May she sing with Zuto Nui.
That was the Dasakan adage meant to weave threads of comfort into the tapestry of life and death. There was no such thing as finality or the yawning void, and no Dasaka had to contend with the fact that their minds - the minds that gave them power, the minds that allowed them to interlink with lovers and family and hated rivals alike, the minds that were their whole essence and all their power - could just unravel and fade. They were an elegant, beautiful people, with history that extended into Time before Time. Surely death was transitory, a period no different from calling upon one's Toroshu or the Rora before she could be reunited with her loved ones - to sing with Zuto Nui in kind, and mingle and merge her own consciousness into a seamless bliss that made Ideatalk seem as brusque as a shouting match. In the next phase of eternity, she would be with her mother again.
Umbraline Desdemona felt as though she had spent most of the boat ride dead. But she did not sing with Zuto Nui, and the thing sharing infinity with her was not her mother.
Her sleep was long and dreamless, but she was not altogether oblivious to the comings and goings around them. She could feel the minds of the refugees roiling constantly; the Umbralines and all their courtiers had fled Sado, the jeweled eye of the world, for parts unknown to all but a few Dasaka. There was a lot of turmoil in their ragtag armada over the decision. In her sleep, Des could hear the murmurs of discontent and even the fleeting, unbecoming thoughts of mutiny that tantalized dejected sailors and courtiers in their dreams. Yumi would have had them all killed, dismembered by Inokio for their treachery, but Des could hardly blame them. The Empire, a beacon of civilization for tens of thousands of years, had been rocked to its core, maybe even collapsed - what did they have to be loyal to, its memory?
But loyal they stayed, and even if Yumiwa wanted them killed, there would be no one to do it. She couldn't feel Inokio anywhere anymore.
Somewhere, in whatever space she occupied, she cried thinking of him. Once, she thought she imagined a tiger, bloodied and limping, lapping at her tears with a roughened tongue...but maybe that was a dream after all, because she had cried out for Inokio until her little chest trembled, cried for him in rage and betrayal and fear and even cried out for a hint of the paternal love he had never, ever reciprocated. But the tiger was too exhausted to dry her tears a second time, and Inokio himself never replied. Yumi didn't answer her, either, or her uncle Rayuke, or even Masayoshi, who was not her sworn sword but would have gladly dropped every title and office in her life to be so. All she had for company was the thing.
Her mother had been a beautiful woman. She was old and bent towards the end, with none of Yumi's height or Rayuke's power, but she had been a powerful Menti in her day and had captured the hearts of more men and women than anyone - maybe even her successor. She had marshaled a whole empire against the traitorous Clan Fursic and put an end to their imperial delusions with the same ease and grace she went through her life with. Even at the end, with a Soulsword punched through her chest and bloody spittle flecked along her lips and chin, her corpse had been suspended above the party with grace.
Desdemona shook in terror.
On the table at the Chojo's bedside, a trinity of crystal spheres trembled and clinked.
The thing was pallid and grey, with empty eyes devoid of the love and light her mother brought into the world. It was hunched like the old woman the Rora had been, and whatever sick sculptor had replicated her fatal wound knew his work well; the hole was bored perfectly through her, and Des could peer straight through her body onto the horizon. The thing's insides were empty; her mother had a good and gentle heart, her surviving brother liked to say, much like Desde's herself when they were of an age. The thing had no heart at all.
Though, thinking back to Yusanora's body at the party, maybe she hadn't had one either.
It was just them in this plane. Desdemona, her brain fried by a psionic surge the likes of which she had never felt before, and this thing wearing what remained of her mother's skin. Since she knew this couldn't be a dream, it stood to reason that all she had to do was wait this out - unless this was the fabled afterlife.
"Are you Zuto Nui?" she asked quizzically, but of course a Dasaka should never ask such questions aloud - especially if she was talking to Zuto Nui. Sorry!
.:Are you Zuto Nui?:.
.:Are you Zataka?:.
That definitely didn't seem right, either, although it would make a lot of cults much funnier in retrospect.
.:Are you Yusanora?:.
Not a twitch.
The thing looked up. Maybe Desde had hit upon an uncomfortable truth - that this was the frailty, the disgusting and hidden truth of her soul that her mother and her family had known to tuck away in a tower. Or maybe she was just so skinny and weird that she had even offended a mockery such as this ghoul. That would make her feel pretty crummy.
.:No. You're not me.:.
.:I'm a dragon.:.
She could feel the older Menti recoil at her touch, the way everyone recoiled from Desde's touch. It had made her cry her entire life - but now, after everything, Desde finally felt like she could start singing.
.:Ayiwah, you should have seen me!:. she gushed, the same way she had always gushed to the cousin she idolized. Ayiwah had always occupied a space in Desde's pantheon of heroes just a couple rungs below her own Valkyr namesake. She would always come equipped with knowledge of court gossip and things she had done with her Menti abilities, as though that could impress a woman who had seen the things Ayiwah had on the seas, a sailor who could cut down impetuous nobles in her uniform and remain so respected. But Ayiwah had never made her frail little cousin feel any the lamer for the poor stories she offered in exchange for the commodore's exploits. In fact, once she had even shown Desde her navel piercing, dotted with little crystals that could have fit on a nail, and regaled her with the story of how she got it. Yumi might have marched to Inokio or their mom and demanded one, but not Desde. She knew it was their secret.
.:There was this thing, this...I don't want to call it a Soulsword, but...yeah~! It was a Soulsword, and it looked like a dragon! I made it!:. She hoped Ayiwah was getting all this; she could feel the commodore's strong will pushing out, testing the limits of their connection, and the crown princess realized that unlike her Ayiwah was still dreaming. .:I saw Yumi getting to her ship, and Masayoshi is with me...I saw Uncle for a minute, but I don't know if Rayuke...I don't know if he made it. The rest of us are coming to you! Isn't that great?:.
It was odd. She could hear her own words ringing in her ears, could parse each one she spoke, define it, and string them together to realize that what she was saying was downright apocalyptic...but somehow, she couldn't help but feel good. She felt strong.
:Desde!? How is this possible?:.
.:Ayiwah? Can you hear me? I said we're coming to you, on Mata Nui! I don't know how many days out we are, but if I can hear you, that's a good sign!:. She had no idea why Ayiwah wasn't as excited as she was. Maybe it was the connection; maybe she was rousing her cousin from a pleasant sleep
(ooh, maybe with Tazera beside her???) or maybe Ayiwah was having a harder time coming to terms with the fate of the Empire than she was. The thing certainly didn't seem enthused to hear Desde's briefing. It had started to rattle at her, the stupid ugly ghoul, and as it attempted to stretch towards her its brittle grey skin began to crack like mistreated parchment. She swatted the hand away.
.:I'm talking to my cousin. You don't belong here.:.
When she blinked again, it was just her and Ayiwah.
.:Ayiwah, I think I have to wake up. Something's...happening to me, I think. It isn't safe. But don't worry, Ayiwah. I'm coming.:.
The princess smiled shyly, and hoped that the expression carried across the gulf between her and her cousin.
.:I love you.:.
At the same moment Ayiwah sat up in her bed, drenched in sweat despite the temperate Ga-Koro evening, Umbraline Desde's eyes lolled open lazily. She let out a big yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawn.
"Masa?" she groaned, covering the back of her hand to stifled a yawn from growing louder than the first. She sat up in bed and hugged the covers to her bare chest. At some point Masayoshi must have bathed her, or a handmaiden. Perverts. She cracked her neck - always a dangerous proposition with a constitution and build like Desde's, but she let out a happy, contented sigh at the unfamiliar feeling of her joints popping. She did the same with her back, then laced her fingers together and reached her clasped hands to the ceiling of her cabin.
"Yumi?" She realized she was making the same mistake as she had in her dream...vision...coma...whatever, and reached out across the armada, scanning everywhere for the telltale scarlet of her sister's Willhammer tell.