Servants to the Senate
Uralai was pleased to see that Navyri was a sharp one. Attentive and asked the right questions. "Yes, like the one Servant carries. And it is a greeting, of sorts. The Personal Identity Crystal is connected to a vast network of information on people who carry them. And it is required to have one if you wish to be a citizen here. The Senate knows your name, your work, your home, your race, age, gender, everything from that Crystal. It connects to your account at the bank and grants you access to many and most of the privileges within the City. And all of the protections as well. When Servant offered his Crystal to you, it was its way of trying to see who you are and what language you speak."
Uralai laughed, "Many don't like it. Some think it too invasive, others too much information or power for the Senate. But if you want to get by here, it's practically mandatory."
Listening about this other world, she waited, pondering how much to share. "We have, probably, as many currencies as we do languages. It's a wonder how we got things done before the Senate. Now, if you get a Crystal, then we use Senate Credits, or just Credits. The bankers determine how much that is worth, but it is beyond me how they do so. I am certainly not a math person. I do know that the further you get away from the city center, the more likely you are to use physical currencies and barter. The nomads only use barter."
Then her face grew serious. "I am from these nomads. We do not typically settle here in the city, and we do not typically conform to their ways. However, we do have a story that gets told at every Crossing. It comes in many varieties, but it speaks of people, long before any of us were alive, coming from other worlds. Many think it simply a story, and yet, here I am, talking to you, with Servant's eyes as witness. They called those people Outlanders. And while I'm certainly not all knowing, I can tell you that such an occurrence certainly isn't normal. I'm sure those at the World Seekers Guild would love to meet you."
Uralai smiled, "No, you owe me nothing. Being a part of your story is more than enough for me and Servant here. On a more practical note, if you are an Outlander, here in a new world; take the opportunity to make yourself into what you always wanted to be. I've lived far longer than many, so I know the burdens, the chains, the shadows that follow us as we put ourselves out into the world. You have none of those now. Your world is gone from you, and you are gone from it. Make yourself some money, find a place to call home, make some friends, and do what makes you happy and fulfilled."
She summoned Servant over with a wave of her hand, "If you'd like, I've been meaning to send Servant on a longer task than I would typically give him, but I could do so now. He is fetching me some seeds from the Fringes of the city. If you'd like to accompany him, I'd pay you for the service, so long as you speak some of these languages of yours to him. He'd record and learn from them, and would teach you some of our own Common in return."
She sipped at her wine, glanced over the top of it at Navyri, an eyebrow raised, "Interested?"
It was a lot to wrap one's head around. Magical crystals and identity sharing. How was this much trust in some mysterious Senate? Navyri listened, content to let Uralai fill the silence with a reveal of information. You let a group of politicians decide the worth of immaterial currency? Her confusion grew. No matter her doubts about the system - and Navyri had many - the woman's words were clear. It was, according to the healer, a necessary evil. And apparently, quite a clever one. Whoever these Senators were, they had not only convinced the population in mass to trust them with their entire identities and bank accounts but with their lives as well. Whatever "protections" these politicians offered, Navyri did not buy it. A cage was still a cage, even if the bird sang sweetly, "So selfless," she complimented after a moment, favoring the wine more than the strange food. As she drank, she observed the duo from the rim of her glass. She picked up one of the berries next, lifting it, "Working so tirelessly for the benefit of their people. How..." her voice took on a dreamy quality, distracted as she noticed the movement inside. In the light, it was like a small embryonic sac. There was movement inside. Was this a berry at all?
She set it back down on the board and finished her wine. Using her glass, she pinned the berry beneath its base and pushed downward, a small pop followed by a squirt of fluid. Navyri thought she felt wiggling movement and pushed down harder, grinding it into the plate. Was this a berry or an egg? She peeked beneath the base of the glass, almost expecting something to go skittering across the table, "Inspirational."
Navyri quickly wondered if there was a way to forge these crystals, create fake identities. She needed a way to function in the city without assimilating to it entirely. She was sure she was not the first to think of this. There were always others like her who favored... creative solutions. When Uralai began to educate her on the nomads and their stories of Outlanders, Navyri lost interest in the meal. Others like her, then? She sat forward, focused. "World Seekers?" there was an institute on such things?
Her mind began to race. Uncommon or not, if she had made it here, she could make it back. Navyri returned Uralai's smile, feeling a sliver of promise. The woman encouraged Navyri to reinvent herself, to see this as a new chance. An opportunity. But the healer didn't know all the work she had to do back home. She had investments. Promises. Debts. Lovers. Scores to settle. A city to raze. Greatness to achieve.
Like the berry beneath the glass, Uralai crushed the thought.
You have none of those now. Your world is gone from you, and you are gone from it.
Don't say that! she nearly snapped, biting her tongue and looking away. Volatile emotions churned inside her and suddenly she felt weak with anger. The drum of her heartbeat kept her present. You don't know that.
"Make yourself some money, find a place to call home, make some friends, and do what makes you happy and fulfilled."
Navyri closed her eyes, not wanting to hear any more. She reigned in her impulses. The Naer had spent a lifetime trying to do just that. Uralai didn't know. How could she? For all her efforts to survive, to strengthen herself, what did the Naer have to show for it? The dark-haired woman had been in captivity so long, freedom felt like an impossibility. True freedom. The kind Soren had encouraged. The kind her god would have never allowed. Was he still watching?
The path before her was shrouded in the unknown. This could be an opportunity, yet it felt like a curse. She swallowed and stood, needing to move. To expel some of this... emotion. She made her way to the window, looking out at the beautiful garden. Navyri remained silent even after Uralai made her offer. Knowing they didn't have unlimited time before the language barrier returned, the Outlander had to make a decision, "Counteroffer," she finally answered, "I will share my Common for yours," If what Uralai said was true and people like her were few and far in between, her knowledge was valuable to the right person. If Servant recorded everything, she would need to be on her best behavior, but that wouldn't mean she would give up everything. Her memory of her homeland was the only thing she had to barter with, giving it all away on the first offer was folly. She moved back towards where she had been sitting and rested her hands on the back of her chair, sizing up the woman, "-but I want lessons."
"I will go with Servant today, chatting all the while," she tried to imagine what they would talk about, "We can finish your errand and come back, and then we can finalize payment. Although, I'm curious what that entails if your economy is so... chaotic. I'm afraid you'll have to clarify what you've meant."
Navyri smiled warmly, but it was clear she did not rush into action on good faith alone. This wasn't going to be another eternal debt, "Languages are so vast, what are a mere few hours if I can offer days? It's not as if I have any prior engagements. If you or Servant have any time to spare, I could come by regularly, we could have a little chat, share cultures...verbs, you never know," Navyri retook her seat, wings opening to allow her to sit comfortably before falling back into place behind her, "If it is my story which interests you, allow today to become our chapter one."
Uralai's grin grew at Navyri's counter offer. Her face showed the obvious calculations going on in her mind, her making no attempt at hiding it. She let the pause linger for a while, before speaking, though not to Navyri. She looked over at Servant, "Kherra, we're letting Navyri in."
Servant nodded, and Uralai now looked at Navyri. "We all have our secrets, and in this..." she spoke with obvious disgust, "city." She paused, letting her hatred of it marinate, "In this city, keeping those safe is important. I do not require any of yours, so I will not ask them of you. I will accept your offer, with an extra requirement. I want exclusivity of your language, for mine and Kherra's ears only. I will pay what you wish, and how you wish, for that. You want clarity of payment? I can pay in a variety of coins if you'd like. Or perhaps you'd rather a place to lay your head for a night? I have those as well."
She beckoned Kherra over, "You might be the first Outlander I've met, possible the first of your kind here. But you are far from the only... well, different. Kherra here is not like the others of his kind, is not like others of our world. If you saw others like him on your way to my home, then know this. Those are mere puppets. Kherra woke up and severed his strings. And that is a dangerous thing to happen in this city."
She leaned back a bit, "I share this with you, despite the vulnerability for us it opens, to better form this relationship of ours. Kherra is not connected to the Crystalline Network like the Servants. He maintains his own, a smaller one, and within it, he has all the information from before he woke up and severed that connection. His knowledge of you, the recordings, the language you've spoken, are safe from the rest of the city within his network. And by telling you this, I hopefully provide you with... let's call it leverage. To truly put us on equal footing. We do not wish to control or use you, and I promise you, many in this place will want to do so. But a relationship built on exchange... that's something we can get behind."
She stood up now, "Myself and Kherra have plenty of time to spare, and when you get a Personal Identity Crystal, we'll give you access to here. Until such time, Kherra will be your language partner, he's far better than myself anyways."
"So name how you'd like your payment and I'll have it prepared upon your return. It's a big city so it will be a while for such. But the spirit within you is dimming so it is about to depart and we're losing this lovely conversation shortly. Kherra will provide what you need along the way, and hopefully when we see each other next, we'll be speaking unaided. For I truly look forward to hearing more of your story, Navyri Outlander."
Navyri felt a flash of intrigue at Uralai's change in disposition. She was all too familiar with holding distaste for a city that treated one financially when it stood against personal conviction. Uralai addressed Servant by a name and not a title, Navyri leaned back, tilting her head to watch the newly introduced Kherra approach, listening all the while as Uralai revealed, and modified the terms, "Exclusivity," she mused, weighing the option of coin or housing. Housing, of course, was the most important option. Coin, as much as she'd come to appreciate it over the years, was nothing if one did not understand its value or more specifically, its value to others, "Under normal circumstances, I might have told you to buy me a drink first, but," Navyri cracked a smile, mulling over everything that had been shared with her, "You're already one step ahead of the others; I like that."
Universe jumping aside, it appeared the brunette had fallen into unfathomable luck. Yes, her arrival had missed its usual grace and allure, but to find a pair that could not only heal her, but provide for her as well? They could give her knowledge, shelter, a voice by which to be heard... Was she to believe it was by pure chance Kherra had been there when she needed help the most? Or an entity that could not bleed concerned itself with the pain of others? Why?
Uralai stood and Navyri shadowed.
“I understand exchange,” she said, eyeing Uralai’s scales. Navyri tried to understand why the woman before her would want sole command of a language that should mean nothing here. What use could Kherra have for storing it? Academic curiosity somehow seemed to be a stretch, and she had never been known to favor the scientifically obsessed, “I would like a place to rest my head… Shelter, you know. Nothing too extravagant,” Navyri liked nice things, but nice things came with nice price tags. If there was so much as a hint of Uralai taking advantage to keep her indebted, then their deal was over. Clearly, the healer had resources, “Thick curtains would do nicely. There’s always been a certain charm to an atmospheric quality, no? Really… sets the mood for what’s to follow.”
Navyri smiled, sweet as honey.
As for the Identity Crystal and being allowed access, Navyri couldn’t say exactly what this place was. She took in the architecture, the furnishings, the details of the decor…
“For I truly look forward to hearing more of your story, Navyri Outlander."
The brunette nodded in agreement. As long as Navyri was the one who wrote the ending, she didn’t mind a bit of attention, “We should hurry, then.”
The Outlander looked at Kherra, tilting her head. Uralai was right, there wouldn’t be much time before the spirit of understanding left her, “You have severed your strings?” she asked, repeating the phrasing Uralai had used. A slave without the shackles: A servant, “So I must also ask you before I cannot-” Navyri walked towards the bot, “This exchange… Common tongue for Common Tongue,” Uralai had been quick to suggest Kherra, but in the same breath suggested he (she? they?) were more than just a mere puppet. In the privacy of this arrangement, it would do well to act like it, “This arrangement agrees with you also?” Navyri breezed towards the door, the shadows pulling just a little bit more. They leaned, almost imperceptibly, in the Naer’s direction, “Please,” she raised a brow, beckoning for Kherra to begin their errand, “Lead the way.”
Uralai listened to every word, every mannerism that came out of this Outlander, first of her kind. "I'm glad we could come to an agreement. Kherra will find a place to suit your needs. With especially thick curtains, would hate for the light to... see that darkness therein."
Kherra, now done playing the role of puppet, could be seen standing with a bit of a slouch in his shoulders, a curious tilt of his head. His posture suggested that if he had a true face, it might be smiling slyly, for these mannerism were distinctly human, even if they were humans from a different world. "Yes, I freed myself, and found myself here with Uralai, much as you have now."
At Navyri's insistence that this agreement be of his own choosing, "Yes, it agrees with me as well. Uralai and myself are partners in all things," a very subtle rubbing of his finger tips accompanying the statement. And with that, Navyri Outlander was leading Kherra to the entrance of the property. He joined after her, a bit of a skip in his step, up until the door. He pressed his palm to the barrier, and it deactivated, the door opening. In a slight whisper, "Thank you for asking. And please, talk as much as you can, I will learn fastest that way."
As they crossed the threshold, back out into the public atmosphere, he returned to his stiff, robotic mannerisms. And as the barrier returned, with Navyri on the outside of it, the spirit slipped from her, a gentle gesture, a soft goodbye of a friend, disappearing into the Spirit Realm once more. With that, Kherra promptly turned back around to the door, pressing his palm into the wood. In the new, to Navyri, Common Tongue, "Gardens Terminal." Then he pushed open the door.
Instead of Uralai's lavish garden, the door opened into vast structure of rose tinted marble, with hundreds of people marching around in all directions. There were guards, wielding vicious weapons and armor that was touched with gold, platinum, and gemstones, standing all around, watching. The people moving around did so at different speeds. People that wore uncolored robes and attire, typically of soft, neutral colors, moved the fastest, some even running outright. Others that looked much like Kherra moved at a brisk pace, but not one that was so fast as to cause anxiety to look at them. And those that wore the deep crimsons, emeralds, violets, and blues, they moved at the leisurely place that came with their roles in society.
The Gardens terminal stretched for a few hundred yards. The building was so long that one could look at the far end, and see that it was curved, but up close it felt straight. A chime tinged lightly. It was clear that everyone could hear it, several of the lower class stopping to pay close attention. But something was off about the sound too, for while it was reaching everyone, it sounded as if it was right inside Navyri's ear. "@*(#%&#$&&[email protected]&%#^@(*%&#%."
Kherra moved though the crowds, making sure to keep Navyri close. He moved over to one of many dozens of archways that were spaced along the two long walls of the building. As he approached it, it could be seen that it was a portal, a stable one, soft and swirling, light blue, powered by several matching crystals embedded in the arch. People stepped in and out of the portal as if it was no different than a mundane doorway. Kherra stepped on through.
The portal took them below ground, though the only indication that anything had happened was a sudden shift in smells and sounds. They were on a platform, next to a large gap that extended into a tunnel. Down the way on the platform, one of the fashionably armored guards was helping a man in rags to his feet. The man, a human, was pleading with the guard, tears streaming down his face, raising his voice in the common tongue. The guard pulled a necklace out from the man's shirt, a glowing blue crystal, similar to Kherra's. The guard pressed his palm to it and spoke. When he let go of the crystal, it was glowing red. The guard dropped the man and left, a sharp smile upon his face as the man cried behind him.
With a whoosh, a large, metallic serpent shaped structure appeared. It was dotted with many windows, inside which people could be seen sitting and standing. The structure was shiny, new, clean. The seats inside appeared deep and comfortable, in a wide variety of fabrics, the lighting soft and warm. The wall directly in front of Kherra fizzled as he stepped into the serpent, gesturing for Navyri to follow, leading the way to a cushion, gesturing to it as well. But he would not sit himself. He stood there, waiting, as he did when he bore the camouflage of strings.
"Garden's Terminal," she repeated under her breath, struggling with its pronunciation as she watched Kherra's hand touch the door. Navyri expected to see the same scenery she had upon entering, but what greeted her was an atmosphere unlike any other. Marble, pink as a maiden's blush, encompassed the space, a flurry of people moving this way and that. Some stormed past, others breezed around without purpose. Navyri looked back at the entrance in silent accusation before hastily matching Kherra's stride. She had to resist the urge to gawk, quite aware of how out of place her dark attire remained in a place so lush with color. A contrast of tints ranging from airy pastels and rich gemstone coloring varied among the populace, the fashion here as exotic as those wearing it. She was unnatural in comparison. Ugly.
"I should have asked for a wardrobe change," she muttered alongside Kherra, trying to acknowledge his request for her to speak to him and continue to respect her promise of exclusivity by keeping her voice low. Navyri's vanity made it difficult not to consider her physical appearance before the masses. Survival instincts, thankfully, kept her vigilant. She eyed the weapons the guards wore, tensing reflexively when a voice resounded in her ear. Navyri watched some take note of the message, signifying that she was not the only one who hear such an announcement, scanning the crowd to try and see how the others responded. Did their direction change? Did they stop? She kept close to the Servant with her, stepping through the bodies with the practiced ease of someone familiar with urban environments. Navyri's steps were light and graceful, slipping between bodies and reappearing at Kherra's side with a mild irritation at not being able to understand.
She stopped herself from grabbing at Servant's elbow, feigning disinterest when they were next in line before an archway of swirling blue. She had to straighten her back and keep from shrinking back, knowing it would be folly to show fear now. He stepped through the portal and holding her breath, Navyri followed.
They emerged on a platform, the smell was different. Not wholly unplesant, but it held a staler quality to the air and the space felt cooler around them. A deep seeded memory within her stirred, but no imagery came to mind. Something about it felt familiar, although Navyri was sure she had never experienced anything like it. Down a ways, a human cried out, seemingly being arrested. Navyri turned her face away but watched from the corner of her vision, morbidly fascinated as the crystal around the man's next turned red and his cries grew louder, Someone's in trouble, she thought, an interested glint to her blue eyes. Navyri was eager to know whether the crystal had been exposed to reveal its true nature or if the guard had forced its transformation, My, my... his day certainly appears to have gotten worse.
Whatever fate awaited for the man, she did not envy him. Was the crystal a counterfeit? A fake? Or was the poor thing being set up?
Now that would have been quite the interesting turn of events. Navyri looked away from the smiling guard and the red necklace, recognizing the satisfaction in the cruel expression; identifying with it. Navyri joined Kherra on the strange serpant with less hesitation than when they entered the arched portal, surprised by the difference in sound once aboard. She followed the sweep of the Servant's fingers, taking her place in the lush seating, leaning back agains the cushion as if she always belonged there. The dark-haired woman ran her hand along the seating, taking the time to observe the space silently.
Kherra needed her to speak, but her arrangement made such an act a challenge in public. In confined spaces and without the inherent chaos of crowds, any word from her mouth had a high chance of being heard by someone, and even acknowledged, by another outside of the Servant. What would that mean for her deal? Navyri decided it was best if the world thought her mute for now. Oasis would hear her voice in due time.
And until then, she would watch and learn. Another shadow on the wall.
The ride within the silver serpent vehicle was nothing short of majestic comfort. It never once jostled or jolted, there were no harsh noises and smells or lights. At one point in the journey, they were soaring over the Lake, giving a bird's eye view of the entirety of the city, aided by the vehicle's walls turning transparent for this phase. The city was far larger than any that Navyri had ever seen. She would be able to see the massive, crystalline beauty of the Senate, directly in the center of the lake, as well as the rows of mansions at the waters edge, transitioning into row house and condominiums, and further up the bowl like sides of the city, vast blocks of apartment buildings, many identical, before they crested at the top of the city's edge. She'd be able to see the massive river that fed into the city, and wound its way into greenery before fading from sight due to sheer distance.
Around her, she'd be able to see people speak, and a barrier would form around them. One couple, that could only be described as some sort of birdman and something that appeared to be made of nothing but bones, summoned forth one of these barriers, which had a slight opaqueness to them. And immediately their conversation was muted from Navyri, no matter how hard she might try to focus her hearing. Almost everyone on here looked bored or agitated, waiting to get to their next destination more rapidly than they seemed to be traveling. This was old hat for the lot of them. None of them even looked up when the train went through another portal and was now racing beneath the waters of the Lake. None seemed to care about the crystalline, growing spirals, extensions of the buildings on the Lake's surface that went down deep. They didn't pay any mind to the many exotic colored fish racing about, or the aquatic people or creatures moving about in a high trafficked fashion, just as they did on the surface and in the sky above.
And soon, they were underground and in another station.
"Orchid Station" was chimed in Navyri's ear. Some people began to get up and file out, others kept their seats. Kherra led the way off the train, and walked them through the terminal. It was opulent and yet tasteful, well designed. High ceilings, mirrors and paintings on many surfaces, studded and adorned with gemstones that were large enough, that in her previous life, just one could have bought Navyri everything she had dreamed of, at least at the time. The amount of wealth on display here was staggering for anyone who knew the value of such things. Or rather, the value of them in their former life.
Kherra led them through another portal, then a grand hall, and finally stepping through a thin, magical barrier into the outside. Once through the barrier, Navyri would be accosted by a cacophony of sounds and the dry heat that seemed far more stifling than it did back by the Lake. There were sounds of vendors selling goods, people arguing in traffic. And the smell of smoke was prevalent. Not the pleasant scent of wood smoke from a campfire, but rather the harsh smoke of coals being worked by smiths. Kherra spoke in Common, "This is the Inner District, Orchid District."
He then raised an arm out from the sidewalk, then let loose a high pitched tinny whistle. Across the street, a rug that had been rolled up and leaning against a building, unrolled itself and floated up and over the crowded road. It flew down in front of them, then mimicking humanoid motions, stood there in front of Kherra. It didn't speak, but when Kherra spoke to it, "Two passengers. 715 Pebble Lane, Spring Shadow District. Fifty Credits."
The rug, using its corner tassels similar to hands and feet, showed a body language that seemed to suggest that it was extremely offended by the offer. It pointed at a spot in its tapestry that appeared to have been sewn back together.
With that, the rug calmed down, flattened out, floating at a level that would be comfortable and easy for Navyri and Kherra to get on. The carpet flew smoothly, adjusting its fabric to fit the contours of their bodies to provide maximum comfort for them both. They flew overtop of the road, but still followed them, far faster than those traveling below. Speaking to Navyri, "We have a decent ways to go. This District is well known for the magitechnicians and artists, heavily specializing in the performance arts." Then he leaned a little closer, whispering now, "Do you have people like me where you come from?"