Aphelion: A Cyberpunk-lite Web Serial

#zombie apocalypse #slow burn #cyberpunk-lite #soulmagic #soul links #a tiny bit of horror #hope in the face of darkness #rated m for language because Varrett is a potty mouth

In a world where tech runs off the concept of one’s soul and where dragons steady cosmic scales, heroes are shaped in the shadow of an ancient grudge.

Horizon’s Crown was an Earther triumph; a stage at the frontier of known space, a city of hope and dreams and infinite potential.
Then one man bit another.
Now, under the watchful eye of its orbital island, it straddles the line between dead and dying; a city of nightmares and endless sorrow.            

Varrett Vild Vickers belongs into a pilot’s chair. He’s meant to dodge asteroids, to race dragons, not chase credits so he can pay rent while HC’s major demographic clicks its teeth at him and tries to eat his face off. But it’s fine. Really. He copes.

Or that’s what he tells himself, all the way until a woman falls from the sky and turns his already upside-down life very sharply sideways. 

Armed with nothing but her worst-kept secret and a ledger of lies, Sophya Soulwright tricks her way into Horizon’s Crown, looking for redemption and for meaning to a life she never held dear.
What she finds instead is a city trying its hardest to live, and a man who courts death every step of the way. He’s infuriating, tireless, and he’s her only hope.

They wish they’d never met. 

Aphelion is a work in progress and will be updated with new chapters and behind the scenes elements as it matures. My intention is to explore Horizon’s Crown alongside Varrett and Sophya, so expect the pacing to not be ideal at times. The eventual end result will be polished accordingly!

Creating an Original Character

The Building Blocks

I’ve put together a cheat sheet based on how I begin building my characters. There’s tons of those out there already of course and a lot that go into details 500+ questions deep. But we’re not looking for a laundry list of How many siblings do they have to How do they cross the street here. Rather, we’re trying to build a foundation from which the rest of the character can grow comfortably.

It covers things like their physical description, their voice, and (most importantly) their motivation. All things you need to get you started.

Creating an original character

Who are they?

Begin by jotting down three words that represent them. Don’t overthink it. Boil them down to the essentials.

Physical:

Description. Notable Features. How do others see them?

This may be a misleading section. While description and notable features are largely straight forward, How do others see them? is one of my favourite questions to ask. Do they easily intimidate others? Are they often underestimated? If so, why? What characterizes them to others and how does the world at large treat them?

Voice:

Vocabulary. Speech Pattern. Thought Process. Ticks.

This is where the character’s voice comes from as you write them. Think about what words they use a lot. Or if they favour simple words or big words. Dig for ticks that may bleed into the narration. Do they think a lot? What do those thoughts look like? Do the ramble or keep things precise? Do they drive past a pasture and go Horse! no matter what? Those sorts of things.

Motivation:

Goals. Why? Overcome

What are their goals as the story begins and as it continues or concludes? Why are they doing what they are doing? And what do they need to overcome? 

This, in particular, is the part that will change over time and show character development. Though, really, all of the above can (and might) change. Being consistent as you build them is important so that when the change happens it matters. 

Worldbuilding: Reapers, Part 3

The busiest of Trero’s Custodian Reapers.

Red roses climbing an old brick wall.
Photo by Chantal Garnier on Unsplash

The Eins & their Einlings

Ein are creatures the size of a donkey. They are slow and sluggish and will mind their own business as they wander, almost as if the world around them isn’t of any consequence. To the point where there’s a good chance you’ll see one walking into a wall – only to do it again, hoping the wall had moved. And that is how they spend their lives. Passive. Quiet. Noses to the ground, grazing.

And a back full of Einlings.

They host up to twenty of those small, exceptionally active and playful creatures and carry them to wherever they need to be. Which, usually, means buildings. The small Einlings fit perfectly into the inner workings of structures both old and new alike, where they repair anything from wiring to more complex machinery. Not an easy task with their limited resources, which means they often hoard wire and scrap to bring back to their Ein for keeping. Which often ends with their Ein covered in all of that, the bits and pieces braided into their fur like makeshift armour.

Incidentally, if Einlings are also known as mischievous thieves, picking up anything small that isn’t nailed down and even remotely useful (or just shiny enough).

Appearance

Ein look like a wide-backed cross between a donkey and a sheep. They have floppy ears, stubby tails, and cloven hooves. A coat of long, curled wool covers them from head to hoof and a layer of feathers spreads across their back.

Unfortunately, the wool can grow so unruly it often covers their eyes. Fortunately, they have their Einlings to pull the wool back or trim it.

Einlings, on the other hand, come in all manners of variations, though here’s what they all have in common: They’re small. Lithe. Have bodies that resemble squirrels or ferrets, and nimble, three-fingered hands with opposable thumbs. Some have wings allowing them short flight and others strong tails that grow out a meter long (which is a few times the actual Einling’s size). And then there are those that have very large, wide ears and those that have antlers – and some that have all of the above combined. Their bodies are covered in short, soft fur coming in browns and blacks and whites and some have feathers. But not all.
Einlings also have a peculiar set of teeth: Half their mouth is equipped with small, sharp teeth and the back where there might be molars are instead flat, sharp cutters they use to cut through wires.

Symbolizm

Einlings represent childish joy. Their likeness is often turned into good luck charms and frequently adorn children’s bedrooms.

In turn, Ein are often associated with parenting and providing. Orphanages tend to feature them in one way or the other.

Worldbuilding: The Ward

An image of a sphere suspended in a circle by a set of chains.

Vigilance. Protection. Servitude. 

Between the Dawnfall and the Calamity, Trero’s population was left in shambles. 

Civil wars. Warlords. The culling of Sare. A constant fear of another Reaping. And, of course, the dread of the Rain of Fire ending everyone and everything. It wasn’t until a group of nobles and their knights decided to band together and turn the tide against the despair sweeping the lands, that Trero finally saw hope again. 

The (since then fallen) houses of vil Faer and vil Carne are credited to have been at the heart of the Ward’s creation. They’ve designed its crest and coloured its banners and wrote down its first charters. 

The Ward was formed for three reasons:

  • Regain control of the lands after the second recorded Reaping (the Calamity)
  • Prevent the next Reaping and find a way to stop the Rain of Fire
  • Turn the world away from culling the Sare and, instead, control them and put them to work. 

The colours

All of the Ward’s heraldry is designed around their sigil as well as three colours. 

Rich Red: Protection
Vivid Green: Vigilance
Gentle Ocher: Servitude 

If you ask Trindram (or any Sare, really), oppression and terror never received any colours, but remain a part of their creed. 

Organization and Governance

The Ward is an independent group of marshalls spread across every corner of Trero. Their word is law and they bow to no one. Not kings, nobles, or even the once in a while odd wanna-be emperor. 

Divided into chapters, each group has either a specific purpose or is assigned to a particular region. 

Such as:

Knights to the 1st chapter. Designated as the overseeing body of the entire Ward, including the prosecution of their own members who violate their laws.
Knights to the 2nd. Dedicated to preventing Reapings and the prophesized Rain of Fire
Knights to the 9th. The Range’s chapter in the north.

Ranks and how to tell them apart

The Ward has a relatively flat rank structure, beginning with its council made from envoys of each chapter and moving through knight captains, knights, and eventually ending with the Sare under their thumb. Every six years, a steward is elected from the currently acting envoys to take on a governing role.

  • Envoys and stewards wear two-shouldered, short capes. The colour and embroidery vary based on their chapters. Often, if the chapter belongs to a region, it will include the envoy’s home sigil. 
  • Knight Captains, the highest military rank, wear a short, single-shouldered red cape on their left. This is meant to represent their role as protectors and guardians of all. 
  • Knights, the most common rank, wear the same, except in green, representing the Ward’s constant vigilance.
  • Sare pressed into their service receive a simple, ocher cape which they wear on their right shoulder. Sare with a specific talent, such as Medica, are further identified with their designated colour stitched on the shoulder cape.

Worldbuilding: Reapers, Part 1

Apex

Or, as the common folk call them, dragons. The original namesake of what’s nowadays simple referred to as Reapers and oftentimes whispered of as Guardians, though no one knows any more what they are meant to be guardians of. 

Apex is a name they’ve earned from how all other Reapers— gentle tillers to any of the rowdy Devils —submit to them. Well, almost all of them. Old tales whisper about the Grim, a type of Reaper that came and went during the Glitch, who don’t answer to anyone. Not even an Apex.

Status and Religion

Dragons are, generally, revered. For one, they are the ones who come collect the dead (man or Reaper alike) and carry them to walk the Trails forevermore — or cast those unworthy onto Hell. What constitutes unworthy is up to debate.

But they don’t only take. They also bring Reapers down, plucking them from the Trails or from Hell (if they’re Devils – seeing a pattern yet?). 

Hard to not revere something that crosses the threshold between life and death with nothing but a few wingbeats. 

Myths 

Lady Death’s Servants

When Elaya courted Lady Death, her gift to her were stars she’d plucked from the skies. Not just any stars. She’d blessed them with life, and after a short while, the stars hatched the first flock of dragons, made to serve Lady Death forevermore. 

End-Enders

Others say that dragons were the creatures that slept at Elaya’s feet as she wove life from her dress and have since then watched over all she’s touched. And when the Rain of Fire comes, man will be judged by how they’ve treated them. Treat them wrongly and they’ll leave mankind to burn. Treat them right, and they’ll whisk everyone away in time. I’m currently taking suggestions on what the religion that spawned from this belief is called 😀

Appearance

Dragons also stand out from other Reapers by not one being quite like the other. The exception being Einlings, who are even more aggressively unique, but more on those another time. Dragons vary in sizes, some just about the height of a draft horse, while others stand as tall as a two story building. 

Their skin colours range from pale grey to blood red and the wildest of pink. And their feathers can come in any colour imaginable. Sometimes all at once, because if you’re a dragon you don’t need to choose. 

Where some have horns, others don’t. Those that do may have no more than a few blunt knobs on their skulls — or sport long, intricately twisted antlers. It can go either way or anywhere between.

But there are a few things all of them have in common: Sharp teeth and sharp claws. 

Personality / Aggression 

There aren’t a lot of people out there crazy enough to seek out a dragon to pick a fight with it, or to stand in its way with harmful intent. Unless they’re waiting to die. 

Because dragons are ferocious when challenged. Territorial. And they hold a grudge. While dragon hunting is outright banned by the Ward, there are hunters who make it their life’s goal to take one down, whether its for glory alone or some promise of unimaginable wealth. Wealth that they won’t ever be able to spend, as even if they succeed in killing one, their fates are sealed. There isn’t a corner on the map they can hide in where another dragon won’t find them and pay them back in turn. 

And after that they are left to rot where they died, as the only bodies dragons won’t carry to the skies are those of the people who’ve wronged them. 

Ferocious or not though, dragons are also cited to be fair. Depending on who you ask, many will tell you that a dragon knows right from wrong. That they’re merciful. That they’ll go out of their way to answer a call for help from a child in danger and that they’ve traded old lives for youth during a Reaping. 

Symbolizm 

Dragons and marks inspired by them often represent strength and honour. Although for the most part? They are heralds of death and judgement, servants to Lady Death. 

Worldbuilding: Trero's Calendar and Ages

I can draw lines!

I made dis! ( ^∇^) A Calendar (at least a draft of it) and a timeline documenting Trero’s ages. This baseline will help drive me insane as I try to keep my facts straight and flesh out Trero’s history further.

Eras and Ages:

Trero’s recorded eras are divided in two: What’s now called the Golden Dawn and anything that came after. 

82 years before Dawnfall: The Rain of Fire prophecy fell into the minds of all Dreamers. 
It took no more than two minutes – two minutes in which life stopped for every Dreamer, no matter how faint their gift. Two minutes in which they watched fire rain from the sky and set Trero ablaze. After that, life changed. All that mattered from there on out was to find a way to stop what’s yet to come.

Year 0: Dawnfall
Also known as the 1st Reaping. At what’s ever since been known as the peak of civilisation, the Reapers gave their name a new, but very fitting, meaning. They turned on mankind and tore it all down.

Year 500: The Calamity
2nd Reaping. Mankind was stubborn. They tried to rekindle what they lost and only found another Reaping waiting at the height of their efforts.

Year 965: Hellfall
Pieces of Hell fell from the skies in what many believed to be the Rain of Fire. It wasn’t.

Year 1790: The Glitch
3rd Reaping. A short, but much more brutal Reaping than any that’d come before. It brought humanity to the brink of extinction before it ended just as suddenly as it began.
 
Year 2080: The Folly
4th Reaping. With most of Trero still recovering from the Glitch, an Emperor rose in the East, marching from the Eye and across both the Belt and the Grief with only one purpose: Unite Trero and bring about another Golden Dawn. His wars and conquests brought both chaos and order. And his ambition another Reaping. 

Year 2097: Beginning of A Shielding Thing

Calendar / The Year

A year is divided into 10 months. All but one are 36 days long.

  • Frosthold
  • Tre’s Thawing
  • Tiern’s Bloom
  • Hausk
  • Eastmarch
  • Ais (the shortest month at 18 days)
  • Dragon’s Flight
  • Vets
  • Ro’s Luck
  • Comharth

The Turns (weeks)

Days are grouped into turns. The first turn sees Hell rising in the south and falling in the north over the span of 9 days. Then follow 9 days without it, but in which the position of Trero’s rings (The Trails) are used to indicate the passage of time.

A turn in which Hell is in the skies follows a simple naming method:

  • Hellrise
  • 2nd day of Hellrise
  • 3rd day of Hellrise
  • Crescent
  • 1st day of Hellset 
  • 2nd day of Hellset
  • 3rd day of Hellset
  • Hellset

A turn without Hell often has individual naming conventions depending on the region, sometimes named after kings, lesser gods, or even Reapers.  

And that’s that. Lots more work for me to do, but at least now I know where to plant all my history lore. Right?

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