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Old December 29 2009, 08:48 PM   #19
Nerys Ghemor
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Location: Cardăsa Terăm--Nerys Ghemor
Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

OK, got the next section finished! What I thought was going to be 1 part is now split into 2 parts, so overall you'll be seeing 2 more parts after this one before this story is complete.

A young (alternate) Skrain Dukat has a lot to learn, in some very unusual circumstances. Some of these lessons are not what he expects.

(And let's see if you guys see the beginning of certain lessons that will widen the separation between Skrain and his canon counterpart...)

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Part III
Silence

The irony of it was, in that first instant as Dukat processed the ruling of the Kurabda Guide Rulaahan, he had no idea what to say. Thank Oralius, no further physical ordeal was to be placed upon him, following his harrowing exodus—but this…in its own way, it was just as unfathomable. Memory and voice: these were the gifts upon which his future as prosecuting nestor—at least, this future he’d envisioned for himself just yesterday—were based. To give up speech for any significant time…especially this indefinite period…he could barely imagine it. Even with his best efforts, could he actually uphold such an oath?

And there were the practical concerns, too. Gharumef and Rulaahan had also promised that he would learn the ways of their tribe that would help him, someday, to fight the Bajoran invaders. It had all happened far too swiftly, too definitively—and as much as he hoped and prayed that Cardassia would quickly shake off the invasion, he feared it wouldn’t be so easy. But how could he learn if he could not speak, could not ask questions?

“This will be very difficult,” Dukat admitted. “I’ve never done anything like it. I mean, I’ve had to learn a lot about meditations and disciplines—how to pray…I’ve had to learn how to live with an imbalance, and getting an implant is only the start of that, not the end. But something like this vow…don’t get me wrong. I feel like I should try, but I would hate to disappoint—”

For the first time, the formidable Guide offered a hint of a smile. “This is not a matter of your strength alone, Dukat. And you are not the only one to have followed this path. I expect your past experiences have shown you that.”

Dukat gave a deep bow of acknowledgement. “You speak true, Guide.”

“You are prepared, then?”

The young man nodded. “I am…I accept. And thank you for allowing me to stay with you.”

Rulaahan replied with a curt nod of her own. She surveyed the skies. “Come, then—this ceremony is performed in the light of the rising sun. Now is the time. Gharumef…you will serve as my witness?”

“Of course,” said the warrior.

They crossed through the Kurabda encampment. The camp was mostly still now, save the light wind moving between the tents, and the trio walking through its center. It looked, for the most part, just like something out of a documentary—tents forming an elliptical pattern around the central meeting area. A particularly spacious tent, Lhai’khar text embroidered around the covering to the entrance had to be the chapel of the Way. From the central pole there protruded a gold spire. “Wait here,” Rulaahan commanded as she ducked into the tent.

It was a matter of seconds before she emerged again with a carved wooden case in her hands that much resembled his own. And that raised a critical question—one he dared not omit before he could ask nothing else. “Guide…where I worship, we each have our own recitation mask. I still have mine in my rucksack. Am I permitted to wear it, or would you prefer I not?” Rulaahan pressed her lips together for a moment; Dukat felt her bioelectric field quicken for just a second. No mistaking what she thinks of that, he thought to himself.

“This is not our way,” Rulaahan said.

Dukat bowed his head. “I meant no offense.” He would try his best, but it wouldn’t feel right to enter his deepest meditations with his face uncovered. True, he had done exactly that less than a year ago, but for a young man of his sect, the First Recitation, as it was called—the first time he donned his own recitation mask and took the second reading before the congregation after the Guide’s reading, almost ranked with the birth, death, and marriage ceremonies in the life of an Oralian.

If Rulaahan’s disapproval had been clear before, now he beheld it etched upon every ridge and wrinkle on her face. She turned her head, fixing a hard gaze upon Dukat; he realized immediately that he had spoken out of turn. “I will not permit you to don the recitation mask in the sight of others; you are neither a Guide nor female, and that is not our way. However,” she added, “though I do not believe in what your people have done, I would not take what you and your Guide at home believed rightly given. You may wear the mask that was given to you in your solitary prayers, and only then.”

“Thank you for your generosity,” he replied with a gracious smile. They had almost traversed the entire encampment now, which seemed to contain a few hundred people, and he was acutely aware there was little time left to satisfy his curiosity. “If I may, where, exactly am I? And how long have you camped here?”

“We are the people of Kekil-haaf.” Sweeping her arm at the camp and the barren lands surrounding them, “Our home has been in this vicinity for nearly five hundred years. We are a small tribe, with six more encampments like this one. There was once a farming community here, almost exactly where we stand—your people. But when the Cataclysm came and the desert spread from the mountains all the way to Culat, many starved. Others crowded into the city. But there were those who could not or would not go to Culat. They fled into the desert, and they joined with us. They largely adopted our ways, and after all this time, their blood is such a part of ours that it could never be separated. Some tribes,” she warned, “would not have welcomed you, even as a pilgrim. But we have not forgotten our ties, and we have taken their name as a memorial to them.”

“Is that also why you speak Cardăsda?”

“In part,” Rulaahan replied. “It is wise in this age regardless; even before the Cataclysm, we had a few people who spoke the common tongue. But it is because of the people of Kekil that it will be no trouble for all but the young children to speak to you; we start teaching them once they’re old enough to read in our language.”

Dukat allowed himself a wry laugh. “This is the first time today—well, since yesterday…that I’ve been able to see the hand of Oralius in anything that’s happened. What I’ve seen…” He shuddered. In his mind’s eye, that ship still burned and the eyes of the ragoç still spoke of that hideous agony. “Dear Oralius, I had no idea what war was like up close.” It sounded so clichéd coming out of his mouth—but it was all so completely inexpressible.

“You will only see more of that as a warrior, and you will take some of those actions into yourself,” Gharumef warned. “It is noble to defend the innocent, but if you are called to it, it will not be easy. This will be a time of contemplation and discernment for you,” he said. “We will teach you, but remember that the final decision of your fate does not rest in your own hands. Fate is guided.”

Hokrol edek,” replied Dukat: I understand.

Gharumef lifted a formidable, arched eye ridge. “In time, young man.”

They had reached a rocky promontory that jutted out from the sandy plain. Here began a craggier, more unforgiving terrain than the plains he had crossed on his flight from Culat, as the desert rolled on towards the Noumara Mountains. The sunrise had just begun to stretch its fingers above the mountains, reaching up for the great expanse of the night sky. Nothing marked this spot—no shrine, no inscriptions—but before Rulaahan said a word, Dukat got the distinct feeling this was where the rite would take place.

Indeed, the Guide nodded at Gharumef. The warrior stopped in place, letting Dukat know to do the same by placing his fingertips on the young man’s upper arm. Gharumef remained at Dukat’s side, while Rulaahan took up a position with her back to the light of Verkoun. She opened the case she had been carrying, withdrawing her recitation mask, though this one appeared to be made of unadorned tan clay rather than wood like his own. No engravings decorated the mask, only the detailing in the ridges, giving Rulaahan an almost Hăzăkda appearance that reminded Dukat quite painfully of Akellen.

Dukat started to kneel, but Rulaahan shook her head. She began to pray, the aperture at the mouth of her recitation mask giving her voice an otherworldly resonance. “Oralius—spirit moving through the winds and the hearts of our world—just as you brought us the people of Kekil in a time of great need, tonight you have brought us this man, Skrain Dukat, of Culat. I thank you for your trust in us, that you have placed him under our care and pray that your strength and comfort bloom within his mind and heart, that he may have solace for his past and strength for his future. May Fate be by Spirit so guided.”

She focused her gaze now upon Dukat. “Once you have taken this oath, no further words shall pass from your throat and lips until Oralius so ordains. As Gharumef says, this is to be a time of prayer and contemplation. There will be times of solitude, but you will live and learn among us as well, among those who will have the power you do not. Do you understand now what it is you prepare to do?”

“I do.”

“Do you, Skrain Dukat, submit to this discipline without reservation of heart, and in full honor of the one who has shaped you?”

“I submit,” he declared in a low voice suffused with solemn finality.

With that, Rulaahan reached up and firmly placed the tips of her middle and index fingers upon Dukat’s lips. “Give him the strength to bear the discipline of silence that he has undertaken.” She held that position for several seconds. Then she lifted her fingertips and set them on Dukat’s throat—this a slightly gentler touch. “Through this time of silent vigil, show him the way to strengthen the voice and ears of his heart that he may draw his thoughts and his actions closer to your own.”

As she withdrew her hand, Dukat felt almost lightheaded, as though a current of electric wind blew through him, not just the sensation of skin and forehead that was the bioelectric sense. He knew, of course, that his physical ability to speak remained untouched, yet he still felt an odd sense of…numbness, pressure, where Rulaahan’s fingers had been, as though some sort of transformative power had run through his skin. There had been those who dismissed these sorts of physiological effects as a meaningless figment of the mind, falsely ascribed to the intervention of the divine—but as far as Dukat was concerned, whether it originated within the body or without was irrelevant: after all, the Cardassian body was the design of Oralius, and that it should be designed such that even its natural functions and processes could serve as reminders to the spirit…this seemed perfectly sensible to him.

He almost missed it when Rulaahan spoke to him again. “Follow me,” she said, “and I will give you a place to sleep. After you’ve had some time to rest, we will introduce you to the rest of the tribe.”

Thank you, Dukat wanted to say, I would really appreciate that. He literally almost had to bite his lip to keep from voicing his thought aloud. Instead, he confined himself to a nod and a closemouthed smile—even a full grin seemed too much of a chance right now. He found himself wondering if over time, this would grow easier for him, or harder.

Rulaahan and Gharumef led him back towards the center of the camp, where a few of its other inhabitants were beginning to stir. Dukat felt rather awkward as he passed them by—here he was, an ah’tekel, as they said, in his dusty city suit and boots, making his way through the camp with no explanation of his presence and no way to give one. Nor did he know these people, or have any way to ask. And above all, he was completely exhausted. The most he could manage was a tiny, reserved nod when someone made eye contact.

They had returned now to the center of the camp. To his surprise, Rulaahan led him inside the chapel tent. For the first time, Dukat got a good look at how a Kurabda tent was constructed. It was far more spacious than he had ever imagined any naturally-made, non-permanent structure to be—even at his height, he could still stand completely straight and not feel like his head was about to scrape the ceiling. It was about the size, perhaps, of one of the smaller classrooms at Yavenn Pretam, and he imagined it could seat perhaps thirty people before the altar area. He wondered how, then, the entire tribe could worship at one time…but that question was one for whose answer he would simply have to watch and wait.

But what really struck him was what he almost took for a skylight near the central pole. He looked up and saw that in one elliptical area, the ceiling of the tent had been woven with a bright tapestry of colors, which now that the sun had risen, spilled down into the tent itself to create a patterned mosaic on the tan rug laid on the dust at the bottom of the tent. The sight was so unexpected, so beautiful that his eyes went wide, and he opened his mouth, drawing breath before he realized what he was about to do—then quickly shut it.
Rulaahan looked intently at him—to reproach him for trying to talk, he feared, but instead she smiled. “You’ve never seen anything like that, have you?”

Dukat shook his head.

“I am honored that you find it pleasing,” she said, and he confirmed her assumption with a smile of his own. “You will get to see much more of it, rest assured. For now, though…” She led him along the right side of the tent, towards the back where he saw what appeared to be another set of tents—or at least, alcoves separated by curtains. She pushed the curtain back on one of them, revealing a sleeping mat, blankets, and pillows. “This is where we shelter our guests until they are given a place of their own, for it is Oralius who gives us the duty to care for those come to us in need. For now, you should sleep…just relax until I come to wake you.”

Dukat met Rulaahan’s eyes with his own grey ones, suddenly grown weary at the sight of a place to lay his head, then showed his gratitude with a deep bow.

“You’re welcome,” Rulaahan replied, allowing Dukat to step into the alcove. She released the curtain and withdrew leaving the utterly exhausted young man in solitude. Dukat pulled off his boots. He hadn’t allowed himself to notice the pain during his terrible flight from Culat, but now it was all he could do to stifle a groan. Rulaahan may not have said anything about mere sounds in the oath—but to use his voice at all, he feared, would be too great a temptation…not to mention that her touch to his throat certainly seemed to imply he was not permitted any vocalization at all.

He laid a blanket over the sleeping mat—that would be far easier to clean up when he woke than the mat itself. He was dusty and he knew it…and he hated to disturb his sleeping area with that dust—but he’d never been this physically exhausted in his life. By now, he lacked the energy to do much more than take his suit jacket off, stretch once, and curl up on the sleeping mat. For in the space of less than a full day, he had gone from university student in Culat to refugee to some sort of hybrid between religious pilgrim and warrior apprentice in the desert of Kurab.

Please, Oralius…I’ve seen so much, and lost so much that I don’t even know what my life is supposed to be anymore. And my family—I don’t even know if they’re alive or dead! Please, wherever they are…take care of them, and give them the comfort that I’m all right! And if I’m feeling this way…I can’t even imagine how many of your children are afraid and suffering this morning.

Help them…this position you’ve put me in…let me help…

Dukat didn’t even have time to close his prayer—this once, he faded swiftly into dreamless depths.
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