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 but 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 and 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.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Cruel Hands of a Healer.

"I've nearly finished setting all of the bones in his fingers, but the poor man has passed out from the pain again. If only he could relish this symphony of anguish with us! Every crack of a metacarpal, another note in the praise sung to Najis! Now, hand me my knives. These splinters must be excised before inflammation worsens..."
- Hital, overly enthusiastic barber-surgeon of Ferrith.

Najis is a name spoken in nearly every city, town, and village across the vast cultural region of the Ersuun-descended folk, including even the pristine platforms and towers of Deneroth tucked away in their small yet illustrious corner of the greater world of humans. The name is on the lips of everyone who fears injury, disease, or disorder, those who suffer them, and those who have escaped their worst effects. It is also chanted by those who would call themselves healers acting in the name of Najis, which is their deity. It is the being through which the gifts of healing and curing may be gained, assuming that the proper conditions are met.

Najis has no set facets, qualities, or appearance beyond what the most central myths, lore, and theological writings by its followers state. Besides its relationship to healing and harm, everything about the deity is mutable and wildly varied from place to place. Perhaps this is the reason why Najis is so ever-present and popular- besides the fact that people prefer not to get sick and die, of course. Wherever her, his, or its influence is felt and its healers, priests, and doctors respected, weal may accompany woe in nearly all of its forms.

But for weal to come, woe must exist. And a fact which is often glossed over is that Najis is the wellspring of suffering and respite together. This is readily understood by most of its faithful, layperson or otherwise, for the concept of gods giving and taking in equal measure is a common one to the peoples of those lands. They accept it, and accept Najis as being at least as much help as it is harm to them all. To the most deeply initiated of Najis' mystics, scholars, biologists, and esoteric surgeons, this is revealed to be a lie.

The truth is that the faceless god of healing craves the suffering of every living being by nature, whether it be mindless or fully and exquisitely cognizant of its condition- but with special preference for the latter. The world is an inherently dangerous place, and life leaves it as quickly as it arrives and can dig its claws in. But the period in between birth and death is too brief, the flavors of misery sampled too few, for Najis to be pleased. Creatures never healed from the injuries they sustained, once upon a time, but with mighty clout and insidious means, all other gods were swayed by Najis to allow its great work to begin.

And so those dark primeval days were ended, when tender mercy was first visited upon the dying and pestilent, overwhelmed with suppurating buboes and weeping lacerations. In their desperation, they accepted the gift without realizing how it damned them and all who would come after. With every cut closed or broken bone mended, there is an implicit promise that more numerous and splendid sufferings will be visited upon the survivor, until all is jaded, haggard, and worn down by a long and empty life of pain, and death finally comes to rob Najis of the last few fruits of its carefully-tended nest eggs. To heal is to help in the short term, but harm in the long run. The most cunning deception Najis ever cast upon the world was convincing the living that any life--even a truly hopeless and miserable one--is preferable to the embrace of Ergil-Who-Is-Death.

The development of preventative medicine, then, is the most complete heresy and abomination of purpose to Najis and all those who serve it without the merciful blanket of ignorance still cast over their eyes. To completely circumvent disease or maladies is to earn the ire of a god, and the punishment for this can be years in the making so that it may strike and inflict a thousandfold cruelties, according to the most fanatical of healers. But the truth is known only to these madman miracle-workers. Others seek to cultivate true mercy and compassion, unknowingly and with the best of intentions furthering the goals of Najis.

Monday, July 10, 2017

More on Fokari Law.

"Khayyam Arshad-parh. Using the dire authority vested in me by your Seer, elders, and tribe, I strip you of your past and your future beneath the patchwork tent. You are Kha'en. You will slit your cheeks at dawn. May the Eagle judge you more mercifully."
- Tosht Shad-parh, Speaker of the Sheyhan Tribe.

The legal system of the Fokari is surprisingly consistent across tribes and even dialectical groups. In theory each family is self-regulating, seeking settlement and appeasement of disputes through nonjudicial means as a first and most preferred option. While there is no shame attached to being brought before tribunal--for defendants or for plaintiffs--the entire affair is often considered to be disruptive enough to daily life that it is prudent to avoid the process when possible. But like any people, the Fokari periodically find that matters must been taken up with a recognized higher authority.

For this, the mish'khiltah is brought together. Literally meaning "lesser council" to set it apart from the khiltah council of elders which guides the decision-making process of an entire tribe, the lesser council is not elected publicly. Instead, it consists of one representative drawn from each major family which makes up the tribe. Generally the family head has final word on the delegation of the family's council membership slot, but appeals to dispute this within a family do rarely occur. The membership dispute is instead brought before the khiltah, the members of which are exempt from mish'khiltah membership for the duration of their office with the exception of hereditary chieftain- lacking a vote in the mish'khilah, they maintain order and flow of testimony not unlike a judge.

When the conditions for a lesser council are met, typically by virtue of the grievance having the potential to otherwise instigate familial strife significant or longstanding enough to disrupt tribal well-being, a date is set according to the calendrical and astrological predictions of the Seer. The Speaker officiates the trial, opening and closing it, but neither take a direct role in the matters of court. Each family representative swears an oath to their impartiality and uses a small knife to shave a patch of hairs from their right forearms. The hair is then gathered up and cast into a brazier by the chieftain (while standing upwind of it, of course). This brazier, commonly emblazoned with the image of an eagle, linked ram's horns, or a wheel, is often one of the precious few pieces made entirely of wrought metal in a tribe's possession.

Excepting outliers (such as a near-mythic case in which a Fokar with the cunning of a fox granted to him by a totemic compact was able to win a dispute with his grandfather and then become the representative of his family in his own trial for the accusation of goat rustling), this system works for most Fokari affairs. Only two crimes require the direct intervention of a tribe's higher council- murder, and the deliberate defacement of a tent or hut's interior ceiling. Murder's severity is relatively straightforward to understand, for it causes suffering and anguish as well as damages the pool of skill and mutual support integral to Fokari life.

Defacement of a ceiling is somewhat more symbolic. Each family keeps a lovingly-crafted, highly religiously-themed piece of artwork upon their ceilings. With the passing of seasons or the occurrence of great events, new images and designs are integrated into it until it tells the family unit's entire history. And at the center, either just beside the smoke hole or carefully stretched around it, is a piece which was originally taken from the tent of that family's grandparents. When the children who grew up looking up into this mosaic of unfolding history day and night for their entire lives mature and finally marry, they take a piece alongside a dowry in order to begin their own family tent.

The proven guilt of murder earns one a deep, preferably self-inflicted gash across the left cheek, starting about an inch below the eye and traveling diagonally across to the jawline. Defacement earns one the same, but mirrored over the right cheek. These cuts, in addition to being terribly painful and quite likely to become infected, scar over in such a way as to brand the individual with their crime forever after. The resulting loss of face (literally and figuratively) is the true punishment. Though they are not required to, the families of murderers or defacers will often take some of the guilty party's shame on as their own burden by integrating a stylized gash somewhere into their own tent ceiling- a brand new one, in some cases, if the defacement in question was of one's own history. But this is as rare as it is an awful and unthinkable deed for most Fokari.

If one were to, by some hideous abomination of thought or cruel twist of fate, commit both crimes at once, they suffer these, and worse. A small, shamefully blank tent is erected for them at the far edge of the tribe's camp one evening, where they are kept under guard until the first light of dawn. Then, often but not always while under the eyes of Seer, Speaker, and at least one of the elders, both cheeks are cut. Then, one and all turn their back upon the lone Fokar and break camp to travel until they are out of sight. The bleeding loner is from that point forward an exile from home, as well as a pariah among all other tribes who recognize such branding. Beside the tent, some bare necessities for one or three days of travel may be provided as a show of pity, but the expectation is that the exile will die soon without their people. Some tribes even pronounce the Fokar legally dead and hold a funeral for them, either just past the horizon, or while the exile-to-be is still present, ignored and treated like a lingering ghost.

Fortunately, this punishment is so rare as to be nonexistent in the living memory of most tribes at any given time.

But time and space are subject to the same nonlinear, dualistic tendencies as most everything else in the Fokari worldview.

What once was cast away may eventually find its way back.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Sea Nomads.

"The wind shifts, they've run aground upon the sandbar! Circle and shoot!"
- Rangi Bat-Erdh, a captain of the Outrigger Thousand

Once, a vast empire rolled down out of the steppe to the music of horse hooves beating in the millions. The extent and influence of this empire can still be felt in the present, though the exact details of its heyday are lost to obscurity, nonstandard forms of history-keeping, and a couple of propagandistic chronicles written after the empire's fall by scholars of their surviving foes, for good measure. Still, it had been a spectacular force in its day, its victories and achievements known the world 'round. Its failures, too, were just as significant.

One such failure was when the empire began to overstep its more distant boundaries. Rather than opting to engage in a more economic war or a good game of politicking, it wanted a grand foe neutralized. From across the sea. Yes, they had access to auxiliary forces and through vassals possessed a fairly large navy. But the horses of their most elite troops took up much space and many resources, and the general leading the expedition was too proud and too nervous of falling behind his fellows in the perpetual game of winning favor from the khagan to step down or reign things in. And then the storms came.

The armada was scattered and utterly smote by what was surely a mixture of blundering lack of foresight plus divine providence. At least, that is how it is remembered. The invasion was never kicked off, and many never came home. But not all died out on the open seas. There was an archipelago, closer to their foe's homeland than their own, and the survivors who drifted there found that they had to lay low, lest foolhardy counter-fleets and patrols seize them or sink them. Waiting and then returning home wasn't too likely, either. Poor luck ensured that few auxiliary mariners and even fewer ships survived intact. The horsemen of the open steppe were trapped upon a series of several dozen small, tropical islands in the middle of a sea of water instead of grass. But the ingenuity which had gotten their people that far did not fade in the face of staggering odds. Indeed, it only amplified it.

Bow and arrow remained each warrior's faithful companion, and grew only closer to his (or her) heart in the absence of their beloved horses. Most had been lost in the storms, and the few who remained could do little for their former riders. Fortunately, the numbers of mares compared to ungelded males allowed for them to remain a small yet constant population. Reduced in size now and unable to bear the weight of a rider and all of his gear, these beasts are a reminder of a time ages past, kept as symbols of status rather than as one of the bare necessities of life.

The nomads' own population persisted despite a few initial logistical and genetic hurdles, and they intermingled with their former subjects as well as a few of the sparse locals to ensure a new and diverse people's survival. Fish, crabs, "herds" of placid manatees, and other sea life have replaced traditional staple foods of sheep and cattle. The warm weight of fermented mare's milk in one's stomach has given way to the lighter but sometimes more inebriating kick of wines and spirits made from fermented fruits. Their heavens-worshiping faith was hindered in some respects, but given a boon in others, for the clear seas around them are grand mirrors for the eternal blue sky.

Instead of saddles, the descendants of the nomads strap themselves into rigging of catamarans and surprisingly swift and fierce war-dinghies. Instead of holding their breath with each bowstring draw to anticipate the lift of hooves in a gallop, they wait for the thrust of the waves beneath, or a turn in the wind whipping through their sails. Their fierce independence remains as strong as ever, and when they sail from island to island or beyond in small fleets, they do so prepared to cast any interlopers down upon the coral reefs of their homewaters. More than a few have conflicted with others on what it means to follow the "old ways", and the pirates who set out from their stock can be terrors of the waves indeed. Others have pursued trade just as the caravaneers of old did, and now their garish currencies of cowry, nephrite, and pearl can be found in markets across the coasts of the eastern and western continents.

(I can't rightly take credit for thinking this whole thing up. The credit of inspiration, as well as a very different and fascinating take on nomads pulled out of their element, goes to the backstory of Fallen London. Check out their Khanate faction in the games Echo Bazaar or Sunless Sea sometime, if you can avoid dying of course.)

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Excerpts Concerning the Nature and Treatment of Coherent Shambler Disease.

"Also known as Rioter's Syndrome and Saint Wido's Dance, this affliction of the body is a reminder to all on this earth that the powers of heaven are creative in their cruelties indeed. Through the touch of the spittle or humors of one afflicted by this disease, another may within a matter of hours join them in a state of bodily dissociation. From the neck down, one becomes an entirely feral creature bent toward the destruction of his fellow man, relinquishing all assets of civilization and preferring to deal grave bodily harm to others not so afflicted through the strength of his own hands. From the neck up, the afflicted becomes an inconsolable wretch, sobbing and shrieking at the evils which he is unable to will himself to cease. They are infused with a hellish might and resilience, such that only swift and blunt force trauma to the crown may permanently cure them."

- Arstokhlus, Ecclesiast of Porylus Mons

"The misinformation surrounding this disease for so long has caused nearly as much human suffering as the disease itself. While it may be transferred through saliva, this seems ineffective unless the fluid makes direct contact with an open wound. Considering the state of distress of the sufferer, a bite is wholly unlikely to occur. Rather, the disease enters the body through some other means which has yet to be determined, though ingestion of contaminated food or water, or the inhalation of certain vapors, are the most likely culprits. In either case, a population is infected well in advance of any symptoms manifesting, making an outbreak even more difficult to predict and then contain.

The afflicted remain in full control of their mental faculties as the malady runs its course, even retaining control of the head, neck, mouth, eyes, and vocal tract. More often than not, due to the slow, shambling gait of one's body while in a "neutral" state meant to conserve energy for an outburst of surprisingly quick violence, a person may warn others well in advance of their own condition, such that the worst may be averted and the unfortunate detained. Exceptions to this are of course the most famous and commonly reproduced in media, such as the large-scale infection at Ul-Qib, which was taken by many as an excuse of certain behaviors, leading to an impromptu rebellion against the highly unpopular governor of the city."

- Sark ad-an-Rish, Court Scholar at Nambar

"It truly is fascinating, the disconnect between body and mind in this syndrome. As I write, my patient attempts his very best to maintain civil conversation with me, even as the adrenaline pumping through his veins causes his limbs to push and fight against his restraints to the degree that I fear muscle and sinew will soon tear away from bone. Though deeply apologetic and prone to bouts of melancholy, he is fully cognizant of his body and what has happened over the last four days. Indeed, his remorse may have been the deciding factor in him providing me his consent for these tests. Perhaps the disease is infectious in spirit by some means, for I find myself giddy, and must force myself repeatedly to remain within the bonds of ethics and professionalism while faced with this truly extraordinary opportunity.

 He explains that one morning, he simply woke up attempting to strangle his sibling and lacking the means to stop doing so until a much larger group of kin was able to drag him off. The process of transporting him to the authorities was a messy affair which at one point involved three relatives chasing after him as he hopped with rope-bound legs across a field in an effort to ineffectually body-slam a random farmhand. I shall continue to run tests on his sense of touch and other extensions of his nervous system while the local judiciary attempts to work through his case. If his condition can be substantiated to those magistrates unfamiliar with the Dance, he hopes that he may repair the rift with his family- while under constant restraint for the foreseeable future and being fed using a very long-handled spoon, of course."

- Mersind, expelled biologist of Serminwurth and amateur anatomist

"In my entirely professional opinion, I would opt for a pickaxe through the brain."

- Roberick Bertrum Litte, Professional Dropout at Ivory Tower University

Friday, July 7, 2017

At the edge of the Axebitten Woods.

"Ain't nothin' ever gone in or come out of the deep forest alive in my time. The Longfolk keep it that way."
- Hrith, retired forester of Bluehill.

"Trespassers Will Be Loosed Upon. Survivors Will Be Burned Alongside The Dead."
- Tentative translation of the old script carved into all monolithic boundary stones found along the edge of the Axebite.

The Axebitten Woods are the outskirts of a temperate broadleaf and mixed forest which spans a large part of the Reossos basin and swaths of the hill country beyond. Outposts and frontier towns exist almost equidistantly around the edges of the woods, yet there are no roads or other thoroughfares cutting through the forest, nor are any of the rivers which run through it utilized beyond certain points. The impracticality of this is a well-known fact of the area, and a source of constant frustration for traders and other travelers who must circumnavigate large tracts of forest in order to reach a different market. Attempts have been made in the past to trailblaze through the woods and into the forest beyond. All have ended poorly.

The woods themselves are an area of sparse woodland roughly a mile deep which forms a band around the forest proper. Beyond the woods is the eponymous Axebite, a huge area of flat land which has been stripped, all vegetation completely cut down to the earth save for occasional stumps and heaps of dead plant matter, all of them having a withered or even burned appearance. Occasional hints of animal matter, as well as more humanoid parts, are reported to be visible from the absolute extreme edge of the wood's safety. This borderline is marked by a vast series of deep-set stone markers, each approximately eight feet tall and three feet wide, facing outward with what appears to be a warning not to step beyond this point. Only, the language carved into each stone is so old that many who happen upon it, especially the frontier folk whose tongue is heavily provincialized, cannot read it. Generally however, the mistake is only made once by any given group.

This is because any trespasser, whether they walk on two legs, four, or fly on wings, invariably attract the attention of a very sharp and very large arrow. No one has ever determined what the size threshold is to being noticed, but even large beetles or cicadas have been reported as nailed to a tree at times. Because of the sudden and exponential rise in the denseness of the forest beyond the Axebite, no sight of the archers is ever had. The long-shafted arrows tend to remain for a day, only to vanish alongside their targets sometime in the following night. More rarely, hints of light like bonfires may be seen through the trees at night, or smoke in the air during the day. Thus, very few chances have been afforded to any researchers daring and unhinged enough to desire a closer and safer look at one of these arrows.

The common folk of the area, forced by necessity to eke out a living and too proud to leave their homes, have simply made due. No one walks past a certain point in the woods according to local tradition, and steps to conserve and efficiently utilize what timber is available from the woods have been taken with varying but often remarkable degrees of success. This does not mean that the enigma of the woods does not evoke a strong response from the locals, however. Quite the opposite, as the rich series of legends and myths surrounding it would suggest.

Chief among these myths is that of the Longfolk. Despite there being no credible sources for who or what does the killing past the Axebite, a vivid picture of them has been painted regardless. These beings are approximately humanoid in shape, though with much exaggerated limbs and features. They vary from seven to ten feet tall, with long arms and long fingers which swing far past their knobby knees. Each is nearly emaciated-looking, with irregular bone and sinew visible beneath a tight hide of grey-blue skin. They feast upon everything which they kill by bow, and often they are so gluttonous that when they do not eat something raw, they often take bites out of the meat as it is still roasting upon one of their fires. Thus their stomach is a pit of embers which can be seen glowing through their torsos on dark nights, and their breath is acrid smoke. They have no language and no culture beyond their means of hunting. They have always been there and forever will be.

These fireside tales told by haggard old grandpappies have given generations of children terrible nightmares out on the frontier, and in good form they have grown up to pass that trauma on down to their children, and their children's children at every opportunity, both to make them behave at home, and more seriously to keep them safe if ever they needed to enter the woods.

The truth of the matter is distressingly worse.

Click here to read the second post about the Axebite.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

On the Soil-Slaves.

"That these people have such a strong and visceral reaction to large-scale agriculture built into their mythology is uncanny, and suggestive of a long-lost chapter of their history from which they may still derive the lessons of firsthand experience."

- Roberick Bertrum Litte, Associate Undergraduate Scholar of the Department of Natural Philosophies at the Ivory Tower University of Deneroth.

The outside world of mankind is known to the Fokari, at least vaguely, and much of it fills them with a certain existential dread. Chiefly, they fear that one day the people from the lowland green will rise up and consume them like a dust storm raging in the heart of the wastes. But the anxiety extends to certain practices of "neighboring" peoples which tend not to lend themselves in any way to invading like bogeymen.

There exists within the vast Fokari pantheon a singularly reprehensible creature which is bereft of the usual qualities of dualistic positive and negative. He is a deity, after a fashion, for whom the enslavement and debasement of all creatures is His desire. He is also the patron god of farming, making clear the nomads' equation between working the land and hopeless bondage. It is also no surprise that His name, never uttered aloud by any Fokar, shares an etymological root with the most common word used to describe any acts of sexual aggression, making Him (and His vocation) the metaphorical violation of the Mother Earth figure prevalent in much of the rest of the mythos. Rather than invoking this distressing episode, He is referred to sparingly by the equally sinister epithet of "He Who Reaps and Sows".

The slaves of the soil are those beings miserable and unfortunate enough to be ensnared in His seductive lies of full bellies and surplus. Both people and the animals yoked by them are unwitting pawns of His, set to toil away and struggle against the land to the tune of His silent, mocking laughter. Though the power they are beholden to is a terrible one, the slaves of grain and fodder are more to be pitied than reviled. Such desperation has the potential to clutch anyone. While less common, some versions of the myth even suggest that mind control and enchantments play a direct role in keeping them tied to a plot of land, often taking the form of maankhir, or agonizingly tight metal bands set around their skulls in order to crush out all thoughts of tribe or self.

Years of plenty are His means of lulling all into a false sense of security, and crop failures or freak incidents of pests and natural disaster are, at best, His way of testing His servants and reminding them of the uncaring nature of the soil which will one day consume their decomposing bodies. But more often than not it does not carry any such message of warning, and serves only to amuse Him more deeply. The gradual, imperceptible erosion of soil and the degradation of its nutrients over the generations is the grandest of all cruelties engineered by He Who Reaps and Sows, for it forces over-committed populations to uproot themselves in order to seek literal greener pastures, thereby breaking covenant with Him and inviting upon themselves further punishment, according to His warped mind.

That the borderland frontier farmers eking out an existence at the watered edges of the steppe return again and again to that damning livelihood no matter how many hardships they've faced is admittedly a testament to their dedication and hardiness, but it is an even greater testament to the might of the Grain God.

No rites are performed in His name, though very rarely if a tribe's Seer determines that they've somehow earned His ire or the attention of one of His fiendish spiritual servants, a ritual is performed in order to placate and distract Him. Several farmers in effigy are constructed from sticks and sacks and positioned around a patch of tall grass. The grass is then cut close to the base like grain being harvested, and then the farmers themselves are felled one by one, like lives being taken by starvation and disease. While this is all being acted out by one very brave volunteer, the rest of the tribe rapidly breaks camp and flees as far as it can move in a half-day's time. Upon completion, the volunteer sprints to keep up, and undergoes a cleansing ritual once he or she has reunited with their breathless fellows.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Hobs and Hellos.

Well, I guess I better start somewhere.

Hello, all! Or no one. Whoever winds up reading these posts. I am the Furtive Goblin. Call me Furt for short, if you really want to.

I've been a longtime lurker on the internet, avoiding social media as much as I could, but this summer I've been entertaining illusions of grandeur. So I've decided to start up Yet Another Fantasy Gaming Blog (maybe I should have named this joint YAFGaB).

I won't promise a posting schedule, since I've got senior papers and unemployment to worry about. But if you're the type to enjoy twists on standard fantasy settings and the occasional bit of system-agnostic lore, drop by once in a while and see if I've cooked up anything to your liking.

Without further ado, have some horseless steppe nomads.

The Fokari

"We are the People of Clay. We do not crumble. We do not crack. We mold ourselves to the will of our Tribe."

- The Speaker's Oath

Little is known, and even less has been seen, of a group of people said to live upon the boundaries between civilization and the untouched wilds of the Lukran Wastes. While many look upon the pirates and mariners of the southern islands as the least "civilized" people, these waste-dwellers are hardly recognized as a people at all. Indeed, to most bordering tribes and polities they exist only as myths, and as bogeymen for small children. But the peoples of the Taleen borderlands and the camel merchants foolhardy enough to caravan through the steppes surrounding the Lukran Wastes know full well that something--someone--is out there. And that someone knows far more of their neighbors, by comparison. If you were to take and put together all of the stories told of them, one would think the wanders in the wastes are a vicious and savage race who know nothing of society and live only for blood-lust, greed, and the sewing of fear.

The truth, however, is significantly deeper.

In their own tongue, which is a remarkably varied language composed of several dozen regional dialects, they are the Fokari (sing. Fokar). Somewhat shorter than average, but strongly built and mildly bandy-legged, these tawny-skinned, hairy, and snub-nosed people are consummate survivalists who have made their home in a land which gives up nothing easily. While the steppe is green enough at its edges, much of the interior is a vast, cold desert climate with exceptionally little rainfall and no large native animals to speak of.

The Fokar tribes hunt, as well as herd small and hardy livestock, most prominently a stocky breed of long-furred goat called a yuum. They dwell in camps of circular or pointed tents constructed of tough, decorated felt and the few pieces of wood and other plant matter they have access to out on the steppe, turned into poles and segments of latticework for their walls. Rather than wandering aimlessly as some might think, they depart from a region according to a carefully-calculated and surprisingly accurate seasonal calendar, leaving one area before it has been overgrazed or stripped of its other resources, and entering a new area which, while seeming untouched, has likely been part of a tribe's nomadic rotation for generations. Where water is found in natural bodies, they produce durable and practical pieces of claywork which nonetheless exhibit their own subdued, elegant art style. When pasture land becomes too scarce or a feud breaks out between two families, they mediate their disputes so that the issue is brought to as swift and as practical an outcome as possible. Punishment may be corporeal when needed, but exile rather than capital punishment is the most severe ever meted out.

Through it all, the Fokari make do without engagement with distant but lucrative caravan trade routes, nor with access (lawful or otherwise) to the products of agricultural societies. This has proved surprisingly fruitful in the past, as they have avoided the major conflicts which have devastated empires and rearranged huge swaths of the world throughout history. And on the other end of it all, they have come out mostly unscathed and mostly unknown.

Each tribe is led by a council of elders, chief among them being the elected positions of Speaker and Seer. The Speaker is always male, and is the somewhat more public face of the group, announcing decisions as well as officiating tribal and inter-tribal events in the camp. He is also a lore-keeper who commits to memory the entirety of the tribe's oral history, as well as decent swaths of the histories of related tribes. His is the duty of monitoring all youths in a tribe, watching them for any aptitudes as they reveal themselves, and guiding them on the path deemed to be the best compromise between tribal value and individual passion.

The Seer, by contrast, is always female. She is a shaman; the one who looks to the future rather than the past, reading portents and omens in the natural world and in the seemingly random events which befall a tribe. She consults with the grim and collective spirits of the tribe's ancestors, and negotiates with the fickle and capricious spirits of the land. She is also a priestess to the tribe, connecting her people with the vast and rich mythology of the tribes possessed of qualities of animism, totemism, polytheism, and dualistic bitheism. There is a proper and hereditary position of Chieftain as well, but in practice it wields little more power in decision-making than any other elder or respected tribe member with a vote.

Each tribe of Fokari is essentially independent, and they generally only intermingle or confederate with other tribes during extremely important social or religious events, or in times of dire need.

The smaller their numbers, the harder they are to detect, after all.

The less known about their movements, the safer they are from the outsiders and soil-slaves.