Posted on November 5, 2019
Numenera 2: The Quiet Year of Lone Makhtesh
Before The Bright Ones came, the people of your community struggle to remember that they lived very different lives. They had their own communities, their own families and friends. They had their own trades and professions, religions and customs, songs and stories. With such a diversity of backgrounds, the only thing all of your community has in common is that when The Bright Ones came, they ended all of that.
The Bright Ones were a race of powerful beings, yet they needed docile slaves to maintain their decadent lifestyles. Captured and torn from their past lives, those slaves were fed a regimen of behaviour-controlling drugs to keep them physically healthy, mentally vacant and usefully servile. Time passed, but the enslaved were not really aware of its passage; they did not seem to age and rarely tired, despite their labours. The Bright Ones went about their inscrutable business, scarcely paying attention to those that toiled on their behalf.
At some point though, calamity struck the civilization of The Bright Ones. The slaves were unaware of the cataclysmic events unfolding around them and went about their appointed tasks as they always had done, even as their masters abandoned them. Eventually the supply of drugs faltered and the long-suppressed minds of the slaves of The Bright Ones became clearer and sharper. Some, but not all memories returned. Frustratingly, almost no memories of The Bright Ones remained, except the common impression of beings of light, too intense to look upon directly.
The citadel of The Bright Ones went dark, and fractured just as their slaves woke from their stupor. A sliver of the shattered city ended up here, in this unknown and largely uninhabited terrain. The former slaves emerged from the ruins of captivity and into an unforgiving but free world.
Their part of the broken city was found in an alpine makhtesh, broad and thinly forested, with dense hard stone sides. Small streams had slowly carved out a channel that led to a trickling waterfall over a plunging precipice. That changed while the former slaves woke from their drugged state: some part of the city produced endless amounts of fresh, pure water at an incredible rate and the valley quickly flooded. When it filled the valley the lake that formed was dotted with new islands, small rises in the valley floor among which the forlorn section of the Bright Ones city now found itself.
The community settled to living within the walls of the broken fragment of the Bright Ones city scavenging what they could from the structure. They largely self-organized, with a collective childcare quickly arranged for the younger members of the community, but the structure of the community remained fluid: there were no families present, indeed most people were strangers to each other, outside of their shared experience of captivity and servitude.
Spring saw the community begin to develop small factions. The factions disagreed about some things, but during their first season in their new home, the island they called Lone and those clustered close to it, their groups jostled along together without to much friction.
The first, and best organised of the groups, were those that believed that the Bright Ones were divine beings. Their shared beliefs galvanized this relatively small group and early cooperation and favoritism helped them corner the best living quarters and put them in control a great deal of the community’s resources. The group was aided in its early formation by the arrival of Torbert, an emissary from a nearby island village. Torbert’s people held the Bright Ones in high esteem, politely stopping short of considering them divine.
Once formed, this group, (internally known as the Probus, Mega-Probies to those outside the group) developed some simple ceremonies (baptism in the dangerous but breathtaking waterfall which held a mysterious shining object) and attached religious significance to the relics the community found around them. The nearby giant clear cylinder atop a flat-peaked mountain once shone in the night, they learned, and attached its new inertness as a signal of the Bright One’s displeasure or rejection. The sunken ruin found in the water was, to them, a place of the enemies of the Bright Ones. When a young boy discovered an alien cadaver in the ground, the Probus took reverent custody of it as they believed it to be a Bright One.
The other early factions that formed could best be understood in the relation to the Probus. While most of the recovering captives were simply cynical about the inherent divinity or goodness of the Bright Ones, two other opinions emerged: that the Bright Ones were categorically not divine beings (the Anti-Probus stance), or that whether the Bright Ones were divine was a a matter for history since they were gone and were not coming back (the Post-Probus opinion).
The community made some good progress in addressing the scarcities that faced them. They had more water than they could ever use up, so that took care of that. They cleared forest in order to have some land suitable for farming, salvaged tools from the broken city, built boats rather than crude rafts, found workable stone, discovered what they eventually found to be tin and also their own vein of copper. They discovered a powerful piece of Numenera that showed the contents of the ground beneath them, but the first person to use the device was so surprised that they dropped it in fright and the viewing apparatus broke.
While there were no obvious threats to their safety, barring a staggeringly oppressive series of lightning storms, members of the community began to notice that they often couldn’t be found: some people simply seemed to disappear for a short period of time. They reappeared, none the worse for wear and with no memory of the intervening time. While this set nerves on edge, some astute observers notices that it never happened to Probites.
The first real schism in the community came at the hands of rebellious youths. Led by charismatic Wilemina, the teenagers secretly built crude rafts and set out for the mountain that bore the crystalline cylinder. There, they set up a camp and stayed.
Tired of getting by on cobbled together rafts and punts, the residents of Lone began the task of building boats so that they might begin collecting resources from the surrounding terrain in earnest and explore the shoreline. By the end of Spring, the boats were ready and the people of Lone began to expand their reach across the lake.
The lightning storms of Spring gave way to destructive straight line winds of early summer and windbreaks were created to prevent the water being whipped across the fertile land they’d laboured to attain.
The teens were gone and apparently were not coming back: they offered access to their “Utopia” in exchange for supplies, but were rebuffed, their settlement called a sham, a name that stuck with the young inhabitants and outsiders and returned to work on their own inscrutable projects, which involved talk of a Holy Copper Mountain. Outsiders came from further up the valleys, but they similarly received a tepid welcome and went on their way. Torbert’s people began arriving and contact was improved with them, at least.
The main focus of summer was in trying to establish some structure to the society they were creating. Work began on a lengthy pair of projects to raise a building for the Council of Elders to house a vaguely deliberative body, as was a curing house/abattoir/tannery settlement over where the Great Horned Yol had been seen. A school was initiated, primarily to ensure literacy and numeracy amongst the very young, but there were adults who needed the skills too and they were welcome. A Hall of Records went hand in hand with this, as a place to store all the writing that was about to happen, but this structure collapsed, victim of the shifting island soil.
In religious news, one of the eldest of the Probus died, in shady circumstances. That saved him the embarrassment of knowing what happened to the corpse of the “Bright One” they had found; while the body had been in decent condition, all things considered, the frequent pawing and relic snipping by the devout caused the thing to lose its integrity and disintegrate. Relics were taken and preserved by the faithful as best they could. Following Torbert’s failed coup at the end of summer, for whatever reason, the Probus congregation ballooned as more and more bought into the lure of the safety and harmony the Bright Ones had given them.
The survey of the lakeshore discovered many interesting things, but gyroberries – delicious, sweet, self-magnetically-aligning fruit – and the explosion in population of freshwater crustaceans (Yabbies) were the most immediately impactful as these were two new food sources. On the main cluster of islands, they found stone tablets with engraved maps of the surrounding areas, which also helped the survey but also pointed at a settlement now covered by the enormous waterfall.
At the end of summer, with the Council of Elders hearing petty disputes and something approaching law and order at hand, Torbert and a few like-minded individuals tried to seize power of the Council and create a dictatorial regime. The attempt failed, narrowly. While no blood was shed, the attempted coup was ALL the talk. Humbled, Torbert left the settlement, vowing to return.
A dozen marauders showed up in the valley and shook the settlement down for some cyphers and supplies. Despite their small number, and mostly primitive weaponry, the goons had the use of two powerful firearms of some sort and no-one could really stand up to them. They maraudled on their way. An outbreak of disease also had everyone rattled and they began to think more about infrastructure and protection.
The small processing settlement over on Yolshead Peak was operational. This not only contributed to the overall wealth of resources, but gave people a different place to go and live (the teen’s Sham town receiving no interest) which helped settle the disputes some people were having regarding how they should all live – those interested in a less communal, more privacy- and family-oriented life upped sticks to go husband those Yols.
The Elder Council’s building also finished, as a place for official arbitration to occur. It was a nice open accessible space for hearings and judgements and what-nots, not that they really had any laws on the books or ways to enforce them. That was addressed in the autumn: a small peace-keeping, problem-solving oriented force of Agents was established with a building to headquarter them. The Agents wore decorative copper shields on their arms.
A second sort of force was set up in response to a natural threat – the erosion of the “islands” upon which Lone stood. These were really just hillocks in the valley prior to the flood and the incredible amount of water flowing around them was starting to wear away top soil and root systems, causing the islands to crumble. The Barriers were those tasked with patrolling the edge of the water, shoring up what could be saved and building up when needed.
This problem with the island erosion, both of Lone, and the smaller islands like North and South Regoni, Aggro etc prompted an ambitious public works project, to channel the flow of water in one reinforced direction through the islands with a canal and reduce the overall level of the lake temporarily by flooding other parts of the valley. The inhabitants went at this with gusto, but became obsessed with getting the canal just right: they ended up with a beautiful, gracefully lined, granite-sided canal of fast-flowing pure water. Bonus: it provided a current heading northwestwards, the hardest direction in which to sail given the prevailing winds. They built up the rest of the islands over time, with low dykes to keep out those marauder dicks as much as anything else and eventually each island began to have it’s own character and name, even though collectively they remained Lone. The project wasn’t perfect, several townsfolk drowned during a heavy rainstorm when their palisade crumbled, but in general, the work endured.
In the midst of this construction, thoughts turned to future industry and a waterwheel was set up and space for various workshops to take advantage of the turning axle.
Socially, all was not well, however, as simmering resentments boiled over into violence. Torbert’s body washed up on the lakeshore, obviously a victim of an unknown violent end. Similarly, the Council of Elders was attacked at night; several Elders killed by a ruthless, never-apprehended attacker. Arguments about the use of currency erupted and matters were made further complicated by a find of more stone tablets, this time bearing a list of rites, customs and laws of those who lived in the valley beforehand.
The last of the good wood was gone, all that remained at this point were trees drowned by the lake and rotting early. A few trees survived, but none that were good for construction. Good news! They found some excellent Cerulean Pines for construction on one of the survey trips, further up one of the minor valleys. It would be ideal for construction, so a bor’n leader named Barr’n gathered up some folks over to create a logging camp and a way to get those logs back over to Lone.
They did have an abundance of fibrous plants though, Sailweed, a type of weed able to adapt to the wet environment and now taking over the new habitat, kind of like the stream crustaceans which had now become big fat lake crustaceans.
If Autumn wasn’t tumultuous enough, Sham, the settlement of teens led by Wilemina was embarking on construction at a phenomenal rate: some sort of tower up the side of the mountain upon which rested the clear cylinder which those attuned to that kind of thing reckoned was awake again. A party was dispatched to investigate but they came back a few days later having aged decades, their leader expiring on the boat ride home. They survivors were barely coherent and senile to the point of helplessness. The Council of Elders ordered some investigation into the strange effects, but the investigation was sabotaged by Fort, a Probite of no particular standing. He refused to say why he sabotaged the investigation or on whose behalf, so not knowing what to do with him, the Agents made up a cell and kept him there until he felt like talking.
Barr’n, head of the lumber camp, disappeared while walking among the trees (no big deal because that sort of happens all the time here) and never came back (oh, that’s different). Despite this the lumber camp and dock opened on schedule, to much rejoicing. The dock is pretty close to the Yolshead settlement too, so the west shore of the lake saw more people move there for work.
That side of the lake was found to have a massive conduit of wires running seemingly between the bases of the nearby mountains. And a little further up that side of the lake the gyroscopic berries were found to have entheogenic qualities when consumed ripe. The ecstatic religious visions the berries induced were not present when the fruit was consumed hours after picking.
Two great civics projects were undertaken in early winter: the Third and Fourth Estates flexed their muscles. In the first part, the Council of Elders began a project of deliberating over a written constitution of laws and guiding principles, incorporating wisdom from the stone tablets they had found as well as the solicited opinions of the inhabitants of Lone. For the second, a newspaper of sorts was produced, even though doing so used up the last of their good pulp wood. The broadsheet featured… well, just about anything anyone wanted to write down.
And then, suddenly, the quiet year was over.
Those few on Lone who survived the return of the Bright Ones can add little to the horrified and awestruck accounts of those that watched from Sham, from Yolshead, from Torbert’s Hill or Barr’n’s Folly: a piercing light that rendered many blind for days, a cacophony of deafening trumpeting sounds and an oppressive weight that pressed those present to the ground to squirm in terror in the dirt.
The terrible assault on the senses persisted almost half an hour, yet seemed to last all night. Those that could, scrambled in terror for shelter but few were lucky enough to find any shelter that could keep out the seeking, ravenous light. The horror and threat of imminent destruction left them as abruptly as it went and those that remained in the valley experienced a sense of utter loss that haunts them to the present day, six decades later.
Those elders, who years ago emerged the following morning half blind and deafened, cannot quite put their finger on exactly what it was they lost, personally. Collectively, they had lost two thirds of their population, vanished with no sign. The Bright Ones seemed to have severed personal, emotional connections that night too.
The inhabitants of the Lone Makhtesh spent that winter and many after it, huddled against the cold, anticipating the return of the Bright Ones – with trepidation or longing, and sometimes both. When the weather turns cooler and the days shorter, inhabitants of Lone look to the elders and watch as, with haunted shadows around their eyes, they fearfully glance – not to the open skies above, but to the ground beneath their feet.