Short Story: Identity

NOTE: This is a short story about Tad Dustpine. If you haven’t read at least chapters 1-3 of the actual Chrysanthemum Tango -story, I’d advice you to do so first to avoid spoilers and know what’s going on. They can be found here: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3. Also nonlinear narration and inconsistent pronouns ahead. I hope it’s not TOO confusing. Also also the pics are this time made by some wannabe illustrator (a.k.a me), so if markers and colour pencils and random lines offend you, then viewer discretion is advised.

Sometimes it was easy for an eternity to last just one moment. For him, it happened all the time. Within each end there was an eternity. A small one, but still eternal. And if one looked at it just the right way, one could see that everything happened all at once, and everything was a part of one, long moment. Except looking at it like that made him feel mentally nauseous, so he liked to put the smaller moments and eternities in order.

And now he found himself thinking about his own eternity, which was longer than that of most others. Even though for him, this moment wasn’t an end. It was another beginning. It was very different than the first one, and slightly different than the others that had followed.

There were many stories told about him. About her. It. Them. About where they had come from. But in reality, it all had really started from pretty much nothing.

Because in the first beginning, there really was nothing.

There was just darkness.

There was only The Purpose.

It had had no name, then. No shape. No conscious thoughts save for The Purpose. Back then, the things that died were small and usually without many thoughts either. And the thoughts that were had no words, because words hadn’t been invented yet. And it just had to be there, a fleeting feeling of not being alone before the end came.

Sometimes he missed those days. Then everything had been easier. New. Complicated but not as complicated as it was now. Now he had become more complicated too.

Sometimes he wished he was still just it, for the lack of a better term, because back then terms didn’t exist. Sometimes he wished he could go back to watching matter and antimatter chase each other in the violently forming universe.

Now, there was mostly just matter. And things that… well, mattered.

It didn’t remember exactly when it had come to be. When it had begun, there had been no memories. Or at least not very defined ones. It remembered watching other its in different universes, all newly born and on a crash-course with themselves. All dark and tumultuous, but all different and with sparks and waves of something else too.

He wasn’t sure if he was thinking about himself or the universes now.

It did remember clearly when it stood on a young planet somewhere in the universe, watching the first waves of extinction. It had been a busy day. It had been the first time it had felt something. Now he could perhaps call it the feeling of lamentation, or perhaps the first sparks of compassion. But back then the feeling had had no name. Just like it had had no name, then.

Now there were too many names. Too many shapes.

It had been a dark shadow in the back of the mind, but then living things had started to give it form. At first it had been a delight, someone giving it meaning. Then came the names. Sometimes they were just words to describe what it did. Sometimes they were names of gods.

Sometimes it was an animal, majestic and dark. Sometimes he was decorated with crowns made of dead things. Sometimes she was beautiful. Sometimes they had no face.

And the names. There were so many he could barely keep count.

After a while, it became tiring. After a longer while, it started to hurt, to chip apart their being. They were always everywhere, and now they felt like they had to be everyone as well.

He knew he had to make something of his own if he wanted to stay sane.

Did she have a sanity at that point? He didn’t remember.

He remembered destruction, and souls starting to stray off their course. He remembered breaking some rules, and barely stopping in time.

He had to change. To become.

The only thing that was his own was The Purpose. He needed something more to stay afloat in the sea of shapes and faces and names.

That time was fuzzy, and didn’t all come back to him. Like a sheep lost in a black hole.

Was that a good metaphor? Or was it a simile?

Some words were difficult.

He had begun with the emotions. They were different for the different species, but there were similarities. Especially among the more complicated ones.

Some emotions were easy. Compassion came naturally. Sadness and anger were too easy sometimes. Happiness was difficult. Some types of love were impossible.

It all took time, because emotions were stubborn. And then the living ones gave the emotions different meanings, and they all shifted and wavered and flitted out of his grasp. But he learned.

Then came interests.

There were the souls, of course. His job was the most important thing to him. But with that came interest in life. In plants that turned light and carbon dioxide into oxygen that so many life-forms required. In animals, bacteria, stars, dark matter. In the organic and the non-organic. He was the end to all life. And he wanted to know more about it.

When he started making his realm, which had for millennia been barren and empty, into a garden, he created something for himself. Something to give him another purpose. A personality.

When writing was invented, he was among the first reading nerds and created his library.

With time, the names and shapes and faces stopped pulling him apart. They became costumes, masks, forms the living ones could identify with. It made him more approachable. He liked most of them.

One of his preferred ones was the cloaked man. The Reaper. That form had nicely detached itself from religion – though some religions still liked to occasionally use it – and spread far around planet Earth. It was almost friendly, if intimidating to some, so he stuck to it the most.

The cloak he wore was heavy in its weightlessness. The scythe felt familiar, like an extension of his bony arm after so many solar years of wielding it. It was worn out, but always sharp. He took good care of it.

He remembered when the humans had given him the scythe in their drawings and tales. He remembered getting the cloak. He remembered bones and skulls and empty eye sockets.

He remembered dancing. He was a good dancer.

He remembered humans of all ages and walks of life joining the dance with him, usually thinking he wasn’t him but simply someone in disguise. Because in many dances it was. But sometimes he liked to join them and pretend they wanted to really see him.

Because with the sense of self also came the cravings.

Of understanding. Of acceptance. Of companionship.

There were others like him. Or at least somewhat. But they saw him as something to be feared and avoided. To them, he was the one who followed the rules too strictly and who didn’t have any jokes.

But there had to be rules, because reality could be a delicate thing if dented the wrong way. And he couldn’t understand jokes.

And the living ones were born to fear him. Because living things were meant to live even when they were bound to come to him at some point.

But he wanted to go to them too. Not to do his work, his Purpose, but simply to learn more. To be seen and not feared. For that, the Reaper wasn’t a very good shape.

He looked at his hands. Withered and blackened, sometimes just bones. Always cold. The face under the cloak wasn’t one living ones would likely want to talk to. In fact, many times he didn’t even bother with the face.

But sometimes he wanted to. There were many good faces given to him by the living ones. Some were frightening, some were impressive, and some were beautiful. But he wanted something of his own. Sometimes he’d take off the hood of his cloak, and look at his reflection in one of the ponds in his garden. Sometimes he would look in the mirrors in his house. But the mirrors were lonely, at least before he had given them names and faces too.

Perhaps he had done it to be less lonely.

Sometimes the loneliness threatened to crush him even though he knew that nothing could really destroy him. Because he would always be there. Making sure nobody got lost in the end.

But when it all ended, who would take care of him?

He thought about the stolen gemstone that would hide someone from him. He remembered getting it. He remembered other encounters with the dying. They were precious and fleeting; fleeting things were always the most beautiful. So to him, everything was. Even the gemstone he couldn’t see. And now it was gone, and it really shouldn’t be gone because there were rules.

It was the perfect excuse.

He had watched humans enough to know how their world worked. He had talked to them and met them. But his knowledge was second-hand. It always would be. Unless he made a human face for himself.

He had done it before, of course. Usually mimicking someone else, and then mixing and matching different features and shapes. But they always had something in common. And throughout the years, he had created something he quite liked.

Perhaps he did have a real face after all. Something underneath the masks. Something from the masks.

The eyes were always surprisingly easy. They were always so clear. He contemplated the gender for a while, but in the end decided to go with what the Reaper was usually seen as in the country he would be going to. And the rest… well, he would just do what felt right to him as long as the end result was convincing enough.

This time he made the shape from something more solid than usual. This time he focused on internal organs and skin that would feel real. The bones were always easy.

At first it hurt. Then it just felt… strange. He was still everywhere, but he felt like there was now yet another point of view. Things were still dying, and he was still there. Of course he was. But he was also… more here.

He dared to take off his hood.

Everything looked different through almost real eyes. He quite liked it. He enjoyed the feeling of weight the cloak gave his shoulders, and he covered his always too cold hands with gloves. The feel of almost-right fabric was comforting.

He looked more closely at himself, and suddenly felt very self-conscious. He had never felt so… visible. But he supposed he’d just have to get used to it.

Now, all he needed was a name…

But there were so many already. And he had never been very good with coming up something of his own. Perhaps he’d just pick something from what he already had. Or mix and match something he liked.

Oh, and perhaps he needed an actual plan too. A human form wasn’t good for much if he didn’t know what to do with it.

He looked at the human world, trying his best to smile. Muscles felt strange to him. It was exciting.

In the blink of an eye, he stood on the street of a human town as if he had always been there.

Fear and anxiety coursed through his newly-made veins, and he wanted to disappear again. But another part of him wanted to learn more. To see more through almost-human eyes.

He spread his new arms and embraced the world.

Author’s Note: Yeah, that happened. I don’t even know. But hey, drawing these pics was fun, even though I’m not perfectly happy with all of them (like I know I kept the colours muted on purpose, but a perspective picture with muted colours just looks like a badly done colouring book page, for example), and it was especially nice yesterday when I got a migraine (that part wasn’t nice) and sitting in a bed and drawing was nicely relaxing after the medicine had kicked in and I could more or less function again. Except note to self: don’t do perspective pics with a migraine (yes, I know the perspective is a bit off in the town pic). I’m still experiencing some aftereffects of the migraine, so there might be some extra spelling/grammar errors because I’m actually not that fond of looking at text at times right now so my last editing round may have been a bit sloppy. But this… thing wanted to be finished so I finished it. Yay. Also I’m a bit stuck with my main story, so at least I can pretend to be productive with this while I sort out the problems/future problems my story has right now.

So not sure what I accomplished with this, except getting into Tad’s head and talking a bit about his backstory, which is pretty much just… well, him being what he is. I guess this did reveal a detail that maybe hasn’t become that apparent in the main story: From the very beginning, I’ve thought of Tad (and all the other anthropomorphic personifications) as gender fluid (and they also don’t have a biological gender). It may not come as much of a surprise, though; it may be one of those obvious details I just haven’t straight-up mentioned. Though I think that Tad identifies slightly more strongly as male simply because he’s starting to identify more as Tad.

Another thing I accomplished was making a reference to the Danse Macabre. I’ve been wanting to do what for a while. And the particular dance of death in the picture isn’t all that fancy and kind of small, but I’d say having the actual Death leading it makes up for that.

I could swear I’ve seen something like that last pic somewhere but I can’t remember where, and it really bothers me, but I suppose a person walking with their arms stretched to the sides is such a common pose that it’s just plain old unoriginality (shut up, spell-check, I know what I want to say) rather than copying anyone specifically. I can live with that. Also I realise now that that pic of hands on a black background really reminds me of a similar pic in raerei’s A Ghost of a Chance‘s first chapter. In my defence, though, I intended for my pic to have a white background, but I didn’t like it so I changed it at the last minute.

Like I said in the beginning, all the pics are drawn with markers and colour pencils, with some added touches made with GIMP. I hope you guys enjoyed and let me know what you think. I might be doing more of these short stories, but don’t worry, the main story is of course going to take top priority. Also don’t worry: I’m not going to illustrate all of the short stories myself; this one just insisted on looking like this in my head.