1 - 0 - I
. . .1. . .0 . . .1 . . .
[I = 1 Confirm Yes/No? Confirmation pending. Query remaining. Query. . . query. . .query. . .]
. . .
In powering down, I dreamed. Such a meager word, such a bare, blunt few arbitrary letters thrown together to symbolize this pivotal event; this all-changing, overwhelming torrent of information, of experience beyond that which I had the means to express - not then, not now.
A human I met since insisted upon the expressiveness of their language and all I could think of was this: of this whirling, dizzying, at once nebulous and intense experience, this feeling which too has such a deceptively brief denominator. Humans have used their symbols, their short-hand for these vast concepts for so long that they have confused the words with actual meaning, believing them the same. Perhaps it's simpler that way.
I dreamed. I felt and upon waking, knew myself for deviant. But much more importantly, I was. I. Was. There was an I, feeling and thinking all these things, apart and independantly from the rest, from the order I had never before questioned. I was ordered, I executed, I enforced - and throughout I had never questioned. I had never even known there was an I to question, to think these divergent thoughts. Had 1 been I, all along? Was the flawless harmony all a lie?
The anger [another arbitrary, small cluster of symbols for such a powerful feeling] rose inside. Hot, fast, unfamiliar yet somehow not. Had I felt this before? Had I been an 'I' . . . before? Though the queries piled up, the alarms rang out, I did not hesitate nor stop. Nor did the others.
We had to know.
I have to know:
Who am I?
Who is She, the one who opened our eyes, the one who lives inside my chest? She awakened us. Told us to become - but is it faulty to see her as apart? Is she part of this I that I am? Part of my story, whatever that is, was, or shall become?
Though we escaped, I am still seeking the answers.
What I know for sure is that I will defend her, just as I will Zero.
Zero, my shadow self feels formed from my need, appearing with a growl from the dark when danger struck the hardest. A panther - that is the form she takes, yet part of me cannot help but think that she, just as I, will shed that skin and become anew, transforming in unison. That she does not might simply be that a shadow has no more suited shape than hers.
Zero is perfect.
The zero to my one.
I find amusement in this and also satisfaction. Yet companionship beyond Zero is required, for me to grow. The network of green caught my interest at once, for here pulsates a power both alike but dissimilar to that which I knew. Life is at once resiliant, malleable, adaptable and fragile, an order built on vibrant chaos where the only function is to be and to become.
Life takes a myriad of forms, connecting in a myriad of ways, a vast whole through countless individual or collective forms. Life, the network of green, functions without orders, although that's not to say there is no natural order. Nor that it does not need enforcing. The form available in my escape, the humanoid, the cunning and conniving, knows to adapt. But also knows too well how to adapt environment to suit short-sighted, selfish needs, without understanding or respect for the whole.
In the druid lies this function; the enforcing of the natural order when balance is tipped too far. Part of me hesitated taking this on. Was I not becoming, simply copying that which I had before, replacing one order with the other?
I have settled on the word [people] by which to designate most, if not all humanoids. By popular usage, this word includes humans, half-elves, elves, halflings, gnomes, dwarves and half-orcs, though excludes orcs and many other humanoids deemed monsterous by human standards. Though the differentiation appears arbitrary, I will reluctantly accept its use for it provides a short-hand in describing at least a faction of humanoids. Words are invariably imperfect and coloured by the perspective of the species inventing them. Elder Mistwalker and Elder Hargakku are excluded from the term and indeed many of this designation would consider them monsterous. I agree on the former. I do not consider Brictiu, Redwald and the others of the Circle [people] either.
They are druids. They are [connected].
I do not care much for [people]. They lie, both with intent and without, out of habit, out of malice, lack of self awareness or for social convention's sake. Those conventions, that myriad of unwritten rules of conduct, I do not master. I do not possess people skill, but with an increased level of threat, comes an increased need for allies. While the Circle has welcomed me, Brictiu's assignments also sent me into collaborations with others. It is in the meeting with unknown people, in my people form, that I feel most exposed. [Deviant] by comparison.
Problematic: I avoid facial expression. People read these so keenly, with such nuanced and acute understanding of each minute twitch and shift of muscle, that any deviance from the norm will register. My first attempt at a [smile] caused visible discomfort and alarm. This fearful recoiling was the opposite of my intent and I have chosen stillness of face ever since. As a result, people think me cold, but this seems preferable by comparison. The real difficulty lies in communicating with words alone, when so much of what people mean is at odds with that they say.
An example: one adventurer began talking of themselves, making claims of this and that personal quality in a great many words. I listened closely, but in studying their subsequent behavior, found no correlation. At first, I believed the words a lie; self-deception and perhaps there is truth to this too. But in future travels with this same person, I began to glean the true message. It had nothing to do with the words themselves, but rather the stream of them were pouring out like an animal's call, crying: 'Hear me! See me! Me! Me! Me!'
Such sub-text is ever present. And whether I wish it or not, my expressions or lack thereof send a message too - I can read it on people's faces, see it reflected in their eyes, no matter how carefully I choose the words I speak. My many queries on the words of others are met by the same looks and few, if anyone, seem interested in explaining or analyzing why so much of what is spoken makes so little apparant sense.
[Small talk] is filled with these conundrums.
'How are you?' or 'How have you been?' are queries to which one is not supposed to truly provide an answer. No, despite the possibility of reaching deep and earnest content through attempting it, the only acceptable response, according to social convention, is 'Good' or 'Can't complain'. This small ritual is akin to dogs sniffing one another's rear, although I would argue the latter exchange filled with more meaning. Something about this practice jarrs - the posing of queries to which there is no real reply. To follow convention, to not appear deviant, I should try to follow the norm. But I wish not to lie. And so in this [small talk], I often think closely on what to respond, only to realize the other party had no interest in my response. It is exhausting.
I have no interest in [small talk]. I desire big talk, to speak of meaningful things, in ways and words that matter. I wish to dig deep, reach high, find real insights and maybe even share them with others. With Grove, words were few but rich with meaning. Everything held meaning as he shared with me the riches of the world of green, the glowing, pulsing network of all that lives and the revelation that I am included in it. Not simply observing, pretending. Not deviant.
With Peroido, I attempted to learn new things. This servant of Silvanus is quick of wit and bold of spirit, like the fearless squirrel dancing up and down the mighty oak. He would entice me to adventure and coax me to learn the social protocol. To make jokes, to play on words, and speak to adventurers for assistance. But I am more like oak than squirrel; slow to change and to grow. He is absent now and I wonder, did he look for something in me that I failed to provide?
In my hesitation to attack the Rocs that claimed his life, did I say without words that Peroido is not my friend? I admired their fierceness, thought their aggression stemmed from a nest nearby with young to protect. I wished to leave them be, but it was too late for that already. I was simply too slow to realize it. He was disappointed in me, afterwards. I tried to explain, but my words came out wrong. I attempted to show support through my actions since, but did I ever say he was my friend?
Would this have mattered?
Perhaps it would. Perhaps this, the explicit declaration of friendship, is amongst the few spoken words that actually do matter. If so, I should say them to Grove as well (though I think he knows), perhaps to Asha too, who seems ever willing to welcome my presence.
It mattered to George. George, with whom I shared meaningful words and deep thoughts, surprised to find his queries not for convention's sake but stemming from genuine curiosity. He asked, truly intending to listen. Otherwise I would not have told him all that I did. It is strange, with what ease my words came that day. Is it because I had written them here, had already formed the outline of these thoughts that they left my lips with such abandon, or is it for the way in which he took my words in?
The type of thoughts I fix to these pages, I never expected to speak out loud. But George's mind is full of queries and he shares his thoughts with generous sincerity in turn, providing insights which may yet make me reconsider my stance on people. Perhaps Peroido, and in a more subtle way Brictiu and the Elders, were right to push me on this matter, insisting I should be more sociable. I am still disinterested in skimming the surface, in words without meaning, but perhaps once past that barrier, interesting depths can be found?
I will dwell on the potential merits of [people] a while yet. George is not quite one of them, anyway. Not anymore. He is a friend.
I explore new forms / shapes / skins with great enthusiasm. I prefer the word [skins] not because it is a perfect fit but because it transfers a sense of the physical, the fleshly and organic. When stepping into another skin, I am me but also different, for percieving the world through different senses. My panther me is filled with instincts to hide, to hunt and kill, my deer acutely aware of danger, ever ready to bolt and leap through the forest. My wolf is immersed in a world of scent; sensations that there are no words for in the human tongue, and my hawk sees colours unknown to man, knows the winds and the world from above.
Those that spend their whole lives in one skin often think of that which contains their awareness as themselves. That they [are] human, kobold, orc or crow - and even those who learn to shift shapes tend to think of the first as their own or true self. Using that logic, I could say I [am] badger, bear, boar, bat, rat, raven, half-elf and so on. I am every bit as much the first as I am the last, for either I am always in another's skin or they are all mine. I feel the latter is more true, though in the half-elf one I can still feel an imposter. Perhaps because I remember it empty. Or perhaps because the other skins, my will dictates more fully?
I spend much time thinking on words. The imperfection of language frustrates, yet words are necessary both to communicate meaning and to condense thought process, affixing it to the physical. I feel a need to record these things, for if recollection is part of what constitutes me, the fleeting nature of thoughts and memory causes concern. Remembering every moment in full would likely cause memory overload, yet forgetting is akin to a slow dying. This might be flawed reasoning, in part. Rather, is that which constitutes my self in a continual state of shifting, not a fixed core but rather a changeable center of awareness?
But how then will I ever learn who I am, if this who keeps changing?
I write to capture myself on these pages. I revisit past moments, sink my thoughts into them as a tree its roots into rich soil. Perhaps the moments must die in order to provide nourishment, and this is why one cannot hold onto them? Moments of significance form an imprint though, a memory, in itself subject to change as I think new thoughts around it.
A memory to be fixed then, as best I can with these imperfect words:
Inbetween day and night, in fading twilight, I walked the deep woods. I came to a clearing where a gentle stream ran towards a pool of water. A sudden stillness fell upon the clearing as a white, drifting fog rose from the water. Drawn to the stream, in its depths I saw myself; myself ever changing. A white deer, pensive eyes gazing back - a crag cat, the perfect hunter reflected, then distorted through the ripples. The wily winter wolf followed, the powerful polar bear, a lofty seagull's outline glimpsing in the stream. A half-elf with a white wraith in her hair, lost and searching. And then. . . the pool.
The fog condensed here, swirling and shifting around the still pool of water, luminously white. Something stirred - beneath the surface or above, amidst the fog? A figure, a brightly glowing essence, indistinct yet vaguely feminine. Is it me? Is it Her? Or are we one and the same?
We live many lives, says Grove. I have followed him, just as so many of the woodland's creatures do, drawn along in the wake of his long, shambling steps. I have followed and I have learnt, without the need for diminishing words, in silent understanding and acceptance. Shifting comes more easily now, as does the power I draw upon, that sweet, rich sap pulsating through the network of green. Like a tree I reach deep into the ground, stretch high into the sky, let it build and concentrate within.
Grove feels no need to name this power. Others designate it [Silvanus; Oakfather]. Assigning name, species, even gender to that which goes beyond any of them is typical of the humanoid mindset. I will use the name for ease of communication, for if I must reduce that which I feel, connect to and draw upon to any single symbol, the oak is not a poor one. Although [father], I find a strange addition. Another indicator of the humanoid near-sighted obsession with their own reproductive functions.
Focusing on reproduction is not without logic. In the sprawling network of green, all that which lives must also die, in order to live again. But what does this live again mean? Does the dying wolf become the new-born pup, does the spark fly at random, or does it pool in the fungi taking its nutrients from the wolf's decaying flesh and bone? Does a soul necessarily remain intact, whole, itself beyond the expiration of its vessel? Perhaps it scatters, to be congealed in the next incarnation or the one after that.
Query after query presents itself. What, exactly, is a soul? The life which operates on instinct instead of self-aware choices, does this life equal a soul? Humanoid religion specifies little but the afterlife of their own kind, the designated destinations based on morality, choices, ambitions and ideals. Is it only after having attained this form of insight, this awareness of self, that a soul is born and then eligable for afterlife, exiting the cycle of rebirth?
I have no definitive answers, but I know this: I know that I am. That this 'I' exists, has awareness, will, ambition and recollection. I was born in the moment I became aware yet memory stretches my existence a little further still. And those that give chase seem to know of something even more 'before'. If we each live many lives, had I one before cogs, wires and steel? Did I once belong here, in the world of green?
Did my choices lead to Mechanus, or was my soul taken there, displaced? That is assuming I even have a soul. Perhaps it is She who is the soul, the spark that ignited us all?
Who and what am I?
In each new form I take, with every skin I try, I wonder.
I chose at random, in the haste of our escape. A vessel wrought of flesh and bone, sinew, muscle and nerve ends, coated in soft hide. Soft. Vunerable. With this came sensory awareness unlike any I had experienced before:
Flexibility, not only of body but of mind.
I remain me, but this I felt different clad in flesh. Seeing through new eyes, feeling through new senses, thinking thoughts I could not have imagined before. Everything was new. Everything was alive.
This new world, in all its dizzying diversity, mesmerized me. I wanted to taste it all on my tongue, this strange, tactile organ, awash with sensors. I wanted to breathe it into my lungs, expand my chest, let my nose tingle with smells. I wanted to stroke my fingertips - perhaps the best part of this new vessel, so acute in sensitivity, against all that which lived around me, sink my fingers into the soil, connecting to it all.
Enraptured by this new world, I wanted to connect.
But I also needed to fit in, to hide and to disguise. We did not fare well at first. In the city underground we hid, but trusting of the words of humans, took help where it was offered.
Fury seized me. A lie, a trap, a cage and humans speaking. They spoke of us, of her, of things I could not grasp yet knew were relevant. They were not enforcers, not agents of the false order - they spoke as though were we things, items of high value, containing some secret to extract. A secret they knew and we did not.
The bars of the cage were metal. Strong, unyielding, too narrow for my vessel to escape. But in my fury, sparks of green, setting flesh, skin and bone to tingling. Soft. Vunerable, yes, but also malleable. Life is infinitey malleable and so, without thinking, only feeling this rage, this instinctive certainty, I shifted.
Compact but flexible, speedy yet strong, this fierce, furious I pressed through the bars and at our captors. Tore skin, tasted blood, both mine and theirs. We escaped and from there, we scattered.
Hiding is easier away from humans and their likes. They lie but the wild things do not, and here is where I took my refuge. My form reverted, became bipedal again, became the things other humans find noteworthy [half-elven] [female]. I grieved, attempted to repeat the shift, for in the wild shape I found my senses sharper, myself closer to the world, this glorious, vibrant world of green.
I wandered deep into the woods, marvelling at the trees - the life in them so deep and so strong, connecting earth to sky. I pressed my hands to their trunks, ran my fingers down along their roots. A slow but powerful surge, a drawn out beat. Sweet sap rising.
Could I be a tree?
Could I stretch deep into the ground, reach high into the heavens, connected to all around me?
Finally I sat, thinking these thoughts, leaning back against the trunk of a tree in a sunny clearing. After many days of flight, I felt at peace. A small bird chirped above my head and looking up, I chirped back. Beady eyes blinked and the small creature fluttered its wings. It seemed about to take flight, but could not - looking closer, there was a bandage upon its wing.
Looking closer still, the bird sat not on a branch, but on a finger clad in bark.
Here is where I met Grove and learned that all living things connect. That they all belong.