Seán's sygil


Prologue: A Seer's Dream

The etua and kuhane visited me again last night as I slept.

In the dream, I was alone in a small vaka filled with warm sand, rocking gently in the tide. Tana-oa sang to me, and his voice was the sound of a thousand distant roaring waves: “Metani to ahu a / E tiu to ahu a.” His winds beckoned my vaka onward to the north, far away from the crumbling trees of my village.

I asked him where he was taking me, and the tai grew so silent and still that it seemed as though it had merged with the open ani. I thought of Papa una and Papa a'o from the vavana I often heard as a tama.

Gazing around the endless blue, I was startled to find a trail of vaka behind me stretching back toward the horizon—each with a single person inside.

I recognized the figures in the eight nearest me as those we lost in yesterday's storm, and when I looked at them they smiled and waved. The rest were too far for me to make out, but I knew them nonetheless. Was I really dreaming, or had the storm taken me as well?

I leaned over the hue tana to see if the tai was still beneath me, but was surprised to find a layer of oil encircling the vaka. And in its reflection I noticed a cloud high above me which seemed to be growing larger and larger...

My heart leapt as I realized that it was falling toward me. With fright, I grabbed a hoe and paddled uselessly as the formation's massive shadow changed the entire ani to a star-filled po.

Surrendering myself to the looming impact, I dropped the hoe and turned up to face my fate. But as I took in the form's shape, I felt immense relief... joy, even, to realize that I was looking up at my smiling tupuna vehine.

Suddenly, I was a tama again, rocking in her warm arms. She sang, “E mao ae Tana-oa / I no te aiai / E vii vii atu Tana-oa / I no te one one,” and as the song continued, Atea's children appeared and swirled around us. In their divine light, I realized that her body was made of sand. “E maohi ae Tana-oa / I te putuki o to ia vaka. / Tapa tapa i vaka / I na vaka nui. / E Tana-oa, Tana-oa, / Tana-ukaki.”

When her song ended, she laid me gently back down into my vaka and returned to the ani.

Just then, the tai and tiu began to stir again. And high above me, I heard the call of a bird coming from where my tupuna vehine had vanished. The koevaeva? Or...

I awoke abruptly to the sound of our storm-worn vaka's creaking hue tana and a deep purple-blue sky — tata hoata te ma'ania.

The crowd stood over the corpse, eager to see its parts divided into the neatly labeled bins and vials along the wall. Some grinned excitedly, while others frowned with wary skepticism. It appeared to be a desirable harvest, but you could never be entirely sure upon first glance. The only way to confirm its value would be through dissection and analysis.

The loud one stood above the examination table, trembling with anticipation. An agonizing length of time had passed since the shouters had brought this new specimen in. Now, with everyone gathered in the fortress, garbed in protective masks and suits, it was time to set to work.

“This is the inferior half,” the loud one declared, hastily peeling away the skin from the side of the body which had lain against the earth. “No doubt from the lesser of its kin. Give this shadow skin to the chemist to see whether any of it is usable.” The drooping tissue was handed to a beaming assistant who carried it over to the skin chemist's workspace.

“Ah, but this... this we can use...” the loud one said, gleefully lifting the remaining skin which had shone in the sun. “We will weave this sun skin into a new flag for our next outing.” The gathering stirred and whispered excitedly amongst themselves.

Meanwhile, the chemist had been analyzing the shadow skin.

“We have a problem. The composition of this skin doesn't match the profiles in our database... I'm also sorry to report that it is contaminated with undesirable molecules. Recommendation: investigate further.”

The loud one growled through gritted teeth. “Very troubling... we must hope that the contamination is isolated to the shadow skin. And as much as I fear to lose any of the precious sun skin, we had better analyze that as well just to be safe.”

Many in the crowd groaned.

“All is not yet lost! Other parts of the corpse may yet be salvageable for our cause. Call in the flesh readers.”

The beaming assistant nodded rapidly and pulled on a red cord dangling from a hole in the summoning wall.

Three flesh readers arrived with briefcases full of magnifying lenses, and swooped eagerly across the body's skinless terrain to interpret its contours.

“Hmm... many of these life lines web out in unsettling directions, while others carry the unmistakable marks of contamination,” said one, with dismay.

Oh... but there is hope. Some of them intersect with True Pathways – perhaps they were just confused,” suggested another, optimistically.

“The familiar topography is certainly still here... yes, the sun skin may still be suitable material for a new flag, but we will need to look deeper. It would be wise to consult the throat squeezer,” advised the third.

The loud one grunted with frustration as the beaming assistant pulled a blue cord.

A few minutes later, the crowd hastily parted for the throat squeezer, whose muscular arms pulsated with decades of experience. The squeezer grabbed the corpse's throat with firm certitude, pressed another hand down on the lungs, and leaned close to the mouth. The vocal cords let out a soft wheeze like wind whistling through a crack between doors.

The throat squeezer frowned and said, bluntly, “This putrid mouth is afflicted with the rotten tongue. Recommendation: destroy.”

The crowd gasped and pulled back, knowing that the rotten tongue was an airborne disease which could survive beyond the death of its host.

“Remove the tongue and dispose of it immediately” roared the loud one. The squeezer wrenched out the tongue as though it were a weed and shoved it into a waste bag held out by the beaming assistant before carving a hole back through the nervous onlookers who had pressed themselves against the back wall.

“The rotten tongue is foreboding, to be sure, but can only spread to the rest of the body through the ears. Where is the ear tapper?”

Before the assistant could pull the yellow summoning cord, the ear tapper emerged from the hall behind the crowd with a stethoscope and the listening box.

Sitting upon a stool next to the head, the tapper inserted the box's long, thin tubes into the ear canals, placed the stethoscope resonator against the speaker, and began drawing out the corpse's residual frequencies.

As the tapper listened carefully, the loud one squirmed with impatience — suppressing the urge to grunt — while the rest of the crowd leaned in with silent anticipation.

Suddenly, the tapper lit up with a smile. “Yes, yes, very good... it appears that this specimen absorbed many of our broadcasts throughout its lifetime. This is very promising.”

The loud one grinned, hopefully.

“However, I'm also receiving some interference about halfway through the bony labyrinth... There are many conflicting broadcasts layering over each other into a noisy drone. I can still hear our transmissions coming through in the background, but the drone is unfamiliar and ominous. Recommendation: salvage with caution.”

“Let me take a look.”

Before the loud one could issue another order, the thick-spectacled eyeball slicer appeared above the body with a scalpel and a drool-edged grin. The loud one cursed and grumbled unintelligibly as the beaming assistant scooped the eyes for the slicer.

Cutting across the socket orbs to read their rings, the slicer grinned, and then frowned. “My readings concur with the ear tapper's. These eyes have absorbed our stories, but there are many other layers here which I do not recognize, and some which rank high on our contamination hazard list. I believe that some of this specimen can be salvaged, but... Is the brain unraveler here?”

This is taking far too long!” the loud one shouted with irritation, promptly grabbing a saw to cut the skull open for the unraveler. “Soon I will call the soul extractor and we will be done with this mutant corpse.”

A gray cord was pulled.

Shortly after, the brain unraveler carried in the spinning wheel and set about feeding the fibres of the brain into its orifice. “The yarns of this organ are tangled and knotted, but much of it can likely be salvaged if we let it soak in a vat of purifying water. The heavy, impure threads will break away and sink to the bottom, as the light, pure ones float to the surface. Recommendation: salv-”

Out of the way, brain tangler.” A clawed glove pushed the unraveler out of the way and swiftly dug sharp nails through a space between the ribs and up to wrench out the heart. “You bumbling fools are being far too generous,” spat the heart reaver. “This specimen is clearly an abomination. We will be lucky to find a handful of useable parts at this rate.”

Gauging its pressure as the heart began to burst, the reaver noted, “A wretched, pathetic heart. This one was full of curiosity and doubt. Highly corrupted. Recommendation: discard.”

“I've seen enough!” snarled the loud one. “Soul extractor, put this fiasco to an end.”

A silent figure who had been standing at the center of the onlookers stepped up to the dripping examination table and nodded to the ear tapper. The tapper reinserted the sound tubes into the ravaged corpse's ears and reversed the captured broadcasts.

While the listening box played, the flesh came temporarily back to life, rolling in small waves as the soul worms crawled through holes in the surface. There, they danced in slow synchronization while the extractor plucked them from the flesh holes and consolidated them in a small glass vial.

“We will use this corrupted soul to feed our furnaces. Chemist, salvage what skin you deem to be acceptable. The rest of you can take what scraps are of interest for your research. Leave the rest for the naked priests.”

By this point, many of the onlookers had lost interest in the spectacle and left. Still, a handful who had continued to watch intently with grinning eyes gleefully descended upon what remained of the body, hacking at it with saws and scalpels until all that was left was a muck of twisted meat and shattered bones.

The beaming assistant pulled the final cord and quickly evacuated the room as the naked priests moved in to make their arrangements.

At dawn the next morning, a new skin flag was raised as the loud one led another shouting party to scour the horizon in search of a better harvest.