Ty Barbary

Life Goal: Cultivate Awesomeness. Web designer by day, sci-fantasy writer and artist by night. Genderqueer Kemetic crafter and musician.

The Mechanics of the Gurhai Universe

After introducing The Demon-God of Jubagh, I realized I should probably explain to you just how this crazy universe works. If you want the full, glorious detail, you can look at the mechanics page on the wiki, but I’ll try to give you a good overview here.

Gurhai is a finite universe. Like a geode, it has open space enclosed by an oval shell made of densely-packed organic and mineral detritus. There is a flat layer of sun systems that stretches length-wise in the very center of the shell. There are precisely one hundred worlds in the universe, separated into thirty-five sun systems; similarly, there are exactly one hundred sentient species in the universe, though not evenly distributed as one-per-world. All but two worlds in the universe are round and flat; Airdh (the First World) and Gurhai (the Last World) are the only spherical worlds, and they are at the far ends of the universe, a full year’s travel apart. The suns are mobile and small, weaving or springing between planets in their systems, and there are no actual moons. In the top and bottom halves of the void, which are striated by the layer of worlds, there are creatures unlike any found on the worlds, living on the edges of atmosphere and gravity wells.

Gravitic ore is the glue that holds the universe together; it is a polarized mineral found at the center of a planet’s crust. The polar side has a very strong attraction – gravity – and the non-polar side has a very weak attraction, but does not repel. Gravitic ore is dark and reflective, resembling a cross between hematite and coal anthracite. In addition to producing gravity, gravitic ore also produces the magical energy inherent in each world, similarly polarized; while the strength of gravity varies little between worlds, the magic density fluctuates greatly between planets, going from magic-dry to magic-rich. The polarity of the gravitic ore determines which face of a flat world will become the life-supporting side; the non-polar side will only be strong enough to keep very heavy objects in place, such as rocks and ore. The non-polar face of the world also contains dry ice, which creates the thick, drifting fog that obscures the undersides of the worlds. Gravitic ore can be carefully mined to be placed sparingly in the lowest decks of intersun ships, giving them gravity and a source of magic while they venture into the void between suns. Gravitic ore also constitutes the majority of the materials that comprise the shell of the universe, making it nigh-deadly to approach the rocky barrier; the intense gravity will pull any ships in and smash them against the rocks.

The worlds, as previously mentioned, are mostly flat, round worlds. They support life, have gravity, and produce magical energy only on one face; the other face is rocky, barren, and clouded with mist from dry ice. Worlds vary greatly in magical density, but less so in size; the smallest world is half the diameter of the largest world, and all other worlds range between them. There is a rim of high mountains encircling the entire planet, which keeps creatures, water, and other resources from falling off the edge of the world. Atmosphere is generated by the plant life on each world; it has no defined boundary, but simply gets thinner and weaker as travelers move away from the world, becoming unbreathable eventually. The skies look different on each world; in many cases, one can see the other worlds of the system, if the world faces them; other worlds appear approximately as large as Earth’s moon in the sky.

Travel between the worlds is common. A dozen races design and build their own intersun ships, but the most common by far are Loi ships, halasshian ships, human ships, and buthinian ships. Human and halasshian ships have always had gravity and a source of magical energy, due to being constructed with a very thin layer of gravitic ore in the bottom deck, which also holds the soil, water, and plant life necessary to maintain a breathable atmosphere in the void. Buthinian ships do not have gravity or magic once they leave the planet; Loi ships were the same at first, but many Loi ships are now constructed with gravitic ore in a manner similar to halasshian and human ships. Because gravitic ore is responsible for generating magic, and because magic density varies so drastically between worlds, intersun ships constructed on magic-rich worlds are more prized by most than ships constructed on magic-dry worlds. Intersun ships are shaped and built much like water-going ships, complete with a keel, multiple deck layers, an outer/upper deck, and many sails. All ships have an entire deck or more devoted to flora; once the ship leaves the planet’s atmosphere, all windows and doors are sealed, the upper deck is no longer walked, and the air produced by the plants on-ship keep the passengers alive until they reach the next planet. The universe is not an unbearably large place; fast ships can make the trip from the First World to the Last World in a year, with most sun systems having neighboring suns within a month or two of travel. It generally takes no more than a day to go between worlds in the same system.

Intersun ships do not land on-world once they have launched, since the world’s gravity would smash the vessel into the planet; the people build docks well above the world’s surface, where the pull of gravity is weaker, where the large ships can load and unload their passengers and cargo. Smaller boats without gravitic ore can make the trip between planet surface and intersun dock to transfer people and items. The hovering intersun docks are maintained via magical or mechanical means, depending on the world in question and the technology/magic level of the people who maintain the docks; the on-world boats that travel between dock and world are powered in the same fashion. Intersun ships themselves use a combination of magic, machinery, and void winds to move; the former two are what enable the ships to navigate within atmosphere or when close to worlds, but when between sun systems, the void winds propel the ships. Void winds are present everywhere near the layer of worlds in the universe, but they are not breathable by any world-dwelling creature; void winds are usually strong, can crop up into gale-force storms, and can occasionally die out and leave a ship idling in the darkness for a while.

Until I do a post on Gurhai energies, have some complimentary nachos and references on qki and magic, the Light and its workers, human magic classes, and general magic classes.

Fiction: The Hunt (2003)

Words heard not too long ago rang out in silence, repeated constantly in one hunter’s thoughts.

‘You must not let them hear you, for that may be your death. You hunt alone, so you must be exceedingly careful — if you are wounded, they may attack, and you will die if they do. Seek out the slowest, the weakest; choose your target well, and wait for it to emerge from the herd’s protective bowels. You are swift, but you do not want to immerse yourself in the herd, for they will kill you. These are dangerous prey, young Kiva, and you are a fool for wanting to hunt them… but you are a skilled fool, and I believe you will succeed.’

The old warrior was right in saying that Kiva was skilled, but the young male didn’t believe he was so foolish… perhaps reckless and overly confident, but not a fool. He knew the risks in hunting the deadly Helk, but he would not back down so easily. It was a personal challenge, and one that he refused to decline.

Silky apricot fur rippled with the movement of lean yet powerful muscles as the tan crept forward, shoulderblades protruding bonily above his slender frame with each stride. Absolute silence. The herd was only a few hundred meters away from him, and he was fast approaching the limit of the tall, wheat-like grass that effectively concealed him. In a few more slinking steps, he would pause, and then… strike.

Jade green eyes glittered with a brilliant intelligence as Kiva came to rest at the very edges of the longer grass; hardly breathing, he regarded the herd. Helks were massive ungulates, shag-furred in earthy brown and possessing a fearsome rack of sharp-tipped antlers, as well as heavy hooves that could crush his skull as easily as a red’s jaws could. Narrow, pointed ears flicked forward, funneling each little sound that the prey made inwards; Kiva’s senses weren’t exceptional for a Korat, but they were incredibly keen compared to those of most other Lavanians. Soon.

He’d already chosen his target: an old bull with a greying muzzle and blunt hooves was carelessly near the edge of the herd, and with age-weakened antlers, he should not be much of a fight. The Korat knew that the true danger was from the elder’s herdmates — should they decide to avenge his sudden death, Kiva would be hard-pressed to escape with his life, let alone his meal. He grinned, baring razor-sharp rows of small, thin teeth, at the thought. He needed this challenge, newly-adult and without a reputation.

The bull wandered farther out; no longer did any young, healthy Helk stand defensively between the elder and the open plains. Kiva’s grin tightened, whiskers slicked back and hidden in pale fur, as he slowly unsheathed narrow golden claws and readied himself. Just a few more moments — there were Helks keeping an eye out for the old one. Best to let them fall into a false sense of security before attacking.

‘These are dangerous prey, young Kiva, and you are a fool for wanting to hunt them…’

Aye, Athuta… perhaps. But tonight, you and the others will feast.

The tan waited five excruciatingly long minutes until he felt the Helk herd relax minutely. They would never let their guard completely down -no Lavanian would, if it hoped to live another day- but they were as calm and inattentive as they would become. It was time.

Kiva could reach speeds of over sixty leagues per hour; Helk could barely manage twenty.

This speed, coupled with almost instantaneous acceleration, send a slim blur of hunter towards the herd, a mere hundred meters away, and he was sailing in a leap before any Helk had time to react to his presence with an alarmed bellow. As though he were suspended mid-air and floating leisurely down, Kiva seemingly had time to look around at the Helks, and then straight at his target.

The old one knew his time had come; though not sentient, Helks were quite keen (and vicious) grazers. But in defiance of fate, he swung his rack to impale the young Korat lunging for his spine and neck–

Kiva struck with his tail, the powerful appendage wielding a blued ebony tailblade that plunged into the herbivore’s muscular shoulder. This first contact between hunter and hunted allowed the tan to avoid certain death and absorb the shock of landing from such speed with all four legs, and the Helk was bowled over with the force–

Suddenly, normal time resumed.

Bellowing tore the air apart and flashes of black hooves and greybrown antlers surrounded the young Korat. The entire length of his ten-inch blade was embedded into thrashing flesh, and though instinct had caught him in time to rip open the beast’s flank with his longclaws, the Helk refused to die so easily. Blood spurted in erratic geysers as Kiva jerked blade and claws from his prey, ducked a vengeful swipe of brittle antlers, and took a precious nanosecond to catch his balance with all four paws firmly on the ground.

He shouldn’t have done so, for a few points of the rack caught his left shoulder and chest in the next strike, ripping furrows in his lean frame that immediately gushed blood. The brilliant crimson fluid stained his fur, stickily pouring down his chest to fall in immense droplets to the short, blue beadgrass below. The shock of pain jolted Kiva out of his pause, and he reacted with a silent, drawn snarl, his tailblade cracking at an angle to shatter one half of the Helk’s rack.

The ungulate bellowed in pain and, Kiva imagined, shame as he was left with little defense against the speedy hunter. The tan shoved himself close to the big beast’s side, avoiding younger herdmates’ wild attacks, and looked up as the elder looked around and down. For one heart-shattering moment, brown eyes looked into jade, and prey understood predator.

Time resumed as a healthier Helk smashed into the Korat’s hip with one broad forehoof, nearly breaking bones and tearing a wide slab of flesh, skin, and fur off. Kiva howled in shock and pain, and a frantic whip of his bladed tail made the beast back away momentarily.

‘…If you are wounded, they may attack, and you will die if they do.’

There was still the matter of his target, who -mere inches away- heaved his last gasping breaths, mutilated flanks rising and falling jerkily with each huff. There was still the matter of a swift death, an honorable death. And there was still the matter of surviving the hunt to bring the meat back.

Kiva sprang away and faced the elder, his tail’s constant lashing protecting him from attacks from behind, and once again he locked eyes with his target. Younger bucks were beginning to gather, bellowing and rearing their fury, hooves flashing through the air like knives, like boulders, like death…

‘You are swift, but you do not want to immerse yourself in the herd, for they will kill you.’

The male charged, dodging one last desperate attack with the old one’s remaining points, and ducked under a flailing muzzle to angle his jaws upwards and feel his razor-sharp teeth pierce flesh. For a moment, it was a bloodless bite, but the Helk tried to rear and tore his own throat open with the movement… The lifeforce fled from him in crimson falls, waves upon waves of red splashing down and staining Kiva’s face, pouring into and burning his eyes, flooding his mouth. The tan hacked and spit to avoid inhaling and thereby drowning, and in his temporary blindness, he felt a hoof connect with his right shoulder.

He was flung backwards as an incredibly loud cracking sound registered in his mind as his own bones shattering, and he found himself skidding on his back away from the main herd. His haunch still burned terribly, but this new wound sent waves of immobilizing, mind-numbing agony surging through his system. For a long second, Kiva could not think.

‘And you will die if they do.’

He could almost hear Athuta’s voice as his vision blurred; the thunder of pounding hooves rumbled up from the ground to rattle his body.

‘And you will die if they do…’

The danger of his current position was driven home as Kiva saw a hoof descending — should it connect, it would crush his skull instantly. A messy but swift death. Green eyes flew open and the male jerked out of the way, slashing a shallow but painful furrow into his attacker’s heavy muzzle as he shoved himself upright. A broken shoulder blade would slow him, but the pain had already begun to become a way of life, a background noise that was hindering, but tolerable. It drowned out the burning of the flap of skin that still hung from his haunch.

He blinked once to clear the red tinges (sheens of spilt Helk blood) from his vision, then focused in on his target. The old one was on his knees, moaning loudly as crimson bubbles began to appear around his mouth and wide nostrils, popping with quiet, death-like sounds. Kiva snarled; he could not let such a formidable beast die in misery and in dishonor.

The male lunged forward, screaming in shock as the first step caused the two splintered halves of his shoulderblade to scrape together, but the next strides only allowed the grinding to become another background noise. There was a mission to be completed, and pain was not on the agenda.

‘But you are a skilled fool, and I believe you will succeed.’

One strike of a gore-coated tailblade ended the elder’s pain, and another Koratian hunting scream unnerved the younger Helks enough that they did not attack. Kiva held himself upright through sheer willpower, narrow muzzle jerking to look at the herd. Only three or four bucks were still close — the rest had wisely moved off, as Korats usually hunted in packs. They feared that the tan had kindred nearby, and he was better off for the assumption.

Kiva drew breath and screamed again, putting more enraged madness into this bone-grating, heart-clawing sound, and the remaining Helk began to retreat, perhaps fearing attack, or perhaps just realizing that the kill was made and they could do no more. The tan watched until he was sure that they would not attack again, and then, he struck one last time. His blade sank deeply into the still-warm flesh and carved a deep gorge into the Helk’s flank, and the male poked his muzzle in the gaping wound, nosing around until, eyes squeezed shut, he found his reward.

To the hunter goes the heart.

Narrow jaws and razor-sharp teeth gripped the massive muscle and painstakingly pulled it from its nest between deflating lungs. He held it in his mouth for a long moment, the weight pulling his head down, before he dropped it at his forepaws and threw his muzzle back to howl triumphantly. As he plunged his foreclaws into the bleeding organ, he heard Athuta’s acknowledging warble echo across the lands, and he grinned before devouring his prize.

Introducing: Lavana

The Tri-System itself is the solar system in which Lavana resides; it consists of three planets (hence the name), two moons, and an aging yellow star much like Earth’s own sun. The Tri-System is very unusual in the fact that the planets do not orbit the sun separately, and the moons do not orbit any one planet. As lore goes, a highly advanced race of beings, simply called the Creators, are responsible for making not only all life on the worlds, but also the solar system itself. So, it’s their ‘fault’ that the planets wound up too close to each other to resist one another’s gravitational pulls: all three planets, with the two moons in the middle of the mess, orbit each other in one massive battle of gravity, even as they swing elliptically around the sun. So, even at night, even when the moons aren’t visible, one planet or another is usually seen hanging heavily in the darkened sky.

The star is called Ghrayu, the name given by Nila ages ago and adopted by nearly all other races; it appears orange and huge in the skies. The larger of the two moons is Veron, a silvery-blue orb that hangs very close to Lavana’s surface; the smaller of the two is Xerachin, which appears copper-colored and, being farther from Lavana than Veron, is often partially eclipsed by the larger moon. The largest of the planets is Lavana, which we’ll discuss more in a moment; the other two are Terole – the smallest planet – and Shakala. Terole is the planet that stays closest to Ghrayu; it appears rust-colored or tawny and is a barren desert on the surface, only capable of supporting unprotected life in a strip along the Tropic of Nankampi. Shakala is the planet farthest from Ghrayu; it appears pearly-white and is a snowy wasteland, though a small handful of creatures do live in the midst of blizzards and glaciers.

Lavana is a beautiful world whose surface appeal belies a vicious and deadly ecology. With pale violet skies and rosy clouds that darken to greyed red-purples when heavy with rainstorms and deep violets when filled with snow, Lavana seems like a child’s fantasy world. While most of the trees have grey, grey-brown, or brown trunks like those of Earth, leaves are most commonly shades of blue, although purple and green are also very common. Lavana’s two main types of grass are also interesting in hue: short blades of pale blue grass shaped like stiff strings of beads (appropriately called beadgrass) often intermingle with long, wheat-like strands of golden grasses. Seen from Lavana, the sun is fiery gold, Veron silver, and Xerachin ruddy golden; the stars are all the colors of the rainbow. Water is tinted slightly teal-violet, and oceans especially display this rich, vibrant color.

Lavana has two main continents: Handak and Penyns. Penyns is the largest continent: two massive, irregular blocks of land (one in the northern hemisphere and one in the southern) connected by a thick landbridge on the far left (west), a sea invading from the right. Penyns’ northernmost and southernmost points are frosted and covered in snowy tundra, while the rest of the continent has climate appropriate to its distance from the equator, which crosses the lower half of the landbridge. On the opposite side of the world is Handak, second-largest continent and rather ambiguously shaped. While not as east-to-west wide as Penyns, Handak has the same range north-to-south and thus much the same variety of climates, though its terrain is far less mountainous and thickly forested. The few Lavanian deserts are all on Handak, scattered to the north or south of the equator.

Lavana’s only minor continent is southwest of Penyns and southeast of Handak; Honshane (“Refuge” or “Sanctuary”) was discovered in the third millenium during the Dark Wars. Honshane is perhaps the most interesting of the three, for its surface area is likely equal to that of Penyns due to so many huge cave systems networked under rolling mountains, although its amoeba-like shape is only the size of the northern half of Penyns. There are also strange floating islands that drift with the cross-currents of air over Honshane; these can be reached by a Minmon standing on its hind legs, so low they fly, yet none of them ever seem to brush against a mountaintop. Honshane holds untold mysteries and very, very few native inhabitants – but here are a few new species never before seen on the rest of Lavana, as well as the fifth Korat breed, browns.

While Lavana has relatively few continents, it is fairly riddled with islands and island chains. Most chains are near or on the equator, and one of the most famous ones – the Stepping Stones – provides a bridge from Handak’s eastern shore to Penyns’ western, with the largest water-gap between islands only twenty-three miles across. Some of the Stones are a foot or two underwater, but they still provide a way across for Lavanians who have never made boats.

Lavana’s bodies of water don’t attract as much attention as they should, likely because most saltwater is filled with vicious sea monsters that are bigger than many islands. The ocean that stretches from Handak’s eastern shore to Penyns’ western one (which contains the Stepping Stones as well as part of Honshane) is called Vyolit, “Beauty” to those living on its shores. The ocean separating Penyns’ eastern shore from Handak’s western one, a place largely devoid of large islands or even island chains, is called Tiuna, “Fierce” to any who have ever glimpsed the saltwater behemoths underneath its calm surface. The arctic seas (which freeze into glaciers at the poles) are simply called North Sea and South Sea, although they’re large enough to be considered oceans, and the last body of saltwater worth mentioning is the long, narrow sea sandwiched between the two halves of Penyns — Morning Sea, as the sun touches its waters first. While Lavana has no major rivers (comparable to the Mississippi or the Amazon), it does have one delta-marsh-swamp area north of the land bridge on the northern half of Penyns called the Falls. The Falls encompass several thousand acres of land and fill these areas with thick, warm mist that never completely clears and often becomes so dense that one cannot see their nose in front of their face. The Falls are also the birthplace (technically Creation-place) of many of the older but odder species, and rumor holds it to be a strange, mysterious, dangerous area that few voluntarily enter.

Lavana is one of my primary settings for writing and a world I’ve been discovering/developing for over a decade. Storytellers, why don’t you tell me about some of your worlds or settings that are near and dear to you?

Introducing: Korats

“Korats? You mean those pretty silver-blue housecats from ancient Siam?”

Um, no. I mean these:

That, my dear readers, is my kind of Korat. (The fact that they share a name with an admittedly nifty breed of cat is completely accidental. My Korats got their name years before I ever found out about Korats-the-housecats.)

Korats are my favorite and one of my most-often-featured fictional species. They reside on Lavana, one of my primary worlds. Lavana is slightly larger than Earth with proportionately stronger gravity and a similar range of terrains and climates; its sky is pale violet, its clouds rosy pink, its sun – Ghrayu – a bold orange, and much of its grasses pastel blue. Don’t let the fanciful color scheme fool you, though – Lavana is a hostile, deadly world, filled with strange and dangerous creatures.

Quadrupedal predators, Korats are often regarded as the ‘average Lavanian,’ for all that they seem to be one of the most successful species. Korats have canine heads, shark-like teeth, round-pupiled eyes, and lupine ears. Their necks are a few feet long and held tightly in an S-curve, almost jointed; it takes a muscle spasm for them to ‘unlock’ their necks, and it’s also rather hard to slit a Korat’s throat, as their necks are thickly-muscled. They have deep chests and narrower waists. Their forelegs are slender compared to their hind, ending in forehands with small V-shaped palms and two retractably-clawed ‘fingers’. Their hind legs are powerful with a three-toed paw resembling that of a Velociraptor; their innermost toe is held upright, off the ground, and totes a ‘longclaw’ – a scythe-shaped claw usually 6 inches long. Males have long, fast tails with a curving ‘tailblade’ made of bone branching off near the tailtip; some females can have this as well, though it’s rare. Most females, instead, have shorter and very muscular tails.

Korats are small for Lavanians, standing at 3-6 feet at the withers. They’re striated into five distinct breeds – lean and swift tans, graceful and toned blacks, sturdy and muscular reds, tall and powerful whites, and tough and shaggy browns – as well as a genetic mutation, a striped that combines two breeds. Koratian breeds determine not only the physical appearance, but also the body’s strength, speed, endurance, flexibility, and agility, as well as the mind’s general temperament and sociability. Korats tend towards a pack structure, with a leader and a few secondary leaders guiding the group’s activities and drawing the bounds of territory; they don’t use tools and many abhor the scent of metal objects.

The complete biography – including full physical description, breed details, history, society, and culture – can be found in the Bestiary under ‘Korat’. I have all the details I could think to write on that single page, so it’s fairly long (and why I summarized, rather than copy-pasted, in this entry). You can also check out the Korat Gallery for some illustrations by various artists.

I’ve written (but not finished) one Korat novel so far, entitled Outcast, and I’m contemplating either completing that story or starting anew for my third writing project. I figured now was a good time to get you used to hearing about Korats; I’ll see if I can’t find a little piece of fiction to toss up shortly. Besides, the Korat biography is a good glimpse of how detailed my creature-building can get – and perhaps an inspiration for other worldmakers to write their ideas down.

What kinds of creatures have you come up with to populate your fiction?