Ameris – a Soft Horizon vignette
I wrote this on the bus this morning based on a world in my last Soft Horizon plane generation session. I don’t know what it would be for — it’s too short and plotless to be fiction and it’s too long to be microfic. It’s the kind of thing I would write for myself to set tone while doing prep for a game. Normally no one but me would ever read it.
The market is a riot of colour — stall covers in silk and cotton dyed a thousand ways from a dozen worlds snap in the wind. And smells. Roasting meat of animals you’ve never seen, the sharp tang of fruits and vegetables, the thick odour of burning herbs, all bombard your senses. A seasoned traveller would find herself suddenly hungry. A neophyte perhaps nauseated, then intrigued.
But immediately as you enter Marketgate the your senses start to fog and blur — a vague euphoria begins to rise in you and serializing your needs as thoughts in language becomes a conscious effort. Your first stop — everyone’s first stop — is the autonomy vendor.
Always positioned near Marketgate, the autonomy vendors beckon you forward with stark black and white flags that trigger some animal connection to thought, and even though you are nearly mindless by the time you reach them, you have enough of your wits to buy what they sell — your mind.
Because this is such an essential service, its sale within a thousand yards of the Marketgate is strictly regulated by the Caliphate and no autonomy vendor (at least not one within a thousand yards of Marketgate) would dream of taking advantage of you. Some do, of course. The very reason a law exists is often enough to risk breaking it, and if you are very beautiful or very strong (or, Mind forbid, both) then there is some risk that the spell you buy will not be quite what you need, and that your guide might turn out to be someone other than she seems — a zombi trader.
But that doesn’t happen much any more. The Caliph is very strict and the punishment severe — a dozen years mindless — and not something someone wealthy enough to afford regular autonomy would risk.
So the autonomy vendor flashes the colours at you and spins the mandala and says the words and the fog lifts. He warns you to stay near Marketgate unless you know your way around — there’s not always a vendor nearby elsewhere in Ameris. You nod, You understand. It’s a relief already to understand things.
Now you can truly take in the wonders of Market gate — the name of the city as well as the name of the portal you stepped through to get here. Some portals are small, hidden affairs — the back of a wardrobe, perhaps, or just a wrong turn near Whitehall. Marketgate is not one of those. It is a vast stone and metal structure built, re-built, decorated, and simplified a thousand, thousand times over a period of years no one has counted. The portal itself is big enough to pass armies (and their engines) and if the bas relief that decorates parts of the gate is at all historical, then it has passed armies many times. And refugees. And things you cannot identify. All in the thousands or millions. This has always been a busy place and the steps here are worn with millions of feet and wheels and hooves and tracks and who knows what else.
Worn and rebuilt. Worn and repaired. At this time, your time, they are clearly ancient and due for repairs. The steel shows through the limestone which shows through the marble. Over there, that may be a glimpse of gold from some more hedonistic era. And there perhaps diamond from an even richer time — or maybe a time when diamond was so common as to be valueless. It’s all here in its many layers, a life’s work for an archaeologist in a single structure.
And indeed, they are here too, scurrying about and taking notes and sketching.