The lobby of the ouranography wing is a wide oval, with the ceiling high enough for the room to have its own dim haze of natural light. The center of the lobby is filled with a map of the known world, continents and islands strung on wires to form a cloud of data. The larger landmasses are made of glass, with internal cave systems traced in translucent dyes.
Zivlihu walks through the display, avoiding the south side where the large continents are clustered, weaving her way among the archourano of smaller, sparser islands to the north. The islands at the very nothernmost edge are unpainted gray stone, the silhouettes of masses that have never been touched but only seen. She lifts a hand toward one absentmindedly, and is interrupted by a polite cough from the stogau on duty. She lowers her hand, flushing, and turns away, mumbling an apology.
She makes her way to one of the adjoining rooms. The center of the room is, again, a map; this one is built at closer scale, and represents a small section of the northlying islands. Along the walls, drawings and artifacts display a cross-section of "the local culture".
This phrasing is somewhat misleading. The smaller landmasses in the northlands cannot support populations of more than five to twenty people each, and their sparseness keeps communications between them slow. There is little opportunity for a society to form, and tastes and styles tend strongly to be individual rather than collective.
Mail service in the northern islands is highly irregular, reads a plaque. A given island may be visited by a postal blimp twice in a single week, or there may be a gap of nearly a year. This is of course untrue; in reality, the mailblimp visits on a perfectly predictable monthly schedule. It was the only reason that Zivlihu's family owned a calendar. She writes a short note to this effect, leaves it with the stogau, and departs.
Two years later, Zivlihu tires of the Seltcha cavern-city, and signs on with the next mailblimp north. She spends the next six months washing the bowls and scrubbing the floors and (once she proves herself trustworthy) sorting the envelopes. After that, her minimum tour of duty is discharged, and she persuades the captain to let her off on an empty island.
She unimaginatively names the place Nintum, and sets about making the place into a home.
Five years pass. She has a small house of brick and stone, a respectable vegetable garden, a small but serviceable shrub garden, and enough stores in the basement to last out a bad harvest. She keeps in letters to her family and friends.
She starts selling blackberry jam and shrubwood paper, and with the money subscribes to a periodical of amateur poetry, though the editors politely decline to publish her own efforts. She composes formula-drawings for straightedge and compass, for a sister publication; these are somewhat better received, and she earns fifty rupnu and a lifetime subscription.
She also begins to receive letters from readers of the art journal. A woman sends her a tiny blue gem; a man sends her a packet of exotic seeds; someone else sends her a bit of verse; others simply extend their admiration. Zivlihu tries not to resent the poetry for being rather better than her own, and writes polite thank-you letters to each of them.
A few of them respond, and gradually become friends.
Five more years pass.
Zivlihu begins to regret the name Nintum, but it's become known widely enough that she's no longer willing to change it. The place is well-kept enough that the mailblimp workers will waive postage in exchange for her permission to take shore leave there, and they exchange stories while walking around the gardens.
The formula-drawing periodical starts running a column for grid-plan drawing-formulas – only the formulas, not the drawings themselves. Zivlihu builds herself a light-table, so that she can copy the images.
One of the better ones turns out to have been composed by one of her mailfriends, and in her next letter she tells him so. He mentions that he lives in an artists' colony about two weeks to the south, and extends an invitation to move there.
The offer is tempting. A proper community, small enough to feel comfortably northlandish, but fast enough for a real conversation. She tells him she'll think about it, and spends the next month waffling.
By the time the mailboat comes back, she has decided. When it leaves, she goes with it.
(Written (slightly over deadline (again (sigh))) for day 3 of the PICO Jam. 757 words vs. 750 words minimum.)