Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Sunday Sneak: The Atlas Complete, Men, Giants, and Dragons

Ah, my children! As the Ecumenical Atlas of Arunia is finally complete (textually) this is the last Sunday Sneak from that book. I'm thinking about whether or not I want to make it available by request in its current format (very ugly text blocks) or just wait until it has acquired some art and stylings before unleashing it upon the world.

The People of Arunia
Arunia is peopled by many different sapient creatures from all manner of races. No two of them were made the same exact way and though many owe their creation to one of the myriad gods of Arunia, not all do. The world was peopled long before the Aelio awoke and older gods than they did much of that work. The races of Arunia can be roughly divided into the Eldest, Elder, Younger, and Youngest depending on when and how they were created. Eldest races come from the dawn of time; they came into being before the first age and sprang forth from the world itself. Eldest races include trolls, giants, dragons, faeries, and men. Each of these eldest developed a philosophy and Art of magic their its own, leading to a proliferation of magical theory, tongues of power (see below), and ideologies of spellcraft.

Elder races were the first to be created by the Aelio or the gigantine gods. These are the elves and dwarves and the twisted creations of Ulagos the Potter, such as beholders. Elder races that know magic were either taught it by one of the eldest or developed it much later.

Younger races were made long after the elder; these include gnomes and halflings as well as orcs and goblins. They came into the world piecemeal, created by deities other than the Aelio—the Vinthar and the Felnumen.

The youngest races are those that fleshed out the niches of the world: the hyena-men known as gnolls, the other races of goblinkin, the grim and unpleasant things that dwell beneath the earth. These are also collectively known as the “mud races,” for they were created by the Felnumen, the mud-gods, a group of spirits thrown out of Edellia who followed Toynash Lord of the Muddy Crown.

Though the eldest races were considerably more powerful than those created later, they have still suffered greatly at the hands of the young and youngest. Goblins, orcs, gnolls, and others have splintered powerful mannish kingdoms, dragged elven lands into the darkness, and annihilated many a dwarven stronghold.

Men are by far the most numerous of the sapient races currently living in Arunia. One of the eldest, they developed their own magical language long before many other races were even created. They are certainly the most individually varied, for they may themselves be short as dwarves or tall as elves. There are pale men, olive men, and black men; fair-haired men, red-haired men, dark-haired men, men of green eyes and men of amber. All these are yet men, and their cultures are as myriad and varied as their appearances.

Men are shockingly fertile compared to the other elder and eldest races, though they are far outbred by folk such as goblins and orcs. Their limitless ambition allows them to advance to great heights though their lives are far shorter than those of the giants, elves, dragons, or dwarves.

Men can cross cultures relatively easily. They adjust well to their environments and their many and varied cultures and kingdoms interact on a regular basis. Men are most likely to be (at least) bilingual, though unlike elves not all men learn to read. They are also damned persistent and fierce, making them formidable foes.

They were responsible for the longest-lasting and farthest-flung empire of all Arunian history, that being the one that was ruled from Miles. The shadows of Miles still fall long across the land though it has been thousands of years since its ruination.

The giants and giant-kin worshipped Solon the Self-Creating and many other strange and mysterious gods. They held lands in the north long before the southmen came up to found Miles and it is said they interbred with northerly men (or that northmen are a lesser form of giant that bridges the gap between giants and men). They had great empires that were already in decline when the southmen came to Atva-Arunia and the great waves of Aellonians, Thegnari, and Llyrians settled the central continent.

Giants are inherently long-lived and divided into many subraces that cannot interbreed. Ogres are their creation and their kin, given life by the frost giants (Pagoi) long ago. Some Arunian scholars also believe trolls to be related to giants, though the link has never been conclusively proven save for the horrific ettin-troll crossbreeds that exist in some corners of the world.

Most giants are grave and stately, though there are many exceptions to this rule. The great gigantine empires have long since given way to semi-tribal or semi-feudal pockets of gigantine control scattered throughout the north. All giants who attain great age (quite a feat in this modern world, with giant-slayers and inter-gigantine wars being common) slowly turn to stone. It is said that the first treants were born of trees that grew form the stones of dead giants.

Cloud Giants: The proprietors of the great kingdom of Cloudhame, these giants live in a land sequestered from the rest of Arunia. Only very rarely will one venture southwards to “gather stories” as they call it. Cloud giants are very wise, and it’s said that their first king Clydas invented music, writing, and cut the very first harp from the rocky bosom of a mountainside.

Cyclops: Native to Aellon, cyclopes are single-eyed brutes that spread to Arunia when they landed in Llynder and Llernea and have since been a source of trouble in the east. They are crude and cruel, preferring a simple pastoral lifestyle supplemented by vicious raids.

Firbolg: A type of giant found only in the cold north, Firbolg share much akin with humans though they are hesitant to allow men to visit their homes. The Firbolg are the giants from whom some scholars believe that all northern men are descended.

Fire Giants: Primarily located in the region around Essad, the fire giants are deep purple-skinned behemoths that were the inheritors of the ancient kingdom of Pernag which stood where Essad now stands. They enjoy hiring themselves out as mercenaries as well as causing trouble in a general way. They were responsible for both some of the greatest victories and losses of the Second Empire.

Fog, Storm, and Reef Giants: Once dwellers of the wide shallow sea that is now the Plain of Sorrow, these three types of giants have been relegated to the coasts of Arunia whether that be in the form of islands, sea-side caves, or underwater manors. Their numbers dwindle each decade and it’s said that someday there will be no more of them. Like men, some are fair-minded and wise while others are cruel and unpleasant.

Forest Giants: Dwelling deep within the Rootwood Forest, this aging race of brown-fleshed tree-lovers once commanded a vast and potent kingdom within the forest’s borders. Since the Rot Wars fought between the elves (and their mad king, Pellarimen) and the fading gigantine civilization their great cities have emptied and their numbers dwindled. Now there are very few left at all, and soon the ancient wood will be emptied of them, leaving them only a memory.

Frost Giants: Northern giants and the creators of ogres (if you can believe their stories of Dinismayl the Winter Queen), frost giants are stupid and cruel. They build great altars of bone to Dinismayl in haunted defiles and caves in the howling wild. They themselves emerge from the great blizzards of the north like an inexorable tide, striking settlements of firbolg, elves, or men with equal ferocity.

Hill and Mountain Giants: Stupider even than frost giants, these creatures are known as Illithioi and Paragoi in gigantine which means “the foolish” and “the mountain dwellers.” While they may be descended from stone giants, hill and mountain giants are demonstrably less bright. Their intelligence nears that of dogs or bears and they barely have any language at all. Most other giants are embarrassed of their existence.

Ogres: Big and thick, brutish and dull-witted, ogres are a gigantine creation. Whether Dinismayl granted her frost giants the gift of bestowing life upon their lumpen creation or some long-lost cloud giant magic went awry, ogres are used as muscle by evil giants and killed by good giants. Where giants are not numerous, ogres themselves often serve as the top of the pecking order, using their dim intellect to guide the actions of goblins, orcs, and kobolds while using their great strength to keep them cowed.

Stone Giants: The stone giants, a flinty-skinned tribe, built the largest and most prolific gigantine kingdoms in their day. When the southmen arrived in the lowlands of Thyrnesse, it was on top of stone giant ruins that they built. Umbrinol was the last of their kingdoms, and it now lies empty and wild. Stone giants live in family units, eking out whatever life of subsistence they can, acutely aware that they were once rulers of great lands.

Dragon. Wyrm. Fire-dread. All these and more are words to describe the most horrific terror that has ever plagued the north. Dragons may be varied and different, but they all share similar core characteristics. They are greedy beyond any measure even when they are not particularly malicious, desiring treasure above all things. Dragons have but one word in their native tongue to express both the emotion of love and the concept of ownership, giving a clue to their grasping nature.

Long, long ago the dragons built states, kingdoms, and empires that vied for control of the north with giants and trolls. Some legends say the trolls cursed them and others that their empires finally flagged and failed, but the dragons themselves tell of their great and profound malaise with civilization. According to the eldest among them, the dragons had tried civilization and found it wanting. Each of the great beasts is an ego of its own, a microcosm that needs no input from the outside world for sustenance. They have no great need for companionship or “love” as we understand it, though they sometimes live in clutches or small communities.

One of the most lasting legends about dragons regards the terror they inspire. The dragonfear, an existential horror, can lead men to quail, collapse, weep, or even openly worship these winged beasts. It’s said by those who have survived it that the feeling is akin to a deep certainty that the creature before you is your master by right of age, wisdom, and strength. Those who have lived to tell the tales often wipe the wine from their lips before confiding in the strange compulsion to obey, or at least to hide oneself in piled earth so that the glories of their rightful draconic master will not destroy them.

They are unbelievably destructive and even the least can wipe an entire city off the face of the world. They wield magic unlike anything known to men and have great and powerful elder spells that were crafted in the beginning of time. They cannot die, unless they are slain, though as they grow older and more wicked they sleep for longer and longer until at last they slumber for centuries or more. The oldest known dragons have slept for many lives of men, waking only occasionally to loot or plunder.

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