Book II Chapter 7: Secrets of the Old Marsh
Bastion rode upon the head of the great god-bear, his tone pleading.
"...do we have to? Right now? ...It's selfish of me, Sasha, but I want to spend more time with you. Just you. You know what Dilndrou is like..."
The bear stopped for a moment, standing in the shallow waters and letting his eyes adjust to the fading light. His tone was gruff.
"Is time for leisure, and time for business. We do not see to this matter, and may not be time for anything anymore. Have you forgotten after so long? Unpleasant work is necessary to earn honey."
Bast sighed, flumping down on Sasha's back and gently playing with the fur around his ears.
"Yah, and Dil's a massive wasp..."
Sasha's brow furrowed in confusion.
"Eh? Is not wasp." What a strange thing to say!
Bastion groaned. Sasha sighed softly in exchange, as if less than thrilled himself-- then waded deeper into the mud, blinking as the canopy above began to block out almost all light.
"We stay no longer than necessary. You must remember teachings if you will stay with me, Honey-hair. Things have not changed."
Bastion sighed, but didn't argue any longer, resigning to burying himself in the bear's fur.
Sasha climbed out of the murky water, sitting down on a patch of soft mud and pressing one paw in before bellowing into the dark, his rumbling voice echoing off of the thick trees and sending countless birds shooting off into the sky in terror.
"DILNDROU. STOP WITH YOUR FAFFING ABOUT AND COME UP!"
He waited patiently then, eyeing the water as it began to bubble and slosh a bit, softly at first and growing in intensity as the moments passed. Great wafts of swamp gas spewed into the air as the muddy soup churned, a deep rumble seeming to shake the very core of the earth as a massive, dark shape rose from the depths like a mountain of mud and waterlogged vegetation.
The shape towered before them, dripping with goo, before collapsing suddenly into the water with a splash as it flattened out, two watery blue eyes glowering out of the gunk.
The enormous alligator hissed softly, eyeing the pair with mild disdain.
"What is it, Sasha? I was studying the uses of leech ichor in medicine. This had better be worth my time..."
Bast wrinkled his nose as the great alligator displaced the muck of the swamp, sending up foul-smelling fumes as he settled down again. He kept his mouth shut, not wishing to draw Dil's attention before he had to.
Unfortunately, Dilndrou was already looking him over with great interest, almost as if he was reading something scrawled over Bast's skin.
He opened his jaws just a bit, his eyes darting over the tiny elf.
"Not in mood today, Dilndrou. Honey-hair is here--"
"I see that," Dilndrou drawled.
"Lovely to see you again, Bastion, by the by. Do you know anything about this energy you seem to be teeming with all of a sudden? It's been quite a subject of curiosity for me as of late..."
"It is about that. Yours is responsible, he says. It is a stone." Sasha frowned.
"My what? Come now, you can do better than-- a... a stone?"
The old gator's eyes went wide.
"Surely, you can't mean..."
Bastion looked a bit defensive, sitting up on Sasha's head and glaring at the beast.
"Nef made something - you know how he is."
The creature sat bolt upright, rolling onto his side and leaning against a tree in a bizarre, unnatural mockery of a human gesture.
The threat was gone from him at once, replaced with a sense of overwhelming curiosity, his eyes glittering with a hunger that had little to do with his great maw.
"Oh, quite-- all too well. But no, this is terribly significant. The last thing I taught him to create before you all vanished... do you recall what it was?"
"We didn't vanish... and no, I don't. Do you even know how long it's been?"
"It has been a long time, I am aware of that much," The alligator-god admitted.
"The seasons have cycled many, many times since our last meeting. The seasons have gone, my children have gone...."
He fell silent for a moment, brooding and glancing downward at the water, the nagging questions temporarily quieted by sudden melancholy.
Bastion seemed genuinely curious now, leaning down to look at Sasha.
"Do you know?"
But the bear shook his head slowly. "We do not pay so much attention to passing of time. It is... trivial."
"Yes, well," Dilndrou interrupted, "It is a device we alchemists refer to as a Philosopher's Stone. They are alchemical crystals that purify and alter substances they are exposed to, allowing transformations into greater things."
He leaned forward, eyes locked upon the tiny elf before him.
"Tell me, Bastion... did Nefirian ever create his Stone?"
"Oh, right. No, no, he didn't - he tried to, and it didn't work, but he... I think he realised he could do something else with it, or something."
Dilndrou raised a scaly brow.
"That's how he ended up with the Mirajin - I don't think he quite meant for that to happen either, but that's what happened."
"So this... this Mirajin is the result of his attempt at a Philosopher's Stone?" Dilndrou looked slightly wounded, drawing his tail in a bit.
"That bastard. He stumbled upon something new, and he couldn't even be troubled to come back and show ME, after all I'd taught him? And I thought he was different from the accursed silisks!"
His voice faltered a bit; the beast sounded suspiciously as though it was ready to cry.
Bast flattened his ears at the gator's remark, unintentionally tugging on Sasha's fur.
"Probably because he thought you'd take it from him!"
Dilndrou scoffed, reigning himself in a bit after a moment of distress. "I'd do no such thing, and he knows it! He was my pupil, not my slave. I would love to have a look at it, and perhaps learn about it, but... a man's work is his own, though we all might learn and become the better from it. That aside, though... this energy has become as much a part of you as the bones in your body, and it's very much the same energy I have caught scent of drifting from distant shores."
Bastion sniffed. "Well, he obviously thought differently."
"You're being evasive," Dilndrou said icily.
"Why has it affected you in this way? What of the others?"
"It... hasn't affected me much at all. Not compared to Nef and Kelan."
"I do not know by what you are comparing, but it has done more to you than you think; that much, I can taste on you."
Bastion looked mildly uncomfortable.
"I've never felt any different... It's obvious in the others."
"What has it done to them?" The alligator asked softly.
"Nef can... he can control dream magic. Or he could, until that dream beast kicked him out of it - the one Sasha sent away. Kelan can feel life forces... I think, like it's all mapped out, when we're dying... he can feel it. I think."
"That stone did this? Fascinating. Mm... and yet, I imagine your tribe was not terribly amused with such a thing. It's why you all left, isn't it? Your people were not nearly as superstitious and wary as the Anshe are today, but... less would've been cause for hysteria with them, I'm certain."
He snorted softly, looking down to play with Sasha's fur again.
Dilndrou's voice softened."What happened, Bastion?"
"We left... before Nef could control the stone, it hurt them. Did horrible things... and once Nef did get it under control, it was too late."
He was very quiet now, wishing he could disappear into the great bear's fur.
Sasha rumbled softly, his ears twitching a bit against Bast's hands; he had heard more than enough now.
"I told you, Dilndrou. I told you was too much for them to handle. What now? You are responsible for this."
"Don't you DARE say such a thing, Sasha!" Dilndrou howled, slamming his tail into the pools with a loud splash, deeply wounded by the suggestion.
"Alchemy is an essential way of the world! I did what I had to do, just like the rest of us have. You know more than anyone that I'd never knowingly doom my own people! This Mirajin... it changes everything!"
" We didn't mean to!" Bastion cried. "It was an accident, and... and I think Kelan blamed Nef for it. For getting us all involved."
Dilndrou's breath rattled in his throat. "He could not have known what had happened. Surely, he believed it was merely a failed Stone until it was too late... what could you, any of you, have done? Though, that is in the past. The real question is what we can do now. He must return to me-- we must speak!"
"I know... when I go back, I'll tell him. I don't think he expected me to see you while I was gone."
Dilndrou nodded. "After this long, a waiting bit longer can't possibly hurt-- and I'm certain you'd like to catch up with Sasha in the comfort of his grove, wouldn't you? I have much to study into, now... this energy, the village's ruins... mm."
The alligator clicked his tongue, suddenly turning to lower himself back into the deep muck of the bog again, his voice bubbling up as he descended.
"The leeches can wait, after all..."
Sasha rose once more, his expression stern. "... he should have never involved you mortals."
"He couldn't keep Nef away from his work, Sasha."
"Playing with the elements, invoking powers that gods only truly comprehend. It is dangerous, and he knows it. He has always known, and yet risked everything he had to spread it. Was his responsibility to prevent trouble, Honey-hair. Will be his responsibility to fix it."
The bear shook his head with a low grumble.
"...I hope he won't do anything rash. Nef never meant any harm."
" Dilndrou is not the sort to harm his children. But I do not know what comes next."
"...What about Aqk? I know she's still in contact with Kelan.... I'd want her around to help."
Or rather, to stop the inevitable fighting before it has a chance to start...
"There will be no fight in my grove. I tell Vagary leave, I tell gods themselves leave if they disrupt my forest... and I do not know what Aqk is up to now. I have not seen her for long time."
Bastion sighed, looking away. He didn't know what else there was to say.
Sasha rumbled. "Do not look so glum. You will always have home here, Honey-hair."
"Thank you, Sasha ...It's been a long time since I last paid my respects. May I do so now?"
The bear-god nodded firmly with a little grunt. He had hoped his Speaker would do so again-- it had been far too long.
Lifting his head and shaking for a moment, he made his way off into the trees once more.
"The Anshe that are left all serve others. We make do here now, but it is sparse living, moreso when they try to attack us.
We have no Anshe servants now... but they will never defeat our Den."
Next Chapter: Book II Chapter VIII
Category: Book II | Story