The Architect's Essence, The Diary of Sunrise

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Unknown Date 2479 A.R.T

I had roused my companions early the following morning. Following our second encounter with the Doll-Faced Rider we had endeavoured to get ourselves a few hours’ sleep before daybreak, hoping to replenish the strength needed to search for the creature the rider was hunting. I had stood alone upon the rocky ledge where myself and Cloud had stargazed and I had looked toward the horizon. There was still no sign of the Creation Tree, the distant waves of the unknown ocean still glistening beyond the expansive forest below, a sight which had informed me that the forest had not yet returned to its position to the east of our mountain.

Wonky had slept at Cloud’s side all night, completely stupefied and comatose by his excellent petting. Cloud had been most upset when Pulida had informed him that Wonky would have to stay on the hillside and could not come and live on our mountain with us.

But why? Cloud had written. Why can’t he come? Why do my friends have to keep going away? First my butterfly and now Wonky! Cloud had only agreed to leave Wonky behind when myself and Omen had explained to him that Wonky probably had family on the hillside who he would miss if we took him away. We had also informed him that there was no way Wonky would be able to make the return journey across the flat land between the forest and our mountain, his disproportionate legs making it an impossibility. Still the farewell had not been without its upsets and as Blancmange had helped Wonky get his footing on the gradient of the hillside Cloud had curled himself into a ball the way he had the day he’d had learned of his butterfly’s demise and as Wonky had ambled around the hillside out of sight his tears had flowed liberally.

We had quickly packed up our camp and had set off back down the hillside following the huge pawprints of the Rider’s masked manticore back down to the treeline. I had remembered the mournful, pained cry which had caused the rider’s sudden departure the night before and I’d wondered if the creature that had made it had managed to escape the rider’s attention.

Upon entering the trees, I had noticed that the leaflitter, which had been soggy the prior evening was once again dry and crispy underfoot, a fact which had suggested to me that the strange dehydrating, powdery precipitation had once again fallen beneath the forest’s canopy. I had asked the others if they would mind spreading out and searching for the creature with the pained cry as we headed back the way we came, a task which they had undertaken without complaint. I had suggested that we each took a jingle nut so that we did not stray too far and get lost. I would jingle first, then Cloud, Taboo, Horizon, Omen, Bubbles, Pulida, Blancmange, Oats, Skull and Butter would all jingle in sequence after me. As long as I heard nine jingles in reply to my own then I’d know that everyone was safe. We had also agreed that if anyone encountered any trouble then they should jingle their nuts incessantly, a signal which would prompt the rest of us to rush to their aid.

The jingle sequence had worked like a charm and we had soon established a nice steady rhythm. The problem however had been Butter, who had jingled out distress calls upon three occasions, sending us rushing to her assistance. Each instance had been a false alarm however as she had simply dropped her nut whilst tripping over, sending it jingling through the leaflitter. After the third false alarm Skull had suggested that he should stay with Butter to help keep her upright.

Taboo had written K-I-S-S-I-N-G on his board and had drawn another love heart, a motion which had caused Skull to chase him around the trees in a state of fury. This had continued for some time until I had stepped in and broke them up.

I had placed Taboo and Skull at opposing ends of the search party to avoid further trouble and we had resumed our hunt. Whilst searching I had come across several large patches of the strange spectral brambles which we had encountered upon our arrival at the forest. Finding them quite unsettling I had given them a wide berth, my bejesus tingling with apprehension at the sight of them. My searching had prompted me to explore a thicket of trees at the base of a dell and there I had discovered a broad river which had been overgrown with the ghostly bramble. Oddly the riverbank was deathly quiet, devoid of the life which watercourses usually attract in great numbers, a fact which had further aggravated my tingling bejesus and had strengthened my desire to avoid the bramble.

Along the way we had encountered many strange and unusual creatures, the most notable of which had been an immensely large, reptilian creature whose head and jaws had easily been double the length of its body. To support its gigantic cranium, it had sported two extra limbs which had sprouted from its lower jaw, an attribute which had prompted Pulida to nickname it a keep-your-chin-up. As well as the keep-your-chin-up Cloud had also come across a large nest which had contained several crystalline eggs and one adolescent creature which was making quite a din. Wondering if he had discovered the creature we were seeking, Cloud had asked me to investigate the nest further. Upon inspecting the nest, I had discovered that the noisy creature was some sort of fungus-like lifeform which had a mineral-like quality to it, the stem of its body and an appendage which I suppose you might call a head encrusted with a crystalline hide. I say fungus-like because it had possessed a cap at the top of its body similar to that of a toadstool or mushroom, its underside frilled with fleshy gills. As well as its ‘head,’ the creature had also sported two stubby, clawed paws and a soft, undulating belly which had reminded me of the underside of a slug. It had not possessed any visible eyes but what it had owned in abundance were teeth, long, faceted, crystal teeth which it had furiously gnashed as it had called out its shrill, piecing cry. It had seemed quite ferocious and its cries had reminded me of the calls baby birds make when they are awaiting a meal from their mother. Not wishing to encounter its parents I had urged Cloud to move on, denying him his desire to pet the creature, fearful that he would lose his fingers whilst doing so.

By the time we had reached the clearing where we had helped to right the upturned flabby-skinned creature I had begun to lose hope of finding the rider’s quarry, resigning myself to the fact that it may have already captured it. I was also very mindful of the alfalfa I carried, thinking of the starving bunnies back on Little Bedlam and how they were relying on me to get the food back to them as soon as possible.

It was around this time that our chain of jingles had become broken, the sixth beat suddenly dropping out of our rhythm. I had quickly realised that it was Bubble’s jingle that was missing and so, fearful of what had befallen her I had headed in the direction of her last jingle, collecting Cloud, Taboo, Horizon and Omen along the way. Those at the other end of the search party had also missed Bubbles’ beat and we had met Pulida, Blancmange, Oats, Skull and Butter coming from the opposite direction. We had converged before two trees which were surrounded by a clump of the spectral bramble. Bubbles however had been nowhere to be seen.

Maybe she’s practicing her hide and seek? Cloud had suggested.

Well we need to plegging well seek her out! Taboo had written. There’re some dangerous-looking critters around here! Just past that hill I spied a flock of fire-breathing turkeys!

For a while we had all jingled our nuts en-masse, hoping to hear a reply from Bubbles. No response had come however.

What’s that? Oats had written, pointing into the spectral brambles with his green finger. There’s something shiny.

Before I could stop him, Oats had ventured out into the brambles and had retrieved the shiny object. He had held it up for us all to see. It had been the jingle nut Bubbles had been carrying.

Oh no! Oh my! Omen had written, the beak of his crow-skull mask trembling with fear. Something got her didn’t it! Something nommed her all up!

Just at that moment a hand had swiped out from between the tree trunks behind Oats and had grabbed him by the arm. Before he’d had the chance to even write an exclamation mark the hand had dragged him backwards and he had promptly vanished into thin air, a sight which had scared the bejesus right out of me. At that moment I had been thankful that I neither possessed a digestive system nor wore undergarments because I’m sure I may well have soiled my pants in fright.

What had followed was a scene of mass panic which had involved much arm flailing, gesticulation, falling down (mainly from Butter) and an excessive amount of aimless jogging.

We’re all doomed! Omen had written.

Pleg and Shatang it all! Taboo had added. It’s plegging well nabbed Oats too!

Amidst our panic Oats had suddenly reappeared, a look of shocked confusion about him. To our astonishment Bubbles had also returned, materialising from between the tree trunks. The pair had come rushing towards us, writing on their slates as they did so.

You need to come see what Bubbles has found! Oats’ slate had read.

I think I’ve found it! Bubbles had written. It’s hurt. We have to hurry.

Oats and Bubbles had taken me by the hands and had led me into the patch of spectral brambles toward the trees.

After seeing Oats’ disappearing act, I had been rather reluctant to continue and I had pulled my hands form their grasp. But where are you taking me? I’d written. Where did you go?

I don’t really know? Oats had written. All I can tell you is that it doesn’t hurt to get there and there’s something you have to see on the other side.

I had nodded and had reluctantly approached the space between the tree trunks. I had held out my arm and had experimentally waved my hand in the gap. To my surprise my fingertips had vanished but when I had recoiled, I had found them to be quite whole and functional. Cautiously I had stuck my foot into the gap and, closing my eyes and holding my breath I had taken a step.

The world I had stepped into beyond the gap between the trees had been at complete odds with the forest and I had turned around in confusion to find that I had just stepped from the mouth of a gloomy cavern set in a sheer wall of rock and ice. Gone was the dappled light of the forest, replaced instead with the near darkness of moonlit twilight. Gone also were the crunch of fallen leaves, the birdsong and the squeak of stone and slate. Indeed, the only familiar thing this new and alien terrain had offered me had been a patch of spectral bramble which had sprouted around the mouth of the cavern, growing in thick, sickly coloured clumps.

I had felt rather nauseous and disorientated and I had taken a moment to steady myself and fully take in my new surroundings. I had found myself to be standing upon a slab of hard, grey stone at the side of an ice-choked river which was fed by a waterfall that had cascaded down the rockface to the left of the cavern entrance. The land to my right was fringed with tall grasses and it had ended abruptly before dropping away into a black abyss. I had picked up a small fragment of stone from the riverside and had thrown it into the precipice, trying to gauge how deep it was by the sound of the stone striking the ground below. No such sound had ever occurred however and I remember wondering if the abyss had a bottom at all or if the sound had simply been swallowed up by the roar of the waterfall. I had stood as close as I dared to the edge and had looked down to find what I can only describe as stars shining below me. At first, I had thought that there was another river at the bottom of the precipice which was reflecting the night’s sky but an upwards glace had quashed this theory as, baring the Night Watchman’s Eye, the sky above had been as black as pitch. I had found the view to be quite unsettling and I had turned to face the river, the image tickling a distant memory of my prior life.

The other bank of the river had too been lost to distance and darkness and the water was so still and black that for a moment I had become convinced that it was a river of twilight rather than water, an image which had only been ruined by the tiny icebergs which sailed across its surface. The stone beneath my feet had been rough with an oddly wrinkly texture which had brought to mind the coarse hide of a holk and I recall being concerned that I had been standing upon the back of some colossal stone-skinned beast. I had dismissed the notion as nonsense however and I had turned to look upwards at the pinnacle of the waterfall only to find that the wall of rock was so tall that the column of cascading water stretched away into a pinprick before being swallowed by the gloom of the night, another image which had stirred the fragments of my prior mind. I’d suddenly had the strange sensation that the vast wall of rock was falling towards me and I had staggered backwards, gripping my spoon at my waist as I’d fallen onto my behind. The jolt of my fall had fully dislodged the memory which my surroundings has loosened and it had tumbled into my mind, telling me that I was in a place called Gonastrey, a tiny fragment of land far above the Known Expanse which was situated somewhere between the moon and stars. I had recalled a soft, gentle voice telling me of a man named Aster who had become stranded in Gonastrey and I had written a single word on my slate; Mommy. Suddenly I had realised that I had stepped into a childs’ fairy-tale and I had unsteadily climbed back to my feet, the voice of my mother still whispering in my mind. I had retrieved my spoon from its pouch and had rubbed it between my fingers to soothe myself, glancing nervously about myself in search of a man wearing a talking wig with a hairy caterpillar upon his upper lip.

To my relief I had spotted no such individual and try as I might I had found myself unable to conjure any pictures or other memories of my mother to go with her voice. All I was able to recall was her voice and the tale of Aster which she had told me, a tale of a homeless man who had owned nothing more than a tea cup, a fork and a pepper pot. I had stood trying to recall the rest of the tale when Bubbles and Oats had emerged from the cavern. They had hurried past me in the direction of what I had supposed to be a large lump of ruddy ice which had lay at the edge of the river. I had followed after them and had realised that the lump of ice was in fact a heap of bloodied feathers, maybe an unfortunate animal which had fallen prey to a local predator or which had succumbed to the cold only to have its carcass feasted upon by scavengers. I had gripped my spoon tighter, wondering what possible interest my friends could have in the unfortunate creature.

The further from the cavern we had ventured the colder it had become and by the time we had reached the heap of feathers I had written brrr! upon my slate several times and I had hugged my spoon tightly to protect it from the elements. “Aster did not even own clothes,” my mother’s voice had whispered into my mind, “and the city where he lived had some of the cruellest winters the Known Expanse has ever seen. Now Aster’s mother had been a hairdresser and his father had worked as a weaver and so to keep himself warm Aster had grown his hair long, down past his ankles and onto the floor. He had then weaved and plaited his long blonde locks around his body to make himself a suit of living hair.”

To my surprise the blood-stained carcass had stirred at Bubbles’ touch and realising that the creature still lived I had banished the voice of my mother and had hastened to her side.

What in the Expanse is it? I’d written.

I’ve no idea? Oats had written back, but I’m pretty sure it’s the creature The Doll-Faced Rider is hunting for.

How do you know? I’d written, clueless of how he’d reached this conclusion.

Look at its face, Oats had written, pointing down into the jumble of blooded feathers.

I had looked at the tangled form of the creature in confusion, finding myself unable to locate its head or make sense of its form. I had located a clawed hand, a single wing, a shoulder and what I’d believed to be a horn but none of these body parts were in any discernible order, all of them jutting at odd angles from the mass of feathers.

It’s curled itself up, Bubbles had written. It’s hiding. I think it’s scared. She’d placed her hand on its exposed wing and it had spasmed at her touch. Come on, she’d written. We’re not going to hurt you, just show Sunrise your face.

I very much doubt that the creature had understood Bubbles’ words that day so I am assuming that it had sensed the sincerity of our convictions rather than read her message but even so it had uncoiled its long body and had wearily lifted its head which, as Oats had claimed, bore the proof that the creature was indeed the Doll-Faced Rider’s quarry.

The creatures face had been completely hidden behind a steel mask which had been bolted around its head in a similar fashion to the mask of the rider’s manticore. The mask had been featureless baring two eyeholes, below which rusty tracks ran the length of the creature’s cheeks, corroded by countless tears. As I’d watched, fresh tears had dipped from the creature’s chin to freeze on the frigid ground. When the creature had fully extended its body, I had gauged it to be roughly the length of around fifty average snakes which were attempting to form a conga line. Its serpentine body had borne both feathers and fur and had included two short clawed forelegs but no hindlegs. It had also possessed a magnificent pair of feathered wings which despite its obvious fatigue it had stretched out grandly behind itself. The lower half of the creature’s snake-like body had forked two-thirds down its length, splitting into two separate prehensile tails which it had deftly coiled beneath itself, giving it a platform upon which to support its long body. The ‘horn’ I had noticed earlier had in fact been one of two long claws which had curled from the tips of its tails, appendages which I’d supposed it used to anchor itself to trees, rockfaces and other roosts. The creature had suffered many horrific injuries and its left flank had displayed several deep, raw gashes as if someone had taken a sword to it. Another worrying factor was that the creature’s mouth had been completely hidden by its mask, an obstruction which would have been preventing it from eating.

The effort of sitting upright had proved too much for the creature and it had lowered itself back to the ground, the weight of its mask bowing its head.

Look at this, Oat’s had written. He had reached into the creature’s plumage and had lifted a length of broken chain which upon closer inspection we had found to be wrapped around its wings. Between us we had managed to remove the offending chain, an act which had caused an appreciative groan to sound within the creature’s mask.

It looks to me like this poor creature has already been held captive by the Rider, Bubbles had written.

It must have broken free and escaped, Oats had added. Now the rider’s trying to get it back.

Well we’re not going to let that happen, I’d written. We’re going to take it safely back to our mountain away from the rider. I’d looked around at my strange surroundings. I wonder how it got to Gonastrey? Do you think it came the same way we did?

Where? Bubbles had written. I’ve never heard of a place called Gonastrey?

It’s the place from the fairy-tale about Aster and the God of all hair, I’d explained. Aster ended up in a place called Gonastrey which was situated high above the Expanse between the stars and moon. The story says Gonastrey is only one-hundred paces long by eighty paces wide. There’s nothing but an empty void surrounding it. A memory of my mother reading me the tale surfaced when I arrived here.

I had received blank stares in reply and I hadn’t pressed the matter, turning my intention instead to the injured creature. I don’t think it’s in any fit state to follow us, I’d written. Do you think we can carry it?

Let’s give it go, Oats had replied. I hope it doesn’t struggle.

Despite Oats’ concerns the creature had been very compliant and it had allowed us to pick it up, even coiling its tail around Bubbles to help support itself. The creature had also been incredibly light, the heaviest part of it being its oppressive mask which I had hoisted onto my shoulder. I had looked into the creature’s rusted eyehole to see a tearful bright blue eye staring back at me. The eye had been both pained and filled with gratitude, assuring me that the creature knew that we meant it no harm.

Between us we had easily carried the creature back to the cavern and wishing to get us all out of Gonastrey’s chilly climate I had hastened inside, instantly stepping back through the gap between the tree trunks.

I had been relieved to see my friends on the other side of the anomaly and Horizon had instantly rushed forwards to greet us. Is that it? he had written, looking at the creature we carried. Is that the thing the Rider is hunting for?

I think so, I’d replied, struggling to write whilst supporting the creature’s mask. We have to get it out of here before the rider finds us.

He put a mask on it, Skull had written, leading Butter forwards. He had examined the bolts which held the mask in place. I think I can break them.

Just then the light of the forest had altered significantly becoming gloomy and dim and a column of steam had materialised in the western sky.

The forest has returned to our mountain, Pulida had written. We need to get moving. Now’s our chance to get home!

Horizon had consulted his compass and had nodded his agreement, tapping his dome appreciatively. Now that’s what I like to see! he’d written.

At this point in my retelling of this most harrowing account I would like to take a little break to explain the fairy-tale which mentions the land of Gonastrey, the place which I still feel sure was the land we stumbled upon beyond the tree trunks. Now would also be an excellent time to prepare yourself a hot beverage and select yourself some highly delicious and dunk-able biscuits. (To maximise your biscuit dunking experience please fully read my guide to biscuit therapy which can be found on page337.)

The following fairy-tale was written by Ruta Graveolens, Expanse renowned fairy tale teller from the boughs of Kalemnity, sapling of The Creation Tree. It was written in the late Ash Age and is set predominantly in the City of Hungerfield, a thriving metropolis which, along with most of the Sanintale Region, was destroyed during the Sawcozian Tsunami Disaster. The remnants of the city were later split to become the towns of Velveteen and Smudgedale.

There once was a vain human man by the name of Aster Amellus who lived in the great city of Hungerfield. Aster loved nothing more than his looks and his wealth and his stature, though none of it had been gained by the sweat of his brow or the turning of his mind but rather it had been provided for him by his doting, affectionate parents. Aster’s father had been a renowned barber and his mother a celebrated weaver, both hard working and skilled in their professions. Aster however, made comfortable by his parents’ generosity, had never found or indeed looked for a profession of his own. Upon the passing of his parents however Aster, now bereft of their financial support, had quickly found himself out of money and lodgings, having nothing but a broken teacup, a cake fork and a pepper pot to his name.

Despite losing his comforts Aster did not lose his vanity and he abhorred the wear and tear which living rough on the streets of Hungerfield wrought upon his only garments, clothes which had once cost his parents a small fortune reduced to filthy rags by the bustle and grime of the streets. Aster also missed his grooming, particularly the fine monthly haircuts he had received from his father, trims which had kept him at the height of vogue. Now uninhibited by style and grooming, Aster’s hair had sprouted in great curly blonde locks, falling down past his shoulders, his hips and eventually his ankles, growth which had seen the beginning and departure of many a year, years which had seen Aster turn from a vain young man into a vain middle-aged man. The turning of the years and the coarseness of the streets had also wrought a terrible frailty upon Aster who now felt the cold and hunger much more acutely than he had in his youth.

One stormy autumn day when Aster could feel the bite of the cruel winter ahead, a passing creature in a hooded cloak had dropped a golden shpeal into Aster’s teacup and had commented on the length and vigour of his hair, a compliment which had set Aster’s mind turning. Aster feared the cold above all else and he dreamed of the wealth and fine warm clothes he had once owned. Filled with a sort of mania Aster had stood and had torn the tatters of his once fine clothes from his body, an act which had left him standing naked and alone in the teeth of the inclement weather. He had huddled in a doorway and had covered himself as best he could with his long golden locks, his mind reminiscing over his Father’s aptitude for hair styling and his Mother’s ability to weave. As he’d sat, warmed by his swaddling hair Aster had begun to form a plan, desperately trying to remember any snippets of advice or insights his parents had offered him on their professions. That night Aster had worked hard, plaiting, braiding, weaving, knitting and intertwining his long hair and by the rising of the sun he had formed himself a fine suit of living hair which covered his body from the top of his head to the tips of his toes.

Over the next two weeks Aster had been warm and comfortable in his hair suit, quite oblivious to the falling temperatures and coming winter and what was more the suit also attracted a lot of attention from passers-by, many of whom would stop and strike up a conversation over his unique attire and whom would often leave a shpeal or two in Aster’s palm for his ingenuity. Aster had been both delighted by the compliments he’d receive and contented by the revenue and warmth his hair suit provided him and he soon found himself a local celebrity, attention which he had revelled in. Aster was meticulous in the upkeep and maintenance of his hair suit, smoothing, plaiting and tending it until there was not a hair out of place.

One morning however Aster had awoken to find that a large growth of dirty, matted black hair had sprouted upon his chest and, not wanting his public image to be ruined he had stolen a pair of shears from a tinker and had clipped the offending growth of hair from his suit.

To Aster’s surprise the ball of black, matted hair had begun to writhe and squirm upon the frozen street and to his further surprise it had revealed itself to have a tiny face. The hair ball had looked up at Aster and in a most agitated manner it had begun to speak, introducing itself as Folloki, the God of all that was hairy. Folloki had informed Aster that it had sought him out because it had escaped from an awful place and was in terrible need of grooming, requiring someone to tend to its lugs, knots and split ends. It had informed Aster that it had chosen him for this task due to the fine work he had done with his hair suit, a comfort which Folloki had attributed completely to itself, insisting that without its influence hair growth would not be possible at all and every being in the Expanse would be completely bald.

Aster had thanked Folloki for its gift of hair but had politely informed it that he would be quite unable to tend to its matted, filthy locks, a task which seemed to him to be far too much like hard work.

Folloki had been most vexed by Aster’s attitude and it had warned him that if he did not do exactly as it said then it would cause every hair Aster possessed to abandon his body and it would banish him to Gonastrey, a small frozen land of darkness and frigid water which was suspended high above the Expanse, trapped eternally between the stars and the moon.

“Gonastrey is only one-hundred paces long by eighty paces wide,” Folloki had warned. “If you venture further than that then you will fall into the Twilight Abyss and your baldness will be the least of your worries.”

Not wishing to lose his beloved suit of hair or to be banished to a land of darkness and frigid water Aster had vowed to serve Folloki however it wished.

“I am dirty,” Folloki had said. “Your first task shall be to wash my hair with sweet smelling lather.”

“But I am a homeless man,” Aster had said. “I do not have the resources to fulfil your request.”

“Then you shall say your goodbyes to your suit of hair,” Folloki had warned.

“Very well, very well,” Aster had said fearfully. “I shall wash your hair oh great Folloki.” And he had hurried away into the city to procure what he needed. Firstly, he had visited an apothecary and had begrudgingly handed over two of his remaining five copper schpeals to the indegelf at the counter to purchase a bottle of highly scented lather crystals. He had then visited a wash house from which he had begged some hot water, carrying it back to the waiting deity in his broken teacup. As requested, he had washed Folloki’s hair, lathering and rinsing it several times in his teacup before the filth was completely washed away.

“Very good,” Folloki had said. “Next you will dry and comb the knots from my divine locks.”

“But I have no means to dry and comb you Great Folloki,” Aster had reasoned. “Could you not simply wait and allow the wind and sun to dry your hair?”

“No, my hair shall become frizzy if it is not dried and suitably brushed,” Folloki had said. “Now do as I say or your bald head shall reflect the moon of Gonastrey!”

“Yes, great Folloki,” Aster had said. “I shall be back shortly to fulfil your request.” And once again he had ventured into the bustling streets of Hungerfield, his last three schpeals sitting heavy in his hairy pocket. He had first visited a Minotaur who kept a great deal of bees upon a rooftop garden and he had parted with one of his schpeals to purchase a beeswax candle. Another schpeal had been lost to a magical artificer, exchanged for a vile of dehydrated fire powder with which to light the candle. Aster had returned to Folloki and had used the warmth of the candle to dry the deity’s hair, combing the knots from its locks with his fork.

“Well done,” Folloki had said. “Your final task for today shall be to style and oil my hair.”

“But I have no money left with which to purchase hair oil,” Aster had reasoned.

“That is not my problem,” Folloki had said. “You will fetch me oil or you will find yourself picking your beloved hair up off the frozen ground of Gonastrey.”

“Yes Folloki,” Aster had said. “It shall be done.” And for a third time Aster had set off into the city. He was becoming quite tired of Folloki’s threats and demands and as he once again headed toward the apothecary, his mind had searched fruitlessly for a way to escape the deity’s servitude. Upon entering the apothecaries Aster had found that the Indigelf behind the counter had vanished and a hooded creature had taken his place, the same hooded creature which had put the golden shpeal in his teacup several weeks earlier.

Aster had asked the creature for a bottle of hair oil but as he had feared he did not possess the funds to purchase it.

The hooded creature had instead offered Aster a spoonful of starch powder in exchange for his final shpeal, insisting that it was the only item in the shop which he could afford. Seeing no other option and not wishing to return to Folloki emptyhanded Aster had purchased the powder, storing it in his pepper pot for safekeeping.

As he had made his way back through the streets of Hungerfield Aster had formed a plan to rid himself of Folloki and he had filled his pepper pot to the brim with water from a puddle, mixing the starch into it.

Upon returning to Folloki he had informed the deity that his pepper pot contained the hair oil which it had requested and he had set about coating Folloki’s freshly washed, dried and combed locks with the starch. Folloki had been quite relaxed and stupefied by Aster’s attentions and it had soon begun to snooze, allowing Aster to proceed with his plan. He had knotted and platted Folloki’s hair around its tiny body, forming a straight jacket of hair, a jacket which thanks to the starch soon hardened in the warmth of Aster’s candle.

“And now myself and my suit of hair shall take our leave of you,” Aster had said as he’d laid the restrained deity on the frozen ground. With that Aster had collected up his fork, his pepper pot and his teacup and he had fled across the city feeling quite pleased with himself over the ingenuity and cunning of his escape.

In the days that followed his escape Aster had begun to hear the voice of Folloki whispering angrily in his ear, “You shall not escape my baldness, you cannot escape my baldness, my baldness shall touch your scalp wherever you hide.” To Aster’s horror his hair had immediately begun to turn grey and he had awoken one morning to find himself completely bald and naked, lying in the doorway of the building which had once been his father’s barber shop. To his dismay, his hair suit had loomed over him, standing on its own two feet, Folloki’s face occupying the space where his own face had once been.

“You have wronged the god of all that is hairy!” Folloki had rasped, pointing at Aster with the hairy finger of his own suit. “But I am most impressed with this suit of hair. It is much too good to simply waste. I will keep it as my own and it will serve me as my body.”

Aster had apologised profusely to Folloki and had begged the enraged deity to reunite him with his prized suit of hair, offering his fork, teacup and pepper pot as recompense.

Folloki had considered Aster’s appeal and had challenged him to a race from his father’s barber shop to the centre of the city, proposing that if Aster won then he would return the hair to his head but if he lost, he would be banished to Gonastrey where Folloki would force him to grow suits of hair for him for the rest of eternity. Aster had seen the wager as a win-win situation; he would either win, be reunited with his hair suit and be rid of Folloki or lose and be granted immortality, an outcome which would allow him to grow all the hair he desired. Either way he felt sure that his baldness would only be temporary and so he had agreed to Folloki’s wager.

Folloki had ordered a bonfire to be lit at the centre of the city and had employed a small hairy caterpillar and the toupee of a passing gentleman to act as adjudicators to ensure the race was run fairly, granting the toupee life with a sprinkling of his divine dandruff.

After little deliberation, Aster had decided that he would purposely lose the race, deciding that the chance of becoming immortal was too good to pass up and so, still naked, he had sped through the streets of Hungerfield, keeping himself several paces behind Folloki to ensure his defeat. As they had neared the bonfire at the heart of the city, Aster had spied the hairy caterpillar and the animated toupee standing at the finish line and he had decided to trip himself up, a fabricated mishap which would surely cost him the race. Doing so however had propelled him into the air at an alarming speed, the sleekness of his freshly balded scalp cutting through the air at a rate of knots. He had collided with Folloki hard and had sent the deity and his suit of hair careening over the finish line and into the bonfire where they had both erupted in a ball of flame and smoke which had instantly rendered them into a cloud of embers and ash.

“On account of Folloki’s untimely demise I declare Aster the victor!” called the hairy caterpillar.

“I concur!” said the toupee.

“But what of my hair?” Aster had cried. “Will it ever return to my scalp? I was to live forever in Gonnastrey!”

“Alas, hair shall never grace your scalp again,” said the toupee. “You shall be follicly challenged for the rest of time but I shall serve you as your hair if you so desire.”

“And I offer you my services also,” said the caterpillar. “If you would allow me to seat myself upon your upper lip then I believe I would make you a fine moustache.”

Just then a creature in a hooded cloak had stepped from the flames of the bonfire and had thanked Aster for his services and had complimented him on his fine, new, sentient hair and his rather fetching invertebrate moustache. The creature had offered to show Aster the way to Gonnastrey and had promised to grant him the immortality he desired.

Aster had accepted the creatures offer and he resides in Gonnastrey even now with his fork, his teacup, his pepper pot, his living toupee and his caterpillar moustache, sitting in the land of darkness and frozen water, which resides below the moon but above the stars.

I must admit that I find this tale to be rather ponderous and unbelievable and if I did not feel certain that I had visited Gonastrey for myself, I would have dismissed it as complete fantasy. For a start, though I approve of Aster’s choice of condiment shaker and drinking vessel, his choice of utensil is ridiculous. Though his fork came in quite handy as a make-shift comb, I very much doubt he would ever have ended up living rough on the streets of Hungerfield in the first place if he’d had a good spoon by his side. I also find the idea of a sentient toupee and a talking caterpillar quite absurd and the idea of divine, life-giving dandruff is almost laughable.

I often find myself pondering the unanswered question of who the creature in the hooded cloak actually was? The creature seems to play several pivotal roles in the tale; it gifted Aster the golden schpeal which he used to buy Folloki’s various hair-care products, it served him in the apothecaries, selling him the starch powder and it also stepped from the flames after Folloki’s apparent demise and thanked Aster for his services, granting him everlasting life and allowing him access to Gonastrey, feats which would be unattainable to a mere mortal. This has led me to believe that the hooded figure may well have been another deity who, for reasons unknown, held a grudge against Folloki and orchestrated his downfall, gently manipulating Aster in order to wreak its vengeance.

In our world there dwells a number of lesser gods and goddesses, all of them employed by the Architect to tend an aspect of his creation. These deities include Hephaestus, Oceanus and Zephyrus, the custodians of fire, water and wind whom tend the natural elements of the Expanse, keeping them in order. If Folloki truly exists and if it survived its encounter with the bonfire mentioned in the tale then I hope I do not anger it by saying that it is a most unnecessary deity. Though I do not possess any myself, surely hair looks after itself and needs no divine intervention to maintain, requiring nothing but a comb to keep it in order? Did the Architect really feel it necessary to assign a deity to the upkeep of His creations’ follicles?

A plethora of other seemingly unneeded deities crop up in the fables of Ruta Graveolens including Pastestous, the goddess of earwax and nasal blockage, Toe-Top-Tip, the god of dripping taps and Sneax, the god of creaky floorboards and crooked picture frames. One of Ruta’s tales also mentions an almighty being with fifty legs and an overabundance of genitalia called Gusetous the Chafed, which it describes as the incarnate spirit of uncomfortable underwear and threadbare socks.

If all of these deities truly exist it makes me wonder if there are any aspects of our world which are not overseen by a lesser god, divine beings employed by the Architect to tend His creation.

Not wishing to spoil a most excellent coming passage of this diary where I encounter a being called the Lost Vision, I will revisit this topic at a later juncture to offer you some first-hand evidence which supports the theory that everything is overlooked by its own divine caretaker. I will also explain how this evidence has led me to come up with my own theory of the origins and purpose for which I believe Folloki may have been created.

I must say that if the Architect has indeed employed legions of lesser gods to tend his creation, then it begs the question, ’What does the Architect truly contribute to our world?’ Has He become so bored with his creation that He does not wish to have a divine hand in its upkeep Himself or is He simply too lazy or too busy to undertake such menial tasks Himself, spending his energies instead on business which is far beyond the understanding of any mortal being? As the saying goes, ’The Architect works in mysterious ways.’ That is of course if He works at all.

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