The mountain folk had almost been forgotten. Ancient legends of the craggy, rough-hewn dwarves, the forgers of wonders – occasionally reinforced by the tales of a mortal who stumbled somehow into the deep caverns – were all that remained.
This could not continue. The swarming human artificers had learned to substitute numbers and specialization for the individual genius of the Exalted and the Elder Races. Their works encircled the world and the probing of their instruments would – sooner or later – penetrate the ancient wards which had concealed the realms of the mountain folk for long ages. Some few among the Artisan Caste foresaw this, and laid plans.
One took action.
Glimmer-Of-Crystal also recalled ancient legends. The humans possessed little of the individual might of the Elder Ones – but they multiplied, spread, adapted, and endured. What power they had they joined together, cooperating and bargaining, becoming greater than any individual among them.
They could share a spark of that power with a consort.
Eric Lugard never discovered who the strange, beautiful woman who’d come to him one night on the mountainside had been. Later he came to dismiss the memory of that night as the result of altitude sickness. He had been a long way up the mountain and had been climbing without oxygen.
No matter how real it had seemed, how could a lovely naked woman have gotten there?
Vere Lugard was frail and slow to mature compared to the quarried youth of the mountain folk. Still, a bit of properly directed essence-manipulation toughened him up nicely – no matter how oddly the other Artisan’s regarded her peculiar hobby. Besides, the boy was – interesting. More sociable and adaptable than she would have believed possible. He could even use Artifacts of all five magical materials, instead of being limited to the Jade of his heritage.
Well, there were a few items in the vaults that were of no use to anyone else.
Vere always did lag desperately in crafting – but that wasn’t what his Mother had wanted him to specialize in anyway. The Jadeborn had plenty of crafters.
She’d wanted someone to serve as a representative and liaison with humanity – someone who’d have more in common with mortals than the children of Autochthon and who might, perhaps, bring a fragment of that frantic human energy to the Artisan Caste.
Vere was almost exactly what she’d wanted. Pleasant to have around, tough and strong enough to impress – and to survive almost any “accidental” violations of diplomatic immunity – loyal to the Jadeborn, and so fairminded and determined that it hurt.
It threw a slight crimp into things when he Exalted just before he’d been due to leave – that too was an event out of legend – but the council decided that, as long as he kept quiet about it, it shouldn’t hurt. It might even be useful.
Glimmer-Of-Crystal wasn’t going to let some random act-of-Lytek disrupt a plan she’d been working on for twenty years anyway. It delayed things for a few weeks while the boy got some hurried lessons in handling his new power – but Solar charms were virtually instinctive anyway, at least according to the ancient records. A good thing, since they’d preferred to teach him to use Artifacts (which could be tailored precisely to the situation) rather than teaching him charms.
Vere had gotten very good at Thaumaturgy as a small boy anyway: it let him craft minor magical items and work small feats in imitation of the greater wonders all around him. It was a foundation of sorts. He developed a rather – odd – selection of charms, but he learned to control his power quickly enough.
Vere had to exert himself considerably to convince the surface authorities that he was there to represent a realm, and a race, out of legend – but he managed eventually.
The ensuing negotiations took quite a while – but the deal offered so many advantages that it was mostly a matter of details. The surface-dwellers would gain access to the superlative, if one-of-a-kind, enchanted creations of the Jadeborn, while the mountain folk would gain access to the mass-produced technology of the surface.
That combination would later lead to the first practical FTL drive system.
The negotiations were winding down – and Vere was visiting home to verify some final details – when the Keraph struck. Such periodic eruptions of the monsters of the depths were a periodic nuisance – but it was rare for them to penetrate so far.
Far enough to put Vere in the middle of a skirmish.
The council was rather shocked… They’d known that Vere was powerful enough to be a credit to Glimmer-Of-Crystal, that there was a certain synergy between Humans and the Jadeborn – and they knew something of the Solar Exalted – but power like that!?!
Some wanted him given some real military training. A circle of well-armed Exalted might be just the thing to purge some of the ancient cysts within the earth.
A few secretly wanted him dead – even if they weren’t too sure how to go about it.
Most simply wanted him a long ways away for awhile.
The Starship program offered a way to accommodate everyone. Even the ones who wanted him dead felt that the universe – and starship weapons – might do it for them.
They got him a berth as communications officer, liaison and representative for the Jadeborn – and morale officer – on one of the first long-range probe/patrol vessels.