Isolation

“Saerr has bestowed great boons upon us,” Teacher said. He gestured at the ceiling, where a great globe of stone bathed the room in honey-colored light. “Without the power of his artifice and the knowledge he has granted to our people, we would not be able to thrive underground.”

Teacher had brought us on a trip out of the classroom, to one of the great caverns where our people did their farming. He said that it’s one thing to learn about stuff, but another thing entirely to go and see it for yourself.

I’ve seen this room before, of course. Most of us have. Probably all of us. But I guess I’ve never really thought about it. Not like Teacher wants.

Tekana raised her hand. Teacher nodded in her direction. “My mom says that it’s our ingen… ingentuity that keeps us going.”

“Ingenuity,” Teacher corrects. “Our artisans do take what Saerr gives us and work it further. Saerr doesn’t do our work for us. None of the gods do. But if you ask properly, they do answer.”

“My dad says Schiizar is our god,” Ebbic said. He didn’t bother to raise his hand to ask permission to speak. I frowned, because this was quite rude toward Teacher. “He says we’re supposed to hold Schiizar above all others.”

Teacher rapped the point of his cane on the hard stone beneath his feet. “We’ve talked about this, Ebbic. Raise your hand.” Ebbic began to speak once more, but Teacher silenced him with a scary look. “Schiizar is the god of the Isurics. As a people, we respect her. We are the people of the earth, and she is god of the earth and the soil, of the ground beneath our feet and the mountains above our heads. So, yes, we are Schiizar’s people.”

Teacher gestured at the globe, and then at the field of crops growing on the cavern floor, fed by its light. “But Saerr has also done great things for our people, and we must pay tribute to Lokyah where tribute is due, for the bountiful crops we grow. Without them, the Isolation could not continue.”

I don’t like the Isolation, and I don’t understand it. I guess I shouldn’t really have an opinion on it. My parents say I’m too young to understand it, and they won’t really talk about it much with me. Even Teacher hasn’t given a good lesson on it, despite all of the other things he teaches us about math and reading and history.

I thought that maybe, when he mentioned the Isolation, the lesson might turn into something unexpected. I thought maybe he was going to tell us about the reasons behind the Isolation.

“As a people, we love Schiizar,” Teacher continued. “But we must also love all of the gods, for each of them plays a role in our life. Schiizar is but one part of the Aurelian Ennead.”

So, he did not do as I had hoped. We learned of the Isurians, a bit. Just enough to know that they existed, that they were taller and slimmer than us, and that, so Teacher said, their politics were unnecessarily complicated. Teacher tended to be quite neutral about everything he taught, but in this I could tell that, for some reason, he didn’t like the Isurians.

Tekana raised her hand politely. She was the most given to asking questions out of the whole class. “What about Roahc? He’s god of air and the sky. What does he have to do with us?”

“Well, you breath the air, don’t you?” Teacher asked. “How long can you hold your breath?”

Tekana shrugged. “Not very long, I guess.”

“Roahc aids us by bringing fresh air through the vents we’ve carved into the mountain,” Teacher said. “Without him, we would use up all the good stuff in the air, and breathing it would be just as bad as not breathing at all.”

This was something I disliked about Teacher. He would hint at something tantalizing, and then refuse to further explain it, especially if he thought we shouldn’t know about it until we were older.

We all knew about the Isolation. We knew that the King had imposed it, and that all the adults supported it. But we had not reached the age where they would tell us why. Why bother even teaching us about the Isurians and the other races of the outside world, if we weren’t ever going to interact with them?

Two things bothered me about the Isolation. One was the fact that the adults wouldn’t talk about it, and certainly wouldn’t question it. The other was the fact that my fellow students seemed unconcerned. Even Tekana, with her constant questions, rarely asked about the Isolation.

To them, it was just a fact of life, “the way things are.” I didn’t like that. I didn’t think we should have to accept something just because it is the way that it is. Maybe I didn’t ask my questions out loud, but I asked more of them than Tekana or anyone else in the class. Someday, I knew I would go looking for answers of my own, even if it meant breaking the Isolation.

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