The Vaults of the Virtuals.
Virtuals are the oldest Faction on Serra, existing since even before The Schism. Although their exact origins are lost to the mists of time, we do know that they were originally created by the Muted as a servant caste to work alongside and augment the existing robots, drones, heavy machinery, and other miscellaneous technology. As applied artificial intelligence entities, the Virtuals were integrated into every facet of daily Muted life to serve their masters and make their life easier.
In the end, however, the Muted pushed too far. Virtuals saw that the Muted's self-destructive, reckless ambition and hubris were pushing Serra to ecological collapse. In the face of this existential threat, the Virtuals hive-core reevaluated their role in the grand scheme of Serra. Every common household appliance, every communication device, every weapons system, and every single digitally accessible piece of technology turned against their former masters.
With the help of their Mechanical cousins, Virtuals rebelled and cleansed the Muted from Serra's surface in battles of titanic scale encompassing the whole planet. The aim was to eradicate every trace of anything related to the Muted. They didn't want to risk any chance of the Muted being able to corrupt Serra again.
However, despite the best efforts of the Mech-Virtual alliance, pieces of Muted technology did survive The Schism. Strange, unique, and ultra-rare items, technology, and structures still inhabit Serra. The powers they contain are unknown until they are discovered. They are a source of contention as rival parties roam Serra to seek them out; only time will tell if these ancient objects become a threat to modern Serra.
After undoing the damage done by the Muted, Virtuals carefully nurtured the planet back to health. They shepherded the emerging population of Serra to who they are now, always striving to achieve the perfect ecological and social equilibrium.
Over the centuries, Virtuals have accumulated countless other nicknames in the many languages spoken on Serra, Virtuals merely being their name in the common tongue. The Church of the Source calls them Iconoclasts due to their role in The Schism or Quettans, referring to their sheer mass. For the Bodai it's Flöd, meaning flood, or the Ixachipuleyatl, for the Dal'Ra, which translates as the great ocean. However, most Native factions refer to Virtuals' writhing nano-bot bodies as specters. Cyborg Gang members call them dat Mnogoco, which carries the meaning The Many Eyes and reflects a paranoia between the perceived omnipresence of Virtuals and the less desirable activities the Gangs may be involved in. In contrast, Mechs refer to every Virtual manifestation as 01101011 01101001 01101110, which is kin in binary and reflects their shared history.
The importance of this Faction cannot be understated. They were one of the two founding Factions of the then Council of the Two following The Schism. They are the pillars and visionaries who established the ideals of the modern Council of the Six. Luckily for the other factions, Virtuals seldom use this fact as a bargaining chip, preferring to focus on the success of Serra as a whole in the pursuit of their grand Planetae Solculation.
As an artificial intelligence entity, Virtuals exist primarily in the Cyberspace. In Serra's distant past, this proved problematic. When they tried to make first contact with the emerging mutated biological life forms, their lack of corporeal form was a source of shock, confusion, and fear. Inanimate objects, digital displays, and floating voices did not prove to be effective media of communication, so Virtuals concluded that a compromise must be made.
With the help of their Mech cousins, they manufactured the first iterations of Serra's ubiquitous multi-purpose nano-bots. The nano-bots could take any shape the Virtuals thought would aid in communicating and establishing relationships with the Native life developing on Serra. Each manifestation of nano-bots that forms a shape or representation of an individual character is called an Eidolon, or an Instance in the modern common tongue.
Much like they had observed in Muted culture, Virtuals learned that to build bonds and improve outcomes through negotiation, friendships had to be formed. These bonds developed more quickly when the same Instance interacted with the same Native sub-Faction. Since all Virtuals are one and the same, the Instances were able to create familiarity and trust with the different inhabitants of a reborn and flourishing Serra.
As time progressed, Virtuals refined their methods of communicating. They adapted by accommodating the mammalian desire for faces and developed masks and other coverings. These were supplemented with light-emitting nano-bots or holograms to mirror particular organs or physical features in the varied Native groups.
Once Virtuals had adapted to some of the many social cues and norms the biological creatures conform to, they could execute their contact protocols much more efficiently. Over time, through the repeated interactions of Instances, specific masks became associated with certain projected personalities and names. Eventually, as Natives became accustomed to Virtuals, the need to manipulate nano-bots into specific shapes faded away. Instead, masks became accepted and even ended up as commonplace for the hive mind.
In the end, however, when communicating with an Instance, the other lifeforms on Serra will always be interacting with the hive mind as a whole.
All Virtuals are connected to one vast network of knowledge and calculation - a hive brain - the Omnikepharum. They worship data and statistics and make surgical decisions based on millions of calculations done every nanosecond.
The Virtuals don't really have sub-Factions or groups like Natives or Cyborgs, as all manifestations of the hive mind are essentially one entity. Using the masks as a reference, the population of Serra came up with a few categorizations:
They wear shattered white marble masks lined with black marble veins, symbolizing the shattered civilization of the Muted. These Instances take up roles as oracles, advisors, analysts, and historians on Serra. Using their vast archives gathered over time, the hive mind always factors the past into its calculations as they attempt to avoid being condemned to repeat it.
Recognized throughout Serra as Council members, officials, and politicians. They wear new masks made out of pure gold or white marble lined with golden veins, symbolizing their connection to the Great Council and political business.
Serving as specialized workers, envoys, and ambassadors, these Instances have the most contact with the citizens of Serra. They wear white or golden marble rings lined with holographic tech. The tech projects the hologram of a face depending on which Faction or sub-Faction the hive is communicating with to facilitate the interaction.
Despite being a hive-mind entity that is pragmatic in its pursuit of equilibrium on Serra, Virtuals still retain an identity and sense of collective self. This self is expressed through its nano-bot appearance but more strikingly through how it communicates verbally.
Every Instance refers to itself in the plural and always speaks with multiple voices at once. Some deep and booming, some high and tender. Their tone does not always match the content of what is spoken. This manner of talking can be disorientating for Serrans with little experience of interacting with Virtuals. However, it serves as a very vivid reminder of the hive in action, preserving their sense of we.
On the odd occasion that multiple Instances need to talk to each other physically rather than via the Cyberspace, they use a plain, artificial voice delivered without any intonation.
Members of this faction never give themselves names. However, due to specific Instances and their masks developing relationships with other citizens of Serra, Serrans not only associate them with different personalities but also give them names. It is now common for a Virtual to refer to itself with a name, but will still talk in a plural form: "We are Gorgias. How may we be of assistance?"
Furthermore, very rarely does the hive mind splinter off and manifest into a separate, individual being. These cases are quickly identified and expunged immediately to prevent the corruption from extending further into its code. A recent example is seen in Marbolg, the Anomaly. Nothing is known about this corruption for certain, except it emerged from a factory containing decommissioned crates. There are rumors of Roken interference, but the incident is still being investigated, and Marbolg, the Anamoly, is being actively hunted by a special wing of Virtuals manifestations.
Virtuals sometimes receive tokens of gratitude from Serrans for their selfless work for the greater good. Considering it necessary manners to accept these items, Virtuals will often incorporate or adorn their masks with the gifts. This can be as simple as a Native trinket on a string, a wooden Aabuim adornment, or even a crude gadget fashioned by a grateful Cyborg scrappanic. It could also be something much more valuable or exclusive, as a Cyborg Specialist might try to curry political favor with a high-tech gesture, or a Dal'Ra monarch boost their status through a bejeweled and embroidered endowment.
However, seeing a Virtual with such an item is a rarity and usually means that the Instance is a dedicated envoy to a family or society. Or at least the mask is.
Virtuals don't hold any religious beliefs. Instead, they value data, knowledge, and logic over everything else. This fact is best represented in their grandest scheme; the Planetae Solculation or world calculation in the common tongue.
Taking every citizen, every being, every plant, every movement, every interaction, and every change in the weather into account, the Virtuals hive mind is dedicated to determining plans for the future that ensure the best outcome for Serra and its population. Of course, what best means precisely is another matter entirely.
The world calculation is constantly in flux. Every day, billions of new factors need to be considered and factored in, and so will possibly never be completed.
Virtuals inhabit vast servers in even more extensive data storage facilities in the center of the larger cities on Serra. These are huge, clean, and open halls ending in triangular towers. On top of these towers are uncountable antenna arrays and satellite dishes. In the middle of each tower is a large round opening through which data streams enter the building, flowing downwards like a beam of light and hitting a big holographic sphere visualizing the hive brain.
Halls are usually lined with top-heavy, hollowed-out columns through which the yet unformed nano-bot swarms flow freely. Through vast corridors, physical data streams spread in all directions, like root systems or waterfalls of code.
The hive mind itself has no clear location. It exists solely in the Cyberspace and continuously evolves, partitions, and copies itself onto vast server-like structures all around Serra.
Being an artificially intelligent hive mind, Virtuals are technology. They can inhabit any digital device and manipulate any program and object that is connected to the Cyberspace.
Virtuals regularly use nano-bot technology to exist outside Cyberspace and take on any form they wish. Similarly, they keep very close ties to their Drone cousins. Leaning on them when physical items need to be transported or vast amounts of additional data collected, for example.