Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The Silvertine Coast

Kyana over at Noise Sans Signal posted a bunch of maps over here: This is based on that.

Go and stand on a scale. Whatever number the scale displays, a disturbing proportion of it will take the form of plastic. Microplastic, nanoplastic, pieces of plastic thinner than a hair. The same would be true for a dog, a turtle, a fish, if you could hold them on the scale long enough to take their measure. The same would be true in a thousand years even if all plastic production stopped tomorrow.

Cyborgs, the fusion of living and inanimate matter, have become the dominant form of post-industrial life. For now the incorporation is strictly negative for the living bits of us. Cancer, weakened immune systems, congenital deformities, and so on. Who is to say this will always be the case? In a million years or more, our waste and pollution might become as vital to life as carbon. But I digress:

The Silvertine Coast

Only here and nowhere else are the trees silver. Solemn spruces glint in the light of the distant sun (which seems to blind yet never warm) from the Sea of Slush's edge to the Deadline in the west, a winding trail of toxic dirt that cuts a clean demarcation between the silver and the green.

The people of the Coast tend to sickliness, and view growing old with a quiet dread. Most eke out subsistence by farming oats, rye, and cystroot, or by herding caribou. Their most personal possession are their elaborately carved goggles, which shield from the glare off the silver trees. They tend to take heavy matters lightly and light matters seriously. It is said that on the Silvertine Coast life is cheap and precious as fresh air.

1: 'Pon-the-Breach

A town built up around and upon a cyclopean stone bridge that straddles the Deadline, the preferred point of entry for visitors to the Coast. The Deadline itself forms a natural road, through the Chimneys in the south along the way to the Sunken Palace, and north to Thaw. Merchants that have been bullied or swindled off of richer routes come here to trade for trinkets of odd composition and unclear use, which are as common in the Silvertine soil as stones. Mutants too congregate from abroad in 'Pon-the-Breach, for here in the Coast such features are common, their abnormalities seen as no more aberrant than a beauty mark. There is a regrettable exception for those mutants who cannot speak. They are called 'yabos', and hold a position legally equivalent to caribou.

The town is ruled by a carcinomic troll named Thuggy Thorence who lives under its bridge. He maintains a poaching ring, snatching the few exotic yet still delicious game animals from the kinglet's silver woods, and this is known by everyone. Almost no one knows that he's also subverted the royal wardens. On the excuse of pursuing some poacher's lure he can send them on his bidding into the Coast's dens and wreckage, to retrieve the rare still-functioning artifacts of the time when the Silvertine was green.

2: The Sunken Palace

Down past the Chimneys (which aren't volcanoes, but smoke nonetheless) and their rasping packs of Jobby-Lobber Monkeys, you'll see thin towers at the end of the road, sprouting like petrified fungi from sod-mounds. This is the Sunken Palace, which in its relative splendour has been the home of the Silvertine's kinglets for as many generations as anyone besides them can be bothered to remember. Like an iceberg the greatest part of its mass lies in pipes and warrens beneath the surface, the towers reserved for the royal household itself. The servants scurry beneath. The tunnels run farther than anyone knows, and some conspirators who thought their whispers unheard a dozen miles away have been shocked by liveried and mud-caked butlers boiling up from their basement brandishing silverware cleavers.

The kinglets' line is withered, they grow old before they have a chance to be young. In their eyes are silver cataracts that see the will-bes, have-beens, might-have-beens of the Coast (and only of the Coast, they're blind to things from beyond), as though through a shattered mirror or the facets of an insect's compounding. They are quite unhinged from linear reason. Many hold that they have no authority beyond their portents, that true lordship of the Coast lies in the polished hands of the head housekeeper. Certainly the current kinglet has little interest beyond revenging himself upon insults (mention of Thuggy Thorence can drive him into apoplexy), and hosting soirees with fashions and cuisines that have not been popular for centuries, or perhaps never were in this reality.

3: Lake Brine

Scholars surmise that the Sea of Slush once sloshed well beyond the current bounds of the Coast, based on the salty remnant it left in Lake Brine. A blessed remnant it's turned out to be indeed.

Lake Brine rings an accursed island, an island which by royal decree was given a name too sprawling to speak or write in order to limit dissemination of its existence. Of all the ruins in the land those on the island are best preserved. They present a tempting target, for ancient treasures are coveted in all times and places, but the island was not left as a vault for treasures. The steely cylinders entombed in its haunted halls hold death in a thousand kinds. In local legend the kinglets of the Silvertine were once kings, with a kingdom worthy of the title. The kingdom crashed down some misfortunate day when a cylinder was unearthed and cracked. After three nights and a day there were too many dead for the living to bury, pierced through from within and without by growing horns. Since then there have been other cylinders, other plagues, but the population was too thin to incubate such a catastrophe again.

Hopefully the story would disabuse the adventurous of any desire to come to the island, but if you did! Ah, if you did. The Lake's shore is patrolled by the kinglet's men (patrolled thinly now, for this forces are not what they used to be), its depths by hungry multi-mouthed fish that can go so long between eating. In the halls where the cylinders lie: lockdown devices, containment procedures, things that should be dead, things that are dead yet never died.

But why would you come here? Do you seek death? Death for others, death for all? Perhaps you've heard of what the island holds even deeper than its plagues. A snippet of a rumour, from a guy who knows a guy who heard of a guy who died old and happy ages ago. That the island was not just made to hold death, but to cure it. A cure for everything. The panacea.

4: Castle Lily-Blue

Named for the pale lilies that paint the broad shoals of the Sea of Slush, which blush a bright shade of blue in the waters near the castle (the castle itself being grey as lead, or an incandescent cherry-red along its vanes on the warmest days of the year). Castle Lily-Blue sits at a key defensive position against threats coming in from the Sea, whether they be raiders from the archipelago clans, mutant seals, glow-devils, clackety-men, or whatever else is disgorged from the slush, the north of the Coast being shielded by its mountains and high cliffs, the south by its ruptures and worn canals. Even in the deadest night of winter the castle is warm, its moat steaming.

By tradition that's lasted longer than any power has held it (and the castle, or at least its foundation, has stood for a very, very long time), the fortress is garrisoned by twins, and triplets, and all the other human litters (a common occurrence here), and such service holds perhaps the highest honour on the Coast. Even the castle's yabos enjoy a level of privilege. The popular explanation for this practice is that its warriors will fight most courageously in defense of their closest blood. There is a deeper, less heroic truth. So many of the enemies fought by the garrison carry a taint (and more cynical voices claim the castle itself does too), a repulsive taint which warps and kills the body. But it does this in pieces, and it makes the pieces more malleable. It makes them transferable. Healthy parts can be moved to one body, tainted parts to another. The procedure is more successful the closer the relation between participants. A term of service of years can be extended to decades, and veterans are needed for the enemies they face.

It's said that the lilies grow blue around the castle because the coldest of all hells lies beneath it, and the flowers root in the frozen flesh of the damned. The oldest in the garrison, those who've seen their siblings disappear into their flesh, scoff at this rumour. They know the hell beneath the castle is sweltering, guttering with bale-fire.

5: Mount Curly

A sailor worth their salt on the Sea of Slush has little need for maps. They've learned the songs of Mount Curly rebounding off the cliffs, that have a particular tone and tempo in every nook and corner. The mountain, as befits its name, has been carved through in sweeping curls that act like an enormous instrument played by the northern wind.

The Sea of Slush's name comes from the strange property of its water, which once frozen is reluctant to return to fluid. Its currents are choked with icebergs. A cold skin of slush floats across the whole of its surface. Ships built to sail it bear sharp and heavy prows to break through it all.

In a land which holds little sacred Mount Curly has maintained an alien reverence simply because it can't be approached without thickly stuffing one's ears. The songs rise to such a volume as to burst your ears bloody at its foot otherwise. To attempt its peak would see your eyes rattled from your skull two-thirds up. So who built those grand structures all that way past the scream-line? What treasures might lie within? How do the shaggy-goats that pepper its scree caper so carelessly from top to bottom?

6: The Silvertine Archipelago

The archipelago clans are quite unlike the people of the rest of the Coast in thought, prone to morbid recursiveness and obsession with past slights and lost glories. Their tale-tellers recall such wonders as to rival anything in the visions of the silver-eyed kinglets: flying ships, arrows that fly through walls and armour to strike the living down, middens transformed to cornucopias, a war that split the world in two.

The clans dwell in ruins that mainlanders would fear to tread (and for good reason). A household might crampedly fill a tenth of a monolithic building, the rest abandoned as the "attic" where fume-crazed uncles holler and scamper. The cloud-scraping tower where the clans' patriarch-of-patriarchs holds court takes this to an extreme. Perhaps 1% of the place is even reliably mapped. Entire regimes have been overthrown because a feast-party was lost taking a wrong turn. It also has a great glass sphere suspended above it. The sphere can shoot laser beams, or at least it could if anyone were able to reach the control room at the tower's peak.

Besides their attitudes, Silvertiners don't tend to put a lot of stock in islander vs. mainlander identity, or in loyalty to the kinglet or patriarch. When the slush freezes deep enough you can walk from island to shore. Life is short and life is full, and someone might go from raider to herder to soldier to sailor in a single lifetime.

The further south and east you go, the closer the depths encroach on the water's surface. The sea turns lightless black, and the waves flop like dead fish (occasionally bursting up with hull-cracking force), driven by the churning of immense pressures rather than any wind. Peek overboard and glimpse sinuous bulks limned in phosphorescence. Pray that today is not a day they can come too close to the open air. Pray that you make it through, to a faster shipping route, to the hidden isles of the clackety-men, to the shining underwater cities of myth, to whatever desperate wish has brought you to this end of the earth.


  1. Thank you very much again for creating such an interesting place.

  2. I like how much is implied here, much of which I don't know how to interpret or likely aren't catching. It's also just very richly written in general.

    I've also thought about the idea of plastics or other toxic and nigh-invulnerable byproducts of human civilization and what the downstream evolutionary ramifications of them are. As you described, the idea of plastic "cyborgs" and such. You could potentially imagine something similar with all the carbon that we've released not just into the air causing climate change, but also into the earth. Or nuclear waste and radiation.

    1. WRT interpretation, the stuff I had in my head while I was writing some things:

      -Sea of Slush & Lake Brine's island: the Aral Sea & Vozrozhdeniya Island

      -Castle Lily-Blue: A huge radioisotope thermoelectric generator, the lilies turning blue inspired by long-term nuclear waste storage idea of engineering cats or cacti or something that change colour in response to radioactivity

      -The Sunken Palace: some kind of extensive desalination/irrigation plant

      -The Chimneys: Centralia mine fire, but instead of coal it's trash

      -Yabos: they're yapoos lol

      And then there's a bunch of stuff that's just cool incongruencies I thought up while writing.

    2. It sounds like my interpretation was fairly on point lol, particularly castle lily-blue