Author’s note: Be warned. This stuff is crushingly boring to anyone but a fellow worldbuilder. But I chose this section of my godawful huge pile-o-notes to illustrate what happens when a crazy person cobbles a make-believe universe together as a hobby first, and as a framework for real stories second. The foundation cosmology is not much different than what I came up with in the summer of 1983. But along the way I was inspired by real-world cosmology, bioscience, the Marvel and DC comics universes, the incredible Samurai Jack cartoon series, and the fictional works of Tanith Lee, Diane Duane, Sherri S. Tepper, Andre Norton, and many others.
In fact, N.K. Jemisin and I both started from the same core concepts out of Tanith Lee’s ‘Tales of the Flat Earth’ fantasy novels. But we’ve told very different stories.
Which is why I’m not that worried about releasing this part of my background notes – anyone inspired by them will come up with something wildly different, too. This is just my way of saying to all the tentative worldbuilders out there: go ahead and play, and see where it leads you.
Fountain of Stars
Sonta-Tiun cosmologies of Universe MT3-719a
(trans. from ‘Legends of Grandmother Fountain’ by Nirain Teluc Omiesh III)
Three outwardly dissimilar races have, in their oldest creation-myths, a core of shared truth explaining their genesis, their racial personalities, and their limited genetic kinship. I will attempt to condense these beliefs into the version currently taught among the Sonta Exiles.
This Universe began, a bubble of energy expanding toward infinity. It cooled, forming matter of the First Breath and Second Breath. (Trans: historians believe Nirain here refers to hydrogen and helium.) Out of its eddies condensed the first stars, which in our universe were often vast, unstable monsters with little or no sentience. With the deaths of these stars, the heavier elements of the Third Breath were flung into the void, swept up, and gathered again into new stars.
Many of the first stars left behind black ghosts: massive gravity wells into which all nearby light and matter fell with little trace. These ghosts retain the mindlessness of their progenitors. They often lair within the hearts of galaxies, the pull of their mass and the webs of their influence acting as a vast anchor around which billions of stars spin.
A few of these black ghosts achieve slightly greater self-awareness. They manipulate gravity fields around their cores, giving themselves ‘bodies’ to interact more finely with the material world. They stalk through dust clouds and star fields, harvesting the matter and energy of the unfortunate suns they encounter. These creatures we call in plural Ksaloni, in singular Ksala: the star-eaters, the Sun-Devourers.
The Ksaloni are solitary, cannibalistic creatures who normally regard each other as better prey than suns or dust clouds. Star-eaters in their prime actively hunt and kill newborn members of their race, or weakened elders whose matter is guttering away to evaporation.
They appear in several forms. The bulk of their mass can be hidden within pocket dimensions, as some sea-creatures do with shells, and for the same reason: the smaller energy and gravitic ‘signature’ they reveal, the more they can avoid other star-eaters. Portions of them extrude from portals into these dimensions, revealed on our side as rippling black tentacles, fins, and pseudopods hundreds to thousands of miles long, or in whole as a vast, serpent-like form constantly extending and collapsing such sensory forms around its body.
The broader electromagnetic signatures of the Ksaloni have been documented extensively among the Dana, Tiun, and Sonta, and will not be covered here. It is an accident of this universe that the Ksaloni are known to broadcast specific wavelengths of visible light as a halo around their bodies, changing hue intensity to follow their moods. Each star-eater has an identifiable ‘danger color’ of one, two, or three colors, with the older and more developed star-eaters displaying one overall color.
As they ingest more-sentient suns, lesser Elementals (Trans: Planetaries and Isolates), and mortal populations, star-eaters begin to develop a sense of Mind themselves. Usually this remains stunted and brutal, but a small proportion of star-eaters gain astonishing intellectual skills. They begin to be fascinated by the sentience of their prey. This generally means disaster for the lesser beings thus singled out, but on very rare occasions a Ksala turns aside from instant destruction and merely studies its potential prey.
Eventually, the Ksala’s mind and empathy grows enough that it is capable of identifying with that prey, and extends its territorial protectiveness. At some point on this stage of Ksaloni development, the creature may shift energy states to a different form: the Lifebringer, or Changeling. They abandon their black bodies and chromatic signature halo, flash white, draw energy from new proto-universes, and spend a short time adjusting to their new powers. In a matter of mortal days or months, an undisturbed Changeling will apparently vanish completely from this universe. Their presence is later assumed in often subtle re-adjustments to this universe, generally to trigger waves of star-formation or the rise of sentient life.
At the moment of Change a new Lifebringer is most vulnerable to attack by Ksaloni, who regard it as the most delectable prey of all.
Red Fountain. The origin story of the Sonta ancestors follows one of those Changelings, known now as Fountain-of-Stars. Istelian se’tha Urrazhe, writing on Lonhra twelve thousand years ago, lists a Sonnaroi women’s chant that serves as an elegant and sympathetic introduction to the Fountain mythos:
“Above the world, long before the world,
In warm forests, in light-shunning cold,
Ran the Black Hunters, the eaters-of-stars.
Great among them was Red Fountain,
Who learned to feed without killing,
Whose cold fires quenched in burning white,
Her merest breath sparking new stars in the dark.
Four stalkers trailed her, drawn by her scent,
So afraid of her power they made a fell pact:
‘Fountain is no longer a Hunter.
Cast her out of our tribe.
Fountain will feed us, as prey!’
Killers they were, and yet Fountain’s kin,
Her siblings unchanged and unwise.
She hid – they found her.
She ran – they chased her.
She waited in a star-grove,
The hunters close on her trail.
Two magics left to her, a curse and a blessing;
She cursed Fate, not her siblings.
The gift of sun-drinking she set into her flesh,
Cruel blessing to blast her murdering kin.
When they found her, her blood glowed.
They left her bones broken in the dark.
Slunk to their lairs, glutted, ill-dreaming,
Asleep through their own bodies’ changing,
Never seeing three blood drops
Left to smolder in bone-dust.
Three stars lit,
Scarlet eggshells birthing doom.
So great had been Fountain,
Her life lingered behind her.
From each dust-mote
Rose spirits of new light and fury,
From each blood-drop a daughter
Remembering her mother’s death:
Camha, the Laughing Maiden.
Ai-Kemurra, the Vengeful Mother.
Vathaea, Blood-Daughter, closest of all
To bright Fountain’s soul -”
The Sonnaroi of Lonhra worshipped Fountain-of-Stars as their racial Grandmother. They can perhaps be forgiven for glossing over the uncounted sentient lifeforms that Fountain destroyed or manipulated before becoming a Lifebringer herself. Nor is it wise to ascribe purely benevolent motives to Lifebringers. Good can often be just as ruthless as evil.
Istelian’s chant reveals the Sonnaroi’s sophisticated knowledge of their own origins, and their accepted kinship with two other races.
The blood-daughters of Fountain were themselves proto-Ksaloni, engendered from the accidental mingling of Fountain’s dying matter and matter shed from her wounded, Change-infected murderers. Camha (Laughing Maiden), Ai-Kemurra (Waiting Mother), and Vathaea (Red Huntress) were orders of magnitude weaker than their progenitors, but still vastly more powerful and self-aware than the lesser Solar, Planetary, and Isolate Elementals. These three ‘sisters’ extended their influence over the surrounding nebula of Fountain’s remains. Over millions of years, they began to force existence and sentience on hundreds of thousands of still-lesser beings: their ‘tribes’.
Round-Ears, Terra, and the Camalian Commonwealth. Camha’s tribe was the smallest, numbering only a few dozen individuals. The most shell-shocked of the three groups, Camha and her folk migrated far from the area of Fountain’s death ground. Vague legends put them in the Sol System several millions of years before the spread of primate mammalians, and there is some indication that Camha or her people may have meddled with humanoid development. In old Lonhran legends, human colonists are sometimes called Round-Ears after a prominent physical trait, or Camhathani ‘Camha’s children’. This differentiates them from the modern Camali: human/symbiont hybrids created by Camha (known now as Cama) as her second tribe.
The Dana and the War of Heaven. Ai-Kemurra’s tribe was the most numerous at several million. Vengeful and still feeling echoes of Fountain’s brutal death, Ai-Kemurra took her people far away. She began an ambitious attempt to live-capture and constrain star-eaters. While pain (experienced through the mortal Vessel’s nervous system), was used as a punishment, sensual and sexual pleasure was used as a lure for compliance and obedience.
The bulk of her tribe exchanged the near-immortality of Elementals for mortal lives, as that gave them the most fertile ground for new knowledge bases, and the largest possible population to draw for the creation of mortal Vessels for the captured minds of star-eaters. The race called itself ‘Dana’ or ‘Danaluitha’, the root of which means ‘Children of Fountain’. Their efforts, successes, and ultimate destruction is chronicled in Tevren Virandien’s memoir, a copy of which survived the destruction of his colonial city Roessa.
The Dana had overused and burnt out their world, and huddled inside crowded domes. Ai-Kemurra, who had bound herself to the planet in order to use its energy in her own forges, found herself dying with it. A high-ranking family of the demon-hunter caste (those who subdued star-eaters) sent out several long-range ships to hunt the more-powerful prey that had wisely begun to avoid the Dana System’s region. Lantir Virandien captained one of these ships, his brother Tevren another. Lantir displayed a new mindgift. He communicated with a feral star-eater without subjugation, coaxing it to let him become its mortal Vessel, in exchange for willing companionship and the power needed to evacuate the Dana population. None of the ship-bound Dana were aware that Lantir’s green-fire Ksala was one of Fountain’s original murderers, and was now steadily edging toward Change itself. It had already undergone one catastrophic shedding of Change-infected matter. By the time Lantir found it, the creature was confused, exhausted, and willing to accept mortal guidance.
Nor were the Dana aware that the exchange was watched at a distance by the other three star-eaters, themselves already suffering Change infection to lesser or greater degrees. These were tamed later, and are still listed among the prizes of the Sonta: red-orange Aksenna, magenta Tena, and purple Aiyon.
(It is worth mentioning here that not a single Ksala in Dana ‘care’ ever Changed fully. They could be companions, weapons, and dangerous pets, but their primary use was to fuel the Dana republics. Even Lantir’s Tiun-Sonta Empire has only documented two full Changes from its hundreds of bound star-eaters, and those were only of lesser Ksala already older and weaker.)
Tevren Virandien, a priest of Ai-Kemurra, protested his brother’s decision and warned the dying ‘goddess’ of Lantir’s treachery. Lantir created an Empire which promised salvation and new planets, for those Dana willing to abandon Ai-Kemurra and focus their efforts toward taming and companioning Lantir’s Ksala (called ‘Raiyadri’ by Lantir). Those Dana who rebelled were to be left on the dying homeworld along with Tevren, who was now the rebellion’s leader. Tevren and his wife Brindova subverted seven of Lantir’s massive colony ships, smuggling many of the rebels aboard and leaving just before the final moments of Ai-Kemurra and the homeworld. Hunted by Lantir’s Empire, Tevren’s people aimed for Fountain’s legendary death ground, where they hoped to find planets worthy of rebuilding the Dana republics. Along the way, Tevren’s wife Brindova ran afoul of the Ksala Aksenna, who enslaved the mortal woman’s mind and took her place. Aksenna is the second known Ksala to have learned on her own how to diminish herself enough to control a mortal Vessel, while hiding the bulk of her mass in an M-space pocket universe.
Lonhra ‘Hidden Star’. Vathaea’s tribe of Elementals also journeyed far in search of a home and destiny. They were neither as scatter-brained as Camha’s people, nor as militant as Ai-Kemurra’s. Vathaea’s hope was to find some way to speed up Change among Ksaloni, without enslaving them in the process. Millions of years after their dispersal, one of Vathaea’s lesser ‘sisters’ Suongha felt a strong pull to return to Fountain’s death ground. She persuaded Vathaea and the tribe to follow her.
At the epicenter of Fountain’s death ground, they discovered a new solar system accrued from the last of Fountain’s shed matter. One of the inner rocky planets was in a stable liquid-water zone, and hosted a vibrant and diverse biosystem comparable to Terra’s Mesozoic Era. Vathaea and her tribe chose to settle on Rhunshan, a smaller continent isolated across wide oceans from the two main continents. As with the other tribes, many members opted to abandon immortality for reproduction, in order to build their numbers. They took physical shapes based on local mammalian analogues: four footed, long-bodied, horned and fanged omnivores with clever brains. Not until the population reached unsustainable levels and began to migrate across the sea, did Vathaea learn Lonhra itself was sentient and hostile to outsiders.
The planet’s core hid the largest remaining portion of Fountain’s mass. More than that, the planet began actively unleashing volcanoes, earthquakes, insect and bacterial plagues, and attacks by its own semi-sentient animal populations. Vathaea would not allow any wanderers to return to Rhunshan without accepting sterility, and culling their existing numbers.
Tamian, one semi-mortal male of Vathaea’s people, made a long and hazardous journey to the northernmost lands of the upper hemisphere. He found what he assumed was another Fountain-child, a Lesser Elemental trapped within a massive volcano. Nearly insane from isolation, the amnesiac and confused Elemental forged a desperate friendship with Tamian. Unable to survive the winter at that latitude, Tamian devised a way to bring part of the Elemental’s consciousness south with him. The plan failed and Tamian died. In that moment of bonding, the Elemental copied Tamian’s form, and journeyed south to offer his considerable power to Vathaea’s beleaguered tribe. Vathaea, certainly aware of his true nature, named him Is’hanr, or ‘Shining Hunter’.
From the matings of Vathaea and Is’hanhr, and Is’hanr to subsequent mortal mates, sprang the Sonnaroi race as it is seen now.
From the matings of Sonnaroi females and Camhathani refugees almost a million years later, sprang the humanoid Lesser Sirrithani.
From the matings of Sonnaroi and Sirrithani with Tevren’s refugee Dana after their Landfall on Lonhra, sprang the historic mix of the Greater Sirrithani: humanoid, clever, warlike, long-lived, and possessing mindgifts closer to those of Elementals rather than mortals.
Lantir’s Empire-building race called itself ‘Tiun’, and never stopped looking for the Dana rebels. When the Tiun found Lonhra again, some sixty thousand years after Tevren’s Landfall, they came up against the Sirrithani…and lost.
From the re-mingling of these component races springs the current hegemony of the Banner Queens, and the Sonta Exiles who carry out their work of taming feral star-eaters. It remains to be seen whether rediscovered Terran humanity, in the form of Terran League humans and Camalian humans, will be allies or adversaries to the Children of Fountain.