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Volume 4, Part One

"Christian, come in! Glad you could make it!" said Fezzer jovially.

"Good to be here," said Christian, stamping his boots outside the front door of his friend's house. He shook the snow off his coat, entered, and as the door closed behind him, he added, "I trust you have some hot borovan brewing?"

"But of course, my friend! Just shed your outerthings, slip into your slippers, and join us by the fireplace! Rest assured, the borovan shall flow freely!"

As the two of them walked into the cozy, well-appointed living room, a pair of small children popped up from the rug in front of the fire, shouting "Uncle Chris!" and ran to greet him.

He smiled and patted each head in turn. "Pupla, Minna, good to see you both. But please, take it easy! You'll make me spill my drink." They backed off long enough for him to seat himself in a comfortable easy chair and set his cup down on an end table beside it, before jumping into his lap and giggling.

"Christian, good to see you," said Fezzer's wife. "Well, we could almost have our own Yukihana pageant, couldn't we? You could play Harmon." At this the children's giggles grew into laughter, while Christian simply smiled at an irony only he grasped.

Still smiling, he said, "Hmmm, I'm afraid I don't know much about the part, Mithilia, you'd have to explain it to me."

"That's right!" exclaimed Fezzer. "This is your first Yukihana, isn't it? Hard to believe you've only been on the planet a few months... how is it we never had you over for the holiday when we were stationed on Akkadia all those years?"

Christian shrugged. "Someone had to pick up the slack at work while you had the day off, I guess," he said with a smile. Internally, however, he hid a certain degree of bitterness. This was never exactly one of my favorite holidays, not a day I ever really felt like celebrating. It's his damn holiday, after all... but on the outside, he just kept smiling. At least he could enjoy being with good friends....

"Of course, of course. Well, this time we're the natives and you're the alien, so at last you have the freedom to join in our custom. So, how much do you actually know about the holiday? I'm sure I must've talked to you a bit about it before, and surely you couldn't have gone anywhere or done anything on Kujihanyosei for the past month or so without hearing about it everywhere..."

"Hmmm, well. Certainly there are plenty of decorations and songs and such. And specials on the vidbox. And lots of merchandise in all the stores. I did a little research online, too, just to get the basics. I'm afraid I don't understand it absolutely, unless it's as simple as it seems. It's basically about balance, isn't it?"

"Balance and peace and joy, yes. I can understand how it might be tricky to grasp for someone from a world like yours, where everything has to be so definitely about something. And your religions seem more clearly defined than ours, as well-"

"Actually, I get the impression that people from most other worlds in the Alliance think the religions of Akkadia are nearly as vague as yours."

"Perhaps," allowed Fezzer. "In any event, our thinking is often different from yours, and our stories among the most vaguely defined in the universe! Also our idea of conflict is far less... intense... than yours. I think your people have a saying, 'with friends like this, who needs enemies?', yes?"

"I suppose."

"Well, it's rather the opposite with us. Our enemies tend to be more like what you might call friendly rivals. Our greatest historical wars, from an outsider's point of view, might seem no more meaningful than a... a what would you say, high school? Yes, one of your high school sports rivalries."

"Well, everything about your people seems rather ethereal, especially the further back you go in history. I'm afraid contact with aliens like my people has tainted your people too much..."

"Nonsense! We were what you might say, in a state of arrested development. We've merely begun to grow up. It was already in the process of happening even before the Alliance contacted us, just over 10 years ago. I don't know that they would have made contact were that not so. Still, we remain dreamers, and much of our thinking muddy. Muddy, would you say? No, that sounds too thick, too opaque. Hmmm. Well, fuzzy, or fizzy, or something. Fizzy is good! Effervescent!"

Pupla and Minna giggled again at this, and chanted "Effervescent! Effervescent!" The adults all grinned at them.

"It's a nice word," offered Mithilia, "I like it. As do the children. No offense, but I find much of your Akkadian language to be too dull, but there are a few words scattered throughout the language that I quite like. Almost makes me think your world might have had interdimensional visitors from our world, sometime in your distant past. Influenced your language. Don't you think?"

Christian smiled and said, "Could be. Wouldn't surprise me in the least." He thought to himself, It sure is nice to have such a big playing field. Take the occasional lifetime out of the game just to hide away, live a normal little life, go a few decades at least without ever seeing or talking to or hearing anything about God. Just pretend for awhile that there is no game, that I'm not a player. Then again, if I'm still thinking of the universe as a playing field... Ah well, I guess I can't really get away from it completely. Especially not here and now... He sighed and said, "Now, if either of you would like to explain the holiday to me better...?"

"We'll do it!" shouted the children, suddenly jumping down from Christian's lap, to stand before the fire. Minna began, "You see, Kujihanyosei is full of magic. And that includes all sortses of magical creatures, from Drakkens to Narhols to Whiffenpoofs to-"

"To too many to name," cut in her brother. "But the very most magicalest of all of them are the Celinx. Now, some people say all living things, magical or otherwise, including people, are all part of nature. But in another sense, all of that living stuff... lives in nature."

"Dummy," said Minna, looking at Pupla, "plants are nature, and they're living things! You should have said animals or something."

"Right, animals or whatever, but nature... well, the animals are in a sense part of nature and in a sense not. Plants are part of nature, as is the ground and rocks and sky and water and weather and stuff. Nature is just like the environment. It isn't necessarily alive or anything. But Celinx don't just live in nature, they truly are a part of it, in every sense. Except also separate, like the rest of us animals."

"Yeah, they're like nature's consciousness, except you can't have consciousness without brains," said Minna.

Christian interrupted to ask, "What about Whiffenpoofs? They don't have brains, do they? They're more like just, wind or something, right?"

"They're not wind!" cried Minna.

"Not exactly," said Pupla. "For a long time people didn't really know what they were, though, so I suppose we used to think of them that way, too. Actually they're a microscopic collective consciousness. They don't have brains, but they do have... well, I don't know how to describe it, but a single Whiffenpoof is made up lots of separate cells that float in the wind, but have a sort of electrical connection to each other, or something, and when a Whiffenpoof's cells are in communion with one another, they have a consciousness and a sort of will, a self-awareness."

"But for the most part, consciousness requires brains," said Minna, "or something along those lines. Something plants don't have."

"At least not on this planet," said Pupla, "but I heard there are some planets with intelligent plants, though I'm not sure how their consciousness works. I'm pretty sure it's not magical, though."

"What-ever," sighed Minna. "The point is, nature has a kind of consciousness, a self-awareness, in the form of the creatures called Celinx. It's like, their brains house nature's consciousness, you see? In that sense, they're a part of it. And when we talk about them controlling nature, for example making plants grow, it's not so much controlling something external. It's not like a person would pick up a cup of borovan-" at the mention of which, Christian picked up his own forgotten cup and took a sip- "as it is like a person, I don't know, sneezing or something."

"Except it's a conscious decision, not autonomic. It's more like if you could consciously decide to make your hair grow longer. But anyway, while they're part of nature, they're also individuals, and so separate from nature, and from each other."

"This is all very interesting," said Christian, "but I'm afraid I don't see what any of this has to do with Yukihana. I mean, I've seen Celinx among the decorations everywhere, but-"

"We were getting to that!" shouted the children in unison. Pupla continued, "We just had to set up the nature of the Celinx, first."

"Right. They can manipulate any part of nature, or blend into it, changing their own form. They can alter the weather, even play around with time and space. Anything!"

"Not space! I don't think space is part of nature, at least not like the vacuumy space surrounding planets and things. And I'm not sure if their powers would even work on any other planet but Kujihanyosei. And even here, it's not like they can alter geography or anything."

"That's not what I meant at all!" insisted Minna. "I just meant they can, like, teleport, or whatever."

"Oh. Right. But Narhols can do that, too... Anyway, so, people have religions, right? Well, I mean, in the early days of civilization, or even before true civilization, primitive cultures on any planet will try to explain things in the world around them, whether they're doing it scientifically, or just making up stories. Usually religions develop when trying to figure out what life is all about, and with magic everywhere, well, it just seems supernatural, doesn't it? Which means magical creatures should be closer to the truth behind everything. So in the earliest days, people would worship different magical creatures, and eventually different cults grew up around each of them."

"Right," said Minna, "but there never really was any conflict between the cults. It's like, they all recognized that all the creatures they worshipped were magical, so all equally worthy of worship. They just each chose, like, their favorite, is all. Nothing deeper than that. Until one day, about sixteen hundred years ago, two new magical beings appeared that no one had ever seen before. And unlike all the others, these ones were people! I mean, they were intelligent, and they spoke. But they could also do things normal people couldn't-"

"Although," Pupla cut in, "we could today, with technology."

Minna rolled her eyes. "Oh, enough of your stupid theory about science explaining them! They were magical, everyone knows that!"

"I'm just sayin', the pictures all have Harmon and Liton looking like... well, Akkadians, or something. And it's not like Akkadians wouldn't have had the technology back then to get to Kujihanyosei, and to do the things they did."

Minna turned to her father and pleaded, "Papa, tell him no one in the Alliance is allowed to interfere in a primitive planet's development! If anyone tried, they'd be arrested!"

"I-" began Fezzer, but was cut off by his son.

"Alliance records show that our planet wasn't even officially discovered until 500 years ago. They started watching us then, waiting for us to develop enough to contact us, but an independent space explorer could have found us earlier, and if they didn't report it, they could do whatever they wanted without fear of punishment for their crimes. In a situation like that, don't you think it would be fun and tempting to set onesself up as a god or something?"

"But they weren't gods!" said Minna.

"Hence the 'or something.' Anyway, it doesn't matter. It's just a theory, I'm not even saying I believe it, just that it's possible. Maybe they were just magical beings and actually came from here instead of some other planet. Either way, the story remains the same."

Christian couldn't help smiling to himself about Pupla's little theory. He looked up and exchanged a glance with Fezzer. They'd both heard similar theories from far more credible and important sources, though even those theorists tended to receive the same kind of derisive scorn Pupla got from his sister. But, unlike his friend, Christian knew such theories actually deserved more credit than they got. He sighed again, thinking, I really can't get away from hearing about God, and the game. But I knew before I came that I'd have to hear the story. So, I'll just try to forget that I actually know it better than anyone else on Kujihanyosei, and enjoy listening to the kids tell it....

"Right, the story," said Minna. "Well, these two beings, Harmon and Liton, each aligned themselves with a different cult, and built them up bigger than any of the others, into true religions. Harmon's cult claimed Drakkens were the most important magical creatures, because they're the biggest and fiercest, and tougher than any other creature, even Celinx. I mean, a Celinx might have a chance of winning a fight against a Drakken, if they chose to fight at all. They're really very peaceful, though. But it's not impossible for a Drakken to beat a Celinx, because after all they are so much bigger and stronger, and breathe fire, and they have those sharp teeth and claws, and everything...."

"On the other hand," said Pupla, "Liton's cult claimed Phosarlia were the best."

"Phosarlia?" asked Christian.

"Yes, they're kind of like Whiffenpoofs, actually, except more like light than wind. They can be found flying around at any height, from barely off the ground to higher than clouds. Or they can be found underwater at any depth, or in caves, or anywhere. And they're impervious to Drakken fire. Before we learned about electricity or gas or anything, people used them for light, they could even tell the Phosarlia to dim or brighten as much as they wanted. And if a Drakken tries to eat them like they sometimes do to Whiffenpoofs, they're like poison. In a way you could say they're tougher than Drakkens, but they can't really fight. Even if they chose to fly into a Drakken's mouth to poison them, it would be suicide, they'd die along with the Drakken."

"I don't really see why these people or whatever they were, Harmon and Liton, would choose either creature as the best. It seems pretty random," said Christian.

"I think so, too," said Minna. "Like I said before, the people in the cults had chosen their favorites, and I think Harmon and Liton just did the same thing. But because the two of them seemed so special to everyone, they figured their choices must be special, too. So more and more people flocked to those two cults, until they were way bigger than any of the others, and even the other cults eventually started thinking of their own preferred magical creatures as secondary to Drakkens and Phosarlia, and aligned themselves with one or the other of the major religions, as sort of, what would you say, denominations? Yes. Something like that."

"Anyway," said Pupla, "All this went on for like 30 years, but at the same time, there was also a backlash growing among some people, who weren't happy with either religion, or any of the other cults. So they started developing science more and more, and finally suggested that everything people thought of as magical could ultimately be explained scientifically. They wanted to do away with religion altogether, and finally it seemed like there would be a major three-way war."

"And whichever side won would control the world?" asked Christian.

Fezzer shook his head. "I told you we don't think like your people do, and our conflicts aren't the same."

The children turned to glare at their father, who laughed, held up his hands, and let them continue telling the story themselves. "It was never for anything like that," said Pupla. "No one wanted to rule the world. No one even had any concept of government, back then. Everyone ruled their own lives, and for the most part lived together peacefully, without any sort of violence or crime. The war that was coming was what you would call, like, ideological? Yes. It's kind of weird when you think of it to base preference of creature on which one was toughest, for a people who aren't really interested in fighting. But it was about more than that, too. I don't know, I'm not religious, I just like the stories, but I don't understand all the reasons they had, and anyway it's too complicated, I guess we just thought we'd mention that because it seemed like the sort of reasoning an alien would understand. No offense."

Christian grinned and said, "None taken."

"I've read a bit about religious wars on Akkadia and other planets in the Alliance," said Minna. "Political wars, wars of conquest, and so forth. Aliens seem to fight over lots of things. The outcome of this war wouldn't have determined who ruled the world or who was the strongest or had the most land, or anything like that. It was more about determining the direction the future growth and development of the world would take. But it was still very much about who was right and who was wrong."

"And that's when a Celinx showed up," said Pupla.

"You're getting ahead!" cried Minna. "There was a battle, almost. It was in winter, on this day, fifteen hundred eighty three years ago-"

"Fifteen hundred seventy seven Alliance years ago," corrected Pupla. "In LY 430."

"Right, except this was before we had Lucent years on Kujihanyosei."

"Yeah, but the, um, Lucent dating system is so much better. Before we joined the Alliance, our years didn't have their own numbers even, we just said how many years before the present something happened. I bet History class must have been a major pain back then!" Pupla turned to look at his parents.

"You could say that," agreed his father with a smile. "The answers changed every year!"

"Any-way," said Minna, "it was on this date a long time ago, in winter, when the first major battle was going to take place. There were lots of people and Drakkens and even Phosarlia, and other magical creatures, all gathered on a big field, and it was very cold, and snowing. And Harmon and Liton were both at the heads of their armies, because they were like what you would call generals, right? And the science army was led by a man named Harper. The three of them called the charge, but then-"

"But then," cut in Pupla, "the Celinx appeared in a flash at the center of the field, before a single blow could be struck. Of course it couldn't say anything, because, you know, Celinx don't talk..."

"Well obviously, I already said Harmon and Liton were unlike all other magical creatures in their ability to talk."

Pupla rolled his eyes. "Okay, fine. But anyway, they are intelligent, Celinx, while most other creatures can be trained like normal animals. But even if they can't talk, Celinx can think and feel, and sometimes try to communicate with people. So this one that showed up communicated his desire for peace by making these beautiful multicolored flowers suddenly grow up out of the snow. No one had ever seen flowers like that before."

"Right, they were brand new, almost like the Celinx had designed them especially for the occasion. And all three generals and everyone were moved by the flowers. Harmon said the multiple colors represented balance. And they were also slightly warm, and the snow started melting around them, and it stopped falling from the sky, too. So he said the warmth represented joy. And the balance meant that maybe all religions, as well as magic and science, could get along peacefully, and work together to develop the world. And the other two generals agreed, so the war was averted."

Close enough, thought Christian. Not exactly how it went, but... close enough. It's a nice story, anyway....

"And Harmon named the flower Yukihana, and declared a holiday in its honor. So that's why we have all these Yukihana flowers around," added Pupla.

Christian looked around the room. "They are beautiful," he said. Leaning closer to a nearby one, he said, "I never really consciously noticed that they're warm, too, that's interesting." Though to himself he thought, Do I really need to add little touches of ignorance like that, I wonder? Probably not, but still.... "Anyway, I always thought they were named after the holiday, not the other way around. But then again, if both were named at nearly the same time, I suppose it doesn't matter...."

"Of course," said Minna, "that wasn't really the end of the conflict. I mean, not entirely. It never came that close to actual war again, but Harmon and Liton disappeared soon after that... and then continued popping up every now and then, for the next thousand years or so. And they never seemed to completely get along with each other, even though they did seem to support people getting along. But then finally they both just stopped showing up, and no one's quite sure why. By that time people were starting to think they might be immortal, since no other creatures were anywhere near that long-lived. But after they disappeared for the last time, most people decided maybe they'd finally died, after all. But no trace of them has ever been found, no remains or anything, so it's a great mystery where they went, even during the times between visits."

"Which means they could have gone to other planets," said Pupla. "And they may not even have died. After all, they stopped coming around the time the Alliance discovered Kujihanyosei, which means if they were just aliens, they wouldn't have been able to return without being observed by watchers from the Alliance, which banned anyone visiting our planet while we were still developing."

"Dummy! Have you ever heard of any aliens that live a thousand years? Akkadians certainly don't!"

"Well, I never said they had to be Akkadians, just some race that looks like them. Anyway, the different visits might not have been by the same people, it could have been descendants."

"That'd be true of magical creatures, too. It's weird to think there were only two members of a species, so probably their race kept themselves hidden somewhere on Kujihanyosei, and descendants of Harmon and Liton made subsequent visits."

"So how come no trace has been found? The whole world has been explored by now. And it's much more suspicious to find no trace of a whole civilized species than no trace of two individual creatures."

"How do I know? Maybe they had a ban on contact, like the Alliance later would, and Harmon and Liton broke that ban. And they are magical, after all, they could find a way to hide themselves from us, even now. Or maybe they left the planet after the Alliance showed up. Maybe they're even walking among us, pretending to be aliens, since they coincidentally look like them."

They both looked back at Christian and grinned. Pupla asked, "Uncle Chris, you're not really from a secret, hidden race of magical creatures, are you?"

Christian grinned, shut his eyes and shook his head. "Not that I know of. But then, I suppose I couldn't tell you if I was, could I?" The kids laughed.

"Anyway," said Mithilia, "I guess now the story's all told. So, what should we do next? Dinner, or presents?"

While the children tried to figure out which need was more immediately pressing, Christian continued smiling, and allowed his thoughts to wander back to family gatherings many millions of years ago, on holidays that no one from this Universe had ever heard of....

vol. 4, part two
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