Walking home from my mother's suicide

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By: Machiavelli Posted on: December 30, 2006

Snow was something I'd never liked. It was the herald of blasts of frigid air and the freezing of hope that the depths of winter had passed. The soft white fell and stifled the night, and the early afternoon's rays became a blinding fire with the ground shrouded. Despite my disdain for the weather, the snowflakes calmed my disposition and helped focus my mind, perhaps making me despise the soft, windless floating of flakes all the more, that it would help me in the face of my best efforts to reject it.

It never cared about my disdain, and fell when it liked. The Road of Eternity was a chasm clad in crystal, and Harris' services at the Eventide were all the more inviting for it. I had a long journey ahead of me, and though the barstool was elusive, besotted as I was, I figured "North" would be easy enough to find. If push came to shove, I'd just roll out of the Chute of Eternity and keep on a straight path. Harris brought another round. He must've seen I was in a fairly foul mood, so his and mine went on the house's tab.

"What in the name of the Gods has you wantin' to take a trek up north? In the middle of winter, no less!" He looked concerned, but I knew he didn't even know my name, though he may have known me by wallet. I uttered some half-formed response about family, which did nothing to stay his questions. "I never picked you for a family man, always runnin' in here with that pretty Siren of your'n," he said, with a grin of pride that he'd found some humor in insulting me.

"Her name is Saria, and she's going to be my wife. Thanks for your concern." No wonder the old barrel of a man was alone--he certainly wasn't full of charm. At least he wasn't hitting on me. Or hitting on my beloved in front of me, though that only because she wasn't here with me.

I'd drowned my last response in venom, which caused Harris to turn his attention to polishing his glasses and the occasional customer; the unfortunate side-effect of this was that he stopped buying me drinks. It was just as well--the snow no longer whipped by outside, but fell in a think, silent blanket. Figuring that the cask of alcohol I'd consumed would be enough to keep me warm, I donned my white cloak and replaced my hat as I stepped out the door.

The Granite Hills looked serene, rather than imposing and forlorn, under the drifts of snow. The trek took about twice as long as it should have, on account of getting lost far more than I should have. Over the domes and drifts, looking for the wall of trees ahead of me. They rose from the ground ahead of me, finally, and I let myself believe that walking into their boughs was the ultimate goal of my journey, rather than the end of the first third.

Unhindered by snow, the forest floor was relieving to cross as opposed to the frigid icecap that the hills had been. It was still damned cold {Why was I making this trip in the winter?}, and the idea of the plains to the north of Northreach, where there was no foliage to foil the wind was colder still.

The grass faded from a dying brown-green to inexistence as the landscape became blasted by ice instead of cradled by snow. This was why I'd moved to Shallam, ideals be damned. Snow never fell there, and ice was a delicacy and a dream, not a discomfort and an obstacle. I would have prayed to be changed into an Atavian, with wings to ferry me over the cold, but ill-disposed as I was, my pessimism figured I'd probably just be blown into the ocean. And that, somehow, the ocean would be colder than the ice. It was a good thing I was traveling alone, so no one had to hear me bitch and moan. Had I heard myself complaining, I'm sure I would've sounded like a child.

More tundra crossed under my feet, and though I kept a steady pace, night fell. In spite of my weariness, I trekked on: I hadn't brought enough food to stop and rest {being frugal with purchase of sustenance from being liberal with purchase of alcohol}, and there was no way I was trying to find some shelter in these God-forsaken lands. So, fueled by my utter hatred for snow, I kept moving.

Finally, structures rose out of the ground, like the trees of Northreach. I knew, sullenly, that I hadn't erred, and that I was finally in the icy village of Kamleikan. I had to confront the reasons I was here, put past prejudices aside, shut up, and listen.

As the sun rose, I stumbled into the village, frostbitten and silently shivering in gratitude for the villagers who welcomed me in like silence, strangely keen to my intentions. I was led to a hut with purpose, and inside, behind a door, wrapped in blankets, I found my mother, just as I'd known I would. A sickly smile, warm with the comfort that family brings, spread across her face as I sat wordlessly on the floor at her bedside, back against the wooden frame in exhaustion. I was tired, and had time, and she knew I needed to rest.

All these years, all these years her heart had stopped beating in her chest, and pulsed only in my own. I had told her, a century ago, that I would be staying in Shallam and joining the Dawnstriders, and she walked out of my life. She wore a smile that spoke of her confidence in me and her expectations, and I never heard from her again. I never knew why she'd done that, let me walk out on my own instead of supporting me the whole like most mothers had, like -she- always had before. A letter, and a wish to see me once again, a century later. I still felt it was my obligation, even had it not been my desire, to see her. Yes, a hundred years passed, but I was still her son, and she still stood on a pedestal in my memories.

I awoke as soup was served to her; thoughtfully, a bowl was also brought to me. I was lightened some by the refusal to avoid the unavoidable: she had been gone more than most of my life, her sense of guilt knew that, and whatever reparations could be made would be made with the simple-yet-monumental question of "How have you been, my son?" A slight smile was in my voice at the chance to have a real response to "How are you?" other than the same in return or some placating banality of "Fine, thanks." Will is an amazing thing--it puts aside years of distaste for the wishful thinking that the errors of the past had never happened, and in that wishful thinking realizes its dream.

She had continued to sing after I had remained in Shallam, touring the continent (and even its satellites) to share with others her love of music, and through that, earn the ability to live. We both recalled fondly when Ralph established the tradition of the bard formally, publicly; it was a thing of beauty, to see the Arts I had been so well-instructed in and fond of in my childhood become championed as equals to the intolerance and bloodshed that likewise was taught. My mother felt the same--after all, she was my mother.

My mother hadn't summoned me on whim--she was dying. A terrible illness grasped her frame, and no panacea could overthrow it. Not even death. Her eyelids had lightened and her body strengthened with my arrival, but they manifested as delays of the inevitable. How sickness could grasp a person beyond death, through the Salvation of Maya, perplexed me. What force transcended She Who could force a soul back into its mortal form? Praying to the Great Mother granted no solace, and the hand of whatever power vied for my mother's soul clenched firmly about its prey.

Months of tending to my mother turned into years. My thoughts often swept south, to my home, my family, my duties to my House. Saria had just had our first child when I'd left; how ironic that caring for my mother would cause me to fail in the same way she had. It all seemed wrong, and so hopeless; every day my mother's condition degraded, one drop of blood, one bead of sweat at a time. We were as family, though, and we came to know each other as the new individuals we had become.

I questioned her choice of the polar north of the world as we know it as a locale for convalescence. She smiled softly: "It's quiet here, and there's always snow …" It had been well over four years since my arrival to the village, and on this day something made sense, as two droplets of water joining to one. She came up here to find somewhere quiet. She called me here to see me again, to make amends and reforge our relationship before she killed herself. She had stayed in this village to die.

She passed away quietly, with a smile on her face, and of her own free will in a slow suicide caused by her own demons that plagued her head; a slow suicide that drew from my blood outrage and fear. She would not come back, she had ended her life permanently. Why? Why could, how could she do this? Not only to me but to herself? What of her musical talents, now? My mind whirled with thoughts, and it became apparent to me that I had not a damned clue for any of the whies and hows and shouldn'ts for my mother. I felt naked and terrified, lost and alone, because I didn't have a damned clue about any of those for myself, either. I was sick in my heart, and I took to bed in Kamleikan, eating soup and cowering in fear of the great abyss of reasonless action that was around me. Sitting in bed, sullenly enjoying the solitude, sipping my soup--it took me much longer than it should have to recognize the imitation of folly. Sick to striding, that very night I departed with my things; I thanked those who had abided me, who I had worked with to pay for the hospitality for my mother and myself, who had become almost as family to me, and I left to answer questions, instead of asking them.

I traveled faster than I had years ago, imbued with a will to knowledge rather than apprehension of the unavoidable; the snow melted beneath my feet, the world whispered past me in my haste. I strode swiftly to Hashan, the genesis of my exodus of years, and arrived in Tasur'ke by northeast. I was walking out of the candy store, enjoying the rapturous taste of an almond-encrusted honey-coated strawberry--there I stopped, being struck by a strange spectacle. Two men were engaged in combat, drawing torrents of blood from one another, stoic and lifeless expressions on their face, the children of either apathy or a lack of interest in the outcome. Blows fell heavy across one man's chest, and he sank to one knee as his armour buckled beneath the blows. His chest heaved once with a massive attempt to draw in a rallying strength before his opponent's weapon howled down from the air, ripping through his neck with a sharp crack as his neck snapped. In a flash, his form was again before me, shimmering with the translucency of a disembodied soul. Wordlessly, both strode away from the scene, countenances of uncaring stone. I spoke out to the glimmering entity, and his hazy brow turned my way: "What shall you do now, that you are dead?"

His face unchanged, he paused and thought for a second. "Why, get better, I suppose. I wasn't good enough this time." He began to step off again, even as he spoke, some purpose chief in his thoughts.

"But, sir, what can you do if you are dead? Surely the liberties of the living are sacrificed with dying!"

He paused and wheeled around to meet me, musing but contemptuous of the fact that I was depriving him of his better-spent time. "Well, I suppose … there are some things you can't do while you're while you're dead. But coming back to life fixes that!" His mouth opened and he leaned back, his shimmering shape unable to expel the healthy sound of living laughter.

"What is death, then, if you can just become alive again?" My mind flashed back to my mother, who had taken her own life from within, departing this mortal coil for all eternity, no longer a part of such a cycle.

"Why … I suppose it's a part of life." He sank to his knees and began to pray, fading slowly from sight.

Being in the possession of some coin (hence the haughty display of wealth upon purchasing my strawberry), I decided that some drinks with Harris at the Eventide would help me unravel my web of questions. He smiled, a hint sardonic, upon my return, and poured me a glass of absinthe before I'd taken a seat at the bar. The stool felt awkward, and the bar seemed crowded by the young man who had taken over my usual abode.

"I know just what you're wantin', Mach!" he said as slid the glass my way. "Of course, this one's on the house, for old times' sake. What's the word on yer mum?"

How could he have known? "Harris, does anyone ever really care about death anymore? Does anyone even know what it really is?" His face, rather than souring at heavy matters or smiling and brushing it aside ignorantly, flashed a sense of concern over my intent brow.

The youthful fellow turned his head toward me, eyes heavy with the weight of stiff drink. "I shpose y'could talk thimin Teer Myuran, them ahh …,"--here he hiccupped, that sophisticated man--"thim Viertni has a whooooole lotta diff'rn to say bout deafth." I tipped my hat to the two of them, leaving one with a puzzled look and the other with dreams of a hangover.

So far, my counsel had come from a drunken sot a quarter my age and someone who was already dead. Set on my course, I was [luckily] ignorant of that at the time.

I arrived at Tir Muraan, the first time in years that North had led me out of shadow. I spoke with a guard in my broken Vertani, attempting something along the lines of "I likes speak to smarter Vertani-sir on death." The guard reached for his weapon, the expression on his face either the result of a loss in translation or my inability to come up with something that didn't imply he was a not-smarter Vertani. Upon the command of "You were view Qoul the cat-sir Daqsool" I proceeded under double-guard to meet Daqsool, the Qoul [or cat-sir].

In my second sardonic smile of the day, Daqsool uttered something unrepeatably rapid and my escort departed. Daqsool looked at me expectantly, his slightly unsettling grin having receded to a serene expression of interest. His body leaned over his desk, and he towered over me--I understood the dismissing of his guards, but the sneering at my inability to be a hulking clot of muscle was a little rude.

"I wants learn of how view death the Vertani." Something like that. A haze of confusion clouded his face, and he pursed his lips in thought.

His face lit up with a brief epiphany and he spoke: "Him are the [something] Good whom are of the All where Evil is him are of ground. However, just spoken of cat-sir, the Qoul." I really didn't grasp a mote of that. On the bright side, I had isolated my problem with the Vertani language to reside with cats.

Smiling demeaningly at the hopeless look that had overcome me, he spoke again: "Perhaps it is better if we speak your language." Confusion melted into embarrassment as Daqsool demonstrated that he was the superior intellect and diplomat, and with his massive hand he motioned me to have a seat. He sat after I had taken leave of my feet, and leaned forward, form less imposing when piqued with interest and seated behind a large buffer of wood. "You wish to know what we Vertani think of death, correct?" I nodded in the affirmative. He smiled--a warm smile, devoid of the condescension his stature already implied. "How pleasantly strange. Someone who can barely die wants to know what death is? Hopefully at least one head among the heard will no longer take life for granted."

His eyes softened, his fists unclenched, and his muscles unwound into relaxation. "'Death' does not exist in Achaea, to those of you who walk and 'die' each day. When others draw your blood, you pass into and through your demise. Your body does not work anymore, you cease to draw breath. Your mind lives on, encased in your soul. Through the spoilings of the Lady Maya and Lord Sarapis, the body and mind become one again. This demise is a nothing--it is as impersonal as each step of your foot.

"My people have known death. The mind, within the soul, is wiped clean, and returned to the body anew when we cease to draw breath. Everything that was to be for us is destroyed. Forever the opponent I slew will remain dead, but the future of my family, my House, and my thoughts are all banished forever. That is death.

"Under the protection of your Gods, you have lost your value of life. No matter how many times you 'die,' you can still love, learn, laugh and cry, relate to others and find something new. You Achaeans can only meet your demise, for you ever have potential in front of you, waiting on the other side of the Doors of the Great Mother."

He paused here, as if deciding to divulge a secret, somehow evaluating my trustworthiness. His voice lowered, and he looked down to start speaking, his head nodding as if assuring himself of something. "There is one death you people have, and that is the refusal of your own life. Should you commit suicide in ritual to destroy your soul, the self you had will be no more. It is a decision only you can make, and bears no immediacy. It is the immediacy and damning eventuality of true death that brings to life its meaning."

My eyes had focused through the floor, on some unnamed point in the earth, ears my organs of perception while contemplating Daqsool's knowledge of death. So death is not a state of being, but a state of not-being? I stopped, the silence dispelling the dissolution of the physical world around me, and I was snapped back into sitting before this behemoth of a being. I stuttered under the sudden force of reality. "So, you're saying that one canna be dead, but that in death, one no longer is?" A nod. "And that brings to life its meaning , but," I paused here, now under the weight of absurdity, "though this is a ridiculous question, what -is- the meaning of life?" He stood as he laughed, looming again imperiously in defiance of me. He shook his head, the derisive smile again creeping across it. "Having now an inkling of your life, you ask me to take it away from you by telling you what it is? I will never understand you people, or why you are allowed to exist like this. Truly, you exist, and do not live." He plodded heavily around his desk and, placing a firm but comforting hand on my shoulder, showed me the exit.

I began my trek south by west, moving towards the hub of Sapience, just north of [New] Thera. I impulsively rubbed some berry on my skin and smoked the skullcap in my pipe, owing to the usual perils of the area. Again, though, something intriguing stopped me--two people were arguing, again. Instead of swords, though, this clash was with words. One man was simply dressed in mundane clothing, standing with his weight on one foot, looking as if he had held similar poses for the past few hours. The other, surrounded by a loathsome entourage of Chaos-spawned vermin, vaguely resembled a woman of the elegant Tsol'aa, her form now hideously warped by the Chaos this occultist apparently attempted to control.

Words came as blows, and fell heavy (and about as feverishly and well-thought out).

"You're a failure. I seek potential, which is true power, -TRUE- freedom! Dabble under the yoke of your laws and formalities and""You call that potential? What can -you- know of freedom, a slave to the whims of your bartered friends there?""I am not only reshaping within our world, but reshaping that world itself! Such is the nature of Chaos!"

I stopped near to them and coaxed a field of protection from the shield tattoo I wore, still mindful of the danger about me. I broke into their exchange with a question as to what -exactly- it was they were even arguing about.

"Why, the purpose of life!" the Chaos Lady said. "This one" she nodded her head at her counter-debator, "says that freedom is the purpose of life. He claims that Ashtan, a city with laws and rules, is a city of freedom. To claim that something so confining as the definition of 'city' could contain 'freedom!'" She snorted with arrogant contempt.

The man, patience blatantly wearing thin from her {I'm assuming} repeated interruptions and stifling of his speech, stomped down his authoritative verbal foot and said overly-loudly, so as to prevent interruption, "This occultist claims that 'pure potential' is the purpose of life! More than that, she says that using the powers of Chaos to unravel the very fabric of Achaea is the best way to achieve that potential! She's ridiculous! Stark raving mad, if you ask me!" She snorted again, with more arrogance and even more contempt.

Luckily, the tension between them held their conversation in suspension, and I interjected again, directed at the fuming man. "So, wait, what you're saying is that the purpose of life is to be free?" Apparently he interpreted this as a high-order confirmation of his beliefs, and he gave an overwhelming assent, detailed with how Ashtan had been working to perfect its laws to ensure perfect freedom for all. "I see, but … laws restrict. How is that 'freedom?' And, well … [how to put this] … but, what do you do once you're free?" He rattled into about how equal freedom was the best freedom and paused when struck with the second question. A great breath of deep thinking was drawn in, but wordlessly exhaled.

"Ha! You see! He cannot even answer those questions! Potential, potential, that is true freedom. Even the confines of the -laws of reality- can be undone. And what then? Well, you reform them how you please! It's an art I've nearly mastered." She patted an ugly thing next to her. {Bet that's her sister, I chuckled to myself.} "Controlling reality about you--that's the power of freedom!"

"But again, what then? I mean, if you control all that is reality, and you make of it what you want, what then?"

"Why, you remake it better!" She said with a confident stance, hand-like things on her hip-like things.

"… and when you make it perfectly? And even then, is remaking it na removing the potential that the unmade reality had?" Her posture melted into a bewildered effort to understand whats and hows. The din of argument was no longer, and the two looked at me wistfully before going their separate ways, which [to my humor] both led back to the gates of Ashtan.

I continued into New Thera to catch a rest from my feet, and catch up with my thoughts. Were either of them right? I had asked them those questions as if I knew the answers. But when you think about it … what does one do if they are free? Doesn't acting on that freedom destroy it? Doesn't choosing destroy the freedom of choice by making what-could-be into what-is-not? As Daqsool might see it, the true death of possibility is by utilizing it?

I returned to my home, longing for familiar faces and structures; paths where my feet could follow their own footprints. The domes of the city stood to greet meet me as I passed down the Raphaelan Highway, even the surrounding hills were a comfort to me. The gates embraced the world, and the shuffling of the city brought back the kind of silence I was used to.

I had been gone for years, and Pericles greeted me with a smile that shone through his armour. "Hello, Machiavelli! It is good to have you back in the Jewel, with us again." He withdrew from his rounds and turned to face me, steel plates gleaming in the sunlight. "The Royal Guard has missed your presence."

I was struck with an odd sense of insecurity at that statement. Those words brought with them the ideals and fundamentals of Shallam; the Royal Guard gave blood to defend the thoughts and dreams of Shallam. Not wanting to draw into question my loyalty, I asked the captain personally: "Pericles, why do you serve Good, Light, and Order?"

The expression that had drifted over Harris' face when I spoke to him descended beneath the helm of the captain, and Pericles stood in an odd posture, utter confidence and supremacy over his surroundings now departed. "Good and Light are the cornerstones of benevolence." He nodded his head slightly in his armour, no longer rattled by the sudden questioning of the ideals he had woven into the very fiber of his being. "Chaos seeks to destroy our world, our very reality as we know it. Order seeks to take the rending destruction that is Chaos and establish instead a firm construction of reality and its inhabitants. I serve these three ideals to protect our world and establish within it a civilization which is beneficial to all sapient life." His confidence was moving--I longed to stand so firm and resolute in stance and in belief.

"What, then, is your physical ideal?" That really made no sense to anyone but me. "I mean, what is the tangible result you're after?"

This time, he retained his confidence and composure. "Everyone is happy where they are, and there is peace and contentment throughout the world without end." A serene scene covered my mind, with smiles and laughter. The world was a painting, brushed with astonishing precision, immobilized in time. (Immobilized?) The world was dried oil which had shrouded the possibility of the blank canvas. Everyone was a brushstroke, and with that, they could also be a rock or a tree. No one -became- anything, everyone -was- something; without becoming something, people were defined by their pasts. It was as if a lightning bolt had struck, and the shadows cast were frozen in time, and people were forever contained with in them.

I said to Pericles, "What would you want to try to do in such a world?"

He laughed warmly. "Want to do? This world is dreamt from perfection, and there is nothing to want or to do." He smiled, perhaps still rapt by the painting he had conjured. "Everything would be happiness and contentment for all, always."

I replied: "But … does this na mean you have no freedom? You would be happy, but you would na be anything else. The world would be so rigidly defined that we would cease to be people … more like inanimate paintings."

He pursed his lips pensively, thinking firmly. "What of freedom, in that sense? Everyone would be content and happy in every moment! What more purpose is there to freedom than to achieve that?"

"What of the world and of the sapients? Would they na collapse into ruin? Never would we see great works of art, great deeds, great heroes. Would we na just mill around incessantly like leaves blown around by 'happiness'? Would we na be utterly controlled by this vision of a God we had created, bowing to the presence of 'happiness' and chasing it when it were absent?" This vision of utopia had started to become faded and curdled, and slowly a feeling of revulsion rose in me at the thought of being governed by feelings. Governed by -my- feelings.

Pericles replied with more hope and less belief in his voice: "Well … perhaps there -would- be a God of Happiness. A Figurehead for our devotion to the ideal of 'happiness.'"

I thanked him for his time. I was thoroughly disgusted (which is how raw fear manifested itself) at the thought of na only having my decisions in life but my very -emotions- dictated by a God. The Fingernail of the Divine is nothing I wish to become; I must be an extension of my own will.

The conversation had caused the walls of my home to grasp at me, and the wide streets felt strangely claustrophobic. I left with haste, and hurried out past a large group of armed guards. Introspective and deeply engaged, I had no ken of the world as a blade was driven into me. Some miscellany having dispelled my aura of rebounding, I cried out in surprise and was pinned to the ground with a grunt from an unrecognized opponent. Before the sudden host descended upon me, still hung over in reality with my internal battles, I mustered a partial yell, "Wait."

Perhaps by the utter stupor in which I had wandered in or by the absurdity of the request, the silhouettes above me were motivated to stay their hands, though the blade still trespassed in my body, seated in the soil. In my increasingly agonizing state, I managed a single word: "Why?"

A voice, smiling while dripping with the venom of sadism, chuckled at this. "See your weakness? This is true strength, what we are. Spilling the blood of the fools who aren't strong enough to exist and survive--that is what we do. All those weaker than us must perish; we rid existence of the foolish who don't deserve to inherit the world--that is our purpose."

I struggled to twist my mind about the beliefs rather than the blade of my enemy. Surely, this was a voice from Mhaldor. I tried desperately to utter the complaints I had known against those philosophies for so long. "What of each other? … What of the weak … in Mhaldor? Them, you grow, but the rest … of the world is a playground … playground for your hypocrisy. And each other, you … one of you is stronger than the rest ... should na they be the only one left alive?"

A puzzled look was quickly veiled by hatred as a blade whistled down at my neck. In that moment I knew I would have time to contemplate this …

I stepped to the light from the familiar journey through demise, having been less struck with wonder at the miracle of rebirth with the words of Daqsool in my ears. I had learned nothing from the Mhaldorian bastards who had killed a man with a question, and they had learned nothing for me, certainly hearing with deaf ears. They had learned nothing, and were as grotesque paintings, souls mummified in preservation of the current state, unwilling to change. They were the same rocks and trees of Pericles' work of art.

I wandered from the Cave, disappointed at the inconclusive "discussion" I'd had with the Mhaldorians. I swore softly to myself about their ignorance, more frustrated than angry, fueled by the moment I'd seen their existence as the same painting as many of my home city. So many works of art … it sounded picturesque, but people were no longer individuals--they were governed by ideals trumpeted by Gods, and when those Gods were absence, they desired Their presence. Not only were people unwittingly soulless marionettes, they -desired- it. My trek for clarity had turned towards the bowels of Hell, and questions were replaced with answers of grievous truth.

I wandered, safe in Divine Grace, towards New Thera again. I passed the clashing of swords that rang out with warcries of the ideals fed to their wielders, my growing contempt for their blindness weaving cataracts over my senses toward their inanimation. I passed through Cottonwood Canyon, and my reverie was interrupted by a gaunt woman swathed in scant clothing, eyeing me purposefully.

"Something I can do for you, my strong man?"

"What do people want in life?"

"Oh, I can show you -that.-" She approached me, fingers snaking across my chest, hand gently taking my own. I twisted and threw her off; her face slid from intent to insulted.

I stopped and cast my eyes to her, my face dressed in a woefully pitiful expression constructed through frustration. "Why do you do what you do? What do you want in life that you should do this to yourself?"

She laughed gaily, either at my semantic dancing around of certain words, or the undertones that she would be ashamed of her work. "I -chose- this profession, dear. Sure," she swept her hand in a wide gesture, "you all may think poorly of me, but I enjoy my place in life right here. It's my life, and if I enjoy it, then screw you all!" She tilted her head to the side with a satisfied smile at both her response and her tacky pun.

The clouds began to gather hastily, unnaturally, and soon rain began to fall from the sky. The rain was thick and crimson, and as the blood flowed from the sky, we hurriedly made our way inside her brothel, to a dimly-lit corner where we sat. I waited a moment, ruminating on what she had just said, and then asked, "But -why- did you choose this … profession?"

She laughed her vibrant laugh again. "It pays for my life, and in my job I get all the pleasure, all the pain, all the drama I want." She smiled again and said, "I bet you'll ask me 'Why?' again, won't you? The whole purpose of life is to -live,- to experience reality's many facets as many ways as you can. I love both the high moments and the depths of my despair, because without each other there is neither. The drama that," here a naked woman being chased by an inebriated man (also naked) flew past the door way. My companion laughed. "… obviously pervades a house like this keeps me occupied and entertained."

"So there you have it," she said with a tone of self-satisfaction, "I have all of my fun, my fears, and my feelings made in this."

I paused almost awkwardly long. It all made so much sense, and it was hard to grasp, as was the fact that I'd heard it from a woman who, an hour ago, I would have scoffed at learning from. I was still slightly unsure of this woman, and especially what she meant by "her feelings." I had a final question: "But, in this business, how can you na forget what real love is?"

That same, lovely laugh. "You think I don't have a husband? That is how I know it's true love--he turns a cheek to my ring staying out of my business, and plants a kiss on -my- cheek when I put my ring back on. Despite anything, he knows that my -heart- is his." With that, she leaned over and planted a tender kiss on my cheek, stood up, and took her body further within the brothel.

The rain of blood had ceased, and I wandered outside again. She -was- right! The experiences, the feelings, the stimuli of life were life itself. I felt as if I had unearthed a gem amid all of this mud I had been digging into. Living with your experiences, feeling what you want to feel, a mellow hedonism, that was the way to live life. The purpose of life was life itself. I felt as if a burden had been cast from my shoulders.

I walked further down the road, and turned into the Black Forest. The familiar "pop"ping sound of growing mushrooms greeted me, and soon I was lost, meandering contentedly through the boughs, simply taking in my surroundings. I was so self-absorbed I nearly stumbled over an old man seated beneath the trees. He had a beard of flowing ivory, yellowing with age, and his eyes were cushioned with bushy brows that spoke both of age and wisdom. His clothing was tattered, but sufficient, and his hand held a magnificently carved walking stick. He smiled at me almost knowingly.

"My good man, I have found the purpose of life! Life itself is the purpose of life!"

He spoke softly, his tone mellowed by the knowledge of years. "My son, life has no purpose."

I stopped short, smile ripped from my face with the new ideal I had invested myself in rattled by this seated assault.

"My son, my son, life has no purpose. Surely you know this, though even now you would make a God out of life itself. That is far better, at least, than making a God out of a feeling or an object."

I sat, awestruck into silence, and listened to the man.

"It is true, life is what you make it. Life has no purpose though, my son. There is no meaning to your soul prior to its creation. There is no right or wrong way to live life. There is no vindication that pats you on the back and assures you that this is what you should be doing. Meanings are only things that people create out of nothingness. They come from people's thoughts, and there you have it. The meaning of life comes from within life itself."

He offered me water and bread. I took sparingly, thankful for his gesture of kindness. They were simple gifts, but I thanked him the same for the meaning of his gift. He continued: "Meanings are nothingness from nothingness … but does that mean they do not exist? I believe you are Shallamese, so I will present it to you this way: the belief that the meaning of life is to destroy the weak and gain strength through suffering exists to some, but is void and folly to you. Such is the nature and nothingness of beliefs, which is all our values are. How can you understand the nothingness of another, and how can another understand your own?"

More radical than the last. I sat, understanding but at the same time confused. Perhaps I was confused by the absurdity. We have no purpose. Our values don't exist in the real world, they are -made up- by us. I hazarded a question, almost fearfully, "Then our purposes of life, they're real only to each individual who believes that is the purpose of life?" He nodded.

I was right back where I'd started. There was nothing of the purpose of life--it just was whatever you wanted it to be. My face frowned in dismay at the loss of any progress I had made in my thoughts and understandings. He saw this, and said with a soft smile, "Do not fear that. Where you become greater is the ownership of your nothingness. You may even do or believe what another tells you to, so long as you do it for -yourself.- These things, these beliefs, these purposes, are yours alone. Take responsibility for them, from creation, through use, and in completion."

I blinked. That was a path I had never thought down: Not that all purpose is anything, but that it is whatever -you- want that purpose to be, and that it is your responsibility alone for it and its contents. My mind was whirling, not yet understanding the implications of this. The man spoke: "Sleep on it, my son." I glanced at where he was, but he was already gone. I had grown tired from the dying, believing, and understanding. I closed my eyes and rested.

I awoke in the morning, and knew that it was time to head back to my woman and my town. That word, "my." It was time to do what I knew in -my- heart was right, and to tend to -my- duties and practice -my- beliefs. My thanks, old man. I stood and went on my way, back to my life. No longer inadvertent puppetry from Deities or others, decisions were my decisions. My thanks, old man.