Journal Entry 35: Truth to Power

PYTHARON EMPIRE, TRAVEL TO RARMON

Narration

JANUAE

As promised, the paramount Selm and I set off for Rarmon in the morning. She had secured a pair of brehms for us to ride, which reduced a month of travel down to just under two weeks.

It took some time for me to adjust to this mount. While the lean, long legged reptile made for a smoother ride than an aneen, a mount which I was quite used to riding, this creature, with its aerodynamic tiny head, long neck and tail, always managed to burst suddenly into a quick gate whenever it set into motion, nearly throwing me off its back the first several times. The saddles appeared to be designed for riding the creatures while in a standing position, though one could sit but not as comfortably. I would certainly need to get used to how the creature started off before I would be comfortable doing that. Selm was patient with me learning to manage this mount, but I could see the amusement in her eyes.

Over the eleven day journey I shared with Selm my trials and tribulations that have come with my jaunting condition and she shared with me how she and her duplicate came to be. Before the split her name was originally Shelm, but they felt they could not share the same name after the duplication, so she became Selm while her twin became Shoum. She found it interesting that her “twin” was also obsessed with finding a reversal for their condition, whereas she has managed to live with it quite successfully and in some ways considered it a gift. I can’t go so far as to say my circumstance is a gift, but my own burgeoning obsession to stop the Amber Pope’s plans differs greatly from the motivations of my other self. Perhaps if he is successful in abating the random jaunting he will seek me out and share his solution. I’m not optimistic of either coming to pass.

The city of Rarmon is certainly experiencing a revitalization. It appears to be a city that has been around a long time, evident in the age and conditions of the buildings and structures. Many of these are surrounded by scaffolds, ladders, and struts as they undergo extensive restoration. There are several buildings that have been completely refurbished, the facades having been rebuilt, old warped glass that can be seen on the older buildings has been replaced with new glass or even stronglass on the remodeled buildings. Between the constant renovations, the markets with their supply of foods from the farms across the lands, and the numerous shops that pepper the city, it appears to support a solid economy for a dense population of what I figure to be around eighty thousand.

The paramount pays an attendant to manage our mounts and she leads us to the center of the lively city, in which appears a tremendously large dome of metal and synth. A stone paved road leads to the outside of the dome, but there is no door or other entryway apparent on its surface. We approach a sentry who is stationed in a secure booth who recognizes Selm and waves us through. I see her place her hands on either side of a metal and synth globe resting on a stand, the top of the globe appearing in the same design, style, and pattern of the dome. She rotates the globe into a different position and I watch with fascination as the dome itself rotates in the same manner. It is then that I realized this ancient structure is itself a globe, half of it buried beneath the ground.

The sphere rotates topwise and to the left until I can see what may be a large set of doors rise from its concealment beneath the ground level, then it changes its rotation until the doors are aligned with the path. When the movement of the structure stops we approach the doors which part open to allow us access.

The inside of the dome contains a large and ornate building, its design and structure the likes of nothing I’ve ever seen. There are several spheres throughout at varying heights and positions with staircases leading between one sphere and the next. Perhaps they are chambers of sorts? In the center is a much larger sphere, to which each staircase leads from every other sphere. It forms an optical illusion of sorts, as it doesn’t seem possible that each sphere can be connected to the central sphere, but that is indeed the case.

Daylight streams from a window above the entrance doors, though the light coming in begins to change as I hear the sound of the sphere rotating again. Through the window I can see the ground coming into view as the structure turns… so it’s not just the outer surface that rotates, but the entire structure, inside as well? This implies this interior must have an independent gravity that keeps us upright despite the orientation of the sphere. Absolutely fascinating…

An escort receives us just inside the entrance and we follow them through a set of a few staircase-sphere connections until we reach the central sphere. Why we cannot simply reach the central sphere straight from the entrance I haven’t a clue, but who’s to say the intentions of the creators of this structure so many millions of years ago? The main corridor inside the central sphere is connected by several other corridors branching off it on either side, eventually leading to a large chamber. A soft pathway on the metal floor of the chamber leads to a staircase  of roughly a dozen steps, at the top of which sits a woman who is clearly the Empress Challadien III. The woman is younger than I had suspected, in the last years of her teens at most. The escort leads us to the foot of the stairway and announces our presence to the sovereign seated above.

SELM

Your Highness.

CHALLADIEN

Hello, Selm. Always delighted to see you. So who’s this you brought with you and why?

SELM

May I introduce Januae, an Aeon Priest-

JANUAE

Former Aeon Priest.

SELM

Excuse me… a former Aeon Priest from the Durkahl in Qi.

CHALLADIEN

Well! You just let him interrupt you like that?

(to Januae)

Aren’t you a presumptuous one!

JANUAE

I beg your pardon, Your Majesty…

SELM

I don’t think he’s used to dealing with titles and such. Don’t mind him, he means well.

CHALLADIEN

Hmph. Well be careful. We appreciate respect here, so show it where it is due. And you better not interrupt me or this meeting will end abruptly, hear me?

JANUAE

Understood, Your Majesty.

CHALLADIEN

Good. Proceed.

JANUAE

Your Majesty, I’m sure you’re aware of Pope Durranet VI’s initiative to launch a crusade against the Spiritlands?

CHALLADIEN

Vaguely. I really don’t concern myself with the affairs of the Papacy, if I can help it. I have enough to worry about ruling my own empire.

JANUAE

Understandably. I suppose this could be an opportunity for you to gain more information about his campaign as it will likely affect your land if it was to come to fruition.

CHALLADIEN

Okay…

JANUAE

The campaign is purported to be a defensive strategy against the Gaians to the north of the Cloudcrystal Skyfields. We are being told that the Gaians are planning an offensive to invade the Steadfast and impose their spiritualism onto our people. The Amber Pope is looking to gather support from the Nine Kingdoms to help prevent this impending invasion from being launched by the Gaians. Forgive me if I’m sharing information you are already aware of. It’s not my wish to waste your time, Your Highness.

CHALLADIEN

I’m okay with the recap. Like I said, I don’t keep my thumb on the pulse of the Order’s affairs. But do me the favor of getting right to the point now.

JANUAE

Of course. Your Majesty, I have visited the Spiritlands. This rumored threat is just that, a rumor. It’s propaganda in fact, designed to trick the rulers of the Nine Kingdoms into uniting against a common enemy. Pope Durranet wants to secure this as his legacy, and as noble as the cause may appear the end in no way justifies the means. In this case the means amounts to the cost of thousands upon thousands of lives. I’ve made it my mission to warn the lands against becoming involved with this lie, expending your resources and your people to support this initiative that is based on a false premise.

CHALLADIEN

(after a pause)

Well, as interesting as all of that is, it really has no impact on the affairs of the Pytharon Empire. My resources are heavily allocated toward defending our southern border against the constant onslaught of the abhumans. If I had the means to mass exterminate the vile creatures I would. While we have food aplenty to sustain armies, our supply of numenera to counter their bizarre capabilities is pretty meager. No thanks to the Papacy. I’ve implored the Archbishop assigned to this land to help us in our defensive efforts but that snake Iijeo gives nothing but thinly veiled excuses… how it is difficult to obtain iotum from Navarene and even more so to transport it here. Whether or not that’s really the case, and I suspect not, I’m not sure how the Order thinks I can support some offensive way up north when they won’t supply me with what I need to keep my land safe. I wouldn’t say you’ve wasted your time, former Aeon Priest, but I don’t owe the Order of Truth any favors, so don’t worry about whether or not we’ll buy into their propaganda, as you say. Now, if there’s nothing else…

SELM

Actually, there is, Your Highness. I’m afraid I know the answer already but I came on behalf of the siblings to inquire about the numenera needed to continue construction on the Imbil?

CHALLADIEN

That hasn’t changed. When I last spoke with Archbishop Iijeo he gave me the same excuses as always. Might I suggest you meet with him personally? Bring that one with you. Perhaps as a former member of the Order he might know how to reason with him? Gods know I can’t.

SELM

An excellent suggestion, Your Highness. I’ll take Januae to see him just now.

PYTHARON SEMBLAGE

JANUAE

Selm and I make our way across the city to the location of the semblage Archbishop Iijeo works out of. Their campus is nothing extraordinary; a laboratory, some living quarters, small storage buildings, pretty standard for a semblage. The buildings are in various states of refurbishment, not getting any more or less attention than other buildings throughout Rarmon. But there is something about these buildings that those outside of the semblage lack. I can’t tell what, but they are imbued with numenera. I can sense it. I can feel it. To what purpose, I can’t tell.

After knocking on the door we are received by a portly middle aged Aeon Priest. We announce our request to speak with the Archbishop, to which he looks at me then Selm dubiously. She pulls aside the lapel of her tunic to show him an emblem of sorts, and he drops his head and nods, agreeing to grant us egress, then guides us to a dining hall. He states our presence to the Archbishop who is clearly in the midst of his meal. If it wasn’t for the loftier garb of an Archbishop I would not have given him another look if encountering him on the street. He is a small bespectacled man with thinning hair, rather unremarkable, save for the lattice of scars visible along his hands and the exposed parts of his arms, as well as his neck.

IIJEO

Ah, Selm. Please, have a seat. I hope you don’t mind me finishing my meal while we speak. Who’s this with you?

(a beat while IIJEO looks over JANUAE)

You look to be someone who studied under an Aeon Priest but didn’t have what it takes to become one, am I correct? What’s your name?

JANUAE

Januae, but I did actually become an Aeon Priest. Have been one for many years.

IIJEO

Hm. Something about you is… I don’t know what it is, like not quite a good fit or something. I can tell.

JANUAE

Yes, well I’ve had some conflicts with the Order of Truth recently.

IIJEO

Is that right? Selm, I hope you don’t mind if our business waits a moment… this man has me a bit curious. Do tell…

JANUAE

This is regarding the Archbishop’s initiative against the Gaians. He-

IIJEO

The crusade, yes. I am very well aware of it.

JANUAE

Well are you aware that it is all propaganda?

IIJEO

I suspect as much, yes.

JANUAE

Well then. I hope you would stand against this lie and choose not to participate when the Amber Pope comes calling on you to help this land support his cause.

IIJEO

(chuckles)

Clearly you don’t understand the way of things here. I have to play a very delicate game with the Empress. You are absolutely correct, the Papacy wants the support of the Pytharon Empire. But what you don’t understand is that Challadien is young, ambitious, and power hungry. If we were to provide her with the means to bolster an army she would readily use it to conquer her neighbors. She would love to take back Milave’s century of freedom from the Empire, and with Iscobal’s internal struggles she sees them as ripe for the taking as well. That would certainly undermine the Amber Pope’s goal of unifying the Kingdoms. So it is my job to make sure she is kept in check.

JANUAE

She spoke of needing to defend against the abhuman attacks from the southern border-

IIJEO

Please! Those reinforcements are to hold back the people of Matheunis from retaliating due to our constant slave raids in the Cold Desert. There is nothing altruistic about her intentions.

JANUAE

Okay, then. I feel better about that. It sounds like her plans are counter to that of the Papacy and she has no intentions of working with it, is that what I am to understand?

IIJEO

Here’s what you are to understand, my friend. I serve at the pleasure of His Eminence. If I am called on to help arm this empire to the teeth, I will do so. If the Empress fell into the Voil Chasm and was replaced by a more compliant ruler, I would advise the Amber Pope on how this land can serve his initiative. And if you don’t understand the greater purpose in this, then I can see why the Order of Truth was not a good fit for you. An Aeon Priest sees the big picture, plays the long game. So with that I wish you luck in your endeavors, Januae. I can’t imagine it will do you much good though, these are forces far greater than your unbridled altruism can manage. Oh, and Selm… if you brought this… nano to attempt to make a connection and curry favor for your Umbil project, you were sadly mistaken. Now I think I’d like to finish my meal.

SELM

But if I could have-

IIJEO

I said good day.

SELM and JANUAE exit the semblance

JANUAE

I’m sorry if I interfered with any chance of you getting that numenera…

SELM

Don’t be silly. It was a long shot. He’s an obstructionist through and through. Of course whenever the Empress suggests something I tell her it’s a great idea. But I do believe in your cause, I believe you’ve found your purpose in this. That’s where Iijeo is wrong… what you’re doing is bigger than all of us. I know it. I don’t know how I do, but I do.

JANUAE

Thank you. I don’t know about a purpose per se, but it’s what I feel is right.

SELM

Then don’t give up on your… let’s call it a mission. Perhaps you’ll have better luck in one of the neighboring lands?

JANUAE

Perhaps. Which lands are close to this one?

SELM

Well, Orrila, the capital city of Milave- if you can really consider it the capital- is the same distance from here as is the Twinned Cities. I’d recommend you head to the markets and look for a merchant that’s headed there. You see,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Iijeo “obtains” any numenera discovered in Pytharon as a means of curtailing the Empress’ ambitions. Consequently many explorers and traders discreetly take their wares to Orrila, so you may be able to obtain passage, if you can prove trustworthy.

JANUAE

I think I will take that course of action. Thank you for all your assistance, Selm.

SELM

Of course. I’m sorry I couldn’t help any further. Travel safely, Januae. As you know, the Ninth World can be a dangerous place, so be careful.

JANUAE

I know all too well.