Mar. 10th, 2007

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.

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abetterlie

July 2010

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