Thursday, February 23, 2012

How Hatanku Almost Ate the Sun

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It was Escape Artists, and someone requested a story about the Mother of All Lizards. I've recently started swearing by "Mother of All Lizards!" (or sometimes just "Sweet Mother of Lizards" - as in "Sweet Mother of Lizards, we're not going to have this thread again, are we?"). This story is actually about the Father of All Lizards.

I don't know. It just kind of fell out of my head. I don't think I can sell this - people just don't go for mythic fiction right now - so I'll give it to you. Enjoy.

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How Hatanku Almost Ate the Sun
By Mark L. S. Stone

It was winter in the land, and Hatanku was very unhappy. Like all lizards - even those who are also gods - Hatanku has always hated the cold and the dark and loved the heat and the light. Being a clever and ambitious lizard - even for one who is also a god - Hatanku decided that he would climb up to the sun to bask. Surely, in the heavens, it would be warm enough!

Hatanku set off. He crawled up the tallest mountain - inch by lizard inch - and came to the First Gate of the Sun. There, at the First Gate of the Sun, was Uzuzdu the Beetle, who is the least among the the Sun's guardians.
Now, Hatanku is not a reputable god, and he knew it, so before he came in view of Uzudzu the Beetle, he changed his shape. Instead of his beautiful sand-yellow scales, proud and regal beard of spines, and long manly tail, Hatanku wore the glossy green-black shell and delicate wings of the dragonfly.

"Hello brother dragonfly," Uzuzdu said.

"Hello brother beetle," said Hatanku.

"Where are you going in such a hurry?"

"I am seeking passage through the First Gate of the Sun."

"And what is your business of the heavens?"

"It's so very cold, brother beetle," Hatanku whined, "too cold for a dragonfly like me. I was hoping that you would be kind enough to let me through the First Gate. If I could get even a little closer to the sun, it would be so much warmer."

Uzudzu smiled. "Why, all you have to do is ask. I let all my cousins through - where do you think all the insects go in the winter?" With that, Uzudzu the Beetle stepped aside to let Hatanku pass.

As soon as Uzudzu was out of sight, Hatanku resumed his natural shape and continued to walk through the lowest layer of the heavens. It was warmer here, but not a lot warmer. Hatanku continued to walk until he reached the Second Gate of the Sun, which was guarded by Razok, the Golden Hawk, the middlemost of the sun's guardians.

Hatanku knew that his antics had gotten him a bad name, even in the lower heavens, so he changed his shape again. This time, he became a little sparrow - though he was careful to turn himself into a particularly bony and unappealing sparrow, since Razok was not above hunting his littler cousins.

Razok narrowed his eyes at the little sparrow he saw.

"What is your business beyond the Second Gate of the Sun?" he demanded.

"Why, it's so cold on the earth, and I was hoping-"

"The higher heavens are not for the likes of you!" Razok snapped.

Hatanku, always adaptable in the face of adversity, changed his tactics. "Oh, Razok the Golden Hawk, he of the most beautiful feathers and sharpest beak, I only hoped that if I came to bask in the radiance of the upper heavens, I could maybe become half as handsome as you!"

Now, these words grated on Hatanku's tongue as he spoke them. Birds and lizards have hated each other for a long time, and Hatanku and Razok were no exceptions. If Razok had known who he was speaking to, he would have snatched him up in his beak then and there.

But, Razok - never the brightest creature in the world - was taken in. He preened and smiled down at Hatanku.

"Better say a third as handsome as I."

"Oh yes. Barely a quarter. But it would still be an improvement to one so miserable as myself. Why, did you know that last mating season I-"

Razok interrupted again. "Please, spare me your romantic difficulties. You may pass through the Second Gate and bask in the light of the upper world, but don't stay too long and try not to annoy anyone."

Hatanku fell over himself with apologies and crept through the Second Gate, pausing to make a rude gesture at Razok's back as he passed.

The upper heavens were very warm, and Hatanku could have been happy - or at least happier than he had been on earth - but he had come to far to stop before reaching his goal. At last, Hatanku came to the Ultimate Gate itself, the most glorious golden gate, beautifying even the upper heavens with its presence.

Before the Ultimate Gate stood Biorkas, the Guardian of the Sun. Biorkas had the form of a man, tall and strong. His spear was a sunbeam and his armor was made of gold and electrum. He laughed at Hatanku's attempt to change his shape and returned him to his natural form with a wave of his hand.

"Little lizard who made the world," Biorkas said, "you are far from the earth that is your home. Without your guidance all manner of things are going wrong. Why are you here?"

"I'm here to bask at the sun," Hatanku said. "It's so cold down there!"

Biorkas nodded understandingly, though his customary mocking expression did not fade. "I'm afraid that I can't let you pass. The world is disordered enough by your absence, little lizard. Please return the way you came. Summer will come soon enough."

Now, Hatanku had not come all this way to fail now. He puffed up his beard in annoyance, then pulled it back in again.

"But Biorkas, it's so cold. Maybe I could bask for a little while?"

Biorkas shook his head.

"I can make it worth your while?" Hatanku finally offered.

This aroused Biorkas's interest, because there are few things as valuable as a boon from Hatanku, the Lizard Who Ate the Fish. Although Biorkas tried to keep his face impassive, Hatanku could tell that he had found an opening.

"It must be very hard to stand guard at the Ultimate Gate," Hatanku said. "The sun must be so very hot upon the back of your neck whenever the door opens."

"It's true," Biorkas admitted warily. "The sun is very hot."

"Let me make you an umbrella out of my skin. In return, will you let me past the Ultimate Gate?"

"Won't it be difficult for you to live without your skin?"

"Oh yes," Hatanku lied. "It will be a terrible hardship. But I'm so cold that I don't care. Do I have your agreement? In return for an umbrella made out of my skin, you'll let me past the Ultimate Gate?"

With a sigh, Biorkas agreed. Before the Guardian could change his mind, Hatanku wriggled out of his skin, and with a few sticks, fashioned Biorkas an umbrella. In case you do not know, every lizard has an outer layer to his skin, which he sheds when it becomes too dull, worn, or simply too small. This layer does not have the depth of the lizard's true skin, and is as delicate and translucent as rice paper.

Biorkas gazed at the umbrella in disbelief. "How will this protect me from the fury of the sun?"

Hatanku shrugged - if a lizard can be said to do such a thing, even a lizard who is a god - and said "that is none of my concern - you agreed to let me pass in return for an umbrella, and that's what I have given you!"

Biorkas laughed again, honored to have been tricked by Hatanku, the Lizard Who Ate the Fish and creator of the world, and let Hatanku pass through the Ultimate Gate. To this day, it is said, Biorkas carries the umbrella with him as a memento of humility - not that it helps, much.

Beyond the Ultimate Gate, Hatanku found the sun, a golden ball of light and heat that finally - finally! - drove warmth into the bottoms of his bones. Hatanku laid himself out next to it and soaked in the heat.

But the sun was so beautiful that Hatanku couldn't resist the temptation to crawl a little closer.

And the sun was so delicious that Hatanku couldn't resist giving it a little lick.

And it was so tasty, that with a guilty look over his shoulder at the Ultimate Gate, beyond which Biorkas still stood guard, Hatanku ate it.

Immediately, the whole world was plunged into chaos. The levels of heaven fell into each other and the depths rose up to swallow the world. Chaos and confusion reigned everywhere.

As for Hatanku himself? He fell all the way down, through the heavens, through the sky, and into the ocean. Everywhere around him was dark and cold, but inside himself was so much light and warmth that he couldn't help but be contented. Hatanku sat happily in the ocean, which bubbled and frothed around him. All the life in the world huddled close to him, too happy to have found a way to survive to be confused at the fact that all the world's heat now came from a lizard.

Then, something shifted uncomfortably inside Hatanku's insides.

Hatanku wriggled in dismay.

The something shifted again.

Hatanku gulped and puffed out his beard.

Perhaps Hatanku would have kept his meal inside him, but at just that moment his old nemesis - Uknatah, the Fish Who Ate the Lizard, who lives in the depths of the ocean and longs for the dark and cold of the emptiness before the world - could not help herself. Hatanku's glowing tail, resembled one of the worms Uknatah loves to feed upon. She bit it, breaking Hatanku's concentration. With a terrible noise - and a terrible smell, to be sure - Hatanku shat the sun back out into the ocean.

Thus does the evil of Uknatah, the Fish Who Ate the Lizard - who longs only for destruction - prove its own undoing, while Hatanku - the Lizard Who Ate the Fish and creator of the world - can do no lasting harm, despite his mischievous nature.

The sun immediately rushed back to its place in the heavens, and the order of the world was restored to it. Uknatah fled back into the depths and all the living things of the world was carried back to their proper places by the enormous wave produced by the sun's passage. Even Hatanku was carried back to his customary rock, where he blinked in confusion and then began to sulk.

After all that, it was still winter, and he was still cold.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Death Spiral

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"Death Spiral" is not the name of a goth metal band, but it should be.
Actually, I was introduced to the term "Death Spiral" by RPGs. In an RPG context, a Death Spiral is a rule that causes a character (or other entity) to become less effective as it approaches death. For characters, this has the effect of heightening tension and increasing drama. As the character becomes increasingly injured, he or she must struggle on despite the pain and handicap of wounds. Death Spirals - although for this to work they usually have to be accompanied by a mechanic for ignoring them at some cost - can often produce some awesome "from hell's heart I stab at thee" moments.
Of course, there are problems with Death Spirals. For one thing, the "circle round and beat the crap out of an increasingly crippled opponent" scene isn't much cooler than it sounds. A few games have done interesting things with inverted or otherwise altered Death Spirals that make opponents different or just plain nastier as they get more hurt, which is counter-intuitive, but usually a lot more fun, in that it produces rising action over the course of a battle, rather than falling action.
In the last few minutes, I've also learned that Death Spiral can also refer to some economics conditions, too.
But I digress. I'm here to talk about the Death Spiral in terms of sleep.
The Stress-Work-Sleep Death Spiral goes like this:
First, I am stressed. This is a general condition of my life. Then, I have work to do (also a general condition of my life). Because I am stressed, I am often doing the work at odd hours of the night. As it gets later, I get more tired, which reduces my efficiency and increases my stress. Which reduces my efficiency. Which causes it to become later. Which increases my weariness. Which reduces my efficiency.
And so on.
This is probably the worst thing about reality. Time, man, it totally blows. I would totally arrange things differently if it were up to me.
I think that recognizing the Stress-Work-Sleep Death Spiral (SWS Death Spiral, or SWSDS, for short) has helped me to avoid it, or at least mitigate it. The problem with totally preventing the SWS Death Spiral is that it acts upon the part of my brain that, well, acts. I may see it coming, but that doesn't mean I can do anything about it because it's the parts of me that manages time, makes decision, and works creatively that are slowed down, skewed sideways, and otherwise fucked up. However, there is something powerful about sitting in front of my computer at 12:45 AM and saying "damn, I know what this is - this is the Death Spiral" that helps. It opens the door to radical solutions, like "fuck it - I'm going to go to bed and set the alarm for 5:30 so I have time to do this before school" (a personal favorite). On a smaller scale, it sometimes helps spur me on to make more intelligent decisions about how to manage my time and reach the inevitable conclusion of the SWS Death Spiral - finishing my work and going, the fuck, to sleep.