When I published my first book Biomancy, I decided to publish some world-building chapters ahead of time. They're chapters that are in the novel from the point of view of a professor giving a lecture of the various fantasy species throughout the world. So here's a public look at these chapters.
She breathed deep, hoping her nerves would calm. This was her sixth turn of teaching and her jitters hadn’t quite left her. Despite this, her demeanor didn’t betray a drop of trepidation. Most of the students seated were Northmen, but she stood surprised at the diversity of her class. I suppose if any class is going to bring in variety, it’d be Sentient Studies, she figured.
The room sloped up step by step, each raise holding a long mahogany table with a slight curve, each housing an appropriate number of chairs. There were three tables per rise; a long table to her left, right, and center on each step subtly wrapping around her. Two hundred ten chairs. Shame that half of them are empty, but hey, this is a helluva lot better than I got with Political Rilarian History.
Tabitha looked the part of a quintessential Northman, at least one actually from the northern continent of Antra. She stood a sixteen decimeters, just below average height, and her skin was a soft khaki tone. Most native to other continents had darker skin tones of golds and reds along with more rounded eyes and thicker hair, but Tab was a textbook example of West-Antrian anatomy. Dark brown hair dropped to her mid-back in a tight braid, gently bouncing with each movement against her back. She was obviously skinny, but fairly out of shape; her metabolism thinned her, but failed to tone her.
She wore a cobalt button-up blouse with flowing sleeves and an under-bust corset over top. A long, loose skirt dropped just shy of her sleek black flats.
Coolly, she strode to the podium in the center of the room. When she reached it, she dropped her briefcase, drew a parchment and a quill from it, and scrawled her name onto the paper. The quill’s tip glowed a subtle cobalt as the ink scratched onto the page seemingly from the quill itself. She calmly laid it to the side, pulled another parchment coated in unreadable turquoise characters out of her bag, and laid it to the side of the first one.
In one grand, practiced gesture, she laid her open palm over the runic page, pulled her hand up, and inky azure followed right off the paper into the air. The arcane fluid syphoned itself into the palm of her hand, coalescing into a whirling sphere. She flattened her palm over the paper and pressed the orb into it, making it spread out with small tendrils over the paper, coating it entirely before flowing back into a ball as her hand rose, following it up. Smoothly, she held the ball, took aim at the open floor between her and the students, and threw it. The liquid sphere flew from the podium toward the open floor, slammed into it, and soaked into a subtle blue runic circle carved into the stone floor. Tendrils of blue light shot from the circle, coming together into another swirling azure mass above the class. Slowly, the orb shrank, pushing thick threads out to form a large parchment in full color complete with her name in a fine calligraphy.
Tabitha considered the sight, the glowing runic circle, turquoise tentacles rising from it into a small blue orb holding a massive parchment aloft. How long did it take the guys at Terathor to create this ritual? Thank the gods for Kandra’s budget.
She watched the students all draw leather-bound journals from their bags and kicked her voice into lecture mode as the lesson began. “Hello, class.” Without any magical assistance, her voice still carried throughout the room with ease. It was partially the acoustics, though mostly genetics. Thanks, Dad, she thought with a smirk.
“As the floating parchment states, I am Professor Tabitha Atwood. Before anyone asks or quips, no, I am not the T.A. I am the professor. My youth does not hinder my ability to teach, nor does it limit my knowledge on the subjects at hand.” Tab was only two hundred and forty turns old, and past experience with students had necessitated the disclaimer much to her chagrin.
“To make sure you are in the right place, this is Sentient Studies; CIV 1010. We will be studying the histories, mythologies, communities, social tendencies, and general facts of various non-Northman species, of which I see a few here. Please keep in mind that yes, we will be covering the most well-known ones: Nojerna, Milarics, Rilarians, and Sheduvians. But we will also be delving into some of those less populous in Antra as well as some unexpected civilizations: the Constructs, Atroks, Dryads, just to name a few.”
Thankfully, every student was planted firmly in their seats. Everyone was interested, ready, and in the right place. What a change of pace. “All right, let’s jump right into it then; The Nojerna.”
She pulled a small painting from her satchel, drew ‘ink’ from the parchment once more, and squished it onto the painting before swiftly drawing it back up and flinging it into the glowing floor rune once more. The ball splashed like thickened paint on the floor, soaked into the runes, and pulsed through the turquoise tentacles into the projection orb and morphed the parchment into a duplicate of the painting. The image wasn’t perfectly photorealistic, but the detail impressed her nonetheless.
It featured a silhouette of a woman posed and gorgeously shaped against a background featuring plains and distant mountains, blue skies all the way to the horizon. The silhouette, while not abiding by the traditional definition of the word, functioned as a window into deep space. Her body followed the perfect outline of a striking woman, but the entire interior of her shape was black with distant white stars, like a clear night sky. Not a single planet, nebula, or otherwise celestial body dotted her form, just an endless starscape.
“The Nojerna are the second most populous sentient species in the known world behind the Northmen. Finding a native home in the forests of Vol’Tyr, they were discovered by the outside world in their unique towns built into trees, as well as their surprisingly populous cities built atop the trees themselves.
“One of the largest tree-cities, Teral, reaches a height of nearly one point six kilometers. It consists of many houses built into or on top of the branches, mostly above the base, as well as numerous buildings within the tree itself. The branches and leaves in the canopy have matted themselves into a form of undergrowth that allows an entire city to walk around as if on solid ground. The tree, while obviously magical, has no explained origin. There are many theories, but none hold much salt.”
A student near the front raised her hand, and Tabitha retorted before the question could be posited. “Before any of you ask, don’t worry too much about notes right now, this is mostly flavor, background information to give you an idea of the people we’ll be learning about for the next few weeks; end of the turn, we’ll be moving on to Milarics. Just take it in, don’t worry about memorization.” The student’s hand slowly dropped.
“Now then, the Nojerna also inhabit many ground cities, but even more live in their most famous dwellings: the cloud cities. Non-Nojernan society didn’t actually know about these until certain ‘outsiders’ were dubbed worthy of entering them, so they were considered myth for thousands of turns until urbanization of the world allowed their knowledge to become ‘mainstream.’
“These cities are ancient and unexplainable. Mostly made of basic stone and nojernite, a metal only found in the cities themselves, these veritable metropoleis float high above the land. Most resting at twelve kilometers or higher, the cities simply float in the clouds, completely invisible to the denizens below. A magical crystal array coats the undersides of the cities, causing an invisibility effect to any looking up at them.
“Most of these cities easily surpass our own, with their capital reaching an even larger size than our fair Kandra. The cloud capital, Aramoor, holds a population of one point four millionpeople.”
A surprising number of gasps escaped her crowd. I thought this was common knowledge… I guess the third wonder of the world escapes even the educated in sheer scale. A short silence was quickly broken by a woman piping up to ask, “twelve kilometers is pretty high up. Aren’t there issues with breathing at that altitude?”
“One would think. The city’s denizens don’t seem to have trouble breathing, though. Even tourists are ported up and walk around without trouble. That far up, it should be freezing as well, but the temperature is fairly typical. There is believed to be a protective arcane bubble that normalizes the pressure, but it has yet to be proven. Honestly, there aren’t really any better ideas. The cities are shrouded in a lot of mystery.”
“How many of them are there?” the same woman asked.
“Nine, almost all above Vol’Tyr with the exception of Fallcourt, which floats above the Avazi Desert in Runnir, and the recently discovered Avoria, which floats about fifty kilometers off the Vol’Tyrian shore to the southwest.”
A male student in front: “What’s the racial breakdown of Aramoor’s population? Do you know?”
“Last I checked, the breakdown species-wise is roughly ninety-eight percent Nojerna, one point… two percent Northman, with the remaining piece of a percent belonging to Sheduvians, followed by Constructs, etc.”
“What, the Devils scared to get that high up?” A Northman near the front row blurted, eliciting glares from a sizable portion of the class.
“Sir,” she said calmly, moving her hair behind her ear as she walked around the podium, leaning against the front. “This is a Sentient Studies class. We study all sentient species in the world, and we, by which I mean I, do not tolerate any form of prejudice against any species in this world. Slanderous terms will not be used in this classroom, and if I hear another one, the speaker willbe removed from the class. This is your final warning.”
Before she could start back up, another Northman student piped up timidly, “Um, Professor? Naturally, the uh... Nojerna look... different from the rest of us, but are shaped similarly... at least it looks like it. What would they look like if they had skin like us? Or, or is it their skin that does that? I assume...” He trailed off quickly.
“An excellent question, sir.” She liked to say this to the more nervous students, help them feel validated, let them know that asking questions, no matter how simple, is always welcome. In this case, though, she wasn’t lying; she’d forgotten the topic of their anatomy entirely.
“Firstly, to the skin question, we’re not sure. We assume their skin is what carries the effect, but there’s only circumstantial evidence. Their organs have the same starscape effect, however, so it’s possible it’s a chemical in their system, or an internal organ that does it, we’re not sure.
“Thankfully, however, we do have an answer for the first question. For academic purposes, some kind folks at the Terathor Biological Institute went through the trouble of taking two willing Nojerna, one of each sex, sealed them both up in wet clay blocks, let them dry, and used the remaining casts to create statues. The resulting forms...” She trailed off while digging through her pack, only to find a periodical. She drew up magic from similar turquoise symbols from the journal. The tendrils formed themselves into an illusory shape just above the journal, forming two figures in the air. She finagled with the illusion, trying to enlarge it before giving up, walking to the front of the class, and holding up the periodical with the floating figures above it.
The two were statues of a woman and man, both standing as if lying on an autopsy table, looking as normal as a corpse ready for dissection can. The two looked quite like average Northmen, down to the raised nipples, the genitalia, the hair, and the entire face. The only difference was they both had unusually large eyes, noticeable, but not freakishly so. The tops of their ears also stretched back behind their scalps, ending in a fine point.
“I’ll pass this around so everyone can take a look.” She walked to the far left, handed it to the student, and let them pass it orderly. “The university’s art department painted them to Northman standards, making them look startlingly similar to the average Northman. The forms are nearly identical to native Vol’Tyrian Northmen, save the eyes and ears. Also, while I have no picture to back this up, people have basically painted Nojernan bodies to similar effect. Based on various experiments of making their contours visible, we can tell that Nojerna are, on average, more attractive than the average Northman.”
“Based on what?” a student near the center of the room bellowed.
“Polls and surveys of a few large cities. I can get you the sources if you’re interested. Honestly, we’re not sure why they’re ‘more attractive.’ Some say it’s because they’re ‘celestial beings,’ which I’ll get into in a minute. I say it’s because artists painted them. Artists make things pretty.
“Another assumption is their general sensory output,” she said as she walked back to the podium. “Basically all Nojerna exude perfume-like pheramones, giving off a generally appealing smell, again a subjective term determined with surveys. As well, their skin is nearly always softer than other species’, giving them an appealing feel as well. And while slightly moresubjective, their voices tend on the more pleasing side of the spectrum, again, according to surveys.”
A woman asked quickly, “What about taste?” Tab looked at her with a raised eyebrow for a second. “You know, do they tas-” She stopped herself, and turned a vivid shade of red. A surprising number of students blushed and hid their faces, while the rest laughed.
Tab, blushing a bit herself, responded with, “I’m not sure whether or not I’m at liberty to say.” She debated saying, “I don’t want to delve into my personal life,” or “Perhaps you should find out for yourself,” or “There’s no conclusive data,” or “Based on experience, absolutely.” None of these satisfied her, so she, instead, opted for, “Anyway, moving on...
“One of the most famous discoveries of the Nojerna is, as many of you know, camellia sinensis. Tea. In fact, I’d bet that a number of you are drinking it right now.” She looked at a particular Nojernan man in the midst of pouring some from a portable teapot into a matching cup. They put down the pot, gave her a “what?” motion with their hands, and sipped from their cup. She smiled.
“For as long as history can tell, tea has been an integral part of Nojernan society. Traditionally broken and cooked or steamed into ‘green’ tea, they steep the native Vol’Tyrian leaf in hot water, infusing it into a flavorful, relaxing drink. Many attribute their peaceful meditative stereotype to the relaxing agent in tea. Many also attribute their slower aging process to the tea as well.”
A woman from the front row blurted out, “Slower aging process?”
“Yes, despite sharing a general lifespan with the other sentients, usually outliving us by a hundred or so turns, Nojerna do not seem to physically age past two hundred turns of age.”
The student nodded and scribbled in her journal.
“Moving right along, I’m sure at least a portion of you wonder why it is so many people think of the Nojerna as ‘celestial beings’ or why they look like they do. How many of you have heard the creation myth of the primary Nojernan culture?” Seven hands rose from the crowd. Seriously? “I suppose I should probably share it then...” Tab closed her eyes, breathed in deep, and put on her smooth, silky story-telling voice.
“Long ago when the various sentient species were budding on our world, an intelligent, highly-advanced people watched our planet from the stars. Our planetary cousin Yuma, at this point in time being considered the greatest of the stars, was home to many of them. But at some point, they viewed the tribes of the world entering a time of great strife; barbarians and warlords wreaking havoc across all continents.
“In this time of chaos, these ‘star folk’ decided to intervene. To save the fates of the many intelligent species on the planet, they came down with their astral cities, ripping the land from Yuma, and brought with them their celestial peace. Over the following hundreds of turns, their simple presence on the planet brought with them order and tranquility. For the species that weren’t as easily affected, they created bases on the ground.
“Teral, unexplained even in their own creation myth, was found and inhabited by their first scouting parties. From there, they branched out with boats, sailing to the various continents and bringing with them as much harmony as they could muster. The world slowly learned the peaceful ways of the Nojerna and enjoyed them for an age.
“According to the Aramoorian lore-keepers, the planet eventually grew a tolerance to their auras and returned to their warlike ways. Those same lore-keepers also blame our planet for the current state of the species, being exactly where everyone else is: prone to aggravation, war, depression, and other natural tendencies. The rest of the world? We believe that Nojerna are, you know, people. Like everyone else. Just people, prone to faults just like every other species. We treat them like everyone else. Well, we try to. Some people can’t be assed to accept another species as equal, and their otherworldly aesthetic doesn’t help. Civilized people simply accept everyone as fellow sentient beings. It’s worked for massive chunks of our history. I don’t see why we should think any different just because they think they fell out of the sky.”
She paused dramatically, satisfied with her spiel. The first student to speak piped up again. “So I assume their biology works the same?”
“As far as our research tells us, they’re just like everyone else. They eat, they digest, they excrete. They breathe air, suck it into their lungs, and breathe out. A man and woman have sex, a child forms, and it comes out of her vagina ten turns later.”
A Milaric girl responded; “So what does that mean for crossbreeding? Could Nojerna breed with a Northman?”
“For the most part, oddly enough. Despite the knowledge that most sentients can’t crossbreed, the Nojerna are capable of breeding with any of the sentient species except for Rilarians. They’re reptilian, so they can’t breed with a mammal by natural law. We’ll get into that later, though.
“The difference in the cross-breeds, it seems, comes out only in the eyes. The child is born with a combination of traits from both parents, including physique and facial build of the Nojernan parent, but always retains the dominant structure and aesthetic of the other parent. The only part that gives them away is slightly pointed ears and their eyes.”
She pointed to a female student. She was apparently Northman with red hair, a short skirt, and a flowy blouse. “Excuse me, ma’am, could you come up here?” The student looked warily and, quite nervously, walked up to Tabitha. Softly, she asked the student her name.
“A- A- Anabeth? Anabeth Smith?”
“Ah, Northman father?”
“Oh. Alright. Would you mind being a model for the class? I just need your eyes.”
“Uh- Um- Uh- S- Sure?”
“Okay, this’ll feel a bit funny for a second.”
Tabitha drew the magic forth from the paper, and squished the orb onto Anabeth’s face. The ‘ink’ spread over the girl’s head, and coating her skin with liquid, whirling motion taking in her contours. A short time passed before Tab pinched her hand quickly, leaving the azure ‘liquid’ on her face, but pulling a tendril from it. She pointed at the runic circle, snapped her fingers, and the tendril shot to the active runes, sunk into it, and pulsed up the tendrils, morphing the illusion into a perfect reproduction of her face animated in real-time. Anibeth’s eyes darted around nervously as the magic coating her face thinned, growing translucent.
The students of the room saw a large head of a normal looking Northman girl save for two madly darting eyes unlike many of them had ever seen.
Instead of the common sclera, a milky white in nearly every other species, hers were a vast expanse of black littered with stars. Where a pupil would normally rest sat a brilliant flaming sun, not bright like the sun the student’s knew, but nonetheless radiant and flaming animatedly. It burst in multiple small places akin to a large campfire. To the surprise of perceptive students, the two eyes did not hold the same starscape or the same sun.
“Notice the eyes, how they mimic the aesthetic of a Nojernan, but have the added brilliance of a glorious sun where the pupil lies. And no, her eyes do not glow; they function as any other eye, the star simply acting as if it were an animated painting. As you all can see, the suns do, in fact, act as her pupils, showing where she looks.”
With her awkward flittering brought to the attention of the class, she looked down at her shoes and closed her eyes, hoping this would end soon.
“You will also notice that her eyes are ever so slightly larger than average. It’s hard to tell, but just like her ears are ever so slightly pointed, her eyes are just barely larger than average.”
She rested a palm over Anabeth’s face, then drew it back, causing the magic to revert to an orb in her hand. Her fist clenched tight, and the magic dissipated with a shower of blue sparks. Tab bid Anabeth to her seat, thanked her, and affirmed the promise of extra credit for her trouble. The nerve-wracked hybrid raced back to her seat and curled up into as much of a ball as her desk would allow. A man in the middle of the room asked, “How is it I’ve never seen anyone like that before?”
“Hybridous people are very commonly self-conscious about their eyes. This stems from many Nojernan societies looking down on them, and other societies of previous times sometimes banishing or executing them as ‘mutants,’ ‘witches,’ or some other barbarically hostile title.
“As such, it’s common for such folk to wear shaded glasses or goggles to hide their eyes. Also, quite depressingly, the suicide rate for hybrid men and women is extraordinarily high. There aren’t very many of them because too many never make it through preliminary schooling. Children can be monsters.”
She noticed a subtle nodding from Anabeth and a small tear running down her cheek. Professor Tabitha Atwood said nothing.