Nala — Water Travels
????, Fire Season, Stasis Week
1626, Fire Season, Stasis Week, Fire Day [[[s01:session-36|Session 36]]]
There was a fight, and wolves, and a burned wolf to tend to, one of the Telmori, and then there was further exploration of the cave. At the back there was the ledge where the troll Draznk had been camped, and had kept his food and his Humakti prisoner, and there was the pool that was the start of the salt spring – the tears of the goddess. There was also a narrow tunnel through to where the missing youth, Minstar, was found. The place sent prickles up Nala’s spine, although not in a terrible way. It was… odd. And so was Minstar, a strangely familiar mix of extreme nervous youth, and confident, energetic speech. He invited Nala to stay a little while, as the others were leaving, but he was not leaving the cave, until the villagers had come up here to see the new cave through the narrow passage. He called himself the shaman here, but he seemed about fifteen.
Nala accepts, graciously, and asks to be introduced to the cave. Also, she tells him, he has done exceedingly well, and it is a story she will tell henceforth.
Minstar smiles a very young smile. “The best place to meet the Ancestors should be out here,” he says, and the smile vanishes as he looks around the rocky cave full of discarded, chewed skeletons. “But the First Ancestor would like to meet you, and he doesn’t leave his place.” Where there is not natural or magical light, he has put torches to light the way, and he gestures towards them, then bows a farewell to the bones.
“I can burn the bones if you like. I got rid of some skeletons that way. But I do not know your customs. I would be honoured to meet the First Ancestor.”
Minstar winces, and shakes his head. “No. I need to put them back.” He says. “The ones the killer brought here, we can burn. But some…” His emotions are easily readable, and for a moment he is almost in tears. “They had been here at peace for so many years, and then… HIM.” He backs away a little, and then uses that motion to turn and walk further into the cave, towards the little, low tunnel.
“Ah, I see.” Nala also bows, and then looks at the tunnel. “Very much a psychopomp’s tunnel.” She observes. “Um…you may have to pull me if I get stuck. I’m a bit tall.” She follows him through, slowly, so as not to humiliate herself or the First Ancestor.
“It’s big enough,” says Minstar. “Your friends came through in armour, to find me.” And indeed, the tunnel is wide enough, because it does not bend sharply, and the muddy, rocky bottom of it has at least had the sharpest rocks cleared away. There is a pile of rocks close to the entrance that Minstar looks at in sorrow and distaste. “One of my uncles is under there. The troll used his body.” Other than a single torch, the cave is dark now.
Nala stands up when free of the tunnel, and lets her sight acclimate to the lack of light, in her heart wishing she were in the desert, travelling at night, to need it.
Minstar steps into the cave, and around him and before Nala, shapes begin to cluster. Six or seven, wavering and filling in, and glowing a little, providing light from themselves, which casts strange shadows on the boy, and darkens his face. They do not seem hostile, although if they were this would be a perfect time and place for an ambush.
Nala watches quietly. Maybe her feet itch to dance the patterns of light in shadow, but the floor is uncertain so she doesn’t move much, just pulsing her weight from one foot to another
Faces form in the dimness, and become solid enough to move. A seties of smoke-made people bow, and then as one they turn to Minstar. “They can’t really speak like this,” he says. “Their bodies were hurt, but one will be able to. Still…” He bows to each, and says, “Honoured elders, this is a shaman, Nala daughter of Palliayanari.” He nearly gets the pronunciation right. “She is a friend and comes as a friend. We are going to Huljeem.” That’s a Praxian name, right there. “If you want to touch them, they’ll be able to talk,” Minstar adds. “But I’m new to this. There’s a lot I keep forgetting.”
“I am only someone with incomplete studies, not a full shaman,” says Nala softly.”Minstar, if you would prefer, and have the time, I can leave my body here and go to Huljeem in spirit form. But it will take a while.” She pauses and thinks. ” inasmuch as time exists in here, anyway.” Nala walks forward and bows to each of the forms in turn, offering her hand to be touched but not imposing herself.
The spirits touch, and each takes a more solid form. An old man in the armour of generations before, a woman with dozens of square bangles, a judgemental, sour-looking androgyne with Air Runes glowing on the forehead, a slim, steady, slow bearded man with a staff… Their names sound Sartarite, their accents sound old, and one, Urulisa, great-grandmother of Minstar all on the Ernaldan side, kisses Nala’s cheeks for being one who saved the youngling.
“In spirit form would probably be better,” says Minstar. “But he can talk. He’s old and powerful. I don’t know. I never did it all before now, and now I have to learn to do it all.”
“Would it help if I tried to explain as I went through the discorporation? Since I didn’t complete my training I only do so with the blessing of the earth. Generally I dance myself into a trance, and generally Tiwr and Zinat watch over my body.
“There is a breed of earth shamans in Prax who teach. I studied with them, and high priestess Kalis has, as well. But I don’t have a fetch, and it is a small cult and hard to find. I was studying and then…” she pauses. “Then Argrath happened.” She smiles a tiny smile. “He came looking for the daughters of Palliyarai. There was only me.”
Nala kneels before Urulisa and thanks her for her blessing. (If she can, she will detach one of her buckles and offer it to the woman with the bangles. She will switch to Earthtongue for speaking with the spirits.)
The male spirits look rather confused by Earth-tongue, but all of them are polite.
Minstar comes forward to hold the offerings, and say, “I will give these to your bodies, Revered Ones,” with a bow. He holds them palm up, once they have agreed that he should hold them, and says, “I will do this while you enter the spirit world. This is important too.”
Minstar will mostly be tidying up the Ancestor Bones, I suspect. He’s got a lot of things that are screamingly important. ))
Zinat will recognise the chanting and pad in as Nala leaves her body, to guard it. Zinat knows better than to chew on bones she hasn’t been told she can chew on.
Minstar takes a little time to see Nala has everything she needs – yes – and then a while later there is an awareness that he is gone, and then no awareness, just the movement and the dance, and the opening of the other world.
Within the spirit world, the cave is a bright smear within which Nala moves, with sparkles of light and water and earth and water and swords and water. It has some depth to it. There is a ‘deeper’ dimension here, within which something waits. That something has fire and sky, fire and sky, purity, age. It too is touched by the water here, but it is far more focused than the cave.
Around Nala, the ancestors, pale sketches of what they were, some torn and hurt, gather. In this world they are much more clear, and their voices are quiet but pure. Some of them do speak earth tongue, and from others there is probably spirit speech but it is hard to be certain, because there are rather more of them than she saw before, at least two dozen, some very calm, almost faded. All are speaking, but they are speaking over each other, and not all to Nala. It is more a murmur than a babble, a background noise from which it is hard to extract any comprehensible words.
Nala closes her eyes and listens, trying to separate the different strains as if they were music she must dance to. When she does, she opens her eyes, bowing to the strands of the threnody, and the mouths the diffent parts of music come from. Even in the spirit world her feet are dancing, sketching various forms of respect, especially to the female spirits.
The spirits join in briefly, and some seem to be brightening slowly, maybe waxing rather than waning, but then there is a stirring from the depths of the cave, and they slow and pause, and cease their flitter, and they too bow. There is a long waiting moment, and the rhythm of it is such that it must be filled.
Nala will turn and face the depths of the cave, and flow into a bow. She will switch joyfully to Praxian, then repeat in earthtongue. “Huljeem. I am Evranala of the Unicorn, daughter of Palliyarai, daughter of (ooc : short recital of lineage). I am told by Minstar you wish to speak me. I am honoured.
Having gestured an invitation into the waiting pause, the huntress prepares to wait.
In halting Earthtomgue, comes a reply. “Huljeem son of Hanrullh bid you welcome. Urulissa…” And a fluid moment of spirit speech, and the named spirit translates, “He invites you in, begs you to be his guest in his humble place, far from home, is sorry for the disturbances here.”
Nala walks forward, slowly, placing each foot on the earth, with the air of a pilgrim. She crosses the threshold with lowered head, then looks to meet Huljeem’s gaze
Huljeem’s shape here is a spirit made of blue light, resting within the centre. On his brow is a crown of jagged teeth in the shape of water runes, and the water flows over him as a cloak. He speaks, and Urulisa lets Nala know what he is saying, the gist of it Praxian even if the words are not. “Please have water. It is hot at noonday. Many years have passed since I have seen a child who has left footprints in the banks of Zola Fel.”
Nala smiles an actual happy smile. “I left my tribe on those banks only recently, and only at the request of my mother. And thank you. Though this cave is pleasant, water is always welcome in Fire Season.”
There is a sensation of refreshment more than a cessation of thirst. “Will you return once more to the river that loves all Prax, honoured child of maidens?”
“I can only hope to return to any part of Prax, noble Huljeem. With the sole exception of my life partner, my unicorn, my heart is torn when it is away.”
“May flowers spring in your footsteps, and rain follow your friends. Lord Huljeem begs that you will take a thing with you when you go.”
“If I may be of service to noble Huljeem, happily I will do so.”
“Long ago, as a young Priest I swore to find the body of the Lizard of Teeth and Salt, and I have, but here I died, and I rest. Take back my shoulder bone, with a message you will find on it, for the Priests of the Young City, and they will know that she is found.”
“I will do this for you, and for her, and if I find your kin I will tell them of Huljeem, who keeps the heart of the Zola Fel within him.” Nala wipes away a tear.
A tear within the spirit world glistens impossibly, staying within the air. Huljeem bows low, and puts his hand up to take it, a multi-faceted, tiny gemstone. “Your gift shames my generosity,” he says, translated. “Take with you also any other part of me, as a companion. Although my body is silent, I am ever here, a point to depart from.”
It is a long, long time since Nala heard this story, but it drifts back, a tale told between sacred rocks, over a fire pit that only burned in the spirit world. A chief who left his belongings to his children, and had nothing for Shaman Child, who came last, and so he gave her a fingerbone and a tooth, and she planted them for her Clan. And she took them herself, because they were given to her, and that is how to do it.
“Noble Huljeem, I will not take your breastbone, for the heart of Prax and the Zola Fel must remain protected. I will not take a foot bone, for you walked them here yourself, to find and discover, and I will not lessen the discovery. But I will take, if I may, a fingerbone and a tooth, for this is what was done in one of the first histories I learned when I learned to leave my body behind.
“Is there anything else I can do for you, farWanderer?”
“It is done,” says Huljeem, in Earthtongue, and falls silent.
“It is done,” repeats Nala in the same language. She waits a respectful amount of time, because rushing is for those who are bound in time, then walks backwards out of the cave, to thank Urulissa.
Urulisa, being a spirit, is both deep within the cave, and without it. She refuses thanks for service to the first of Ancestors, but she does ask you to keep an eye on Minstar and be she he dresses warmly here and eats well, and his mother should visit… And then that world begins to fade. Somehow Nala has spent longer there than she thought.
The bones, when Nala finds them in a small alcove in the back of the cave, are so old they look ready to crumble, and at least one of the teeth is loose in the skull already. The bone pile is dressed in clothes so old they are dust, and salt has settled on them. They do not break apart, however – whatever brought the Priest here still sustains him, perhaps.