APHELION: CHAPTER 7 (1)

We return for Episode 2: Welcome to Horizon’s Crown, in which we find out just what Sophya has gotten herself into and what has gotten into Varrett. Or at least we get an idea.

Once reasonably dressed and armed with a snack, Varrett left Mom with the Caster and went to get his ware un-dusted. The snack? A protein bar out of a box he’d looted an entire week ago, which supposedly came in all sorts of punchy flavours. Chocolate. Nuts. Assorted fruit and berries. Broken hopes and crushed dreams, etc. This one had come in a blue wrap with blue bubbles printed on and so he’d wagered blueberry (or one of the countless intergalactic variations of it anyway). But what he’d ended up with after scarfing down half had been 99% cardboard and 1% idea of blue, if blue had indeed been assigned a flavour.

Bleh.

He choked down another bite. His stomach roiled. Some of that was hunger and lingering exhaustion. The rest was a queasy unease over how the daemon was getting its grubby code all over his ware. But he’d cope. He had it figured out. Really. Collin would fix the daemon and then— right after getting scrubbed —he’d get a proper meal and crawl into bed. Or crawl into bed with a proper meal. Either way, he couldn’t fucking wait.

Walking a bit faster, Varrett circled halfway around Sixty before turning sharply into a wide stairwell.

・・・ “Elaya’s delicate little toes be blessed, that’s pretty,” the daemon exclaimed, right as Varrett got swallowed up by the stairwell’s colourful decoration.

He grunted, his eyes flicking left and right.

Children’s drawings crowded the stairwell’s base. There were dogs. Cats. Einlings. Dragons. Stick-figure people and stick-figure robots, and all the other what-have-yous that occupied a child’s imagination, all applied using lots of crayons or sloppy furniture paint with a too wide brush. Bleeding from the children’s art, like an innocent dream swelling into a neon haze steeped in pent up emotion, was a wealth of psychedelic graffiti. More of the same swept down the steps.

Surprising no one, the Distribution assigned janitors had once been at war with this particular stairwell. But its artists had been relentless and the art had kept coming back. By now, the spectacle followed Varrett all the way down to the next floor, exploding outwards to contrast the otherwise fifty-nine shades of professional desperation.

It was neat, alright? Which made the daemon’s comment more unsettling.

Why bother giving the thing taste?

He left the colours (and musings about code with artistic preferences) behind and followed the hall wrapping around the central courtyard into a crowded Fifty-Nine. Down here, restaurants, overpriced shops, and tacky bars had been gutted to make room for everything one might need if one was trapped on three floors of shared misery. But that didn’t make it a bad walk, all things considered.

Even with the daemon falling in step with him, its naked feet padding over the dirty floor.

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Thank you for reading, you rock.

APHELION: CHAPTER 5 & 6

We close Episode one with Varrett lamenting how he’s the one who always gets to do the heavy lifting in a relationship.

“Fine.” Varrett got his madly spinning head down to turn the Caster over onto her stomach. “See this?” he complained, slid his arms under her shoulders, and pulled her against his chest. She was heavier than he’d anticipated, what with how she’d barely reached up to his chin when she’d thrown herself at him earlier. Not quite heavy enough for his knees to file a restraining order as he got up, but enough to make him go hmmm as her dead-to-the-world weight hung off his front like one of those boneless couches he’d been pondering this morning.

This is why we broke up,” he continued and draped one of her arms around his neck so he could heft her up on his shoulders in a passable carry. “We go on a date, who gets saddled with the work?”

Seb snorted, turned around, and headed for the door.

“Me,” Varrett said. He stomped after him. “That’s who. Cooking? Me. Go on an assignment?” He turned his chin to look at her head rolling against his shoulder. “Wanna take a guess?” A pause. “Mmhm. That’s right. Me,” he said while carefully navigating through the door without clipping the frame with her head. “And you?” he added quietly, addressing the unconscious Caster. “You are going to bleed all over my backseat, aren’t you?”

Her head kind of wobbled, which— if he squinted —passed for a nod.

“Awesome.”

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This finalizes Episode One! I’ve got two more chapters of Episode Two to write before I start posting it, so, for a while, Aphelion’s updates will consist of worldbuilding nuggets and art. To anyone on here who picked up reading it so far though? Thank you.

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.

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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?

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