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Kemala
#1
Kemala stretched. For so many months, her arm was not quite long enough to grasp this branch that would carry her to the top of the tree. Finally, after days of trying, she told herself today would be the day of victory.

Her spindly legs gripped the trunk. Sweat trickled her cheeks. Her hands burned with the bite of a branch and she was pretty sure that a spider had crawled onto her shoulder. As though through sheer willpower, her body spanned the distance, and she pushed away, high enough that to fall would surely break her bones.

But her hands gripped tight and her body swung in mid-air. Not one to celebrate early, she kicked and pulled hard. Her barefooted ankle hooked the branch and she was up. She howled with victory, finally feeling the beat of her heart and the ache in her body. The branch bowed under her meager weight, fragile as it was, she was always thin and petite. The great-mothers said she was a hatchling, but as the only child of parents who tried for many years to conceive, she was probably a miracle to be born at all. For most of her life, those around her worried and fretted over her health. But Kemala was perfectly fine. She was strong of mind and what others saw as lean of body, she carved into muscle and will-power to conquer whatever she put her mind to.

Like climbing this tree. She ate three-times the amount of her daily meals for months. So much her stomach bulged and ached, but she would not be a hatchling forever. She wanted to be a great woman, lithe and capable. More than capable. She wanted to prove herself.

Today was the first step. Literally.

She peered over the tree-tops. The fresh air above the canopy soothed the sweat from her temples. Her dark eyes peered sharp as eagles into the distance. Behind her, Mount Agung, the highest peak of Bali and an active volcano, coiled a calm smoke. In front, the crystal waters of the ocean stretched and the shadowy outlines of nearby islands painted a beautiful canvas of color. Mother and father continued to pray to the gods for their blessing, asking for forgiveness for what sins that they thought deserved destruction of unprecedented fury, but that was years ago. Kemala saw hope behind those islands. Where they turned to the past, she would face the future. By her will alone, if necessary, she would see the island she loved, the places she loved, restored.

It took another decade of hard work and gritty determination, but she did just that.



She was 17 when the elemental energies first came to her.

After her father’s death a year previously, Kemala took up the daily management of their family business. She never fully adopted the devout following of her parents Balinese hinduism, but at a meager five-feet tall, but fierce practitioner of silat, an Indonesian martial art. In this belief, power came from within as much as it did the bone and sinew of body. The skill matched her physical form well, which relied on flexibility, deception and endurance more than aggressive offense. Her hard-working, mast-climbing hands cut movements used to distract. Her short, albeit strong legs danced deliberate bluffs to tempt the opponent to attacking during misdirection. Kemala told herself the daily practice was more about sport than about spiritual balance, but when the energies opened themselves, she drew upon the techniques she learned all her life.

With a leap, she hopped from the dock, smoothly jumping the rail ahead of a line of tourists walking the plank to the deck. A white woman gasped when Kemala stood smoothly to her feet, and her young child clapped with delight for the theatrics. A pair of Japanese males about Kemala’s age followed the white family on board. They were dressed in designer shorts and gleaming sunglasses that Kemala took for wealth. Such was good for her. She might charge them extra if they wanted to take pictures along the captain’s wheel.

The wooden ship was a small, two-mast rig boasting four sails. There were cushions around the rail for the tourists to sit while they sailed to a nearby island. It would take an hour when the wind was calm, and she preferred to avoid using the engines to conserve gasoline when possible. Prior to embarking into open water, she checked all the safety measures. There were life jackets in a boat box. The instruments were working. The sails and masts were secure. On this ship, she was captain, and she dressed in a sort of costume to fulfill the role of western pirates that gave their little business a boost of the fun-factor. Since the restoration of the islands were underway, her family began with canoe tours of the coast with seating up to three people. From canoes to small fishing boats, to a single-sail and finally to their main ship, they clawed their way into a comfortable life.

The Japanese boys were horsing around, and despite her size and youth, Kemala fixed them both with such a stare that they sheepishly sat down.
“Welcome aboard and please have a seat while we set sail,” she winked at the little girl who was seated safely alongside her mother. Two other families joined today. Kemala’s smile was professional. “Safety is my top priority. My second is to give you an unforgettable experience.”

The water she used to view from the treetops as a child called her outward. She sailed with a stable hand. The salty breeze tingled her cheeks and clung to the twists in her hair. Shells were tied into a twist that dangled behind her ear. It was part of her costume, but never the less, it felt like taking a part of the sea everywhere she went.

The wind picked up shortly before reaching the island. They would spend the day there, anchored just off-shore while small boats carried her passengers to pink sand beaches. One of her workers would serve lunch on shore from supplies they carried from the mainland. Days like today would pay their bills for a month. Ill-weather was in the forecast, but they should be home long before it brewed trouble. Nevertheless, Kemala monitored the weather closely all day.

It was late afternoon when she rounded up the passengers to return the journey back to Bali.

Her employee found her making final preparations.
“Kemala, the Japanese boys refuse to come unless we give them a refund,” he said. In the distance, they stood on the beach, arms crossed and holding ground.

She sniffed, looking at the sky. “Fine, stay here all night. I will return for you tomorrow if I have time,” she said and turned to push off the final boat.

She smiled to herself when they began to argue. Finally, she heard splashing as they caught up and hopped in.

“Good choice,” she said and rowed them to the sailboat.

The storm came up quickly, and she cursed herself for ignoring her instincts. The sky dimmed and thunder rumbled, but it was the chop of the sea that concerned her most. She ordered everyone to wear a life jacket, but when one of the boys began to argue with one of the white men, a fight broke out.

Kemala jumped into the fray, grabbing arms and sweeping away legs. The assailants were split apart, but it was a girlish scream that froze Kemala’s heart. In defense of her father, the little girl climbed onto her seat. A chop of the sea tipped the deck and she fell over the side.

Without a single thought, Kemala burst into a dark blur. She dived into the ocean sleek as a fish, scooping the little girl from under the angry waves. Kemala saw nothing but water, and the swirl of blue energy that drowned her every sense.

The next thing she knew, the child was back on deck and Kemala was clutching to a raft thrown to rescue her. It was a miracle that the storm never broke over their heads, with the worst of it veering just east of their route.

In the future, she was more conservative about the weather, and denied any claim to being a hero knowing it was her fault for putting those people in danger that day in the first place. A week after the incident, she offered shells and flowers to the beach, even ripping the one in her hair to return it to the sea where it belonged. She was unworthy of its beauty. The sea lapped up the offering, its warm foam pooling around her knees as she leaned on the sand. In that moment, she shivered and shook, sweat breaking out on her head, and she knew the offering had been accepted. She was forgiven.


 

Some years later, her mother’s soul passed into the next retelling of her life by then, leaving Kemala adrift of direct blood. She was close to her extended family, but they remained in their hilly villages while Kemala’s life was rooted in the seaside life. The business was expanded into three total sailboats by the time Kemala was 25. Routes took the every-increasing stream of tourists around the island, to beach excursions, and evening pirate cruises. She continuously invested in the business, opting to live on one of the boats to save additional money. It was a lonely life, but she did not mind. The sea was her everything.

One otherwise normal night, she was laying on her bunk in the belly of their biggest ship. Music from the festival in town echoed in the wooden chamber, and finally, the hour came that she knew sleep was a useless endeavor. She smiled, dressed in a sarong and sash, grabbed her wallet and ran to join the festival that marked the beginning of an annual honoring of the six sanctuaries of the world. The nearest would begin at Pura Goa Lawah, the Bat Cave Temple located across the road from the shore. Shortly after the temple was built in the 10th century, saga says that the prince of the Mengwi Kingdom hid in the bat cave from enemies, emerging at an exit far up the slopes of Mount Agung at the location of what is now the Mother Temple, Besakih.

She was dancing to bonfires, eating strips of roast pig, and drinking freely when a change of wind snagged her attention. It was like a strange smell on the air, and Kemala wandered from the handsome men with whom she was dancing toward the dark waters. Something seemed strangely wrong in a way she hadn’t noticed since that day of the storm, but no lightning brightened the black horizon.

The ground turned to sand as she walked. Then the compact wetness hardened under her bare feet. Then the warmth of the waters washed her ankles. She knelt to tip her fingers in the water and touch to her lips, tasting it, testing it.  Oddly, the water washed away from her feet, so she frowned and took a few more steps forward. The tide pulled the water outward several more steps, and she confusion turned to horrible clarity as the pelt of tsunami bells began to ring.

The music lowered, and she could tell confusion spread like lice all along the shore. To her intense worry, festival goers wandered toward the beach, shining lights and exclaiming wonder for the retracting sea.

Her ships were tied up on dock. She should salvage what she could, tie down extra anchors, or release the smaller ones in the hope they would float over whatever was coming. She started to run toward her hard-earned property, but before she did, she realized people were not fleeing themselves. In fact, more were flocking toward the shore, not away from it! She began to race, heart beating hard, urging, begging the tourists and uplanders to seek higher ground. The stories of her parents from decades ago bounced in her mind. The pealing grew louder, a drum that matched her heart. The sea was retracted farther than the lights could reach, and she was sick to her stomach.  People were picking up uncovered shells, marveling at beached squid, drunkenly and stupidly risked their lives for a picture.

It was in that moment she was frozen. The beach town that she helped restore through her own sheer determination was about to be washed away forever. All these people gathered for the festival were in danger.

She wouldn’t allow it.

She grit her teeth and ran as hard as she did on the deck when that girl fell overboard. Only rather than jumping into a churning sea, she chased a ghosted one. She ran over urchin and coral, her feet jagged and ripping even on her thick soles. Jellyfish nettled her ankles, trying to trip her up. Yet onward she ran into the night. When she found the sinking sea, she was half-a-mile from the original shoreline. A quiet roar grew in the distance. She walked her toes into the water and reached her arms high. The energies of the sea came to her and for the longest stretch of time in her life, she was a pillar that turned the rising waves aside. Tears leaked down her face in the torrent. Water splashed her cheeks, but she refused to let it wash her aside. The energies soared through her like majesty, beauty, and everything she lived for. She rode them as surely as she sailed the open waters, begging for more, yet unable to withstand much longer.

Finally, when her strength was gone, the sea reclaimed her. She let herself drift away, too tired to fight anymore while the waters swallowed her up. Though she did not realize it, she was not alone.



She woke to find herself on a cold slab. The bright colors of her sarong were ripped to shreds, though she wasn’t overly concerned about modesty, she clutched what remained over her body. Her hair pooled inky where she lay. She was in some sort of cave, she realized quickly. The rock was hollowed out into a room of sorts. Painting of sea life, reefs, and fantastical gods and demons swirled in every direction. Kemala’s gaze settled on a myriad of sea animals, jellyfish and squid, urchin and crab. Many of them resembled the tattoos that decorated her own skin.

She started to sit up when something caught her eye, and she gasped when she recognized it. The shell she offered to the sea years before waited for her, clasp and all remained. She snatched it and hurried from the room, seeking answers.

What she found astounded her. Rather, who she found.

It was two spans taller than she and despite being accustomed to her diminutive height, Kemala’s face tilted up as though she were the one fully aware of her own faculties rather than beholding what must be some hallucination.

Perhaps she was dead?

It stood on two legs and wore a sash around its body similar to the one she herself wore to the festival. Its skin was layered in greenish gold scales that glistened in lamplight she was uncertain of its source. Despite mostly uncovered, its form was asexual, that is, lacking any sense of genitalia that Kemala could discern. Slits parted its nose and the eyes were black. A slender tongue peeked from its lips when it started to speak.
“Ancient Onnnne,” it said with great effort and beckoned she follow.

Kemala looked around, wide-eyed, refusing to give in to fear. In fact, curiosity began to edge out concern, and she padded after the thing, realizing only after it turned that a long tail slithered behind its steps. She shivered despite the humidity clinging to the walls.

She was shown to a larger chamber. This one was filled with shrines, padogas and carvings. All gleamed with gold and pearl. More paintings decorated the ceilings similar to what she saw when she first woke. She turned in a circle, awed and speechless. The creature that led her here gestured up a set of stairs which led to a great polished stone. She watched, wondering what was suppose to happen, when the barest of movements caught her gaze. The stone was twisting.

It twisted and writhed, and to her horror, she realized that the stone was unfolding itself, never a stone at all. It was an enormous snake, gleaming black, green, and blue. Yellow-gold eyes shone from above its massive mouth. It moved sleepily, and upon yawning, Kemala beheld twin fangs longer than her arms.

She began to back away when a hand caught hers. She gasped and twisted. A third creature was there. This one resembling a human the most of those she seen so far. It was the height of a normal man, with features more distinctly male to his face than the others. He wore a ceremonial coat of brilliantly blue silk and bright purple kamen sarong. A gold dagger was tied with a sash. Below a bald head, a red udeng headpiece was wrapped, and above that, a crown of gold sat. His eyes were rounder than the others. His hands were folded demurely before him, and after pausing Kemala from her flight, she gasped when he bowed to her.

“Welllllcome Ancient Onnnne. You are in the presssssence of Basssssuki, Lord-Kinnnng of the Watersssss and Naga of Besssakih Templessss. It issssss he who commanded the Ancient Onnnnne be resssscued,” he spoke.

Kemala was terrified, but she refused to let it show. Naga were demons according to the legends on which she was raised. Whatever they were, she would not let them see her fear.

“Why would you rescue me?” She asked with more shaking in her voice than she preferred.

A booming voice pounded in her head. The black snake high above writhed, and she knew it was him who spoke. ’Dewi Ratih return. Dewi Ratih save many. Dewi Ratih selfless. Dewi Ratih worthy.’

She had fallen to her knees, hands clutching over her ears, and she understood. She was in the bowels of Mount Agung, walking the same halls as the Prince of Mengwi once had centuries before. It was said he emerged from the underground totally deaf. He must also have heard the Naga King Basuki speak.

“No more!” she begged, and the booming voice fell quiet. Dewi Ratih was her final thought before blacking out.

The next time she woke, it was to a collection of clothing to replace her tattered sarong. She shuddered to wonder what female naga donated the sarong, but she put it on anyway. There was nothing to cover her from the waist up, which made her frown, but Balinese women of not so many generations ago dressed in the same habit. It seemed the naga assumed such traditions continued. How long had they existed down here?

The crowned male returned again, offering her a bowl of something out of which to eat. After she was comforted by the meal, she asked about the tsunami.

“What happened? Why did you rescue me as Basuki said?”

The male folded his hands, “The waterssssss lifted high and fassssst. Pusssssshed from their ssssssslumber by energiessssss of fire and earth far from here. Then the energy of water came to you and you used it to sssssssave your village. You fought mosssssst of the flooding until ssssstrength left you. Lord Bassssuki ssssssent me.”

A spark of hope edged her forward, “I stopped the tsunami?” she asked eagerly.

The naga shook his head. "Only a sssssmall part.”

When he told her the rest of the story, tears streamed freely.

It was almost a month after the tsunami when the naga finally released her. They told her about the energies of the ancient ones, but that she had to be the one to control them by surrendering to their strength. Kemala struggled a great deal at first, fighting for control as she had all her life. Surrender was not in her nature. They would not release her to the world above until she conquered through surrender. The contradiction infuriated her. She yelled and screamed, demanded to be released, but the naga would bind her and drag her back to the room with the paintings every time. If she could get to the sea, she would show them – show herself – that she needed the serenity of the water to lift her up.

She explained, “I need the sea! It’s like sailing. You can’t fight the wind. You can’t change the waves. You must use them, harness them.” She put her head down, only to realize that was the answer. They talked of surrender to conquer, and she felt like a fool to fight it all this time.

She imagined the wind filling the sails. She imagined the waters carrying her ship across their surface. The warmth of the sun as she cut through the salty breeze. They released her after that day. Declaring her safe and charging her with new purpose. She emerged from the depths of the Besakih Temple to the shock and awe of those worshiping in its inner sanctum, unknowing of how she came to be there. What she found utterly shocked her.

Almost all of Indonesia’s 18,000 islands were devastated. Millions of people were dead. The rest were dying of starvation, disease, pestilence, and injury.

She wept for a people she could not save. The small beach town on the eastern side of Bali was miraculously spared, but she did not return. Nothing awaited her there.

The charge of the Nagaraja spurred her northward, to the frigid, icy lands of monstrous men from which energies of the worst kind churned. She would find them, and she would stop them from happening again.

Through India she journeyed. Reaching out to any Naga who would allow her presence. The sacred symbol of the Nagaraja was newly inked to her arm, a blessing and a warning.






1st Age - It was thought when Kemala was born that she would have stunted growth, but she seemed to overcome the impairment through her own determination. She grew to only 5 feet in height, but pushed herself to grow lithe and strong. She is an experienced sailor and practitioner of martial arts, having pursued both even as a young child. She has no formal education beyond secondary school, and is not particularly religious despite her upbringing. 

She is very closed off from those who do not know her well, perhaps introverted even. But to those around whom she is comfortable, she is a free spirit.  She is dark skinned and often wears her hair in twists or braids. When it is not tied, she slicks into a hard bun. There is an otherworldly exotic presence about her that she capitalized on in the tourism trade. 

5th Age - Kemala is the reborn spirit Dewi Ratih (Rah-tee) of The Hindu Pantheon, a Balinese moon goddess. She is known for her beauty and grace. A demon god known as Kala Rau pursued her, but when she rejected him, in revenge the demon disguised himself as a rakasha leader and meant to kill Vishnu. Dewi Ratih warned Vishnu of the disguised Kala Rau, who had secretly drank the immortal sacrament of the gods. When Vishnu beheaded the demon, he survived, though only as a floating head. He continued to chase Dewi Ratih, catching her and her moon. When he swallowed her up, because his body ended at the throat, she would pass through and emerge after a short time resulting in the phenomenon of a lunar eclipse. 

3rd Age - Kemala was known as Kekura din Anor New Moon, an Atha'an Miere Windfinder who became an Aes Sedai of the Red Ajah after her clan was scattered and destroyed by the Seanchan. She abandoned the sea to seek the means to destroy the seanchan, and found herself entrenched in the White Tower. She sought to overthrow and replace the Blue-risen amyrlin in order to take a harsher stance on the seanchan truce imposed by the Dragon Reborn.
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