No man knows where Mankind came from. A realm bereft of ether is it said, one with but a single radiant - a sun - in the sky above. Where Mankind was looked on the birds flying in the sky and only dreamt of joining them. This, the Urmheimat, has been lost for hundreds of generations. The legends say that the tribes of Mankind swore themselves to a millennia of slavery to the Gods to escape the predations of the Darkstalkers and the Red-Eyes. When this time came to an end, they willingly continued to serve the gods, their interactions mediated by the ascended Greaters. Declaring a new calendar, Mankind embarked on the path of Civilization.
Mankind's home for over five thousand years, the Empyrean is the deep sky, the sea of clouds. Slowly circling the great Prime Radiant are the many Axial Worlds, each one a great orb of gas and ether. These planets are accompanied by entire hosts of smaller objects; moons, shells, rings, gas clouds and miniature radiants throwing their own light on their fellow travellers. It is on these lesser objects that Mankind and many others make their homes.
These smaller objects are only smaller in relative terms, with the largest moons true worlds unto themselves with their own miniature host of moonlets. Even those that do not rise to the level of planets still being several thousand km in diameter. Alongside them are the shells, continents set into the sky and equally as large albeit irregular and far flatter. Accompanying these are island, asteroids and comets, not to mention wandering seas and free-floating jungles.
Many polities and worlds maintained their own calendars and the chaos of Ragnarok combined with different day length and year length meant that determining actual date-relations was no easy matter. The most common are listed below.
- BR - Before Ragnarok. Shorthand, uses an extremely arbitrary date of 800 years ago, making 0 BR equal to -72 MM. Note that Ragnarok and associated nonsense was a period, not a date. Call it -900 to -600 at the greatest
- CDS - Common Dating System. The standard 'universal' calender, introduced by Lyonesse traders before Ragnarok, later revised to cover prehistory. 0 year was set as the loss of Lyonesse into the umbra. Popularized during the Revolutionary Period and effectively interchangable with SDS.
- SDS - Synchronized Dating System. An extended version of the Common Dating System which adds 10,000 to all dates to convert all dates to a positive value. Also includes various error corrections which were later introduced back into the CDS calendar.
- MM - Millenium Magisterium. Official calendar in the (post) Mastery space.
- CC - Correct Calender. Dating system from the Archaic Period, now mostly superseded by CDS/SDS.
Humanity's origins are obscure and its history before the Archaic period has proven difficult to piece together; that said the oldest unambiguously human artifacts date to roughly 15 centuries before the start of the Archaic Period.
Archaic Period - CDS-3600 to CDS-2100
For the Archaic Period, humanity was - depending on the sources used - either the slaves or the servants of the gods, one of several such races. Culture was relatively static and economies were centered around the temple-capitals and the decrees of the priest-interlocutors.
Astroclassical Period - CDS-2100 to CDS-1293
The shift from the Archaic to the Astroclassical was the shift of power from the priest-interlocutors to a more direct interaction between the gods and their greatest subjects. These became known as the Greaters, demigods empowered by a tiny fragment of deic essence. It was a turbulent, chaotic period of great works of art and exploration and the explosive growth in the magic arts, the first recognizable technologies and great feats of heroism. However the latter two centuries were marked by near-continuous conflicts large and small, all of which were silenced by the Descent of Zeus.
Canon Period - CDS-1293 to CDS445
A long period of deliberate stasis, the Canon Period was a direct reaction to the unbridled chaos of the Astroclassical. Enforcing a baroque and vertical organization of churches and temples the deic architects of this period clamped down on both the worst behavior of the other gods and their champions as well as pan-humanity's broader tendency to push boundaries. Soon enough, the Canon period became a sedate period of Civilization where the ragged fringes of known sky were explored and settled.
Of course this was hardly the end of the story. Major events in the Canon period that cast long historic shadows include the loss of Old Lyonesse to the Astra, the arrival of the Murians, the founding of Great Atlantis and the beginning of the Exalter Movement.
Revolutionary Period - CDS445 to CDS535
The Canon period came to a close with the century-long Revolutionary Period, a disruptive period that saw the by then creakingly out of touch clerical bodies of the Canon Period collapse under their own contradictions and the force of late-Canon enlightenment philosophies.
Republican Period - CDS535 to CDS1430
A millennia of great empires and states, the Republican Period was dominated politically by a number of massive, powerful human empires. Philsophies, sciences and economies lept ahead in this dynamic time.
Cataclysm Period - CDS1430 to CDS1775
The end of the Republican period was a drawn-out affair; no single event was the cause of the collapse of greater civilization. It was instead one disaster (both human and natural) after another that defeated the ability of any one state or empire to compensate and like dominos they fell. Successor states grew like mushrooms out of the ashes of older states, in many cases themselves falling afoul of other travails. The end of this period was marked by the Great Roar, a decade of immense waystorms that fatally disrupted many of those intersky polities that had survived everything else thrown at them.
Modern Period - CDS1775 to CDS2315
It seemed as if the Great Roar was the end of a massive temper tantrum and as it dissipated it left behind skies clearer than they had been for centuries. There were still problems aplenty but decades later, people began to realize that the worst really had passed. Crippled by centuries of disasters, humanity picked itself back up and began to rebuild, to recover the wisdom of the ancients and plumb the depths of space for all that had been lost.
The Galaxy is a collection of energetic radiants, worlds of all types etheric gases of varying density; conventionally large-scale maps of the Galaxy present it as a plane for simplicity. This is even fairly accurate as the Galaxy has a flattened disk shape and seen from a hypothetical observer far above the zenith or nadir very few of its major visible structures would actually overlap one another. Seen from afair the Galaxy is distinctly 'lumpy' due to the unseen but not unfelt effects of the invisible dark ether disk as well as the lesser but still important effects of local gravity by the larger shells.
Thus areas around shells and other concentrations have thick, breathable air while large gulfs tend to be much thinner; corridors and streams of comfortable air have shaped the great trade routes and expansions for aeons before humanity. The density of luminous ether likewise varies, though the swings between ether deserts and thick ether (taking the form of nebula) is much more pronounced than that of atmospheric density and less correlated to shells.
The invisible 'stuff' that makes up the fundaments of the known universe. The actual nature of dark ether remains something of a natural mystery and it is only understood indirectly. Nonetheless its influence can be felt everywhere.
Not all of space is full of air and ether and these vast bubbles of emptiness are known as voids/the void. While objects such as asteroids and comets can and regularly do wander through the void they are otherwise uninhabited - and uninhabitable.
The Aprican (from Apricate, to bask in the sun) is the familiar skies of humanity; white clouds, varigated skies, warm worlds and breatable air all illuminated by radiantlight. The Aprican itself is commonly divided into three broad climate zones of progressively higher temperature and illumination; the Bathics, the Pelasics and the Stratics. All of these exhibit vast varieties of weather and more localized climates. A fourth, the Coronics, is the spaces particularly close to radiants. Here the heat and light becomes oppressive and the light pressure clears the air of anything save the most stubborn, burnt cinder and rendering the Coronics not materially different from air deserts in most ways that matter.
Many parts of known space is called an air desert; these are reaches where the combination of air pressure and/or etheric concentration is significantly lower than the norm, without actually becoming Void. Other constituents such as water vapor also tend to be reduced and those floating bodies in air deserts are almost inevitably desolate, rocky shells and equally stark globes. What flora and fauna does inhabit them tends to be among the most tenacious of known space. Air deserts are not impassible but the largest of them make impressive natural borders matched only by nebula - particularly since the common clathrate fuels to say nothing of food and water are rare to nonexistent.
The clarity of air deserts also makes them major conduits for radiantlight and heat.
Abyssal zones (or simply the Abyss) are the dark, cold corners of the Galaxy. The most defining factor of the Abyss is that it is lightless or nearly so; some abyssal zones 'merely' have perpetual twilight while others, far past the extinction of light are not so much illuminated as they are decorated with twinkling starlight. Most abysses are far from any radiants, though this is by no means universal; a perpetual or nearly so fogwall or nebula can turn daylight on one side to night on the other. Abysses tend to be mstly clear and thin air, though occasional islands and even axial worlds dot it and an equally small number of sluggish skycurrents wind their way through it, though the dirty snowballs of comets tend to be omnipresent if still scattered. Much of the weather in the abyss is not local but instead the trailing ends of air masses originating in warmer, more energetic skies.
All this said, life does exist here, such as vast and slow migrations of Sundogs from their spawning grounds in cold axial worlds to the tropical oceans of far more pleasant climates. Even civilization of a sort, the lantern-eyed Chaulocs make their lairs in the Abyss, shunned by all.
Many star ways cut through the abyss, canals of twilight cloud spanning the black. By and large they only traverse the upper abyss though, those few that do wind their way through the deep abyss are thin and difficult to navigate and there are no shortage of stories concerning navigators that lost their way, never to return until their corroded ship full of mummified corpses washed up a century later.
Flachmeers are long zones of low pressure (generally between 0.2 and 0.4 standard pressure) and are recognized as the main loci of cometary accretion. They sometimes lie on the edge of air deserts but the largest all lie zenith or nadirwards of the thick torus where the density of gases starts to drop. The temperature inversion from greatly reduced pressure gives the Flachmeers frigid air temperatures and even in situations with almost perpetual light it will normally range from -30 to -60. Many atmospheric rivers will terminate in the Flachmeers where the moisture and carried material will crystalize out in the low pressure and temperature; this collects into comets which expand over time. Most will tumble out of the Flachmeers by the time they have reached several kilometers in size though a few, such as Murdo Island, have exceeded five hundred kilometers in diameter and are essentially static. Some will fall fairly rapidly into the thick disk and melt while others will slowly migrate for centuries through abyssal zones, often continually accreting thoughout this time. When this is a continuous flow down an aerial current they are commonly known as drifts, with their terminus points being called packs.
The inside edge of the Flachmeers and the slowly meandering drifts and packs are favored habitat of skywhales, the many comets providing both food and habitat to vast ecologies from airkrill to the skywhales themselves. Comets are equally important to the technical needs of humanity and they are extensively mined across the Galaxy for their etheric clathrates.
Bulk composition of comets can vary significantly; at the most extreme young comets from the edge of an air desert may be almost pure water ice with only a dusting of other material - giant fluffy hailstones, in effect - while those that evolved out of nebular flachmeers will be discolored masses of heavy organic compounds, dust and minerals, ices and etheric exotica often of the sort best left frozen. Most comets will be somewhere in between, with any given drift tending to have broadly the same composition.
While luminifous ether is normally not harmful to life (in fact, it is often beneficial), it is understood that at a critical density it thickens greatly in process that is essentially self-sustaining. Known at this point as miasma, the high etheric density leads to the formation of all manner of exotic chemistry and to many living things (including humans) miasma is no more breathable than the effluent of an industrial plant. That said, there are entire orders of life that breathe miasma the way humans breathe air with some going between air and miasma in different stages of life. Misma can sometimes be found collected around shells or in drifting clouds but most grandly it can be found forming immense nebulae, even the smallest sufficient to entirely engulf an axial world.
Some of these nebula contain shells inside their gaseous envelope, while others are bereft of anything larger than random rubble and ponds. The thick miasma of nebula tend to block light very effectively, and while they sometimes glow softly in various shades they can effectively shade entire radiants inside their dark whorls. Their high ether concentration also results in continuous lightning discharges and often unpredictable weather in the neighboring skies while inside the nebula proper the air - the miasma - is commonly stagnant. With all navigation methods save dead reckoning useless inside these opaque masses getting trapped inside one can be a death sentence.
Of course the ether and the miasma is equally valuable; it is a great source of gaseous ether in high concentration and all manner of industrially useful chemicals. An extremely short list would include Promethium R and Promethium S compound families, aerosolized Sakuradite, Merculite precursors, Polydichloric euthimal and Iotimoline particulates, not to mention more common etheric thiolins and hydrocarbons. Thus the edges of nebulae are often sites of extractive industries mining away at emerged comets or their walls of gases.
The largest nebulae often extend for quite significant distances, such as the Great Wall and the nearby Tiamat's Shroud, the Pillars of Creation and the Greater and Lesser Drakenwalds. A few are even haunted by weapons of ages past, with the aptly-named Gunpowder Nebula thick with millennia-old shock mines, their corroded metal shells still protecting a payload of metastable merculite.
A far more benign relative of the nebula are fogwalls. Benign, that is, until your ship smashes into a rock concealed inside the fluffy white mists. Consisting (mostly) of innocuous water clouds, fogwalls are readily distinguishable from nebula by their clean white color as opposed to various rich shades. Generally found at the intersection of multiple air masses, the main difference between a fogwall and a simple large cloudbank is that fogwalls are - within the bounds of seasonal variance - essentially permanent features. Like nebula, the shade side of fogwalls often creates significant mesoclimates with the most famous of this being Quahog Sound bordering the Nanket archipelago.
The skyways (or commonly also, etherways) are long lineal features wending across known space from axial world to axial world. Sketched by the hidden influence of dark ether they are some of the richest concentrations of luminifous ether. This ether readily clumps up into clouds of varying size and shape and skyways are commonly a main driver of air masses. Travel along them is rapid, much moreso than free-sky travel and for millennia they have defined the shape of commerce and of empire.
Tiny outlets of pure energy, radiants emit unceasing amounts of heat and light into the cosmos from the Astra. Without them the skies would be cold and black.
These are large bodies, often dozens if not hundreds of Gaian masses and typically swaddled in thick layers of gas and ether. They are so-named because other, smaller bodies circle them. Most axial worlds are also host to one or more radiants that illuminate their environs. While axial worlds themselves are almost inevitably uninhabitable (past perhaps cloud cities), their surrounding space is often well-populated.
Some axial worlds have, for whatever reason, no radiants near them. These tend to be of smaller size, though large rogues are not unknown. Drifting in the ether with just the twilight of distant radiants and reflected light to illuminate them they can be strange, exotic places and rarely owned by humans.
The in-between axial worlds and small moons, garden worlds are so-called because they host natural - human-friendly - ecospheres. Some garden worlds are giant moons to axial worlds, while others drift alone with a local radiant to keep them pleasant. The term 'garden' is quite broad and even many icelocked or desert worlds are counted as such.
'Blasted' worlds are those that are large enough to be garden worlds but have none of the habitability. Some are baked cinders by too-close radiants while others have fundamentally deadly atmospheres such as chlorine or etheric miasma.
The smaller cousins to moon worlds, moons are mostly distinguished by size. More broadly and less scientifically, moons are those spheroid bodies that are not intrinsically human-habitable.
Shells are large rocky masses broadly comparable in size to moons. The difference is that moons are spheroidal while shells are irregular but overall highly flattened, essentially continental plates set into space. Due to their flattened shape, shells normally have a 'light side' and a 'dark side', the former facing the local radiant while the latter commonly covered in ice and snow and in a state of perpetual chilly twilight. Shells also had planar gravity normal to their flat axis, contrasting to the spherical gravity of worlds.
Tumbling, irregular rocks that can range down in size to literal gravel, asteroids are space junk - if sometimes valuable space junk. Mostly without any significant gravitational field they are often found in large drifts and provide home to all manner of deep-sky life from rockhoppers to space slugs to wyverns. Industrialized civilizations also find them convenient places to conduct mining or to place outposts for navigation, scientific or military purposes.
The close cousins of asteroids, the main difference between the two is that comets are mostly made up of various ices. This in fact makes them an important - and thankfully common - resource, their ices mined to supply etheric clathrates to a busy galaxy. Like asteroids they are commonly home to various types of cosmofauna such as various species of skywhales. Conventionally, a large cluster of comets is called a 'drift' as compared to an asteroid 'field'.
The continual ebb and churn of ether and other cosmic gases results in an entire beastiary of deep-sky clouds. Some exist in nigh-perpetual storm belts while others are transient, coalescing and drifting across the cosmos before eventually dissipating.
Humanity has split (or perhaps spread) into several branches in the past four thousand plus years of recorded history. Some of this was deliberate, others by happenstance. By and large the different branches of humanity remain interfertile.
- Terrans - Taking their name from the ancient and long-lost urheimat of humanity, Terra, Terrans are the primordial stock from which other human heritages are derived and still make up the bulk of known space. Skin color, hair color, eye color, height, weight, athletic, mental and etheric abilities are all 'normal'. Many have been touched by Dawn Era programs, with many alive today living without worry of genetic diseases, wisdom teeth, myopia or other unfortunate foibles thanks to ancient efforts to improve the 'sorry lot of man'. Others have slightly more obvious heritage, such as unusual hair colors, pointed ears, etc. All that aside, Terrans are fundamentally, statistically homogeneous. In more technical nomenclature they are sometimes called 'Orthodox Humans'.
- Alfar/Dokkar - An ancient offshoot of humanity, the Alfar/Dokkar are colloquially known as 'elves' today. While sharing a similar origin to the planetouched, they lack the more otherworldly features of the Dia. The Alfar have long exhibited heightened magical sensitivity and power while the Dokkar were best known for wiry, unexpectedly powerful physiques. One of the two common members of the Lyonessan pan-diaspora, elves were also favored servants (or slaves) to the Atlanteans and can be found scattered across much of local space.
- Dia Lyonessans - Lyonesse has a long and storied history of mingling with beings from the astra; notorious as witches when such beings were still feared as demons, the ancient Lyonessans and their fellows sought the power of the astra. They bound these beings to themselves willingly or unwillingly, traded mental, physical and sexual favors and even embraced them as parents to their children. These wild and sometimes feckless adventures led to many things, but one difference between Lyonesse and other similar witches - and in part why Lyonesse became a great power - is that the men and women of Lyonesse never mistook embracing the other with becoming the other.
- As Lyonesse expanded and shifted from an ethnic signifier to a cultural one, care was taken to fix traits deemed collectively important. In parallel, the quest for power or other advantages became an artistic, aesthetic one. Various pleasing traits became sought-after and other, more subtle aspects were propagated through the Lyonessan pan-diaspora.
- The Dia Lyonessans are archetypical Lyonessan and commonly have various inhuman but attractive changes, often of a fanciful take. In addition, the silver blood of the astra has given Dia Lyonessans an uncanny ability to sense flows of ether. The largest single population of Dia in local space is in the Clionan Federal Union, a former client state of the Mastery and now a burgeoning great power, though both Dia and Alfar are found throughout the Verge.
- Prime Murian - The Murian Confederation was long known for its life-shaping techniques and over the centuries the upper classes were selectively bred and shaped into what became known as the Prime Murians. These individuals were essentially 'peak human', with refined bodies and minds. Aesthetic preferences gave Prime Murians a distinctive sexual dimorphism of the most attractive sort. With the Murian Confederacy's former territory being in the far south, Prime Murians are rare in local space.
- True Atlantean - Atlantis was a mageocracy for its entire history, and one with a sharp divide between True (or sometimes Ancient) Atlantis which exercised all sovereign power and its numerous satraps, or Greater Atlantis. It was possible to socially climb from the latter to the former, or sometimes fall the opposite direction, but the two did not mix casually. While the inner workings of True Atlantis remain esoteric and often unknown to this day, it is no secret that one of the main preoccupations of the Atlantean population was the creation of ever more powerful mages.
- True Atlanteans are direct descendants of these arcane breeding programs, not the common folk of Greater Atlantis who were by and large orthodox humans. True Atlanteans have significantly improved ether retention and often show a particular talent for magic. On the more physical end of things True Atlanteans are almost universally unusually tall (commonly circa 7 feet) and with less sexual dimorphism than the human norm; the terms statuesque and imposing were all but invented for True Atlanteans. While the Northern Leaf was home to several antideluvian Atlantean satraps, True Atlateans are vanishingly rare to the point of being believed extinct in known space and in these dark days they instead represent the fruits of experiments to replicate their powers; cyber-newtypes, designer children, etc.
It is now understood and accepted that the giantkin and humanity share a distant ancestor, with the giantkin having been taken from Earth anywhere from 50 to 100,000 years ago. It is unknown how they achieved their remarkable size - in-depth genetic engineering seems most likely - but they served as faithful servants to the gods for tens of millenia.
- Dwarves - The second-smallest of the Giantkin, dwarves are 'dwarves' only in relation to other giantkin and a typical dwarf is taller and broader than a human, with relatively short limbs and a large torso. While dwarves often tend to keep to themselves, they have enclave-states scattered across known space with the most powerful local one being the Ironholds.
- Hobbits - The smallest Giantkin, hobbits are shorter even than humans and tend to have a particularly rotund, harmless appearance once they leave young adulthood. Hobbits are generally gregarious by nature and seem to readily fall into small communities and hobbit agricultural communes can be found all across known space. This has given them a stereotype of take it slow small town types; many hobbits completely and wilfully embody this stereotype but there are certainly no shortage of hobbits who are willing to move to the 'big city' to work as chefs, clerks and the feared shock-marines of the Imperial Anduin Skyfleet.
- Other Giantkin - it is said that the Jotun still hold court far to the East, but Cyclopses and other 'true' giants have not been seen in local space for centuries.
- Lizards - still have an empire far in the East.
- Onykia - sky-cephalopods with fantastic bioluminescent abilities, a generally harmless companion race for almost two thousand years.
- Great Dragons - The Rmasters never trusted the Great Dragons. Their servants are no different.
- Great Old Ones - These beings of eye and tentacle keep their own counsel in the deeps of the Great Wall.
Magic is the long-established process for manipulating ether to achieve all manner of results. Its principles are well understood and there are five evolutionary stages of magical theory and process.
Ether flows through all living things, indeed for many it is the stuff of life itself. With adequate practice the ether flowing through the body can be manipulated and controlled to effectively supercharge innate biological functions. This manifests as rapid healing, greatly increased physical capabilities and going long periods in good health. Many people with interests in athletics or health often have at least some basic capabilities to perform body magic.
Hedge Magic is essentially the externalization of body magic, using a body's internal ether to externalize an effect. These could be as simple as stimulating someone else's body to heal rapidly, or conducting an astral projection, or even encasing one's fist in a fireball. While many signature styles date all the way to the Astroclassical, hedge magic as a whole has long been relegated to niche interests and groups.
This is what most commonly comes to mind when the laity speaks of 'magic'. The critical distinction between hedge magic and low magic is that the latter introduces the 'locus'; this is a device (often a mental construct) that stores spells in all their complexity and allows for the user to cast them repeatedly. This ancient innovation enabled vastly more complicated and efficient magework, as any given spell could be modified, changed and improved over time and no longer needed to be held purely in the concentration of the moment and created from scratch every time.
The ultimate expression of 'pure' magic, high magic takes the ultimate step of not just externalizing the effect, but externalizing the entire etheric process. Mages have long extracted ether from other objects to power their magic but one limit has been how well their body can channel the ether; high magic takes that out of the mage entirely so vastly larger volumes can be used. Often wasteful in strict energy terms, high magic is nonetheless much more powerful than low magic.
The final step of removing the mage entirely and comparable to the replacement of muscle power with machines, technomagic uses physical objects to engage in the full process of magic start to finish. These can be mass produced and can often be much more efficient at whatever they're designed for, though a beam pistol will always be a beam pistol as opposed to a mage that can cast a featherfall or healing spell just as easily as they could fire a ray of destructive light from their fingers. Recognizable technomagic dates back to the Canon Period thousands of years ago and reached ubiquity during the Republican Period; many advanced technologies were lost for centuries during the Cataclysm Period but human space is once again technic space.
Some places have even gone full circle; 'AIDs' (All Integrated Devices) are effectively commercially-produced loci with a stock of civilian cantrips, produced and operating by technological means and casting spells as software.
The "Star Dial" is a classic deep-sky motive system, in use in various forms for four millennia and the first truly effective and fast way to get between the stars. It operates by effectively 'locking on' to a large distant body and then sliding towards it while significantly reducing the gravitational pull of the origin state, essentially falling away from the latter and towards the destination. While quite elegant as a stellar engine, Star Dials are really only good at going in straight lines and thus cannot avoid things like bad weather. A second engine system - typically aetheric spheres or force motors - is also required for actually puttering around. Even though they need one or more properly trained wizards to perform the initial navigational grav-lock as well as regular en-route calibrations, the required skills are not terribly difficult to learn and all but the most inept magi can operate a Star Dial.
Star Dials are still in use among those without the benefit of modern shipbuilding advances, but they have long been superseded by other methods.
One of the earliest methods of controlling ether mechanically (as opposed to with magic), the Aetheric Sphere is fundamentally quite simple; they are thick glass spheres filled with compressed and electrically charged ether and then securely strapped to the vehicle inside which it is mounted. Currents induced in the ether inside the orbs results in surprisingly sophisticated control over force and direction and thus the aetheric sphere was the motive system of choice for quite literally millennia; refinements and additions eventually saw them become a familiar warp drive of today; the long warp nacelle of charged ether hearkens back to these distant ancestors.
The most significant improvement to the Aetheric Sphere was the innovation of enriched (and eventually highly enriched) ether for the spheres. While this came with various overhead costs - and the issue of what to do with the highly toxic nucleonic ether afterwards - using purified and enriched ether was a significant generational leap in performance. While dated today aetheric spheres are a cheap and very accessible technology that need no complicated hardware to build, though a solid understanding of electrodynamics goes a very long way in properly constructing their control mechanisms.
The so-called "Starbow Breaker" is an extreme application of highly purified sildron combined with magic sufficiently strong to heavily twist the laws of physics in deep sky. It is highly power intensive and requires the personal attendance of an archmage to function, but is extremely fast. This ensured that the Starbow Breaker would always be limited in numbers and fitted to only the most important of ships.
A downscaled and much-simplified version of the Starbow Breaker, a Starburst is a pre-charged force induction coil that can be ignited to propel the fitted ship at high velocity down a star way. While relatively straightforward to use - essentially point your ship in the direction you want to go and activate - a Starburst has important limitations as well. The most central of these is the fact that a Starburst is effectively single-use and while their mechanical components are robustly built they need to be refilled and recharged by a mage after each use. While this was offered at any spaceport worth the name in the Canon Period, it still meant that going somewhere without services at the far end meant you were crawling back home on whatever you had for a secondary motor. Starbursts are only marginally steerable once in motion and have no throttle; they can be cut to dissipate their remaining charge but that is about it. A Starburst motor is generally charged with a precalculated amount of ether for the ship's tonnage and distance to be travelled plus a small extra so in practice a Starburst is normally just ridden until it naturally dissipates.
It was uncommon but not unusual for ships to have two Starbursts, allowing them to make a trip and a return without needing servicing. The second was generally charged with extra ether to make up for the inevitable losses over time, but more than two Starbursts was generally a recipe for excessive complexity, unreliability and an engine room full of poisonous ether condensate when the glassware shatters after a month of stress.
The Starburst had broadly fell out of use by the High Republican Period as contemporary spacedrives could get comparable speeds without the sundry hassles and then returned to use in the post-Ragnarok technical nadir. Today they are once again eclipsed by modern propulsion systems though downscaled derivatives are commonly still found on deep sky attack craft.
More of a concept than a specific technology, Starsenders (also known as spatial catapults and similar terms) have webbed known space for more than two millenia. Another outgrowth of the Starbow Breaker magitechnology,
Affects summoning and other time/space magic. Operates by binding a superdimensional entity or "Gap Demon" to a vessel. Such a form of propulsion is not the most impressive in terms of physical performance but allows a vessel to break the boundaries between dimensions or even other more esoteric borders with some refinement.
It is axiomatic that known space runs on ether and has for millennia. Ether in various forms permeates the universe and finds itself used in equally myriad ways, but the single most significant use today is as a fuel. In broad terms there are three conventional formats in which it is so used; ether clathrates, ether gas and ether geodes.
- Etheric Clathrates are cosmically common; 'burning ice' can be found across known space on ice moons, in glaciers or permafrost and permeating cometary drifts. If there is ice exposed to the cosmos, there is a good chance of there being ether clathrates somewhere. These ices - mostly but certainly not exclusively water ice - are naturally impregnated with ambient ether, the ices' molecular structure trapping the ether. The resulting clathrates are generally slightly less dense than natural ice and are stable to temperatures above freezing at which point they will begin to decompose into a far less convenient mixture of etherically-charged water, gas and miscellaneous secondary compounds nicknamed 'firedamp'. (This said, long-term storage is generally done with temperatures kept below the freezing point of water to minimize the emission of firedamp from nominally stable clathrates)
- Originally clathrates were decomposed to separate out and collect the pure ether - a sometimes dangerous process - but roughly 1500 years ago a clever method of consuming them directly in the ice form was developed and what was originally a brilliant leap of engineering has long since became the common process. The ether is burned to provide energy and the water is exhausted as steam. The downside to all this is that etheric clathrates are never entirely pure. Various other materials come with them and these build up in the combustion chamber as 'fly gunk', an unpleasant and sometimes toxic mixture of burnt residues, mineral ash and etherically altered compounds. Thus the convenience of having fuel available almost anywhere that costs little more than the price of mining and shipping it must be set against the inconveniences of clathrate combustion engines.
- One variant on clathrates that finds localized use is etheric fats. These can be harvested from skywhales and other deep-sky beasts and while requiring some specific features to be used can generally be considered interchangeable with etheric clathrates in all important regards.
- Ether Gas has been used for millennia; originally used by magi to power their spellcraft, it was adopted as an energy-dense fuel for engines as mass-produced machinery supplemented and eventually mostly replaced magic. The terminology of 'gas' is heritage as these high-purity fuels come in not just gaseous but also liquid form. Ironically despite its association today with aviation and other high-performance roles, ether gas was used as a fuel long before etheric clathrates were. The main advantage of ether gas stems from its purity and energy density. Various formulations exist of binder and additive compounds (such as the Mastery-standard AERO-C, military Zip or more recent AP-9) but broadly speaking all these premixes exist to stabilize ether and make it safer and more convenient to handle while not materially affecting its energetic qualities. From a performance perspective, etheric gas is clearly the superior option.
- The purity of etheric gas comes with its own downsides however. By far the most significant is that in most cases it is naturally unavailable in desired quality and must be refined out of natural feedstock. Various sources (including etheric clathrates) can be used, but on the industrial scale it demands significant infrastructure. The intrinsic nature of the local impurities also matters and while etheric gas can be extracted from many sources, only some are truly worthwhile to do so. Others result in dirty mixtures full of difficult to remove impurities. (fly gunk, in effect) High purity etheric gas is also a feedstock for myriad industrial processes and many states only have enough for their domestic manufacturing purposes and tightly limit the use of etheric gas as fuel to the most critical sectors. Others import millions of tons monthly.
- Etheric Geodes are the final common source of energy. These are made of ether that due to specific conditions has crystalized into a solid mass. Different colors are caused by even extremely small percentage impurities. Long recognized as incomparable sources of energy, geodes have historically been prized by magi for the greatest workings. Their first major technological use was the enormous Oklo geode-catalyzed radiothermal pile-reactors used in Freeman battlemoons. Crude but long-lived (even now, most of two millennia since their construction, several of their ancient heat-piles still provide energy) they were replaced by much smaller and less cumbersome geode-power technologies. Pure-geode power systems required more regular refueling - on the order of years - but for that period still gave nearly unlimited energy reserves while not being exceptionally large. The main limitation to geode power is the rarity of geodes. In practice, natural geodes are normally milled into appropriately-sized prisms or cylinders and then assembled into fuel assemblies.
Rules for fuel systems
Fundamental rule: 'Ether' represents ether gas; unless a ship has one of the following features it is assumed to use standard ether gas power and all rules apply as normal.
- -0 Clathrate Fired - Clathrate fired engines have been ubiquitous since almost the dawn of the Great Empires of Man and they remain so. A long-understood and very mature technology their main advantage is that a fuel source is never far. So long as a clathrate-fired ship is within operational range of a fleet base it does not cost Ether to move, battle or other normal operations. Conversely, ships with clathrate fuel may not undertake underway refueling and thus must operation out of fleet bases and require simple albeit regular maintenance to discharge their reaction chambers. They also suffer a certain loss of stealth as they tend to generate large but harmless trails of steam-ice clouds in their wake. The clever use of clathrate bunkers does provide a small increase to survivability thanks to the use of icerooms as additional ballistic protection. Clathrate-fired ships still require annual ether upkeep representing the various fluids, gases and manufactured products that consume refined ether.
- +1 Geode Core - With the appealing benefit of essentially unlimited cruising range, geode powerplants are a potent albeit uncommon power source. A ship with a geode core does not pay upkeep for transit, battle, etc, but must pay its annual ether upkeep in geodes - once initialized the geode cascade reaction will consume all the fuel in the core and thus fuel assemblies are built to be easily replaced on an annual basis. The innate sustained power also allows for optimization of engines for higher cruising speeds, giving geode cored ships a +25% speed increase. Geode power has no specific downsides past the cost of both the reactor and the fuel, though the ship will need to return home for an annual refueling, a process that is generally unfeasible in the field.