My trip to Vega was beyond fruitful, and I am not just referring to the practice minerals Danin gave me. The Ara’yulthr have had a few run-ins with my race before, and were more than willing to help me learn. I have even been permitted to speak with the scribes to learn more about their art as a style, a rare opportunity never seen by outsiders. It is a shame my brethren skipped over this place on their travels, they have missed a rare gem of knowledge.
These people have a very short period of pre-history. Even at their earliest development, they have recorded their achievements, granted in a more primitive language, but I don’t doubt the scribes can translate. I could literally spend decades here absorbing the books, but I fear the translator would pass out due to lack of breath. However, my guide, Talya, was ever so helpful in answering my questions.
Matteus was led deep into the forest, heading towards the Qui’isfahr clan primary library. Since this was one of the oldest buildings on the planet, he had high hopes to see some of the Ara’yulthr traditional architecture.
They stopped in front of a mound of rock, which had been conquered by the foliage. Massive tree roots intertwined with their neighbors in an intimate construction, dressed in garments of vines and grasses. At the front of the structure, the roots parted into a hole barely large enough for a small human to climb inside.
“Here we are.” Talya announced as they waved towards the opening.
“Is this the only way in?” Matteus inquired skeptically, wondering how the Ara’yulthr managed to get inside.
“The only way in, or out. Come on in, you’ll be fine,” Talya replied as they wedged themself through the jagged opening.
Matteus followed suit, slightly unnerved by the scraping of rock against his clothing. He heard Talya shuffle through pockets, and with a sharp click, their faces were illuminated in the dank cavern.
It was not what Matteus was expecting, crawling through a dark cave with no evidence of man-made construction. But Talya hadn’t given him time to formulate a question about it, as they beckoned him to follow them through yet another cramped hole.
“I believe this is a little closer to what you are looking for, but we are still far from the library itself.” Talya explained as they pressed a button against the wall.
A few mechanical clunks later, the passageway opened up, revealing a long corridor made of smooth white stone. The walls were divided into segments bordered by ornately carved arches, decorated with the similar text-pictorial hybrid designs that he saw scrawled onto Danin’s skin. A wash of muted colored inks highlighted the cavities of the carvings, a mixture of blues, greens, and gold.
Inside the smooth faces underneath the arched were hand painted murals, depicting what Matteus had guessed were pieces of important history. The majority depicted battles, not surprising from a militant state such as this. His attention was captured by one of the first paintings on the wall: two warrior locked in combat, blades crossed in a deadly stalemate.
“That is Xannat ant Ötmarr, the remnants of what used to be considered gods in our early age.” Talya explained. “One represents the state of personal judgment and consequence, while the other represents chaos, and the forces that are out of the control of the individual. Like luck, or karma I believe is another word for it.”
“And they’re not present in modern life, I’m guessing?” Matteus asked.
“Not as personified individuals, more like labels for describing situational conflict. This particular work illustrates moral conflict of everyday life,” Talya continued. “Even though a person may take the greatest care to make the right decisions, there are influences that the individual simply cannot change.”
“Interesting concept,” Matteus said as he took another moment to examine the artwork.
It was impressionistic; the models for inspiration must have been successful warriors of the time. Their faces were depicted as very expressive, you could almost feel the tension radiate from the wall. Their muscles seemed to pulse and strain as each warrior struggled to overcome their opponent. The sweat looked realistic, as if its liquid would drip to the floor.
“Come now, there’s plenty more to see,” Talya ushered him towards a massive wooden and steel door. They grabbed hold of one of the giant steel rings and hefted the door open with a grunt, revealing a marvel inside.
They were standing in the central sanctum of a surprisingly spacious library. Four floors reached above them, and each floor housed rows upon rows of books. What was more astounding was the actual architecture of the library. It was constructed by a system of four trees in a circle, and they supported each floor with a series of entangled roots and branches. The ceiling was composed of a canopy of the trees’ combined greenery, giving the impression of a hallowed sanctuary.
The floor was made of an intricate mosaic, designs plotted out to form the same pictorial script he had seen everywhere on the planet. The place was illuminated by floating orbs giving off a gentle golden glowing smolder, radiating an almost supernatural aura. Passageways branched out of this central hall, implying that there were more cells that housed knowledge.
“Is this all held up by the trees? It must have taken some amazing patience and landscaping skills to build something like this,” Matteus asked.
“Originally, yes. But now they have been supported by steel struts and other structural reinforcements. Marvelous, isn’t it?” Talya beamed.
“Incredible.” Matteus let out a sigh of wonder.
“Well, let me tell you a bit more about our techniques,” Talya commented, glancing at their watch. “And you would be just in time to see me do a bit of work.”
“That would be spectacular,” Matteus said as he allowed Talya to lead him deeper into the library.
One would imagine every room inside a library to be littered with books, inks, and other stationary, but the place Matteus was taken to resembled more like an artist’s workshop combined with a tea house.
It had the same muted golden ambiance as the rest of the library, with the addition of sage green fabric drapery strewn across the ceiling, cascading down in luxurious, inviting folds. Several wooden work desks were lined up neatly in two rows, accompanied by plush cushioned chairs. The desktops were covered with messy piles of paint, canvases, etching tools, and other instruments of artistic expression.
A bar in the back corner displayed neat rows of bottles containing a rainbow of liquid. A rustic miniature machine steamed up the room, filling the air with a spicy yet soothing aroma.
A sullen, bandaged up soldier sat on one of the cushions, sipping a cup of hot brew. They noticed the two visitors and gave an almost affronted look at the foreigner brought before them.
“What have you done this time, Elam?” Talya asked annoyed.
“Nothing much this time, don’t worry.” Elam said as they stared at the guest questioningly.
“This is Elam’Mutaiyah nesh Qui’isfahr, one of our most accomplished, and youngest, warlords, Talya introduced. “Unfortunately, that means they’re always down here for repair work.”
“Hey!” The warrior snapped. “Somebody has to dig my soldiers out from the shit they put themselves in.”
“And of course that has to be you,” Talya sighed. “Elam, this is Matteus Il’Kalut, a Kol’wrathen scholar in search of knowledge on our body art techniques. If you don’t mind, would you permit him to stay and watch me fix you up?”
“Yeah, sure, whatever.” Elam waved a hand idly as they finished the contents of their cup.
Talya began their work on an intricate design of a serpent coiled around Elam’s entire arm. Where there was armor plating, the scales were delicately engraved and gilt with a rose gold metal. The warrior was truthful in that there was very little damage on the ink, but it always pained Matteus to see such beautiful work marred.
“Is this a common design?” Matteus inquired.
“It used to be,” Talya said as they wiped off the tattoo. “It is the mark of a very specific martial discipline. But very few of our kind would be seen bearing something like this, and even fewer know what it actually means.”
“So it’s dying off?” He asked.
“Yes, and no,” Talya explained as they screwed in a bit in their tool. “That is the purpose of the scribes here. Even though many will forget, there is always some heavily recorded and annotated account that will last forever. Each scribe is responsible for one major section of history, in addition to whatever they choose to study on their own.”
“Tell me about the mechanics of your art style as a whole,” Matteus requested.
“Let me ask you this, as an art scholar: what do you notice about it?” Talya countered, switching out a tool for another.
Matteus took a moment to scrutinize the design etched in the warrior’s arm, tracing his eyes around the blended text and pictorals.
“Well, from what I have seen before, the art is very technical. It has an elegant fluidity to it, but the designs appear to be derived from symbols or text. It’s almost as if each piece of art is an alchemical formula. But it is so detailed, that from even a short distance away it would be hard to tell what it means.” Matteus started, rubbing his chin in contemplation. “The murals outside have a similar design, and you can tell they have the same roots, but they seem to have a more impressionistic style. It’s as if they were meant to tell more of a story visually rather than through script.”
“Keen perception, you’re just about right. But I will let you in on a little information not known by many,” Talya offered with a smile. “Our text was derived directly from our art form.”
“I can see the connection,” Matteus proclaimed.
“We did have pictograms back in the earlier eras, but eventually those morphed into what we have today,” Talya added. “Its transformation was sped up by our lack of need for the creative output. Our creativity focused more on martial arts and personal advancement instead.”
“It’s upsetting to see the arts dwindle in a civilization that has obviously achieved so much, but I can understand the mentality of necessity, given the hardship of maintaining a neutral position in the galaxy,” Matteus mused.
“Oh you can still find art here and there. It’s usually a very private practice, however.” Talya wiped a splot of ink that flung onto their face.
“Are you finished with me yet?” Elam butted in.
“Yes, go on, get out of here. Now don’t let me catch you coming back here for another week, or I will expect a discourse on the development of metallurgy in the First Era.” Talya scolded.
“I’ll have one prepared just in case then.” Elam waved as they sauntered off.
“Uch. That one causes more trouble than they know,” Talya shook their head. “Anyway, where were we?”
“Well, could you tell me about the evolution of the inks and dyes that were used?” Matteus offered.
“Technically, we still use the traditional recipes for creating inks derived from plants. The thing is: our traditions are constantly morphing to adapt to modern life,” Talya explained. “They never go away completely, so they are remembered, but they are altered in tiny adjustments as our needs evolve.”
“The ink started off as ground up plant matter mixes with some form of spirits. The spirits then evolved into a specific recipe that made the ink brighter and last longer, which went through several hundred iterations of perfection. To now, where the plant is basically used for the pigment, then a chemical formula is created in a lab, which also went through generations of trial and error.” Talya continued. “Some of the more hardcore individuals still stick with more primitive forms of ink just to occupy their time and say they did it.”
“Oh?” Matteus pressed for her to continue.
Talya flicked the plate of their forearm with a fingernail.
“You see that? The carving used to be done by hand with a fucking hammer and chisel. Took forever to complete, and only the most accomplished warriors were permitted to have the more elaborate designs. It was also a mark of a novice to damage the art in battle, a concept which young Elam should take to heart from time to time.” Talya sighed and shook their head. “But it’s hard to mind your ink when you’ve got an entire army charging after you.”
“I can imagine,” Matteus said politely.
“Well, that scratched the surface of the history of our body art.” Talya scratched their forehead in contemplation. “However, that does give me an idea. One second.”
They scurried out of the studio and returned moments later with a large leather bound tome. Its spine and cover were ornately decorated with gold lettering and embellishments. They set it down gently on a table and beckoned for Matteus to sit down.
“Our species has a vast history of interaction between numerous other races. There are a few foreigners who have been given special honors based off their actions. Most are either allies that have helped fight invaders, or ambassadors of peaceful races. The Kol’wrathen have always been esteemed as a welcomed entity on our planet, especially for maintaining knowledge and tradition throughout the galaxy.” Talya pulled out a black bottle from a drawer. They opened the lid revealing a golden fluid inside. “Commonly a mark is given to those who have been granted permission to access to the forbidden places here. It is done with a special metallic ink, which is made to mimic the gilding from our armored plating. With your permission, I would like to bestow a mark on you, so that you may have access to this library whenever you visit.”
“I would be most honored,” Matteus eyes widened with fascination.
“Excellent.” Talya gently brushed the cover of the tome. “This is one book on history, designs, and technique. Why don’t you take a look at it while I do my work?”
And thus his left wrist had been claimed.