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About Digital Art / Hobbyist Core Member ACBradleyFemale/United Kingdom Recent Activity
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Unusual gift (WIP 3)
Well, it's the holidays, and that means for no obvious reason I end up drawing smoot. In this case for a friend of mine.

What's better than spending the holidays with your proud, rather kinky girlfriend? Well, um, the answer turns out to involve an interdimensional portal project and five other versions of her. "We love you, and we resent that."
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Unusual gift (WIP 2)
Well, it's the holidays, and that means for no obvious reason I end up drawing smoot. In this case for a friend of mine.

What's better than spending the holidays with your proud, rather kinky girlfriend? Well, um, the answer turns out to involve an interdimensional portal project and five other versions of her. "We love you, and we resent that."
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Unusual gift (WIP)
Well, it's the holidays, and that means for no obvious reason I end up drawing smoot. In this case for a friend of mine.

What's better than spending the holidays with your proud, rather kinky girlfriend? Well, um, the answer turns out to involve an interdimensional portal project and five other versions of her. "We love you, and we resent that."
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'In this town we make our own happy endings' WIP 7
Aludran soldiers and militia during the Battle of Halleck. The one second from the right was Socialising.

Incidentally, the Aludran Future Soldier gear conceals all of the soldier's rank insignia because the previous generation of Chiran sniper rifle scopes featured image recognition that tagged targets with their rank. Their visors appear opaque because they're designed to prevent light reflecting out of the wearer's eyes: the "cat's eyes" on roads, in this world, are so named because they were originally developed in Aludra as sniper decoys.
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'In this town we make our own happy endings' WIP 6
Aludran soldiers and militia during the Battle of Halleck. The one second from the right was Socialising.

Incidentally, the Aludran Future Soldier gear conceals all of the soldier's rank insignia because the previous generation of Chiran sniper rifle scopes featured image recognition that tagged targets with their rank.
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Twenty years after the Battle of Omar, Aludra and Chira would face the greatest challenge in their history.

The Szakade, as the creatures came to be known in Aludran, are two species with intertwined fates: the species most recognise as Szakade, and the Veda.

Both evolved in the deep ocean trenches of Hazad, a watery planet that circled a great distance from a gigantic star. Hazad was a strange world, with an atmosphere choked in poisons from a process resembling photosynthesis and beaches scoured clean by regular releases of near-pure fluorine. The jungles of Hazad were pristine but void of all life. Only a species of virtually indestructible crustacean-like creatures, the Szarak, dared to venture on the land.

The Veda were an intelligence formed from neural networks of bacteria with telepathic abilities*, and they parasitized a simplistic species of fish-creatures with dextrous forelimbs, compelling the solitary creatures to form groups so that the Veda could reproduce more easily and dwelling in colonies on their bodies.

This species, the Szakade are an all-female species with biped-like torsos and fish-like tails with long, flowing fins. Deep-sea predators, they possess sharp teeth and extremely sensitive inky-grey eyes. As a relic of their less intelligent ancestors, they retain two lures that extend from their foreheads, glowing patches under their eyes, and flashing bioluminescent bands down their sides. Previously used to draw prey close to them, the flashes were already becoming a means of communicating simple signals to each other when the Veda found them.

The Szakade were once colonials, with even their blood made from co-opted bacteria; another type could easily be added, and the Veda settled everywhere on their skin except the stripes on their flanks already home to bioluminescent cells, their transparent skin changing to a glossy black that shimmered as they moved. A dozen Szakade were a safe host for a single Veda Groupmind, with far fewer worries about predators than in their old plankton-like state.

Stem cells from Szakade eggs gave the Veda a resource they never had before, a mutable form of cell very different to their unchanging unicellular form. Normally Szakade would court each other and then one lay an egg and the other lay her egg alongside it, the two joining together and starting to grow. Veda harvested proto-eggs to form a bed of stem cells that constantly renewed itself, and used this as a basis for biomechanical constructs that were their earliest form of technology.

The Szakade in turn grew more sophisticated, the signals from each other's bioluminescent flashes becoming a full-fledged language, and parasitism became symbiosis as the enforced groupings became a thriving society centred on Veda bio-constructs and metals worked in deep-sea thermal vents. The Veda, regretting the way they had dealt with the Szakade before, now treated them as companions and allowed them free will and an equal say in the running of their homelands.

Szarak would often wander into the deep trenches and were docile and friendly to just about everything, and the early Szakade societies used them as beasts of burden. The 30-ton adults could move just about anything with their immense strength if properly guided.

It was around this time that organised religion began to appear, with the creation of the first Szakade cities. For as long as they were able to think, both species had thought about their place in the world, and various rituals related to special places crystallised into the veneration of a mother-Goddess of the oceans. It was said this figure saved her daughters from the evils of the land by creating the sea for them to live in and had left a Promise that someday she would lead them to an ocean paradise if they kept the word in their hearts and followed the law.

Like most sentient societies, there were conflicts among groups of Veda and Szakade over values and resources. The nature of the species, with their fine hearing, and ability to sense tiny currents, meant their methods of conflict were unique, focused on fighting in perfect silence with small units, slow, careful movements, and increasingly cunning weaponry, moving from spearguns to propelling rifles.

As their technology advanced, the Veda learned to create "biometals" which, like their biomechanical organisms, responded to their thoughts, giving them the ability to shape them as they saw fit. Their technology surged forward as they discovered the principles of science and learned to manipulate pure energy and even the barriers between dimensions, allowing wireless power transmission and dimensional "tunnels" though which thermal power could be extracted safely without drilling. A darker side of this technology was the development of energy weapons, firing coherent energy bolts that could travel even in the deepest depths. As a counter to this, they created a device called the Siphon, a personal shield that absorbed energy into a pocket dimension. Civilian Siphon-based power systems quickly replaced the use of chemical batteries in just about every conceivable application.

Since biometals could hover in the water around the user, their militaries focused on adaptable multi-part variable energy guns that could split apart or join together to form weapons with almost any function the user could imagine. As these weapons became commonplace, the Szakade horror at swimming in the blood of their enemies became a cultural taboo about physically touching weapons, which they considered barbaric. Warfare became a matter of technology versus technology, with drone sensors gathering information and battlefields littered with seeker mines that responded to sound. The Szakade never saw any need for armed vehicles since they would give away the location of infantry.

Their wireless power transmission was used to keep soldiers agile since they did not have to carry anything but the weapons themselves; relays were mounted on Szarak, which would wander around and graze and show little sign of being aware a battle was taking place. It was considered a crime to actually harm one, no different to killing a civilian.

As their computers grew more reliable than their bacterial bodies, most Veda transferred their minds into electronic form, leaving behind their old selves as symbiotes that remained part of the Szakade. These AI-like creatures retained the ability to reproduce by creating a "seed" of a child-mind, which gathers data around itself to form a new, distinct personality. With the understanding of biology the two species had, a Szakade and a Veda could create DNA allowing a biological child to be "theirs," and there was no question that such relationships were right.

A few Veda spurned this development: these "old ones" saw it as abandoning their physical bond with the Szakade, something they considered sacred. All were ancient, the custodians of the memories of thousands of Szakade they had loved though centuries and millennia. While Veda and Szakade both valued these Groupminds for their wisdom and immense experience, their claims that this development would lead to the Veda discarding the Szakade entirely were not taken seriously. The new generation of Veda felt that physically inhabiting the Szakade was an unpleasant reminder of their parasitic past.

The cells that were once Veda remained in the bodies of the Szakade, tiny childlike shadow-personalities that reassured and supported them subconsciously. The Veda's telepathy remained a part of the Szakade even after their departure, allowing them to control Veda biometals themselves. Their society flourished, and they discovered means to send craft outside the poisonous atmosphere and explore the universe around them. But it was in this moment of triumph that they uncovered a horrible truth, one that at first they refused to believe.

The best scientists checked and double-checked their findings, but every survey, probe and reading led to the same unthinkable conclusion: Hazad's immense sun was dying. They had assumed the receding oceans were part of some natural cycle, but it was the swelling of the star. Hazad would die either slowly as the star grew and grew, or consumed in an instant if the unstable core collapsed. There was no stopping it.

There were great arguments, even wars, over what should be done; whether this was a test by the Goddess and they should have faith, or do something about it, or simply give up and accept their fate. Even with all their technology there was nothing they could do to the star, but a group of Szakade engineers made a breakthrough, a "jump drive" that would allow a vessel to travel the immense distances between the stars if it could only be made to work in time. The precise method of jumping took decades in Aludran terms** while over a hundred years passed outside the ship, this was seen as hardly important.

The largest Szakade trench-cities came together, and the result was the ship Aludra refers to as Leviathan. It is actually called Home 2 in their own language. The ship would have to carry as many as possible; the eventual design, a beautiful, almost swan-like lifting body eighty-five miles long and twenty-five across the wings, had enough space for eighty million Szakade and Veda. An eight-mile saucer-shaped detachable "battle" segment, Guardian, would protect it, controlled by one of the oldest Veda Groupminds; Guardian would have no jump drive, as creating even one such device in time would be difficult enough. Guardian's shape was due to the Szakade ancestral fear of their world's immense jellyfish, one of their ancient predators.

Guardian would not be alone: hurried brainstorming and simulations by Veda Groupminds led to the development of their first atmospheric aircraft, a sleek biometal fighter which could change shape in-flight at will, equipped with two powerful energy cannons. The Szakade had no idea how many they might need, but five hundred and fifty were all they felt safe providing materials for with all the other resources that would be taken up constructing Home 2 and Guardian.

Home 2 would use an immense form of Siphon to gather energy created by her own re-entry, and drain it slowly to provide near-limitless clean power for her people; as she was designed to land on water, she would use several novel applications of the same technology to reduce the vast waves she would otherwise create. While that was perfect, the reaction drive that got her out of the atmosphere would not be so gentle; firing the main engine would be enough to boil the oceans and kill every living thing still on Hazad. But they were already dead, and dying like animals struggling for the last drops of water was no way to go, so it was agreed that all those who would not be passengers would say their goodbyes and commit themselves into the arms of the Goddess, in the hope that, somehow, the Promise would still be fulfilled.

The jump drive's creator chose to remain on Hazad with her family, wishing all the best to those who left; she felt it would be cowardly to use the device she intended to save her people just to save herself.

Even as Home 2 powered up, readings from the giant star were spiking, and when she rose to the surface cameras showed immense flares arcing out from its surface. Solemnly, the crew of Home 2 made their last prayers, flooded the rear ballast tanks, and fired the engine, every trace that they had ever lived on Hazad vanishing in an instant.

The star tore itself apart as Home 2 prepared to make her first jump, and the giant ship and her eighty million occupants barely escaped. As she reappeared in the depths of space, everyone on board tried to deal with the loss of an entire world.

For those in command, though, there was no time to grieve: their task was to find a new world for their people. The jump drive's creator had discovered a means of deploying probes from Home 2 during jumps and retaining communication with them, and they had hundreds of years of transmissions from probes and observations from space telescopes to sift through.

The best candidate from the perspective of atmosphere and oceanic composition was the worst in just about every other conceivable way. Everything about this world was strange. Ancient transmissions, too garbled to decode, dated to 40 million years ago, but then one day simply stopped. They had sent a probe, but what returned was baffling to every scientist who studied it. They saw a world choked in hideous forests and built of impossible geographical formations, a great red crater amid a sea of black sand, oceans wreathed in strange swirling mists, and three strange energy phenomena the preindustrial civilisations it detected could not have hoped to manipulate, let alone create. Moreover, the creatures it found lived on the land, in defiance of what the Szakade and Veda considered the natural order.

They discarded this strange world from their list of candidates, and set about examining others. Despite their horrible losses and the failure of the Promise, many were still hopeful. Something out there must want them to survive. Home 2 set course for the most promising of the new worlds, and made her second jump.

But each world they tried to settle on was worse than the last. Vicious carnivores with metallic skin, unstable geology and appallingly barbaric aquatic civilisations greeted Home 2's landing; each time she took off again, scouring the surface clean of all but the most simplistic forms of life. It was hopeless. So much so that, very much against Guardian's wishes, Home 2, by this point struggling to function, made her final jump, to the cursed world of surface-dwellers they had ruled out so long ago.

As she blinked into existence, her jump drive exploded in the presence of the gravity wells of four giant planets; since nobody who had left Hazad even knew how the drive worked, nevermind how to repair it, this star system would be either their home or their tomb. Guardian was incensed at Home 2 for even attempting it.

Transmissions from the planet made them more nervous still; rather than the pre-industrial societies their probe had found eight hundred years prior, their sensors found thriving industries and transmissions detailing what were clearly military operations. Home 2's AI, an optimistic "artificial" Veda formed during their journey who have never been in a Groupmind, was hopeful despite the evidence, and got to work trying to decipher the odd sound-based alien languages. Since the breadth of the transmissions indicated a society that was outright impossible, she assumed some must be fiction: she felt it was a good sign that these people told each other stories. Her subordinates, the Szakade bridge crew who had grown up with her, shared her optimism, and the group managed to convince Guardian that it was safe to send down a party to examine the seabed.

They sent down the small party in an unarmed shuttle, the scientists finding wreckage on the seabed; perhaps some sign of a people like their own, and scans from their probes confirmed one of the mysterious anomalies was on the bottom of the ocean too, deep in the mists. They were pondering this as a gigantic alien watercraft approached, and, without warning, began to attack with a weapon unlike any that they had ever seen or heard of.

The survey team barely survived, and their injuries were terrible, tissue ruptures and horrible cavitation injuries across their entire bodies. Guardian was furious; an unprovoked attack by these barbarians on an unarmed survey team, with a weapon that, as far as she was concerned, could have no function but the extermination of a people like theirs. To the Veda, this proved that there were once aquatic peoples on this planet, and the surface-dwellers had waged a genocidal war against them.

Below, the Chiran Cruiser Submarine Sei-Lin 7's crew were baffled; they were there to investigate a report of a crashed, unknown aircraft. The first sonar pings had shown fuzzy contacts that almost looked like divers, but then the contacts, as well as the one on the bottom, had vanished completely. The submarine resumed her duties, later sending a routine report stating they had found nothing.

With this, even Home 2 sadly accepted Guardian's argument that a military deployment would be needed to push the alien forces away from their landing site. There was no option to move on with the jump drive destroyed. She hoped that a show of force would be all that was needed, and that, somehow, the aliens could be persuaded to accept them in time.

Guardian found herself tasked with the difficult problem of selecting a landing site for Home 2, ultimately choosing a path across open ocean which ended in a deep bay near one of the alien cities. While she had no idea what the devices on the cliffs above did, the dense power grid around the largest suggested a weapon of some kind, and so she would have to come up with some way for a species incapable of moving on land to wage a war there. The sheer scale of the device implied it could threaten, if not Home 2 herself, then certainly any attempt by the Szakade to leave.

Still, she was confident: the Siphon fitted to Guardian made it immune to any energy weapon in existence, and she knew of no other way a weapon could function above water, short of a primitive catapult that would be no threat to her.

As Home 2 orbited the largest of the giant planets, Szakade soldiers trained in four-legged exosuits that secured around their tails with their torso outside so they could still use their hands. Power for their suits would be provided by relays mounted on Szarak: testing had shown that the local flora would be fine for the creatures to graze on. Guardian tried to remain confident as she ran them through scenarios she made up as she went along, her ideas very much like the propaganda fiction the Szakade made regarding claiming their new home. Savage, bloodthirsty aliens, all of their technology working precisely as it should.

She, a Veda military commander with centuries of experience, would defeat the aliens in the way all great battles were fought, with clever use of small, disciplined units. With no water to carry sound, she assumed it would travel poorly, and so the 15-foot exoskeletons would be able to operate as stealthily as Szakade troops on the old homeworld. With no water, she assumed conflict would be purely two-dimensional. She ignored Home 2's confused suggestions based on the alien transmissions; she was young and foolish. Guardian could solve this by herself, and by doing so would give her beloved Szakade wife and their children a home. However, the AI's suggestion that the aliens were preparing for war with one another seemed promising; if they depleted their own forces, her task would be that much easier.

Home 2 was baffled at what her long-range sensors picked up and frustrated at Guardian ignoring her. This was not like any war she has witnessed: the broadcast showed one enemy receiving the other as friends. She pondered the possibility of it being some kind of honour code they were following, but the archive films she thought factual seemed very different. Not needlessly destructive, but following a very different set of rules. Ruthless, perhaps that was the right way to think of it. She was perhaps being romantic like Guardian said, but it reminded her of the story of the ancient conflict between two oldest and most powerful trench-cities: how they had finally found common ground in the last battle of all, the one to build her.

On the planet below, things were relatively calm. High above the old, beautiful city of Halleck in Aludra, the 39-inch mass driver Bolverk, the largest gun on the planet, stood guard over the sea. It was more a symbol than a weapon; the Halleck coastal battery had not been fired in anger in almost eighty years. Today a party of schoolchildren would be visiting, and the Battery Commander, a young noble, was busying herself making sure everything was perfect.

At 46, Mariella Lorii was preparing for her final parachute jump as part of Double Edge before retiring from 117 SPU to work as a drill instructor, while her little sister Sophie was preparing for her first alongside her. Her girlfriend Maxine had retired from the military after losing a foot to a mine in Garam during the civil war there, and now ran a motorcycle repair garage. Her older little sister Nadine was studying for a postgraduate degree while running the family burlesque house in the evenings; under her, The Imperial had become one of Alurna's most Respectable places for Ladies to share polite conversation and food while enjoying the acts and appreciating the beauty and elegance of other species.

At 74, Ingrid sen Sola had evaded every possible avenue of retirement, the Field-General still commanding a tank. By now she was on her fifth, Claudia V, an S-4 Black Swan II developed after the Battle of Omar. She was rather enjoying exercises against the first generation of Chiran main battle tanks; she had always felt the Chiran "agile army" concept focusing on light "infantry support vehicles" supported by fast artillery was a mistake. She was also busy dealing with the fact that she had spoken with Claudia V so often that the AI was essentially sentient; this along with Griffon PCAVs*** flying missing-plane formations after the Battle of Omar without ever being programmed to do so had led to a lively debate about AI citizenship.

Shian Xinyang and Shiori Shima, a Chiran-Etrusean duel citizen and an Etrusean, were enjoying a pleasant holiday in Halleck together, taking in the city's famous libraries and bookstores in the old quarter. It was their first time in Aludra, and while Shian had been nervous at going abroad without her beloved girlfriend Fio, so far it had been a pleasant one.

Very few looked to the sky. Aludra and Chira were preoccupied with their first joint military exercise, Operation Double Edge, both eager to show they could make it work but equally eager to show their best and quietly gather as much data as possible about the other's capabilities. Space had never interested either; large space launch complexes would be seen as long-range ballistic missile facilities, a needless provocation, and with both having the ability to shoot down anything the other placed in orbit by this time, space programs were seen as pointless expenditure. It was a private citizen with a small telescope who first sighted Guardian as she passed close to the moon.

*Veda always assumed these were their original bodies, but this turned out to be because Veda in the presence of these cells will instinctively incorporate them into their Groupmind if they are not part of one already. Aludran research indicates they are self-sufficient organisms, and it is now believed the Veda intelligences arose independently of any physical body, with some theorising that their bodies do not exist in this dimension.
**Hazad's year, due to the size of the star, was a lifetime long. Szakade marked their equivalent of years in terms of lunar cycles.
***Pilotless Combat Air Vehicle. Being "unmanned" is fairly normal for Aludran aircraft, and all other options sound silly.
Part 1 | Part 2

Construction

With final approval granted, construction equipment moved in; both the Emera family's formidable assets, which included every construction Leviship in Aludra, and two entire combat engineering battalions from the Aludran Army. Work began with blasting operations to create the artificial cavern that would extend under the central park, with a pair of giant tracked power shovels soon creating a crater four hundred feet deep and a mile across. Since the "table" structure of eight pump towers and an upper deck supporting central park was entirely below ground it would not count as part of the six month "spreadline," and so construction began immediately. Lei and Hana said this was how construction had proceeded at Rasoon, where the pump tower and fountain canopy were completed first and routinely activated to test water flow through the city and ensure there was no erosion of the foundations.

As the lower city took shape, the two young architects were able to venture outside the spray-screened trailer they had previously been confined to on the site, soon helping to direct the construction of the undercity proper. A filter plant was constructed to direct water from the river into a temporary holding lake, and six months after breaking ground a line of generators sputtered into life and water flowed through the skeletal buildings of the undercity for the first time.

One unexpected challenge during the development of the undercity was Lady Lucille, a Hawkeater Moth with four daughters who flew across the Vamar just after the "table" was completed and refused to leave. Since by this point the Hawkeater was regarded as a "non-citizen sentient" species by the Aludran government* the undercity plan required a slight reworking to accommodate her presence. Lei and Hana initially found the 25-foot predatory moth terrifying and appealed for her to be housed somewhere else, but over the course of a few weeks grew used to her and rescinded their requests, hoping that other Mirrai would have similar reactions.

While Lucille and her daughters watched in bemusement, the lower city's tiered walkways and water tunnels were constructed; as with all Mirrai cities, Lower Aqua City was to be partially flooded so that families had swimming spaces in their homes and pools to relax in.

Less troubling than Lucille's presence was the population of freshwater trilobites that established itself in the undercity during construction, in spite of estimates that the species would not like the levels of algae in the water. This led to some amusing negotiations since, for reasons that baffle sociologists, Alun are adamant that trilobites are inedible and should be treated kindly, while Mirrai would normally not have any problem with eating swimming bugs. Introducing representative Kawai to a few of them won her over, however, and an explanation that the friendly creatures were not food was added to the Mirrai citizen orientation.

Landscaping began on the park itself; Farah sen Ahan of the Alurna Botanical Gardens, who had agreed to supervise all aspects of the project involving plants**, had suggested completing the park immediately to ensure any problems would manifest themselves during the rest of the construction process. The last thing the Empress wanted was for the central park to be dying off or an unmanageable mess, and this would allow time for problems to be caught and corrected.

With their work on the central park deck completed, House Emera began to ship in their remaining construction equipment to level the rest of the site; piling works began as soon as the first pump tower tests were positive, with representatives of the Kais and Ruhm families personally supervising work on concrete and steel batches destined for the project. Now the noble families were on board, none would be willing to show anything but their best work to their rivals and the world.

The Aludran hatred of needless suffering meant every effort was taken to empty the site of animals and insects during the terrain levelling process, with staff from the Imperial College of Natural Sciences helping to set up holding areas at the edge of the construction zone. All suitable species would be reintroduced, with the remainder being relocated to suitable habitats.

The year after the first groundbreaking all foundation work was completed and construction had commenced on the first structures. Since most Aludran cities of antiquity were recorded as starting around pagan holy sites, it was decided to build the temples and their associated facilities before any other structures. The first of these was the temple requested by the Chiran government, a late addition to the city plan and designed by noted Chiran architects as a fusion of traditional forms and Aludran sensibilities. The city would feature three main temples, one for each of the main figures of Svedzi worship, and four hundred smaller chapels and shrines.

At the same time as the temples, a series of temporary structures took shape: a railway container terminal and marshalling yard, fuel storage depot, and a series of concrete plants and workshops.

At this point the project was still a mess of deep holes and trenches, which would one day be underground car parks, subway stations and tunnels, or had been dug out for pipe and cable laying. Starting anew, there was no need to drill out the tunnels for the subway system and so a pair of 2,000-ton trench excavators designed specifically for the task had dug them out from the surface. At the completion of the temples only the sections of the subway network that passed under building foundations had been installed.

The next step completed the underground parking structures and subway stations, since it was intended that they would be temporary homes for the project's workers and their families. The majority of workers thus accommodated had been offered homes in the completed city, as it was felt that people working on structures they would ultimately live in and around would do their best work. Central Station was for much of the project called "Central Manor" due to the formation of a particularly large and stable Household among the occupants.

Along with these were a series of underground structures that the Aludrans did not want to see on the surface, including the entire power grid and a series of underground water treatment and purification plants built to Mirrai specifications. Electrical substations were built within a series of honeycomb-like cells designed to prevent damage in the case of an explosion. The one thing not placed underground were telephone exchanges, since Aludra uses fixed lines or operator switchboards rather than automated direct dialling systems. Aludran nobility regarded the latter as impersonal and therefore Improper.

Since the Empress thought that the Monarch Towers would look ridiculous standing over a half-built city, the entire rest of the city would be built before the skyscrapers were raised. While the Emera family were not particularly happy with this arrangement since they had assumed they would be able to build temporary roads for heavy vehicles, they were soon given access to the four largest transport Leviships from the Air Navy Support Fleet, and moved as much equipment into the city as possible prior to the beginning of building construction. Several right-wing Etrusean newspapers took this as a sign of mismanagement and mocked the "crane graveyards" that formed within the site.

Sub-level construction proceeded briskly, with all subway tunnels completed and all but four filled over within nine months and cable and pipe laying concluding a month later. The four remaining tunnel segments were another improvisation by the Emera: the lines passed close to major construction areas, and were to be used to move equipment and materials. The Emera family bought in surplus locomotives and rolling stock from the Alurna and Reidan underground rail systems, since engines for the Aqua City Underground had not been built yet.

This involved turning the adjacent parks into goods yards, a decision that upset Farah sen Ahan. She had hoped to get all of the parks planted at the earliest opportunity so that her staff could tend to them just as with the central park, and Emera guarantees that massive movements of heavy machinery over the freshly laid soil would not result in contamination did not convince her. After a series of impatient meetings with senior members of the Emera family, she was still not happy.

Giselle sen Kais felt that Farah, rather than simply being obstinate, was frustrated: not being technologically minded, she did not really understand what the Emera were trying to tell her. Giselle sent her younger sister Gina to discuss matters with her. While still a representative of Aludra's largest concrete manufacturer, Gina was a carefree young woman who loved nature, and Farah knew she would be able to speak freely with her older sister about any concerns.

With Farah finally happy that her dreams for the four parks would not be drowned in grease and oil, she resumed supervising work on the difficult vertical gardens, the first of which was just taking shape.

The tiers and levels of the city were laid out as the smaller buildings took shape around them, stone paving, ornate wrought iron railings and decorations soon making the bare structures look suitably Aludran. A brief skirmish with Basram on the Southeast border did not affect the construction schedule, and all seemed to be going well for the incredibly ambitious 28-month goal.

At this point, however, one of the Chiran engineers spotted a problem on her plan, and went to her superiors: the lightning conductors on many buildings in the city passed much too close to metal climbing handholds. Architects trained primarily in aesthetics rather than structural engineering had added the handholds, and the plans they had been given to work with did not even include the conductor wire locations. While Chirans would tend to climb the inside of a building during a storm, the layout was unacceptably dangerous, and construction paused while existing plans were quickly reworked and equipment returned to buildings thought to have been completed. The result was a substantial delay given the sheer number of completed structures.

In the end it was just over three years after the consecrating of the temples when groundsheets with the Emera coat of arms on them began to be removed from the largest cranes around the three hundred and eleven remaining bare foundations. The schedule now demanded following the delay would require swiftness and military precision, and the two combat engineer battalions returned to the site to assist in coordinating construction.

Farah sen Ahan was delighted to discover all efforts would be made to clear out the temporary yards by building from the middle of the city outwards; due to the "spreadline" this would leave at most twelve months to establish the four parks, but Farah had spent three years considering the matter and was certain she could manage. She was encouraged by Gina sen Kais, by this point her beloved wife; the ceremony had been conducted in Aqua City's Grand Temple.

All of the city's temples had been in full operation for over two years serving the workforce, and over that period had conducted five hundred weddings and eighteen funerals, four due to accidents and the remainder from natural causes. Even the Chiran temple was in use for the surveyors, testing crews and advisors supervising Chiran accessibility. To the delight of the Chiran ambassador when she visited, Aludran citizens were also attending services and prayers there.

Estelle sen Emera herself arrived as the first girders were laid. With the hopes and dreams of Aludra resting on her shoulders, the formidable head of the most powerful family in Aludra short of the Alud themselves was in her element. Her presence around the site was such that in interviews, workers half-seriously questioned if there was only one of her.

As the first four towers rose, others joined them, the construction starting to shift ahead of schedule. Estelle had decided to leave the Monarch Towers until last despite their central location and that if any project would generate unexpected difficulties it would be that one, but her sheer confidence in her workforce's abilities buoyed up morale at the site. Estelle was fond of reminding them that while others are able to make all possible things, a Lady is able to make all things possible.

The schedule quickly moved to continuous shifts; Alun, being descended from nocturnal ancestors, have few problems adapting to working at night. Three rotating shift sets were set up so that they could still enjoy a mid-shift nap without there ever being a time when work had completely paused.

Almost ten thousand additional workers joined the final construction. Many of them were qualified volunteers paid by their Households, either out of either pure patriotism or desire to win the Empress' favour, rather than as part of the project's budget. The site became a hive of activity as the towers rose together, even the most skeptical coming to accept that the plan would almost certainly succeed.

Though unexpected delays cut into the initial lead, Estelle sen Emera proudly watched as the spires of the Monarch Towers were lowered into position, twenty-six hours ahead of the six-month goal. With three hundred and eleven buildings topped out, a small army of electricians, glaziers, plumbers, decorators, upholsterers and carpenters descended on the site while Leviships made constant runs to ferry construction vehicles too large to move by themselves out of the city***.

The final step was the construction and testing of the city's above-ground water systems, from relatively simple reflecting pools to canals, complex fountains and most difficult of all the system of pumps, lakes and aqueducts that would create Lei and Hana's distinctive waterfalls. Along with this was the dismantling of the temporary irrigation systems that had supported the gardens that would now be nourished by the water system. This work was not without setbacks including several leaks which were difficult to track down, but six months after the skyscrapers topped out, the main reservoirs were fully flooded for the first time. As Lei and Hana watched, Hana's bioluminescent sides glowing faint blue from nervousness, their vision finally became reality. Aqua City was complete.

Occupation

It was agreed that the Mirrai settlers would be moved in first to ensure they were comfortable; any large works project on the undercity would be disruptive to those moving into the buildings above. Happily, the arrival and orientation was without any major incident and soon eight thousand Mirrai families were settled and learning the layout of their new home.

Representative Kawai was delighted to discover she had been assigned an embassy in the undercity, having spent the entire project living in the Imperial Palace's sauna and baths, and even happier when she learned the Empress had demanded she be made ambassador. Four servants who had been appointed as her personal staff during the project were allowed to join her, and two later married her.

The next group were the occupants of Old Aqua City and the five thousand Chiran families. The former's worries that the government in Alurna would not make good on their promises were finally laid to rest as military convoys delivered them from the old airfield to their new home. The final stage of the project, the demolition and redevelopment of the old airport, began before the last buses had even left.

The new citizens were amazed at the sight that greeted them. The dirty, narrow and dangerous old city had been replaced with shimmering towers of pristine masonry and beautiful parks and flower gardens already filled with songbirds and chirping moths. Now truly living up to its name, the city was filled with flowing water, from ornamental streams with fish and trilobites to the great waterfalls, some of them hundreds of feet high.

The Imperial family themselves had commissioned three thousand sculptures and statues**** for public spaces, and much to the surprise of the Old Aqua City residents, several of the old murals on abandoned buildings had been precisely replicated at approximately the same locations. Carnival Square, a cheerful place known for community-organised fairs and markets in the old city, was almost exactly restored at its original location, and the Delfi families who make it the lively place it was were housed nearby.

The Empress had granted official noble titles to the heads of family groups moving into particular buildings, and the first few days included a series of meetings in the central park so the new nobility could get to know one another. Among them were former gang leaders and higher-ups, granted full pardons by the Empress along with promises of jobs for their subordinates if they would assist in enforcing the law in the new city. Much as crime did not go away, particularly not smuggling through the new docklands, many were grateful for the end of open hostilities and petty turf wars.

Six months after the official inauguration of Aqua City as a district of the greater Alurna metropolitan area, a public holiday was declared, a day of festivities to celebrate the appointment of Aqua City's first official Representative at the Imperial Court. While Aludra's relationship with Chira had deteriorated greatly over the preceding year and trouble was brewing on the eastern border, for that one day all was right in the world. In the evening, as families who had come from across the world watched fireworks light up the sky alongside thousands of Mirrai looking up from the gleaming waters of Lake Harmony, they knew that they were home.

*While in Etrusea the identification of Hawkeaters as sentient required a long series of intelligence tests, in Aludra it was entirely due to a Hawkeater called Lady Roselle, who lived on the roof of the First Temple. One day she had entered the Temple during a service, walked the length of the building as the congregation silently watched, and bowed to the statue of Hira. Since "recognising the image of their creator" is one of the Aludran criteria for a species to immediately be considered sentient, all Hawkeaters in Aludra are treated as having rights comparable to any other sentient species, with qualifiers since they cannot work or pay taxes.
**The Ahan family have for centuries been among Aludra's most sought-after landscapers and were responsible for some of the most beautiful mansion grounds in Aludra. Farah had initially been very enthusiastic about participation in the project, but tended to be a little short with the representatives of Kais, Ruhm and Emera since she worried that they did not take her work seriously.
***The availability of Leviships meant that Aludra had little interest in Chiran ideas of containerised construction equipment. For example, even discounting crane Leviships that simply have winches mounted directly to them, a large Isra-Class transport Leviship can move a 3,200-ton capacity ring crane in two loads (or three without dismantling the main boom), while the Chiran equivalent splits down to 135 container loads. The gigantic Aludran railway loading gauge also means a lot of medium-sized construction vehicles are only barely dismantled for shipment.
****Per tradition, not a single one was of the Empress or any previous Empress, such statues only standing within the Halls of Counsel (usually called the Aludran Parliament in Etrusea) and the Imperial Palace. Putting them elsewhere has historically been regarded as Improper, immodest and unnecessary; the country and species already call themselves after the Alud.
Part 1 | Part 3

Mirrai Connection, continued

Attempting to employ the primary architects of Rasoon proved futile since all were settled with large families they did not wish to move, and were skeptical about their ability to survive the far drier climate in Aludra. In the end, the best candidates were two graduate students from the prestigious Seldivna Architectural College, Lei Uwari Aris and Hana Uwari Kiyna*, both of whom were among the many promising young architecture and city planning students who had participated in the Rasoon project and both of whom were curious about the world outside Mirrai.

Since Mirrai at the time did not have a single embassy on the Continent, negotiating their passports required a Representative of the Mirrai city-state of Seldivna be sent to Aludra. The Empress was unsurprised that the only Representative willing to attempt such a journey was young and inexperienced and did not regard it as an insult, and after much consultation, Representative Kawai Uwari Isenka made the journey in a climate-controlled container in the back of a military transport aircraft.

Initially, at her own request, she was greeted as any dignitary would be, but after a short time the young Mirrai was visibly uncomfortable and looking like she was ready to faint. Soon Empress Lana sat with her in the Imperial Palace's sauna as the much happier but still nervous Kawai stammered her way through a list of requests, and the Empress was surprised at the final one: that Aludra be host to the first colony of Mirrai to live outside their homeland. The young salamander looked down at her notes as she did her best to suggest it would enrich Aludran culture without implying there was anything wrong with how it was now, drooping her gills by the end as she was certain she was about to be ordered to leave.

Instead, the Empress accepted; such a unique population would be a way of showing that Aludra was not just for Alun as Etrusean propaganda tended to claim. Kawai remained in the Imperial Palace to act as liaison while the city-state governments of Mirrai set about selecting the agreed-upon eight thousand families. The process was complex and intended to present the best side of Mirrai culture, with the final selections including a rather disproportionate number of priestesses, teachers, scholars, scientists, musicians and artists.


Final Plans

Lei and Hana's first plan submission surprised every Aludran architect who studied it, a tiered city with up to five ground levels and vehicle traffic kept to sub-levels using ventilation and automated fire suppression systems based on those developed for use on Air Destroyers. The only aboveground roads were strictly reserved for the deployment of emergency service vehicles.

This would be less challenging than in some Continental countries since most Aludran citizens do not own a personal car. As well as incorporating a similar subway rail system to Alurna and the tramways beloved of Aludran city-planners, above-ground monorails were to be used for the first time; great efforts were made to design rails and trains which would not look out-of-place, with the final designs aesthetically similar to old steam locomotives. The subway trains would be the same type used in Alurna: electrically driven, but fitted with cosmetic steam engine connecting rods driven by the wheels rather than the other way around.

Like all Aludran city rail systems, the subway trains would use 4'11 gauge (considered the minimum acceptable for twin-deck passenger cars designed for Alcacians) rather than the gigantic 6'6 gauge used on Aludran standard railway lines**.

Over fifty percent of the plan's land area was to be parks and open spaces, with cascading vertical gardens and carefully engineered multi-level waterways creating beautiful waterfalls designed to flatter the forms of their surroundings. For the first time accessibility and comfort for Chiran species was considered too, with external climbing paths included for many buildings.

The latter reached the attention of the Chiran ambassador to Aludra and through her the Chiran government. This was at the height of a period of good relations between Aludra and Chira under Empress Lana, and it was hoped a cultural exchange between the two nations would foster greater understanding between their peoples. In the end it was agreed that Aqua City would become home to five thousand Chiran families, while the same number of Aludran families would be accommodated in Chira.

The two Mirrai had worked with a dozen Alun architects to keep quirks like the Mirrai love of swamps and mushroom-like forms in check, and the Central Planning Authority, Old Aqua City Representatives and Aqua City Provisional Civil Authority all felt the plan had potential when it was presented to them. In particular they were impressed by the use of what they learned was the standard system of waste disposal in Mirrai, using a system of pneumatic tubes connecting all homes and businesses to a central disposal facility rather than collections, since underground Mirrai cities cannot accommodate vehicles of any kind.

The fixtures of the new city were modern, but still styled to make it clear it was an extension of Alurna. Cosmetic wrought iron was used extensively, particularly for streetlamps. As in Alurna, the central district was to be lit by gas lamps since Aludrans consider such lighting romantic. Unlike Alurna, though, which is notoriously dark for species with poor night vision, the lamp spacing used the Etrusean all-species standard. The remaining lighting was to use the "electric gas" system developed eighteen years earlier, lamps designed specifically to replicate the appearance and ambience of real gas lighting.

While Lei and Hana assumed Mirrai's preferred solution of nuclear fission power would not be a problem, they were told on the presentation of their first plan that Aludra's uranium was all reserved for military purposes, while their molten fluoride thorium reactor program was not yet ready for large-scale civil use. The two were unhappy with the Aludran solution of using natural gas and coal power plants on the reactor sites, arguing it would make the city less pleasant, particularly for their people. Aludran city planning still retains some ideas from fortress-cities, including locating power plants within a close radius; modern planners hold that this localisation of the power grid prevents large-scale attacks on major power plants that would affect industrial output in multiple cities.

After many negotiations, the eventual solution was four smaller power stations, two coal and two gas with the latest filtering and rapid-quenching systems, supported with two solar power stations using Mirrai-designed high-output panels developed for the upper surface of Rasoon to decrease the load on the tower's reactors.

As it became clear the plan was practical, the Empress ordered the construction of two new bridges between Alurna and Aqua City, along with an ambitious plan to create a copy of the Galina Bridge alongside the original with both now featuring a retractable section of deck for the passage of what were cryptically termed "tall ships." This was actually the earliest sign of the plan that would eventually become the Grimalkin-class hybrid carriers.

Following surveys of interested noble families and a census of potential migrants to the new city, eighty-five major industrial plants were incorporated into the plan, mostly focused on servicing the new docklands.

Since Aqua City was modelled after Alurna, it would require the establishment of family businesses; Lana's mother, Empress Kiera, had already declared Etrusean-style shopping malls were Improper and her daughter shared the same opinion. The census of potential migrants was also for this purpose; those hoping to establish new businesses were questioned regarding their needs in terms of layout and floor space. Since even the Aludran military only used modular design grudgingly on the basis that it worked for their needs, it was determined that no two stores should be identical, and each was designed primarily with Aludran sensibilities in mind. Modest windows were used and full glass fronts forbidden since a Lady should choose if she wishes to view the interior of a building rather than having it waved at her uncouthly.

Larger businesses and entertainment venues, like industry, would mostly be the direct responsibility of nobility, though a few exceptions like burlesque houses were purpose-built based on existing structures: Park Avenue Burlesque, for example, is a near-replica of The Imperial in Alurna.

The school system, built around Aludra's ideal of five students to a teacher, would require a large number of new staff to be trained, including as many multilingual ones as possible. Accompanying the schools would be two new universities and twelve specialised colleges. Surveys were taken of staff in educational facilities throughout Aludra to find tutors and professors who were happy with moving, and substantial incentives were given for teaching programs.

As the Aludran education system heavily relies on offering voluntary education for early school-leavers, it would be essential to create dozens of museums and libraries, which would require the assembly of appropriate collections. The Alurna Board of Culture took responsibility for this, with its notoriously adorable junior representative Alicia sen Sievna tasked with negotiations. Creating military museums was a simple matter of asking nobles and the Central Historic Depot for equipment and building dioramas, but coming up with Proper collections for the other museums required delicate discussions. The curator of the Alurna Museum of Natural History, Genevieve di Alud, was particularly loath to part with any of its peerless collection of specimens and papers to start a new research department, to the point that the Aqua City Museum of Natural History was actually completed before a deal was reached.

Meanwhile, among the Old Aqua City residents, those who had worked as doctors and medics were offered training as hospital workers in the new one, joining with hundreds of new trainees who would be their colleagues.

The Mirrai habitation in Aqua City presented many challenges given the climate of Alurna, with the eventual solution being suggested by the Emera designers based on their recent experience in building concealed underwater submarine pens in the naval base at Halleck. The plan added a vast artificial cenote underneath the central park, with a hundred-foot opening in the middle of the main lake and the city's waterways altered to give the cavern six main waterfalls with sluices to control the flow and prevent flooding if the lower city's eight pump towers failed. In case of a failure of the sluices, the electrical supply to the lower city used a cutoff system based on the water level: Mirrai are incapable of drowning, so even the complete inundation of the lower city would not be a problem by itself.

A series of water-filled tunnels would allow Mirrai to exit the undercity in tree-shaded areas around the perimeter of the lake so that they could interact with citizens of the upper city; it was felt that it would defeat the entire point of the project if this was not possible. Since it was the main water source for the undercity, the entire lake already had to be clean enough for Mirrai to swim in it, making it technically the largest drinking water fountain in existence. Filter systems ensured the algae in the waters of the lower city did not end up in the lake.

One idea that appeared at this point was for a ring of mixed-use recreational facilities to surround the lake with access from the water tube system, so that Mirrai and other species could do things other than chat at the very edge of the lake. This led to a series of strange meetings for Lei and Hana as designers attempted to work out ways for Mirrai to participate in well-loved Aludran activities. Swimming was by far the easiest since the only requirement was use a disinfecting method that did not involve leaving chlorine in the water, but others, particularly allowing them to share in the inexplicable Aludran affinity for ten-pin bowling, took some lateral thinking.

Greater still was the challenge facing Aludran biologists and chemists, that of creating Mirrai nursery pools. Functional nursery pools were essential if the Mirrai population was to last more than a single generation, and nobody had ever tried to establish one anywhere outside of the Home Island.

This seemed an insurmountable problem with test pools recording values hugely outside the range of acceptable nutrient levels, but negotiators finally persuaded the government of Seldivna to send Mirrai egg tissue cultures to the labs working on the project for more direct testing. It turned out even the Mirrai themselves had never identified all of the factors involved in creating a functional nursery, since several like nutrient leeching from specific types of stone had been dealt with by the traditional methods of building a temple's nursery. This research finally explained why attempts at creating "high tech" Mirrai nurseries had always produced tiny eggs with tadpole-like hatchlings who remained aquatic and totally dependant for over a year***.

Further challenges included the introduction of familiar species of Mirrai plants and animals to the undercity without damaging the ecology of Alurna or vice versa. It was quickly established that there would be a colony of Etrusean Honey Bees and Eastern Colonial Fireflies in the undercity within about a year and that steps would have to be taken to ensure they did not destroy populations of imported species****. This was ultimately handled by deliberately introducing well-fed populations into the undercity along with Mirrai-native species and continuing to feed the colonies well until they came to like having the imported species around. Competition for nesting spots on the roof between Aludran and Mirrai moth species was handled with carefully designed rock facings with "reserved" nesting sites designed to be unappealing to Aludran species.

Botanical studies suggested a minimal likelihood of any well-loved Mirrai species becoming invasive with the exception of luminescent bracket mushrooms that are a common feature of Mirrai homes since they grow on stone and provide more than enough light for the species to see. It was thought unlikely that spores would be able to exit the undercity, but a few structures in the city ultimately ended up supporting fungal colonies on their lower stories, thought to have been carried on construction equipment or workers' clothing.

With input from the Old Aqua City Representatives who were eager to preserve the positive aspects of their home, the final design sketches and 3D models showed an organised yet endearingly lived-in city designed to comfortably accommodate a population of around 3 million. The vision of what came to be called "Alurna's long-lost sister" won over even some staunch opponents of the project, and was declared to be Proper by Empress Lana during the Coronation Day celebrations two weeks after the presentation. The final plans credited everyone involved in the planning process, the list running to over eighty thousand names with commoners listed before nobility and including the names of foreign companies which had assisted in the project. A carved copy of this list would later be added to one wall of the Alurna Museum of Civic History*****.

*The same middle name means both women were hatched in the Uwari temple in Seldivna; indeed, the two were a hatchling couple (two girls who swam in their nursery pool at the same time after hatching at nearly the same time), a very special bond for two Mirrai to have.
** The latter gauge was that of the first Aludran freight railway line, constructed for the new Ruhm boiler factory to ship enormous complete Leviship boiler vessels to the fabrication yards at Blackridge Works in the north. It was standardised during Shri dio Alud's reign due to its suitability for heavy freight, armoured trains and railroad guns. 4'11 gauge was used by very early passenger trains in Alurna which were little more than a novelty, and was the first candidate when the Alurna Underground Rail project was suggested.
***Biologists concluded that this is actually the natural state of a Mirrai hatchling, with the colonian egg creating an environment that allows safe accelerated growth from the "tadpole" state to what the Mirrai consider a healthy hatchling. A "normal" Mirrai hatchling should be able to leave the water for short spells after a few months.
****Both species are Hawkinsae, with wild Eastern Colonial Fireflies a voracious predator of non-Hawkins bees; just three 12-inch-long fireflies can destroy a hive of 50,000 bees in half an hour. The "dual colony" is the result of a defensive adaptation in Etrusean Honey Bees: their soldiers, which are enormous compared to the three-inch workers and almost identical to fireflies, court firefly scouts, which are sterile queens. Success means the scout will return to her nest's actual queen and tell her they are not in their own hive, leading to a display of bafflement followed by the entire firefly colony relocating to surround the bee colony. This leads to an extremely nervous four-inch queen bee having to share her chamber with an 18-inch queen firefly who is still not quite sure if this is supposed to be happening, a relationship which gradually goes from the bee trying to hide in her chamber's side-tunnels to sleeping under the firefly's wing. There are benefits for both species; the soldier bees will help their carnivorous firefly "sisters" to hunt much larger prey than they would normally be able to since fireflies bite while soldiers have a three-inch non-barbed stinger that can dispense enough venom in a single sting to kill a horse. Bee queens also retain dormant viral DNA which results in larvae with almost no brain development, which they use to lay "sacrificial combs" if the fireflies are struggling. Equally, fireflies have the ability to secrete sugars if the bee colony is struggling; important since bees in a dual hive have their hibernating reflex disrupted.
While worker bees are exceptionally stupid for Hawkinsae, their soldiers and queen are not, and keeping them is a matter of earning the trust of the hive, whereupon they will gently shoo workers off of combs when their keeper comes. It is most common for keepers to be bipedal bees, since they have UV body markings that the bees recognise. Conventional beekeeping techniques are practically useless, and displacing a dual colony forcibly is regarded as outright insanity.
*****A decade later following the revelation that missile attack on an Aludran container ship that led to the Fourth Battle of Kythen Ocean was actually carried out by a Doran submarine using a copied Chiran hypersonic cruise missile built at Straugn Works, the words "Straugn Dynamics" were scratched out with the sign of the Seventh Kythen ("Murderers"). It was never clear if a vandal or the museum itself did this, but the panel was repaired a few years later.
Part 2 | Part 3

Plan 311, the construction of New Aqua City in Aludra, remains the single most ambitious construction project ever undertaken.

Early History

The story of Plan 311 begins during the era of the Industrial Revolution on the Continent. While in Chira steel-framed buildings had already existed for about seventy years, on the Continent it was a Basran engineer, Grigori Doros, who first wrote on the idea of using a fireproofed iron frame and deep foundations to support a prodigiously tall building. His illustrator sister Erika assisted in his first presentation to the Duke and Dutchess, Towers of the Future, her paintings showing a vision of Tauberg dominated by great neoclassical towers "wherein the great magnitude of future citizens make their homes (and) business be conduct'd," estimating the future city's population at over ten times the number at the time.

The first true Continental skyscrapers were built at roughly the same time in Messirah in Garam (Crown Messirah, 372ft), Vermillion City in Etrusea (Johansson Building, 277ft) and Tauberg in Basram (Aldren Tower, 300ft), all three making various claims to be the first and claiming the others to be shorter and / or mismeasured*. Crown Messirah was perhaps the most ambitious of the three, benefitting greatly from the cooperation of the nearby al-Hassan integrated steel mill, the supervisor of which threw out the original plans for a riveted iron frame and instead insisted on attempting to use only arc-welded steel, a method that had never even been attempted before. This resulted in the plan being reworked from a rather unremarkable 150ft rectangle to the slender and graceful tower that still stands in Messirah today.

The Empress at the time, the legendary Fiol dio Alud, thought that such structures would ruin the carefully-managed unity of form of the buildings in Alurna. Knowing that simply forbidding tall buildings would make her country seem regressive, she had the Alurna Central Planning Authority draw up a draft proposal for a high-rise development that, she believed, would be impossible to actually construct**.

The plan required the simultaneous raising of no less than three hundred and eleven skyscrapers and all of their supporting industry and services, with no more than six months between the completion of the first tower and the last. The required number of residents of the new city would also have been impossible to achieve with the technology of the time, since averaged out it would require every single residential structure to be at least as tall as the Johansson Building.

311 is a holy number in Aludra, though precisely why has been lost to time: many folk etymologies exist, with one of the most enduring being that there were 311 steps from the door of the original Grand Temple to the altar.

A little over a generation later, everything had changed.

Operation Quadrant

The groundwork for Aludra's "industrial miracle" had been laid by Shri dio Alud throughout her reign with authorisations for many projects considered radical at the time, and was nurtured by her daughter and granddaughter. By her great-granddaughter Lana dio Alud's time Aludra was one of the most powerful nations on the Continent, with first-rate armed forces and an immense industrial base.

By this point, Old Aqua City on the west side of the Vamar river was a sprawling blight on the beautiful city beside it, primarily composed of run-down apartment complexes built to deal with the housing crisis during the industrial revolution and a series of long-abandoned brick industrial buildings and warehouses of little historical value. Several plans to redevelop Old Aqua City's abandoned docklands to take pressure off the increasingly congested container yards on the east side had been considered over the years, but nothing had come of them.

The area was officially abandoned, effectively a tiny state run by a surprisingly effective coalition of organised crime syndicates and community leaders, which had kept the city supplied with basic amenities from the government in Alurna. In recent years, the antiquated infrastructure had led to numerous utility failures including a major gas explosion and fire that is often credited as being the last straw for Old Aqua City: the narrow, dilapidated and confusing streets seriously delayed the deployment of fire trucks from Alurna and led to the destruction of the area's only functional hospital. The only positive was an increase in Old Aqua City's goodwill towards the Empress, who acted quickly to prevent deaths at the hospital by ordering the deployment of transport helicopters from carriers docked across the river.

Old Aqua City's unofficial representatives helped to draw up a draft plan to empty it; the Empress accepted a deal under which the population would be granted citizenship with no charges bought to those who had come to Aludra illegally, and all would be guaranteed homes and preferential selection for employment in the new city. Empress Lana even added a promise of noble titles for the community leaders to ensure they maintained their status and influence in the new city.

The evacuation, Operation Quadrant, began shortly afterwards. The Army moved some 53,000 civilians to housing set up on the runways of the never-completed Aqua City Airport, and set up a cordon around the site to ensure the buildings were not re-occupied prior to demolition. It soon became clear that the seven incredibly thorough sweeps of the city by the Army were less about checking for remaining citizens (all of whom were found in the first sweep) and more about using Old Aqua City as a massive urban combat training range while it was still standing. The final "sweeps" actually demolished a substantial part of Midtown with artillery, battleship and tank cannon fire following the clearance of all remaining personal effects from these buildings, as part of a program to evaluate the effects of gunfire on real buildings. In particular, the two Aludran battleships that took part in the operation, ANV Mirage and ANV Empress Kiera, singled out the Shaw Building, a notoriously hideous experiment in reinforced concrete, due to its bunker-like qualities.

Experience gathered during this exercise was incorporated into the Advanced Gun System project and the overall operation was instrumental in the development of the Broadsword IFV, Mantis heavy attack helicopter (the first helicopter to mount a hard-kill active defence system) and the Black Swan main battle tank. Testing included the bulky prototype of Lindstrom Optics' Smallarm Reflex Sight, which was prioritised for further research and adopted four years later, and the data gathered also led to the first iteration of the endlessly-delayed Aludran Future Soldier program.

New Aqua City

With ordnance clearing and the remaining demolitions in progress initial plans for modest stone housing, in line with the redevelopment of Alurna's faltering slaughterhouse district half a century earlier following the advent of refrigeration, were quickly displaced by the resurrection of a far grander plan.

Historically Aludra's two most powerful noble families short of the Alud themselves, the steelmakers of the Ruhm dynasty and the gargantuan construction consortium of House Emera, have never seen eye to eye, but the marriage of Dominque sen Emera and Sahar sen Ruhm led to a period of cooperation between the two. Plan 311 fascinated the head of House Emera at the time, Lady Estelle, who felt that it would ensure the prosperity of both her family and Aludra as a whole to see it to completion.

With several major Aludran cities experiencing problems housing their populations without extensive and destructive redevelopment, the proposition of building an entire new city won support from several other major noble families who felt it was an elegant solution to the issue. Drawing further support largely proceeded by the classic method of getting Alun to do things they do not want to, this being suggesting it is fine if they think it is too difficult.

The first step had already been done; the unique mindset of Alun had been studied centuries earlier to determine the best way to run a sailing ship, and the engineering of functional social groups had long been a key part of Aludran military training***. Architects were advised by naval designers from the Karim family, with the aim being for residential buildings to accommodate communities rather than disconnected groups of people. To Alun, a building accommodating a group of people who do not particularly know one another is almost as bizarre as it is for bipedal bees; all of the buildings designed for Aqua City reflect this, with the individual kitchens and washrooms very small and only intended for occasional use over the communal dining areas and baths. A group of residents in each building would be the staff of that building, with their accommodation paid for by the remainder: it was assumed the residents would be able to work this out among themselves.

Lady Estelle felt the original plan, which only consisted of skyscrapers and support buildings, would be unpleasant to actually live in. The new preliminary plan included a large number of smaller residential complexes and setbacks in the residential towers to give them communal areas on the lower floors. Among other things, this would mean entire buildings could be assigned to particularly large family units, replicating Aludra's much-loved and very Proper "Household" polyamorous family unit.

Attention was paid to Etrusean efforts to make towers suitable for Alcacians, but their method, using insertable modular floor trays to divide single-floor apartments in half, was felt to result in floorplans that were too generic. Instead, every apartment was designed with a 20-foot reception area and the rest of the rooms on two floors so other-species families could receive Alcacian friends in their homes, and a set number of dedicated Alcacian homes were built based on estimates of arrivals and population growth. There were far more than would immediately be needed, but this was accounted for as they were designed to be converted into indoor gardens or storage areas if they were not being used for habitation.

A long contest led to the selection of three hundred and eleven final designs for the core towers, which were then placed in a preliminary plan and reworked to relate to one another and the smaller buildings that would surround them. Most were in Aludra's favoured art deco and neoclassical styles, with some incorporating elements of Basran gothic forms, particularly those close to the new city's three main temples.

The crown jewel of the new Aqua City would be the Monarch Towers, two graceful 1,883-foot postmodernist spires joined by a high bridge. The design was something of an oddity since it was not of Aludran origin, rather being the work of Zahra al-Murad, a Garam-born gazelle, as her gift to her new nation.

While the preliminary details of what building would go where resulted in a skyline that the Empress found aesthetically Proper, she was concerned that the concept paintings looked more like a military base than a city. Further, she felt that no Aludran city-planner would be able to organise such a massive undertaking; her country preferred slow and sympathetic additions to cities, and Aludran planners were mostly chosen for their understanding of local history and Appropriate sense of composition, not for the ability to build an entire new city from scratch. Asking foreigners from the Continent would be seen as giving up, and so that too was unacceptable.

At a meeting of the noble families already sponsoring the project, Giselle sen Kais, the young scion of the family of ancient stoneworkers by that point responsible for almost all Aludran concrete manufacturing plants, stood up and made a suggestion that left the whole room silent in contemplation. "Wouldn't the Mirrai know how to do this?"

Mirrai Connection

Mirrai at the time was at the height of their industrial Renaissance, fuelled by the discovery of methods to prevent their species from suffering serious poisoning while working with chemicals which for the first time allowed the Mirrai workforce to directly assist in processes like refining and welding which they had previously relied on other species for. Mirrai society was well known for its great scholars and love of the sciences, and combining this with large-scale production rather than small workshops over the course of a hundred years had transformed them into a first-rate industrial power with major supply contracts to most nations on the Continent. Their imports of steel from Aludra meant the Ruhm family already had contacts they could speak with.

At the time, the pride of Mirrai was the completion of their first above-ground city, Rasoon. The was an immense achievement for the Mirrai, aquatic amphibians with the most difficult set of living requirements of any sentient species. Their eyes are very sensitive and direct sunlight is blinding to them, and they require near-100% humidity, a fairly narrow temperature range and regular immersion in water since even as adults they cannot regulate their body moisture; their hatchlings are for a time fully aquatic. In addition their semi-permeable colonian eggs require very specific symbiotic bacteria and nutrients to form correctly, and the bacteria in particular do not occur anywhere but Mirrai itself.

Because of this Mirrai civilisation had largely been restricted to multi-tiered underground cities built by expanding cave complexes, but Mirrai was running out of suitable locations for such cities, and from this emerged a bold plan to construct one on the surface, using a vast nuclear-powered pump tower to endlessly raise, filter and pour water onto the buildings below.

The Rasoon Fountain Canopy, half a mile high and two miles across, was the largest single structure ever constructed**** and even by the Fourth Battle of Kythen Ocean was only exceeded by other Fountain Canopies and the Chiran mobile shipyard Null, which did not officially exist*****. Moreover, Rasoon was at the time the only example of a successful project to build an entire city from scratch.

*In actuality, the largest building at the time was Century Tower in Chira, at 1,355ft with the tip of the spire 1,590ft.
**In spite of this, plans were filed to build a 210-foot experimental Leviship mooring tower in Alurna during this period, but scrapped when the eight thousand ton Etrusean Air Destroyer Bastion attempted to moor at Mercia Tower in Basram with a strong tailwind and pushed the tower over, killing five ground crew. From this it was determined that a wrought iron tower was simply not structurally strong enough for mooring a Leviship, and most such towers were either scrapped or used exclusively for rigid-frame airships only a tiny fraction of a Leviship's mass. Aludra never operated any dirigible airships since two successive Empresses (Fiol and her mother Shri) viewed them as impractical and dangerous, and so all plans for mooring towers were cancelled as they would be unsuited for use by any vessel in the military or civilian aerial fleet.
***Like their four-legged cat cousins, shouting orders at Alun simply ensures they will do anything other than what you're shouting.
****Garam initially disputed this due to a mistranslation of what was actually being claimed, since the al-Hassan integrated steel mill complex has a much larger footprint than the Rasoon Fountain Canopy but is not a single structure.
*****The name Null is inferred from the vessel's communications using a blank field for the sender ID, which is interpreted as <NULL> by decoding software. The most common name used by the Chiran fleet translates as "unknown hardware" since the warning "ALERT: UNKNOWN HARDWARE HAS CONNECTED" is logged any time a ship shares telemetry with it.
The most common Aludran religion is usually referred to as "Svezd" which comes from the Old Aludran "Svezdte" ("The Faith"). Svezd became so closely associated with the common religion in Aludra that it was retained in modern Aludran, with the modern word Mizanae ("(the) stance I take") becoming the general word for beliefs. Svezdi is the collective term for the faithful and Svaed the singular, though Etrusean uses "Svezdian."

Ancient History

Some aspects of Svezd probably date back to before the fall of the comet Nemesis eighteen thousand years ago, though this is impossible to determine since no written records from that period survive. What is known is that in its original form it was more heavily polytheistic than the modern form, which mostly venerates three Goddesses.

The Ancient Goddesses

The ancient pagan forms of Aludran religion have a loose central set of concepts with local beliefs and fables built on top of them. Many of the early stories do not survive or must be guessed at from their modern incarnations, but the central ideas are relatively well-documented in early carvings and temple relics.

No known record includes a story of the origin of the planet itself; it appears the ancient Alun believed there was a being responsible for this, however. Scholars semi-seriously theorise, based on the Aludran mindset, that they refused to believe any story of the planet's origin since a being with the power to create the world itself would have the Decency to tell them about it rather than letting them find out through someone else.

All of the goddesses of nature were the daughters of Kulas and Zul, and in turn their daughters were the creators of all mortal species, those daughters also being Goddesses of the traits the early Aludrans associated with those species. The Alun themselves were the daughters of Fiora, the trickster, and Alysa, the huntress.

Kulas

The Empress of the ancient pantheon and in many stories one of Locke's mothers, Kulas, goddess of the sun, was the strongest of all the Goddesses aside from the unidentified creator, so powerful that she could break through the darkness that It spread over the world to bring light to the mortal world. Kulas is usually shown as a middle-aged tigress with three eyes and a body of flames or gleaming bronze, often armed with a great axe or javelin.

Kulas is noteworthy among ancient pantheons in being a rare example of a sun deity who is not either evil or dead, a result of memories of the three days of night that followed the impact of Nemesis.

Zul

Zul, while simply the word for the planet or ground in modern Aludran, was formerly one of the two most powerful goddesses who came into existence when the universe was formed; with her first breath, she created every plant and tree upon the surface of the barren world. Zul is always depicted as a wise, stern old woman who guided her daughters in shaping her creation, and is a goddess of wisdom and learning. Her normal depiction is a figure made of earth, rocks and moss and combines feline and canine facial features, with four arms and two tails.

The two First Goddesses represent two of the central Aludran ideals of motherhood, the protector and the teacher.

Perkunas

One of the mightiest among the goddesses of nature is the goddess of the sky, mountains and thunder; she is often also associated with war. Perkunas is a figure who appears in both Aludran and Basram religion; the figure is male in Basram and female in Aludra, though it is not clear which came first. In Aludran lore, she is credited with setting the world in motion, doing so with a single blow from her great staff, and it is said that she makes the earth tremble with her voice.

In Aludra she is almost always depicted as a wild-haired lioness, while Basram depictions show the God as a giant wolf.

Locke

The story of Locke, the Goddess of stone, mesas and masonry, is found in both Garamese and Aludran lore; in various depictions she appears as either a muscular feline or an immense bear with two heads and arms made from bronze. Locke is said to be the abandoned offspring of a union between two Goddesses (which two varies greatly) who was cast down to the mortal world and made her home atop a vast pillar of rock in what is now Northern Aludra, where she has dwelled since the dawn of time.

This pillar, today still called Locke's Tower, is a truly bizarre structure, a mesa made of rock that does not match its surroundings and with the geological layers reversed, that was once surrounded by a sea of broken stones*. These stones were a valuable source of raw materials for early societies in the area.

Legends surrounding her depict Locke as a kind-hearted and lonely creature who would bring mortals to the top of her tower to be companions or lovers, and granted them her knowledge of shaping stone when she returned them to the world below. Over the years, she was re-imagined as a general goddess of craftswomen and often pictured working at a forge.

In ancient times, it was considered a sacrilege punishable by death to attempt to climb the mountain. While like the other minor goddesses Locke is no longer regarded as a being who exists in the physical world, the modern Aludran government still regards it as a sacred place, though largely just because it has always been one.

Malika

The Goddess of non-sentient land animals is Malika, a figure usually depicted as a small child and often as a rabbit or mouse; the animals are her attempt to copy the work of her older siblings, with varying results. Aggressive and dangerous animals are her earliest attempts, with friendly ones coming later as she grew better at her work, finally creating useful ones such as cattle and horses to help mortals. She is not the creator of any animal regarded as an aspect of It's influence, such as fleas and ticks, nor any sea creatures.

She is by far the most benevolent of Goddesses, regarding even mortals as her older siblings and only angered by those who would mistreat her creations for no good reason. In the modern era she is the patron of herders and veterinarians and is prayed to by small children with sick pets.

Rei

The Fair Lady, beloved goddess of death, is the central figure of Etrusea's Suunist faith, and also appears in the Aludran pantheon. Her Aludran form incorporates most traits of the pagan night goddess Vyndra, but she retains the appearance of the Etrusean deity; an eerily beautiful black deer with graceful antlers and silver face markings tracing the shape of her skull, always shown in a complex, elegant dress with a sword at her side. On her shoulder sits a white bird, the moon, and as she lifts each foot she leaves snowbells in the shape of her footprints.

The Fair Lady is not worshipped as a bringer of wisdom as she is in Etrusea, merely being a companion to the living who can be prayed to for protection.

Alysa

Alysa is the supreme hunter and one of the two mother-goddesses of all Alun. A fourteen-foot giant as strong as any ten beasts and as fast as the wind, she is a goddess of patience, diligence and duty, and a patron of hunters, soldiers and those who enforce the law.

Alysa taught her daughters to survive in adversity and all the arts of hunting, gifting to them patience, keen senses and great speed.

In early depictions Alysa was usually shown as a lioness or tigress, but over the years it was felt this implied Alun were less closely related to their Goddess than the big cat species and in all modern depictions she is a powerfully built Bengal Cat**. In her older depictions, she wore a traditional hunter's garb with furs, while modern depictions usually show her in a military uniform.

Fiora

Fiora is the trickster goddess and the other mother-goddess of the Alun, and is patron to all those who use trickery or live by chance, from tacticians to gamblers and assassins; she is often also thought of as having a liking for chivalrous criminals.

She is said to have taught her children playfulness, trickery and cunning and to have gifted to them knowledge of telling fortunes and the first butterfly knife, a weapon inseparably associated with Alun.

Despite Alysa and Fiora's completely opposed natures and the fact that Fiora is incapable of being faithful, they are seen as a loving couple, fitting the idea of opposites in a relationship complimenting rather than detracting from one another. Fiora's playfulness tempers Alysa's single-mindedness, for example, while Alysa's stern and honest nature tempers Fiora's gift of flattery. Fiora's inability to give a straight answer is consistent throughout her depictions; the best she can do is answer a question with another question***. 

While older myths sometimes show her with a cruel sense of humour, over the centuries this has largely disappeared, with modern depictions emphasising that she is a gentle soul and would not do anything hurtful or harmful.

Fiora is always shown as an elegant black Thai cat wearing a more elaborate version of the traditional outfit of a travelling fortune-teller, a dress made from diamond-shaped pieces of material.

There is a tradition for Aludran parents to give their children gifts said to be from Fiora for the winter solstice, thought to reflect ancient thanksgiving rituals to the goddess Kulas for ending the three days of night. When children are old enough to realise the gifts are actually from their parents, they are told that of course they're not actually from Fiora.

That wouldn't be a trick.

It

This accursed and nameless being is the author of all evil and suffering in the world, and a principle figure in both ancient and modern forms of Svezd. It appears to have originated in oral traditions regarding the fall of Nemesis, with the story later being reworked to incorporate the Imperial family.

It has no form, no name, and is never shown as anything but a stylised Old Aludran glyph or a black rectangle. It is the fifteenth of the Major Arcana of the Aludran Tarot deck, a completely black card that lacks any text or a number. Fortune-tellers often throw the card away as soon as they get a new deck, and in card games it is a "reverse trump" which has a value one lower than the lowest card on the table; if a low ace is present, playing It is a losing hand regardless of what other cards the player has.

The Great Contest

In the original telling, Fiora and Alysa were not yet a couple and the trickster challenged the hunt goddess to a contest; if she could defeat Alysa in a hunting contest, she would win Alysa's hand. It, which also desired Alysa for whatever reason, declared that It could defeat both. In more modern tellings the two are already a couple (having already created the Alun, the original tale being disconnected from the creation stories) and the bet is that if It can defeat both It will have Alysa's hand.

Regardless of the telling, the remainder is the same; mighty Alysa goes first and proves her skills, but with her trickery Fiora manages to take one more animal. It then takes It's turn, but It does not hunt: instead, It inflicts a cruel curse on all living things, that they would weaken and suffer with age and ultimately die, and declared Itself the victor.

Incensed at this cruelty, Alysa hurled her spear into It, and the body fell to the mortal world, spreading darkness and the chill of winter across the world as It disintegrated. 

The evil aura left in the world prevents the Goddesses from undoing the curse upon the living; the only Goddess who can still walk upon the cursed world is Rei, since as a night goddess, darkness has no power over her. In earlier versions, other Goddesses like Locke remained in places It's influence could not reach such as mountains and deep caves, but this is not part of the modern story.

Rei's incorporation into the later tale also changes what angered Alysa; in the original tale it was simply the evil of the deed itself, while the later version adds that Alysa was incensed at It trying to get kind-hearted Rei to do It's dirty work, knowing the merciful night goddess would not allow mortals to suffer forever.

In modern tellings, seeing the suffering of the Alun, Alysa bore Fiora's child to lead them, and this was Circe dio Alud, the first Empress. Thus, while all Alun are the creations of their Goddesses, the Imperial family are their actual descendants.

Circe dio Alud, prophet and First Empress

Circe dio Alud is a figure so heavily steeped in mythology that it is difficult to determine where facts about her end and legend begins, particularly since her story was passed down via oral tradition for centuries before ever being written down. Modern historians agree there almost certainly was a historical Circe and that the person interred in the Alud family crypt is almost certainly her, though to what extent her life mirrored the legends is the subject of much debate. 

Aludran historians tend to subscribe to the "twin nations" theory that complex settled Alun civilisations had existed for a significant period in both modern Aludra and Khasan, a location in the North of what is now the Namir Desert, and that many of their religious ideas date back to these civilisations. The nation in the desert was destroyed by the Nemesis impact with survivors fleeing along their old trade routes, while the ancient cities of Aludra collapsed into ruin in the chaos that followed, with most of their knowledge being lost in the process. While this view is supported to an extent by archaeological finds and the diversity of skintones in the modern Aludran population, it is often felt to be a little far-fetched by historians in other nations.

The alternative theory is that the civilisation of Khasan did exist but Aludra was at the time a series of small temple-cities which were profitable for spice traders; this is felt to be more in line with the relative lack of Aludran archaeological discoveries, though Aludran historians explain this as most of the old ruins being salvaged by early city-planners. Both sides agree that Alysa and Fiora were probably based on existing goddesses of Khasan.

Regardless, Circe dio Alud was the leader of a nomadic clan of hunters that formed in the aftermath of the impact. Seeking guidance, Circe journeyed alone to, according to legend, the site of the modern Imperial Palace, and there was granted a vision from the Goddesses. Among her revelations was that since prey were finite, the Alud must become the guardians of their lands and forests to ensure the prosperity of their kind, and to that effect they must settle in this land.

As a proof of her meeting with the Goddesses, Circe returned from her journey holding a massive spear-like artifact, the "Queen Lance," claiming it was the spear that slew It, which Alysa had guided her to. It is generally believed this artifact was a Kraken flipper bone she discovered on the shore since its description is similar to "Tauberg's Spear," the Basram royal family's badge of authority. The Queen Lance disappears from Aludran records around three thousand years ago and its current location is unknown; it is thought to have been destroyed when the old Imperial Palace collapsed during the Seri Cataclysm, one of the worst city fires in history.

The Order of Fiora

The Order is a shadowy organisation that is often regarded as the world's oldest secret service, being perhaps as old as Aludra itself. Even the name of the group is unclear; representatives wear robes and expressionless gold masks when they wish to be known, and try to say they are working on behalf of "Fiora," defaulting to "The Order" or "The Organisation" if the former makes no grammatical sense.

From what little can be gleaned, the group believe themselves to be guardians of the Alud, descended from a daughter carried by Fiora just as the Alud are descended from a daughter carried by Alysa. It is not known how the group recruits, where it meets or how it is funded, and its representatives answer to nobody but the Empress herself.

Despite its bizarre methods, The Order is one of the most effective intelligence organisations in the world, which is probably why the Imperial family has done nothing to prevent it from operating.

The Central Church

As the city-state of Aludra became stronger, it became a spiritual as well as an economic centre. With the construction of the central temples of Alurna around four thousand years ago there was for the first time a powerful central authority of High Priestesses who started work on coming up with a central set of teachings. 

Scholars gradually collated the scattered teachings of the pagan temples into a series of tomes, the Kyhadib. This was a delicate process involving much negotiation to access writings held by the scattered temples, with their priestesses initially very suspicious of the project's goals, and the Kyhadib is the result of over a thousand years of careful negotiations, incentives, and in some cases when all else failed outright theft. The precise origins of the book's name are unclear, most likely having their roots in Ancient Khasan rather than proto-Aludran.

Historians agree that the increasing power and authority of the central church in Alurna was as much a factor in the Aludran Unification War as the issue of slavery, which is more normally pointed to as the cause. The enemies of the Alud felt that the church's preaching of the Empress as the direct descendant of the Goddesses undermined their own authority, and that removing her from power would prove she was just an ordinary mortal. The war that followed would lead to Empress Keri dio Alud's victory, ending the Aludran Dark Ages and the era of city-states with the Acts of Unification.

Hira and the Modern Synthesis

From the Alcacian mercenary commander Skadi Skuldsdottir the Princess Imperial Lenka dio Alud learned of the Alcacian supreme being Hri and felt inspired to question the High Priestesses on the possibility that such a being might be responsible for the creation of the world, as the Aludran faith never assigned an identity to the creator. From this came her Aludran form, Hira. While Hri is a transcendent being that is to a god as a god is to a mortal and has never been depicted with any image but her name, the Aludran church imagined her as appearing to each mortal as their own species, since they would be unable to survive seeing her true form. Rather than being unfathomable and entirely disinterested in the mortal world, she is a figure based on the ideal of the Empress; a merciful and kind figure who cares about all of those in her domain, even if she cannot care for each one individually. It is not futile to pray to Hira, though it is thought to be unlikely to get her attention.

The Kyhadib underwent its final series of revisions under Lenka's reign as Empress, vastly increasing the powers of the central church. Most of the Aludran minor goddesses were relegated to being regarded as pagan myths or minor guardian spirits, with their temples, which had struggled to maintain themselves on contributions from small groups of worshippers, being absorbed into the central church largely without incident. She was well aware of the civil wars that had rocked Basram during their attempts at church reform, and decreed that her reforms would not damage a single temple or shrine****. 

Lenka personally led the rededication of the First Temple in Alurna to Hira, making it clear that its old functions as a temple to Alysa would not be threatened by this and accepting questions from her subjects for three hours following the final prayers.

The old Svezdi creator-figures of other species were reduced to the things they embodied, since Lenka thought it presumptuous to try to explain the origins of others rather than letting them do so themselves. Instead, the Aludran faith regards their own religions as being true insofar as they are compatible with it. For example, to Aludrans the nine Chiran Goddesses actually are the creators of the Chiran people and their ideas about the Soul Gates are true for them, while their creation story is the story of how their land was created after Hira had finished her work.

This also meant that it was no longer regarded as Improper for other species to make requests of Alysa or Fiora; in the modern system they are more likely to listen to Alun, but any species requiring their guidance can speak with them. The New Code also applied changes to the goddesses that had been accepted over the years; Fiora becoming less prone to cruelty and Alysa's depiction being cemented as a Bengal cat rather than a lioness.

The old practice of giving burned offerings to the Goddesses had become more or less an anachronism over the centuries, and Lenka's reforms made official the common practice of lighting candles as a substitute. This is performed at a shrine or church, never in one's home. Chiran-born believers in Svezd will often leave traditional prayer slips along with their candle, which is an accepted variation of the ritual.

Due to the Imperial family's unbroken claim of Divine Right, the modern Church is regarded as entirely subordinate to it, and Lenka codified their duties, including signing into law their traditional duty of looking after orphaned children.

Ideals

Central to the Aludran mindset is the idea that Alun embody a quality they refer to as being Proper, that being the trait which makes an Alun a Lady; this is not a goal they must strive for, but an innate part of their being. Being Proper is characterised to other species as an incredibly complex set of contradictory rules, but many commenters have over the years observed that it can be summarised as "only Alun know how to do it."

Their role is to act as a positive example for other species and to never consider them as lesser for being Improper, to shun cruelty and excess and to be modest, kind, patient and generous, as is their Nature. It is sometimes described as a sort of "soft smugness" in which their beliefs in what they already are must be borne out by their behaviour, effectively being the principle of noblesse oblige scaled up to encompass an entire species.

Svezd regards the existence of suffering and injustice as the lingering aura of evil spread through the world by the death of It. This aura of corruption will someday fade and allow for a new age when people share the world with their creators; until that time, the Goddesses only have a limited ability to affect the lives of mortals.

The primary goal for Alun is to lead a righteous life that emphasises their Properness; if they do so, after death they will dream peaceful dreams until It's influence has faded from the world. There are different sects with different interpretations of what happens if they do not, all based around reincarnation: all agree that the merely unrighteous will receive a new life, though some have it that the truly evil simply cease to exist when they die, or endure a period of terrible nightmares before they are reborn.

Scripture

There are several major tomes to the Kyhadib, with the most important the Book of Sagas, documenting a slightly fanciful version of early Aludran history, and the Book of Wisdom, which consists of the teachings of various prophets and scholars that form the core of Svezd. The Book of The Law is an ancient description of the Kythen system and is still the basis of the Aludran legal system, though many crimes once in the Eighth Kythen (fraud) are now regarded as less severe than in the original system. A number of other tomes like the Book of Visions and Book of Sayings are not part of the actual Kyhadib compilation but regarded as complimentary to it.

There are numerous rituals associated with actually reading the Kyhadib; one's hands should be clean while handling it, and the book is normally wrapped in a cloth which is folded in a specific way and unfolded to rest it on. Tradition is to keep it on a small table on which is nothing else save for a lantern (the Kulad) which is lit while reading, symbolic of the wisdom of the Goddesses undoing It's influence. Any companion tomes to the Kyhadib are kept on the same table.

The final book is the Book of the Promise, also called the History of the First and Final Day. This documents the day when It's influence finally leaves the world and it is remade as a place without death, injustice, pain or sorrow and the righteous dead are returned to life to dwell with their creators. The book is particularly known for its final passages and the presence of four blank pages followed by a statement that directly addresses the reader.

"Those who have lived not a single Good life in the time Before will on that day perish utterly in the final death, and shall vanish from the world forever, and their names be forgotten."
"But of those who remain, all sins will be forgiven."

(...)

"Even yours."




*The most accepted theory for the origin of Locke's Tower, in particular based on the composition of the rock, is that it is a city-sized chunk of debris that was ejected from the Chiran crater during whatever event created it some 40 million years ago, and landed upside-down in Aludra, shearing off most of its exterior in the process. It is entirely unclear to modern scholars what process would be capable of doing this.
**While these places do not exist in this world, it would be a little stupid to make up a name for a real-life cat breed if I just have to explain what it means down here anyway.
*** One commonly quoted example of this is a story where Fiora has charmed the daughters of the goddesses of truth, purity and peace, and all three wish for her to tell the truth to prove that she loves them. She replied, "Daughter of truth, would you lie for me? Daughter of purity, would you sin for me? Daughter of peace, would you kill for me?"
****This was a stark contrast to the church-burnings and destruction of icons that had occurred under Basram's leader at the time of the attempted reforms, Baroness Helena Elias (often recalled with the epithet "the Barbarian") and ultimately led to her assassination by Duke Martis and the change from Grand Barony to Grand Duchy. This continued Basram's curious tradition of having a lower-ranked noble as ruler; Alun often wonder if Basran leaders just don't know they can declare themselves kings or queens if they want to.

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