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Tolas: Mountain Forest Tola Society

Tolas: Mountain Forest Tola Society published on

Valley of the Silk Sky - mountain forest tolasWhile there are several different types of Tolas, the ones who make their appearance in “Valley of the Silk Sky: Medicine; Run” are primarily Mountain Forest Tolas.


Mountain Forest Tolas spend the summers at high elevation and the winters at low elevation. They maintain permanent settlements at each endpoint, and migrate between them as the seasons change. Migration occurs over the course of several weeks, with small bands taking different routes through the mountain forests. A small maintenance group will stay on at each permanent settlement during the off-season, as will anyone who is too old or too sick to travel.

Tolas maintain large swaths of the mountain forests, planting different types of edible and medicinal foliage at different elevations. Rather than carry food with them as they travel, they follow pre-planned routes rich with fruit- and nut-bearing trees and other plants. The staggered migration allows for waves of ripening food to sustain each band in turn.

Interactions with Humans and Daraz

Tolas and humans have little direct contact due to significant language barriers (humans can’t physically vocalize much of the Tolas’ speech, and vice-versa). The Daraz, whose vocalization capabilities span across both language groups, may act as interpreters between Tolas and humans.

The Daraz helped broker one of the major treaties between humans and Tolas, which governs the use of forests. Humans are allowed to harvest small amounts of food and medicinals from Tola-maintained forests, but are not permitted to cut down any trees or otherwise remove plants without prior consultation.

Pocalo Technology: Pharma

Pocalo Technology: Pharma published on

Valley of the Silk Sky - pharmaAs discussed in the article on medicine, pharmaceuticals form a major part of the Pocali economy.

Medicinals are generally available in two forms: prefabricated or compounded.

Prefabrication works best for widely used remedies that can be mass-produced on some level (not dependent on rare ingredients, and used for treating relatively common ailments). These will typically come in tubes, many labeled in Rovari script in addition to Pocali, particularly for medicines used by both Daraz and Humans.

The majority of medicines, though, are compounded: made to order from raw ingredients per the individual’s specific medical needs. Because several different types of raw medicinals might have the same or similar effects, and the rarity of various medicinals makes large scale consistency difficult to achieve, in many cases it’s just easier to make something on the spot based on whatever ingredients are available in the region.

An apothecarist’s egg is basically a portable mini-pharmacy. A typical egg will contain raw ingredients, tinctures, extracts, and tools for mixing medicines or forming tablets.

Pocalo Infrastructure: Smugglers’ Tunnels

Pocalo Infrastructure: Smugglers’ Tunnels published on

Valley of the Silk Sky - smugglers' tunnelsThe country that occupies the Valley, Pocalo, is divided into provinces, and each province is stacked on top of the other. The massive structure that houses all these provinces was built up slowly over the course of thousands of years. For most of that time, the only way to get from one province to another was to take a long trek up or down the mountains that anchor the structure.

The safest way to go was via mountain tunnels. These tunnels were dug and maintained by the Daraz, who build their cities inside the mountains. They leased the tunnels to the humans in exchange for various goods and services.

A scant couple hundred years ago, humans perfected the technology to move elevators between the provinces. The early elevators could only connect two provinces; later technological advances brought elevators that could connect 3 or 4 provinces. As elevator technology improved, the need for the tunnels waned in favor of the much faster vertical transportation.

The Daraz had little incentive to maintain the tunnels with no one using them much, and shifted to other forms of trade with the humans.

Getting on an elevator typically requires going through a checkpoint, though, and may require an official passport for boarding. What to do if you are perhaps interested in avoiding any sort of official scrutiny in the course of your travels? Like, say, maybe you deal in goods you might have obtained under less than legal circumstances?

Well, it’s certainly slower going, but here are all these old tunnels no one uses anymore, cough, ahem.

Yes, there have been many attempts to seal off the tunnels over the years, but somehow or other they always get unsealed, and the resources just aren’t there to guard them 24/7. Hence the tunnels tend to be left alone much of the time, should someone wish to slip from one province to the next while attracting minimal attention.

Pocalo Culture: Naming Conventions

Pocalo Culture: Naming Conventions published on

The humans of Pocalo typically have a personal name bestowed by their parents, and a second name acquired later in life that describes their primary skillset. Most names follow this pattern: [UNIQUE PERSONAL NAME] wis [PRIMARY SKILL], where “wis” is a contraction for “who is good at.”

Back in the mists of time, life in the Valley was very difficult, and ANYTHING you could do to help people survive for another day was considered a good thing. What you looked like, what configuration of body parts you had, who your parents were … none of this was more important than what skill you excelled at that would keep people alive.

“Hey, we need a doctor right away.” “No problem, just go talk to Derga wis Medicine.”

Arvandi Names

Valley of the Silk Sky - naming conventions

Razi isn’t originally from Pocalo. Xe’s Arvandi, and the Arvandi have a totally different naming convention. An Arvandi child’s second name is a portmanteau of xer parents’ names. For example, Razi’s second name is Zakar. Xer parents’ second names were Zaya and Kari, so when they had Razi they created a new name by combining syllables from their own second names. (If a family is polyamorous, the child might have a three or four syllable name. In other words, the name doesn’t necessarily reflect genetic material but rather acknowledged parents.)

The records office worker in the second panel is stumbling because xe’s expecting a “wis [PRIMARY SKILL]” construction and instead is seeing a word that doesn’t seem to suggest a particular skillset. Probably the person who entered the name wrong in the first place was having similar trouble, and didn’t know what a Zakar was any moreso than a Kazar.

Daraz Names

The Daraz have extremely sensitive senses of smell, so their language has thousands of words for different smells, indeed different individual esters, and further metaphorical meanings for those various words. Daraz names almost always reference scents, and are formally constructed as “Smells Like [SCENT].” Halvanylila = “Smells Like the Fourth Ester of Lilac.”

Valley of the Silk Sky - Daraz names

Chadsen is deploying a rather complicated pun here. “Bors” actually means “pepper,” but it’s very close in sound to “Borz,” which means badger.

The term for skunk is bűzös borz, literally “smelly badger.” Smells Like Badger = Smelly Badger = Skunk.

Flora and Fauna: Merev Gombi

Flora and Fauna: Merev Gombi published on

Valley of the Silk Sky - merev gombiThe names humans have for many of the flora and fauna of the Valley come from Rovari, the Daraz language (Daraz are native to the Valley, humans are not). This particular creature is called merev gombi in Rovari, which literally means “hard sphere.” Humans usually just call this animal “merev.”

Merev are the beast of burden of choice for this region. Opportunistic grazers, they’ll eat just about anything placed in front of them, making them extremely easy to maintain. They’re slow but sturdy, and nearly indestructible. When spooked, they don’t run: they pill. If you get into a spot of bother, you know your cart will be more or less where you left it.

The merev’s hide is too tough for many predators to pierce, and its center of gravity too low for them to knock it over. So most predators simply don’t bother with them. YOU might get eaten, but your pack animal won’t.

The merev is not an insect; it is yet another of the many monotreme species in the Valley.

Flora and Fauna: Melaine Mushroom

Flora and Fauna: Melaine Mushroom published on

Valley of the Silk Sky - melaine mushroom

Melaine is a carnivorous fungus that typically feeds on insects or small animals like birds and rodents (the size of the prey depends on the size of the mushroom). Prey are lured in by the sweet-smelling ball bait at the end of a hair trigger. The treacherous ball is extremely sticky, and the struggles of the stuck prey trigger the hair to yoink them forcefully into a bowl of viscous digestive juices. The larger the melaine the more potent the goo, and the larger melaine specimens can eat away at human flesh.

For humans, it’s a “better safe than sorry” situation. If you see (or smell) a patch of melaine, give it a wide berth, lest you accidentally step in one and get splashed with a caustic substance.

Since the digestive goo is viscous and sticky, getting it off once it’s on you is a challenge to say the least. As with poison ivy oils, sometimes efforts to remove the substance just spread it over you even more. You will, at the very least, wind up with some lovely chemical burns, if not open sores.

The Daraz Harcos have significantly thicker and less sensitive skin than humans, so they aren’t as likely to be harmed by the melaine’s digestive juices. They have discovered that a small mushroom isn’t potent enough to do significant damage to the skin, but instead acts as a disinfectant for wounds, and the sticky nature of the goo helps stop bleeding by sealing the cut. Instead of avoiding melaine at all costs, the Harcos seek it out as an important tool in field medicine.

Flora and Fauna: Blue Beetle

Flora and Fauna: Blue Beetle published on

Valley of the Silk Sky - blue beetleAh, the humble blue beetle, such a common sight in the Valley it gets the most obvious possible name. It’s also one of the main sources of animal protein for the citizens of Pocalo. So delicious, so nutritious.

Humans typically cook these insects prior to eating, as the texture of raw bug is not especially appetizing (similar in consistency to raw poultry). At the same time, “appetizing” is a luxurious concern for one who hasn’t had anything to eat in awhile, and humans can eat the beetle flesh raw if need be.

Daraz, meanwhile, aren’t accustomed to cooking food first (they can’t have fires in their underground cities or they’d all die of asphyxiation). But, whether raw or cooked, Daraz don’t typically care much for the taste of blue beetle and only tend to eat it out of necessity. The Rovari name for this particular insect translates roughly as “edible, I guess.”

Humans don’t just use the blue beetle for food. The shells are collected and ground into powder, which is then made into fabric dye. This particular dye is called “blue beetle blue,” JUST in case you were confused about the color or the source. Any dyed fabric is fancier than un-dyed fabric, but blue beetle blue still doesn’t rise much above “better than nothing.”

Daraz Society: Writing

Daraz Society: Writing published on

Valley of the Silk Sky - Daraz writing systems

The Daraz have a tactile written language, since their infrared vision can’t detect ink on paper or print in a book.

They have two main systems of writing:

1. Cord notation: This format is similar to quipu, though the actual implementation is a little different. Size and distribution of knots, as well as weave of the cords, is used to convey information.

2. Wax notation: Knotting and weaving is a slow process, so the corded language is more for information that needs to be archived. These cords are typically transcribed from a writing system that uses a stylus to deposit dots and dashes of hot wax that mimic the knots and weaves of the cords.

The pot of wax is kept warm and liquid by storing it in a rivulet diverted from a hot spring. While it is still warm the wax is visible to the Daraz, so as they write with the stylus they have a visual impression of what they’re writing.

Once the wax cools and is no longer visible, they read the raised parts via touch.

This system is also useful for written communication with humans – while humans are not physically capable of speaking Rovari, they can certainly read it. Objects that might need to be read by both Daraz and humans, like containers of shared medicinals, will often be labeled in both Pocali and Rovari.

Daraz Society: Social Structure

Daraz Society: Social Structure published on

The Daraz are a subterranean species of monotremes who live in extensive cave networks in the mountains. An average clan has 500-1000 individuals.

Daraz society is organized around four primary castes, whose role is determined at birth based on what the clan expects to need in the coming years:

  • Kiralyno (a.k.a. The Kira) – the primary egg-layer and clan leader
  • Hazastars – consorts to The Kira who contribute genetic material during reproduction
  • Munkas – non-reproducing laborers, of whom there are several sub-types
  • Harcos – non-reproducing warrior/hunters


The Kira is responsible both for laying eggs and for making major decisions affecting the entire clan. Xe spends nearly xer entire life underground, carefully guarded by the rest of the clan. Only when a young Kira is leaving to form a new clan are they seen aboveground. Kiralyno are capable of limited parthenogenesis, laying unfertilized eggs that can develop into Harcos and Munkas. Typically this only happens when setting up a new clan.


The Hazastars provide the Kira with eggs and sperm, which xe gestates, and then lays eggs into development cells. Hazastars also rarely venture aboveground, only to be seen outside during trading pilgrimages. These pilgrimages take place when clans trade Hazastars with one another every few years, helping to bolster genetic diversity across clans.


Munkas see to the day-to-day of running a clan, including digging new tunnels, farming and harvesting subterranean plants and fungus, practicing medicine, keeping records, advising The Kira, and so forth. Scribes are known as The Irnok, and their actuarial tables determine which eggs are assigned to what caste. Of the four main castes, they have the most discretion to choose what roles they want to take on, within their purview. They are asexual and have no role in reproduction.


Harcos are non-reproducing, asexual members of the species, and exist primarily as the hunters and warriors of the clan. Harcos group into units called quads, which can consist of anywhere from two to five individuals, but are most typically comprised of four people, two older and two younger Harcos. The older ones are responsible for training and mentoring the younger ones. Harcos are the caste most likely to be encountered by humans, as they frequently leave the clan to hunt. The humans of Pocalo routinely employ Harcos to act as officers of the peace or bodyguards. These roles are filled on a rotating basis, as a Harcos’s primary loyalty is still to the clan.

Daraz Society: Language and Speech

Daraz Society: Language and Speech published on

Valley of the Silk Sky - Daraz language and speech

The Daraz we’ve met thus far in the Valley of the Silk Sky comics speak a regional dialect called Rovari.

Rovari is a tonal language that, if you [a human, I presume] could hear in its full range, would sound very musical, with voiced tones over more sibilant sounds.

But you can’t hear its full range, because much of it is voiced in supersonic frequencies. So to a human the language sounds harsh, buzzing and staccato.

Humans are not physically capable of speaking Rovari, lacking the required physiology and sonic range. Luckily, Daraz don’t generally have trouble speaking human languages (though they do tend to speak with a lisp), and often take on roles as translators.

Daraz have fairly poor vision: they don’t see color or detail, and their language reflects that in that they don’t have words for specific colors, nor do their idioms reference sight. They comprehend detail through sound, via echolocation, so words for precision reference hearing. For example, they might say “I hear you” instead of “I see” to signal understanding.

They do have extremely sensitive senses of smell, so there are thousands of words for different smells, indeed different individual esters, and further metaphorical meanings for those various words. Daraz names almost always reference scents, and are formally constructed as “Smells Like [].” Halvanylila = “Smells Like the Fourth Ester of Lilac.”

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