Monday, August 14, 2017

Tallash, the Struggling God.

"We are Friends to the Helper, and we shut out the immensity."
- Dodol Pritush, of Au-ed.

The Oron'er mountain range, despite its relative proximity to civilization¹ as well as its smallness compared to such far-off giants as the Khokhantipa Range, has perhaps the most mystique out of any of the high places of the world. From its alluvial, red-grassed lowlands and foothills to its highest and driest karst peaks, the Oron'er range has been fixed in the minds of well-to-do adventurers and explorers for centuries. The bizarre weather, legends of foreboding ruins, and natives with unusual customs guarantee it a spot in the outside world's imagination. Of course those intrepid explorers rarely stay more than a day in any place of significant elevation, and hardly interact with the locals while on such expeditions, so the impressions have not been easily shed to reveal their more comprehensive truths. The peoples of the mountains are of chief concern in this respect.

"Oron'er" is a word of uncertain origin, used exclusively by outsiders to describe the mountains and their peoples. It may be a thorough corruption of an Esgodarran word or phrase, but etymologists are in disagreement over a plausible origin.² The native languages are in similar disagreement over what to call their home, owing to a remarkable density of dissimilar language groups and regional dialects on the mountains. There are thirty-two tribes accounted for in the mountains, twenty-one settled in mostly permanent villages and the remaining eleven existing pastorally and semi-nomadically, often in much smaller numbers than their more sedentary kin. In either case of habitation, livelihood follows a strict cycle of movement back and forth between lowland grazing of sheep and collection of water in the winter, and intensive handicraft and foraging during the relatively easier months of spring and fall higher up in the mountains. The interrupting summer is legendarily dry and brutal, and tribes typically hunker down in earthen places where water may be stored for the duration. Outsiders unwisely visiting the mountains in the middle of summer have remarked at the apparent laziness of the Oron'er peoples trying to keep cool, and this stereotype has persisted for some time.

Only the day keeps them away from the outside, however. For the summer nights on those peaks make the tribes privy to some of the most spectacular celestial shows known to the southwest. Comets, meteorite showers, and the occasional green sunset or purple sunrise are known to the watchers on the peaks, and they observe these natural phenomena with religious dedication. Quite unlike several lowland cultures who deem such sights to be omens of nameless dread, the people of the Oron'er Mountains see them as glimpses into the larger truth of the world, and what lies beyond the world. It is something which virtually all tribes engage in, often in wordless or gesticulating cooperation with one another. For though they remain highly distinct in language and aesthetic and material culture, the tribes each seem to share a single major aspect of religion.

The mountain people believe in one god, or at least one god who matters. Its names are as varied as their languages, but for the sake of simplicity in this article it shall be referred to by the name taken from the northeastern Au-ed tribe, most well-known to Ersuun peoples. This name is Tallash, or Tayyash, derived from a contraction between the words "tai" and "yash", meaning "the helper". The worship of Tallash is therefore Tallash Yai, meaning "the law of the helper", or "acting in accordance with the helper". While they lack a formal term of religious self-identification, the Au-ed refer to those among them deemed most righteous and pious as a Pritush, or "friend".

Tallash is unusual, as far as Gods of a monotheistic bent in the wider world are concerned. It is without a more human avatar or identity, and its worshipers have remarkably little in the way of symbolism for it or artistic depictions of it. It is not omnipresent, nor is it omnipotent, nor even omniscient. But it is omnibenevolent, having the interests of the entire world at heart. To follow Tallash Yai is to be kind to strangers, generous to the destitute, merciful to one's enemies, and tireless in the pursuit of compromise between disparate groups (such as other mountain tribes). Everything which may somewhat nebulously be referred to as good--compassion, achievement, peace, well-being, beauty, etc--is an expression of Tallash's nature, brought about upon the mortal sphere through the actions of people. Every act or event of violence, greed, petty malice, and apathy is a shortcoming of the Pritush, and by extension a failing of Tallash to protect its beloved friends from all which is Beyond.

"Beyond" is a concept which is difficult for scholars and knowledge-seekers to illuminate in the context of the Tallash faith, because the Oron'er natives' boiled-down explanations of their own beliefs tend to stop at that point, with any deeper elaboration kept tight-lipped until the nosy and more than likely badly dehydrated traveler finally gives up and continues on their way. To remedy this, we must regrettably turn to a sole and uncorroborated source which otherwise records just such a theological exchange in remarkable detail. I write of course of one of the four commonly dismissed chapters of the travel chronicles of Sarq of Nambar (not to be confused with the modern notable Sark ad-an-Rish, also of Nambar, but several decades Sarq's junior). While Sarq conducted his thorough interviews, the transcription and publication itself was done by his friend and constant companion Isha. Considering her otherwise impeccable track record and her quite vocal stance on the taking of academic liberties in Nambar's sister-city of Deneroth³, it was perhaps too hasty for the last generation of scholars to deem this and other chapters to be entirely fictive for having merely been the first to report on the matter. Despite its common omission from most modern publications of the Travel Chronicles, the libraries of the Ivory Tower are in possession of one unedited copy.

Sarq arived in Au-ed very late in the fall. It was uncharacteristically damp and chilly for the locals and Nambar natives alike, but there was much activity as the various herders and traders prepared for the move down into the milder foothills for the winter. The interview was conducted with one Pritush named Dodol, a respected elder who was said to have surpassed eighty years of age at the time. He was a small and scrawny man, his small size exaggerated even further by how he tightly tucked himself up into a ball in his blanket in the center of the large room in which he and Sarq were meeting. Apparently at Sarq's subsequent urging, a footnote was made using Dodol's smallness in the vastness of his chamber, surrounded by bustling people going about their own business and paying him and Sarq no heed in that moment, as an appropriate metaphor for the state of the world in Oron'er cosmology.

Dodol explained that in the beginning, there was no earth or water, only a sky which was not a sky, because it had nothing else to differentiate itself from. It was a vast gulf of darkness and emptiness, filled not with matter but with sound. The sounds of planetoid flies buzzing about the rotting corpses of still-singing whales, and of laughter coming from things unseen and best left unseen. Then, at some point in that pointless, timeless time, form came into being. Through utter chance, shape and physicality was granted to the void, filling it in pockets and around the edges. Dust and smoke coalesced into worlds and living things, and their primeval blood and sweat became the waters and seas. They existed in base savagery, pack slaughtering pack, mother devouring child, and maddened dances occasionally attracting the attention of the formerly formless things from Beyond, much to the mortal's detriment. But just as random chance created the uncaring and brutish cosmic vastness, so too was it able to create something gentle.

Tallash was once one of those nameless things adrift on the astral winds, fathomless in its intent as it went about business which was oblivious to and dangerously heedless of everything lesser than it, which was everything. Until it happened upon the bedraggled animals clinging fruitlessly to the rock which we all now call home. Detached pity was inspired in it, then sympathy, and then true, heart-rending empathy, which drove it to take the whole of the world in its embrace finally. It nurtured us like children, sheltering us from the outer dark and crooning soft, accepting encouragement to us. We listened--plant, animal, and human alike--and so were raised from our earlier darkness. But we were not illuminated per se. For the Beyond remained a terrible place for things of soft flesh and fragile mind such as ourselves, and Tallash sought to shelter us from it, lest this small hope of order and tranquility be dashed upon the rocks of the deep, dark ocean.

Grief came when newly-named Tallash witnessed just that. One of its kin, passing through on a mindless ellipse of destruction, wrought misery upon the world with claws of fire and tendrils of despair. It was so great a pain to Tallash, to fail in its newly-chosen duty, that it trembled and wept for an eon. Tallash stopped when it had shaken itself to bits, forming the sky above, and the celestial sphere beyond. It shielded us more thoroughly now than ever before, and all later incursions would wound it but not aggrieve it, for it now placed itself utterly in harm's way for the sake of its chosen friends, bolstering its resolve with every fair or foul result. And a compact was made between the oldest Pritush and Tallash, ensuring that when the mortal coil released each life, it would ascend to the vault of the world and merge with the great tapestry of Tallash, joining it in its ceaseless vigil against the outer dark. Every death strengthens its aegis, and every life well-lived ensures a better world left behind than that which was entered into. And so the comets and other heavenly lights glimpsed in the late summer nights are messages from Tallash itself, continued guidance and encouragement from sent by it, our first and oldest Friend.

The core teaching of Tallash Yai seems then to be one of comforting bittersweetness:

The world is a cold and uncaring place, fraught with danger and meaningless loss.

Change it.

¹ "Civilization" referring here to any and all settled areas characterized by predominantly stone architecture, over-reliance upon underwear, and a predilection toward breeding endearingly useless household pets.
² This is somewhat of an assumption on the part of the writer, since the Board of Interpreters & Linguists has not been in session since the divisive and chaotic Lavatory Sign Crisis two semesters ago.
³ This brief former partnership between cities of scholastic emphasis is typically thought to be best left forgotten in the present, but it still represents an honest attempt by diverse parties to connect the intellectual world in ways which it has not been for over four hundred years. Perhaps the ITU should step away from its self-identification as the "lone shining candle of learning", and examine the evidence of a bonfire burning outside its doorstep.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Magic in the World.

(While many of my posts dedicated to this nebulous and poorly-defined setting have included mysticism or magical elements, I haven't yet gotten around to explaining how it actually works. Or even delving if it does work in a fashion which allows for explanation. It was always present at the edge of my consideration, but finally I decided to do something more with it after I read this post.

Found within is a pretty neat way to advertise oneself while also engaging with others who are interested in the same topics as you, just by writing a specialized blog post. It's a fun community-building mechanic, and I decided I'd throw myself in with the rest of 'em. This month's topic is, of course, "Magic", and the carnival is being hosted by Kobold Press. Check out their published books sometime, if core materials for your game of choice aren't quite cutting it.

Without further ado, here is another manuscript picked up off of the scattered mess of papers found on the desk in Roberick Bertrum Litte's subscalanean abode.)

"Pontificating blowhards, and elitist know-it-alls more arrogant than Ivory Tower alumni alike, will try to tell you that there are sharp divides between different forms of magic, whether they call them "schools" or "domains", or what have you. They will argue which ones come from rigorous arcane study and which ones must be earned from the gods. Which are inherent gifts or curses of the individual, and which are obtained from one's environment. They will exalt the benefits of their own path while belittling or outright demonizing all others. The worst part about it is that they are all right- but only barely."
- Elrusyo, "hedge magician" pen pal & outside contact of Roberick Litte.

A holistic approach to understanding the various forces, practices, and phenomena collectively known as "magic" is about as difficult to formulate as it would be to explain the third dimension to a group of flat pictures who can't stop fighting one another long enough to act as a good audience. But despite these odds, the attempt has still been made, and to a degree, the challenge overcome. It would appear that, even including systems of magic which operate under the belief of one incredibly narrow specificity (i.e., that all of a practitioner's power derives from a single boulder out in a field), all traditions seem to share the concept and acceptance of a plane or similarly distant yet permeating place in which the powers dwell. For some this is the land of the gods, while for others it is a roiling chaos of nondifferentiated cosmic soup. But the act of engaging with it, regardless of medium, seems to be enough to effect some sort of change upon that plane, insofar as some of that energy and potential is siphoned off.

The skeptical reader may now be thinking that this is all beginning to sound very much like a fairtale-esque case of "belief makes it real". And the skeptic would be correct.

(The skeptic should also be wary if they are reading this article within the walls of Deneroth, because the University enforcers can sniff out a curious mind from up to forty yards away.)

Belief is an immensely important element of engaging with magic. Without it there is no magic to speak of, after a fashion, and the mind is like a blank spot- a hole in the tapestry of the universe's mysticism. But belief is not all that is needed. One needs to be dedicated to a form of practice which evokes magic in any of its forms. This is most obvious in the case of rigorous study of the "laws" (more like gentle, self-enforced suggestions) of magic by wizards, or by the equally dedicated and self-effacing devotion of one's body and soul to their deity of choice. But the need for a system and skill is still present elsewhere. Even among those hot-blooded "sorcerers" of the Occident who claim to be able to evoke power by virtue of being themselves, there is a requisite belief in the self, and ability to empower and manifest the self. Much like a braggart about one's own deeds, a sorcerer out of practice is much more bluster than blaster.

This, coupled with the general belief that magic is unique to the sentient mind or things invested with power by the sentient mind*, suggests that all effects are indeed being drawn from the same source. To borrow from the metaphors of oracles, it may very well be that all forms of magic access the same place from which knowledge and godheads may (or may not) arise.

Observing upon the existence or nonexistence of the gods is something for an entirely different article, however. I have only just recently been forgiven by the Tower censors for including in one journal the various unflattering limericks which refer to Laizij, our eternal scholar and university patron.

What I openly wonder now, is how exactly all of these different-yet-similar means of drawing power from this "plane" interact. What would happen if two practitioners tried to draw out the same motes of force? Could they bereave one or the other of that power and leave their evocation wanting? Could they cancel one another out, as the sensationalist talk of "antimagic" from the northeast would suggest? Is the font of magic instead so vast as to make individual magic-users like rafts adrift in a sea, utterly unlikely to ever encounter or ram into one another?

Could this sea ever be drained?

* The recent reports of levitating sheepdogs in the southern reaches of our nearby Akell-Ar Valley are as of yet unsubstantiated. An attempt by one Eneko Sehi to have an expedition and study funded, while demonstrating a promising degree of initiative, has been met with red tape by the Committee for the Preservation of Esgodarran Wildlife.*

* Note that there are no native Esgodarrans present on the Committee at this time, nor have there ever been, nor do any current members of the Committee speak the indigenous dialects.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Mersind of Serminwurth: Select/Salvaged Excerpts Concerning Blood Wasps.

"My expulsion from the township surrounding Serminwurth is at present still a point of annoyance for me- truly, how could I have known that surgical paralysis as a cure for C.S.D. had been outlawed for a century and a half? My patient was happy for it, and would have offered his signed consent, were he literate, and had his hands not have sooner stabbed me in the throat with that same pen. Regardless, I have resolved to make the most of my new situation, rather than simply make due. I have met a somewhat like-minded fellow in my flight from home, though his practice and interest in discovery has something a theistic bent to it. He is a devotee of the god of healing, and thus his familiarity with anatomy and patience with the agonized will both come in handy as we embark upon this new project together. He is one Hital, of the village Ferrith."
- Personal Journal Entry #1

"My companion and I have found the distant and, to be perfectly honest, forgotten town of Uiten in our hasty travels east after certain unfortunate occurrences manifested themselves around Hital's latest rendering of services as a barber-surgeon. He seems to have taken a hint, and no longer offers me a shave. Uiten was apparently forgotten by the rest of the region just as much as it was by the geographic archives back home, because the area is in a state of advanced disrepair and administrative neglect. We have received word that the local prison has recently overflowed- yet another negative side effect of the peculiar practice in this region of using imprisonment as a punishment in and of itself, rather than as a brief interlude to proper financial or corporeal discipline. But, one man's rot is another man's fertilizer. We will contact the local authorities in the morning."
- Journal Entry #4

"We make a surprisingly effective team of negotiators, Hital and I. His forwardness and bombasticity make an excellent entry-point, while my comparatively more reserved nature and technical language  "seals the deal" so to speak, where his energy might otherwise turn toward less-than-appealing quirkiness, or reveal something of his "fixations". The pouch of gold which we passed to the magistrate and chief bailiff also seemed to turn them around toward our cause. Regardless, our methods have earned us a signed and sealed certificate which transfers to us the responsibility and authority over one of the prison's condemned inmates. We have assured his former keepers that there is no end more ethical and just than one which serves the progress of human knowledge."
- Journal Entry #5

"The prisoner, whose name I cannot recall being spoken, does not seem to be so fortunate as to be bilingual. This tells me that he belonged to the somewhat plebeian majority back home, and likely would not be a terribly good source of intellectual stimulation in conversation. This is just as well, since he seems more concerned with fruitlessly pulling at his restraints and causing Hital to have to use the bullwhip which he inexplicably carried around all of this time. Still, we are making adequate time on our way to the facility."
- Journal Entry #6

"The buzzing of alert activity was almost deafening four miles from our secondary destination, forcing us to stop and thoroughly hide and veil the horses and our friend before progressing on foot with suits and earplugs donned. It could not mute the pounding of our hearts in our heads as we progressed into Blood Wasp territory. Our target was the smallest functional hive which we could access at the edge of the zone of infestation, but unfortunately for us they happened to be quite closely packed this season. By the time we found a suitable hive which vaguely resembled the shape of a waxy, prismatic squirrel, the thumb-sized colony drones were boring holes into our protective clothing and barbing at our skin. We carefully cut the structure open and harvested a trio of galls from within before beating a hasty retreat. The left side of Hital's face was bloated from an envenomed sting, but it only dragged half of his ever-present smile even farther up toward his pronounced cheekbones. He seemed quite pleased with everything."
- Entry #10

"The "facility" of which Hital spoke so highly has failed to live up to my expectations. At one point, it was supposedly a quite refined retreat for the priests of Najis in the region. But it has since fallen into ruin, and the wooden portions of the structure have rotted and collapsed. The stone structure which superficially resembles a gatehouse shall act as our domicile as well as staging grounds, and so I am grateful that I kept a hold on my earplugs, though they have become quite nasty, waxy things in the summer humidity. The nights will be loud for some time."
- Entry #12

"Fortunately for Hital, the operating room is marvelously more preserved and clean. The heavy external locks on all doors and windows leading to the chamber kept the elements from spoiling the instruments and facilities within, to the point that we believe even the wooden operating table will suffice. After two days of sitting and stewing, our prisoner has become increasingly paranoid. Perhaps he has an inkling of what is in store for him. Certainly, he has noticed that we are feeding him significantly more than in the past week. Hital believes he has worked out some of the rudiments of the man's language, and has conducted a handful of halting conversations with him up to this point. I was unable to transcribe them, but the end result seems to be that he is more distressed now that the "Smiling Man" has taken such an interest in him. The uncanny nickname has, incidentally, reminded me to begin a separate and more disciplined log for what is to follow. Were this to be read by anyone but myself, I would apologize for my subsequent dryness."
- Entry #13


"Observation Log Day One. The subject was transferred to the operating room after the inclusion of a sufficient dose of remphanth extract to his food. My associate and I agree that we should have tightened his restraints, as the constant rattle of chains upon the table is growing already so tiresome. We have placed a low-hanging mesh net above him containing the galls, which have shown signs of greater activity over the past eighteen hours. My associate tells me that the subject insists that he can hear them humming. We both confirm that there is perfect silence in the facility other than his own exclamations. Perhaps they are already growing acquainted."


"Day Two. A reflected light aimed to shine through each of the galls confirms that the larva are highly active and in a more advanced state of development than we had hoped. The subject continues to rant and rave, alternating insisting that he had not committed his crimes, and begging forgiveness for them. He simply wishes for the humming to stop. My associate agreed to contribute his own plugs, and for the moment the subject is pacified."


"Day Four. The galls are beginning to rupture. I began to mix several doses of anesthetic which I believe necessary to the process, but my associate insists that the procedure will have a much higher rate of success if the subject is conscious and able to provide the larvae with the needed levels of aural stimulation. I am skeptical, but will defer to his greater experience in this field, for his treatment of several cases following the Festering River Blight was what allowed for this all to happen. Fortunately he does not dare to call me his assistant, in jest or otherwise."


"Day Five. I have invaginated the subject's navel with a metal rod and spaced out the entryway using a specially-treated hollow reed, pointed upward at the rupturing galls. One has already begun to drip effluvia upon the table.

Addendum to Day Five. By the marked increase in yelling, the subject seems to have finally come in direct contact with one or more larvae. The reed's effectiveness as a channel made from the material of the wasp's native habitat is noted for future research."


"Day Twelve. All three galls have ruptured and emptied fully, though several offspring died or were insufficiently developed to migrate to the host. Perhaps they were damaged in the direct handling of their galls, or perhaps it is the result of improper incubator formation. Future cross-referencing will hopefully illuminate this issue. The subject is behaving very erratically, fighting against his restraints until his wrists and ankles bleed and significant bruising across his limbs indicates the separation of muscle tissue from bone. The influence of adrenaline on the human body is remarkable, but must wait for another time in order to receive full study."


"Day Fifteen. The subject has stopped screaming."


"Day Twenty-Eight. After a significant period of unresponsiveness in which the subject was deemed to be expired, its extremities appear now to twitch and flex randomly. My associate has explained that this marks the point where the larva has transitioned from feeding on gut fauna and internal organs to engaging directly with the central nervous system. The relative lack of innards explains the surprising lack of foul odor- I was incorrect in believing that the subject's tissues were somehow being preserved by the process of incorporation."


"Day Thirty. After one month of observation and gentle goading, we have confirmed the presence of wasp nymphs in and around what remains of the subject's respiratory and digestive tract. The entry-point is now a far cry from a human torso meanwhile, having been sufficiently converted into hive structures that it resembles in crude shape some of the larger, dome-like colonies which I glimpsed at the heart of the Blood Wasp infestation during our brief foray. Soon, the entire subject--blood, tissue, and bones--will become the strange, uniform substance which houses a hive. It is with cautious celebration that we confirm that the process of hive conversion may be duplicated in a controlled environment. This will effectively pave the way to a greater understanding of the ecology of parasitic colonial insects, assuming we ever find a publisher willing to stamp its name upon our soon-to-be compiled reports."


"Day Forty-Two. Thus far we have met with very limited success in obtaining a professional audience for our discoveries. Measures have been taken to keep the hive contained as more advanced wasps lay claim to the host's surroundings. A thick, soupy atmosphere has begun to take hold in the operating room, accompanied by a sickeningly sweet smell which even manages to seep through our more air-tight seals. My associate has explained to me that this is a byproduct of the process, used to nurture and sustain more advanced forms of the wasp which quickly molt the teeth and enlarged stomach found in larvae. It is reportedly used as a highly effective yet highly addictive painkiller and recreational drug in the river delta towns to the south."


"We have officially deemed the project to be completed, though Hital and I will continue to make careful observations on the growth and development of the hive- the appearance of a queen would be a spectacular event neither of us would want to miss. Additionally, standards of safety must be kept at an all-time high, lest the facility and surrounding area become a new infestation zone. I would be deeply grieved if undue ecological damage and loss of life followed this momentous success. I have proposed that in the interim while we seek for scholastic partnership, we harvest and process some of this "crimson honey" and make a few minor business arrangements with the locals.

Hital is in strong disagreement with this, citing his religious disinclination toward the use or, indeed, even the existence of anesthesia. I have assured him that the proceeds would allow us to do much more good than ill, offering us a fast track to publication. I have also reminded him--perhaps somewhat manipulatively--of the severe withdrawal symptoms known to manifest from honey abuse, and of the subsequent need for trained medical professionals which would be sure to follow.

He is beginning to come around."
- Journal Entry #14

Beyond this point, no other journal entries are legible through the thickly-caked dirt and grime of nature, though there did appear to be many more pages written. Given the eventual publication of one very polarizing academic journal within Deneroth and select associated cities which contained elements of the above as well as both names, the pair met with some success. But the article which began this new wave of study was published without followup just shy of a decade ago at this time, and these journals were found among several other hastily-abandoned personal effects amid the effective ground-zero of the recently exterminated northern Blood Wasp infestation. No recently-parasitized human remains could be found on location, leaving the fates of the forested hilltop building's occupants uncertain.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Zood Riders of the Khokhantipa Mudflats.

"Most fascinating about the Khokhantipa natives is, in my opinion, their ancestors' willingness to settle a land which they could not possibly have seen any appeal in, yet they did so anyway. The reckless and indomitable spirit of humanity, all in one squat, vaguely fishy-smelling package!"
- Ossonyel of Old Miccime, travel literature author and self-proclaimed scholar.

"... It's like a pig mated with an eel, and then their descendants had long and sordid affairs with eyeless moles and lampreys."
- Ut-luush Tabd, trader and first-time visitor to the mudflat border towns.

Separated from the rest of the continent by the small but steep Tampiir Mountain chain, the Khokhantipa Mudflats are an anomaly of size and staying power. It is unknown how long ago they formed, because recorded history of the region does not begin until very recently. But no matter how young it may be, it tends to feel to an outsider like a terribly time-lost and ancient place. The flats were once separated by lengths of proper continental land, it is believed, but over time these eroded into nothing more than prominent sandbars which may be seen as large hills during the lengthy low tide, or as small islands during shallow high tide. Taken all together, the mudflats cover an area several leagues deep and several dozens in length.

According to the rarely-consulted histories kept by the natives themselves, their people have been inhabiting the flats for "thirty-by-thirty" lifetimes, or well over one thousand generations. It was at this location that the earth first met sea, for the sky had once been filled with parched earth until the trickster god of their pantheon kicked its stilts away and sent the whole thing crashing down into the gods' primordial soup of creation. Life flooded the earth for the first time, and so the mudflats are the first frontier of terrestrial life, and the soggy cradle of all. The autonym of the Khokhantipan people is notoriously difficult to transcribe, combining several glottal stops with a nasalized series of vowels and an upper-left-side tongue click for good measure. "Khokhantipa", the name ascribed to the area by early mariners and then applied to its people, finds general acceptance among outsiders and border towns, partly due to the fact that approximations of the correct name with imprecise tonal consonance results instead in an insult being directed at the listener's second male cousin.

The most popular image of mudflat life to the outside world is, naturally, the Zood. The Zood is an immense creature nearly sixteen feet in length for bulls and sometimes almost twenty for cows, dull pink in color, covered in a dense blubbery hide, and possessed of some of the strangest appendages seen on life outside of some volcanic sea-trench. The Zood's lumpy, segmented body is supported by eight legs which end in stubby little extremities somewhere between flippers, claws, and hooves, and they are well-suited to the variable terrain of the flats and surrounding territory. It lacks any shoulders, and its head is formed by the tapering of the front of its body into what could almost be mistaken for a raised ninth foot, if not for the semicircle of whiskered skin adorned with a myriad of eyes, perched above a cavernous mouth which can rapidly invert to form a rubbery pseudo-proboscis. The name "Zood" is supposedly derived from the humming sound which the creature makes while filter-feeding or tasting the air, or while at rest among their herds. Other names given to them by spectacularly uninspired outsiders include Mud-Pig, Slow-Stepper, and Sea-Bear.

Zoods are herded by the Khokhantipans, who are able to produce a stunning array of versatile, if pungent, clothing and fuel out of the hide and thin blubber of the animal. But more often, they are kept alive as mounts and companions, which give them a high vantage point during the low tide from which to look for beached food, and a comfortably buoyant ride during high tide. Food for the Zoods consists mostly of small animals and algae or plankton which it is almost perpetually filtering out of the mud underfoot. Food for their riders is in bulk large catches of sea fish, as well as seaweeds and the broad ranges of mollusks, crustaceans, and gastropods which wash up on the flats or are found nearly year-round in the immense tidal pools closer to the open sea.

Home for these strange strand-riders most often takes the form of the rigid hide huts accessed from the roof and anchored to the mudflat floor by tethers of water-treated gut, sinew, and specially-made rope attached to stones embedded in the earth. They are designed so that when the tides rise and fall, the hut remains upright and moves up and down with it with the family within mostly undisturbed. Visitors to the region tend to prefer the more static borderland villages, or the few "island" towns which dot the flats, as these are far less prone to making one violently seasick. In the event of broken tethers and a family set adrift, such as in a storm, they simply set about rowing back to home territory from atop their house, sometimes while enlisting the services of the remarkably docile wild Zoods who float back and forth with the tides like undulating, methane-scented fat balloons.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

On the Holies and Half-Holies of Yishel.

(A little something I was inspired to write after I noticed a surprising amount of interest in Yishel.
Click here for the first post about our aggravating little knowledge deity.)

"You saw the symbol of the white-dotted globe of Yeeschu as plain as day when you walked through my threshold- you should have known by that alone that the good news would be only half so!"

- Kari'tal, one of the half-holies of Yishel based in the Addas Bazaar, on his strict "no refunds" policy.

As with the worshipers and collective observers of any god, the devotees of Yishel in all of its many forms, names, and guises, are no less diverse in nature and outlook. To account for them all would be as grueling and pointless an effort as it is to try and tidy the upper left wing of the Ivory Tower's Donated Collections Library during final exams month. But, there are a few major groups which might be enumerated.

The first (and perhaps most obvious) of the groups is that which looks for the whole truth of the matter. While many do not possess the ability to call upon their god for knowledge and augury, being mostly scholars and cynical lay-people, they acknowledge as a part of their philosophical identity that all outcomes have a good and bad. When their clerics and high-priests do make predictions, they speak them uninhibited, and great care is taken in each pronouncement, lest anything be made imprecise by the human hand or tongue.

Opposite this camp, and sometimes diametrically opposed to the above, are those who may be referred to by the slang term "half-holy". These folk are far fewer in number, but have a much larger proportion of fortune-tellers among them. When a half-holy peers into the unconscious splendor of Yishel's mind, they see exactly the same as any other augur would. But what they express of it beyond that point is quite different. They will often only give one side of the prediction, most frequently the positive or desirable end. More rarely, the negative is accentuated, most often if the fortune-teller has a vested interest in seeing the individual unharmed, or unsuccessful. Countless fairy-tale tropes about the unpredictability of the future and "being careful of what you wish for" have originated from the technically true but misleading statements of Yishel's half-holies. And, because of the extremely lax or nonexistent attitude of Yishel toward the physical world--as with many gods--such behavior goes almost unpunished, at least within the context of the astral sphere.

But this duplicity was eventually recognized by various governments and collectives across the south-west areas of Ersuun cultural region, in which the cults of Yishel are most prevalent. After a few centuries of witch-burning and imprisonment proved unsuccessful in deterring both the elite and the common folk from seeking out what they want to hear, a legal balance was struck: Yishel's acting faithful may continue any practice reliant upon their auguries uninhibited, but they must both walk and work with the appropriate branding. The workplace of the truther and the half-holy alike must be marked plainly and visibly with one of the recognizable symbols of Yishel, and common knowledge of these and other icons is disseminated by a municipal government as part of its work toward public service. They must also wear the symbol somewhere upon their bodies, either in the form of clothing or a tattoo, if they are to make predictions outside of the fortune-teller's hut.

While this has undoubtedly lent a great deal of mystique and superstitious sensationalism to the public appearance of the faithful, it has not significantly deterred many from the cult. Those who give two answers are listened to with reverent caution, and those who give one are taken with a chunk of salt approximately the size of one's fist.

As always, people crave knowledge and self-delusion in equal measure.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Beyond the Axebitten Woods.

Click here to read the first post about the Axebite.

"Quickly now, before the abscesses burst. Help me up..."
- Last words of Charcoal-Maker Tald, shortly before mounting an impromptu funeral pyre.

In legend, the Longfolk slay indiscriminately, mutilate the corpses, and burn the remains.

In fact, the Longfolk kill cautiously, neutralize the corpses, and purify the remains with fire.

It is with ages of begrudging duty that they fill the sky with arrows at a moment's notice, taking countless lives and making a blight of the land each season. The dead, from smallest rat to largest draft animal or person, is taken in the night past the Axebite, every limb and extremity removed and then bundled together in order to be burned atop a pyre of at least four different species of hardwood. To do differently would be to break the tradition, and to break a Longfolk tradition would be to court with ever-present and looming disaster.

They have been doing this for so long that they would be excused not to remember why they do it, if they didn't live for many centuries on end. In fact, the same Longfolk who carved the warning stones around their lands are the same ones alive today- and they are a rather young generation of them, at that. Once, long ago, when words did not fail them, they did do their best to communicate with the outside world. They were known to send envoys into the lands of the small folk around them, to establish both a rapport and a clear set of guidelines. For it was, and still is, of the utmost importance that no outsider exposes itself to the heart of that forested realm. For their own good, they must be kept out- the only mercy which can be afforded the non-compliant is a swift death.

This is because the Longfolk do not fight to keep the outside world away from the forest. They fight to keep the forest away from the outside world.

A long time ago, before the glaciers receded from Qeshuut or before the mountain named Asha collapsed upon itself in a storm of fire, the people who would become the Longfolk loved their forests. They built their homes around the tall trunks and harvested the fruits of their canopies. Boughs and branches became the spears and bows used to hunt upon the forest floor, and the practice of tree shaping was elevated to an art form. Songs were sung with the names of every plant stepped on underfoot when they traveled.

The end began with a series of blights, spaced far enough apart at first, but increasingly close together and severe, until an entire generation was exposed to worse famine than had been known in ages. Then the bark began to peel away from their tallwoods, revealing discolored and spongy wood beneath which had been rotting in secret all the while. Entire villages became abandoned as the trees they were built around fell away piece by piece until nothing remained by hollowed old trunks sloughing off a continuous shower of decay each. The forest floor was snarled in all of this fallen debris, and the life was choked from the underbrush over time.

When the first strings of animal attacks came, over-hunting and disturbed territories were blamed as the people desperately tried to readjust to their environment. But then the beasts became more daring and ferocious, mauling folk in broad daylight in the middle of camps as foam churned in their mouths and open sores wept upon their backs. Bears and wolves wandered in cannibalistic droves, elks were sighted with gore and viscera adorning their antlers, hinds and rabbits tore the throats from things with fangs which should not have been. The first few purging expeditions met with limited success, pushing the afflicted wildlife back but finding no source for it. For a time, every tribe hoped in silence that this too would pass.

When the trees themselves rose up, they knew that it would never end.

From somewhere deep in the forests, out from the ancient heart which had long been held as sacred, some befoulment for every living thing had sprung forth. It wasn't clear whether it spread through spores, or in the water, or if even the air itself was tainted with some kind of vapor. All that was known was anything afflicted could and would turn eventually, violent and guided by misintent even as its body rapidly decayed into a new source of corruption- a bloated, festering new beachhead in a war which the folk of the forest were losing. For the first time, they turned to the outside world for assistance.

Through their nascent arts of diplomacy, or through theft and deception, they obtained the arts of metallurgy. They had known and used fire, but this new hell called for greater and hotter infernos than they had ever conceived of before. With long-handled axes and saws backed by hedges of cruel-tipped tridents, spears, and man-catchers, the beleaguered survivors turned back inward at last. The groaning of wood and gnashing of teeth was drowned out by the clash of iron and the crackling of flames. The land was hewed, chopped, torn and picked at until nothing remained standing on legs or roots. The first cleansing fire was said to last six hundred nights.

Back and back they pushed the evil presence, paying for every mile with blood, sweat, and the agonized screams of the burning ringing in every pair of ears. They grew controlled and disciplined in their new craft of war, carving swaths through the blasted hinterlands and setting controlled fires which could be shaped as precisely as their old and beloved woodwork once was. For reasons which only the oldest of them know, but which they are loathe to explain, a standstill was finally reached, far beyond the wooded frontier where corruption had not yet taken root.

In their current incarnation, the Longfolk are dour and relentless in their duty. Their arms and legs stretched over time and with each birth, giving greater reach to their long, hacking weapons and longer pull to their meters-high bows with arrows like spears. The ash of a clean fire is the most adornment a typical one of their number wears, caked upon their skin until their long and gaunt bodies look ashen white, grey, or the same bluish color which haunts the dreams of so many homesteaders outside of the Axebite. It is not lost on them that they now resemble the violent and walking trees which they must ruthlessly cull, and some see it as the burden of their sins, heaped up over the ages like so many bodies on a pyre.

The world has gone on without them, leaving little evidence of its former dealings with them save for the moldering archives of a few long-gone kingdoms. The tongues of men changed overnight, it seemed to the Longfolk, until their sparse ventures out into the land beyond the forest were met with babbling gibberish complete, mutual misunderstanding. But even bereft of allies, they continue their ceaseless vigil within and without, preventing the corruption from breaking out and keeping the hapless children from beyond the woods from becoming carriers of the blight.

If ever a single mote of rot were to escape, they fear what damage it would do.

They fear what measures they would have to take.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Yishel, God of Uncomfortable Revelations.

"Fear not, for you will survive your next battle. Your legs will not."

"The raiders will be funneled and led to slaughter by your ingenious town defenses. Their children will starve to death this winter."

"Your parents shall not seek divorce, your house shall stand tall and proud. Their love is strong, and their lovelife increasingly experimental since your conception."

"Enter the tournament resolved in yourself and your abilities. None shall take heed of your failures. Or your successes."

"Soon you will become the most handsome, most desirable man in the entire village. Weeping Liver Plague has a ninety percent fatality rate."

- Various prophesies of Yishel, as they were found transcribed upon plates of tortoise shell by the back-alley fortune-tellers of Shur'nab.

Information is, by itself, mindless. It does not want to be released nor remain hidden. It is not good or bad. It exists whether it may be observed or not, even if it is somewhat pointless in that case. It is as immaterial a substance as time, and just as valuable a resource to the thinking, conscious mind. Taken into the intelligent mind, information is only as limited in its applications as the ability of the informed. Thus, among all of the things which can be counted as sacred by the peoples of the world and beyond, knowledge is among the absolute most powerful.

Of course, the gods born from knowledge and from whom knowledge arises do not tend to care much for actually using their knowledge to effect change upon the spheres of existence. Aside from making them natural candidates for the devotion of hundreds of Ivory Tower University staff and faculty, this also made them seem somewhat inactive, unimpressive, or even boring. They simply existed, in possession of all information known and unknown, as persistent and primeval a force of nature as any forest god or sea spirit.

And so, over time, those mortals crafty enough to gain knowledge for themselves developed means and ways in which to treat with these beings and personifications. The first priests of knowledge and wisdom were therefore less like clerics or shamans, and much more like scholars experienced in communicating with the comatose. Through their careful study, ritual, and astral suggestion, ancient secrets were able to be made known, and the innumerable progressions of thought, technology, and innovation were irrevocably changed. The early scholars eventually left their own imprint upon the vast, featureless godheads of information, making them more alike in small ways over many eons to the tiny mortals who prodded at them and picked their brains for wisdom

Gods of prophesy were among the first and most fabulous, followed almost immediately after by the clandestine deities of well-kept secrets and hidden things. Then the concept of illumination was wedded with knowledge by some, and darkness with ignorance by others, and ever since there has been a metaphysical war between the two camps. Firmly established upon the side of spreading any and all knowledge is one strange, tiny being who has come to be named Yishel.

Yishel effortlessly, almost thoughtlessly spills any knowledge which it possesses whenever it seems relevant to the situation at hand. Thus it is the easiest of the gods of prophecy and revelation to access, and oftentimes one of the most accurate. But that does not in any way mean that what is revealed is what the asker of the question wanted to know in the first place. Wedded with every delightfully clear answer given is a related yet often unwanted second answer, tailor-made to confound the bearer of curiosity. Through this, Yishel balance any resulting satisfaction or confidence with uncertainty, and a reminder of the infinite and uncaring tangencies which the universe has in store for all.

Yishel's petitioners tend to be desperate or cynical enough to be willing to weather the double-answers of the god. It has few allies, tending to alienate everyone who has direct dealings with it. Even those beings of pure knowledge who try to paint a more positive image of free information find it to be an unhelpful and annoying compatriot, while those who would prefer to keep something secret and safe for the sake of all simply gesture toward the disconcerting blabberer of weal and woe as reason enough why some things are better left swept under the metaphorical rug.