“How did these idiots ever manage to conquer the Hoeraija?”
“Well, there are several ideas about that, actually.”
Kael did not jump. She had not lived as long as she had without learning how to remaining calm no matter what snuck up on her. But she did turn around slowly with a raised eyebrow.
The woman who had let her in was standing behind her, looking a little abashed. “Sorry. I realized after I said something that you were talking to yourself. But, ah, we’re closing up. So if you want, I’ll tell you about the theories while I walk you to the door?”
She was a lovely young woman, Kael noted, in what had to be the “conqueror” mold, with large eyes the color of dark chocolate. Her short hair was worn spiked up all over her head, which wasn’t a style Kael had seen before.
She smiled as fetchingly as she remembered how to at the woman. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you were closing. I’d love to hear your theories.”
“I’m Gemma, by the way. You’re Kael, it says – or is that who you play at the museum?”
“A little of both, by an accident of faith. The door is… this way?” She guessed, and was glad to see she wasn’t too far off.
“Near that. Over here. So, one of the ideas is that the technologies – and the magic – were just so different that they were incompatible. The Hoija who came here first barely used potions at all; to them, they were something that made food taste better and, on rare occasion, could heal someone or cure a minor disease. They didn’t really believe when the Hoija were talking about buildings built with potions, because that wasn’t what you did with them. On the other hand, the Hoija didn’t use anything like the trebuchets or people-lifters – why bother when you have a potion – so they underestimated with the, ah, invaders, could do with their machines.”
“That’s, well. That’s an interesting theory, but it wasn’t as if the Hoeraija didn’t have mechanisms, or know other people who used them. After all, they spent a lot of time at war with the Lerienoija.”
“That’s the flaw in that theory,” Gemma admitted cheerfully. “Because some archaeologists have found some remarkably advanced technology in ancient Hoija settlements – the ones that were further away from Hoijera cities, at least. Which leads to the second theory, but one that’s not very popular.”
“What’s that?” They were passing some lifelike replicas of people in what Kael had determined people thought was every-day Hoeraija wear. They must have gotten it out of a combination of funeral garb and ceremonial jewelry, from the looks of it
“Well. There is this suggestion that the Hoija let the invading groups win. Nobody’s quite sure why they would have, but it explains the dichotomy – well, a couple different dichotomies, actually. The first is the one we were discussing, that the Hoija seem more technologically advanced than early invasion forces seem to indicate by almost an order of magnitude. The second is that the Hoija were never exactly conquered. They’re here; the ‘invaders’ are technically in charge, but, well I don’t need to tell you this, do I? I mean ah-”
“Please do, though. I love to hear other viewpoints.”
Especially when it was from an era she had slept through.
“Ah, well. Here, I need to lock up. Do you have plans?” Her expression was pretty clear on her hopes for the answer.
Kael hoped her smile wasn’t too knowing. “Just getting a feel for the city. I just got in today.”
“And right to work, wow! Well, I have a favorite pub and it’s right next to my favorite park, so if you’ve got some time…?”
“That sounds lovely. Shall I wait outside?”
“Oh, no, I’m sure it’s fine. So, let’s see. The Hoija of today will talk about being invaded, which they were, and sometimes someone will say conquered, but even I can notice that it’s said sort of sideways. I don’t know what happened. I don’t think, as an outsider, they’ll ever tell me…”
It was a hint. Kael could tell that even without the cute glance in her direction. “Sadly, I’m not Hoeraija either, so I don’t really know.”
“Oh! Oh, I’m sorry, I just-”
“It’s fine.” Kael felt both embarrassment and a little thrill of unkind enjoyment. “Really. It’s fine. Not many people around here have heard of my people, it seems like. And it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been mistaken for Hoeraija. Not so much that they’ll share their secrets with me, though. I’m still an outsider.”
“Ah, well. I guess that makes sense. Do you ever get ‘so what are you?’” She made a face. “I get that, sometimes, from people who can’t … I don’t know. They think I’m this or that but they can’t really tell, and the answer is ‘all of the above’ and ‘none of the above’ all at once and… oh, I’m talking your ear off.”
“I think that was the point.” Kael smiled warmly at Gemma, glad the embarrassment had passed. “Do you have to flip a switch or-”
“Here we go.” Gemma typed in a long code, body angled to hide the code-pad from Kael. “So you don’t mind all the talking?”
“I have never, ever minded talking. And to answer your last question – not in a long time. I developed the sort of stern looking-down-on-people that makes them think twice before asking me questions like that.”
“I wish I had that.”
“Well.” Kael found her smile growing. “Perhaps I will teach you.”