Aiy'i's Manipulation

(July, 2003; written for A Dark Portal)
Comment on this story | View comments

"Listen to me, Cat -"
"- don't call me that -"
"- you have to listen. You see things in such a narrow way -"
"- don't insult my faith -"
"- you miss the fact that it's all related. But someday you'll see -"
"- my eyes are open already, but all they see is a noisy, furless philosopher."

...

There are times when the air is so clean and fresh that breathing it is almost like swimming; the teasing fingers of wind flow like wavelets over one's cheeks, and every movement of one's limbs feels weightless, untouched by the soil's pull. The illusion of being able to leap forward into its open expanse, reaching for the grey line that divides the endless blue above and the endless brown below, is so strong that one must wonder why more Miau aren't found in heaps at the bottoms of their mountains.

Aiy'i wondered, at least. As he sat cross-legged atop an overhang near the peak of Mount Cy'Lesh, preparing his tools - three tubs of herb dye, the feathers of several distinct bird species, and a blunted spear, to name a few - he considered the breezes and the view, and longed (not for the first time) for a pair of wings. Perhaps I ought to have been born a hawk, he thought, his nimble fingers dipping into the deepest green dye he had and tracing a pattern of tree trunks over a feather obviously belonging to one of that race, but since I wasn't, I'll just enjoy the sights from these places I can climb to, and dabble in this rather different sort of winging. He smiled, half to himself and half to the sprawl of straw-and-reed huts spreading out from the base of the mountain, thinking as he worked.

He had had a discussion with a Highman visiting from Stronghaven a fortnight earlier, one which had rapidly degraded into an argument over the philosophy of existence. The man had argued in favour of The All, a belief most of the Plains tribes held, which stated that all things in the world were actually representations of a single, infinite entity. Aiy'i, of course, had defended his race's vision of Purri-gyr'la, the Dreamer: that the world they inhabit was actually the sleep-images of a great creature (strangely, generally portrayed as looking much like the Miau themselves), and so in order to cause change in it, its peoples need only be clever enough to manipulate its dreams. The spear buried in the dust in the Ca'Astarii Valley - marked with a glyph of flame, and famously stabbed into the sandy soil moments before the blue sky began to drip rain, the Dreamer convinced that water was needed to douse the fire - was proof enough for Aiy'i's people, but few outside of the Miau race agreed. The Highman had been so insistent in his denials, in fact, that Aiy'i had walked away long before anything was resolved, fuming.

Everyone else thinks they know best. Too bad we're the people with the proof.

That was why he was here, as a matter of fact: to perform a task so important that though his mind wandered, he checked and rechecked his preparations to the point of neurosis. The feathers, each of which had been painted to resemble a tiny version of the trees common around Miaun, were planted into the loose soil, bending and writhing in the breeze. A glyph of stillness had been carved into the wood of the spear, a finger-span above the metal tip, and this picked up the dawn light in constantly-changing peaks and valleys as Aiy'i held the weapon in his left hand. About his right he fastened a strap of leather which had been burned with the pattern used to represent the winds: three long and wavering lines, each passing through the others as they swam horizontally across the material. So equipped, he rose slowly to his feet, ensuring that he stayed within the circle of feathers as his joints crackled, and began to dance.

...

"We've lost four more oaks this week, and I'm afraid that -"
"- so I'll go up and dance to drop the -"
"- no, wait a moment. We need to make sure -"
"- Jen'yr, I'm a Mrrair, I've been trained practically from birth to do this -"
"- would you listen a moment? At least talk to the other Manipulators and make sure they -"
"- don't worry about it. I'll go up to the mountain at sunrise and -"
"- why are you so impatient? You should at least -"
"- it's beautiful up there, and it's my turn to help the city. The wind will fall, so don't -"
"- just remember, Aiy'i, that everything is relative -"
"Stop. I'm going now."

...

It seemed to be working. With each turn, his paws striking the earth as rhythmically as if he were playing a drum, Aiy'i lifted the spear, stabbing skyward as his decorated right hand hung intentionally limp at his side. Every other inch of his body was in motion; he used his lithe feline form to its best advantage as he contorted and spun about, even performing a few backflips which sent his tail flying up parallel to the spear. Throughout, he refused to bend the right-hand's fingers, or even to move its wrist - in a game of symbolism, even minute oversights could project the wrong need entirely. Finally, as the dust turned his honey-coloured fur beige and his muscles began to protest, his Manipulation worked. Whether an act of Purri-gyr'la or something else entirely, the wind fell. Aiy'i cheered wildly, his voice echoing off of the stone and vanishing into the sky - Finally, I'll get my recognition as a Mrrair! They won't pass over me when they need something done... and no more trees will die because of the wild wind, even! Everyone wins.

...


"He's too determined to prove himself, Elder. He won't listen to anyone."
"How is that different from any other young Mrrair? They get no prestige until they prove that they can Manipulate properly."
"Yes, but they need to listen! He's talented, obviously - the wind fell, but -"
"What's the problem, then? It sounds like he's done admirably, Jen'yr."
"Come see what's happened, then."

...

Aiy'i scrabbled his way down the face of Cy'Lesh, the glow of one who is intensely pleased with himself almost visibly radiating off of his grimy surface to dribble onto the rocks at his feet. I'll stop by the Dymar Brothers' stall and get a good meal, then head back to the Tree to bask in the glow of Jen'yr's appreciation - and the afternoon sunshine. Surely I've earned that-

His cheerful self-congratulation was abruptly severed as another of his fellow Mrrair - a greying, withered-looking man named Puryur, who on most days was barely able to groom without assistance - ran up to him, his expression uncharacteristically panicked.

"Youngling, what did you do? The city -"
"- I just Manipulated to stop the wind, what's -"
"Come!"

Aiy'i, though his legs were longer than his aging fellow's - and though his frame was certainly far better muscled - had a surprisingly difficult time keeping pace with Puryur's dash back into Miaun. Both fell to all fours, trading dignity for raw speed as the outer huts blurred by; the younger of the two was focusing on the older so closely that it took him several moments to realize that they were going against the grain, as dozens of Miau darted past them, exiting the central marketplace and fleeing to their homes. What the...

The market was in an uproar. Guards wielding spears formed a rough circle about it, but that plan was laughably ineffective; most of them were leaping out of the way just like those they were supposed to be protecting. Aiy'i rose to his feet, idly dusting off his fur as he attempted to transfer the visual information he was receiving into knowledge that actually made sense. His training as one of Purri-gyr'la's Manipulators allowed him to tune out those who were screaming and flailing in his general direction, but this did little to help him understand the situation.

Water appeared to be on a rampage. It flowed out of the soil and flitted up toward the sky, as if the earth had decided that there had been enough rain and was sending back the excess, and great globs swirled through the air in all directions, chasing townspeople and spattering over buildings. The movements were erratic, yet could never be occurring naturally, he thought; the shapes' paths shifted and even reversed, and he could feel no breeze except that which accompanied them. As he stared, a large bubble rose from the ground at his feet and flew, ever so gently, directly into his forehead. Rivulets spread down his face and dripped into his mouth, salty-sweet, and a soft giggle echoed into his ears. Puryur glanced over at him.

"Now you see. As you were Manipulating the wind, I was working with the water in order to keep the soil moist through this dry spell. We're not sure what this means -" "- but you should have checked to ensure that no other Mrrair was already Manipulating before you set out, you foolish child! Look at what has happened!"

Aiy'i had been too engrossed in the bizarre scene to notice a third member join their group, and started as she spoke. Spinning about, he found himself staring at an Elementalist Miau he had met only in passing previously, her eyes glowing with anger.

"I... didn't realize that this could -"
"- no, obviously not! Aiy'i, Puryur, can you see what is going on here?"
"I see water flying around, Mee'char, is that -"
"No. Watch."

Taking a step back, Mee'char began to gesture and mutter under her breath; Aiy'i could not identify the spell, but the wording seemed to place it into the family of enhanced vision. After a few moments, she spread her hands, pointing one palm toward Aiy'i and the other at the still-panting Puryur. He felt a warm trickle, not unlike that which accompanied the egg his smallest sister had once broken on his head, spread down past his ears and over his eyes, then gasped despite himself as the true scene came into view.

"Oh..." whispered both of the men, freezing in place.
"Undines and Sylphs."

The water was not what it had appeared to Aiy'i's normal sight; though the spell could not replace the second vision of Elementalists, he perceived a hazy double-image that told the story. Each blob was actually a small creature constantly in flux - its colouring was its only consistent characteristic, melting from transparent sky-blue to the deepest blue-green-black, like an entire sea compressed into a tiny form. The general shape was that of a snake, long and writhing, but with arms, extra heads, and various other protrusions sliding into and out of existence with aimless fluidity. Aiy'i could hear no sound from them, but their motions projected a combination of rage and ambivalence, as if they were too exhausted to care properly.

Their erratic patterns were caused by the other creatures he could now see: presumably, these were the Sylphs, the creatures of Air. They looked almost like small phoenixes, but far more ephemeral, their limbs and pink-white-blue wings blending into the air they darted through so that their edges seemed completely undefined. Their bodies were compact but graceful, wings ending in dainty hands that grasped at the Undines; two or three per Water creature, they merrily toted their unwilling cargo about. Struggle as they might, the Undines seemed unable to escape, at least until they landed on something - or someone - and were able to return to the soil. Mee'char sighed.

"You told the Sylphs to stop doing things just as Puryur told the Undines to work twice as hard as usual - and I bet you can guess what that did. This is what we call a case of bored Air creatures making use of tired Water ones, and frankly, it's embarrassing. How can you Mrrair do your Manipulations without being able to see what you're doing? The Elemental Guild will be working for weeks to correct this!"
"...but..."
"Just go back to the Rroyliss Tree, Aiy'i, and enjoy the sunshine - you might even get some rainbows in this unique weather, y'yai? You two cannot help here. Trust me, you've �helped' enough."

Aiy'i opened his mouth to protest, but seeing Mee'char's expression (not to mention the way she had begun to wiggle her fingers again, threatening some Elemental vengeance), took Puryur by the arm and started back toward the Tree instead. It wasn't a long walk - the Mrrair lived just outside of Miaun so that they could be called in easily during an emergency - but the boy's thoughts made him almost as slow as his companion. Though the sky was the colour of cobalt, an extremely isolated storm chanced to follow them home, its soundtrack the giggles of dozens of understimulated Air Elementals.

...

"So you really want to know more about The All, Cat?"
"I asked you not to call me that."
"Fine, Aiy'i, then."
"You pronounce it poorly, furless philosopher."
"It's hardly my fault you people have names that sound like wagon accidents. I'd really like to know what brought you here, though, especially after our last meeting."
"I need to start listening. I still believe in our Dreamer, Purri-gyr'la, but there is so much I didn't know - nothing is so simple as we'd all like to think, is it? Not even the clarity of the air."
"Sadly not."