Part Three. (<Part One)
“We cannot let this information return to the Plainkind people. It could ruin their civilization, or, as it has in the past, ruin both theirs and ours. That it is a Plainkind girl, Marisa, who knows of it only makes our deliberation more difficult.”
The light-haired Shriken, Sikt, crossed his arms. He sat at a circular stone table. There was room for five but at the moment there were only two others, Jolanin and Ettin.
Jolanin nodded, “But what can we do? Perhaps we can swear her to secrecy and send her back.”
The dark-haired man, Ettin, shook his head, “we cannot logically trust her. Not only is she a Plainkind, and therefore immature, but she is young even by the standards of Plainkind people. Can we truly trust someone who is so comparatively infantile?”
“Further,” Sikt added, “you do not know the girl, or how trustworthy she may be despite what Ettin has said. You have spoken for mere minutes.”
“Fair. We cannot consider her trustworthy,” Jolanin said. She searched for an alternative, “do we have a way of removing the memory of the Plainkind-Shriken lifecycle?”
Ettin looked at her skeptically, “If you knew which part of her mind it was stored, perhaps we could deliberately damage it, but that seems to me to be…”
“Unhelpful and unreliable,” Jolanin agreed.
“And unnecessarily destructive. Barbaric even. Perhaps,” Ettin continued, “the most reliable thing to do is to take her life.”
“Surely we would not!” Jolanin said.
“I agree that we should not,” Sikt said, “however what Ettin said of its reliability is certainly true.”
Jolanin’s first thought was to plea for the girl’s life, but she thought better. That Sikt had not already agreed with Ettin’s proposal implied that he may have another idea. She turned her eyes to Sikt’s with this intent.
“… However,” Sikt continued, breaking their gaze, “it would be just as reliable simply to not allow her to return home.”
Jolanin said, “and imprison her here, with the Shriken?”
“Is it worse than death?” Sikt said.
“Keeping a person alive requires a lot of resources,” Ettin said, “and she will not even be a full Shriken for possibly a century. That the girl will be a burden to someone for decades. I am unsure if a Plainkind is developed enough to contribute most Shriken occupations.”
Jolanin figured that, as the one who found the girl, she would likely have to volunteer to care for Marisa, but she did not say anything.
After a silence, Sikt said, “I will bring the issue and what we have discussed to the other two. The five of us will meet again in one day.”
In the morning of the next day, Yaska and Jan left the Plainkind village together. Yaska headed north to continue her search for Marisa, and Jan headed east to cover Yaska’s hunting duties.
Marisa lay on the bed of the room. She was accustomed to sleeping skins over the sandy ground, so a bed was a good improvement. She thought about her dream, of meeting Death. Was that an omen, then, that she was going to die? Even in the dream, Death herself hadn’t been sure.
Jolanin announced herself then entered. Marisa didn’t like the expression of frustration that the Shriken wore.
“What is it?” Marisa stood, “don’t tell me my dream was right! I’m going to be killed after all, aren’t I!”
Jolanin, no longer concerned with how to approach the topic, said, ” We have, as of now, not yet decided. Either it will be as you said, or you will be confined from returning to the Plainkind and remain here. As one of us, in a certain sense. We are unsure as to how you would be able to contribute.”
“So what, I’ll never be able to go home? And I’ll be stuck here as some sort of pet or something?”
“Perhaps you have a better solution?”
“I- I just won’t tell anyone what I learned!”
“The Shriken will not trust you.”
“I…” Marisa fell back onto the bed and hung her face in her hands. Then, suddenly, she looked up, “So you haven’t even decided!”
“No,” Jolanin said, a little confused, “the entire council will be meeting later today.”
“Neither Death nor you have any idea what’s going to happen to me,” she said, frustrated, “What’s the big deal with the life cycle anyway?”
Jolanin didn’t know what to make of her mention of the Servant of Death, but she did know how to answer the question about the cycle. She brought the desk chair closer to the bed and sat.
“I will explain to you why the life cycle of the Plainkind to Shriken is so important. There was a time millennia ago when the Shriken were quite advanced. More advanced than the Solune in the east, or the Djeb in the west. I could go into detail of the mythological reasons why, but I think it is enough to say that we were enabled in part by the Servant of Birth. Then his favour left us and the civilization fell, like a table whose fourth leg suddenly breaks or disappears.
“During that time, we had a two tiered society. The Plainkind were an integrated part of the Shriken civilization. Without the Servant of Birth, the civilization became too complex to maintain and it collapesed. The Shriken of the time sought to preserve what was left. We archived the knowledge here in the mountains.”
“Great,” Marisa said, “but seriously, what does this have to do with anything?”
“The Plainkind do not know, but at the age of one-hundred-and-twenty, they begin to change into a Shriken, to become a pre-Shriken. Their skin grows many layers and they are caught in primal mental state as their rational mind recedes inwards. They become fearsome, and wild. After years in this state, the Shriken hatches, stronger, and winged. Then, we live to three-hundred and promptly die.”
“Wait,” Marisa stood up, “the Plainkind can live that long? I thought ninety was old, that’s a whole thirty years more! And then after, what, you get almost two more lifespans?”
“And now comes the reason it is kept a secret. There have been a few times that Plainkind people have learned of their potential extended mortality. Generally what happens is that they become selfish, and single-mindedly focus on keeping themselves alive. They orient their lives towards becomig Shriken, even at the expense of the people around them. They become tyrannical in order to amass resources in order to sustain themselves.
“Shriken records state that once, an entire village collaborated to this end. They gave up having offspring in order to have less mouths to feed, less resources to gather. An entire generation hit the transitory period in a short time frame. Then, they became pre-Shriken, and roamed the deserts wildly terrorizing other villages, consuming prey, and in some cases killing each other. We had to come down and protect the Plainkind by driving them into the treacherous sands of the west.
“The long-term effects of that were more subtle but quite nearly as disruptive. For us, a large amount of these self-minded Shriken entered our civilization. For the Plainkind, an entire village exited the ecosystem of the desert.
“It is for reasons such as these that the Plainkind cannot know that they might become Shriken. The lifecycle must remain a secret from them.”
Marisa stared, wide-eyed. The room was silent for a long period of time as the girl’s mind delved into thought.
“So,” she began, “normally the Plainkind that become Shriken do it accidentally, by living long enough.”
“When they begin to change, they naturally urge to wander into the desert away from people to ‘die.’ Generally one of us will notice and move them to the west where their wild nature is of less consiquence.”
“And what, with all this knowledge that you saved from back when you were all advanced, have the Shriken been, I don’t know, trying to rebuild the old system? So then you won’t have to worry about all these secrets?”
Jolanin was taken aback, “rebuild the ancient civilization? Without Birth?”
Marisa shrugged, “you said that the Servant of Birth was only one of the, uh, four legs, right? If you could build most of it on your own, why can’t you figure out what Birth contributed and just work towards that yourself?”
“It is an interesting idea, but I do not believe it possible,” Jolanin stood, “I have to meet with the rest of the council. When I return, you will know what will become of you.”
Marisa watched Jolanin exit the room. She lay back on the bed and tried to sleep. She hoped that if she napped she might see the Servant of Death again. Anything was better than sitting around worrying.
Outside, Jolanin headed back towards to room with the round table. She considered Marisa’s proposition, but figured it impossible. Instead, she focused her mind on the meeting that was coming.
Yaska had searched both the mountain in which she found Marisa’s sword, and the foot of the mountain to its right. She was now sitting at the mouth of the cave where she started, finishing a lunch.
She stood and turned her eyes to the mountain on the left. It was the last place she could think to look, unless some creature had simply consumed Marisa whole. As she walked, Yaska considered this. She was probably capable of slaying all the beasts in the desert if she needed to, but if Marisa had been eaten, doing so wouldn’t change much. So instead, she headed toward the mountain.
Marisa awoke to Jolanin’s voice, and then the sound of the stone door opening. She had successfully fallen asleep, but had dreamt nothing. She sat up, got out of bed, then looked at Jolanin. The Shriken’s face was expressionless.
“There was an external issue, thus the council felt itself forced to this decision. You are to be killed.”
And next time is when things get really weird. And I conclude. Also, if anyone’s interested in learning more about the Shriken, perhaps even if they aren’t, I think I’ll release a piece with a bit more detail on their history. Though probably not on the nature of their civilization.
I think this chapter may have gotten a little tangental. I’ll look at that, should I re-draft it.