Trolls (Part Two of Two)
Trolls (Part Two of Two)
To roten erthe, ryght thus sayde I,
"Thow art my fader of whom I cam,"
And unto wormes sekurly,
"Thow art my moder, thy son I am;
My sustren all ye bene, forwhy
None other then ye, forsoth, I am."
I shall call hem sustres, lo, forthy
For I shall roote amonge ham.
Of the lowest erthe God made Adam,
Of whyche my kynde I had, as he.
Now, Lorde, that art lykened to a lambe,
So Parce michi, Domine!
The Butcher's Heresy
If you know something about the art of the trolls, you know that it is strangely derivative. If there is a poet in your town, and the trolls know of her, they have their own, who shares her name (or the nearest equivalent: Leon to Lavi most famously) and keeps up avidly with her career, mirroring her poetry with subtle alternations in theme and language- eliminating references to the intangible, reinterpreting all her relationships into a desire for unification or predation or submission in suitable melange. This is because we agree, more or less, on what art ought to do.
The purpose of art, we might say, is to take the intangible and make it tangible, to create a physical medium of paint or ink or breath or flesh through which poetic truths that would be reduced to empty husks by mere description might be expressed. But where we disagree is that trolls do not see what we express as truth- rather, they see it as the most profound and ancient kind of lie. And when that lie takes root, it twists under the skin of the world and pollutes it, building like pus until it bursts in the blooming.
And so it is the role of art to take these phantoms and apparitions of the unreal world and bury their heads in the black earth where they cannot breath, until the twitching stops. Images from dreams are reinterpreted in taxonomical fashion, given names and faces and hungers, and when they are all-but-real, they are made real through the arts of shaping, so they are no longer a dream. Fleeting emotions are grounded in more culturally appropriate ones. And foreign art that anchors apparitions without grounding them is iterated on and completed, before it calls something down that cannot be returned.
Troll art is also full of doubles, twins, and doppelgängers. The tragic hero encounters her equal and rival, who survives trapped in unfulfilling existence long after the hero dies. The wanderer encounters their reflection in a moon-dappled grove, who attempts to lure them out from under the trees, into a place open to the sky. The wicked queen had a twin who died at birth.
|How They Met Themselves, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti|
There is a dualism to it, a balance not quite between good and evil, but between real and unreal, the chthonic twin and the celestial twin. In the most literal sense, we see the rites in which twin trolls are born (not an uncommon occurrence- trolls are notably malleable, and when a new troll is born, it is because one devours the other, and a third emerges from the union of their flesh), where one twin is left to wander, while the second is plunged back into the commingled flesh and drowned, until they are devoured, and a new troll (who is the same troll) emerges. We see this motif elsewhere, more abstractly- the celestial twin always survives, unreal and unchanging and undesirable, while the chthonic twin is always sacrificed, and is always reborn.
Traditionally, the story of the origin of the Gnosis, the secret art of shaping that allows trolls to twist flesh and bone and mud, is this: That the ancestors of the trolls were eaten by their father the Demiurge, and inside its heart they saw the perfect interconnection of its organs and tissues and limbs and the thousand crawling things that made it what it was, and in so doing came to understand that in the unity of all material things, the ascendant power of the Demiurge existed only in its body- that each thing changes each other thing by devouring, and equally so by being devoured. And so the ancestors, who had been devoured by their father, devoured him from within.
|by Andrew Hussie|
Important in most treatments is the implied presence of an analogue or doppelgänger to the ancestors- a celestial twin that escapes while the ancestors are devoured. Some apocryphal texts even provide one in allegory- a pack of jackals who escape from father's stables, a flood of polluting parasite worms that are driven from his body as the trolls enter it, a witch who leaves rudely in the middle of the dinner service. But there is one text that thinks of them somewhat differently.
|Butcher's Stall, by Pieter Aertsen|
The Butcher's Heresy is this: the Demiurge was not devoured, because the Demiurge did not exist. No celestial twin really does. And his children were not the celestial twins of the trolls, but of older, stranger things, a precursor race born from the black earth, which is the dead-reborn womb of the Demiurge's chthonic twin. And when they met, and the half-real place called Zeboim, which then was still called the House of the Moon, the celestial twins, who were by their nature liars of the most profound and ancient kind, polluted the flesh of the precursors with their light.
This language indicates, as we will see soon, that the celestial twins coupled with the precursors, but also indicates a transmission of knowledge, as from their songs of the lonely house of the moon, frangible as frost, their lamentations of the tenuous unreality of dream, the precursors gained knowledge of the distinction between celestial and chthonic, real and unreal, which was the foundation of Gnosis. Meaning that knowledge came from interpreted experience of the unreal, rather than immediate experience of the real, as in the traditional form. And yet more heretically, trolls are here spoken of as the children of the coupling between the celestial and the chthonic- half real and half unreal, unable to follow their parents back to the house of the moon, or down into the dark places. Abandoned in the half-light of the world.
|by Spacefrog Designs|
A Fragmentary Catalogue of Treasures
A single troll, spread open sedately on a long dark table. Ivory needles rise over them like the beaks of carrion birds, and as the great spindles beneath the table uncoil and catch and coil themselves again, the needles press and twist and stab all the hidden places that make them twitch and laugh and scream and think. Elsewhere, another engine listens, and responds. In this way, the cities of the trolls coordinate their armies, their festivals, and their conspiracies. It is the sympathetic power of the Gnosis that makes this transmission possible, and it is by this same power that the messages are read. Much of it is the static noise of agony, of course, but there are nuances even to that.
A spear of polished ivory, carved with all the triumphs and defeats and bittersweet nothings of the wielders before you. It coils in your arms, questing for blood, pressing its serrated edge lovingly against your throat, keening in the night. Feed it with the memories of struggle, carved in inch by inch. Let it burrow into your fallen foes and listen to their heartbeat fade. So long as it is loyal, it will never miss, and once its tip is buried in flesh it will wrap around them like a serpent and strike again and again until they find the strength to tear it off. But it is loyal only so long as you indulge it.
|from Brown's Downtown Bees|
Generations of bees have lived and died in this honeycomb complexus. Through a language of dance more refined than poetry, they record, encode, and reproduce cities worth of secrets, and transform them, through the mathematics of intrigue, into power. If you know the code that serves as intermediary, you can cut your question into one end of a vellum sheet, slide it between the wooden panels. By the end of the day, they will determine the answer, and cut into the other end. They know everything they've been told on the little vellum sheets, and will reorganize that information into an answer, if they can.
When the briar cage is placed around your head, the thorns will put their venom in you. And so when the leather straps are tightened, and the tubes are placed up to your eyes, and the focus turned, and the blades twist inward, it will hurt like a migraine, and no other way. When the flower unfolds to full bloom from the slit in your eye, you will be able to smile again. It will remain in bloom as long as you live, imperishable as plastic, fragrant as perfume. The flower will drink the water from your eye, and the nonsense from your head. All your dreams will be perfectly literal and helpfully organized catalogues of your day's troubles and concerns. Your imagination will show things as you know them to be, and no other way. You will never fail to introspect, since there is nothing you might be other than what you are. You can never touch the Ultrareality, but it cannot touch you either. And perhaps this is for the best.
Festive Tarantula Gown
The festival tarantula lives in the gown's ornate shawls of silk, you see. Its little limbs coil around thin silver strings, and when it pulls the proper strings in the proper order, you are engulfed in a spectacle of fluttering silks and feathers and bright ivory chimes, wreathed in a cool wind, as weightless as the sky. It will do its best to match the colors and motions to your mood but it's only a spider and will require regular instruction. It expects payment in crickets and perhaps the occasional songbird.
(adapted from Prague Race, by Leppu)
A pool of fibrous, motile ink. A ritual stamp will mark the sign on your back. Slowly, its roots will work their way through your flesh, commingling with your nerves, forming a delicate lattice around your brain, learning to track your movements, and anticipate your desires. It will make its nest in your spine, and when it emerges, it is almost, but not quite, like giving birth. Strong arms of twisting thread and thick black resin, with knotted farmers' hands. They come and go from the world through the gaping hole they've torn in your back, which will never close. They are swift and strong- with practice, you could walk suspended in the air, climb walls and crouch on ceilings like a spider, wrench your enemies apart like cornhusk dolls, or harvest produce with great efficiency.
When the Harvestman first emerges, it has thirteen arms. As it continues to grow in the rich soil of your body, you will find a new arm every night, or thereabouts. You control them with Charisma, rather than strength. At first, they are too clumsy even to wrap their fingers around a stone. They can strike, or shove, but little else. After a month of growth, you will be able to use them as if they were your own hands. After two, you will be able to perform impossible feats. After that... well... Every month, the amount of food and drink you need to avoid exhaustion doubles. After about a year, once all thirteen times thirteen arms have fully grown, the Harvestman will tear itself out of its nest for the next phase of its life cycle. Most of you will be torn out with it, danglingly vestigially as it lopes off into the dark wood. This is all much less concerning for trolls, you understand. But humans can only eat and drink so much, and our spines cannot be so easily replaced.
Holometabolic Therapy Chrysalis
A basin of black basalt. Corroded copper tubes run deep into the earth. Adjust the valves to your liking to fill the basin with your preferred blend of rich biles and perfumed oils. Close the lid. Close your eyes. Open your mouth.
In your sleep, you will be freed from the tyranny of dream, thought, and shape. You will be again a soupy froth of blood and slime. This is how she made you, before the moon came in the window. (Ignore these thoughts. They will come from time to time, when you have tasted the oil. They mean nothing.) When you wake, coagulated, you will find that some of your old self has been lost through the sieve, and where it was you have been marbled with sweet wax. It is hard to say what has changed. The past is made of memory, and memory is only fat and electricity.
You can shape your ability scores here, if you wish to reorganize them. You might unmake some of your old scars, to form new ones with new histories. But with each eclosion, you come closer to your final shape, which is shown in the way you've changed yourself. This is not a shape you get to choose. It is not a shape you are likely to enjoy. The first time, you roll a d12. Each time after, you roll a die one step smaller. if you roll the highest number you can, your character becomes something else. A d2 is a coin, which you must call. A d0 is "yes."
It is very much like a ship you know. The hull creaks. The sails crack in the wind. There is a wheel. But you cannot forget that it still lives. And you cannot forget that the wheel does not turn a rudder, precisely. Somewhere below you, the helmsman waits, interwoven and exhausted, half submerged in their own flesh. The turn of the wheel is a command, and it is a command that is always answered.
A troll ship is just like a normal ship, except that it can sail across the earth. Unless you have a Troll friend of particular influence, you will never sail one. There are stories of ships that can sail the sky and breach the vaults of heaven to sail among the stars. If these exist, no one has ever seen them.
|by Andrew Hussie|