Spell Merchant: The Finders

The Finders (they call themselves many things, but those of their own they deem Nusajúrã, “those who understand speech”) are the only people in the world who can die from exposure to starlight.

The Nusajúrã are distant cousins of the Sorcerers of Salvi; their dozen or so languages are mostly understandable to a Salvian after some effort, and to one another with a little less. Living in scattered tribes, of no more than thirty at a time, across the jungle that borders the north of the Ikkan Ocean, the Finders live as foragers, hunting, gathering, and fishing in the many rives that crisscross the rainforest from the north. They practice only limited agriculture; their one concession is a drink called kipúi, brewed from fermented orchids. They worship no true gods, just spirits of the animals and the hunt; shamans calculate a complicated calendar based on the sun, moon, and the inner planet Addhari, and that calendar is always pinpoint accurate. Beyond their general roles of male warriors and female shamans (and if you do shaman’s work you’re a woman, and if you do warrior’s work you’re a man), the Finders have a Gift that serves them well in the long-distance tracking of prey. Sometimes called yimnaruhās (“bloodhound ruhas”) by the Salvians, a true Finder, one with the Gift, need only focus their energy on a physical manifestation, be it animate or inanimate, and they will be able to find it again, no matter where in the world it may be.This is not by any means everything that happens. They do not only become aware of where something is; they also come to know, most intimately, every element of the object, every dent in the wood, every grain in the rock, every hair on the head. But this is most ignorable, and doesn’t allow one to feel much except whether the quarry is alive, dead, or soulless. Worse, they come to feel every millimetre of distance between them and the thing they have reached out to connect to. It can be any distance away when they make contact, so long as it is possible to sense it in some way. It is difficult to sever the connection–it takes a purification ceremony where the shaman of the tribe will literally hack off one of the tendrils of one’s soul–but it is possible, and far better in many cases than the alternative.

Today, many of the Nusajúrã leave their homes to act as navigators on distant ships, or as advisors to astronomers and astrologers, or even as detectives. Those captured in the Classical Period by Salvian sorcerer-priests were used in disastrous experiments used to prove, among other things, the diameter of the world (attaching a rock to a leviathan, a flying whale, and tracking its migration), whether the other planets have any moons (Vyapa, the large gas giant at the edge of Suran’s system some two-and-three-quarter AU from the home-world of Ajjamah, has twenty-five), how deep krakens live (about three and a half kilometres). But even in their own homes, fifteen hundred years later, the Finders have similar problems.

To look at the sun, Suran, in all its glory is to see a burning ball of gas, with all the distance it takes light to travel six minutes. The size and composition are painful, very painful, for a human mind, but easy enough to brush over (humans are good at compartmentalizing too much detail into just enough); the distance, however, is enough to leave a man or woman seizing and broken for months. And that’s achieved in twelve minutes time; it’s practically a ritual now, a coming-of-age ceremony in many tribes for children with the Gift. It keeps people humble, they say, reminds them of their place in the universe like nothing else can. (Theirs is a peculiar culture, at once cynical and awed, with a depth of thought that makes them some of the greatest philosophers on the continent.)

A trained adult shaman may look to Kasar, the Midnight Sun, a mere 7 AU away, and despite all her practice still slip into a coma from which she may take years to awaken. And she will be wiser still, humbler still, perhaps more crazed than any normal adult.

But a child gazing up at a distant star, and wondering what it is, will find the answer in as many as sixty years’ time–or as few as four. And always, always, it will kill them.

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