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The Provinces of Pocalo: Muru Overview

The Provinces of Pocalo: Muru Overview published on

Valley of the Silk Sky - Muru overviewThe web structure that spans almost the entire length and breadth of the valley is a country known as Pocalo.

Each level of the web structure is a separate province, and each province has its own distinct flora and fauna, culture, dialect, food, and so forth. There are elevators connecting the provinces that allow for travel up and down.

Muru is the third tier of the lower provinces, making it the topmost province that is still in direct contact with the ground. Muru is a bit of a rough place to make a go of things, as there are a number of predators roaming about who view humans as a tasty snack. The porous nature of Muru’s borders means that people can come and go as they please, making it a desirable location for those who wish to operate outside the law.

Most settlements in Muru are built high off the ground due to the aforementioned predators and bandits. Because much of the interior is in the shadow cast by the upper provinces, almost all major settlements in Muru are found around the outer edges. The city the arrow is pointing to is Duvane, an outpost town that is not at all flashy, but a good spot to head to if you have goods to sell or trade.

Despite being rough and difficult to navigate, Muru forms a cornerstone of the Pocali economy. It is home to many rare flora and fauna which are used to make medicines. The majority of runners spend at least some of their time foraging in Muru.

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 Technology: Lights

Pocalo Technology: Lights published on

Valley of the Silk Sky - lightsPocalo doesn’t have electric lighting (or electric anything, for that matter).

Their interior lights are instead made of tiny ecosystems of bioluminescent fungi. The fungi have been domesticated to produce a brighter, whiter light than their wild counterparts.

The fungi survive by eating their own dead cells, so a well-balanced light can shine indefinitely. In practice, most lights don’t last forever: the glass gets cracked and throws the ecosystem off balance; the fungi reproduce too quickly (sometimes overgrowing to the point of bursting the glass); or they reproduce too slowly and die off. But a light made with a high level of craftsmanship may well last for hundreds of years.

There is no way to turn a particular light “on” or “off” (the fungi are either alive and glowing or dead and dark). In rooms where one wishes to achieve periodic darkness, like a bedroom, the lights will have some kind of hood which can be opened and closed.

A popular style of dimmable light is colloquially called an “eyelight,” as it has two adjustable lids which can allow for modulating both the intensity and the direction of the glow.

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 Infrastructure: Elevators

Pocalo Infrastructure: Elevators published on

Valley of the Silk Sky - elevatorsThe tiered structure of Pocalo makes travel from one province to the next a challenge, unless you can hop on an elevator. Large elevators, like the one pictured here, are designed to carry a great deal of freight and several passengers (it seats around 150 people, so about the same as a medium-sized commercial airplane) among multiple provinces.

This particular elevator services four levels, and does much of the heavy lifting (ha ha) for getting agricultural foodstuffs distributed to the northern regions of the provinces. Merchants also use this elevator to move their wares around, perhaps selling medicines in one province, picking up some local foods, and moving on to sell those in a different province.

There are much smaller elevators dotted throughout the provinces, generally just ferrying between two levels. Most of these are concentrated in the upper provinces; the lower provinces (i.e., those at ground level and below) have relatively few elevators. This has more to do with population density than anything else; large swaths of the lowest two provinces are flooded, rendering them mostly uninhabitable.

While elevators have connected the provinces for around 300 years, this type of large freight elevator is relatively new technology (maybe 100 years old), and has accelerated cultural exchange and homogenization. While the people of each province still have their own distinct accents, clothing styles, foods, and so forth, basic necessities are widely distributed wherever you go.

Pocalo Culture: The Satirists

Pocalo Culture: The Satirists published on

Valley of the Silk Sky - The SatiristsAnyone can engage in political satire in Pocalo, but *THE* Satirists are special elected officials whose commentary is seen as especially insightful and funny. Their essays are published in a periodical called So Say the Satirists, which is made freely available to all residents of Pocalo.

Each province votes in an Official Satirist to a seven-year term. The Official Satirist will then spend the next seven years living in each of the seven provinces, one province per year.

They are also expected to sit in on high council meetings. The high council consists of three elected representatives from each province, and they meet approximately once a month (more often if necessary) to discuss matters affecting the country.

The Satirists from each of the provinces sit in on these meetings, though they are not allowed to speak or vote. They are there as observers. Once the meeting is over, they will release their commentary to the public. Representatives who act foolishly or belligerently, or who propose unjust laws, can expect to be mocked in a widely-distributed free pamphlet.

The level of social regard for Official Satirists in Pocalo is similar to that of the ancient Irish poets. In other words, cross them at your peril, lest you fall prey to premeditated satire.

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: Cloud Spiders

Flora and Fauna: Cloud Spiders published on

Valley of the Silk Sky - cloud spiders Millenia ago, the people of the Valley domesticated an animal known as a cloud spider*. Spider silk is exceptionally lightweight and has extremely high tensile strength, and the humans have been able to tease many uses out of an animal that yields a large quantity of silk.

As humans have done with dogs, cows, etc., the people of the Valley have domesticated the cloud spider and bred multiple variations to suit specific needs. Mostly this is focused on producing different kinds of silk for different purposes, including varieties of silk that can be compacted, hardened, and moulded into all sorts of shapes. The resulting material is extremely durable, lightweight, and flexible. So in place of wood or metal, both of which are relatively scarce, most of their daily-use objects are made of silk.

So yes, the entire structure that houses the country of Pocalo and all its provinces is ONE GIANT SPIDER WEB that has been built up over the course of many thousands of years using construction-grade spider silk. Hence, if you are in any province but the very topmost, when you look up, your view of the sky consists mostly of silk. Hence the name “Valley of the Silk Sky.”

*Don’t worry, arachnophobes, it’s not actually technically a spider! It’s a MONOTREME. There are actual bugs in the Valley, but most of the larger incarnations like the cloud spider are really egg-laying mammals.

Flora and Fauna: Carnivorous Plants

Flora and Fauna: Carnivorous Plants published on

Valley of the Silk Sky - carnivorous plants

The Valley in which the Provinces of Pocalo sit is ringed by a range of high red mountains. The poor nutrient content of the red soil, coupled with the erosion issues on the cloud spider web structure (and low sunlight in many areas), make it difficult for many species of plants to take root.

As a result, several of the more successful plants in the region are ones that had evolved to draw their sustenance from the delicious flesh of insects, and other things (cough, ahem) larger than insects. Birds, perhaps. A rat or two. Maybe, I don’t know, a human sometimes? Who’s counting, really?

Sticky tendrils, grasping appendages, alluring lights, digestive juices: the flora of the Valley have a wide range of adaptations for ensnaring and devouring hapless fauna.

Several of the plants, like the melaine mushroom, have useful medicinal applications, provided one can harvest them without being eaten.

Geography: The Rift

Geography: The Rift published on

Valley of the Silk Sky -The Rift

There’s a decent amount of seismic activity in the Valley. Pocalo is generally highly resistant to earthquakes, as the construction-grade cloud spider silk is slightly flexible and highly shock-absorbent. But a particularly severe quake with just the right combination of vibration and shear forces got the better of Pocalo, and the next day people had to wonder, “Where did that giant rift come from?”

The Rift stretches for several miles across the Muru interior, and plunges several hundred feet down into Eradu, the province immediately below Muru.

This major geographic change also altered the course of the Red Silt River, forming a lake known as The Flood, which drains into Eradu in the form of a huge waterfall. During dry times this can cause the river to stop flowing further south from The Flood, causing water management problems for folks downstream.

Both The Rift and The Flood have made any form of travel across Muru a bit of a challenge. Boats can no longer ply the course of the Red Silt River. And the one crossing point, the Cashel Bridge, is in the process of sloughing off into the Rift.

Because The Rift appeared overnight, the Cashel Bridge was put up in extreme haste, with the idea that a better, more permanent solution would be implemented later. After only a few years it has begun to fall apart, but there’s little incentive to build a more permanent crossing. Most people have opted for more reliable alternatives, and have abandoned the pre-Rift routes that took them past this region.

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