Saturday, January 31, 2015

The cities of Yaghan: An overview of Gond

Gond is probably one of the most important cities on the face of the planet for a variety of reason. I wanted to write a short description of the city since I need to write stuff about my world to know it, and I thought, well, why not sharing it with you guys?

An overview 

The natural formation that protects the city is actually completely unnatural. In the middle of the Great Plains, suddenly, a massive wall of black rock emerges from the horizon. Riders that get closer to it soon realize that it's not a wall but a kind of cylinder that emerges from the earth, somewhat like a volcano but with its sides way steeper than any natural mountain.

Facing west, there is a massive chasm at the foot of the cylinder, and across the chasm, one can see a great gate carved in the rock's face. This is the main entrance to what lays inside of the protective walls of rock. But what exactly is behind hidden in there?

No one could expect it from the outside, but the mountain hides three bowl shaped valleys, somewhat like 3 volcano craters right next to each other... Each valley could also accurately be described as the inside of a bowl. The valleys are loosely connected by passes, and like the external rock face, they do not look natural at all... Because indeed, they are not.

Inside those valleys lay the different parts of the city of Gond, one of the most advanced cities on the planet. All of the valleys have the wall facing south covered with terraced fields that provide a good portion of the city's food. Similarly, the rim top of every valley is covered with fortifications (more on that later) and windmills that provide electrical and mechanical power to the city. Yes, the city does have electricity, although it is used only in the most important facilities. People's houses typically do not have electricity.

One valley houses the main city, with the south face being covered with terraced fields. The second one houses the heavier industries, that can be polluting and unpleasant to live near to (tanneries for instance). Finally the last one is the buffer with the outside world: it contains all the accommodations for visitors, the hospitals, the guard houses, the open market...  And it is protected by the legendary Battle School. The presence of those elite warriors discourage any kind of trouble in this cosmopolitan part of the city. This buffer used to restrict the access of strangers to the main city, not because they are not trusted, but mainly to prevent the eventual propagation of diseases coming from the Outside.

The whole city is completely autonomous when it comes to its energy. It is provided by the wind, and in a smaller fashion the sun. The Wind Wielders insure that there is always enough wind to power the city. There is very little dependency on fossil fuels, they are only used just for things that can't be done any other way, like smelting ores for example. The city also has it own source of water in the form of an underground water nappe. The only thing the city has to import is food. The output of the terraced fields is barely sufficient to provide for the most basic needs of the population (with a vegetarian diet), and the city imports vegetables and spices from the Outside, as well as meat that is hunted from the Great Plains. Also, virtually every unused space of the city is used to plant crops: the roof of houses, the side of the roads, the parks, the walls of the buildings... There are no spaces in the city that do not have a use and the landscape is actually really green, with things growing everywhere. Even the caves of buildings are used to grow fungi and certain molds. The only thing really lacking is meat. It is actually one of the main exports of the tribes that roam the plains. Gond also has to import its natural resources: ores, fossil fuels, wood... The city is located above an iron vein, but it is reserved for crisis and not exploited. Gond depends heavily on the other cities of the federation and mainly those near the Rohini mountain range, that provide it with most of the materials it needs to develop. This dependency is what prompted the construction of the railway system that links the cities of the federation.

The origin of Gond

The rock formation that protects the city hardly seems natural and indeed it is not: it is a product of the greatest magic ritual ever seen on the face of the planet. This ritual happened during the darkest days of humanity, during the Dark Age that followed the Fall. Scavengers from a small community of survivors discovered extremely well preserved artifacts from before the Fall, and in particular, they found something that could help humanity rebuild: working generators, that could be hooked up to windmills to produce enough electricity to power the artifacts they found. They also found electronic devices, with most notably a library containing video movies and archives from Earth. It was only a small personal computer and not one of the massive supercomputers that once powered Yaghan's network so there was very little usable technological books, maybe what would be found in the files of a moderately curious computer geek. Even though, a lot of the information proved useful to rebuild: things like calculus did not have to be reinvented from scratch, basic chemistry did not have to be re discovered and so on. It could not enable humanity to rebuilt to the 23rd century standard, but it was a start, and a good one at that. 

Shortly after, the community that had discovered the artifacts came under attack by one of the biggest horde of morlocks ever seen in those dark days. They survived only thanks to the help of the  newly formed Numu tribes, and had to flee the scene. But a man in the community, a powerful mage, saw the potential that laid in this treasure trove of knowledge. He was the first to have the idea of a fortress that would be used to protect and disseminate all that information.  He managed to collapse the ground under the artifacts, burying them in order to protect them, then fled. 

This man made it his mission to become the greatest mage on the planet so as to realize what he had envisioned. He traveled the continent of the Great Plains, then the planet, in search of more and more knowledge and power. When he came back, he was vastly more powerful and he tried once again to build a rock fortress with several of his companions. They all died in the effort, killed by the drain of such an impossible endeavor and he only survived, but his body was broken and unable to do large scale magic anymore. 

But he did not give up. He founded a school for mages that he called the Battle School. For a long time, it was located in one of the fortified cities on the foot of the Rohini range, the mountains where most communities of survivors had hidden themselves. There, the man took upon him to teach what he had learned, and trained what would become the best warriors of the planet centuries later. His pupils went around the planet, trying to teach their talents in order to improve mankind's odds against the morlocks... But they had another goal: they recruited gifted individuals that exhibited the powers they sought: individuals that could heal, individuals that could manipulate the earth, individuals that could strengthen the magic of others... The Old Man had a plan, a way to make the ritual work. But he never saw it because the required individuals were not found during his lifetime. 

It took almost three generation but at last, 9 gifted humans were reunited (one could say they were bred) that had the requisite abilities. Together, they decided to try the ritual the Old Man had envisioned once more. The only way for such a great feat to be performed was to be able to withstand an incredible drain (the drain of a magic act is proportional to the effect wanted, and creating a mountain ex-nihilo is something that should not be possible), and for that, the Old Man had devised a plan: one of the mages had to turn into a morlock, thus benefiting from their increased health and resistance before he completely turned into a monster. 

What happened next is not well known. The ritual worked, that's for sure, the city is the proof of that... But of the mages, only 3 survived. They never spoke of what had happened so it is open for conjecture. Some say the "lost" mages are buried under the city, but nobody knows for sure. After they recovered, one of the mages, of Callistan descent, left to bring back his magical knowledge to his land. For reasons unknown, one of the other survivor went after him, and they were never heard of again. The last survivor became the head of the Battle School, but she refused to teach the ritual, and she forbid the other mages of the city to do so. A vast amount of knowledge about magic was lost during that period, and it is open to conjecture as to what exactly the survivors feared. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The law of the plains, chapter 12

(This is chapter 12 of the Law of the plains. In the previous chapter, the rescue party met the rest of the tribe, only to realize they were somehow tracked by a horde of morlocks that seemingly appeared out of nowhere...)

Contrary to what the people of the besieged cities of Yaghan believed, the Nʉmʉ rarely came into contact with morlocks. Their mobility and the vastness of the plains usually enabled them to stay way clear of trouble. The only time they ever got near the monsters was when they applied the hit and run tactics their ancestors were renowned for in order to destroy smaller packs of morlocks with minimal losses.

But when morlocks came into contact with a settled camp for whatever reason, usually because the scouts had failed, disaster was almost certain. The only warriors that could fight morlocks and win even if they were outnumbered were the legendary Elites from the Battle School of Gond, soldiers that were trained from infancy to fight and use magical Gifts that dwarfed those of normal men. The Nʉmʉ were probably the best warriors of Yaghan, second only to those fabled combatants, but even they had no chance when outnumbered by morlocks. In that situation, the most important thing was to make sure that the band lived on and passed its legacy on to the next generation. That goal trumped everything else, even if it often meant that a lot of people would sacrifice themselves to allow a few to live.
A tribe needed its best hunters to survive winter, so when tragedy was almost certain, they were ordered to flee. Turning their back to their sworn enemies made every Nʉmʉ sick to their stomach, but their duty trumped everything else.

Kanaretah knew this, she knew that she was important and that she needed to find a way to save the assets that were Tabbaquena, Yahneequena and herself… But she did not see how, not with the monsters almost on them. If death was certain, do your best to save the band, she reminded herself.
"Towasi!" she yelled. "Towasi, you need to ride out, tell them to flee, take the hunters and the kids with you and flee! We'll delay them!"

Towasi was not a coward. She had fought morlocks many times before, despite her young age. But that wicked creature perched on a tame kʉtsʉtoya was more horrifying than anything she had ever seen. In a moment of clarity, she realized that even if she fled, her chances to make it out alive were slim at best. So she ordered her horse to turn around and galloped back towards the caravan. She was weeping as she rode, for she knew her friends were dead.

Kanaretah felt a slight relief. The girl would make it, maybe. A small victory, better than nothing when you faced extinction.
"Tabbaquena", she yelled. "You too!"
"We're doomed and you know it!" the old shaman snapped back. "I can buy you time, they'll need you if you survive this!"
He was right. It was the Law of the Plains, she had to survive and make sure the band did too. But she could not do it. She could not leave the sobbing Yahnee or her old friend.
"You're loosing time!" shouted Tabbaquena. He slapped Neraquassi on the rump and ordered him to flee with all the might of his mind. The horse was less stubborn than his rider and leaped in the direction of the rest of the band.
"Yahnee, get up." said the old shaman firmly, turning his attention to the sobbing boy.
The young brave stopped clawing his face and looked at him, jolted awake by the implacable presence of the shaman.
"You are a Nʉmʉ, a Lord of the Plains. Act like one and die like one! Stop shitting yourself and get up!" the shaman said again.
Being called a coward was the worst insult for a warrior, and Yahnee was no exception. Anger swelled in him and it brushed his fear aside.
He yelled his rage and frustration, vomited and shakily jumped back on Wakaree.

"I'm sorry old friend", he softly  said to his horse. "Tonight, we are meeting the Great Spirit."
Wakaree did not really understand the concept; only one thing was clear for him. He would go anywhere with his brother, even if it meant running towards those foul beasts that smelled like death and corruption.
"Wakaree and brother Yahnee hunt. Together. Happy." said the horse.
"Yes, together" said Yahnee with a sad smile.

Head held high, together, they started towards the horde, towards a worthy death.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The law of the plains, chapter 11

(Happy new year everybody! After a long break for the holidays, here is the next part of our story. 

This is chapter 11 of the Law of the plains. In the previous chapter, the rescue party encounters razorcats on their way and have to split up to deal with them....

As planned, the razorcats had followed the two braves in a fury of growls and snarls, enabling the rest of the rescue party to continue safely towards Wakaree. Yaghan's twin suns were lazily rising above the horizon and their slow orbiting around each other created incredible changing pastel tones. As always, the Nʉmʉ were awed by this magnificent spectacle. This was why they lived in the plains, despite the morlocks, despite the predators, despite the tornadoes and the cold of winter. They were free and lived in harmony with nature. They could ride with their heads high, proud Lords of the Plains, crowned by the shimmering rays of the suns, breathing the fresh and pure air, savoring the pristine and savage beauty of the monumental landscape that they called home.

Kanaretah was worried sick. She did not show it, but still, she took a moment to thank the spirits of the plains, the spirits of the suns, of her horse and her own guardians. Such beauty inspired respect and thanking the spirits properly was a way of asking forgiveness for intruding on their territory. She knew the other riders  were doing the same. It was important, and not doing so was bad luck on the hunt.

As it turned out, finding Wakaree was quite easy after that, despite the rising morning fog that started to blanket the landscape. Maybe the spirits were pleased indeed. The party kept in the general direction indicated by Tabbananica and Kanaretah was soon able to find tracks typical of a horse with a rider on its back.

As they cautiously approached Wakaree, they could see a slump on his back. No doubt about it, it was Yahneequena.
As  they got closer, Pisunii started shaking and pawing the ground.
"She is afraid, Wakaree has made contact with her, he is scared beyond belief apparently. It's rubbing on her" Towasi said, responding to the inquisitive gaze of Kanaretah.
She nodded and asked her own mount, Neraquassi, to try and calm Pisunii, when suddenly, Wakaree spotted them and to their consternation, started to trot in their direction. Immediately, Kanaretah made the gestures for a circling maneuver. Tabbaquena and Kotsoteka each split on both sides, positioning themselves on Wakaree's flanks. They gripped their bows and nervously glanced aside, keeping watch for any kind of danger.
Kanaretah made another gesture, ordering Towasi to go meet the scared horse. Pisunii immediately sprang forward. These two did not need words to communicate and acted as a single mind. The young rider grabbed her short lance, ready for anything.
When she got close enough to seize Wakaree's reins, her heart sank. What had happened? The beautiful palomino looked like a shadow of himself. There was white foam around his muzzle, his flanks were heaving rapidly and his eyes were raving mad. He closed the distance and burrowed his head in Pisunii's neck, as if he could hide there. The mare started showing her rider images from Wakaree's incoherent mind. He was relieved that help was there, but more than anything he wanted help for his little brother.
Yahnee was an even worse sight that Wakaree. His knuckles were white from clinging at his friend's mane, his mouth was twitching uncontrollably, he had evidently peed himself… But the worst thing was his eyes. They were open wide, but unfocused. It was as if he was not looking outside but inside and as if what he saw there scared him beyond belief.

Soon, the Nʉmʉ determined that there was nothing around that could have frightened him that much. They were great trackers of course, so they had no difficulty retracing the events of the night, like the fact that Yahnee had stopped, then turned around to fight carnirats. It was what had happened after that that was a complete mystery. He had evidently done extremely well and had dispatched the pack of vermin quickly, a rather impressive feat for a lone warrior. But after that, nothing. Wakaree had started galloping, to flee what? They had no idea.
If it had been a predator, there would have been no reason for Yahnee's madness. If it had been morlocks, there would be have been signs of battle, or more likely he would have been killed and devoured. Moreover Wakaree would have remembered it, but he did not recall anything strange apart from them routing the rats.

Finally, Tabbaquena reached for his drum and started a slow hypnotic beat. Soon after, he was spirit walking, but even that yielded no results. He was not able to reach the young Nʉmʉ, and the only thing he got from Yahnee was an incredible wave of fear. His mind was very elusive, always trying to escape as soon as Tabbaquena got near him. Finally, the old shaman had to give up. This needed more power, more time, a sweat lodge maybe. Something terrible had wormed its way in Yahnee's psyche, and trying to excise it on horseback in the middle of the plain was beyond the shaman's strength.

Completely flabbergasted, Kanaretah ordered them back to camp. They tried to get Yahnee on a fresher horse, but he would have none of it and sensing his anguish, Wakaree turned on them, biting and kicking. In the end, they gave up, the camp was only a few hours away at a slow pace anyway. Towasi changed horses however, and started to gallop towards camp with Pisunii in tow. Kanaretah could see no reason to move the whole tribe, but she was preoccupied by the incident, and just for the sake of security, she wanted them to move east slightly. That would get them closer to Gond, and it was always prudent to move if there was any doubt anyway.

And that was it. A few hours later, they had caught up and they finally were in sight of the caravan. As they drew closer, Kanaretah got Neraquassi closer to Wakaree and tried to grab Yahneequena's attention. "We've arrived boy, you can relax now. You are safe, all the band is here to protect you", she said in a soft and motherly tone.
Yahnee did not react, but his grip seemed to relax. Moments later, he was sniffing the air. They were smelling whiff's of the band's smell, the common smell of hundreds of horses, of dust in the air, of leather jerkins and equine dung. A stench they were all used to, that they  called home.
Towasi was already there and she was helping herding horses along the caravan, but when she saw her friends in the distance, she turned around and came to greet them.

"Ooh haa", she said. "Well met, travelers. We're happy to offer you hospitality tonight" she joked, smiling from ear to ear. She was happy to see them back safe and sound.
Suddenly Yahnee seemed to regain consciousness. He straightened up on Wakaree, startling the already spooked horse.
His eyes darted around, going from Kanaretah, to the caravan, back to her. +
"Why are we here!" he shouted.
"What?", said Kanaretah, alarmed by the violence of his outburst.
"No!" he started wailing. "No, no, no, NO! He is here, he is inside me, he knows where we are!"
"Stop!" ordered Kanaretah. "Explain. Who knows we are here? What are you talking about?"
But Yahnee was not listening. He was on the verge of madness. He looked around deliriously.
"No, he is here, he is here, it's my fault, it's too late!" he yelled. Then he fell from his horse, sobbing and staring at something behind them.

Kanaretah turned around slowly. The morning fog was slowly dissipating, revealing the shadow of a huge creature. A monstrous kʉtsʉtoya.
A monstrous kʉtsʉtoya with a great morlock riding on it. +
She could not believe what she saw. She had not heard or smelled or felt a thing. How could this monstrous thing have followed them?
The morlock raised an arm clad in an assortment of mismatched armor parts. A lipless, ashen mouth opened, revealing a row of sharp triangular teeth. Then he howled, a terrifying bellowing call that had her hair stand on her arms. She had never heard such an awful noise, it promised violence and pain and death and chilled you to the bone. It was not like her but she was transfixed, too much was happening at the same time, Yahnee sobbing and clawing his face with his nails, Wakaree neighing with fear, all the horses starting to loose their temper and this nightmarish creature unlike anything she had ever seen...

Finally the long howl stopped, and she regained her wits. But as she was about to yell her orders to her stunned comrades , she was yet again stopped in her tracks.

As the mists parted, more shapes started to emerge from the shadows and slowly solidified.

Morlocks. Hundred, no, thousands of them. +

"We're doomed", cried Yahneequena. "I've doomed us all!". +