Jia, Jia, where art thou therefore Jia?
Posted 16 September 2007 - 01:34 AM
“Jia ...,” once his captain, the woman had disappeared. Ahtuk had a mate, her heart was carved into that most sacred of places—his face, but he had loved Jia. Not in the way of lovers, but as a man might love an ideal. To him she had been the heart of the empire, cunning, confident; brilliant. Not once had he contemplated shaming his ancestors and turning a blind eye to her ‘vanishing.’ He would honour her; her memory, if that is all that was left.
When Ahtuk moved it was not with the casual grace of a blade-master. He moved in the way of what he was, a beast. Unchecked ferocity lurked in the depths of his carriage, in his voice; in his eyes. He made no attempt to disguise and where he walked, violence followed close behind him. Jia had once taught him loyalty to the empire and he had learned the lesson well, but to leave her in her state ... it was not a command he could follow.
Yes, they had made her damane, broken her in body, mind and spirit until there was little left of her past glory. Ahtuk had to see, demanded to see, if there was anything left of the woman he had known buried underneath what she now was. He feared there would not be and he needed to know. What would come after, that he could not say.
Damane: pitiful remnants of foreclosed humanity, a taming logical and repulsive to a man whose people had waged war for countless lifetimes. No spirit should be caged, especially not one devoted to the empire. War, conquest, the shedding of blood, all these things were raw expressions of the self, and to tamper with that freedom was sickening.
The cabin of the sul’dam, Ikena Adelar by name, had been under surveillance for some time. Not by himself, clearly, a man of his ... appearance found it difficult to become inconspicuous, but he had found work for those loyal to him. The sul’dam was vacant, and no damane had left with her. He needed a few minutes, enough to ascertain the thoroughness of the damage.
He stepped into the cabin carefully, damane could not act independently of their handlers, but this did not mean no surprises had been left for anyone foolish enough to steal their way inside. There were none. A quick inspection of the cabin, one room left to check, he steeled himself against whatever he might encounter there and entered.
It had the effect of looking back on a past memory with new information and finding small but important distinctions between those two separate views. She was Jia, but she was not. Small pieces of her reflected what she had been, others muddied the pool until a creature alien and unknown emerged.
“Jia, Jia, do you hear me?” Softness in a voice used to terrorising enemies was almost more frightening than it; he did so anyway, there was no need to frighten her, if indeed she was capable of fright. “Jia, it is me, Ahtuk.” He could not touch her, would not, the leash would cause her pain and anything else may trigger an embedded response. “Your name is Jia—Jia. Do you remember?”
Posted 16 September 2007 - 02:08 AM
A door closed.
That was what Chali knew as she sat there upon the bed where Mistress Ikena had left her, her task to listen and tell Mistress Ikena of what she had noticed when Mistress Ikena returned. Everything around her was silent within the hut. There was the sound of waves crashing outside, breaking upon the shore and dock where ships were docked. There were the cries of seagulls, either flying in the sky above or they were amongst the ships, scavenging for what they could get for free. The wind was strong, coming from the ocean where there was nothing to break its path, slow it down.
A door opened.
A door closed.
Someone was in the hut, someone who was not Ikena. Bigger, heavier, each step resounded as whoever it was moved about the hut outside her room. Unconcerned, Chali simply retained her seat and position, noting where the sound traveled even as she took note of other noises outside the hut. She had been instructed by Mistress Ikena to make a note of all sounds that she heard, the task that she had been allocated and the task that she would complete.
The door before her opened with a slight creak as the source of the footsteps revealed themself. His size and his features weren't important, the sounds that were made were what she had been told to notice. Leather creaked as he strode forward and stopped before her, and then he spoke a very strange word that she didn't recognise. Jia. His voice was soft, though it was like a rumble, and he saying words with Jia interspersed between them.
Tilting her head slightly as if cocking her ear so she could hear better, the man repeated himself as he crouched down on his haunches infront of her. Jia. It was no different than the other sounds she heard save for how foreign it felt. The waves could crash, the seagulls could call out, but Jia was not her. She was Chali, she had to figure out why the man said Jia so she could tell Mistress Ikena when she returned and asked her to speak of what she had heard.
A door opened.
A door closed.
Posted 22 September 2007 - 11:48 PM
The damane had proven to be almost impossible to crack, but nothing could make Ikena stop trying. She had always had a high success rate with mistreated damane and she still had hopes of reaching Chali. Small hopes, but hopes all the same. She moved quietly as always through the door to their hut, not wanting to disturb Chali overly when they shared such a small space. She turned to speak to the damane when she looked up and saw one of the oddest men she'd ever seen stooping in front of her damane. She knew what he was, one of the savages from the outer regions of the empire. What was he doing to her damane though?
She didn't look at the leash, but she knew she needed to reach it, no matter what else happened. They were known for their savage and brutal ways. She had no intention of witnessing it first hand. "If you would like to speak with the damane you should have asked for an interview. We have work to do so I would ask that you leave and come back later." She said, trying to keep any emotion from her voice as she did so.
Posted 22 September 2007 - 11:54 PM
The Empire could be forgiven for their treatment of the damane, their fear of the mystical energies they would otherwise control. Forgiveness for Jia, one of their most loyal and able officers was another matter. He heard the call to war, the war drums of battle; the heat from the bonfires lit before battle. The handler was behind him.
He did not spin or turn quickly, his actions were carefully timed to maxamise effect and exude a sense of confidence—one he most definitely felt. He stretched to his full height, poised in the aggressive manner of pre-battle. It was rote, a ritual his body performed unconsciously, psychological tactics to keep his opponents at a disadvantage.
He could have waited, could have, but wouldn’t. After searching for months he would not be patient one instant longer than necessary and here it had not been. He the sul’dam would be exposed without the leash, and carefully interposed his body between her and the object of her desire. If she made for it, he would subdue her.
His appearance belied the eloquence with which he could speak the common tongue, if in a harsher key as though it were unnatural to him: “Yes. I can see you inviting me to return in a hurry. I purposefully arrived after you left; your presence would have been a nuisance. Do not attempt to reach for your damane. I will not hesitate to injure you to defend myself.”
Posted 22 September 2007 - 11:55 PM
"Have you been disloyal?" She asked in a quiet voice that carried confidence though she didn't feel it all that well. "I have no reason to want to harm you if you have not. But you stand between me and my Chali and I don't have a care for that at all. Is there a reason for this intrusion or did you just think her pretty?" She needed to keep control here, she needed to be the one pulling the strings to make sure things didn't go wrong. Wrong with this man could mean death. Wrong could mean worse than death. And more than anything else, there was no way she was letting him get his hands on Chali.
Posted 22 September 2007 - 11:58 PM
When he thought about Jia, once so full of life and strength, obeying this woman like a dog his left hand shook with the urge to strangle her. If anything his voice was harsher, and he clearly displayed his teeth as well as his anger. He had never liked sul’dam, their view of things, of their damane was one he disapproved of.
“Your Chali … your Chali? Her name is Jia, and she belongs to no one! Pretty? Once that would be true, but you have already destroyed her spirit and I find nothing desirable in soulless flesh.”
Posted 22 September 2007 - 11:59 PM
Ahtuk decided that he would suffer no more speech from the woman. Certainly, he belonged to his mate and his made belonged to him, but there had been ceremony, willingness, and much shared pain as the commitment had been carved beneath their flesh. What had happened to Jia was rape, not of the body but of the mind, the violation of something deeply personal and sacred.
He did not strike her a blow, but instead sought for her throat with an open hand, the force of his seeking, however, drove Ikena’s body into the cabin wall with the satisfying crack of breaking timber. His fingers clamped down upon her throat, and felt her pulse through his finger tips. Soon, she would speak no more.
Posted 23 September 2007 - 12:00 AM
Picking herself up from the ground, Chali did not acknowledge the blood running from her nose as she closed with the big man again. This time the man let go of the woman, and he defended himself from the attacks that Chali unleashed as she drove the man back, away from Mistress Ikena. Trying to subdue him, neutralise him, her attacks aiming at the man's ankles and balance to topple him over.
At first he believed himself under attack from a third party, one previously unaccounted for and able to sneak upon him deftly. His body defended itself reactively when he felt the painful impact, and he batted aside his assailant as might a bear. His surprise gave way to shock, and then pleasure when he realised who had struck him.
Ahtuk released his grip on the dazed Ikena and positioned to defend from the attacks of his former commander. She had always been skilled, her time in submission and under heel may have blunted her finesse, but if so, he could not tell. He gave himself up to battle, to block the individual strikes while at the same time encouraging the overall attack.
His grin was genuine, and more frightening than his scowl. This revelation pleased him greatly. “So there is something left of Jia after all.”
Posted 23 September 2007 - 12:02 AM
She didn't know what else to do, but she had to stop things before it got out of hand. "Chali, only defend. Stop attacking." She said, not wanting to stop her from defending herself against the man should he continue attacking.
Hearing Mistress Ikena's words midswing, Chali was unable to pull her swing but after the blow landed she stepped back out of reach. There were no forthcoming blows, the man simply watched her even as her hands fell to her sides. No attack, no need for defence, she was now interposed between Mistress Ikena and the man who had attacked her. He was still now, watching her, but not making any aggressive movement. The discomfort that she felt was interfering with her ability to concentrate, yet that feeling vanished as she felt Mistress Ikena take the leash.
Posted 23 September 2007 - 12:03 AM
"Chali, you have permission to channel if he should attack again, do you understand?" She asked. The damane nodded and she saw the recognition of that order in the other man's eyes. "He thinks he knows you Chali. He calls you Jia. Do you know him?"
The command that was given by Mistress Ikena was acknowledged readily enough, she remembered the last time she had channeled upon a person in a defensive manner, binding them in air so they had been unable to move an inch. The man wouldn't close even half the distance before she bundled him up if it was required. The question of whether she knew him was a question she automatically answered. "No, Mistress Ikena." No, she didn't know him at all. There was a vague sense of disquiet at her answer, but it was irrelevant. She did not know the man, nor was he important. She was damane, Mistress Ikena was her only concern.
Posted 23 September 2007 - 12:06 AM
Clearly, Ahtuk was not overly concerned about being punished; the question was one that begged an answer, Jia had a history, a story to tell and she was unable to tell it herself. He did not fully understand the question, but it assumed it to be more of the same bizarre sul'dam mentality that allowed them to believe another person their pet. Nevertheless he anwered as best he could, without wasting breath on questions of clarification:
"Jia has always been Jia. That was her name name when she swore me into the service of the Empire. I believe it is the name she used prior to and afterwards. Until she vanished."
Posted 23 September 2007 - 12:08 AM
"She vanished from service somewhere? Please, do explain more. I have an interest in making Chali whole again. I can't do so without the missing pieces and as you can see, she is unable to give them to me herself. What else can you tell me about this woman, Jia?"
"Jia was my banner captain. It was she who taught me the virtue of loyalty and discipline; she who helped me to 'better' myself and cast off the shackles of my heritage." At the last he looked into the palms of his hands as if seeing something there.
" My Jia. Our Jia. She belonged to all of us and we to her and again to the Empire as she instructed. She spared my life once. She trained us, prepared us; and vanished. She did not vanish 'somewhere', she vanished. Disappeared as only members of the Empire can do. She was brilliant. Resourceful, quick, agile, strong and fierce. Her tactical mind served her well. I was chosen to replace her."
Posted 23 September 2007 - 12:11 AM
"I do not want you to lie to me Chali." She said to the damane. It was against her nature to do so Ikena knew, but perhaps a command such as that would limit how much Chali could hide within. "Did you train this man? Did you answer to the name of Jia before?"
Standing in readiness, Chali was only half aware of the words that were being spoken by the man, she was only required to listen to Mistress Ikena. The assertion that she was not to lie was unecessary, she had no reason to lie, she had no reason for anything except to exist and be, to do as Mistress Ikena told her. The question of whether she had trained with the man before, of whether she had answered to the name of Jia, it was an easy question to answer.
Except that it wasn't. She had no memory of ever having trained with the man, having even seen him except for that day on the beach. She had never been called Jia before until today, never answered to it. Yet she couldn't say it outright, a vague sense of something stopped her from answering conclusively. "I don't remember." Focusing on the problem, her temple began to throb, the pain multiplying as her efforts redoubled.
"I don't remember him, Mistress Ikena."
Posted 23 September 2007 - 12:13 AM
She took a deep breath to calm the anger. It wasn't at Chali or the man before her. She looked at the man. "She doesn't remember you, but she does not say she did not train you or that she didn't answer to that name. She does not remember. She was broken when I found her and I have tried for 2 years to find her underneath that conditioning." It was important that he understand she was trying to help Chali. She wanted him to speak freely to her, to Chali, about who she might have been. She wanted Chali to be well again. Only when Chali did would they have the type of relationship that Ikena had always wanted for them. "I would know everything that you could tell me about her. I would that you would speak with her. Maybe an old face, one that cared enough to be willing to face a damane's wrath for her, would help her remember.. something."
Ahtuk found speech irritating at the best of times. He was a man of action, not a man of words. On the field of battle a man spoke with his courage, his honour and his weapons ...; occasionally his teeth. Had he not been attacked by Jia he would have killed Ikena, there was no doubt of that in his mind. She seemed rational enough to get past it. After all, it had been nothing personal.
“I first met Jia in a way my people would approve of—in battle. I was being attacked by a rival tribe. As Chieftain’s son I am more of a target than most. She and her file were on patrol and came to my aid. She saved my life. It is difficult enough for my people to send token forces to the Imperial army; serving willingly is harder. She understood enough of my ways. Saw the honour and prestige in battle. Her example of your people was favourable."
“What I know of Jia Mingzhu, senior bannerwoman is very little. She wears a tattoo on the base of her neck, as do I, as do the rest of her soldiers. Before joining Imperial Army she had been a ... something to do with needles and cloth. She had not liked it much. I believe it is why she served. For two year she climbed ranks, running up the chain of command to become senior bannerwoman at seventeen summers. There is little else to tell. She was good, very good. She has been gone a long time."
“Of her life after her disappearance you know would know more than I.”
Posted 23 September 2007 - 12:17 AM
“You make a mistake in believing I wish to hear of your Chali. I came here in search of Jia. I found her. There is nothing more I can tell you. Velar Suloth, her direct superior at the time of her disappearance may know more, if he will admit to remembering her. Know that I will see her freed and restored in time. I will not allow her to remain a pet.”
Posted 23 September 2007 - 12:18 AM
She took a deep breath. The other part of her words of course had been as straight forward as his. Anyone that came to take Chali from her would have to fight Chali as well. Twice now she had been attacked and twice now Chali had defended her of her own accord. It was an astonishing thing, but true none the less. Her beautiful Chali seemed to have grown attached to her Mistress even if she didn't understand. It made her feel good to know that the compassion she had shown her damane was working through the harsh conditioning that had been forced upon her.
"I have no intention of letting my Chali go." She used the name and term on purpose. "I will find what I can about your Jia, and I will restore as much of her personality as I can, but she will always be my Chali. Remember who she defended in this very room the next time you think to free her."
Posted 23 September 2007 - 09:44 PM
Again she referred to Jia as “Chali”, was she attempting to infuriate him, or was this Ikena so sure in her sense of proprietary right that she was willing to make an enemy of him. Her position was indubitably clear, she would not release Jia. Ikena, too, was aware of his stance. He would find a way to free Jia, with or without the sul’dam’s blessing, and to the forfeit of her life if that is what it took.
He wondered if Jia would rather live on to serve the Empire unwillingly, or if her loyalty knew the limit of her own freedom. Could he kill her to so free her, or would her spirit seek to torment him from beyond. His people were superstitious, and the wrong action could plague his line for centuries. He could hear the memory of Jia cautioning him against his cultural rashness even now.
“That is why I made the visit while you were not here. I see where you come from. You do not wish to lose a favourite pet. In my tribe we have many such pets. You in turn see mine. I have lost a friend and leader who you now hold chained like an animal. You will not release her; I will not see her leashed forever. The fates will decide. In time.”
Ahtuk left; turned his back on his commander and her insufferable tormentor, despite every instinct in his body crying out for some form of recompense. Choking her had been satisfying, it was a pity he had released her. One day Jia would be free again. He would not betray her teaching to free her. He would be patient
Posted 24 September 2007 - 09:43 PM
As he left though she turned back to Chali. Twice now she had defended her sul'dam and this time against someone she had once known. Not only that, but there was even the chance that he might have brought something into her mind that would someday bring back the real woman Chali had once been. It was dangerous in some ways, to try to bring back that woman, but she had never wanted a damane without spirit. Chali, in an unusual way, was beginning to show that she could have some.
"Chali, are you hurt?" She asked then. "Did my questions hurt you?" It was an odd thing to ask, but she needed to see how the damane would respond.
Posted 24 September 2007 - 10:22 PM
Questions, enquiries that Mistress Ikena made that Chali had to answer. A simple and flat tone answered with no hesitation. "My face throbs. My nose is bleeding but it isn't broken. My back also aches. Questions also hurt." Feeling herself being turned around, if Chali had been more aware she would have realised that Mistress Ikena hadn't seen her nose bleeding because she had been standing side on, the profile that she revealed was not the side of her that harmed by the backhand that Ahtuk had dealt.
Following Mistress Ikena as she was bid and sitting when she was told, Chali was seated on her bed as the blood was wiped from her face. Uncomplaining, she did not shy from the slight stabs that tried to enter her awareness, they were nothing. The problem that was posed to her by Mistress Ikena, why she thought the questions hurt, that was her awareness now. Why? "I do not know, Mistress Ikena. Something doesn't feel right, I try to think of what it is and it hurts."
Posted 24 September 2007 - 11:16 PM
"Chali, I want you to listen to me carefully. Something is happening inside of you and i'm trying to figure it out. Someone did something bad to you and I want to make that go away. You used to be a person, you used to have a name and a place. That was before you were damane. When you became damane, someone hurt you to make you forget. I don't want you to forget. Do you understand me Chali? I want to help you remember. But you need to tell me when something hurts, alright? You need to tell me when the questions I ask cause you pain in any way. Alright?"
The damane's answers were the same as always and she sighed, not sure what else to do. She had to push though. Chali would never try to find her own way out of this and it was up to Ikena to do it. "Chali, do you remember when you were hurt?"
The damane looked at her only a moment before answering. "No Mistress Ikena."
Ikena sighed heavily, knowing she wasn't likely to get anything more out of her today. Still, she had a couple names to work with and it was more hope than she'd had since she'd first brought Chali home. "Alright Chali. Let's just relax for a while. It's been an interesting day and I fear more to come." She leaned back onto the bed she and Chali were sitting on and pulled the damane down to lay beside her. She didn't know if Chali got much comfort from having her sul'dam this close, but it made Ikena feel better, to be close at hand should Chali need her.
Light, she shouldn't do this, shouldn't be trying to get more information about the damane, but she couldn't help it. She wanted to make Chali whole and that meant accepting who she had been as well as who she was now. She just wished making Chali better didn't feel like it was going to come at such a high cost.