The Peacock is a creature of astonishing beauty, but it is a beauty that can only be retained if frozen like a cockatrice’s statues. Smarter people accept the passage of time and dance out of The Peacock’s way. Its appearance always signifies a sudden personal shift in attitude or societal change.
The past week has been a blur of nightmares, sleeping and waking. At night the dreams have continued. Black shadowy wings, rolling grey hills, flying toward the pale blue north star. Each symbol carved into my mind — the writing must go on for hours, though I have no sense of time. The pain and terror are all-encompassing; they leave no room for thought. The sameness of those grey hills and the utter incomprehensibility of the runes admit no marking of progress. It just goes on and on until it ends. At times it was Ivan shaking me awake. Other times the road woke me.
I would find myself in a cage, one of the prison wagons from Raliscrad. Sometimes I would be bound, still gripped by confusion and terror from the fading dreams. Often Ivan would be there with me, sometimes Keeya or one of the clerics we rescued. Early on I remember being very weak, still poisoned by the belladonna I took to ward off lycanthropy. I think the clerics or paladins were working to heal me. I recall the pungent smell of salves, the bitter taste of emetics and purgatives. Utterly helpless, clutching a bucket for vomit or worse, the wagon rocking its way along the hard road back south. No privacy at all, on display like some circus creature. It’s just as well that I remember so little.
Later in the trip I regained my strength but often not my sense. I think I woke up in a panic once and punched one of the clerics. I don’t remember who. If it happened, I’m very sorry about that. The monk training probably didn’t make it any easier on you, but I take solace in knowing you could heal yourself. I’m pretty sure I was bound every night afterward.
We must have crossed the West Sellen, probably west of Storasta. I have no memory of that.
All I remember clearly are the dreams. They are changing me. I dread to speculate how.
Now we are in Nerosyan, where I write this. I am feeling better in all respects.
Shortly after we arrived, we were summoned by Queen Galfrey. Ivan tells me that we were all knighted for our roles in rescuing the crusaders from the prisons of Raliscrad, but it was as if that happened to a different person. I turn over in my hand the signet ring of knighthood — I see its royal seal, dominated by Iomedae’s sword; I feel its weight. Yet I remember virtually nothing from that day. Apparently I spoke little, which is just as well. I truly wish I could have said more in Cormonoth’s behalf, but I’m told that Locke spoke valiantly, and his words saved Cormonoth’s life. Thank fates. To have taken on this demonic burden for naught would have been too much to bear.
Fortunately that knighthood opened doors throughout Nerosyan. My companions sold many of the items we found in our travels for excellent prices. It seems that my dear brother took some of the newfound wealth and sought out for me a monk trained in eastern meditation, hoping that it would help my mental state. I cannot thank him enough.
He introduced me to this monk, who calls himself Ping Lao. Master Ping is a quiet man, and when he speaks during practice the words and sequences are almost entirely different from what I learned from Katsuyama-san. Still, the core remains the same: the breathing, the focus. With each breath I can feel myself returning, the flow of air parting the fog.
I have practiced with him for five days now. The dreams still come at night, but they no longer so completely strip me of will. When I wake, some of the pain persists, as it always does, most recently in my back and shoulders just as much as my head. But it does not break me. I wake and I breathe and I remember that I am Riva Tallix. I note the pain and fear, but I am not consumed by it. Not today.
Master Ping also taught me a bit of calligraphy. He showed me how to write his name in Tian Shu. I asked him to teach me how to write my own name, but he just shook his head and chuckled, then corrected how I wrote his name. I spent the better part of this afternoon writing it again and again until he finally nodded and smiled. Then he started laughing, a great belly laugh that went on for minutes. I couldn’t help but start laughing as well. I have no idea if this was all some kind of a joke. What in the hells was I actually writing?
I’ll write it again here, for posterity: 鸡屁
Joke or not, it was very relaxing.
Archery has also helped. Since leaving Promise, almost every time I’ve notched an arrow it’s been an act of violence. Finally we have some time to rest. I’ve been enjoying target practice, again finding the peace at its core. Katsuyama-san called it seisha seichū, meaning “true shooting is true hitting”: giving oneself entirely to the draw, release, flight — and if the spirit is true, the hit. It too is like breathing, and in its ideal just as natural. Draw, release. Draw, release.
Still, it’s not against the spirit of the this pursuit to improve one’s weapon as well, is it? I’ve been training with a loaned bow, while my darkwood bow is at a wizard’s shop getting some magical enhancements. Correction: it is a general magic shop. The gentleman working on my bow is an elven druid. He was quite happy to see a darkwood bow come in — apparently not a material most crusaders bother with. I asked that he make the composite adaptive, so I can use it to its fullest whether I am weakened or magically strengthened. Even more exciting is that he is enhancing it with the power of seeking, which will veer the arrow even toward concealed targets! Alright, that part seems a bit like cheating. Even still, I feel it will help in this fight, so it is worth doing. And besides, who’s to say that the ancient zen masters did not have similarly enchanted bows?
To that end, I think I will call my bow Seisha Seichū. True shooting is true hitting. A weapon like this deserves a name!
I’ve had a chance to do some other shopping as well. I had quite a list of items that were exhausted in the Worldwound — I shouldn’t run out of healer’s kits this time! — and a list of items that I missed not having in the first place. Best of all, I got a handy haversack. What a relief it will be to have such a lighter load!
Actually that’s not quite best of all. My druid friend showed me a Circlet of Persuasion, and — well, I spent more than I perhaps should have, but it is the most beautiful piece of jewelry I’ve ever seen. It’s clearly of elven handiwork: a slender silver circlet engraved and filigreed with a fine pattern of leaves and branches. Its enchantment gives an edge in the social skills — but I’m going to credit any greater success just to looking good! I wish I could show it to Mama. I’m sure she’d love it, the way it sparkles and glints in the candlelight even as I write this! She always loved her jewelry and
Desna protect me. I was just now admiring the circlet in my mirror — I don’t know how I never noticed this before — but my eyes are the same color as the North Star, Cynosure, the star in my dreams. The exact same color, no mistaking it. I suppose they always have been. I don’t know what that means. I’m so scared. Gods I’m so scared.
I just need to keep breathing. It’s almost midnight. I need to follow routine, let the cards guide me.
The Peacock. A true neutral card. It speaks of the inevitability of change over time and the folly of trying to prevent it. It also signifies a “sudden personal shift in attitude.” I can only laugh, bitterly laugh. I have felt so many shifts in attitude over the past weeks that the card may as well be predicting sunshine in the desert. As for the inevitability of change over time — I don’t wish to think of that now.
The only grace here is that I’ve discovered that true neutral cards bring me close to all my spirits. I need only reach out to choose which one. I did not hesitate: Galea Vahnwyn, elven priestess of Desna. The first spirit who came to me, when I was bound to the operating table at the Center. Galea, I can never repay you for offering me comfort and getting me through that place. But I need you still. Please help me now. Especially now. It is time to set this pen down and sleep.