The Crowning Moment

Train rides always were soothing for the Arch-Princess of Musetszna, going forward in a single direction with a predetermined destination. No unexpected turns or twists, just an organized route to follow. Calm sound of the train rolling the tracks, sounding like the waves washing ashore bring back memories of Ny’Hjøran and her older sisters playing on the beach building sand castles.

Life was simple, calm and organized back then. Where the most important questions of the day were what one was doing after studies rather than the more difficult questions of the modern day. ‘What are the Akuanists and what is our role in the modern world?’ Akuanism is an old religion, an ancient faith that had existed before the written language and before the invention of agriculture by some historian accounts.

What is Akuanism? For your average person Akuanism can be confused for a ethnic group or a culture. To others it is a religion that happens to heavily influence one’s culture. It is a faith that does not seek out to expand, yet you be hardpress to be in a country’s capital without an Akuan district. There are even people, who claim to be culturally Akuanist but not practicing the faith. To the misinformed, Akuanists are just Eastern Boreans who expanded across the world or simply a bunch of drunkards needing an excuse to drink.

Akuanism never attempts to bring people into the fold of its faith like the Akronists or Ulvriktruars. It has no weekly or monthly service to attend. Some confuse Brewmasters as priests, ignoring their more important roles as community leaders and as maintainers of the shrines they hold so dear. They look at Akuan democracy, and see brewmasters in government. Pointing at them like it is proof that it is a polite theocracy. Ignoring the fact, that community is larger than a religious group. A community is for everyone, not just for Akuanists. Are we not all children of hers? Should we not be supposed to welcome all with open arms and care for them like they are own flesh and blood? Are not our Akuan festivals cherished all within the community, not just those who are Akuanist?

Even then, a religion that has no scripture that is shared across the all lands that Akuanists inhabit. As many things Akuanists have in common, they have differences. Down to the very meaning of ‘non-violence.’ Does it just apply to sapients or does it include animals? If it includes animals, then what animals are included? How is it determined? Every region’s Akuanists inhabit a disagreement and separate view on the matter. What about defending oneself? In Musetszna, defending yourself is acceptable but what save for those living within the Norgsveldet realms, such as in Vakrestrender? What about those who died in the Akuan Atrocities, refusing to fight back against those who wanted to do nothing more than stomp them out and crush their spirit? Was it not right to stay committed to their view of non-violence? They believed so certainly in their view of Akuanism, they were willing to be slaughtered en masse and forced into camps all in the name of Akuanism.

Questions only bring out more questions, a new Akuanist is ever created when one is born into an Akuanist family or one is curious enough to join the faith. Joining the faith requires learning a Nys’tat’en in order to listen, read or watch the stories and myths within the context of the religion. To read the stories that have been passed down for centuries if not thousands of years in anything other than the language is perhaps one of the few things Akuanists all agree to is heresy or at least the closest thing Akuanists consider to be heresy.

Even then Nys’tat’en has changed so much from it’s old times. The Arch-Princess can speak perfect Nys’tat’en it being her native tongue but lifetimes has passed since Akuanists came to inhabit Musetszna, it has changed as much as it has stayed the same. The influences of the Packilvanian language showed clearly in her pronunciation and words. In theory she could speak to an Akuanist from Borea or Novaris but in practice, it is verbal confusion. She could understand the basics of what was said after a few attempts but the nuances are gone, the details are missing and the nature of the speech can be easily misinterpreted. The written words however, can still carry through, albeit with misunderstanding with the differences of borrowed words. Can it even be called the same language or is it more like a language family? If that is even the correct term for it.

Akuanism and Nys’tat’en are so divided on so many issues, customs and cultures but yet held together as a single faith. In a world where disagreements in doctrine can lead to breaking apart and religious schisms such as with those who march under Odin’s faith. How about Paxism? With all of its own schisms and branches mirroring Ulvriktru. Yet Akuanism has never officially fragmented, regardless of how deep they are different, Akuanist is still a Akuanist. Perhaps it is because Akuanism has no real religious leader, save the Enshrined Spirits but those don’t truly lead the faith. Even then there are disagreements about what an Enshrined Spirit role is in the faith. Are they leaders of nations guided by the spirit or are they on a journey to understand what is a spirit and should be considered as advisers of leaders? Perhaps it is what saved Akuanism from breaking apart like so many other faiths.

Ny’Hjøran gave a yelp as the train briefly bounced up, breaking her concentration on her own little scholarly debate in her head. Her husband, prince Ulahid a-Luwadeen Bedon gave her a comforting hug, bringing her close to him. “Everything alright cheesecake?” The feline spoke, in a calming tone. Slowly stroking her hair in a loving manner.

“Ah, everything is fine, the bump just broke my concentration.” Ny’Hjøran gave a warm smile to her husband.

“Ah, I was wondering why you were staring so intensely at your empty glass. I thought you might have been wanting another and too shy to ask for a refill so I asked an attendant to bring you another.” The feline prince gave a gesture as if on cue then a train attendant arrived to refill the Arch-Princess glass.

The Kemonomimi bowed her head in thanks, as the attendant took their leave after refilling the glass with more wine. The Mustetine took a sip of the wine with a slight look of disgust on her face. “This had to be made in Travais or Acronis, it tastes truly awful.” She shakes her head. “No love or care taken with it.”

The Prince gave a small chuckle, “How do you figure it from the vineyard in Gondwana? Why not from Vestrava?”

“Far too sweet, used too much sugar and more fruity than it should be. Vestriszna vineyards have several degrees more talent than this, less harsh raining seasons. Grapes there have been bred to fit the environment where this jungle water completely lacks the talent of it. Not to ment-” She stops for a moment, lowering her ears “My apologies I’m ranting.”

The feline gave a hearty chuckle at that, “You don’t need to apologize, I love hearing you speak.” He gave a comforting hug, “Where did you learn about alcohol so much? Was there a class in your studies for it?”

She gave a laugh, “No, no. I’m just an Akuanist. We just have a natural gift for alcoholism.” She joked, nudging at her husband.

The prince smiled at her wife, calming down, “Ah, the spirits simply divinely infused all Akuanists with the sacred knowledge of liquor.”

“We made a trade with them, they give us the knowledge of liquor and in return we secretly plot against everyone’s sobriety.” She smiled, relaxing her head on the prince’s chest.

“Ah, a worthwhile trade then. Though I suppose that leads to a new question.” The prince gave a smirk, “What did you have to trade to be so adorable?”

“Oh, I had to steal the heart of this handsome prince.” She smirked back, looking up at her doting husband.

“Well, I suppose you still are in debt then but at last we have this prince to make do.” Ulahid played with his wife’s hair.

“Tommy, what have I told you about those jokes.” She gave a pout.

“My apologies, I just simply adore when you pout darling. It is my inner Bedon in me, secretly planning on making everyone in the world upset.” He gave a warm chuckle, taking a sip of his wife’s wine.

“You were correct, this wine is truly awful.” He placed the glass back on the table, shaking his head.

“Told you so.” The kemonomimi gave a smirk, sitting up right on her chair now so she was no longer leaning on her husband’s shoulder. “I think I need to move around a little. I have been sitting for so long, I might end up losing the use of my legs. Care to join me, my prince?”

The prince stood up, offering his hand to help up the far shorter Arch-Princess. “If you cannot walk, I can always carry you around.” He smiled, “Of course I walk with you, though I fear the train might be a bit small for a long walk unless you wish to draw concerned looks as we pace between one end and the other.”

“Just a small one, perhaps to the dinner car. Besides, when have we ever been concerned about getting weird stares from people?” The kemonomimi took up on his offer, taking a hold of his hand as she lifted herself up from her seat.

It was comical, a Kemonomimi, a Nezumimi to be specific and a feline walking together. If one was in one the more conservative and rural parts of the world. It would seem a large cat walking on two legs and a human with the animal characteristics of a mouse are not only walking together but married. If they had a Lupine with them, they could start a comedy-trio act appealing to the lowest common denominator.

However, they paid it no mind regardless of the minor jokes and jabs made at their expense. As they are together, then what are a few tasteless jokes in comparison. Hand in hand, they walk through the various train sections towards the dinner cabin.

“So, cheesecake besides the wine, what was on your mind back then?” Ulahid opened the door and held it so her wife could go through the door.

“It is not important, Tommy. Just something has been on my mind.” Well it is important, but only to Akuanists really, most people would probably find it boring.

“What you have to say is always important to me.” Prince reassured his wife.

She gave a small chuckle, “That’s incredibly cheesy and cliche.”

“Yes and?” The prince gave a smirk.

“It just, when I look at Paxism or Ulvriktru. It seems so, organized and put together. Then I look at my faith, and those others who are part of it in different parts of the world or even in a different city in Musetszna. Then there is the identity, we act like a culture or ethnic group but called a religion by most. Yet we don’t act like other religions, we invite other religions to our festivals to host their own stalls in. We don’t even ask them to attend rituals with us or join our faith. We treat other religions like they are kin even when they wish nothing more than us to stop existing and become like them.” She scratched the back of her head with her free hand. “Just things like that.”

The prince was slight for a few moments, he just thought she was worried about the wedding or family drama. He kept silent, not knowing if he should speak or even if it was his place to speak.

“Sorry, that was a lot. It is just that I am in charge of one of the three banks that make up the Akuan Development Fund and the third most important Akuan family in the world. It just feels like everything is burying me down on me anytime I look at the big picture.” She gives a sigh, as her husband pulls out a chair at a table. Finally arriving at the dinner car.

“It feels as if we cannot agree to anything.” She sits down, resting her head in her hands. “Even at the Akuan Development Fund, disagreements are everywhere on theological ground. You know the last time the three heads of the most influential Akuan families met? At the Bjørn funeral five years ago. Sure we all met each other after it but never all together and rarely was it ever about Akuanism, always business. This Akuan Conference coming up is the first time in decades we all met for Akuan history and theology. It is the first time so many important scholars and figures in our faith have come together. It just feels hopeless, so hopeless.”

The prince took his seat at the table. Royalty and family drama is one thing, it is even manageable but was out of his depth. He never really thought about Akuanism truly outside of the surface level and what he needed to know for the marriage. Always looked at skin deep, taking part in the rituals but not really understanding the depth of them. When he was younger, he always thought it was an exaggeration about how socially connected Akuanist are, how friendly they are, the complete disregard for personal space and all the strange quirks they have.

When he was a teenager, he once watched a documentary about Akuan prison in Norgsveldet. Something he just now remembers about during all of this existential crisis his wife was having. He thought it was a comedy at first, a mockumentary poking fun at the strange little kemonomimi people he sometimes saw around working in the palace.

The title card always stuck with him, even after all this time, ‘What you are about to watch is a documentary about Ragnirt Prison in Osfjord. A prison which was made specifically to accommodate Akuanists. It was founded in 1932, as a way to deal with the mass suicides of Akuanists within the Norgsveltian prison system. It was the first Norgsveltian prison that successfully able to ensure that an Akuanist could go through system without commiting suicide. Every single one before this had at least an attempt. We know that this prison might seem strange for prisons you have heard about before, but please take this documentary seriously. This was made specifically by the Norgsveltian government and Crown to accommodate for these Akuanists a truly serious part of their life.’

It was dubbed in Packilvanian at least as opposed to most translations being only subtitles. The prison seemed to be more of a strict apartment building rather than a true prison like they have in his homeland. However, it seemed as if the Akuanist arrested in it seemed to be genuinely scared for some unknown reason, at the time he just thought the guards would beat the prisoners like they do here. After spending so much time in Musetszna, he started to understand more. They weren’t scared of the guards, they were terrified of being alone. When he saw the doors with windows that could become opaque or some of the older cells having doors with sliding plates so the guard could always see inside. Well at first he assumed it was for the guards, but with his new found experience. It was for them, the prisoners themselves, to be able to look at the guards. To remind themselves they are not alone.

At the time, he thought they did pose for the film to stand at the doors to follow the guards with their eyes as some sort of eccentric humor only known by Norgveltians. It completely was bought into it being a joke or comedy when the crew examined one of the newer cells. The prison cell looked like a quite decent apartment as opposed to a place of punishment. Then that silly speaker built into the walls playing non-stop background talking sold him that it was a bit. Akuanists do love talking and being social butterflies, so surely the speaker was just poking fun at it. Even more so when each cell came with a collection of small dolls placed around the sound where the speaker was, as if to have a mock conversion where the prisoner cannot ever truly respond to the discussion. Akuanists are sociable, yes but this is just taking the cake.

In reality, as he now knows of it. It wasn’t a comedy film with a strange sense of humor. Akuanists are horrified by the concept of being alone. They never were taught how, they teach being alone a bad, horrific thing. Here he was, with his wife going through a existential crisis alone because doesn’t know how to make it all better. He’s not an Akuanist, he can understand Nys’tat’en but not the depth of the words of it. He desperately wants to make his love feel better, but how can he? It is not his place, it is not his religion but it is his wife. Should that not count for something?

He reaches over to his wife, giving her a tight hug. “Would some hot cocoa make you feel better?” He felt so stupid even saying those words, as if some chocolate drink could bring someone outside of such a state of dread. He just felt so hopeless about it and just spoke the first thing that came to his mind. He gave a sigh, “I’m sorry. I just don’t know what to say. I don’t even know if it is my place to say anything honestly, I just want to make you feel better.”

The arch-princess gave a weak smile, “I think hot coco will be a good start.” She could help by feeling horrible, going through all of this at a wedding. A time that is supposed to be full of joy and happy memories. Well at least for commoners, leaders of nations come to plot and make deals. The Kemonomimi original plan was to talk to the Queen of the Aikkian but she felt unapproachable, never a good time to talk to her. She gave a sigh, scratching the top of her head.

She hoped to discuss the Akuan Conference as well as a few other things such as the development bank, perhaps even create a some sort of joint cross culture program in the name Akuanism. She has achieved none of those things. She even carried a small hope Jarl Bjørn would be here. The jarl was always so polite to her, even when their nations themselves are so opposed to each other politically. At least, he is not here and only the foreboding Queen of Aikthudr’zhur with her frozen stare.

“Arch-Princess LuPaasan, I would like a word with you.” A voice came from behind her.

The kemonomimi turned around to face the Elven queen, an enshrined spirit and rather frightening person all rolled into one. Queen Halein of House Ny’thudr’zhan, the Enshrined Spirit of the Eastern Winds.