1-27

“1 – Baginda Sumongsuklay traveled through the gardens of her Lunar Palace one time, tending to her lunarblooms and pale trees. The great and handsome protector of Lunar Heaven Ridwan, the Protector Angel, approached Her, and She knew that his mind was filled with questioning.

2 – “Great, o great protector, Most High of the Gods, She Who Lives In The Moon, the Brightest Lightning Spark in Fulminating Dark, heed my plea and my questioning. Why must there be dark, and why must there be light?”

3 – “You ask the great question of the sages, young Ridwan. Why do you think they are split, two different forces?”

4 – “Because we perceive them to be separate from each other.”

5 – “Darkness is cast from light,” Baginda Sumongsuklay said, and she brandished her seven-branched moonspear. “As light breaks from darkness. It is folly to think of them as two different things, do you not think so? It is a mortal conceit to perceive them as two different things, for the mortal senses are inherently incomplete and unfinished, and so everything they perceive is the same. Look at it from the light of the gods, in Conjunction with Diwa.” 

6 – Baginda Sumongsuklay thrust her palm out, and collapsed Ridwan’s skull. Only then was Ridwan able to see, in that sacred state of life and death: light and dark are one and the same, they are together Divinity. Unity in Dichotomy, truth in Conjunction.

From the Holy Lunate Songs of Ulama Bakr

The cornerstones of the Lunar Palace were grandeur and majesty.

Truly, it would not be hyperbole to state that Akai Sorcerers have found a way to manifest those very concepts and then carve them—by the help of blacksmith—into stones that would become the foundations of the grand Lunar Palace Temple.

Binayaan approached with Patima and Gurang Huna, wearing the most regal of noble clothes, provided to them by the Lunate Knights that had fetched them. They disembarked off of the sarimanok and approached the Grand Lunar Palace Temple. Binayaan had of course never even been here, but never could she have realized that the easiest way to reach the Lunar Palace Temple was by Sarimanok. It was upon Siga’s tallest mountain, Bukid Siga, and to climb it one had to enact a proper pilgrimage up from the bottom of the mountain, which was covered during this Season of Vasiki (the time when the Dry Season gives up the ghost for the Monsoon Season) in Lunar Blossoms. Bukadbulan.

From afar, therefore, the mountain looked like it was covered in white, as if a blessing from Lunar Heaven itself. Atop the mountain is the grand Lunar Palace Temple, domed to represent the perfect curvature of the Moon.

They approached it, flanked on both sides by Lunate Knights, of different folk and ages. They had landed within the courtyard already, which was paved in stone. They climbed a set of white stone stairs, wide and seemingly polished moonstone. High walls surrounded the Grand Lunar Palace temple, outfitted with watchtowers from which were mounted giant lantaka and arquebusiers. Every place that was not paved in moonstone—that is, truly, stone carved from fallen moonrock, which would strike Gubat Banwa as blessings and ritual reward—was covered in nature foliage. In trees covered in white flowers, large shrubs, flowerbeds, and streams that flowed in from the peak of the mountain, which was subsumed within the grand Lunar Palace Temple.

The stairs led up to an enormous hall, that spanned for what seemed like long, long leagues, eventually ending in another set of stairs carved into the white rock of the mountain peak of Siga. The hall was, in truth, the first level of the Grand Palace: a set of wooden stairs carved like dragons keeping the Palace to the earth was painted white, and could be found right beside the crest of the first set of stone stairs. 

The hall underneath the palace looked like a living palce. There were stairs flanked with silk pillower-chairs. There were bards plucking on their kudyapi with plectrums. There were women singing, some writing upon hardwood tables, whose legs were carved to become naga. It was a marvelous sight, for Binayaan has only seen this kind of scene before: in their own royal palace in Kangdaya. The Dawneater Palace.

“Please,” said the Lunate Knight beside Binayaan, who had a mask of a lion. He gesticulated at the dragon stairs, and so Binayaan, Gurang Huna, and Patima walked up it.

“The Lunar Palace has never lost its granduer,” Gurang Huna said, smiling all the while as he climbed the white wood stairs with an ease not usually seen in those of his age. 

Patima looked up at Gurang Huna, and then gestured for Binayaan to go first, who then returned the favor, and so Patima began climbing. “You’ve been within the walls of the great Lunar Palace Temple of Jambangan before?” Patima asked the warsage.

Gurang Huna nodded. “Once, before. I was asked to weigh in on a war effort, and of course I did. They did not like my assertion,” he said, and his eyes glanced at the Lunate Knight. Behind their masks, it was impossible to know where they were looking, and what their dispositions were. “I asserted a course of action that would be Hiyang, but it was inefficient and made larger their chance of loss, and so they rejected it.”

“All things return to what it once was,” replied Patima. “Such is the truth of Hiyang.”

“I’ve taught you well, Patima.” Gurang Huna reached down and helped Patima up the last few steps. “When one follows the flow of cycles, the stream of nature, of existence and reality, they achieve Conjunction, and therefore Hiyang. Sometimes, Hiyang requires violence, as violence is not something alien to nature. In fact it is an integral and necessary part of it. Unneeded and excessive violence, however, is not. All things that Hiyang does not require is excess, and excess is all things that the Hiyang does not require.”

“I’m glad you have not lost your penchant for teaching deep cosmological truths while we’re out here doing something mundane like climbing a ladder, Gurang,” Binayaan said as she climbed the stairs, and Gurang couldn’t help but smile. 

Within, the Lunar Palace was even larger than outside. A pointed impossibility to Binayaan. The hardwood pillars were not painted; an ebony sheen sheathed the interior, the dark side of the moon. The diluvial tales of the Akai danced from bas-relief etchings: dragons and thousand armed demons. The pillars they emerged from ascended to a dark dark heaven. Criss-crossed with stone beams and additional floors. The latticework fit for the Goddess of the Moon.

The trio walked across with damp feet; they had had to wash their feet a second time. Binayaan felt lonely and cold, despite having Gurang and Patima beside her. Their weapons were gone. She had no sheathe. She was bare and vulnerable. 

“One can only enter into my chambers bare and vulnerable,” a haunting voice echoed, like that phantom whisper heard in the middle of the night. “Only those bare like a babe may encounter God.”

Chills erupted from Binayaan’s spine, and she was overwhelmed with the grand feeling of needing to kneel. She did not fight it. She knelt.

The moon descended upon them.

The middle of the throne room was a yawning chasm. From above, the temple-palace opened up at a perfect position so that the moon was always visible at all times, letting her moongleam shine within.

A miniature moon, an avatar of Baginda Sumongsuklay, an incarnation of God here on earth, descended.

The shining brilliance, the burning light, unraveled itself soon after. Into gossamer strands of hair. Pale white. Underneath was a devata, smaller god. Or perhaps simply a betara, a holy one?

No. Binayaan knew who this was. 

“Greetings, Sri Binayaan,” said the great goddess, Sultana Sri Yarashgara XII. She floated above the chasm—her lunar throne, the dark of the moon—and she swam in air as if she were underwater. She did not wear grand regalia. Nay, Sri Binayaan was a family friend. She had no need.

She did not need regalia to exude exaltation.

Binayaan spoke, and she knew exactly what words to speak, for though her teeth were sharp and her aim was true, even steel bends beneath the rictus grin of the wicked moon. “O, Sri Maharajasa Sultana Salip Yarashgara Dyatarja Tribhuwanotunggadewi,” she spoke, and with the eloquence of royalty. With the expected grandeur that a siyak might have. With the expected reverence that a khatib might have when leading prayer. The name was not a name, it was a title. Not just a title, but a mantra. “Twelfth Sultana of the Holy Sultanate of Akai, long may she ever reign. Peace be upon her, and upon the great Jaris Akai, who brought the Prophet’s teachings to the isles.”

The Sultana was silent, but she watched. She was sheathed in gossamer moon-silks, stolen from the nights when the moon bled. She swam around, graceful, the naga in the river. Her feet never touched the ground: she was the Evermaiden, ever untainted, only given herself up to her Goddess. Of course, her sensuality could not be mistaken, it could not be avoided, it could not be unseen. Even Binayaan had to look away; staring at the full moon for too long induced madness.

“Ye have arrived at the most auspicious of times,” said the Sri Maharajasa. “Dost thou understand the magnitude of the weather?”

Binayaan only nodded. “The Virbanwan Hero walks our shores.”

“Juskalis,” said the Sultana, in perfect Virbanwan—itself a perforated perversion of Tundun language, the Traditional form of which is still spoken in Ba-e—“The Sword of God. Makagagahum.”

Binayaan was silent, as everyone should be in the face of a God.

“They hath defiled that very name. Once a God of Power and Warfare, of Authority and Control. Now, a mere aspectfor a foreign Bleeding Deva. He has been chained to power. It is fit that such cowards worship that which bleeds profusely. They must fear blood.” The great Salip turned upright, her silks flaring out in every direction, so that it looked like she was in the midst of a slowly unfurling starburst. “And thou dost cometh at an even more perilous situation. Thy sister travels with thee.” Her voice was the whisper of dreams.

Binayaan nodded. “That is the truth of it, o great Sultana.”

“Then knoweth that she is to be wed to mine own son. The 35th Lunar Prince, Sri Raja Katchil Massik.”

Binayaan nodded as well, though she did not know that it was that particular prince. There were, after all, a large number of princes, to be completely fair. “I knew of her wedding, but not to whom. Forgive my ignorance, o great Sultana.”

The Sultana Dyatarja shook her head. “That is of no consequence to me. Be at ease. Why is she not at my feet? Has Sri Raja Katchil Massik gone and spoken with her already, to begin arrangements for marriage? Was my dowry not enough?”

Binayaan shook her head. “Not yet, as of the moment.” Then she paused and said. “What was the bride price paid for my sister?”

“No doubt thou knowest that the union of our spawn herald the beginning of a dance between the Dawn Rajahnate and the Moon Sultanate. The fair trade is thus: the southern isles of Gatusan is to have Akai datu. Glory be to God.” Then, a sudden stiffness in the air. An imposition of anger, or perhaps irritation. Great Tribhuwanotunggadewi turned again, suspended infinitely in the moongleam. “I must needs set the Katchil to go and meet her at first light. Time burns away into darkness.”

Binayaan had to rip herself away from the storm that her thoughts have become fromm the realization that her father had sold off entire islands of Gatusan settlements. She could think about that later. The Invincible Gun Princess looked up then. “I mean no disrespect, Sultana. Why must the great Lunarian hasten so?”

“Because the enemy approaches! Ye who consumeth the fangs of tigers, canst thou not foresee the movements of the gods? They streak across the sky! The Thunderbolt Strikes, and it heralds the Festival of The Reddest Night! The Ashen Star Conquest begins, heralded by God’s own Sword! I must know at first light if Gatusan is to be my ally, or my enemy.”

“And the Great One requires Bakong han Muyang Kalayo’s hand to confirm it.” If Gatusan does not ally with Akai, then it shall be destroyed between the War of Stars. 

“It is thee and thine’s last resort.”

“If Bakong refuses?” Binayaan bit her lip.

“Then thee and thine are against me.”

Bakong and Sam’baha arrived back at home to the sound of a crowd. “Has sister returned already?” She asked.

Sam’baha shook her head. “Nay, but a white sarimanok graces our compound.”

From among the crowd of warriors, merchants, mercenaries and peasants, they heard: “Is it really him? The beautiful and comely Katchil Massik? The favored of the moon?”

Sam’baha blinked a few times. She turned to Bakong, and Bakong was looking up at her. “Who’s that?” asked Bakong. Sampong Baha made a nonchalant gesture, a gesture of unknowing, and said: “Let us find out.”

The Holy Prince Katchil Massik of the Lunar Royalty of Akai, Seventh of his name, Ruler of the city of Peduk in the island of Bhargrava, worshipper of Baginda Sumongsuklay and devotee of the First Prophet Ayah Menat, emphasizing on the Divine Striving as part of the congregation of holy Mujahideen, the great violence against the world’s sins. He wants nothing more than to be righteous under the eyes of the Baginda, the Most High.

He now stood in front of Bakong han Muyang Kalayo’s compound. The crowd of witnesses of Jambangan were blocked off by the Lunate Knights that he had at his stead, wearing moonsilver cuirasses and wielding guns of comets, blessings from the moon itself. There was one, a laksaman, or a monkeyfolk, whose silver hair betrayed god-blood. 

“My Lord, would you not think that we should return at a later time, when the putri would be here?”

“Nay. I wait. What kind of husband am I if I do not? What kind of servant shall I be if I do not attend to my goddess?”

The laksaman simply nodded in agreement—they could not do anything more than that, in truth—and stepped back. Moonsilver clanged hollowly against each other, as the Lunate Knights were moon-clad.

The Katchil was truly comely, of course. Katchil Massik was the most beautiful of the Sultana’s children, surpassing both sons and daughters. It is said that Katchil Massik’s father was the one the Sultana loved the most, a devata who arrived from deep beneath the caves of the earth. That is why he wore the blackest of hairs, yet the palest of skins, like the ivory off bone. They say that is why he deals in death like a dog deals in hunting: that is to say, as if it was his nature. 

The only thing betraying his lunar heritage is the fact that his eyes shone a penetrating silver. He was not wholly human. Those less inclined to the Lunar Faith in his communities referred to him as Krsna, an avatar of the God Wisnu, who protects the Three Billion Universes.

The Katchil’s strength shone through in what he wore: while others would wear a silk jacket, a sarong, perhaps some silk slippers, Massik chose to wear the same full suit of moonclad that the Lunate Knights wore. His slender frame was hugged tightly by silver so pure that men could see their reflection in it. The cuirass, greaves, tassets, and boots all were wreathed in a beautiful tapestry of textiles of overpowering indigos choking lighter reds and dark purples, all swirling in a sea of moonlight white. The colors of the night, when the moon shines.  In his hand he wielded a curved katana, from the Longbow Isles, far far South, where the winds grew cold and warlords raged. The only thing loose was his hair, which fell about him in curling waves, strands of it strewn across his face. Some of his followers would say that it is on purpose: the slightly disheveled look adds to his beauty. To add to it, he wore no headwrap when traveling. His beauty was everything needed to know of his prestige. And he would be correct, of course.

He stood tall, taller than the rest of men, for he was part devata. He was a demigod true, and he thought it to be painfully poetic to be married to a so-called demon-daughter. 

He would wait. 

He had waited for decades, what is a few minutes more?

“My Lord,” said the laksaman again. 

Katchil opened his eyes. His eyelashes burned white. “She is here.”

Massik turned and saw the most beautiful lady he had ever laid eyes upon. It made him want to close his eyes, for he thought that he was not worthy of seeing such a goddess.

Our hero, Bakong han Muyang Kalayo, blinked. Her azure eyes shone like little flames, and she thought: his demeanor is strange and eccentric, as is to be expected of princes, I suppose.

The Katchil inhaled, and then said: “Bakong han Muyang Kalayo!” He did not shout it. It was more of a proclamation, the way a priest would speak God’s name. “I stand before thee as Sri Raja Katchil Massik, 35th Lunar Prince, son of the Maharajasa Sultana.”

Bakong blinked, and then gulped, and then took a step back, only of course to slam against the unmoving Sam’baha, who was doing everything she could not to burst into laughter.

“Let us talk within.” Throngs of white-robed servants entered at that moment, bringing treasures and gifts in golden chests, wrapped in perfect silks. “We have much to discuss.”

Sam’baha threatened to laugh, but she stifled it. “Come, Bakong,” she said. “Looks like your prince is here.”

“But—Sam! I do not wish to be—“

“Get his shit from him first,” said Sampong Baha. “Then you can turn him down later.” She said the latter part in a whisper.

Bakong was filled with dread and anxiety. Sam’baha reached out and squeezed her hand. As the Warrior-Without-Equal released her grip, Bakong exhaled along it. She nodded. She had to follow along with the rituals. She had to. Once she knew the ritual, once she has participated, she shall shatter it. She shall shatter all princes.

“What if I run away, Sampong Baha?”

“I will catch you.”

Bakong inhaled sharply. “What if you don’t?”

“I will,” parried Sampong Baha. “You cannot outrun destiny.”

“You speak as if you are my fate,” Bakong said.

“You speak as if that is not what you wish.”

Bakong harrumphed. Rolling her eyes, she tromped into the compound’s main building, where Katchil Massik had already entered.

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