February started with COVID and ended with a war. But we got some TTRPG work done in between, against everything.
by Jakub Wisz
Oh boy, has it been a while since the last blog about the world of Aurorae? Yeah, it’s been a few – here you can read about the mercenary Khradi, the mushroom-venerating Triveni, and the deadly and alien Vila.
While I was busy not writing these blogs many major decisions and progress were made, including a massive thematic shift in the writing, divorcing the settings from mechanics in the upcoming games. Having the setting and rules packages separate will let the players customize their experience at will and keep the design cleaner. Anyway, that’s not what the blog is about, so let’s introduce the next piece of Aurorae worldbuilding, the dwellers of deep mists, the Temel.
Temel Kho-tu’ud are a nomadic culture living below the Domains, deeper down the gravity well. Their lives depend on docile zhmey known as “khmal,” following the beats’ roving migrations on the surface of deep mists, amidst the Sunken Isles, where few humans dare venture. Temel clans are a common sight in lower Domains, as they venture up onto the filaments to trade, occasionally settle, or join mixed crews of adventurers. While some consider them simple herd folk, they’re deeply mystical and philosophical people, who manage feats to rival even the most ambitious Triveni scholars.
Temel clans are part of the Domains since times immemorial, though their nomadic lifestyles are a relatively recent development. Their historical documents tell of times when they lived on islands within the Domains, inhabiting an archipelago of islands interconnected thanks to their magic and technological advancements centuries ahead of other peoples of the Domains.
Temel culture was a center of arts, trade, and science until an unknown celestial disaster pushed their city-states into the deep mists. The process was slow at first, according to the ancient texts, but eventually, it became clear that the archipelago was sinking into the mists – and there was nothing the Temel could do to stop it.
The Patrish Hegemony fleet’s arrival over a millennium ago is said to have marked the point of no return for the Temel, as their efforts to develop magic and lift the islands were thwarted by the Patrish who saw those efforts as a charade concealing a brewing uprising against their conquest and sent fleets to stop them. The armada fell on Temel ships with battering rams, dealing irreversible damage to the unarmed ships. Before the Hegemony’s admirals realized the Temel weren’t launching a war fleet it was too late, the damage was done, and the islands were too deep for salvaging. The Patrish fleet commanders gave orders to do what they can to correct their mistake, but there was little they could do. Many Temel died and a great wealth of culture and knowledge was left to fall into the crushing depths of dense mists, slowly spiraling into the Auroran sun. Those that survived did so on ships, smaller islands and even flotsam hauled by Hegemony’s fleets as the invasion inevitably turned into a rescue mission.
While the Temel peoples were left with nothing, at least they survived thanks to Patrish aid. They filled Maer’s cities overflowing with refugees, eventually turning people away into slums forming around Patrish stone cities – Hegemony’s government simply wasn’t ready for a cataclysm and an influx of people on that scale. Eventually, the clans left Maer to seek a new life, taking with them whatever scraps were left from their homeland.
They wandered for centuries, never finding a place to call home while history revolved around them, in what is called “times of toil” by Temel historians.
An entire civilization was turned into vagabonds, sailing the Domains and scraping by, but always returning to the edges of deep mists, where they could gaze upon the silhouettes or their home archipelago beneath the dense cover of deep mists – close enough to sail to, yet unreachable because of the crushing pressure of gravity.
The accidental discovery – or perhaps a response from the Auroran spirits – brought Temel together with khmal – giant, yet docile zhmey who took to nesting amidst the sunken cities, emerging regularly from the depths to graze. Led by the great Prophetess Uyoon Sainaral, the clans followed khmal and found a new life amidst the herds.
While the history of Domains was torn by the upheaval of Maer’s destruction and centuries of war and strife, the Temel rebuilt beneath them. Led by generations of Prophetesses, the clans constructed rowing cities of khmal hide and pieces of their homeland, living tributes to their ancient land, where arts and philosophy thrived anew, always in sight of the Sunken Isles, close, but just out of reach.
Though some Temel still occasionally visit the “uplands,” as they call the Domains, most are content to remain in the depths, watching the lights of aurorae play amidst the spires of their lost home.
Temel clans live and die by the khmal, following the zhmey seasonal migration. The animals spend most of the year coursing between depths and their edges, where they breed and graze while the young are too fragile to reach true depths. Khmal find the Sunken Isles to be a perfect grazing area, as the cities, plains, and mountains of Temel former homeland provide shelter from massive predators living in the mists and plenty of food. Thanks to that they tend to remain on the edges of deep mists almost year-round, allowing the Temel clans to subside among them.
The Temel are an enatic society led by the Prophetess of each cityship deciding politics, rituals, and the distribution of scarce resources in conjunction with their patron spirits. The Temel aren’t organized into large communities – instead, each group of cityships follow their herds independently, foraging and exploring freely. These individualist clans are known as cityships, or “kho-tu,” in Temel language, thus giving a monicker to the civilization as a whole.
Nothing goes to waste in the city-ships, as the resources are scarce. Everything is reused and recycled. When in dire need or a shortage of resources, even the dead are taken apart and remade into tools and attire. Such times of need are quite common when the khmal delve into the depths, so it’s not uncommon to find items made of human bone in Temel skiffs. Such items are treated with utmost reverence, as they represent the sacrifice some have made for the community’s survival.
While some uplanders find the Temel way of life barbaric, they are anything but.
They choose to live in floating cities made of light materials, such as khmal hides, leather, and linen from trade simply because it affords them space and freedom that crowded uplander ships do not. Needless to say, the barren depths lack resources other than zhmey and the frequent miststorms, so creating tools and items of wood and metal is out of the question – let alone fixing a wooden longboat should it become damaged.
Temel floating cities are fleets of small leather skiffs surrounding a core – the cityship -usually, an ancient barge or a fragment of Sunken Isles tied with zhmey-hide sails and decks. Each family lives on their own skiff, while the kho-tu serves as the common area, with markets, temples, and other important facilities stretched far on zhmey-hide decks surrounding the ancient heart. The cityships are only loosely connected with their skiffs using rope bridges and leather peers, vertically and horizontally – the lower decks drift atop dense mist depths. The Temel by necessity tend to be agile and have a great sense of balance, as they spend most of their lives on soft decks and tight passages, which makes them a welcome addition to any “upland” crew looking for sailors.
Many clansflok choose to accept such commissions, hoping to provide for their families down below, or simply wanting to get away from the strict rationing and lack of privacy in the clan cities. There isn’t much room for individual expression where every day is a struggle and supplies need to be shared with those who need them most, as the survival of the clan depends on it. The Temel deal with such hardships by delving into poetry and spiritualism, seeking to commemorate their past as much as to divine the future. It is known that their current way of life cannot last, as one day the Isles may sink deeper, and the khmal may move on – the clans must be ready to find a new path as well. The Prophetesses and scholars seek to find such a new path, their discourse coloring the entire people’s outlook on life with a sense of the transient and ephemeral nature of the universe.
Each Temel kho-tu has a patron spirit said to be in direct discourse with the Prophetess. The kho-tu takes its name and symbolism from that being, and it affects every aspect of their lives. A traveler well-versed in Temel spiritualism will know just by seeing their sails what reception they will face – the fiery spirals of Kho-tu Shirgugetu mean trouble unless the guests bear gifts, while the distinct cloud khmal markings of Kho-tu Angatai are an invitation for trade and feasting. There are six major Kho-tu in the Domains; the warlike Shirgugetu pirates, the upland traders of Angatai, the mystical cities of Holuisegei and Sechekete, as well as Onguchai hunters and Dayir magicians. Naturally, each Kho-tu is fully self-sufficient in all aspects, they’re simply most notable for their focus in certain aspects of life.
Temel music is deep and guttural, sung in unison with the khmal calling their mates, to the rhythm of leather drums. It tells stories and parables in singing poetry aiming to be as wise as it is beautiful. Each song is a story and a lesson, repeated and built upon each time it’s sung.
The entirely constructed environment in which they live allows the Temel to express themselves fully in their space. Clans use acidic zhmey venom to mark their skiff sails and tools with unique, spiraling patterns and color them in a myriad of hues. Though they may seem chaotic and vertigo-inducing to outsiders, their patterns are meaningful to the Temel, as they clearly distinguish families, communal spaces, and clans, while creating spiritualistic imagery when in motion. Many clans turn their cities into living sculptures in motion, for example, Kho’tu Angatai’s sails look like colorful spirits of khmal grazing in the mists.
Their true passion and clan-wide sport is philosophy. The Temel seem always ready to abandon everything and engage in a dispute about the minutiae of any subject – from the meaning of life to semantics like arguing over whether it is possible to know if a yaarish in a box is alive or dead without opening it.
Young Temel made an artform from skiff racing – though it may seem like a waste of precious time and energy, they always find it in them to race and perform dangerous tricks to impress their peers. Some clans connect their two passions in truly bizarre displays of acrobatic skiff duels, in which the contestants joust above the mists while singing guttural poetic treaties at each other.
The Temel were always a spiritual people, and their current lifestyle favors such views even more. Their connection to nature and its elemental forces allows them to bind and call upon essential spirits with ease, though their relations with the otherworldly beings are based on trading favors rather than commands. You will often see a Temel oracle performing a pointless task or caricatural gestures as compensation for spiritual aid – such sights surprise nobody among the clans.
The scarcity of materials doesn’t prevent the Temel from practicing enchanting arts, though they focus on conjuring aids and mystical instruments helping them align their cities with the spiritual realm rather than enchanted tools or weapons.
Some Temel, particularly the Dayir clans, found a way to join the spirit world to their cities permanently – outsiders should be wary of where they put their feet in such kho-tu, as they might turn a corner and end up in a different reality entirely.
The Temel are short and stocky due to the high gravity in the depths where they live. Their bodies and faces are weathered and darkened by the Auroran sun’s radiation and light. They practice ritual scarification, tattoos, and blood rituals – using their own souls and blood to power magic when there are no substitutes available.
They wear khmal-leather clothes gleaming with a myriad of changing colors, and live in skiffs built from the same material, except for a couple of kho-tu anchored to island fragments with ruined buildings from other cultures or fragments of Sunken Islands – those too, however, are finished with khmal-leather and bone.
Clans regularly trading with the “uplands” are usually wealthier in metal and wooden tools, as well as fabrics. They mix traditional patterns and color palettes with the styles of other cultures, giving them a look distinct from the more isolated cityships.
Typical Temel everyday attire consists of a triangular cap with a broad shawl woven around the face and shoulders, and a baggy vest with a multitude of internal pockets and satchels, both protecting them from harsh Auroran sun, miststorms and allowing them to store everyday items without fear of losing them in daily commotion. The look is complete with wide galligaskins of leather or fabric and soft shoes. They favor bright colors, such as blue, yellow, and green, though never red, as it is seen as a bad omen to wear the color of blood. Red is a color reserved for armor and war attire, as well as rituals for birth-giving and funerals in which the dead are descended onto the Isles of Temel past. Tools and attire made of remnants of those who sacrificed their eternal rest for the community are always dyed red and treated with utmost reverence and worn only when in dire need.
The Temel rarely fight, preferring to flee down the gravity well when attacked, as few ships can follow them into the deep mists or keep up with their skiffs on the way down. When forced to fight, they display impressive ferocity and potent blood and spiritual magic, capable of turning a warrior into a powerful beast of war for a short time.
The Temel favor long knives, javelins and harpoons made of khmal spurs, usually poisoned with the beast venom, though they often repurpose fragments of other deep-Mist predators and weaponry purchased from above. They fight on foot only when forced to, preferring mounts like yvwernai instead, used for quick javelin charges and retreats.
They wear armor of yaarish carapace and softer, but tough khmal-hide, shaping them into conical helmets and scale vests. The Temel rely on speed and attrition rather than heavy weaponry, and field no regular infantry, though underestimating skiff crews during a boarding action is often a careless pirate’s last mistake. Temel warriors are famous for their prowess in irregular combat and skirmishing actions, often decimating the enemy before even making contact in melee.
Temel societies usually lack the facilities and resources needed to produce more modern weaponry like spellshots or mist engines. Any clan trading with uplanders values such items greatly. They purchase them eagerly and pass them “down the well” to other clans in barter. Some clans, like the Shirgugetu, attempt to recreate modern weapons using leather and bone instead of metals, creating functional replicas, though often volatile and high maintenance.
Even clans not sporting such weaponry can surprise their foes with unconventional tactics and the aid of patron spirits – Temel magicians and possessed warriors more than make up for the technological gap.
Temel make do with what they can, allowing nothing to go to waste. Their ships are made of leather, hide, or purchased fabrics reinforced with zhmey chitin and bone, as well as metal, wood, and stone purchased or scavenged from the Domains. Their revered dead are descended onto the Sunken Islands to rest in their lost homeland intact, though in times of crisis even their bones are repurposed into tools – every Kho-tu has a prized collection of such items. Those bones are treated as relics and treasured, the “donors” for the items revered for centuries, as their sacrifice of forfeiting rest in the mists to allow the clan to survive cannot be forgotten.
Temel Kho-tu’ud rarely have access to complex inventions and mechanisms, relying instead on spiritual assistance to make up for their lack of advanced enchantments, spells, or machines. The connection between the mists and the cityships is strong, and the lines of reality blur as the spirits walk among the mortals.
The Temel are animistic in their beliefs, revering everything around them in equal measure – each person’s personal idealized animal or object depends on the vision received when eating khmal tendrils for the first time in a ritual of passage. The tendrils are the animal’s poison glands, and have a highly hallucinogenic effect – some Temel don’t survive the ritual. Those that do talk of their journey into the spirit world and the lessons revealed to them by spirits of nature. Those tales are treated as a good or bad omen and influence how individual will live their lives.
Oracles and prophecy play a great part in Temel lives. Their regular vision quests and favors dealt with spirits give them unique insight into the world, though they often push the clans into irrational behavior at the behest of spirits – or perhaps after consuming a bad batch of yishi fruit.
With all their passion for discourse, the Temel rarely dispute their Kho’tu Prophetess commands, as every time the matriarch chooses to voice their opinion it’s seen as a matter of survival not up to debate. That being said, a Prophetess who abuses that power and follows her personal whims instead of the will of the clan spirit is quickly denounced and banished from the kho-tu, as no Temel will shelter her and invoke the spirit’s ire.
Temel are mostly peaceful people getting along with others rather well. Their skiffs coming to trade are usually welcomed with open arms, especially by the Khradi and Triveni. The three cultures share many similarities in their way of life, even as their tempers differ greatly. Many young Temel choose to migrate to live with the uplanders as of late, as the Triveni anchorstone network makes frequent travel up and down the filaments easier than ever. They’re usually finding employment in docks, or crewing the ships, though a rare few take to agriculture or other sedentary work.
A couple of kho-tu take cautious steps in settling land, building settlements on land leased from the nearby uplander settlements, or trying their luck in independent colonization. Such attempts sometimes result in them stepping on others’ toes, though major conflicts are rare.
I think that about sums up the most important bits of lore about the Temel. Their dangerous ways of life sheltered them for a thousand years as the Domains saw the rise and fall of empires. The advent of easy travel and exploration gives them another chance at life, and perhaps even reclaiming the long-lost homes from the crushing depths of the Auroran mists.
Stay tuned for more Aurorae lore drops and Aphelion Toolkit news – we’re now deep in beta testing, and things are looking up!
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