Loremageddon: Martial Arts of the Murit, ca. 1290 V.R.

After an extended period of time, I’ve finally escaped the bogs! It’s time we went somewhere greener, more temperate, and vastly less murderous! To that end, we’re moving across the Summer Ocean to Ceslon, the rolling hills, broad farms and lively forests of the Murit, and… well, maybe the “less murderous” part has to wait until the martial arts article is done.

***

When many foreigners think about the fighting arts of the Murit, their minds flash to the Razors of Hanir. They see the fearsome desert warriors in their pale flowing robes unleashing volley after volley of arrows, closing in to cut down the enemy only after his morale is utterly broken and his strength spent, or the Anvil-Renders in their strange plate driving home the charge against hapless foot soldiers. It never occurs to them that the Murit are a whole ethnic group–there must be more than the Razors alone! The Hanirid Desert accounts for just a small part of their range. From the Torikan free-states just to the north to the Kingdom of Cusum forever at odds with the Black Havens, they represent perhaps the widest-ranging population on Canno after the Ansethi.

Perhaps the best proof is that scarcely a person outside the Cult of Ten knew Tervud Jatar’s name before his spectacular arrival at the Second Battle of Ukar. Over the howl of mortal armies surging against the relentless march of Binusi’s undead, beneath storm-black skies, Tervud hurtled into battle and laid about with twin scythe-swords: the traditional Cusuman side-arms. Amidst Binusi’s densely-packed throngs, the shorter, heftier blades with their vicious curvature and cruel armor-piercing points allowed the Adherent to eviscerate his enemies even at ranges where their own weapons hopelessly entangled them. At one point Tervud carved an enemy necromancer into seven pieces with such fury that the corpse soared out above the battlefield and blasted a small hole in Binusi’s writhing stormclouds.

All this is notwithstanding that arcane warfare specialists have universally concluded Binusi’s meteorological grandstanding wasted enormous amounts of her power, and contributed directly to her defeat.

The Adherent himself offers a marvelous starting point for Murit martial arts. Like most Cusuman swordfighters, Tervud trained in two separate styles meant to be used in harmony. The first is called “Twin Harvest” for the obvious reasons, and is modified from the rather less cuddly, more psychotic “Flesh Harvesting”! Flesh Harvesting is the traditional sword-art of Cusum, and focuses on the use of the a scythe-sword either in combination with a shield or by itself. As with every other martial art on Canno, Flesh Harvesting has as many different interpretations as there are schools. It does have specific core principles, however.

Flesh Harvesting relies on broad steps to one side or the other to carry a warrior away from enemy strikes and help him move around his enemy’s guard. While it uses the same basic L-stance as most Cannoan martial arts, steps and lunges more often carry a swordsman out to the side than further forward. Black Havener swordsman who fight the Cusumans often refer to them as “slope-legs” for this–even though the Black Haveners are just as infamous for darting to the sides! Perhaps much of the difference comes from the way they use the rest of their bodies. Black Havener swordsman use longer cuts and more aggressive torsal-twists to power their strokes. In answer to their remarks, the Cusuman master Methet Baruken argued “Black Haveners have an unnaturally loose definition of the word ‘forward.'” By contrast to their frequent foes, the Cusumans keep torsal movement relatively restrained, preferring to power strokes with the hips and shoulders.

Besides the larger mechanics, Flesh Harvesting relies heavily on maintaining a hammer grip throughout its movements. This gives the style its peculiar, sinuous flow, as if the swordfighter’s whole arm is a single long lash which rarely comes back to his body. Where Black Haveners–especially the fabled students of Zornvater Mordfechten–are always coiling in and striking out again, changing direction with less predictability than a lightning-stroke, Flesh Harvesters develop a strange, almost hypnotic rhythm. The sole exceptions are specific blocks and thrusts, which were grudgingly added to the system after a few too many Cusuman swordfighters were perforated by Black Haveners, whose longsword fighting thrives on binding and winding blades until it clears an opening for a kill-thrust.

Tervud’s “Twin Harvest” is his own mutation of Flesh Harvesting. Rather than use a shield and follow the logical progression of fighting with a spear until it breaks or the enemy closes past its point, only then switching to his sword, Tervud handles matched blades in each hand: Rending Reckoner for his left, and Sonderhau for his right. He loses the broad, dependable protection of a stout Cusuman shield, but gains range of motion. Now that his name has spread across Canno, accounts have emerged from a few surviving foes. They describe a nightmarishly talented swordsman, and a truly ambidextrous one who fights just as well from either side. No matter where an attack comes from, Tervud can swat it aside or bind up the aggressor’s weapon with one sword, then throw his rear foot forward and hew down the foe with his free blade. He’s reputed to have become so genius at this that he can catch a strike which slips by one blade with the other in the blink of an eye before it meets his flesh.

In truth, it’s not clear how much of Twin Harvest makes a separate fighting style, and how much stems simply from the Adherent’s own powers. To extend his reach and sling more muscle into each strike, however, Tervud has taken to much broader torsal movements more akin to those of the Black Havens than traditional Cusuman fighting. As with any newly-invented fighting style, Tervud hasn’t developed many specialized techniques; these things evolve over time from pitting the same weapons against each other for long decades or even centuries. His Hook-strikes are the only exception, a method made practical to begin with by having two swords to rely on. As the Adherent meets one attack he drives his lead sword into it, pressing it further aside even as he moves forward. When the first deflection has run far enough behind him, he whirls the scythe-sword back around for another. This seamless transition from bind to strike and back again allowed Tervud a rare degree of success against spears and polearms even before becoming an Adherent.

And then, of course, there’s Armor Mining: a special subset of Cusuman martial arts designed for exactly what its name suggests. Some weapons, such as scythe-swords, have a base design that lets them function in this art, though sub-optimally. The best choices are specialized tools like the Murit Warpick. Though adapted originally from the mining picks popular among Murit cultures for seeking the precious metals and iron deposits common in the mountains encasing the Han, the Warpick bares little resemblance to most other weapons on Canno. In effect, it’s a six-to-seven foot stave of tough hardwood–Cusuman shahir wood is especially prized–with a long conical or fluted spike jutting out from its top; it almost resembles a scythe. While the pick’s reverse is usually rounded off and slightly raised so it could be used as a hammer, it barely protrudes past the haft and serves mostly to guide the smith in shaping the pick itself. By combining the penetrative power of a thrust with the raw kinetic energy of a cut, the warpick can blast through any armor on Canno.

Like most Armor Mining weapons, however, the warpick is so heavily optimized for armored battle that it becomes a liability in plainclothes bloodshed. Its weight enforces broad, full-body strikes like those used for a Black Havener halberd. Because the pick must be reinforced to survive repeated punches through plate, it can’t hold a meaningful edge. Weaponsmiths often sharpen its outer faces to make grappling it less comfortable for the enemy, but there’s just too much fat beneath these edges for them to do more than draw blood. Some Murit warriors openly hate warpicks with sharpened edges, believing that they do nothing more than give the foe a better grip! Adding a spearhead to the warpick would only make it more tip-heavy, and start making a warrior wonder if he shouldn’t just pick up a halberd instead. For these reasons, Armor Mining with the warpick regards thrusts as all but taboo: punting the enemy in his belly might cripple him, but it’s not worth it if he’s able to grab the warpick and pull it away.

So it is that warpick practitioners seek to hammer through the enemy’s guard with repeated whirling strikes before slamming the pick into his body after making a good opening. Techniques for occupy the enemy’s weapon focus not on binding it up, but knocking it away or hooking it out of his hand entirely. This last is regarded with extreme care–to hook the enemy’s weapon from his hands, the warpick must be close to his hands, and with them emptied his first thought will be to put them around his enemy’s weapon instead. More than a few unwary warpick-fighters have yanked away their opponent’s armament only to lose their own in turn and receive an ornate spike through the skull.

Though the Razors of Hanir are by far the most famous of the Murit warriors and much has been written about them, their own martial arts still deserve special mention. From the day he learns to ride, a prospective razor is expected to practice every weapon art from a kneeling position not unlike that of a rider. The wealthiest have enchanted steeds of steel and bronze from before the Loar War which wait obediently as their riders train their cuts. They’re taught to focus strikes on the head and shoulders, and many martial arts schools teach asymmetrical dueling where an “unhorsed” warrior must fight from foot against a “mounted” one placed high above him. In due time these exercises progress from pure mockups to using live horses, with all the extra variables this involves.

After being in training for a few years, a prospective Razor is evaluated for overall horsemanship, skill with the sword, lance and bow, and performance in the Razors’ two primary forms of warfare. Those with the best eyes and marksmanship are put into the Raider branch. They begin training over much longer distances and are slowly taught to take into account ever more variables as to the size of an enemy formation, its supplies, its leadership, morale and armament, and even its philosophy.

In a rare digression from the distinction between warfare and martial arts created by most warstock cultures, the Razors adapt which techniques they use to every aspect of their opponents. Their masters see these things as inseparable. Swordfighting, for example, is all but forbidden against plate-armored targets–aside from defensive techniques, of course, in which the Razor has no choice. Archery presents a choice: the best Razor-Raiders may try to aim for vision slits or weak points, but in practical terms a Razor recurve doesn’t have the power to pierce chain anymore than it does plate, and the margin of error in aiming at a visor is slow slight as to be effectively impossible. They usually focus more on harassing fire against armored targets than anything else.

The Thundering Razors, by contrast, called “Anvil-Renders” by ancient Ansethi generals, employ the full range of their martial arts in almost every battle. Though they’re ideally meant to wait until the Raiders wear down the enemy formation and lure it into smaller groups, they don’t always have this choice. Even when they do, some inevitably lose their mounts in the charge. Every Thundering Razor learns three versions of each technique: one mounted, one afoot, and one emerging from a roll or prone position as if just fallen from his horse. Aside from the knights of Stoßdär, no other people on Canno practice a single style of combat as relentlessly as the Thundering Razors do.

The short, extremely curved sabers they once favored have slowly given way to two-handed ones rivaling a Black Havener longsword in length, though no less curved than their forebears. In combination with the heavy, segmented plate they favor, the Thundering Razors remain nearly as deadly on the ground as they are on horseback. A few of their grappling techniques are specifically crafted to tie up multiple enemies at once without directly harming them, such as one in which the Razor pelts forward, wraps her offhand arm around a group of pikes, and binds them from the other side with her sword. The goal here isn’t to disarm the enemy, but add enough deadweight to the weapons to pull their heads away from the line. In a pitched battle, this single-horse opening can be all the Razors need to break a company.

Because of the vast range of biomes they inhabit and the mountains, hills and rivers separating them from each other, the Murit have perhaps the widest variety of martial arts of any people on Canno. It’s almost impossible to reduce them to a single set of factors aside from the most basic. Overshadowing them all, however, is a global legacy behind a single name:

Anseth.

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