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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 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.

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.”

Daraz Society: Daraz/Human Relations

Daraz Society: Daraz/Human Relations published on

Valley of the Silk Sky - Daraz/Human RelationsThe Daraz are indigenous to the Pocalo Valley, while humans wandered in a few thousand years ago. For the most part, things are pretty chill and symbiotic between the two species.

Since the Daraz are subterranean and build their cities and farms inside the mountains, there is little competition with humans over living space. There is a certain amount of overlap in the use of wild food resources, particularly animal protein, but on the whole the integration is peaceful. Both parties pretty quickly figured out they could benefit from one another’s presence.

What the Daraz get out of it: FIRE. Being subterranean, they cannot burn anything basically ever. Not only would they all die of asphyxiation, fire messes with their infrared vision something fierce.

But fire is also incredibly useful for all sorts of technological innovations, so by allying with the Humans the Daraz are able to gain the benefits of access to fire without the downsides.

What the Humans get out of it: DEFENSE. The upper provinces of Pocalo (that is, all provinces that don’t touch the ground) have a universal ban on weapons of war, and on physical fighting of any sort.

What if an outside force wants to invade? What if a criminal needs to be captured and detained? What if you are a caravan merchant and don’t want your stuff stolen by bandits? For all of these things, Humans employ the Harcos, the Daraz warrior/hunters. The mere presence of the Daraz in the mountains discourages invading forces (it’s difficult enough as it is to march any kind of army up the side of a mountain, and even moreso when the mountain itself is full of people who don’t want you marching).

Harcos also act as officers of the peace to some extent – they have a huge investment in Pocalo functioning as a stable society, but little investment in or loyalty to individual Humans. As such, their susceptibility to bribery is low. And, because they’re excellent trackers, they’re very useful for hunting down known criminals.

Humans can hire Harcos for things like caravan security, or protection for runners going into particularly dangerous areas. In these cases the Harcos basically function as mercenaries, with the payment submitted to the clan as a whole. The hirer pays with a Harcos chit, a special coin used specifically for this purpose. The coins have to be bought from the Pocali government and they ain’t cheap. If you’re small potatoes, no Harcos bodyguard for you.

So, while the Harcos’ primary function is the protection and betterment of their clan, you will often see them interacting with humans as The Heavy. Jobs that involve interaction with humans are typically rotated; an individual Harcos still spends at least 75% of xer time on clan duties.

Daraz Society: Bathing and Grooming

Daraz Society: Bathing and Grooming published on

The underground cities of the Daraz are always built around a subterranean hot springs pool (of which there are many throughout the Valley). While all Daraz engage in similar bathing rituals, it’s especially important for the Harcos, the warrior/hunter caste.

Their body armor is made if very thick skin and/or keratin, and requires a great deal of maintenance to keep clean. Without regular exfoliation, they run the risk of skin infections, particularly down in the joints where the plates meet. Harcos organize into quads (groups of anywhere from 2 to 5 individuals, though the most typical number is 4, hence “quad”), and quadmates are responsible for grooming each other.

The act of being groomed releases endorphins and tends to make the one being groomed a little (or a lot) sleepy. As such, it’s typically a pre-bedtime activity.

In a pinch, grooming can also serve as a means of calming down a Daraz who’s having a freakout.

Forehead grooming is itself a dominance act (“I’m in charge here, and you need to settle down”), generally deployed by the older quad members to keep the younger ones chill.

Valley of the Silk Sky - Daraz bathing room

Valley of the Silk Sky - Daraz grooming

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