The Horror Dusk Homunculi
In the Irsten of 9979, after a particularly brutal black sun event known colloquially as the Horror Dusk, the recovery of several previously undiscovered bodies from Distal B set Petalcap Vale ablaze with frightful speculation. Over time, an urban legend developed around the horrific discovery that, possibly, a group of Distal-adapted Verdial abominations had been set loose upon the Manifold.
In the years leading up to the Horror Dusk, Petalcap Vale University had, under the auspices of the Petalcap Vale Customs Authority, established numerous research stations in Distal B for the purpose of studying the unusual left-chiral life forms found there. While the Distal Tesseract is plenty dangerous on its own, Verdial physiology and the proximity of the municipality of Petalcap Vale in Caudal D meant that these brave scientists were uniquely adapted for dealing with the threats found there.
In the aftermath of this days-long black sun event in the early Iksunten of 9978 AR, rescuers from the PVCA were able to recover many of the researchers - but not all. While many of the lost researchers were later found dead, whether from neurological damage or violence at the hands of their peers, several others were never accounted for. These few would not be recovered until almost ten months later, in 9978 AR.
What was unexpected, though, was the unseen threat of a billowing hate spore bloom so potent that it would block out the sunlight itself from crossing the inflection layer, blacking out communicaitons and driving some researchers into a bloodsoaked frenzy while the rest were forced to secret themselves away from their now-murderous colleagues.
The SettlementThe small, concealed settlement at the center of the Horror Dusk Homunculi was discovered in the late Irsten of 9978 AR, almost ten months after the Horror Dusk itself. The Petalcap Vale Customs Authority agents who discovered the settlement would later remark that the settlement had perhaps gone undetected previously because the settlers, having been scattered into the wilderness by the violence taking place at the research stations, had become lost far afield from the University's airship pad. Once thuroughly lost, the researchers would have had little choice but to hunker down and wait for a rescue which would ultimately never reach them. The settlement found by the agents was a series of humble cabins built from felled logs in a clearing in the woods; outside of the Vale, warmth is a crucial matter of survival in all Caudal-associated cube layers, and Distal B is no exception. The fact that the camp was in a clearing was likely both an attempt to become more visible to aerial search-and-rescue teams and a way to keep in the daylight - away from the dangerous Distal polyp colonies found in the region's beshadowed places. Over time, the lost researchers had apparently become resigned to the possibility that they would never see their homes again. The journal of one Dr. Finnis Rels, found in the camp ruins indicated, that the researchers, twenty in all and evenly split between the sexes, had become so bereft of hope for rescue at the one month mark that they had decided to start a colony of their own. Some of the female researchers had unwittingly been in the early stages of pregnancy when they had been scattered from the research stations, cementing in the survivors' minds that a settlement would have to be established regardless if rescue took much longer to come. The settlement, dubbed Rockspade by the locals, was officially christened in the early second month. Dr. Rels remarked that food was initially a concern, but the Creator had provided for them: a combination of verdial photosynthesis and the presence of botanists in the group with an interest in getting Distal soil to support right-chiral life could keep the crew fed, albeit in meagre fashion, more or less indefinitely. Dr. Rels speaks about how the other researchers - now settlers - handled disputes and built a neat little village for themselves, handling the situation with more grace than might be expected for survivors of the traumas of the Horror Dusk. It was around seven months in, though, that the journal takes a dark turn. At around seven months, the Dr. Rels writes on the birth of the first 'Rockspadean' in a rambling entry describing some sort of unforseen deformity in the child's Caudal symbiote. Dr. Rels explains that the child had a 'phosphorescent gleam' about him and, curiously, could be calmed by merely bringing him out under the night sky. Later entries speak of more phosphorescent children being born to the women of Rockspade, each manifesting the same odd behavioural quirk. At the same time, Dr. Rels begins to speak of what he describes of "a latent toll exacted by those horrible days so long ago... like all the outrage at the Creator's lack of care was bubbling up, driving (the other settlers) to quarrel with one another over the smallest slights." Journal entries become more sparse and less organized over the subsequent weeks until, shortly before the PVCA agents arrived, they ceased altogether.
When the journal of Dr. Rels was found in his cabin and read, a search party was immediately sent into the surrounding woods to recover the remaining two adults and four children not accounted for among the dead. One man as found in the woods, his body parasitized post-mortem by Distal polyps, requiring the shambling colony to be put down with force when it tried to attack the agents. The children and last woman were never found, and the cause of death for the villagers was never conclusively determined.
In Irsten, a group of PVCA agents operating on reports of campfire smoke being detected in Distal B around ten miles outside of the (then refurbished) University research outpost came across the quiet village of Rockspade. What they discovered within and around the ten timber cabins shocked them in ways which left them traumatized to this very day. The large bonfire at the center of town was still casting embers into the poisonous, ultraviolet night sky, as though it had been stoked only a night or two before. The bodies of eighteen villagers lay all about, with no visible signs of struggle to be found - as though, taken by surpise by some unknown menace, they had all fallen dead in an instant.
When the news of what had happened at Rockspade was delivered with the morning newspapers and radio broadcasts, it caused an instant sensation in the city. Speculation abounded with regards to the numerous mysterious circumstances surrounding the lost village - the unknown cause of sudden death, the rambling notes at the end of the journal, and - most importantly - the disposition of the missing villagers. University biologists at that time were beginning to suspect that long-term exposure to Distal environmental factors would eventually lead to the creation of so-called 'Racemic Verdials,' a new race (if not species) of verdials who could survive on both chiralities of amino acids present in their diets. Fears that Racemic Verdials could represent a threat to ongoing verdial survival in the Manifold through competition were growing, in a cultural moment mirroring the growth Creeping Lichens Conspiracy in the Coalition states at that time. This fear, combined with the horror of the Rockspade story, led many to fearfully speculate that the lost children were actually the first of these Racemic Verdials. Tabloids dubbed the lost children 'The Horror Dusk Homunculi,' fearfully prophesied another Horror Dusk which would mutate the firstborn of Vale Verdials, and lead to a scifi-esque war against the mutant spawn for control of the Vale. Sales of gas masks and what limited birth control existed at that time skyrocketed as mass 'homunculus hysteria' gripped the city for almost a year. It took the Verdant Order using their connections to suppress tabloid sales to finally quash the panic, making the era an all-around black mark on Vale Verdial cultural history.
In the intervening years, the initial panic surrounding the disappearance of The Horror Dusk Homunculi has given way to simple curiosity: what did actually happen to the residents of Rockspade, both recovered and unrecovered? If the children had survived, they would be adults by now. This possibility seems unlikely due to the general difficulty of surviving in the Distal Tesseract and the fact that it's unknown if the surviving adult would be capable of successfully foraging with four babies in tow. No further evidence of survivors from the Horror Dusk era have been recovered despite years of expeditions into the region. In any case, the possibility of the children, now grown, still being out there has led to a number of pieces of horror literature and stage adaptations of the doomed village's fate. The movie Final Days at Rockspade, while critically panned, maintains a cult following among Vale Verdial film afficionados as a piece of 'retro' body horror with excellent practial effects. The science fiction arthouse thriller Into Violet takes a more scientifically-grounded approach to the story of Rockspade, exploring themes of isolation, emotional sustenance, and the gradual acceptance of one's own mortality. The later film's depiction of a hallucinatory, morally-aloof Forgist Creator in the eyes of one resident has been noted to have odd parallels to the Creator's depiction in the Johny Hardball comics of the day, though most Vale Verdial viewers tend to view Into Violet as the more nuanced take on the concept.