Aphelion: Chapter 3, Urban Decay

In which Varrett considers therapy and has a very profound epiphany about bean bags; and we learn what the life of a Runner in Horizon’s Crown looks like.

Preview:

Varrett hauled his reluctant ass out of bed. 05:02 his bedside clock said with an obnoxious neon-orange flash of light and a quiet buzz. He swatted for it — and much like every other morning, the stupid clock dodged him. All while being perfectly immobile.

Oh, how he’d have liked to be immobile too; stay flat on his back in his room and let Horizon’s Crown do its thing out there without him for a day or two. Yep, of course he had a room. Nothing near as spacious as Naemie’s bedroom (which he’d totally been in before), but big enough for a low bed with a reasonably comfortable mattress, a desk of the orderly, yet cluttered variety, a dresser with the drawers never closed, a standing mirror in a corner, and enough floor space left to allow for one Varrett-sized klutz getting laid out face first.

Because sitting up had been one thing. Blearily rubbing at his face and forgetting he’d dropped his pants next to it? That was a different story altogether. One that ended with his feet tangled up and the floor saying Hi by smacking him in the chin.

“This is going to be an amazing day,” he mumbled into the dusty carpet and wondered if, maybe, just maybe, he should have stayed in bed.

But then who’d earn all the credits he’d thrown at Clive yesterday?

Ten minutes later, and he’d herded together his work gear, slapped it on, and was busy latching his vest shut while he sifted through a handful of messages that’d come in overnight. They scrolled by at the edge of his vision: two repair offers for the water boiler, a garage bill with a countdown crawling towards zero at the bottom of the message, three variations of Hey, V, would you mind [insert errand here], and one from Naemie with a— woah, hello —attachment. Plus a bunch of spam. Because where would civilization be if no one tried to sell you snake oil cures for the known universe’s most terrifying virus or add another inch or so to your dick?

It’d be— once and for all —over.

Read Aphelion on Ao3
Explore Aphelion on Campfire

Exploring Horizon’s Crown as I write it is so much fun. There is a lot to see and not enough words that fit into one chapter. Though what’s even better? Exploring it with Varrett. He has got just the right amount of fucks to give and his optimism helps me through the grimmer places.

I’ve also got to say I am really enjoying Campfire. It helps me keep my own facts straight and I’ve reached a point in Aphelion where that’s beginning to be really important.

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 2

Image source: Unsplash 

Devils

Today, we’ll muse about another subclass of Trero’s Reapers. The Devils. 

They are what sin created and Hell is where they’re from. It’s said that sinners and the unworthy are cast off to spend eternity with them – never to walk the Trails or have their feet touch Trero’s ground again.

Types

Devils come in a few different types. There’s Reavers. Harpies. Seadevils. Hounds. And Vek.

Reavers

When you mention Devils, the first thing that comes to mind are the Reavers. To the point where Devil and Reaver can be used interchangeably, which distresses scholars something fierce.
But there’s a good reason for that. Reavers are, undoubtedly, the most dangerous of the lot. They’re cunning. Relentless. And Reaping or not, they’ll prey on people with an enthusiasm that makes it look like they’re hunting them for sport.

Appearance

They resemble wingless, bipedal dragons, with long necks and an even longer tail to keep their balance. Feathered in mostly green and brown, they can vanish into foliage quite effectively, though not like they have to. Not with their long arms ending in claws so sharp they can slice cleanly through steel and teeth strong enough to do the same.

Behaviour

Reavers live and hunt in packs, though never in groups larger than six. They have an incredible vocal range, allowing them almost flawless vocal mimicry, which some have honed to the point of being able to fake human language. In particular because they seem to have made it their past time to hunt people for sport. Even when there’s no Reaping happening.

And they are, without contest, credited the most kills during Reapings, tearing mercilessly through villages and cities. Its what earned them the name Reaver.

Symbolizm

Fighters and gladiators often associate themselves with Reavers and like to decorate themselves in their feathers and carry marks inspired by their likeness. Aside of that, Reaver-like images are reserved to represent Devils and the consequences of a sinful life.

Harpies (Airdevils) & Seadevils

These devils are less likely to actively search out humans to hunt but are incredibly territorial. While Harpies are winged creatures of bizarre humanoid shape, Seadevils come in different shapes and sizes altogether. Some are gigantic, large enough to rival the biggest of dragons, while others are no bigger than dogs. As their name suggests, Seadevils live in Trero’s oceans, rarely moving up large rivers into the mainland. They may come looking like a twisted fish, or equipped with long, thick tentacles. Either way, they’ll attack and sink anything or anyone daring enough to sail too far out.

Symbolizm

Harpies are often associated with being unclean. Seadevils are favoured as marks for port cities as symbols of endurance.

(Sare) hounds

Sare Hounds are a very particular sort of Reaper altogether. For one, they are domesticated. Ever since the Ward has come to power, they’ve been snatching the Hounds up right after dragons bring them from Hell – which is when they are no more than small pups.

Oh, and they’re blind.

Appearance

As the name suggests, Sare Hounds look like… hounds. Large, lithe, with narrow chests and strong legs made for long distance running. They have thick, leathery skin and are mostly bald, aside of some feathering running over their head, neck, spine, and down along their long tail where they often come together in a wide plume.

Their most startling feature are their eyes. Which is to say their blind eyes. They have no pupils, rather their eyes look like thick, dark purple orbs set deep into their sockets, their surface sprinkled with gold and silver dust.

Some liken their eyes and the patterns of dust in them with the Trails. Even going as far as to say that they’ve stared at the Trails longingly for so long, they caught motes of their light in them, forever blinding them.

Behaviour

Wild Hounds roam in pairs. No one knows how those pairs form – except that one day two lonely hounds will meet and then never again part. They hunt together. Sleep in a pile. And wander and wander and wander, never staying in one place for very long.

Their meals mostly consist of regular prey animals, which, they locate with uncanny precision, though they’ll hunt people just as effectively if the opportunity arises.

It was their incredible skill at tracking – especially tracking Sare – that made the Ward begin domesticating them, training them for one purpose and one purpose alone: Recognise, find, and track Sare. Hence, Sare Hound. A task they are uniquely qualified for, as they see the world by scenting the Hem around them, picking up on every soul and imprint that flits through it. From the vivid, rich soul of a Sare, all the way down to the smallest grain of sand.

Symbolizm

Trackers and hunters like wearing marks inspired by Sare Hounds, though mostly it’ll be Ward chapters that fly banners or bear sigils that resemble their hounds.

Vek

These large, feline creatures get an honourable mention, because they aren’t exactly Reapers. Not any more, anyway. Because unlike every other Reaper out there, Vek don’t rely on dragons to carry them down from Hell. No. They have, somehow, managed to break that reliance and developed the ability to reproduce.

Now they live in family groups, mate, have kittens, and die of old age just as if they were any other normal animal.

Appearance

Vek (sometimes referred to as Sapvek) are large, feline oddities covered in short, silken fur and a plume of feathers along their spine and down their long tail. And where the feathers and the fur meet, they have a stripe of bared skin that glows an eerie blue at night and often webs out along their body like the fingers of a lightning strike.

That blue glow comes from them licking the sap of Trero’s lantern trees – the most common trees spread across the land. And the home of Vek families, who live far up in their branches from where they hunt creatures both small and large.

Worldbuilding: The Sare

An image of a hand reaching for the skies but held down by chains.

She wove life from her dress. Raised from it each blade of grass. Shed scales from its fabric with a flick and filled the waters with fish. Then she brought the birds and horses and goats, all tumbling from the folds of her dress out of the stitches made in their likeness. And last she shaped man, made to make use of what she’d built. Only to forget – for some – to cut the thread she made them of.

The majority of people on Trero are born mundane, their tether to Elaya’s sheltering hem severed. As it should be. Those who aren’t, are often referred to as the Marked. Sare. They retained their connection to it, allowing them to harness their souls.

Once looked at as more and referred to as Elaya’s children or the Lady’s messengers, Sare used to be respected, if not even thought to hold some form of divinity. Healers. Enforcers. Scholars. Bards of great renown. Sare were everywhere and to have them at court was a norm for rulers. Expected.

Dawnfall changed all of that.

The cataclysmic event is largely blamed on the Sare and with that blame came the witch-hunts and the cullings. For generations, any child born a Sare was marked not only for their connection with the Hem, but, ultimately, for death. 

It took until the Ward came into full power that outright killing a Sare fell out of fashion and their subjugation began. Now, being Sare, to be Marked, means a loss of one’s freedom, if not one’s life once your usefulness has worn out or you’ve simply overstepped. 

But hold up, you might think. What’s up with the whole Marked thing? Glad you asked!

The Markings:

  • Sare are born literally marked. Which makes them easy to identify. Those markings manifest in patterns of tissue spread across their backs, usually close to their spines. Some grow large enough to reach up to their shoulders or even down their arms.
  • No marking is quite like the other. From simple circles tracing a Sare’s spine to tiger stripes, dots or wiggles or even intricate patterns resembling butterfly wings. They are unique.
  • Markings are sensitive to touch. But touching a Sare’s markings is considered a taboo. Not only because, well, they’re Sare, but also because any pressure can cause immense pain. It’s not unheard of that one gets knocked out cold by falling off something… like Sinvik when she climbed the stable as a child and slipped on some moss on the roof only to land on her back on the way down. She was out for days. 
  • A Sare’s connection can be severed by removing the markings, a practice the Ward experimented with at the cost of many Sare lives, and one that still kills nine out of ten. And yet, noble houses who find themselves with a Sare child often risk just that, rather than the alternative of seeing their heir stripped of their dignity.
  • Generally, it’s assumed that the bigger the marking, the more powerful the Sare, though whether or not that’s true continues to be debated. But one thing is clear: the prettier the markings, the more colourful and especially the more symmetric, the more the Sare is worth.

Types:

Sare come in different, ah, flavours. While they can all interact with souls or imprints within the Hem, what they can do differs. And just like any muscle and physical strength, the more they train their souls, the bigger a feat they can accomplish. 

Sare:

Not only the overall term for someone who is Marked, but also the name of those who possess the most basic of abilities. They are able to move objects (and small creatures with weak souls) by pulling or pushing at them within the Hem. They’re generally stronger than anyone who is unmarked and can shield themselves from physical harm.

Medica:

If there is one type of Sare that is still sought after and is able to carve out respect within a community, it’s the Medica. They’re known to be able to heal most any physical injury, whether that’s on themselves or others, and can draw poison from a body. 

Some of that comes at the prize of drawing from a soul of equivalent makeup, such as another person. While the majority of Medica would be unwilling to participate in this dark practice, not all of them get to have a choice.

Consequently, though, a Medica without scruple can live good as forever.

Warlock:

Also called Mystics, Firecallers, or Icewitches.

In addition to the abilities of a “regular” Sare, they’re able to twist the Hem and other (weak) souls to for example create intense heat or cold, making them catch fire or snap-freeze. 

Dreamer or Augur:

Once a Sare has been identified as a Dreamer, they’re considered harmless and the Ward can be easily convinced to let them go into the service of a noble family’s court. They’re known for their creativity and find employment as bards and story-tellers, often living relatively comfortably.

Until they don’t.

The Rain of Fire came to the minds of all of Trero’s Dreamers at once, every man, woman, and child alike, earning them the name of Augur. And while there hasn’t been an event like this since then, the threat of it is on everyone’s mind. 

Cad’his:

Shyster. Trickster. Ghost. 

Cad’his have many names these days and none of them kind. It used to be they’d also be known as Empaths, Sare able to feel and make sense of the emotions of others, but those days are long gone. 

While all Sare have a connection to the Hem and are able to interact with other souls, Cad’his are the only ones capable of directly manipulating them, even souls as complex as those of other people/Sare. 

Because of that, they’re easily the most hated of all Sare. Amongst man and Sare alike. 

Not like there’s a lot of them though. Cad’his tend to not make it past childhood, and if they do, they’ve probably already driven themselves insane. 

Quirk:

Marked. But… no discernible powers. Most often a Quirk’s markings might not even be noticeable and instead look like simple birthmarks. The Ward often lets Quirks go to live an ordinary life, though they are forbidden to have children.

????:

There’s more. Of course there’s more. There’s always more. Except who am I to spoil everything?

ShieldingThing.com  |  Read on Ao3 |  The Tafftreon (Patreon)

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?

ShieldingThing.com  |  Read on Ao3 |  The Tafftreon (Patreon)

Worldbuilding: Elaya’s Grief

Art credit:  Ben Watts  on Unsplash

Elaya loved her sons equal. Tre, the first of the twins, she cherished for his integrity. His bravery. Ro for his wits and never ceasing need to bring laughter to the people she shelters in her lap. And Tiern she adored for how his stalwart believe in kindness never faltered and his heart remained made of gentle things. So when the Wicked tore Tiern from the skies and broke him across the lands, she grieved without measure.

The Grief, as it’s most often referred to, divides the western continent of Trero straight through the middle. It’s said to be the scar left by Tiern’s passing and the site of Elaya’s never-ceasing grief. Her mourning, profound and never-ending, lures Reapers into the shadows of its valleys and jungles, where it drives them to rabid madness.

That’s the age-old tale about it, anyway.

Geographically, it’s an oddity. Even for Trero’s standards. The majority of its core is made of deep canyons and islands of jungles between them, while the northern and southern borders are mountains with only a handful of possible entries. While the north is a little cooler, even seeing snow sometimes, the Grief generally holds a steady warmth throughout the entire year. Which, in theory, would make it attractive to live in. But there’s always a but in those sorts of situations, such as the Reapers who thwart every settlement effort – and the tales of how its canyons and mountains are ever-shifting, creating an impossible labyrinth to traverse. 

Well, except if you’re a Shielding.

According to enduring legends, only a Shielding can reliably find a path through, though how much of that has to do with the supposedly every-changing landscape is a bit of a mystery. Maybe it’s down to how they’ve spent generations mapping out a safe route — or maybe it’s just their uncanny affinity to the Grief that helps them avoid the Reapers roaming it. 

An illustration of Elaya's Grief.
Elaya’s Grief

Regardless, you’d go to them if you wanted to pass between the north and the south and they’d get you across, often leading entire merchant caravans and twice even small armies. Two possible crossings existed for the longest time: The shallow tail in the west, which was always a much longer route and much more fiercely guarded, and one route through the Grief’s thick centre. While both routes had their unique perils, the latter was the most used one, as it connected the rich south with an even richer north (or the other way around, depending on who you asked).

But time changes everything. Before the Folly left the north in shambles, an industrial boon (fuelled by war and conquest) led to the construction of a railway running around the Grief to the far west. The old crossing up there has since then been abandoned, and the original passage through the centre hardly ever sees travellers any more. Too much of a risk for too little time saved.

Not that the Shieldings care much. They own the railway, after all.

But that doesn’t mean the Grief is no longer of any interest to people with adventurous character. Reapers, tricky terrain, and superstitions aren’t the only things tucked away in it, after all. Ancient cities, abandoned by Trero’s Benefactors, hide in its mountains and sit in the steep walls of its canyons. Except no one has had any luck with them. Yet. Their doors remain stubbornly shut, with no lock or key in sight, a challenge brave souls can’t often pass up. 

Adventures which tend to end in death, unfailingly feeding the tales of the Grief’s treacherous heart. At this point, the Shieldings still living in the old waystations are mostly there to keep people out, rather than bringing them through.

. . . it’s a fun place, I swear!

Originally, the entirety of Sinvik’s adventures centred around it, back when Sinvik was mostly a treasure/artefact hunting daredevil. Which the Grief really lent itself to well. But there’s always been a bigger purpose for it and I’m not sure I want to spoil that just yet. Let’s just say every myth and every legend has some truth at its core and leave it at that.

ShieldingThing.com  |  Read on Ao3 |  The Tafftreon (Patreon)