Saturday, February 23, 2019

Looking Southward and Backward, Part 21.

Everything is smaller in Porylus. That is a common expression in Deneroth, generally used to belittle the city, or to keep it in place relative to Deneroth as a "little sibling" in the mythology of post-Haraalian city-states. But it means that everything in Porylus is closer, more familiar. Cozy, dare I say. That is certainly what it feels like, as we ascend the spiral-pathed slope of the central campus.

The various stone buildings to our left and right are practically built on top of one another, rather than having vast yards and imposingly tall fences or walls between them. Dormitories seem to be spaces intermittently amid buildings operated directly by faculty and stuff, each of them identified by small graven signs out front or above the doorway. They almost look naked without an elaborate coat of arms or numerical rank range adorning them. We barely realize what it is when our amicable procession stops us in front of the dual-purpose admissions and visitors office- back in Deneroth, the comparable building at the ITU is a cathedral-shaped edifice which absolutely dominates one of the six gates leading to the campus, where as much ritual is performed to cleanse newcomers of the outside world as paperwork is done to make them feel at home.

I do see one deliberately placed symbol, however. Carved into an arch-shaped plaque above the entrance of the barrel-shaped office in bold, equidistant characters is a line taken from the Hymns of Knowledge-Making, written during the first decade following the death and canonization of Laizij.

"Find within these Walls the Whole of the World."

I hear my fellows repeat it as we approach the threshold, Ciudo even speaking it in the deliberately archaic dialect of the cult, a standard introductory subject for the students of dead and obscure languages at ITU.

The "walls" refer both to the institution of learning, whether Ivory Tower or Porylus in this case, as well as the bones of the human skull. The message indicates that possessed knowledge of anything and everything exists within one's own mind, though the spoken or written word do exist as valued vehicles for it. The brain becomes a sacred vessel meant to be filled to its fullest capacity with knowledge, with the elusive goal of complete knowledge implied, lurking but ever-present.

Within the brazier-lit office, the fitted stone walls and floors are bedecked in thick, decorative textiles of gold, red, and cooler colors. The far side of the one-room building is dominated by a huge series of shelves which hold hundreds of cylindrical wooden containers, each of which containing hundreds of rolls of parchment or more fibrous mediums. Several assistants navigate the archive on squat ladders, and several short lines of campus-dwellers or locals stand awaiting their turn. We are directed toward a large space which seems to have just been cleared of people pending our arrival. Bisecting the two halves of the room is a long, low counter of polished wood, covered in many places by similar containers or their documents, as well as an array of writing implements and what appear to be stamps or seals. I can scarcely count ten, as opposed to the set of eight-dozen generally required to keep up with bureaucratic standards at ITU.

Standing behind the middle of this counter is a woman with blindingly white teeth and red hair, possessed of equal measures of competence, friendliness, and exhausting chipperness.

Her name is Kibra, and apparently she will be our guide for the duration of our stay at Porylus.

Within a few short talecks the paperwork is sorted out and stored away, and we are able to depart. We are somewhat dismayed to find our wagon gone upon reentering the light of day, but Kibra assures us that all of our belongings will have been brought to our accommodations by now. The promise of being able to sleep in real beds overwhelms our momentary discomfort at the well-meaning breach of privacy, and we continue on up the hill. The crowd of onlookers has thinned by now with the continuation of classes, and we are somewhat more free to go as we please without feeling... doted upon.

As we walk, our new guide offers brief insights into each major building which we pass by- on their histories, and on any possible links which can be made to similar institutions back at the ITU, whether through architecture, shared instructors, or the rare exchange program which does not peter out amid webs of silver tape.¹ I appreciate Kibra's enthusiasm, though to be honest I am not particularly interested in what binds the two campuses together so much as what sets them apart from one another.

Now, as if Porylus Mons itself has read my scribbling, we turn a sudden corner which brings us out onto the level top of the hill, where several more buildings ring a broad, circular plaza dotted with benches and fixtures of plant life or the occasional torch-post. In the plaza's center is what appears to be the most expensive piece of stonework any of us have witnessed yet on the premises. It is a tall fountain of marble and other light-colored stones, carved and smooth and gleaming, even in the half-light of this cloudy day. I do not know how the fountain functions at first glance, when there are no other points of high elevation from which water could be flowing in order to provide gravity power. But I can't be too concerned with that detail, given that I can see what is depicted upon the fountain.

An intricately carved three-dimensional representation of the white bristlecone pine of Deneroth rises up just right of the fountain's center amid branch-like cascades of water and root-shaped streams down at its base. Just to the left beside it, reaching a hand out to pluck a bulbous fruit from one low-hanging branch, is a woman, nude save for a cloth which is wrapped around her waist. She clutches her stomach, the swell of which mirrors the turgidity of the tree's trunk.

These are the two contradictory tales of Haraal's birth, merged into one.

¹ While the majority of intra-University documents are contained within traditional binding of a red (really more of a dark wine color), materials concerning communication and cooperation with its sister campus are generally distinguished by a silver (more of a faded sky-blue) wrapping. This, coupled with the complete lack of silver coinage in and around Deneroth, has led many to joke that the color simply doesn't exist in the ITU, or that working at the University makes one color-blind to it.

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