The new tik’ha’she’tik settlement wasn’t constructed the way Mreg settlements had been built for time unknown. They had traveled as far west as the old Mreg tunnels would take them, and found inspiration at a collapsed entrance. The tunnels they traveled had been carved in the last age, and many of the stories they found spiraling from floor to ceiling were beloved to the point of mythology. They camped near the collapse and wove thick walls on every side so that their conversations would not be overheard.
“Though we chose to leave, and the others have taken the way of passivity, I don’t wish to remain in a world where they can hear us,” Ha’sha’tuk said. He had been accepted as the leader of the tik’ha’she’tik faction that had left their Mreg cousins behind when the vote had removed the tik’ha’she’tik from power.
A muttering of agreement filled the tunnel.
“I say we begin building here, leaving this looking just like this,” Ha’sha’tuk said. “We can build our new city on the other side of it.”
Ha’sha, Ha’sha’tuk’s daughter, slid herself through a network of roots to the left of the collapse and returned a few minutes later.
“It’s only a hall with three rooms on the other side,” she reported. “It looks like they were only just started before the collapse.”
“If the stone collapses here, we should find somewhere else, with good, solid stone,” said Sha’she. “Why was it abandoned?”
“I can answer that,” Ha’sha said. “The carvings spoke of the life of Ebelus and Kinad.”
There was a collective sigh of understanding. All but one of their number, that is. Elasia, who was still learning how to understand the percussive language of the Mreg, tapped out her question with terrible grammatical pauses.
“What the is this of the Ebelus and in additions of the Kinad?” she asked.
Elasia was not Mreg. In fact, she descended from the Ean, who the Mreg had many reasons to distrust and hate thanks to a violent history that Elasia was still learning. She had come to travel with this group because of a friendship she had sparked with Ha’sha, and though she felt the distrust and anger around her every day, she didn’t for a second regret her decision. She couldn’t help what had been done by her ancestors. She couldn’t help the fact that these tik’ha’she’tik, which meant Philosopher, had been cast out because they supported the idea of speaking with her and the Ean to find roads to peace. What she looked for, every day that she traveled with them, was a way that she could help.
“Ebelus and Kinad were warriors in the Shadow War,” Ha’sha explained enthusiastically. “Every Mreg grows up with their tales. The Shadow War covered the whole land. So if historians of Ebelus and Kinad were here, well, they were probably swept up into the fighting.”
“We will check the integrity of the stone as we carve,” Ha’sha’tuk decided. “I believe this will make a fine new home for us. Except, I wish for our lives to be free of Mreg ears. I say we dig deep and refrain from tunneling listening holes.”
A murmur of surprise buzzed around the closed in tunnel.
“We’ll be deaf to the world,” someone said.
“Cut off,” another agreed.
“We’ll be safe,” Ha’sha’tuk said, “and free to engage the world where and when we choose. We will listen to the tunnels, and any echoes that filter down from them. That is all.”
Agreement didn’t seem to be resounding, but the tik’ha’she’tik got to work without any argument. Progress was swift and efficient, with a stone removal line that rotated with regularity. Unable to dig into stone like the Mreg could, Elasia made herself useful stacking the brick-sized blocks of stone that filtered up from the tunnel. Within a day the first room was filled completely. The second day saw to the next room and the third day filled the last. A meeting was held that evening in the newly created hall deep under the earth. Tall smooth columns supported a ceiling still rough and unfinished. The effect made it seem as if the columns were being rescued from the stone instead of carved out of it. The air was thick and heavy.
“We need to expand,” Ha’sha’tuk said, “and conceal our progress. Ideas?”
“We’ll have to send out scouts for natural caves,” Sha’she suggested.
“Yes, good,” Ha’sha’tuk agreed. “We cannot expand until we have a solution. Tomorrow we send scouts.”
The next day, and the next, and the one after that, too, Elasia climbed up to the surface with a handful of scouts that disappeared into the forest above in search of caves that could be filled. Each day they all came back empty-handed, though hunting was accomplished while they were out. The tight quarters developed a sour aroma and those who stayed below began to argue with each other. Elasia felt the need more than ever to make things better for her new friends, so one day, when she discovered a cart path, she followed it.
When the trees cleared to fields she saw a village ahead, and the ocean beyond. She walked to the village and found a circle at its center, where a few stands were set up for trade. The village of Azminan, it turned out, had been founded originally by Tarlains, a small people who were adept at trade. Now a mixture of species lived there, and wagon trails connected it to other villages to the South and East. Even with the many species present, the existence of the Ean had been forgotten to the world and all she encountered assumed that Elasia was a human child, though she was neither. Within the Ean she had been considered young at a few hundred years, but her parents had blessed her departure into the world and the adulthood that followed with it. She was old enough. Because of her youthful appearance, however, she had a hard time getting anyone to listen when she requested an audience with the mayor. Finally she succeeded.
The mayor was an old Tarlain woman who stood to Elasia’s shoulder. Her lavender skin was creased and deepened to a dark purple across her face and hands from years spent laboring outdoors. Her hair had faded to silver and hung in thin wisps over her shoulders. Her shrewd eyes studied Elasia with doubt.
“You wish to build a house,” she repeated after Elasia made her request. “Do you have gold to exchange for this land you want?”
Elasia thought of the few belongings she possessed. She had a few silver treasures but she knew those to be far more valuable than any trade could buy.
“No,” she said. “I have no gold or silver to trade.”
The mayor looked her over from top to toe and shook her head.
“There is a village to the South,” she said. “There’s a woman there who could use a girl to help…”
“Excuse me,” Elasia interrupted, “but I would like to build my home here. I don’t need much space. I’ll make it a nice home and I can help keep up gardens around the village. I have a talent for helping plants grow. I have…”
The mayor’s eyes had narrowed at the interruption and she interrupted Elasia right back.
“You intend to work off the debt of land?” she asked.
“No,” Elasia said. “I intend to trade for it.”
“Then you do have items of value,” the mayor said, studying Elasia’s simple and forest-worn clothing.
“I’m certain I do,” Elasia said. “What is considered valuable here?” She thought of the stockpiles of stone and the rough road she had come in on.
“Gold,” the mayor said, sitting back in her chair. “We fish for our meals and there’s plenty of wood. What we don’t have in the way of pelts and meats we trade for. A wealthy town, though, has gold, and I intend to make this the wealthiest town in the world. What we don’t need is homeless children,” she added.
“I agree,” Elasia said with a sweet smile. “All the more reason for us to agree on a plot of land so that I can build a house worthy of a wealthy town.”
The mayor had finally given Elasia what she needed to know. The woman had ambition, and the image of the town was more important, Elasia wagered, even than the mayor’s wish for gold. To Elasia, true wealth was the forest she had recently left behind. Its riches were lush, green growth. Bustling life. A smell that was equally earthy, sweet and clean. She wanted to learn the ways of the world, though, and she had the feeling that the dreams the mayor nurtured for her village were well founded. The land was welcoming and beautiful. The large circle in the center of the village was unique, and Elasia already had ideas as to how it could be made into something special. A place that people would travel to see. Elasia was looking at two solutions.
“I can bring in stone,” she offered. “I imagine stone streets would help Azminan to be recognized as a wealthy town.”
The mayor gazed at her with a mixture of suspicion and new interest.
“There is no good stone near here,” the mayor said. “We’re sitting on old sand. This hill and those around us are all sand. Where will you bring stone from?”
“I’ll worry about that,” Elasia said. “With enough stone to pave the streets of Azminan, as well as the roads to the nearest towns, how much land may I have?”
The plot was sizable, though Elasia suspected she should have received much more for the advancement that her stone would bring to the town. Even so, she had land that she could turn into a home above ground, and her Mreg friends could continue to build their city in secret. She made her way back to the tunnels, and to the new settlement.
Her friend Ha’sha stood waiting for her with a torch.
“I was worried,” Ha’sha said. “You’ve never been out after dark.”
I’ve found a place to put the stone you carve out,” Elasia announced.
Ha’sha blinked at her in surprise. “A suitable cave?” she asked.
“Better,” Elasia grinned. “An endless supply of space, and a way to listen to the world without being found.”
She explained her actions to the tik’ha’she’tik that night, as well as her suggestion that they might build a listening tunnel to the basement of her house once it was built.
“You have done well, Elasia,” Ha’sha’tuk said when she had finished. “Those of us who continued to nurse doubts may well wish to see you with fresh eyes. Thank you, friend to the tik’ha’she’tik.”
So it was that the child named Elasia came to live in Azminan. Many legends have arisen around her through the centuries, such as the stone house that was erected overnight, and the stone roads that followed, in the same way. The people of Azminan assumed it was magic, but they weren’t ones to complain. Soon the intricate patterns of the central circle were a sight merchants traveled the continent to see. Trade boomed, and a stone statue of the mayor appeared just as suddenly and mysteriously as the rest. Where Elasia went has been lost to history. It was said that she traveled often, though her house always seemed well-kept. At some point Elasia’s daughter arrived and took up residence, and her habits were just as odd as her mother’s had been. So it went, generation after generation, oft-traveling mother to oft-traveling daughter, until the world shaper Exasia took up residence.
That is a story for another day.
Written by W. C. McClure. This may be shared (and please do); just please be sure to share it in its entirety, unaltered (and including this fine print), with credit given to W. C. McClure. This is a work of fiction. None of the characters or events depicted are meant to represent anyone or anything this side of dreams. Comments are welcome! Also, please help support this indie author by telling your friends about the excellent short story blog at
http://www.farsideofdreams.com and buying W. C. McClure’s books at http://www.wcmcclure.com. Thanks for reading!