AN: Written for silveradept for Worldbuilding Exchange 2017 and originally posted at AO3.
Hail the glorious Queen Zeal, mother of magic and ruler to us all -
The grain stores in Enhasa are running low, with just enough left for two weeks. I have asked the prelate of Kajar to send aid, only to be rebuffed. She claims to barely have enough to feed her own people, and that all of Zeal will soon face the dread specter of famine. My queen, I have not your wisdom, but please, please allow us to hunt on the surface. We have raided the Earthbound twice in the past month, and have gotten less back each time. We will soon be forced to hunt our own game. I have spoken with many brave sorcerers who are prepared for the risk, and will be sending a full complement of skilled healers with them. I have chosen a leader, Petrus, who is a wise and prudent man with the greatest mastery of water magic in Enhasa. I assure you, this will be the safest possible expedition.
I reiterate, our grain stores are critically low. We are already rationing. There are those who claim living above the clouds has destroyed us and we would be better off braving the storm. They are small voices, but they multiply every day. I beg of you, as your trusted servant, to save us.
Your loyal and humble hand, prelate of Enhasa
To the Queen -
I have been researching the low harvests at your command, and return with my findings. It is my belief that the soil itself has a certain "life force" associated with it that is depleted by the harvest. It is possible that by raising Zeal to the sky, beyond the reach of the storm, that we have broken the land's connection with the entire Earth, and have prevented it from regenerating this precious life force. If this is true, our harvests will continue to diminish.
I am currently working to replenish this life force with magic, but it requires vast amounts of power, almost as much as it takes to keep Zeal beyond the storm.
In light of this, perhaps it is best if we start to consider living on the surface again. If we were to somehow break the storm we could still farm instead of hunting like the Earthbound. I am aware of your feelings regarding hunting on the surface, and please know that I mean no disrespect to your late, beloved consort by making this suggestion.
But if we do not do something, Zeal will starve.
-Melchior, Guru of Life.
For the Queen of Zeal, a report on the renewing of the great skystones:
The ritual has been completed with great success. Zeal will continue to dwell in the light for another year. Of this you have no need to fear.
It was harder to find the required 100 mages this year. We hope the Princess Schala will quickly recover from her exhaustion, and beg pardon that we had to take her from your side to act as the strength of the sky. We could find no other lightcaller of similar power in all of Zeal. It should please your majesty that she acquitted herself well, and it is in no small part to her great power that the spells were bound so deeply into our foundations.
Castor, Pia, Urs, Rahel, and Timon all died of exhaustion this year. It is the same number as last year, thank the Lord and Lady. Their families have been informed and their inscriptions carved into the walls, as is proper.
I pray to dreams and magic that I will be able to serve you for another ten years.
From Lord Salvator Skybinder.
Please do not fear for me. After three days of rest I am well recovered from the ritual. Janus and Alfador kept me company the entire time - at one point Alfador attempted to jump from the bookshelf to my bed, missed, and landed on my head! He scratched me a bit, but it hardly hurt for all our laughter. Janus drew a small picture of it, which I have attached. I hope it cheers you in these dark days.
Janus may not quite be ready for magic, but he shows remarkable aptitude in study. I ask of you to be patient and allow him to grow at his own pace - he is a bit late, but Melchior tells me that it is the slowest trees that grow the strongest.
As for myself, now my exhaustion has passed I will once more work with the Gurus to attempt to replenish Zeal's food supplies. Thunder is not an earthly element, so such things do not come easily to me, but with study and persistence I hope to be able to overcome such a small limitation. I will keep you appraised of our progress.
Do not forget to come with us to the lake next week! Janus and I have both been looking forward to our picnic.
Your loving daughter,
Our most wise and learned Queen Zeal, hail -
Please forgive this short message, but the seers have scried tirelessly and saw always a great power source in the ocean, causing Desideria the Truesight Sage to declare it fact and based on her beliefs it may be enough to power Zeal for the next thousand years should we be able harness it.
I leave it to the Gurus to determine the best way to turn this power to our ends but this may be the salvation of Zeal.
-Priest of Scriers, High Watcher Zalmon
To the Queen -
Work continues apace. The Princess is invaluable. The Mammon Machine will live up to the great name of the first true sorcerer and King of Zeal, I promise you. Soon we will never face starvation ever again.
For now only the Princess shall regulate the machine. Soon we hope to key more sorcerers and spread the burden. Please allow us use of Princess Schala just a little longer. We know you fear for her, but she has shown remarkable strength and resilience these past weeks.
-from the Three Gurus, penned by Gaspar
My Queen, please look over this speech I have humbly prepared for you for the inaugural ceremony of the Mammon Machine.
To our glorious Queen, bringer of prosperity and savior of Zeal!
I begin with my most gladdening news: the Guru Melchior's plan has worked! With the power of the Mammon Machine, it was simple to gather five - just five! - skilled sorcerers around one of our barren plots of land and perform his new life-force replenishing ritual. The process is simple, requiring only three strong iceshapers, one skilled thundercaller, and a fireworker with good balance and a quick mind. The iceshapers melt their power and heal the earth, the thundercaller sings the blessings of the sky down upon the ground, and the fireworker mediates between them. In this way the land is healed and already we see proof: new sprouts upon the barren ground! In a few months more we may have tender herbs and greens, and past that we will have grains again.
With this extreme ease of growing, Gardenmaster Eunice has discussed with me the possibilities of more research into crops, now she is not bending all her mind to keeping Zeal alive. She has ideas for how to modify the Guru's ritual to increase the force of the soil by greater and greater measures, which she believes will increase our crop yields or allow them to grow even faster. She also mentioned possibly using magic to transform plants, to make them more sweeter and more flavourful. I don't understand her methods, but she spoke of certain rituals to transfer aspects of one crop to another, allowing for grains that sprout like greens, or apples that contain pomegranates.
This all seems very strange to me, but for now I am happy that Zeal will be fed.
Praise to the Mammon Machine! Praise to the Queen!
Your loyal and humble hand, prelate of Enhasa
For Queen Zeal the Builder, architect of our happiness-
Please forgive this hasty message, but I wish to let you know that the famed healer Clarus believes he has discovered the legendary elixir, once made by King Mammon himself. Though the recipe has since been lost, he has worked tirelessly to rediscover it, putting all his will and strength into potions of greater and greater power until at last a young hunter, mortally wounded on the surface, was brought to him and a single drop of his latest work was enough to revive the girl and leave her springing around the workshop!
All healers are working on being able to duplicate his work, but it is slow going imitating the master. However, it is a matter of skill, not of power, for as long as Princess Schala allows us we have the endless power of the Mammon Machine. When enough elixirs are produced, Zeal will need to fear no suffering but time itself.
As requested, here is my personal report on stabilizing Zeal's skystones with the power of the Mammon Machine.
The initial results are promising. We started with the same ninety-five sorcerers as performed the ritual half a year ago, at the Sky Celebration, with five new members gathered from the palace. I held the centre, as I did previously.
Prior to going to the depths of Zeal, every one of us communed with the Mammon Machine. It glowed a deep, warm red, the color of fresh blood, and many called it an omen. Then we proceeded to the altar.
From the beginning we had more power. It flowed into me from the Mammon Machine, an endless river of power... It frightened me. With the pendant the Gurus made, I was able to route and divert it to strengthen the song of the hundred. It was not at all difficult to gather the strength to stabilize Zeal above the storm. My one concern was keeping it all under control. There was no hint of trouble at holding the ritual in the darkest shadow of the year. I could not even slightly feel my powers diminished by it. Do you remember before, how the shortest day and darkest night would always make me sleepy and exhausted, even as Janus gained energy? I feel no such things now, and rose and slept at my normal hours. Did you notice?
The others report similar feelings. Talitha came to me afterwards and reported feeling light and happy, as opposed to the exhaustion of six months ago. She was well-pleased, and left with a bounce in her step. The singers welded the leylines to the rocks and inscribed the spell with sigils of pure power, and this did not even cause a single one of them to faint, let alone be drained to death. It is a moment of great promise. We all felt it. I wept with joy to behold the ritual finished with no causalities.
Now strong fireworkers are double-checking the skystones for any hints of failure or stress, but they all seem optimistic. Desideria called this the first perfect ritual she had ever seen. Balthazar believes we may be able to hold the ceremony but once every five years, or even less with more research.
If this were all I had to report, I would leave it there and cry the eternal triumph of Zeal. But, Mother...after the ritual some seemed changed. Not sorcerers I knew well, just in passing, but when I asked their friends confided in me. Zadok has become erratic in his behavior, snapping at all, even his wife and child. I heard Sherah goes on wild hunts at night, coming back with her mouth and hands bloody. Others have become cold, caring only for their research. This may not seem like such a bad thing, but I was told Ezras even struck his son when the boy interrupted his reading to bring him dinner. From all reports, Ezras was a gentle father before, who doted on his son and did not even raise his voice in rebuke. The change came on the day of the ritual. In fact, a few whispered to me that it came quite suddenly, after their friend had communed with the Mammon Machine. I have spoken to the boy, and he reports that his father greeted him warmly the morning of the ritual, only to become cold at sunset.
Others voice concerns that such easy power will sap our minds, or keep children from learning the subtleties of using a small amount of power for the greatest effect. They fear Zeal will grow lazy and decadent without the struggle we have lived under for so long. Aurea the Wise, one of the oldest and most respected sorcerers in Zeal save the Gurus, warned me of this.
Mother...I am worried. You seem so distant lately. I know you have your duties as well, but please. Janus and I love you. Can you not spare some time? If not for me, then at least for him? I do not wish to reproach you, but I feel you are slipping away like The Mammon Machine is a great benefit, but I fear it may yet have an unforeseen detrimental effect on Zealian magic. Please use caution.
Your loving dutiful daughter,
Hail the glorious Queen Zeal the Builder!
My Queen, my work has long been in the nature of magic itself - where it comes from, how it is taken from living things, how it might be extracted, how the four elements relate to each other to create what I call "pure magic" as opposed to each element separate - and I believe I am close to a breakthrough.
As I'm sure you know, what we call "magic" is but the channeling of the primal force of nature, which lies within all beings but can only be harnessed by those of our enlightened blood. When we channel this force, it comes out naturally as fire, water, lightning, or shadow, all according to our own personal nature and inclination. With careful study we can manipulate the primal force, but it remains for the most part something only available to the most learned of all of us, though only with that may we break away from the restrictions of the elements and soar as we were meant to.
I believe I have found a way to extract and compact that primal force into a physical form, and while it is a delicate process yet, I believe soon I will be able to extract the magic from nature and put it in a form that can be eaten or drunk to gain magical power. This could be used to bolster the magical abilities of those of us who may not be quite as gifted, or to give late bloomers the little boost they need to catch up with the rest of their peers. I believe these will be of great benefit to Zeal, and to the royal family itself!
-From the learned sage Gedeon, the magicker.
-Not that your highness might need a boost! Your and the Princess Schala's abilities are known throughout Zeal! But there are others who could use it, and I merely wish to assist those poor creatures that might otherwise be sent to live with the Earthbound.
Please get Gedeon to stop forcing me to eat his magic capsules. They taste bad. Not even Alfador will touch them and he will try anything. They are disgusting and do not even work. I ordered him with the authority of the Prince but he said he only would respond to the Queen so make him stop already. I hate him and magic and all of Zeal except for you and Schala and Alfador and I don't know about y
Why did you not come on the picnic with me and Schala? You always used to come. Schala says that being in the palace and running the Kingdom is stressful and that's why you snap all the time. If you come to the picnic will you be nice again?
As the prelate of Enhasa, I announce to you first that as Zeal is enjoying newfound prosperity, scrying is no longer as vital as it once was, and Enhasa from now on will concentrate on the deeper, more subtle meaning of dreams. We now dedicate ourselves entirely to the Lady of Dreams, which is only possible thanks to your glorious leadership.
The formal ceremony will take place three days hence. It would please us all if you could bless us with your presence for just a short period.
Queen Zeal -
We have discovered the source of the Mammon Machine's power! It is a certain spot in the ocean, overflowing with magical energy. Amazingly, it is almost directly below Zeal itself, which seems to be a sign. Melchior theorizes that should we move the Mammon Machine down to meet the source of its power, then we would gain a hundred, nay, a thousandfold more magic than we currently have!
The other Gurus and I have been working to sketch up plans of how to get the Mammon Machine down there - it is no easy feat, even with all the power of Zeal. The preliminary plans and sketches are attached, and we believe it should take five years to build to completion (assuming we can assemble enough Earthbound for a sufficient labor corps). The time might be shortened with more magical effort, but this would very likely end up killing some Enlightened Ones, as it once cost to keep Zeal afloat. We advise safety as this critical time.
Speaking of magical power, it may be best to release the Princess Schala from the Mammon Machine for a time. She has been looking rather frail recently, and she confided to me that she has not been sleeping well lately. As she is your precious daughter, I am sure As the sole person who has the strength and skill to regulate the Mammon Machine, we recommend that she be given at least a week off to rest and recover.
-The Three Gurus, penned by Balthazar
To the Queen of Zeal, my mother -
I have requested that the storm beneath us be mapped and researched, and this request has at last borne fruit.
I will not reproduce the full report here, but to summarize: the storm swirls around a certain area of the ocean. It is that which feeds it, and from there it spreads out to cover the entire world. That area of the ocean seems to have a lot of what is termed "life force" or "magical energy", which is why the storm has persisted for generation upon generation.
It is possible that with the Mammon Machine we could break the nucleus of the storm and bring light to the lands below. With that, Zeal would have more room to grow, more land to farm, and be allowed to reign the earth and sky together. We could bring enlightenment to the Earthbound Ones, nurture them, and bring them into the civilization of Zeal.
My Queen, please consider this proposal seriously. Believe me, your own daughter, when I say that I would not bring it to you without full consideration of the benefits of such a plan. To destroy the storm would immeasurably benefit Zeal in ways beyond what the Mammon Machine has granted us so far. Please allow the future children of Zeal to play on the wide fields of the earth, under cerulean skies.
-Princess Schala en Alliensha tre Zeal
Your request has been denied by the queen.
She asks that you re-read Heroides's The Natural Order of Society and On Ruling. Pay especial attention to the duty of children to their parents.
Your presence is requested at the Mammon Machine all day tomorrow for assisting in laying the first stones of the Ocean Palace. Do not delay.
-Sarai, firstmost handmaid of the Queen of Zeal