Fragile

Mar. 10th, 2007 09:39 pm
abetterlie: (Default)
All bodies are fragile.

It's a lesson Stephen learns very early, and it is one of the most important lessons. No matter how thick their hide, no matter their agility, no matter how sharp their claws and teeth, somewhere, at some points of their bodies, they are vulnerable. Fragile, even.

"Find out their vulnerable spot," his father says, "and you can break them. This is how we survive."

Quortoth offers most of its species in herds, so the knowledge gained can be used again and again. There is one exception. Stephen and his father are a species of two, and not even that. Growing up, Stephen realises their breaking points are not the same. His skin heals quickly, bruises and cuts fading, and he can fall from great heights without any repercussions. His father, on the other hand, carries cuts for weeks, and they leave scars. As Stephen grows older, taller, stronger, his father grows older, slower, and ever more fragile. It is not that he complains; that would be unthinkable. But his breath grows shorter when they have to run. One of the creatures he handled without a problem when Stephen's hands had not been able to wield a blade manages to deliver a sting. He orders Stephen to cut out the poisoned flesh, to burn it clean with a knife held into the fire first, and while this prevents an infection, it also causes him to lose consciousness and to drag one leg behind for two months.

"It is not Quortoth," he replies when Stephen asks. "It is age."

Age, then, is the most terrifying foe of all. It renders his father more vulnerable by the day. Watching him, Stephen observes an ever increasing assortment of weaknesses. When he is very quiet and focuses all his senses, he imagines he can even hear his father's heartbeat losing that strong steady rhythm it used to have. His father, who is strength, wisdom and the justification of his existence, as God gave Stephen to him to console him for the loss of his other children and to avenge their fate, his father who is everything to him becomes the most fragile creature in Quortoth, and it terrifies Stephen in a way nothing else ever has.

One day, his father nearly falls into a nest of slugs. Later, Stephen decides to wipe them out so it never happens again. The creatures are sentient, and capable of speech. They mock Stephen even as they run and flee, taunt him with the fact that he will never be able to get rid of them entirely. Imprisoned, demon child, destroyer, but not us, oh no! they sing. Worlds are ours!

It could be an empty boast, but it gets him thinking. All bodies are fragile. All have their vulnerable spots. What is a world, after all, if not one giant body? His father had called Quortoth a prison more than once, explaining that the demon who allowed him to get here had sworn nobody else would be able to follow, or indeed return. But there had been an opening, once. There could be another.

The slugs, at any rate, have their own kind of fragility. He knows their breaking points, alright. He'll make them prove their boast about knowing the way to other worlds, or he'll kill them, every single one. Either way, he will save his father.

It never occurs to him that fragility is not limited to bodies. But then, Stephen was broken a long time ago.
abetterlie: (Default)
I suppose I can't say "the wider Los Angeles area" and leave it at that. Though it's true, in a sense. I have the memories. This creepy Veil guy Wolfram and Hart hired even made sure they were completely free of anything more upsetting than getting lost in a supermarket, and that the Los Angeles in my mind is more smog-free and Universal Studios film tour ridden than the real thing ever was. Oh yeah, and he included lots of trips to the beach. In these memories, the ocean never looked empty to me.

The place where I actually grew up was very different.

Fred tried to talk with me about Pylea once or twice, because she spent time in a hell dimension as well, but the thing is, they're all different. Hers had green demons like Lorne and humans treated as cattle. Mine didn't have any humans at all, save for my father and myself. There was us, and there was everything else, which tried to kill, eat, or otherways consume us. We were on the move the entire time when I was a child, before I got strong enough so we could stay in a place more than three or four nights in a row. Speaking of nights. I didn't really understand what that term meant until I came to Los Angeles, because there wasn't a real day/night divide in Quortoth. There were changing colours in the sky, but the change was from bright red to dark red, and it wasn't good to look up there for too long anyway because that way you stopped paying attention to your environment, and the next thing you knew was a Scarath attacked you. Or any of the other creatures.

I think I knew how to skin and gut them before I was five. I had to, because my father often didn't have the time - he had to fight off those creatures who found our hiding places while we were pausing to eat and rest. Later, when I got older and better at fighting, we could switch, of course. But in those early, early "days", I was just too small and too weak. It was my father who made it possible for both of us to survive, and he didn't have superpowers. He wasn't even young anymore. But he still managed to keep us alive, and no matter what some people say, that alone makes him a hero. When I finally managed to become useful, it was the happiest day of my life until we left this world behind.

The other thing about growing up in Quortoth: when the only two people with human skin you know are your father and yourself, you really don't get the fuss about what people look like elsewhere afterwards. I didn't try to kill Lorne because I thought he was ugly or whatever when I first met him. I tried because anything not human, meaning anyone and anything in my world except for my father, was either predator or prey. It hunted you, or you hunted it. There was no in between, but it had nothing to do with appearances. Some of the beasts there looked magnificent. When I first saw a dead bear here in this world, in that warehouse where I lived for a while, I wished I had killed it, because I thought it was beautiful and impressive the way a few of the Quototh creatures were, the deadliest, and so you really had to give your everything to bring them down.

(I also thought I looked like a complete freak with my pale, unmarked skin, but my father told me that was what humans looked like. And a very special kind of beasts. But there were no vampires in Quortoth. He taught me how to hunt them nonetheless.)

There wasn't an ocean, at least not in the part of Quortoth where we spent about seventeen years, and we crossed a lot of territory. There were rivers and lakes, of course, but you had to be very careful before you took your drinking water from them. Some consisted of acid which was fine for many of the demons, just not for humans. A lot of quicksand if you went away from the mountains. Oh, and the forests. Last term my roommate at Stanford got the Special Edition of all the Lord of the Rings movies from his parents and made us watch. Let's just say - the moving trees? Not so fond memories. And they didn't sound like John Rhys Davies, either.

Anything else about Quortoth? In comparison to this world, it was simple. I knew whom I loved and who I hated, and why I was around, and every single death I dealt out had a purpose. (It kept my father and me alive.) When I spent that summer with Fred and Gunn, and Fred told me about Pylea, she said she sometimes still had nightmares about it, that she woke up and was certain she hadn't left it and was back in her cave. I sometimes dream of Quortoth, too, but these dreams aren't nightmares. I'm just back under a red sky, running, maybe to hunt something down or maybe because something is pursuing, but in either case, there is no doubt or hesitation. I'm just alive. Simple.

It's this world which is complicated.

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abetterlie

July 2010

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