Distant Reaches - Bartleby Amongst the Squam

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Bartleby Amongst the Squam

Bartleby Amongst the Squam
Dr. Bartleby's satchel, which contained his final journals and other personal effects. It was acquired through trade with a Salavaster merchant.

Final journal entries from Professor Dorian Bartleby

Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from the final journals of Professor Dorian Bartleby (381-445 AE). Bartleby went missing in 444 AE, and this excerpt comes from his final journal acquired through trade with a Salavaster merchant who claimed to have received it from another vendor. While our understanding of Salavaster culture has advanced since Professor Bartleby’s time, his journals provide insight into an isolated clan that has either diminished or translocated.

Salavasters are lizardfolk that live primarily on Salas Islands, or Spice Islands in layman’s terms. Salavasters trade actively throughout the realm, making isolation rare for them and their clans. I managed to convince one isolated clan, Clan Squam, to allow me to dwell amongst them for a time. A miracle to most, I know. But for a professor of my stature, it is a matter of skill and perseverance. The Amal Empire can only advance by understanding the nature of all creatures, from the Salavasters to even the Rilk’gar.

My research indicates there have been no records of Clan Squam trading with any known human settlements throughout the Amal Empire! Clan Squam only trades with other Salavsters and even has a slightly different system of self-government from most other clans to my knowledge. Clan Squam has a hierarchal system, where the elder is highly respected, but is not a leader. That role would be the chieftain. An elder serves instead as an advisor, ambassador, and emissary for their clan.

After some time with Clan Squam — throughout much of which I was pointedly ignored by most clan members — I asked my contact Sskol if it would be possible to meet with the chieftain. In order for this to occur, I needed for the Squam elder, Plooss, to vet me and approve such an audience. And I would need to impress Plooss for them to even consider this.

To prepare me for my meeting with Plooss, Sskol taught me a number of Squam customs. I was not to look the chieftain directly in the eyes, for it is a sign of a challenge, and I must always walk in a zig-zag pattern.

Furthermore, when approaching the chieftain, I would be required to crawl on all fours, head down. If and only if the chieftain called on me to raise my head, I would be permitted to gaze upon the chieftain — but still disallowed from looking them in the eye.

Afterward, the chieftain would offer me an “iggy fruit.” It is shaped roughly like a dragon fruit, but its leaves are several inches long, with a peculiar shine in low light. It can only be grown underground and takes years to ripen, but I’ve been told one iggy can keep a Salavaster full for weeks — hence why it is also commonly eaten by the caretakers of unhatched Salavaster eggs throughout the seven-year incubation process.

It is a mark of high honor and esteem to receive an iggy fruit. Sskol themself had never tasted one, and for a non-Salavaster to receive one? I knew this could immensely benefit human-Salavaster relations, not to mention my own repute!

My first meeting with Plooss seemed to go very well, but afterward Sskol told me the elder was not convinced of my readiness to meet the chieftain. However, Sskol insisted, this was not the failure Sskol had assumed it would be: Plooss had asked to meet me once again the next day, which Sskol took to be an encouraging sign.

When Plooss and I met once more, I did nothing different that I could tell, but it was enough to convince them I was ready to meet the Squam chieftain. They secured an audience with me and their chieftain for the very next day.

Admittedly, I was very nervous to meet the Squam chieftain. I adhered to all the customs Sskol showed me and that I demonstrated to Plooss. And the chieftain did indeed call on me to raise my head.

Incredibly — and much to my joy — the chieftain did indeed offer me an iggy fruit. Raising the fruit with both hands, I proclaimed that I am forever indebted to Clan Squam and its chieftain, and that Sskol shall be my blood sibling. I spoke in the best Salavastari I could, which earned some chuckles from the hall.

I split the iggy fruit in twain, revealing its vibrant purple-pink flesh, and bit into it. As the hundreds of thin seeds dissolved in my mouth, a burning juice poured out. I had to spit it out! It tasted like rusting wastewater, and my throat tightened as if poisoned.

As I tried to rinse my mouth with water, I heard yelling. I looked up and saw Sskol and Plooss stopping five armed guards. From what I could pick up, it would seem I dishonored the both of them — along with the chieftain’s entire lineage — by spitting out the seeds.

The seeds represent eggs falling into the belly, and this custom is how partners and friendships create a lifetime bond. By spitting the seeds out, I had unintentionally rejected the new life between me and the chieftain, practically claiming I’m willing to crush any newborn before they hatch.

Sskol had told me they didn’t think the fruit could harm a human, though they had never tasted an iggy fruit before and thus could not prepare me for the taste or sensation. Plooss, being the intermediary, explained the same thing to the chieftain.

However, the chieftain’s word is law. They believed we all should have known better.

I rushed to defend Sskol, Plooss, and myself. But I made a terrible mistake: I looked the chieftain directly in the eyes, which I can only describe as opalescent and onyx, with truly incredible depth. Salavasters can see more colors than a human can, and, when you look into their eyes, it is easy to believe. But in doing so, I had challenged the chieftain to a duel. They laughed and accepted my challenge.

Needless to say, I was immediately overpowered. I was thrown into a dungeon.

I will certainly die, now, either through my own malnutrition or via some means of Squam execution. Plooss has been removed as elder and Sskol shamed, but neither has been exiled — a true relief to me, for I’m already ashamed at the trouble I brought them both.

Plooss refuses to see me. Sskol, however, visits me daily. They say they are sorry for what happened, and they consider me their blood sibling despite my disastrous meeting with the chieftain. That, at least, fills me with joy.

I asked Sskol for my journal and writing utensils to document this misadventure, hoping it will make its way to a fellow anthropologist or diplomat. Perhaps where I have failed, they can further the bond between our races.

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