Date: Moon’s Day, 16th Dar 798 P.L. (Early evening)
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, preparing for the vatic ceremony; performing the ceremony at a symbolic location, such as this, could very well prove helpful to the vision.
“We’ll see how well you sleep tonight Princess,” the Prophet muttered to himself, oblivious to the scorpion that crawled out of his beard and vanished into the mess of his hair. “Ah, the Sand King is probably your blood-kin, I’ll bet. We’ll find out the truth of it, soon enough.”
The vatic ceremony was an ancient meditative ritual. As a Prophet, Alias was able to recognize and interpret actual dreams, but a vatic vision was something else, something altogether more powerful. More dangerous, too, but everything came with a price, especially in these mercantile lands.
The human spilled the incense into the bowl, he had gathered these herbs a long time ago in the Holy Sister’s gardens at the Abbey in Yhakkoth, for just such an occasion. The incense would aid the waking dreamer in achieving the vatic sight; either that, or they would empty their stomachs and pass out.
Once he was satisfied with the preparation of the incense, Alias turned his attention to the deck, scratching glyphs and patterns with a stick of charcoal in the prescribed manner.
The sun would soon be setting, and the others would be arriving. It was very important that they not be disturbed during the ceremony – a fact that the Prophet had stressed to First Mate Hanbal, so that he might perform whatever naval duties were necessary to provide a calm and quiet environment. The consequences of being disturbed while attempting to divine the fate of a being as powerful as the Sand King, would be dire indeed!
The former wagon driver, Jamila, was the first to arrive. In fact, she had been observing the Prophet since he began his preparations and only now stepped forward, timidly.
“Es salam alekum, Prophet,” Jamila said, a nervous smile upon her usually jovial face. “Is there anything that I can do to help you prepare?”
“Of course you can help, dear woman,” Alias said smiling at her. “First, please bring me some water. It is a blessing indeed for worthy hands that can assist.”
Jamila nodded and turned to fetch the water, but the Prophet took her hands before she could leave. Jamila’s hands were as coarse as a warrior’s, her fur thin and gray; twenty years spent driving lizards across the desert will take it’s toll.
“Shoshanna be praised,” Alias said.
“Shoshanna be praised.” Jamila replied, her haunted eyes filling with tears.
Jamila soon returned with the water and Alias paused to drink deeply. With water (and spiders) dripping from his matted beard, the Prophet allowed Jamila to assist the final preparations. Alias guided her hand in drawing the last of the glyphs.
“You have a fine skill. We must always be conscious of the blessings we are about to receive. We must be grateful so the vision will share its truth.” He laughed when Jamila made an error in the design. “Do not worry, nervous one, that you have offered to assist is a more important omen than whether the paint is set dry before the viewing. May all blessings be upon Her.”
Alias was as happy as Jamila had ever seen him, and she offered another whispered prayer of thanks to Shoshanna. The Prophet was a great man, and he always seemed so troubled, he deserved a moment’s respite, she thought to herself.
By the time the sun was setting, and the others had arrived, Alias was even more animated and cheerful. Even Quin, who had known the Prophet the longest had never seen him quite so pleased with himself.
“Well you seem in fine spirits this evening,” Alriak said, trying to recognize the joyful tune the Prophet was humming. “Especially for someone who only hours ago was unconscious and bleeding. So what have you in store for us this evening? What is this ceremony?”
The Prophet didn’t appear to have noticed them immediately, as he knelt and lit the incense. A plume of wispy blue smoke began to spiral up into the canopy of the pavilion. The smoke lingered, despite the fact that the wind had picked up this evening, blowing sheets of sand across the desert below them. Jamila looked around and selected a place among the glyphs and spiraling patterns to sit. Princess Parizade sat down too, although her eyes remained on the unusually jovial human.
“Find a place to sit down,” Jamila said. “I think we all need to meditate. We should pray, perhaps.”
The events of the day were piecing themselves together like a well known story, Alriak thought to himself. Although it remained unclear, he had dreamed of this very scenario only nights before. Everything that was happening now, right down to the words Jamila had just spoken had played themselves out in his dreams. Yet he was unclear where this was going. He couldn’t seem to piece things together until they happened and then it felt like deja vu. Was he to dread the words of the Prophet or to celebrate them? Clearly the Goddess had been good to him, because he should be bed ridden, if not dead, with the wounds he’d received this morning. But here he was singing and preparing a ceremony.
Alriak had called upon the Goddess a few times, but she never seemed to talk back. This Prophet had a connection with someone or something greater than anything Alriak had ever known and because of that he would listen and observe.
Removing the small blue sphere from his bag he gazed into it focusing his energies on something greater than himself. Something greater than anyone here.
The genie folded her long legs and sat beside him; the others were doing the same thing, but it was becoming harder for Alriak to see them. The smoke, from whatever herbs the crazy human was burning, had suddenly thickened. It was becoming an increasingly windy evening, but the blue smoke from incense burner did not pass beyond the perimeter of swirling patterns drawn by Alias and Jamila.
And it stank! Jamila turned a sickly green and lost her dinner.
The wind whistled and roared across the deck, threatening to wrench the pavilion from it’s moorings and scouring everyone in a shower of grating sand from the dunes beneath.
“A storm is upon us,” Parizade had to shout to be heard. “I must return to the helm. The First Mate will need my help.”
The genie stood and was about to leave but she was interrupted by a thud. The airship was being rocked hard now by the storm, sand was beginning to gather in drifts upon the deck, forcing everyone to wrap their faces to avoid choking. Impossibly the pungent blue smoke still lingered beneath the madly flapping pavilion.
The thud had come from the strange blue orb that Alriak held – the jostling deck must have caused the witch to lose his grip and it had fallen at his feet with a crash that had cracked the planking on the deck. It rolled rapidly across the sloping deck as everyone else, struggled to keep their balance.
Parizade was transfixed, could such a small thing possibly be so heavy? The decking was constructed with lumber taken from the Fairy Woods of the Seelie Court and blessed to be as strong as a rock.
The blue ball reached the center of their circle and levitated, it was spinning and spinning upon its own axis and it appeared to be getting larger by the second. Its growth was so rapid that in moment’s it would threaten to force everyone from beneath the pavilion – and it showed no signs of slowing.
Alriak felt a deep feeling of dread. His father’s image swam into his mind, and his angry words, “I don’t know what it is with you Alriak! You seem to be a bringer of trouble. Everything you do comes out wrong! You have been nothing more than a disgrace to our entire family and all that you touch seems to fall apart and cause others grief.”
Jamila, still nauseated from the smoke, staggered blindly to her feet and almost immediately fell when the airship bounced violently through pockets of turbulence.
“Prophet Alias!” She cried out. “Where are you?”
Alriak ran for the sphere and dove to grab it with his hands.
“Wait!” Quin shouted and lunged to grab him. But she could hardly see in the blowing sand and she missed him. Quin understood only a little about the Prophet’s magic; but she knew enough to understand that a vatic ceremony may well blur the lines of reality, it may indeed cause hallucinations – but these visions were not always false.
Alriak felt as if he were trying to collect spilled milk – in the brief moment it took for him to reach the small orb that he had kept in his pocket, it had grown so large that he could barely put his arms around it.
But, he tried.
His hands met no resistance. Alriak may as well have tried to gather the blowing sand from the air – his arms passed through and into the expanding blue sphere. He felt someone grab his hands – firmly, but not aggressively, and tug him forward into the sphere.
The chaos of the bucking deck, the scouring sand and the cloying incense all fell away and the young witch blinked his eyes and rubbed the sand from them. Was he even still on board the ship? He was surrounded by blue nothingness, emphasized by drifting white clouds and ethereal wisps.
Quin and Alias were beside him now, whether they had been swallowed by the sphere against their will, he could not say and before any of them could gather their senses, three figures emerged from the clouds, levitating forward.
The first was a fierce-looking gnomish woman, elderly and bent. She leaned upon the handle of a broomstick as if it were a quarterstaff and her unkind eyes pierced Alriak, “Do you know me, Witch?” She asked and scratched the errant whiskers on her chin.
The second was a tall sibeccai women with the same shockingly white fur that Quinvera had. This woman was dressed simply in the way of the Bedouin and carried a shepherd’s crook. She smiled kindly and extended her arms towards Quin as if to embrace her.
The third figure to emerge from the mist was a dark-skinned, winged human woman. Tall and slender, armored in shining scale mail and armed with a golden morningstar upon her hip. If there were any discernible light within this strange blue netherworld, it seemed to emanate from this last woman as if she were somehow lit from within. She raised her morningstar in salute and dropped to her knee before the Prophet.
Fear gripped Alriak tightly. It was the kind of fear that takes away ones ability to speak or even move. It wasn’t the situation he was in or the women that stood before him that filled him with fear. Nor was it the thought of death. Quite the opposite, Alriak had embraced the thought of moving beyond this painful and trouble ridden life.
What paralyzed Alriak with fear as he stood before these women was the fact that he felt like they could see right through him. It was like everything he was, is and would ever be was obvious for these women to see. Every tear he had ever cried. Every person he had ever helped (or hurt), every word uttered, every choice made was now common knowledge in this place. He was naked with no place to hide. Every aspect of his life now an open book. Was he to be judged? Was he about to give an account?
He felt embarrassed and a heavy sense of conviction fell upon him. Seeing it all laid out before him he realized his life had been a waste. He had spent his life, thus far, constructing a self centered identity from his painful experiences and it sickened him. He wished he could take it all back. Start over.
The woman’s question remained and seemed to hang in the air around him,
“Do you know me witch?” But Alriak stood frozen and unable to reply.
The women stepped forward.
The White Witch held up her hand and reached for Alriak. She pressed her open palm over his heart, instilling in him a feeling of grace, and nodded, “You will be the Heart of Anwen. Come to me and receive my blessing.”
Her touch was soft and yet flowed with the energy of a thousand suns. Alriak looked down at her hand and he could sense the aura surrounding its form. She meant him no harm. She was Good and he knew that for sure now.
“Are you the one behind my dreams and strange powers?” Alriak asked meekly.
The White Witch merely looked at him in reply, it was obvious he knew the truth. He felt revitalized and although he wasn’t sure what she meant, he trusted that all things would be revealed in time.
The Angel completed her salute and stood, kissing Alias on the mouth, “You will be the Voice of Shoshanna.”
The white-furred sibeccai embraced Quin, “You, my Granddaughter, will be the Arm of Anwen and the Will of Shoshanna.”
“Come to me, my children.” The White Witch addressed them all. “Come to me and receive my blessing. A storm approaches. A terrible, terrible storm.”
Ghost trails and wisps of blowing sand whirled about their feet; above them, in the blue haze of this no-place a dark sun, eclipsed, hung heavily in the sky. Comets and meteors rained down from the sky.
“Everything Alias has prophesied is true.” The Angel said, removing her helmet. Quin and Alias recognized her immediately, despite her altered appearance, it was Rhea, the Light-Child who had sacrificed herself to save them in Yhakkoth. “On the first day of the world, when Shoshanna created light and life, the first shadow was cast. Her shadow. Her opposite. Her antipathy. A God of the Dark places. While the Lady of the Light rested on the thirteenth day, the Dark Lord seeped into the world, he insinuated himself into its warp and its weft. There he created his own domain. His was the face of the stone turned against the soil. The night, the shadows, the stillness of a tomb, the dark places in men’s hearts were all his. These were the places where even Angels fear to tread.”
“Shoshanna realized her error too late and her vengeance was terrible.” The beautiful sibeccai said. “She destroyed the world utterly. She shattered the planet and cast it aside to begin anew. I, Ashasunnu witnessed the first remnants of this ruined world falling upon ours. You, Granddaughter, carry within you, the soul of a single inhabitant of that world, their being encoded within your runic tattoo.”
“The Sand King has long erred against my laws and led my people astray.” The White Witch said bitterly. “I have sought to resist him peacefully, but to no avail.”
“The Sand King has taken heed of what has happened in Yhakkoth.” Rhea said. “He saw the power and influence offered by the Dark Ones and he has welcomed them into his Court. The Sand King’s strength is growing, and now he offends not only Mother Anwen, but the All-Mother Herself, Shoshanna. He must be stopped, before Shoshanna’s ungentle wrath is felt once more.”
“Your dreams will show you the way.” The White Witch said to Alriak. “Your heart will temper the zeal of the Prophet.”
“Your dagger has the power to slay any who holds the darkness in his heart.” Ashasunnu said to Quin. “Your arm will carve a bloody path to the Unseelie Throne, if needs be.”
“Your words will deliver the Truth, Prophet.” The White Witch said. “The Truth will defeat the Sand King, more completely than steel and magic. Come to me, my Children. Come to me, at the Womb-Grove and receive my blessing.”
Alriak listened intently as the women spoke. Their words casting visions of incredible things before his eyes. Things he could never imagine. Their words filled him with an understanding of why this world was sometimes so difficult. He had always wondered why a world as beautiful as this could be riddled with so much pain and suffering. Now he understood. He hated the darkness of his own heart even more now.
He shuddered at the thought of tempering the zeal of the prophet. More like babysit that nut, he thought to himself. Quickly he caught himself and changed his thoughts. This was precisely the darkness of heart he should not allow in himself. The White Witch seemed to gaze at him knowingly.
by Ian Hewitt
Game Master (Ian Hewitt)