by Shiawasena Ryokō-sha
Read this piece’s entry on the Shousetsu Bang*Bang wiki.
29 Vasan, 1372
To Dane Journey-Mage,
It’s been some weeks without hearing from you. Have the highlands been treating you properly? How goes the search for the Dead God?
While I did not want to disturb your packing to tell you so, I sincerely appreciated your presence at the tower, and invite you to visit at your leisure; I did not mean to leave an impression a pleasant, heated afternoon spent together in private was the last I meant to see of you. Besides, I had hoped to know whether the instruments I gave you are functioning properly…
Or perhaps you’ve tried to use the sending spell and it hasn’t worked? This one is a little simpler – add a little of my dried blood powder to the ink when you copy over the border glyphs, fold it tightly, let go, and the missive should find me apace.
The Sage of Whitemarble
Highlands’re wet, covered in moss, and the hired hands keep leaving the group to berrypick.
I swear, if I stopped looking, they’d wander off and get ate by a mourning-ghost in an hour. Or, for that matter, fall in a canyon, the foolish rotters. I don’t think they understand why I bothered to get them – but they do serve their purpose; I haven’t seen a single trace of the things that lie in wait for lonely travelers in the night. A welcome change from the rotations I did before meeting all you.
The Dead God has made absolutely no appearances, which is to say: I am absolutely, positively sure He knows we are here, and is dancing in circles around our campsite in delight for the attention every night. Gods know, if I haven’t made throughway by the turning of the leaves, I’m just going to head back. There’ll be some other way to get proof.
Your sigil rocks work as intended, although aside from some minor ley activity, their main accomplishment so far has been finding Ratnam the shapeshifter after he got treed by a wandering bear. (If I didn’t know your city was all dragon-devotees, I’d think his insistence on sporting wings and tail overwhelms the sigils like a lodestone by a compass…)
I’m still getting used to the changes I had you spell into my person. It’s so strange to find myself rushing to switch breeches only to find the unpleasantness of the process just… gone. I’d intended to come back to your tower anyway, once this expedition is all wrapped – perhaps we can test this set of instruments together again when I do?
Send Wolf and the Fool my well-wishes. I hope your continued adventures in medicine are going well.
Dane, my confidant –
Ah, leading followers on ‘merry’ chases – that would be like a god. I’ve thus far avoided the curiosity of any of the dragon-folks’ sort myself, but every few seasons one of my citizens comes for help trailing some tale of divine toying. Given the stories I’ve heard from other druids, I can’t imagine the Dead God would have been different.
I hope you rewarded the bear for his service. While I’ve entrusted Ratnam with my deliveries these past years, his sheer bravado irks me always.
Our two travelling companions are doing well. Thank you for your timely delivery of the book of mind-patterns; it has been most educational. I might make an apprentice of the Fool yet – he becomes better at recalling previous days by the fortnight. His own magic must have been baking his brain like an egg on hot rock! (Wolf still sleeps more often than not. I think it will be some time before he recovers properly from our encounter with the sorcerer.)
I am delighted to hear you plan to return to Whitemarble!
What do you call this little flower-fold you used for the Sending? It’s quite charming.
They call the fold I used on the last letter a fortune-teller. It’s a children’s game. I… don’t have quite the number of patterns to fold things in, so you’ll probably have seen them all in a letter or two. (Your little dragons are charming too, and hard to miss, but I almost ripped the first letter trying to undo it. Does the sending spell really need such a complex fold?)
I’m fairly sure Ratnam was only able to do his job because no danger worth its salt would put up with such a dullard. He’s spent the past three nights telling campfire stories about his bravery in a set of combats I’m reasonably sure he’s too young to have participated in, and throwing those clementines he stuffs in his belt pouch at me if I point it out.
Still no progress towards finding Him, but at least in spite of inconvenience, the landscape is lovely. Trolls must be thin on the ground here; nothing is eating fallen trees but the mushrooms, and the only howling is from far, far away. At night, the sky goes alight with the glowing ribbons leyline throw, and every little night creature sings its heart out for companionship.
I keep seeing these endearing little birds – blue-grey backs and a white belly, like someone half-dipped an egg in ink for a second. They make me think of you. I think I’ve seen them in the lowlands too, but I’ve never noticed them so.
The complexity and variety of your letter folds does not matter to the spell’s function; although if you decide you’d like to dally with me in bed again, I am incentivised to keep your fingers nimble while you’re away. Perhaps I’d better do more to keep you in practice if the ‘crane’ pattern I was using is causing problems… You’ve displayed such finesse undoing my other kind of package that I’d expect you to handle a paper just as precisely.
Ley-ribbons! I remember seeing them over the ocean during the travels of my youth: Half the world a black mirror, the other glittering with stars and silk. The courts of where I was born could only dream a sight so lovely. I prefer my inland post here, and my tower inlaid inch by inch with my very own workings, but perhaps I’ll weave an enchantment to conjure the image of such things into the ballroom ceiling.
You make me think of birds as well, although I can never decide whether you make me think more of a wren or a thrasher. Now, wrens have your cleverness, and the quiet way you seem to slip from one place to another without ever passing between them. But! Only the thrasher and their yellow eyes can muster the same disgruntled wisdom in their glare. You can write a thesis worth of judgement in a single glance.
Ill news at the tower; while our Fool is doing far better at the control exercises than when you left (I’ve finally managed to buff the char out of courtyard tiles faster than he leaves it!), a nightmare left him dribbling white-heat from the fingertips two nights ago. He burnt out some of the paperwork in the rooms along his escape route before my wards kicked in. Nothing of great import seems to have been lost – by inference, they were petty financial records collected during the supervision of my predecessor and never discarded – but all the steadfastness he’d gained seems lost. Even with Wolf’s assistance, I cannot get him to sleep; instead, he cowers, trembling and afraid – not at the nightmares themselves, whatever they might be (and he says he does not know) but at the notion he must run again.
The ordinary teas and draughts I give villagers who come with such a complaint do nothing; the charms suffice only when one wills them so… I’ve no notion what to do for this.
Surely, the great mages of the past must have seen such things (Or, for that matter, suffered through them themselves), but – kind enough to leave a record for their future kin? Ha, as if! No, every time, the suffering must reinvent the wheel and begin to learn anew. (Curses on the graves of those who left their cures unwritten!)
Why… thank you for the compliment!
I’ll have to ask you more about your earlier travels when we see each other in the flesh. Before, I’d been so curious about scholarly concerns you tower-mages have been concocting I hadn’t asked, and those are solidly confined to this continent, but… it does my heart good, to ponder what exists beyond the limits of familiar shores.
To be sure, as you’ve noted, I am prone judge. But the important thing is, I’m right, and you know it!
On the news… drat. That sounds quite like Wolf, when I first met him; he was a warrior in the place that left him behind, and the daymares that kind of thing leaves one with are worse than the nightmares can ever hope to be. Adding the Fool’s “explosive” tendencies to the mix is even worse than that.
It strikes me that the problem, first, is not that he cannot sleep, or cannot use the charms, but that he is too afraid to.
He may not be able to remember clearly enough to picture it, but I’d bet this same business is what left him fleeing from one place to another when we all met. Can you imagine how some ordinary farmer, or cleric, or other do-gooder might react to him lighting their goods aflame? Because I can, and it isn’t a pretty picture. The poor man has probably spent half his life running – even if his thoughts don’t recall it, I’m sure his bones do.
Here’s what I think – the three of you should set to have a little campfire party out in the courtyard. Set up some cots under the stars, and bring out good food and good drink (although nothing fermented), and spend some time just telling stories and letting yourselves have good humor. Then, set yourselves a little camping-place there, and sleep by him, in a place where he knows you’ll be able to wake and put a stop to any unearthly heat he throws. It’s a gesture of trust, and that is something he’s sorely lacked. He cares greatly for what you think of him, and undoubtedly fears he’ll lose it all by displeasing you; he needs to know to the marrow that you consider his needs worth a compromise.
Gods, brilliant. Just the spark of an idea I needed…
For what it’s worth, I set down notes about the matter in my log, and attributed them to you. With any hope, whoever comes a few generations along won’t feel so very lost.
It’s no cure, of course; I know our dear Fool is still sheepish about his bad nights, and is unlikely to stop having them for some time, but it seems to have brought him some relief.
The night under the stars was lovely. The air of the day had been quite warm, and some manner of trees are blooming in the wood, so everything smelled quite pleasant; Wolf was able to relate a whole saga of tales for us, and I read aloud from one of the collections of theatrical comedies I bought in Slateharbor on my last visit to their Sage. Even Fool had stories brought back from the village of petty dramas and children’s squabbles, which he told with fantastic flourish, acting out all the parts for us for maximum effect.
Not only did he go on to sleep the night through without incident, I think it’s the best I’ve slept in some years. Perhaps he wasn’t the only one in need of a little shared trust.
I must say, I wish you had been there too. For one, you’re a trained orator, Journey-Mage that you are, and I doubt most of the dreck written by the modern playwrights could hold up against tales honed by generations. For another, while my fondness for the Fool and Wolf warms me greatly, there’s nothing quite like the excitement of knowing I’m speaking with an academic equal (though your “texts” weren’t written and bound.)
With the three of us here, the tower is more inhabited than it has been for many years – but somehow it manages to be lonely without you anyway.
Thank goodness, to know one blessing has fallen upon you all.
Your words of late have left me in an.. intimately contemplative mood.
When I left, you were thinking of switching furnishings downstairs again. You could have either now, for all I know, but my fingers itch so badly to spend time together I can’t wait to find out for sure; I’ve simply got to tell you what I’m thinking of now.
People like to make out that it’s straightforward to handle a cock, but I don’t think it so. If you’ve one now, I’m already plotting the best way to explore its capabilities.
I know you admire the squareness of my hands and the callus I’ve built up from living in the rough so often; all the easier to cup your bollocks and massage the ridges within their bases while I minister to the shaft. Hmm, I wonder – that shaft, is it cut or left alone? Perhaps, you’ve even gone and pierced it somewhere. (Giving your member enchanted jewelry would be just your thing, I think, given you adorn everything else in your home too.)
I’ll have to be gentle and delicate either way. You do so well to make yourself gossamer in every respect, I can’t imagine you’d let yourself be anything less than deliciously sensitive in every tissue.
I’ll start by working the skin of your shaft up and down like velvet, then rub half-rings just under the head until it’s saturated slick. I admit, my mouth is still weak; I’ll need to use caution when I take your head in my lips not to slip hardened tooth against tender bone. A clever turn of tongue and pressure just so, to tease you to an edge without spilling over – I’d like to make a game of it, see how long I can keep you eagerly ready without letting it be done with.
After, well, I happen to know some of the tinctures you keep on your desk’s shelf are just pleasantly scented oils, not reagents; I imagine cleaning up will be just as pleasant as making the mess.
But – it could be I’ve guessed wrong! Perhaps it’s a season to have the ‘fairer’ of sexes tucked into your bower, gleamingly plumed and secretive as a riddle. (If that’s the case, then my rough worker’s hands are no boon; I’ll have to fetch to the kitchens first, and find the tenderest of oils to smooth them over.)
Well, then, I’ll have to start with kisses, to draw the creature from its cavern. First along the left lip, where the hair curls, then the right; I’ll tease the edges of your curtains with my tongue until they’re flush with lust. Only then can I properly approach the head, circling and probing for what pattern makes you weak while my hands compliment the motion at your entrance.
Some other day, I might have you sit in my lap. For now, though, since I’ve absented myself so long, it seems only right to kneel to pray at your altar. I’ll set my mouth to the patterns of worship – a song straight from my lips to yours, hm? Buzzing against your petals like an eager bee in search of a stamen, I’ll have to be quite sure you’re free of pollen before I let your bit go free.
While I might be the least experienced of your lovers, I reckon it’s still in my power to send you through a dozen little deaths in a day. I’ll suss out your favorite places to be stroked or pet or pressed, and try them all in combination until I’ve wrung out every spell that enchants you and left you satisfied.
So, however you are – I look forward to dallying a while. Hopefully soon.
Your grasp of what I enjoy is most astute! To fill your curiosity, you’re quite right, I have redecorated, albeit not in one of those ways. After wasting so many hours dithering between choices, I realised that, seeing as I’d been aiming to do an alteration anyway, I could simply install both.
I trust your mind remains sharp; if I know you well, you’ll have no issue at all merging your plans together to fit the situation!
It interests me that you’ve left no indication of how you’d like yourself to seen to – well, I’m sure your intent was for me to fill in the blank, seeing as I’ve such an intimate knowledge of your being.
Much as I aim to refrain from pride in all matters, I must say I’m still quite tickled you decided to ask me to make your pattern for you; I may be considered a master of casting a flesh-shaping, but that hardly makes me an arbeiter of good taste – to be chosen as the artist deciding such an intimate thing is a high honor.
So, now that you’ve had some chance to live with it – does it suit you?
You’re not alone in wanting things smoothed out completely, taking away all the markers of sex on your sex. It still mystifies me that, despite such models eliminating a phallus entirely, so many planners chose to put the strongest erotic feeling where its base would lie – right where any misaimed knee could cripple it with ease. That’s downright absurd for one who spends as much time wading through shrubs as you.
Of course, to create a new pattern, I had to lay the winding thread that brings you feeling with finest precision; even these many months later, I remember exactly where under your skin they lie, and just how deep – which are pleasure, and which are pain.
From your own ministrations, I surmise you have a special interest in hands; for that reason, it’s hands I’ll employ to pleasure you. I sculpted carefully – unlike my choice to keep the foibles of natural anatomy, your tenderest skin shouldn’t take offense to scented oils; I’ll pick your favorite of them as a lubricant. The smoothness you have leaves nothing to penetrate, unless you fancy experimentation with the anus, but even in that simplicity of design, slicking the surface makes touch just that much sweeter.
I’ve no doubt your senses are dulled and rusty after spending your time living in the rough. Starting with a massage to soothe sore muscles is for the best; ankles, thighs, then the muscle of your hips and back in order, I think. Only then can I start into working the intimate arts properly!
The mons pubis at the front is still soft to the touch, and so I’ll touch it apace, for all that it doesn’t bear much in the way of eroticism beyond the figurative factors. Per your request, I buried that along the midline of your crotch – no labia, that would have been just another place to chafe, but instead, a soft fingertip’s depth below the surface, a firm line fit to dig thumbs into in the act of massaging.
Oiled up properly, I’ll be able to test whether circling motions or rolling pressure brings you off best. I have my theories, but, as the writers of texts say, few theories survive an encounter in the field. Perhaps even a squeezing of the entire ridge would suit you, although I’m inclined to think you deserve rather more babying than that after, spending a season camping in the sticks and mud. I’m also curious whether a dab of mint extract or oil of pepper might enhance the experience, heat you up, or freeze you cold, to find a combination that works better than one thing alone, once we’ve established some baseline.
…Perhaps you’ll have established some of one already, by the time you return?
Sage of Whitemarble
“Establish a baseline yourself,” you tease! Gods, I think I will; you’ve given me enough material for days of research into that…
I’m looking forward to getting the chance. The good news is, I think my search may be getting quite close. The sigil-stones have been flashing with hints of a wellspring of great power somewhere nearby: something that isn’t any of the source types I’ve seen before, or you’ve told me of, something strong that moves rather than standing still. Needless to say, for once, there’s hope I’ve found my quarry!
The workers have been well-behaved too, and seem to have adapted quite well to the conditions here. It should take half the time to leave as it took to get into place!
Anyway, I’ll get back to you in a day or two, once I get more down-time – I just didn’t want to leave you waiting on a response again.
My dear, I think in your excitement, you’ve forgotten you meant to write again?
Things here are well. The Fool continues to learn and grow more comfortable in this place, and Wolf has been helping me order all the books left about to make things less cramped in the event he needs to make another midnight escape in the future. I’ve mixed a few more oils I think might interest you – the numbness left by a suspension of clove is most intriguing, not to mention pleasant-smelling.
Has Ratnam given you any more trouble? I’ll send him a letter of his own if he has, and it won’t be nearly so friendly. He knows me well; he only scoffs on the surface, not in his heart, and he will heed what I say!
I’ve had no reply for far too long. Please, with haste, tell me what you need: supplies? A rescue? A balm for some ill?
Any word at all will do; I seek only to know you can utter one still.
I wonder where letters are sent when there’s nobody to receive them.
I thought the spell would fail, but they still depart once they’re folded. Do they guess a place?
Or is your heart’s blood still flowing, somewhere out there?
All my regrets.
I do live, but… well, we’ll have to properly christen “the” fool, and I must make some terrible amends for lambasting the hired hands for their wanderings: in the end, it was my own damn judgement that nearly made mince of us.
These woods and their flat carpet of moss between pines, the silence of the things that howl in the night for weeks on end – it lulled me into a false security. Without the undergrowth of a lowlands forest or the constant carvings of all the little rivulets of river joining together, it feels like you can see for miles here, as if any threat would be trivial to spot as it tries to stalk you… and it’s easy to forget to even watch.
For a few days, the sigil-stone had intermittently registered something new; what I’d mentioned before. The only thing I can think of to match its color and complexion… well, I thought it looked much like Dragon-God sign. I’m sure you can guess why that thrilled me then.
It was irregular in strength, and direction; I was so sure that meant movement, presence and absence. It didn’t even occur to me to wonder at why the land-energies seemed so quiet and even, when the Dead God should have been making them swell and rise in anticipation of mischief. All those years I spent training, learning the signs, and all it took was one false lead to forget what I’d be looking for…
No, the signal wasn’t moving. It was simply too large to be in a single direction. When we stumbled through the zone’s disguising barrier, the sigil-stone instantly blared one color the whole compass round. I’d been moving so fast I practically ran straight toward the heart of the thing.
A mourning-ghost, Sage! I got myself beguiled by a mourning-ghost! I’ve been telling people how to avoid them since I was a child! All the fat must have leaked out my ears; what kind of idiot walks straight into the damn things’ domain. The poor hired folk just charged right after me… I almost delivered them all straight to doom.
I guess I can blame the electrifying fantasia that sets in when you’ve entered one’s kingdom to some extent… every hair on my body was raised, in the most delicious shiver of discovery; my blood felt fresh and new, as if I were somehow special, the very first person to see the sun rise over a new hill, just the sort of thing I’d expected to feel when if I finally met the God I was looking for. First my heart was light in my chest, then the rest of me; the cracking and crunching of leaflitter underfoot fading away as if I was simply too entranced to hear it, when, well – then I realised my feet barely needed to brush the ground to take a step, and that was when the grim reality seized me.
The ghost’s place glowed, a diffuse white light eating up the distance as if you were looking up into the clouds. We were so light against the ground one too-strong step could have ripped us away from it forever, one more piece of floating debris to decorate its field with. It crooned from the distance, as lacey ribbons of it drifted before and behind and through itself in the sky.
I could not hear words. I did not feel what it meant. And for that… I am very glad. I think, if we had been close enough to understand what it mourned, we would be there still.
I still find myself feeling as if I’m floating away, desperate with fear.
And, again, I owe my apologies for passing judgement on others’ common sense… Ratnam was the one who broke us free. I can’t tell you for sure what he said because my ears were ringing (although I’m fairly sure it was rude), but hearing such an ordinary sort of irritation, a sane and normal voice – I just don’t know, it broke the spell of the thing. All the sudden, traction seemed possible, and I was scrambling first on my feet, then with the help of my hands like a child climbing a grassy knoll, away from the mourning-ghost as fast as I could, the others not far behind.
When we found ourselves in a real place again, it was late afternoon, and some bird was whistling warning in a nearby tree. We walked for nearly two hours away from that place before it felt safe enough to camp.
It’s morning again now, and I’m trying to decide what we’ll do. The crew is shaken, but strangely willing to do what I say – yet at the same time, it feels like a betrayal to risk them again so soon. I get the feeling in my gut we spent more than a little time in that place – just a fresh heat in the air that wasn’t there before.
I said I’d come home at the turning of the leaves; I said the Dead God could wait if I hadn’t found Him by then… but at the same time, what of my quest?
My faith in my own wisdom is shot. Please, weigh in with yours.
I thought I am very glad to be hearing from you at all. (You were only gone a few weeks, not a full set of seasons.)
If your wisdom is shot, my mind is not much better. It feels like a small bird fluttering inside my skull, screaming for action, without any idea what action that might be.
If I could send my whole self, in this instant, I think I would; I cannot, so this paper will have to do.
Oh, thank gods. I was afraid everyone’d gone and lived and died while we were in thrall.
It’s good to hear from you too, Sage.
28 Gresh, 1372
As a mage, I think there’s no particular reason to fear that you’ll fall prey again, either to this ghost or to any other. Much as it may not feel so at the moment, you are clever, and canny, and wise, and you are unlikely to fall into the same mistake twice. You could proceed with the hunt as planned without facing additional physical risk, and perhaps even with less than you’d had before, given you now know what to expect from the sigil-stone
But… as you advised me about our ‘fool,’ I don’t think this is a matter of whether you can or cannot, I think it is a matter of your own feelings and needs. And well, my impression is:
The Dead God can wait.
He won’t be coming along with you if you’re stuck like a rock, or dead in the grave yourself. There will be time to try this again, and goodness knows, my tower should be an excellent place to regroup and acquire better tools.
It’s also somewhere you can clear your head. Don’t dismiss your feelings lightly; you too, deserve to rest, and I’d be honored if it were with me.
Then consider yourself honored; I’ll be seeing you soon.
And, in terms of relaxation?
…I hope you’ve kept those oils.
Heeeey epistolary buddy! I’m so glad other folks decided to go all in with the theme too.
This piece has so much mystery to it: the magic and monsters and gods are all given just enough detail to really grab you. Are you thinking of writing future stories set in the same universe? I’d love to know more.
Also, I know this is a ridiculous detail, but I /adore/ the characters you picked for scene dividers! They’re such a nice fit for magic letters.
It’s quite impressive seeing how much this story evolved in such a short period of time, especially since a pure epistolary is ABSURDLY difficult to pull off and have make some sort of narrative sense (much less be enjoyable to read), and given the scope of some of the changes you managed from early drafts I’d say you’ve pulled off a pocket-sized miracle. Plotwise, it’s interesting teasing out more of an idea of how these two met each other, why they might’ve met in the first place, and how they might evolve their relationship from here. The little divider dingbats indicating possible folding directions are also fun to see, so much personality! Give yourself a pat on the back: this was no less than a Herculean effort and you lived to tell the tale. Well done!
There’s a lot of interesting back story that’s hinted at and I’d love to know more about.
You did a tremendous job of fitting that fascinating world into those letters. Enough to not get lost, but not so much it’s overwhelming. I’m fascinated by the concept of the mourning-ghost!
Ooo, that was fascinating! I like how you worked the details into the letters. Their affection for each other really shone through. I bet they’re going to have a really nice time together when they see each other again.