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Spawn of Ungoliant
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« on: October 30, 2008, 09:58:14 PM »

The Cadaverous Earth

Note: Dispirited by that Wall O' Text?

New to CE?  Start  here.

A glossary of terms is available here.
The brows of men by the despairing light
Wore an unearthly aspect, as by fits
The flashes fell upon them; some lay down
And hid their eyes and wept; and some did rest
Their chins upon their clenched hands, and smil'd;
And others hurried to and fro, and fed
Their funeral piles with fuel, and look'd up
With mad disquietude on the dull sky,
The pall of a past world; and then again
With curses cast them down upon the dust,
And gnash'd their teeth and howl'd: the wild birds shriek'd
And, terrified, did flutter on the ground,
And flap their useless wings; the wildest brutes
Came tame and tremulous; and vipers crawl'd
And twin'd themselves among the multitude,
Hissing, but stingless--they were slain for food.
And War, which for a moment was no more,
Did glut himself again: a meal was bought
With blood, and each sate sullenly apart
Gorging himself in gloom: no love was left;
All earth was but one thought--and that was death
Immediate and inglorious; and the pang
Of famine fed upon all entrails--men
Died, and their bones were tombless as their flesh;
The meagre by the meagre were devour'd.

-   Lord Byron, from 'Darkness'

'Earth'¦ a dim place, ancient beyond knowledge.  Once it was a tall world of cloudy mountains and bright rivers, and the sun was a white blazing ball.  Ages of rain and wind have beaten and rounded the granite, and the sun is feeble and red.  The continents have sunk and risen.  A million cities have lifted towers, have fallen to dust.  In place of the old peoples a few thousand strange souls live.  There is evil on Earth, evil distilled by time'¦ Earth is dying and in its twilight'¦'

- Jack Vance, from The Dying Earth

Memory

The adventurer is old, grizzled, with dark scars and hair turned prematurely gray.  Pistols hang from his belt in leather holsters, and a notched sword leans against the wall, pitted with use, spattered with old stains.  His eyes are hardened from a lifetime in the wastes.  He draws in a mouthful of smoke from his carved wooden pipe and fills his mind with memories.

He has seen a gruesome myriad of sights, gazed upon vistas of mutilated grandeur, hunted hideous and sometimes eerily beautiful monstrosities across the thousand twisted landscapes of the Slaughter-lands, conversed with corpses and things whose ancestors might once have been men.  The Twilight Cities, those vast monuments that reared to stab at the rent and mottled skies, were the most stunning and the most horrifying, in their sheer density of life and death - ramshackle Lophius with its briny canals and its many malformed little gods; Erebh, poised over the pit, at the end of the world; Marainein with its thousand faded towers and its leprous god-king; Crepuscle with its carnival confusion of peoples and its bustling thoroughfares; the crazed clockwork and quivering spires of Skein; Moroi with its great tree and its blighted slums, teeming with the mad; the winding market-streets of Macellaria, ancient beyond reckoning, air thick with the cloy of blood and perfume; the black silence and discordant laughter of Somnambulon; the grim,  alien hive of Dolmen with buildings like stony cobwebs.  He has tasted each of them in turn and wandered far beyond their walls, from the shores the Fevered Ocean to the wailing rupture of the Suppuration.

His career was long, full of violence and strangeness.  With a shade who fought in a suit of enamelled armour and a pair of witches, lovers, whose books brimmed with dark sigils - a catalogue of death, each eldritch vivisection or evisceration more exotic than the last - the mercenary had plundered the tombs of the Gengrymar, wiped out in the harrowflux plagues in the final centuries of the Desiccation, before turning to the cliffside mansions of the Uzull along the Serrated Coast, their bejewelled cities long claimed by the tides, leaving only a few seaweed-clad spires and derelict palaces along the broken shores, their marble façades yellowed and eroded.  After one of the hexers was snatched by a roaming xsur - carried off to some distant eyrie to have her bones added to the barbed, leathery creature's nest - and the other was devoured by a predatory fungus on the outskirts of the southern fens, he and the shade had traveled north, joined the caravan of some blind seeress on her way to the Gaunt City.

They'd trekked through the mutable randomness of the Tallow Plains evading the aggressive, feral architecture, grown wild in that fragmented space, haggling with the half-mad nomads of the region and repelling the occasional waxborn before arriving, at last, at the iron-clad and glyph-etched gates of the city, a place of asylums and vampire machines.  He and the shade had parted and he'd headed north with a band of pilgrims bound for the Shrine of Sighing Winds.

On their way they'd passed through a village with huts fashioned from manskin and human bones, ruled by merciless ghilan elders grown corpulent with the flesh of their mortal tribe's sacrifices, sitting in the dark of their macabre hall and gnawing on the remnants of their periodic carrion feasts.  Later, aboard a clockwork train heading towards Skein, he'd helped defend their carriage from a group of brigands armed with kukri knives and flintlocks and poisoned scimitars, cruel-faced men in the employ of Red Gregory himself, a gunslinger warlord and a living legend.  At the Shrine, awed by the daeva that resided there, he'd briefly become a neophyte, shaved his head and devoted himself to the Mysteries of Shaaltelathiel, learned herbcraft and meditated in the whispering stone gardens for a few months before growing bored with asceticism.

Then, in the shadow of the Slouching-devil Mountains, he'd chased bounties in the narrow gorges and scabrous badlands of the foothills, fought off wolves with tentacled maws and screeching harpy-crows with cherubic human faces, delved into the dank tunnels built by gigantic and long-dead architects.  With a trio of hunters - a droll axeman with brooding eyes, a lilix pistolier, and a sarcastic swordsmen from the City of the Lamprey - he'd wandered eastwards towards the lands around the Sinew River, then north into Barrow Scrub.  Here, in one of the subterranean ruins of the defunct cestoid Imperium, a surreal maze like the bowels of some enormous nightmare-creature, they'd joined a party of zealous Striga-worshippers to eradicate a cult of the wormfolk and their foolish human followers who'd been gutting the kidnapped children of a nearby settlement, spilling blood on the foul altar of the Ravager Worm.  Later, pallid and weary with the sapping blanchphage of Etiolation, he'd glimpsed the petrified god itself, the great stone corpse of the god-leech Hirud - or so some claimed.

His travels brought him south, eventually, towards the frontier of Dour Erg.  In an impromptu duel over a hand of cards in some dilapidated saloon he'd killed three men in cold blood and fled the justice of the thugs who ran the town, was caught, escaped, nearly died of thirst before crawling through the Butcher's Gate of the Maggot City.  After recovering from his ordeal he became a thief, picking pockets and breaking into storehouses with a rookery of men and women in Resurrection Row. 

Later, jaded with such petty parasitism, he'd signed on with a Robber Guild and, for a time, worked with a callous ghul cutthroat-antiquarian and his hulking, stitch-work servitor, an obedient hunchbacked horror with piston-driven limbs and the grafted tail of a giant scorpion.  Together they'd plumbed the ruins of the Second Tsathii Republic, drowned in the Red Ravishing, and the old, shattered kingdoms of Voldanc, destroyed by the Scourge Armies during the Membrane Wars, their castle-cities of Scrutatos and Vertegrazze left to crumble slowly into dust.  Only the servants of the Voldanc masters remained, elementals bound to eternal servitude, endlessly repeating now meaningless chores in the empty manors of their creators, ignoring the mercenary and his companions as they gathered those few artefacts untouched by prior looters.  A pack of fetch had torn the ghul limb from limb on the lonely trail back to Macellaria, the murderfolk swarming over the grave-spawn's creation.  The adventurer ran into the glowering dusk and killed all that pursued him, clutching the grimoire of a court warlock to his chest.  He returned to thieving, took up with the leader of the rookery, an icy and ruthless woman who broke his heart and cast him out of the city.

He headed further south, back towards the swamps, fleeing love and death and memories, though all followed him as doggedly as Screamwood hounds.  He sought comfort first with the courtesans of Per-Bashti, then with the gods of the Driftwood District.  He became a priest again, this time to an aspirant insect-headed godling, but the deity's shrine was ransacked by rival fanatics and he returned to his former profession.

Briefly he ran with a swordsman-poet, a hagman outcast, and a warrior-monk, tracking down leechkin who'd succumbed to the thirst in the sweltering, demon-haunted murk of the swamps.  They dispersed when work grew infrequent and he joined the Pale Legion, a mercenary company based in Crepuscle drawn south by skirmishes between merchants selling to the zerda and the voracious mantid tribes of the Firesong Marches.  He fought in a dozen battles and rose to the rank of corporal before being discharged for drunkenness in the City of Red and Black.

He exhales.  The memories blur together, but one disjointed chapter of a long and bloody story...
Contents

Introduction
The Twilight Cities
The Slaughter-lands
Grave-Spawn
Inhumans
Oneiroi
Characters
Diseases
Gods and Religion
Witchcraft
Languages
The Occident
Moroi
Lophius
Macellaria
Blood, Bodies, Madness, and Monsters - Macellaria Adventure Outlines
Skein
Fiends, Flesh, Clockwork, and Corpses - Skein Adventure Outlines
Crepuscle (forthcoming)
Somnambulon (forthcoming)
Dolmen
Corsairs, Caverns, Drugs, and Demons - Lophius Adventure Outlines

Themes

Grotesquerie

Dead men shuffle alongside the living, while creatures once-human and otherwordly cavort in the shadows of twisted ornate towers or ruinous temples.  This is a world of casual cannibalism and mutilation, stalked by demons and predatory nightmares, by vampiric and unwholesome things.  Deformity and madness are commonplace, murder is a frequent necessity, and ugliness is everywhere.  Here are the irrational and chimerical oneiroi, the aberrant hagmen, the bizarre leechkin, the morbific shades, and the conniving, many-armed lilix.  An ungainly, repellant cestoid pulls a rickshaw through the streets of Lophius; a corsair king unfurls patchwork sails fashioned from flayed human faces; a demon spreads its clotted wings and shrieks in longing for its Hellish homeland.

But though it holds the capacity to repulse and disgust, the grotesque can also fascinate and compel.  There is a paradoxical beauty in ugliness, an aestheticism to the morbid and macabre.  A crumbling city can be beautiful, as can the scummed surface of a putrid lake, or the necrotic flesh of a rotting corpse.  There is a decadent glory in degeneration, liberation in damnation, apotheosis through degradation, and purity in filth.

Transformation

In the innermost chambers of Somnambulon, a pale and frightened Childe merges with an aeons-old parasite, offered up as the latest incarnation of an eternally recurrent entity.  In Dolmen a newly freed slave-woman has two pairs of bulbous red eyes tattooed on her forehead, her own eyelids fluttering with the heady pleasure of her liberation.  In the tissue-shops and glyph parlors of Macellaria men and women pay to be refashioned, their bodies cut and stitched and hexed, their flesh fused and inked and cauterized, grafted with alien appendages, with slabs of muscle, with bony plates, with arcane sigils.

Yet not all transformation is transcendental.  The Cadaverous Earth is a world poisoned with bizarre and virulent toxins.  A starving man who ate the flesh of the dead wakes up as a slit-eyed ghul; a miner descends from the Slouching-devil Mountains clutching an eldritch fossil with elongated and talon-tipped fingers, the left side of his face withered with Slow Plague.  Those that drink the Red Rain devolve into dark-eyed murderfolk, the grinning, malignant fetch; those that bathe in Lesion Sea degenerate into scaled and membranous icthoi; those that gaze into a gorgon's eyes are afflicted with the madness of the abyss.  The ancient words graven on the walls of Crepuscle's sprawling labyrinth spawn the babbling maze-born, while cacklegeists spread their horrifically infectious laughter and a hundred diseases wrack the teeming slums of the Twilight Cities.

Addiction and Appetite

Some lust for blood, some for coin, some for drugs or sex or youth or power or death. Witch-addicts daily inject themselves with the throbbing golden sap known as nectar, and daily they go mad in droves, or burn from the inside out from overdose.  Leechkin moan for blood from their rasping mouths or rampage through the southern swamps in thirsty rage, while lilix and wealthy ghilan libertines drink it from overflowing and antique chalices.  Hideous and gray-skinned eidolons garb themselves in youthful glamers sustained through the vitality of their prey, while demons sup on more abstract energies.

Everyone wants something.  Everyone must feed.  Even as it rots this world hungers and consumes.

Adventure

Adventurers come in many varieties.  One might play as an exiled baron of the Lords Revenant, a vampiric aristocrat possessed by an heirloom spirit; or a member of one of the Robber Guilds of Macellaria, a grizzled tomb raider contending with malevolencies and the elements in the Slaughter-lands, questing for lost technology; or a sneak from Lophius, some tattooed, moustachioed footpad or duelist dealing death with knife and pistol; or an arachnoid assassin, a male lilix courtier with a wit to match his deadliness; or a magister attended by a familiar leashed with a warded silver chain; or a half-mad witch-savant, an ichor-junkie hurling drug-fueled hexes; or even a misshapen graftpunk with stitches or inked sigils still raw from the augmentations of the tissue-shop or the glyph parlor.

Adventures tend to oscillate between survival in an unforgiving and hazardous wilderness and gritty urban intrigue.  Adventurers might loot haunted tomb-cities in the Slaughter-lands or mount expeditions to retrieve lost secrets from abandoned libraries where the dead walk.  They might pursue bounties on brigands and savage leechkin and nameless demons in the clotted swamplands of Lophius, or escort caravans for the Resin Merchants across the disconcerting amorphousness of the Tallow Plains where the waxborn roam.  They might become prospectors in the Slouching-devil Mountains in search of ur-fossils, or scholars seeking the lost poetic incantations of Vurlu, or street-fighters for hire in the chaotic markets of Macellaria, or perhaps gentleman burglars preying on the aristocracy of Somnambulon.  They could converse with sentient automata clothing themselves in flayed human skins, forge contracts with demons, hunt creatures born of the Suppuration, attend grand masques in alien spires, drink blood and whiskey with grave-spawn in riverside ghul-bars and saloons, battle nests of fettergeists in the undercity of Skein, or poach tenebrals in the shadowy hunting grounds of magister-princes.

The Quick, the Dead, and the Inhuman


The Cadaverous Earth is home to many sapient entities that aren't human.  Living humans are known as the quick; grave-spawn, the heliophobic undead of this world, make up nearly a third of its population, strains of creatures afflicted by eldritch parasites or psychic domination.  Then there are inhumans, "monstrous" and often bizarre creatures with sometimes bestial features.  A very few of this last group are "daevas" - immortals, ageless but distinct from the undead.  Finally there are the demons and the oneiroi, alien beings from beyond the Cadaverous Earth, visitors from the otherworldly Hells or manifestations of the Aether, nightmares made flesh.
Map



The map was very generously created (TWICE!) by Nomadic.

Note

Here is Light Dragon's excellent PDF of the setting!  206 pages of my warped scribblings plus illustrations, maps, poetry, reviews, and contributions from other board members (with imaginations clearly as deranged and deviant as my own), committed to Adobe for the first time!
« Last Edit: December 29, 2011, 08:30:29 PM by Steerpike » Logged


Spawn of Ungoliant
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« Reply #1 on: October 30, 2008, 09:59:07 PM »

The Twilight Cities

The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms

In this last of meeting places
We grope together
and avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death's twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.

- T.S. Eliot, from The Hollow Men

A Wanderer

For years the wanderer had known only silence and the banal umber endlessness of the vague wasteland.  He had been traveling so long that he'd forgotten where he'd started, or why.  At first he's invented a new reason each day, a banishment or exile or quest, but as time went on the past dwindled and his mind wandered along with him.  His was a grey existence, a world of blurred shadows, dust, and haze interrupted infrequently by a tombstone or a monolith or a meeting with some surreal creature.  The few human (or human-like) beings the vagabond had seen were reduced to distorted figures scrawled in his memory, grown faceless and sinister as remembrance slipped inevitably away and his brain became a mottled, inward-looking thing, lost in its own dark, delirious passages.  Only his most outlandish encounters had been burnt more vividly into his mind - these would take much longer to scab over and scar, or drown in the sewers of his subconscious.

Once he'd met a six-armed and carapace-plated man like a giant praying mantis, riding a wagon drawn by four mechanical horses that breathed smoke and flame.  The insect-man had tried to sell him oddities: a skull with bloodstone eyes, an embalmed foot, a fob-watch with too many hands, a live, bottled spider, a tiny gilt statuette of a winged infant.

Another time he'd crossed paths with a troupe of dancers, each tattooed in garish colours and garbed in diaphanous silks, cavorting and cartwheeling through the waste.  Their lips were sewn shut, each mouth stitched into a different expression; they wore jeweled masks that covered the top halves of their faces.

Yet another time he'd passed by a weeping chimera, a queasy, pitiful, raving monster that constantly changed its shape, flickering through different bodies like a fleshy kaleidoscope - now it had three limbs and a hairy visage, now a segmented tail, now a cluster of horns or extra eyes or wailing mouths, now a glistening chitin shell.

But mostly the waste was simply emptiness, flat and ceaseless and mute, carpeted with bones, with the remnants of past violence - a slaughter-land.  There was something of the desert to it, and of the library, and of a dull, meandering dream verging occasionally on a nightmare.  The sun and moon seemed only to rise and set out of habit.  To speak took great effort.  A desiccated limbo - a place of droning, half-heard echoes where time and size and sound seemed somehow soft, and moments ran together and dissolved.

And then, without warning, the City.

It crept up upon him wolfishly, like some huge, ineluctable predator - brooding on the horizon, like a robed stone colossus or a prowling monstrosity larger than the mind could hold.  The vagabond was overwhelmed by its defiance, its brute repudiation of the horizontal waste.  After the omnipresent flatness, the sudden appearance of such sublime, audacious verticality seemed obscene, even horrific.  Tears streamed down the wanderer's thin cheeks, and a sound cracked and then shattered the glassy silence, a fragile, eggshell sound, part sob and part laughter.  He was surprised to discover that it came from his own mouth.

Suspicions circled vulture-like in the musty air before swooping down to gnaw at him.  Was the City merely a mirage, the delusion of an unhinged mind?  He knew that he was mad, had long been mad, perhaps always.  He knew that his eyes were often untrustworthy, though never before had they conceived a vision of such lurid and convincing imagination.  Or was the City something more dangerous than a mere phantasm?  Was it was something subtler, more sinister - an illusion sent by cruel and whimsical deities to torment him, taunting him with the promise of civilization, of escape, of change, while always growing further away, forever just out of reach?  He looked around, suddenly terrified.  Had he finally died?  Was this the underworld, this City his punishment - an eternity of seeking, never to arrive?

Had he been dead for years?

As he carried onwards the City drew closer, assuaging his fears somewhat.  Detritus and ruins marked his approach: bent signs in dead languages, the rusting husks of ancient vehicles, more bones of humans and unlikely beasts, always more bones.  Here and there a solitary wall might emerge from the blasted ground, its edges jagged and burnt.

After another eternity of walking the wanderer found a road, a decaying path half subsumed by the wasteland, impossibly old.  The City grew larger with excruciating slowness, looming in the distance, quivering with waves of heat.  He was a pilgrim, and the City quickly became something sacred.  It was his God and his doom, though whether it would redeem or damn him he did not yet know; but as he came nearer a veil seemed to lift from his mind, a new clarity replacing the numbness of the desert.
   
He met others on the road, mostly solitary but a few in pairs or groups, heading in the opposite direction out into the emptiness behind him.  It seemed that he had met them before, or others like them, in dreams or perhaps in the far distance of his past.  A pretty, raven haired woman with a whirring mechanical arm traveled with a slimy beast with mouths on its palms whose toad-like skin blistered in the dry air; a man-thing shambled on clawed legs like a bird's, stitched crudely to his thighs; a melancholy figure in a dusty white cloak and cowl dragged an enormous iron sword along beside him, his face hidden beneath his hood.  There was a cart of corpses and a tattooed woman with a tentacled hand and a goggle-clad madman leaning on a copper staff, a gun-toting fox-man and a dyad of blue skinned imps and a yellow-eyed child who rode a chittering mechanical spider and smoked long, black cigarillos, puffing tendrils of smoke into the bruised twilight, a lumbering giant with iron skin plodding behind him.  Some of these fellow travelers spoke to him (or themselves) in alien tongues, though the wanderer never answered.
   
Shuddering machines appeared in the distance, and cracked domes like huge boils on some behemoth fleshscape.  After what seemed an aeon of walking the first plantations sprung up on either side of the road: rough, scrap-fashioned farms with withered crops and fields of fissured hardpan earth.  At first the farms were abandoned, the bones of livestock and farmers alike overgrown with weeds and fungi, houses with beams like fragile bones and black sockets for windows, with roofs collapsing under their own weight and walls torn apart by creepers, planks sloughing off into clouds of orange wood-dust.  Huge ravens and raven-like things infested these cadaverous places, picking at the dead.

Later, the plantations began to show signs of habitation, and leather-skinned farmhands would stare at the wanderer while they fed ugly pigs with matted hair or milked emaciated aurochs or queasy bovine-shaped darknesses.  Here the shadow of the City grew oppressive, and the sky swirled with a constant pall of smog.  He could make out the shapes of gargantuan chimneys, sprouting out from the main bulk of the towers, which now he could see were actually clusters, conglomerations of buildings piled atop each other without any apparent design or artistry.  The hiss of those great chimneys rose up from the City over the murmur of lowing cattle and the yowls of the feline things like hairless cats that haunted the hinterland in packs.  A thrumming beat like the tread of a million footsteps or the syncopation of a demoniac machine could be felt through the ground.

As the wanderer walked the road towards the City he began to delineate its details, its endless intricacies.  Towers thrust themselves skyward in a thousand needling points, spined skeletons of glass and grey stone.  Structures slumped rust-red and variegated, shimmering crimson in the sunlight; conglomerates were wreathed in smoke, all brass and brick and belching pipe.  Neon signs winked and domes of cracked marble gleamed wetly like broken skin.

Soon he came to the shanties.  They coalesced from the ruins and farmland in patchwork aggregations, coagulating out of the dust and debris and rising up in ramshackle layers - a mishmash second city of wood and rope and mud spreading out beneath its stony parent, tumorous and uninhibited.  At night the shanties wallowed in the buzzing artificial light of the towers and seethed with a rustic vitality.  Here and there a distant suggestion of movement in the City itself broke the statuesque stillness momentarily.

At night the City was ablaze with light.  The stars faded, consumed by its luminescence.  The sky glowed about the horizon, softening into twilight.
The Twilight Cities are incredibly ancient: even the youngest is built on ruins many millennia old.  Tombstones of sublime and faded ages long since decomposed by a series of half-forgotten cataclysms* and the gnawing erasures of time, only nine of the once-great metropolises remain inhabited, and even these are largely empty, their streets dusty and silent, their labyrinthine undercities crumbling and hollow.  They fall roughly into two broad types: some, like Dolmen and Somnambulon, are ruthlessly authoritarian, oppressive city-states, while others, like Macellaria and Lophius, are chaotic and unstable, held together with more occult codes and coherencies.  They writhe, devour, rut, seethe with moribund energy: putrid and hideous, like chancres on a diseased fleshscape.

The Twilight Cities cling to the fringe of the so-called Slaughter-lands, a wild waste where prowling clouds of sentient eldritch radiation cause the dead to walk, otherworldly horrors from the Membrane Wars lurk in dark lairs and ruins, and the Red Rains metamorphose those who sip of them into murderous doppelgangers of their former selves.  This is a world no longer merely dwindling, no longer dying, but rather become a great corpse peopled by maggots and worms, the fester-spawned parasites of a Cadaverous Earth.  Though some semblance of life and animation - even happiness - still lingers within the walls of the Twilight Cities, the world seems to hover on the very lip of the abyss, teetering on the edge of final destruction.

Yet even as the world spasms its last breath, sloughs free the shredded vestiges of history, bloats with corpse-gas and grins with the shriveling onset of rigor mortis, a phoenixian ember flickers in some black and cyclopean socket.  Pink new flesh squirms beneath the scabbed surface, and long-chained entities await the Great Unfettering.

* The Membrane Wars, the Pallid Decimation, the dementia epidemics, the Suppuration, the Red Ravishing, the Fecundity'¦

Somnambulon, The Sleepwalker's City

Thronged by a zombie proletariat condemned to brute psychic vassalage, Somnambulon is ruled by a ruthless clan of industrialist nobles, the so-called Lords Revenant.  Existing symbiotically with a cadre of numinous parasites (the zehrer) passed down from generation to generation, the nobility possess unnaturally long lives and a variety of eldritch abilities which they use alongside their advanced technological warmachine to maintain power.  Cutthroat mercantilists of the first order, the Lords Revenant enjoy the spoils of their success from their mausoleum-palaces, manses part temple, part tomb, part keep; sprawling about these ornate megaliths are the smoke-clotted factory districts, the vicious waterfront along the Sinew River, and the vast, rude, lawless shanties of the Unbound, a ragtag but defiantly lively lot whose music and carnival antics contrast harshly with the black grimness of the Lords and their shambolic subjects.

Crepuscle, The Mottled City, The City of Red and Black

Crepuscle lies at the intersection of the Radula and the Sinew Rivers, and as such is a major trading port, principally dealing with Skein, Moroi, and Somnambulon.  Its streets are colourful and pastiche, cosmopolitan in the extreme: here are soul-tinkers and mechanoapes and dyadic naghini, hagmen from the south, graft peddlers and arcanists and sigil-scribes, yapping zerda foxfolk seers, mantid costermongers, ghilan of every breed and quick humans of every race.  Justice is administered in stylized gladiatorial courts, wherein the defendant must defeat a pantheon of combatants (including the Blind Man, Guilt, and Reason) to secure his or her innocence.

Apart from its bustling markets Crepuscle is distinguished by its labyrinth, a huge maze at the center of the city which few dare enter despite the legends of unfathomable treasure and wisdom to be found within; its walls are scriven with runes in some long-forgotten language, a tongue which those who spend too long wandering the endless passages begin to inexplicably babble in.  These lost souls, the so-called mazeborn, are chained to the walls of shrines in the temples of the Gibbering Goddess, where robed neophytes record their rambling glossolalia, tending to the mutilated vocal cords and bloody tongues of their mad, decrepit charges.

Skein, City of Silk, The Clockwork City

A shuddering, iridescent carnival of a city, the snarled urban sprawl called Skein juts with a hundred gearborg spires against the bruised and hazy sky.  In the clockwork factories at the city's industrial center, a verdigris-riddled army of automaton limbs peel and unravel the delicate casements of silkworm moths.  The silk is cut and dyed and woven by a horde of arthritic and ink-spotted workers in the warrens of the Sepia, Indigo, and Damask Wards.  From here it is loaded by spidery iron cranes and hulking dock-laborers, muscles squirming with symbiotic grafts, onto submersibles equal parts gearwork and crustacean or leathery dirigibles.  These vessels clot the sluggish coils of the Radula River or ride on dry winds from the glowering Slouching-devil Mountains (winds that bring thunderstorms and murders of predatory imps and bouts of disturbing erotic nightmares).

The city's other boasts: a long tradition in the crafting of expensive (but efficient) automata and a mastery of the centuries old, carefully cultivated practice of demoniac husbandry.  Blurring the lines between puppets and puppeteers are the five supreme rulers of Skein, the Moth-Kings, wizened scholar-husks who traded flesh and memory and essence to arcane entities beyond human fathoming in the distant past, perhaps as far back as the Membrane Wars.  They brood in their shadowy, palatial spire, queasy shapes somewhere between men and corpses and diabolic phantoms; they rely on less overtly otherworldly mouthpieces to deliver their rare but irresistible commands.

Macellaria, City of Bodysnatchers, The Maggot City

The Skin Markets of Macellaria are famous across the Cadaverous Earth.  Guilds of tomb raiders and grave robbers of every stripe daily plunder the nearby Slaughter-lands and even the ruinous Hecatomb Cities of the deep waste, returning with the musty relics of bygone aeons - and with scores of bodies.  The relics are pawned in the scabrous little Curio Bazaars, but the bulk of goods traded in Macellaria take the form of carved bones, flayed flesh, blood, and bodies, though there are also large sections of the Markets dedicated to the trade of slaves or the solicitations of prostitutes.

Here also are the glyph parlors, the graft peddlers, and the tissue-shops, where libertines, mercenaries, thugs, and adventurers purchase flesh-hexes or augment themselves with extra limbs, poison glands, or squirming cosmetic tattoos.  Even the human citizens (a sizeable minority) are practicing cannibals, but the leechkin, the cestoids, the ghilan, and innumerable other grave-spawn depend on the city's grisly produce for subsistence.  One will also find mercantile agents of the Lords Revenant in search of fresh bodies for labor purposes.  Though superficially a liberal, even anarchic city, Macellaria is essentially ruled by a loose oligarchy composed of high-ranking members of the Robber Guilds and wealthy merchants.

Dolmen, City of Spiders

Xenophobic and isolationist in the extreme, the city of Dolmen is the domain of the lilix, spidery and matriarchal, ruling through a rigid caste-system.  Below the city are the vast breeding caves, where a near-blind, colourless race of subhumans are bred as livestock and slaves, to work new tunnels into the unyielding earth or be consumed in the gory meals of their mistresses.

Above these vast stone pens the city's core thrusts upwards in tiered levels, a bizarre geometric radiation of temples and armories and dwellings, trading halls and factories and torture-rooms.  Here the city's mortal gentry live a penumbral existence: chalky-skinned freedwomen dressed in black and red lace who tattoo extra eyes on their foreheads and keep cadres of male slaves.  At the center of the upper city are the harems, banquet halls, council Courts, and living quarters for the lilix themselves, where the males are kept as footmen, concubines, and bodyguards while the women drink marrow-wines and sanguine cordials.

Beyond the limits of the city is the foreigner's quarter, a trading hub and center of exchange where the normally unyielding web of etiquette, taboos, and laws is relaxed and the lilix reluctantly deal with outsiders; here the Sinew River flows down from its point of origin in the nearby Chelicerae Mountains.

Moroi, The Gaunt City, City of the Elder Tree

At the center of Moroi, towering over the baroque intricacy of its rambling streets, the Elder Tree claws at the sky with gnarled fingers.  Sublime, incomprehensibly huge, and old beyond all remembrance, the Elder Tree remains magnificent even as the Resin Merchants despoil its ancient grandeur.  The tree is penetrated, ravished, ensnared in a vampire-machine, a twisted complexity of tubes and gears and churning pipework that invades its withered bark and sucks the god-tree dry.  Two more of its brethren loom over the city like headstones, ossified and empty, the machinery entangling them turning slowly to rust.

The Resin Merchants of Moroi drain the Elder Tree of its puissant sap, the substance dubbed ichor or nectar: a potent arcane catalyst which, when ingested (usually via injection) infuses the user with eldritch energy.  Those with latent power are tracked down by the city's recruiters, chained and injected with heavy doses of the drug and converted into babbling living weapons, till they burn from the inside out or go mad completely.  Large amounts of the drug also finds it way into the marketplaces of Skein, Crepuscle, and Macellaria.

Lophius, The Corsair City, City of the Lamprey

Straddling the Maw, the swampy delta where the Gland River empties itself into the Sallow Seas, Lophius is a considerably younger city than its brethren to the north and east, though still centuries old.  Though predominantly human, Lophius teems with other creatures as well, many of them amphibious: leechkin, hagmen, and certain wetland strains of ghilan.  Though certainly a hub for commerce, Lophius became rich through piracy and other activities generally regarded as illicit in the other Twilight Cities, acting as a haven for thieves, smugglers, and corsairs; its only government is an informal kleptocracy comprised of whatever particular clan of cutthroats last seized power.

The other principle faction within Lophius is religious, as the city is a major point of pilgrimage.  Idols dredged from the fens by scavengers or from the briny depths by daring submariners are erected in the ramshackle shrines of the Driftwood District, attended by a priests with seaweed in their hair and shells for holy symbols; each upstart deity competes with the others for petitioners, a thousand bickering godlings in a maze of skeletal shipwrecks-cum-churches and barnacled wooden fanes.

Quite distinct from the carven deities of Lophius are the true gods of the swamp, nameless elemental demons of stagnation and wasting illness, brooding in the brackish waters.  These fey, muttering entities are kin to the mad, primordial beast-gods of salt and nacre that slumber in the deeps of the Sallow Seas.

Erebh, City of Abysm, City of Basalt Towers, City of the Fell Breath

Far to the south, beyond even the Shadowglass Steppes where the elementals wage their unfathomable wars, teetering precariously on the lip of the Great Rictus - Abysm, the Hungry Void, the World-Wound - lies Erebh, City of the Fell Breath, a place of narrow, rambling buildings perched on the edge of the chasm and spilling over, clinging to the cliff-face, windows shuttered against the endless, unplumbed black below.  Tall, basalt towers of unknown construction tower over the city - grim monoliths presiding like featureless sentinels, their doors sealed shut, their featureless walls presenting no clue as to their purpose.

The city's economy is centered around the mushroom farms that zigzag down the cliffsides, on the quarries of obsidian, onyx, and basalt, and on the alchemical gases collected by the miasma-harvesters.  Glowing crystals of eldritch power are mined from the lower depths by adventurous souls in scuttling or fluttering vessels like iron insects; these forays are dangerous, leading to frequent encounters with feral phetorii or the pale, abhuman gloomkind who haunt the lower reaches and raid the fungus farms.

Abysm itself is a subject of speculation, of wonder, of religious inspiration.  Scholars gaze upon it with their glyph-graved instruments; priests offer it sacrifices, hoping to appease whatever deity they claim resides in its fathomless depths - Apollyon the angel of destruction, or the Leering Beast, or Yaggathoth with her million flickering tongues.  Some claim that the jinni - the mystical vulnerae woundfolk - first emerged from the pit, others that the Great Rictus is a portal to one of the Hells, or a gateway to the prison of the Chained Ones.

Whether or not gods or demonkind truly reside in Abysm's deepest reaches, it is widely believed that something does - there are too many reports of gigantic appendages glimpsed in the black, or of glimmering, cyclopean eyes peering up from the darkness, to wholly discount such legendry.

Marainein, City of the Wasting God

Once one of many prosperous city-states of the Gloom Coast in the far south of the Cadaverous Earth, Mareinein is even more decrepit than the other Twilight Cities, its manses decaying, its monuments eroded, its once bustling marketplaces lethargic.  The thousand towers in their multitudinous colours have faded and peeled; the flames in the lighthouses have grown dim and sickly.

The city is ruled, nominally, by the being called Yzsch, more commonly known as the Wasting God - a once powerful entity worshipped as a deity incarnate, now grown leprous and diseased, confined to his prodigious temple-palace, babbling senile, nonsensical edicts, the rantings of a demented mind.  Unfathomably old, the decaying god is attended by a retinue of priests, the true rulers of Marainein, who 'interpret' his deranged ramblings as they please.  The priests of Yzsch attend the Wasting God with enamelled goblets, with which they catch the putrid excretions of his hideous sores.  From this rancid issue they derive a puissant alchemical elixir, a quasi-divine draught which endows them with unnaturally long life: the most powerful priests are many centuries old, some well over a thousand, though they scheme constantly against one another, employing eunuch assassins and esoteric curses in a brutal, baroque power-game.
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The Slaughter-lands

The desert was the apotheosis of all deserts, huge, standing to the sky for what looked like eternity in all directions.

- Stephen King, from Gunslinger.

Just a Squall

It started with a smell in the air.  You could taste it on the wind - a metallic tang, like copper.  The sky began to dim.  A distant thunderclap echoed across the endless dusty plain.  Some thrice-damned fool gawping at the gathering darkness muttered that it looked like rain.

Then, in the distance, the mist.  Not normal fog, thick and gray or gray-green or sallow, nor black like smoke, nor the brown haze of a dust-storm, but red.  Abattoir red; a seething, roiling crimson.

We took cover as it drew closer, threw tarpaulins over the caravan, the damn horses neighing and pawing the hardpan.  Already you could hear it, that steady roar, pounding the desert, mingling with the crackle of the storm-clouds, getting nearer.  It churned the ground to viscous mud and the cracked, thirsty plains sighed like a lover and drank in the downpour.

And then it was upon us, out of clear sky, a torrent of it - the Red Rain.  It fell in dense sheets, covering everything with its sanguine slick, like some enormous beast had been slaughtered overtop us, or the godsdamned sky itself was bleeding.

Some idiot hireling we'd picked up back in Macellaria got caught out in the thick of it.  They say the change is supposed to be invisible, but I'd swear you could see something happen - a hunching of the shoulders, a sudden cruelness about the eyes, a smirk stealing across the thing's red-streaked face, mouth dribbling the stuff.  Every hand went to his gun, tore the fetch in half a dozen different directions, like a puppet being wrenched about, staggering in the muck, clutching his steaming guts and then falling in a twitching heap.  It lay there hissing for nearly a minute while we reloaded, crawling towards us with one hand cradling its entrails and its teeth bared and its eyes full of evil till someone put a bullet between them and spattered its brains out the back of its skull.

Like that'd been a cue the Rain let up, moved westwards.  We were lucky; we only had a squall.  Sometimes the Rain'll last for hours, even days.  They say during the Ravishing whole cities got drowned, streets swimming with red, those that survived the first downpour murdered by family and friends.  Puts it in perspective for you.

One lousy sellsword doesn't seem so bad.

Excerpt from Country of Bad Dreams

Five

They are in badlands.  Wastelands, broken lands.  A desert place of dust and demons, stranger things.  Ravaged-lands, Slaughter-lands.  There are five of them, the travelers, led by a scavenger prince, a king amongst thieves, a lord of tomb-robbers.  Hellsteeth, they call him; an affectation of such naked braggadocio it would be absurd were it not for the man's reputation.  Hard eyes peer from a weatherbeaten face, features like chiseled, porous rock-slabs, thin-lipped mouth fixed in a rigid line that twitches at the corners, the ghost of a smile.  He coughs, growls, presses onwards into the desolation.  Klet at first found it hard to reconcile the scope of legendry surrounding the man with the grizzled, leathery creature that leads them.  His incredulity has given way to a near-reverent awe.

The others are less illustrious.  There is Somija the hagman, androgynous and green-skinned.  His (her? its?) dreadlocks swing in the parched wind.  A hex purrs and pulses about its body, moistening, keeping the amphibious witch-warrior hydrated.  Once Klet saw it kill an errant fetch with no more than a glottal articulation that left the once-human an empty skin-sac, blue smoke leaking out of mouth and ears and nostrils.

Beside the hagman lumbers Yx, ponderous with muscle-grafts, his head comically undersized atop a gruesomely rippling physique, puckered with odd piercings, with ornate and sometimes quivering tattoos.  Huge, calloused fists curl and uncurl; massive boots stir up sallow clouds.  Yx prefers to kill with his bare hands.  No gentle giant, this one.

Then Oor-Kesh, the shade, an expert marksman, reeking of incense, an old and deadly thing.  Oor-Kesh has a man's body so Klet thinks of him as male.  Flesh tanned to a kind of dark ochre colour, dyed in places, stitched in others.  The grave-spawn moves mummified limbs as if directed by an unseen puppetmaster, but this jerking, staccato motion does not impair the thing's aim.  He tells esoteric or simply unwholesome jokes - What's the best time to eat human flesh?  When you're hungry! - and laughs an unnerving, withered laugh that sounds like a man choking.  Hellsteeth seems to respect the shade; they speak in dry murmurs to each other, nod knowingly.  Oor-Kesh must walk beneath a heavy black umbrella and garb itself in a black leather suit, or the sunlight will expel it from its host.

Klet is the most callow, a barely blooded youth, pugnacious and eager for notoriety.  His body is unaugmented.  He has only a vague understanding of their mission.  A gnawing fear eats at his innards, as mean and tightly coiled as a parasite.  He fights it with cheap rum and posturing and garrulous, pretended nonchalance, hefting his borrowed weapons with unearned bravado.  He strives desperately for the detached ennui of Hellsteeth, cultivates the man's seemingly effortless melancholy with fervent emulations, hoping to somehow mimic that unstudied calm.

They stay close together, these five, traveling along obscure roads, across the world which the Lamenters of the Weeping Lady call the Cadaverous Earth, leaving the bodies of abominations and unlikely predators in their wake.  They make their way deep into the Slaughter-lands, into a country of bad dreams.

Tallow Plains

For awhile they skirt the Tallow Plains, at the edge of the frontier.  The landscape is unstuck, moves in sudden eructations, mottled with feral architecture, with rogue topography gained some unfathomable sentience.

- Shift is weak here, Somija says with authority.  Pretty stable.

Klet blinks.  The Plains make him nauseous, buttes and mesas bubbling into one another, gentle hills oozing like quicksand.  Space here has grown viscous, malleable.  The mutancy of the place is retch-inducing.

They fight a waxborn.  It gibbers from many maws, speaks a polygot of curses from mouths human and hag and leechkin.  It ejaculates a babbling verse of nonsense-poetry from one pair of plump, manicured lips - Spiderwalking mudeater!/ Gloam-blooded shadowman!/ What kind of thing are you? - till the lips close and reopen as eyelids for a slitted, reptile orb.

Its limb rearrange themselves in a fluid analogue to the miscible scenery - scorpion-claw, taloned fingers, tentacle, bone-spur.  Its rotund belly (now, scaled, now feathered) dangles with ropy things that might be entrails or genitals or perhaps merely a nest of writhing tails.

They attack it with bullets, with fire-arrows, with a barrage of tissue-melting spells, dancing out of range of its windmilling, multifarious arms.  The waxborn's body cleaves and reforms beneath their assaults.  Finally Yx lobs a round bomb towards it, a dull-looking grenade that explodes in a yellowish blast.  The waxborn ignites, incandescent and flailing.  It smells like a kitchen-full of roasting meats.  Klet is sickened by his own salivation, until the smell of burning hair nearly makes him gag.  He suppresses the urge to vomit, terrified that his companions might think him weak.

They press on.  The light from the bloated morning sun warbles.

Still Growing

They pass through a tangled field that seems to sprout corpses like demented plants, or scarecrows.  The stench is horrible.  The earth is spattered with their secretions.

'- Body-farm, Hellsteeth comments.  Cultivar serfs.

- Surprised they're still growing, Oor-Kesh says.  He fondles a rotting limb and the owner twitches and moans.  The shade twirls his umbrella daintily, like a parasol, picks his way across the leprous field.

- They're alive?  Klet, who has grown up surrounded by the nightfolk, is aghast.

- They're wilting, says Hellsteeth, as if this explains things. - They're still healthy enough to reproduce.  He points out fetal saplings, making Klet shudder.

- The field'll be barren in a  few years.

- Didn't know they got this far north, Yx grunts.  The graftpunk is unperturbed by the foulness around them.  - Thought the Technocracy got pushed back by the cestoids.

- Could be just an outpost, says Hellsteeth.  Probably a Spire round here somewhere.

Klet is lost.  He is constantly bewildered by the depth of historical knowledge possessed by even the most brutish scavengers, like Yx.  Hiding his ignorance is difficult.  He suspects that sometimes they mock him in secret, speaking in a flurry of ancient names and battle sites as if in Alley-speak or some other cant-tongue, their references beyond him.

- There's nothing here, says Hellsteeth.  Smell'll attract things.  Let's keep moving.

The others grumble their agreement.  They move out, as the dusk begins its glowering descent, sky yellowing and then purpling like a bruise in reverse, deepening into black.

Beyond the moribund Twilight Cities, those last and lonely bastions of civilization persisting with idiot tenacity in this necrotic world, lie the yawning wilds of the Slaughter-lands, vast beyond all measure, a variegated waste peopled with nightmares and corpses, demons and inhuman things, bestial terrors and bastard gods and raving wraiths without names.  From the queasy rupture of the Suppuration to the stony husks of the Hecatomb Cities to the unhallowed battlefields of Etiolation the Slaughter-lands are thick with the dead, the alien, and the un-living.  On the fissured obsidian plains of the Shadowglass Steppes vitreous elementals battle clannish beings of clay and steam; lonely demons wander the Shatters, brooding amidst the shards of forgotten empires and pining for their Hells; bloodthirsty fetch and shambling haunts, the hungry grave-spawn of the Slaughter-lands, lurk in the corridors of ruined palaces or hunt along the stygian waters of Lesion Sea; strange beasts prowl the moist oases of the cancer-forest known as the Fecundity.

Yet for all their deadliness the Slaughter-lands are not without their riches.  The iron chests of once-terrible colossi echo with the beats of ingenious arcane heart-engines.  The mythic library of Gloam-Tor is said to hold within its near-endless archives arcane secrets and tomes of power written by the magi of elder aeons, though only accessible to those who bypass the tower's possessed clockwork guardians.  The skeletal commanders of now-broken armies piled in irreverent heaps still clutch runeswords and stranger weapons in their bony hands.  Glyph-scribed coins, eldritch stones, hexed relics, and mountains of jewels clot the treasure-vaults of mummified emperors.

Daily the plunderers come, the scavenger bands, ragtag parties armed with blades and bows and rude guns, eyes gleaming with greed.  Some stick to the fringe within sight of their sprawling homes, picking through the detritus left by less thorough looters.  Others are more adventurous, leading caravans into the deep waste, expeditions bristling with charms and weaponry.  The Robber Guildsmen of Macellaria are the best organized, but there are many others.  Gentlemen-adventurers of the Lords Revenant with zombie retinues set out from Somnambulon, contending with their rival Houses for the strangest or most powerful treasures.  Lilix males seek the favor of their matriarchs, driving subhuman slaves mewling in the unfamiliar sun before them into Barrow Scrub and the icy northern deserts to plumb frozen temples and tombs.  Hunters from Skein seek to capture rogue demons, returning to the Clockwork City with iron cages containing otherworldly monsters.  Freelancers aggregate in Crepuscle, Moroi, and Lophius, haphazard mercenary groups of quick, ghilan, hagmen, and half a hundred others.

Dour Erg

The largest single region of the Slaughter-lands, Dour Erg is a hard-baked, mean-spirited desert full of desiccated ghost-towns, angry spirits, and clutches of the fetch, or murderfolk.  Moistureless save for the dubious inseminations of the Red Rain, Dour Erg is an abandoned land given over to grave-spawn and empty buildings.  This is a place of blurred shadows, dust, and haze, interrupted infrequently by a tombstone or a monolith or a meeting with some surreal creature.  Gloam-Tor thrusts itself up from the cracked earth somewhere in Dour Erg, as do the ruins of Yutteril, Vertegrazze, and Scrutatos.

One might walk the streets of one of Dour Erg's many little ruins and stumble across an eyeless woman with a swarm of lampreys for her mouth or a pair of faceless children whose hands are crab's claws or a headless man with a mouth gaping hungrily on his belly - oneiroi who've stumbled across the Slaughter-lands from the far-off Suppuration.  Or perhaps one might encounter the husk-demon Zaa-Bul, a sentient swarm of maggots and flies inhabiting the bloated shell of a corpse; or the Muttering One, many-mouthed and perpetually cursing; or a nest of cacklegeists, grave-spawn with tongues shriveled and raw from ceaseless laughter.  There are things that look like men or might claim to be men lurking in the shadows of low dunes or broken buildings, eidolons and fetch and wild ghilan.  There are a few of the quick here, genuinely, nomads and barbarians grown leathered and weather-beaten by the bloated sun, but these people are elusive and unfriendly.

The Hecatomb Cities

In the deep waste of the Slaughter-lands are the so-called Hecatomb Cities: ruined metropolises that have been burnt nearly to the ground.  Once proud capitols of world-spanning empires now stand empty, their citadels scorched, their courtyards charred and their avenues strewn with ashes and blackened bones.  They lie to the east of Etiolation, south of the Shatters but north of Screamwood and Lesion Sea.

Unlike the other ruins dotting the Slaughter-lands, brought down by disasters or the whimpering depredations of history, the Hecatomb Cities were destroyed quite deliberately some time in the very distant past as mass-sacrifices, a great holocaust whose ultimate purpose has been lost.  Some suggest the sacrifice was an appeasement to black and insatiable gods, others that it formed part of some incomprehensible ritual.  A very few speak in whispers of the Fettering and its unspeakable cost.  Whatever the cause, the Hecatomb Cities were burnt with their citizenry trapped inside them, pharmakoi in a grandiose and utterly horrific orgy of flame and destruction.

Now only fuliginous smears remain: even the names of the cities have been eradicated.  Yet still, despite the thoroughness of their annihilation, the Hecatomb Cities still harbor a few glints of treasure.  Brave scavengers occasionally enter the Cities in search of these glimmers, indestructible relics that withstood the firestorms and the toll of millennia.  Few reemerge - most are claimed by the Cities, or something that now dwells within them'¦

The Shatters

A rust-red desert of dead machines and wandering terrors, the Shatters can be found north and east of Etiolation, in the deep waste.  The huge automata called the Behemoths slumber in the Shatters, their limbs broken, immensely prolix clockwork brains inert.  Engines of mass destruction said to have been used in the Membrane Wars, the Behemoths are incredibly ornate constructs complete with balconies, living quarters for crew, barracks, armouries, and a hundred other chambers.  They carried whole armies into battle while laying into enemy forces with their titanic guns, huge shoulder and chest-mounted cannons.  Now they molder, their baroque armour mottled with rust, their furnaces ashen.  Generations of scavengers have picked several clean, leaving only huge steel skeletons; others are more intact.  There are other machines half-buried in the Shatters, along with the Cullys and Suchol, sister-cities of bronze and chrome grown spotted with rust, their walls collapsed, machine gods broken or insane.  Berserk automata, swarms of the fetch, and a handful of bitter demons call these cities home, fallen places of smashed cogs and glyph-graved monoliths and maniacal deities of brass and steam, grown twisted and senile in the lightless gloom of the now-deserted temples.

Scoured by the Red Rain, the Shatters' few human inhabitants are either infected by the Rain or brutal barbarians, nomadic savages who strip the ruins of valuables and revere the Behemoths as the Dead Gods of the waste.

Etiolation


The great gray battlefield known as Etiolation is many miles wide, a huge swathe of the Slaughter-lands drained of all vitality.  Depleted even of colour, Etiolation is a mute, hazy graveyard heaped with countless bodies, all of them perfectly preserved - no insect, maggot, fungus, or vegetation grows in the silent barrenness, the plant-life that once thrived in the region blackened and lifeless.  The only creatures that stir are scavengers and bodysnatchers picking their way through the unnumbered dead and the slain themselves, former soldiers transformed into haunts by the clouds of eldritch energy that still plague the region, residues of some arcane cataclysm.  Legend says that these energies are the result of an ancient ritual that petrified the Ravager-Worm Hirud at the center of Etiolation; a huge stone figure with the semblance of a giant leech does rise up from the scores of bodies near the middle of the battleground, though if this is truly Hirud none can say for certain.  The sterility of Etiolation is usually blamed on the Worm itself, though which force slew the innumerable soldiers remains a mystery.

Those that enter Etiolation experience an immediate numbing, nauseous sensation.  Though they retain their essence and colour, explorers experience increasingly severe feelings of misery and apathy, and their colour eventually begins to fade away.  Plants wilt and die, flesh becomes unfeeling, and those who spend too long in Etiolation will eventually waste away, consumed with despair, their skin and clothing colourless, their minds without will, their voices silenced.  This sickness, known as blanchphage, can only be cured by removing the afflicted from Etiolation.

Despite its hazards, Etiolation is a very popular destination for those who venture into the Slaughter-lands.  Fresh bodies from Etiolation daily renew the Skin Markets of Macellaria, their weapons and armour pawned in the Curio Bazaars.  There are also numerous war-machines and other devices scattered amidst the carnage, drawing the attention of salvage gangs.  In addition to these secular pilgrims members of the Order of the Weeping Lady have been known to travel from the monasteries in the Chelicerae Mountains in order to behold the awesome sorrow of Etiolation and feel its creeping despair.

Flense Veldt

Plagued by haunts and oneiroi, Flense Veldt is the domain of the warlord Herruku the Flagellator, commander of a piecemeal army of barbarians, feral ghilan, and demoniac mercenaries - not to mention an elite platoon of the fetch, kept caged until needed in battle.  A cruel, effective raider of great ambitions, Hereku preys on caravans and adventuring parties in the Slaughter-lands, and has even ventured beyond the fringe into more civilized territory, harassing merchants of Crepuscle and Macellaria.

Lesion Sea

An inland sea fed by a tributary of the Radula River, Lesion Sea is a pestilential expanse of filthy water from which decaying towers and obelisks emerge, mossy headstones to civilizations long drowned in the murky depths.  Tainted with some flux or eldritch influence, Lesion Sea's waters warp those who drink of them, afflicting them with illness or wreaking more alarming changes on their forms, turning them into malformed chimerae, mutant, misshapen things that slip into the bubbling deep or wander the shores, multifarious and deformed.  Grave-spawn have been known to linger on the shores also, writhing on the embankments like ghosts from some mythological underworld.

The mysterious entity called Icthoi - whether ur-fish or water-demon none know - dwells in the gloom of Lesion Sea, along with the rough tribes of misshapen once-men metamorphosed by the water.

Screamwood

One of the few truly fertile regions remaining on the Cadaverous Earth and certainly the lushest part of the Slaughter-lands with the exception of the scattered oases of the Fecundity, Screamwood is nonetheless a shunned and avoided place.  An ominous forest of white trees with crimson sap, many of them carved with leering faces, Screamwood is home to the dreaded creatures called the blightings.  With a reputation for extreme sadism, the blightings put even the excesses of the lilix to shame: with tough, pale hides, oozing red eyes, jagged fingers, and fanged maws, blightings are vaguely humanoid but possess some characteristics of plants.  Dwelling in the roots of the largest trees, they are primitive but powerful, adept at hunting the shadowed arboreal corridors of Screamwood and ambushing their prey.  They breed and train a species of huge white wolves as mounts and hunting beasts, vicious albinos with horribly human hands and bony, hairless faces, fed on a diet of raw flesh.

The Shadowglass Steppes

Leagues of volcanic glass veined with cracks of livid magma, the Shadowglass Steppes consist of a series of shimmering obsidian plateaus interrupted by huge, splintered monoliths, calderas, and sluggish magma rivers.  The air is polluted with toxins and super-heated vapors; the ground boils with lava just beneath the surface, and eruptions are commonplace.  Though extremely inhospitable to humans, the Shadowglass Steppes are home to several sentient creatures, primarily clans of elementals.  Ranging from the slender, sharp-angled glass elementals to the squat, simple-minded clay elementals, the haughty, maniacal steam elementals, and the barely-sentient, thoughtlessly malignant magma elementals, these beings wage bizarre wars on the Steppes, contending for territory in a ceaseless exchange of advantages and allegiances too abstract and complex for even the lilix to fathom.

Barrow Scrub

A cold, scabrous badland at the northern edge of the Slaughter-lands near the Chelicerae Mountains, Barrow Scrub is a desolate and rugged region littered with extensive tombs, catacombs, and enigmatic monuments.  Inhabited by various barbarian tribes who make their homes in caves and desecrated crypts, Barrow Scrub is an unforgiving wilderness.  These savages are moon-worshipers and skinchangers who shun grave-spawn and shelter underground during the Red Rains that sweep the region intermittently.  They are very wary of the lilix of Dolmen who sometimes venture into Barrow Scrub, raiding barbarian shrines and villages for slaves.  The primitives fight a guerilla war against the spiderfolk, avoiding any direct conflict.

The demon Morr'ghu, called the Rancid Angel or Rot-shadow, sometimes roams the skies of Barrow Scrub - a gaunt, putrescent fiend with near-skeletal, leathery wings and a horned, skull-like visage whose shadow inflicts hideous sickness and whose blazing eyes can enflame with a glance.

Also in Barrow Scrub is an entrance to the subterranean city of Riqius-Erebu, requiring the would-be scavenger to navigate a maze of caves and hewn corridors in the bowels of the Chelicerae Mountains before reaching the chthonic maze that was once the capitol of the cestoid Imperium.

The Suppuration

Most of the various apocalypses that wracked the Cadaverous Earth in aeons past have dwindled into myth and legend, alluded to only in the footnotes of moldering texts or in the distorted narratives of jatayi fablers.  The lingering effects of such disasters still haunt the present - the Red Ravishing, when the earth flooded with blood, still persists in the Red Rains, the demoniac scourge-armies of the Membrane Wars have scattered across the land while old war-engines are slowly subsumed by rust, and a slew of plagues still recur with devastating frequency - but the origins of the world's current afflictions have largely been forgotten.  The Suppuration, however, cannot be so easily expunged from memory, as it continues to seep clots of destabilizing unreality, bearing new litters of alien monstrosities on the far side of the Slaughter-lands.

Few have seen the Suppuration itself (and returned with their sanity intact), but those who have describe an unimaginable chasm or wound, a reality sore dribbling unseemly accretions of the uncanny and whining with a kind of keening wail.  Though the exact nature of the Suppuration is far from understood, it seems evident that it is more than a mere dimensional orifice or portal like those used by invaders during the Membrane Wars.  Rather, the Suppuration seems to be a kind of chaotic womb, a cesspool of diseased imaginings.  The beings that emerge from the tempestuous swirl of the Suppuration are not demons or daevas, are not visitors from some otherworld or alternate plane, though such creatures do exist in abundance across the Cadaverous Earth.  Rather, the things that crawl and slither forth from the gushing lips of that ghastly birth canal, licking the pus of the Suppuration's afterbirth from their flickering forms, possess an unplaced but undeniable familiarity, made twisted by their hideousness.  They are like the nightmares of the world's collective subconscious, welling up through the rift in a shadowy, dissonant headbirth - the oneiroi.

A few scholars have suggested that the Suppuration is the result of widespread nectar overdose.  The collective channeling of thousands of witches over the centuries has worn a hole in the Aether, ripping open a rift to the collective unconscious; the dementia epidemics are another, less cataclysmic symptom of this mass-invocation.

The Fetch

At the end of the epoch known as the Aeon of Dust (dubbed The Desiccation by some historians) the Cadaverous Earth was inundated with an enormous flood called the Red Ravishing, a cataclysm whose origins and details are long lost but whose echoes still reverberate in the present.  Ushering in the current era, the Aeon of Putrefaction (or The Festering), the Red Ravishing was essentially a more pervasive and persistent incarnation of the Red Rains which still plague the world today, particularly in the Slaughter-lands: a downpour not of water but of a crimson liquid with at least the appearance of blood.  The Red Ravishing caused more than mere flooding, however - it gave birth to the sinister creatures called the fetch.

The fetch are the malevolent husks of those who drink the Red Rain.  Even a single drop, if imbibed, will provoke the transformation, an invisible and poorly understood process in which the victim's mind becomes corrupted, unhinged in some radical and almost invariably permanent fashion.  The Red Rain destroys any feelings of remorse, pity, kinship, love, affection, or conscience: it eradicates morality, obliterates the super-ego, unchains the inhibitions, and plunges the consciousness into a state of distortion, psychosis, and intense hatred for everyone around them.  Despite this fundamental psychic disordering, however, the fetch are not possessed by all-encompassing rage, at least not at first.  Although filled with dreadful sadistic hunger, the fetch are still fundamentally the same individuals they always were, and can speak, plan, and bide their time until opportunity presents itself.  They will 'masquerade' as their former selves, lulling their companions into a false sense of security and then turning on them when they least expect, slowly and torturously killing all living beings they can find while grinning with horrific pleasure.

The fetch are not grave-spawn (and indeed some grave-spawn and other creatures with psychic models intrinsically different than a human's are unaffected by the Red Rain); as such, they are subject to the same frailties and vulnerabilities previous to their metamorphosis.  Most fetch in the Slaughter-lands persist only a short while after the Rain that created them; after murdering their companions and any other living creatures nearby they become roving monstrosities, degenerating into ravenous, snarling killers and eventually resorting to auto-cannibalism and subsequent death by infection, blood-loss, or starvation.

The Fecundity

It grows; it spreads; it devours.  A deadly, ineluctable, terribly beautiful thing, the phenomenon known as the Fecundity is considered by some to herald a new dawn and by others to be the greatest single threat to the Twilight Cities.  The Fecundity is speculated by many to signify the death-knell of the world, the final blow that will consume it only to recreate it.  Only a very few ecologists - a dwindling field - have linked the Fecundity with the Red Rain.

The Fecundity manifests itself in dense, voracious, hyper-aggressive patches of vegetation which appear seemingly spontaneously, at random.  In actual fact it is the ultimate result of the Red Ravishing: after centuries of irrigation via the Red Rains, the Fecundity - the goal of the incredibly secretive group of arcanists who engineered the Ravishing over an Aeon ago - is finally manifesting.  Most outbreaks of the cancer-forest are strewn across the Slaughter-lands, but others have been sighted in the far Occident along the western edge of the Firesong Marches and along the Serrated Coast.

The Fecundity is qualitatively different than the withered southern swamps, the hellish Screamwood, or even the mutant jungles of the Bluebottle Archipelago where the snake-men dwell.  Its pristine emerald depths glisten with moisture, like the sweat of some ferocious, bestial thing; it swelters with intoxicating and primeval energy.  Enormous ferns and vast trees form a shadowy canopy, while the undergrowth below is thick with mushrooms and verdant creepers.  Huge ur-beasts and insects have been reported lurking in the deep forest, though the truth of such rumors is unknown.

The appearance of the Fecundity has helped to revitalize dying economies with an influx of lumber, fruit, and water.  Small towns and camps spring up alongside the oases, though these are quickly abandoned as the cancer-forest grows, uncontrolled and unrestrained.  Though it remains very thinly scattered across the Cadaverous Earth it is growing, and within a few decades may encroach on the Twilight Cities themselves.  Thus, while many have greeted the Fecundity as a blessing, others have expressed deep concern over its seemingly unstoppable spread.  Though it has been slowed through the deliberate introduction of disease, intentional forest fires, logging, and defoliation, the Fecundity always grows back.

A few have taken to actively worshiping the Fecundity.  These druidic Luddites scorn the Twilight Cities and choose to lead pseudo-tribal existences on the edges and even within the forest.  Most such groups go missing, claimed either by wild beasts or by the Fecundity itself.  The only 'humans' who appear to be able to survive in the Fecundity for any period of time are the fetch, though the link between the so-called murderfolk, the Red Rain, and the Fecundity has yet to be drawn.  Possibly the fetch were conceived by the architects of the Fecundity as a return to a kind of primitive purity for humanity - an atavistic regression into a race better suited than the corpulent and diseased men and women of the Twilight Cities, with their vices and their misguided technology, to survive in the new world.  Additionally the Fecundity, which normally devours humans as it does settlements - with crushing vines and grasping, quasi-sentient creepers, smothering boughs and invasive fungi - seems to ignore the fetch completely.

The apocalyptic Cult of the Great Unfettering (of which the Cult of Hirud, god-leech and Ravager-Worm, is a chapter), a clandestine society whose cells are embedded in all of the Twilight Cities, dismisses the Fecundity as a false rapture.  According to their cryptic codexes only the absolute power of the Chained Ones, the primordial sleepers, will repair the corruption that wracks the Cadaverous Earth.  Though recognizing that they too would be claimed in the cataclysmic and all-encompassing destruction that would accompany the Great Unfettering the cultists believe that following such a purge would come the Remaking, in which their souls would be reborn on a fresh, clean earth free from disease and evil, and that their own spirits would be purified.

To hasten the Unfettering the cultists scheme to unshackle the Chained Ones and to facilitate the purification: when the time comes they will step out from the shadows with steel and cleansing fire, to wipe away the stained and sinful inhabitants of this broken world and usher in a new and glorious era, unleashing their elemental colossi, their primordial saviors, embracing their own deaths and subsequent reincarnations.  All will be erased and washed away in an ecstatic inundation.  Only a few schism-sects of the Cult have welcomed the Fecundity, interpreting it as a harbinger of the Unfettering, a clearing-of-the-way, forerunning the final apocalypse; the rest disparage it as a false hope, insisting that the Fecundity would not succeed in restoring the Cadaverous Earth but rather would transform into a different sort of wasteland, verdurous but spiritually as barren as the Slaughter-lands.

Out of Character

How advanced or wide-spread to make the Fecundity is a decision the game-master should make before beginning a campaign.  In some campaigns the Fecundity might be just appearing and widely unknown, only a few scattered oases, the first shoots of new life; in others, it might already be encroaching on civilized lands, covering substantial portions of the Slaughter-lands (though probably still not yet subsuming the "bleak wasteland" feel): as the campaign progresses the Fecundity could continue its rampant growth and become a significant problem for the players.
« Last Edit: December 29, 2011, 08:32:36 PM by Steerpike » Logged


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« Reply #3 on: October 30, 2008, 10:06:21 PM »

Grave-Spawn
The Unmen, The Halfmen, The Nightfolk, The Undead

Grave-spawn are the animated corpses of the quick, or living, inhabitants of the Cadaverous Earth (a term usually applied to humans).  They come in numerous varieties, retaining varying degrees of intelligence or personality.  Ultimately, the designation "grave-spawn" is an inadequate blanket term used to describe a diverse array of undead creatures with varying physiologies.

Bricoleur


The bricoleur is a variety of relatively rare and unusual grave-spawn known for their intense devotion to aesthetics and their complete amorality: bricoleurs will do anything to advance their art, even if their actions directly contravene social or legal customs.  For the bricoleur, the aim of life is self-development, self-making, with the body as a canvas on which to display the outpouring of the soul.  Bricoleurs intensely resent any attempt to impinge on or restrict their so-called 'artistic freedom' but do welcome criticism concerning their art-bodies.

Even by the standards of the Cadaverous Earth, bricoleur aesthetics are macabre in the extreme.  The bricoleur itself is an amorphous parasite with limited mobility which many speculate is related at least distantly to the shade, though instead of a pool of liquid shadow bricoleurs are mottled, sanguineous beings equipped with numerous tendrils, which they can extend or retract at will.  Bricoleur bodies disguise and protect their protoplasmic consciousnesses, however.  Again like the shade, bricoleurs create bodies out of corpse-matter, but unlike the shade bricoleurs compose themselves out of mismatched or scavenged bits and pieces rather than whole corpses.  The shade squirms into a corpse's brain and assumes control of it: the bricoleur extends itself throughout a skeleton or cadaver and picks it apart, taking only those pieces it sees as aesthetically pleasing and abandoning the rest.  Bricoleurs prefer bones to flesh, because they are easier to work with.

Bricoleurs are rarely humanoid; if they are, their body is usually a caricature or parody of the human form, a kind of walking satire.  Usually bricoleurs cultivate fancifully shaped, outrageous bodies without any resemblances to other species.  One might harvest a dozen human legs, fuse them to a central torso with armor plates constructed out of hip-bones layered like scales.  Another might fuse spinal columns together to create a huge, serpentine body.  There is an upper limit on a bricoleur's size, but many bricoleurs can amass bodies much larger than those of most humanoids.  They frequently discard or rearrange parts of their bodies, constantly changing in shape.  Each bricoleur is unique, a pastiche of morbid components.  Scavenged tongues and lungs allow the bricoleur to speak; scavenged eyes allow it to see, though in its raw form it can sense vibrations and has incredible tactile sensitivity, allowing it to perceive textures and gradients.

Because of their intense artistic devotions bricoleurs sometimes have trouble integrating themselves into communities.  While most realize that their art is best served in the long run by maintaining positive relationships with other sentient beings - beings that can supply them with the raw materials for their art - a few radical bricoleurs become underground, predatory things, lurking in sewers and catacombs and the back-alleys of the Twilight Cities, stalking their carefully selected, fetishized prey before killing them and taking their bones.

Eidolons

Consumed by satyriasis, the insatiable incubi known as eidolons are a cambion race, an all-male breed of grave-spawn with the ability to drain youth and vitality in order to rejuvenate their physical bodies.  Narcissistic in the extreme, eidolons are tall, exquisitely handsome men with bloodless, alabaster complexions, green eyes, and shimmering black hair (frequently worn very long) that becomes grey and eventually white if the eidolon fails to feed.  Sunlight does not destroy them but it does strip them of their glamer, revealing their true bodies - twisted, malformed old men bloated with tumorous growths - and dispelling the aura of hypersexuality they usually emanate.

One of the few grave-spawn races regarded with near universal loathing, eidolons lead clandestine un-lives, blending in with the quick, often in the upper levels of mortal hierarchy.  Having infiltrated human society eidolons begin to feed on young men and women in order to sustain themselves.  Most are hundreds of years old, their true manifestations resembling walking corpses.  To forestall deterioration eidolons seduce beautiful youths and feed off their desire, beauty, and vitality through copulation.  In doing so, eidolons physically age their victims several years while restoring their own youth in the process.  Insufferably vain, eidolons find fresh prey frequently, lest their own beauty begin to ebb; eidolons who - perish the thought - discover silver hairs in their usually immaculate black manes immediately seek out a new victim, often coupling with the unfortunate individual until they are little more than a desiccated husk.  While rape can suffice to regenerate an eidolon's glamer, they consider the act vulgar and unsophisticated in the extreme.

Eidolons are aesthetes with a great appreciation for beauty.  Sadistic, self-serving sociopaths without conscience, they are adept at feigning passionate love for their prey and are usually highly accomplished poets, artists, or musicians, as well as being superb conversationalists and beings with exceptional taste for the finer things in life.  Eidolons reproduce by impregnating human women, siring male stillborn children who frequently kill their mothers during birth, then revivify as newly spawned eidolons.

Geists

Geists are manifestations of infection, a strain of dangerous and only pseudo-sentient grave-spawn who share a number of bizarre and highly communicable contagions.  Geists reproduce by spreading their particular contagion, transforming those infected into copies of themselves.  They tend to lurk in out-of-the-way areas where people once congregated but have later abandoned.  They display no real motivations, rather wandering more or less randomly, though they do make attempts to spread their virulent afflictions when they encounter uninfected individuals.  Their contagions affect only certain humanoids: demons, oneiroi, and animals are immune, as are some grave-spawn such as shades and zombies, though ghilan seem to be affected as readily as the quick.  There are several distinct types of geist, each with their own characteristics and physiology; some of the more common types, though by no means an exhaustive list, are detailed below.  All geists share the ability to hover a few feet above the ground, their feet almost brushing the floor; all also have eyes glazed milky white, save the blind sorrowgeists whose eyes  have been eaten away by acidic tears.

Gibbergeists and cacklegeists are amongst the most insidious of grave-spawn: merely hearing their insane babbling or laughter can lead to contamination.  Physically they resemble gaunt, decomposing, floating figures, often garbed in the tattered remnants of whatever clothing they once wore.  Their mouths and tongues have grown bloody from overuse, and their throats and chests pulse with black veins.  Gibbergeists and cacklegeists usually have long, frayed hair and curled, overgrown fingernails.  It is possible that cacklegeists originate in the tunnels of the Slouching-devil Mountains, originally created by the roving phenomenon called the Deep Laughter, a sinister echo that seems to wander the tunnels and afflict all who hear it.

Fettergeists are covered in writhing chains from head to foot, with only their faces (turned black from strangulation) and clawing hands revealed.  They can control their chains at will (or else the chains move with a life all their own) and will attempt to subsume their victims in these chains: if the target is overcome the chains detach from the geist and seem to propagate, slithering around their new host's body.  The previous geist retains their own chains and feeds the new geist with fresh links seemingly generated from the grave-spawn's own body.  The chains are all-invasive, forcing their way down a victim's throat and curling round their necks to throttle them.  Often fettergeists' limbs bend at strange angles, their bones shattered during the transformation.  A possibly related but less common variant of the fettergiest is the bramblegeist, covered in thorns and vines rather than chains (these fell spirits are found in the Screamwood and in the southern swamps).

Sorrowgeists are a strange breed of grave-spawn whose searing tears can transform any who taste them - pitifully sobbing horrors who lure victims to them with their plaintive cries only to seize their faces with cold, white hands and forcibly weep upon them.  Their cheeks are carved with hideous scars - their tears are acidic - and their eyes are eaten away; their bodies are pocked with burn-marks.  A few particularly zealous members of the Order of the Weeping Lady have been known to keep sorrowgeists bound in the lower levels of their temples as avatars of their patron: those who ascend to the highest levels of the Order expose themselves willingly to the geists in order to be transformed into the purest expression of grief.

Geists are even more reviled than eidolons and are much less crafty than the incubi; most are killed on sight.  A few have been known to be kept by crime-lords or similarly brutal individuals as punishments for traitors or enemies, sick pets kept in carefully designed cells to minimize the possibility of infection.  Outbreaks of geist infection are relatively uncommon in the Twilight Cities but can be very dangerous when they do occur; while it is possible to resist infection for a time, prolonged exposure will almost inevitably result in transformation.  Interestingly, geists tend to ignore other grave-spawn when live targets are present, and grave-spawn are much more resistant to geist infection than the quick.

While large areas of the Slaughter-lands have been overrun completely with geists the malignant creatures are for the most part kept (tenuously) contained underground in the Twilight Cities, dettered from venturing topside by sunlight, which they loathe (though they are not actually damaged by it, only disoriented).  Common defences against cacklegeists and gibbergeists include silencing or deafening hexes; fettergeists and bramblegeists must concentrate their efforts on a single individual, leaving them open to attacks; sorrowgeists must close in to infect their prey, meaning that they can be picked off at a distance.  Geists are not especially invulnerable, though they are unworried by pain.  As with plagues or inundations of the Red Rain, citizens of the Twilight Cities will torch thoroughly infected areas rather than risk an epidemic.  Since fires are very dangerous in urban centers, however, this tactic is used only when absolutely necessary; ideally, geists are herded into an abandoned building and simply locked in; the door will then be warded and marked as haunted.

Ghilan

The origins of the ghilan (singular: ghul) are clouded in mystery, remaining a subject of major scholarly speculation.  Some claim they were born during the Pallid Decimation, when (legend has it) the Ravager-Worm Hirud ruptured the world, the dead arose, and the earth was alight with funeral pyres; others claim they are the dilute offspring of some elder demon race.  Whatever their genesis, ghilan have become the principle grave-spawned race on the Cadaverous Earth, and can be found in all of the Twilight Cities.  They resemble the quick in most respects, but have chalky, leper-gray skin, sharp teeth, claw-like nails, and cat-slitted eyes.  Their 'life-spans' are theoretically unlimited, and few diseases affect them; though grave-spawn (or 'undead,' a term that has passed from the status of racial slur into a kind of quaint archaicism), they do not decompose, and they are far from the mindless zombies of Somnambulon or the hunger-obsessed shades of the Slaughter-lands.  Some grave-spawn live for hundreds of years, though most die of hunger, thirst, violence, or accident before they reach a hundred.  They are carnivorous creatures, ingesting only raw meat, and are shamelessly cannibalistic, eating both humans and other ghilan (they tend to dislike seafood and so find the flavor of leechkin or hagmen distasteful).  They can and do drink blood but do not depend on it as the leechkin do.

Ghul reproduction is surrounded by such a haze of mythology that their true method of procreation seems disappointingly mundane.  Like most grave-spawn, ghilan are the hosts to parasites, in this case to a strain that survives in necrotic human flesh.  Those that eat uncooked human meat infested with a ghul-worm or fluke may potentially be transformed from a normal human into a ghul.  The parasite essentially kills its host, then revivifies it after making several alterations, using the brief period of clinical death as a kind of liminal space, a cocoon-state in which the host is metamorphosed into a ghul.  The newly reborn ghul will be afflicted with moderate to complete amnesia but suffers no other damage apart from sterility - though rumors persist of half-ghul children, they are thought to be merely the imaginings of grotesque minds.  Sexual intercourse between ghilan and the quick remains possible and is quite common despite vague taboos surrounding such couplings.  Self-infection with a ghul-worm is not unheard of, but the invariable memory loss involving the change deters most who would seek to transcend death in this manner.

Ghilan culture resembles that of the quick closely.  On the whole, ghilan tend to be more solemn and ritualistic in contrast with the frenetic quick, who seem to the ghilan a loud and reckless breed (though many ghilan profess a certain nostalgia, only half remembered, for the heady, frenzied days of life).  They are a nocturnal race and abhor direct sunlight, though it does them no actual harm.  Because of their longevity many ghilan eventually obtain enough wealth and power to live relatively luxurious lives.  Some become decadent, macabre libertines who savor meals of the softest flesh, attend theaters, gambling halls, drug dens, and orgies with regularity, and spend their nights in hedonistic debauchery.  Others prefer a more staid living, becoming administrators, priests, and even monks - there are more than a few ghilan in the Order of the Weeping Lady, cloistered in the monasteries of the Chelicerae Mountains.  Many ghilan become converts of the Church of the Star-Gods, an institution with chapters in several of the Twilight Cities which worships the now ancient light of long-dead stars only now reaching the earth - stars that have long since expired, exploding or dwindling or merely transforming but leaving a ghost-light behind to travel across space for many years.  The Church believes that the stars are the pupa-state of deities, and that in their deaths they sublime beyond the material, apotheosizing into transcendental entities.

Ghostgrass

Ghostgrass is a type of vegetation found principally in the Mewling Moors east of the Gloom Coast, though some has crept up into the south-easterly Slaughter-lands. Drawing energy in part from the aether, ghostgrass is sometimes classified as a 'grave-spawn plant.' It is immune to many diseases and, most importantly, to the putrefying Rotmists common in the regions it flourishes. Arcane winds in the aether cause ghostgrass to rustle, producing a whispering noise that uncannily mimics the sound of voices: in particular, the voices of the dead. A group of individuals moving through ghostgrass will all hear distinct and different voices identical to those of departed loved ones. These voices begin by simply muttering familiar phrases or names, but gradually grow more and more disturbing, urging those near the ghostgrass to acts of extreme violence against their companions, or themselves, or else taunting an individual with shameful secrets. During eldritch 'gales' this murderous susurrus has been known to drive travelers quite mad, forcing them to set upon one another. In other cases it is merely unnerving. Witches seem especially susceptible. It is suspected that ghostgrass feeds on the dissipating life-energy ('soul') of dying creatures, and so encourages killing as a method of subtle predation.

Physically, ghostgrass is extremely pale, almost translucent; in moonlight it acquires an eerie greenish or bluish tinge, depending on subspecies. It is extremely hardy and difficult to kill, being highly resistant to toxins or physical damage. Fire is effective, but the damp of the Moors makes it difficult for flames to spread.  Interestingly, ghostgrass has great utility as an alchemical ingredient: when combined with other reagents it can be refined into an elixir which, when imbibed, produces temporary incorporeality in the drinker. When mixed with nectar from the Elder Tree and then injected by a witch, essence of ghostgrass greatly increases the efficacy of necromantic witchcraft.  It can also be smoked in its raw state, which likewise produces an interesting effect: the smoker becomes intensely aware of the life-force of surrounding creatures, discerning whether they are living, dead, grave-spawn, or near to death.  Overdoses can produce vivid hallucinations (generally taking the form of departed friends or enemies) and psychotic paranoia.

Haunts

The Slaughter-lands are subject to many extreme weather conditions - intense droughts beneath the searing desert sun, huge dust storms, and inundations of the Red Rain - but these are the mindless ravages of nature or ancient cataclysm.  The clouds of arcane radiation that roam the waste, or tempestas mali as scholars dub them, are a different phenomenon entirely.  Residues of whatever unfathomable battle created the sterile, colourless desert in the Slaughter-lands known as Etiolation, the clouds seem to possess some form of primitive consciousness, complete with a twisted, malevolent sense of humour: arcanists speculate that they may be a form of elemental with unusually long eldritch half-lives.  Whatever the case, the tempestas mali exhibit a variety of arcane effects, most prominently their ability to animate dead bodies to create the voracious variety of grave-spawn known as haunts.  Utterances, the psychic echoes of the slumbering beast-gods of the seas, have also been known to create haunts, though these are usually un-imprinted and thus non-violent.

The principle type of grave-spawn encountered in the Slaughter-lands, particularly around Etiolation (where corpses are plentiful), haunts are shambling and often psychotic, imprinted with whatever impulse their parent-cloud infuses them with - usually mindless and indiscriminate violence.  Physically they appear just as they did in life, save that their eyes glow eerily green and their bodies tend to be in some stage of decomposition.  Some gaunts are near-skeletal, though without any flesh or muscle to give them cohesion completely decomposed haunts will collapse into piles of bones.

Haunts are, essentially, similar to zombies, but seem to possess a greater capacity for independent thought than the drudge-workers of Somnambulon.  Zombies carry out specifically phrased orders relayed to them psychically via their symbiotic masters, the zehrer of the Lords Revenant: they will follow those instructions to the letter until their link to the hive-mind is severed.  Haunts are not issued instructions but rather broad, animal urges; while just as powerless to disobey these imperatives as zombies are to carry out orders, haunts retain (or perhaps rather are granted) a rudimentary consciousness beyond the mechanical register of their grave-spawn brethren in the Sleepwalker's City.

Mori

Though commonly believed to be the reanimated heads of decapitated murderers, the grave-spawn known as mori are actually a species of parasite that utilizes human heads much as hermit crabs adopt empty seashells. Physically vulnerable unless possessing a humanoid head, mori resemble naked brains, pinkish ganglia without obvious visual or aural sense organs. A clutch of flexible tendrils sprouts from beneath their central mass, allowing for locomotion and the manipulation of objects; these tendrils surround a beaked maw. Mori also possess the ability to levitate, and thus often appear almost jellyfish-like when hovering without their usual outer shell. Upon finding a humanoid corpse, mori break the mandibles and enter through the enlarged mouth, gnawing through the roof of the mouth to enter the brain cavity. From here they devour the brain and ensconce themselves, tucking their bodies into the cranium. The head then detaches and floats away, tentacles trailing beneath it like ropy entrails.

Though lungless, mori can shriek hideously, a powerful attack that literally freezes the blood of those that hear it, often killing or incapacitating them. The floating mori will hover over the heads of dead or crippled prey and thrust out a mass of tendrils from its host's broken jaws, as if sticking out a series of rubbery tongues. These flexible, questing tentacles are forced down the throat of the mori's victim in awful parody of a lover's kiss. Secreting a flesh-dissolving mucus, the tongues begin to digest the internal organs of the grave-spawn's prey, then scoop semi-liquid morsels of viscera up into the mori's beaked mouth (located at the base of the neck). Occasionally, a mori will lay its eggs in a hollowed out corpse.

For obvious reasons, mori are feared and greatly abhorred. Though they exhibit clear signs of intelligence they do not speak. They do sometimes form packs or larger flocks, called choruses or choirs respectively, which seem to have some variety of non-hierarchical, alien social structure. In the Twilight Cities they are considered dangerous pests and are often found lingering in catacombs or crypts, or in cemeteries. Nocturnal by nature like most grave-spawn, they dislike sunlight but do not seem to be actively harmed by it.

Shades

Shades are sentient parasites capable of possessing corpses to create grave-spawn.  Unlike the ghul-worm, which is essentially brainless, or a zehrer, which coexists symbiotically with a still-living mind, shades completely dominate their already dead hosts' bodies, though unlike zombies they are highly intelligent.

In their raw form shades look like pools of liquid shadow, capable of slithering and adhering to walls or ceilings; they enter a host through the mouth, then invade the creature's brain and skin.  Those possessed by shades walk stiffly, like demented puppets, fleshy marionettes being jerked by unseen strings; beneath their hosts' skins shades will pulsate and quiver with unnerving subcutaneous rhythms, covering their forms with rippling gooseflesh.  The eyes of a shade are clouded black.

Because shades possess only the dead, their hosts eventually decompose, requiring a shade to seek a new corpse to inhabit.  It is common to see shades preserving themselves with embalming oils and bandages; some have skins that have been tanned into a kind of leather, and others remove their host's now unneeded organs.  Like most grave-spawn shades are intolerant of sunlight, which forces them from their host bodies and causes them great pain.  As a result they are entirely nocturnal and usually live underground during the day.

Despite their unwholesome nature shades are quite civilized and coexist peacefully with other organisms in cities and settlements which tolerate grave-spawn, which includes most of the Cadaverous Earth.  They are very difficult to kill; only prolonged sunlight or extreme amounts of damage can disperse a shade in its true form, and shades can always find new bodies to inhabit if their host is destroyed.  As a result they can endure for centuries, watching generations of the quick grow up and die.  Because of their abilities shades make amazing spies and assassins: after killing a target a shade assassin can then enter the newly-dead corpse and impersonate their victim, though of course such a grisly disguise does not weather close inspection.

Zehrer

Symbiotic companions to the grave-spawn Lords Revenant of Somnambulon, the zehrer are a race of psychic overlords of likely otherworldly origin, quite possibly one of the demon dimensions that once intruded onto the Cadaverous Earth during the Membrane Wars.  Powerful entities with innate eldritch ability, the zehrer merge with their human hosts much like shades, though unlike that breed of grave-spawn they can only exist for any prolonged period within a quasi-"living" host rather than a mindless corpse.

The zehrer do not utterly dominate the minds of their chosen hosts, rather mingling their consciousness with that of their Lord of Lady.  So complete is this coupling of minds that the Revenants have become almost indistinguishable from the zehrer over the centuries. They prolong the natural life-spans of the Lords to up to a thousand years and also gift them with an arsenal of arcane talents.  Flight, pyrokinesis and telekinesis, telepathy (both with zehrer and with other sentient beings), preternaturally rapid healing and immunity to disease, incredible strength and agility, the capability to glimpse memories through drinking blood or eating flesh, sharpened senses, and millennia of experience are conferred to the host of the zehrer, who in return allows the parasite a body to dwell in and sustains the spirit.

Though possessing a great deal of individuality the zehrer are all bound within a hive-mind: they feel the experiences of other zehrer as dull resonances, sensing when one dies (an incredibly traumatic event), when one's host dies (considerably less so), and other extremities of emotion - as well as communicating telepathically across their communal psychic network.  In addition the zehrer hive-mind allows for the control of Somnambulon's zombies, puppets to the will of the Lord Revenants.  These psychic slaves are utterly denied their individuality and are completely overwhelmed by the instructions of the Lords, obeying any and all directions with total obedience.

The Lords Revenant are divided into thirteen Houses or Families which interbreed exclusively with one another, scorning petty taboos against incest as the narrow rules of small minds.  When one of the Revenants dies their body is carefully preserved with its zehrer still inside, whenever such preservation is possible.  One of the House's few young - usually the direct heir of the dead Revenant - is then chosen to receive the zehrer.  Designated a 'Childe,' this youth will be inducted into the zehrer hive-mind during a formal ritual wherein the zehrer transfers hosts, bringing with it the memories and experiences of all its previous hosts as well as its eldritch abilities.  The ordeal is very trying and physically 'kills' the Childe at the moment of their joining with the zehrer, much as a ghul is 'killed' by their own parasite only to be revivified as grave-spawn.

Zombies

The thralls of the Lords Revenant, zombies make up most of the citizenry of Somnambulon, a mute and uncomplaining workforce.  Most of those employed by the Lords are either purchased from slavers, seized as taxes from the Baronies over which the city-state holds sway, or bred in the eerie Nurseries, fortified installations somewhere between prisons and farms where silent, gray matrons hold sway and children are raised like cattle in a world without language until they are able-bodied.  When they are deemed fit for labor would-be zombies are herded into the Indoctrination Plants to be brought under the psychic control of a zehrer hive-mind.  The last vestiges of their individual consciousness are erased during the closely-guarded eldritch process in which they are mechanically, almost gently lulled into a sleep-like, mesmeric trance, at which point their minds become vulnerable to the hive-mind's domination.  Their bodies die and their minds are replaced with the unadulterated will of their overseers.

Zombies are the perfect workers.  They do not need to eat, drink, or sleep.  They do not require pay or rest.  They are incapable of independent thought and collapse into inert, brain-dead corpses if severed from the hive-mind.  The average zombie can work for several decades before decomposing past the point of utility.  They can be directed en masse through telepathic instruction.  They are relatively easy to produce in contrast with clockwork automata or fleshcrafted servitors.  They cannot rise up against their masters as the albino subhumans of Dolmen sometimes do (though such insurrections are always brutally quelled).  They cannot argue, organize, or oppose; they know only the will of their masters.

Zombie strengths are also their weaknesses.  They completely lack imagination, creativity, and memory.  They cannot be trained and ignore obvious threats to their safety unless instructed to avoid danger; many zombies lose limbs or sustain crippling injuries in the factories of the Sleepwalker's City.  Despite their relentlessness they make poor soldiers, suitable only for fodder and unwieldy rushes; they possess none of the subtlety of thought, the ability to improvise, essential to combat, lacking even the rudimentary impulses that dictate the hyper-aggression of haunts.  A small group of quick soldiers with swords or axes can make short work of a zombie platoon (firearms are less effective unless they destroy those parts of a zombie's brain linked to the hive-mind).  Zombies are merely marionettes; blunt instruments; cogs in a machine, bound to eternal drudgery.

It has been speculated that not all of a zombie's former consciousness is ever eradicated.  Some have suggested that behind a zombie's wide, staring eyes an imprisoned mind perpertually watches, its control usurped by the zehrer.
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Inhumans

The category 'inhuman' loosely comprises those intelligent creatures indigenous to the Cadaverous Earth that are neither human nor grave-spawn.  Many resemble anthropomorphic animals: xenologists theorize that creatures such as the hagmen or leechkin may be the evolved forms of more primitive animal species.  Others have suggested that inhumans are in fact the descendants of true humans rather than animals, warped through eldritch experimentation or cataclysm.  Whatever the case, the creatures presented here all possess roughly the same mental capacity as humans, albeit sometimes with different psychic models and radically different cultures.

Anthropophagoi

Also known as the Headless, the anthropophagoi (singular: anthropophagus) are an insular, barbarian people who dwell along the Gloom Coast and in the Mewling Moors in the far south, though small, isolated tribes have been found in Dour Erg and the Firesong Marches. Doubtless the product of eldritch mishap or twisted design rather than the natural evolution, anthropophagoi have faces set in their torsos: eyes in place of nipples, huge mouths gaping on their bellies, and bony stumps where their necks and heads should be. Anthropophagoi do not possess either ears or noses, but seem to be able to smell with their tongues, and have internal auditory organs (not dissimilar to those of fish); their hearing, however, is quite poor. They communicate primarily through an elaborate sign language, though they do vocalize, notably producing extremely shrill and terrifying shrieks to dishearten their foes and signal the presence of prey to other anthropophagoi. Some slavers have learnt the anthropophagoi sign-language in order to sell the savage creatures captured slaves as food: anthropophagoi generally attack other humanoids on sight, but those scattered tribes in more northerly regions have been known to converse with outsiders.

Anthropophagoi are, of course, carnivorous beings, in particular savouring the flesh of other sapient organisms. Though not as demented as the sadistic fetch or leechkin possessed by the thirst, anthropophagoi know a near-boundless hunger, an insatiable ravenousness that drives them always to the hunt. Some scholars have suggested that this voraciousness is the product of the anthropophagoic habitat: dwelling as they do on the Mewling Moors, anthropophagoi are constantly exposed to the sanity-eroding ghostgrass of that region, and the plant matter is even incorporated into their diet as one of the sole vegetable components, used as a herb to crust their otherwise exclusively carnivorous meals. The substance also finds a use in certain rituals performed by anthropophagoic witch-doctors, who display an exceptional command of non-sentient grave-spawn (such as geists): indeed, Headless witch-doctors frequently assemble the gnawed skeletons of anthropophagoic victims into osseous servants, reanimated (and kept together) through witchcraft. Occasionally such creatures are used as cannon fodder during tribal wars.

A few rare individuals - usually criminals or wounded warriors left for dead on the battlefield - become members of non-anthropophagoi communities. Such exiles can even learn the languages of non-anthropophagoi, albeit with some difficulty, but the bad reputation of their species generally precedes them, problematizing communication. Occasionally one finds displaced individuals amongst groups of leechkin, cestoids, or other shunned races on the fringes or in the ghettos of the Twilight Cities, predominantly Erebh, Marainein, Lophius, and Macellaria. These solitary creatures are still very rare, however.

Cestoids

Possibly the ugliest living creatures on the Cadaverous Earth, cestoids resemble hybrids of giant centipedes and tapeworms, with long, segmented bodies, many legs, chitin exoskeletons, and soft underbellies.  Their 'heads' are little more than mouths, circular and many-fanged.  Ringing a cestoid's maw is a clutch of many-jointed, hairy limbs which they use to manipulate tools and shovel food (rotting flesh, preferably offal) into their mouths.  Their eyes are rudimentary, their vocalizations bestial; they communicate mostly through pheromones and touch, and can understand human speech.

Despite their monstrous appearances cestoids once ruled a vicious and expansive empire established by the hideous entity called Hirud the Ravager-Worm, a dark, animalistic god and possibly sire of the entire race.  For nearly a millennia after the Pallid Decimation the cestoids held power over much of the Cadaverous Earth, enslaving lesser races for their own purposes, ruling from the subterranean city of Riquis-Erebu, capitol of their Imperium.  They communicated their desires through human interpreters trained in comprehending their opaque language and devoured all who resisted them.  After Riquis-Erebu fell - brought down by an alliance of rebel states spearheaded by the Witch Army of Moroi during the height of that city's power - the Imperium collapsed and the cestoids were scattered.  Many were killed in a genocidal scouring campaign, hunted to near extinction.

Though still distrusted today, the remaining cestoids have reintegrated somewhat over the long ages as the world died and history withered.  They are a dwindling, pariah race tolerated in the Twilight Cities but pushed to the margins, usually underground.  They often dwell in sewers, or the maze-like tunnel systems that riddle most of the old cities, subsisting on garbage and filth.  Those few who rise above this degradation are usually merchants of some variety or mercenary warriors - cestoids are incredibly terrifying combatants, wielding numerous melee weapons at once, gnashing at enemies with their maws while blows bounce off their armoured hides.

Hagmen

The hermaphroditic hagmen predominate in the southern regions of the Cadaverous Earth.  Somewhat resembling anthropomorphic eels, hagmen are vermiform, with slimy, elongated tails, lacking legs.  Their upper bodies are more humanoid, including a pair of long, bony arms and vaguely human heads, albeit with vertical mouths with many teeth, beady eyes (though not blind, hagmen have poor eyesight), and whisker-like barbs; they often sport a mane of shaggy hair that looks like swampy vegetation, especially if a hagman submerges itself in water, a common hunting tactic.

Hagmen possess both testes and ovaries and so have interchangeable sexes; they have developed complex cultural gender constructs - unfathomable to most humans - that reflect their intersexed natures.  The name 'hagman' was chosen for its androgynous implications, but many hagmen consider the name crude.  Most 'civilized' hagmen can be found in cities such as Lophius, Crepuscle, and Macellaria, where they tend to congregate in amphibious ghetto districts with communal dwelling places somewhere between bathhouses and residences.  Other major structures include the hatcheries and temple-brothels, where hagmen that have chosen to become female ritualistically mate with males in honour of Myx, an aspect of the nebulous, multiply natured hagman deity representing fertility, lust, and creativity.  Hagmen have integrated into urban society as fishermen, agriculturalists (farming seaweed and marine livestock), submariners, amphibious warriors, dockworkers, artisans, and even scholars.

There are many less urbanized hagman communities, most of which conform to a tribal structure; these 'savage' hagmen are hunter-gatherers with some primitive farming techniques, and are known for their deep racial prejudice for the leechkin with whom they compete for territory and food.  The hagmen denounce the leechkin as the unclean spawn of an amorphous devil figure, a vampiric adversary-demon representing parasitism and degradation.  Vestiges of this race-hatred linger even in metropolitan centers, though many progressive hagmen and leechkin have learned to set aside their differences.

Apart from their prejudices, the hagmen of the Twilight Cities have inherited their tribal cousins' religious beliefs, albeit adapted to a less primeval cultural landscape.  They worship a monotheistic deity with a myriad of different aspects, and their system of arcana or witchcraft is integrated directly into their religion.  Each aspect of the Aeon-Worm (a rarely-used epithet of the gestalt of the hagman deity's personalities) is attended by a cult, with rituals and ceremonies tailored to the venerated aspect's portfolio.

Gorgons

There are very few gorgons left on the Cadaverous Earth, but they are long lived creatures and a few linger still.  Probably the descendents of an elder demoness who mingled her blood with that of humans, or perhaps the offspring of humans who slew and drank the demoness' blood, gorgons are daevas, immortals occupying an ontological schema fundamentally different than that of the quick, grave-spawn, or oneiroi: though they can be slain (a difficult but not impossible feat), they are living, breathing, ageless beings.

At first glance gorgons appear as impossibly beautiful women emanating unearthly sensuality and voluptuousness, veritably oozing with seductive charm.  Their skin is porcelain white, their lips and nails vivid green, their eyes shimmering black.  Crowning a gorgon's head, however, is a nest of entangled black serpents which burst from its scalp in hissing profusion, a writhing brood of venomous snakes moving as if with minds of their own.  Those who look too long into a gorgon's fathomless black eyes glimpse something illimitable and terrifying, some abyssal space beyond human comprehension: invariably such individuals are driven hopelessly mad, and some are actually paralyzed with fear and despair.  Gorgons usually wear veils to prevent those who look upon them from degenerating into gibbering madmen.  Those wishing to disguise themselves more thoroughly incorporate a full headdress to conceal their serpentine hair.

Gorgons often become the focus of snake-cults in primitive communities.  In urban locales they are usually well entrenched, installed as power-brokers of one variety or another, such as Nyssa in Lophius, matriarch of the Ophidian gang who rule the isle of Serpentside.  Their motivations are quite opaque, and gorgons often lead at least superficially epicurean lives, indulging their appetites while maintaining their power with ruthless intelligence.

Jatayi

The avian jatayi (singular: jatayu) are a dwindling race of fablers who roam the skies of the Cadaverous Earth.  Once many tribes of this species are said to have flown the skies: now only one tribe remains, a few hundred winged humanoids passing from settlement to settlement, singing for their suppers.  They shun the southern cliffs of the Serrated Coast where the sirae dwell, beings they condemn as degenerate abominations corrupted by malevolent forces - their notorious sing-song hex is seen by the jatayi as the embodiment of evil.  Physically jatayi resemble humans with enormous feathered wings emerging from their shoulder blades, similar in shape and colouration to a vulture's.  They also have avian eyes, allowing them to see at great distances and to detect ultraviolet light and magnetic fields ("the earthsong"), the perception of which influences the tribe's cyclic migratory patterns.  They are necrophagic, eating carrion they find in the waste and what food they can buy or earn in the towns and cities of other creatures.

Jatayi speak a dialect of Shambles that incorporates numerous bird-sounds such as clicks, chirps, and caws, as well as loanwords from a much older tongue, a secret, sung language known completely only by the tribe's small cadre of draconian elders.  Jatayi culture is oral; the jatayi possess incredible memories, though whether this trait is biological or wholly learned is unknown.  Whatever the case, all jatayi are vivid storytellers who incorporate elaborate dances, songs, and poems into complex mythological narratives that commonly take the form of plays, spoken tales, and more abstract performances.  These stories are governed by highly traditional structures but do allow for and encourage a measure of creative fluidity.  Transciribing a story is forbidden, however, as is learning any written language: jatayi are uniformly illiterate, save for a very few lonely outcasts found in odd corners of the world.  Because of their detritovorous diet jatayi are skilled scavengers as well as storytellers.

Jatayi lore holds that humans are the descendents of a kindred tribe who lost their wings after sacrificing themselves to preserve the greater race.  As a result they regard humans with a mixture of great respect and great pity, an attitude some humans find patronizing or chauvinistic.  Most human scholars hold that the jatayi may be the results of eldritch experimentation, a notion that revolts the jatayi themselves and which is considered blasphemous by the elders.  It is unknown how long the jatayi have existed, but their oral history contains legends that suggest they may considerably predate the Pallid Decimation, and perhaps even the Membrane Wars.

Jinni


The jinni - also called the vulnerae or woundfolk - are a strain of daeva said to have issued forth from a wound in the earth itself, released from an unfathomable oubliette with walls of stone, or perhaps of glyph-graven steel, or possibly of unthinkable and inhuman flesh; some say that this wound festered, and became the Suppuration (making the jinni forerunners or somehow kin to the oneiroi), others that the wound stands for an otherworldly portal (making the jinni demoniac), still others that the jinni are simply terrestrial troglodytes who were forced from their underground homeland in a mass-exodus by disaster or by some unknown, subterranean war.  Whether born of aether, Hell, or cavern-kingdom the mysterious jinni have scattered themselves across the Cadaverous Earth over the aeons, ageless but apparently infertile, banding together in loose clans of opaque organization.

Jinni skins are stained mottled shades of red, as if by gore; otherwise they resemble tall, powerfully built humans of androgynous sex.  Their crude features are scrawled across their faces like a child's depiction of a nightmare: slit-like mouths, miniscule black eyes, almost porcine nostrils.  Their flesh is hot to the touch, as if feverish, and through some quasi-eldritch means they can breathe gouts of sulphurous green flame.  Most have some degree of talent with witchcraft, particularly skinchanging: many jinni have been known to use the forms of hyena (carrion-jinni epseically), owls, bats, ibises, and jackals.

Some jinni have a taste for human flesh, particularly when partially decomposed; these macabre creatures have been dubbed carrion-jinni.  Most of the vulnerae dwell outside the Twilight Cities, reveling in the wild, lawless spaces of the world, but a few have spent centuries as decadents in the more cosmopolitan cities, such as Crepuscle.  They are an arrogant, haughty people, typically, considering themselves the natural superiors to all mortal creatures; their codes are very rigid and utterly incomprehensible to outsiders, who often find themselves in breach of jinni creeds without realizing their error, though they are still (inevitably) punished for transgressions with typical jinni ruthlessness.  However, jinni scorn the laws and codes of other species as beneath them, the rude artifices of lesser beings.  Jinni wisdom is legendary, because of their longevity, but they are a notoriously secretive race, guarding their histories jealously; occasionally certain parcels of information have been traded in exchange for land, weaponry, or large amounts of coin, but for the most part the jinni refuse to disclose share their knowledge with non-jinni.

Despite their reticence in divulging their racial history some details concerning the jinni Diaspora have been collected.  It seems clear that they have never been an excessively populous race, and the harsh toll of apocalypses that wracked the Cadaverous Earth during the Immolation and the Desiccation thinned their numbers harshly.  The imprecise documentation on the Membrane Wars suggests that the still powerful jinni clans fought as mercenaries in the conflict, though on which side is unclear; this titanic battle seems to have claimed many jinni lives, but also marks their peak of influence, with jinni commanders passing into the ever-glorious realm of myth, attaining true immortality.  Some encounters between demons and jinni have been noted, with the jinni frequently exhibiting fervent hostility, but others have spoken of less belligerent meetings.

During the cestoid Imperium they seem to have almost vanished, retreating into far corners of the world, realizing, perhaps, that they possessed insufficient strength to face the wormfolk head-on, but simultaneously refusing to bend the knee and submit to cestoid rule.

Leechkin


Often deeply disturbing to humans first encountering them, leechkin are hairless humanoids with green or black skins, bloated torsos (which shrivel if the leechkin hasn't fed), and long, spindly limbs.  Their faces are rudimentary: leechkin have almost no neck, their ears are mere holes, and they have no mouths on their faces - only three pairs of small yellow eyes and a set of nostrils.  Instead, they possess two individual mouths on their palms, each resembling a lamprey's maw with many serrated teeth.  While hermaphroditic like the hagmen, leechkin do not possess the shifting mutability of gender of that species: instead they are essentially sexless, with individuals assuming the role of male or female in a temporary fashion during procreation (the 'male' grows a sperm-sac which the "female' consumes, impregnating 'herself').

Leechkin are haematophagic, consuming a diet entirely of blood.  While many creatures on the Cadaverous Earth are cannibals of necessity, the leechkin dependency on blood, like that of the lilix, has led to their demonization in other cultures, and leechkin are often regarded as unclean or monstrous, especially by the hagmen.  This conception is exacerbated by certain bands of tribal leechkin who after months without proper feeding succumb to a bloodthirsty psychopathy, degenerating into murderous animals.  It is not uncommon to find a steamboat drifting aimlessly in the southern swamps, its crew bloodless, covered in small red circles like gruesome love-bites.

While the bulk of the leechkin population dwells in the swamps themselves, some leechkin communities can be found in the Twilight Cities, particularly in Lophius.  The leechkin mindset is inherently parasitic, and leechkin culture denigrates the very idea of 'work,' scorning the lofty accomplishments of men as mere frivolity; thus, the bulk of urban leechkin are simply beggars seeking enough coin to purchase their next fix of blood.  As leechkin tend to be regarded as untrustworthy rogues, some find employment as enforcers, torturers, and other underworld figures, which hardly helps their species' reputation.

The leechkin religion is animistic, with shamans serving as healers and sorcerers.  The leechkin have some traffic with the nameless gods of the swamp, whom they seem to regard as avatars of the natural environment.

Lilix

Rulers of the city-state of Dolmen, the lilix are spiderfolk, a race of anthropomorphized arachnids, each possessing eight limbs and eight eyes.  Other than these obvious differences the lilix are essentially humans with grayish, sometimes hairy skins.  They are further distinguished by their ruthlessly matriarchal culture, their appetite for blood, and their capacity for artistic, political, and intellectual intricacy.  Those few lilix that live in cities other than Dolmen tend to be advisors, architects, artists, and spymasters.

The lilix political structure is a kind of gynocratic fascism, a caste system placing the pallid subhumans at the bottom (humans bred for centuries for slave labor), with human freedwomen and their male concubines above (a kind of lower middle class), then lilix males, the courtier caste, and finally lilix females, the queen caste.  The males tend to be taut and strong, bred as they are for their sexual appeal, their obedience, and their fighting ability.  Lilix females are leisured and so tend towards softness and roundness, with elder females achieving a heavily fetishized obesity.  A rigidly conceived and highly ritualized state religion closer to a dogmatic bureaucracy than a living faith codifies and attempts to legitimize the stratifications of Dolmen.  The holy texts of the religion are embedded in ancient tapestries reputed to be spun by the creed's central mother deity, an elder spider-goddess called Verlum.  The tapestries are hung in the inner sanctums of official temples; any reproduction or facsimile would instantly be declared blasphemous.  As such the all-female priesthood is able to keep the religion under firm state control, reserving the right to interpret the tapestries and so maintain power.

Like the primitive leechkin of the swamps the lilix are haematophagic, subsisting on the blood and liquefied bodies of humans and other creatures.  At a lilix feast all the food is liquid: bowls and sauciers of half-coagulate blood jellies, marrow juice, and pulped, runny meat, washed down with goblets of thinned arterial blood they drink like wine or xocolatl.  A carrion perfume cloys the upper levels of Dolmen, raw and coppery, mingling with the fecund pheromones of the lilix and the sour tang of the flesh-castings carpeting the black marble floors.

Mantids

Possibly distant relatives of the lilix, the mantids are not (as some portray them) a race of ravenous insectoid monsters.  Anatomically they are more human than insect, with green flesh of varying shades and an additional pair of arms that terminate in chitinous, scissor-like claws.  After entering puberty all mantids develop large wings that extend from their backs, allowing for limited flight.  Mantid faces are the most insect, with a pair of glistening mandibles - they are a carnivorous race - and bulbous compound eyes, usually a shade of vivid crimson; an extremely flexible neck means that they can also turn their heads one hundred and eighty degrees around.  Mantid compound eyesight, for whatever reason, endows the species with a natural talent for mechanical construction, particularly clockwork; while not nearly as comprehensive as the intuitive skills of a mechanoape, mantids make excellent technicians and toymakers.  Some speculate that mantids (along with the lilix) were bred through eldritch means by the cestoid Imperium as a slave-species of warrior-mechanists.  The mantids themselves notably reject this theory as typical human-chauvinism: where humans view mantids as hybrids of human and insect, mantids view humans as hybrids of mantid and ape.

Mantids dwell now in their greatest numbers in the Firesong Marches, a region they share with the gypsy foxfolk, the zerda.  Like the zerda they are predominantly nomadic, traveling in extended family caravans.  Many caravans spend long periods outside of the Marches, traveling between the Twilight Cities and selling their services as mercenaries, tinkers, and peddlers.  The warrior culture within mantid caravans is duel-oriented, with a combat style focused around use of the blade-like mantid limbs in addition to daggers, hand-crossbows, wheellock pistols (mantid wheellocks are comparable in quality even to those of Skein's artificers), and throwing stars.  A strict, honour-based code surrounds duelling practices, and only males become duellists; females tend to occupy the position of elder and priestess.  The mantid pantheon is variegated, with some deities appearing almost entirely insect, others more 'human'; serpents, foxes, and fire-spirits also figure prominently in their mythology.

Most mantids can manage at least a few phrases in Shambles, speaking with a sibilant, hissed accent.  Their native tongue is nearly impossible for humans to speak and sounds similar to Spiderchatter; it is sometimes derisively referred to as Bug-talk.  Though much is made of the carnivorous mantid diet, most mantid families engage in only periodic hunting, subsisting mostly through scavenging; they are also notably one of the few species of the Cadaverous Earth whose culture actively rejects cannibalism (though they have been known to consume dead zerda and other humanoids if necessary).

Mindgrub

A distant cousin of the ingurgitatrix, the creatures known as mindgrubs are one of the many biological weapons devised by the cestoids. Unlike their gluttony-inducing killer-tapeworm kin, mindgrubs are subtle and subversive, entering not through the mouth but through the ear. They proceed to burrow into their host's brain and erase the memories therein, sending out a mass of tendrils which colonize the creature's synapses and assert control. This process destroys one eardrum and usually damages the optic nerve of one eye as well, meaning that mindgrub hosts are always deaf in one ear and often partially or fully blind in one eye. At first few outward signs of the mindgrub are evident; over time the cranium of the host begins to swell and expand as the mindgrub grows. This growth is lopsided, as a mindgrub takes up residence in only one lobe of the brain.

As the mindgrub matures it becomes increasingly intelligent, forming its personality from the tattered remnants of its host's mind and the world around it. Originally, cestoid psychotheurges - wielders of the mysterious mental power all but vanished after the fall of the Imperium - controlled mindgrubs using some form of telepathic link; now no such psychic network exists, and the few remaining mindgrubs who finds hosts become solitary, sinister beings, often masquerading as normal individuals. While originally intended as little more than remote receivers or psychic conduits for their cestoid controllers, present-day mindgrubs can develop their psychic abilities considerably.

Naghini

A reptilian race strange even by the standards of the Cadaverous Earth, the naghini are dyadic: each 'individual' naghini consists of two conjoined twins, a bifurcating and double-headed pair who must share a single body.  Like hagmen naghini are vermiform, their lower bodies resembling the tail of an oversized snake, with colouration ranging from emerald green to vivid black and red to dusty brown, depending on tribe, caste, gender, age, and moiety.  Their upper bodies are pseudo-humanoid, dividing partway up the torso - each individual varies, with some specimens having mulitple arms or even two complete torsos fused at the waist and others merely sporting a pair of heads.  Their heads combine human and reptile features, with flat, scaled faces, fangs (sometimes poisonous), and narrow, slitted eyes.  Naghini predominate in the Bluebottle Archipelago and the more tropical regions south and east of Lophius, but some have wandered as far north as Crepuscle.

The complex naghini political structure is by no means uniform, and within the confines of the Twilight Cities their myriad distinctions are often shrugged off.  Roughly speaking, naghini are divided into large, racially segregated tribes, each with their own distinctive scale-patterns, gods, territory, and idiosyncratic customs.  Within each tribe are two moieties, sister-units who take it in generational turns to share tribal duties; most settlements are divided equally between the two moieties, though specialized moiety and caste specific settlements do exist.  Tribal duties are defined by the naghini caste system, which alternates between the moieties: the priestly caste, the builder caste, the hunter caste, the warrior caste, the artist caste, and the merchant caste are but a few.

Naghini reproduce in moiety-exclusive ritualistic orgies and raise their children communally, marking individuals at birth for their caste (determined via astrological alignment).  New caste-members will be fostered in the tribe's sister moiety, allowing them to learn their duties from the previous caste-members.  This keeps the two moieties tightly knit rather than dividing them.  Essentially the naghini practice a kind of rigid, tribal communism, stressing the union of binary halves both on the level of individuals and on the level of moiety.

The naghini religious structure mirrors their political one, with symmetrical sets of dualistic gods embodying dichotomized concepts.  Rather than stressing the differences or oppositions between such deities, however, the naghini religion encourages worshippers to see their gods as two halves of a single whole, a unified totality with two different faces.  The exception can be found in those renegade tribes that dedicate themselves to gorgon worship, shunned as infidels by the mainstream naghini populace.  Those naghini that do leave their tribal settlements often abandon their old gods for foreign ones, taking perverse delight in the monism or plurality found in other faiths.

Nereid

Sometimes called sea-gorgons, nereids are a race of immortals who dwell in aquatic locales; unlike their serpentine cousins (if indeed there is any relation between nereids and gorgons, which is far from certain), nereids never live peaceably with land-dwellers, though some are said to make occasional covenants with coastal hagman tribes and sirae flocks.  Physically they resemble shapely human maidens with eyes as changeable in colour as the sea - sometimes a murky greenish, sometimes a crystalline blue, sometimes lifeless grey, sometimes pitch black.  In place of hair a mass of suckered, flexible tentacles sprouts from their scalps.  They can change their skin tone at will; when on land they tend to adopt a human skin-tone, while in the sea their flesh becomes chameleonic, blending in with the waves and seafloor.  They also produce ink, which they can regurgitate in a jet.  Many are also skilled skinchangers who can become seals, sharks, large squids, or even schools of fish; some are also weather-witches, summoning storms or even small tsunamis.  This ink is highly prized by witches for use in glyph tattoos and scrolls, as it seems to increase the efficacy of hexes scriven with it.

Nereids are imperious creatures who delight in making humanoids their thralls.  Frequently they seduce or kidnap fisherfolk or simply seize drowning sailors, blinding them with a spray of vomited ink and taking them to hidden grottoes or watertight caves beneath the waves and there bestowing upon them the dread Caress: the nereid's tentacles embrace the victim's head, neck, and chest, wrapping around them and constricting.  The tentacles then secrete a mind-controlling substance, binding the nereid to her new slave; the arrangement is sealed with an awful kiss, filling the thrall's lungs and stomach with a salty gush of the creature's ink.  The thrall comes away covered with numerous round red marks sometimes mistaken for pox-scars - the wounds left by the nereid's tentacles.  Thralls attend to a nereid's needs: hunting, luring in new amusements, or otherwise waiting on the creature.  Nereids can leave the water but sicken and die if they remain on land for too long, so thralls conduct any business that requires a land presence.  Killing a nereid frees its thralls from servitude, causing the scars on their faces and necks to fade.

Nereids can also interbreed with humans.  The resulting hybrids are called cecaelia - misshapen creatures that appear as monstrous combinations of cephalopod and human.  Some have writhing tentacles in place of legs or arms; others have mantles instead of skulls, bulbous squid eyes, or beaked mouths; all are uniquely deformed, and the bastard race is universally sterile.  Most are amphibious, though they dislike being away from the water for lengthy periods, and may take sick if they do.  Unlike thralls cecaelia are not wholly bound to their mother's will, but they do tend to be fiercely loyal.  They are also mortal creatures rather than daevas, though they can live for several hundred years.

Though social creatures, nereids rarely get along well with one another, only occasionally forming covens or clusters.  The collective community of beings in the service of a nereid is called its Shoal.

Serqet

The horrifying daevas known as serqet - more colloquially called "scorpionmen" or "scorpionwomen" - are mostly dead, slain in ages past by warriors seeking to establish a reputation for themselves.  A few, however, still linger in dark burrows far beneath the earth, emerging only at night to hunt.  Most of the remaining scorpionfolk are found in the hot, southerly regions around Marainein, Erebh, and Lophius; at least three individual specimens have been sighted in the Firesong Marches.  Fortunately, serqet encounter one another very rarely and so do not often reproduce purebred offspring (sexual cannibalism is also not unheard-of, thinning the number of males even further); unfortunately, female serqet can reproduce asexually via parthenogenesis, spawning broods of monstrous scorpions which grow to the size of large horses.  These abominable vermin are carried on the back of their mother until their first moulting and defend her if she is attacked, so scorpionwomen are considered far more dangerous than scorpionmen.

Physically, serqet are terrifyingly large, towering at least thirty feet in height.  From the waist up they are identical to humans with tar-black skin; only their eyes, globular and glossy back, are arachnid.  Below the waist, serqet resemble enormous black scorpions complete with claws and stingers, with the human waist erupting from where the arachnid head should be.  Their preternaturally potent venom is instantly fatal to most species; even grave-spawn, who are immune to the vast majority of poisons, suffer excruciating pain and debilitating spasms when struck.  In addition, serqet are surrounded by an aura of fear - possibly chemical in nature, possibly eldritch - which causes most who look upon them to flee in panic.  As daevas they cannot die of old age or disease.  Their flesh is nearly as tough as the thick chitin plating their bodies.  They hate sunlight with an intensity matched only by shades; while it does not kill them it does seem to cause them physical pain.

Scorpionmen and '“women are highly intelligent but are also exceedingly antisocial and fiercely territorial.  They speak very rarely in an ancient tongue, though their progeny seem to somehow understand spoke commands in this forgotten language; a few rare serqet have learned other tongues.  Though like many daevas their origins are shrouded in obscurity, certain scholars believe that the serqet were created to serve guardians in bygone aeons.  This hypothesis is supported by the strange attachment some serqet exhibit for particular locales, such as ruinous temples or the treasure-vaults of some Sorcerer-Lords.  This would also explain the peculiar aura of fear they exude - a mechanism to deter those who would defile whatever space they were assigned to.  While most of the remaining scorpionfolk seem to have "gone feral" (probably because the locations they were assigned to no longer exist), a few rare individuals have formed new attachments to places - possibly, such areas remind them somehow of the locations they guarded in millennia-past.

Sheevra

The dwindling descendents of the city of Ker-Iz on the fabled Isle of Dusk off the Serrated Coast in the Fevered Ocean, the race known as the Sheevra has become diluted from centuries of human-Sheevra couplings, such that there are no pure-blooded Sheevra left, and those who do claim Sheevra ancestry look almost entirely human, betrayed only by their luminous green-gold eyes and a faint golden shimmer and pale glow to their skin, an attribute that has earned them the name of 'Tawny Folk.'  In millennia long past, the citadel-metropolis of Ker-Iz was the most beautiful city in the world, though its gates were shut to all but the Sheevra.  An aloof and secretive people driven by wild desires and intensely sybaritic impulses, the hedonistic Sheevra might have conquered the known world with their natural eldritch talents; even at its height the cestoid Imperium itself never penetrated the ensorcelled walls of Ker-Iz.  Some have suggested that the Sorcerer Kings of old are the progenitors of the Sheevra, having joined their lineage with demons, oneiroi, or some other manner of spirit.

Disgusted with the notion of conquest, the Sheevra preferred the pursuit of pleasure to power, indulging in every conceivable desire, and a few inconceivable to all but the Sheevra themselves.  Labour was unnecessary for them, for the race was and is gifted with extraordinary inborn arcane talent, their blood mingled with pure numina, whose glow gives them their distinctive sheen.  While disinterested in the scholarly witchcraft of humans and other species, the Sheevra's natural abilities allowed them to conjure the servants and resources they needed to live their luxurious, decadent lives.  All of this changed, however, when Ker-Iz was suddenly swallowed by the Fevered Ocean, pulled beneath the waves in a single cataclysmic surge that tore down the crystalline walls with their battlements of ethereal glass stronger than glyph-etched steel or ur-bone, flooded the winding, half-sentient streets, and toppled the iridescent towers.  The exact reason for this disaster is still a mystery, but most believe the destruction of Ker-Iz to be the work of the vengeful beast-gods punishing the Sheevra for some broken pact or other, ancient wrongdoing.  The jatayi fablers speak of crustacean abominations stalking the mutable streets and tentacled horrors tearing down buildings, of a molluscoid warlord and his barnacle-studded retinue rampaging through the Glass Gardens and shattering the columns of the Dreaming Dome whose oneiric gems have been scattered across the Earth.  The Shreeva fought back with now-forgotten Arts, their cavalry wheeling on the backs of sphinxes, mood-lances slinging bolts of sorrow, but in the end the city fell, claimed by the cold and merciless sea.

Now, the Sheevra are an all but extinct race.  Some few of the survivors forged a fell contract with a demoniac prince and transformed themselves into the first eidolons, or so the lore-keepers whisper.  The rest chose a life of vagabondage, becoming noble exiles - mercenaries and gutter-witches, sensual flaneurs, addicts, beggars with glittering eyes.  Restless and melancholy from birth for a homeland none of their remaining ilk can still remember, the Sheevra are both drawn to and repelled by the society of other sentient beings.  Though their bloodline has been corrupted the descendents of the Sheevra still live for several centuries, and some spend decades wandering alone or else secreted in solitary hermitages.  At other times Sheevra throw themselves into fresh debaucheries to fight back against their vague sorrow.

Waxborn

A mysterious race of daevas inhabiting the mutable chaos of the Tallow Plains, the waxborn are shapeshifters trapped in a state of constant flux, unable to achieve any coherency of form.  Their bodies flow constantly into new shapes, occasionally flickering with startling rapidity: flesh sloughs off to reveal chitin or scales beneath, which in turn molts to expose feathers or bone.  Their forms are never static, even for a moment.  Organs become transient things, constantly being rearranged: an eye might drift from some face-like protrusion down to a horn-plated chest, where it blinks and reopens as a fanged mouth, while a new socket opens on a shoulder or flank and gazes out with a slitted pupil.  Such are the regenerative capacities of the waxborn that they are almost impossible to destroy or even injure: wounds are subsumed by the shifting mass of limbs, skin, and other body parts.  The waxborn do not age, but they do reproduce in a peculiarly sinister manner.

Waxborn are not in fact singular creatures: they are composites, chimerae, pastiche, the fused bodies and consciousnesses of a variety of once individual creatures.  A waxborn will often attempt to engulf living creatures that it comes across, flesh slithering like a viscous liquid or malleable solid, pulling an organic organism inwards, covering them with its flowing, changing body.  If absorbed in this manner the features and body parts of the victim will then begin to appear amidst the palimpsest of shapes of the waxborn: an isolated ear or hand or leg for example, in the case of humanoids.  As it subsumes more living matter a waxborn grows, until it reaches a critical mass, roughly double the size of a human - a towering confusion of parts.  At this point the waxborn splits through a fission process, becoming two new, individual waxborn.

The waxborn consciousness is mysterious, made up of the individual minds of its constituent parts, a maddening melting-pot of competing, contradictory impulses, culled from different species and individuals.  This consciousness, though multiple and incoherent, is not wholly fragmented: the different processes and instincts congeal into a gestalt, great than the sum of its parts, guided by an urge to consume, to add more to itself.  Waxborn rarely speak, but when they do, they utilize a garbled mishmash of languages, wholly intelligible only to comprehensive linguists.  If they possess a culture it is opaque to outsiders; most are solitary, though some drift in pairs or packs.

Writhelings

Also called blattarians (as they term themselves), metamorphs, and soul-eaters, writhelings are sometimes considered grave-spawn because of their grotesque appearance, though in fact they are hideously alive.  In their true forms they appear as seething swarms of insects very similar to cockroaches, albeit with larger mandibles.  Writhelings are accomplished shapeshifters, however, and rarely assume their natural forms, preferring to counterfeit those of other beings.  Writhelings cannot simply adopt the form of any creature they wish, however: they choose from a repertoire of forms which they amass by devouring other beings alive.  Consuming a corpse is inadequate; a writheling's victim must die while being eaten for the writheling to later assume their semblance.  Writhelings are perfect mimics, however - there are no physical 'tells' or other indications that a being is actually a writheling.  However, as writhelings are actually a mass or swarm of creatures possessing a hive-mind as opposed to an individual entity, they have a tendency to refer to themselves in the plural rather than the singular.  While most of the time they are able to maintain their façade a flustered or inattentive writheling may slip up and expose itself by referring to itself as 'we,' though only a keen listener will pick up the error.
   
Writhelings do not reproduce in their natural forms but rather breed while transformed.  Offspring of one writheling and one non-writheling parent are full writhelings: though born in the semblance of their non-writheling parent they quickly discover their shapeshifting abilities, usually adopting their swarm shape six months to a year after birth.

Conspiracy theories abound as to the secret plots of writhelings abound.  Those who endorse such rumours often claim that many of the most powerful individuals in the Twilight Cities have been replaced by writheling doppelgangers working to bring the civilized world under their clandestine control.  Whether or not there is any truth to these stories, it is true that writhelings frequently devour and replicate the forms of those in positions of authority or luxury.  Because of these rumours, writhelings are shunned and actively persecuted, much as eidolons are.  Only in the cosmopolitan chaos of Crepuscle, the catacombs of Macellaria, and some of the more libertine districts of Lophius can writhelings openly display their true natures.

Zerda
Somewhat less intelligent than humans, though far more so than beasts, the miniature foxfolk called the zerda are native to the Firesong Marches, one of the many variegated desert regions of the Cadaverous Earth - a land where the jinni and the mantids roam, where witches with skin black as ink and staves of human skulls smoke their ornate hookahs and purr their strange hexes into the reddish dusk, to summon scarab-golems and bejeweled incubi and older entities that still linger in that barren, inhospitable place.  Physically the zerda resemble small, anthropomorphic foxes with oversized ears (to help cool themselves) and orange-brown fur.  They wear little clothing, though females occasionally garb themselves in colourful scarves, and both genders wear jewelry, particularly earrings, gleaned more often than not through commerce with the jinni.  Males usually carry at least one weapon, usually a long bone knife equivalent to a longsword to the small-statured creatures.

A nocturnal species, the zerda travel at night in gaudy, ramshackle caravans considerably larger than those of the mantids.  Though they use some wagons most of their homes are built atop the shells of huge desert tortoises, with which the zerda have a symbiotic relationship, being experts in their breeding and care.  The tortoises - a typical adult is several times larger than a large cow - are lumbering, docile creatures who trudge uncomplainingly through the Marches by night, while the zerda swarm atop and around them, employing rope ladders and carven handholds (etched into the very shells of the tortoises) to reach their mishmash, hastily assembled palanquins.

Zerda have a taste for trade, and some venture west into the Occident into the shanty-towns and markets of the Twilight Cities, selling everything from mantid firearms to bound fire-elementals trapped in gemstones by cunning foxfolk magi.  Though quick to flee if threatened they are vicious combatants, employing teeth and claws as well as their bone blades, with which some are exceptionally skilled.  They are ominvorous and are certainly not above the consumption of human flesh, though they are not generally speaking cannibals, leaving their dead as offerings to the gods of flame, sun, and sand that they revere, an elemental and ill-defined pantheon without formal priests or temples.
« Last Edit: December 29, 2011, 08:27:58 PM by Steerpike » Logged


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Bestiary


Banehulk

Also known as Plague Golems, the behemothic abominations known as Banehulks are fortunately extremely rare. Believed to be the perverse creations of the Poxbringers - rulers of the City of Creeping Flesh, a fell metropolis consumed by the shifting sands of the Firesong Marches many centuries ago - Banehulks are living laboratories, hosts for multifarious diseases. While many of the pestilences devised by the Poxbringers could be cultured in their vile cauldrons, others had to be inculcated in living flesh. Banehulks are thus infected with hundreds if not thousands of diseases: they are the walking embodiments of sickness. Though large in size by design the bodies of Banehulks grow rampantly and chaotically: while originally resembling tall, heavy-set humanoids, present-day Banehulks are now hideous, shambolic titans of immense size, distorted with tumorous aggregations and unlikely appendages, the appalling results of centuries of disease-inflicted mutancy. Their recuperative powers mean that their bulk ripples with constant degeneration and regeneration, presenting a horrific, shifting mass of diseased tissues.

Rumour has that in later days the Poxbringers unleashed Banehulks in battle against their foes, using them as war-machines, shock troops, and siege-breakers. Rage-inducing phages were introduced into the brains of the normally docile titans, transforming them from gentle giants into slavering monstrosities bent only on destruction. Fortunately the resulting conflicts greatly decreased the Banehulks' numbers. Those few that linger on are solitary creatures, shunned by all living beings. Bred to be ageless, Banehulks cannot be killed by the diseases that riddle their enormous, foetid bodies; the miasmic clouds of disease that swirl about them cause those beasts that venture too close to sicken and die, providing them with ample food-sources. Some remain locked in combat-mode, still feverish with the implanted desire to desolate their surroundings: these frenzied horrors can lay waste to whole settlements before being destroyed. Others seem to have overcome their battle-lust and become solitary hermits, or else seek to somehow end their perpetual suffering. The Poxbringers endowed Banehulks with supreme regenerative capabilities so that even the worst wounds heal very swiftly: while insufficient to fight off the tumult of infections that afflict them, this ability makes it very difficult for Banehulks to die. Fire is notably effective against them, and some Banehulks have journeyed to the volcanic magma-pools of the Shadowglass Steppes and thrown themselves in to end their agony; others have sought the briny embrace of the sea, drowning themselves in the Fevered Ocean. Most, however, live reclusive and lonely lives, when they aren't rampaging across the countryside laying waste to all they find.

Bloodwood Tree

Native to the fetid swamplands around Lophius, Bloodwood Trees, also called Cannibal Trees or Molekh-Trees, are a much-dreaded species of carnivorous plant distinguished by their pulsing crimson leaves and lashing tendrils, vines that they use to manoeuvre food - living or dead - into their slit-like maws, lined with barbs that act like teeth, tearing the tree's meat to shreds so that it can be more easily digested.  Bloodwood Trees do not, however, use their vines as their principle mode of predation, favouring a radically more disturbing method of securing prey which relies on their unique capability of absorbing a creature's genetic makeup.

Upon devouring a creature - preferably effective predators, such as humanoids - the Bloodwood Tree somehow 'reads' its body through the process of digestion.  It then uses gleaned information to produce a copy of its meal, a hybrid of plant and animal that begins as an embryonic bud on one of the tree's many limbs and gradually matures.  The Bloodwood Tree bears a kind of foetal fruit, its young developing inside hard, translucent cocoons until they grow too heavy and drop off.  The tree's children - perverse reincarnations of their 'parents,' but with reddish skins, bloodshot eyes, and feral dispositions - hatch from their chrysalises and immediately recognize the Bloodwood Tree that spawned them as their mother and mistress.  

Displaying remarkable intuitive abilities for such young creatures the tree's children immediately begin the hunt, tackling larger and larger prey as they grow in size, beginning with birds and rodents (which Bloodwood Trees only consume, scorning replication) and working their way up to larger prey, particularly members of their parent race.  After killing or subduing their victims the tree-children bring back their prizes to the Bloodwood Tree and present them for consumption.  In exchange, the Bloodwood Tree offers up a tendril which secretes a nutrient-rich, sap-like ichor consumed by the hungry offspring.  The bond between a Bloodwood Tree and its progeny is intimate, quite possibly even psychic; if a Bloodwood Tree is killed its offspring return to its remains, sing a brief and bestial song of lament, and then stand inert until they succumb to starvation.

Bloodwood Trees are highly prized by the leechkin, who have been known to swarm them, penetrate their bark, and suck up their bloody sap with relish.  Leechkin can smell Bloodwood Trees from a great distance and unless recently sated will enter a state of near-mindless hunger, drawn inexorably towards the delicious scent that the trees exude.

Changeling

Skilled mimics and pack-hunters, the horrific beings known as Changelings possess the ability to generate a unique glamer counterfeiting the form of an ordinary child.  The glamer includes aural elements; typically Changelings will call for help, counterfeiting the cries of lost, frightened children.  Usually a single Changeling will lure prey into dead ends or other tactically advantageous places while their brethren close in stealthily, cutting off paths of escape.

Having lured their would-be sustenance in, the Changeling functioning as bait casts off its glamer and reveals its true form.  The particulars of this form are dependent on the original being the Changeling metamorphosed from (see below).  When human young were the source species, Changelings  appear as a grotesque neonatal caricatures with a swollen, oversized heads, tiny black eyes, gaping mouths lined with dozens of teeth, a long, bony tail, and a gaunt, spindly-limbed body with clawed digits.  Other species are similarly distorted with exaggerated features and an array of natural weapons.  At the moment of horrific exposure the rest of the Changeling's pack descend upon those drawn into the trap.  The creatures usually sprint on all fours in an awful parody of an infant's crawl.  Changelings swarm over their victims en masse, tearing them apart with their vicious fangs and devouring even the bones.

Even more appalling than their predatory deceit is the Changeling reproductive method.  When Changelings encounter prepubescent individuals, they do not consume them on the spot.  Instead they take children back to their lairs where certain spawning pits are located: pools of black slime constituted out of certain secretions the Changelings generate.  The luckless children are thrown unceremoniously into these disgusting 'Wombs.'  Trapped in the gelatinous liquid, the children begin to metamorphose into new Changelings.  During the transformation the Changeling hive mind, a psychic link all members of a given brood share, is established: the child loses its free will and becomes psychically indistinguishable from its broodmates.  The only remnant of its original form is its glamer, which is derived directly from its previous appearance.

A common tactic for Changeling broods is to kidnap a number of children from a neighborhood and settlement without alerting the adults to their presence.  Having turned the children into new Changelings, the brood proceeds to use them as bait for the inevitable search parties organized to locate the missing children: the rest of the Changelings then descend on the searchers.

Fleshtree

Thought by some arcanobiologists to be related to the morbid Bloodwoods of the southern swamps and linked by others to the warped experiments of the Cultivar Technocracy or the fiendish Meatgardens of the Lords Revenant, the bizarre, unsettling beings known as fleshtrees are not plants at all but grotesque creatures of dubious intelligence usually encountered singly or in small 'copses,' or, more dangerously, in 'groves.' In place of bark, fleshtrees have sickeningly human-like skin; in place of branches, they have a series of fully mobile, brachiating humanoid arms, each with long, claw-like nails; in place of roots, a great mass of writhing, pallid tentacles. Covering the central trunk of the fleshtree are a number of 'knotholes': tiny, jawless mouths, round, like a lamprey's, that greedily consume almost anything thrust into them. Though omnivorous, flesthtrees exhibit a clear preference for protein, and go out of their way to devour meat rather than vegetable matter.

Lacking eyes, noses, or ears, fleshtrees seem to hunt primarily by sensing tremors along the ground, seeking out vibrations. They are also quite sensitive to changes in air currents: many an unwary bird or bat has been snared by the groping limbs of a fleshtree. Rib-like bones form the central trunk (which houses a variety of organs, including multiple hearts), while the creature's limbs possess extremely flexible, many-socketed joints. As a fleshtree grows it develops new 'branches' much as a normal tree might. Though fleshtrees sweat they produce no other waste-matter, using all of their energy to grow new limbs. They reproduce asexually: when a large enough branch of a fleshtree is removed it will eventually grow roots and become a new fleshtree. Periodically fleshetrees will pull off their own limbs to produce such saplings, even bringing their 'young' food in the early stages of growth. This disturbing practice has led many to speculate that fleshtrees are intelligent in some way, though they have no discernable brains, only crude nerve-bundles.

Though dangerous, fleshtrees are also highly useful. In some areas - particularly the hinterlands of Macellaria - small copses of fleshtrees are tended by enterprising individuals known as treeherds. Using percussive instruments they drive their copse from one location to another, always maintaining a safe distance, until ready to prune their gruesome livestock. At this point paralyzing drugs or hexes are used to temporarily subdue the fleshtrees, at which point limbs or other meat will be shorn off. This does little permanent damage to the fleshtree, which will eventually regenerate lost branches or roots with minimal scarring, though the creatures do seem to experience pain - their many mouths moan dully and whimper when limbs are being pruned. Treeherds will also typically collect blood during pruning. The resulting harvest is usually sold to the Skin Markets, to either be eaten by the city's grave-spawn or else utilized by its fleshcrafters in the tissue-shops.

Gorgefly

One of the most feared creatures of the Cadaverous Earth, the gorgefly is an enormous, bestial fiend resembling a horrific hybrid of obese giant and flesh-fly.  Similar to normal flies the gorgefly undergoes an extensive larval stage.  After hatching from an egg laid by an adult gorgefly in a suitably large carcass, the larva - a horse-size thing sometimes called a dire maggot - slowly develops, feeding off carrion and enlarging itself many times over: some gorgefly larva reach titanic sizes, often well over a hundred feet in length.  They are detritovores, feeding exclusively on carrion, including grave-spawn, who they differentiate easily from the quick; despite their taste for decomposing matter, however, dire maggots are not scrupulous in their diets and have been known to attack smaller living prey.  They are also powerful burrowers, tunnelling through soft earth as if through necrotic flesh.  Most live in the Slaughter-lands, feeding off old battlefields; a few have even been sighted in Etiolation, where they feast gorily until blanchphage cripples them with apathy.  A few have also found their way to Macellaria, where they must be dispatched by the Watchdogs.  Those that survive and grow to a critical size eventually moult and pupate into the adult gorgefly, sloughing off the husk of their maggot-stage and emerging, tenebrous and triumphant, from their larval husk.

Gorgefly imagos are considerably smaller than the largest dire-maggots, though still impressive in size.  Towering well over forty feet in height, gorgeflies appear as humanoid figures with oily, putrescent flesh, seemingly composed out of congealed carrion - a mass of greasy, reeking skin and muscle, mottled black and green, slick with malodorous slime; coarse hair juts from the creature's body, a corpulent, bloated form equipped with an extra pair of arms.  The gorgefly's head is a disturbing mixture of insect and human - bulbous compound eyes and a toothy human mouth, with two small, hairy limbs bristling from the jaw to help shovel food into the gorgefly's maw.  Emerging from the horror's back are a pair of massive, veined wings, much like a fly's, with a wingspan of nearly a hundred feet - usually these wings are kept partially folded, spread to their full span only when the gorgefly takes off.  With their wings fully spread gorgeflies are truly magnificent to behold, like titanic, gruesome seraphs surrounded by a filthy aura of smaller flies like vile cherubim and a writhing profusion of maggots squirming and rustling beneath its lesion-covered flesh.

Like the dire maggot imago gorgeflies feed on carrion of all sorts.  They also possess the ability to vomit forth a stream of eldritch fluid that rapidly decomposes anything it touches, greatly accelerating bacterial growth, decaying any organic matter that it contacts - the so-called "mortifying breath."  Those that escape the gorgefly's jaws but not its pestilential vomit are left gangrenous and mutilated.  Because of their ability to rapidly decay any living substance, gorgefly imagos do not hesitate to attack the quick - they simply putrefy them first.  Female gorgelfies, after glutting themselves on a particularly substantial feast, will lay fertilized eggs amongst the remains of their meal, ensuring a food source for the maggots that will hatch weeks later.

Gorgefly intelligence, lifespan, and population sizes are unknown.  They do seem to live comparatively much longer than regular flies, but seem to mate less frequently, keeping their numbers low (fortunately) - additionally, most dire maggots die before they can moult.  The presence of an adult gorgelfy is inevitably announced by the immense droning of their wings, a sound that strikes terror into the hearts of any that hear it.

Hellmould

A demoniac fungus, the organism known as Hellmould, or "Devil's Itch" was brought into the Cadaverous Earth by invaders during the Membrane Wars. For most demons it was a minor nuisance: Hellkind had long ago developed resistances to its more advanced stages. The fungus is highly communicable, however, so while its later forms no longer appeared in the Hells, the fungus itself was not eradicated completely. The creatures of this plane, of course, lack the resistances of the demons.

Hellmould infection occurs when spores penetrate the skin and begin flourishing beneath (like most fungi, it thrives in warm and humid conditions). Outwardly, this manifests as a slight crimson tinge to the skin, at first blotchy and light, later uniform and dark; it also itches intensely. As the fungus spreads to its victim's brain it generates powerful aphrodisiac chemicals keyed to its host's metabolism. Resultant amorous behaviour helps to spread Hellmould to other organisms. During the "libidinous phase" the host's skin will appear only slightly flushed and mottled.

The fungus continues to spread, colonizing and slowly consuming all of the internal organs, though without killing the host. Paranoid delusions, mood swings, irritability, and frenzied, violent outbursts at potential threats all accompany the later stage of infection. The Hellmould continues to slowly feed off the body of its host, and eventually a foetal organism, called a Mouldspawn or Mouldling, begins to develop within them.

In the final stages of infection a Hellmould host will be near-psychotic and a livid shade of deep red. At this point most of the host's internal organs will have been consumed and the being will be little more than a husk, though most individuals remain conscious, their brains still relatively intact. The Mouldspawn will proceed to erupt through its victim's skin, the flesh sloughing away to reveal a hideous profusion of fruiting bodies arranged in a form roughly shaped like that of the host. The Mouldspawn is a detritovore, devouring everything from rotting wood to carrion (including grave-spawn, who can also serve as hosts). It produces large numbers of spores which drift away on the wind to infect other organisms. Mouldspawn usually only live for a single week - two in the case of a larger creature - before collapsing into a decaying mass of spores.

Strangely enough, the caps of Hellmould toadstools, when detoxified by parboiling, can be used to make a drug known variously as Smoulder, Scarlet Bliss, or (in mystic circles) "Quarinah." Small amounts of the drug act as a powerful aphrodisiac and produce startling sexual and extremely vivid dreams. Overdoses cause exceedingly disturbing sexual and violent impulses.

Hellmould toadstools and Ghostgrass extract can be synthesized to form a powerful combat drug called Lyssa which induces frenzy while greatly increasing physical strength and tenacity. Habitual use leads to chronic night terrors (usually of sexual violation), permanent anger-control issues, and permanently crimson eyes, as the iris of a user turns red while Lyssa is in their system.

Ingurgitatrix

The ingurgitatrix is a vile species of parasitoid that makes its nest in the entrails of humanoid creatures.  Possibly some malign cousin of the tapeworm, the ingurgitatrix resembles a vaguely serpentine, cartilaginous worm with a small fanged maw at one end and rudimentary eyes on the other.  It possesses animal cunning and a level of predatory intelligence; rather than hatching inside the bowels of its victims (as the tapeworm does, or the ghul-worm) an ingurgitatrix must force its way down its host's throat, usually slithering through the mouths of sleeping victims.  It quickly makes its way tail first through the digestive tract where it installs itself comfortably, nestling in amongst the intestines; its thick, membranous hide protects it against stomach acids en route.

Once comfortable the ingurgitatrix begins secreting arcano-chemical substances into its host to induce appetite.  The host will be greatly invigorated and insatiably hungry, immediately seeking out as much food as they can and glutting themselves upon it.  If no food is available the victim will become greatly agitated and will attack other living creatures; unable to resist the fiend within the host will slough off social taboos and feast on former friends or family, as well as corpses and other typically detestable or repulsive substances.  As a last resort the host will resort to auto-cannibalism.

Whatever the case, the ingurgitatrix consumes all of the food its host ingests, quickly growing to prodigious size such that its victim's belly becomes distended as if pregnant.  Once it reaches its maximum size it bursts free, killing its host.  It then lays its eggs in the corpse of its former host, persisting long enough to watch them hatch before abruptly dying.  The newly hatched ingurgitatrixes consume the corpse and their parent before moving on to find hosts of their own.

Inguritatrixes were created by the cestoid Imperium as biological weapons, designed to decimate food supplies as well as military or civilian populations.  Now the hideous parasitoids roam free, though some are trapped and used for assassinations - slipped into a bedchamber through a window or under a door.

Marrowmoth

These large, bulbous insects look eerily beautiful from a distance with their expansive, sallow wings (veined with crimson) glowing in the moonlight, but their enthralling appearance belies their macabre natures.  Uninterested in flesh or vital organs, the carnivorous marrowmoth greatly prizes bone marrow, particularly red marrow.  Like the vampire bat marrowmoths seek out large creatures to prey on, especially when sleeping.  To extract sustenance they unfurl a powerful proboscis which they thrust deep into their prey's tissue, penetrating layers of skin and muscle to burrow directly into bone.  They then suck up the victim's marrow at a tremendous rate, detaching swiftly if their prey attempts to physically harm them.

Dangerous enough individually, marrowmoths often dwell in colonies, usually in hollow trees or in old tombs whose occupants they have despoiled.  Though usually these colonies are quite small, marrowmoths can swarm prey, quickly reducing them to hollowed-out, fleshy husks scored with puncture-wounds, their bone marrow sucked out like nectar.  When they can't find live prey marrowmoths subsist on carrion.  Marrowmoths can be deterred with certain pungent oils, but the best defense against them is a large, bright fire or strong eldritch light.  Like other moths marrowmoths have evolved to use the moon - an object which for all intents and purposes is optically infinite - to navigate and fly in a straight line.  A similarly luminous light source will attract marrowmoths, who mistake it for the moon; since the light source is not at ocular infinity, of course, they will fly directly towards it until they reach it, immolating them if the light is a fire.

Marrowmoth caterpillars are fat, glistening things that feed on rotting flesh.  Marrowmoths do not nurse their young but often lay their eggs in or near dead prey.  The cocoons of marrowmoths are hardy and durable.  Their silk, though not as smooth or shimmeringly beautiful as that of Skein, is highly prized for use as bow strings.

Piranha Rat

A malignant and ubiquitous species of rodent encountered across the Cadaverous Earth - most commonly in ancient sewer-systems and other urban environments - the piranha rat is a pest that becomes dangerous in large numbers.  Physically, piranha rats look like large, hairless rats with oversized heads and nimble, elongated limbs.  They are distinguished from other rats by their jaws and teeth: the piranha rat jaw is larger and more jutting than a normal rat's, and is filled with a row of interlocking, blade-like teeth.  Unlike their aquatic namesakes, whose legendary reputation for savagery is often exaggerated, piranha rats are efficient and bloodthirsty killers so gluttonous that they will literally eat themselves to death if given the chance.  They tend to travel in swarms, attacking any and all prey that they happen across: unlike piranhas or rats they are strictly carnivorous, and prefer living prey.  Packs unable to find enough food to sustain themselves will degenerate into cannibalism, devouring one another until most or all of the swarm is dead.

Shaik-toruch (Sand-rays)

Thought to be distant relatives of the xsur, the shaik-toruch - also called sand-rays - are a species of huge, cartilaginous creatures who roam the southern and eastern regions of the Cadaverous Earth such as the Firesong Marches, Dour Erg, and Flense Veldt, though rogue specimens have been spotted as far west as the Tallow Plains, drifting unperturbed over that eructating entropy with their characteristic placidity.  Like many beasts of Earth's gloaming aeons they are the warped result of unguided evolution, bioengineering, and eldritch experimentation.

Vaguely resembling a gigantic scaly ray swimming through air or loose earth instead of water, the batoid shaik-toruch can reach enormous sizes: some have wingspans well over fifty feet.  How exactly they achieve their remarkable buoyancy is not known; they appear to glide through the air, but also possess inflatable sacs on their underbellies, underneath their saw-shaped mouths, and may possess eldritch levitation abilities as well.  Perhaps the most distinctive features of the shaik-toruch, however, are the small, round orifices that line their backs alongside their spined vertebrae.  These sphincter-like openings (which can be clenched shut) lead to a series of organic chambers inside their bodies that form the dwellings and incubators for goreflies, a symbiotic species that breed and live inside shaik-toruch.

Goreflies - not to be confused with the considerably more terrible creatures known as gorgeflies - are a vicious, nocturnal species of blood-drinking insect somewhat similar to prodigiously oversized assassin bugs or kissing bugs.  During daylight hours they roost inside their shaik-toruch hosts, during which time the sand-ray contracts its orifices shut, sealing them inside.  As the sun sets these orifices dilate and the goreflies awaken and swarm out in search of prey.  Haematophagic, goreflies feed on land-animals (including humans), sometimes draining smaller prey dry; swarms of goreflies have been known to decimate human and zerda communities or herds of grazing animals, leaving a trail of desiccated husks in their wake.  On returning to their hosts at dawn the bloated goreflies regurgitate a portion of their meal into a central trough inside their shaik-toruch, supplementing the sand-ray's usual diet of carrion and smaller insects.  In return for this sustenance - and the protection goreflies provide shaik-toruch - sandrays offer goreflies shelter and a place to lay their eggs.  A unique chemical in shaik-toruch blood deters goreflies from feeding on their own host; as a result, sand-ray blood, when slathered on skin, can protect against gorefly attacks.

Like their gorefly symbionts shaik-toruch are predominantly nocturnal.  During the day they spend most of their time buried under the sand, emerging at night to search for food and release their goreflies.  Shaik-toruch are oviparous, laying their eggs in membranous sacs they bury in the waste, sometimes called 'jinni's purses.'

Themselves tranquil, dull-minded creatures, shaik-toruch have on occasion been domesticated by humans and other sapient beings (especially jinni and mantids) and used as mounts; mantids have been known to assemble elaborate palanquins atop their backs.  Typically the goreflies inside them have to be killed first - typically by sealing shut the sand-ray's orifices until the insects within starve to death.  Domesticated shaik-toruch have to have blood poured into their gorefly orifices to keep them properly hydrated and nourished.  The zerda both respect and fear the shaik-toruch with a near religious awe.  When a sandray is sighted approaching a zerda caravan freshly killed game and a cauldron of blood are left on a divergent path from the caravan's intended route so as to avoid confrontation.  Shaik-toruch teeth are used as ceremonial daggers by the foxfolk, preserved with oils and then carved with glyphs.

Because of their size and symbiotic protectors sand-rays are rarely bothered by predators, but humanoids have been known to hunt them, slathering themselves with shaik-toruch blood to ward off the goreflies; a single shaik-toruch can feed a settlement for weeks.  Like dire maggots shaik-toruch sometimes wander into Etiolation, glutting themselves on the bodies they find there until claimed by blanchphage.

Thanatosphinx

This breed of unusual beast dwells in the southern Slaughter-lands in regions such as the Mewling Moors, the Wraithwastes, and the Rancid Barrens, though some have been glimpsed as far west as the Firesong Marches and as far north as the southernmost regions of Dour Erg.  Unlike the sphinxes of myth, thanatosphinxes have the bodies of overlarge hyenas, the wings of enormous carrion crows, the tails of gigantic rats, and skull-like, disturbingly human heads with flesh stretched thinly over a gaunt, bony face.  These near-skeletal visages often lead those who encounter thanatosphinxes to mistakenly believe them grave-spawn (hence the prefix).  They do feast on necrotic flesh and, like putrevores, dire maggots, and other carrion-feeders, are drawn to grave-spawn by scent.  However, thanatosphinxes will not hesitate to kill living prey - they simply wait a few days for their victims to putrefy.

Thanatosphinxes are not simply ravenous beasts, however - they are reasonably intelligent, a fact which makes them all the more dangerous.  Though many incorrectly believe that thanatosphinxes collect riddles and will spare the lives of potential prey if they beat them at a riddle-game, the creatures do have an eccentric fondness for grotesque jokes and black humour and will spare prey who make them laugh.  Mere frivolity will not do: thanatosphinxes have an extremely gruesome sense of humour, and the jokes they find amusing must be of the most disgusting or macabre variety.  Because of this fondness for the obscene some claim that thanatosphinxes were created by Baubo, goddess of profanity, and indeed the thanatosphinx is sometimes adopted as an icon by Baubo-worshippers.

Warworm

Warworms are ancient constructs created in ages past by the cestoids for use in their extensive Imperial wars with other powers.  Most have been destroyed but a few of these armored hulks have been found nearly intact in the Shatters and in Etiolation, and others are scattered about the Cadaverous Earth, particularly in and around ruinous wormfolk cities.

Warworms vaguely resemble cestoids, with long, metameric bodies and hundreds of tiny legs.  Powered by eldritch batteries and puissant clockwork, these enormous machines were built to various specifications, some several hundred feet in length.  They were designed principally to carry troops, slaves, and military hardware, but also supplies; as such all have very thick armor plates like chitin, often etched with the alien glyphs of the cestoids, for whom symbol-magic was the dominant form of witchcraft.

Bristling from the front or 'face' of some warworms is a selection of weaponry, typically acid-spurting or incendiary cannons.  Others seem to be fitted with burrowing equipment likewise relying on powerful acids (stored in huge tanks within the warworm), or on front-mounted drills.  Behind this deadly façade is the cockpit, where either cestoids or as some speculate a race of specially bred pilot-slaves (possibly mantids) would be seated.  Then come the various segments of the warworm, some equipped with weapons themselves.  These segments are jointed and flexible, allowing a warworm some degree of maneuverability on a battlefield.

Today, warworms are rarely seen in operational condition, but occasionally gangs of scavenger-bandits restore them to roughly working order (often holding them together with spit and string) and harass small settlements with them.  At least one warworm was destroyed by a Watchdog at Macellaria, reputedly piloted by deranged wormfolk fanatics.  One warworm, Scuttling Eternity, has been rehabilitated by mantids and now roams the world, crewed by a mongrel band of nomads: mantids, zerda, humans, and renegades of various stripes, working principally as scrap-dealers.  Another inactive warworm forms the home of the hermit and mechanical savant Leopold Maximilian and his swarm of mechanoape companions and auatomaton pets.

Xsur

A thing all barbs, serrated fangs, and membranous wings, the xsur is a strange combination of bat, lizard, and manta ray.  A solitary beast by nature (occasionally forming mated pairs), xsur tend to haunt the western coasts, subsisting on seabirds, dolphins, and gullfolk; they tend to nest atop the tall pinnacles of rock found in the island chains of the Fevered Ocean, or in the upper levels of the rotting, organic palaces of the Cultivar Technocracy.  A few have been sighted further east, ranging as far as the frontier of the Slaughter-lands, though rarely into the waste itself.

Xsur anatomy is disturbing and complex.  Its bat-like, leathery wings are equipped with barbed talons, and a sinuous tail terminates in a sucker-like orifice with a radula within, lined with tiny, saw-like teeth.  A second organ sometimes mistaken for the xsur's mouth is positioned closer to its 'head,' near its beady, vestigial eyes: this toothless, puckering sphincter allows the xsur to echolocate and to emit a sound-wave inducing physical pain on all who hear it - a mewling, alien wail - while also attacking with its mouth-tipped tail, allowing it to feed without sacrificing its sonic weapon.  Occasionally sirae and xsur have been known to enter into bizarre acoustic duels, the xsur's screech pitted against the sirae's hypnotic hex, each trying to paralyse or lull the other.  A xsur's wings radiate out from a central torso, scaled and vaguely serpentine; two clumsy appendages allow it to manoeuvre on the ground, using its pinions as forelimbs.  These limbs also allow xsur to snatch up their prey and carry them beck to their nests to be properly devoured.  In practice most who encounter a xsur recall only a blur of wings, claws, and teeth.

Xsur lay eggs which they keep in nests fashioned principally from the bones of their prey, used like macabre twigs.  They feed their young the protein-rich marrow of these bones after they hatch, usually in broods of six or more (though only one or two xsur in a brood will likely survive to adulthood, succumbing to boilwinds, predators, or starvation first).

Oneiroi
Dreamspawn, Nightmare Seed, Aether-Progeny, The Suppuration's Children

Gobble and Slake

Gobble and Slake are a pair of incestuous twin lovers and wandering horrors who plague the Twilight Cities, having strayed across the Slaughter-lands to better satiate their voracious appetites.  Gobble is female, Slake male; both are humanoid creatures and in fact resemble normal humans very closely, save when about to feed.

Gobble appears as a tall, vivacious woman with violet, doe-like eyes, flushed creamy skin, buxom charms, and curly auburn hair.  She habitually wears a choker of some sort, usually a silk scarf bound round her neck: this disguises huge stretch marks on her throat.  Gobble can dislocate her jaw like a serpent, revealing a wolfish maw complete with huge fangs, a lolling purple tongue, and breath that reeks of dead flesh.  She possesses long, envenomed talons which paralyze her victims.

Slake is very similar to his sister, though gaunter and less ruddy, with a handsome porcelain complexion and dark red hair and eyes.  His lips are stained dark crimson, standing out against his sharp white face, and he moves his thin limbs like those of a preying mantis or hunting spider.  When the feed is upon him he opens his mouth to reveal a cartilaginous proboscis juddering like an obscene tongue from his head, which he uses to penetrate his prey and drain their blood.

Gobble and Slake are highly sophisticated entities and often pose as courtesans or society folk.  They delight in mesmerizing their prey with their beauty, independent of one another, then bringing their victims back to an agreed-on meeting place, at which time they exchange their conquests as morbid gifts.  Other times they share their food: Slake only sucks blood, while Gobble prizes raw meat, devouring those first drained by Slake.

The Goremother

The oneiroi called the Goremother - sometimes called Mother Carrion - is a grotesque amalgamation of woman and oversized crow. Tall and statuesque with a taut, scarred body (invariably unclothed) the Goremother is usually hunched over when on the ground, a tangled mane of long, black, knotted hair hanging round her face in ragged clumps. Her face has a savage beauty to it; her eyes are huge, black, and idiotic, and her full lips are usually smeared with blood, dribbling down over her neck and breasts. In place of arms the Goremother has enormous wings as of a crow or raven with filthy, matted feathers. She often uses these wings as a kind of cloak when she isn't flying.

Born of the Suppuration, the Goremother now hunts in the Slouching-devil Mountains and the badlands to the south. She constantly maintains a brood of monstrous progeny, a race of huge crows with human faces, much despised by the people of Skein; these she spawns by first coupling with mortal men, captive prey she mates with before devouring. Her squawking offspring clamour incessantly for food, and so the Goremother spends most of her time hunting. Usually she selects mountainous goats or other animals, but she particularly prizes human meat. Whatever her prey, the Goremother will usually fly high above the ground in search of victims before swooping down with a hideous wail and consuming them on the spot. Her belly glutted with a gross surfeit of food, the Goremother then returns to her eyrie in the mountains. To appease her whining, cacophonous children she retches up her half-digested last meal into their open mouths.

Unlike some oneiroi the Goremother is not a highly intelligent creature, though she compensates with a great deal of predatory cunning and intuition. She cannot speak more than a few words, and these she utters rarely - usually they are instructions and threats to her mates or cooing endearments she whispers to her brood, though she can also sing mellifluously, an ability she uses to lure some victims close to her. Once grown to maturity her harpy-crow children abandon their progenitor, haunting the hills and passes of the Slouching-devil Mountains and surrounds, subsisting principally on carrion but occasionally harassing travelers and prospectors.

Though some foolish hunters and adventurers have attempted to slay the Goremother, all have fallen before her considerable power. It is said that she can be mesmerized by mirrors or brightly shining objects and slain by penetrating her heart with a silver arrow fletched with one of the feathers of her own children.

Icelus

A sly, sinewy creature who has crept from the Suppuration across the jagged plains and deserts of the Slaughter-lands to prowl the murky wastes north of the swamplands, Icelus resembles a kind of satyr.  With blue-black flesh and long, coarse hair the colour of a new bruise Icelus blends into shadows easily, creeping about on two cloven feet, his barbed, vaguely leonine tail twitching, snapping scorpion-claws glimmering in the moonlight, under which he prefers to stalk the lonely landscapes of the frontier.  His most distinctive feature is his head, long and gaunt and menacing - a horse's head with black, abysmal eyes and an obscene pink tongue, lolling from a saw-toothed and slavering maw more like a shark's than an equine's, probing the air, tasting it, dribbling viscous black spittle, a corrosive poison that also drips from the oneiroi's tail-sting.

Like most oneiroi Icelus' intelligence is debatable.  It is a humourless and cunning creature known for its depraved lust and brutality.  It seems to kill for pleasure as well as for food, savouring the hunt, tormenting its victims before striking, slithering out of the shadows with those snickering, scissoring claws and that whip-like tail flickering as frenetic and eager as a cruel, excited cat's, twitching with unwholesome arousal.

Characters

Lucius and Tormbolge

Mercenary partners, adventurers, and occasional brigands, Lucius and Tormbolge can most often be found doing contract work in the ganglands of Lophius, scrapping in the Pulsetown pits of the Maggot City, or freebooting along the southern fringe.  Atypical amongst their rough kindred, the veritable armies of sellswords, hired guns and hexers, and other scum that roam from city to city in search of coin and blood, the pair are unforgettable: Lucius at first glance resembles a sickly nine year old boy, while Tormbolge towers seven feet tall with a prodigious girth to match his height.  Lucius is a ghul, having transformed when he was but a child; now slightly over two hundred, he has acquired a surfeit of combat experience to compensate for his size and slight frame.  He purchased Tormbolge from slavers and granted him his freedom after witnessing the huge man fight in a small-town circus, killing a cestoid with his bare hands.  A eunuch and a mute, Tormbolge grew up touring arenas and gladiatorial pits, becoming a peerless fighter, his body augmented by his masters with drug-secreting implants and ugly metal plates, fused to his flesh like chitin.  While Lucius favors knives Tormbolge wields a huge halberd in combat, though he is also an accomplished pugilist.

Though immune to the temptations of the flesh so many mercenaries expend their earnings on, the two are not without their vices.  Tormbolge has an insatiable appetite, particularly for seafood, savoring pickled lampreys and eels, caviar, and fried fish; he is also addicted to several drugs, including the intense stimulant thrum, although his body synthesizes most of the chemicals he craves.  Lucius has a fondness for fine cigars and is a compulsive gambler, regularly losing whole bagfuls of coin in card games and other contests.  A dreadful cheat with a talent for prestidigitation and a whole collection of loaded bone dice, Lucius has been banned from innumerable chance-houses and has a small bounty on his head in certain regions.  Priding himself on his wry wit and his quick fingers he is an infamous braggart and frequent pickpocket, often requiring Tormbolge to wrest him out of trouble he either talked or stole his way into.

Felix Rhadcuth

A hexer with tattooed arms who looks older than his thirty-seven years with his shock of prematurely whitened hair, Felix Rhadcuth hails from Moroi originally, but fled the city in years past when his name came up in the conscription lottery and the Chirurgeons came looking for him.  Since then he has traveled widely as an adventurer and mercenary witch and now lives in semi-retirement as a professor in Skein at the Collegia Tho-Lladrim, one of the five universities in that city's Viridian Ward, the so-called 'thinker's quarter.'  He spends most of his time marking term papers and teaching classes on advanced pan-demonological theory, known by the students for his rambling lectures on the fluctuations of aether-currents and the vital distinctions between a summoning circle, a triangle, and a hexagram.  In his spare time he plays Imbroglio, chain-smokes, drinks tea laced with rum or asherat petals, attends plays (only burlesque comedies) in the Saffron Ward, shoots nectar, performs a few eldritch experiments, and maintains a well-tended garden of carnivorous plants, which he feeds regularly.  He is also known to have underworld connections from his adventuring days, and can get his hands on certain arcane items that the authorities of Skein might disapprove of.  When he is drunk or deep in a nectar-trance he occasionally raves about a vague, unfulfilled love.

Physically Felix is striking, with bushy eyebrows and startling blue eyes, staring out from behind a gold-rimmed pince-nez; his face is pale and unlined, but his long, curly hair (usually worn in a loose ponytail) is completely white.  His left hand was lost years ago to a litter of wild piranha-rats in a dusty ruin in the Deep Waste; a clockwork prosthetic clicks and whirrs in its place, the silver fingers stained yellow from cigarettes.  He has many other scars all over his body, each of them with a story.  His familiar, Oriaxes, usually perches on his shoulder in the form of a crimson-furred, horned monkey with three rows of razor teeth and a barbed tail, the collar round its neck running to the gauntlet on Felix's wrist (though not nobility, Felix is afforded some formal status as a tenured professor).  The tattoos on Felix's arms were obtained in various places, including Macellaria's Hexwarren and a mystic in Shoi-Tann; they allow him to effect several eldritch manifestations if he activates them, mostly protective in nature, though one allows him to animate shadow-matter into a tenebral and another spontaneous generates a small swarm of poisonous insects which he can command through whistling (an old spell he found in a grimiore in Lophius' Crooked-Finger reputedly stolen from Gloam-Tor, though Felix himself snorted at the likelihood of the bookseller's claim).

Felix has been known to venture out of retirement on very rare occasions for research expeditions and the like, and to travel to retrieve artifacts integral to his experiments, usually texts; as such he is sometimes seen in the other Twilight Cities, accompanied by a hired escort and several researchers, in search of some footnote in an obscure folio or something similar.  He refuses to return to Moroi under any conditions, unwilling even now to risk conscription into the remnants of the Witch Army.

The Scarred Gentlemen

The trio known as the Scarred Gentlemen are the most notorious duellists and contract killers in Skein.  Rakes and villains of the first order, the Gentlemen take lodgings in The Jeweled Monstrance, a disreputable establishment in the Indigo Ward known as a fencing house and a thieves' haven.  In appearance the three are much alike.  All wear masks at once grotesque and beautiful, leering visages suggesting dark whimsy and fey, elfin cruelty, leaving only their lips - tinted yellow with madwine - visible; all dress in shabby-genteel clothing, frock coats and silk shirts with ruffled cravats and immaculately powdered wigs.  They habitually wear gloves and silk scarves round their necks as well, covering most of their bodies.  The little flesh they do expose is horrendously scarred, thus earning them their nicknames.  When they speak they do so in rasping, wounded voices.  There is little way to differentiate the three: they are of slightly different heights and builds, but all are long and lean.  Their eyes may be their most distinguishing features - one has venomous green, another tawny yellow, and a third has a mismatched pair of bruise-purple and reddish-brown.

The Scarred Gentlemen are reliable and efficient killers and have never failed to claim their mark, tracking their prey out of Skein if need be (though they rarely get far); only the assassins of the Shroud of the House of Shadows in Lophius are considered their superiors.  The Gentlemen are all incredibly competent fighters, preferring their braces of antique wheellock pistols hexed for accuracy when stealth isn't required and poisoned stiletto-knives or sabres when discretion is necessary, though they are also especially skilled with crossbows, rapiers, throwing daggers, and rifles.  Though some of their equipment bears glyphs none of the Gentlemen possess any overt augmentation and none seem to practice any witchcraft.  Though they cultivate a deliberate air of decadent nobility - especially through their masks - the three are certainly not magisters, lacking familiars; any pretension of bluebloodedness is pure illusion, though the Gentlemen command more respect amongst the syndicates of Skein than the magisters do.

The Gentlemen are known for their relentlessness and cunning.  Often they will watch a mark for days before executing their attack, carefully coordinating themselves to block off their target's every path of escape before closing in for the kill, three masked, terrifying figures converging with guns or blades at ready.  They are responsible for innumerable murders within and without the city limits, bringing down anyone from magisters to merchant princes to emissaries to religious officials.  Several vigilantes have tried to eliminate the Gentlemen without success; the City Watch, long on the take of the five syndicates, largely ingores the three, attempting only the most cursory of investigations.  The Scarred Gentlemen are incredibly expensive, however, spending most of their coin on liquor and other vices.

Vortenza

The most infamous gunfighter and bounty hunter of the north, the lilix woman Vortenza roams the frontier lands around the Sinew River and the foothills of the Slouching-devil Mountains, operating primarily out of Crepuscle, Skein, and the Unbound shanties of Somnambulon.  She is a renegade from Dolmen, having fled the claustrophobic dogma of the priest-queens, their sexist castes and restrictive preconceptions.  The second daughter of a powerful lilix theocrat (infanta-archoness of a second-tier diocese), Vortenza was destined for a luxurious if insipid life as a pawn in the elaborate and often ruthless political games of the matriarchy, the so-called 'Great Web', likely to grow fat, indolent, and callous.  Her elder sister was swiftly married to three obedient and carefully selected males; she herself was subsequently betrothed to her first would-be husband.  Rejecting the future set out before her Vortenza chose to leave the city secretly, knowing full well that her family would disown her completely and that if she ever returned to the City of Spiders he would be shunned as traitor to her caste, sex, and city.  The exact circumstances of her decision to leave have become the stuff of legend and speculation, as Vortenza herself prefers not to dwell on the particulars; embellishments often include a forbidden lover or a villainous betrothed.  Whatever the specifics, Vortenza lost her family name of Ysholob after becoming an outcast.

Life outside of the perfumed city chambers was not easy.  Her gender and race, which had privileged her even as they restricted her within Dolmen, now became disadvantageous in the extreme.  In human settlements she was either treated as monstrous or as freakishly appealing, a bizarre and hideous novelty.  It was after a period of aimless wandering and increasing desperation that Vortenza fell in with the vagabond Lao-Urc, a gunfighter-monk and a kind of tramp warrior who made his limited living bringing criminals to justice.  She became the monk's pupil, learning quickly under his tutelage.  The standard education she'd endured in Dolmen had taught her marksmanship as well as mathematics, theology, and rhetoric: the exclusively female officers in the military were trained in the use of multiple pistols in combat, and the techniques had long transcended their origins in battle to become sport.  Lao-Urc, impressed with the already well-honed techniques of his student, strove to teach Vortenza the Thirteen Precepts of the so-called 'Way of the Gun,' an ancient and much mythologized set of quasi-ascetic principles.  She learned quickly, and her spiderfolk anatomy allowed her to expand and extrapolate the forms her mentor taught her.  She swiftly surpassed Lao-Urc as a pistolier, developing an intricate style involving the use of up to six pistols simultaneously, allowing her to eliminate targets with astonishing rapidity.  Together the pair tracked down bandits, thieves, and monstrosities throughout the northern Occident and the fringe of the Slaughter-lands near Flense Veldt and Barrow Scrub, clearing out den after den of brigands until Lao-Urc was slain by a moon-crazed reaver in the cold hills of the Chelicerae Mountains, his head hewn in two by a hurled hatchet.  Vortenza's vengeance was swift and merciless, leaving none of the marauder's tribe alive.  Since the monk's death she has worked exclusively alone, becoming a living legend and a terror to behold in combat, a blur of limbs and blazing weaponry.

Physically, Vortenza is atypical for a lilix female, who tend towards voluptuousness.  She is thin and sinewy to the point of androgyny, and characteristically garbed in weather-stained furs and leathers allowing for great flexibility, as well as fingerless gloves and manskin boots.  She usually displays her six pistols and ammunition strapped to her compact, elegant torso.  Sometimes her weapons (and her species) are obscured by a tattered and bullet-holed black cloak, possibly once belonging to Lao-Urc, which she wears when traveling in colder climes.

Ezekiel Khaan

An eccentric (some would say deranged) witch who lives on the outskirts of Macellaria, Ezekiel Khaan is a wealthy and obsessive individual.  Outwardly he appears human, though rumors persist that he has forged infernal contracts or else preserved himself with alchemical treatments, unnaturally prolonging his life.  His physical semblance is chameleonic, to say the least.  Round and excited eyes peer out from his ageless face, often adorned with elaborately sculpted whiskers - Ezekiel is prone to growing long, gaudily dyed beards (usually blue, green, or violent orange) and then shaving them without warning.  He wears a shifting garment with sewn-in sigils that fluctuates in hue according to some inscrutable pattern, possibly its wearer's own whims, possibly at random.  A hunched familiar something like a hairless monkey and something like a giant toad, addressed by Ezekiel as 'the Primeval Warbler,' can constantly be found in the witch's company, usually perched on his shoulder and babbling obscure and nonsensical gibberish that sounds sometimes like poetry and sometimes like a complex mathematical theorem.

Ezekiel's manse is located on a hill southeast of the Eel's Gate, ringed by a tall, solid wall of writhing maggots, constantly squirming, erupting from the ground in a quivering profusion of pallid larval flesh.  The 'gate' of the manse only parts for welcome visitors, those who can prove that they have an appointment with Ezekiel to the demon gatekeeper Nybias - a tall, svelte figure with a beard of tentacles, a nest of red insectile eyes, and a barbed tail, habitually clad in a pristine white suit, Ezekiel's chosen livery, paid for his services rather than compelled into subjugation (though the terms of this arrangement are known only to Ezekiel and Nybias).  Most of these visitors are outlandish themselves: mysterious men and women with odd grafts or lurid garb, adventurers and scoundrels and fellow hexers with stitched servitors or chained familiars or hulking bodyguards armed with unwieldy weapons.  The manse itself is visible beyond the hideous living walls, a rambling and whimsically constructed edifice with many unlikely cupolas, spires, and wings, lavishly ornate and adorned with faceless statues like spindly mannequins, carved in animalistic and often sexual postures.  Few reliable descriptions of the manse's interior have emerged.  Reports have mentioned a mad chaos of clockwork and steam, furnaces and crucibles wreathed in sulphurous fumes, glass forests of beakers and test-tubes; an array of living furniture fashioned from monstrous limbs and skins; a room whose walls are covered in murmuring wallpaper that speaks with a thousand loquacious mouths.

Ezekiel's income is generated principally from his ingenious inventions and his alchemical concoctions, sold in the Hexwarren district of the City of Bodysnatchers.  The Splicing Guild considers the witch a threat to their business but have been unable to infiltrate his manse; they would pay a small fortune to any willing to do so and return with Ezekiel's secrets.

Old Gran Corpse

Old Gran Corpse is a ghul vagrant and mystic who lives on the streets of Moroi, wandering the alleyways of Wasp-Hole and Manikin-Slump.  No one knows exactly how old Old Gran Corpse actually is - she herself claims to have forgotten - but she has disjointed recollections of the Conflagration and even the dementia epidemics, which means she must be well over seven hundred at least, incredibly long-lived for a ghul of such poor economic status.

Physically Old Gran Corpse appears to be of late middle age, swathed perpetually in a scuffed, oversized leather jacket, with a crazed shock of iron gray hair and bright golden eyes, peering out from a haggard but vaguely cheerful visage.  A charm with the image of an unknown deity hangs around her neck on a piece of twine.  Like most street-people in Moroi Old Gran Corpse is an addict, both to nectar and to several other substances, predominantly alcohol and mind wrack; however, she seems to have developed an intense tolerance to most chemical and alchemical drugs or toxins.  While addled and sometimes visibly mad in a quiet, muttering sort  of way, Old Gran Corpse is much more coherent than many vagrants, and a few have suggested that her insanity may be an act, based on the ancient wisdom that gleams in her nectar-jaundiced eyes.

Subsisting primarily on rats, pigeons, and spiders, Old Gran Corpse makes a bare subsistence living for herself reading fortunes, primarily using a faded set of tarot cards.  She also interprets dreams, casts the bones, reads auguries in entrails, and has been known to dabble a as a soul tinker, channelling spirits from the aether with a few chalk glyphs scrawled on brick walls or cobbled streets.  She possesses several books of varying sizes which she stows in her enormous pockets, along with her cards, bones, and other oddments.

Mr. Rasp

A charismatic figure completely atypical for its race, the enigmatic Mr. Rasp is one of the few leechkin to have utterly transcended - or at any rate discarded - all vestiges of its native culture.  Though of course just as sexless as all members of its species Mr. Rasp has self-identified as male, perhaps as part of its ('his') overarching business strategy.  Certainly he cultivates an aura of ostentation and power virtually unknown amongst the leechkin: where most of his ilk go unclothed Mr. Rasp wears immaculately tailored suits, tunics of Skein-made silk, and shoes of the finest manskin leather (he also carries an immense gold pocketwatch, also of Skein manufacture).

Mr. Rasp is a merchant, and a very successful one.  Having risen from obscure origins in the City of the Lamprey, sired by a leechkin shaman, he clawed his way up from the gutters, quickly finding employ with a mongrel street-gang along the Street of Mists in Vespergate  He quickly proved himself capable and rose through the ranks with ruthless tenacity, becoming noted not only for his grim determination and a talent for persuasion but also, surprisingly, for his mathematical skills.  He worked for a time as an accountant and bookkeeper for one of Lophius' major gangs, eventually coming to handle the majority of the gang's financial interests. When his employers were slaughtered en masse by the ghilan gang called the Devourers Mr. Rasp fled Lophius by ship, at this time assuming his current moniker - allegedly inspired by the leader of the Devourers, the notorious grave-spawn gangster Mr. Gray.

Since his departure from Lophius Mr. Rasp has built a small financial empire based out of Macellaria, the City of Bodysnatchers, heading one of the Robber Guilds, the House of Crimson Shadows.  Now he dwells in a veritable palace in the old city, attended by a horde of servants, supping daily on fresh blood from enormous silver chalices.  He is seen frequently in the city streets, accompanied by four strikingly unique bodyguards - Yesheleb with his plethora of unlikely limbs and his fluid pugilism, the cloaked, mercenary thing that merely calls itself The Cowl, the lilix swordsman Illiszan, and red-masked Chaa-Ibl, witch-priestess of the Bloodletter -  and sometimes travels abroad for meetings with other important merchants, preferring to meet with people face to face - probably to intimidate them with his six-eyed, yellow stare.  He speaks polished Shambles, Jangle, Hagspeech, and even Hellspeak from his two palm-mouths, and has perfected a technique unknown amongst other leechkin for speaking in two distinct languages simultaneously.

Diseases

Blanchphage

Exposure to the great, desiccated battlefield of Etiolation leads to the inevitable contraction of this condition, a sapping, energy-draining affliction that sucks out vitality and colour from an individual, leaving them without pigmentation or will.  Blanchphage victims look like colourless husks, often becoming gaunt or emaciated as a result of their near complete loss of appetite.  Nihilistic despair and a depressed torpor - not violent or suicidal, but a paralyzing absence of willpower or interest - eventually overcomes even the hardiest of minds.  No cure is known, but most who manage to escape Etiolation before the final stages of the disease eventually recover.  Blanchphage does linger, however, even after departure from the battlefield: dissipation is not immediate.

Because of blanchphage, vegetation, fungi, detritovores, and all other living organisms are virtually absent from Etiolation.  This means that the scores of bodies in the battlefield never fully decay.  Some are animated by the temporus mali to become haunts, but most simply lie unblinking in the gray emptiness, skins dried-out and pallid, hair white and brittle.  Because of their preservation, however, these corpses have become a resource for the Twilight Cities, particularly Macellaria: their flesh is consumed, their limbs sold to the tissue shops, their bones carved into weapons and tools.

Eyeblight

A bizarre disease even by the standards of the Cadaverous Earth, eyeblight, also called peacock syndrome, is a progressive and potentially debilitating contagion whose methods of transmission are sinister, to say the least.  Through some mysterious eldritch process eyeblight pathogens are transmitted not through air, spores, contaminated food or water, or even physical contact, but through eye contact.  The gaze alone appears to be insufficient: an eyeblight sufferer who merely looks upon another will not transmit the disease, but at the moment of contact, when the viewed returns the gaze, a pathway is made and the door for infection is opened.  The infection travels through the pupil and along the optic nerve into the victim's brain.
nce contracted, eyeblight symptoms can manifest anywhere, but they usually begin on the face, neck, or shoulders, spreading slowly down the victim's body. The disease causes the appearance of small cysts or lesions that grow rapidly over the course of a few days before suppurating, exposing
« Last Edit: November 09, 2011, 12:56:21 PM by Steerpike » Logged


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« Reply #6 on: October 30, 2008, 10:09:09 PM »

Gods and Religion

A myriad of faiths compete for dominance in the Cadaverous Earth, from the harsh theocracy of the lilix to the loose pantheism of Lophius to the terrible cults of the Unfettering.  Many of these religions are contradictory or mutually exclusive, maintaining radically divergent philosophical and spiritual perspectives or enforcing different codes upon their practitioners.

Baubo

Goddess of obscenities, profanities, filth, drunkenness, joy, and abjection, Baubo is a very old deity whose origins are said to be rooted in the nascent aeons of human history.  Appearing as a naked, aging, obese woman, often riding a pig or hog and sometimes equipped with a rickety wooden ladder leaning against one fleshy shoulder, Baubo is not a mainstream goddess but is nonetheless a popular one.  Her 'scripture,' the so-called Principia Obscena, is an index of curse-words, dirty jokes, and lewd gestures, with long, lavishly illustrated appendixes dedicated to erotic instruction in unlikely sexual positions and pornographic psalms.

With a major temple in Crepuscle, two smaller ones in Lophius (in the Driftwood District) and Macellaria (at the border of Velveteen Circus and the Skin Markets), and a smattering of shrines across the Cadaverous Earth, Baubo has a substantial if somewhat fringe following.  It is more common to invoke her name or one of her innumerable curses than to pray formally to Baubo, but those who do dedicate themselves to her tend to truly revel in the indecency and repulsiveness of her rites, wanton ceremonies recorded in the Principia Obscena which frequently have orgiastic components and involve the consumption of unwholesome substances.

The Weeping Lady

Those who heed the Lament of the Weeping Lady and become members of the Mourning Flock cast aside their past lives in favor of sublime monastic asceticism.  Cloistering themselves in fortified and reclusive monasteries scattered across the Cadaverous Earth (with a particularly dense constellation in the Chelicerae Mountains) members of the Order of the Weeping Lady dedicate themselves to the funerary rites of the entire world, having pronounced it beyond salvation.  Their hymns are great dirges; their meditations, macabre and often nihilistic musings on the blank horror of oblivion.  Though some sects hold that in mourning the Cadaverous Earth - a term for the world that Order itself invented and continues to use - they will usher it and its residents into an afterworld or new paradise, most believe that existence itself will soon end, that the final eschatology is upon the world and that all that remains is to reflect on reality's tragic destruction.  They offer a swan-song: a final tribute.

The Weeping Lady herself is generally portrayed as a deathly white female figure constantly weeping crystalline tears, and is garbed in a black dress, sometimes tattered.  Rank within her Order is denoted through teardrop tattoos and minutiae of apparel, which consist of black, gray, and white robes and habits.  The Lady is connected to concepts such as fatality, endings, sadness, song, and linearity.

The Order sustains itself by conducting services such as funerary rights (burial, cremation, and more exotic funerals) for those that wish them, by collecting donations in their shrines, by selling relics, and by tending to graveyards and tombs.  Of course, many inhabitants of the Twilight Cities eat or sell their dead, which limits the funerary functionality of the Order.  They are widely believed to possess extensive stockpiles of wealth stored away in past centuries, though the truth of these mysterious funds are known only to the upper-level clergy members.

The Bloodletter

Revered by warriors, assassins, mercenaries, and similarly murderous folk, the entity known only as the Bloodletter is a mad and lustful battle-god.  Those who venerate the Bloodletter proffer the spilt blood of their enemies to their god in return for his divine aid in combat.  Legend has that once the Bloodletter was a mortal, but through the red self-baptism of carnage he ascended to godhood.  He appears as a brutishly muscled and hulking figure wearing a dented and red-plumed helmet.  His massive body is scarred and blood-spattered, and he wears piecemeal armour of metal or leather.  Often he is depicted wielding a great axe or sword, other times a pair of smoking pistols (in which guise he often swaps his helmet for a broad-brimmed hat).  Shrines to the Bloodletter are rare and his formal priesthood nearly non-existent, but nonetheless he remains a popular deity amongst superstitious men and women who make their business in killing, which describes a substantial portion of the world's ragtag and amoral population.

The Church of Striga holds that the Bloodletter is a perverse abomination, a devil spawned from the spurt of tainted blood that flowed from the punctured body of Hirud, who they claim Striga personally dispatched - as such he is occasionally identified as an avatar of Hirud.  For Striga, blood is sacred and should only be spilled as part of religious ceremony; for the Bloodletter, random bloodshed is encouraged, with obscenity or transgression linked to apotheosis.  Few individuals hold solely to the Bloodletter, recognizing him as a kind of divine lunatic; despite his universally recognized psychopathy he is thought by some to possess true divine power.

Like Melmoth the Wanderer the Bloodletter is sometimes conflated with the god-murderer Kain in esoteric texts.  Some claim the Bloodletter and the Wanderer are twins, others that they are dual aspects of a single deity.  He is associated with chaos or randomness, madness, war, battle, appetite, excess, brute strength, and uninhibited will.

Melmoth the Wanderer

Patron god of travelers, vagabonds, peddlers and other merchants, sailors, aeronauts, and kindred wanderers of every stripe, Melmoth has few formal temples apart from small roadside altars and shrines at the gates of the Twilight Cities.  Nonetheless he is a popular deity amongst those who spend any time traveling the vast and lawless wastes of the Cadaverous Earth.  Melmoth is a solitary and melancholy figure usually depicted as a robed man whose face is obscured by a cowl.  He is sometimes conflated with Kain, a legendary murderer marked by some long-forgotten elder power to forever wander the earth, though this connection is extremely archaic.  Some iconography of the deity depict him with two faces or with an oroborus ring.

Melmoth counts roads, winds, waves, doorways, circularity, stories, journeys, error, order and chaos-in-order, gnosis, eternity, rebirth, and the ecstatic sensation of pure wanderlust as part of his portfolio.  Those who believe in the Wanderer mutter prayers to him before setting out on a journey or when they arrive at a destination, leave coins at wayside shrines, and thank the deity if they evade trouble on the road.  He is invoked by those who are lost or unsure, who are physically or metaphysically confused.  Melmoth is opposed to concepts of mortality, finality, eschatology, or true purpose.

Particularly devout worshipers of Melmoth often claim to have met the god passing down the roadside.  They report an enigmatic encounter in which all feelings of burden are lightened and their sense of worry is resolved.  The see the purity of the road, an expression of a sublimely meaningless existential pattern, a grand cycle in which birth and death are mere punctuation marks, illusory moments of end or beginning on an unending series of paths.

Verlum

Bloated Spider-Goddess of the lilix, the matriarchal deity Verlum presides over the Twilight City of Dolmen, served by her all-female clergy.  Deriving their scriptures from an ancient tapestry purportedly woven by the Goddess herself, the priestesses administer law and justice through a theocratic system of authoritarian controls that make governmental and religious structures in the city virtually inextricable.  Only a few individuals are permitted to gaze upon the tapestry and interpret its meaning, ensuring that authority never leaves the spindly hands of the elder priestesses.

The Beast Gods

Nameless, innumerable, and inhuman, the ravenous Beast Gods of the deep are mythical beings said to half-slumber at the bottom of the ocean, awaiting the fulfillment of some unfathomable prophecy or mysterious celestial event before they awaken.  Sometimes identified as servitors or kindred to the Chained Ones or the swamp demons of the south, the Beast Gods are not formally worshipped save by the most depraved of corsairs.  Sailors do frequently give blood offerings to the Beast Gods, though many hold to Melmoth instead (or in addition).

The Beast Gods themselves are described variously as chimerae of crustacean, giant squid, and whale, and supposedly possess vast, animal intellects and enormous appetites.  The phenomena known as Utterances - ripples in the Aether confined to the Occidental Seas and Oceans - are often ascribed to the Beast Gods' half-slumbering groans, their sleepy rumblings.  While many deities are connected with an array of abstract concepts the Beast Gods are less metaphysically constructed, associated only with raw, monstrous power, elements of salt and water and polished nacre, with the basest, most essential impulses: breed, sleep, dream, devour.

Hirud

The god-leech and Ravager-Worm, instigator of the Pallid Decimation, patron of the cestoid Imperium and fabled source of Etiolation, the dark god Hirud is portrayed as a gargantuan parasite, a leech or worm or lamprey bent on sucking out the life from the world and devouring its essence to sate his (or its) diabolic thirst.  A forbidden deity, taboo in almost all cultures, Hirud is worshipped only by a few outlandish, underground cults, often with links to those who work towards the Great Unfettering - Hirud is identified in certain esoteric texts as one of the Chained Ones, the elemental beings who ended the Membrane Wars and were then bound at horrific cost, released from bondage before the rest of his siblings only to be petrified at the climax of the apocalyptic battle preserved in the cursed waste at the gray, desiccated heart of the Slaughter-lands.

The Star-Gods

Primarily worshiped by grave-spawn, the Star-Gods are deities composed of the light from dead stars that has only now reached the Cadaverous Earth, having traveled for millennia across the cold oblivion of space.  Those who worship the Star-Gods believe that this ghostly light is the final expression of the inchoate divine power potential in all stars.  Stars are larvae, the fiery eggs of deities not yet fully manifest.  Only through their death, through novae, can the deities pupate, transcending their flaming, material bodies and thus entering a purer, more perfect phase of existence.  This process is aligned with the transformation of the quick into grave-spawn, the transmutation of living clay into dust, a process considered a sacred blessing by those who hold to the Star-Gods.

The Gods themselves are thought to care little if at all for the denizens of Earth.  In contrast with the superstitious astrology of petty seers and gutter-witches those who believe in the Star-Gods are deistic at best, their reverence for starlight an abstract and largely metaphorical thing.  Certain chapters of the faith do believe in the Mysteries of Dead Light, that is, that within the Star-Gods' death-light are encoded secret revelations; to this end their astronomer-sacerdos continually compile stellar data and search for hidden patterns, in an attempt to decipher the Language of Stardust and so unravel the Mysteries.

The Leering God - by Ghostman

Certain nomadic tribes whose caravans ply the eastern portions of the treacherous Tallow Plains - those parts nearest the dreaded Slaughter-lands - have through the course of uncount generations worshiped an odd entity entrapped within a stone idol hidden in that wasteland. Dubbed the Leering Colossus or the Leering God, this obscure divinity is almost completely unknown outside the small cult that venerates it. Though it's origin and history is an enigma even to those with the most intimate familiarity with it, one thing seems certain: the Colossus is somehow able to resist the chaotic shifts of the Tallow Plains, never eroding nor disintegrating, and never drifting far from the Slaughter Lands. Physically, it appears as a gigantic statue of a humanoid, yet obviously inhuman figure, seated on a queer throne that looks curiously organic in shape.

Formed from unidentified red stone and possessing the sublime yet somewhat disturbing touch of mystique that is common to many ancient idols and fetishes, the cult image bears astoundingly lifelike features, with a definite suggestion of masculinity despite it's alien figure. The most striking feature is the vivid expression upon it's broad face, one that human tongues can only describe as a subtly perverse, yet strangely reassuring leer. This enigmatic idol is inhabited by a spiritual entity of eldritch power and intelligence. Though unmoving and lifeless, it is capable of communing with it's worshipers through prophetic dreams. True followers of the Leering Colossus are inexplicably able to locate it simply by treading the eastern Tallow Plains, as if they were fated to stumble upon it.

The cultists and the Colossus exist in a symbiotic relationship, willingly benefiting one another. When a caravan of the faithful stops by the object of their reverence, they set camp for the night and prepare for an elaborate ceremony. Under the leering gaze of the idol and the myriad stars of the naked sky, the eldritch din of tom-toms and reed pipes sets tone to an ecstatic ritual dance. Gradually it turns into a climactic orgy, the dancers casting off their clothes and all pretenses of restraint, giving in fully to the primal pleasures of the flesh. The Colossus feeds off the latent sexual energy thusly released, revitalizing itself - so teach the elderly mystics heading the informal cult hierarchy. Though this ritual is shamelessly debaucherous, it is never forced - every participant must act of their own will, lest the purity of the ceremony be tainted, invoking the wrathful aspect of the usually benevolent Leering God.

In return for the surges of vitality it craves, the Colossus bestows upon the faithful a blissful spell granting them visions that guide them on their journeys, forewarning of the many dangers upon their path. So it has been for many generations, and while the guidance of the Leering God is not infallible, the initiates of the cult have escaped many a certain doom thanks to their passionate tribute.
« Last Edit: December 29, 2011, 08:33:14 PM by Steerpike » Logged


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« Reply #7 on: October 30, 2008, 10:09:57 PM »

Witchcraft

Artistry

The thing in the vat regarded its creator with the vacuous stare of an infant. The fleshcrafter did not meet this dull, wet gaze but fiddled instead with the complex controls of a nearby console, tapping at keys and swearing beneath his breath. A moment later a hissing sound filled the large, domed chamber; and then fire erupted in the vat, and the creature screamed, flailing its limbs for a moment before the flame consumed it. Only a skeleton remained, charred and malformed, scraps of burnt flesh still clinging to the blackened bones. The witch sighed. Another failure - another day wasted.

Rowan Moray was not registered with the Splicing Guild near the Witch's Gate. He was a freelancer, and if the Guildsmen ever noticed him, they would burn his studio to the ground with him still in it.  That he ate into their profit margins was enough to invite their hostility; that he operated beyond the pale of Guild protocol and regulation, refusing their arbitrary restrictions and small-minded narrowness of scope.  Fortunately, his business was small-scale, a back alley tissue-shop on the outskirts of the Skin Markets near the border between Wormhive and Velveteen Circus in downtown Macellaria, far from the Guild Citadel in Hexwarren and its chambers of slick, echoing stone.

Rowan's studio was expansive and many-chambered. Space was far from precious in the City of Bodysnatchers: hundreds of rooms were deserted, whole streets and sectors inhabited only by rats and spiders. He had selected a three-leveled complex in a confusing block of musty streets, in the shadow of a Wormhive spire. A pair of bronze titans, sibling fire-bringers and obscure trickster gods, supported the arched entranceway, crowned with a buzzing neon sign: Body Modification - Grafts, Fleshsculpting & Augmentation. A narrow antechamber followed, lit with the sepia glow of a fitful, naked bulb; through a hexagonal door (magnetically sealed while the shop was closed) was the shop level, its high ceiling lost in darkness, its wares displayed under lamps filtered yellow or crimson, like exhibits in a museum or, perhaps, sideshow attractions - as befitting their grotesquerie.

One display case held a hand with seven fingers and bruise-purple flesh, with long talons black as obsidian, wires feeding it liquids or draining them out; beside it, another case held a mask of pale, living skin, a beautiful woman's visage placed over a mannequin head. In a larger tank a selection of newly-assembled creations bickered over a rat's carcass, while a two-headed snake with a pair of human faces hissed in its cage and uncoiled its iridescent, bifurcating body, a piece inspired by the naghini of the Bluebottle Archipelago. There was a selection of limbs and organic weapons, fangs and bony spurs and stinging tendrils. There were lungs that could breathe smoke or water, hearts that could beat faster, de-tox implants and glandular batteries of drugs - all perfectly preserved, kept alive through an ingenious system of tubes and electric stimulations. The lamplight shone through the thin layers of flesh, dappling the domino-tiled floor with sallow illumination.

He catered to two distinct demographics. The first was composed of street-level thugs and toughs looking for an advantage in a brawl or bar-fight - a bit of grafted muscle, an extra limb, steel claws and the like. Rowan considered this hack-work, the necessary toil to keep his establishment running - scum of the sort he dealt with paid in cash, and their jobs were quick, crude, and simple. This sort of augmentation would be ignored by even the most vigilant Guild agent: it was simply too commonplace, too ubiquitous, the work of common graft peddlers in back-alleys or Tatterdemalion Court.

The second clientele base he maintained was considerably smaller and a great deal more affluent, the sort that would attract the ire of his larger, more powerful competitors if discovered. This second class of customers - foreigners, aficionados, even some Fleshmongers looking to acquire some particular perversion on the cheap - ordered strictly by commission, and their requests took weeks if not months to complete. But these commissions, while invariably strange to the point of grotesquerie, were far from hack-work. They were, at least in Rowan's mind, his masterpieces - they were works of art.
Eldritch Theory

Witchcraft is the practice of imbuing a sigil, phrase, or other symbol with arcane power.  Words, glyphs, and incantations have no power in and of themselves: were I to simply scrawl the apotropaic Sigil of Arcane Abhorrence on my door, I would not ward off malignant eldritch creatures and spells, as that mark is intended.  Rather, a witch must empower or infuse his or her symbols with psychic potency, interpreting the symbol and understanding it as an object of artifice, a semiotic shadow - giving the symbol meaning.  This interpretive or critical act is at the core of witchcraft, thus allowing the shamanism of the leechkin, the ritualism of the hagmen, the sigil system of fleshcraft, the ornate mysticism of the lilix, the baroque incantatory nigromancy of Moroi, and other forms of arcana to all coexist: while all of these 'competing' systems utilize different symbols, they rely on the same mechanism to imbue those symbols with power.

The process - sometimes dubbed 'invocation' in technical terms - requires the mind to saturate itself in the chaotic juices of the collective unconscious, a kind of aether-realm from which all images emerge. The more complex the spell, the deeper the witch must penetrate this mindscape, and such sojourns are not without difficulties and hazards.  Only those with strong psychic potential who have trained their minds to withstand the whirling entropy of the aether can draw on it to cast the more powerful or intricate spells; those who attempt to channel eldritch energy into a sigil or phrase who lack the proper control or have taxed their abilities too vigorously may succumb to the nightmarish intoxications of the aether and lose their individual coherency.  These wretched souls become mad, dangerous things, channeling raw numina haphazardly.

Nectar

The puissant sap of the Elder Trees of Moroi quickens and catalyses invocation by breaking down barriers between the individual mind and the collective unconscious, allowing a witch to tap into the aether with much greater facility.  The sap itself, known as nectar or ichor, takes the form of a pale golden serum, and is usually injected.  It is highly addictive and can cause hallucinations, euphoria, night-terrors, and other side effects as well as supercharging a witch with numina.  Prolonged use, however, can eventually wear down all distinctions between an individual's mind and the aether, plunging the user into madness.

It has been speculated by arcane scholars that the dementia epidemics that contributed to the decline of Moroi during the middle of the Aeon of Dust may have been linked to the overuse of nectar.  The vast number of active witches in the city at the time may have created a cloud of psychic effluvia as a result of their mass channeling and invocation, resulting in the bouts of madness and dysfunction that debilitated the once-great city-state.  Although evidence is inconclusive, it has also been suggested that the Suppuration itself is in fact a larger-scale symptom of collective invocation, a kind of psychic bleed as the collective unconscious oozes into the material world - in other words, the practice of witchcraft may have worn away at the fabric between realities, perforating the aether and allowing it to intrude onto the physical.

Hexes

Hexes are spells that can be invoked through incantation.  Hexes can transform the caster or someone else, curse, augment, heal, or harm the witch or another individual, or evoke some effect on the environment.  Common battle-hexes include Eldred's Excellent Exsanguination (which boils the target's blood), Catskull's Green Corruption (which manifests a voracious fungus that devours the target from the inside out, then uses them as a grisly, mushroom-covered thrall), and Vorl's Black Dismemberment (which causes loss of limb), Morith's Nine Mortifications (a series of hexes that can numb, paralyze, maim, or cause complete muscle death), and the anonymous Withering Gaze (which hexes the eyes of the witch so that his or her stare has a desiccating effect, turning opponents to dust).  Hexes can also be employed in order to graft new limbs or flesh.

Glyphs

Also called sigils or wards, glyphs are ideograms physically inscribed on some surface, be it wood, stone, paper, metal, glass, bone, flesh (sometimes called a 'flesh-hex'), or a similar substance.  They tend to express permanent effects rather than ephemeral eldritch events.  For example, a hex might invoke a pair of leathery bat-wings or a gout of eldritch flame, but a glyph might bind a rogue shadow elemental into a lead phylactery, ward against poisons and toxins, or blind anyone who read it.  They are instrumental in controlling otherwise dangerous entities such as demons.  Glyphs of this sort are most commonly used in fleshcraft to bind spirits into dead flesh, revivifying it (for example, the servitors and Watchdogs of Macellaria), or in diabolism to protect a witch from a demon.  The magisters of Skein utilize silver collars etched with tiny sigils to keep fully manifested demons as pets, bodyguards, and servants (such bound demons are called familiars).

Demons


The word 'demon' signifies an otherworldly entity, an alien being foreign to the Cadaverous Earth.  Demons are sometimes confused with oneiroi (subconscious emanations in the Aether made manifest through the Suppuration) and daevas (indigenous immortals, though possibly with otherworldly lineage), largely due to their chimerical, nightmarish appearance.  Existing as they do on planes with fundamentally different rules, demons have bewildering physical forms and often possess shapeshifting abilities, choosing to appear in certain guises.  They also universally feed off non-corporeal substances: numina, 'souls,' vitality, pleasure, pain, fear, and the like.

 Demons can enter the Cadaverous Earth in several ways.  The overwhelming majority are summoned by mortal diabolists, conjured and then bound using glyphs of power and similar witchcraft, either trapped in a physical vessel or in an eldritch circle.  Some escape, overcoming or circumventing such wards and running wild; others are kept as familiars, the fiendish pets, bodyguards, servants, or concubines of accomplished spellcasters.  Most other demons are refugees or deserters from the near-forgotten Membrane Wars, a series of apocalyptic conflicts in the distant past in which demoniac forces invaded the Cadaverous Earth and were eventually repelled, the rifts they used for their incursion sealed.   These wretched creatures are trapped in this realm, unable to return to their Hells.

There are several distinct tribes or clades of demons, obsessively categorized by diabolists in their convoluted demonologies.  Lowest amongst them are the imps, otherworldly pests with little intelligence or power, small in size and in intelligence, often winged - miniature demons frequently kept as pets or familiars.  The bestial demons inhabiting the southlands and the Sallow Seas are utterly unfathomable, primordial creatures sometimes identified as elemental demigods or the like (some speculate they may not be otherworldly demons at all, but simply powerful idigenous spirits).  These beings - whose presence predates the Membrane Wars - are irrational and enigmatic, incapable of forming allegiances with mortals; their intelligence is hotly debated, with some maintaining that they possess sublime but glacial consciousness, others insisting that they are little more than terrifyingly puissant animals.  In contrast are the hierarchical, politically minded demons sometimes dubbed True Fiends or se'irim, their bodies variegated and mismatched, their minds prolix and cunning in the extreme.  Their power-structures are incredibly complex, with a confusion of Dukes, Archdukes, Marquises, Earls, and Princes vying against one another for position.  Finally there are the demons sometimes called mazikin, mutilated and horrific - Morr'ghu the Rot Angel, Ahema'at Heart-Ripper, Fornus the Flayed, Haagi the Twisted, and thousands of others, each a warped phantom.  Though they do not possess the incomprehensible, chaotic purity of mind of the demons of swamp and sea, their psyches are fragmented and wounded, murkier and less stable than the conniving, calculating consciousness of the se'irim.

The Membrane Wars and the Great Fettering

Though the details of the Membrane Wars are lost, their echoes can still be felt across the Cadaverous Earth.  Erupting climactically at the end of the blood-spattered Aeon of Immolation, the Wars were precipitated by a single arcane event, possibly even an accident.  It is unknown whether the witches who first tore open the world-pore were curious but naïve thaumaturge-scientists or crazed diabolists bent on unleashing the apocalypse that followed, but whoever they were they bore through the normally semi-permeable skin between planes, the eponymous Membranes, and ripped open a permanent portal to one of the terrifying Hell-dimensions.  The portal propagated, like a torn seam in fabric, unraveling normally immutable boundaries.  Sensing the relative weakness of the mortal inhabitants of the alien world that had suddenly manifested at their doorstep the demoniac forces of the Hells were quick to attack.  What followed was a brutal, centuries-long state of warfare in which demon-clans fought each other as well as mortal armies across the battlefields of the Cadaverous Earth, with a death toll of billions.

The end of the Membrane Wars is fraught with uncertainty, but a few speak of the Awakening and the subsequent Fettering.  It is speculated that the last great arcane civilizations of the ailing mortal world invoked latent elemental powers that had long slumbered deep within the earth, primordial guardian spirits of god-like power.  These wrathful, indigenous entities were terrible to behold, and brought their unfathomable power to bear on the scourge-armies of the Hells, killing hundreds of thousands, banishing thousands more back to their native dimensions, and scattering the rest across the earth before repairing the eldritch rifts that allowed the demons access to their world (though in the aftermath of the Membrane Wars the pores-between-worlds are still more easily breached through witchcraft).  But once awakened the sleepers could not easily be quieted.  Though they had been used as weapons, they proved double-edged, wreaking their own cataclysmic destruction upon the world to 'purge' it of its uncleanliness.  To prevent this all-encompassing desolation the sorcerers of the old world devised a ritual of unspeakable power, requiring some tremendous sacrifice, that would seal away the ravaging elemental entities they had unleashed.  Thus came about the Great Fettering in which the sublime world-spirits were chained, forced into exile and back into their endless slumber.

It is theoretically possible to undo the Great Fettering, to Unfetter the beings bound within the earth.  Some have speculated that Hirud, the Ravager Worm, the god-leech who gave rise to the Pallid Decimation and the cestoid Imperium, was one such entity, stopped only by the awesome spell that created the region of the Slaughter-lands called Etiolation.  The beast-gods of the sea are thought by some to be harbingers or servants of the dreaming elder-beings, as may certain daevas or other creatures of the Cadaverous Earth.

Languages

The closest thing the Cadaverous Earth has to a common tongue is Shambles, sometimes called Magpie, a pastiche language derived from half a dozen long-dead parent languages.  Spoken in all of the Twilight Cities but most commonly in Lophius, Macellaria, and Crepuscle, Shambles has a plethora of regional dialects.  It forms the basis for the trader's cant called Jangle, a stripped-down version of the tongue with added hand signals used by merchants during complicated transactions.  Jangle is practically the official language in the overwhelmingly commercial city of Crepuscle.  An encrypted, modified form of Shambles is used in Filchspeak (also called Alleyspeak), a thieves' cant also used in official parleys between gangs in Lophius.  A hand-sign based derivative of this cant used to communicate silently is called Flicker or Fingerspeak.  Shambles itself is a coarsely hybrid language with a rather mishmash grammar and morphology.

Almost all grave-spawn speak Shambles or the language native to their city of origin (usually doing so in half-whispers), but a near-defunct language called Corpserattle, rarely known as Morbis or the Carrion Tongue, is used by the aristocracy of Somnambulon and in all-ghul churches.  It is an eerie language to hear, raising hairs and causing gooseflesh, and is noted for its thirteen noun classes expressing various levels of animacy, life, death, and un-death.

Hextongue (sometimes called Witchtongue) is the language of Moroi and also of witchcraft and incantation, and so is used by arcane practioners, scholars, and intellectuals across the Cadaverous Earth.  It is derived from a number of archaic technical languages but can broadly be described as a hybrid of Shambles and Hellspeak, the demoniac language, from which it derives its alphabet.  Hellspeak is a 'fiendishly complex' and 'diabolically difficult' language, as many a smirking linguist will tell you.  In its true form it is spoken not only by demons but also by the magisters of Skein, and in a bastardized form by the common people of Skein.  A highly analytic language with incredibly ornate characters (forming the basis for most glyphs), Hellspeak has a kind of mechanical precision to it, with each word expressing a single concept (compare to Glatch, below, with its myriad declensions).

The hagmen of the south can learn human speech but suffer from a wet, thick accent due to their uniquely shaped mouths.  More commonly they speak Glatch, or Hagspeech, a guttural, fluid language which can be learned with difficulty by humans, though many find the more extreme uvular sounds impossible to reproduce correctly.  Glatch has a bewildering spectrum of genders and pronouns and has a highly agglutinative, polysynthetic morphology allowing for very long compounds words used to express very subtle concepts; it has eight declensions and six conjugations.  Glatch has a flowing, cursive script, with characters blending into one another.  Southern dialects of Shambles, such as the one spoken in Lophius, utilize many loanwards from Glatch.

The lilix can also learn human speech but invariably speaking with a clicking, sibilant accent quite unnerving to unaccustomed ears.  Their own language is a composed of a kind of chittering, quite incomprehensible to almost all humans.  Usually called Lilix or Spiderchatter, this language is highly unique and has many untranslatable concepts.  Tone and frequency are as important if not more so than the actual 'words,' long strings of almost indistinguishable syllables.  Divided brutally between masculine and feminine genders, Lilix also has well-defined systems of etiquette and hierarchized modes of address.  A radically simplified form of the language is used to command the human slaves of Dolmen - Chattelchatter.  This variant is usually used by visiting merchants (often via interpreter) to address the lilix, showing deference.  Forcing a lilix female to speak in Shambles is considered gravely insulting, as they deem that tongue uncouth and unsophisticated.

Leechkin have their own primitive language consisting largely of gestures and animalistic noises, called Leechdance.  In urban communities they use a mongrel smattering of tongues without regard to their respective languages, either incapable or unwilling to distinguish between languages.  The result is usually a garbled form of Shambles with phrases borrowed from Glatch, Hellspeak, Hextongue, or whatever other language was being spoken around them.

A myriad of minor languages can be heard across the Cadaverous Earth.  Serpentine is the language of the naghini, a hissing, sibilant language that can be mastered by humans; naghini can speak Shambles with relative ease, though they hiss 's' sounds excessively.  Zerda is the yapping quasi-language of the western foxfolk.  The cestoids have a bizarre, almost totally incomprehensible language based mostly on smell and motion, although during the time of the great cestoid Imperium there were a select few humans used as interpreters for the worm-lords.  Cestoids cannot produce anything resembling human speech, crippling their species socially in conjunction with their unseemly appearance.  Their bestial gargling, gesturing, and pheromone-based language is usually simply dubbed Cestoid by humans.
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The Occident

The Slouching-devil Mountains

Jagged and brooding, the sinister crags of the Slouching-devil Mountains loom darkly on the horizon north of Skein, the City of Silk and Clockwork where the Moth-Kings reign.  Unlike the pinnacles of obsidian and basalt of the Chelicerae Mountains the Slouching-devil range is overwhelmingly sedimentary, composed prominently of limestone.  While a smattering of mines and quarries can be found near the base of the Mountains the greatest attraction for prospectors are the fossils bound within the ancient, weathered rock.  The foothills and valleys of the range are littered with camps, villages, and havens well-warded against the malevolencies that lurk in the shadowy defiles and caves.  These flash-in-the-pan settlements often dwindle in ghost-towns after a nearby area has been depleted of fossils.

The Fossils

The fossils of the Slouching-devil Mountains are mysterious in origin but seem to universally belong to some breed of huge beasts or giants who long ago dwelt in the region, perhaps the same beings who carved the vast tunnel networks into the Mountains' underside.  The ur-bones, black and glossy as ebony, possess the residues of some enigmatic eldritch energy: they are literally infused with numina, imbued with arcane radiation.  Those exposed to such bones for long periods of time can become subject to strange afflictions and metamorphoses, collectively called the Slow Plague due to its frequently delayed effects, which can range from abnormal growths to creeping transformations.

Many a prospector has stumbled down from the peaks with a bagful of ur-fossils and a nest of tentacles sprouting from his navel, or a whorl of tiny, starry lights beneath his skin, or irises permanently clouded black.  Others have their flesh gradually transmogrify into leather or slough away to reveal subcutaneous chitin beneath, or develop horny jags and tusks, or dissolve into a swarm of quivering maggots.  While the Slow Plague is not always deadly it is usually irreversible save through the interventions of fleshcraft, and those infected who fail to treat their condition sometimes devolve into inhuman, chaotic beasts.  Some whose exposure was limited may develop only minor, even benign manifestations of the Plague, though these individuals are sometimes shunned.  Fell winds sometimes blow south over Skein bringing storms and strange dreams; it has been speculated that they are charged with residual eldritch resonances of the Slouching-devil Mountains' fossils.

Despite the considerable hazards surrounding the collection of ur-fossils, they remain incredibly valuable objects for witchcraft, particularly in the creation of arcane constructs such as the six-legged steed of the infamous gunslinger and brigand-king Red Edward or the huge, misshapen Watchdogs of Macellaria.  Specialized witches can carve the bone and inscribe it with glyphs that channel and harness its latent puissance, diverting its otherwise chaotic, dangerous power and creating deadly hexed weapons or suits of armor such as the legendary blade Black Cruelty, the Dark Sisters (a pair of daggers wielded by the shade assassin Quiescence, a single nick from which causes instant death), or the Umbral Cuirass once worn by the long-dead hero Tyton the Revenger (reputedly buried with the fallen warrior in his lost tomb).  The (properly treated) fossils can primarily be found for sale in the marketplaces of the Crimson Ward in Skein, the Hexwarren district of Macellaria, and in Chimera Plaza in Crepuscle.

The Tunnels

Tunnels riddle the Slouching-devil Mountains, an entire network of cavernous halls, eviscerating the depths of the range in a mad confusion of intersecting byways and chambers, like the twisted entrails of some colossal god of stone.  At their center, some inscrutable eldritch machine slumbers, inert, protected by senile automata of impossibly ancient make.  All of the main tunnel entrances are surrounded by grotesquely carved, inhuman faces whose gaping mouths form archways in which cyclopean doorways are set.

Though many sections of the tunnels are shunned and dreaded for the dangerous creatures that lurk within, others are used by daring travelers to traverse the range rather than daring the high passes, where imps and the harpy-oneiroi known as the Goremother lurk.  Certain merchants from Skein traveling to Dolmen or Somnambulon sometimes utilize these passages, though invariably they bring heavy escorts.  Human bandits often make camps in the mountains and in the tunnels themselves, using the subterranean corridors as bases from which to launch their raids.  Periodically the Moth-Kings send army detachments of foot soldiers and war-trained familiars to deal with particularly troublesome brigands, and bounty hunters flock to the foothill settlements in search of coin.  Many of these blood-price bondsmen have become local legends: the slant-eyed Xar-Quy with his whips and bolas and patchwork coat, Sharp Jasper with his orange beard and his unlikely hexes, Usha the tattooed northern skinchanger, Oroch with his cursed axe, the lilix she-bravo Vortenza toting six pistols.

The mines along the lower hills of the Slouching-devil Mountains sometimes accidentally intrude on the older tunnels, allowing the chthonic things that lair in the Mountains' roots access to the excavations.  Most plentiful of these are the marrowgaunts, a species of spindly and shadow-skinned creatures that may be the remnants of humans who were trapped in the tunnels and succumbed to the Slow Plague, though some argue that the horned, leathery-fleshed things were once the servitors or slaves of whatever elder race built the tunnels in the first place.

Other beings who dwell in the stony darkness include the renegade elder demon Nisroch, who escaped servitude in Skein centuries ago; the quasi-sapient fungi of the Spore-Groves, a mythical forest of mushrooms fabled to lie somewhere below the Mountains in a series of caves beneath even the tunnels themselves; wandering geists; and an entity - or perhaps more properly phenomenon - known as the Deep Laughter, a sepulchral echo rumored to be the mad tittering of a deranged trickster god who destroyed the civilization that constructed tunnels.  The Laughter resounds seemingly at random throughout the caverns and can claim all that hear it for its own, transforming them into cacklegeists (it is possible that the Laughter is the sire of all such grave-spawn).  This is of course to say nothing of the many strange, often unique beasts that use the tunnels closer to the surface as dens or burrows, all of them normal animals mutated by the Slow Plague.

Settlements

Dozens of villages dot the rugged foothills of the Slouching-devil Mountains, many of them little more than glorified camps or rude clusters of wooden buildings, transient tent-towns and haphazard walled settlements.  A few have attained a greater degree of permanency, though all seem tiny in contrast with the immense Twilight Cities.  The largest of the mountainous settlements is Mulcatra, the end of the line for the Clockwork Rail that extends north and south from Skein.  An ugly, greasy, violent town dependent on various iron mines and stone quarries nearby, Mulcatra is known for its huge automaton laborers, steam-belching mechanical giants who haul raw rock and ore from the mines to the trains or assist in excavations.  Apart from the sooty dwellings and warehouses Mulcatra mostly consists of saloons and dice-halls.

East of Mulcatra where the Radula River flows out from the Mountains lies the town of Drollery-Bridge, named for the ancient, heavily ornamented bridge of white stone that spans the Radula.  Though built on an old ruin of the same white stone as the bridge, the rest of the town is architecturally incongruous, consisting of small buildings of wood and rough-hewn dull gray stone.  Apart from its huge waterwheel and its ruins, Drollery-Bridge is an unremarkable place, though rumors persist of catacombs that lie beneath its dirty streets, a honeycomb of chambers and corridors larger than the town itself, perhaps even extending to the huge tunnels below the Mountains.

Further north, nestled at the mouth of Hell's-teeth Pass, the trapper-town Shoi-Tann bristles up out of the scrofulous forest, its walls festooned with wards, a glorified haven and a hub for the petty commerce of the region - apart from the tunnels, Hell's-teeth pass serves as one of the only major navigable ways across the Slouching-devil Mountains.  Bounty hunters often use Shoi-Tann as a base of operations, scarred and dark-eyed men and women with a myriad of weapons.   Here alien pelts and unfamiliar skins are traded alongside nuggets of gold, ur-fossils, and scavenged tech plundered from the machines of the inner tunnels.  There is ubiquitous a reek of piss, leather, and cheap beer, emanating from the tanneries and alehouses, a stench unsuccessfully covered by the pungent, perfumed steam of the town's prominent bathhouses.

The settlement of Highspire can be found at an even greater altitude, a stopping-off point and refueling station for dirigibles crossing back and forth between Skein and Somnambulon.  Small and snowy, Highspire contains a smattering of inns, shops, and drinking holes for aeronauts and passengers.  It is well known for its gunsmith, Val Corvan, whose firearms have defended many a balloon from a murder of imps or harpy-crows.  Highspire is marked by the flock of bulbous leathery shapes constantly clustered above it.

Deep within the range, northeast of Mulcatra, seven hundred carven steps wind up from a ragged, impromptu settlement to the Shrine of the Sighing Wind, where the leonine, many-winged, human faced daeva Shaaltelathiel coos its sibilant riddle-prophecies.  Cared for by mute monks, the dove-feathered and soft-voiced creature - possibly the last of the shedim - sleeps for nearly twenty hours a day.  In exchange for offerings of milk and raw meat Shaaltelathiel bestows upon petitioners a single revelation, a cryptic poem murmured in an antique mode of High Cerulean, which must be translated using the Shrine's extensive library.  The temple itself is a beautiful and ancient structure smelling of incense and herbs from the alpine garden.  Many of its corridors are carved into the Slouching-devil Mountains themselves, though in their elegance and delicacy they are a far cry from the brutish, brooding tunnels that riddle the Mountains' bowels; carved stones trap the wind and turn it into ethereal, chaotic music that haunts the halls.  The 'town' at the base of the staircase is little more than a camp for petitioners, though there are some quasi-permanent buildings that sell provisions and supplies, and traders occasionally set up booths peddling talismans and charms to the superstitious, particularly white feathers they claim to belong to the daeva.

West of Shoi-Tann where the Mountains begin to curve towards the Serrated Coast and the Sea of Whispers the Baron Phtannoc, a Lord Revenant temporarily severed from the zehrer hive-mind of Somnambulon, waits out his century-long exile in the black spires of Castle Carnificus, a half-ruinous fortress that looks out over the bleak sublimity of the ocean.  Attended by a small retinue of zombie thralls, Phtannoc is rumored to traffic with the lunatic, half-slumbering entities of the deep, gods or elemental demons, though whether he seeks revenge or possesses some more obscure motive none know.

The Tallow Plains

A strange and dangerous region in the Occident of the Cadaverous Earth, north of the southern swamps and south of the Sinew River, the twisting badlands known as the Tallow Plains are afflicted with a phenomenon classified scientifically as 'topographic fluctuation-dissonance,' commonly known as the Shifting.  Some eldritch effect has rendered the Plains' local spatiality unstable in the extreme: essentially, the physical landscape has become transient, mobile, mutable - and perhaps intelligent.  Hills, buttes, gorges, bodies of water, vegetation - all melt and flow, roaming, reconfiguring the Plains constantly, never staying still.  A feature that might once have been located on the south bank of the Sinew might over time migrate towards the Twilight City of Moroi, itself moored in place only through arcane means.  The changes are visible: undulations and miscibilities quivering like heat-waves, making nonsense of the horizon.

The Shifting is not a tectonic phenomenon, not a series of gentle earthquakes.  Physical reality itself has lost its cohesion: the normal rules do not apply.  Compasses and celestial objects offer the only fixed lines along which to travel, and even these are of erratic utility.  Mapping the Tallow Plains is impossible, navigating them maddening, though daily caravans forge through the unstuck chaos, carting the precious drug called nectar - the puissant sap of the Elder Tree - to Crepuscle, Skein, and Macellaria.  These merchant expeditions must not only negotiate the changeable terrain, they must also fend off the Plains' inhabitants, the feral shapeshifters known as the waxborn.  A few deranged souls - humans, not waxborn - do manage to survive in the Tallow Plains.  These enigmatic nomads are highly valued as guides, well-versed as they are with the perpetually degenerating and reforming landscape.

There were once several great cities built on the Tallow Plains, but in the aftermath of the Shift they too have been rendered spatially mutable.  The result has been a discordant fragmentation of urban space: a street here, a tower there, sometimes so much as a market square or a dried-up canal.  These wild architectural splinters roam as surely as the other features of the landscape, solitary and uncoordinated, no longer part of a greater design but aloof, wandering.  Like the natural landscape, the fractured cities themselves are always visibly mutating: a window might melt slowly into a door, while a buttressed church oozes into a manor-house or a workshop, flagstones and fitted tiles running viscously into wooden planks with peeling paint.  Those few souls experienced in traveling through the Tallow Plains know many of these vagabond structures quite well: some are to be avoided, while others offer limited sanctuary.

The Serrated Coast


The huge far-western coastline of the Cadaverous Earth's last remaining supercontinent (if others exist they are long-lost to all but the most esoteric maps), the Serrated Coast stretches jaggedly from the oft-icy Sea of Whispers in the north to the humid Sallow Seas around Lophius: a multifarious vastness continually bordering the immense Fevered Ocean.  Though the southern city-states that once flourished along the coast as thriving commercial ports are long abandoned some maritime trade does persist: vessels from Crepuscle and Skein, mostly, and even some from the more distant cities of Somnambulon and Dolmen, cling to the coastline on the long, dangerous journey to Lophius far to the south, the last major, active sea-port.  As such, corsairs - increasingly tattered and ill-fed clans of them - still linger as well, particularly in amongst the southern archipelagos.  Despite this limited activity the region is nonetheless a ghost of its former self, littered with ruins, flotsam and jetsam of countless cultures that once dwelt here, now home only to xsur, sirae, and lonely things that sob and gnash their teeth in the night.

Ruins

Dozens of empty cities can be found along the coast.  Some of the oldest are those of the Uzull, claimed in ages past by the waves, leaving only a few barnacle-covered spires and rooftops emerging like stony fish from the water.  The Gengrymar and the Tsaathii Empire also once flourished to the south, old civilizations whose realms extended deep into the swamplands around Lophius; of particular note are whole systems of tombs carved by the Gengrymar into the southeastern cliffs, now become the lairs of gullfolk, yhlei, and worse.

Following the once jewel-like remnants of these southern cities the Serrated Coast segues into blurred chaos as it borders the Tallow Plains, where Shift has debilitated spatial consistency; though not as severely mutable as the Plains themselves the coast here is profoundly uneven, its contours flowing gradually into new shapes, the cities here dissected by topographic flux.  Ships give the coast here a wider birth: close to the shore the currents are as mad and nonsensical as the mutant landscape, and careless pilots have had their vessels torn in two by sudden perturbations in space.

Further north can be found a few pillars, graven with Hellspeak runes, that might once have been part of portal-complexes or infernal palaces of the aeons-old Hell-Dukes, one of the so-called Demon Dynasties that scholars speculate ruled swathes of the Cadaverous Earth during the otherworldly invasions of the Membrane Wars.  Those that dare decipher and speak the incantatory phrases etched on these old monuments rarely go unchanged by their utterances.  More intact (though sometimes marginally so) are the grotesque, decomposing edifices of the Cultivar Technocracy, whose vile living architecture has grown putrid over the centuries and now bakes like rotten seaweed in the sun, covered in weeping sores, chitin walls peeling and fibrous tissues atrophying.  Few can stand their stench, and old, warped things (beasts? servants? the Technocrats themselves?) still sometimes stalk the 'ruins,' growing savage and senile in the reeking dark; some have established breeding populations and venture beyond the coast to molest other corners of the world.

The Southern Swamps

Nameless and enormous, stretching from the shores of the Fevered Ocean and the Sallow Seas to the borders of the Firesong Marches, the southern swamps surrounding the Twilight City of Lophius are a dread place, laced with murky rivers and treacherous bogs.  Bloodwood groves, crazed leechkin, xenophobic hagmen, and hungry demons lurk in the blighted undergrowth.  Mossy ruins rise from the black and bubbling depths of hidden pools; hideous idols grin at the bottom of muddy lakes.  Most of the ruins are those of the Tsathii and the Gengrymar, though the cestoids also maintained a few Imperial forts in amongst the stagnant marshlands.  Many other ruins are those of unknown civilizations whose names and histories have been wholly obscured by time, subsumed by fungus, flooded by swamp-water.

Demons

Though demoniac entities can be found in all corners of the wastes, the brooding eaves and moist shadows of the swamps offer a haven to such creatures, who stalk the fens and the banks of the Gland in constant search of prey.  Elemental and unfathomable, of inscrutable intelligence, the swampland demons are brethren of the primal beast-gods of the sea and their lesser ilk; some say they are not otherworldly at all, but spirits of the Earth itself, stirred from some long repose in the apocalyptic dusk of the world.

The swamp-demons are mostly solitary beings.  When they encounter one another they sometimes fight, though usually they simply ignore one another.  They come in a wide variety of forms, but all are exceedingly inhuman, at least in their natural states: many have amorphous bodies, exoskeletons, or similarly aberrant physiologies.  A few have shapeshifting abilities and can assume different guises, often the forms of those they consumed, masquerading as beasts or humanoids.  Such doppelgangers are usually betrayed by a subtle squirming evident beneath the flesh of their simulacra.

Settlements

The swamps are in fact one of the more densely populated regions of the Cadaverous Earth, riddled with the settlements of the hagmen, with some naghini outposts in the southeast and a smattering of human towns as well.  Most of these are tiny villages, ragged bayou shanties or clusters of rude huts, but a few are considerably larger.

Apart from Lophius itself the largest human settlement in the swamps is Gryss, a violent, oily port along the Gland.   Skinks and tarantulas festoon the crumbling yellow walls of the place like living ornaments, and vibrant speckled mushrooms grow from every crack and crevice.  A much older city lies ruinous beneath the ramshackle wooden constructions of the modern town: here and there a glyph-carved flagstone stares up out of the lichen-covered ground, or an obelisk thrusts itself rain-worn and mossy from a street corner.  The younger town is rawer, greasier, sensual and ruthless.  Carved succubae leer from the corners of buildings, indicating brothels; shop windows display machete-swords and cruel kukris.  Witches smoke ornate hookahs on dilapidated patios and balconies peeling with strips of paint, while bravos and riverport scum swagger in and out of bars and gaming houses with knives and pistols openly displayed.  Most of the humans in Gryss are living, but grave-spawn are evident too, including a nest of eidolons scattered about the town who have long preyed on the populace, undetected.

The most important hagman settlement is concealed deep in the swamp, a secret city and a holy place - Naresch.  Built entirely below the surface of a scum-topped lake, Naresch is nowhere near the size of the Twilight Cities but it nonetheless represents one of the largest hagman settlements.  Here the hagman cults venerate their deity, while daily droves of pilgrims and refugees seeking sanctuary slip below the putrid surface of the lake and descend into the greenish murk of the sunken city.  The priests and priestesses sternly police Naresch, and any non-hagmen who enters is slain on the spot.

Leechkin

Unlike the hagmen, the leechkin do not build: their culture vilifies labour, holding the purity of the parasite as its strongest creed.  Instead they roam the swamps in tribal bands, each led by a shaman.  Sexless, the tribes are untroubled by gendered hierarchy; indeed, the leechkin know almost no elitism, save that they accept the wisdom of the shamans.  New shamans are chosen during infancy, preferably by the current shaman or one of its apprentices, in accordance with certain omens.  A leechkin child whose hand-mouths do not cry but only feeds, whose birth heralds the finding of a bloodwood tree or a similar feast of plenty, and who kills before its first birthday is considered eligible to become a shaman apprentice.  The shamans do not lead a tribe but do provide herbcraft, medical aid, and spiritual guidance to a band.  They also deal with any demons the tribe encounters during its travels, using rituals to either deter or attract the swamp-spirits as desired.

Leechkin tribes have no chiefs or leaders, selecting their routes by a process of nebulous democracy.  They are guided predominantly by the smell of prey or by natural landmarks such as rivers.  They have no formal laws, but disagreements are settled through the ritual of zull/wrogosh which few non-leechkin ever witness: the two contending leechkin approach one another and lay their hand-mouths on their opponents bodies simultaneously, then both begin to feed.  Whoever can drain his opponent faster is considered the victor: the first to tire of sucking or to fall unconscious or dead loses.

The leechkin actively hunt animals but will ignore humanoids unless driven into bloodthirsty psychosis from want of feeding.  They do skirmish with the hagmen, though they are rarely the aggressors and generally avoid hagmen territories unless something lures them in.

The Aurelian Tundra


The cold and haunted north of the Cadaverous Earth consists largely of the Aurelian Tundra or 'Golden Plain' so named for the near perpetual sunlight of its uppermost regions.  Beneath the midnight sun of the Tundra stretches a desert every bit as barren and desolate as the sun-baked vastness of the Slaughter-lands.  Subject to the warped, unstable energies of the Skyscar - a sickly, lurid aurora that shimmers with a ghastly luminescence over the frigid plateaus and gleaming glaciers - the north is a place of alien ruins and frozen mysteries.  As the swollen sun continues to bloat the glaciers slowly thaw, revealing long obscured secrets, the primordial monuments of now distant aeons.

Cities of the Golden Plain

Buried amidst snow drifts or tunnelled into the living rock, or else cloistered amongst the austere, angular mountains of the region (the Murmuring Mountains, so named for the weird winds that whistle through them) are the bizarre, gargantuan cities of the Golden Plains - forsaken places of ice and cyclopean towers, where naught but beasts and hungry spirits dwell.  Uncanny statues of inhuman creatures are here evident: the heroes of the long-forgotten Polyp Dominion before even the Cestoid Imperium, when humanity was enslaved by now extinct fungi-overlords, and of demoniac warlords who led their hordes through the ruptures where the Skyscar now glimmers, and of inscrutable elder gods.  Treasure-hunters occasionally venture into these abandoned cities in search of artefacts left over from the long defunct civilizations of the north, but few return.

Thawing Monstrosities

Deep within the heart of the northlands, encased in thick layers of ice, odd and strangely nebulous forms can be glimpsed, obfuscated by panes of frost.  Long sealed and occluded in their glacial tombs, these vague forms now begin slowly to thaw, as the huge and sickly sun overhead beats mercilessly down.  Long locked in stasis, the beings trapped within the ice begin to stir - for, despite their deathly cast, these entities have merely slumbered in a millennia-long hibernation.  They groan and flex their enigmatic, amorphous limbs, and blink with clustered eyes blinded by the searing white of the tundra, glowing with horrible brightness beneath the unsetting sun.  The true nature of these beasts remains mysterious.  Demons?  Daevas?  Servant-creatures of whatever alien architects dwelt in the ruinous cities of the tundra?

Whatever their origins, those creatures that have emerged from their icy tombs have proved themselves highly dangerous.  Men are found gorily disembowelled, or flensed of skin and muscle; others have had less comprehensible things done to them, their corpses found with their flesh liquefied or with rasping wounds as from barbed radula, or missing neat, bloodless chunks, cleanly removed to expose bone and viscera beneath.  Some who wander into the frozen waste return deranged and giddy with a lunatic fervour, until their brains burst and their skulls split open, giving birth to shadowy, mewling larvae.

The Skyscar


Glistening like a bloody gash across the bleached sky of the far north, the Skyscar is a dimensional weakness, a place where the space between spaces has been ruptured, where otherworldly and entropic realities are bleeding through.  It was here, possibly, that the original breach between the Earth and the Hells was made, the rift that began the Membrane Wars in antiquated aeons.  Though the breach has been patched - sutured - the Skyscar remains: a malignant, shimmering aurora from which Hellish energy seeps.

Demons can no longer cross physically through the Skyscar, but their essences swirl malevolently in the chill air, half-present and invisible, flickering in and out of quasi-existence.  Any who ventures into the Skyscar will be subjected to its soul-corroding fluctuations, will be assaulted by hungry spirits looking for doorways into the world.  Some of these demoniac entities manage to inveigle their way through the thinned boundaries of reality and into mortal vessels: these horrific beings are at first bound to the flesh of their hosts, gradually asserting more and more control until they can manifest completely, bursting free from their victims' fleshly husks like grotesque butterflies from chrysalises.

The Tundrafolk

A hard-bitten, grim-faced, weatherbeaten people, the tundrafolk of the Aurelian Plain are cold-toughened savages made brutal by the harshness of the north.  Fur-clad cannibals of a hundred bickering clans, they roam the blank, desolate places between the Skyscar and the Northern Baronies, the southern edges of the Aurelian Tundra, hunting aurochs, herding yaks, and descending in ragged hordes to raid the fortified settlements that dot the largely temperature north.  Skilled in the shamanistic arts of skinchanging, augury, and weather-whispering, the cunning, flesh-eating witches of these northern tundrafolk aid their warriors on their jaunts, summoning fog to hide their approach or blizzards to harass or delay enemy forces, or assuming the shapes of wolves and wolverines, running and fighting alongside human clansmen in battle.  They are skilled also with the elements of blood and ice; some worship the mad, dreaming gods of the sea, while others revere the abominations that roam the northernmost wastes.

Further north, clustered in peculiar communes along the icy coasts, lurk the crustacean philosophers called the Oorls, whose esoteric wisdom is cryptic but profound.  They crawl about in the glyph-etched shells of giant nautili, like hermit crabs, chittering to one another in their complex, staccato tongue.  A few half-mad scholars occasionally make the long pilgrimage to the Tundra to seek counsel with the Oorls, though few know of their existence at all.
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Moroi
The Gaunt City, City of the Elder Tree

Inchoate

The celestial sap of the Elder Tree pulsed in his veins, filling him with eldritch light, a suffusion of divine nectar, throbbing in time to his heartbeat - primordial, transcendent, eternal.  Sketching an arcane character in the air with the articulated finger of his clockwork gauntlet - sigil scribed, twined with cabalistic wires feeding into his bloodstream - the aspiring witch Magnus Shacklebane muttered the invocation fervently, his eyes clouded with tenebrous puissance, the bloodstone in his right fist sizzling, scorching his leather glove.  Laboriously he pronounced the prolix syllables of the incantation, giving each torturous, convoluted phrase of the formula its proper weight, affecting the serpentine sibilance appropriate for the ritual.

The air before him shimmered.  Behind his square glasses Magnus' eyes widened, glowing with sepulchral light.  The distortion intensified as the adolescent witch continued the invocation, gesturing with his gauntlet and holding forth the bloodstone.  There was a queasy smell - brimstone, copper, burning blood, the syrupy reek of nectar.  A vague manifestation half-solidified: a grotesque but monstrously charismatic visage, at once gibberingly mad and unfathomably wise, its eyes sublime voids.  For one ephemeral moment those abyssal eyes stared back into Magnus' own; but then, as the bloodstone singed through his impskin glove to burn bare flesh, the would-be witch's tongue stumbled over a single whispered syllable.  The face flickered; the bloodstone slipped from Mangus' hand and fell to the floor, where it shattered into a thousand iridescent shards.  The face, only a hazy insinuation, melted into a wisp of red smoke.

Gaolor

The witch unlocked the door to the cellar and began his descent, one hand trailing along the decaying brick wall, the other grasping a glossy black taper for light.  Flesh-colored boots padded down the slime-slick stone steps.  In the candle's flicker the witch's face was thrown into unnerving chiaroscuro, its hard lines sharpened, violet-stained smirk made crueler, wolfish yellow eyes more predatory.  The trailing hand tapped at the crumbling brickwork with long, black nails.

At the bottom of the stairs the candlelight bloated to fill the high corners and skeletal vaulted curves of the basement with a swollen gothic glow.  A legion of shadows sprung forth from the dim recesses to cavort along the walls, caressing the grotesque marble gargoyles with lithe, black fingers.  The witch used his taper to light other candles about the room; the shadow-dancers withered and diminished.

In the center of the floor, surrounded by a chaos of scrawled inscriptions, engraved wards, and circles of red powder, the creature squatted in a cage of black iron, peering at the witch through the bars with coldly hateful eyes.  It stroked its wrist with a seven-fingered hand and hissed.

'Hello, Marquis Naberius,' the witch said, revealing a mouth full of sharp white teeth.  'I have questions for you.'

The creature shifted its weight in its cage before venturing forth into the light.  A huge black raven's head sat on a slender body with dark purple skin etched with livid orange tattoos, like lines of flame.  The lower half was coarse and hairy, with canine paws and tail.

'Music!'  The creature demanded, its voice welling with weird echoes, as if it were speaking across a long distance, or from deep underground.

'How ill-mannered of me,' the witch apologized.  'One moment, my good Marquis.'  He crossed the Court - careful not to break the protective markings on the floor - and withdrew a small wax cylinder from a pocket of his long coat, which he inserted into a polished phonograph.  A strange, haunting music something like a nocturne began to play, filling the room with spectral voices and the spindly plucking of strings.

'Ahhh'¦' The raven-headed thing sighed.  Its long digits traveled up and down one sinewy arm, lingering at the shoulder where black feathers segued into smooth humanoid flesh.

'And now then, my excellent '“'

'Hush!' The creature commanded, eyes squeezed shut, listening.  The witch's mouth twitched in irritation, but he allowed his captive several minutes to savor the lush macabre textures of the music.  While he waited he smoked a long cigarillo plucked with splendidly manicured fingers from an enameled ebony case.

Soon the air was filled with wraiths of pungent blue smoke.  The Marquis was making shadow-puppets on the wall, its fourteen spidery fingers contorted into fanciful configurations - lion, three-headed wolf, winged serpent, a man and woman copulating.  A tremor of disgust and, beneath, quiet fear traveled down the witch's spine.  He twirled a black ringlet of his wig, and reminded himself of the wards he'd placed, the sigils he'd spent days laboring over before binding the creature to a corporeal manifestation.  Were a stray rat to evade the clutches of his vermin-catching homunculi and break even one of the circles'¦ He dismissed his anxieties as the Marquis stirred.

'Very well,' it consented.  'Ask your precious questions, mortal.'


Demographics

Ghilan - 10%
Hagmen - 1%
Human - 87%
Other - 2%

Not including the inhabitants of The Boil.

Architecture

With the exception of the baroque homes in the Marble Quarter and the crystalline mass of the Glass Quarter the architecture of Moroi is bleak and industrial.  Even the heavily ornamented Ministry of Ambrosia, a huge secular cathedral, is austere in the extreme, consisting largely of brute concrete.  The sanatoria, factories, marketplaces, and towerblocks of the Gaunt City are built principally of brick or concrete, meshed incongruously with naked machinery - exposed pistons and gears, pneumatic pumps, smokestacks, iron grills, portcullises, catwalks, whirring clockwork instruments, furnaces and boilers.  Row upon row of claustrophobic, soot-stained tenements languish beneath palls of smoke, their walls scrawled with graffiti.  The streets are cobbled stone, overgrown with weeds, filled with steam rising from sewer-grates and the chimneys of chthonic workshops.

Fashion

Moroi's citizenry favour dark clothing with occasional bursts of vivid, psychedelic colour.  Top hats, bowler hats, berets, broad-brimmed hats, and bandanas are very common headgear.  Leather dusters, jackets, cloaks, and trenchcoats are worn by both men and women, as are frock coats or dark suits for slightly more wealthy men.  Women tend to wear corsets, black lace dresses, stockings, and long gloves (often fingerless fishnet gloves).  Chokers and spiked collars are worn by both sexes, and one occasionally sees black face-masks.  Footwear often takes the form of heavy black boots.  Many wear round glasses and sunglasses.

Amongst the lower classes studded leather vests are often worn, sometimes with brightly coloured shirts beneath.  Weapons are proudly displayed, usually long knives or firearms, and the wealthy tend to use swordcanes.  Tattoos and piercings are ubiquitous and often have minor eldritch properties.  Hair is worn quite long and is often spiked, dyed, and elaborately styled; dreadlocks are sometimes also worn.  Beards are common, particularly muttonchop sideburns and dyed, forked beards.  Makeup  and nail polish tends to be heavily applied by both sexes - usually black and white, though occasionally more vibrant.

The Three Arbours

Lacking the strictly demarcated wards of Skein, the islands of Lophius, or the tiered levels of Dolmen, Moroi is a rambling city, but three broad districts can be described from is otherwise bewildering chaos of streets. Called the Arbours, each has grown up around one of the Elder Trees, the mythic, gargantuan trees - sometimes invoked as living gods - from which the substance known as nectar is harvested. Only one remains living: the other two have been either drained dry or destroyed. Around their vast bulks Moroi has grown haphazardly, buildings clustered about the aeons-old trunks like worshippers, dwarfed by the Trees' immensity. Today the three Arbours are known as Ambery, Suckle-town, and The Boil.

Ambery

Beneath the spreading canopy of the last remaining Elder Tree lies Ambery, seat of the Resin Merchants and source of the nectar, the lifeblood of witchcraft across the Cadaverous Earth. Hulking stone structures somewhere between fortresses and secular cathedrals loom darkly in the shadow of wilting leaves, the many ministries and opulent palaces of the ichor-dealers. Ambery is divided into four quarters, the official bureaus of the ebbing elite.

Ambery is patrolled extensively by the city`s militia, who are altogether absent from The Boil and who make only cursory raids in Suckle-town save in Fat-Wolf-Furrow. Consisting of hardened mercenary warriors in black leather armour, the militia is supplemented by witches recruited by the Order of Chirurgeons and rendered susceptible to suggestion in the Iron Quarter`s laboratories, then pumped full of nectar. Collared and shackled, these witches are directed by expertly trained handlers, prodded into channelling eldritch power. There are other forms of surveillance in Ambery - nests of eyes that can manifest on the walls of hexed buildings, for example, allowing the Resin Merchants to keep a constant watch over their city.

The Aurelian Quarter

Containing the Elder Tree itself, the Aurelian quarter also houses the militia barracks, the colossal Ministry of Ambrosia - headquarters of the Resin Merchants - Moroi`s central marketplace, and the silo-fields where Moroi`s nectar supply is held. The Ministry is the most imposing and impressive structure in the district and indeed in all Moroi, a bulbous domed monstrosity of gilt, marble, concrete, and stone, festooned with wards and gargoyles and guarded by a small army. The marketplace is far less colourful than those of Macellaria or Crepuscle, dominated almost entirely by the huge queues leading up the Dispensaries, the official dealers of the Resin Merchants who sell nectar to the addicted populace. Dwarfing everything, however, is the Elder Tree itself, entangled with machinery, its nectar constantly siphoned from its aeons-old veins and pumped into the well-guarded silos. Slowly the Elder Tree wanes; its leaves grow paler, drier, its bark begins to rot; it withers and desiccates, even as the sucking proboscii that penetrate it suck more fervently at its ancient flesh.

The Marble Quarter

Arrayed on Canopy Hill beneath the huge leaves of the Elder Tree are the palaces of the Marble Quarter, lavish gated mansions sequestered away from the grime and grot of Suckle-town and the scream-haunted halls of the sanatoria. Here are manicured parklands and clean squares with brass statues or fountains, tree-lined avenues and rows of baroque homes, each walled with warded stones to deter intruders.

Moroi`s impressive library and its legendary University - divided into nine colleges, each with their own grandiose hall - can also be found in the Marble Quarter, bringing many traveling scholars to the district, hungry for knowledge.

The Iron Quarter

The imposing edifices of stone and black metal at the center of the Iron Quarter are Moroi's sanatoria, asylums for the city's veritable legions of madmen. Echoing with the screams and raving gibberish of the insane, the sanatoria are administered by the Order of Chirurgeons, an organization of surgeons and fleshcrafters known for their lurid experimentations. Sanctioned by the Resin Merchants, the Chirurgeons roam the streets of Suckle-town with warded cages seeking prime specimens of the insane, who they incarcerate in the sanatoria. Lobotomies, bloodletting, and electroshock therapies are the mildest of their methods, and those deemed incurable are condemned to become fodder for the High Chirurgeons' subterranean laboratories, the vats of eldritch liquid and the stained stone slabs where unlikely things are fashioned. The 'rehabilitated' patients, their minds dulled with drugs and surgery, their bodies warped with chemicals and exotic grafts, join bound witches and mercenaries as agents of the city militia. These creations are far from the servitors of Macellaria, those piecemeal vessels of stitched flesh, dead flesh made animate, nor are they zombies, the mindless psychic puppets of Somnambulon - rather, the thralls of the Chirurgeons are living men and women subjugated into docility and twisted into chimerical shapes, refashioned in accordance with often perverse aesthetics.

The Glass Quarter

The crystalline mass of the Glass Quarter comprises the many glasshouses of Moroi where the bulk of the city`s food is grown. Positioned as it is on the edge of the Tallow Plains, agriculture is limited in Moroi, and unlike cities such as Lophius, Crepuscle, and Skein, there are no major rivers allowing for fishing. As such the Gaunt City relies on the glasshouses to produce fresh fruit, grain, and vegetables; specially hexed lights provide the illumination, and susurrating wardens, all of them trained witches, tend the gardens, whispering spells of encouragement to the plants, causing them to grow to prodigious sizes.

Suckle-town

Become a flea-bitten and mongrel sprawl packed tightly with junkies, beggars, and criminals, the Arbour called Suckle-town clings to Ambery like a hungry cub to its mother's bruised teat. Its Elder Tree has long been exhausted, the sap within drained dry. Without the vital nectar the god-tree quickly withered and petrified, becoming a great and ruinous fossil. In the centuries since its death the wretched inhabitants of Suckle-town have invaded its once-sacred bark in a second ravishing, digging caves and tunnels into its marrow and pilfering bits of its rusted machinery to pawn for more nectar.

The sanatoria of Ambery are laughably, woefully inadequate to contain the hordes of the deranged in Suckle-town, afflicted either by the ichor itself or second-hand through one of the wide-spread endemics of insanity, little echoes of the dementia epidemics of long ago. Everyone is mad here, or at the very least unhinged, and the many ugly districts bear names only the mad might coin.

Corkscrew-Slough

A mushroom-covered maze reeking of mildew and rot, the damp district of Corkscrew-Slough is lined with opium dens, shadowmilk cafes, bars, and tawdry brothels lit with lurid paper lamps. Though nectar is the drug of choice for all of Moroi's residents, many of its libertine or simply desperate denizens are lured to other drugs and pleasures, seeking to sample new sensations or stave off misery for a few hours. Lethe-tea drinkers wander across the catwalks and intersecting stone bridges high above the streets like drowsy children or deranged tightrope walkers, blissfully amnesiac, tripping over the slumped, white-eyed bodies of mindwrack and asherat users, junkies strung out on jabber or buzzing with diluted doses of thrum or raving with lips stained sallow from madwine. The Phantasmagorian Bazaar, sometimes called the Market of Dreams, panders to Suckle-town's myriad addicts, ringed by the whorehouses and drug-dens - a rickety place where pallid men sell pouches of powder or glossy hallucinogenic eggs or phials of shimmering liquid. Moroi's small hagman population - only a few hundred - also make their homes in Corkscrew-Slough, dwelling in half-flooded basements and burrows.

Fat-Wolf-Furrow

The industrial section of Suckle-town and indeed the principle factory district of Moroi, Fat-Wolf-Furrow consists of block after block of warehouses and factories, a cauldron of vapours and noxious smoke, wreathing the steel girders and brickwork tumors and tangles of pipes with ghosts of smog. Here those goods not grown in the Glass Quarter of Ambery or imported from one of the other Twilight Cities are synthesized. The printing presses also run here, churning out cheap newspapers and books to feed Moroi's bibliophilia. Most of the factory workers also make their homes in the Furrow, though some trudge to the slums of Wasp-Hole and Abscess-Weft.

Abscess-Weft

The largest residential district in Moroi, Abscess-Weft is also the most destitute. Row after row of dilapidated tenements, shacks, and communal halls of ancient stone are packed with the poor, most of them quite mad. Mingling amongst them are predators and prostitutes and pedlars hawking cheap goods, coal and food and knives and drugs. Rogue eidolons unable to penetrate the exclusive upper crust of the Gaunt City are forced to feed on the damned of Abscess-Weft, and a hundred different diseases wrack the addicted populace - harrowflux, spectre-plague, and spontaneous dementia and others more mundane, syphilis and dysentery and malaria, tuberculosis and cholera and influenza. It is this slew of debilitations and infections that give the district its name, for they seem concentrated here in greater profusion than the rest of the city, a veritable encyclopaedia of illness.

Wasp-Hole

Arcane graffiti covers the brick walls of Wasp-Hole's intoxicant, falling-down architecture where gutter-witches and soul tinkers and a score of two-bit hexers with dull sparks of talent and a few syllables of spells crammed into their crania hawk stained manskin scrolls or henna sigils in back-alley glyph parlors. The petrified Tree hunkers hugely above the mean, piss-dappled and blood-smeared façades. Inside the rough-hewn corridors carved from the stony bark addicts and madmen wander or collapse in catatonic clumps, and the floor is carpeted with a glass patina of empty syringes still crusty with blood or pus. Over time the residents have built a whole network of rickety homes and shops in the branches of the dead tree, accessible via spiraling wooden steps and swaying bridges.  Also in Wasp-Hole are dozens of small bookstores and decomposing libraries heavy with must, their volumes slowly being devoured by worms.

While demon worshippers and those seeking their fortunes told flock to Grease-Welter, the patrons of Wasp-Hole are those seeking charms, warded items, spells, and similar ensorcellements. Alchemists peddle potions and curatives and aphrodisiacs from gargoyle-guarded shops; wiry bravoes with rudimentary witchcraft and veins dark with nectar sell their services for coin or ichor, eldritch mercenaries and thugs with enough puissance to invoke a crude sigil or channel some second-hand hex.

Manikin-Slump

Sordid and mangy in the extreme, the slums of Manikin-Slump are populated largely by Moroi's grave-spawn, a minority in the Gaunt City mostly consisting of ghilan. The slums here have windows shrouded black with tattered curtains; others are boarded up entirely or smeared with pitch or black paint. At night the grave-spawn come out, walking in lightless streets - whereas the rest of Moroi (save The Boil) is stained sepia by eldritch lampposts come dusk, Manikin-Slump remains gloomy; only the smattering of ghul-bars - small and thinly spread compared to the thick-on-the-ground cannibal eateries of Macellaria or Crepuscle - have any light at all, and this shed only by crimson-tinted lanterns. A few derelict shrines to stellar deities subsist with meagre congregations, muttering sermons in Corpserattle.

A murderer is on the loose in Manikin-Slump, killing only grave-spawn. Dubbed the Undertaker, this shadowy figure has yet to be seen, leaving taunting messages carved into the bodies of his victims. In the penny dreadfuls printed en masse in Fat-Wolf-Furrow he is portrayed as a masked, top-hatted aristocrat with a black cape and a swordcane, though the veracity of this image is dubious at best.

Grease-Welter

Though demonolatry is hardy as pervasive in Moroi as in Skein, where the magisters' estates contain whole breeding populations of hellspawn and a familiar is a mark of social status, the City of the Elder Tree has its share of infernal traffickers. The diabolists of Grease-Welter have erected have a hundred squalid shrines to discordian deities and demon-lords, worshipping pastiche idols of wood and flesh and rusted metal, scrap-fashioned effigies to whom they make unwholesome sacrifices of incense, salt, raw meat, blood and other bodily fluids. It is here one goes to attend profane congregations, to have entrails read or a demon truth-sayer interrogated, or to forge contracts with fiends in rundown temples and basement sanctums. Rising above the other wretched shrines is the Hall of Black Bile where the swollen creature Phelaegor is bound, chained with warded silver fetters in a vaulted tomb below the Hall's main chambers. An obese, gray-skinned, tusked demon with curled ram's horns and four elephantine arms - each shackled with a warded chain - Phelaegor can sleep for months but periodically awakes in a bestial rage, quieted only by still-living food. He supplies the members of his cult with certain substances drawn from his huge body and with spells and eldritch secrets culled from his alien mind in exchange for sacrifices.

The Boil

Unlike the ossified Elder Tree of Suckle-town, the charnel corpse that towers with blackened limbs over the ruinous Arbour dubbed The Boil was not merely drained dry. In the distant past some disaster caused the Tree to ignite, the nectar within boiling beneath the bark, splitting the Tree's flesh and spilling out into the streets in steaming gouts of eldritch vapour and seething golden liquid. This catastrophe, known as the Conflagration or the Boiling, laid waste to the part of Moroi now called The Boil. Fire swept the streets, burning homes and citizens; yet even after the eldritch flames had died and the last embers faded, The Boil remained a shunned, forbidden place. Strange creatures stirred in the cinders - perhaps the former residents, perhaps things invoked through the chaotic arcane tempest of the Conflagration itself. Those who ventured into the charred wreckage in hope of looting the ruins returned with stories of shifting streets, watching eyes, and unspeakable terrors lurking in the ashes - if they returned at all. It was as if the district itself assumed a kind of sentience, becoming a faceless but malevolent presence with vengeful appetites.

Today the Boil is walled off with stern battlements of brick and iron heavily warded to contain whatever entities, curses, or creatures were spawned in the fires. Only a handful of scavengers, universally deemed insane, dare enter The Boil, and most fall victim to whatever dwells within.

Blistermaze

The oozing walls of Blistermaze are afflicted with a roving pestilence, an architectural leprosy: patches of peeling plaster or crumbling brick will suddenly develop weeping sores and pustules that eventually worsen into membranous cysts. The cysts swell and grow, incubating the hideous denizens of Blistermaze: scuttling, quadruped beasts somewhere between degenerate humans, hairless dogs, and spiders, hunchbacked, mandibled, flesh-hungry creatures with tremendous agility and poisonous bites, the pox-dogs of Blistermaze. After having birthed a brood of these chittering monstrosities the cysts and pustules will rapidly close, scab, and heal, leaving only shredded castings and scars.

Manglespur

A tribe of humanoid things resembling naked, emaciated men and women from the neck down infest Manglespur; their heads are cut off halfway up their faces, just before their eyes, giving way to an incongruous and squirming array of tightly clustered insect limbs. Their appearance is often preceded by a roving mist, tainted slaughterhouse red and reeking of burnt flesh; this unearthly fog cloaks their arrival, allowing them to draw close to their prey on silent, spindly limbs. Doors have become gnashing mouths and the black sockets of windows are filled with watching eyes in the claustrophobic alleys of Manglespur. Here the Grasping Darkness oozes from building to building, a crawling death; here the bricks or flagstones can become cackling faces with cruel, biting teeth. Huge flapping things somewhere between birds and bats with rotting bodies and protruding bones nest in the attics and atop the roofs, fluttering their leathery feathers and cawing hideously.

Blackenburgh

The physical center of The Boil, Blackenburgh is a scorched, desolate ruin whose buildings are little more than burnt-out shells. The incinerated remains of the Elder Tree tower above the ruins, branches twisted, trunk warped, bark scalded. Ashes still rain upon Blackenburgh, stirred up by whispering winds that echo with the screams of the burning citizenry. A few globs of solidified metal melted during the Conflagration litter the ground, once parts of the machine that drained the Tree and whose possible malfunction is theorized to have precipitated the Boiling itself. Ashen wraiths speculated to be some form of soot elemental have congealed out of the destruction of Blackenburgh, ghostly manifestations of the Conflagration that are dispersed only with difficulty.
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Lophius
The Corsair City, City of the Lamprey

Hubris

The sickly sky above Lophius glowered and spat, swollen rainclouds fit to burst, threatening to engulf the disjointed streets with a torrential downpour. The canals were already flooding, the mossy bridges of granite and marble lapped at by the murky waters, the feet of their decorative statues immersed. Out over the Sallow Seas distant thunder cackled, promising a storm. No ships would sail from the docks of Bile-Mire or Chainwater tonight, lest they join the wooden carcasses in the Driftwood District.

The Gland River battered the pillars of the Bridge of Bravoes, swirling about the huge statues supporting the ancient bridge before rushing out to the open sea. In the midst of the worsening downpour two men regarded each other while the crowds behind them jeered and shouted, humans shivering in the rain, hagmen turning their greenish faces upwards, exulting, black-clad ghilan mute and motionless.

'Draw steel, wormfood,' Iccelus sneered. The graftpunk moved with predatory grace, brandishing the glyph-etched rapier Red Laughter and an evil-looking dagger, crooked backwards in his off-hand. He twirled the curved knife and snarled taunts at his opponent. 'Corpse-fucker. Halfman. You should scuttle off to Bad-Fen where you belong, or go back to whatever hole you crawled out of.' There were cheers from the crowd. The young man's black eyes flashed as he walked forwards, blade held out before him, grafted muscles taut beneath tattooed flesh. 'You heard me. Haul your maggoty arse off or I'll send you back to the pit what spawned you.'

The other figure said nothing but favoured the youth with a sharp-toothed and yellowed grin. He removed his tinted spectacles and drew his sword from its scabbard with deliberate slowness, rasping the blade against the tough manskin sheath and assuming a creeping sidelong stance. A broad-brimmed black hat slouched across his features, shading his face and warding off the rain and the hateful sun; drops of water beaded on his brown leather outfit and pattered off the sewn-in steel disks. Behind the pale fighter were more of his ilk - gray-skinned, dour spectators with mocking amber eyes.

Iccelus' shaved head gleamed wetly. His many earrings jangled as he advanced, drunk with rage and fear. With a wordless howl he hurled his dagger; it spun through the air in a silvery arc, thudded into the living man's adversary. The ghul wrenched it from his chest with a smirk and licked the naked blade clean.

'Thrice-damned unman freak!' Iccelus' face contorted with a paroxysm of raw hate. He danced forward and lunged in a spasm of grafted muscle, his augmented calves writhing. Red Laughter darted out, impossibly fast, bathed in a crimson aura of eldritch energy - and then spun from its wielder's grasp, knocked aside by the ghul's own blade. It clattered on the flagstones of the bridge and shattered, the demoniac spirit bound within dissipating in a brief ghost of brimstone smoke. Its sigils, previously a blazing red, grew dull.

There was a shimmering blur as the grave-spawn duellist riposted, and Iccelus' shout of frustration turned to a choked gasp. He clawed at the sword now skewering his throat, gurgling; blood dribbled from his mouth. The ghul swordsman chuckled and wrenched his sword from the graftpunk's neck. Iccelus fell to the ground and lay still, the pool of blood spreading beneath him already being washed away by the rain. The crowd's yells died with the youth. They began to back away with suddenly fearful looks.

'Ah, the heady confidence of the young and the living,' the ghul rasped, his voice like snakeskin. He twitched his head and two of his men walked forward, seizing Iccelus' body by the ankles. 'Dinner's on me tonight, boys.'

Demographics

Ghilan - 22%
Hagmen - 24%
Human - 40%
Leechkin - 9%
Naghini - 2%
Other - 3%

Architecture

Starved for space on the cramped islands, the builders of Lophius have constructed the city in layers; as a previous level sinks into the swamp, another is built atop it.  The lowest levels of the city are either naked rock, slimy and barnacle studded, or foundations formed from now partially sunken ruins.  These early ruins are of fitted flagstone, pieced together without mortar - each piece unique, painstakingly carved and inserted.  Tiered stairs, triangular arches, mosaic courtyards, and bestial carvings characterize this first layer.  A layer above are newer (but still centuries-old) buildings.  These are baroque monstrosities of white and gold, cracked marble and mossy granite and chipping gilt, rococo and lavishly ornamented, crowded with statuettes, circular columns, rounded arches, intricate friezes, lurid basilicas, and opulent sculptures.  Finally there is a rude, recent layer of wooden and brick buildings.  The gantries and wrought-iron bridges of the lower level are supplanted by swaying rope-bridges and catwalks, the precision of the foundation layer and the overblown excesses of the middle layer replaced with glorified shacks and ramshackle, unornamented halls.

Fashion

Lophius is hot, so clothing tends to be light and loose.  White tunics and colourful doublets are the usual uniform, with loose pants tucked into high leather boots.  Broad-brimmed hats providing shade are frequently worn, as are bandanas.  Long, loose coats and jackets are popular, as colourful as possible, cut at knee or waist length.  By and large there are few gender differentiations in terms of clothing.  Hair is usually worn very long, and beards are popular, with both frequently being braided; dreadlocks are also quite popular.  Duellists (known as bravoes) wear long moustaches without beards which they shave as a sign of shame if they yield in a duel (it is considered an honour to die unshaven).  As in Macellaria most individuals go armed, usually with knife (or two, or six) and a slender sword or a pistol at the very least.  A few additional weapons are often secreted beneath clothing (such as stiletto knives or a holdout pistol).

Tattoos are more common in Lophius than in any other city, and usually denote family, gang or corsair affiliation.  Many incorporate glyphs and squirm, flicker, or transform beneath the skins of their bearers.  Most people also have at least two or three piercings, and some have innumerable piercings in their ears, noses, lips, eyebrows, nipples, navels, and every other place imaginable.  Henna is also worn very often, and decorative scarification (again, often with gang or pirate symbolism) is sometimes undertaken.  Attitudes towards nudity or partial nudity are also considerably more relaxed in Lophius than in the other Twilight Cities, often to better display tattoos, henna, piercings, or scars.  Other jewellery includes bangles, anklets, bracelets, bracers, chokers, necklaces, and rings, and sometimes jewellery incorporates shells or coral.  Particularly hardened individuals may display a necklace of ears or teeth, trophies from duels.

Leechkin Beggary

Of all the Twilight Cities, Lophius plays the greatest host to the leechkin, a race of slick-skinned, androgynous, haematophagic humanoids more commonly found in tribal groupings in the surrounding swamps.  A substantial population of leechkin, however, have since emigrated to the City of the Lamprey, shedding their traditional ways and embracing an urban lifestyle.  While a few individual leechkin have found employ within the anarchic city's nebulous, quasi-feudal hierarchy of gangs as mercenary fighters, hitmen, torturers, and enforcers, and a very small, highly unorthodox number have seen success in other arenas - such as the bizarre and strikingly well-spoken leechkin businessman Mr. Rasp - the vast majority of leechkin in Lophius are beggars.

It is a great error to think of the leechkin as stupid creatures, as animals, ruled wholly by their drives.  Indeed, leechkin intelligence has been demonstrated to be comparable to human intelligence.  However, save for a few freak cases, leechkin seem culturally - even, perhaps, biologically - incapable of proper ambition.  They covet little save blood, and have no compunction against begging for it, no sense of shame; work, and pride in that work, is alien to the typical leechkin mindset, sign of hubris and folly, of unnecessary and wasteful effort.  Thus the leechkin persist in Lophius: beseeching passersby in a mishmash polyglot of tongues, till some citizen throw them a few coins or, more commonly, obligingly offers their wrist to the hungry creature.

Yet the question inevitably arises: why give blood or coin to the leechkin at all?  The folk of Lophius, and indeed all of the Cadaverous Earth, are not noted for their sense of compassion; some scholars have even suggested that humanity is losing its charitable impulses altogether, as the result of a long process of acclimatization to the harshness of this dark and merciless world, so close to the end of things.  The answer is that the people of Lophius do not give out of charity: they do so out of fear.

Nearly one in ten sentient creatures in Lophius is leechkin.  It would be, to put it mildly, an enormous undertaking to drive the entire leechkin population out of the city by force, a project that would additionally require the cooperation of the city's many competitive factions, a thing unheard of in Lophius.  Leechkin who do not feed regularly quickly lose their fleshly paunch and shrivel up, becoming gaunt, emaciated creatures.  Additionally they become possessed with a psychopathic bloodlust which consumes their minds utterly, such that they can think of nothing but blood.  Leechkin reduced to this state will stalk and kill any they come across, sometimes in mobs; in the past, poorly-fed leechkin suffering from the crimson thirst have drained dozens and even hundreds dry before recovering their wits.  Thus the non-leechkin populace of Lophius is held at ransom by the city's beggars: give, and give generously, or suffer the consequences.

The Teeth

Most of old Lophius is submerged, stone corridors flooded, vaults and halls overgrown with barnacles and seaweed, temples and tombs and marketplaces haunted by lampreys, cuttlefish, and eels.  Only a few daring submariners, reckless men and women clad in steam-sealed suits and accompanied by hagmen guides, brave the treacherous underwater city, returning to the surface with briny treasures; the rest of Lophius' residents dwell on the Teeth, seven protrusions of rock and architecture which form the canal-ridden islands on which the new city is built.  The islands are named the Talon, Crucible, the Viper's Head, Crooked-Finger, Hunger Rock, Greenfang, and Murmur Isle.  The gangs of Lophius are not criminal per se: rather, they represent rough factions controlling a given section of the city through force and fear, protecting the district but extracting taxes from their citizenry as well.  Only Shellhome and parts of Crucible, Hunger Rock, and Murmur Isle are free from their presence.

Shellhome

The only district not located on an island, Shellhome is a suburban shantytown, a spatter of buildings clustered round the Brooding Bridge that leads to the Vespergate district on Greenfang.  Here fishermen lower wicker cages into the greenish waters, while their wives prepare meals of crayfish or terrapin in houses formed from the empty shells of some extinct lineage of colossal snails or nautilus.

Greenfang

The large island of Greenfang is crisscrossed with canals, and allows access to the rest of Lophius via three prominent bridges (not including the Brooding Bridge connecting Lophius to the mainland): the Iron Bridge (to Crucible's Foundries), Devil's Arch (to the Viper's Head's Coil), and the Bridge of Bravoes (to the Talon).  Water-taxis and gondolas are the predominant form of transportation, as opposed to the rickshaws and carriages prominent elsewhere in Lophius.

Vespergate

Past the Brooding Bridge - a huge, gargoyle-guarded edifice smeared with grime and covered in moss - lies Vespergate, the largest district on Greenfang and the entrance to Lophius, City of the Lamprey.  Foggy and crowded, Vespergate is one of the central residential districts of Lophius, principally inhabited by the quick, though leechkin beggars plead for blood and coin in the gutters and various other races can be seen, especially on the central Street of Mists, a winding avenue that runs from the Brooding Bridge to Devil's Arch.

Snailsump

The major hagman ghetto in Lophius is Snailsump, an amphibious district which merges with the Gland River.  Large hatchery towers loom above the communal dwellings and mud baths, while cultists do service to the divine aspects and temple prostitutes moan in the sacred pleasure-houses.  Stairways carved into the sides of canals lead to the underwater portions of the district, which includes the prominent submarine bay where many of Skein's submersibles dock.  The hagmen do not conform to the usual gang structure, rather being ruled by a cadre of elders, most of them religious leaders.

Bad-Fen

The less-moneyed grave-spawn district in Lophius, Bad-Fen is populated by ghilan, shades, and a few other miscellaneous undead not rich enough to afford the clifftop manses of Groanward but neither so poor as to seek refuge in the caves of Skullford on the Talon.  Ghul-bars are common here, and there is a small corpse-bazaar - nothing close to the Skin Markets of Macellaria, of course, but a sizeable marketplace nonetheless selling various bits and pieces for food and eldritch purposes.  Leechkin and cestoids (of which there are very few in Lophius) linger in this district as well.

   Most of the buildings are damp and mildewed, with a morbid, eerily quiet atmosphere punctuated only by the muttered half-whispers of ghul speech.  Two gangs contend the district: the grim all-shade gang called the Silent Ghosts - every member save a handful of 'speakers' has their lips sewn shut - and the ghilan gang the Devourers run by the so-called Mr. Gray from the ghul-bar The Sepulcher.

Chainwater

Greenfang's major dockland, Chainwater is a murky maze crowded with steamboats from Skein and Crepuscle, grim galleons from Somnambulon, and even the macabre vessels of the lilix, far from their northern berth in Dolmen.  It is comprised principally of warehouses, shipwrights, and offices, but the gang called the Chain-Warders is a major presence here, taking a docking fee from all ships and boats.  They contend with the Silent Ghosts of Bad-Fen and the Ophidians of the Viper's Head looking to expand onto Greenfang for territory.

Crooked-Finger

A tall pinnacle of stone and wood, Crooked-Finger rears up out of the water like some ancient obelisk, a monolithic spire with tiered layers, each a self-contained district.  The tiers bear fanciful names culled from some elder tongue, quite distinct from the usual naming conventions predominate in Lophius.  Built vertically rather than horizontally, Crooked-Finger spirals upwards through a series of stairways and ramps with gates separating the various wards, each marked with that ward's name.  The oldest, largest bridge in Lophius, the Elder Bridge, links Crooked-Finger to the Viper's Head in Serpentside.

Bregm

Bregm is an incredibly important district in Lophius, and the bottom tier of Crooked-Finger.  It contains the city's largest slave market, one of the cornerstones of the city's economy: captives brought in from raids from the Bluebottle Archipelago, the settlements of the Serrated Coast, the swamplands surrounding Lophius, and elsewhere are bartered in the myriad auction houses of Bregm, sold off by pock-marked and mean-smiled auctioneers to industrial overseers for use in the Foundries or the factory districts of other cities, to captains looking for cheap oarsmen, to leering fops as fancy-boys and girls, or to wealthy merchants as servants.  The gang called the Shacklers hold sway here, keeping a take from every auction house from the lowliest platform selling malformed laborers and old women to the high-scale bidding places where the clientele sip absinthe, madwine, blood, and sherry while eunuch warriors and voluptuous concubines are dearly purchased.

Skaumn

The pleasure district, Skaumn is filled with brothels, drug dens, and bars.  Most of the establishments here cater to the quick - the majority of ghul-bars can be found on Greenfang in the shabby district of Bad-Fen.  Run by the opportunistic pimp styling himself as the Vermillion Prince, Skaumn is a highly lucrative tier held tenaciously by the Crimson Cloaks, the Prince's gang of red-caped bravoes, foppish knife-fighters and pistoliers.  Unlike the pleasure houses of Per-Bashti, the brothels in Skaumn tend to be cheap and greasy, and the girls and boys who work there are treated poorly.  Nonetheless it is amongst the most popular wards in Lophius, often the first stop for sailors after docking in Chainwater or Bile-Mire.

Pelloch

Casinos and chance-houses of every sort line the winding streets of Pelloch, a profitable tier of Crooked-Finger held by the gang called the Drakes, led by a masked, mysterious woman calling herself Dame Fortune and renowned for her business sense, her velvet dresses, and her two bodyguards, a pair of sleek, androgynous fighters who wield razored war-fans.  Making her base of operations in The Laughing Eye chance-house, Dame Fortune keeps control of Pelloch ruthlessly and enforces strict rules against cheats: her enforcers maintain a very active presence in all establishments in Pelloch, preserving a high standard of fairness, unlike most of the other gambling places in Lophius such as the rough corsair card-halls of Bile-Mire on Crucible.

Pelloch is distinguished by its variety of games as well as by its fairness.  Here one can play games with hexed cards that can curse another player; games with sigil-scribed, multi-faceted dice; games where the board is composed of interlocking clockwork pieces; where the pieces are tiny homunculi, spattering the board with black blood; where players assume elemental positions, playing in partnerships and building chains of cards with names like the Gallows Tree and the Thorn-man; where the loser forfeits fingers or slaves or blood or more arcane properties.  Here are tea-houses where one can play the convoluted game of Imbroglio with ivory pieces, boxing clubs and knife-fighter's circles, and fighting pits where slaves are forced to fight crocodiles, swarms of spiders, or blood-crazed leechkin captured from the swamps (though these arenas do not compare to the pits of Macellaria's Pulsetown).

Chelke

The alchemist's tier, Chelke is held by a band of cutthroat-scholars called the Sons of the Peacock, witches and nectar-junkies who tattoo themselves with hundreds of colourful eyes.  Here are a smattering of glyph parlors and other tattooists, as well as booksellers and herbalists.  Most prominent are the nectar-dealers from Moroi, the alchemical shops, and the laboratories where various eldritch and technical thinkers live and work, making Chelke something of an intellectual's quarter.

The Viper's Head

The gang known as the Ophidians rule the Viper's Head, human toughs with scaly tattoos and sharpened teeth, led by the gorgon Nyssa and her lieutenant Shaar-Illys.  As human Ophidians rise in rank they undergo a series of ritual mutilations.  First they are shaved bald and receive full-body tattoos resembling snake scales; then their tongues are split, forking like serpents'; next their teeth are sharpened into fangs; and finally their ears are removed.  Many of the city's naghini are members of the gang.

Serpentside

Headquarters of the Ophidians, Serpentside is best known for its venom markets which deal in poisons and combat drugs.  Here casual hitmen and bravoes looking for the edge in a duel can purchase vials of demon-blood, shadowmilk harvested from tenebrals, madwine, 'thrum' from the Bluebottle Archipelago, jabber, mescaline, hundreds of snake venoms, and even bottles of the Red Rain. Clandestine sales of ichor are also conducted in Serpentside, daring the considerable wrath of the Resin Merchants.

The Coil

Renowned for its eateries, the Coil is accessible from Greenfang across Devil's Arch.  In the lavish and often expensive restaurants of the Coil one can sup on turtle soup, caviars, eel or lamprey pies, fried squid, raw oysters, and a hundred different types of fish, to name a few of the plethora of dishes to try.  The Coil is the largest commercial district in Lophius outside of Mandrake Market: a huge fish market does business here, hawkers selling the daily catches of Snailsump and Shellhome.

Crucible

The market island, Crucible is a broad, flat expanse dominated by the Foundries to the south and Mandrake Market to the north and east with the unkempt dockland called Bile-Mire along its western edge.  It is connected to Greenfang, Hunger Rock, and Murmur Isle to the south, west, and north respectively, and is one of the few islands without a major gang presence.

The Foundries

The principle industrial district of Lophius, the Foundries are a series of hulking factories and smaller workshops, seething with the smoldering orange glow of furnaces, clotting the air with thick black smoke.  Also serving as the gateway to Crucible from Greenfang (in Bad-Fen) via Iron Bridge, an ugly modern construction of girders and wrought iron constantly teeming with carriages and caravans, the Foundries are owned by merchant consortiums with links to the cartels of Macellaria and the vicious guilds of Crepuscle.

Bile-Mire

A ragged dock district, Bile-Mire consists of a series of large wharves jetties along the western side of Crucible, lined with seedy waterfront taverns and bloated warehouses.  Not for accident is Lophius called the Corsair's City: pirates and reavers of every clan and fleet dock regularly in Bile-Mire in between raids along the Serrated Coast, selling off slaves and treasure before returning to their bases in the Sallow Seas or the Fevered Ocean, hidden fortresses nestled amongst the darkness-shrouded Midnight Isles or the deadly maze of the Razor-Chain.

Mandrake Market

The central commercial district of Lophius is Mandrake Market, an eclectic confusion of winding streets and booths, with various streets dedicated to certain products - food, textiles, weaponry, jewelry, books, and countless other goods.  No one gang holds sway here, abiding instead by the loosely defined principles of Market Truce - there is no bloodshed in the market, and the well-heeled mercenary warriors who guard the streets will make swift work of offenders.

The Talon

Named for the huge ivory obelisk at its center in the district of Per-Bashti, the Talon is a medium-sized island noted for its glassworks and its flea-bitten residential district of Skullford.  The obelisk was probably once the tusk or claw of a great beast, though the rest of the creature is absent; carved into its white bulk are numerous winding corridors and chambers.

Shardwall

The glassblower's district, Shardwall is contended by the equally brutal Silversiders and Tainsiders, a pair of gangs who vie for control of the ward and thus the right to collect protection money from the profitable tradesmen of Shardwall.  Here one can purchase mirrors, silverware, pots, lamps, and all other sorts of glassware, including intricately crafted glass throwing knives and other weapons, fragile but deadly.

Per-Bashti

Headquarters of the Iron Tygers, Per-Bashti is a high class pleasure district quite distinct from the seedy brothel-ward of Skaumn on Crooked-Finger.  The Iron Tygers are a matriarchal gang based in the Talon itself.  Tattooing themselves with stripes, spots, and other markings and implanting barbed whiskers in their faces, the Tygers are loyal to the ex-corsair Mistress Jade.  The women who work the establishments of Per-Bashti are well compensated profession courtesans protected from abuse by the Tygers, and the district has become something of an enclave for battered women.

Skullford

The Bridge of Bravoes, infamous across the Cadaverous Earth as a notorious dueling site, links Skullford to Greenfang via Chainwater.  A plague-ridden sprawl of shacks, tenements, and dilapidated housing, Skullford is the dwelling place of the city's destitute.  Built atop barnacle-studded cliffs, Skullford is riddled with tunnels and catacombs, an intricate cave-system that was once a network of barrows, with individual tombs and entranceways carved into the cliffside and accessible via roughly hewn stone steps.  Those who do not live in the rickety structures of Skullford itself reside in these caves, alongside the city's impoverished grave-spawn, penniless creatures who cannot afford to dwell in Groanward or even the rougher district of Bad-Fen.  Some of these entities are amongst the less wholesome grave-spawn: thinning eidolons with shrunken faces and emaciated ghilan cutthroats.  There are also rumors of underwater tunnels through which daggols and other deep-dwellers are said to use to infiltrate the city for their own sinister ends.

Murmur Isle

A medium-sized island to the far north of Lophius, Murmur Isle is connected only to Crucible.  It contains three very important areas: the Driftwood District, the religious quarter of the City of the Lamprey and site of major pilgrimage, Gloomwell, location of the House of Shadows, and Groanward, the cliffside residential district of the city's grave-spawn.

The Driftwood District

Perhaps the most famous district in Lophius, the Driftwood District is accessible from Crucible's Mandrake Market via the Whisperbridge, a very long, very ornate bridge lit with candles at night by robed acolytes.  Named for its idiosyncratic architecture, the buildings in the Driftwood District are piecemeal conglomerations of scrap wood and metal thrown seemingly at random onto the skeletons of sunken ships, pulled from the depths and interred on the south side of Murmur Isle.  In contrast with the hubbub of nearby Mandrake Market, the Driftwood District is filled with mystic moans, men and women babbling in tongues, and ceremonial chants.  Stone idols pulled from the muck of the swamps or rescued from the briny depths are all interred in the wooden wasteland of the Driftwood District, each with their own candle-lit shrines attended by tiny priesthoods.  The District is a highly competitive environment in which the various micro-congregations contend for worshippers and thus tithes and donations.  Currently the most popular deities in the Driftwood District include the insectoid god called the Divine Mantis (attended by a mantid priest, of course) aboard the good ship Belligerence, the entity referred to as 'Waadjat' aboard the Mastication, and the turtle-god Draukyr aboard the Umbrageous Archon.

Gloomwell

Gloomwell is built at the base of the Black Stair, a small, narrow district between the rickety chaos of the Driftwood District and the macabre pomposity of Groanward.  Mostly consisting of housing for clergy and petitioners in the Driftwood District, Gloomwell is distinguished by the House of Shadows, a huge and imposing edifice carved from the obsidian cliffs atop which Groanward perches.  Presenting a menacing black façade, the House of Shadows is built mostly into the obsidian itself, consisting of a series of windowless corridors and cells.  It serves as the guildhouse of the Shroud, an organization of professional, deadly assassins who operate openly in Lophius.  Expensive in the extreme, the Shroud maintains a roster of expert killers, including the rogue lilix courtier Xaverius Mazzari, the notorious shade assassin known only as Quiescence, and the quick twin brothers Gaspar and Vetruvion.  Known only to induct a select few members, the Shroud are major power-brokers in Lophius and have been known to step into the tumult of shifting allegiances and betrayals if any one faction seizes too much control.  Their origins are highly secret, but rumors persist of demonic or grave-spawn founders, or that the Shroud are a cult dedicated to a death god, a twisted aspect of the goddess Striga, or a daeva of annihilation.

Groanward

The district of the dead, the Groanward is where the city's wealthier ghilan, shades, and other grave-spawn tend to congregate.  It is a somber district along the north side of Murmur Isle with austere stone houses overlooking the river and the Sallow Seas beyond, rambling manses and baroque façades built atop huge slabs of obsidian, battered with spray.  The Black Stair, a winding path cut into this foundation, leads up from the ramshackle Driftwood District and the eerie streets of Gloomwell below; the chants, choruses, and babbling voices gradually grow mute as one climbs the Black Stair into darkness - the grave-spawn need no light to see by and so the streets are perpetually dim.  Though there are a few shops and restaurants here catering to grave-spawn most of the ghul-bars in Lophius are located in Bad-Fen on Greenfang and the Skaumn tier of Crooked-Finger.  There is also a large cathedral in Groanward dedicated to the star-gods.

Hunger Rock

Hunger Rock is the smallest of the Teeth, and doesn't have any distinct districts; its most salient feature is its colossal lighthouse, now dimmed and dark.  Once a bright beacon lighting the way to Lophius, the lighthouse has fallen into disuse due to the presence of a mysterious and hungry spirit dubbed the Ravener, possibly some variety of swamp-demon that has chosen to haunt the island for its own incomprehensible reasons.
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Macellaria
City of Bodysnatchers, The Maggot City

Brutality

Nhar's gauntleted first smashed for the final time into his opponent's mouth and applause burst into the air around him as if some intangible caul had been ripped asunder, inundating the arena with noise.  He stood there, allowing the after-fight euphoria to suffuse him, bolstered by the spectators' approval.  He let the steely glow in his eyes fade, ushered the unthinking animal part of himself, relieved and uncomplaining, back into its cage.  Below him the pulverized remnants of the other combatant twitched in an eerie dance macabre, thrumming its many limbs.  Its face was a pulpy, spurting ruin.

Nhar breathed deep, inhaled the heady smells of the Pulsetown pits: the sourness of cheap drink, the faint smolder of smoke from the Temple's chimneys, and beneath it all that omnipresent, primeval smell of blood, blood, blood, fresh and red and steaming in the arid air, the smell of birth and death and struggle, the quintessence of life, conflict, victory...  He spat triumphantly, a glob of saliva and his own blood spattering contemptuously into the spreading puddle saturating the sands.

His dripping fists unclenched.

Celerity

It was hot - hot like the world had caught a fever, was sweating it out in the quivering air.  Everything was twisted with that queasy, shimmery haze, like you were looking at the reflection of the world in a warped mirror.  People were black shapes like children's drawings, undulating, jerking in and out of focus, faceless and faintly menacing; buildings writhed and loomed out over the steaming street, looking somehow hungry, coiling and uncoiling as you drew nearer; the corpulent sun snarled down out of the bleached and raw-blue sky.  You couldn't think, in heat like that - your thoughts seemed to boil and your mind was like sludge, your memories flowing together wet and slippery as runny eggs, yolks popping in the heat, bursting in your brain, frothing out of your ears and nose and bubbling through your pores.  Time got thick and tarry; seconds stuck together.  Anything black burnt to touch.

High above a Hexwarren street a window shattered and rained down shards of glass even as a figure tore out of the hole like a bullet.  The thin, grinning man landed on heavy-booted feet and dashed down the street with uncanny quickness, almost too fast for the eye to follow.  In the slowed-down crawl of moments made viscous by the heat his hexed speed became a kind of violence, bruising the air with after-images as the man ducked around carriages and carts, weaving in and out of the motley crowd, round a whip-stitched servitor reeking of formaldehyde, a blind gutter witch who conjured a feeble dust-elemental before a crowd of gawkers, a ghul in a white suit buying books from a street-seller, shading himself from the sun with a frayed umbrella.  The running man grasped something tightly to his chest.

Half a breath after the building had spat the quick man out of its upper storey a blast of green, eldritch flame blew the rest of the wall away and spewed sulphurous smoke into the street.  A second figure emerged with a roar from the green pall, hulking and heavy, shoving passersby out of the way as he stomped after his quarry.  A huge man in a brown leather coat, his lips and hands singed from his spell, already growling some fresh incantation.

Round a corner, down a back-alley, over a rotting wooden fence, up a flight of worn stone steps - Cythos laughed as he wound his way deeper into Macellaria, revelling in his own agility.  Only have to make it to Resurrection Row.  He heard, vaguely, the pound of the bounty-hunter's footsteps behind him, an echoing boom as the thieftaker blew through the fence.  With simian dexterity Cythos swung up onto a low balcony and then shimmied up to the slate rooftop, digging grafted climbing-nails into the plaster and hauling himself up, then scurrying across the tiled expanse of roof and leaping to the next building.  He made it half a block before he heard the thud of his pursuer on the tiled roof behind him.  He glanced back but kept running; the hunter was moving fast, channelling as he made his huge, ungainly jumps between buildings.  Cythos ducked as the witch sent a swirling hex like a nest of effervescent serpents towards him; the spell struck a chimney and reduced it to a pile of corroded, molten slag.

Cythos jackknifed across a narrow alleyway and whipped out his pistol as the assassin gained on him.  Even as the end of the block drew closer the wiry thief squeezed off three shots, swore as a hastily invoked shield of force incinerated the bullets a few feet from his enemy's body.  Cythos skidded to a halt and scrambled down from the roofs, into Murrain Square, still, impossibly, holding the bundle to his chest; the imposing spires of the Fane of Dust rose up in the distance.  Graft pedlars scattered and clutched at their gruesome wares as Cythos ran across the square, followed closely by the giant man behind him.  A stray hex caught one merchant square in the chest, dissolving his flesh and leaving only a blackened skeleton behind.

Through the square, down another flight of steps, into a side-street - to a dead end.  Cythos swore, turned even as a massive fist hurtled towards his head.  He dodged, wrenching his neck to the side, felt the man's arm sail just past him.  He tumbled backwards and brought up his foot behind him, kicking the man in the chest, then spun round and jabbed two fingers into the brutish witch's eyes.  The assassin stumbled back, stunned, and Cythos brought up his pistol, emptied his last three shots into his would-be killer's face.

Breathing hard and wrinkling his nose at the stench of burning flesh Cythos quickly checked his assailant's body, cursed when he found the tattoo on the back of the man's hand - a black heart, wreathed in green fire.  He shivered.

'Well fuck me,' he whispered to his prize, the polished-black skull that stared up at him with empty sockets.  'You must be bleeding priceless for someone to hire the fucking Shroud to get you back.'

Drawing a cloak around him despite the heat he slunk out from the alley and dissolved into the chaos of the city, clinging to the cool and obfuscating shadows.
Demographics

Cestoid - 10%
Ghilan - 32%
Hagmen - 12%
Human - 33%
Leechkin - 6 %
Shades - 5%
Other - 2%

Architecture

Like most of the Twilight Cities Macellaria has a pastiche, variegated architecture.  The shanties and the crude houses of Resurrection Row are raw, unornamented structures of wooden planks, hastily mortared brick, wattle, and daub, small and poorly built habitations and businesses with rickety upper floors; often the windows are boarded up and holes or imperfections in the walls are patched with other material, such as scrap metal or plaster.  The rest of the city is considerably more opulent, the buildings that rise in clusters or sprawl in rambling warrens mixing arabesque domes, arches, and narrow towers with skeletal, buttressed halls and spiked spires.  Pinnacles and minarets rise up above bulbous cupolas; columned arcades overlook broad courtyards; stained glass, gargoyles, ribbed vaults, and ornate facades clash and mingle with quadrangles of glazed tile, gaudily coloured semi-domes, and tapering hexagonal monoliths.  Red sandstone is a common material for these older buildings, and many bear the remnants of frescoes or murals, now chipped and mutilated.  A layer of dust and grime adheres to the walls and the winding stone streets.

Fashion

Fashion in Macellaria is incredibly eclectic.  Many of its inhabitants are garbed in apocalyptic rags; boiled leathers and scavenger gear, dust-goggles and dusters are ubiquitous.  Most individuals in Macellaria have hand-me-down clothes inherited from hundreds of different cultures and time periods.   Very often outfits are formed out of scraps stitched together, tattered patchwork shirts and trousers, cloaks and coats, a bewildering array of colours and patterns.  Ancient military uniforms are the most common, totally depleted of their original symbolic meanings.  More morbidly, burial garb looted from old tombs forms a major part of most citizens' wardrobes.  People walk through the streets wearing loose-fitting shrouds, funerary masks, and dour, flowing robes.

More than any other city, the inhabitants of Macellaria modify themselves with fleshcraft.  Extra appendages are a frequent sight, and clothing modified to accommodate unusual anatomies is sold in the Curio Bazaars or in the streets of Hexwarren, outside of the tissue shops.  Often these augmentations are purely cosmetic, forming a part of fashion themselves; the most outlandish and ostentatious modifications are the most lauded.  Almost everyone in the city goes armed with scavenged weapons - unusual firearms, curved blades, exotic polearms, strange clockwork contraptions, combat gloves, and a diverse array of others.

The Watchdogs

The three colossi known as the Watchdogs (or just the Dogs) of Macellaria are huge, venerable creatures that guard the three gates of the walled inner city - the Witch's Gate, leading to Moroi, the Eel's Gate, leading to Lophius, and the Butcher's Gate, leading to the Slaughter-lands.  The Watchdogs were created four hundred years ago, commissioned by the Robber Guilds and the Rag-and-Bones cartels from the mad magister Orlando Petrifax, renegade of Skein and specialist in fleshcraft; though many of their constituent parts have been replaced over the centuries, they remain at the three gates of the Maggot City, motley sentinels easily capable of dispatching any wandering horror or band of mutant brigands that might dare approach Macellaria from the Slaughter-lands or elsewhere.  In times of war the Dogs have very rarely been unleashed upon the battlefield to aid in the destruction of some particularly malignant foe.

The Watchdogs are gigantic, only vaguely canine creatures formed from innumerable scraps of glyph-scribed, hairless flesh grafted irreverently atop the puissant bones of malformed dire-beasts or giants dug from the Slouching-devil Mountains.  Petrifax apparently conjoined these bones without respect for their previous owners' anatomy, resulting in strange, unwieldy configurations of limbs, odd protrusions, and unlikely skeletal structures: instead of arranging the bones in their original composition, Petrifax mixed and matched to his own bizarre design, crafting three roughly dog-like guardians.  As a result the Watchdogs are misshapen and monstrous, their deformed skeletons clothed in a grisly patchwork, a palimpsest of stitched skins.  Within their sigil covered bodies strange presences squirm and rustle, pressing against their fleshly prison - the animating spirits the magister bound within the Dogs' warded skin, to give his creations life.

The Dogs are chained to their gates but can wander a fair distance, though they are well trained and so spend most of their time dozing in the shade of the walls, the terrific stench of their breath and the sickening quantities of formaldehyde used to preserve their bodies assailing those who approach the gates of the Bodysnatcher's City.  They are fed every three days, glutted on huge bowls of raw meat - a spectacle which draws large crowds of visitors who haven't witnessed the Feeding before.  An elite unit of the city guard comprised of witches and beast-masters tends to the Watchdogs, called the Kennel Masters.

The Walls

The walls of the Maggot City are thick and extremely tall, built of ruddy stone with wooden battlements constantly being replaced along the top.  In addition to the gun emplacements, trebuchets, and soldiers who man the walls, Macellaria maintains a legion of specialized archers and crossbowmen.

The obscene number of bodies in the city attracts hordes of ravens, vultures, and crows to the City of Bodysnatchers, and were such carrion-feeders to descend upon the Skin Markets the city's economy would be devastated.  To ward off unwanted aerial intrusions a band of mercenary archers called the Black Arrows (after their fletching) defends the city walls (alongside a series of leering straw scarecrows, though these do considerably less to deter would-be scavengers).  Though these defenses are effective, many birds still enter the city limits, and there is an obelus reward for any crow corpse brought to the city bounty office in Resurrection Row.

Hexwarren (The Witch's Gate)

The arcane district of Macellaria is Hexwarren, by the western Witch's Gate.  A commercial district, Hexwarren is composed of glyph parlors, tissue-shops, alchemists, and booksellers.  Eldritch texts, scrolls, charms, amulets, pendants, talismans, potions, and all other sorts of arcane bric-a-brac can be purchased here, but most come to Hexwarren looking to augment themselves with biomechanical and bio-eldritch implants or purchase glyph-born servitors, fleshcrafted creatures like organic automata not dissimilar to the zombies of Somnambulon or the clockwork automata of Skein, though somewhat less pervasive.

In Hexwarren one might have an orison or sigil of power tattooed on a limb or torso, turning one's body into a living hex to poison or enflame with a touch, manipulate objects with pure thought, or conjure some transformative effect - scales, fur, wings, horns, fangs.  Toughs and mercenaries have slabs of muscle grafted to their bodies, while adventurers buy extra limbs from unlikely beasts.  The city's supply of nectar, the sap of the Elder Tree in Moroi, can be found in Hexwarren, and junkies clamor constantly at the few dealers, all agents of the Resin Merchants who sell the highly addictive drug at a greatly marked up price.

Hexwarren itself is a rambling, tangled district of stone and wood with many narrow streets and lanes, interspersed with larger plazas or quadrangles, notably Murrain Square (where various venoms and antitoxins are sold) and Tatterdemalion Court (where graft peddlers congregate).  Major buildings include the city's moldering but incredibly extensive library, the so-called Vellum Citadel; the glowering, gargoyle-encrusted Fane of Dust, an all-ghul temple dedicated to distant star-gods; and the small Academy of Witchcraft, where would-be spellcasters can seek professional training for exorbitant tuition rates.

Slimesquallor (The Eel's Gate)

The hagman ghetto of Slimesquallor smells of stagnant water and the mucus excretions of its occupants, sticky trails that leave the streets slick.  Here the architecture is mottled with fungus and moss, as a result of the dampness peculiar to the district; some hagman additions have also been erected next to the brown stone structures that make up the bulk of Macellaria.  The hagman buildings are coiled, undulating edifices with many pillars, open spaces, and large Courts rather than honeycombs of smaller rooms.  Apart from the enormous residential buildings there are hot mud-baths (distinct from the usual slimy pools hagmen bathe in), numerous shrines to the plethora of hagman god-aspects, and an indoor fish market.

Resurrection Row (The Butcher's Gate)

Resurrection Row is a rather ragged district named for its central street, a winding, crooked lane leading from the Butcher's Gate to the inner city.  A poor, shabby district, Resurrection Row is distinguished from the shanties only by its position within the walls of Macellaria and the old stone edifices which rear up above the tightly packed rows of tenement housing.  Though there are a few shops here, most bodysnatchers and tomb raiders returning with a haul from the Slaughter-lands make for the Curio Bazaars and the Skin Markets rather than lingering in this dilapidated district.  As a result of its impoverishment Resurrection Row has become a haven for thieves, pickpockets, and cutthroats, who gather in rookeries when they're not plying the markets or the back-alleys of Hexwarren, Pulsetown, and Velveteen Circus.  The city's bounty office is located in Resurrection Row, as well as a large number of warehouses and rough taverns, most of them geared towards the quick.

The Skin Markets

The Skin Markets reek of carrion and continuously bustle with thousands of merchants and customers, especially at night when the city's ghilan wake.  The Skin Markets are roughly divided into four huge, open-air Courts or atria, not including Velveteen Circus which is more properly a district in its own right.  The atria are bounded by huge, ancient buildings, the lower floors of which are occupied with shops and storerooms; passage between the market quadrants is achieved through a series of corridors accessible via tall, arched doorways.  The upper floors of the Market buildings are given over largely to the offices of the multifarious Rag-and-Bones cartels.  The atria themselves have a transient, constantly shifting architecture composed of booths, tents, stalls, and ramshackle wooden buildings, labyrinthine even to the initiated.

The first atrium is the Court-of-Flesh where whole bodies can be purchased, typically from large wagons piled high with the dead.  Flayed skins, leather, vellum, candles, and slaves are also for sale here.  Numerous eateries sell fried or boiled meat from various species, predominantly that of humans, pigs, dogs, and lizards, though a few booths sell bowls of mealworms, broth with noodles, and deep-fried spiders.  The chief buyers one sees in this atrium are quick humans and ghilan, with a smattering of hagmen and cestoids.  There are a few ghul-bars here, though fewer than the Court-of-Blood, and there is also usually an array of embalming fluids and preservatives available as well.

The second atrium is the Court-of-Bones.  Here are crates and wagons full of skeletons, but also carved bone trinkets, bone weapons (much more common than metal ones in the City of Bodysnatchers), bonemeal, and marrow.  The Court-of-Bones also has many fortune-tellers and gutter witches who cast the bones for a few coins, supposedly to glimpse the future.  Though there are fewer eateries in the Court-of-Bones than in the other atria there are several dice halls, notably Death's Gambit, The Reaper's Luck, and The Ribcage.

The Court-of-Blood is the third atrium, dealing exclusively with fluids.  It is common to see merchants here displaying several barrels full of liquid, variously labeled: 'arterial,' 'venous,' 'plasma,' etcetera.  Blood sausage and half-coagulate jellies (a lilix delicacy) can be purchased here.  The Maggot City's population of leechkin and lilix, though fairly small, can be found here in inordinate numbers. The Court-of-Blood contains numerous ghul-bars around its edges, taverns catering to ghilan serving hot and chilled blood (sometimes sweetened or with added alcohol) in skull cups, in addition to various foodstuffs; the best known of these are the establishments Sanguine Bliss and Porphyria.

Finally, the Court-of-Innards sells viscera, offal, and organs of all sorts.  Some graft peddlers do business here, though most of them are concentrated in Hexwarren; the fourth atrium deals mostly in raw materials for consumption and fleshcraft.  Pickled brains, hearts, and spleens are displayed in jars; bowls of freshly plucked eyes stare at passersby; barrels full of intestines glisten with briny preservatives.  Here one might snack on sweetbreads or a shish-kebab of eyes, sip chitterling stew or brain soup with head cheese, chew on boiled tongues, or munch on stuffed gizzards and kidney pies.  A crowd consisting of a large number of cestoids adds to the grotesquerie of the place.  Though most oracles do business in the Court-of-Bones, a few soothsayers look through piles of steaming organs in the Court-of-Innards to predict the future.

Velveteen Circus

The red-light district of Macellaria, Velveteen Circus is close to the Skin Markets, hovering near the edge of the Court-of-Blood.  Low class brothels and higher quality pleasure houses do business here, alongside opium dens, ghul-bars, taverns, and restaurants.  The brothels cater to both quick and grave-spawn, though the seedier places pay little heed to such niceties as living or undead.  The more expensive establishments cater to fetishes and peccadilloes, and many of the girls and boys have been modified in tissue-shops to better suit the often perverse preferences of the clientele - everything from full body tattoos and extra limbs, heads, and orifices to more surreal augmentations and mutilations, bestial xenografts, radical anatomical alterations, or grotesque enlargements.

The Curio Bazaars

Although named for the collections of relics and scavenged miscellanea found in its many pawn shops and junk-dealers, the Curio Bazaars comprise essentially all merchants not found in the Skin Markets or Hexwarren.  Interspersed with the shops selling lost technology and the detritus of the past are hawkers with carts of fruit, cabinet-makers, knife merchants, blacksmiths, armorers, clothiers, tanneries, and dozens of other businesses.  In the Curio Bazaars one might find a mangy ghul street-seller with a booth full of pocketwatches, or a booth with piles of porcelain and silverware, or an ancient idol of some chthonic deity inscribed with mantras in dead languages.  A shop window might display an impossibly old runesword, or mannequins garbed in silk dresses from Skein, or a selection of fresh produce, or the crown of a long dead sorcerer-king.  The Robber Guilds have their headquarters here, half a dozen prominent structures with a certain faded grandeur where the innumerable tomb raiders and scavengers who plumb the Slaughter-lands congregate.

Pulsetown

The main residential district for the quick in Macellaria, Pulsetown is louder and more energetic than the Worm-Hive, though smaller in size.  Apart from its sprawling housing blocks Pulsetown is distinguished by several prominent landmarks: the Temple of Striga, the fighting pits, and the Hollow Skull playhouse.

Striga is a goddess of blood, life, and vitality and has a congregation almost entirely of the quick.  She demands sacrifices, and the temple chimneys constantly smolder, the burnt offerings filling the sanctum with the aroma of cooking meat.  Cannibal funerary rites apotheosize members of the faith, and diluted blood is usually consumed at sermons.  The religion has strict dietary laws and other requirements and forbids the consumption of inhuman meat ('unclean').  Worshippers of Striga believe that the Red Ravishing was a kind of tribulation from the goddess, and that soon a day of judgment will come and the faithful - those 'pure of blood' - will ascend to become divine vampire-seraphs, ruling a newly ordered and revitalized earth.

The fighting pits are a series of small arenas close to the Skin Markets, dedicated to combat sports and other spectacles.  Gladiatorial competitions, beast-baiting, and other bloodsports are held in the pits, which draw large crowds of gamblers and simple spectators.  Macellaria's few cestoids of any wealth are all gladiators, deadly fighters who feast on their dead opponents.  The current Grand Champion of the pits is the five hundred year old shade gladiator called the Rotten King, a supremely skilled swordsman who has worn many different bodies over the course of his career.

The Hollow Skull playhouse is the largest and most popular playhouse in Macellaria, known especially for its revenge tragedies.  A huge domed structure converted into a theater, the Hollow Skull attracts the wealthy and the poor alike.  Many spend the day at the fighting pits before visiting the Hollow Skull in the evening, then heading to Velveteen Circus for a night of pleasure.

The Worm-Hive

The grave-spawn district of Macellaria, the Worm-Hive is a conglomeration of spires and tower-blocks that looms darkly above the seething Skin Markets.  Its many windows are universally shrouded with black curtains during the day, warding off the much-loathed sun while its residents slumber.  The lower levels are dedicated to ghul-bars, a smattering of shops, and cheap honeycombs of housing, each room a narrow cell.  The upper levels are progressively more lavish, and the towers of Worm-Hive are crowned with ornate manses often with attached chapels and courtyards.  A series of covered bridges link the spires together in dense, claustrophobic clusters.

Large portions of the Worm-Hive remain empty, whole spires given over to dust and cobwebs, though most have long been looted of anything of value.  Squatters and animals have moved in, and one of the spires is rumored to be infected with a cluster of gibbergeists, floating horrors who babble an eerie sing-song jinx incessantly; those who hear this twisted song can be lulled into a trance-like state in which they too may begin to babble, eventually degenerating into gibbergeists themselves.

The Catacombs

The catacombs of Macellaria are incredibly extensive and largely unexplored, but they are far from uninhabited.  Most of the city's cestoid population and its few leechkin make their homes underground, along with the poorer ghilan and other heliophobic grave-spawn such as shades, eidolons, haunts, and predatory geists.

The Maggot City's sewer system bleeds into the catacombs in numerous places, and the two are often indistinguishable.  Whole clans of wiry sewer-scavengers or toshers, equipped with lanterns and caged canaries, make a living plundering the sewers of lost valuables and accretions of coin, bones, and metal.  The sewers are hazardous, the air polluted, the tunnels sometimes flooding during the short rainy season; disease and even cave-ins are also major dangers.  In addition, the runoff and other waste pumped into the sewers from Hexwarren is tainted with a number of eldritch substances.  The result is a population of warped, unlikely creatures: quasi-sentient giant rats, monstrous fish-like things, and other, less recognizable beasts.

There are older, stranger things deep in the bowels of the city.  Rumors persist of shrines dedicated to Hirud dating back to the times of the cestoid Imperium; of rogue demons and renegade servitors, gruesome sigil-scribed horrors; of tribal, bloodthirsty men, skinchangers capable of transforming themselves into bats or hyenas or huge spiders.

The Shanties

In contrast with the grim stone structures of the city proper, the shanties of Macellaria are built of mud, wood, adobe, and brick, huddling close to the towering stone walls.  The shanties are low, unplanned, and filthy, consisting mostly of shacks, cheap alehouses and brothels, tanneries, and second rate shops.  Freelance tomb raiders and merchants deal here instead of the city proper, and the few black-market items banned in Macellaria itself can sometimes be found here.
« Last Edit: November 09, 2011, 01:05:13 PM by Steerpike » Logged


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« Reply #12 on: October 30, 2008, 10:28:54 PM »

Blood, Bodies, Madness, and Monsters
Adventure in the Maggot City

Out of Character

Here are some sample adventure outlines, set in Macellaria.  The first is a fairly typical dungeon crawl taking the adventurers out into the Slaughter-lands; the second deals with a mysterious plague; the third requires the players to recapture an escaped beast; and the fourth calls for them to investigate a series of grisly murders.  I'm a believer in offering multiple paths and options for players to create a feel of verisimilitude whenever possible.  These adventures could be presented one at a time, but introducing them simultaneously could allow for some interesting intersections and would highlight some of the ironic twists at their respective ends.  A lead the players pick up for one investigation may give them the answer to a different one.
Premises and Hooks

(1) A wealthy collector - one Ulric Valentine - has posted a contract at the Robber Guildhouse in the Curio Bazaar.  He is looking for a series of artifacts for his gallery in Skein's Viridian Quarter and so has contacted the Robbers in hopes of procuring it.  The items in question are the embalmed remains and canopic jars or phylacteries of the Priest-King Balgol.  They are reportedly interred in a necropolis somewhere in the vicinity of Yutteril, a ruin in Dour Erg.  The exact location of the necropolis is unknown.  All of this information is provided along with the contract.

Several groups have expressed interest in finding the artifacts and so claiming Valentine's three thousand obeloi reward.  The band called the Blacktongue Brothers, a trio of leather-clad witch scavengers with demonic pets and bad attitudes, have already set off with a caravan expedition, and the legendary scavenger Harrick Hellsteeth is reported to have mentioned an interest in the contract.  Anyone searching for the sarcophagus and jars will face some stiff competition.

If the players are Guildsmen they will hear about the contract through the Guild.  If they are freelancers they may find out about it through rumor and gossip in scavenger drinking holes and the like, or they may even witness the Blacktongue Brothers riding out via the Butcher's Gate in Resurrection Row, shooting off firearms and swearing vile oaths in Hextongue and Shambles to bring back the corpse and claim their prize.

(2) A sickness is sweeping Hexwarren, affecting only witches.  Hexers are being found afflicted by raving madness, wandering the alleyways and scrawling gibberish glyphs on walls.  The symptoms closely resemble nectar overdose.  Rumor has that the local Resin Merchants' nectar supply is tainted.  The dealers from Moroi are panicking, and their usually prosperous traffic with the drug is hurting.  They insist that the nectar is pure, but more and more witches are trying to go cold turkey on the drug, with varying levels of success.  The Resin Merchants might well reward someone handsomely who presents them with a cure for the mysterious illness.

Some are whispering of the return of the dreaded dementia epidemics that brought Moroi to it knees centuries ago.  Witchcraft is being practiced more sparingly and with greater caution in Macellaria, which is impacting the city's substantial fleshcraft-based economy.  The victims are being kept in the asylum ward of the basement levels of the Academy of Witchcraft, restrained and pacified with drugs, in the care of warders with arcane ability.

Any witch players may be interested in solving the mystery of the sickness simply for their own self-preservation.  They may hear rumors of a reward being offered by the Resin Merchants, though none has yet been posted in the bounty office or elsewhere.  Finally, they might encounter one of the victims themselves, some wild-eyed and jabbering witch wandering Hexwarren or a nearby district, alternatively crying, laughing hysterically, screaming, or simply muttering incessantly.  The witch may run away if followed, leading to a chase through the maze-like streets.

(3) A carnival has come to Macellaria, setting up shop in the shanties outside of the Witch's gate.  It features rickety mechanical rides, salty snacks, tattooists, acrobats, contests, a sideshow, and a menagerie - from which one of the many exotic beasts has escaped.  The carnival management, headed by the ringmaster Mr. Jarvis, is trying to keep the escape hushed up to prevent a panic, worried that the carnival might be driven out of town.  Simultaneously he is discretely inquiring in taverns in the Skin Markets, Resurrection Row, and other establishments catering to mercenaries: he is looking for professionals to recapture the beast, and will pay fifteen hundred obeloi for its return.

The players might be contacted by one of the carnival staff members, or they might be drawn to the carnival itself, a colourful and diverting setting with many contests with rewards.  There are archery and shooting competitions; a cage-wrestling match with 'Grull the Gargantuan,' a burly man reputed to be a savage from Barrow Scrub (no cestoids!); Imbroglio games with a clockwork automaton; riddling and fencing contests; fortune-telling with Kyra the Seeress; eating contests with live spiders.  Here also are the Syzygy Twins, one tattooed black, the other white; Glass Jack who eats ceramic vases and shards of crystal; Raq the Summoner, a skilled elementalist; motley-clad mimes with masked faces and sewn-shut lips; a sword-swallower, a fire-breather, a mantid, a mechanoape, a sketch artist, a knife-thrower, a lilix juggler, an array of stitched graftpunks with their every feature obscured with alien body parts.

The menagerie is full of truly bizarre if rather ill-treated creatures, tended by the Beastmaster Yagruch, a surly, moustachioed southlander.  An oneiroi called the Swan-Man peers through the bars on its elongated neck and snaps its serrated bill; a fetch paces back and forth in its cage and glowers murderously at spectators; a fish-thing from Lesion Sea swims in a tank of dirty water.  There is a giant crab from the Bluebottle Archipelago, a pair of cacklegiests in a soundproof glass box, a tusked, spiny creature equal parts wolf and boar from the Slouching-devil Mountains, a waxborn shapeshifter from the Tallow Plains, a carnivorous tree Yagruch claims to have grown from a seed from the Screamwood.  And an empty cage, aloof, covered with a black cloth'¦

(4) Someone or something is preying on streetwalkers in the rougher parts of Velveteen Circus.  The Circus pimps - the Fleshmongers - are getting agitated at the economic loss: many of the victims were expensively augmented.  Business is suffering as the girls are frightened, many refusing to ply their trade outside of secure brothels.  The Fleshmongers have posted a two thousand obeloi reward at the bounty office in Resurrection Row and have plastered wanted posters in the shanties, Skin Markets, and the fighting pits at Pulsetown.  The city authorities - a nebulous and corrupt force mostly consisting of mercenaries - have proved incapable of dealing with the murders.  Three women and an adolescent catamite have been killed so far, all of them completely exsanguinated, found in a pool of their own blood, their corpses utterly drained.

The manner of the prostitutes' deaths has led most to blame the city's leechkin population, exacerbating the usual racial distrust prevalent around the creatures.  Lynch mobs have raided the catacombs, rampaging through the tunnels with lanterns and knives, carving up any leechkin they find - seven have been slain so far in the tunnels, and another was publicly murdered in the Court-of-Blood.  All but a compassionate few cityfolk are refusing to give coins or blood to leechkin beggars.  The elder council of hagmen in Slimesquallor are urging a purge to 'cleanse the city' of these 'repulsive parasites.'

Other candidates for the murder persist - after all, there are many creatures besides the leechkin who are haematophagic (zehrer, ghilan and lilix drink blood even if they do not utterly subsist on it, and the notorious oneiroi Slake is purported to drain his victims dry).  Rumors that the bodies were mutilated as well as exsanguinated have led to claims that the murders are ritual killings, with many pointing to the Church of Striga (who disdain augmentations as impurities of form and are obsessed with blood) or rambling about cestoid cultists of Hirud operating from out of the catacombs.  Others have suggested that local merchants have taken to harvesting organs from streetwalkers for sale in the Court of Innards, though few give such talk any real credence. Most who don't pin the crimes on leechkin, however, insist that the killings must be the work of an eidolon due to the murders' sexual overtones.

The players might hear about the murders in a bar, saloon, brothel, or other establishment, or might overhear a snatch of conversation in the street.  They might see one of the wanted posters or find out about the killings at the bounty office.  If they already have a relationship with Macellaria's authorities or the Fleshmongers they may be contacted specifically and brought in to investigate.  If any of the players are leechkin they will be embroiled in the adventure almost without a choice, subject to harassment and violence wherever they go.  If all else fails the players can hear a gurgling scream in a back-alley and arrive a moment too late, finding the victim sprawled against a wall - although this scene is perhaps best reserved for later in the adventure.

Investigations

(1) Locating the necropolis will be the first challenge.  Good sources of information are the Vellum Citadel library in Hexwarren (a good place to introduce arc 2) and the Guild Archives, musty rows of shelves in the cobwebbed corridors below the Robber Guild headquarters.  Extensive research into the Balgol dynasty will yield a map or at least a description of the necropolis' location.  Known as Tza-Xellim, the necropolis is supposed to be close to the border of Etiolation several leagues northeast of Yutteril.  Tza-Xellim is huge, a sprawling graveyard city with countless tombs, monoliths, and ziggurat temples honouring the apotheosized Priest-Kings, all of them heavily warded to deter tomb-robbers.  Balgol's ziggurat can be found near the center of the necropolis, surrounded by a series of smaller mausoleums housing the Priest-King's dead servants and mistresses; it is marked by a pair of triple-headed eagle statues, the despot's personal symbol.

The players must now prepare for their journey into Dour Erg, which will take nearly a week by horse of llama.  They will need to have some means of transporting the body itself, which is encased in a heavy stone sarcophagus.  A wagon is a distinct possibility, though this could be expensive to buy or even rent and would slow the group down.  Eldritch means of transportation for the haul might be pursued in Hexwarren, though finding a witch willing to help them through arcane means might be more difficult than usual in wake of the recent sickness.  There are wheelwrights and stables in the shanties and in the Curio Bazaars.

The journey should not be easy.  The old roads through the Slaughter-lands have largely been subsumed or eroded, making navigation difficult.  While the details of the journey can be customized and changed on the fly, the adventurers should feel harassed and oppressed by the wasteland.

A dust-storm or the treacherous Red Rain may force them to find shelter in a nearby ghost-town.  Once inside the desiccated ruin they find that the place is infested with fetch or oneiroi - a man-shaped thing whose belly is split open, its intestines grotesque tentacles that grasp and strangle - a voluptuous woman with an insect head who climbs on walls and attacks with venomous mandibles - a skull-visaged specter with rotting wings.  There may, however, be old treasures moldering in the gloom, clockwork puzzle-boxes clutched by skeletons in grimy cellars or runeswords hung on walls to slowly rust.

A band of haunts that have wandered out of Etiolation might also attack the adventurers.  Walking corpses in broken armor clutching notched weapons, bleached of colour but preserved almost perfectly from decay, the haunts are the remains of soldiers animated by the prowling arcane resonances of the ancient battlefield, and they retain their war-like inclinations in undeath.  They will be difficult to distinguish from normal humans unless one draws close to them - at which time it will be too late to avoid the near mindless grave-spawn.

Or perhaps the adventurers will be ambushed by raiders, some gang of brigands attached to Hereku the Flagellator, bandits with rusty rifles and scimitars and dust-smeared robes riding reptilian dune-runners or misshapen horses.  They will lie in wait near an oasis or gorge in the badlands before attacking, fleeing quickly with what loot they can if repelled, returning again at night, vanishing into the desert if they sustain too many losses.

They may also encounter caravans of other scavengers or nomadic waste-dwellers, potential trading partners and allies.  Such folk will be hardened and wary of strangers, so the adventurers must prove themselves trustworthy or else face hostility.

(2) There are sixteen victims in total, all of them raving, kept in straightjackets in cramped, warded cells below the Academy of Witchcraft.  After stating their intentions the players will be led to the cells to view the mad witches.

Nine of the witches are men, six women, and all spout a constant stream of gibberish in various languages, save for one ghul witch who chewed his own tongue off.  One man with a matted mane of gray hair and needle-marks on his arms jabbers on about the Dragon and its black breath, undulating in his straightjacket like a dancer, or a snake being charmed.  A woman tattooed with eldritch sigils (all of which, under closer inspection, have been disempowered) mutters about the black filth.  Another witch with pierced ears and nose, broken spectacles, and a pair of small, lithe arms grafted to his chest screams incessantly about the hideous Tongue.  The ghul, provided with a piece of chalk to communicate, has covered the walls of his cell with drawings.  Some of these are garbled eldritch formulae which he has utterly failed to invoke, despite frequent attempts to do so.  Others are less coherent, scribbled words and scrawled pictograms.  One depicts a fearsome snake with a long, probing tentacle menacing a small, frightened stick figure.

If the players subject the witches to any test of arcane potential, they will find that all of the hexers can no longer channel numina.  It is as if their arcane talents have been stripped from them completely.  This is inconsistent with nectar-overdose, since junkies who overdose actually become dangerously powerful, channeling raw eldritch energy without regard to those around them, invoking hexes and even summoning demons with haphazard imprecision.  If nectar played a part in the plague of madness, it was not due to overdose.

(3) Once they have agreed to find the escaped creature Beastmaster Yagruch will admit to the players that he did not know exactly what it was - only that they found it in the southern swamps on their way north from a stint in Lophius, and that it drew large crowds along their tour.  He describes it as an amorphous, translucent blackish protoplasm with coils like a serpent and dark shapes that might be organs suspending in its fluidic body, a cluster of glossy eyes almost floating on its slick, membranous skin, and a writhing pseudopod tongue.  Despite numerous attempts to feed it Yagruch was unable to find anything to agree with its palate.  It would occasionally swallow live meat but would promptly spit these offerings out, and it would sometimes also attempt to devour inanimate objects, though again it would regurgitate them quickly.  Once it engulfed a talisman from a crewman's neck and refused to relinquish it, though they found it later on the floor of the cage in a puddle of black mucus.

The troupe had captured the beast in the wetlands, having found it preying on a leechkin shaman, engulfing the creature into its vaguely serpentine bulk.  While the creature was digesting the struggling shaman - who seemed to have been trying to hex or bind the beast based on the scrawled markings in the mud they found near the creature - Yagruch and his crew managed to capture it.  It vomited forth the shaman, who seemed dazed but otherwise unharmed by the ordeal.  The shaman gestured wildly and stumbled around, raving from its mouths; unable to interpret its speech, Yagruch had the creature shot, fearing it might be afflicted by the mad thirst and therefore potentially murderous.

Though its cage the beast was interred in was locked and warded the creature managed to squeeze its body between the bars, and the protective glyphs scribed into the metal were ineffective.  Closer inspection of the glyphs by a trained witch will show that they have been deactivated, their eldritch energy drained.  If the players track down the crewman with the talisman - a rakish youth with red hair and a crooked smile called Farle, mucking out the wolf-boar's cage - they will find that his charm has also been deactivated (it used to glow when rubbed, emitting a soft glow of light and supposedly warding against sickly miasmas; now it fails to function).  The cage has not been broken and the lock has not been tampered with.  There is a slick of tar-like fluid on the floor of the cage which if properly analyzed will be found to radiate residues of numina.  A careful inspection of the carnival grounds will reveal several more splotches of black mucus, which if followed eventually lead to a culvert in the city walls, too small and low for a human to enter - though perhaps not for the soft-bodied creature.

(4) The Fleshmongers have preserved and daguerreotyped the bodies, posting some of the sepia daguerreotypes in the bounty office.  The bodies themselves are being kept in the mortuary of a rundown hospital in Resurrection Row.  If the murders are not solved in another week they will be dismembered and sold for food or parts.

The first victim was named Zari Etcheye, a young courtesan found in an alley off Blackrose Street between an opium den and the ghul-bar and grave-spawn fleshpot Wormflesh near the western edge of Velveteen Circus, in a puddle of drying blood.  Like most prostitutes in Macellaria she was augmented, sporting an extra pair of oversized, absurdly lush breasts and implanted black talons, under which some skin can be found.  There are no marks on her body save for a small bite on her upper left breast, made with sharp teeth.  She did, however, bleed out of her eyes, nose, ears, and mouth, leaving crusted stains around those orifices, and her whole body is covered in smaller streaks of blood - as if she bled out of her pores.  Someone trained in xenoanatomy, fleshcraft, or a similar discipline might be able to identify the bite as definitively not belonging to a leechkin - the teeth are too large and the bite isn't circular enough.

The second victim was only known as Jabeela.  Like Zari she was augmented, with a feline tail and implanted whiskers in addition to leopard-print tattoos; she was wearing a cat-mask when she was found, now badly bloodstained - also like Zari, she bled out of her pores, mouth, eyes, and nose, splattering her corset and stockings.  Save for a few old bruises and her complete lack of blood she is unmarked - no bite marks, no sign of trauma.  She was found behind a hookah bar in the northern part of the Circus, five days after Zari was found.

The third victim was a boy of seventeen, Perek Curille, a transvestite with an augmented phallus and blood-smeared makeup found a week after Jabeela in an empty building, again in the westernmost part of Velveteen Circus.  His petticoats and frock are torn, frayed, and bloodstained, possibly suggesting a struggle, though not necessarily.  His manner of death was identical to the two previous victims.

The fourth body belongs to Shelkie Illdefonse, an older and unaugmented prostitute found in a small courtyard off Ganglion Avenue three days after Perek was found, lit by the red sputter of the sign of the pleasure house Crimson Joy.  Scrawled above her corpse in her blood are the words 'Ware the Worm!' which have been interpreted as the signature of her killer, variously ascribed to a leechkin or cultist of Hirud.  She was killed in the same manner as the others, but also sustained a wound on her breast, where her dress was ripped - a circular wound, like a vicious love-bite.  Anyone skilled at all in forensics will note that this wound did not bleed and thus must have been inflicted after her death, and that it appears to have been made with a knife rather than by teeth (the one responsible for the wound is in actual fact also the author of the gruesome note, and is not the murderer at all, though the players must deduce this themselves).

Based on an inspection of the bodies or daguerreotypes the players can deduce several important facts.  Firstly, whatever killed the streetwalkers was unlikely to be a haematophage, or if they were they were uninterested in drinking their victims' blood: the murder scenes were splattered with blood, and the victims appeared to have lost their blood via their mouths, ears, nostrils, and eyes.  As such any rituals or spells involving large quantities of blood can also be ruled out, doubly so since blood can easily be purchased in the Skin Markets.  Secondly, the victims were not killed through any kind of exterior physical trauma such as a bite, nor were they mutilated in any immediately obvious way, with the possible exception of Shelkie.  An autopsy reveals extensive desiccation and massive hemorrhaging of the internal organs.

Conclusions

(1) The final leg of this adventure should consist of two central elements: delving into Tza-Xellim and retrieving the artifacts, and contending with the Blacktongue Brothers, who will not easily give up their prize.

The necropolis should have a haunted, brooding quality.  At night it is grim and frightening; during the day the streets are defined in stark chiaroscuro, the sandy earth and pale flagstones contrasting with the darker stone of the buildings and the dense shadows thrown by the dwindling sun.  Tza-Xellim's walls are largely collapsed, and its obelisks have been eroded into deformed stumps.  A vast cemetery resembling a ruined city, Tza-Xellim is confusing to navigate: high bridges connect weather-worn obelisk-towers accessible via spiraling steps, huge monoliths packed tightly with the dead, while winding flagstone streets meander between low tombs and ziggurats.  There are statue gardens disfigured by dust-storms, arches and tunnels and musty quadrangles, and everywhere a charged, oppressive silence.  Buzzards black the sky, circling constantly.  Eyes watch from the harsh black gloom.

In the centuries since its construction many foul things have crept into the ruins.  A group of quasi-feral ghilan, nomads and brigands transformed into grave-spawn in the Slaughter-lands, inhabit the southern quadrant, gnawing on bones and mummified flesh and occasionally trading baubles and relics from some of the more poorly protected tombs with scavengers; they can lead the adventurers to Balgol's tomb for a price, if they describe the three-headed eagle statues.  Other inhabitants of the necropolis are less civilized.  Packs of hyenas roam the streets at night, yapping with maniac laughter, and mutant spiders with too many limbs and eyes lurk in many of the smaller tombs and passages, cracking open bones and sucking out their marrow for sustenance.  Worst of all are a brood of wild tenebrals attracted to the claustrophobic spaces of Tza-Xellim.  The shadow elementals can merge with the darkness and travel along it, impervious to attack, before suddenly manifesting, engulfing their prey with their flickering black bodies.

Balgol's tomb itself comprises a fairly large area, surrounded by a high wall.  The lesser tombs can be looted for minor valuables and contain few protections of any note, save perhaps for beasts that might have burrowed or broken into them and made them their lairs.  The central ziggurat - five-tiered and menacing - poses the true challenge.  The door itself is warded, as the adventurers' research should have revealed; the players must deal with the glyphs themselves - archaic pictograms that infect any who enter the ziggurat with a wasting, rotting illness - or hire a witch to counter-hex the door, or they must find some other way of circumventing the door or the wards (talismans that protect them against disease, for example).  Only grave-spawn can enter the ziggurat without fear: as the inscription above the door reads, the ziggurat is a 'House of the Dead.'  Note that the other ziggurats in Tza-Xellim are similarly warded and protected.

The interior of the ziggurat is labyrinthine, designed to deter intruders, turning them around and back on themselves.  In place of mechanical traps that could rust with time a guardian demon called Ahema'at was sealed in the ziggurat when it was erected.  Enraged and soul-starved after centuries of entombment, Ahema'at will stalk and then devour any foolish enough to enter the ziggurat; it appears as a massively muscled humanoid with a horned, reptilian visage and a second gaping mouth on its chest with many needle-like teeth, a maw into which it feeds the hearts of its victims.  Although mad from its long captivity Ahema'at could be bargained with, especially if the wards on the door have been deactivated, in which case it is free to leave the ziggurat. It may even bring the tomb-raiders through the maze if offered a suitable sacrifice or contract.  At the center of the ziggurat is the burial chamber itself, containing the sarcophagus and the canopic jars, as well as several valueless artifacts and a few jeweled cups and similar treasures that can be pawned in the Curio Bazaar.

After leaving the ziggurat the adventurers will be ambushed by the Blacktongue Brothers, either within Tza-Xellim itself or once they leave the necropolis.  The witch-scavengers will attempt to intimidate the players and threaten them with eldritch destruction unless they hand over the treasure.  The tomb-robbers must either talk or fight their way out of this predicament; if they opt for the latter, they will find the Brothers formidable foes skilled in witchcraft.

Alternatively, if they delayed too long in reaching Tza-Xellim, the players could find the ziggurat already looted, the wards on the door already deactivated.  They will find one of the Blacktongue Brothers dead, his heart ripped from his chest; Ahema'at has left the ziggurat and now hunts the ghilan of the southern quadrant.  The adventurers must catch up with the two remaining Blacktongue Brothers before they reach Macellaria if they want to steal the prize.  The ghilan, incidentally, will reward the players for slaying Ahema'at if the demon escapes.

(2)-(3) The strange 'sickness' afflicting witches is actually the work of the escaped creature from the carnival, one of the swamp demons of the south - the creature was sucking the shaman dry when the carnival found it.  Research may turn up a few references to numina-feeders like gelatinous black serpents, entities sometimes dubbed 'Aether-Worms' capable of drawing sustenance from glyphs and other arcane energy, including nectar and the eldritch potential of spellcasters, subsequently leaving the victim deranged by the unwholesome experience.  The escaped Worm has taken up residence under Hexwarren, venturing topside to snack on the city's witches and leaving them as wandering madmen.

The final portion of the adventure takes place in the catacombs below Macellaria.  Finding the Aether-Worm may be difficult, and the tunnels form something of a maze.  Here the players should encounter a variety of undercity denizens and hazards before tracking down their quarry.  Those below Hexwarren are particularly bizarre, filled with mutant creatures and homeless nectar-junkies willing to murder for a fix.  Toshers will greet adventurers with suspicion if not outright hostility, perceiving them as rivals and defending their turf with knives, cudgels, and crude firearms; some are also skinchangers.  Other encounters might include battles with rogue geists or ghilan cutthroats, a decaying eidolon looking to rejuvenate his glamer, psychopathic leechkin possessed by blood-madness, or simply sewer fauna - giant rats and spiders, poisonous fungi, and other troglodytic dangers.  Cave-ins, pockets of gas, floods, slippery catwalks, pitfalls, and the like will plague excursions into the catacombs.  This section of the adventure could be partly improvised or it could be rigidly mapped and plotted.  Occasional streaks of blackish mucus will eventually lead the adventurers to the Worm.

The catacombs should have a liminal, hybrid feel to them, like a cross between a dungeon and a city.  Drunks and junkies sprawl in gloomy corners while grave-spawn slumber, awaiting nightfall; mushrooms and molds devour the variegated, rat-holed architecture.  There are prostitutes, poison-sellers, hitmen, drug dealers, thugs, and thieves here, and also dwellings, rickety drinking establishments, and seedy subterranean markets.  Escaped slaves and fugitives - many of them with wanted posters at the bounty office - seek refuge in the depths.  Under Hexwarren are all manner of strange beings - swarms of hairless piranha-rats, mad servitors and other escaped necromantic experiments, glowing toads that vomit acid, mephitic vapors given elemental sentience, and even a few lone fetch, hiding beneath the city and preying on vagrants to sate their homicidal inclinations.

If the adventurers have not solved the string of deaths in Velveteen Circus (arc 4), then they should have an encounter with a group of hagmen - all males, all equipped with curved knives and barbed spears - hunting leechkin through the catacombs on a genocidal crusade.  They may encounter the hagmen already torturing a leechkin, and be faced with the dilemma of whether to involve themselves or pass on through the tunnels.

The Aether-Worm lairs in a cobweb-shrouded cluster of chambers deep in the catacombs, part of some long-abandoned fanum or shrine full of rusted candelabra, chipped gilt idols, the musty fingerbones of forgotten saints, and similar religious bric-a-brac.  The Worm itself may be slumbering contentedly in an eerie coiled heap, or digesting some vagrant witch.  Its bulk contains several eldritch artifacts not yet drained of their puissance.  Finding a way of capturing the Worm without killing it will be difficult, since the entity resist traditional forms of demon-binding and will eventually devour any glyph or incarceration spell. Slaying it provides an alternative, and if the players are able to prove the Worm was causing the sickness then the Resin Merchants may reward them for taking care of the beast.  It is strengthened by numina, however, so casting hexes on it will only augment its power; it must be killed with pure brute force.  However, they will forfeit their reward from Yagruch the Beastmaster if they kill the Aether-Worm.

(4) The true culprit behind the 'murders,' is, in fact, a sickness.  A venereal disease that wracked the Cadaverous Earth epidemically four hundred years ago at the beginning of the Festering (the Aeon of Putrefaction), the Sanguine Dissolution was once widespread and deadly.  Transmitted through blood or sexual contact the disease causes internal hemorrhaging and bleeding out of the orifices and pores.  Though for a while it caused untold devastation in major cities, the Sanguine Dissolution rapidly ran its course, mutating into progressively more virulent and aggressive forms which ironically inhibited outbreaks: while the initial incubation period was a month or more, allowing an infected individual to spread the disease, the Sanguine Dissolution became so deadly that the rapid onset of symptoms and then death (within minutes) ensured that it could not be spread before the infected succumbed.

The outbreak of the Sanguine Dissolution in Macellaria is the unwitting doing of one Darvik Tracynth, a ghul with a preference for living sexual partners.  A poor grave-spawn with unsteady employment - mostly as a cleaner, street-scavenger, or manual laborer - Darvik lives in the catacombs below Worm-Hive, venturing out at night to work, returning to his squalid chambers below the city streets come daybreak.  Before retiring, however, Darvik often wanders the streets, especially Velveteen Circus; unable to afford the rates of upscale courtesans or even the brothel workers of the district's seedier fleshpots, he resorts to streetwalkers.  Unknowingly, however, he recently contracted the Sanguine Dissolution after cutting himself on a very ancient and very rusted knife contaminated with the disease.  As a ghul Darvik is immune to the disease's effects - but he carries the Sanguine Dissolution in his body.  He does not know that he has been infecting prostitutes with the disease, though all have died within a few minutes of copulation.

There are several ways the adventurers might discover the truth behind the 'killings.'  Diligent research is certainly one avenue, and talking with prostitutes, madams, pimps, and even clientele in Velveteen Circus will reveal that most streetwalkers in the district are fairly desperate for custom and so will accept the money of grave-spawn and inhumans.  Specific rumors of Darvik - a ghul exclusively interested in the quick - can also be extracted.  Certainly any extensive investigation should allow the players to rule out most of the commonly assumed suspects (leechkin, eidolons, etc).  A scene in which the players stumble upon the dying body of another streetwalker is also a possibility, perhaps already engaged with another client - the investigators may jump to the false conclusion that he is the murderer.  The streetwalker might even write the beginning of a clue in her own blood before she dies - the word 'ghul,' for example - though she might bleed out before she can finish her message.  Darvik, of course, will be close by, probably on his way back to his dwelling.  He can be identified by the scratches on his back from Zari's long fingernails.

If the players are unable to solve the 'murders,' additional clues can be provided as more bodies are found.  Perhaps Darvik tears a piece of clothing near the scene of the 'crime,' or perhaps he is spotted by someone leaving the alley moments before the body is discovered - a tall, thin ghul in a shabby black coat and top hat, with his hands thrust into his pockets and a vaguely satisfied smile on his face.  Meanwhile, the violence against the leechkin will only escalate, with the hagman community rising up against them unless someone intervenes.

What the players will do if they do discover Darvik's affliction is up to them.  If they turn him in they will receive a reward, but the wretched ghul will plead with them, bribing them with what little coin and treasure he possesses, promising them favors, and even potentially trying to kill them out of fear.  He will swear to celibacy if he must, though whether the players trust his oath is another matter.  Finding a cure for the Sanguine Dissolution is another option, albeit a very challenging one - no cure has been recorded, and discovering it would be a separate adventure in and of itself.
« Last Edit: December 29, 2011, 08:39:44 PM by Steerpike » Logged


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« Reply #13 on: October 30, 2008, 10:32:24 PM »

Out of Character

I felt the Cadaverous Earth needed a bit of reorganization, so I decided to reboot it.  The predominant new material is at the very beginning and the very end (an adventure, as Lord Vreeg requested on the original thread).

Feel free to post comments/criticisms/critiques/factoids about hallucinogenic mushrooms here.
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« Reply #14 on: November 01, 2008, 07:35:46 PM »

Out of Character



Here is the Leechkin image Vermillion drew - it's simply too perfect not to be included in the rebooted thread.


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