Dec 02, 2022 2:24 AM
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"Oh, ask away," replies Aelea, "everyone here is used to curiosity. 'Seer' is kind of a technical term - they do have some divination magic, but mostly what they do is - find things out? Most of our research here is Spring, of course, but there's also some Day - less than there used to be, though."

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". . . What do Spring and Day mean, to you? Maybe this chain is being obfuscatory; Spring and Day are just a season and an angle of the sun, to me."

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"Ah, you probably have different words for the Realms of Magic? I know the Grendel call them something different. Spring is the magic of life - growth, decay, healing, poison, all that good stuff. Day is more, hmm, logic, cleanliness, purification, facts? We'll be using a little Day magic for the decontamination, we have a special room we've constructed that lets us do it cheaply rather than having to run everything through a ritual on the regular. Much more pleasant, too - Day can be a bit... harsh."

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"Ah.   . . . I'm really not versed in magic under any convention. My people were recently conquered. Our conquerers physically destroyed all our historical records that they could find, and stamped out our practice of teaching children to read - very successfully. I didn't start learning to read until this year. Actually, until a few months ago I didn't know - " she stutters to a halt " - a lot of things."

Tollee forces down a twitching leg, the phantom of an urge to buck and run. Please let Tuvien's bloviating about the relationship between human magic and symbol be basically correct.

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"Oh no!" Aelea seems genuinely, heartbrokenly distressed about that. "We will find a way to help your people. Can your friend bring some of us back with you? Our people taught the Imperial Orcs how to read and do magic - we'd be very happy to do the same for you! At least if your people can, like, promise not to be actively hostile to the Empire, I guess. And I think we'd come teach you to read anyway."

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. . .

"My friend could very easily do that. We still have adults who remember how to read and write in our tongue from before the war - it's those younger than fifteen or so who have been forbidden to hear a word about it - but we would be grateful to learn yours, too."  

". . . I actually came here to offer the renewed allyship of the ferryshaft with any humans who would return and help us throw off our conquerors. There were humans on our island, not so many generations ago. We were their prized - steeds - and the beneficiaries of many of their crafts, and - well. My friend and I have made what we could of the histories we found, and ferryshaft seem to have performed other magical functions to the humans, too. We just haven't been able to figure out what they were. I doubt my people would remember how to do any of that, now, but with your help and more time to study the histories - and there are likely other histories we haven't uncovered yet, too, buried all over the island, and we've hardly cracked most of the runes in the ones we have - we might be able to learn how to do those things, again."

"There is a military fortress on our island - extremely secure - that used to be the humans' stronghold. My people used it in the last war, but since, it has been locked, and the key - assuming you know what that is? - has been lost. It would be your exclusive province if we could find the key, or if you could find another way to get in."

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"Oh... Virtues, you grow study enough to ride? You would make an awful lot of people extremely happy... I can just see the entire expeditionary strength of Highguard lining up to do whatever you want them to do, so long as you'd send some of your kind as mounts when it was done.

We used to have horses, you see - I don't know if you know what that is, they're a bit like zebra but much sturdier, or oxen but much more fleet of foot. But they died out centuries ago, and the Highborn haven't quite recovered from it since.

Archaeology and the unlocking of strange magical powers, as well as a people eager to learn to read, and a mysterious fortress that needs to be studied to unlock? We might just leave Zenith to the Varushkans and emigrate.

I must get you to the magi, and they will probably want to get you to Anvil, if you can stay that long; then the generals will curse our names as we take half the force they needed for the season's campaigns, but I can't see how anyone could deny you, with such temptations on offer!"

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Tollee -

- is a little crestfallen (how scrawny do I look?), and supposes she will just have to bulk up, then -

- doesn't sense any insincerity. She feels like she's just run the whole way from Groth to the summer feeding grounds. Thoughts tumble over each other in her head like Volontaro storm clouds, racing to verbalization.

"I . . . express wholehearted enthusiasm for this plan. Are these magi at the - Shatterspire - too? I've never heard of a horse, or a zebra, or an ox. What were they like? Were they intelligent?"

(She decides that this is not the exact particular moment to clarify that she is full-grown, and pretty bulky for a female, and males aren't much bigger. She knows her kind are stronger than they look, and anyway, she's seen the human drawings of ferryshaft carrying humans easily.)

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"Oh, sorry, I suppose this must be a bit much for you, too!

Yes, we have a couple of magi left - they're the politicians, rather than the discoverers. I'm afraid this sounds like you are going to end up dealing with politics...

It's, uh, people argue about how intelligent the horses were; zebra and oxen are animals. Both are hoofed quadrupeds; zebra are black-and-white striped and rather fast and skittish, oxen are large, strong, relatively slow and mostly brown-ish. Neither of them do very well around here, I'm afraid."

The glimmering tower on the higher slopes is intermittently visible through the trees.

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Tollee eyes the approaching tower with furtive interest.

Politics. So she has a fight. Not a victory, not necessarily a possible victory, but a fight, here. A searing glow of terrible contingency injects her.

She supposes it's no wonder Lidian's former human population preferred ferryshaft, if they were used to being carried around by slow or stupid creatures. Only -

"And the horses, physically?"

She reminds herself that she doesn't actually know what other mounts Lidian's humans had access to, formerly, or whether they came from this place at all. Say -

"And say, what is the name of this place? Whatever nested set of domains it seems appropriate to name to someone from another world. My world is called Lidian - my friend, who is more traveled than me" - understatement, and Tuvien's hardly even been anywhere - "tells me that it is an island, that it is small relative to all the other places he's been. There are political domains within it, but my people are seasonal migrants who don't have any particular name for the territories where we live. Or, at least," - it occurs to her, and she chooses to mention - partly for the benefit of her new possible-allies, impeccably projecting the impression of simply happening to realize a fact - and wincing internally at the who-knows-how-long of this stony-faced not-wheedling ahead - "they haven't called the places we live anything except the Summer and Winter Feeding Grounds as long as I've been alive to listen."

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"Everyone has their own theory about the horses," replies Aelea cheerfully. "Some say they were just stronger, faster, sleeker oxen; some that they were fully people, and spoke just as we do, and were perhaps more Virtuous; there are some ludicrously over-muscled caricatures that can't be right, and quite a lot of pictures that are clearly bad reconstructions from skeletons, of which we have a few.

You are in the lands of Shatterspire - the Spire of Shattered Art Reforged, to give it its full name - in the region of Tomari, the territory of Redoubt, the nation of Urizen, the Empire known elsewhere as the Casinean or Catazzari Empire.

We don't actually have a name for the whole continent, although we know of several others, nor for the entire world."

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After a few rounds of verbal rehearsal and confirmation, Tollee is confident that her memory has retained all the names. Her eyes flick to the tower ahead with increasing frequency.

"Why name the region of Tomari? Some geographical separation?

The reasons for the rest seem clear to me - the Shatterspire seems more or less the domain of one organization, and 'territory', 'nation', and 'Empire' the chain is translating to me well enough -  those are political."

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