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Mouse Schtuff, Part 1

by Ashande

The Hidden Mouse Moon had ceased to exist.
Oh, certainly, there was still a young man who bore the appearance that had been linked to that title. He walked as the one who had once been called that, and spoke with his voice. He bore the scars on his body that were reminders of the times the Hidden Mouse Moon had been less than pleasing in his tasks, and bore all the memories of the one who had been reborn to that epithet, but in this time, this place, there was no such person.
Here there was only Divier. He had come from many miles away, wandering from the whorehouses of Arjuf to the threshold, and when that no longer suited him, he had come here, perhaps to start a new life. Such dreams had nearly been broken by fear of punishment; while helping to raise an idol to the might of the Earth Dragon, the precious materials had turned to sand and dust when Divier took hold of them. Even here, it seemed, the wrath of the Dragons was upon him, for sins he could no longer remember committing.
But he fell to his knees, and wept, and tore at himself, and in time the Immaculates took pity on Divier, and took him into their fold. He would be cleansed of his sin, be taken back to the true path. Perhaps even become a monk himself, in time. Bitter Amber, a young and energetic monk, was overseeing Divier’s education and atonement. Divier thought of him in many ways as a father figure, one who would not turn him away or tell him he could not, as his real father had done, and one who would not pointlessly lash out with punishment as his surrogate father often did.
Something of the Moon’s memories within him cried out at this, demanding that such thoughts were blasphemy, and crying out in pain as the nettles of the Dead Gods lashed at his soul for adopting a name and living among the mortals; Divier paid it no heed. Even the part of him that remembered the Hidden Mouse Moon knew it had a task to complete here, and the part of him that was Divier felt a sense of acceptance and belonging he had not known for so long as his memories stretched back.
The days of his time with Bitter Amber were often similar to the point of lacking any sense of continuity. It was as if he simply lived the same day over and over again. Rising with the dawn, he would come out to greet it, then speak prayers to each of the Elemental Dragons in turn, ending by placing his head upon the ground and beseeching the Earth Dragon for forgiveness. Then he would walk to Bitter Amber’s cell, and the instruction would begin. For hours upon hours – pausing only for the briefest of moments to consume herbed rice from paper bowls at the noon hour – they would speak, practice, and make confession, until Divier appeared to be nothing more than a dried out and tired husk. Then he would return to his room.
It was at such times that what remained of the Hidden Mouse Moon would resurface, and cut at himself with knives blessed by the Dead Gods. He would weep, and cry out to them, pleading their forgiveness and their patience for only a little while yet.
This evening, with Divier gone and the Moon in charge, he felt the Malfean’s displeasure roiling in his soul, and knew he could contain it no longer. Using his silver knife to draw careful runes in blood upon his flesh, he felt the tide of death-tainted power surge within him, seeping from his veins and forming blasphemous patterns in the air, before dissipating into the countryside. Finally, spent, he bound his wounds, and lay down to rest.
The next morning, as Divier emerged from his cloister, he found Bitter Amber waiting for him, looking – in some curious way – both upset and excited. He laid a hand on the young man’s shoulder, drawing him close.
“The Dragons have given me a sign, that which you must do to absolve yourself of your sins. They have given to me a problem that is quite obviously tied to your own, that must now be righted.”
Divier’s eyebrows quirked, even as his face turned sad. “What has happened now, teacher? Have I failed again in my repentance?”
Bitter Amber shook his head. “No, no. At last the Dragons have sent a sign, a final gathering of the taint that has plagued us. By cleansing yourself and our temple of this, you may finally achieve your absolution.” He smiled. “You have been one of my best students, Divier, and I hope you can find this peace. But I cannot help you. You must see this thing for yourself, and make it right.”
Divier studied the other man’s face for a long moment, and nodded at last. “As Hesiesh says: Those who wait bring only sorrow. Action is the command.”
Bitter Amber’s eyes brightened another notch, then he shook his head sadly. “I only wish more paid as much attention as you do, Divier.”
Divier only smiled. “I will do what I must, teacher.”

The mess was horrid, and even though the part of him that was the Moon found pleasure in seeing the destruction wrought to the lie, the part of him that had lived as Divier and come to find some small peace with these people was horrified.
The granary of the temple, once full of rice and herbs carefully arranged in urns depicting the symbols of bounty and life, blessed by the Wood and Earth Dragons, was now in a state of disarray to appear as though a hurricane had swept through it. Spoiled food was scattered about, and dozens of rats – looking very familiar to Divier, very familiar indeed – were busily gnawing at it. Even worse, the carefully crafted statues of Sextes Jylis and Pasiap – heretical in the Realm proper, but considered acceptable here, and made to protect the food – had been defaced, their features cracked, their limbs twisted, their Immaculate weapons and robes stained black.
Divier knew what had done this. He had. Or rather, the Moon had. But it was working according to plan. It would be his task to restore order, and thus earn confidence from the monk.
Shaking his head, Divier set to work, first gathering shards of the pottery and using them as scoops to gather together as much of the spoiled food as possible. Once the rat’s meals had deserted them, he set to using other shards of the pottery for target practice, embedding them in the skulls of the rats, until they finally got the message and scurried away, to find something less dangerous to eat.
He turned to rummage about in one of the storage compartments that had not exploded, and finally found what he was looking for – some scraps of tarp that would do nicely for his purpose. He sewed several sections together, to approximate the size, and then draped it over the statues. He had no desire for them to be looking at him while he worked.
Returning to other areas of the cloister, Divier went in search of bits of wax and sap. After nearly an hour of searching – during which time Bitter Amber was conveniently absent, allowing Divier to learn a few things he had not been aware of before – he at last determined that no such things were to be found in the temple. Somewhat aggravated, but at least treasuring the time he would be away – allowing him to channel his tainted essence into relieving some of the burden of Creation without fear of reprisal – he located a bucket, and went into the wood to collect his own sap.
This was a task he knew well. In previous days, before his personality had been twisted into what it was, and before he split it again to perform his task here, the boy Tagino had often been sent out sap-collecting. It was often considered one of the only things he could do. Now Divier performed the task mostly on auto pilot, driving the plugs and hanging the bucket, then settling down to wait.
He didn’t know how much time had passed – watching the slow golden drizzle of sap into the bucket had almost hypnotized him – but he was up and on his feet in an instant upon hearing the voice.
“I know what you are.”
Divier raised a brow, and looked towards the source of the voice. At first he saw nothing, and the thought He’s even better than I am, whoever he is… streaked through his mind. Then Janus stepped from between the trees, folding his huge arms over his chest and smirking.
“Really,” Divier said, unperturbed. “And what is that?”
Janus’ shaggy head shook, as he advanced another step on the young boy. He was a giant of a man – Wyld blood in him, some said – with a short temper and an even shorter run of patience, and had rarely a good word to say about anyone. His size and strength were very useful in places, though – lugging blocks and lumber, especially – and so none complained too loudly about his attitude.
“Accursed. You’re one o’ them Anathema from up the road, I betcher. Thems be why the Dragons don’t be likin’ you.”
Divier laughed. “Anathema? Really. And if I was, for the sake of argument, what the hell do you think I’d be doing in this little hellhole, working my ass off for the temple, then? Wouldn’t I just use all those god-slaying powers to level the place, don’t you think?”
The giant seemed a bit confused by the response, stumbling back a step and frowning, trying to process it.
Then Divier smiled, and something about that smile just wasn’t right. The teeth were too big, far too big. The giant blanched, even as Divier spoke. “Of course, maybe you’re right. Maybe I am an Anathema. And maybe, just maybe, I have a reason to be here. But you’ll never know.”
Before the slow-witted Janus could completely process what was happening, Divier was gone, and the Hidden Mouse Moon was on him, clapping one hand over the giant’s mouth, and sinking his fangs into Janus’ neck. He closed his eyes, tasting the sweet copper and feeling the pulse of the strongman’s heart, feeling his internal essence renew itself at the cost of this man’s. It had been so long, and the demon within was thirsty indeed.
Slowly, Janus’ futile struggles slowed, then ceased. Mouse pulled away from the corpse, letting it tumble to the ground, smiling and wiping his face. A moment later, Divier was back, and cleaning up the mess of his “other half.”
Putting all his might – which was not all that much, given his starvation and lack of proper protective trappings, but which had been renewed slightly from his most recent actions – into dragging him, Divier managed to pull Janus away from the main copse of trees, and buried him under a prodigious pile of falling leaves. It wasn’t perfect, but it would hide him for long enough to keep suspicion away from him, at least.
Nodding at his work, Divier returned, to watch the sap flow, and dozed, content.

Later, having spent quite some time – well into the early hours of the morning once again – repairing the pots, putting his crafty nature to proper purpose, Divier slumped against the wall of the food storage area, wiping his brow with one gum-covered hand. It had been a long night’s work, but most of it was now done. All that remained were the statues and remedying their defacement.
Bitter Amber came by, briefly, while Divier rested, admiring his work. The monk had not said anything, but something in his demeanor seemed pleased, when he left a cup of tea and boiled egg soup for his initiate. Eating without speaking, Divier only waved away Amber’s remarks about him needing sleep. He did, and he would, but not yet.
Refreshed somewhat from the food, Divier turned to unveil the statues.

Three days of constant work later, Divier at last allowed himself to return to his cloister, and pass out. He had done it – bearing the barbs and nettles of his true masters the whole while – and had restored the statues. In his humble opinion, they were even better than before, with Sextes Jylis’ face now bearing a proper prideful smile, and Pasiap’s musculature much more defined. He’d had to redo the limbs almost totally, so had done different poses; now Pasiap stood, hands crossed over his chest and feet planted solidly, a mockery of Janus’ last pose, while Sextes Jylis stood with legs crossed at the thigh, one hand hanging, the other outstretched to serve as a perch for a bird. The bird had been extra, a fine carving of a raven, mouth open as if about to speak.
Divier could only hope it was good enough, and that Janus’ corpse would not be found quite yet. But for now… sleep, the little death.