A Story for an Age Distant and Past (Part 4)
"And they said ‘Abide not the treacherous Kazeyish,
The clan of deceivers, who sought
At the expense of their fellows, the
Allures of Deep Magic, which Yongit did not
Permit. And they have paid for such
Crimes with exile.’"
Mem Zannibas Mikatit (The Stories of the Free)
Year 3 SC (1511 Stayatam), in the harsh deserts north of the Miktaban’s territory
Qela grew nervous as she reached the Shasifa River. She was far from the lands of the modern OnKitabie. Here was the uncaring wilderness, which had been too hot to cross in the summer and she had been forced to wait until fall to approach. Here was the scarred battleground of the ancient Deep Magic Rebellion, where the Kazeyish clan, enticed by promises of magical power, turned on Yongit and the other OnKitabie so many hundred years ago. The sand had long covered the battlefields where clan had fought clan, and the graveyards where countless fallen lay. But the air was still none-the-less. There were spirits here, Old Things exiled with the Kazeyish that they had tricked, and they meant her no kindness. Her Aq mount was nervous; the large flightless bird glancing around as the wind picked up, and she had to calm it several times. This was not a hospitable place, even for the Kazeyish that she had come to visit. But homecomings were always difficult, she supposed.
The Shasifa River had no bridge, but a small ferry was tied to the bank, enough for one person and her Aq. She poled the raft across the slow-moving brown water, though the wind began to pick up as she remounted the Aq on the other side. Flying sand bit into her skin, and she pulled her cloak tighter. Ahead, through the gusts of sand and dust, she saw settlement. The huts were meager, largely wooden, and only a couple dozen in number. A group of figures on the edge of the village noticed her, and she hailed them as she pulled up.
An older man with a lean face and darker hair stepped forward, spear in hand. “Who are you and what business brings you here?”
Qela dismounted from her Aq, holding the reigns while trying to keep the sand out of her eyes with her other hand. The wind picked up, forcing her to almost shout. “I am Qela, daughter of Qeshlin, Storycrafter of the ancient ways, and I seek audience with Chief Kazeyish.”
The man stepped back, and the others glanced at each other in surprise. “Qeshlin’s girl?” One spoke up. “How long have you been in the Miktaban?”
“I have been serving the Mikat for nearly ten years, and I come here as an official diplomatic representative. Is Abilel still the Chief?”
“Aye,” the first man said. “He’s coming on in years, but still firm of mind. Come, I’ll bring you to him.” He gestured her to follow, and she obliged.
The chieftain’s hut wasn’t much larger than any of the others, though more of it was made of solid carved stone. It sat, walls creaking in the windstorm, next to an almost embarrassingly meager field of wheat, filled with dead plants and dry, shriveled stalks. The man, who had introduced himself as Lasmikh, knocked on the hut’s door. A man in a slightly better robe than the others gestured them inside, then slammed the door shut, cursing about the blasted sand. He looked up and saw Qela’s face.
“Hello Abilel,” she said fondly. He smiled and they embraced and exchanged formalities, then sat on a set of small wooden benches.
“Qela Ishnal,” he said, shaking his head. “We were sure you’d abandoned us for the Mikat. What brings you back home?”
“Well, Abilel Kazeyish, I am here as a representative of the Kjalit Miktabit herself, Tajani OnMaqibn. We are in a difficult position, and are seeking something specific that you might be able to help us with.”
Abilel’s face fell slightly. “You speak as part of them. I see how it is. Well I don’t really believe that the Mikat would turn to us for help. They think of us as traitors, tyrants, blasphemers. What could we possibly do for them?”
Qela leaned back. The wind battered against the hut’s walls, stronger and stronger, and then one or two raindrops began to smack against the wooden ceiling. “Tajani seeks to open the Gate of Yongit once more. She wishes to bring him back.”
The chieftain of the Kazeyish was silent for a number of seconds. He stared long and hard at the wooden walls of his home, the sand-covered entryway and the handful of threadbare carpets scattered across the cold stone floor. “It must be beautiful in Sha-Mikat,” he finally said, quietly.
“It- it is a serviceable city, my friend. Why do you ask?”
“Do not fluff your words for kindness’ sake. The Mikat prosper, while the Kazeyish have suffered tiny wooden huts and violent sandstorms for centuries. We constantly fight off raiding Storyless from the north and the east, and countless of us die each year from starvation. Five hundred years ago our ancestors were exiled to this wasteland for their crimes, and we still suffer for it.” He looked Qela in the eyes. “I do not blame you for joining them, and abandoning this wreck of a place.”
“I did not abandon you,” Qela said. “My home and heart is still with these people. But I also serve my God. Yongit must be brought back, else the OnKitabie will destroy themselves again and again. And our descendents will have to suffer for that.”
Abilel nodded, eyes cast down.
“We have tried to search every other library, and none of them hold the knowledge we need to open the Gate. What books you hold here may have the key. I’ve seen your collection, back when I was a child. It is not inconsiderable.” She tried to inject some hope into her words.
“And do the Mikat trust me and my people to aid them? How do they know that you will not turn back to our side and betray their secrets.”
“Because, Abilel, they do not know that I am Kazeyish. And yes, they trust that I will be able to gain what knowledge is needed from you, should there be any.” She looked into the shadowed corners of the room, where small shelves of books lay humbly. “Is there?”
Abilel listened to the falling rain, then finally stood. He walked out of the room, into the back of the hut, and returned a moment later with an old tome of thick, dusty paper. It had no supporting cover and little binding that had survived the elements, but he opened it with a practiced hand. His finger traced tight, archaic script as he began to read out loud.
“Yongit spoke to the gathered peoples of the desert clans,
And said to all that his Court was open for their enjoyment
For their learning, and for their enrichment.
For the OnKitabie, the Spirit Folk of his teaching, were
To be withheld no knowledge, even that which may cause
For Yongit sought for his people to teach themselves
As much as he taught them.
And so his people were taught the Story which may give
Any worthy scholar access
To his divine halls beneath the earth.
That arcane Story is recorded here.”
Abilel looked up to her. Qela was staring with shock at him. He had read what sounded like scripture, but none that she had ever encountered in the Miktaban. “And it has the Story? Written there?”
“It does. In its entirety, as far as I know.” Abilel closed the book. “You have to understand the trepidation I feel showing you this.”
“Well, to put it lightly, you weren’t known for your respect of private or personal property when you were growing up here, and I doubt that every task you’ve taken for the Miktaban was done with the utmost care for those who’s libraries you were ‘checking’.”
Qela almost blushed. “That is fair. But I will not steal from you, and I swear on the legacy of Yongit that that is true.” She leaned closer the the book, and Abilel instinctively put his hands around it. “And I don’t suppose you would just give something like that to me.”
Abilel shook his head. “No. Even if you weren’t a Storycrafter, I doubt that giving up one of my most prized artifacts to the Miktaban will in any way aid the situation of my people.”
Qela nodded. The rain grew more aggressive, the raindrops larger and noisier, and the wind whispered through the crack above the door, rattling the wood annoyingly. Then she looked at Abilel. “You’ve never met her, but Tajani is one of the most understanding people I’ve ever met. If I can get her to help your people, to end your exile, will you share your book in return?”
Abilel’s eyes grew wide. Then Qela rejoiced to see his face break into a grin the likes of which she’d never seen before in this damned wasteland.