Saturday, June 12, 2010

The River Almanac

Down along the River Senube as it flows past the various islands and the Low Esplanade into the Estuarial Regions, there are hundreds of Tributary Gates, much like those that can be encountered when one travels up-river by way of the river-gates.  Unlike the ring-gates of the Plazas or the gates of the Mugallo Arches, or even the Obelisk Gates, these gates are unguarded and unregulated, freely accessible and fixed apertures that allow the air, water and so forth of two specific worlds to mingle and merge.

Most of the worlds beyond the Tributary Gates are wildernesses, unclaimed and in many instances unnamed, only having a string of numbers and icons within the databases to differentiate them from any other world.  The river-gypsies may have named many of these worlds, but they do not register their lore with the databases, so no one really knows what they might call any of these worlds.  Likewise with many other groups and individuals who roam the wetlands and travel out past the Tributary Gates; if they don't register any claims then no one knows where they've been or what they might call these places.  Almost no one.

The River Almanac is published annually as a guide to the unregistered squats, seasonal camps, migratory routes and other such conventions, traditions and active practices along the rivers of the Known Worlds.  Each region, often based around a particular city-state or large metropolis, such as Devukarsha, serves as the focus of a specific volume.  The Almanac is broken into three main sections;
  1. Three Worlds In, which details the areas within the boundaries of the city-state. 
  2. Twelve Worlds Out, which gives what is known or rumored about the worlds twelve or fewer gates out from the city-state (sometimes incorporating/duplicating the earlier three, other times jumping out past them).
  3. Tributaries, which covers the various unregistered enclaves, camping sites, hunting grounds, fisheries, spawning pools, etc. that are located just beyond the Tributary Gates, including routes that lead through multiple Tributary Gates to distant worlds that may or may not be myths, tall-tales or distorted accounts of actual places.
The River Almanac is printed on polyprus and is actively made unavailable in any digital format for a variety of cultural reasons that have been documented by various anthropologists, sociologists and folklorists.  The most common reason given is that it isn't intended for anyone but those that actually go out there in the flesh, firsthand and experience these things like they were meant to be experienced.  This is an obvious bias against virts and others who monitor such things from within their enclaves, claded estates, etc.  Most locations where the River Almanac might be available tend to be swarming with needle-flies set to dismantle any voyeurs, papparazzi or similar observation-drones.  Despite protests to the contrary, this appears to be a concerted, even conspiratorial effort to disrupt the ability of the non-present to gain any meaningful data or to virtually explore these territories.  Perhaps it is just some sort of odd cultural quirk that has developed over the centuries since the forced uploads that were common-place during the reign of the mechilist dynasties.  Possibly it is a hold-over from the times of the mind-tyrants.  But it is highly doubtful that it is simply another instance of Ludditism, as some authorities like to assert these days.  Luddites wouldn't have the sophisticated counter-measures against intrusion or detection such as the needle-flies.

Several scholars have noted that the various accounts put forth in copies of the River Almanac that they have been able to acquire seem to rely upon a strange patois filled with jargon and slang that make use of a large number of folkloric and territorial and historical references that are incredibly opaque to anyone not initiated into riverfolk society.  The merest change in inflection can shift the meaning of a word or phrase from positive to negative and back again with a vast array of secondary influences upon everything else being discussed, even if those other things remain unspoken.  It is unclear what role telepathy, empathy or other forms of psi play in this system.  Scholars and linguists who've immersed themselves in the river societies in order to learn these subtle forms of communication often 'go native,' drop out of academia and take up lives out past the Perimeter, a fictitious(?) cultural boundary that may or may not refer to worlds within twelve gates of a major-settled place. 

Those scholars who betray the trust of the riverfolk often suffer horrible afflictions that cannot be identified or dealt with by most healers or medical services.  It is suspected that many healers feign ignorance or an inability to treat these afflictions out of sympathy or solidarity with the riverfolk rootdoctors and their ilk.  Others might be scared to cross such persons, and rightfully so--they have significant powers, as has been repeatedly documented in the case of each and every foolish academic who thought that they could pull one over on the ignorant riverfolk who just aren't that ignorant after all.

It is for this reason that the study of the riverfolk societies is a career-killer and a path to guaranteed obscurity within the Academy.  It's presumed inevitable that such a scholar will either run off to live in the wilderness, or drop it entirely and get on to more rewarding sorts of researches and studies.  Or they'll get killed out in the middle of nowhere, lost and unrecovered.  For this reason very few scholars bother the riverfolk these days.

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