Thursday, May 21, 2015

Altellus, a swashbuckling fantasy world.



A dryadborn duelist
(Yes, they're basically elves.)
(No, I'm still not using Pathfinder.)

My Queen,

Infinite crystal spheres exist in the incomprehensible vastness of the Prime Material Plane. Some are big and hold entire universes; some are small and hold strange, singular worlds. Some are fueled by science and technology and some are filled with magic and wonder. Some are home to gods who walk the earth, meddling in the lives of their followers while some are home to religions that pray to emptiness that never answers. Some worlds are filled with dreariness and dread; some are home to adventure and delight.

In searching for a new home for your next transmigration, I have followed your instructions to limit my divinations to those spheres you have described as “swashbuckling” – by which I assume you mean roughly contemporaneous with our own sphere in technology and sartorial fashion. “Rapiers and ruffs,” as you said. I commend your majesty for your discernment, and I humbly submit that I have discovered several worlds that may please your next incarnation.

One of these crystal spheres is home to a world called Altellus. It stands at a strange midpoint in the extremes of the Prime Material Plane. The world of Altellus itself is the third major satellite of its sun, but Altellus’ sun is the only sun in its sphere. Gunpowder and gearworks exist happily alongside crystal balls and summoning circles. The gods are distant and unseen, yet no one doubts their presence in their lives.

Altellus itself is a modest-sized, blue-green world, resembling its cousin Earth in many ways. The continents are all placed more or less where we should would expect them, the weather works the way one would expect it to, and the flora and fauna are… largely familiar. Perhaps great dragons sleep beneath ancient hills, unicorns frolic in its forests, and the deeps of the seas are filled with leviathans and sea serpents, but it is certainly recognizably Earth-like.

Except that humanity is extinct.

This is not a fact recognized by the inhabitants of this world – they would, perhaps, laugh in my face if I dared suggest that humankind has ceased to be – but it is nevertheless a fact. Do not be alarmed, though, my queen, for it appears that humanity died a pleasant death. One might say that it passed in the arms of a tender and generous lover during a vigorous bout of lovemaking. Well, numerous lovers, actually…

Humanity has been replaced by its descendants: a cornucopia of interfertile species derived from mankind mixing its blood with the nature spirits and half-human creatures of classical myth. The continent of Erigone – Europe’s close cognate – is populated by hirstute satyr-blooded, long-lived dryadborn, bull-horned Minosians, feline sphinx-kin, and sundry others. Even the humblest of peasants can claim a minor godling in his past (even if the only sign of that is a stubby goat tail above his buttocks) while the highest-born noble (or, in truth, the luckiest of humble peasants) may just be a minor godling, for all intents and purposes.

As one might guess from the profusion of Greco-Roman demi-humans, the unseen but omnipresent gods who attend to Erigone are the Olympian pantheon. The gods have not remained fixed in their spheres, however, for Bacchus the Liberator overthrew the tyrant Jove (as Jove overthrew Saturn) and now rules the Dodekatheon. The church that has evolved in the wake of this cosmic revolution greatly resembles Christianity in form and function, if not perhaps entirely in ethos. Venus, Mars, Mercury, and all the rest are honored much like saints. There’s a Pontifex Maxima (yes, Maxima; the roles of the sexes are far more equal on Altellus than our Earth) in the ancient city of Rumen who heads the church. The amount of wine they drink when they commune with the god is rather greater than what we would see on Earth, but otherwise it is more familiar than not.

Admittedly, there is a strict injunction against slavery that has shaped the course of Erigonean history. Holding freedom as the highest ideal, the Erigoneans have not known the leadership of kings or emperors (except as aberrations that were fought and destroyed). The Tiberian Republic gained primacy over its les-advanced neighbors through diplomacy and trade, using its mighty legions only as a last resort. A Federation was formed as foreign nations allied themselves with the Tiberians, and – as the populace of Erigone grew too large for one Senate to rule – eventually an Alliance was formed as the federated states created Senates of their own.

At this moment, my queen, I fear that you are reading this missive and finding it wanting. “Where is the silk and swordplay, dear doctor?” you might ask. “This looks rather like sandals and pepla instead,” you might say. Have no concern, your majesty, for though political science seems to have been stunted during the Roman Republic, the world has still advanced.

Contemporary Erigone may even be somewhat technologically superior to our own sphere; their ships are sleeker, their swords are slimmer, and the firearms are more reliable (the flintlock mechanisms they use being a vast improvement on our matchlocks and wheellocks). I must confess that the spectacles I acquired there are much improved upon my old pair.

Magically, Altellus as a whole is far more advanced than Earth. The schools of abjuration, divination, enchantment, and transmutation are practiced by scholars of the highest order, transforming the daily life of its people. In sharp contrast to many of the other worlds I have viewed and visited, there is a surprising de-emphasis of conjuration and evocation. Indeed, the offensive applications of magic are largely unknown, and spells such as the fireballs and blasts known on other worlds seem to be taboo on Altellus.

(I have several theories about this, but they are all mere conjecture. It is possible that these forms of magic – so closely resembling the thunderbolt of Jove – are merely repugnant on a moral level to Erigoneans. It is possible that the higher concentrations of phlogiston found in the Altellian sphere make such magic impractical. It is also possible that just don’t consider it sporting.)

Despite the emphasis on freedom found in the Bacchanal Church, human (or demi-human) nature seems to be the same throughout the Prime Material Plane. Power is still the ultimate aphrodisiac, and an aristocracy descended from the patricians and knights of ancient Rumen hold most of that power. While matters of state are debated in the Senates (rather than being decided by strong-willed monarchs such as yourself), self-interest still leads to intrigue and limited resources leads to war. It is, admittedly, far easier for a talented and driven commoner to climb from poverty to the highest ranks – perhaps even be declared a princeps – but there are still ranks to climb. Freedom does not equate to equality.

As confusing as the concept might be when the church worships a god of hedonism and personal freedom, there is also still heresy and religious war. Jove is not forgotten, and there are conspiracies to reinstate his primacy even after all the centuries he has been deposed. Worshippers of Pan agitate that Bacchus has ruled too long and now his son in turn should lead the gods. There are even disputes between those who prefer “Bacchus” and those who prefer “Dionysus.”

And yes, there are ruffs and there are rapiers, my queen. There are dashing musketeers and daring highwaymen. There are pirates and the sea dogs you love so much. There are witty playwrights and desperate thieves. There are rebellious ladies and untamable lords. There are ripped bodices and breathless escapes. There is swashbuckling.

(It’s just that the gentlemen may have the horns of a goat or the tails of horses, and the ladies may have the claws of cats or rather delightful pointed ears.)

And, as I somewhat glossed over earlier, women may swash their bucklers as freely as men.

There are other worlds I might recommend to you. Some few are equal to Altellus in beauty and opportunity, but none surpass it. Whether you transfer your spirit to the seed of a cobbler or a senator, you will have the opportunity to indulge in a life of freedom and adventure. You may pursue ambition and rise to rule a nation (more or less) or simply breeze through life laughing and fighting and making love. I will be happy to write more of other worlds, but I will also happily instruct you in the intricacies of Altellus.

Your friend,
Dee


4 comments:

  1. The idea of humanity sexing itself into extinction... neat. But the idea of Bacchus taking over the pantheon feels like it continues the loop for the Greek-Roman pantheon. Tell me, any thoughts on how Bacchus acted to prevent a coup against him? Jove/Zeus more or less acted to consume the mother of his prophesied son, creating Minerva/Athena.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's definitely meant to be cyclical, but also tracking along the historical evolution from a god of vengeance to a god of love.

      I think Bacchus has done very, very little to prevent a coup. His rise to preeminence only occurred within the last 1,000 - 1,500 years (after a much longer reign by Jove), and he's just been riding high on his popularity amongst gods and mortals. Pan (occasionally described as his son) is plotting a takeover while cults of the patriarch gods plot counter-revolutions of their own.

      Delete

JUSTICE LEAGUE is the Movie the Rest of You Wanted

If I was a Warner Brothers exec right now, I’d have to conclude that the problem with Justice League is that it wasn’t dark enough. Aft...