Ja’Deir’s breathing slowed, his pulse evened, and his muscles relaxed.
’’Rin. o’ṃ baishira mantaya sowaka. All hail the diamond thunderbolt of glory and sacrifice, o’ṃ’’
Scorching rays of the sun’s rise played along his fur, drying him off in patches. His arms slowly moved, feet gliding, and hips shifting to Apis’ Mudra.
’’Pyo. o’ṃ ishanaya intaraya sowaka. All hail the instrument of divine righteousness, o’ṃ’’
The faint smell of burnt hair came to his nose, the precursor to smoke; but he knew that it just meant it was his coat drying off, and he wouldn’t catch on fire. He soaked in the smells of the morning; the loamy scent of recently soaked earth, a nearby tree’s pollens, the pheromones of a passing sloth – the latter making him cough slightly.
’’To. o’ṃ jiterashi itara jibaratanō sowaka. All hail the exultant and glorious celestial jewel, o’ṃ’’
His back foot squelched in something unpleasant. Ja’Deir’s concentration wavered as he tried to regain his meditative state, his prayerful concentration. Unfortunately, the stench of nearly composted manure overpowered the flowers around him. “AUGH! Come On! I have to get a hold of myself! No wonder I haven’t been able to cure myself, if this is what my concentration is like! I can’t even finish my Mudras and Mantras! A-U-G-H!’’
Though he had walked a goodly distance away from camp, Otto’s ears perked up at the Squirrel’s frustrated squeaking.
He cleaned his foot off with a ripped cloth from his pack, one that had once been soaked in blood, but was cleaned thanks to Xerx’ses’ magic. Mind eased, he took a firm stance and held a pose.
The squirrel and his intrepid companions trudged through the jungles day in and day out, o’er hill, and under bog. It was all the same level of monotony; droll weather, stupid aggressors, disgusting filth. Ja’Deir spent most of it curled up in Xerx’ses’ large sack, to fight his sickness with rest and nourishment. The Minotaur had some pieces of jerky, summoned milk, and half a rotted watermelon stuck in a hidden corner in the backpack – All of which was eaten by the time Xerx’ses checked again.
The bleakness was broken with the turbulent return of Tyvernos. Through the discussion of the Agent, and the vileness that he sows in all those he touches, his identity was fussed out. Zizean, the Jinn advisor of Bishop Rose Nodeki, was rewarded by his fidelity and got the reins to the torture machine of Taut. No doubt the price of Drauka’s soul was great, and with the True Names of two other members of CrIsis, and a position as an advisor to a Bishop of the Church of Light and Dark, he had leapt to the forefront of the pack, and was in prime position.
Overkill wrote a missive to her, informing her that we no longer trust her. But from intel we have from U’Selekma we know she was taken to be tortured. She has been gone longer than we’ve known that we would be tortured one by one, and haven’t heard that she’s even been released yet, so there’s no way to know if she’ll even get the missive. Her poor, old, frail body can only take so much – I worry for her. How dare she be taken in by the “Agent” himself. How dare Overkill, and Karma, and Drauka! It was in their control, wasn’t it? Drauka wanted to kill himself, he just needed an excuse.
I’m sorry, my pith has run out, I shall return to narrating the Slog-journ through the Jungles. The mental state of Tyvernos and Overkill weighed heavily on Ja’Deir’s mind as he drifted in and out of delirium in Xerx’ses’ pack. They were acting normally, but different, like seeing the world through blackened glass. Overkill’s new armor helped his outlook, but they had a darkness about them.
Ja’Deir felt mischievous as he rode with Xerx’ses. He pulled out roots and dug divots in front of his companions’ feet, and giggled with glee to himself as they looked around for trouble. One time, when they were stopped for lunch, he snuck around to Overkill, and stole his Amulet of Teleportation: Sekti Abtu. The Dwarf didn’t realize it until after all of their errands in Mishala were completed. He started a search of Matilda, conscribing CrIsis to help. After an hour, Ja’Deir almost stopped the ruse, but luckily Indaris found its hiding spot – the Chapel that Ja’Deir and Overkill had been working on building in the bow of the second deck.
A few weeks later, when the Squirrel was well into his delirium, a band of Hytril bombarded CrIsis. Most of the members took up battle stations immediately, but upon following Mack’s lead they eased their worries. The Ashada, overheated and nekkid, leapt from the safety of the Minotaur’s back and frolicked with his distant cousins. Asher’s fire lizard wanted to join, but the instinct-wizened Hytril shied away from him. Ja’Deir helped them play together, showing them that Kupyr is tame. They had a grand ole time, playing Tag and Mooseknuckle.
The jungles quickly returned to their monotony, and the mind mage barely found enjoyment in playing pranks anymore.
CrIsis made it out of the Jungles, and reached Mishala, where Rogtilda was moored. The visit there passed like a blur, and the only three things that stuck out in his mind were his visit to the carpentry yard, the visit to Karowyn’s Merchant House, and the most important, a visit to Sulyott.
CrIsis discussed at length the plight of the Parts of Osiris with him, and was given a mental test of sorts by the “all knowing.” They were allowed the answer to one question. After much discussion, as to what information they needed, and the precise wording needed to allow Sulyott no vacillation, they asked: Please, What information can you tell us about the Piece of Osiris known as the Left Eye of Osiris and those that possess it?
Great information was had by all, but during the discussion, the Great Sulyott intruded on Ja’Deir’s mind sanctuary. “And you, little one. What is it wanting?”
Ja’Deir blanched, seeing Sulyott’s focus on him, “I uh… I want for nothing, Great Sulyott.”
“Oh, don’t be that way! I am not great! Good, maybe, but not great! I know that there is something weighing you down, what is it?”
“Um… I have some sort of disease, and I have not been able to fix it. I can feel its filth inside me. I vomit if I am near anything red, and I can swear I have been delirious for several weeks, but when I search my body for the culprit, I am met with nothing. One such as you would be able to find it.”
“Do you not know what it is that plagues you, child? Truly? Think for yourself on it.”
“I have done nothing but think, and I cannot think of the answer. It all started when I fell into this pool of blood, and I think I must have swallowed some, or something…”
“No, Jarel, think.”
“I don’t know!!!” The squirrel said this out loud.
“Ok, ok, settle down little one.” Sulyott stood and crossed to Ja’Deir. He touched his forehead, and returned to his seat.
“Oh, thank you! Thank you! I see it now. I should have known that it was my mind, but how do you trust anything you do or say if you know you are not yourself?”
The entirety of the journey from the Tezcat’s Lair to Sulyott’s living room opened before Ja’Deir’s consciousness. He saw the ridiculous things he did, and saw the loving support that CrIsis had for him in his ailments! His heart grew with love for his travelling companions! Through any of the hardships, disagreements, and fights that they had, they were still a surrogate family for him. He had travelled with these creatures for months, lived and died with them, slayed dragons and jungle beasts. He came to know and love their faults as much as their strengths. And now that it was in the end, he supposed, of his sojourn with CrIsis, he knew it was the beginning of his family with Overkill, Tyvernos, Xerx’ses, Indaris, Roggan, and this mysterious member of CrIsis that he was waiting for, this Azariel. He could not wait to join the annals of CrIsis Members Past, so that he can have brothers and sisters that he knew.
He found himself going back to his memories of his childhood. He had not done this once since contracting his neurosis of cleanliness in New Crests. He returned to his first memory, and not just touched the place in his mind, but experienced it as it was experienced originally.
Ja’Deir watched the half dozen kids flying around the valley’s abnormally warm updrafts, caused by geysers and hot springs. They climbed to the top of several small spires in the middle of various parts of the city, and would ride the air almost indefinitely as their weight slowly overcame the forces of air and fire working against their flight membranes. The lither of them had followers, as the faster you were, and the harder to catch in the air, the better you were at Di’Roc
Di’Roc is a game centered around areal dexterity and prowess; invented by Ja’Deir’s ancestors to prove ability, mainly played by the soldiers. There are championships held each year, and the winner takes home a victory purse large enough to feed a family for a lifetime. Because of this, the competition is fierce, and regularly fatal.
Children play a slower-paced and gentler version all day; the only days that it isn’t played is on feast days, since the mothers wouldn’t let their children get dirtied up, and on stormy days, again because of their mothers.
So, barely able to keep himself upright without wobbling, the young Ja’Deir hungrily watched his peers climbing a spire, after landing in the valley and climbing the winding valley road back to the jumping spot. He wanted to be a part of the game, and wanted to make friends.
He’d tried to fly, but you couldn’t get anywhere jumping from your dad’s lap… who was his dad? What did he look like? He couldn’t remember, but he knew that he had tried jumping from his lap, and didn’t go very far. You have to jump from the highest spire, and then you can fly!
Ja’Deir made his labored way up the hill. Every step filled him with sickness from the height; every step filling him with hope for friends. He got so high he couldn’t find another place to put his feet, and turned around to face the valley. He was so high! He could see Ashada on the valley floor, like ants with their carts and wagons. He leapt, and felt the air stop all around him, mirroring his heart. For the longest second he thought he must be flying, but wondered where the wind was.
Then he fell.
He opened his arms like his dad told him. He kicked his legs straight, just like his mom showed him. None of it worked, and he continued to fall straight down toward the ground. His dedication wavered, and he started to run in the air, and claw at the air as it flew past him. He screamed into the air for help, so that it could catch him like his dad always did. And he continued to fall. A split second before he hit the ground, he curled up into a ball. He hit the cobbled path, and the world flashed white, then black.
He gasped air back into his lungs, and sat up. Ja’Deir giggled. “FUN! FUN!” he cried, and stood up and raced back to the spire to start his climb again. Adults swarmed from all around, yelling and whispering and crying and asking him if he was alright. He was grabbed in weathered old hands, and brought face to face with the ugliest gramma he’d ever seen.
‘You will never survive looking like that!’ Shiel, the Eldest Ashada, tisked looking him up and down. He was barely old enough to play Di’roc, so he’d not had enough time to do much real growth yet. ‘We’ll put some muscle on you,’ she said as she tucked him under her arm like a knapsack. They walked for quite a while, as she talked to herself in hurried whispers, ‘my, such a talented little thing, aren’t you? An honest to goodness talent, surviving a fall like that. Only a Mind Mage could stop that death blow, surely you are one, of course. Not many healers or mystics could handle something like that, no, not even well into their training. Oh my my my my my. Yes, I think we have something special here, yes.”
Ja’Dier’s heart nearly burst through his chest, he didn’t know what he’d done to be in trouble! The looks the Eldest was giving him made him sure she was gonna punish him.
It turned out to be worse than punishment. It was training.
Ja’Deir came out of his reverie, and looked around the room. Such loving faces. He joined in all of the festivities surrounding Ovkral’s and Mary’s wedding, embracing a new lust for life. He played “Bachelor” games with CrIsis, and laughed and cried all night.
In the morning, after a tired Overkill and a surly Tyvernos came in to the galley, Ja’Deir confronted them with his worries. He asked them to subject to a mental diagnosis, to make sure they weren’t under any sort of mind control, mental espionage, or even mental illness. They agreed, and the three spent two hours, sharing experiences, and enjoying the morning on a ship in the tropical waters off of Yin Sloth.
After they were sure that nothing was wrong, they decided together to play a prank on the crew…
>>Picture credits: All from Fine Art America