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Old May 3 2010, 03:52 AM   #46
Nerys Ghemor
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

Part VII
Serenity

With directions from the Sokol-haaf, Dukat and Gharumef had saddled a riding hound the next day—Yaaras, this time—and left camp the very next morning. Taking leave of the people who had taken him in for the past six months proved more difficult than Dukat would ever have anticipated…though the words of Rulaahan provided him at least some consolation. This would not be their final parting.

You are a son to us now, Skrain—free to use anything we have taught you or given you, to dress as one of us if you wish. You will never be a stranger to the people of Kekil-haaf. You know our ways…you know how to find us. If we can help you to free our world…simply ask.

Their journey had lasted the better part of a week; without the encumbrances of the entire tribe, they covered the wilderness territory much faster than they had on the migration. The lights of the city still weren’t visible from here—but Dukat had sensed it nonetheless…Culat, albeit the south side now, was near.

On the final morning, Gharumef had turned back. If there were soldiers, rebels in this area, best not to alarm them…if not, then Dukat had enough supplies to last him until he reached the edges of the city. Or, if he wished, to turn back and find the Kurabda warrior, who insisted upon waiting in solitude for three days until Dukat’s decision was made.

And if Dukat encountered the rebellion…that would release him from his vow.

Now Dukat froze at the mouth of a cave—if that was truly what it was. The lightless entrance barely reached cardasdanoid height, though wide enough for a person to slip inside. Is this it? he wondered. Is this all there is? Or have I strayed off course? He contemplated entering…but if this was nothing more than some hole in the rock, he had no wish to get trapped inside. And if they were in there, and he wandered in uninvited…

A pinprick of light blinked out from the abyss, and then another: wristlights, he figured, from the way they bobbed up and down. The approaching beings fell into single file as they neared the mouth of the cave, and cast the lead figure into silhouette: a tall figure with a runner’s physique and a precise step, ridges that held closer to his long neck than Dukat’s did, only flaring out as they drew almost all the way down to his shoulder.

Dukat’s heart sang out as sunlight painted the man’s features into reality. He wore a neatly-trimmed beard, as only a man of Hăzăk could. His brown hair was slicked back and trimmed severely in the military fashion even though he no longer wore his armor. His skin seemed to blend with the stone around him—Hăzăkda beige, almost , yet a slight hint of grey revealed his connection to Rivçal. The rough ridging of the Hăzăkda continent merged with a set of features Dukat had watched develop in centuries of family photographs and videos…

Oh, Oralius! Dukat rejoiced, grinning wildly. Truly you are sovereign over all possibilities, that I came out of Culat and Akellen from the other side of the world, for us to meet here, in the Desert of Kurab!

Akellen’s eyes narrowed, scrutinizing this strange tribesman with a crossbow slung over one shoulder and a rucksack over the other. Then those brown eyes widened in the shock of recognition. “Skrain! Dear Oralius, Skrain—what are you doing here?” For those first few seconds, Dukat simply beheld the face of his cousin. His lips parted, but no words, no sound came forth.

Then he reminded himself: the vow held no more force now. He could speak again—but he never expected that it would be so difficult. His voice was weak and sounded rough, dry to his own ears as though he’d been wandering the sands for days with nothing to drink. His lips, tongue, and throat felt…sluggish—not numb, exactly, but a bit unresponsive. “Akellen,” he managed, tasting each syllable carefully, tentatively as though it were new to him.

And even then, it still didn’t sound quite right. Akellen put his beige hands on his younger cousin’s shoulders, eyes boring into him with deep concern. “What happened to you? Are you all right?”

Dukat smiled warmly and nodded, trying to convey his emotion with every inch of his demeanor. This time he spoke and signed simultaneously, hoping that if anything he said aloud got mangled, his gestures might clarify things a bit even though Akellen wouldn’t know the Kurabda sign language. “Don’t worry for me. I’ve been with the Kurabda—a pilgrim.”

Now Macet relaxed slightly. He turned first to the man and woman who had accompanied him and announced, “It’s all right…this is one of my cousins on my mother’s side. Follow me,” he instructed Dukat. “I’ll go ahead of you—just follow my bioelectric field until we get to the inner sanctuary.”

Dukat responded by a wordless nod as he fell into step behind his cousin. After a minute, the corridor widened out into a great chamber worthy to be called a sanctuary of Oralius. Flame and shadow danced upon the walls—though a string of electric lights ran along the ceiling, they were switched off to preserve power. Faintly something bubbled…an underground stream, Dukat understood, the water source for the rebels.

Now Macet turned to regard his cousin once more. “You took the discipline of silence, didn’t you?”

Dukat nodded.

“All the way from the invasion to now?”

He nodded once more—but reminded himself this time to speak. “Nearly so.”

Macet let out a low, soft whistle. “I understand now,” he quietly replied. “Not that I’ve done it myself, but I can see why you’d have some difficulty speaking after that. It’ll get better the more you talk, I think.”

One of Macet’s comrades interrupted, her eyes narrowed with—well, not suspicion towards Dukat, but uncertainty. “I didn’t realize he was deaf,” she remarked, addressing Macet.

“I can hear,” Dukat replied before Macet could. “I just…have not spoken for six months,” he said with both voice and hands.

Macet favored his younger cousin with a warm smile. “You don’t have to sign; we can understand you. Besides—that language isn’t the one I learned.”

Of course, Dukat thought. You learned the common sign language. That had been part of Akellen’s basic training as a soldier of the Cardassian Guard…any Cardassian with military experience would be fluent. But not everyone will know Kurabda sign! A glimmer lit in his eyes. “I can teach you…I think it might serve us. The Kekil-haaf have also taught me how to live in the desert…and they have given us their blessing. They are trying to avoid the fighting themselves, but if you need something, I can talk to them.” Though I think I will be happier to sign!

Macet tilted his head slightly, seeming to regard Dukat with new eyes. “I shall be most interested to hear more from you in all of those areas,” he affirmed. “I think those are skills—and connections—we could use…and we need everything we can get. I was in an air shuttle with some other junior officers on the way to the capital when the Bajorans broke through our lines. They scrambled our guidance systems and we were forced to make an emergency landing out here in the desert.”

Dukat swallowed hard. Months had not dimmed the memory of that vision of a man aboard a starship sealing his soul away—a man who had looked so much like Akellen. But if he understood Akellen right…now he was left with an even greater mystery than before. “You were never deployed into space?”

Macet gave a somber shake of the head. “I believe I would have been; the capital was one of the largest staging areas. But the last signal we got was one warning us that they and Culat were under attack…to wait for further instructions. None ever came. We found we were completely cut from the rest of the Guard…there are no senior officers among us. We also have some civilians we’ve rescued, and others who have stumbled upon us.”

There was something reflected in Macet’s eyes and posture—Dukat couldn’t exactly put his finger on it, but it was a sense of a man unmoored. “Who is your leader?” Dukat asked.

At that, his cousin shifted his weight—and Dukat knew he was right. To be without a stable hierarchy, even in the absence of serious conflict, was taxing upon the Cardassian psyche and it was taking its toll on Akellen. “I am not sure,” he replied at length. “The ‘senior’ officers here are a group of ri’iyak, myself included. The civilians…they are from several walks of life. The oldest here is almost 60…young, but older than any of us. And she has expressed no wish to lead. I pray about this every morning…”

“As will I,” Dukat offered.

“I appreciate the offer. But I believe we still have time to resolve that.” Macet gave a wan smile at that—then he reached out then and set a guiding hand upon Dukat’s shoulder, leading him to a more secluded corner of the…cave? Room? Leaning close, he continued with a far more solemn expression. “Right now, I’m more concerned to know, is there anything you will need?”

Reluctantly, Dukat nodded.

“How much time do you have?”

“Days.”

Now Macet clasped both of Dukat’s shoulders with strong hands. “If you can tell me exactly what it is you require, we will do everything in our power, Skrain…I swear that to you. As for myself—I will stay behind. I don’t want you to have to be alone if it should take longer…”

He had no need to finish his sentence—Dukat could see it in Macet’s face, feel it in his bioelectric field. Dukat’s heart welled over. His throat already ached from the few words he had spoken today…so instead he pulled his cousin into his embrace. A tear slipped free—for even though there were still so, so terribly many he loved that he still could not be sure actually lived, Oralius had returned someone to him he could truly call kin. And here, in this makeshift base underneath the desert, he prayed that what he was about to do might someday help to set his people free.

The vigil was over.

Soon, with strength and temperance from the spirit that moved within them—Cardassia would rise.
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Old May 4 2010, 12:51 PM   #47
Deranged Nasat
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

That was a beautiful story, NG. Definitely one of my favourites, and it really captures what you see in the Cardassians (when they're free of the toxic ideals that the canon Cardassian culture has embraced over the centuries). Dukat's journey was very compelling, and convincing too. It was a genuine character piece rather than simply "the hero" going through the motions (it felt genuine, as a hint of how young Dukat became the famed resistance leader of your other AU works but still being a somewhat lost young person searching for a new stability).

Just as an aside- I can't remember if it was established elsewhere, but does Dukat ever learn the fates of his siblings and parents? The lack of any return to the city is of course essential to the story, and that uncertainty hanging over it really works to convey the mood, but I wonder .
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Old May 5 2010, 03:44 AM   #48
Nerys Ghemor
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

Deranged Nasat wrote: View Post
That was a beautiful story, NG. Definitely one of my favourites, and it really captures what you see in the Cardassians (when they're free of the toxic ideals that the canon Cardassian culture has embraced over the centuries).
Thanks so much for reading. There was always a sense of potential, of what could have been, in the Cardassians, and it really is fulfilling to me to explore that side. (Just as it is to explore those who HAVE lived with that toxic buildup yet work against it anyway.)

Dukat's journey was very compelling, and convincing too. It was a genuine character piece rather than simply "the hero" going through the motions (it felt genuine, as a hint of how young Dukat became the famed resistance leader of your other AU works but still being a somewhat lost young person searching for a new stability).
Thank you. That's one thing I really wanted to come across...I didn't want him to be like Trek XI Kirk--suddenly a hero without the experience or credibility. (Mind you, I did like the movie, but that does require some suspension of disbelief.) That's why I didn't want AU Dukat to just magically leap right into the leadership void.

Besides...I've always had the feeling that his leadership style is not traditional, anyway, and sometimes an outsider might not even recognize it for what it was. His style is more collaborative, a servant leader, and more stereotypically feminine (I emphasize the stereotypical aspect because as we know, men are capable of serving very well in that way--it's more getting society to recognize it, and men themselves to realize they have that capability).

Just as an aside- I can't remember if it was established elsewhere, but does Dukat ever learn the fates of his siblings and parents? The lack of any return to the city is of course essential to the story, and that uncertainty hanging over it really works to convey the mood, but I wonder .
I'm not 100% sure...to my mind one of two things occurs, but I'm not sure which.

1) They died when that ship crashed in the Rukreved District or at some point early in the invasion.

or

2) Some or all may be alive, and AU Dukat will find this out and perhaps let them know he's alive--but his increasing role with the resistance means he cannot have any contact with them (because by not having any contact with them, he keeps them from having information that could put them in danger).

So either they are dead, or he must stay away out of love.
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Old May 5 2010, 01:25 PM   #49
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

Nerys Ghemor wrote: View Post
I've always had the feeling that his leadership style is not traditional, anyway, and sometimes an outsider might not even recognize it for what it was. His style is more collaborative, a servant leader, and more stereotypically feminine.
I understand what you mean, and I also find it interesting that, implicitly, Cardassians recognise that more "feminine" style of leadership in a way humans traditionally have not. Is that a result of their hightened "pack" instinct, that they "know" their position in relation to others without needing to prove or demonstrate it, and therefore feel comfortable with an "integrated" leadership style rather than the distanced, watch-your-back alpha-leader style human males have typically graviated to?

Of course, the culture the canon Cardassians have assumed makes them considerably more human-like in that fashion, I imagine (particularly as the military is often described as, essentially, a patriarchy, with elder men climbing to the highest positions and flexing their power?) The greater flexibility in leadership styles is more in evident in the AU?
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Old May 5 2010, 02:07 PM   #50
Nerys Ghemor
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

I'm not sure that type of style would work well in the canon universe, because that is a diseased culture, in many ways. And you can either fight it (whether outwardly or not) and be true to yourself, or you can surrender to it. And the canon Dukat chose surrender and lost himself as a result.

As for why the AU Cardassians recognize other types of leadership, I think the impact their faith has had on their culture plays into it, too. (Though I should caution that can't be ALL of it, given that our own culture is not always tolerant of what it espouses.)
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Old May 7 2010, 12:44 PM   #51
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

Excellent. Simply...excellent.

I wonder, now...will AU Dukat ever learn who it was he saw in his dream?

Also...I wonder what Kira is in this universe. Would it not be terribly ironic...if she were the "prefect", as it were, of Cardassia....

Anyhow--wonderful tale, about the formation of a hero, as we see "good" Dukat turn from a boy into a man. My compliments.
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Old May 8 2010, 03:06 AM   #52
Nerys Ghemor
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

Thank you so much for reading this.

I'm not sure if AU Dukat will ever figure out who it was he saw in that dream, or at least, if he ever figures anything out, I don't know that he will ever think there was anything more to it than a vision.

Kira's age wouldn't allow it...and frankly, I'm not sure where she is in this universe.
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Old July 8 2011, 02:08 PM   #53
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

Nerys, I’ve just recently resurrected my digital reader, and I’ve been reading The Desolate Vigil.

By happenstance, I’m also presently watching the alien invasion series Falling Skies on TV, and I’ve been struck by the stark differences in the stories. First off, I just have to say that you’ve captured the horror, chaos, and spiritual upheaval of an alien invasion and occupation much more expertly than does the present television series.

Dukat’s flight from the city, so soon after the discussion in the classroom, and his introduction to the Kurabda all occur in a storm of events that leaves him reeling. This was especially well told. All the fine details, the cultural tidbits, the linguistics... you’ve achieved world-building here on par with Herbert’s Dune, and I say that in all seriousness.

I’ll post more as I get farther into the story. Thus far I’m up to Dukat’s first ‘ride’ with the herder…

Simply fantastic writing!
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Old July 8 2011, 08:20 PM   #54
Nerys Ghemor
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

Wow!! What a wonderful surprise to see this review today!

I'm so glad you're liking it. Especially since your contest prompt awhile back directly inspired me to write this.

Yeah...one of the things that is really tough to imagine going through is how quickly all of it happened. Literally within a 24-hour span his entire life disintegrated. I think that even though the AU Cardassians on Prime knew there was a war going on, there's a kind of denial people go through--so despite it all, when the war actually hit their world, it was still a horrific psychological shock.

The fears I had on 9/11 played a big part of writing this...except on AU Cardassia, it wasn't just one series of strikes. It kept coming and kept coming, kept getting worse and worse and worse without end. And it happened so horribly fast. Even a well organized, disciplined world, as I imagine even the AU Cardassians have, would be totally overwhelmed by an onslaught of that magnitude.

(I don't think organized Cardassian resistance ended overnight. I think that the largest cities, however, were hit swiftly and brutally, to take the "head" off of their ability to coordinate. A strike on command and control structures, in other words. Given the enormity of conquering a planet, that's the only way I can imagine it being done: destroy the fleet and orbital defenses, damage or destroy communications equipment, then hit the cities, consolidate those positions, and only then move out into the country and deal with the resistance there. Unless you're the Borg. But if you're NOT the Borg, you are in for serious business, and a long-haul battle if you try to conquer and hold a planet that does not want you there.)

I've actually never read Dune (though I kind of know what it's about), and never seen Falling Skies. But those are some very kind words.
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