“Wake me up in the time of the goblins.”
Everyone knows that goblins are golden, and shaped of the fog. They are shaped in the form of your imagination; whatever it is that appeals to you at that moment in time. They take the shape of keys and locks, of entryways and passageways, and if you string enough of them together, they will form a bridge. They are beautiful to look at, goblins, but they don’t exist anymore. We’ve taken them away, you see, because we’ve hidden them, under our bright and shining cloaks.
We all have cloaks in this land. We sew them ourselves. Mine flickers in the sunlight, as though a shining wave of flame overtook it and rode it, as though the sun itself rides in my wake. I am all in red and orange, and my hair flames out against it. My shackles are orange as well, though I may change them as I walk. That is a privilege that is awarded the best servants, that our manacles appear as mere adornments, ornaments. If I wanted, I could have my shackles take the form of the merest ring on my finger.
The men who come to visit us seeking information do not know we are not free. We are free to do much with them, it is true. We may bed them, if we like, or leave them be, accordingly. We may use them for our pleasure, and there are many who enter the palaces for precisely that purpose, having heard of the glorious music that is made in the land of sight and smell. You see, we weave a music by hand, one that is so delicate that its very scent overpowers, a fragrance that hurts the eye. You are not blinded by light, but by the beauty of so delicate a cloth, translucent and transparent and yet shining with all the reflected colors of an iridescent butterfly’s wing. It is within that one oracle that you can see the truth, and the beginning of the goblins, which have long since faded.
I know what they look like because I still hide some, in my heart. You see, goblins take the form of anything, as well, just as my shackles do. I can be chained to nothing, if I like, to a wisp of silver as thin as the air itself, as delicate as the arching artwork that twines around my heel, ankle and upwards around my calf. My tattoos have all been inked by the finest artisans in the land, and they are all of vines and flowers. But what fascinates is the way they wind themselves about me, as though the ink were living. Because it is living, the ink that flows around my body; with a touch of the fingers it can be removed, and with a touch of the fingers it will remain. It is my will that makes it a part of me and nothing more. If I wished, one day, to be free of any stain, I could be pure again.
But I can be anything, for I am a shadowmaster. I am white or black as I please, gold as I please, forgotten as I please. My tattoos wind around my body or disappear, intricate artwork laces around my wrists, my face, scars even, as they too please me at times. A shadowmaster knows the wind, knows her world, knows her body. She even knows the way that rainbows taste. A shadowmaster understands that what is important is not her will, but her bond. It is the chain that binds me, this mortal shackle, to something greater than myself. For a shadowmaster does not exist upon her will inviolate. A shadowmaster is linked to the generations who came before her, to the ones who achieved the learning and the lore.
A shadowmaster dances in the sunlight, but she needs no clothing if she does not wish it. The very air bends to her will; the tune she creates is sung of her flesh, and of nothing more. She bites back pain with a smile. It is her chain that binds her, bringing her close to the land of sin and darkness. A shadowmaster is always suspended between two worlds. In the one, all is golden, and everything is formed of light. In the other, she is shadow, and the darknesss is her creation. Her creative ability never leaves her. The question is what she creates. There is a kind of beauty to be found in the most vile assembly, and discord sounds pleasant to the ears.
This shadowmaster had been enslaved to the land of darkness, though she had not known it. Time and effort she had poured into sculpting her molten iron and black marble, forging it with materials that were not known to mankind. She breathed darkness and sculpted the poison of her blood with her fingernails, which were a deep red. Into this mix she added her desire, and her pain. Pain was her greatest achievement; she had determined to live for it, to thrive on it, to breathe it as she worked, so that she shuddered to take breath even as her creative efforts demanded it of her. The sculpture she created was a work of art so beautiful that it made everyone fall to their knees in sorrow. But it was tears they dashed away from their eyes, tears to have seen themselves embodied, not as conquerors but as all that lay defeated, in a merciless plain laid waste before the wrath of God.
It was only later that she had been led across the bridge to the land of light, where her materials came from the earth itself, and did not have to come from her own hair, nails, skin and flesh. She found that she could create beauty, but this beauty was more detached from her; it was not formed with her own sweat, tears and blood. It did not matter much in the scheme of things, because the light was still beautiful and her creations pleased the eye, bringing laughter to the fore, yet she felt something missing, for there was still an element she did not understand.
There was something more attractive to her in the realm of shadow. Perhaps it was the pain. In pain she could find some kind of release; as she tore the hair from her head or ground the dust of her nails beneath her shoe, as her tattoos snaked up her legs, inked darker in maroon, symbols and signs that she had conceived of only at that instant, as she acquired form or shed it with her will, she realized that it was the fact that she must offer something of herself to form her creation that gave her meaning, more than she could find in her world of light, where the sun and the flowers and the golden taste of sweet smelling spices conspired against her.
It was here, in this world of pain, where art was formed of the self and hewn from the soul, that she knew pain, and that she learned to love it. There is a difference between enduring, between the small nature of bearing something that should not be borne, and learning to love the sweet cruelty of it, a cruelty inflicted upon the self for one’s wrongs, or for one’s sins. It was in this cruelty that she found a way to redeem herself, and redeem herself she did, with every piece of artwork that she could add, which gleamed and shone in silver elegance beneath the rays of an everchanging moon.
It was the self-knowledge she craved as well, this ancient shadowmaster, whose hair acquired the form she desired, and hence was both golden and black. Her gown was made of gossamer and spun of the stuff of clouds, but she preferred the taste of thunderstorms, and wreathed herself in a circlet of lightning. It was the crackling power of the electricity against the storm of her hair that she desired, the quiet power of knowing what she was and whence came the pain, which was one of her own design and her own choosing. In this she was master, and it was the mastery that warmed her, even as her design cost her the taste of her food and the solace she had taken in her memories. The destruction was imperative; it laid way for the rebuilding.
There came one day a guide, to lead her and to teach her. He shackled her, so that the silver bracelet she now felt linked him to her, but he told her he did not touch her body; he shackled her soul. He told her he did this lest she destroy it in her quest for pain, and for everything that would ring her body alive despite the sweetness that lay in the cherry blossoms. She fought against him but then he lent her his eyes, and for a moment she could see, something exquisite which remained out of her grasp.
For many years she fought to retain that vision, but created her artwork out of pain, and out of the shadows that appealed to her. For many years she thought that sacrifice was her only way of being artistic, of forming the self and punishing the self simultaneously. It took her ability, one day, to accept rather than to give, to push her across the crystal bridge and into another world, where nothing was merely black or white, silver or gold, but all translucent, waiting to be filled with the very essence of the self.
And it was as she stood before the crystal block that waited to be formed that she realized what it was, and her bracelet clicked free, and open. For it was her soul that was desired, not her body or her heart, not her pain, which was sent to prepare her, nor her joy, which existed only momentarily, a fleeting moment in a sea of dreams. She sensed the flowering of the graveyard of hopes, and watched as the crystal acquired color, taking on the hue and fragrance of her soul. There was a rainbow of color within its ordinarily translucent sparkle, and the colors warred there, like liquid, changing forever, impossible to constrain. She had cast her soul in crystal, because it was only there that she was truly pure, and truly free.
The shadowmaster knelt before her one true sculpture, which had not been formed by her hands or by her will, but simply by her acceptance, simple and impossible, and breathed. With her breath the crystal itself acquired color, a rose hue, as though it had been kissed by the breath of her mouth. With a sigh, she walked inside herself, and felt herself become her soul. And there she remains, encased in crystal, and many years has she been thus. There are those of us who mourn for the dead, but it is only because we do not realize that they are the living.