Jak Koke, where have you been hiding your talent…
Koke is a wonderfully entertaining writer.
— Grasping for the Wind
Dive into the mysterious world of Obsidimen. Born fully formed from their Liferock, they live for a thousand years before they are reabsorbed to share their souls with their brotherhood.
Young Pabl Evr returns home for his Naming, only to find his liferock threatened by a mining crew and in peril from an apocalyptic remnant of the Scourge that threatens to destroy the Liferock, kill the whole community, and erase the entirety of their ancestral memories.
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Read the excerpt below:
Thousands of years ago …
Before science, before history, before the fall of magic destroyed all evidence of the wonders that had been, there was an age of magic and legend—an age of heroism, of terror and of fantastical races and creatures. The age of Earthdawn.
In this mythical time, magic flowed freely. Magicians, Swordmasters, Troubadours, and Weaponsmiths bent the patterns of life with their mystical powers. Magic pervaded everything, from the crafting and use of simple tools to the construction and piloting of huge and complex air ships. Magic technology was the status quo. Magic was power; knowledge and understanding of its uses meant the difference between life and death.
But the rise of magic also weakened the fabric of the metaplanes. Horrific creatures from the astral plane began to spring forth in the world, ravaging the land, the waters, and mankind. At first the Horrors were few and weak, but over time their numbers grew and their power increased. They became a pestilent tide, a Scourge that could not be turned back.
The great magicians of the Theran Empire understood the futility of fighting this Scourge; instead they prepared their peoples for a life sealed inside hidden and magically warded kaers. Most lived out the five-hundred-year holocaust in great underground cities, but some concealed themselves behind powerful veils of magic. Elves fortified their forest kingdom and the stone-like obsidimen hibernated deep inside their liferocks.
The tragic butchery of the Scourge lasted for half a millennium. Horrors wreaked atrocities across the country, seeking out the kaers, sustained only on the pain and sorrow of intelligent beings. They breached many of the defenses and it seemed only a matter of time before the races of the world would be destroyed or go insane from confinement.
Until one day the Scourge ended. The power of the Horrors dwindled and they retreated to the hells from whence they came … mostly. Slowly, the curious races of Barsaive emerged from their hiding places, tentatively stepping back into the light. Humanity in all its forms—Dwarfs, Elves, Obsidimen, Humans, Orks, Trolls, T’skrang, Windlings—all spilled forth to explore the new dawn of their world.
In one part of Barsaive, deep in the recesses of the Servos Jungle, towered mammoth mesas of reddish sandstone. These giant monolithic structures were called tepuis¸ and their cliffs rose up through the clouds and above. Rainforest clawed at their bases in a vain attempt to erode them to the ground. Exotic plants and animals thrived in the hollows and isolated crevices.
In the lower tiers, families of monkeys played in the fertile forest, and brightly colored macaws built nests of mud in the riverbanks sheltered by the overarching canopy of trees. Atop, daily thunder and lightning storms ravaged the rock, the torrents stripping it free of soil. It was said that the Passion Thystonius caused the storms when he scratched his back on the ruddy stone.
The highest and most spectacular waterfalls in Barsaive plummeted from the heights of these mesas, the silver mist blown by the wind often never reaching the jungle floor, thousands of feet below. The tepuis were called elentriamal, the lost islands, by the elves who lived in the Jungle. They were as beautiful as they were dangerous, and many Namegivers have called the elentriamal of Servos Jungle their home.
One of the giant mesas, called Tepuis Garen in the dwarf tongue, was liferock to a brotherhood of obsidimen. The rock folk lived on or inside the stone near the top of the tepuis, where the spiritual force was strongest.
Obsidimen were a unique race, sexless and androgynous, born fully-grown from their liferock. They found much humor in the sexual politics of other Namegivers. Obsidimen called themselves Topristanock in their language—a word which was neither singular nor plural and meant ‘Souls of the Earth.’ Despite the pun on their rock-like nature inherent in the dwarven appellation ‘obsidimen,’ they were not offended by it. They found it amusing, like many things the energy-wasters did.
Tepuis Garen was also home to other races; elves and windlings lived in the jungle around the rock, and there was a village of human and dwarf folk that had grown up by the waterfall-fed pool at the north end of the rock and along the stream which ran from the pool. The villagers called their town Rabneth.
The obsidimen of the Garen Brotherhood tolerated the energy-wasters so near to their home as long as their law with regard to the liferock was not breached. The other Namegivers hardly noticed the obsidimen at all. Many of the younger villagers had never seen one; they believed the rock folk were the stuff of old tales, fuel for Troubadours’ stories and legends. They could not have been more mistaken.
* * *
* * *
About a hundred years after the end of the Scourge, Gvint Od became the sole Elder of the Garen Brotherhood. Gvint stood at the edge of the Deathstone and watched seventeen of his brotherhood gather. They formed a silent circle around the Deathstone—a broad, flat boulder which served as a conduit into the liferock.
Gvint stood taller than the other obsidimen; his skin was the color of sandstone and the texture of granite. Gvint had a regally sloped forehead capped with his horkla of auburn braided with black. The horkla was a colorful skulldress worn by each adult brother at special ceremonies. Gvint’s body had been hardening over the years like a chitinous outer coating, yet he could still surprise the young ones with quick movements to keep them on guard. He wore ceremonial robes of magenta and indigo, interspersed with black and auburn in elaborate patterns. These were the colors of the Garen Brotherhood, and Gvint had been wearing the robes at every ceremony since he had become an Elder.
A wave of sadness came over him as he watched Yonik Bne pronounce his intention to add his body and spirit to the liferock. Yonik’s passing would leave Gvint as sole Elder because Reid Quo—the next Elder—had not yet returned from his wanderings. Yonik had been Gvint’s friend and brother for countless years; they had passed through the Scourge together, nourished in the deep rock by Ganwetrammus—the spirit force of the liferock.
“As clay, Ganwetrammus bore my body into the outside world, gave life and legend to my physical form. As clay, I return.” Yonik removed his robes a garment at a time, folding them one by one and handing them to Gvint who set them neatly to one side.
When Yonik was completely naked save for his horkla, he stepped up onto the Deathstone and lay on his back at the center. The flat rock was roughly circular, rising knee-high above the surface of the tepuis, and measured three obsidimen-lengths across. Ruddy gray-black in color, like cooled lava, the stone bore scars. Grooves and water channels, etched into the rock’s surface, traced meandering paths from the center of the rock to the edge, where they became deeper—miniature chasms and crevasses.
“The time for wandering has come to an end,” Yonik said, leaning his head back. “I can no longer hold off the will of Ganwetrammus and wait for Reid Quo’s return. It is thus that I welcome the Eternal Dreaming.”
No one spoke. The faces of each obsidiman stared somberly at their Elder. The Final Merge was a time of completion, they all knew that. The last arc in the circle of life. But it was also a sad moment, when a great spirit would be re-absorbed. Not lost, but diluted.
Yonik started to chant softly as he lay, his words barely audible over the whisper of wind through the Dance of Stones—columns of jumbled boulders which surrounded the Deathstone. “Ganwetrammus, accept the clay of my soul. The mud of my flesh. I return to you.”
The brotherhood picked up the chant, their musical voices weaving a shell of harmony against the wind. They sang of Yonik’s life, of their desire to see him reunited with Ganwetrammus. They rejoiced in his death, for he would rejoin the pattern of the liferock. And his passing would mean the birth of new brothers.
Their melody held magic in it, the unity of their deep voices becoming a force of its own. And over time, under the influence of that force, Yonik’s body began to turn gray. Days passed as the brothers sang for their Elder, the rise and fall of the sun barely noticeable to them.
As the ceremony’s magic took hold, Yonik’s features blurred; his arms and legs lost clarity until his form seemed to sag under its own weight. His words slurred in his throat as the flesh of his face grew pasty, and his lips sunk into his mouth.
On the fourth day of the ceremony, Gvint hefted a huge ceramic urn which he had filled with water from the springfed pool beside the temple. He set it atop the scarred surface of the Deathstone and climbed to stand beside it.
When Yonik’s throat could no longer sing the words, Gvint spoke for him. “Accept the clay of his soul. The mud of his flesh.” As Gvint chanted, the liferock reached out to him, and the soles of his feet merged through the surface of the Deathstone.
A slight sensation of falling, the stone opening up beneath him. Then the hardening of his flesh, just his feet this time, becoming an extension of the Deathstone, rooted pillars of scarred rock.
This was not a normal merging; Gvint felt no union with Ganwetrammus and no communion with the other brothers. He did not lose himself in the merge, as he usually did, to become a part of a larger and more substantial creation. Instead he felt a disconcerting duality. He was the rock. And simultaneously, he was Yonik.
He felt Yonik’s body resting over him, the weight and the smell of it like a sack of wet sand. But at the same time, he sensed the pattern of Yonik’s mind, the fluidity of his muscles under the influence of the ceremony’s magic. He experienced the heaviness of his brother’s body as it turned to brown earth, the preparation of his spirit for fusion with the pattern of Ganwetrammus.
Gvint remained merged with the Deathstone as the ceremony progressed, several days, until the liferock told him the time had finally come. He bent down and lifted the huge urn. From it, he poured cold, clear water over Yonik’s body. The transparent liquid splashed over the Elder’s skin at first, running down through the lattice of canals on the rock’s surface. But soon, the water mixed with the claying flesh and diluted it, carrying the mud with it back to the rock. Washing away the bulk of Yonik’s body, his skin and insides in streams of graybrown. Finally, only his horkla remained, rinsed clean and empty.
Through his fusion with the rock, Gvint felt the disintegration of Yonik from inside. The singularity of one mind diluted into a million drops of consciousness, until Yonik Bne no longer existed; each broken filament of his fractured pattern had joined with the whole of the liferock. His flesh had returned to its origin to be recycled into a future member of the brotherhood. Even as the last of the water fell from the temple urn, Gvint saw the muddy remnants of Yonik solidify at the edge of the Deathstone, becoming part of it. Adding depth to its scars.
Intense pain shot through each of them as the last bits of Yonik rejoined Tepuis Garen. Gvint felt it most deeply, being the eldest now. But each of the brotherhood sensed the passing of Yonik Bne. Those present nearly collapsed from the force of the rock’s signal.
Gvint froze for several minutes; he watched the urn slip from his hands and shatter on the Deathstone. The rock released him from the ceremonial merging, and he dropped to his knees on the stone.
Those of the brotherhood who were away in distant regions of Barsaive and the world beyond also felt the passing of Yonik Bne. They felt it like an ache in their gut—the dull pain of emptiness. But it passed quickly, and they knew what it was. Each took a moment to remember their brotherhood, reminding themselves of their true nature. Of their individual connection to Tepuis Garen.
And all of them knew that Reid Quo—the next Elder—also felt the passing. Reid Quo heard and would return to join Gvint at the temple atop Tepuis Garen.
When the signal had passed, Gvint stood, gathered up Yonik’s horkla and cleaned away the shards of the broken urn. The horkla would be mended, if necessary, and passed along to the next brother to enter adulthood. Gvint put the horkla with the other garments and began the meandering walk to the temple through the maze of natural columns and huge boulders which made up the Dance of Stones.
He waited at the temple for Reid Quo to join him as the second Elder of the Garen Brotherhood. Every brotherhood must have two Elders. Yet, as the years went by and Reid did not return to Tepuis Garen, Gvint began to worry. Without Reid, there could be no namings and no births. Reid’s absence hurt the brotherhood.
He tried to remember the last time he had seen Reid. About five hundred years before the Long Dreaming of the Scourge, when the thought of Horrors was distant and the land flourished, Reid and Gvint had returned to Ganwetrammus with most of the brotherhood to participate in the Fire Bath ceremony for Jibn Sra.
Reid had been full of awe and energy, newly Awakened and just Named at his own Fire Bath forty or fifty years before. After the celebration, Reid had gone back out into the world. He had talked of Thera, the Netlundion brotherhood, and wondrous magic he would learn from the ancients there. Reid had visited brotherhoods in southwest Barsaive and beyond, devoting his life to sharing knowledge with brotherhoods across the world. He had spoken of his life as a journey that must never stop.
Gvint had also traveled to Thera, briefly. And he had visited Netlundion—the only brotherhood on the island nation. From the magicians there, he had learned to master the intricacies of commanding the elements, but his path did not cross with Reid’s. The island was a crowded place, and Reid had already taken his leave of the island’s liferock. Later, as the Scourge approached, most of the Brotherhood returned to Tepuis Garen, but Reid never made it back. Gvint had assumed him lost or overseas, unable to return.
There was a rumor that Ohin Yeenar, the last Elder of the Othellium Brotherhood, had seen Reid since the end of the Scourge. But no one from the Garen Brotherhood could confirm the rumor, and Gvint didn’t put much faith in it. Ohin Yeenar was ancient even by obsidiman standards and his mind traveled a dangerous and meandering path, often fabricating events which may never have happened.
Still, Reid couldn’t be dead. If he had died without returning—a horrible thought, but still a possibility—Ganwetrammus would know and call Jibn Sra, the next in line. Since that had not happened, Reid was alive, somewhere in the world, trying to get back.
The only thing to do was wait.
Pabl Evr arrived at his liferock on a day as clear as spring water; the mist ring which usually clung to the rock had dissipated in the afternoon heat. Pale blue sky peeked through the tiny spaces in the interlocking tree limbs. Underneath, the jungle slept; the air hung still and humid, keeping the buzzing insects in their nests and making the monkeys lazy for the afternoon. Under a fruiting banana tree a few miles from Tepuis Garen, Pabl and his two companions stopped on the edge of the trail to rest.
The huge mesa loomed before them like a jagged wall of stone; they had been walking in its shadow for most of the morning, but the sun had finally cleared the rock. Now it shone through the high jungle canopy in sporadic patches. The cliff facing them was sheer; a waterfall plummeted over this side, erupting from the rock near the top and falling almost three thousand feet. The Garen Brotherhood called it the riev—the water that flies.
Pabl focused on the top of the tepuis just above the riflev. The temple of his brotherhood was perched there, on the cliff edge, but he could not see it from this distance. Built from slabs of the same rock, it blended too well to be seen. The temple was Pabl’s destination; there he would end his twenty-year journey of exploration and learning. The end of his Awakening would be marked by the Fire Bath ritual when he would finally learn his Name in the language of his people, becoming at last an adult member of his brotherhood. And he was anxious for that.
Of course it might not happen if Reid Quo had failed to return. The last Pabl heard, Reid had not been seen since well before Yonik Bne’s death ten years ago. Pabl had felt Yonik’s passing like a keen blow to his chest, a cold ache which chilled him like a winter storm.
Still, there was hope that Reid had returned in the years since. And perhaps, even if Reid remained lost, the Fire Bath ritual could be performed by Gvint Od alone. Pabl didn’t know. That was why he had returned home.
Pabl glanced down at his two companions. They looked haggard from the long journey, resting under the broad leaves of the banana tree. Road dust coated Jan’s red beard, dulling his normally animated face, and a fine lattice of thin salt lines had crystallized on his forehead below his fiery hair. Jan Farellon was a dwarf, and wore a stylish Wizard’s cloak made from a collage of overlapping patches, each a different color and pattern. The blues and the reds were dingy with dirt and faded from long exposure to the sun.
Now, Jan was hunched over, focusing on a thread-weaving puzzle which he held in both hands. His eyes were glazed over in that far-off stare which meant he was using thread sight. “This level is too tricky,” he said, looking up from the puzzle. “I can’t manage to weave to it.” He breathed a heavy sigh and tossed the puzzle to Pabl.
“You’ve only been trying for an hour,” Pabl said, letting out a deep laugh.
Jan looked up at him, a scowl on his face. “An hour today, an hour yesterday, and three hours the day before. I just can’t get past the fourth loop. My empty stomach must be affecting my concentration.”
The elf, Celagri, mimicked Jan’s voice, adding a degree of whine. “My empty stomach must be affecting my otherwise flawless concentration.” She laughed.
Celagri lay on the soft ground, her head resting on her pack, lounging in her scarred black leather pants and jerkin. She was slight of build, with the telltale pointed ears and fine bone lines. Her skin was the color of brown clay; she wore her black hair pulled into a tight knot behind her head, and shadows seemed to gather around her. Celagri was an excellent liar and a good Thief. Jan and Pabl had met her in Kratas some ten years back and now trusted her completely, for she had saved their lives on several occasions.
“Shut up, elf,” Jan said. “What do you know about threadweaving, anyhow?”
Celagri widened her eyes in mock shock. “Well, pardon me, your most noble master thread-weaver, sir. I didn’t mean to—”
“Just shut up.”
Pabl smiled, wondering if the two would break into a full bickering session. Now, that would be funny. Standing in a small patch of sunshine that penetrated the jungle’s bower, Pabl’s body was as wide as the other two combined, and easily twice the height of the dwarf. His ruddy skin was the color of red sandstone, like the cliff face, and his head sloped to a bare and hairless peak. He wore a loose shirt and trousers of plaited indigo and deep magenta, but no armor save the heavy bracers of dull silver which adorned his forearms.
Pabl mainly used the bracers for fighting, but ever since he had started learning Wizarding spells, they doubled as his grimoire. Each spell was cut as runes on the facets of small diamonds which were set into the metal in a hexagonal pattern.
“Jan,” he said, “you must develop patience or you’ll never master the intricate items.”
“When you learn quick combat spells, I’ll learn patience.”
“I already know the spells.”
“Yes, but you don’t use them fast enough.”
“It doesn’t interest me to develop magic for combat. I have my hands and feet for that.” Pabl punched the air with clenched fists.
“I know, I know,” Jan said, combing fingers through his beard. “You study spell casting only for knowledge of the universe.” Pabl heard the sarcasm in the dwarf’s voice, but it had no effect.
“The more I know about the world, the more effectively I can heal it.”
“Right, that other Discipline you profess to follow.”
“All obsidimen are Purifiers at heart,” Pabl said. “Some of them just don’t listen to their hearts.”
When Jan didn’t respond, Pabl looked down at the puzzle in his hands. It was shaped from silver wire, bent to form a hollow polyhedron with ten sides. The wire traced an intricate, but not identical pattern on each side, and in certain places the wire dropped into the center or across to another face of the puzzle. He had picked it up at Bocco’s Magic Emporium in Bartertown. The puzzles were novelties for thread-weavers, challenging and good practice for spellcasters. He liked this one because each successive anchor point was progressively more difficult to weave a thread to. He had managed to negotiate its loops and twists through seven tiers.
He turned the polyhedron, nudging his mind to look at the object’s astral pattern. Each line of the wire was visible as thin glimmer of silver gossamer. Simple really, but growing more complex and difficult toward the center. As Pabl spun out the red gray filament of his thread, he concentrated on weaving it through the intricate interlacing of the puzzle’s pattern.
The goal was to attach the thread to the key points, eventually reaching the center. As a simple precaution, Pabl never left his threads attached to it. You never know whose hands it might fall into.
Pabl let his thread astral dissipate, then squeezed his eyes closed and took a few steady breaths to clear his mind. When he opened them, he saw Celagri standing in front of him, brushing the dirt from her pants.
“Ready?” said the elf.
Pabl nodded, stowing the puzzle with his things and lifting the heavy backpack to his shoulders.
“Good, then,” she said. “Let’s move.”
Jan was slower. He cleaned himself off, retrieved a chunk of taro root to chew, and finally, with much grunting and carrying-on, hoisted his pack to his shoulders. He retrieved his Wizard’s staff and nodded that he was ready. Jan had never liked the boring parts of the adventure, the hiking bits. But he lived for the thrilling discoveries, the chance confrontations.
Pabl remembered when the two of them had first met Celagri. The elf, young and naive, had tried to steal the jeweled wart which protruded from the third finger of Pabl’s right hand, thinking it was a ring.
Pabl had felt a small tugging, then nothing as the elf slipped off into the shadows. But Jan, always the quick one, caught the Thief in a rapidly growing mass of magical vines which erupted suddenly from a small hedge to entangle and immobilize the unsuspecting elf.
Celagri screamed to be let go. Jan yelled warnings and threats at the elf. Pabl merely laughed at the two of them, bickering furiously over nothing of importance. He laughed without restraint for minutes until the elf and the dwarf had stopped their yelling and stared at him.
The three of them had been together ever since. Now, they walked the final miles to the village of Rabneth. The road in this part of the jungle was much wider and more heavily traveled than it had been when Pabl had been through here twenty years earlier. It hurt to see it.
The road opened into a broad clearing, crowded at the edge by houses and low buildings made of wood and mud brick. Another new road led out of the clearing southwest around the base of the tepuis, and Pabl saw farmers driving carts along it. More development. But what really made his heart ache was the shantytown along the stream. About fifty or sixty ramshackle houses, built from bamboo and palm leaves, lined the stream on both sides.
“What is that?” he asked.
Jan looked up at him. “Looks like a miniature Bartertown,” he said. “Gambling, whoring, even a slave market.”
Pabl felt a prickle wave travel along his skin. He hated places like this; they reminded him of the slums of Kratas. This was his home. A shantytown like this here was more than depressing. It was unacceptable. “This place is an insult to Tepuis Garen,” he said. “It must be destroyed.”
“Now don’t get mad before we know everything,” Jan said. “I don’t want anyone to get hurt. Let me do the talking; I’ll find out what’s going on.” Jan smiled, then he cast a spell on himself to clean away the road dust from his robe.
As they approached, much of the community stopped its daily labors and came out to greet the travelers. The townsfolk eyed Pabl with a mixture of suspicion and awe. When the three were completely surrounded and it was obvious that they weren’t going to be allowed to continue without introduction, the dwarf stepped forward.
“My Name is Jan Farellon,” he said, making a grand flourish in his patched robe. “Some of you know me, or did know me, as a youth. Untested and naive.
“I have had many adventures since leaving twenty years ago, with my good friend, Pabl Evr, and our companion, Celagri.” Jan gestured to the elf and the obsidiman.
Pabl had known Jan since waking from the rock, and the dwarf was his closest friend, but sometimes Jan could talk away even Pabl’s patience. Jan had grown up in Rabneth, bored and itching to get out by his fifteenth birthday. He always talked about how Pabl had rescued him from a life of cooking boiled potatoes and roasted wildebeest, of getting fat on Samson’s flat and stale brew. How he would’ve run off with a merchant caravan eventually.
“I now return to Rabneth,” Jan continued, “an adult, tempered and weathered by my travels. Worn and jaded and cynical, as you can see.”
Abruptly, Pabl felt the pull of his liferock. Like a subliminal, yearning wail, calling him. Everything around him faded. Jan and Celagri and the whole village fell forgotten from his mind. He merely looked past the clearing to the cliff face, towering and sheer, straining up to the sky. Beautiful, he thought.
It had been years since he had experienced the Dreaming—communion with his brothers and the rock. He had been feeling the call of the rock for more than a year now, the compulsion to return. He had tried to resist at first because he wanted to stay in Bartertown to finish his training with Escallio, the human Wizard who had been mentor to both him and Jan.
But now, as Jan spoke to the villagers, his voice fading into the background of Pabl’s consciousness, the vision of the tepuis ingrained itself into Pabl’s mind. As the smell of riflev water vapor, blowing in a fine mist, triggered his instincts, the drive to merge became insistent, growing in urgency until all thoughts of other things left Pabl’s mind. He strayed slightly from the others, moving involuntarily toward the cliff face. “Pabl?”
He stopped. “My excuses, Jan. But I cannot tarry in the village with you. I must go to the rock now. I will return in a day or so to let you know when the Fire Bath ceremony will take place.”
A puzzled look crossed the dwarf’s face, but it soon passed. He knew not to question Pabl’s actions. They’d been through much together, and even though Jan did not understand an obsidiman’s relationship with his liferock, he needed no explanation. “We will be at Samson’s Inn,” he said.
“I will find you there in a few days,” Pabl said. “Good-bye.” Celagri nodded.
Pabl turned away and moved at a blistering run out of the village toward the cliff. The fragrance of impending satisfaction filled the air around him. Very soon he would rejoin the source of his life, and the brothers who shared that source. Right now it was all he wanted. The rock was warm in the fading light, and his urgency increased as he picked his way up the steep path. Soon the path disappeared entirely and Pabl was clawing from ledge to ledge, from crevasse to column, climbing up the face of the cliff, nearly frantic in his desire to get home. He used magic to help him—a little levitation here and there to pass the more difficult spots.
The last time he had climbed up the tepuis was just after his birth. He had been guided up the Path of the First Merge by Gvint and Yonik, then he’d entered the First Dreaming—a hundred years’ communion with Ganwetrammus. He had learned the entire history of the liferock and the Garen Brotherhood during his First Dreaming. Ganwetrammus had forged the pattern of his spirit during that century, nursing him, shaping him until his spirit and body had fused and Pabl was ready to go into the world for a brief time, before returning to join the Garen Brotherhood as an adult.
Wind whipped at him as clouds blew in from the west. He looked up. A crevice about three hundred feet above and to his right led to the top, but he knew that it would be full of cascading water in less than a half-hour. It was time to merge for the night.
He stood on a narrow ledge and prepared himself. He removed his backpack and took off his clothes, folding them into the pack. He breathed deeply and started the merge, squatting with his back against the stone to form a pocket behind his knees which would protect his belongings once he and the rock were one.
The stone warmed him, hardening his skin and solidifying his muscles as he melted into it. He hadn’t done this in a long, long time, but the merging was effortless. He opened his spirit to the elemental force inside the tepuis, and the rock drew him in. Pabl felt himself sliding down into the stone, falling … falling … As the features of his body crusted over, he heard the whispers of the others, and he felt the echoes of their inner voices in his mind.
He kept his eyes open for a minute so that he could watch the sun setting behind a misty jungle mat below. Red gleams painted the bellies of the high, black clouds until the sun was gone. Then the wind gusted and the rain started. Thunder crashed above as lightning struck the rock.
Pabl felt the lightning touch the rock like a slight itch in the back of his mind. He closed his eyes and let Ganwetrammus take him. He entered the Dreaming and lost himself.
But as he melded with the liferock, he knew something was wrong. The minds of his brothers touched him, telling him that Reid Quo had not returned. They were glad Pabl had come home, but the ritual of the Fire Bath could not happen without Reid.
Pabl would not be Named.
Sangolin called to him. Always called to him.
He awoke in a daze to a hot night, lit by the perpetual fire glow. He straightened up, feeling the cracking of his skin. He was among the oldest here and felt it in his bones and the hardening of his flesh. The glow brightened as he left the cave and stepped out onto the wide ledge.
Far below was a great sea of molten rock which stretched into the blackness of night in the distance. Rising winds brought the great searing hiss and stifling heat up from the scarlet ocean and baked him. He felt a remote gladness in the fact that the wind was blowing the wrong way to bring the steam over from the swamps. The sulfur steam was always suffocating. And as much as he could feel anything, he hated the steam.
But now, he had to go. Sangolin called.
He walked the well-worn path along the wide ledge, and he wore no clothing, no covering save the red body paints which striped haphazardly across his skin. All at Sangolin wore the same paint, similar patterns, no clothing. As it should be.
He made his way past the caves where others of his race slept. The path meandered around old boulders and rock into a clearing, broad and flat, set slightly away from the edge of the cliff. At one side of the clearing, an ancient rock slide sloped upward into the darkness of the mountainside.
A heavy stillness pervaded the clearing, the aftermath of the feast earlier. They had netted a gargoyle, charred its flesh in the sea below, then hoisted the beast up. The feast had been grand, accompanied by body painting and dances, though he knew not why. He could still hear the drums in his head as though their echoes continued to reverberate off the valley walls.
In the center of the clearing, he saw a mess of the gargoyle’s bones in monochrome red. No one had cleaned up. Drums and uneaten food lay scattered. The dark silhouettes of satisfied obsidimen lounged like fat orks, sleeping propped up against boulders. This was the way of things; how it went every night. How it always was, and always will be.
The heat lessened a bit as he left the cliff edge and moved toward the old avalanche. A path had been cleared of fallen rock, straight and wide, into the heart of the jumbled mountain. He walked slowly, methodically down the path, like he had always done. He could not remember doing anything else right now.
Occasionally there were glimpses of times before, memories of his life prior to Sangolin, but he could never make any sense of them. They were as random and jumbled as the fallen rock he was walking past. And he blocked them out whenever he could, for the only feelings brought by those broken memories were pain and longing.
The walls of broken stone rose on his left and right as he went farther towards the core of Sangolin until he was walking through a tunnel, lit now by the harsh white of glow crystals. The white light reflected off the blood-colored stone, veined with crystals of blue-black. His own skin was a deep russet brown, chipped from age-old scars in some places and worn smooth in others.
The sound of the drums in his head dulled somewhat as he entered the cavern. It was cool in here, with a damp, unnatural chill. The cavern’s black canopy arched over him as he walked toward the rocky mass that was the core. Intense white crystals were cold, bright stars in the darkness, blinding him. They cast sharp shadows across Sangolin’s mottled skin. In the space above him, water dripped from stalactites, and collected in a deep, blind pool hidden in the dim recesses of the cave.
Sangolin beckoned to him, irresistible now, drawing him.
Anticipation rose inside him, his ancient pulse quickening as he prepared to enter the Dreaming with Sangolin. He stepped close, his breath catching in his chest. Soon he would feel the sweet rush of merging with the core, his abandonment to the joining.
Sangolin’s core was a flowing lump of rocky forms, and a warm hum emanated from it. In places, the shapes of obsidimen bodies were recognizable in its surface; arms, legs and torsos of others already in communion. Some faces showed in the surface, eyes distant, jaws slack in ecstasy.
Reid, he heard in his mind, come to me now.
The Name meant nothing, though he knew Sangolin was speaking to him. He could hold out no longer. Stepping forward, he pressed himself against the flesh of the core. It yielded under his caress, pulling him into a locked embrace. Pleasure rushed into him, filling the gaping hole inside.
Then he felt the chaotic minds of the others, hungry for escape, but unwilling to give up the embrace. And as satisfaction overwhelmed him, he became one with the others, and lost what little was left of himself to Sangolin. To them all.
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