Wednesday, 6 June 2012

'A Lesson in Natural History' (Dragonball)

Possibly the only piece of fanfiction I have ever written, set in the Dragon Ball universe prior to the events of the series. The premise is an epic-ish retread of the basic setup of the universe premised upon the idea that a certain character knows rather more about the big picture than they let on in the series:


Earth ('Chikyuu') is a small, backwater planet located in the Milky Way. Its inhabitants are considerably weaker than the galactic average. It has no significant material resources other than its abundant organic life. To be frank, there are only two - okay, three - facts that would give galactic sojourners cause to even notice Chikyuu:

The first fact is astronomical. Chikyuu enjoys a full moon roughly every 28 days. Whilst insignificant to the vast majority of races inhabiting the universe, it is of immense importance to one race in particular, who take very special note of every planet with a short lunar cycle they detect.

The second and third facts require some grounding in the basic facts about the universe in which we live.

The universe is big. It used to be a lot bigger. Chikyuu scientists have calculated from measurements of cosmic background radiation that the universe is at least seventy-eight billion light-years across. That figure was accurate up until approximately five million years ago. Today, the universe is about 20 billion light-years across, three quarters burned away in a conflagation of unimaginable scale. Before the searing light from this ultimate holocaust reaches us, our tiny world will have been swallowed by its senile star.

The universe is bad. As much as we cherish the notions of peace, tolerance, individual rights, empathy, these are but a flicker in the history of our world alone. Where did they come from? On almost every other planet in the whole universe it is considered socially acceptable to kill someone you dislike. There is a reason for this.

The universe is scary. Our everyday experience is so far divorced from the everyday experience of the average galactic citizen on even a backwoods trading route that it is almost inconceivable. Without any assisting technology, a strong Chikyuu-jin (that's human to you or me) could maybe crack open the head of another Chikyuu-jin, break a wooden beam in half, crack a brick. There are nearly seven billion of us on Chikyuu-sei. The planet Vegeta harbours over a trillion inhabitants. Each one could level a fair to large-sized mountain range without breaking a sweat. In the real universe, too many "don't get alongs" result in an extinction-level event. It also means that the races which tend to survive to develop interstellar travel are the most ruthless and authoritarian, and the most socially conformist.

There are holes in the universe. Chikyuu scientists have in recent years been baffled by the vast, ragged voids where there should be healthy stars and galaxies. Words like "dark matter" and "weakly interacting particles" are thrown around a lot. At the same time, other scientists scratch their heads and wonder - if there really are aliens out there, why haven't we seen some evidence of them? The idea that one could be the reply to the other rarely enters their mind. What scientist dare assert that these gaping wounds in the universe are the cosmological Boojum - the "soft and sudden vanishing" of all civilisations blessed with a certain crutch to help them through those troubled adolescent centuries? But it is true. But don't feel too bad about it - the existence of this crutch isn't well known. In fact, those with the real power out there tend to think of it as a superstition. If they knew that we've had it on Earth for these past few thousand years, we would probably be a lot more popular than we are right now.

Here's the scoop, and it starts with global warming. Not here, of course, but elsewhere; a geological disaster that went misinterpreted for aeons. A species scattered across the universe, brought to the brink of extinction. The near-destruction of an ecosphere. This is the planet Namek, a world long forgotten by the universe and passed into the realm of legend. The Namek-jin weren't the only ones to fuse science and magic the way they did, but their exodus brought their particular brand of short-term wish fulfillment to its largest audience yet. Now, a long, long time ago, two Namek-jin and their offspring (I should point out that Namek-jin are hermaphrodites and capable, if necessary, of parthenogenesis, but genetic variety is always good) crash-landed on our own little dirtball. Now, do you remember the inhabitants of the planet Vegeta I told you about? Namek-jin are on average considerably stronger. Given the difference in power between Namek-jin and almost anything around these parts, it's hard to see what could have presented them with a threat. Namek-jin don't breathe in the same way we do, they derive most of their nutrients from water and sunlight, like Chikyuu-sei plants (and if there's one thing we can offer here on Chikyuu, it's nutrients), so we can rule out starvation. But nevertheless, the two adult Namek-jin left their ship to scout out the area and never returned. Maybe they killed each other. Whatever happened, the kid was left to fend for himself. Growing up as the most powerful being on the planet is bound to leave anyone with a few interesting ideas. A few complexes.

I hear you ask, Whatever became of him? I'm sorry to disillusion you, but that kid is the guy we've been calling God. Hey, at least he was old enough to know how to speak Galactic Standard - if he'd been a few years younger, we'd still be grunting, because we sure as hell weren't showing any signs of developing language any time soon. He gave us that. And he gave us the dragonballs; the source of the only miracles he couldn't accomplish through his own alien body. Theotechnological spheres designed to emit a signal bending the life energy of the biosphere, the planet itself, to the user's will. There is no other way to say this: the ridiculous fact is that the dragonballs summon a dragon from the centre of the planet to grant a boon from its caller. There are limits, of course, otherwise Namek would still be home to over 100 billion Namek-jin, but for any reasonable purpose their power is infinite. The Namek-jin had by this time enshrined their age-old caste system - the warriors who protected their sexless, undying race, and the mystics who created the dragonballs - into biology via genetic manipulation. Our guy was principally a warrior, but he must have gotten a little bit of mystic in him too; the creation of the dragonballs was hard-wired into his genes. That's not to say he got it right first time; his first attempt yielded a single crystalline orb, capable of summoning our planet's eternal dragon - a rather feeble being without even a name of his own, and usually just called Shenlong - as often as its possessor desired. A veritable genie in a lamp, without even the sanction of a limited number of wishes. Immortality, unlimited wealth. Power beyond your wildest dreams. The chaos this caused was indescribable, and for reasons that I'll explain later, brought us within a hair's breadth of becoming a void ourselves. Thankfully, our new Kami-Sama took the ball back and split it into seven - the traditional Namek-jin safeguard - scattering them over the planet for the most intrepid and foolhardy adventurers to discover. Now every time Shenlong was called to grant a wish, the balls would be dispersed again, meaning that on average the dragonballs were used only once every hundred years. This sufficed, as it sufficed on most planets on which the Namek-jin ended up, until the populace at large discovered the joys of high technology. But that's another story.

So that's the second secret of Chikyuu; unknown to the vast majority of the populace, there are seven magic balls on this world that when brought together can deliver you your wildest dreams. Even the greatest universal potentates would jump at the chance of acquiring immortality or the power to give commands no-one can refuse. It's not overstating the case to say that if anyone outside our gravity well knew about the dragonballs, our planet would be stripped bare to find them.

The third secret our planet holds? It's the dirtiest of all, and if anyone who's anyone out there knew about it, they wouldn't care about the dragonballs. Our planet would be destroyed in an instant because even the most malign powers out there fear what we've got stashed away deep within the crust of our world. Do you remember the cosmic ruin of which I spoke - three-quarters of the universe reduced to its constituent quarks in a blaze of insane power? Let's go back to the fundamentals of our universe.

There has always been a God on Earth, even before our slightly unbalanced Namek-jin friend decided the post was his birthright. In fact, there's a God on every inhabited planet. You see, there's a whole heavenly bureaucracy up there (by "up there" I refer to ancient, secret orbital platforms, worlds enclosed in crystalline spheres at the heart of the universe, planes of existence beyond the ken of the most powerful interstellar tyrants). You've heard of the martial arts masters? The great hermits carrying the secrets of the world on their shoulders? They're at the bottom of the food chain. Above them are the mystics, the honest-to-god real witches and warlocks consulted in secret by world leaders and the mega-rich. Above them, the kami, the spirit-creatures and minor gods around whom so much mythology has been based. Let me tell you, they're filing clerks. They're responsible for one aspect of Earthly existence and they report to the Kami-Sama, the Lord God, our planetary supervisor, in his floating palace screened from modern sensors by occult baffles and divine omniscience. But even the Kami-Sama are not without guidance in their affairs. Each must give account of their actions to the local administrator, the Kaio-Sama or Lord of All The Worlds. Each of these immeasurably exalted beings is placed in charge of an entire galactic quadrant, and (in conjunction with the local Enma-Daio, who judges the dead and administrates their corner of the afterlife) manages tens of millions of Gods. They are the ones against whose exacting standards would-be applicants to the position of Kami-Sama are measured.

The Namek-jin had to undergo a rather painful transformation to make himself "pure" enough for the job; splitting his being into two bodies, one containing his higher, more spiritually-minded aspects, the other (a significantly smaller fraction of his being) containing his lower self. This dark side was cast down to Earth and spent long centuries scheming against the one who rules in heaven. You may have heard this story already. His main competitor, a Makyo-jin (did I tell you that we Chikyuu-jin and our attendant flora and fauna are not the original inhabitants of this sphere? The species we now know as demons and monsters came to the planet long before us from the body we call Halley’s Comet, and we drove them into the caves and underground caverns) refused this separation, and so rendered himself ineligible for godhood. The Namek-jin banished him to the Dead Zone, a place that is by anyone's definition Hell - a stillborn universe that collapsed into a superdense sea of entropy where no action is possible.

Above the Kaio-Sama, the Dai Kaio-Sama, the Grand Kai, each of whom administrates four Kais. How many Grand Kais now sit on their crumbling thrones on impossible glass spheres floating in the golden light of the afterlife? Ten billion? So many perished when the universe burst into flame. And every one worships a God they have not seen, but who communicates from beyond a veil none but his servants may cross. This is the Kaioshin, undisputed master of Creation. The emperor of the Milky Way is a being called Frieza, who possesses energies so vast that when he lifts his fingers entire planets burst like rotten fruit. So great is his power that he must utilise the shape-shifting abilities that are his racial prerogative to lock away his awful strength, lest he destroy everything around him in an instant. He considers himself the god of the universe, so superior to the guardians of the worlds he conquers so casually - yet the Kaioshin could destroy him with a wave of his hand. And he is all that remains of the heavenly host. Until five million years ago there were four Kaioshin, each administrating a quarter of the now-annihilated universe. The Kaioshin - our Kaioshin - ruled the West, the youngest and weakest of their number. Each looked with blind love towards their Master, the Dai Kaioshin. Was He God? Did He make everything we see? He would certainly have liked us to think so; the truth is we know nothing beyond about 100 million years back, where the Kais place their own genesis. And there was a war in heaven. The adversary of the Kaioshin was the most powerful sorceror to ever live - the Grand Magus Bibidi. How was it that a mere mortal (albeit one with a lifespan of millions of years) came to oppose the Dai Kaioshin? Even Bibidi himself would be hard-pressed to answer that question. His ultimate weapon in this war, the trump card that claimed quintillions of lives, was an occult accident - a freak alignment of planets, galaxies, universal centres of mass. What was born was more than a god - it was a god-eater. And at first it obeyed its creator. It carved an unimaginable swath of destruction across existence, space-time itself torn and mangled by the boundless energies unleashed. It came to the realm of the Kaioshin, tearing through that golden veil like it was rotten wool. The Kaioshin died. Designed to be immortal, they had no souls - there was no afterlife for them. The god-monster's arms bled them dry. In an immeasurable fraction of time, only the Kaioshin of the West remained, trembling before the shape that had done the impossible. Then the Dai Kaioshin intervened. His Word shattered the monster, scattered it across the universe. It reformed. The Word of the Dai Kaioshin burned it with fire, vaporised the ashes. It reformed. The Word of the Dai Kaioshin seared the beast with a trillion holy abjurations, reducing it to a puddle, scoured by the wind, evaporated by the sun. The god-monster reformed. It reached out, a black and toothy hunger in the pure white light of that exalted realm, and the Dai Kaioshin was gone. Yet the god-monster was not now as it had been. Its form had changed into the likeness of the Dai Kaioshin - a fat, jolly, capracious Buddha which now had to be goaded onto destruction. Bibidi was appalled by this alteration in his creation, but pressed on with his nihilistic mission. He used the ensorcellments only he knew to force the now only intermittently obedient beast to assume a dormant, egg-like state, transporting it throughout reality upon his planeshifting ship. It was a fatal error - the last remaining Kaioshin took advantage of this weakness to slay Bibidi and took possession of that awful shell.

The secret of Chikyuu, the one that would compel Frieza himself to sterilise the quadrant if he knew? That god-monster, that killed the stars and gorged on nebulae and tore apart black holes just to see the sparkle of their evaporating event horizon, the beast that devoured the Creator and His archangels? It's here with us. It's buried beneath our feet. Kaioshin hid it here, where he thought no-one would look. Hidden for all time from the prying eyes of cosmic necromancers and vengeful magi. I will tell you its name; the name that beings who rule galaxies tremble to hear. The name is Buu.

Let's talk about planet Vegeta. For starters, its real name is Tsufuru-sei (we would call it "planet Plant"). The now almost extinct Tsufuru-jin by all accounts arose on the planet, and established a reasonably high-technology civilisation. Then came the Saiya-jin - the supremely powerful aliens I mentioned before. The Saiya-jin are just one of the myriad offshoots of one of the most common races in the Milky Way - including amongst their innumerable variants us poor Chikyuu-jin - whose original name has been lost in the depths of time. The Saiya-jin acquired their name and distinctive features on the high-gravity world of Saiya-sei - notable amongst these features are their atavistic prehensile tails and signature hair, which is invariably wild and goat black (and which unlike Chikyuu-jin hair does not grow past a certain genetically determined length). The Saiya-jin exodus from Saiya-sei has long since passed into the realm of myth, but most accounts suggest the destruction was caused by a single "Legendary Super Saiya-jin," who briefly gained power enough to rival Frieza and shattered the planet like an eggshell in a suicidal supernova of uncontrolled energy. Only a small number of Saiya-jin survived, arriving on Vegeta-sei in a rag-tag fleet of ships seeking sanctuary. At first the Tsufuru-jin were welcoming of these bestial exiles, but as the Saiya-jin multiplied the more technologically advanced Tsufuru-jin began to see this horde of fast-breeding savages as a manace. Legislation became increasingly punitive towards the Saiya-jin refugee population, until eventually they were forced into slave labour, their prodigious physical strength held at bay by the deadly weapons of their native masters.

A revolt occured - led by a cruelly intelligent Saiya-jin named Vegeta, and at first it enjoyed a degree of success. But soon the superior numbers and firepower of the Tsufuru-jin began to turn the tide. It was then that something occured on Vegeta-sei that only occured every hundred years (and one would be foolish to think Vegeta ignorant of this - surely he had been waiting for this very moment) - a full moon - revealing by far the most extreme of the Saiya-jin digressions from the baseline humanoid template. When subjected to a certain frequency of green-spectrum radiation (known by the Saiya-jin as "Bruits Waves" and usually only accessible through the gravitational lensing of solar radiation by a massive spherical object such as a moon) a gland in the Saiya-jin's tail releases a substance that triggers an astounding transformation. In seconds, the Saiya-jin transforms into an Oozaru - a massive bestial ape, their already prodigious powers amplified tenfold and their minds overcome by a senseless bloodlust (with the exception of the Saiya-jin elites, who are trained from childhood to master the Great Ape form, a transformed Saiya-jin is almost mindless). Suddenly faced with half a billion giant monsters breathing atomic fury, the Tsufuru-jin simply gave up. A few determined scientists and religious fanatics fled the planet on the few starships the Tsufuru-jin had ever cared to build, but the vast majority of the population simply accepted the extinction the Saiya-jin dealt them. In one night the Saiya-jin had killed three hundred billion, leaving only the Tsufuru-jin God as mute observer to the changes sweeping his world. The planet was theirs - after returning to their normal forms, the Saiya-jin hailed Vegeta as their new leader, re-naming the world that had been called Tsufuru-sei in his honour. The Saiya-jin had no use for the technology the Tsufuru-jin left behind - or what little of it had survived their frenzy of destruction - and so it was that in the wake of their revolt they lapsed into near-barbarism, losing even the capability of space flight. Then came the Tsiru-jin - and the Saiya-jin, for the first time in their short, brutal history, learned a word for fear. The word was "Frieza".

The Tsiru-jin are by far the least populous race in the cosmos, to the point where only a single family is known to exist in the Milky Way. But those three Tsiru-jin - a father and two sons - have a power so great that they have almost single-handedly carved out the greatest empire the galaxy has ever known. A loose confederacy of client-races, the Tsiru-jin empire operates more like a real estate letting agency than a political organism. First, surveyors are sent out to evaluate planets - worlds with particularly powerful or prosperous occupants are first extended the offer of membership. Client-races pay tribute and contribute troops to the vast Tsiru-jin military machine; in return they receive unlimited access to the technological achievements of other client-races and may bid on worlds conquered by the Tsiru-jin. Generally planets with weaker inhabitants face a grimmer fate - such planets are either depopulated and auctioned off for colonisation by a compatible client-race, or blasted to slag and its raw materials sold to bolster the Tsiru-jin coffers. The Tsiru-jin named Cold officially holds the title of "king," but it is his youngest son, Frieza, whose individual might is freakishly high even for Tsiru-jin, who is the true power in the cosmos. This is reflected in the name of the Tsiru-jin capital world, Frieza-sei - the name is a movable feast, simply referring to Frieza's current favoured residence. When the young emperor becomes bored of a planet, it is sold or slagged and his retinue moved to a more interesting venue. His older brother, Cooler - forever cursed to live in his sibling's shadow - holds a minor share in the empire's assets, but prefers the solitude of space, and is invariably found at the head of the empire's planet-subjugating fleet.

Frieza saw the power and ferocity of the Saiya-jin and rather than destroy them chose to offer them client status with certain additional strings attached. The entire Saiya-jin race became a shock force for the Tsiru-jin army, gifted advanced armour, weapons and spacecraft suitably simplified for operation and maintenance by the less technically-minded species under Frieza's yoke, and dispatched to conquer worlds in his name. The Saiya-jin, after recovering from their initial shock of encountering beings stronger than themselves, applied themselves to their newly subservient position with only a little resentment. Most races in this cosmos we call home practice eugenics with a fervour that approaches spirituality, but the Saiya-jin have elevated it to a cultural art-form. Personal power determines everything from the resolution of legal disputes to the composition of the ruling classes - the carefully shepherded genes of the royal bloodline, each puissant heir named Vegeta in honour of his forebear, are some of the strongest in the galaxy outside the cosmic abberrations that comprise Frieza's super-elite corps and personal aides. The strong crush the weak. The lower castes are winnowed like corn, every child born tested on birth to determine its suitability to inherit the promised land Vegeta bequeathed the Saiya-jin peoples. Those with a power level deemed unfitting of the Saiya-jin name are sent away like Supermen in disgrace, newborn infants plummeting through space in pods that ignore the laws of time and reality; disposable spaceships our greatest scientists would kill to examine for just five minutes. Not for the Saiya-jin the wasteful path of infanticide; no, these genetic cast-offs are put to work. For under a full moon even the weakest mewling infant the Saiya-jin race has produced outmatches the nuclear arsenal of the greatest so-called powers on our mudball world. Let that sink in. These pitiful, spurned creatures are given one last legacy by their parents - an implant filling their brains with a single murderous desire; to wipe clean that unfortunate world they entered like a falling star. When the Saiya-jin ships arrive, they find a ball of slag metal and other saleable heavy elements, its surface long frozen to ice by the vast mushroom clouds that blotted out the sun. And somewhere, the skeleton of a child, glowing ivory in the searchlights; the last solid thing in a world blasted to dust.

Evolution. These days the lines between acquired and inheritable characteristics are being blurred - "epigenetics," the study of how the expression of inherited genetics can be modified by a primogenitor's lifestyle, has become a respectable field in the scientific community. What little of Saiya-jin science is not devoted to the art of geocide and planetary resource reclamation knows nothing else. As far as the Saiya-jin are concerned, Lamarck rules supreme. In a bizarre twist on the ancient Hebrew proverb, the child of a Saiya-jin youth is less than a the child of a Saiya-jin matured in years and power. The children surpass their fathers - this is everyday fact amongst Saiya-jin. Age itself holds little sway over them compared to the average species derived from the original intergalactic Cro-Magnons; even the lower orders enjoy a prime extending well into their eighties, with the Saiya-jin elite - the forementioned royal thoroughbreds - possessing a strength that endures for over a century. During this time, a Saiya-jin will likely endure several near-death experiences, either through combat as part of the Tsiru-jin army, or simply as in the course of Saiya-jin social life. Each time they recover, they become stronger, faster, more powerful than they were before, with seemingly no upper limit. For this purpose Frieza watches the Saiya-jin, that he might have some excuse to raise his finger and blow them all to ash. Does the combined power of the Saiya-jin race transformed into their Oozaru forms yet exceed that of his elite, the Ginyu Tokusentai, together with his brother's Armoured Squadron the galaxy's deadliest fighting force? How much of his own unimaginable might would he have to unlock to obliterate these impossible creatures? For now, he tolerates them. Each year, he makes the journey to Vegeta-sei, sets down his personal mothership upon the red soil like a rotting pumpkin. He will walk into the throneroom of the Saiya-jin and watch as their King, his immeasurable pride blasted to dust, rises from his seat to make way for the diminutive Tsiru-jin. How much hesitation there? Let only King Vegeta pause one moment as he momentarily yields his throne to this monster, this alien! King Vegeta can shatter worlds with a flick of his cape. But let him show the slightest spark of resentment, of uncrushed spirit, as he bows before the child-emperor of this universe, and his whole race is doomed.

Even Frieza fears. In a universe as terrifying as the one we inhabit, even the most insurmountable superiority cannot be taken for granted. Every whisper, every rumour, every legend - each "Legendary Super Saiya-jin" or “Super Namek-jin” - must be taken with grim seriousness. Frieza is a child - his race's lifespan is well in excess of a thousand years. Yet still his every waking thought is screaming terror - of death, of the shadow of someone more powerful than himself. To die, to become subject to that antique, creaking hierarchy of oni and death gods and divine judges - at his tender age Frieza already has the blood of trillions on his vacuum-proof hands. What he desires - more than anything else in the whole universe - is what all the science of the Tsiru-jin empire, the plundered knowledge of a thousand worlds, cannot give him; immortality. He knows the stories of Namek, of course, but its location is lost in mythic fog, and in any case is supposed to be uninhabitable now.

He cannot know that one lonely survivor survived the great changes of those who chose to stay behind and has since been personally repopulating the whole planet, his descendents beginning the painfully slow task of recultivating the precious Ajissa trees which will render the planet’s atmosphere once again fit for Namek life. That survivor alone maintains with his ancient soul the last set of dragonballs known to the Namek race - the spheres that call Porunga, the dragon at the heart of Namek-sei itself. But he and his progeny dare not use them. You see, each time a wish is made on the dragonballs, an exchange is made; the positive life energy that accomplishes the wish - creates gold, imbues immortality, grants great power, even lays waste to the wisher’s enemies - is exchanged for the negative energy of the wish itself, the dark energy of longing and need. The avarice of a wish for wealth, the fear of a wish for long life, the jealousy and hatred of a wish for power… it enters the dragonballs and worms its way to the heart of the biosphere itself, slowly poisoning it. To try and use the Namekian dragonballs to wish for the restoration of the planet would accomplish nothing but to destroy it. The negative energy dissipates, eventually, if there’s still enough healthy life to cleanse it. It takes about a century per wish - hence the maths behind scattering seven dragonballs across a normal-sized world. At least, until some enterprising individual finds out that the dragonballs emit a constant pulse of electromagnetic radiation; the reflection of the heartbeat of the dragon itself. The pulse allows the dragonballs to detect the presence of its fellows - but also means a suitably sensitive radar attuned to its specific frequency can detect the dragonballs across an entire planet. You may recognise that this makes the task of gathering them up quite a lot easier. Quite a lot faster, too. Most dragonballs include a final fail-safe - each wish turns them to stone for a set length of time; usually about a year, during which time the dragon cannot be summoned. And a good thing too - if this last line of defence is breached (say, by some too-clever-for-his-own-good Namekian loading a set up with three wishes then splitting it so each wish only incurs a time-out of four months), the evil energy can build up further to the point where the dragon itself is irretrievably corrupted. To summon a dragon which has become a ‘shadow dragon’ from an endless trickle of avarice, hatred and guilt is nothing less than civilisational suicide - do you remember the ‘voids’, the missing stars and galaxies, the cosmological Boojum? They fed the spirits of their worlds a diet of pain and fear and sickness and still expected them to do their bidding. Bang. Fermi’s Paradox finds its resolution.

Don’t feel too bad - that could be our fate too, if the Red Ribbon Army or the Reich Pilaf or one of the other cheap little thugdoms the World Government fears to fight finds out about the dragonballs here on Chikyuu-sei. I rather doubt it, though. Why do I say that? Well, do you remember the first fact I told you? Chikyuu-sei is one of a number of planets throughout the cosmos with a uniquely short lunar cycle. If we’ve fallen beneath Frieza’s notice, don’t think we’ve escaped the attention of the Saiya-jin. One day soon, I fear, a child from another world will fall screaming out of the sky and that’ll be an end to it.

How do I know all this? My dear, that’s my job. My credentials? I have passed through the veil between death and life. I have spoken with the judge of the living and the dead and defied the Kais and seen the cosmos illuminated in a sphere of glass. I who am sister to the immortal Turtle Hermit and have advised the rulers of the Earth for 500 years. I am the Witch of the Wilderness. I am Uranai Baba.

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