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Old November 21 2009, 04:16 PM   #16
Nerys Ghemor
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Location: Cardăsa Terăm--Nerys Ghemor
Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

kes7 wrote: View Post
Wow. Awesome stuff, Nerys. My very favorite part was how your described the human-like Bajorans from the Cardassians' perspective and they became "other," alien. Chilling and very, very well done.
Thank you so much for reading and commenting.

I figured that especially given what the Bajorans were doing, that's how it would feel to a Cardassian to see them up close for the first time--even though they know, intellectually, that they are the unusual species. Even so, they are going to be used to their own appearance above that of other species (I don't mean that in an arrogant sense, just aesthetics), so seeing aliens would take some getting used to.
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Old November 22 2009, 03:33 AM   #17
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

It's most fascinating, that AU Dukat would find refuge with tribesmen, who intend to instuct him.

Somehow...it reminds me of Bruce Wayne in the beginning of Batman Begins--where he undergoes the training neccesary to find the means to fight injustice...and turn fear against those who prey upon the fearful....

I feel confident this "good" Dukat, if he's half the motivated fellow his evil counterpart is, will be superb in finding these means.
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Old November 22 2009, 05:07 AM   #18
Nerys Ghemor
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

I hadn't even drawn that parallel...but then again, I'm not a big fan of Batman at all. Other than the old X-Men cartoon back in the early 90s, I never really followed any of that comic-book type stuff.

But it's really awesome to see the confidence in him.

I expect that some aspects of his training, whenever I get around to writing it, will surprise you!
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Old December 29 2009, 08:48 PM   #19
Nerys Ghemor
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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...)

----------------

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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Old December 29 2009, 08:49 PM   #20
Nerys Ghemor
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

Even before he felt the weight of Rulaahan’s hand on his shoulder, he felt it as her bioelectric field reached into his subconscious mind, jarring him awake with a start. He couldn’t remember why anyone else would be there in his dorm room to wake him, what had happened to his familiar blankets and pillows, nor how he had fallen asleep in his clothes and he very nearly shouted—until his ears picked up a hissing sound.

As he blinked a few times, he realized it wasn’t hissing…it was the Kurabda Guide, Rulaahan, making a soft shushing sound. He remembered his oath then, and everything that had preceded it…yesterday? This morning? What day is it, anyway? He didn’t think he’d been asleep all that long, though he couldn’t be sure, and he certainly couldn’t ask.

Now, seeing him fully awake, Rulaahan spoke. “May the song of morning fill your spirit,” she greeted him as he got to his feet.

And yours as well, Guide. He met Rulaahan’s eyes with a rather bleary smile that he hoped still managed to convey a sense of gratitude, and extracted himself from under the blanket he’d pulled over himself just before he fell asleep.

As he pulled the blanket back, he spotted a clear silhouette of dust on the blanket he’d laid over the mat. Regret flashed across his face, and he started trying to brush it off with his hand. “That’s not necessary,” Rulaahan chided. “You had nothing else to wear; of course you were going to get dust on things. You will be provided with more appropriate clothing soon—once we have seen you among us, we should be able to tell who is closest to your height and build, who can spare a set of robes and nightclothes.” Dukat pulled his boots back on, wincing with the pain. “And sandals,” Rulaahan added. “Now—are you ready?”

Dukat nodded, albeit after a moment’s hesitation.

“Then follow me,” the Guide commanded, and he inclined his head in obedience as she parted the curtain ahead of him and waited for him to step into the main chapel. He wasn’t exactly sure why, but for some reason, this introduction had him far more nervous than he normally was with meeting new people. Just what would they be thinking of this silent young city-dweller?

The colors of the tapestry shone straight down upon the ark where the Hebitian Records were stored; he knew from this that it had to be midday. Unless he’d managed to sleep for an entire day—and it didn’t feel like he’d had that much sleep—then Rulaahan had allowed him little more than a nap. He supposed, in light of the disciplines they could have asked from him, that this was still quite generous.

While they were still inside the chapel, Rulaahan stopped and faced him; Dukat mirrored the motion. “Some of the men are hunting; there are others who cannot leave their tasks and will not have the chance to see you right now. If they speak to you and expect an answer, this is how to respond.” Closing her mouth, she touched her own lips and throat with middle and forefinger much as she had Dukat’s that morning.

Dukat copied the motion, thankful for the relative simplicity of this sign. He’d seen what the common sign language looked like, and though he’d learned the basic signs everyone did in school, a full conversation still looked like an intricate, unreadable blur of hands to him.

Rulaahan nodded her approval at his imitation. “All but the younger children understand that sign. They will understand the reason for your silence and not hold it against you,” she informed him. “Now come—they’re waiting.”

The tall young man followed the Guide, exiting the chapel tent behind her. The desert sun blazed high and red in the expansive sky above, forcing him to squint and duck his head in the first few moments, letting his eye ridges do the job they were designed for and shade his sensitive eyes. Once he could see clearly, Dukat took stock of the crowd gathered in the center of the encampment.

All of them, male or female, wore long, flowing, layered robes of light, loose fabric; the women’s robes differed only slightly in the cut, but were easily distinguished by an elaborately-embroidered sash tied around the waist and trailing at the right side. Some, both men and women, wore simple head coverings—cloths tied to the head by beaded bands, that draped down well past the shoulders, covering what of the neck ridges the robes allowed to show. If there was a rule as to who covered their heads and who did not, Dukat wasn’t sure of it yet. Those whose hair was visible had woven ornamented cords in with tiny braids—somewhere from one to five on the same person; this custom was shared by men and women alike.

There seemed to be more women than men, a number of them accompanied by children. “People of Kekil-haaf,” she began, still speaking in the common tongue, “in our world’s time of crisis, Oralius has placed a pilgrim from the city under our care. This is Skrain Dukat of the city of Culat, and he comes to live among us, seeking to learn more of the ways of Oralius, and to learn our ways as well. He has sought the disciplines of our people, and as such, he has undertaken a vow of silence and does not speak. He understands only the common tongue, so that must be the language of your teachings. It is my hope and prayer that you will do all you can to make him welcome among you and to teach him what you know.”

Dukat managed a nervous flicker of a smile and a quick but deep bow as a few voices from the assembled crowd greeted him.

Oh, Oralius…where do I start? he fretted.

It was in that moment that Gharumef approached, lifting a hand with palm outwards towards Dukat’s shoulder, stopping about twenty centimeters away. Though he did not touch the young refugee, but the sensation of his bioelectric field made his point.

Please don’t let me offend him, Dukat prayed, mirroring the gesture with an uncertain expression on his face, in hopes of finding out exactly what this foreign custom meant. As he brought his hand close to Gharumef’s shoulder, his hand extended the range of his own bioelectric sense like an RF antenna, drawing information about Gharumef’s physical state without requiring an actual touch. The warrior seemed alert, but relaxed; with that, Dukat figured he’d probably been well-received.

“That’s correct,” Gharumef said. “That is the greeting between men, of one friend to another. Now come—I have just spoken with my brother Arokef, and he has kindly offered an extra set of clothing to you. It is best that you change now; what you are wearing is good for the city where you are only outside for brief periods, but not so good for living here.”

Grateful for Arokef’s generosity, and for the Gharumef’s guidance, Dukat fell into line behind the warrior, but not before he cast one more thankful gaze at the Guide Rulaahan.



None of this was at all what Skrain Dukat had expected. He was dressed now in the manner of a Kurabda nomad, save for the long queue he left tied back in Culatda fashion. The light material of his inner and outer robes draped around his body in an unaccustomed manner for one accustomed to the closely-tailored styles of the city, and a simple headdress draped over his head and the sensitive skin at the back of his long neck—a very useful piece of clothing, Gharumef’s younger brother had explained, given the work he would be engaged in at first, which would require him to kneel outside for a time.

And that work was…not what Dukat had expected, either. I thought I was supposed to become a warrior, he thought to himself as he raised his borrowed knife…to peel a teliyk root—and rather clumsily at that. For what felt like the thousandth time, Reh’met was reaching over and correcting his grip, mumbling something under her breath in the Kurabda language that Dukat couldn’t understand and couldn’t ask for the translation that right now she did not see fit to provide. Probably cursing my ineptness, Dukat thought darkly, praying for the strength not reply with an unkind gaze in response. Instead, Dukat dipped his head in a gesture of apology as he allowed his hands to be guided.

Something flickered briefly across Reh’met’s face, as her hands drew near and then made contact. “You are too tense,” Reh’met admonished as she observed his efforts to cut the outer portion of the ridged root. “This is why you cannot angle the blade correctly. You must not do this; cut too deep and you waste the useful matter inside…cut too shallow and you leave the skin, whose taste is too bitter to bear if bitten into. Relax and focus, Dukat.”

I just watched alien invaders land in my city, they’re doing Oralius knows what back there, my family has no idea where I am or if I’m even alive, I’m running on maybe a couple hours of sleep, and you’re telling me to relax?! Dukat thought furiously, lips pressed together to avert any lapses. As if I’m supposed to just sit here and chop roots like that’s the only thing that matters? What a fine skill to add to my fighting repertoire—advanced vegetable chopping. He voiced none of this, of course, but the words still refused to cease in his mind. What was the purpose of this? Was it some kind of test calculated to drive him mad? He couldn’t object—he had no choice—but it frustrated him nonetheless.

Dukat tried again, slicing a bit more slowly at the teliyk root this time, counting slowly in his head the way his mother had taught him to do whenever he felt his temper rising.

Then a male voice cut across the camp, shouting Reh’met’s name. What followed was a rapid burst in the Kurabda language that Dukat couldn’t understand, but the tone sounded…tense. Exasperated. Grudgingly, with a long-suffering expression of her own, Reh’met stood, tossing only a few curt words towards Dukat to excuse herself. “Stay there—Lehnedrel will show you what to do next.” With that she strode off with the look of one girding on armor for battle.

An odd sort of discomfort settled over Dukat and after stealing one more quick glance at the retreating form of Reh’met, he averted his eyes. It was the sense of having just witnessed something…indecent somehow. Lehnedrel made no comment; unsure what else to do, Dukat resumed his work with the teliyk root.

The knife slipped again, this time very nearly scraping the microscales off an ill-placed finger. Finally, despite himself, Dukat let out an exasperated sigh and froze at the end of his motion. He hadn’t wanted to show his frustration in front of Reh’met, even in the nonverbal fashion available to him, but now, with his instructor absent, he simply couldn’t hold it in any longer. What is the purpose of this!? he mentally groused. And now he’d gone and alienated his instructor somehow, even before that interruption! And on top of that, she knew he was new to all of this, knew he had no way to ask questions…how could she be so inconsiderate?

“Dukat,” Lehnedrel finally said, once Reh’met was out of earshot.

Yes? the young man asked with a sharper nod than he intended, lifting an eye ridge.

“Just…try.” Her accent was much thicker than that of Reh’met, her speech in the common tongue much more hesitant. “You do well, for a first try. Reh’met…try—to understand her. Her husband—” Lehnedrel jabbed a discreet finger in their direction. “He—they…are not good friends now. It is difficult…very, very difficult to Reh’met.”

Dukat’s ears and jaw ridges burned. Forgive me, he thought, addressing Lehnedrel and Oralius both as he bowed his head. He put his hand to his heart, which beat beneath the vestigial sensory node at the center of his chest—a feature that it was believed had helped the Cardassians’ ancestors, back when that node still functioned, to sense not only external but internal bioelectric fluctuations and sort the emanations of their own fields from external stimuli. Hoping the gesture would translate in some fashion, he locked regretful eyes with Lehnedrel. I’m sorry…I didn’t realize. He pointed in the same direction as Lehnedrel had, then brought his hand back to his heart. I will pray for her tonight.

Lehnedrel gave a faint smile in return. “You did not do this, Dukat.”

He mirrored her expression, but his heart still refused to rest. I know…but I misjudged. I was so quick to assume her problem was with me. He glanced down again, as though she might read his thoughts through his eyes. And I was just as quick to turn that frustration right back on her.

Dukat drew a deep, steadying breath through his nose, then released it. He took up the knife and teliyk roots again, angling his actions slightly towards Lehnedrel and raising his eye ridges. Will you help me?

“You are nearly finished,” Lehnedrel assured him as the nearby pot of water began to boil. “These need…to be in, soon. In the pot,” she amended with a clarifying sweep of the hand. Her eye ridges furrowed for a moment, seeming almost…embarrassed, perhaps at her limited skills with the common tongue.

He met the Kurabda woman’s eyes. You’re worried about your speech, in front of a man who can’t speak at all? His lips quirked up in a silent laugh, and she smiled—perhaps not sure what had prompted Dukat’s more genial expression, but accepting it nonetheless.

And with that, they began again.



Finally, as the sun dipped below the desert horizon, Dukat enjoyed the luxury of a full stomach. While Lehnedrel and Reh’met had kindly allowed him to snack on the ingredients as they’d worked, realizing perhaps that he’d had little to eat during the previous day’s ordeal, this was the first full meal he’d had since the beginning of the invasion—for that was what it had had to be. The stew that had come of their labors hadn’t been half bad, he mused…the spices were foreign, yes, but it seemed, perhaps, that his own work, however halting it had been at times, served to sweeten the taste a bit, as it were.

The meal had been relatively enjoyable, as well. Eating was a communal affair among the Kurabda, and a small group had gathered, choosing to converse amongst themselves in the common tongue in order that the city-born pilgrim among them might feel as though he belonged. It was definitely strange, just as Rulaahan had predicted—perhaps from her own experience?—to sit amongst these people and hear their thoughts and their stories, all the while having to resist every one of his natural instincts to ask his own questions and add his commentary. He had no control whatsoever over the course of the conversation, although he’d had to admit their decision to speak Cardăsda was most kind.

And it had taken every last shred of self-control, though, once the topic of the radio had come up. The people of Kekil-haaf had, for the past five hundred years, kept one to maintain some sort of knowledge of the outside world…undoubtedly the doing of the Kekilda townsmen, who had wanted some sort of memory of home. There was still no signal, they said, no broadcasts whatsoever on the subspace band, and only sporadic bursts of activity on the encrypted military bands, only audible as bursts of static. “There must still be resistance,” Gharumef had speculated…but there was nothing, no real news, upon which to base that conclusion.

Oralius, please—let us still have a chance! Dukat prayed in solitude now, kneeling in the desert sand, his recitation mask sitting securely on his face as Rulaahan had permitted to him in isolation. His stomach churned as it worked on his meal, and a pang of guilt sliced through his spirit. Had his family eaten so well tonight? Were they safe from Bajoran depredations as he currently was? Why had he been singled out for this strange and bittersweet blessing?

At last, a tear slipped free from the corner of his eye, running down his face and soaking into the inside of his wooden recitation mask. He made no move to remove the mask even though it was entirely possible they might stain the wood on the reverse side; the honest tears of an anguished and prayerful spirit were about as far from desecration of the consecrated object as one could get.

It was time now. Now that the second day of the Bajoran invasion of Cardassia and the first day of Skrain Dukat’s pilgrimage in the desert of Kurab drew to a close, it was the time to mourn. And as he silently wept, kneeling in the sand with the mask of Oralius upon his face, he got the distinct sense that another spirit moved through him…and grieved through him…as well, for the pain of a beloved people under siege.
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Old December 29 2009, 09:31 PM   #21
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

Have I expressed my admiration for your writing skills before? Because this is one of the finest examples of world building that I have seen in ST. As good, if not better, than AJR or Una McCormack. And I don't say that lightly.

Now that this junior Legate has performed the necessary sucking up to my Superior, it's time to get to the story.

Firstly, I would like to consider the non-verbal communications between Dukat and the Kurabda tribes-people. This is one of the most impressive aspects of your Cardassians and one that I feel should have been part of how the canonical Cardassians operated. I say that because the use of sign language imparts a sense of sensitivity and warmth to the stereotypically ruthless children of Prime. (ah, but to have seen Garak try to teach his favorite human the non-verbal language of Cardassia!). The humility and consideration that this Dukat showed though a mere smile and a quick nod is a wonderful element and testament to the real differences between him and 'Prime' Dukat.
(pun definitely intended)

Although I'm glad to see that no matter what universe he's in, Skrain Dukat has the same acid wit (and unstable temper).
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Old December 29 2009, 09:57 PM   #22
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

I definitely wouldn't compare myself to either of them. AJR is definitely, to paraphrase Newton, the giant upon whose shoulders I stand, and without his writing there is no way that mine would ever have taken the shape it did. As for Una McCormack, hers is another universe and very worthwhile in its own right. I would not put myself above her, by any means.

I am very glad you like the nonverbal communication. Given that Cardassians can't hear as well as most humanoid races (though it seems the difference is not THAT huge), it stood to reason that sign language would be thought of differently in their culture than it is for species with more humanlike hearing.

Now, AU Skrain doesn't know much of the common sign language that soldiers in both universes are taught--what you're seeing here are his on-the-fly efforts to communicate. He's only had a little basic sign language education--the equivalent of a first-year course, and would not be able to hold his own in a full-fledged conversation.

As to why Garak wouldn't have taught it...well, I think in the main Sigils universe, the Cardassians are very sensitive about that issue and don't like to show just how their culture is different because of their hearing. You speak of ruthlessness...and I would say that's really only the Sigils universe (and it differs from individual to individual). The AU Cardassians may be more stoic than the canon Bajorans, in some ways, but they are of a very different nature.

As for the similarities between him AU and canon Dukat...well, he can have an acid wit, definitely. And while he definitely does feel his temper flare sometimes, I think he had more control even before this experience than he EVER had in the canon universe as a man almost 50 years older!
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Old January 3 2010, 11:32 PM   #23
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

Good as ever, of course. I like the tribal culture you're developing here; it's always nice to see different cultures and subcultures in sci-fi, and I like thinking about how these people relate to urbanized "mainstream" Cardassians as you present them. They are certainly convincing, and I look forward to seeing more comparisons with the culture Dukat is used to. Dukat as a character continues to remain engaging, though I am anxious to see what happens to his family. Of course, for all I know he'll never find out....

Sorry my review is so short; I have very little internet time at present. Next week, I can write something more substantial.
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Old January 4 2010, 12:31 AM   #24
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

Deranged Nasat wrote: View Post
Good as ever, of course. I like the tribal culture you're developing here; it's always nice to see different cultures and subcultures in sci-fi, and I like thinking about how these people relate to urbanized "mainstream" Cardassians as you present them. They are certainly convincing, and I look forward to seeing more comparisons with the culture Dukat is used to.
Thanks! I figured that in a version of Cardassia where the government never took a repressive turn, that much greater diversity was pretty much a given. The other really awesome thing about writing this is just how LONG a time span Cardassian history covers, in comparison to ours. The Cataclysm occurred 500 years ago, and is like medieval/renaissance history in terms of chronological distance. Entire histories and traditions were born (or added to) in that time, yet they were probably at an Earth early 22nd-century level of technology then.

I figured in that kind of world, you'd have some people who chose to maintain their tribal lifestyles for any number of reasons...and I think the experience of the Cataclysm reinforced their decision, as far as they were concerned. When the deserts spread, they simply migrated with it; their lifestyle was adapted to it already and not disrupted like that of the city dwellers.

That said, they haven't forgotten the other part of their heritage, either. That's why they passed down the language as a sort of inheritance for all of their children, and they don't see the city dwellers as inferior. After all, you can't put down your own cousins!

Dukat as a character continues to remain engaging, though I am anxious to see what happens to his family. Of course, for all I know he'll never find out....
The fog of war really sucks for those who are in it. :-/

And I'm glad you like AU Dukat. I hope you feel like he has the same genetics, even though he's been raised so differently and made such different choices!

Sorry my review is so short; I have very little internet time at present. Next week, I can write something more substantial.
Not a problem!
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Old January 4 2010, 02:31 AM   #25
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

I like this process of training AU Dukat. I feel his frustration at not being able to shoot retorts at that woman!

However...I would not have been as forgiving upon hearing of her pain. (I know--I'm cruel....)

Now, that was a great moment at the end, where he breaks down in tears. My compliments.
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Old January 4 2010, 02:42 AM   #26
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

Rush Limborg wrote: View Post
I like this process of training AU Dukat. I feel his frustration at not being able to shoot retorts at that woman!
Oh, you can bet he was frustrated! Very much so!

However...I would not have been as forgiving upon hearing of her pain. (I know--I'm cruel....)
Well...he's also in a period he's supposed to be devoting to spiritual contemplation as well as the survival skills he's studying. That's likely got him even more predisposed than normal to trying to put those virtues into practice. Reh'met is responsible for her decision to be short with Dukat. But, it's also not his place to put himself in the place of judge of her soul.

This is one of the lessons I feel it is very, very important to give AU Dukat in a very personal, up-front manner. One of the canon version's big problems was that he was so quick to judge others, AND so quick to make assumptions that whatever was going wrong was because others were simply failing to take HIM into account, to see what was so great about HIM, and to see what HE needed. I wanted AU Dukat to come face-to-face with that in himself and come to understand that he needs to break that within himself. And through this, he's forced to listen for this and whatever other lessons may be coming his way.

Now, that was a great moment at the end, where he breaks down in tears. My compliments.
I'm very glad you liked that part. I was worried it would seem sappy or cliched, and I'm glad to know it worked.
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Old January 4 2010, 05:59 AM   #27
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

Dukat makes his first forays into the cultural and spiritual life of his newly adopted desert family, and learns that the sacrifice of silence he must make will be a telling on upon him.

You capture the unique culture of the Kurabda with exquisite detail, and Dukat's inner monologue (all that he is allowed, under the circumstances) allows the reader to understand the roiling emotions that have seized his soul following the invasion of Cardassia Prime by the Bajorans.

It is obvious that Dukat's spirituality will become the rock upon which he draws his strength for the ordeals to come.

Really terrific stuff here, Nerys. Well done!
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Old January 4 2010, 09:28 PM   #28
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

I figured for ANY Dukat, no matter how good, not being able to speak would be an immense challenge, especially in his younger years!

Even though Dukat is so separated out here in the desert from what's going on right now, I knew there was no way he could see what he had seen and not be deeply upset by it. He saw so many things, even ONE of which would've been upsetting--but it just kept coming and now he's had QUITE the change of pace after that hellish day.

Thank you so much for reading!
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Old February 2 2010, 06:08 AM   #29
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

Man, every time I THINK I know how long this story's going to be, more always comes out and surprises me!

BTW, just to be clear on something in this section--I am not anti-horse-riding. I realize that proper training should not require "breaking" the horse like you used to see in the Wild West (and in some places today) and is generally humane. However, I have to think an alien used to something fundamentally different would see matters differently. Plus, there's some irony in who's holding this particular opinion and why...

----

Part IV
Flight

It had been a little over three weeks since he found himself out in the desert of Kurab…and for the first time, he was finally beginning to feel like he understood—at least somewhat—the purpose behind the various tasks the people of Kekil-haaf had set for him. A tiny thrill of excitement ran up Dukat’s spine and down his neck ridges, and a tiny smile stretched his grey lips.

He had learned, so far, how to prepare a number of recipes, once given the ingredients, he had learned how to pitch and break down a Kurabda tent, and other basic tasks needed for daily life in the camp. Lehnedrel had even set him to work mending the suit he’d worn in his flight from Culat. While replicators had never been as ubiquitous on Cardăsa Terăm as they were reputed to be in the Vedrayçda worlds, for a well-off family like the Dukats, clothes that were old or in rough shape were—depending on wearability—either donated or thrown out. Other than maybe stitching a seam, little in the way of repairs were ever done. And Dukat hadn’t even known how to do that until Lehnedrel had shown him.

He now lived in a tent Reh’met and her husband Koremaad had helped him put together…and what an experience that had been. Just listening to them had made him want to fold the tops of his ears all the way down to his ear ridges and staple them there. About the only thing they didn’t do was try to insist that their silent visitor must be on one side or the other in their endless conflict that had nothing to do with courtship or amorous sparring and everything to do with actual acrimony. None of the instinctive body-language cues that would speak of love or a healthy relationship were there, and it was painfully obvious to see. To some degree, they seemed to make the attempt to restrain themselves in Dukat’s presence, especially after he found himself forced, at once point, to not just reach within range of Koremaad’s bioelectric sense, but to actually tap his arm to distract him from his half of the bitter sniping. Still, it seemed to help only slightly.

He’d found himself praying for the couple trapped in this obviously failing marriage, half in desperation at having to listen to it, and half in genuine distress at what they were going through. Perhaps more than half, Dukat admitted as he reflected. If it felt uncomfortable for him to be around it, he could only imagine how horrid it would be to actually be stuck in the middle of it. But still…thank Oralius that’s over! he couldn’t resist commenting to himself.

Today, Gharumef had informed him, he would learn to skin one of the za’abou the Kekil-haaf herded, and smoke the meat. As time passed, he would learn to do the same with many of the other animals the tribe herded and hunted in the desert. They’re teaching me to survive, he thought, pleased at this realization. Maybe I’ll learn to hunt next. And that, of course, was a skill that would serve him in the resistance. As would all that he had learned thus far.

Now, after a solitary breakfast of regova eggs—though quite a different style from what he’d been accustomed to at home—and his morning prayers, Dukat cautiously and reverently placed his recitation mask back into its case, stood, and exited the tent.

“May the song of morning greet you, Dukat,” came Gharumef’s voice almost immediately.

The pilgrim smiled and inclined his head in reply. Making eye contact with Gharumef, he raised his eye ridges, questioning the warrior by his countenance as to what they would do for the day.

“Come this way,” Gharumef said. “Etil’an should be ready by now.” Etil’an, Gharumef had informed him, was one of the tribe’s zabou-herders; he would be the one to instruct Dukat in the day’s new task.

Together they walked to the edge of the Kekil-haaf camp and a bit beyond; here, the dusty ground gave way to something that, even if not exactly lush with flora, at least bore some signs of plant life thanks to the small spring that peeked up above the surface here.

A herd of za’abou grazed in the sparse field, tufts of tawny fur poking out from the dust-colored, scaled skin at the back of their necks and the bifurcated tips of their tails. They lacked eye ridges; these were prey animals, and they could not afford the sacrifice in peripheral vision that a person and a few of Cardassia Prime’s other higher therapsids could. Their ears stood straight up on their heads, but the distant evolutionary relationship to people was still evident; the lower edge of the ears connected to a powerful, ridged cord of muscles capable of shaping the ear into whatever form was required to best hear predators coming...a ridge that traced from the ear straight down the animal’s mandible.

At his and Gharumef’s approach, the entire ridge visibly moved, flicking the ear over in their direction. For just a moment, Dukat’s mind wandered back to his visit to the Catacombs of the Shaping. A Cardassian person’s ears didn’t move like that; being descended from predators the focus of the musculature in that area had lent strength to the jaw instead—but in their most distant therapsid ancestors, it was quite likely they once had.

And among the za’abou with a herder’s staff stood a stocky man who in profile, sported a heavy, prominent set of facial ridges—a man clearly growing in his seniority, but still with only the occasional grey strand in his windblown hair.

Etil’an? Dukat wondered. The zabou-herder’s face split into a broad grin. “Gharumef!” he happily called. The rest came out in a rapid burst of Kurabda as he finished his greeting to Gharumef, and then turned towards Dukat.

Not quite sure what to do at first, but supposing the most polite thing he could manage would be to give no signs that he might wish to interrupt, he kept an attentive expression on his face and let the herder continue. Once the herder finished, Dukat bowed in acknowledgment and greeting.

The herder began carrying on again in excited Kurabda—until Gharumef interrupted him in the common tongue. “He does not understand our language.”

“Yes—yes, I see…common tongue, then?” Dukat smiled at the man’s enthusiasm, and confirmed with a nod. “Now who are you? Are you Kekil-haaf—maybe Sokol-haaf? What is your name? When did you come here?”

Slow down! Dukat thought, throwing up his hands in a playful gesture, as though his older brothers were pelting him with melăk seeds. As thick as Etil’an’s accent was, he could barely make out the herder’s words without careful concentration.

Etil’an seemed to realize what he had done, and repeated himself more slowly, still addressing Dukat. “What is your name?”

Hardly a measurable instant passed by when a flicker of confusion crossed Etil’an’s face—maybe it had seemed mildly strange that Dukat gave no reply to his first barrage of questions…but why was he not answering what should have been the simplest of questions?

And now Dukat understood: this herder must have been tending to his flock when Rulaahan had introduced him to the tribe. Dukat joined his forefinger and middle finger, touching them to his sealed lips and then to his throat in the sign of the vow as he thought, I don’t mean to be rude in refusing you. He regarded Etil’an as he lowered his hand, hoping his earnest expression would convey his feelings. Then he looked into Gharumef’s eyes, lifted one interrogative eye ridge, and cocked his head towards Etil’an. Would you please tell him?

“His name is Dukat,” Gharumef supplied. “He came here from Culat when the outworlders landed.” Here Gharumef had used an archaic term for non-Cardassians that betrayed the age of the Cardăsda they had been taught by the Kekil villagers. “Dukat—this is Etil’an.”

“Dukat,” Etil’an repeated. “It is an ah’tekel name, yes…so short. Dukat—this is your family name?”

Yes, he confirmed with a nod, supposing that the monosyllabic or disyllabic names common to those who spoke mainly the common tongue would sound awfully brief to the Kurabda ear, based on what he’d heard.

“So you took the vow of silence…do you know how long?”

Now both of Dukat’s eye ridges shot up in surprise. You mean sometimes people know? They’re told ahead of time? Then he shrugged, shook his head. I have no idea.

Etil’an let out a low whistle. “What Oralius asks of you…I am glad—very glad—she has not asked of me. When I get visitors…well—I must talk! Za’abou...they listen well, but all they understand is—” Here he turned, cupped his hands, and made a low rumbling sound in his throat ending with a deep, yet almost questioning sort of coo. One of the animals drew near, echoing the sound the strange, grey bipedal mimic had made. He stroked the zabou’s neck fur as he turned back to Dukat and said, “They are like some people—talk and no conversation.” The zabou, of course, looked up adoringly at Etil’an in total ignorance of the remark, then gently butted its nose up against Etil’an’s side a few times in a clear sign of welcome.

A wide grin broke across Dukat’s face, though he still did not allow a true laugh.

Etil’an turned back to the zabou for a moment. “You will be spared,” he said lovingly to the creature. Pointing at it, he added, “This one is too—too…” He struggled for the word in the common tongue; Dukat’s mind shouted several possibilities, but he bit his lip…he could not voice any of them, and he still could not be sure exactly what Etil’an was trying to say. And just when I start to think restraint is getting a bit easier! he thought.

Finally Etil’an shook his head in frustration and spoke a Kurabda word, and Gharumef translated. Then Etil’an repeated: “Affectionate.” Inwardly, Dukat laughed again—the ideas running through his mind had mostly been variations on the theme of ‘tame’ or ‘domesticated,’ and he would have missed the mark if he’d been able to voice his suggestions. “Yes. This one is not for food. Now, I will show you—”
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Old February 2 2010, 06:08 AM   #30
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Re: Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil

A plaintive baying noise cut across the sparse brush. It wasn’t the call of a zabou…no, Dukat recognized this sound. It was a riding hound. The hound bayed mournfully once again; it wasn’t long before Dukat heard the familiar galloping cadence of paws against earth, charging right down the middle of the zabou herd, scattering them, much to Etil’an’s consternation. The particular breed used by the Kurabda had no fur whatsoever peeking out between its scales, which were grey, but of a much deeper shade than any person’s skin, making this hound look something like a stormcloud on four legs. There was a flash of a large object dangling from the hound’s mouth; Dukat couldn’t quite make it out as the riding hound streaked by.

Etil’an shouted a command in Kurabda—it took several tries, but eventually the hound froze almost comically mid-gallop and sat on its haunches, thumping its tail on the ground. Unlike the za’abou, the end of the riding hound’s tail was devoid of fur and more clublike though it bore the same basic, bifurcated design, the same one often seen on the backfins of Cardassian starships. If necessary, it could be used as a bludgeon against other predatory species, or a rival hound in a fight over a female…or simply used to beat the ground to convey excitement, as it was doing now.

The face, as was typical of the more intelligent predatorial species, had a slightly more personlike aspect than the zabou: the eyes aimed forward rather than sitting on the sides of the face, and Dukat could clearly distinguish hooked eye ridges much like his own encircling those of the hound—thickest above the eyes, but receding into the face a bit more quickly than his as they traced down from there and around the eyes. The ears were much like that of the zabou, but taller, narrower, coming to sharper points as they stood from the skull. The ridges were less mobile, more of the musculature in that area needed, as in the direct ancestors of the Cardassians themselves, for the killing bite.

Now Dukat saw what the hound carried in its mouth: the animal gripped its own saddle between its enormous jaws, and gazed expectantly, almost plaintively, at Etil’an—and at its sitting height, the riding hound’s intelligent eyes met Etil’an’s almost straight on. The herder wasn’t the slightest bit intimidated; he just barked another Kurabda command. Gharumef leaned close to Dukat and translated with a whisper, “Drop it!” After the third repetition, the riding hound finally let its saddle fall to the ground, baying once more once its mouth was empty with the typical ba’ou-ba’ou sound hounds made.

Etil’an said something else—“Stay!” came the translation—and he strode up to the riding hound, picking up the saddle, carefully avoiding the end that was covered in hound slobber. Now Etil’an, remembering Dukat’s presence, began to speak in the common tongue. “Ratoukhit, look at this…you chewed through the seat! You are a crazy boy—how do I sit on this now?”

Though Ratoukhit might not have understood the foreign words Etil’an spoke, he recognized the tone well enough and bowed his head and emitted a tiny, whining noise not unlike a child being chastised. In a way, that was exactly what Ratoukhit was doing; riding hounds possessed a pack instinct that was a stronger equivalent of the Cardassian hierarchical instinct, and this hound was quite aware of the fact that he had displeased one ranked higher than him in the pack.

“I will have to see Intehek about this,” Etil’an murmured to himself, still in the common tongue. “He bit a piece almost out of it. Have you learned to ride, Dukat?”

He shook his head, though a touch hesitant. Not really. When he was very little, his primary school class had taken a trip to a petting zoo to get a chance to see some of the animals up close that city children would never have a chance to see in person otherwise. He remembered his father, who had managed to clear his docket for a day to be one of the chaperones, lifting him up and putting him on the back of a docile old riding hound. I didn’t ride so much as let someone lead us around, he thought—but at the moment, it had sure felt like the crowning achievement of his brief life.

“You will need help if you ride,” Etil’an said—and this made sense. Riding hounds were extremely auditory animals; while they responded to touch commands from their riders, they much preferred to hear the voices of their masters, even if only as a whisper. Being unable to speak, Dukat would have a difficult time bonding on his own with a riding hound, teaching it to heel and obey his wishes. A riding hound without a sense of proper discipline from its master could accidentally throw a rider in its rambunctious sense of play—a state of affairs that hounds seemed to find just as upsetting after the fact as the person unfortunate enough to be thrown.

Thousands of years domesticated, aggression towards Cardassians carefully bred out of them over the millennia, they seemed to truly care for their Cardassian masters, recognizing them as smarter, skilled with weapons and fire, but physically weaker than themselves: creatures at once deserving respect and needing protection. That was why, predatory animals that they were, they willingly allowed themselves to be ridden—it was the instinctive understanding that without them, a person had nowhere near the speed, the ability to rout prey and flee other predators, that they did. They needed the protection a riding hound could offer, as far as the hound was concerned; in return they received companionship, shelter from the elements, and not just the spoils of their own hunts but the great beasts the Cardassians speared or shot at a distance.

And in this relationship was the great blessing about riding hounds, compared to the mounts he had heard of some other species riding, especially the prey-animal steeds: a hound was not filled with the deep and constant fear of the very thing they had been bred to do. The thought unnerved Dukat on some level...to break an animal until it wanted to do something against its nature because no other option was left--it didn't feel right somehow.

Hounds did have to be trained, taught their place in the pack, and taught their own strength so their enthusiasm would injure neither hound nor master, but whatever instinctive fear their ancestors might have had of being saddled and ridden was largely gone. And like Ratoukhit, they often expressed their willingness to carry their Cardassian masters by grabbing pieces of their riding tack in their mouths, if they happened to find it, and presenting it in a hopeful invitation. One could really and truly know that a riding hound wanted to fulfill its purpose.

Ratoukhit whined quietly once more, shifting his hindquarters in the sand, long snout craned up towards the sky. “I know, boy,” Etil’an was saying. Now that Ratoukhit had been sufficiently chastened for sinking his teeth into his saddle and charging through the herd of za’abou, the herder took the time to scratch the riding hound under the chin. “This is not the time—we have guests.” He turned back to Dukat. “Maybe someday, you can ride. After your vow…or with someone to lead. Would you like that?”

Dukat smiled, letting the wideness of his eyes and their encircling ridges transmit his pleasure at the thought.

“Now…” Etil’an murmured, “time for you to learn how to skin a zabou. The kill is already done this time—away from Ratoukhit,” he specified. “Never kill the animal a hound guards where it can see you.” Dukat nodded understandingly; to do so would suggest to the hound that its charges were instead acceptable prey. “Come with me. I want to see how you use the knife. You will need this for skinning—and for riding. You know why, yes?”

Dukat nodded. Riding hounds shared their kills with their masters as they would with the leaders of their packs. One thing every rider had to be prepared to do—even the most refined competitive rider—was to slice a symbolic bite of meat from any freshly killed prey, lock eyes with the hound, and immediately eat it in the animal’s presence, before allowing their steed to partake. Even when pups were first weaned, this was a hard rule that established dominance over the larger, stronger animals: their masters might be far more generous than a fellow riding hound, allowing them nearly all the rewards of their kills, but it was theirs, and theirs always, to take the first spoils and grant permission for the rest. Whatever the hound ate, the master ate from first.

Before they could make it more than a few steps away from the herd and the hound, Ratoukhit stared up into the sky somewhere around the peaks of the distant Noumara Mountains, opened his mouth, and let out a mistrustful, strident ba’ou. He no longer thumped the weighted end of his tail on the ground. There was no more excitement…this was urgent—a desperate warning.

At first nothing was obviously wrong. A zerayd hovered overhead, but imposing as the obsidian-feathered carrion-eaters might appear, they would never attack a zabou, let alone in the presence of a riding hound and a group of Cardassians. Etil’an scrutinized the hound; Gharumef did as well. Ratoukhit still refused to tear his attention from the sky. Whatever the threat was, it was there. Dukat tensed, mentally whispering a prayer to Oralius—what was happening?

His ears did not hear it at first…they were nowhere near as sharp as a riding hound’s. Ever since the era of jet travel had passed, aerospace engines had become much quieter though still quite audible at near- and supersonic speeds. These hurtled overhead at what seemed to be just below the speed to avoid a sonic boom. They flew daringly low as they crested over the mountains, their courses straight, unharassed, the ships themselves showing few battle scars in the moments they were visible—

—and they were entirely the wrong shape, the wrong color, not rust and ochre, but maroon with accents of blinding bronze.

No one’s fighting them—why is no one fighting them…oh, Oralius, dear Oralius, we’ve truly fallen! The Bajorans…are those troop carriers?!

Nothing had stopped them—they had to be headed straight for Culat—

Dukat’s finger stabbed at the sky, his jaw dropped involuntarily and he emitted a terrified, sharp, yet voiceless gasp that startled him just as much as it did Gharumef and Etil’an.

He wasn’t sure what stunned him the most about it: the fact that he’d had enough control, even now, not to cry out despite every nerve in his body clamoring to do so—or the mute sound that had escaped. It almost, almost reminded him of the awful sound the dying soldier had made.

He knew how odd his wild gesticulation and voiceless outburst must have seemed to them; he tried to compose himself as quickly as he could, but his effort was faltering at best. His eyes were still so wide, and his hands still trembled and his heart beat furiously in his chest.

He felt something cross into range of his bioelectric sense and he spun, the most primitive part of him wanting to lash out at the intruder—but he breathed deeply, let his eyes focus on the source. It was Gharumef, who had drawn his hand just near enough for Dukat to detect the bioelectric field, but not yet touching. Only after he made eye contact did the warrior lay that hand upon his shoulder…touching a Cardassian without warning in a moment of such extremes could trigger a defensive instinct strong enough that he might strike even the dearest friend or family member before he realized what he was doing.

“Were those the outworlders you told us about when you first came here?” Gharumef questioned.

Dukat confirmed, lips pressed into a tight line that had less to do with suppressing speech and more to do with the awful gravity of the situation.

“We should warn the others,” Gharumef determined. “Etil’an…your lesson will have to wait. We will return to inform you as soon as there has been a decision. As for me…I intend to recommend that we break camp. They were headed for Culat; even old Kekil village is too close for me.”
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Are you a Cardassian fan, citizen? Prove your loyalty--check out my fanfic universe, Star Trek: Sigils and Unions. Or keep the faith on my AU Cardassia, Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius!
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