Susen and the World Crafter
Spirits of Rock and Sky > The Servants' Path

Susen 83 dreamed, moving in her sleep. Within herself, the young Jentik stood poised on a wooden beam atop a pyramid of laced ribs, beneath a Sky filled with twisting whorls and arcs of light. A crowd gathered close to watch her balance; Lotun, Tumnil 146, the Kalmet Tomen, and the tattooed Chieftains of Basir and Jeu stood out from the throng, as though more favored by the divine Light of the One God. So many upturned faces, and balancing atop wood and bone was not easy. The beam took a will of its own, jolting and shifting, and Susen 83 struggled and flailed to stay level. Deru of the Third Circle shouldered to the front, shouting unintelligible and angry words. Others in the crowd called and clamored as the Jentik lost her balance...

"Wake up! Wake yourself!" Someone shook Susen 83's shoulder. The acolyte shifted on the hair-stuffed leather mat, blearily opening her eyes to the tiny bone and leather dwelling, the low doorway, and flickering blue and yellow flame-light beyond.

"Our God is coming! Come!" Nei Tesin leapt to the doorway of the small dwelling. Susen 83 sat up slowly, unsteadily, still lost in the net of recent sleep. She had slept neither well nor long, and the dream stayed with her - but there was shouting nearby, the sounds of a crowd.

"Lotun is waiting! Our God is coming! Hurry!" Nei Tesin danced from foot to foot, glancing out of the doorway, a small flamestick in one hand, glowing red with embers. Flame-light spilled around Tesin's thin figure and into the dwelling; the shouting beyond was beginning to sound more like chanting. The Jentik acolyte pulled her sleep-crumpled clothing back into place, but Tesin, impatient as ever, had already vanished from the doorway. Susen 83's dark hair stuck to her face, tangled from sleep. She groaned, rubbed her eyes one last time, and rose to see what it was that had happened. A sudden shudder from the rock below ran through the panels of the dwelling, and Susen 83 recalled her place in the World and what was soon to come, here in the Realm of the World Crafter.

Meeting after meeting with pilgrims and priests had punctuated the long, dark wakes of travel across the open rock of the Realm of the World Crafter. Susen 83 soon lost track of Sects and tenets, what she could say to whom, and when to stay quiet. Such a bewildering plethora of beliefs and behaviors! Even Lotun seemed lost at times, but his mood had improved immensely since the cycle in which his knee, though still stiff, ceased to pain him.

The two Servants of the Provider did not stop at those High Communities closest to the far Light of the One God and the edges of the Realm. Rather, they journeyed directly to Susen, greatest of the communities, home to the Circle of Worship. Lotun pronounced the lesser communities of the Realm too dangerous. Without the protection afforded by flax robes and the Gift of the Provider - by the long reach of the Order - all too much could befall a lone Jentik.

Susen 83 suspected that leaving the Godward Susyan far behind - and traveling towards the territory of Lotun's people - had helped the elder Initiate's disposition as much as any other cause. She had asked Lotun of his Family many times in the past few cycles, but he never gave more than the briefest of answers.

Lotun and Susen 83 had traveled in the company of a band of Wohken pilgrims, four tens strong, for the five wakes prior to ascending the Three Thousand Steps of bone to the High Community of Susen, crossing broken rock as busy as a great Lightward Pathway. Nei Tesin, of Lotun's Family was amongst these travelers; Initiate and pilgrim had greeted one another formally, in the manner of Wohken, intricate as the rituals of the Order of the Provider.

While Lotun performed the duties of an Initiate, bringing the divine gift of the Provider to resting pilgrims, Susen 83 had surreptitiously questioned the young Tesin. To her disappointment, the Nei Family was large, spread across many communities close to the great Gap. Lotun was not of a rank in the Nei Family - and too long a Servant of the Provider - for Tesin, a mere Second Lutnen, to know of by reputation or otherwise. So Susen 83 learned little, but she and the Second Lutnen were attracting thoughtful glances from older, partnered Wohken by the time the pilgrims reached the Three Thousand Steps.

Now well and truly awake, Susen 83 hurried from the small dwelling, pausing only for her pack and to tie her hair against the unpredictable, chill wind of Susen. The uneven rock of the community was even more crowded than in the previous wake. Pilgrims and priests of all Tribes - and of those of mixed ancestry besides - jostled with one another in throngs around blue flames lit throughout the community. Smoke was on the air, billows rising from yellow-burning wood closer to the ancient, imposing Halls of Worship at center of the community.

Flamelight hid stars and the faint Light of the One God, turning the Sky to the same absolute black Susen 83 recalled from Tumnil. Even the great mountains that framed Susen had vanished into the utter darkness beyond flames and crowded worshippers.

Tesin was nowhere to be seen; a line of worshippers, all dressed in inked and ornamented leather robes, stepped past the Jentik acolyte, chanting to add to the noise of the crowds. As Susen 83 gathered her resolve to plunge into the crowds, Tesin emerged from the throng, ducking underneath joined hands.

"What is keeping you? Our God is close!" Tesin enthused, flushed from exertion in the wavering yellow-blue light. The young Wohken reached for Susen 83's hand, and for the moment she let him dictate their path. Four tall Susyan, clad in shaped wooden armor, as was their tradition, began a chant that rose and fell as the acolyte and the young Wohken threaded their way through the gathered worshippers.

Pressed between the devout, Susen 83 felt the rock shudder once more under her feet, and the cries of worship grew ever louder. Tesin looked back and squeezed her hand, an excited grin on his face. "Do you feel that?" he shouted. He pressed forward again without waiting for an answer, leading the Jentik acolyte at a fast pace. Men, women and children of all Tribes - even some few broad, tattooed Enierd - stared into the black Sky or made devotions upon their knees. Susen 83 had not seen such crowds since the Meet of Enierd in Naskal, many cycles ago. She slowed, pulling Tesin towards her. "Where is Lotun?" she asked, leaning forward, repeating the question so that he could hear her over the raised voices of the Sects.

Tesin turned and the two were cheek to cheek for a moment, his face resting against hers. The both pulled away, but the pilgrims pressed them close. "With the other Servants of the Provider," he said, suddenly serious, "before the Priests' Dwellings." He paused, his free hand finding her waist, but at a loss for words as he stared at her face.

"Do you want to kiss me?" Susen 83 asked, returning his stare with a degree of confidence that she did not entirely feel. Tesin looked away in embarrassment, and stammered something, letting loose her hand. The two were jostled where they stood by a sudden movement among the pilgrims about them, the moment lost.

A new chant began to rise into the darkness above the flames, and the scent of smoke grew stronger. Susen 83 took a hold of Tesin's upper arm. "The Priests' Dwellings?" she asked, and the Wohken nodded. As they resumed their progress through the crowd, Tesin avoided Susen 83's eyes. The Jentik thought about what she should feel.

The rock shuddered underfoot, and the thronging pilgrims shouted as one. "I felt that one!" exclaimed an aged, shrunken Itmos, lost in flowing Map Maker's robes. "But I fear I will be deaf before I feel another!" He laughed and nudged his neighbor, a glowering Susyan of the Fifth Circle.

Worshippers and pilgrims gave the gathered Servants of the Provider respectful space, for which Susen 83 was grateful. She and Lotun stood near the voluble Map Maker, on sloping rough rock. Beneath were gathered more acolytes and Initiates of the Order than the Jentik had seen together since Tumnil. Younger acolytes tended a small, blue flame-light, and such was tradition in Susen, Lotun had explained.

A stern Nei Family Capnen had been speaking respectfully to Lotun when Tesin and Susen 83 pushed their way through the last of the crowds. Tesin had left with the Capnen, after a long last glance at Susen 83. It bothered the Jentik acolyte, but she let herself be distracted by the chanting and calling crowds, the lights of fires far and near.

"The World Crafter is close now, Susen 83," said Lotun, speaking loudly and carefully so as to be heard over the noise of the massed pilgrims beyond them. "We see that which occurs but a few times in each generation." The elder Servants had secured the best of vantages by their presence. The arc of dwellings further upslope, towards the nearest of Susen's enclosing mountains, hidden in absolute darkness, had been built to give priests of the Circle of Worship the best possible view of their community.

"There are so many worshippers!" said Susen 83, with renewed surprise. By the blue and yellow light of flames and fires, the acolyte could see that thousands of the devout of the Realm must have ascended the Three Thousand Steps in just the last wake, drawn by the World Crafter.

"There are more above us, climbing the mountains by well-prepared ways to better see their God." Lotun pointed up into the black Sky, but Susen 83 could see nothing beyond the flame-lit dwellings of the community. "Below, on the plains," Lotun continued, "there are Devoted Followers, adherents of the Second Path, and ten thousand other worshippers; the greatest congregation of men and women beyond Tumnil, my acolyte."

Susen 83 could hear the tone of awe, or perhaps admiration, in the voice of the elder Wohken. "Do you pray to the World Crafter, friend Lotun?"

Lotun spread his arms in an encompassing gesture, lifting up his staff. "In His Realm, at this time, who would not?" He smiled at the Jentik and rested the base of his staff between his feet once more.

A shudder passed through the rock of the World, and a great and deafening shout went up in unison from worshippers, pilgrims, and priests. The voices faded and a silence fell, strange on the ears after the noise and commotion of past wakes. The inconstant, chill wind became audible as it tugged at robes and hair, blowing flames into strange shapes.

Susen 83 looked to Lotun, her heartbeat loud in her own ears, but she didn't dare be first to break the silence. Lotun placed a thin finger to his lips and turned his eyes to the black Sky above the great dome of the Hall of the Council at the far side of Susen. Starting there, Susen 83 saw the flames and fires extinguished one by one. At the closest yellow blaze, leather-robed priests threw huge wraps to smother the flame-light.

The youngest acolytes snuffed the blue flame on the slope below the elder Servants. Smoke scent weighed heavy in the chill, moving air as the last light vanished from the silent community, the blackness absolute all around.

Then the brightest stars returned to the black vault of the Sky - save for where they were hidden by a great darkness towered over the community and its sheltering mountains. As the last echoes of flame-light left the eyes, the faint and distant Light of the One God lent dim purple substance to the buildings of Susen and the high mountain ledges. It limned the ancient dome of the Hall of the Council. Beyond and above the Hall, beyond and above the mountains, massive curves and corners in the Sky became edged in divine Light and part of a whole. The shadowed and mighty Avatar of the World Crafter, standing on rock far below Susen, stared down at His worshippers in the community of the Circle.

Susen 83's breath caught in her throat at the view revealed to her. She heard voices, near and far, muttering or whispering awed prayers. A priest on the far side of Susen began to incant a litany, and in less than ten heartbeats, a hundred, a thousand voices had taken up the chant. The silence was broken, and, underneath the strange vertical vista of their God, the priests and pilgrims worshipped.

[ Posted by Reason on April 16, 2006 ]