This is an introduction to a major character in “The Diviner”, who travels one of the hardest of roads. Dux has much more to be said about her than I could fit into this; the same can easily be said for her tribe. I’m not sure that this story will make it into the main book, but it serves as an excellent introduction to who she is and her wisdom, as much as her latent confusion and inner conflict. Enjoy, and as always, comments are welcome.
© Michael Eric Oberlin, April 24, 2014
The wet earth was cool on Dux’s tattooed back, the sweat still dripping down her brow from the thundering drum dance. Her heart still pounded in rhythm and beat with the entire tribe, the entrancing vapors from the fire still filling her nose and sending her into another kind of state. Limbs and tail in the muck, big blue eyes high toward a sunless and starless sky, every breath an act of worship of things unseen and ever-present.
Around the dying embers of the fire, some danced still; their feet beating on the planks of lumber and salvaged driftwood, fastened tightly to floats and the great bark of the canyon of trees. Whether they were farther from equilibrium than she, or she simply better knew her way back, was a mystery that she would never quite solve.
To the chemist, the past, present, and future were indistinguishable at this point. Everything tied to everything. Her mind was crystal here in the mud, all frivolous concerns danced away save for food, water, and air. The river called her back, and twixt sparking spirit and thundering drum, she found her ground. The whole tribe did.
Her student, Wilhegka, continued to throb in the dying beats on the planks above her. He was overworking himself even in dance. The younger man’s mind was not yet honed enough, he chased everything that Dux did but never fully understood. His mind was still white-water, nearly a crystal of ice bursting from the lake and contradicting even its own flow. He would learn in time, or she hoped so.
Her own visions were of her singular piece of history, beginning to end. Sensations were a very strange thing. Most of the time, she grasped at them, fraying the threads of where they came from and what they led to, but under the aroma of balché and nutmeg and so many other gifts of the wild the threads became ribbons and sheets. Amongst bittersweet taste and flowery fragrance, they would coagulate together, until they were a solid, each inextricably bound, cause to effect to effect again.
She closed her eyes, sinking a little deeper into the umber shoreline.
This burning of concerns was more than a reflex, more than a stress response; it was the inescapable religion of the community. This was the work of their hidden and nameless goddess, intrinsic to all of nature, forever present and forever unseen, friend and enemy and family and teacher. This was the work of the unknowable. High above, through kilometers of mists in the acropolis of the giant trees, there was another society that took it all loosely, the strange practices of their kindred by the river below. Behind the drums and sacred incense and imbibes the universal truth remained, and they did not know what they missed.
Her passion and pleasure and stillness and calm aside, Dux subtly remained perplexed. When the trance faded, she would forget all but that. Her beginnings were clear, her present was perfect, but at the end of her immutable time was an impossible beach of black glass, still water, and eternal clarity.
In her vision, she looked down into the pool.
She did not see a reflection.
A moment or an aeon later she was pulled out of the mud by Wil. He threw a cup of water in her face, and she shook the trance off. (It was traditional.) Her eyes lit up like incandescent bulbs as the mud dripped off of her. She pulled her sullied hair back and tied it out of her ink-stained face. The young man appeared to have pulled himself out of his own trance only a moment ago, the somber and flaccid look of his eyes betraying his reluctant wakefulness.
“My apologies, Dux, but we don’t have long before our next scheduled appointment,” he said.
“How long, Wil,” asked Dux, her voice tearing at the edges as she struggled to remember how to use it.
“I could count it to you in pān̄cavāṁgaddī*.”
“Five hells. Where are we again?” The visions of the trance were already fading from her mind, she was disoriented.
“By the water, near the bonfire. The stompin’ ground.” He raised a wooden bowl to her, with a deep red liquid in it. She took it, the remnants of her vision still wisping out of her mind like trails of smoke.
“Right.” With that, she downed the incoction in a single gulp. Her face flushed and she sweated, just a little, as the colors became more vivid and the present became a larger concern. All traces of hypnotic agent raced out of her, and after a moment of discomfort, she was fully present.
Her mind cleared, and clouded; blinders on toward past and future. She had a memory, but couldn’t say much of it. To meet the stresses of a medicine woman, she needed, like a pendulum, to stay balanced between clear conscience and clear head. Pity they were antithetical.
*In a world without sun or moon, there are no easy natural ways to tell time. While we have hours and minutes and days, they have cycles of a layered metric clock, the pān̄cavāṁgaddī being one of the shortest generations in a standard clock.