Haloed Bane

FLOWERS IN THE ABYSS


I have been told that Supreme Commander Durgaun herself, not known for her mirth, cracked a joke at the dénouement of Sinduin’s first dispatch from your planet. What happened was this. The diligent spy from Glowgem’s first task was to immerse herself in the culture and traditions of the Low Countries because she was pretending to be a human from that region. During her crash course she very quickly stumbled onto the work of the surrealist Belgian Réné Magritte. This particular painting caught her eye:

Flowers in the Abyss

Without waiting to include it in the larger, official report she was only halfway done preparing, she filed this image off via metacomm with a one word message: “Revon?” The association is not surprising. A human critic by the name of Nathalia writes that the painting “evokes associations with spacecraft from another planet,”1 and I am quite sure that she has never seen Revon warballs, which is what these contraptions undeniably look like. Some have argued that any and every person's fantasy is likely to be a reality somewhere else, provided 1) the fantasy fulfills certain logical precepts such as non-contradition etc., and 2) a sufficient number of universes exist (and if there is an infinity of them, then the case is proved beyond any doubt.) And the aforesaid does not preclude the reality of our more far-fetched phantasmagoria, just our conviction that we can see our "creations" any clearer than "through a glass, darkly." Our mistress iconoclast Chilnobion disparaged the belief in heaven and hell, saying that "The entire universe is mundane (i.e. neither heavenly nor hellish)" (vuth suva me norva), to which the High Priestess in Elomara replied, "If the entire universe is mundane, then my universe is not the only one" (nas vuth suva norva min, purrui doch me vloch suva). I say if there is a god, it may be that she is the glass.

Back to Sinduin. Evidence of Revon ships on Earth would have been an impressive discovery for her to make, on a par with the icosahedral theory, because it would have proven that this new universe was intimately connected to ours, instead of simply being a stray strand of Tarte’s hair so to speak. The news would only be overshadowed by the fact that it would have also meant confirmation of Revon mastery, proving their millennia-old boasts of visiting other worlds beyond our twenty-one. Alas, Sinduin quickly followed up with a second dispatch, explaining that the ships were actually horse bells, ornaments cum warning system for Mara-like tetrapods. Sinduin’s third dispatch, and every subsequent one, has been much more cautious and, of course, much better backed up.

Plotting by the Numbers

Inculae with half a brain or more worry about the Revons, even today when their very name has been retired and shelved. But there is much that unites the two races. In fact, common Inculae are as obsessed as their spooky cousins with a perceived penetration of numbers and mathematical principles into the purely mental realm of sapient culture and mores. This metaphysical war, ignored by many if not most of our intelligentsia, is known and cheered by most people in Incudea. No system of numerology is as successful in Incudea as the Teivan, and the Teivan is since the 28th century BC synonymous with Chilnobion's, the iconoclast I just mentioned.

Chilnobion's system handles each word as follows (compounds are taken singly in the basic gematria, though more arcane computations have been developed for them by some): 1) The consonants are assigned an ascending number alphabetically, so that the first letter (h) is 1, and the last (ny) is 29. The vowels are assigned numbers from 6 to -6, in order, so that (a) is 6 and (ui) is -6 (there is no "zero" ). Certain letters (plural marker, silent letter, vowel companion) are ignored and considered valueless (their position is discounted as well). The numbers of all the consonants in a word are simply added together. The value of each vowel, however, depends on its position in the word, so that if a vowel is in the first position its value is 6 times its assigned number, if in the second then 5 times, and so it descends to sixth position, where it has its simple value, and then any vowels in seventh position or later on are disregarded or have a value of 0. After multiplying and adding the values of all the vowels, then adding that to the total consonant value, the value of the word is obtained EXCEPT for one last step, which Chilnobion calls "harmonizing the syllables" (lokionglar la ziorolfinis) or more poetically, "harmonizing the elements" (lokionglar la olfinis): for every open syllable in the word (syllable ending in a vowel, ziorolfin nu sachoi in Horgothic as sachoi consists of two such syllables) one must be added to the total, and for every closed syllable (ending in a consonant, termed in Horgothic ziorolfin nu lastel, as lastel itself consists of two such syllables) , one must be subtracted from the total. If the word technically ends in a vowel (thus is open), but the vowel is NOT written out (e.g. in certain frequently appearing monosyllabic words) then two are added to the total (Chilnobion coined the term underground syllable, ziorolfin nu zukuisachoi, for this specific kind of open syllable). Analogously, for closed syllables where only the first letter is written two instead of one must be subtracted from the total (in Chilnobion’s terminology, these are above-sea syllables, ziorolfin nu dondolastel). By way of this computations the original value (talia dangester) is reached. Very important too is reaching the word’s final value (talia varar), which is done by adding each of the numbers in the original value until there is only one digit left (from 1 to 5).

The method described above was developed at the Virzian court around the years 2770-2768 BC (FR 4207-4209). Chilnobion had already built a reputation for herself in intellectual circles through her public opposition to the Tarteist High Priestess residing in Aurena Green as well as for her discovery of the fertility formula for the Incudean species, which proved mathematically why it was practically impossible for an Incula to bear more than three children in a lifetime. The scholarly community in Teiva, no doubt more impressed by the former achievement, intended to make her one of their own, but House Virzian, which still exercised enormous influence over Teiva, took her for themselves. This is not to say, however, that the new numerology did not owe much to Teivan philosophy.

At the time, Voluntarism (morvinshemprisglar), the culmination of Teivan philosophy (taken so far that the existence of the word tormi, which means "ill will", was thought to cleanse, as it were, the term "will/morvin", as if to say that a so-called ill will is a completely separate phenomenon from a will, which of itself is always good - all of this although terms like trend morvin (good will) and morvin bashter (bad will) were known and used in many cultures, including the Incudean!) was already firmly established. The will was associated with the number 5, code for maximal power, both because there are five fingers in the hand which rules the worlds, and because 5 is the largest number before the next level is reached, which is 6 or 10 in senary.

In Chilnobion’s system, the word for "will" or morvin, comes to an original value of 1546 (7010), which resolves itself into a final value of 56 (in senary: 1+5+4=14=1+4=5). This already had much to recommend the number, which Chilnobion dubbed number 5’s wondrous child (kina herder).

At the time, however, 5556 (21510) reigned supreme among numerologists as far as three digit numbers were concerned, as it was the last number before the next stage of 10006 (21610) and thus thought to be brimming with power. One of Chilnobion’s great achievements was to place her preferred 154 over that 555. She argued that 1) whereas 154 resolved itself into a five, 555 only resolved itself into a four (most numerological systems in place resolved numbers in the exact same way, so the observation held for many); 2) 154 happened to equal the number of days for the lunar (Morganic) cycle in the Silver Planet (6910 Incudean days, give or take) whereas 555 did not pop up anywhere astronomically in the Nears; 3) 555 only looked powerful, but it was in fact too balanced to denote "pure will", as the fact that every digit in it was 5 proved, whereas in 154 one saw how a core 5 (the will of the goddess) led two other wills, one a student’s will (the 1) and the other the teacher’s will (the 4) into a perfect harmony (where the 1 and 4 would exchange knowledge and power, thus ultimately the student growing into a 4 and the teacher diminishing into a 1) that would blossom into a new 5 ("for the will of our ancestors is like unto the will of the goddess for future generations") and in turn generate a new student-teacher relationship, and so on forevermore, so that then obviously 154 was far more powerful, and the fact that the all-important term morvin became a 154 recommended her system all the more. The coup de grâce for Chilnobion was that, under her system, the name of her patrons, Virzian itself, also had a value of 154. More than that, the rival house of Karhalaun was also a 154, so Chilnobion had assured herself that she would not be rejected by the other major noble clan in the Gushing Waste. The Teivan scholars were all in the debt of either (or both, in some cases) of these two houses, and having a numerological scheme that vindicated these two houses was bound to prove popular. Chilnobion’s theory, however, did give her own patrons an edge over their rivals.

To understand how, we must know that several Teivan scholars used to write morvin with a teneva v, that is, a long v, to distinguish this most important of words. Chilnobion legitimized the practice by arguing that every time a v popped up in a 154-valued word, it denoted even more power than a regular 154 word, and the teneva "tail" was simply a marker for this. But since Karhalaun did not have a v glyph anywhere in its name, Virzian had the advantage. Chilnobion’s system thus had much to commend theoretically, and many scholars (in Teiva and elsewhere) found it practically useful. Karhalaun was almost as eager to adopt it in the end as Virzian was. The main criticism, when there was any from a courageous scholar, was this "harmonizing the elements" stage, which detracted from the elegance of it all, and a few dared to note that without this extra step, words like morvin, Virzian and Karhalaun would not actually reach 154. But the system was a success almost as soon as it was presented publically (around the time of the second-grade Virzian XXIII’s 43rd birthday (1116, an auspicious birthday for numerological as well as literary reasons, as the number of letters in Teivan script is 4310) and it remains so to this day.

Virzian XXIII

Sandalion cosplays as Duchess Virzian XXIII

Let’s leap forward once more to the times of the Great Burning. During the festivities leading up to that victory ceremony, a great throng of Inculae descended upon the Virzian ducal palace when the Two-Eyed’s piece, normally stationed in Floodhome next to the capital, was exhibited there. The situation got out of hand and there was some looting. Ducal police were called in, and in the pushing and shoving a secret room was revealed. It turned out to be a series of secret chambers prepared by Virzian authorities long ago for use by the sage Chilnobion. A team of scholars came in to study the chamber’s many treasures, and a secret hollow in one of the corners, no doubt secret even to the Virzianites of Chilnobion’s time, was in turn discovered. The hollow contained some artifacts and documents (proving by the absence of certain elements, to the chagrin of many, that the sage had not involved herself in any kind of sorcery) including the sage’s private diaries. The juiciest bits were leaked to the public with venomous speed, most likely by Karhalaun agents. And what was released regarding her numerical scheme was quite shocking.

Chilnobion admitted in one of the books that her entire system had been a ploy to make her benefactress, whom she was deeply in love with, yield to her advances. Virzian XXIII was a great beauty, though notoriously cold and standoffish, with a reputation of bearing the best unbared cups in all of the Gushing Waste. Chilnobion documented in gruesome detail how she toyed with her numbers until she got both morvin and Virzian to fit into 154. Not only that, but another vital word was also made to fit, and she used these invented correspondences to great effect at one audience with the duchess that history had not recorded until that time. It went more or less like this.

After several days of expounding my newfangled system (ampur riginmorder), I was asked by Her Grace (viohalba): "Tell me sage, for I would know, since you speak so much of it, what is your will?" I requested that everyone else leave the chamber and thus tempted her curiosity. After the general dismissal, I approached and declared what would have earned me a very particular dismissal were it not so fortuitously enveloped in the skins of my gematria, which beat at once resounded in Virzian's august mind. At that moment it was done.

Embarrassed as I am on behalf of my race, I dare not convey the next line, not even in the original tongue, noting only that the crude declaration has the number 154 appear in six of the nine words (with plenty of long v's), and that the remaining three themselves add up to 154. The diary is quite dry after this, only noting that the duchess yielded, and it is clear from the evidence (more from things and artifacts than from actual passages in Chilnobion’s texts, who at least was discrete in such things) that an irregular relationship ensued. In the same pages she did however challenge the notion that this secret origin of the system would make its power questionable. After all, it was generated out of will and love just as she proposed everything worth anything actually worked. I myself have proposed here that there might be enough worlds out there for the creative, provided that they’re lucky. A few iconoclasts simply claim that the defense in the diary is a mere interpolation.

The scandal that ensued did not really damage the reputation of this gematria, which was already well entrenched in Incudean academia. After all, it worked well enough for everyone involved. Some even suspect and advance that either the sage was just joking around and indulging in a fantasy (she did leave a great number of fictional works behind, none too good) or that this was an elaborate ruse to conceal the occult sources of her knowledge by making light of it. The fact remains that Chilnobion’s star rose dramatically in Virzian after 2768 BC and she became scholarch (vaulabel, literally chief gryphon) of the Lore of the Worlds Academy (Belti nun Manchaprana) at the Tetraluminous City with Virzian support and a lack of opposition from Karhalaun; she is still tremendously influential today.

Abominatechs

Around your year 2600 BC, the Council issued a series of fundamental proclamations. Standardization of the Halo Protocol at the monarchical and ducal spheres was one. However, the SICTO ban was the most famous, especially as it spearheaded the final effort to oust any and all encroachments of technology on our bodies. One can debate back and forth whether Meidin was condemned after the Unity War because of their technology, or whether it was the technology that was condemned because of Meidin. There is some truth to both opinions, I think. SICTO had been one of those intrusive systems which had been allowed, despite its fundamental Meidinishness (Meidinglar), due to its usefulness. The risk was great, however, and the Council acted wisely. The core abominatechs (vemorins dofudor vazeter) banned, or rebanned, at this time were:

  1. Genetic engineering (vemor lampenden) = including both enhancement and cloning, especially cloning of species above the first trinity, thus circumventing the issue of natural infertility in the higher grades.
  2. Robotics (vemor jias'hajar) = Incudean law allow machines to move on their own, remotely or by way of carefully circumscribed programs, but without artificial intelligence.
  3. Intrusive Technology (vemor arninglari la faus) = technological equipment may be used on or around the body, but it must not dwell inside the body, feed the body or be fed by it.

Pious Inculae had been harping against abominatechs for ages (though they were never luddites, as their avatars and heroes wre not averse of flying about in spaceships, at least according to newer myths), but the Council was likely more persuaded by consideration of the Great Gap between the third and fourth grades. If one is to further oneself as a species, then enhancing the bodies of first graders will only spell doom in the end, as not only it will pamper potential high graders and render them useless once they ascend to the harsh realities above, but also enable the large Brigandine masses which will never ascend anywhere to have more than their share of power. It is universally accepted in Belklaun, not only in Incudea proper, that despite the astonishing power differential between the higher grades and the lower, ultimately whoever controls that first trinity controls everything. The Dolens knew this better than anyone. I suspect there is a hidden dynamic at work whereby a species reckless enough to engage in abominatechs never achieves the intelligence required to mass produce them, whereas those who are more than capable to do so have enough wisdom by that point to keep the temptation at bay.

The Great Event

I have been deliberately avoiding discussion of religion, yet now I find myself compelled to touch on that of vassals, since a religious incident occurring in 2479 BC (FR 4445) turned out to have significant repercussions much later on. What sets apart the Glapachikos from other species is their religious devotion. Their very name, chikokins nu glapa, means Stacks of Sin! They are our steadfast allies not because of political expediency or an instinct for survival, but because long ago they decided that we were in some way divine and that therefore helping us was a dogmatic imperative. If some priest among them had argued back then that we were devils, their resistance wouldn’t have ended until we had wiped them out to the last stack. Loyalty to their faith has worked in our favor.

In any case, early in that year of FR 4445 an epidemic burst out among young Glapachikos in their system. They would simply not arise from their beds in the morning. As befits this extremely superstitious race all sorts of prayers were attempted, but to no avail. After endless weeks of frustration, a group of Glapachikos began praying at an Incudean temple dedicated to Tarte (that they were allowed entry may be surprising to some Inculae, but in this system it’s not an unusual thing to see). The deaths in that area immediately stopped. Therefore Glapachiko preachers began praising the goddess and the entire race prayed to her, with the epidemic subsiding dramatically. In FR 4447, a very well respected local prophetess received a vision to the effect that the epidemic, rather than being caused by the nation’s sinfulness, was a sign of their impending sinlessness. When the prophetess asked how should Tarte be worshipped by them, she responded: “By doing nothing.” Since then Glapachikos reverted back to their own practices and abandoned Tarteism, with much joy, though they still consider her a goddess once removed, by which I mean that at least according to some sources, Glapachikos believe that she is a fiction created by the true goddesses, i.e. us, the flesh and blood Inculae they fight and die for. After this they tried to change the planet’s name to Augem Doglapa (i.e. praise sinlessness). Constat was opposed and eventually there was a compromise to only change the phylarchy’s name. Glapachikos also ceremonially ”devastated” their capital city and “rebuilt” it with the name of Augem Doglapa. The consequences of this so-called Great Event (silima albon) only became apparent a few thousand years later, and I'll cover them when we get to that point in our chronicles.

Changes

The main result of the hardships suffered in the Dolentian Wars was in the consolidation of Incudea, especially her military forces. This by necessity involved the whittling of ducal independence. Thus in the 2440s the Council put into effect the so-called Small Integration of Ducal Units, whereby “The Houses have no right to withhold their forces from the Empire” (Glorins rum sath momel tran daihom chianakins dian kanvior).

Another step toward greater unity, rather laughable though important to many, was the lifting of Lodonye’s curse on the Sisters from the Naxis or Salbakion System. I explained earlier how the great oracle had declared that ruin would follow the discovery of these Inculae. Over three millennia later, the prediction had not come to pass, though I don’t think the priestesses were too embarrassed. After all, there is always the future! And yet in 2304 (FR 4620) Lodonye lifted the curse on the basis of, please believe me, a series of critical reviews of a Salbakionite actress’ performance, who was so awful at the theaters as to “threaten the ruin of the Empire”. This universal opinion was taken by the oracle as potentially fulfilling the proclamation long ago.

Said actress was subsequently allowed to become a “star” in many a show and thus “ruin” the Empire repeatedly, in order to fulfill and lift the curse. Not to be outdone, the Naxians produced their own horrid actress, who also earned great fame for fulfilling the curse. This Naxian being quite pretty, it is said she struck a relationship with a very highly placed Silver Sister, who obviously became involved solely out of her sense of patriotic duty, as it was always said that for the Empire to be thoroughly ruined it was essential that the corruption reach the innermost chambers of the Incudean Council. Alas, I cannot confirm or deny this last story. It may just be gossip.

In FR 4702, the Revon moon of Trillian, which had had representation in the Council as far back as pre-Unity times, was finally awarded primary colonizer status, so that now they could legally reap the harvests of the Dani system and multiply their holdings elsewhere. The delay in recognizing this small but important moon was of course fear and distrust of the planet she circled: utterly alien Revo.

Today Revo is sparsely inhabited, and not by the Revons. This race is very similar to the Incudean, so much so that some taxonomists talk of a genus of Near Sisters (rinomamei rubisiadunis) to house both species. Far and away the most striking physical differences between us and them are their perfectly water-colored eyes and their constant bleeding. A Revon body produces enough excess blood per day to fill several Revons, which means these aliens have to continuously pour it out (mouth, ears, nose, et cetera) lest they burst. The upshot is that their bodies regenerate even faster than Incudean ones, and they can survive injuries we cannot (the correlation between both facts is hard to determine). This sort of reverse vampirism is an endless source of fascination -and plain disgust- to us, as you can imagine.

The Revons of old disdained technology and claimed to use magic or sorcery, though whatever their abilities were it never allowed them to go farther than their own moon or colonize their own star system. But as we have seen, they claimed to travel through various mysterious dimensions. Tarte worshippers teach that Revons were born from the kiss of a mad gryphon, and I have to agree with the gist of the statement, once all of the poetry is removed.

Enough of the traitorous Revons. 52 years after Trillian’s advance, a much more reliable race of vassals, the Zeburajan, officially entered into an alliance with Incudea. Up to that point, their situation was anomalous. The Silver Planet had a treaty of non-belligerence with Oxytania, and Constat had placed enormous pressure on authorities there to formally colonize the tetrapods. Not known to be sentimental types, the Silver Sisters nevertheless resisted the symbolic move to subjugate the descendants of those who had aided them so valiantly in the darkest days of the Unity War. The end result was that Incudea adopted the Silver-Oxytanian treaty and formalized an alliance, so that the Zeburajans became the only vassals in Incudean space to be de jure "free". Before the cockles of your heart get too warm, I should warn you that this alliance is no longer in place today.

Abilities, Magic, Sorcery

Just prior to the commencement of the Fifteenth Chukei Games (our version of the Olympic games) Inculae started ascending to the fifth grade worlds of Manonupa, Navach and Orphand. The malleability of communication was a game-changer, and it’s easy to see how supreme power in the land was immediately vested in fifth graders and them alone (formerly Councilors came from all four available grades). Telepathy and mind-reading are immensely convenient skills to have, and although fifth graders can generally only read the minds of those already thinking about them, and not clearly like watching a film but through a haze susceptible to misunderstanding, anybody who knows a fifth grader will tell you it becomes difficult not to think about someone when you worry that doing so will betray your mind. It's an instance of Poe’s imp of the perverse. And so the only way to balance this great power is by pitting it against another power. Henceforth Councilors have all hailed from the fifth grade or beyond.

The malleabilities and some other powers have come up before, but a more systematic review is in order. What I have called abilities, skills that to Humans would smack of magic, are expressions of a power or force called in Horgothic saisan. This power is exclusive to sapient species in Belklaun, though some non-sapients are capable of certain activities that resemble them, and certain “abilities” possessed by sapients (blinking, ascending) are not usually considered part of saisan. This general power itself consists of four separate powers of “magical” abilities, one universal and three particular. The universal power (jaisai) refers to the standard and general abilities of the six grades above the first trinity, all of which are theoretically open to every single sapient species. The other three are only possessed by a few species, all of which can also access the universal power.

POWER CAPABLE SPECIES ASSOCIATED ELEMENT AND COLOR
Universal Accessible to all sapients Fire / Green (guitik)
Gamma Doom Zeburajas, some other atomics Earth / Black
Hematoneural Revons, a few others [banned universewide] Water / Teal (mardak)
Psionic Epheboctopi, Maras, etc. Air / White

Universal Power

There is a cosmosophical matrix (ragra suvaia udiasden) that births and reshapes all of our civilizations, by which I mean the seven trinities and twenty-one worlds. One of the most far-reaching mechanisms in this matrix is the so-called universal power (palas suvaia) of jaisai. These chronicles are infused with it, as would be any discussion of sapient beings in Belklaun. This power is generated in the brain, in the region that corresponds to the limbic system in Humans, but it is concentrated and resonates most strongly in the skin and the tongue, so that only an ethical imperative has prevented warring sides throughout history from flaying their opponents in order to deny them it.

Concentration and stamina are critical when it comes to the universal power. A higher-grade sapient cannot simply transform into a monster (via the malleability of form) and stay that way forever. The application of such a “spell” requires strength and concentration, and it can be supremely tiring. To permamorph (grialfam) for example, or to be invulnerable to pain for an indefinite period of time (via the malleability of sensation), is practically impossible without outright sorcery. The limitation becomes important in all sorts of ways. Two example will suffice:

Second Grade: At this level, soldiers engaging in battle must know when to activate the anti-pain ability. Treatment of injuries, especially bad ones, is critical, as eventually a soldier will tire, and then the waves of delayed pain may overwhelm and destroy her.

Third Grade: Transforming requires concentration and strength in proportion to the radicality of the transformation. Some Inculae with trouble fitting into certain outfits may increase or decrease their shape as required, and with enough skill this might last for a whole evening! But they cannot simply will themselves to stay that way forever. Cinderella's carriage will turn into a pumpkin...rather, Cinderella will.

Gamma Doom Power

The gamma doom power (palas riventranashden), as far as we can tell, was first witnessed by the Inculae in battles and confrontations against Oxytania in the Silver Planet. Only a few species possess it, and all of these are “atomic.” Most matter in the universe is hedronic, not atomic, and even so-called atomic creatures are only partly so, thus accounting for the power’s rarity. Today we consider this the weakest of the powers, but the gamma rays that Zeburajas could call upon by willfully decaying their atomic nuclei (causing, at times, their own deaths) were as fearsome to the ancient Inculae as images of "doom rays" might be to a young Human today. Like all of the particular powers, gamma doom power does not fundamentally change depending on the trinity the wielder dwells in. In practice, however, a third-grade Zeburaja’s rays tend to be far more damaging than a first grader’s, not because their intensity is greater, but simply because the enemies’ technological defenses are much weaker due to Merlisian’s Law. Not to mention that third-grade Zeburajas are well experienced by this point in their lives.

Hematoneural Power

The ability to willfully and forcefully circulate one’s bloodstream throughout the nervous system in order to constrict certain nerves and activate hidden potentialities is termed nisai, or hematoneural power (palas vanjaia rakulden). A very rare power, as we know from the too many experiments done to replicate it in other species, usually with spectacularly horrific results. We do know for certain that some elements in the Myriad were able to employ this power, whether through some sort of wondrous technological advance or by pure sorcery (of the golden variety, see below) I myself do not know. This power expresses itself in many kinds of abilities, all of which can be honed and trained, thus resembling most closely the earthly concept of spells. Use of this power by anyone and for any reason is currently banned in Incudea.

Psionic Power

Both the folks of Ephocto in the Home System and the Maras of Detty-Maratania are psionic species whose power emanates from the brain in a diffuse manner. From the point of view of Incudean history, the Daxelians were another important psionic species even though they were barely sapient. These large creatures emitted psionic waves as part of their digestion, causing severe brain damage on sapient creatures. Inculae were forced to win over the system by gradually sending more and more long-range weapons to eliminate the natives, then taking over the planet.

Beyond the Powers: Sorcery

Everyone in Belklaun is thoroughly familiar with saisan, and therefore the English word "magic" might not be very apt. However, if we call the four powers magic (from the perspective of Humans), then what we must now deal with can best be termed black magic or sorcery. The Horgothic term is igosaisan, literally arcane or inner magic. While technically not illegal, any being capable of sorcery is required to report themselves to the authorities of Incudea and be subject to regulation. Quite a few of the most gifted sorcerers among the Inculae often find employment with the Rear Army; many others, I’m afraid to say, end up dead. There are four types of sorceries, each assigned its own color as well:

Scarlet sorcery refers to a being's attainment of a degree of power that is usually available to his species, but not to an individual such as himself. For example, a first-grade Incula able to use third-grade transformations would be considered a scarlet sorcerer.

Gold sorcery refers to a being's attainment of a magical power type that is usually unavailable to his species. For example, an Incula able to use psionic power would be considered a gold sorcerer.

Carnation sorcery refers to a being's attainment of a degree of power that is usually unavailable to anyone. In other words, it is the pushing of the boundaries of a magic/ability type beyond what is considered natural. For example, an upper-grade Incula able to use her third-grade power to grow to planetary size would be considered a carnation sorcerer. Permanent use of an ability (the aforementioned permamorphing, for example) also falls under this category. It should be noted that carnation sorcery does not usually come together with scarlet or gold sorcery. That is, even if a great Incudean sorcerer could use psionic power (an instance of gold sorcery), if she ever were able to wield carnation sorcery then chances are that it would involve the universal power (i.e. the sort of abilities usually available to her kind and all species, just at a higher than normal capability) and not psionics.

Finally, lime sorcery refers to a being's attainment of a power other than the four classic types. The existence of these types is in dispute (and in any case, some great sorcerers claim not to obtain these powers but to actually create them). Among the rumored lime magics there are 1) necromancy (felsaisan), 2) body-swapping, or somatallaxis (a Greek-based coinage of mine, the Horgothic term being fausegioma), 3) arcane acoustics (pavinsaisan), which includes being able to listen to and question (for information) non-living things like desks and tables, and 4) evocation (igohokama), the summoning and configuring of physical particles (hedronic in nearly every attested case) to create golems or automatons to do your bidding.

During her illustrious careers, Ransain was harassed by accusations of being a sorcerer of the highest order, not least of all due to her fittingly lime-colored hair, though mostly because of the power that she was able to wield over others. Our civilization is rather suspicious of charisma, I must confess.

How to Spot a Sorcerer

Sometimes you can spot a sorcerer in action by their aura (blavau). In essence, an aura is a refined physical essence which a body generates when it is using an ability, something like an astral sweat exuding from the pores which eventually congeals into a medium for the absorption of elements necessary for the abilities. All sapients have auras, but these will usually lash out and expand for fractions of a second in the case where an ability is used.

A person dabbling in sorcery overfeeds their aura. This causes the aura to, so to speak, acquire a mind of her own and expand even when the sorcerer is not using any magic. Auras tend to be bell- or horn-shaped, and might be reasonably pictured as having the shape of a Rococo robe on the individual's body. Sorcerers' auras are so forceful they will knock over objects or lift them up, so that they come to reside on the edges of the aura (the items will look as if they’re hovering in thin air). A good sorcerer may control these movements, but danger of exposure will overtake her during dreaming, when the will exerts itself without the full control of the sorcerer. Therefore if you suspect someone is a sorcerer, the experts counsel to watch them while they sleep. The mysterious lover who refuses her mate the boon of sleeping together after a sexual encounter because she is in fact a sorcerer or a witch has become a common trope.

Aura-like

An overfed aura hangs permanently like an 18th century dress such as the one in the painting here.

Growing Pains

I have already covered how the ascent to the fifth trinity led to the Half-War with Dolentis, and eventually to the Great Burning. I did not mention at that time, however, that this same period saw a halt to the thousand-year old Ishdodetian expansion. And once again fifth graders were involved.

What Lodonye was (and is) to the Silver Planet, Pairtesh was to Ishdodeth - that and more. The oracle was built by Inculae, not on the ruins of Ishdodeth proper, but on Isherus' Coat, a moon of the uninhabited fifth planet of the same system. (The Coat had been a massive military base during Dolentian times.) The priestesses in Pairtesh did a great job of asserting their patriotism and their complete independence from any Dolentian heritage to any extrasystemic travelers. At the same time, a great library in the Pairtesh compound housed, it was claimed in whispers, the remnants of Dolentian learning, and worshippers came from everywhere, including the major planets of the Near Systems.

Over the course of a thousand years Pairtesh issued a number of strikingly one-sided messages in favor of Ishdodeth that made the pro-Gorgon and pro-Silver Elomaran and Lodonye partisans look like paragons of impartiality. In 1990 BC, the by then retired Prime Priestess (morgan belbon) at Pairtesh ascended to the fifth grade. There being so few fifth graders in Ishdodeth in this early period, Mortazaun grew bored and decided to move to the Home System. From there she made her way to Sabaino to train with the nascent fifth trinity fighting force. Alas, she was a great talker and a feverish thinker, and by 1986 enough of her friends had, by way of the malleability of communication, accessed all of her secrets, including the fact that she had consistently lied in the service of Ishdodeth. The Council declared the oracle tainted and shut it down. The “battle priestess,” as she had come to be known, atoned for her disgrace with martyrdom in the surprise Dolentian attack four decades later.

You might be curious as to why this situation doesn’t repeatedly happen today. I am not a fifth grader myself, but from what I can gather, there is a ladies’ agreement in place: what you hear due to the power, you keep to yourself, unless said discreetness would put in jeopardy a fellow Incula's welfare, and you never ever divulge it to those in the lower grades.

The Official Creeds

Soon after the Dolentian Half-War, there was an important reorganization of Incudean religious sects. The catalyst was a decree issued by the Council that once and for all established which creeds would be legal throughout the nation. That Tarteism, Holy Fire and Positivism (that is, atheism or agnosticism) were raised to the status of sole licit beliefs surprised no one, but the decree was innovative in that it expressed a strong intent to come down on heresies and new religions, and many semi-orthodox sects had to change their dogmas to escape censure. Tarteism and Holy Fire were thus strengthened, and quite a few deist or pantheist schools were forced to disavow a deus altogether and proclaim themselves philosophies acceptable to the Positivists. Our nation is thus a bit unusual in Belklaun, where fanatical governments fanning religious zealotry are not uncommon. With us, you can be an atheist, deny all gods, and be accepted in practically every circle of society. However, heresy or the foundation of a new religion (goddess forbid!) are forbidden by the law of the land and not only by public opinion.

There are no official statistics of religious adherence in Incudea. Tarteist temples are always full, but it is hard to tell the pilgrims from the revelers. Many an officer in the Incudean army has the mark of Fire on her tabard, but the gesture is one of cultural pride, as the pyrodule planets of Salbakion, Naxis and Akash have always been a minority in comparison with the Tarteist lands. Many have said -and I tend to agree- that the Naxians in particular are a race of inveterate atheists. I think it's safe to say that Positivists are a majority in the nation, barely so externally, but overwhelmingly in the hearts where it really matters.

Expansion into the Storms

Incudea was ready for a new adventure. The Dolentian threat was no more and the noble houses had been fully absorbed into our war machine - a final, Large Integration being decreed during the Half-War to the effect that “The Houses have no right to control placements in the Incudean Army” (Glorins rum sath momel tran malasam timakins u kanviorchiana). With the Exotics reduced to a large and luxuriant backyard, we now set our eyes on the Storms.

The conquest of the Storms took four thousand years, and although it is a commonplace to say that without the Upa Rebellion the task would have been accomplished in a quarter of that time, there is no doubt that it is a rough place. Think about it: how does one conquer a storm? Interstellar clouds are almost as thick as walls in places and the very aether is packed so tightly that the thermocatalytic units on our ships overheat easily and practically without warning. To add insult to injury, inhabited planets are far and few between, while precious minerals are hard to come by and usually buried deep within planetary surfaces. It was almost as hard to get Inculae to go to the Storms as for them to seize the zone.

But it was Everest, so we went there. And beneath the clouds, Shambhalas awaited the bold. The first one was the Dalis System, conquered in the 1780s. The second planet, Prakan, is inhabited by the Prakanders. They resemble Earth’s pachyderms and their intelligence is sadly tempered by their arrogance. Prakan’s occupation status is anomalous. Since the Prakanders are capable of reaching the fifth grade, our main occupation base today should be located in the sixth grade, but due to the Upa Rebellion, it remains in Navach (the fifth stemworld). More over, Incudea has never established an exarchy in the system. Instead, we have a neurarchy which consists of a single artificial island station on the third planet of Dalis.

Now, the Prakanders revere an enormous sea creature that dwells all alone in the sublimely beautiful planet of Dalis, and which they credit with knowing everything there is to know about the universe. They also like to claim that this being can travel to other universes. Incudean scientists have never been able to verify whether this is the case, but CSD-A did task Sinduin with keeping an eye for out it when she went to Earth, comparing possible sightings with Prakanders’ descriptions of the beast. The Nessie angle is a dead end, I think, though Sinduin is hopeful still. Anyway, after visiting the British Museum in 2003 she sent us a reproduction of the Albrecht Dürer drawing below.

Suspicious creature

Sinduin was careful to note, Revon warballs still fresh in her memory, that the picture was avowedly of a common animal on Earth, but she suggested sending it to Prakan and getting the reaction of the natives. The elders in Prakan examined it carefully and proclaimed excitedly that it was a portrait of the creature itself. The Supreme Commander concluded that the Prakanders were simply full of it. I hear the “portrait” has been enthroned in the phylarchical capital.

Dalis might not sound like an impressive acquisition, but the place had over a billion inhabitants with a high-level of culture (and cuisine) and it motivated Incudea to keep exploring the Storms for more gems.

Flower Politics

Another important factor slowing the waves of conquest down was the food supply chain. The only guaranteed methods of outright replicating flowers, our major foodstuff, fell under the rubric of abominatechs and were thus forbidden. Inculae discovered that the populations and productivity of flowers declined in the outer Exotics, and fell sharply out in the Storms. And since some of the more advanced and quarrelsome sapient species in Belklaun live in the Storm Systems, at the farthest corners of the universe, all available flowers had been fenced in or cornered by them. Due to the general scarcity, food flowers are even more vital to denizens of the Storms than to us, and if we tried to appropriate them – if we succeded somehow – it would wreck these civilizations completely, which was never our goal.

Earth-style farming was not an option. Our flowers are actually capable of locomotion, although of a very slow type. Their roots are shallow, though they still use them to feed from the soil. Most sapients do not eat the flowers themselves, but substances emitted by them as part of their metabolism. This syrup or nectar (dine) forms the fundamental source of semi-solid food for the moving beings in the universe. Nectar and water are universal staples. That said, the Martuta feed mostly on gases, and the Silver Planet has no autochthonous flora. (Such a condition is considered extremely rare for a planet that actually possesses moving lifeforms. In the past some considered it a curse, as living beings had to feed from the insides of mineral ores. The softest part within earth is edible, though not considered refined food.) Inculae also enjoy spices, sandwiches, soups and edible crystals. There are four of the latter: sugar, salt, bitter crystal and sour crystal (kra, ka, pa, pra). Sugar is most commonly derived from dried milk as well as a number of flower species that secrete it (krafleinis). Salt is derived from water at high temperatures when it is contact with certain other, salt-catalyzing, substances. Oceans in Belklaun are not salty as a rule. (Sweetsea in Naxis is actually full of sugar, due to the large number of aquatic sugarflowers crawling on its floor). Sweat is a major source of organic salt. Bitter crystals and sour crystals ultimately derive from the interstellar clouds in outer space. They come down to planets with rain and other types of precipitation, including meteorites from outer space. Uniquely in Sinduin’s universe, Incudean culture considers salt to be the queen of the edible substances, and being referred to as "salt" is a great compliment (maybe a fruitful comparison can be made with Mt. 5:13). Incudean cuisine also boasts of many spices, which are carefully and painstakingly manufactured from various earth essences grown in water, treated in air, and finally burned in fire. Spices are used to enhance the taste of other foods. Finally, milk (veta) is very popular among Inculae, not only as a source of sugar but on its own culinary merits (Zeburajan milk from the Home System is especially high regarded). We usually eat two to four meals: breakfast (mirisflomon), lunch (zisflomon), dinner (lortaflomon), nightmeal (at midnight, varaflomon).

I have gotten myself off track, probably out of hunger. The point I was about to make was that the quality and quantity of this floral nectar is always, regardless of the species concerned, directly proportionate to the perceived well-being of the producer. Planting these creatures in a garden and squeezing them for every drop is out of the question. As soon as, under Dolentian tutelage, Incudea started breaking out of the Near Systems, many devised ingenious mechanisms to coax the flowers into moving farther and farther, and producing more and more in the new locales. But is one happy when one’s happiness is artificial, a sham in fact, for the egotistical sake of others?

In 1730 BC (FR 5138), as our explorers neared the fascinating world of Raddaria, they received an answer: no. They were in a particularly rough patch of the Storms with thin supply lines and no new systems in sight. All of a sudden, the flowers in one of the motherships broke out in fierce blooms, especially on the starboard side. Those on port were released from containment and as expected they congregated starboard with their brethren. The crews cheered, not only because the nectar situation immediately improved, but because this was possibly an indication that an amenable planet was not far off. (The particular species usually selected for this trips are very attuned to these matters). The change of course ended up in near tragedy, however, as the ships were almost pulled into a neutron star only discovered at the very last moment. As everyone beat a hasty retreat, four of the ships had mysterious hatch malfunctions, and out drifted hundreds of the flowers, which hurtled into the neutron star and promptly disintegrated. The event came to be known as the Flower Suicide, and I haven’t seen any data suggesting that the moniker is inappropriate, as much as critics might scoff at the implications of the word "suicide" in this case. The explorers returned half-starved, the Council approved slower-paced explorations, and Raddaria remained undiscovered for another hundred and fifty years.

The Upa Rebellion

The name of the thirteenth world (left sideline in the fifth trinity) was taught to Incudea by the Dolens long before they ever ascended to it: Manonupa. We derive the name of our most dreaded enemy, Upa, from it.

As far as we can tell, Inculae first accessed the sixth grade in 1603 BC. It was a troublesome breakthrough from the very beginning. Summons to flayer field were heeded by only a fraction of the new ascendants, and those who did turn up complained to the Council authorities of headaches and a general malaise. The new trinity’s power was jokingly referred to as the malleability of melancholy (true to their style, the Dolens had taught us much but never even hinted as to what the universal power produced at this level could possibly be.) Councilors concluded these members of our race were going through a painful adolescence, or perhaps something worse. It turned out to be far worse.

In 1543 (New Year’s Day of FR 5323), the archon or governor (lorshen) of Columna Perennis in the Silver Planet presided over the opening of the provincial festival, as archons always did and do. She never made it home. Like lightning, a beast appeared out of nowhere, gnawed at her throat, crushed her upper chest and then vanished. Many eyewitnesses concurred it resembled a mythical creature known as a kama, one which any Earthling would easily confuse for a wolf.

Archon Klontein had no personal enemies. There was no known threat to Incudea in the Nears that could account for a political assassination, and in any case Columna was a very minor place. But there was one anomaly in Klontein's background: her mother’s consort was one of the very few sixth graders around. This eminent personage had been behaving erratically and had been ostracized from the fellowship of other sixth graders. Investigators concluded tentatively that one of those sixth graders had killed Klontein as part of a vendetta. What horrified (and quite frankly, fascinated) everyone was the method of attack. No known malleability, not even the third trinity's power of space, could account for this near instantaneous killing. And why, assuming the wolf was the sixth grader herself using the malleability of form, did she choose this shape out of all others?

Klontein’s unaunt was not seen again and the case remained unsolved, but similar attacks soon followed. Some among the luckier victims survived interrogation and torture sessions by these maddened sixth graders, or by their wolf friends, but what they were after could never be determined. The Inculae in the sixth trinity seemed to have coalesced into a community of single-minded Hamlets. In the Council, word spread that the crazy sixth graders had all either ascended to the sixth trinity via the left sideline (Manonupa world) or at least spent a considerable time there. A law was passed forbidding fifth graders to even access the world, but it was discovered soon enough that Navach and Orphand were just as liable to birth these monsters. In any case, suspicions regarding Manonupa gave us the name of our new, internal rebels. Manon by itself can mean “fellow member of the same species” so people said that that world was the dividing point between regular Inculae and a new horror called the Upas.

Upas gathering

It seemed to some that there was a simple, elegant solution to the entire mess: collapse the transoptical flayers and exile the sixth graders permanently. By way of this harsh action, the rebels could never enter into contact with their peaceful brethren, and that would solve the problem. But Incudean dependence on the field for universal communication was too strong to seriously contemplate this, and the plan would only postpone the problem and leave any new sixth graders that managed to keep their wits about them at the mercy of the murderous majority. The situation escalated, and soon attacks were reported beyond flayer field, in several worlds across the trinities, though invariably these would involve beasts, usually wolves. (There are ways, I should point out, of knowing with some certainty whether a being appearing before you is revealing her true form or using a malleability, provided both parties stick around long enough.) The 1490s saw the first wave of seventh graders come in, reformed from their madness, and these appearances put the final nail in the coffin to the idea of doing away with the field. The new seventh graders claimed to remember very little of their life as Upas. The Council was cautious at first, but clearly these were individuals with too much potential to be kept under quarantine for too long.

I’m tempted to use the expression “long story short…” and move along, but feel I would be unfair to the victims in doing so. Starting with Klontein and as of this date (I write at the end of FR 8838) the death toll of public Upa incidents stands at 3,012. How they operate is still somewhat of a mystery. As I´ve said, seventh graders come back with almost total amnesia and no understanding of what they did or why. And the why in particular is a total enigma. Maybe it is the pure rebellion of a (delayed) adolescence.

The Sixth Power

We have a nebulous notion of what the Upa power is, though there is tons of debate on whether other species can wield it in the same manner or not. There are two reasons for the lack of conclusiveness on this point: 1) There are extremely few sapients that have ever reached the sixth grade, and they tend to be very good at obfuscating when being asked about these matters (Dolens, Ascalonians); 2) We know for a fact that each seventh grader (in any and all species) has her own unique ability not shared with others, so it’s possible that the sixth grade ability behaves in the same way, or possibly, that the sixth power is unique to each species. A case in point is that there are zero reports of Dolens employing Upa-like attacks during the Three and a Half Wars.

So by "Upa power" we mean the universal power as it expresses itself in sixth-grade Inculae. This is what we know: Upas can sniff out the use of abilities about to be deployed - the imminent intention to deploy an ability in their “equivalent” vicinity in any world. This skill of detection (malleability of ability) is the beginning of their power. But it is not the end of the story because Upas complement it with sorcery. What actually happens is subject to speculation. Some argue that when an Upa decides she wants to stop someone who is about to use an ability, she uses a lime spell known as somatallaxis (body-switching, fausegioma) to whisk the person elsewhere, momentarily, and thus ruin the ability (since ability activations hinge on place as well as time). The Upa prevents the victim from realizing she’s been whisked away by recreating through the lime spell of evocation (igohokama) an environment that is as exact as possible to the one the victim was in just before, and for as long enough as to cause her to break her concentration. The Upa can also avoid alerting any witnesses or onlookers around the victim by putting in the victim’s place an entity (an automaton or a golem) perfectly resembling her. This pattern is already evident in the Columna Perennis attack, where the area around Archon Klontein showed evidence of having being disturbed. It is speculated that the talent for sorcery derives from the malleability as well.

The golemic/evocation theory is rivalled by the egregoric theory, which claims that instead of massive creations of "stuff," Upas are simply capable of engineering egregores, so that victims’ fears feed into the environment and even the golemic proxies are partly the creation of the victims. The mechanism of egregoria (lorrashema) is also traditionally viewed as a top lime magic. This theory is favored by some religious folk, as Tarteism teaches that the antagonistic god of chaos is itself an egregore (lorkina), and so Upas can be neatly defined as "followers of the ungod." The downside of the theory is that mere egregores should not be able to harm, even less kill, their targets.

In a nutshell, we believe that the true sixth-grade ability consists of the capacity of detection of the use of abilities by others and the capacity of expansion of one's own abilities (esp. lime sorcery) geared toward denying the former. The jury is still out on evocations versus egregoria. And since these arcane tasks are supposedly extremely taxing, both sides of the debate agree that in all likelihood most Upas most of the time will take any shortcuts available to them, like for example switching the target ability caster with a person currently dreaming. Thus, the dreamer will think they’re still dreaming, while the caster will be disoriented by the move and stop herself (disorientation may ensue when casting powerful ability spells). In this case, the environment is actually a dreamscape, and the tendency of Upa attacks to occur in the dead of night is also explained. Broad daylight attacks involving many people would be the result of a few extremely powerful Upa leaders. I’ll stress again that Upas themselves hardly ever actually attack anyone directly since they are hardly ever in the same world as their victims (flayer field excepted). It is their golem proxies that attack people (the so-called Upa wolves), though some gullible types do believe that Upas can, through a higher form of somatallaxis, actually swap bodies across worlds and not only within the same world. At the opposite end of the scale, it is claimed that crude and/or uncaring Upas will simply swap people around and stop their abilities that way (foregoing the evocation process altogether, which is supposed to be extremely difficult and taxing), and that if witnesses don't come forward detailing how this happened it is because they are scared of what the Upas might do to them.

The first thousand years of so of the Upa Rebellion produced a real scare in the Silver Planet. For complicated reasons having little to do with actual statistics, Bralmond in the Eastern Provinces of the Silver Planet became associated with the rebels. It was said the forests there were frequented at night by roving packs of Upa wolves. The stories had much more currency among Inculae of other planets, as can be expected, but the eastern region suffered a number of reversals as a result. Thankfully, soon the time would come that mothers could calm their children by telling them that if they ran into any nightmares, Ransain the Great would surely come to save them.


1. Surrealism - Genesis of a Revolution, N. Brodskaïa next