Trials of Syrus
Trial by fire
xcilior's sun, Syrus, goes through a periodic conflagration whereby the star visibly grows and can look somewhat darker. This phenomenon is far from cosmetic. It triggers catastrophic change through weather patterns that devastate the planet.
The Trials are so traumatic that each is recorded as its own distinct and significant historic event and they are numbered like the monarchic lineage of some sinister ruling family. There have been 15 Trials through recorded history. The 1st Trial began in 215 AoC. The 15th, and most recent, Trial began on 3673 AoG.
rials begin every 247 years. The mechanism that drives this cycle is completely unknown. Even the fact that the Trials are a cycle was, initially, unknown. The first several Trials to plague casterway society were deemed to be random, albeit horrific, phenomena with no potential for predictability. It wasn't until the onset of the 3rd Trial in 709 AoE that many cognoscenti began to suspect that the previous 247-year intervals couldn't possibly be a coincidence and that they might be driven by a regular cycle. The theories were confirmed in 956 AoE with the onset of the 4th Trial, coinciding perfectly with the timetable implied by the first three.
The understanding of this cycle has helped, somewhat, to ameliorate the Trials' impacts. With such solid predictability, it would be easy to assume that successive Trials could be thoroughly planned-for and that all proper contingencies could be taken to assure no undue loss of life or livelihood. Unfortunately, this has rarely been the case. Although the Trials' cyclical nature has certainly allowed some societies to brace themselves for their effects, a recurring theme throughout history has been the sad tendencies of many nations and cultures to chronically under-prepare for the looming disasters. These tendencies have been further exacerbated by the ever-present realities of conflict, inept leadership, magical thinking, and outright denial amongst the population.
ust as the time between Trials has proven to be solidly predictable, so too is the duration of each trial. Every observed Trial has lasted for precisely 17 years. No more. No less. The severity and impact of each Trial fluctuates from year-to-year during its onset, but no Trial has ever truly subsided until 17 years have passed.
he first and most obvious effect is that Syrus grows larger and somewhat darker. The expansion of the planet's star has nearly immediate effects. Through the course of the Trial, temperatures will range as high as 7 degrees above seasonal norms. Warmer, drier winds increase across most of the landmasses. Most importantly, rainfall slows to a trickle.
The most prevalent atmospheric condition across all of Excilior is always: rain. When climate swings cooler, it rains. When the climate warms, it still rains. During the "dry" season, the population still expects to see some level of rain every three-to-four days Rain is the great giver of life on the planet, and the ecosystem absolutely thrives upon it. So the Trials' droughts are, by far, their most devastating side effect. Rivers that typically rage through the countryside suddenly slow to a trickle. The continents' great trees struggle to maintain their foliage and weather the calamity. Fauna, that are so accustomed to finding drinking whatever wherever they turn, must deal with the odd sensation of thirst.
ot only do the Trials repeat on a cyclical, predictable basis, but the pattern of weather within those trials also establishes a standard ritual that has become well-worn over the millennia. Those with religious leanings have often come to view this pattern as an exceptionally-cruel trick that can only be evidence of a god (or a pantheon of gods) that are both capricious and sadistic.
The inner pattern of the Trials is not as clockwork-predictable as the overall 247-year cycle. There have been Trials that do not hew closely to the following schedule. But more often than not, a Trial plays out similar to this over each of the 17 years:
Syrus visibly swells to almost 140% of its "normal" size. In recent years, cognoscenti have been able to confirm that some of this visible conflagration is, in fact, an optical illusion. Excilior's thick atmosphere has a lensing effect. This means that an actual increase in size of, say, 20% may appear, to the naked eye, as though it's as large as 40%, thanks largely to magnification effects in the upper atmosphere. But regardless of the technical percentage, the simple fact is that Syrus swells. And it does so in a way that is not subtle. This first year is absolutely catastrophic - especially for those in primitive times who had no forewarning of the coming tragedy. During this year, temperatures are 3-5 degrees above norms. Much more damning is the effect on rainfall. Year 1 typically sees rainfall that is ten percent of historical norms. In the 5th Trial of Syrus (1203 AoE) the Ahtian capital of Saspo reported receiving no rain - FOR. THE. ENTIRE. YEAR. Other Trials have seen metropolitan centers stationed on major riverways reporting that their tributaries have run absolutely dry.
On the surface, Year 2 may look like a reprieve. After all, Syrus seems to return to its "normal" size in the sky. Temperatures are "only" 2-3 degrees above norms. And rainfall increases so that it's "only" below historical norms by 75% (as opposed to Year 1, which is typically 90% below historical norms). But it doesn't take long to realize that this so-called reprieve is no help at all. Given that last year's crops completely and utterly failed, the countryside inhabitants start flooding into the cities - where they will too-often find insufficient food stores. The fact that this year's rainfall is still 75% below norms means that the current crop, if it survives at all, will offer only a fraction of the needed food supply. And many of the farmers who would have otherwise been harvesting those meager yields are now begging in the cities.
Temperatures hold steady at 2-3 degrees above historical norms. Rainfall increases to where it is "only" 65% lower than normal. There are few crops anywhere to speak of. Canopeia trees - some of the most steadfast fauna on the entire planet - start to lose their leaves. These are the same drought-resistant leaves that are as thick as leather. Long-lost land bridges start to reappear. An ill-prepared society can already have lost 15% of its population by this point.
Temperatures are a consistent 3 degrees above historical norms. Rainfall increases to where it is "only" 55% lower than normal. Wildlife populations start to collapse. Unique species of "emergency" crops are starting to emerge from the soil. They offer a variety of sweet fruits - and it can feel like a boon for small, isolated populations. But it is nowhere the sustenance needed to curb the tide of starvation happening in urban centers. Poor (and hungry) squatters start to colonize the now-abandoned farms.
Temperatures rise to 3.5 degrees above historical norms. Rainfall increases to where it is "only" 45% lower than normal. The majestic canopeia trees are at least 50% bare. Most trees (of any species) that are younger than 50-75 years are in immediate danger of perishing. Wildfires - a phenomenon that rarely presents itself in the drenched environs of Excilior - make their first appearances in old-forest regions.
Temperatures hold steady at 3.5 degrees above historical norms. Rainfall increases to where it is "only" 35% lower than normal. Most crops have offered no yield for several years. Ill-prepared societies can easily have lost 25% of their population by this point.
Rains are "only" 20% lower than historical norms. The temperature falls to being "only" 2 degrees above those same norms. There is little infrastructure left in the countryside, but the relatively wet (compared to recent years) conditions allow many fruits and other staple crops to grow wild of their own accord. Although the rains foster increasing flooding, at least some some portion of the remaining population starts to feel a modicum of optimism.
Temperatures remain high - almost 2.5 degrees Celsius above norms. Rain returns to 100% of norms. The uninitiated are ecstatic with the return of a full rainy season - but they don't realize that this is not the blessing they presume. Wild seedlings try to take root. But the rains now lead to epic flooding which washes great swaths of soil from massive, established root systems. Some canopeias simply fall over - having lost all mooring in the deep mud, which has become unstable due to liquefaction.
Temperatures jump to 3.5 degrees above norms. Rain is still at 100% of norms. Razers start to form at a rate far higher than usual.
Temperatures jump to 4 degrees above norms. Rain is still at 100% of norms. There are no crops that can make it through storm season. Ill-prepared societies can easily have lost 50% of their population by this point. The natural strife in the environment is almost always echoed by societal strife, as the remaining citizens riot and topple existing power structures.
Temperatures jump to 4.5 degrees Celsius above norms. Syrus once again takes a larger portion of the sky - and it grows darker. Rain falls to 80% of norms. Slightly-drier soil is now met with ever-increasing wind storms.
Temperatures jump to 5 degrees above norms. Rain falls to 60% of norms. City-states dissolve. Anarchy takes hold.
Temperatures jump to 5.5 degrees above norms. Rain falls to 40% of norms. Nothing grows.
Temperatures jump to 6 degrees above norms. Rain falls to 30% of norms. Governments struggle to exist at all. Feudal lords have probably already been eaten by the serfs. There are few central authorities.
Temperatures hold steady at 6 degrees above norms. Rain falls to 20% of norms It is every man/woman/child for themselves.
Temperatures hold steady at 6 degrees above norms. Rain falls to 15% of norms For those remaining, heat stroke is a daily threat. The shrinking seas are one of the few remaining food sources - but armed hooligans kill those who approach the beaches. Owning a boat is the equivalent of being a deity.
Temperatures rise to an unthinkable 7 degrees above norms. Rain falls to 5% of norms. The lush rain forests across the entire planet burn. Great clouds of ash and debris black out the sky. Ill-prepared societies can easily have lost 80%, or even 90%, of their population by this point.
Amazingly, everything goes right back to normal at this point. Syrus shrinks to its regular size, content to have wreaked havoc for the better part of two decades. Temperatures fall 7 degrees in a single year to return to normal. Rainfall bounces right back to its usual level. There will still be a few more years of hardship as flora works to reestablish its roots and fauna struggles to rebuild its populations. But it's astonishing how quickly most of the natural world will bounce right back to the norm once it has the moderate temperatures and the quenching rainfall that it needs to thrive. The canopeias that survived will rebound in impressive fashion. Crops burst from the soil - even with few-or-no farmers there to foster them. The world's game board has been "reset" - and everything from here forward will be a drastically different landscape than that which existed 17 years ago.
ne of the most devastating aspects of the Trials is the fact that it is a planet-wide phenomenon. Higher regions - especially in the western Jontzu nations of Wansia and Namgongia tend to do a little bit better. The eastern coast of Islegantuan also tends to receive a little more rain during the Trials because the prevailing westerlies are constantly dumping whatever rains they can over those shores first. But there is no part of Excilior's surface that is truly spared the massive and extended effects of the Trials. During the worst reaches of the Trials, populations do have some tendency to migrate southward. This doesn't happen because there is more rain in the south, or because food sources are more plentiful - neither is true. But given the global increase in temperatures, the equatorial regions in the north simply become unbearable for some.
Safety in Caves
The most resilient culture during Trials is, without a doubt, the Noctern. They are not entirely immune to the Trials, but their ancestral homes deep within the Ontorlands do a wonderful job of keeping them relatively safe and secure. The freshwater streams that course through their caverns do, in fact, slow down considerably. But the extent of the planet's underground freshwater system is not impacted nearly as severely as those above-ground systems. And given that Nocterns for long periods based solely on the mosses and fungi that grow below the surface, they are well-positioned to survive through these extended natural disasters. The relative ease with which they manage through Trials has at times become another point of friction between Nocterns and their envious oplander counterparts.