Ian, this one is for you.
This is part of the origin story of a character I am playing in a role playing game which takes place in a world my friend Ian has built. I found the character sheet today and was inspired to do some writing about Hana.
Before I was a person, I was a current that shifted tides of inspiration from the radiant dark to dreamers. It’s hard to explain to others because most expect a story to be told from the perspective of a being, embodied. A person. I wasn’t a person, though—then. As I’ve discovered, most in this place have only ever been persons and it makes it harder to tell my story. Not impossible, mind you. But it does take a particular kind of audience, one that can put aside what they think they know and be patient as you try to offer the unfamiliarity of unknown experience. A few drinks seem to help.
When I was the current, I didn’t understand the content of the dreams I ushered. I was movement, and dreams were what I moved. I didn’t have a desire to know what they were or find out more about where, and to whom, I brought them. I didn’t even know I was. I wasn’t intended to. I don’t know much about the Vistani, but I know that, now. It doesn’t bother me the way it seems to bother many who listen whom have always been embodied. It was simply all there was, really. All there could have been. Perhaps if I’d always been embodied I’d understand their discomfiture more. I pass much of my time now watching those around me; there is a very specific quality that makes a person and I suspect I’ll never be one. I’d go back to the radiance now, if I could. This world is awash in sensation and emotion and I am adrift here.
There is no return to the radiance for me, though. I know now that some of the dreams the current moved portended cataclysm, and the Rending flung me far from the radiance and into a body and a place and a way of perceiving that was overwhelming. Terrifying. Intoxicating. I don’t remember the Rending. What I know of it comes from the few scholars and mages I’ve met, far between as they are. One described it to me as cosmic violence and sundering, another as a birth. Having observed a few embodied give birth since I’ve come here, I can see how it might be some of both. Surely a child thinks being born is a cosmic violence, if they can conceive of it at all. All children I have asked tell me they cannot remember their birth, although some tell me quietly, vaguely, of past lives. So perhaps we have that in common, they and I.
To the best of my knowledge, I was found in an ornate box on a windswept plain during a deep night with a waxing moon. Opening my eyes the first time was a searing, bewildering, enchanting experience and I think those first blinks will live etched in my memory for as long as I am. Trying to make sense of embodiment, space, geography, light, atmosphere, gravity… Fortunately, bodies seem to understand these things on their own. My first attempts at movement felt a lot like what baby deer look like to me now; that is, ungainly in their earnestness. Stepping out of the box onto the earth was lovely and strange. As coordination bloomed, I turned to take in my surroundings. I am sure I looked awkward and awestruck in equal measure.
He was standing on the verge a few feet away, horrified. I remember looking at him and thinking he was also me. My confusion was as unrelenting as my curiosity. I took tentative steps toward him, noting his features, his clothing, his posture, his shadow, somehow assuming we were the same. The way he backed up made me realize we were not me—that there was in fact some distance between who we were, not just where we were. I remember the sense of loss I felt in that moment. When I was the current, I wasn’t alone. I just was. Understanding him as his own, I knew I was alone. I hate that realization even now.
I continued to approach and he continued to retreat, at one point turning his back on me and fleeing quite handily. I can’t say what pushed me to follow, but I did, until we both arrived at what I know now was his horse, a lovely creature that craned its head to look at me as I approached. He was rummaging in his packs when I drew near and almost bowled me over when he turned around, arms full of vermilion silk. His eyes widened and he scrambled backwards, holding the silk out to me, making noise. I know now what speech is, and indeed, I speak many languages. But then? It was noise, the same as the wind in the grass and the song of the night.
I paused my advance at that point; I couldn’t fathom why I did, but somehow I knew I had to. He ceased his anxious retreat and we achieved unmoving watchfulness. Well, I watched him. He largely looked at the ground by my feet, occasionally lifting his eyes to my face to see if I was looking at him. As I always was, I could see how he would quickly snap his eyes back to the dirt and mutter, continuing to hold the silk out to me. I didn’t understand what was happening, so I closed my eyes and marvelled at the darkness. I’ve learned since then that closing my eyes does not, in fact, make people or situations go away despite the editing of my perceptions. However, I’m certain now that it was closing my eyes that gave him leave to end our tentative standoff. I felt the silk wrap around my body and suddenly had a sense of being warm as the feeling of the wind on my skin ceased. I hadn’t realized I was cold. I also hadn’t realized I was naked. I know now.
The lines in his face relaxed as soon as I was covered in the silk. I appreciated the difference without really understanding why. I toyed with the edge of the fabric, shifting the mass around the way I’ve since seen children play dress-up with tablecloths. Periodically, he would dart forward and twitch the fabric back over a part of me I’d exposed during my manipulation. It became very clear that his ability to relax was directly related to the amount of me that was covered. I had no frame of reference at the time, but I know now that he was very respectful. I don’t remember him ever directly touching my skin. That just wasn’t his way, as I would come to know. Eventually I settled on a fabric arrangement that suited me and didn’t garner any further adjustments from him.
That achieved, I resumed watching him, at which point he nodded and gracefully dropped into a seated position on the grass, gesturing that I should do the same. I attempted to. It was a disaster. New legs and long lengths of untailored silk are not a recipe for grace. As I fought my way out of the dirt and into decorum, he smiled. Pointing at himself, he made noise. He kept doing it, slowly repeating the sounds, “Lao Shao Mah”. He would pause at the end each time and look at me expectantly. This went on for some time and the lines in his face started to grow tense again. I didn’t like that. Eventually I figured out that he wanted me to copy him. Feeling vibration in a throat you’ve never had before is a peculiar thing and it delighted me. Once I mastered those syllables he pointed at me, saying, “Kishina Hana”. As I repeated them, his face relaxed again.
Something settled in me, then, sitting with him under the moon.
I had a body. And a name.