REPOST/LNH20: LNH20 Comics Presents #24: "Mumbled By the Hungry Cold"

Drew Nilium pwerdna at
Thu Dec 24 15:49:12 PST 2020

LNH20 Comics Presents #24
"Mumbled By the Hungry Cold"
by Drew Nilium

11:55 PM, December 24th, 2019.

An evergreen forest grove, somewhere in the coldest parts of the American
Midwest, near the shores of Lake Superior.

The moon sparkles on the rime of snow, covering the trees, the grass - and the
great concentric circles, of holly, mistletoe and fir, that filled the clearing.
Carefully built, carefully tended, cunningly organized into mystic symbols,
taken from ancient sources, Scandanvian, Celtic, Roman, and older, forgotten by
modern scholars, but part of the cultural syncretism that formed the pieces of
the twenty-first-century conception of Christmas.

Otherkin Lad stepped past the edge of the first circle. He was bundled up warm,
but he could feel the power bubbling up within him, and he let his earmuffs, his
mittens, his scarf fall away, as the warmth of a thousand hearths flared up
within him.

All this power, and he had to use it, he *had* to. Once, there had been a night
where three spirits had turned the cold heart of a rich man, and kindled in it
the joy that came with the love of others. But there were so many cold, cruel
rich men now, whose cruelty fell over the world in a blanket far colder than the
snow all around him.

Otherkin Lad stepped into the second circle, and removed his coat, as the
shimmering starlight entered him. And how many spirits would it take to turn
them? How many voices were already calling out against this cruelty, and yet it
continued, ignoring the love of one's fellows, the common decency to make sure
that beggars did not freeze in the night, to save the sick, to feed the hungry?

Otherkin Lad stepped into the third and most central circle of boughs and holly,
and removed the light garments he had worn beneath the heavy ones, leaving
himself naked to the elements. He did not need protection, not here, in this
place, at this time, not in the center of the symbol he had built to focus the
mystic weight of Christmas, flowing like a river of light thru his body and his

Midnight. Christmas.

Otherkin Lad opened himself to the power. He felt it thrumming across the land,
across the world. How many spirits would take to turn the cruelty of this world?
How many could he summon up, in this moment of strength?

He sent the shining power down, down into the layer of unquiet spirits beneath
the skin of the world, and pulled it up, disturbing their rest!

And any other night, it would be an evening of wild hauntings, distributed
equitably among all those with weight upon their heart. But Otherkin Lad reached
out, through the sense of generosity that ran thru the season's blood, and
sought out the dark spots in that pattern, the curling vortices of un-
generosity, those who took and took without giving. The great weight of
otherworldliness pushed back on his soul, but he took the great power channeled
straight thru him and pushed it back, and sent the ghosts of the world screaming
against its most selfish people!

He could not feel the individual conflicts. But he could feel the wave of shock
as so many were confronted with the idea of their misdeeds; the kneejerk fear
and rage and flat denial, that they could deserve such a thing; and those harsh
emotions sizzled thru Otherkin Lad, and he dropped to his knees.

To do this, even with all the power of this moment, Otherkin Lad had to open
himself completely, leave himself utterly vulnerable. And now, the rage of tens
of thousands of the worst people in the world seared thru his mind, blaming,
rejecting, screaming.

And yet he did not stop. Otherkin Lad held the channel open, and let tens of
thousands of ghosts scream in return, make their bold declarations, bring the
guilt of the past roaring into the present.

Otherkin Lad could feel the bursts of Christmas energy, like cold lightning,
earth themselves thru his human form, leaving he knew not what traces. But he
had to keep going. He could not stop now, no matter what the cost.

The ghosts of the past dashed themselves against the selfish men, again and
again, before receding. And Otherkin Lad dug his fingers, like claws, into the
frosted land, and summoned up the spirits of the land, and the cities, and the
oceans, and the world; and sent them in a new wave against the voids and whorls
of selfishness in that world!

And the wave crashed, and the shock reverberated thru Otherkin Lad's soul, and
he groaned and cried and screamed in pain. For to seal yourself off from the
pain of the world, one must build a great mountain of alienation and denial, of
justification, a solid image of a world where people deserve their pain; and as
the wave of spirits drove against those mountains, their sides shattered into
stony knives, and from all sides, they drove into his soul, embedding
themselves, driving out the conviction, the determination, the self-love needed
to keep going, and Otherkin Lad's body fell to the snow, its cold crawling in.

But even as twitches and spasms of cold and pain wracked his form, Otherkin Lad
used the sheer power flowing thru him to pull his will together, to grind it
across the knives of humanity's hate, and to open the flow wide, battering away
at those mountains of selfishness, a new wave of pain searing at his mind with
each push of effort, draining his will even as he pulled it together, even as he
battered away.

But the wave of spiritual energy ebbed away, in the end, its power fading back
into the world, unwilling to be called again until next Christmas. And Otherkin
Lad, crawling, shuddering in the snow, knew that he had to send one more. And he
knew that he was almost spent, his own spirit tethered only loosely to his body.
But he had to break those mountains, he *had* to turn those selfish hearts -
what kind of world would it be if he didn't!?

So he reached out, out, finding every iota of Christmas spirit he was connected
to, pulling it together, into his body, standing up again, despite the pain,
despite the shaking fear, the power building up, the power of generosity, of
gratitude, of forgiveness, and as he pulled it into himself, as he gathered all
that loving power together...

Everything seemed to slow...

Everything seemed to darken...

His spirit, so loosely tethered to his body, seemed to rise up, into the
sparkling moonlight, into what seemed like a subtle, soft symphony of strings
and bells.

The power was still within him, he reached for it... and it rose up within him,
like a person...

He saw flashes of the past. Himself, stepping into the circle... a year ago,
after the LNH had been forced to hide themselves... five years ago, in their
heyday, celebrating and on top of the world... further back, the day he
joined... further back, the day his powers were revealed, the first time he felt
the joy of Christmas surge thru his body...

Further back, the day he was born, his eyes opening...

And further back still, the veil ripped away... another life... a Christmas
where his eyes had closed... because he had given his all, to save someone...

A figure seemed to appear in the clear, crisp moonlight. Perhaps it was a trick
of shadow and light, but it became clearer, and the soft music rose into a

"You have always been so ready to sacrifice yourself... Cauliflower the
Christmas Miracle Pooch." A strong, steady figure... the hero, Otherkin Lad's
teammate - Doc Nostalgia.

Otherkin Lad tried to speak, realized he had no throat, no mouth. But the
Christmas power rose up and spoke from his heart. "I needed to... I need to
finish what I started... I need to save the world..."

"Indeed? I've always been rather a fan of saving the world." Doc Nostalgia's
chiseled chin was a shape made of moonlight; but when he turned his head, his
eyes were a shadow gazing into the night. "I remember battlefields, where man
after man threw himself into the cause of saving the world... It's certainly
true, we still had a world after. But it was a world missing so many..."

"That's why," said Otherkin Lad's heart, trying to get the powerful figure to
understand. "Why it had to be just me, with this power I have..."

Doc Nostalgia's head rose, and his eyes were stars, full of queer, shining fire.
"Because a world without you would be acceptable?"

"If it was a better world, a world that turned away from selfishness and
greed...!" That pain, the pain of all those people's hate and judgment, seared
  thru Otherkin Lad, and he shook with it.

The music of the moon seemed to rise into a thunder, and Doc Nostalgia's voice
rose with it. "If you could turn the selfish and greedy from their paths, why
did you not do it before!?"

"But I tried!" Otherkin Lad's whole self seemed to shake with the eager, honest
appeal. "Every day, I tried!"

"Yes." Doc Nostalgia's voice was suddenly calm. "You did. And you succeeded."
His arms opened, and seemed to spread, to become the whole arc of the sky. And
in those arms, the past flashed, moonbeams carrying images. A man who saw
Otherkin Lad save a schoolbus of children, his first public act, inspired to go
home, to pull his money from a tax shelter and send it to the public schools. A
college student who heard Otherkin Lad speak out against bulldozing old, cheap
apartment buildings to build new, shiny office buildings, and decided to
investigate why her business degree was teaching her the things it was. A woman
in the suburbs who read about Otherkin Lad meeting with homeless people and
helping them organize, taking to carrying twenty-dollar bills in her pocket to
hand out to anyone who asked. Hundreds of people who had just been going with
the flow, stopping to check if that flow was leading in the right direction,
because someone in the right place cared loudly.

"I... I didn't know." The moonbeams scintillated softly thru Otherkin Lad, each
one someone else he had inspired.  "I never met any of them..."

"Nor would you have," came Doc Nostalgia's voice. "And so you never learned the
value of a world with you, rather than without."

"But..." Surging need, surging *fear*, became Otherkin Lad's entire soul. "But I
could still do so much *more*..."

"How much?" The question seemed to echo, the syllables smearing, how-much-how-
much-how-much, becoming a different voice, the moonlight sharpening, angling
into complex patterns, the patterns tracing a figure in negative space, a great,
armored form - Otherkin Lad's cosmic teammate, The Router.

"You have put a significant amount of energy into the universe via this ritual."
The Router's voice was the moonlight chiming softly against itself, the music of
the spheres dropping gently into a human register. "It has had an effect. Would
you like to know how much of an effect?"

Ohhhhh, the surging need flowing out into tributaries and streams of relief--
"Yes, please!"

The angled patterns of the moonlight shifted between bright and soft, and in the
pattern of the patterns, Otherkin Lad saw people, in fancy houses with expensive
furniture, staring off into space, shaken; pacing, arms crossed to hold
themselves together; making frantic phone calls, spilling everything that had
been shaken loose. "Five point three percent of the people you have haunted are
currently finalizing a long-term change in goals and methods."

"Five point three--" Whips of helplessness lashed at Otherkin Lad's sense of
self. "But that's so *tiny*!"

"The people affected this way have outsized power. Thus, the effect you have
created will be similarly outsized." The moonlight shone off the Router's
sculpted face, looking into Otherkin Lad, with his expression of judgment
softened by its warm glow. "You have made a significant and lasting impact on
the world, without destroying yourself."

"But..." The fear, of selfishness, of cowardice, of leaving a worthy job undone,
swirled and rippled and crashed against its own waves. "If I finished it...
there would be so much more..."

"There would also be significantly less," came the Router's voice, the heavenly
choir ascending again. "Tomorrow..." The word raised up into the cosmic heights,
reflecting off the stars, tomorrow-tomorrow-tomorrow...

"What would be less? Do you have more data!?" Otherkin Lad reached out without
hands, trying to find something to bring back to hold his desperate will
together, shafts of moonlight twisting, colliding, their light a riotous blaze,
flickering like a campfire, and out of that blaze, a form burning bright with
life and light - the wondrous half-flame woman known as Kindle!

Wonder and shock burst from Otherkin Lad. "But... but we lost you!"

Her smile shimmered in the blazing moonlight. "And someday you'll find me. Ain't
that a nutcracker of a spoiler?"

"Please, Kindle--" Otherkin Lad burned with hope and fear and uncertainty and
wonder. "You all seem to know-- why shouldn't I finish saving the world? What
will happen!?"

"Savin' the world. All by your lonesome, then, fixing every single problem?" He
could see that grin now, kind but absolutely honest about where one's head was
in relation to one's nethers. "What will happen ain't that, sugar. What will
happen is that we will lose *you*."

The fire seemed to die down, and a shape formed in smoke and shadow; a
headstone, and mourners arrayed around it, dozens, hundreds, heads bowed, a
great weight upon them; and the mourners parted, to battle shadows, but with the
great weight still dragging them down.

"...oh... oh." And Otherkin Lad felt the void rise up within him, at the
impossibility of the crusade he'd set for himself.

"It's rather selfish to think that you can be the one guy who saves this whole
infinite future on your own, yeah?" Kindle rolled her eyes and shook her head at
the foolishness of a little white puppy. "Besides which, *we still need you*."

"...for something more important than this?" That sounded... horribly scary, to
be honest.

"Yeah. For being *you*." And the moonlight leapt up, higher and brighter in its
flaming beauty than ever before.

Otherkin Lad saw himself, far older, scarred, but healthy, standing in front of
a row of prison cells that seemed to stretch out infinitely in both directions,
into the gray horizon. He held out a present to her, wrapped in sky-blue paper
and moon-silver ribbon; and she opened it, and within was a golden key. And she
took the key, and unlocked the cell next to her, and a man walked out, gasping
and shivering with sudden freedom; and he unlocked the cell next to him, and a
girl walked out, far too young to be here; and she unlocked the cell next to
her, and the chain stretched on...

"Can I..." That wasn't scary. That was... lovely. "Really, truly-- do you think
I can do something like that?"

Kindle laughed out loud at his doubt. "Motherkisser, look at what you just
psychovanting did. Imagine doing one-tenth, one-hundredth, one-*thousandth* of
that every Christmas for the rest of your life. You really don't think that
would be *enough*???"

...ohhhhhhhhhh. And something broke inside Otherkin Lad, some dam of tension and
urgency and anxious immediacy, and why hadn't he thought of that? Why-- there
must be *some* reason it wouldn't be enough, right?

...but he couldn't think of any.

"Young man, I prescribe rest," echoed Kindle's voice."If not for yourself, then
for the good you can do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day."

And finally, Otherkin Lad let himself understand. The generosity he had summoned
up, the selfless giving of love - the will of Christmas itself, the part that
wasn't corporate and wasn't churchly and was just people loving each other, had
decided that he deserved that generosity, too.

And finally, Otherkin Lad let go. Finally, he let himself rest, plummeting out
of the sky, leaving the warm moonlight behind, spirit dropping back into his
body. Finally, he released the power, flowing out from his form, still prone in
the snow.

The power spilled out from him, the moonlight a liquid that seeped into the
frozen ground and warmed it, brought a blanket of earth up around his naked
body, forming an insulated bubble of root and rock and soil that would protect

Tonight, the world would protect him until the people that loved him most came
to bring him home.

Drew "and a happier new year" Nilium

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