Nanashi the Null [ Chapter 7 ]
Nanashi the Null
“I still don’t understand how you could have lived through all these things!” Nanashi complained to the shriveled old man.
He plunged a lump of sugar into his black tea and stirred it with a merry clanking.
Günter had made himself at home and roared like he always did, “lived or not, that was one mighty fine story!” he declared, “I shall retell it when I return home.”
Nanashi’s flash of anger against Günter’s ironclad will to ignore the preposterousness of Sagamund Greenhorn’s stories about the ‘olden days’ which should by all rights be called ‘the far, faaar back ancient days’ almost had her fail to notice how his eyes grew strangely dim and his voice slightly flat on the last part. He recovered swiftly though and was back to laughing in no time. Nonetheless this only supported the odd feeling about the Kaltani stranger that had crept up on Nanashi when first she had met him. “Story or not, if there was any magic keeping you alive I should be able to feel it by all rights!” she insisted.
Sagamund laughed at that. “And I keep telling you that there is no magic. Technology has enhanced my lifespan many-fold, much like it has shaped that tree outside.”
Nanashi shook her head. “I have heard and read of many wonders the technocrats have displayed during the old ages, but nothing like this. Explain!”
Sagamund joined in with Günter’s laughter. “My, my, you have yourself a fierce wife, what-was-it… Günter… Oaktree?” he asked.
“Wahaha! Oakenheart, Günter Oakenheart!” he bellowed, correcting the old man, but not on the thing Nanashi would have liked him to be corrected on:
“I am not his wife!” she blurted ablaze, “stop mocking me and tell me how you are alive. If you don’t I shall not believe another word that comes from your mouth!”
Sagamund grinned. It looked fiendish but hinted that it might once have given his face a fierce look, long ago when it hadn’t been so wrinkled. “Ooh, what a threat. There is not much to know, little girl. We are all made of flesh and blood, this you should be aware of at least, but that flesh and blood is made of tinier things still; endlessly many of them. Inside of them are the building-blocks of our race - and they are in plants and animals too, though containing different blueprints there. The field of science that is to this day dominated by my clan, the Greenhorns, and strives to understand and manipulate those building-blocks is called ribogenetics. Using my knowledge and skill I have rewritten those building-blocks in my own body and received a lifespan many-fold. But that was long ago and in another one or two-hundred years this body will fail as well. I am a mortal just like you, little girl.”
Nanashi did not like being called a little girl at all. And these people she had come in contact with since her brothers had left her were irritating to the extreme. It was harder and harder for her to find her center and return to that dark, quiet place. She would need to take a longer meditational session to cleanse her mind of all these distractions. Until then she had to somehow make it through this strange episode of her life with her dignity intact. The explanation at least seemed feasible as far as the logic behind it went, even though it still sounded preposterous to her ears. “Very well then,” she said, “the technocrats hold mysteries within their society that would marvel the stoutest I suppose.”
Sagamund took a sip of tea. “Quite the poetic one you are, girl.” He said, somewhat dropping the ‘little’. “Truth be told, you would be deeply shocked and may-well concerned if you knew what the technocrats were truly capable of these days. To many of them the free people of the Great Land are savages - all of them. And why not? What is a man who idles on his farm to you, when you can fly like the bird, see light come to life, travel far away in the blink of an eye, and tame the element’s might? The technocrats can have a magus’s powers and more, including knowledge as deep as the sea.
Still, they are all men and women, no matter what they have achieved, and men and women bleed all the same, even if they are technocrats. Arrogance or folly may kill them yet,” the old man mused. He finished his cup. “Now tell me, what do the two of you want from old Sagamund?” he asked them with a sly smile.
“Günter has told me that you are rumored to offer passage through the Yamato Mountains on moth-back,” Nanashi said. Finally they were getting somewhere. Time was precious and Nanashi had a quest to tend to after all.
“That is so,” Sagamund admitted, “I also ask a fee for that service: one story that I have not heard yet. It is my substitute for traveling the world at my age; a poor one maybe, but better than perpetually stewing over books and research.”
Nanashi nodded in approval. But Günter wanted to go first it seemed: “A fair price indeed; I like you more by the minute, old man! Let Günter tell you the story of his last hunt before I left for the Yamato Mountains: It is an icy tale that drives me and my party far up beyond the Snowzone of the northern woods.”
Sagamund seemed to approve, “I shall accept that story if it is well-told.”
That was a good bargain for Günter indeed, Nanashi thought, as the Kaltani had proven himself to be a most skillful storyteller by now.
Sure enough he lived up to that to the fullest. His story seemed to have almost magical powers as the sun sunk down when he finally began, plunging the room into twilight. Even the hearth grew dimmer as if to set the mood. A story it was of a great hunt he had lead. The Kaltani had their own way of life, just as all the different cultures that lived strewn about the face of Aqualon. They lived far down in the north, just at the rim of the Snowzone where the lands of the high north began and snow lay eternally. The outskirts of that harsh, wintery land reached into its great coniferous forests that almost ringed the planet and were home to creatures that proudly endured the eternal cold. The mightiest amongst those were the frost wolves and the frost spiders as well as the great mammoths that were matched in size only by the mighty sensôga, the war moths of Yamato. The frost spiders were found as pets and trained hunting animals in many Kaltani tribes and their strong, sticky webs were used to fortify housings. Such were also part of Günter’s tribe, he explained. His jet-black spider Naxxenor had been his trusted companion since childhood, and on this hunt deep into the woods on the tracks of a lone mammoth that had been separated from its herd they went together as they had done so often. But soon it became clear that Naxxenor would not return. The mammoths oft-times travel far into the Snowzone and sometimes hunting parties of the Kaltani who track them will dare venture too far and never return. There is nothing in the Snowzone but eternal ice and at its tip the path to the realm of the Old Gods they say. Many had mystified those gods, calling them myths and legends, but Nanashi had seen extensive records of the Great War and was confident that there was nothing mythic about them but the stories passed down by fishwives. Günter described how he and his party had veered off-track and one by one perished. The spiders went first, for the harshness of far northern winds they could not bear as long as man. The men had to eat them to stay alive and strong. But soon they too went and Günter made it back, alone and starved. In the end he said that he had decided to see more of the world at that time, to feel warmer winds, but Nanashi could plainly see that that wasn’t how the story really had ended.
Sagamund seemed to notice it too as a glance he gave her suggested but kept silent about it and proclaimed the tale payment made in full in the end: “Very well, that was a good story and well-told, disheartening though it may have been. Your fare is accepted, young man. And what about you, girl?” he asked with his creaky voice.
Nanashi had pondered the matter for a while and had finally thought of the right story to tell: “I fear I am not a versed storyteller, and since you have lived so long, much of the recorded history I have read in the library of the Black Sanctum you may already know, but would you approve if I told you news of the world that you might not yet know? My party chanced upon a group of pilgrims on our way from the Black Sanctum and they told us of sinister tidings; tidings that reflected the true nature of our quest. What would you say to that, old man?” she inquired, mentally knocking on her forehead for good luck.
Sagamund nudged his head slightly. “This I will accept. I was curious anyways for even though I have seen Null here and there since the Age of Heroes, none of them have ever had as official an air about them as you. Whatever has driven you from your seclusion is of interest to me.”
Nanashi nodded and told him the tale about how the seers had foretold a great evil and the grand master had sent out five to save the five cities of the Middle Lands. As much concerned Sagamund Greenhorn, but when she began to tell the terrible tale of the pilgrims that she and her brethren had heard during the night of the storm, his eyes widened and his breath trembled. The council of the keepers was broken and only corruption remained in the Middle Lands, a foul corruption that was consuming it. Also it seemed as if Sagamund knew of other things that complemented Nanashi’s story, things that were deeply disturbing to him.
After she had finished, he stood up from his chair. Günter, who always seemed to have a comment and a belly laugh for any and every occasion, had grown silent as the grave when Nanashi laid out the news before them.
“I see,” Sagamund said with a grave voice, “we best eat something then. We should not depart on an empty stomach and the journey will take many hours, especially in the dark.”
Nanashi raised a brow: “In the… we are leaving right away? Shouldn’t we go when the sun rises again?”
Sagamund clattered around with some plates and put some cheese and rice gruel together, adding a bit of preserved carrot and fish. “I think not, little girl.” And so the ‘little’ was back. “You need to find your Lady of Lightning and suddenly it seems that Sagamund Greenhorn has urgent business again. For three hundred years I have lived peacefully in this shack, listening to stories, ferrying travelers across the vast Yamato Mountains on moth-back and now the world is falling apart again. It’s like a damned glass urn resting on a pin.” He had begun to rant while setting the table and somehow Nanashi felt too anxious to offer assistance. “Oh nonono, we will leave right away or there won’t be much ‘sunrises’ left to wait for, I assure you.”
Nanashi looked at the gruel before her as Sagamund heated water for more tea. “How do you know?” she asked him suspiciously while eying the food.
“Know what?” he asked.
“How do you know where I am going? That I am looking for the Lady of Lightning.”
Sagamund fanned the cooking fire. “How old do you think I am, little girl?! The old Lady of Lightning is dead. Every little girl like yourself knows the scriptures of Yilik and your party ‘inexplicably’ sets you off on your merry way to the greatest hub for weather science save for Borealis. A five-year-old could figure out what you are after.” Apparently he had only just begun to rant, clearly upset by the whole situation.
“I see,” she said, staying quiet for a little while as Günter emptied his platter with hungry hands. “And where do you have to go all of the sudden?” she asked now, careful to use a casual tone.
She had grown somewhat curious herself, and did not without reason consider the fact that she might have just called a big actor onto the board without meaning to.
“I need to go to Rimcity at the gates to the Spiral Sea. There I can get access to the necessary facilities and technology to find Miyako Fluxum,” he explained and added some tea leaves into the kettle, which he filled with steaming water.
“The Moving City?” Nanashi said in surprise. “What would you want with them?”
“Raise an army; bring the technamagineers into the fight. This time technology and magic may both crumble into dust before the challenge we face, we need something stronger still,” he answered and served them their tea.
“Face what?” Nanashi asked now. “What do you know about this, old man?”
He sipped from his cup and then gave her a dark look, his eyes hardening as if he had come to some sort of decision: “You should go back. Turn around and go to your Black Sanctum.” His voice was harsh and commanding when he said that.
Nanashi was incredulous. “Go… I can’t go back! I have a mission, I will not return until I have seen it through!”
Sagamund finished his cup and stood up once again to put on a thick, long coat, grabbing a strange, twisted staff from the wall. The hearth had completely burned down by now.
“You have been warned,” he said, “but you have also paid your fare, so you may fly along to Yamaseki same as your friend.” He went on out and left Nanashi and Günter behind to follow.
Günter stood up and slapped Nanashi firmly on the back. “Don’t be so glum now, fair Nanashi, t‘ll be alright. And ya sure have an interesting journey ahead, mind if I throw me sword in with that?”
Nanashi moved her gaze up, “What?”
Finally Günter shook out a laugh again, something the mood in here had sorely needed. “I’m saying that I’d like to stick along if ya’ll have me. Ol’ Günter knows a thing or two about trav’ling; and fighting too!” he assured her.
She stood up. “I… I am not sure,” she finally said. “I shall think on it during the flight.”
Now Günter laughed again, “Don’t ya say it so casually now, we’re really going to fly - fly like birds!”
Nanashi opened the door, letting the howling wind inside. “Fly like moths you mean,” she corrected him.
That only made him cheer up more, and as they went outside, they saw Sagamund waving his staff and what they had thought to be a furry tarpaulin when first they had come by the shack began to move, forcing the realization upon them that it was indeed the largest moth they had ever seen, easily as big as the shack itself…