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No-h's Picture Book of Wood Extended

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Lady N's picture
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Joined: 06/26/2010

Author -  Qui-Gon-Jinn


 

[The book appears to be a richly illustrated atlas of various tree species found across the world, each one thoroughly described. The language is somewhat archaic and the ink has faded—the thing’s old. Near the end of it you find an inset of a few handwritten pages. The letters are stretched out and hardly readable, their author possibly hasting. It seems to be a diary you’re holding or a piece of it at least. As soon as you begin to read, a strange and otherworldly feeling starts to grow, a weird amalgamation of nausea and excitement. Ignoring that, you keep on.]

Future me, pardon the gibber; for to catch the moment is to smear these pages with time itself, violently twisting and bending it, caging the dragon—a transgression blasphemous enough. I’m still waking at nights, despite the days passed.

I met him at the Gnaar Mok marketplace one gloomy afternoon. Beggars and drunkards, merchants and fishermen, Hlaalu guards and pilgrims of His Deceitful Highness Boethiah—among them all he stood there, an old man staring at a tray piled with fish, invisible to the crowd, immobile. A sudden want to gaze into his eyes, which were veiled by the mist, arose within me, a town hall clerk who used to entertain himself with observation of the commoners’ lives during his lunchtimes. In an instant he noticed me slowly approaching him and lifted his head, and the move left me frozen. Unable to look away I examined a peaceful expression that touched his face, and noticed its features slightly changing every time I focused on one or the other. He gifted me with the most serene smile and left, disappeared in the distance. A bump into the shoulder from a docker brought me back from the confusion, with but an idea swirling in my brains: to meet the old man once again.

I started watching him, tracing his path from behind the rows and spines. He would come to the square every day, chat with a few people here and there and leave for good towards the seaside, rarely buying anything. Wearing same plain clothes, stooped and slightly limping, bearded, hardly different from the rest, yet… strikingly different. I asked paupers and sellers, and no one would tell me anything particular about him, except for one thing: he was a stranger to this land and these people, and not only to the Dunmer, it seemed, but to all the people. “Impossible,” I thought to myself in awe, “They would know.” Either no one did, or I was wrong. I still don’t know if I wasn’t. What I know is I don’t need to know, and perhaps—to know anything at all.

I should’ve never tried to approach again, yet still I did, and he was waiting for me. Fighting my unease, I mumbled and stuttered, trying to regain composure, and he finally asked: “Wanna walk?” The question was nothing but a spell. His voice sounded deep and soothing, drifting my head… coming from within my head, damned be the cliché. Emitting this energy, he was certainly not a plain commoner I took him for. Needless to say that I agreed, and so we went, him dissecting the crowd like a keen knife and me trailing a little. I answered his questions and never asked back, noticing yet another peculiarity: people never spoke to him first, none of them, except for me.

The salty odour surrounding him told me he was a fisherman, and so did he himself in words as we were to bid farewell. He invited me to join him in fishing the next day, and I agreed again, twice already. We shook hands, he left for his lonely abode by the sea, and I felt lifted and emptied at once. If not for his invitation, I would drown myself in sujamma that very evening, but I couldn’t afford drinking in anticipation of a full day in the old man’s company. Even as I plummeted on the bed, that alien unease wouldn’t leave me, combined with thrill. I didn’t sleep well; I never do anymore.

The sunlight barely touched the mountains’ tops as I set out in the old man’s direction, and unsurprisingly he was awake as well. It was cold and misty by the shore, so the man proposed to wait out in the shack. “Don’t mind the interior,” he told me as I was looking around and seeing baskets, bags, lanterns, a lute and a drum, and also a book—this book, “I am content”. He offered me some saltrice and shein for breakfast. By the time we finished our humble feast, it had been warm enough to begin fishing.

At the edge of the pier we sat then for hours and hours: me losing any sense of time for a reason unknown, yet suddenly freed of fear and suspicion, tranquil and submerged in thoughts, him smoking overripe hackle-lo, breathing out thick sour fumes. Perhaps they made me hallucinate even more. The old man never reeled in and neither did me, both making long pauses between short, meaningless phrases. The sun was hanging down like one of those braziers in the shrine of Prince of Plots, still and dim, producing just enough light for us to see how gray the world had turned. I remember him talking to me, yet again in that strangely soothing voice:

“Have you ever asked yourself who you really are? I’m sure you have, and lots of times. And what did you come up with in the end? I can tell you who I am in a single word, but not in any you’d expect. Priests, ministers, beggars, gods—they will all tell you things, cloak you in lies of this world so that you would function properly. If you’re fine with that, good for you. Let me ask you, though: what do you feel when you look to the sky? Have you ever been to the other side of the Inner Sea? How do you know there are lands they tell you about? What if there’s nothing there at all? Impossible, you’d think, they would know. Well, either no one does, or you’re wrong.”

The old man laughed as I turned to him, soaked in horror, and I saw smoke coming from his gloved hands. I recoiled, barely keeping myself from falling, and that’s when he reeled in. His string kept emerging, until its end disappeared in the mists. A moment later the sun faded.

“Into the shack. Begone now! And keep listening, fellow.”

I dropped the fishing rod and rushed for the abode. The last thing I saw while closing the door was the highest wave imaginable, a wall of water, its top hidden by the clouds. The old man didn’t move a muscle, looking away from me, straight into the looming death. I shut the door and fell to the ground right when the wave collapsed into the walls and lifted the shack, carrying it away. The junk started flying across the tiny room and smashing against surfaces, one of which happened to be my very head. The dark followed. When I was myself again, lazily exploring the chaos in the shack, the sunlight was still beaming through the slits between the planks. I crawled to the door, and what I saw behind it is what still wakes me up at nights.

The wave washed away the shore and the land, crushing and rumpling it, and erected a concave pile of heap, its top dangerously hung over the remaining ground. What had been my life was none but a featureless pile of rocks and trees. The exhaustion and headache wouldn’t let me cry, though, so I turned away to the sea. Of course he was there, with the pier now being twice as high. He kept fishing.

Struggling not to fall over I reached him and climbed the pier. The old man sat still, in silence.

“What now?” I asked, not hoping for an answer.

“Don’t you see now?” he asked back, and I tarried, for his voice had lost that soothing quality, and sounded dull and lifeless. As he kept talking, though, it became even stronger than before. “A happenstance erased what you lived for, yet you are still here. It left you no chance to survive, yet you are alive. I’m not here to teach you, I’m but a fisherman. But when I fish, I’m not a fisherman. I’m the rod and the string, I’m the sea that hosts the fish, I’m the fish that takes the bait, I’m the bait taken by the fish, I’m the hook that pierces the fish, I’m the reel that turns, I’m the hand that drags, and then I’m the fisherman again.”

He rose up, covering the sun, and I saw his silhouette vibrating as his image changed with every moment passing. His hands, free of gloves, bore colorless flame, and so did his milk-white eyes. Oh, and “he” was no longer valid—everything kept changing. There was little doubt in me anymore.

“However, when I’m done fishing and before I even start, I’m still everything in the world around me,” the figure continued, “Every atom of its living fabric is me. And since I’m all, I’m none.”

The figure approached, and I turned away, for the image was burning my eyes. The hand touched me, cold flames wrapped around it, and then a multitude of voices continued.

“You see why I never left?”

Pause.

“Do you see know?

You open your eyes and see the familiar world around you. The way you feel about it is what has changed. As you look around yourself, you can sense everything your eyes touch, be it a rock or a tree or an animal. You are the wind that blows, the water that flows, the grass that grows, the sun that shines, and so on and so forth, the list gradually rendering unending. You are still yourself as well, yet the way you are “yourself” has somehow changed as well, though it’s hard to tell how exactly. You understand that everything is going to be different from now on, that there’s no way back to the previous life, the one that lacked in understanding too much. You have no fear. You are stepping into the new world assured.

You are everything.

You are nothing.

BUT YOU ARE NOT ME!

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Joined: 06/26/2010

This piece was written for our 20th anniversary fan art contest! It is strictly property of its original creator - you may not modify, publish, or redistribute it without explicit permission from the artist.