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[Fiction] Wakinyan - Dreamtime


Ashnod

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(whether is canon, non-canon, alternate timeline, or whatever, is up to Waki's player to decide)

The fire had been burning for several hours before either man spoke. It had not been the time for words until then; the smell of the burning wood had been rich and full of flavor, all but required time devoted to enjoying it and basking in the warmth it simultaneously provided. The meat prepared over it had been smoky and lean, and once again time had been devoted to the simple pleasure of consuming it. Same with the smoke from the sacred leaves they had burned and then taken into their lungs. To speak of any of it would be to dishonor the trees that died to provide them the warmth, the animal whose life was given so that they could eat, and the plant that had given up its leaves so that their minds could awaken. All of this was to be experienced to its fullest, and having the distraction of spoken word would have negated all that had prepared them for it.

At last the moment came when their hunger was satiated and their minds had awoken, a moment when both men had stared into flames and without any indication, found the other’s eyes upon him and knew that the time for conversing had come. The elder of the two reached over and picked up his walking stick, clutching it between thinning fingers as he gently poked the fire one final time. The flames shot up briefly into the star-filled night and just as quickly returned to their lazy flicker.

“They say if you wish hard enough upon flames built from this wood,” the elder began, “the peta of Wakan Tanka will appear to you, in the form of a woman. And that if you present her with an appropriate gift, she may still yet grant you a boon.”

“Peta of Wakan Tanka” the younger man repeated slowly. His muscles, unlike the elder, were strong and new. The sacred leaves were still affecting his mind, he knew, still keeping in the dreamtime place where time did not happen as it normally did. “I don’t know those words.”

“No, you wouldn’t,” the elder nodded. “The old tongue is not spoken here as it once was, and the true meaning of that name is lost to many of our people. You would have to journey far to find a land where they still use those words.”

The young man thought on this. “Does it always appear as woman?”

“Oh yes,” the elder continued. “In another land, in another time, she was more capricious and,” he paused, gently laughing, “wild than our people know her to be. That was a long time ago, and only the God of the Mountain remembers it.”

The younger man nodded. They had carried the wood for the fire many miles, along with all of their supplies, and his muscles were sore from the day’s exertion. Out here, in the rocky expanse of the desert, no trees grew and the air was cooling rapidly. The fire kept them warm, but it would be quite cold were it to die and the young man was acutely aware of this. He fed another block into the flames and pushed it into a good position with his own walking stick. The elder smiled appreciatively, and the younger man nodded respectfully back.

They both looked upwards at the mountain behind them, a huge red and orange explosion of stone arched painfully skyward but never quite made it to the heights the raptors still flew above. Its peak was often obscured by the white fog that remained after an evening’s rain, but this night it was clear and it looked very much as though it was trying to break through the skin of the night and take its place among the stars.

“Even though he has not ventured off the mountain in years,” the elder whispered, “he still watches over our people.”

The young man stared at the enormous stone edifice. “Have you seen him?”

“Yes,” the elder nodded. “My grandfather took me to see him, as his grandfather took him, and so on, since we came to this land. The God of the Mountain insists that the grandfather be the one who brings the young man on this night, if he can make the journey. He remembers well the face of his own grandfather.”

The elder man smiled. “The bond between grandfather and grandson is special one. To a son, the father may seem wise and powerful. The grandfather’s place is to show his grandson that isn’t true.”

The young man laughed.

“The grandfather is privy to all the secrets the father does not want the son to know,” the elder continued playfully, “and so the father fears the grandfather. One day, you will know what it is like to have such power.”

The young man smiled. Such a time was many years off. He was not yet a father, and had not yet taken a wife, but the bemusement in his grandfather’s face was so sincere that he didn’t bring this up. It was the way of the elders to attempt giving wisdom that young men are destined to forget until they are elders themselves. His own father had said that, and he considered it the wisest thing he had heard until his grandfather had spoken his own truth moments ago.

“What is the God of the Mountain like, Grandfather?” he asked when he felt the moment was right.

The elder man chuckled. “How can you put into words what a god is like, Grandson? Like the storm, he can snap ancient trees from their roots. Like the storm, he can reshape the earth. Like the storm, he can bring water from the heavens when the land and people thirst. And like the storm he can bring the rains to cool the land when the sun above would burn it.”

The young man considered this. “He sounds fickle, Grandfather.”

“Yes!” the elder exclaimed. “It is not our way to know how the storm will arrive, or what it will leave when it departs. We only know that it is, and that it holds the power of life and death. We must respect this, and respect him.”

“This doesn’t sound,” the young man replied, “like a benevolent god, grandfather. Having to earn his favor by fearing his anger.”

“The gods are strange beings,” the grandfather agreed. “And not always fair or reasonable. But the God of the Mountain has earned the love of our people. This is the story you have come here to learn.”

Sensing that his elder was about to begin, the young man nodded and settled in to listen without interrupting his grandfather. The dreamtime was still thick within his thoughts, and he wanted to remember everything he could about what had come before.

“Before I begin, I must tell you that when I say we, I do not mean our people. I mean all mortal men and women. Do you understand, grandson? Good.

"In another time, in another land, the God of the Mountain was born into our people. Like all gods, he did not understand his purpose when he came to be. Walking the land as a mortal, he did not know what would become of him or even that he was a god. It was a time of confusion when the gods had forgotten their purpose, and had decided to walk the land as mortals to find themselves once more. But something went wrong, and after living as mortals for many years, the gods came to believe that they were mortals, and not gods wearing the skins of mortals. Even the God of the Mountain was not immune to this.

"For a time, we were happy that the gods wanted to live beside us and not above us, and so we did not remind them of who they were. This was our mistake. When one of the gods remembered who they were, we told them that they were mistaken, or that their minds had been lost. If they did not believe us, we told the other gods to they were a danger, and the gods, still thinking that they were mortal, would try to help. Some of us tried to honor the gods as we once did, but many more of us tried to prevent us from doing so. Just like the gods, they told us that our minds had been lost, and that we were mistaken. Many lives were lost, both mortal and god, when these conflicts occurred.

"After many years, enough of the gods had remembered who they were that they banded together against the gods who had not. They hid themselves for many years until they were strong enough to oppose the gods who had yet to remember. And those gods were angry that we had let them forget, that we had tried to keep them wearing the skins of mortals instead of assuming their rightful places. When they finally came out of hiding, they wanted the other gods to remember who they were. And they wanted us to remember who they were as well.

"A great war was fought between the gods who had remembered and the gods who had yet forgotten. So great was their war that mortals had no choice but to take sides as well, and fight for their lives, because when the gods war, all life is threatened. After a time, in our arrogance, we tried to destroy all the gods, and this forced the gods who had not yet remembered to join those who had. And so their war ended, but they took their conflict to us instead.

"Our tools had filled us with pride. We were confident we could defeat the gods with our craftsmanship, and the power of our weapons, of which even the gods were cautious. The war between mortal and god filled the land thick with blood from both sides. After many years, we knew we could not defeat the gods. But in our pride we said that if we could not have dominion over the land, then neither could the gods. The gods did not wish for the land to be destroyed, and so they left the mortals to their own fate.

"But there were some gods, like the God of the Mountain, who did not forget their people even when they remembered that they were gods. And there were some people, like ours, who tried to make the gods remember during the early years of their confusion, and honored the old ways. And the God of the Mountain did not forget this.

"When the war threatened all peoples, the God of the Mountain looked after us, and protected us from the vengeful gods who made no distinction between the people that honored the gods and those that did not. Even at great personal risk to himself, and great injury he did suffer, he did not abandon us to their wrath and protected us. Even when the God of the Sea challenged the God of the Mountain he did not shy away, and defended us. And when the gods decide to leave mortals to their own devices, he still did not turn his back upon us. He has remained with us throughout countless generations, acting as our protector and our guide.

"And since then, when one comes of age, he is brought out here to meet the God of the Mountain, accompanied by his grandfather who relays this tale, as his grandfather did before him, and his grandfather before him, since the time after the gods forsook the mortals.”

Through the dreamtime, all of this made perfect sense to the young man, though he suspected were he not in the dreamtime this would’ve sounded ludicrous. Nonetheless, something still felt as though it were missing.

“Why does the God of the Mountain never leave it? Why is he only seen once by any man, and then never again.”

Were the elder man quicker and, he was ashamed to admit, closer to his grandson, he would have knocked him sharply on the head with his walking stick. But those days were long past him now, and the most he could manage was a disapproving glare.

“I can see,” he replied, “that you are like me when I was your age, and would not listen to my grandfather. In all my many years, I have wondered the same thing. It is not known to mortals why gods behave as they do, but I can tell you what I believe to be.”

“I would like that very much, grandfather.”

The elder nodded. “As gods grow older, some of them grow content to let mortals fend for themselves. As the years go by, mortals tend to forget the gods and then stop believing that they were ever real. This is what happened many, many years ago, before the gods forgot themselves. I think that the God of the Mountain wants our people to know he has not forgotten them, and wants them to not forget him, as a promise that if he is needed he will be there for us. But as he grows older, he wishes to see what we can do for ourselves if we do not rely on him. So he allows us to lay eyes upon him, so that we never forget.”

The younger man nodded. Again, this made perfect sense to him. “Why are granddaughters not brought here by their grandmothers?”

The old man laughed heartily. The laughter continued for several seconds, which turned into a least one minute, perhaps more. The dreamtime made the exact duration unknowable.

“Because,” the elder said between laughs, “the God of the Mountain is a dirty old man like your grandfather, and we must protect our women from him, like your grandmother protects the girls of your age from me!”

This made the younger man laugh as well. Together, in the dreamtime, they laughed for what seemed hours.

“And because,” the elder finished when he’d calmed down, “women have their own goddess whom protects them, and they are taken to her in their own time.”

The grandson grinned widely and laughed a few more times. When they had both quieted, the grandfather became serious.

“Are you ready to journey up the mountain, son of my son?”

“Yes, grandfather.”

From a leather satchel, the old man pulled a small handful of cactus slices, and handed them to his grandson. The younger man recognized these as another of the sacred plants, one that was rumored to make the consumer see spirits that were not there.

“You must consume these,” the grandfather said earnestly. “They shall keep you in the dreamtime and permit you to gaze upon the God of the Mountain.”

“Grandfather,” the young man protested, “this plant plays tricks with your mind. Am I able to see the God of the Mountain only when under their influence?”

The old man frowned, and his voice became dark and terrible. “You disbelieve too quickly, boy. That is for your protection. Do you think your mind can handle the sight of a god without being in the dreamtime? Then go up the mountain without consuming them, and we shall see how you return.”

The tone of his grandfather shook the young man down to his toes, and he immediately took the sacred plant into his body. His grandfather point toward the mountain with his walking stick.

“Now you must follow the path up the mountain.” The elder handed his grandson a skin filled with water. “This should be enough for you, but do not waste it, for you are not permitted to carry any more than this.”

“Are you not coming with me, grandfather?”

“No, grandson,” the old man shook his head. “I have seen the God of the Mountain, and as you asked earlier, you may see him only once. I may not even step upon the mountain with you, as you are strong enough to find your way there without my aid. Follow the path and you will find the God of the Mountain.”

The young man nodded hesitantly, and placed the skin of water over his shoulder.

“I will be waiting for you when you return,” the elder said reassuringly.

His grandson took a hesitant step towards the mountain, and then another. Each step took him farther and farther from his grandfather, and soon, the sacred fire could no longer be felt, then seen, and finally smelt.

The path up the mountain not as treacherous as the grandson feared. It twisted around the mountain lazily, making the journey very long but quite safe. By the time he was one-quarter up its height, the sacred plant had begun seeping its way into his blood and he was fully within the dreamtime. It was therefore unknown to him how long the journey up the mountain took him, but when he arrived at the top, he had used one third of the water in his skin.

At the top, he had to climb up the face of the rock for several meters. This was exacting work, but many hands before him had climbed the face and it was not a dangerous climb. Or perhaps it was, and the sacred plant had kept him from recognizing it. For a moment, he regretted that he would not have the opportunity to climb this mountain again under other circumstances.

His climb took him to a hole in the side of the mountain near the summit, large enough for a man to crawl through. He saw no light through the hole, but he knew from his grandfather that the hole would be there and that he would need to use it. He pulled his way through on his elbows, until the tunnel widened enough for him to crawl on all fours, and finally for him to stand. When at last he stood, a voice called out to him.

“Come no further, young one.”

The voice was gravelly and deep, as though so low in the throat that the stomach itself must be making it. In the dreamtime, it sounded as though the very mountain itself had come to life, so loud and powerful the voice was even at what the young man supposed was a whisper.

“Are you the God of the Mountain?”

“I am he,” the voice responded. “You may sit where you currently stand. I am going to provide you a fire to give you light and warmth, and I do not wish to harm you if you are startled when it comes to be.”

The grandson nodded quickly, and folded his legs beneath him. Without warning, two fires sprang to life 3 meters to either side of him, in two identical pits.

The cave was larger than it looked, with enough room for as many as twenty men standing tall. A much larger hole, one that a giant could have used, was on the far side of the cave and the young man wished for a moment that he had been permitted to use it instead of the narrow one. The cave was bare of any other materials, save for the large nest in the middle where the God of the Mountain rested.

It lifted its enormous raptor head with seemingly monumental effort, its large eyes ancient and yet still curious. The beak just beneath them looked of sufficient size to cleave a man in two with the slightest flick of the neck. Behind that, its colossal cat-like body was curled comfortably within the nest, its massive wingspan folded perfectly along its side. Three long scars adorned the right side of its head, as though another god had clawed at it untold years into the past. The God of the Sea, the young wondered briefly?

There was something absolutely terrifying about the God of the Mountain that the grandson had no words for. He knew, on every level that told him he was alive, that he could be prey for the God of the Mountain before he was able to stand, and that it was out of sheer benevolence that he was not. Were he not in the dreamtime, he’d have been utterly paralyzed or mad with fear. He did not know which it would have been.

And yet, the God of the Mountain simply regarded him curiously, and patiently.

“Not what you anticipated, am I?” The God of the Mountain chuckled. “Most young men expect to find an even older version of their grandfather waiting for them at the other end of the tunnel.”

The young man nodded, for, he realized, that was exactly what he had expected. Perhaps it was his own preconception, or perhaps the “dirty old man” comparison his grandfather had used earlier.

The God of the Mountain slowly lowered its head back down. The grandson realized then that the god was old, and tired. This surprised him, and yet endeared the god to him, as one finds sympathy in an aging pet coming to rest upon one’s lap. The grandson decided that it would be most wise not to say this aloud.

“What is your name, grandson of your tribe?”

“Daniel Thunder-hawk.”

This seemed to give the ancient creature great pause. For many agonizing moments, made longer in the dreamtime, the God of the Mountain did not say anything.

“A good name,” it finally said softly.

“Thank you.” He did not know why he said this, only that it seemed right to do so. When the God of the Mountain said nothing else, and the long wait become unbearable, the grandson spoke again.

“Is something wrong?”

“No. It is merely that, I, in a fashion, am a thunder-hawk as well.”

The young man looked at the raptor-like form of the God of the Mountain, and his thunderous voice, and found no reason to dispute this. His own father had once said the God of the Mountain was responsible for both the thunder and the rain, and this seemed appropriate as well.

“It is intriguing that you are to be the one to be here now, of all times.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Your coming is an omen for me, Daniel Thunder-hawk.”

“I’m sorry. I mean no disrespect, but I don’t follow you.”

“The grandsons of your people have climbed my mountain for countless years, Daniel Thunder-hawk. So many passed that even I no longer bother keeping track of them. So many grandsons that I could not hope to hold all their faces dear to me. Your shamans have also visited me throughout my long stay here, seeking advice and wisdom. But the time for that has long past, I fear.”

“We will never turn from your advice or find it useless.” What else was he to say? The grandson did not know how to respond to a god that acted like the elders of his people when they got fussy.

“You misunderstand me, Daniel Thunder-hawk.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Please deliver a message to your grandfather when you climb down the mountain, that no more of your grandsons, or your shamans need journey up to me.”

A great, sinking feeling in the grandson’s heart was confirmed when the God of the Mountain spoke again.

“For you are the last grandson that will lay eyes upon me.”

“No…”

“All things have their time, Daniel Thunder-hawk, except those of us to whom time is their element, and few of those gods remain, for even time ceases to amuse them forever. My time is long passed. And it is overdue that I join my brethren in the life beyond.”

“But why now? Why me?”

“Do not think this to be your fault, for it is not.” The God of the Mountain paused then, turning its massive head. “Please approach me, Daniel Thunder-hawk.”

He rose, slowly at first but then quicker, and took a seat closer to the ancient being.

“I am tired, Daniel Thunder-hawk. I am older than your people, old enough to remember the old tongue as it was once spoken, though, in my youth, it was dying even then. I remember the old ways that your people have forgotten, before the tribes united and their ways became as one. I remember when the dreamtime was known by another name, one that has not been spoken by your people since the time of Earth-That-Was. I remember Earth-That-Was, Daniel Thunder-hawk. For me, it is not a story passed down by my grandfather, from his grandfather, and from his grandfather, and so on. I was there, and I was among the gods that led your people from the Earth-That-Was to the Earth-That-Is.”

The young man had nothing to say to this, and so only nodded.

“A very long time ago, and I am tired. I have not found the energy to hunt in several changes of the moon, and now you have come to me, so it is time.”

“No…you must be mistaken.” The grandson found the moment too much to bear, and began weeping openly. One giant wing suddenly flared out with a gust of wind, wrapping itself around him and pulling him gently toward the God of the Mountain until he rested against the fur-and-feathered body.

“When the gods were young, when we were remembering who we were, we used to wonder what it would be like to live as long as we thought we might. Many of my brethren have preceded me by centuries. Some of them tired of this life long before I, and some went into the next life protesting that it was unfair that they had to go so quickly. The lifetime for one such as I seems like it would take an eternity to use it, and yet here I am, at the end, and it seems to me like yesterday that I was speaking with…”

The God of the Mountain did not finish the thought, but instead chuckled deep within its body.

“Time is such a fickle mistress, and I should have expected no less of her. Here I am both mourning the end and also thankful that I will rest my head one final time. I have a favor to ask you, Daniel Thunder-hawk.”

“Anything. Anything you ask.”

“On top of the mountain grows a rare desert flower. Use the large passage behind me to reach the top. Please pick one of them, and light it on fire while on top of the mountain. Call out the name your grandfather gave the flames, and wait. I will have a gift for you when it is all over.”

“I will.” He stood up to leave, but the wing kept him pinned against the God of the Mountain.

“Not yet. No…not yet. I will let you know when. For now, tell me of your life.”

And the grandson did as he asked, relating to the God of the Mountain what he could of his fifteen and one years spent upon the Earth-That-Is. Stories of childhood games and friends, of hunting and hiding, of learning to craft weapons he would never use from his father. In the dreamtime, he was not certain of his accuracy, but the ancient being never stopped to him to ask questions. So long did the young man speak without reply from god that he was certain that it had passed on prematurely, but the rising and falling of the massive body against him told him otherwise. Perhaps he had bored the ancient creature into sleep. The great creature’s voice again told him otherwise.

“Thank you, Daniel Thunder-hawk. It is time now. Please go quickly, and do as I ask.”

The wing released him, and he raced up the passage, obviously the one the God of the Mountain must use, to the top of the mountain. Once there, he found several of the violet flowers that he realized he had never seen before. Briefly, he found himself unable to pick one from its roots, and eventually decided one that looked on the cusp of wilting. Taking his own fire-kit from a pouch on his belt, he set about the task of igniting the bloom. Once lit, he cried out into the night air.

“PETA OF WAKAN TANKA!!!!!!!!!”

Suddenly she was there, a female form completely enveloped in a raging inferno. He could not gaze fully upon her, so great was the light and the heat from her body. The flowers near her began to smolder, and he had to take a few steps back to avoid being singed himself.

“Is it time?” she asked in a voice more melodious than the God of the Mountain’s, but no less invasive of his thoughts.

“Yes! Yes!” he cried.

He swore he could hear her choke back a sob.

“I shall return momentarily.”

And just like that she was gone, cool desert air rushing in to fill the void where she once stood. Before he could get his bearings, they had all come.

The gods.

His mind, even protected by the dreamtime, was not prepared to see them all at once. Immediately, it began to betray him and shut down. Their faces and forms defied his mind’s attempts to capture them, glimpses of scale and limb and light and heat and everything he could not define. He reeled then fell to the ground at their feet, and finally curling up into a fetal position protectively. His hand covered his already shut eyes to prevent their light from penetrating the thin flesh.

“We shall only be a moment. Fear us not, and wait for our return.”

How long can a moment pass in dreamtime? He did not know. He did not wish to know. His mind was collapsing faster than he could retain it. He had no way of knowing what happened while they were in the cave of the God of the Mountain. Soon, the voices returned. They all spoke, but he did not know who addressed him. He could not bear to look at them.

“It is done.”

“He has moved to the world beyond.”

“It was the end he chose, and the time of his choosing. Do not mourn him. Celebrate him.”

He smelled blood. He was certain of it.

“Give hisss clawsss to your greatessst warriorssss. Thessse sssshall be passsssed on from generation to generation. Thissss isss hisss will.

He heard something being dropped hear him. They made clacking sounds as they hit the stone.

“Give his feathers to your shaman. These shall be passed from Shaman to Shaman. That is his will.”

That last voice had been sobbing, and he recognized it as that the Peta of Wakan Tanka.

“His tail is to be given to your Chieftain, and from Chieftain to Chieftain. That is his will.”

“Do you understand?”

“Yes, yes!!!!” he screamed.

“What you find within the cloth is for you, and for you alone. It is his gift to you, and you must consume it now. Do you understand? Even as we speak, the quantum within it failing.”

“Yes, yes!!!!” he screamed again.

“Give me your hand, Daniel Thunder-hawk.”

He forced one hand away from this face, using his other forearm to immediately shield his eyes. In his hand was placed an apple-sized object wrapped in a thin sheet. The sheet was slick and hot, the object soft and pulsing sickly.

“You must consume it, Daniel Thunder-hawk. NOW! You must if you are to honor him!”

He found he could not refuse the command. He clumsily freed the object from its cloth wrapping with one hand and bit hard into it. Immediately, his mind exploded into patterns and colors that completed the collapse of his thoughts.

When the storm in his mind vanished the light and heat from the gods were gone. With their passing, he fell unconscious.

When next he woke, the sun was rising and he had returned from the dreamtime. His head ached like no other time, even worse than when his elder brother had thrown a stone and smacked him in the temple. Before him was his satchel and his water skin. He did not see feathers, claws, discarded cloth, or a tail, and almost as soon as he noticed their absence he was beginning to forget they had ever been. Without picking his belongings up, he raced down the passage to find it empty. No trace of the God of the Mountain was to be found, not a single feather or hair. Even the large nest was gone without leaving so much as dust in its place.

He felt an immediate and crushing sense of loss, and fell instantly to the floor of the cave. His tears began flowing, and he felt no shame in crying. In feeling no shame, he found he was unable to stop and continued to sob. He found himself unable to stop, and crawled upon his hands and knees up the passage to the top of the mountain to retrieve his belongings.

After making his way back down the mountain, he found his grandfather waiting. Uncharacteristically impatient, the elder man walked quickly up to him.

“No man has ever remained on the mountain as long as you have, boy! By the gods themselves, are you well?”

“No grandfather,” he answered, still choking back sobs, “I am not. I do not think I shall ever be well again.” Even now, the memory of what happened on the mountain was failing him. He could not be certain if it happened at all or if it was merely a delusion of the sacred plant.

His grandfather began to speak, but the young man cut him off. He would deliver the message now, before it too was forgotten.

“The God of the Mountain has charged me to deliver you a message. Bring no further grandsons to the mountain. Tell the Shaman that he will find the cave within the mountain empty. The God of the Mountain has gone to the next world.”

The elder stood deathly still, several times attempting to speak and each time failing. The news of the god’s death was hard enough, but something else troubled him. Something was different about the young man, but it was beyond his vocabulary to say what. A great change was soon upon the boy, one that even the elder was at a loss to anticipate. Was it his imagination, the elder wondered, or was the boy walking in a fashion that was distinctly cat-like? Was he holding his head as a bird-of-prey might?

In the end, he merely nodded and placed his arm around his grandson and helped him begin the long walk home.

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