Friday, November 30, 2012

Travels of Matteus: The Ara'yulthr Part 1

Journal Entry
Today I figured I would journey over to Vega and see what I can find about the Ara’yulthr. I am not sure what to expect, as they have a stagnant art culture, and spend most of their time building armies to defend their homeland rather than feed their intellectual desires. I hope to unearth some form of tradition, perhaps even a few history books back from their tribal roots. But I am not holding my breath; it was difficult enough for me to get clearance to land on the planet. Although people who have a militaristic governing system tend to mark themselves to denote kinship and achievements in battle, so perhaps I am not going to leave empty handed.

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                Matteus was escorted to the customs office by two heavily armed guards, dressed in sleek yet intimidating uniforms. They ushered him at a hurried pace, so he had little time to absorb the beautiful scenery. He stepped inside a very modern looking metal building, which appeared to have trees growing on top of it. He couldn’t tell if they were real or fake, but he admired the camouflage they provided, making it difficult for aircraft to detect where buildings were located amid the jungle. A rather disgruntled looking customs officer grunted in a mild welcoming tone.

                “Name,” The red man barked. The Ara’yulthr are a strikingly beautiful race, despite their coarse personalities, but they didn’t value vanity here. This man had scars in the shape of claw marks scrawled across his jaw, denoting a fairly seasoned warrior. His raven hair contrasted his deep red skin, and his lime green cat eyes scanned over Matteus with visible annoyance.

                “Matteus Il’Kalut,” He responded softly. The man typed on a keyboard in the air.

                “Guns, tech, or herbs?” The officer ordered, not looking away from his console screen.

                “Pardon?” Matteus said in a bemused tone, causing the man to sigh aloud in irritation.

                “Guns. Tech. Or herbs?” He repeated.

                “I am not sure I understand the question.” Matteus admitted. A woman suddenly appeared from the back office, her uniform was trimmed in gold to denote a higher rank. This race was known for its androgyny, but this woman had more exaggerated female features as opposed to one of the more typical specimens.

                “Lieutenant,” She bellowed. “I don’t think this man is here for trade. Haven’t you encountered a Kol’wrathen on your watch?”

                “No sir,” He said in an unamused tone. “I can safely say I have not.”

                “They’re not traders, they’re scholars, am I correct?” She asked of Matteus.

                “Yes, ma’am.” Matteus said politely.

                “Are you just looking to resupply?” She asked.

                “No, actually I am looking to study here, If you would permit it.”

                “Really? I don’t know what we can offer to an artisan. I do apologize for the assumption, many of your race who come here just refuel before venturing to other destinations. What medium are you looking for in particular, if I may ask?”

                “Not at all, I specialize in body art and alteration. Given some of your races natural armor featured, I thought you would have a different take on the common inked tattoo.”

                “Interesting. Well, I would be most happy to oblige your curiosities. Please follow me.” She nodded over to the customs officer. “Carry on, Lieutenant.”

                “Yes, sir.” He said, as if he didn’t need to be told twice.

                 “Most body art is done as a hobby, anyone who learns about it don’t ever make a profession out of it. But most people have other interests outside of their military lives, of course. I’ll take you a friend who is responsible for most of the ink and engraving at this regiment.”

                “Engraving?” Matteus inquired with energetic curiosity.

                “Yes, many let those with a steady hand and discipline decorate the natural armor we have. It can be embellished in a number of ways. He can show you more examples.”

                Now that he was taken outside at a more casual pace, he was able to absorb the lush surroundings looking back at him. The air confused the senses: it was humid, yet chilling. The tall jungle trees surrounding the area were shrouded with vines, some even flowering in beautiful explosions of blues and purples. Matteus noticed the area was surrounded by marshland, and guessed that a good chunk of the land was covered by water.

                The encampment ahead was a contrast to the ancient splendor the foliage displayed. Every building was created using the most advanced architectural technology available. Sleek and almost elegant, the tree trunk brown colored structures looked solidly built, yet appeared as if they can be broken down and moved easily. There were a variety of sizes and shapes, each for a different purpose: dining, mess hall, classroom and others less obvious. A clearing in the center of the grounds held various training weaponry and equipment, where a few soldiers were sparring against each other under the commanding officer’s watch.

                The officer led him inside a barracks area, where a soldier was reading a book. He stood up and saluted upon seeing the higher rank enter.

                “Soldier, this is Matteus Il’Kalut. You can have the rest of the day off as leave if you show him a few things about your art form.”

                “I think I can handle that.” The soldier offered his hand to the blue man. “The name’s Danin. I take it you’re not here for combat training, so I am only to assume the art form she’s referring to is my ink skills.”

                “Yes, please, if it isn’t too much trouble.”

                “Nah, I get a day off ‘cause of you. Now what do you want to know?”

                “Well, you could show me yours.”

                “Certainly,” The soldier rolled up his sleeve revealing a strange four legged beast. It resembled a two-tailed panther like beast, but it had armored plating, similar to what the Ara’yulthr had, but it traced over bone structure instead of muscle. Each joint was exaggerated into long protrusions, giving it a spiny appearance up its spine all the way down to the tips of its barbed tails. “That’s a qua’vari, the fiercest predators on the planet. Many of the regiment who’re worth their plates in battle have them.”

                “That’s magnificent,” Matteus said as he studied the creature. Danin rolled up his sleeve to show several more markings, rows of intricate symbols lined up neatly from his wrist to his elbow. These appeared to be guilded in a silvery metal, whatever it was, it fascinated Matteus.

                “These are battle markings, kills, missions, marches, etc.”

                “Interesting, did you do these?”

                “No, the scribe did them for me, she’s the one who taught me how to do it.”

                “Incredible, that looks like metal inside the grooves.”

                “It is, that’s silver melted inside. Our plates can sustain a great amount of heat, but with a few added chemicals, you can make metal liquid at barely cooking temperatures.”

                “I am beyond impressed.”

                “Come over here, let me show you how it’s done.” Danin dragged out a large, intricate wooden box carved and gilt in decorative symbols. Inside contained several bottles of inks and dyes, mixing bowls, burners and melting pots, as well as something resembling a drill. He picked out the drill as well as two large minerals, one blue and one white. Each stone had various designs scrawled into them. “This is how we practice the engraving. Our armor plating varies in hardness from person to person, somewhere along the lines of 4-6 on a hardness scale. Traditionally, in order to become qualified to do it, you needed to master engraving on something harder, like quartz, as well as softer, like gypsum. The masters have even been known to engrave something as soft as mica.”

                “I see.”

                “Now the gilding is a little more modern, it started off with lower melting point metals, but as we started playing with alchemy, the options grew. Otherwise it was done with a black stain, and it often needed to be re inked within a few years. Here, let me show you.”

                Danind quickly drilled in a small symbol, then traced a box around it with the drill. He took out a ball of black clay and began working it between his hands. He rolled out thick snakes and carefully squished them on top of the box he drew.

                “The clay acts as a barrier for the skin.” Danin explained. “You really don’t want to get punched in the face by the customer after they’re done screaming in pain from their flesh being burned by molten metal.”

                “That sound’s lovely,” Matteus said sarcastically.

                “True though.” Danin continued by taking a small chunk of metal and melted it down in the tiny burner. He took a strange tool out, which looked like something used for drawing patterns in wax before dying cloth, and dipped it into the metal. With expert precision, he poured the metal inside the symbols he drew, not spilling a single drop or even leaving the pattern. The metal set and he wiped the clay off, squishing it back onto the main ball. He gave the rock to Matteus for his scrutiny.

                “And that’s how it’s done.” Danin beamed.

                “It’s beautiful.”

                “Yeah, and surprisingly enough, an engraving tool is a lot similar to inking needles, you just need to be more aware of the pressure, as it is harder to fix your mistakes, but that’s what healing is for, right?” He saw Matteus’ fascination with the rock. “Here, you keep that specimen, I got plenty more to play with.”

                “Thank you very much.”

                “Don’t mention it. I’ll let you try your hand at it too, I’m sure you’ve worked with plenty of needles in your time, I think you would probably know what you are doing.”

                “I would be honored.”

                “You’re a polite one, ain’t you? ‘Course I should probably expect that from a traveler.” Danin suddenly began to examine the horns on Matteus’ head. “Are there nerves under those?”

                “Nope, pure bone.” Matteus explained.

                “Interesting.” Danin thought for a minute, rubbing his chin. “If you would like more of a personal souvenir, I think I might be able to work with them, a small section at least.”

                “Certainly, do what you like.”

                “Awesome. Sit down here, I think I may have something right for that pattern. I’ll use a low heat metal just to be safe.” Danin began to assemble his tools and start work on his client’s custom work.

                “So tell me a little bit about the history and the style of the artwork itself.” Matteus requested as the grinding of the engraver reverberated through his head.

                “I’m afraid that’s beyond my knowledge. The scribes will know more about that. Tell you what, I’ll go talk to them and see what I can dig up for you. They might even let you go inside the library.”

                “That would be wonderful.” Matteus said. Moments later, Danin cleaned up his tools and put away the burners.

                “There, that should do it.” He reported as he handed Matteus a mirror.

                A short segment of his horn was gilt in a golden metal. Danin engraved a stylized floral vine, which appeared to have been constructed by words instead of lines.

                “it’s beautiful.”

                “It says ‘Through knowledge, we find integrity.’ I thought it fitting for a scholar.”

                “Thank you.”

                “Sure thing. I’ll talk to my scribe friend tomorrow and we’ll see what happens.”
                And thus, a part of his right horn had been claimed.

***
Another adventure in Matteus' intergalactic journey: Vega, Nara's (ex) Home planet. Part 2 should be up next week!
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