Thursday, 15 August 2019
I Will Roll Deep
If you are in you better be in all the way. Thusly I have placed the Raven-People for Zoiterra, the Animal-People continent made up itself of nations on the backs on giant animals, on (and in) something which is not a giant animal, big instead a cosmically-huge coconut.
I am fully committed to this idea.
Quick are the Qua, and black as ink, riders of the cosmic coconut, called Okoko, the virtue of which is Heroism. A hollow virtue for a hollow land.
Many Ptak, the Aviform bird-people, are seen as having a slightly twitchy, rolling movement, with moments of stillness unusual in other races. The Qua are Ptak, physically, if not culturally.
(Of course you should never refer to Qua as Ptak in Zoiterra, most bird people would take this as being deeply insulting. Culturally, socially and philosophically, they would be seen as entirely different beings, springing from a different land (the least of lands), and following a different virtue (the least of virtues).
But they are Bird-Men, and they exemplify those qualities; more jerky, more still, more rapid when they do move, with a particular glimmering intelligence in their frozen side-on glance. Beak half-open, the eye shining.
They have slender limbs and are light and agile in a way rare for Aviform beings. Unlike many, they are excellent climbers, their beaks are often employed as tertiary hands. They dance well, are not put off by long journeys on foot, deal happily with riding beast and even sail well.
The Qua are almost always deep, dark black. Their feathers glimmer like oil when close, like a sheen of opal across a pupil-black void. This, and their general lack of interest in status-markers, makes them quite hard for non-Qua to tell apart.
In the wild, bright forests of Okoko they look like silhouettes of cut-out black paper, dark shadows on a bright day.
In Ku, the city floating on the milk sea in the darkness of the Great Nut, they are like the openings of deep tunnels come to life, swimming in gems, black-on-white against the bioluminescence of the city floating above, rippling away into realms of hidden tides. Like smiling gateways to infinite nowhere.
The Qua are suspected to be the most intelligent of Ptak, and some of the smartest in Zoiterra, though you would not realise this from their wild, irregular and unwise conduct. They are famously good at puzzles and codes, and at languages in a way, though this is considered a form of mimicry rather than 'true' knowledge.
In Zoiterra the intelligence of the Qua is spoken of in a glib and degrading way. As if it were a trick, not true knowledge. Not true learning, not wisdom, not the knowledge of a sage, but a mere practical facility, and therefore, in a way, somehow worse than mere stupidity.
The perceived ability of the Qua only lowers them in the eyes of Zoiterran culture and, in particular, with the Ptak of Boe, who regard them with sadness, suspicion and agonised frustration.
In many ways, Okoko is a professional client state. The Qua will effectively 'rent' out the resources of its surface (but not the interior), along with their own somewhat questionable services and assistance, to whomever is willing to push them along.
This might seem like a good deal. With a large, easily exploitable, (and largely willing) client state and its population any Zoiterran culture could significantly increase its own power and security relative to the rest.
However, though it often takes a while, the Qua always, ALWAYS, end up massively pissing off whichever state of group they serve, and Okoko is booted off to seek another patron.
For the period of their service, the Qua act as indentured servants, for the culture of whichever beast is currently pushing Okoko. They work the slash-and-burn cash-crop plantations in the valleys of Okoko, exporting almost everything to the dominant population. They also serve more directly as house servants, professional indentured labour and malmuke-like military formations.
Qua living on their current client beast are usually locked into recognisable social and legal orders, but those remnants or diaspora populations left behind on previous beasts often form a criminal underclass. (Or underground railroad, or revolutionary elite, depending on how you look at it.)
The remnant populations of Qua do sometimes find a place in society. (A controlled place.) Zoiterra is huge and highly diverse, there are many places for individuals to escape to, get lost in or build a life.
A popular Qua figure in Zoiterran base culture is Diviner Cao and his Monkeyman Servant Biglift
Cao of Okoko is a famous detective-like character in popular fiction and a somewhat comedic figure. Brought in by stretched or harried authorities to deal with problems high or low, and often solving them in the most amusing and counterintuitive ways, both aided and frustrated by Biglift (catchphrase 'Me big lift') and his constant distractions by available food and wild female monkeymen. Cao's divinations often cast an ironic eye upon Zoiterran culture and hierarchies
The virtue of Okoko is Heroism.
This is regarded by all of Zoiterra as the lowest of virtues, most distant from the sublime and from the unnameable cosmic truth. A hollow virtue for a hollow land. Self-possessed, narcissistic, concerned with the things of this world, obsessed with changing things - pushing them out of their natural course and altering their inner nature. Frantic, mischief-causing, life-shortening. Woeful, very woeful.
To the rest of Zoiterra, the Qua are seen as conniving, scheming, interfering, carpetbagging, do-gooders. Causing trouble, doing crimes, ignoring the law, society, propriety and the Virtues. Freeing indentured workers, deposing rulers, breaking treaties, seeking treasure, stealing slaves, burning debt records and land leases, re-distributing cash and information. Never ceasing to stick their beaks in. Seemingly unable to go anywhere without interference in some local arrangement which has *nothing* to do with them. The exact opposite of what a virtuous or enlightened person would do. Put simply; Agents of CHAOS.
Of course the Qua have to lie about this, and sneak about. If they were obvious about what they were doing then they would be run out of wherever they were, (and they often are). So they play the subservient clients, pretending to be obedient, making themselves useful, irreplaceable really. But all the time they are just picking up information - thinking and planning in their little corvid brains. What else can you expect from these robbers?
OKOKO - THE COSMIC COCONUT
Okoko is alone amongst the other Nation Beasts of Zoiterra who, it is said, condensed from starlight and the shreds of unravelling worlds and came to follow the way, (but who, being heavenly, were in the act of following the way anyway).
Some tilted into existence like an image changing in a mirror, some flew from the stars, some treaded down gently from heaven, or burst up through the Waste-Pack from the Chaos Sea beneath, all guided by (or guiding?) the sages.
Okoko was not guided by the sages, and it’s hard to believe it came from heaven, though it certainly came from 'the sky'. Okoko just arrived, plummeting like a nutty meteor. And that is all it is, a giant nation-sized coconut. It is not a beast, it has no mind and, shamefully, cannot even move under its own power.
Okoko can survive the great race against Yggsrathaal only by being pushed or carried by other beasts.
NATURE ON OKOKO
Okoko is also unstable, round and unable to right itself, it rolls in the chaos sea. Sometimes it is pushed up onto the Waste-Pack and grinds, or even rolls across it. Sometimes it crashes through the Waste as if it were ice.
The surface of Okoko is a smashed paradise of tumbling brown mountains, ruined cities and a vibrant, multicoloured, quick-growing jungle popping with fast animals. Within this psychedelic hypnagogic wonderland the Qua slink and hop like crafty black shadows.
It is an ecology accustomed to apocalypse, one that can move or re-grow with incredible speed, as its world literally rolls around it. Okoko has huge slash-and burn plantations wherever its is currently most-stable, these eat away at the jungle near still points and around the great gaps which give access to the interior.
It is also a land with many secrets, for in its long ages of near-stability, many beings have built upon Okoko or delved within its shell. Buildings on Okoko have deep foundations, even after being swept away in a distant age, after a roll, the structure can be recovered and built upon once again.
THE WAYS WITHIN
At various points around Okoko are gigantic tunnels into its Husk. Almost all of these are closed and blocked off, by the art of the Qua and the nature of Okoko, most of the time. In each age of the nut, a few are left open, carefully guarded by the Qua, and these provide passage to the World Within.
Beyond these lies the Quick of the Nut, a white fibrous layer several miles deep, and rumoured to be inhabited by tribes of blind monkeymen who eat their way through it, forming great labyrinths.
Beyond that is the Milk Sea and the darkness of the nut.
For Okoko is hollow, and in its black depths floats a sea of milk. While the shell of Okoko may spin and turn from age to age, scouring its surface, the level of the Milk Sea, swishing in the darkness, remains broadly flat, whatever happens outside.
Here, upon the milk, the Qua built Ku.
Ku of the Quick, Ku-Within, Ku, city of Lamps. A black city on a white sea. A fleet of black ships, tied together, with streets of milk, like a Venice of white water like by huge floating bioluminescent jellyfish.
Some buildings are in the centre of huge rafts, or built into teak ships. None are very high as they might capsize when Okoko turns. Between these travel gondolas poled by Qua and guided by firefly lanterns. There are almost no naked fires, nearly all light being accomplished by various forms of chemiluminescence and bioluminescence. The city as a whole is lit by huge floating Man-O-War bioluminescent jellyfish which drift above its black timbers like huge balloons. These are grown and sustained by the Qua through their art, fed by the nutrients of the Milk Sea and drawn from its strange ecologies.
Here in Ku, the Qua have their noble houses, guilds, magical schools, libraries, nests, treasure houses, houses of cartography, trading houses, investigators alephs, headquarters for their labour and agricultural unions and the great Qua Bank of Secrets.
HIERARCHY AND THE 'OTHER' ON ZOITERRA
Zoiterra doesn't have as strong a divide between Real People and the 'other' as Blackwater.
Beasts and monsters are all ranked in various Zoiterran philosophies and schemes of record. Each has its own moral value, which changes depending on complex arguments and viewpoints. There are, in a sense, no 'monsters' in Zoiterra. Orcs would be, to most Zoiterrans, indistinguishable from wild Monkeymen, or a variety of them, the idea that they are seprate strains is only thought considered by scholars and specialists. (The idea of a nation or kingdom of Monkeymen is itself a rather wild one.) Most creatures of Yggsrathaal would be considered blind, ignorant, totally separated from their essential self, or even having none, rather than "evil".
Monkeymen are considered utterly ignorant of anything of value or meaning - but not totally separated from their essential selves. Mockable and pathetic largely because they unconsciously mimic they activities and actions of their superiors, but if they submit to be beasts they can still be considered to have their own nature.
But the megacontinents hierarchy, though fluid, is very steep. Qua are not quite non-citizens, THE lowest of the high or highest of the low - opinions differ depending on prejudice and experience. They are seen as being above monkeymen, and capable of wisdom (though usually not exhibiting any).