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Bulagutai Spryte-friend

182 of the Azad Calendar - Year of the Dead Horse - 1 Post-Realta

When Bulagutai Spryte-friend first heard the drums of war and the baleful deathsong of the igilir, he knew beyond doubt that the time of the great bloodletting was at hand. It was from a distance beyond sight that he heard it, a deep rumbling that gently shook the earth at first, grew into tremors as one grew nearer and nearer yet, and then at last became all one could hear or feel. It did not vibrate through the earth and through his temporal form alone, for the gravity of these tremors echoed even through the fabric of all that was, and through the wide-eyed souls of mortalkind afar and nigh around. And scaling a final hilltop, through the sound of horses and screaming and drumming and shaking - noise so thick that one could not walk, but only wade, through -, the great scene came into full view. His sprytes circled about him, agitated by the noise and afraid of the enormous gathering of fleshly beings on the plain. The Spryte-friend brought one close and stroked an ethereal head that now formed up and now dissipated into an ephemeral mist.

His journey had been long, and the bond forged with these sprytes that now bound themselves to him and followed him was beyond anything other disciples of Y'Qar - in their impatience - could know. 'We have been gifted something great,' Zanshah had declared to him one day, 'and now is the time to return to our people with it, to teach this great knowledge.' But Bulagutai had been of an altogether differing inclination.
'How can they hope to teach who are in the shamanic arts as accomplished as a fish is in the ways of flight? No brother, we have much yet to learn - the spring flows into a stream, which worships at the foot of the great river, which flows into the great lake, beyond which are mountains on mountains stacked, beyond which is the sky from horizon to horizon drawn, above which are stars and moons and endless travails. If you wish it, then you may to our people now return; but as for me, the miles call, the miles of the mind, and the walk must of necessity go on.'

And so he had travelled. For a time he continued to follow Y'Qar in the hopes that he would divulge more of what he had been gifted, but the great shaman was suspicious and covetous, his vision transfixed on usurping his father and brother. Bulagutai saw Y'Qar for what he was then - a well of knowledge that had dried up. And so he had departed for Vetruvia where the people spoke of strange and dark arts being practised in the night, of unnatural beasts that twisted things beyond their naturally ordained forms and filled them with horror and pain and - ultimately - death. But if it were not natural, reasoned Bulagutai, then how could it be possible at all? Surely nature herself would not permit the universe the very faculty of comprehending that which was unnatural, let alone permit its production. Surely the very existence, the very reality, of a thing - even if it existed as a fleeting or imagined thought in the mind of the most obscure and evanescent of creatures - was proof enough of its being a natural part of the great tapestry? All that existed was by its very existence of nature, and so to say 'such and such a thing is most abhorrent and unnatural' was manifestly erroneous.

The single spryte who followed him at that time disagreed, screeching in its unhearable voice of the evils of Djivin and reprimanding him and warning him against such ideas and thoughts -

Mind the path oh fleshly kinsman; do not stray
See you not these thoughts are hunted nightly and by dawn of day?

It had a tongue for poetry, and of surety there was to be found in poetry pearls of wisdom. But Bulagutai was a creature of the mind and of reason, and he saw with an eye and struck with a blade that reason alone could hope to defy.
In that great city, Bulagutai came upon a hidden gem - a temple that was no mere temple, but an archive of knowledge. He had travelled from temple to temple, asking the priests of Vetruvia what they knew of the shamanic arts, and at every door and gateway he had been rebuffed with harsh words and turned away with suspicion, neither fare was afforded him nor the welcome owed to guests and wayfarers. Some had even thought to report this stranger to the so-called Priest-King - and many did not just think it but acted on such thoughts. Yet this Priest-King seemed unconcerned with a travelling stranger.

In the bazaar one day he saw a great crowd following a scraggly-haired preacher, chanting such things as, 'down with the Witch!' and, 'out with the heretic!' Made curious by this talk of witches, he followed them and soon came to know that this was not the first time an itinerant preacher had come forth from the Vetruvian desert to try and cast out the Witch-Priestess of the Temple of the Bond. Many had come before and, as Bulagutai would come to know, many would come after.

He watched as the Witch-Priestess - the one called Mother Iehra - brought low this one who thought to cast her out, with the swiftness of her tongue and piercing insight. And so he was drawn to her - or to be more precise, to the knowledge that lay hidden behind her eyes, to the compelling mind that lay beneath that crown. He never did speak with the Witch-Priestess - he avoided her and cast his eyes low whenever she passed him by. But in the library he befriended a young Priestess named Lowza who was at first happy to read the manuscripts for him. Dissatisfied with this, for she was not always available, he had set his time and energy to deciphering the language of the Vetruvians. It had been a lengthy endeavour, and Sister Lowza aided him, even affording him a place to stay with her brother who dwelled but a short distance from the temple. It became common to see the Azad sat in the far corner of the library, poring over one tome or another in his efforts. When Mother Iehra walked into the library, on the occasions that she did, he seemed to bend over double as though getting low enough would allow him to disappear into the book or tome or scroll. For her part she never approached him, and - for no reason that he could fathom - he was glad for it.

As it became clear that his stay in Vetruvia was to be too lengthy to continue living as a guest, he began to seek out a way to be self-sufficient, or some way to recompense Sister Lowza and her brother, Urb, for providing him with accommodation. He was a Rukban, and so knew his way around a sword and bow, though he openly admitted that he had never dedicated himself to the twain in the manner his brother Shaqmar had done - for Shaqmar was the glorious warrior of the Azad, a creature closer to divinity, granted boundless prowess and piercing sight. Bulagutai's path was of a more humble and scholarly bent, but even the scholarly Rukban knew well the sword, the bow, the spear, and knew well the horse. The Vetruvians knew nothing of the horse and treated it with suspicion, the bow was foreign to them also for they preferred the sling, and they knew nothing of the sword and knew much of the spear. These were the things the Rukbans knew, and these all had to do with war. Even their mastery over words found its greatest application in war - the word was a weapon too, and the Rukbans knew well how to hone it and knew well how to strike their enemies with it and to hurt them in their hearts. And so Bulagutai found that of little use were those things of his people here.

One day, some months into his stay, with Sister Lowza sat across him, he let it be known that he wished after some kind of work, that he may earn a living and pay both her and her brother back for permitting his continued stay with them. She had smiled and waved his words off. 'Think nothing of it, kindness is its own payment.' Bulagutai had looked at her impassively.
'Kindness?' He had heard the priestesses preach of it before, but had never really paused to consider it. It seemed absurd to him that hospitality and kindness should be conflated. 'I do not know what you mean, but I have never heard of those who barter for kindness.' She looked at him quizzically.
'Kindness itself is its own payment is what I mean to say. To see you at comfort and ease and to know that I have contributed to that, to see you reading while before you could not make out even the letters. It gives me joy and that joy is payment enough.' Bulagutai frowned.
'You are spending time to teach me, you feed me of the food you grow tired to provide, you house me in your brother's house freely. You lose by this arrangement and do not gain, and it irks me. I am neither a cheat nor a beggar and will not conduct myself or be treated as such.' She blinked in confusion, taken aback by words that, though spoken softly, held a subtle barb.
'Do your people not have the concept of hospitality?' She asked.
'Of course we do.' Came his simple response.
'That is kindness! You are generous to the guest and treat them well, better than your own. That comes from kindness.'
'No, kindness is rooted in weakness, in submission, in fear. Hospitality is honourable. Kindness brings dishonour. Hospitality is a sign of wealth, it displays to all that one is able to care and provide for, and protect, those who seek shelter at one's door. It shows you to be a man of your word and trustworthy, for the guest has no need to fear the treacherous knife or the subtle poisonous drought when you are the host. It is not a matter of kindness, it is a matter of honour.' Lowza considered his words for a few moments.
'Well, I mean... that is somewhat odd. It is a matter of honour here too, I guess - but not... not quite as you describe. Is it not rooted in doing unto others as one would like done unto them? And isn't that in itself the very definition of kindness?' Bulagutai frowned as he considered this concept, and then shook his head.
'You speak oddly - what is this doing unto others as you would have done unto you? No one does this. People kill and maim, steal, loot, rob. We do unto others much that we would not like done unto ourselves.'
'Ah! But should the ideal not be that we do unto others as we would like done unto us?'
'No, that is mere foolishness - it is to willingly throw yourself to ruination. We must do as done unto us. If we did unto others as we do unto ourselves, then we would find our goodness recompensated with evil, our generosity with miserliness, our mercy with cruelty.'
'So what would your response be if a beggar were to ask your help?' Lowza asked testingly.
'There are no beggars in Rukbany, and he who begs is dishonoured. It is better far that one die dignified than that he should eat and drink of dishonour.'
'And what if your father asked your help?' She asked quizzically.
'We owe our kindred a duty. Their wellbeing is our wellbeing, their strength our strength. Those who treat their kin badly are in our view most vile and are worthy indeed of contempt.'
'But those who treat other people badly are truly virtuous in your eyes?'
'I owe other people no duty. As for my kin, I owe it them. In turning on them I strike down my own horse which carries and provides for me in war and peace alike.'
'So you care for your kin because it serves you and is to your benefit, and you care for the guest because it is a display of your power. Where in all this is basic morality - do you not claim to worship the same God as we?'
'The Eternal Sky is a glorious and majestic sovereign, and we are all his vassals. Those who adhere to the Law are honoured and those who defy it shame us before him and incur his wrath, and we punish them a severe punishment. That is all there is to it.'
'So you obey the Master only because you fear the punishment of your people?'
'In part. It is only natural for the weak to be submissive before the mighty. None is mightier than the qa'id, and the greatest of qa'ids is the Eternal Sky. But worship of him does not only keep punishment at bay, it also brings honour.'
'So why do you worship him here, right now? Your people can neither punish you here nor can they honour you.'
'You are right in that, but the wrath of the Eternal Sky is not connected to my people. Wherever I may be, his wrath may strike me down. And wherever I am his pleasure empowers me. He is the wellspring of the shamanic arts practised by the Witch-Priestess, and he is the well-spring of the knowledge that I seek to harness. How should I harness it if I have incurred his wrath?' Lowza frowned.
'So tell me this, why are you good to anyone in this city. Why do you not treat me and my brother and the people of this Temple with the contempt you would treat anyone who is not of your kin?'
'Ah, but it is not so simple. You have given me no cause to mistreat you, and have only treated me with the hospitality that is due a guest. You are good hosts, you fulfil your duties, and so I fulfil my duties as a guest. I shall praise you wherever my foot lands, for that is the duty of the good guest to the good host.'
'And yet that same guest, under different circumstances, may slight and insult the host. If the host came to him for help one day, for instance, you say he has no duty to him at all. Isn't that warped?'
'The host has a duty to his guest, and he is dishonoured if he does not carry it out. The guest owes a duty to his host, but that duty expires once he departs. The host's reward comes in the form of his enhanced reputation and honour. It does not come in the form of that particular guest or those particular guests being indebted to him. So a man may be a guest one day, and he may depart the next, and on the third the host may raid that former guest's herd and the former guest may retaliate as he pleases. The former guest may curse and take the former host as his enemy, but there would be no question about his honourable conduct as a host, and even should the former guest strike the former host down, still would he praise his conduct as a host. These are entirely different matters and are not to be conflated.' Lowza frowned deeply.
'That makes no sense. It is contradictory.'
'And even if it were contradictory, and I do not see any such thing, what does it matter? It works and serves us well.'
'I imagine it works somehow, but I doubt it serves you well.' Was her retort.
'It is practical. It takes into consideration the nature and predilections of men. Would you have us ignore the evil that all people are capable of? - nay, naturally predisposed towards. Would you have us deny the natural desire for power and prestige? Replace it all with the foolishness of this kindness of yours?' Lowza pursed her lips in irritation.
'It is not foolishness. It is about discipline. We are all capable of great evil, we are all vulnerable to primal emotions. But to become elevated, to become truly human and not a mere animal, we must tame these primal emotions and discipline them. By disciplining them we are made purer and more perfect, closer to that which is divine. Otherwise we can sink to be even as base as - and baser yet than - the creatures of Y'Vahn. See, you are tied down by this tribalism and this terrible understanding of honour and you allow it to forge you and dictate your morality. But one must rise above these all and seek, above all else, to be the finest person they can be - just, generous, brave, altruistic, wise, temperate, dignified, forgiving, disciplined, and much else! In sum, it is a duty you owe yourself to be the most excellent person you can possibly be. And in carrying out that duty to yourself you are well-placed to carry out a wider duty you owe all: the alleviation of suffering, however and whenever you can as though all the world were your kin.' Bulagutai scrutinised the Priestess. There was much he could say in protest against this absurd conception of the world, but he allowed himself pause and considered seriously what she was saying for a few moments.
'I cannot say, Lowza,' he at last spoke, 'that I see eye to eye with you on this. But what I can say is that it is of interest and I can, mayhaps, understand it given what I have seen of this city and of this Temple. I will think often on your words.' The Priestess beamed, and many were the occasions thereafter that they sat together in thrall to ideas and philosophies, the priestess leaning forward and whispering excitedly over the table as the Rukban sat back and calmly gave response. She would at times force him from the table and the endless scrolls and tomes, into the courtyard where trees grew and there was life. And they would walk sometimes to the bazaar or along the bank of the river. He had not considered it at the time, but thinking back Bulagutai found himself inclined to believe that Lowza may well have been smitten with him.

As it were his stay in the great city would not carry on into perpetuity and when he had exhausted his energies and found that he tired of staring at tomes and scrolls he bid farewell to Lowza and Urb and took a Vetruvian sailship down the Mahd. These constructions were wondrous things indeed. They were hewn from cedar wood, if the sailor Bulagutai spoke to was to be believed, and sported one great mast and a square-shaped sail. Both the wind and oars powered it, and at the back was a great steering oar greater than all the rest which controlled the direction of the ship. It was a work of genius and a testament to the ultimate power of the innovative mind.

Horrorborn Beauty of the Waters

On occasion a passing djinni would descend and playfully blow into the sail, so granting the ship speed on its journey downstream. They stopped by various port towns where Bulagutai had opportunity to speak to merchants who had sailed beyond the Mahd. The Mahd, they told him, fed a grand forest that sat in the waters, and beyond it was saline water as far as the eye could ever hope to see. Bulagutai looked on impassively. 'You have seen the eyes that hope to see,' he had whispered. The merchant did not hear him, and even if he did Bulagutai was already lost in thought, his gaze fixed on something neither here nor there - and maybe not truly anywhere at all. The companionship of Y'Qar, Vetruvia, this port town; these were but the beginnings of his odyssey, and what lay before him was greater yet.

The shaman shook away the entangling web of memories and looked before him at the enormous Azad encampment. Aye, he had returned home now after long years and could see as clear as the unforgiving orb of day that much had changed. Atop the hill he stood a shadow for some time, the threads of his travel-worn garments the plaything of sprytes, his hair uncovered to wind and sand and the beating rays and to the kisses and protective embraces of his divine companions. He stood a watchful shade, his face as stone and his heart enveloping his people, their pain and suffering a glaring wound to all who knew well how to see. He had returned now as a balm and soft breeze. And so Bulagutai descended from his perch, walking slow as sprytes trailed in his wake and heavenward all about him.

When the first riders spotted him their horses reared and snorted and kicked the earth, turning and turning, churning up mud and causing dust clouds to rise. They approached and hailed, but their horses did not stop and they went by and then returned and hailed again but their horses could not - would not - stop. They hailed him who was silent and the riders about him grew many and still their horses did not stop, much as each skilled rider willed, so that all about him was a circle of horse and man flesh going and going and raising up the dust. But all around the Spryte-friend was clear and no dust approached or landed on him, the airborne dirt parted before him or came swiftly and gently passed.

'It is Bulagutai! It is Bulagutai!' The cry at last went up and was taken up as a fire in a land of endless dry bushes. 'It is Bulagutai!' Was the unified cry. The women came out and sent forth ululations of joy and others beat at their chests and tore at their hair and cried for joy and for all the pain that would soon break the heart of the son and brother of noble qa'id after noble qa'id born. Old women came out with bowls of kymis and, placing their hands within, sprayed it above the head of the returned son of the Azad and sent forth praise and blessings on the Eternal Sky that had watched over him and brought him safely back to the bosom of his people after long absence.

The Qa'id Adheem stepped forth flanked by Zanshah, Bulagutai's eldest brother, as well as Alqama the Chief Shaman and other elders beside. Silence fell as the returned son stood before the Qa'id Adheem and the elders. Then Zanshah stepped forth and his face lit up with his characteristic smile - though even that could not hide the well of sadness in his eyes - and he extended his hands towards his brother. Bulagutai stepped forward and they both gripped one another's arms in silent greeting. Qaseer the Qa'id Adheem eyed him for a few moments then he too smiled and they gripped one another's arms.

'My Qa'id,' spoke Bulagutai. Qaseer grinned and brought him close.
'None of that between us, cousin! I had wondered who it was that saved me from that strange fiend. I see now that it could have only been you.' Bulagutai smiled thinly at Qaseer's words.
'You should not have been out so far all on your own, Qa'id. Your death would have added only more woe to our many woes.' Qaseer's brows dropped at this words, as if they had suddenly remembered the weight of responsibilities and troubles.
'Your words testify that you have already come to know what I fear to tell you.' Bulagutai nodded.
'I know that my brother has gone ahead of us to where we all are headed.' Qaseer nodded and allowed his head to fall.
'Aye, he has. But he has left us a will, and his will is blood. And no Azad am I if the will of Shaqmar is not done!' Bulagutai's eyes softened and there was sadness there.
'Honour and duty demand it.' Spoke the shaman, causing Qaseer to smile and grip the other man's shoulder.
'Your travels have not stripped you bare, Bulagutai! You are the brother of Shaqmar. Come, let us wash you and dress you, and let us bring forth food and drink. Tonight we shall take joy and solace in your return, and tomorrow we shall deliver death to Toqidae and his people and all his confederates!' Bulagutai did not speak but allowed himself to be led away.

When the sun had been extinguished and the fires awakened all over the camp, and when all had gathered to hear from Bulagutai, the Spryte-friend spoke. He spoke of his going forth with Zanshah in pursuit of godly knowledge, spoke of how they had found themselves with a company of wandering outcasts - lowly escaped slaves some of them, criminals, and then there was Y'Qar the Vetruvian nobleman in self-exile. He spoke of the blessings granted Y'Qar by the Eternal Sky and the command to share it. But Y'Qar was jealous and covetous and hid more than he shared, and so Zanshah had departed after feeling satisfied that no more could be gained from the man. Bulagutai, however, was more persistent. 'But in due time I too saw that Y'Qar was to us nothing more than a dried-up well, the creative energies had shrivelled up within him and all that remained was hatred and bitterness. He was a ruin within, and a ruin cannot hope to create but can only bring about ruin. And so I departed from him and travelled in pursuit of that which I had first left home and kin for.'

He spoke of his stay in Vetruvia and the Temple of the Bond, spoke of Iehra, the greatest of the shamans of the world, who was mistress over that Temple and who - so it was said - was descended of the Prophet; nay, descended of the Eternal Sky or herself an aspect of it! He spoke of the secrets of shamanic knowledge that lay written in the tomes and scrolls of her Temple's great library. 'What is a library, son of our first mother, and what are tomes and scrolls?' Came the question, and Bulagutai smiled and explained that a library was a place where books and scrolls were kept, and then he presented them with a book he carried on his person and wherein he had written much knowledge he had seen.

'And what is hidden,' he said with a mischievous glint in his eyes as he tapped the side of his head, 'is greater yet!' He told them then of his journey down the Mahd, told them that the Mahd poured itself into a great forest that grew out of the water. 'The people of those strange lands live perpetually on boats, and they have homes built on sticks above the water. And to travel from one home to another you must either jump so as not to get wet, or you must swim, or you must row a boat.' And he spoke of how he had managed to convince the master of the ship he had boarded to carry on beyond the mangrove into the great endless water. They had kept land ever in sight as they journeyed and many of those who had come with them refused to go beyond and so it fell to Bulagutai to summon forth sprytes to aid their journey. 'We travelled until we came to the lands of the merchants who bring us metal from the far mountains. I was amongst them for a time and saw terrible shamanic arts - there it is not the spryte and the djinni that hold power, but the word.' And he opened his tome and leafed through it until he came to one particular sign, which he replicated on the ground so that a small spring erupted before them.

The people were shocked and even Alqama stared in amazement at this miraculous magick. 'They do not worship the Eternal Sky in those far mountains, they worship others beside the Eternal Sky - in fact, some do not know the Eternal Sky at all. Their gods have granted them these arts and many are they who use them for evil. But I am a son of yours and a brother, and I have brought you only what is good.' Then he invited them and many were they who drank water fresh and pure from the spring, and it was thereafter known as the Great Spring.

'But my journey, may the Eternal Sky preserve you, did not end there. Again I set out with my trusted companion the shipmaster - it was him only now, and me. He was forlorn and yearning for home, but I thirsted yet for wandering.' So, Bulagutai told them, he had convinced his companion to journey from the coast. He had alleviated the other man's fears and assured him that so long as he, Bulagutai, was a friend to sprytes then no harm would come them. 'But I spoke in arrogance and forgot to praise the Eternal Sky - no power or might have we, only through his grace can we be empowered by the shamanic arts,' and so, when land was far from sight, why then earth's foundation fled, nor sky nor land nor sea at all were found, and they were set upon by those dark raging waters and terrible storms rocked them and took them hither and thither. Utterly helpless before nature's wrath, their ship was smashed and both men were swallowed into the burgeoning darkness of the endless waters. 'And even that shipmaster, who I had seen swim in and out of water with ease, was overpowered and perished. I survived only due to the loyalty and efforts of these sprytes who - in the desperation only death can bring - I gained mastery over.' Bulagutai then stopped and looked into the dark night. The people were still, staring wide-eyed as his tale unraveled.

'Ah,' he said, 'but the hour grows late and on the morrow we shall meet with death and mete it.' And with those words the people rose and began to disperse each to his own tent. But though they dispersed, and though the Azad were at war, the only talk that night was of Bulagutai and his fantastic journey. Many were those who came to him, kissing his fingers to gain blessing by touching one so blessed by the Eternal Sky. When Bulagutai retired with his brother Zanshah, and with his sisters also and with Qaseer and other close kin, he looked about and frowned. 'Why is it that I do not see Surayka, or is she also amongst those who went on ahead?'

Qaseer shook his head in response. 'No, she has not gone ahead but she may as well have. Ever since Shaqmar's death she has donned the red and black and has been as a shadow or a ghost haunting the camp.' Hearing this Bulagutai rose and excused himself, and then he gestured for his sister Wanun to lead him to Surayka's tent. Standing outside it he could hear his grief-stricken kinswoman chanting a poem.

Peace to the world and all on it, for it is not peace
If the heartstrings of your life are cleft from the heartstrings of mine

It is as though we were created in error and it is as though
It was forbidden upon the world that we should be united

I collected the memories of yesterday's meeting in my lashes,
And I went reigniting them, one by one, on the tired horizons.

There are none so confused as I: the eye runs wet and dry,
Weeping and laughing in the depths of my secret heart...

I forgot from his hand to take back my hand,
Lost my very mind after a brief kiss.

There are none so confused as I: I collapse exhausted
Behind the curtains of my roundtent in illness and heartache.

I love this love if it comes to visit us with its fragrance
Oh perfumes make your nest at the door and spill everywhere.

Entering the roundtent, he looked down at her and smiled sympathetically. 'Many things you are, Surayka, but not a poet. You have the heart for it, not the tongue.' She looked at him with wet eyes and then looked away again.
'What is it to me, son of our first mother? What comes from the heart will land, at long last, in the heart.' He did not disagree and approached her, sitting before her. After a few moments of thought, he began reciting her verses back to her altered and changed.

I have wished peace on creation,
But 'tis not peace
If great God deems to apportion
For us heartache,
And if our bound heartstrings should break.

Oh pain so great God must have erred
In making us,
Or while pairing us slipped and glared,
And so forbade
The world to shelter us or shade:

I have gathered the memories
That sing the tale
Of past meetings, in my lashes,
Lighting them all
On the horizon of my soul.

None are confused as unto me -
A slave yet not;
The eye runs wet and dry and free
Laughing, weeping,
So my heart is leaping, creeping,

Shedding tears for long-gone kisses,
Carving rivers
That are healed by past embraces;
From his hand I
Failed to draw mine: so take, oh sky!

None are confused as unto me -
So I collapse,
Exhausted with this misery,
In my roundtent
With the curtain drawn and back bent -

I love this love when it visits
With its fragrance;
Come, enter with scented spirits,
You perfumes nest
And spill through my curtain to rest.

Surayka did not look at him, but her tears fell heavy. At last she sniffed and cleared her throat and spoke. 'You don't have Shaqmar's tongue, and took the heart from it too.' This caused Bulagutai to chuckle and nod in agreement, and Surayka too smiled ever so slightly and looked at him. 'But you are his image...' she sighed, 'except for the eyes; and the eyes hold much. His were alight with two suns, but yours are simmering coals.' Bulagutai cocked his head.
'Are my eyes so dark? I thought them brown.'
'Simmmering,' Surayka murmured. Then she began chanting again verses that were neither hers nor his, but theirs.

I have wished peace on creation, for there is no peace
If the Sky apportions for us heartache and separation
And if the bound heartstrings of our lives should break

Oh pain so great that it is as though
We were created in error, and it is as though
'Twere forbidden on the world that we should unite

I have gathered the memories of yesterday's meetings on my lashes,
And reignited them all, one by one, on the tired horizons.

What ails the birds that they approach and then question me
'You have neglected your hair, gone is the knot of shoots!'
Their flocks, and the gleam in their glances
Incite in me towards them something of reproach

None are confused as me: the eye runs wet and dry,
Laughing and weeping in the depths of my secret heart...

I love him, who claims I had never smiled for him;
He grew near so their embraced me a longing for escape:
I forgot from his hand to take back my hand

None are confused as me: I collapse exhausted
Behind the drawn curtains of my roundtent, with back bent

I love this love when it comes visiting with its fragrance
Come in on scented spirits burning incense;
Oh perfume make your nest at the door and spill everywhere!

He nodded in acknowledgement. 'It is imperfect, unbalanced, distorted and contorted; but it has heart. And what comes from the heart,' he looked at her, 'lands in the heart.' She stared at him with distance in her eyes, and then one of her hands was at his cheek.
'You are his likeness, except for the eyes. Just as words can be spoken though the tongue utters naught, eyes hide meanings for eyes with true sight.' He removed her hand from his cheek and pressed his lips to her fingers.

And I questioned her, but without speaking a word
So she spoke to me, though her tongue struck not a chord

She looked away and was quiet for a time. Then she lowered her gaze to the ground and spoke. 'In all your travelling, did you ever have occasion to give yourself to another's embrace?' Bulagutai shook his head.
'I was pursuing a different kind of embrace.' She turned back to him with eyes brimming with tears and closed the distance between.
'Then for tonight - just tonight - embrace me.'

And he did. And when she fell asleep he brought her near and covered both her and him in the furs, and his eyes did not sleep as he watched over her. In the dark depths of the night, his eyes of simmering coal yet open, she turned over and buried her head into his beard and sighed and muttered. And her sighs and mutters were, 'Shaqmar...'
He stroked her face and brought her near. 'Yes, sun of my night,' he whispered. She giggled in sleep, childlike joy and innocence, and all tension left her as she breathed deep. The image of her lost Shaqmar held her close, and all around them sprytes streamed and wafted in silent, eternal vigil. On the morrow there would be blood and war, and death would dance across Rukbany as it had danced and reaved before. Great warriors and qa'ids would be brought low, tribes would be shattered and others would rise, for that was the Rukban way. But for tonight, a burdened soul and broken heart at last found release. Perhaps kindness was not quite so terrible after all.
@BBeast I will ensure Teknall and Gadar/Belru-Vowzra meet. I imagine Teknall is currently quite busy with Xos, I'm not quite caught up, so perhaps sometime after all that.
I will remember the Temple of the Bond and the trade school, and will seek to involve you in that post (not necessary for their to be any direction from Teknall or Yara, just a purely collaborative aspect to the post) so we can ensure the trade school in particular is done justice.
@Double Capybara I think the idea of summation posts is good. I'm going to do a summation and wrap up post for the Eskandars as we are moving the RP towards endgame, and I will also do a summation and wrap up post for my southern Rukban stuff as I think the culture of people there has been delved into enough. I will also do a general overview of the Vetros plot, and then a wrap up and skip with regards to any Vetros plots I'm involved in so Cyclone can take that over and delve into any long-term stories he has for the Vetruvians. Once that's done I'll focus on the endgame plot for Gadar/Belru-Vowzra, beginning with the Tira collabs, and resolve the matter of Mafie somewhere in all that. I'm not completely caught up on the posts though, still need to read page 31 and 32. Will get to that soon and make a note of anything I need to get responding to.
𝔖 𝔢 𝔦 𝔥 𝔡 𝔥 𝔞 𝔯 𝔞

Time: The Day the Gods Came

In the forests of Galbar that Seihdhara's hair had created, bears walked. Seihdhara's hair had created all kinds of bears - brown bears, red bears, panda bears, black bears, sun bears, spectacled bears, cave bears, short-faced bears, and even red pandas - though those were not really bears. Seihdhara's hair just thought that Seihdhara would find them cute. Some bears had managed to somehow find their way north over the eons, and species of polar bear had developed. Some were particularly big.

But these bears did not just stalk the world on foot. During their hibernation, they could send their souls out of their bodies to scout. It was a single extraordinary or powerful ability that Seihdhara's hair had decided to confer on bears while Seihdhara still slept. Some bears did not even need to be in hibernation to manage this, they could send their souls walking at any time they pleased and this gave them a special edge when hunting, or when trying to avoid or escape a potential predator.

From time to time when the bears were soulwalking, as this special ability was called, they would come across a location guarded by an odd creature. It was not a physical creature, but a soul-creature. They were not very common, but common enough for soulwalking bears to come across every now and again. These soul-creatures stayed in one place and one place only, and they were very suspicious of other creatures. They were territorial and jealously guarded their homes, but if they perceived that a creature passing through meant no harm then they let it be. When fires erupted, these soul-creatures protected their homes from the fires, and so in the aftermath of forest-fires there would be little green enclaves where the fire could never reach. If their homes were ever destroyed, these soul-creatures died.

They came about seemingly at random when soul ash came together without a physical creature nigh, and they protected their homes and were eternal so long as their homes stood. And so they aggresively protected those homes against all threats. These soul-creatures were called Home-spirits by Seihdhara's hair.

𝔖 𝔢 𝔦 𝔥 𝔡 𝔥 𝔞 𝔯 𝔞

Time: The Day the Gods Came

Seihdhara was asleep when her hair removed itself and flew off the Nyeothay Tag, leaving the sleeping humanoid body with light brown hair. Knowing that she would become cold uncovered, the hair covered her with a blanket before leaving. The hair flew far and wide, noting the new continents that had arisen and the proliferation of landscapes and sites. However some places were untouched by the gods and were still barren, and so the hair spat seeds whenever it came across such a barren location. When the seeds landed all kinds of trees erupted from the earth - oaks mainly, but also birch, hawthorn, and elder trees. Here and there the hair dotted mistletoe.

The hair flew over Kalmar's great continent and spread these trees, and then it found itself sweeping over Li'Kalla's island and spread the trees there as well. It turned about and made for the huge continent Ohannakeloi had created and spread these trees all over the continent too. When it got to the furthest west it noticed Istais. There were not many barren places here, but it created a few forests anyway. It ensured that many different existing species took up habitat in these newly created forests, and it also created a diversity of bears in all of them.

Satisfied with all of this, the hair returned to the sleeping Seihdhara on the Nyeothay Tag.

𝔖 𝔢 𝔦 𝔥 𝔡 𝔥 𝔞 𝔯 𝔞

Time: The Day the Gods Came

Asleep once more, Seihdhara dreamt that she was carried away by a single strand of red hair. Down through a lake of blood (the Seihdh Lake) and through a gateway. Once through, a new world presented itself before Seihdhara's eyes. Though she was well-aware that this was just a dream, a part of her knew that it was more than that. This was that sphere that the Old Ogre had wanted her to make.

Looking up, the goddess saw the vastness of space, its great darkness, and the stars, as well as other Spheres - the closest of which was the desolate broken moon that Orvus had created, and which was called Veradax. The blood-red light of the Horizon Grotto and fiery light of the Heliopolis met and mixed far above with the flame-orange of Seihdhara's sphere, creating a crimson celestial dance and embrace.

The sphere was saturated with an electric energy and hotness that lit up the fires of ambition and life within the goddess, in defiance of all the entropic forces in the world. Happy with all this, she looked around herself.

A path beaten into hardened mud led from the entrance of the sphere to its centre, where there stood a stone circle. Within said circle was an oak grove, at the centre of which was a particularly majestic oak tree with leaves of burning flame. Cinder and ash fell from it and were carried for a short distance before settling on the warm earth within the circle from which grew tall red grass.

Everywhere else outside the stone circle nature had taken over - here all sorts of strange plants grew and competed, clearly due to Phystene's World Tree. It was clear that the sphere did not do anything to resist the World Tree's influence, for the place was full of life and vegetation everywhere. All vegetation extended from the branches and leaves of the World Tree, so they had no roots of their own. The great oak tree with flaming leaves in the centre of the Stone Circle was, in fact, a great branch of the World Tree.

As the goddess walked by she stepped on a sapling and found that blood burst from it rather than sap. She bent down and brought some the red substance to her lips and felt invigorated and empowered. But she also felt the heavy burden that killing and combat brought.

The sphere melted away and she found herself sitting - still dreaming - below on Galbar. She looked up, and there in the sky was a red-orange stain that looked a lot like a seal. She laughed and decided to call her sphere the Seal. Then there was darkness and she returned to a dreamless sleep.


The content of this IC post is not in line with the RP's present IC rules. Can you please delete it? Thank you.
@Leotamer I love you two you salty old penguin.

FP: 0 MP: 04

𝔖 𝔢 𝔦 𝔥 𝔡 𝔥 𝔞 𝔯 𝔞

Time: The Day the Gods Came

A twinkle of sunlight speared through a dense canopy, tickling Seihdhara’s eyes open. Above her was a sea of emerald leaves dancing in an unfelt breeze, their branches croaking with each passing gust. Beneath she felt the plush of moss, propped on the curve of a bulbous birch root. Realizing that she had been holding her breath, she let in a comfortably warm spray of air, the smell of spring and autumn both flickering in concert. Opening and closing her mouth a couple of times, she could not help but think the moistness of the air to be strange, but she quickly overcame this line of thought, for she then got to thinking that it was stranger yet that the roof of the great cave she had fallen asleep in was no longer there.

‘Rhu...’ she mumbled, turning her head to the side. But neither Urhu nor the fire nor the cave nor winter nor the Purlieu were to be seen.

Three cords sounded, their vibration hanging in the air and provoking her to sit up. Past the blur of sleepy eyes she saw a young man lounging between a bed of moss and a sheer cliff face of soil and roots. The plain looking man was draped in sheets of white wool, his eyes closed and mouth pursed as his nimble fingers plucked softly and slowly at a sixteen stringed instrument.

The cords were stretched over a hollow wooden bowl and ran over a long wooden neck complete with notches. Seihdhara looked at him bleary eyed for what felt like a few minutes before finally rising - her hair pushing against the earth and slowly lifting her until she was on her feet. The sounds were strange to her, but they elicited a degree of excitement and she found herself wishing for a flute so that she could respond to the sounds with notes of her own. Idly her strands began searching for a suitable branch as the saffron-haired wo- she blinked. Frowned. Then she looked down at her bare body.

Rather than the full-formed and carefully maintained physique of the adult warrior goddess, her’s was that of a juvenile girl on the cusp of puberty. It was so small, so vulnerable, that her immediate reaction was embarrassment. Then her hairs began to wrap about her like clothing to hide the shame of her childish form that knew nothing of battle or motherhood. For all her previous confusion at being in this strange place, she did not pause to wonder at this bizarre development but took it for what it was and moved on quickly. Her weakness covered, she found that her strands had been carving away at a piece of wood that now hovered before her in the shape of an elegant little flute. She took it in one hand, but rather than playing it to the white-clad stranger as she had at first intended, she held onto it and approached him warily, her eyes darting here and there for any sign of danger, her budding body tensed beneath the protective layer of hair.

Three more cords sounded and something above the young musician became apparent to Seihdhara as she approached. While his fingers danced slowly over the instrument, both a black mouse and a white mouse were at work above him. Each had a hole in the side of the cliff, and between their homes was a thick tuft of long grass, its blades tied to a sword that dangled directly above the musician. Seihdhara’s eyes narrowed in recognition of the double-edged short sword, its blade of silver and its subtle orange glow visible even from where Seihdhara looked. The handle was a dark mahogany, and Seihdhara could not quite see it but knew that it was wrapped with a leather grip and that the pommel was carved into the head of a roaring bear. Every now and again the white mouse would come out from its home and harvest a single strand of grass before disappearing once again. When it did, the black mouse would emerge and take a strand from its own side. The two mice continued this repetition slowly but surely as the man worked the cords of the instrument.

The sounds were happy and yet filled the air with a sense of dread. And Seihdhara frowned and knew that for all the happiness in those sounds she did not like this at all. Her brows knotted in worry and she looked from the white-clad musician with eyelids closed, then looked to the waiting sword above.

‘Hey you, up there on the wall. Watch out above.’ She called out at last to the musician. Then she frowned at the sword and grass and mice above. Gently, mousey, gently, pray.

There was no answer as the musician’s fingers skipped along the neck of his instrument, his other hand idly plucking at two strings. Slowly the two string sound quickened with his pace and as it did a great house formed next to Seihdhara, its foundation cleaning away a grove in the forest. She quickly recognized it as the musician jumped to four strings. Then to five, as the door began to open.

Seihdhara stared wide-eyed at the great paw that opened it. There, in the darkness of the oaken doorway, a great furred figure stood staring at the silent saffron-haired goddess. A paw was extended, a pouty smile revealed sharpened teeth, and ‘Aida,’ reverberated from the great bear’s chest. Seihdhara frowned, her eyes brimming with tears and her lips pouting ever so slightly.

‘B-but...’ and tears fell, ‘you’re dead.’ Her words did not seem to faze him, and he released a great guttural laugh and beckoned to her.

‘Aida,’ he repeated, and the word came warm and inviting, safe and fatherly. She took a step towards him - but you’re… - and then she was running. Lifted up with ease, she was smothered by his two great arms, safe and warm against his chest. And about his feet there were suddenly cubs, looking up and reaching for her and calling Aida, Aida. She laughed and cried and looked down and reached for them all as they stroked her saffron hair and pulled at it. ‘Let’s get you inside, nice and warm out of the snow.’ Said the old grizzly bear. She looked out at the clearing, felt the sun on her face and breathed autumn and spring, and she did not question his words. Then she looked at the musician and saw the sword - her sword. And a chilling dread filled her as the door gently closed.

Gently, mousey. Gently, pray.

No matter where she stood in the house, somehow she was angled just perfectly by a window so that she could see through it and through every window was the musician. His fingers glided across seven strings, his hands a blur as they quickened. Above him the white mouse would pluck a blade of grass, and retreat, and then the black mouse would pluck a blade of grass, but the musician never looked up.

A melancholic sound filled the house, but everyone around Seihdhara seemed unbothered. And for all the warmth of the fire and excitability of the cubs, for all the old grizzly’s reassurances, Seihdhara could not shake the dread off. It gnawed at the back of her mind, clawed at the periphery of her vision. And when she dared to look, there was the white-clad musician, plucking at the strings as the mice plucked at the grass-blades above. She sat by the fire, now in the old grizzly’s lap as he recounted to her the night he found her - in the darkness and cold she had shone brightly and radiated heat. Recounted how he had gathered her up in his two great arms and carried her with him home, where all his children had been excited and awed by the beautiful red-haired creature that now slept on the bed. ‘There was a time before, when Aida was not,’ he murmured to her, ‘and it was good. But then there was Aida, and our days were brighter for it, and happier too. And more troublesome, my little one, for trouble follows you wherever you go it seems.’ She giggled at his words and buried her face into his great hairy chest, and he smiled and stroked her hair.

‘Aita,’ came a familiar voice from below, and she turned and beamed down at Burido. The cub smiled and called her again in that characteristic way he said certain things, ‘Chasilpi is hiting akain Aita an’ I can’t fint him.’ He pouted and furrowed his brows, then Seihdhara was by his side, taking his paw and running off with him up the stairs.

‘Wherever you are Jazilbi, we’re coming!’ she declared, and spent the afternoon hiding and seeking and wrestling and frolicking with the cubs. Red-faced and unable to stop smiling, she found herself by the window again, and the musician was there.

‘Aida,’ came the old grizzly’s voice, ‘come away from the window. It’s cold out.’ She stared at the sun-stained clearing, the light glinting off the silver blade, and a frown grew on her face and her smile slowly faded.

‘It… it’s not.’ She looked back at the old grizzly and there was a distance in her eyes, and the tears that so quickly brimmed and fell whether for sadness or joy.

A lie. It was a lie. She walked towards the door.

‘Aida,’ came the voice again, now with that familiar sternness his voice took on when he wanted her to listen, ‘it is cold out.’ But there was a distance in her eyes, and she could not unsee the lie. She reached out, and she pulled the door open. As she walked out, she found herself much more grown than when she entered, and despite any time if there was any, the same musician plucked nine strings as the mice worked diligently.

In spite of the bear’s words, the musk of summer played in the grove, while also being strangely garnished with the crispiness of a winter breeze. Even in the strangeness of the weather numerous flowers began to blossom and close, without a care for time. The musician orchestrated his music with the same amount of bliss as the blooming flowers, his strumming rapidly growing. Young fingers scraped up the neck of the instrument, and the grove began to energize along with it, inciting familiar shadows to suddenly spring from behind the trees.

She took a few determined strides towards the musician, her eyes fixed on the blade, but then she found that someone had linked their arm in hers and suddenly she was being spun about a great bonfire. Familiar shadows leapt from behind the trees and drew panpipes and flutes. Eyes glinted and glistening snouts and lips blew, their notes joining the sounds of the strings. She was spun here and there, thrown and pushed. Laughter rang out and she found herself linking arms now with - Jazilbi? - and now with - Huro? And a certain peace overtook her and she joined the dance with gusto, beating the earth and leaping across the flame, spinning and twirling, and being spun and twirled. And now she was in Burido’s arms, and now she was in Shashta’s. And so from the arms of one grown grizzly to the arms of another she went, laughing, shouting, whooping, until she stood spread eagle before the flame, looking heavenward. And she wandered then - when had it gotten so dark? The shadows leapt around the flame, familiar shades and visages with gleaming eyes and teeth.

Aye, something was not right. But she could not quite… remember. She watched in a daze for longer than she knew before realising that there was a flute in her hand. And she knew not from where it had come, but brought it slowly to her lips. And the shades suddenly froze, their glinting eyes horrified and wide. She stared at them, also frozen. Then her eyes narrowed and there was an anger there that set her hair aflame.

The lie.

And she blew. And the note came tuneless and shrill. And it blew the flame, and the mocking shades of familiar and much-loved faces, and the darkness, all away. And even as they were blown away, tears wet her face and a part of her wished that she had not seen the lie, that she could dance and play with all her beloveds.

And then there was only her, and the musician, and the sword, and the mice. This time she did not attempt to step towards him, wary of the lie. Her hair spread about her slowly, like a mantis cocking its forearms. And like a mantis striking - with suddenness, with speed - they speared out towards the sword. But her hair never found the sword, instead it wrapped gingerly around Urhu’s waist, the Goddess looking up at Seihdhara. Off to the side the musician strummed all 16 of his strings, his fingers slamming into them and causing amazing vibrations. The plucking, the strumming, it all culminated into a dance.

Around Seihdhara cubs danced, friends twirled, and family embraced. Houses familiar and not quite so replaced the trees to the west, while places both dear and unknown carved the east, but in the center remained the cliffside and the mice. She watched as little orbs of emotion spun between each memory, a great cheshire smile appearing on the musician’s face.

With the wanderer suddenly so close, Seihdhara felt her heart leap into her throat and the pressingly important matter she had sought out slipped from her memory again. She closed her eyes and leaned her forehead against that of Urhu, and she exhaled. And then it was not just cubs dancing about her, but little hairless babes, a healthy olive in complexion. She brought some to her bosom in a great motherly embrace while others hugged her feet or drooled on them. She handed one of them, wrapped up warm in the skin of elk and deer, to Urhu, and the wanderer seemed utterly unsure of how to deal with it, which made Seihdhara laugh and kiss her beloved’s cheek.

‘That’s Boboa, he’s the shyest and gentlest,’ she told Urhu, pinching little Boboa’s cheek and kissing his nose, ‘and one day, he’ll be the wisest.’ She said with certainty. ‘And this rowdy little one biting my foot is Jinyurek. Small in stature, big at heart, mighty in the fray.’ And she picked Jinyurek up and rained kisses on him even as he grabbed her face and cheeks, cooing and giggling. And she sat down and brought all her little ones to her, hugging them and kissing them and raining all her love on them as Urhu watched, and she wrapped her endless her about them all and brought them close - so close that it seemed to her that they were a part of her again, and she closed her eyes and was at peace.

‘If you go up and look over from the top of the mountain, you can see the ocean in all its vastness and wonder.’ Came her father’s voice. She opened her eyes and found that she was not wrapped in her own hair, but in so many blankets by her father’s great fire, her siblings gathered all about it also and the great old man with endless white beard sat rocking on his rocking chair.

‘Can you tell me a story about the sea, papa?’ she asked sleepily. And his divine voice rumbled - but a gentle rumble mind you, a rumble one knew was for them and not against them - and Seihdhara felt the warmth of the fire and floated in the ethereal sea of her father’s all-pervading voice.

When she opened her eyes again she was looking out of a familiar window. But whereas in reality the scene from the window had been of the world below and her children’s struggle against their furious grandfather’s curse, Seihdhara found that she was now looking up. There, on the wall, she saw the musician again and knew that she had seen him before, but could not remember when, and she saw the sword also and the mice. ‘Hey you,’ she called out as her endless strands of hair reached up to take the sword, ‘come down off the wall.’

The musician’s eyes never opened, and Seihdhara’s hair never made it to the sword. No matter how hard she called out or how far she reached, the musician and the cliffside always seemed a whisker further. A loud jambled sound ruptured the musical notes as the musician’s hand came down too hard, snapping one of the strings of his instrument. Instantly a cold whisper of a breeze wafted behind Seihdhara as the string was severed and quickly the musician switched to different cords, his fingers weaving around the remaining fifteen chords in a complex melody.

Seihdhara looked to the side, her eyebrows furrowed slightly. There was someone behind her, she knew. Before she could turn around completely, two arms gently wrapped about her, and a kiss was planted on her cheek. She turned fully and found herself looking into Aella’s blue eyes. There was on her face that same gentle smile, and it seemed to Seihdhara that even now she could hear the goddess’ comforting words. Smiling, the saffron-haired goddess placed her head against her comforter’s shoulder and a hand against her cheek, so as to feel - as she had attempted to long ago (was it really so long ago?) - what such kindness was made of.

"Oh, my young, sweet sister..." Aella said, stroking Seihdhara’s head. And Seihdhara remembered then how lonely Aella had seemed when last she saw her, sitting there atop her hut while the - what had the little black and yellow striped insect been called? Oh yes! - squiggles. She laughed at the memory and held tight onto the goddess of kindness. And though deep down she knew she was holding onto the lie, she held tighter still.

The grove was warmed with Seihdhara’s laughter, her rosy emotions brightening the forest and reflecting off of the musician’s mighty smile. Slowly the musician stood from his place, his hands a blur as they worked the many strings and produced copious harmonies, and then all at once the sword finally fell. The blade plummeted through the air and sliced against the strings of the instrument, and then with a mighty flash, Seihdhara’s eyes flew open.

There were tears in her eyes, a sad smile on her face, and she felt as though she had been awake all along. Even now she could hear Aella’s words, see her face, feel the warmth of her cheek. Even now she could hear Aida, Aita, even now the cooing of Jinyurek. Urhu’s sleeping form was still beside her, and she threw an arm across the other goddess and buried her face in her side.

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