February started with COVID and ended with a war. But we got some TTRPG work done in between, against everything.
by Jakub Wisz
In the previous parts of the blog, I covered two of the seven major Kinships, the Khradi and the Triveni. In this one, I wanted to break away from the pattern before it emerges and bring your attention to another thing entirely – alien, mistborn creatures known as Vila. Their ways are as impenetrable to human minds as they themselves are to the human ships floating freely in the mists.
The Vilas are elusive dwellers of the mists, colorful lights dancing in the milky vastness of the void. They’re the mysterious being from the deepest reaches, haunters of land, living in people’s imaginations and legends. Their designs and goals are as unknowable and alien as their features. Only one thing about the Vila is known for sure – they’re competing for the same resources in the Domain as humans do, and come out on top of that struggle more often than not. While not outright hostile to humans, their longevity, foresight, and alien minds are terrifying – particularly because while people try to understand and research them, the Vila come and go as they please, clearly not seeing humans as intelligent species, regardless of people’s efforts.
Few Vila were ever observed up close, as they’re elusive creatures, easily staying out of reach of clumsy human hunters. They’re usually seen as distant bioluminescent points dancing in the mists, as they go about their ways, instilling awe and fear in sailors. Some cultures, particularly the Yerveni and the mist-faring Khradi, have a more intimate relationship with the Vila, and can describe their real forms.
Their bodies are shaped vaguely humanoid, with a round head ending with a crest at the top of the body, a torso, and two long, slender arms ended in three elongated fingers. That’s where the similarities end. The Vila have no legs, they move about floating on wide, membrane-like wings stretching from their arm undersides and billowing long behind their bodies. Flocks of Vilas hold hands as they float, creating long chains of bodies stretching through the vastness of space. They have no skin or flesh, and are instead made of a translucent substance like that of some smaller zhmey and jellyfish. One can peer inside their bodies, and observe ethereal organs and lights coursing within them.
Their heads are made of a similar matter, though under the jelly-like flesh one can see the twisted shell that is Vila skull – a hard internal carapace resembling a well-polished spiral gem, containing all the vital organs. Three pairs of glowing eyes – or what is assumed are eyes – glow at the crested face, though there are no other discernable features. Finally, long strands of spiraling tendrils extend from the folds of Vila torso when it wishes, catching small animals and other objects then dragged inside the body for digestion.
When threatened, the entire Vila can retract into its skull, hiding all the vulnerable organs inside the gem-carapace harder than strongest Uthradi metals and practically invulnerable. For all we know, a Vila can remain inside its shelter indefinitely, and regrow all the lost body parts that it wasn’t fast enough to hide.
Vila grow through their tendrils throughout their entire lives, as they’re often torn and ruptured by their prey. The Vila functionally live forever, unless they die in an accident, combat, or are eaten by something before they can retract to their shell. They’re capable of regenerating almost any lost body part, except for the six glowing eye organs and their heart – or the glowing, pulsating organ the scholars think is a Vila heart, at least. They rarely grow much larger than a human, relatively, though their wings and long tendrils make them appear much larger.
An observer can tell the Vila age by its skull – young Vila have dark, rough and spiky skulls, melting down over the centuries by being devoured by zhmey, slowly polishing them into the glowing gems after hundreds of years. Their skulls are practically indestructible, so the Vila rarely gets hurt when swallowed by a zhmey – as long as it manages to retract enough of its body to survive for the duration of the failed digestion attempt. Polished Vila skulls are a valued magical treasure, though human attempts at hunting for those ancient creatures have to first face off against the skull’s owner, and that’s not a small feat.
When on land, the Vila crawl using their long arms and appendages to roll under the strain of gravity. While slow and cumbersome, they’re excellent climbers and can squeeze into any crevice big enough for their skulls.
The Vila can control the structure and shape of their bodies, allowing them to perfectly mimic any object they come across. Thanks to this camouflage, spotting a Vila hiding from sight alone is extremely difficult, unless one already knows it’s there and is on the lookout for details that betray their presence.
Vila habits often put them at odds with human settlements – be it Khradi fishers, Yerveni clans, or explorers seeking to settle uninhabited islands.
When hunting in the void, Vila soar in the mists in majestic flocks, holding each other’s hands and spreading their tendrils far behind them. Sailors often observe them from afar, their bioluminescence dancing just out of sight. Anything that touches the tendrils is shocked and sticks to the tendrils, promptly retracted into the Vila bodies for digestion. Vila flocks share nutrients, passing the digested material through their hands.
When threatened, the flock disperses, using their natural camouflage to hide or retract completely into their skull-shells. Sailors observing their dance are always on the lookout for the sudden vanishing of the lights, as it means a giant zhmey or a pod of wild yvwernai is on the prowl nearby. Dancing lights of Vila luring prey to their nets are also dangerous since the tendrils stretch long ahead and beyond the lights. They’re translucent and don’t have many glowing points, so it’s easy for careless sailors who steer too close to get tangled in them. A single Vila tendril isn’t a threat to an adult person, but falling into the thick web of thousands of them spells instant death, as the shocking strands stick to the bodies, quickly lifted and devoured by the creatures in the mists.
Vila flocks are attracted to the miststorms, filaments, and dense clouds, just like sailors looking for game and treasure, making such encounters quite common.
Vila flocks passing by inhabited islands like to lower tendrils into them to catch unprepared prey, including people. They often lower themselves, or their creations into the wards to hunt for animals and people, decimating the population if the flock is big enough. The Vila never kill all of any species in such circumstances, however, always releasing some of the victims for reasons known only to them. If the people living on the island have a fleet ready to defend them at hand, they stand a chance of dissuading the flock from harvesting their livestock and people; otherwise, the only option is to hide and hope the Vila don’t decide to drop their constructs onto the land. They don’t always fall onto warded islands like locusts, however. It is very rare that they near them at all, preferring the freedom of the void. Some Vila descend upon the islands in secret, using their camouflage abilities and creations to observe humans while remaining hidden. Such encounters are rare, or at least the observed people aren’t aware of them unless the Vila decide to interact or experiment on humans and livestock. In those cases, the locals find mutilated or mutated animals, plants, or people, as well as missing children and adults.
While Vila themselves are no match to a human in a melee, their creations are more than enough, let alone the paralyzing tendrils Vila themselves can use. Such secret visitations and abductions can last for generations, until whatever experiment Vila are interested in ends, or they get bored and leave. Scholars can only guess what their goals and reasons may be.
The final common encounter type with the Vilas takes place on the öriyash zhmey, the island leviathans, where the Vilas dwell when not sailing the void. The Yerveni also inhabiting them creatures are in direct competition for resources and dominance in the öriyash ecosystems and wage a never-ending war against Vila whenever they encounter them. The Vila civilization’s heart, if they indeed have such a concept, is with the öriyash, and the Vila defend it fiercely. Where the Yerveni have to cut openings in öriyash hide and take shelter inside the massive zhmey skin pores, the Vila are capable of openings crevices and passages deep into the zhmey bodies with ease, thanks to their magical aptitude and familiarity with the biome.
Yerveni scholars suppose the Vila have entire cities, or rather hives, inside the öriyash, complete with manufactories and forges where they create their servant species. The Vila often comb through the tangled ecosystems atop öriyash back, catching creatures and people in the webs, or releasing their creations to capture any living thing. Unlike on the warded islands, here the Vila keep vigilant watch and seem to attempt to eradicate some creatures they see as pests while leaving others in peace according to some unknown logic. Unfortunately, humans seem to fall into the former category most of the time.
The Vila are clearly at least as intelligent as humans are, though their intentions and way of thinking are unfathomable. They have an observable and obvious sense of community and empathy with each other, though it doesn’t extend to other species. If anything, they seem to see people as alien and perplexing, just as people see them. Unlike most human communities, the Vila are more than capable of satisfying their curiosity. Their mastery of magic far surpasses any human magician, especially in groups, and they can manipulate the environment, creating confusion and illusions capable of completely disorienting a person. Their natural camouflage abilities and shocking touch are enough to keep them hidden and safe from most observers.
More than that, however, the Vila are often seen using complex, living tools – it’s unknown whether they’re symbiotic species or some sort of conjured or manufactured creations. Scholars report the Vila calling on the aid of many forms of creatures, from rolling anemones sticking everything into their bodies, to hovering jellyfish-like beings erupting in shocking tendrils similar to those of Vila themselves.
Unlike human creations, boiling down to extending our reach or the sharpness of senses in some form or another, the Vila seem to think in terms of filtering the prey from its hiding spots or luring others into where they want them to be. They use snares, confusion, and various forms of illusory magic to deal with opposition, instead of missiles, direct confrontation, and armor, like humans. Perhaps this alien thinking is the only reason humans can exist in the Domains – while the Vila aren’t the scariest thing in the mists, they are the closest competitors humans have, and the contact almost always takes place on their terms.
Read more about Aurorae!
Check out other Jakub’s articles about the worldbuilding of Aurorae RPG – our upcoming science fantasy game of cosmic horror and wonder.
Necromancers and soldiers, the Nväldi live in their crystal spires, remembering their long-gone empire. Their fearless mistlords turn to piracy on their spirit-bound ships.
Nomadic people living below the Aurorae Domains, down the gravity well. Traders, shepherds, and philosophers who rely on herds of docile zhmey.
Traders, mages, and mercenaries. Living in the Mycelium, Triveni embrace their fungal overlord with their food, custom, and architecture.