|Common Nicknames||Soul Guide, Sufikarr|
The Sufiq is an ancient, ethereal crane surrounded by the superstitions and traditions of the Asha, often hailed as the soul guide of those moving from one world to the other. Frequently depicted alongside the Sefakhem to guide their hands whilst they are blinded, this creature is steeped in rumour and intrigue passed on from generation to generation by both word of mouth and ancient texts. Whether this bird is truly alive or the result of superstition given physical form is a point of contention for many scholars, as some are so steeped in their secrecy surrounding the Blades of the Passed’s history that they simply cannot come to a proper conclusion.
The origin of the Sufiq are unknown, unfortunately lost to the sands of time and the Allorn Empire’s invasion. Modern scholars suspect the mythical creature was brought into existence around the same time as the Sefakhem, depictions of an ethereal bird with a long beak and ghostly wings soaring through the sky a frequent occurrence among old texts. Despite the inability to pinpoint when or where the Sufiq’s relevance came into play amidst the Asha people, the reverence they hold for the Soul Guide is undeniable. This is portrayed through the sheer amount of art and fashion that revolves around the appearance, noted later, of the Sufiq, ranging from simple wall paintings to sprawling, intricate tapestries depicting the forgotten battles between the Dewamenet and the Allorn Empires, its wings spread from one end of the tapestry to the other to encompass the fallen soldiers.
During the skirmishes and battles between the two Empires, personal interpretations of the Sufiq woven into Dewamenet battle standards were a common sight. Bannermen believed that carrying the crest of the bird into battle would bring them good fortune and ensure that Baskarr would look down on them favourably and ensure the soldier’s souls would be carried within the beak and talons of the Sufiq. Superstition enforced this idea and, before long, it wasn’t uncommon to find etchings of the crane on a variety of wargear or even the Living Metal the Asha people wielded, all in an effort to supposedly ‘mark their souls’ for retrieval should they fall in battle. It was also not uncommon to find soldiers huddled together and praying to Baskarr for the Sufiq to overlook their battles.
Nowadays, this mythical creature is still a staple in Sefakhem stories and folklore revolving around death and the great paradise that awaits every Asha after their death. Small offerings can be found in modern day temples, with the Blades of the Passed maintaining larger shrines with the Sufiq sculpted out of a brilliant pale green stone with its wings spread high above its head. This stone naturally shifts to a translucent gradient upon the tips of its wings to ensure it remains faithful to ancient interpretation.
Folklore surrounding the Sufiq varies from area to area in the Dewamenet Empire, regional preference shining through the spoken word as it is passed down from generation to generation, though the initial embellishment of the tales has since been watered down in the modern-day versions. For example, the northern cities of the Dewamenet Empire view the Sufiq, and river cranes as a whole, as good luck, whereas the western and southern cities see them as an omen that carries death upon ghostly wings but still regard them with hesitant reverence.
Regardless of the regional superstitions and relationships with cranes and the Sufiq as a whole, there is one thing that remains consistent across all folklore. It is widely accepted that Sufiq are Baskarr’s love for her people given a physical form, tasked by the goddess to ferry the souls of the departed Asha to paradise. One of the original stories focusing on the crane tells the story of a young Asha grieving over the death of their partner, refusing food and water for days on end, until they too, were on the brink of death. Baskarr, hearing their cries, felt great pity for the Asha and through that pity, created the Sufiq. It appeared before the grieving partner and withdrew the soul from their passed loved one with a careful pull of its beak. The pair exchanged words and a promise of meeting one another in the great sands when it was time for the other to pass, all under the watchful gaze of the ethereal crane. The lovers were allowed to say goodbye one last time, sharing a loving embrace, before the Sufiq spread its wings and took flight to carry the soul off to paradise. This grieving Asha was rumoured to later go on to be one of the next great prophets of Baskarr, though their name and the finer details had long since been lost to time.
Another tale speaks of one of the great battles between the Dewamenet army and the Allorn army. A young Asha soldier, one of the survivors, scoured the fields in search of their sibling and friends, turning body after body over while wading through the blood and gore of the battle. A thick fog had begun to settle in over the battlefield, making it difficult to see anything, save for the slender head of a pale green crane. Its head had turned to the soldier, eerie eyes locking with theirs and, during that moment of eye contact, they heard Baskarr’s voice. “Do not fret,” she had spoken, “for they will wait for you in paradise. Your parents await you, but it is not your time.” Before their eyes, the souls of the fallen Asha soldiers rose from their bodies and, one by one floated through the thick fog, gathering at the Sufiq’s side. Hundreds of souls of all shapes and sizes gathered and, with a gentle scoop of its long beak, the Soul Guide collected them. With a single beat of its wings, it took flight, bringing the bizarre fog that had settled over the bloodstained field with it. Whether the soldier was able to see their sibling and friends varies from region to region, but the core details remain the same.
One peculiar folktale from the furthest reaches of the Dewamenet Empire weaves the story of the Sufiq being both a physical manifestation of Baksarr’s love, but also a shapeshifter, sent by the goddess to guide the hands of the Sefakhem and the people that worship her. There are no solid details surrounding the form the Sufiq takes when not in its standard form, as each subsect of the Asha prefer to tout that it takes on their own form, but it is always identifiable by their pale green eyes and enigmatic, indecipherable tattoos wrapping around their arms.
The Sufiq appears as a normal river crane, standing approximately six feet tall head to claw. Its beak is said to be approximately one foot in length, though this varies from artist to artist. It is often drawn surrounded by a flock of slightly shorter cranes, leaving it as the odd one out. Each artist has their own unique spin on the Sufiq, but one thing remained consistent across all depictions: its great, awe-inspiring plumage. Where one would expect feathers on a crane, its wings seem to be made up of translucent feathers which gradually turned into wisps of nothingness. Modern day art of the Sufiq paint it as entirely translucent, straying from the gradient translucency along the wings that ancient art depicted it to have.
Closer inspection of the art frequently shows the Soul Guide to have uncanny pale green feline eyes. It is common, in both ancient and modern illustrations, for the artist to attempt to convey their interpretation of Baskarr’s writing along the feathers of the Sufiq, sometimes leaving the bird to look quite messy. One such artist, Ausauric, a self-proclaimed Baskarr aficionado and Sefakhem expert, claimed to have ‘cracked the code’ on Baskarr’s writing and utilised the script as a form of lineart. Unfortunately for most, the script was so fine that none were able to decipher the legitimacy to this claim. The mysterious circumstances of Ausauric’s disappearance certainly did no one any favours in seeking out clarification, either.
Despite the regional differences and alterations created by modern day interpretations, illustrations and literature surrounding the Sufiq all seem to follow the same general theme; a large, pale green river crane with varying levels of translucency.
- The Sufiq is sometimes mistaken for the Aphed, because the shapes of their heads are similar, but the Sufiq is thought to be much larger than the Aphed. When it concerns hieroglyphs, the Sufiq is usually depicted with a white feather color, while the Aphed is depicted with a black feather color (despite being blue or gray depending on interpretation).
- The Sufiq, unlike other animals in the Dewamenet Empire, is usually depicted as a humanoid. This is in stark contrast to the fact that no Asha can have bird heads. It has led some to speculate that there might have been other Asha clades that existed during the Dewamenet Empire, but went extinct.
- Sufiq causes Asha to be confused with Alorian birthing traditions, where it is believed by some that the stork brings forth the birthed children to their mothers, while Asha believe they carry the dead souls away.