World Building: Unnatural Disasters

The Temporal Storms

From Elder Mayhew’s Existential Threats, Their Signs and Symptoms:

The first truly definitive sign that a temporal storm is brewing is the appearance of the heralds. These men and women appear as if from nowhere, usually speaking foreign languages and typically in an advanced state of confusion. They are not heralds in the normal sense, for they can tell us nothing about the storm which is soon to arrive; instead, it is their mere presence which alerts us to the looming disaster. 

There are signs that come before the heralds, of course, but they carry far less weight, for they have more mundane explanations. A washing woman might disappear in the night, a hunter might make note of a tree whose type he has never seen before, valuables might go missing, and so on. While it is true that these displacements happen as a result of the temporal storms, caution must be exercised to prevent the panics that inevitably occur from false alarms, as happened not once but twice in the Third Prentic Age.

As soon as the third herald has been identified, and not before, preparations should take place. Though the procedures have varied widely through the ages, as have the storms themselves, one defining constant has been the importance of evacuating the largest city near the signs of the storm. Second to evacuation, calming the populace and spreading information is paramount in ensuring low casualties and minimal property damage.

The period of the actual storms has varied widely through the centuries that have been visited by them, and we cannot say for certain that historical accounts were not heavily embellished, even in those instances when we have primary sources in the form those left behind by the storm twenty years ago. It is known, however, that the period of highest intensity tends to last less than two full days, and in some circumstances less than an hour. Once that period has passed, and activity has slowed down to a trickle, triage activity can begin and the initial damage can be mapped.

The sole primary action of the temporal storm is displacement through time of objects, people, and buildings. In most cases, it seems that the storms displaces two things which are superficially identical; a coffee shop might be replaced by a hookah den of similar size, for example, likely even with the same number of patrons inside. It is widely supposed, but certainly not proven, that the exchanges are mutal. That is, if the hypothetical hookah den is taken from the Caliphate of Seven Suns during the reign of the child king, then that is where the coffee shop from the modern era will be placed down, complete with the financiers and merchantmen who will be trapped in a new time and place.

There is another theory which states that all the temporal storms are linked together with each other, and it is a theory which has much to back it up. The coffee shop which we have supposed will not be transported into a Caliphate of Seven Suns on some ordinary day, but will instead arrive in the midst of a temporal storm much like the one that they had just left. There are scattered reports of people who have been transported through multiple eras in the course of wandering through the storm, and of course there is the (likely apocryphal) story of Wendel and Ellebeth, who chased each other through dozens of places and times to reunite and make good their true love for one another.

There is much in the way of advice on what to do if caught in the storm, but little enough of it has been tested and found true. By the principle of similarity, one would want to make oneself as unsimilar to any other person in any other time who is caught in a storm of their own. If you wear a hat, then it is likely you will be exchanged with someone who is also wearing a hat, or so the theory goes. If you do not want the storm to snatch you up and throw you a hundred years forward or backwards in time, you should be doing and wearing precisely what everyone is not wearing. The problems with this line of thought should be immediately obvious. There is other, more sound advice: stay out of buildings, whose structural integrity might be compromised during a transposition; hide yourself away from people, as many of those coming through are from less civilized ages, and most often confused and frightened; heed the heralds and don’t find yourself in the storm in the first place.

In the aftermath of a storm, there will be fires to put out, criminals and foreigners to arrest, people to be replaced, and buildings that must be torn down, rebuilt, or otherwise converted. As seen in Calorica, the legal ramifications of a temporal storm are immense, what with the newcomers, deeds to properties, missing persons, and immense damage from both the storm and the reaction of the people to it. The solution undertaken by Calorica was the creation of a new city-state, as fully two-thirds of its peoples and properties were no longer extant, replaced by strange and mutually unintelligible populations, but the results of that experiment suggest to us that a new solution must be found. It is this topic that I take up in the next chapter.

(I’d like to thank one of my D&D players, who came up with this idea when the party was trying to bluff their way out of a string of murders that they’d committed. “You see, there’s this thing called a time storm where sometimes people just go missing, vanished into time – you should probably prepare for it, we’ll be on our way.”)

World Building: Unnatural Disasters

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