Topic: Forum Games: Forum Games /
BOLD - Round 2: Descriptions!
My child, no man can navigate the desert unaided.
The words of our chieftain, dead these fifteen years, still form the foundation of our culture. To attempt to cross the white sands is death. The sands sing of the hot wind, longing for lost rain; they slither in sinuous striations, calling sonorously to the clouds. But no water comes. To cross the white-grained sea is to be swallowed up in contradiction, the salt baked from your body, the water drawn out of you into the uncaring dunes. No man nor animal nor spirit-beast may pass that test. Even the great thunder serpent, lord of the summer sky, flees that flat, undulating expanse.
The White Sea is death, and it is death to try to cross it.
When I was a child, I would play with Zelinka in the cool shade of the date trees, on the banks of the Great River, Vizallim. Vizallim brings life to our people, cleansing us and quenching our thirst. Vizallim gives life to our livestock, makes Sister Earth fertile and productive. From the shores of Vizallim, all manner of life emerges: the blue grasses of T’salthe, which our Dreamers smoke to read the stars; Dvaleh potatoes, spread to our fields; Mejira weed, slick and clammy, clinging to our feet. Along the shores live many animals, frogs and snakes and birds and burrowing creatures. Zelinka was once stung by a deadly snake, but the milk of the Zireen cactus called her back from Death’s Door. And so there was no better place to play than in the watchful gaze of Vizallim the Guardian. We would throw the Ad’jubii fruit like a ball in a hundred games, swim to the aits in the center of the river. Zelinka was my best friend; she was beautiful and funny, and always smiling.
Then, on that day fifteen years ago, the Plague returned. Some of our elders say it comes from the White Sea, death encroaching when there is no life, carried on the mournful wind. Others say that is comes from Vizallim, who must take if it is to give. Still others say it is comes with ash of the far-off fire mountain, smoking and rumbling on the horizon. In truth, no one knows why the Plague comes, or from whence. But it struck us hard that year, and Zelinka was among those it took from us.
And in a different way, it also took our chieftain.
Zelinka’s voice was soft, weak. When she spoke, she did so with a faint cough, as though she was about to come apart. Although my mother tried to hold me back, I went to her and held her hand.
“Mauviro,” she said again.
Words caught in my throat; I knew not what to say. Death is understood among our people; it is the gate to the Celeziund, which mortal eyes may not behold. Some say the Celeziund is a place of great beauty. Others say that it is a quiet void, where we may reflect on our lives. Even the Astronomers and the Dreamers cannot agree on its properties, although they have identified it as existing beyond the Fox Star, burning bright in the long nights. But I cared not for the Celeziund, only for Zelinka. I squeezed her hand again.
She silenced me with her eyes. “Mauviro,” she said. “I will miss you, and I will see you again.”
“Please don’t go!” Tears burned my eyes, blurred my vision. “Please don’t go!”
All this time, the Chieftain watched us. Zelinka was his youngest daughter, the child of his old age. He approached me. “Mauviro,” he said.
“Chief Zirvandi,” I acknoweldged.
“My child,” he said. “No man can navigate the desert unaided. No map or chart will lead you in the right path; the White Sea will lead you astray, take you as its own. The spirits fear to ghostwalk there; even the lvinni and mravi will lose their way. No dromedary will see you safely across, and the astronomers cannot divine its boundaries. But there is a way across.”
I stared at the Chieftain in disbelief. The Sacred Stones had presented us with that absolute truth from time immemorial—no one and nothing could cross the White Sea and live. It was impossible.
“My chief,” I began.
He cut me off with a glance.
“Beyond the White Sea, so the Sacred Stones tell us, lies Vizallim’s twin, Mavruha. Mavruha feeds an oasis, which holds a lost city. And in that city grows a strange white flower. This flower, the Stones tell us, can banish the Plague.”
“But no man can cross the White Sea,” I said.
“This is not true,” he replied. “While no man can cross that expanse with his own arts, it may yet be navigated. But one must place his trust in life, not in death. Vizallim and Mavruha have raised up signs of life all across Sister Earth, even where none should exist. In the desert, there are plants which defy all logic, and persist amidst the White Sea’s desperate thirst. They will provide a path across the expanse, through that sandy sea, and lead ultimately to the oasis. I will go there, and bring back the white flower. And this will heal our people.”
The Dreamers and the Astronomers begged him not to go. So did the Elders. So did my mother and father. But Chief Zirvandi would not be dissuaded. His thoughts were only with Zelinka. His red robe billowing behind him like the phoenix, he set off on a dromedary into the White Sea. That flash of pink-red, as vivid as the flamingos that sometimes flew by, faded into the eternal white. Chief Zirvandi never returned.
And three days later, the Plague carried off Zelinka.
When it became obvious that Zirvandi would not return, the Elders selected my father to replace him as chieftain. Under his tutelage, I learned our people’s arts: medicine and poetry, astronomy and astrology. I learned to work the land and to fish Vizallim; I learned to master the bow and the javelin and the blade. On my twenty-first birthday, I was even initiated into the ghostwalk, where I was to take counsel with the mravi. Yet every day I would visit Zelinka’s grave, and walk under the date trees on the banks of the river. Her final words to me, when it became apparent that Zirvandi was gone, and that she too would pass to the Celeziund.
“Mauviro,” she said. Her chest heaved, and her eyes were filled with pain; I knew she was not long for our world.
“Zelinka.” I went to her.
“Mauviro, promise me,” she whispered.
“Promise me that the people will find happiness again. That these Plagues will not…”
And then she breathed her last.
With that memory weighing on me, I stared once more at her grave. It was fashioned from wood and stone, painted with dyes of blue and red. I placed a flower at its base, that we discovered on the ait in the middle of the Vizallim. We had been told not to go there, that the waters were too rapid, but we had done so anyway, and found our own place. My mother scolded me when we returned, but only lightly. She understood.
On the 11th day of the Summer, in a year when the fire mountain came back to life, and the Fox Star quivered in its vault above, the Plague returned. It struck with a savagery unknown to our historians; our scrolls and stones had never recorded such widespread sickness and suffering. Even my mother and father fell ill, as did most of the people. Our very culture teetered on the brink of death.
Heedless of the risks, I ghostwalked with the sinister vvzanvin, and the mischievous lvinni, and the noble mravi. But they could offer no answers. The few Dreamers who hadn’t fallen ill read only messages of despair in the stars, calling on the conjunction of the dark stars, Venom and Wormwood and Uvalim.
I let my mind drift back to that last conversation with Zirvandi, to Zelinka’s last words. My father, laboring in his bed, reached out to me. I think he knew what I was planning, knew what I was determined to do as soon as the Plague had come. “Maurivo,” he pleaded, “don’t do this.”
My child, no man can navigate the desert unaided.
But there is a way across.
I went to my camel, and started resolutely into the White Sea.
As I rode into those endless white waves, the sun burned and blistered overhead. It was impossibly hot; although I was sweating, my clothing remained dry. The White Sea stole that moisture before it could even dampen my robe. The eternal thirst, I thought. My camel labored under me, as I drank greedily from my waterskin, as we stumbled further into the white unknown.
Hours passed. In every direction, there was only white sand, impossibly bright, stinging my eyes. The sands swirled beneath me, shifting into strange signs and ideograms, inscribing my fate into the dunes. Occasionally, I would pass the bleached remains of some lost soul—a ribcage here, a skull there, even the great claw of a thunder serpent. The ghastly markers provided no relief, mere waystations in a land that had no way.
My blood boiled. I would die out here; no other possibility remained. I thought often on Zelinka, and my parents, wasting away back along the Vizallim. How they introduced me to Zelinka, how they and Zirvandi would watch us play our games under the date trees. And then I saw a flash of scarlet, a faded red cloak billowing in the wind. It was tangled up amidst a skeleton, bleached white by sand and sun and time.
I stopped. “Zirvandi,” I lamented. I took the scrap, wound it around my arm, and sat down to die.
I was on the great grey plain. The ghostwalk. But I had not imbibed the potions nor breathed the smoke that accessed the plain. How I came to this place, I could not imagine.
And then I was back in the village, fifteen years ago. I watched Zirvandi ride to his death, plunging heedlessly into the White Sea.
I opened my eyes. In the distance, I saw a low dark line, breaking up the white sameness. I climbed upon my staggering camel, rode toward the line. The line turned out to be a series of spiky plants, surmounted by strange brown fruits. I stared in disbelief; surely this was some mirage, born of delirium. Surely, these were not the children of Vizallim, but mere phantoms.
I thought back to Zelinka’s final words. An unspoken request. Even then, at Death’s Door, she thought to the future. I turned back and stared, although the white desert seemed endless. I imagined her grave, dyed blue and red, with a single flower lying as its base.
I rode into the distance.
Night came suddenly, etching the white desert in pale moonlight, turning it into a place of spirits. It suddenly resembled the ghostwalk, the grey plains made white. I decided not to stop, instead riding alongside those strange plants under the huge, bloated moon. Their shadows stretched into strange, contorted angles that recalled the wicked claws of the vanther beast that stalked our dreams, and I grew fearful. But I did not stop. I rode along that white-limned path, surrounded by ghosts and dreams and memories. I trusted in the row of impossible plants. I trusted in Zirvandi. I trusted in Zelinka.
I trusted in myself.
As day broke, so did the beliefs of our Elders. The White Sea was neither impassible nor impossible, for gleaming in the distance lay a broad river. It was Mavruha, I knew, Vizallim’s twin. I urged my camel toward the river, toward my people’s salvation. I saw stone buildings rising in the distance.
And I recognized the scene. Not Mavruha, but the Vizallim. Failure burned bitter on my tongue. I had braved the White Sea itself, returned from the land of no return, and with nothing to show for it. I raised my arms toward the sky, and cried.
My camel turned its head to look at me. Disgusted, I looked away, to my belongings bundled on its side. There, next to waterskins, was a strange sack, woven from a silken thread. Confused, I took up the sack. In it were white flowers beyond counting, flowers with strange white petals that whispered on the wind.
My child, no man can navigate the desert unaided. The White Sea cannot be crossed in such a way, as it stretches to the end of the world. That is not how we cross deserts, my child.
We cross with faith. We trust that the world will lead us home, that those who have come before us will provide a path.
We cross them with one another.