Archives for the month of: March, 2015

Zy, perhaps infected by the Lord’s returning sense of urgency, watching the work going on as the riders ambled along the u-so’s central track, rather envied the villagers their quality of time. For the riders, time was fundamentally inadequate – the day always ran out, the night always came on, and for the Lord, at least, it seemed as if they had never ridden far enough. For the riders, time was always fleeting, they seemed to beat it before them like partridges as they went and send it whirring off ahead, leaving the human beings behind, earthbound and stalled. Perhaps it was partly RezIsimgria’s fault: they had been travelling for months now, and they had come great distances, and yet here they were, still out on the edge of nowhere (as the common people said), still thousands of karsts from their destination. Then they would ride again the next day, and again the next day would run out, and the village they reached would be similar to the village they had left that morning, and the Sea of Trees – after all, only a part of the Endless Plains – would seem pretty much the same, day after day.

For Zy, there was a kind of enchantment about the forest, the sense that you could lose yourself there for years among the snows, the resinous air, the frozen streams, the soaring, gigantic pines, the little tracks and the higgledypiggledy villages. On paper, certainly, on the map, there you could see progress, ground covered: but in the flesh, on the pulse, in the daydream, under the branches, the outside world, the “great world” as Zy had heard it described, appeared to have vanished: and every day, the MelZia Track looked the same, and every day the night came, and the riders were forced to interrupt their journey.

Sai, it was like King Canoopay and the Magical Theatre of Djing. The Sea of Trees was like scenery on the stage – such wonderful scenery, so life-like, the world of a forest in spring, where, one night, Princess Afsanay, daughter of King Canoopay, had crept in secret into the Theatre of Djing, set up in the grand forecourt of King Canoopay’s palace, and heard a golden bird sing, fluttering among the branches of flowering plum and flittering through the bamboo glade that, as you looked from the seats, seemed to go on and on, deeper and deeper, under the moonlight, so Princess Afsanay had stepped up onto the stage, and walked towards the back, but found no end to the scenery, and the night air was mild and full of the glittering, sparkling song of the golden bird, and the buzzing and sawing of night insects…

Like Princess Af, the riders had wandered into this magical forest, where they found, no matter how far they rode, they never had enough time, they never seemed to get out of the forest…


Excerpt from Mask [i] | Volume 10 of Dustless

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Dustless | Volume 9

From the notebook of Amza Iyaa, minor novelist of the Era of the Empty Sky:

(Terribly hungover. Zozo is a monster! Why do I always let him convince me to carry on drinking? Well, but he is the most charming among us, it must be said. I love him, whether it is sun or moon.)

So: unwritten books, and unfinished books. These are books it must be said to have a rather precarious life. They are trembling things, insects just this moment left the egg, not yet even shaken out their wings to dry. But they exist in some way, tenuous in their latency.

Next in my catalogue of books, we come to the most grim and gruesome of them all: unpublished books.

O, by all the saints of TanZo, is there a class of book more heart-breaking, more soul-consuming, more spirit-flogging, than an unpublished book?

I, by the grace of my ancestors’ Karo, have only had one or two early works rejected by publishers. (Publishers are only greedy merchants, when all is said and done, and have no ultimate attachment to art, for all their snobbery and airs and graces, their love is for quints and ekels and zarels, as is proper in any case for those of mercantile preponderance, only when they fluff about and zephyr their good taste to the public gaze, it does rather annoy me. You are only interested in money? Well, and very good! Then your books are no different, in the end, to barrels of dried fish or pots of pepper. They are products, no more, no less. Don’t pretend you care for art, my dear. Baku, for example, is such a snob, you’d think he’d written Kayza’s words for him. But this is digression.)

I have seen people crushed by their own books. At least one poor soul — Sima, the poet from Libar — I am convinced was led to suicide by the failure of his novel to find a publisher. That boy had an awful Karo, it is true, and hadn’t learned the coldness of spirit you need in this game, and one sensed something haunting him from the very first, but still, it was the rejection broke him, I am sure. And much the same might be said for poor old Maira — she was so highly strung, everyone said it, and she had debts, and Gairo treated her abominably, but she was so convinced by the quality of that last book of hers, when she couldn’t get it out, it was the disappointment took her to hang herself in the garden that night, most undeniably. (Gairo is a demon, I was told he joked about it when he heard, making a pun on her being “highly strung”. I have never liked Gairo, he has a touch of the devil E-Tzhi about him, too much ice in the heart, no one who looks that good in a mirror should really be a writer, in my opinion…)

Well, this is a most digressive entry, all digression and no argument. What I meant to insist upon is this: that the unpublished book is the one which, in general, inflicts the most suffering on writers.

I have lost count of the number of would-be writers I have met over my prestigious career. It sometimes seems that everyone is a writer of some sort or other. Why they all fight and flounder so much to give themselves the honour of this title — “writer” — is quite beyond me. All the writers I know, say that writing is a kind of gilded drudgery. The purer the writer, the greater the drudgery. The best writer I know, Dumo, is an utter slave, a donkey pulling a water wheel: she is the quietest thing imaginable, a shadow has more noise in it than she has, all she does is work, and she is the most boring company (in a wonderful way, though — she has a kind spirit, that woman). But I would take her works above those of any other writer living.

For the rest of us, though, it is a world of vanity and niggle. You struggle to make a reputation, and then you struggle to maintain that reputation. How? By continuing to write good books, of course — in the main, at least. And there it is at once: drudgery. As soon as one book is finished, you must set out on the next. Will it be as good? Is it too derivative? Should you change your style? What do the wretched critics want, who only know the limits of their own discretion, who slum through literature, stealing houses? And the public, forever chasing after the new thing? The latest thing? Well, the public want what the critics tell them, mostly, or what Baku puts on his boards or in the news-sheets. The public has no idea of quality, it is quite terrifying, the amount of vision they waste, reading fashionable vapour, convinced by Baku’s adverts that the work is “magisterial to the peak of judgement”, or “without equivalent in current days” or some such tosh. Ah, what a world, where everyone agrees a work to masterdom, but none know why! Kayza, for instance, is a prime example of this… Well! I had better not think too much of Kayza, it will only give me boils and an even more brutal headache…

Months, years, decades, even, spent on a book, writing it into life. And then, at last, it is finished. Off to the publishers it goes. No: rejection. No word of explanation: no sign they have understood your genius. More fool them! On to the next publisher. What!? No?! Another rejection. And still no sign of recognition.

Ah, dismal, dismal condition. You deliver the manuscript again. No, I’m sorry, Mr Baku is too busy to see you in person. You wait. Nothing. You hope. You wait. Still nothing. You hope. But, your belief is waning. You hope less. And when the rejection comes, it is less unexpected. Rejection, rejection, rejection. Rejection. I think I took my second novel (The Orchard With No Trees) to a whole fifteen publishers — that is to say, every house in Sahil, and by all fifteen, I was rejected. (Actually, I think Misuzomas mislaid the manuscript, rather than legitimately rejecting it, but by then, I had entirely lost heart, and I took the world’s hint — but, oh, what tantrums in my spirit! What ulcers of bitterness blown, what plots of revenge I dwelt upon! When I was successful, when my alpine genius was undenied, when people viewed me from all around, admiring me, envying me, how I would despise them down, those snobbish oafs who had dismissed my work, and so distempered me)…

Even now, years later, I can feel the burn of those rejections, when I think of them. Of course, as you get older, you realise, it is nothing personal, they just don’t think your work is any good, or will bring them in their quints and ekels. They don’t sit around, laughing at you (unless your work is truly awful, I suppose)…

Well, it is a brutal mill, literature, that grinds us all down. Even Kayza, who is a permanent sensation at the moment, is secretly ground down: those who really understand art laugh at him behind his back, mock his prose, watch the empty bubble of his achievement floating past; we know he is not so good, his style is an elegant mirage, we think it funny he seems to take himself at the multitude’s estimate, when the multitude has no real care for literature (why should they?) but only form long queues to feel themselves significant, and will swallow any trifle if it has the age’s taste to it, ignorant of what it is they consume, unable, in the end, to take a book seriously

So, perhaps they are right, after all?

Old, old complaints, I know…

Yes, a gilded drudgery. Whores, fools, slaves, thinking we are kings and queens, and perhaps even sometimes that we might share the parameters of a god. But gold is wrong. It is not gold, at the heart of it. Better than gold. Like air, but air very slightly changed. Taken from us, given back to us, slightly changed. Yes, I do think it so — this literature. Not the lions, not the hurricanes or wars, or poisons, or seductions, but a slight change to the air.

I should sleep. This morning does not agree with me.


Re-posted | Original post June 2013

From the notebook of Amza Iyaa, minor novelist of the Era of the Empty Sky:

So: there are the unwritten books. I’m sure there must be a philosophical category for such, for unrealised notions, but I don’t know it offhand, and I certainly can’t be bothered to look it up. (A writer who depends on other people’s definitions is hardly a real writer, in my opinion. And research is too pedestrian an activity, like moving goods from shelf to shelf in a shop, to be considered suitable work for a truly creative artist.)

We must grant that an unwritten book certainly possesses some life, even if it is only that of the most ephemeral inkling.

Next in my catalogue of futility come the unfinished books. Ah, a sad, sad species, one with which I am all too well acquainted: regrettably, there are a handful of such creatures lying around in my own study — too many, really, to bear thinking about.

Another vast library could be dedicated to unfinished books. And for each book, a story might be written, detailing the reasons for the failure of the creator to finish their work. The Catalogue of Interruptions — that might be its title.

Let us deal promptly with what I will call “victorious failures”. These, I suppose, are the sorts of failures Kayza has. I heard him with my own ears say, in Kasamono’s the other evening (where he was holding court in the most shameless fashion), “I got about half way through, and I thought

Aha — this won’t do at all!

But I saw straightaway what was to be done about it, and I started again, on a much stronger book”.

Typical Kayza! Why do people swallow such pompous stuff? Really, the number of toads around him, licking up his spittle, bathing in his artificial radiance! Absurd…

Well, in any case, that’s what I mean by “victorious failure” — a book that is unfinished because the writer is strong, and can see their way opened to a better book.

It’s admirable, I suppose, if irritating, the conviction of such as Kayza. A weaker writer won’t let go of a bad book so easily: it’s like a raft they cling to, even if they know (deep inside) the raft is slowly sinking. A writer’s life is generally a kind of permanent shipwreck. Mine is, anyway, and most of the writers I know are floundering about in one fashion or another, young or old, it’s the same, debts, collapsed marriages, spats, rivalries, scandal, hopeless crew, the lot of us… But their book, their precious book — well, that’s the one thing that keeps them afloat in all the turmoil, the roll and the spume. And the weak writer — young, maybe, no confidence, poor technique, loss of nerve, whatever — is much, much less likely to let go of a bad book, on which so much appears to depend, than a strong writer (or a “successful” writer, like Kayza, who are so stolid with fame and flattery and flannel and flappery, they don’t know what it means to be a real writer, anymore, I quite insist).

Who can blame them, these desperate fellows, bleeding their ink away into a useless book? That manuscript, it’s their raft. Are there any other rafts in the vicinity? No, they can’t see any. And they took so long, expended so much effort and ingenuity, such love, such dream of reputation, and it isn’t really a bad raft — is it? — so why should they abandon it? The saints of all TanZo know that everything else in their life is chaos! But at least they can stay afloat, have some hope that the next morning will bring progress, some sight of land…

Well, and so it goes on (rather like this raft metaphor), and the weak writer sticks with the bad book, revising, crossing out, re-starting, changing a name here, adding a chapter there, and generally puts such a bother of tweak and splice and hesitation into the work that it becomes merely a lamentable trail of doubt and botch and second-thoughtery, until finally they end up with a disaster that is so obvious, they are forced to give up, and accept that, for the time being at least, paid employment as a government clerk or tutor to the inane offspring of some local lordling will have to do for now, and that their masterpiece will remain unfinished for a year or so…

What writer of substance hasn’t experienced such a mess? I know I have, several times — even a writer with my polished reputation, I can freely admit, has bodged a story or two…

Another thing I overheard Kayza say was

Genius is certainty

(I’m almost entirely sure that isn’t his own invention, but something he’s borrowed from Yala Dona, but he passes it off as his own wit, and of course his entourage of poodles and creeps will hardly challenge him, or even care about so small a thing as genuine originality)…

Yes, certainty…

And he also said:

Genius is play

(he seems to have so many definitions of genius, he may as well say “genius is three pebbles one stacked on top of another”, or “genius is mud”, but of course, he is the great genius, so who will argue with him? Not I, in any manner: it is beneath me to twiddle categories with Kayza, and he knows it, too)…

Anyway, back to the core of my subject: unfinished books! They must be accepted as possessing still more life than an unwritten book. And yet, in some ways, are they not also more dead? Do they not die more completely? Their death more lingering, more terrible, more deathly? For a totally unwritten book could still, in some abstract notion, be a great book. But a failed book — I am talking about failures, here, among the unfinished — how can that be said to be great? The writer gave up on it, and left it to die. A horrible situation, really, not one I’d wish on anyone, not even “the Master of the Clouds” (wretched title! but I know Kayza likes to be called it. Really, who thinks these things up?)…

No, the more I have thought of it, the more I am certain, that an unwritten book is preferable to one half written. I know, of course, there are so many more reasons a book is never completed — from the prosaic heart attack, or being hit by a carriage, that sort of inconvenient end, to war, losing the manuscript (awful!), fire, and so on — but those books with which we fail, they die a most grisly death, in my opinion.

In fact, as I consider these things now, I grow more and more convinced that the only books that are really safe from death are unwritten ones! All the other categories of book are fated to die.

It is late, I will interrupt myself here: I am expected at the Gryso Theatre, to see the re-working of Kayda’s The Zarens. I don’t have much hope of it, it is terrible rough work, Kayda, he was a brute with all his swords and murders, probably another wasted evening, but it is a fine summer evening, and, as the poet says

to waste one hour of a summer’s night | shows the heart negligence and is a slight | upon the very spirit of a living chance…


Re-posted | Original post June 2013

…‘Well: how will you get justice, now? The whole power of the state is behind Azulsokul and the Xira clan. You yourself referred to the rumour: that the ShionDo is not just Azulsokul’s nephew, but…’

Berensota’s hesitation before finishing the sentence once again alerted Zy to the difficulty people found in discussing the internal affairs of the Dustless One and the imperial clan. The Dustless One had to be… well, Dustless. No dust of ordinary life should be able to cling to His Majesty’s person. Even in private, out of earshot of anybody else, Berensota still couldn’t speak of the matter without unease, as if he was sullying something within himself by opening his mouth and voicing these unflattering things. And in a sense, to deprecate the ShionDo was to cast oneself down, too, for the ShionDo was the Purest of the Pure, the Guardian of the Law, the Lord who was Vigilant over the Lords: the emperor was simply the purest person in O, the quintessence of the whole labour of the state to maintain the TanZo, to practise vigilance and to achieve purity. If there were specks of dust on the ShionDo, then there were specks of dust at the centre of the world. And if there was dust upon the Dustless One, where wouldn’t there be dust? Dust would have reached heart of the empire. And if there was dust at the heart, who could escape dust upon themselves, as well? It would mean a profound collective failure of the SolTanZoZon. No wonder, then, that people were deeply hesitant to criticise His Majesty…


Excerpt from Master Darkness [i], Volume 21 of Dustless

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Dustless | Volume 9

 

From the notebook of Amza Iyaa, minor novelist of the Era of the Empty Sky:

Certain books die. This much is clear.

Certain books – many – perhaps even most? – can hardly be said to live at all. These are the books that are unwritten – the glimmers, the amusing sketches (to be worked up at a later date), the foibles of dilettantes, notes jotted down on napkins, quarter thoughts from people half awake and half asleep, ideas that seem urgent, requiring prose.

Ah, the unwritten books! Surely, the vast numbers of books published through the ages, gathered together in a mountainous heap, must still be just a flash, a quibble, a fraction, compared to the books that were never written?

What a stupendous library it would be, the one holding all the unwritten books of our world!

What a ghostly babble, those pages will contain… Such a crowd, a roar, the rustle of a thousand weak intentions, the riffling plod of a hundred million half-hearted notions…

I have run out memory, the number of people who, on finding that I am the Amza Iyaa, have told me: “Ah, I have the idea for a most splendid story!”, or “I wish I could write a book. I have often thought of writing one…”

Yes, yes

I say, moving away from them as quickly as I can

I’m sure you have it in you

although, of course, in my mind, I think: Ah, but if wishing were doing, then doing, and life in general, would be far less interesting…

— something of that kind, in any case.

Yet, who can say these unwritten books never lived at all? Certainly, they were never given the cool reality of ink; certainly, they remained stumps and visions, they were never granted articulation, their plots were never worked out, their characters were mere phantasms, schoolboy crushes, lumpy exaggerations… but, still, there they were, for those moments or days, or even years, those unwritten books, they certainly existed, didn’t they?

Isn’t it possible, that somewhere in that library of unwritten books, languishes by far the greatest masterpiece ever created?

A wonderful, wonderful book?


Re-posted | Original post June 2013

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and illumination…

Dustless | Volume 1

They say he was beautiful, like the rain in spring.
And his hands had long fingers.
His movement was the gentleness of clouds
and he was our King.

He dwelt among us, or so they sing
and have always sung, for as long as we remember.
Although he was not proud of us,
we were proud of him.
His beauty was not like ours:
perhaps we are not beautiful?
They say he was cool, and ruthless,
with a power like the sea.
It is hard to love someone who gives
no love in return –
and yet he made love easy.
His tower was high, and the sky
came to feed from it, like doves to a dovecote.
And we crowded to him, and clung to him,
and round him cling –
or round his memory:
because he was our King.

They say he was a strange one,
but in his strangeness lay his charm.
He haunts our dreams,
even if we don’t dream them.
Among our words he moves slowly
like silver dripping through an ore.
He was easy to love, or so they say.
And he was easy to betray.

We tore him down and all his kind –
the lovely ones, those close to him.
Killing is easy, or so they say: begin
with what is near to you, with what lies
within your reach.
Kill what you touch, and what you see –
that part is easy.
But don’t expect to sleep again,
or if you sleep, then not to dream.
In dreams he comes, as in dreams he lived –
that part, you see, cannot be killed.
And if you wear a silver ring, prepare
to be haunted.

Even in these words he comes,
oozing like metal through an ore.
You cannot kill what never lived
and never dies.
And even in these words we sing
he moves, and breathes, and is haunting.
They say he was beautiful as the rain in spring.
And he is our King.


Excerpt from Mask [ii], Volume 10 of Dustless

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Master Oka in his tower
reads all night the great sutras

All night, too, the snow falls
Master Oka reads for us all

Fall, fall, snowflakes fall
The Master reads for us all

He doesn’t need wood,
he doesn’t need coal,
Master Oka has no fire:
he sees all by the light of the sutras
by the light of the sutras he sees all

Settle, settle, snowflakes settle
the sutras are for the people
The Master’s eyes on the sutras fall
The Master reads for us all

Master Oka, Master Oka
loves the people with the sutras
loves the sutras with the people
through the night the snowflakes fall
Master Oka reads for us all


Excerpt from The Lover in the Snow [v], Volume 20 of Dustless

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Dustless | Volume 1

The travellers make a brief excursion to view the famous Zung Falls in winter…


 

Carrying his sword in his hand, held mid-scabbard as usual, the Lord led them onwards. They were clearly getting closer to the falls: the rumble was constant, now, and you could hear it while you were walking.

Emerging from the woods, they found themselves near the top of a ledge. Exposed rock was everywhere, and had formed in vertical and horizontal slabs. Grasses grew straight out of the rocks, and violet and green lichens and mosses had colonised the blue-grey boulders which lay scattered here and there.

An open-sided viewing platform lay ahead. It was square, of wood, raised on stilts, and with a pyramidal roof, covered by snow.

The air was very still, but Zy could see a mist, localised at some point beyond the viewing platform, floating in oozing fumeroles above the snow.

The aquatic rumble was quite loud now, though you could easily have held a conversation in your normal voice above the noise. But it was deep, fundamental sound. Sal Soma had mentioned that the falls, although very beautiful in winter, were much more impressive in spring, when meltwater swelled the Zot, and greatly increased the volume of water passing downstream.

The platform was reached by a wide set of steps. There was something almost of a temple about the little building – or of a shrine of some kind. There were benches, too, of the very simple type Zy had seen in the courtyard of the Enza Junction station – two vertical slabs of wood forming the legs, and a horizontal one the seat. These were set at strategic points further away and up the slope to the riders’ right.

Akzasosan paused again before mounting the steps, and looked around. The riders breath, a milky gas in the cold, flared around them. The day remained breezeless. Pines covered the slopes, and seemed to have been left to grow naturally in most places, although there was some evidence of felling and of pruning closer to the platform.

Satisfied, Akzasosan nodded to the two boys to go up.

Zy felt a tremble of vertigo. He stood under the platform’s bare roof, and even in the chill smelled the resins of the pine from which the little building was made. He realised the platform was built right on the edge of a precipitous ravine. It was not actually cantilevered out into space, but when you glanced over the railing, you saw no ground directly beneath you, only a heart-slumping drop. Zy snatched out a hand to grab the planking struts of the guard-fence.

The noise of the waterfall had increased now. It was still not a thunder, but it seemed to work its way right inside your head, as if it had been born there. For a few instants, Zy was curiously reminded of the chant of the revellers in Black Earth – Zo-Do-Shion • Zo-Do-Shion • Zo • Zir • Zo : Zo-Do-Shion • Zo-Do-Shion • Zo • Zir • Zo – and also of the relentless drumming that had accompanied the chant – Dum-ba-dada • dum-ba-dada • dum • ba • da : Dum-ba-dada • dum-ba-dada • dum • ba • da… – the Zung Falls had both of those sounds somehow within its make-up. There was one sound, which was yet two sounds – a hiss, and a rumble.

And there were the falls themselves. To the riders’ right, with the upper ledge about thirty dedaziles away. The platform had been positioned so that a viewer could look slightly down upon the head of the falls, and have an uninterrupted view of the waters’ descent to the valley floor.

Akzasosan joined them on the SotoZara. The River Zot was crowded in by snow-covered tors, rock-banks, with sketchy, angular pines, gnarled and feathery, their branches humped with snow. Zy had a sense of cragginess, intricacy, intimacy. The channel was quite narrow, but the current strong, and the water surged towards the drop, as if desiring it.

Then, in three tiers, the water fell. Looking across and down, Zy again experienced a slight dizziness. In loose downward lightning and in dashed spikes, the water was split as it met one of the three main rock ledges to form side-channels. Atomised spray floated in clouds. Where the current was strongest, and the water moving at high velocity, there was a boiling white to the river; but where the current, after its plummet, slowed, the waters were of an extraordinary kingfisher blue, a scintillating colour which at any time of the year would have been spectacular, but set off by the pure white of the snow, entered Zy’s mind with a shock of beauty.

AramMin!’ the Lord gasped softly – (‘Lovely!’).

Zy seemed almost to fall into his own gaze. The world resolved into component colours for a few moments – dark green of pines, deep brown of tree trunks, pale, washed-out azure of sky, virgin dumplings and sheens of snow, silver-grey of rocks, and that electric, sapphire blue of the river.

Frost-sculpted ferns had colonised parts of the banks on all three tiers. Where the current and volume of the spraying waters were not sufficient to ward off the cold, lance-like icicles had formed, as if in certain places, time was different, and the moment had slowed to the frozen. Buccaneering pines, projecting at remarkable angles out from the ravine’s sides, broke the view to the falls with daredevil branches.
And all the time, that hissing, drumming sound. Absorbed in his gazing, the enigma of rivers called to the boy: Here I am, the waters seemed to say, ever still, and ever moving. If you looked long enough at certain parts of the flow, the current appeared to reverse itself, and to race backwards. But all the time, the river poured itself out in dramatic fashion – and yet was still there, it never emptied itself, it remained, in some ways, motionless.

In long mare’s tails, the main falls curved and dropped out through space. Where they met the rock ledges, there was a perpetual motor of noise, the sound of energy dreaming. Zy felt that this sound must be part of the foundations of the world.

Water coiled, eddied and bubbled. It shovelled itself into great scoots of pearls being slung off some obstruction. Bubbles endlessly winked in and out of being.

Zy experienced a moment of profound connection, understanding things right down in his veins. Here, the riders stood, delighting in the view of the Zung Falls: but at exactly the same moment, this same river, the Zot, was also flowing out to join the great River Vo, hundreds of karsts away, in a different canton, perhaps watched by different people – at the exact same moment. Yet the river was the same: the waters were not broken, not separate, they formed one seamless flow.

Akzasosan leant, with his hands gripping the upper plank of the railing, and with straight arms, like a kind of general marshalling the forces of the view.

Excerpt from River Direction, Volume 13 of Dustless


orientate | “dedazile” – a unit of length, equivalent to a metre


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Dustless | Volume 1

The culture of O is in many ways obsessed with and dominated by the number five.

The original reason for the importance of this number is lost in the Clouded Era. However, the number five also appeared to be crucial to people of the revered ancient civilization, known as the OnDomin, and the remnants of their culture have floated down the millennia and been incorporated into the current order.

Examples abound of the way the number five is inscribed into the culture of O:

The dynastic succession of the imperial clan, or the accession to the throne of a new clan, is overseen by the Five Bodies, the KorBan.

The imperial Mark, the ruler’s household Mark and the imperial bodyguard, is ViwaShar, the Five Towers Mark.

The ancient Han-nah Camellia Map – a map contained within one of the famous metal books of the Ancients – divides up the territory of the Land of O into fifty cantons. (In fact, there are fifty-one cantons on the Han-nah Map, but the central canton, Oron, with the great capital city LuinShar at its heart, is known as the “sublime canton”, a place of transcendent spiritual purity, and considered to be beyond the power of “description by numbers”.)

The culture of O is TanZo. “TanZo” is made up of two Gonfi (LateAncient characters), “Tan“, meaning “simple”, “pure”, “undivided”, “unadulterated”, and “Zo“, meaning “path”, “direction”, “way”. In the current tongue, TanZo is translated as “the simple Way”, or the “pure Way”.

TanZo has “five essential tenets”. People who live by the rules of TanZo perform the “five essential prostrations”.

TanZo is supported by the “five pillars”.

These are:

TineZo | The Way of Blood | rules governing the flow of ancestral resources

QuingZo | The Way of Harmony | rules governing intimate customs and social behaviour

HungZo | The Lawful Way | law over property and social behaviour

ZorZo | The Marked Way | rules governing the organisation and behaviour of Marks

MarZo | The Way of the Clans | rules governing the organisation of clans

The “five pillars” are designed to implement the wisdom of the Way across the whole of O.

MarZo, the Way of the Clans, is a set of laws designed to ensure that the basic unit of society, the noble clan, is run according to TanZo. The noble heads of households are responsible for ensuring that all the members of the clan behave according to the Way, and seek to follow the teachings of the sutras, and to live peaceful, gentle, vigilant lives.

ZorZo, the Way of the Marks, is designed to ensure that clans behave according to TanZo. Nearly all clans are members of Marks, which are associations of clans. The member clans of each Mark behave co-operatively, and seek to assure mutual safety and well-being. Thus, the Isen (“head”) of the Mark has power over the noble heads of individual clans.

HungZo, the Lawful Way, is the set of laws that apply to all people and all social bodies in O. There are two organisations charged with implementing HungZo: KinChogan, known as “Protecting Hand”, who have power over all non-noble households; and ShimThet, colloquially known as “Black Star” – their Mark is Black Star – who have power over all households, both noble and common, and whose elite members, known as “erasers”, have the right to take life in the pursuit of justice. In theory, even the imperial household and the court must submit to the rulings of ShimThet.

QuingZo, the Way of Harmony, is an intricate system of rules designed to ensure that people treat each other according the wisdom of the sutras, and particularly the Strict Order sutra, one of the sutras making up the AmorZine. “Quing” literally means “smooth”, “silk”, “frictionless”. QuingZo governs every relationship in O, and seeks to ensure that everyone shows appropriate vigilance and respect, as laid down in the Strict Order sutra.

TineZo, The Way of Blood, is a set of laws relating to matrimony and succession. In O, the ancestors are revered, as the ancestors were responsible for maintaining the Way over eras of generational struggle. All people of a certain rank in society are obliged to have samples of their blood taken by ShoKun, the Mark of the Hatching Egg, who oversee the matrimonial arrangements of noble clans. The great Library of Blood, in LuinShar, is supposed to contain millions of samples of blood, and ShoKun is responsible for ensuring the health and purity of the noble bloodlines of O.

Thus, from the ground up, from the lowest to the highest, bonds of TanZo are formed. The lowest class of citizen recognized under imperial law is a Murli, a serf, whose family has been bound to a noble clan for five generations. Murli have the right to life and protection, and the Lord or Lady of the clan is responsible for ensuring the Murli are allowed to live according to TanZo. Even the Murli, whose freedoms are strongly curtailed, have the legal privileges known as the Five Bearing Rights of the Strict Order sutra. These Five Bearing Rights are: the right to meditate and follow the Way, right to cleanliness, including care for health, right to shelter, right to food and right to respect.

The clan’s retainers, who exist in a hierarchy, from the humble Murli to the educated and sophisticated chamberlains of the household, must ensure that the “lowest” are allowed full TanZo. All the clan retainers are ultimately responsible to the Lord or Lady of the clan. Should the Lord or Lady themselves prove to be corrupt, then the Isen of the Mark should step in, and seek to ensure that the Mark is cleansed of any impure clan. The Isens, although often tremendously powerful, are still accountable to ShimThet. And ShimThet, in theory, is accountable to the Ministry of Resolution, one of the Five Ministries, who together make up the imperial government.

Thus, it is said in O:

From the Five Bearing Rights to the central summit of the Five Towers, Mark of the Dustless One, from the ant to the lion, from teardrop to ocean, from a lone flame to the heat and light of the sun, all is TanZo

 

Five Towers Mark

 

…when the Black Shion turned, mid-note, and called over to them too. For the first time, he looked directly at Zy.

The Black Shion had an attractive face, although in a rather frightening way. It was quite a brooding face: though youthful, it had a kind of nimbus of violence around it. There was a langorous power in the man: it was indicative of – well, something: Zy wasn’t sure – but something – that the nose had evidently been broken at some earlier point in this young man’s life, and yet that added to his good looks, rather than detracted from them.

It was a shocking face to look into: Zy, at least, felt a sudden charge, an electricity. The boy was confused: he was also delighted. There was brutality, pugilism, aggression in the Black Shion’s face: there was a knowledge of power, power experienced and power exerted – a simple, boxer’s power – it was a dangerous face. But there was something pure and innocent about it, too, something fervid, zealous.

Sai, it was an exciting face: you felt alive when his attention was turned on you, felt an agitation in your emotions, like dry autumn leaves being stirred up in a swirling breeze. And yes, there was fear in the excitement – but fear of what? Fear that something – almost anything – might happen. Fear of violence, yes – but something else, more complicated. Fear of violence – but also, fear that the violence might be exciting. And even – really? – a half desire that the man would act violently. Deeper still, bound up with this, there was an ambiguity about the source of the fear, an aspect to the face, the way the man looked at you, an unsettling quality to the glance: brutality, innocence – danger. But what was more dangerous – the brutality, or the innocence; or did the real danger lie in a mixture of the two?…

The eyes. The eyes were a deep green, they had new leaves in them, and sunlight. They shone, even now, when bloodshot and dazed, there was a light in them. The eyelids were heavy, sleepy. There was a dreamy look to the eyes. And they were glancing, now, directly at Zysoshin.
He felt, in the course of an age-long instant, a kind of rapture. There was a peculiar intimacy about the way the Black Shion looked at you, an invitation. You suddenly felt free, except the freedom was tied up with this man: in order to experience freedom, you had to be in his company, and to follow him, to do what he asked.

Almost immediately, Zy began laughing. He couldn’t help himself. As he laughed, the Black Shion’s eyes widened under their drooping lids, and he smiled as he sang. It all took place in seconds. He nodded at Zy as if he, the deranged young lord, understood: they were together. There was glamour in this: Zy felt it almost unbearably. Then, in a moment, the eyes danced away, and moved to Early…


 orientate | Shion, meaning, literally, “great one”, from the Gonfi Shi (“high”, “great”, “superb”), and On (“one”, “first”): the title, “Lord”, used for the sons of noble clans


Excerpt from Mask [i], Volume 9 of Dustless

Dustless | Volume 9