[3] Volume I, Summer's Night - Part One: Sescut and Cutset, the Mother and Child (b)

Sescut's native population is divided into two races, who it seemed to me must have a common origin - though this suggestion was flatly denied by both. Neither calls themselves by any name that could be pronounced - even approximately - by another people, so the humans living in Telluctet and other towns refer to them simply as the Talkers and Dreamers, and these names seemed to me as suitable as any other that could be given them.

The Talkers are the more numerous, more active, and more diverse in their politicking of the two. They are smaller than humans, standing around chest-height on the average man, and they are gracile and lithe, like preternaturally athletic children. Their flesh - if that is the correct word for it - is a purplish grey, and sprouts very fine, short filaments of white that are visible on close inspection as a kind of pale haze close to their skin. To the touch this "flesh" of theirs is cold, slightly clammy, and earthy, like nothing other than freshly-picked woodland mushrooms, which is of course what gives rise to the suggestion that the Talkers must be related to the Dreamers in some way (though that connection will be elaborated upon in due course). They have large, pale green iris-less eyes by which they navigate in the luminous fungal forests in which they dwell, but they do not rely on vision and are able to smell, touch, and somehow otherwise sense their surroundings when only the starlight is available to them.

The population of Talkers is divided into many different tribes or clans. Each tribe is in a state of more-or-less perpetual warfare with those around it, and would likely be so with other tribes more distant if they only had sufficient geographical contact to pursue hostilities. This mutual loathing appears to have no reason other than instinct; the Talkers, to all appearances, are born into hatred of anyone of their race from outside of their circle, without exception. Each tribe gives every indication that it views members of other tribes not just as enemies, but as creatures of an altogether different species that is beneath the lowest contempt, much as a man would look upon a fly or cockroach - a despicable thing whose mere presence is in itself corrupting.

The disgust Talkers feel for those not of their tribe frequently manifests itself in extreme brutality. During my visit with the people who the local human traders call the Deep Gorge tribe, I was able to witness the treatment of three captives from a rival tribe who the young males of the Deep Gorge captured while out hunting. These captives were brought trussed up into the Deep Gorge village in which I was staying, and burned alive: the physiognomy of Talkers is such that they are not readily killed by blades or blunt force (though such weapons do cause them pain) since they do not have blood or organs such as we do, but they are very vulnerable to fire and their flesh will burn easily. These captives were forced spreadeagled onto the ground by hammering nails of obsidian through each of their arms and legs, and then each limb in turn was set alight - the torturers being careful to burn each arm or leg to a crisp before putting out the fire and moving onto the next limb. Once this gruesome task was completed the captives' eyes were put out and they were thrown into a pit and left there to die, which they did over a course of days. The Deep Gorge tribe did not seem to take pleasure in this activity so much as they considered it their solemn duty to inflict as much misery and pain on their enemies as was possible before they died. Their tasks were carried out efficiently and without humour, as a man chops wood or scythes wheat.

What is most surprising about this attitude is that, to the outsider, it is almost impossible to discern physical differences between two individual Talkers, let alone see any distinction between tribes. Talkers insist that those distinctions are plain and obvious, and were routinely flabbergasted when I denied this. It seemed clear that they must be relying on senses other than sight for determining the differences between them, but they were unable to explain this in a way in which I could understand.

Communication with the Talkers is a complicated matter. As the moniker suggests, the Talkers do talk. They have a language which is partially made up of vocalised hisses and sighs and other sounds, and they can approximate words in human languages in a very limited way. But when communicating with each other, they rely not just on sound but on elaborate gesture; on caresses and taps and squeezes; and sometimes when two of them are in conversation they appear to do little but smell each other's scent. No human can therefore enter into discourse with them fully in their own language, and during conversation with a Talker one frequently stumbles upon words or concepts which seem to baffle it - just as, with equal frequently, it appears frustrated at its inability to express itself in the inadequacies of a human tongue.

What is clear is that Talkers do not seem to have a detailed understanding of abstract concepts such as mathematical numbers, time, or ideas. For them, there is no recording of the passage of time through fluctuations in the weather or physiological measurements as there is elsewhere I traveled on my long voyage. Instead, their understanding of history is tied to geography alone. The Deep Gorge tribe are able to name events which took place by almost every pebble or toadstool in their lands ("This is where a battle was fought with the tribe humans call the High Waterfall tribe"; "This is where the third child of the fifth child of He-born-under-the-big-north-boulder fell and lost his arm to a giant centipede"; "This is where the first child of the ninth child of He-with-fifteen-children encountered the servant of a lung-fish god") but cannot give any indication how long ago the event in question took place. Whereas I was able to keep time during my sojourn on Sescut, as I was elsewhere, through recital of the Mantuan Annals, and therefore knew that, for example, the centipede attack in question had taken place four recitals ago, members of the Deep Gorge tribe seemed to treat it as being in the same time period as that of the battle against the High Waterfall tribe - an event whose taking-place was in reality so long ago that no trace of the battle remains for inspection and no living Talker remembers it.



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[7] Volume I, Summer's Night - Part One, Sescut and Cutset, the Mother and Child (f)

[6] Volume I, Summer's Night - Part One, Sescut and Cutset, the Mother and Child (e)

[1] Author's Preface