described and transcribed in text
On a paved road on a clear day, among trees and mountains, travels Hain. She is a young woman resembling a deer, pale yellow-beige with a short mane of hair, large pointed ears, and an oblong nose. She wears boots and a dull green knee-length dress with long flared sleeves. The dress has a collar like a turtleneck sweater, but a deep V neckline beneath that, framing a pendant that appears to be one half of a round golden medallion. She rides standing on a personal vehicle that looks like the fusion of a kick scooter and a travel suitcase, but is self-propelled.
Coasting too fast down a steep slope, bracing her knees against the case with some alarm, Hain thinks: "My go-case isn't really made for the hills. If these grades get any steeper, I'm going to have to walk it down."
She approaches within view of a small town built on the side of a mountain, at the end of a long bridge across a ravine. The buildings are an assortment of solid bright pastel colors. "This would be Bybridge. It isn't much farther to the city, but I'll want to spend some time in a town like this, where they notice everyone in the world passing through."
Rolling into town, she thinks, "Looks pleasant enough. It even smells like..." She pauses to identify the sweet scent, then suddenly finishes her thought aloud, yelling, "Fresh root bread! Where?"
The answer comes from a small lawn beside her where two older gentlemen are in the middle of a game. The taller of them says, "Just downhill and left 'round under; little orange place, can't miss it. And how-de-day to you too."
(The gentlemen are playing a form of lawn bowls using heavily-weighted octahedra that won't roll very far, which is practical when you live on a mountain and don't want to lose them. Each has a few faces of the opposing color, and the rules of "knock-ocks", as it is called, reward collisions that change the lie of "ocks" already on the field. They are not dice per se, as skilled players can make throws that do not entirely leave the result to chance, and this is encouraged.)
Hain, hastily folding up her go-case: "Oh, hi! Thank you! Sorry, I got excited."
"Understandable!" the old man cheerfully replies. "This'd be the last batch of the day, still warm now. So don't let us slow you down!"
Already in motion, she calls back, "Thanks double! Nice to meet you!" and heads down the stairs with her go-case slung on her back. "Sun alive," she mutters excitedly to herself, "it must be years since I've had a root bread."
(Root bread, as the name implies, is a baked treat made with the same kinds of tree flavorings that we use in beverages such as root beer and birch beer. The flora of Hain's world are not always exactly the same as ours, but if you want to try to make your own root bread, first consult what others have written on the subject of baking with soft drinks, and good luck.)
She soon finds the bakery, which is indeed a little orange place with a purple awning. The jolly proprietor standing in front of his goods resembles what we would know as a moai from Easter Island. He wears a band tied around his brow, a T-shirt, and a purple apron that in large square letters identifies him as Moey.
Moey: "Hey buddy. What'll you like?"
Hain: "A bun of root bread, please, and another when I finish it until I say otherwise!"
Moey: "You got it!"
Moey: "You headed for the city?"
Hain: "Yup. Personal quest. I'm not in a hurry, though. This is a lovely town you have."
With her foot, she slides one of the stools, which are on rails set into the pavement, out from under the counter.
Moey: "Sure is! Here you go. Just like they make it in Sylvany." He holds out a shiny red-brown roll dotted with tiny red seeds and half-wrapped in paper.
Hain takes a big bite. "I was in Sylvany the last time I had one," she says happily with her mouth full, "and you are not wrong."
Moey: "Glad to hear you say it. Anything changed since Rhomb-twenty?"
Hain: "Well, they finished building that 'civic nexus' place. It's nice, but mostly only because walking through it is better than having to walk around it was."
(The Fair Continental Calendar consists of thirty-year phases denoted with a cycle of simple shapes. It was designed to ameliorate the stress people invest in numerical milestones, by dividing time into portions that are too long to be defined by cultural fashions, as happens with decades, but too short to elicit the hysterical significance assigned to the turn of a century. Opinions are mixed on whether it has helped as intended, but it has been established for long enough to resist changing again.
In reality, it exists so that the author does not have to track story time to fit into a concrete timeline. You are not going to find out exactly how long ago Rhomb-twenty is. It doesn't matter.)
Hain: "Past that, I couldn't say. I've been away for some time too. Traveling all over. Good memories of my time there, but if I had my pick of one to reappear in my path, this would be it!"
Moey: "Yeah, I should go visit when I have the time. Setting up here was the greatest thing for me, though. Back in Sylvany you can get root bread on every corner. Success has near nothing to do with quality and everything to do with location." He spreads his arms, looking out at the mountain vista. "Well, here's my location! You can't beat the view, right? Out here, I get to make the best first impression for folks trying a new thing. And of course someone like you rolls through now and then who's real happy to see me. If I were to pick up an apprentice, they could open a place in the city and be set up so easy!"
Moey casts his gaze down toward Hain's pendant. "Speaking of it, Patina is a nice city, but it isn't like Sylvany. It's put together sloppy and the laws have weak spots. So when you go, you may want to hide that away if it's valuable."
Hain: "Oh, yeah, this? It is my most valued possession, but I have devised my own precautions. There's actually a reason I keep it on display all the time."
Up close, light traces mazelike structures all over the semicircular artifact. The roughness of the break along its bottom edge is evident. "My family has had the thing for ages," Hain continues. "It's still the most intricate piece of solidwork I've ever seen, and nobody has been able to figure out what it was supposed to do. It doesn't help that half of it is missing, of course."
As Hain continues, an assortment of memories — a ferryboat, a park bench, a cocktail bar — reflect that she has exposited this to many people before. "That's the quest, obviously. What little lore there is only implies that whoever puts it back together will find it very rewarding... and all the signs suggest it may have to be me if it's going to be anyone. But I have no clues of where to look. So it would be convenient if someone observant could say, 'Hey, I met a charming and attractive person carrying a thing very much like that one,'...to whichever of us they meet second."
In the present, Moey is handing her a paper cup of water. "Yeah? You suppose it'll be as romantic as that?"
Hain sighs, "Not in that sense, no. It's much more likely I'd have to fight them for it, and vastly more likely I will be digging it out of a grave somewhere. Still."
Moey: "Well, don't worry about repeating yourself. This town likes to talk. Everyone here should know your name by tomorrow morning, if that's what you want. And if you tell us your name, that is."
"Super, I did hope so. And I'm Hain!" She points to some pastries. "Now what are those there?"
Moey: "The lemon twists, yeah? Big regional thing. They normally use white puff, but I make mine with root bread, and it goes real well!"
"Hit me," says Hain, decisively.
"A twist for Hain, then! And thaaaaauuuuhhhhhh—" Moey freezes as he glimpses the pastry he has just picked up, a look of panic spreading across his face, and then, just as suddenly, he flings it with great force out over the counter. The lemon twist is propelled far over the wall and into the valley below.
Hain sits in shocked silence for a moment before speaking. "If that was what you thought I meant by 'hit me,' that went very wide. Also, it was not."
Moey begins to ramble anxiously, "Sorry, that one was uhh burnt on the bottom, wouldn't want to serve you that, no good for anyone but the bugs, the wildlife I mean, don't know why I would mention insects in particular, no reason, that's why."
Hain glances at the wall beside the counter, and briefly studies a square plaque hung there. It is filled with a somewhat complex sigil of connected lines and curves. "Okay, well, for no reason," she says, "I should mention that I'm fairly handy at flatwork, and I think I see how to fix your bug ward."
Moey slumps, lets go of his breath, and says, "Buddy I will clear your tab just for trying."
(The technological craft of this world, based in magical effects invoked and directed by shapes, is divided by medium into two categories. Devices forged in three-dimensional materials are known as solidwork or solidry. Creations applied to a two-dimensional surface are known as flatwork, and nothing else, on the insistence of its practitioners, like Hain, who all have had to hear the same joke, "go into solidry because flattery will get you nowhere," so many times in school that they never want to hear the word again.)