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[Zoraï Chronicle] The Call of the Sap

As we were nearing the place of the Laï-le Ban (1), our bare feet sank into the thin layer of snow that began to cover the Temple City. Around us, flakes were flying around, stroking our masks and clinging to our hair. Ahead of me, Len Fai-Cu was leading the way. I was staring at his back, scarred with the many stigmas of a life of fighting and hunting. Like him, we wore only a simple loincloth of braided leaves for the occasion, despite the cold that was biting our skin. I think I may say that the same feeling of confidence was filling our hearts that I see in him. Our steps were leading us to a common hope that dispelled any uncertainty.

When we arrived over the crowded tiers of the auditorium, all eyes turned toward us and a dull rumble swept through the audience. Further down, we made out a male silhouette clad in a long purple dress. We understood that it was the master of ceremonies when he struck the ground with a long stick to ask for silence before solemnly declaring: "May the source of our trouble advance towards me!"
When we heard these words, we went down one after the other to the center of the building and sat before him. I noticed the paintwork that decorated his mask of kinship. It was of a particularly light sort of blue that reminded me of the crystal purity in the sky after the passing of a shower.

Slapping his stick on the ground again, the master of ceremonies said: "We are gathered here to progress together on the path of Enlightenment. May Wisdom guide our words on this day. We are nothing but humble buds on the Bark, and aspire to become powerful Doraos. May the Kamis protect us along this perilous path from the Void that gnaws and destroys. My name is Wan Fai-Du and I will be the Kai-ho
(2) of this Laï-le Ban. I am here only to remind everyone of the principles that enliven our sap: the Preservation of Atys, Wisdom, and the search for Enlightenment. May the Great Mask Mabreka-Cho be the model who inspires and guides me, as I stand before you and act in his place. Ochi kami no (3)."
A respectful murmur ran through the crowd who repeated in unison "Ochi kami no".

Lifting a cloth, Wan Fai-Du then revealed three electrically sparkling objects resting on a base: a scepter, an amber shield and a short spear. He grabbed the latter before moving towards the main stand.
Only three Zoraïs were there. I immediately recognized the youngest, whose long blond hair cascaded down on the frail shoulders. It was the Sage Sap, the very one we had decided to follow to reintegrate our people. To her left, a homin of venerable age was scanning each of us with intensity. I later learnt that this Sage was called Sens and that he was the brother of the Great Mask, Dean of the Theocracy. At his side was his disciple, a discreet Awakened with a shaved head and a painted mask with long horns.
Respectfully handing over the spear to them, the Kai-ho addressed them: "It is up to you, the Voices of Judgement, to find the path that will lead us out of this dark swamp."

Wan Fai-Du then seized the scepter before joining the right-hand bleachers to question the few Initiates who were sitting there: "Who among you wants to point out the trouble that worries us?" A Kwaï
(4) grabbed the object and spoke up: "The Pai-ho'I (5) took part in an attack the Masters of the Goo launched on our City during which the Goo was used as a weapon to spread death."
Once the facts had been recalled by the prosecution, the Kai-ho took the amber shield, headed towards the left tiers and asked the Initiates who were there: "Who among you thinks that the bolts should strike elsewhere?" A Kwaï accepted the buckler, before indicating: "Against all odds, the Pai-ho'I opposed their leader and chose to join our ranks. This must count in their favour."
Once we heard this statement from the defence, Wan Fai-Du came back to stand beside us and began to give the floor as the debates began.
The accuser waved his scepter and, with a nod, Wan Fai-Du allowed him to question us

Accuser
"Did you or did you not deal with the Goo Heads Sect in order to obtain the Goo weapons that were used to attack Zora?"

Len Fai-Cu
"We did, but we did not agree with the choice made by our leaders! We wanted to fight these fanatics, not to seek agreement with them. Unfortunately, we have not been listened to."

The defender in his turn raised his amber shield and waited for a sign from the Kai-ho before questioning us.

Defender
"You say you haven't been listened to but what exactly did you do to dissuade your leaders?"

Len Fai-Cu
"According to the custom of the Marauders, I had to face the leader of the Clan of Hopeless in single combat to have our disagreement heard, but my defeat compelled us to abide by their decision."

Accuser
"Why did you comply with the customs of the Clan of Hopeless?"

Len Fai-Cu
"When our leader died, his daughter succeeded him. She is the one who forged the alliance with these Marauders on behalf of us all. Many of us disapproved of this new allegiance, but we had no choice but to submit to it as long as we were members of the tribe."

Defender
"Can you tell us more about the context that led to this alliance?"

Len Fai-Cu
"When the Goo started its growth in the Void, we were the first victims. Our camp was submerged and many of our tribe were contaminated and perished. Marauders and Rangers came to help us reach a refuge on the border with Maiden Grove. Our tribe was therefore particularly vulnerable when the chance of an alliance appeared."

Defender
"Pai-ho'i, you have chosen of your own free will to repent and rejoin the Theocracy. What prompted this decision?"

Len Fai-Cu
"Beyond our doubts about the actions of our tribe in response to the Goo's spread, it was the words of Luoi Dua-La that convinced us to take this plunge that none of us had taken so far. To us, she represents the essence of what the Zoraï ought to be: united and indivisible as they used to be in Zoran's time. To see her enshrined as Sage by the Kamis has proven us we were right to believe in her to guide us towards that age of amber that we wrongfully believed to be lost for ever."

After several hours of debate, Wan Fai-Du took back the scepter from the hands of the accusers and the shield from the hands of the defenders and rested them ceremonially on their base before addressing the central tribune: "It is now up to you to see the light in shade, the path across the bushes, the amber amid the bark".
He bowed with respect and then turned to the rest of the audience to announce: "We got lost to better find us back. May the Kamis guide our steps and lead us on the path of Enlightenment. We will meet again to hear words of Wisdom."
His stick struck the ground and the stands emptied of their occupants. We followed the crowd out of the building, leaving the Kai-ho alone with the three Voices of Judgement.

The deliberations extended long after sunset. It was under the light of lanterns that we returned to the auditorium to hear the verdict. As we took our places again, our attention was drawn to the Sage Sap who was standing in front of Wan Fai-Du. With gravity, the latter questioned her.

Wan Fai-Du
"Sister, what is this disorder that has spread to our hearts?"

Sap
"On Fallenor the 5th, in the third Atysian cycle of the year 2600, we witnessed a dreadful crime: the Masters of the Goo spread the Scourge in the heart of our Temple City for the purpose of sowing death and chaos."

Wan Fai-Du
"Sister, how are our Pai-ho'i brothers responsible for this?"

Sap
"The Pai-ho'i tried to dissuade their leader from spreading the Goo but felt compelled to obey her despite their disagreement. The Path to Enlightenment is sometimes tortuous! Just as the butterfly must succeed in tearing its chrysalis to spread its wings, it took the Pai-ho'i to take part in this attack for them to decide to abandon their old life to join us. We, the Voices of Judgement, believe in their sincerity."

Wan Fai-Du
"Sister, what must we do to soothe our saps?"

Sap
"The repentants will have to be purified of the Marauders' stain and then they will be required to work for a year to relieve patients contaminated by the Goo under the supervision of the Dynastic Healer and myself. This is how the balance will be restored."

The Kai-ho then respectfully bowed down and stated the consecrated formula, which the whole assembly repeated in chorus: "Ochi Kami no".
Wan Fai-Du took the spear from Sap's hands and said: "May the Kamis protect you, brothers and sisters, for having shown us the path". Then he put the weapon back on its base and folded a cloth over it. Turning to the audience, he struck the ground several times with his stick and solemnly announced: "What has been lost has been found. The errants have found the path again. The flower has found the sun again. May we be taught from all this. Before putting away his stick, he humbly finished with: "My name is Wan Fai-Du and I am now only a brother among his brothers".

The cold dawn was casting light on our masks while we left the auditorium to head for the jungle. As we arrived in front of a cascade, we left our loincloths and entered the icy water without hesitation. In the posture of meditation, we opened our hearts to Ma-Duk with confidence. As the waterfall carried away our past mistakes, a feeling of fulfilment seized me. The path to redemption was finally opening up to us.

* Excerpt from the book Luoi Dua-La, The Call of the Sap,
* by Din Ha-Zhia, 2601


[OOC]
(1) Laï-le Ban: Traditional Zoraï trial (lit.: the ceremony where the light appears)
(2) Kai-ho: Observer. Its neutrality allows him to fairly distribute speak between tribunes.
(3) Ochi Kami no: So be it (lit.: So the Kamis want)
(4) Kwaï: word meaning "mask" in Taki Zoraï, i.e. "Zoraï from birth" in this context.
(5) Pai-ho : the accused (lit.: the one who is a problem)
[/OOC]
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