts to burn him.

A Lady had followed in the water. A well fed eel who was curious about music and dead birds, and impressed by little soft monkeys who murdered a fiend of the seas. She didn’t save the boy in the water, the singer, the sailor, the killer of friends. But she took the rocks out of his pockets, and looked over him sadly for a second.

He didn’t remember why, but he knew that he promised he’d kill her.

Now he didn’t want to.

The Ghostbear walked from the ocean to a mountain to a swamp into the belly of a star. He didn’t know if the story he remembered was his or one he’d stolen from a stranger, but he liked it. And he remembered her big purple eyes, and the sound of the words of intentions.

She looked at this mountain of hair and fat and sinew, of horn and muscle, chain and bone. She looked and saw that it was held together by a sad grey thing. A weather beaten corpse. The Ghostbear was a pile or curses and decisions and atrocities unknown. The Lady remembered less singing, The Lady knew there were no good wars, and no one sang songs about sailors. But the Lady believed him. And hated him for it. She turned her head and let the story be true.

The Ghostbear stepped away from the lady, he walked to a stump where he was drying three skulls. He brushed them away and rested a hand on it. The Ghostbear wretched with a sound like clashing shields. The wretched again and it was snapping bones. He wretched and wretched until a stone, the size of baby too early scraped against his teeth. As The Ghostbear wretched he shrank. He did not wither, rather, shrank like a blister or infection squeezed free. Her wretched and shrank until there was a clack and scrap of that stone against his still big teeth. His head was the size of man’s now, the moss and chain and fur and skulls about his head were a tangle that draped to his feet, covered in sick yellow-green vomit that swirled with black thoughts inside it. He gripped the stone in his teeth and pulled it awkwardly out of his mouth, stretching his mouth hideously to free the stone. He cracked his teeth to pull it from his mouth. Wrapped around it like seaweed, or some vining plant, was a wet living strap of flesh and tendril. The stone was purple, and the bloody weedy thing was burgundy. The wiry flesh pulsed with a sickness. It stretched and parts snapped as the Ghostbear, or what he was pulled the stone from out his mouth. It was connected to something in his throat. It was the horn. That’s what it was connected too. He could have pulled it out, he’d have snapped the cord connecting them, then rooted out the horn. He might have died in the middle, but he doubted it. The horn stood out at an absurd angle now at a man’s height. He teetered. The shaggy antler spikes about his shoulders surrounded him like a the adornments on a wizard’s finest capes or king’s coronation robe. They rattled with his heaving breaths. He looked at her. She liked seeing him like he was. She did not understand that, and that made her angry. She balanced the two for a long time. And decided she had too much angry. She gave him a dip with her eyes, a subtlety in her nose and brow for a second, and he knew her, completely. The Lady spoke with everything around her. Her place in the world so certain and concrete that her movements mean everything. A change is enough to turn the weather. The Ghostbear cracked the stone veined curse back into his mouth. Shards of teeth and wads of throat choked down with it as he shoved it down his throat. He fell to a knee and breathed in. He sucked in air and swelled. He stood there, scowling at the lady. She leaped in the water. The date had gown well.

She swirled about the water in her marsh. The Ghostbear’s walks reinforced her woods. Added riddles to their stories, that allowed more room for water. The Ghostbears walks cracked the realities of the paths, and her water sank in. The gaps in time became roots that spread and nourished. She flourished, and he wandered. She swirled about the bottom and grew fast and limber. He stalked and wandered. That Fall the cities near this new river all swelled with wealth. The river pumped thick healthy water through a land with a passion unknown to simple springs or the gravity of mountains. It pumped like the strangest heart. Food was good and the harvest was late and full. No armies marched on the Lady in a final rage before winter.

The Ghostbear walked along that woods longer than he walked most places, or better, or something that means both. The world warped around him, things grew crooked and strange. Thick skinned fruit grew around stray skulls in bulbous blue purple orbs at the end of deep green vines. The Ghostbear chewed the fruit between his giant teeth. He tore the flesh off the fruit and rolled it around his big grey tongue. It dug the fruit from the sockets and agape mouth in a perversion of intimate kissing. The fruit filled him with a rage he later described as “glorious.” He screamed and walked stories through the woods. He woke up one day in a city miles from the river with his hands wrapped around another man’s throat punching furiously. He did not have the stone in his belly or seed in this neck that had held him together for lifetimes. He found himself not caring or knowing why. Lost in the happiest moments of anyone’s life. Bashing in time with the universe colliding against itself. The shore smashed against this hapless idiots crumbling face. Avalanches fell in time. Shattered teeth, Meteors, splintered bone, waterfalls, the sick thud of meat striking meat, volcanos, and an eye hanging loosely from a socket. He walked around for a week in a haze of song and stupid laughter.

The Crows and Ravens and Owls and Hawks formed feral packs of birds that roamed and schemed and ate village children who wandered too near the river. Bugs and worms and centipedes kept track of their lineage. Score of generations. The significance was recognized, but misunderstood. Spiders weave active wires of evil intentions from tree to tree. They hung them with skeletal fingers that invoked evils from every god they ever worshiped, a filthy stew of angry gods and ways sinned against. Lizards marched about ferrets dug into the banks. Big dark things walked along the woods. Even the Lady laughed at the moosey dragon monster lumbering about. Scraping his bone antlers and bellowing in time with the lightning bugs patterns. The big sick sparks that arced from bug to bug sizzled with pride and malice. Their long spined tongues wagging in the night sky. A four legged badger, bigger than a bull, ambled about. He rooted out big blood red mushrooms. The Lady named them and taught them behaviors. They loved her. Truly, not because the river told them too, but because she answered questions.

The Lady did not take her evenings with The Ghostbear. She swam the rivers and and rivulets. She loved her woods, and hated him walking them. And he, he hated walking someone else’s woods. He made everything his, and this was no exception.

They fought the night before the first snowfall. They didn’t cause it, snow happens, but they might have let it happen. It might have been waiting for a que, or chance to sneak in when they weren’t looking. They’d been looking the whole time.

Winter didn’t come the first year. It stretched out to another spring. Farmers planted and pulled a weak harvest, orchards kicked out a generation of bad apples. But the cities swelled in the mild climate, and that Spring boys with axes and swords didn’t come. So the Ghostbear went he hunting. He went for walks in cities and brought back rich men’s heads. He walked into towns and walked out with bellies full of families. The world grew fat and bloated and dusty and strong. On the day before the first snowfall, the Lady swam up to her stream and the Ghost drug his ax against a tree stump he’d grown partial to. Newts and fresh bugs and worked it iron hard, and The Ghostbear grimly drug the old stone blade across it, illiciting confessions in languages the Ghostbear had never fully learned. Languages so old that anyone could parse their meaning, the words were so rooted with what a thing really was that if a child only ever heard that word, they would never need to speak, they’d only know. The Language always rhymed when spoken correctly. But the words were lost in wars and infighting. Incest and secrecy from gods and men and monsters all had lost the words, or worse, tried to write them down. Some believed, neither one of the monsters, that men only wrote songs to try and learn the old words. The Ghostbear thought they sang to answer questions, the Lady knew they sang because they’re liars. They didn’t care about the words at all. The ax did not speak them well, but it spoke them, and every misshapen letter it slurred was an affront to what it spoke of. It cursed deaths and the lives they interrupted. The Ghostbear thought the blade knew it, and it was the only thing the Ghostbear admired about the ax.

The No Winter’s Spring was let in with torrential rains. It floated Rivertowns and ran them out the Deltatowns. Deltatowns grew rich with what rolled down the River. Fields grew fat along the bottom of her lands. Woods herded them together into glyphs and mazes that farmers hated, but yielded to, because the yields were too full. The Ghostbear walked them and his footprints burned in her eyes. She stuck out her tongue and she tasted him in the air and she hated it. He walked chaotically and for himself, and nothing was worse than wasted steps. Everything she did was for the the river. It was so much work and all of her blood. And he walked lopping off heads at the mouth. Her waters were full, but were tired of carrying his skulls down the river, even if the men in the Deltatowns were selling them for ridiculous prices. The Rivertowns should have held grudges, and their inland neighbors should have come looking for answers or revenge, but they found waters teeming with fish. And it’s hard to stay mad resting at the banks of a river teaming with fish looking to be caught. Fat full fish. They’d picked at the tables of food at the bottom, turned over by the once raging victor. They’d picked rings off the trapped fingers of those slain neighbors, and when their would be avengers cut open a fish and found one, they’d call it a great prize and give it to their favorite children. It became a tradition rooted in religions for generations to come. A bunch of friendlier saints and prophets would wrap their names around rings in fishes, but rest assured, they came for corpses in the river.

The Summer was hot and brutal. It was bloody, but nothing organized. Cities moved and bustled, farmers gave their children hopeful names. The fall was long and lovely. The Ghostbear had taken to roasting fat sailors over bridges. The Lady would come up and with him. It was nice, for the Ghostbear. He loved the bridges, and the Lady very much enjoyed jumping from them back into the water. There was elegance about being dry, and never really stepping on land. She had knocked down foundations of bridges when some hands on some rivers were first learning to cast them, and no she regretted not knowing they would offer this. Still, they were rude, or at least, they felt rude, but she did love roasted sailor. They’d admire the river and she would tell him about the stars. She knew there names and when they’d arrived. She knew which ones went together. He looked up with his green grey eyes lost in them. He never quit counting. He told her how many there were and she tore her hand across his face. He grabbed her by the hand and threw her in the river. She bounced jarringly on the stones of the bridge and fell hard into the calm river but still without a splash. Her force lied at the surface and she slid in like a needle. Her purple eyes glowed angrily under the reflection of a fat yellow moon. The Ghostbear waited for a strike at his neck, but the turned under, and her felt her swim up her river. She knew she shouldn’t have raked at his eyes. He couldn’t believe the smug bastard would count them. The fall didn’t offer a war they could agree upon. So he ate strangers and she raced the river and got it in shape. Then one morning, eight months into fall, when the trees were straining for a second batch of apples they did not want or plan for, The Lady swam up to the Marsh, to the old pile of bone and armor and turned them over in a grave. She tilled them and buried and rolled them over again. She called up water and moss and spider web netting that was made out of gold. They were showing off and she was impressed in a way that embarrassed her. The Ghostbear walked through the woods in three steps, two forward, and one back, and turned into the clearing. He laughed at the ruin of his bone pile and patted his hand on earth. He knew the skulls matched up in a pattern tied to the number of stars. It was not related, it could not have been, and the Ghostbear saw no way to connect them. That’s what he laughed at. The numbers. The coincidence. The lack of magic. And when she saw him counting she screamed in his ears. He screamed back and waved his ax over his head. She pointed to the holy ground, wrapped up in gold like stitches. She spat curses and dived in the water. He drove his ax in the mud. A snowflakes fell all over the lands of the river. All the way to the old river she’d been chased from. The Ghostbear stormed towards mountains. Children who didn’t remember the last winter cried for no reason. The hummingbirds finally went to sleep. The world was going to be sad for a while.

It never got warm again that winter. In a week the nest was frozen over. The river raged beneath it, and out its mouth fed the vein that ran the river. This river ran into seven others, but they all knew that this one was its taproot, was its spine. One had turned its course to meet her after it first heard about a dead general whose banners were littered across it died at the hands of The Ghostbear. The Ghostbear did not tell her why that river turned to meet her, why it cut across soft earth to meet her. She knew. And she hated him not telling her. She hated that he thought she would not know. Did he not think the river told her everything, was he too stupid to know the river spoke? Did he not tell her, because he didn’t care, was this aimless butcher just a scar on skin? She could not stay mad at that river. Changes its direction was a flattery. But she resented it being the one to tell her, about the banners, and that dead king. She hoped he was in that new hallow. She hoped his number would be lost forever, like all those stupid numbers scrawled out by man. Stories that don’t matter.

Her nest frosted over and the Ghostbear roamed around. It was a lonely winter for giants that eat houses. The bear poked around forests and turned over outposts. He’d occasionally eat a jail or whorehouse. He’d been sleeping in graveyards, and leaving big obvious footprints out of them to tell people where he walked out of towns. Without someone to watch him he got indulgent. By the spring he’d constructed a funhouse of bone. Soldiers, weary old ones and passionate young ones lined up to raid on the Lady. Cold weather reminded them of wrongs they’d suffered all spring and summer, and then fall and winter too. They came roaring she did too. The Ghostbear came back and was laughing. Skeletons and things much worse came walking behind him, sewn together. They had more arms, and heads that were always crying, but they cut down soldiers like wheels roll. The Lady screamed at him all the ice broke. He screamed back and it melted into air. She tore apart the wheeling deaths of arms and cleavers and did not think it was funny that he chose the heads of children for his puppets. He stormed off misunderstood. It was dry strange spring. Blood hit the ground like dust. The earth woke up from its slumber cranky. The Ghostbear should have went to bed.

The summer was hard and mean. Spiders fell with raindrops, they told the Ghostbear about people in the cities. They told them they moved towards the woods, they were sick of having the same nightmare. Men organized in a rally around fires and barrels of wine. A merchant of sorts had brought in hope and money. He spoke in front of raising sorts and chants of his name. He spoke of marching on black things. He talked of glory and gold. He was screaming and waving a spear over his head when a blow from a big black ax sent his head rolling end over end spraying blood across the men most impressed by him. Their enthralled eyes ripped open in terror, they grabbed at their swords and The Ghostbear walked through them taking lives from bodies. Dozens fell in rhythm to the Ghostbear’s howls. The Black ashy stone tore bodies in half. The stone slurped up blood. It always dry and clean, in the least understanding use of the word. It was an army, when he started.

By Fall most cities had built up walls and closed gates. Hovels boarded up windows and hid under rocks. The Lady swam violently, and happily. The Ghostbear grew restless. He turned over stones and rooted for parents. He knocked over trees and drove them into cities, he pulled people out and slurped them down like ants. The earth was tired, and took a long time getting up each morning. It got angry for no reason, and asked everyone to speak up, so The Ghostbear did. He started burning candles in the hollow eyes of skulls and started seeding clouds with bee queens. They Lady yelled at the lack of battle. She had grown strong, and sleek, and fitful. When the Ghostbear marched on the clearing, in the steps that dead army might have taken. The Lady stood at the waterline clenching two daggers she’d fashioned from fish and bone. He looked at her quizically. He grinned and left his ax hang loosely. He clenched his fists and furrowed his brow. He locked his green eyes against her purple ones. They betrayed know intentions.

She struck immediately, so fast the Ghostbear saw it before he felt it. Saw it before it was there, and before he knew it would be terrible. She wrapped her arms around his neck tightly, her hands wrangled through his beard, vines, and skulls. She reached his neck and knotted a hand about it, and the other wrapped around her own arm, clamping it down like a vice. As she launched her self against him her legs tore into a giant fin, a serpentine tail strong like the ocean. It tucked and folded around his waist. She kissed and bit him. He pulled at her hair. At moments it was very tender.

Monsters fuck like monsters fuck. The Clearing roared and shattered eardrums. The Ghostbear died for three days. She lost a finger in his eye hole, and most of her teeth when he threw her against a tree. She went underwater and he walked around tipping over dead anything. A winter fell that was short and seamless.

Most of the families in towns were too busy burying their loved ones lost in raids in the winter. Emboldened wolves and Owls with vendettas ran right into cities and rooted out hunters or just soft children. They were too few and too lonesome to form any armies or mobs angry enough to do more than light fires and make idle threats. The Lady Swam upstream and punished them for the threats. She missed the swords and axes, she was angry to admit it. She and the Ghostbear filled the woods and ghost towns with their screams that sounded so much like battle. Monsters sprung up in their wake. She laid eggs, and he dropped seed on the ground. The eggs cracked open and spiders and elks and men with rats tails clawed out and ran into the woods or towards the ocean. Furious roses that died and sprung up from ocean to ice taking turns being places, and catching rats in their thorns rose from places the Ghostbear came. They called it the ear the darkness. It was almost the time the world ends. Monsters ran wild and cut grooves in lines of the ocean. They burned down whole forests and filled clouds with blood. Summers grew hotter and shorter. The Ghostbear walked further and further for places that did not know his name. For places that didn’t smell like he had been there. The Lady stayed under the water. Even in the summers her ice didn’t break. The Nest, the clearing, the mouth of The River, was crusted with ice like diamonds. Islands of gold crested the water. All the gold in the world, piled up and surrounded by the men who would have died for it, long dead, facing forward, right at it, so they’d never really leave. So part of them, the parts that made each scream different, hung on too long, unable to pull away from avarice or need. Lights went out across the world. Men went underground, or into thick cold castles that were more like prisons. The evil that went on there, in the dark, made most lurking things avoid them, but some of The Ghostbear’s children just loved fear. They filled their bellies, or whatever they had with screams or prayers or dances. Sometimes the Ghostbear organized shadows up like soldiers. Rows upon rows of people who might kill him. He looked up at the stars and started counting. He hoped one might pick a fight.

He looked at them, because they were his only strangers. She caught him once angrily. He did not understand or allow it. The yelled for a while. He coughed up bees. Their fights were now something beautiful. Dragons and vultures and armies of dead lined up and cast lots on what things would die first. The armies of dead always bet on themselves, it was a terrific joke. Men forgot how to make cannon and orders that rallied men’s spirits. The moon swelled full until it filled the skies, and pulled the oceans up around the mountains’ ears like children in bed. Even they iced over on the coldest winters. Men lived like bugs in huts on the mountains. They were ready to chip off of the planet like scabs over wounds. To disappear and crumble away. Leaving a new pink scar where they had been, leaving blood and pain where they were pulled before their time. The Ghostbear looked around at the piles of worthless gold. Men no longer charged for it. All the men were dead. Now the water ran around it, instead of through it. They stood up out of the water like big dead teeth. They jutted out at different angles, the water bent around them, disinterested in the old metals that used to mean something, around these inferior rocks.

The Lady realized the men were dying. She’d wanted the men to die. She had dedicated herself to making them die with all of her being, and all she could pull with her. But now… watching them starve on mountains, she was angry. Dying on a mountain was not how the boys who banged swords and shields against her should di. They should die by her hand, not by the fear or misunderstanding of clouds. She cursed at the Ghostbear for not understanding the differences between children and old men in beds, and how some deserved their nightmares. He said Nightmares belonged to everybody, sense they were there first. Whenever they fought about time he used a voice she hated, and said was unfair. She also stabbed him with her fishbone daggers about the eyes and neck. They roared and fought. The parts of the rivers they’d dammed up with bodies rattled free. He stormed off and she dove beneath the water and winds blew obscenities that took shape and walked around with the sharpest teeth and claws ever known.

These fights were not uncommon, they were how Springs rolled into being for many short lifetimes. This time The Ghostbear walked into the clearing, intent on being heard. He could stop the humans from dying, he could kill the last ones in their bed, now, quickly, before the first buds turned into blood red flowers, but he would not be yelled at for not caring. That was nonsense words. That was the hokum of pretenders, blasphemous to everything they’d killed and left standing. He raged into the clearing like the blond haired boys of summer. He did not look down at the water around his thick soled feet, he looked only at the pulse he saw radiating from up river. He cleared down trees as he walked in lightning bolts towards The Lady. He built up speed rounding corners in time. He arrived with frost about his ears. “I will be heard.” He whispered and started avalanches of snow and fear. He pulled back the crust of ice that stretched over the Marsh like an abandoned cellar door. She leaped at his face as it opened. She tore and bought and smacked about his ears. He grabbed the wiggling force of nature in one mighty hand, and bashed it against a rock. It sunk teeth deeper in his face and tore at his fingers. She bit until a tooth cracked in his neck and sent poison through his heart. It seized and spit black blood through is mouth and out his nose. She racked her green black nails into his screaming mouth. She tore at the parts of him still flesh. He grabbed her tighter and pulled back his seething black ax. He had talked about this. It was never a secret, and it wasn’t why they fought. The Ghostbear never thought he was a liar. The Lady’s tail coiled about The Ghostbear’s free arm, it fought for the lying ax. She tried to pry it from his hand, strong like a lock. Her hands were wrapped around the hand like held her in a knot. They laced so tightly it cut into his wrist. She bit at the hand and he screamed. He gripped the ax with his other hand. He was looking for a sundering. A something. A solace. They had built the world, and it was full of screams. There were screams everywhere the Ghostbear stepped. New ones seemed foolish now, and all the Ghostbear new to make were screams. It was a world of echoes, and it did not matter if they were his. That lying ax was they only thing in the world that didn’t not stink of him. The trees told lies about him before he was there. The animals called him father or son like they knew him. Even the Lady’s laugh was his. That’s why she hated it. And kept it under water. He smashed down the ax with all the force in the world. He swung it over his head in an arc that scrapped orbit. It fell for years. It crashed and settled scores. The Ghostbear would leave something meaningful. He drug the night black blade with him in the dirt. cradling his dark bloody stump as he did so. Poisoned flowers sprang up in the drips of red blood. Grass withered and died. The Lady howled, but he walked out of time. Dead men sang sad songs like wind in the maze. Springs came sooner. Men climbed down the mountains. The Lady lost rivers, and moved into the ocean. She ate generations of men and her babies and all sorts of songs. The world never approached anything like normal, but more fires burned in more places, and cities grew up again, like lichens first claiming stones. The Lady chased them around, and organized them, and found a reason for them to trade around gold. The world breathed deep healing breaths, and stretched like a slumbering cat. The earth rippled and warmed, because the Ghostbear takes long Winters.

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