“Ambiguity makes sand of knowledge.”-Connisel Frena Frena Pjoßtet, The Relationships Between the Hiek Machine and the Mind
Eihks poled himself along with Lusendrad, not too far behind the man he understood was called Trehal, in the middle of something between a protective convoy and a custody guard. The little happy-worry of once more donning his documentarian’s hat glazed his brain with excitement.
Many of the gang wore garb that was somewhere between rope and velvet, which suggested further use of the ubiquitous plant life afflicting the region. Skinwise, an average Rhaagmini who didn’t know better might mistake their complexion for the dark earth tones suggestive of Cambrian ethnicity. Their height lay considerably below his two hundred thirty two centimeters, yet that didn’t seem to bother them as much as the fact of being found wandering. Yes, a couple seemed a bit titchy at how far up they had to look to meet his gaze, but not really fearful. Trehal didn’t come across as putting on a brave mask either.
Good; he preferred to be feared strictly no more and no less than when he encouraged that attitude, and he didn’t care to encourage it often.
Precisely what he and Ktsn had agreed to do in their company was a bit vague, to be sure. He’d definitely heard something to the effect of “Come with us!” though, and if they got escorted to town then that was fine with him.
To his… not quite astonishment, but very definitely surprise, the scout or whatever he was spoke something not too far gone from a dialect of Loonmith. It was a strange quirk about the gem, how certain things and certain phenomena reincarnated in vaguely familiar forms all over creation. He definitely didn’t have any gift-of-gab or other panlinguistics, so unless there was an undetectable speech magic on Trehal-and-crew’s end, it was actually recognizable. He had competence in a non-infinite number of languages, and yet managed to pretty much understand the speech or writing or pheromones or whatever in about five percent of the facets he visited, even having never before set foot on their soil.
Hopefully, when this publication went out to the wide world, he wouldn’t have to fend off human supremacists again, or hit them with a stick on the fora every time they started spouting their “look how many pockets of humans there are, obviously humans are superior to every other thinking race” nonsense. It was miraculous happenstance, perhaps, but those who simply celebrated the ubiquity of things that resembled human culture WITHOUT CONSIDERING THE POSSIBLE UNDERLYING CAUSES detracted from Eihks’s wonder.
In this case, miraculous happenstance meant him receiving an automatic, cross-grained grasp of the local language. Yes, he sounded like an unforgivably thick-accented outlander to this group of people, in all likelihood. One step at a time.
“We will go now back and find that these can stay with where the other fighters,” Trehal said – as best as Eihks could tell.
It was a very good thing that dealing in tongues was something with which he had such extensive experience. The only thing more maddening than complete non-understanding was that verge of understanding at the crossroads of a dozen ambiguous translations.
“No!” shouted one of the others at the front – a woman with long braided hair that was wrapped around her armpits like some kind of fashionable backpack straps. “What rebels find do? Blood?”
She looked back at Eihks again.
“Blood is rebel?” she asked.
He intuited that she was asking about the source of his gory appearance.
“Animal!” he said – or maybe failed at saying. “Dangerous, and it wanted to hurt my friend.”
He made a tiny sideways swipe with the top of Lusendrad’s staff, noting the way that the motion drew the attention of his other companions. Two of them brought their spears partway down, the left hesitating, the right starting to evoke the curious water magic that affected their weapons’ points. When they noted that his behavior served the point of illustration, they relaxed. Just a bit.
The woman’s expression, unlike Trehal, more clearly stated that either he was spewing mad-babble or whatever he was getting across didn’t make sufficient sense for her ease of mind. He thought about it for a second. Then, he tucked his walking stick under his arm and tried using his hands and fingers to imitate the predator’s mouthpart structure, growling.
“Udnura!” the woman said, looking up at him with her eyes flashing.
One of the people following the pair of himself and his karkshesh friend hooted forward, and the woman repeated the phrase. After they clambered up a short rise in the terrain, she turned to the pioneer once more. She managed a remarkable reproduction of the sound the sillywolf thing had made mid-pounce.
Eihks tried several enthusiastic body-language forms of “yes” and they managed to come to some kind of concord that he had indeed run into the “udnura” creature she described.
“Where?” she asked.
Eihks pointed back at the stand where they’d find most of a dead sillywolf approximation.
“Awhlensa, Horu, go see!” she said, pointing at two of their companions.
“What if is dangerous?” asked a person he couldn’t spot. “Might one not rebel? What of strange creature? It may harm you!”
“Fine. One of you, then! But one of you must check. Go now, come soon!”
His brain was working overtime at filling in the gaps, trying its best to plug in the most likely contextualizations of various verbal linkages and structures. Long ago, he’d invested the time and effort of learning Loonmith the hard and involved way. Had they spoken an entirely new language, well… He and Ktsn would have to sit down, knuckle down, and chow down on the wonders of total immersion as long as it took to get the picture, without aid. Assuming he had anything to say about the subject, of course, and he did. In this case, though, he was literally comprehensively fluent in the tongue they were speaking. His experience was just with a cracked-mirror version of it.
Give it a few days of marketplace dealing or just mingling with locals. He’d be jabbering away like he was born in the neighboring countryside before too long – though with a chewy accent, at least for a while.
“Find you any rebels?” Trehal pressed.
“Sorry?” Eihks asked.
As either Awhlensa or Horu moved away back the direction from which they’d come, and Horu or Awhlensa tried to step in and fill the space of two people, Trehal turned a bit to Mr. Richard.
“Rebels? Do you know anything?” he asked.
“Rebels? I do not understand! I am from far off!”
Eihks held up his palms, trying to placate or at least suggest that his was the burden of those hailing from out-of-the-nation, if not hailing from out-of-the-culture.
“I hope so,” the man proclaimed, and they continued on their merry way.
Oh, dear. Political unrest, then? Always, always a good thing.
A quick stop allowed the explorers to clean the worst of the somewhat-dry blood from their stiff clothing, but otherwise the bunch moved at a fair pace. Eventually they encroached on the village’s shadow.
Eihks’s eyebrows did a little dance.
The amount of creativity that could be brought to bear by those with sufficient motivation often spoke louder about their technological advancement than any display of mastery over advanced chemistry or ontological delving. These people had little to leverage besides a tremendous quantity of extra-large grasses, some infrequent hardwood features, animal products, and materials stolen from the earth’s depths that were used on a VERY select basis. They wasted little.
A lot of the use of bamboo canes actually employed a sort of glue cementing them together, and that stopgap-looking choice was fairly representative of the whole panorama. Every single building was a showcase of making do – long bound-together walls, a sort of waxed papyrus for covering flat surfaces where parchment or leather weren’t needed, carved signage upheld with structurally efficient shapes that could probably have hoisted Eihks himself without difficulty, pens for livestock, walkways, and gutters.
By the Way, the gutters.
Actually, come to think of it, at least a significant portion of the “gutters” qualified more as outdoor plumbing pipes. They ran absolutely everywhere. A spiderweb of putty-insulated woody aqueous transit gave occasional gurgles as water flowed from one place to another to another. Notably, the most frequent employment of metals and other processed material that he could pick out tended to be part of pumps or valves, clustered by arteries of powered axles.
He suspected they were tied in some way to the abundant if sometimes subtle uses of water magic.
With the exception of those pumps, all the village had the air of being on the very brink of collapse. If he wasn’t mistaken, it would still be standing five generations from now, with the same ramshackle appearance.
Looking around, he found not a few of the residents returning his voracious gaze. They seemed to live a life of industry on the edge of agricultural revolution. Hounds that lay somewhere between warthog and insect trotted around with the assurance of guards at their stations. Some souls prepared food and charcoal, others were in the middle of clothing-related maintenance, and yet more hopped around different stalls and storefronts. A fist of pastoral types stopped herding their livestock down an adjoining street for a moment before continuing with loud proclamations. A trio of children dared each other to go poke the strange visitors. They got an easy grin from him; that, more than anything, scared them out of four or five years of growth – though, in honesty, he couldn’t be sure it wasn’t Ktsn’s own showcased teeth.
“Come! Seneschal to speak with you,” the woman who’d directly questioned him said, moving with purpose toward what might have been a tenement or function building. Trehal preceded them, then the woman entered, then Eihks ushered Ktsn ahead of him.
She gave him a look accusing him of treating her as something other than an animal, and reminding that they were ostensibly supposed to be treating her as an animal.
Eihks looked left. No stables.
Eihks looked right. No hitching posts.
He glanced at her once again and repeated the gesture with a slash of a shallow smile on the side of his face.
I said, my good karkshesh, that “I will not gainsay people who assume you’re a simple animal, but I won’t confirm or encourage such thought either.” You’ll note that nothing was mentioned about how to act in this sort of scenario. I’m not putting you out of my sight now.
An entryway permitted her, then him, inside – in his case, after ducking just a little to avoid the doorframe’s top. They entered a sparingly-furnished room, whose small width might have been interpreted as symbolic of either a chamber of tremendous importance or a place that deserved little allowance and so received none. Of course, for all they knew, the locals might have a tradition requiring a room’s size directly correlate to how much bread the architect ate just before hatching floor plans. Such discovery; the pioneer’s blessing and burden.
“Why has this thing come with you?” asked Trehal. His spear leaned against the side of a shortened secretary desk, and he had paused in the middle of rifling through papyrus and parchment to look back around at them. He warily and absently held a sheaf of pages in the crossbars of the window’s admitted light, glaring at Ktsn and her feet. The karkshesh’s stance and length meant she took up a larger area than all three humans combined. Her head turned from side to side. Her eyes flowed around, taking in the sights, pearls adorned with rings of not-quite-russet.
“My companion goes with me,” Eihks replied. “Almost lost her before. Important.”
Trehal and the woman shared an instant of wordless discussion.
“Curious,” she said.
“Ganlitāt, what do you think?” Trehal asked.
Ganlitāt – assumed to be the name of the woman, and not the somewhat similar Loonmith word for “firewood” – grunted once.
“If he was a rebel, he would have either remained hidden or tried to take a hostage. You would make a good hostage. Though maybe he is crazy.”
Ganlitāt skewered the pioneer with a javelin of a glare. Trehal’s expression remained close to impassive. He spread out a couple of documents, looking between them and the intruders.
“I do not recognize you,” he rumbled at Eihks.
He contemplated the karkshesh.
“I also have never seen this thing’s like before.”
One document had a shotgunning of wickedly pointed script across it. He added something to it in two places, then pulled the other closer.
“Who are you?” he asked. “What are you doing here?”
Two of the more profound questions one could ask a thinking creature. Somewhat unfair as well, since many people went their whole lives not knowing the answers.
“I am Eihks. This here is Ktsn.”
A forehead-thumb to the curious man.
“We have come from far away, and hopefully we can find new lives in this land.”