Still day 19. Still 64 pages, 30,109 words.
Lotus recovered from the shock of seeing the legendary Godfang long before Çrom did – possibly, he couldn’t help but feel, because she was not in possession of all the facts – but seemed to realise he was unwilling to discuss the innumerable horrible myths and folktales surrounding the ancient platform. As though also acknowledging that the situation was not conducive to recreation, she curled up on the couch and closed her eyes. Within minutes, if not seconds, she was breathing slowly and steadily.
Çrom smiled as he watched her from the helm sling. He couldn’t maintain his envy over how easily she’d fallen asleep. Even though she’d left her idiosyncratic professional crazy-hermit nest behind on Earth, the Black Lotus seemed to have brought a certain amount of nestitude with her onto the hopper. And not just tangled in her hair and clinging to her clothes – it was almost as though it magically generated around her, like some kind of special animal camouflage. Anywhere she sat, by natural urversal quasi-entropy, inevitably became a nest from which a cackling derelict might offer you awful soup.
He was sorely tempted to tangle himself up in it and try to find some sort of rest himself, but Çrom further recognised that there just wasn’t that much room on the couch. There were more cushions and blankets in the hold – well, blocks of insulation and some sheets to which the barnyard smell of cow would come as a marked improvement, since Clem hadn’t been much for mattresses and bedding even in romantic situations – but he no longer wanted to leave the helm.
Instead, he unlatched the cushion and pushed it back along the sling, converting it into a hammock-like recliner. Then he lay back on it and tried to keep his eyes closed for more than three seconds at a time.
They kept springing open involuntarily and scanning the frigid inverted horizon of glowing fungi, and the rear-facing screens with the dwindling helix of the Eden Road, for signs of the Destarion. She continued to not reappear, but that wasn’t much consolation. That just meant she was out there and he couldn’t see her. And it made no logical sense that that was upsetting, because it was always true. But that was the thing about illogic.
“Did you know that there’s a standing law down here,” he said, more to hear his own voice than with any expectation of conversation from Lotus, “prohibiting the worship of human forms – and human beings, specifically? It’s a really weird one.
“The Cursèd, you see, have this totally chaotic hodgepodge of old Pinian beliefs and commandments and dogma that they stick to. It’s not exactly universal. Cursèd is divided up into a lot of different nations but since there’s no liquid water or any other classically divisive geography except for the mountains, which are everywhere, they don’t pay much attention to the whole concept. But still, it’s a pretty widespread prohibition. The Material Depots are the only places it doesn’t hold in some form or other, and even there, it’s a kind of a lingering superstition.
“Part of it is old Worm Cult bias, of course. The Cult used the common adoption of the humanoid form by Gods to declare that mortal humanoids were a travesty, and turned that into a foundation stone of their faith. Push back against that too hard, and you wind up loving anything shaped like a human, and that can get out of hand because nothing reacts quite so badly to being worshipped as a human being does. Another part of it is that basically none of the Cursèd are humanoid, and the Pinian God and the Angels are, and that’s enough to make the Cursèd love them, and hate them. Often at the same time. Not many Angels down this far, of course, and none of the humanoid mortals or undead really show their faces outside the Depots, but they still sort of … rule from on high.
“And then of course there’s the Godfang. Just as cast-out and abandoned and damned as the rest of the Cursèd, and all of it – depending on what you read – because she was assigned to protect and carry humans. She usually skulks around down on this level, although it’s pretty bad luck to actually run into her. Or else it wasn’t luck at all,” he added with another glance in the rear screens, “and that’s really bad luck. But I guess I should at least try to think positive.
“Well, anyway. Humanitry – that’s what they call it, by the way; humanitry, the false worship and idolisation of the human form regardless of its glorification or divinity or lack thereof – is a crime punishable by exile. And by ‘exile’, of course, I mean ‘dragging to the edge of the world and pushing right the fuck off’. Of course, it’s a pretty difficult one to pin on someone. Basically if you can convince everyone you’re worshipping an image of God, or the Disciples, or even paying homage to one of the bigger Angels, they kind of let you off even though it’s still a bit weird. I think they have a bunch of bizarre interpretations of the Book of Pinian that insist God and the Disciples are actually shaped like Voidsnakes, or what have you.
“Most of the Cursèd are pretty neutral on humans, which is a big step up from clobbering them to a smooth paste because they happened to wander into the wrong territory. Some of them are moderately hostile, but that’s still better than the fine paste thing. And some of them, like the ones I’m hoping to renew contact with in #3, are downright sociable … but it’s not like there are many Cursèd who have little shrines with humanoid icons in them.
“Not anymore, anyway.”
Lotus shifted on the couch with a rustle of largely metaphysical hermit-peripherals. Çrom looked across at her with another smile.
“Mmm?” she mumbled, eyes still closed. “Did you say something?” he didn’t answer, and she scowled and half-opened one eye. “What are you looking at?”
“Nothing,” Çrom said with another smile. “Just engaging in a little innocuous humanitry is all.”
– Huawei. Carpark.