Once Upon a Line universe
My eyes can't see very far and my hands are dancing in the wind.
My whole body is in agony and every minute that passes brings me closer to eternity.
But my heart is a sanctuary in which a valiant spirit drinks like the beating of a butterfly's wing.
I am Lukane, the Elder and this is my city.
Almost a hundred years ago, we dune surveyors began our long exodus in search of a land of abundance and prosperity.
Carried by the winds, and probably also by luck, riding for weeks on our majestic Oedipods, we finally arrived in the land of Kell.
I was only eight years old then, but I will never forget the spectacle offered to me by this new emerging world.
There, under our amazed eyes lived a whole people in perfect symbiosis with the lords of the earth: the Great Arthropods.
We then learned how the Kellians, aided by the "pollentanyl", had sculpted the strata of society to establish a new order
and erect this resurgent civilization around five Major Guilds.
Artists : Tonny Branzza, Bastien Boulai
The Assembly of Lepilazuli
A thick fog gravitates around this elitist and prized circle. Discreet yet ubiquitous, the Lepilazuli inspire respect and arouse jealousy.
Dressed in white togas, a symbol of virtue and humility, their outfit imposes a social distance from the lower strata of society. History textbooks tell that the Lepilazuli were basically the very first Kellians, builders of the City, and saviors of humanity.
Deified for having discovered the secrets of “pollentanyl”, a chemical substance that makes the Great Arthropods docile, their respectability has gradually left them, thus causing them to decline in public opinion. This is especially the case of the Great Monarchs, a handful of individuals living in seclusion, at the top of high ivory towers. Their extremely rare appearances flesh out the mystery that hovers over their way of life and their legitimacy to enjoy the status of the wealthy.
In each of the 3 towers, the Lepilazuli exact their control over:
In a jealously kept secret place, a division of chemists proceeds every day with the production of “pellets”, small tablets of pollentanyl amalgamated with various adjuvants. While these small tokens help calm the savagery of the arthropods, they also serve as currency for all commercial transactions within Kell.
A division of zealous officials scrupulously controls the production, storage, and distribution of pellets. Access is very heavily guarded by the SquadrAnt Legion elite trained in maintaining order and anti-terrorism. Few non-Lepilazuli have ever been able to enter the Celestial Gardens, the epicenter of monetary power where the pellet stock safes are placed under high security.
An entire tower is dedicated to education. Scouts relentlessly scour all of Kell's neighborhoods to spot the brightest minds from an early age.
Essentially oriented to science & letters, the upper classes also train senior officials, who are then placed in the highest positions of the 5 Major Guilds.
Each year, by a vote among a consortium of intellectuals of the caste, a procession of politicians is responsible for ensuring the proper functioning of the City, passing laws, and deciding on the allocation of budgets.
Often criticized for their decisions, the politicians mix little with the population, thus increasing the obvious gap between the people and the legislator.
Insects & Major Guilds:
Faithful to tradition, the most powerful Lepilazuli grant themselves exclusive ownership of butterflies. For a few years now, the latest chic within the guild has been to own a pet caterpillar. Sometimes stinging but always voracious, the capricious companions of this small aristocracy have already reduced by half the bucolic arboretum of the Latin Quarter.
Artists : Leandro Di Terlizzi, Bastien Boulai
The SquadrAnt Legion
The SquadrAnt Legion
Placed under the orders of the Red Empress, the SquadrAnt Legion constitutes a military force able to ensure the maintenance of public order in the city and serves on the outskirts to repel wild insects, destroy nests and alert the authorities of any external threat.
Within this Major Guild, there are mainly 3 distinct army corps:
THE TROPHAL GUARD
The Trophal Guard brings together all of the land army corps necessary for security and maintaining order in the heart of the city. Located not far from the Grand Place, the garrison is a fortified building in the shape of a dome and pierced with loopholes. Its surrounding wall protects the guards, the militiamen, and the SquadrAnt apprentices.
THE LUGUBRE PATROL
A mounted division of the legion, the patrol rides giant ants specially selected for their speed and combat ability.
Unseen protectors of the peace of Kell, Patrollers dedicate their lives to the savagery of the Outer Plains. A few kilometers from the city, in fact, the Large Arthropods, due to their predatory instincts, constitute a permanent threat that must be constantly repelled.
THE CROWNED SQUADRON
The most skilled pilots serve in the Crowned Squadron, a section specializing in aerial, rapid, and surgical interventions. In this very SquadrAnt elite, the heroes of the City actually live behind closed doors in an annex of the garrison and are compelled to always be at the disposal of the high command.
THE JOHNSTON'S CELL
Within the high command, they are no career soldiers, but instead a cohort of Lepidores having swapped their white robes for a ceremonial kimono and under the orders of the Red Empress; a luminary with a masked face, source of all the rumors within the legion. In addition to their regular administrative functions, this command is actually the eyes and ears of the Great Monarchs, informed daily of each major event.
Insects & Major Guilds:
Swift, vigorous, and organized, red ants are the favored partners of Kell's military forces. Regularly crippled when not simply slain in the outer theatres of operations on the edge of Kell, the valiant fighters are the subject of a closely guarded secret.
Several dozens of meters below the imposing dome of the garrison, a gigantic queen almost eight meters long tirelessly lays the new mounts of the SquadrAnt Legion and the winged princesses for which the Crowned Squadron is renowned.
Artists : Leandro Di Terlizzi, Guillaume Weber
The Alioptera Caste
Over the past few years, the Alioptera have gained influence in Kell society, opening a breach in the power of the Lepilazuli. From the immense Ruchal Palace, Queen Neoptèra VII symbolically reigns over an extremely hierarchical administration, but within which, behind the scenes, an all-powerful steward leads with authority.
In an excessively pyramidal spirit and under his orders, several zealous managers share the 3 main services of the caste: Health, Birth & Research In each service, several hundred hardworking women officiate.
At the Health Service, the main mission is to care for the living forces of the dominant castes. It, therefore, does not manage the care of Outcastes who, left to their own devices, often resort to self-proclaimed healers… when they have the means.
Attached to the Ruchal Palace, a large building on several levels treats injured or sick patients. The workers work in regulatory medical attire … but refined. It is even said that certain Scar Tribe workers and other SquadrAnt Legion officers sometimes call in sick, in order to be able to approach the Alioptera fantasy.
At the hatchery, a battalion of caregivers monitors and cares for the eggs and larvae of the Large Arthropods.
Located on the outskirts of Kell, the hatchery is a huge complex built near hot springs. There, imposing structures adjoin large pools in which the little ones protected by our caregivers wade cheerfully and take advantage of the virtues of these thermal waters. In the infectious diseases department, former convicts serve their sentences in rigorous outfits, an austere mask affixed to their faces.
Within the Palais Ruchal, medical research is kept under the control of the steward who regulates all comings and goings within.
The elite of the apilopterous guard, the agents of the STING, jealously protect the accesses of this laboratory. The scholars and researchers who manage it live apart from society. They are recognized by their pale complexion, their elongated features, and their long, unkempt hair.
Insects & Major Guilds:
If it is true that the Apiloptera mainly use the services of bees to extract the precious honey, the main source of Kell's sugar; they also take advantage of everything that the amazing animal is able to produce or harvest throughout the year: royal jelly, propolis, pollen, wax, etc.
However, most of the specimens live far from civilization, below the mountains or in the gigantic Valley of the Sequoias. Considered too cumbersome, noisy, and unwieldy, drones are only used for transporting heavy loads by air.
Artists : Tonny Branzza, Bastien Boulai
The Scar Tribe
A powerful guild of craftsmen, tradesmen, and builders, the Tribe of Scars boasts some of the strongest workers, most ingenious architects, and most talented creators the great Kell has ever known.
There is no traditional or uniform dress for the Scars. Tribe members can be recognized by their purple-beige accoutrements, their tattoos and of course their professional gear.
Within the caste, there are 3 stages or ranks:
The young people/apprentices, who are familiarly called "dung beetles", have no tattoos and can only be distinguished by the color of their uniform.
Those who, as dung beetles, have accomplished a major work or sometimes a feat in their field and are therefore elevated to the rank of Master Builder, Master Blacksmith, Master Goldsmith, etc.
These have a tattoo on their face as a mark of their prowess and elevation within their profession.
Finally, the Venerables train the young and the apprentices. These elders are no longer active but are maintained by their guild to perpetuate their knowledge until the end of their lives. When they pass from Master to Venerable, their tattoos are sublimated by a layer of "scarification" which marks the contours of their tattoos.
There are now nearly 10,000 official members of the Tribe, making it the largest Major Guild in the City. Frequently, wealthy Kellian entrepreneurs try to poach the best Scars engineers and builders, but the attachment to their order is usually much stronger than a futile greed.
It must also be said that the Scars are the only citizens of Kell, keeping their elders in active life until their last breath.
Once unified with the herders and farmers, they split into two distinct groups during the summer of the Great Divide: the Scars on one side, and the Aphideers on the other.
Insects & Major Guilds:
In the kingdom of the Scars, beetles are kings!
True construction machines, beetles, geotrupes or stag beetles are tireless companions to the builders of Kell. But burrowing insects are also valuable assets for large-scale construction sites. Mole crickets are responsible for drilling in the city's subsoil.
If they are not afraid of heights, the Scars (for the most part) do not enjoy the aerial pleasures that some of their creatures allow.
Artists : Leandro Di Terlizzi, Adrien Gion
The Aphideer Community
More than a guild, the Aphideer form a community close to the land and living to the rhythm of the seasons. Settled in small hamlets on the outskirts of Kell, these simple people are mainly herders and farmers.
Under SquadrAnt Legion protection, this rural community interacts little with Kellian society. Nearly 300 SquadrAnt Legion are assigned to the security of these very exposed agricultural regions, operating daily maneuvers to protect Kell's granary.
In return, the Bucerons pay a tax for access to market places every week.
Aided by a temperate climate conducive to abundance, the land outside the city is remarkably fertile and allows the cultivation of cereals, fruits, and vegetables in all seasons.
The life of the Aphideer is punctuated by the dance of the seasons and hard, daily work. At each solstice, however, a large peasant fair brings together all the Aphideer in a village, and during which a symbolic King of the Aphideer is elected for a few months. Without real political weight, this ephemeral and folkloric monarch is an essential popular valve to their hard life of work.
Ten kilometers around Kell extend the green pastures largely hydrated by the rivers which meander there. Here, mealybug and leafhopper larvae graze peacefully. While honeydew serves as a less expensive sugar than Alioptera honey, the creatures are also highly prized for their succulent flesh, which inevitably ends up on the tables of the finest restaurants.
In the meadows, riders of giant leafhoppers constantly beat down wandering creatures, equipped with huge pikes and sometimes assisted by a few ants to maneuver the most recalcitrant.
In the minority, but nonetheless crucial, the loggers are the guardians of the teeming hillsides on the outskirts of the city. They prune and cut relentlessly. In recent years, agriculture has intensified, the water level has become insufficient to transport the wood by floating, but the centipede lords made available by the authorities were quick to solve the problem. They thus supply the Scar Tribe, responsible for shaping and treating the wood for the construction sites.
Insects & Major Guilds
The Aphideer are undoubtedly the main users of the Large Arthropods which assist them in their daily tasks. However, this dependence makes them weak and manipulable. Peasant anger is brewing and the entire guild is looking for ways to gain autonomy from Kell.
The Skeeter Faction
The growing impoverishment, the abandoned inhabitants of Kell gradually turned away from the Major Guilds to join the Outcasts or even sometimes the The Skeeter Faction.
Present wherever poverty is rife, this self-proclaimed clan brings together all the outcasts, scoundrels, and crooks. A veritable city within the city, the slums have their codes and their rules, and rare are the SquadrAnt Legion who dare to venture there. And yet in the kingdom of chaos blows a little wind of freedom.
Within the group, entities driven by common interests have formed to the point of structuring very distinct sub-layers, but all responding to the allegiance made to a supreme and particularly adored leader. In the Lakeside Quarter, a few steps from the shipyard is the heart of the faction, a conglomeration of dives and gambling dens in which the house liquor pours in streams under the frenzied cries of the gamblers in the fights of clandestine insects.
It's an art to beg in Kell and our wretches have understood it well. Provided by “trainers” (in truth talented actors), an unstoppable method is taught to apprentice tramps. Often accompanied by some cockroach or woodlouse, the seasoned beggar detects the slightest flaw in the smug armor of the petty bourgeois.
When a beggar shines with his talent, it is not uncommon for him to rise to the most remarkable rank of thief: pickpocket, armed robber, fence, blackmailer... dozens of professions are associated with this house.
But the most famous are undoubtedly the burglars, dressed in camouflage tunics made of grasshopper or stick insect skin. They are the phantom terror of high society.
For some Kellians, killing is second nature. From sophisticated murder to intimidating butchery, assassins all have in common a talent recognized for the effectiveness of their action. To each their own tools, but the remains of insects are generally their trademark and the rudimentary but noticeable style sometimes earns them a few arbitrary arrests … often forgotten thanks to the payment of a discreet bribe.
True virtuosos of homotypy, spies must act preferably during the day when the attention of their prey slackens. With huge wardrobes and a reserve of accessories provided by their fellow receivers, they are able to have lunch at noon at the table of a large lepidore restaurant before joining a crisis cell at the SquadrAnt Legion garrison.
Insects & Guild:
If most of the Skeeters cannot afford the support of Great Arthropods, they have on the other hand been able to take advantage of the waste left by the city, willingly recycling the legs of young praying mantis or the stings of wasps to constitute a gigantic arsenal in the service of the rebellion.