Welcome to what is likely your first advent calendar fantasy novel! Each day is a chapter, and should be read as such, but who am I to stop you from catching up? (This way to Day One!) What follows is the story of one Marzipan Ridner, a young trans girl aching for the fulfillment of the holiday season. When a mysterious wooden Advent calendar shows up she opens the first door, and finds herself whisked away to a world-tree of contrasting deities and binding bureaucracy. She has less than a month to find someone willing to be her spiritual patron, but the denizens of the tree don’t seem very hospitable…
On the Twenty-first Day
Virdihorn had done just as he said. Upon opening their scratched doors, despite small splinters falling away, they both emerged back onto the snowy boughs of the upper tree. Moonlight ruled the day of the solstice, and there wasn’t another soul to be found anywhere. It seemed this was a year where no men made it that far, that the goddess would spend alone if not for the two visiting calendars.
Langcorn had briefly emerged from the magic of the illusory riverbed where he’d been spending his nights to steal two heavy winter coats from some of the people who had tossed him over the bridge. After bundling up Marzipan so tightly that she had to waddle, unable to extend her arms, they circled the Chrismon Tree’s trunk and found a spiral staircase grown from the wood, festooned with plentiful holly and mistletoe.
The upward climb still took hours, long enough that Langcorn suspected they were being fooled, that the tree’s tip would keep growing up and never allow them to find it. He was about to broach the possibility with Marzipan when they finally received a positive sign.
Plants began to appear. They were still the tree’s standard decorative fare, but now they hung in the air, connected to nothing, roots growing out into webs like drifting doilies without gravity to bind them. Some were completely enclosed in an orb of their own growth, floating in wide circles, their flower-ball cores revolving around something yet unseen.
“I…” Marzi stopped on a stair. “Langcorn! I… I think I can feel her!”
“What do you mean?” He waved his hands about. “I don’t feel anything.”
“It’s what the plants are feeling. It’s like… It’s like I’m floating. I’m in water, but… but it’s exactly as warm as my body, so it isn’t like water at all. Oh this feels so good.” The heavy coat slipped off her. Langcorn was still quite cold, but he could see that there wasn’t a single goosebump on her arms. The moonlight sank into her, making her luminous, the light only interrupted by the creeping of ringworm on one shoulder.
“You look b-beautiful,” he said through chattering teeth, rubbing his arms. “Go to her. I’m right b-behind you.” Marzipan practically flew up the stairs, perhaps one of the only people to ever skip uphill. Langcorn could barely keep up, especially when, past the railing, he saw the sky that encircled the Chrismon Tree.
It was not a sky of mortal experience. There was no up or down, no horizon. The tree had its own aura of moonlight, but he simply felt the colors that existed beyond that cloak, endless banks of golden clouds, purple bows of light disappearing into something too big to be called the distance.
There were stars as well, but none from his world. These were alive, swimming in the forever, vibrating with light and musical refrain. The sight made all of the words that might describe it explode in his head like fireworks, but his love of Marzipan was not made up of words, so he remembered his true goal and moved on.
Atop the tree the wood flattened into a great root-edged platform like a carving of the sun. Plants grown into miniature planets formed a garden free of gravity. He didn’t have to push them aside to form a path, because Marzi already had. Some of the balls were still bouncing away from lingering force. Langcorn ducked and moved through them, to the hallowed center.
As difficult as it was to comprehend a new sky, the form of Triluna was even more so. She was a full moon, complete with craters, but small and close, barely bigger than Marzipan’s home. She was an animal, yet a woman, long hair made of limp flexible horns. She was curled up in the bottom of the moon, knees against her chest, one hoof hanging out, and yet the moon was solid and opaque. Somehow none of these notions conflicted.
Her beauty asserted itself more than any law of the physical universe. Here was the primordial woman, the dawn of distinction between the sexes. Her eyes were vacant, like livestock’s, like Virdihorn’s, but they emitted her inner light of intent. She was unclothed, flesh striated like dense fur. Langcorn thought she was pregnant, but then he realized he was just looking at the basin of the moon holding her again, and then realized, on top of that, it still indicated pregnancy, perhaps with herself, perhaps with the future, at least something to hold the place of the child Virdihorn failed to create.
“Triluna!” Marzipan called out, standing below her. Langcorn stood back, near the plant-orbs. From the girl’s obvious connection to the magic he deduced she had a much better chance of getting a godly patron than he did. It was better to keep quiet.
“Hello little one,” the goddess greeted her, though her head and eyes remained focused on nothing. Triluna’s mouth didn’t move, her voice instead happening in their heads, like ripples in a medium that had never been liquid until that very moment.
“You hear me! You’re actually talking to me!” the girl said, choking on laughter.
“I hear all of my children.”
“My name is Marzipan.”
“I have a calendar!” She took it from her back and held it up. “And… I’m transformative. That means I’m a girl, even though I look like a boy.”
“You do!? You don’t think I’m a liar? Really?”
“You have never been a liar Marzipan, except to your mother, and your reasons are your own. Girls make their own decisions, in their hearts, even when everything surrounding them is forced to act counter to them.”
“None of the other pagans would help me. They said I didn’t count! But I did count! All the way to twenty-one! To you! Will you be my patron? Will you get me a doctor, and hormones, and everything else I need to be my woman’s heart!?”
“You are a girl, not a woman. Woman is three, woman is all: maiden, mother, and crone. You will never carry children, never be mother. Without your middle your moon will never be whole. You are not best served here.”
“Yes I am!” she cried hoarsely. “Don’t do this to me again! Lots of women don’t have babies! That doesn’t make them something else!”
“It does,” the goddess said with finality. “Woman is cycle, and cycle cannot be repaired once broken. Women cycle, women repeat. Men iterate, men die. It is nature. There is nothing within it for you to combat.”
“I don’t understand! Look at me!” Marzipan lifted her shirt, exposing her stomach. Ringworm gnawed on her sides, but her abdomen glowed, impregnated with more moonlight than it could hold. She rolled up her pant legs and sleeves. Her skin was so bright it nearly rivaled Triluna’s. “I have your light! He doesn’t.” She pointed at Langcorn, who hastily stepped forward and rolled up one of his own coat sleeves to show his dullness. “See!? I am yours!”
“You are, but none will ever be yours child,” Triluna said firmly. “Nature is perfection. With nothing to fight you are simply flailing, striking yourself. Your answers lie within, and within acceptance.”
“All I want… is a doctor!” Marzi sobbed, dropping to her knees. Bluish-white bomb tears exploded on the wood, but Triluna’s attention shifted away from her suffering, to Langcorn. He felt her eyeless gaze on the inside of his hide.
“You saw Virdihorn on your way, yes?” she asked. “Is he coming?”
“He died,” Langcorn said plainly.
“I see,” the goddess sighed. “I do miss him. Is he not handsome? Of course I will not deny you your achievement. It is easy enough to pretend you are he.” Her moon advanced; he felt waves of her gravity subduing him.
“There’s b-been a… a misunderstanding!” he said, floundering. “I am just here to help Marzipan. She needs your love, and proper food! You are radiant, to be sure, but my heart takes another path.”
“You love men,” the goddess said knowingly, without relenting. She took up his whole vision now. “Your seed is as viable as any though, so pretend I am whoever you lust after. We will make a child, and they will spin off from us endlessly, and their children from them.”
“Now you see here Miss Triluna! No thank you! Marzipan needs you to help her. She is your child. Be the mother that her own refuses to be.” Finally her presence receded, giving him a chance to breathe, but it kept going. The moon shrank into the sky; she was departing.
“You have a nature Marzipan, and it is all you need. You will do well,” Triluna declared. “As long as you do not insist on being woman. Goodbye.”
“No wait! Please come back!” the girl pleaded, words turning to miserable writhing squeaks. “I have the light! Why isn’t that enough!?”
“Did Virdihorn say anything about me?” Triluna asked Langcorn as she ascended, no longer acknowledging Marzi. He didn’t answer. “It’s alright. I’m sure he did. He had everything ready for me. Silly man just tripped.”
As the goddess disappeared so too did the moonlight. Marzipan returned to her typical shade. The surrounding plants unfolded, roots feeding into numerous tiny holes in the bark until they became a much more traditional looking garden. Marzi did the reverse, curled up into a ball and wept aggressively, Langcorn only stepping in when she started banging her head against the ground.
“I’m sorry,” he told her, crouched just above her back. “It was plain as day. She should have helped you. I don’t know what’s wrong with the world.”
“I do,” the girl squeaked, rolling onto her back, taking big unstable breaths. She stared up at him, hands over her chest, fingertips twisting each other like she was trying to adjust the cap on a toothpaste tube.
“It’s nature, like she said, but it’s bigger than she thinks. Nature is huge. There are so many parts. Some are good and some are bad. Like, if you sit next to a quiet creek, and the wind is nice, and you see frogs playing around, you think nature is the best.
But not far away, there’s a spider eating a fly, turning its insides into a smoothie while it’s still alive. There are germs in everything’s blood, waiting to make them sick. There’s rot, and hunting, and things that don’t live very long because they were born weird.
Triluna is a good part of nature. She’s always sitting next to a creek. She doesn’t see the rest. I wasn’t born there though. I was born in a spider’s web. She doesn’t have conflict in her nature, so she doesn’t understand it. I do.”
“It is her failure then,” Langcorn agreed with a nod. “This tree is of no use to us.”
“Not if we do it their way.”