139. The Great Arbiter

posted 31st Mar 2020, 8:21 PM

139. The Great Arbiter
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31st Mar 2020, 8:21 PM

Chernobog

Rest, or whatever would be left of it, came to the group. The shovel witch and her zombie had collapsed near the embers of the smoldering Karahydra. Metis, Karolina's familiar, seemed to absently doze off and periodically stir near her master, either out of protectiveness, paranoia, or duty. Tulsan and his cousin were hanging out, idly sharpening the javelins and quietly discussing what Tulsan saw of Karolina, when they cornered the thief.

Rottkap, however, was in no mood to rest. She had two choices, as she saw it. Stay with Karolina, her only actual friend, and continue being useless, until something out here killed her or exploited her as the passive participant in the group. She could imagine all the ways she would wind up being a liability.

The other decision involved a safer, but frankly unsatisfying route. She would go back with Beltresz to Brand's camp, and lay about until the mushroom queen had use for her as an Envoy again. And even then, she'd have to find another escort to help her get around.

She went back and forth in her mind about these two possibilities as the night went on and came to a single conclusion; there had to be more than this.

Slipping away while Tulsan and Bel were distracted, Rottkap slid quietly into the nearby forest. There was perhaps one long shot third solution she had never thought to try. But she needed to be alone and even if it worked, it could have been looked upon as hubris on her part.

Once out of eyeshot of the camp, Rottkap stood in the gloom of the moist swamp night as dark mist wafted to and fro on stagnant breezes. For what she had planned, there was no ritual to follow and no established method. For tonight, she would call upon the ancient high spirit that governed her and the political structure of all Xibalba.

Queen Zanza-Anzulu was a lot of things. The equivalent of a demi-goddess, the mushroom queen was a deeply old spirit that fairly observed the territorial borders of all Xibalbans with veve markings upon mushrooms, indicating the tribal reach and control of a group. It was a well observed system that went on for thousands of years while the Xibalbans lived quietly underground in the age of human supremacy. And it was said to be even earlier than that, as Zanza was said to have existed when the earliest Xibalbans dawned in that distant age of prehistoria.

It was not really clear where the queen originated from, if she ever did not exist. As far as anyone knew, she was always around, but always as a neutral arbiter. Her word was effectively law, however. As the Longtooths that Bali and Karolina fought discovered, crossing the queen was a fast path to get one's disease immunity from the Shadow Laws revoked. And they earned that for simply removing all the veves from their territory to trick others. There was little doubt for anyone else, however... those who didn't respect the Shadow Laws, and specifically, Queen Zanza-Anzulu, would been broken apart by both. Although she was effectively without ambition and perpetually in the background, she was not something or someone that could be fought, any more than the sun would stop shining just because it was made to turn black under an orange sky. The legendary Herald did that, and still, the land was warm and bright.

Xibalbans of all kinds and creeds had some things in common. One of which, was that they would revere a spirit's symbolism and guidance, but they would never worship it, as it was considered a corruption of the self. As a direct splinter of the queen, Rottkap put her hands together in prayer, but not to pray. It was to show deference to the queen. Zanza-Anzulu issued commands to her servants as needed, but she rarely cared to talk with them or anyone else in a conventional manner. There was no way to tell if this would work.

"My Queen... I have never asked you for anything. But tonight, I ask you for an audience. Will you not speak to me?"

Because she was made in direct relation from the queen's identity, Rottkap knew this would be similar to a finger nail independently asking the brain for something. She hoped she would not be clipped for this.

*Little one...* a voice came back. It sounded like a deeper, more motherly and trascendent version of Rottkap.

*I am everywhere. You had only to ask.* The voice within Rottkap's mind was soothing, yet possessed of something that could not easily bottled up, labelled, and understood.

*Though I know what troubles you... I must hear you say it.*

Before Rottkap, a great spiring creature arose like a column of swirling organic material. It coalesced into a feminine form that towered above the swamp trees. The great queen assumed a loosely humanoid body, ending in a tree-like system of soft grey roots upon the earth. Her head was capped with a mushroom top made of pure darkness, from which small lights and dangling black feathery protrusions were suspended. She smiled, but her face was devoid of all other features. And she was dressed in a long tattered V-slit gown, with long gangly arms that reached almost to the ground.

Rottkap knew the image of her queen from her mind, when orders had been given to the Envoy in the past. But to see her physically was something else. It was also quite likely that the great queen had no set height- she did as she wanted. And to appear so tall before the tiny Rottkap was to express the weight of what Rottkap was going to ask. It was as if to say, 'If you hadn't the bravery to ask, you didn't possess the courage to receive better.

Rottkap stammered but rejoiced at the same time. She was being acknowledged by her ancient patron! Now, it was a matter of not wasting this moment. She already knew there would be no second attempt.

"My Queen, I have worked in your service from the time you forged me from a formless fae spirit. And I am grateful to have had the honor to serve you in your sacred work. But in my journey, I have met someone I would call a friend. Where she goes now, feels important, and concerns things I do not fully grasp. But I want to help her get there. But I cannot do so as I am. I am an Envoy in your service. My purpose will be of little use to her in the day to day. I would be a liability to her and her allies. My form cannot make a trip like this. My Queen, I humbly beg you for a release from my service, that I may find my own destiny."

The Queen stared wordless, ever smiling but aloof.

*I have sensed that you are distracted. And the work I give to you does not come regularly. There are others of your make, content to wait, and enjoy a position of priveledge and respect in the tribal clans. But you would not be happy with this, I see. And you have not failed me either. Your service has been successful. Although I formed you from the nothingness of shadow, I am not unreasonable. I will not make a slave of you.*

"You'll... you'll let me go?"

*That is as you have asked. I also know you speak of your form. It is true, the body of the 'Envoy' is not built for war, but decrees. You are young yet and will grow, but your body cannot support itself against violence. Were I to release you as you are, you would surely be ripped asunder in less than a week, in your location.*

*We will make a deal. You will be given the form of the bipeds and the body to potentially defend yourself with. But you will be removed from all acknowledgements and status of who you are. I must remain as impartial as possible in my judgements. My children represent me. And because of your wish, you no longer can.*

"I thank you, great queen. I am most excited by this. But, what did you mean with your last words?"

*This may be the last time we speak, little one. At least in the context that we are in. From here on, your destiny is your own, whatever you wish to do with it. Because of the sacred work that we do, you will be granted no further favoritism from this moment onwards. You will be as one of the many others. You will no longer be a fairy of mushrooms. Simply, you will be a fairy on your accord and nothing further offered by my hand. You cannot speak of my will through your hand, nor will mine flow into yours."

Those of fey origin were not typically tough, compared to Xibalbans of other origins. Recognizable for their orange eyes, much like Rottkap, they were often more known for their empathy. Historically, someone like Bali-la was a very hard exception to that tendency.

"I believe I understand, my... ah, Queen Zanza-Anzulu. What must I do now?"

*Merely sleep that the magicks of unwriting may do their work uninterrupted. Come morning, you will know what has changed.*

"Then this is goodbye, it seems. Mmm. I thank you for the opportunity you gave me to be a physical creature. And again, for this release of service."

*Goodbye, little one. Rest now. And when you awaken, you will know a new world for yourself. May good fortune follow you. And know that I am always watching Xibalba.*

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