Engia, home of a new Antilla railway spur, was clearly not designed as a place to live. The locals are happy enough, which isn’t saying much. The local religion blends elements of Confucianism and Hinduism. Accepting your lot in life is a big part of it.
It’s not a harsh place. It’s colorful, friendly and comfortable, if perhaps a hair crass, like a really good Chinese restaurant. But that doesn’t mean you’d want to stay there days on end.
The Shadow is geographically bland. There is mostly plain and two long, sinuous rivers. Very well suited for laying out a railway, like the spur from Antilla. There is considerable mineral wealth, which makes it easy to find raw materials. Go a bit further, and you find lush forests where both Robin Hood and Tarzan might feel at home. Go even further yet, and you find yourself emerging from the other side. The locals don’t mind this Möbius strip geography. Part of their world view is that almost all things are cyclic.
“Almost” is because their mythology states that the gods carved the peoples of Engia to serve and honor them. Service is simple – if a god shows up, do what he tells you. Honor is by creating in turn. Whatever stratum of the caste system an Engian hails from, he or she practices some art on the side – music, dance, painting, textiles, cooking…
Gods are easy to recognize, since the Engians are themselves unusual. Their mythology declares that the people were carved from iron, nickel, cobalt or gadolinium – in order of increasing importance. So caste is obvious from whether someone is dark grey, light grey, blue or white. Gods have “flesh like beasts” but it’s hard to feel that’s an insult when the locals are eager to please. They believe serving a god is the highest possible honor.
Whites are nobility. Their whim is law, except when a god is talking. What they wear is mostly jewelry and chains of precious metal. They make up about 0.5 percent of the population. Under their customs, each white is personally responsible for about 200 others. They run the schools, which everyone attends, and teach literacy and mathematics.
Blues are warriors and hunters. They wear leather armor and favor distance weapons – bows and crossbows, whips, quarterstaffs. They make up about ten percent of the population.
Light greys are merchants and farmers, and dark greys are laborers. They wear cloth. In a fight, they serve as infantry. Light greys are a third of the total population, and the remainder are dark greys.
So on average, a white has 20 blues, 66 light greys, and 134 dark greys reporting to him or her. There’s intermarriage, but progeny may be of either parent’s caste. Marriages are informal arrangements. Common-law marriages are the norm.
Now if you’re fond of chemical trivia, you may have twigged that the four metals associated with the castes are all magnetic. And a magnetic personality means something particular to the Engians. Members of a higher caste just have to will it, and lower castes in the area get drawn to them and hang on their every word as if mesmerized – and mesmerism was called animal magnetism once upon a time. It makes for an orderly world when the rulers keep control not by brute force but by fundamental physical force.
Hand a local a refrigerator magnet, and they get buzzed as if from a good beer. Turn on a scrapyard magnet, and a wild party ensues. But technology is steam belt, although anything works here, as electric motors never caught on. The locals keep a respectful and watchful distance from the Antilla train.
There’s not much economy. It’s a fairly medieval set-up. Economy is barter. Of course, visiting gods just have to ask for what they want. They’re not required to make sense.