When I was very, very young, there were many things in the world that I didn’t realize were real, even though I believed in them. Perhaps this doesn’t make a lot of sense when I phase it that way. What I mean to say is that, even though my parents told me stories about the world, and even though they taught me about the people and creatures and events that define it, and even though I believed their stories, they never seemed all that real to me until I encountered them.
For example, my parents taught me that there was much more to the world than our small town, but until we made the trip to the capital for my ninth birthday, I didn’t grasp just how large the world could be. The journey itself, which took two days, only just began to expand my concept of the size of our country, and the world besides.
When I saw the city, the sheer size of the buildings awed me. I stared like the small-town boy that I was, and not just at the buildings. The variety of people astounded me. It was on this trip that I first saw anyone that was not orose, and I stared at them the hardest, for they were like the illustrations from my books come to life.
I had known only other orose my entire life, and the idea of people existing who were so different from us escaped my conception until I met them. Yes, I had seen art of humans, but it had all seemed so fake. They looked like they would be constantly cold, without fur to warm them. They relied on clothing more for warmth than the orose, and less for propriety and fashion.
I understood their lack of stalk eyes, though I pitied them for it. This put them in line with animals like the dog my neighbors kept, who only had their two front-facing eyes, forever locked into looking the same direction as their head. In order to properly assess their surroundings, a human would have to turn their head — or even their whole body! — all the way around, just like a dog. As a youth, the thought had seemed ridiculous.
I tried to be discreet in my observations, but I ended up turning my head about and gawking, just like the humans at whom I had privately laughed. I could train one of my stalk eyes on a human, though this was obvious in its own way, but stalk eyes do not see as clearly as main eyes, and I wanted to watch the humans closely.
I remember the way my mother reprimanded me, silently, with a firm grip on my shoulder and all four of her eyes trained on me, which was a certain signal that I was in trouble. I didn’t really understand why at the time, though of course now I recognize that I was being extremely impolite.
It wasn’t just the humans that drew my attention, though. The cityborn orose fascinated me just as much. I saw a greater variety of forms than I had ever seen in our little town. My parents and I wore base form, because, according to my parents and the whole rest of our town, base form was polite. It let other people know you didn’t think you were better than them. It was respectable.
My fur, in base form, was like a combination of my mother’s and my father’s. My father’s fur has always been thicker and coarser. My mother jokes with him that it’s like he’s always partway to shell form. Well, my hair is full like his, but as soft as my mother’s. I have my father’s lighter coloration, like a leaf caught in sunlight. My mother’s fur and the skin of her face are darker than both of ours.
In the city, I saw the bloody red fur of war form for the first time. It frightened me, for my parents had always taught me that war form made an orose prone to violence and irritation. My mother comforted me by explaining that those who wore it in the city were trained to deal with the inclinations, because they were members of the city guard. They were here to protect us.
There were a slightly smaller number of guardsmen in shell form, with its naturally stiff, protective brown fur and tough skin. The presence of guards at all made me nervous. It made me think the city was dangerous. After all, our town didn’t have guards like this. My father reassured me. He said that, in a human city, there would be two or three times as many guards, because humans have so much less respect for the law.
I saw forms my family hadn’t taught me about, and I thought they were beautiful. I had to ask my mother about the lovely form with the violet fur and the shimmering set of wings, both of which delighted me. I immediately desired to learn the paths to taking that form. My mother’s expression as she explained to me that those orose had taken art form told me everything I needed to know about whether she approved of it.
For some reason, my mother’s disapproval made me want to learn that form even more — that, or thought form, which gave its wearer silky white fur and a delicate appearance. At that age, all I knew was speed form. The grace and agility were fun, but I disliked the yellow fur. Besides, mother said it made me behave rashly, and her and father insisted I stay in base form.
In base form, they said, an orose was their truest self. All of the other forms changed an orose’s personality to some degree, influencing both emotions and actions, and my parents — and their parents, and most of the members of the town in which I was born — found this distasteful. They thought it was wrong, that it brought an orose further away from Iff.
Iff, the God of Balance, is the patron deity of the orose. The teachings of his priests encourage his followers to find balance and order in all things. Unlike the humans, who follow the Aurelian Ennead or its individual members, the orose worship Iff. They respect the Ennead, of course. Iff is one of the Free Gods of Aurelia. But it is Iff who receives their prayers and grants them blessings.
The orosian church teaches that Iff created the orose. It is written in our scriptures. As I aged I came to realize that there is contention about this point among religious scholars. After all, the Holy One created all of the Nine Realms and the beings within it, even the gods. If Iff created the orose, he is an outstanding exception in the rest of the story of creation.
Even before I knew this, I doubted my parents’ interpretation of Iff’s will, which meant I doubted the interpretation of our local church. I still believed, firmly, that Iff had made us and created a place in the world for us, and this was actually the source of my doubt. After all, it made no sense to me that he would give us access to the forms if he never intended us to use them.
It took me many more years to articulate my sentiments fully, but my doubts began that first day in the city, looking at the variety of life and orosian forms around me. I started to believe that the forms were just one of the tools Iff had given us to bring more balance to our lives and our society.
These doubts were rooted further within my consciousness by the priest who spoke on my ninth birthday. By orose tradition, which is different from that practiced by humans, the birthday is always considered to be the first Balance Day after an orose is born. Balance Day is what orose call the tenth day of the week, and it is the day reserved for celebrating Iff and engaging in praiseful meditation.
My parents wanted me to be blessed in the temple central to the orosian faith, and so they had planned to bring me to the capital for my ninth birthday since the day I was born, and perhaps even before. Like all birthdays divisible by nine, the ninth birthday is considered sacred. This is true for the orose even though we don’t explicitly worship the Ennead.
The priest did not say anything that day that instigated my doubts in my parents’ religious interpretation. In fact, if I’m quite honest, I can’t remember a single thing that he said. All I remember is the grand size of the church, and how the impressive array of people stuffed into it made it feel small even though I had never been in a building with such a high ceiling.
There were many orose in base form, with the green hues of their fur ranging along a greater spectrum than I had imagined possible. There were orose in thought form, in shell form, even in war form and the bright blue-furred, four-winged flight form. There was one orose in the dark black fur of night form, who drew looks not only from my parents, but some of those around him. There were even a few Isurians, who looked much more comfortable than I would have been in a church full of people who looked nothing like me.
All of this impressed upon me, but it was not what had the greatest effect upon me. The priest of Iff who spoke to the gathered congregation that day, the orosian man who wore the robes emblazoned with the scales that are Iff’s holy symbol, also wore something that, to the young me, was far more meaningful: art form.
This man, who was well-respected enough to speak in the largest church of Iff in our country; this man, who spoke well and convincingly to his congregation, who had drawn even foreigners to listen to his sermon; this man, who demonstrated the will of Iff by balancing a staff perfectly upon his outstretched fingers, and then again on its end upon the floor, when he laid it down to rest — this man wore not base form, as my parents encouraged, but art form.
This was one of the things my parents had told me about, which I believed but didn’t actualize as real until I saw them. They had warned me that there were people in the world who held different beliefs. They saw those people as part of the balance of the world. To them, all balance comes thanks to the touch of Iff.
Here was a man who, by the very form in which he had chosen to preach, displayed an entirely different interpretation of my parents’ own faith. This was as grand a revelation to me as the existence of the city, or my first sight of humans, or my realization that the world was much larger than I had ever conceived of before.
I stole something from the church that day. Well, at the time, I thought that I was stealing it, and I suppose that’s enough. As an adult I realize that the scroll I took from the basket by the door was intended to be taken by worshippers. Nevertheless, I hid it from my parents with every bit of cunning my nine-year-old-self could muster.
It was a scroll that laid out how to walk the paths to all of the discovered forms, and when we returned home, I began to try to learn them, whether my parents wanted me to do so or not. In my mind, this is what Iff wanted for me. This is how I would achieve my own, personal balance.