Vanuva’s age ole’ affliction made it easy for Eff to find her soul.
“It’s your age ole’ affliction, that’s what’s got my attention.
Your age ole’ affliction, your curse I love to mention,
that icy whip-back when your braids fly by,
think you can turn and ignore me, but I own your mind…”
Eff sang while his half-rotted horse lumbered up a hillock of fresh dirt. Both of them rattled along against a red sky, smeared with black. A hint of glittering olive ash raised above the waiting black thunderheads. Other threads of color were there too. Some simmered against the sky, others were thick as paint globs. These pulsed at intervals, oozing and weaving over one another as they carried strange energy from one end of the flatland to the other. Once alive, now barely hanging on for redemption. What else could weigh so little, yet want so much? Souls.
Souls, bleeding down the eastern portion of the bruised sky… Eff stopped his horse and studied the western hemisphere again. They two were standing right on the line, or they should have been. Houf, far heavier than the pile of soft silt they were presently standing on, suddenly sank into it past his fetlocks. It put them lopsided like an old tombstone, but the dead horse didn’t mind that as much as he should. Eff stood up in the saddle, peered again at the wisp of green in the distance. Dark green, once alive, now sparking and flittering free with delight at having escaped into oblivion. What else could hurt so much, yet care so little? Vanuva’s soul.
“And then we put that tattoo on her soul, so she’s not going anywhere.” Eff said and twisted his handsome grin. “Sneaky little witch. But, oh! Ho-oh no, it does not work like that, little piggy girl. Not with Eff.” Eff urged Houf onward.
The black horse had a bad gash down his left side, an old war-wound that exposed a bright white bony leg and shivering rib cage. Houf was once the prize of a great warchief. The heartbeat of a whole rebel nation. They did not armor themselves nor their horses back then. Men, women and horses fought as naked, as pure as they were made. Warpaint was the greatest defense against the clanging heavy metal of the fire-worshipping infidels. For the obedient, only a tribe’s holy markings could guide the ancestors against their raw bodies to inspire muscles, and rivulet sweat, tears, fear, clean away into one perfect violent act. Victory. But then one day, the infidel cavalry ripped Houf open with a metal lance anyway. Why not?
Now, Houf trudged sloppily down the other side of a dirt pile beneath some fool. The half-dead-half-beautiful horse let them slide the last of the way back onto parched, broken red earth. Houf jerked his head and mane up when he did finally get down. Eff, the god of foolishness, weaved out of the way so that Houf didn’t catch him smack in the middle of his face. Obviously, Houf had wanted to do that.
Eff went back to singing, this time louder, “What makes me so incensed with ya? What makes a man wanna go to bed with ya? That age ole’ affliction when Vanuva’s eyes meet mine…”
Houf shuddered with frustration and pulled them along. The horse hated it when Eff sang. Eff sang when he was angriest. When they were about to do something particularly stupid.
“Pavilon. It’s down there, somewhere.” Eff swung down from the saddle and stood facing a cave in a wall of rock. He felt the bright row of tassles hanging from the girth strapped across Houf’s chest. Then Eff patted the horse he’d robbed from a grave, the same way he’d once robbed Vanuva from her grave. “Are you going to be a good boy while I’m in there? Eh, Houf? Eff tried to kiss Houf on the muzzle. Houf suddenly whinnied like a fierce yearling, threw his head up and dashed away. Eff pointed at the escaping animal. The horse stopped right then, back to him, legs spread for another powerful stride. “You don’ go nowhere, ya’ hear? Ya hear, Houfy-wuffy? I’m going to need you later.” Eff brushed red dust off of his leather pants and ripped up harness, or shirt… whatever it was by now. Eff pried some of it up and wondered about that for a moment before preening the rest as if he were going to see royalty, not the foul denizens of the underworld. “Now, then.” He adjusted a large black ring on each finger, “I’d better go fetch us some errant woman-pet.”
Eff ignored the strange little creatures scurrying around in the caverns, or the thick egg-stink of whatever they did down there. He clambered down narrow rock ledges and attempted not to cut his divine body on stalagmites. After doing this for a while, wondering if it was worth it to get Vanuva back this way, he decided to tell another story.
“You know, after the goddess Hichristy offered Vanuva another chance at life, but then she let herself die because she already served me, and hated to put up with me more… do you remember that part? It was a day or two ago, but it must have felt like months or ages while you waited for the next part of this piggy story to get written.”
Oh? Well, Eff can do this sometimes. He speaks to someone, or rather everyone. The someone he perceives must be out there, watching. The collective questioning consciousness that is always prodding at events, wondering if they are right or wrong—at that, what is right and what is wrong? Are these concepts even right? As much as scientists ponder what must fall up and how it has to come down again, or seek to know that water seeks its own level, and that cats with their whiskers cut off have trouble finding things, or discover that pigs actually grunt in a kind of language… so, too, there are people—a people—who must wait and watch. Who need to know what is going to happen next. Who need to understand whether it is good or hollow or entertaining or… or enough, for them. In that, it is possible if you can believe it, Eff the god of foolishness, capable of perceiving all the angles and trajectories of wild, ridiculous existence and absences of existence, had the capacity to be aware of, well, you.
“Now that you’re back paying attention to me,” and Eff looked up, directly at you then, as he slipped down over a rock and steadied himself on grimy cave walls, “I am the other god in this thing. Hichristy is the ever-merciful fire goddess. Also, I hear that she’s short. Panthalassar—cool name, horrible guy. Only the animals worship him,” Eff spat laughter, “I guess no one else would. Though if you ask a priest, he co-created the world with his sister Hichristy. He took the water part and she took the dry part, baked clean beneath the all-seeing celestial eye, the sun herself, blah blah… But that does not account for the other gods, the other people in this world. The reason why, you know, King Vael’Kellen was able to get beyond his empire, become obsessed with a demoness his mythology of fire and water gods couldn’t account for, was addicted to her because B’bmba was real, with lusty charm, palpable influence that the royal son of conquerors, a line going back thousands of years, would be content to sit in a dank opiate pit—not much better than this place—and get stuck on her. Such that holy knights sent from Vael’s holy kingdom to fetch him would find him, really, existing beyond the realm of his own two gods, persisting on something other than their creations, talking to half-donkey people… or are they half-cow people? Either way, their hooves are clefted, and they have lion tails and stand upright. Well, now I’m on a tangent—but you know whatever I’m trying to say.”
You wouldn’t. You’re still new to the story and Eff is part lunatic, but that’s alright.
Eff had to stop before a deep chasm and catch his breath. There wasn’t much light. Of course there should not have been any at all. But the tattoos on his chest glowed somewhat, enough for him to see by. Ancient words of power drawn entangled in thorny vines piercing various raging zodiac beasts, holding them to roast over a conflagration that licked up above his belly button—and where it started, a supposed fire in his pants, was possibly less the astral turmeric fetishism of the west, and more a dirty joke, knowing Eff.
Eff fit hands into the tight pockets of his leathern trousers and waited for his chest to stop expanding so rapidly with breath. The rest of the journey to find Vanuva had been hard. This was supposed to be the easy part, but trekking through the cave was winding him bad. He watched the trail of her glittering green soul sail across the empty rift, into an archway on the other side. Perhaps from there, it traveled on and on, winding down into the cavern for ages, as far as he knew. Yes, as far as he knew, there were fire breathing dragons, damsels, giants and stupid puzzles ahead, all to test his courage or something foolish like that.
Eff had trouble thinking now. Wanting to breathe the stench around him was hard enough, but there wasn’t much air around at this point for him to be struggling so much. Did the other gods expect him to go through all their noble trials so breathless? Eff focused back on the breaths he didn’t know he still needed to take, being a god. Much of his existence still surprised him. How many weeks had it been, since he was the last Eff?
“Well, whoever he was, ontop of this nasty air… that man did not exercise. Good gods,” he bent over his knees, suddenly exhausted. The severe decrepit rot from the pit beneath him filled his nostrils then and, simultaneously, Eff saw that the edge was dizzyingly near his toenails and he panicked. Well, Eff gagged, fainted a bit, then fell down into the chasm and yelled out before he had the time to panic.
The darkness raced by around him. Eff sensed this, though he couldn’t really see it. That fun tattoo glowing at nothing in the darkness wasn’t so much fun, he found. It was like falling in your sleep. The bed should be there, but it isn’t. And an even worse hell, when the bed should be there, but it actually isn’t, and the sensation of losing control, losing your sense, losing your life… Eff was aware that a true terror awaited him at the bottom of this rift. However much longer he had to fall, however much further he was.
What happened to charming men covered in horrifyingly sexy tattoos who’d pledged their bodies to the god of foolishness? When you ceased being the captor of people like Vanuva, creatures like Houf, and exploded at the bottom of a pit as meat, chunks of brain, bone and viscera? When you wrecked your only gift to Him. When you are the god and have also destroyed your god’s body? When one cloverleaf of the triune deity stupidly shatters the priceless vessel and pisses off the other two? How foolish.
His exclamation was the very same,
How that god is called,
Who bears the frightful name,
It turned out, the water god Panthalassar was there beneath, waiting for Eff. When Eff should have hit the bottom of the chasm, instead he was sprayed by putrid water. Then thrown again into another painful geyser spray and another. Finally, a spout of water poured down and dunked Eff into a deep basin. Yes, the sense got knocked back into him, but he was soon tumbling beneath the water and death by overabundance of air to fall through, was now going to become a death by scant lack of air to breathe. Eff paddled long limbs wildly to the surface and got a good breath at last. The water slowed and he floated on it for a time. Enough time to realize that an underwater ocean, had it been waiting at the bottom of the drop, would have hit him like so many sharp knives and killed him. But, somehow, graciously, and undoubtedly, it could have only been the work of the oft mute Panthalassar himself, Eff was let down easily.
He was also let down comically, and with as much horrifying embarrassment as only a water god could enjoy with only the two of them there in that strange chasm, but Eff was eventually washed up on the sandy shores of Pavilon, the great under-earth palace for the dead. The waters here were cool, clean and clear. Everything was edged in silver. Glowing quartz rocks made it all shimmer. Or rather, Eff sat on the beach and supposed they were quartz. He let his eyes focus, his mind clear. No, the tiny points of light were beyond the rock formations, stuck tight in the walls themselves. What glittered for him were many tiny diamonds lodged in the cavern walls, polished in their natural state by whom, he was yet to know. Eff had never seen rocks do such a thing before, glow on their own as if they were tiny points of starlight.
Eff faced the black waves again. Before, he thought he would slam into rocks much like that, believed they were going to kill him. It was then that the weight of Eff’s ordeal hit. Panthalassar himself had been roaring at him before, then whipping him like a boy, holding him under the pool like Eff was a little unruly whelp, and now the water lapped by his toes gently, like it was nothing. Like Eff was nothing.
Eff, the strange triune god from the west who’d forged an immortal pig woman out of Hichristy’s best fire knight. Brought Vanuva out of what he told her was hellfire, then held her down to irony and hammered her with cruelty after cruelty until she gave into him. And when Eff whispered, ‘King Vael calls you a pig, why not be the pig?’ and Vanuva at last listened to the foriegn god, this Eff… When she stopped being Queen Vanuva of Hichrisom and became the Cull Sow Queen… of what? It must have been terrible for Panthalassar and his sister Hichristy to imagine what was coming next. Some rogue god, interfering in their world. And Vanuva being contorted like that was something Panthalassar nor Hichristy knew how to undo themselves. Was that the only reason Panthalassar hadn’t drowned or pulverized him? Certainly, it was not something they would easily forgive. If the other gods could ever forgive Eff for twisting one of their creations so.
And Eff was shivering cold now, his whole body trembled. His teeth were chattering and he couldn’t control himself, he couldn’t make his body stop. Eff had almost died. Many times, he thought he would die, that Panthalassar would get tired of him and drown him, slam him into the cave rock and crush him. He would have died alone, in a pit, after everything… Then, Eff sensed something else. God or not, in the east, he was alone and he was hated. It was something that parts of him had never felt before.
Eff folded arms over his trembling knees, hid his mortal face and wept.