Sette leads Duane around by a more literal leash than normal.
Duane: Consider it, Sette: If a tree could think thoughts, what might it value? Sette: Your face. Duane:Peace. Peace in which to thrive and grow. Acutely empathic, the beast will with hostility react to your hostility. Entreat it peacefully, however, and it will in like fashion answer. Sette: Ugh, walky roots are STOOPID critters.
— Chapter 1
Unsounded is a Fantasy Webcomic by Ashley Cope set in a world quite unlike our own, containing multi-faceted cultures with deep and dark histories, strangely different laws of physics, and magic so commonplace it's called by a different name.The main story revolves around rude, loud-mouthed Sette Frummagem, daughter of the Lord of Thieves. Sette is on a mission from her Da', and she'll lie, cheat, and steal to make sure it's a success (she'll lie, cheat, and steal anyway). Condemned to aid her in her rotten endeavours is a rotten corpse by the name of Duane Adelier, who seems oddly talented with the supernatural, and oddly not laying motionless in the dirt.Events are quickly complicated by the appearance of the "Red Berry Boys", a gang of criminals who at first appear to be simple slavers, but are soon discovered to have a stranger and much more disturbing agenda. That agenda appears to have an uncanny number of connections to Sette's mission, and as such Sette inadvertently finds herself wrapped up in their schemes. It's not long before she and Duane are in over their heads and under fire from all sides. Priorities change from just carrying out her appointed task to living to see the next sunrise.The road is long and no one is what they seem. Never trust a thief, and never trust anyone who won't let you look into their eyes.The author has also written supplemental prose stories in the same universe, which can be found here.
Author Catch Phrase: Kind of. Ashley's typical response to people asking spoiler-y or story-related questions on her Formspring is simply "I wonder."
Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Duane and Sette may spend the majority of their time together loudly complaining about each others unpleasant personalities and how much they wish to be rid of each others company, but a strong parental bond lies underneath it. Evidence for this pops up frequently.
From author comment: "Legality"? I would never let issues of legality effect what I draw. Sette looks the way she looks because that's how she's supposed to look.
Big Bad: Thus far, Starfish seems to fit the bill, though it is fairly clear that he's small fry in the grand scheme of things.
Bigger Bad: Stockyard, until chapter 9 when Sette confronts him directly. However, this comes with the reveal that he is, himself, small fry, and that there are even Bigger Bads afoot. There are also hints that someone named "Delicieu", a member of the Black Tongues, is heading the Red Berry Boys operation.
Breaking the Fourth Wall: ...Possibly. In this page, Sette stares at the camera while thinking "Is someone there?", which could be interpreted as her detecting the presence of the reader. Such a thing certainly isn't unprecedented at that point.
Word of Godsays that the scene is intentionally left vague, and that it's up to the reader to decide whether or not Sette's truly breaking the fourth wall.
The exploding mechanical mousetraps Jivi uses in his first appearance are later slipped into Ephsephin's whiskey, which blow apart when they're inside him, giving Jivi a chance to escape captivity.
A woman trying to get her dog magically reddened is warned that any more enchantment could "damage the khert," but what this means is not explained, and it seems unimportant to the main plot. Until several strips later, that is, when Sette does just that.
Also, Duane's daughter Mikaila, whose death is used largely to evoke sympathy for Duane.
Distressed Damsel: Sette rants at a sister-brother pair (even calling them "stupid damsels in distress") who were being menaced by some ruffians because they didn't do anything. In their defense, the sister did actually try to fend them off with a sharp "rat-poker" immediately before Duane and Sette arrive at the scene.
Eye Scream: Duane's assassins stab his eyes out with a dagger.
The Faceless/In the Hood: Duane seems to have some kind of face underneath that hood, but 99 percent of the time the upper half of his head is blacked out by his hood. According to Word of God, the glamour that makes his face look normal is broken by eye contact, so naturally, he needs something to cover his eyes. This is the reason why we only see what he really looks like when we can also see his eyes.
Family-Unfriendly Death: If you thought Ephsephin getting his brains smashed out was bad, just wait until Zombie-Duane shreds Turas apart and messily devours half of him. Both of these get a Gory Discretion Shot; but in the latter case, Sette walks in on the aftermath, which is shown in gruesome detail.
Fate Worse than Death: Duane could feel himself rotting after he became a galit. This is on top of all the other horrific things he has to deal with as part of being a zombie. In addition to that, zombies are a blasphemous abomination in his religion, so it's the rough equivalent of a devout Christian being turned into a slavering Satanic demon.
This is also Quigley's reaction to Starfish calling him useless in chapter 6.
Forced to Watch: Chitz, Matty's sight aid, can't be turned off. So, just For the Evulz, Starfish holds it in such a way that Matty is forced to watch Anadyne attempt to kill his father.
For Science!: The hat of the Black Tongues, spellwrights who want the freedom to practice pymary however they want. Some work for the betterment of mankind; some dismantle infants.
Four Lines, All Waiting: Sette and Duane are ostensibly the "main" viewpoint characters and do get most of the screentime, but the Crescian Peaceguard, the Red Berry Boys, and Jivi also have their own plot threads, and the story often alternates between them as well.
Frame Break: Particularly momentous events spill over the sides of the comic.
From a Certain Point of View: Subverted. Though she sees it as this, Sette outright lied and misled Duane to get him closer to Cresce than he would normally have agreed to.
Functional Magic: Sorcerers are called "wrights" (short for "spellwright"). Seems accessible enough that one of the mooks could use it while reading an instruction manual. Specifically, pymary is Rule Magic — it's controlled by speaking a Language of Magic with lots of rules and limitations that must be strictly adhered to.
Funetik Aksent: Sette's occasionally incomprehensible accent is a source of reader rage.
Green Rocks: "First" versions of various materials, supposedly from when the gods created the world. They're required to craft pymarics, as they're the only objects that can hold a permanent enchantment.
Healing Magic Is the Hardest: Due to pymary's limitations, healing with it is difficult and it can't accomplish much more than mundane medical techniques.
Hoist by His Own Petard: While witnessing her father being beaten to death by thugs, Mikaila attempts to stun them with a flashbang spell. This does work as intended...but as the thugs flail around blindly, they stab her by mistake.
Horror Hunger: Duane and his metaphorical snake. Luckily he has it (mostly) under control.
A Love Hotel receptionist is grossed out by Turas participating in a (fake) sexual roleplay. It's also a bit of hypocritical humor on the author's part, since she roleplayed the Unsounded universe for a long time. The same receptionist can be seen reading an Interspecies Romance novel while squicking over Sette pretending to be Duane's lover.
Vera (love hotel receptionist): The deviants are always roleplayers. Now, did you want Octopus Alley or the Squid Suite?
Iori: If I ever meet the two-toe that did that to you I'll knock its teeth out! Jivi: I hit him with a stool. Iori: Well, violence is never the answer.
Duane espousing the virtues of peaceful diplomacy and level-headed negotiation shortly after punching a politician in the face. Lemuel calls him out on this.
Inept Mage: One of the Red Berry Boys, Bette, casts spells by reading them directly out of a book with no understanding of the underlying principles, and Duane finds it trivial to seize control of his pymary. Duane's daughter Mikaila also makes a number of dangerous mistakes, although the fact that she's doing it at all at her age shows she has an aptitude for it.
Infant Immortality: Averted. Kids have no special protection in Unsounded. Besides the numerous off-screen deaths caused by the Red Berry Boys, we have to witness the deaths of Cara and Duane's daughter Mikaila.
It Is Pronounced Tro-PAY: The correct Aldish pronunciation of Duane's name is doo-AHN (rhyming with you-GONE), but Sette makes a point of saying DWAYNE (rhyming with "rain"), mostly just to get his goat.
"It" Is Dehumanizing: Plods are usually referred to as "it" and intentionally given as few identifying features as possible to avoid the Uncanny Valley effect. And Stockyard reveals his true colors when he refers to Duane as "it" in conversation.
And your Da earning a queen's ransom getting it back where it goes.
In fact, this is so blatantly and horribly evil that Anadyne calls him out on it shortly after.
Kill the Cutie: Both Cara and even more heartrendingly Mikaila, right in front of her father no less suffer this.
Lad-ette: Elka. Sette also counts as a pre-pubescent version.
Lame Comeback: Sette is a master at these. "Your face" seems to be her favorite.
Language of Magic: Old Tainish, which is what wrights speak their incantations in. It's said that it was the language the gods used to shape the world, so by speaking it yourself, you can tap into that same power. Naturally, though, you have to be careful and very specific with your language, otherwise the spell may just blow up your organs.
Murkoph: Flashback. Dream sequence. Hallucinatory rrrrrevelation. Who put the little girl in the lead? Where's the plot-hole you came in through, darlin'?
Literary Agent Hypothesis: Letters written by a researcher who's found Duane's journal are inserted here and there, implying that the comic is (possibly) pieced together from his and other accounts.
Little Bit Beastly: Sette's tail, extremely sharp teeth and ability to smell magic suggest she's not entirely human, and in her dad's gang this leads people to speculate that she's not really his.
Lizard Folk: Called "two-toes" here, named after the fact that they have, well, two toes. They're pretty small compared to humans though. They used to be subterranean, so they have poor sight and hearing but excellent senses of smell, making them useful as trackers.
Rahm (a Black Tongue himself): The Black Tongues are one brotherhood but each of us act independently. Some seek to better the world through pymary; dismantle the woes of humanity! Others dismantle infants.
Magitech: Pymarics. Usually of the bionic (replicating living creatures) variety. Due to how the magic system works, they can only be made out of special materials. Word of God explains in a colourful metaphor here.
Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: The reader might notice from the very first flashback images of Sette's "Da" Nary-A-Care that he lacks a tail and mouthful of sharp teeth. While we don't know what her mother looked like, it's been said that Sette is unique among the Frummagems, let alone the rest of the world, raising questions regarding her paternity. Sette comments briefly on a rumor about this, and seems inwardly concerned that she isn't Nary's daughter by blood. She is, however, determined to prove herself by merit.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Sette frees Murkoph from a supernatural prison after he promises to help her escape. Turns out that was a bad idea, because he's enough of a psychopath to put Starfish to shame.
Turas gets one when he finds himself locked in a room with Duane, who reveals his true appearance by taking off his hood.
Oh My Gods!: Averted in the case of one religion, played straight in another. Ssaelit are monotheist, and so use "God" in the same way Judeo-Christians do for the most part. The Gefendur, being polytheists, have more unique religious exclamations.
Our Liches Are Different: Duane fits this better than any other typical undead creature (though even then it's not a perfect fit, as he does not seem to have a Soul Jar); he has retained complete sentience despite being identical to an ordinary plod in most other respects. This appears to be a quite rare (if not unique) condition; Duane somehow maintaining his intelligence after his death and reanimation is evidently quite strange.
Our Zombies Are Different: Actually something of a return to the original voodoo-zombie tradition. The "plods" of the East are corpses that were deliberately reanimated with pymary, and are widely used as a cheap source of slave labor. They are considered quite ordinary in the countries that "employ" them; making a mindless magical meat-puppet do punishing work for days at a time is said to be a more humane practice than enslaving living, feeling humans.
Painting the Medium: Characters lean across the comic borders, and some explosions leave debris across the page. The pages are made to look like a torn up notebook.
People of Hair Color: The people of Alderode have demonyms derived from their hair colors, such as Coppers, Silvers and Plats.
The Pollyanna: Young Matty Quigley. According to his bio on the cast page, "Three years ago Matty was struck blind but he still manages to see most silver linings."
Powers as Programs: Manipulation of the khert is (according to Word of God, intentionally) very similar to manipulation of a programming language, to the point where a sufficiently interested hobbyist, amateur, and/or child can get pretty far with the right simple commands. (For example, a lot of glamours basically amount to swapping the textures or sound files for two different objects.) Twins save you if you botch up a command, though...
Really 700 Years Old: Implied for the Shadwe, who says Duane is "the finest wright I have seen in centuries."
All Jets and Coppers are potentially like this, due to their incredibly long lifespans.
Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Quigley reportedly went on one of these after the government killed his wife Vienne, blinded Matty and confiscated Uaid the construct. He strapped Matty to his back and attacked the municipal office in a suicide run...which he managed to survive.
Royal Brat: Sette, by virtue of being a crime-king's daughter.
Schedule Slip: Averted, as the author draws pages long in advance. Though there are occasional gaps in the schedule, they are all pre-announced. In fact, this is actually inverted on some occasions, where multiple pages will be posted in one day.
In a tumblr post, it's revealed that Ms Cope keeps a buffer of at least fifty pages.
Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: All the Aldish characters that have appeared so far seem prone to using vastly more complicated sentences and words than most of the other characters, though Duane is especially heavy on the long-winded Shakespearian dialogue, even compared to his fellow Aldishmen.
Murkoph shares this trait, although in a much more crude manner.
Shaping Your Attacks: Gruftgrammer Quigley enjoys manifesting his pymary in the form of swarms of insects (appropriately named Swarm), due to 'insect' being a very common insult to the short-lived Plats.
Most wrights do this to a certain extent — their pymary can be tinted any colour they choose (for example, Duane likes to use green and gold).
Starcrossed Lovers: Duane and a fellow student at the academy, Sarthos, as detailed in the side story Interior Emanations. Firstly because a relationship with anyone outside your caste is an extreme social taboo — and secondly because Sarthos, as a Third Option (see below), is legally a man.
Stripperiffic: If this image is anything to go by, the clothing of the female Crescian nobility is elaborate, colorful and very revealing.
Sufficiently Analyzed Magic: According to Word of God, the reason magic is called "pymary" and not "magic" is because "magic" implies something unknown or mystical. This is not the case with pymary; it is a common fact of life and essential part of society. It's even taught in schools!
Take a Third Option: What happens if you're a woman in Alderode who isn't content with being a housewife, and wants to partake in a role normally only filled by men? Become a literal Third Option! Specifically, agree to be sterilized, bind your breasts and dress and act like a man in every way. If you do well, you'll be allowed to stay in your role, and eventually even marry (another woman) and adopt children! Just be prepared for more than a little discrimination along the way...and if you don't manage to prove yourself, you'll be exiled by your society.
Not the name of the comic itself, but a chapter, here.
The comic's title is dropped in the Interior Emanations side story — Duane expresses a desire to "sound the unsounded."
The title of that side story is also dropped, as the name of the paper Duane and his new friend Sarthos are writing. In universe, it is a reference to their theories on the inner workings of pymary and, out of universe (though Duane manages to make some connections himself in story), a reference to the side story's themes of personal character and skill being more than what appears on the surface.
Inverted with the Plats. They're fairly supernatural, having an increased affinity towards the khert (or something), which gives them heightened magical abilities. However, this also causes them to age very rapidly, so they can only live up to about 30.
Inverted in a different way with the Coppers, who are notoriously awful wrights, but very long-lived.
Stockyard:'Course [I know what Duane is]! A fancy new plod got away from its master, eh? And your Da earning a queen's ransom getting it back where it goes.
When Trees Attack: The Mamalen Entak (Wandering Root) was the antagonist of the first chapter. Bittersweet portrayal.
Whole Episode Flashback: The majority of chapter 7 is a flashback to Duane's life before he became a zombie. The beginning of the chapter has a few unrelated scenes that advance the present-day plotline, however.
Wholesome Crossdresser: Played with. Aldish women who Take a Third Option and live and dress as men in order to become wrights are not wholly unheard of but rarely spoken of, and there's a certain amount of prejudice towards them. It turns out Duane had an affair with one at the academy, which was strictly against the rules.
Wizard Duel: Duane and Quigley in chapter 5. By the end, though, it turns into an all-out brawl as Quigley starts breaking rules with abandon, culminating in him calling a powerful summon beast.
The Red Berry Boys. And not just a child but children, plural. And they seem to delight in it, except for Quigley, who leaves the Red Berry Boys' service for this exact reason, and rejoins only due to a heftier reward.
Starfish especially has been confirmed by Wordof God to be a pedophile.