Finding East

<< Revenant Faith and Foreign Pilgrimage

“In the morning, a woman stole the world’s silence, and buried it under the world’s sand inside a bowl. She dangled a dowel from its cover, stringing it out from the world’s sand, and then looking East saw the approach of a spider with seven legs. The spider with seven legs asked her why she was doing what she was doing, and she answered that she was hoping to make the world a hallowed peaceful place. The spider with seven legs, perturbed by such pronouncement, asked how this was to be, and the woman replied that without silence would only ever be words. Without word-respite, she reasoned, words must either resolve to truth or falsehood. Falsehood begets the bloodshed of the sons and daughters of dust, she spoke unto the spider with seven legs, and soon no falsehood would remain once the speakers of falsehood incited their own bloodshed. At this, the spider with seven legs asked the woman why she would permit the dowel’s presence with her buried bowl, and breach the world’s sand with it, when it would plainly proclaim the bowl’s buried presence. To this the woman replied, seized with sorrow, saying that there would come a day for which she would desire the service of the spider with seven legs. Someday she must depart for more foreign shores and leave her duty undone. It must be the spider with seven legs which would uncover the bowl, upon that day when none spoke falsehood and all that spoke only used words of truth. Ceaseless noise, the woman explicated, would bring eventually bloodshed as surely as falsehood – and furthermore, truth without silence is meaningless. In the day when falsehood falls, the world’s silence must return, lest the sons and daughters of dust destroy themselves and halt the making of the world into a hallowed peaceful place.”

-The Tale of the Spider With Seven Legs

She didn’t quite know where to look first.

Ktsn had had not a moment to spare once her slim companion finished his gobbledegook discussion or dissertation or whatever it was. A stiff walking pace from the meeting building to another building, even if not far away, required her focus. There were many similarities to Goskec Tktl in this place, yes, but too many little oddities for her peace of mind.

The little domesticated animals that scampered around the village made funny noises at her. They set her ears back and made her want to at least clench the handle of her trusty bladed friend. She couldn’t keep her attention on the simple task of walking for long. She was constantly being caught up with the warped familiarity of the place.

The narrow doors, the close-spaced buildings, the way that anything and everything smelled like a garden, the fact of loamy damp-cool soil being nearly everywhere, the absence of bone talismans in carefully-chosen places of import. Her ears wouldn’t get used to that constant trickling coming from every direction anytime soon, either.

Nevertheless, she managed to avoid tripping or biting through her own lip or striking anything in fear. The stretched form of Eihks led her unfailingly toward the village, following close to the man who had headed the natives’ little posse. It didn’t take very long for the short human leader to usher Eihks, and her in turn, to a structure which was little besides a free-standing roof built against a wall. Under the shelter of the canopy, brown mats sprawled, brown buckets and ewers gaped, several brown animals lounged at the end of tethers, and a brown human worked.

The local who’d acted as guide – or whatever he was – let them go after another short rapid exchange, walking back the way he’d come. The tall alien who’d brought her to this odd place bent down, examining the pile of a fat brown mat, and brushed at its fibers. When he turned and seated himself on it, he patted next to him, on a stuffed support of sufficient dimensions for her comfort.

He brushed a thumb along his face in the direction of the other human sharing their shelter, and then focused his gaze on her. She didn’t say anything, merely settling herself as best she could. There came a little yelp when something dug into her croup. She found a splintered stalk, pointy and pouty at her presence, doing its best to intrude out of the side of a nearby trough and into her skin. She moved a bit, thinking about aiming a kick at the trough and deciding better.

After a while, the other human got up, hoisting a couple of empty bags and a single full one, then left with a strange look at the new tenants. Outside, in the impossible distance of stars and gods, beautiful as polished bone, the suns slowly started setting – the smaller one to the side and somewhat ahead, a sibling leading its older relative on a wild chase.

Actually, no. That wasn’t an impossible distance at all for her anymore, was it?

“So, we’ve gotten off to a good start,” Eihks muttered in a low voice once the other person was out of earshot, though that accelerated enunciation persisted. “Not hardly ‘part of the community,’ but you and I have a place to sleep and rest for the night…”

At her rustling, he looked at her more directly, and amended, “A SAFE and UNOBSERVED place.”

She flicked an ear, distinctly not saying anything.

“… oh, right – here,” preceded the deposit of some fat dark shapes next to her, long and unevenly rippled with a coarse grain. “Some jerked stipp. You seemed to eat it well enough back in Rhaagm; hopefully better-preserved fare isn’t terrible. If it is, then there are a few other things that match your dietary needs in the supplies. Also, in future I’ll point out any native foods that are outright toxic for you as best I can.”

A hand slithered out and grabbed the meat. She hesitated, then scythed off the end of a strip. She began tearing up and scarfing down more, as fast as she could without making herself sick. The meat vanished more quickly than she would have credited.

“Now, I’ve also gotten a… prospective employment, I suppose,” the human added. “Right now we stand – fine, sit – in the honorable village of Tienla-Gaphra. That fellow who saw us safely over here is Trehal, head of the local ‘guard’ if I’m translating correctly. He’s also the local seneschal, which makes the fact that he walked us over here a bit unusual.”

Arm angled out in a down-sign. Ktsn’s palms rubbed together sympathetically.

“Anyway, they’re a little suspicious of us on account of us sticking out like a brick in an egg basket. Not so suspicious, though, that Trehal and his associates – they’re in the guard as well – are throwing us out of the village. They’ll make regular checkups for a while to make sure we’re legitimate people and not rebels. We stick around, and help out a bit with some woodwork. They’ll check in on us every other day, then less often, and after a while they’ll accept our presence among the goodfolk of Tienla-Gaphra. At least, on trial terms.”

One word leapt out of that monologue like the aforementioned brick in an egg basket.

“‘Rebels’ sounds ominous,” she whisper-growled. She’d been intent on giving him naught but her silence, but obviously she wasn’t as strong-willed as she’d hoped.

“There’s… a complicated political situation right now,” Eihks admitted.

He considered, then swiveled his whole body toward her.

“Alright. So, back on your planet, you had – have, sorry – an interesting way of doing things. The most important people in Goskec Tktl are the most important people for you, period.”

A short pause, with a bit of blinking.

“Or is that incorrect?” he asked. “Sorry, bit of a blank spot in my learning.”

Her palms rubbed together again.

“No. That is largely accurate. The smartest or strongest people of Goskec Tktl make important decisions on behalf of the village, and so long as those decisions are good they continue making them.”

She snorted.

“It is the same for you, is it not?”

“Not… exactly. And it’s also not exactly that way here. Yes, the people who make decisions will probably lose the right to make them if those decisions end up being continually bad, but they also make decisions for a lot of people. A lot of people.”

An itch demanded her attention.

“If she decided to dedicate herself to the task, I suspect Matron Kglk could convince most of Goskec Tktl to turn away from the Beautiful One of Bones; perhaps even to convince them to enshrine Do-Ag-Dr-Susup’s likeness. If she could not succeed on her own, then the other leaders of the village working together with her would certainly suffice.”

Or would they? Ktsn’s father counted among that elite number, after all. Some other residents must feel the same ambivalence about him as she did. For that matter, why was she arguing in favor of the Matron’s sway in convincing people to do ridiculous things?

Eihks didn’t seem to know how to take her declaration.

“Yes. Well. We don’t have to worry about that here.”

A silent spell, evening sounds merely carving the cavity wider. The human’s mouth crept sideways. When he turned his head away momentarily, she was presented with the view of the inside of an ear canal. She could comfortably say it was the best human ear canal she’d ever examined.

“Imagine instead that – ah, Insect take me. Suppose that a vile individual said that Matron Kglk was untrustworthy, and bad for your community.”

His voice rose slowly in pitch, as though climbing a long shallow hill.

“Imagine also that this individual has tried to remove Matron Kglk through various means…”

Still looking away, he pantomimed with his neck and a slide of his thumb.

“… and this individual has a certain amount of support among the other people of the village.”

That wasn’t exactly something Ktsn was used to contemplating. However, she’d also heard tellings of stories of that sort, and that kind of depravity occasionally appeared in poetry she’d read.

“Those people would not be part of the village for very long, then.”

“Precisely. Then the village would need to make sure those people don’t come back, and that everyone knows to be wary of them. Now imagine, again, that there are many of these people who support this vile individual spread out not only through the village, but abroad as well.”

“Ah. Am I to assume that they think we desire Trehal’s removal, for the good of… Tienla-Gaphra?”

“I don’t think it’s Trehal they’re worried we want to remove, precisely, but that’s the idea.”

He pointed out from under their adequate shelter, down a nearby street.

“So very many things to deal with, but we can do so later. Tonight, we sleep here. Tomorrow, we go down to visit a woman named Fonlat.”

Fonlat, eh? Finally, some sensible-sounding names. Although, in this case the owner was female, so by rights it should have been Fnlt instead.

“Why would we do that?” Ktsn asked, laying her head between her arms and snuffling a little. So close to the ground, dirt-scent grew overpowering, and it smelled both a bit unpleasant and evocative of happy young days. It was almost identical to the smell she’d often had caking both hands and getting under her claws, as a child helping her parents bring plants to maturity, then later nurturing her own sprouts and seedlings.

“She will allow us to stay in her shed, and give us food, provided she gets some help for that woodwork I mentioned.”

Ktsn tapped her claws against the earthen floor.

“I suppose that starvation and exposure do not do a great deal for one’s ability to contribute as a capable assistant.”


The woman briefly contemplated the possibility of cleaning herself a bit more than “no longer bloody.” However, there was no water source suitable in the area. Nor for that matter could she find a spot for a dust bath.

“Do me a favor, could you?” came an especially far away voice.

“Such as what?”

Eihks had splayed out arms and legs and neck, a freakishly large mutated greshna laid out on a butcher block. His closed eyes moved. His chest showed little mechanical action. She wondered if it came more naturally for him to go through the motions of respiration or to remain still.

“Tell me what you smell,” he said in a strange voice, following a familiar quiet.

Once she’d convinced herself she hadn’t misheard, Ktsn lifted her head and breathed deeply.

“Rain. A good deal of it, either recently or arriving soon. Bamboo, self-evidently. Faint scent of latrines.”

Her nostrils fluctuated.

“Animals,” she said, sour and glazed-over. “Animals and people both.”

“I… appreciate just hearing about it,” the reply came not long after. “Though I hope you’re not just making up fanciful imagery.”

Then: “Thank you.”

The rise and fall of his chest didn’t change, but a slack ease settled over him. It was the sort of gentling she associated with her younger brother Wretlal, when he would collapse insensate after a long day’s work in the family gardens of their childhood. She watched him a moment, then wordlessly glanced outside, where the light had lessened on the horizon.

“I just realized that I haven’t asked whether you want to learn magic,” he said, a little later.

A hand rose.

“Do note, this wouldn’t entail any sort of action with your mesh, unless you specifically wanted it. Think more along the lines of a student learning the leatherworking trade. A few tricks to make the apprenticeship easier. The basics, at least, you’ll probably pick up without a problem.”

The hand flopped about.

“Turns out that teaching you anything more common, such as stuff which might inflict sievemind, is out of the question. That crosses out any of the Ast genre, the poet-weaver genre and Emmet subfamilies, and a good deal besides. Even so, I have a few things to pass along.”

She shivered.

“I do not think I wish to sully my soul with sorceries. My…”

Waves of nauseous wonder rift-sawed from head to rump. She repressed the shakes.

“The deity I served, however poorly, is now a political prisoner.”

The croak as her dry mouth cracked open resembled the artificially mechanical far more than the biological.

“I cannot make myself any more abandoned than I am, and yet…”

A few minutes’ quiet. Ktsn’s outpouring hadn’t had any unwanted ears nearby, but she still chastised herself, then grew angry at her self-recrimination.

“How fortunate that I’ve no intention of educating you in disciplines that require partial phylacterization, or contractual soul-bonds, or even the little trespasses of occasional spiritually dangerous behaviors. Nothing that would tie you to Taralngegeshet, or any force or god or demon.”

He slid himself a hand-width closer to her, still not looking.

“The art of witchlights, which you’ll probably find easier than I do. A bit of gyrokinesis. Some that I can teach even though I can’t do them myself. Maybe that water manipulation you see around these parts – I think that’s in the Gzycholov family.”

A foot rose and crooked in her direction.

“Look all of that up if you like. I want to give you tools, not give you self-doubts or moral objections. If you don’t want to, then I’ll leave you to the path you think best.”

He burrowed a bit farther into his own coat.

“But enough of that. That’s a matter for the other side of sleep.”

A gelatinous quagmire pulsated through the woman’s emotional compartments. Dark and peat-heavy. Built on decay. Nourishing for new growth.

Ah, well. She curled up, then realized it wasn’t conducive to keeping her temperature down, and splayed out. Exhaustion swaddled her in its loving arms.

A nearby voice told her to have a good night, and her attempted you-as-well came out through her interior teeth as a grunted hiss.

When she dreamed, she was in the company of Cursog, loving partner, and their four offspring, delightful joys. In one hand she held a book containing all the knowledge of her people, and in the other she held a storage brick with Thomas’s face stained upon it. It was just outside the wind-scoured carapaces of Drolmak’s buildings that she and her family stood, with the light of day streaming from the sun she wore as a crown.

Before her waited a very tall and quite familiar human.

Eihks had one foot upon a clear glass jar, and inside the jar crouched a very specifically-shaped bamboo shoot. His eyes were slashed chasms cracking his face, and his hands had talons far longer than her own claws. She thought the talons made him look more natural.

“You must learn,” the human told her, firm and tired and utterly feral. “Do you think that even a completely futile journey has nothing to teach? Learn, dreamer!”

His foot rose, then came down on the jar, and the bamboo shoot – shaped like her deity’s icon, perfectly identical to the one from the shrine a younger Ktsn had visited – grew a new bud. The bud sharpened, then flew upward, went through his sole and out the top of his footwear. The bamboo set to burning as it emerged, and it grew to a flaming tower dominating the sky.

Then, Ktsn’s sun crown faded and went dark, and only the pillar of fire remained to light the thickened night of dream.

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