Clouds

Marvels. Bleak Omens. Promises of bright future.

The temperature had been severely decreasing for a while now. The higher they went the colder. Yet they were still ascending, ignoring the freezing water around them. Hollene was pushing his skip to its limits, and put all his faith in it. If any skip was able to go this high, it was Anhvall. Still, it made him uneasy to force his companion against its will. Not to mention the mental load it was to impose his orders to a resisting target.   This time, they have been driven into a corner. No one was able to tell how the Righteous Order has been able to find the Ohllm, but they came prepared. A whole fleet surrounded the skip, coming from everywhere. Hlml and Duouv have been utterly destroyed, but the unfortunate skips managed to gain enough time for Anhvall to escape to the surface.   Most skips, let alone Spheres, can't even reach Ohllm for it is too shallow. But anywhere higher ? This is a death sentence. The membrane dilates and explodes, the pressure changes too quickly for the skip to balance it's inner medium and the crew is ejected in the Expanse to die painfully, if they're not lucky enough to freeze to death beforehand.   Anhvall is built different. Almost membraneless, his thick shell protects the Seekers from the icy conditions of the outside, and it is able to maintain its integrity at lesser pressures than any other. Of course, it is not enough to reach the surface, but the Order's armada didn't dare to follow them this high, and was probably in deeper waters, waiting for the skip to come down by itself.   "Look, outside ! Shouted someone. What are those ?"   "It seems we've reached the clouds, explained calmly Etete. We could use them to hide our shadow, but I advise against ascending further up, Hollene."
 

The Surface. Though many dream of it, no one can ever reach it. Very little is known about it. For one thing, the water near the Surface is cold enough to freeze to death any oblivious skip that dares ascend too high. Then, it is where most of the light comes from, and the epipelagic zone is very bright. And coming from the sky are the clouds, unparalleled natural wonders.

 
by William Christen

What clouds are made of

Very early scientific expedition were made to unravel the mystery of the composition of clouds. Less than an Oppollln Cycle after the discovery of the first cloud, a skip led by Akkhlorn brought back a piece of cloud. Half of the crew died in the feat, and the rest were severely bit by the frost.

 

A short study of the cloud before it melted showed that they are nothing but water solidified by the incredible cold. It was a first, to learn that the water, which surrounds everything, can be something else than liquid. No one could really hold the water. It was considered then as an omnipresent fluid, sometimes given form by the currents, but never a shape. This frozen water was named ice, and multiple attempts have been made to recreate it artificially. It proved impossible however, for ice can only appear in the extreme cold near the Surface.

 

Another set of expedition highlighted the lack of minerals in ice. Even if it isn't visible, water holds many small crystals vital to life in the Expanse. Though ice is nothing but frosted water, there is next to no such crystal in a fragment. This peculiar characteristic is not yet fully understood, but paved the way to the invention of pure water, a liquid of no impurities and many usages.

 

Swing along the currents

It is obvious that clouds aren't immobile. Like all things, they are to submit to the will of the currents. Usually, it is no big deal to swim against most of them, except for the greatest. Up there, currents are wild. Between clouds, they accelerate, deviate mid-course and even disappear in some places. This makes navigation in the sky suicidal at best, since very few skips can survive the freezing grasp of the clouds.

 

These erratic movements are believed to shape the clouds, eroding the rough blocks into amazing forms and patterns. Some theories suggest that it was the flow of water that tears down the Surface continuously, releasing clouds in the Expanse, only for them to be chiseled and eventually swallowed by the water.

 
 
The dark skip glided for a long time in silence. The fleet didn't chase them this high, but surely they were standing guard under the sky, waiting for the cold to force them down. Anhvall was slow and showed signs of exhaustion. It wouldn't be long before they will have to make a choice, to freeze to death or to wage a hopeless battle. Suddenly, the voice of Hollene echoed through the skip.   "I noticed several cloud sculptors ahead. Maybe we can ask them to come down with us to hide our signature."   Everyone pondered the suggestion, asking themselves whether involving innocent people was the right thing to do. A vibrating echo filled the place, settling the matter. The Revealer spoke.   "Right. Let's do this. And if it doesn't work, they will fight for us."
 

Cloud sculpting

With the emergence of a new kind of skip, suited to the environment of the sky and even resilient to the touch of clouds, an art form hatched. A group of younglings from Éhtivl eager to prove themselves realized the feat to sculpt the clouds. Though crudely, using the claws of the skips, they carved a pattern corresponding to their name in another novelty, the Scripture.

 

Others rushed into the latest artsy trend and quickly developed a way to alter the currents to chisel very precisely the ice. Cloud sculpting split in two schools.

 

Raw Sculpting

To its adepts, this method is more accessible and easier than the other, without being limited. Wonderful works of art can be produced by raw sculpting. The artist is the skipper, handling cautiously the appendages of their skip to etch the cloud. The downside is that this way tend to shatter the cloud entirely, should the skip make a bad movement, or be destabilized by the unpredictable currents. Also, many argue that it disfigure the natural wonders, and force them to fit the narrow mind of the artist.

Current Sculpting

Way harder than the other, this school requires skilled skipper and a special gear. The technology, inspired by military pressure beams, uses the force of the sky currents and divert them to erode specific parts of the cloud. Currents sculpting practitioners claim to be in harmony with the natural forces, and their works have indeed a natural aspect, sometimes indistinguishable from real clouds. However, this path is only for the wealthiest, as the equipment is extremely expensive for a niche art.

Cloudgazing

 

The brightness of the Surface allows for a most popular activity : during the epipelagic phase of a Sphere, its denizens gather under the sky to admire the wonderful and diverse shapes of the clouds.

 

During these periods of idle and reflection, many stories are hatched from the thoughts of spectators. However, most of them come from sightseeing species. Since clouds don't have any signature, in Unitone or temperature, sight is the primary way to contemplate them.

 

Symbolism in the clouds

To many, cloudgazing is the only time in their lives free of any trouble. Clouds then became signs of peace and harmony, and so became the bright and immaculate white they bear as colors. But none ignore that, just like clouds, immaculate peace often hide a painful death when looked up close. Idioms hatched from this contrast and are used in most languages.

 
For someone to be white as cloud

Means that this someone may appear all nice and sweet, but hide ill intents.

 
A cloudy omen

Is the anticipation of an event with an either very bright, or very dark outcome.

 
A sky of no cloud

Is said about something bland without anything that stands out, dull.

 
To be lost in the clouds/ To have one's head in the clouds

Is to have a hard time in the midst of a swirl of events, either physicals or a turmoil of thoughts.

by pxfuel

An uncertain future

In recent cycles, it was found out that the sky level lowered, and with it the global temperature. Clouds are now sighted deeper than they ever were. At the same time, it seems that the abyss too become more accessible, just like if the Expanse didn't get thinner, and just lowered instead. Though these findings are not yet proven true, they stirred great agitation, between the ones worrying about the sky falling on their head, and the others looking forward to the access to the hypothetical floor under the Abyss.

The Obloggian Perspective

Our Sphere has one of the shallower zone of habitat. Though we can dive quite deep, it is with great pleasure that our spheriers lift Oblogga several times in a cycle. These cloudy times are well met holidays for the spheria, and gather people from all over the Expanse to admire the wonders. What's more, it is a very good opportunity for our merchants and scholars. Every time, some scientifics take a skip to the nearest cloud in order to conduct their strange experiments. I have no doubt that at this rate, we will be the first to uncover a mean to make artificial clouds. Or even better, to weaponize the ice.



Cover image: by Annie Spratt

Comments

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Sage Dylonishere123
R. Dylon Elder
24 Dec, 2021 19:41

Gosh, i love this setting. Every article I read is just awesome and I hold on to the notifications just to make sure i look at them when i have the time to really read them. its trippy how they use terms like the sky and of course, clouds. It's wild to think that ice would be such a monumental breakthrough. The further developments of better skips and sculpting is really interesting as well. it gives such an abstract and poetic vibe to it. well done!

26 Dec, 2021 17:07

Thank you so much ! Things that seem to be totally normal may become extraordinary in an alien setting, and finding how so is a big part of the fun ! As always, I am so glad you liked it :D

Eternal Sage AmélieIS
Amélie I. S. Debruyne
25 Dec, 2021 11:04

I love the name of clouds for the icebergs :D this is just perfect! It's fascinating to see all the implications, with the sculpting, scientific expeditions, all those idioms... I also love the quotes from Anhvall (quick note, I just realised you use the French dialogue punctuation with the dash - instead of the quotation marks " ", I'm not sure how clear this is for English speakers). It seems that Anhvall is really very popular if they can just ask some random people for help! The "Obloggan perspective" is always interesting and I like how you include that in all articles.   And this last note about the sea levels decreasing is very intriguing! I'm with the scientists here! I hope we'll get to learn more about the Abyss :D

To see what I am up to, see the list of my Summer Camp articles—my favourite is Sentient Cells.
26 Dec, 2021 17:01

Thank you for your kind words, I'm trying to write longer pieces of prose, happy you liked it ! I'm always confused with dialogue marks, I actually thought they were English ones, because I usually go with " " x)   There is definitely something going on with this and I can't wait to have the world foundations built so I can unravel the story :D

2 Jan, 2022 19:16

Oh, I love this alien point of view! It's fascinating to see icebergs through the eyes of an ocean dweller, and how it affects their culture. And of course, there would be people who want to weaponize the ice rather than sculpt it into art... Some thought patterns seem to be universal. Great article!


Creator of the Kaleidoscope System, an alien star system shaped by a colorful radiation source.   My Pledge for Summer Camp 2022
4 Jan, 2022 20:28

Thank you for your comment! It actually inspired me to make an article about the war in the Expanse and what it really means :D. Very glad you liked it!

11 Jan, 2022 23:53

This was quite a place to enter into reading a new setting. It's a reminder of the perspective variation. It was fun to read in and realize rather quickly that I was reading about ICE rather than SKY, and then to get into it far enough to see it referred to as SKY nonetheless! This is from such a different POV that it changes the entirety of the material. These pressure-dependent people cannot visit the sky we know, but dwell where they see a sky we know not...   WorldEmber has been proving a true creative treasure, and I'm glad I asked around for people to volunteer up their settings for commentary.

Sage Timepool
Garrett Grace Lewis
13 Jan, 2022 23:09

Whoah, what a clever idea!

23 Jan, 2022 21:15

Someone recommended me this article, and I got to say, I love the underwater perspective of your world! This article of icebergs being clouds was my first introduction to your world and the way you wrote it, the amount of detail, perspectives and uses was super unique and truly inspiring!

Master PrincessESH
Aster Blackwell
22 Apr, 2022 00:44

I'm glad I finally got around to reading this. Your world is incredible!