Short Story – “The Promise of Progress”

Rune-sigil of the Ruyalar

The machine- at least that part of it Vito Valencia could see- looked like a set of nested cylinders, each jutting out of the one behind it, and the smallest enthusiastically leaping out and retreating back inside of its predecessor every second or so. By means of a mechanism he recognized from the interior of his steam tank, this turned a grindstone, which was milling grain at a prodigious rate. Exactly how this was powered, Vito wasn’t sure, as he couldn’t see the entirety of the device- a sizeable chunk of it was on the other side of the Realmgate, and nobody cared to look too long or approach too closely to that portal unto the lethal barrens of Hysh.

He wasn’t the only one gathered around Caradryas Lightbringer’s new toy. The entire Ruyalar court had come at their Satrap’s bidding, gossiping and politicking at a safe distance from the monstrous contraption. A canopy shielded them from most of the Realm’s ambient light, and the majority stood with their backs to the burning gate- and the Satrap himself, whose enthusiastic speech rose and fell in counterpoint to the machine’s own repetitive drone.

Caradryas Lightbringer

“…and with just a touch of maintenance, this engine will run forever. It does not need fuel or fodder, as it’s powered by the endless energy of Hysh itself. It can do the work of a dozen oxen or Aelves or humans, without tiring, without flagging, without error or injury or complaint. Truly, Master Grumbakk’s ingenuity will change the very face of life here in our humble Satrapy…”

The Satrap of Innovation was overly effusive with his praise, Vito thought. The engine might accomplish all of what Caradryas claimed, but so could a windmill or a watermill, without the need for fancy equipment or overpriced babysitters. Still, if anyone was going to figure out how to make this white elephant into an advantage, it would be the Ruyalar. In fact, the germ of the idea was probably marinating in the mind of one of the milling courtiers right now.

The people of the Satrapy had a habit of pursuing strange arts and sciences, not because they were useful but because they were interesting, and as a result they’d lucked onto advantages and advances their hidebound neighbors would never have dreamed of. In that sense, Vito supposed, the engine was much like the Satrapy itself- it seemed frivolous to outsiders, until it did something you didn’t expect and suddenly became deadly serious.

Only a handful of persons weren’t flitting about the soiree, traveling from conversation to diversion like Iliathan rainbowflies. One of these was Master Grumbakk himself, the Kharadron engineer, still laboring over his creation. The other was his patron, Caradryas’ queen, and the real mistress of this assembly. War and profit had taken Vito all across the Mortal Realms, but women of Queen Vashti’s beauty were a rare sight for him indeed. He understood why the Satrap had been willing to take on Atressa Redhand for her favors. Vashti was gorgeous, and more importantly she was effortlessly charming. Charming, intelligent and curious, Caradryas had drawn the assembled together- his queen had given direction to what had been aimless, and function to what had been formless.

It was, for one thing, why Vito was there in the first place. It had been Vashti who’d befriended a long-dead cousin of his, forging an alliance between the Ruyalar and the Valencias almost a century ago. Probably the same held true for most of the host now gathering under Caradryas’ banner. Every Satrap was recruiting foreign legions from across the Realms- but most of the non-Aelf soldiers in Caradryas’ service already lived under his rule, and fought for more than coin. The Aelf had a personal magnetism and an energy that made his renegade philosophy so appealing, setting him apart from his hidebound neighbors and making his people so dangerous.

Other Satraps might have their excellences, rooted in their traditions and national character, and for the moment these strengths might overshadow the same abilities of the Ruyalar. But only for the moment. As casual as they looked, the courtiers’ eyes kept glancing back to the Satrap’s machine, filled with a burning curiosity. Given time, it was inevitable that the aggressive imaginations of the Ruyalar would equal and eclipse the closed practices of their rivals. Given time, Caradryas’ people would re-order the Prime Dominion to their liking.

In a way, Vito supposed, the Satrapy of Innovation was much like the still-running engine the Satrap was now cooing over. It might look bizarre, but it would work robustly and constantly even while its rivals faltered and failed. Wind might still, water might stagnate, but the imagination and curiosity of the Ruyalar would last forever.

This article was written by Peter C

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