A COLLECTION OF MISSIVES WRITTEN ON PALM LEAVES
Dear Patak Bulan, Moondrop:
You do not know how many times I’ve rewritten this beginning. The witch Sri Dvaya speaks to me and tells me not to begin a letter to you with “I”, therefore I begin it with you. Because you are the core to all this.
Forgive me for leaving so suddenly, but I am sure you know the reason why. After the death of the Princess I have had to recalibrate myself, find out why I was fighting in the first place. War erupts now, I am sure you know. The Empire launches its steel lions and burning gunmetal angels upon the holy mountains. Have you chosen a side?
Who am I to fool myself, of course you have. I remember your tale, what you have chosen to do. You will turn into that form of a burgeoning canine beast and wreak havoc upon all kings. That was what you said, right? “No one man should have all that power.” You very clearly said “man” too, because you understand that the men did not allow the feminine to wield that power. A transgression, you said, against the goddesses that ruled the world.
Do you hate men that much? I would not blame you.
The night is cold as I write this, under the witchflame that I study under. They make their homes near the mountains. Do you not find this funny? The mountains are holy places, are they not? But witches reside here, closely, with the gods. What does that make them? What does that make us? Us asuwang? Is the reason why mortals revile us so much is because of our inherent proximity to divinity?
I begin to understand why you hate men so much.
But I digress, you are the reason I have written this letter. Remember, do not forget your meals, and unclench your jaws when you sleep. You grind your teeth any more and they might turn to dust. And what is my little moondrop without his teeth?
And before I leave, I shall end my missive with a question, because I do want you to reply back. How are you doing?
When the moon goes hunting, the night begins to miss him. I will return, eventually.
I found your message written in palm leaf delivered to me by crows. When I saw them, I knew it had to be you.
I did not miss you when you left, have no worry. I know you will return, so I will enjoy the brief silence that I am able to steal from the night for now. I do not look for you, and I know that the witches have stolen you away to teach you their dark art. I will not weep for your escape.
But since you’ve written, and this is the etiquette of this medium, I shall write back. Not for any great reason or compulsion, but obligation. Such is the way our world works. A complex series of obligations and obligations, spiralling and intertwining into spirit societies that fester into generational evils.
You ask me of my current state. The truth of it is that I am doing well: I have begun to fight for a Chieftess who wields a blade that can bend the winds. I bested her once in battle, and she considered me as her warrior-vassal even though I am… what I am. A ghoul, a shapeshifter, a viscera-eater.
I am still looked upon with suspicion, of course. Such is the fate of our kind. However I have proven myself in battle, and I wear upon myself a golden talisman given to me by the Chieftess herself. I am gilded.
Of course, I can still never best you in single sword combat. That is your ability, your skill. I concede it. I write it here now because if I admitted it to your face you would never shut up about it.
How can the night be so loud?
You ask me about if men revile us because we are closer to the gods. That is your poetry piercing through. Mortals revile us because we are not mortals. We are monsters.
This is the end of my tale. So as to not leave you in horrible loneliness, I shall tell you to keep safe. You need not reply to me.
I received your message in the midst of the woods, as I was attacked by forest dogs. They did not go for my throat. Instead, they lay down your scroll before me. I would have appreciated a less horrific way of delivering your love letters to me, but I understand that that is how you speak your affection.
I have given this letter some thought, though I have not consulted with anyone. You are right, perhaps, that mortals simply revile us because we are monsters. But what are monsters? Are they things to be hated, or simply things… different from men? Different from them? We are ghouls and liver eaters but they do the same to pigs and fish and eels and chickens. What makes us so different from them? That they cook theirs?
I asked Sri Dvaya what ‘monster’ meant. He owed me an answer, since he took me away so suddenly, without being able to say goodbye to you. Sri Dvaya said: “A monster is an omen. A bad curse. A horrible foretelling. A monster is a star that has fallen to the earth. A monster is a thing to be slain, to hide one’s own demerit, and to stay the hand of misfortune upon a settlement. That is what a monster is.”
A monster is an omen, eh? Do you think that makes sense? Are Omens inherently good or bad? Or perhaps that is what Sri Dvaya was trying to say: a monster is not inherently good or bad.
But it is said that one must slay the monster. Are mortals afraid of the future?
The lessons I learn here, little moon, make my brain hurt, to be in perfect honesty. But perhaps that is a good thing. Long have I learned that the path to heaven is paved with thorns and steel spikes. Sri Dvaya has said this: “Glory through violence.” If I am to understand, I first must hurt.
What a cruel world we live in, if that is the case. I am sure it is entirely possible for us to reach understanding without suffering. But perhaps it is not suffering that is the reason for understanding. Perhaps what I should have said instead is: “I can achieve enlightenment despite suffering”, not “because of suffering”. That makes a lot more sense, wouldn’t you think? That the great goal of our lives, that direction of Achieving Conjunction with the natural flow of the world is something that can be achieved through other means, not through suffering. What a benevolent thought.
I suppose I have written it down because I feel as if I am suffering, recently. I do not know why. But worry not, study continues apace. Once you start feeling welts and warts cropping up on your perfect skin, that might mean that I have mastered a spell. I have a piece of your hair, you know.
Dear Tungang Gabii,
I did not think you would write back so quickly. I do not appreciate it. I am a beast, not an animal. I cannot ignore the politeness of writing back, and so I must. Stuck with your incessant ramblings, your midnight words.
Thankfully, try as you might, you are no poet. Therefore, your words are easy to decipher. You try to say that monsters are simply omens, without an inherent moral value. I suppose you might be correct. What do you get out of romanticizing our monstrous nature? Are you still worried that no one will truly accept you for who you are?
Seek love, Gabii. Perhaps that is what is missing from you. Despite us being viscera eaters, despite us being ghouls, we are not incapable of love. That is the first mistake of mortals; that we are incapable of love, when in fact love is all we have left. It is what we cling to, it is the very thing that we grip, even as its thorns lacerate the flesh of our fingers until it is naught but bone, because what else is there to have? All things we do are out of love.
Conjunction, hiyang, transcendental oneness with the flow of nature, can truly be achieved without suffering. Suffering is a barrier. We can reach it through love: true love, not one that is showy, not one that is pompous and grandeur, one that is acted out on a stage, although grand love does not necessarily immediately equate to fake love. Many sages speak of the journey and path to oneness as being a chasing of a flame, and that fire is love, except I am quite sure that instead of chasing after the fire, we instead hold it within us immediately, but we must cultivate it, feed it with cinders so that it blazes, brighter and brighter.
Glory through violence is a popular phrase, sung by poets of the Isles. How I have come to understand it is thus: if you seek glory, then you must be ready to bloody your hands. You must invite and understand the potential of suffering, whether it be yours or another’S, to achieve divinity. There is no way that you will be able to save everyone. There is no way that you will ever purify yourself. Therefore understand that you are one person, and someone will always pay the price of divinity, for heaven.
Be filled, therefore, with hope.
On the topic of you having a piece of my hair, I understand then that I am under your power. But it is you that has unwittingly taken a piece of me. Who is the one that is enraptured, then? I, the one who fails to care for your absence, or you: the one who has taken a piece of me to bring wherever you go?
The Moon does not miss the Night,
My Dear Moondrop:
Forgive me for having sent this so late. I am not in the best of realms right now, and my head wishes to flee its skull. I have undergone horrible training, but the Witch Sri Dvaya says that my learning has gone far. I master the shadow attainments yet, my soul becomes my wings, now. I can take on the form of a crow much easier. I also can summon wings of shadow whenever I wish. I do it often, just to show off. You do know my love for panache and aplomb.
Perhaps I can even reach you, this time. Provided I can find you, of course.
On your thoughts about love and violence, you always did have a way with words, despite you saying that you were no poet. It suits you, Patak Bulan. It suits you to be a poet. The way your blade sings as it digs into the blood and viscera of your enemies… it is poetry in motion. The sounds of kulintang ring whenever I see your violence.
I cannot seek love. I understand wholly the thrust of your blade, but I cannot. I have already loved and I have already lost. And nay, it is not the Sihara, the princess, even after she died to the Witch Queen.
The brass gongs and bells chime, now. I am to return to meditation.
The Witch Sri Dvaya has been working me to the bone, recently. I am sure it will be worth it in the end, but every time I see the moon I remember that surely, it would be much easier if I had you by my side.
I think I will do what you propose, what you believe to be true. I think I will continue my training with the witch-ghoul so that my violence will be an impaling spear, a decapitating bullet. I want to impose myself upon the world. I want to be able to do what I want to do. I want to be able to claim what is rightfully mine. Isn’t it such a horrible paradox, Patak Bulan, my moondrop, that to find peace one must first inflict violence?
As I ruminate upon it: love is just violence, is it not? I am thinking this way one moment, and then you show me a pinch of affection, of love, and I am irredeemably, irrevocably changed. I am destroyed, and then I am remade, in those same moments.
Do you not think that that is what love is? Violence? To love another is to raise your blade, but when are we most vulnerable if not when we are about to attack? I am opening myself up to you now, my witch dog. The bitch to my night. To love is to inflict violence. To inflict violence is to receive it back.
I am ready to be violated. To love is to violate and to be violated. To be loved is to be shattered and rebuilt a thousand times each second.
Have you ever been loved, Patak Bulan? Can a monster love, or be loved?
The Witch Sri Dvaya is well-versed in the ways of being a monster. He says: “We aswang are just as much demons as the asura and the yawa, but we have our humanity.”
I asked him: “Are we ever going to be eligible for enlightenment?”
To which he answered: “Any being can achieve enlightenment. It is harder for others, but easier for others. It requires proper building of spiritual merit. It requires proper meditation upon those gods beyond us, who have achieved enlightenment before us. Only gods and devils will find it difficult to find enlightenment.”
And that was when I asked: “What are we, then? Are we not devils?”
To this Sri Dvaya shook his head. “We are asuwang. We are monsters, just like mortalfolk are.”
Moondrop, I must confess to you, this time of monsters evades me. I am confused, but that just makes me more excited. If mortalfolk are monsters, then we are no different from them. Or, perhaps, they are no different from us.
What a thought, noh?
Sri Dvaya spoke to me, then, of beauty and of gods. He said that before he became a witch-ghoul like us, before he tangled and consorted with the foul beings of the night: of the yawa, the rakshasa, the asura, the bidadari, the sitan, he was a Monk. A faithful of the God BATALA, whom he believed to be ultimate reality.
However, he faced certain death in the face of an Abyss-Wielder. A woman whose violence far outweighed his own, whose conviction was more steel than him. She shoved him into a pit of night-water and showed him the truth of interdependence and emptiness. Kawalan, in the tongue of Ba-enon. Sunyata, as it is introduced to us by our Ashinin superiors. Then she killed him, and then gave him the Black Raptorling, and became a Night Walker.
In the face of sunyata he conflated it with BATALA. He said, thus: BATALA is the same as the Buddha of the Void and the Buddha of the Thunderbolt. He walked the world and gained Glory. All things that are in Glory are beautiful. Do you not think this to be true? What else is more beautiful than us? Than you?
He still seeks things that are beautiful to this day, Patak Bulan. He teaches me as he decorates his longhouse palace with things people find beautiful, to array himself with Glory, so that he may become one with nothingess. He found that becoming one with BATALA was insufficient. He must find Glory.
Will you find glory, Patak Bulan? Will we ever find it?
The night misses the moon.
Write back when you can.
Yours, again and again,
The world closes in upon me.
I sleep in a cottage outside of our city. A jealous swordprince framed me for the death of one of their Kadungganan, saying that I had eaten her liver in a fit of love and lust. Nothing could be further from the truth. The already skeptical warriors very easily turned their swords to me.
I have done nothing wrong, yet my datu does not defend me.
You speak the truth. If you must love, then you must be ready for the violence that follows. Love and violence follow each other, like night and day. You cannot have night without day–otherwise it just becomes the sky. Nay, love must have violence. Violence is a consequence of love. To love someone is to say: “Here I am, cut me as you will, and I will cut you back, until we become things that were never us. Until those around us become ignorant to who we were before the violence, and the past becomes a secret between us both.”
I have done this with my datu. I have loved her, as I’ve loved a mother. Yet, I am spurned. Monsters are wont to hate monsters, after all.
I am to leave for Kangdaya at first light, leaving through a friend’s barge. Will I see you there? Let me meet this Sri Dvaya of yours. Perhaps I will find enlightenment. Perhaps I will find a path to Glory.
My Dearest Moon:
The night is not complete without the moon. You are no doubt on the way to Kangdaya, now. Or perhaps already there. We leave on the morrow. This missive will find you a few days before we do, that is for sure. I send these missives upon messenger servants.
I am excited to see you once again, Patak Bulan. It has been far too long. Cross blades with me, and let me beat you again. You know for a fact that I am still the greatest swordsman among ourselves. Though you are a beast, I am a saint of blades.
Let us use these titles for our benefit, because these titles are never given to monsters.
The master Sri Dvaya says it would be good for us to travel to Kangdaya, as we are supposed to meet with Dagna, the Royal Priestess. So we will meet there, and I hope to find you soon. You will find us in the Dawneater Palace’s guest compounds.
I am apalled at what has happened to you, Patak Bulan. Truly, love has brought us nothing but pain and suffering. But that is what it must involve, right? Suffering, like you said, is a barrier. To love is to raise your sword. To be loved is to have your arm hacked off in retaliation.
Will you still love, after that?
Will love bring us to Glory? Is love a worthy vehicle? Or is it simply… a distraction? Is love a confusing illusion or a propelling barge?
Is Love Glory?
Is Glory the river or is it the sea?
Sri Dvaya is willing to take you in. You can train with him, for the time being. Especially if you find no other job during your stay in Kangdaya. We live in a hinterland village upriver. Not too far from Kangdaya. The datu here trusts and respects us.
I am enthralled and excited. Let us find glory together. Other than Sri Dvaya, I have not met other asuwang in the Glorious Road. Community is often said by Sri Dvaya to be one of the most important aspects of finding enlightenment. “Sunyata is the realization of interdependence. The emptiness of self means thus: everyone and everything is made up of multiple different other things. We cannot exist without each other.”
Let us cling to each other, Patak Bulan. The night cannot be the night without the moon.
In Love and Lightning,