2012-10-21, 04:31 PM (ISO 8601)
Colossus in the Playground
Re: Aether from the Ashes: Etherworld Second Edition
“The center of culture and sophistication in the Known Worlds. The cradle of civilisation and art. Home to all the greatest inventors, artificers and explorers. From here came the Aethership, the art of navigation, the founders and the guild. It is, quite simply, the greatest of all worlds.
We were born from hardship and turmoil, and we never grew complacent with what we had. We are the nexus of innovation.”
-Magister Calveria, Introduction to Caligan History
“It's a place to do business, and no doubt about that. The biggest, most diverse one in the Known Worlds, certainly. More money flows through the pockets of many a Caligan banker every day than flows through some Border Worlds in a lifetime. I don't much care, to be honest, whether it is better or worse than other worlds, it is a necessity.”
-Walgar Brebiniad, Guild Trader on the Fool's Gold
“It is a hellhole, in every definition of the word. The lower classes are listless wretches who care neither about sin, nor virtue. In the Undertow, a thousand criminals wallow in every secret vice. Their rulers are worse. They have made decadence an art, and call it a virtue. They are depraved beyond the imagination of other men, and the sooner a torch is taken to the entire World, the better, for whatever Caligo touches, it ruins.”
-Hierophant Delivrin as-Sambar of the Ascetic Monks of the Unfathomable Depth
“Well, yeah. Why do you think we came here?”
-Huskarl Rikard Torvaldson, a visitor
“I once met a girl, a girl from Caligo,
With eyes as deep as the sea.
And she told me that girl, that girl from Caligo
That she'd only ever love me.
But one day my girl, my girl from Caligo,
Was off with another man.
She left me my girl, my girl of Caligo
And I felt as if I might die.
And she said, my girl, my girl of Caligo,
When I just asked her “Why?”
“For I am a girl, and a girl of Caligo,
We lie just because we can.”
-Traditional Aetherfarer's Song
Caligo was always imagined as a safe haven for people. Twelve great magi came together to build a world as complete as they could make it, each contributing their specialty. They signed an accord, outlining the geography and the division of the land. It was planned that each of them would select fifty people from amongst those people they trusted most and deemed most worthy to form a new and better society.
The plan failed. Raskahan the Traitor, a Sahuagin shaman, saw his race die as the oceans of the prime changed to slime and acid or boiled away into the void. As a master of water and weather, he began to channel more and more of his power into Caligo, burying much of the fertile land under an ocean and introducing savage storms. Over the protests of the other signatories he began saving more and more of his people into Caligo, ignoring the limits they had set in order to make the new society sustainable.
Things went out of hand. The other signatories soon began fighting amongst themselves, as each began bringing in more people of their own to counter the Traitor's power. The elements of the new world became unbalanced, and the Signatories began to slay each other, until only the Traitor and two others remained, the Dragon Hyormir Stormheart and Elera Iriana, an accomplished Luminist.
In a final push, the Traitor tried to flood Caligo entirely. The waves rose and almost swallowed the land, and a powerful storm extinguished Caligo's sun. The other two signatories pushed back, in a disparate attempt to stop him. It is said that in this struggle, that consumed the life of all three and shattered Caligo's Heartstone, the final shape of Caligo was determined.
The surviving mortals found themselves in a difficult situation: they were many more than intended when the world was founded, and though Caligo was intended to offer luxury to the Signatories' chosen, it was now much diminished, devastated by the floods and storms and retaining little of its antediluvian beauty.
The remaining Chosen were few, but they were the most capable survivors by far, having been hand-selected by the Signatories. After deliberating the situation, they imposed a new philosophy and political system on the plane: the Living Houses.
From the outside, the system may seem strange and even cruel, but it has a certain brutal simplicity. The world of Caligo, so the Chosen, was intended to be inhabited by the best and the brightest, and to offer them all the comforts needed to preserve civilisation. However, there were simply not enough resources to offer this life to anyone. Life, they said, was to be enjoyed, and making everyone suffer hardship could not be the goal.
Therefore, they would divide the Caligans into two strata: the Living and the Unborn. The Unborn, legally declared not alive, were to do all “simple” work, from fishing to farming to mining, while all complicated craftsmanship, as well as the pursuits of politics, the arts, magic and science were left to the twelve Living Houses, made up of the Chosen. The Unborn were to have few rights and fewer resources, at least until they could prove their worth in some way and thereby be “born” into one of the Houses.
In effect, the Houses formed a rather traditional aristocracy, though one with the promise of elevation based on merit in many fields. Even in these days, the Caligans hold many contests every year, with the promise of Birth into one of the Living Houses if anyone's accomplishments were deemed extraordinary enough.
There are, in effect, only eight true Living Houses left today, and their power is much diminshed. House Corava has, in effect, been completely absorbed into the Shipwright's guild it founded. House Stormheart, born of the dragon Hyormir, consists of only one Living member, the Dragon Turtle of Clavis, who was the only creature chosen by the dragon as worthy. House Iriana has become the two magical orders of the Keepers of the Spring and the Starwardens, who are to keep watch over Sky Arch of Caligo and keep its weather and environment in its carefully preserved balance. While they still have a word in world politics, and one that is given much weight, their day-to-day activities leave them little time for world administration. The Dragon Turtle, instead of elevating mortals, has founded the School of the Water Dancers, a martial academy on Caligo's most outlying isles.
These Water Dancers have been officially in charge of Caligo's defenses for almost three hundred years now, ever since, in B.G.Y. 289, Nathri of the Zatavira swept over Raider's End and attempted to invade Caligo City, only to be stopped, under heavy losses, by Water Dancer students.
Caligo, however, was not always an innocent victim of Nathri attacks. The Mist Raiders are a traditional organisation with an ancient history. It was an outlet for martial tendencies amongst the Unborn. Every three years, raiding parties were formed and let out into the mist, to find shards, Nathri tribes or even other worlds, to attack and plunder anything worth bringing back to the perpetually resource-starved Caligo. These Raiders, some say, are direct spiritual ancestors to the Guild, the only known organisation foolish or brave enough to regularly launch often suicidal missions into the deadly desert of the Aether.
The world of Caligo is dominated by water. Water fills the world to two thirds of the height of the sphere, creating oceans trenches dozens of miles deep and leaving only islands to breach the surface. These islands, once intended to be merely the top of tall mountains, are bare and rocky, with steep cliffs and hills of slate and granite, covered in bare soil and crippled, twisted mountain pines.
The oceans that cover much of Caligo are wilder than one would assume from water only a few miles wide. The weather is wild, even with an entire house trying to keep it in check, and floods, riptides and cyclones are regular occurences.
There was, however, so much water that the Signatories could not simply let it fill the world, or there would be no dry ground remaining. Instead, a layer of water covers the world walls of Caligo, a mere foot thick where people have to pass through from the ports outside, but becoming almost a second ocean overhead.
Light comes into Caligo only from the Star Splinters, tiny remnants of Caligo's Heartstone that shine with bright light, each in a different colour of the rainbow. They are arranged in the Sky Arch, a mile-wide expanse of glowing water that stretches over the dark Caligan sky. The Arch pulses and stretches, changing orientation and illumination regularly, thereby simulating a day and night cycle, though it never gets completely dark or any brighter than twilight.
The shards of the heartstones are still one of the dominant features of Caligo, as they still have magical powers in them. Storm shards control flows of air near them, star shards create light and wave shards control currents. Combining the shards, the Caligans have created some truly astounding structures: tunnels of air that extend below the ocean, currents of water flowing through the air and pockets of fresh air even in the deepst caves.
Below the land lies not only the ocean, however. Ancient cellars, twisting caves and fissures and many a channel built over into a street or building wind through the rock Caligo is built on. Collectively, the locals refer to these passages as the Undertow, and it is said that in the miles of tunnels that lie below the land, terrific crimes and the perverted rites of a hundred mad cults take place every day.
Of all known Worlds, Caligo has the most diverse makeup. Each Signatory selected people to the best of his ability, and with the Traitor's betrayal, many more specialists came in to fight in the battle for Caligo, or rebuild afterwards. A thousand years have passed since then, and intermarriage, magical experiments and the odd mutation have resulted in a society where few, if any, people are still of what might have been considered“pure” blood before the Cataclysm. Caligan society, however, cares little about these distinctions, putting more value on actual accomplishment over blood.
Below the waves, the situation is not much different. The Traitor brought in at least a dozen aquatic races he wanted to save, and though there is little exchange between the races above and below, the water-living are just as intermixed and diverse.
On land, there is little animal life in Caligo. Goats, cats and dogs are the only domestic animals, though they have been bred to a variety of uses, from draught dogs to mill goats. There are a few wild crows, ravens, pigeons and sparrows, and a variety of insect and rodent life, but not much else. Under the water, the diversity is much greater, and as a result, most Caligans traditionally depend on fishing for their livelihood.
Traditionally, Caligan society knows only two strata: the Living Houses and the Unborn, though that system has been weathered away much, since the Shipwright's Guild came into being. Contact with other societies has shown the Caligans other ways of living, and the influx of resources from trade and exploration has done much to improve the life of the Unborn.
Still, some traditions die hard. While hundreds or thousands of travellers come to Caligo every day for trade and work, many of the traditional society still frown at any public displays of strong emotion or even just clothing that is too colourful, especially if they come from someone who has not earned such a place by being accepted into a Living House.
On the other side, the distinction of being Living has worn away just as much. Where once being Living meant a decent life and some luxuries, with the riches of the Guild many of the Living have become examples of an enormous decadence to rival the rich and noble of any known World.
There is one thing still keeping that society in check: the Wraiths. When the new rules of Caligo were laid down, the houses were aware that there was a line between being alive and being corrupt. The Wraiths exist to police that line. Their charge is to make sure that the unborn know their place and do not try to rise above it unless they prove themselves, and to ensure that the living use their responsibility wisely, with lethal force, if necessary. They are selected by other Wraiths, anonymously, from the ranks of the living and perform their duties always hidden behind characteristic white, featureless masks and black suits.
Caligo City started out as a fishing village of flint and granite houses surrounded by the parks and mansions of the living, and that fact still shows. It is now the heart of the guild network, but conservative laws passed by the Living Council mean that, while the city has grown massively to cover most of the free space on the mainland, much of what has been built is in the same style as what was there before, massive, dark buildings, separated by canals and connected by bridges. Similarly, not everyone is just allowed to live here: the traditional Unborn still live in the Old Town around the bay, but apart from that, most of the space is taken up by the town houses of the richest merchants, built and intended mostly to flaunt their riches. This has produced a feeling of superiority in the original inhabitants: the Unborn take pride in their frugality and flaunt it just as much as the new rich, while the Living, for the most part, have sold off their holdings on the main land for the isles. Monuments, mansions and parks now cover most of the area, or that which is not taken up by ports and canals
Among the isles, of which there are thirteen major ones, some deserve mention. Clavis, Monos and Claustre are dedicated entirely to the Water Dancers and their monasteries. In recent times, they have become important enough as a fighting school and provider of high-class mercenaries that the guild has dragged several shards to the Aether outside Monos to build Monk's port.
Sky Anchor is important for it's function in enabling the Wardens of the Spring control the sky arch, Caligo's source of weather and light, which can be accessed only from here and the Sky Pillar, the tallest mountain in the center of Caligo, which touches the top of the word wall.
Blackrock is just what its name implies, a bare rock standing out of the sea. Until guild contact, rebellious living were imprisoned there. These days, Blackrock prison is more famous for housing guild traitors and dangerous magical creatures and artefacts no one knows how to safely dispose of.
Every city, of course, has its underbelly, and in Caligo, it is more literal than in most places. The Undertow is a collection of old cellars and ruined houses sunken beneath the ground level, watery caves and passages kept aerated by ancient storm shards, canals since covered up by bridges and squares simply built over them and all the things people built underground in ancient times to keep them out of sight. The network under the mainland is at least as large as the city built on it, and no one knows its full extent. It is the lair of aquatic monsters from the traitor's house, cultists and worshippers of strange dieties and concepts just as much as a convenient pathway for smugglers, rogue traders and other criminals, since it is entirely impossible to keep such a large extend of tunnels under any kind of supervision.
"Caligo is a calcified fossil run by corrupt nobles pretending to be philosophers. What has their culture produced, in the last century? Nothing. Everything good to come out of that place has stayed outside of it, here, in Waketown."
-Kiardun Skelwore, Respected Man
"Waketown is a cancer growing on a healthy city. It is a breeding ground for all manners of crime and villainy, of disease and anarchy. It should be removed, with extreme prejudice."
-Theremi Garaldo Belisori Illorien es-Corava
"Well, we have to live somewhere. We are "civilized" now, after all."
-Danara Sayage, Nathri Elder
Caligo has strict laws about who is and is not allowed to settled there that, basically, amount to an income barrier. And yet, as the guild network's prime node and its origin, Caligo has an immense attraction to all manners mercenaries, sailors, mercenaries, prophets and adventurers of all kinds.
Over time, the outskirts of Caligo's Trident Port grew from a loose collection of taverns, abandoned warehouses, walkways and hastily built shacks into a sprawling community that is estimated to house more people than the city itself.
Organisation, here, has always been very lax. Technically, Waketown is both outside of Caligo and the Guild jurisdiction of Trident Port to which it is, at this point, only loosely attached. In earlier years, various gangs, cartels and merchants controlled the town and the power struggles were bloody, but with help from the Order, a citizen's council and militia was formed that has kept the worst off the streets for more than twenty years now. With a mixture of diplomacy and well-applied violence, the council has successfully managed to get everyone from gangs to Nathri outcasts to form one community.
The city is home to hundreds of small communities, usually living together in one house. Family clans of weird creatures from the outer worlds, merchant houses and businesses too small for proper buildings in Trident Port or Caligo, every kind of shady business known to the Aether. Each is headed by a Respected Man (or Respected Woman, Respected Nathri or Respected Tentacled Monstrosity), which has a seat on the council, which, as a whole, regulates disputes between communities and anything affecting the town as a whole.
Waketown is a city truly adapted to weightlessness, to a degree that no place outside the Evershard could possibly match. Starting from one of the outermost rock shards of Trident Port, called the Shardheart by most, the city has grown in all directions without any regard for style, safety or an arrangement that is even remotely clear to outsiders.
Most of the building materials are scavenged, as the Aether itself offers little building material beyond the mists itself. Somewhere in the depths, there must be buildings of actual stone and timber, but they have long since vanished under a crust of salvaged parts of wrecked ships, condemed buildings, barrels and anything else that could be dissembled and stuck on a rock.
Where Caligan society is highly regulated, that of Waketown is almost the exact opposite. There are only few crimes that the council and its militia will get directly involved in: murder, theft of the property of another Waketowner, slavery, kidnapping. Apart from those crimes that directly hurt others in ways that make it difficult for them to defend themselves, keeping order is left to the individual communities.
As such, almost everything from necromancy to exotic drugs and eldritch cults can be found somewhere in Waketown. It is a hotspot of runaway guild engineers, wizards studying areas of magic not tolerated at the universities and artists and philosophers studying the most extreme of experiences. For all that, few things that are new and stand the test of time ever come out of Waketown: the freedom of hte place means that few ever cooperate on anything, and that few find the focus to ever develop any idea to completion.
"All hail Her Azure Brilliance, the Empress of Ember, Daughter of Suns, Mother of Fires, Fountain of Life, Most Beautiful Soul, the Supreme Light, the First Word, the Flower of Judgement, Zenith of Mercy, the Blinding Emminence...
-The Imperial Herald
"Ah, I suppose it's nice if you like it that way, with all that bright light and heat and if you like working as a farmer, I guess there's always a demand for your profession there. But it's not really for me. You know, because of the civil war and the murder sects and the castes..."
-Tarry Blue, Navigator
"It is oppression! It is the worst kind of oppression, because we can never rid ourselves of our oppressors without dying ourselves! We can't even lock them all up without starving. No, whoever made this world took oppression to entirely new levels, I say!"
-Nikhil Abhay, of the Eclipse Revolution
The creator of Ember is known only in the abstract sense: he was the first of a dozen divine emperors. As with every emperor since him, he had a long list of titles, though historians speculate that "father of fires" was more literal with him than with most emperors since then, since, whoever he was other than His Azure Brilliance, he had an unparallel command over the magics of fire, light and life.
For most of its history, Ember was an exceptionally stable society. Though its caste system was rigid, the craftsmans' and peasants' castes never openly rebelled against the noble caste that was so clearly physically and magically superior to them. The traditional Emberite religion of reincarnation and divine emperors had likely much to do with this, as rebellion against the Emperor would doom not only the body, but the soul for many lives to come.
The advent of aethersailing was the first event in a chain that would overthrow much of Emberite society. Almost overnight, the formerly small craftsman's caste spawned powerful merchant families, some of which richer than some nobles. The divine order, it seemed, was thrown out of balance.
There was little immediate fallout from this, as most merchants were content in joining the Shipwright's guild and letting the nobles handle the political affairs or Ember, while enjoying their riches. But the first seeds of discontent were sown amongst the lower castes.
Then, Spire was discovered. The warlike world exploded on the political stage with all the power of a cyclone, demanding a place amongst the core worlds. And with it came the philosophy of the Iron Soul, of taking one's own life into one's hands.
It took ten years, but in the end, the revolution flared up, fueled by a thousand years of oppressed peasantry. With Spirian weapons in their hands and iron in their souls, the peasant's caste overthrew the nobles, stormed the Sun Palace and slaughtered an Emperor they no longer believed to be divine.
They were mistaken.
When after weeks of fighting, an angry crowd dragged the emperor out of his palace and threw him over the the edge and into the fires, the cliffs shook, and the fires went out.
For three days, Ember was in darkness, and the plants began to die.
The peasants were almost sheepish, as they met with the nobles and crowned a new Empress, the old emperor's new daughter. The fires flickered and over the next day began to burn again, though many say they never burned as bright as they once did.
What no one expected was just how popular the new Empress would turn out to be. The young woman was not only charismatic, but also a shrewed politician.
Though initially kept under house arrest by the revolutionary guard, she met with representatives of all castes and classes and went out amongst the people, to listen to their grievances and problems. In the end, a parliament was formed, consisting of a chamber for each caste and Her Brilliance as its head, with the authority to pass laws and conduct foreign trade.
The armed struggle has, at least, be turned into a political one, though it is not much less fierce. No less than two dozen parties, none, on its own, strong enough to dominate even as part of a group, squabble over every issue with all the fierceness of a Nathri honour duel.
The fires define Ember. Where other worlds have ground, or an ocean, or open air, Ember has fire. Amber and golden flames, tall as the trees and mountains of Bellamin, constantly flicker and burn in the depths.
The fires, however, are no ordinary fires. Though hot and certainly lethal to anyone touching them, their light is also infused with a considerable dose of vis vitae, positive energy.
The light, which never goes out, is nourishing enough that plants adapted to Ember can grow without much need for soil or water, sustaining themselves entirely on the golden energy. This makes Ember the bread basket of the core: the hanging, dark blue plants grow on every surface that is not regularly weeded.
The fires have other effects as well: they can destroy the undead, and are therefore used to immolate the dead on Ember to prevent them from raising as ghosts. They have a beneficial effect on many otherwise almost certainly lethal diseases, drastically improving the chances of recovery. Sanatoria where the rich infected with the Border Pox, Material Twist or Misty Consumption can bathe in the sunlight are a major source of income for the world.
Ground, however, is sparse on Ember. Steep spires, called pillars by the natives, rise above the level of the flames. They are topped by white-stemmed, blue-leaved trees, the wood of which has been used for almost every building on Ember. Emberite architecture consists of fragile wooden arcs and bridges between the spires, which support both the native's homes and the ever-present hanging plants they harvest.
The oldest of these bridges are many hundred feet long, leading some to theorize that the earliest settlers must have been able to fly.
There are only few building made from stone, because every block quarried must be taken from the spires which support everything. There are watchtowers on the outernmost spires that are built on stone foundations to guard against monsters from the aether and nathri raids, and of course the imperial palace.
There is a trend to use more stone in recent architecture, as both money and stone are plentiful, after the arrival of the guild. The house of parliament, planned to become the most mangificient building in all the Core, is being errected from only the most expensive and exotic stones from across the worlds, though there is no end in sight to the building process.
As in other core worlds, race is less important to the Emberites than status and money. Unlike most worlds, however, status is physically visible, at least amongst the noble caste.
While the lower castes of Ember of all races tend towards dark skin and hair (if they have hair) and short stature, the nobles are often a head or more taller than those of other races and physically much tougher. Some are even born with blue skin, the colour of which gets lighter and even luminescent the higher the rank of the parents, ending with her Azure Brilliance, whose skin, when She is excited, is said to be blinding even at a distance.
Last edited by Eldan; 2013-01-28 at 10:11 AM.
"You raise your baton. The glass kettle drums pound out the the overture. Your vision clouds with blood. You wipe it away and continue. The xylophonist's hair bursts into a violet flame, but he continues playing. He's either a consummate professional or very drunk indeed..."
Originally Posted by Palanan