Campaign of the Month: June 2012
Dusky - The Enlightened One and The Maker
Duskridden studied the dark eyes of the Kaidanese knight. The ceaseless wind tore loose threads of hair from her braids, and sent them stinging her cheeks and eyes like so many little scourges. Still, she was rapt; the foreigner’s words were cogent. The distant firelight reflected dimly upon his smooth skin, accentuating the seriousness of his statements – an otherworldly and eerie sensation. It was as if he were masked, and unmasked at once, both by the glimmer, and his tone and words and honesty. Succinctly and sincerely, he stated his argument.
A chill permeated Dusky, a cold borne of no wind. The shivers she felt in the core of her body, – no, the core of her being – were those produced by the seriousness of Sonoda Kumori’s words. Perhaps no conversation in her short life had been so important as this. He told her of his culture’s perspective of the beginning of the universe, and reverently recited the prayer taught to his people. He spoke of the Maker, the Nameless One, although he used different pronouns. It was so similar to her own experience as a child: Old Nuna and her stories, how she could captivate the halfling children and make them all shiver and quiver from the realization of the vastness of the universe and the gods. Could Kumori’s ‘Stars’ be the same as the Maker’s ‘Crystalline Sphere’? Or perhaps it is more akin to the “Flame,” the essence of life and vitality that sparks each soul.
The similarities stirred more unease in her than she wished to admit. It was a similar trepidation as she’d felt after Mormekar had called her those first few times. He’d sent her visions, and instilled an urgency within her, a dynamic impetus to cheerfully carry out his will in the world. To be his servant and one of his voices. It was at first terrifying, for such a calling struck a deep chord within her. This feeling was similarly profound, and she bit her lip for courage.
Yes, Dusky had been instructed in the ways of the church. She’d attended the seminary and was taught the doctrines and dogma. Focused as they were on Mormekar’s priorities, the classes barely touched on “the unbelievers,” those mortals born of the five fruits of Eliwyn who followed faiths other than the Lords of Good, the Lords of Heaven. It was merely thought that those who do not believe were deprived of the Maker’s blessed Gifts, and that Maal judged them automatically unworthy and they were cast into hell. Even Old Nuna had used those stories to frighten the children to do their chores and faithfully pray, attend worship services, and hold the gods dear to their hearts. On reflection, it was not until Mormekar’s calling that Dusky had truly given any real consideration to the gods at all.
By the time she was done with her intense year of training, her head was full of righteous fervor instilled by her masters and the Ministers: that undeath in any form would not be allowed to exist in the world. She had little time to think of non-believers, little expectation that she would ever meet such exotic foreigners that were not from the Free Kingdoms. But here she sat, across from the foreign man. Merciful saints, she knew he could not be more foreign, more distant physically and diverse of thought than any person she had ever met. She trembled, on this cold night at the end of Tera, shivering, and facing a topic she had long been keeping shelved away. But if she were in earnest about following this man on his quest to save his land from the grips of undead masters – and because Mormekar set her upon this path, so she was – this was a conversation long overdue.
Learning of this noble man’s philosophy, that was not the unsettling part. It was the similarities in these divergent beliefs, of these far-distant lands, that she, in her heart of hearts knew. That was disconcerting. She wondered how much of this had occurred to him, how much of what she had, just this week, told him about the Maker, and the Tree, and the gods and the five sacred fruits, the fallen one and the div… if Kumori had been feeling the same… terror. No, it wasn’t terror. It was a deep rooted truth. An… enlightenment.
“You have told me of your gods, Dusky,” Kumori said after a lengthy pause, as if he were carefully weighing his next words. His eyes, narrow to begin with, now looked thin as a line painted by one of his lettering brushes. Dusky felt her own eyes widening, as if the act would open her to his next statement.“I start to wonder if, perhaps,” he continued, “the Maker and the Enlightened One are two faces of the same god? Or if Hachimantaro of the Eight Banners, Bosatsu of protection and champion of heaven, is my people’s face for Terak the Mighty, your god of war? If Maal is another face of Enmadai-yo, the judge of the dead? I feel that there is truth in what you have told me, but I do not think all of my own beliefs have been wrong. Perhaps, the forces of Yomi, who you call Asmo- ah, I see you flinch, I am sorry- perhaps the forces of darkness have prevented my own people from seeing a part of the truth that was revealed to the people of the west long ago.”
He had thought the same thing. He had. He had. She felt… she did not quite know how she felt. Part jubilation, part overwhelming terror? It was as if she were sneaking off with Mrs. Butterfield’s apple pie all over again. Butterflies and the trepidation that she was doing something wrong, or at least in this instance, a fear that this kind of talk was taboo.
He must have misunderstood her terror/exhilaration in this… connection – as a shirking back at the mention of Kador’s name. That and how she imagined he saw her staring at him, gape-mouthed and wide-eyed.
“So have I scandalized you with my heresy, friend?” he asked. “Or are my idle musings worthy of discussion? I find myself in an odd mood; shall we talk?”
Yes! She wanted to say, to scream out. She wanted to, but did not. She wanted to leap up and grab him and hug him. She wanted to pull him up and dance around the campfire. She wanted to burst, and yell, and… But she did none of these things. It was not for fear of waking her companions, although that factor did enter her mind. Still, Dusky held her composure. What she finally did, after swallowing hard and fidgeting where she sat for a moment, surprised even her.
Duskridden closed her eyes, inclined her head, and prayed
“I call upon you,
you who have lost your final gift!
Heed me this hour!
You have passed beyond living.
You are quick no longer.
The light has left your eyes.
The heat has fled your flesh.
Mormekar will claim you.
The final path is before you.”
Only the wind-whistle through the scrub and Dorak’s curdled snoring broke the charged silence. Opening her eyes, she raised her head to gaze at Kumori’s response. The knight’s head was tilting slightly, but she could not read his expression. That was his way, like the firelight mask, he either made himself succinctly clear, or wore the veneer of enigmatic silence.
“My god Mormekar,” she forced herself to speak, her voice more tremulous than she desired, “indeed carries the souls of the deceased to his son, Maal, for judgement. I will not dispute with you that Mormekar is indeed real, for more than faith has brought me to this knowledge. But it was also that… ‘more than faith’… that calling from Mormekar, that has brought us together. I was told, yes… told, to seek you out.”
Kumori, inscrutable as ever, merely nodded.
“As you yourself related me your beliefs, told me of your Enlightened One, I was myself comparing your experiences with mine own, and as you did, I discerned parallels… similarities between our faiths. So distant are our peoples, so dissimilar are our cultures. How then, can this possibly be, if it did not hold within it some divine element of truth. I am ill-versed with most religions of this vast world, but perhaps, in our journeys together, we may – together – prove or disprove this theory. We are brought together by more that mere coincidence, and perhaps this universal truth we notice is itself as important as the objective we are tasked to accomplish. Perhaps this is indeed the laying of the groundwork necessary to rid your land of the horrid undeath that has plagued its leadership.
“As for your question of heresy…” her voice trailed off, not in shame or fear, but merely due to her seeking the proper words. “I believe in the end, it is Maal who decrees which acts are punishable, as I am sure you believe… Emmadi…”
“Enmadai-yo,” Kumori corrected, deftly picked up the prompt that Dusky was having trouble remembering, or pronouncing, the name.
“Enmadai-yo,” she repeated, then added, “sorry!”
Kumori inclined his head respectfully, setting Dusky instantly at ease.
“Yes, and that being said,” she continued, “it is the gods who ultimately become offended, or not. But it is mortals who fear change that puts thought like this at risk. We can pray, we can have faith, we can even be given a direct sign from our deities, but if we proclaim such to the narrow-minded and closed-hearted, we will be persecuted. No matter how righteous our cause, words or deeds.”
Before Kumori could speak the words forming on his tongue, Dusky quickly continued. She was on a roll, and did not want to lose her course of thoughts.
“I have seen persecution. I have witnessed the Inquisition of The Great Church and their righteous authority, their iron-handed justice, and their Declaration of Heretical Acts. No, I don’t think it is right that mortals judge such things as punishable. Of course, all people need to weigh and judge what is right to them, and of course certain acts are forbidden, by laws of gods and men. But certainly, studying the parallels between our religions to discover a commonality is no sin. I, for one, would not ever try to enforce my own beliefs upon you, or your people. I am not an inquisitor. If a person comes to believe in the Lords of Heaven by my example, or my instruction, I would of course welcome it. But to force another to take on one’s faith, or suffer earthly punishment… that is just wrong.
I truly think that the Maker is above all the gods. The gods walked the earth, they are petty and flawed. This everyone knows. But the Maker, he is higher, and… perfect. He is kind and loving, why else would he give us the gifts.
“And who is to say,” Dusky found herself lowering her voice despite herself, “that your Enlightened One and my Maker are not the very same being, and that your people have been deprived of his Gifts because of mortal religious decisions, omissions from holy texts and the like. Now that sounds like a certain tactic of the Fallen One! I’ll bet buckthorns in breeches Asmodeus had a hand in stealing that knowledge, or creating illusions, as you said, in order to hide that truth from your people, and countless other cultures as well I’ll warrant.”
The conversation had drawn intense and subdued. Despite the difference in their sizes, Kumori and Dusky sat nearly touching foreheads. Kumori inhaled and resumed his usual, perfectly upright posture, even when sitting as he was now, with his legs crossed and enfolded. He began his reply but abruptly stopped short.
They both saw Dorak at once. The dwarf had obviously slept himself out, and rose unbidden as he did most nights. His rest was done, and he would take watch for the rest of the night.
“Finally! So you’re up?” Izzy called from the far side of camp where she kept watch. “I can go to sleep now. I am exhausted.”
Dorak tilted his head first to one side, then the other. Resounding crackling sounds followed course. He nodded and grunted. “Aye, you can get some shut-eye Iz. You too Kumori. Dusky and I will handle things for now.”
Dusky turned to her Kaidanese companion, smiled and nodded. “We’ll talk,” was all she said as she stood and melted into the shadows.