Today I thought 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 creative 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.
Matteus was escorted to the customs office by two heavily armed guards, dressed in intimidating uniforms. They ushered him at a hurried pace, giving him little time to absorb the beautiful scenery.
He approached a pod-like metal building, the illusion of modernism warped by the trees growing on top of roof, spilling their roots over the walls. He couldn’t tell if they were real or fake, but he admired the camouflage they provided amid the jungle.
As he stepped inside, A rather disgruntled looking customs officer grunted in a mild welcoming tone.
“Name,” the officer barked. The Ara’yulthr are a strikingly beautiful race, despite their coarse personalities, but they didn’t value vanity here. This person had scars in the shape of claw marks scrawled across their jaw, denoting a fairly seasoned warrior. Their raven hair contrasted their deep red skin, and their lime green cat eyes scanned over Matteus with visible annoyance.
“Matteus Il’Kalut,” he responded softly as the soldier hurriedly typed on a keyboard in the air.
“Guns, tech, or herbs?” the officer inquired, not looking away from the console screen.
“Pardon?” Matteus said in a bemused tone, causing the officer to sigh aloud in irritation.
“Guns. Tech. Or herbs?” they repeated.
“I am not sure I understand the question,” Matteus softly admitted.
Another officer appeared from the back office, their uniform trimmed in gold, which Matteus inferred meant they were of higher rank.
“Lieutenant,” they chastised the other officer. “I don’t think this man is here for trade. Haven’t you encountered a Kol’wrathen on your watch?”
“No, Commander,” the req officer said in a disinterested tone. “I can safely say I have not.”
“They’re not traders, they’re scholars, am I correct?” The commander confirmed of Matteus.
“Yes, you’re correct.” Matteus smiled politely.
“Are you just looking to resupply?” The commander inquired.
“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,” the commander rubbed their chin pensively. “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,” Matteus explained. “Given some of your race’s natural armor, I thought you would have an unorthodox take on the common inked tattoo.”
“Interesting. Well, I would be most happy to oblige your curiosities. Please follow me.” The commander nodded over to the customs officer. “Carry on, Lieutenant.”
“Yes, Commander,” the officer sighed, as if they 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,” the commander explained as they escorted Matteus outside. “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 raised an eye 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. My friend can show you more examples.”
Now that he was taken outside at a more casual pace, Matteus 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, flowering in beautiful explosions of blues and purples.
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 colored structures looked solidly built, yet appeared as if they could 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 their commanding officer’s watch.
The officer led him inside a barracks area, where a soldier was reading a book. The person 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,” the commander informed.
“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 the Commander is referring to is my ink skills.”
“Yes, please, if it isn’t too much trouble,” Matteus said.
“Nah, I get a day off ‘cause of you. Now what do you want to know?”
“Well, you could show me your personal decorations, to start.”
“Certainly,” The soldier rolled up their sleeve, revealing a strange four legged beast. It resembled a two-tailed panther like beast, but it had armored plating, similar to the Ara’yulthr, but it traced over bone structure instead of muscle. Each joint was exaggerated into long protrusions, giving it a spiny appearance up its vertebrae 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 his other sleeve to show several more markings, rows of intricate symbols carved into their forearm plate. Scrawlings of characters were lined up neatly from their wrist to their elbow, guilded in a silvery metal.
“These are battle markings, kills, missions, marches, etc,” Danin explained.
“Interesting, did you do these?”
“No, the scribe did them for me, they’re the one who taught me how to do it.”
“Incredible,” Matteus breathed. “That looks like metal inside the grooves.”
“It is, that’s silver melted inside,” Danin nodded. “Our plates can sustain a great amount of heat, but with a few added chemicals, you can make metal liquid at barely cooking temperatures.”
“That is just fascinating.”
“Come over here, let me show you how it’s done.” Danin dragged out a large, intricate wooden box carved and gilt with decorative symbols. Inside contained several bottles of inks and dyes, mixing bowls, burners and melting pots, as well as something resembling power drill.
The soldier picked out the power tool 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,” Danin began. “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.”
“That’s a lot of pressure to hone a skill,” Matteus observed.
“Now the gilding is a little more modern, we started off using lower melting point metals several generations ago, but as we started playing with alchemy, the options grew,” Danin continued as they screwed in a bit to their too. “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.”
Danin quickly drilled in a small symbol, then traced a box around it with the drill. They took out a ball of black clay and began working it between his hands. They then rolled out thick snakes and carefully began squishing them on top of the box they 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 winced.
“True though.” Danin resumed their work by taking a small chunk of metal from their toolbox and melted it down in the tiny burner. They extracted another tool, which looked like something used for drawing patterns with wax before dying cloth, and dipped it into the metal. With expert precision, they daintily poured the metal inside the symbols they drew, letting the metal settle into the carvings. When the metal set, Danin wiped the clay off, squishing it back into their collective.
“And that’s how it’s done,” Danin beamed as they handed the rock to Matteus for inspection.
“It’s beautiful,” Matteus marveled as he rotated the piece in his hands.
“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 modern medicine is for, right?” They smiled as they watched 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,” Danin offered. “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,” Matteus smiled.
“You’re a polite one, ain’t you?” Danin suddenly examined the horns on Matteus’ head. “Are there nerves under those?”
“Nope, pure bone.” Matteus explained, rapping on the side of a horn with a knuckle.
“Interesting.” Danin thought for a minute, rubbing their chin. “If you would like more of a personal souvenir, I think I might be able to adorn them, a small section at least.”
“Certainly,” Matteus eagerly nodded. “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 their tools and start work on a unique design for their client.
“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 anything in graphic detail is beyond my knowledge,” Danin explained, squinting an eye on their task. “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,” They reported as he handed Matteus a mirror.
A short segment of his curled horn was gilt in a golden metal. Danin had engraved a stylized floral vine, which appeared to have been constructed by words instead of lines.
“It’s beautiful,” Matteus breathed as he rotated the mirror around his perspective.
“It says ‘Through knowledge, we find integrity,” Danin recited. “I thought it fitting for a scholar.”
“Thank you, it means a lot,” Matteus proclaimed. “I will treasure it forever.”
“Don’t mention it,” Danin smiled. “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.