|THE BINDING AGENT by Douglas J Ogurek|
“But Jesus answered, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.”—Luke 22:51
A gowgrack stunner, unoccupied at the base of a Dovenan mountain, disrupted Preater Clogavris’s journey to the woorg factory. Gowgrack dragons never descended from the mountaintops, and never hurt people. Unless provoked. Clogavris slipped a card into the machine. “Please stop exploiting gowgracks. They need their horns to survive.”
He picked up his architectural drawings, then resumed his journey. A sculpture swelled and glimmered ahead. It was cast in woorg, and likely designed by Glave, the long-missing creator of the vapourism school of design.
What new woorg colours would Meegard Alphang have at the factory to which Clogavris was headed? An explosion behind Clogavris. He screamed and fell.
The gowgrack dragon stunner was in rubbles, and from the smoke emerged a man whose hands moved like butterflies. “There’s my good deed for the day.”
“You nearly killed me. You nearly killed a legend.”
“Trick is, if I didn’t stop those horn hunters, the billop may have killed ‘em.” The man was a lunatic: the billop was a mythical creature.
Clogavris rose, then lit his clawft pipe.
The lunatic’s fingers wiggled before Clogavris’s flumeblade medallion. “Swords to bowls! You’ve studied under Glyde Rivulus?”
“The student shall surpass the master.”
“Flumeblade plants. They have their healing extracts, and what’s in ya. But those leaves are sharp, and I’ve been cut.” The lunatic, swaying, unrolled a sketch of a castle. A solid design, but rather dull. Clearly stone. Nothing like woorg.
Clogavris inhaled from his clawft, blew a blade of light blue smoke, and then adorned it with red slashes. He resumed his journey.
The lunatic followed. “I’m Francis Sheatherton. What name do you go by?”
“May I see your drawing?”
“Its vapouristic beauty may kill you.”
Sheatherton made a sound that resembled a stream. “The billop has a portal in its lair. That’s the live truth. A portal to other lands where it protects others of its kind.”
Symphonically the sculpture ahead blended the streams and the clouds. A rock smashed into the sculpture. Its woorg clanged.
Sheatherton’s hands fluttered. “Glave. The fool with the flute.”
That stoneclinger had the audacity to insult the musician-architect Glave, who could mimic the birds with his flute, and the sunsets with his structures?
The smoke from Clogavris’s clawft tasted brilliant, and eccentric. “Woorg trounces stone.”
“I tell you the live truth: woorg says it like it isn’t.”
Clogavris exhaled sails of teal and violet, then wrapped them in black barbs. “I cast tranquillity in woorg.”
Branches, lolling beneath a tolerant sky, crinkle within their casings of ice and snow.
An air horn blasts, and the smell of burned hair lingers. Snow-laden vegetation screens three snowmobiles.
A young man stares over his glasses and shakes a bottle. He monotones on a cell phone. “No. No. Mom . . . no. Whatever.”
Another man—he has a red Mohawk—growls up phlegm. He taps an air horn against a shield-shaped belt buckle. “Hey Dodo. Quit jerking off over there.”
Dodo pockets the phone, twitches. He shakes the bottle, then pulls one of his arms out of his jacket’s sleeve. “I’m Mr. Rivers, right? One-arm Rivers?” He twists and the jacket arm flaps.
A third young man ploughs into Dodo. Dodo drops the bottle and his glasses fall off. The two of them thump into the snow. The tackler imitates a crowd. “Haaaa. Look at that.” He stands. “Haaaa. Let me hear yaaaa.”
Dodo groans and twitches.
The tackler looks at his watch. “Ten seconds, haaaa. Stay down. Ralph, Ralph, how’s that? Stay down. Twenty-five seconds. Stay down bitch.”
Ralph pockets the horn, then snaps off a branch. Dodo rolls onto his back.
“Forty seconds. Haaaaow’s that Ralph? You stay down bitch.”
Ralph whips Dodo with the branch. “Get up ya fuckin’ retard.”
“Fifty-four, fifty-five aaaand . . .”
Dodo throws snow. “You’re a glarch dick, Ward, you glarch dick.”
“Sixty.” Ward makes the cheering sound and clasps his hands over his head. “Sixty seconds, glarch. In high school man? Pops would’ve given me ten bucks for that hit. Ten bucks for each minute down. Let me hear ya, Ralph.”
Dodo stands, then retrieves his bottle and his glasses.
Ward points at the sky. “Lookit that shit. That’s like an Easter egg or something.”
Ralph holds a can of mace before Ward’s face. “Glarch, I invented that word glarch.”
“Ralph . . . Ralph, sor-jeez. It’s just the sky. It looks cool.”
Ralph blows the air horn by Ward’s ear.
Dodo makes electric guitar sounds and twists the cap off his bottle, decorated with clouds and pink, orange, and blue swirls.
Ralph growls, then spits. “Give that here.” He taps the bottle against his buckle. “Passion Fruit Seren . . . whatever the fuck.” He hurls the bottle at a tree. The glass falls on a dog tied to the tree. One of its ears is torn off. It licks a burn, and bone pokes out of its contorted rear leg.
Ralph uses the branch to whip the dog’s face. Then it whines as Ralph ties a rope around its front legs and Ward ties a rope around its back legs. Dodo watches them over his glasses and pretends to play guitar.
Ralph and Ward tie the other ends of the ropes to their snowmobiles. Red jaws snarl on Ralph’s helmet. A similar symbol, drawn amateurishly, decorates Ward’s helmet.
The snowmobiles start. Dodo gets on his hands and knees by the dog. “Stay down, stay down bitch.”
The snowmobiles advance in opposite directions.
The woorg makers looking up at Preater Clogavris and Meegard Alphang ignored the loud sound at the back of the factory. It sounded, Clogavris thought, triumphant.
Absurdly a gowgrack dragon horn jutted from Alphang’s helmet. He pretended to point a crossbow down at the workers as he addressed them. “Cower beneath his brilliance. Grovel for his inspiration. Curse your creative endeavours at the sight of his work.” Alphang bowed—the horn nearly stabbed Clogavris—and the workers bowed. Alphang continued. “Here prevails the designer of Shorelance Castle. Here prevails the future designer of the Splendour in the Sculpture Vale. Here prevails Preater Clogavris.” Blow your flute at that, Glave.
When the cheers abated, Clogavris pulled out his clawft, then tapped his lips. “Get me smoking leaves. Pink, light blue, silver.”
Woorg sculptures and other vapouristic artwork, likely Glavian, swelled among the machinery on the factory floor. Alphang feigned swordplay. “I’m expecting another designer, the Azure Inferno. Do you know him?”
“Azure . . . . oh . . . obscure.” Alphang laughed, dexterously.
“He hasn’t had the pleasure of meeting me yet.”
Alphang guided the observation platform to the peak of a tall aggregate pile, then grabbed a handful. “Woorg starts with this, and ends there.” He pointed his horn across the factory, toward a gate that proclaimed its vapouristic superiority with shimmering swells of woorg.
Alphang zigzagged his imaginary sword before Clogavris. “Fool am I to question you, but what do you suppose lies beyond that gate?”
As Clogavris contemplated the response to best sustain his reputation, his clawft streaked ash across Alphang’s uniform.
Alphang stared at it, and his horn glimmered. That laugh lunged again. “A true honour. A signature from Preater Clogavris, whose clawft exhalations make mine look paltry.”
“I am vapour.” The peal from across the factory again. It sounded much like the trumpets that resounded on the day that Shorelance Castle was completed.
“Past that gate, we gather the binding agent. It allows us to bind one surge of woorg to another, while permitting the flexibility that you so deftly achieve with your buildings.”
A shout: “To arms, to arms.” The machinery stopped. The warning came from a worker stationed at an upper-level window.
Alphang grasped a crossbow, then shouted at the workers. “Arms arms prepare.” He guided the platform toward the window. “Gouges. A sceptern. He may have seen a sceptern flying by.”
First a billop, now a sceptern? Had reason completely fled Dovena? The workers hurried. They had crossbows and swords. When they reached the entry, they stopped. They peered up at the platform, which continued toward the window.
Clogavris clutched his flumeblade medallion. How to show his indifference? His higher-level aesthetic concerns? He turned his back to them, and admired the vapouristic flourishes on the ceiling.
Alphang’s horn scraped against something. The platform stopped. They had reached the window. Alphang analysed the treetops. “We’ve used bowseeds and hailberries to lure them. I shall wear the neck of a sceptern.” First, the scepterns had died out years ago. Second, when they lived, their necks were longer than a man’s arm.
Clogavris raised his medallion. “When the Splendour in the Sculpture Vale is complete, the sun shall worship it.”
“I shall wrap a sceptern’s neck around my neck, and, by gashes, its sumptuous feathers shall adorn me.”
Below them, the workers waited at the entry.
But what finally appeared in the tree was a common canerock. “Gouges.” Alphang growled and fired the crossbow. The bird tumbled to the ground. Alphang screamed at the workers. “Get back, or get gored. Get back to your posts.”
When Glyde Rivulus bequeathed to Clogavris the flumeblade medallion, he said, “Heed life.”
The peal from beyond the gate returned. The trumpet sounded like that the day that the whole of Dovena gathered beneath Shorelance Castle’s swells of woorg to praise Clogavris’s design.
A worker ascended to the platform, then presented the smoking leaves that Clogavris had requested. Alphang threw aggregate in the worker’s face. “He said silver. Those leaves smoke light green.”
The worker rocked pitiably and stared at the floor. “Sorry I’m very sorry. I’ll pick this up and, sorry, I’ll get another. I’ll get the silver.” A drop of his sweat fell on the floor. “Oh, oh, here . . . I . . . for this, I am sorry.” He rubbed it with his finger, and it left a tiny smudge.
Alphang glared at the smudge. His head quivered, and his gowgrack horn glistened. He pulled out his knife. “Silver. This is silver. See?” He thrust it into the worker’s eye, then pushed him off the platform. The worker fell a hundred feet before he hit the floor.
The trumpet-like peal intensified as Alphang guided the platform closer to the gate. He talked about woorg, and about some of the art pieces. Most of the sculptures down there were designed by Glave. Alphang stopped the platform above a huge vat filled with slush. The slush was black, and brutal. It looked nothing like the final product.
Another platform moved toward them. On it was a worker and another figure. The figure, wearing a brown mask, held his hands in the front pocket of a brown cowl. The sword handles that dangled from his belt clanked when he stepped onto their platform. The worker introduced him as the Azure Inferno.
Alphang whirled his invisible sword. “By gashes, there’s nothing azure about you, Azure Inferno.”
The sword handles clinked and the black slush below hissed.
Alphang said, “Where are you from, Azure Inferno? The level hills?”
The Azure Inferno started to remove his hands from the cowl, but then stopped. “Donow.”
“Pierces. You don’t know?”
“Dough-NOW.” Donow Village. Glyde Rivulus had designed many of its small stone structures. Nothing remotely vapouristic.
The slush grumbled, and Alphang tapped his gowgrack horn. Its point came within two feet of Clogavris’s head. “Cower, Obscure Inferno. You stand before a great designer.” The Azure Inferno bowed, only slightly, toward Clogavris.
Clogavris exhaled pink and light blue ribbons, then sliced through them with silver from the leaves he’d finally received. “Woorg up?”
“Gouges.” Alphang pointed at the belt. “What good is a handle without a blade?”
From beneath the Azure Inferno’s mask came a strange sound, much like the stream sound that lunatic Sheatherton had made.
As the tour continued, Clogavris smoked his clawft, Alphang intermittently interrupted his woorg discourses to discuss the sceptern, and the Azure Inferno clinked. They drew closer to the gate, and the peal grew louder.
The last stop before the gate was a massive block from which the workers retrieved dazzling swells of woorg. But the gate and the sound behind it were what most impressed Clogavris.
Alphang brought the platform to the floor. His pretend sword prodded the gate. He shouted over the peal. “Brace yourselves. The binding agent bids us.”
Clogavris touched the gate’s woorg. Its surface, slightly sticky, felt confident, everlasting.
The peal grew louder, and the Azure Inferno’s hands hatched from his cowl. The brown mask drew close to Clogavris. “He says it like it isn’t.” And those hands flapped and wiggled and twirled. They moved . . . azurely. Surely it was Sheatherton. Sheatherton, who hated woorg.
The gate began to open.
Consolingly the vestiges of a jet’s bellow settle on the forest.
Ralph urinates into a beer can in the snow. “The fuck is that retard?”
Ward takes off his helmet, then looks into the trees. “Lookit that.”
“Maybe the glarch went to go jerk off and listen to those long-hair fags.”
“Yeah, Ralph. Yes-ha.” Ward twitches, inverts one foot, mumbles. “Fucking Bazooka Compromise. Heavy metal, man. Bazooka Compromise is the shit, man.”
Ralph grumbles up phlegm, then picks up the can.
“How’s this, Ralph? See that squirrel there? The black one? My dad said the other ones got to watch out for them black ones. Them black ones’ll steal all the others’ nuts. How’s that? The black ones.”
Ralph taps his shield buckle. “I’ll bash your brains in with this, ya twiggy bastard.”
Ward points at his ear. “Hear those branches man? Creaking and shit? How’s that? My mom, she’d probably paint this here. All this shit, with the branches? And this fucked up sky?”
Ralph blows the air horn six inches from Ward’s face.
Ward puts his hands on his knees and groans. “Shit, ah shit Ralph. What did you, what’s the troublem?”
“I’ll snap that twig of a bitch in half.” Ralph yanks off a branch. “Shit, I need me some whiskey, boy.”
“How’s this, boy? We’re gonna get fucked up at Dodo’s tonight. Where is that glarch-tard? His parents got this anniversary shit and they’re gone till Friday.” Ward clasps his hands over his head. “We’ll get fucked up, boy.”
Snowflakes dissolve in Ralph’s red Mohawk. Three times he flicks the beer can. The urine splashes in Ward’s face.
Ward spits. “Awph glarch we’ll get . . . where is that glarch? Where’s that fucking glarch-tard Dodo?”
“Hey . . . bam. What’s that? Bam. What is it?”
“I don’t know. What’s that?”
“The sound when your dad shot himself. Bam.”
Like giant jewelled claws, woorg sculptures stretched over the three of them. They were in a courtyard.
A butterfly flitted before Clogavris. How weak its reddish-browns and tans looked compared to the woorg’s celestial colours.
The sword handle belt clinked, and the Azure Inferno made that strange stream sound. It had to be Sheatherton. The butterfly landed on his brown cowl. The creature’s colours resembled the stone of Donowan structures.
Alphang bowed, then pretended to rest his head on a sword’s handle. “Behold: my sculpture garden. Glave designed most of these . . .”
The sound that swept over Alphang’s words contained not just the celebratory blast of the trumpet, but the cheers of thousands of Dovenans. Across one gap deep in the garden stretched thick bars.
The peal continued, and the butterfly took flight. Alphang rose. He glowered at the butterfly. The worker’s blood still stained his knife.
The sound stopped. Alphang growled as he closed in on the defenceless creature. Clogavris remembered the worker screaming, clutching his bleeding face. Alphang stabbed at the butterfly, but missed it.
Magisterially the sculptures flickered and swelled and rippled and grappled. The woorg prevailed.
Clogavris used his clawft to veil himself in clouds of pink and light blue, hooked with silver. Alphang’s grunts penetrated the smoke.
A clang resounded.
Clogavris stepped out of the clawft cloud. Alphang, with his gowgrack horn askew, huddled in the fold of the sculpture his horn had rammed.
The butterfly fluttered out of sight. There was something in the stone that Glyde Rivulus had used. Something in its course surfaces and earthen tones that Clogavris’s teacher admired. But Rivulus hadn’t been progressive enough to use woorg.
Alphang adjusted his horn, then used his knife to tap a trough. One end of it entered the factory wall. The other rose into the sculpture garden. “Behold, my binding agent. By gouges, it is beautiful. No binding agent, no woorg. No woorg, no vapouristic structures.” Through the trough and into the factory flowed a thick liquid that gleamed viciously.
Again the sound overtook the garden, and something swept through that same gap with the bars. Something colourful and bright and sail-like, and in that sound, there was a desperation not in the trumpet’s peal. That worker convulsed in a pool of his own blood after Alphang pushed him off the platform.
The sail swept by again. Red yellow green blue.
Alphang drove down his imaginary sword. “Go into my garden. Strike out at the wonder at its core.”
A worker swept by the gap. He held a long pole and looked up.
The peal again—there was a gurgling in it—and the Azure Inferno was gone.
Clogavris clutched his clawft. “That sound is . . .” He exhaled blades of silver.
Alphang bowed. “You will see its source when you step over there.” His horn pointed at a sculpture that rose higher and stood more gallantly than any of the others.
That sculpture gloated as Clogavris approached it. Its shape thumped and its colours chanted. Clogavris rounded the sculpture, and its illustrious texture merged with the peal.
A large gap at the garden’s core revealed not a sail, but the wing of a caged creature. Long tubes connected to the underside of its wings, and its neck, glistening with brilliant colours, rose column-straight between sculptures. A huge woorg swell obstructed Clogavris’s view of where a thick pipe met the creature’s head.
Alphang’s voice chopped behind Clogavris. “Behold, the billop, the great guardian of beasts.”
“Where . . . a myth.”
“Tremble at the truth.” The billop was reputed to discharge a scent—it smelled like cinnamon—that immobilized its victims. Then it clamped them in its spiked wings. The spikes injected a toxin that caused unimaginable pain and eventually, death.
A worker used the sharp pole to prod the creature. The billop released its gurgling howl. Clogavris stuffed more leaves into his clawft.
Alphang tipped back his head, then held the knife’s tip just above his lips. “That pipe pumps precious metals and gems into the beast’s stomach so it can’t release the scent. Then we agitate it. What do you suppose happens then?”
The multi-coloured wing banged against the cage. Clogavris nearly dropped his clawft.
“By gashes, it makes the binding agent. It drips from its spikes, and we collect it.” Alphang shouted at the creature, then pretended to shoot it with a crossbow.
From beyond the garden’s walls glided a birdsong that merged the strength of kings with the beauty of . . . what?
Alphang ran. His horn crashed into one of the sculptures, then he fell. “Pierces. Did you hear that?”
The clinking of the sword handle belt. The Azure Inferno, his hands aflutter, ran to them. “I just saw a sceptern. Outside the garden. It flew toward the woods.”
Alphang rose, shouted, “Arms arms, to arms, by gouges. To arms.”
Clattering from the centre of the garden. Alphang adjusted his horn. “A sceptern, a sceptern. I shall have a sceptern.” Shouting and grasping his horn, he ran tipsily out of the garden. The workers followed.
Clogavris and the Azure Inferno were alone. The latter removed his mask. It was Sheatherton. “You need to release the billop. The trick is you must work quickly.” The creature howled. Sheatherton’s hands thrashed and he yelled. “It’s suffering, suffering greatly, and that’s the live truth.” He’d known the billop was there. “Release the latches and you will free it.”
Clogavris had struggled to solidify his reputation as a meticulous designer, and a meticulous designer could not be rushed. “Get me smoking leaves. Something in a mauve.”
“There’s no time for that. You have to release it, while I keep them occupied.” Sheatherton fumbled under his cowl, then removed a flute. His fingers twiddled over the instrument. “Sounds a lot like a sceptern, no?”
“You made that birdcall?”
“I did.” Sheatherton’s hands flailed towards the sculptures. “And I made these.”
The bizarre figure standing before Clogavris was the Azure Inferno, and Francis Sheatherton. And he was Glave, the long-vanished inventor of vapourism. Glave, who mimicked the birds with his flute, and the sunsets with his structures.
“These sculptures, Shorelance Castle, any woorg structure. They say it like it isn’t. Your master Rivulus was right; I was wrong. Release the latches. Set the billop free.”
Clogavris tapped his clawft against a sculpture and it chimed. “It will kill me.” And it would kill all the structures he was destined to design.
“Nafh. It’s only after those who knowingly harm other creatures.”
Clogavris kept tapping, and the chime paid homage to his distinctiveness.
Francis Sheatherton/the Azure Inferno/Glave put the flute beneath his cowl. “Every structure that we’ve cast in woorg is born of these creatures’ suffering. Release it. It’s in ya to release it.” With hands fluttering and sword handle belt clinking, he retreated.
The creature’s wing, vibrant as one of Clogavris’s clawft clouds, slapped against the cage. The latches clattered.
Clogavris tapped, and the woorg chimed.
Then the billop wailed.
Clogavris stayed his clawft and clutched his flumeblade medallion. “The flumeblade plant can scar,” Rivulus had said. “And it can heal. Listen to its leaves.”
Clogavris hurled his clawft over the garden’s wall.
A chirp swabs at the winter-battered woodland and summons spring.
A blare overtakes the chirp.
Ralph, wearing his snarling helmet and red-lensed goggles, taps the air horn against his shield belt buckle. He stretches his neck, then yells into the forest. “Ward, ya dumb fuck. Ward.”
The sky is pink and orange. Ralph mumbles, “The fuck is that twiggy bastard?”
The branches crinkle, and Ralph removes his belt. He repeatedly whips a tree with the buckle.
The chirp resumes. Ralph sounds the air horn until its blare fades. The chirp continues. He presses the button, but the horn makes no sound.
“Shut up, bitch. I’ll snap you in two, you bitch. I’ll snap . . .” He hurls the horn into the trees.
He stretches his neck and his arms. He removes a flask from a compartment on his snowmobile. A light blue feather trembles by his boot. He depresses one nostril, then expels mucous. It misses the feather.
Water drops cover the red jaws on his helmet. He opens the flask, then shouts, “You glarch bastards. I got the fucking whiskey. It’s right here.”
Before the flask gets to his mouth, his arm pauses. His body remains motionless for seconds, minutes, and there is an aroma. Cinnamon.
NO OVERGROWN DEVILFISH GETS BETWEEN LONG JOHN SILVER AND HIS BOOTY!
John Silver has retired to a pirate paradise in Madagascar, renouncing his adventurous life on the high seas. The appearance of a ship from England changes his plans.
Lady Arabella Smythe is searching for her missing husband, last heard of in the Indian Ocean, seeking the lost continent of Lemuria. The only clue to Lord Smythe’s current location is the name of a man he previously encountered—Long John Silver! Silver only agrees to guide her ladyship when he learns of the priceless treasure in the temple of the Lemurian squid god.
Can Lady Arabella trust this rascally old seafaring man? What horrors will they encounter on the lost isle? And what is the destiny of the mysterious savage who accompanies them, the man the pirates call Tattoo?
Now available from Amazon.
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