WHAT THE THUNDER SAID The nephrite-clad juggernaut shifted slightly in his stance. It reminded Say of a mountain moving. Which disconcerted him - as the main way a mountain moves, is with the force of an oncoming avalanche. An association considerably underscored when the looming figure leaned itself forward towards him.
"I am called 'Geirraj"
Say's mouth had run dry with the natural preservation instincts of fear; yet the name twigged quite another of his underlying basal drives. Curiosity, and an intellectual enthusiasm.
Before he quite knew what he was doing, the mind had analyzed and the mouth had spoke. "'Geirraj'? That ... is that Old Adamantian and .. Skandavak? 'Spear-Lord'?"
The figure straightened up, leaning back as if satisfied. Say became acutely conscious in retrospect of the sensation, how it had felt to have those plasma-green helmet lenses directly gazing at him. He'd been too absorbed in the linguistic puzzle at the time to notice, but it had the sense of a tiger intensely scrutinizing potential prey. Your existence was reduced down to a function of its presence. Not least because it could end you, at a will.
'Geirraj' turned his helmet to one side; booming voice conveying humour with a harsh suffusion. "He'll Do!"
He turned back to Say, and modulated his voice back down to a quiet roar.
"Your Old Adamantian is not bad; but it is a shorter 'a' sound."
Say suddenly felt the electric-icy serpent of fear rear up again from his spine to his stomach. And also a sting of guilt - he should have picked that.
He tried again, doing his best to mask the quailing in his voice with the already-there curiosity.
"Night? Dark? Energized/Active? Dust?"
"Better. Although you missed 'Mist'/'Clouds', 'Fury', 'Moving', and 'Region of Storms'."
This relieved Say somewhat.
"And my Skandavak?"
"Spear is, indeed, the meaning - in that language. It would mean 'from the Mountains' in Adamantian. As you shall learn, we encode multiple meanings in multiple languages, simultaneously. Although it is *amusing* that you term it 'Skandavak'."
There was something about the way Geirraj had said 'amusing', which put Say in the mind of the tiger now baring its shining teeth. The sort of smile which would surely be the last thing its viewer should ever see.
"W-why? Is that not the term for the 'Speech of the Skanda'?"
Geirraj laughed. It was the rolling sound of thunder, the booming of distant meteorite impacts or some form of orbital bombardment which was making *absolutely sure*.
"Yes, aye, that it is. But you have not stopped to consider just what it is that 'Ska(n)da' means.
For us, it means to hurt, to injure. For those who hear it, it means the ones who are hurting and injuring them. So 'SkandaVak' means - "
"...the Harsh Speech?"
Geirraj tilted his helmet slightly to one side, as if now further scrutinizing his interlocutor.
"I am impressed. The more logical pathway would have been 'Speech of the People Harming Us' - it is that, too, of course. But yes. Even to hear our words causes discomfort to our targets, to our prey. But there are two more - let us see how clever you really are."
Say paused, then realized that he had forgotten to breathe since the Astartes had thrown down the Skald's Challenge to him. That's what this was, wasn't it. The ancient and traditional exchange of riddles and cyphers with a view to testing the intellect and entertaining the mind amidst sages? He got half-way through a sharp intake of breath as he realized the potential significance of being treated in such a manner by this Darkened Storm-Spear in the armour the colour of malachite. This wasn't what you did with a slave ...
"'Attacking Speech'. You are Astartes, I presume you make frequent use of battle-cant designed to occlude your tactics yet avail your communication - despite whomever may happen to be listening."
"Good. And the second?"
Say faltered, his voice less sure now.
"I have two-and-a-half possibilities. I am unsure which to venture in answer to your question."
Geirraj drew himself up further, helmet back and looking down almost the length of the face-plate at him. There seemed almost a sense of interest to his pose and visage. Not the hard, searing intensity of the supernatural spirit-of-death of Adamantine folklore, who stripped away all pretensions and prevarications to truly see the nature, the character, of the slain soul within; nor the fierce, laser-like focus of the predator evaluating its next potential prey. It looked like the Astartes was almost .... listening to him.
"Try them all."
"'Shadow-Speech'. Slight pronunciation difference to get there, from 'Attacking', 'Injuring', but it makes figurative sense. Connotes the way in which you use your words to hide what you really mean - in the Shadows. And how you strike from them.
That's the 'half', by the way - links back to the shadowy denizens of the Underworld."
Say couldn't single out why, but he felt like Geirraj was smiling behind his visor.
"You do us credit. You have a poet's sight. Now what is the other."
Say paused; took a breath, attempting to work up the courage which came with the air's influx into his lungs and turn it into his next, carefully chosen words. He'd made it this far through an encounter with a being of myth ... he knew the folklore ...
"Before I answer, I have a question for you in return."
Geirraj leaned forward again slightly. It wasn't sudden - more in the sense of a cobra swaying, than a serpent's lunging strike.
"Oh? Speak, then, Asker"
"'Skanda' would also mean something in Old Adamantian. 'Charge',' Attack', 'Leap', 'Onrushing Tide', 'Assault'. It is the Name of one of the Mighty Sons of the Spear-Lord. Their Head of the Pantheon, I mean."
"Yes? And what of it?" Geirraj seemed to be studying him again - the hard-edged scrutiny of the predator - the sense-blades of the living weapon - was back.
"He also wielded the Spear. Why is it that your cognomen is part Old Adamantine, with a pronounced affectation for double-meanings in that language? It's a long-dead culture, and a long-dead language. Everything else about you skreams Skandza."
Geirraj moved his shoulders out, and began to walk forward, head slightly down, and leaning - looming, rather - in Say's direction.
This was it, Say thought. He had allowed that nagging curiosity which had splintered at the back of his mind to get the better of him. He'd probed too deeply in dialogue with a demigod, and now he'd find himself carrying its secrets to the silence of the grave.
Geirraj was right in front of him, now. Much like the Mountain, it was an altogether entirely different experience to see an Astartes like this up close, rather than from a distance. Perhaps it was the last sight he'd ever see. In which case, he'd do his best to take it all in. Before the Astartes' fist no doubt caused his skull to do likewise.
Geirraj moved his right arm out, twisted his torso so that his left pauldron was now closest to Say's face. Say braced himself. Tried to meet Death (again) bravely. realized he was squinting his eyes shut through protective force of habit.
"If you're quite finished ..."
Say noticed he was still in possession of all his limbs and a heart-beat. He prised open first one eye, and then the other.
Geirraj's right hand had moved. But not in the way in which Say had expected. Indeed, he hadn't even heard the massive tree-trunk of armour with servos swing past his skull mere inches away.
The fingers on the mailed fist were mostly clasped. One pointing, to the design on the now-lowered left-hand pauldron.
"You see this?"
Say weakly nodded. He wasn't quite sure what it was that he was supposed to be seeing. Everything was still hazy with the norepinephrine spike of his near-Death experience becoming even .. nearer.
"The disc in the middle, 'midst the golden wreath, and above the iron skull. What colour is it."
Say did his best to recover; mentally shaking his thoughts in a bid to clear them, and to see what was actually in front of him, this time. Not just a Specter of the Underworld implicitly threatening to claw him off to the World Below.
It was a darkened bronze. The colour of apocalyptic light dimly glowing through the dust-clouds at the end of the world. Perhaps, given the overarching shape, it *was* the Sun in question.
"That's ... that's Adamantian Bronze"
There was a silence between them. The "Yes" hung in the air, like the bridging-thread between void-bound worlds.
"What was it which you said about Old Adamantia?"
Geirraj's voice was softer, now. Not the serrated whisper Say knew he was capable of ; almost ... human, a vague note of .. melancholia? Was that even possible? Could Astartes *feel* almost as mortal men?
The beginnings of a thought percolated through Say's mind; spiking up through the dirt from the subconscious like the miniature spear-shafts of growing plants.
"That it was a long-dead culture, and a long-dead language."
Say's voice, too, had modulated - gone was the driving curiosity of the pseudo-academic; although the terror was still not far from his thoughts, this too had been tempered with a certain attempt at compassion. A ridiculous thought ... and yet, here they were.
Geirraj leaned in closer, his head nearly at the height of Say's. Say realized that at some point, the helmet eye-lenses the colour of green, glowing plasma-coils had been rendered transparent. Or maybe they simply weren't there anymore. A barrier between them had evidently been retracted.
He looked into the eyes of the Astartes. Grey-Brown-Green, and full of both sadness and life. He wasn't sure quite what it was that he had been expecting. He wasn't expecting them to look almost ... human. If only because they had misted up - and small rivulets of moisture had begun to run.
'Aksha', Say thought to himself - it meant 'eye' ... yet it also meant 'tears' - and, curiously enough, given the emerging shape of the latter's course ... 'serpent'.
'Look Death in the Eyes', the saying had went. Say hadn't expected this, when Death looked back also into his.
"Long Dead. Yes. Yet not quite .. Gone."
Geirraj drew himself back up, somewhat. Then, phrased deliberately as an afterthought - as if feeling out just how not simply the words, but the whole concept could sound out loud ... where it might be subjected to the withering scrutiny of reality's hard-light, in lieu of the sheltering glow of the conceiver's imagination :
"The Past is Always With Us."
"For We Are The Past!"
Say stiffened slightly. He wasn't sure that Geirraj had said that last part, nor even that it had been said out loud.
He looked back up to Geirraj's face-plate; half-expecting ... he didn't quite know what. There was a brief look of tenderness, perhaps almost of shadowy gratitude ... then the verdant-green eye-lenses were back up, glowing as they reached full opacity. The rest of Geirraj's monumental armoured frame fading somewhat into the gloom as he retreated back towards the wall; only the eyes continuing to maintain their shining lustre amidst the dark, regardless of the distance now between them.
'He didn't have to do that', thought Say - initially meaning the activation of the brightness of the lenses; but then realizing, as part of his mind danced along the skein of 'Loka' in mytho-etymological derivation, that this was a remark of *much* broader saliency and application.
"Now - your final answer. The one I had, apparently, not anticipated of you. Albeit this now seems one amidst many."
Say felt the embers of pride begin to stir in his chest. So *that's* what had motivated the colossus of jade's surprising display. He must have, on some level, *impressed* the Ghost-Warrior.
"Well, it's a bit theoretical ... but I noticed the potential linguistic overlap between the root-term you were using for 'harm', 'injure' - and words meaning, I suppose effectively 'to shoot', 'to skewer', in other languages of the Spoil."
"Oh?" This time Geirraj's tone was almost warm-soundingly amused. Genuine warmth, this time - not the heat of a red-hot flensing knife. Genuine amusement, too - the subtle difference of a joke shared, rather than a joke wherein you were about to become the punched-line. "I can, perhaps, see where this is going ..."
Say nodded his head in a direction off to the side - towards the mighty great power-spear, almost twice the length of a man, that Geirraj had leaned up against the wall before the start of their 'interview'.
"Spear-sound. Spear-speech. Spear-voice. Or, if we are being somewhat poetic ... and I think this captures what is implicitly meant by it the best - Spear-Tongue. 'Weaponized Speech', in other words."
In an instant, Say realized that Geirraj had covered the distance between them before he could even blink. One moment, he had been on the other side of the room. The next, he was not. How was it possible for something that ... megalithic - Say noted that his mind was running out of appropriate words, under stress, at that point - to move so swiftly? Even an oncoming storm-front, you usually at least managed to see rolling in!
He felt a smash of bone-jarring pain in his right shoulder. Surely, this was the end! ... And then realized that instead of a hail of ensuing blows, the Astartes' mailed gauntlet was clasped about his shoulder and right upper arm. And Geirraj seemed to be ... laughing at him.
No, no that wasn't quite right. Not laughing *at* him, nor even simply laughing in his general proximity, as he had done before. But rather, laughing *for* him. And with a such a significant difference on overall tone and timbre that it could only be termed Jovian - more so than, perhaps, 'Jovial', but definitely that too, and with a capital J/I. Whereas previously, the Laugh had had the quality of rolling thunder about to reign down in wrathful bolts of electrifying destructive tumult, now the Voice of Thunder was almost that of a friendly Father, genuinely and genially pleased to see a Son home following a long sojourn-voyage.
Say concluded that he must surely have already died when that first blow struck. Or at any point previously, with the whole conversation being some form of not-entirely-mythical metempsychosis.
In a sense, he was right.
"DO YOU KNOW WHAT WE CALL OUR OWN SPEECH, IN SUCH A SENSE?" There was still a wild energy that could not be quite tamed nor submerged within the pleasense and frithfulness of the still-ongoing bout of vocally emphatic amusement.
The revelation struck with the force of a thunderclap, and entered Say's brain like lightning; shooting down his spine, out through his eyes, and adding steel, light, and life, to his soul amidst all of the above.
"OF COURSE!" Say began to laugh as well. It was a rather excellent and decidedly multi-layered joke. Albeit one which would require .... quite a rarified and ... grim ...demeanour to truly appreciate. Not to mention a veer-y particular set of skills and eth(n)os to one's spirit.
"WELCOME TO THE HARII!", the Resounding Storm-Wind Roared.
"WELCOME TO 'OPERATION APAM NAPAT'" The Spearing Thunder Said.