Monday, December 25, 2017

The True Meaning of Narblesnard.

Seasonal greetings, Burrowers!

I hope that wherever you are, your holidays of choice are or have been bringing you spiritual fulfillment and/or really freaking neat stuff.

I am at least distantly observant of the Yulesmas, if only because I can't fit any evergreen larger than a shrub through the front door of my burrow. But I do have my own rituals. I can't say that it's a goblin holiday, since I haven't really met any others of my kind- probably because I'm usually hiding. Then again, if there are any other goblins in the Upstate mountain valleys, I can't help but imagine that they must celebrate it as well.

After all, our lives depend on it.

You see, a goblin is not the most secure creature in its environment. The rivers we enjoy living next to can flood, or the weather can trap us indoors with snow, ice, or mud. The mountain-folk can occasionally make sport of hunting us down with their brand new Weatherby hunting rifles, or accidentally run us over when we attempt to cross a street. And any pet larger than a large mouse is a natural predator to us, in sufficient numbers and with the necessary viciousness of course.

But all of those pale in comparison to the danger of the squirrels.

Masters of the trees overhead, possessed of an unnatural speed and jerkiness of movement, and obsessed with gathering food in these trying months, squirrels have spelled the doom of many a hapless goblin. Either by ravaging our food stores, or attacking us directly in their rush for supplies, only woe betides one who sees those black eyes and massive incisors during the first ghost of winter.

Or so I like to imagine, to make my ideas make more sense. Like I said, I've never seen another goblin.

At any rate, a great deal of trial and error went into developing the perfect response to the hostilities of nature's most godless nibbling-machine. The answer, it turns out, is appeasement. It required cutting almost all of the acorns out of my diet, but by leaving a trail of them leading away from my territory, deep into the woods where a mighty cache of the nuts can be found, a goblin can live in peace for the most trying of weeks before the beginning of the long cold. You just have to get used to the sounds of savage fighting, if more than one squirrel followed the trail to the distraction.

That time of huddling in one's burrow is an excellent opportunity in which to try brewing any new tea recipes you've discovered on the backs of recycled boxes that year, or to finish stitching patches into the heels of your decade-old socks. Or, if you're feeling particularly daring, try taking just one or two of those acorns you secreted into your person, and roasting them in your oven made from discarded terracotta pots and votive candles.

But in the end, the sounds of chittering, narbling, and rapid munching comes to an abrupt snard of an end, and the quiet of winter can set in at last. This is Narblesnard, and it is a moment for collective sighs and relief among all goblinkind.

Of course the bushy-tailed devils don't actually hibernate, so it's back to basics every week when they wake back up to forage some more. But the spirit of the holiday is to remind us all that we can survive. That the future brings with it new potential for good, as well as for terror. This feeling is reinforced by the fact that, after the day of Narblesnard, the hundreds of convenience stores in town finally stop playing those infernal songs about jingling bells and unwheeled chariots drawn by mutant snow-deer.

So, Blessed Narblesnard to all!

May you survive the New Year, so that we can do it all again next time.

And the next time.

And the next time...

And the next time.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Looking Toward the New Year.

Well, I managed to do it. I've finished my final year of college, earning myself a delayed diploma as well as the eternal ire of Roberick Litte.

This means a lot of things, but the only relevant one for right now is that I will finally be back to semi-regular posting!

[This is where I would insert
a picture of an exhausted Furt
with deflated party blower
and slightly tilted cone hat,
if I could afford to pay an artist]

Also, while I can't make any promises, I might make a New Year's Resolution to create a Patreon for my blog, assuming I can write enough quality junk to furnish one with.

What would my reader(s) want to see in future material coming from the Burrow? I do have a plan for the next few months, at least broadly speaking, but I bet input from all of you would allow me to address topics and bits of lore that I wouldn't ever think of.

Leave a comment down below, if anything jumps out at you.

Now, on to other things. Like a continuation of the travelogue!

Looking Southward and Backward, Part 2.

The Fourth Gate to the campus grinds open ahead of us upon our arrival, the gatemasters having just completed their morning rituals.

Every day at exactly twelve talecks¹ after dawn reaches the turquoise banding of the Ivory Tower's observational promontory, the gatemasters--alleged descendants of the very first doormen and personal guards of Laizij--perform the ritual for which they are best known today. When the patron of the University lived, he had a retinue of intellectuals in his service. All were treated equally before him at first, but this changed on the occasion of his martyring at the hands of the Lie-Keepers of Dherna.² Those who were not present at the time of His death are still respected, but are considered to have failed in their final duty to him. Those who were with Him to the bitter end meanwhile, enjoy a more favorable position in the liturgy and historical chronicles both.

A scion of the lower caste arrives first, often left to stamp his feet in the cold for some time, such as the occasion is on this morning. Meanwhile, a representative of the more favored house of gatemasters with that direct and intimate connection to Laizij arrives with an armed escort, leftover from the days when the Ivory Tower maintained its own military force. Upon meeting one another at the wide bars of each of the six gates to the University grounds, the higher of the two demands the identity of the lower, who is himself barred from entry into the grounds directly. The lower gatemaster announces himself and his lineage back to a minimum of eight generations, and then a key of silver and inlaid electrum large enough to bludgeon an ox to death with is passed between the bars, as the higher gatemaster consecrates this action in the name of his own lineage, which has a minimum of at least twenty generations. On very formal occasions, the entirety of one's family history dating back to one of the contemporary servants of the Scholar is recounted.

Once the exchange is completed and the lower gatemaster uses the key to unlock the intricate series of locks placed upon each of the gates, the way is opened to those outsiders who would enter, and those freshmen who would flee their first two weeks of classes.

Our wagons were passing through the gateway while the last formalities were still playing out just to the side of the threshold, and I was able to witness it in great but fleeting detail. The lower gatemaster knelt before his superior, who then had one of his retainers receive the key from him, to be thoroughly wiped down in a cloth before being handed back to the keeper of the key, and ultimately set in its case in the fortified northern extension of the University's security offices.

The retinue quickly beats its way back toward the warmth of the buildings, while the lower gatemaster is left to get back up off of his knees and make his solitary way back home. Moments of disgruntlement punctuate long periods of resigned placidity in the man's round, pinkish face as he disappears into the crowds reluctantly emerging from their homes set upon the city's highest tier.

None of the other civilian gates in the city have such a tradition attached to them, and so traveling down through the rings is far easier, though still slow at the lower levels where markets and other congregations had already awakened. From the third tier down, my colleagues and I are given increasingly strange looks for our attire. It is rare to see a member of the ITU so far from home, and the Book and Key emblazoned on so many of our possessions like a logo paints us each as a rather undesirable guest.³

Still, we are able to reach the edge of the city before mid-morning, having to only occasionally pop our ears from the changes in elevation. Our treat with the guards and customs representatives at First Gate is refreshingly brief despite the wait we all expected, and before we can even reposition ourselves upon the carts, the False City yawns before us.

The first, bottom-most tier is the broadest, as well as located directly at ground level, but it is only a tenth of the size of the False City of Deneroth, built up around its perimeter. These districts, not constructed during the original founding of the city, and swollen with the vast majority of the population which has come to live in the area in the intervening centuries, feel as always like entirely new worlds of their own. I am able to take a brief moment of levity in watching the reactions in my assistants' faces as they see the shift from sterile grey brick walls to vast jumbles of wood and earthwork. Smells unlike any I've experienced in many years envelop us, and the hawkers swarm us to offer up their goods. They recognize the likelihood of wealth in our kind, but are not so well-versed in True City history or politics to know that we represent anathema to them in many ways. Sarq swears that he recognizes a Nambarish recipe in a nearby stand of meat-skewers, and I do not doubt that for a moment. But we cannot stop to sample the mingled local flavors yet.

Even if the existence of this city is denied by those above, there are many hours of riding left before we reach its outer limits.

¹ Also rendered as taliq, talkh, or taleg depending on the literary tradition in question (taleck being the standardized Gertisch-Haraalian spelling, while taliq, talkh, and taleg are the Nambarish, Proto-Ersuut, and rarely-seen Esgodarran spellings, respectively). The taleck is the traditional unit of measurement of time still used by the University and several other conservative institutions and facilities in and around Deneroth. It is equal to 2.37 minutes by low-tier reckoning, or 0.4 cyclical iques for my readers in the Pach-Yul region, vanishingly rare though you may be. The taleck originated with the Ersuunian nomads who came to populate the basin regions, allegedly referring to the length of time it took for a sub-chieftain's black-dappled mare to move at a full canter from one side of the king's camp to the next, favorable weather and open space allowing of course.

² Note that the exact cause of death for Laizij, according to the official statement released by the Senior Pain-Taster of the Basilica of Najis, was a bowel obstruction caused by massive collections of gallstones. The role which the clergy of Dherna played in the act was suspected at first, and the belief that they were in fact wielding black magic to eliminate a political rival has persisted into the modern day.

³ I anticipate that this and other large swaths of my travelogue will be heavily censored upon my return to the grounds of the ITU, but for my own satisfaction I will exercise my ability to deny the myth that members of the University--student or faculty--are the pride and joy of all Deneroth. Even as I write, Ciudo is still wiping the wad of saliva and other bodily fluids which was flung at him with expert, marksman-like precision from a nearby doorway as our caravan passed by the notoriously "wide-thinking" second-tier neighborhood of Lesken's Way.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Things I Wish They Did More With, #2: D&D 4E & Video Games.

Hello again, all. Fortunately my long silence since the last post was not due to a freak bus accident, though the height of one of those death-wagons does make it feel like every other vehicle on the road is directly under the wheels when you have the perspective of a window seat. I've been busy with my second-to-last month in the semester, and all that that entails.

EDIT: By the way, I hit 3,000 total blog views earlier this month. You guys are swell. Thanks again for stopping by.

But I've come back to ramble a bit more about another thing that I'm a strange mixture of wistful and grumpy about.

This time, it's D&D 4th Edition.

Hold your cheers and/or righteous indignation a moment, Burrowers. I don't think any system is necessarily better or worse than any other, and I'm not here to spark another skirmish in the Great Edition War (despite the fact that simply acknowledging that the past arguments happened can in fact cause them once over). Though I will be picking slightly at one of the prominent ideas which came up in that debate circa 2008. Specifically, D&D 4E's similarity or lack thereof to certain video games.

It was commonly stated with wildly varying levels of convincing argument that 4th Edition's combat was designed to appeal to the video game crowd. Some even went a step forward and claimed that it was a direct attempt to compete with the MMORPG market, which then as much as now included the monolith that is World of Warcraft. I think that MMO argument is a little silly personally, because they're still too fundamentally different beasts for there to be a clear comparison between 4E and WoW. Unless you widen the conversation to include 4E-derived material, of course.

Hush, you. I'll deal with you separately someday.

I find it odd that besides Neverwinter the MMORPG, the majority of video games released during the high-point of 4th Edition support and popularity were re-releases or enhanced remakes of older games based on older editions, such as Baldur's Gate 1 & 2 or the Neverwinter Nights collection. The sole exception, to my knowledge, is Daggerdale.

Daggerdale was a real-time action RPG and hack-and-slash loosely based off of 4E the same way that Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance 1 & 2 were based off of 3E. Daggerdale included 4E-esque racial traits and class powers, as well as the Tier system which limited the initial "Heroic" level progression to 10, and would have ascended to level 30 if the game's planned expansions had panned out. They did not, apparently due to the game's poor reception and the subsequent closure of its developer, Bedlam Games.

The fact that Daggerdale (as well as Neverwinter) used real-time combat was a very odd choice to me, when D&D 4E was as tied up in the tactical, map-and-miniatures-based combat as it was at the time. You couldn't abstract combat or separate it from a grid of 5-foot squares in a very satisfactory way, unless you include conceptually similar game systems and pseudo-spinoffs like 13th Age. So why didn't 4th Edition games just go with what seemed to me like the most natural choice for a video game adaptation?

That natural choice--again, to me at least--was the classic Tactics RPG.

Though, probably a little less pixelated.

Both use grid-based movement, operate in turns, have oftentimes byzantine lists of powers and abilities which each character could use and keep track of, etc. Character orientation is often a component of TRPG combat, but that convention could be easily ignored in order to line up with 4E rules, since "facing" has been optional since 3.5E.

With a few considerations, the 4E ruleset could have been applied to a video game wholesale, serving even better to bridge the gap between digital gamer and tabletop gamer (if indeed that was the attempt). This could have produced a very good game for one, as well as potentially smoothed over some of the issues which had been caused by the rocky start of the ill-fated D&D Insider digital platform and subscription method. But trying to answer a bunch of marketing "what if"s is a little too far beyond what I'm capable of, so I'll leave it as one of the great unanswerable questions of the 2000s.

But I can at least plug a spiritual successor game which did an admirable attempt at filling the void left by that edition's peripherals.

Conclave was a TRPG created by the appropriately-named developer 10x10 Room and explicitly styled on classic tabletop campaigns. It included grid-based combat, an interesting story, scaling multiplayer with up to 3 other people, and the occasional out-of-combat plot branching which could be caused by Skill Challenges. I was especially fond of the satyr-like Trow, and the molten golem Forgeborn. Conclave hasn't received anymore content updates since its release however, so the base campaign is all you'll be able to experience. Still, the romp may be worth the $10USD, and the soundtrack was nifty.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Looking Southward and Backward: An Ethnographic and Historically-Minded Travelogue, Part 1.

((As I cling to the seat of a bus shuddering down 9W toward the only part of New York State which doesn't count as "upstate", two things occur to me.

One is a sense of bemusement born from a simultaneous gratefulness for the presence of bus wifi, and terror at an absence of bus seat belts.

The other is that I have never given sufficient thought to the importance, frequency, or severity of travel in the universe of the ITU.

Of course I have explicitly or implicitly explained the importance of movement and migration for the nomads and semi-nomads of the world, and perhaps that is in fact the norm at this time; the vast world has been disconnected for some time, with maintained roads and traveler culture long ago abandoned.

But now that a certain pasty academic has been temporarily ejected from his subscalanean office, the perfect opportunity arises for a few travelogues between now and his arrival at a certain dig site. For those of you who prefer his more researched articles, have no fear. Plenty of his parchments remain scattered upon the desk attached to his doorway, ripe for publication... after they've been sanitized of sensitive subject matter unbecoming of the publishing house of the ITU, of course.))

The Ivory Tower has become somehow even dingier, it seems.

Though we've left at dawn, with the sun's first rays highlighting the old city in full glory, the stains and crumbling patches along the tower's height are only more pronounced for it. An enormous sum of money has been reclaimed by the latest budget meetings by the Board of the Directorate to be put toward the restoration of the campus' namesake, but the estimated date of completion for these efforts numbers in the years, rather than months or weeks. In my first exchange with someone not tied to the University in several weeks, I heard the remark that some of the darkest patches closest to the tower's dilapidated top must date all the way back to the Rupture. I would scarcely be surprised if this were true.

Our party moves quickly to get the wains ready for departure, everyone but the Gertisch student being as unused to the cold as I am. Thanks to the generosity and relative bribeability of several professors not to be named, my study abroad has been furnished with three of my fellow undergraduates.

Ciudo, majoring in foreign languages and literature, shall be our interpreter during the times when Denerothi Ersuut will fail us, which I anticipated to be increasingly regular the farther south we go.

Shoring up our armament for the siege against the language barrier is or resident physician (technically only a botanist-in-training), Sarq. He is one of our precious few students of Nambarish stock, though unfortunately not of geographic origin. I must remember to inquire into the meaning and popularity of his name at a later date. I anticipate that it has its origins in the name of some folk hero, much the same way you might see ten thousand different permutations of "Haraal" walking the streets of Deneroth today.¹

Minoring in both historical ordination and Gertisch fencing, Hraela will be assisting me directly in the recording and analysis of everything we encounter leading up to and at the dig site. She has also elected to bring her training longsword with her, both to keep practicing for the semester's finals, as well as to ensure our getting along without any "man-made inconveniences" along the road. I am alarmed that Instructor Vogt has his pupils maintain their training equipment at shaving sharpness, and it is my hope that I never encounter anything which he would qualify as "battle-ready".²

We are joined by a hired retinue of ten porters, drivers, pathfinders, and other assistants from outside of the campus to ensure that we reach the Pach-Pahs in a timely fashion. What time that will be is unfortunately little more exact than the Board's estimate of Tower repairs, for the weather will play an adversarial role in our travels south.

Winter approaches Deneroth quickly. Even the Beige Trees of Citadel Grove have begun to lose their leaves in full this month, and a Denerothi winter is a wet and snowy one. But we must endure such hardships in order to reach the dig site, which is located beyond the first wave of peaks in the northern reaches of territory under supervision by the People's Anarcho-Syndicalistic Communes of Pach-Pah Yul (PASCOPPY hereafter). There, beyond the rain shadow of what we call the Near Pashels, the winter is quite dry. And in order to have an environment which is not bogged down in mud and influxes of breeding populations of Howler Ibexes, the locals must conduct their archaeological research in the dry cold.

Our wagons are just beginning to turn their wheels now, and it shall take some time and practice to get used to writing on the move. For now, I shall leave this parchment to dry and look upon the many tiers of our fair and introverted city before it is put behind us.

I feel a pang of affection for the city, and even for the University, as our path becomes set and irreversible.

Clearly I need another nip of Esgodarran Whiskey in order to wake up fully.

¹ Mind you, the total population of Deneroth is, as of last decade's census, scarcely higher than twenty thousand, to indicate the sheer inescapability of the name.

² It is a little-known fact that despite including it proudly in his resume, Professor Berchtold Vogt was never awarded the title of Éïsęnmễïster by any known or reputable school of fencing and swordsmanship in Deneroth or the sister cities of the Upper Lowlands. Nor is he known to have ever attended one.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Ekundayo (3/3).

Click here for Ekundayo 2/3.

The pale blue lights cast long, wavering shadows across the cemetery grounds. The grass was shortened but not removed from the earth, and many graves farther back in the lopsided rows were slowly, gently being overtaken by nature. Most mounds did not possess a significant marker beyond an erected piece of wood or stone, but several off to the left were highly conspicuous in this regard.

Four oblong rises of soil in the earth were quite fresh, as were the offerings arranged around them as a group. Several sticks of resin incense still smoked, and the melted , slowly solidifying wax rivers of a few candles stood out against the dark earth. Bundles of fruit, spices, and salt were wrapped in scraps of decorated cloth, each marked by a piece of bark carved with some personal identifier of giver or goodwill, in place of an entire written message. The visual arts of the village were more robust than their textual.

Abeni looked upon these mounds with quiet, somewhat confused respect. Why was she being brought to see the dead first? Once more seeking the old man's odd-hued eyes, she looked up toward him.

Grandfather Corpse was already looking back down at her, his smile lessened somewhat. But it did not vanish.

"They been missin' you terrible since the fiah. Ya maam, pah, little Dayo too." He spoke of the girl's baby brother, no older than four years by now.

The confusion intensified, and then turned to worry, as she looked back and forth between the mounds and the old man. The corpses backed off respectfully, as if they knew that they would be intruding upon a very personal conversation.

Joints creaked and groaned as the old man set his staff down, altering the angles of the shadows again dramatically. He set his flat hands with long, steady fingers upon the girl's shoulders, and he exhaled. Just as it always did, his breath smelled faintly of smoked taba leaves. He seemed to be waiting for the girl to speak first. When she didn't, he nodded his head and glanced aside once more, as if he were seeing and listening to something which she could not detect. He nodded his head upon that thin neck of his.

"Ya gotta go to 'em, Abeni. Me know it be frightenin', we awl do. But it time." With that, his hands reached past her shoulders, and he pulled the girl in lightly. One hand patted against her back as he embraced her, and then in the next moment he was twisting away on his long, scrawny legs and standing back up, staff in hand.

Abeni lingered on the three mounds for a time. She approached them slowly. She looked over the fourth, nestled between the third and the soil heaped up against the base of the fence.

She turned back to the man, tears reflecting the light beneath her eyes.

"Please... tell yuh wife me said hello, one las' time?"

"Course, sweet'aat."


Before she went and laid down upon the loamy soil, she snapped a piece of red-colored sugar candy from one of the offering baskets and popped it into her mouth. It clicked against her teeth, and the wind rustled the scorched hem of her dress one last time. It wasn't as soft as her bed, but it was close. She felt tired finally.

The old man sighed, and canted his head at an odd angle to listen again. The smile renewed itself, and he turned away. Knocking his hickory staff upon the nearest hard surface, he brought the still and silent bodies back to attention. They lined up like soldiers at attention, and then shambled forward on his instruction, clamoring through the place of restful death until they found emptied mounds of their own. The old man followed after each, packing the earth down tightly once they had clawed it back over themselves, all to the rhythmic chants of joro, jara, and joro.

Once the last particles of dirt were settled back down, he ambled over toward the gap in the fence once more. The staff extinguished itself with an almost imperceptible sizzle. With his free hand, he lifted up a length of hemp rope which tethered one end of an ancient wooden box, long and narrow, with one end wider than the other. He shouldered it upon one sagging side with a soft grunt, and then he trudged forward, back out into the mist once more.

"Ya 'erd awl dat, lub?"

The coffin knocked once in response.

((Ending this messy little amalgamation of ideas, I hope that the end of the last month and the beginning of the new has left you each with an affirmation of life. You can't have one side without the other. Happy Día de los Difuntos.))

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Ekundayo (2/3).

Click here for Ekundayo 1/3.

The girl plummeted into the fog, and into despair. Surprisingly yielding under her weight, the near-skeletal arms which reached upward cushioned the worst of her fall, and brought her down quite close to the muddy forest floor. Hardly scratching her likewise, the chipped and gnarled hands of the dead grasped her only as tightly as they needed to, in order to keep her from struggling free from them once again.

Still, she screamed and fought and kicked her feet, completely unhinging one side of the jaw of one of the dead things after she had begun the work in their last encounter. Her thrashing went on for some time, in anticipation of what was to come.

But nothing came. She gritted her teeth and shut her eyes tight, body going rigid and tense.

Still, nothing.

One hazel-flecked eye cracked open to peer around, and though she found the horrific stares of each dead eye upon her still, their owners had entered an almost placid stupor.

It then occurred to her that beyond the range of her attention, someone else had been shouting as well.

The shadowed figure strode forward in a huff, a hand deftly tossing and then choking down upon the length of a wooden staff, which then rapped admonishingly across the back of one bare skull among the huddled dead. The butt of the staff squelched into the mud again as they each groaned and turned their necks, and then a hand thrust into view. Wrinkled, mahogany-colored skin overlaid with dirt and grey-white patches of ash waved back and forth as a finger was thrust into the faces of the corpses one after another, like a mother scolding her children. A voice halfway between its natural state of measured richness and the quiver of the moment's excitement cut through the dead air.

"Bad cawpse! Bad cawpse, all of ya. Treatin' a chil' like that what you be 'spose to help her. Now ya let the gal down, an' you make ya manners. Open ya hats now, boys."

As if by magic, each dead and vice-like grip on the girl relaxed immediately, and she felt her heels sink into the spongy earth below as she was at last let down. But the urge to flee was superseded by her sheer confusion, and there her bare heels remained for a time. She stared up into the darkness as she reached back into memory, and connected that voice with a name.

"... Gran'puh Cawpse?" She asked.

"Abeni, my sweet'aat. Forgive the old boys their behavior. Ya been so quick an' vexin' to us awl night, they gone an' got bothered... We been lookin' for ya." The sodden grass pressed to the sides around his knees as he knelt down before the girl, who was much shorter than him despite his hunched and somewhat shriveled form.

Just then, a light flared up in the figure's outstretched hand, opposite the staff of twisted hickory. It was a pallid blue light which emanated from little tongues of flame of that selfsame color, each clinging to a fingertip. They illuminated the scene immediately around them, and it cast long shadows upon the trunk of the old tree beside them. Sure enough, the familiar face of the old man with balding head and grey-tinged eyes was revealed, smiling apologetically at her. And flanking them, the old corpses now bowed their heads and groaned in unintelligible apology to the girl for getting so out of hand. She was sure of it now, one of the bodies had belonged to the old butcher's father, died last year.

Abeni had recently turned eight years old, and she'd known the presence of "Grandpa Corpse" in the village for the entirety of her life up to that point. He was the weathered old man who tended to the rites and the burial of the dead, both in her home and elsewhere. But despite his ubiquitousness across the edges of the mangroves, even to the edges of the cypresses, she knew little about him. Even the name by which she knew him was a title ascribed to the man by the observant and uninhibited youths of generations past. Of course he'd never objected. And now suddenly he was in charge of the undead, as well as finding lost children?

"Ya mam an' pah been worried sick about ya, Abeni. They ain't seen ya since the fiah, an' they clingin' to hope that you come back home 'afore sunrise, safe an' sound."

Her heart leaped in her breast as she heard mention of her parents, and she seized the old man's hand in hers despite the flames. They gave off no heat which she could feel, however. His lips split into a smile and he gave a chuckle in response, before nodding his head.

"A'right then boys, she be ready to come on back. Hngh..."

The joints in his knees and hips popped or ground softly, but the man rose back up onto his feet once more. The oxhide sandals he normally wore were gone, and his feet too were bare but for the mud on them now. The little candle flames in his fingers rose up like a group of fireflies briefly, before settling upon the end of his staff and coalescing to light the way forward. Hands held firmly, the old man led the girl forward, followed after by the quiet procession of the dead. One step at a time, they walked slowly, and the swamp gently opened up to them.

The trackless wetlands gradually became more and more recognizable, until at last they were on solid ground again, rising up past the edges of the flood boundaries where it was safe to build homes. The hard-packed road which connected their village to the next stretched out before them, leading them along the gentle serpentine suggestion which accounted for so many drop-offs or thick knots of vegetation.

She saw the whisps of smoke rising above the treeline before she smelled them. It blended into the fog almost perfectly.

At either side of the road, so many buildings had been torched nearly to the ground. Their wood and thatching had been damp the morning of, yet the stubborn spark which had begun the conflagration was persistent. Abeni saw the charred husk of her family's own hut, and the hazy smoke from its smoldering joined the smoke above. She gave a soft gasp and tugged at Grandfather Corpse's arm, and he obliged her a few steps toward that side of the path as they continued forward. Nothing remained recognizable within the hut's walls. All of their possessions were gone. But she didn't feel the pain of it, strangely- at least not yet.

Past that and other hulks they walked, until the fire's limits were surpassed, and the untouched buildings remained. They had been more widely-spaced, closer to one of the wells, and plain luckier. Abeni thought she could hear the snores coming from within them, as families swollen with homeless relatives staying the night tried to catch as much rest as they could manage.

And these too, they walked straight past. Abeni looked up at the old man's face as if to ask, but the old man's eyes remained trained on the space ahead as he gave the same assuring smile. He looked tired.

Finally, he came to a halt, and she did too. A moment later, after bumping into one another, the dead stopped as well.

They stood at the edge of the wattle and daub fence which marked the edge of the village graveyard.

((As you may have noticed, I couldn't hold an eerie note for long. But it was all for a purpose! Following up on Halloween, this post furthers the cultural mish-mashing by honoring the first "half" of contemporary Día de Muertos, so to speak. Happy Día de los Inocentes to all.))

Click here for Ekundayo 3/3.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Ekundayo (1/3).

((In an effort to move away from the scattered parchments piled up high on the desk of Roberick Litte's office-bedroom for once, I've attempted to get into the spirit of Samhain-Saints-Oween Eve. Of course I'm garbage at writing actual horror, so my goal for this piece is closer to instilling a temporary sense of vague discomfort.))

The quick, damp slaps of bare little feet through the mud broke the uncharacteristic silence of the mangrove forest. The fog had killed the stars and moon hours ago, and the frantic patter of feet halted frequently as their owner slipped upon the spongy earth or fell between the overlapping snarls of roots which formed little islands in the swamp.

The girl with the scorched and tattered dress was small and quick, but the sounds she made as she thrashed through the water and trees drew them ever closer. Her shins were scraped by the ground and her cheeks slashed at by passing branches, splashing her brown skin with a raw and bloody red in places. But still, she ran on. She had to.

She had to get away from them.

The ones who reeked of earth and death. Gaunt old things, with lolling heads and a lurching gait. They shambled on two legs or crawled on all fours, but they never seemed to tire, unlike her. Again and again, the swamp turned her around or snagged her, and there they were again- gangling limbs stretched out toward her and gnarled claws groping blindly. There may only have been three, but there may as well have been three dozen. She'd lost track of how many hours it had been already. Shouldn't the sun have already risen?

Did she even remember the last time she had seen the sun?

Skidding to a halt at the edge of a river, the girl craned her neck and twisted it around, looking up and down the length of both banks. The curtain of grey hid the far side from her, but the sounds which touched her ears from that direction were enough to turn her away. Another one had gotten caught in the mangrove roots, she thought, and it was breaking through either wood or bone in order to free itself. One had cornered her minutes or ages ago, only to become trapped amid the slimy old husks, and she had kicked it so hard in her escape that its jaw had unhinged on one side.

Now, as before, the guttural, half-choked groans reminded her of a dog being strangled. It always went on for too long, but this time it was without end.

Revulsion filled her and made a shiver wrack her body as she thought she heard some deeper familiarity in those noises. But the rasp of long-fingered branches behind her wrenched her attention away from it. She'd stayed still too long.

Its distended paunch looked bloated and hard, but the rest of it was loathsomely thin, so that it looked like little more than grey-mottled skin stretched tight over bone. The dull ambient light reflected off of the almost glossy clot of dark, blackish blood which anointed its caved-in temple, and a break somewhere along its spine ensured that this horrific side profile was always tilted and aimed at her. No matter how violent their first deaths may have been, nothing seemed to stop them. One listless, milky eye swiveled in its socket until it settled on the youth, and then its mouth opened wide- unnaturally so.

A dry hiss came first, stopping and starting as it gave a glottal stop to voiceless words. But then the death rattle rose up from its throat and echoed high throughout the dripping canopy, eliciting cries in response from elsewhere in the darkness. They were much closer than even she had feared, and coming from every direction. She hadn't been escaping. She'd only been hedging herself in deeper from the start.

It didn't dawn on her as she stood there, transfixed by the dead thing's gaze, that it had stopped in its tracks as well, so that not even its exposed knee joint clicked and ground as it audibly had before. All she knew was the stab of terrified instinct at the base of her skull, and it screamed at her to move.

So her feet pounded upon the earth, root, and stone again, and in response the thing's screech was cut short with a sound of alarm. She dove into the trees through a space too narrow for them to pass through, but now the cracking and yielding of roots was at the back of her neck. A sob passed her lips as she scrambled forward from the convergence of tattered things blindly.

Up ahead was another tree. It was massive, towering above the mangroves all around it. It was an ancient thing, broad-trunked even before the rivers had swelled and flooded the deltas. Its roots dug deep rather than lacing across the surface. It was also dying, slowly poisoned by the land to which it no longer belonged. But it was still standing, and that was enough for her.

Dress hiked up about her knees, she clamored up against the giant and reached out for a handhold. The rotted bark gave way before her fingertips, but in a moment she'd found purchase elsewhere. She pulled herself up, higher and higher, legs propelling her desperately upward with barely enough time for her hands to hang on. The thump of bodies against the base of the tree came as they reached her, but she only felt the dead air shifting and billowing slightly below her toes as their flailing arms reached in vain.

Inch by inch, she savaged the side of the tree with broken little nails until the light of a hundred glinting stars exploded behind her eyes. To her dismay, they were not the stars in the sky. The torn bits of scalp and curly black hair upon the crown of her head told her that she had struck the underside of a bough. She grabbed a hold of it, and pulled herself upward.

Seated upon the branch, she could see them in the mists down below faintly. But by their motionlessness, she knew that they could see her perfectly. Her eyes tore away from the awful shapes and looked to the edges of the clearing, seeking any way out of this self-made prison. The limbs and roots of trees all melded together to create a twisting latticework of mud and weeping canopies, save for the ugly gash where the shambling things had forced their way in. It existed only for a moment under her view, before it too was filled up by something.

It was bent and narrow, but walked with far more control and purpose than the dead. It had a liveliness that made her breath catch in her throat. Could it be? No, of course not. She didn't even have time to think the words. The glimmer of desperate hope became stillborn as the things of rot down below turned to behold the newcomer, only to regard it with more mindless moaning before returning their gaze to the girl. The figure halted, seeming content to do nothing.

She hid her face away. It might still be a dream. If the sun came out and she opened her eyes, they would be gone, and this would all be over. She clutched at the blackened, ashy patches on the hem of her dress and wished she hadn't gotten lost. She wished for a lot of things. She wished that she didn't hear the groaning of the wood underneath her, or the thunderous crack as the bough suddenly gave way.

The gangling limbs and rattling cries rose up to meet her, as she plunged back down into the fog without a word.

Click here for Ekundayo 2/3.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A Lowlander's Gloss of the Rise & Fall of the Pach-Pah Empire, Part 5.

Click here to view Part 4 on the Pach-Pah Empire

"I call to order the 298th Grand Resolutions Council, and the 2,980th Convening of the Large and Small Workers' Assemblies!"
- Officiator Thonapa Namdol, at the most recent overlap in annual and decennial meetings between the loose governing bodies of the People's Anarcho-Syndicalistic Communes of Pach-Pah Yul, 293 AR

- An election season leaflet from Pansech Province, circa 246 AR.

The last Miqh Pach-Pah was buried without blessing or ceremony (but also without further insult or defamation) in an undisclosed location in one of the gardens of his palace. The bodies of his advisers would hang over the broken gates for some time in cages gilt with all of the precious stones and metals which they had fostered the mining of. The empire without an emperor entered a deep and extended period of mourning and protracted activity. The Pach-Pahs vanished from international commerce and society almost entirely as they attempted to piece their homes and lives back together, to say nothing of the internal struggles of understanding who and what they now were.

With the collapse of the semi-divine cult surrounding the Miqh, those with faith shaken yet unbroken turned in greater numbers and in greater piety toward the other gods of the mountains. They threw themselves upon the mercy of the deities of right conduct and justice, and prayed for those who had been lost to the underworld. A deep, collective sense of grief, guilt, and catharsis kept them united, where once the ties of common government had done the same.

This marked the point in time when the gods of the underworld were also venerated. Prior to that, stretching as far back as the early period of Pach-Pah history, those of the deep and dark places had been feared and warded against. Evil was associated with them, and they were only appeased in an attempt to ward off misfortune. Now, the fear remained truer than ever, but it was laced with a desperate hope that those whom they had taken into their keeping were being treated well. Indeed, the living hoped that the same could be had for themselves, if a buried death awaited them in the end. the practice of digging architecture entirely below the surface was abandoned in the same decade as the Collapse, save for when a temple dedicated to the gods below needed building.

The surviving instances of nobility throughout the provinces remained in the custody of various groups of revolutionaries for some time, but further spilling of blood was out of the question, now that everyone had seemed to finally "wake up" from the illusion of bloated royalty. The memoirs of former governors and their children are well-documented in the following century, as they attempted to reintegrate with those whom they had stayed above and separate from. Progress was slow, and famine was frequent in those regions where infrastructure had been damaged the most heavily. But in their reduced state, the people of the mountains consolidated, and experienced a measure of regrowth.

Eventually the question of "what next?" was difficult to ignore. And unlike the aftermath of our own experiences of disaster, vast gulfs of distance between major players did not prevent the highlanders from achieving greater cooperation once again. In the first of many summits to come, the representatives of each former province met at the base of the peak where the ruined imperial palace once stood. With each was an entourage of representatives of each industry found in that province, for over the course of the empire's history, its people had undergone quite a significant degree of specialization into various disciplines.

The various members of each regimented form of livelihood, whether they were the heads of valley ranches or of stoneworking groups, quickly found themselves in agreement about what their respective peoples needed and wanted for the future. Of course they did not agree so readily with each other group's decisions, and bickering ensued. It was only by taking on a role of arbitration did the representatives of each province at large manage to instill a state of quiet order, from which the first rough agreements on group policy were drawn up. Each industry would work toward both representation and self-regulation, and each regional government would work together to maintain a level of cooperation and public welfare between all moving parts. "Solidarity Without Kings" became something of a rallying mantra for the Pach-Pahs.

It would be a dizzying and frankly impossible task for an indigenous expert on political history of the Pach-Pahs to produce a comprehensive and all-encompassing list of the various changes between that point and now, and being that I have neither the blood ties nor the training to do so, it would be doubly so for me to attempt. But I can say with confidence that, despite nearly three thousand years of time passing, the Pach-Pahs have maintained a remarkable degree of faithfulness to that first council's resolutions. There have been many changes, transformations, and upheavals since, with more than one Trade War or would-be monarch inflicting themselves upon the people of the mountains. But in the spirit of perpetual revolution, each of these challenges has been met, dealt with, and then spun to resemble that old precept.

Before my more aristocratic readers tear this document up in a white-knuckled rage, be aware that though they constantly push against it, hierarchy is difficult to avoid entirely within this patchwork blanket of industry-communities. Furthermore, a continued and heavy emphasis upon family lineage among all Pach-Pah groups maintains a somewhat clannish divide between larger industrial groups, as well as a fairly consistent and conservative outlook on (albeit recently-created) tradition.

This, as well as limited international trade, has occupied our southern neighbors since before our own empire was divided. All things considered, they have done remarkably well for themselves. And I dare say that we have many lessons in adaptation, damage control, and human spirit to learn from them.

On a more scholastic note, I would also like to take the opportunity to push the support for Pach-Pach archaeological research. The discipline has its roots in the mountains, yet has enjoyed relatively little adaptation to the lowlands, even in regions as fixated upon its past as the denizens of Deneroth.

It is with determined optimism that I state my recently-approved budget¹ for an expedition into the mountains to accompany one such archaeological project will generate enough northern interest in the practice that Deneroth or even Nambar may soon host their own departments of history-through-earth-sifting.

¹ The initial offer of ten pounds of electrum is barely enough to cover the costs for equipment and non-university personnel, let alone the need for transportation and lodgings over a four-month period. It was quickly expanded to twenty-five pounds once I pointed out to the treasurers' council that they and everyone else on the University's campus would be free of me for a full quarter of the year if the funding was sufficient.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

A Lowlander's Gloss of the Rise & Fall of the Pach-Pah Empire, Part 4.

Click here to view Part 3 on the Pach-Pah Empire
Click here to view Part 5 on the Pach-Pah Empire

"I pity the last emperor. Had he known what the world was like outside of his own guarded existence? What might he have done, if given the opportunity to experience humanity?"
- Gyalchup Inti, offering a revisionist perspective which has gained traction over the past century-and-a-half.

"The champions of the revolution butchered the advisers of the Miqh only because they could not lay their hands upon him personally. Theirs was the crime of denying the just their deserved vengeance; all others laid upon Umaq the Deserter."
- Dema Jortli, offering an opposing view.

It may come as a surprise to my audience to find that the Rupture was not the only horrific event to attack the world in clearly written history. In fact, the lands of the south felt something of much greater magnitude than what would become known to us thousands of years later. This is of course a matter of perspective. This is by no means an attempt to diminish the magnitude of the hardship which our forefathers had faced, and I would sooner be struck dead than dishonor the Eternal Scholar Laizij and the memory of Haraal.¹

Now that the precautions are out of the way, it is time to understand the fundamental difference between north and south when it comes to experience of the Rupture and other Rupture-like Events. In the north, it was a gradual affair, with death and affliction spread out over a great period. Likewise, it was a time of cold, and stillness of the earth. But in the south, past the beginnings of the Pach-Pahs from whence the smoke and ash had first arisen both times, the greatest magnitude of destruction and human suffering came within the first days- nay, hours. And they came in fire, and in a violent animation of the land beneath one's feet. It was a time in which the people of the Pach-Pahs were irreparably damaged in number and in spirit.

Today, the warning signs are obvious. But in that historic moment, the chain of volcanic eruptions which awoke the ancient sleepers of the mountains were quite unexpected. The sacred peaks of their homeland turned into pillars of flame and toxin, spreading mass confusion and collapse of basic functionality across the empire. But the pain in the earth came from much deeper than the reactivated mountains. Earthquakes rent the underworld asunder, grinding the crusts of the world against one another irrespective of the structural integrity of the deep-delved mines or the density of the populations living there. Once again, we have no concrete knowledge of what the mining cities experienced in their final hours, but speculation has been refined over the years. Some tunnels collapsed. Others were rent open and exposed to yawning abysses or lakes of churning, molten earth. Others were taken by the intrusion of noxious fumes from smaller tears on the world around them. All were destroyed.

One million unknown and unknowable lives were snuffed out in the time it took the Miqh Pach-Pah to return from his rudely-interrupted tour of the gardens where imperial chewing leaves were grown. He was immediately evacuated to the gold-foiled, jewel-studded palace which was the home of his family for generations, and the entire area was placed on lockdown by the largest contingent of trained and professional soldiers in the empire. In the scramble to ensure the safety of the royal personage and all other courtly matters, the cadre of senior advisers forgot or neglected to attempt to send messengers across the empire to ascertain the degree of damage and the need for allocation of resources.

This deathly silence was taken as absolute contempt for the people of the empire, and the insignificance of their suffering in the eyes of the elite. The resentment which had festered among them for generations found the only way it could vent at long last, in which the same way that the earth Herself was venting her divine upset. Fury swept up the hearts of those overtaxed farmers and artisans, those underfunded provincial governments not blessed with membership in the "Great Family", and those precious few miners close enough to the surface tunnels to escape the abject destruction faced by their kinfolk. This motley collection of the disaffected and downtrodden joined together, all differences of province or class melting away under the red-hot glare which all affixed to their shared foe.

They took up hammers and wood axes, grain sickles and clubs, shepherd's staves outfitted with spearheads, and the looted weaponry of the countless imperial regiments who either defected from their generals, or simply turned tail and dispersed across the mountainsides. Where order was strongest, the rebels organized themselves into communicating units and overtook the existing administration of a region with its governors placed under house arrest. Where order could not be found, their fellows tore down the opulent capital buildings of their homes and hewed their occupants to pieces. Where imperial order was strongest, these atrocities were met in kind, and often redoubled several times over. The masses had righteous indignation on their side, but the military still had disciplined ranks armed with iron, armor of quilted cloth, and broad shields of wicker and wood. It is said that the imperial guard stationed in the city of Pachuxo were defeated only once "the blood of their victims had ran like a river around their knees, tripping and dislodging them".

Quickly, groups of rebels linked together upon the high, narrow highways between terraced cities following their victories, and the rebellion started to become a revolution.

During all of this the Miqh was limited under guard to his bedchambers, which while several hundred feet in all dimensions, was effectively a prison cell within the complex of the imperial palace. He sat there alone and confused, for he had no wife or children, and over the early years of his rule, he had been divided from his closest relatives. When there came the sounds of many people closing in from a distance, the guards posted at his door told him nothing. When the sounds became a commotion, and thumps could be heard coming from the grand entrance hall, his retainers abandoned him. It was only once the resounding crash of two gates filled the palace, that he was again met with company.

But they were not his guards. And surprisingly, they were not his unexpected visitors, either.

They were his senior advisers.

Langdah Umaq Miqh Pach-Pah was by all accounts a fairly placid Miqh, a product-as-representative of the decay of his empire rather than an active demonstrator of it. While the list of arrests and executions under him were numerous, they were all at the behest of his advisers, and merely had his seal of blindly-given approval for each. Likewise went his decrees, and any amendments to the convoluted first attempt at a codified body of law first attempted by his predecessor five generations earlier. It is known that those quietly opposed to the workings of the royal family belittled and dismissed the man, often deriding his slurred speech and unusually shaped head in private. But it is unknown how badly he was hated by his own empire. That dubious honor is relegated to the chief advisers to the Miqh, and it is telling (in my eyes) that their names were stripped from history, rather than their liege's.

And so it comes as no surprise that, faced with imminent capture by those whom they had wronged for so long, the wizened old men who had raised the Miqh as their ward and puppet fell upon him with rods of oak and ropes of silk. They detained him and strangled him, and then lifted up his body to present to the triumphant invaders mere moments behind. Before they could begin to utter their first false words in support of the revolution, the crowd fell upon them in turn. Each was stripped of his robes and marks of rank and dragged screaming from the ruined gates of the palace, where such detailed punishments as recorded in the Codex of the Revolution are detailed and illustrated.

In a dozen battles, the surviving titles of nobility of the Pach-Pah Yul were reduced by half, either through renunciation or through attrition. In the murder of a single frightened monarch, the second half vanished.

The memory of the final Miqh remains a controversial one today, with each generation of reflective Pach-Pah men and women treating him, his advisers, and the revolutionaries slightly differently. I could not begin to offer an overview of that debate, for it would be an even greater disservice to the topic than this gloss is to the many sources of history which I've attempted to synthesize thus far. But one thing is certain.

While they attempted to wrestle with the possibilities and consequences of their new identity, the people of the former empire had an immense amount of rebuilding to do.

¹ Just as I would never threaten to censor or bar from publication another honest scholar's work simply because it does not lend itself entirely to the established narrative of an institution. I look forward to our next "sanitization" session over brunch, Senior Editor Adelbramp. Do be sure not to misplace your black marker again the next time you █████████ behind the curtains of the ██████████████████.

Monday, October 16, 2017

A Lowlander's Gloss of the Rise & Fall of the Pach-Pah Empire, Part 3.

Click here to view Part 2 on the Pach-Pah Empire.
Click here to view Part 4 on the Pach-Pah Empire.

"They were like children. We all were, back then. That is the lesson to take from our history. That we must grow up as a people."
- Scholar's Guild representative Metok Chicheuilte, offering a surprisingly gentle alternative to the usual stance on the mental faculties of the last reigning Miqhs.

- Inscription upon the steel head of a pickaxe salvaged from an archaeological site in the lower northwest Taneqas region. Dated to approximately 2000PR.

Eccentricities began to develop among the scions of the narrowing bloodlines of the Pach-Pah Yul royalty, as the generations wore on. Given the cult of personality which was fostered around each such individual by that time, especially the Miqh, these tendencies were only encouraged. Thus, long strings of tragic individuals became increasingly hidden from day-to-day matters, left ignorant of how to properly go about their duties when, if even faintly, the hope had existed that they could grow and develop to be wise and competent individuals. But the circumstances of high society had become so convoluted and bloated with a combination of decadence and anxiety that the later emperors did very little which could be seen as "kingly". Still, the reigning members of the family branches remained rather docile, delegating actual work to unrelated servants and administrators, and generally keeping to their own prestige-driven affairs. Civil strife all but vanished, and unknown to the aristocratic heart of the empire, their frontiers became the first sites of cultural and economic contact with the peoples of the lowlands.

But every few generations there was born a strong and vigorous "Great Miqh", often termed "Mad Miqh" in modern scholarship, who disrupted this cycle of maintenance and gentle stagnation and substituted their own idea for the world. For example, the severe deflation of currency in the 38th century PR was caused by the removal from circulation of all copper coins thanks to two successive Miqhs having a rare yet highly pronounced copper allergy. The ruinous war which was fought to conquer the unneeded hill country south of the Pach-Pahs from its now nameless and faceless aboriginal inhabitants was declared by Gulzar Quexo Miqh in 3464PR. Evidently, she had wanted to name the place as her footstool, in reference to the concept of the Miqh straddling the world (i.e., mountains). To this day, the region is said to be so devastated and scarred that not even the ████████████████████████████ bothered to settle the land during the northward push of ███████████████.

The most infamous of the Mad Miqhs was Intli Dzonlar Miqh, consecrated in 3112PR. His love of gemstones and precious metals was legendary, and it is written that his greatest dream was to have his entire temple-palace covered in a layer of gold broken only by studs of garnet. He directed enormous sums of money toward investment in mining, which up to that point in time had been small and relatively primitive among his people. Surface mining in and around stone quarries evolved into the dedicated and systematic strip-mining of entire valley regions within half a century. Numerous styles of mining were experimented with, such that today in some areas vast honeycombs of mining chutes can be seen pocking the surface, connecting with the long-abandoned remnants of shafts and tunnels, all less than a mile away from the edge of spiral-shaped open-pit mines.

It was an invigorating thing for the wealth and economy of the empire, at first. Despite the fact that Pach-Pah religious belief generally placed the roof of the monster-infested underworld approximately one hundred feet below the surface, the quietly ailing empire was given a new purpose, and great rewards for its toil. Trade and fine artifice bloomed as the Pach-Pah people took swiftly to their new, precious medium. But there existed an ever-increasing demand for more bodies to work these gaping wounds in the mountains. Entrepreneurs and the odd ancestral digger did not provide the numbers needed. And so the eyes of the powerful and wealthy turned toward the lowest of the castes which had developed over the centuries. The urban and rural poor, and even the disenfranchised masses of untouchables descended from criminals, political prisoners, and mixed foreigners were relocated and made into miners. The mines deepened every year, and before long the laborers were carving their own semi-permanent homes into the sides of their vast, subterranean thoroughfares, miles from the entrances which their parents and grandparents had initially camped around.

With the marriage and union between the Dongyal Miqh-ma Quya (roughly analogous to "empress dowager") and her nephew Kunak Poma, the last man in the almost unbroken line of purported seventy-seven Miqhs was born in 2704PR.¹ Langdah Umaq Miqh Pach-Pah, heir to a dizzying list of hereditary seats and titles², was the result of a tangled family tree, grown through a reproductive bottleneck, opening up into a thimble with one hole poked in the top. Beyond his closely-related parents, Langdah Umaq's paternal uncle was also his grandfather, and the father of that man was simultaneously Umaq's grandfather and great-grandfather. All eight of his great-grandparents were the children of only two great-great-grandparents, who were themselves the products of many cycles of brother-sister marriage originating with the Mad Miqh Intli Dzonlar Miqh himself. Umaq's rule was consecrated in 2698PR at the age of six when his mother and father had died within several months of one another due to what are described in the chronicles as seizures and an attack of the liver, respectively.

Even prior to that age, Umaq was made well aware and regularly remound³ of his own heritage, excellence, and purity of bloodline. He was seated in his court weekly by his anxious cadre of advisers to hear the refreshing of oaths of fealty given to him by those few remaining provincial kings and chieftains who had not been subsumed within the overwhelming single bloodline of the Pach-Pah nobility. Then, once he had heard the praise of these people (who were by this point kept as royal hostages in the capital city, communicating with their home provinces only through messenger), the Miqh would then dismount his ornate throne festooned with silks, beads, and jewelry, turn to face it, and then rehearse the oaths of fealty by himself, for himself, in the names of the seventeen provinces of which he was also governor. He would then bless himself as his own high-priest, and then depart upon a litter guided by his own voice and direction, as the chief attendant to his own royal personage. His very name was like a mantra to him.

Modern re-imagining of those days often casts the government of the entire empire as being an absolute self-parody, and as a case of grand ignorance allowing for the widespread practice of monstrous cruelty. The Earth itself is commonly anthropomorphized as a mother sobbing under the cuts and infantile howls of her own children. but it is impossible to say exactly what the common surface-dwelling man or woman felt about their homeland in the twilight years of the empire- before the revolution, at least.

By Umaq's time, the population of the massive under-kingdom of the Pach-Pahs outnumbered the surface. He was not one of the mad emperors, but his advisers (and most everyone else, for that matter) had become so deeply invested in the way of things that any policy or decree enacted in Umaq's time was liable to be one giving greater freedom to begin mining operations, or more strict insurance against runaway laborers. As the centuries passed, the original houses delved by huddled little mining families had expanded outward into underground towns and cities complete with foreman-governors, and living memory of sunlight and fresh air quietly died out among the dusty masses. With a profound darkness before them and the cracking of their masters' whips at their backs, those who had become little more than slaves could do nothing but press on.

The highly ritualized and religious practice of shipping loads of ore up to the surface was an affair which took months of constant travel along roads of steps and rails, yet news and knowledge from the surface spread even more slowly. After a certain depth, the miners were no longer providing metal and stones for their emperors and markets. They were sacrificing them to the dour and demanding gods of the above-world, and placating the lashes of the overseers who had become instruments of divine wrath. We can only speculate now how these people lived, loved, buried their dead, or governed themselves in the absence of any royal families willing to send their scions into the benighted underworld.

One million candle-lit stories of hardship, artwork, exploration, and ingenuity set against ever-increasing quotas and vanishingly thin resources are lost to history, thanks to what was about to come.

¹ At present, the scarcity of records detailing the names or reigns of various Miqhs following the widespread destruction of chronicles and monuments throughout the Pach-Pah Yul has resulted in only twenty-four emperors being confirmed and identifiable.

² The full list of titles attributed to Langdah Umaq Miqh Pach-Pah, as recovered from numerous royal archival fragments, is currently being translated by a most gracious graduate student of the Linguistics Department, and is sure to be available for citation at a later point in this piece as soon as it has passed routine censors.

³ After being alerted by the Committee for the Conservation of Language no less than eight times in the past year of my repeated use of "remound" as opposed to "reminded", I have been well and truly motivated to make "remound" a dedicated part of my lexicon, and I shall share its aesthetic practicality elsewhere, when before I'd have done nothing to propagate its use. All thanks go to the CCL.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

A Lowlander's Gloss of the Rise & Fall of the Pach-Pah Empire, Part 2.

Click here to view Part 1 on the Pach-Pah Empire.
Click here to view Part 3 on the Pach-Pah Empire.

"Hearken to the braying trumpets of the Miqh Pach-Pah.
His head touches Heaven. His legs straddle the Mountains.
The womb of the Earth adorns Him."¹
- Inscription lining the borders of a marble votive plaque set in the wall of a royal tomb which predates the fall of the Empire by approximately two centuries. All figural images depicted therein have since had a line drawn across their eyes or throat.

"The Benighted Age began when first the people of the earth raised one of their own above others, and named him Miqh."
- Tzo-Ngrub Codex, sheet 18. The inclusion of written text alongside more traditional pictoforms within this folding book is a clear indication of its age, making it no older than the end of the Revolution.

Sociopolitical developments and innovations aside, the way in which the peoples of the Pach-Pah Yul live today is not terribly different from their earliest history. They existed as decentralized tribes with areas of highland and lowland under their loose control, taming the rugged land enough to allow their flocks to flourish. They only dealt with their neighbors occasionally, and aside from references to the mountain people as "all the peoples of the world" in recordings of oral traditions, there are few references to them as a single, unified group. This lifestyle remained unchanged for ages before a great hardship befell each tribe in equal severity, regardless of wealth or position in the mountains.

Some chronicles describe the invasion of a foreign people, or a great monster rising up out of the underworld, or even a blight sent down upon the lands by an astral wind. Regardless of the calamity, the solution was for the Pach-Pah to band together more rigidly, and with greater structure. Outstanding tribal elders became chieftains, who became kings, who began to treat with other kings whom they held in high regard alongside themselves, now separated from the common folk by the confoundingly immaterial quality of nobility which we know so well today.

In these petty-kingdoms developed greater, more efficient ways in which to extract wealth from the land. During this period we also see a flourishing in the record of material culture, when artwork was produced more often and with greater sophistication, often incorporating the styles of other kingdoms. Trade too was established as a norm between settled states, rather than as an infrequent formality used to cement favorable relations between two transient groups which have encountered one another on the mountain slopes. Today it is believed that these trade connections were fostered via the fictive sacral kinship which developed between petty-kings and their quickly-expanding royal families.

Modern scholarship often treats the transition from many states to one as a simple inevitability, but self-reflective (and perhaps somewhat propagandistic) Pach-Pah narratives of the present day see the transformation as a long, slippery slope with countless intervals in which their people fumbled and tripped, not stopping until they had passed what they perceived to be a point of no return. This point where the early age ruptured from the middle period is typically described as being the crowning of the first Miqh Pach-Pah, an emperor of the people of the mountains.² This emperor was mostly symbolic at first, lacking the ability to mobilize every facet of the territory over which it was claimed that he ruled.

But over time, the formation of bloodlines begun by the earliest kings expanded to encompass a diverse range of high administrative and military offices. Each of these offices was hereditary, and in circumstances where members of two differing kingdom-provinces were betrothed, the titles which were descending through them were joined in any children produced by their union as well. So it was that an only child could become the king of one region and the high-priest of its neighbor. And these royal scions typically were only children, as a means of avoiding the nastiest fratricidal or sororicidal conflicts which are alluded to in legend. Of course fertility is not something which we peoples of the world have perfect control over, and for the Pach-Pah this is no different. In the inevitable cases in which multiple children were born to a couple of royal distinction and lucrative inheritance, either titles were split between them and each child was raised to be as accepting of this as possible, or, particularly in the case of brothers and sisters, they were simply married to maintain the family's sovereignty and control over the future.

While it may only be a rough inference based off of popular literature of the time, instances of sibling marriage seemed to occur progressively more and more often than sibling division or conflict throughout the empire.

One begins to see where this is all leading.

¹ Note that this popular translation does not capture the nuances of the final line. Here, "adorns Him" stands in for "has been made to adorn Him in this manner". While somewhat lacking in brevity, it does better to articulate the Miqh's power over all mines in the mountains, such that he could force the Earth to comply and adorn him with the wide variety of jewelry which can be seen in the plaque itself. Note also that what is rendered here as capitalization is the doubling of characters vertically or horizontally alongside the main body of text for emphasis. The codification of written language and adoption of outside influences on grammar did not occur until about three hundred years later.

² There was of course no "crown" to be worn by the first Miqh, because the mining of precious stones and metals did not occur to any significant degree by this point, and so the smithing required to produce an item of such care would come later. The earliest images of the Miqh do depict them with a scepter adorned with a crystal of some sort however, so it is very possible that interest in such materials was present in the culture, even if access to them was limited by whatever was found on or nearest to the surface.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Furt Digs Into Tequendria: Fantastical Roleplaying by Scott Malthouse.

Well, here goes nothing. I've decided to try a sporadic series of reviews that don't actually use a rating system or come with any kind of deep, profound experience with the subject material at hand. I just really like whatever I've found, and I wanna share it with others.

As my first random not-review, I've chosen Tequendria: Fantastical Roleplaying by Scott Malthouse, published by Trollish Delver Games. It is a Pay What You Want PDF with the very forgiving suggested price of $3 USD. I picked this book up from the DriveThru a couple of months ago for $1, because that was literally all I had left in my bank account at the time. But after having read through it, I will absolutely go back and do justice to the product.

Tequendria is a world of weird fantasy inspired by the writings of the equally weird Lord Dunsany. If that name doesn't ring any bells, he was an early influence on the writings of HP Lovecraft. If that name doesn't ring any bells, I don't know what to say to you. While certainly not dark or cosmically horrific in any way, it's a quirky sort of fantasy with its roots in the pre-Tolkien world of fiction and poetry. There are many small gods with odd jobs throughout the world, travelers and outlanders are strange curiosities, and the grand, cosmic scheme of things rests upon the long but finite slumber of the Dunsanian over-god, MANA-YOOD-SUSHAI

(Here's where I give my major complaint about the setting given the established willingness to include Dunsanian deities: there is a distinct lack of Skarl the Drummer, who is my favorite being from The Gods of Pegāna. Other than that tiniest of obsessive quibbles, all is good.)

It's a world where magic is uncommon and sometimes untrustworthy. There are however ancient crypts to delve into and monster-filled wilderness to explore, and so the makings of a classic adventure as we might know it do present themselves. Just don't expect to amass thousands of gold Shards according to level or have guaranteed magic items and +5 Weapons or Armor while doing so. The geographic regions and place names are all deliberately exotic in that old-timey and charmingly English sort of way, with perhaps my favorites being the Plains of Khartoov, and The Pits of Snood.

Mechanically, the game runs on the so-called Unbelievably Simple Roleplaying (USR) System. It is indeed simple, with characters being defined by a mere three attributes, skill bonuses called Specialisms, and the unique Ability and other background elements provided by the Character Archetype chosen upon creation.

The Archetypes available run a wide range of options that help to make each character feel like an outsider in their own world, such as Celador Knights who have taken a strict vow of silence, Long Wizards who stand at over 8ft tall and smoke copious amounts of crushed drake horn, or a lonely little Ember Goblin who just wants friends that don't die in lava.

Three guesses as to which is my favorite. The first two guesses don't count.

Non-combat challenges not dealt with via roleplay are done through Contested and Non-Contested Attribute Tests.

Contested tests involve two opposed actors, such as foot racers. Whoever rolls higher in an Attribute test, wins the test.

Non-Contested tests are for one actor and some force or obstacle which lacks agency, like climbing a gorge. Rather than beating another roll, the character tries to meet or exceed a Target Number, not unlike D&D rolls vs DC. Specialisms come into play here, providing bonuses to one's roll if it's the right type of action. There are no combat specialisms.

Combat functions like a series of Contested attribute tests, with combatants rolling defensively or offensively. The system takes several cues from D&D staples, such as the standard Movement Speed of characters being 30 feet, and being able to make Defensive maneuvers to get a small boost to attack avoidance that turn. But there are various situational modifiers which can complicate battle, such as having the higher ground or one combatant tripping the other. A list of Conditions exists as well, from the benign state of being in Cover, to being Hypnotized, Unconscious, or worse. 

When characters level, they gain hit dice and a bonus equal to 1/2 their levels for various combat rolls, with the exception of damage- the amount of Hits you'll be taking away from an enemy is almost always dependent upon your spell or weapon. This creates a situation where (in my imagination, not having played the game yet) low-level combat can be very lethal to those who are unwary of two d6 attacks in a row. At the same time, high-level play doesn't fall into the trap of combat being a long slog because of everyone having massive hit point pools and comparatively small means of damage. Players and monsters alike are capped at level 10, so death always remains a risk- even for the god or two detailed in the Creatures of Tequendria chapter.

Magic is decidedly unlike more mainstream RPG systems in that everyone casts from Hit Points. As I read through this section, I got both fond and terrible flashbacks to my time playing through the Sorcery! adventure book series by Steve Jackson Game's Fighting Fantasy property. Magic is also a lot more volatile, with casting failures being possible without any outside threats or distractions, though mercifully a fizzled cast doesn't drain your life. Critical casting failures are not so kind, however.

The PDF is 78 pages in total from cover to last page, though 24 of those pages are dedicated to a chapter on Selected Works of Lord Dunsany himself. There are three short stories included, and they each do an excellent job of adding to the feeling and themes of the book. For people who have never read anything Dunsanian and don't know up to that point whether the inspiration is genuinely there in Tequendria, these stories may serve to "legitimize" and confirm it.

I noticed that there were very few pages of nothing but text (aside from the stories mentioned above), as every few columns of information are broken up by small, thematically appropriate images. The 12-point font is standard and the spacing is good, making it difficult to skip over lines or accidentally reread something, if your brain is the type to do that (mine is).

The artwork in this book is quite a mix, but all of it is pleasant. Black and white sketch-styled pieces such as the cover image predominate, but there are also several muted or full-color illustrations throughout. They variously evoke the art styles of 1970s D&D manuals, 19th century watercolors, medieval tapestries, or Dante's Inferno engravings. I also spied a few pieces of modern and seemingly public domain art, such as one of a Flying Polyp (this game has Lovecraft references as well!). But whether the book is a mix of art sources or just very judiciously selected from the internet, it's well-put-together.

All in all, this book is quite nice, and a steal at the gentle asking-price of $3. I would highly recommend checking it out if Dunsanian fantasy is something you're interested in checking out for a small change of pace.

I also think that one could homebrew a pretty sweet Hyperborean campaign out of this, if more chilly and barbaric settings of a Clark Ashton Smith flavor are more to your liking.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Things I Wish They Did More With #1: The Garif of FFXII.

Figured I'd break the silence with an odd one this time around, as well as begin a series of occasional out-of-character (out-of-narrative?) posts where I write about what I think of various fantasy thingies.

The premise of this particular series will be to take a look at something that is by itself a very minor part of a larger story, whether it be campaign setting, video game, or film, and then discuss the woeful lack of lore or screen time spent on X.

Or in this case, XII. Because I want to ramble on about something in Final Fantasy 12.

But not this guy.

I never finished this game because my GameFly subscription was about to end and I was out of allowance money for the month, but I spent enough time in the world of Ivalice to find my favorite location, in the form of Bancour. It's an underpopulated region of plains and flatlands which none of the major world powers in Ivalice have taken an interest in, beyond the Henne Mines which are known to contain magic rocks. More on those later. More importantly right now, Bancour was the region within which stretched the Ozmone Plains.

Pictured: Not a geographer's best definition of a plain.

Ignoring for a moment the fact that the "plains" are just as craggy, segmented, and broken up by hills and tiny mountain ranges as any other traversable map in the game, I'm still very fond of this zone. The weather changes from sunny to cloudy to rainy and back periodically, the skybox is simple yet pretty, and the foliage just faintly hints at something of an African savanna belt inspiration. Ruined old structures and strange rock formations jut out of the ground here and there, suggesting that the place has seen a fair share of violent history. It's peaceful, without being empty or boring- assuming you stay the hell away from the Sylphi Entite on your first run through the place. Aeroga hurts on top of Silence and Sleep effects.

At the far edge of the Ozmone Plains rests a fenced-in village built in and around what I never could determine to be either a ditch, or a dried-up riverbed. But given that the land immediately around the village is much drier than that of the surrounding plains, I think there might have been a drought which didn't receive mention in-game. The village was located upon one of the elevated areas of ground, so that it had several levels, several of them connected by wide bridges. This is the village of Jahara.

Within this village are members of a fascinating species named the Garif. The Garif are powerfully built, broad-shouldered with long arms and patches of what might be reddish-brown fur here and there across their bodies. I say "might" because they wear leather and hide clothing in the classically patchy and impractical fashion of all Final Fantasy humanoids, so it is a bit difficult to determine where the clothing ends and the skin begins. They are also tall, taller than adult Humes/humans by about a head, even while they are stand with the ever-present hunches in their backs, possibly caused by their opulent headgear.

Unless those are real horns. Again, it's hard to tell.

The Garif are each given masks imbued with personal and cultural significance at a very young age, and they wear them for their entire lives, only ever removing them when alone, or in private with extremely close or intimate companions. Because of this, and my party's lack of interest in going native and dwelling among the Garif for several years instead of dealing with that Empire of Archadia or whatever the heck it was called, I never got to see what they look like beneath all of that paint and carved bone. The Garif also live sex-segregated, with men and women typically occupying entirely different villages. As such we never see a female Garif, much the same way we don't male Viera.

The Garif seem to organize and orient themselves around a tribal hierarchy of chiefs and sub-chiefs. The Great-Chief and leader of the Jahara Garif is one Uball-ka marked by his truly giant and ornate mask, but underneath him there are also several Low-Chiefs, and at least one current and one retired War-Chief. The former War-Chief had to retire after receiving serious injuries in battle, suggesting that the positions are not held for life. We can only guess at how chiefs are chosen, however. But because the new War-Chief was brother to the old, it wouldn't be far-fetched to speculate that the roles are passed down familially, and sometimes laterally.

To the Garif, the land is sacred. Their religious matters are guided by geomancers, and it is refreshing to say that "-mancer" is more accurately used here than in other fantasy contexts- although I don't doubt that a Garif geomancer could unleash a wicked Quake spell if he had to. Recall the magical rocks I mentioned back at the beginning of this ramble? In Ivalice, those are called Magicite, which are to Ivalice what Dragonshards are to Eberron: multipurpose crystalline objects that can be extracted from the earth and used to power magic, magical technology, or magic-users. The Garif however do not use them as power sources, or as weapons, unlike virtually every other sentient species on the planet. They merely worship these stones, and the gods which they believe them to be representative of.

This is because the Garif are so singularly dedicated to upholding their Old Ways of technological simplicity and closeness to the earth, that they wouldn't manipulate those powers in order to become a major player in the world. They never appear, but there are said to be many tribes of Garif, and all of them united could be a powerful force indeed. But that isn't their way, and no one has been able to convince them differently- not even their own gods, who are otherwise very successful in manipulating people with the promise of power or greatness.

I won't say anymore on that last point in case any of my Burrowers intend to play the game and have a spoiler-free experience. Although that game was released in 2006, so... you might want to get a move-on with that.

The Final Fantasy Wiki, which I've been ruthlessly gutting for every shred of information I can find as I write, includes in its Trivia section the possibility that the Garif may have been based off of the real life, multi-ethnic Garifuna people. I would say that's an extreme stretch, beyond the similarities in the name itself, and the possible West African or Afro-Caribbean influences on Garif personal names such as Kadalu, Sugumu, or Yugelu. Nothing in their material culture or mode of living strikes me as similar, and it is more likely in my mind that it was just a coincidence- the same way I inadvertently named the sadistic healing deity Najis after a state of ritual impurity found in Islamic jurisprudence.

All in all, I think the Garif are fascinating. Which sucks, because everything I've typed thus far is the entirety of what they were used for. They haven't appeared in any subsequent Ivalice-centered games to my knowledge, not even the Tactics series where other species have subsequently been made playable like the rotund and porcine Seeq. Not even the in-game lore-collecting Clan Primer which allows you to gain pages of info on background material and monsters you've fought (including one respawning Garif Adventurer) offers any more insights into the Garif, because after the first rudimentary entry about them the series gets swept up in a completely unrelated fable about a dragon picking a fight with God.

That's all a shame, because I believe that a Garif protagonist, even if he or she were just a one-off party member or traveling NPC, could offer a really different point of view on the fustercluck of a world that they live in.

I can see why they haven't figured more prominently, though. They stand out, physically and culturally, in such a way that doesn't exactly make Final Fantasy hero material, and within the context of Final Fantasy 12's storyline itself, the role of secluded, naturalistic, and vaguely elf-like wise folk was taken up and carried on by Fran's Viera buddies in Eruyt Village.

Still, one of them being in the main cast would have been better than being stuck with Vaan.

You should have died instead of Reks!

*Edit* Wiki link for your perusal.

Also added more on chiefs.

Aaand I forgot to include the Clan Primer bit.