To Teach And To Learn
An official Yahgahn “Noiionayya peripheral” story,
Daan Order/Shao'Bahn Order (originally Shao'Daan Order)1
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Note: Female gender pronouns are used in this story exclusively, despite the fact Ah'Koi Bahnis and their deities are hermaphrodites (both male and female genitalia) because their deities tend to look more feminine than masculine. Also, it's easier than expecting you to know Djai and Djair.
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One day, some 150 years after The Reformation, Shao'Kehn walked into Her meditation room to meditate as She did every day. She entered the room wearing robes of woven white light, but shed this at once to get more comfortable; for Shao'Kehn, this meant being nude but for Her tool belt which held Her protection knives, and an anklet of creation onyx beads around Her left ankle. She tied up her long, black hair to keep it off Her amber skin.
Disrobed, Shao'Kehn went to the shelf that held Her onyx scrying mirror. She lifted it from its place, and took it over to the carved dais of black and white stone where She did Her meditation, the magic of the dais allowing Her to sit several inches above its stone surface. Shao'Kehn got comfortable, and sat staring with Her amber eyes into the mirror's dark surface, going into a meditative trance.
As Shao'Kehn went into Her trance, She saw visions in the mirror. She saw visions of Traipah, of its people hiding in underground cities from the relatively recent chaos of The Reformation. She saw that they had no way of communicating between cities, and that in less than one generation, already the language and culture was showing signs of fracturing. Shao'Kehn saw visions of fractured, xenophobic cultures going to war with each other if they were allowed to continue hiding from the surface as long as they would like to. The lessons of The Reformation would be lost if this continued.
Since there were no direct means of communication or transportation between the cities, She knew they would have to brave the surface. As if reading Her mind, the mirror showed Her visions of Ahndahn and Herself helping the people learn how to defend themselves against the terrifying new creatures on the surface. She saw Ahndahn and Herself helping to set up lines of communication and transportation between the cities. She saw Them founding an Order designed to teach survival techniques, proper use of psychic gifts, self-improvement, and even the sensual arts. She saw visions of a healed world, and a thriving global culture, if Ahndahn and Shao'Kehn did these things. The mirror then went dark.
Shao'Kehn nodded sagely at this, and got up, putting the scrying mirror back in its place. With a flick of Her fingers, She wove for Herself a dress of fire that flowed like water, and left the room to find Ahndahn.
A deity whose whole body was purest white, even Her eyes, Ahndahn was practicing Her fighting skills with Shao'Driiah, one of Shao-Kehn's Aspects. Shao'Driiah, an adolescent girl wearing poisonous Voong flowers in a wreath in Her short and spiky black hair, was fighting in a style that had Her bouncing around on all fours in a manner that reminded Shao'Kehn of Shao'Rahk. This impression was increased by Shao-Driiah's poisonous claws and the two rows of razor-sharp teeth She was baring, which were also poisonous. Luckily for them, the poison could not affect Ahndahn, or any other deity. Shao'Driiah also wore a short skirt made of black leather strips, a sleeveless black leather blouse, and Her tool belt with all Her knives and various other survival tools, but was bare of foot and of leg.
Both Ahndahn and Shao'Driiah looked up as Shao'Kehn stepped out into the courtyard. Sensing She had something to say, Shao'Driiah and Ahndahn came out of their fighting stances and bowed to one another before sitting down to hear what Shao'Kehn had to say.
And so Shao'Kehn told them all of Her vision, which had shown Her that the danger for the Traipahni people was not over with yet.
“So, they are not coming out to the surface?” asked Ahndahn.
“No. And my scrying mirror says that unless We intervene soon, the culture will fracture so much by the time they do come out, they'll fight amongst themselves and then we'll just have to do The Reformation all over again at some future date. If we get them communicating and working together to reclaim life on the surface, then they will stick together and not drift apart.”
Shao'Driiah cocked Her head a bit, then said, “I have a better idea. How about we teach them to reclaim very little of the surface; to leave most of the surface wild, and live both above ground and below it at the same time. Wall off the surface parts of their villages and towns, to keep the wild things out. But still grow most of their food below the surface, in the sun-lamp farms. Keep them in fear of another Reformation. Many of them already believe that their planet grew angry with them. We can encourage this belief. Instead of teaching them to tame the surface, teach them how to live in harmony with it.”
Shao'Kehn and Ahndahn looked at one another a moment, then nodded. “That is an excellent idea, Shao'Driiah,” said Shao'Kehn.
“Yes,” said Ahndahn. “And they can communicate with radio waves; they still have that technology. They could build radio towers inside the surface parts of their settlements. For transportation, they could make a system of trains. That would take years, and lots of working together closely. They'd have to travel across the surface between cities until then. But the project would in itself promote cooperation, and the results would re-unify the culture. There is much else we could teach them. We should also get Kusahnia in on this.”
Suddenly, Shao'Liiah – another Aspect of Shao'Kehn – appeared in the blink of an eye. Shao'Liiah looked like a young, adolescent version of Shao'Kehn, but with longer hair. She wore a red morph'ohnii flower in Her hair, and had an anklet of morph'ohnii flowers. Her other leg had an anklet of smoke.
“My only question,” Shao'Liiah asked, “is how do they build walls, when there are creatures that can eat through mortar and concrete?”
“Mortar isn't necessary,” Ahndahn pointed out. “Skilled masons can make walls of equal or better quality without mortar. And the concrete-eaters are dying out. They're running out of concrete to eat, and they cannot eat stone.”
Shao'Liiah nodded, and pulled a fresh fruit from a pouch at Her side, eating it. Made hungry by this, Shao'Driiah pulled a rotting piece of meat from Her own pouch, and ate it with gusto.
“Excellent suggestions, Ahndahn, about the radios and the trains. And about Kusahnia. I shall go fetch Her myself. In the meantime, Shao'Shyo is coming. Please make Her comfortable while I'm gone.”
Ahndahn nodded. “We shall. Good luck, Shao'Kehn.”
Shao'Kehn kissed Ahndahn before leaving, then walked out of the cavern and into Creation to seek Kusahnia.
Shao'Kehn walked for many hours along the paths made through Creation, to Kusahnia's realm. After the long journey, Shao'Kehn stepped out of the last Doorway onto a stone path, in a world with brilliant blue skies, and very green land. The stone path went on for miles, winding up a mountain path. Kusahnia's house was an enormous marble home atop a mountain, and Shao'Kehn knew that the house went deep into the center of the mountain as well. For this was where Kusahnia kept all the knowledge of Creation and other realms She had visited. It was only thanks to Kusahnia'a magic that it all fit there. Shao'Kehn had Her own library that would have made anything on Traipah seem like a single bookshelf, but Her library paled in comparison to Kusahnia's.
She walked the path, conjuring for Herself a wooden staff to make the climb a little easier. The steps seemed endless, but She kept at it. It took Her hours, but finally Shao'Kehn made it to the top, where there was a gate. She assumed She would have to knock, or ring the bell, but as She approached, the gate opened as though She were expected. Of course, Shao'Kehn thought. Of course She knew I was coming. If for no other reason than I've been in Her realm for hours. But She probably knew I was coming before I left.
Smiling, Shao'Kehn went through the gate into a corridor lit with a spell that brought daylight to the indoors. The gate closed behind Her, and between blinks a tall person whose skin was many shades of brown in swirls of small lines, like the wood of the stonewood tree, and whose hair was of a similar riot of shades, this time mostly grays and whites with a few light browns, like the wood of the ironwood tree. Her eyes were the color of mercury, and looked just as wet.
“Greetings, Shao'Kehn. I am Kusahnjijahn. Mother is expecting You.”
“Greetings in turn to You, Kusahnjijahn. Is Kiinjohn home as well?”
“Yes. Kiinjohn is in the study with Mother. Come.”
Kusahnjijahn turned around and led the way. The journey was surprisingly short, since they went through some kind of portal that magicked them to the study. Shao'Kehn immediately saw two people. The person writing in a scroll at a table had a body entirely the color of bleached paper, except for Her eyes, which were the glittering green of an emerald.
The second person in the room was standing at a bookshelf, and She had brown, speckled skin like the cover of a book, and hair the color of old paper. Her eyes were bright sky blue and lit like lanterns. Even if Shao'Kehn had not met Kusahnia before, She would have known that this one was Kusahnia.
Kusahnia turned and looked at Shao'Kehn. “You have come a long way. Please, sit. Would You like some food? Maybe a drink?”
“Yes, please, that would be lovely,” Shao'Kehn said, sitting down in a soft chair.
Kusahnia bowed Her head. “Kusahnjijahn will get You some refreshments. In the mean time, feel free to browse from our selection. This is, of course, only the tiniest fraction of a tiny fraction of our library, but I think You will nonetheless enjoy the options. And before You speak, I wish to have Kusahnjijahn present, so we will wait for Her.”
Shao'Kehn, who had been about to speak, nodded and looked at the books nearest to Her. She gaped at one in particular, pulling it out. A book entirely about Her realm, the Chaos Fire realm. It was very thick; curious, She browsed it.
She was still gaping at the level of knowledge Kusahnia had about Her and Her realm, when Kusahnjijahn came back into the room, setting down a pot of tea and a cup on the end table next to Shao'Kehn. Shao'Kehn put the book down, and took from Kusahnjijahn a plate of food... at which She gaped. This wasn't normal deity food; this was a sizable hunk of Creation Onyx. As far as Shao'Kehn knew, She and some of Her Aspects were the only deities that ate Creation Onyx.
She looked at Kusahnia. “Creation Onyx. You know Me well, Kusahnia.”
“I make it My business to do so, Shao'Kehn.”
Shao'Kehn held the black stone in Her hand, and Her hand morphed into Chaos Fire, devouring the Creation Onyx in its flames. As this happened, Shao-Kehn's whole body glowed as though threatening to revert to Chaos Fire. When the stone was devoured, Shao'Kehn returned to Her usual appearance, though Her eyes shone more brightly.
“So, Shao'Kehn,” Kusahnia said, sitting across from Her guest and sipping some tea, “what brings You to my realm?”
And so Shao'Kehn explained Her vision, and what Ahndahn, Shao'Driiah, and Shao'Liiah had added, also mentioning that Shao'Shyo was on Her way to the Onyx Castle.
Kusahnia shook Her head slightly and smiled. “I envy You, Shao'Kehn?”
“You envy Me? Why?”
“Well, You have all these other Aspects that go all over everywhere and collect information for You. Then, too, there's Your Shao'Rain Aspect.”
Shao'Kehn stared blankly at Kusahnia. Kusahnia, in some surprise, said, “You don't know about Shao'Rain?”
“No. I haven't met all My Aspects yet. There's a lot of them.”
“Well, Shao'Rain has taken up residence in one of the many empty caverns in the Creation Onyx, and has sealed Herself into the ceiling. Thousands of veins, or nerves, or whatever they are, emanate from Her body and have been growing into the Creation Onyx so much that if She isn't already like Kohraindehr in being woven throughout The All, then She's getting very close. Her knowledge and power may one day rival Kohraindehr's, if it hasn't already.”
Shao'Kehn gaped, again, at Kusahnia's knowledge.
“But that can wait, I suppose,” said Kusahnia. “In the meantime, I agree, the people of Traipah need our help. Yet I suspect this is a mission primarily for You and Ahndahn. I will be glad to help You find knowledge in My library to assist You, but a supporting role is my fate in all this; most of the work will be up to You and Ahndahn, as You saw in Your vision. And before You ask: yes, I will provide a portal between the library and Your castle. Just promise to tell Your Chaos Fire friends to keep away from the portal, alright?”
“They only eat Creation Onyx. And they stay out of the castle anyway. But either way, I promise You they will behave; I *am* their leader, after all.”
“Good. Now follow Me.”
Kusahnia led Shao'Kehn through another portal, and they found themselves in the main room of Kusahnia's library. It was vast; hundreds of miles long, hundreds of miles wide. And that was just the first of over 1000 floors.
“I will remain in this room to act as librarian; My duties as librarian will include teleporting Yourself and others working with You to various parts of the library to find materials. Kiinjohn will lead You through a portal to the area outside Your castle, to set up the portal inside the castle.”
“You are most welcome.”
With that, Kiinjohn led Shao'Kehn through the dark portal, and into the chaotic light of the Chaos Fire realm.
While Shao'Kehn had been traveling to Kusahnia's realm, Ahndahn, Shao'Driiah, and Shao'Liiah prepared for the arrival of Shao'Shyo. Several hours into the preparation, they heard a telltale clicking noise as Shao'Shyo approached. Finally, they saw Her. Though an Aspect of Shao'Kehn, She did not much resemble most of Shao-Kehn's Aspects. Her skin was sallow, almost the color of maggots, and extremely wrinkled; more wrinkled than the oldest Ah'Koi Bahnis of Traipah had ever been. Her eyes were milky white with blindness, and Her straggly hair was a mix of cobweb gray, and bone white. Shao'Shyo also had no teeth. She was hunched over, clutching a staff that looked like a bone, but was black and made of Creation Onyx. But most unusually, She was standing in a rickety old boat that looked centuries old, which floated several inches above the ground. She was using the staff to pole Her way forward.
Nahtahdjaiz, child goddess of children and the adopted daughter of Shao'Kehn and Ahndahn, came outside as Ahndahn and the others waited for Shao'Shyo. Nahtahdjaiz, delighted, ran squealing toward Shao'Shyo and nearly tackled the old woman with the force of Her hug.
“Grandmother Shao'Shyo! You're back!” Nahtahdjaiz shouted.
“What? Is that My granddaughter hugging me?” Shao'Shyo pulled a gnarled and battered-looking hearing trumpet out of Her robes and put it up to Her ear. “Spwiiohk, dearie, what do You see?”
Jumping out of the boat where It had been hiding behind Shao'Shyo came a ferocious-looking monster that was half alive and half dead, with only one good eye out of three; one other was damaged, and another was an empty socket. Its living parts were furry, except for a scaly, lizard-like tail with horns and a poison barb on the end. It had two legs with clawed paws, two legs ending in hooves, and a fifth leg that looked like it came from an oversized insect. But for all the creature's ferocious appearance, it seemed almost to smile at Nahtahdjaiz. Shao'Shyo somehow sensed this, possibly by telepathic communication with the creature, and smiled Herself. Nahtahdjaiz began to play with Spwiiohk like It was a pet, and Spwiiohk suddenly seemed almost cuddly without changing appearance, as It and Nahtahdjaiz ran around the yard.
Shao'Shyo clucked Her tongue. “Silly seeing-eye demon,” She shook Her head. “But it's alright, here. Here, with all this Chaos Fire about, I can see clear as day, through Their eyes. Well, through Their senses, anyway. I don't know so much about eyes on Them, now do I?” She laughed gleefully.
Together, everyone went inside the castle and into a special room that Ohniahnis had made for them, which among other features was bigger inside than it was on the outside. In it, they no longer felt like they were indoors. But unlike the real outdoors of the realm they lived in, this fake outdoors had a blue sky with a smattering of puffy white clouds, a large grassy lawn with wildflowers growing in it, an enormous flower garden, and even a small wooded area off in the distance. The adults and adolescents went over to an area paved with flat stones and sat down on wooden chairs at wooden tables to have tea and talk while Nahtahdjaiz and Spwiiohk played in the grass.
Hours later, when Shao'Kehn returned, She found them all in the outdoor/indoor room, still discussing what to do. In fact, She came in just as Shao'Driiah was speaking.
“That's what I mean,” Shao'Driiah said. “The whole reason we did The Reformation the way we did it was because if we had simply cleaned up the mess, we'd have just reinforced the hubris of the Ah'Koi Bahnis and the Duenicallo, in thinking they were the gods' gift to the universe, and they'd have just kept on polluting, or gotten worse. Only by making the surface that full of chaos – and warning the sane among them before we did, so they could hole up underground – were we able to solve the problem in a long-term way.”
“And what I'm saying,” said Ahndahn, “is that if Shao-Kehn's vision is accurate, the plan will fail. They will fight amongst themselves, make war, and threaten the planet again.”
“The plan isn't a failure yet,” said Shao'Driiah. “It just needs a bit of tweaking. Encourage communication between the cities, and encourage the idea that the planet rebelled against them to save itself, and/or that the gods punished them for their mistakes, yet spared their lives, and we can get them to work together to reclaim small pieces of the surface while still being cautious, to avoid more divine punishment.”
Shao'Shyo nodded Her agreement. “I agree with the young poisonous one,” She said, “and not just because we're kin. I'd like to add, too, maybe we should repeat that old Multiplication trick, send some copies of Shao'Kehn down to the surface to keep an eye on things, and maybe some copies of Ahndahn, while we're at it.”
“Woah, wait a minute,” said Ahndahn. “I can't do that Multiplication thing. And I thought it was against this universe's rules for deities to manifest physically amongst mortals?”
Shao'Kehn finally sat down, getting everyone else's attention at last. “I understand,” She said, “that there have been other deities who have sent down compressed versions of their essence to mortal worlds, especially Traipah. I understand that the people of Traipah have a natural knack for hosting copies of their ancestors in their minds, which is where some deities got the idea from.”
Kusahnjijahn, standing behind Shao'Kehn, nodded. “Yes. Souls come in three pieces: the zirr'ah, the zirr'nah, and the zirr'kah. That third part can be copied, allowing one's mind to live in another brain or other vessel. My mother, Kusahnia, has several zirr'kah copies of Herself running around in mortal bodies down there, sharing brain space with mortals. There is also another cheat: mortal avatars. They do tend to have some extra magic ability, but it takes many years for their memories of being avatars to unfold, and their powers to unlock. But they're still essentially just mortal copies of whatever deity made them. A little more powerful, magically, than the average, with some extra information, the ability to see a little more clearly, but nothing that defies the rules. Just put part of Your soul into a mortal body at the moment of conception, and suddenly You have an avatar.”
“Fascinating,” said Shao'Kehn. “Well, I'd love to have You keep going on, Kusahnjijahn, but we'd better go set up that portal now. Come, I'll show You where to set it up.”
And so the two of them went to work, setting up the portal to Kusahnia's library in Shao-Kehn's own library. Once this was done, they set to work. For weeks after that, the deities that had gathered at Shao-Kehn's onyx castle planned and discussed, worked and thought, while Nahtahdjaiz and Spwiiohk played on in the grass and wood, sometimes joined by Ohniahnis, both they and the older deities coming in only to eat and to sleep.
Their hard work paid off, in the form of a plan, after several months of planning. At long last, they had finished planning, and could begin to actually work. And so it was that Shao'Kehn and Ahndahn joined Kusahnia in placing zirr'kah copies of themselves into the minds of mortals. They even got help from Shao'Shyo, who had long ago learned to navigate the rivers of time, so they could put in place some avatars before The Reformation even began.
Working through their zirr'kah copies and through their avatars, Shao'Kehn and Ahndahn experienced life as mortals. Shao'Kehn, especially, loved the experience so much that She did a quick side-project, re-activating Her 'Multiplication' power to create a series of Aspects known collectively as Shao'Mort, and propagate them through all the different realms.
Aside from getting their new tools in place, they also spread the knowledge of Ahndahn, Shao'Kehn, and what They stood for amongst the people, so that this knowledge would be scattered across the globe even after everyone had holed up underground. Almost as soon as Yahgahn came to exist, as Their past selves were preparing the Yahgahn to go underground, the future Ahndahn and Shao'Kehn were spreading the word about two deities dedicated to helping people face greater challenges than even The Reformation.
What most surprised Ahndahn about the experience of having an avatar was that the avatars often had minds of their own, and did not always cooperate. Their memories also did not always unfold properly, and some of them required a zirr'kah copy in their heads to guide them even when they were cooperative.
But at least some of Ahndahn's avatars turned out very much like Her. One in particular was very much like Her; that one had been one of the ones needing guidance, but all the same, in some ways that avatar was just naturally like Ahndahn. She had Ahndahn's love of pleasure and pleasuring others, and Ahndahn's willingness to learn, among other traits.
This avatar, Ahn'Djaik, had a powerful need she was not aware of, to seek out her opposite; though Ahn'Djaik did not know it, she was feeling the pull of one of the Shao'Kehn avatars, who lived in another city far away. And so, when she told her people that she was going to brave the surface alone in search of her destiny, they called her mad, and tried to stop her. But she insisted, taking the first ever ay'lah'kahn'jah, the first ever spiritual trek alone through the terrifying and dangerous surface. Armed only with a crude sword and her wits, Ahn'Djaik explored the surface world, trying to find whatever it was that called to her, braving all sorts of dangerous plants, animals, and planimals.
Along the way, Ahn'Djaik stopped at places where her map indicated there were cities, and would attempt to get the attention of those inside so she could come in; she usually succeeded. Everyone's astonishment amused her. They, too, called her mad when she decided to move on. And many remained fearful. But a few took heart at this; if one person with naught but a sword could survive up on the surface, surely others could, especially if they traveled in groups. So in her wake, Ahn'Djaik left cities where a brave few ventured out to find other cities, to set up trade and communication. Guided, too, by zirr'kah copies and avatars amongst them, this would in time lead to radio communication, and then to trade routes.
Ahn'Djaik kept searching. For twenty years she searched, never returning home. She made her own ships and sailed to other continents in search of her destiny. And behind her, others followed her example.
Meanwhile, Zoh'Ahsh of Viin'Ihd – a Shao'Kehn avatar – was on her own trek, though driven instead by curiosity. She, too, traveled the world, often in ships of her own making, just because nobody knew what had become of the surface or the other cities. She became an amateur scientist, studying the new ecosystem, fascinated at what was new and at what had survived from the days before The Reformation. And as she studied the planet's new ecosystems, Zoh'Ahsh also found other cities, to get supplies and to make contact. She was more aggressive about connecting the far-flung peoples of Traipah than Ahn'Djaik, staying to help each new city build radios and make radio contact with other cities.
Twenty years after Ahn'Djaik and Zoh'Ahsh set out on their own journeys, they finally ran into one another on the cold northern continent of Kohrihn. They both had happened upon the same city, for there weren't many on Kohrihn in those days, and the native people had excitedly introduced them. And, like Ahndahn and Shao'Kehn before them, they fell in love (though this time, without the years of fighting each other). From that day on, they traveled together.
For another 14 years, Ahn'Djaik and Zoh'Ahsh explored the world, encouraging trade and communication. By that time, some cities were beginning to work out how to link each other together with underground trains, and others were beginning to fight the surface above their cities to create small walled surface villages above their cities.
As for Ahn'Djaik and Zoh'Ahsh, though, they decided to settle down in the city of Grii'ah'kah. They had children, but they continued to work, by founding together the Shao'Daan Order. For, over the years, they had each learned much about self-defense, survival in the wild, and many other things. Ahn'Djaik included lessons in the sensual arts, with help from Ahndahn. The Shao'Daan Order became very popular on the continent of Tahlbahn, and elsewhere. One of their greatest contributions to Traipahni society, though, was when Zoh'Ahsh forged the first ever Protection Knife and Protection Sword. Specially designed to be effective against the new predatory planimals of the surface, and designed with Shao-Kehn's symbol – the Shao'ahn'dih'gahn – on the hilt, these blades have been an integral part of Traipahni society ever since.
After another hundred years, Ahn'Djaik and Zoh'Ahsh were still teaching. It was around this time that biologists the world over declared the creatures that ate concrete and mortar to be thought to be extinct, a classification which has not changed in over 9,000 years. With the extinction of these pesky creatures, bigger buildings could be built on the surface, leading eventually to buildings like the Sahn-Kusahn library in Grah'bah'nah'scia. But for continued fear of another Reformation, the design of underground cities has never gone out of style; the Traipahni people live underground, and visit the surface, no matter how big their surface cities. Most of the planet is still as wild as it was when Ahn'Djaik first went to the surface, and still just as dangerous, with all sorts of life forms that want to kill and/or eat you.
And now, thousands of years later, every city on Traipah is linked by underground train, even under oceans. And its people are friends with people from other planets, even other galaxies. Several other planets have been bio-formed in Traipah's image, there exists a small ring habitat opposite of Traipah, and around a distant sun Traipah's people are building a vast ring-shaped world like a belt around the star, with millions of square miles of surface to live on. But still, the home world Traipah is worshiped, and respected, the lessons of The Reformation still strong in everyone's mind, as they should be.
1The Shao'Daan Order later broke up into the Daan Order and the Shao'Bahn Order. It is a complicated story.