Date: Ninduna, 19th Dar 798 P.L. (Dawn)
Location: The Royal Deck, The Princess Parizade
The greatest views from anywhere on board The Princess Parizade (with the exception of the lofty helm) were to be found on the Royal Deck. A large pavilion provided protection from the burning sun, which already pushed the springtime temperatures into the 100’s daily.
Here, the Sand King would lounge with his guests, at the very prow of his airship and survey all that he commands. And here, the Prophet of Shoshanna hustled about, muttering to himself, agitated.
“Absolutely pure. Pure. Absolutely. Truly. Pure. Truth. Absolute truth and purity. Of course, of course, of course.”
The Prophet’s face was hidden by his dirty mess of tangled hair, but he could be heard to chuckle loudly as he opened a deep wound in his own thigh. The Prophet dropped his iron dagger to the polished deck, forgotten, as the blood started to flow. He was on his hands and knees now, painting cryptic vatic symbols in his own blood in a circle about him.
He produced several pots of unguents and pastes from his battered old satchel and used the deck as his palette, mixing a little of this paste, with a little of that, adding a smear of blood from the flowing wound on his leg and at one point pissing into the befouled mixtures he was brewing. All the while muttering, barely comprehensibly, about absolute truth and purity until he was finally satisfied with his work.
The Prophet stripped himself naked and set about painting his face and body with symbols and whirling patterns. The swarm of scorpions, bugs and insects that continually infested Alias’ hair and clothes began to stream away from him in a frantic exodus. Alias chuckled to himself again as he caught a scorpion and bit it in half, chewing away, even as he added scorpion gloop to his foul palette.
“You serve to the last little brother. Our great Goddess will seat you upon the frond of sustenance as we become one. My strength to your strength. Your strength to mine. We have traveled long and true. A pure road. Absolutely pure, little brother.”
He snagged a second scorpion and crunched down on that one, too. The breakfast of prophets, he thought.
Quin was below the Royal Deck enjoying the solitude of the sun rising over the ocean behind them.
“You’re up early Alias,” Quin called out, when his ravings began to echo down from above. She had known the Prophet for some time now, ever since the zombies attacked Muan Oasis that night and they’d sheltered with the trader and his family, you’d think she would get used to his bizarre behavior, by now.
Quin turned back to the sunrise, but the moment was lost. What was he doing up there? He was sounding more and more erratic. Quin made her way upstairs to the Royal Deck and noticed Sarubek, likewise disturbed from his morning peace. He had been meditating nearby and since watched Alias in transfixed bemusement, head cocked to one side.
“I’m sure it all makes sense inside his own head.” Quin muttered to Sarubek. “But the Goddess only knows what he is doing.”
“Might I ask, prophet, the reason behind your ritual,” Sarubek asked, once the process seemed to be at an end, “and whether I should be concerned for the safety of anyone aboard this ship?”
Alias didn’t answer him. It wasn’t even clear that he had heard Sarubek, or noticed the two of them nearby. He kicked off the last of his clothes and heaped them all into a pile, along with the pots and oils and a collection of brick-a-brak he’d assembled inside his vatic circle.
Quin motioned for Saurbek to follow her and stepped forward, careful not to disturb his etchings or markings.
“Alias, my friend.” She said. “Are you feeling well? Want to share with me what you’re preaching about this morning?”
He swallowed the last of his scorpion and raised his voice, “Pure! Absolutely pure!” And suddenly, the naked druid’s hand was lit by an open fire, a divine fire that he delicately touched to his discarded clothes and the piles of junk. Alias’ eyes were unseeing, lost in deep-trance, and he looked right through Quin with no glimmer of recognition.
Jamila came up the stairs carrying Alias’ tattered old satchel brimming with scrolls and papers, “Here they are Prophet,” she said, her eyes red with grief for Ali. “Your things, as you asked.”
But Alias didn’t answer her either. Instead, he stepped into flames, now grown quite tall and squatted down in the fire. The strange paste he had covered himself in gave off an even worse smell than did the Prophet’s beard and matted hair, which were quickly engulfed in flame.
“NO!” Jamila screamed and dropped the satchel, scattering papers all across the deck.
“Stop her, Master Sarubek.” Quin said as Jamila ran toward the vatic circle and the flaming druid.
Sarubek moved quickly to intercept Jamila, calmly tackling the screaming woman and holding her firmly. Captain Quin had drawn her curved athame and held it high in a formal stance. The half-fey turned her eyes to the blade and studied Alias, for a moment, reflected in the dull iron of her sickle-sword.
“Goddess only knows!” Quin said, stepping back and lowering her blade. “This is Alias’ intent. He’s warded himself against the flames with that paste. He’s not being compelled against his will. Keep Jamila back, keep her safe.”
“She was never in any danger, Quinvera.” Alias said, stepping from the flames and approaching Sarubek and Jamila. The last vestiges of the paste were still burning on his naked body. The Prophet’s tangled beard and hair were gone – burned away. “Bless you Jamila. Blessings upon you all, but especially to you dear Jamila. You are ready now to face any heretics or misguided souls. Speak truth to power, for power will fade as the ages pass.”
“Let me go, let me go,” Jamila blubbered, still enveloped in Sarubek’s inescapable grip, tears flowing over her ruddy cheeks.
“Go forth, Jamila, and serve all creatures great and small and fear not as you walk forward, for you are never alone. Shed no tears for Ali; to all who live, the gift of eternity at Her side shall be accorded.” Alias leaned forward and kissed Jamila on the forehead, his filth left bloody smears on her fur. Then he abruptly slapped her cheek. “Feel! Live and love. You are appointed for this journey. Our Goddess smiles upon you. Your faith will deliver you, now and forever.”
Suddenly the naked Prophet was on his knees, gathering the scattered papers and scrolls that were blowing in the wind and handing them back to Jamila.
“Write the next chapter, my dear. It was never meant to be mine alone. Our visions shared will bless this world for a thousand generations. You must boldly tell the world the Truth, and cry only praise when the world persecutes you for it. You must do this even unto death itself for the victory is eternal and nothing can stop the Power of Shoshanna. Tell the world. Tell all who have ears to hear or eyes to read. Tell man and beast, idiot and scholar. Be ceaseless and tire not from your Holy task.”
A shadow passed across the deck, a winged humanoid figure was circling high above. Alias, Prophet of Shoshanna, leaped onto the railing. He made a bizarre figure, naked, bald, raving and pinwheeling his arms for balance.
“Mother of all mothers, creator of all things, goddess eternal!” Alias screamed into the sky. “I hear your call and receive your blessing. The pretender is unworthy of your truth! He will fall by his own folly and never taste eternity. The pretender is but a speck in the vastness of the sands of this world and he is nothing on any others! I hear you Mother. I will heed your call with a glad heart.”
The Prophet’s form shifted; the skinny man was gone, replaced by a tiny kuna bird which immediately soared up, up, way above the deck, above the lofty heights of the crow’s nest and toward the winged woman above.
Quin, keeping her blade in hand, called out, "Alias dear friend – please explain yourself! We can’t just sit here in the middle of the desert!’
The woman flew lower to meet the tiny bird. Quin raised her blade, weaving a spell, even as she recognized Rhea, the Angel of Light. It was only the second time Quin had seen the witch since her rebirth: the beautiful woman radiated strength and calm like a beacon that immediately quieted her fears.
The Prophet fluttered around the angel, so close to her, that he was difficult to spot from this distance.
“Do not tarry Quinvera.” Rhea’s eyes shone with the lights of Heaven, it was impossible to look closely at her. “Your path and that of Shoshanna’s Prophet will cross once again. Stay your course, seek out your Goddess, atop her World’s Mountain, and receive her blessing. The Prophet has his own path to follow for a time. Upon your return, look for us beneath Muan Oasis – where all of this began, so long ago, now.”