The Traitor's Blade

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Micamo
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The Traitor's Blade

Post by Micamo »

This is some worldbuilding stuff I made for a now-mostly-defunct fantasy novel attempt, a grimdark fantasy with a working title "The Traitor's Blade." I scrapped the novel because I couldn't figure out how to make the plot quite work, but the worldbuilding is better than most of what I come up with and I'm bored and I feel like sharing some of it. I might finish the book if I can figure out the plot problems, but I doubt it. All of this is subject to change of course, whether a modification will fix my plot problems or if I just decide I have a cooler idea.

History

In the Age of Tyranny, the world was ruled by a group of evil mages who worked their vile magics in Soroz Voth, the City of Sorrows. Their victims called them the Black Sorcerers: They (and their loyal servants) called themselves the Knowing. The world was connected through a series of instantaneous transportation portals called the Black Gates, which all led to Soroz Voth as a central hub.

The Knowing crafted impossible devices (such as the Black Gates), commanded legions of demons in the hundreds of thousands, and could destroy entire cities with a wave of their hand. Worst of all, perhaps, was that they were immortal: Immune to aging, and even their own weapons and demonic minions, the only time they ever died was when they engaged in direct combat with each other, which happened a lot, as internal power struggles were quite common.

But around 1400 years ago, the reign of the Knowing came to a sudden, violent end. A 1000-mile diameter anomaly centered on Soroz Voth swallowed it up, as well as a huge chunk of the surrounding continent. Demons, wild and uncontrolled, started pouring out of the Black Gates by the hundreds. The locals on the other ends of the gates destroyed them to stop the onslaught.

No one quite knows what happened. Some believe that the Black Sorcerers were finally struck down by the Gods as punishment for their crimes, but most think they attempted some sort of experiment that backfired horribly and destroyed them. No one who was in Soroz Voth at the time managed to escape, and no expeditions have managed to reach the city and come back to tell of it. The anomaly that destroyed the Sorcerers came to be known as the Despair, and so the Age of Despair began.

The Despair

From the outside, the Despair appears to be a solid black wall, a cylinder stretching up beyond the dark stormclouds that constantly swirl around it. If you stepped in, three things would happen. First, you'd get blasted by the constant hurricane-force winds, blowing at over 100 miles per hour at all times. Then, you'd feel the intense chill, a steady -50 F throughout its entire area. Then, you'd start hallucinating as your central nervous system degraded, resulting in death in about 3 hours if you manage to survive the weather. No one goes in very far and comes back, and for those who do return, the nervous system damage is permanent. Mundane sources of light, such as the sun or the flame of a torch, don't work inside the Despair either, so unless you have a magical light source, you're completely blind.

Demons

Demons can only enter our world by possessing a corpse, either human or animal. When possessed by a demon, the corpse twists and becomes monstrous, resembling the creature that was used only vaguely. No two demons are alike. In the Age of Despair, the only place where this can happen is the Despair, where demons can possess corpses freely. Anything that dies inside, or whose corpse is brought in, will be possessed after just 1 to 5 minutes of being past the border. In the past, the Knowing could summon demons some other way: No one knows how they did it.

There's something critical that's different about the demons that come out of the Despair, and the ones that the Knowing summoned and commanded. For one thing, the legions of Soroz Voth, while monstrous, are reported to have been highly intelligent, fully capable of speech and complex planning. The ones that come out of the Despair are bestial, mindlessly attacking anything that moves to either sate their hunger (though demons do not need to eat to survive, they are continuously ravenous and derive great sensory pleasure from consuming flesh, though no amount of gorging themselves ever satisfies them) or to drag the corpses back to the Despair to make more of their kind.

For another, the legions of old could command magical power nearly rivaling that of their masters: They could teleport from one side of the world to the other (the Black Gates were for their mortal slaves and servants to use: The Knowing and their legions had no need of them), fly, move through walls, lay waste with fire and lightning. Why do demons from the Despair lack such powers? And what happened to the legions that had already been bound? Were they destroyed along with their masters?

Modern, Despair-born Demons are threats to be feared, surely. Incredibly strong and fast, and immune to all forms of mundane attack. No blade or arrow can pierce their hides, and even a hammer or a tossed boulder from a trebuchet bounces off with no effect. The only mundane way to defeat them is to entrap them, either tying them up or entombing them under a ton of stone. This is still more difficult than it sounds, given that they can rip apart steel and punch holes through castle walls as though they were wet tissue paper. The only way reliable ways to kill them is with magic: Either Orythium, or Lyocite.

Orythium

Orythium is a very strange, supernatural metal forged by the Knowing in the Age of Tyranny. It's pitch-black, but has a lustre like that of pure gold or silver. A black mist comes off of the metal, heavier than air, it falls off the metal whereever it's exposed to the air and pools on the ground. The mist remains for about 30 seconds before dispersing. Every working Orythium device has a number of runes inscribed into the metal, each of which burning with a black flame that sucks in the light from around it and into itself. The runes are incredibly complex logograms of some sort, made up of about 100 strokes each with a spidery, twisting appearance.

The number of runes inscribed into an Orythium device is always prime: The simplest have two, three, or five runes, but the most complex one on record has 131 runes. The meaning of these runes has been completely lost, but the complexity and power of a device is correlated with how many runes it has, though not perfectly so. For example, it is known that there once was a device that allowed teleportation to any location the wearer desired, and it held 47 runes (It was lost along with its wielder when they attempted to use it to travel to Soroz Voth to investigate the ruins). The Black Gates, however, allowed transport to only one place, but they had a variable number of runes ranging from 53 to 97. It is speculated that the Black Gates were intentionally designed to be less useful than they otherwise could be, due to their intended purpose of being utilized by the masses: The extra runes are to restrict the capabilities of the effect.

An Orythium device is always a single, continuous piece of the metal: Other pieces are there for either ornamentation or practical functionality. For example, a sword with an Orythium blade may well have a steel crossguard and pommel and a leather grip. These can be freely replaced with no harm to the functioning of the sword, so long as the orythium blade is not damaged.

Orythium is incredibly strong, about the same strength as titanium, but with only a tenth of the weight you would expect. But it is not invincible, and if the metal is cracked, broken, or bent too much, the black fire in the runes will go out and it will cease to function. The strange mist effect persists on the metal, however.

A device is activated by a command phrase: This command phrase turns the device "on", its powers are then activated by the will of the user. A device with multiple powers thus only has a single command phrase. A command phrase need not be spoken aloud: Simply thinking the words are enough. Few surviving devices remain, and fewer remain whose command words are known: People who possessed devices had the unfortunate habit of keeping the command phases for their devices a closely held secret, and failing to pass them on upon their deaths. The known command phrases, as far as anyone has been able to tell, are meaningless strings of syllables, albeit words with a strange, practically unpronounceable phonology.

Still, an orythium device whose command phrase has been lost is still a priceless treasure, if only for its rarity and the hope that its command phrase can be rediscovered somehow. There has also been some success in creating new Orythium: An alloy of 2% silver, 31% gold, and 67% lyocite creates a metal with a very similar appearance to orythium, possessing even the strange black mist effect. Even if the design and runes of a known device is recreated with exactness, however, they refuse to ignite and the device will not work, and the metal is very flimsy and easily broken. Whatever final secret the Knowing used to make these items still evades scholars, and the ability to re-create orythium's appearance has done little more than make a black market for fakes.



----------------------------------------

Next time: Lyocite and the Amaranthine Order
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Re: The Traitor's Blade

Post by Salmoneus »

I haven't read the post yet, but if you do re-start the novel you might want to rename it. Seeing as 'The Traitor's Blade' is already a fairly-well-known* fantasy novel...

[to be fair, given the finite number of combinations of "[portentous word 1]'s [portentous word 2]" (or "[pw2] of [pw1]", for variety), it's becoming genuinely hard to find new epic fantasy novel titles that aren't already taken. There's only so many paths, ways, kings, traitors, swords (blades, knives), dragons, quests, heroes, princes (princesses), shadows, darknesses, thorns, flames, tests, clashes, wars, winters, summers, songs, knights, wizards, ships, magics, assassins, dawns, bloods, elves, thieves, and if you're Anne McCaffrey potentially dolphins to go around, and we may now have passed the event horizon of title-originality...]



*I mean, not GRRM or JRRT. But over 15,000 ratings on goodreads, and nominations for the Morningstar and Campbell (the Best New Writer one, not the old Memorial). So a recognisable name for fans.
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Re: The Traitor's Blade

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Salmoneus wrote: 23 Nov 2019 16:45 I haven't read the post yet, but if you do re-start the novel you might want to rename it. Seeing as 'The Traitor's Blade' is already a fairly-well-known* fantasy novel...

[to be fair, given the finite number of combinations of "[portentous word 1]'s [portentous word 2]" (or "[pw2] of [pw1]", for variety), it's becoming genuinely hard to find new epic fantasy novel titles that aren't already taken. There's only so many paths, ways, kings, traitors, swords (blades, knives), dragons, quests, heroes, princes (princesses), shadows, darknesses, thorns, flames, tests, clashes, wars, winters, summers, songs, knights, wizards, ships, magics, assassins, dawns, bloods, elves, thieves, and if you're Anne McCaffrey potentially dolphins to go around, and we may now have passed the event horizon of title-originality...]



*I mean, not GRRM or JRRT. But over 15,000 ratings on goodreads, and nominations for the Morningstar and Campbell (the Best New Writer one, not the old Memorial). So a recognisable name for fans.
yeah, this:

Image

I did say it was a working title for a reason, needed something to name my draft other than "grimdark fantasy #178"

(Though, technically, mine is "The Traitor's Blade" where De Castell's is just "Traitor's Blade". Completely different, obviously!)
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Re: The Traitor's Blade

Post by Ahzoh »

Demons:
>can rip apart steel and punch holes through stone like wet paper
>can take a direct hit from a trebuchet boulder.
>can be (with a lot of effort) subdued with some rope.

Must be some magical rope.
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Re: The Traitor's Blade

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Ahzoh wrote: 23 Nov 2019 19:08 Demons:
>can rip apart steel and punch holes through stone like wet paper
>can take a direct hit from a trebuchet boulder.
>can be (with a lot of effort) subdued with some rope.

Must be some magical rope.
Nah, its simple physics: To exert force, you need leverage. If you tie someone up into a position where they can't get leverage against their bonds, it doesn't matter how strong they are, they won't be able to break free. Suspension from a ceiling works great for this, so long as whatever rope or chain you use is strong enough to hold up your quarry's weight.

I don't want to give the wrong impression that this is how they were dealt with, though: Most of them were put down by the handful of orythium weapons that were present outside the city, though not before tens of thousands were massacred. A few were led down into tunnels which were then collapsed. Some of those demons are even still alive down there.
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Re: The Traitor's Blade

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Salmoneus wrote: 23 Nov 2019 16:45 [to be fair, given the finite number of combinations of "[portentous word 1]'s [portentous word 2]" (or "[pw2] of [pw1]", for variety), it's becoming genuinely hard to find new epic fantasy novel titles that aren't already taken. There's only so many paths, ways, kings, traitors, swords (blades, knives), dragons, quests, heroes, princes (princesses), shadows, darknesses, thorns, flames, tests, clashes, wars, winters, summers, songs, knights, wizards, ships, magics, assassins, dawns, bloods, elves, thieves, and if you're Anne McCaffrey potentially dolphins to go around, and we may now have passed the event horizon of title-originality...]
Don't forget tales . . .

EDIT: BTW, thanks for the suggestion. I've added "assassin" to the Landau Core Vocabulary.
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Re: The Traitor's Blade

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Lyocite

Lyocite is a dark purple mineral, about the color of the skin of a plum. It flakes easily and can be crushed into powder with your bare hands. Lyocite is found underground in deposits only on the northern continent, and the veins become larger and more common as you get closer to the Despair. It's speculated that there's even more of it in the Despair itself, though unless a way to safely traverse it is found such deposits are of course useless.

Lyocite is highly toxic: Ingestion and absorption into the body causes damage to the central nervous system that results in loss of motor control, hair loss, incontinence, terrible muscle pains, and disturbing, nightmarish hallucinations. This escalates to paralysis and then death, as the user becomes no longer able to breathe or pump their heart. These symptoms can be abated by taking more of the stuff on purpose, but this speeds up the user's demise. For a mine worker who spends all day in a confined space breathing in the dust, their life span is 5-10 years after they begin working on average.

You can't use lyocite for magical purposes unless you have the necessary tattoos inked into your skin. The ink is made of lyocite powder and the runes are taken from those found on orythium devices: Many runes have been tried and most of them do nothing. However, some of them only have effect when used in a multi-rune "phrase", so there's hope that all of the runes are usable if only we can find the correct way to use them. Runes have a downside, however: The more runes you have inked on you, the worse the negative side effects of using lyocite are, and thus the faster your nervous system degenerates. The standard number of runes to give an operative is thus 5. Any less, and they don't have a broad enough range of abilities to be useful. Any more, and they die too quickly to be worth the investment. The total number of runes you have inked on you must be a prime number, or else none of your runes will work.

(A rune that does nothing counts toward your total number of runes, both for whether you have a prime number and for how quickly the lyocite kills you. You just can't activate it.)

Using your lyocite runes requires first ingesting the stuff. This can be done any way you like, but the standard method is to carry around 1-ounce "pebbles" of it that you put in your mouth and suck on. At first, it takes terrible, causing most first-timers to vomit. But once you get used to it, it has a pleasantly sour taste, like a piece of lemon candy. This is the second-fastest method to get it into your system: The fastest is injecting a solution of it with a syringe, but this is often inconvenient in practical situations. Once it's in your system, you will one or more of your runes to activate and they glow softly with a dark purple color, its surface flickering like flames. The runes can be placed anywhere, but they're usually placed on the spine where they can be easily hidden by clothes so an enemy can't easily tell whether someone's runes are activated, or which ones. The rune burns through the lyocite you've ingested until you run out.

You don't want to ingest it unless you intend on using it quickly: When it's in your body, it breaks down naturally, causing all of the negative side effects with no benefits. You also don't want to do too much in a short period: A large amount of lyocite consumed in a short time causes you to vomit blood, and if you keep going after that pretty soon you'll have a lethal seizure and die.

An incomplete list of lyocite powers and their effects.

Awareness (1 rune): Causes the user to become awake and alert, feeling no fatigue even after being awake for days. It sharpens their senses as well making it virtually impossible to sneak up on them. This rune burns through lyocite very slowly, allowing it to be used for hours on a single pebble. Using it catches up with you though: If you use it to stay awake for 3 days straight, when you finish, you'll be dead-exhausted. It doesn't work on muscle fatigue from doing manual labor though, you need a separate power for that.

Endurance (1 rune): Gives you additional stamina, making you feel no fatigue in your muscles so long as you've got lyocite to burn.

Enhance Weapon (1 rune): Causes a held weapon to glow with purple energy. An enhanced blade, arrow, or crossbow bolt can cut through metal or stone like butter (though, notably, it doesn't work on orythium), and can get around the protections of a demon or someone using Demonflesh (see later). A much more efficient use of lyocite than direct attack runes such as Gout of Flame or Lightning Bolt.

Demonflesh (2 runes): Gives you the enhanced speed, strength, and invulnerability of a demon. You can punch holes in castle walls and shrug off arrows and spears as though they were nothing. You're still vulnerable to magical attacks, though, as well as a true demon's claws and teeth.

Gout of Flame (2 runes): Lets you shoot purple fire out of your hands. Expands as a cone at 45 degrees for a distance of about 50 feet, further (or with a narrower cone) if you burn more lyocite.

Lightning Bolt (2 runes): Lets you shoot purple lightning out of your fingertips. Unlimited range, but requires line of sight.

Regeneration (2 runes): Instantly heals cuts, broken bones, even severed limbs. If you're ready for it and burning this rune before it happens, this can even save you if you're beheaded or you get stabbed in the heart, so long as you have the lyocite to pay for it. If you die too quickly to realize what's happening, though, this won't help. Runescholars would very much like a version of this power that works on others as well as yourself.

Flight (3 runes): Allows you to fly, moving in the direction you will your body to do so. It takes a lot of practice to use it with precision. Default speed is about 40 miles per hour: Moving slower or faster requires greater and greater uses of lyocite: Hovering in place is quite expensive. Make sure you're on the ground before you run out.

Smokeform (3 runes): Turns your body (as well as all of your held equipment) into black mist that pools on the ground. You can move freely in this form and are immune to most forms of harm, you can creep along walls and ceilings and move into anything that's not airtight. You cannot fly unless you're also burning Flight at the same time. Burns through lyocite extremely fast, dangerous to use for more than a few seconds. If you run out, you turn back into your corporeal form whereever you happen to be. Has very messy results if you happen to be trying to squeeze into something at the time.


The Amaranthine Order

The northern continent of Nasuk was hit the hardest by the coming of the Despair, due to being unable to deal with the flood of demons by simply destroying a gate. The first to discover the potential of lyocite was a group called the Amaranthine Order, who claim that the mineral and its powers are the blessing of their goddess, the Lady of Shadows. Functioning as a cross between knights and priests, they travel Nasuk slaying demons whereever they can be found.

The Amaranthine Order have a unique advantage: They have the ability to use Lyocite without its harmful side-effects, but at the cost of the life force of other humans. Because of this, the shadow-priests use more runes than is otherwise safe, usually 13, in exchange for needing to consume a human sacrifice two or three times per year. No one knows how or why they are able to do this: The preists claim it is a blessing of the Lady of Shadows and is not a mere trick that can be taught, but they are suspiciously secretive about their initiation rites.

The Amaranthine Order and the rulers of Nasuk, the Blood, have a sort of uneasy truce. The Shadow-Priests operate independently but rely on the Blood to supply them with Lyocite, while the Blood rely on the Order to deal with the demon problem. A Shadow-Priest is allowed to claim the life of any serf they wish to consume when they need a sacrifice in exchange for a blood-price, so long as said serf doesn't fulfill a necessary function. The Blood will also sell the priests condemned criminals to consume for a lower price, but this is not enough to meet the Order's needs. They also pay for the lyocite they use, and the hunters are paid in turn a commission for each demon they kill. The Order also has a small number of lands they control directly and collect rent from the serfs who work there.

The Blood would love to bring the order under their direct control, perhaps by discovering the secret of how their special powers work. The Order, meanwhile, would love to seize control of the lyocite supply, and be free to consume as many people as they wish to fuel their powers without having to pay blood-prices. The Blood and the Order have gone to war with each other multiple times. But for now at least, neither group has been able to conquer the other.

---------------------


Next time: Nasuk, The Blood, and the Ari Empire
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Re: The Traitor's Blade

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Mention of lyocite veins getting larger as they get nearer to Despair made me think: what happens if you try to dig under Despair? Does it extend down into the earth as well?
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Re: The Traitor's Blade

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alynnidalar wrote: 27 Nov 2019 20:26 Mention of lyocite veins getting larger as they get nearer to Despair made me think: what happens if you try to dig under Despair? Does it extend down into the earth as well?
It does, actually. If you try to tunnel under the boundary, you'll just smack into it in your tunnel instead.
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Re: The Traitor's Blade

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The (Very Incomplete) Map

Image

This map is the entire planet, roughly the same size as earth. The scale bar at the bottom has been rendered illegible by me scaling it down but its full length is 3000 miles: As you can see, there's one "main continent" and a bunch of smaller continents around it that you can also argue are large islands (the definition of "continent" being quite arbitrary).

The map has intentionally been left blank in large areas: What's mapped here are the places actually visited in the story, as of the point where I shelved the draft. I want to keep my options open to expand things with whatever I need. As before, if I pick it up again, I reserve the right to change whatever about this map I like to serve the purposes of the story.

The Blood

The mortal servants of the Knowing were a soft-hereditary class of nobility, initiated by way of a ceremony performed at the age of 5 involving the drinking of a concoction made out of demon blood (hence the name). The Blood were only soft-hereditary because, while normally only the children of existing Blood were accepted and made Blood themselves, if they needed more than this stock could provide the Knowing were happy to accept children of non-Blood whose parents volunteered them (or, if there weren't enough volunteers, abductions). The Blood were governors, administrators, bureaucrats, and enforcers who enacted the policies of the Knowing with cruel efficiency, treating their subjects like cattle. Most people in the Age of Tyranny never saw a true demonic minion of the Knowing: Those were saved for when rebellions needed to be put down.

Though the Blood were privileged, they were also thralls: That demon blood concoction puts the drinker under a magical compulsion for the rest of their life, unable to betray the Knowing in word or deed, and unable to disobey an order from them in letter or in spirit. The compulsion however worked only if you put it on them young, hence why only small children were accepted.

Being vastly outnumbered, in most places the Blood were violently overthrown at the downfall of Soroz Voth, shortly after the demon attack was taken care of, with mass executions eliminating them entirely.

Nasuk

Nasuk was, as in so many other things, the exception: Here, the Blood were able to hold onto some of their power and rose out of the chaos as a landlord class in a system of serfdom. Though they go by the same name, they are now a hard-hereditary class, and of course no longer suffer the ritual of compulsion.

The land is, of course, dominated by the Despair to the north: Only a crescent on the southern end of the continent is habitable. In truth, the Despair was not a great loss in terms of arable land, as the region it swallowed up was mostly glaciers, volcanoes, and tundra anyway. The habitable portion of Nasuk is cold wetlands to the west, and cold taiga to the east. The land is sparsely populated, holding fewer people than its environment could potentially support, due to the frequency of demon attacks wiping out villages and settlements. It's just not viable to live too far away from population centers, where the Shadow-Priests patrol, so the area is paradoxically more urbanized than you would expect from the local environment.

The capital of Nasuk is Saman, with a population of about 9000. (Compare this to Nyuenwan, capital of Shia, with its 131,000.) The government consists of a council of all of the landowners in the country (422 members, at present), most of whom attend in person and manage their lands as absentees, but some send a representative to cast their vote for them instead. They vote with each member having proportional voting power to however many serfs live on their land. They elect from their own numbers a Chief Executor, who acts as council chairman as well as a head of state, and serves a term of 10 years (once you've been Chief Executor once, you can't be chosen again).

The Ari Empire

The world's largest and most powerful state, the Ari Empire dominates the main continent, though its size is a bit deceiving: The interior of the continent is massive expanses of desert, and though the Empire claims this region uncontested from other major powers, they do not practically speaking have much control over the sparse nomadic peoples who live there. Most of the empire's population is concentrated in the northern coast, where the temperate forests and plentiful fish support much more people.

The Empire is aggressively expansionist, whose citizens enjoy a lavish lifestyle supported by the labor of slaves brought in from conquered regions and heavy taxes levied on those who are not enslaved. Historically they have expanded mostly east and west: The desert is just too difficult for them to cross to do much in the south. They conquer with military superiority through effective use of vast legions of lyocite-powered Runeblades. However, their continued success is dependent upon their lyocite supply from Nasuk and the Blood gladly exploit their monopoly, raising the prices every year.

The story's inciting incident is the emperor sending his fleets north to take Nasuk and seize control of the lyocite mines.
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