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Speculation! [Evidence-based]

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ArtDrake:
All right! Everyone's curious about the mysterious ??? project, and none of us have real answers. I am certain, however, that many people have ideas about what the images we've been shown reveal about the nature of this project. That's where this thread comes in.

The plan at the moment is to split this discussion into two threads: one (this one!) is for speculation based firmly in the evidence given in ???, mostly involving some form of interpretation of those images. Feel free to incorporate knowledge from previous games, but keep in mind that theories posted here should be derived largely from what you see in the pictures.

The second thread is for freer speculation, derived mostly from knowledge of previous games and, for example, their thematic progression. It's equally acceptable to post your own pet theories that have little basis or grounding in reality at all there, but the key thing is that they're based on some other source than the images in ???.

The reason for this separation is to allow a cohesive discussion on the content of the released concept art, while still maintaining a forum for other kinds of prediction about the upcoming project.

ArtDrake:
IMAGE 01

Image
I was looking at the first image for clues; it's probably the most information-laden one.

FloggingWe have figures dressed in red, and in the case of the apparent local leader of this group, red and white (or are they simply brown with red hoods? The lighting is a bit weird, and I'm red-green colorblind). What looks like a public flogging is in progress, with a very serious three-tailed whip in use. The robed figures have covered faces, so their humanity can't be confirmed that way, but they do have human-looking hands and arms.

Their victims are almost certainly indistinguishable from humans, though I can't really discern what that metal-looking device that seems to span the shoulder blades of the one being actively flogged is. The victim on the left might be wearing nicer clothing with a high collar, but I can't tell what those little spikes things coming out of his back are.

Some other details about the robed figured worth mentioning -- the insides of the cowls are a little too dark for the level of ambient lighting in this scene. That might just be an artistic choice, but it might be supernatural. Whatever it is, it feels like they're hiding their faces, if for no other reason than intimidation. Also worthy of note is the (silver?) cross hanging from the flogger' neck. That suggests this is a form of religious persecution.
SceneryA fire rages behind and to the sides of the raised (metal, since it's not burning?) platform on which this is taking place, and yet the crowd seems largely unconcerned. That suggests the fire is a part of the demonstration, supported by the lead flogger seeming unconcerned with the fire licking at his cloak. The air is thick with smoke, so they're burning something, not just a clean, powerful fuel to create dramatic fire. Could be books, or corpses, or anything else.

The building on the left seems completely intact, but the ones on the right in the background seem maybe a bit burnt out? It's hard to tell from this distance, but the fire might be larger than just the flames we see in the foreground. However, the sky doesn't have any red hue to it, so I'm less inclined towards that theory. Also, the crowd looks largely civilian, though I definitely can't be sure about that -- there's no one in the crowd who really looks like they couldn't possibly be at least a mercenary -- but it would suggest that this is a crowd of people who live in that city to the right, and they wouldn't be collected here so calmly if their homes were burning.

The banner on the building to the left looks like it reads (3E)][-<ivKF".N' ... which is obviously nonsense, but assuming it's a banner, it might be language. I might try to compare the characters I see here with known Cera Bella languages, though the [-< symbol looks more like a pictograph than an alphabetical character.

The last remaining point is the architecture of the building on the left. It looks imposing and dark, but I don't know a thing about determining time period from architectural features, so if someone knows a bit about that, identification of any notable features would be helpful. Anything style can tell us about geography or culture would be helpful, too.
CrowdNow for the crowd.

Leather-Masked FigureThe person on the far left looks like they're wearing some sort of leather hood/helmet/mask, with a tube in the front -- with the way it's pieced together, it resembles a primitive gas mask. But that's not even the weirdest thing about this one. If you look closely, you'll see a couple of little bright orange circles. That's the fire in the background. You're seeing through this person's head. Also, note the copious head-spikes. Kinda weird.
The next person to the right looks pretty male, and looks nicely dressed, with some kind of weird dramatic collar-like thing at his neck. I think he's wearing a headband, or maybe just a bandage for a head wound?

SpikesThe next person, towards the center, looks female with short hair, but could easily be male. Wearing a yellow coat? With shoulder plates and spikes. Looks kind of mercenary. Has a nice shoulder-slung satchel with a steel(?) buckle. But the elephant in the room is that they have spikes in their hair. Does this mean they're not human? Those little bald patches -- are they spots where the spikes have fallen out or been removed? Do they have anything to do with the other spikes we see in this scene?
And on the far right, two women, one in dark blue with very elegant patterns on the back, and one in plain light blue.

Cone-Hooded Priest(?)A bit further ahead in the crowd, on the left, we see someone wearing a hood that presumably marks him as of the same order that the floggers on the platform are from, and at least as high-ranking as the one administering the beating; he gets a pointy hood, while the underlings on stage have more subdued hoods. On his back is probably the insignia of the order: a very wide and short rectangle, connected by a short line to an equally wide circle. Of course, it might not be their symbol, but it could also be a symbol of rank.
On the right, about the same distance forward, is a man in a yellow-and-red... poncho(?). At the very least, this tells us that those exist in this world.

Other SpikesAnd at the forefront of the crowd, we see two more figures with head-spikes or horns. One's pairs are curved, while another's pair is long and straight. These may be helmets, or they may be directly protruding from their heads, like with the central figure in the back. However, these symmetrical horns they bear look quite different from the asymmetrical little nubby spikes on the figure in the back, so they're probably not the same phenomenon.
The last figure is all in white, and may have the same kind of headband as the second one in the back. The rest don't appear significant.

ArtDrake:
IMAGE 02

Image
SettingThis one's far more straightforward. Looks like a wartime scene, with two apparent combatants in the forefront. Neither one seems armed, though. The one on the left is pretty clearly mechanical, or is wearing a full-body clockwork(?) suit of combat armor. In the fiery background, many machines of the same make as the construct/armor are visible, and towards the very right, what may be the receding legs of something large and bipedal. However, with no motion, very well could be inactive or destroyed, littering the battlefield. But given the dominant presence of the machine combatant in the foreground, I'm going to hazard a guess that their side is winning. The skull and brain portion of the construct/armor design is deliberately fearsome, so whatever faction commands these constructs and war machines is consciously designing their units to invoke dread in the opposition, and specifically in human opponents, probably.

Note: potentially supporting the ‘Construct’ side of things is that accompanying 02 was the Stone Golem emoticon.
Foreground and Alternate HypothesisThe sky is red here with the flames of war (presumably), so this is a large-scale military devastation. But it's here that other possibilities come to light; the armored/construct combatant is kneeling over the wounded (Russian-looking?? I'm getting that from the hair and facial hair, clothing, and I'm getting early-to-mid 20th century from the attire and lack of a gun) soldier. But he hasn't been eviscerated or otherwise executed yet. It's like the picture is supposed to portray something more sinister than mere death.

If this picture is actually propaganda by the religious authority shown in Image 01, then it makes sense that the looking figure is terrifying, not simply and functionally deadly. It makes sense that something more than death is threatened -- churches deal in eternities, and what's more terrifying than the prospect of a soul-eating monster, for instance?

It makes sense that the picture shows one pair of combatants alone, as the sole focus in a field of devastation. It makes sense that the more human, empathizable figure is in a more vulnerable positioned, making a visual call to action. And it makes sense that, if you look closely, you see that the brushstrokes are more visible in this image, as opposed to the almost-photorealism of the first one.

ArtDrake:
IMAGE 03

Image
This one really sets the speculation rolling.

Figure at LeftThis image, despite being pretty impressive, is actually pretty devoid of information content. The Shadowling emoticon accompanying this picture, their stances, and their respective impressive regalia suggest strongly that these are leaders. Their decidedly distinct lighting, stances, and facing would indicate that they're leaders of opposite sides of a conflict, in keeping with the themes of war seen in 02.

The style of dress (honestly more like armor) of the figure at left suggests femininity, but nothing indicates humanity -- if the helmet is assumed to be a transparent material, it certainly reveals no human face, only a decidedly machinelike "head". However, it is superficially humanoid in appearance, indicating it was designed (whether by itself or by another) to interact with or communicate to humans and/or those familiar with them.
Connection and SpeculationAt this point, I should point something out which has been present in all three pictures thus far -- on the flogger, about the shoulders; on the looming construct, at the base of the skull-analogue; and at the thigh of the figure at left -- a loop of unexplained cord or cable. This may mean nothing, or it may mean plenty.

If this loop of cable is common, say, to all constructed beings, then it follows that some of the hooded enforcers of religious authority may be constructs. It would explain why their faces aren't visible -- they're intentionally obscured to hide the fact that they're machines. However, it's countered by the fact that the hand and arm of the flogger are visible, but perhaps the ones intended for certain roles that require a more human appearance can be disguised more cunningly.

This would imply a religious hypocrisy if the picture in 02 is in fact propaganda by the church against "soulless" constructs, a previously used theme from Servants of God, where the Cult employed powerful Psys in their upper hierarchy.
Figure at RightThe figure at right wearing red and adorned with gold is most likely the corresponding leader of the church -- the only ones wearing red thus far have been those representing the church. Note that Shadowling emoticon used with this picture referred to the whole picture -- potentially both figures.

This would make sense if both (not just the one less illuminated and in a more powerful stance) are in some way ignoble -- an Always Chaotic Evil construct empress and a hypocritical cardinal; a construct queen created behind the scenes by the church as a foil to enhance their own power (and, given their apparent and probable male power structure, a justification of their own male-supremacism); two independent and opposed leaders who stand to gain from conflict and thus collude. Many scenarios are plausible.

ArtDrake:
IMAGE 04

ImagePotentially Troubling Reference Image - Octopus of Zionism
GlobeNot nearly as much to talk about with this one. A globe, which may or may not be Earth rather than the planet on which the Telepath games take place (unless I have some coastline matching to do between the Servants of God map of Cera Bella and, say, the actual Middle East). The Earth hypothesis is supported by the barely-visible coastline of northern Russia (or something closely resembling it!) beneath the clouds on the globe.
Cosmic SkullThe great big blue skull and hand in the sky are reminiscent of Shadowlings, but they also scream "Propaganda!" again (recall the globe-crawling Jewish octopus of Nazi propaganda fame), like the second one did. However, I'm convinced that's not the case here. The picture is again photorealistic in the same way the 01 and 03 were, and assuming the time frame is anything like the one Telepath games tend to be found in, the propagandists wouldn't have sufficient astronomical knowledge to draw the real cosmological features present in the picture.
In other words, I have no idea. Apologies for the implicit comparison of this beautiful concept art to literal Nazi propaganda.

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