Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Esquire » 2015-06-09 05:08pm

Using wood also leads to facing the same problem a little ways down the line - see the US riverboat fleet of the 19th Century; their reliance on wood to fire their boilers almost completely deforested the whole course of the Mississippi in just a few decades. It wouldn't be a good long-term solution no matter what, particualrly since there's no need for prospecting: the geology of each world ought to be largely the same, so you can just build a line to the nearest known large coal deposit.
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Ultonius » 2015-08-24 05:04pm

There hasn't been any activity in this thread for about two and a half months, so I just wanted to check if Ahriman or Simon plan to post any updates in the near future. If not, I could have a go at continuing the analysis myself, if that's all right with everyone.

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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Simon_Jester » 2015-08-24 05:43pm

Mm. Gimme until tonight, then assume that if I haven't done a respectable sized post by midnight, I'm too busy to do it in the near future.
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Ultonius » 2015-08-27 04:22pm

Okay, so Ahriman gave me the go-ahead to continue with this by PM, and Simon must have been too busy to do an update, so here goes.

"You wanted to see me, Gahlreen?" Olvyr Banchu said politely as the secretary opened the office door and bowed him through it.

Gahlreen Taymish, First Director of the Trans-Temporal Express looked up from the paperwork on his desk and nodded sharply.

"Damned right I did," he said briskly. He shoved his chair back and walked around his immense desk to shake Banchu's hand, then jerked his head at the huge window overlooking the Larakesh Portal.

Banchu took the hint. Taymish was renowned for his wealth, his capability, his tough mindedness, his temper, and his arrogance, yet deep inside him was the little boy who'd grown up on a hardscrabble farm right outside Larakesh, dreaming about the huge portal which dominated the city and its entire universe … and his own future. That little boy had never tired of the marvelous view connecting him to the mountains over four thousand miles?and a universe away?near the southern tip of Ricathia. Taymish did his best thinking standing in front of that window, looking at that view and pondering the promise of all the other universes which lay beyond it.

"I imagine you know why you're here," the First Director said after a moment, darting a sharp sideways look at Banchu.

"I can think of two possible reasons," Banchu replied. "First, I'm here so you can tell me I'm fired for not meeting that insane schedule you gave me. Or, second, I'm here so you can tell me that you never believed I'd meet it anyway, and that you want to congratulate me on how well I've actually done."

"Close, anyway," Taymish said with a tight grin. "Yes, I never believed you'd meet the schedule. I've discovered over the years that demanding the impossible from someone quite often gets him to do more than he thought was possible before he started trying to satisfy the idiot screaming at him. And, yes, I'm more than pleased that you've done as well as you have. However, I've got a new little task for you."


Banchu regarded his superior warily. In the fifteen years since Taymish, then the executive head of TTE's Directorate of Construction, had lured him away from his position in the Uromathian Ministry of Transportation, Olvyr Banchu had learned that Taymish's idea of the proper reward for accomplishing the impossible was almost always a demand to accomplish something even more preposterous.

"Exactly." Taymish smiled broadly at the Trans-Temporal Express's chief construction engineer. It was only a brief smile, however, and it vanished quickly. "I want you to go out to Traisum and take personal charge."

"I see."

Gahlreen Taymish and Olvyr Banchu, First Director and chief construction engineer, respectively, of the Trans-Temporal Express. The Larakesh Portal's other end is in the far south of Africa. Taymish is Othmalizi and Banchu is Uromathian, a former employee of that empire's Ministry of Transportation.

Banchu could hardly pretend it was a surprise. The rail line creeping steadily down the Hayth Chain towards Karys had been progressing satisfactorily enough before the murderous attack on the Chalgyn Consortium survey crew. Enormous as the task was, it had also been essentially routine for TTE. And the fact that every planet the Authority had opened through the portal network was a duplicate of Sharona itself helped enormously, of course. By and large, the routes for rail lines could be surveyed here on Sharona-or even simply taken directly from already existing topographical maps. Getting the men, material, and machinery forward to do the actual construction work was more of a straightforward logistics concern, than anything else, and the TTE building teams were the most experienced, efficient heavy construction engineers in human history. They'd laid well over two million miles of track across forty universes, and along the way they'd developed the techniques-and machinery-to take crossing an entire planet in stride.

But what had been a more than acceptable rate of progress in an essentially peaceful and benign multiverse was something else entirely when there was a vicious, murderous enemy at the far end of the transit chain.

"You want me to ginger them up, is that it?" he asked after a moment.

"That's part of it," Taymish agreed. "You're invaluable here in the office, but let's face it, you were born to be a field man yourself. If anyone can get a few more miles a day of trackage out of our people, it's you. But, frankly, the main reason I want you out there is because of your seniority."

"Ah?" Banchu raised one eyebrow, and Taymish chuckled. It was not an extraordinarily pleasant sound.

"We've got heavy equipment, rails, and work crews pouring down the Hayth Chain right this minute. We've pulled in entire crews, from other projects all over the net. For that matter, we've shut down operations completely in the Salth Chain to divert everything we have into pushing the Hayth railhead to Karys and New Uromath. That means we've got some very senior field engineers all headed for the same spot, and we don't have time for any stupid headbutting over who's got the seniority on this project. With you out there on the spot, that sort of frigging stupidity can be nipped in the bud.

"Possibly even more to the point, we're going to have some really senior military personnel moving into the region, as well. I want someone with equivalent seniority from our side of the shop there to coordinate with them. Someone who can speak authoritatively about the realities of what we can and can't do and explain exactly what sort of priorities we need from them."

Benefits of the geography being virtually identical on every world, when it comes to building railways. Scope and scale of the TTE's railways: two million miles of track over forty planets. The TTE is giving full priority to extending the Hayth chain, reassigning a number of work crews, so Taymish is sending Banchu to the railhead to make sure the operation has one undisputed head, who can also speak with the full authority of the TTE when working with the military.

"And the fact that I'm Uromathian and I'll be in charge of the most critical single infrastructure project in Sharona's history won't hurt anything, either, will it?" Banchu said shrewdly.

"Never has yet," Taymish admitted cheerfully. "Hells, Olvyr! I never could decide whether I recruited you in the first place more to poke Chava in the eye by luring you away from him or to make you my token Uromathian to satisfy the Ternathian liberals! The fact that you turned out to be at least marginally capable was just icing on the cake."

Banchu shook his head with a laugh. Given Gahlreen Taymish's penchant for killing as many birds as possible with every stone, there probably really was at least a grain of truth in that. Not that Taymish would have hired anyone, regardless of his origins, if he hadn't been convinced that that person was the very best available.

Still, the First Director often showed a degree of sensitivity to human interactions and dynamics which would have startled most of his (many) detractors. Having a Uromathian of Banchu's seniority out there in charge of the critical rail-building project really might gratify Emperor Chava-or, at least, placate his pride and hunger for prestige. And it was unfortunately true that many other Uromathians shared their Emperor's resentment of the way Ternathia's towering reputation as Sharona's only true "superpower' continued to linger, despite Uromathia's population and power. Having "one of their own" out there at the sharp end would play well with them, as well, and the Uromathian press would love it. And if some of the PAAF military officers in the area happened to be Uromathian themselves, Banchu's presence could turn out to the extremely valuable in terms of reduced friction and amicable relations.

"All right," he said. "I've got two more construction trains moving out tomorrow. I can assign myself to one of them. For that matter, I may even have time to kiss my wife goodbye!"

Additional political reasons for sending Banchu. It's interesting that, according to Taymish, it was Ternathians who wanted an Uromathian to have a high-ranking role in the TTE.

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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Ultonius » 2015-08-27 04:58pm

Sorry, just a quick correction: Taymish probably isn't Othmalizi after all. The glossary at the end of the second book describes Othmaliz as occupying the equivalent of the southern third of Bulgaria, but states that Larakesh, outside of which he grew up, is on the site of Varna, which is quite far north on Bulgaria's Black Sea coast, and is therefore probably not part of Othmaliz. As far as I can tell, we haven't yet been told what Sharonian state the area is part of.

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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Ultonius » 2015-09-20 01:08pm

Sorry it’s been so long. I had done this chapter a week or two ago, but when I tried to post it the forum asked me to log in again and I lost it, so apologies if this seems a little brief or terse, since I had to type it again.

Tajvana stunned the senses.
Andrin was accustomed to vistas on an imperial scale, but even the approach to the city was nothing short of amazing. She knew the map, of course, and she'd seen pictures—both paintings and the new photographs, as well. But it was a far different matter to sail down the Ibral Strait's long, finger-thin strip of water, with the long peninsula known as the Knife of Ibral on the left and the northwest shoulder of the ancient kingdom of Shurkhal on the right. The thirty-eight-mile long stretch of water was barely four miles across at its widest, and less than one at its narrowest, yet the volume of shipping streaming through it at any given hour, night or day, boggled the imagination.

Sailing up the Ibral Strait/Dardanelles. The Knife of Ibral is the Gallipoli peninsula. The original Kingdom of Shurkhal was apparently larger than the current one. Andrin thinks of photography as ‘new’: she may mean in relative terms, or perhaps the presence of Voices and Projectives led to photography developing later than in our history.

Buoys, lighthouses, pilot vessels, and units of the Royal Othmaliz Customs Patrol managed to keep things more or less under control in the rigidly policed traffic lanes, and the fines for any violation of the Ibral Maritime Regulations were enough to ruin most shipping lines. Andrin knew all about that, just as she knew about the multitracked railroads which had been built paralleling the Strait to relieve some of the congestion. Yet for the last two days, they'd seen—and passed—a steady throng of merchant ships of every size and description making steadily for or sailing out of the Strait. Seeing that mass of merchant shipping with her own eyes had brought home just how vital Sharona's exploitation of the multiverse on the far side of the Larakesh Gate truly was.

Heavy shipping traffic through the Strait, controlled through various means, augmented by railways, all moving to or from Larakesh.

Both coastlines were visible along the entire sword-straight length of the Strait as Windtreader started down the narrow passage. They were lined on either side with fortresses, many of them almost as old as the Fist of Bolakin. They had been built and rebuilt, modernized, or merely replaced, as weapons technology and methods of warfare changed, and their harsh faces underscored yet again how vitally important this stretch of water had been throughout Sharona's history. The Ibral Straits had not been taken by force since before the advent of gunpowder, and before the Empire's voluntary withdrawal, no one had ever even dared to challenge Ternathia's hold on the iron gauntlet leading to its one-time imperial capital.
Most of the fortresses were little more than tourist attractions these days, but not all of them were entirely empty, even now. The Kingdom of Othmaliz, which had reclaimed Tajvana after Ternathia's withdrawal, kept the approaches manned. The garrisons were small, of course, since war hadn't broken out in earnest anywhere on Sharona for so long. But they were manned, and Windtreader had to obtain official clearance from the Othmalizi government before passing them. The actual procedure had taken only seconds to accomplish via Voice transmission to and from Alazon Yanamar, but the seriousness behind the formality hadn't been lost on Andrin.
Nor had the consequences of Windtreader's arrival. As the liner approached the Strait's western terminus, the massive flow of commercial shipping had slowed to a trickle, and then ceased completely. Andrin hadn't understood why that was, at first—not until Windtreader started up the long, suddenly lonely strip of water, preceded by Prince of Ternathia and followed by Duke of Ihtrial.
The entire Strait had been cleared of all commercial shipping.

Fortresses on the Ibral Strait, some still manned. Othmaliz has cleared the strait of all commercial traffic for the Ternathian flotilla; being one of Sharona’s two superpowers probably helps a lot in that regard.

The only vessels in sight were Customs Patrol cutters or light warships of the Othmaliz Navy, and as she watched, Windtreader's escorting cruisers dipped their flags in formal salute. The two powerful Ternathian ships undoubtedly outgunned every Othmalizi vessel she could see, but they were the ones who rendered first honors, and she looked up at her father.
"Wondering why we're saluting them, 'Drin?" he asked with a slight, teasing smile.
"Well . . . yes," she admitted.
"Othmaliz is a small nation, true," he said. "On a per-capita basis, it may well be the wealthiest kingdom in the entire multiverse, but it's tiny compared to the Empire. For that matter, it doesn't even really have a king, even if it is technically a 'kingdom.' But this—" he pointed up at the dipped flag flying from Windtreader's foremast, then at the Othmalizi flags descending in a return salute "—is important. Not because Othmaliz wants to flaunt its power, but because it's our duty as foreign nationals to extend the same courtesy to them that we'd expect from someone entering our sovereign territory. And don't overlook the fact that they've cleared the entire Strait for our passage. We're moving well above the normal speed limit, but even so, it's going to take over three hours for us to complete the passage. Three hours in which they've completely shut down what's undoubtedly the busiest waterway in the world in order to ensure our security."
Andrin nodded soberly. The same thought had already occurred to her.
"No one believes for a moment that Othmaliz, despite all the importance of Tajvana and the Kingdom's control of the Straits, is the equal in wealth or power of Ternathia," Zindel said. "But the Kingdom is just as entitled to be treated with respect in its own territory as we are. One country may go to war with another, but in time of peace, a wise nation—or ruler—treats all other nations with respect.
"Courtesy seldom costs anything, and the willingness to extend it can be its own subtle declaration of strength. There are times it may be taken as a sign of weakness by some more belligerent nation or head of state, and one has to be aware of that, as well, but the Empire's tradition has always been to remember and recognize the acceptable protocols and international courtesies, even to our enemies. To fail to show courtesy is to demonstrate arrogance and contempt. In some cases it also demonstrates envy, fear, or belligerence, but whatever it stems from, such diplomatic slights are serious business, 'Drin. They form the basis for anger, distrust, and dispute, and they're seldom quickly forgotten. It's our duty as representatives of our nation to be open, aboveboard, and courteous to our neighbors. Violating that duty opens the door to the sort of international discord which could lead very quickly to misunderstandings, rancor, short tempers, or even violence."
She thought about the prevailing opinions of Uromathia's emperor, and understood exactly what he meant. But she had a further question.
"Don't our Voices help us avoid that kind of misunderstanding in most cases?"
"In theory—and generally in practice—yes. But once hostility begins to grow, simple clarity of communication isn't enough to make it magically disappear. If two nations have a tradition of dislike, if they treat one another to public displays of discourtesy or petulance, if they get into the habit of denigrating one another in efforts to sway international diplomatic opinion to favor their side in some dispute, misunderstandings and flares of temper can occur quickly, particularly during times of increased stress. If they're lucky, the diplomats and the Voices can step in to control the situation before it spirals out of control, but that isn't always possible, and when it isn't, the consequences can be terrible for all concerned."
"You're thinking about what happened at Hell's Gate," she said quietly, and he nodded heavily.
"Yes, I am. It's not the same thing, of course, since in this case there were no proper diplomatic channels or protocols available to either side, but it's highly probable the entire incident stemmed from nothing more sinister than surprise, fear, and lack of familiarity. I could be wrong about that, and we may never know exactly what sparked it, or how it happened, but we're all going to be dealing with the consequences for a long, long time. Which, I suppose, drives home just how important it is for us to avoid misunderstandings here, in Sharona. Especially at a time like this."
"Yes, I can see that, Papa. Thank you."
"It was a good question, 'Drin. See that you go on asking more like it. That's your current duty."
"I will, Papa."

Zindel talks to Andrin about the need for courtesy in international relations, no matter the size of the nations concerned, pointing out that even with Voices, hostility can lead to conflict.

Skip a few paragraphs of crossing the Ibral Sea(Sea of Marmara).

Tajvana straddled the southern end of the nineteen mile-long Ylani Strait, and it was indisputably the wealthiest, most culturally diverse crossroads on the face of Sharona. History lay thick as fog on those dark waters, and so many cities had existed along those banks that they'd piled up in layers of silt and ancient foundations, each of them laid over even older foundations. Walls built and rebuilt until the layers were more than a hundred feet thick in places.
Andrin longed to explore not only the living city, but also the ancient ruins historians had excavated here. There were structures in Tajvana older than the Ternathian Empire itself, which counted five full millennia. She'd read about the ancient ruins beneath Tajvana, had seen the old engravings of the early excavations, and the modern photographs as more of the ancient city was progressively uncovered for study. But not even the marvel of photography could equal the impact of walking through the actual ruins. Andrin had already told her father how much she longed to go, and he'd promised to arrange a tour.
"We won't be the only sightseers wanting to gawk at the city, after all," he'd said. "Most members of the Conclave will want to explore at least a little. I rather doubt that many of the Conclave's delegates have ever had the opportunity."
"Thus proving that even an inter-universal crisis can have some benefit." Andrin had smiled, and her father had laughed aloud.
"Fair enough. And don't worry, I'll be gawking right alongside you, 'Drin. Unlike you, I may have been here before, but you're not the only Calirath intrigued by ancient ruins and monuments."
Now her father appeared beside her at the rail as she saw high spires rising from the temples of two dozen or more faiths. Gilded domes caught the sunlight with mirror brilliance, scattering diamond points of light into the sky. And then, ahead of them, a faerie arch rose like a golden thread. It joined a second delicate arch, then another and another, as span after span marched across the wide Ylani Strait, and Andrin's breath caught at the sight of that eldritch bridge, spanning an impossibly wide gap.
"How?" she breathed softly. "Who could build such a bridge?"
"I wish we Ternathians could take the credit, but we can't," her father said with smile. "That honor goes to His Crowned Eminence, the Seneschal of Othmaliz. It's been finished for seven months, I believe."
Andrin glanced from the bridge to her father.
"But how, Papa? Surely a bridge that long ought to collapse under its own weight! Or as soon as a heavy wind hits it!"
"Well," Zindel's eyes twinkled, "some say he made a pact with the devils of the Arpathian Hells—all eleven of them. Hells, that is," he amended. "I don't think anyone could possibly count the number of devils Arpathians fear. Not even the Arpathians. I gave up trying several years ago, since they seem to invent new ones each time the moon changes phase or the wind shifts. Others say the seneschal pledged his immortal soul to obtain the plans and that he'll have to spend the rest of his life building temples, trying to earn it back." He chuckled. "It's less colorful, perhaps, but the simple truth is that he put out a call to the greatest engineering geniuses on Sharona and promised a dukedom and half the lifetime earnings from the bridge traffic to the engineer who could design and build it."
"It's . . . astonishing," she said, inadequately.
So it was, and the closer they came, the more astonishing it grew. The pilings were massive towers of concrete and stone. The spans were made of steel, but not the solid steel she'd expected. Instead, they were made of steel cables, which gave the bridge its gossamer appearance, like a bridge made of thread. She frowned, trying to reason it out, as the wind whipped past in crosswise gusts.
Then she understood.
"It really is sheer genius!" she cried aloud in pure delight. "Using cables, not rigid beams, means the entire structure can flex just enough to keep from cracking!"
Her father grinned from ear to ear.
"Bravo, 'Drin! That's precisely why it worked. And don't forget, this part of the world is subject to relatively frequent earthquakes. I'm sure that was another factor in the final design." He laughed. "If you ever grow bored enough to entertain thoughts of an ordinary career, you might consider engineering."

People have lived on the site of Tajvana for over 5000 years. Ylani Strait(Bosphorus) is spanned by a suspension bridge with steel cables.
Skip a few paragraphs of Lady Merissa, Andrin’s lady-in-waiting, being scandalized by Zindel’s suggestion, and Zindel teasing her.
Lady Merissa was clearly torn between squawking in indignation and the deference due the most powerful single human being on Sharona. While she tried to make up her mind which to do, the human being in question turned back to his contemplation of the Ylani Strait Bridge, and gave Andrin a solemn wink. Zindel chan Calirath thought the whole notion of Andrin shocking the bluebloods by taking up engineering was wickedly funny. Yet there was a bittersweet edge to his amusement, for Andrin's future was crushed under far too many restrictions, and he feared that even more were coming.
She was a vibrant, intelligent young woman whose natural enthusiasms were all too frequently curbed by the political realities of her birth rank. For other girls, the choice to study engineering might have surprised people, including the engineers who taught their discipline to new generations, but at least it would have been possible. For Andrin, that door was almost certainly closed, and her father deeply regretted that. He looked back down at her and brushed hair back from her brow.
"You do understand, Andrin, don't you?" he asked softly.
Her eyes were as gray as the wind-chopped water of the Ibral Sea. No guile lived in those forthright eyes, but there was a depth of reserve, a sense that they looked steadily at a thing, measured it carefully against a host of complex factors, and sought to understand it within its many shifting contexts. They were eyes too old for a girl of seventeen, yet strangely vulnerable and young.
"Yes, Papa," she said equally softly, and the smile that touched her lips was sad. "I understand. I have to be too many other things to think about indulging a passing fancy."
Or even a serious one, he added silently.

Women studying subjects such as engineering, at least in the Ternathian Empire, is apparently very rare, but there is no actual bar preventing it. However, Andrin’s rank makes it virtually impossible for her.

"I wish it weren't so," he said aloud. "But we can change neither the world, nor our place in it. And that's enough said on the subject. Look—" he pointed to the left-hand bank "—isn't that the most beautiful Temple of Shalana you've ever seen?"
Andrin looked, then let out a long "Ohhhh!" of appreciation. A tall needle-shaped tower rose from the top of a soaring dome. The needle was gold—genuine gold filigree—and the dome was a patchwork of gold and blue in a swirling, striped pattern that boiled intricately down its curved surface. The gold portion, like the needle tower, really was genuine gold, applied as a thin foil in layer upon successive layer by thousands upon thousands of pilgrims, and the blue swirls were brilliant lapis, a mosaic of thousands upon thousands of tiles cut from the semiprecious blue stone that was sacred to Shalana. The strips of lapis were, in turn, inlaid with other stones—blue stones that caught the sunlight with a fiery dazzle of light. Faceted sapphires by the thousands encrusted the dome in a breathtaking display of the wealth controlled by Shalana's ruling order of priestesses, and the Grand Temple's walls were white marble, inlaid with still more lapis in an intricate geometric pattern of sunbursts and stylized waves. The Order of Shalana was reputed to be the most powerful religious order in the world, with temples—and banks—in nearly every country in Sharona, and Andrin could believe it as she gazed at that gloriously beautiful structure.
"I've never seen anything so lovely in my life!" Andrin breathed softly. "It's more beautiful than any of the temples in Ternathia. Anywhere in Ternathia."

Tajvana’s Temple of Shalana, a Ternathian goddess. From the described location, it could be on the site of Hagia Sophia in our universe

Then she gasped and pointed to the right-hand bank.
"What's that?" she demanded, but understanding dawned almost instantly as she recognized the vast structure dominating the right-hand bank, rising high on a hill overlooking the Ylani Strait.
"It's the Palace!" she squealed, and for just that moment, she sounded exactly like the young girl she really was beneath the layers of poise, caution, and politically necessary reserve.
It was, indeed, the Great Palace of the ancient Ternathian Empire. And it was also still a residence, occupied by the Seneschal of Othmaliz and his vast staff, but not his family.
The Kingdom of Othmaliz was not ruled by a dynastic kingship, but it was far from a democratic republic. The title of seneschal had originally been held by the official who had governed the day-to-day affairs of Tajvana in the name of the emperors of Ternathia. After the Empire had withdrawn, the title had become a theocratic one, for Othmaliz was ruled by a priest—an unmarried priest, as the holy laws of Othmaliz decreed. He wasn't celibate, far from it, but he didn't marry, and his many offspring could not inherit his title or the wealth which went with it. Nor did they live in the palace with him. When a seneschal died, the new seneschal was chosen from the highest ranking priests in the Order of Bergahl. More than one seneschal had been succeeded by a son or a grandson, but only when the successful candidate had attained sufficient seniority within the order to stand for election in his own right.
It had always struck Zindel as a ridiculous waste of space to use the entire vast Great Palace to house one man and his staff. The palace covered fifty acres of ground, and that was only the roofed portion; the grounds were even larger. Now he stood beside his daughter, savoring her delight as she beheld the ancient home of her ancestors at last.
The Great Palace's walls were a glittering sight, inlaid with sheets of mineral mica that sent sparkles of light cascading and shimmering across its surface. The roof was an astonishing fairyland of glittering domes and steep-sided slopes that were covered not with the ubiquitous tiles prevalent throughout the region, but with imported slabs of slate. The slate glittered golden in the brilliant sunshine, like the scales of some fantastic fish sent as a gift by the god of the sea, for every slab had been edged in gold leaf, so that the entire vast structure shone with an unearthly brilliance.
The effect was stunning against the backdrop of bone dry stone walls and sundrenched rooftops whose homely red clay tiles had faded into a dusty, washed out shade of pink. The light shimmering around the sparkling, mica-flecked walls and the incandescent rooftop made the entire, fifty-acre edifice appear to be floating above the city. The optical illusion was so strong that Andrin kept blinking, trying to clear her dazzled vision to see what was really there, the solid stone that anchored the building to the hot and thirsty soil of Tajvana. It didn't seem possible mere human hands could have built it.
She felt numb as she tried to take in the fact that her own family, her direct ancestors, had walked its rooms, run through its corridors, lived in it, laughed and played and hated and loved within its walls and beneath its glittering roof. They'd ruled half the world from that floating palace. But the world they'd ruled was gone. It had vanished quietly down the corridors of time, a world not so much lost as relinquished with passing regret, and gazing at what her family had given up, Andrin was devastated.
Yet even as those thoughts tumbled through her mind, another thought blew through her like a chill wind. The world Andrin lived in had changed just as completely as the world of her ancient ancestors, and far more abruptly. Hers was a new and frightening place, and everything—and everyone—in it was threatened with destruction by a faceless enemy. For one ghastly moment, she saw the Great Palace spouting flames against a night sky, with smoke pouring from it, and people rushing towards the inferno—or perhaps running headlong away, trying to reach safety. She gasped and clutched the ship's rail, unsure whether the vision had been a true Glimpse or merely the product of an overactive imagination giving shape and form to her fear for the only world she knew.

Othmaliz’s head of state, the Seneschal, a priest despite his title. He practises an unusual variant of celibacy, being unmarried but not sexually chaste. Tajvana’s Great Palace, the former seat of the Caliraths. The Palace itself covers fifty acres, over 200,000 square metres.

She drew down a gulp of air, trying to steady her badly shaken nerves, and glanced up at her father. She was surprised by the thoughtful frown which had driven a vertical slash between his brows. Whatever his thoughts were, they were as brooding and disturbed as her own, so she turned uneasily away and studied the harbor, instead. Or, rather, Tajvana's harbors. There were several, split between both banks, but the massive docks on the left-hand bank were clearly for utilitarian commercial purposes, whereas the docks on the right bank appeared to be equipped for the passenger trade, handling small personal yachts and the larger passenger liners and ferries plying the routes to some of the world's most popular resorts and business destinations.
Captain Ula steered Windtreader clear of the cargo wharves, thick with gantries where cranes unloaded huge crates and pallets from the holds of scores of ships. As they entered the Ylani Strait proper, Andrin saw that the commercial docks swept around the perimeter of the vast bay that led inland, curved like a golden horn that ran through the heart of Tajvana's business district. Farther up the slopes were the villas and palaces of the wealthy, both rich merchants and the nobility of Othmaliz, some of whose lineages were almost as long as Andrin's own. She could see carriages and wagons in the streets, and hundreds of sweating stevedores hauling cargo to waiting wagons which would carry it out to dockside warehouses.
But Windtreader was bound for the right bank as Captain Ula reduced speed and conned his ship through clearly marked channels towards the passenger docks under the attentive watchfulness of hovering tugboats. Andrin could see beyond the Ylani Strait now, to the vast Ylani Sea, whose chilly, dark waters met the placid waters of the Ibral Sea in a turbulent, silt-laden chop. There was always a powerful current flowing out of the Strait, and flurries of foam rose as Windtreader's graceful stem cut through it.

Tajvana’s docks are divided between freight on the left bank of the Strait and passengers on the right side. Andrin’s use of the phrase ‘golden horn’ is presumably an authorial reference to the bay’s name in our universe. Some Othmalizi aristocratic lines are nearly as old as the Caliraths.
Skip a few paragraphs of Andrin reflecting on her preparations for the day.

She knew there was to be a formal reception and dinner once all the Conclave's delegates had arrived, and she had every intention of making one of Lady Merissa's carefully crafted political statements for the occasion. She simply didn't know yet what that statement would be. That would be determined largely by the mood and tenor of the preliminary—yet scarcely less formal—social occasions which must be endured before all of the official delegations arrived. She shivered under her cloak, not from cold, and leaned against her father, who wrapped an arm around her and gave her a gentle smile.
"We're nearly there, poppet," he said softly.
"Yes," she said simply. He hadn't called her that since her fifth birthday, and she smiled up at him, then lapsed back into silence and watched their final approach to Tajvana's passenger docks.
The captain rang down "Finished with Engines," and the chuffing paddlewheel tugboats moved in, pushing with bluff bows to ease Windtreader alongside an ornate, marble-faced quay aflutter with official flags of every nation on Sharona. A mob of carriages and people dressed in elaborate finery cluttered the long pier, well back from the longshoremen waiting for the ship's lines.
Paddlewheels churned white froth, Windtreader quivered as her thirty thousand-ton bulk nuzzled against the massive fenders, and steam-driven windlasses clattered as mooring cables went over the waiting bollards and drew snug. Crisp orders and acknowledgments went back and forth, and more steam hissed as it vented through the funnels.
And then, for the first time in almost a week, the deck under Andrin's feet was motionless once more.

Various ceremonial and social events to take place at the Conclave. Tugboats have paddlewheels rather than propellers, presumably because of the smaller turning circle they allow. Windtreader weighs 30,000 tons, and has steam-driven windlasses for docking.
I’ll try to get the next chapter up more quickly.

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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Ahriman238 » 2015-09-23 04:17pm

Also of note, the ruler of Othmaliz is a Seneschal, in traditional usage a majordomo/head butler/steward. The one who minds the castle until the return of the king or lord.

Well, in French it's something closer to a sheriff.
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Ahriman238 » 2015-09-24 01:00am

Music drifted across the pier from a surprisingly large band, as the Ternathian imperial anthem floated to their ears in an appropriate salute to the arriving delegation. The imperial sunburst crackled from every mast as the longshoremen ran out the boarding gangway which would allow them to disembark, and Andrin's father lifted his arm from her shoulder, then offered her the crook of his elbow, instead.

The Ternathian banner is a sunburst. A common motif in Weber stories.

She knew the history of the Order of Bergahl, although not in the sort of detail she suddenly wished she could command. Bergahl had been the patron deity of Tajvana before Ternathia had arrived. He was a war god, and a god of judgment, whose followers had been pledged to the militant pursuit of justice. The Empire, with its long history of religious toleration, had accepted the religious beliefs of its new capital's people, although the emperors had insisted that civil law was now the business of the imperial justicars, and not Bergahl's priesthood. The Empire had made no objection to the Order retaining its position as the administrator of religious law, however, and with Ternathia's withdrawal from Tajvana, it had gradually reemerged as the dominant force in secular matters, as well. That was really all she could recall, although she also seemed to remember reading somewhere that the Order had been none too scrupulous about how it went about regaining its previous power in the wake of the Empire's withdrawal.

Andrin knows something of the major religions, though not as much detail as she might wish on actually meeting them. Tajvanna ruled by the Order of Berghal, an ancient war/justice god to whom the Seneschal seems to be high priest (makes sense if he's Berghal's seneschal and not the Ternathian Emperor's). Apparently while the Calirath dynasty lived in Tajvanna they had no problem with the OB enforcing their own religious law.

A functionary standing in front of the seneschal bowed low and greeted them in fluent Ternathian.

"His Crowned Eminence, the Seneschal of Othmaliz, bids greeting to the Emperor of Ternathia and the Grand Princess Andrin. Be graciously welcome in this city. It has been many fine centuries since Ternathia last stood upon its shores."

Her father's arm turned to stone under Andrin's hand, and she heard someone gasp behind them. She didn't know why that phrase had drawn such a violent reaction, but it was quite obvious her father had just been profoundly insulted, and it had to have something to do with that last sentence. After all, this wasn't the first time the emperor had visited Tajvana, and everyone knew it. For that matter, Ternathia had withdrawn from Othmaliz less than three hundred years ago, which scarcely qualified as "many fine centuries." So why include the phrase in a formal greeting? What sort of point or message could the man be trying to deliver?

She didn't have any idea, but she didn't have to understand the insult to realize one had just been offered. Rather than go hot, her cheeks drained white, and her eyes went cold as gray ice as she stared through the seneschal as though he didn't exist. Neither she nor her father spoke, and an uneasy stir ran through the crowd behind the seneschal. Even the functionary, who was doubtless repeating verbatim a speech he'd been carefully instructed to deliver, seemed to realize his seneschal had blundered gravely, and his face did darken . . . with embarrassment, not anger.

Shamir Taje stepped in front of Andrin and her father and cast a scathing glance at the stammering official. The functionary's face blazed red as he tried to hold the First Councilor's gaze. He wasn't very successful.

"Your greeting is received in the spirit in which it was given. Please tell your seneschal," Taje's words could have been shards of ice, and the title came out as very nearly an insult, "that His Imperial Majesty, Zindel chan Calirath, Emperor of Ternathia and Warlord of the West, requires immediate conveyance to quarters appropriate to his rank and station."


This gets explained and it's really not much of an insult. More of a callback to something a previous Seneschal said when the Ternathians pulled out. Something to the effect that it would be many fine centuries until they returned. It's a reference no one will get if they aren't pretty intimately familiar with the history of Tajvanna or Ternathia, but again, I can't really find the barb in it.

."Your hospitality will, I'm sure, be admirably suited to our needs," she said in flawless Shurkhali, the official language of Othmaliz.

The seneschal's eyes widened. Then his gaze was drawn almost hypnotically to Finena, and those same eyes nearly popped. His Adam's apple bobbed with alarm under his ornate, jeweled collar, and Andrin's smile widened as she realized he was afraid of her bird! She found that thought quite comforting and hoped the seneschal's carriage was a deliciously cozy affair that would allow him an up-close look at the falcon during the whole drive from quayside to palace.

If the Ternathians have basically roped all the nobility or equivalents in the world into falconry, why should anyone of wealth or power ever be uncomfortable around the birds?

They had to run a gauntlet of Othmalizi dignitaries, and Andrin did her best to memorize as many as possible of the names and faces. Any she forgot, Lady Merissa would be sure to remember. One of Merissa's most useful talents—it very nearly qualified as a Talent—was an eidetic memory. Lady Merissa never forgot anything. It made her utterly priceless as a protocol instructor for a grand princess of the blood. Tiresome at times, but priceless.

At least she's trying, even as she blatantly relies on the talents of her lady in waiting.

"Still using the Ternathian imperial coach, I see," someone muttered behind Andrin's shoulder. "You'd think he could have ponied up the money for his own carriage, at least. He's wearing enough cash to buy several carriages."


The conveyance certainly smelled as if it were several centuries old, she thought tartly. The leather seats, while ornately tooled, should have been replaced at least a century ago with something less . . . musty. She was intensely grateful for her cloak, and she was very careful to make sure it lay between her brocaded skirts and the odiferous, ancient leather.

Another calculated insult? she wondered. Or simply a host unwilling to spend his own money on fancy coaches when the imperial "leavings" were still serviceable? The coach certainly looked grand from the outside, and given the outrageous expense of the garments he wore, he clearly believed he deserved the grandeur he aped, regardless of whose grandeur it had originally been. Or how musty it had grown since they'd abandoned it.

Why include this detail, what does it add to the story?

The main avenues were broad, paved with stone and lined with palm trees. Narrow gardens ran down the center of each avenue, dividing the lanes of traffic, which had apparently been rerouted to make way for the official procession, and spectators lined the streets. They were probably there to gawk at the arriving Emperor of Ternathia, Andrin thought . . . and that was when she received the biggest shock of the day.

Roars of welcome greeted them along every city block for miles. Children waved ribbons in the green and gold of the Ternathian imperial flag. Women threw armfuls of flowers. The city's wildly enthusiastic greeting overwhelmed Andrin, who hadn't expected anything like this outpouring of visible joy. The seneschal remained silent, apparently unaware of the tumult, but his eyes were hooded and dark as he watched his own people greet a foreigner, an emperor whose family had ruled the seneschal's homeland for thousands of years.

Andrin could almost feel sorry for him.

So many people were waving in such wild delight that she found herself waving back. It was a purely spontaneous response, and she was astounded when her simple gesture caused grown women to burst into tears and toss still more flowers her way. Uniformed police, many of them mounted, were very much in evidence, apparently to keep the crowd's enthusiasm from spilling over into a headlong rush toward the carriage. As she watched, however, she noticed that not quite everyone along the route was openly delighted. Here and there she saw young men of military age whose glances were hostile and suspicious. She saw older men whose eyes were cold, without the fire of youth, but equally suspicious. She even saw a few people carrying signs whose words she couldn't read, since other people in the crowd invariably snatched them out of the air almost before their owners could unfurl them.

Tajvanna, and the people's general reaction to the arrival of the Imperial family.

His smile was a distant memory now, as he allowed the horrific images of Shaylar Nargra-Kolmayr's final Voice transmission to play through a corner of his mind. He'd convinced Kavilkan to transmit those images raw, without the normal process of editing out the emotions and surface thoughts of the originating Voice. Kavilkan had wavered back and forth for an hour or two, well aware of just how horrible that transmission would be. In the end, he'd shown the moral courage to authorize it anyway. Not because of its titillation value—although SUNN was no more immune to the need to maintain high viewership than anyone else—but because it was important for Sharona's people to know what had really happened out there. Not to be fed some sanitized version, but to experience the terror and the anguish—and the raw, blazing courage—of Shaylar Nargra-Kolmayr.

So Voice transmissions can be edited, thoughts and feelings excluded, and routinely are before mass broadcast. I wonder how well they transmit an imagined experience?

And it was also the Voicecasts which had first emphasized the need for a planet-wide government to meet the emergency. Not some temporary lash-up designed to deal with the immediate crisis. Not even some international military alliance to coordinate the forces of existing nation states. No. What Sharona needed—required—was a functioning government. One which could give orders to anyone's military in its own name. One with no need to debate strategies and accept limitations because it was forced to cajole its "allies" into cooperating with it. One with the force of law behind its decisions. One which could speak for all Sharonians . . . and which could wage deadly war in their name.

Whether or not Kavilkan had recognized what Perthis was up to, Tarlin Bolsh certainly had. The international news division chief had chosen his "talking heads" well, and he'd shaped his entire division's editorial policy to point subtly in the direction Perthis wanted to go. For example, the guest lists for all of the various Voicenet discussion shows his division produced had seemed to somehow feature distinguished statesmen and foreign-policy experts who all just happened to have very favorable views of the Ternathian Empire and its current emperor.

Bolsh's people had also produced both a series of print articles and a Voice documentary on Tajvana's millennia-long history. They'd made the direct link between the scope of the present crisis and the innumerable crises which had already been met, coped with, and—for the most part—hammered into submission here in Tajvana. And in the process—quite accidentally, of course—they had pointed out exactly which dynasty had done the hammering.

The documentary had been a superlative historical survey. It had also been scrupulously accurate, which had only made it even more effective for Perthis' purposes. By now, everyone in Tajvana had either viewed the Voicecast version, or read the print version, and been reminded of their city's glory days under the Caliraths.

That's.... really not all that subtle. Though I get it, Ternathian basically ruled the world for most of recorded history and no one who pays any attention to politics really wants the Uromathians to run things any more than is strictly necessary.

Inevitably, there'd been some backlash. Much of it, Perthis admitted, was completely justifiable. Tajvana—and Othmaliz—were independent once more. They had better than two hundred years of independence and achievements in their own names of which to be proud. The thought of being once more submerged into someone else's massive embrace, losing that regained individuality as part of some vast, corporate whole, wasn't going to find a ringing welcome in every heart.

But against that stood the Calirath reputation for honor and responsibility. For the administration of impartial justice, and for fairness. And Perthis had been quietly astonished by how many Tajvanis—and how many people of other nations—had turned in their moment of greatest fear and uncertainty not to their own governments, but to the Calirath legend. The life of Emperor Halian had been recalled from the dusty archives, and with it the memory of his death, personally leading his army in the defense not of his own people, or his own Empire, but of their Bolakini allies. He and his army had been hideously outnumbered, but they had been all that stood between a Bolakini city and the barbarian horde which had slaughtered its way across half of Ricathia.

The Ternathian Navy had been waiting, just offshore, prepared to whisk Halian and his troops safely out of the path of destruction. And Halian had refused.

Refused not simply to withdraw his army, but to have himself taken to safety. And so three quarters of his army had died, and him with it . . . but the walls of that Bolakini city still stood today, and the statue of the dead emperor lay before the Halian Gate, exactly where his hideously hacked and hewn body had been found on the field of battle, surrounded by every member of his Imperial Guard.

Halian was not the only Calirath who'd made a similar decision. Oh, there'd been the occasional Calirath coward, even the occasional Calirath treacher or tyrant. At least one emperor had clearly been insane, and there were persistent (unproven) rumors that he'd eventually been assassinated by his own bodyguards. But there'd been remarkably few of those over the endless, dusty centuries of the dynasty, and people had remembered that, too. Two hundred and thirty years of freely granted independence had not been long enough to erase the memory of millennia of just government and protection, and the ground swell not just here in Tajvana, but all across Sharona, was building steadily, exactly as Perthis had hoped.

Legend of Emperor Halian, who will be referenced a few times as a model of self-sacrifice, and the hagiography of the Caliraths in general.

What mattered at the moment, however, was that everyone knew that whether they'd understood the subtext or not, the seneschal had offered some deep and personal insult to the Emperor of Ternathia upon his arrival. Zindel's response to that insult (or, perhaps, his lack of response) had only underscored the pettiness and stupidity of the man who'd offered it. And, Perthis' grin turned into a broad smile, Grand Princess Andrin's response—like her falcon's—had been magnificent.

Perthis had never seen the grand princess with his own eyes before. In fact, he'd discovered that there was remarkably little press coverage of Andrin or either of her younger sisters. All he'd really known about her was that she was about seventeen years old, tall, reputed to be both quiet and intelligent, and that she had already demonstrated that she possessed the Calirath Talent.

He hadn't been prepared for the perfectly poised, elegantly groomed, ice-eyed young woman who had inspected the rotund, squat, undeniably oily seneschal as if he were some particularly loathsome slug she'd discovered on the sole of her sandal. She'd been perfect—perfect—standing there like a tall, slender statue of ivory flame, crowned in the fiery sun-glitter of her jeweled hair, and the seneschal's obvious terror of her falcon had only made it better. Her father had made the seneschal look petty; she'd made him look ridiculous, and that was far, far more deadly.

Sounds an awful lot like Honor.

The approach to the Great Palace was lined with cheering crowds all the way to the ornate palace gates, which were guarded by men in Othmalizi uniform. They carried the same Model 10 as the Ternathian Army, something Andrin was proud of herself for recognizing. Her father had not allowed her to skip that portion of her education, just because she wouldn't be serving in Ternathia's armed forces.

So Andrin is bilingual, and can recognize standard-issue repeating rifles. It seems she's just maybe had a bit of education.

Snipping description of the Grand Palace. The main doors are silver and almost two stories tall, with a mirror sheen despite exposure to the elements and bearing many relief panels showing pivotal scenes in Ternathian history. Large gardens with paths paved in white marble. Corridors like an opulent maze and he leads them straight to some kind of reception.

Unlike Finena, the falcons both princes carried wore jeweled and tasseled hoods. Strong leather jesses bound each bird's taloned feet to its owner's gloved wrist, and Andrin flicked a cool glance across the bound birds and inclined her head to the princes as she swept past on her father's arm. Another Uromathian prince farther down the line caught her glance and startled her by grinning and sweeping an ornate bow to her, balancing his own falcon carefully on one wrist. He was not a handsome young man, but his eyes sparkled with open delight as he took in the stunned gazes of his fellow Uromathians.

Again, falcons are pretty much gentleman's attire, much like ties in our world. It;s just the Imperial Ternathian bloodlines are smart neough and well-trained so as to not need a hood or restraints. The point here being that one of the Uromathian monarchs is so very taken it forms some common ground for negotiations.
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Simon_Jester » 2015-09-24 05:54am

Ahriman238 wrote:This gets explained and it's really not much of an insult. More of a callback to something a previous Seneschal said when the Ternathians pulled out. Something to the effect that it would be many fine centuries until they returned. It's a reference no one will get if they aren't pretty intimately familiar with the history of Tajvanna or Ternathia, but again, I can't really find the barb in it.
Well, the second half of that thing the previous seneschal said was basically "Imma cut you." So by deliberately recalling the first half of the statement, the current seneschal is implicitly recalling the second half.

If the Ternathians have basically roped all the nobility or equivalents in the world into falconry, why should anyone of wealth or power ever be uncomfortable around the birds?
Could be an unusual birdophobic reaction, could be specific to this guy looking at the Ternathian royal family, but yeah, this is a mini-plot-hole.

Why include this detail, what does it add to the story?
Either Weber, Evans, or both tend to start getting very... petty about protocol details in these books. It may be Evans because I can't remember Weber characters being this hypersensitive in his other work.

Sounds an awful lot like Honor.
Honor's a brunette. :D

But yeah, the tone of the passage does suggest Weber's the one doing the writing of the descriptions.

So Andrin is bilingual, and can recognize standard-issue repeating rifles. It seems she's just maybe had a bit of education.
Maybe she's just really bad at remembering current events and history? It could be a specific thing, or something brought about by a couple of overrated tutors who did their jobs ineffectively.
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Ultonius » 2016-01-25 05:02pm

No new posts in four months, so again, if no-one else is planning to continue this in the near future, I'll try to post something in the next week or so.

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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Ultonius » 2016-02-15 03:37pm

Just for completeness, I’m finishing off this chapter before I move on to the next one.

But first they had to endure an endless receiving line. It was rapidly apparent that at least two thirds of the delegations had already arrived, and each member of every single delegation was waiting with bated breath to meet the Emperor of Ternathia and his overly tall daughter. And she was overly tall, she thought glumly. In fact, she towered over most of the men and all the ladies, until the Farnalian delegation reached them, at which point she wanted to throw her arms around the Dowager Empress of Farnalia with a gasp of pure thanks for standing taller than she did. The elegant, silver-haired dowager empress flashed a conspiratorial smile as Andrin greeted her formally, then dropped a wink that cheered the girl immensely.
"You probably don't remember me, my dear," the empress said, her voice quiet but surprisingly deep with emotion. "You were only a baby the last time I was in Estafel, but your grandmother and I were dear friends as girls. I stood beside her at her wedding, and she stood with me at mine. You must come and see me at dinner this evening."

The Dowager Empress of Farnalia (presumably the mother of Emperor Ronnel, who we’ll meet later), and Andrin’s grandmother (presumably Zindel’s mother rather than Varena’s) were childhood friends, an example of the close relationship between Ternathia and Farnalia.

The only other good thing to come out of that interminable receiving line was the chance to discover the name of the Uromathian prince with the infectious grin. When he reached Andrin and her father, she discovered—to her secret delight—that while he might be Uromathian by blood, he was no subject of Emperor Chava.
"Junni Fai Yujin, King of Eniath, and Crown Prince Howan Fai Goutin," the Othmalizi functionary handling the introductions intoned.
Like many of the seminomadic people he ruled, Junni Fai Yujin was a large man for someone of Uromathian blood. He was shorter than Andrin, but only by half a head, and his shoulders were actually broader than any part of her. That was a distinct first for any of the men she'd so far met from the other Uromathian delegations, and he bowed over her hand with fluid grace, despite his size. He spoke no Ternathian, and her Uromathian wasn't up to the radically different dialect spoken in Eniath, which shared almost as much linguistic heritage with Arpathian as it did with Uromathian.
She curtsied deeply, indicating her respect for his kingdom and his people—and for their renown as falconers. To her amusement, the king was staring at Finena more rapturously than he was at her, and she angled her arm to bring the white-winged falcon to a better viewing angle.
"Finena," she said softly, stroking the glossy white feathers.
"Finena," the king breathed in response. He glanced up at her, his dark eyes filled with questions he lacked the words to ask. Then he turned to his son and rattled off something Andrin couldn't begin to catch. Crown Prince Howan Fai Goutin, whose family name—like those of all men of Uromathian descent—was traced through the middle name, not the last, spoke in halting Ternathian.

The King and Crown Prince of Eniath. Eniathians are semi-nomadic, and their language, while related to Uromathian, is strongly influenced by Arpathian. They are apparently renowned as falconers, even in Uromath, where, as Ahriman points out, falcons appear to be a fashion accessory among royalty. In Uromathian cultures, at least for men, the second of three names is the family name, though Chava Busar seems to be an exception to this, unless he has another name that isn’t used for some reason.

"Name of silver one is . . ." he paused a moment, mentally translating. "What for meaning?"
"What does her name mean?"
"Please?" he nodded.
"White Fire," she said, and Prince Howan's eyes glowed.
"Ahhhhh . . ." The sound was almost reverent, and then the prince turned and spoke formally to his father. Andrin caught three whole words of the rapid exchange. Then King Junni asked another question, which Howan relayed.
"Please, why Finena no corded?"
Andrin glanced at the jesses on both the king's falcon and Prince Howan's. They were magnificent birds, and she longed to see both of them flying unhindered through the bright sky as free as Finena herself. Then she looked up and met Prince Howan's gaze for a moment before she turned and spoke directly to King Junni himself.
"Does one chain the wind?" she asked simply. "Finena is free. She stays for love of Andrin."
Prince Howan hissed softly. When Andrin risked a swift glance in his direction, she found not the censure or displeasure she'd half-expected to see, but a look of such respect it stunned her. He spoke briefly to his father, and King Junni made a sound almost precisely like his son's. Then he lifted Andrin's free hand and drew her fingers forward, resting them briefly against his own heart. He turned to her father, still holding her hand, and bowed with deep formality. Then he spoke again, and Prince Howan once again translated.
"My father says Ternathia grows wise daughters. He must talk with you. Soon. Before Conclave."
"Ternathia is honored." Her father bowed. "It will be my pleasure to speak with Eniath, whenever King Junni Fai Yujin chooses."
King Junni bowed again, still with that deep formality, and departed with great dignity. The crown prince gave Andrin a piercing glance and an equally formal bow, then followed his father down the receiving line, and Zindel leaned close to stroke Finena's wings.
"Well done, indeed, 'Drin," he murmured in a low tone, for her ears alone. "That was as nice a piece of diplomacy as I've seen in many a year. I need Eniath's support in Conclave, and I wasn't sure I could get it. Now there's at least a piece of common ground—and mutual respect—to build from."
She went nearly giddy with pleasure and wanted to give him a radiant smile, but contented herself with a small upturn of her lips, acutely conscious of the crowd of people watching her every move. Controlling her face was difficult, but she managed it, and his eyes lit with an approval that made her feel as if her feet were floating ten inches above the marble floor.

Andrin scores a diplomatic coup. Touching a person’s fingers to one’s heart is apparently a gesture of respect in Eniath.

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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-04-02 02:50am

Since there's a new volume in this (Weber found a new co-author, actually), I figured we might want to press on with the analysis. I haven't read the new book myself and would prefer to avoid spoilers, but we can at least conclude what's already been written... Beginning Chapter 37... believe this is book one of, now, three.

Shaylar and Jathmar sat in their quarters in Fort Wyvern, talking quietly with Gadrial, and listened to the wind.

...The thunderstorms on the far side of the portal had raged with only occasional periods of relative calm for better than twenty-four hours after their arrival here, and the violent weather seemed to have spread to this side. At least, that was what it had felt like for the next two days, as rain and strong winds pummeled Fort Wyvern. None of the transport dragon pilots had been at all happy about the prospect of taking off under such conditions, and Jasak had decided not to push the issue...
Thunderstorms around portals, hardly surprising given some of the conclusions we drew about how they might affect local weather (and not-so-local climate). It's not safe to fly dragons in a storm, also unsurprising. Some commentary that the Andaran commander of this fort has acceded, against his own wishes and judgement, to Jathmar and Shaylar's status as personal prisoners of Jasak Olderhan. They discuss that... then...

"You don't seem entirely satisfied about something," she observed, and Gadrial grimaced.

"It's just that I'm not too happy about the commander of the next fort," she admitted.

"Why?" Jathmar demanded, his eyes suddenly intent.

"Two Thousand mul Gurthak most definitely isn't Andaran. In fact, he's a Mythalan, and although he hasn't chosen to flaunt it, he comes from a fairly prominent shakira clan-line. He's also a long way away from any authority which might overrule him … or punish him. Frankly, if anyone's likely to try to violate Jasak's role as your baranal, it's going to be a Mythalan."
So, once again we see revelation of the split in Arcanan society between the Andarans and Ransarans (who can mostly get along, I gather) and the Mythalans (whose magical caste-based system leads their elite to totally disrespect basically everyone else alive as far as I can tell). Gadrial talks about this...

"In our universe, Mythal- what you call Ricathia- has the oldest civilization of any of our major cultures. It's also where almost all of the techniques for handling magic, tapping the energy field, were first worked out. A lot of that development stemmed from pure trial and error in the early days, but Mythalans have been studying magic for a long time, and they began working out the theory behind those early brute force applications well over two thousand years ago. The true scientific method only evolved in the last few hundred years, but most of their original theoretical work has stood up extremely well. Even today, they dominate in the field of theoretical sorcery. They're not as good at devising practical applications of their own research as, say, my own people are, but the most prestigious of all of the academies of magic is still the Mythal Falls Academy, where Magister Halathyn used to teach."
The Mythalans basically invented magic as Arcanans know it. Since magic is the basis of their entire multi-planet civilization, that gives them a fairly sound basis to be proud of themselves, which probably contributes to the staggering arrogance we see the Mythalan elite exhibit.

Also, crikey but Gadrial talks like a sociology lecture. INFODUMP ALERT! [sounds klaxon]

"As I say, the shakira are the Gifted caste. They're the small percentage of the total population, no more than twenty percent or so, at best, who form the tip of the social pyramid. They control the wealth and political power of the entire society, and they think of themselves as extremely enlightened because they practice a form of direct democracy no other Arcanan nation practices. Of course, the only people who get to vote are members of the shakira and traditional multhari families. That's one reason they can use direct democracy; they've got so few voters that the system actually works.
Hm. Unclear on whether magical Gifts are truly hereditary in Arcanan society; there's certainly no explicit mention of them being so. Having a caste system in which there is no guarantee that 'muggle' parents will have 'muggle' children could make things complicated and awkward.

This may be clarified later. And no, I can't resist stealing from Rowling; at least her words for these concepts aren't made up in the context of an entire fictitious vocabulary.

Conversely, no mention of Talent being fully hereditary in Sharona. While (for instance) Shaylar's parents are Talents and the Caliraths have been inheriting the same Talent for millenia... there are other Talents whose parents are not, so far as we know, psychic.

"Next in power and prestige after the shakira are the multhari, the traditional Mythalan military caste. You might think of them as the Mythalan equivalent of Andarans, although there are tremendous differences between them. Not least because one of the multhari's primary responsibilities is to keep the garthan's neck firmly under the shakira's heel. Some of the multhari- many of them, in fact- are also shakira, and the enlisted ranks of the Mythalan military have always contained quite a lot of garthan, although all of its officers are multhari.
So the warrior-class includes magic users but is not all-magical. Magic-users among the warrior class of 'multhari' tend to assume they will be privileged over non-magical members of the military. When Mythal had its own army, that was the norm; in the united all-Arcanan military of today, not so much. Many 'vos' officers in the military seem to have raging chips on their shoulders about that.

And when a 'vos' is in the enlisted ranks (e.g. vos Hoven), he still feels entitled to abusive treatment of 'muggle' Mythalans... which is why vos Hoven was extorting the pay of garthan soldier Sendahli.

"The reason he was doing that- and the reason Sendahli was letting him do that, despite the fact that he could have broken vos Hoven's neck any time he wanted to- is that under Mythalan custom and law, garthan have no legal rights in any dispute with a shakira. They can't even testify in court against a shakira defendant. Up until the formation of the Union of Arcana, garthan were legally property. They were required to belong to someone from the shakira caste, and they were denied the right to own property, the right to vote, or the right to choose their own trades and professions . . or to any income they might have earned from that trade or profession. In many cases, they were denied even the right to choose who they married, and even today, Gifted children of garthan parents are taken from their birthparents by the courts and placed for adoption by shakira families."
Ahaaaa, that explains how they cope with the, well, I'm blatantly ripping off Rowling here even more, but I can't resist, 'mudbloods.'

"That's exactly what it is," she agreed grimly. "I'm Ransaran. My people believe in the fundamental equality of all human beings. We're the dangerous, humanistic, liberal part of the Union, and there's been a fundamental hostility, almost a hatred, between us and the Mythalans for as long as anyone can remember on either side. Jasak, on the other hand, is an Andaran, and they're as different from us as the Mythalans are. Their entire culture is bound up in concepts of mutual obligation and duty, of responsibilities that define who they are. They believe in the rights of the individual, but they also believe that those rights have to be earned by meeting all of those obligations and responsibilities, and they have no sympathy for anyone who fails to measure up to their standards of honor.
Conveniently, our sympathetic protagonists come from sympathetic cultures, setting up the Mythalans to be the vicious heavies of the piece. Basically, apparently 'all' Andarans of their own aristocracy feel enough noblesse oblige that the abusive way the Mythalan Gifted elite treat the non-magical part of their population like slaves revolts them.

Bluntly, I doubt it's that simple, because historically, societies with a feudal military aristocracy tend to be brutal and unpleasant toward the peasantry, or at least tolerant of the members of the aristocracy who are brutal and unpleasant.

Unfortunately, we Ransarans and Andarans had no choice but to include Mythal in the Union... frankly, mostly because when the first portal appeared on Arcana, it sparked the most terrible war in our history. The weapons that were developed were devastating, so terrible we barely managed to stop short of our own complete destruction."
First indication that magical WMD are a thing in Arcanan society. To summarize, they were stopped just short of the brink of wrecking their own civilization, and the Mythalans had the nastiest spells of mass destruction at the culmination of the Portal Wars, so their influence was enough to force the Ransarans and Andarans to accept the Mythalans'... "peculiar institution," shall we say. Jathmar and Shaylar are of course horrified to hear about this. About as you'd imagine you'd react, if you hear someone casually saying "yeah, we almost blew up our world two hundred years ago." When you come from a relatively civilized culture that thinks itself above the folly of industrialized mass warfare- and have never heard of the atomic bomb.

"I know what you're afraid of, and I don't blame you. But I will tell you there are severe limitations on even the most deadly weapon, when it's applied to inter-universal warfare. For one thing, no spell can be cast through a portal, so you'd still have to physically assault each portal and establish a bridgehead on the other side before you could deploy any sorcerous weapon. That wasn't a factor in the Portal Wars, because they were fought entirely on Arcana, over who'd end up with possession of the portal in the first place.
Yeeeah, that's reassuring. Not.

"For a second thing, those weapons were outlawed two hundred years ago. As part of the Union Accords, all signatories were required to destroy all weapons of mass destruction and the spellware and research which had supported them. Several other particularly nasty spells were outlawed at the same time, and an inspection process was set up to ensure that there were no holdouts and that no one was doing fresh research in the proscribed areas."

"But if things get nasty enough, your people could always change the law, couldn't they?"
Yes. Which is, again, scary. And Gadrial doesn't help much by pointing out that the Mythalans are going to freak, describing them as "xenophobic to an almost crippling degree, even with their fellow Arcanans."

Shaylar and Jathmar looked at one another, and Gadrial leaned forward in her chair to take Shaylar's hand. Shaylar's eyes stung with tears as she realized the other woman was deliberately giving her the opportunity to read her emotions, her honesty.

"The Andarans and Ransarans would never stand for the resurrection of those hideous weapons," she said flatly. "Not unless your people were foolish enough to convince us that our only other alternative was our own complete destruction. From what I've seen of the two of you, I don't think that's ever going to happen. I can't promise that, obviously, but I truly, truly believe it."
Still, a very alarming prospect, no? Something to bear in mind for future reference.

Gadrial warns the prisoners that Mythalans have no concept of human rights (a la Ransarans) or of personal honor obligations (a la Andarans), and that they need to be very careful around Mythalans in all ways. On the other hand... "That's the bad news. The good news is that seventy or eighty percent of the entire Arcanan army is Andaran, just like Five Hundred Grantyl. Even if they don't like what Jasak's done, they'll respect it, and they won't like it one bit if some Mythalan dishonors all of Andara by harming you in any way."

As we learn later, though, not all Andarans are smiles and sunshine...

Shaylar thought about that conversation three days later as their transport dragon circled above yet another fortress. This one was even bigger than Fort Wyvern, and unless she was very much mistaken, it lay in what would have been east Farnalia back home in Sharona. Endless ocean waves of coniferous forest spread out in every direction, and the flight over the sharp-spined mountains between Fort Wyvern's portal and this new fort- Fort Talon- had been just as freezingly cold as Jasak had warned them that it would be.

It had also required them to fly so high that the dragon's pilot had issued each of his passengers a small cylinder of oxygen attached by a tube to a tightfitting mask which had covered mouth and nose...
This portal transfer is taking place over what is, I believe, Siberia? Can never keep track of Sharonan/Arcanan place-names. Also, Arcanans have bottled oxygen for their dragons and flyers. Odd how they even know what oxygen is, given that their grasp of chemistry and combustion is apparently limited enough that they have no concept of explosives. Then again, for all we know an Arcanan "oxygen cylinder" is actually a metal canister wrapped around a chip of sarkolis crystal that magically generates dense, breathable air the same way their weapons generate fire or lightning. Shaylar would have no way of telling the difference.

Next paragraph also reveals that the Arcanan flying garments (which sound, frankly, like they're probably similar to real life flying clothes of the early 20th century) have magical heating elements, which I suspect a lot of WWII fighter and bomber pilots would have maimed for. :D

The total flight from Fort Wyvern had taken almost a full three days. She and Jathmar had been rather relieved to realize there were some real physical constraints on the Arcanans' uncanny capabilities. Dragons could fly at preposterous speeds, but their endurance clearly wasn't unlimited. They appeared to be capable of perhaps a thousand miles or a bit more in a single day, but the greater exertion of crossing those high mountains had taken its toll. Their dragon had required additional rest after they finally landed, and Jasak and the pilot had agreed to take an extra day at the small, bare-bones dragonfield.
Dragons have limited range, and actually can't fly as far as aircraft in a single day. Also, they are animals, and while they can apparently cope with high altitude better than humans (no mention of bottled oxygen for the dragon), they still have limits.

A uniformed reception committee waited for them on the edge of the dragonfield hacked out of the virgin forest which rose like green walls around it. None of them were Mythalans, and all of them looked remarkably young, certainly not much older than Jasak. Apparently the fort's commander couldn't be bothered to greet the new arrivals in person, and she saw what looked like a hint of irritation far back in Jasak's eyes.
Notably, it sounds as though everyone can tell who is a Mythalan by looking at them; obviously there are 'racial' differences in appearance here, which is unsurprising but I wanted to explicitly mention it.

Neshok, one of the subordinate officers at this fort, greets Jasak very coldly and with a rather petty complaint that Jasak is late. Not a nice guy.

He turned his attention back to the two unknowns. Both were in their forties or fifties, at a glance, and although Jathmar knew nothing of Arcanan fashions, their clothing was clearly made of high-quality material. It looked custom-tailored, too. That kind of garment wasn't what he'd expected to see in a frontier fort, and they looked even more out of place than he felt.
These two eye the Sharonan captives... watchfully, and it puts them on edge, but they don't know more. I'm pretty sure we see these two again later as envoys.

Neshok led them up the road toward the new fort, and Jathmar abruptly found the two civilians displaced from the forefront of his concerns. The landing field was literally ringed with dragons. There were dozens?possibly even scores?of the beasts, and their path led them directly past half a dozen of them.
This facility, Fort Talon I believe, is a major Arcanan airbase, and there are a lot of dragons massing here, under the lead of a Commander of Two Thousand... a Mythalan... who if the 'commander of X men' figure is any guide, is the equivalent of a colonel or brigadier general in an Earthly armed force. Gee, I wonder what that means?

One of the dragons looks very intently and in a predatory manner at the Sharonans, recalling the earlier bad reaction of that first transport dragon.

Shaylar went white. She closed her eyes, trembling, and Jathmar felt her desperate effort to completely close down any hint of Talent. Even the marriage bond was abruptly muted, almost impossible to feel, and his arm tightened around her.

The dragon's reaction hadn't escaped Jasak or Gadrial. As if they'd been the telepaths, the two of them moved as one, in perfect coordination, to interpose their own bodies between the clearly agitated beast and Shaylar. And Gadrial, Jatham realized with sudden shock was abruptly outlined by a literal corona of light. Fire seemed to crackle in midair, three inches from her skin, her hands rose in an odd, intensely graceful posture which reminded him of some sort of martial artist, and he felt a sudden, ominous, ozone-breathing pressure radiating from her. It was like knowing he was standing directly in the path of a lightning bolt, a corner of his mind gibbered, and for the first time since they'd met, he was actually afraid of her.
Aaaand remind me not to tick Gadrial off. Or for that matter any real Arcanan wizards. Come to think of it, yeah, those spells the Arcanans use in place of machine guns and bazookas? Those are spells stored in a crystal... someone's got to be capable of casting them personally without using the crystals. We haven't seen that in combat as of Book Two, but it's definitely a thing.

Also, while Gadrial may very well be able to blow up a dragon by thinking mean thoughts at it, Jasak is not, and still steps between the dragon and his charges armed with nothing more than his rugged countenance and balls of steel. Probably worth mentioning.

Another of the dragons starts getting mad, and the party escorting the Sharonans rushes them out of there before the dragons go wild. They settle down when the Sharonans are forty or fifty yards away.

"It wasn't me, Jasak! It wasn't! It couldn't have been me! I wasn't doing anything!" Shaylar cried, and Jasak looked down at her as she hastened along between him and Jathmar.

"I believe you," he said, laying his own hand on her shoulder, but he also shook his head. "I just wish I knew why those two reacted that way, when none of the transport dragons have since Windclaw."

"What are you talking about?" Neshok demanded harshly. He was glaring at Shaylar, his eyes flinty, and he didn't seem to be very much happier than that with Jasak. "What does she mean, she 'wasn't doing anything'?"

"The transport dragon that airlifted my wounded out reacted violently to Lady Nargra-Kolmayr's presence." Jasak's voice was level, his expression calm, but Shaylar could sense his emotions through the hand still on her shoulder. He wasn't at all happy about broaching this entire subject, she realized. "We didn't have any problems with the dragon from Fort Wyvern, though. I'd hoped it was just a fluke the first time."

"That still doesn't answer my question," Neshok said flatly, stopping in the road now that they were far enough away from the dragons and glaring at Jasak. "What did she mean about not doing anything?"

"Lady Nargra-Kolmayr," Jasak said, and Shaylar realized he was deliberately stressing the Andaran title he'd suddenly assigned her rather than use her first name, "has what her people call a Talent. It's an ability to communicate with others using her mind, and we think some of the dragons may be reacting to it."

Neshok's eyes flared wide in sudden alarm, and Jasak shook his head quickly.

"It's very much like our Gifts, Hundred," he said. "In fact, you could just think of it as a different sort of Gift. It doesn't turn her into some kind of magic mindreader, nor can she influence your thoughts or communicate with her own people from this far away."

"And just how do you know that?" Neshok demanded, his face dark with anger.

"I know because she told me so," Jasak said flatly. "And because if there'd been any way for her to use her Talent effectively against us, she'd certainly have done so, and she hasn't."

"Because she told you so!" Neshok repeated in a scathing tone, completely ignoring Jasak's second sentence. "The woman's a prisoner of war, and you expect her to tell you the truth? Are you a complete idiot? She's going to lie with every breath she takes! I ought to put a bolt through her right now- or throw her back to the dragons!"
Honestly, Neshok's a low-down son of a bitch, but he does kind of have a point here. If someone tells you they are psychic, and tells you that doesn't mean they can actually read your thoughts or mind control you, and you believe them... well, that could be interpreted all sorts of ways. "Jasak is a mind-controlled puppet" is certainly one of those interpretations.

Jasak intercedes again, getting downright threatening and insulting with Neshok, putting his hand on his sword hilt, and forcing Neshok to back down and recant his remarks, noting that "Lady Nargra-Kolmayr and her husband are my shardonai. Any insult, any injury or threat, offered to them is offered to a member of my family. Perhaps you'd care to reconsider that last sentence of yours."

"Very well," a white-lipped Neshok grated after a moment. "I withdraw the last sentence. But shardonai or not, how can you be so sure they're telling you the truth? For that matter, how can you be sure you didn't decide to make them shardonai in the first place because she somehow influenced your mind?"

"Because she was three-quarters unconscious with a concussion when I made my decision..."
Also a good point. :D

There is a rather upset outburst by Shaylar when Neshok refers to the Sharonans as 'barbarians' who 'murdered' Magister Halathyn, which happens to almost send Gadrial berserk, too. Shaylar calls Neshok out on this, noting that her own country has several millenia of peaceful, civilized history, and that Neshok is in a lousy position to call anyone a 'barbarian.' However, this pattern of many Arcanans casually dismissing or disrespecting the idea that Sharonans could be intelligent, rational, civilized, honest, et cetera... is rather persistent.

As I've mentioned before, any likely crossover involving Arcanans is very likely to blow out of control because the Arcanans are just plain too intolerant and blinkered to cope well with a strange culture. They've got plenty of decent people 'on the ground' but too many of their decision-makers are bigoted, warlike, or just plain asinine people. At least, that's the evidence we get from the de facto guided tour Jathmar and Shaylar get of the Arcanan rear area. Meanwhile...

...Neshok's reaction to Halathyn's death- not to mention his instant, unthinking attitude towards her and Jathmar- only underscored how dark the future had become.

She could scarcely imagine how Sharona must have reacted to the belief that she was dead... the Portal Authority had used her face, her image, in its public relations campaigns. She knew how all of Shurkhal, even the men who'd harbored the most reservations about her choice of career, had taken a fierce and possessive pride in her accomplishments. If Darcel had relayed everything she'd transmitted over their link before she was injured, then all of Sharona had probably been swept by a fury it hadn't seen in centuries, if not longer. As for how Shurkal must have reacted?!

Now Neshok's attitude gave her some idea of how Arcana was going to react to news of Magister Halathyn's death. And the fact that he'd been killed by an Arcanan soldier, not by Sharona, wasn't going to matter a bit.

Her shoulders slumped as an abrupt, crushing weariness crashed down across her. She wanted to curl up someplace sheltered and private, someplace she could hide. Someplace where men like Neshok didn't exist, where monstrous weapons didn't threaten Sharonian lives, and where no unnatural creatures could crawl inside her mind.

Neshok tries to get the Sharonans locked up again, and Jasak basically does his "they're my family, even the general can't lock them up" schtick, while Gadrial pulls out the ploy of 'if you throw them in the dungeon you're locking me up in the same cell,' again referencing her 'combat magics' as a pretext- if they're a threat, well, she's not just a practitioner but apparently taught combat magic for ten years.

Neshok is a thoroughgoing snake, we'll be seeing more of him.
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate, Chapter 38

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-04-02 03:19am

Hm. Going to try to quote less of the text where it's not relevant to the analysis, I think...

Commander of Two Thousand Nith mul Gurthak sat his chair like the throne. He was one of the small but growing number of Gifted Mythalan officers who'd chosen a career as a line officer rather than to serve in one of the specialist slots most Gifted soldiers- Mythalan or otherwise- usually preferred.
Not surprising that Gifted Mythalan officers prefer to serve in specialist branches where their magical ability singles them out, rather than rubbing elbows with a bunch of muggle Andarans who are still their equals in rank and can't be pushed around.

We're introduced to the two civilians- Skirvon and Dastiri, "field representatives of the Union Arbitration Commission," some kind of government agents, who were out in the boonies for some other reason and have been rushed to Fort Talon in the wake of the messages coming back up-chain from Fallen Timbers.

...The UAC reported directly to the Union Senate. It was a quasi-diplomatic organization charged with resolving inter-universal disputes between both local governing entities and private individuals. Skirvon and Dastiri might not be formally accredited as Union ambassadors to extra-universal civilizations, but they were certainly the closest anyone was going to be able to come to that, and at least they did have diplomatic training.
Role of the UAC, and apparently the UAC is (in part, at least) the Arcanan equivalent of the Portal Authority.

"In fact, Lady Nargra-Kolmayr has learned to speak fluent Andaran in less than two weeks, and she's been able to teach her husband how to speak it amazingly well. And?"
Jasak talking about Shaylar, and confirming just how fast a Talent like her can pick up languages. The civilians ask some followup questions and Jasak mentions that he and Gadrial have been learning Ternathian. Of course, they don't have that fast language-learning, but...

"You say you've been learning it?" Skirvon pressed.

"Not nearly so quickly as they've been learning Andaran," Jasak assured him with a wry smile. "But Magister Kelbryan has been working with them using the translation spellware programmed into her PC. Every time she taught them a word in Andaran, they gave her the equivalent word in Ternathian. Magister Kelbryan's spellware stores the words both in written phonetic form and in audio, and it's been analyzing and deriving the Ternathian rules of grammar, as well. For all intents and purposes, it's produced a primer for Ternathian, and its capable of running audio translation, as well. I'm sure there are still holes in what we've got, and I'm equally sure that it wouldn't give one of our people anywhere near the fluency Lady Nargra-Kolmayr has attained in Andaran, but it's a very substantial beginning.

He reached into the breast of his uniform tunic and extracted a sheaf of neatly printed pages.

"Magister Kelbryan generated this from her PC last night," he said, and handed the pages to Dastiri, the nearer of the two diplomats.

"Incredible," Dastiri muttered, flipping through the pages. He shook his head and handed it to Skirvon, who was senior to him in the UAC.

"Very impressive," Skirvon agreed. "Could you arrange for Magister Kelbryan to download copy of this to our PCs? And of her translation spellware. The UAC would find it of incalculable value."

"And I'll want a copy, as well, Hundred," mul Gurthak said.
The Arcanan equivalent of Google Translate. Possibly as good or better than the real Google Translate. Which Gadrial appears to have whipped up, for Ternathian to Andaran, in short order. To be fair, she's no doubt basing this on existing translation spellware from Arcana, but still, wow.

So, "oh yeah, speaking Ternathian? There's an app for that now."

"I'll review them very carefully, Sir Jasak," Skirvon promised. "In the meantime, however, there's a more immediate point I'd like to address. Five Hundred Klian's reports state that these people's technology is very different from our own."

"...But in answer to the point you've raised, Master Skirvon," Jasak turned his attention back to the diplomat, "they have a great many devices and tools we don't begin to understand yet. They're remarkably good engineers and artisans, and their metallurgy and textiles are every bit as good as our own, but they don't appear to have any equivalent of our arcane technology."

"So I understood from Five Hundred Klian's report," Skirvon said, yet he was frowning heavily. "I find that very difficult to accept, however. Obviously, I haven't spent as much time in these people's company as you have, Sir Jasak. But they certainly appear to be just as human as we are, so presumably they ought to have the same basic genetic heritage. The same Gifts."
Arcanans are baffled that humans can NOT have magic powers. Of course, from our point of view, Sharonan Talents are magic powers, so I don't even know what to make of this.

Further remarks along these lines... Magic a four-year-old child (with a Gift) could accomplish is utterly unfamiliar to the Sharonans, but then we knew that. It does confirm that the Gift emerges in early childhood, not with puberty or anything.

"But?" the senior diplomat sputtered. "But how in the gods' names does anyone build a civilization without it?"

He glanced around mul Gurthak's office, an austere frontier room which nevertheless boasted more than a dozen magic-powered appliances, from his own PC to the lighting to the insect-repelling spell to the quietly turning blades of the ceiling fan, all in plain view, and doubtless many others in storage in the various cabinets.

"I'm sorry, Sir Jasak, but Uthik is right. It sounds … impossible. They'd live under appallingly crude conditions. People in a place like that would be little better than barbarians!"
Arcanans, in addition to having magic smartphones*, have magic light-bulbs, ceiling fans, and bug zappers. Plus who knows what-all else. And, again, are basically unable to imagine a civilized lifestyle without magic. To be fair, we'd be hard-pressed to imagine a civilized lifestyle without electricity, internal combustion, or machine tools... and the Arcanans appear to lack all these things.

*Interestingly, Hell's Gate was published about six months or so before Apple released the iPhone... :D

"You had something you wished to add, Hundred Neshok?" he asked in a deceptively mild voice.

"I was just going to say, Sir, that no one should say it around that girl, for sure. The little bitch has quite a temper."

"That's quite enough, Neshok!" The mildness had vanished from mul Gurthak's voice, and his face was hard. "You insulted the lady and her people, and you threatened her, and the fact that she's fluent in your own language only made it worse. Whatever else we may think about her and her people, it's difficult to condemn her for becoming angry in the face of such boorishness and discourtesy. Consider yourself fortunate that only she has reprimanded you so far."

"Yes, Sir." Neshok's voice sounded strangled, and Jasak could almost feel the heat radiating from his flushed face.
Even Mythalans think Neshok's a jackass.

"I was saying that I wouldn't assume their civilization is either crude or simple just because their technology isn't magic-based. We manufacture mechanical things ourselves, but there's a huge difference between an arbalest that fires a steel bolt and one of their weapons... [snip]

"An arbalest sounds far more practical and reliable," Skirvon observed with another frown.
Jasak continues to describe firearms from the point of view of someone who's never seen them until two weeks ago. The explanation goes badly.

"They're reliable enough, Sir." Jasak almost blinked in surprise as Otwal Threbuch inserted himself into the conversation. "And practical, too, begging your pardon. Have you ever seen an arbalest quarrel punch clean through a man three hundred yards away? Have you ever seen an arbalest mow down thirty men in three seconds? A whole line of men, forty feet across? They went down like one man- like they'd run into an invisible wire.

"Only it wasn't a wire. The things hitting them were blowing holes straight through them- big holes. Big enough to put your thumb through in front and your fist through in back. And that doesn't even begin to describe what their artillery can do. They fired it through the portal and dropped it behind Hundred Thalmayr's fieldworks." The big noncom shook his head grimly. "Believe me, Sir, an arbalest may be less complicated, but it's definitely not more practical or reliable."

Both diplomats were ashen, and mul Gurthak looked more than a little shaken himself. Another brief silence fell, until Skirvon shook himself again.
Sharonan small arms and field artillery are really scary by Arcanan standards. Arcanans have weapons that can fire out to the range of real world rifles, but none that can do so with the combination of stopping power, penetrating power, accuracy, and volume of fire that rifles, machine guns, and mortars have.

...The diplomats exchanged thoughtful glances. Then they looked back at Jasak. "So it would probably be this 'Portal Authority' we'd be speaking to, not the representatives of an actual government?" Skirvon mused aloud.

"I'd guess so." Jasak nodded. "But let me emphasize that it would be only a guess on my part. One thing we haven't been able to discover is how extensively the Sharonians have explored. My distinct impression from several things they've let drop is that they were operating on the leading edge of a very extensive frontier when we encountered one another. If that's so, then I'd think it would be difficult for them to get diplomats to the front much more quickly than we could. And that completely ignores the fact that if they don't have a world government, the first thing they'd have to do is decide which government should be talking to us."
Some implications of the Sharonan establishment on their frontier and their arrangements for controlling portal exploration, from the Arcanan point of view. Also relevant in crossover scenarios.

The discussion then turns to mul Gurthak speculating that hummers present an advantage in response time compared to anything the Sharonans have, and Jasak reveals the existence of Talents. He explains.

"Obviously," he concluded, several minutes later, "the military applications of this … living technology are enormous. And, frankly, the civilian applications must be equally staggering."

His audience looked stunned. Then mul Gurthak leaned forward over his desk, his body language and expression angry. "When," he asked icily, "did you discover this little bit of information?"
I'm honestly surprised that the Arcanans are surprised. I mean, granted, it isn't exactly like the Gift of magic, but it's similar enough. For crying out loud, they were all stunned a few minutes ago when they found out that the Sharonans "don't have" magic... this is what they use instead, right?

Okay, to be fair, anyone would be confused by this "well, they don't have magic like we do, BUT they have these 'Talent' abilities that even we think are freaky." Kind of contradictory messages your sending there, Jasak. :D

"There's another point I'd like to make, as well, if I may," Jasak said. "We know Sharona has many countries, and we also know Lady Nargra-Kolmayr and her husband don't come from the same one. You only have to look at them to see that they're obviously from different genetic stocks. Yet their ideas, their values- what they believe at the deepest core level- are remarkably similar. And when you stop to think about it, how many Arcanans actually choose to marry outside their birth cultures? Not very many, yet we've been a united world, under one government, for two centuries."

The mention of cross-cultural marriages tightened mul Gurthak's lips in visible disapproval. Despite that, it was the two thousand who first grasped the point Jasak was trying to make. "What you're trying to say is that even though they may not have a world government, their culture- their civilization- may be much closer to monolithic than we'd assume?"
Another interesting point. Note that this also says something about Arcana- that even though the three (?) dominant planetary cultures have been part of a nominally united world government spreading out across the worlds for 200 years, there has been relatively minimal intermarriage among the cultures.

"I realize your primary concern will be sending reports ahead as you make the return trip to New Arcana. The Commandery has to know everything you learn as soon as possible. The time lag is immense, as it is. Even at the speed hummers fly, this is a long transit chain."

"Yes, Sir. I know that only too well." The initial message that there'd been a contact with another civilization was still winging its way- literally- back to New Arcana. "No one even knows the Union has new neighbors, Sir. Let alone that battles have already been fought. No one in the Union, that is."
I forget the exact distance between the Arcanan homeworld and their frontier via portal chain; I seem to recall the number 'two hundred thousand miles,' but that may be wrong. This is another crossover issue- anything that happens on the Arcanan frontier will take months just for home to find out about it, and more months for reinforcements to arrive if the local forces immediately on scene are defeated.

By contrast, the Sharonans find out about what's happening much faster... although their reinforcements move no faster toward the front, they do have a shorter distance to travel.

When the diplomats figure this out they freak, but mul Gurthak points out that the Sharonans have literally nothing that flies, so while their communications are fast, their transportation is slow. Mul Gurthak also refers to "enhanced cavalry mounts," which we'll see in Book Two... basically, for situations where dragons aren't a practical answer, the Arcanans have some really impressive horses.
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate, Chapter 39

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-04-02 04:33am

The man who thought of himself as Nith vos Gurthak only when he was totally alone, watched the door close behind Sir Jasak Olderhan and his noncommissioned officers, then swiveled his eyes slowly across Rithmar Skirvon and Uthik Dastiri.
"Mul" Gurthak is much more a member of the Mythalan Gifted caste than anyone in the Arcanan military, except perhaps a select number of co-conspirators, realizes. In the ensuing conversation it appears that Skirvon and vos Gurthak are 'in on it' to an extent, whereas Dastiri is relatively ignorant of the secrets being alluded to, and which we will hopefully learn more about in future.

Vos Gurthak adopts with the Union envoys the stance that he has to make fast decisions before Arcana is notified of the situation, because the sheer length of the transit chain means it will take several months for instructions to come back.

Note that it really is rather striking that Arcanan magic includes literally nothing comparable to telegraphs or radio. Indeed, they seem rather bad at 'action at a distance' overall; magical effects tend to be generated very close to the source of the magical energy, and often have very short ranges. For instance, their healing charms have to be placed on a body to work, you can't just point and wave them from ten feet away. Their fireball-shooting infantry 'dragons' generate the fireball at the muzzle of the weapon, not inside the target hundreds of feet away. They have all sorts of image-storing software to map terrain, but they can't produce maps without physically flying something around with the equivalent of a camera to take pictures. They appear to have nothing equivalent to radar, radio, or anything similar; their most advanced ways of sending messages are the equivalent of carrier pigeons and mail planes.

Pursuant to his goal of ensuring his own ability to take control of the situation, vos Gurthak has ordered the bulk of the available forces mustered at Fort Talon.

"Excuse me, Two Thousand," Dastiri said, "but didn't you just say there weren't very many forces available to you?"

The younger diplomat, mul Gurthak reflected, had that annoying Ransaran habit of asking questions whether or not their answers were any of his business. Still, the man had been partnered with Skirvon for almost a year now, which said a lot. Obviously, Dastiri wasn't too Ransaran in his attitudes, so mul Gurthak might as well be polite.

"What I said was that the chain hadn't been packed with combat power, Master Dastiri," he corrected in as pleasant a tone as possible. "That doesn't mean there aren't a lot of individual Army battalions and Air Force combat and transport strikes scattered around it. As soon as I got Klian's initial dispatch, I sent out orders for as many of those scattered units as possible to report to me here, at Fort Talon, as quickly as transport can be arranged. The first few infantry companies have already arrived. Others are on their way, and they're bringing more transport dragons- and cargo pods- with them as they come in."
Vos Gurthak has considerable forces at his disposal, defining 'at his disposal' as 'everything he's got high enough rank to issue orders to, scattered across umpty planets of largely unpopulated wilderness.' As to what he can do with those forces...

"How confident do you feel about your ability to hold against a serious attack, Two Thousand?" the civilian asked after a moment.

"That's difficult to say... the other side has the advantage in terms of communications speed, given these Voices of theirs... But we have the advantage in terms of tactical and strategic movement speeds... these people not only don't have magic- assuming our prisoners are, in fact, telling us the truth- but they also don't have dragons. And if they don't, then they can't begin to imagine how rapidly we can transport military forces across even totally unimproved terrain.
This is entirely correct, as proven by later events.

"As for these weapons of theirs, I'm entirely prepared to admit that they appear to be powerful and dangerous. But the real reason Thalmayr managed to get himself captured or killed, and all of Hundred Olderhan's company along with him, was the simple fact that unlike us, they can fire artillery through a portal. In a straight-up firefight in the open, between his infantry and field-dragons and their artillery, I strongly suspect that Thalmayr would have massacred them. What happened to him was, in the final analysis, the result of a totally unanticipated tactical advantage of the other side.
Vos Gurthak does, however, seem to be underestimating Sharonan infantry weapons. Among other things he doesn't appear to grasp the range advantage the Sharonans enjoy, or the effect of machine guns, which are profoundly different from those of single-shot heavy weapons like Arcanan dragons.

"Forgive me, Two Thousand," Dastiri said, "but it sounds to me as if you think there will be a next time."
Well, he does. Vos Gurthak replies that he is just doing contingency planning... then Skirvon pops up and points out that the Union has an interest in controlling the Hell's Gate portal cluster, which of course is going to be their rationale for a lot of later behavior.

Dastiri stood, then paused as he realized Skirvon had made no move to climb out of his chair. He glanced back and forth between his civilian superior and the military officer still sitting behind the desk, and, for just a moment, he seemed to hover on the edge of saying something more. But then he gave his head a little shake, bestowed a half-bow upon mul Gurthak, and smiled at Skirvon.

"I have a couple of minor errands of my own I need to deal with before supper, Rithmar," he said easily. "I'll see you then, shall I?"
Vos Gurthak and Skirvon hint to Dastiri that they want him to leave (probably to avoid him asking awkward questions while recorders are on). He takes the hint and does so, which tells you that while he does seem to ask honest questions and may well be sincerely 'decent' in some of his intentions, he's quite prepared to be complicit in the kind of bizarre internecine plotting that's going on within the Arcanan chain of command.

The two men smiled thinly at one another. Skirvon might be of Andaran descent, but his family had been Hilmaran for centuries, and there was still that lingering tradition of hostility between Hilmarans and the northern kingdoms which had once conquered and ruled so much of their continent. The diplomat didn't much care for any Andarans, and particularly not for the Duke of Garth Showma, the most powerful of them all. Most people didn't realize that, largely because Skirvon was of Andaran descent himself, on his mother's side. But mul Gurthak and his … associates had been aware of the man's true leanings for quite some time.
Further evidence regarding internal Arcanan divisions. Also, confirmation that mul Gurthak has 'associates,' who are apparently cultivating specific individuals that have grudges against the Andaran-dominated status quo of the Arcanan military.

"Quite aside from any other considerations," he said, "young Olderhan doesn't seem to realize that there's only a vanishingly small chance of averting war with these Sharonians. I suppose he has a powerful motivation to find one before still more people get killed, but there honestly wasn't much hope of that even before his own discovery about the things they can do with their minds. Given what we know about them now, about what they are, I'd say the chances of avoiding war are virtually nonexistent. As a Mythalan, you'll appreciate better than many how this news will play at home."

"An entire universe filled with people?non-Gifted people?who read minds and turn thoughts into weapons?" mul Gurthak snorted. "The shakira lords will froth."

"Precisely." Their eyes met, and then Skirvon shrugged. "It's clear Olderhan believes his prisoners are honest and decent people. And they may very well be. On a person-to-person basis, justice and fair play and equality with others are concepts most of us value, after all, particularly as applied to ourselves."

His smile was so tart it could have soured milk, and mul Gurthak snorted a chuckle. "Fair play" and "equality with others" were nasty habits indulged in by dangerously unstable and degenerate societies. Societies whose chaotic habits were a serious threat to the properly regulated, orderly political and religious structure that kept the world in its proper alignment. Not to mention keeping the shakira lords precisely where they belonged: in charge, at the top of a very steep and very narrow ladder of power.

It was so very fortunate that Rithmar Skirvon had been the closest senior diplomat available when this entire catastrophe began to unravel. Of course, there'd been a reason mul Gurthak had requested Skirvon for the arbitration assignment with which he'd been dealing when Klian's first reports arrived. Men who understood the realities of diplomacy?and also where their own best interests lay?were always useful.
So vos Gurthak is just another bastard; he seemed kind of reasonable in the last chapter, no?

Also, again with Weber antagonist descriptions; you just don't get a Weber antagonist who seems like a nice person who just happens to be on the wrong side.

And basically, Skirvon, the senior Arcanan negotiator, is taking orders from the warmongering conspirator who's part of a shadowy Mythalan conspiracy. Joy.

"That's the difficult question, isn't it?" mul Gurthak frowned thoughtfully, toying with an antique dagger he used as a paperweight. Not many people would have recognized it as a Mythalan rankadi knife. More modern rankadi knives were far simpler and more utilitarian.
What's a rankadi knife? Maybe we'll see later.

Rithmar Skirvon was almost as smart as he thought he was, the two thousand reflected. But only almost. He'd been perfectly happy to enter into certain subsidiary business arrangements with various Mythalan financiers and banks, and he'd always held up his end of any arrangements. But by and large, he seemed to think money and personal power were all that were at stake. He knew he was involved with shakira, but he thought they were acting as individuals, in their own self-interest. He didn't have a clue about the bigger picture … which was fortunate for him. Men who knew too much about the Council of Twelve and its plans inevitably had accidents.
Now we have a name for the shadowy Mythalan conspiracy. Also an example of the kind of 'strings' they have in the larger society, and the ways those strings can be used to manipulate people.

The problem was that, aside from the regrettable power of her Gift, Kelbryan was typical of Ransarans, and there were a lot of them. An appalling number of them, as a matter of fact, when it came to seats in the Union Parliament. Unlike Mythal, which was experiencing a steady decline in population, thanks to the current massive garthan exodus (which had the caste-lords howling in outrage and threatening to impose emigration quotas- as if the Accords would have permitted them to do any such thing), the Ransaran population on Arcana Prime was growing steadily. Not just in absolute terms, but as a percentage of the total planetary population, as well.
Apparently, Mythalans believe that pedigreeing people helps them enhance the Gift, and the evidence at least partially supports this... so someone like Gadrial, who is apparently an unusually powerful wizard, and a Ransaran, is an embarrassment to them.

Also, Arcanan demographics; Ransar (Ransara?) is growing in population share due in part to emigration from Mythal, and it's hard to blame Mythalan muggles for wanting to leave a country where they have no legal rights and where any magically-gifted babies they may have (roughly one fifth of all children) are kidnapped and taken away to be raised by complete strangers.

Despite their much vaunted individualism and the depressing technological advantages it had given them, however, Ransarans as a group tended not to relocate as much as other Arcanans. In part, that was simply because they preferred the creature comforts of home. Given the almost universally high standard of living amongst Ransarans, higher than that of any other group in the Union, outside a few dozen shakira ruling families, Ransarans simply preferred to stay home.

Roughing it in a cabin in the wilderness, with no hospitals, no universities, no theaters or museums, no banks or stock exchanges, and no shopping emporia stuffed with luxury goods from every Arcanan universe, was simply too crude for most self-respecting Ransarans. That was one Ransaran attitude mul Gurthak understood perfectly. He missed the comforts of home, as well. Bitterly, at times.

But sacrifices had to be made. That was a concept he'd embraced long ago, although it clearly continued to elude most Ransarans. Of course, one of these fine days, those same Ransarans would wake up to discover that a few changes had been made. Nith mul Gurthak took great personal satisfaction in being part of the mechanism which would make that moment inevitable.
A member of the Mythalan elite and his take on why Ransarans don't emigrate to other universes very much.

Note the comments we heard earlier about Mythalans being stupidly xenophobic. This tends to substantiate that, doesn't it?

Also note that vos Gurthak's internal monologue at this point winds up to the effect that he's tired of dissembling and hiding his contempt for... basically everything ever aside from the Mythalan magic-using class, as far as I can tell. So he gives the order to bring prisoner vos Hoven to him, because he needs someone he can vent at.

The clerk disappeared again, briefly, and Nith mul Gurthak reseated himself behind the desk and assumed the stern guise of a thoroughly disgruntled shakira caste-lord. A moment later, the door opened once more to admit a single person.

Bok vos Hoven was all starch and swagger as he entered. Clearly, he was confident mul Gurthak would get him out of the trouble he'd gotten himself into, and the two thousand shook his head mentally. This was what the caste was coming to?

The clerk closed the door with a sharp click. vos Hoven smiled and started to step closer to mul Gurthak's desk, then paused. His smile seemed to falter as mul Gurthak simply sat staring at him through narrow eyes and said nothing at all. The younger shakira looked around, uncertainly, and mul Gurthak waited until the first few beads of sweat appeared on his forehead.

"Would you kindly explain," the two thousand said then, suddenly, coldly, chopping the first hole in the icy silence he'd so carefully built, "which variety of dragon shit you use for brains?"

I will admit that vos Gurthak does his venting against petty criminal members of his own caste with style... on the other hand, he's essentially committing similar or worse crimes on a much larger scale, so meh.

I'm going to be honest, I think this entire passage deserves to be quoted in its entirety because, of all the things I've seen in the first two books, it does the best job of giving us insight into how Mythalan culture works, how the Mythalan elite views itself (both the bad side, and the arguably-less-bad side), and of what kind of internal logic they use to justify their own actions.

In the next post.
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-04-02 04:50am

So, extended conversation between vos-and-mul Gurthak (secretly a member of the Mythalan 'shakira' elite caste of magic-users, and of a conspiracy to somehow greatly strengthen the position of this caste in Arcanan society)... and vos Hoven (a member of the shakira caste who is an enlisted soldier in the Arcanan military, and who uses his caste standing to bully low-caste Mythalan soldiers and extort their salary).

"Mightiest Lord," vos Hoven whispered in Mythalan, using the form of address the most groveling supplicant used to address the highest caste-lord of his birth line, "how have I erred so grievously? I thought?"

"You thought?" Mul Gurthak hissed. He stepped around his desk and snatched vos Hoven up onto his toes by the front of his suddenly sweat-stained uniform blouse. "If you'd thought, you wouldn't be chained and awaiting trial! Did you honestly think I'd lift a fingernail to save you? When you've proven yourself to be the stupidest fool ever born in Mythal?"

He released the fool in question with explosive energy, shoving him away, and vos Hoven went to his knees, shaking. Weeping. mul Gurthak glared at him, then slapped him hard enough to send him sprawling all the way to the floor.

"You're so proud and conceited you can't even grovel properly!" the two thousand grated. "A man in your shoes should be on his belly begging not to be ordered to commit rankadi!"

The words struck home?and finally pierced the armor of vos Hoven's inflated self-worth. He went rigid for a long, horrified instant, then rolled onto his belly, where he belonged, moaning and covering his head with his chained hands to hide his shame.
Ahah, there's our hint about rankadi- apparently, the Mythalan version of seppuku.

"Better!" mul Gurthak hissed.

"M-may I plead with My Lord?" vos Hoven's voice quivered with the tremors running through him.

"Plead for what? Your miserable life?"

"N-no, Mightiest Lord. That is yours, to end, if you demand it," vos Hoven whispered, then gulped and waited.

"It's good to see that at least a few basic facts continue to rattle around inside that empty skull of yours. What do you plead for?"

"Understanding. I have failed the caste, and I don't know how!"

There was genuine anguish in that confused cry- the anguish of a spoiled, selfish child taught poorly by careless, empty-headed adults. A child now caught in the jaws of a genuinely vicious trap. If he could see and admit that he'd erred without knowing how, there might- just might- be some hope of salvaging something from the ruins.

"What fool raised you?" vos Hoven cringed under the withering scorn of that question. There was no more profound insult than to openly denigrate a Mythalan's family line. In the world of the shakira, there was nothing more important than family line. The family determined one's position in the caste, just as the caste determined one's position in the world of men and the realms of the gods. Without caste, a man was nothing to the gods. Without family line, a man was nothing to the caste. To be born of a line of fools was to serve the forces of chaos … and to well deserve one's inevitable divine destruction.
Mythalan views on family and lineage.

mul Gurthak listened to the desperate weeping of the man whose place in the eternal cosmos he'd just ripped so totally and unexpectedly into shreds. The two thousand felt no pity at all. Mithanan's bollocks! That terrible deity, God of cosmic destruction, would wreak vengeance on the entire caste for the utter idiocy of this worm at his feet. Such awe-inspiring stupidity was beyond belief.

"Please, Mightiest Lord," vos Hoven cringed, "will you not instruct me? How have I sinned? How have my teachers failed me and caused me to fail the caste?"

mul Gurthak paced thoughtfully around the creature on his office floor, trying to decide how best to go about attempting to salvage something out of it."Explain the purpose of the garthan," he commanded finally, and for just a moment, vos Hoven lifted his face off the floor, staring up at him in total confusion.

"My Lord?" he said, and mul Gurthak reached for patience.

"What is the purpose of the garthan?" he repeated. "Of their entire caste?"

"To serve the shakira," the prisoner managed to get out as he pressed his face back where it belonged: on the floor.

"To serve the shakira?" mul Gurthak glowered down at the prostrate body. "How?"

"As our slaves." vos Hoven's voice was low, tentative. Obviously he wondered why he was being taken through this basic nursery school catechism. "To do whatever we demand."
Vos Hoven, member of an elite caste that's existed for thousands of years, understandably thinks this way... a lot of real people in similar positions have in real life.

"Fools." mul Gurthak shook his head almost pityingly. "Triple-cursed fools have had the raising and teaching of you."

"B-but … why are they fools?"

"Garthan exist to make it possible for the shakira to carry out the most critical work in the cosmos: the study and mastery of magic. To understand magic, at all its levels, in all its nuances, is to touch the minds of the gods themselves. To gain admittance into the Divine's sacred presence. To bring one's yurha to a point of growth worthy of Divine notice, as a first step toward achieving oneness with the Divine.

"If the shakira had to plow the ground and grow food out of it, if shakira had to weave cloth and cook and raise the cattle that provide leather for shoes, if shakira had to haul the freight and clean the latrines, no one in all of Arcana would understand magic. No one would be able to use magic. It was Mythal that tapped the Divine spirit and won the Gifts for the human race. It was Mythal that set down the laws of magic, mapped the dimensions of magic, discovered what magic could do when properly harnessed. It was Mythal that built Arcanan civilization, spell by spell, and Mythal did it through the shakira caste's tireless efforts across millennia of study.

"But none of that would have been possible without the garthan. Without the magicless masses- unwashed, untutored, unlettered, inferior in every possible sense of the word. Yet without them, Arcana- and the glories of Arcanan civilization- would be nothing more than a collection of illiterate laborers and herders. That is the purpose of the garthan. That is their sole purpose. They don't exist to polish your boots and pop the zits on your worthless arse because you're too godsdamned lazy to do it yourself!"

vos Hoven flinched under the whiplash of that caustic voice, and mul Gurthak snorted harshly.
Justification, within Mythalan culture, for enslaving the garthan and forcing them to toil on the behalf of the magic-using caste.

"Next question. What does caste law say of the man who beats his children in a public place?"

"The Law Giver's holy command is that such a man be punished by his caste-lord in kind, for the disciplining of children is a private matter, to be carried out in the domain of the family line, the privacy of the home. To beat children in public shows lack of judgment, lack of patience, and lack of sufficiently wise instruction of the young entrusted to the family line. These things bring shame to the family line and to the caste."

He was parroting the words by rote, without the slightest understanding of their meaning, mul Gurthak thought disgustedly.

"Under caste law- true caste law, not the bastardized, compromised version forced upon Mythal when the Union formed- what were a family's garthan?"

"Its property."

"A narrow reading. Give me the ancient reading of that law- its full meaning."

mul Gurthak could practically see vos Hoven's mind searching through the texts memorized by rote, repeated recitations spanning one's entire childhood.

"The oldest text I have heard mentioned, although I was never shown a copy of it, Mightiest Lord, mentioned garthan as our … children… ."
More on the caste relationships as seen by the elite.

Also, the Mythalan elite spend vast amounts of time memorizing the traditional laws and caste system of Mythalan society, including obsolete versions that no longer apply but that they wish did apply. Wonder if all that time spent memorizing how awesome their caste is gets in the way of their magical studies... maybe that's why Ransaran and Andaran wizards can keep up with them. ;)

vos Hoven's voice trailed off, and he gulped.

"But I didn't discipline the garthan in public!" he protested. "I was careful to do it in private! Away from the eyes of others."

"And that is precisely why you are a fool!" mul Gurthak hissed. "Because you understand nothing. You can parrot back the words, but your brain is full of sand and your yurha is as void of understanding as the gulfs between the stars. The words have no meaning in your emptiness, and so you make mistakes- stupid mistakes. Costly ones. Mithanan's balls, do you have any idea of the cost of this mistake? Out here, outside the borders of the homeland, we are all under scrutiny- we are all in public, fool! Is it so impossible for you to understand that there is no privacy?! Now, because of what you've done, every Andaran officer will watch every shakira in uniform, looking for evidence of garthan abuse! And what will any evidence of the 'abuse' of garthan do? It will taint all of us. It will cause these honorbound Andarans to watch our every move. And what will that do to the cause you and I are here to serve? What will that do to our mission?"

The prisoner whimpered, and mul Gurthak sneered.

"Oh, you see it now, do you? A shakira who's watched too closely can't function as we need him to function, can't acquire the seniority we need. You've jeopardized everything the Council of Twelve has spent the last thirty years putting into place. Our whole timetable must come to a screeching halt while we try to make certain that no one's stumbled across what we're doing because of the way you've made all of them look so much more closely at all of us. I'll have to send messages, you utter, cursed moron, warning others to stop. To lie low. Messages that will put me at risk of exposure!"
Apparently, even a schlub like vos Hoven knows what this Council of Twelve is... but its existence is a secret from outsiders. I wonder how that squares with the existence of 'nice' Mythalan wizards like Magister Halathyn? Why don't they spill the beans, if they know- and if they don't know, how are they kept in the dark?

vos Hoven trembled violently, whimpering once more. mul Gurthak was so angry he wanted to kick the idiots ribs until something broke, but he couldn't- not without risking even more probing questions than vos Hoven had already set in motion. Yet his fury was too great not to do something, so he crouched beside the other shakira, seized his hair, jerked his head up off the floor by the long braids. Dark eyes rolled in abject terror, and mul Gurthak leaned close to hiss into his face.

"I've worked too hard, swallowed too many insults from socially and spiritually inferior louts, to attain my present position. I've gone without too many creature comforts to see everything I've struggled to achieve come crashing down in ruins. And why is it falling apart? Because you used your fists to bruise a garthan for not licking the mud off your feet! I should feed your worthless carcass to the dragons."

vos Hoven shuddered violently. No court in Arcana had actually ordered that court-martialed soldiers or other prisoners be fed to dragons in the last two centuries. But the actual law had never been repealed, and there were a handful of shakira lords in Mythal who did still feed the damned to their dragons. In strict and careful privacy, of course …

mul Gurthak straightened, letting let the stupid worm stew in his own juices for long, silent moments, and the stink of vos Hoven's sweat was sharp and foul, the smell of terror.

"I had plans for you," the two thousand said at last, coldly. "Plans that must now be scrapped. Why do you think I transferred you to Jasak Olderhan's company in the first place? Or is your memory so short you've already forgotten the private mission I assigned you to carry out?"
vos Hoven was actually on a specific mission from vos Gurthak... this conspiracy seems to encompass basically every Mythalan Gifted we see except Halathyn who's dead, as far as I can tell. Granted, our sample size is still rather small.

"Mightiest Lord, I-I tried! But I couldn't. He never comes right out and says it, but he hates us- hates shakira. You should have seen him fawning over that garthan. Praising him- recommending him for promotions. But he hated the rest of us Mythalans, the shakira in the Company. He shunned and loathed us. You could see it in his eyes whenever he looked at us."

"He hated shakira?" mul Gurthak asked softly. "Even Halathyn vos Dulainah?"

"vos Dulainah," vos Hoven all but spat the dead magister's name, "was a filthy traitor. He abandoned his caste, even his wife and son. Yes, Olderhan doted on the old man. And why? Precisely because vos Dulainah had shunned and betrayed the rest of us. The rest of the shakira."

"So you say he treated the shakira in his company badly?" mul Gurthak glared sternly at vos Hoven. "Be certain of your answer, fool. If you lie, I'll know, and I do not tolerate lies from a subordinate. Not in my command, and not in my caste."

vos Hoven gulped. For several seconds, he kept his face pressed firmly into the floor, silent. But then, finally, he answered in a low, reluctant voice.

"No. He didn't treat us badly. If a shakira kowtowed and obeyed like a good little garthan, Olderhan treated him like anyone else. It was a double insult. First he demanded that we act like garthan, and when we did, he treated us equally, as if he were just as good as we."

mul Gurthak was genuinely appalled.

"How in Mithanan's name did someone with your awe-inspiring stupidity get chosen for the great cause?" he demanded.
:D In mul Gurthak's defense, vos Hoven is a complete and utter moron.

"My family line is one of the oldest and greatest in Mythal." Pride had crept back into vos Hoven's voice, despite his plight. "My mother's brother is a caste-lord. My father's father is a caste-lord. That's two caste-lords in the near-kin family!"

Nepotism. mul Gurthak wanted to rend something- preferably Bok vos Hoven- into very small, bleeding pieces. This fool had been sent out on a mission that called for guile and dissimulation, the acting skills of a professional stage player, not because he was fit for it, but because his relatives were politically powerful!
Gee, it's almost like building your whole civilization around a hereditary caste structure might lead to nepotism? Wow! I did not see that coming!


"So you're superior to Olderhan, are you?"

"Of course I am!"

"Did it never occur to you that you'd joined the Army? That in an army, officers give orders to men of lower military rank- regardless of their respective birth ranks? That you are required to give your commanding officer your respect, your instant obedience, be he ever so low-born? Even if that man were a garthan from your own family's fields, you would still be required to obey him and show him respect!"

"Never!" vos Hoven gasped, fiery rebellion burning in his eyes, and mul Gurthak slapped him. Jerked his head up off the floor and slammed a backhanded blow across his mouth.


Rebellion fled. vos Hoven stared wide-eyed at mul Gurthak, unable to believe even now that he'd just been struck.

"You were supposed to get close to Olderhan. To win his confidence, his trust. To learn things from him- about his father. Things we can't find out any other way. To become the one who could deliver him to us at the proper time, in the proper place. You say he didn't trust you, but he doted on vos Dulainah. Did it never occur to you that the way to win his confidence would be to act the way vos Dulainah did? To mimic his attitudes, his professed beliefs? No matter what you really felt about them?

"No, it didn't, did it? And because you were too infernally stupid to use the means at your disposal, we've now lost all hope of getting anyone close to him. Not just because he's going back to New Arcana, where it would be difficult to get close to him under the best of circumstances, but because you've made him doubly wary of us. Do think he'll trust any Mythalan now?"
It literally does not occur to this 'fortunate son' member of the Mythalan magocracy, vos Hoven, to even try to be diplomatic, to emulate the expressed opinions of someone a target likes, as a means of getting close to that target.

I suspect vos Hoven is very far from the only Mythalan 'shakira' who is dumb this way.

vos Hoven tried to make himself as small as possible while mul Gurthak glared down at him, still looking for some way to salvage something.

Garth Showma was the key, the linchpin of Andaran political power. If Garth Showma could be brought down, it would be far easier to pick off the other Andaran noble houses, and that had to be done. Parliament trusted the Andaran aristocracy to run the military for it, because Andarans were good at it. Because they liked to do it, and everyone knew they were sufficiently honorbound to be worthy of others' trust.
Apparently Garth Showma is really important in Andaran politics. Lucky their elder son just happened to get appointed to a relatively minor field command out here on the ass end of nowhere, literally ten or twenty worlds from civilization, if not more... What a coincidence?

Which meant that the only way to replace the Andaran military leaders was to destroy that faith in them. The Council of Twelve had spent thirty-plus long, patient years getting shakira officers into the field army, where they could work their way up the command-grade ranks. The plan remained some years short of fruition, but the necessary cadre of highly ranked shakira officers, men with "Arcana's best interests" in mind, who had distanced themselves from the stereotypical shakira arrogance and cultural chauvinism by choosing to serve the mainstream of Arcanan society, would be ready when- if- the time came for them to step into the gap left by Andara's disgrace and take charge.

But for the plan to work, Andara had to be disgraced, starting with Garth Showma, and the imbecile on mul Gurthak's office floor had botched one of the most critical components of the entire plan. Jasak Olderhan had been supposed to be the chink in his father's armor. A source for useful information, true, but even more the tool who could be led into the carefully prepared trap with all the exquisitely devised "evidence" to prove to all of Arcana that the heir to the most powerful Andaran aristocrat of them all had disgraced himself through his gross violation of the honor code he and his fellow aristocrats were supposed to hold so dear.
Apparently there was a long range plan to try and undermine the credibility of Garth Showma (and other Andaran elites). Presumably this plan existed before the shootout at Fallen Timbers, even though vos Gurthak has clearly modified his plans to take advantage of that shootout to discredit Jasak.

If future conflict with these Sharonians was avoided, it would be obvious to almost anyone that a great deal of the credit for it went to Hundred Olderhan. After all, he would be the one who'd saved the lives of the two Sharonian prisoners- made them his own shardonai- who had provided the critical insight into who and what Sharona truly was. Not to mention the prisoners who had taught Arcanan diplomats how to speak the Sharonians' language.

But if future conflict wasn't avoided, then young Jasak would get no credit for preventing it and still have to face the consequences of having started it. And if it turned out that it had all started out of his own incompetence or cowardice, and that he'd then falsified his report, knowing it couldn't be challenged because every man of his company had been killed or captured by the enemy as a direct consequence of his incompetence while he himself was safe in the protection of Fort Rycharn …

It wouldn't be easy to sell, but it wouldn't be impossible, either. Not with the proper groundwork, and not with the elimination of so many witnesses who might have corroborated Olderhan's version of what had happened. There were only three survivors from the company, beside vos Hoven and Olderhan himself, and if they couldn't be suborned, there was always the possibility of securing obedience by taking hostages. That had worked often enough in the past. Or they could simply be eliminated. Klian would have to go, too, of course. But with all of them gone …
Vos Gurthak comes up with a new plan... and it's starting to sound like a nasty plan.

We don't get to find out what the plan is, except that he orders vos Hoven to carry it out, or part of it, and threatens to order him to 'commit rankadi' if he fails or gives up on it. Which is, apparently, a credible threat.
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Mr Bean » 2016-04-02 09:54am

Four things Simon_Jester
First off I read the third book, lots of interesting things happened in it, I recommend it. Now the quotes.

Simon_Jester wrote:
I'm honestly surprised that the Arcanans are surprised. I mean, granted, it isn't exactly like the Gift of magic, but it's similar enough. For crying out loud, they were all stunned a few minutes ago when they found out that the Sharonans "don't have" magic... this is what they use instead, right?

Gifts are not like Talents however in a key difference, remember your own comparison. Magic is like Electricity, the idea of no one having ever built a light bulb is mind blown. People with the Gift can access magic but it's all the same magic. It's no different in thinking than electricity is to us... but meanwhile this woman CAN READ MINDS. From their perspective that's how it comes across.

Simon_Jester wrote:
Apparently, even a schlub like vos Hoven knows what this Council of Twelve is... but its existence is a secret from outsiders. I wonder how that squares with the existence of 'nice' Mythalan wizards like Magister Halathyn? Why don't they spill the beans, if they know- and if they don't know, how are they kept in the dark?

The Council of Twelve as is mentioned later (Or earlier) is "known" about by most everyone but in the sense that any secret society is known about. Andarians know about the Council of Twelve but as history note that Mythalan used to be lead by the Council of 12 which dissolved at the end of the portal wars when Mythalan got all properly civilized. The fact they are still around and in control is an unknown fact... further vos Hoven was literally on assignment from the Council except he's a loser.

Simon_Jester wrote:
Apparently Garth Showma is really important in Andaran politics. Lucky their elder son just happened to get appointed to a relatively minor field command out here on the ass end of nowhere, literally ten or twenty worlds from civilization, if not more... What a coincidence?

You forget, a minor field command exploring New Universes with two of the leading researchers in Portal theory. This is the equivalent of say the English Prince Harry being the commander on the scene during an expedition to the Moon. Sure he's in the middle of no where but when it comes to field commands... leading men in a virgin universe would be a strongly requested command. It sounds career enhancing as all hell to a former sailor if you don't mind me saying.

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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate, Chapter 40

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-04-02 02:11pm

Mhmm... these are all some good points. Thanks.

Zindel chan Calirath's head ached.

So did his back. And after twelve murderous hours in the instrument of torture some sadistic furniture joiner had managed to pass off as a chair, his backside had gone from aching to screaming to numb, with occasional needles and pins that ran down the backs of both thighs...

His mood, he thought, wouldn't have been quite so sour if his fellow world rulers hadn't been so... All their insufferable demands, excuses, obstructionist arguments, and refusals to simply get the job done were driving him rapidly mad. They needed to suck down their petty personal concerns and vote in a government- even a temporary one- so they could get on with the urgent business of preparing Sharona for war...

It took time to gear up for a military campaign- especially one of this magnitude. No Sharonian nation had ever fought a war that stretched across multiple universes. The logistics problems alone would be the stuff of nightmares. This Conclave needed to be thrashing through that, not arguing over who would have the right to install traffic signs and draw school zones in local towns and villages.
So basically, the Sharonan nations rapidly come together to discuss forming a world government to respond to the Arcanan threat... and immediately get bogged down in exactly the kind of "but who gets to do what" arguments you'd expect to arise with the formation of a world government.

When the Limathian Prince Regent stood up and started demanding that any planetary governing authority must have the power to grant guarantees on deep-sea fishing rights, something snapped inside Zindel. It jerked him to his feet. Sent his fists crashing down upon his delegation's table in the vast Emperor Garim Chancellery which had been chosen as the Conclave's initial meeting site.

"Mr. Director! Ternathia lodges a formal protest!... Mr. Director, I protest the utter waste of our time into which shortsighted members of this Conclave are forcing us! This is the second day we've met. We sat here for fourteen hours yesterday. We've been sitting here for twelve and a half more hours today, and we've decided exactly nothing. Not one, solitary, blessed thing! The troop movements arranged unilaterally by Emperor Chava and myself, with your cooperation, are the only military preparations anyone outside the Portal Authority has managed to carry out, even though three weeks have passed since the attack on our survey crew."
Emperor Zindel protests the lack of agreement on serious, consequential action to form a united world government in the face of an unknown and alien threat within two days of the start of meetings. While I think his standards are rather unreasonable, he does have a point that..

"We have colonies- not just forts with garrisons of soldiers, but colonies- within four transits of New Uromath, and by my conservative count, there are no fewer than twenty-three survey crews in that region. The Chalgyn Consortium crew was less than two days away from a portal fort, yet every member of it was massacred. Ternathia's Third Dragoons are en route to Fort Salby, but they won't arrive there for more than another full month, although Uromathia's cavalry regiments, fortunately, will reach Salby in two weeks, and the remaining divisions of Fifth Corps will entrain over the next several weeks.

"I'm sure we're all relieved to know troops are moving towards the front. But those troops are all we have moving towards the threat, and it's another five thousand miles from Salby to New Uromath," he said grimly. "It will take them almost a month and a half just to reach Salby, and then another two and a half months to reach the front...
Information on the logistics of getting troops up to Fallen Timbers. Basically, for Sharona just moving troops beyond railhead is a massive logistical concern and realistically I don't think they'd be do it at all more than, oh, 50-100 miles from the railroad. Not for purposes of keeping troops supplied in intense combat through unimproved wildnerness.

"We have lives to save, godsdamn it! Do you honestly believe the mothers in the colonies closest to the people who've massacred an entire survey crew of civilians give a single solitary damn about who catches fish off the coast of Limathia? They're too busy wondering when their children will be shot down before their eyes, or burned to death in a fireball!" He glared at them, and all of his frustration, anger, and driving need to save Sharonian lives, boiled up in a bullthroated challenge roar. "We don't have time to argue about the godsdamned fish!"
To be fair, they really don't... even more so than Emperor Zindel realizes since he doesn't know that the Arcanans can move so much faster than Sharonans through the wilderness beyond their 'raihead.'

The gallery, and many of the delegates, really eat up Zindel's grandstanding approach to 'protest,' and the negotiations shift tone.

"Every person in this chamber knows of Shurkhal's loss." Kinshe's voice was suddenly harsh, his expression bleak. "Thousands of Shurkhali men have already flocked to the colors, already sworn themselves to blood vengeance for Shaylar Nargra-Kolmayr and her husband. Yet Shurkhal recognizes that she cannot seek justice by herself. We must act together, we must act as one, and above all, we must act."

He paused, and silence hovered, unbroken by so much as the rustle of feet or a single cough.

"My friends," he said finally, "we need a system of world governance, and we have no time to thresh out all the details of some new and splendid system with which we will all be content. And since we have too little time for that task, it seems to me most fortunate that we don't have to undertake it."

He paused once more, and this time the silence was so intense it seemed to hurt his audience's ears.

"We already have a working model of governance to draw upon," he said quietly. "A model which has endured the test of time, war, natural disaster, and adversity of every kind. The model of a government which has administered a region spanning half the globe. Governed diverse peoples from dozens of different cultures and languages, and done it justly and well. A government which has fought more successful wars than all the other nations of Sharona combined, and yet one which has never embraced militarism for its own sake. One whose subjects enjoy great personal freedom, and perhaps the highest average standard of living in the world.

"Sharona has no better model for a world government. Indeed, Sharona cannot have a better model. Rather than thrash around creating something new and untested, something whose strength we cannot know and whose stability we cannot trust, let us turn to one all of us know, most from our own history. There is too much at stake for us to settle for anything less. And, perhaps most important of all, its current ruler has already demonstrated the ability to see very clearly the most important tasks ahead of us. The nature and magnitude of the risks we face, and what must be accomplished to meet them."

"I move that we create a united Empire of Sharona, based on the model and institutions of the Ternathian Empire."

Zindel's jaw tried to drop, but before he could do more than draw breath to protest, another voice called out.

"Farnalia seconds the motion, provided that we also adopt the current Ternathian Emperor, Zindel chan Calirath, as the new Emperor of Sharona!"

"The Queens of Bolakin second the motion as amended!"
Shurkhal, Farnalia, and Bolakin did this without consulting him, apparently, which just goes to show how weird Sharonan political history is. There has never been a time in human history when three independent states would freely volunteer to turn any present or past empire into a world government like that.

Zindel stared hard at his longtime allies, who merely gazed back at him as if the motion- and its amendment- were truly spontaneous. And, despite his own sudden suspicion, he knew he would never be able to prove they hadn't been.

But if it was a put up job, the well-organized steamroller wasn't allowed to proceed to its destination unchallenged.

"Uromathia protests!" Chava Busar, Emperor of Uromathia, was on his feet, his face livid, and another uproar swept the chamber... "I protest the unseemly and improper haste with which certain parties wish to call for a vote on two critical issues at once, without open debate or formal nominations for each separate issue!"

"Those two issues being??"

"The first being the motion to adopt the Ternathian Empire as the model for a world government, as if Ternathia's were the only great empire in Sharonian history," Chava bit out. "And the second being the question of who would head this proposed Empire of Sharona. They are separate issues. They must be voted on separately!"
Hard to blame him. Honestly I'm on his side, those are NOT the same proposal.

"They are not separate issues!" the Emperor of Farnalia bellowed, surging to his feet in furious disregard of the formal rules of parliamentary procedure. Ronnel Karone, a bigger man even than Zindel, towered two feet and more taller than the Emperor of Uromathia, and his expression was not pleasant. "We're not adopting Ternathia as a model. We're adopting Ternathia as our government, and Ternathia has a ruler. A capable, intelligent, honest ruler."

Zindel winced; Chava went purple; Karone didn't even pause.

"We're voting to place all of Sharona under the rule of the Ternathian Empire, so we don't need a separate nomination and vote, because there is no separate issue. Ternathia has an Emperor; Sharona will have the same one!"

"Uromathia will never tolerate you, or anyone else, shoving an emperor we don't trust down our throats without so much as the courtesy of open debate, let alone open and honest nominations!" Chava bellowed back, and pandemonium erupted once more.
Still on Chava's side.

For that matter, so is Emperor Zindel.

"My friends, First Director Limana has a point. Technically, I suppose, we should proceed to debate the motion as stated and vote upon it. Any protests would, obviously, form a part of that debate.

"But Ternathia didn't seek this proposal, and Ternathia's Emperor has no wish to rule the people of Sharona under a vote whose propriety is in any way questionable. We cannot afford to create a situation in which any nation feels it was coerced or pressured into accepting what amounts to foreign rule. That, my friends, is the very definition of tyranny, and I will not play the part of tyrant, be the emergency we face ever so great.

"With all due gratitude to the Emperor of Farnalia and the Queens of Bolakin for their confidence in me," he bowed formally in their direction, "I must insist that this protest be honored. It's one thing to spend twelve hours arguing about trivia; it's quite another to ram through a vote of this magnitude without open debate and the opportunity for nominations from all of Sharona's sovereign rulers."

Chava's triumphant smile was very nearly a gloating sneer. Zindel knew perfectly well that if anyone had been mad enough to nominate Uromathia as a government to rule all Sharona, Chava Busar would never have insisted on a fair and open debate as to who should do the ruling. Zindel understood that. Indeed, it had taken all of his own determination to insist upon scrupulous honesty, and that decision on his part might yet cost him and all of Sharona dearly.
To be fair... this last paragraph is true.
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate, Chapter 40

Postby Mr Bean » 2016-04-02 02:27pm

Simon_Jester wrote:Shurkhal, Farnalia, and Bolakin did this without consulting him, apparently, which just goes to show how weird Sharonan political history is. There has never been a time in human history when three independent states would freely volunteer to turn any present or past empire into a world government like that.

You can read between the lines of the book and aside from the fact Ternathia is Irish not English in physical location the Ternathia Empire is a stand in for a combination of English/Roman Empires except with the exception that they were not massive dicks towards their settlers and subjects. Kind of like like England and Canada or the United States in the Philippians. Sure there were issues but if you had a 1000 years of time where your land was Ternathia land then the Ternathia left peacefully and you've enjoyed another few hundred years of independence it's not impossible. To be fair Ternathia does get to cheat since Foresight does prevent them from the biggest of dick moves and blunders when the leaders of Ternathia can literally SEE if they push to far, or demand to much war will result (Any large scale die off can trigger the Talent in addition personal danger).

I imagine it negates things like say the Boston massacre neatly if you wake up in a cold sweat the week before watching your own soldiers shot down a bunch of civilians and feel the anguish and hate of those the crowd that's more than enough time to Voice up the commander of the garrison and tell him to organize the Free Beer and Pizza weekend courtesy of the Empire and have time to figure out why that city has dissolved into near mutiny.

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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate, Chapter 41

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-04-02 03:40pm

"It's all right, Jasak," she said more gently. "Chief Sword Threbuch is standing in the hallway right outside their door. And?" she studied his expression for a moment, as if considering whether or not to tell him something, then shrugged "?I might as well admit that I'm not quite as trusting as I ought to be."

"Meaning?" His eyes narrowed, and she shrugged again.

"Meaning I've tagged both of them with magister-level security spells. If anyone whose personae I didn't include in the original spell comes within four feet of them, I'll know. And if anyone tries to hurt them or drag either of them off against their will … Well, let's just say whoever it is won't enjoy the experience one bit."
Gadrial sets wards around people, keyed to specific 'personae,' which can act as burglar alarm and, apparently, painful theft deterrent. And presumably these wards are also capable of telling the difference between "drag off against their will" and "drag off WITH their will" somehow.

Since the Arcanans are so big on not having the faintest idea how anyone can ever read minds, that probably involves the spell being keyed to some kind of code phrase or action that Jathmar or Shaylar can use to turn off the alarm so that it doesn't zap someone just for handing them an object or leading them to the bathroom.

"Is that legal?" he asked after a moment.

"As long as the enforcement aspect of the spell is nonlethal, it's not illegal," she replied. "It's a gray area, in a lot of ways. Under the circumstances, and given our shared commitment to see to their personal safety and the importance of the intelligence asset they represent, I don't think there could be any objection. Not any legitimate objection, anyway."
Legalities regarding putting wards around people. From the nature of the discussion I suspect that Gadrial did this without Jathmar and Shaylar's consent, which seems rather strange since you'd have to warn them about how the spell works or they might accidentally set it off themselves somehow. Especially if the thing has a code-phrase and isn't somehow psychically capable of detecting whether they're being kidnapped or merely led somewhere.

Bit of Jasak-Gadrial romantic tension, then Jasak notes that there are an awful lot of dragons out there on the airfield.

Gadrial frowned, gazing out over the field once more, and then nodded slowly. She'd noticed when they arrived that the field seemed unusually crowded, but her mind had been on other matters at the time. Now that Jasak had called her attention to it, she realized that the number of dragons out there actually exceeded the field's designed capacity by a substantial margin. Each dragon was supposed to have its own assigned nesting place, with overhead cover against the elements, but there were too many of the huge beasts for that to be possible. At least a quarter of those she could see were housed?if that was the word for it?in hastily improvised wallows the recent rain had turned muddy, giving them a bedraggled, down-at-the-heels look she was unaccustomed to seeing from the Air Force.
Dragons need nests.

The area to the north was given over to paddocks and holding pens filled with the imported cattle and locally rounded up bison which provided the dragons' primary food supply. Now that Jasak had drawn her attention to the number of beasts actually thronging the field, she realized that the holding pens were unusually full, as well. But he was pointing in the opposite direction, and she felt her forehead furrowing as she saw the neat rows of white tents.
Dragons also need meat. Quite a lot of it, I imagine.

"That's at least a two-company bivouac," he told her. "And that's the next best thing to five hundred men."

Gadrial nodded slowly. Once upon a time, she knew, the Andaran rank titles which the Union's military establishment had adopted had been literal descriptors of the size of an officer's command. Over time, however, as armies grew and evolved, that had changed. Jasak was a commander of one hundred, and one hundreds had always commanded infantry companies. But a company consisted of almost two hundred and fifty men these days, not the hundred men it had once contained. And Five Hundred Klian's battalion consisted (or should have, assuming it had been at full strength) of almost eleven hundred men, not five hundred, while a commander of two thousand's regiment was over three thousand men strong.
So we can roughly double our estimates of unit sizes... which strikes me as making Weber very foolish for picking titles that are all literally identical except for a number which is, in all cases, misleading and inaccurate. It probably works better in Andaran, but the novels aren't written in Andaran.

"mul Gurthak's calling in reinforcements," she said.

"That's exactly what he's doing," Jasak agreed. Then he inhaled deeply. "We shouldn't be surprised. After all, he's the most senior officer this side of the Ucala sliderhead, and that's still over twelve thousand miles from here. It's his responsibility to concentrate as much combat power as he can, just in case. It's just … "

His voice trailed off, and he shook his head. Not that he needed to complete the sentence for Gadrial's benefit.

She stood beside him, gazing at the innocent looking white tents which housed the men mul Gurthak couldn't squeeze into his available barracks space and at the transport dragons ringing the field. There were at least a dozen battle dragons, like the two which had reacted to Shaylar so strongly, as well, and Gadrial's blood ran cold at the thought that dragons might actually be used in battle once again.

And if we're prepared to use dragons for the first time in two hundred years, she thought with a bone-deep shiver, recalling a conversation with Shaylar and Jathmar, what else are we prepared to do for the first time in two hundred years?

It was a question she couldn't answer, and she felt like a coward for being grateful that she could not.
So yes; rather alarming prospects all around.

In case this hasn't already been said, "battle dragons" are biologically distinct from transport dragons, I'll say more later.

"[Dragons attacking the Sharonans] isn't going to happen, Shaylar," he told her firmly. "We're taking Skyfang, and we haven't had any problems with him..."
Arcanans have ships that can carry dragons, but not all their ships are configured to do so, so when making long sea voyages they can't be sure of taking the Big Sharonan-Friendly Dragon with them the whole way to the slider.

"Like Shaylar, I appreciate the thought," he said. "On the other hand, has anyone suggested why some of the dragons seem to react so much more strongly to her? Or why they don't react to me the same way?"

"As to why they react to her, the only logical explanation is that it's something about her particular Talent," Gadrial said. "My best guess is that a 'Voice's' abilities produce some sort of … signature, or emission, dragons are sensitive to. And, obviously, one they don't much like..."

"As for the reason some of them respond more strongly than others," Jasak took over as they began walking towards the field once again, "I've got the beginnings of a theory..."
Jasak goes over and smooth-talks their dragon flyer to get some information about the dragon's pedigree.

"I thought he liked her," Jasak said with a hint of satisfaction. "That's what started me wondering about pedigrees. I'm no Air Force officer, but I've seen quite a few dragons over the years. I hope it won't offend you if I say that Skyfang here looks a bit bigger and … less agile than Windclaw."

"No offense taken, Sir," Varkal said with what certainly looked like a genuine grin. "Old Skyfang's a transport to the bone. All of his ancestors?clear back to the first egg in Ransar, as far as I know?have been transports." He reached higher than his head to pat his dragon's massive foreleg with affectionate pride. "Windclaw's a fine beast, but Skyfang can out-lift him any day. We can haul half again the weight Muthok and Windclaw can, although, to be fair, you were lucky you drew them for your medevac. Like you say, Windclaw's quite a bit more agile. From your description, I don't think we could have gotten in and out again where he and Muthok did."

"Because Windclaw's line is a transport-battle dragon cross, isn't it?"

"Yes, Sir. I couldn't say exactly how far back, but it's easy enough to see if you know what to look for." Varkal shrugged. "A pure transport like Skyfang is bred for strength, stamina, and range before anything else. He's a … strategic transport, I guess you'd say- bred for moving the maximum loads well behind the front line. Windclaw, now, he's more of a tactical transport, bred to support the air-mobile outfits. He can't carry as much, but he's fast and maneuverable- for a transport. That counts when you're trying to get troops or supplies into a hot LZ, and a lot of mission planners like to have at least some breath weapon capability in their frontal area tac transports."

"That's what I thought." Jasak looked at Shaylar and Jathmar. "As nearly as I can tell, all of the dragons who have reacted so negatively to Shaylar have been either battle dragons or, like Windclaw, a transport-battle dragon cross. So whatever it is about you, it would appear that it only bothers the combat types, and we should see less and less of those as we get further to the rear."
Not only are there transport and battle dragons, there are hybrids of the two subspecies (or more than two, I'll say more shortly).

She'd always known she had at least a trace of her mother's Talent. She'd felt it quite often, swimming with the dolphins at her mother's embassy, although compared to her Voice Talent, it had been far too weak to bother trying to train. Now she felt Skyfang, the same way she had felt those dolphins and whales, and unlike Windclaw's angry, almost savage aura, Skyfang was a calm, relaxed presence. Her impression of him lacked the … brightness, the sharpness, of true sentience, but it came much closer to fully developed self-awareness than she'd expected. And without the other dragon's fury, the big transport suddenly felt no more threatening to her than the huge whales with which she had swum since childhood, and she patted his leg again in simple delight.
Shaylar attempting a mind probe on the transport dragon Skyfang.

So, executive summary of Arcanan dragon breeds. This isn't everything we know about them but it establishes context.

At the most basic level there are transport dragons (big, strong, relatively docile) and battle dragons (fast, agile, bad-tempered, armed with breath weapons).

I suspect there are different subtypes of 'pure transport' dragons (i.e. long-endurance ones for crossing oceans or doing maritime search and rescue, really big strong ones for carrying heavy things, hellafast ones for carrying mail and passengers, hellasmall ones for courier duty and rough-field landings). But I can't prove that based on what I've already read.

There are three subtypes of battle dragons- black, red, and yellow, which correspond roughly to the "air superiority," "multirole," and "ground attack" missions. Black dragon breath is basically lightning (though it doesn't act like lightning as we know it), red dragons breath fireballs. Both sets of these breath weapons are broadly comparable to what we've seen from infantry "dragons," and that probably explains where the name 'dragon' came from in the first place. Real, living dragons have much more powerful breath weapons than the spells stored in man-portable Arcanan support weapons, though.

Yellow dragons are the most exotic (and, these days, rare), as they breath out clouds of poison gas- from descriptions about as nasty as some of the WWI chemical agents. Yellow dragons are also thick-skinned with strong scales, since they are by definition ground attack dragons and are thus most likely to take ground fire from enemy crossbows and magic wands.

Each of the three battle dragon types can be hybridized with transport dragons, resulting in a creature somewhere in between the 'battle' and 'transport' categories. They're bigger and stronger than battle dragons, making them useful for airlift, but they're faster, nastier, and more flexible than transport dragons, making them useful for operations in the wilderness and at least moderately effective in combat. Many if not all hybrid dragons have a breath weapon, although apparently not necessarily as powerful a weapon as their battle dragon cousins.

And yes, even from the first two books there's a lot we can say about dragons that I'm not saying here.
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate, Chapter 42

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-04-02 04:21pm

"Now that's impressive."

Division-Captain chan Geraith stood with his hands on his hips, watching as one of his Bisons snorted up the loading ramp onto the massive flatcar under a floating banner of black smoke and the careful direction of the loadmaster. The Bison- technically, the Transport Tractor, Mark I, Model B- was based on the same powerplant as the next to largest of the Trans-Temporal Express's bulldozers, although its suspension and caterpillar tracks had been substantially modified in an effort to allow for greater speed over even rougher terrain. It wasn't an actual transport unit itself, but rather designed to tow a capacious wheeled or tracked trailer, and despite its funnel, it was sleek, low-slung, and powerful looking.
Sharonan steam tractor. Designed to serve as a prime mover for other trailer vehicles. I'm picturing something like this:


It was also dwarfed by the flatcar it was busily climbing onto. Indeed, two more Bisons were already in place on the same car. TTE employees were tightening the tie-down chains on the second of them even as the third clanked into position, and there was still going to be almost enough room for a fourth, he realized...

"Yes, I do," chan Geraith said. "I never realized you had flatcars that size. Oh, I've seen pictures of the special, articulated cars you use to transport ship hull sections, but I'd never realized you had standard cars this big."

"I wish we could make them even bigger," Chusal replied with a grimace. "They're just barely large enough for our biggest steam shovels as it is, and you can't put a shovel on an articulated car and get it through some of the mountains we've got to transit on this run. Some of the curves are way too sharp, not to mention the little question of whether or not the trestles would stand the weight. In fact, I understand Engineering had to turn down a new shovel design because we couldn't guarantee that we could transport it."

"You mean you need a flatcar that size for one steam shovel?" chan Geraith demanded in an almost shaken tone.

"That's right." Chusal shrugged. "In fact, we have to break them down into two loads, even with cars that size. Which, of course, means we need big damned cranes- which we also have to ship out- to put them back together again at the other end. When you've got to dig your way through a godsdamned mountain range, or dig a frigging canal, you need a really big shovel. Well, we've got them."
Picturing something like this, or maybe bigger.


"I guess we're lucky TTE's got as much rolling stock as it does," he said after a moment, and Chusal snorted.

"Depends on how you look at it, Division-Captain. Our charter from the Portal Authority requires us to maintain a fifteen percent reserve over and beyond our normal operational and maintenance requirements. Frankly, it's always been a pain in the ass for the bean-counters, and I've got to admit that there have been times when I was royally pissed to have that many cars- and engines- basically just sitting in sheds somewhere. But there wasn't much luck to it. And," his expression darkened, "I don't think the reserve's going to be big enough after all...

"I can't say for certain, of course. But unless this new government does go through, and unless it budgets one hell of a lot more money for the line after it does, there's no way we're going to be able to meet the transport requirements we're facing. We're transferring engines and cars from every other trunk line to the Hayth Chain, but just getting them where we need them is going to be a royal pain. I've been sending them out basically empty, or half-empty, at least, just to get them where we're going to need them down the road...

"...The biggest problem's going to be the water gaps. There's a six thousand-mile voyage to cross Haysam to get to Reyshar, and another nine hundred-mile cruise between Reyshar and Hayth. Then there's another eleven hundred miles of water between Jyrsalm and Salym. We're going to have to detrain all of your people, all of your horses, all of your equipment, at each water gap, load it onto ships and sail all of it across the gap, then load it back onto another set of cars, and haul it to the next water gap. Then repeat the process."
Big honking water gaps are a problem. Including a six-thousand mile one somewhere on the Sharonan chain, which is a significant fraction of the "forty thousand miles to railhead" right there, come to think of it. As noted, if portal locations were truly random there really should be a lot more such long trips involved, leading me to hypothesize that all these worlds with two portals are clusters just like the 3+ portal worlds, but only happen to have the two portals.

"I can't say I'm looking forward to the process," he said after a moment, "but surely it's one you've had to deal with before."

"Oh, yes. Of course we have." Chusal nodded. "We have to deal with it constantly, in fact. Unfortunately, we've never had to deal with it on quite this scale before, Division-Captain. Moving whole armies, not to mention all the ammunition and other supplies they're going to need- and all the coal our engines and steamships are going to need, if we're going to go on moving all that other stuff- simply devours rail capacity. And, obviously, shipping capacity between ports.

"Haysam and Reyshar are pretty well provided with freighters and passenger liners we can conscript for the military's needs, since everything moving in and out of the home universe has to pass through both of them. But we haven't needed anything like this sort of transport capacity in the Hayth Chain before. Sealift's going to be a real problem in the move between Salym and Traisum, and then there's the rail ferry across the Finger Sea in Traisum itself to consider, at least until they get the bridge built.
Transportation's going to be a bear, more discussion of logistics needs. The Arcanans have some of these problems and not others. Note that neither side is going to be able to cross a water gap of more than a thousand miles or so without stopping to build a fleet of ships. Conversely, water gaps of a few hundred miles are massive obstacles to the Sharonans (they still have to build a fleet), but aren't really a problem for the Arcanans (who simply airlift across).

"That's all bad enough, but we've never had to assign the Hayth Chain anywhere near the rolling stock we're going to need now on the outbound side of Hayth. That's why I've been sending so many perfectly good engines and freight cars out empty. And it's also why every heavylift freighter in both Haysam and Reyshar has been withdrawn from regular service and assigned to hauling those engines and cars across the water gaps. Which," he added sourly, "has created a monumental bottleneck in commercial cargo service."

"I see." chan Geraith frowned. "I hadn't realized it would impose quite that much of a strain."

"Division-Captain, you haven't even begun to see 'strain' yet," Chusal said grimly. "We're building up as much capacity as we can, but basically, we're looking at at least three totally separate rail lines, for all intents and purposes. That's what those water gaps do to us, since we've got to have the rolling stock we need between each of them. Worse, in Reyshar and Salym, we've got two separate rail legs divided by water too wide to bridge. So we can't just load you onto one set of cars and send you all the way to the end of the line. We can do a lot to economize if we plan our turnarounds on the shorter legs carefully, but it's still going to be a nightmare keeping everything moving. And so far, we're only looking at moving one division at a time. What happens if we have to start sending entire corps down the same transit chain simultaneously? For that matter, the line's only double-tracked as far as Jyrsalm! We're working on that, too, and that's another logistical consideration we have to juggle somehow."
Double-track railway for most of the route, but single-track when you get near railhead. Obviously, a single-track railway presents major problems for moving cargo back and forth because it can only take trains going one way at one time, and there have to be very clear signalling systems to make sure nobody accidentally puts eastbound and westbound trains on the same track at the same time.

Come to think of it, in real life railroad signalling relied heavily on telegraphs and electrical systems. There is basically no evidence that the Sharonans have telegraphy, even though it would be very useful to them, if only for crossing water gaps with underwater cables. How do the Sharonans handle signalling on their railways and avoid train wrecks?

General chan Geraith sets up a liaison with the TTE railroad people, and we have a scene break.

"It doesn't look like much, does it?" Second Lord of Horse Garsal grumbled.

"Perhaps not," Lord of Horse Jukan Darshu, Sunlord Markan replied quietly as they watched the first of his Uromathian cavalry troopers climb down from the passenger cars which had carried them as far as Fort Salby.

They were moving slowly, stiffly, and the sunlord's lips quirked in a wry sympathy he would never have admitted to feeling. The last twelve days had been a severe jolt to their systems, he thought. The rail trip from Camryn to Salym hadn't been all that bad, but then there'd been the move to the hastily improvised transports in Salym for the voyage from Barkesh to New Ramath. The horses had hated it, the heavy weather they'd encountered en route had left half the men miserably seasick, and at the end of it, they'd had to climb back into the rail cars for the trip from New Ramath to Fort Tharkoma covering the portal between Salym and Traisum.

New Ramath was only a few hundred miles from Tharkoma, but they were mountainous, inhospitable miles, and the slow, swaying trip along the steep tracks which twisted like broken-backed serpents between the port city and the fortress had been exhausting, especially for the men who hadn't yet fully recovered from their seasickness. Yet even that hadn't been the end of it, for the Traisum side of that portal was located in the equivalent of the Kingdom of Shartha.

Shartha lay on the west coast of Ricatha, which lay thousands of feet lower than?and three thousand miles south of?the Salym side of the portal, and it had been snowing hard in Salym. The change as their train wheezed through the portal from sub-freezing Tharkoma to the brutal, brilliant heat of the Shartha Plain had been stunning even for hardened trans-universal travelers. The cold, insufficiently heated passenger cars had gone from icebox to oven in what had seemed mere minutes as the ice and snow which had encrusted them turned abruptly into water. Indeed, Markan rather thought that most of it had probably gone straight to vapor without even bothering with the intermediate liquid stage. The shock to the system had been profound, and the day and a half it had taken to get from there to Salby had offered insufficient time for men- or horses- to adjust.
Sucks to transport cavalry over interuniversal distances, especially in a hurry.

Not to mention the minor fact that our entire multiverse- Ternathia and Uromathia alike- is at risk this time, Markan reflected.

It felt … unnatural to think of the Empire and the long-resented Ternathians facing a common threat. For as long as Markan (or any other Uromathian) could remember, Ternathia had been if not precisely the enemy, the next closest thing available. And, he admitted, since Chava had come to the throne, the long-standing rivalry between the two great Sharonian empires had once again grown both more intense and nastier.

I suppose it's a little silly of us, the sunlord reflected. Or, at least, it was in the beginning. By now, it's taken on a life of its own.

Markan knew he was rather more sophisticated, in many ways, than most Uromathians, including all too many members of the high aristocracy. Despite that, however, deep down inside, he still suffered from that ingrained Uromathian sense of … not inferiority, really, but something close.

The truth was that Uromathia could never quite forgive Ternathian for being almost four millennia older than it was. Ternathia had made Tajvana its capital thirty-three centuries ago, and the Caliraths had stayed there until less than three centuries ago. In the interim, their empire had lapped as far east as the Cerakondian Mountains, in the south, and eventually as far as Lake Arau, in the north, until it finally stopped against the Arau Mountains in far eastern Chairifon. It had reached the Araus just under nine hundred years ago, and on the far side of that mountain barrier, it had finally encountered another empire almost as large as it was.

That empire had been Uromathia, which had controlled everything beyond the Cerakondians and the Araus as far south as Harkala. In terms of territory, Uromathia had been the smaller of the two; in terms of population, they'd been very nearly evenly matched. But Uromathia had been far younger, hammered together only over the previous three or four centuries as the various Uromathian kings and, eventually, emperors had watched the Ternathian tide sweeping steadily and apparently unstoppably towards them.
Giant jumbo clashing empires! Even with Talents I have to wonder how people held together and administered such huge empires in the days before modern transportation technology...

There hadn't really been a Uromathia until that steadily approaching Ternathian frontier- and example- had created it. In fact, Markan's ancestors had been too busy fighting and slaughtering one another in the service of their innumerable nobles and kinglets to pay the notion of "civilization" a great deal of attention. The threat of being ingested by Ternathia had concentrated the minds of the more powerful Uromathian kingdoms marvelously, however, and they'd begun cheerfully eliminating one another by conquest in an effort to build up a powerbase sufficient to remain uningested. Strictly, of course, out of a patriotic sense of their mission to resist foreign occupation. Perish the thought that personal power could have had anything to do with it!
Uromathian expansion and unification. It's not just about Chava Busar and his predecessors being power-hungry jerks, although that's probably in play.

They'd succeeded. In fact, they'd built a very respectable empire of their own by the time Ternathia arrived on their doorstep. They'd actually been even more centralized, since they had deliberately constructed their imperial bureaucracy for streamlined, military efficiency, whereas the Ternathian bureaucracy had been the product of millennia of gradual evolution and periodic bouts of reform. Their military capability had been impressive, as well, and they'd already acquired most of the Talents by intermarriage. Taken altogether, it had been an enormous accomplishment, one of which anyone could have been proud, and they had been.

But the thing which had stuck in the Uromathians' collective psyche was the lingering suspicion that Ternathia had stopped where it had not because Uromathia's power had given the Winged Crown pause, but because Ternathia had chosen to stop. The two great empires had sat there- coexisting more or less peaceably, with occasional, interspersed periods of mutual glaring- for the better part of six hundred years. Until, in fact, the Calirath Dynasty had begun its long, steady disengagement from the Ternathian Empire's high-water mark borders. And in all that time, there had been only three true wars between them … each of which Ternathia had won quite handily.

Ternathia had never made any effort to conquer Uromathia. That had never really been the Ternathian way, as Markan was prepared to admit, at least privately. But Uromathia had never quite been able to forgive the Ternathians for never- not once- letting the Uromathians beat them. The Uromathian Empire had fought its own wars, established its own prowess, but always in the Ternathian shadow. Never as Ternathia's equal. In fact that Chava Busar's was the fourth dynasty to rule Uromathia while the Caliraths were only the second dynasty and Ternathia's history (and that they had ruled Ternathia in unbroken succession for over four thousand years) didn't exactly help the situation, either. Uromathia had become the perpetual younger, smaller, weaker brother who deeply resented his older brother's patronizing attitude … even- or perhaps especially- when that older brother didn't even mean to be patronizing.

And that attitude lingered, even today.
Weird cultural side effects of the sheer weirdness of the role Ternathia has played in Sharonan history. Being the Big Uncontested Universal Empire for so long, they finally raised up a rival empire against themselves... and then just sort of sat there idly kicking the asses of the rival whenever they felt like it.

Maybe this is what it feels like being one of the NPC nations in a game of Civilization? The player nation has this strange, magical advantage that seems to offset everything you can do to build your own powers. Every time they experience any significant reverse it's neutralized by save scumming Calirath foresight. They keep expanding until they're massively, stupidly larger than any country in history has ever been, and then just... stop expanding... because the player enlightened Calirath monarchs no longer feel(s) like conquering the world and has decided to try for a Cultural victory instead.

Of course, Fort Salby didn't belong to Ternathia, the sunlord reminded himself. It was a Portal Authority base, which?theoretically, at least- meant it was a multinational installation, belonging to neither empire. The fact that the Portal Authority Armed Forces had seen fit to adopt Ternathian rank structures, weapons, tactical doctrines, and even military tailoring might, perhaps, explain the fact that it didn't feel that way.

But this time, we were the ones close enough to respond when the lightning struck, Markan thought with a certain grim satisfaction. I only wish the Emperor had seen fit to send us more detailed instructions.

Part of Chava's vagueness was undoubtedly due to the Emperor's suspicions of the Voice network. Unlike Zindel of Ternathia, Chava of Uromathia was completely unTalented, and he cherished a deep and abiding distrust for those who were. Despite all evidence and experience to the contrary, he was absolutely convinced that the Portal Authority Voices would violate their sworn confidentiality any time it suited their purposes. And, of course, their purposes- whatever in all the Arpathian hells they might be, Markan thought waspishly- were inevitably hostile to Chava's own.
Chava Busar is paranoid and, understandably, is less than certain all those psychics are actually on the up-and-up. Especially since Ternathia, on top of being the world hegemon for a zillion years, and the looming juggernaut that triggered the formation of his country specifically to oppose it, is also the source of psychic Talent.

Markan doesn't much care for the Portal Authority (which was a Ternathian's idea in the first place, and which was kept out of Uromathian influence in large part by Ternathian military might), or for that matter for Shaylar as a 'new' woman and poster girl for the Portal Authority's surveys. Nor does he care for the Shurkali, whom he sees as Ternathian puppets despite being so much closer to Uromathia, their 'natural' overlord allies.

If pressed, Markan was prepared to admit- grudgingly- that Ternathia had no more direct control over the Authority than Uromathia did. Unfortunately, it didn't need direct control. Not when the "independent" Authority had fallen all over itself adopting Ternathian models for everything from its internal organization and exploration techniques to its military forces. Including, probably, the way they wiped their arses.
I now have the hilarious image of Ternathians using the three seashells, but honestly yes. This is a surprisingly good depiction, by Weber-book standards, of what it feels like to be on the receiving end of "soft power." Even a guy like Markan can't really be sure where his own efforts to maintain national pride and self-respect and secure his country's interests against the subtle but overwhelming foreign influence shade over into paranoia.

It was appropriate, he supposed, that Fort Salby was located in what would have been Shurkhal on Sharona. At the moment, they stood on a plateau in the rugged Mountains of Ithal, which fringed the western coast of Shurkhal along the Finger Sea. Back home, the location was the site of the city of Narshalla, built around an oasis and bounded by an extensive lava field to the east and by the arid hills of the Ithal Mountains on the other three sides. In Traisum, where thousands of years of human habitation hadn't completely deforested the Shurkhali Peninsula, those hills were less arid than their Sharonian equivalent. They weren't what Markan would have called lush or luxuriant, even here, but they were far less forbidding and desolate than the ones Shaylar Nargra-Kolmayr must have known.
I'm a little hazy on where this is supposed to be, actually...

He'd been impressed, as always, by the accomplishments of the TTE construction crews. Especially by the fact that they'd already more than half completed the construction of a multitrack bridge across the Strait of Tears which connected the Finger Sea to the Gulf of Shurkhal. The coral-encrusted Strait of Tears was shallow and constricted- back home, it required constant blasting and dredging to keep it open for deep-draft shipping, and the span across the narrower, two-mile-wide eastern channel was already complete. They were well advanced on the longer, sixteen-mile length required to cross the western channel, as well, and work on it was proceeding twenty-four hours a day.
The TTE builds some impressively heavy bridges and other infrastructure projects, frequently, including stuff that's big and impressive even by our standards, like eighteen mile rail bridges.

"Thank you," Markan replied. He was impressed by chan Skrithik's willingness to confront the situation so openly. And pleased, as well. And the Ternathian had shown considerable tact in suggesting that the "friction" existed only between his own empire and Uromathia, he thought. Any Arpathians and Harkalans in the Fort Salby garrison were probably torn between welcoming Markan's troopers with open arms and shooting them in the back at the first opportunity.
Uromathia has not endeared itself to its independent neighbors. Although to be fair, not having psychic prescient emperors who can pre-emptively avoid any situation that would lead them to do anything questionable or ill-advised makes it tougher for them... as noted, Ternathia is basically playing this whole 'imperialism' game on Easy mode.

He didn't add that he'd told chan Skrithik about his instructions to his officers for a specific reason. Markan's own rank was the equivalent of the Ternathian rank of brigade-captain, which made him senior to chan Skrithik. But chan Skrithik was the ranking PAAF officer present, and this was a Portal Authority post. More to the point, one instruction Emperor Chava had made crystal clear was that Markan was not, under any circumstances, to do anything which might be construed as attempting to undermine the Authority chain of command. In fact, Markan had been specifically ordered to obey chan Skrithik's orders, regardless of who might technically be senior to whom. Clearly the Emperor wanted no unfortunate incidents in the field while the Conclave back home was still debating what sort of political arrangements were going to emerge out of all this.
Sensible, I think. Chava's supposed to be a complete ass, but he's... actually a pretty reasonable ass in some ways. I wish more Weber villains were like him, not that Chava's actually a good or admirable person. More on that later.

[snipping stuff from the last scene of this chapter, no time]
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Mr Bean » 2016-04-02 04:34pm

Simon_Jester wrote:Come to think of it, in real life railroad signalling relied heavily on telegraphs and electrical systems. There is basically no evidence that the Sharonans have telegraphy, even though it would be very useful to them, if only for crossing water gaps with underwater cables. How do the Sharonans handle signalling on their railways and avoid train wrecks?


Remember any Voice who can't talk to a Voice over one hundred miles is not economical to train to be a full up Voice, but I bet there's lots of Voices with thirty mile ranges or seventy mile ranges who can learn enough to yell to the next station down. The Sharonans use Voices for almost everything. Plus some Voices have not only Projection but as long as you have a trace of Voice talent a Voice can communicate to you even if you can't respond back.

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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-04-02 08:34pm

Hm. You're right. Such individual are not mentioned, but if they exist then it'd work out fine.
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Mr Bean » 2016-04-02 09:07pm

Simon_Jester wrote:Hm. You're right. Such individual are not mentioned, but if they exist then it'd work out fine.

Remember the Talent/Voice calculations. When the Princess is talking about how many people Saw the Voice broadcast a specific number is given (Don't have my books handy to check, probably in this thread somewhere) of how much of the population can See Voice broadcasts. They say one in five is Talented if I remember and Voice is the most common. Let's say one in ten or 2% of the population is Voice qualified. If we say half fail training that leaves 1% of the entire population as failed Voices or rather Voices not certified or commercially viable or one in every hundred people (IE something like ten million to one hundred million people) qualified to take that kind of job.

And those are CONSERVATIVE numbers because again I'm talking about pure Voices not the people who have Voice as a secondary or tertiary trait.

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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-04-03 12:22am

Well, most people seem to have only one Talent. But yeah, that's a lot of hoarse Voices who can ride around acting like CB radios (and probably shoveling fuel into the locomotive or something while they're at it).
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Re: Bit of Analysis: Hell's Gate, Chapter 43

Postby Simon_Jester » 2016-04-03 04:21am

Sarr Klian tried not to swear out loud. It wasn't easy. "So, Master Skirvon," he said instead, "as I understand it, then, my instructions from Two Thousand mul Gurthak are to defer to your judgment where any contact with these people is concerned?"
Vos Gurthak puts Skirvon in charge of the negotiations, which by extension gives him power to screw up the situation as vos Gurthak desires. There's a conversation between Skirvon and Klian, not very consequential for analysis purposes...

...After all," [Skirvon] smiled again, more broadly, but there was a faint, unmistakable tang of iron in his voice, "this is what we do. I'd never try to tell you how to conduct a military operation, because I wouldn't have the least idea where to begin. But with all due respect, I believe Master Dastiri and I are probably rather more experienced at diplomacy than you are."

"No doubt," Klian conceded, yet deep down inside, he wasn't fully convinced. After all, the Union of Arcana hadn't really needed diplomats for the last two hundred years. With the emergence of the Union, traditional international diplomacy had been replaced by what were effectively bureaucratic administrators. Or perhaps "facilitators" would have been a better choice of word: arbitrators, with full authority to issue binding decisions and full access (officially, at least) to all information on both sides of any issue which had to be settled. There wasn't a single living "diplomat" in the entire Union who'd ever had to sit down across a bargaining table from a completely separate and sovereign entity, far less one about which the "diplomat" in question knew absolutely nothing.
Arcana doesn't really have diplomats. This results in some of the same problems we saw with the Solarian League; the Union of Arcana's representatives have trouble understanding that the people they're talking to aren't necessarily going to passively accept their will, the way that Arcanan citizens generally would. I keep harping on how this kind of issue is relevant in a versus- the Arcanans are very likely to end up at war with anyone they encounter, due to sheer arrogance, the ambitious treachery of the Mythalan element, and poor communications between local and central authorities.

No, of course he hadn't. On the other hand, he hadn't exactly expected to find himself superseded by Commander of Two Thousand Mayrkos Harshu, either. Of all the officers it could have been, why did it have to be Harshu? Klian demanded of his office's silent walls. There was nothing at all wrong with Two Thousand Harshu's military credentials, but the man had a reputation within the Union Army. Worse, he knew he did. In fact, he'd deliberately cultivated it.

Harshu was a throwback, one of those who bemoaned the fact that he'd been born into such "boring" times. He embraced what he believed was the true Andaran tradition, although Klian had always suspected that men like Thankhar Olderhan were truer keepers of that tradition. Harshu's version of it was heavily laden with the trappings of military glory, which there'd been precious little of in the two centuries since the Union was formed, and he seemed remarkably oblivious to just how much that "military glory" had cost in lives, as well as money. It might not be precisely fair to call him a hothead, but Klian was unable to come up with a better term, and that worried him.
Vos Gurthak has arrange for a hard-charging, aggressive (but tactically competent) Andaran to be placed in charge of his forward-deployed forces, as I understand it. Bearing in mind that his plan is to make the Andarans look like a bunch of morons, this is probably a deliberate move on his part.

Klian frowned. There could, of course, be all sorts of reasons for mul Gurthak to choose to remain in Erthos. For one thing, his lines of communication were substantially better, and he might well feel that he needed to keep himself available to browbeat anyone who wanted to drag his feet when the two thousand ordered him to send all of his available fighting strength forward. But judging from mul Gurthak's message crystal, he was going to be sending at least the equivalent of a full air-mobile brigade- possibly even a division- to Fort Rycharn. With cavalry support, no less.

A brigade was a commander of five thousand's billet, and a division was properly commanded by a commander of ten thousand- neither of which, unfortunately, Arcana had available at the moment. And this was the first time in the Union of Arcana's entire history that its army had confronted the possibility of open combat with another power. So why was the officer with the ultimate responsibility for what happened- not to mention the opportunity to command the most important troop deployment in the Union's history- staying behind and sending someone junior to him forward to assume operational command?
Command and control issues. Particularly important for the Arcanans, who lack truly fast communications, so that when they're operating far out into the wilderness at the end of the kind of long transport chain their dragons make possible, the commander on the spot is effectively isolated from higher authority. Conversely, a commander who leads from the front is out of communication with his own rear areas and loses his ability to supervise them.

Also, this gives us a rough sense for the size of Arcana's forces in the theater of conflict: think in terms of five to ten thousand men, maybe fifteen.

The voyage between Fort Rycharn and Fort Wyvern was completely unacceptable from a logistical viewpoint. There were only two true "transports" in Mahrithan waters, and only one of them was configured to carry dragons. Even that ship could transport only two dragons at a time, for that matter, and that wasn't even a fraction of the sealift required to move or supply the troop strength mul Gurthak was talking about.

There was a way around that, of course, but it came with its own price. No dragon, not even one of the long-range heavylift transports, could make the flight from Fort Wyvern to Fort Rycharn in one hop. But any dragon?even one of the shorter-ranged battle dragons- could make the hop from Fort Wyvern to the long isthmus connecting the continents of Andara and Hilmar. From there, they could proceed southward overland, which would permit them to make it clear to Fort Rycharn in a four-day flight rather than a five-day voyage.
Logistical jiggery-pokery, some consequences and facts revealed below...

They'd have to delay their flight at least once to permit the dragons to hunt, but this universe's Hilmar teemed with game animals which had never heard of dragons and could be expected to be relatively unwary?for a time, at least. And by flying the transports forward instead of sending them by ship, mul Gurthak could send in as many of them simultaneously as he could lay hands on … and take advantage of the beasts' airlift capacity, as well. Whereas a medium-weight transport like Windclaw could carry perhaps half a platoon of infantry and its personal weapons, the heavy transports could lift much bigger loads, even before the Quartermaster Corps' spell engineers got into the act.
Confirmation that there are multiple breeds of transport dragon optimized for different virtues or combinations thereof, aside from just "cross-bred with battle dragons."

Also, unlike airplanes in real life, dragons can hunt instead of refueling, allowing them to live off the land to a surprising degree.

With the proper levitation spells added to the equation, a pair of heavylift transports could easily tow a freight pod capable of transporting an entire company of infantry, its support personnel and weapons, and enough rations for several days of operations. Cavalry units devoured transport volume at a much higher rate than infantry outfits, of course, but with the cargo pods and levitation spells, even heavy cavalry could be airlifted to within striking range of the enemy. The spells were difficult- more because of the power levels involved than because of their technological complexity- and they didn't last long. The same accumulator that could power a surface ship for a week would support levitation spells of that level for less than twenty-four hours, although freight pods were routinely fitted with multiple accumulators to give them more endurance.
Cargo pods are, by implication, big enough to hold an infantry company, so they must be comparable in scale to a large transport plane's cargo hold in real life. Even given that magic levitation spells are doing the work of keeping them airborne, towing them through the sky requires some respectable horsepower and bulk on the part of the transport dragons.

Also, an indirect indicator of how much power Arcanans can manipulate and store in magic crystals; "an accumulator that could power a surface ship for a week," long enough to handle an entire trans-Atlantic crossing, is small enough that you can fit 'multiple' such accumulators in a flying cargo pod. This suggests that while an accumulator that big could weigh tons, it probably doesn't weigh tens or hundreds of tons.

...[Fort] Rycharn had never been intended to support that many men and- even more difficult- that many dragons for any length of time.

Fortunately, dragons were quite willing to eat fish or whale meat, and the water between Fort Rycharn and Fort Wyvern was just as rich with life as the continent. The entire Fort Wyvern fishing fleet- such as it was, and what there was of it- was already on its way forward to help feed the dragons once they arrived. And, also fortunately, it was going to take at least four waves to get all of mul Gurthak's earmarked troop strength forward.
Fishing is another way to support dragons. At least four waves of airlifts are going to be required to get this wealth of troops to the front lines, indicating a total time of weeks. Of course, a Sharonan force couldn't do this at all, frankly; moving a whole army five thousand miles or more from their railhead would just be out of the question given realistic logistics for such an army because there would be literally no way to feed them in the midst of a wilderness.

According to the two thousand's tentative movement orders... he'd have the first two Air Force strikes and the first battalion of infantry at Fort Rycharn within the next week. A strike was a standing formation which consisted of three four-dragon flights... which meant he was going to have to figure out how to feed twenty-four battle dragons, with their notoriously overactive metabolisms, in addition to all of the transports necessary to get the rest of Harshu's force forward. Worse, according to those same orders, mul Gurthak would have an entire three-strike Air Force talon- thirty-six battle dragons, not twenty-four- at Fort Rycharn within a month. In fact, he might have as much as twice that many.

Feeding seventy-two battle dragons and their supporting ground crews would be a gargantuan task, all by itself. Adding in the two hundred or so transports mul Gurthak was projecting (and their ground element), plus the reconnaissance and strike gryphons, plus the fodder for the unicorns and heavy cavalry mounts on the movement list, not to mention all of the men he was going to have to feed, was only going to make things incomparably worse...
It's going to take a month or more, as I suspected, to build up all those forces. Dragons operate in four-beast flights and twelve-beast squadrons. Dragons, as we knew, require handlers and support staff on the ground. Also there are the cavalry mounts to consider.

So on the one hand, Fort Rycharn is expected to play host to hundreds of large, legendarily hungry animals and thousands of soldiers in the near future... on the other hand, the Arcanans can in fact do this and can supply food on that scale, at least for a while and with extensive airlift support from the rear.
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