Fruits of Stone
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Will you be there at the beginning of our tale?
Throw an axe in the streets of Mundi and it will bounce off two works of art before reaching its target. The fancies of the creative world converge in its canals. There is ruby encrusted pottery from the deepest mines of Tallon glinting in the midday sun. Glowing violet woodworks from the Forest of Ilda layered through streetside shrines to house spirits of luck and health. Looming heroes and kings immortalized in stone along the Marshal Causeway. Bare walls are in bad taste. A place so central to the world cannot exist otherwise. The fact it is a haven for escaped slaves and famous for entrepreneurs of all species contrasts with the dismal conditions in the Light Plains and Gilded States.
The strong sense of freedom had to start somewhere, though. Popular legends hand down that it began with the city's two mythic patrons, Zeo’ Xis and Parhasios, in the Heroic Era.
The Featherfolk Zeo’ Xis and Wakewalker Parhasios lived in the Years of The Hundred Scions, the old calendar days when Mundi was a slaveholding city. In that time, any wealthy upstart could declare themselves noble. The slavers of the elite districts scoured the realms of Dema for any soul with an artistic spark. Competitions to display the grandest works of art notoriously ended in either the satisfaction of the slavers or the severed hands of the unfortunate artisans.
Zeo’ Xis stood alone among the great Featherfolk painters. It was said his eyes could distinguish ten times as many hues as a human. Whether it was touching up muscles and individual hairs on a lunging ferron in portrait, or a mural of a hundred Archivist spearmen charging the frontlines at the Ironheart Gorge, the handiwork of Zeo’Xis hung above hearths in noble houses across Dema, sold for chests of jewelry and coin.
Not one copper made it to Zeo’ Xis himself. He was a slave to Scion Castor, richest and most brutal of the human slavers. Castor and his assassins were responsible for ending the Years of the Hundred Scions and beginning the Year of the Prime Scion. It should be noted Castor’s family sigil was the grape. Wine, fertility, luxury. A calling card of his coterie was to leave a cluster of grapes in the mouths of every minor Scion murdered in their villas.
Eventually, the surviving Scions renounced their nobility and rallied around Castor, pledging their coffers and slaves. Zeo’ Xis watched the calamity from his caged bedroom in Castor’s villa and despaired.
Upon his ascent to the newly carved marble throne of Mundi, Prime Scion Castor proclaimed three hundred days of games in the Coliseum of Mar. He gifted barley and fruit by the barrel to the city’s disarmed Marshals. Twelve public fountains pumped wine instead of water.
Castor declared each citizen had only one chance to stay in his good graces and out of the sights of his assassins. For the price of their freedom, Castor pledged utopia.
On a whim, Castor also proclaimed a contest. Any slave who created a work Castor judged superior to a painting by Zeo’ Xis would win their freedom. Zeo’ Xis would become the property of the newly freed soul. This work had to be symbolic of Castor’s glory. If the slave lost, they would be drowned in a wine casket large enough to hold a victim.
Only one slave was brazen enough to accept the long odds. Parhasios, one of the few Wakewalkers in ancient Mundi, was noted among servants for her patience and towering height, nearer to eight feet than seven. Her katamar had been marooned in a storm off the coast of the Midlands, and she had been tricked into slavery by a minor Scion house that Castor had since brought under his control.
It is said Castor laughed when Parhasios knocked on his throne room’s door, Castor jeering, “I have never met a Wakewalker delicate enough to be fond of painting.”
“You still have not.” replied Parhasios. “I am a sculptor. I carved the marble throne on which you sit. Give me until the end of the three hundred game days, and I will make you art so fine it will be worth freeing every slave in Mundi.”
“And I will take just as long to build a wine barrel large enough to hold you!" Brave of Castor to quip when flanked by ten bronze-clad guards. The human and Wakewalker agreed to present their work in the Coliseum in front of the public.
In the meantime, none were allowed to disturb the artists at work. Zeo’ Xis labored at what he hoped would be his magnum opus, a painting so realistic it would put the real object of its focus to shame. None saw any sign of Parhasios, though the sound of chiseling could be heard coming from her master’s workshop at all hours.
On the fateful day, in front of a crowded Coliseum, Castor walked with Zeo’ Xis across the arena floor as the Featherfolk moved his blanketed canvas into position. In the center loomed Castor’s promised wine barrel. At the far end of the arena stood Parhasios, next to whatever she had sculpted hidden behind a satin white curtain a few feet in front of the opposing gate. The curtain was so large that it obscured the entire seating section behind it.
Zeo’ Xis unveiled his work to the amazement of the crowd: a bowl of grapes.
Such a mundane object may seem anticlimactic to many readers of the modern era, but it must have left quite an impression. Accounts speak of a shade of purple never seen by the attendees before. Perfect droplets of dew were speckled across individual grapes, with granular woodwork on the bowl that tricked the senses into smelling fresh cut pine. Several doves swooped down from above to try and peck at the faux fruit as it was paraded to the front rows, the sigil of Castor’s family engraved in the bowl for all to see.
“Are you thirsty?” asked Castor to Parhasios, pointing at the wine barrel.
“I am, but I could not drink freely from your barrel until you see my piece. It should be viewed up close first by your eyes alone.” She beckoned Castor to come to her.
Wary, Castor asked what the blue giantess could have depicted that was worth him taking extra steps to see. Parhasios replied it was something both light as air and heavy as the hills. As invisible as Castor’s assassins, but in plain view for all to see. She said to forget paint -- this would make Castor’s glory pass into legend with the sweetness of poetry. For a Prime Scion who had so much, Parhasios declared she could finally satisfy Castor’s unquenchable thirst for more. All he had to do was step to the curtain, say, “What awaits Castor after death?” and pull it aside to see the truth. She then stepped behind the curtain.
Flanked by his guards, Castor approached the curtain. “And what does await Castor after death?” He moved to part the fabric at the folds in the center.
Where Castor expected his hands to meet satin, they brushed against marble.
Parhasios roared, “Nothing!” and from the other end, kicked her sculpture on its side, crushing the Prime Scion and all of his guards beneath one ton of marble.
So began the Marble Rebellion. With Parhasios as the organizer, slaves revolted against the minor Scions and the remains of Castor’s tyranny across Mundi.
Separate accounts have been written about the Years of Wrath. Each has conflicting events. One constant is Parhasios’s location during the entire conflict. She remained in the Coliseum of Mar without hiding, dictating orders to the freed. Her location made its way to Castor’s assassins, who were still undetected. Parhasios spent her days drinking from the barrel in the Coliseum cups at a time. She let it be known that the slavers would run out of assassins before she ran out of wine. The accounts again differ as to how high the pile of assassins' bodies rose to by the end of the Marble Rebellion. Perhaps the first row of seats, more likely the second.
Mundi breathed free on the first day of the Years of Abolition. Thereafter, no person would own another in its territory until the occupation by the Solar Hegemony an Era later.
As for Zeo’ Xis, it is said he came to Parhasios on the first anniversary of the Marble Rebellion and declared that she had obviously won the contest. Zeo’ Xis bowed, noting, “My painting may have tricked the birds, but your sculpture tricked a fellow artist.”
“It may be true,” said Parhasios. “But were my curtain able to be parted, no finer work could be behind it than your grapes.”
Several other scholars here at the Musaeum question if these events truly happened as told. History has wiped away any physical proof. The marble curtain supposedly remained on exhibit in Mundi until Scintillan soldiers smashed it during the retaking of the city from The King of Darkness in the year 2 LS. The grape painting had disappeared centuries earlier, said to be stolen by a human thief with golden eyes.
Yet, a Wakewalker oral myth tells that a forlorn Wakewalker female once returned to the Midnight Isles accompanied by a male Featherfolk. She reunited with her husband, who she originally left on her voyage to find a way to swap him into his desired sex. Having found no magic, she instead shared a shade of purple paint made by the Featherfolk that was able to replicate the stripe patterns of Wakewalker females better than any other attempt before it. The seeds for the plant that produced this hue were spread across the islands.
Wordsmiths note that in some dialects of Kahr-Khottan, the verb for returning home from a great journey that kept one away from their loved ones is “Parhas.” A local name for the purple producing plant and its dye is “Zoksis.”
-Master Arronus, the Musaeum of the Scholasta, "Comparative Folklore", 4th Edition.
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