The Raralandra

More of Ivy’s orientation in the underwater base.

Lunch was another bowl of the monotonous porridge. I made the mistake of asking how it could possibly be a balanced diet, and was treated to a lecture on exactly how much effort had gone into making sure it had the correct amounts of about 50 different nutrients. For this reason, there was allegedly no need to have any sort of condiment or flavouring with it; all those cost extra. The news didn’t improve the flavour.

I was too new here to have a conversation with anyone, so I sat in a corner chewing laboriously through the bland meal. Eventually, after scraping out the last of the tasteless gruel from the bowl, I had to meet Siersi Raralandra. I climbed slowly down the stairs, and stood before the door. It didn’t look like it was concealing a temple of evil, but how would I know? I knocked hesitantly, and waited.

Eventually, a bored voice called out “just a moment”, then something beeped and the door slid open. On the other side was just another office. At first glance, it looked almost empty. Except for a couple of heavy books labelled in Lanthean script, everything was packed neatly into bookshelves and cupboards behind the desk. The only decoration was a pictureless calendar on one wall, covered in neat annotations marking out the significance of various days. Tomorrow was, for some reason, circled.

“Did you have a reason to see me?” I had barely noticed the elf behind the desk until she spoke; she was almost camouflaged against the white walls. Siersi was the palest elf I had ever seen, looking like all the blood had drained from her skin. Her lips and the rims of her eyes were a muted blue colour, and her eyes and hair were a very pale bluish-white. Even her clothes were a sickly shade of pale yellow. The only feature that stood out was a small stone hanging from one of her pointed ears; a black disc marked with two golden stripes.

The ice-blue eyes glared at me. “Stop staring. If you have a reason to be here, say so; otherwise, go.”

“Sorry, Ms Raralandra. I was told to come here for ‘office supplies and things’.”

“I see. For future reference, just ‘Raralandra’. It’s a title, not a name.” The elf tapped keys on her computer. “You would be Ivy Ferraglin, the new recruit?”

“Yes.”

“I see. You’ve been assigned Room 1147. That’s on the floor up — Your card should open it. I can give you a form to fill out for stationary, but try not to overuse anything; we have to ship it in. You’re also supposed to be issued electronics; it’ll be brought up to to the office. I assume you know how to use Jenkins systems?”

“‘Jenkins systems’, Raralandra?” I hadn’t even heard the phrase before.

“Of course, you wouldn’t know.” Siersi shook her head. “The Black Fist have their own custom-written computer systems; Leader Jenkins likes to construct things from the ground up. I think there are a few paper manuals somewhere.” She clicked through several screens on the computyer while I started to fill out the form. “No good. I’ll have to call someone who knows where to find them. You finished with that form?”

I looked through it while Siersi made her call. “I think so.”

“Good. Take it down to the warehouse level; someone there should know what to do with it. In the meantime,
could I offer you some advice?”

“Advice?”

“Yes. You understand what my title means? I preach the word of the Selfish One to those who should hear it.” I had heard of Ranlal, also known as the Selfish One; about half the Elves in A followed some variation of Ranlarl precepts. Depending on the believer, that could mean anything from “advance in your career” to “become an evil overlord and threaten the fabric of society”. In a place like this, presumably the latter was more common.

“Good to see you know of my position. Now, my advice: I doubt the Leaders hold the favour of the Selfish One. They claim to be rulers of a place of evil, but they show more leniency than the true Ranlarl should. They take foolish risks for each other that put their whole command in danger. They show mercy to those who could not threaten them, as you well know. The take little heed of the word of Evil, being more merciful than it can permit, yet still more selfish than Good can allow. In short, I think it likely that they will soon be replaced by a less lenient ruler.”

I would not have described the Leaders as “not evil enough”, but I wasn’t going to argue. “Thank you, Raralandra, but what am I supposed to do about all this?”

“Do what anyone should in a group such as this. Make a space for yourself, and be ready to fight to keep it. Start by learning to fight, if you can’t already. This isn’t the sort of organisation where people will come to protect you; the guards are far too few, and committed to maintaining the Leaders’ rule. You have to defend yourself.”

That was a worrying thought. I prefer to avoid a fight where I can, and invisibility makes that fairly easy. Before I could point that out, though, the Raralandra’s computer beeped at her. She pulled a headset out of a drawer and answered what was apparently a phone call. After a few words, she shooed me out. “Get your office set up. The Team want you to start working tomorrow; your schedule should be in the mail.”

* * *

I spent the next hour or so ferrying various necessary items up to my office, and arranging them into storage cabinets. By the time I had filed everything somewhere reasonable, and set up something approximating a filing system, the “electronics” arrived. Two boxes marked “Argandis — Tomatoes” were delivered by trolley, along with a guard who insisted on seeing my ID card before dropping them off. “People have been known to steal things before,” he explained, when I asked about it.

Opening the boxes, I unpacked an unmarked laptop, and a thing that looked like a short black rod with a belt clip. After some muddling around, I worked out how to plug them in and turn the computer on, but couldn’t get any further than the login screen.

Eventually, someone came in and told me that the Raralandra had finally tracked down the manual, which meant another trip down to the warehouse level to get a copy out of the remote crate they were in. I spent the rest of the afternoon reading the book and trying to work out how to operate the laptop, finally managing to find my way around a few of what I hoped were the most important programs. By the time I had opened the email system, and read the list of duties I had been sent (sit in on the Leaders when they “held court”, write weekly reports, and attend several briefings and some sort of birthday party), it was getting very late, so I decided to get some dinner before I collapsed.

* * *

Hannah had waited for me in the mess hall. She was playing some sort of solitaire game with a collection of glass rods, and looked up when I sat down next to her with yet another bowl of the porridge. “How was Siersi?”

“Helpful, up until she gave me a lecture about how everything would get worse, and I should be able to defend myself from it.”

“She probably has a point about that. It’s fairly likely you’ll end up in some sort of fight if you’re here for any length of time. You might want to find out when they run training sessions; it would probably be worth turning up to them.”

“I suppose. I’ll have to live through tomorrow first, though. I’ve been given a full schedule. Apparently, along with all the orientation and everything, they want me to attend some sort of birthday party.”

“That does make a certain amount of sense, actually. It’s young Michael’s birthday tomorrow; he’s the son of two of the Leaders, so arguably he might have some sort of importance. On the other hand, he is only five.”

“So it’s probably just a random job to show them I’m trustworthy or something, then.”

“Probably.”

As I might have expected, Hannah turned out to be at least somewhat wrong.

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