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11 | F | Mutant (Esper) | Soothsayer

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The girl has her father's teeth, but not his smile; his tattoos, but not his skin; his hands, but not his eyes. The missionary woman returned the next winter and gave her to him in a bundle, saying the girl did not belong in that breast-shaped palace where she and the other pale ones dwelt like milk. A long journey for such a venomed gift; for the tribe didn't particularly want her, either. She sliced tender feet on their bladed black hills. She squirmed in their geothermic heat. They wasted precious hides fashioning shoes and cloaks for her. And when she should have been old enough to eat from the algae pools like the others, it made her stomach writhe, forcing them to feed her from the sacred parts of the glass-stepper: those parts which remained after the women received the ribs and the legs, the men received the lungs and shoulders, the elders their liver and head, the children their kidneys and marrow. The beast's heart belonged on the blood-altar, returning to the earth to nourish the next brood and fecundate the next hunt. Instead, because someone pitied the odious little creature only half-formed of their blood, that meat went to the girl's mouth. Soon, blasphemy issued from every noxious eye and every murmured threat. They began to whisper that they were doomed. They whispered that she doomed them. An instrument of the evil god Enkhorpaa, devouring the earth's flames, cooling the obsidian slabs, and smothering the village in neverending winter.

Though children in the Yüülün tribe were named for lucky things, prosperous things, things which would bring blessings, the names they reserved for the girl were snide and hateful. Only her father, bearing his bastard's shame with a quiet strength, gave her an auspicious name, one which filled their yurt with warmth: Ongü-Sarishai, "Ever Favored." She would realize, as she grew, that the name was a promise: no matter how far she drifted and wandered, no matter how big she grew, she was welcome in that bone-and-rawhide tent tucked away in the black glass. She was always loved. Somewhere.
She also believes in the name's power. It was the name, she will tell you, which saved her on the day she was marked for death.

Like many times before, Ongü-Sarishai had waddled down into the valley, where the black pans collected sulfur-blue waters; and the waters, in turn, spawned life. She poked at the furry worms which waggled under the surface. She snatched frogs from the edges of the pools, and splashed after their tadpoles. Beetles, swaying salt-drunk on the pungent air, were no match for her deft hands. She tried to make friends with most of them, though most would squirm away once she let go.

That day a group of four lean, furrow-faced hunters from the village approached the pools. Ongü-Sarishai thought they might finally want to play with her until she saw that they held their long, crooked tubes; the ones they carried out onto the dunes when they wanted to eat meat. Every time they squeezed the throats on those tubes, the long metal snouts belched fire and bellowed like a thundercrack, echoing far over the mountainside. If the sound was deafening it meant they would be back in a few minutes, but if it was a small, muffled sound from far away then the men would return hours later with the animal carcasses desiccating on their shoulders, strung up by their hooves, splayed, glistening-red. Either way they'd then return to their yurts and wait for their wives to turn the meat brown and succulent over the glow-pools. Ongü-Sarishai didn't want to become limp and sad like those animals so when the men leveled the tubes and pointed them at her, she covered her ears and squinted her eyes shut. She heard her froggy friend hit the ground; she had been holding him and was very sorry, and would apologize later. She wondered why the men would want to eat a little girl, though.

When she opened her eyes, however, they weren't paying attention to her; they argued between themselves, pointing fingers at the frog, even seeming afraid of him. Two of them were saying something about how the frog's poison should have killed her by now, but she rose to her friend's defense, saying he would never hurt her. They ignored her and continued with their argument; the other two said the Far-Mother would want to see her, and killing her would get them killed. Ongü-Sarishai didn't understand anymore, and that's when they picked her up, and they were too strong and too many for her to wriggle away.

She was brought back to the village, but to a part of it she had never seen before: a certain tent. Children were forbidden from entering, and the adults hesitated as well. But those four hunters shoved Ongü-Sarishai inside, without following past the curtains, and introduced her, for the first time, to the Far-Mother.

The crone (she could not have been younger than eighty) listened intently, and as the hunters reached the part of their story involving the frog and its poison skin, her rheumy, jellied eyes slid down toward the girl's hands; the skin which had touched the frog's. Ongü-Sarishai couldn't tell amusement from annoyance in the woman's gaze, but the words whistling through her lips and past the curtains let the tribesmen know they had made the right choice bringing the girl to her. And now that they had, training could begin.

As she would learn over the next year, hers was a rare and highly valued mutation within the Yüülün. It meant she could not die from bites, stings, or from another tribe's blowdarts; she would not brush up against a venomous snake or eat poisonous berries and meet her end thereby. But, more importantly, she could ingest the dreamworms she had innocuously noticed inside those aquamarine pools so many times before; and the worms, said the woman, would show her the future. Bedu Nersi was her name, and she sent Ongü-Sarishai the way she had come, back to the sulfur pools, to retrieve some of these worms. When she returned, she was shown how they are speared on a skewer and held over a dung-fire to burn off the hairs; placed in a bowl; ground into a paste; flavored with blood or diluted with ash, should one need it; and finally, swallowed. The girl thought she suffered all this to finally be accepted or appreciated in some way. She couldn't have predicted that she would become pivotal in the tribe's entire fate, as the dreams developed (and worsened) in her mind's-eye.

Ongü-Sarishai's first dream-fever showed her their home, the razor-black slopes of the mountain they called Tsercheg ("The Smoldering One"); whereon a great horned animal gored one of the huntsmen as he went to fire his weapon and found he had depleted its battery. Sputtering ineffectually, the long metal cylinder produced no fire, no thunder, and no deterrence for the beast which charged head-down. The girl warned her mentor, who, impressed, passed this warming along to the hunters. A few days later they came back with the beast gutted and lashed to a spit, celebrating a hard-won victory, but a bloodless one.

By the time of her thirtieth dream, Ongü-Sarishai had seen a short hairy creature with big ears, a long black snout, and a bushy tail. It walked on two legs and wore clothes like a person, and it hacked a path through a damp, green hell overgrown with all manners of vines and drooling fruits. This creature was fighting for its life; and if receiving this vision was of any significance, he may have needed her help to get where he was going in one piece.

Men weren't allowed in the Far-Mother's tent so she hadn't seen father in a long time, but he was there to kiss her forehead and weep from his eyes and watch her departure from the slopes. He gave her biltong and a shaggy hide blanket for comfort on the road. He made sure someone else from the tribe would be going with her, for protection and for translation. He'd heard his daughter's screams as the poisons coursed through her veins and melted her insides; as the headaches throbbed through her eyeballs. Father knew the pain she'd already endured for others. And when he couldn't persuade her to stay, he then assured Ongü-Sarishai that although she would always be his little girl, he suspected she'd be a woman when she returned.

She knows the dream was significant somehow, as was the person she met inside it. Now she must only find him, and aid him in his strange foray deep into the heart of this world's most terrible mysteries.
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Adverb The True Antagonist

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Prince Potter Wandering Soul

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