(This is the prologue from the revised, upcoming edition of The Ron Brandywood Capers, comprising The Lightning Thesaurus, The Dead Friend and the hitherto unpublished The Weak Father. It’s been quite something to revisit the start of this, and now that we’re on the last few stages, I felt ready to share something of it with you all. A glimpse into the how and why of the world Ron lives and works in. Please leave a comment and share this)
The Lightning Thesaurus
Quick crouched atop a mountain, staring across the crooked spine of jagged peaks which stabbed at the sky, each wound bleeding dawn’s scarlet and sienna light downwards as he saw the muscled, pale forms of the half-giants stir and begin another day of conflict and survival. They were the diluted progeny of an earlier race, who had fallen prey to design flaws and environmental threats, left in order to provide their creators with a measure of amused challenge. The half-giants of the Needle Mountains lived and died as he watched them play out their harsh, brief lives. Quick wiped his eyes, shedding a tear at how far they had fallen, yet persisted in continuing. He ran his tongue across his teeth, inhaled through his nose before he darted from one mountain to another, then in a fit of pique, folded space in order to walk through the cool, green woods of The Redlands.
A squirrel watched him with interest as he appeared, its small paws held against its chest, eyes glittering as he stared up at it, tilting his head to one side. Another bolt of emotion punched into his midsection as he blinked away a fresh crop of tears. There was so much to see, and he would miss all of it. He had not been involved in the project, preferring to exploit and interfere wherever he could, feeding the furnace of amusement which had motivated his actions and decisions from the moment of his conception. Father had taken his own capriciousness and given it form, and Quick had known nothing but the impulsive rush to challenge and mock everyone and everything around him. It had cost him some goodwill at first, but in time, his capacity to cut through the grandeur and pomposity of their kind earned him a grudging respect. He squeezed the damp grass between his toes, took a deep breath and visited the desert while there was time.
The squirrel went on its way, driven by the low growl of hunger in its belly, uncaring that it had witnessed the divine appearing in its world, an event which would warrant displays of grand and gross worship from anyone considered smarter than the squirrel.
Quick found his sister, cross-legged with her chin lowered to her chest, the adipose waddle of fat fringing her plain, wide features as she studied the small cacti with her lips curved into an inscrutable smile. She did not look up from her studies as he appeared next to her.
‘Has that thing even bloomed?’ Quick said.
Slow brushed a tangled lock of hair away from where it hung over her eyes with a languid sweep of her fingers, but did not turn to look at her sibling. She felt the incessant hum of activity which exuded from him, even whilst standing in one place. A soft sigh escaped her lips as she blinked once before she turned and looked at him.
‘Many times, brother, but the beauty is in seeing the cycles play out,’ she said.
Her voice was susurrant, a little above a whisper, but Quick knew it as well as his own. He caught the disappointment and resignation, but underneath, her piquant wit bubbled up like spring water and he smiled to hear it.
‘This will be the last time,’ he said.
She sighed and returned her attention to the succulent without acknowledging him. Quick bore the silence for another minute before he stepped closer to her and crouched so his eyes were level with hers.
‘You accept that? That -’ he gestured around him at the shimmering desert sky and dunes of fine, golden sand which rose like waves frozen at their peak. ‘Will you just walk away from this without looking back?’
Slow sighed again and shrugged her shoulders. Quick grimaced and stood up, struggling to contain the surge of feeling which arose within him.
‘No, not without looking back,’ she said.
Quick gave a bark of surprised laughter and folded his arms across his chest as he waited for her to elaborate, before catching himself and dropping the indignation, letting his fears bloom on his features and in his body language.
‘What are you planning?’ he said.
She remained silent as she kept her focus on the cacti, until discomforted by her inscrutability, and the emotions warring within him, he folded the distance and returned to the Hearth. A servant placed a goblet of ambrosia in his hand with practised grace, and he drank it down in a single gasp, tasting the grit and salt of the desert on his lips and wondering if he would miss it when they were gone.
He winced as the clashing ring of blades pierced his ears and turned his upper body away, watching as they reduced the servant to a fine, red mist from the force of impact as a pair of their brothers continued their duel. It did not stop them, but Quick swore under his breath as he looked at where his silver robes now hung damp and red from his shoulders. He watched the blurred duet, defined by a single gleam of light on metal or an outstretched limb as they danced and pirouetted in their unending combat. Quick wicked the blood and matter away with a thought, returned to cleanliness as he tossed the goblet. Another servant emerged from the air to retrieve it from the ground, but Quick did not look at them as he watched the combat play out.
The blur separated into two, as Violence and Amusement bowed to one another. Violence grinned as he bowed from the waist whilst Amusement was pouting, one hand clamped over his left forearm as she arched her lower back and turned to look at Quick.
‘Are you still sulking?’ she said.
Quick frowned and shook his head, trying to avoid Violence’s implacable stare for fear of betraying his feelings as he forced a sardonic grin to placate them both.
‘No, just eager to be on my way, aren’t you?’ he said.
Violence’s hand strayed to the dagger at his hip for reassurance as he grinned and nodded with a lustful enthusiasm. Amusement’s pout grew more pronounced as she narrowed her eyes.
‘I will miss this fragile little playground, Quick, and nothing Father has promised will change that,’ she said.
Quick lowered his eyes to keep his assent from being seen by Violence. He had been the most vigorous supporter of Father’s decision, although out of them all, he had been the most invigorated by their time here. However, Father knew the promise of the next world would be enough to earn Violence’s unstinting support. This also meant Amusement was bold, or stupid to say anything in front of him without expecting him to challenge it or, worse, report it to Father.
‘He has always known the way, Amusement, and he’s earned our trust,’ Quick said.
Violence, flushed from play, did not catch the tone of Quick’s voice, but Amusement did, and gave a sharp nod before she clutched her wounded arm and whispered to the incision. It closed without a drop of ichor being spilled and she darted away, looking over her shoulder at Violence with a smouldering glance she used on him at every opportunity. He stared at Quick but then grunted and pursued Amusement as she took the skies with a gentle flexing motion. Quick watched them leave, before allowing himself the gentle tickle of grief to bloom in the back of his throat and give a soft, tearful cough as he put a fist to his lips. These acts were his rebellion and were performed alone or with his sister. Amusement said shocking things all the time, and no one believed her, so the truth would emerge from time to time. Quick, however, had enough character and substance to possess the mixed blessing of being taken seriously by Father.
His sight fell upon everyone, and this was at the root of Quick and Slow’s concerns. Each moment was recalled and witnessed yet the decision had been made to leave this creation behind. The initial impulse had been to destroy it all and start over, but Mother had appealed to Father’s ego and placated their dissenting offspring with the compromise of beginning again somewhere else. They were free to go wherever they wished, and Father had spoken of such destinations with increasing passion, but the phrases were his wife’s words, whispered during his frequent sated slumbers.
He walked the endless halls of their mansion, saw the servants preparing for their departure, and felt sickened by the automatic nature of it. The scale of creation and invention had been a gift to each of them, and now Father was going to take away their toys, claiming a maturity none of them felt in order to pursue his own ideas of destiny and purpose.
The ache in his heart called to the fragile tapestry of life, and on cue, he felt his sister reach out to him. A summoning, which, if nothing else, might distract or defer his grief a little while.
He found her in Alsace, sat in the cobwebs and dust of an inn. Quick wrinkled his nose at the tang of spilled ale and sweat, but his sister sat there, eyes wide with an inspired interest which unnerved him. She did not share his speed of expression, but her mind leaned into the infinite with the same relish. These insights were seldom expressed, but he knew their value.
Slow’s attention watched a young man, sat upright but asleep and snoring. Quick noted the movement of his eyes beneath his closed lids, a sign of dreaming, and then regarded his sister with a dawning suspicion.
‘What. Have. You. Done?’ he asked.
His throat was tight with alarm and surprise as she turned her head and tilted her chin upwards to look at him. Her eyes were gleaming with a tender hope which reached inside his chest and twisted as he sought to divine her actions, if not her intentions.
‘A small thing, brother, but it seemed the kindest thing to do,’ she said.
Kindness was not a trait they were known for. Even those of their ilk who sought to embody virtues and traits were as capricious and cruel as the mortals whose adoration they demanded, and Quiet knew, from his own actions, that divine kindness was not always a blessing. He looked at the sleeping man, saw the ink stains on the fingers of his right hand and sniffed the air. The olfactory tapestry was unwoven in a single inhalation. Perspiration. Hops.. Myrrh. Papyrus. Saliva. Sage. Tobacco.
He knew what she had done, and he shuddered with disbelief as his upper lip curled with despair. She voiced it as a small thing, but Quick knew it for the lie it was. He failed to keep his feelings from his face, enough that she reached up and rested a soft hand on his forearm.
‘I didn’t pass all of it onto him at once,’ she said.
Quick managed a cynical smirk, but his mouth had turned dry and tasted of copper and leather.
It would have boiled his brains inside his skull,’ he said.
She shook her head, lowering her eyelids as she withdrew her hand from his forearm.
‘I can’t just…abandon them,’ she said.
He was disarmed by her compassion, and not a little sickened by the sentiment, as much because he shared it. Once the envy had passed, and Father’s obsession with them had abated, they had found a delight in the world which did not sit at odds with how they had often abused and debased it. Monstrous creations had been fostered and left to their own devices, but in opposition, so had those with the skill and strength of arm to defeat or tame them. Father believed they would thrive without their attention, but Quick had seen for himself how the world turned upon itself at the slightest provocation. A vacuum such as their departure would cast everything into darkness.
Quick cursed his weakness, but could not deny that his sister had acted whilst he capitulated. They watched the man together, intrigued by the outcome even as they hoped Slow’s gift would come to fruition long after they left the realm.
They faded away, back to the halls of Father, to await their departure.
Thaddeus had woken with a grinding headache, which travelled from the base of his skull down his spine and had dug thorned roots into the lining of his stomach. He tasted bile and upon waking, staggered out of the inn and vomited f. When he looked up, there were icy stares and mocking grins bearing witness as he cursed his misfortune. The last time he had seen these men, he had been in his cups, lecturing them on their base natures and encouraging them to pay what he had won from them in a game of cards which had been on their minds more than his, judging by their arrival. Eustace, with a gelid, pink scar which ran from his left ear down to his shoulder and a left eye which started westwards, chuckled as Thaddeus struggled to focus. His headache bloomed in their proximity, and it was all he could do to stand up, let alone speak.
‘Looks like someone’s drunk our winnings,’ Eustace said.
Thaddeus went to speak, but managed only a rumbling burp as the pain tightened to a thin band wrapped around his temples, instead shaking his head as Eustace chuckled, whilst his friends, Graydon and Paul, stood there, humming with the promise of violence. Their packed body odour coated Thaddeus’s sinuses with each breath he took, and fuelled his headache until he could no longer focus.
He felt the heel of someone’s palm shoved into his chest, and he staggered backwards. The impact sent a wave of shivering, silver light up into his head as he toppled and landed on his tailbone with enough force to make him sick again. Thaddeus felt hands gripping the collar of his tunic and lifted him up, delirious and dripping wet, as he felt his head throbbing like something was trying to escape from the centre of his skull. Tears welled in his eyes as the pressure grew until he could not even feel the slap which rocked his head back and there, insensible and shivering, he felt the pressure coalesce into a single point of focus and with his limited capacities, managed a single word.
The word made his throat sore, as he felt the grip on his tunic disappear. His headache disappeared and Thaddeus saw that the three men had disappeared. Despite his blurred vision, he could not see them anywhere, and above the thump of his heart, he could not hear their footsteps. What reached his ears was the sharp intake of a surprised breath, as he turned around and looked at the shocked stare of the innkeeper, Ferdinand whose face was a mask of terrified awe. The men had vanished as though they had never been there.
‘What’ve you done?’ Ferdinand said.
Thaddeus wiped his face with his sleeve and shook his head. The moment had passed, and with it, the world that he had known, a place where his intelligence kept him from death and poverty but never lifted him to the position he believed was his by right, had gone forever. He had done something, he knew, but what and why were questions beyond his dehydrated mind’s capacity to articulate.
‘I spoke to them,’ Thaddeus said.
Ferdinand had stepped back into the shadows of the inn, but his eyes were wide as he clutched his hands into fists, and Thaddeus saw how the man, known for his taciturn nature, was shaken by whatever had happened. Such actions were not the province of men, and least of all, over-educated scholars with a thirst for ale and gambling. No, such things belonged to the divine, and they were vicious in defence of those who sought to subvert or suborn their gifts. Thaddeus felt the pressure, not as an impediment, but like a new muscle, or a limb which he had discovered, and it was one with a great utility.
Thaddeus walked into the inn, composed and sober, as he asked for water with which to clean himself up. He went to where he had been sleeping, reached for his satchel, and retrieved the rolls of papyrus and his writing implements. Despite the trembling in his fingers, Thaddeus focused enough to transcribe the incident in as much detail as his condition allowed. There were alien words which bloomed on the paper, and it was those which gave him the first idea of what he had done. He wrote GETHRISJ and found that his quill was recording extrapolations and variations upon it, and as he committed them, black flowers of knowledge bloomed and he flitted between them, supping on their nectar like a hummingbird. These phrases beguiled him, and even when Ferdinand bought him a cup of watered-down wine, he was too entranced by this power to drink it.
Within the depths of her cave, Molniya, the first Midwife and a dragon, awoke and whispered a phrase which made the air sparkle with enough intensity to kiss her closed eyelids with daylight. She stretched and stirred, already exploring the possibility of this gift which had bloomed within her.
It was between these two that many things started and ended. There were accidents, breakages, deaths and heartbreak. Linguists. Midwives. The first Linguists disagreed on how to advance and explore Linguistics, some wanted to explore it more aggressively while others vied for a less harmful, more holistic approach. They called themselves the Midwives. A schism which confused the personal with the political erupted, but these things happened long after what happened to Quick and Slow when they returned to their home.
Slow had been to many places giving gifts, besides the inn, and others showed a grasp of a language which imposed the speaker’s will not just onto others, but reality itself. They grew in splendid and swift isolation, developing an intuitive and dangerous proficiency before they found and sometimes fought and killed one another, and so their profligacy did not go unnoticed. The hunger for divinity and wonder was rapacious across the different peoples of the realm, and when Father felt the change in the worldly condition, he turned to his brethren and offspring with a single aim.
He would find the culprit and deal with them. Known as he was for his terrible anger, Father did something none of the others suspected. He practised subtlety.
Amusement had been the first suspect, but Father’s stare punched through her deception. She offered up the idea that Quick might have indulged some concerns about their departure. He spared her any further punishment, although his disappointment clubbed her to her knees as he used her love for him to guide her own castigation.
Leaves burst into flames on trees, animals mewled in fear as Father’s eye fell on Quick and Slow. They were somewhere in the endless corridors and infinite rooms of their home, distances too large for a mortal mind to fathom, but it was all one room to Him. He towered over them like a mountain or a storm, and his voice shook everything around him as they stood there. It was a cacophony, a silence which sucked the heat from their limbs and the thoughts in their heads. Their bellies writhed with eels seeking escape and their eyes burned to meet the harsh stare of the first amongst them.
‘You defy me?’ he said.
Each word was a blow to the base of their skulls. United as they were in their agony, they clung to one another as his voice seethed and stomped terrible as any physical blow.
Their act revolted him. Quick did not offer his sister up, but faced Father as though he had been complicit in the inception of their Language from the start. It was his way of showing her how he loved her, and even as he knew they faced a judgement more inventive and terrible than death, it was bearable to endure it for the love of his sister.
‘We did, but not against you, Father, but…for them,’ Slow said.
Father barked out a harsh laugh which blew them backwards, forcing them to crouch to keep from toppling.
‘They will forget us the moment we leave. Such things, my foolish children, are inevitable, even for us,’ he said.
His voice dropped to a gentle whisper. It was more terrible than his anger. Exhaustion slid into their veins as they felt their flesh plucked and tested by the impossible weight of his focus.
You, my children though – ‘ they saw his smile like some primordial monster emerging from the ocean, ‘ -they will remember forever,’ he said.
They had enough time to turn and look at one another, before Father’s hands reached out, took them between his fingers and pressed them together. Knitting flesh, and from beneath his nails, surgical instruments swelled and struck out at them. Quick felt a blade punch into his vertebrae followed by the sharp scraping of wires dragging themselves through his body as he watched Slow’s face contort and twist in agony. Unconsciousness was a response to a trauma too severe to be borne, but they were divine, with all that it entailed, and it inclined Father to spare them nothing of what he did to them.
He allowed them time in their new form, not from kindness, but as an appetiser for the banquet of torment he made them attend. It would serve them every mouthful of the meal he prepared. By the time they arose, summoned by those who had followed the threads Father left, in the visions of madmen and scholars, they were neither Quick nor Slow, but The Twins. When they left, Father did not look back, but as they ascended the stairs, it tore some part of him free and left in the world he had made.