This universe has a civilization of humans! And some other things. It's not crowded in the way Edda is but it's not just the one planet either. The humans might be easiest to start with. They're on that planet over there, it's not Earth but it has very Earthlike conditions and bronze-age humans living in cities and villages dotted across two large continents. Depending on how thoroughly any prospective visitors look they might find other things before visiting.
Focusing on one particular city that seems to be on the southern edge of the densely settled area-
They appear before wooden gates in a wooden palisade. Adults and children stream in and out of the city. The two spear-armed guards at the gate startle into alertness, the people on the road all pause hesitantly.
"Who goes there?" Seems like a reasonable response to Suddenly Appearing People?
"It's - sometimes the case that a prophecy can tell people about visitors from other worlds before they arrive," says Nelen carefully, "but it's rare. It may be that we're separate from whoever or whatever the legend led you to expect."
They're an odd bunch: Nelen, who seems to be the leader, is a short androgynous man with a vermilion ponytail streaked with one stripe of gold, and his companions include a dark woman with pale pink wings and a halo, a seven-foot-tall inhumanly beautiful man with elaborate black braids and profoundly rich and lovely clothes, a petite totally human looking woman, and just about the ugliest possible man in a very crisp suit.
"I - I suppose I'm not a priest," the louder guard says. "But - you look very powerful. And the priests call for you - for the sky lords."
"Maybe we should take them to the temple?" The other guard ventures.
Everyone else on the road is still staying well back, forming a crowd that edges into the fields on either side. More guards seem to be pushing their way through the crowd from the inside-the-city side.
The guards confer with the other guards, and then a guard with a beaten-up bronze chestplate and a coat adorned with lots of two-foot-long red feathers who seems to be some sort of commander picks three more guards and starts shouting at people to clear the way.
The city is... A not terribly well organized bronze age city. They have a lot of big granaries.
And here is the palace! It's stone, unlike the rest of the place. Sections of it seem half-built. The palace guards stand aside for feather-coat guy, Commander Bearslayer (as someone calls him), and he leads them to a big dining room that at least has some artistic effort put into it. Abstract paint adorns the furniture and walls, with lots of circles and naturalistic curves and animal outlines.
"Here we are, star visitors! We weren't expecting important guests today, my apologies. Do you have any questions or requests before I go brief the King about you all, visitors of Vanda Nossëo?"
Nod nod. He looks at pictures for a while, if they'll show him, then hears someone coming and runs back to stand by the door.
The boy opens the door again, and the Commander comes through. "Announcing his wisdom King Darener, named Bison for his strength, king of Goldvalley and these lands."
The King is a middle aged man with dark hair and tired eyes and a neatly trimmed beard wearing a bronze crown and holding a chrome, blunt-tipped two pronged tool of some sort - a bident as opposed to a trident. A small group of more guards, servants, and one other nicely-dressed man emerges behind him.
"Welcome visitors," the King says. "I confess myself a bit at a loss here, but I was never one for too much ceremony so let's just talk, yes? Call me King Rener, or Bison as you wish, and please sit. I will hear what you have to say."
He makes his way over to the biggest and most decorated chair and sits, gesturing for his entourage to do the same and indicating a group of chairs for the delegation.
"I do not see why I would forbid folk leaving either, aside if they are criminals or bandits. The great purpose of Goldvalley is to be a place of strength and order, from which warriors who can break chaos and finally make this world as it was meant to be can be trained and sent forth. If you can assist with this, I would find myself eager for some sort of alliance."
"The rule does actually extend to criminals," says Nelen. "A lot of people commit crimes due to conditions that we can help with, and aren't likely to re-offend when they have plenty to eat and places to go. If someone's obviously still dangerous under the circumstances we can special-case them, and Vanda Nossëo does have prisons if there's a crime after we show up."
"Vanda Nossëo defends the borders of member states, and provides everyone with a periodic payment just for being a citizen," says Nelen. "That's on top of things you can get without joining, including access to Vanda Nossëo-produced goods, such as the translation magic we're using, enchanted healing objects, cool smokeless lights, and exotic food and fabric; and transit to Vanda Nossëo and allied locations; and automata that can teach your people things like math and science."
After a few quick demos-
"Mmmh. I am a brave and honest man, and that is much of why my people follow me. Your visit unnerves and frightens me. For all that you paint your arrival as a joyous thing, it feels as though the soil is about to be washed away beneath my feet and everything will change and be new and weird. You can defeat chaos utterly, should it rear its head, and that will please the common folk. Great magic and artifice will excite the craftsmen. Great learning will excite the scholars and priests. I don't hold with the whole star lords bit as much as most people do, and you've said you're probably not those anyway, but I think if you asked all my people to join the magic empire from beyond space they would throw a gigantic feast and agree almost to a one in a great frenzy. I have some concerns there. I don't think that would be particularly good, to do it like that, when nobody understands what Vanda Nossëo is and is fitting you to half-formed expectations out of myth and legend. For example, I notice you have not launched a great crusade to crush the beasts of chaos once and for all."
"Yes, the dragons are the greatest agents of chaos, ever hostile to all the people of the world, and the dragons' changed-beast puppets as well. Though there are also spirits - beings of magic and not flesh who roam and rage as they please and cannot be destroyed by our hands. Fey tricksters and other strange things here and there as well, though not in Goldvalley as far as I am aware."
"We'd definitely need to learn more about the dragons before making any specific commitments regarding them," says Nelen. "But your other concerns aren't misplaced - cultures change a lot when exposed to Vanda Nossëo. It would be completely reasonable to want to proceed slowly and learn more about us and the peoples constituting us before making a decision on membership."
Natsuko gets up and trots after the minister.
"We aren't structured with a king at the top," says Nelen, "though some people choose to involve themselves while also separately being kings of some part of Vanda Nossëo. We do have a code of laws, though, would you like to read the whole thing or is there something in particular you're curious about?"
"I suppose I should read it over and give you ours as well, just to get a better handle on each other. A summary first perhaps?"
"How should I address you?" Ferron asks Natsuko once they're out of the room. "My king wants healing for the people and for you to operate as freely as any merchant here would. What accommodations do you require in return?"
"My name is Tanaka Natsuko, and if you want to be polite it's Tanaka-san but if you prefer more casual address Natsuko is fine. I can create a new building in a few seconds for us to set up shop in, and then someone will teleport down a starting stock of things we think people might want around here, which we'll trade for personal anecdotes or stories or songs."
"Tanaka-san, thank you for clarifying. I am Minister Ferron or Sir Ferron. ...How strange. If you wish to be paid in stories that is not our business. I think you had best demonstrate to me or the Guard that your products are safe first, and make sure to warn people about those that aren't. We do punish merchants who sell bad goods. Perhaps not a spot in the market square if you intend to... Raise a new building. With magic I presume?"
"Well the first is just this way, not far from here. The usual way we tax merchants won't work, we charge an import duty by the wheel and leg, but I'm honestly not worried you all will shortchange us when it comes time to figure that out. Instead let me ask, many of the sick and injured aren't well enough to push through an excited crowd for their healing, either, would your healers be willing to make visits?"
"I think we can handle that. The guard or the priests or the scribes... The scribes. They tally the sick and cripples as part of making sure we have plenty of food, so even if they don't already have a list they know how to go about it."
They arrive at a large open square, rough and uneven stone with a few stalls and wagons set up in rows along one side. "Well, here's the square, and there is your spot just there, see that empty space?" It's a house-sized gap in the rough stone and wood construction, with wild grass and bushes growing in it.
"Mm-hm!" says Natsuko. She takes a picture of the building, and a man appears in just a flicker before he's gone again, leaving behind the accompanying boxes. She pulls them into the shop; they all follow her as though feather-light. Then she sticks her head out and says, "Hey folks, what would this store sell in your wildest dreams?"
Everyone wants one! They're kind of crowding and shoving for the chance to be next! Until the guard shouts out that they're civilized people and should be ashamed of themselves and he'll take them in for assault if they get too rough, after which they get a lot subtler about it.
This lady thought her husband was cheating on her but really he was out fishing the whole time. This teenage boy once saw a BABY DRAGON (his friend just behind him in line calls him a liar and says it was a vulture). This tired looking woman will sing a lullaby about all the plants waving gently. This man explains how swamps are sacred and bless the faithful with gifts sometimes. This man tells them about a rusty metal tunnel he found on the mountain once.
Lights for everybody!
They start unpacking once people have gone off with their new lights and the crowd is thinning. They have spices and snacks and bolts of fabric. They can install translation magic that'll let you use and understand any language. They can heal - Natsuko can handle most things but anything she can't handle Nelen can. They have little space heaters. They have magic rings that will make it so you won't get anyone (including yourself) pregnant till you take it off again.
The crowd doesn't really thin, though it does get more orderly when a few more guards show up. People are playing with the lights and shining them in each others' faces and milling around the square.
Allspeak isn't very popular. These people seem a tad xenophobic and incurious about the wider universe, more interested in the goods than in stories of other worlds, and the stories lean suspicious of foreign things in general. Healing is very popular, lots of people have scars or old sicknesses of some kind. The four scribes who are supposed to go around taking pictures of sick people arrive and look around confusedly. A few people want the rings but opinion seems kind of mixed.
Exotic spices are excellent! They are soon putting pepper in porridge and cinnamon on bread. An impromptu feast seems to be gearing up in the market square inspired by the spices, block party style. Someone is setting up to butcher a bunch of goats right there in the open where they're building big fires.
Zanro shows the scribes how to take pictures and issues each one a camera and tells them that if they come back with pictures of the homes of people too ill to come by for healing, the pictures will make it quick for Nelen to visit.
Cassiel catches up and asks a little hurriedly if they'd like her to make some meat by magic for the feast right there!
(These particular goats seem to be slightly more clever than most goat breeds but are perfectly docile and happy to be led wherever as long as there's grass.)
The feast and shopping spree continues without incident. The King reads the code of laws and wants to wait to install a bus station and maybe do it well outside the city.
-In the late afternoon loud horns sound, a single dull alarm note starting from one lookout and spreading around the city and countryside. This rather causes a panic. People abandon their food and rush off, or stand there looking worried. The guards all run out of the square.
There's a big fire in that field over there! It's spreading pretty quickly! People are forming a bucket chain with the river nearby to try and fight it.
There's a long, slender orange-skinned winged form slinking along the ground behind a line of hills. Not visible from ground level, but clear from above if one is looking for trouble in places other than the big obvious fire. It seems to be approaching a nearby clay pit, hastily abandoned due to the alarm.
It sees her flying nearby and abandons its curious investigation of the pulley elevator the clay pit is using, looks - confused, the giant feathers on its head (recognizable from that Commander's coat, he was wearing similar ones) tilting up and down - then turns and runs away, trotting along the ground in a slightly awkward run.
"It does seem like that might be difficult for your law enforcement infrastructure. We're happy to help as long as we're here with fires and any other dragon intrusions. If a dragon attacks your city bent on eating people I'm prepared to personally teleport it off this planet and not let it back until and unless satisfied it will stop killing people. The thing I need to get across here is that the dragons, also, are people, and we can't privilege you over them by fiat. If your people try to kill dragons..."
"Well," says Nelen, "right now, none at all. But now that we know dragons are people, teams like mine are going to go talk to them, and they will get the same offer you have. And if you do want to join Vanda Nossëo, for the defensive support that extends beyond me teleporting dragons out of the way as long as I'm posted here, for the universal basic income guarantee... in Vanda Nossëo, killing people is illegal."
"I think, that I need to take a step back from this and consider for a time. I also think- You will find this stance on dragons to have quite the effect on every civilized human you meet here. Preparing this world for the star travelers' return is our reason for existence."
Pause. "You say 'people', and use it to mean 'beings that can speak'?"
Amazing! Nobody happens to pick up on the idea that she could make other things, especially.
Meanwhile, the terrified dragon quickly retreats to her den. Yes, she's lingered far too long. She smells the hunters getting closer every day, and now flying humans! It's time to go. At night, when they can't see very well.
A wash of sensation, osanwe-like but not in words at all,
That's a lot of shiny things. Very impressive and intimidating. She is extremely scared but will not give up without a fight! But also she will just leave now if they want to let her do that! (So she can grow big and strong and come get revenge later because they CHOP DOWN FORESTS and ENSLAVE ANIMALS and KILLED HER MOM.)
A sharp and clear memory, darkness and warmth and soothing telepathy, filled with loss and nostalgia.
The second lesson is that you must kill. If you do not kill and eat, your music will be silence. If nothing died, there would be no room for anything to be born. Kill what you must to eat. Kill what grows rampant and consumes all else.
That last part definitely describes humans.
Here are some pictures of different planets, seen from the sky high above them! This is the one they're on right now, this is the one the Elf came from - My planet is flat for magical reasons - and here are some more besides. These aren't drawings, they're 'photographs'. Would you like me to take a photograph of you so you can see how it works?
Well she clearly stayed here way too long! She is going to take her things and leave and look for another territory to claim far away from humans. They can tell those hunters she smells sniffing closer and closer to her den that she is GONE. Tomorrow, when she is actually gone, that is.
The Song of Annunciation is a crooning thing that is in fact nicely musical, and Allspeak handles fairly gracefully.
"Oh great one who has claimed this place, I am a visitor at the edge of your territory. I respectfully announce myself to the dragon who claims this land-" (-You can replace 'dragon' with their name if you know it-) "I am here openly, without stealth or trickery. I do not mean to intrude or insult; I shall not hunt your prey nor steal your things. Under the gaze of Father Sun and the by the Two Great Laws, I ask for parley and peaceful discussion so that our musics may both be heard-" Several verses that are just rephrasings of the previous parts, and then, "I shall wait here for a time, and if you choose to approach we will speak."
And also the much shorter Song of Peaceful Departure, "While I have announced myself, you have not come to speak to me. I respect your territory no less, and now I am leaving."
Oh fine, that's sort of covered by the first Shiny Thing anyway.
First; You must create. One day you will die, and your music will become silence. Explore, learn, and seek Treasure, and when you are ready, seek out others who are great, and create children to carry forth your song forever.
Second; You must destroy. You must kill and consume to survive, but take care to destroy in balance, never taking too many or too much. Destroy that which should be destroyed. Preserve that which should be preserved.
Creation and Destruction are both part of the Onesong, one leading to the other. To live without these truths is unnatural and wrong.
This is the fundamental truth of the dragons.
Even with the Song of Annunciation in most places the dragons demand that they leave, or ignore them.
In one particular area, at the edge of a region that looks and feels magically... Odd... A red fox that looks slightly unreal, like a Maia who doesn't quite have their body down, addresses the visitor.
Who Is It Who Comes Forth? What new chorus enters the song, so familiar and yet so alien? Why has your arrival changed the music yet to come? Why do we-I-the forest-the mother wish to speak to you?
A minute later, a - very very large dragon, taller than some trees, strides through the forest, their branches smoothly moving out of the way for her to pass. She has an aura, a psychic power that washes over everything around her and infuses it. It feels - careful and delicate, as if she is keeping it as light as possible. Flowers bloom and plants perk up and sprout new growth all around her.
I am the one known as Allmother, o visitor. I am all but unique among my kind to tread so deeply the path of Compassion - so much so that my very nature has changed. I welcome you to this world.
Oh, to see new stars and meet new people, to know the Onesong is yet greater than before... You will avert the Grey Future, the path I thought inevitable that has been laid out before me for so many years. I do not clearly see what form the future will take, but a bright star shines, a ray of hope and the knowledge that my fears will not come to pass. Our symphony will not end. They are lost in a way, the tailless ones. They are lonely and suffering, like so many of my kin. Crowing with strength and pride, yet empty inside. You are not the cold ones, who could not comprehend. Who are your people, to explore new worlds? What drives them forth?
Prosperity. Opportunity. Fulfillment. Kindness. Reaching higher and onward. To the humans, prosperity means great cities of stone and metal, edifices of order where everything is just as they wish it. Their hopes and dreams burn brightly, full of joy and compassion and love. They do not realize the value of that which they are destroying, the great spirits of nature and the balance of the world being eroded into nothingness under the stones of road and city.
To the true children of above and below, shiny things are valuable, great treasures and fascinating secrets a thing of joy and contentment, and yet to the greatest among us, once we know our place in the world and learn of the vastness of Nature, the pursuit of adulthood is spiritual. To feel, to know on a level deeper than mere knowledge, to reach a greater understanding of the Onesong and become ever more, for stagnation is death. That is what drives the eldest of us.
They do; They seek togetherness and progress. They wish to build and grow, and not unjustifiably see the dragons as a great enemy, hostile forever and anathema to their aspirations. It pains me whenever anything must come into conflict. I desire to see suffering's end, though it is impossible. Perhaps I am a coward and a hypocrite for having ended it in myself. I could not stand my own nature, and changed it. All life has become one in my domain. I am the trees and the ants, I am the rabbits and the foxes, I am the soil and the air, they are all me. I regret this in some ways, but what has been done cannot be undone.
There are some gods in my world who do something like that, they put themselves deeper and deeper into a grove or a river or a flock of geese until they're effectively one and the same.
We too want to end suffering. I think you could help us, especially if you were willing to speak to other dragons on our behalf. Many of them ignored our visitors and we aren't sure what else to try when the Song of Annunciation and offering shiny things didn't work.
That bears some resemblance to what I have done, though I could not take the final step.
I think some will speak to you on their own time. Dragons move slowly by the pace of humans, those of us who are not children. The other elders will call a Grand Moot in time, a meeting of all adult dragons to discuss the future. Even if you had not arrived, humanity is becoming more alarming to them.
I will be willing to send myself forth as envoys if there is something productive for me/us to discuss. My kin will not accept to allow the humans to continue conquering and expanding. They may not even be willing to accept their current extent, as in the mere last clawful-of-clawful-of-clawful of years so much territory has been lost and so many dragons killed.
The spirit of the Great Green and echoes of the Onesong have settled deeply into this planet. The weight of history and the spirits of so many creatures infuse it deeply. Anywhere else would not be the same, and our pride, that claw turned upon ourselves, will not allow us to retreat without a challenge.
Those things are factors, yes. We can't value one dragon more than one human, and we understand better what humans need and how to provide it because we have experience with them, and we're better able to interact with them efficiently because they organize themselves and one conversation can lead to many of them carrying out a plan. But we don't want to let them hurt you or steal from you, at least not more than has already happened.
...The path forward lies heavy with your shadows, whatever choices are made. This is truth and reality, and wishing it were otherwise is futile. I would ask for you to turn back any dragonslaying parties anywhere in this world just as you turn back any dragons seeking to kill humans, but even this would be offensive to my kin were I to beg for it rather than you implementing such a thing of your own accord, so I am not asking for you to do that.
What of the beasts of the land, and the spirits? Have you spoken to them?
The beasts of the land who follow the true way have far dimmer spirits than those of dragons unless they are Enkindled - their spirits ignited by a portion of our soul and intent - but they feel and remember just as we do naturally. To the spirits I suppose you do not sense the Song, and may not notice them even if they did address you...
We try to gently phase out the use of animals for meat, and when we open up new planets to colonists, we don't put very many animals on them and particularly not ones that seem obviously bothered by settlements. Other than that on the Vanda Nossëo level we don't consider them very much. Do you think animals here are likely to differ from those we're familiar with, maybe due to spirit influence?
She regards the whole group impassively for a couple of minutes, tendrils of 'aura' reaching forward.
The dog seems a feather less aware than wolves do, to me; The snake is similar to snakes I know; The mouse and fish and owl all seem... Less in a difficult to define way. I speak only of my perceptions and know well that they may not be truth.
Your mind is sharp and clear and angled, more like a great crystal than a pool of water. You have such a division between emotion and reason, I think! It is... Tiring work to crystallize my ideas for you.
They will care about things continuing to be the way they are, or only changing in certain ways, or certain cycles, or specific phenomena, or the Four Elements, or particular locations, or their favored animals...
Elsewhere, about two hours after the Song of Annunciation was sung in a territory that seems far more like a garden than a random selection of wild forest, with many plants confined to particular areas and large open spaces cleared of underbrush, a dragon actually approaches the spot in question. Is the visitor still there?
Head-tilt and feathers fluff up.
I am Pleased By Your Orderly Mind, strange visitor. You have learned to Sing the traditional greeting and Sing the music of minds, somehow. Those who intruded on my land before did not bother, but you show respect. You also do not smell like them. I sing a song of curiosity: What thoughts run through your mind to make you so different than the dead-skin-wearing brutes? Why have you come here? Is my garden not beautiful?
I'm not a human, but a similar species called an Elf; though even humans can behave very differently from the ones you've encountered. I have come here hoping to learn more about dragons, and spirits, and local animals, so that our discovery of this planet can be good for everyone. Your garden is exquisite.
She lets out a cooing sound.
It is pleasingly shiny and finely crafted in the way that humans' things sometimes are; A good payment for several lessons, though more may be required if your curiosity is great.
Warden plods forward and ever so gently takes it between two large foreclaws, tucking it into some of her chest feathers and craning her neck to admire the effect.
Oh good, I'm glad you like it.
One thing we usually offer when we land on a new world is permission to join Vanda Nossëo, whereupon we extend defensive support if someone is attacked. We're worried about this being complicated with much of the humans' land having previously belonged to dragons, and even if the humans who originally stole it are dead now, the dragons might not all be.
The Kin may live for far longer than humans do if nothing slays us, yes. I think this will be true for some. Those who fought to keep their territory from humans have been slain, those who chose to flee would suffer the shame and harsh conditions of having no territory to call their own. Among those who fled, there will be those who died for one reason or another, and those who fairly challenged the territory of another and won it, and those who settled for poor lands not already claimed and perhaps still live. If they could not defend their territory from the humans, they did not deserve it.
That seems moderately sensible, if somewhat oddly phrased. Perhaps you have misunderstood something. I will not beg for your protection, the nature of the world is that one must have strength and I would not depend on yours like a hatchling cowering beneath parent's wing. Though if you wish to hunt hunters and thus stop them from intruding upon my garden, I would not object either.
It is a code of honor, rules which make our dealings with each other more orderly and respectful. There are many subtleties; I may not be able to fully express it to you in a short time. First, the Song of Annunciation, which you have learned. There are more Songs, appropriate for different circumstances. The foul art of Lying is forbidden. A traditional dragon must treat their elders and juniors with respect, giving and demanding nothing for free, but neither unfairly oppressing their juniors. The elders also can demand whatever they wish with their might and strength, but Tradition forbids this - they will test their juniors harshly, but not with impossible tasks. Visitors may challenge a dragon to a contest for a fair wager, though the challenged may decline. An exchange of riddles and a fight are the most common challenges. There are rituals for claiming a territory and for challenging another for theirs, or just a portion of theirs. It is against Tradition to sneak into a territory and poach or steal. No dragon may order another against their will. No dragon may claim Treasure found in the territory of another without a proper challenge. A traditional dragon does not bow to the demands of lesser beasts, and does whatever they desire so long as they have the strength to, whether that is clawing Treasure from the ground or diligently crafting the land itself into a Treasure as I do. Vengeful ghosts and other disorderly things are to be destroyed, while the lines of goodbeasts and the bounty of nature is to be preserved.
Tradition is not law. Those who are known to abide by it are trustworthy, and the spirits and beasts will know and whisper of it, and one's reputation is a worthy thing to cultivate; Those who do not are less trustworthy, but Survival is a greater law than Tradition. A dead dragon is far more pitiful than one with a poor reputation.
I do not know how my kin will react to Vanda Nossëo. I do not know how to react to it. The hive-of-many-worlds greater than the Onesong we thought we knew is a staggering concept. When the world has been much the same for year upon year, such a fundamental shift brings dissonance to the Onesong. Many kin, I think, will rather you had not found us at all simply because your existence is so confusing and will change many things more quickly than they usually change.
I think a lot of planets have some people who wish that. We would rather find a way to satisfy everyone, but if we leave a planet alone - there's another federation that does just that, leaves them alone no matter what until they've invented star travel themselves - if we leave a planet alone, people starve and die of disease and violence, raise their children in poverty.
Every Draak seeks greatness in their own way. I prize order and beauty. I am interested in learning of new ways of order, of new tools to create beauty. Some will reject you, and some seek to wield the opportunity you offer. Perhaps I will interact with your great hive to this end.
I have heard that the Great Elder known as Allmother follows the path of Compassion, though I do not know where she lives. The one known as Darktooth the Wise similarly follows the path of Learning, and may be found where the rustmountain valleys come together like a tree near great Ocean, to the south.
I have learned some lesser secrets of Number, and of the sigils that can be used to preserve events beyond memory. As well many things about the nature of the world and its ways, of the fire within Earth and the cycle of Water in the air, and other such things. I will return one day when I am more worthy.
Hm. What if a non-dragon looked after it? You could hire someone, once you had collected enough nonshiny-abstractions-of-the-concept-of-the-ability-to-acquire-shiny-things, which I don't think would be hard for you, since dragons are rare and special and cool and lots of people would want to pay you to do things.
A surprisingly common theme in the stories told in the delegation's Goldvalley shops are stories of ghosts and visions on The Mountain. (It doesn't really have a name, being the only one worth the designation in the area.)
They say the ghosts charge living warriors with vengeance. That they will lead you to treasure if you follow them. That only death lies in following them. That they are signs of the dragons' past crimes, dead in the Great War. That they are not quite human, made by the star lords as diggers and crafters. That their buried kingdom still lies below, with a king's ransom in Delver Steel waiting for explorers. That their mindless rage is simply a delusion and a sad remnant.
It was a mine and underground community populated by variant humans (not actually a separate species, just short and stocky) running semi-automated equipment to mine and be a center of industry. A third human subspecies seemed to be a ruling class of sorts, a neanderthal-like warrior caste. They traded material for food.
They suddenly started making tons of weapons.
A bunch of dragons and other big animals assaulted the place with magic powers. The warrior caste fought to the last man and to the death as the digger caste evacuated. The big battle sites correspond to 'ghostly' areas almost exactly.
A month later something too magic to conjure rained down titanic blasts of force and heat, shattering almost everything the initial battle did not.
The Elf will continue to try to elicit facts from them, checking against models the demon provides, so they can compose a thorough ghost story to put on the internet. The fairy collects all the remains and buries them. The demon puts a diamond plaque on top of the disturbed earth, This marks the graves of the miners who died here. Their story insofar as we know it can be found at - and then the URL.
The ghosts are very insistent that both WARRIORS and miners died here, and will wax eloquent, if slowly, about the great battle and their commitment to duty and purpose. More and more of them settle into the grave and go quiet as the work continues.
The last one remains, hovering near the grave.
It is over. The scar in the world now heals. Thank you.
They flee again but just after that - Very, very faintly, more in impressions and sensations than anything like words, but just possible to interpret if you are specifically listening, not immune to mind effects, and strain-
Twoleg sniffing again. Danger? Don't know. Trade? Twoleg did not trade before. Vote do? Watch/Observe/Caution/Wait/Hide/Listen.
There's hushed rat-conversation, and then a clearer and easier to hear- Small lives in hidden places, safe from cat and hawk. Twolegs have never talked to us. We are hungry lately. We have learned an old secret of the dragons. We make the Boom. Strong Fire-essence within, ready to burn. A good distraction, a good weapon. Boom is useful. More useful than food to a big twolegs?
The rat clans are not a proud people. Pride is foolishness. We live half-blind in the dark, always hungry and always searching. We are one and many - what one of us knows, we all know, linked by the essence and spirit of our Love. What one of us decides, we all decide, a family that knows each other better than ourselves. Though we are small, we are careful and observant and clever. No trick or distraction is beneath us. We use the small paths others cannot access, we use our secrets, we use our numbers, we use even our teeth and paws if we must. Hunted by cat and hawk and hunger, the rats yet survive.
They did not give us a name, but we remember well their awe-inspiring power. Trawling these ruined halls and throwing aside stone to dig for shiny treasure, defeating the foolish clans who thought to make prey of a dragon, their spirit burned so brightly! Truly the dragons deserve their reputation as great beings. When we offered treasure and secrets in trade for their knowledge, we learned of the essence of That-Which-Burns, and over several days we were taught to channel it ourselves. It is a powerful secret that has served us well in making the Boom, among other uses.
This odd visitor is still handing out food, right? By now they should have a lot.
After some extensive internal squeaking and some more questions about the other worlds and the magic and the mission of Vanda Nossëo, the rats announce that they will split the family, as they have done only twice before. One family will stay here and spread the news to other rats, the other would like to travel to these other worlds and learn.
It's really hard to explain! Feeling is far more critical than thinking for matters of the spirit. Here is how splitting feels (bounce: Dozens of sparks of always-present joy and comfort in the dark, echoing the same feelings back in cycles, even when one vanishes none have really vanished; Hard-long-desperate-tired-learned-fear warring with opportunity-curiosity-wonder-awe; A sense of mounting tension, then- Like the sudden departure of a dance partner, sudden nothingness, freedom and loneliness bittersweet.)
The rats are perhaps surprisingly clean and sanitation-conscious. It helps keep down on disease. They're very curious about this new place, carefully exploring it and asking their friendly escort elf all sorts of questions. Where is her family? What does one even do when food and safety and ensuring future food and safety aren't immediate, overriding concerns? Besides learn to read, which they are gamely attempting.
This Elf is not married; her sister and brother-and-law live next door, and her parents live the next town over. She's in osanwë range of all of them, osanwë between Elves might reach father than whatever holds the rats together. She likes to sing and play the piano and go on hikes and ice skate and, yes, also read, when she isn't working.
Music is... Strange, but not unpleasant. They are very motivated about how so many secrets lie behind the veil of reading and are trying very very hard about it. They have better luck parallelizing long passages rather than reading a single word at a time.
They understand family more than any of those other hobbies, and would be delighted to meet hers.
As long as he gets a bit more gentle after a small warning squeak, more rats will come be petted a few at a time sniffing at his hands and clothes, including the little-kid-rats whose fur is very short and soft, bodies just two or three inches long including tail.
Your family is not as close as our family, we are one and many and almost all the same. What is it like?
And eventually their visit will conclude and the rats will get back to politely enjoying their escort's hospitality and building a small tunnelwarren out of whatever is loose and available to feel safer.
Back in Goldvalley, a man comes into one of the stores, ragged hair and beard and middle aged, wearing clothing of a very fancy for the tech level style with lots of geometric patterning and heavy boots, odd items like rag dolls and dreamcatcher-style arrangements of thread and glass vials full of powder tied to himself with string, carrying a big elaborately carved staff with a small burning coal in a brazier type thing in the top. He looks around at everything silently.
"Ghosts are scars in the world. I do not think they can truly change or feel anymore. It is often difficult to resolve their complaints, but also possible to forcibly disperse them if they're dangerous, as some are. A rat swarm? They can be quite personable, yes. But what is all this? I have heard the most wild tales on my way into the city."
"So you need to speak with the spirits? Wise. Many forget that humanity is not the only thinking thing on the planet. The shining glory of progress throws off a blinding glare. What do you know of spirits so far?" He starts gathering bags of spices after closely examining several. "Do you have a large measure of salt? Quite useful for rituals, salt. I'll give you advice and stories until all this is earned."
"There are many different sorts of spirit. From vast and ponderous to the point where they hardly notice us, to ones so small as to seem childlike. The vast ones are not a concern unless you intend to raze forests or level mountains, but their revenge and death-throes can be painful indeed. But the lighter spirits, those that form around points of natural order or accumulated ritual, those can be spoken to if you have the practice and talent. It requires understanding your emotions, empathy and - attunement, I would phrase it, to what a spirit is, and a clear, focused intent to listen and speak with your mind. As an example, one of the brooks that feed this valley's river holds a playful water-spirit, which is largely unconcerned with anything that happens to it. It spoke to me at length about how it is flowing water, and thus will never be destroyed. Flowing around rocks and condensing if boiled, released when consumed and eventually melting when frozen. It knew no fear and no hunger or want. It remembers me, but only as a once-visitor invited to swim and play again."
He nods. "Well, I hope that will go fine. Hmm, what next... Oh yes, the Four. Four great spirits, or four archetypes of lesser spirits perhaps. Fire, water, earth, air. While the material world is made of dozens and more different things, the spirit world's fundamental blocks are those four pieces. Achieving an understanding and intuitive feeling with one of the Four can grant you powers great and small," he gestures to the coal. "This little bit of showmanship for instance. A proper lesson on them can take a while, but briefly, fire is pride, desire, strength, glory. Water- empathy, flexibility, reaction. Earth, stubbornness and patience and calm. Air, curiosity, freedom, exuberance."
"From my master, from his master before him, and so on. Confirmed as best I can tell in my wanderings and observations. Many of the lesser spirits conform strongly to one of the Four, and will teach you about it - whether they answer your questions or just by observing their actions. There are more spirits, of course. Hybrids of the four, and more complex arrangements. A storm spirit is fire and air. Dragons hold all four within their hearts, quite powerfully."
"I've never heard of a 'whale', but I met an elephant once. It was so upset but really just needed some better care instructions. More like... Goats, chickens, cats, turtles, llamas. I think there is something in insects and crabs and fish but I haven't managed to put myself in a sufficiently crabby perspective." He chuckles.
"This world already existed when humanity arrived from across the stars. By an act of the gods and great spirits, the first men found themselves here, and quickly grew and prospered, making order and peace out of a brutal and hostile nature. But the terrible dragon kings warred with the gods, and all were slain. Now, we are left only with the broken pieces of two things that were once great, doing the best we can.
"Another telling says that Humanity's place has always been here, that it was usurped by dragon and beast jealous of our intelligence and the great cataclysm uncountably many generations ago was the Eldest Dragon's rage and hatred growing like a wildfire, until she consumed herself - and everything else. Since then the good people of the land have slowly been growing stronger again, and yet have a duty to stamp out chaos for good.
"Some say the Star Lords still watch over this world, observing and testing us. That those who are worthy - who exactly is worthy seems to change all too often - are rescued after death and taken to join them in the sky. The unworthy are left to crumble into dirt and become nothing, a fate that all must strive to avoid.
"Others say that rejoining the world after death is a natural and good thing. They bury bodies to second them to the soil rather than burning them to urge souls upward, and some believe that the spirits and animals of the land are former humans, while others say that all the dead sleep in a river of souls, resting eternally.
"The spirits tell a different story that I've pieced together. They say that the first and greatest spirits were Father Sun and Mother Earth, who came together to produce all their children, from the great dragons to the very tiny beings that cause disease. At first there were few, but over time they grew and changed, molded by chance and spirit. They say that humans arrived later, brought here from some distant place."
"To many, it would be an important and immediate question. 'Is my grandmother with the star lords? How could it be that the star lords don't actually exist?' Or alternately, 'I thought we were a real and true part of this world, you're saying we're invaders after all?' Would it be good for a society to find out the truth, or bad? Is 'what is good' even the right tack to take? Good is so subjective. I've known generals who confessed to me that priests and holidays are weapons, weapons of belief. But I'm no statesman or king. Just a spirit talker, used to rambling on and on."
"Well, I joined Vanda Nossëo because, like, you know, the dream is to help people and I turn out to have not nearly enough aptitude for healing to beat any of the other magic healing options. I took a quiz to see what departments I'd be a fit for and considered Integration but decided envoy would be more fun. This particular town I think we got assigned randomly, we didn't know enough to pick and choose in advance. Oh, and I'm on Nelen's team because during training I met Natsuko and put in a request to be on the same team as her and she'd wanted to be on Nelen's because she likes his vibe or something."
"Huh. Sounds like some very careful planning. I should stop monopolizing the story store if you've got enough from me for these spices and salt." He makes a head tossing sort of gesture at the line. "I'd love to meet the others if they'd wish it. Perhaps you have need of further consultation with a shaman."
"Oh, well, I joined up when - for a while after Vanda Nossëo found my planet I didn't have a job, kind of a lot of us didn't - my subgroup of my species. We took a while to get used to the multiverse, enjoy having Vanda Nossëo basic income, lots of us immediately started having a ton of kids, took up a lot of hobbies we hadn't been able to try before. And that was fun, for a while, but then I wanted to be doing something. If I were married it'd probably be the having a ton of kids thing, my species loves kids, but I'm not, so I wound up in an employment office and it funneled me this way and I passed a screen for the extra fancy spells. Eventually I'll meet someone and settle down. Maybe still do a turn as an ambassador now and then while the kids are at band camp or something."
"There's some internal difference too, and stuff that you can only see over time - I can go from as pale as Tarwë to darker than Cassiel in the space of a few days if I get enough sun, and then back again if I stay inside. But mostly you can think of Amentans as humans who really really like babies."
She shows him around through the crew quarters - there's an empty one he can look at - and explains the floating ornamental objects (the floating isn't magic, just hyperminiaturized, but the cleaning they do is magic) and the cargo bay with the vast amounts of empty space, filling up and emptying again as the staff demon and some teleporters take orders and fill them, and then it's back to the lobby he's seen, though it has offshoots - a dining hall, a theater - for onboard occupations.
He seems more and more thoughtful as the tour goes on. "I'm glad I'm not a king," he mentions absently. "Thank you for the tour. I'm not sure if there's anything small I could do to repay you? Oh, I was told I could visit another world for a time as well, if you have a recommendation I would appreciate it."
Incredibly busy. People are coming and going in all directions; there are signs, and paths inlaid into the floors, and skywalks and mezzanines above. Humans - or at least folks who look it - form a slight majority, but there are people of more exotic extractions, and they've all got places to go. There are a few permanent installations - the information booths, about twenty of them, and some places selling snacks or distributing advertisement pamphlets. There are huge posted bus maps up on several walls, drawn with different stylizations and emphases.
He doesn't like this place. It feels cold and empty.
That's perfectly fine. Places exist for reasons and it's not like he's impatient or rash. He'll wait in line at the information booth and smile patiently, still carrying the staff with its little brazier and all. Though he's let the flame go out now. Nobody would know what it means, anyway.
"Hello! I'm from a world you fine folks just showed up at, and I wanted to see another. I was recommended 'Revelation', and 'Allspeak'."
"Sounds like a plan!" says the info booth person. "I can Allspeak you right now, just a sec." He produces a wand and bops the shaman on the head. "There you go. Next bus to Revelation will be the Eastern red line, leaving from platform twelve in eight minutes - follow the red triangles, they start right there."
He is at Bus Hub #1 ("Stjernekart"), in a world called Edda. The Eastern red line goes from Elentári to Edda (you are here)! to Space Arda to Heaven to Revelation (and then Warp, but he'll be getting off before then).
Pop! The bus comes into existence. People get off on the far side and he can board on the near one.
They are very nice houses! There is a contest for makers of some kind of food, and ads for a museum, and people on electric bicycles, and a fellow riding a fucking rhinoceros down the street (apparently you, too, can ride the rhinoceros for a small fee!), and an angel repairing some tree-root-disturbed sidewalks, and restaurants, and a public library, and a craft fair, and cars that fly and cars that don't, and somebody having a loud phone conversation, and a robot mowing a lawn, and a lady walking six dogs, and a grocery store, and a sex toy shop, and a place papered with announcements of an upcoming concert, and restaurants.
Amazing. All of it amazing. And far too busy to even try to look for spirits, which is just as well.
Museum! It's translating very oddly (with a compound word that includes all three of library-palace-temple), which makes it something he just has to see. He attempts to figure out where the museum is.
"Oh, of course! Wow, you must be a very early visitor, I don't think I'd even heard they were scouting a new one yet. Well, everything here is free, the library's a public service, if you borrow a book we ask that you return it within a month. If your polity, or you as an individual, choose to join Vanda Nossëo, you get a basic income every twenty days - I'm not sure how they settled on that number, sometimes it changes - and that'll cover everything you need as long as you don't need anything especially bizarre. Most people wear an ID bracelet or necklace or carry a card or get an implant chip or something, and that connects them to their government account and they can spend their basic from there. If you aren't a Vanda Nossëo citizen you don't get a basic but you can earn money regardless if you like, in a local currency, and you can still keep it in any of those forms, and some places still have cash but not here, we haven't had even paper cash for almost two hundred years now, demons really wreck it as a concept."
"They opened up those stores yesterday morning! Showed up right in the middle of a road and the city guards weren't sure whether to take them to priests or the king, from what I hear. They didn't know about the dragons and nature spirits, either. Of course as a consummate wanderer I couldn't resist seeing another world. Are the computers talking to each other somehow, to tell who's who? Not that I know how to use them, but we have old ruined machines around - and the stories talk about them all talking to each other, in a way."
He will solicit a computer lesson while telling charming stories about learning to talk to weird spirits and the legendary Visage of All-Seeing (it's literally just night vision goggles), and then ask if he's likely to be able to busk money with magic tricks or if he has to figure out where to go camping or how to get home.
He can probably busk with magic tricks since his magic is new and exciting but it will be easier if he has a money card or something for people to pay into! She can actually print him one right now. Getting home shouldn't be that hard, if he got turned around in the bus routes he can get help at an info booth.
"Oh, you can do that? Will do."
I am a spirit-talker with magic from a new world learned over decades. Ask me about it!
elemental manipulation - object reading - illusion shows - personality guessing - minor blessings
Small donations humbly accepted - [payment card taped to cardboard]
"What do you think?" He asks the librarian, grinning.
He's happy to take in the atmosphere and not actively seek attention yet.
"Hello! I can ask things what they are, and where they've been. Who used them and what they were feeling about it, sometimes. Its sort of the same thing one needs to speak to spirits - though you don't seem to have any of those in this world."
He peers closely at a sleeve for a few moments, tugging on his beard.
"Oh, hmm... Whoever had it before didn't like it as much, I think, it waited to be chosen for a while. In a place with quite a lot of clothes, but I'm starting to get used to your prosperity. You've had it for a year or so? I can't get much about any previous owner, or who made it, they didnt really have any... Attachment to it, would be the word."
With a smile and a snap of his fingers the coal in his staff comes alight, and he pulls a few sparks off it with another gesture.
"By the light of fire, that primal hunger, may you be the best you can be! With pride and will, you will face all the challenges ahead and find within yourself the ability to overcome them. Shine without fear, and May You Be Blessed."
He waves and the sparks form a circle around him before suddenly flaring and then vanishing.
"Good luck! What is your test on? I'm new here and curious."
"Well, it's hardly been a day since. Not as an entire world - we're not unified and the dragons and spirits are going to complicate things - but certain cities, maybe even the whole Metal Kingdoms as one or other unifications like that I think will likely want to- Benevolent visitors from beyond the stars is a big deal! A big cultural touchstone."
"I've never met a dragon. Rare, reclusive, very dangerous - and definitely people, no matter what others say. The metal kingdoms were all founded about a hundred years ago by 'brother kings', set on... Well, invading and driving away dragons and building new cities in the untamed lands. Named all their cities after metals. Goldvalley, Silverreach, Ironriver, Copperhold, Pewtermarch, Bronzehill. Can't remember the other three."
"Oh, sure, why not. I get up at like nine and I have breakfast, usually granola or I get a burrito from the place cattycorner to my apartment, and then I go to the gym - I'm planning to totally let myself go after I hit my ideal everything and hold onto it for like, a week, but I hear it's easier to make stuff stick as a daeva if you were ever actually in that shape as a human, and some people think it's got important health benefits you can't capture by going to the clinic whenever you get a twinge. - I'm going to be a daeva when I die, since I was born here and did a summoning one time. Anyway, then I go to classes, I usually walk there, kind of cool down after lifting weights, and I have calculus and multiversal studies and world history and modern English lit and ceramics and essay seminar and standard model bio, depending on the day, not all at once, and I get lunch somewhere in there usually from the food court on campus, and after classes I do some homework in the library because it's nicer in a place with other people even if nobody's talking and the librarians'll help if they're not busy, and then I walk home, which brings us to now, this fountain's on my way."
"Nah, it's fine, you're interesting. I don't usually think of myself as, like, exotic. Burrito's a wrap, very flat bread with stuff in it. Gym's a place where they have exercise equipment. Bio is living things and standard model is like, the things aren't magical or otherwise doing something very weird."
"I'll have to try a burrito later. Gym's like a guard training yard, I suppose? Except not - military. Huh, I wonder if I'm standard model. My instinct would be 'no' because-" He dips his hand into the fountain behind him and pulls it back up with a globe of wobbly water clinging to him. "This, but I really wouldn't know."
"Oh, it's more- No, you're right, I have no idea. My magic is not innate. It's... Spiritual. Being aware of yourself and the world and reaching an understanding of things. And, you know, I have no idea how to tell the difference between 'this power was always within you, only now unlocked' or 'you've grown your soul like a muscle over time' or 'it's just long practice making you better at this'."
Deep breath. "Maybe I can teach it. Maybe they'll want my help to talk to spirits, honestly that's the ideal case, that's my usual work. I really couldn't list out all the things I could do if I put my mind to it, if there's a metaphor that fits pretty well I can probably stretch it... 'M best with air aaand that means nothing to you does it." He chuckles. "I think I might want to cut this busking thing short and try to get home, or get to an office of theirs maybe, get a jump on that."
"Hello. Sorry to bother you with this. I actually came here from a newly contacted world, wanted to see something else for a bit. Then I heard that immortality rings exist, so I'd like to head back as soon as possible and ask about employment for my magic. I'd go back to, ah, Edda station one with the buses if I thought they'd be waiting for me there, but I don't think so."
"Not right now, thank you."
He will once again boldly go forth and... Navigate the bus system after handing over his token, trying to read the terminals first to get to Edda on one quick lesson on computer use, and resorting to an info booth if he cannot accomplish this basic task. He needs to head to one of the Edda info booths at the end of this, anyway.
That tickles something in his head but he dismisses it for the moment. "You're supposed to have someone else introduce you, or mention your name offhand in a way that it can be heard. To show that you are welcome and not a stranger. We call ourselves the Water People or the Lake People, I don't know what outsiders call us. If you have a map I can point out the region."
"Fairly rare ones, perhaps one in a large city with some skill and one in a dozen of those as practiced as I. I am a spirit-talker, a shaman-"
He goes over the basics again: Talking to spirits and animals (though that's harder), doing little rituals to calm or influence them, banishing ghosts, minor and slightly less minor blessings with more little rituals, minor earth/water/air/fire manipulation, petty illusions, object reading, an intuition to peoples' alignment on the four metaphorical conceptbundles of the elements, his body is magically reinforced and heals faster (that's probably not useful, he's mentioning it just to be thorough)-
"And with time I can develop new skills that have a decent metaphorical link to one of the elements. I developed object-reading this way through a metaphor with water. Oh, and I have no information on whether offworlders are capable of learning this, but I can teach it. Usually it's an apprenticeship but mostly for lack of good candidates, I'm not attached to doing it that way."
He stops to carefully think for a long moment before answering. "I don't want to overpromise. Assuming a few good candidates who are really trying and put a day or two of solid effort per week in - not all in one block - a week at the earliest for it to become clear whether it's possible at all. If there's no signs at all after three months, I'd call it hopeless. I'll be able to tell if they're making progress before any students do. Getting to useful results would take longer, I want to say six months to a year to be able to find and start talking to the most cooperative spirits? With no guarantees that any particular person has the right aptitude."
"Hmm... Ideally I'd screen some folks who think they might fit for the length of a conversation, then an hour long group intro session, and then pick up to a dozen promising sorts and schedule them across from each other. I'm not sure how many I should screen, how much volunteering pre-screens them as it were."
"The ideal shaman," he says slowly, "Is empathetic - and not just with the kinds of people they're familiar with. They should be curious and observant. They should be in tune with their emotions, be able to understand what they feel and why. They should be good at meditation and focus, able to take strange and specific states of mind deliberately. They should enjoy spending time in nature. They should think they'd do well picking at - I'm struggling to put this into words - entangled interconnected concepts that don't have one specific correct interpretation? Philosophy? This is an emotional and spiritual skill, not a technical or mathematic one. Artistic skills or poetry or musical ability would correlate but is not strictly necessary. None of these are specifically crucial, this is just my best attempt at a list of traits a good shaman has or can at least emulate."
"446, got it. Well I can talk a bit more now. Actually - I just realized I don't actually know how to use this-" He peels off the pay card from his cardboard sign where it sits against the chair. "I don't usually handle money honestly, since it's dangerous to carry too much silver on you and I travel so often. Oh, that's the first big thing - offplanet travel is going to be very popular. A lot of people would probably pay just to hop up and see the starscape, once they realize that's an option. Space is a big cultural motif."
"I think it would! The rest of it - I'm not sure what'll be unexpectedly popular, having never made contact with a new world before - exotic spices, sugar and cheap meat, healing magic, fine cloth, shiny metal gadgets, immortality rings - there might be murders over those if people don't join, ironically enough - all that will go well. Most people are farmers. Most of the rest are craftsmen of some kind or another, and most of the rest of the rest are soldiers. I'm not sure you really have much need for any of those."
"Oh, it's said that there were once three races of humanity. The farmers, us, the delvers who mined ore and made machines, and the enforcers who fought invaders and crime. Enforcers all died with honor fighting dragons - or were brutal oppressors who were all justly murdered by we farmers depending on who's telling the story - delvers were scattered and shattered, and farmers slowly picked up the pieces. But I once saw a delver in a heavy suit of metal with a curious helmet that covered the face and had an odd piece sticking off the front, like an absurd tongue. From what I understood of what I saw, I think they have an - not an agreement but an understanding with outsiders. It was an odd scene, one party leaves goods lying on the ground and pounds on the great vault door, then retreats off to the surrounding hills. The delvers exit and leave baubles or metal as well, what they propose to trade for the first item, and then retreat inside. After that either the trade is made or rejected depending on what the first party takes without ever having to stand face to face. Or within bow range."
"Not very sure, honestly! Well, dragons and spirits and some or possibly most animals. There's tales of tiny aliens living in stumps and moving metal giants and living dreams that move from mind to mind and fey creatures luring people astray and a special rock where the star lords can hear you and a race of ugly Fishmen who make pacts with dragons and creatures made of living slime with odd artifacts. I've never encountered any of that personally, unlike the delver meeting place.
In a dragon-territory in the jungle, after patiently waiting for the better part of a day, an elf receives a visitor-dragon, heralded by a veritable cacophony of animal braying and other noises.
Behold! the rooster on the dragon's head crows - it is somehow obvious that the rooster and not anything else is initiating the telepathy here.
Our Benevolent Master Approaches You! The Greatness Of The Dragons Is Clear For All To See And We The Finest Specimens Of Good Beasts Selected As Few Among Many Are Humbled To Receive Their Wisdom And Guidance And We Provide Obeisance In Turn. The Speaker Of Many Ways, The One Who Will Truly Master The Great Green, The Windy And Earthen Magician, Has Claimed This Territory, Two-Legged One! They Were Previously Occupied Mediating A Dispute Among Bears, Creating Harmony With Careful Thought. They Communicate Silently With Me, The Herald, And Allow Me To Sing Their Praises And Make Their Intent Clear. The Woodsinger Has Divined A Trembling In The Spirits That Indicates A Great Change To Come, And Before Sun Rests A Strange Visitor Who Knows Proper Courtesy Arrives. The Verdant One Declares That You Have Something To Do With It And Requests That You Explain Yourself!
The Flowering Of Wisdom In Their Appreciation For The Diverse Beasts Of The World Would Be Content To Receive Tribute Of Flesh And Plantflesh Of Many Types As Well As Some Small Trinkets And Cease Their Own Hunting, Enforcing This Law Similarly Upon The Lesser Carnivores, If There Is Some Way To Ensure The Future Population Of The Jungle Remains Balanced When Food Is Plentiful And Predation Nonexistent.
Our Benevolent Lord Celebrates Your Arrival And Announces That Their Claim To This Territory Is Strong, But Rejoices When The Meeting Of Two Leads To More Things That Both Want. The Menagerie-Crown Wishes To Hear How One Would Accompish This In Greater Detail, And Also Of The Lands From Which You Hail.
This dragon (whose rooster seems to have run out of new titles for) asks more about Elentári and eventually does start 'speaking' for themself.
They are at at least half as dramatic as the rooster and have lots of questions about the wider world and other animals and offer to give the elf a tour of their territory (to show it off) and introduce them to a lot of animals and spirits. Some of their close menagerie has wandered off but there are still a couple dozen small rodents, a tusked boar, a large ram, some birds, and a black bear.
The dragon settles down back a ways, sitting on their haunches with wings folded up at their sides and front 'claws' right under their neck, like an oversized cat.
These animals are much 'quieter' than most thinkers, but still discernable. The rodents are mostly concerned about food, nesting space, and snakes. Their Lord has apparently brokered an agreement between squirrels and birds to share treespace rather than fighting over it. The birds talk loudly about things they have seen recently and about how they are very smart. The boar, Quiet Tooth, asks if the Elf has any truffles. The bear is named Dusk and only sends back sleepy acknowledgement unless asked a question.
The Elf does not have any truffles on her but if that should be in the food shipments she will make a note of it! Are the snakes not part of the awakened community here, are they going to keep on trying to eat the rodents even given food from space?
(Elsewhere, the MO with dragons is gradually shifting frame to: Vanda Nossëo would like to offer dragons tribute to honor their benevolence with light nudging about what kind of benevolence they find worthy of honor.)
They shouldn't listen to those treacherous snakes! But with meat that doesn't run away available they'll probably be fine just being their usual lazy selves. Dusk the bear agrees; Hunting is tiring and stressful.
There are other animals to meet - eagles and owls, fish and badgers. There's a sliding scale here; The birds repeat things a lot and don't show much critical thinking or learning ability. When they decide the Elf is safe to approach and land on, they all seem to get the message at once through some invisible cue, but don't show any more overt signs of hivemind-ness. The rodents act similarly. The fish and snakes are pretty much limited to wanting food, a comfortable resting spot, and not wanting to get eaten. The pack of wolves bark and bray at the dragon to stay away but allow the elf to approach and are on the much smarter end of things. Wild horses and goats seem slightly more complicated than the fish and snakes but still very dim, and the tiger the dragon introduces cracks jokes about their menagerie, calling them a walking circus and laughing, before accepting the offer of food that it doesn't have to kill.
(Dragons vary a lot in how they respond to this, but 'slightly better' is the rule. More of them actually bother to answer if they are being complimented, some of them will show off magic powers to bait more compliments. A few will accept donations of food but many are very defensive about interference in their territory and quite a few completely reject the idea of not hunting, seemingly on a 'this is the way it has always been done' line of reasoning.)
The Elf rather likes having birds land on her, although she would prefer they not land on her hair.
Hopefully after enough dragons have taken them up on their offers it will be less obvious to other dragons that "this is the way it has always been done" is a good line of argument. Elves can be patient.
In a remote, hilly region claimed by a red dragon who wants nothing to do with Vanda Nossëo save warning them from intruding on its tunnel network, there is a Delver enclave, easily found once you know where to look. While they don't have a surface city, they do have a massive steel door, well maintained, carved into the hillside. There is a dirt trail leading off to the north and another to the east, both eventually leading to human-claimed lands but both only infrequently trafficked by armed caravans.
If an envoy knocks on the great vault door and remains nearby, they refuse to come out. Only once the envoy leaves a note or something and retreats away will they emerge to look at it.
The call ends, the two Delvers take the phone and retreat inside, they call again a few minutes later. A slightly different male voice this time.
"Is your 'magic' capable of affecting things remotely? That is, is it currently affecting me or the communicator? Also, what do you wish to communicate?"
"If you represented the origin you would have begun using code phrases by now. Where do you come from? We are Mine 556. We have learned extreme caution and would like to avoid most contact with outsiders. We are generally willing to trade, and do not intend any aggressive action except in self defense."
"That makes sense. Our intentions are completely peaceful, but we can at least establish a track record as trade partners before asking you to take our word for it. Unlike other traders we don't much value physical objects. Instead we like stories - true or untrue - that help us learn about people. Will you trade us those in exchange for our goods? We usually distribute food, lights, heaters, magical contraceptives, healing objects, and other things depending on the needs of the people who will be receiving them; is there anything in particular you would like?"
"Mmh. The majority of our material situation is classified. Most stories that aren't entirely fictional could imply things about our preparations and defenses. If you demonstrate the ability to divine such information without our help that becomes irrelevant. Alternately there is pure fiction or things the surfacers would know already. We often purchase exotic food, wood and pelts and cloth, and artifacts of various makes. Filtration masks and oxygen supply systems would be valuable. I... Suppose we could try a healing object and see if it has side effects."
They have quite a network of tunnels and reinforced halls and hardpoints and boltholes down there. The largest single space is some sort of mass mausoleum divided into sections and levels, with tens of thousands of sarcophagi in rows along walls and lots of decoration. All of the outer tunnels including several that open to hidden parts of other nearby hills have traps and sensors and guard posts all over them, and the path down from the main entrance is the most heavily fortified of all.
If they can do that, they're an insurmountable threat. They probably could have gotten the old codes if they wanted to. "...Right, so all the paranoia was completely pointless. We appreciate the demonstration. I still don't think we want to invite outsiders inside. Do you want to send down more phones and talk to more people?"
Soon they are speaking to the one they were speaking to before, Security Authority Fremen Shotgun. He tells them a story about the last time the 'red menace' (the dragon) tried to raid them and got away with a few mining tools and severely injured two guards.
As well as Parts Authority Salah Crusher, who wants to know if they can create some fairly specific replacement parts with model numbers they they've been low on forever.
And Hydroponics Authority Maksin Masks, who opens with a rant about how nobody appreciates how hard it is to keep soil bacteria alive and what the lengths he has to go to with fertilizer to manage it, since they want stories that's one!
And Medical Authority Komuran Driller who would like that healing object please and then tells them about reviewing her own life extension therapies and deciding they're working just as expected, estimated 30% morbidity at 200 and 60% at 250, right along the average.
The parts Salah wants appear to mostly be various kinds of computer chips, but there's some absurdly powerful magnets and other weird stuff like laser lenses in there too.
Can they have all the stories various people tell be paid into a central mine account that is used at the authority of the Authorities?
Right, the spying capabilities. They'll use the phones only for realtime conversations then. Is there anything they want to know specifically or want to address politically?
Stories include: This one time my friend insisted we'd hit uranium but the geology is all wrong for uranium and I was right, it was sulfates! The creche minder used to make me play with all the other kids even though I just wanted to be alone, I know we are stronger together but sometimes I just want to be alone. We had a screaming argument about security spending vs expanding the mausoleum last general session, it took days to resolve, honestly are we even delvers anymore if we don't honor the dead properly??? A fictional tale about the curious miner who delved too greedily and without backup and was rescued through heroic efforts of his peers and learned to be a team player as the moral of the story. A dramatic rendition set to music of the most recent battle against the Red Menace, who was forced to flee before the might of shocksticks and shotguns!
"We do have laws against murder, rape, and kidnapping and we'd be happy to hold a population-wide vote on the matter, but... The defense agreement and resurrections are extremely appealing. But we are pretty wary of joining a federation - not to mention, if we resurrect everyone we would need to expand or leave the hold, and that would probably complicate things given that a dragon also roams this area. Not to mention that our ancestors... Cannot currently be consulted and may be offended to have joined a strange new governmental structure without their consent, as it were."
...Funnily enough, there were a whole lot of weird spaceships full of weird humanoid aliens who put the three kinds of humans down on the planet. They weren't anywhere in this world before that and they weren't anywhere in this world after a bunch of them were destroyed by unconjurable negative space in the shape of a dragon the size of Madagascar, either.
Then they can relay to the Delvers that it looks like they came from another universe originally, and they don't know which one but it doesn't seem to be one they've discovered yet, and there are no more left in this universe and a lot of them were destroyed. It is of course possible that there are still some in whatever universe they came from though.
"....So the Fall was complete after all." The Security Authority sighs. "Do you suppose we could get temporary defensive support while we continue to discuss matters with you and consider the offer to join Vanda Nossëo? We'll need a Special Session of the General Congress for discussion before the vote itself, and we can't just drop everything and start one right away anyway."
(The other three Delver enclaves that still exist in the world are following broadly similar conversation paths, if differing in the exact details. They don't seem to be in contact with each other.)
Yes, I did not mean I wished to depart this very moment. I must understand you and yours much better before I become a guest-of-sorts. ('Immigration' did not quite make sense.) Just as you have learned the proper songs to call me. I am intrigued by the hints of deep order I hear in your thoughts. Interactions between dragons are generally not orderly even when Tradition is followed. What would you ask in exchange for a lesson in such things?
Warden has no point of reference for any of this and needs things like 'the laws are very specific and written down' and 'people lie sometimes' and 'we divide responsibility for things among different people' explained.
Warden does understand that there are complex social rules that aren't the same ones dragons use at play, and keeps asking for examples and analysis of basic politeness by human and elven standards.
Yávemar is very patient about explaining all these things. The laws are specific and written down, and sometimes amended as new things come up. People lie, but when it's important there's truth magic. She has read etiquette books by several species and can recite from them to illustrate concrete examples.
A show of strength would get dragons to take you more seriously, Warden comments after learning about the practice of security fairies. Teleportation is scary but does not scan as an overwhelming power that cannot be defeated on an emotional level. That causes us to grow defensive and want to intimidate or avoid you. But a show of strength like effortlessly lifting a huge boulder would cement you as superiors in raw power and lead to greater respect.
I who oft serve as an Envoy of the dragon known as Darktooth am called Ember, o two-legged visitor. While my own mind is limited, I understand your importance. My parent-of-spirit has heard rumors from the spirits of wind and the watching owls of your arrival. Visitor from another Reality, I have come to answer your Song of Annunciation. I greet you on Darktooth's behalf.
I am pleased to meet a new mind as well. The rumors speak of a great change and strange visitors who appear and vanish as they wish, wielding powerful magic. Lord Darktooth watches many things, and has seen your (clan/web) interacting with the Humans, have seen you approach dragons as well. They have heard your claims of peaceful intent, and seen your starship high above, and concluded that you are not the Others which caused the time of woe so long ago. Lord Darktooth remembers that time personally.
I am not sure. My lord considers it a sacred secret; Part of the Test of Wisdom put forth to urge improvement in young and impulsive dragons. O Artië, I ask for myself in this case - what drives so many minds to go forth and help others? My first thought is that you expect to benefit from this, growing the structure of power that you are a part of, or that you simply Love more than your own family, as some kinds do.
Yes, the mysterious tendency of minds to create such complications as 'values' other than mere survival... I would enjoy discussing philosophy with you or yours some other time. For now, I have been bid to ask what you would ask of Darktooth, what the nature of your (web/hive) is, what your intentions are towards we, the empowered children-in-spirit, and deliver all this news. Either they or I will return to you before this day is out.
We would like to have lines of communication with all of the peoples of this world, and it seems that dragons and the animals like you that live with them are all peoples unto themselves and Darktooth one of the greatest. We have things to trade. Vanda Nossëo has many member states, whose people vote to join, and everyone can move around freely between any places that will have them to learn from and enjoy all the parts of the multiverse that appeal to them. We are construing empowered animals like you as people and are not as sure about those who haven't been empowered; I believe one intelligent swarm of rats, not belonging to a dragon's entourage but still not a typical rat family, has already moved to Vanda Nossëo. However, our normal operations include trying to displace as much meat consumption as possible and we're pushing that harder on this planet because it seems likely even unaffected animals are somewhat more important to protect than those from other biospheres.
Two hours later, an enormous flying figure swoops down from over the mountains, before landing in a loud rustle of wind and the thump of something heavy hitting the ground, hundreds of feet away. This dragon is even larger than Allmother is, a figure that might not fit down a city street.
Hello. I am called Darktooth. It is good to meet you, envoy. Whenever there is a great change in the world, we must meet it with due caution and understanding. Only a fool decides there is nothing to learn.
I have been told you have questions about our history. Ordinarily I task those who wish to learn it with a series of trials meant to shape young minds and temper the exuberance of youth with wisdom, but that is irrelevant now. Aside from your mind and essence being fundamentally different, your role is as well. I am not your elder. What do you wish to know?
As of yet I have very little perspective for how you reason and act. My song on these matters may lack clarity. This dragon's thoughts are very neat and tidy, actually, with almost none of the associative and emotional leakage every other dragon has. It goes against both our instincts and learned impulses to share knowledge freely. We conceptualize accumulated knowledge and wisdom as a Treasure, something not to be shared without cause. In this case I am willing to explain the history in question from my perspective and offer general information on other topics. Upon further thought or for some kind of payment I may offer more specific information.
I personally am approximately twenty-six thousand years old, with much of that time spent in hibernations and estivations. I have no reliable record of the origins of dragons. There are two common interpretations to the myth 'true children of Sun and Earth'. That we were created by the vast spirits of Sun and Earth, as lords, guardians, and caretakers for the lesser spirits and animals. That we evolved into the complex beings we are today over many eons, slowly gaining a stability of spirit that allows our existence in shapes that no animal could support of purely flesh.
This state of affairs with the early dragons living as they did continued for a very long time - tens of millions of years. During this time the one now called the Ruiner was the Greatest Dragon. Then the Others - who are not human but something else, colder and less emotional - appeared without warning. After a brief century-long period of scouting, the creation of cities and outposts, and skirmishes between us and their lesser vessels, they used their starships to engineer bombardment with large rocks from space, as well as inducing volcanic activity and similar things, I believe in response to escalating attacks from dragons. It was a time of great woe and immense death. At this point we did not accept humans as worthy of consideration. They were invaders who did not feel emotion in a recognizable way, automata to be destroyed. We did not understand their weapons or their reasons for such destruction. We could do very little to oppose them, and it seemed as though all would end for our kind and silence would reign forever.
The Ruiner was unmade by the pain of such loss. A being of immense power, she called forth all her 'children' - all dragons in the world - compelling us to fight at her side and empowered by a divine fury. Her rage and fury created a strength of magic like none before or since. We destroyed a great many of the Others and the Humans now living on the planet. This is a holy tragedy; She was the greatest symbol of Creation, and made herself into utter Destruction, and all the world suffered for it. We burned the Earth once again, fire and destruction reigning everywhere. However, even the Ruiner could not destroy the Others. They vanished, only to reappear with far larger starships than before. These greater ships stuck out not with beams of radiative light or flocks of guided missiles or metal projectiles, but with incomprehensible weapons that seemed to shred space and matter on a fundamental level that I still do not understand. Even this could not slay the Ruiner, though it drove her into the burning interior of the Earth.
We were utterly defeated, and the world burned around us.
And then they left.
I was not there to see what happened next, like every other surviving dragon I had retreated deep underground in the hope of safety after the Ruiner's fall. It is impossible to tell for certain how long our estivation was, but it was surely thousands of years. When we emerged, the Others in their starships were nowhere to be seen, and the remaining humans, the farmers, were scratching their way through life using simple stone and bone tools, while the delvers continued desperately maintaining equipment they no longer knew how to repair. Nature had largely recovered, in a different shape than before but recognizable and comforting. Dragons were ascendant once again, with many births and much development and life occurring since then.
They hated we dragons, acting with fear and anger whenever one was seen. We dragons also hated humanity, symbol of our ruination. The humans slowly grow more numerous and sophisticated, with the discoveries of the use of fire, of clay, of slave-animals, and then metal. It seemed clear to us that the arc of history was aimed at an inevitable confrontation; The humans would create ever greater machines, using the natural world to their advantage and destroying nature to suit their own whims, as the consummate tool-makers they are. Eventually we would be driven back and exterminated one by one, piecemeal. Matters would come to a head in the next century or two. Then, however, you arrived. With this perhaps... An understanding and a way forward that does not require yet more destruction.
While the Others were their lords, the three castes of humanity were complicit. They were pilots and soldiers none the less, going about their work with purpose and eagerness. They are the ones who built the cities and wielded those guns and clear-cut the forests and consider dragonflesh a rare delicacy.
My own plan if the situation became critical was to leave. I do not care to take revenge on humanity. It would accomplish nothing and only invite further revenge. I crave new discoveries, and I recognize that sometimes there is nothing that can make things right. Thus I have been studying the stars, and propulsion.
...You expressed curiosity in the way of altering animals.
The mere act of living near or deliberately singing knowledge to an animal tends to make it more aware of the world and all its possibilities by degrees. The minds of animals are ..... Compound. The minds of dragons are not mere flesh, but composed of both flesh and spirit. When mature, the spirit can in some cases interact and operate on its own, growing beyond the flesh. Animals are similar. They are supported by their inner spirits - patterns in the invisible layer of the Onesong that interact with brains. Animals' spirits often have a connection to many animals at once. If a dragon speaks to an animal, spirits tend to pay more attention to it, 'inhabit' it if you will, which strengthens the higher functions of such a mind. Complex animal thought is the thinking of mind-in-spirit tightly bound with mind-in-flesh. Either alone is far lesser. This can manifest in family structures with animals that tell stories to each other, hive-like behavior, the conceptualization of 'rumors' spreading throughout a species with no direct communication, or in a sort of ancestral memory.
This is my own interpretation after very long observation and not a few experiments; I state it as a likely suspicion rather than a fact.
There is another way, fundamentally different in kind. 'Enkindling' is the art of constructing or grafting a new, artificial spirit for an animal, with accompanying bodily alterations. It is a deep and subtle art, but Enkindled animals are truly their own individuals, unlike the good beasts of the land who are simply tightly entangled with wider spirits.
Extremely so. And yet matters here are very important, and such explorations can be deferred.
'What things are likely to be good ways for us to help dragons flourish without sacrificing anyone else's well-being' is not something that is easy to answer. I would first hear what ways you help other beings flourish, and what constitutes a sacrifice to well-being.
Well, most planets we find have humans or species that are mostly like humans on them. We alleviate material scarcity, encourage them to travel or emigrate if they don't find their home satisfactory, teach them things that they want to know, encourage them to join Vanda Nossëo entirely so that we can construe protecting them from outside threats as part of our mandate, and solve any natural disasters or other issues that are endangering them, so they can all be safe and free and have opportunities to grow. But we won't help them make war on their neighbors, or let them join us while they keep people imprisoned or enslaved who would prefer to be elsewhere that we can offer.
Darktooth sends 'I am considering this carefully' for a while.
There are cases where our kind can trade or interact constructively with your kind, but I do not think they are the norm. I think we are more flexible than the average dragon thinks we are, but I am under no illusions. There will be shock and alarm at the debasement of Shiny Things; But while the best treasure is truly rare, the allure of gold and gems is baked within our natures. That will be minor in comparison to the rest. For a diehard few, any cooperation with your federation will be an affront against our history, an unnatural perversion. Something to kill over, or die over. For a larger minority, the provision of meat and the obvious desire to see hunting reduced will parse as a similar debasement, with various sorts of justifications. A cunning plan to weaken us, make us reliant for an inevitable future betrayal, perhaps.
Preventing natural disasters, teaching lessons of far-off things, the ability to see new lands and perhaps even claim new territories, will be fulfilling to many...
Are the humans of this world likely to join your federation?
If a group of humans joined Vanda Nossëo, we'd want to be confident that their borders weren't under active dispute, but then if a dragon attacked humans within those borders we would bring them back to life and put the dragon on trial, and if the dragon were killed in self-defense we would probably also try the killers in case they had other motives but they would most likely avoid punishment. Ideally someone would call for help and the dragon would be harmlessly removed. If people left their Vanda Nossëo homes to invade a dragon's territory and killed the dragon they would be tried and convicted, and the dragon restored to life at their expense; if they failed their loved ones might or might not bring them back, but the dragon, acting in self-defense and not belonging to Vanda Nossëo, would be left alone.
Your magic seems fundamentally different from ours; When there is some trust, there may be great secrets to be discovered in the mingling. Trust... Fundamentally, you appear capable of doing whatever you want. None of us will like that, but we will... Accept it in time. After all, it is futile to complain about an irrefutable fact. Whatever we do from here, your presence will be regarded as interference by some. I am not yet sure how to sing a message such that you are a blessing, rather than meddling Others come to infest the planet once again.
I do not have a clear sense of what you will consider unconscionable offenses or what you will consider meaningless peasantries. I am a dragon who has never entered a city or spoken to more than one human at a time. Or for more than a very short time.
My thoughts thrown forth for consideration. I am considering a state that does as little as it possibly can.
As for justifications... Some combination of:
Dragons are (cool/inspiring/majestic) with powerful magic, we would be honored to have them join the federation.
We would like to trade magic and knowledge and stories for exciting Treasure from beyond the very universe!
The war with the Others was a great tragedy; we will fight together against any such Others who wish to trample nature.
This is the way the world will be; We can resist it as a rock resists the ocean, or we can join it and adapt to the ever-changing future in the image of Water. Do you wish to become sand against the march of time?
Pragmatic reasoning; Given that you are here and want us to join under whatever conditions or rules this means, what benefits can we extract for such a deal?
There is not a state. There are the dragons, we who consider ourselves lords of all we survey. There is Tradition, including the tradition of the Grand Moot when matters of great import are discussed, which is not a law at all. Past Moots have only defined the new Tradition. I would not call it a state. However, if we are to form a state, it must be at such a Grand Moot. That is the only acceptable time for a great change in dragonkind.
All adult dragons are expected to fly forth and attend. (One is an adult dragon if one is capable of flight.) Juveniles cannot easily come to the Moot Island and would be in immense danger around so many adults. It is also a highly stressful event with our largely solitary nature and only being called in trying times.
Only one parent will take custody of an egg. The involvement will vary considerably between dragons, from merely teaching them lessons during the period they are conscious but unhatched, to actively guarding and feeding them for their first year or two. Taking too much care of one's young is seen as risking making them weak and reliant on outside aid. Never so much as a human child is cared for. I conclude this question is relevant to statehood somehow.
For that matter, the spirits of the land and of certain animals have as much agency as hatchlings. Those, I think, would largely vote in favor on the argument 'nothing will be allowed to eat you'. Even as this provides a complication in getting dragons to accept such a state. I have heard the animal followers of that amusing beast-befriending dragon to the west discussing such things already, apparently unconcerned with the notion of restricting how many children are born.
If the dragons rejected a state but the animals and spirits still wished to form one, that could be....... Troublesome. I do not think it likely; The very notion of a state will be difficult to express fully. Perhaps some groups of animals should receive one vote, if one spirit is their animating force.
Regarding the confusion of others. It is possible to create a magical announcement that would reach all spirits, aware animals, and dragons, even hatchlings, with the cooperation of enough dragons at a Grand Moot.
You have spoken to the Allmother, correct? I wish to speak to them on this matter as well and perhaps consider for a time before continuing.
Do you have members who are physically imposing and not humanoid? If a representative at a hypothetical Grand Moot is called for, such a person would be best.
Upon further forensics work, it turns out there is exactly one live 'Enforcer', the larger and stronger version of the human race, left in the world. She is covered in tattoos and scars, sleeping on a rock shelf, mostly naked, inside of what appears to be the volcano lair of a huge dragon magical enough to be unconjurable. There are only a few other living things inside the volcano lair, each in a room in a long spiral path down with a pile of treasure, like some sort of video game gauntlet.
If they approach the peak of the volcano, they will be greeted by... A lone black rat whose thoughts are clear and sharp.
Oh, visitor. You now speak to Never-Ever, but a humble Enkindled servant of the Many-Times-Burned. You stand before the lair of an ancient dragon. The fourth lair, the proving-pit. Beware: Many enter, and few leave. We say this not to threaten, only to advise.
Why have you come here?
She is a guardian. My creator has decreed that strength is above all else. Those who wish to speak to the second-eldest dragon and ask for a boon must prove themselves in combat, descending through the chambers and facing their guardians, or by serving as guardians and accumulating sufficient victories. You need not end their lives to continue; Merely defeat them. If you descend, you will come before Last as the penultimate guardian.
This humble rat observes that the great and storied Vanda Nossëo may be able to grant the wish that lord Many-Times-Burned has always refused, no matter the victories and treasure Last accumulates to purchase it with.
The restoration of a lost race. Such a thing has seemed so terribly unlikely, a hope held as a dying ember in roiling ocean, but it may yet come to pass.