© 2004 Tristan A. Arts

Note: One must take into account that a traumatic experience happened to Nokwahl not long before this quote:

      The ground beneath her was a very dark brown, almost a black in the low light; the sky above Nokwahl was a deep velvety onyx and filled with brilliant white stars. Traipah--her home planet-had more stars in their sky than the Humans had in theirs because of their position in the M-33 galaxy; this had always made her proud. Yet this sky had even more stars in it than her home planet-thousands upon thousands more. It was as though someone had been carrying tiny self-lit diamonds in a garbage bag and had spilled them all on one part of the sky. She could scarcely believe her eyes, and wondered why she was having this dream. The awe, though, was strong in her.
      Finally managing to pull her eyes away from the sky above her, Nokwahl's eyes wandered downwards and glimpsed a tall, imposing cave made of inky black rock sitting in front of her like a God. Then, as if to punctuate the meaning, a dark-skinned Goddess with rich black hair and luminescent amber eyes was sitting cross-legged in front of the cave, blocking the entrance. Nokwahl could not have told you how she knew this was a Goddess, any more than she could've told you which Goddess this was. Her family had always been a tad lax about teaching religions to their children.
      The Goddess before her was nude but for Her tool belt with all the survival tools the Ah'Koi Bahnis people, like Nokwahl, carried with them when outside. This Goddess was also looking at Nokwahl with a vaguely sad expression and eyes that glowed slightly as if they were back lit.
      "Hello," Nokwahl said politely. "I'm Nokwahl. Who are you?"
      The Goddess simply pointed at a Shao'ahn'dih'gahn symbol around Her neck. Nokwahl knew the symbol but, unfortunately, she still did not know who this Goddess was. She had still not learned of all the world's religions in school yet.
      "I'm sorry, I don't know who you are."
      Goddess nodded with understanding and said, "You will know when you are ready."
      Nokwahl was puzzled and slightly annoyed. "I'm ready now."
      Goddess shook Her head to disagree. "You've been through a lot of pain, Nokwahl. I would love to tell you who I am, but you are not yet ready. When you are ready, you will know. Your soul will tell me."
      Now Nokwahl was furious. "If I'm not supposed to know who you are yet, then why did you bring me here?"
      "I did not bring you here. You brought yourself here."
      "What? How did I do that?"
      "When you are ready, I will tell you that. If you do not already know by then, that is."
      She huffed angrily at this Goddess. "Okay, then, tell me what this cave is. Where are we? Why does the sky look different?"
      "Ask Me no questions just yet, for I will tell you no lies."
      "What? Why won't you answer those questions? Surely it can't hurt to answer where I am?"
      Goddess smiled. "Keep asking questions, for they are good. It has been My experience, though, that it works best to have people answer their own questions if they can. For I could tell you the truth from My perspective, but that would not be the truth for you. You came here, you answer yourself why."
      "But what-" she was cut off when Goddess bowed Her head and wept a tear of white-hot fire that rolled down Her cheek and landed in the Goddess's open palm. The Goddess then handed this tear, now suspended from a fine thread of light, to Nokwahl, and pressed it into her palm. It was warm, but no longer hot.
      "Keep this," Goddess said simply.
      "Who are you, though? Why won't you tell me?"
      "I can not tell you because you do not yet know. However, your mother knows who I am. Ask her about this symbol," She pointed to the Shao'ahn'dih'gahn around Her neck again, "and she will tell you who I am."
      Nokwahl sighed, grudgingly accepting this answer, and said, "Okay."
      The mysterious Goddess smiled warmly and lovingly then at Nokwahl, who was fingering the necklace made of Her glowing tear of fire, and bowed her head again. Nokwahl had the sudden feeling that this Goddess was deeply involved in her life, interested for some reason, and that they would meet again some day. She wanted to say something, but before she could everything swiftly faded to black, leaving Nokwahl asleep in her bed to have no more dreams that night.


(After Nokwahl has been in the Shao'Bahn Order a while)

      She was riding an Omdjaa, which was ludicrous. Omdjaas were so small that they fit in the palm of an adult's hand. Yet, dreams have their own logic, so she was riding an Omdjaa. Which really made symbolic sense when she thought about it, since Omdjaas, while small, have incredibly enormous roars that have long baffled the best scientists.
      Nokwahl looked at her surroundings. She and the small animal she was riding were traveling along a very twisted, overgrown path. There were noises from the jungle all around them that sent chills up and down her spine, and many frightening shapes stared out at them maliciously. The air smelled damp and musky in an unpleasant way, many knotted old tree roots impeded their path, and Nokwahl had the frightening thought that some of the trees were carnivorous. A chill panic began to creep over her, but the Omdjaa didn't seem to notice anything amiss.
      The scene was a nightmare, and her breathing was taking on that pattern that usually warns her symbiont of something wrong, but she can't sense the symbiont. That scares her even more. Nokwahl was about to wake herself up when a bright white light pierced the darkness and made the path straight and wide, though it was still night. Shocked but relieved at this change, she looked in the direction of the beacon, which shone on the horizon like an especially bright guiding star. All three of Traipah's small moons were in the sky, and all were full. She followed the path.
      Eventually the path, which was paved with highly polished stones of either obsidian or onyx, took her to an impressive and very massive display---onyx gates. These onyx gates, though they looked exactly like the ones outside every branch of the Shao'Bahn Order, were at least twice the size of any onyx gates she'd ever seen. Oh, and the door---the door was enormous! Black wood with an elaborate handle, though the door was wide open already. In awe now, she went inside, knowing where she must be. Shao-Kehn's Onyx Castle.
      Upon entering, she immediately knew she was right. The path continued past the Onyx Gates and went up the path/stairs towards the door to the Onyx Castle. She reflected briefly on what Sarah, one of her Human friends, had once said after hearing a description of Shao-Kehn's home. She'd told Nokwahl that black was typically a color associated with evil among Humans. Nokwahl had answered that by explaining that, for one, black was the color that was normally white in the eyes of Humans, and that Ah'Koi Bahnis considered black to be the base color of creation... that since black accepts all colors of light and white rejects them, all things sprang from black and eventually returned to black. Morshenda, Deity of Darkness, had even created stars by kissing Yinianata and Morphwaan, who are the twin Light and Fire Deities, and then spitting out diamonds with which to decorate Herself. Here, in the dream, she saw Morshenda smiling at her in the sky.
      Suddenly Nokwahl found herself standing in front of the door to Shao-Kehn's Onyx Castle. As the large black door began to open, she got off the Omdjaa, thanked it, and walked through the opening. She found herself in a large hall filled with pictures of famous and good-hearted Ah'Koi Bahnis and Humans throughout history, though she didn't stop or slow down to look at the portraits. Instead, Nokwahl followed the beacon of light that had changed the path, as it was coming from the room at the end of the hall.
      When she came up to the room, she found the door was open and so let herself in. Then, looking to the source of the light, she gasped with awe. The light was caused by what looked like a small water fountain, except that the water was actually white-hot fire. She tried getting closer to it, but an invisible force kept her a safe distance away. Mesmerized by the fountain of watery fire, she almost didn't see Shao'Kehn sitting on a chair on the other side of the fire-fountain from her.
      "Hello, Nokwahl," came a warm, velvety, loving voice. Startled, Nokwahl looked at Shao'Kehn, and was struck temporarily dumb by the Goddess's beauty. For Shao-Kehn's eyes were the most gorgeous amber ever, with an inner life that made the eyes of any mortal look dull and lifeless in comparison. Shao-Kehn's skin tone also matched Her eyes, and Her rich, healthy, gorgeous black hair ran in thick coils down Her front and back---on one side, at least. The other side was cut short and spiky, but was just as rich, thick, and beautiful. She was wearing a very flattering low-neckline strapless dress that seemed to be made of luminescent purple water and yellow marbles of light. In an oddly Human gesture, Shao'Kehn had even painted Her fingernails---they were a dark 'hunter' green.
      "H... hello, Shao'Kehn," she replied feebly, her voice cracking with nervousness.
      Shao'Kehn smiled warmly. "I suppose you're wondering why I've invited you to my humble home?"
      "Um," she mumbled, not knowing what to think or say, "uh... yes."
      "Well," Shao'Kehn took Her hand in Nokwahl's, "some time back I discovered that when you want to help someone, it's best to work with them one-on-one. I've applied this to Shao'Bahn work all my life, and I've found that things always went badly whenever I strayed from that approach. As long as I kept to my one-on-one method, I was fine."
      She stopped then, but when Nokwahl didn't say anything, She continued. "Now, I normally come to people when they call to Me at the altar for help. Zaen Enah, for one, knows this personally. But I brought you here to Me instead because when you called for my help at the altar tonight, you were near exhaustion. Once upon a time, you visited Me in a dream, so I decided to let you sleep, and to bring you to Me in this dream."
      Shao'Kehn again stopped briefly, but how is one supposed to respond to a visitation from one's Goddess? So Nokwahl still said nothing.
      "You and I both know that you need more help than any other Seeker in the Order, because of what happened that day when you were so young. And, I must be honest; I've taken a special interest in you because I feel very upset with myself that I couldn't help you sooner. But there are rules we Deities agreed on, to prevent causing disasters by trying to help too much."
      Still stunned silent, Nokwahl simply said, "Deities can make mistakes?"
      Shao'Kehn chuckled softly and nodded. "Yes, even Deities make mistakes sometimes. I don't know any Deity that hasn't made a mistake. I, for one, made a terrible mistake by trying to heal the wounds of Kaas, who had been abused severely as a child by his mother. I'd found it was too late for him, though, but only after he'd left the Shao'Bahn Order."
      Nokwahl merely nodded. She knew about Kaas having been a Shao'Bahn before changing his mind and beginning to claim himself to be an avatar of The Un-nameable One of the Yaenaanist faith.
      "Anyway, since I was unable to wake you sooner out of the confused trance the violence had put you in, I want to help you overcome your pain. Nokwahl, you need help learning how to burn your pain. So I--"
      Nokwahl interrupted Shao'Kehn suddenly. "Burn my pain?"
      Shao'Kehn blinked in surprised amusement but said, "Yes. Many Shao'Bahn texts speak of burning one's pain. It's symbolic for learning how to control the pain in your life and using it to fuel yourself along the path of your life to achieve your goals. Nokwahl, if there's one thing I know well, it's that emotional and spiritual pain, properly channeled, can be the most powerful fuel there is."
      "Oh... yeah, I think I remember hearing something like that in class. Pain is unavoidable, they said, and true happiness can only come from channeling, and thus overcoming, the pain to a positive purpose."
      "Right! We all have regrets, even I do, but the past is the past... we can't change it, so we move on and mock our regrets by flying high despite them."
      "Yes!" Nokwahl was excited, "and you'll teach me how to do this?"
      Shao'Kehn nodded, smiling. "It won't be easy. It'll require some reading, for one, and I'll have to call upon one of the Terran Shao'Bahn to tutor you, but it will happen if you want it to."
      "Oh, I do, I do!" Nokwahl's eyes had lit up to where they were almost as bright as Shao-Kehn's eyes.
      "Well, then, since the Traipahni version of the main book about burning your pain is inadequate to your needs, I'll recommend you start with 'Burn Your Pain: A Terran Shao-Bahn Handbook' by Reverend Burning Phoenix. Then your tutor will have other suggestions for you."
      Nokwahl, eyes welling up with grateful tears, pulled Shao'Kehn into a tight, loving embrace and repeated her sincere thanks to Her over and over again.
      Smiling gently, Shao'Kehn ran Her fingers through Nokwahl's hair and murmured, "There, there now, don't cry. Crying is when your soul bleeds through your eyes."
      There, in the Onyx Castle, Nokwahl wept with joy into Shao-Kehn's bosom for well over an hour before she couldn't cry anymore. Her dry sobs heaved for another few minutes before they finally stopped. Shao'Kehn said, "It's okay now, be at peace," and Nokwahl began to drift gently back into a dreamless sleep.


(At the end of the novel.)

      The ground was a dark brown, almost a black, and Nokwahl was standing nude-save for her tool belt-under an obsidian sky sprinkled with thousands upon thousands of tiny flecks of glowing white quartz. Her eyes shifted down from the awe-inspiring sky to look in front of her, and she saw Shao'Kehn sitting cross-legged in front of the entrance to a giant cave made of rock so black that it seemed to suck up light, yet reflected some of the light anyway. Shao'Kehn, who was clothed this time in a simple leather-like vest and skirt, was smiling warmly at her this time, those backlit amber eyes watching her, and Nokwahl recognized that this was the same place she had inadvertently visited in that dream after the attack on her.
      "Why have you brought me here?" she asked.
      Shao'Kehn smiled more broadly at this. "You forgot? Well, I suppose it has been a long time. Anyway, to remind you... I did not bring you here, you brought yourself here."
      "Oh... oh yeah, I should've remembered this from the last time I had this dream. And this is where you tell me I'm not ready for whatever's in that cave, right?"
      Shao'Kehn shook Her head lightly in amused disagreement and continued smiling. "No. You are ready this time. More ready than ever."
      Nokwahl smiled, proud of herself as she watched as her Goddess stand up and move to the side so that the way into the cave of inky black rock was no longer blocked. It amazed Nokwahl that Shao'Kehn was only an inch taller than she, but she was not surprised-She was a Goddess and could, thus, take any form She wanted to. Shao'Kehn always took the same basic form, though; so She was just as gorgeous as before, with that same amber skin tone that Nokwahl had (only it seemed more alive on Shao'Kehn), and those brilliantly luminescent amber eyes. Even the long hair was precisely as she remembered it, black and rich and healthy.
      Shao'Kehn gestured widely at the doorway to the cave. "Welcome, Nokwahl, to the Onyx Cave of Truth. Come in, it's been waiting for you ever since it first saw you."
      So, hesitantly but excitedly, Nokwahl stepped forward into the dark cave, Shao'Kehn following closely behind her in the almost-solid blackness. Now she at least knew part of the reason she'd not been ready to enter this cave the first time-having someone following behind her in a dark cave would've reminded her too much of the attack, and that dream had been too soon after it to be safe. It was reminding her uneasily of that now, but as a long time Shao'Bahn, she knew that when you faced your fears and challenged them, it helped the healing process… it helped you grow.
      The inside of the cave surprised her, because even though it was very black, it sparkled like diamonds, only there was no visible light except that which was coming from Shao-Kehn's eyes. On closer inspection, it looked as though the light were sitting just slightly above the rock, instead of bouncing off it.
      "Why is this light not touching the rock?"
      "The light is actually coming from the rock of this cave. Black is the base color of the universe, remember? You're seeing the bare bones of the universe. Just as stones are the bones of a planet, this 'rock' is the bones of existence. You see, these caves used to be trapped closed, and the light coming from the rock was trapped. Then one day, it had built up so much pressure that it exploded out of the rock, creating the universe. There are still caves like this locked up in the core of existence, and whenever one breaks open, an entirely new alternate universe is created. This particular one is the original one-the first one to break open."
      Nokwahl couldn't speak, she was so in awe to be at the place where existence began that she had stopped walking. Shao'Kehn raised an eyebrow in question at her; Nokwahl shook herself out of her daydream and continued to walk along the path.
      They carefully strolled over to a part of the cave toward the back where there was a fountain of still water that was absolutely clear. It was so clear that only the light reflecting off the surface-or was it coming from the water like the light from the rocks-kept it from being invisible. Shao'Kehn guided Nokwahl to kneel before the waters. She did, Shao'Kehn did the same, and then She looked at Nokwahl and smiled.
      "These are the Waters of Truth. When the universe was young, there were three powers. The Black, from which all arose, as I told you; The Wellspring of Light, which is Order; and My realm, The Heart of The Chaos, The Vital Spark of Life. When the light came out of these caves, these three forces came together to make existence as we know it, and The Black formed a cave from which flows Truth. These waters are pure Truth. Drink of these waters and a Truth shall be revealed to you.
      "But before you drink of the Waters of Truth, you should be aware of the nature of Truth. Truth is a mischievous mistress that hides in the shadows, and even when you see it in the full light of knowing, not everyone sees it the same way. The Truth is like a shape-shifter---even if two people see it in basically the same way, perspective makes subtle differences. Whatever Truth you see from the Waters is yours and yours alone. It comes from your soul, the waters merely open the door to it. Though you may share it if you wish, but it will be a different truth for others. Do you understand?"
      Nokwahl nodded gravely. "Yes. This makes sense with the teachings of the Shao'Bahn Order."
      "Good. Now… do you wish to drink of the Waters of Truth?"
      "Then do as I do." Shao'Kehn bent towards the Waters and used two hands to pull water out of Waters of Truth and held it up to Her mouth.
      "The Waters will never fall out through your fingers. If you pull apart your hands, they will stay in two parts on your hands. Drink all of the truth you pull out, for the few people to drink only half the truth nearly went insane because half a truth is the worst lie ever."
      Shao'Kehn drank the Truth in Her hands with casual grace, and sat back smiling with a peaceful glow as She processed Her Truth. "Even after all this time, the Truths I absorb always surprise Me." Then She turned to Nokwahl and raised an eyebrow. Gesturing to the water with one hand, She smiled. "Your turn."
      Nervously, Nokwahl bent forward and took some of the water in her hands. It was still practically invisible, and it was also very cool. Not too warm, not too chilly, but just right. Only the sparkling light on the surface and the coolness of it showed her that it was there. She smelled it, and found that it had no odor. She licked it-it had no taste. So she put it to her lips and drank it.
      It slid down her throat like liquid air, filling her with a pleasant warmth. She felt it go down into her belly and heard a quiet voice whisper into the back of her mind with a voice that sounded like eternity, telling Nokwahl her Truth. She grinned widely, and chuckled softly. What did she hear? What truth did she find out? What deep amazing wisdom was revealed to her? Well... it was her truth, so how should I know?

New quotes from the same text:

* * *
"Questions are the lifeblood of spirituality. Remove the questions and your answers are meaningless."
---Uu'zahr'thay Hai'nox, founder of the Shao'Bahn Order
* * *

"Remember, My children: you are pieces of Me with all the power to make your lives the way you want them to be.
So go out and do that already."
---Shao'Kehn, from the Onyx Scrolls of Shao'Kehn

* * *
"Truth is, by its very nature, usually quite painful--which is why
so many people try their hardest to keep it away."
---The Onyx Scroll of Shao'Kehn
* * *

* * *
"Truth is often bound, gagged, and forced into disguise,
A black secret covered by the jade mask of lies."
---Reverend Kokyl'schlig of the Terran Shao'Bahn Order
* * *

* * *
"Pains are like big sticks that bruise, cut, and even break you.
We Shao'Bahn learn how to grab those sticks out of Life's hands and make a warm bonfire of them."
---Uu'zahr'thay Hai'Nox, founder of the Shao'Bahn Order
* * *