On the Way (Adjassou In’ama, Jin’Marou Shavai. WoW.)
He was beside her, her head still resting on his leg. At first it startled her, just the feeling of another presence here with her. A symphony of sound, low-key clatters and chimes sounded as she sat up, only to lean over the sleeping form of her companion, “Jin’Shavai.” She whispered low in Zandali, her voice amplified enough to sound as if she were just being quiet.
The spirit realm brought on transformations in her friend. They have different ways, and the pacts of Marou’s descendants bring flesh and soul together. Despite the ritual, body and spirit were bound until the Jin’s patron deemed his work complete, upon which they would be riven in a torrent of ash and lightning. Shavai’s red armor had become him in the transition. Blood and bone were strange here, but no less substantial. His body walked the land with her spirit.
The troll rose from her side and blinked those burning eyes, his wooden carapace groaning as he stretched out to survey the land. He looked over at her and spoke as he stood, form and voice shifting and warped by the other side.
“I know this place,” he rumbled. “Where are we going first?”
His ears twitched as he waited for the response. All around them, Sen’jin’s soul flickered and danced like a flame in those ethereal winds, and down below the twisted hut where they stood, the dead who had yet to pass loomed like old sheets in a storm, mingling with each other and watching the living in silence. The sky above was strange and shifting, with odd forms that were cloudlike from afar, but up close seemed to be teeming schools of souls from the world’s many and varied flying beasts.
For some, this was a place of waiting. For others, it was a final rest. Even still, this expansive haunt was home to things from beyond, neither living nor dead, but spectral life in its own right.
“Of course you know it, we come here in our meditations and our scrying, just not as fully. When I was a girl, I’d slip here accidently. Do not speak to the spirits. Do not show them recognition.” She spoke softly, bringing herself to her feet. The robes that adorned her here were obvious vestments of Agwe, the calm of the sea before the tumultuous storms of Shango. Her body remained in Sen’jin, with the living. Here, her spirit walked freely, moving with the same grace of the tides.
“We are going to see my mother.”
She gestured simply to the Isles, the outline of the ruins that had once stood were easily seen against the horizon. They seemed further away than she knew them to be, the journey to them would not be as easy here. Little care was given to the spirit passed by, fisherman still pulling up their catches from emerald waters. Fish that were nothing but bones covered in a multitude of coloured scales, the crawlers along the shore were about the only thing that looked unchanged.
When she reached the waters edge, she removed one of the conch shells from her hair to toss back into the sea. An offering in hopes of calling the ferryman who could afford them safe passage, should Agwe choose to accept the token.
“She has found patience here, finally. I thought she’d move on once Zarhuda joined her, but still she waits.”
Shavai nodded to his former student’s words. In the time of his waking, he’d begun to solidify. The spirit realm’s strangeness still held his form, but while the world around them shimmered intagibly, he’d become a constant element like Adjassou. A visitor in the local attire, but still obviously a tourist in the lands beyond.
The two shaman stood in wait as the offering was answered. A rickety catamaran came across the turbulent waters, rocking and creaking idly. Like an old painted whore, it was colored brightly in vivid reds, blues and stark white. Zandali skittered down the sides, though the letters were skewed to the point of being incomprehensible scrawl as they flanked a grizzled, eerie face at the prow of the ship. The boat itself was like one of the old, moldering tiki masks found throughout troll lands, and the oarsman bore his own as his boat crested up against the sands.
“You seek passage to the Isles,” he said. A statement, grumbled in a gritty, nasal tone. “The offering is accepted. Come aboard and stay seated, lest the sea devour you.”
Adjassou and Shavai bowed their heads and stepped onto the old boat. Eyes down, and not a word. The rower took up his oar from the water and heaved against the shore, pushing them out into the frothing water. He was tall, but bent horribly. An old man with white hair, his crown bald and face hidden behind the mask. Paunchy but still bearing a wiry frame beneath, his adornments were rich despite his sole garment; a ragged tiger fur kilt wrapped around his gangled legs. Gold rings and bands hung from his fingers, arms and ears, rattling with each heave of the oar through the sea.
The two remained wordless, taking in the strange sights around them. The Isles across the strait seemed to grow distant to their eyes the further they went from the mainland’s shore. They held onto each others’ shoulders and the edges of the boat as the waves became choppy, then torrential. Still the ferryman remained calm, steering effortlessly through the crashing waves. Somehow the boat remained afloat, thrashing and gliding over the mountainous whitecaps.
By the time Durotar’s spectral coast vanished at the horizon, the Echo Isles were still dark lumps of coal on the horizon. High above, like the Maelstrom itself, a storm churned over the island chain. Water was torn up and thrown around, lightning slashing through the bellies of fat, black clouds like a raptor’s claws. The rains came, and then the winds.
Shavai looked to Adjassou, the flickering lights in his mask’s sockets narrowing in the gale. She looked back and began to speak, but a blinding light left them both crying out. Gone in an instant as the storm worsened, it hid the fall of a patron’s spear. The ferryman staggered back from the pontoons of the boat in flames, struck by lightning from the ravenous hurricane overhead. He left only his smoldering mask and the oar itself, and the ship was beginning to take a beating from the crashing ocean.
“Adjassou,” he cried out, “we have to take to the seas! Grab my wrist!”
“Jin’Shavai, the ocean will break us!”
He shook his head rapidly and took her hand, waving the free one hastily to gesture for a calling. Just as bright blue glyphs wound about their ankles, another bolt of lightning tore down from above, parting the clouds themselves as it shrieked into the boat. The thunder was deafening against the rushing waves, and burning splinters of the old painted lady rained down from the sky behind them.
They tossed and tumbled through the waters, hurled and bashed against wave after wave until they found their footing. Like living hills, the trolls ran frantically up and over, jumping down one as their feet glided within the crest of the next. Like Soubo’s surfing but barefoot, it was a death-defying act to stay above the surface. Lightning tore into the water around them and steamed the ocean’s surface, mingling with the heavy mist of the angled downpour.
The sea knew, and the storm carried them. The islands grew closer, its torches and braziers bright points of orange through the heavy blue haze of the darkened torrent.
“It has never been as this.” Adjassou gasped when they reached the calm shore of the isle they knew to be the Baron’s. Her hand slipped from his when she turned to look back out across a now passive sea. The tides came anew with idle rhythym, the storm that had sought to see them under the waves, gone.
The isle itself was overgrown; thick, twisting vines growing like kudzu around the giant trunks of the palms. Low chitters of voices echoed around the dense jungle, adding eerie detail to the heavy humidity of the air. Bright blooms of exotic flowering blushes outlined the path to the temple that had once stood on this isle.
Through the trees, Adjassou could see shadows shifting, watchful spirit curious to the business of the living. The young shaman looked up to Troll who had trained her, her violet eyes fixed on the movements behind him, “…We have been brought to the wrong isle.”
She was not surprised, but puzzled over this realization. The seat of the Baron had always been previously avoided, he was never fond of visitors. Adjassou leaned forward to plant her hands in the fine sand of the shore and began to make her way forward on her hands and knees before her body shifted, taking on the form of the native Durotar Tigers she had spent her childhood immitating. Lowering her body, she stalked forward along the path outlined by the blooms, her ear perked up, attentive of her environment.
The chittering of voices along the shore faded when they entered the thick jungle; giving way to a cacophony of tribal drums, cackling laughter and the liquid clatter of gourds that had been filled with stones. The air had even lightened and the bold scent of tobacco assaulted their senses.
Shavai sniffed loudly at the air, the teak shell covering him that used to simply be a suit of armor groaning again with every movement. Like an ornamental lobster, he loped by her side as they went further inland toward the raucous jubilation. Everything was dead and still save for the celebration ahead, and the rustling of the undergrowth was just shy of grating.
When the two parted the last great fronds blocking their view, the sights ahead became clear. Shavai’s seething lights widened with amazement as Adjassou hung low by the thick roots ahead, her ears pinned back to take in what was unfolding.
“You see this as well, In’ama?”
“Yes, Jin,” his student growled, hackles raised to the vision.
Before them in a great clearing on the Baron’s isle were throngs; countless scores of the dead and the souls of those being ridden by midget avatars of Lord Saturday’s guise. The spirit of a party filled the two travelers, and so did the essence of dread itself. The party was a dark thing, in the sense of a gargoyle being fearsome to frighten away the likes of demons. The mortal shaman watched for a time, believing that they had gone unnoticed. The Papa Ghede knew of their presence, as did the spirits engrossed in the party. It was not a celebration, it was a ritual of warding. Adjassou’s ears came forward quickly and she pushed herself up with the realization. The facade of Shirvallah’s form disappearing from her as she stood beside the Jin.
The Baron’s gaze fixed upon them.
“The Worldmender and his guardian sea have come to join us, finally.” The old Troll cackled with laughter and silence fell over the spirits.
“Jin’marou Shavai needs no guardian. I am the Spiritwalker.” Her voice was flat in her need to speak, her words only riled the Loa even more, pushing him into a new fit of laughter.
“You do not need to individualize yourself, girl. You are no mender, no walker, no warrior. You have no title. You also didn’t come here to tell me what you are not. Speak your words so I will not longer have to desire your silence just to appreciate the living girl before me. When you wake I may mount him so that I may have you. My cock tells me you’re a fun one.” The spirits roared with amusement at Papa Ghede’s words and the spindly spirit of the Loa stalked over to the pair of Shaman, the threadbare fedora atop his head hiding his eyes. “Did you bring my rum?”
Shavai stepped between Adjassou and the Loa. The protector in him would have responded to the request with a fist. No matter how far she came in this life, he’d never grant her an escape from under his wing, despite the ache in hers to spread and course over the ocean’s winds.
Instead, the Jin’s shifting form reached to his sash. The sloshing gourds that hung there were like born fruits now, hanging not by ropes but vines growing from the red vestments that had become his skin in the spirit world. The Baron snatched the fruit and grunted, tearing it open with his teeth and emptying it into his gullet with crude, thirsty gulps.
Shavai plucked another, and it was handled in a similar fashion. Emptied dry, the Baron thumbed the brim of his hat up as he tossed the empty gourd over his shoulder. “That’s good. Holy. Remember that, boy. Big cock and hot lightning, maybe, but none sing so loud as I. Who do they come to, son, when you send them off with your borrowed storms?”
“You take them in, Baron.”
“I sort the dead. Some find paradise, the great mountain. Others stay with me. Others still, as Zalazane?”
The two shaman looked around as the Baron canted his head back and barked out a bone-chilling cackle. His voice went from that high and grating nasal pitch to a thunderous thing, booming out of his swelling ribs. “Such are the crossing roads, children. Sit the fuck down, and give me more rum. The warding will continue; they need only my final say and deed. I was waiting. The other two brought you over. Agwe was content to grant a smooth passage, but I think the boy’s patron had other plans. Such an impatient fucker, that one.”
The Baron lead them into the center of the clearing and grunted, mashing the butt of his cane into the bared earth. Those toiling spirits surrounding them gathered around in the circle and watched, even the avatars and their mounts. They bowed their heads as a low din began to coil around the island, hushed chants in Zandali that threatened to grow louder.
“I know what you two are looking for,” the Baron said, fighting back a patronizing laugh. “You dragged this one out of an early retirement, girl. Never leave a man to a woman’s work, though I haven’t seen his bride come through. He should take another. It’s tradition, though you people seem to have a callous disregard for it. I’d keep him here. He’s strong. He knows. So do you. His soul belongs to another, though, and that is a tantrum I have no desire to deal with today.”
Samedi raised his shriveled arms toward the sky and grinned, jewelry rattling as the din grew louder. “There is a taint, children. Beyond this island, it creeps like a cancer but it’s twice as deadly. A taint that is as old as We, but vile and not of this world. They call themselves gods, but we know better. You know better.”
The old man turned to face them, his gold-clad fingers reaching out to take up a hand from either shaman, nodding at their free grasps to complete the circle. “I want them. Your brothers and sisters especially. Even the ones that are ignorant of my boons and banes, send them. We will ward these islands from the other side as you two have done in flesh, but blood and bones will flow and rattle.”
Adjassou stood straight as she squeezed Shavai’s hand and that of the Baron’s, holding strong in the Loa’s presence even though he saw through into both of their souls. “Where do we go first, Baron? Where would you send us?”
The Baron’s gaze snapped to Adjassou and the timeless Troll let loose a raucous guffaw. “Nowhere. Your efforts will be futile when his patron works against you. Settle that. Don’t bring it to me. Once it’s done, if either of you still stand, you’ve seen where your battle will take place. You will not find Agwe there. You will not find Shango. You will find nothing there except what you carry. And you best not be bringing your baggage there. It will burn just as you will.”
Shango’s will had always shifted and been capricious, even amongst the Loa. Though Shavai was used to it and the tales of that waxing and waning benefit growing up and in practice, now was not the time for wavering influence. His grip tightened on their hands, burning eyes falling onto the Baron’s hat brim. “Do you know why he’s being this way, Baron?”
Shavai released the hand and plucked a third gourd from his belt then, leaving only one scattered amidst the bare vines. “Drink to your fill, Loa.”
“You came short. You know better, son.”
The Jin bowed his head in apology, but the two shaman remained fast in their gaze onto the ragged elegance of their present company. “Sometimes it’s a struggle to reason with him. He knows your blood, boy-Jin. Why not ask him yourself, why he wants his devoted son and daughter’s child dashed on the rocks.”
“With all respect, Baron, I don’t think the Loa is in a speaking mood.”
Samedi reached up with that gaunt arm and saw how hard he could backhand the Jin’s helmet from his head. “Dumbfuck. Don’t you think I know that? He never speaks. Not like I speak. You listen to the storm and hear his voice as you do in flesh. Why am I explaining this to you? Have you ever spent time with Shango? Real time? Mortals, I swear. Give me the last gourd and I will do the calling.”
Shavai rattled his head and did as the Loa asked, handing him the last gourd. Like a starved snake, the holy undertaker’s fangs bit into the fruit and drained it, then tossed it into the fire with the others. “You know my decree. Now go to the far stones and stand before the sea. This one favor, Jin’Marou. I have one cunt hair of respect for you and yours, and your rum is good. Once you sort things out with Shango, leave. Go forth, do my task, and if you find time, do something about those fool Zandalar and their thralls.”
There was a clatter of shells as Adjassou’s hand fell away from the Loa and the Jin, dropping down to her haunches again. Her body shifted through the forms she had learned easily in the spirit realm, there was freedom here that the physical world did not offer. Once again covered in the vibrantly coloured fur of Shirvallah’s creatures, she prowled to to the jetty. There was no need for words, the Baron’s message left her mind in far too much of a tangle to speak just yet. The din of the ceremony died down, fading into the distance as they approached the shore. Adjassou stood, ridding herself of the form once she felt the cool salt water brought forth by the tides. It was not Agwe they needed, however.
And it was not Agwe who would greet them. Thick grey clouds tainted the sky an pukish green tone, internally sparking bits of light from the energies that raged within them. She looked over to Shavai, her violet eyes wide not from fear, but concern.
The Jin knew this portent. When a direct audience was called for, this was his patron’s manifestation. He looked to Adjassou, and then the swirling maelstrom overhead. It brought no rain, but only a howling gale and bolts of lightning threading through the sky. The low clouds parted, revealing a writhing mass of white hot electricity. Mingling into a single bolt, it tore through the air and shrieked into the stone, knocking them both back toward the shore.
As the shaman pulled themselves up, they saw through the rising smoke that the stone had been turned to glass. At the end of the jetty stood Shango, towering over them. His skin was blood red, hair a mad fray of jutting crests and ragged braids held together with gold bands. It and his eyes were white as the lightning.
Nothing covered the Loa save for gilded greaves and bracers, gold like the bands. He crossed his arms and stared at them, lip curled in anger around his sprawling tusks. Another string of those searing bolts crashed down into the whipping waves behind him, and in the cacophony of lashing water and thunder, a voice rang out around them.
“Hello, Shavai. It’s been a time.”
He knew in the lightning and the voice that the Loa was displeased. The Jin stood and stepped before the Loa, outstretching his arms and bowing at the waist. “Holy Shango, lord of storms. The fire of Marou blood… I have heard your protest, and I wish to make amends.”
Shango’s body snorted, and the storm above and behind rumbled ominously with his thunder. Another series of strikes brought his voice out again. “You gave me offerings, but the deed has gone undone. The true test of faith, even those practices that you undertake personally. What of war in my name? What of those metal creations, what are given life my by spark? You were once philosophical, Shavai. And now?”
The winds calmed, and so did the storm. Shango’s sparking eyes drifted from his follower to Adjassou, looking her over.
“Her mother was faithful, why isn’t she? And of your children? Your wife is wayward, and you would have your unbaptized young suckle from the breast of Agwe’s own. Your children, Shavai. The bloodline that was sworn to me by Marou, for my lightning to crush the recalcitrant Qiraji. When will I mark them?”
Shavai unbowed and looked up to his patron, shaking his head. Their eyes matched and locked. “I have not lost faith, lord. I’ve had to raise my children on my own. I stand before you in His armor though, and I’m ready to resume my vigil. They’re still young. Too young to survive.”
Lightning flared behind the Loa then, and his voice rang out.
“I will not kill them, but I will look upon them and decide who will be chosen. Will the Jin’Marou become your son or your daughter, or both? This generation will take up steel and fight as a warrior would, that I wish.”
Staring blankly, the Jin watched as Shango’s feet plodded along the stones and brought his manifestation before Adjassou. She was deathly still as his great red hand reached out and wrapped around her jaw, turning her head this way and that, appraising body and soul.
“Agwe and I couple. You find it in the monsoons and typhoons. When we lie together, the storms are unstoppable. There is death, but there is life. Life that flourishes, where my seed falls and her essence spills. The lands are cleansed.”
Shavai watched this unfold, fists clenching through his words. “Holy Shango, there is no time for riddles. What is it you wish?”
“Jin’Marou, if you want my favor again,” the Loa rumbled, lightning and thunder destroying the air around them, “then resume the tasks I was promised in my name. Resume your vigil, your holy war, and your thoughtfulness. Take me into your life again, for what you have done is little more than slander. As for her…”
Shango released her jaw and nodded sagely, his great form moving back to the jetty’s end. “Bring the fury of storm and sea with you. Bring it into your life, and bring me your children. Raise and stir her waves with your wind, and then part them with your lightning. Let the tide and the lightning and gale undo this impure cult in my name. She may devote the deed to her patron, but this is what I demand. Do you swear this Shavai?”
The Loa’s rambling demand was hellish. Each utterance brought thunder and lightning around them, despite the great spirit’s calm tone. The Jin bowed as he did before. “This I vow, Blessed Shango.”
“Fail me and be stricken from my favor. Honor me, and thrive.”
The winds hammered against them, both Shavai and Adjassou grunting and shielding their faces from the storm. The rain fell near-sideways, and lightning flickered around them and through the sky, dancing over Shango’s form as he rose into the air toward his hurricane chariot.
“Wake and carry out my tasks. Our tasks.”