The Sword 5, too, was a whole story, although one with veiled meaning – a lone warrior, in the foreground, with a disdainful smirk on his face (Zy didn’t like him), stood with two swords carried over his left shoulder, and another sword in his right hand, its tip pointing down into the ground; a further pair of swords lay on the earth, apparently abandoned. But in the background there were two other warriors, apparently from a different Mark or House, who seemed to be utterly desolate – one held his head in his hands, as if traumatised or ashamed, the other was wandering, as if in a daze, straight towards the sea, which formed the top half of the card’s scene.

What strange story was this?

And then, there was the Arrow 4: different again. A young but serene-looking romarcho was seated beneath a flowering tree: the day must be a spring one, it looked very clear and still. The romarcho was in the SharBason position, apparently meditating, with his back against the tree-trunk. He was wearing no armour, and his monaRo could be seen, a washed-out violet ground embroidered with geometrics of purple circles ringed with black surrounds.

Zy almost wanted to walk into the card, into its spring day. There were white blossoms on the tree, and the blossoms weren’t yet falling. There seemed to be no agitation or unrest in that place: although the young man was clearly a warrior, yet there was no evidence of war or conflict at all. Except…

Three arrows were stuck, tip downwards, into the grass, arranged in a series before the peaceful youth. A fourth arrow, however, was appearing out of thin air – there was half its shaft, its barb, but no feather – and its tip was flaming. The arrow looked as if it must strike the youth where he sat, apparently meditating. Had the youth seen this arrow? Wasn’t he afraid? Or was he in the Still Building, entirely unaware of his impending wound or death?

Was he meditating at all? There was an odd, faraway look in his eyes. He looked so peaceful. Zy had never seen anyone look more peaceful. Everything in this young romarcho’s world seemed calm, tranquil, quiet. And yet, here was this flaming arrow appearing from the spring air.

Well! Zy gazed and his mind was gone. Proud as he’d been to have sat down, SharBason, among these grown-ups, to have been invited to join them, to be part of an adult world, as the boy dreamed over the Arrow 4 the villagers melted away into wreathes of pipe smoke and murmured conversation. For Zy, it was this world of the cards that was real now. The lumber and scented world of the remote village waystation, with its simmering tchoga and glowing cube lanterns, its hairy jahzig faces, and hairy mohsha jackets, faded: Zy was not there. He had stepped across a card threshold. He was with this enigmatic young romarcho, leaning against the tree, on a slight rise in the land, the plain stretching out behind him. Was this youth meditating? His eyes were open but he seemed absent from his own gaze, in another place. Was he about to die? Or was he already dead, and dreaming?

It was irresolvable. The simple oblong card had the aura of a story, but no story – it was a key without a lock, or a lock without a key. And yet, rather than detract from the power the cards exerted over Zysoshin’s imagination, this very absence of a beginning or an end to the stories depicted upon them fuelled and energised his creative mind.

And in some ways, Zy felt, just before Bor Gero swept up his hand, and gave the cards back to Eppen the dealer, it didn’t matter what the Arrow 4 seemed to be describing – it didn’t matter if the handsome young warrior was dreaming, or whether he was unaware that the flaming arrow was flying towards him, and in instants would pierce and burn his flesh. Because those instants would never occur: in the time of the card, that arrow would never cross the intervening space, it would never pierce the serene young man’s body. Forever, the romarcho would sit in zamen beneath that old tree; forever, the black-boled tree would stand there, and its branches would put out those delicate white blossoms; never would the arrow harm the youth; its cruel barb with the iconic pink flames could never touch him. He was in the world of the cards – frozen, motionless, and inviolable. Whatever fate lay in store for the romarcho, it surely could not befall him? Uxo: he would sit there, forever, at peace beneath that blossoming tree, on that lucid, sunlit plain, the air not moving, the light forever early afternoon…

How Zy envied that young man…

Excerpt from Mask [iii], Volume 11 of Dustless

Please lose yourself in…

Dustless | Volume 9