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Colour me Purple; an Atysian science-fiction story. - ROLEPLAY - Ryzom Community ForumHomeGuest

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Colour me Purple; an Atysian science-fiction story.

Story 3
Lifecycle

"Mom?"

"Yes, dear?"

"When we set up camp this evening, can I go play with my friends?"

The boy smiled down at his mother from atop the mektoub he was riding.

"First you need to help unload the packers for the night, dear, and set up our tent. Then we're going to eat dinner together. Then I'm going to test you to see if you've been doing your studying today. After that, if you've studied hard today, you can play. But not too long, it's important you get your sleep. Only until sundim, okay? And remember not to ever wander out of the camp. You should have learned by now how to sense when you wander outside the perimeter, so no excuses. Is the spell on you still active?"

Shi-Zun stretched out her hand to touch her son's forehead. She could sense the proximity spell there, alive and active. The spell allowed her to always sense how far he was from her, and alerted her if he ever wandered out of camp. But like any spell it withered over time and had to be refreshed every so often...

She sighed quietly as she walked on alongside the mektoub. Sometimes Shi-Zun Fuio disliked herself for being so strict on her child, but she knew she had to be for his own safety. Zoraï children did not have the luxury of growing up in the protected environment of a city. From birth, they travelled along with their parents in the caravans, trekking dozens of miles a day through ever-hostile territory. They had to learn to stand on their own feet quickly...

When she looked again at her son, he'd already turned his attention back to the scroll he was meant to study today. At least he didn't seem to consider her strict.

***

"Shi-Zun, you should come quickly, the Elder has said that tonight shall be his last night."

This news didn't come completely unexpected, as the Elder had been close to death for some time now, but it still startled Shi-Zun a little to learn tonight would really be the end.

The Elder, she thought his real name was Mu-Cho Yao, but amongst their caravan he had been known as just "the Elder" for many years now. He was a good deal older than any other member of the caravan, and he was the last amongst them who still remembered living in the old civilisation. Perhaps the last Zoraï who still remembered seeing a Kami, and who still wore a real mask of kinship. His death would be like the final extinction of all traces of the old way of life.

"Thank you, Mi-Kho, go on ahead, we'll go find Rin before we join you." The woman who had brought the tidings nodded and walked on towards the next tent to bring it's inhabitants the same news. Shi-Zun and her husband got up from the campfire in front of their tent, needing no more communication than glances between them, as they set out to retrieve their son. It had been several hours since the caravan had arrived at it's campsite. Everyone had already finished their evening's chores and the camp was ready for the night. The tents were set up, the animals set to rest, and the freight containers set down.

Finding their son should have been easy, thanks to the proximity spells. But like any tracking spell it was only accurate to within a few meters, and even after arriving at the location where he should be, they didn't immediately see him. "What a time for him to be playing hide-and-seek," Shi-Zun concluded, slightly annoyed though outwardly calm as ever. The spell never failed, their son was around here, and a bit of searching should reveal him, but she didn't want to lose any time in seeing the Elder. "Go on ahead, love," spoke Nat-Sun, "I know you don't want to miss anything, I'll find him and join you."

Thankful for her partner's understanding, Shi-Zun kissed him quickly and set out towards the healer's tent. Though any Zoraï would want to be there for the Elder's farewell, it was more important for Shi-Zun than for most. She was an avid student of history and had not only been one of the Elder's favourite pupils, before he became too old and frail to teach the young Zoraï, but she had continued to visit him afterwards from time to time to hear his stories of the past. Though after her son had been born, she had had less time for that anymore.

The camp was becoming empty around her now, as most people had probably already gathered around the Elder. Only those whose duty required them to stay at their post remained, like the perimeter guards. Shi-Zun was alone with her thoughts as she navigated through the tents and freight containers of the camp. Perhaps because she was thinking about the Elder's stories of the old Zoraï civilisation, when they had still lived in cities of marvellous buildings, it struck her as sad that today the Zoraï used their 'buildings' to carry freight while they lived in tents.

Not quite buildings ofcourse, but the freight containers were certainly the closest thing that remained of the old Zoraï architecture. House-sized rectangular blocks of wood and amber, with pictograms carved on all sides, the containers were able to levitate under their own power, due to a clever manipulation of magic and magnetism. Though to move them still required beasts of burden to pull them along. They used many of the same construction principles that had once been used in Zoraï buildings.

At night they were anchored in place, still floating several feet above the ground to prevent any contact, giving the camp the look of a small city, if a very dull one. The animals that pulled them during the day had been released from their harnesses and tied up in makeshift stables to rest for the night. Shi-Zun recalled from the Elder's stories that originally the freight containers had in fact been designed as living spaces, moveable buildings for mobile cities, but today all of them were needed to carry freight, so all had been converted to containers, and the Zoraï lived in tents.

It wasn't that they couldn't make more of the floating constructions, to use some once again as living space, it's that they couldn't take more along while on the move. Not without more mektoubs to pull them, and there weren't enough Zoraï to control more mektoubs than they already did...

Suddenly Shi-Zun heard a furious roar coming from her left, and turning her head towards the sound, she saw one of the mektoubs had awoken, and was angrily trying to break out of it's restraints. Two of the guards were already rushing over, but Shi-Zun was closer, so she immediately stepped in and blanked her mind.

Reaching within her mind, she found the place of total silence, and ignited a light there. She then reached outward, into the world around her. She sensed the souls of the guards, the minds of the sleeping mektoubs, the spirits of the trees, the flows of sap. A little later, she would've sensed the mass of Zoraï gathered around the Elder, but she didn't need to reach that far. The chaotic mind of the angry mektoub was right in front of her, and as soon as she'd found it, she let go of everything else and focussed only on sending the calm within her piercing through the world into the mektoub's mind. After the channel was open between her mind and the mektoub's, she sent through it tendrils of thought that quickly encapsulated the beast's mind.

When Shi-Zun was young, and had learned how to do this, she had had to go through all those motions slowly, step by step. But today, she was an accomplished mentalist, and went through the motions as naturally and quickly as breathing. Within a second after she had stepped forward, she had the stun spell fully woven, and the rampant beast frozen.

"Well done," said one of the arriving guards, "it must have broken free from it's sleep spell." Shi-Zun felt the remnants of the sleep spell on the creature. "It is not very well woven," she concluded. "Likely one of the newer mentalists was in a hurry," remarked the guard, "worry not, we shall get it under a proper sleep. You were probably on your way to the ceremony." Shi-Zun nodded and moved on after one of the guards took over her stun spell.

As she neared the healer's tent and saw the crowd around it from a distance, Shi-Zun was brought back to the reality that her mentor would die tonight. During her walk it had still seemed somehow far away and unreal. Only now did sadness start to well up inside her, but to her horror, she also felt a bit of excitement. A death in the caravan would mean that a new child could be born in the caravan, and Shi-Zun had been hoping for another child. She immediately felt guilty at this selfish line of thought, and hesitated to go further. She couldn't attend this ceremony if even part of her welcomed his death...

It is natural to feel both sadness and joy about a person's death. For just as death is an ending, a goodbye, it is also a new beginning, a new hello. Something dies, and something else is born. Whether it be a tree, a person, a friendship, a habit, a period of time, or a way of life. Everything dies, just as everything is born. Without death, there can be no birth. Such is the cycle of life, that life exists only as long as it is in flux. You need not feel guilty about your friend's death, as if it weren't for his death, he would never have existed in the first place. And for him, too, death shall only be a transition to a new way of existence.

The voice that resounded in Shi-Zun's head calmed and steadied her emotions, as it had always done, and once more she was thankful for it.

Thus calmed, she was finally able to join the crowd gathered around the Elder. The Elder was sitting upright in his bed, supported by a healer and surrounded by his grandchildren. The caravan leader stood at the foot of his bed, and Shi-Zun heard him speak: "Then tell us the story one last time, Elder. The story of the Kami's sacrifice." Good, Shi-Zun thought, she had arrived just in time.

Everybody present already knew the story, ofcourse. In fact every Zoraï did. It was the most important story in their society. But this was the last Zoraï who had actually been there, their last chance to hear the story, one last time, from someone who had seen it happen. The Elder began to speak.

"It happened after all of the Witherings, our homeland at the time, had already been overrun by the Goo, except for our cities, the Cities of Intuition. A tiny island in a sea of purple. Already our nation had suffered many losses combatting the Goo year after year, as had the Kami. By this time, all the Kami and all the Zoraï who still existed in the world had answered the call and were gathered together inside the Cities of Intuition for a desperate last stand, and our entire society worked tirelessly to prevent our cities from falling."

"We might still have succeeded, had not the Karavan War erupted then. We inside the Cities of Intuition didn't notice much of the war, isolated as we were from the rest of the world. But we were already strained to breaking point just holding off the Goo, and the extra front prevented the other nations from sending supplies to aid our struggle, which was a shortfall we could not accommodate. By the time the war was finally over, our cities had been overrun by the Goo."

"The last of our people still held out in Zora, our capital. Only a handful of Kami remained to guide us. It was clear to all that we no longer had the numbers to prevent the Goo from overrunning all of the jungles."

"Our Sages considered a second exodus. The Kami who still remained could teleport us out of our encircled capital to rebuild elsewhere. But the messengers returning from the other homin peoples confirmed that their lands too were now rapidly being overrun by Goo, and that the Tryker, Fyros and Matis were already abandoning their cities. It was clear to all that running would only delay the inevitable. With not enough homins left alive to combat the Goo, it would sooner or later overrun all of Atys."

"It was then that our Grand Sage, after speaking with Ma-Duk, gathered us all to reveal what would be done. The last Kami, he said, could weave a spell that would protect the remaining Zoraï from the Goo. The magic would become a part of each and every Zoraï, rendering them immune from the sickness and madness that the touch of the Goo inflicted on homins. But to keep this magic alive through the generations, the Kami would have to pour their own essence into the spell, and cease to exist."

"And so it was done. It was a grand ceremony atop the city hall. All that remained of the Zoraï population was gathered around, and on the roof of the city hall all of our Sages, including the Grand Sage, performed the spell along with the Kami. I was too young to really understand the magic, all I remember was watching them chant and wave their arms around for a long time as glowing lights gathered around them, and both fear and hope grew within the crowd. Then a blinding flash, and then they were all gone, and the roof of the city hall was empty."

"We, the Zoraï people, stood there for a moment, in complete silence. The Kami and our leaders were gone. We were on our own now, with nobody to guide us, left amidst our crumbling city, the Goo already encroaching on it's outskirts from all sides and set to overrun all of it in a matter of days, and we had no idea if the spell had worked. No idea if this would be end. Suddenly it seemed, we all as one got up and, all holding hands, simply walked out into the Goo. We were scared, but all of us felt we would rather face our destiny together, with our chins up and our faith strong, than sit and wait for it like scared little yubos. Even if that destiny was extermination."

"That is really the end of the story. As everyone here knows, the magic had worked, and we reached the edge of the jungle, traversing miles of Goo, without a single one of us showing any symptoms of Goo infection. And so the Zoraï lived on to found a new society."

As the Elder finished his story, there was only deep reverent silence. During the story, Shi-Zun had noticed her husband and son joining her side, but had only welcomed them both with a quick brush past their arms, as she did not want to interrupt the telling. Talking would have to wait until it was all over. And the Elder had apparently not finished speaking yet, as he spoke again.

"But do not think this story tells everything of how our current society came to be! The sacrifice of the Kami was certainly a historical event of the greatest significance, but all too often homins simplify history as if that one momentous day determined everything, forgetting the years of work that preceded and succeeded it. Just as important were the turbulent and exciting years following that day, as we learned how to live in a Goo-infected world, as we formed new social institutions and prepared to build a new society amidst the Goo."

"It took many years of work before we learned to build structures that could withstand the Goo. Many years of work before we learned we could still communicate with the remnants of the Kami that now existed as part of us. Many years of work before we learned to harness the new, far more powerful magic we could now wield. Many years of work before we discovered some rare areas the Goo could not reach, and found the Fyros and Tryker had not all been turned into Goo-zombies that would haunt us, as we feared, but had managed to survive by retreating to those areas."

"Those were exciting years. We were immune to the Goo, we could live amongst it. We had magic so powerful we could control the minds of even Goo-infected creatures, which allowed us to have access to beasts of burden again. And we could profit greatly from facilitating the trade between the Fyros and the Tryker, as the former dug ample materials from their mines but lacked food and water in their desert, while the latter gathered abundant food and water from their lakes but had no way to obtain raw materials. Only we could cross the blighted lands between them to facilitate this trade. Given all these benefits, we thought, our future looked bright, and we would rebuild the Zoraï nation greater than ever."

The Elder was interrupted for a moment by a lightning bolt flashing across the horizon. It's horizontal path made clear it was a spell fired by one of the perimeter guards at some creature that had stumbled onto them. Though the Goo could not detect the Zoraï, and thus could not actively send creatures to attack them as it did against the other races, the Goo-creatures that wandered the blighted lands were still a danger if they stumbled onto them by chance. The crowd awaited in anticipation for a moment if more lightning would follow. When it did not, the Elder continued.

"Ofcourse, just as important to our current society were the years of setback that followed. We found that although our immunity to the Goo did prevent the Goo from detecting our presence, it could still deduce our presence if we lived in the same place for years. Our first new cities suffered heavy attacks, forcing us to devise moving cities and live as nomads. We found that we could not expand our population, because the magic that protected us from the Goo was limited in power, and could not protect more Zoraï than had been present at the ceremony. Many Zoraï babies were born unprotected and died immediately of Goo exposure."

This hit a little close to home for Shi-Zun, reminding her of her earlier thoughts, but she recovered herself quickly.

"Eventually, the Fyros and Tryker populations grew while ours did not, so that more and more of our population was needed to keep up with their demands for trade. Yes yes, don't think I can't sense you're getting bored and thinking you all know this already! This might not make as good a story as the Kami's sacrifice, but it's just as important to who we are today, and never forget that! If it takes my death to get the attention of those of you who never gave it in history class, I'll at least leave you with this!"

Some embarrassment went through the crowd, and the leader of the caravan quickly spoke to salvage the situation: "We appreciate your final words of wisdom, Elder. Do you have any last advice to share with us for the future of our people?"

"I do, that's exactly what I was getting at." The Elder paused to give his words extra weight. "We have reached the point where our entire population does nothing but peddle goods and back and forth, and still the demands of the Tryker and Fyros grow. So it is imperative, absolutely imperative for the future of our people, that we finish the canal."

These words send some murmurings through the crowd. Ah, the canal, another lovely example of how history repeats itself. How even the life of civilisations goes in cycles. "Sssh, I know," thought Shi-Zun, "they did something similar before the Great Swarming." Indeed, I remember seeing it back when I was whole. The voice inside her was not so much a Kami anymore as a remaining fragment of one, no longer sentient on it's own, borrowing her brain functions to retain it's mental faculties. The other fragments of the Kami it once had been were scattered around all the other members of the caravan, while other Kami were scattered around the other caravans. Apart from the company and the Goo immunity, the Kami fragments were what gave each Zoraï their vastly increased magic skills and longer lifespan. But the Zoraï did still die of old age, and after a Zoraï's death, their fragment would move on to the next Zoraï baby to be born in the caravan.

"Now shush," thought Shi-Zun to her fragment, "I want to hear this." The Elder continued as the murmurings subsided.

"This is also a lesson learned from history. The Tryker and Fyros remember well the prosperity that the canal between their nations brought them in the Old Lands, which is why they seek to repeat that success. But ofcourse they shall need us to dig it. Right now their civilisations can only survive because we act as merchants between them, and they cannot grow further because our number is fixed, and thus so is the number of goods we can carry."

"The canal is the only chance for prosperity for all of us. Once it is complete, goods will be able to go through there. The Fyros and Tryker will no longer be held back by how much goods we can carry, and their civilisations will be able to grow. And how will it benefit us, you ask? Because our entire people spend all our time peddling back and forth between the lakes and the desert, we have been stunted in our development as well. True, we cannot grow in number like they can, but once the canal will free us from our peddling, we can once again focus on developing further our spirituality, our technology, our architecture, our magic, our arts. We can rebuild our containers into the most magnificent mobile living spaces, libraries, and temples. We can regain the rich culture we once had."

"I know there are some who are against this plan. Some say that once this canal will be complete, the Fyros and Tryker will decide they no longer have a need for us. Others ask why we should devote our entire civilisation to keeping them alive in the first place. I say to them; the homin people share their fate! Once already we Zoraï isolated ourselves from the other homin races, and as a result our lands were overrun by the kitin. Twice were we more concerned with inter-homin squabbles than with fighting the Goo, and as a result we were overrun by the Goo! Let us not make the same mistake a third time, for it already decimated our populations twice, reducing our culture to a shadow of what it once was, and a third time may leave nobody left alive."

"Build the canal! Let all homins rebuild together or not at all! Let those by my final words to our people."

The crowd remained silent as the Elder was carried inside the tent, then it erupted in hushed murmurings amongst eachother. Shi-Zun knew this was the end of the dying man's public speech, next would be the personal goodbyes, and then he would be carried outside once more for the entire caravan to pay their final respects. As for the personal goodbyes, his family would be first, then his friends and former students. She'd have to get in line soon.

Now that they no longer needed to be silent, she turned to her son. "So your father found you, I was afraid you'd miss everything." The boy didn't answer, but looked at her with a guilty face. "Oh, don't worry, you couldn't have known this would happen today, and we said you could play as long as you stayed inside the camp, you didn't do anything wrong." Still the boy remained silent. "He'd found a small cave to explore," spoke his father softly in his stead, "the scouts must've missed it when they chose this camp location."

"A cave!?" Shi-Zun smacked her son across his face before she'd really realised it. "You know NEVER EVER to go into caves!" The startled boy started to cry. "It was just a shallow hole in the bark, love," her husband spoke soothingly, "there was no passage into the Prime Roots." "Then we were lucky this time," Shi-Zun spoke again calm but determined, "but it doesn't change that he shouldn't go in there."

She looked down at her son, who seemed to be silently begging for her forgiveness with teary eyes, and one cheek turning purple where she'd hit him. She hugged him tightly. "I'm sorry, dear, I didn't mean to do that, but you startled me so. You know how dangerous it is to go into caves." She could sense the boy's head nod behind her shoulder. "Caves could lead into the Prime Roots. Not even Mommy and Daddy go down into the Prime Roots. It's too dangerous there even for grownups."

The boy sniffled his agreement as his mother tried to instill the appropriate dread into her voice.

"The Prime Roots are the home of the Matis."
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