In a landscape that winks in and out of existence amidst the dance of curling mists, a broken stone monument rises above the rolling plain. Delicate feet stand on a block-like base, feet and the train of a robe rising upward only so far, only to end in a jagged break. Rubble some pieces as large as boulders lie scattered about the base, but remain clear of a wide platform in front, flanking a raised dais that houses a marble throne of that has seen just as many years pass.
On the throne is seated a winged feline, dressed in silky layers of cloth that form a variation of a toga, wreathed in more gauzy fabric, and adorned with precious stones and jewelry of enameled wood and small pieces of even more precious metal.
The marble throne has been fitted with soft cushions that are hardly as ancient as the statue or the surroundings, instead showing painstaking care, woven by hand, and seamless. To each side of the throne, feline servants hold feathered fans, goblets of wine, and cornucopias of fruit, all with their attention focused on the one seated on the throne.
The one on the throne is Buran.
Lilting melodies provided by a flute-like instrument wielded by one of the servant felines dances on the air. It is a breathy sound that almost blends in with the lonely winds that blow across the ethereal landscape.
Buran's eyes survey the strange place, though she tries not to show her confusion. All those shiny things! And … metal! (How did I get here? Observe. Then form a hypothesis. Test hypothesis. But don't do anything stupid.) For the moment, she contents herself with the brilliance of this place.
Clouds drift by, accenting that this strange 'throne room' has no ceiling over it. It would seem that if any of those clouds wish to shower Buran and her 'court' with precipitation, there is nowhere near to take shelter under … at least, not with any semblance of dignity.
One of the servants gasps, looking at Buran, and the flute-playing immediately stops.
A timid voice asks, in an exotic tongue that makes perfect sense to Buran, for some reason "You have awakened!" The servants prostrate themselves. "How may we serve you?"
Buran gazes up at the clouds, perking her ears up to listen for thunder. It occurs to her that perhaps the owner of that voice has some answers. But, for the moment, caution is in order. (Talk. Act the part. Perhaps someone will drop a few hints.) "I'm a bit thirsty," she admits. Her gaze drifts to the wine.
The servants get up immediately. The music resumes. The fan waves, blowing a light breeze on the seated, winged feline. And a goblet, gilded in gold and engraved with swirling designs, is presented to the lips of Buran, filled with a translucent ruby wine that glitters enticingly.
"I hope I didn't sleep through something important. Is there anything in need of my attention today?" the Khatta asks a nearby servant. She sips the wine, approving of its flavor.
The servants look to each other. One stammers, "Your worship, you have been asleep for generations. We are honored to be those present at your revival. When the word spreads, all the people will rejoice!"
"Oh." Buran blushes slightly pink beneath her thick fur. "Generations? I suppose I don't." She pauses. (Improvise.) "Tell me how long? How many generations?"
The servants look to each other, evidently at a loss. "You have slept for ages," one stammers. "You fell asleep at the dawn of time!" another exclaims, then hushes herself quietly.
Most, however, are not so talkative. Some are evidently in a state of shock.
A jingling noise can be heard, coming from somewhere out of sight. The rhythm of the sound is faintly reminiscent of chitin ringers adorning the gear of Drokars pulling carriages of the especially wealthy citizens of Rephidim.
Buran perks an ear toward the sound. (Am I in Rephidim? Or somewhere else? But that sounds like a carriage… ) "The dawn of time? A long time indeed. Is that a carriage I hear?" is her next question.
A servant comes running into view. "The Queen is coming!" The male feline abruptly halts as he sees Buran, and makes a choking noise, coughing as he drops to a prostrate position before the throne. "The Goddess of Life!"
The source of the ringing sound becomes evident before anyone can find the courage to answer Buran. Gaunt beasts of burden, covered in glittering black caparisons, of unknown species, come into view, bells ringing as they approach, pulling, indeed, a carriage. Tattered drapes flutter from curving wooden poles that rise from the carriage in a way that suggests ribs of some great behemoth.
Several dark-robed servants, completely swathed in black, gray and off-white drapes, walk alongside the carriage, tattered capes and cloaks billowing in the light wind. Not a bit of their fur is visible, though it's evident that they must be of the same race feline as the servants tending to Buran.
Buran watches the carriage in silence. (I must be dreaming.)
The carriage stops … and the rib-like poles rising from the carriage part, half swinging slowly down to one side, and the other half to the other. They open up to reveal a flat bed on the back, upon which reclines a feline adorned in jewelry and silks in much the same fashion as Buran is. "Greetings, sister," says this other entity, in a voice that is calm and casual, yet somehow carries a force to it … perhaps because the voice is easily heard by Buran's ears even at this distance, sounding as if the words were spoken effortlessly with no heed for projection.
(Remember your part… ) "Good day," is Buran's reply. She tries to make her voice project in the same manner.
"Good day?" The rider on the carriage laughs. "Ah well. I had expected more of a greeting than that from you, but I have no room to speak. Welcome to the land of the living, sister, at least after a fashion. Come. Let us speak alone for a time. I have much to tell you."
Buran stretches. "Forgive me. I'm told I've been asleep for decades. But I will come gladly." (And get some answers.)
"Very well, then. BEGONE!" The other one claps her hands, and immediately her servants disperse. In but a heartbeat, they are nowhere to be seen. She then simply steps down from the carriage, down a set of steps that have been left standing to one side.
Buran's own servants look at her, as if awaiting orders.
Buran sets the now-empty wine glass on a nearby tray. "Bring the best chair for my sister! And more wine and food!" It's just like handling the young acolytes in the Temple always having to be told what to do, firmly but not unkindly. "Quick!"
Buran's servants quickly spring into action. A wicker chair is brought no match for the marble throne Buran sits in, but still something that would fetch quite a large price in any market on Rephidim, for certain. Food and wine is brought just as quickly. Buran's guest slowly takes the seat, but doesn't even acknowledge the food and wine by looking at it, though she does say, "Already, the land is more bountiful with your return."
The food is ignored by Buran as well. "What have I missed, then?" she inquires. "A lot must have happened here since the dawn of time." (Wherever 'here' is… )
The guest shrugs. "Nations have come and gone, and our own land has suffered from imbalance, since most of the pantheon slumbers. However, our old enemies are awakening. Perhaps that is why you have returned."
Buran listens closely now. "Tell me of them. What have you heard?"
"The Silent-Ones who sought to eradicate our people from the earth, whose empire was smitten, is rising again. Those who enslaved our people became slaves, and have been so for millennia … but even now that is changing," the guest narrates in an even tone. "They will rise again, and even now plot vengeance against the nations … and soon enough they will try to finish what they started. When they have enough power, they will seek to destroy our people my servants and yours."
(The Savanites? But how? I must investigate when I get home… if I get home.) Buran outwardly nods slowly. "And come here… to this place?" The Khatta carefully modulates her voice to make the final phrase an unspoken question in itself.
The guest looks around to the others, and then to Buran. "Do not be ashamed of your many questions. Your forgetfulness and disorientation is perfectly normal. We suffered much at the hands of the silent sorcerers. It is no surprise that it took so long for your avatar to re-manifest itself."
The guest leans back. "But it is good. Our land needs a balance to be healthy. You are, after all, the Goddess of Life, Healing and Growth." With a shrug, she adds, "I am the Goddess of Death, Destruction and Decay. We each have our place in the cycle of nature. With one and not the other, our land cannot be complete."
The point is conceded with a nod. (At last. An opportunity.) "You must forgive my forgetfulness. I'm sure my memory will return in time. But if I am an avatar… then where is my real existence? Somewhere … else?"
The guest makes a sweeping gesture to the surroundings with her hands. "We are beings beyond this physical plane, but not wholly free of it. Our existence is tied to our followers. We are strong when our people are strong. If our people die out, or forget us … then it is as if we never existed."
"Presently, you are in your oldest remaining avatar of this world. But you have another that has arisen elsewhere, which even now is in a land in the sky. How fitting for my sister, since the air is her dominion, while the depths are mine," the guest remarks.
"Then your avatar must live in the sea," Buran replies. "It would be equally fitting for you."
The guest smiles. "Yes, such is my domain. Now then … by what name would it please you to be called? I shall certainly call you 'Goddess of Life' if you prefer, but … " She shrugs.
Buran says, "'Buran' will do nicely. My … avatar … is accustomed to it. I see no reason to change."
The guest nods. "Very well then. I should like to hear more of your life as your second avatar, living among mortals… " Just then, several jaguar cubs fly in borne upon feathered wings bearing platters laden with all manners of rich food. Before Buran's eyes, a feast is quickly laid out.
A silver platter is set out, quite apparently the centerpiece, covered with a lid engraved with precious stones. One of the servants lifts the lid, to reveal a creature, roasted whole, resembling some great flying reptile, vaguely like a pterodactyl, surrounded in garnishes and colorful berries.
Buran lifts an eyebrow, then smiles. "I hope you're hungry. It seems a feast is in order."
Goblets of wine are presented to the guests of honor, and platters of food are passed around. Then, one of the servants takes a barbed knife and stabs it into the pterodactyl-like roast, to test the meat.
Abruptly the pterodactyl-like creature opens its beak and squawks, "Nevermore!"
And Buran's dream ends.
"Are you awake? C'mon, wake up, we've got to fix junction B-twenty four," says a worried young Rath'ani cub, nudging Buran.
Buran opens one eye slowly. "What … ?"
It looks to Buran as if she had just been sitting down on a bench well, a large conduit and drowsed off unexpectedly. Quinn points to the directives for the day. "I fixed the leak here like you told me to, but now we've got to move on! No rest for the wicked." He grins widely.
The Technopriestess rubs the bridge of her nose for the second time … or is it the first? "Well, we'd better get back to work, then." For the rest of the afternoon, her work is done with the usual precision and care, but her mind wanders, wondering if that was really a dream…