A Zurvár Miscellany

A storage place for a collection of Zurvár related info posted to Reddit…

The majority of Zurvár have a genetic intolerance to alcohol (a standardised mutation of the ALDH1 gene) resulting in nausea and flu-like symptoms after consuming it, so it is generally not a part of Zurvár culture. Instead they drink prozyá, a carefully brewed combination of specific land plant and seaweed components with herbs and fruits added for flavour.

A few glasses of prozyá have a similar mental stimulant effect to a really strong black coffee, combined with a boost in physical energy, enhanced balance and reflexes and mild euphoria. A mild hangover consisting of drowsiness and slowed reflexes can be expected a few hours later, but truly epic amounts must be consumed to cause actual illness.

Prozyunstá (translatable as ‘heavy prozyá‘) is a variety of prozyá tweaked to increase euphoric and intoxicating effects. It’s generally comparable to 5% alcohol beer in effect and has a similar hangover if over consumed. Many Zurvár consider prozyunstá to be the drink of the immature and degenerate, but it’s still just as popular as regular prozyá.

Most settlements will produce their own prozyá, and claim it to be far superior to that produced by their neighbours.

The Vratoi are a race of psychic predators from an alternate universe that are the inspiration behind many of Earth’s vampire legends. They feed by stimulating fear, using the emotion as a gateway into their victims’ minds from where they drain off the brain’s artonic energy – a process that can very easily kill if overdone. It’s not entirely clear if the Vratoi need to feed on artonic energy or if they simply do it because they enjoy it – sadistic narcissism appears to be a common Vratoi personality trait.

Many reports of vampire activity – both historical and modern – can be shown to be the result of Vratoi leaning into vampire lore to make feeding more effective. There are some however that cannot be explained this way, which suggests that there are other things going on.

The Zurvár believe that the soul is made of three components, each of which has a different fate after death.

The Iris or “Spirit” is an immortal life-force that is incarnated again and again, gaining knowledge and experience with each incarnation. In between incarnations it dwells in the spirit world of Tekáda.

The Nelat or “Self” is the conscious, individual spirit of a Zurvár that is created when the Iris enters the body during pregnancy. On death the Nelat accompanies the Iris to Tekáda and lives there eternally among the Ancestors, watching over the living.

The Selár or “Shadow” is created at the moment of conception and is linked to the Zurvár’s impact on the world. After death the Selár remains in the world and gradually dissipates, finally vanishing when the last person to have known the Zurvár dies.

Existence as an Ancestor in Tekáda is said to be impossible for the living to understand, but a common metaphor is a vast beach dotted with millions of campfires. Each fire is an Iris and the Nelat that hosted that Iris in life are seated around the fire. Someone who performed great evils in life will not be allowed to sit around their fire and will have to exist in the darkness and cold outside of its light. Whether this state is permanent or whether an exiled Nelat can be redeemed is a matter of long debate with no firm answer.

Whether any of this is true is unknown, it’s simply what the Zurvár – to a greater or lesser personal extent – believe.

My multiverse is an infinite number of alternate universes arranged linearly in a sixth dimension. If you know how you can open gates between them and just step on through – although it’s best to check that conditions on the other side are conducive to your staying alive first.

There’s also a minimum ‘distance’ that gates can be opened across. Yes, there’s a universe right next door where the only difference to this one is that a leaf fell off a tree in Poland half a second earlier, but the ‘distance’ between this universe and that one is so tiny that it’s almost impossible to open a gate to it.

Happily the minimum distance is a matter of physics, so ‘almost impossible’ should really be read as ‘impossible unless something super weird happens’. Cross universe identity theft is a genuine issue – and something the Metaphysicians’ Guild tries to control – but it’s a bit risky because the number of differences between adjacently-accessible universes is high enough that any documents or information obtained in one universe cannot be 100% relied on to be identical in the other. There are still people willing to give it a go though!

In my main setting any sapient being has the potential to learn Metaphysics (psionics) because the necessary energetic structures are what makes consciousness possible.

Whether they’ll be any good at it is another question entirely!

‘Magic’ in my main setting is actually psionics, or ‘psychic powers’. There is a genetic component to it in that some people have a natural talent for it, and that talent tends to be inheritable, but almost everyone can learn a few bits and pieces.

I think of it like playing the piano. Pretty much everyone can learn to play the piano adequately if they put the time and effort in, but some people have a gift that makes it much easier. And there are people who don’t have any such gift but can play brilliantly because they’re willing to put in a huge amount of practice and effort. And finally there’s a small amount of people who simply lack the coordination to ever do anything more than slowly pick out ‘my father’s socks’ with a single finger.

My setting is actually a multiverse that includes modern Earth (one of things ‘metaphysics’ – which is to say psionics – allows is opening gates between alternate universes). Worlds are defined as metaphysically-aware and non-metaphysically-aware based on whether they’ve uncovered the the science of psionics.

On aware worlds everyone can use psionics as long as they’re willing to put the time and effort of learning in, and they obey the law, which tends to look down on things such as non-consensual mind reading, rewriting of memories, teleporting valuables out of bank vaults and telekinetically throwing cars around. The fact that so much ‘fun’ stuff (for a certain value of ‘fun’) is illegal means that most people learn the basics of shielding their minds from intrusion and leave it at that – throwing cars (or even cardboard boxes) around takes a lot of practice and effort and simply isn’t worth it for most people.

On non-aware worlds (like Earth) most people are unaware that such things are even possible outside of comic books and History Channel documentaries. This of course means that people who do somehow figure it out have massive potential to be complete assholes to everyone around them.

A statement of shock or amazement among the Zurvár is minak sâ, which literally means “false/mistaken star”. As a seagoing people the stars are extremely important for navigation, and mistaking one star for another (or some other light for a star) can be extremely dangerous.

An expression of annoyance or anger is išká or išká ná which literally means “shark”. Išká by itself is considered fairly mild – few would bat an eyelid at a child saying it. Adding the intensifier transforms it into the equivalent of “fucking hell!” so should not be used in polite company.

The history of the Metaphysicians Guild is a bit complex, but on the basic level it’s creation was spurred by a group of occultists in Victorian London figuring out how to travel between universes and then screwing up badly enough to draw the attention of a more advanced culture (the Wyrms) who were already debating about setting up a body to try and protect non-metaphysically aware societies from paranatural threats.

The Guild was officially founded in 1908, and is based on an alternate Earth named Metaphysica (many of the Victorian occultists were foundation members and they weren’t very creative with names). It monitors around a dozen alternative Earths, but tends to have a bit of a focus (arguably an unfair one) on our own Earth (Earth-000001) since that’s where so many of the original members came from.

The de facto HQ of the Guild is the city of De Chirico on Metaphysica, which occupies the same spatial coordinates as Paris, France.

Over the years the Smithsonian has collected various artifacts too metaphysically active to be put on display. Most of these are merely inconvenient – like the pair of Abraham Lincoln’s shoes that shuffle around on their own at night – but some are actively dangerous. The Smithsonian stores all of them in a secure warehouse in Wesley Heights.

The Adams tunnel complex is a maze-like series of drainage and utility tunnels connected to the Potomac river and the old Washington City Canal. There are high levels of revenant activity, some of it actively hostile, and at least one gate which periodically opens to let creatures best described as ‘zombies’ through from a currently unidentified parallel universe. These beings are fast moving and violently hostile, happily they show no signs of intelligence and fear sunlight to the extent of never venturing above ground – even at night – and their condition is non-contagious.

The existence of the creatures was actually discovered by the United States Government during security crackdowns after the events of September 11. The Department of Homeland Security sealed up most access points to the tunnels and maintains armed patrols to keep the numbers of creatures down. The Guild monitors these but lets them get on with it – largely because it means Guild resources don’t have to be spent doing the same thing.

So you’re driving through rural North Dakota. You’ve been on the road for a couple of hours and you’re getting tired, but there’s a town about 20 miles down the road where you can pull over, get a coffee and stretch your legs, so you keep on driving. And driving. And driving. By now you absolutely should have reached the town, but there’s no sign of it. You grab your cell phone to check the map but there’s no signal. You pull over and get out of the car. The road stretches on straight in front of you and behind you – straight as a line – and to either side there’s flat, empty prairie with no fields, no farms, no nothing. You get back into the car and keep on driving. Maybe you even turn around and try to get back to that farm you passed half an hour ago. But you can’t find it. No matter how long you drive for there’s just the dead-straight, empty road and the Endless Prairie. Eventually you run out of gas. Do you wait for help? Do you get out and walk? You have a few snacks and a bottle of cola, but what happens when they run out…

Why or how this happens isn’t understood. Some very lucky people find that the prairie gives out and they find themselves driving into a town (which is how the Guild know that the phenomena exists in the first place) but what triggers it, how it can be prevented and how people stuck in it can be rescued are all unknown. The best the Guild can do is try and stop people from entering the affected area, but two or three people are lost to it every year.

The Guild monitors a number of highly active sites in Key West, but a quirk of the categorisation system places the entire Florida Keys in Region 000001-18 (the Caribbean). It’s claimed that this is for complicated administration reasons but according to rumour it’s because the current Regional Director loves the daiquiris at the Green Parrot.

An “Achilus” is a weak spot in reality that allows stuff to drift through from alternative realities. They’re useful if you want to save energy when travelling between worlds, but less useful if there’s one in your backyard that keeps letting through wasps the size of a buick.

(The wasps immediately die because there’s not enough oxygen in our air to support them and the bodies really stink up the place).

Zurvár Arèáná has a population of sapient dolphins that seem to be pathologically incapable of taking anything seriously. Numerous studies have been made of dolphin culture, but they’re all highly contradictory because dolphins consider outrageous lies to be polite conversation.

Strap in, this is a weird ride…

Back in the dark ages of the early 1990s the student-run radio station at my local university had a weekly ‘letter request’ show called Steregoround. The idea was that people would post actual, physical letters to the station asking for songs to be played, but pretty quickly the letters became more important that the songs. People would write all kinds of weird stuff (with a song request tacked onto the end) and the hosts would read out a selection of the letters they got each week. People would comment on the letters read out on the previous week’s show, send messages to other letter writers and to the hosts, pen bizarre screeds and poetry and request the weirdest music they could think of. It was kind of like a strange cross between a podcast, pen-pals, a web forum and a subreddit, with the proviso that your posts were a crapshoot – if the hosts didn’t read out your letter this week you just shrugged and sent a new one next week.

Once I became aware that this was a thing that existed I knew I had to get involved, so I started sending my own letters full of weird, nonsensical, mystical sounding crap, loosely based around my high school experiences. Some of these got read out, and over time I started building the silly, throwaway comments and references I penned into a consistent framework centered around alternative universes and a hidden world of powerful (although still rather tongue-in-cheek and silly) psychics running things behind the scenes.

Steregoround was suddenly cancelled about a year after I started taking part, but by then I’d laid the foundations for the setting I’m still working on 30 years later.

Wyrms can shapeshift between a snake-like form and a humanoid form at will, but any time they do it they end up with brand new skin and no hair. The phrase “tattooing a Wyrm” has more or less the same meaning as “rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic”.

Zurvár Arèáná is governed – to some extent – by the Konsortèum, which is a council made up of representatives from a number of powerful ancestral Zurvár houses, members of the Metaphysician’s Guild, a number of scientific and economic advisors, and a few private investors. It was set up in the 1960s to act as a settlement authority for the world and still acts in this capacity, but has expanded its remit over the decades and now acts (or at least tries to act) as a weak, central government.

Any given settlement on Zurvár Arèáná will tend to be pro-Konsortèum, seeing the transition to government as a natural progression, or anti-Konsortèum, believing it has overstepped the bounds of its original remit.

The Konsortèum governs by issuing ‘Settlement Advisories’ which are (theoretically) binding rulings for all settlers of the world. These tend to be treated as law in pro areas but are spottily respected in anti areas based on whether the locals regard them as fair, sensible, and actually pertaining to settlement issues.

Out of the Eight Cities, Bal is regarded as the pro capital and is the location of the Konsortèum headquarters. Kalif is regarded as the most anti city, which is a bit embarrassing for the Konsortèum as it’s the largest settlement on Zurvár Arèáná and is generally regarded as the world’s cultural capital.

I haven’t got around to mapping it in any detail. but the city of Gorat Sûlbarn Hì is constructed on the rim of a submerged meteorite crater about 15km across in the middle of the ocean. The rim is broken in a number of places making the interior of the crater a gigantic harbour and the impact damage resulted in numerous hot springs, which are harnessed for geothermal power generation. There is a central peak island which is protected as a nature reserve.

In Zurvár culture it’s expected that people grow at least some of their own food. A typical house with have an extensive garden with numerous varieties of fruits, vegetables and herbs that are harvested and preserved for the use of the occupants.

Common species include…

  • Dry-land rice
  • A type of magosteen that is also used to produce a bright red dye
  • A type of small, elongated tomato
  • Pomegranates
  • Mandarins and sweet lemons
  • Olives that are used almost exclusively for oil
  • Medlars, which are mostly used for tanning fabrics
  • A variety of melons and yams

An extremely important species is the Salt Berry plant, which absorbs salt from the ground and concentrates it into hard, nut-like fruits. These can be ground up for culinary use, but it’s mostly used to clean up saline soils to make them suitable for other, less salt-tolerant plants.

Most towns will have a communal Kelp Garden where a variety of seaweed species are grown for food, materials, dyes, spices and medicines. Most Zurvár fabric is made from specialised varieties of kelp.

Research has indicated that many plants used by the Zurvár show signs of genetic engineering. It is assumed that they were obtained from other species during the Zurvár’s centuries of migration between worlds.

Zurvár Arèáná is more or less a solarpunk version of Cottesloe and Fremantle in Western Australia. Blue skies, blue ocean, sandstone and pine trees!

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