Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Antiborea

Patrick Zgarrick


This is not the land of the South Wind. The South Wind lies dead and blameless beyond the Wall.

This is the wind that is beyond the South Wind. This is the wind that snakes down from the spiderwebbing cracks in the sky. And this land is its prison.

This land is cold and desolate, but not so cold and desolate as to grant the mercy of death to all that washes up on its ice-choked shores. It is a twisted and cruel place, dangling misbegotten hope before one's eyes until you are fully in the grip of the things that dwell there.

And yet its captives and castaways insist and persist.


The Land of Antiborea

A continent located on and around a world's South Pole. It is like Antarctica, but Weirder. The coasts and some sheltered inland areas have habitable subarctic climates where mostly recognizable flora and fauna are found. Beyond those refuges, things get progressively more inhospitable the farther south one goes.

The South Pole is located directly beneath a hole in the sky, where strange things bleed in from beyond and the laws of nature start to break down. The cosmic wind that pours down out of that nebula-studded wound scintillates and thrums with energy that can sicken or transform life, and even the land itself.

A few dozen leagues off the coast, a perfect circle of wind and waves forms a wall that hedges the entire continent in. They tower like roiling mountains over any vessel, and their undercurrents reach deep down into the shallows of the ocean, spitting everything back so that nothing can escape Antiborea. By that same token, anything from the outside world that strays too close to the Wall of Wind and Waves is inexorably pulled in and trapped in Antiborea.

Most such unfortunates wind up torn to pieces by the gale-force storm or are dashed upon the rocks, but over the centuries enough survivors have piled up and clung together to call the continent inhabited.


The Antiboreans

Descendants of castaways and exiles from a dozen different distant lands, all scattered across the shores and hinterlands. They tend to congregate in small towns or tribes located far apart from one another, because not even the most fertile coastal regions can support a fixed population much larger than that.

They aren't insular by any stretch, however. People survive in this land by cooperating. Every culture is a fusion of several, their languages patched together from dozens of tongues and dialects. Like rafts pieced together from driftwood, they float precariously on. Outlanders are readily embraced- hostility and suspicion are reserved for those from too far inland, where the wind sours.

A few examples of Antiborean communities:

    Utqaalit- Marine hunters and fishers extraordinaire. They ply the icy waters of the coast in long canoes and outrigger kayaks, casting nets or toggle-heads to bring home their livelihood. Bone is their favored medium for art and artifice, but they also work in shell, leather, and ivory. Their chilling overtone songs are known across Antiborea. Closest to the sea, they are often the first to find newcomers to Antiborea- and the sea monsters nipping at their heels.

    Nasvhas- Traders and travelers whose iconic houseboats are known all along the coast. Their family flotillas slowly bob over the waves and through the ice, bringing news and commerce to far-flung settlements like gluts of cold, sluggish lifeblood. Most are polyglots, and many are entertainers. Amber is sacred to them, and they will search far and wide for it. Their cuisine is infamously hot and bitter with herbs- a welcome contrast to the sodden cold they live in.

    Zawendi- Keepers and harvesters of the squat pine forests, and hunters of the beasts that take refuge in them. The wood they work can be made into things far beyond the capabilities of bone and sinew, but their justified concerns over conservation ensure that the driftwood industry remains lucrative. They are the continent's sole heirs to the secrets of horticulture, and their preserved crowberries are the delight of many a bland-palated child.

    Kherrig- Masters of the windswept tundra and steppe, who goad their herds of ornery, primeval, and oftentimes gamey-smelling animals in search of pasture. They are often seen as having an overly dour cast, but they counter that it is justified when you have nothing but some musky furs and a long spear to defend yourself from whatever evil comes slithering down out of the wastes. They tend to lighten up when the hide tents are pitched and the fermented cheese is cut, though.


The World Beyond

The people who survived passage through the Wall have not forgotten where they come from, at least in a broad sense. Every generation brings a handful more outsiders to them, bearing new skills or news from the outside. None in the wider world know Antiborea exists beyond the ring of devouring waves that many posit to be the edge of the world. Antiborea's denizens, meanwhile, are always hungry for stories of the world denied to them.

Scraps of events and history reach them in this way, vaguely outlining the rise and fall of peoples and places and creating a mélange of myths that frustrate and excite the Antiboreans. Not even their greatest diviners can pierce the Wall, and many have tried. To them, the outside world is a half-formed, murky dream out of which terrible, frozen reality crystallizes and rises like ice on the sea. Some hope that in the end, they will return to it.


Bargaining with Magic

The root word from which the word "magic" is derived in most languages on Antiborea means "deal" or "bargain". This reflects the nature of the supernatural rather well. Knowledge or faith won't carry you alone- one must also be charismatic in order to attract and influence the spirits that govern magic. It isn't clear if the spirits are natural, alien, or even sapient. Some choose to believe they are watchful ancestors, or capricious demons.

Every magical act incurs a cost that can either be paid on the spot, or carried as debt. The spirits often collect on their debts at random, and with appreciable interest added on. If a cost is too high, the offending shaman or magician risks psychic backlash, the opposite of the desired outcome, or even temporary bodily possession.

Possession causes the magic-user to obsess over acts or concepts in line with an exaggeration of the intent behind the spell they wanted to cast; possession by a spirit of lore makes one babble useless information, possession by an animal spirit forces appropriate behaviors and lack of manners, possession by spirits of healing turns one into an overprotective hypochondriac, etc. Possession by spirits of harm and domination tends to go especially poorly for everyone involved, adding to the already heinous reputation of what is deemed "sorcery"- though there is no objective difference between one practice or the other.


Navigation

This far south, cardinal directions are almost meaningless. In most languages, "seaward" is synonymous with the direction north, and has replaced it in common usage. Similarly, "inland" or "windward" take the place of south. Any languages that retain the original word for south often treat it as taboo and forbid it from being spoken aloud. East and west still exist among some people, but they are interchangeable with terms like upcoast or downcoast, or body-relative words like right and left (when facing the sea of course, for none willingly face inland).

The sun is dark and distant, but it has not completely forsaken this land. It can always be seen hanging heavy and orange in the northern sky as it circles the edges of Antiborea. There are long winter months of pitch blackness where it vanishes beneath the horizon completely. Strangely, its summer counterpart is not equally as long or as bright, even if the laws of physics in this world should dictate otherwise. Only a dull twilight sheds itself across the land in between partial sunsets then.

At sea and along the coast, the wind blows randomly in all directions as the Wind Beyond the South Wind and the air currents of the Wall battle one another for supremacy. This makes sailing unpredictable and difficult, which is why most maritime peoples prefer rowing close to the coast. Only inland is the wind ever consistent, and that is because it always blows north.

The stars are strange over Antiborea. Close to the sea they resemble the night sky elsewhere, albeit squished and distorted. Farther inland, they become wholly unrecognizable and are prone to changing from month to month. They do little to aid in navigation, though some sages insist that certain, obscure patterns can be observed in them over time.


Geography of Antiborea

The continent is approximately round and blobby, with few large peninsulas or gulfs disturbing its shape. Eons of uniform erosion and sediment deposition by the wind may have contributed to this. Its climate regions can be easily visualized as a series of concentric rings:

    The Encircling Sea- All of the water between the Wall and the shores of Antiborea. A few small archipelagos and lone islands dot the sea, but they are mostly uninhabited by people or animals because of the perpetual storms wracking it. Currents tend to rotate counterclockwise around the continent at the moment, but this has apparently not always been the case, and there are regional exceptions. The wind and rain are brutal, but the sea is also bountiful. The shallows are abundant with trapped seafood, both native and pulled in through the Wall.

        Encircling Sea Rumors

  • Strange towers of stone and coral jut out from the Wall at intervals, shining watchfully in the right light.
  • The competing winds are so fierce that localized storms and waterspouts often form. Sometimes they are strong enough to drag sea life into the air with them.
  • Deep trenches are hidden surprisingly close to shore. Their depths are neither empty nor still.
  • A ship passed through the Wall completely unharmed, and now prowls the shallows as if in search of something.
  • A mountain of ice has calved off of one of the glaciers. It weeps strange, rusty liquid as it melts.
  • Several landmark islets have suddenly vanished and reappeared far from where they are supposed to be, throwing local navigation into disarray.

    Coastland- The shore of Antiborea, as well as all the land within sight of the sea. Here, the endless flotsam of the wider world's ocean currents washes up on the continent's beaches. Even heavy wreckage that would normally sink to the bottom of the ocean is regularly brought to shore by the fury of the churning waves. This offers no shortage of resources, baubles, and curiosities to pick through, making the coastland the closest to wealthy that anything in Antiborea can get. The people here scavenge, fish or hunt marine life, and trade up and down the coast in skin boats. In winter the sea ice freezes thick, but the constant movement breaks it up into a million crashing, grinding pieces.

        Coastland Rumors

  • Huge numbers of dead or deformed fish have been washing ashore lately. Their frequency is increasing, and they are being joined by larger and larger animals, all the way up to decaying whales.
  • An entire tribe recently ran aground from the outside world. They walk about in the cold almost naked, and dive into the freezing waters wearing little more than animal fat. Theories abound how they do it- some of them grim and suspicious.
  • Blooms of crimson algae choke a seal breeding colony, making them sick and disrupting the mating season. Things other than seals have been seen skulking between the rocks.
  • Harvested mollusks have started giving huge pearls, but they come in unnatural colors, and the superstitious local traders refuse to deal in them for fear of taint from the south.
  • A fishing village stands empty and abandoned downcoast. Only a pillar of whale bone was left behind, its scrimshaw depicting the destructive scene of a mountain falling from the sky.
  • Someone has been going around cutting precise shapes out of fishing nets. They seem to be following a concerning pattern.

    Hinterlands- All of the habitable land beyond the coast, which in theory extends to about a week's journey inland. Forests of squat, gnarled trees are scattered across the sheltered parts of Antiborea here, bent away from the wind with leaves only on their northern faces. They provide the only native wood on the continent, and are precious and prized. Mammoth steppe sprawls elsewhere, supporting herds of hardy, cold-resistant animals. They may be megafauna previously thought extinct in the world, or entirely new and unusual creatures- it is difficult to say at this point. Nomadic tribes hunt or even herd these beasts, as well as provide the first line of defense against anything coming from farther inland, soured by the wind.

        Hinterland Rumors

  • Several herds have taken ill and are in need of culling before the wind sickness spreads, but their caretakers are nowhere to be found.
  • A bog recently caught fire, and has been ablaze for days. As bizarre and unlikely as this is, it spells very real doom for nearby inhabitants- bogs serve to trap much of the cosmic dust and other corruption blown in from the south.
  • The coast has gotten a little too busy for one community, which has resolved to build a village farther inland. But the hard land is loathe to be homesteaded, especially by amateurs.
  • The bent trees of a dwarf forest are suddenly straightening- and growing.
  • One of the precious few freshwater lakes in the region has become the object of dispute between two clans, who both claim that the same person granted them the right to it.
  • A young, brash nomad is rallying their fellows to go on a hunting expedition at a time when the south is dangerously active.

    Inner Wastes- The vast majority of the continent's interior, too dry and cold to sustain normal life with the exception of lichen, which can stretch in wide blankets over the rocky deserts. Beyond that lie vast glacial plateaus and high, jagged mountain ranges. The only living things out here tend to be creatures that have been turned by the wind, or those hunting them. The aroura australis common across much of the continent becomes especially intense here, and the faintest hints of the broken sky are rumored to be visible deep in the wastes.

        Wasteland Rumors

  • The lichen grows huge in some areas, becoming alike to tall grass or shrubs. It doesn't always let you pass through it unscathed.
  • Holes in the face of a glacier keen endlessly from the wind blowing across them. It sounds like someone playing a huge, discordant flute.
  • Nomad scouts have spotted large numbers of shambling forms crossing the desert north.
  • Freak weather brings showers of stardust down upon the wastes, irradiating anything caught in its path.
  • That mountain range was not there last month.
  • Someone is leisurely strolling through the wastes, claiming that they are on pilgrimage.

    The Uttermost South- Unknown and unexplored. The South Pole at the center of Antiborea would be lumped in with the rest of the Inner Wastes if not for the sheer, nerve-wracking mystique surrounding it. Surely something must be there at the heart of it all, forever bathed in the hellish wind and the lurid radiance of the splitting heavens?

        Southmost Rumors

  • A city of clayed stardust stands at the South Pole. Shimmering waves of radiation rise up over its organic spires to obscure the step pyramid rising tall from its heart.
  • The earth breathes here, rising and falling like huge lungs, or perhaps the slow beating of a titanic heart.
  • The rip in the sky is only one of a mirrored pair, and the other ingress bores deep into the earth- maybe even deeper than the Wall can reach.
  • No matter what direction one approaches the South Pole from, they eventually come to the shore of an impossibly wide sea, its gently lapping waters murky and warm like amniotic fluid.
  • You've suddenly been turned back around to the exact spot where your excursion into the wastes started. Wait... how many years has it been...?
  • An adventurer, heavily mutated by wind sickness, claims they carry knowledge vital to the safety of the coast and insists on safe passage north. This is a taboo the nomads will not allow broken if they find out.
  • Space and physics begin to fall apart. Living things crumple under the weight of their own skin. Pebbles rocket into the sky at the slightest disturbance. Left is up, and backwards is inside-out.
  • An ancient civilization of squamous, eldritch creatures once thrived here- and not even they stood a chance against the wind.
  • A massive chasm yawns in all directions, and gravity contorts around its edges to allow easy passage into the hollow world beneath.
  • The innermost mountain range is actually a huge caldera that contains a steaming, reeking jungle of writhing plants and fey animals.
  • Nothing. There is nothing down here. Only a perfectly flat, featureless plain.
  • The Perantique Ones have been sighted again.

History Excerpt: The Perantique Prisoners

Antiborea is in fact a prison, and the denizens of the Uttermost South are its prisoners. They sometimes refer to themselves as True or Old Antiboreans, for though they despise their cage and are loathe to consider it anything other than a temporary residence, they will take any opportunity to differentiate themselves from people whom they view as lesser- which is to say, everyone.

The prisoners are a small remnant of an ancient threat. Millennia ago, their people forged a sorcerous empire that stretched across much of the southern hemisphere. They were driven to conquest by an ideology of xenophobia and zero-sum thinking, mixed with a healthy dose of supernatural fearmongering and golden age hubris. At their height, they waged a war against the entire world.

In time, the empire crumbled. Awful logistics ground its military advances to a halt, then reversed them. At the first hint of blood in the water, its pernicious hierarchy tore itself apart- one cannot have a pyramid with an ever-expanding base and an ever-shrinking top for very long. Hounded by liberators and vengeance-seekers, their last remnants eventually retreated to Antiborea, once a worthless backwater in the empire.

There, they struck their bargain.

The barrier between this world and the next was always thin above Antiborea, but with a little applied occultism they punched a hole right through it. They entreated the denizens of the place beyond the broken sky to come down and serve them, to smite their enemies and help them reclaim their rightful place at the throne of the world.

The denizens did not take those demands lightly.

Instead of coming down to serve, they broke those would-be sorcerers in mind, body, and spirit. The Old Antiboreans became servants of the outer powers, physical instruments played to the tune of the wind that now howled down out of that tear in the sky. Generations of obsession with blood purity came to naught as they hypocritically took that otherworldly taint into themselves, becoming something eldritch and decidedly inhuman. The wind swept over the world, bringing unearthly horrors of light, sound, and thought with it. It threatened to overrun the world, and would have if not for the timely intervention of another.

The details of what transpired are as lost to time as the rest of this ancient war, but another entity drawn to the world by the rift chose to side with its peoples. Perhaps it pitied them, or perhaps it had some ulterior motive on a much larger scale than most can imagine. Whatever the reason, it lent its own wind to check the otherworldly advance. This was how the encircling Wall of Wind and Waves was formed, to make Antiborea the prison it is today.

Ages passed, history turned to myth and was lost, and now most of the world is blissfully unaware of what lies trapped and brooding at the heart of Antiborea. The old prisoners' impotence has only made them more cruel, and they often target the vibrant and diverse communities of the coast for no other reason than to vent their resentment and aggression. 

They are old and dwindling, but they are not content to die peacefully. They abide in their home below the pole, scheming almost in vain to undermine their prison. If they could just widen the rip, or perhaps make a hole in the Wall, the world would once again know their malice...

        Old Antiborean Rumors

  • They steal away people suffering from advanced wind sickness and turn them to their cause.
  • They make many more forays out across Antiborea than most believe, hidden by sorcery.
  • If they leave the vicinity of the broken sky for too long, they lose their magic and die.
  • All of them died long ago, and are now mindless puppets of the denizens above the sky.
  • Even after all they've lost, they continue to compete and conspire against one another. A silent civil war threatens to spill over across the continent.
  • They look...
    • Tall, gaunt, and pale.
    • Stocky, bent-backed, and fish-eyed.
    • Like nebulae clad in old robes.
    • Entirely alien and monstrous.
    • Like human skins stretched over roiling masses of matter.
    • Conventionally beautiful, and unnaturally symmetrical.
  • One of them has recently misplaced their tome of eldritch lore. It would be disastrous for it to fall into the wrong hands- or anyone's hands, really.
  • The spirits whom shamans and healers jockey with are deceased, or perhaps merely unfleshed, Old Antiboreans.
  • One of them has looked past their blinding hate and begun to regard the other Antiboreans as coequals- or tried to, anyway. Their reanimated corpse has been sent by their former fellows to scour the wastelands of all life.
  • They still possess that old world magic called metallurgy, and they use it to craft some of the deadliest weapons and arcane instruments on Antiborea.
  • Some have decided to forsake what is left of their humanity entirely, and aspire to join their masters between the stars by building a mighty engine.
  • The old emperor who struck the bargain still lives, if the form it currently exists in can be called living.

2 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. What does it taste like? Does it taste like salty and pungent seal whey? Like desiccated calamari? SARDINES?!

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