Maalira — In Your Heart
Season/Week/Day/Time and Notable Context. [[[s02:session-20|Session 20]]]
Affada glares at Erhehta, but does not argue, and goes to do as she was told. The tiny man looks up at Maalira. “Not all the spirits will know you are a White Lady,” he says, “But I will give you protections, and a way to know if the spirits are living creatures. Bring the fire back to life, child.” He uses a word that means, particularly, pre-adult-person, and not just a diminutive or a pet name.
The fire, a collection of dung and some lumps of charred wood, is in a pot in the middle of the tent, under the highest point. It is still warm, but no longer hot.1Failed Survival means it is slow to light.
It takes a little while to light the fire, for the dung is damp and the wood lumps are too big, but finally it is done. Erhehta’s laboured breathing continues in the background all through, but he does not get worse. “I cannot cast spells,” he says, when the fire is burning, “But my spirits can. I will make it safe for you here. Do you know the way in the spirit world, to the herd?” Another of his bone piercings cracks and crumbles as he speaks.
Maalira shakes her head, abashed at having to admit her inexperience in that department. “Will you teach me, Bone-Master?”
“I cannot teach. Yours is not the Shaman path. But I can tell. Always, you must leave comfort and go into the thing you do not like. You will start in a cave, or a tent, or a hearth. It is the safe place I will make for you. You must leave it, but keep it in your heart. Keep it in your mind. Keep it in your bones.” That makes him chuckle. “The warmth will protect you far from home. Then you will be in a place you know, but it will also be strange. Sanar is not far away. You will see many spirits, but few will touch you. Avoid them all, until you find one that is a bison with blue bones. Be sure to ask its name twice and twice only. Sanar does not like to be asked three times.”
Maalira nods, trying to commit all of this to memory. “Do we begin now?”
“We start to begin. There is dreamroot on the wall, and under the fire is a pot with hazia paste. Some people are stupid enough to eat both, but take the size of your smallest finger joint of each, and put the paste around the root, then give it to the fire.”
“Master eats the dreamroot,” Affada says, thus signalling that she has returned. “But usually he just burns the paste.”
“It tastes bad,” Erhehta says wisely.
Maalira follows the instructions, aware of both Erhehta and Affada watching her with a critical eye as she moves around the unfamiliar space.
Affada seems to be mostly watching Erhehta.
Soon, there is strange smoke rising, twisting as it does, into odd shapes. A sweet smell is in the air, and almost instantly, Maalira’s limbs feel heavy. Affada circles around her and the fire and Erhehta, and then there is a cracking sound, and a whimper, and her body feels oddly heavy, so she gets out of it… Light as anything, floating, she finds herself in a new place.
She is in a place that is familiar to her, a small grove by a stream of fresh water. Trees can grow here, and bison can crop fresh growth. It is changed, though. Each tree has a soft glow to it, the little river makes quiet sounds to itself as it flows, which say ‘to the sea’, and there is a glowing man sitting there, his skin and in fact his entire body pierced with bones made of light. He should be too bright to look at, although Maalira can do it. “Heh. Nice place you keep in your heart,” he says, looking around. “I still can’t move, but at least it doesn’t hurt here. Forgot to tell you a thing. Once you get out of here, it takes practice to get back. Ride Sanar, or walk with it. Sanar always knows the way home.” Distantly, she can hear bones creaking against each other, as Erhehta speaks.
Maalira turns her head this way and that, trying to work out which way to go.
“Out,” Erhehta says, which is not necessarily helpful.
As she turns, Maalira comes to the realisation she is seeing all of the grove at once. There is no direction that is the one where she is looking, although it is possible to concentrate on details.
“How do you always leave this place? You know already.” His voice is not kind or unkind, just flat and factual.
Beyond the grove, she cannot see. Her senses refuse to make anything be there. It is not dark, or misty. There is just a nothing.
Taking a deep breath, Maalira steps into the nothingness.
She is on a plain, wide and vast, fading off further than she can see. Dimly, off in the distance, glowing shapes move; hundreds of them across the grass that is a mere ghost here. Most have the colour of the Beast Rune, which is not a colour Maalira will ever be able to describe in the living world.
Other spirits move too, rather closer to her. They are representations, and true images. This one closest looks like half a bison cow, walking along as if the missing part is no impediment. There are others nearby, often cow-headed or with shaggy bison manes. She has seen such things before, in her training. These are the spirits of people. The half cow is a bit of a puzzler, but the rest are probably the people around Erhehta’s tent. That means the moving shapes in the distance are probably the herd.
A bound set of snakes, tied at the tail, pinwheels through the sky.
Maalira eyes the spinning snakes suspiciously, but decides they’re not an immediate threat. Squaring her shoulders, she begins walking towards the shadowy herd.2POW x 5 fail means that something has noticed her.
Of course, the problem with going towards the herd is that other things are too… Soon she finds something else, sharp-smelling and predatory is closing in on HER. And then it pauses, and then it pounces. And then she must defend herself.
The thing that comes for her smells like a hunter, which is interesting because until now she had no notion that she could smell anything here. This is rank, and hot, and hungry, but it does not manage to take the chunk out of her that it wants to. It bounces off her will, like a shield might hold in the Middle World. This shield is invisible, almost intangible, but made of her own spirit. The thing bounces, and comes back again.3After some rounds of Spirit Combat, Maalira pushes the thing away.
The thing bounds back, launches itself again, but the spirit world is strange and distance is not always distant, and it falls short even as Maalira brings up her spirit in a desperate push that does not get out far.
The thing pounces again and again, but something that is inherent in the place or even in Maalira holds it off.
Maalira’s attention turns on the thing, her will forms a shield that throws it away, and bits of it splatter and fall, and the rest of it flees, defeated. Then she finds she is at the edge of the herd. There is no forwards here, no backwards, but to one side of her, the direction in which she was moving, a great herd moves. Beasts beyond number are migrating, and the herd that she knows, the bison of the Straw Weaver clan, are among them, tinted yellow, smelling of hay. The never-ending herd moves on, and her clan is part of it.
In among them, joyously bounding, are two stronger spirits. One is straw-coloured, mighty, slow but certain. It has the shape of a bison, solid at the edges where others are suggestions. The other is pale blue, made of bones, with the shape of a bison around it as a hint of what it could be. They are the same, and different.
Slow, yet bounding. That one is majestic.
Joyous, yet made of bones. That one is… silly? Happy? Something that is like a calf in spring.
Maalira considers the blue-boned bison, running Erhehta’s description through her mind to check that she’s got it right. It certainly seems right.
It most certainly seems right. A bison with blue bones. No other animals here are so impressively see-through. Still, it is one thing to see it, and another to get there. It is some distance into the herd, and it does not seem to want to stay still.
Maalira fixes her eyes on the blue bony bison, ignoring everything else around her, and strides after it.
Other bison stride past her, or somehow slide around, but the blue one itself bounces and jumps and then sees her, and stops, and … ducks behind another bison, looking innocent.
Maalira remembers what she was told: only ask his name twice. However, there were no rules about other questions… or statements. “My name is Maalira, and I am seeking the spirit of one of my people.”
The bison plays peek-a-boo around the back of the big straw-coloured animal, which just plods onwards. A nose, horns, blue eyes. It is looking at her with interest and toddler enthusiasm.
Maalira suppresses a sigh. Here goes… she makes a gesture of respect. “Are you Sanar?”
It bounces around, kicking up its heels, and then makes a big, wide circle around her, then suddenly stops, remembers dignity, and walks in with the same slow, solid gait as any bison ever uses when plodding over the plains. Up close, it stops just outside touching range, and turns an intelligent look on her. The noise it makes is a low bellow that makes every spirit of the herd shudder. Even the straw-pale one disappears for a moment, although that could be because others are shimmering around it. The sound is like every bison ever. Of course it is.
Maalira takes this as an invitation to speak further. “Erhehta is sick. He has been attacked. He needs you.” She keeps her sentences short and clear, unsure of the spirit’s attention span.
“Well,” says the Bison, and the sound of it stamping its foot shakes the plains. It turns to go, bunching great muscles, instantly becoming serious.
Maalira points back towards where she thinks the little oasis lies. “He’s this way.”
The bison almost dances on the spot, and then stamps its way towards Maalira. “Lie.” It sniffs her, for one moment big enough that the whole world is a nose, which is rather damp and uncomfortable.
Maalira frowns, confused. Does the bison think she is lying? And if so, why?
When it draws back, it stamps its foot again. “THIS WAY,” it says, and turns to walk off. It looks like it is sulking. It almost marches, stiff-legged.
Maalira scrambles to catch up. “I trust you,” she says, hoping she has not offended him too badly.
It walks and the plains divide before it, until they are in mere moments back in the grove, where the shaman waits. Sanar looks at the bright golden shape, roars in rage, and lowers horns to charge him.
Maalira steps back, shocked
The bison hits him, and knocks the bright glowing shape out of the outline of a body – and then the body is filled up with blue, the bison has vanished, and Erhehta, brilliant in gold and ochre, stands outside his body, and says, “Right. Pull this,” to Maalira. “One last bit.” He is tugging on one of the bright bones that still transfixes the shape. “Before he is hurt.”
Maalira hurries over and grasps the bone, pulling hard.4POW x 3 to get it out.
The bone slides out in her hand and crumbles to dust, and Erhehta is pulling out others. Soon most are gone, but he curses and says, “Regrowing. Enough. This will have to do. Sanar…” and they swap places again. This time, Erhehta can move, and he stands, and looks around. “Take anything you need,” he says to Maalira. “In your heart.”
Maalira looks around also and draws the feeling of thundering spirit bison hooves into her heart.
Erhehta, for his part, reaches out and scoops up the entire grove in one hand, and Maalira feels herself being taken with it. She hears his voice say, “Heh, not bad,” and then odd silence. Her ears pop. She has ears again! There is a moment of confusion, and then the heaviness of feeling that comes from having a body begins to fade, reminding her that she has a body. She is in his tent, and Erhehta is scooping up ash from the fire.
Maalira shakes herself, feeling as though the spirit world is clinging to her like spider webs, and looks at Erhehta. “It worked?” Her voice sounds strange in her ears.
Erhehta says, “Yes, but not well enough. But well enough to start. I can do the rest.” He blows on the ash, and it settles over the cold fire, and he looks at the patterns, and nods.
Maalira finds Sanar in the spirit world, to help save Erhehta
- 1Failed Survival means it is slow to light.
- 2POW x 5 fail means that something has noticed her.
- 3After some rounds of Spirit Combat, Maalira pushes the thing away.
- 4POW x 3 to get it out.