Nine Gods in Masquerade

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Digital drawing. An empty masquerade mask facing forward with several asymmetrical elements. At center bridge of nose, a seashell motif. At left of image the top corner of the mask appears to be burning in a sparkling flame, and part of the mask appears to be vaporizing. At bottom is a small chainmail section from which there hangs a row of teardrop pieces dangling from thin strings. Within each eye hole is a star-filled sky motif. The right eye hole is framed with a tiled or scaled border. The left eye is surrounded by a vine motif. At right of image a feather and wing motif drops from the bottom of the mask. Along the side and extending up in a branching tree. A few leaves sprout from a few branches. Two flowers are set beside the tree and above the left eye. A dragonfly-like insect is perched at the base of the tree with two insect wings extending out and two feathers emerging from the bottom.

The story will be told by the young and by the old, many times this night, of the nine gods in masquerade.  And it seems to me, that most of these storytellers have only pieces of a greater puzzle.

The masquerade is an ancient custom, they say.  They all say that.  And that part is right. 

It’s the one night when the gods, in disguise, walk among the mortals, they say. 

Ha!

We all know there’s no such things as gods.  Only ancestors, some of whom knew more and better than we do, and some of whom knew less and worse.

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They Stand. They Watch. They Wait.

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Digital drawing. The silhouette of a person facing forward stands at center with arms to the side. The eyes glow with the color of the sunny halo behind the figure’s head and torso. The figure stands on ground that is cast in dark shadows. The ground fills the bottom fourth of the image. Scarce shrubbery is visible to the left of frame. A bush or small tree is visible at the right of frame. All in shadow. The sky fills the top three-quarters of the image and is streaked with sunset colors.

“What would happen if I accidentally looked at one of them?” Adira asked.  “Or if I spoke by reflex, before I could stop myself?”

She was the passenger.  With a sudden swerve, the driver pulled aside.  Ignoring the horn of the car that just missed side-swiping them, he gripped the wheel.  His shoulders heaved in a single breath.

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The Last Night of Grief

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Digital drawing. Facing forward, a creature with three dog-like heads with different colors of fur. The heads emerge from serpent-like necks from a central body with the top half of three legs visible, standing. All eyes are glowing. All the snouts are contracted as if growling. All ears are perked up. A forked tongue emerges from the head at right. Snake-like fangs drip a drop of venom from the head at left. Behind and above the heads, an armored segmented body is visible extended up out of frame. Extending down from top left of frame is a segmented spiked tail curling upward. Behind the creature is the opening of a cave.

“Before you kill us,” the philosopher said, standing before fangs dripping with searing venom and six pairs of blazing eyes, “let us ask you a question.”

The philosopher felt her heart beating within her chest.  She winced at the feeling.  It was not painful.  Just sad.  Her heart knew this was the moment of her death and it was still aching to keep her from it.   

All six of the creature’s eyes were on her, but she was most directly in front of one pair in one giant dog-like head.  She knew this one’s name.  This one was Lucte.  The name meant “grief.”

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Transdimensional Top Hat

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Digital drawing. A young woman at center seen from knees up, dressed in top hat, ruffled shirt, and a jacket with coattails. She stands facing forward, turned slightly to the right, arms raised and bent, hands flourished. From her right shoulder, a flock of a butterflies fly up to upper left corner, one of them perched on her right index finger. Bottom right corner, waist-high to the young woman, stands a classic style robot made out of blocks and circles, with right arm raised, see from mid-section up.

“Maybe this is my destiny,” Ro said, as she swept the top hat off the table and perched it on her head. 

She spun around to show her cousin who laughed, gave her a thumbs up, and continued browsing the crates full of old magazines.

The two were at an estate sale that had intrigued Ro because it was for the former belongings of a magician. 

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The Last Magnificent Seahorse

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Digital drawing. Floating in water among small bubbles, the mythical creature known as the hippocampus. Seen from left side, the front half looks like a horse, except that the mane is replaced with a spiny dorsal fin, and the hooves are replaced by fins. The forelimbs appear to be in mid-gallop. The back half appears like a fish with fins protruding from the sides. The tail arcs toward the front. The creature’s coloring is vivid and shimmering like a fish.

The foal peered out at the sea, the forbidding sea, and he wondered.  He wondered at what his mother had just told him.

“It can’t be true,” he said, swishing his tail.  He was still new to the world, but already he had a favorite thing to do, and it was swishing his tail.

“Why not?” his mother asked.  She had warned him not to get too close to the waves.  But she need not have.  He wasn’t going anywhere near that roaring, reaching, grasping beast that she called “the sea.”

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Queen Niyami

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Image description: Digital drawing. A creature with the front half of a woman and the bottom half of a shark. She’s underwater. Foreground, a disembodied eye trailing a nerve stalk lies on the floor of the body of water in which the creature is floating. She’s facing forward with both hands planted on the floor as if doing a push-up. Her right eye is missing. The socket bleeds. Her open mouth is filled with shark’s teeth, and part of a second mouth appears to be growing out of her first and under her right cheek. She wears gold jewelry, metal cuffs, and a scarf wrapped upon her head that flutters slightly in the water. Her tail is visible bending towards the right.

“Well, I’ve heard that sharks can never stop moving or they’ll die.  And they don’t sleep as we do.  I have a story that might explain why, but…”

Lia pretended to hesitate as she gauged the children’s reactions.  The oldest looked curious but skeptical. The middle one started to grin at the mention of sharks.  And the youngest cocked her head in such a way that the lamp light cast a twinkle in her eye.

“You know what?” Lia said.  “I’m actually not sure I should tell you this one.  I don’t want to give you nightmares.”

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The Vessel Vespertilian

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Digital drawing. A bat mostly resembling the pygmy round-eared bat, three-quarters view of head with mouth slightly open, seen from bent legs up. The bat has two arms bent over his legs with a smooth membrane connecting the arms to his side. Behind these arms rise four pairs of membranous wings. They extend off frame. The bottom pair is watery and translucent. Next is a pair with rough earthen texture. Next is a flaming pair. And the last is luminous and wispy.

“Raccoons or orphans, whatever is back there, chase them away.  Or chase this away.  It’s your choice.”

I didn’t want to look at the glinting silver coin that he held up, but I couldn’t help it.  This was not the coin I needed today, or ten days from now, or even ten years from now.  I was prudent with my coin.  No, this was the coin I would need when I was an old woman, assuming I wanted to be the type of old woman who spent her days sitting by a sunlit window, sipping on fruit nectar, listening to a happy dog bark as I read a book of my choosing for as long as I so pleased.

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The Lunarian

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Digital drawing. Center, a woman seen from back, stands with hands clasped behind her back. Her face is turned so her right profile is visible. She has long hair, curled at the ends, and she wears a hooded dress coat. Her entire form appears silvery. Before her is a neon pink cloud. A glittering streak of light shoots directly up from the cloud, appearing from the top of the woman’s head. Dark hazy clouds rise from the background, and above, the hints of a starry sky.

Pike tilted his head up slightly, so he could see more clearly through his helmet.  He raised his arm and glanced at the detector in his gloved hand.  With his other hand, he pointed straight ahead. 

“That way,” he said.

Captain Tai drifted past him, holding her own arm up, so that the light beam panel on the forearm of her suit could illuminate their way.

The dark side of the moon was not just regular dark.  It was pitch dark.  If not for the trackers, and the back-up trackers, and the emergency back-up trackers, in their suits and their equipment, Pike would have at least hesitated wandering any farther into the unmapped region from which the anomalous signal seemed to be originating.  More likely, he would have talked his captain out of venturing ahead altogether.  Even more likely, she wouldn’t have needed to be convinced.

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Kairos and the Phantom

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Digital drawing. At right, a man in medieval style clothing stands amid patches of grass and looks shocked. He holds his right hand to his mouth as he gazes at the figure to the left, a man with a gray complexion bowing as he catches an apple. The bowing man is surrounded by a wispy glowing cloak and the colors of his clothing appear to be bleeding into the cloak. At his right foot is a platter of food. A stone sits on or in his left foot. Part of a stream is visible behind the shocked man.

Something terrible had come into the world.  Something evil.  Invisible, intangible. Some corruption that could not be perceived.  And therefore could not be fought.  By the time it had a grip on someone, it was too late.  The corruption seeped into every part of that person, defiling their heart, twisting their thoughts, draining the very life out of their body.

No land was spared.  No person was spared, no matter how pure, how honorable, how fit of body, how courageous of heart.  No place was hidden from this corruption. 

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