Cultivar Transplantation

<< Revenant Faith and Foreign Pilgrimage


-Opening line of the Dacsar Sun campaign script, for the role-playing game Banana Ache

Eihks was a good listener, and loved good stories. He’d collected them from around the vast planetarium of existence over his years of exploring the gem, like the shining treasures they were. He’d heard many that told of exceptional exploits and unfathomable places. Not a couple of those were from his own experiences – discovering Lusendrad came to mind.

Ironically, it was the simpler, mundane sort of yarn that he most enjoyed; not the framing of an epic, but a journey through someone’s life’s footsteps, or slime trail, or psy-pulses, or what-have-you.

When his karkshesh guest began to speak, she had him rapt and focused to the near exclusion of all else.

“I was born to a wealthy farming family,” she said. Her cadence was familiar; that of a person ordering words even as they spoke them aloud. The part-lidded eye on the facing side of her head angled somewhat away, ignoring the novelty of her surroundings in favor of the past’s quagmire. Her mouth showed both sharp outer and blunt inner teeth, and he noticed that her tongues occasionally ran across each other. With her arms draped backward over the trunk of her body and her legs pulled up like a resting hunting cat, it was actually a very striking scene of storytelling. Eihks saved the image for later, along with the several other sensory recordings he’d snagged of the woman. She had a naturally composed personality, and it made her every action seem carefully orchestrated.

“We live… I lived with them on the outer edge of Goskec Tktl, one of the smaller villages of the northern continent’s western lobe. Gegaunli saw to it that two brothers and two sisters graced my parents, besides myself. Considering that they possessed and took good care of almost half again as much land as their best competition, they were blessed on every conceivable level. Monetarily, industrially, filially. They made sure that I and my siblings grew up knowing the value of hard work, and being provided the best tutelage they could secure. Learning is one of the better investments one can make.”

“I noticed you have a very precise and proper diction,” Eihks observed. It got a small humor-expression from Ktsn, a rattling together of her hands’ claws.

“‘A good speaker is worth as much as a hundred veteran hunters,’” she replied. “Ryodket was an excellent thinker, but an even better poet. My family has long valued those who can use language as both a chisel and a canvas.”

“Fascinating. I’m also fond of wordsmith talent. Ah, apologies. Interruptions will be minimized. Or at least, I’ll try.”

Her two front feet rubbed against each other, an insect dry-firing musical notes.

“I grew up quite fast. When I reached egg-age, I discovered an interest in botany, and not simply agriculture. Before too long, our home had a pot on nearly every flat surface.”

She stopped again, and he thought the way her ears flicked suggested some amount of mischievousness.

“I… like plants. They do not need us, necessarily, but it is a good thing when they are guided and cared for. A lot of afternoons were spent hunting through the woods and marshes for new and interesting things. It helped me to establish fair skill with the sling, while finding and bringing back food.”

Ah; a pre-industrial sixgunner. Very useful talent.

“Then, after some time, I discovered the joy of reading treatises – on weather and Gegaunli and thought, but mostly on plants, and sometimes poetry. So when there was money to spare, that was where it often went. Much of what I brought in by my labor went to the family’s needs, but a little that was left over was mine.”

A faraway look.

“For years it was a good life. Tend to the orchards and plots. Try growing pretty or curious plants, and turn the successes into poultices or poisons. Read, and read some more. Every eighth or tenth day, go into the village and barter; meet new people. Occasionally.”

She blinked at him and he blinked back. Those exterior arrowhead teeth silently scissored as their owner’s ears swatted invisible flies.

“I understand the necessity of associating with people, and finding someone with the same interests is a beautiful thing, but talking with others just for the sake of talking has never been an attractive prospect. Unless, of course, they are attractive themselves.”

The impression of a blush came over the woman. Eihks managed a smile.

“Hey, I understand. I’ve screwed up type two Willabarm events myself. Maybe not many, but on an amazing level when I do.”

At her blank look, he added, “I mean, interactions between entities. ‘Entities’ in this context means… agh. Never mind, ignore me, sorry.”

She did, after a moment.

“Finally, my family decided I was old enough to be joined with the mate that they had selected for me, and they began making plans.”

All four of her nostrils flared; her eyes seemed to widen marginally as their skin stretched forward.

“Now, I myself had been interested in the prospect of writing a treatise for some time, and had contacted a few of the scholars at Drolmak. The university there has more knowledge than all the rest of the world combined.”

As an exhaled breath gave her time to segue, Eihks cobbled together this place for which he had little more than a name. A tiered cylindrical exterior of rough-hewn stone with minimal decoration and maximal load-bearing efficiency. The interior: a sea of scrolls of various qualities and sizes, cubbyholed around vast reservoirs of open space, with catawampus scratchy-font directories. Karkshes curled up on beds and walking in brisk bursts of inquisitive motivation, perusing the preserved sciences. Tapers in lanterns. Silence like an empty cathedral, but for the rustle of paper and cloth.

Yeah, he could picture Ktsn wandering the halls with worn-soft gauze wrapping her feet and a loose-fitting jacket.

“My interest was in large part because of the accidental forming of a… theory, of sorts. For a while, you see, I had a small clover in a glass jar by the window. It was a special plant I had not found more than twice before, and that meant I wanted it protected. I reasoned that turning a jar upside-down, and putting a pad of dirt under it to accept water, should have kept it from being pest-ridden. I had never seen anyone do such a thing before, and decided it might be useful. But instead, the plant died!”

She saw him leaning forward, and cut herself short.

“After a while of trying new things with other similar plants, it became clear that the problem was something to do with air. It was as though the air itself grew poisonous over time, and the plants were suffocating. I hoped to…”

A flashback to the house, and the broken jars along one side. Ooooohhhhh.

That was the moment, Eihks thought later, when he both fell into a bleeding-heart sorrow at the destruction – even if temporary – of that which one valued most, and found a fellow-traveler down the paths of academia.

“You see,” she said, words accelerating like she was tripping and falling down a hillside, “Cursog Lmrk Entpat was one of the best mates I could desire, a farmer whose skill with coaxing his family’s ground to yield was well-known. I suppose I DO still want to be mated to him in due time, in a sense. But to propose my theory and get it formally recognized, and have others learn from what I had learned, I would need to spend a year at the school, and my father simply thought that would not do, and it would not have been possible to maintain my family’s holdings at the same time as proving myself at Drolmak, and there was no talking to them, so I left home and made my own dwelling and devoted more time and effort to ritually categorizing my discoveries and oh Gegaunli-”

If tear ducts had been part of her physiology, she would likely have been crying by then. Anger and frustration might have convinced her to rise and back away from Mr. Richard, but instead another force intervened.

To make the stuff of legend shall two components come together in one effigy. The wills of many malevolences shall shatter on the wills of timelessness. Fortune will seek to answer bad with good. Good and bad will commingle and birth many inconvenient children. This is the thin-skinned sheet of a leaf, torn but still worthwhile as fragile papyrus.

The voice erupting from the karkshesh’s throat seemed to abuse her whole body. It was a binocular rivalry, with the mundane Ktsn sitting there and speaking strange words, and an identically-built but differently-spirited Ktsn perfectly overlaid, channeling inspiration or something from elsewhere. Then she suddenly slumped, slack-muscled and partly insensate, as though someone had slipped her a potent depressant.

Well, that was fortunate. Eihks had been starting to worry about her rambling emotional turmoil, but an act of God – or an Old – evidently saved him the trouble of interjecting. He was very truly blessed.

“Oh… oh, no, it happened again,” she moaned, hands up by her teeth. “I do not know what…”

Eihks bent over to her, his own hand down by hers.

Whatever that had been, THAT display was very, very strange. Foretelling, or forthtelling perhaps, in an uncontrolled environment. No expert systems or other computational resources to assess it for compares and guess how hard it would be to match up to quantifiable events – at least, not yet. Magical effects? If so, then whatever Hiek machines powered that magic weren’t a sort that the explorer could identify. Some form of really strange tuning field immersion, maybe, centered on the woman and attuned to gestalts more than to matter.

“Ktsn Wdondf Daephod,” Eihks pronounced with utmost care. “Is this something you’ve done before?”

Time ceased. Then: “Once. Today.”

Eihks may have lost all sensation in his nerve endings, but his mind insisted he still felt his every hair rising as he spelled out a thought in glowing brushed-metal mental letters.


“I am sorry,” the woman said, compressing and folding in on herself. “I am not as eager to continue with my story as I had suspected.”

He stared at her, curling up like a tiny infant in some burrowing creature’s litter. After a second, he couldn’t keep himself from loosing that barking honk that was his laughter. Not the kind of half-mad jag that sometimes swept him along, and to which he’d subjected her outside, but the sort of thing that got her attention regardless. A leg pushed itself out of the one-body dogpile of jointed limbs and fuzzy trunk, and her head rose, anticipatory.

“Oh, you don’t feel eager any more?” he demanded. “How dare you become capricious and reluctant now, after what I’m certain has been the single most harrowing day of your life?”

He didn’t wave so much as swat at the air. If it was a tad shaky, who would notice?

“Don’t trouble yourself about it. In fact, that isn’t a suggestion; that’s a command. There are any number of sources that will tell you how the quantity and quality of stress you’ve endured can break many thinking creatures. Learning all that you’ve learned today has to at least have encroached on the limits of your flexibility.”

A wistful smile cracked his half-sarcastic face.

“For that matter, you’ll probably have the chance to read certain literature which claims that simply learning certain ‘unclean and forbidden knowledge’ is sufficient to destroy the mind.”

“Really?” floated a faintly serious and curious inquiry.

“That’s what the in-question literature says,” Eihks confirmed, adopting a wistful scowl instead. “For my part, I think any such writings have always been matters of foolishness. Learning and knowing is always better than the alternative.”

She adopted a quiet once more, the kind of quiet which intimated the teetering of a decision after some hard thought.

“Has there been any literature on Thomas the Librarian?” she asked.

Eihks had been waiting for that topic to resume, but he still needed to walk around it a couple of times and determine the best angle of approach.

“Yes. Not that much on him, specifically, but there is also material on what he actually is. Take a look at this.”

As he stood up, he asked, “By the way, are you interested in eating more?” At her sudden agitation, he made placating gestures. “Don’t worry about leftovers. I’ll be happy to leave it out, but it won’t be wasted regardless.”

Although spills and minor messes are to be cleaned up when, as, and how I see fit, with the greatest imaginable prejudice, he thought. The smear of totato juice down the side of the table and the cord-bean scraps needed sanitizing. Without saying a word, he deployed his dæmon cluster. The swarm of thaumaturgical metamachines converged on the debris like a starving heat haze. Even if she’d been staring right at the afflicted spot, Ktsn possibly wouldn’t have noticed except for the sudden improvement in cleanliness.

Somewhere between the second and third step toward the shelf, he reflected that the only other time he’d used his dæmon cluster for a long while was just a couple of minutes ago, also for dealing with scraps of refuse. Arguably the greatest tool available to the greatest still-living civilization, set to dealing with garbage. He wondered what that might signify.

“These, here, are some very, very interesting people. Olds, as we call them. They are relevant to you, I daresay.”

Reaching up, he grabbed his diorama of the Ilsabal Square sculptures from the top shelf’s end, in its place of prominence. He remembered buying it on the only trip to that particular locale, just to make the shop’s purveyor stop clouting him about the ears with that infernal accent. Like he would with the iconography even of faiths different from his own, or a child, or a memento, he took it down reverently with his bare hands. He placed it beside the karkshesh.

“You’ll recognize Thomas, I believe?” he prodded, while prodding more literally at one of the seven figurines encased in solidified time. The human figurine in question was precisely the one he’d shown Ktsn earlier. The figurine also, as had been the case ever since Eihks’s acquisition of the trinket, showed an unnerving soupcon of awareness despite being a sculpture.

They all did.

“I have a little bit of an odd request for now,” Eihks said. “It might be best if you don’t mention you’ve encountered one of the Beings of Old; at least, for now. It could make things complicated.”

Ktsn shifted her neck to better see the tiny figure from a different angle.

“What… are they?” she asked instead of directly responding, putting her eye on a level with the small scene of circled sculptures. “He, and you, have both used that phrase: ‘Beings of Old.’”

One of those moments of strange truth.

“Gods. Spirits. Forces. Abstractions. Forms. For them we have many labels and very little hard information. Thomas is a good example of our lack of data. He writes, as you can see. He’s also described as ‘Literate Limitless,’ in certain documents from this very important fellow – another Old that we call the Maker. He is an icon for documentation, semantics, storytelling, dreams, and prophecy to some extent, while the Maker is a symbol of artifice and cleverness and other usually noble traits.”

He tapped the figure of the architect of Rhaagm’s foundations, at the clockwise termination of the mostly-circle.

“We don’t know much else. That, let me tell you, is a truly vexing fact.”

He angled himself sideways, and made sure that Ktsn was watching, then tapped the protrusion of his cerv-mesh on his neck.

“Our society has gained the mastery of all manner of sciences. Mysteries of the universe that are difficult to convey in easily-understood terms. For example: when I told you this thing in my neck puts knowledge in my head, that wasn’t a figure of speech. It tells me all kinds of interesting tidbits. I know roughly how long it takes a karkshesh like yourself to consume your own weight in food. Until earlier today, I didn’t have any idea what a gpsl nuson was. Not what you called it, or what it looked like, or even that those sounds strung together in that order meant something in your language. Now, though, I do – and it’s thanks to that sort of instantaneous learning. We, in this city of Rhaagm, have a very great deal of accrued information – more than you could possibly believe or even comprehend at this time.”

The farmer’s ears flicked, and she looked back down, then ran both thumbs of one hand down the Maker’s figurine.

He considered withholding a potentially painful truth, then decided against.

“The ideas you’ve described on the subject of plant growth in a contained environment… those, in honesty, are things about which our understanding is… comprehensive.”

She started blinking, as though getting poked in the eye, and her strangely human ocular aperture rose and settled upon him. It was an avid sun. Pleading, he assumed.

“That’s not to say your studies represent nothing of importance,” he assured. “The spirit of exploration and discovery will serve you well. That’s what powers all truth-seeking, at the core.”

“But they will not contribute anything, as you already have all the gleanings I originally sought.”

He’d never heard such a voice from her, nor from any of the other karkshesh recordings included in his dossier for Rehabilitation Project Stub-nine-nine-seven-three-two-eight-two, or the “Gegaunli Reconciliation.”

“No,” he admitted. “Experimentation on plant life and processes, even those that you know well, isn’t strictly necessary. A person that we call the Weeper, who’s generally in charge of learning especially useful or theoretically significant things on behalf of our society, took a special interest in discovering what there was to know about your people. What the Weeper wants to learn generally gets very quickly learned.”

She surprised him a bit, then, when she subsided onto her cushion and began rattling her claws together. The rapidity of her movement was, he realized, something one might reasonably correlate with hysteria.

“I thought that my studies were ruined, when all of my specimens were destroyed. That was correct, perhaps… but it was for the best that I wasted no more time on something already pointless!”

Her nostrils expanded to nearly the size of Eihks’s thumbnails, and she sucked in what seemed like every air molecule of his apartment. Then, she curled up again, keening, in a spiral that made her two and a half meter skull-to-rump length small and alone.

“There really is no reason for me to continue my pursuits,” she muttered. “Everything I am as a would-be scholar is decoration and uselessness. The growing of the soil? The lives of flowers? What need to be concerned with these?”

A tensing and untensing of muscles.

“And yet, I cannot bring myself to be happy for Cursog, and myself, thinking that I am free to mate now.”

Eihks didn’t get closer, but he did rest his chin on his knuckles as he hooded his eyes. He felt a little psychic shiver looking at the creature who’d eaten at his table.


“I’ll be more than fine with bringing you back home tomorrow, if you wish. However, I’d also like to extend you an offer at the same time.”

She shivered, and while it wasn’t contemptible, it did rouse a bit of irrationally human-standardized annoyance at her self-pity.

“Yes?” Earnest in her attention, if not enthusiastic.

“I can’t say that this reaction is completely new. There’s a common desire in many thinking creatures to contribute meaningfully to the betterment of their surroundings, to leave a mark. Trying to acclimatize to a place like the Parsed City-State is frustrating and upsetting to many as a result, when any single individual is all too easy to lose in the noise. So… if you aren’t repulsed by the idea, I’ll be happy to take you on as a partner in my professional pursuits.”

Eihks side-swiped his forehead. It was a feint, trying to act nonchalant about something that he was sure could only be called “destiny.”

“You have a gift, and are a gift, in no small way. Ostensibly, you are going to have adventures, if your dream-visitation is to be believed. Maybe it will do us both good for you to tag along on a curious journey.”

A single large-pupiled eye sat upon his visage.

“If you want to do things that truly nobody has done before, then note that I do such things on a regular basis.”

A self-deprecating grin, here and then boiled away.

Ktsn slowly sat up, a viscous emulsion sopping into the floor in reverse.

“And what… do you do, exactly?”

Eihks felt a little spangled flash glint in his eye.

“I travel. I discover. I seek.

He smiled on one side of his mouth.

“If you don’t enjoy it, then that’s one thing. I’ll return you, you can stay here with your people in the city proper, and I’ll regularly check in on you. You’re owed at least an occasional friend. But if you want to give pioneering a try, then I’m more than happy to help you on your path.”

There was a quiet creak, and a little squawk from the shelf with his captive dangerous specimen. Eihks whipped a glance at the inverted urn, and it failed to jump again.

“I wish to understand and to chase wild learning,” said Ktsn, in the fullness of time. “So long as I have the opportunity to right a few things first. It is not as though I have been having a quiet or well-ordered life today, or that I am likely to do so again any time soon. Very well. What is required for such an undertaking as yours?”

An honest, full-faced grin.

“Your spirit is the most important part. Barring that, a tiny bit of applied medicine, and a helping hand to show you the rules.”

He extended his palm face-up.

“I’m happy to lend that hand, if you’ll take it.”

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