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It was getting a bit chilly for camping. In retrospect, Damien had made some poor choices. referring to his current situation as camping was probably the least of them. It had been an emotional experience. They had been trick or treating and his kids had not been paying attention, so they had gone on ahead while Damien had struggled to adjust his cloak. It had gotten caught on a thorn bush and he didn’t want to rip it. His wife had made it for him a few years back. That was the year they were Jedi. Then he had been Robin Hood, and this year, he was a wizard. Stupid. So, when he had caught up to his kids, he was already irritated about the thorn bush, and them not staying with him. They were young and small for their age. It had only been a minute, less than that, surely. These kids were so excited about Halloween that they wouldn’t listen to any instructions. All evening this had been a problem. They didn’t realize how dangerous it could be. He was constantly worried something was going to happen. They were his whole world. How was he going to protect them if they wouldn’t stay with him? And now, here they were, being shaken down for their candy by some older kids.
Well, by the time they got home, the kids were crying, they couldn’t get the story out coherently to their mother. He tried to explain, but she seemed to reach her own conclusions before he could get the words out. “Not the first time,” she had said. It rang in his ears. It reminded him of just before he had gotten sober, how the incidents seemed to beget each other, as if he were caught in some spider’s web, some thorny bush!
He wasn’t a violent person. He didn’t think of himself as one anyway. Not the first time.
She asked him to leave right then. For the children’s sake. She was concerned for their safety. Not the first time.
He had still been wearing the costume. the wool cloak, the boots, the dagger, the staff, the whole nine yards. He grabbed the tent, and the camping pack with all the gear in it, the speckled cookware, the lantern, and stove, bedroll, sleeping bag tied to the bottom and took off. He just set out walking. He didn’t want to take the car, she would need that. He didn’t want to spend money on a motel, they couldn’t afford it. Maybe he was punishing himself. His heart was beating harder than it was during the incident. Was he being a martyr? Probably.
Damien had made some very quick, very rash decisions at that point. If he couldn’t be around his kids, he was done. He was done with the rat race, done with civilization, done with hiding who he was.
Maybe he wasn’t wearing a costume. Maybe this is who he was.
Those older kids weren’t with their parents. They weren’t wearing costumes. They were teenagers and they hadn’t wasted a moment to bully a couple little kids who had gotten away from their dad for a second.
“Give us your candy, you little turd!” one was saying as he pulled on Damien’s daughter’s arm.
The memory seemed to actually sear Damien’s brain. He walked on. Lowami woods shouldn’t be far. He had never walked it before. Maybe He should have headed for Memorial off of Garden Home… There were plenty of wooded areas right in the midst of SW Portland. He was sure he could find a spot to pitch his tent, even if it was illegal. He wasn’t sure. One night, surely would be ok. Then he could figure it out tomorrow. He didn’t want to join the homeless in a patch by a freeway onramp. This was Oregon. Why camp in civilization? He’d see whether that dagger was just for show or not. Maybe catch a rabbit, they were everywhere. Damien had picked up the medieval replica at one of those cutlery stores in the mall. The kind that had pocket knives, kitchenware, and swords. Of course, he had wanted a sword, but he had been unable to bring himself to spend the money. This 2ft miniature had been considerable more money than the hunting knives, but he had suspected it was just for show. He had displayed it on the wall when he was a bachelor, but married with kids, it stayed in a box in a drawer until Halloween.
Now he could concentrate on becoming one with nature. Get away from the concrete jungle and be more spiritual. He could finally learn to control his Chi, let it flow through him, instead of building up inside and exploding out… That’s what he was being guided to do, right? Of course, this kind of behavior, this kind of thinking would not play well in a custody hearing. The rational, right thing to do, would be to go to a motel, and seek counseling. Where did spiritual people get counseling? Was there a priest of Chi? Where can you find a Shaolin temple when you need one?
Then, there in the concrete jungle, just as the drizzle began, came the neon glow of the sign he was seeking.
Damien entered the little house and a bell rang as the door struck it. He had been by this place dozens of times, driving to Target. He had never thought to visit before. Who goes to places like this? Now that he was here, he worried maybe it would cost more than a motel. He had a twenty on him and had vowed an hour earlier not to use his debit card tonight. The rain picked up in earnest outside. Portland.
Dimly lit, ambient music played in unseen speakers. This part of the house had been converted into a lobby, deep red walls, with purple wall hangings. Batiks, abstract, soothing. Well worn carpet, a couch against the wall to the right. No one in sight. Who comes to places like this? Not the first time.
Damien removed his hood and shook out his graying, windblown hair. Curly enough to never look combed. His middle age was beginning to show on his lanky frame. The dim light made his eyes seem to recede into their sockets. His mustache and beard needed trimming. He needed a shave. Portland.
A door opened and a woman appeared. What had he been expecting? She had a scarf on her head and hoop earrings. She had a bunch of jangly bangles on her wrist. She had a vest over a paisley blouse that gathered at her wrists.
He had on a damp woolen cloak.
He had completely forgotten he was wearing a costume. He even still had the staff. A branch from their parking lot. It had broken off during a windstorm and landed on the car.
Maybe this is who you are.
Jesus Christ, what was he thinking?
“Come in,” she said. He walked through the lobby into the room she had just come from. Another dimly lit room. The most electricity the place used was the sign outside: “Psychic.” “I’m Marla.” she said. She looked at slightly sideways, waiting.
“I’m Damien.” he said. He felt ridiculous. He was sure he was as red as a beet.
“Have a seat, Mr. Damien.” she said. In the middle of the room was a table. it was wooden and had a tasseled table cloth in deep red paisley over it. There was room for a tarot reading, or a crystal ball. Neither was on display. He sat down. “What can I do for you, on this Blessed Samhain?” She asked. She pronounced the word “Sowen” He knew it was the Wiccan word for Halloween, the night that the great goddess slept or died, and the horned god reined for the dark winter months. How did he know this? He had studied. Damien had taken a comparative religion course in college.
“Blessed be.” he said, making blessed two syllables. He had never heard the phrased aloud.
“Blessed be, indeed.” she said. one syllable. Was she correcting him, or did it matter? He decided it didn’t matter.
“I need direction.” he said. “I’m lost.” he cast about for where to begin.
She smiled. “You are not lost. For the first time, maybe in your entire life, you’re home.” This was exactly what he wanted to hear, but he suspected she knew this. She stood up and went to a shelf against the wall. Were these walls black? It was too dim to be sure. She came back with a pitcher and a cup. A chalice, really. Really? A fucking chalice.
“The chalice with the palace has the brew that is true.” invaded his memory. A Danny Kaye movie.
“I’m sober.” he said. “I don’t drink.”
“It’s not that.”
“Or drugs. I’m sober.”
“It’s not that.” she repeated. “It’s the cost of your visit.” she said.
What the hell? He hadn’t been to a meeting in years. Tonight would have never happened if he had. He took a sip. It was like an herbal tea, but fortified somehow. Thick.
Just then, the bell rang. She did not look surprised, but her smile left and her jaw set. She stood. She didn’t say, “Just a minute,” or “I’ll be right back,” she just went to the door. Her stride was different. Defiant. She opened the door to the lobby. His back was to it. He couldn’t see. As he turned, she blocked his view. She was diminutive, but he was seated. What was in the tea?
“Ah, Marla. There you are. Look at you, dressed like a Gypsy for Halloween. How apropos.”
She’s wearing a costume? thought Damien.
“You are not welcome here.” she said. She spoke with authority that Damien found surprising. He stood up. Huh, any effect of the tea had been ruined by this interruption. He felt normal again. In fact, he felt calm, detached.
“Marla, you need to rethink your situation. You’re in no position to give orders.” Damien came up behind her and saw that there were four large men in the small lobby. They wore black. They had slicked back hair. The leader had a black blazer. Were they dressed for Halloween too? If so, the main guy was missing a fedora.
Marla was barring the door. Damien understood why he was there. “let me through.” he said. She looked up at him, unsure. He wasn’t much bigger than her. “I’m who you asked for.” he said. She looked at him, this costumed dad, out of place everywhere. He would have to do.
Damien stepped into the room.
The men chuckled. “Ok, Gandalf, we don’t want any trouble.”
“That is simply not true, is it?” said Damien. The men smiled.
The main guy shook his head, chuckling. He couldn’t bring himself to say the words. It would sound like an old episode of Batman or something. He didn’t have to say anything. They spread out along the walls of the small room. They had no idea.
It came up through from the ground through his feat, an energy that was warm. It gathered in his chest and he swung his arms in a kind of Tai Chi motion, which culminated as if he were striking the two outermost men, even though they were about five feet away each. A beat later they each slammed against the walls hard, their faces looking like they were experiencing mach 2 G force. Taking his staff in both hands, he pointed at the guy coming at him from his left and hit him with it, end first like a spear, knocking him back. The last guy was going for his gun and had it out fast, pointed at Marla. Without thinking, Damien pulled the dagger from its sheath at his belt and flung it. It embedded itself in the crook of the man’s arm, causing him to drop the gun as it went off, spoiling the shot.
The main guy’s eyes were wide but recovering. His mouth was set in a closed line. He and Damien faced off across the room. thirty seconds had passed. The guy looked at Marla but didn’t speak. He shook his head and left. The others all followed warily out the door, bleeding and leaving the thin weapon behind.
Damien turned back to Marla. She smiled. “Welcome home.” she said.
The dragon was ancient, that much was clear. His hide had a patina, not unlike a worn coin from a lost civilisation. His manner too seemed from a different time. At first Yendor thought it was because he was a dragon, then because he lived a secluded life. While these things were true, Yendor began to see that there was more to it than that. There was a pace to his movements, to his very thoughts that came with the hoary, wizened ancients that Yendor had encountered on the circuit, storytellers unconcerned with the bustle of youth. Azul exuded it. But he was not slow from being decrepit. That would be a fatal mistake to make. Azul was the fastest, most agile creature Yendor had ever encountered. Azul was simply in no hurry.
Nevertheless, they were up early every morn, to train, to work, to plan, and well into each night. Azul loved the night. The dragon was himself the color of the sky just after dark, while there was a glow to the deep blue night, celebrating the coming darkness. Yet the creature worked Yendor throughout the day, tirelessly, beginning with bathing in the stream, exercising a slow calisthenics, involving breathing, balance and energy flow. Yendor drew on the energy from all around him and let it flow through him. There was energy from the earth, from the air, from the living creatures, from the streams that flowed, from the planets and stars in the sky, indeed, the sun itself. And there was energy from the Source. The energy that created and sustained and would ultimately consume the universe itself. Yendor didn’t take this energy; he allowed it to flow through him. It was there, free for any with the means to see it and accept it.
Next came breakfast. The dragon drank from the spring, whatever fish or other water creatures that came along were part of that morning tea, as Azul referred to it. Azul would then consume the fallen leaves and dead grass, whatever the forest had to offer. He seldom hunted. It would empty the land of life to sate such a creature for long. Yendor wasn’t sure exactly how big Azul was, he was mercurial in his movements and appearence. But Yendor had initially mistaken Azul for a hillside. The dragon could blot out the night sky. The creature’s eye, when it drew close to Yendor to take his measure, was as tall as Yendor at its roundest height, and half again as long horizontally. His head, so like a deer in shape, was proportionately larger. The smokey snout of the creature was like a table in the grandest halls. Yendor shook his head. He was a trained poet, but felt wholly inadequate trying to describe the dragon.
The morning continued with martial exercises. Swordplay, hand to hand combat. How a dragon was so versed in such instruction was a mystery to Yendor. For lunch Yendor would supplement his breakfast of fish, eggs and coffee, with dried venison and wild blackberries. He still had some actual tea he’d gotten from the city he visited. While the dragon snoozed, Yendor would puzzle over the Winter Solstice songs he’d found there, sometimes just wondering who the scribe had been. Was he the author of the songs? Were they popular? Had they been written long before Incarnate had come to power, or perhaps in the early years of his rise? This last idea had occurred to Yendor as he wondered about the Cypher of the lyrics. Sometimes poetics called for a veil of meaning. Blunt, emotional appeals to lost love were a sign of amateurish attempts at poetry, but the emotions themselves remained a source of inspiration, so metaphor and anecdotes were often applied to broaden appeal and bring originality to a subject that had been visited endlessly since the beginning of time.
These lyric’s meaning were masked for a different reason. Perhaps in Incarnate’s early years, these kind of songs were not yet outlawed, but were still considered subversive. Peeling back the layers, Yendor found an appeal to a Deity motivated by love. In fact it was getting hard to avoid the conclusion that the Deity WAS love. But not like one would appeal to for a mate… more like the emotion a mother has for a baby, or a child for a pet. Coupled with the training Yendor received, it was natural to think of the Deity as the energy that fueled the Cosmos.
The afternoons were for instruction of sciences; math, physics, logic, all things Yendor thought he knew, but couldn’t see why or how they were related to his martial training. Was Azul just being thourough? It didn’t seem likely to Yendor. Although, the dragon was thourough, he was also motivated by utility. There was a purpose to these things. They were, as Azul liked to say about absolutely everything, all connected.
In the evening they would hunt. Azul from the sky, and Yendor from the ground. Working in concert. Yendor came to see that this too was training. After all, the dragon did not kill or partake of the meal. He would eat an entire pack of wolves if he were hunting for himself, not the rabbit or other small creatures Yendor killed for his supper. Indeed, if there were signs of an imbalance in the ecosystem to that effect, that’s what Azul would do. It was rare for the dragon to allow himself to interfere in the balance of the forest though. Usually it sorts itself out, Azul would say.
Try being fully present in the moment. Zen isn’t about making lists or setting a timer. It’s about doing what’s needed in the moment and not worrying about how long it takes you or how many things you can get done. Trust yourself; trust in the process. The world will turn even if you don’t get a million things done.
There’s an old zen saying, “chop wood, carry water.” Unlike many koans, this wise saying it’s not difficult to unravel. It means do what’s needed. It may be mundane but it needs to be done. Do what you’re doing; don’t worry about what hasn’t been done yet. This is reflected in Jesus saying,” Leave tomorrow for tomorrow; think about today instead.”
One way of thinking about Zen is that it’s a matter of focus. Give your complete attention to what you are doing. There are a couple of books entitled “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and “Zen and the Art of Archery.” What this means is you can apply Zen to every task you are doing. And that is actually a form of meditation. It’s very powerful. You let yourself be a tool in the task you are doing. One method of this meditation is called Shodo or Japanese zen calligraphy. In this technique you concentrate on the meaning of the word you are doing and not on your penmanship. In this way the very shape of the brushstrokes conveys the meaning. You are an extension of the brush and the energy of the intention is what is completing the action. In this way you don’t become distracted buy other things. You are fully present in the creation of your calligraphy. This method has also been used by feudal Samurai and other Japanese artisans such as flower arranging. This is because this technique can be applied in everyday life. Using it to do calligraphy it’s like practicing for the rest of your life. Many people think that meditation is a kind of recharging of your battery or resetting your hard drive. But really in this technique it is practice for how you can be all throughout the day. Try using this technique with whatever mundane tasks you’re doing. If it’s washing the dishes, wash the dish that is in front of you and in your hands until it is completely washed. Pay attention to it; did you get all the parts inside and out? Is it free of dirt? Then you rince it and set it in the drying rack. You pick up the next dish and give it your complete attention. Soon your dishes will be clean. There’s no need to set a timer. If one of your children need your attention in the middle of this task then you can give your attention to what is most important.
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Yendor sat underneath the old ocherfruit tree. It was early spring, and the branches were budding with their flowers. the tiny blossoms looked like a million candle flames alight on the tree, with bright red at the base the petals and a translucent yellow that was much more brilliant than the dusky fruit that would come later, topping each petal. The scent they gave off was like honey mixed with berries and new grass; a sweet earthy scent that called to the hummingbirds who all said, “mmmmmm” approvingly. The gnarled bark was a deep, rich brown that seemed burned in the crevices but burnished on its high spots. The bark seemed to weave in and out of itself like a crazed basket that decided to become a tree and took root in the new yellow green grass and sprung out, reaching for the heavens all the while being shaped by the wind. The branches arched out in every direction as if it were caught stretching and yawning one morning and just continued to grow into that pose.
The air was cool that morning caressing the young leaves of grass and whispering in Yendor’s ear. “Shhhhhhh….”
He could hear the guards coming before he could see them. They hadn’t heard the morning breeze’s whisper. He had scouted the camp in the night and he knew this area would be patroled. It was the farthest point from the camp that the patrol covered. The guards came out of the grove, their deep red uniforms seeming to emerge from the shadows ahead of them. Yendor sat still. The sun was behind him, and he was dressed in his black leathers. even with his golden hair curling around him, they didn’t see him. “Hello, boys.” he said. He was still working on a “calling card” greeting.
The guards stopped and stared at him, frowning at this unexpected encounter. Yendor stood in a smooth fluid motion, using only his legs, which had the effect of appearing to have levitated up out of the ground. He smiled, bowed his head slightly in greeting, pulled out his sword and killed them both before they could respond. He had stabbed them each in the abdomen and curved his thrust in and up under the ribs, and rupturing the heart, so quickly that the second man was dead before the first man’s heart had stopped. First the man on his left, then the one on his right; one, two, done. No magick, just concentration, and execution, so to speak.
Now he had about ten minutes before they were due to report after completing their rounds. This would be the only break he got, he knew. He approached the fence near the rear of the camp, away from the gate. It wasn’t a blind spot but it was as close to it as he was going to get. The prisoners filled the yard. They were over capacity by quite a margin. Clearly the prisoners had to sleep out in whatever weather there was. They were a gray, ragged mass of a mess. Danse was in there somewhere, just another outlaw, waiting for sale. They sold the young and able into slavery, the others they put to work there in the camps. Everyone worked until they dropped. They were underfed, sick and exhausted. There was a twenty foot clearing around the camp and Yendor burst out of the trees at a sprint and headed straight for the fence. It was made of thick wire which criss crossed in four inch squares. Yendor cut through the wire with a downward swoop and instead of beckoning out the prisoners, he entered the prison camp. A few prisoners close by just stared at him. He motioned his head toward the opening but that was it. They would figure it out.
There was relative quiet; the prisoners milling about, the guards mostly gossiping with each other, only taking note of the prisoners to inflict some petty cruelty upon them. He tried to intuitively divine where Danse was. It was almost not magick. Just follow your gut, your nose, only slightly more accurate. So far, he was undetected. Mostly hidden by the mass of prisoners and walking with a sense of belonging. That might have been the first trick he had ever learned. If you’re sneaking around, you look suspicious, but if you walk around like you belong there, no one pays you any mind. That trick had gotten him many a midnight snack from strange kitchens growing up touring the faires. Yendor walked with such purpose that some guards saw him and nodded to him in deference. Perhaps they were used to visitors here. Apparently of high rank. Probably came to buy slaves. High ranking officials would probably get special treatment and be able to visit the camps rather than wait for market days like everyone else.
The prisoners were the poorest of the poor. To the sorcorers the people of the world were there for the taking. They were like animals to be used or eradicated as vermin. Anyone who wasn’t fair, from the northern isles, women, pagans, heathens, anyone who didn’t worship Incarnate as a god. The Sorceral, they called the church. People could be outlawed for nearly any excuse. Not able to pay taxes was the main reason, but fines for any infraction, often made up. was another. The sorcerers saw the world as overpopulated and poor, brown people were more valuable as slaves than free. Waters had been given his freedom long before Yendor had met him. He carried a medalian around his neck that bore the symbol of his former master to prove he was a free man. Even so, any one of rank could simply take that medalian from him and put him right back into slavery, either as his own or for sale. It was only that Waters surrounded himself with people and carried himself with a special dignity that kept him free. Even so, he had to be careful. There had been some run ins Yendor remembered from his childhood, that he hadn’t understood at the time. In fact it wasn’t until right now, in this camp, that Yendor began to fully understand the severity of the situation Waters had faced. Indeed, nearly anyone could be put into a camp. Even a noble, if he crossed a sorcerer. Or even a sorcerer if a higher ranking sorcerer so decided. Only Incarnate himself was safe from such a fate.
Such camps were everywhere. Yendor had passed by countless ones, but never been inside one. Always one believed that it couldn’t happen to them, and that those it did happen to somehow deserved it. It was the only way to go on with life. Yendor had been in the resistance. Those armies were always crushed, utterly, but always they sprung up again as common as these prison camps and now Yendor could see why. Even with the hopelessness of the cause, there was a certain appeal to fighting against this way of life. Perhaps there was a way to unite each of the little armies into a single army. If they struck at the same time from their various places across the world, even the sorcerers could not defend such an attack.
“You, boy!” Yendor was pulled back into the present when he realized he was being addressed by a guard. He turned with a bit of a pout on his face, and looked down his nose at the guard. “What’s your business here?” At least the guard didn’t mistake him for a prisoner, yet.
Yendor affected a high brow accent, “Shopping.” he sneered. and approached the guard. “Maybe I’ll take you.”
“Oy! I’m not for sale!” said the guard defensively.
“Pity.” said Yendor, pulling his sword, which had been sheathed behind his cloak, and dispatched the guard in the same manner as he had his compatriots outside the camp. These people imprisoned Danse, and he had no compunction that he would have to eliminate as many as possible to get out alive.
At that moment a horn sounded from where he had entered the camp. So they had found the breech. His masquerade as a noble would be useless from here on out. “Breech in the perimiter!” he shouted, mimicking the voice of the guard he had just killed. If the prisoners rushed the fence, and the guards focused their attention on that it would give him some cover. Shouts of “Freedom” began to go up throughout the camp, and Yendor wished he had made more of this earlier, but had reasoned if the guards weren’t alerted to the breech, more people would be able to escape. Now he had to find Danse and get out of there.
“Danse!” he called, but a cacophony had arrisen from the chance of escape and he couldn’t even hear himself. He cursed himself for not having more of a plan. for not having become more of a wizard before making this attempt. He had allowed his fear to cause him to act recklessly and now he might not find her. In fact, he had put her and everyone here in danger, and he only now saw that. He had been willing to sacrifice as many of these prisoners as needed to find Danse, as if they were pawns in his plan. He was no better than the sorcerers.
He lifted his sword to the sky, “DANSE!” He shouted, as lightning came down and struck his sword and lit up his nervous system like a ghost. Where a moment before he had been lost in the chaos, now a wide circle opened up around him. Most of the guards were human. The Officers had sorcerers in their ranks no doubt, but ones whose power was limited and so pursued a career in the prisons where they could rise farther than if they had to compete with more talented magicians. Still, these officers wore the red insignia of sorcerer over their uniforms, and considered themselves powerful among the powerless.
These officers made their way to the circle and appeared simultaneously surrounding Yendor. He released the lightning he had absorbed and it coursed out of him through his arms, but also out from his heart, striking the sorcerers all at once, eliminating that threat. Now the chaos really set in as the prisoners tried to escape the magic. Most people had only ever experienced magic from sorcerers and didn’t even contemplate the idea that it could come from someone else. The prisoners overwhelmed the guards, outnumbering them by the hundreds, and in their panic, made good their escape. The shrieks and savagery escalated still further. And there was no sign of Danse. She had not understood the bolt. Perhaps she wasn’t even here after all.
In the end, there were the bodies of the fallen, both outlaw and guards. Yendor stood awhile longer at the center of the circle of sorcerers laid out before him in each direction.