Towards the end of the world lies the shore of the Fading Sea. It's called that because it marks the end of planned creation - the border of organized reality. The sea stretches on for as far as anyone has ever been able to tell. Like all seas, it teems with life and adventure: islands, civilizations, ships, sunken ruins, monsters, coral reefs. But due to its nature, nothing that can't be seen from the shore truly possesses a stable existence. Islands emerge from beyond the horizon when approached, some with thousands of years of history. You can spend as long as you want on them - but when you leave, they fade away behind you, never to be found again. To leave the sight of shore is to be doomed to wander for all eternity, Faded.
- 1 Galgeleth, the City of Wheels
- 2 The Fading Sea
- 2.1 Exploring the Fading Sea
- 2.2 People of the Fading Sea
- 2.3 Curiosities of the Sea
- 2.4 Known Islands and Other Places
- 3 Tables
Galgeleth, the City of Wheels
The boundary of the Fading Sea is Galgeleth, the City of Wheels. The giant wheels it's named for are the key to exploring the Fading Sea; each is wrapped with dozens to hundreds of miles of very thin, very strong rope. For a princely sum, brave adventurers may rent the use of a Wheel, to tie the end of the rope to their ship, and sail the Fading Sea - confident in the knowledge that they could follow the rope back to shore. Hopefully, by then, they'd have collected enough riches from their journey to pay for the pleasure. If not, they could always try hunting down a Sea Serpent - dangerous beings, whose sinews are the substance of the ropes of Galgeleth.
Old Five-Thousand Miler
Over the edge of the port looms the vast shadow of Old Five-Thousand Miler, greatest and moist ancient of the wheels. Such is its age that, if anyone, only the Master of the Wheels, Second Prince of Galgeleth, knows who (or, some say, what) built it, and when. As its name implies, five-thousand miles of glistening, black, unbreakable cord are tightly wound around its central axle, which towers far higher than any building in the city, its surrounding mechanisms so large that they make up an entire district by themselves. In the centuries since the wheel last turned, an entire shanty-town housing Galgeleth's least and foulest has sprouted all over its bulk like barnacles - a slum hanging off the cliff of the artificial mountain.
Some wonder if anyone in the world can even afford the cost attaching their ship to the wheel. Legend has it that it was last employed for a sum that could now buy empires, to tether to shore an expedition headed by an angel who believed they could return to heaven if they crossed the Fading Sea (the cord was ultimately pulled back to Galgeleth, shipless - perhaps they found it?).
The city would hold its breath if it would be rented again. Its bustle would come to a quiet. Every single one of the city's giants would be needed to strain their sinews to the breaking point, every reserve giant awakened from their slumber, every priest of the great Leviathan to make sacrifices, to have a hope at turning the monstrosity (incidentally, breaking off the town built on top of it like a lion shaking dry their mane). It would be a festival and a spectacle like not seen in ages.
The Pinhole Spoke
The hundreds of lighthouses on Galgeleth's shores all pale in comparison to the greatest of them, the Pinhole Spoke atop Old Five-Thousand Miler. The Pinhole part comes from the fact that the light source is covered by a plate of steel, with pinholes of a regular spacing pierced through it - the caretakers claim it's so that the light doesn't damage the eyes. But to the city's mystics, it is known as Pinhole because it's the only place in the City that pierces the veil of reality, and you can see hidden truths and hidden worlds from the light cover's pinholes - a different world for each of the 18844 holes. Just don't stare too long at the light.
The Merchant-Princes of Galgeleth
The Sea-Lost, often addressed by title rather than name because of certain issues, maybe used to be (it's difficult) Fayza Haykal, the heir of a great merchant family whose father had not been able to produce any sons to carry on his legacy. When her father met his end before his time, Haykal did not want to stay an unfortunate accident, so she decided to captain her own ship and take to sea, bringing back goods from neighboring islands - not an especially risky endeavor relative to the standards of the Fading Sea, but a modest mercantile job.
One night at sea, though, her ship didn't come home before the Tide-wind blew, as she was pursuing the last of the money to pay her father's old debt to a Merchant-King. The one who came home claimed to be the daughter of the same family, and could recount a childhood in the same house, knowing all her father's secrets - but she was unmistakably a different woman, of a different tribe and build and personality. She came carrying treasures enough to almost double the Merchant-Prince's wealth, though, and paid it all to him instead of keeping it - and in exchange for this, she rose to Merchant-Princess when a position next opened.
She hasn't went to sea for next to twenty years, perhaps having learned from past mistakes. But as of late, she's getting strange, speaking of the Shore of Pearls where a goddess spun her hair from seaweed and replaced her eyes with pearls, and some swear they've seen her drip seawater. She's gathering crew for a personally-led expedition to this place, and is planning to once again turn the Old Five-Thousand-Miler - and it's setting the city aquiver.
High Inquisitor Augustin IX
Augustin IX is a man of strong principles, equipped with even stronger arms to support those principles. He is the High Inquisitor of Galgeleth, and it is his duty and (intense) pleasure to maintain peace within the City of Wheels and punish wrongdoing with an iron hand.
He rose to fame at the age of 27, when he hunted down the ringmaster of a dreaded band of thieves known as the Black Daggers and subjected him to summary execution; a string of subsequent successes such as the hanging and Fading of the mass-murderer Garriot Nightingale, the imprisonment of the conman known widely as Silver-Tounged Larken and the rooting out of corruption within the Inquisition, uplifted him to the position of High Inquisitor.
Today he administrates the Inquisition, the lawkeepers and guardsmen of Galgeleth, judges the occasional case appealed as far as his office, and oversees the punishment of the most notorious criminals.
The Rotten Library
The Mad Universities began as a project to catalogue the Islands and to find out do different expeditions stumble to them again.
For a century their students and loreseekers toiled and assembled a Grand Library of notes, maps and books. Then it was time for the Revelation: they began their grand work. Yet it turned out that different seekers had different opinions of the Island dilemma. The most conclusive answer they agreed on was "It seems possible??"
In the end, the University split into several rival schools and the Library suffered greatly as no school could agree on how to divide it. In the end, seawater got into it and a feverish Library War was fought about its contents between the Mad Universities and raiders.
The Rotten Library still exists, its dark halls and dungeons periodically flooded. But people say that it still contains secrets undiscovered...
The Fading Sea
The sea is a sprawling expanse of potential existence brought into reality by observation. The islands explorers come across, at least in theory, have always existed (though it is both impossible and academic to verify whether they continue to exist or fade away once they're left behind), and they represent the widest range of possibility.
Exploring the Fading Sea
One of the most respected guilds is the Buoymen; a name so honoured, the locals don't even notice the mocking tone outsiders often bring to it. Tasked by some elder Prince, the guild maintains the Capstan Buoys. These floating capstans are tethered to the seafloor out to a distance of almost 50 nautical miles (the furthest one can see out across the fading sea, from the top of the ol' 5000).
Ships leaving the Galg will hook their ropes around the capstan buoys, to ensure there are no tangles within sight of the shore, and to make it easier to haul them in when the time comes.
There have never been records of two ships' lines being entangled with each other, out beyond the horizon. If you get snagged while out on the Sea, you drop anchor and send a boat back along the line, hoping your crew can deal with whatever is holding the line.
"We found them on the tenth day. Ten days of crawling along the four foot thick ship-rope, praying it wouldn't go slack while we were over the water. But the ship was a month overdue and stuck too hard to be pulled back : surely it would stay that way for just another few days?"
Such is the gamble made by every Reclaimer Agent of House Al-Rathalaad. Theirs is the wild hope that by buying the ropes of overdue ships which cannot be pulled back, they will finally find a way set a truly stable anchor in the Fading Sea.
To date they have been unsuccessful, but they have found several treasures capable of anchoring a ship-rope. Three coral formations large enough to trap a ship and strong enough to counter a mid-sized Wheel, one small island whose Sorcerer-King could freeze items in time, and even a live Roc with the indestructible ship-rope suck in its talons.
Lord Al-Rathalaad considers them a risky but potentially profitable investment. But to the Reclaimers themselves? This is the greatest gamble of all: death alone in the Fading Sea or a finder's fee large enough to guarantee lifelong luxury. They are desperate, skilled, and utterly insane. For how could man defy reality itself and hope to win?
A few artifacts exist that grant the ability to dive under the Fading Sea. Some are suits off bronze that are filled with precious air through a hose on the surface. Others are great heavy steel balls with tiny windows that can withstand the deepest depths. Rumours exist of a whole ship, sealed and able to dive into the sea like a great whale. All were brought back by intrepid captains from The Fading Sea. None are replaceable. One might be able to rent the use of such an artifact at great price, but with it comes the operators and their guards. Their tongues cut out to keep the secrets of how their devices operate secret. And the guards heavily armed to make sure their charge makes it home, with or without you.
Descents to the Fading Sea's floor go beyond fishmongering or trinket retrieval. Resources of Thalassic Iron, Leviathan Bone, Kelpwood, and sea scorpion venom fetch a high price and are in high demand.
To this end, the most accomplished of shanty Descenders form guilds which routinely fulfill contracts to retrieve these precious resources from the sea floor.
Tides and the Moon
Just as the moon controls the tides, so also is it the harbinger of the Fade. Hazy unreality waxes and wanes, advancing and retreating with the water in the eerie hinterland where stands Galgaleth. Twice a day, islands distantly visible in the haze swim slowly from view, and twice a day, they reappear - not always the same.
A spring tide closes Galgaleth's port. As the water laps high against the ancient seawall, to venture without a rope a stone's throw into the thick miasma brushing against the harbour's stone is to risk being lost.
The moon brings the Fade and the fog; the sun stands for solid reality. It is when these two bodies are opposed overhead, the spring tide, that the battle between the Fade and reality is most pronounced, and rages furthest this way and that. The sun god, Obon, the male god of light, order, logic, truth, authority, definiteness; the moon goddess, Suthi, the female deity of darkness, confusion, madness, lies, treachery and unreality - these two do all the people of the World worship, in various guises - even atheistic ones.
But it is not only the Sun and Moon that the Fade obeys. It pulses to stranger rhythms, too, that some whisper can be read in the stars. Certainly, nobody can predict when and how it will mount or ebb; or when there will be a Fadestorm that sends the people of Galgaleth huddling indoors around bright fires, knowing that when the oily rain abates, the town - and their friends and neighbors - will, in some unquantifiable way, no longer be quite as they were before.
People of the Fading Sea
Islanders are a lucrative commodity. There’s no telling what kind of people might live on an island in the Fading Sea. Many are fantastical nonhumans (Winged People, Four-Armed People, Horned People, Butterfly People, Prophetic People...), and many come from civilizations that have existed for so many millennia their islands are full of androids and replicators and they bring back pockets full of quantum pistols and nanocomputers.
They spend most of their lives as caterpillar-people, miserable beings who look like bloated, fat, wrinkly, elongated babies with twelve sets of arms. They can't speak, aren't too bright and are naturally grumpy and poor-tempered. They're mostly used as beasts of burden, cheap labor (many, many hands to work with) and the occasional exotic dish. After several years of drudgery, one will make a chrysalis from which they will emerge as a beautiful, glamorous, brilliant, winged butterfly-man or woman. Butterfly-people after metamorphosis only live for 9-12 months, so they naturally dedicate most of them to debauchery and pleasure (they sleep about an hour a night, possibly in some part due to the amounts of drugs they tend to be on), financially fueled by the initial capital from selling the extremely precious, hyperstrong silk which makes up their chrysalis.
They've made up a notable but statistically tiny minority of the population of Galgeleth, mostly concentrated around their own districts, ever since a huge cargo of caterpillar-people have been brought back from an island on the Fading Sea as slaves. People were initially very but pleasantly surprised when they began turning into hot winged flying people.
The Prophetic-People, known as the Jeweleyes or Brighteyes, are descendent from ones who have left their island home willingly, traveling to Galgeleth following a vision. It's said that their island was a peaceful paradise, silent and blemishless, where their ancestors led lives of humility and purity tending to orchards and herding sheep.
They look like humans, but their rot with blood and pus as they grow old. They're born sighted, but can barely see a thing by when they're 7, and are almost invariably blind by 13. Shortly afterwards, their eyes melt into so much fleshy sludge.
To them, however, this is a blessing, and a cause for celebration and merriment. And not for nothing: as their eyes rot away, their prophetic powers grow. Traditionally, once they've disappeared completely, they are replaced with colorful jewels and pearls - hence the name. Richer brighteyes even have many sets (up to hundreds!), each a different color and pattern and type of precious stone, wearing different ones for different occasions. Though they remain apart from the rest of the city for their weird customs, they can find positions of power and authority by taking advantage of their knowledge of the future.
Of course, the poorer ones often have to make do without. Some call them "blackeyes", because some can't even afford the rare oils and soaps required to wash the bloody sludge off their faces in time, living them forever looking as if they'd just cried crimson mud.
Incidentally, the sludge from the rotted-off eyes of a young prophet makes for an incredibly potent hallucinogen if mixed properly. It even gives visions of the future.
Horned-People have been a significant minority in Galgeleth for many generations. They look like handsome, powerful people who are human above the wait and bulls below the waist, with impressive bull horns and ears. Men have magnificent beards and women magnificent curly hair.
Horned-People are notable in two ways: one, they can talk to and command all animals. Two, perhaps partially because of that, they are absolutely, utterly, adamantly convinced that God intended them to be the dominant species: they can't command humans, therefore humans are clearly beneath the level of animals. Some kind of ambulatory plant or object, perhaps. In fact, as far as they're concerned, they're the Children of Adam, the real humans, the People with a capital P. Humans are monkeys with a pretention. They don't even have horns - clearly, they cannot have been intended to wield divine power if they don't have horns.
Since humans aren't alive in the same way as animals and thus don't suffer, Horned-People do not use beasts of burden or keep pets: they keep humans. Humans to fetch their newspaper. Humans to pull their rickshaws. Humans to plow their fields. Humans to be kept in cages and sing. Human steak for dinner with human milk yogurt. And if the humans need to have their tendons cut and tongues removed to be reminded of the natural order of things, so be it.
Horned-People like sailing into the Faded Sea to search for further evidence that they're the master race and all the non-Horned People are talking nonsense. So far they've found nothing, but try telling that to them (you could, you'll just die).
Curiosities of the Sea
Turtles of War
The Turtles of War were brought to the city as eggs from a distant island. Only six were on board, and nobody's ever been able to make them breed (and not for lack of trying), so the ones still alive are carefully watched.
The Turtles were apparently engines of war employed by the highly advanced civilization of that island, which, according to the explorers who stole the eggs, fielded entire fleets of them. A Turtle grows to the size of a small elephant and is quite powerful and intelligent, but that's the least of their powers: when they retract their head and limbs into their unnaturally hard shells, one may crawl through inside and find a space quite a bit larger than the turtle looks outside, complete with cabins for a dozen, richly appointed with crimson silk and supplied with much viands and wine, as well as a command center few can make sense of (those have been studied for decades, and their operation is a closely guarded secret.
Those who can command the Turtle from the inside can guide it about even as its head and limbs emerge from the shell, protected within it. The Turtles are ponderous and clumsy on land, but underwater they can swim far faster than the fastest ship, and too a great depth, too. Furthermore: their armor plates can fold back to reveal a frightening arsenal of advanced weaponry: machineguns, guided torpedoes and naval mines have all been seen in recent times - the Turtles seem to "grow" or "develop" new and stronger weapons as they age.
Of the six original Turtles, two were killed in battle and one was lost at Sea. The three remaining serve Galgeleth - although one at all times is available for rent for particularly tough expeditions (so long as it's properly secured to the wheels, of course) - if anyone can come up with the truly stupendous sum that would cost.
Few weapons can match a Turtle of War, but the Merchant-Princes don't get cocky. They've all too much experience with islanders in laser-toting gravships.
The Grey Mistress
Aspiring seafarers often hear the tale of the Grey Mistress, an elegant, well-regarded brigantine captained by one Ferdinand Lavarin. The Mistress' voyages were long; Lavarin was adventurous, even among seafarers, and had more than once stayed on the Sea for years without sight of Galgeleth. Each journey brought home great treasures; once, twenty intelligent automata of bone; once, a glowing sapphire that healed the wounds of the holder; once, a tiara of gold twisted with an unfamiliar blue metal that was said to give its wearer power over dreams. Some even say he found a key that opened an ancient door deep in the vault of one of the princes, but such a thing is surely fancy.
The present journey, however, was to be even greater. The University (it was, at this time, a single institution) had amassed a grand sum, and offered it to Lavarin if he could locate an island which they theorised could be a constant point, far out at Sea. Many watched the Mistress go; months later she returned, almost unrecognisable, crewed by unfamiliar, wild-eyed men who gave their names as those of men long thought Faded. All were arrested; eventually, one broke under questioning, and told the sorry tale.
Their ship, the Patna, had set out from Galgeleth securely leashed, years before. It was a cursed voyage, culminating in the shattering of the leash-hold in a storm. Thereafter the despairing crew wandered, searching desperately for a way to return. Years passed, endlessly hunting through island after island without a shred of hope until finally, unbelievably, they recognised the Grey Mistress far in the distance. The ships signalled and made contact, and the men persuaded Lavarin to let them join the Mistress' crew in exchange for their amassed treasures, the Patna being slow and barely seaworthy. The Mistress then encountered nothing but open seas, however; supplies ran critically low. The man claimed Lavarin was planning to throw the nomads from the boat, making their actions self-defence, but no-one who knew Lavarin believed the tale. In any case, the desperate wanderers slaughtered the Mistress' crew while they slept, and strugglingly managed to pilot the ship back to port. The man said that when they sighted the Old Five Thousand Miler on the horizon, the whole crew broke down and wept. Subsequently, all were hanged as pirates, but the story of a lost ship encountering a leashed one drove the University into a furor, to say nothing of the rest of the city. The tale ends with a warning, though against what seems to vary each time it is told.
Of course, this is only a story. The Mistress was real enough; many records support her long voyages and great discoveries under the good Captain Lavarin. The Patna and her crew, and the whole story of the returning Faded, on the other hand, may have been lost in the flooding of the Library, or they may never have existed at all. It seems impossible; things Faded are lost for all eternity. And yet...
Known Islands and Other Places
Years ago a would be merchant prince, fed up with being controlled by the council of Galgeleth, spent all his coin on the largest ship he could and one tether of the wheel. It is unknown what happened on those waves, as years later, what was once a simple merchants vessel returned as something far more. It returned as the sailing nation of Nerekon.
No longer just a mere boat, more like a city, nay, far more than just a city, an island now, an island of ships and stone and sails, millions of banners fluttering in the wind, and one flag marking the top of every building and sail, the Throne of Nerekon symbol.
Nerekon is an 'ally' nation to the City of Wheels, tethered by dozens of ropes so the sailing city can always find its way back, but the alliance is simply of convenience, there is no love between the two nations.
Nerekon is a sprawling island of strung together boats of every size and shape, and captured chunks of islands, creating an impressive landscape of rolling bridges leading into fields of green, towering mountains covered in cityscapes and dense forests pocketed with towers and boats sticking out, massive chains binding land masses together, nets of ropes, and countless sails and spires needling across the whole of the nation.
To the nations of the mainland, the City of Wheels is an accursed place. It lies upon the Shore, and its people willingly sail the Fading Sea! The Shore is long, and the realms which border it have long suffered from its mere floatsam. So when 13 Merchant-Princes founded the city, they were called madmen and mourned by their families. But they did not die, nor did they flee! They built the first great Wheel, chaining a giant to its axle and using the Fading Sea's bounty to defend the new Seawall from both the East and the West.
The rulers of the mainland no longer dare to war against the City of Wheels, fearing the atrocities hidden in the vaults of the 13 Merchant-Prince families.
But the people of the City cannot deny the truth : to die upon the Fading Sea is to die beyond the edge of the world. It is to risk your very soul, lost in the currents of possibility and trapped in an eternal half-life.
And so the City is called unholy by the mainlanders, its people denounced as madmen or heretics. They worship the gods of the land - but before setting off, they offer obeisance and sacrifice to the things said to dwell beneath the waves. For although the Fading Sea promises great wealth and opportunity, it remains a place of madness...
|1||Desert Island||The classic island to be marooned on. Sand, a few trees of you're lucky, maybe some birds. Barely enough to sustain a man for a few weeks. On a d10 roll of 5 or more it has a fresh water spring or other useful mundane resource. On two consecutive rolls of 10 it holds a surprise, such as a marooned traveller, artifact or treasure of medium value.|
|2||Atoll||Slightly larger than the Desert Island, a small ring of land surrounded by reef. The reef must be carefully navigated around. Fishing here is a good source of food, but there isn't much other use.|
|3||Tropical Island||An uninhabited island, larger than the Desert Island with more wildlife and plant cover. A single man could live here indefinitely if he was careful. A crew might strip it of food in a few months. On a d10 roll of 5 or more there is something special here, an interesting species of wildlife, ruins, abundant resources or something else. On a 10, it is equivalent to a large treasure otherwise it is a medium or smaller value.|
|4||Inhabitable||A large island, big enough to sustain a small population indefinitely. It might be currently inhabited by a range of different types of civilizations (rolled separately I imagine), but no larger than a few hundred. Such islands often have ruins or other things to explore.|
|5||Island String||A small collection of islands, close enough to each they're always visible to each other, at least one inhabitable or larger. Such a formation could hold warring tribes or a large peaceful civilization. Underwater caves might connect them. At least one island is probably volcanic.|
|6||A New World||A huge island, big enough to hold a population of a few thousands. Such islands often have valuable resources or at least enough mundane supplies to restock a ship if time was taken to gather them.|
|7||Active Volcano||A smoking chimney surrounded by land. The island is young and its growing pains are obvious. It might be large enough to hold inhabitants or barely a jutting tube of craggy rock. Such places vary greatly in size. Valuable resources might be spit up from deep underground in the form of gemstones or rare minerals.|
|8||Sunken Island||What once was above sea level now rests just below it. Or maybe it never quite pushed into air. Regardless, these are treacherous waters to navigate, hazards lie just below the surface. But there may not be a better place for a Descent.|
|9||Natural Curiosity||Something is interesting or valuable about this island, in a mundane way. Perhaps it has a Blue Hole or significant cave system. Maybe trees for shipbuilding grow in abundance, or exotic and valuable wood, plants or animals are common here. Such places are usually dangerous for some reason, however. The Fading Sea doesn't have much in the way of freebies.|
|10||Exotic Island||Something is special about this place beyond the normal strangeness the Fading Sea normally holds. Maybe the place is made of gems, or the springs here grant youth, or the dead walk about as if nothing happened, or the plants are intelligent. Perhaps it moves about on the back of some creature, or its artificially made by some technology. It is immediately obvious something is different upon setting foot on it.|