The Cull Sow Queen
Yes, the courage of some bold sophomore can be inspiring, the brilliance of a truly free and wild fool. See it, yes, see it–think of the one thing you always believed you would never do, that everyone dreams of doing, craves doing, threatens to do… Break an old promise. Sleep with the man you hate. Leave a good wife. Steal someone else’s dream. End your enemy. Run screaming from a soulless labor you’ve done every day of your life, for decades… But no one ever defies the way-of-things to just go for their darkest craving, in that way. Now also consider how, in a moment of need, in a surge of desperation, seeing someone else throw that first punch can feel like the very shackles of life itself being torn off. Normalcy, boundaries, mortality, all obliterated. A chance to raise your head above the mire of impossibility, for once, and see it for what it always was. You, knee-deep in someone else’s bullshit.
Look to Eff, the god of foolishness. Pray to Eff, and then you will have the power.
When there is a god of foolishness, like Eff, there is always another, crazy way to do things. And Panthalassar, great and silent he, his body of water, his soul sometimes the rain, but always flowing around, or seeping gently, thousands of miles below his sister’s realm of men and kingdoms and all their fiery worship of her while Panthalassar kept to slaking the thirst of the animals men ate and the plants that men pulled out of the wet earth. The water god had not dreamed of ever hitting his sister back, until now. But then, there was suddenly another divinity standing there, defying her. And Eff wasn’t even as neglected, dammed up or irrigated away from where he craved to roam over the earth, as Panthalassar was. When Eff took that ferocious, sloppy swing with his sword at the Torc Hichristy perched herself on, high and safe above the heads of all men and creatures, Panthalassar raised Eff from his feet, delivering the other god on a deluge. The water god Panthalassar extended the reach of Eff’s arm and Eff’s sword, with a concussive blast of so much stinging water that his sister was thrown free of the Torc, dunked deep, and all of her sillier little creations were doused for good.
But that wasn’t enough for Panthalassar.
As he saw it, how easy it could have always been to re-take the earth as his own, Panthalassar got hungrier and hungrier (or would he always be thirstier and thirstier?), and so the water god flooded the cavern, filled it up so that a whirlpool raged within. Oh yes, Panthalassar did!
Whatever happened to his sister Hichristy? Did he even care? Oh no, Panthalassar didn’t! But Panthalassar did buoy Eff up, and up and up, high to the stalactite dome. Eff, the hero of the moment, swept around in the purposeless storm, half in dread, half believing. In what? In Panthalassar! That the cruel, wet divinity, the soppy cretin that had whipped and wanted to drown Eff only hours ago, now paraded him about like his own savior.
For it felt so good, it felt so glorious, it was so brilliant then… to be wild, to be full of menace, both swallowing and gorging, creaming in the foam at the very crest of it, and then disgorging, so completely, so resolutely, from horizon to horizon, coast to coast, and end to end of the skies even, filled with his droplets and his clouds of water! To be so strong and penultimate in his bracing up and filling up of the world to be even here, down beneath the dirt, swelling, taking, ever taking… to at last drown the self-righteous, water-hating witch!
Eff had been yelling this for a while. He had to, unless he wanted to drown as well. The half-man-half-god was head-bowed and palms-pressed up against the dome of the cavern. The water raced about Eff and threatened to pull him violently through the rows of stalactites at the top of Pavilon, as if through the teeth of a comb.
Panthalassar, all his dark water inside of the place, he calmed. While Eff whined and finally cried pitifully to himself, Panthalassar ebbed. The water god let go. He subsided, but only a little, like a child not really wanting to give up his favorite toy. The water level sank just enough for Eff to tread water to the balcony of the highest tower. Eff tried to get a hold of the stone edge, but was exhausted from all that swimming and being tumbled about by the whirlpool. Panthalassar finally gulped and sent a small rippling wave to help roll Eff over the balcony. Eff fell over the stone railing, then immediately crawled away from the water lapping over its edge.
Hichristy came next. Her hair and clothes were drenched and she looked very much the opinion her brother Panthalassar presently had of her, all washed up. As Hichristy neared the and realized a reprieve was near, she slapped her hands at the waves angrily, as if she could hit the water and hurt her brother who had more than asserted by now, that he was still was the size and still the fury of the all the oceans swarming round the very planet. But Hichristy was determined to make her point and at least save herself of her own volition. She cast fire at the water’s surface. But it all extinguished as steam. Panthalassar then sort of spat his sister over the edge of the balcony too. She fell right on her butt.
As Vanuva, what was left of her, and all her worldly posessions were the chief residents of this highest, most protected tower, a lot of that was left in washed up clumps of drenched weapons, carved pig armor, battle standards with porcine likenesses on them, bloated drowned pigs, and soaking wet pigs interested in eating the drowned ones… Eff freaked out when he saw the pigs snuffling over to him next and he slipped in the dirty water whilst kicking the grunting, squealing hungry animals away.
Hichristy then saw one of her cinderbunnies. It looked more like a dirty, gray, soaked washrag now. She dragged herself dramatically over to it and reached. But there was nothing more to be done. Hichristy’s next hurt look went to Eff.
“Don’t look at me like that. I didn’t tell your brother to try drowning us!”
“You made him do it, somehow! He’s never treated me like that before.”
“Whatever Panty-lassar did, he did all on his own. And I never thought there’d be such a big fight over what amounts to a heartless bitch who wrecked up her own life. Gods!” Eff then sucked in a pained breath, and grasped his arms against the cold. The freezing chill of the water was worse now that they were free of it and the air hit is bare skin. Eff’s jaw trembled as his teeth chattered.
Hichristy was not so easily affected by that. She got up slowly and took a wary look at the gray water at the edge of the balcony. It went over the red stone in pulses, like some drunk person rattling a full cup.
“Eff. I tire of this. That woman on the altar there?” Hichristy pointed and went inside, to the makeshift shrine she created. Eff slipped in a few puddles but he did make it indoors behind Hichristy, in time to hear the rest, “…She is not yours to have, nor is she mine to give. Vanuva is a soul. She is a life, with dignity. And we cannot go on, fighting over her forever.”
“Yet almighty you, you stole her like a sack of swag all the same.”
New cold water rushed in with a few startled pigs and slapped the backs of their legs.
“Alright, Eff, stop! No more fighting. Obviously, Panthalassar does not like it.”
Eff moved to lean against the far wall and protect his body somewhat if the water decided to rush in again. Hichristy, in a flash of temper, turned a circle, her hand outstretched with palm flat. The water around her was ripped away into a column of steam. A ring of dry stone appeared beneath her feet, encircled by bubbling water and steady white mist.
“Too bad you couldn’t do that when your brother first came in and tried to drown us both.”
“There was simply too much water.” Hichristy’s brow knit. “But, Panthalassar, I’d like to see you try and douse one of my volcanoes.”
Water came and tried to splash them again. It got Eff, but the whip of water hastened into simmering air when it came near the fire goddess.
“Ugh…” Eff waded nearby. He huffed, almost a sneeze. Then, he did sneeze. Hichristy had been waiting for it. She indulged in never saying ‘bless you.’ Eff tried to roll his eyes at her, but then another powerful sneeze came.
“Eff.” Hichristy went to the altar and leaned over it. “I did try everything that I could to revive Vanuva. In my realm, when souls die, they become like the stars. Each a shining gem, meant to burn off its sins in the purgatoried… void of nonexistence, out beyond the sky.”
“I just send the souls I don’t like to rot in hell, but okay—”
Hichristy raised her next speech over him, “Though I believe you knew this already. What you do not know, Eff, is that I delayed the transcendental cycle for Vanuva. I always intended to return her soul to her body after the… the devastation that raged inside of her, was quelled. Even if my…”
“My Fire Knight, that I sent. If my holy warrior found Vanuva wanting, I still intended to do this for Vanuva. A final mercy. My greatest blessing, even after death. But I… I fail to see how the greatest love I wish to show Vanuva is still not enough.”
Eff found a large boarskin leaning off the edge of a floating chair. He lifted it up and swaddled himself in it. When Hichristy looked up again, near to tears, she saw the taller green-skinned god looking at her from beneath a very pink snout, beady eyes and a set of tusks.
“What is wrong with you? You are never, ever serious, are you, Eff?”
“Wud day, you’ll rebember wud I’m da god of.” Eff sniffed and then shuddered under a new wash of chills going through him, “And you cad stob acting scandalized, like you need to clutch your pearls or subthing every other sentence. Hach…Hachoo!”
“If we don’t help her soon, Vanuva will slip into nothingness.”
Eff shut his eyes until he felt warm again. He said this next part carefully, “You won’t led her go and be a… a star, whatever you said, until her next life?”
“Oh, I couldn’t bear it.” She grit her teeth and turned on him, “Could you?”
“No. The world is about to change. It could go my way, or it could go your way. The victor, he’d get it to be stuck like that for another age, eons, maybe.”
“I am a goddess, I do sense it too.”
“Good.” Eff was able to clear his throat, stand more comfortably. The boar skin was doing its job, “And, love or hate Vanuva, the factions of the known world have sort of… rallied tight around her, or against her. We could put up our favorite little piggy-toy, let her lie there and fade away. But, it may be a long time before the dust settles, and even longer before mankind offers up another… uh…”
“Polarizing figure? Or… controversial heroine?”
“I was going to say prophet.”
“Prophet? She’s hardly a holy person now. Walking around, dressing up like a pig. I think Vanuva has lost her mind.”
“…Maybe more like a doomsayer. The anti…something.”
“In the end, men only listen to men, don’t they? We can’t truly make people do anything.”
“And Vanuva’s life slips away, as we gods stands here and discuss it. So then the Cull Sow Queen wins again, in death. I’m sure that’s what Vanuva even wanted. In disobeying me. In eluding your forgiveness. Hichristy, whichever one of us has claim over Vanuva in the end, we have to undo this un-death. I… I admit now that I can help you bring her back.”
Eff waded awkwardly the rest of the way over to the heavy altar. The translucent green form of Vanuva, her soul, was lying on the yellow stone. Smoking wisps of her essence teased away from him as he leaned over and breathed on her.
Eff passed his hand over Vanuva’s ghastly leg, up her torso, her chest.
“Alright, no… feeling up Vanuva’s soul. You’re disgusting.”
Eff raised an eyebrow at Hichristy. Beneath his fingertips, several runes burned bright green. They faded as he passed his hand beyond each one. “I tattooed her soul. Do you see? Back in the jungle… it’s why she always answers to me. And that’s why you couldn’t do what you wanted with her. So Vanuva is about… half yours, half mine by now.”
“I need your… key, then. To unlock her.”
“And I, Hicrispy, confess need of yours.”
Hicristy turned to Eff. She strutted up to him, flanked by searing steam. Eff found out at the last moment that steam could burn, maybe take off a finger or two, kill.
He darted backward out of the cauterizing heat just in time.
“Don’t ever call me that again, you fool.”
“Whatever. You’ll be calling me Daddy, once I help you get Vanuva back.”
Hichristy eyed him warily.
“As much as you think you hate me right now, Hichristy, in order to get our precious girl back, you’re going to have to touch me.” Eff leaned in, whispered with that handsome, twisted smile, “We have to do this whole thing together. And you’re going to have to like it.”
Hichristy looked lost, for a moment. How small she was, compared to him, how desolate an ancient goddess could be, compared to half-god more adjusted to mortality, finality, failure, the sharp difference between them could almost be felt. “Will she forgive us?”
“I don’t need Vanuva’s forgiveness.”
“You think you haven’t crossed her, Eff? All those terrible obstacles you set in her way, all through the second half of her life? You turned the man she loved into her torturer.”
“No. Vael’Kellen is a dillhole. Pretty sure he did that to himself.”
“…But I was always good to her, I tried to help. I helped so much that it hurt. And it hurt her.” Hichristy ached, “Now, it seems… these last few months, all I did was hurt. Destroy.”
Eff watched the green, sleeping shape of the woman on the altar. And the laughing horned Silver Sow painted on the walls above her, the Prescient Grotesque. A simple, ugly pig that knew all the terrible answers. It claimed to see in people what the gods could not even deign to understand.
Hichristy clutched hands over her chest. She swallowed anxiously, “… And what is the first thing that you think Vanuva will do, when she is brought back?”
“Kill something or someone, I guess.”
“I-I refuse to think of her as a monster. That is not who Vanuva is, whatever you’ve done to her. That is not what she deserves, Eff—” Hichristy covered her mouth with both hands, overwhelmed.
Eff thought for a while, looked uncomfortably around the room. He set his eyes on anything except for the woman he was speaking to, “Then, I guess… you should have some faith.”