Water Day, 14th of 4th Month, ZY1114
While having mid-morning breakfast at the Sky Door with his friends, Bayar witnessed a most strange event. The sky grew dim and then dark, as if night. No one else seemed to recognize the strange phenomenon; to them it was a perfectly bright sky. They went on plotting their next move against Gansalahi’s mercury mines as if nothing were amiss.
As the sky grew dark, Bayar also felt well up inside a feeling of overwhelming sadness and loss. The others suggested he may have eaten some bad meat or something, and perhaps he should stay home from the mission. Magsa offered to stay and take care of him.
Not feeling ill, but being unable to explain the strange vision and feelings, Bayar took their advice and retired to his room. He rested for the remainder of the day.
The next day, he found the town grown preternaturally cold, and time seemed as if it were standing still. The sky was still dark. It was as if some being or force had arrested the natural procession of the sun through the sky, creating a state of permanent night.
Meanwhile, news had arrived that all the Tathatans in the Ward had suddenly vanished. Some suspected powerful sorcery, and others suspected a plot by Prince Bayanhongor. But the Governor insisted they’d escaped by natural means with the help of inside agents, and those who’d aided and abetted their escape would be found and punished. A public trial would be held that afternoon to discover the guilty party.
Bayar then received a summons to the trial. He feared he would be accused, but obeyed the summons.
The trial was held outside amidst a crowd of local townsfolk. At the trial, it was the guards who had been on duty at the West Gate that night who stood accused. It turned out that Bayar was called in as an expert witness, since as a priest he was familiar with magic and could speak to the suspicions of sorcery, and as a person who’d traveled recently in the West he could speak to the suspicions of Prince Bayanhongor’s involvement.
Bayar was made to submit to the spell of Ordeal, standard procedure for court witnesses. He had to hold in his hand a metal sun medallion which would burn with intense magical heat if he spoke anything untrue.
The Governor probed Bayar about the Tathatans, sorcery, and Bayanhongor. As he did so, strange things began to happen.
First, snakes appeared writhing around Bayar’s arms and fingers as he sat on the witness stand. Bayar was alarmed but endeavored to keep calm since no one else seemed to see the snakes.
Next, the snakes worked their way around his legs and body.
Worse, an enormous serpent, monstrous in size, then reared its head over the crowd. To Bayar it appeared that this giant serpent was interrogating him. Bayar sweated and strained to control his fear.
Finally, one of the serpent’s coiling round his wrist bared its fangs and sunk them deep into his veins. Bayar cried out in pain, much to the astonishment of those watching him, who saw nothing amiss. His headed pounded as venom pulsed through his veins.
The Governor asked if Bayar was feeling alright, as he appeared quite pale. Bayar asked to be excused, and in a few moments the questioning was finished and he was allowed to leave the witness stand.
As he did so, he saw smoke rising up from behind the crowd, and flames lapping up from the buildings.
Amidst the crowd he glimpsed a strange woman, glowing unnaturally. She was a beautiful Orc maiden with flaxen black hair in coiled braids, leading a radiant white horse by the bridle. She disappeared in the crowd while heading toward the East gate.
The whole town now seemed ablaze in a conflagration. Bayar ran after her. He was last seen by the people of Kong Wan as running and crying madly through the streets toward the Eastern gate, swerving clumsily as if deeply ill.
Bayar made it outside the city and endeavored desperately to reach his holy site in the mountains, where he could pray to Thauma to discover what misfortune was befalling him. The venom was too powerful, however, and after a heroic effort, he collapsed in the snow. The last thing he remembered seeing was a strange, bird-like creature flying overhead as a silhouette in the sky.
When he came to, Bayar found himself in a rocky cave, near a sputtering fire with a pot over it smelling of meat. A blanket of black feathers was spread over him. The mouth of the cave appeared to be near, for dim starlight poured in from around a bend in the cave.
From the roof of the cave hung cords strung with dried herbs, skins, and bones. The cave walls were covered with strange glyphs – writing that looked old, very old.
Bayar, feeling completely recovered from the snake venom but deeply unnerved by his strange new surroundings, decided to explore the cave entrance. Peering round the bend, he could hardly believe his eyes.
Spread out before the mouth of the cave were the uppermost peaks of mountains – hundred of them, for as far as the eye could see. He appeared to be at the top of the world, somewhere atop the highest peaks of the Tianshu Mountains.
Suddenly, Bayar heard cat-like growling. A Siberian tiger appeared just beneath the mouth of the cave. It was thin and emaciated, its ribs visible from starvation. It roared and leaped at him with razor-sharp claws.
Bayar attempted to dodge but failed, and the tiger sliced into his left arm. Its claws ripped clean through, leaving only a bloody mess dangling from his shoulder.
The young Orc priest was now in dire jeopardy. He responded with his most powerful magic, a lightning strike that sizzled the tiger and left the beast smouldering.
Then something odd happened. Amidst the scent of burnt fur, there was a shimmer of magical light and the tiger transformed. It’s feline form changed into a tall humanoid figure, bird-like, covered in black feathers.
The creature raised its hand to signal a halt to the combat. Then it spoke.
“You are worthy, small one.”
It introduced itself as Zohar, a member of the race called the Tengu, who keep their secret home high in the peaks of the Tianshu Mountains. Zohar was a mystic of the sky god Tengri, and he had been charged by his people with the task of seeking out the source of the “Black Snow”, which Bayar surmised was Thauma’s Ashes. He had been flying over the region of Kong Wan when he spied Bayar collapsed in the snow. What caught his eye was that his body was melting the snow around him by the heat of his tapas, or mystical energy. Zohar knew some great spiritual power was loosed within him, so he brought him back to his mountain lair and nursed him back to health. He then appeared as a marauding tiger to test Bayar, to see if his courage was worthy of the spiritual task that lied ahead of him.
With a few chanted words, Zohar healed the wound on Bayar’s arm, though the damage was too thorough to restore functioning to the limb. It hung limp at Bayar’s side.
“What visions have you seen?” asked Zohar, almost as if he knew what Bayar had been going through.
Bayar explained his strange feelings and hallucinations, as if he were losing his mind.
Zohar nodded in recognition. He knew exactly what was happening.
“You are entering the myth,” he explained.
“What?” asked Bayar.
Zohar explained that great initiations lead the devotee through a myth of his or her god. Most traditions carefully channel this energy by the power of elaborate ritual. But Bayar, working outside tradition, had unleashed the myth without the order of any ritual structure.
Thus, his mind was literally descending into chaos, as it lost the ability to tell the difference between myth and reality.
It was then that Bayar recognized the motifs of his hallucinations – the darkness, the serpent, and the Orc maiden with the white horse – from the myth of the Victory of Viru Over the Serpent.
Now, at last, it was beginning to make sense. He was becoming initiated into the next level of priesthood, that of the Acolyte, and therefore merging with the myth of his god Thauma-Viru. But without a ritual structure, his mind had plunged into the abyss of that tale, turning his own world into the landscape of the mythic world.
“Can you help me?” asked Bayar.
The Tengu mystic placed him under a trance, chanting and shaking a rattle around him. Then Bayar’s consciousness drifted off into a dream-like realm. There, he experienced a series of strange scenes where his courage, wisdom, and faith was tested. Finally, he emerged victorious and opened his eyes.
He knew intuitively that he had passed the test and was now an Acolyte of his god, Thauma-Viru. He was the first ever to achieve such a level outside the institution of the Thauma-Virun temple. He thanked the Tengu profusely for his aid.
Zohar nodded, then offered to return Bayar to Kong Wan. While Bayar was in trance, Zohar himself had experienced a vision. He saw himself and Bayar working together somehow in the near future, though he knew not how or for what reason. He gave Bayar a magical crow’s beak talisman that would instantly teleport him back to Zohar’s cave if he ever needed his help again. It was good for one use and one use only, and he could not also teleport home, so he warned Bayar to use it wisely.
Then Zohar stretched out his mighty black-feathered wings, grabbed Bayar in his arms, and took flight out of the cave.
The two soared down over the mountain peaks toward Kong Wan.