by Max Barry

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The Order Commanders

The Tethysi are a race of aquatic sexless humanoids who dwell in floating cities contained within vast spheres of water. Around each sphere is a spiral structure primarily consisting of a colossal library. There is air in most of these outer areas, for the convenience of visitors. The Tethysi curate the libraries, and in order to expand it, live in a way that would make an excellent story - one that will always be penned, for the Tethysi each carry with them a book that writes their lives as they happen.

The Tethysi have a number of physical characteristics that set them apart from humans. Their average height is 169 centimetres, though individuals as tall as 250 have been seen. Their skin is usually a shade of blue or green, but can vary in shade from near white to near black. They have gills on their cheeks with secondary ones on their necks. Though they normally cannot breathe air, a few choose to have surgery to grant themselves that capability. Their skin is scaled, but it is faint, normally only visible around the hairline or as a shimmer under light. Their 'hair' is long and naturally pale, and is not true hair - each strand is in fact a slender trailing tentacle filled with stinging cells containing a neurotoxin that can paralyse or even kill those not immune. Their feet are flippered but jointed, able to move without significant difficulty on land, and their hands have retractable webs. They have glands in their throats that can produce an ink-like substance, enabling them to refill their writing quills by licking the nib. Their eyes are flecked with silver, a hold-over from their predecessors.

Another vital aspect of the Tethysi is their Autobiographies. When two Tethysi become a couple, they can choose to create a new book, and write within it the introduction - in this way they craft their child, who manifests most commonly as the physical equivalent of a pre-teen, with the attributes and traits written within their book - though, often, the words shift and change from what the parents intended. The books remain with the Tethysi all their lives, the narrative of their existence writing itself upon the pages. Those pages are no paper or parchment but gossamer-thin membranes with pores that discolour to form the letters. Once the Tethysian dies, their body is absorbed by the book, which is then shelved within the libraries. Indeed, it is normally only after the bearer dies that others can interact with the book at all - before then it is intangible, impervious to harm in all but the most outlandish situations.

There are no 'Tethys 1-12'. The '13' in the nation's name is a holdover from its vanished past. The Nation first developed on the 13th planet of the Tethys star system, and so that was the planet's name. One day that ocean world broke orbit under its own power, and began to maraud throughout the galaxy ringed by a massive fleet. When it met its end, the Tethysi split into thirteen fleets, each with their own distinct culture. Now all that remains of those days is legends, fractured histories the Tethysi seek to restore.

The Tethysi have a strong militaristic and dramatic culture, grudgingly considered of very high quality even on a universal scale. Common hobbies include coral arrangement, music, dance and theatre - aside, of course, from the two passions that define them. Though there are of course exceptions, most Tethysi live as warriors. They prize honour and act under a moral code of conduct in all things, though that code may be different from individual to individual. It is common for them to shave their heads, or at least crop their hair short or tie it close, as using it in a duel would be seen as dishonourable and undignified. Glorious deeds are the ultimate prize of all Tethysi, whether in combat or otherwise, so that the story of their life might be one successive generations are inspired by. Obviously, literature is also of vital importance to Tethysi culture. The gathering of new books from across the galaxy to fill their libraries is their highest calling as a nation.

Other than their physical traits, the Tethysi have several abilities that set them apart, products of their strange creation and lives. First, they have two passive abilities:
1: Paradoxical Rule - The Tethysi are immune to the effects of omnipotence. They cannot simply be destroyed or erased from existence by all-surpassing power. This paradox serves as the source of their other capabilities.
2: Setting Assimilation/'As the Plot Demands' - Whenever they enter any scenario, their physical capabilities are automatically scaled to an antagonist within the narrative of that event or location. If the setting contains supernatural powers, they have a chance of gaining them and a level of mastery over them depending on their scaled power. Thus, the same Tethysian might arrive on one planet equal in strength to the average soldier, yet on another might be on par with an immortal demon-king. This ability also grants them an understanding of the languages and broad customs required to communicate with the cultures they encounter.
They have other active abilities. Aside from the first, these are useable by taking up their Autobiographies and inscribing upon them their will:
1. Symbolism Activate - Through the power of narrative symbolism, they can transform an appropriately symbolic item - usually their robes or quills - into an object that is the target of that symbolism.
2. Setting Join - The Tethysian writes themself into the narrative at hand. They become a person of that setting, often resulting in a physiological change to grant them the appearance and capabilities of the people around them. They are written into the past of that setting - often mildly, a birth certificate here or distant rumour there, though in some cases it can result in significant historical and geographical changes. This ability can be rescinded once the individual's role in that narrative has concluded.
3. Setting Reset/'Your Powers are Gone' - The Tethysian enforces their own reality upon the surrounding area, removing all supernatural capabilities from those involved. This ability cannot be used in conjunction with Setting Join, and causes Setting Assimilation to only adapt them to the physical capabilities of their opponent. This ability is rarely used, as it is considered the less interesting option, but exists so that, if the Tethysi face an omnipotent being, they do not degrade themselves and the conflict to a universe-breaking mess.
4. Foreshadow - The Tethysian makes a statement. If the criteria for it are reached later on, their power increases. If it becomes impossible, their power decreases. The longer it goes before being activated, the greater the power shift.
5. Fate Dictate - This is the most dangerous ability of the Tethysi, forbidden to use as it is so dangerous to themselves. Breaking the taboo, they write a series of events into their Autobiographies, attempting to force the narrative to make their writing come true. Often this fails, as the narrative rejects their alterations. Whether it succeeds or fails, it is usually followed by the complete loss of that individuals abilities, sometimes accompanied by a loss of cognition or even death.

Tethysi Writing