Perhaps...perhaps this one. Perhaps I could hold on here, for a while; let the worm inside rest.
This one, where I learned to mix and knead and bake bread before I could walk, before the first word slurred from my lips. This one, where I learned how to milk cattle, churn that milk to butter before I knew my own name.
This life...one of a thousand, a million; one in which I was a child, not wanted or reviled; simply one that slopped onto the blankets and cold stone like the rest; my brothers and sisters, who told me stories before I knew the words, of those who went before; the elder ones, sent out into the city, the desert.
Stories of the desert...I liked those most of all. They told that it's forever; that beyond the shattered outer walls, the ghost-towns and ruins that stretched into the horizon, the white sand that shimmered all colours at mid-day was endless; an emptiness into which only the lunatic, the diseased and visionary wandered, none returning.
I asked, when I had the words, when I learned the way: What was out there? What wandered and lives amongst the colours, playing in the rainbow light?
So many things, if the stories they told were true; the children of people and animals; of spirits and dust-demons that danced on the winds. The ghosts of those that made our city, this strong-hold against the desert; the last place in all the world where there were stories and buildings and bread.
Our family...my sisters and I, we made the bread, from the flour and wheat our Father brought home, in the way that our Mothers taught us. I didn't know which of them was mine; none of us did. I learned not to ask early; saw the froth and fury it roused in our Father. A blasphemy, he said; not be uttered under his roof again. All children of all Mothers, maybe not even the women themselves knowing, after a time.
That was how I spent my days, from the very earliest; in the cool murk beneath the house, where the flour rose and swirled like ghosts, where my sisters gossiped and swapped stories of their twilight escapades (none for our Father's ear; on the rare occassions he heard, he would bark and bellow and beat until those responsible could no longer plead). I learned from them; not only how to bake, the magic of capturing yeast from the air and slamming air out of dough, watching it swell, but how to walk, how to move, how to carry myself. Not long before they started to realise, not long before I knew: one of the blessed, a soul that walked in strange skin, one of the Dragon's own daughters.
I was so afraid, when my Father came, when I knew that he knew. I don't know which of them told, but I hated them all for it, never so betrayed, before or since. Still so young, then.
Not that he required their confession, to hear him tell it; he'd seen the light in me, the strange fire, from the moment I was born, or so he told the Tiamine, my true sisters.
He took me to them, at little more than eight years old, when I had barely set foot outside of the bakery, when the rare instances I was allowed to climb the stairs to the cafe above shuddered me to my marrow.
Sweat, fear; afraid my heart would burst, when we first set foot out on the street; afraid that I would shrivel up and blow away beneath the eyes that turned on us, more dust to feed the desert. Every step unravelling me further, the cold storm inside swelling; sunlight as I'd rarely seen, brilliant white filtering down from a sky of greens and pale pinks, ribbons of luminous colour coiling and converging there, shedding streamers down, down upon the city, upon the broken spires, the old temples and markets.
I fell in love, my hand in his, enveloped by it, his sweating, furious heat transmitting to me like a fever. In love with the city I'd never seen, in love with every weary, wondering face, every curious or condeming eye. I met them, though it damn near burst my heart to do so, letting them snare me, to wonder and recoil, to spit in the sand at my passing.
A Tiamine, a child of old chaos, when the world was a woman; when deserts were ocean, and sky was storms. Before the land and fire, before He rose from beneath, to still and tame them all. I knew the stories; my Mother and Sisters had told me; of the Great Ocean that existed here long, long, long before I or they or their parents were born, long before the city rose; of the Goddess whose body it was born from; of the children that swam there with her...so many stories, swirling behind my eyes as he led me through the streets and plazas and market squares.
So many people...more than I'd ever seen, even in the cafe; bustling and jostling and stinking together, swapping stories and laughter, barbs and insults; a knot of them brawling in the sand outside a nearby temple, screaming as they wrenched at one another's hair, as they bit down on their opponent's arms and backs. We didn't linger, the crowds parting before us as we drew deeper, as we approached the place where my Father came to pray six times a day; where he'd promised to bring me, when I came of age.
An oath he'd never collect on.
I felt him tense, his fingers gripping mine tight enough for the bones to grind against one another, felt him slow, stumbling to a halt.
Burning eyes, wider and paler than the sun. So many, their light on me making me want nothing more than to be back in the cool darkness, kneading dough with my sisters.
Stammered words, another voice; one I'd never heard my Father use before. I hated him, at that moment; a splinter of familiar betrayal working its way into my heart. None of them would be mine after this; none of them.
The ones that waited, with white fire in their eyes, silver in their hands...I didn't know them, but my Father did, pleading with them to let us pass, telling him that the Tiamine expected us.
They spat and snarled at mention of the Dragon's Children, some of them crying out, calling me perversion, beast, abomination. Fury, burning the hand he held, a twin fire of shame feeding it.
"You dare bring that thing out here, to our dooresteps? We won't allow it!"
One that stood before the rest; a tall, pale man with a wide-brimmed hat, its cone bent and drooping, the hem of his coat tattered and dust-stained. Eyes windows of dark glass, reflecting the fires of another world. I knew him; had seen his like in the cafe before. Edenics, my Father called them, in the rants and ravings that inevitably followed.
"They don't belong here. Send 'em across the Dragon's Bed, back where they came from."
No such spit or froth, now; not that he allowed them to see.
"The Children...they've asked to see. Please..."
The first stone, catching him full in the face, hurling him back in the sand. Others followed, bottles and shards of stone, clumps of compressed sand, rotten food. Pelting him, as I watched, as he struggled to rise, the pleas smashed from his lips, the sight of him like this... quickening my breath, stirring strange tides in my entrails.
None of them found me, none of them daring. The rain didn't stop until he stopped struggling, until he no longer attempted to rise or plead, darkness spreading from beneath him across the broken stone.
I went to him, the man who made me, the pale, thin robe that my sisters had dressed me in fluttering about me, the hem sweeping in his filth, in the shadow-stuff that seeped and bubbled from him. I didn't touch him, though I knew that, if I did, they would see a miracle today; the man they'd presumed to murder rising from his death. I drew close, the sourness of him so offensive...nothing like the bread-and-yeast wholesomeness in which he'd raised me. How we'd let this man touch our bread, let his stink and disease seep into it... bread that would be sweeter, from today; I told him so, whispered it as he lay gasping in wet, broken breaths.
Cruelty...I'd known it, from him, from the less loving of my Mothers and Sisters (the ones I would expel, if and when I returned home, or set to work grinding the flour, sifting the wheat, but that I would never beat. Not like him.), but had never experienced it for myself; never known that black, liquorice burn in the back of my throat, the ragged red lightning between my temples...the invisible blade carving the air, burying itself in another's soul.
So hungry for me...I'd never known it; the heat of their eyes, of their white, white fire, aching for me, nothing else that would sustain it today but a sacred soul.
They waited, watching as I rose, as I turned to them. I would have let them take me, had she not come; would have let them set my dress and skin ablaze with their eyes, burned for them, as I never had for anyone.
But she did, the scent of her drifting on the breeze, a breath that was also a song, sweet to my ear; like those that drifted during festival months from nearby temples, from the streets and plazas I wasn't permitted to walk. Her voice the sound of the ocean, lapping against ancient shores. I had never seen the ocean; no one living had, but I knew it, with the certainty of dreams, saw it as she came, the gathered Edenics parting before her, scuttling back to the street sides, some of them breaking, scampering into their broken-down temples, where they practised their broken creeds. Others brave enough to stand, though not to speak.
All, except one.
She smiled as she came, the most beautiful thing...the most terrible. Tiamine...a word like angel or demon; a thing that cannot be described or expressed any other way. I had never known them; never seen them. Only the stories.
A slender form, almost naked; feminine, but still noticeably male, its body wrapped around in streamers of translucent fabric that seemed alive, flapping and coiling in a wind I didn't feel, crawling over her skin with parasite ecstasy. Seeing her, I envied them; wanting to be amongst them; to travel the softly undulating dunes of her belly, the soft whiteness that was an echo of the desert beyond the walls, to wet myself in the honeyed dew of her sweat.
Strange wants, strange hungers; ones I'd only ever felt pangs or echoes of before, and only ever in dreams, when the dragons came for me.
Long, slender arms, bedecked in jewellery, her skin tattooed to resemble snake or dragon scales, the shimmering light that passed through them with every step and gesture making them seem animate, far more than illusions of ink and needle. A shaved bald scalp, similarly decorated, eyes so green they shone like the ribbons of light weaving across the sky. At the end of each finger, a delicate, silver talon, so finely polished, they left contrails of light in the air where they passed. Dark lips, a soft smile, though only for me.
The Edenics withdrew from her as though she were diseased, though none threw more than a frown her way.
None, except the one with white fire in his eyes.
I had no eyes for him or for my Father, bleeding and shivering where he lay. Only for her, hers on me both wonderful and agonising, my body beneath the thin robe a shame to me; so much like my younger sister's; a woman's that hadn't yet begun to bud. "The daughter I never had." His title for me.
The fire-eyed one stood in her path, blocking her sight, his black and grey rags severing us from one another. Fury, disgust; as for one who had smeared shit across my eyes. Nothing I could do; no knife, no weapon.
"Enough," the man hissed, the word rendered even more sibillant by the rags swathed across his lips.
I heard her laugh, then, a voice that was neither that of a young man nor a girl, snared in some sweet space between. I didn't see what happened, but Fire Eyes staggered, his boots scraping the sand, a gloved hand rising to his face.
The whine rose from deep inside of him; in the loops and whorls of his entrails. A child watching its parents hacked to pieces, burned alive before its eyes, a husband witnessing his wives and daughters raped again and again. The fire in his eyes bursting free as they turned to the sky, white streaming into the pink and green, his hands clawing at them, to shatter the glass and let the rain in.
She nodded, still smiling, her eyes widening as they found mine.
Little sister...I'm sorry I did not come for you...
Her voice...not in my ears, but my head, as intimate as my own thoughts.
Will you come with me, now?
My tongue swelled in my mouth, words snarling in my throat like flies. How could I answer; bleat my ugly, animal nonsense at her, let her smell the shit-eating foulness of my breath...? No. I couldn't...
The Edenic screaming, blood-streaked, eyes of splintered glass, hurling himself at her, his filthy hands clawing at her throat. Red lightning as he touched her, the world and its filth boiling before my eyes. Flying without thought, without reason; a splinter in the storm, intent on severing arteries, on piercing eyes; shearing away the fingers that dared pollute her with their hate, their ugliness, their violence.
He didn't see; too intent on her, the most beautiful thing in creation accepting its murder without a twitch or word, though she was more than capable of preventing it.
My Father raising himself, spitting reprimand through the blood and broken nonsense of his face.
Too late, too late.
A bird's weight; a fact that he'd reminded me of again and again, during the drunken moments when he'd sought me out, taking his hand or belt to me for some imagined sleight, some contrived crime. Broken again and again and again, always healing, thanks to my Mothers and sisters, despite my fragility. Barely enough to stagger the Edenic, to distract him from his violence.
Pain, a flash of silver through the boiling red. Tumbling, skidding through the dust. A cut and quivering worm, nothing, just as he'd always said, as I'd always known...
One of the Tiamine, a Dragon's Daughter?; Less than laughable, in that moment; the poorest joke, blasphemy beyond even the bruises deepening beneath the Edenic's fingers. Heaving, its glass eyes on me, swimming with the story of my ugliness, my wretchedness...a tale to make me weep, and be thankful for the fire it would bring.
Breath catching in my throat, scarlet pulsing between the fingers clutched to my belly; a wound running from navel to flank, my life, my filth, pulsing into the dust. Out of the corner of my eye, Father's weeping as he dragged himself through the dust, muttering wordless pleas, prayers that no divinity worth invoking would acknowledge. Those that came in the Edenic's train, the piss and fire all but dwindled in them, those that remained doing so more out of terror of drawing their former shepherd's attention than anything else. I hadn't known, until that moment...how much they repulsed me. How happily I would have bled and bled and bled, until the streets became red rivers, until the desert ocean, the living swept up in them churned and boiled and broken until they were nothing; scraps for strange fish.
Yes, a world of them; the churches, the cities; history and all its detritus, ground down, swept away; become the foundations of coral reefs, the nurseries of whatever strange, sanguine life would follow.
A dream kindled and aborted in a heartbeat, murdered by a second stroke of lightning; this one carving my face, hurling me back from where I lay. Dragging her still, hefting her high, the Edenic followed, its voice rising with every step, becoming more manic as it cast its empty eyes over its hesitant allies, silently imploring them to see as it saw, hate as it hated.
And they did. They did.
Not seeing; my eyes on her; her broken, bleeding beauty, the trails of mercury she bled and wept into the dust.
Not seeing, as they descended upon me, as the first of their boots and blows found me, as their spit and curses burned me alive, their knives carved me open, spilling me out to mingle with her, red lacing silver.
Not seeing, but feeling; their burning eyes, curses hotter, sharper than any blade or fire. Carving me to the bone, spilling me out, splintering and unravelling; a knot of living pain, agony that was nothing, nothing, compared to what the sight of her roused.
Through the chaos of smeared, snarling faces, of boots and fists, flashing knives and broken glass, my Father, the man crawling away, into the shadowed side-streets, there to lick his wounds and pray that they'd be content, when they'd reduced my sister and I to filth in the street.
Singing to him, to them all, through the pain:
I'll find you...I'll find you all, in dreams, where I can be a dragon true, where I'll burn and devour and shat you out over and over and over, forever...
My sister hearing the song, laughing, through their animal grunts, their cattle-snorts and barks. A sound as beautiful as the sight of her, washing away pain, anger, hate...a lullaby to ease us both from this world of dead fire and dry seas.
Another end, so soon?
Swirling, a thing of dust, seeping, carving red runnels through my own filth. Seeing what they'd made of me, of her; our broken, mangled bodies, her beauty and mine left to gather flies and feed vermin in the street.
Seeing him, the bloody, broken, weeping man as he dragged himself from the shadows, trembling, whimpering as he cast frightened eyes away from us, up and down the street, fleeing, fleeing as fast as his bruised and bleeding frame allowed.
Leaving us here. Leaving me here; another abortion, another unwanted birth.
Sad, so sad to leave behind the bread and my sisters, even though they'd betrayed me; the Mothers whose names I'd never learned, whose stories I'd yet to hear.
The sister, who I'd never been allowed to know, whose beauty had been stolen, vandalised in the most obscene way.
Not content with mere murder. Oh no; many remaining, including their fire-eyed shepherd, to beat and cut and burn, to score and scratch and carve their contempt into her hide.
What remained...not even a parody of its former beauty; a lipless, noseless mannequin of meat and bone, nestling in a pool of steaming mercury.
Not sorry to see the end of this sick and dying dream, wondering, as I rose, what new wastes I might walk, what new travesties I might witness...
“So soon, sister?”
Shuddering, in agony, in delight, as she snared me; as her mercurial blood frothed and rose, coiling about and through my abstract essence, anchoring me to meat that had yet to fully still.
Her ruins twitching, her eyeless, splintered face clicking and cracking as it rearranged before my eyes.
Already rising, already healing, crawling its way towards me.
Writhing, a hooked and spitted worm, as she dragged me down, as she soothed me back, back into the meat I'd abandoned for dead...
Sensation. Hideous. Glorious; the pulse of blood, black star-bursts of pain, my heart fluttering, a caged and rabid bird in my chest.
Old and new; her effluent not content to merely return me to my shameful flesh; invading it, rewriting it...
Feeling her within me, flowing where my blood flowed, lacing thought and sensation with silver and sunlight.
Stirring, rising from the mire of my murder; a genuine miracle, that the holy brutes who sired it would never know, save as something to fear, to vandalise and desecrate.
Her hands on me, guiding the rewriting of my flesh, moving as they might over a lover's body, over a sick and wounded child's, inspiring not a return to my old, sorry self, but the one I walked in when dreams took me; fluid and pearl-scaled, winged and star-eyed.
Time, yet, before I aspired to that condition; before shattered bone and ruptured organ reknitted themselves; before I could walk or rise without her aid.
Time, in which to learn new stories, miracles beyond rising bread, and love beyond the idiot anxieties of men.
George Lea is an entity that seems to simultaneously exist and not exist at various points and states in time and reality, mostly where there are vast quantities of cake to be had. He has a lot of books. And a cat named Rufus. What she makes of all this is anyone's guess.