World of Mana > My Nation Underground
My Nation Underground
Both are masked.
One bears the image of a raven, violet and black, sable-feathered, cloaked in dark robes. His body is adorned with jewellery that makes soft sounds as he moves.
One bears the image of a golden-and-white eagle. He wears gleaming lorica segmentata, and a white half-cape. Sheathed at his waist is a simple but very effective sword.
The raven lifts a hand. Points.
"Is it you," he says, "or your followers, who dub me 'leveller of all things'? Is it you, brother, or your priests? Did you tell them that I have no heart? Did you tell them that I seek only annihilation? Did you tell them, my brother, that I am one incapable of love, or was that a hypothesis forged by they and they alone?"
The eagle shakes his head. "I told them aught - their fear of you is not something I cultivate."
"Then who is it that stokes the coals of their hatred and fuels the blaze of terror rising in their breasts ere anyone so much as speaks my name?"
"Truly? or do you do these things, and know not of them? You cannot lie, brother, but you can know a truth that is not whole."
"I tell you, this is not my doing. That they fear you so is the result of their having listened to those charlatan preachers from afar."
"Why do you not tell them," demands the raven, "that these false prophets are just that?"
"I do." The eagle hangs his head. "They do not listen."
"Then speak again, my brother. Sing to them until they hear it."
"You know I cannot enforce my will upon them; I am no beguiler."
"They will heed you. Speak unto their hearts and they will heed!"
The room is beneath the house of a priestess and her husband. One wall is adorned with a mosaic, violet and black and indigo. The tiles came at cost, but that matters nothing to the celebrants. Nor does the price of olibanum, vetiver and myrrh matter. These are but material matters. Money will come and go; money can be earned again.
The rewards of sacrifice, however, are of considerable merit. Gold is only gold.
Matters of the soul are far more important than terrestrial metal.
The raven gestures sharply, sending the smoke from the nearby thurible swooping off in wild arabesques to die outside the circle of candle-light.
"Or do you find this humorous?" he snaps. "Do you believe this is something I have earned, somehow? Are you angry, my brother, because I sought her company, and you have become jealous?"
"You have become unkind in turn."
"We have both changed."
"You were not unkind before."
"And you were not so grasping!"
Beyond the candlelight a circle of celebrants sits. Crossed-legged, hands in laps, watching in rapt anticipation of what will come.
It comes: the raven snatches at his brother's cloak, pulling the shorter man closer. The eagle yelps in alarm and seizes the raven's wrist, attempting to pry his fingers loose.
"You speak of grasping - have you gone mad, my brother?"
"If I am mad, then you are mad as well! Do you believe that closing your eyes to this will make it stop? They will revile me ever after if you do not speak! Is that what you desire?"
The sword is never drawn; they fight hand to hand, grappling with one another, digging bare toes into the stone floor, fighting for the upper hand while trying to maintain position and balance. The raven yanks viciously at his brother's cloak and it tears free from his shoulders; it snags on his armour and is nearly rent in two. The eagle retaliates and his brother's fine violet robes sustain equally-nasty tears. There is no elegance to this - it really is an out-and-out brawl. For a time, they are equally matched. Neither can gain ground over the other.
it is the raven who breaks the stalemate, dropping to a crouch and lunging at his brother. He tackles the eagle outright. They land hard on the floor, eagle sprawled beneath raven.
"What will you now, brother?" says the raven.
"Are you never silent?" The eagle responds by seizing his brother's hair and pulling until they are nose-to-nose. "You talk overmuch."
"As do you."
"You are far more loquacious than I - "
"Then silence me."
This is not a literal retelling of what came to pass so long ago, of course - but it is far from meaningless. This is a symbol of the truth of the world - of the world of balance, the union of opposites. Light and dark, truth and illusion, visible and hidden.
The brothers in reality are indeed like this. This is an allegorical echo of their deep love and deep frustration. This latter is not born of their own hearts; the world is changing. There are indeed prophets from afar wandering nearer and nearer now, bringing with them to Krace distorted views and false broken images.
They say that the Lord of the Dead has no heart.
They say he cannot love.
They say he feels nothing, nothing at all.
They are sadly and terribly mistaken.
If their god had no compassion, then they would fear death. They do not.
If he had no heart, he would not grace them with his presence.
The candle flames burn brilliant violet as if responding to all the celebrants' euphoria.
The moment passes. Bliss gives way to reality for the gathered celebrants.
It takes the eagle a moment to remember he has a tongue.
"Are you satisfied?"
The raven makes an indistinct noise, chortles, and says, "If only you could approach this level of enthusiasm in dealing with your priests. My brother, I am the indolent one, so what do you now? What is this flight from unpleasant things? You have become like me, more than you care to admit."
"And you like me. You are not so indolent as you say. You have never shirked your duty."
"Who will do it, if not I?"
The violet hue leaves the flames as silently as it had come, but the scent of dark earth and cool water hangs heavily in the air, still.
The god has been here and is pleased.
"You are the only one who can," says the eagle. "I would not be able to endure."
"Nor could I endure as you do."
"So then we have understood one another?"
"Perhaps. More than before, at least. We have this."
The priestess rises, her high quiet voice distinct in the stillness. "Here and now, we bear witness to this. This is our desire and the desire of our god. Here do we sing of their union, and their union with their sister. Three they are and ever will be. Without earth or sun, the seed cannot grow; without the tree the earth will scorch. They the first-born Three are One in ways that we with our brief lives and dim vision cannot comprehend. But this does not mean we should not endeavour."
"We are called to learn, we are commanded to know," says the priest to her left. "So we seek knowledge."
On her right, another priest speaks. "We are called to endeavour, we are commanded to will. So we focus the light of our desires."
Another priestess stands. "We are called to have courage. We are commanded to risk. So do we dare to tread where others fear."
The eagle speaks. "We are called to keep our own council and not be proud, we are commanded to walk in silence. So do we remain humble and avoid vainglory."
And finally, the raven speaks. "We are called to share our wisdom with the seekers, we are commanded to be teachers to those who yearn for knowledge. So do we share our wisdom, that all might receive understanding."
"Here and now, we bear witness to hope." The priestess sings. "We are as the seed of the tree, cradled in the dark of earth and beckoned by the warmth of the sun. Without roots a tree cannot stand, but should it not put forth leaves it cannot grow. The Three are One. We bear witness to this truth, and share it with those seekers who desire the truth."
She bows to the altar, upon which offerings rest. A carved wooden comb, snapped in two. A beautiful mirror, shattered. A necklace, its cord broken, its beads strewn across the altar. A jug of wine, its contents spilled across the black stone and onto the floor.
This is the sacrifice, as their god demands. A sacrifice of another's work has no meaning; the work of the celebrants' own hands is what makes these offerings so sacred and so dear.
The priestess continues to sing.
"At your will do we go from this world, O End of Ends; to your river we go at the cessation of our lives, and you guide us across. Beyond the river, what is it that we might find? We cannot know - that wisdom is yours alone. Far, far beyond to the other shore we go at the end of our time. You wait for us upon the other shore. Enfold us in your wings, and reveal to us the eyes of our hearts. Make us unafraid of our darkness; bring death to all our fears. Let us see what is invisible. And at the end of our time, O Thanatos, bear us across your river."
All that remains intact after this ceremony are the masks - raven and eagle. The beautiful robes worn by the two young priests are in tatters - another sacrifice, and one willingly given. The celebrants depart into the cool of the evening, and the two young men whose actions were central to the mystery leave arm in arm.
The priestess remains to attend to the ritual chamber as her husband sees the guests away. All the sacrificed finery will be burnt, and the ash mixed into the earth of their garden to nourish next year's seeds.
She carefully wraps everything in the tattered violet robe of the raven celebrant, then stills at the sense of someone else in this place with her.
Everything is silent. Still.
Then, a soft sound - a sigh.
The touch of a feather on her cheek.
She closes her eyes.
"You are here, as ever you are. Thank you for blessing us with your presence."
For a moment the candles burn violet once again. Darkness falls across her vision, as if between her eyes and the light were a great dark wing…
Then the spell passes, and the priestess smiles. Arms full of torn fabric, she climbs the stairs. Tomorrow, she will spread the ash in the garden, and they will harvest the grapes in the vineyard. A measure of the wine will, of course, be given to Thanatos.
Without him, flowers would not die and become fruit. Leaves would not die and become earth.
Without him, fear would not die and become courage. Ignorance would not die and become understanding.
Flames consume the sacrifices. They die, and become ash, which becomes a bed for the seed.
The Three are One. Thanatos. Chrystalis. Tahran.
This is what is True. And no wandering, frightened false prophet can change that.
Their love for Thanatos will not be shaken. It is as close as anything can be to undying.