All-Father and the Three Daughters Of Pain
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Once upon a time, in the days when the gods walked among the people, the children taught the elderly, and the fools ruled the countries, there lived the Mother of Pain and her three daughters: the eldest Salari, the middle child Akawa, and the youngest Onna. The Mother of Pain taught people that pain is honesty, and only through suffering can one become pure in the eyes of the All-Father.

Some people loved and revered her, but she also had jealous rivals. The Supreme Council of Power feared her, because they could neither comprehend nor take control of the pain that gave her strength; because they were unable to ward off the fears that hindered their ability to understand and accept the pain; because they were accustomed to being stronger and braver than all others.

They tried to get rid of the doctrine of pain for fear of losing control over those who were not intimidated by weapons or cages, those who focused their strength solely on causing pain and the fear of it.

The Council hired false teachers to confuse the disciples of the Mother, hired cutthroats to kill the teachers of the Mother, and hired healers to combat the pain of the Mother. When all their tricks and schemes had ceased to help, the Supreme Council of Powers decided to eliminate the problem at the root and kill the Mother of Pain. That same night, the thirteen best killers, weaponsmiths, and poisoners, began to prepare for the attempt. After a month, the most dexterous and skillful killer had smeared the poison of a thousand creeping things on the most razor-sharp dagger, capable of cutting through anything. When night fell, he crept like a ghost into the Mother’s chambers in the Temple of Pure Pain, weaving between columns studded with spikes and over a floor covered with hot coals. He made just one tiny incision behind her right ear, and the poison finished his dirty work.

The three Sisters and the remaining disciples grieved over the deceased, mourning her with bloody tears while the lashes of a thousand whips cracked across the temple.

In a week's time, some of the disciples had already left the temple. One evening there was a knock at the door of the room where the three daughters lived. They were surprised, because they had not expected guests, but they opened the door. Before them stood a tall and stately man, his body covered in roaming human faces which appeared and disappeared like sea foam.

All mouths began to speak in unison: "I am All-Father. I know about your grief. I regret your loss, as this is my loss as well. I loved your mother, and she loved me. I came to you so that one of you may become my new wife. I know that not one of you is ready for this yet. I give you a year to search for knowledge so that you can surpass your mother in taming pain. I will take the most skilled of you as a wife; she will give me an heir and will be gifted with great power. I will kill the other two, and nowhere will you hide from me."

With these words, he simply disappeared into nowhere, and the sisters began to think what to do. All night they argued, cursed, and quarreled. By morning, each decided to surpass the other two and prove that she alone was right. They divided the remaining disciples and each went their own way, agreeing to meet at the same place a year later. After consideration, each of them set to work, guided by their own understanding of what constitutes true Pain, and how it can be achieved.

The elder sister, Salari, decided that only the pain that is inherent in every living creature may be true. Pain that teaches, not punishes. Pain that shows the right path. Therefore, the flesh would be the best material to create that which lives and suffers, just as wood is the best material to create the inanimate and indifferent. Taking knives and needles, toxins and tonics, she set to work with mirth and joy. She cut and stitched, broke and spliced, fused and sprinkled, drew out the primordial pain that only the Flesh can feel by nature. Culling the weak, she encouraged the strong. Culling the strong, she fed the weak.

Akawa, the middle sister, judiciously decided that Flesh was not the source of Pain, but only raw material—the raw material with which she would feed her monstrous mechanisms in order to concentrate such flows of Pain that nothing living would ever be capable of; raw material that would be purged of all impurities, excesses and shortcomings; raw material for bonfires that illuminate the darkness of ignorance and fear. She would free people from the shackles of their feelings and emotions, and forge a new, perfect race.

The youngest, wistful Onna, considered that neither the flesh, nor anything created by the flesh, nor anything in the physical world, is capable of true Pain, for the flesh is weak and cannot withstand it, and the machinery applied to it were crude and cumbersome. Siphoning Stygian sorcery from the gloomy and monstrous depths of the underworld, she poured it into her chimeras sewn from long-dead flesh, re-breathing into them a terrible and doomed semblance of life. There was detachment in their gaze, for their eyes looked at the world of the living, but saw the world of the dead and suffering, which they themselves were.

The sisters did not hide their methods of work from each other, if only because each of them considered the methods of the other two to be erroneous and not particularly interesting. For a whole year they worked hard, inventing and substantiating what they had envisioned. When the year had finally passed, the Temple of Pure Pain was approached by three processions of incredible creatures, creations, and crafts from faraway unheard-of lands, and at a distance behind them ran a crowd of people who had arrived just in time to catch sight of it all, frightened and amazed.

There was a jolly circus resembling the ones found in Asia, its performers seemingly draped in red robes—hues of blood and naked flesh—which upon closer examination turned out to not be robes at all. Gymnasts with a multiplicity of joints and limbs tumbled like dandelion fluffs carried by a light breeze, beaming at the crowd with the snow-white smiles of affectionate predators. Fakirs strode forward with gravitas—their unnaturally long arms fell off their bodies and strode forth on their own. Some, flexible as serpents, painted intricate patterns on the ground in fresh scarlet blood that smelt of cinnamon of cinnamon, while others, growing dozens of graceful fingers, tapped out a cheerful tune, like hundreds of tiny drums. Then, having sufficiently amused the crowd of onlookers, the limbs latched themselves back into place. At the end of the procession, a gigantic beast with eight legs walked majestically, reminiscent of the ancient 'elefantata' that lived beyond a hundred seas. A plethora of musicians and singers, praising their mistress, spreads across its tusks—or, perhaps, horns. Its rough hide was covered with elaborate rootlike scars, and as soon as you glanced away, the pattern changed to a completely different one, telling about the miracles that the troupe saw along their journey. The back of the beast was crowned by the closed bud of a giant bloody flower.

There was a stern parade of half-humans, their other halves consisting of brushed black metal, from afar resembling soldiers in austere uniforms. Partially tin soldiers militantly marched, snapping their joints and heels, exchanging places with each other in a perfectly geometric dance of blades. The edges of their ceremonial sabers flashed so dangerously close that if blood marched beneath their skin, it would have certainly stained their tunics. Young men and women walked behind them on limbs which extended and contracted like telescopes, oscillating lower and higher. They deftly snatched intricate toys from a self-propelled cart trailing behind and distributed them to excited children. Like a swarm of hornets, the lame of limb skittered all throughout the air, breaking the silence with the roar of their propeller engines. A fool might have brushed aside the noise and not heard the rhythm in it, much less the music. From time to time, flashes of unnatural light and the crackling, tearing power of the heavens bolted through the ranks. The system was perfect, the step impeccable, the alignment infallible.

There was a fairytale carnival of corpses and ghosts, pale and white. Good-natured and pot-bellied giants, sewn from many bodies, waddled along slowly, their shoulders covered with dozens of black candles. Prancing lights tore through the semi-darkness that enveloped the spectacle in spite of the sunny sky. They danced in circles above the ground, whirling round and round: translucent maidens and children, whose laughter resembled the sound of a sharpened blade stroked across a violin, as if some curious child meant to extract the music inside. Bodies curved in huge flasks decorated with arcane letters, gazing at onlookers with unblinking glances. If one of the imprisoned began a dance by their lonesome, the nearest giant would raise the vessel above his head and a gladsome ethereal dance would begin to circle around, trying to match the rhythm of silence. Sly jesters in skeletal masks cavorted about at the forefront of it all, disappearing and reappearing by turns. Those who were particularly attentive may have noticed that the revelers' masks were different upon every reappearance, and for the whole duration of their ride none were repeated. So enthralled they were in their eerie reverie that they hardly seemed aware of the world around them.

Only the brides themselves remained to be seen, for none would lay eyes on them any earlier than the one for whom all this was created.

The door of the Temple opened and the All-Father emerged. There was a long silence as he gazed upon all three companies at once with his many faces smiling at them.

“I see your efforts,” he said finally. “I appreciated your skill. I found your shortcomings. Now I want to discover how you yourself have changed during this time. I want to know what you've come to understand.”

The red retinue danced and swirled around their mighty behemoth. The back of the beast slowly split asunder with a roaring tear, and a blood-red stem grew out of it, raising the bud to heaven. Under the ecstatic glances of the crowd, the flower bloomed open and everyone saw Salari proudly seated within, like a many-armed goddess. During the time spent in the study of the flesh, the Elder Sister realized that the opportunities inherent in this flesh should be used to the fullest, improving joints, developing muscles, and of course, stinging nerves. Skillfully jumping to her feet, she somersaulted into the air, gracefully landed, danced a brief and therefore all the more dizzying dance, demonstrating all the flexibility, dexterity and strength of her body, and in the end, drew a long snake from her mouth that immediately spewed into the air a whole flock of unimaginable birds, altered by a caring hand, but not that of Mother Nature. The audience gasped, and Salari, greeting the All-Father, made a skillful curtsy, after which, without turning around, she waved to the audience with her multi-jointed hands. Her naked body resembled a clownish outfit, the squares on which were grafted scraps and patches of her own skin.

Seven brave officers, shackled in dark metal and tin, came forward from the black retinue. They lined up neatly in a square and immediately began to fold into a high throne, breaking and distorting their bodies. The throne was unnaturally high, and it rose above the crowd like an impregnable castle, covered with spikes and turrets. There was the crackling sound of metal, and those around them felt the air being electrified. The remains of the retinue bent in unnatural poses, releasing metal tentacles from their bodies ending in hooks and bladed limbs. They climbed each other, assembling into the looming likeness of a giant figure. After a few seconds, a silent mask with the face of the second sister was looking at the All-Father. Over the past year, Akawa had honed her logical thinking and practicality, successfully applying to herself everything that she learned. Her body was arranged as pragmatically as possible, devoid of all that was superfluous and equipped with all that she had once lacked. She was huge and majestic, like the Colossus in the legends of the old gods. Each finger of her giant hand ended with yet another hand, some of which were equipped with a variety of tools: from a ruler to a small circular saw, from blades to flamethrowers. Her perfect semi-mechanical body appeared to be dressed in a black work overalls, though still feminine, adorned with a geometric pattern pleasing to a perfectionist's eye. Akawa threw up her right hand in a military salute to the All-Father.

The pallid retinue quickly gathered in a circle. A flash of white-hot flame appeared as they sang out a mantra full of pain and delight. The air trembled between them, and a crystal bottle was woven from the vibrations, set among burning candles and black chains atop a high throne of human bones arranged in a crablike formation. Outgrowths of flesh gathered over the bones, forming mouths that filled with howls while dozens of hands adorned with tattoos and jewelry began to grasp toward the vessel that towered above. In the midst of the bottle, shrouded in a dark fog that shone with the glimmer of a starry sky on a clouded night, Onna shimmered like the thin crescent of a waxing moon. Over the year, the youngest Sister had fixed upon her conviction in the worthlessness of the flesh, and therefore granted herself deliverance from her body in near totality. Suspended at the center of the vessel was her bare skeleton, bereft of limbs, meat, and organs, her skin having been bleached and fashioned into the elegant hooded cloak and mask she now wore. Paintbrushes, whips, chisels, and magic wands soared around her—the instruments of her creativity, not to be wielded by clumsy human hands, but purely by the will of her suffering spirit and the strength of her boundless imagination. Onna gave a graceful bow before the All-Father, modestly lowering her gaze and as if shy.

The All-Father's many eyes carefully observed the beautiful Sisters and the works created by them. He started stared in silence, seeing past their bodies and studying their minds and souls.

“I have looked at you,” he said then, “and I see you as beautiful. I must make my choice. I will resolve your dispute.”

And he went to the temple, and the Sisters went after him, leaving the people to suffer in ignorance and conjecture.

Many believe that it unfolded as he had promised: he killed two of the Sisters and married the third. However… to a mortal, the motives of the All-Father are entangled beyond comprehensibility. The Sister he had taken as his bride was deprived of any memory of what came to pass. Likewise, the Sisters killed by the All-Father have lost the memory as well. No longer living and yet not truly dead, they have continued their contest ever since, endlessly attempting to best one another.

Through their disciples, the sisters continue to create more and more remarkable living sculptures, each in its own unique style. We all know the riding worm, the chaste horse, and the voracious pig, carefully nurtured by Salari. Everyone knows of the silent singer, the quick-footed runner, and the many-armed murderer, who Akawa made. There is none who has not heard of the screaming-silent spinor, the fat hunter, or the one who crawls beneath the throne, through which Onna embodied her secret art.

And not a one has yet seen the Heir, within whom lurks the answer to the question of which Sister was the child's mother. No one even knows whether the Heir has been born at all, or if every creation of the Sisters is an attempt to conceive it.

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