The World of Dely'rae

Dely’rae is the world where (so far) three of my interactive stories are set–Drifting Tavern (which follows an apprentice trying to avoid cleaning duty), Potions Shoppe (where you play as a centuries-old Potionmaker), and Herald (in which you play as a gentlecat spy). It all started with Drifting Tavern, and now I have a couple more stories planned in that world.

With the release of Herald, I thought it would be interesting to share some insights into how I created this world.

The Origins

At the end of 2021, I wrote a short story about an apprentice bartender watching some unusual “vampires” in an inn; the premise was that “not everything is what it looks like”, and it was an attempt to practice a bit of humour. Fast-forward to the (very early) development stages of Unearthed Stories; seeking inspiration, I returned to that short story and decided it would be a good start.

Drifting Tavern, the first slice-of-life, cozy fantasy I wrote for Unearthed Stories, was then inspired by that little tale… and it got me thinking about how to materialise the “slice of life” aspect. I decided that every “day” (chapter?) would feature the mischiefs and activities of the apprentice bartender, all while being a self-contained short story within the bar.

But… where was that tavern? After pondering a bit, I crafted some prologue-style paragraphs introducing the city of Grah’rel–as a conjunction of linked ships, locked in the sea and in the clouds, all held by runes. Here is an extract of that prologue:

Grah’rel is an old city-state founded long ago. Back then, a few cruisers and vessels anchored on the Misty Sea and connected each other with planks and wooden ladders. […] We also know that a sorcerer called Beh’rilee visited us decades later. […] Her magic gave us torchlight that doesn’t extinguish, unburnable wood, eternal dragonflies illuminating the anchored ships, and metal hulls to withstand rot. More importantly, Beh’rilee gave us the Major Runes and the Minor Glyphs. […] Thus, our smithies leveraged the Major Runes, challenging wind and sea to raise the cruisers into the clouds and earn more space. (From the introduction of Drifting Tavern, by Liva J. Elliot)

I’m generally a thorough plotter–I can’t write without having every detail penned down; in some cases, I’ll even sketch sections of dialogue for future reference. But Drifting Tavern was a bit different. While plotting every “day” for the story, I began building the world alongside it. I didn’t want more magic, just quirky and unusual races that would fit the idea of “not everything is what it looks like”, or perhaps more accurately, “there is more than meets the eye”.

Thus, instead of having proper knights, the Winged Knights are a messy lot that can’t account for their wings’ behaviour, the undeads are not skeletons but polite academics, there are vampires of multiple types, orcs are not barbaric, and so on.

The Expansion

Fast-forward a few weeks after that, and I needed to write another slice-of-life, cozy fantasy. Remember, Unearthed Stories was under development at that time, and I needed a handful of stories (the ominous “content”) to fill it in. Add to the mix cozy fantasy is really not my style–I can churn dark stories quite easily, but cozy? Happy? *gasps in grimdark*

At that moment, I had just finished Drifting Tavern, and got this magnificent (lazy, perhaps?) idea of making the second story happen in another city within the same world.

Thus, Potions Shoppe was plotted. This one didn’t originate from a short story, but then again, I’m the type of writer who needs to discuss a theme with her writing. I need stories to have a second (or third) layer of meaning beyond the facts of the plot itself. Additionally, I wanted to try a different mechanic for the interactivity in Potions Shoppe, so I settled around riddles and the premise of “discovering the truth isn’t as easy as it seems”.

After that, the second city in Dely’rae was born–Leh’enah, a dwarven city that (following my idea of diverting from cookie-cutter races and worlds) was filled with libraries. Here is a bit of its introduction:

Le’henah is the most famous Dwarven city in the world of Dely’rae, positioned at the Nur of the Misty Sea. Scholars consider it the oldest city in our world; its foundation became our year zero. […] Dwarves are known for their technology and intelligence, refined scholarship, and attention to detail. Other places subsist on magic, but Le’henah lives by knowledge and engineering, by wheels that convert water into energy and wind into heat. The buildings are immense, surrounded by nature and sparkling with starlight, and never once had one of those collapsed since the Thousand Storms. (From the introduction of Potions Shoppe, by Liva J. Elliot)

Now, Potions Shoppe was developed similarly to Drifting Tavern; namely, adding to the world while scheming and drafting the plot. At that moment, I decided to seek that awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping feeling of otherwordly, safe, and charming magic. In my attempt to do that, I added things such as dimensional gardens, roots that yawn or snore, letters of ink that get scared and sprint out of their books, and so on.

Like before, as I plotted this story, Dely’rae kept growing.

The other point of growth was the inception of Herald. I had finalised writing three dark stories in a row (namely, Dance With Me, Mien, and another yet unpublished), when Unearthed Stories’ developer suggested I try writing something cozy again, “for variety’s sake”. The challenge was accepted, my cat timely unfurled from the cat-bed, and I posited writing a book with a feline protagonist.

I wanted it to bring to life all the (seemingly) nonsensical stuff cats do, and I remembered really liking Dely’rae’s undeads. In fantasy, they are generally portrayed as decaying corpses, dirty and grimy… but when writing Drifting Tavern I thought that if undeads had the entire unlife at their disposal, they should spend it reading and learning! I liked that concept so much that I chose to make them part of Herald, adding some details to the backstory of undeads (no spoilers, I promise!).

Thus, following the trend from the previous stories, I created a new city in Dely’rae, named Nol’ireh. Here is an excerpt from Herald:

Located at the edge of the Shin’tha forests and powered by magical artefacts that feed from the sunlight and the wind, Nol’ireh is famous for its exquisitely designed architecture, the spectacular landmarks, the thriving artisan markets, the variety of magical creatures, and its renown cuisine. […] Our Council of Shadows is unique; it is led by elves of shadow and mist, elegant and refined, sage and just… but never seen. Shadows cannot be caught, and they won’t either.(From the introduction of Herald, by Liva J. Elliot)

Some Details

Part of my premise with Dely’rae is that some world-building aspects would be scattered across all the stories in the same world. I find this quite a nice approach; whenever readers delve into another story set in this world, they are bound to discover new things.

Nevertheless, there is one detail I want to share here–how time is considered in Dely’rae. The difference with the real world is relatively straightforward. Days continue to be named days, but weeks are called spans and last for 11 days; then, months are called moons and last four spans (so a month always has four weeks), and there are 11 moons on each cycle (year).

Then, I wondered which names I could give the days and decided to use sky-related terminology. Thus, the eleven days are (in order): Dawnday, Flareday, Earthday, Skyday, Clearday, Noonday, Goldday, Duskday, Moonday, and Starday… which somehow follow the cycle of light in a planet that revolves around itself (unlike Earth’s Moon).

The Future

What happens now with Dely’rae? Well, many things. First, Potions Shoppe and Drifting Tavern will continue to grow–I hope to add new “days” with some of Unearthed Stories’ upcoming updates; I already did that on the update titled “Cats Take Over”, which also release Herald. After that, the next planned update (at the moment of writing this post) for Dely’rae is on December 2023

I’m also keen on adding more cities and new stories to it–which is why the map (made by me) is purposefully cropped. I’m already considering a sequel to Herald… but don’t hold me accountable for that one; at this point, it is just an idea. Then, when discussing the artwork of Herald, I mentioned having designed another protagonist; I won’t say anything else about it yet, but it would be another cozy story set in Dely’rae, with more of a genre blend as well.

In the meantime, I’m already plotting a few upcoming stories set in other worlds. But I’m keen to revisit Dely’rae again!