The Sun is broken.
Many ages ago, the Sun has sustained life and prosperity on our world. Everything that happened in the world went by the clockwork motion of the Sun across the sky, never ending in its motion and the benefits which the world reaped from it. People in particular became comfortable with the world, mastered in the existence of the Sun and all of the gifts granted by its Light.
In due time though, the Sun would become much less constant, much less perpetual than people had come to understand it as. Starting with a surreal crack and ending with the most terrifying roar one could imagine, the Sun violently unraveled in the eyes of the people. Emerging from the explosion was the most brilliant creature ever gazed upon - the mighty Phoenix of countless legends. It awakened from what happened to be its egg, our Sun, sprawling forth its flaming wings with an indescribable splendor. But that magnificence would soon turn into despair as the Phoenix did not herald the rebirth of the world as in the tales of the people.
Instead, the Phoenix had abandoned it.
The shimmering Light faded soon after the Phoenix's departure beyond the sight of the people. In the blast's wake approached a cloud of golden daggers, thrown to the discarded world as an assassin would do to a victim without remorse. As the Shards struck the world beneath the former Sun, the worst calamity in the history of the world came to pass. Entire civilizations burned to mere ash. The environment was irreversibly ravaged by the fires. The world's climate mutated dramatically in an instant. Everything the people under the Cerulean Heavens once knew vanished in a torrent of flame and destruction.
In due time, the fires died to a smolder. The world was set not in the burning light of a crimson inferno, but in a speckled sky of lavender as the Shards which didn't strike the world or fly into the inky abyss floated in the skies above. Dots of the Sun's former Light drifted through the darkened sky in all directions, perhaps lighting the way for the next chapter of the people, of the world.
For the Phoenix, Birth gives way to Death, which then gives way to Rebirth. When will the world be Reborn?
- 1 Overview
- 2 Concepts and Common Terms
- 3 Peoples and Places
- 3.1 The Shardstreams
- 3.1.1 The Holy City
- 3.1.2 The City of Terec
- 3.1.3 The City of Eternal Shardlight
- 3.2 The Twilight
- 3.3 The Wandering States
- 3.4 The Strobelands
- 3.5 The Starry Seas
- 3.6 The Darklands
- 3.6.1 The People of the Soulshard
- 3.6.2 The Old Dineh Lands
- 3.6.3 The Rotting Swamp
- 3.6.4 The Gateway to Hell
- 3.6.5 The Castle on the Shard
- 3.1 The Shardstreams
- 4 Tales of the Shattered Sun
Shattered Sun is a setting created by a number of folks at /tg/, all sparked by the premise of "What would happen if the sun shattered?" It would take too much time to detail the evolution of the setting from the initial idea, but the folks at sup/tg/ have archived the original thread.
Concepts and Common Terms
The Phoenix's Awakening
The sun hatched, and the shell was strewn about the heavens. While it was a cataclysm in all senses of the word, erasing all existing civilization, it left more than enough survivors. These survivors have built their own lives in a changed world, seeking riches, glory, or even the old world's Rebirth.
These are the remnants of the Sun left behind in the Phoenix's wake. Many fell to the world in a fiery fury, destroying all that their flames touched, and expending themselves in that manner. Others flew deep into the world's skies, never to be seen again. But most of the Shards now drift within the skies, orbiting the world and providing a much sought after and scarce light in the post-Awakening world. They have also been known for either coming too close or becoming too bright at times, burning people and plants near them.
With such an importance of the Shards in the world under the Shattered Sun, there is even more importance on those who can track them. Such skills are vital for the survival of the people. As such, it is no surprise that the Astronomers of the Cities are nigh exalted for their abilities to forecast the movement of the Shards. Their accurate charts help decide the fate of the Cities, lending them a powerful voice in the politics of the Cities as well.
Despite the destruction the Shards which fell to the world caused, some survivors quickly realized that they could be a source of energy in the post-Awakening world. A blessing within a curse, some would say. Alongside the Astronomers who learned to track the Shards rose Alchemists, who work toward unlocking the secrets of the Shards' power. Their early efforts already bear fruit, especially in mechanical application as well as aiding the Astronomers to make even more accurate Shard Charts.
These are the events in which particularly large or potent Shards fall to the world, or even pass close by it in its orbit. Massive geological events follow such a strike or passing, creating the most dramatic craters and endless canyons in their wake. While a relatively rare occurrence, Sunscrapes change the lives of the region and its people for a long time to come.
These are Shards which are more minute than a grain of sand. While individually, these Shards are of little power, they can be carefully measured by Alchemists who wish to harness its power. It can also be used as a potent drug when administered carefully. Ingestion and inhalation of a minuscule amount of Stardust leads to a brief hallucinatory state while larger doses can lead to a boiling of the user's insides. Even contact to skin causes similar visions and sensations. The peoples of the wilderness use it for a ritual in choosing the next generation of shamans.
The Other Egg
During the Phoenix's Awakening, it was said that the world's Moon was destroyed from the violent event. Truly, it wasn't present in the sky soon afterwards, which would support this idea. However, there has been sightings of a black sphere high in the sky at certain parts of the world at regular intervals. While most of those who witnessed it agree that is was likely what used to be the Moon and that it might be an egg as the Sun was, no one can agree what will come of it. Is it black because of the Phoenix's fire it was bathed in during the Awakening? Is it black because the creature it may hold is dead? Or is it black because the creature within is alive and possibly far less merciful than the Phoenix ever was?
Peoples and Places
The world under the Shattered Sun is mostly defined by the Shards that fly over it.
While few in number, the various Shardstreams of the world are the most stable areas for the emerging human civilization under the Shattered Sun. The coalesced bands of Shards provide constant Light and warmth for the Cities that spring up forth from these areas. Strobes colloquially call citizens of these lucky states tanners.
The Holy City
The Holy City is by far the largest and most populous City under the Shardstreams. It was founded soon after the Phoenix’s Awakening under the first Shardstream that stabilized. Its sky is now dominated by the Shard of Gargonel. The Holy City is the seat for the world's best Astronomers. It is also a hotbed of politics, many factions of people vying for attention and resources in the quickly growing City.
The Council of Kings
When the Phoenix hatched, the world was plunged into disarray. But the old Kings still had power, and when news spread of a place where a fraction of the sun shown eternally, the Kings took their armies and their households and set out. The journey was long and hard, and they arrived in much diminished numbers. Gargonel arrived first, and he claimed the area. But others arrived, with their armies, and wanted a piece of the land. No King could hold against the other, so they warred very little before reaching a solution. They would form a Council of Kings, and would rule as a group. This plan was formed by Arzot, for the royal Houses had undergone much strife and death, and he was the only living King who yet had an heir, and thus he hoped that his son should rule all without resorting to conquest.
However the other Kings appointed their greatest servants as their heirs. And indeed, those people appointed their own greatest servants as their heirs, even over their own children. And so it came to pass that the Holy City is ruled by a Council of Kings, and none of the Houses save the House of Arzot have hereditary succession.
Each King issues only one vote for each issue. In the case of a tie, the issue is brought before the Citizenry for an up-or-down vote. Despite the expected infighting amongst the Houses, the system works a lot more smoothly than the occasional cynic would think.
House of Gargonel
The oldest House of the lot is also the one with the most exclusive membership. Although the House no longer rules over the entirety of the Holy City as it did briefly upon its founding, its members' devotion to the sanctity of the Phoenix as well as their gratitude for the sparing of the Citizens' lives remains today. Now, the House presides over those who give thanks to the Phoenix for their survival and eventual salvation from these dark times.
House of Wass
This long-standing House is a group of Astronomers who have integrated their charting skilled with political savvy, able to influence the highest levels of the Holy City’s government. They stridently defend the right of the Astronomers' voice in the government, also advocating all Citizens' right to pursue knowledge of Astronomy. Many famous Astronomers of the Holy City hail from this House, leaving a storied heritage of experts of both Astronomy and policy.
House of Arzot
This House has its roots in the long history of the Holy City, the only one of its kind after the Awakening. More appropriately, its roots are in the preservation of said history. Despite their little voice in the government and perennial lack of funds, great respect is given to their care of the ancient Shard Charts which many up and coming Astronomers look to learn from, as well as well-established Astronomers look to gain new insight from. It is a staunchly traditionalist house, and is the only house to use hereditary succession.
House of Ulan
This relatively new House is a group of Astronomers who aim to use their skills for the direct benefit of the people, whether it’s in the aid of Alchemists’ research or determining the best trade routes for neighboring Strobes. The House's endeavors leave them well-off financially, encroaching into the political arena with their increasing wealth. While the lofty words of a Wass win attention, an Ulan's money is starting to win loyalty in its stead.
Other than the official ruling Houses of the Holy City's government, there are a number of organizations and institutions which hold a significant amount of sway in the City.
The Astronomers League
Founded by the four Houses as their first collaborative legislation, the Astronomers League was designed to operate separately from the official government as the City's primary Astronomy apparatus. This was intended to eliminate any political bias the League's work could incur if under the supervision of the Houses. However, the importance of the League to the Citizens slowly but surely helped it build political capital of its own, regularly conflicting with Astronomical policy set forth by the Houses.
It is headed by a High Astronomer, usually selected from within upon his predecessor's retirement or death by a council of experts within the League. From there, a simple bureaucracy of Astronomers is set up for different aspects of the League: Shard Charting, Policy Advisory, Alchemist Collaboration, Public Relations, so forth and so on.
The Third Egg Movement
With the Phoenix's Awakening through and persuasive rumors of the Other Egg floating about, some of the City's intellectuals and theologians have come up with the idea that the world itself may also be an Egg. Furthermore, the theory suggests that the world may crack as the Sun did, causing a fatal catastrophe with no chance of survival.
While most Citizens shrug off the idea as an example of quackery and little else, the correlation behind the theory is convincing enough for a group of believers to take root in the City. The Third Egg Movement, as they call themselves, consists of Citizens from all walks of life, from lowly peasants to even a few officials in the Houses. They do not seem to have an established leader among them, only meeting clandestinely at some of the residences about the City and the surrounding Twilight
The growth and intensity of the group seems to have earned the notice of the government recently, the Houses calling for an outlawing of such irrational, panic-inducing behavior. It seems however that the Movement is more than capable of working around such limitations, their numbers only increasing.
The City of Terec
The City of Terec is unlike any other in the Shardstreams. Instead of the usual civic splendor and rigid structure of Cities such as the Holy City, Terec was founded completely on the innovation of highly skilled Alchemists. As such, the Alchemist Guild is easily the dominant power in Terac, and the High Master tolerates no questioning of his rule. Still, life in Terec is generally far more comfortable than in any other City known to man.
The Alchemist Guild
Unlike the theoretically shared government of the Holy City, Terec is ruled by the de facto authority of the Alchemist Guild, who largely funded Terec's construction. While the Guild generally puts forth their policies for the betterment of their Citizens, voicing dissent is greatly discouraged. As the Guild's High Master once put it, "Running Terec is like keeping an old machine running: repair parts when you can, replace them when you cannot."
The High Master
The leader of the Guild and, incidentally, the entirety of Terec is called the High Master. While his underlings may craft policy for the City, it is ultimately up to the High Master to decide whether or not said policies go into effect. For the most part, the High Master is seen as wise in his decisions, building up the standard of living in Terec to the level it is considered among the rest of civilization. However, the High Master is also fond of maintaining policies which limit the public opinions of the Guild's critics.
Beneath the High Masters are a selected cabal only known as the Masters. They officially represent the highest-ranked specialists in all of Alchemy, charged with the duty of selecting new members to the Guild as well as promoting those beneath them. They also unofficially serve as the High Master's advisory board. While they generally support the High Master's political agenda and craft policy in line with it, there is about as much infighting among the Masters as there are in the Holy City's Houses.
The highest level of the Guild completely dedicated to actual Alchemy are the Practitioners. They are the ones who generally come up with the Guild's countless innovations and are the front which maintains the Guild's legitimacy in the eyes of the Citizens and the rest of the Shardstreams. However, they are closely monitored by the Masters and even the High Master in some cases. During their tenure as Practitioners, they are watched for not only their advances in Alchemy, but also for their political way of thinking as well as their loyalty toward the Guild. From this pool do the Masters choose their successors to further serve the High Master.
These are the graduates of the Guild's apprenticeship program who are sent to travel the world in search of further knowledge. While the Guild generally keeps a tight ship in Terec, Journeymen are freely allowed to determine for themselves whether to return to Terec after their travels to set up shop as Practitioners or to seek their future elsewhere with no penalty. Depending on their observed behavior during their travels however, they may end up closely monitored by other Journeymen at the discretion of their Masters.
By the Guild's principles of promoting Alchemical knowledge, anyone with a basic understanding of reading, writing, and arithmetic is allowed to apply for the Guild by enrolling into an education program as Apprentices. They learn the basics of Alchemy under Practitioners who specialize in educating others. After the five years of the program, the Masters evaluate the Apprentices' progress and choose those who will advance into the Journeyman phase, and thus officially into the Guild itself.
Despite the tight-fisted rule of the Alchemist Guild over Terec, there are still others who maintain a modicum of influence over the City.
An Alchemy firm in the City of Terec widely known for the mechanical applications of the Shards’ power. While their innovations are generally in the realm of domestic appliances and limited motorized transportation, some folks say that Daedalus recently acquired of a large fallen Shard from the very boundaries of the Strobelands' reach. Some of the crazier folks in the taverns say that Daedalus may have plans for flying machines, but those are likely no more than lies told to impressionable tourists. After all, who ever heard of a machine that could fly?
The City of Eternal Shardlight
A legendary City that was rapidly growing in size and power, claiming an ever growing region and attaining ever greater feats of engineering and science. It had lasted intact for hundreds of years when a stray Shard, unnoticed by even the City’s finest Astronomers, crashed into its Stream, sending down a rain of Shards unto it. It burns in the resulting inferno even today.
A City of Shards
The City of Eternal Shardlight. It is a household name in most of the Cities beneath the Shardstreams. To most, it is an allegory for the lesson of moderating power. Too much power in your possession and you become blinded to what most would see as obvious. The tale is a tragic one of a City’s rise and fall, prosperity and destruction.
For some enterprising minds however, the City is a treasure trove waiting to be pilfered through: according to the tales, a rain of Shards fell upon the metropolis upon its end. Technology even exists now which make it possible to retrieve fallen Shards and extract their Light to a degree. While this would lead many to the conclusion of a massive opportunity waiting to be taken advantage of, there is only one thing in the way.
Fire, and lots of it.
The City was engulfed in a ferocious blaze defying all reason and logic upon the Shards’ fall. While no one can accurately put a date upon the catastrophe itself, it is widely known that the fires have been burning unabated for quite a long time. Even as most of the City itself has been reduced to its bones and ash, the fires still burn forth from the fallen Shards within the ruins. This discovery has led to a variety of theories as to how to actually get in the City to claim its riches.
The Burning Question
There is always the possibility of digging beneath the City to evade the inferno above. However, early attempts at this solution led to the finding of the City being founded upon an incredibly hard layer of rock, thwarting even the most sophisticated tools around. With advances in digging technology quite some time away, the Alchemists of Terec have been trying to come up with a way to neutralize – or at least dramatically lessen – the scathing heat of the Shard-borne fires long enough for an expeditionary team to go into the City.
The best they can come up thus far with is an armored suit made with a Stardust-metallic alloy designed to ward off the worst of the fires from its wearer. The resonance of the Stardust within the suit is calibrated specifically to work counter with that of the Shards in the City. In theory, at least – the latest test subject was burned to a crisp within the suit, although the suit itself brushed the bright flames at the perimeter of the City right off of it. More research seems to be required to deal with the issue of the heat.
The suggestion of imbuing the Strobers’ Rite of Phoenix’s Blood upon a team has risen on occasion. Many see it as pursuing an unproven legend in lieu of a more scientific solution. Others who are more familiar with the Rite cite the dangers of too much Stardust within a person’s skin, which can cause extreme hallucinations for the subject, not to mention the possibility of a most violent and spontaneous combustion before even entering the City. Furthermore, it is nigh impossible to calibrate the resonance of the Stardust when it is in someone’s skin as opposed to when it is in a non-living metal.
Then there’s the possibility of entering the City from above. As the rumors of Daedalus Workshops’ flying machine percolating in the Cities, some believe that such a device can help spot exactly where the Shards lie within the City. Furthermore, supplemental machinery can be inserted from above to retrieve the Shards within, all without putting human life at significant risk. However, some scholars studying the technology of the old world beneath the Cerulean Heavens have noted the wind-generating effects of such intense fire and heat, which would make such a solution dangerous at best.
As elusive as entry into the City may be, such a facet of the City urges on further innovations and ideas from the greatest minds under the Shardstreams. Perhaps you will be the one who comes up with the idea that actually works.
The lands just around the Shardstreams are dotted along the edges of the Light's reach. The denizens of the Twilight use this moderate Light to prosper in agriculture, feeding the Cities as well as themselves. While they are subject to the occasional raid by the more thieving folk beyond the Light's reach, the Twilighters prove to be a hardy and persistent lot. They also happen to maintain a spirit of independence from the others around them. Some of the Cities may believe the rural Twilighters are under their dominion as a Kingdom would its Serfs, but they are quick to rout out any formal City rule from their lands.
The village of Copesa is a mostly quaint place on the outskirts of the Holy City’s influence, upon the very rim of Gargonel’s Light. Named after the supposed fifth King who sought to lay claim upon the lands of the Holy City – and failed miserably – the village has more or less removed said King’s ill repute of failure. Though it is technically a territory of the Holy City and does indeed pay the City its due tribute of food and stock for the City’s protection and representation in its affairs, the sprawling village does not take kindly to anyone from the City trying to make that fact public. Its people are fiercely independent, seeing themselves as more in a trade agreement with the City than anything else.
And it’s not just their spirit which is so resolute. Their fighting ability is rumored to be up to par with the best warriors the City can produce. Time and time again in recent history has the village of Copesa resisted or downright defeated armed groups from the Holy City and other nearby Cities wishing to more formally annex the village into their Cities. Even though there is no mistake that the men of the village are hardy as their agricultural traditions make them out to be, there is another factor that plays into the village’s success: the Innerlight.
It is widely known that the Light from the Shards has mystical properties which are harnessed by many: Astronomers who track the Shards and form a bond with them through their study; Alchemists who harness the power of the Light into mechanical form; Brandishers who create a permanent bond between person and Shard with Stardust-imbued tattoos. Being under a constant state of dusk gave some Twilighters, those in a culture already abound with stories of its many travelers full of mystery, intrigue, and magic, a fresh perspective on the Light not known by those basking under the Shardstreams’ glow. When these special villagers focus their eyes in just the right way, they see a faint glow that overlaps the person they are looking at. Depending on the circumstances, this “Innerlight” may simply be residual, or flaring up in various colors and directions.
Some villagers have used this ability as a sort of aural reading to better understand those they meet. Others can determine the subject’s desires and wishes to a degree. Even others have protracted such predictive ability to tell the subject’s future in general terms. But there are some who are somehow able to draw forth the Innerlight itself into the physical realm, conjuring powerful effects even when out of the immaculate shine of the Shards themselves. While there is no one being who can fully extract another’s Innerlight – too much of it removed and it literally saps the life out of the subject – there are those who can reconfigure the Innerlight within someone to make them stronger, more resilient, more able than they ever imagined. There are stories of small groups of villagers fending off an entire army only with a profound mastery over their Innerlight. Spears buckled upon them. Swords dulled on their skin. And woe is the unsuspecting infantryman who got caught in the gaze of one of these villagers for too long.
While Copesa is known to be the first to discover this ability in some of its villagers, many of the other villages in the Twilight are known for their own that are gifted in the Innerlight. For the most part though, this ability seems to reside only within those born and raised in the Twilight, although there has been the odd case of someone from either the Shardstreams or the Strobelands who have picked up the ability in their travels through these villages.
Copesa is also a veritable model of self-sustainable government to many of the other villages in the Twilight. By and large, the people of the village are ruled by a small group of elder men selected by their peers. While matters such as the economy and social affairs are usually left to the people themselves, a sort of common law which most of the villagers grow up to understand, major matters such as diplomacy and military issues are left to these elders. One of the only acknowledged weakness of this system is that the size of this council tends to fluctuate over the years: elders tend to die off over time; there’s usually not a similar number of elders to take up the mantle from generation to generation; there’s sometimes not many who the villagers see fit to lead the village; so forth and so on. Regardless of this bit of chaos in order, the system works for the most part.
The makeup of the council is usually based around the needs of the village at any given time. If the village is at war with a City, it will usually feature a number of former warriors and experts in the use of the Innerlight. In times of economic strife, there will be entrepreneurs in all sorts of fields available. In times of great prosperity, there will be members of a number of vocations to keep the prosperity going. In terrible famines, farmers and hunters will be present in the council. While there is always the issue of popularity and rhetoric within the elders’ politics, people who can address the village’s needs generally trump the best public speakers in the selection of the council.
The village is a primarily agricultural economy, specializing in the cultivation of grains and the raising of livestock. Their supplies are, for the most part, theirs to keep to further sustaining the village, but there is a great portion of it that goes to the Holy City in exchange for its protective services and representation to other Cities abroad. Smaller portions of their products are relegated to Strober traders who bring their goods further in the world in their chase of the Shards. There is also a budding demand for the village’s craftsmen and artisans as the ‘Copesan style’ is growing in popularity among the Holy City’s social elite.
There is also a growing black market of sorts beneath the rustic veneer of the village’s people. Magical baubles and mystic trinkets are hot sellers to those in the know, and for those who are willing to pay a pretty piece of gold for it, lessons in learning how to see the Innerlight. There is even a very small Shard trade which pays some of the elders greatly, though nothing nearly on the scale of the Shard trade of an Alchemical City such as Terec. For the most part, the black market is harmless and understood by the villagers, but can be looked down upon by outsiders, especially if the Holy City found out about the village’s Shard trade.
The Wandering States
Unlike the shardstreams, these smaller towns, sometimes cities are located at temporarily safe havens of light. Founded on astrological prediction of a safe-spot for the next couple of years, maybe decades, enterprising souls trying to exploit previously inaccessible resources. During their brief existence, the States can amass enviable fortunes, raise strong troops or recover relics. The promise of change, of striking out and making a better life, is palpable in the States, many of which are formed from groups of men, be they Strobers or Twilightmen or Baskers, who are doing just that.
However the light waits on no one, eventually the city has to move on. With their the new found power and wealth, wanderers often hire astrologists and pay massive fortunes for research of the next site in the hope of attaining further fortunes, further power. Some Wandering States have existed long enough to make the Move, the Journey or Exodus into a ritual of their own, a massed, regulated effort instead the haphazard exploration of their elders.
Power games, intrigue abound as the time of Move approaches, and the astrology is therefore highly politicized. Fortunes are lost, dynasties fall with the careful shifting of a Exodus by a year. All too often the city's elite has tried to play the game too fine, and entire States go up in flames, or are ransacked in orgies of violence by Vampires, (or, if they survive, dispersing into new tribes of strobers). The light waits on no one.
The Strobelands make up most of the world, and hold most of its people. The shards over the Strobelands are erratic, and its people are nomadic as a result. No area remains habitable for longer than a few months, and settlements must frequently uproot to find new homes. The Strobes send out adventurers all the time, guided only by their knowledge of Astronomy and protected only by their own strength, to find new places to settle, and clear the dark lands of potential threats.
As the Strobes are always on the move, they are the ones most likely to chart new territory and discover the ruins of the old world. It is no surprise that the Strobes then make for excellent traders, even in their constant pursuit for the next Shard. Mostly, their trades are between their tribes. Once in a while however, solitary Strobes venture to the Shardstreams to trade with the Citizens. In exchange for rare treasures, the Strobes gain goods from the Cities and Astronomical knowledge to bring back to their tribes. Or to keep for themselves.
Strobes are a nomadic people, grouped not by settlements or families, but by tribes. While there are some basic unifying features of the Strobes, each tribe has its own cultural and functional differences from each other.
Tribe of the Dawnchase
Strobes are commonly known as “Chasers of the Dawn” among other folk primarily because of this tribe. Unlike some members of the other tribes who have come to settle and mingle with other peoples, their expertise in tracking and following the Shards of the world is so ingrained into their tradition that settling anywhere is almost out of the question. Their expertise is so strong that even some of the best Astronomers of the Cities seek travelling groups of Dawnchase in hopes of learning their techniques.
One of the most elusive techniques the Astronomers seek is known as the Rite of the Phoenix’s Heart. High-ranking members of the Dawnchase are signified by grotesque scars upon their chests, burns which many imagine they shouldn’t have lived through. Rumor has it that upon their entry into the higher echelons of Dawnchase society, these individuals are branded with a Shard against the chest for a specified amount of time. If the person lives through the ordeal, she becomes closer to the Shards than any Astronomer ever hopes to be.
It is almost as if she feels the Phoenix’s heartbeat through her own scar when Shards are present, and can track and predict them with seemingly impossible accuracy and precision. Their ability can track down even the minute grains of Stardust, making them excellent trackers of anything bearing even a trace of the Shard’s Light.
Tribe of the Lightbearers
It is widely known that Strobes are hardy and persistent adventurers, especially among their scouts. Their scouts tend to travel through uncharted and extremely dangerous terrain, always likely to meet their match in the ferocious creatures and harsh conditions of the wilderness. With one tribe however, the spirit of adventure has been perfected into an art form, according to some of the legends. The Lightbearers made their name as a go-to source for those who need a guide or a scout for an expedition, be the clients Strobe or otherwise.
While they have suitable ability in Astronomy as do the other tribes, the Lightbearers actually specialize in Cartography and knowledge of the wild. Their maps have made travel of the world much easier for non-Strobes since they first shared them with a band of travelling musicians long ago, making them a pretty profit when they find folks who don’t already have one of their maps. Of course, they have the adventuring skills to back up their map-making ability, proving to be more cunning and more perceptive than the Cities’ finest warriors at times.
Given their mercantile approach to adventuring, the Lightbearers have learned to easily socialize with the other peoples of the world. While they can be easygoing in their pursuits, just a word of warning – do not underestimate or belittle their skills and knowledge. They tend to be rather temperamental about it.
Tribe of the Sunprism
This little-known tribe has splintered off from the Dawnchase in recent memory into its own tribe. Unlike their forefathers who came to relish the hunt for the Shards, the Sunprism has come to follow the legend of a Prismatic Shard shimmering with all the colors of the spectrum in its Light, rather than the usual fiery orange and yellow Shards skittering across the skies. This tribe believes that this particular Shard contains the very soul of the departed Phoenix and will return to the world one day to deliver its salvation to its people.
Their pursuit of the Prismatic Shard has led them to only follow the other Shards for their survival until they come across the legendary Shard. Instead, the Sunprism have poured most of their resources into the acquisition and interpretation of lore across the world from many ages, all in search for clues as to the location and arrival of the Prismatic Shard. Though much of the lore they collected over the years has led to nothing in their search, they still have come to cherish it as their accomplishments. They deciphered texts which established translators have no hope of figuring out. They confirmed and busted legends about older civilizations. They discovered forms of magic not reliant on the Shards.
If there is a mystery about the world – even outside of the Prismatic Shard – odds are that a Sunprism is the one you should be looking for to get more information about it.
Tribe of the Shardwatch
This is the tribe of Strobes in which the Citizens of the Holy City are most familiar with. They are the traders who fill the bazaars. They are the swordsmen who assist the guards. They are the mystics who tell their stories. In return, the Citizens offer their money, their goods, and their knowledge unto these Strobes.
While they clearly value the knowledge of Astronomy from the Cities beneath the Shardstreams, their culture has developed a sense of mysticism in their pursuits.
Many of the Shardwatch believe that certain pictograms and patterns have both physical and spiritual meaning. These are generally tattooed on the skin through what many scholars in the City call "Brandery." Certain patterns denote rank among tribesfolk. They are also used to provide a visual history of their exploits during the members' lives.
The pinnacle of Shardwatch Brandery is the Rite of Phoenix's Blood. Candidates are selected based on a combination of his or her Astronomical knowledge, the rank in the tribe, and just plain how much he or she has survived danger. A Brandisher tattoos special marks upon each candidate's skin using a mix of ink and especially concentrated Stardust, making a permanent link between candidate and Shard. Few survive the procedure altogether. Even fewer come out of it without permanent damage within and without. Fewer still succeed the Rite and ascend to the highest echelons of Shardwatch society.
The Starry Seas
Though there has been a general lack of travel due to the new circumstances presented with the Awakening, it also presented people an opportunity to explore lands forever changed by the catastrophe. One of the most puzzling areas one can explore are the seas of the new world. While the effects of the Shards can be most easily observed and studied on the land, it is not such an easy task on the seas. The only thing that is generally known about the seas is that some of the Shards fell into them, altering their environment dramatically.
Most sea life will not venture near the submerged Shards, which render the waters around them inhospitable to all life except for extremophiles. However, they will congregate, hunt, and travel along the paths of the Shardstreams circling the world, attracting aerial predators to the Light-lit areas also. For the seas untouched by the Light, travelers will encounter ice floes and an unforgiving cold which present a grievous challenge even to the most experienced sailor. As such, trade through the seas is reserved for the hardiest and most daring entrepreneurs, while only the most dedicated Strobes traverse the seas in their chase of the errant Shards.
Both a terror of the deep in stature and skill as well as a benevolent trading partner when the opportunity arises, these denizens of the seas are a complex people of no words at all. To the people above the surface, the Anchordread are most known for their improvised weapons of discarded sailor technology, be they chains, harpoons, or even the anchors of their namesake. They are also known for their deadly electric shock, which can travel through a mere touch with another, through their weaponry, or even through the water in which they travel. However, recent research has put the Anchordread beneath a more civilized lens, daring explorers and hard-working scholars painting a picture of a highly sophisticated people far different than the people on the surface.
It all began with a shock.
Soon after the Awakening, desperate souls seeking somewhere safe to settle took their chances on the turbulent seas to find their promised land. Many died on their journey through the seas in about as many ways as there were victims. One of the most common tales of such a demise is at the hands of fierce warriors emerging from the choppy surf to plunder the lumbering vessels as they were churned in the waves. Chains were wielded with the ease of a rope as the sharp fixtures on their ends slashed through the crew with blinding speed, all before the warriors descended beneath the waves minutes later with their spoils.
Of course, such tales soon became mere legends once the sailors figured out how to best avoid said warriors' roving war bands. But on the off chance, one of these notorious warriors peered its head out of the water at a passing ship, an almost curious gaze set upon its bestial head. The creature quietly studied the people on board from afar until one day, it silently approached the vessel in broad Shardlight. Unknowing of the creature, the crew drew their arms as quickly as they could, even as the creature climbed upon the deck without a weapon on its being. After a tense silence, the creature merely extended one of its long, spindly arms, extending its spidery fingers in an awkward invitation for a handshake.
Moments later, the captain of the ship lowered his blade and slowly approached the creature once he sensed its lack of aggression. The creature stood still, allowing the captain to make his advance until finally, their hands clasped together to seal their meeting. Unfortunately for the captain, a powerful blast of electricity surged through him from the creature's hand, killing him in an instant. Horrified at their captain's fate, the crew charged the creature, who retreated back into the seas, bewildered by the result as well.
There was no sign of the creature for the rest of the day until the following morning. The crew awoke to find the creature on the deck with an old fishing net chock full of sunken treasure and fish, all of which valuable and useful to the crew. It was as if the creature studied the crew far deeper than they thought and retrieved these things for them. As the creature departed back into the waters, the crew soon realized that this was the beginning of an unusual and unspoken trading agreement with the Anchordread.
Sailors in the know soon learned of this incident, most of which using this knowledge to furthermore steer clear of the Anchordread wherever they sailed. However, a few more enterprising minds used the tragedy to make incredible gains on the high seas. More of the creatures began to appear along the common trade routes, allowing themselves to be brought on board the ships unarmed. Just like the incident, they would extend their hand in the familiar gesture, at which the crew would put forward one of their prisoners or lower crewmen, someone expendable. The poor soul would be instructed to either shake the creature's hand or walk the plank, at which the usually unwitting person would choose the former of the two. A powerful shock later and the sacrifice was made, the killed man tossed overboard and the trade made in the morning.
This knowledge continued to spread to the coastal communities, the Anchordread somehow learning of these communities as well. In due time, the creatures began to appear on the coasts, most people knowing the meaning of their appearances by the time they did so. At first, the villagers put forth their their prisoners and unwanted, just as the sailors did before them. However, the Anchordread began to take on a more noble persona, new stories emerging from these communities depicting them as servants of the seas who bring forth the souls of the departed into the welcoming waters. The villagers then began offering the infirm, invalid, and the terminally ill to take on the Anchordread's swift embrace.
The change in attitude brought changes from the creatures as well. For one, they would bring more lavish riches and goods to the surface. They also seemed to bury those who died from their contact in a bed of kelp, bringing forth a sense of deep respect for those whom they take from the world. There was a powerful significance of their touch with those they put out of their misery, just as potent as the shock given by the touch.
People soon began studying these interesting creatures however they could. Scholars became driven by the possible discovery of the meaning behind their lethal touch and the mysterious culture that seemed to surround it. The first inkling of knowledge behind the touch came from a passing ship traversing along one of the Shardstreams. Observers noticed a pair of Anchordread swimming together much like a pair of mated dolphins would playfully traipse the surface. At times, their fingers became entwined, eliciting strong pulses of light surging through veins in their arms while they made pleasant sounds from the contact. It was then when it was first suggested that the electricity they possessed was not just a weapon, but a means of communication between them.
The story spread like wildfire through the research community, bringing forth countless theories behind what a possible Anchordread society may entail. Social scientists and wildlife experts teamed up with the world's finest Alchemists to bring their studies closer to the creatures than they could above the surface. Over time, the Alchemists came up with sturdy submersibles which could bring people under the seas for the first time in their memory. At first, such adventures bore very little fruit. Maybe a sighting of one of the creatures, or perhaps even a group of them in transit. But nothing groundbreaking, as they were hoping.
All until they found a group of them with a pod of orca-like cteylaxes, seemingly riding them like warriors would horses on the land. The aquatic steed were every bit as swift and agile as the sailors told them to be, making it tremendously difficult to discern them in detail. Fortunately for the researchers, the Anchordread seemed able to detect their presence and acknowledge their curiosity by slowing down. This gave the researchers the ability to glimpse at just how the creatures were able to hold on to them. They held onto bored holes in the steed's head, the electric light subtly pulsing along their arms as they manipulated the behemoths' every movement. It was as if the Anchordread were accessing the cteylaxes' minds directly through their touch.
An expedition seeking new lands in the north of the world stumbled across an especially revealing sight of the Anchordread: a brutal fight between them and a mighty aboleth. It is common knowledge that even the largest creatures in the Starry Seas will steer clear of the colossal eel-like creature at any and all expense. Between its boundless electric shock, terrifying speed, and unimaginable aggression, the aboleth is truly a thing to fear and avoid. The Anchordread however were fighting it tooth-and-nail, so to say. Their chained weapons arced above the waves, seeking to strike the terrible foe true, all while the slithery mammoth of a beast whipped and lashed about at its quarry. Many Anchordread perished in the battle before they retreated, but one stayed behind to try its hand at felling the foul aboleth, grabbing its tail directly in its last-ditch effort.
The flash of electric light was said to rival even the Shard of Gargonel with its brilliance.
The poor Anchordread was all but vaporized in the blast, its kin crooning out a dirge of sorts upon its folly. With the Anchordread's ranks injured and severely reduced in numbers - and with the aboleth soon leaving the area - the ship took in the survivors of the battle. Medics carefully applied their medicines and treatments to the creatures. Then the impossible happened - one of the creatures touched one of the medics. His fellows feared the worst, but the medic only suffered a numbed arm from the contact. It seemed that the creature became able to control the voltage of its touch. But an even more remarkable happening occurred as the medic felt emotions he shouldn't have had given the circumstances. He felt an intense hatred for the aboleth which took the life of the creature's comrades, almost brought to tears from the profound sadness that followed the loss.
The touch of the Anchordread took on a far greater function than weaponry and simple communication - it somehow conveyed the creature's very emotions with others.
While it was incredibly difficult to believe that the touch of the Anchordread did not always kill the people whom they touched, more stories began to crop in the research community about such a phenomenon. The creatures were beginning to understand humans in ways that mere monstrous races should not. They were growing a sense of empathy with the surface-dwellers. But just why were the creatures this involved, this interested in humans? Why were these aquatic beastmen pouring as much effort into this endeavor as the humans were in their research of them?
The answers to these questions would only come to the boldest researchers, those who took the place of the Anchordread as the initiators. At first, the contact was quite trivial and hard to decipher. But with further study, more open-minded researchers would finely tune the emotions and sensations brought upon them to bring forth a clearer picture of the creatures' situation, while the creatures would better accommodate their message to the humans' understanding. Through countless mental conversations with their counterparts, the researches came across the core value of the Anchordread's society: the freedom and exchange of information; "the Legacy" as the Anchordread termed it.
A basic understanding of the Legacy is akin to the oral tradition of storytelling in human cultures. Information about one's people is accurately passed down from generation to generation through the practiced and repeated telling of a carefully tailored story. Basic facts, adventures, exploits, achievements, failures, everything that someone needs to know about one's family, tribe, city, so forth and so on, were all contained in the story. Once the story became lost or altered somewhere along the line, the information became such as well. The Legacy works like that, but through the electrical imprinting of information upon cherished objects, such as the weapons passed on through the Anchordread's generations. It is also passed through intimate contact with each other in a familial fashion. Once the objects become contaminated or when relations sour between Anchordread, the Legacy changes.
While a story can easily be changed among humans in the oral tradition through a mere change in perception, the Legacy is not as much so. The Anchordread exhibit a powerful sense of empathy and understanding, allowing them to look past feelings which may alter another's state of mind and to gain the core information behind such a facade. This clarity of mind has allowed the Anchordread to read into human history through their touch with an unbiased and extremely interested perspective, fueling their own research and connection with humanity with as much fervor as the scholars put into their own knowledge of the creatures.
All this discovery has led both mankind and the Anchordread to the present. Sailors and coastal villagers enjoy a rather beneficial relationship with the creatures. The Anchordread serve as not only undertakers for those at the end of their lives, but valuable traders to the bold and adventurous. Not only are they worthy allies on the Starry Seas with literally generations of battle prowess behind them, but they are also profound historians with ages of knowledge available to the most worthy of human researchers.
Away from these communities though, the Anchordread is sadly a being of legend only, monsters who are merely known for their utmost savagery. Were one to approach the Cities and beyond, their understanding of humanity may forever be skewed for the worse...
Beyond the Strobelands lie relatively scant parts of the world where there is extremely little or no Light at all. These lands are rarely explored by Citizens and Strobes alike, and for good reason. If it isn't the unforgiving cold that bites through any and all clothing you may be wearing, the truly horrifying creatures who somehow survive here will do you in before you get too far.
The People of the Soulshard
White, short, and stocky in stature, the People of the Soulshard (or as the rest of society calls them... Them and They) live in a great underground cavern, lit by a single fallen Shard They found soon after the Phoenix's Awakening. While They were primarily an underground people before the Awakening, They required to grow crops and hunt game on the surface in order to survive. But with the Dark fast encroaching Their lands and the flora and fauna around Them dying as a result, They brought the Shard underground with Them to rebuild Their civilization there. The Soulshard, as They had come to call it, would allow Them to continue Their lives uninterrupted by the Dark for many ages.
In due time however, even the life-giving Light of the Soulshard dimmed to but a flicker. In the time of desperation, a religious cult seized power upon Their fear of extinction and introduced a barbaric policy of blood sacrifice. Even though the policy seemed far-fetched and far more radical than most of Them would prefer to follow, it bore fruit at first. The Soulshard miraculously reignited when regularly fed with blood, giving Them the hope they so desperately needed. But the Light of the Soulshard eventually took on a strange, silvery glow instead of its usual golden glory. The Light began to do strange things to Them. Over generations of inbreeding and exposure to the Ghostlight, Their culture mutated into a hive of diminutive albinoid creatures, only just recognizable as people any more.
Very rarely will They come forth to the surface. Even rarer do They interact with the other peoples, who only see Them as utter monsters. Maybe it's Their emaciated appearance. Maybe Their chalk white skin. Maybe Their ferocious battle prowess. But They are a people to be feared in the eyes of those under the Shattered Sun.
Even with the nourishing Ghostlight of the Soulshard, They still require some form of physical sustenance to survive Their harsh environs. As such, They had to resort to hunting the terrifying creatures which came to exist in the Dark of the surface. However, the creatures of the Dark can be just as fickle as those of the former world under the Cerulean Heavens.
They migrate. They are quick. They are cunning.
Sometimes Their hunters are unable to catch a meal for their kin underground. Long enough of such failure and They become desperate. They sometimes scrape up strange vegetation and fungi from beneath the permafrost. But there is the occasional case of the extremely desperate hunter who spots a stray Strobe or Tanner venturing into the Darklands. Almost assuredly, the hunter is able to capture the stray and bring him or her back to the caves underground to feed the rest of Them.
Despite Their culture of blood sacrifice, They usually use the blood of Their own and frown upon the killing of and especially the consumption of people who have absorbed the Light of the Shards. But sometimes the pangs of hunger overrule Their cultural tenet. They who end up eating the flesh and drinking the blood of such outsiders initially feel far more invigorated than Those who primarily rely on animal food and the nourishment of the Ghostlight. However, a truly horrifying madness sets in over time. The rest of Them have no choice but to exile one of Their own gone mad by such means to the Dark of the surface.
There are as many theories as to the cause of this madness, the Vampirism, as there are scholars and thinkers. But everyone knows the signs of one of Them who has gone Vampire. Her eyes glow a paralyzing shade of crimson as she stalks about her icy environs in little more than a loincloth. Once she springs into action, her speed is truly frightening. And once she strikes, her strength is enough to snuff out the Light from her most unlucky target. Her destruction knows no bounds, seemingly on the hunt for any and all life. Her hunt will only seemingly stop once the world is devoid of any life other than herself.
Reaction to the Light
While the Vampires are clearly an exiled lot from the remainder of Their culture, They as a whole suffer from a terrible stigma in the eyes of Citizen and Strobe alike. There's of course the issue of the Vampires running around the frigid landscape of the Darklands. And there's the brutal way of fighting They learned through Their hunting of the awesome creatures that roam the surface. But there's also a natural aversion to the Light of the rest of the world under the Shards.
For generations, They basked in the glow of the Ghostlight, which mutated Them somehow into the pale and lithe creatures They are now. The Ghostlight also seems to be of a lesser intensity than that of the Light which the Citizens and Strobes seek refuge under, making for far more sensitive eyes. Finally, despite the Ghostlight illuminating the caverns and nourishing Them in a yet unexplained way, it gives off very little warmth, leaving the caverns almost as cold as the surface above.
When introduced to the Light of the Shards, They show the signs of an extreme allergy to such energy. First, Their eyes become blinded and throb in pain from the sheer intensity of the Light. Over a short period of time, Their skin will show growing fields of blisters where the Light touches the most, giving the illusion of Their skin boiling to an observer. As exposure continues, Their internal temperature will rise to dangerous levels, making Them suffer not unlike an overdose of Stardust to a Citizen or Strobe. In the final stages, They will suffer similarly to that of a stroke, all while dehydrating to fatal levels.
Despite the fact that most of society under the Shards see Them are mere monsters and nothing more, some of Them do grow an enormous sense of curiosity about the world of the surface, especially the world beyond the Darklands. Most end up perishing the thought, either through the needs of Their society, the danger of the creatures above, or the greater danger of the exiled Vampires. But there is occasionally one of Them who ventures out, never to return to the caves of the Soulshard.
They soon become nomadic and follow the Shards above, much like a tribe of Strobes. However, They travel in the Dark between the Light of the fleeting Shards, lurking just outside the Light's reach of a tribe at times. They are always at the peril of being noticed by a traveling tribe of Strobes, given their enmity toward the Their kind. Instead, They would try to meet a scout from the tribe if at all necessary. Most of the time, such a meeting is ill-fated, always ending up in a fight to the death. However, there has been a few recorded instances of a more peaceful meeting.
These Lurkers, as They have come to be called seem to be the only way the scholars and thinkers of the civilized world under the Shattered Sky learn anything about Them and Their culture. Monsters though They may be.
The surface-dwellers know this much about Them - blood-thirsty creatures of a cult mentality who sometimes splinter off from their cult to better understand others around them. However, this knowledge is only the tip of the iceberg about Them. As a matter of fact, They consider the Vampires and Lurkers to be extremely fringe elements among Their society. The following is anecdotal knowledge of Their culture, passed on by a rare Lurker who made successful, peaceful contact with a Strobe tribe.
The God of the Sun
Long ago in the world under the Cerulean Heavens, long before the age of Kings and even longer before the Awakening, existed one People. This People looked up to the Sun in the sky above them and saw it as a mighty God, a God who bore the People from the mud of the world with only his benevolence. In return for the God's gift upon the People, the People brought forth gifts upon the God as thanks. Over time, the People recognized the greatest gift of all to their God, the blood of the God's children. Only through the blood could the God understand the lives and experiences set upon His children and find joy in His existence.
The God's joy brought forth lesser Gods to govern the wilderness around the People, Gods in which the People could more directly come into contact with. The God had hoped that delegating His responsibilities would give Him more time to understand his People better. However, some have come to ally themselves with these lesser Gods, who they found kinder and more peaceful than the God who required their blood for appeasement. The splintering of the People brought the God into a righteous anger, commanding His People to quash their heretical brothers and bring them back under the God's fold.
Witnessing the merciless, divine fury of the Sun God, the People continued to drift apart. Some of them further allied with the lesser Gods who grew in power thanks to their worship. There were others who sought to reform their worship of the Sun God to make peace with their splintered brothers and sisters. Others still sought to eschew their bonds under the Gods' control altogether. The Sun God found Himself growing weak from the dwindling devotion of the People, watching them disperse across the corners of the world. The weakness turned into loneliness, and the Sun God could only watch the very People be borne grow into their own, shedding their ties to the Sun God altogether.
In due time, even the lesser Gods felt the backlash of an increasingly disparate People, watching them splinter off into peoples of their own before they succumbed to a terrible slumber. However, the peoples continued to exist alongside the lesser Gods' domains of nature, allowing them to continue existing despite their slumber. The Sun God however met a far more awful fate. So drained of His power from the complete and utter lack of devotion, He would not merely fall into a slumber as did His counterparts. Instead, He would die in a brilliant flash of Light, His vessel shattered in countless pieces. But only the very few who still recalled the old days of His glory saw it as such. The heretics would only come to know of this as the Phoenix's Awakening.
With the Sun God destroyed, the few who still carried faith in Him saw it as their ultimate forsaking. The Sun God has finally rejected his People in return for their rejection of Him. With the darkness and cold growing around them, the true believers went underground with a piece of Him they came across in their journeys in hopes of rekindling His glory. This piece of Him would become commonly known as the Soulshard, and its story would become well known through the world's travelers and adventurers. However, They (as the true believers would become known as to the outside world) would live through the Soulshard's demise and the further degradation of Their culture. As the bards of the surface recall, a cult would take over and bring forth a policy of blood-spilling to feed the dying Soulshard.
This cult claimed to have the knowledge of the Sun God from the People's earliest days. While the idea of spilling blood to feed the Soulshard understandably was met with resistance, the results were undeniable. They increased Their numbers and Their underground territory over time with the newfound powers of the Soulshard, even growing lush forests and jungles within the otherwise dark caverns with the Soulshard's Ghostlight. They even started to expand into underground Cities of their own, some of which rivaling even the mightiest Cities under the Shardstreams. The Orthodoxy, as the cult would come to call themselves, soon found themselves in a position of power beyond their wildest dreams.
The Rebirth of a God
Though They grew and prospered under the rule of the Orthodoxy, They also came to understand that They could only go living on under the Soulshard and the other Shards They would come to take underground from the surface for so long. A more permanent solution was required for Their survival. Facing this inevitability, the Orthodoxy presented an idea which most would consider laughable, at best. For a dying People however, the idea was so crazy that it had to work.
They had to reassemble the Sun in order to resurrect Their God.
They had to find all the Shards they could, for starters. Fortunately though, enough of their blood spilled upon a Shard would allow them to grow, so they didn't have to find every single Shard in existence, which would pose an impossible task. While this part was possible, there is always the problem about putting the Sun back into the sky. This part would require a great deal more muscle than They could collectively muster. For this task, They would require the assistance of the slumbering lesser Gods to put the new Sun into the sky.
The Enemy Above
As the true believers of the Sun God, They came to the realization that the lesser Gods would not reside with them underground, as the heretics above allied with them during the Shattering. Instead, the lesser Gods would most likely reside within the spirits of descendants of those who originally worshiped them long ago. They would have to venture above and find those who house the lesser Gods and free them from their bodily vessels. Given Their already present disdain for the Enemy Above, this was an idea that They could get behind - slaughter the heretics above and resurrect their God in one fell swoop.
There are circumstances which make Them pause before going out to do so, though. For one, there is the surface itself, an Enemy of its own kind. Cold and relentless compared to the incubating warmth of the Soulshard-lit underground, the Darklands above makes for challenging terrain for the People, requiring many layers of clothing to combat the cold and, if they make it there, resist the piercing Light of the Shardstreams. Then there are the detractors. They exiled the Vampires, which incidentally made them a second Enemy on the surface. More importantly, there are the Lurkers who seek peace with the Enemy Above. While largely unsuccessful given the Enemy's bias against the People, there are likely to be a few who are successful in Their endeavors. Such as the one who gave this information to the passing Strobe tribe.
The Enemy Within
Though They are largely united for Their survival, there is one issue which divides Them - the practice of sacrifice. Those in the core of Their civilization are very willing to give Their own blood to the Soulshards as there are more of Them concentrated there. Besides, Their blood is far more pure for the Soulshards' needs and indeed grow the Shards' power much better than that of outsiders. For the communities on the fringe however, Their relatively scant numbers limit their ability to feed their own blood into Their Soulshards. They have to resort for hunting for others to sacrifice to Their Shards, which in turn slows down Their progress compared to those in the core.
The disparity between the core and the fringe, as well as the factors above ground, force Them to bide Their time before launching Their assault on the surface. The quandary thus becomes as follows: bide too little time, and They will become too weak to succeed above; bide too much time and They may die off before They can get the chance to attack. They must figure out how much time They need to take before launching the offensive, especially before the Enemy Above catches wind of Their plans.
The Old Dineh Lands
Legend has it that there was once a civilization in the far north of the world who was luckier than most during the Awakening. While its people, only known as the Dineh, suffered much in the Shards' fiery wrath, their City was left relatively intact. They were somehow able to retrieve a Shard that landed nearby and brought it into their City. For ages since, they have prospered as the lands around them succumbed to the oppressive Dark. Weary from the tortured cries of the ravaged souls beyond the City's bounds, the Dineh erected a mighty wall of alabaster around the City. In due time, the Light from the Shard died off and the City began its downfall within the impenetrable wall.
From there, the legend seems to intersect with that of the People of the Soulshard. Desperate times called for desperate measures and blood was spilled to prolong the life of the Shard, with similarly sinister consequences. Perhaps They are descended from the Dineh, who seem to have disappeared altogether from their former City. Regardless of the truth, not even the bravest of adventurous Strobes dare approach the Dineh's former realm. It is said that the souls of their dead, as well as the souls of those they ignored seek the souls of the living to finally free themselves from the Dark's irresistible thrall.
The Rotting Swamp
To the East of the Cities lies a large swath of land coated by eternal darkness. This in of itself is not unusual, at any one time more than half of this world lies in grey twilight or blackest night. It is however what hides within this blanket of shadow that makes it both unique and terrifying. Deep within the shade, lies a massive swamp where a great forest and a small City, with no remembered name, used to rest.
The City's Former Life
The City, at what may charitably be called its prime, was home to near seven thousand and was well known along the Eastern coast as a major source of timber, charcoal and other by-products of wood. Despite its status as a major producer, the City was also extremely poor due to its main exports being cheap raw materials and its rapidly expanding populace consuming its resources. This sad state of affairs was further reflected from both its high unemployment rates and massive amounts of acid rain and smog, generated by the charcoal 'factories' and the constant drizzle of rain that seemed to permeate the air half the year.
As a result of the corrosive precipitation and general lack of sturdier materials, the vast majority of the City’s residential buildings were constructed from the native timber of its industry. The buildings of the City, rather than reach towards the heavens above with majestic spires and towers, clung to the ground as if the Citizens were afraid it would run away, featuring deep basements designed to maximize space while minimizing cost.
An Unusual Rebirth
With the Phoenix's Awakening, this area was to be one of the few in the world unfortunate enough to not be gifted with any Shardstream or stray beacon of Light at all. As its occupants fled, the nocturnal denizens of the forests advanced in the never-ending night, and the town soon fell into severe disrepair.
Gradually the wooden buildings came to be covered with thick clumps of moss and fungus, the only things which could thrive in such a hostile environment, and rotted to the ground. The sturdier stone factories and official buildings became the refuge of wildlife scavenging the city for its dwindling food sources. The forest, or rather, certain types of fungus, also continued to grow with massive speed, and within two decades the entire area was covered by a thick layer of nutrient hungry fungus that turned everything of organic nature into slush beneath it. The fungi also decayed the rest of the City into ruins with the aid of the still acidic and regular supply of rain water. The larger animals of the forest died out sometime after, providing yet more food for the insatiable plant life.
Over the intervening centuries between the Awakening and the present day, the fungus and decay, combined with the massive amounts of organic matter provided by dead animal and plant life, have been converted into a deep sea of muddy swampland. It stretches almost five miles wide by the best estimates, atop the carcasses of its dead parents. The only life to be found now are massive, sprawling fungi that reach dozens of feet into the air and thrice around, and small insects that feed off of nutrient-rich liquids (including the blood of animals and, by some accounts, the wayward adventurer), algae, and small amphibians.
A Cradle of Life and Death
There is nothing alive in the City besides its now-established ecosystem of fungi and insects. Other creatures may survive there for only a paltry week before the spores in the air begin to take effect. The kinder ones merely causes intense hallucinations while the more common (and deadlier) ones cause tenacious mushrooms to take root in the victim's lungs, and from there devour it from the inside out.
The insects seem to swarm constantly in the dank coldness, biting and stinging anyone who draws near to their domain, causing infections and disease unknown to even the best physicians of the Cities. The insects are only held at bay by Light, be it from a Shard or even a fire, something so alien to them it overcomes even their hunger and drives them off in their hordes. The ground is uneven and contains otherwise invisible, gaping sink-holes that can swallow horses whole, with muck and slime so thick that men have broken bones being dragged out by their friends.
If not for the steel machines still within intact factories and the chance of a large sum of gold held throughout the City's bank, as well as the promise of knowledge from before the Awakening, no-one would dare to enter the swamp and face the wrath of its ever expanding, tainted grasp. But, there still exist a few who dare to go where others have died before in search of glory, riches, knowledge, perhaps even more...
And the Rotting Swamp will gladly welcome their corpses.
The Gateway to Hell
There were other gigantic Shards which streaked across the blazing sky. One such specimen struck one of the vast deserts of the south shortly after the birth of the Phoenix. Due to the massive sandstorms raging through there at the time, the Shard's downwards course was hastened through the miles of endless storm and debris and eventually crashed into the ground with indescribable force felt even during the worst of the Awakening across the world.
The shard plowed through the ground for miles, burning sand into the pure crystal in every direction much of the way down before it finally stopped and lay still. Rather than fill with sand from around the impact, the area soon afterwards began to calm down as the Shardstream above eventually changed course, broke apart, or simply fell to the Earth below as they were won't to do at the time. The intense storms finally stopped as the land began to turn to eternal night. In the darkness, the Shard became the only source of Light in the entire desert. Its golden-red glow, a mockery of sunset caused by the dust particles in the air, could be seen for miles in all directions. The brilliant glow lit up the sky for hundreds of feet upwards, refracted by the tunnel of crystal encircling the Shard.
As the local animal and fauna died out all around, the ones near the Shard seemed to thrive as its magical properties rapidly reformed them from the inside out in a matter of years. Cacti grew to massive, gnarled, and twisted sizes, their tendril-like arms interlocking and forming an organic maze around their new source of nourishment. As the cacti sucked raw energy from the air, they eventually evolved into entirely new species. The animals, or more accurately, the scorpions, evolved to their new surroundings, feeding on the swarming insect population and any living creature stupid enough to come to the light looking for warmth. Their already dangerous poisons brewed to new heights of potency by the energy wisping underneath the cacti's reach underground.
Into the Scar
The actual Scar however, was the most dangerous place yet.
A constant stream of sand whisked into the tunnel by the winds were burned as they passed into the Gateway and drew too close to the Shard. The intense heat surrounding the Shard caused the sand to glow a brilliant yellow as it was thrashed upwards by the scalding air, and the overall effect being that of an endless stream of embers creeping up the tunnel. These embers regularly set fires to the Cacti, whisking a flurry of ash onto the surface which provided the survivors with precious nutrients. The burning smell lingered through the desert as it was spread out towards its many corners.
The Shard glowed an angry red from above. Those who descended into the Scar itself were blinded by the diffused and refracted Light with a multitude of rainbows from all directions, making it even harder to navigate the tunnel's smooth surface. Even worse, it made such poor souls more likely to fall in too deep and be burned to cinders by the sudden increase of temperature. The air within was dry as bone, without a drop of moisture to be found, causing trouble for the throat and lips only a fraction into the cavern.
A New Oasis
Overall, the massive amounts of fire, ash, poisonous animal life, twisting walls of needle, and hellish glow gave everyone who saw it but even once the impulse to run for their lives from what was surely the home of demons, and gave birth to it's local nickname.
Until recently, that is. In the last few years the Shards Light and heat has begun to die. The fires became fewer, and one can even venture much deeper before the heat begins to become stifling. Because of this turn of events, foolhardy adventurers and businessmen alike now lead expeditions down the Gateway in search of the treasures of the Gateway. Awaiting the successful are the valuable resources of the Shard which could still be exploited for profit, as well as the poison of the scorpions, a very sought after ingredient for both Alchemist's potions and assassins daggers alike.
The Castle on the Shard
There are also legends of a truly massive Shard which obliterated an entire Kingdom by itself upon the Phoenix's Awakening. Even the hallowed historians of the House of Arzot touched upon the disaster in their annals, despite their diligence to omit rumors and legends from their texts. In the current day, the crater caused by the impact filled with water now deep in the Darklands.
But why water rather than ice in the impossible cold of the Dark?
Perhaps the answer lies in another question: Why is there a castle in the middle of this lake? It is rumored that the castle has something to do with the Shard. Either that it's built upon the Shard which caused the crater lake or, more astonishingly, the castle IS the Shard. Given the power that such a Shard had to have in order to wipe the former Kingdom off of the map, it would make little sense that the Shard lost enough of it for normal people, even the People of the Soulshard, to excavate by themselves. Whatever power carved into the fallen Shard has to be absolutely terrifying to most.
But alluring to others...
Tales of the Shattered Sun
I was just a boy when the Great Phoenix awoke from his slumber. When after thousands of years, he had regrown and regenerated from his great crusade against the swarms of the void. When he began to flex within his crystal shell, the normally yellow light slowly pulsing through the spectrum, from red to ultraviolet, changing every several days. Wizards and alchemists pondered the meaning, gazing at the sun in wonder, debating in their towers. Until The Cracking.
The slow changes between colors began to speed up. Faster and faster they came. Everyone in my village went out to look at the sun, captivated by its power. Staring up as colors spun like a child's kaleidoscope. I could not, for I was bedridden with fever. But I could see the lights playing with the shadow beyond the doorway of our hut.
Suddenly, a flare. Screams from outside as the onlookers were struck blind by the Phoenix's power, by the incredible influx of light. I stumbled from my fever bed and looked up at the sky. I and those others who had looked away or were busy indoors saw something not seen before or since. A great bird unfurling its wings across the sky, crystal slivers exploding outwards with incredible force in all directions, its feathers changing colors before our eyes. Women fainted, men wept, most soiled themselves. I could only look up in awe, mouth agape, as the great bird flapped its wings and flew off into the void, searching for its prey.
Weeks later the Shards began to fall. Daggers flying towards us, flung from an uncaring god. Forests burned, seas turned to steam, cities destroyed. Civilization died along with most of humanity.
But we persevered. Some shards dance across the sky now, smaller suns for smaller men. Others are stabbed deep into the earth, pillars of flaming stone burning evermore that no man may go near. All are intensely magical, creating new life and imbuing the mundane with the extraordinary. Wizards prize even the smallest of pieces. Some say there are great feathers within the Shards that can bring back the dead and give life everlasting.
One must get past the death cults. Exotic beasts driven mad by magic. Twilight cannibals that feast upon sun-fed flesh. Not to mention the mountains of fire themselves.
I've seen every Shard from here to the Scalding Sea. Join my crew and you shall as well. A life of fortune and fame is offered to you, my boys. The only question is, are you man enough to take it?
"Allow me to get this correct: A lowly savage such as yourself, a mere wanderer of the Strobelands, seeks an audience with His Luminance to warn him of a Shardfall in three weeks' time upon His glorious City? You dare disturb him with the very idea of an occurrence deemed completely and utterly impossible by our Astronomers, the most expert and insightful in all of the land!?"
"E-exactly... I don't mean t'intrude, b-but..."
"SILENCE! There is reason His Luminance has dubbed His City the City of Eternal Shardlight. Not only do we lie under a stable Shardstream, but our storied Astronomers foresee a long and prosperous life for the City. I can understand if others such as yourself look upon the City with envy and desire, but I will not dare allow the hollow words of a Strober bring a most unnecessary panic upon the City! Guards!"
"I ain't tryin' to cause anything! I'm tryin' t'warn y'all b'fore-"
As the guard struck the young man in his dusty robes on the back of the head with the pommel of his blade, the advisor watched the youth collapse to the floor with a strained grunt. A lazy gesture wordlessly commanded the guards to take the unconscious youth to the dungeon for what amounted to treasonous conspiracy in the advisor's eyes. For too long has he worked to earn the trust of His Luminance and His Astronomers to get where he was today. He would not allow the hazardous words of a Strober urchin to set forth the demise of his standing and reputation.
Despite himself however, the worrisome man couldn't help but to wring his hands together once the guards were out of view. Even someone confident in the City's longevity as he remembers well the stories of the Phoenix's Awakening told by his elders. This most tragic tale resonates with every Citizen, high and low, as it does everyone else under the Shattered Heavens.
Those in the world before the Awakening were far more sophisticated than they, but they became too comfortable in the perceived permanence of their existence. They became the first to perish upon the Awakening, their magnificent realms but mere ruins in the Strobelands and the Twilight now. Perhaps the youth foresaw something the Astronomers cannot: the end of his people's Eternal Shardlight.
While the advisor's fears were stirred by the youth's drawled proclamation, his ambition drowned the fears. He kept the entire matter to himself, never spoke a word of it to his Liege or to the Astronomers...
Three weeks later, the youth's fears came to pass. An especially bright and vivid Shard streaked across the lavender sky that day toward the Shardstream above the City. It crashed into one of the Shards in the Stream, bringing forth the more brilliant flash of light since the Awakening, and the most terrifying roar since then as well. From a distance, it looked like shining needles rained down upon the City and its proximity over the next few days, sparking a most relentless inferno upon its populace. The compassionate youth and the ambitious advisor paid the ultimate price.
If you seek the Eternal Shardlight, it remains upon the City's ruins, still burning everstrong until all of the Citizens' ambition and excess wither away.
Seconds stretch into minutes. Minutes into hours. Hours into days. It feels like I've been running for so long, yet I know that there's no way that I could run for that long without my heart bursting first. At first I was looking behind me every so often to make sure that I was well ahead of my pursuers. Over time though, I gave up on looking back, only looking forward as I kept on running. I knew that if I did anything to stop myself from running as fast as I could, they would catch me.
In my incessant stride, I felt the heat of exertion ravage my frame, even as I slowly, but surely evaded the heat of the Shardstream. I slipped into the wilderness of the Strobelands, feeling the cold of the intermittent dusk lick greedily at my bronzed skin, envious of the Light I once soaked in. But even as the temperatures lowered around me, I felt more and more heat building up within me than I ever felt back in the City.
I had to escape the Light.
Everyone was young once, myself included. And when you were young, there was a nigh irresistible propensity to do things that the elders told you not to do. Don't stray from your studies. Don't drink too much of the vintage. Don't bed her just for her looks. I was generally good with resisting such base temptations (with the exception of that one girl who I just couldn't pass up...). I couldn't waste years of training under the High Astronomer Merlophon himself just to live out a needless childhood. I had a lifetime of prestige and power ahead of me in its stead.
But I wasn't quite up to snuff with the High Astronomer's expectations. I would draw out countless Shard Charts to prove my worth. I would take on more difficult assignments than my peers, in hopes to become his protege. But the slightest flaw, the tiniest error would provoke His anger. His rage would burn a thousand times brighter than even the Shard of Gargonel as he would destroy my carefully crafted Charts with his crushing grip. He would then analogize my repeated failures with the utter and complete destruction of the City were I to be in the employ of His Luminance.
There was just something that I was missing from the hopelessly complex equations, something that made the paths in my Charts zig rather than zag. I needed an edge, something that would vault me above the work of my peers. It was then as I learned of one of the High Astronomer's dirtiest secrets.
While most of the populace knows the Astronomers as stodgy old men forever swathed in the most suffocating robes one could imagine under the never-setting Light of the Shardstream, it doesn't take much common sense to know that even said stodgy old men need to change clothes and bathe once in a while. With the rare exception of the High Astronomer, of course. Perhaps it was a perk of His lofty position, but He never used any of the communal facilities the rest of the Astronomers and their Students are provided by His Luminance.
But once, I saw a glint of light from the corner of my eye from outside my dormitory window - it takes a lot to notice something like that when your surroundings are bathed in a seemingly eternal Light. I took a closer look for just a moment and saw the High Astronomer without his robes upon His being. It wasn't the discovery that He was above using the communal baths which His underlings had to use. That was to be expected of someone of His station. But it was the starkness of the shimmering golden lines and glyphs which ran across the High Astronomer's umbral body. It was as if I had set eyes upon a progeny of the Phoenix itself.
By now I have passed a traveling tribe of Strobes, panting raggedly as I forsaken the welcoming Light of the passing Shard under their constant vigil, leaving it for their taking. I'm sure that they were perplexed with my passing, but my plight is far more serious than their pursuit of the Light. The urge to keep running has far more importance than the fleeting warmth which will always evade the forever wandering Strobes.
By now, I have lost the footfalls of the tribe, the clamor of my pursuers, everything. The only sound now was the hostile winds of the approaching Twilight muffling out my weary grunts, my muted cries, the stomps of my calloused feet against the dead earth. What was it that I was running from was entirely beyond me now. All I knew was that I had to keep running away from where it all began. In a world obsessed with seeking the vestiges of cerulean heavens long since shattered by the Phoenix's Awakening, I must have been the only one who was straying away from the Light, trying to dim it within and without.
The Light had to die.
There was only one person whom I could trust my discovery with, my best friend Alair. While Students of the Astronomers generally don't make contact outside of their cloisters, we do get visits from our colleagues, the Alchemists. While the Astronomers discover the power of the Shards, the Alchemists craft the power of the Shards into the City's blessings. Alair was one of the brightest Students of Alchemy who I often worked with when crafting my Shard Charts. He also seated a bit of a dislike for the Astronomers in general, given their political pandering, but he seemed to trust me well enough.
Upon my description of the High Astronomer's glowing body, it only took Alair a couple moments before he came up with an explanation.
Any Astronomer or Alchemist, even a plain Citizen knows about Stardust. It's common knowledge that there are varying sizes of Shards, from those that can eclipse the size of the City in the case of the Shard of Gargonel, to those finer than a grain of sand but equally as potent when collected together. In small amounts however, the strength of the golden powder is only enough to where it will cause brief hallucinations when ingested. It isn't much of a vice though, as too much will cause the body to boil from the inside out from the concentrated heat and Light - a gruesome fate for those desperate for a slightly longer round of visions and sensations.
As our skin is resistant to the Light for prolonged periods of time, it is also resistant to small amounts of Stardust. As Alair explained, the resistance is usually enough to take in larger amounts of the powder before the high is reached. However, contact with the skin has a potentially beneficial side effect: a stronger understanding of the nature of the Shards, as if the user felt the movement of the Shards themselves. But that also wears off once the Stardust passes off of the skin. Unless it was put into the skin itself with no where to pass off to.
This is where things get especially difficult. And illegal. Brandishers, while commonly called upon to imbue symbols of reputation and significance upon their clients, are also heavily regulated. There is strong regulation of Brandery, especially when it comes to the use of Stardust in their inks. Extremely tiny amounts were allowed to make the inks brighter. Moderate amounts led to scarring burns where the inks are applied. Larger amounts led to irreversible damage of the skin. And woe be to the client who bled too much when the ink was laid upon the skin.
There are stories of Strobes who take into their skin a great deal of Phoenix's Blood - a mixture of ink with unfathomably high concentrations of Stardust - as a rite of passage. Survivors eventually become the Shamans of their tribes, able to predict the movement of the Shards without the sophisticated tools of the Astronomers, while those who die in the process are merely chalked up as unfit to be in the tribe in the first place.
Given all that Alair expounded upon me, it was evident that the High Astronomer had more than just a passing curiosity of Stardust and Phoenix's Blood. He partook the trial Himself and survived to become more than just an Astronomer - He became a veritable God among men. There was only one way I was ever going to meet or exceed His expectations, and I might not live long enough to get there.
But I was young once, and I had a nigh irresistible propensity to go through with this.
The traces of the faintest violet in the sky soon disappeared behind me, leaving me to the inky darkness of the Void ahead of me. I embraced the black as it did myself. As the world around me got colder still, I felt far more vigorous than I ever did under the Light. The combination of my sun-soaked heritage and the persistent urge to run was too much to resist, instinctively charting my own way through a myriad of otherwise unintelligible geography. My eyes eventually learned to adjust to the abject nothingness around me, devoid of others, devoid of life, devoid of Light.
The Light was no more.
For as much help as Alair was with his information, and his sheer knowledge of Alchemy, he wouldn't dare commit his abilities to my ambitions. He was just as focused on his studies and his own hopeful rise to prominence as I was, perhaps even more so at this point. I had eschewed the nourishing hope to rise to greater heights. I have replaced it with a relentless guarantee to get there in its stead. I would set forth the fall of the Golden God among Astronomers and replace his existence with my own. I would undergo the Rite of Phoenix's Blood and become one with the Shards. His Luminance would seek no further expert on the matter than myself.
It took me the greater part of the year, working a steadily growing network of connections whilst maintaining my duties as a Student under the High Astronomer. But I eventually got a meeting with a passing Strobe merchant who also happened to be a renowned Master Brandisher. At first, he wouldn't budge to my demands, claiming that the Rite was only exclusive to his tribe. He wouldn't dare defile the sacred art of the Rite for a Basker's whims.
However, I had come prepared for this.
I had worked with other Alchemists during the year, Alchemists less scrupulous than Alair. While Stardust is natural in the world, a skilled Alchemist can purify the golden powder into a concoction far more appropriate for Phoenix's Blood than anything a Strobe can rustle up in the wild. Little by little, I would come into possession of enough of the stuff to make for a convincing trade with a passing Strobe. Especially one who knows how to use it.
Half of it would be used for the Rite. The other half would go with the Strobe.
The deal was made. There was no going back now. I was soon in the wagon that the Master doubled as a Brandery parlor. I endured the most indescribable pain that no one should ever go through. It was as if a weaponsmith worked white-hot needles of steel through every inch of my quivering body, coursing through my mind, body, and soul all at once. As prepared as I was to make the trade, there was absolutely no way I could have prepared for this experience.
Seconds stretched into minutes. Minutes into hours. Hours into days. Even as the deed was done and I laid recovering in my dormitory (I still have no idea how I got up there,) the pain continued to work its way ever deeper into my being. I was surely not going to make it through the Rite in one piece. On the third day, the pain seemed to suddenly disappear, only to become replaced with a rush of information into my mind. The rush was painful, but it was more... enlightening than anything else. A brand new exhilaration filled my being, a new feeling which overcame any and all discouragement the High Astronomer could ever dish out at me. Soon enough, I felt the warmth of the Shard of Gargonel radiate from my breast. I could even swear that my heartbeat became that of the Phoenix itself.
There was no more Light for miles around me. I had finally slowed down to a stop to take in the awe of the Twilight's splendor. The sheer silence enveloping me would be deafening to a disoriented Citizen's ears, threatening to those of an alert Strobe.
It was then as the darkness surrounding me was broken by a pair of crimson eyes, seemingly piercing through the Void to peer into my spirit. It was undoubtedly the eyes of one of Them, a being who was human once before being taken by the thrall of the Light and transformed into a monster of pure hunger. Imbued with so much of the Light throughout its existence, the monster's eyes emanated with a unholy light all of its own. As more of the eyes appeared in the darkness, their collective Ghostlight illuminated my now being, worn to a mere sack of skin and bones from my running, paled to the milkiest white from my escape from the Light.
I had become one with the Twilight.
I opened my eyes in horror as the bliss began to subside. Great pillars of flame emerged from the ancestral marks placed upon me by the Master Brandisher. My dormitory was ablaze from the inferno, a cacophony of terrified voices washing with the ebb and flow of the wind whipped up by the intense fire. For some reason, the flames didn't affect me in the least, my movements seemingly increasing the danger of the blaze exponentially. I tried to make my way through the labyrinthine halls of the complex, incidentally setting more of the place on fire. For just a moment I basked in a perverted satisfaction with bringing down what I saw as a hypocritical institution, tasked with the survival of the City, but in truth seeking to further their own ambitions.
That was until I saw the contorted face of Alair before one of my flares devoured him whole, leaving only a charred husk of his former self mere seconds afterwards. I must have stood there in the hall, looking blankly into a self-aware abyss, my fires raging without my knowledge for hours before the instinct kicked in, the true, metaphysical heat of the Light driving me away from it. I bursted forth from the wall in a smoldering fireball, ravaging my way through the City until I broke free from the main gate.
The urge to run became stronger than any of the Phoenix's Blood that coursed through me. I had to run until the Light died. Until it became no more. I couldn't return until I became one with the Twilight. By then, I knew that my fate would be consigned to They who would see me as the ultimate sacrifice to prolong their Ghostlight.
But inside, my Light resurfaced. I had indeed become one with the Phoenix.
The Other Egg
I can’t think of a time I didn’t dread Blackrise at least a little. Even now that I’m older, it gives me little tingles down my fingers to see it crest the horizon. Every time it comes around, blighting our skies the same time each year, the same doomsayers wheel out the same tirades from the same street corners. The Holy City chokes with smoke as people light fires on their rooftops in the hopes of driving the Black Moon away.
When I was seven or eight, I would spend a lot of time in my father’s workshop. He was a sculptor and used a lot of different materials. I’d poke around and ask him what all the different rocks and metals he was using were. One day, he was fashioning something out of obsidian, this little figurine of an Astronomer at his astrolabe. That memory always rushes back when I look at the Black Moon, hanging behind Gargonel. A sphere of obsidian huger than I could possibly fathom.
Walk down any street in the city during Blackrise and you’ll come away with a dozen theories about what the Black Moon is and how it’ll invariably kill us all. Everyone has a theory, especially the people who don’t know what they’re talking about. There are two really popular ones, though. The first is that the Black Moon is another Egg, like the Sun had been, and this Black Egg will eventually hatch. When that happens, the world ends. The other school of thought agrees that the Black Moon is an egg, but believes that the creature inside is dead and that’s why it’s black; if it were another Phoenix, the egg would shine.
I’m just out for supplies, but I have to leave extra time. Everything goes into overdrive during Blackrise. The preachers flood the streets and the wine merchants do their best business all year as people try to find one escape or another. We take a lot of comfort in the scale of Gargonel, the Shard that keeps up safe and warm. It’s supposed to be the single biggest Shard known to exist, big as whole continents. But when the Blackrise comes, the sky is filled with a looming black shape that reminds us that even great Gargonel is but a Shard.
I pass by a wild-eyed man on a street corner. He’s standing on an overturned fruit crate and his lips are flecked with crazed spittle. He’s shouting that this is the year that the Second Hatching will occur, that the Black Egg will split wide open and some malevolent evil will come out. I’m glad when the crowd drowns him out.
When I’m at the market, where the Twilight traders and the Strobers peddle their wares from rented stalls just inside the city gates, the crowds are even thicker. Everyone’s pointedly not looking up, but still talking about what’s up there. It’s strange. Blackrise is about the only time of year that it’s considered acceptable to talk about The Other Egg. It’s as if we’re afraid we might draw its attention.
I find the stall I’m after, a quiet little stand literally right against the wall. Karos is a Strober who sometimes brings me knick-knacks from out in the night. His tribe sometimes chance over old ruins, cities from before the Hatching. Some of them are mass graveyards, but even the ones where the population managed to escape to safety are filled with discarded goods. Him and I have an arrangement – I pay him for any old bits of art he can find. Karos shakes my hand when I approach him. He vanishes around the back to get what he’s found for me.
While he’s away, I take a moment and look upwards. It’s a clear day, and bright, but the sky is menacing. Because there It is, hanging silently behind the Shard. Perfectly round, shimmering in Gargonel’s reflecting glory. As I look at it, I can almost feel a pull on my chest. I hear astronomers talk about how when things get as big as Shards, sometimes their hugeness can pull other things. Looking at the Other Egg, I can believe it.
It’s surface shimmers hypnotically. For a moment, I almost believe that its shell is translucent thin, and I see something moving under the surface, writhing.
Then Karos comes with his gewgaws and snaps me out of it. I toss him some coin and head home. I try to eat, but find my appetite is gone.
That night, all I can find in me to sculpt is black spheres.
I hate Blackrise.
Excerpt from Darkland Denizens: A Case Study
I can still remember it like it was just yesterday, and really, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget it.
I was...I was a new guard. The merchant convoy had stopped near Tenrec ‘an when I heard that’d be journeying to The Holy City and would get there in roughly three months, I jumped at the chance to leave that shithole behind. I woke up early, bathed for the first time in weeks, combed my hair and packed my bag with everything I needed. My ma’ had died a few years back from some STD the healers couldn’t fix, and my dad had been some young Practitioner new to the city looking for a quick and cheap fuck that I’d never met, so besides my landlord and a few people who I worked with at the factory I had no-one else to leave behind....it was an easy choice, really. I thought a change of scenery would do me good, maybe help me find a nice girl and a comfy job, finally get my due, y’know?
Well, when I showed up, they checked me for my fitness, made me do some races and the like with the other sorry bastards who’d turned up, and gave me a, em, ‘quick’ background check before I kicked everyone else’s ass sides’ two in the tests and they gave us a club and some leather armor, the offer of shit pay and promised food while we were with ‘em. I accepted, threw my bag into one of the soldier carriages, and we were gone within the week.
The first few days were sorta fun, the merchants were pleasant if a bit snotty, the other two new guys, Rob an’ Nale, were good fellas, friendly as you could hope, and the older ones kept to ‘emselves 'cept when they were teachin' us how to hit things till they died. I swear, I thought I knew how to fight beforehand, but those old bastards were tougher than goddamn steel and could have you on the ground gaspin' for air before you knew they were flippin' ye’ over. Anyway....we were makin' good speed, all things considered, and in three weeks the convoy hadn’t been bothered by a single bandit or the like (though why one would try to take on twenty carriages and the same number of armed men I’ll never now), but then a nasty storm managed ta’ fuck up a few of the carriages by tippin' ‘em over and we fell behind while fixin' ‘em. So we decided that instead of taking the long, hard route over the Ansei Mountains, we’d take the less used, short one through a valley that twisted through ‘em. That....that was when it all started to go wrong.
Y’see, as soon as we got into that fuckin' thing, we started to hear stuff. Not normal things, like birds, or even wolves...but quick things. Little sounds in otherwise silent nights, that coulda’ been leaves bein' rustled by something small or puddles being splashed by something poundin' through them. We found a lot a’ dead things too, from a few dears that looked half torn open half sawed in two, ta’ birds with their necks twisted and stomachs gone scattered all over clearings in the brush...
The sides a’ the valley didn’t help, spite a’ the ton of plants an’ ivies growin all over it, and the trees an stream winding through it, the thing was thirty metres across most of the time and had steep edges, so any noise we made echoed around for ages. Ya’ couldn’ talk at one end of the convoy without bein' heard at the other, and sometime we heard things bein said in a language no-one understood. When it started to rain again, and the river burst it’s banks after two days of it constantly, we found a cave.
By then, we were all goin' a bit crazy – I was twitchin' at every noise I heard, Nale was swearin' and constantly and was so bloody angry he’d tried fightin' with everyone in the convoy at least twice, and Rob was just cutting himself off from everyone – he refused to eat when we did, and had handed in his resignation (Really just a short talk wi’ the head merchant, a reasonable fella’ called Eustace that seemed to be the only one not simmerin' with somethin') for when this was all over. Apparently, he’d had enough and wanted out. I couldn’t blame him, and after the two days of pissin' rain, was thinkin' of doin' the same – I’d been considerin' stayin' on past the Holy City to see where else we’d go, but couldn’t stomach the thought of it anymore. So, squeezing everyone into the cave and settin' up some bedsheets and a night watch, we left the caravans out with the goods covered and me an Rob sat guard until it was time to wake up the next guards on duty so we could get some shut eye.
I leaned into a nice little cranny in the rock, jus big enough to sit in, and rob went to walk outside. I tried to stay awake, I really did!, but I was wrecked after all of the walkin' and ended up droppin' off fairly quick. I think that was what saved me, I was so quiet and my armor made me blend in with the rock, so they couldn’t see me while they could get Rob. Everyone else, gathered roun' smolderin' fires on white linen and sweatin', got their attention. I woke up to the horses actin' skittish, they were sorta movin' back an forth and lookin' in the cave, and then it started. I heard someone – Eustace, I think – scream a bit before a loud crack, and then everythin' went to Hell.
Little white things that looked like they'd once been men, hunched over on their hands and covered in pussin blisters all over their skin,1 were tearin the place apart. They were growlin like animals, screamin and clawin everythin they saw, an some of em were even clawin their way up the walls somehow ta get away from any of the guards tryin to club em. Merchants were tryin ta run away, but as soon as they got near the exit more of the fuckers poured in so there was about two dozen in all, and started rippin them apart. I saw a few of them tearin arms off the fat bastards and beatin them with em until the screamin stopped, before they’d started chewin on the fuckin things like it was corn on the cob! The guards had only barely managed to grab their weapons beside their beds when they woke up and were doin a little better, they were fighters after all, but they were still hurt. Some had a few nasty bruises and bite marks, others were missin fingers and were bleedin like crazy, but the pale little things, weren’t even hurt! They were millin back and forth t confuse ‘em, pullin at legs from behind to trip em and swarmin on top of any bastard unlucky enough to fall.....Hell, I saw one get a sword through the chest and all it did was shriek louder before pullin it out and started to swing it around like it was nothing....really, even if I’d been able to get my legs to work, I’da done nothing but die, so when it was finally over and the things were busy pickin the bones, and I’d stopped cryin to meself long enough to calm down, I looked at the horses.
Only three of the older ones, still tied to carriages too heavy for them to pull alone and with frayed ropes,were left, and they’d probably be next, so now was my last chance to get away....so, I bolted. I ran as fast as I could to the things when the monsters were all at the back of the cave, tore the rope holdin one of ‘em to the carriage in half with my hand, jumped on and beat it across the arse so it’d finally run. It galloped off, and I had te’ hold on to the damn reigns while my feet fell out from under me before I could get in the saddle, and it was only a few hours later when the old thing finally keeled over after runnin from the things that followed us flat out for near two hours that I finally let go. I ran the rest of the way out of the valley, only stopping once to grab some more water and goin in my pants rather than takin a lav break, for another day. I collapsed when I was safely out of it and under the Prime2 before I took a break again. I walked to the City for another week with short breaks, collapsed at the gate, and told the officials what had happened when I came to a week later in a hospital.
They sent in some of the Army and a few Alchemists before purging all the little monsters they found a month later, apparently cloud cover a month ago on the other side of the Ansei had gotten so thick with the storms that the little fuckers had managed to make it from the Darklands away from the Prime to the valley, and got into it. They found everyone’s bodies, or what was left, and gave ‘em a proper burial a week later.
That’s really all I gots to say on the matter, anything else you’ll want to know about the slaughter in Blood Valley’s only kept in records I can’t get into, ‘cause it’s about the investigation. I..I’m sorry, it’s jus’....it’s jus tha it brings back a lot a’ bad mem'ries for fer me’.....3
1:Vampires, according to official reports, a supposedly insane outcast branch of the Soulshard Worshippers that rarely are found out of the Darklands.
2:A colloquial term for the Holy city’s Shardstream commonly used in Terec)
3:The interviewee began break down in tears at this point of the interview, and has refused to comment on the matter since, claiming to have “Finally gottin it off me chest”
The interviewee’s name, and the last names of any victims, have been kept redacted to preserve their privacy.
Published in Year 734 PPB (Post-Phoenix Birth), in “Darkland Denizens: A Case Study, Part 3” by award winning author Neal Geimen, Pufflin Book House.