Dearly Won Constants

<< Revenant Faith and Foreign Pilgrimage

“How did I even get here?”

-A common reaction by those washed from their original facet in uncontrolled type nine Willabarm events

Daylight made Ktsn wince, and turn one closed eye toward the sky while her open eye faced down in her head’s shadow. She didn’t much care for the wonderful sensation of having the sun lick its tongue across her retinas, even in the soft morningtide.

In the throes of waking, she came back to herself in full. Feeling, and feelings, returned as her blood started its circuit of her at its normal lucid pace once again. She shook herself and kicked out with all four legs in sequence, letting them nearly hyperextend. She preened her ears and nostrils, checking for sleep grit.

Then, after a good quick cleaning, recollection of her dream – if dream it was – smacked into her with brutally uncontrolled ebullience.

Rather, the dream itself seemed to be happy; she most certainly was not.

By Gegaunli’s teeth…

No, no. Ktsn shook her head to dislodge that thought. Whatever she thought of herself, a moderate observer of the faith, she had no interest in calling Gegaunli’s attention just now. If she ever did go through an enthrallment to the deity’s service, she preferred it might happen sometime when other concerns like harvest-time didn’t depend on her. Goading her deity’s fervor to come upon her right now was the best she could expect from contemplating the dream. She didn’t want to invoke jealousy, and that was all she could glean from dwelling on something patently not from Gegaunli herself.

Whoever or whatever Thomas really was, if he was real – if the dream was not a meaningless slide into the outlandish – he was trouble. The thing she’d experienced last night was the sort of thing which Gegaunli would consider an affront, and…

Ktsn chased contemplation away. More tangible worries for the day. Her hands began to shake, anxiety and annoyance intermingled. The intake of one tremulous breath set her straight, for now.

Then she rose on highlegs in her unsteady glory, quickly regaining her stability as she stepped from her nest.

Moving from under the watchful eye of the wide window, the woman tramped over to the entrance of her little home. Subconsciously, her hands reached out and grabbed for her pickax, her sling, her hoe, her shears, fumbling with them as she peered out into the new day. Belt loops’ hungry middles filled with utilitarian food.

The young day’s light fell with silent meager joy upon the plains and gentle hills around Goskec Tktl. It illuminated the village proper, and in that direction Ktsn aimed a look of fatigued acceptance. A third of a rotation to the right, the far closer sparsely-treed land of her plots and little orchard put her in a slightly calmer frame of mind. She eyed the shift in color on the nearest vrsg tree, where that lartkot graft had finally taken and begun producing sharp fruit.

Stop procrastinating and get to business.

Sinuses rippling with a snort, the farmer mentally sketched out the trek down into the village, intending to buy much of what she needed for the oncoming season with minimal interaction. Maybe she could stay out of the way of her family if she kept quick about her purchasing and selling.

Fast-stepping out of her cabin, the woman made a trip around back to the drying rack and accompanying tarpaulin, looking over the strips of leather she’d been hoarding. The choicest bits of leather went into a rucksack, along with five long cloth sleeves filled with jerky. After debating a little while, she also took along two little wood-knot carvings: one of a rugfos cub, one of a man carrying bundles of sticks. They went on top of the bulk goods, and she’d take care to jostle them as little as possible.

Stealing a look at the row of upturned glass jars she’d placed over the flowers along the lee of the cabin, her eyes narrowed. One jar was approached, examined for cracks, and determined as still sound. The soil near each clover received carefully-measured distributions of water.

She grumbled to herself, and began a simple trot down the countryside.

A brisk wind stood up, setting short grass to nervous dancing and long grass to obeisance. The trickle of the nameless nearby brook tickled Ktsn’s ears, and the matted stems beneath her long steps rasped pleasantly against the bottoms of her footwraps. The rhythm of her walk eventually became something of a slow canter. As she went, she began totting up the sum of what she could expect in trade versus what she would have to pay for a re-grinding of her pickax, a new pruning fork, and a hundred body-lengths of good strong rope. She figured that she’d come out ahead, if only slightly, even after finding the odds and ends that would compel their inclusion in her rucksack.

The journey was more than long enough for her to start back down the slippery feeling slope, with attitude-toward-family waiting at the bottom in the middle of a poisonous briar patch. She felt her pelt trying to ripple. A bad taste made her nostrils squint. Her foot flagella curled down into bows, making her steps springy and highly unsubtle.

Voices wriggled around in her head in a knotted strophe, and she slowed down a bit at the behest of involuntary motor action.

It will let you live in comfort!

Your mother and I have discussed this for a long time. We have talked with Cursog’s family, and they have talked with us is in need of a mate and partner. You are more than smart enough to do him credit, and he would do credit to you.

The farm requires more than people who are smart and who are good at working hard; it needs those willing to sacrifice.

Do you not want to make us happy? To be happy yourself?

Ktsn, isn’t it enough to-

There she goes, that Daephod girl. She’s so fortunate. She’s so focused. I hope she knows what she’s doing.

We can talk to her later, my love. Let her go for now.

Ktsn, I think you need a bit of perspective.

A very, very bad taste. Though it took her a little while longer, she opted to forgo the well-worn direct route from her house to the village, in the name of avoiding her family’s farm.

The wild vines and engorged redtree boughs obscured the direct line-of-sight of most of the sprawling Daephod plots, and allowed Ktsn to pretend that there wasn’t a big two-story building behind the curtain. Simply pretending, of course, is often insufficient; she gradually diverged farther and farther from the beaten trail on a course for Goskec Tktl’s western entrance. She instead focused on the barely-wild earth below her feet, combing high and low through grass and logs for the sign of anything worth salvaging. She saw a couple of interesting clumps of mold, and one very pretty stone that she collected for later examination.

Once, by a distant stagnant pond, she caught sight of what might be a gpsl nuson nest. The danger noted, she determined to tell one of the village’s hunters. She should see that the properly-equipped persons were sent to deal with the problem.

Contemplation of “having each to that which they are best suited be assigned” made her teeth clench in spasms. She’d explained it all the way through. She’d been as patient as she could.

If it was so important that the child watch after the parent’s achievement, then why had Pnkg been allowed to mate with a man whose interests lay completely outside agriculture? A very rich merchant, was Oltre; very rich indeed. It would be fair to say that Pnkg’s allowance was sufficient to keep her sister happy, along with the whole rest of the Daephod family. Even if every last trace of their considerable wealth vanished before tomorrow, Oltre wasn’t a heartless man. They wouldn’t end up paupered unless Taralngegeshet’s dread and unholy disfavor fell upon them, so that they were brought to wrack and ruin in a day and a night.

No, it was vanity that had tied Ktsn to Cursog Lmrk Entpat; the vanity of her father and mother. They wanted their own blood watching after the farm and keeping it strong. Grafting a new branch onto their own family tree, as well as transitioning control of their assets to Ktsn and Cursog, was the opposite of easy in most respects. If Ktsn weren’t able to devote it the full of her attention for quite a long time, the transition would become a capsizing.

“I have an interest in settling down and pursuing the upkeep of our family’s good fortune, in good time,” she’d said. “First, though, I wish to learn. I wish to pass on that learning.”

She’d waved the digest of her botanical findings, and father and mother had turned… disappointed.

“I do not want to forgo the opportunity to cement bonds with the Entpat clan,” she’d tried to mollify them. Truth; she actually found the farmer chosen as her arranged-mate more than a little charming, and a very handsome creature indeed. It was in the bearing of his stance, and the way his head turned when he was thinking. “I simply know that it will be more difficult, if not impossible, to see my experiments to fruition and also deal with such profound responsibilities. This is important. I do not ask exemption, only a period of deference on my actual joining with Cursog.”

Father had had the nerve to briefly soliloquize the importance of timeliness in one’s life decisions – lest they be gone before the next dawn. Ignore that putting the decision off for a little while yet would harm nobody. Mother… she had patronized her daughter with placations aimed at Father. Wdondf hadn’t been placated.

“It will take me perhaps a quarter of a year to finish these studies, I am certain of it!” Ktsn had defended, her claws scraping at the air as she began to feel anxious. “I will need to spend a year at Drolmak defending and fleshing out my findings to give them acceptable substance, yes, but-”

It was simply unacceptable. The two who had raised her, who had put considerable time and effort into raising her with proper education and proper speech, evidently didn’t want her to put those talents to the best use.

Ktsn remembered her rage, her flight, a vow that she would complete her work and scribe a treatise on the subject of her “good air bad air” theory – brief, perhaps, yet one of her own devising. She’d read other vaguely similar studies done by the minds of the university at Drolmak, but this little achievement would be hers.

If it meant she’d have to find a mate other than Cursog in the fullness of time, then she’d be distressed on that day… but so be it.

Eventually, Ktsn came up to the western side of the village, careful to keep herself in full view of the person stationed at the gate. Unlike larger settlements, Goskec Tktl’s size discouraged any sort of dedicated guard force. In fact, the village staffed its gates with hunters far more frequently than those having militia experience. The positive aspects of such a scheme, of course, included keeping costs down to a reasonable level for a community whose major worries were usually rowdy wildlife, and maybe bandits once every two to three years.

The negative aspects included a tendency to provide those providing the service with a moderate paranoia, impatience when dealing with people whose friend-or-foe status wasn’t immediately clear, and very, very good aim.

“Ktsn Wdondf Daephod,” announced the approaching farmer, as she saw the person standing watch start contemplating her with sling at the ready. “I am here for a bit of trading, and intend to leave before sundown.”

The visible eye blinked.

“Ktsn? Didn’t recognize you.”

A slow, laconic rumble trickled from the sentinel, lips pressing against her outer teeth with each syllable. Old Drlkt, possibly the meanest creature on four legs when her dander was up. Her head bobbed a little bit, and her rise to the fullest height of her highlegs cut short as her sling went slack, bullet expertly brought to a waiting palm.

“Would’ve expected you with your father.”

Drlkt looked Ktsn over once, producing a subliminal urge to flip over onto fastlegs just so she could get by more quickly.

“You finish with your flowers thing?” the hunter asked, head askance as she gestured Ktsn inside. “Would’ve also expected you to have your writing.”

“I have not,” said Ktsn. She didn’t resent Drlkt; the hunter was, by her own admission, not the brightest or the best with scroll-learning. The woman really didn’t understand how important the written medium actually was. She would have liked to find someone else in her immediate circle of acquaintances who also enjoyed such learning pursuits.

“Ah. Well, best of fortune, then.”

“Gegaunli uplift your bones,” Ktsn replied, and hurried toward the mercantile square.

The next hours flailed by in a blur, with the central focus being an internal debate on actually getting a whole new pickax. Her main concern was the uncertain science of gauging the difference in lifespan between her current tool and that of the expensive steel laid out in the metalworking stall. Toughness was far less a factor when comparing steel to well-husbanded iron, at least for her purposes. She slipped through the crowd several times, never actually approaching the stall herself, and made an effort to avoid looking like she was considering business. The last thing she wanted was to be solicited by the nice-looking man tending the wares; besides the prospect of having things pointedly sold at her, a bit of commotion might attract unwanted hypothetical filial attention.

Rolling the thought over in her head, she detoured over to a stall with very large earthenware. The decision to buy or pass by her new pickax, she calmly decided, would hinge on whether she spent additional funds on a new pithos. After a bit of fierce haggling, she worked the price of the huge vessel down to something manageable, mentally surrendering the unsullied steel pickax to the void of someone-else’s-purchase.

It was as she was conducting this bit of business, strapping the new pithos to the side of her rucksack with new rope, that she caught sight of Rlgts.

To call the lapidary one of Ktsn’s least favorite people was to call the Western Sea an unpleasant lake. If the woman who’d considered Cursog to be “hers” (independent of arrangement by family or reciprocation of the feeling by her intended victim) died, the world would be a better place. The hussy didn’t even have the decency to be subtle about it.

This line of charitable thinking cut off as the gemcutter also noticed Ktsn, and her conversation with a grocer became drastically shortened.

The phrase “anywhere else but here” is a beautiful thing.

Ktsn decided she’d come back later to get her pickax honed, when she wasn’t sitting on a stomach roiling with two very distinct but related flavors of unpleasantness. Rlgts wasn’t making a scene, and neither was she, so maybe Ktsn could avoid escalating things any further.

It so happened that she was beginning to plan her egress from the budding drama, when the sky ripped open in every direction and revealed an apparition. A horribly strange image accreted, repeating from horizon to horizon, just before a horribly strange voice began speaking from everywhere.

And the words that it spoke turned her whole world on its head.

“Dear people, we greet you, and wish not to cause you any alarm. Unfortunately, we have some very peculiar news. You see, there is a place called Rhaagm, and you are now part of it. Exactly what that means, and how that is possible, are legitimate worries which will be explained in due course. For the moment, though…”

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