Ninth World

The Ninth World is Earth. But it is an Earth that has undergone multiple dramatic changes, for it is Earth approximately a billion years in the future. Over that nigh-incomprehensible span of time, nothing remains constant. Add in the rise and fall of civilizations so great that to us they would seem, again, nigh incomprehensible, and anything is possible.

To the people of the Ninth World, recorded history began about 900 years ago, with the work of learned scholars who organized themselves into what would later become the Aeon Priests. Before that time, humans lived in barbaric tribes and isolated farming villages.

No one knows how much time passed between the fall of the previous civilization and the rise of the Ninth World. Likewise, no one can agree on where Ninth Worlders came from. It’s clear that many residents of the prior worlds were not human, but perhaps some were.

The first Amber Pope organized the Aeon Priests into the Order of Truth about 400 years ago. At this time, the kingdoms of the Steadfast began to take the form that they have today, although wars, upheavals, and changes have come and gone since then (and more changes are likely in the future).

Most of the land mass has once again joined to form a gigantic supercontinent, leaving the rest of the globe to the mercy of a single ocean besieged perilous storms and dotted with islands. The moon is smaller than we are accustomed to because its orbit is wider. Due to the effect this has on the planet’s rotation, days are now 28 hours long. The year’s length has not changed, however, so a Ninth World year has only 313 days.

“Impossible” landscapes are a normal part of the topography. Islands of crystal float in the sky. Inverted mountains rise above plains of broken glass. Abandoned structures the size of kingdoms stretch across great distances, so enormous that they affect the weather. Massive machines, some still active, churn and hum. But for what purpose?

Along the western coast lies the Steadfast, a collection of kingdoms and principalities with little in common except for a unifying religion. This religion, called by its adherents the Order of Truth (and by all else as the Amber Papacy), reveres the past and the knowledge of the ancients as understood by the enigmatic Aeon Priests. By decree of the Amber Pope, the Steadfast and the Order of Truth wage war with the lands to the north, believed by many to be enthralled by a secretive and mysterious cult called the Gaians. Nobles in the Steadfast are called to the Crusades, making war against the infidels with ever-stranger weapons discovered or devised by the priesthood.

Outside the bounds of the Steadfast lies the Beyond, a vast wilderness punctuated by very occasional, very isolated communities.

The Beyond also has Aeon Priests, but they’re not linked by an organized network, and they don’t answer to the Amber Pope. Instead, these priests dwell in sequestered claves. Around these claves, small villages and communities known as aldeia have arisen. Each clave has discovered and mastered various bits of the numenera, giving every aldeia a distinct identity. In one, the inhabitants might raise unique bioengineered beasts for food. In another, people may pilot gravity-defying gliders and race along the rooftops of ancient ruins. In still another aldeia, the priests of the clave may have developed the means to stop the aging process almost entirely, making the residents nearly immortal, and some are no doubt willing to sell the secret— for a staggering price.

Because the aldeia are remote and separated by dangerous distances, trade of these discoveries is
occasional and haphazard.

But not every village or tribe in the Beyond has a clave to help guide them amid the dangers of the past. Some of these communities have tried to use the numenera to their peril, unleashing horrors, plagues, or mysteries beyond comprehension. Travelers might find a village where the inhabitants have been transformed into flesh-eating monstrosities, or one whose populace works as slaves for a machine intelligence left over from an earlier era.

Outside the aldeia and other settlements, the dangers multiply. Amid the ruins of the past lurk tribes of vicious abhumans that are likely to kill and eat an explorer. Clouds of tiny, invisible machines called the Iron Wind scour the wilderness, altering everything they touch. Monstrous predators, ancient death machines, and stranded extraterrestrial or transdimensional beings (also called ultradimensional beings or ultraterrestrials) also threaten the uncharted reaches of the Beyond. But so too can a careful, capable explorer find awe-inspiring numenera that can accomplish anything she might imagine.

In the Ninth World, the numenera is both the risk and the reward.

Even the weather of the Ninth World is an artifact of the numenera. In the Steadfast and the Beyond, it grows colder as you travel south. The southernmost lands of the Steadfast, for example, have cool summers and harsh winters. The central and northern portions have warmer summers, but even the southern edge of the Cloud Crystal Snowfield sees snow and frost in the winter. The mountains of the Black Riage have long, oppressive winters, with the southernmost passes open for only a few months.

Overall, the climate is dry, and with a few exceptions (along the coast, for example), rain is uncommon and accompanies terrible storms. Rumors say that particularly harsh or strange storms are either the result of a harmful numenera effect or the slow degradation of a beneficial one.

Either way, storms with dangerous winds, hail, and lightning grow more frequent each year. Other storms— still thankfully very rare— bring oily black rains that kill crops rather than nourish them, or weird magnetic fluctuations that bend matter and disrupt minds. But even these pale in comparison to the most terrifying weather effect in the Ninth World: the Iron Wind.

In the youth of an age, people use the resources they have on hand, coupled with whatever understanding of their world they can master, to carve out a life for themselves. In the Ninth World, the resources are the numenera— the detritus of the prior eras—and the people’s understanding of these resources is crude and incomplete.

The Aeon Priests possess just enough discernment and knowledge to suggest possible uses for things, but so much remains to be discovered. Even the creatures and plants of the Ninth World are strange by-products of the prior ages; the past left behind flora, fauna, and machines.

The people of the Ninth World clothe themselves in newly spun fabrics but weave the artifacts of the past into each garment. They forge armor, weapons, and tools from materials recovered from ancient structures and devices. Some of these materials are metals, but others are (or appear to be) glass, stone, bone, flesh, or substances that defy categorization and understanding.

Those who risk the mysterious dangers to recover the relics of the past provide a valuable service. Typically these brave souls—warrior glaives, science-wielding nanos, and wily jacks—bring their findings to the Aeon Priests, who use the artifacts to fashion tools, weapons, and other boons for the growing civilization. As time passes, more individuals learn to use the numenera, but it still remains a mystery to most people.

Who, then, are the people of the Ninth World? Most are humans, although not all that call themselves human truly are. There are likewise the abhumans: mutants, crossbreeds, genetically engineered, and their offspring. And then there are the visitants, such as the varjellen and lattimor who are not native to the earth but who now call the Ninth World home, and who have no more understanding of the past (even their own) than anyone else.

Ninth Worlders do wonder where they came from. They have a sense that Earth was once theirs, and then it wasn’t, and now it is again.

The life of a Ninth World human isn’t all that different from the life of a human around the year 1000AD. Farmers till fields, herders tend flocks, hunters and trappers provide meat and skins, weavers create clothing, woodworkers build furniture, authors write books, and so on. Meals are cooked over fires. Entertainment comes from a travelling lute player, a group of singers, or perhaps comedic thespians.

Parents typically raise children, although in some places extended families are common. Many children attend some kind of school until the age of about twelve, when they learn a craft. Some students, usually those in larger cities, go on to higher learning.

Most people live in small, agrarian villages, but some settle in larger towns or cities. The largest city in the Steadfast, Qi, has a population of 2,500,000.

Life expectancy varies wildly, but those who survive to the age of thirty can expect to live to at least sixty. It’s rare but not unheard of for someone to live to be ninety or even one hundred. Those fortunate enough to be rich or to live in a locale where the Aeon Priests have discovered secrets of longevity might live twice that long—or longer. The dead are buried or cremated.

Generally speaking, humans in the Ninth World are aristocrats, peasants, or slaves. In some places, a “middle” or “merchant” class arises from the ranks of the peasants, populated by those who have wealth but not nobility. True feudalism exists only in certain locations. A peasant likely earns a few shins per day, whereas a merchant could earn a hundred times that. Aristocrats rarely bother using coins at all except when dealing with the peasantry.

Only the nobles own slaves, which are usually taken from conquered enemies or their descendants and are considered property. Sometimes criminals are consigned to slavery as well. A few nobles prefer to use abhumans, and some own both kinds.

The religions of the Ninth World are varied and many. With the exception of the Order of Truth’s quasireligious veneration of the past and the understanding its inhabitants had of the forces of the universe, no religion is widespread—they’re local affairs. An explorer coming to a new town or village will find the inhabitants have their own religions and gods, some based in local myths and stories, while others are more grounded in reality—creatures or other weird aspects of the world are often explained using the trappings of religion. For example, a village might worship a machine intelligence left over from the prior worlds as a mysterious deity. In some places, religion is vital and fervent. In others, it’s casual.

The Truth: The Aeon Priests teach a language based on rationality and intellect. Because of its name, it means something different in the Ninth World to say, “She speaks the Truth,” but that subtle double meaning is intentional on the part of the priesthood.

The language’s rules are simple and straightforward, easy to teach and easy to learn. The Truth is the predominant language in the Steadfast, where it’s spoken by about 80 percent of the people; in cities, that number is closer to 100 percent. In the Beyond, about 60 percent of the people speak the Truth as their primary language, but many isolated communities have their own languages.

Shin-Talk: This is a crude and simple language used only for trade and related tasks— counting, assessing quality, and so on. Shin-Talk is older than the Truth but not as widely used.

Other Languages: At least 500 (and perhaps far more) completely distinct languages are spoken across the Ninth World. It’s not unusual for a traveler to discover an isolated village—particularly in the Beyond— and be unable to speak to its few hundred residents because they have their own language. People are used to struggling through interactions without relying on words.

Many people in the Ninth World cannot read. The Steadfast has an average literacy rate of about 50 percent. Although almost everyone can recognize a few written words of Truth, genuine literacy— the ability to read a contract or a book— is uncommon.

Reading is more common in cities, where up to 70 percent of the population might be literate. In small towns and villages, the number is closer to 40 percent, and in very rural, isolated villages, it falls to 10 percent or less.

In the Beyond, literacy rates are about 50 percent in cities and 0 to 20 percent in the aldeia. In communities that have a predominant language other than the Truth, literacy varies wildly.

A billion years in the future, all the animals we know in the 21st century are long gone. However, animal types— mammals, reptiles, insects, birds, and so forth— remain. People might talk about rats, deer, flies, or ravens, but the beasts being described are at least slightly different than the creatures we think of today.

Ninth World

Chronicles of Ascension LazUliSWC