Circles in the Dark - Part III
“It is a life you must choose for yourself, and a path you must walk alone. Yes, there are essential companions on this path, but there is never a leader, and there is nobody pulling you onward when you falter. No destination is set at the end of this journey other than the one you decide upon.
“I have not spoken much of the Arbiters because that is the nature of the Arbiters. There is information to be found, but that is a fundamental step in walking the path by oneself. You need to actively search out answers, and then make up your own mind, unmediated by one who has already set her own long and twisting paths.”
Here Shacruna paused, her eyelids meeting for a moment.
“The truth is this: you cannot be told what you'll find, because the True Path winds always Within, and every single seeker’s journey is tailored to the needs of their own spirit, and to theirs alone.
“Anything I tell you, anything you read or uncover from some external source will set up a new expectation of this ultimately internal experience.
“And then when you do venture Within, when you finally approach your True Path, you might miss it, or deviate and struggle to find it again, because you'd be looking for the path of another instead of relying wholeheartedly on your own insight and intuition.
“This is the danger of preconceptions. It's a fine line, as guide and as mentor, to reveal enough for a fellow wanderer to better walk their own path – but never too much; in which case they begin to walk someone else's...oftentimes a shortcut leads only to a setback."
Shacruna’s face now spoke of an ancient suffering, one so completely intertwined with compassion that it was no longer possible to tell which wrinkles were wrought from compassion, and which from anguish.
Hectar was humbled by her patient explication. It seemed there was no end to the depths of her wisdom, and no limits to her stubborn, proud patience. He couldn't suppress a grin: "That's one of the longest speeches you've ever given me."
She smiled back, a gift. Her rare smile burned through her entire being, and touched the very best of those who witnessed it.
"Yes; they are one and the same; your enduring passions and your life's True Path."
Hectar pondered this. Her words only confirmed what he already knew in his core, but had just never fully accepted.
Perhaps now, finally, I do...
"So,” he replied, carefully picking his words, “there is more than one path an Arbiter might walk, and that path is determined by some inner voice, some inner calling, that thing that's always been there inside. By relentlessly pursuing it I can get closer to my own True Path, and learn to pick it out clearly from the lifelong labyrinth of dead-ends and distractions."
"It is like a green door in a white wall." Back to her typically enigmatic responses.
"I would imagine,” continued Hectar, “that there are Arbiters along every walk of life; both soldiers and statesmen, and parents, farmers, merchants, scholars...anyone who hears the calling and answers it honestly, and unerringly sticks to the duty they've uncovered for themselves?"
She dipped her head.
"There are even those who walk the Path their entire lives without ever naming themselves Arbiter."
He let this point sink in, he hadn't considered it.
It’s true...you don’t need philosophies and theories and years and years of study to develop sound morals, or to take right action. Although it certainly helps. Contemplation affords you a set of distinctions – a vocabulary, so that you might share your convictions with those of common understanding. But still you act alone, and once you’ve set out along a path...well, theory then seems more and more tenuous...
"I've...sensed the edges of what the Arbiters’ guiding principles might be. I have a fair idea, I think, but how can I be certain?"
Shacruna’s gaze gathered and weighed the stuff of his core.
"I could speak to you of this. I could tell you all I know. Yet, better still, to see for yourself. Words are but nostalgia for some happening passed by, or for something still to be.
“The raw experience, with its emotions and its memories, and the thoughts which must follow – this is the truest teacher."
"I'm not sure I follow..."
She smiled again, a short sharp flicker, and afterwards a bright spark remained dancing in her eyes.
"We do not tread these sands without purpose; we do not blindly flee our hunters. No. We are making for Khatra."
Khatra, he mused. The very center of the Fahmal desert, known by many names: Silent City, City of a Thousand Winds, the Heart of Stone. It was the religious mecca around which the desert tribes gravitated, the seat of their divine interpreter, the Domakh, and atop its Red Mountain rose the very Pillars of their rigid faith.
"Khatra..." he mumbled, perplexed. Shacruna held him with her steady gaze.
"The Silent City is haven to many secrets. One of these I will reveal: Khatra harbors an initiatory ritual built by the First Arbiters themselves. Like the city it has many names, and many disguises, but there is one name which fits it well: the Oracle."
Hectar felt his hackles raise. Questions began their darting through his thoughts. Shacruna anticipated this, and cut him short.
"In your homeland there once was a great tradition enshrined at Delphos’ lost temple to the Sun. The oracle Pythial brought back great wisdom from the beyond. Her words inspired the creation of the Arbiters’ own oracle.”
Shacruna closed her eyes as she invoked the ancient passage. Her voice as she spoke it was strong, and clear, but somehow faded, and threaded through with an eery tone he’d never heard her use before.
“Heed these words, ye who wish to probe the depths of Nature: If you do not find within your Self that which you seek, neither will you find it without. In you is hidden the greatest of all treasures. Know Thyself and you will know both the creation and its Creator.”
As the quote died on her lips and she seemed to return from some unfathomable distance, as if these words had flung her to the furthest edges of remembrance.
“I have revealed what applies to this part of the Path. I will reveal no more until we stand at the threshold of the Oracle."
Hectar knew better than to press her further.
But already his mind was possessed by this new mystery, and for the rest of the night he thought of nothing else.
And so it was that during his turn to stand watch, he did not notice the jagged shadow which clung to the crest of a high dune somewhere nearby.
Only much later, when Shacruna was deep inside a dream, did his senses prickle under its observation…