The woman who is now Setlacana claims to have abandoned her name as she crossed the gates of the underworld, beneath Catcatepetl, where it is said that only the dead may speak. She emerged as Setlacana of the Endless Dance, and as she danced atop the four towers of Eztotlan and lit the four beacons she was said to ascend, becoming Cihuāmitoāni.
Setlacana’s sorcerous gifts, taken from blood and now flowing within her own, are keenly focused in a particular direction and usage--her power is the power of passion, the fires that it starts, and the blood that it courses through with every thrum of pounded drum and beating heart. All that Setlacana does and is known to do spills this destructive and consumptive passion ‘cross the world, and its ardour is known to nestle within the veins of men and light a fire that can never be quenched. It begins slowly, and is easy to ignore--but it soon twists the thoughts and the body towards its desires and passions, and creates a hunger that no amount of feasting or revelry can ever hope to sate. As the fire within the blood begins to boil only the ecstatic pleasures of the flesh will suffice, and the heart becomes a pounding drum whose sound invites equal parts euphoria and madness.
When the blood begins to catch alight, the body is changed in small ways too--the blood begins to sizzle and boil within the veins, and the catalytic nature of the ardour begins to convert some of it into Teoatl Ichinoa. It is the essence of corruptive, destructive pleasure--and though it cannot be allowed to settle in the blood, as its fire would burn away the flesh, there are ways it can be safely consumed. It is known to cause the ardour (if it has not begun already), a rush of ecstatic pleasure floods the very soul, and the ceaseless, pounding beat of the Endless Dance makes itself known in the heart and the mind.
Setlacana is a consummate dancer--every movement of her body, every smouldering gaze she deigns to visit upon her would-be worshippers, every rhythmic stroke and slash of the Xiptecpatl against her skin draws the eye and ensnares the mind. The passion with which she moves is contagious, and the constancy of her undulating steps hammers her magic home--as she dances, she bids the blood to rise and follow, and it has been known for men to resist her rapturous advances but still dance along to her tune without knowing quite why, and without being able to cease.
Beyond her magic, Setlacana is a woman of many talents--she plays practically every instrument that has ever been brought before her with a grace and skill befitting her form, and the human body is one such instrument she has mastered. Through years of presiding over ritual sacrifice, she knows full well each of the corded muscles and tender crevices to pluck to draw forth screams of pain and pleasure alike--and she is well-versed in the practices necessary to preserve the flesh once the soul has passed, and turn them into the drums and the flutes and the ocarinas that drive the Endless Dance.
Setlacana is, first and foremost, a creature of exceptional passion and fervour. She spends her life in a cloud of ecstatic, fervent bliss--giving thought primarily to what it is that will stoke the flames within her blood to ever-greater heights. She shares this ecstasy freely with all who meet her, and wishes to find those who might resist the ardour for long enough to spur her debauchery on to its limits--and to then shatter those limits. It should be noted that, despite her pursuit of hedonistic and destructive bliss, Setlacana is not a negligent or derelict ruler of her people--she cares for their needs as surely as she takes care of her own and will go to extravagant lengths to ensure that her people’s Endless Dance is never interrupted by want of food, shelter, or space--and will defend them against external threats with extreme prejudice.
Within the four towers of Eztotlan, the story of Cihuāmitoāni’s ascension is never far from the lips of a priest or a child. Though the tale does not decorate the carved walls of the temples, where the glories of the absentee gods above and the imprisoned gods below are carved into stone and metal, it is told through song, through dance, and through blood:
As the story goes, Setlacana was once another woman--the high priestess of Ezo Totec--and supped from his sacred blood to make a pilgrimage beneath the earth and into the Coctlan to face off against the gods of death. Before the gates, she drank of the last drops of the gods who had walked the earth before ascending to Izoltan. At the gates, she was visited by Ezo Totec, and drank of his sacred blood to ensure her safe passage through the treacherous trials within Coctlan.
It is said that for four years she descended beneath the earth to the very bottom of the worlds, and observed the Gods of Death performing the sacred dance that permitted their eternal existence. Swift of foot and empowered by the divine blood, she was said to have studied their movements for an entire year, to learn their patterns and practice them herself, until she caught their notice--but by then, she had already learned the dance, and they could no longer kill her. So stunned by this revelation were they that they forgot the next step of their dance and she danced still, allowing her to kill them and triumph over death.
Four years later, she was said to rise from the depths of Coctlan, dancing still, and taught her people the Endless Dance that the Gods of Death might no longer torture their souls for all eternity when they died.
How much truth is contained within this tale is for Setlacana alone to know. She is the only one still living who can remember a time where she was not Cihuāmitoāni--though it is known, from time to time, for those who partake of her Teoatl Ichinoa to remember a different story. Those that speak of this story are never far from the knife, or a missed step in the dance.
Mortalkind had proven to be an unknowable enigma in many respects. Even with all of its knowledge, even with the time to reflect upon that knowledge, and even with the emotional context provided by its twin--working out a strict pattern that governed the behaviour of mortalkind had proved impossible. This was a good thing, in truth--if the way to live and the way to act could be distilled to a unique and perfect pattern, existence would lose swaths of its meaning. Without that meaning, there could be no Truth--and so it was that the God of Truth gazed upon mortalkind and devised another test to determine what mortals might do when attempts to subvert their Truth, in one way or another, failed. Of all the species to bless with this gift, there was only one that seemed rightfully fitting--the spawn of Klaarungraxus Rux, made in his great and terrible image. They had proven to be an exceptionally consistent people, socially and biologically, and some remained that had been present when the Gods still walked the earth. Despite the trials and tribulations of their existence--filled with internal strife as it was--they had largely remained the same and resisted outside influence exceptionally well. Anything that had been brought into the fold of the Vrool had been done so in their image and at their pleasure--they were not prone to the eddies of the cultural zeitgeists that the other races seemed to find themselves at the mercy of. They had remade all that they encountered and allowed into their fold in their own image--this was their Truth. In order for the God of Truth's experiments with mortalkind to have any merit, they needed a control group--and given the nature of the Vrool, they were the perfect subjects to suspend in perpetuity.
So it was that the God of Truth elected to bless them with the greatest gift of all: resistance to change.
By its design, the Vrool would find themselves completely inured against any and all effects that would seek to alter their mental state. Fìrinn had a particular mind to ward them against the infectious bliss of hedonistic pleasure and the carnal rapture of beauty and charm that had laid so many low in the past. Visions of the Goddess of Love sprung to mind, and scenes of debauchery filled the infinite mirrors of the Worldly Circles as Fìrinn remembered what Neiya had done to mortalkind in the past, and what those she had helped create might do if left unchecked. Such weapons, though typically ineffective against those with vastly different Truths, could conceivably find a way to corrupt any other being through the tangled skeins of the Great Weave, and Fìrinn would do all in its power to prevent such an abuse of its work from ever occurring. Fortunately, the basis for such a blessing had existed and integrated itself into Vrool society over thousands of years--the anchor at Ku had woven their minds together, and through the auspices of that ancient alliance Fìrinn could work new miracles.
Deep beneath the waves, in the caves inhabited by the Coven of Xes, a group of warlocks huddled around the soft golden glow of a sheet of polished nacre. What had once been the half-shell of a colossal bivalve had been scrubbed and polished and washed in telluric sorcery now served as an instrument of scrying and reflection. Within it, from time to time, they had spied the strange, glassy form of a creature which looked wholly unlike them--and it had been a sign of augury and prognostication each time it had chosen to reveal itself to them. It had never spoken, it had never done anything other than wait and listen--but on this fateful day they spied it and it looked just as they did! A portentous moment, to be certain, and one that merited much in the way of discussion and debate--then, for the first time, it spoke! Its glassy voice rang in their minds like the sound of great gyres turning upon themselves, and as it spoke they were filled with not light but illumination.
Thy sorcery is great, but it protects not the seat of Truth. From now until the end of time, you and yours shall never stray from Truth.
Then, as swiftly as it had appeared, Faileasiar was gone--and the illumination within them remained. A new dawn had risen for the Vrool.
Fìrinn blesses the Vrool as a control group in its grand experiment. Vrool get cool shit.
-1DP [Discounted by Perception portfolio] Grant a species an extraordinary ability: The Vrool are completely immune to mind-altering effects not born of their own volition and in line with their cultural values.
-1DP [Discounted by Perception portfolio] Grant a species an extraordinary ability: The Vrool now have a form of minor telepathy, limited to groups in which the Vrool sincerely feels they belong to. This is typically reserved for Tyrants and those beneath them and Warlock covens--but if the conditions of a sincere sense of belonging are met, the Vrool may initiate telepathic conversation with any within that group.
The world had once seemed so small to the woman who forsook the name Rahma. There was Serrah, there was the Murtagh, and there was her idda-ti--and beyond these few peoples, little else had really ever seemed to matter. It hadn’t been until the day that her understanding of reality had been shattered that she’d ever considered there was more to her world than what she could see, what she could remember, and the stories that she had been told. Now, she was aware of so much more--she was aware of other landmasses, of the kayhins in distant lands, and the world of unformed ideas and desires that lay gently cloistered beneath this one. For the first few days, it had been positively maddening--she’d done nothing but sit still astride her camel, meditating, and trying desperately to withstand the deific deluge of information poured into her mind by the one called Fìrinn. Serrah had watched over her, of course, and she had watched over him as he slept and the same world revealed itself to him beneath the light of Qibbar Husnu. The transition from the mundane to the--comparatively--divine had been absolutely staggering.
Then, as they’d reached Tekhen, she’d met the first of her… siblings? Compatriots? She knew not what to call them other than those who had similarly been chosen for a destiny beyond the mundane. Naomh Chruinne, as he’d introduced himself, had brought to her attention eight wondrous mirrors through which Naomh Cagairean could see the endless Dream itself, glinting slightly in half-remembered light and just beyond recollection. She had heard the almost-voice of their God ring out in her mind, telling her what needed to be done with those precious artifacts. She’d had little choice but to go, immediately, and used one of those strange gateways to enter into the world of the Dream and walk through the world she imagined Serrah experienced when he slept. He’d guided her across the endless Dream, leaving her to focus upon the manipulation of the great slab of crystalline mirror that she’d been ordered to deliver so she didn’t drop it or otherwise damage it. After two days of walking she’d placed the mirror down, walked through it, and found that both it and she had arrived in a landscape wholly unfamiliar to her.
The sun was mild (by comparison), grassy hillocks stretched out before her, and it was so cool and airy that she felt chilly by comparison. An involuntary shudder wracked her body before she shook herself off and placed a hand upon the mirror, causing it to levitate slightly and follow behind her. She had little in the way of direction, but each step she took seemed to anchor her mind more firmly to this new land that she had found herself in and she could feel the distant minds of others across the Collective Unconscious, perceptible but currently out of reach. She directed her tentative footsteps--wholly unprepared for the sensation of so much grass against her feet and the smells of this strange land--towards the mass of minds she could distantly sense, and withdrew into the confines of her mind as her feet moved her ‘cross the world. In the far distance, the mass coalesced ever tighter, as hills and stone eventually gave way to beaten paths, surrounded by moss-grown protrusions in the rocky ground. Wild green grass gave way little by little to sapling shrubs and stone fences surrounding verdant little spurts sown haphazardly across a hand-ploughed field. On one of the fences some fifty paces away sat a group of five men, each with pipes in their mouths and smoke in their midst, exchanging jokes and stories after a hard morning’s work. When the woman once named Rahma walked by them, however, the laughter stopped, and narrow eyes followed her every step. As she approached the town proper, the working farmers grew more numerous, and evermore stares fixed on the amalgam entering into Ha-Dûna.
A guard wearing a loosely sewn fur hat, a brown, dirty linen shirt, long hide breeches, with bark tied about his feet in place of shoes, raised his hand with a flat palm in response to her approach, his red and green tantan-patterned woolen cape gliding off his arm as he did, falling to the spring-cold grass. ”Brehmse, ingkjaenning. Cad dorran Irh seo?”
Naomh Cagairean cocked her feathered brow as she was brought back to focus and her reverie slipped away. She hadn’t quite heard what the man had said, but it only took her a moment to slip into the details of her implicit memory and reconstruct the words he’d spoken. Unfortunately for her, she did not understand even a single word of what he’d said.
”Anasif, nahn alkalam te allughar?” came the reply, instinctively, in her native tongue. She felt as though she’d picked up a few bits and pieces of the intent behind his words, but it wasn’t something that she could rely on--and certainly not something she was confident in. She paused for a moment, seeming to stare listlessly, as she focused. She needed to tap into the Collective Unconscious to be able to actually interact with these people, but it wasn’t as if she’d been taught when she became a Seeker--the knowledge was just… sort of there, embedded within her skull, and working out how to actually access it in a practical way wasn’t something she’d really turned her mind to as yet.
She made a point to nod to the mirror behind her, now sitting on the ground, and from within its depths a brief glimpse of the Behindling, Faileasiar, could be seen. She hoped that such a display might be something they were familiar with--after all, Fìrinn had told her in no uncertain terms to deliver the mirror here--but she suddenly had a vivid recollection of her first time seeing the monstrosity of glass and claws that the God of Truth called its avatar and shuddered, wondering if it had been the right thing to do after all.
The guard looked up at the glass behind her and almost reached for the trusty stone adze at his belt. He took on a nervous stance, more of the farmers approaching to marvel at it and the stranger. Some of the farmers took on strange gestures and turned to one another accusingly, as though something unspeakable had been said by their neighbours without a single word being spoken. The guard gestured out to the crowd with explosive pointing. ”Houphokke, houphokke! Ihr, yah…” His expression mellowed and he cast a glance over his shoulder before gesturing for her to come along. ”Tehl druïthanas, eg burdan tapa met Ihr. Gengange heg, ingkjaenning.” He turned and followed the dirt road street towards an open palisade gate.
Naomh Cagairean took a moment, gesturing rapidly with her hands to signify that she needed a moment, as she turned to the mirror and placed a hand upon it. After a couple of seconds of deep concentration she caused it to lift itself just barely off of the ground once more and moved to follow along. This time, she’d actually understood a few of the words--it seemed that perhaps proximity to the natives of the land was enough for her to intuit the meaning behind what they were saying--but it did not leave her any closer to actually being able to speak with them herself. She elected not to say anything else, simply following along with an intense furrow of concentration upon her feathered brow. The more she focused, the closer she was able to home in on their thoughts and their Truths--but levitating the mirror and attempting to come to understand them and their language simultaneously was an arduous process for one with as little practice as she. She figured that she had the rest of the journey to move the process along, however, and decided to simply concentrate upon what she was doing until such a point as the connection was fully made.
The guard stopped and frowned. ”Ingkjaenning - druïthanas jakr oyenstirra kosenan Ihr soem tapati met. Om molict, gengange betta.” Among the farmers, short-lived brawls and general looks of disgust and embarrassment swept across the crowd. Other guards approached from the palisade walls, armed with sticks and hard eyes. Anxious stares fixed on the mirror, and everyone seemed more and more eager to just get it to the druids.
As if struggling to concentrate, the woman gave a slight nod of her head and simply continued as she had been previously--the amount of focus required was proving to be quite extraordinary, after her several-day journey through the Dream and the current assault of unfamiliar sensory input she was experiencing within this new world. As she scrunched her eyes, first squinting and then closing them outright, she became more and more keenly aware of a humid, uncomfortable heat building up within her--the heated gaze of the villagers around her flooding her with an anxiety and caution that she only recognised from one other place--when they’d first seen An-fhuras. That particular encounter was markedly more distressing than this one, but even now she could feel the culmination of those heated stares building up within her, as if transferring the feelings associated with them across the air, and for a second it almost felt like home before the reality of the emotions struck her. She focused on her breathing, in and out, as she tried desperately to maintain her focus and followed the guard as she’d been bidden. The guard nodded and the two of them passed by some of his colleagues jogging to the crowd to break up a fight. Inside the palisade walls, the marketplace was bustling, though merchants and customers soon turned away from each other and to the massive mirror instead. The guard made way for the two of them to pass through, and as the Collective Consciousness leaked into the people around them, they, too, seemed to grow increasingly uncomfortable at its presence. Eventually, though, they arrived at the archdruids’ longhouse, situated next to the holy circle of monolithic statues. The guard raised his hand to Naomh Cagairean and spoke, ”Fanacht seo.” Then he stepped up the two stone steps and dipped under the animal skin curtain door.
As the guard disappeared into the house, Naomh Cagairean found herself drawn to the circle of standing stones. Her gaze drifted over to it, and soon she felt herself walking towards it as if drawn by some strange force. She, and the mirror behind her, drifted steadily towards the circle--and as she got close enough to examine them fully, she smiled to herself as she remembered her idda-ti’s exaltation of the Gods above.
“Qibbar Husnu. Ura ‘Aliaa. Miġra Zaʿl. Buʿr Iynas. Zharuuʿ. Kiʿranuʿjaza. Jinasa. Fìrinn.” She went over their names, one by one, speaking each as if a tempest of song brewed within her lungs and soon she found herself humming along to the tune of the song that Zahna used to sing to them when the kayhins were due to come and teach them. She offered a prayer to each, placing a hand delicately upon the carved stone, as she walked the perimeter of the circle and she stopped before the statue she recognised as her own patron. Before that statue she knelt, focusing in solemn prayer, and something in her mind clicked--she fully attuned herself with the Great Weave around her, and tasted unfamiliar words upon her tongue and strange memories tattooed across her eyes.
”Faltep, langtvaysturasingkjaenning!” came a voice from behind her. A white-robed man bowed curtly and shifted between her and the massive mirror in her tow. ”Eg an Kaer Togen, dûnaska erkdruïthe. An aere agat Ihr hos linn, scaythanhelgfolging. Ihr an scaythanhelgfolging, ya, noi?”
”Pralmir, vrient. Eg an Naomh Cagairean aug, sànnleg, an scaythanhelgfolging - sànnsòker, tapatat seo helgingskvia fòr bònnikt daoinan.”
Naomh Cagairean extended a hand slightly out and gave a friendly wave, before awkwardly turning back to the statue and the mirror for a few seconds. She completed the last remnants of her prayer and then turned back to the archdruid, the barest hint of a smirk upon her face.
”Peklaigan egi fattegi ordtòngan. Skellig snakka le lànti kunnana.” she cobbled together, a little nervously, before straightening her back and gesturing to the mirror once more.
”Scaythanhelging Fìrinn ordratat heg tapata helgingskvian tehl Ihr aug Irhi. An draumverdportan, aug an Dhá mar Aon sett ónskan fòr kopla le annanan.”
The elderly man nodded and approached the mirror. He hovered his hand over its surface with closed eyes and sucked in a slow breath through the nose. ”Ya… Kosenan an scaythanhelging Fìrinn sett hverke... Fòlelsan - moth mar Hir sin dukkopper. Shonhetran, unteran. Eim korleis allreie faat aeran?”
Naomh Cagairean took a step back and then to the side, removing herself from direct line of sight to the strange mirror, before laying a hand against its edge and giving Kaer Togen a slight smirk--though his eyes were closed, he would feel the slight spark of mirth within him through the strengthened collective unconscious around them.
”Eg… Eg vàgakan ik forstanda scaythanhelgingan sena ònskanan, féinom snakkan met heg. Linn. An ocht scaythana, oan fòr kvar druïthanhelging, aug eg trûr ònskan kopla le annanan helgenseoanan. Kosenan an dhátma setyatat.”
She could practically feel how uncomfortable it would make the Druids to mention directly receiving orders from a god that they worshipped--but given the circumstances, and the mirror, she hoped that it would not vilify her already tenuous standing with these people too much. She let her hand rest upon the edge of the mirror gently as she waited for a response, and let the conscious element of her focus drift out towards the wind and the grass, and the faint flurry of song she could hear emanating from it all. This place was utterly foreign to her, in practically every way, but she could still feel the Worldsong and for that she was infinitely grateful.
Kaer Togen bowed curtly again, and a small posse of his colleagues shuffled over to the mirror with pots of fresh water, clean rags and improvised fine brushes fashioned from cattle fur. [aggr=”Understandable. Whatever the Mirroring God’s intentions, we are eternally grateful for this gift. Please, allow my brothers and sisters to brush off the dust and soil that the wind and rain no doubt have cast upon it.”]”Forstandlikt. Oanstirrat scaythanhelging Fìrinn sen rún, eim an eivigi raibh fòr brontaphet. La egi kaer bròra aug kaer sòra nigha scaythanan fri fòr gaothsproyti jorda aug stòvi betta.”[/aggr] The druids knelt down and started wringing rags.
”Eg kun gengangan helgingsord, ach, ah… Fáilte! Eg jakr làra Irh korleis penytsa aon gang, ach eg vàkanatat dhá lána aug reistatat seo. An kvilaseomra?”
Naomh Cagairean asked the question with a sheepish grin on her face, but as soon as she’d finished it was immediately clear that a great deal of exhaustion was being kept at bay--her fairly bedraggled appearance, grimy feathers, and suddenly slumped posture gave away her body’s need for sleep even if her words and tone--borrowed though they were--didn’t. She took another moment to herself, stifling a yawn, before taking another look around the settlement as she awaited a response. The druids about the mirror’s feet began to clean with care and precision akin to handling a newborn, and Kaer Togen approached Naomh Cagairean with an outstretched hand.
”Feinsagt - helgingsbûd mar Ihr fòrtyenan eimi fearriska seomra i Traochtashallan. La heg fòran Ihr feinlikt. Gengangen heg betta.”
”Scaythanan an draumverdportan, Ai’jaal sen verd. Giennam reistikan langi standana gearr tïd -- eg komat bhailebykdan Tekhen aug seo kun dhá láa, da. Eg veitan ik kor langi seo ann. Talamhan oyanstirran heilt annleisi. Hòrt bròran seia seo annanan mór-roinn. Trûr bròr seiat sà, ach eg ik sikr.”
It was clear that Naomh Cagairean was making an effort to tell the archdruid as much of the information necessary as possible, but the speed at which she spoke and her still-tenuous grasp of the language did her no favours and by the time she’d finished speaking it would likely have made more sense if she’d just stayed silent. She followed along dutifully, though, and made passing comments about the things she saw that were new to her--much of the technology they used here was completely foreign, and she couldn’t even begin to conceive of what it might be used for in the state she was in. Eventually they would arrive, however, and Naomh Cagairean very hurriedly made her way to the bed provided for her and promptly fell asleep, fully clothed as she was.
The next morning, the druids in town, as well as an exclusive selection of members from their families, came to witness the great mirror, supposedly a portal between lands and worlds. At all times, there were at least two druids guarding it, and two more praying to it while also making certain not even a single bypassing speck of dust could settle on its surface for longer than the blink of an eye. Kaer Togen cordially led Naomh Cagairean into the courtyard to behold it - it had been placed in the middle of the circle of the gods, reflecting the dawning sun onto the buildings and wall before it. Kaer Togen gestured to the mirror and spoke, ”Kaer vrient, peklaigan egi otòlmodka tavir, ach korleis penytsan helgingsportan?”
Naomh Cagairean had barely had time to adjust to the area--somehow feeling strangely tired, despite the fact the sun was rising here--before her awakening by the druids. Naturally, it was something she made sure not to complain about, but by virtue of her inherent blessings as a Seeker of Truth there was no doubt that those nearby would feel some small inkling of her persistent tiredness and grouchiness.
”Tja, pekynnan le aektbònn tehl Dhá mar Aon. Tar oppatnà sannsinnan, minna burdan rúna tehl portan fòr isteach -- minnan anakan alt, eg trûr, ach brehmsa oppatéaning ou fàr hielpatat mathr oppatnà oppatéaning ònskas. Nuair minnan gittat, mathr isteachkan tehl dreaumverdan. Ihri ciorcal làran draumganga heil tatt?”
Naomh Cagairean attempted to keep her explanation simple, but her present tiredness perhaps made her a little more curt than she would ordinarily have been--and though she tried to punctuate her points with little fragments of her knowledge and experience through the Collective Unconscious, it was challenging to focus upon that and borrowing the druids’ knowledge of their language simultaneously while not having had as much rest as ordinarily required.
A young druid came to her with a cup of water, kneeling down as she offered it up to her. The water looked energetic and sparkly, as though it tried to skip out of the cup. The druid didn’t say a word during her gesture, and Kaer Togen offered a deep, thoughtful growl. ”Eim mottatatu scaythanhelging Fìrinn sene syn aug drauma - billetta mar afbiltikan draumgangan Ihr snakkatat om. Ollikvàl, an fyarnkommatti tèllinga mar si an vìsmanta reistikan ûkalangi reisa pà uairs. Eim restikan ik mar dei, ach anat druïthe nastan draumatat vekk sinnan se.” He chuckled to himself before his brows collected into an earnest frown. ”Kor mór burdan minnan ana fòr reista?”
Naomh Cagairean took the water with a grateful smile and a mouthed word of thanks, bowing her head deeply and drinking from the liquid as she did so. The water was refreshing in a way she hadn’t experienced in a long time--living in the badlands as she did--and she was taken off guard by its fizz and its vigour. She was sure she could see the young druid stifle a smirk, and she returned a smirk as she noticed it. As she swallowed, the shroud of tiredness that had hung over her seemed to lift immediately, and her mood seemed to improve immediately--far beyond the level of refreshment that an ordinary cup of water could provide. She could almost taste the gold of the sun upon it, and gave silent thanks to Ura’ Aliaa as she did so, making a wry mental note that it was about time she gave her something to renew and refresh her, instead of assaulting her with the full fury of the desert sun.
”Hm… An kun giannam scaythananan mathr reistikan langi standana giannam drauman, ach grûnvoll an verdkringi vismantana tou koplans saman giannam dei draumana aug telyan dei tellinga. An ik overaskandi Ihr hòrtat slik. Làratat draumganga an skellig - eg anat aldrei flinki fàr Fìrinn scaythanhelging valktat heg pli sànnsòker… ach eg frògakan men bròran, Serrah, besòka Ihr nuair Ihr kvilan aug hielpa Ihr? An mór draumganging.”
Naomh Cagairean rubbed the back of her head, a small and embarrassed smile playing on her lips as she admitted her lack of proficiency in that particular art.
”Minnan burdan ik ana saer stòrsmà… ach om Faileaslar ik synsan an brah, jakr ik iseachan. Eg peklaigan gittakan ik sikrari sanninga -- scaythanhelging an unvikani, féin le heg.” ... needlessly cryptic. she thought to herself.
Kaer Togen scrunched his nose. ”Ya, an slik, an slik. Ihri bròran làren heim, dà - eim jakr raibh!”. He snapped his fingers and another druid, most likely an apprentice, came over with a bowed head. Kaer Togen gave the apprentice his staff without even looking at him and approached the mirror again. His face then seemed to twist and turn slightly, and he shot sideways scowls at some of the other druids surrounding him. ”... Aug om eg frògakan, brehmsakan draumsceitheadan? Egi sinnan líona fremetshíla aug eg bónna kosenana svinn.”
”Ah, peklaigan, kosenan an men skylt. Mórteppan an sterkar thart heg, aug mathr mar ik kiennan styrka iomaí styrakan ik sen penyttgrûnevnan. Ihr fólan sà sterki petyran sannleg scaythanhelging an kry -- kun styre Ihri minna, fóle tràdna kopla tehl andrana, aug stenga dei Ihr lalekoman ik. Mathr burdan cleachtadha, ach om Ihr kann pendan eg an seo, Ihr burdan hàlda evnan nuair eg faer.”
Naomh Cagairean offered a wan smile to the Archdruid, nervously clutching at her hempen robe as she did so. She focused enough to not let her doubt seep out of her like blood in water, but her face still expressed her anxiety against her will.
”Eg jakr fròga Serrah besòka Ihr nuair kvilan. Serrah burdan làra Ihr kosenanan Ihr làran burdas. An noe meir Ihr ònskan?”
The druids around all closed their eyes in deep focus, Kaer Togen included. A time passed, during which a few of the druids grit their teeth audibly to push out any distractions. After a time, though Kaer Togen bowed. ”Eim burdan cleachtadha meir. Tehleg Ihr agat bûdt pà, eim frògakan ik meir. Ina eim rausikt tehlbûdan Ihr kvila hos eimi sà fada sà ònskan, eimi vrient.”
”Hm… Eg jakr ik reista giannam drauman pà láa -- utan sànnskytning aug dúlagara an mór skellig. Scaythanhelging an tanksomi om mathrsinnanan, ach draumhelging… mykki mindri. Eg jakr passa tïd minntanka, aug kantarlú plûtsaligi kosena oppdukkan. Kantarlú scaythanhelging jakr snakka le heg, ou le Ihr giannam heg?” Naomh Cagairean found herself already lost in thought as she considered the implications of returning. It would take at least a number of days to recoup her strength and allow Serrah to teach the druids, and to then guide her back through the corridors of the Dream. Perhaps she could use the time to divine what the Druids needed to know, what divine purpose beyond the delivery of an artifact had guided her to this place. If nothing else, she was quite certain that the Mirroring God had greater plans for her and for this place than a simple delivery.
Naomh Cagairean, formerly known as Rahma, uses the Veiled Ingress to cross the Dream and journey from Tekhen in Kubrajzar to Ha-Dûna in northern Toraan, bringing one of the mirrors along with her to gift to the druidic settlement. After a little time adjusting from her strenuous two-day journey within the Dream, she is able to access the Collective Unconscious and actually communicate with the natives, and there is culture shock to be had all around. Naomh Cagairean’s presence causes tensions within the druidic settlement to rise, as she enables all of the individuals around her to access the Collective Unconscious without intentionally doing so, but she controls herself until such a point as she meets with one of the archdruids. After a brief conversation Naomh Cagairean gifts them the artifact and rests for the night. The next morning she is invigorated by the blessings of the Basin of the Weary, and discusses with Kaer Togen how the mirror works, and offers to contact her brother Serrah to offer them Dreamwalking training. She resolves to stay for a few more days, awaiting instructions from the God of Truth and determining if she is required to share her understanding and knowledge.
-1DP - Enhance the Ceilte Iontráil with the Weavebound I title, allowing each of the mirrors to strengthen the Collective Unconscious in a fair distance around them. This allows even the uninitiated to access some of the basic abilities bestowed by the Collective Unconscious, and allows Fìrinn to respond to prayers without delay.
-1MP - Teach the people of Ha-Dûna the technology of using livestock-drawn carts and plows.
-1MP - Teach the people of Ha-Dûna the technology of simple glassmaking.
Rahma wiped the sweat from her feathered brow with a sticky, grimy ball of woven material that was at this point so degraded calling it a rag would be overly kind. She looked up at the sun, using the loosely held rag to help shield her eyes a little from its blazing light, and sighed to herself as she urged her camel onwards. It had been three days since they had left to transport goods to Tekhen, abandoning their own encampment, and the heat had been particularly unbearable, even for her tribe--while they, being alminaki-human amalgams, did not need quite so much water, the incredible heat had dried out the well they usually used around this time of year and they had been forced to dip into their reserves of water far earlier than normal. It was almost as if the sun had been kindled into a funeral pyre by some strange event, and the arid dryness of the badlands had been amplified far beyond the point of survivability. Her camel lurched another step forward and Rahma was shunted forward with it, dropping the sorry excuse for a rag and watching as it got trodden into the clay-red soil. She snorted under her breath before unfurrowing her brow and realising that it was probably for the best that it could not suffer anymore--it wasn't like it had been actually bringing her any relief or comfort for the past two days.
She gave her camel a fond stroke before using her now free hand to pat down the goods she was managing to carry with her, making sure that it was all still securely hitched. A few ingots of copper, an awl, an axe--as well as their living and camping essentials-- and a hempen sack that bore a pot containing lebahr khan, some tehr, and some yak jerky that had just about been ready when they'd decided to leave. Truth be told, there was little else of value or note on her camel, as her brother Serrah had taken the brunt of the load they shared. But the conditions were so uncomfortable that even this relatively light load was cumbersome to bear.
“Do you think we'll all make it, Serrah? Zahna's running out of water, and if we give her any of ours there's a chance we won't make it either. We've still got at least six more moons to go before we get to Tekhen if we keep a decent pace, and she's falling further and further behind every hour.”
She made a concerted effort to look concerned as she spoke, despite the overwhelming weariness that came with baking under the hottest sun she'd ever felt. It wasn't even that she was thirsty or hungry - she was just exhausted, and if she felt this way at a healthy twenty-two, Zahna's sixty-something years were enough to be a reasonable cause for worry. Still, she thought, she's never been one to give up. Even at night when she thrashes and writhes in her sleep like she's being attacked she always wakes up in the morning.
And for all her old age and the desperation of the situation, Zahna seemed at complete peace with it all. “Whisht, girl,” the little old woman would often say when Rahma commented on her carefree nature, “is there escaping death?” And while there was no escaping death, that was not exactly the kind of thing - to Rahma’s mind - that afforded a person peace of mind. “Oh I know what you’re thinking, so young and full of life is lovely Rahma. But when you hear what I’ve heard, my dearest, and when you see what I’ve seen, I don’t think you would blame me at all.” But that was days ago now, and old Zahna was at the back of the caravan, and the hukkam had told a couple of the young men to tie her camel to one of theirs and keep an eye on the elder.
Zahna, it was said, was born over the mountains in a land where springs burst from every hill, and where there were more lakes and rivers than stars in the night sky. Trees lined the earth in all directions and all manner of fruits and animals filled the land; and the people there, who lived in the great city of Qabar-Kirkanshir, wanted for nothing at all. Neither Rahma nor her brother had ever ventured out with the caravans that crossed the treacherous mountains to that far off paradise. “Why would you ever leave such a place, idda-ti?” Serrah had asked her once, “it seems like a land of dreams”. The old woman had smiled and, bringing the then tiny Serrah to her lap, spoke softly to him and his sister.
“We all have a path, my children, that we must see through. We must live it out, even if it carries us over mountains and into a land of endless sun. There is a song we follow, a dream just out of sight, a little bit of truth we must uncover for ourselves, and that will make us whole. My song and dream carried me away from home and memory - to you my dears. And I would never have it any other way.” But that was many years ago now, and Serrah shook the memory off.
“Hah!” came the as-jubilant-as-could-be-expected cry from Serrah, reaching over to nudge his sister but falling just short. “I told you she’d be alright. It’s us I’m worried for, what’ll we do without her?” he continued, smile filled with as much mirth as he could muster in the heat.
“... yeah. You’re probably right.”
Rahma leant into the jab, and for a second it looked like she would lash out with a riposte of her own, but the look in her eyes made it clear she just didn’t have the energy to deal with her brother’s boundless energy. As if making a conscious decision to make an unconscious decision, the strapping young man reached into a hempen sack at his side with one hand and steadied the reins of his camel with the other, bidding the poor thing slow down. It seemed as grateful for the reprieve as a camel could convey, and it only took a moment or two for him to slip back to Zahna’s position in the ranks. He pulled out a canteen from the sack, took a final swig, and passed it to the older woman.
“We’ll find more, make sure you drink up. Rahma could serve to lay off the khan anyway!” he chortled, letting himself fall just a little further behind until he was right next to the woman. He motioned with his head to Arash, letting him know he’d take over watching Zahna, and the older man gave him the slightest of nods and a sharp exhalation of breath for his trouble - a very expressive gesture of thanks, by his taciturn standards.
Rahma looked back at her brother tiredly. She had barely slept a wink last night, tossing and turning in the dirt, unable to clear from her dreams the image of a still pond darkening with ink and flowing onto a page. It was a little unusual - she’d normally have talked to Zahna about a dream like that, or mentioned it to Serrah and he’d have blabbed to her with his sing-song “Idda-tiiiii…” like he always did, but something had been different about it. A thought came to her, unbidden, as she looked over at the mountains in the distance and something escaped her lips as if possessed of a life of its own. “O, its walls are the size of starlight; and its bounds as dark as snow.”
It was a little ditty, something in the young girl’s heat-addled mind that had given in to a subconscious desire to escape and be free. For a second, she thought she heard the mountains singing back to her in a voice like gravel rolling down the blood-red cliffs, but she shook her head and it was gone. A heat mirage, an illusion, surely. Still, in her uncertainty, she turned back to the elderly woman with a hint of worry in her eyes and waited. She’d say something if something had happened - she always did. But old Zahna only smiled knowingly, and her eyes also wandered to the far mountains.
“Did I ever tell you the story of Red-clay, daughter of the Great Old Mount?” The elder asked, turning to Serrah with her wrinkly old eyes. “Red-clay? The one who sings on the mountain-top?” “The very one,” said the elder. “Yeah, I remember. Something about… uh, her hair. I remember what you said about her hair because it was made of red feathers that covered every horizon.” Serrah responded, his brows furrowing as he tried to remember. “When Red-clay was a little girl,” the elder spoke, “her father, the Great Old Mount, would sit her and her sisters down inside the mountain and tell them many tales by the fire. They never ventured from the mount, never even peeked outside, and all of them were safe and warm deep in their father’s home. But one day, when the wind was mighty, Old Mount turned to his youngest daughter and said, ‘oh, Red-clay, my daughter Red-clay; climb up to the chimney and tell the Aerian Wind to gentle blow, for I fear he will tip the mountain over. But whatever you do, my daughter, do not stick your head out at the top.’ “And so she climbed, beautiful Red-clay, and she spoke as her father bid her to the Aerian Wind. But then she remembered what her father had once said to her as she lay wrapped up warm and safe in a blanket by the fire - ‘If you go up and look over from the top of the mountain, you can see the ocean in all its vastness and wonder.’ Well, Red-clay was curious and only so small; and she raised her head - ever so slightly, mind you - to see. “But she saw nothing but the ruffling of her long red feathery hair as it whipped all about her and disappeared even beyond the four horizons. And the Aerian Wind caught her, and carried her oh so far away to a land of endless sand and rock. And she dragged her hair in clay till the grizzly found her and took her with him home. And there in the home of the grizzly bear, with his wife and all his children, the little red-feathered girl grew. Then in time she was no longer a little girl, but a woman full-formed and beautiful. “And she married and was happy, and her naked little children danced and played about her feet - funny little things, neither bear nor god. And they brought much joy to their mother, and they brought much joy to their many fathers. And she dwelled in a small lodge near her father’s mount, and was in all ways content. “And when the old grizzly knew that death was soon coming to accompany him on the next journey, and he feared ascending to see Red-clay’s father once his life was ended, he called upon all the grizzlies and sent one of her children up to call Great Old Mount down, that his daughter may be returned at last. And Great Old Mount came rushing down as a mighty whirlwind to the lodge where his daughter lived expecting his little girl. But when he saw the full-grown woman and mother, well then a great anger took him, and he struck the old grizzly down and cursed grizzlies everywhere to forevermore walk on four feet, their head cast low; and he cursed them again, to be gone from his sight, which is why you never see grizzlies this side of the mountains or that side anymore, but only far far away in the north. “And he scattered Red-clay’s strange feather-haired children - his grandchildren! - across the earth in a great and violent storm of ink and song. And he put out the mountain fire she had basked in as a child and took her and all her siblings - every single one of the gods - back with him to the sky, from where she constantly launches her gaze earthward just as earnestly as her children look heavenward. And her father caused nature itself to oppress them, and so the only relief they have is when their mother’s voice, come down from the heavens, echoes through the great hollow mountain and spreads everywhere. If you listen carefully, it is said you can hear it to this very day.” The old woman’s tale came to a close, and Serrah sighed and sank into his place. Zahna turned and looked to Rahma, and gave her that knowing smile once more.
“You know”, said Serrah, “I think I’ve heard it before. Really. There was this windy night many moons back, and I’m almost certain I heard a song in the night.” “Oh, you want to be careful with songs in the night now. That might be the Beast with a Face like Death.” “Th-the beast with a face like death?” asked Serrah, eyes wide. Zahna nodded sagely. “Yes, he lures his victims to him with his beautiful voice, and as soon as they see him,” she clapped her hands together, causing the lad to jump, “they fall down dead!” “That’s just an old wive’s tale, can’t scare me with that stuff. And anyway, that song sounded too beautiful to be some beast. It was definitely Red-clay on the mountain.” “Oh, if you say so,” the old woman laughed. Rahma chortled at Serrah’s expression, turning back for a second to steady her camel, before sighing gruffly to herself and slowing her camel down too. She’d never hear the end of it from Serrah if she didn’t help watch idda-ti and left him all alone. She was secretly sure that if she did leave him alone with her, or even move just a little out of earshot, she’d start telling him stories that she’d never tell Rahma again. Serrah would get that stupid smirk on his face where the right side of his mouth would practically leap up off of his face and his right eyebrow would twitch and ruffle like a man possessed! She couldn’t have that, oh no, and even in this sleep-deprived sun-addled state she wouldn’t let him get away with this kozshur.
So she nodded to Abbaz, who had been waiting for her to relieve him of his duty and barked out a laugh. “Like brother like sister, eh?” There was no small amount of indignation on Rahma’s face at the comment, but as the two crossed paths and he gave her a playful nudge she forgot for just a moment how hot it was and laughed. She settled down next to Zahna and turned to face her, then to the mountain, and then back. “I… we’d not let you go without, idda-ti. If you don’t make it, who’ll sing to us at night and tell us stories? Who’ll keep our souls alive?” She didn’t mean to sound morose, but something about the song had gotten her worried. She couldn’t explain why, but something just sounded… miserable. Depressed. Something about the tribe, about the journey, about them abandoning their home - it was like she could feel a longing hanging over them like a pall, a dull ache that only came from realising you’d abandoned a place you’d lived for years and years and would never hear the song of again.
“The Beast with a Face like Death doesn’t have anything on you, Zahna. Nothing is more beautiful than when you used to sing lullabies to us.” Serrah nodded wistfully, his eyes losing focus for just a moment. If he concentrated, he could almost - almost - hear that song on the wind, with a voice like thunder and a passion like ten thousand thousand fires. It made him think of the smell of smoke after a fire, and the cold light of the moon.
The old woman sighed and smiled pensively at their words. “Places have memory, and the stones and the earth sing those memories to all who hear. Perhaps a stone somewhere far behind us still sings a lullaby you once heard, my dear Serrah, just as beautifully as you remember it. The poles of a tent, long turned to soot, may sing of the hands that held them once, and that slept in safety and peace beneath them. The bones of the dead, their very dust, sing too; epic tales of people who once coated them in flesh, and humble ditties of love and little sadnesses and secret tears, and of simple joys - for it is often the case that the simplest things cause the greatest of joys.” She paused for a few seconds, as though trying to remember something. “The poet sings:
I’m walking by the walls, my dear, The walls where you once slept. The house is gone and fires clear, Where we once laughed and wept. I kiss that earth and kiss the walls But not for love of them, oh no! But I do love the bug that crawls Where your foot stepped, I loved it so! Not out of love for it, my dear, But love for you who once was here.
So what does it matter if you depart a place when all you love depart with you?” She spoke to Serrah, but she said it in that manner she had when it was intended for another’s ears, and Rahma had no doubt that those ears were her own. As though knowing this, Rahma seemed to perk up, the feathers atop her brow practically quivering with the excitement. She didn’t want to hope beyond hope, but - if there was some way that they could remember the little details of their home, some vesicle of dreams and songs and poetry… it would have gone a long way towards setting her mind at ease. She recounted fondly that once idda-ti had told them all that the only true death was to be forgotten, and as long as things were remembered they could live on forever and ever. If there was some song or verse that could help her keep remembering - and help everyone else remember too… Well, that would have been very special indeed.
Atop his camel, Serrah’s eyes looked out toward the distant horizon, but it was clear that he was still enraptured by the song and the sentiment it carried. It sat within his skull and nested there, a little halo of light glittering just beyond perception resonating with the luminance of the sun. “... is the song louder at night? Sometimes, just before I fall asleep, there’s something there--a dream, a song, a prayer… I don’t know how to describe it. It’s like knowing that something else is there, something just out of sight. It isn’t every night, but sometimes the wind whispers things to me and it’s all I can do not to get up and dance!” The old woman smiled knowingly at him, as she always did when she approved or agreed, but said nothing.
“Can anyone hear it? Can anyone… sing it, like you do?” Rahma half-mouthed, half-whispered. It was almost enough for her to forget about that infernal sun. It was almost enough for her to not feel quite so bad about leaving the stones and the sticks and the love behind. If she carried a part of it with her, like Zahna did, maybe they could make Tekhen feel like home in no time. Maybe even loss could become something beautiful, if only they remembered.
“Oh no doubt,” said the old woman, “we’re made to sing as we’re made to walk and ride, and as birds are made to fly and eels to swim. And I have found all things in the song, and I have found the song to be all things. But if it’s memory you are after my fearful young Rahma…” the old woman paused and frowned, bringing her knuckles to her lips, “I know of a man beyond the mountains. Taqla met him in Qabar-Kirkanshir when he went with the caravans last, and he was very impressed with him, for he claims he found a pond - or a lake, maybe - that had within it the beginning and the end. Everything that ever was and everything that ever will be. Maybe you should travel with Taqla when the caravans next make the crossing. It’s about time you saw the world out there anyway.” She glanced at Rahma, “but anyhow, we must set you up with a howdah tonight, the sunrays have had it out for you these past few days.”
Serrah shot Rahma a supportive glance from the sidelines, agreeing with Zahna with his eyes if not with his words. She shot a glare back at him, half-heartedly, before nodding with what little energy she had left. It had been a taxing few days, and from the looks of things it wasn’t anywhere close to being over. She thought about offering a prayer to Ura ʿAliaa, but the teachings of the kayhins had not really ever been something she’d concerned herself with - oh, she listened when they came wandering by and talked about all the gods could do - but they were fanciful and, worse, some were preachy. Virtue for power was not virtue at all - virtue, Rahma knew, required a cause beyond the self and the tiny world one found oneself in.
She recalled a time when Serrah had had a terrible dream, shaking and quivering like a leaf in the wind, and he’d mumbled things under his breath. She could barely remember them now, like even her memory of that moment was but a dream, but he’d said things he couldn’t have known. He’d spoken of worlds beyond theirs, across vast… oceans, she vaguely remembered him saying (whatever those were), and names had rolled off his tongue like an unfurling sheet of tehr. Toraan; Mydia; Khesyr - they could’ve just been nonsense, but something within her knew they were as real as the land they walked.
She’d listened a little harder than usual when the kayhins had spoken of Miġra Zaʿl, though - and, if she thought about it, she could connect a lot of what she remembered to the way that Zahna acted. She was utterly mad, no way around it - completely sun-addled, some had said, and as Rahma looked up at Ura ʿAliaa’s great, fiery orb in the sky she half-wondered if the same fate lay in store for her. The old woman spoke of a great song beneath the world, lying within the rocks and the dirt and the homes, and that sounded like something that god of ink and song and poetry would have had a hand in. If she asked - she turned to Zahna, and the elderly woman gave her a knowing wink - she knew there’d be a verse about just that.
The rest of the day passed uneventfully for the Mirtaah tribe. They found a little nook, up against the base of the mountains, that would shield them on one side from wild animals and winds - they set up camp fairly quickly, with Serrah bounding off to help the hukkam set up his tent and do the rounds to make sure that nobody else had any troubles. With the threat of the sun having abated for a time, Rahma had perked up a little and helped set Zahna’s tent up, listening to her recount stories and songs and poems the whole time. It made her feel like the task was over practically as it began, and soon the waxing moon of Qibbar Husnu shone brightly above.
Serrah had returned to a freshly made taffeem and settled in as comfortably as he was able, falling asleep practically the second his head rested upon the ground. It had always been a talent of his - sleep came naturally to him in practically any circumstance, and he was almost always loath to break from the visions he had in the night. Some people howled and shook and screamed in their sleep, but it was very rare that Serrah ever had any issues.
Zahna, however, did not sleep when all others drifted away from the night and darkness to the safety of dreams and reprieve. Serrah had spoken true when he spoke of the song and dance of the night, and so, when near all mankind was asleep, her eyes remained open and she rose to walk among the sleeping dead. About her a gentle breeze formed and played around her head and behind her ears, and the red clays of the night-clad earth exhaled and welcomed her awaited night-song.
Sleep, they say, is the ghost of death That haunts us while we yet draw breath That haunts the mountain and the vale, The rolling sky and wild wind’s wail. So while my body draws breath still I’ll wander by the vale and hill - Beneath the canopy of night That veils us from the sun’s keen sight - And there I’ll sit and sing a while While earth and sky about me smile. The darkness all about is great But high above with lover’s gait There dance the shining moons with light: The purple one we can forgive By virtue of the one that’s white! By virtue of that great bright thing We can forgive near everything! Bar one thing: I cannot forgive That I must die while I yet live And no more walk nor sigh nor sing.
And as the elder sang, the radiance of the great white moon seemed to flow about her in a whirling stream. It spun and twisted, and gathered itself up into a great ball and landed there in the old woman’s hand: a perfect orb of Qibbar Husnu’s light. Merely holding it was enough to cause her eyes to drift off to sleep, but she shook off the temptation and raised her arms high, thanking the goddess. “I give thanks to Qibbar Husnu, true light of the darkness, shamer of the dark moon. I give thanks to Ura ʿAliaa, by whose punishment we come to delight in the mercy of Qibbar Husnu. I give thanks to Miġra Zaʿl, giver of inspiration that we may well sing the praises of Qibbar Husnu. I give thanks to Buʿr Iynas the Great Old Mount, lord of the clay and father of all, by whose red earth we may learn to magnify the white glory of Qibbar Husnu. I give thanks to Zharuuʿ, by whose stars we are guided to the majesty of Qibbar Husnu. I give thanks to Kiʿranuʿjaza, who is the sea beyond the mountain, by whose spreading waters we may see on earth as we do in heaven the light of Qibbar Husnu. I give praise to Jinasa, in whose green bosom we are saved from the sight of the dark moon. Aid us, great Jinasa, that we may ascend the heavens on the back of the great tree and crack the dark moon so nothing but the light of Qibbar Husnu is made to shine; and that the darkness may forever shed its terror. I praise you, whom the kayhins praise; on the redland and in the mountain, upon the sea-beyond-the-mount and on its shore, and as you are praised in the swamplands and in the jungle.”
And with that, the orb of moonlight in the old woman’s hand became a viscous liquid ink that she rubbed into her other hand before bringing both to either side of her face. When she removed them, two nearly perfect white handprints adorned her ancient visage. The old woman exhaled and felt a deep sense of peace overtake her. The flame that coursed through her in the night was calmed at last, and she could go and join her tribe in death-sleep; and so she did.
But even as her light dimmed and the dark overtook her, other things yet stirred. Within that pristine stillness of slumber, that little mind-death as today’s self gave way to a new tomorrow, not all was still and not all was asleep. It had started many moons ago, as an inkling of desire cast out into the world with nary a care for its destination or its fulfillment. A simple prayer to the god within the mind and within sleep - “O, what I would not give for this journey to be over!” - whispered and released without consent or understanding. Though the great Ai’jaal did not listen, another force within its murky realm did. A thing from beyond comprehension paid careful attention to that little plea, and a spark of interest lit up deep within the bottomless crevasse of its hunger.
As the days had gone on, as the sun was pushed up into the sky by Ura ʿAliaa and replaced by Qibbar Husnu’s great silvery orb, those little wisps of desire grew and grew. In the dead of night, when the song dimmed as its singer slumbered, those little wisps collected within the blackness and the dreams of one fervently praying to Ai’jaal kindled a great spark of longing within that mass of light. Soon it shone fervently, brightly, blazing in the dream-world’s sky like a new sun - a beacon to those who hungered for such light.
When Ura ʿAliaa next brought the day and banished the night, when the sleepers struck off the shackles of the great dream, they awoke to find that one of their tribe’s number would never wake again. Their hukkam did not rise at first light as was custom. The hasharaf looked into the veil surrounding the man and it revealed itself as a tomb. Oh, their hukkam still supped upon the air, but his eyes did not open even when shaken and roused. The rocks sang of a well of ravenous hunger, and amidst the clamour of the camp that song floated its way down to Zahna’s old bones and deep within her mind. And the old woman shivered and a certain dread filled her - as, indeed, it filled all her tribe.
It was not uncommon for death to creep upon the sleeping, as it had upon their hukkam, and forget to take his soul. Even now Zahna could hear the crippled song of the soul within the man. Only yesterday he had been full of laughter, his eye gleaming with determination in the midday sun, and his song bursting forth fully-formed and beautiful, tickling the songs of all and inspiring them onward - not long friends, not long comrades, until before our sight great Tekhen shall arise. As she looked upon the yet-breathing corpse, however, and listened to the great hunger that emanated from his place, she knew that only further evil could arise from this. She had seen such things before, and knew that the first death promised many others unless a kayhin was called.
The old woman was silent when the people approached her with questions and fears, and within them all there grew a great desperation to be gone from this place and to get to Tekhen as soon as they could. Their desire for the journey to be over, for safety to be found, was never greater. But Zahna ignored the distressed song that emanated from them all and sat herself in the shade and sang in a low tone, sending her soul’s voice off into the cosmos that a wandering kayhin may hear and come to their aid. And when the people saw this, they quietened and knew that their elder was calling upon the gods, and though their distress and desire to be free of this journey was not lessened, yet did they find a degree of solace in knowing that aid was on the way.
The elder sat for many hours, and the tribesfolk grew restless - while these endless redlands taught patience, distress often caused that to flee. But in time the people began to whisper and point, and they cried out in stunned jubilation; for there above the wide horizon, a little cloud shading them from the sun, floated the undoubtable figure of an airborne kayhin. As he approached, they could see his endless feathery hair and dauntless beard that floated off behind him like many-coloured wings - for the forces that some of these kayhins called upon caused their hair to come alive and grow unlike that of normal folk. At last he descended from the skies above, wind whirling gently all about him and causing dust to fly off - which, strangely enough, never landed on him.
A wandering kayhin arrives on the wind
His body boasted tattoos of different bright colours - white and red and orange - and he was also coated in ash and chalk in addition to spatterings of ink that flowed down his face and neck and seemed to flow from his eyes in dark tears. Indeed, his closed eyelids were the darkest onyx, and his lashes seemed kohled with the blackest ink. Great rosaries were piled about his neck to rest on his naked chest and, while it was not uncommon for the wandering desert kayhins to go completely unclothed, he was wearing a sarong stained with red and orange and blue and green and yellow inks. With his eyes closed, he seemed to be asleep on his feet, though when Zahna approached him he slowly fell prostrate before her and sang in a trembling voice - “I adore and salute the eternal song in you and confirm and attest that the song is One and True; for the myriad voices that arise by dusk and dawn all point towards a god that is mighty and alone.” As he spoke, a cool, damp wind swept through the encampment and all above them clouds formed one upon another in great mountains to shield them all from the damning sunrays. Zahna bowed her head to the kayhin who continued to prostrate himself before her.
“I too adore the one great song in you that gushes from and is Qibbar Husnu. By the bright rays that bring the night alight, cast out our fears and rid our sleep of fright - that death, which stole the greatest of our own may not again come cause us tears at dawn.” The kayhin got up onto his knees, his eyes still closed, and his head turned in the direction of the dead hukkam. He rose to his feet, and even as he did the wind carried him so that he flew above the heads of the gathered tribespeople and soon hung above the body of their deceased leader with his legs tucked beneath him. For a few moments there was silence, and then the wind began to whistle and play, creating an unmistakably flute-like sound, and the kayhin began to hum and rock back and forth in the air. It was a low hum at first, but steadily became louder and louder until everyone within the encampment could hear nothing but the trilling hum, and soon it was not possible to make out the kayhin’s hum from that of the wind.
Beneath him the sleeping hukkam convulsed and shook from time to time, and then this convulsion grew more frequent and foam began to build up around his mouth, and it seemed that his body was in great pain and distress. The strange hum became more persistent, as though coaxing sand from stone- and then, it quietened completely and the kayhin began to sing words that no one understood. But the great cloud of peace that permeated across the tribe could not be denied, and the hukkam’s body ceased its convulsions and seemed to float upward, breathe deeply, and very suddenly collapse back to earth while releasing a great wispy cloud that held his visage for a few seconds before disappearing from view. And the hukkam breathed no more. The kayhin ascended slowly into the air, rocking side to side and singing to himself, before he started spinning on the spot in the air. Having exorcised the trapped soul of the hukkam, his job was complete until nightfall.
The tribespeople meanwhile began preparing the hukkam’s body for burial, cleaning him with earth and dressing him in all his armours of bone and hide and putting his weapons and all of his personal wealth about him. His wives, from the most senior to the least, wailed and cut their hair, and then his sisters did likewise, and his mother and his brothers. Had they been nearer the mountains, they would have offered his body to the great white guardians that dwelled there so that his bones may return to that sacred earth, but being far from there the earth of this endless redland would suffice. And so with drums beating and Zahna reciting a chant of lament, they slaughtered his favoured camel and sprinkled his body with its blood. The drum grew louder and the hukkam’s wives joined Zahna’s lament, slashing their arms with bone knives so that they bled and wept everywhere. And the hukkam was buried, with his camel and weapons and wealth, as the last rays of sunlight disappeared over the distant horizon. Zahna wandered back and forth before the bleeding women, gathering up their cut up hair as a fire was prepared atop the grave, and she threw each of the women’s hair into it where it exploded and fizzled and curled into ash. None of them would remarry until their hair was as long as it had been before.
With darkness come, the hum of the spinning kayhin grew louder once more, and all the tribesfolk made for their tafeems, wrapping up tightly for the night. The wind rustled, the kayhin hummed, and all awaited the second coming of death. It began, as so many of these things seemed to, with a song. The song of the unformed land hidden behind dreams and desires was even more tenuous to grasp than the loudly and proudly blared song of souls - muted by some unseen veil, pressed against by the vastness of a space beyond the physical and compressed into thin ribbons that fluttered along to the pounding rhythm of the wind-song.
Just as those clouds had come forth to offer succour amidst sorrow, those ribbons of incomprehensible desire expanded outwards like a sprawl of lurid colour, slipping through the spaces between rays of pearlescent moonlight and refracting the silvery song of peace and respite into a cacophonous clashing. The unbound rhythm of what wanted to be but never could stripping bare the quintessential element of song from the souls around it, quieting and quelling their thoughts until only husks remained - this was what that new sound promised, and beckoned by the veritable feast of impatience, the sight and sound and name of the evil that had claimed their hukkam made itself known:
‘Seall orm: rinn cabhag feòil!’ It sang with the voice of the wind and the fury of the sun, and each shrieking buzz of frenzied intent seemed to solidify its presence. It began as a shimmer of unknown colour; it ended as a writhing mass of grey-gold smoke, billowing forth from some unseen tear into the land of dreams beyond this one.
‘Bidh an teine anns na bolg agad a ’sàbhaladh an t-acras orm agus a’ cuir crìoch air do dheireadh.’ The smoke curled in jagged wisps, each word intensifying its colours and its solidity. Each wisp became a shard of sharpened jade; each golden tendril a cluster of coruscating crystal; each pulsating thrum of song beckoned forth and coaxed into being the resplendence of a true physical form. Two great horns of curling crystal jutted out from a snarling, gnashing visage: two eyes, each the hue of hunger - a great snout wrought from petrified and glassine bone, pocked with rivers of infinitely shifting colour. Teeth carved from the tips of green-gold mountains, and honed to jagged points as if cut from the sun-blasted tips of those great peaks. Stretching out behind it, the coils of a gem-studded serpent: dissolving into smoke and reforming within the thin sheets of moonlight and the tempestuous gusts of wind.
Illuminating it all, carried on the swirling winds that cradled and rocked each of the tafeem, an oil-slick tint like gaseous flames spreading from that ravenous maw as a spider’s web to entangle them all. Each filament connected through that iridescent ether to the members of the tribe - slipping deeply into the forms of some, and burning away before the others, unable to find purchase in their stilled and centered souls.
Above, the inkstained kayhin’s eyes at last opened, revealing themselves beneath the rays of the moon to be glistening night-ink. The black gaze fell upon the dreamhorror that could not quite sink itself into its resting prey. The kayhin breathed deep and sighed, and then his mouth opened and a thunderous sound emerged, sweeping through the world of souls and rearing up all about the horror.
“And shan’t you too be brought to sleep, that sleeping minds now haunts? For you have stepped into the song of wild abuse and taunts: The realm of song you’ve come upon, you thought it full of prey; but now the song is all about and will unveil the way for your return to your homeland away from this night’s feast, that you may rest and think a while on why you are a beast - and till you sing as all else sings in harm’ny with the world, whene’er you come, and where you go, swiftly from here you’re hurled. Come sing with me, you dreambound fiend, we’ll sing and dance tonight, and when the sun peeks o’er the mount you’ll long be out of sight. Your form forgotten in the night and hunger cast aside, you’ll have nowhere to run off then nor then a place to hide. The dark of night can see you now, the clouds and sky and earth, and where you tread all horror fades and there is only mirth. So come on in and come on out, it’s time for us to go and dance for long into the night and free this folk of woe.”
The song started its undulations around the great beast, strong in its own right, but was unable to find purchase - each buffet of wind struck only smoke, or held in its grasp some fragment of that great beast that shrieked out a cacophony of its own soul’s making and so dispersed the kayhin’s tenuous grasp and rejoined its greater whole. As the song grew louder, as the great maelstrom peeked its way into each tafeem, and as each soul within let loose its inner light, those souls touched by grief and loss and hope joined in the great chorus. Each syllable, a torch; each soul touched, a mote of flame. In unity their songs burst forth to bolster the raging winds and thunderous boom, and soon a radiance of cataclysmic proportions threatened to engulf the shadowy smoke-thing that had feasted upon the hukkam’s very thoughts.
From within, a sickly-sweet song of its own making poured out, cloying verses building within those exposed souls and kindling those nascent flames until a great inferno blazed within all those souls it had touched. It spared only those closest to the kayhin and those who could walk through the veil of dreams of their own accord - it was only by the grace of Serrah’s spirit that Rahma remained untethered. It was only by Rahma’s determined resilience that old Zahna’s song was not turned against her.
As the inferno raged and built up within those less fortunate, the dream-thing’s song trickled through the oily cords of subconscious desire it had fed into their souls, travelling down the wisps of chromatic smoke like a flicker of flame across oil. It seeped into their very essences, and soon their passions burned them from within and withdrew, bolstering the sickly green-gold light within the dimming pillar of effulgence.
‘To fan the fire, to feed the flames All within submit to my games! Banish me not, O’ hollow shell-- Hearken now to this death knell! Thine song is strong and hard of heart, But not enough to stop nor start, A chain within this hungry maw, To stop my feasting on your core!’
Its gem-studded tail of smoke wove its way around the camp, extending and contracting as it slithered between the tafeem. It wound its way around them in a great pattern, a blade cutting through the fabric of reality, until it formed the portentous symbol of the Two-as-One: the holy Triquetra, that symbol which breached the real and drew all within deeper into the embrace of the world of dreams. Within that torn fabric, the Song was different - muted, touched and twisted by the great Dream, channelling notes of desire unknown to even the most passionate in the waking world. It reared its fanged maw back and lunged towards the kayhin, laughs like peals of distant thunder tumbling from it and crashing against his form.
The kayhin frowned and brought his palms together as the laughter crashed against his form like waves against the stalwart cliff, and all about him the laughter formed into swirls of ink and the moonrays condensed into liquid form; and all of it twirled about him at speed as the monster accelerated towards him. His palms flew open and he held them out; and two swirling twin hands manifested in the airborne ink and were filled with power.
”By the hand of bold decrees, all your laughter will now cease; feel upon your brow this weight: all the hunger you shan’t sate. From above and from below watch the deadly laugh-song grow; and before your dreamswept eyes see the hand that pacifies seize upon your dreamcast form and cast you into the storm far from all who sleep in peace; this the hand and song decrees!”
Even as the airborne hand wards attempted to keep the monster away from the kayhin, and the song and ward sought to banish the dreambeast, the inkstained practitioner of the druidic arts called upon his favour with the aspects of the great being of the universe that ruled over the night and moon and the realm of sleep. Speaking a few poetic words of praise he cast a net of calm and utter peace upon all who slept in the camp, sweeping the flame that the beast attempted to kindle and spur within them all with a great dousing wave of peace. “You will not eat here and won’t feast, be banished now and ever, beast!”
Each line of verse caused the trembling dream-beast to sizzle and sputter, as if throwing tiny droplets of oil against a great flame. Great gouts of dream-fire lashed out in response, each punctuated by a shrieking hiss of cacophonous colour that fizzled out upon reaching that most sacred symbol. At its end, a shriek greater than the sum of its predecessors rang out from the jade-encrusted crystal skull of the terrible beast, fracturing its horns. It slithered itself forwards, then, right up to the mass of ink and poetry before it, and let out another great peal of laughter that continued and continued, echoing through the symbol, before slipping straight across it so it was directly face-to-face with the kayhin.
’Tro mhulad nan aislingean bidh do ùrnaighean a tuiteam air cluasan bodhar. Gach diog bidh thu a feitheamh agus an dòchas a biathadh na lasraichean agam.’
As it spoke, each of those syllables caused a fire to gutter out, the threads of colour linking its soul to those of the tribe who had been powerless to resist its suppurative touch fading into a lurid mass of colour that threatened to engulf the entire camp. When it finished, the last word it spoke kindled new, void-black flames within the souls of the unfortunate - Basirah, the hukkam first wife; Duha, his favoured hasharaf; Inarah, Serrah and Rahma’s mother - each mind snuffed out like a fading candle crushed beneath the infinite void. As those flames extinguished, the lights within An-fhuras’ empty sockets surged into life and its mocking laughter surrounded the kayhin once more, threatening to shatter the fragments of song protecting him still.
The tattooed amalgam trembled beneath the weight of the fiend’s assault, his lower lip shivering and teeth chattering ever so slightly. Black eyes glistened and liquid ink dripped from them. But despite his stalwart stand before the powers of the waxing beast, he could feel himself weakening and the song about him diminishing in the face of the monster’s absurd assault. He opened his mouth to speak, but was horrified to find a blankness there - the verses that had danced about his tongue and gushed forth like the thousand rivers beyond the mountain were now all of them dried up and gone. His wide black eyes could only stare at the silent, verseless, songless abyss within his chest.
His body shook and a vast despair seized him then. “Oh!-” he cried, unable to bear the ugly emptiness of whatever this was, “-‘tis better I should die!” And without a moment more he called on all his favour with the great being of the universe that ruled over rock and earth and so summoned all that power to him; the earth shook beneath kayhin and beast and rose up in a great cascade to engulf them, burying them in wave after wave of red clay. And the earth consumed them both, crushing and gnawing at them until they were indistinguishable from the red earth that stretched endlessly above and endlessly below.
Or such at least was the kayhin’s fate, for the beast he fought was not a thing of flesh and bone but a thing of thoughts and dreams, and it slowly clawed its way out of the earth and rose into the night, powerful and ravenous - and now, unstoppable. It let its hunger guide it until it stood above the waiting form of Inarah, who hung in the twilight zone between mature adulthood and old age and who even now still possessed that distant beauty she was famous for in youth. She had grown and matured well; her fate had always been to sate the craving of a maddened being. And as it sunk its claws into her mind and felt the waiting feast that lay within, it relaxed and a sigh reverberated through it.
But when it bit into her mind, it was confused to find that it could not latch on, could not consume anything. Anger and confusion mixed within it, and the beast looked up in time to feel a horrific presence breathing down its neck. Slowly, it turned about and found itself looking upon two great, oddly similar beings. They were tall and wispy, but in all ways appeared to be the reflection of one another. The one that was Serrah looked to his twin, then looked to the beast.
“Hold my hand, Rahma,” the dreamwalker said, “and let’s send this thing back into the abyss.” The wisp sung, and the sleeping souls of the tribe joined it one-by-one. Each keening note of defiance against the thing’s hunger layered itself atop the song, and soon great verses of pure desire poured into the smoky vessel of endless consumption.
“We see you as you are, An-fhuras.Le gràs an Dithis-Mar-Aon, tha sinn gad chasg.”
The wisp that was Rahma extended its free hand out, cutting through the prismatic haze of colour and hunger before them in swift and decisive strokes. Each movement of her hand was a blade of reflective light, each word she spoke a binding seal - as she finished, the holy Triquetra adorned her face like a ceremonial mask, and from those sacred lines trembling golden light spilled forth like blood from a wound.
The shifting and turning corridors of the dream shuddered violently and creaked beneath the weight of the wisp that was Serrah’s tender exhortations of song, and in a moment the holy Triquetra that the dream-beast had formed with its body winked out of existence and took with it the lurid veil of unfulfilled desire that had surrounded that place. The fractures within its horns grew, the colours receding and dimming, and great flakes of silvery crystal seeped from the cracks. As its horns shattered and were replaced by the growing mantle of mirror-bright crystal, the Two-Wisps-as-One placed their palms together and brought about an inky amalgam of the symbol the kayhin had manifested before - though faint, his song still emanated from beneath the dreamscape’s ground.
Serrah collected the wisps of it with vehement exhortations and trilling verses, binding them together, and patterning his palm with that ink - Rahma stole from the writhing and howling beast a glimmer of its reflection from its now-silver horns and poured the stolen images into that hand, where they mixed with the ink. Now complete, the symbol of the Twin-Hands pulsated and thrummed with argent crests of energy, and lashed out with tendrils of ink-black energy. They wrapped themselves around the struggling beast and severed it from its connection to the physical plane.
Sat cradled in the sea of dreams Come see the Two-as-One; The moon was out but lost its beams The sun had fleeing run And in the midst of death’s great feast The swirling maelstrom was released To strike the beast and shun.
Within the darkness of the mind Where flesh and blood are dead Your ears are deaf and eyes are blind: See with your heart instead Then by the power of the Twins We’ll look upon the beast that grins And all its horrors shed.
Now with our knot and divine eye And the supernal hand We place upon your form a dye A cosmic divine brand: Hand of dream and hand of echo Will now banish your great ego To dreams of your homeland.
’Aonachd mar sin! Cuir às dhomh, ma-thà, nach coimhead mi air an làimh sin tuilleadh!’
And so the Two-Wisps-as-One kissed their palms and kissed their reflections upon the forehead, and strode up to the dimming and fading beast. They placed their palms upon its head, and spoke sacred words of banishment. They placed their palms upon its horns, and sang the song of untethering. Each word borrowed from a sleeping soul, each verse the pounding of a great drum - and with that, the tribe saved those who had not yet been consumed and granted their hukkam the gift of vengeance.
When Zahna awoke with dawn, the camp was silent. Once more a heaviness weighed upon the place, though there was a certain finality to it this time. Getting up from her tafeem and leaving the tent, she found the kayhin lying on the ground in a small pool of ink. His song came gentle and low, but it was there. That could not be said for Basirah or Duha; even from here Zahna could sense the emptiness and lack of soul or song from their tents, and she bowed her head and felt a few tears flow down her ancient creased face. She wiped them away swiftly and went to prepare the bodies for burial. All things were fated towards termination, after all, except great songs and the masters of creation - who thought to escape death?
When the people awoke to find their late hukkam’s wife dead also, and his chief guard, they were seized by sadness. And the drums were beaten and the bodies cleaned, and the mourners swayed from side to side with Zahna’s lament. Duha’s wives came forth and, like the hukkam’s wives before, slashed themselves and bloodied the earth and chanted alongside Zahna until the bodies were beneath the red earth. They too cut their hair and Zahna threw the strands into the flame, ridding them of the past that the future may grow unburdened. And the people scattered and were filled with fear, for these nightly visitations by death did not seem to be at an end - the kayhin they had summoned had had proven useless!
In their hurry and their fear, none among the tribe but old Zahna gave thought to the inconspicuously missing twins. She could still hear their songs, even through the commotion and despondence hanging in the air, but they were different, somehow - something ethereal and not-quite-present was about them and their notes. As night fell once more, and the kayhin was yet to rise, the two twins emerged from their tafeem at long last and made their way towards his slumbering form.
“Still he slumbers beneath the weight of the song. Wake, friend of the Taw’amahn,” intoned one.
“Cut through the web of lies. See what truly is,” mused the other, deep in reflection.
With a shuddering, wracking gasp, the kayhin emerged from his waking dream and stared blankly at the twins before him. He breathed deeply and seemed to sigh with relief as the song of the world once again embraced him and planted trembling kisses across his being.
A danger lies inside that dream That makes all of real’ty seem To drown you ‘neath an endless stream Where you can neither breathe nor scream; I wake to find that I am free But question if my mind e’er’ll be.
As he sang weakly, the kayhin was carried on an unsteady breeze and stood before the twins. He bowed deeply, “I salute the divine growing in you and bid you welcome to the cosmic song and lyrical spew,” and with that he was carried off into the air, and soon was consumed by a great cloud that disappeared off beyond the horizon.
“I see you have woken up, my children,” Zahna’s voice came, and she stepped out of her tent and approached the twins, “in more ways than one.”
“We salute and reflect upon the song that is you, by the grace of the twins and Qibbar Husnu.” The two spoke as one, and as they finished they turned to one another solemnly, nodding, and broke out into uncontrolled fits of laughter and joy. They hugged the old woman with a zeal surpassing even that of their youthful forms, and there rumbled from them a song of joy and ecstasy and love and hope. They held her tightly and then let go, holding hands all the while.
“I… Serrah, he…”
“I prayed to the Dreaming One, and invoked the name of Ai’jaal. I don’t know why I felt compelled to do so, but- I could feel his eyes upon me! A great cloud of star-speckled smoke from beyond the veil of dreams placed its eyes and its hands on me, and I knew from then I would sleep no more. I don’t know what happened to Rah--” the excitable young Serrah began, but was cut off as the name seemed unwilling to rumble from his throat.
“When you became what you are, I received a visit from a god too. A thing of glass and claws, it touched me and all I could see was light - and now I see that light everywhere, even when I wake. It fills my mind and my tongue and my heart, and I am not Rahma any more. I… I think my name is… Cagairean. Naomh Cagairean. I was chosen to seek Truth, to… to help, I suppose? It’s just as well - I never could listen to the kayhins for long.” She laughed, skittishly, as if unsure whether or not she still could. She took Serrah’s palm and kissed it, and then did the same to Zahna. “I see the song now, too. So does he- but his is the song within the world of dreams.” Zahna nodded slowly, a smile on her lips and a small sadness in her eyes.
“If these strange gods have indeed spoken to you, my children, then you must not keep them waiting. We have lost a great many whom we love, to lose you too is painful. But it will be good to know that your song yet echoes throughout the world; the body far but soul ever near.”
“I can stay until we reach Tekhen, but… from there, I don’t know where Truth will take me. Serrah will find a home amongst the kayhins, I suppose?” Serrah nodded, as his sister-turned-Saint outstretched her arms and summoned forth her newfound power. Slowly, at first, a glimmer of silver hung in the air - before rapidly increasing in intensity and crystallising into a thousand reflective petals. With a wave of her hand, Naomh Cagairean bid them form a circular mirror and they did so, reflecting her image as they did so. Serrah opened his mouth as if to sing, but the song that erupted from his tempestuous soul was beyond the physical - within the reflection of the mirror it could be seen shuddering and sighing from his very being and resting upon that mirror. Briefly, the moon could be seen within - and then the stars, the mountains, an ocean, a horn - until it showed only reality once more. “Call our names, and we’ll be here. We’d never leave you.” The one who was until recently called Rahma spoke. Serrah nodded vigorously, sweeping a hand through his mop of sandy-brown hair and offering a coy smile to Zahna, and then to his sister.
“I’ll… see what Ai’jaal wants of me tonight, in slumber. We can at least have this day together.” Zahna beheld the mirror with awe for a few moments, looking at the strange face that stared at her from within it, and then nodded to them.
“Remember, children, wherever the gods carry you and whatever you become: you have memory here, and you were and will always be scions of the Mirtaah tribe.” And with that the trio parted ways. The old woman wandered among her sleeping tribesfolk for some minutes before leaving the encampment, and her sighs and songs in praise of great Qibbar Husnu reverberated throughout the Worldsong long into the night.
This post takes place in the badlands. The Mirtaah tribe is moving as they have run out of water, and are heading towards the city of Tekhen. It’s very hot. The twins Rahma and Serrah speak with the tribal elder, Zahna, who is an unconscious spiritsinger and inkweaver. In the night, an Unfulfilled (attracted to their impatience) attacks them and kills their chieftain, though his soul is still in his body and he still breathes. In the morning they call upon a druid, called kayhins. A kayhin arrives and exorcises the chieftain’s soul, allowing him to die. The tribe buries the chieftain. The kayhin then confronts the Unfulfilled when night arrives, but he is defeated and commits suicide by causing the earth to clamp above him and the Unfulfilled. The Unfulfilled survives and prepares to feast on the tribe members, but Serrah and Rahma have become a dreamwalker and a servant respectively, and they banish the monster. The next morning the tribe buries more people who have died. Rahma, now called Naomh Cagairean, and Serrah wake the kayhin up (his suicide having been an elaborate illusion brought about by the monster’s power) and they converse with Zahna once again. They will soon be leaving the tribe, it seems.
Create druidic holy order: Circle of the Turning Away.
4 DP - Divine Madness IV: Members of this Circle are all somewhat crazed due to operating almost exclusively on the plain of the Worldsong. This means they are far more attuned to the Worldsong than normal, almost one with it, but it also means that it is quite difficult for normal people to communicate with them properly, and so think them to be mad. Due to their intense attunement, things like eating and drinking, as well as excretion, all occur passively, and rather than sleeping they enter into a meditative state where they are in union with the Worldsong. 1 MP - Ascetic I: Members of this Circle are ascetic by nature and seek to overcome all desires and pleasures of the flesh. True pleasure and joy is found when the material is shed. This means they are generally more resistant to material harm and environmental extremes. 0 MP (2 Free Titles due to Domain) - Inkstained II: Ink seems to run through the members of this Circle, and their eyes are night-black ink. Their inkweaving powers and ability to create inks that have the effect they desire is notable.
1 MP - Bless the Hand of Ink & Poetry to provide protection against the Unfulfilled:
Drawing the Hand of Ink & Poetry in any of the following ways will provide protection against the Unfulfilled: 1) Simply incorporating ink derived from a Dreamsong into the Hand of Ink & Poetry. 2) Drawing two hands, one out of ink derived from the Dreamsong and the other out of ink derived from a reflection. 3) Incorporating the Triquetra into the hand - e.g. a hand of ink & poetry formed out of many interlocking triquetras.
1 DP - Grant amalgams the ability to use ink magic.
2DP - Consecrate a Hero: Naomh Cagairean Thymesian Seer II: Naomh Cagairean is capable of directly reading another being's memories through the Collective Unconscious.
2DP - Consecrate a Hero: Serrah Dreamsinger IV: (4/5 towards Astral Portfolio) -- Upgrade Dreamsinger II to Dreamsinger IV.
- Circle of the Turning Away -- 5 Prestige - Seekers of Truth -- 5 Prestige - An Caithriseach -- 5 Prestige - Naomh Cagairean -- 5 Prestige - Serrah -- 5 Prestige
Alas, that is a shame! If, perchance, two spots happen to open up at any point @yoshua171 and I are both interested in participating! Until such a point as that happens, we shall watch with great interest.
Like stepping from one foot to another, Àicheil slipped into his twin’s realm. A starlit form, a shroud of many threads, prismatic in sheen, gray in color. For a brief moment, the form of the Dreaming God was strangely feminine--though just barely--and then from it faded all sense of sex as to its favored shape it did return. Yet, something had changed, for hidden beneath the shroud's gray hood there glowed two gateways of shifting coloration. They resembled eyes, though they were strange, lacking pupils or defining features beyond that light which shifted deep within them.
“Twin,” he called out, his voice a summons. That single word, it echoed out and cast into each reflection within Fìrinn's vast realm until those many crystal surfaces held naught but its image.
Àicheil's eyes closed and they did not open thereafter. They were replaced by the ponderous intensity of Ѻs-fhìreach's attention, which spread wide and far, taking hold in all reflections.
The response cleared the intent-laden fog from its glassy prison, releasing and refracting it within the glassine realm until it coalesced elsewhere, freed of mortalkind’s influence. Within a still white space came an explosion of lurid light, twisting the nature of that space as if through an infinite prism--and then there was Àicheil, manifested within the Worldly Circles.
“Is it time?”
The response was uncharacteristically short for Fìrinn, as if its attention were otherwise absorbed--but in truth it was merely preparing itself, conserving its energy for what would come next. As per their rite, Fìrinn extended the tip of its mantle-claws out towards its twin, readying itself to transcend the boundary between words and thoughts and combine their prodigious intellects as one--to take up, once again, the mantle of the Two-as-One to solve whatever issue it was that Àicheil had entered the sacred realm of truth for. It awaited their union patiently, the vagaries of its reflectionless form glittering and glinting in the ever-present luminance of the Hall of a Thousand Mirrors.
Without response, Àicheil reached out and touched Fìrinn and unity was achieved. More brief than before, a swirling cacophony of experience churned within their minds, then met and reached a state of balance. He grew still and peered beyond Truth's realm and into the Endless Dream.
"Pathways," muttered the Dreaming God. He turned and in response, a shuddering susurration enveloped the Subtle Weave.
A wave of intention, a calling, a focused thought. Images of roads and woodland paths--deer trails, dirt-packed down by many feet. Glimpses of the material plane. Locks and keys and doors and knots.
Waves of color and experience brought to order, a symphony of sound and knowledge in place of chaotic cacophony. Gentle fingers playing the infinite threads of consciousness.
A flash of opening eyes, a draining of the well, an outpouring of emotion and strength and power.
Silence rolling across the waves of the Endless Dream, passing from path to path, its melody a lilting echo in the realm of physicality.
A quiet kind of victory. A gentle weight imbued therein.
His eyes closed, face once more a seamless star-bound plane. Still there remained an itching in his mind, a need for balance beyond that of the Two-as-One.
With the Dream now bound as pathways into the waking world, Àicheil knew that other bindings need be made. With this thought etching patterns in the corners of his mind, Àicheil's attention shifted, and the anchor of his thoughts lay firmly upon the form of his twin.
"Dream and Dreamer must reflect," intoned the Dreaming God, his words a thunderous avalanche of meaning. Impressions traced between them then, images of pathways given solid form and definition, sounds of terror-beasts writhing in the Dream. The Chomhlionadh.
"To distract. To empower," Àicheil expounded, "these--my firstborn--must be known unto the world."
Within that swirling mass of dreamstuff, the thoughts, and desires of mortals stripped from the order which dominated reflections in panes of crystalline glass howled and shrieked and cried out for the constancy they had once known. In that moment the thoughts of the God of Truth also crystallized, and its mantle ripped itself from its mounting and unraveled like the ribbons of Àicheil’s cosmic form.
“To see is not enough. To be seen only in Dreams is not enough. They must bring to bear all that they are for all mortalkind to see and feel. Through their movements, we may divine the paths through which Mortalkind must not tread. Through the creation of falsehood, we may divine Truth.”
Fìrinn took a moment to understand what needed to be, and drew the ichor of its Twin’s essence into itself, entering into the unified consciousness of the Two-as-One more fully than usual. It drew from that deific essence the map of the great Dream, stretching out across Galbar, and of those deadly designs within that feasted upon mortalkind’s indolent expression of emotion and seemingly innocuous desires--and then they were revealed to it, like the stitches upon a great tapestry. It extended into them a sliver of its divine essence, true fingers gently navigating the sea of astral energy before it, and touching upon that great race oh so gently, oh so sweetly, and imparting a fraction of its divine beneficence upon them. With that single touch, the God of Truth granted the beasts within dreams awareness and sight of the mortal world, and with that sight, the ability also to be seen. Mortalkind would know them even unshackled by slumber, and they would know mortalkind even in the harsh light of the waking world. It was simply an extension of Truth, in the end--the freedom to know and to be known, to execute one’s purpose without dishonesty and deceit. It was the greatest gift Fìrinn could provide.
As his twin settled once more into stillness so too did Àicheil become content. For with this balance given, the gnawing itch within him did relent. With relief, his mind expanded and into the Dream it swelled. He gazed upon those pathways, the Unfulfilled as well, and so he knew what he must do to enrich the worlds anew.
From experience, Àicheil did pull, and from such arose new meaning.
Love and Sorrow both played their part, for to the world they bound his heart.
Thus, with open eyes, and raised hands, he cast his gaze across the land and dubbed the mortals with name and brand so that they might obey him.
“An Caithriseach,” he so named those touched by his eldritch mind.
So it was that the First Order was founded in his name. They would exist upon Galbar, maddened by their Sleepless Vigil, emboldened by their God.
In that same stroke of creative energy, inspired by the touching of such distant mortal minds and its own recent experiences in the creation of an order of acolytes, Fìrinn took shards of the same mirror-crystal from which the Tairseach was wrought and crafted smaller abstractions of that great Anchor, placing them gently onto Galbar in that great crystal cavern beneath Khesyr wherein the Seekers had been birthed. From there, the faithful would carry these new creations--the Ceilte Iontráil--and ferry them across distant lands to places of spiritual and material significance. For a tithe of memories--a treasured moment with a loved one, a moment of enlightenment, the bitterest dregs of hatred within one’s heart--entrance to the great Dream could be bought, and the physical could cross between the veil between this world and its mirror-self. Within that demesne of thoughts and feelings unbidden and unbound, those crafted paths could provide ways that one could travel without the burden of the material world upon them--but such journeys in the Two-as-One’s creation were naturally perilous. The Unfulfilled hungered for mortals, and the sweet temptation of freshly offered memory may prove too irresistible a lure for them to resist. It linked the paths to the Ceilte Iontráil, and with that their work was done. The Two-as-One became Fìrinn and Àicheil once more, and went their separate ways.
Àicheil enters Fìrinn’s realm and calls upon his twin. They unite. Brought context by their union, Àicheil creates physical pathways that link Reality and Dream so that mortals might walk within that realm beyond the pale. Fìrinn responds to his twin’s discordant mind and balances the scales, bestowing the Unfulfilled--those monstrous dreaming beasts--with the ability to perceive the waking world and be perceived in kind.
Balance restored, clarity gained, Àicheil takes what he learned from Neiya and bestows upon several groups of mortals--who knew and feared him, if not by name, then in spirit--so that they might serve him properly ‘pon Galbar. Fìrinn then makes some mirrors that require you to sacrifice memories in order to step physically into the Dream--these artifacts are linked to the Pathways created by Àicheil.
Start: 5MP, 5DP -2DP [Discounted: Tessellation Portfolio] -- Significantly change landscape/feature of the world: Create physical pathways that bridge Reality and the Dream, allowing entry with the mortal vessel. -1DP [2 free title weights from Abstraction] -- Create Holy Order: An Caithriseach | Grant Dreambound III -2DP -- Consecrate Holy Order | Grant Dreamsinger II (2MP towards Astral Port)
Dreambound III - All members of the An Caithriseach are bestowed with the abilities of an Advanced Dreamwalker. This gives them resistance to psychic threats, the capability to ward themselves from threats within the Dream, the capacity to communicate with others over vast distances--regardless of said individual’s skill in that same art--and the ability to bestow with touch, fully immersive visions or glimpses of the Dream.
Dreamsinger II - Bestows all members of the An Caithriseach with the ability to hear and call upon the Dreamsong in order to create illusions and sensory experiences in the waking world. These echoes of the Endless Dream--though potent--cannot be cast far from themselves, capable of traveling only a few meters at best. Individuals with this title are capable of reliably calling upon the Dreamsong with works of art--both physical and psychic.
End: 5MP, 0DP 2/5 Astral Portfolio.
-1DP [Discounted: Perception Portfolio] -- Grant an extraordinary ability to a species: The Unfulfilled can now perceive the waking world and be perceived in the waking world. Hard yikes.
-3MP [Free Titles: Reflection Portfolio] -- Create the Ceilte Iontráil, a set of artifacts that create physical portals to the dream which will only permit entry with a sacrifice of an important memory. [3 of 5 might spent towards Memory portfolio]
Dreaming Ingress III: Each mirror allows a mortal to pass through and physically into the Dream, wherein they are placed upon a predetermined physical pathway through that realm. They may leave through any other mirror, though they must physically walk a distance to their destination (though it is very considerably shorter than the physical plane, and is not bound by limitations such as oceans or mountains).
The Thymesian Price II: The gateways only open for the sacrifice of an important memory, offered through solemn prayer to the Two-as-One and collected by Faileasiar.
The walls of the cave shimmered and shone with an unknown fluid--likely bioluminescent--and the strange circular chamber hewn from the bedrock seemed oddly out of place, as if some purpose for its construction lay veiled beneath the plainness of its patterns and its carvings. Barely-spoken words floated amidst the dank, dense air of the place and held themselves aloft for a few seconds before their echoes stopped forever and the shuffling of feet punctuated the atmosphere with a strange rhythm unlike anything the land had ever heard before. Suddenly the sounds stopped, and there was a distinct clanging noise as crude metal met something more than the expected diatomaceous earth.
“The world below! It opens to us!”
The hollow caves carried that echo with them for a few moments more before frantic scrabbling and clawing permeated the thick air, and after only moments an argent effulgence overtook the bioluminescent blue like the dawning of a new sun, overtaking the vision of all present with a coruscating glare. Then, again, it was over--and the treasure hunters had discovered what they had come for: crystals, of the purest silver--highly prized amongst devotees of the God of Truth, and even more so to followers of the arcane arts. The silver crystals, mirror-bright, were capable of holding volumes of mana far beyond what their small stature suggested, and they were inherently blessed to assist in the use of scrying magic. It could set them up for life in Aislyrh if they managed to get a good haul--and even if it was just these few clusters, they would be able to live comfortably for a good many years.
Khara spoke up first, her eyes scanning the crystals with a scrutiny rarely seen in human eyes, before clawing away at the rest of the dirt and extricating a tiny chunk of the solid mass to bring up to the light emanating from the walls. She could see her reflection perfectly in the small crystals from what seemed to be a thousand thousand angles, and the first thought that came to her mind was that she looked filthy. Filthy… soon to be filthy-rich, I think.
Dhokar, an Alminaki, spoke up next--snatching the crystals away from his associate and peering into them with his preternaturally big and wide eyes. It was almost impossible to actually determine the quality of the crystals without getting lost in their reflective facets, but he’d managed to develop something of an eye for it after years and years in the business. He’d be thirty-two this year--and if he was lucky, he’d never have to work another day in his life. He tried to smile at the thought, but the sheer concentration it took to not get lost stopped the beginnings of that thought before they could fully form.
Vhirai continued his digging, the shoddy copper spade and his unsteady, shaking hands coming together to punctuate the room with a constant pitter-patter of metal meeting crystal and bouncing off harmlessly as the soft earth around them gave way. It took a few moments of probing, but he was sure that he could isolate this particular cluster and dig it out if he had some help--he thought about asking Khara to grab some of the dirt and haul it off the side while he made sure the mass could be extricated without damaging it. He slightly turned his head to peek over at her as he considered actually vocalising that thought, and internally sighed as he saw her and Dhokar squabbling over the tiny cluster of loose crystals they’d found.
“Let me look, you prick! You’re just fucking staring at it!”
“Fuck off, Khara. I’m appraising it, something you wouldn’t know the first fucking thing about.”
”If you don’t give me the crystal I’ll pluck your feathers from your face and shove them--”
A cacophonous shrieking, shattering sound interrupted the two, and they hastily turned around to see Vhirai looking straight down at a clearly sundered chunk of crystals, bits of the structure still falling apart and crumbling off of one another. Khara looked at the pile of crystals, dumbfounded for the moment, while Dhokar fought the urge to scream and rage at Vhirai, choking it down after a second before looking very intently at the crystals. Khara didn’t quite scream, restraining herself for the time being, but she very calmly walked up to Vhirai, balled up her right fist, and slammed it into the back of his skull.
He whimpered at the shock and the sudden stabbing pain coursing through his head, before turning around like the crack of a whip and bringing the crude tool in his hands to bear against her, the flat side of it impacting her cheek and sending her barrelling towards the wall of the cave. She hit it with a muted thump, scowling at Vhirai the whole time, but shrugged it off and took a moment to reorient herself.
“You deserved that.”
”... yep. Sorry, Vhirai. What the fuck was that?”
”There was a fracture from below, I think. It was too big a sound to just be that cluster… right?”
”Yeah, yeah… let’s clear it up. Khara, you bag the shards. Vhirai, keep digging--there’s gotta be something more below.”
Though she still scowled, Khara acquiesced with the order and pulled a hempen sack from her back. She picked the shards up gingerly, inspected a few as she went to make sure there were no more obvious stresses and potential breaks, and went about her work a little more groggily than she ordinarily would.
Vhirai dug around the loose earth and the crystal fragments a little more, scraping away at the base steadily, before hearing another tink of copper meeting crystal beneath the soil. After a moment of further probing, the same cacophonous shrieking as before filled the cavern--clearly not caused by Vhirai--as the earth beneath them began to rumble and shift. The three partners staggered back, Khara and Vhirai ending up on one side and Dhokar on the other. The ground gave way beneath them, a rough circle of earth simply falling down into darkness below, and the rest of the soft earth dispersed itself into cloying clouds of dust, causing the three to attempt to shield their mouths and noses as they coughed furiously, backing up further to escape the dust.
After a few moments the dust settled, and the trio peered down towards the newly found hole in the cave. They were greeted with the sight of what looked to be an entire cavern--stretching out further that they could see from their poor vantage point--full of the silvery, reflective crystals like a solid sheet that lined the walls and the floor. There wasn’t an obvious way down, exactly, but it seemed that the crystals that had sprouted up beneath the caves that they’d excavated had grown from a branch of some greater structure in the distance. Mostly recovered from her earlier ordeal, Khara decided to scale the path she could just about make out, standing up and grabbing a rope from the sack on her back. She gave it a quick tug to make sure it was still steadfast, before tossing it to Dhokar. He planted his feet as much as possible given the state of the earth, held on to it firmly, and nodded.
Khara took a ginger step down, scaling down the large shard of crystal jutting out of the ground, before dropping down onto what looked to be a conjoining branch of crystal. She gave the rope two tugs--I’m fine, I’m going to carry on--and Dhokar felt the rope go slack. He shrugged to himself, thinking little of it but what an enormous find this was, and sat down to observe the crystal fragments again. Vhirai took the time to peer down into the cave below, unable to see much on account of the darkness, and took a small wooden torch from his pack. He’d never had much of an aptitude for mana and magic--that was why he’d ended up with these two--but he could cast a simple fire spell or two. Just sparks, mostly, but it was enough to light a torch if he really focused. It took a solid minute or two of effort, but soon enough the little bundle of wood was comfortably alight--sputtering, on account of the humidity--but alight.
He tossed it down the hole, and as soon as the light hit the reflective crystals a column of reddish-white light erupted from the hole in the ground, the entire cavern below them suddenly aglow with intense luminance. The harsh burst of light soon faded to something more manageable, and as it faded Vhirai was sure he could hear Khara swearing at him like a sailor, making sure he knew that he was very colourfully being compared to the genitalia of several animals. He chuckled a little under his breath, waiting a few seconds, and then peered down into the hole once more. The light still reflected through the mirrored surfaces, and he could see the entire room, but as he scanned her noticed that he distinctly couldn’t see Khara even though he’d just heard her moments ago.
”... Khara?” he shouted down, hearing the echo immediately, and suddenly at the base of the crystal spire in the centre of the room he saw movement. Khara quickly emerged and shouted back:
”Yeah! There’s a natural stairwell in the middle of the crystal--it’s, like… this was designed to be walked in?”
She looked around, still in somewhat of a disoriented stupor, taking in the sights and the fact that she was now reflected hundreds of times throughout the massive cavern. She stared at her reflected image on one of the walls, mouth agape, as she wondered two things: Firstly, how much was this place worth?; Secondly, who on earth could have made such a place?
”I… don’t think we should be here. We should take what we have and just go, Vhirai--tell Dhokar to get the rope ready.”
Though her voice carried well throughout the cavern, there didn’t come a reply. She looked back up towards the great crystal spire and its branches, back up towards the hole, and saw only blackness through it. That was odd--it hadn’t been like that a few moments ago. Perhaps it was a trick of the light? Who knew what these crystals could do with light in such immense quantities? She turned the words over in her head for a moment, trying to still the gnawing anxiety and dread building up in her breast, but it quickly overwhelmed her and she darted towards the entrance of the spire that she’d come down originally. She got about halfway before she caught sight of another reflection on the walls of the cavern and stopped in her tracks, looking at the strange figure within the crystals.
It looked almost exactly like her, if she’d been covered in some… kind of molten silver, she supposed, the form rippling and coalescing further as it turned to look at her. With a voice like the same cacophonous shriek the crystals had made earlier, but somehow softer, the reflection seemed to speak directly to her:
You tread upon the sanctum of the Two-as-One. You seek to despoil it for your own betterment, for your petty and baseless desires. Khara at-Tawil, whose Truth is that of subservience to the self and none other, this holy place shall be your tomb.
The strange reflective figure seemed to grab her mirror-self, bringing suddenly visible razor-sharp claws of glass to her reflection’s throat. She paid it no mind, intent only on running, but found herself bound as her reflection was bound--unable to move or struggle, surrounded and grasped by some force she could neither understand nor perceive.
It brought its claws across her neck and she dropped to the floor, clutching a wound that she could not see, before her blood pooled out onto the crystalline floor.
”She said it was designed to be walked in, Dhokar! Maybe it’s something of the gods--perhaps the Sleeping One!”
”You want to visit a place sacred to the Sleeping One? To a place where those beasts exist? You’re fucking mad, Vhirai--but we’ve got to make sure she’s okay, I suppose, if nothing else.”
It hadn’t taken very long for the two of them to actually get down to the crystal cavern below. Dhokar had hammered a shaft of copper into the wall of the cave and tied the rope pretty securely--it had held their individual weights as they’d climbed down, at least--and they were exploring the same crystal spire that Khara had described. She hadn’t really managed to encapsulate just how eerie it was to be looking at a hundred reflections of yourself in the walls around you and on the floor and on the ceiling--Vhirai’s breaths came faster and faster, the panic starting to get to him as he looked around. He couldn’t be sure, but the light in the room looked… different. The fire had been mostly oranges, but there was a distinctly golden hue to the light in the room now, and he wasn’t even sure if it was the torch. The torch had surely gone out by now, right?
They reached the floor in a fairly short amount of time, and Zhirai fell to his knees in shock as he saw it: Khara’s body, throat slit, blood pooling on the crystalline floor and starting to seep through the cracks.
Vhirai at-Tawil, whose Truth is a lie cloaked in gossamer delusion. Her selfishness became yours, her bitterness rests within your soul. This place shall be your tomb, that you might join your sister.
He, too, tried to run--only to found himself bound in the grip of those glassine claws, and only to feel his lifeblood running down his gory throat as the last dregs of life slipped away and joined his sister’s in the reflective embrace of eternity.
Dhokar turned to the reflection on the wall, eyes misty from barely suppressed tears, and awaited his fate. If this is what loyalty to his friends got him--well, maybe the gods were as cruel as they’d been told after all.
There is Truth within you beyond the self. You loved them because they gave you what you did not have, but did not forgive their indolent self-delusions. They saw the world as a thing to be exploited for their personal gain--but you have always harboured curiosity within your soul and a consideration outside the self. Your trespass may be forgiven--dedicate your life to seeking Truth, and you may yet leave this hallowed place.
Dhokar took a moment to look at the thing speaking to him, tears flowing down his face, as he considered its words. It was true that Khara and Zhirai had always been self-centred or willfully ignorant, but he’d forgiven them their ignorance because it was so difficult to know better. All they had were stories and prayers, and it wasn’t like any of the gods they’d prayed to had ever actually listened. Dhokar wasn’t even sure that they existed--they’d never shown any evidence of their presence in his life or the lives of anyone he knew. Blind faith wasn’t something that got you where you wanted to go. It wasn’t something that let you live out a life that would actually mean something after you had died.
”... seeking truth? What even is truth? What does it mean?”
Truth is the limits of what you perceive and the context through which you view your world. Truth is what your world must become; Truth is the shaping of what is into what may be. Truth is what you have always sought--answers--and more. It is your salvation and your purpose.
Dhokar fell to his knees, openly weeping, as the reflective thing spoke to him. Given a choice between dying like his friends and continuing in the name of a god he’d never thought really existed… Life was the obvious choice. He would remember them always, and through him they would survive--but the world still needed help. It still needed alignment. It, he came to realise, needed Truth.
”I accept. I will seek out Truth, as you say, and make this world better.”
No more words were necessary. The mirror-thing pressed a glassy claw to Dhokar’s reflection, against his forehead, and there was a burst of intense golden light. By the time it had faded, Dhokar was on the surface and the name in his head no longer felt right. He tried to speak his name--Dhokar--but the words would not leave his mouth and the thoughts slipped through his mind like sand through his fingers. He now had a new name--Naomh Chruinne.
A new name, a new purpose, and a world to set to rights. The first Seeker of Truth was born.
A trio of opportunistic adventurers descend deep into the earth beneath Khesyr to retrieve Mirror-Crystals, a supposedly rare and powerful material prized by magi and the faithful of Fìrinn alike. They find a fantastic haul--enough to set them up for many years--but then discover an entire crystal cavern beneath themselves, absolutely filled with the material. Khara, one of the adventurers, is overtaken by greed and descends below to scope out their find, unknowingly trespassing upon a site sacred to Fìrinn and guarded by Faileasiar, the Behindling. It punishes the unlucky adventurer for her greed and selfishness, before her companions seek her below. It kills another for its closed-mindedness, but is impressed by the third, an Alminaki named Dhokar. Though skeptical of the Gods, Dhokar is an inquisitive and intelligent individual who follows their Truth to the best of their ability and has the capacity to think beyond the self. Faileasiar offers them a choice: die, like the others, or become a Seeker of Truth to act as Fìrinn’s agent and make the world a better place.
Starting Points: 3MP/4DP
Consecrate a Holy Order: -3DP, two free titles from Perception
Dreambound I - All Seekers are granted access to Dreamwalking abilities.
Enhanced Memory I - Seekers gain Eidetic Memory for the duration of their Oaths, but lose access to all of those memories upon relinquishing their power.
Scrying I - Seekers of Truth gain access to Fìrinn’s suite of magic: Scrying (the location of people or objects across vast distances using the Collective Unconscious); Truesight (Seeing things as they truly are, without illusions or preconceptions).
Weavebound I - Seekers of Truth are living anchors of the Collective Unconscious, allowing Fìrinn to access their perception without delay, and naturally strengthen the Collective Unconscious around themselves.
Scáthán I - Seekers of Truth are able to create and manipulate silvery crystals, similar to the Tairseach, that act as perfect mirrors. Being crystalline, they are fragile and easily broken.
It was finally time. The calamity began to manifest before the God of Truth’s practically omnipresent eyes, the Subtle Web informing it of the happening as it began. It had not expected to simply fade away into uncertainty, severed from that which it was sworn to protect, but as it witnessed the disintegration of its connection to Galbar and the very same phenomenon happening to all of the other gods, its thoughts only turned to its dear twin. Perhaps, alone, Aicheil might feel the impact of this strange phenomenon. Perhaps he could process what it was like to no longer be as one once was--perhaps he would experience rage, or terror, or sorrow. Perhaps it would be like a sudden, tragic accident as so often occurred with mortals, or perhaps it would be a serene moment of acceptance and understanding. There was no way for the God of Truth to know, for whatever strange cataclysm was befalling the Gods had stripped them of their divine unity in that moment. It was the first time that Fìrinn had ever felt truly alone, but it felt only an empty reflection where there should have been terror or serenity.
Its gaze focused intently on the holy Tairseach before it, gazing not into its eternal store of reflected images and thoughts but simply into its reflection. The images seemed to fade into the background and slip away beneath that silvery veil. Each element of the web that it could call upon dissolved into an opalescent mist, dissipating just as quickly as it had formed. Every image shattered itself into nonexistence, and every thought flowed through the god into its embrace as if they did not exist. Very soon, Fìrinn began ceasing to exist themselves, its lustre and sheen sloughing from its body and its colours dripping into the reflecting pool below. Very soon Fìrinn could no longer keep itself aloft, and its true feet rested steadily upon the serenely still waters, and then began to disappear themselves, leaving behind only a reflection of what was.
Fìrinn’s true hand reached out to caress the holy mirror, finding purchase only for a moment. Then, like its feet, its hand simply ceased being able to interact with the mirror before disappearing too. The God stared at the reflection of its former hand before nodding into the mirror and simply walking forward through that glassy surface and leaving its corporeal form behind. It did not try to hold on to what was or to what might have been, simply accepting its departure as a Truth of the universe, or perhaps the lifeblood, or perhaps even a reflection of its own ideas and desires--it simply acquiesced with what was being asked of it knowing that, on some level, what was happening here was right.
It did not know what it expected as it passed beyond the glassy pale, but it did not expect an ocean of never-ending blackness. It attempted to cast its senses into the Great Weave, to see the comings and goings of mortalkind, but found only a distant haze through which it could not perceive. It attempted to touch the mind of one yet living, and was rebuffed by the echoing of an infinite and empty void. Finally it called for its twin, speaking that one anchoring word which had always brought them to one another, and was answered only by the finality of its fate.
Fìrinn pressed its senses against the barrier keeping it from Galbar, never attempting to penetrate the inescapable prison in which it was entombed but rather listening for the reverberations that must surely exist beyond its prison. To its surprise it could still hear the invocations of its name in the very background of infinity--those mortals who had found their way to the deepest recesses of the dream, and the cries of the Night Elves who had so long ago listened to its words and changed their ways. They still called out to the Two-as-One, and with that tenuous connection to what once was Fìrinn could still influence the mortal plane, watching and guiding as it had before. And so it focused upon those threads of creation, pulling them taut and instructing the mortals it had helped to spread the word of Fìrinn and Truth to all that would listen. Time passed by in uncountable and unknowable eons, each new thread piercing the blackness of Fìrinn’s new demesne like an argent spear. Soon, if it focused, Fìrinn learned that it could mould those spears--and, indeed, access the full extent of its deific prowess as it had when it walked Galbar. For each person helped, for each prayer answered, for each Truth aligned with Galbar’s reality a new mirror appeared before the God of Truth, filled with playful lights and images of that mortal’s life. Each a small anchor to what was and a connection to its beloved Tairseach.
It took somewhere in the region of seven hundred mortal years for Fìrinn to be able to access the extent of what it had once done previously on Galbar--access all of mortal perception and experience. It had reconnected itself with the reflections within the Tairseach, though could extend its senses no further than that--it could look through the mirror the opposite way, peering at Tír na Íomhá from a perspective it never thought possible. Soon, the Buaileagan Aimsireil flourished in full force and what had once been an inescapable prison of endless nothing was alive, a tapestry of what could be stretching into endlessness.
Fìrinn traced its entire realm nigh endlessly, gazing into those reflections it captured and aligning what was with what should be. At some point along its infinite journey through infinite reflections, it noticed a mirror that it had never seen before. It peered through the glassy depths studiously, attempting to divine which thread this mirror connected to, before noticing its divine kith from afar. There was yet hope for it to reconnect with its twin, then, it seemed--and with nary a thought it stepped through that divine portal and into Antiquity.
Firinn contemplates eternity and goes about doing their job when they realise they still can. They eventually wind up in antiquity.
Calamity was in the air. Though unpossessed of a reason, it was something that Fìrinn simply knew to be true--as surely as the sun rose, as certainly as the tides ebbed to and fro, and as assuredly as sleep followed wakefulness: something calamitous was going to happen. The God of Truth had gotten the first inklings of this sensation as it attempted to collate the mortal experiences flowing from the area that it now knew to be called the Aberrant, and as it followed the dreams that resulted from that area’s profane influence it had gotten an inkling of some slumbering wrath deep within the fabric of the world. Mortalkind were blissfully ignorant as to the coming change, but the way that their minds processed the nature of reality had subtly shifted towards a new mode of thinking, a preparatory state as if to shield themselves from some great loss or, perhaps, to welcome a great boon. Which way the scales would tip it did not understand, but the knowledge that they would tip one way or another was never far from its thoughts.
It was this impending sense of… not doom, exactly, but great and irreversible change that spurred Fìrinn on to continue its great work with an ardor it had never felt before. The tangled web of thoughts and feelings stretching out from the holy Tairseach was vast--vast enough to encompass the entire world--but the further from the mirror the threads got, the less deeply imprinted they became. At the very edges of the world one would struggle, even attuned, to glimpse so much as a fleeting feeling that a companion might nurse beneath their breast. If, indeed, change were to happen--and it would--Fìrinn would need to ensure that the Great Weave was as strong as it could be.
To that end, there were two places it needed to visit. The first was the new continent that a storm of ink and vibrant colour had carried many mortals off to, and the second was deep beneath the waves in the hadopelagic realm of Klaarungraxus. From deepest depths the skeins of mortal connectedness could encompass all of reality, casting a wide net ‘cross the entire world, and ensuring that no errant thoughts and dreams escaped the Subtle Web.
It was a simple task for the God of Truth to visit the realm below, if only because it was a place known to it through the dreams of the Vrool. It had never visited the place physically on account of its depth and the uncertain hospitality it might receive from those beings and their patron god. Now, however, it was acquainted with the Old Growth Below. It had no such apprehension about a sojourn to that abyssal realm, and so did it appear there with but a momentary thought at great Ku, the epicentre of oceanic life and culture.
The waters that flowed above Ku that day had been gentle; it seemed that Fìrinn’s passing was welcomed by the ocean’s voice itself. A new power emanated from the rumbling of that most ancient of entities, thrumming with a hint of magic about it. No matter the source of this new sorcerous intent, it was clear the ocean held its arms open to Fìrinn Rux, ally and friend to the Lord of all Oceans. As those gentle currents surged down towards the urstone of the sea, Klaarungraxus rose up to meet this anticipated guest.
”Bountiful riches carried on gyres complex and numerous, Fìrinn Rux, for your return is most expected and greatly warranted,” the thundering siren call of Klaarungraxus shook the oceans for miles though raised the water only enough for ripples, ”We hath much work needs doing, friend of the depths, for I sense you hear that foreboding tone as I do.”
Fìrinn gave a nod of its almost-face to Klaarungraxus as the words registered within its mind. Such a gesture was rare--the God of Truth’s perfectly still form was one of the few constants in the world--but this was an occasion worthy of change and urgent change at that.
”Indeed so, Klaarungraxus Rux. When one is used to a certain level of foresight, events such as these are deeply unsettling--a tsunami beyond vision, beyond knowing. There is only a feeling of trepidation, and it distracts me from the great work. It seems that reality has its own truth, and it will not be denied by our deific works.” came the response, emanating in wavering and unsteady ripples through the water.
”The Subtle Web is unfinished. My presence here anchors it, but if I am to retreat beyond the glassy pale into the realm of the mind to avoid this storm I cannot be certain that it will remain eternal. It must be anchored anew, that our people will not want for guidance should we be absent in any capacity. I sense that you feel similarly--the world thrums with tectonic currents here.”
Fìrinn’s mantle-claws clasped themselves together in front of it, gently pressing into one another as it spoke. Such words weighed on it more heavily than the entire ocean atop its head, and that same weight was evinced in the inflection of its meaning.
”Your thoughts strike clear through brine and dark, Known-Truth-Spoken-Clearly, for the world is waking to things foreboding and burdened with finality,” Klaar seemed to visibly sink inwards through his murmurings, eyes sinking deep into the hide of his dark sea-green body, ”Perhaps an anchor yet exists, simply unbound. Ku, urstone of oceans, sits idly below; it is the epicenter of all the seas and her people. Perhaps, then, she can serve?”
”Perhaps she can. Perhaps she must, ere the Realm Below loses the physicality of the divine? By our combined might the abyssal depths and her people shall never want for guidance nor succour; it shall ensure our legacy for all eternity, and the legacy of our people. Whatever the distant future brings, we shall be remembered as Gods who did all in their power to ensure the best for mortalkind.”
Fìrinn summoned forth a great reserve of its divine power, placing its true hands upon the oily, dark surface of Ku. Its mantle wove itself into the triquetra so-associated with the Two-as-One, and it settled on the ocean floor with a crackle of thunderous energy--as if conducting the sorcery which flowed through this hallowed place. From each of the three tips of the triquetra arcs of that electrical energy thrummed through the water and refracted endlessly, converging upon that obsidian slab as rays of cool, gentle light. From within that light filaments and threads began to weave themselves together into intricate knots and whorls, gyres of ponderous scope and shape forming as they mingled and intertwined.
Then, as the light subsided, the waters surrounding Ku erupted in a seething geyser of force. The wave of energy unleashed from the power carried itself throughout the entire ocean, knitting itself to the threads of the Collective Unconscious that remained down there and anchoring the loci to which they connected. After it was finished, Fìrinn took a moment to rest as its mantle rewove itself around the God’s form and they turned to Klaar.
”It is done. Before I leave to make preparations elsewhere there is one more boon I might bestow upon you, Klaarungraxus Rux: Those deep-dwellers for whom sorcery has awakened and washed over like tumultuous currents shall be able to access the subtle weave while waking, and know one another even across this entire demesne. I only hope their Truth manifests itself as your reality.”
Klaar seemed to consider the thought briefly, rumbling from some place deep within his hide, before uttering a surprisingly laconic response. ”That is the hope.”
”The only true death is to be forgotten, friend. As the Tairseach stands eternal, as the Oceans were the beginning and shall be the end, we endure through what is and what shall be. Though it will be of little comfort to they that are thee--excepting, perhaps, right-forward two-down--there is something I would like to show you. A gift of perception for a treasured friend--the first glimpse of this anchor’s power, and the first true call of the sea ‘cross all mortalkind’s seeing. A memory of that which we leave behind; a memory of that which is yet to come.”
With that, Fìrinn’s mantle-claw reached out across the impossible distance through the waters, cutting through the tenebrous murk like a piercing ray of cool effulgence. Across unseen currents it was propelled until Klaarungraxus could grasp it firmly.
Fìrinn’s true self reached above the oily surface of Ku and grasped at the threads woven into the anchor that it could perceive, and in so doing rendered them plainly visible to the many-minds that made up Klaar’s extensive web of perception. With simple dexterous movements seemingly unhindered by the weight of the water, Fìrinn began to pluck at the strings of the weave, gentle glitters of gold and grey and black and blue manifesting from its careful ministrations. They rippled out across the entire surface of the web and then, for a moment, they were suspended in motion. After that moment passed, a deep thrum could be felt through the entire ocean as each mortal received a brief vision, be it as they woke or within their slumber. To each it would be different in style and substance and form, but all would feel the call of the Ocean and all her people in their own way--all would harbour some distant longing for those abyssal depths and the majesty held within, however briefly. They would feel the will of the Vrool Tyrants pressing upon them as the ocean depths, or perhaps hear the song of Ku. Some might experience a vision from the perspective of an Akua, and some would see Great Klaarungraxus himself in all his eldritch glory, beckoning them to the unfathomable realm below the waves.
Each mortal would experience these visions and dreams differently--it would be impossible to pinpoint what each saw and felt. The only certainty is that the name Klaarungraxus would be in their mouths as they recovered, briny and dark.
Fìrinn and Klaar have a chat about the pending doom they have both sensed. Fìrinn consecrates Ku as an anchor to strengthen the Collective Unconscious beneath the waves, and fulfils part of its bargain with Klaar to bring knowledge of the deep and Klaarungraxus to mortalkind.
-1MP - Create an anchor on Ku that strengthens the presence of the Collective Unconscious within the depths.
Behold the Terrorists of Valhalla:
Behold the Cavemen of Valhalla:
<div style="white-space:pre-wrap;">Behold the Terrorists of Valhalla:<br><br><img src="https://cdn.discordapp.com/attachments/321692496294051842/475442171814608908/unknown.png" /><br><br>Behold the Cavemen of Valhalla:<br><br><img src="https://cdn.discordapp.com/attachments/321692496294051842/475840294785646593/Untitled.png" /></div>