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Prologue: Beats Antique - Oriental Uno
Chapter 1: Asagaya - Elusive Delusive
“Then the poor maid went to the altar with great love and with an open soul. Then Saint John took the white lamb with its red wounds and laid it in the jaws of her mouth. Then the pure lamb laid itself on its own image in her stall and suckled on her heart with its sweet mouth. The more it suckled, the more she gave it.” - Das fließende Licht der Gottheit
“What did you think about Bacchusia and the Cuckoo?”
“Oh it was awful! Horrible! I don't remember the last time I read something so bad. I wish I could get my time back on that one,” responded James.
“Yeah it was awful, horrible. I didn't like it either,” returned Joseph.
“Bacchusia and the what?” “What and the Cuckoo?” exclaimed Gabriel and Michael together.
“You haven't heard of it yet?” asked James. “It's a new author, a guy nobody's heard of. They're selling it in Joseph's store; it's kind of like fantasy or mythology, or at least it's trying to be that, but it's just stupid and pointless.”
“What makes it so bad? Doesn't it have enough magic in it or big armies or spells?” asked Gabriel innocently.
“Hardly any!” countered James amid audible gasps. “There's a couple fighting scenes but most of it is just about some guy traveling between these different worlds to find a chick he fell in love with, but the guy’s not even that shredded and the hot chick is actually the villain and the chick he's after is actually the uglier one of the two; it's a total head spin. I didn't think it made any sense at all.”
“I didn't think it made any sense either,” added Joseph.
Gabriel was still too shell-shocked from the purported lack of magic and spells to respond. Michael's curiosity, however, was not to be quashed so easily.
“So what's the story about, actually?” he asked Joseph and James.
“Ugh! Where to begin!? It's really mainly in the last scene where the book falls to pieces... Joseph, do you want to tell it?”
“No, I'd rather let you tell it.”
“Okay, well let me see… so by the end of the book Stur, the hero, is on a quest to reach the world Bacchusia 'cause he wants to rescue Engelka, the woman he loves and the symbol of pure innocence in the world of Sinn which is the where Stur lives too. To get to Bacchusia Stur must pass through many other worlds and has many battles along the way. Bacchusia is the last world on this quest and it is also ruled by two powerful gods named Traumina and Glaubus who are daughter and father. Traumina is a beautiful and seductive goddess and Glaubus is known for his unmatched physical power and his ability to cast potent spells. They both, as rulers of Bacchusia, want to capture and kill Engelka because she is the last totally pure figure in the world of Sinn which is itself the last stable or pure world out there; however, they themselves cannot kill her because of the very fact that she is the purest being in the world—one of those ‘only the corruptible can be corrupted’ kinds of things.
“Traumina and Glaubus kidnap Engelka causing Stur to set out on his journey for her— he fell in love with her earlier in the book in their home-world Sinn— however Stur, on his way through the various levels of reality to Bacchusia, falls under a spell of Glaubus' which makes him believe that it is Engelka who is actually the ruler of Bacchusia and that she is actually holding both Traumina and Glaubus hostage. This curse also makes Stur fall into a deep love-spell for Traumina and makes him believe that Glaubus, her father, is being poisoned by Engelka and is therefore very ill and weak. In actuality it is Engelka’s purity that is causing pain to Traumina and Glaubus and also causing Glaubus to become sick and frail. Traumina and Glaubus appear to Stur in a vision as he nears Bacchusia and tell him he must slay Engelka soon because they are ill and near death.
“When Stur finally reaches Bacchusia he is weak. He has fought many battles and his sword has become brittle and his eyesight blurry. He sees Engelka immediately who calls to him in distress; she tells him that Traumina and Glaubus are not only daughter and father but also lovers and that Traumina is the bride of Glaubus. Stur, who at this point has thoroughly fallen in love with Traumina from the spell and who sees the old ailing Glaubus near death, becomes only more suspicious of Engelka as she tells him this. She tells him, also, that Glaubus is one of the most powerful gods and that he needs to be slain immediately—that is, while he is weak—in order to spare the worlds of his impending wrath.
“Stur sees Traumina and Glaubus and still believes them to be hostages of Engelka. He sees Glaubus as an extremely frail and old man, barely able to stand. Engelka's attempts to explain that Traumina and Glaubus have cast a spell on him only infuriate Stur. In a fit of rage he attempts to run Engelka through with his broadsword but the sword breaks off inside her. Startled and without weapon he lunges at her wildly, pushes her down and stomps on the top and side of her head with his boot until he collapses her skull into her brain, killing her.
“As he dislodges his boot from her skull he looks toward Traumina and Glaubus. Glaubus has transformed and no longer appears as a small frail old man. He is big—much larger than Stur—and his skin is tight across his body revealing a powerfully muscular and virile figure. At the same time Traumina, who before seemed to be hunched over and weak and distressed, now appears as a highly sexual goddess of beauty; she smiles seductively and condescendingly toward Stur. Traumina and Glaubus then start undressing each other and, in front of Stur, begin to fornicate and sodomize each other. As this occurs Traumina keeps her glance fixated on Stur who, after several moments of shock and disbelief, starts to vomit profusely before falling into insane raving. In the midst of his raving he claws both of his eyes out and collapses in exhaustion over the corpse of Engelka.
“In the last chapter of the book we learn that Traumina and Glaubus feed Stur lotus-leaves which are said to keep him in a vegetative and obedient state. They also shackle his feet with chains so that he can't escape even if he were to try. Traumina and Glaubus now rule Bacchusia as husband and bride and keep the now-blind Stur as an eternal man-servant to their rule.”
“Ugh, that really is horrible! How disgusting!” exclaimed Gabriel.
“I'll say. Incest, I mean that's just nasty. Father with daughter? That shouldn't be in books; it's basically just like porno.”
“Look who's talking, Mr. Porno-King on his secret hard drive!”
“Hey come on, it's different when you're watching it, but nobody should ever read it,” defended Michael.
“But for somebody who hated it you sure know the story pretty well!” jabbed Gabriel.
“Shut up, man, I only know it so well because it was too confusing on the first read-through. And anyway it's one of those stories that sticks with you... unfortunately.”
“Yeah I regret reading it too,” added Joseph, “I think it's just trying to be shocking because the guy can't write or can't think up good armies or spells.”
“I agree, it's way too simplistic; you know it's hard to think up really cool armies or all those cool names they use for forests and talking trees and stuff— I mean this one didn't have one talking tree in the whole fucking—”
“Swear Jar!” all three exclaimed with gusto.
“Again? I'm the only one feeding this damn—“
“Hey hey hey, NO: I'm going to put one dollar in for the f-word, but 'damn' doesn't count okay guys? It's not fair to include damn because I never call any of you guys on it,” a worked up James objected before taking a dollar out of his pocket, standing up, walking across the room and putting it into a jar marked Ye Olde Scottish Ale Reserve. The others laughed as he returned from across the small living-room of Joseph’s apartment, feigning an expression of shame.
They almost always met at Joseph's. The place became somewhat of a nest for the four friends, littered with old fantasy books and internet print-outs of Tolkien genealogies that found themselves arranged in messy concentric circles around the living room table where they regularly sat. Two of the others were still living at home with parents and James, the only other friend who had moved out, actually had a much larger apartment and would have enjoyed to entertain the friends more often; but Joseph was always quite insistent because (this he once admitted in a moment of inebriation) he felt alien visiting people elsewhere and liked the natural warmth of his apartment over other apartments.
To make up for Joseph always hosting them (whether selfishly or otherwise) the others were in the habit of bringing by the dinner. Joseph's tastes in food were quite bland and he was an easy person to shop for. Potato chips, candy or pastries, ground beef, pretty much any kind of processed food that went down easy and gave one a comforting feeling after a good gorge was ideal for him. Gabriel mused once that the real appeal of processed foods is that it's like they've been chewed once already (making it that much easier for the consumer), a remark Joseph found a certain degree of truth in (despite the fact that he would never admit as much).
To repay them for always feeding him, Joseph would get them discounts on the latest releases of Warhammer sets and fantasy novels through his employee discount at Warcoitalia. Joseph had had a dry-spell of work and was even in peril of losing his apartment before securing, through the recommendation of the manager who he had an acquaintanceship with, the slightly-above minimum wage job. The last several months had been spent paying back debt accumulated during the unemployment spell (and he was proud to say that he would be finished with that debt within the next two months) as well as putting $100 aside per month as part of a travel fund the friends had agreed on about a half-year prior. In fact Joseph got off easy since the other three, all having jobs paying better than Joseph (despite two of whom still lived at home) offered to put aside $200 per month for the same purpose. Once they reached $6,000 (they were already over half-way there) they would take a flight to Scotland to see their favorite ruins and had promised to Joseph, in a moment of admirable magnanimity, that the money would be divided equally despite their increased contribution.
“How much do we have in there, anyway?” asked Michael.
“I don't know; but if we just go by how many times I've dropped an f-bomb in here it's got to be at least 20 dollars!”
“Haha, yeah you're pretty foul-mouthed,” began Joseph, “I counted a few weeks ago and we were up to around $150, but you know I found a lot of five's in there too.”
“Of course,” started Gabriel, “If we only put a dollar every time we'd barely be able to afford a round of beers when we get to Scotland. We all know that Ale is the fuel of any true warrior; so what if we put a fiver every few days?”
“True I guess, but I don't want you guys spending so much money; you're already helping me out so much with the trip that I'd at least like to put extra in somewhere else.”
“We're not doing it to rub anything in, obviously,” interjected Michael, “But you know we all don't really have a lot of money problems and we're happy to share it; that's what friends are for. If I had debt and was scraping by I would expect the rest of you to do the same.”
“Thanks for taking care of me.”
A moment of awkward silence ensued where nobody present knew exactly what to say. The topic of Scotland was always a subject that everyone knew Joseph had clear insecurities about. He knew that his contribution to the travel fund was very small and didn't quite know how to internalize that reality. His drink-jar, an idea that he came up with and that he hoped he could secretly build (since who lived in his apartment more than he did, after all) had now also become what he felt was a charity case.
“Well anyway, Joseph, to change the subject, are you doing alright?”
“You seem a little out of it today; is everything okay at work?”
“Oh yeah, actually there is something I wanted to tell you guys about, I just got sidetracked on finishing that dumb story and now the talk of the Scotland and the ruins…” he trailed off. “I met a girl today, actually, came into the store. Really beautiful, her name is Bananalisa.”
“Hahaha! Oh yes, and then you woke up, did you? Where exactly did you meet this beautiful maiden 'Bananalisa'?”
“Hey shut up, I know it sounds made-up but that's really her name. She came in sometime in the afternoon with another guy, but he left without her after a couple minutes—I found out later he'd gone to get cigarettes while she shopped—anyway she was really gorgeous, like remember in Pious Meadows of Forgotten Lore? Remember Aviana from the Forests of Aar? Just like that!”
“Alright alright, stop trying to give us massive boners and get to the part where you ‘met’ her. I mean you did actually talk to her, I hope?”
“Yes, well, I mean not at the beginning, I was in awe. She had come in right as Tom—you know that young guy with the nose ring,” he clarified with a tone of distaste, as if nose-rings signified some kind of self sacrifice (and self-sacrifice was an idea he always found rather pointless), “was showing me how to do something in the store's computer system. I was so distracted when she came in that I took a tenner to go have a cigarette.”
“Wait a minute, before you go on, what was a chick like this even doing in your store? And why wasn't she getting swarmed by an army of us?”
“The store was pretty empty, as usual; she came in asking for 'lit,' and I didn't know what she meant but I guessed it was books; we pointed her to the wall with the new releases of fantasy and she kinda stood there a few minutes looking over them. Like I said I went outside to smoke and, right after I light my cigarette, I turn around and she's standing right in front of me.”
“I know! She asks me politely for a cigarette – I thought I was going to drop my pack of smokes I was so nervous – and after I lit her cigarette (she even cupped my hand in her hands) she actually talks to me!”
“She told me something about how she's studying literature but that she couldn't find any at the store. I could barely understand since I was so nervous. I mentioned that we just got Gandor's Realm of Narshit but she said she was only into, ugh I can't remember, I think she just kept using that word 'literature' to describe it. I asked her what she liked to read and she was talking about books that were socially challenging… or what was it… I can't remember the terms she used but it was stuff like Hunger Games and Twilight.”
“Hunger Games? You know I don't really know anything about fancy-schmancy 'literature' either but I don't think that Hunger Games is part of it.”
“Whatever it was I can't remember I was nervous; I'm sure she's got a good reason, after all she was really nice and she's the one studying this stuff. She seems to be really into fantasy too, though.”
“What do you mean? Didn't you just say she wasn't happy with the stuff in the store?”
“I mean yeah, I guess, but we talked for like ten minutes about fantasy and she really seemed interested in the conversation; she was nodding and everything. She had to go because the guy was back to pick her up—I'm guessing he was her brother—but she gave me her name and friended me on Meta.”
“Oh damn, bust out the computer pronto. I've been on half-autopilot assuming you just had a stroke from eating so much junk food and made up an elaborate story to cover that up but now you say there are pics?”
Unfortunately James' joke, which contained more than a kernel of jealously after hearing of Joseph's amazing luck, fell flat. Nevertheless they waited patiently as Joseph pulled up her Meta profile on his phone, all the while repeating what he thought to be the most salient aspects of his meeting with her including, but not limited to, his thoughts (ad nauseum) when he first laid eyes on her, his regret at not acting more suave when she, like a level-10 water-nymph from some Liberian orgy, asked nonchalantly for the 'lit' in the store, as well as his amazement at her engagement over topics of fantasy-literature with him as they were smoking and, finally (he really wouldn't stop on this one), the manner of her nod which seemed to tell him, for whatever reason, that she was truly “in-sync” with the conversation and really “got him.” He had not only approached but also thoroughly ravaged these topics at least six times before the Meta logo finally interrupted his speech, prompting him to look desperately for her in his friend-list.
“There she is! Beautiful! Beautiful!” he chirped and pulled up some photos of her. His friends now stood up and circled around the table and over the phone like vultures greedily jockeying for position over an old carcass. They subconsciously enjoyed the fact that a specimen like Bananalisa could be summoned and brought before a table of men without the slightest air of impropriety. Joseph, in his attempt to give proof for his encounter, was in fact serving up the likes of a human being. They were ready to consume her.
And they were not disappointed. She was indeed quite attractive, though not nearly at the level that Joseph had previously claimed. She appeared like someone who had an excellent chance at being beautiful but who squandered it; her face, even for someone that couldn't have been older than 25, seemed weathered and used. Yet despite it all there was a fair and beautiful simplicity to her look, a kind of unassuming expression that contrasted heavily with a deep and far expanse of pleasure, pain and mutilation that seemed to rumble quietly behind her eyes. She seemed attractive not despite but because of these shortcomings— something in her face, whether it was that deep well of raw emotion behind the eyes or the way she never appeared in a picture without smiling, was hard to pin down: indeed Michael, Gabriel and James were ensnared by it, if only for a moment.
Whatever it was that was so hard to put ones finger on there was something from these pictures that was abundantly clear: there was no way that somebody like Joseph and Bananalisa could ever have a relationship. Bananalisa liked to party: that was more than clear from the pictures. In all the photos they saw almost none that didn't have Bananalisa with at least two or three other men dressed in death metal band shirts, holding at least one bottle of liquor between them and generally looking wasted out of their minds. In short they were almost as opposite as one could get to Joseph and his friends.
And that brings us to Joseph, our anti-hero who, it must be noted, was himself almost a physical polar opposite to Bananalisa. While not terribly unattractive his demeanor was anything but cool. He was prone to profound nervousness (which would cause him to blabber on uncontrollably about fantasy novels and other topics he felt safe discussing), he very rarely was able to lead a conversation regardless of what topic was being discussed and, on top of all that, seemed always a bit high strung so that, if ever he were made to endure a surprise party, the idea that his startled response could be a vertical leap several feet into the air resulting in his clinging to ceiling wouldn't be unbelievable by any stretch. Furthermore his pasty white skin and skittish nature gave one the impression that they were in fact dealing with some humanoid creature that retained (or didn't develop past) certain embryonic features and tendencies. Even his hair, thinning already at such a young age, gave one the impression that perhaps it had never even started to grow; the kind of impression one gets at times looking at the hair of infants.
Compounded atop all this was a naïve and vain semblance of self-awareness that Joseph would never admit to anybody but that he most certainly had. It was as if he had another voice, a personal narrator, that directed him and moved him and told him constantly of the perspectives of the others. He was a in a cycle of existence where he narrated his actions and those actions in turn led to more narration, a back and fourth that can keep a person idly busy, even ferociously at work, and still leave one empty handed at the end of a long life.
James, Gabriel and Michael told Joseph that Bananalisa looked like a nice girl. They used very nice euphemisms like that she appeared very “free-spirited” and “active” and “outgoing” because they sensed quite clearly that their friend had fallen hard for her. They told him that they should all hang out together some time and listened intently to his reiterations of his experiences that day, each time more than the next agreeing with him that he certainly had a chance with this girl. After all, everyone always has a chance.