The Voice of a God
Pier of Göl Kasabi
Ostrob - 300 AWH
The day is unnatural. The skies are never this clear in proximity to Uudhin. The distant sun and red star never so brilliant. The people of Kasabi island speak of a divine omen. For it is common knowledge, at least in the upper commons of the city, that this day the Metropolitan’s selected heir is departing with a treasure fleet at his back. Gifts from all corners of Materia to which the Merchant Despotate has established lasting ties. Accompanied with rows of heavily guarded ships to see to the safe passage to East Ouroborasia. Even the Salt Prince, in his occasional mercy, has bestowed tranquil waves for a safe voyage to the other side of the dark strait of Noirmoro, which separates Uudhin from Ouroborasia.
For many this favourable weather should be a welcome sight of better times to come. Yet to the more cynical, it is a dreadful omen of Justinian’s growing power and the impending annihilation of Edukar’s last bastion. For the perpetual and brooding tempest is the norm in Uudhin.
Leaning at the railing of the northern pier attached to Göl Kasabi’s upper commons, the young Principe reminisces over what is to come, and dreads it.
Synogchouta wears Soghba’s charm around his neck and has his usual wine red mantle covering his sinewy frame against the cold. Black curls cover his forehead. Under his eyes are dark bags from a sleepless and another depressing Uudhin night. Sadly something Edukesh's long exiled tribes are only too familiar with. Cast from grace by the tyrannical usurper gods, to reap the shallow bounty of the most accursed corner in Materia. So they endlessly tell themselves in self-pity. But he woke up from that darkness to the most aberrant morning imaginable. The pure beams of the sun actually gracing their little island empire?
The skies spotless, and peaceful silent laughter from the gulls is heard floating over the still water. Strange. The skies shouldn’t be this shade of colour. The cerulean blue envelops the pier so that its red mosaic tiles too seems as though touched by the celestial plane. There is even such clarity that the northern coast at the other side of the water is visible to the naked eye.
The Principe cannot believe his own eyes. He had been idling on this pier many times in his life, but never had the boon of catching a glimpse of Ouroborasia from as far south as Göl Kasabi. Caught in wonderment Chouta’s gaze is fixed on the northern horizon, unable to process what is happening. He has been to that very Ouroborasian coast before, but from this distance and on this day it is totally unrecognisable. In matter of fact; the distant ivory shore cannot be of this world. Those pine trees should not be piercing straight through the sky... The mountains behind them should not be shaped as rows of shiny molar teeth. And the southern harbour did not have those colossal pearl gates barring entry into the dockyard. Despite being at least a hundred miles away, Synogchouta can swear that the glistering gates have words inscribed on them. They are large enough that the Principe swears he can read them. He squints his eyes and leans forward over the railing.
There he stood, and the longer Synogchouta tried to decipher the awfully familiar words of the gate, the more the wind picked up as though responding to his intrigue, gliding rapidly over the water surface. The volume increases and somehow shifts to whispers seemingly carried with them. The speech of the wind smothers the familiar bawking of seagull and seaghoul that the Kasabioi are accustomed to. All sounds from the urban areas behind him likewise fades out by voices not quite human. A language that no other sapient race on Materia should be capable of producing either. For it is the wind that is speaking.
‘’The mist of the sea is an invitation to the great Dark. Embracing the abysmal north star, where the host of all souls gather. Over them, through them, without and within.’’
That is what it says. A voice unmistakably harmonious and inseparable from the noise of the very tempest. This is the language of entities of a greater plane. What all Men are inclined to call Gods.
‘’Who are you?’’
‘’Bring your gift to his viceroy that dwells so deep, so deep down under the northern star. A material pact upheld.’’
‘’Hasten. The destiny of Eudeye’s Tribes, alike with the Olden Refuge and the Deicidal Messengers of Archonnen hang in your balance. A cataclysm to be averted.
Then the celestial sky takes the form of a face. A kind face of a man, with a warm and embracing smile. Chouta is completely perplexed. But he snaps out of it when bumping his head against a lantern hanging from a column adjacent to him.
Rubbing the spot where his head was struck, Chouta’s eyes dart back to the sky. There is no face there. How is that even possible? Something as shapeless and infinite as the sky -- yet he could swear he recognised the shape of a human face therein.
Then he looks at the Ouroborasian coast to the north. Squinting his eyes he can just narrowly make out a thin strip of land at the far end of the horizon. Which is still incredible and very unusual considering the distance. Yet all the same, over there is not the celestial landscape he previously bore witness to. And those pearl gates are nowhere to be seen. It must have been imagery out of a lucid dream…
The unrestrained exposure of such paradisiacal weather is clearly playing with his head. Understandable perhaps; because an Uudhinite inhabitant is accustomed only to elements dark and raw. Anything that isn’t that is simply overwhelming their psyche? That is what Chouta deduces, anyway. But the scent of salt once more fills his nostrils, a reminder that his God is never far...
‘’Did the Salt Prince send me a vision?’’ The Principe silently mutters to himself.
His mind is adrift once more with the waves of the strait, and only ends when a sudden voice ambushes the pier.
‘’The Metropolitan sent me. Saying Yaldbaw has left and that you ought to follow his example. ‘Our family did not prosper through indolence or hesitation.’ He says.’’
Still mentally elsewhere, the Principe hardly gives a visible reaction towards his uncle’s henchman. And so he continues speaking.
‘’Either way, the crew is assembled; ready to leave on your word. Combined with the treasure fleet and the assortments of armed escort, it makes for a mighty fleet in total, I must say. I hope the Ouroborasians won’t mistake it for an invasion. Heh! Hehe.’’
It is Bacanoc Ormaoth, a confidante and henchman of the Daveithai family from about Chouta’s age. One would be hard-pressed to think he too hails from a wealthy family. His outdoors attire consists of weathered old garments and leather, having certainly carried him through much rain and wind over the years. Bacanoc is hardy and fierce built, wide shouldered with prominent cheekbones and short black facial hair around his chin and jaw in contrast to clean-shaven Chouta. He has a square-shaped skull with dark slanted eyes under thick and heavy eyebrows – actually a little bit reminiscent of a gorilla. ...Though one shouldn’t say it to his face. Bacanoc is certainly no handsome or refined man like his friend the Principe, though certainly capable in the primordial art of violence. Which, paired with his loyalty to the Island Despotate, is exactly why the Metropolitan favours him so.
The Principe is visibly frustrated. He had barely time to reflect on the theophany he just experienced before reality has come to seize him as his uncle’s political pawn to curry the Emperor’s favour.
He came to this part of the city specifically to be away from the intrigue and nosy henchmen of his uncle. ‘Can’t a man have some peace?’ He thinks to himself. It seems there is no more time to enjoy the view. And he might never get another chance, too.
When the Principe fails to give an apt response, Bacanoc speaks up again.
‘’Your rivals are seeing your lack of initiative as a sign of weakness.’’
Chouta raises an unpersuaded eyebrow.
‘’Tsk. Listen here; I don’t like them and they don’t like me. And we both know it. Why should I bother appeasing them? They aren’t going to think better of me whatever I do. What’s the point, pray tell? In matter of fact...’’
He looks away from the dark waves and into Bacanoc’s gorilla vision. ‘’I am not so certain I like you, either. Damn you Ormaoths. How much property and investment have your people done in Solnisata and Drakma at the expense of our Despotate?’’
Bacanoc groans. ‘’... Need I still prove myself? I have lived in Göl Kasabi all my life. I have served your family faithfully more than even my own. I have won the Metropolitan’s trust; why can’t I have yours?’’
‘’Trust isn’t freely given. You may have successfully wrapped my uncle around your little finger, but I am not so easily deceived.’’
The Principe sighs, figuring he is being a tad rough he follows up to his professed distrust:
‘’Though consider my expedition a chance to prove your loyalty.’’
Bacanoc simply nods like a beat dog and turns to leave. It’s as good as any response he has come to expect from the likes of Chouta.
Later that same tranquil morning, Bacanoc walks up to another of the Metropolitan’s Henchmen. This man is at least twice Bacanoc’s age, tall and lanky and stern with a goatee and wearing clean embellished robes, reflecting his status as one of the more powerful of the Kasabioi Patricians.
‘’Doux. Compared to yesterday, the Principe seems to have had a change of heart. Yesterday he was utterly miserable over having to leave his little island paradise. Though when dismissing me he insinuated agreeing with the expedition. What could have persuaded him? Zeal for our Salt Prince?’’
‘’With or without a god, a good night’s sleep performs miracles by itself. The boy had only come to his senses.’’ The Doux replies with a faint smirk, fiddling with his facial hair.
Now having the vague understanding that a lot more is at stake than meets the mortal perception, Chouta scales the gangway of the flagship to be introduced to his loyal subjects. That is to say; his crew that will be accompanying him on this voyage. Synogchouta has made up his mind.
He is first met by a man hailing from a human commune on the Uudhinite mainland, places far more sinister than the isolated Göl Kasabi. A beefy and bullnecked man; Tokko of Jeziorze. At the sight of Chouta’s figure entering the ship he speeds towards him and, taking stance and sticking out his chest like a pigeon, he combusts with a salute:
‘’READY TO SET SAIL, PRINCIPE. ANY DAY. I HAVE THE PRIVILEGE OF BEING FIRST-MATE OF YOUR SHIP, PRINCIPE. MAY THE SALT PRINCE GUIDE THE WAY! HE WHO IS RULER OF THE EARTH. LORD OF THE WATERS. MASTER OF UUDHIN AND EDUKESH. PRAISE BE!’’
‘’Gross. You spit on me.’’
MY APOLOGIES, PRINCIPE.’’
‘’Yea, well, make sure you swallow next time before blurting your swagger.’’
Bacanoc and the Doux now also scale the same gangway of the Metropolitan’s lofty flagship in Chouta’s trail. They, and many other officials, are all part of the envoy deployed to the Imperial Court of Ouroborasia to represent Göl Kasabi and perhaps Uudhin as a whole.
‘’There, Principe. I have taken liberty of finding you this man hailing from the very lands we are about to embark to.’’ The Doux gestures towards his two lionmasked bodyguard – the esteemed Saltenguard – coming onto the deck dragging a gaunt and pale looking man by both arms.
‘’An Ouroborasian in origin. Justinian. It seems he wishes to atone for his ancestor’s crimes by being so courteous as to accompany our exalted mission.’’
Pretty rich coming from an Axohar -- Synogchouta would think, but he is preoccupied observing the poor man that is being presented to him. He is dropped to the floor, landing on both knees and remains there. With a shrill voice the Ouroborasian speaks.
‘’Ionut Luizaraad… I am Ionut Luizaraad and I am no Justinian. Nevermore. I heard your family was searching for a native Ouroborasian speaker to aid you… with a tour. But those Lionmask guys brandished their scythes at the sight of me before I could even think of applying.’’
‘’No surprise there – just look at you.’’ The Principe responds. ‘’You’re filthy.’’
Ionut ignores the comment, seeming to agree.
‘’My understanding of the eastern territories of Ouroborasia is subpar, but I will do my utmost best, lord.’’
Not fully convinced, the Principe turns to the Doux once more.
‘’Litayyan, where did you find this man?’’
‘’It is as he says; my escort detained him.’’ The Doux answers with a bark, whose real name is apparently Litayyan.
He follows up:
‘’In the past few days I had my men distribute warranties through the suburbs of Göl Kasabi, with the urgent request for Ouroborasian-speaking volunteers. But it was on short notice, and this man seems to be the best option so far. I trust you will agree we can make due with him. Do not let his impoverished looks deceive you – he has more aptitude than meets the eye… The name of Luizaraad was in fact a decently well-off noble house in Ouroborasia, at least prior to the Civil War.’’
Ionut casts his gaze down to his knees, reminiscing the sad fate of his home and family. He does not comment.
‘’Is that so? Yet you forget the only family name with any semblance of weight on this vessel would be Daveithai. And so a Daveithai will be the judge of that.’’
‘’Naturally, o Principe.’’
Chouta steps towards Ionut, gesturing to the Saltenguard to lift him up to his feet, so that they can see properly eye to eye.
‘’Seeing there is little else to pick from, I accept your enrolment in our little expedition. Consider yourself employed. Though first things first; I insist you dress properly and clean yourself up. Just think; what would the Emperor think if he saw some plebe as part of our sacred envoy?
Litayyan! See to it he is given a fresh set of garments. Not for free, though. The Ouroborasian is to pay off his debt through the toils expected of him.’’
‘’Principally, o Principe.’’
As the fleet departed from the harbour, Synogchouta could briefly catch a glimpse of the Metropolitan's own formidable posture. Frankly Chouta had not expected his uncle cared enough to make an appearance at all. But as befits him, he merely came to see them off and not to bless their journey or bid them goodbye or whichever he ought to. The reason Chouta could recognize the Metropolitan at all was by the elaborate retinue of scythes suddenly entering the pier, and the coloured, over the top plume of the Metropolitan's hat sticking out above his henchmen.
So it came to pass that the fleet of Synogchouta Daveithai, comprising of at least ten ships and loaded with gifts, spices and armed escorts, leaves the harbour of Göl Kasabi under clear skies and with the winds in their back. With such favourable weather it should not take longer than a few days of crossing Noirmoro strait and trailing the inland rivers. And though it is too late to regret his decision now, a clinging pain falls unto the young heir as he sees his island home, which he has ever loved, fade away into the south… And far to the south he can already tell dark clouds pulling from mainland Uudhin to cover Kasabi island once more in ominous Axohar tempests. But this is as it should be.
The Principe, Synogchouta Daveithai
The Doux, Litayyan Miamai