Vorav, which is world 155 — exploring was going more quickly, as the Company got used to all the tools and techniques — was a beautiful place at first sight. It had a sun, unusually for Predictable Platelets. Actually it had seven suns, some brilliant and some dim, each of which presided at the crown of heaven for three hours, and then decorously departed for the next sun in the cycle. The fourth one that we saw was a proper sphere of intense light. It is followed by a seven-winged raven, seven equally-spaced wings making a girdle around its body and flapping in unison. Sixth is a gleaming glowing silvery crown with twinkling jewels, which would have made the best loot anywhere if we had been able to collect it. Seventh is a boiling cauldron, spattering brilliance out of its top. First (in the order that we saw them) is a ring of eye-hurting brilliance, with a loop of runes around its inner band, which the Word-Fox said were a prayer of ineffable might on Vorav. Second was an eye, shining dimly, with a pentacle pupil in an indigo iris. Third was a hand squeezing a mess of arrows whose tips were lightning and whose feathers were clouds. The whole thing looked designed, like the eidolon of some rich and subtle symbol system that we never got anywhere close to understanding.
The world proper was just as designed. An ordinary Predictable Platelet is a single plane. This was seven planes, arranged in a florette or pinwheel. Rivers or ring-seas flowed perpetually around the florette, spilling in glorious waterfalls from each plate to the next. (Water evidently falls uphill on Vorav — my scientists are a bit confused about about how this works, and whether it’s a feature of the ring-seas or of water in general.)
The seven planes presumably correspond somehow to the seven suns. We only saw two though: a magnificent garden plane of stately trees and winding paths among flowerbeds, and a continent-sized slab of crystal covered with runes in the same script as the ring-sun. Runes the size of canyons, of course, set between the lines of the ring-seas.
Itharieth immediately pounced on the ecology of the garden, so we know a little about that. Elegant deer and vegetarian bears meander around its beautiful paths. Foxes and furred land-octopi prance out to greet you and play with you, if you walk in a small person’s form along the paths. They eat insects and seeds and fruit, but not the tiny monkey-mice who dwell in hives and who work hard at grooming the garden. There are, indeed, no predators at all for anything mouse-sized or larger. There are scavengers, ordinary two-winged crows who dispose of dead animals, and carry their bones to the crystal plane for purposes we never understood.
(Itharieth’s first question, after getting this far, was about how the designers of the world kept the little predators that did exist — insects, like ladybugs and dragonflies — from evolving to take advantage of the wonderful and defenseless walking feasts of mammals. One part of the answer was the partial pressure of oxygen, which was fairly low, like on a mountain top. Insects simply couldn’t breathe if they got much larger than they were. The mammals all had large and efficient lungs. (Itharieth had far better manners than to dissect one. He got Psajathrion to use a look-inside spell.) Why no parasitic insects like ticks, or swarms of ants that could strip a monkey-mouse to the bone in seconds? Our scientists never got to an answer.)
In the center of the park was a massive and impressive palace. Impressive, because one does not generally construct a palace entirely of feathers and rubies. (Twice impressive, because it proved to be quite strong.) Inside this feathery confection of tall spirally towers and feathered domes, glorious forking spires and amazing galleries, dwelled a few children. (We saw four, but that means there were probably seven, presumably each aligned to one of the plates and one of the suns. Or there could have been a grand of children, only four of whom came out. No telling.) Small people children, of course: small and iridescent-furred and seven-eyed and quite fearless of a dragon who, at half his usual size, was still a huge and potentially devastating monster.
“Who are you, and what is that funny smell?” asked the tallest of the four to Itharieth.
“I am a biologist from the world of Hove, come here to learn about the plants and animals of your world,” said Itharieth. “The funny smell is ether, a vapor which puts small things to sleep without hurting them. You may call me Dr. Ether. It’s not that far off of my actual name, and far easier to say. Who are you?”
The four children introduced themselves: Tansy, Obol, Wreath, and Carbuncle. Itharieth knows which is which. I don’t.
Possibly-Tansy said, “I know a lot about plants and animals! This is a sneelopt! It has eight arms! It hugs you!”
Itharieth petted the sleeping sneelopt carefully with a clawtip. “Do you know if it has any bones? I was trying to see how it managed to walk on those eight soft and very huggish arms.”
“Sneelopts don’t have bones!” said possibly-Obol. Which Itharieth later confirmed: they have fluid sacs which can be squeezed hard enough to become rigid, letting them make or dispose of structural members as necessary. Most animals would find this an extravagant use of energy, but most animals are not from Vorav’s garden.
He chatted with the children for a half-hour or so, acquiring invaluable information about their favorite fruits, how they made a board game out of seeds or pebbles, and the time that a sneelopt made off with Carbuncle’s pyjamas. (Later on, he noted that it would have been more valuable to find out how Carbuncle got his pyjamas in the first place. But he is a biologist, not a social scientist.)
“We have to go now!” said the children at length. “It was very nice meeting you, Dr. Ether, and have lots of fun with the animals and plantses!”
“It was a pleasure meeting you too, Tansy, Obol, Wreath, and Carbuncle! Don’t let sneelopts steal your vegetables!” said Itharieth. The children scampered off.
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