‘Come here, Child.’ Kah’ria gave a start. The voice had a strange hollowness to it, but at the same time was full of warmth and care – as if her father were calling from the other end of a tunnel. But more than that, she thought she was alone in the ghostly remnants of buildings. She turned toward the sound, only partially aware that the smell of death disappeared. Something else was gone, too, that she couldn’t quite pinpoint. It almost felt like she were wearing a hood, and of a sudden had it removed. She started walking toward the voice, and noticed that it was coming from the center of the ruins. As she got closer, she saw him.
Sitting upon the only pristine stone chair, like a lighthouse in an ocean of crumbling rocks resembling tables and chairs, was the oldest Danzi Kah’ria has ever seen. His frail frame would even make Shazni Darkaan look young and robust; his once-cocoa skin now almost translucent, giving away veins and tendons on his bare arms and legs; his transparent teeth and fingernails reminded her of a snake’s fangs. Scraggly white hair fell to his shoulders, a lush furry pelt of white covered his shoulders, and probably all the way down his back, with tufts of white erupting from his ears and bulbous nose.
The one thing that she didn’t expect, though, was how young his eyes looked. They looked as young and full of life as hers, but a metallic blue; like the moon reflecting in a forest pond. His loincloth looked like spun silk, pristine and bought at a city bazaar that morning. ‘Uh… Honor to the Righteous Dead!’ Kah’ria stammered as she approached, bowing her head hastily; she wasn’t quite sure if he were an ancestor or alive, but better ‘safe than sorry’ her mother taught her.
‘Do I look Dead?’ came the echoed voice again, a smile stretching over those viper’s fangs.
‘Oh, uh.. I am sorry. I assumed… it’s just your eyes, and your voice, and…’ Kah’ria tried to compose herself. She was here on a mission, after all. ‘These ruins have been hidden, how did you arrive here?’
‘The Ruins are hidden, because eyes no longer See.’ He motioned for Kah’ria to sit, and she took place on an overturned stone chair, barely worthy of the name.
‘But I found it.’ Her red eyebrow raised – eyes always see, that’s what they do.
‘Yes, because you See,’ his cracked lips tweaked almost imperceptibly in a quick grin.
‘But why did I see?’ Kah’ria pretended to not see his amusement at her expense. Anger does not help the river against a stone.
‘Because you look and see what is there, others only see what they expect to see.’ An expression of exhaustion rippled across the Danzi. It was apparent that he had been waiting a long time for someone to come along – not just anyone, but the right one.
‘The shaman said I was called to be here, though. Do you know why?’ Apprhension started to tickle the back of her mind. He wouldn’t be waiting here, alone on a chair, if it weren’t for something important. And important things usually translate into dangerous things. Things she was used to singing and reciting to eager celebrators, not taking part in.
‘Ah, of course I know why, but do you? Your Shaman Council has sent others here before you and they have returned, never having seen.’ The momentary lapse in the youthful façade past, his face adopted a nearly hidden roguish grin.
‘I smelt death before I was called by you. Is that why I was called? To bring word of a fate, or to cleanse this place?’
‘You answer a question with a question. You should try to answer more directly.’ Kah’ria’s cheeks and ears burned red, and this time, his lips didn’t hide their grin as well, and his shoulders shook from suppressed laughter.
‘I am sorry for that.’ Kah’ria said, her voice full of chagrin.
‘That is not an answer – an apology for a perceived wrong that doesn’t exist.’ He emphasized the last ever so slightly, trying to reassure her. Kah’ria sat up straighter, regaining some of her natural composure. Still there, in the back of her mind, was that pesky ‘absence.’ It didn’t have anything to do with the Danzi; at least she didn’t think so.
‘I have no idea why I have been chosen, or what I am supposed to see with my ‘eyes that see.’’ The reassurance brought her back to why she was here. What she was supposed to be getting, or learning, or… whatever.
‘You are supposed to see what your eyes see.’ Talking in riddles and repeating the words of a question as an answer seemed to bring the old Danzi great joy, at least in Kah’ria’s eyes.
‘You said others were brought here before me, to see what I see. Am I supposed to bring word of their fate?’
‘Did you not hear me? I said none saw.’
‘I am sorry, I misunderstood.’
‘You must open your ears, as well as your eyes. Now, what do you See.’ He emphasized the word, obviously trying to convey the point to her. Understanding flashed across her face. For the first time, she really looked at her surroundings here in the center of the ruins. Unlike the vacant buildings on the way in, there was substantial destruction here. There were some pieces that were more worn, more destroyed by the elements, than the rest. All in all, though, it looked much like the meeting grounds that Clan Trajek uses during Clan Moot.
‘I see ruins. I see remnants of a clan much like my own.’
‘You see remnants, tell me of these remnants.’ As Kah’ria looked closer, she noticed strange dark patches, very different from the shadows being cast by the mountain peaks around her. She tried to count how many she saw, but was unable to – she had the feeling that some of them moved after being counted.
‘I see more destruction than the wind and rain of time have done. I see strange… shadows; patches. they almost seem like stains on the ruins.’
‘…And do you only see while seated?’
‘I was lost in my mind while approaching,’ Kah’ria stood up, and walked toward the nearest edge of destruction, ‘and it’s rude to not look at the ones with whom you speak.’ She added slyly. She stepped closer to one of the stains. It took up most of what used to be a stone table. Kah’ria opened her senses to feel the magic. Immediately, her mind was assaulted by the sheer power of it seeping into her, emanating from the stain. It seemed more magically charged than anything she had come across before. More than just magical, it seemed to be an active source of magic, like a living spell, waiting to burst forth from its static confines to serve its ancient purpose; the tendrils of its magic spread past the physical edge of the stain, lapping at her bone and teasing her soul. Something ancient and hungry growled from within her, and she felt the need to get closer.
Kah’ria picked up a pebble from the dirt near her feet. She hesitated with pebble in hand, not wanting to die by a speck of rubble in a forgotten valley. Something with that much power isn’t something you go reaching for willy-nilly, after all, and she felt that her destruction could be waiting in the depths of its seductive blackness. She looked down at the pebble, said a farewell, asked for forgiveness, and placed it gently on the stone surface, safely away from the black spot. With a clear conscience, she then committed Geocide by flicking it into the magical maw.
What happened next completely underwhelmed her. The pebble rolled serenely across the black, as if it weren’t there. Where the stone touched black it was marked, as if it were simply ink, and not whatever it appeared to be. Kah’ria left the pebble on the table, and returned to her seat in front of the patient Danzi. ‘It appears to be some sort of stain, it clings on to whatever it touches, like ink for Kratos, but it feels magic, like only a Shazni would.’
Having sat back down, Kah’ria realizes that she never ‘turned off’ her senses, and senses almost the same amount of magic oozing off of her guide as was coming from the black sludge. It wasn’t the same feeling, though, so her newborn apprehension passed as quickly as it started. ‘Now you are beginning to open your eyes. What more did you see? What have you observed?’
‘The black stains are where the ruins are at the worst.’ Kah’ria decided to start at the beginning.
‘So… What caused the stains, caused the destruction?’
‘Are you asking me questions, or are you observing?’
‘Then observe and report. Remember to See it requires your eyes, ears, mind, and that sometimes tactile contact is necessary.’ Crazy old codger! Kah’ria thought to herself ruefully. Why can’t I ask him a simple question? Solving a problem properly requires you to use all tools available to you, and he definitely seems to know more about this stain than I could probably find out in an hour of ‘Seeing.’ Regardless, Kah’ria got back up, and returned to her pebble – which was now a much smaller pebble than she remembered using. The black spots on it were writhing, or at least she thought she saw them writhing – they seemed to be eating the light that came near them. ‘The stain eats at everything it touches.’
Kah’ria bent down to get a closer look, and the black spots on the pebble-gone-speck started to reach for her. Startled, she recoiled, and the blackness followed her, slithering across the ground. ‘It is alive?’ She asks, slowly backing toward the old Danzi.
‘Observe, and Report.’ The Danzi had taken on an expression of anxious desire. He was on the edge of his seat, as if something he had been waiting countless centuries for were finally within his grasp.
‘You are really aggravating!’ Kah’ria was fed up with his refusal to answer any of her questions. She was dealing with something magical, and most likely deadly, and he was just playing with her. Not for the first time, she felt a shiver run down her spine – what if he was simply a manifestation of the slime; and her his next meal?
‘Have you never had the truth aggravate you before?’
‘I tend to stay away from the truths that irritate me.’
‘That won’t be good in your future position.’ The Danzi visibly deflated; the weight of countless more centuries piling themselves back onto his aged shoulders.
‘You’re calling me to something now?’ Still backing up, she didn’t see his disappointment.
‘Just Observe and Report.’ No longer as interested in the matter at hand, he sighed as he watched. Kah’ria stopped. She pulled the waterskin from her belt, and decided to throw water at the blob, to guage its reaction. As if spurred by the aggressive act, it grew to the size of a large silver coin, and lunged for her. Kah’ria leapt backwards as the thing landed where she was just standing. She looked worriedly back at the Danzi.
‘What should hurt it makes it stronger, whether it was the water or the act itself, I don’t know.’ The shadow continued to slide after Kah’ria. She glanced back at the Danzi, worry growing in her eyes. The Danzi put a finger across his lips in the universal sign of ‘Shh!’ and then spread his eyelids with his thumb and forefinger. ‘LOOK!’ Whether you’re millennia old or a newborn, those signs are universal, apparently. Kah’ria stopped. The globule stopped moving, but it kept writhing and pulsating, as if waiting for Kah’ria to make a move.
Kah’ria started to recite a nursery rhyme in her head while she watched, and waited. The rhyme was about a frog on a pond, which couldn’t catch a fly. It wasn’t until Ms. Spider told him to be patient that he caught one. It helped her keep her anxiety in check and her patience when in stressful situations, like when she was being chased by a pack of tuskers, but hid in a tree like the fairies – blending into the surroundings. She knew that if she moved, the tuskers would see through the ruse, so she had to be patient, and wait for them to pass. She managed to stay there from dawn till dusk, until the scent of a herd of deer caught on the wind, and the tuksers gave up their search.
While she was reminiscing, she unconsciously changed her skin color, scent, and temperature to blend into the falling dusk – an old fairy trick innate in Danzi, and called ‘Chameleon’ by Wizards. As she watched, and the minutes ticked by, the blob started to pulsate slower. After what felt like an eternity, a mouse scurried out of a hole in the rubble. What happened next was almost too fast for Kah’ria’s golden eyes to catch. The growing glob of goo leapt for the mouse, grew to engulf it, and covered every inch of it. For about a minute the writhing mass shrieked in mousey agony, squirming and thrashing. Soon enough, though, it quieted down again and it resumed the stand-off with Kah’ria, the pulsating renewed in strength and frequency after its ‘meal.’
‘Huh… Well that was fun. It should be enough time that you could come over here. Just don’t throw water about.’ The old Danzi giggled as he went about making preparations for a campfire.
Kah’ria settled down into her chair after slowly making her way back. ‘Are you done being cryptic? What is that?’ She’d definitely had enough of ‘Observe and Report’ and ‘See what you See.’ She was ready for some real answers.
‘’What that is’ will have to wait. More importantly; what did you learn? You were patient. Why?’ Some of the elder’s interest came back.
‘Patience is important sometimes.’
‘But sometimes people find it hard to be patient in dangerous situations.’
‘Yes, but I have found it necessary to be patient and open my eyes and wait from time to time.’
‘Good. Do you always think you could be patient?’ With every answer his eyes brightened.
‘No. I couldn’t be patient indefinitely.’
‘You are not the one.’ His disappointment came back, and he sagged lower than before. His visage started to waiver, and his body started to disappear.
‘There are times that patience is not enough. There is a time to be patient, and a time to act. I act when action is necessary, and the time for patience is past.’ Kah’ria finished, knowing for certain that the Danzi was gone.
‘Very good.’ The shriveled frame returned and his face held an expectant vibrancy, an eager grin touched his eyes. ‘There were many good Danzi here. You have learned, and have been chosen. Now it is time for you to learn what you must do. Have you heard of Southwatch?’ More about this ‘being chosen’ stuff. What on Palladium is that stuff, and why did I have to play with it to pass this old coot’s test? And why is he hopping from subject to subject – First about that black stuff, then patience, then Southwatch? I’m getting tired of his games.
‘I’ve never heard of it.’
‘It is… Northeast of whence you came, on the Great Ocean.’
‘Is it Wolfen?’
‘It was elven once, but has been controlled by Humans for a long time.’
‘Ok, so what does Southwatch have to do with Me?’
‘It is there that you are going to make sure that this,’ the Danzi gestured to the ruins, but mainly at the stains on them, ‘doesn’t happen again. We have been isolated too long, as a people – a people that care nothing of everything but grudges of our fathers, while the world tears itself apart. The last time that we cared nothing while the world tore itself apart, this was the result.’ Again, he gestured to the ruins, this time a deep sadness touched his vibrant metallic blues as he glanced at the destruction around him. ‘Do you know the legend of the battle of Grun Urg?’
‘Yes, every Danzi knows of it.’
‘That is where Southwatch is.’
‘The Dome of the Dead was taken over by Humans, typical.’ Kah’ria’s homeland was being staked out by various Dukes and Counts, Men whose love for the land ended where the profit of it did. She had heard stories of the privileged Humans, and their senseless dispute with the insatiable Wolfen over land they knew nothing about, and creatures and people for whom they cared nothing at all.
‘So, this is what you must do, for we have taken over places that were once elven, but you do not say that it was typical that we took them over. You must remind them that we are not that different. You must remind them that the world does not rise and set upon the Human Kingdoms, or any for that matter. Remind them of Us.’ Finally, something solid.
‘I will go and do that which is required.’
‘Do what? I have not told you what it is you’ll need to do.’ Despite the sternness of his voice, the viper’s teeth shone again in a friendly smile.
‘Do the specifics matter? You’ll tell me, and I’ll go.’ For the first time all day, Kah’ria’s smile wasn’t forced or angry, and came easily.
‘So. What you shall do is to march the steps of their council, where so many Danzi brothers and sisters rest, and announce that the Danzi are still here.
‘Won’t this be considered an act of war?’ Kah’ria could just picture it, a Danzi warrior storming the council chambers, fighting off hundreds of humans in their armors, and shouting to the deaf humans sitting on their thrones.
‘If they see one Danzi as an act of War, then you will have a short life.’ His tone told her he was only partly joking. ‘You will go and tell them that we are still here. Then you will return and report to me what they said. After that, you will learn that the Uldu Set are wrongly named. You are to travel to Shadowfall, and bring the same message to the Wolfen. That we still live, and desire a say in how we live, and what we do. Then return to me. We will see if we are to come out of the shadows, or the forest will be torn down, and rivers to run red with blood… or worse… black.’ Kah’ria glanced back to the blob, no longer pulsating but still the size of a rat. ‘Do you accept this task?’
‘I do.’ The moon escaped from behind the clouds, and what she thought was an empty amphitheater is full of hundreds of ghostly Danzi forms, smiling behind the old man. A gasp escaped Kah’ria’s lips as they say, not as hundreds of voices in unison, but as one they say, ‘You must have questions. Please, ask.’
‘What happened here?’
‘That is a very long tale, young one,’ they say together. ‘Suffice it to say that we chose, rather than to fight in the Elf-Dwarf War to bring back an order that preceded it.’
‘So the Danzi here, you… brought this on yourselves?’
‘Yes. We were not whole of mind, and we wish to make sure that the Humans and Wolfen regain their minds before they are also not whole.’
‘You say ‘preceded’ the Elf Dwarf war… the madness that plagued the Danzi… it was a madness for the Old Ones? You saying Humans and Wolfen are on that path?"
‘People do strange things while at war. It was a madness for the Old Ones, though if neither of the Wolfen or Humans are going to summon an Old One, they are still going to have a war like the Elf-Dwarf war. Destruction was wrought during that that war not only to their own races, but to others. Gnomes used to dot these mountains, and now they are a distant memory. We do not wish that the Danzi become collateral damage again – we are no longer enough to withstand it.
‘I have heard of a madness among the Danzi today. Is it the same madness that plagued them uh… you… in that time?’
‘Yes, we are afraid that the Danzi will lose themselves if they are no longer a part of the world. For this you have been chosen. There will be Danzi that wish to stop you.’ Again with this? Kah’ria thought to herself. Her mind flashed instantly to Fifka. Why him? She thought. The hundreds of Danzi had stopped when Kah’ria’s thoughts took over, and seemed to be waiting for her to stop thinking to herself for them to go on. She gestured that they continue. ‘But there will also be those that wish to help you. Choose your friends wisely.’ Fifka’s face showed up again in her thoughts. She definitely wouldn’t mind having him ‘protect’ her. Suddenly realizing that the Danzi ancestors could probably read her mind, she changed her train of thought with flushed cheeks. Suddenly she realized what that pesky ‘absence’ was. The hawk that was hunting over her shoulder most of the day, she didn’t see it actually get her prey – it just disappeared. It had the same red-and-black coloration as Fifka’s giant falcon. Was it a hawk? Was she followed?
‘I must go. I will have questions when I return! Honor to the Righteous Dead!’ Kah’ria put her bags back around her shoulders.
‘But surely you need to rest before your journey to Southwatch?’ The old Danzi asked, alone this time. The Danzi behind him started a faint, ghostly harmony.
‘I don’t have time. The madness has arrived. I must go, it isn’t safe here anymore.’ Kah’ria stood, and brushed the dust from her legs.
‘That one arrived shortly after you did. He doesn’t see. He knows, but doesn’t see what he knows is there. The madness does reside in him, to his bones. He is waiting for you, but you are safe in these ruins. We still have power, even though it has diminished. Rest, regain your strength. You must fight or flee tomorrow.’
Kah’ria set up her bed, which was made of her wolf hide suit, and her pack for a pillow. She lay beneath the stars, drifting off to sleep, lullibied by the Ancestors’ chorus:
‘In Beira Doceu the poppies blow
Between the corpses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Beira Doceu.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Beira Doceu.’