Essala, The Port of Souls. You walk through streets crowded with people either rich or desperate; here there is no in between. The crowd parts for you. You are seen, marked by your white clothing, head to toe, and the mismatched lengths of your earlobes--one remains long, elvish, and the other is short, now, rounded. Sacrificed. "<a href="http://www.philome.la/B_R_Sanders/dhirnalli-aerdh-2">Dhirnalli</a>," they whisper as you pass by. They wonder where you are going. They wonder if you are returning to [[Sanctuary]] or if you are [[on assignment|employed]].Sanctuary--the temple of the Exalted. You became what you are in a room deep in the belly of this great stone building. You reside now in a small room in the upper floors, a room that was once a [[cell]]. But it is not a cell now: you are allowed to roam the city so long as you remain dedicated to the [[Iyan-Sarhq]]. Every dhirnalli you know--and you believe you know them all in the [[Port of Souls]]--is employed, either by the priesthood or by the [[Iyan-Sarhq]]. Or by both. Employment in the Port of Souls is difficult to come by these days unless you are a slaver, a pirate, or a priest. Your room has little in it beside a [[window]], a [[bed]], and the [[Book]]. It is here in this room that you await the orders of your [[employment|employed]]. It is to this spare room that you return between tasks. Here you lose yourself in [[contemplation]].The window is a narrow slit in the stone. It has no glass, no pane, nothing to keep you from the world beyond. The Essala Sanctuary has a long history. First it was a stronghold. Two hundred years ago Qin archers used your window to defend the port from interlopers. One hundred years ago the Exalted Emperor called the archers back from the harbor, now secured. The upper floors of the Essala Sanctuary became the port's prison. The peacekeepers drove the city's criminals upward, into tiny rooms like this one. Some of those criminals, you suspect, used the arrowslit to hang themselves. Now this room is yours. There is no prison in the Port of Souls anymore. Not for the last fifteen years, not since the last Arbiter disappeared and the Imperial laws disappeared with him. Not since the [[Iyan-Sarhq]] swept in. <i>You turn [[away from the window|cell]].</i>Yes, it is small. Yes, the straw mattress smells faintly of mold. But the bed is lifted off the floor and belongs to you alone. It is the most luxurious bed you've ever slept in. Beneath the bed is a [[box]] you look in sometimes when a strangeness clenches at your chest. <i>[[You look away from your bed|cell]].</i>The box is made of polished palm wood, the pieces carefully, lovingly dovetailed together. Balsa wood is inlaid on the lid in the shape of the [[Exalted Eye]]. When there is a twinge in your heart--as if you might break, as if you are fragile as a fish bone--you open the box. Inside it holds a reminder of what you are now, of what you once were, of decisions you have made.On an upturned crate beside the bed is a copy of the <a href="http://www.philome.la/B_R_Sanders/book-and-scripture-aerdh-1">Book and Scripture</a>. The priest who <a href="http://www.philome.la/B_R_Sanders/dhirnalli-aerdh-2">purified you</a> taught you to read, but you are still not a fast reader. In the early mornings, just as the pale gray light of dawn creeps in through your narrow window, you trace your finger over the circuitous lines of Qin text, reading the familiar passages of Scripture aloud. You are more interested in [[the Scripture]] than you are [[the Book]]. <i>[[You turn away from the Book and Scripture|cell]].</i>[[The Book|the Book]] describes the rigid categories of the world as the Lord God made it. The Book is an idealization. But the Lord God also made it so you slipped between those rigid categories. Scripture talks of living--of what to do and when to do it. Of how to live among different people. Scripture is pragmatic. Like you. But it is not morning now. [[No time to read now|cell]].There is little in the Book for you. What there is in the Book about elves is rigid, dismissive. The Book is for the Qin, and while you are not really an elf anymore, you are not Qin, either. So you stick to [[the Scripture]]. A sharp-cornered eye, slit-pupiled. [[The narrowness of the slit recalls the narrowness of your window|window]], as if righteous arrows might be shot through the eye and into your heart. A Qin eye set against flaming corona of the sun. An eye ever-open, ever-watching. <blockquote><i>[[Slide the box back under the bed]]. [[Open the box]].</blockquote></i>You watch the eye watch you. You feel a serenity for now. You are dhirnalli, and you are glad of it. You return the box, unopened, to its place beneath your bed. <i>[[You turn away from the box and the bed|cell]].</i>You need to see it. There is a clawing at your heart--an ache, a rememberance. The lid opens soundlessly, smoothly. Inside is a small mound of red silk. The ache grows deeper when you see the red silk. You unwrap the silk, and there it is: the rest of your ear, dried and preserved and given to you in this fine box wrapped in silk so that you might stay whole sometimes. So that you remember you were an elf, once. So that when the desire to use magic, to be what you once were, comes to you like this you can see what you gave up willingly. You let your flesh be sundered. <a href="http://www.philome.la/B_R_Sanders/dhirnalli-aerdh-2">You asked for purification.</a> You run your fingers over the dessicated flesh and recall your fears and questions and decisions. A peace comes to you. You rewrap the red silk, close the box. Take a breath. Make your peace with the restraint inherent in purification. If it was an easy life, this one you have chosen, there would be more of you roaming the streets. <i>[[You put the box away|cell]].</i>Sitting on the bare floor of your room, staring at the seams of the fitted stones, you consider the act of [[restraint]].Essala, the Port of Souls. It earned its nickname for the slaves that pour into the Empire from the harbor. But you are proof that there is another trade in souls here: a rogue Sanctuary that offers solace for magical people who, like you, wish they had been born with souls. [[The Book|the Book]] says a person is born either with a soul or with magic. [[Scripture|the Scripture]] says a person with magic can reject it, and in doing so, may be granted a soul by the mercy of the Lord God. So, you [[contemplate restraint|contemplation]]. Restraint is a thing, you find in your contemplations, which is more complicated than it first appears. There are things about your life now that seem...[[paradoxical]]. You cannot strip the magic from your blood, but you can show restraint. And still, the [[orders|employed]] you are given ask you to use the gifts you have foresworn. A priest told you once that if the gifts are used in orders that you are not truly using magic. That this is the truest test of a dhirnalli. After all, which is more difficult--complete and total restraint, or the self-discipline required to use a gift [[only when directed]]?In your contemplations on restraint, sometimes you consider that you live your life as a tool. But you were a tool before, as well, were you not? On weilded by instinct and fickle desires. Now you are a tool wielded with precision and deliberation. When you contemplate this, you think of yourself as a sword. A child swinging a sword carelessly can cause great damage, but is it the fault of the sword? As dhirnalli, you are weilded carefully, masterfully, [[the damage minimized]]. Then again, when you think of the acts committed by your person now compared to before, it seems that you've caused more damage now. Or at least more violence. You sometimes are forced to contemplate the fine distinctions between damage and violence. Often in these contemplations you find yourself looking at [[the box under your bed|box]].Iyan-Sarhq. It means "The Eyes of the East" in [[High Qin]]. The last Arbiter of Essala fell, and into his place came the Iyan-Sarhq: pirate-priests, sailor-zealots who quote Scripture, who dragged the criminals out of the cells of Sanctuary and cut them down in the square outside. The gutters ran with blood for days after. The Iyan-Sarhq: those who rule the Port of Souls now. Those who [[rule you]]. Those who give you [[purpose]].High Qin: the language of the Book and Scripture. A dialect you understand but which you are not allowed to speak yourself. Even as dhirnalli you are not pure enough to speak those words. Another matter for [[contemplation]].You life has a simple rhythm now: You enact your orders. You return to Sanctuary. You eat what is given to you. You read Scripture in the morning. In any free time you may have you turn your mind to [[contemplation]]. When they have need of you, they expect to find you on the floor of your room, silent, thoughtful, waiting--[[a tool to be wielded]]. Those who, in a real sense, own you. The Port of Souls trades in slavery, this is true. And the Port of Souls is home to pirates. You became dhirnalli, and the priests of Sanctuary found you employment. Except your employment is not employment so much as it is servitude. You are [[marked]]. You belong to them, and in payment for your contributions to the Iyan-Sahrq you receive nothing but room and board and your life. And, you concede, your continued spiritual cleansing.On your chest, just beneath your left collarbone, is a tattoo of the Iyan-Sarhq's insignia. It matches the inlay on the lid of the [[box beneath your bed|box]]. It is always the same man who comes to give you orders. He is of the Iyan-Sarhq, like you, but he presents himself like a Qin priest--head shaved, head uncovered. He is polite. You are grateful for that. He knocks before he enters; allows you this modicum of privacy. He knocks, but waits only one, two seconds at most before he enters. His gold eyes meet yours. "[[Dhirnalli]]," he says, "a task for you." He waits for your answer, for your choice. He waits for you to decide to [[remain dhirnalli]] or to [[turn away from this life]]."Dhirnalli" he calls you, as if that is your name, as if you were not born a different man in a different place. "Dhirnalli" they all call all of you, as if you all have the same name, as if all of you who have chosen purification are one creature. <i>[[You turn your mind from such thoughts|a tool to be wielded]].</i>You bow in supplication. "I am honored to serve." "We have need of your gifts," says the pirate-priest. "We believe there is an agent from a heathen fleet here attempting infiltration. The agent must be dealt with. Capture is preferred." The pirate-priest holds out a sketch of the heathen agent: a Qin woman with a scarred eyebrow. The magic alights in your blood. In a former life, you were agrihim--a patternist, a man whose magic made evident the great web of intricacies around him. The Iyan-Sarhq have made you a bloodhound. When they need someone found, it is you they come to. It takes you less than twelve hours to find the heathen agent. The locals know that there are punishments for refusing information to an Iyan-Sahrq agent, and they known that all the dhirnalli who go asking questions are Iyan-Sarhq agents. Between the locals' willingness to cooperate and your own hungry magic it is easy to track her. You report her location and return to your room for [[contemplation|contemplation 2]]. You hesitate. Your hesitation is noticed. The pirate-priest, whose name you have never known, steps forward. "Are you troubled, dhirnalli?" The choice is presented to you again: [[take the task and remain dhirnalli|remain dhirnalli]] or [[turn away from this life|turn away 2]]. You cannot look the pirate-priest in the face while you say it, but you admit you are troubled. He asks you why. And the truth is there are many reasons. You confess that [[contemplation brings up more questions than it answers]]. And you tell him the [[call of magic after the completion of a task is vicious]]. Contemplation after a task is difficult for you. The magic runs in your blood, maddening, wild. The [[ache is back|box 2]]. You feel a thousand patterns in Sanctuary calling out for your attention. You realize you have [[forgotten]] many of the strategies for living within your own magic taught to you by your [[own people]]. A matter for contemplation: are those old strategies legitimate to use now? Those strategies were for clarity of mind. Many were developed for restraint, too. But they were developed by magical people.[[.....]]Your mind spins, high with magic. Air tastes sweeter; colors are brighter. You cannot focus on the contemplations. [[The ache is back with a vengeance|box 2]]."I spent so much time in contemplation," you say. "I know I am allowed to roam the city, but I don't, I come back, and I contemplate, but I--I only grow more confused, I--" The pirate-priest smiles. He lays a hand on your shoulder. The touch burns; you realize with a start no one has touched you in weeks, months. "Such is the case for all of us would take the task of contemplation with the gravity it deserves, brother. Truly. None can master the mysteries of God's will; contemplation teaches us humility." <blockquote><i>[[Confess you find it hard to restrain the use of your magic.|call of magic after the completion of a task is vicious]] [[Leave the Iyan-Sahrq for good.]]</blockquote></i>"I contemplate restraint," you say, "but the tasks ask me to use what I want to lose. It...makes me want--my body wants--" "I have heard others talk of the ache. It is a lifelong struggle." The pirate-priest catches your eye. "It is not just you, understand. All of us have things we must contemplate, acts for which we must practice restraint. That is life, dhirnalli." "Yes, I know, but--" "Put your faith in god, brother." He says that, but you know he does not know the ache. And you don't that you can anymore. <blockquote><i>[[Confess contemplation brings up more questions than it answers.|contemplation brings up more questions than it answers]] [[Leave the Iyan-Sahrq for good.]]</blockquote></i>"This is murder," you say. "Yes," says the pirate-priest. A silence stretches between you. "You ask me to murder a man because of money. Not on faith, not on his wrongdoings, but because of tithes." "Yes," says the pirate-priest. "I came to this path for purification," you say. "This...this is not purification. This is--" The pirate-priest cocks his head to the side. He smiles; the tips of his fangs are just visible. "But, dhirnalli, you have no soul to sully. Better blood on your hands than blood on mine, don't you see?" You remember again that you are a tool to be wielded. But do you want to be wielded this way? <blockquote><i>[[Confess contemplation brings up more questions than it answers.|contemplation brings up more questions than it answers]] [[Confess you find it hard to restrain the use of your magic.|call of magic after the completion of a task is vicious]] [[Leave the Iyan-Sahrq for good.]]</blockquote></i>When you are next in your room, you reach for the box under the bed. The box is made of polished palm wood, the pieces carefully, lovingly dovetailed together. Balsa wood is inlaid on the lid in the shape of the Exalted Eye. Inside it holds [[a reminder of what you are now, of what you once were, of decisions you have made|open box 2]].The lid opens soundlessly, smoothly. Inside is a small mound of red silk. The ache grows deeper when you see the red silk. You unwrap the silk, and there it is: the rest of your ear, dried and preserved and given to you in this fine box wrapped in silk so that you might stay whole sometimes. So that you remember you were an elf, once. You let your flesh be sundered. You asked for purification. You run your fingers over the dessicated flesh and recall your fears and questions and decisions. A peace comes to you. You rewrap the red silk, close the box. Take a breath. Make your peace with the restraint inherent in purification. <i>[[You put the box away|cell 2]].</i>You life retains its simple rhythm: You enact your orders. You return to Sanctuary. You eat what is given to you. You read Scripture in the morning. In any free time you may have you turn your mind to [[contemplation|contemplation 3]]. When they have need of you, they expect to find you in on the floor of your room, silent, thoughtful, waiting--[[a tool to be wielded|task 2]]. It is again the shaved-pated man who comes to give you orders. He knocks, waits, and enters. His gold eyes meet yours. "[[Dhirnalli|name]]," he says, "a task for you." He waits for your answer, for your choice. He waits for you to decide to [[remain dhirnalli|take task 2]] or to [[turn away from this life]].Sitting on the bare floor of your room, staring at the seams of the fitted stones, you consider the nature of [[magic]].The Book calls all magic impure. Therefore, you are impure. What kind of god, you wonder, blames you for how they created you in the first place? You did not ask for the magic. [[There is much about yourself you did not ask for]].There was a man on the street who caught your eye today. It is harder to ignore the urgencies of the body when the task requires magic. You find it easiest to show restraint on all fronts; unleashing one thing unleashes them all. You neither asked for the magic or for your preferences, none of these things that get you exiled from all of these communities. These things just are. There is value in restraint, you understand that, but you do not see the logic in a god that creates creatures that are inherently wrong. [[You suspect you don't actually believe in god]].You wonder if that matters much. You wonder how much faith is required when it comes down to it. When you first came to this path, it was after a brush with death, and death seemed so empty and total that you wanted a second life. You wonder if a belief in god is a requirement for that, or if simply living correctly is enough. These are your thoughts as you [[await your orders|cell 2]].You bow in supplication. "I am honored to serve." "We have need of your gifts," says the pirate-priest. "A brothel keep refuses to pay his tithes. Others on his row watch what happens next. He must become an example." The pirate-priest holds out a sketch of the brothel keep: a Qin man, bearded, with a heavy brow. The magic alights in your blood, and something else, too--a thirst for violence. Your own reaction scares you. You have committed violence in the name of the Iyan-Sarhq before, but only when attacked. Now they ask you to mete it out? You hesitate. Your hesitation is noticed. The pirate-priest, whose name you have never known, steps forward. "Are you troubled, dhirnalli?" You find you have [[questions about the violence]]. You have [[questions about why you were chosen]]. Yes, you are troubled.You want to correct him, tell him the name you were born with. You want to ask him what his name is. You wonder where these wants come from, [[even as you ignore them|task 2]]."I am to show restraint," you say. "In all things." "We ask you also to restrain you questioning thoughts and trust the spiritual guidance of the Iyan-Sahrq," says the pirate-priest. "Will you take the task assigned you?" <blockquote><i>[[Question him further about the violence of this task.|violence of the tasks disturbs you]] [[Ask about why you were chosen for this task.|questions about why you were chosen]] [[Turn away from this life.|turn away 2]]</blockquote></i> "I am dhirnalli. I thought--" "You thought there were others for such things? We all must share sin," says the pirate-priest. "Will you take the task assigned you?" <blockquote><i>[[Ask about the ethics of the task.|questions about the violence]] [[Turn away from this life.|turn away 2]]</blockquote></i>You tell the pirate-priest you need to contemplate the task. He gives you two hours. After one hour of contemplation your mind is made up. Your path is taking a turn. It has taken turns before. You wonder what it will mean to be purified and to leave. Will you remain purified? It's not clear to you. All you know is that you will need a head start. You have never heard of a dhirnalli leaving and living before. You take the Book and Scripture and the box from under your bed with you when you leave. You walk out of Sanctuary with purpose, as if you are walking out on orders. and maybe you are, but this time the orders are your own. <center>***</center> <center>//Your time with the Iyan-Sahrq is over, but the future is yet unwritten. And that might be a story in itself. Did you like this storylet? Let me know! <a href="https://twitter.com/B_R_Sanders">Tweet me</a>, <a href="Mailto: brsanders.author@gmail.com">email me</a>. Find more of my interaction fiction at <a href=http://brsanderswrites.com/other-things-by-b/interactive-fiction/">my website</a>.//</center>Taught to you by the Semadran elves, who were once your people. It is unclear to you if they are your people now. <i>[[You return to your contemplations.|forgotten]]</i>