Loremageddon 2019, Day Twenty: the Scarplands, Sadem, Marrow-Shades

Welcome all to Day Twenty of Loremageddon! This time on the docket, a mountain-dwelling culture of mixed Tonnish-Murit ethnicity, the smithing goddess who just sort of tolerates them because affiliation matters, and then a cut back to Creation’s Fringe and its leading purveyors of late-game TPKs, the Marrow-Shades. Let’s get started–

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Snippet #1: The Scarplands (World: Canno)

The Scarplands encompass a range of jagged, imposing mountains, sheltered fertile valleys, and coastal highlands to the north of the Black Havens, just before the subarctic taiga of northern Ceslon. The easternmost regions border the Kingdom of Temana, while the westernmost could control the northward shipping lanes towards Taifen if the Scarplanders had any interest in becoming a naval power. Though the valleys themselves provide rich food, they are few, and the Scarplands largely rely on trade from the outside to feed their growing population.

Indeed, owing to their heritage, Scarplanders are tall folk, and it takes a hefty diet to maintain that height. Offworlders ask the same, obvious question: if they live in such rough country, what in the world do they trade to purchase that diet? The answer, simply put, is steel. The Scarplands feature the richest natural reserves of steel and other forge-hardened metals in the world. More valuable even than these, each province controls a select few foundries set deep within its mountains. These enormous facilities hail from the Age of Splendors, and remain fully operational.

Situated as they are at an intersection between every other human culture on Canno, and blessed with effectively limitless quantities of the best steel, the Scarplanders have come to place more value on craftsmanship than simple martial skill. The result are the Artisan-Lords, a noble caste comprised from the best craftspeople. Their skills, and the exportable goods they create, ensure enough income to keep their people fed. This puts them in an odd relationship with the warrior caste known as the Swordbound.

The Swordbound are, of course, warstock, and treating them as too far beneath the Artisan-Lords creates the risk of armed rebellion. Furious killers will not likely consider that they won’t be able to feed the holding they seize control of. However, the Swordbound exist to prevent outside powers from overtaking the Scarplands and seizing their mountain foundries, not to expand territory or as rulers in their own right. They must exist, and be fed enough to fight well, but otherwise the Swordbound possess few rights within the Scarplands. Respect and selectively-granted privileges are used in careful balance to make the Swordbound more obedient, while also convincing them they have more liberty than they really do.

Scarplander metalworking, especially in weapons and armor, has taken on legendary status elsewhere on Canno. While they’re certainly a premier metalworking culture, their best masters do not truly outstrip those of the Black Havens, the north Ton, or the great kingdoms of Anseth. The Scarplands, however, exist for most people only through their exported weapons and armor, and it’s easy to mythologize a people who lurk at a far corner of civilization and churn out fine craft from smoke-belching mountains.

Snippet #2: Sadem (World: Canno) 

Sadem is the only goddess originated by the Scarplanders; she has an unusual relationship with them. Sadem aligns herself with smiths and metalworkers in particular. However, to some extent she favors all craftspeople. Manifesting as a sinewy woman with steel skin, wearing a simply black shirt and baggy pants of the same, Sadem looks more like a moderate-grade spirit than a goddess. From Sadem’s perspective, this is just how it should be; she does not wish to be worshipped in the traditional sense.

Indeed, Sadem skirts the Celestial Pact as aggressively as Shepla, and the two get along well;. Shepla finds no interest in mountains and rocky mines, and would rather more mortals keep to such places than disturb her beloved forests. Sadem, meanwhile, appreciates Shepla’s commitment to perfecting her own visions for the wilds. For indeed, Sadem is a perfectionist deity; she demands that any craftsperson who would worship her pursue their art slavishly, shutting out all distractions and scouring themselves for every mistake.

This has given Sadem a pitiless reputation which she assuredly doesn’t deserve; it’s not that Sadem mocks her followers for their failures or is cruel in her admonishments. She simply insists that they give the best they can. The goddess herself tells any who offer her worship that they should consider whether they’d rather cut her out of the equation and become Adherents. “If you can meet my standards, you’d be well within your rights to ignore a demanding old hag and enjoy your skill in peace,” she once said.

Perhaps that’s the reason why so many Scarplander smiths worship Sadem–they hope to earn the ever-critical goddess’s esteem, and the prestige that goes with it.

Snippet #3: Marrow-Shades (World: Creation’s Fringe)

Two common ends exist among tales of adventurers delving into the Uncanny Marrow. On the one hand, the overconfident fools, unprepared and full of themselves, who blunder through the Coronal Mire and are soon hopelessly lost. Chilling if the fools are likable people, and a strong cautionary note for those following in their footsteps, but not even the palest reflection of the other ending. Too many times throughout the ages of Creation’s Fringe, a hardened group, legendary figures all, made every possible preparation.

They pushed through the Coronal Mire, ground through the shifting dimensions and impossible time-lapses of the Deep Marrows, and at last pierced into that austere region referred to as Hopeless Infinity. In this realm there exists little light, all of it blue or silver, and with rare exceptions it’s visible only as a silhouetting haze streaming around certain objects–pass them, and one finds no star nor flame to cast it.

Here, amid sweeping vistas of razor-sharp architecture crafted from too-perfect metal, amid eerie island-strands formed from geometric blocks obscured by coursing cobalt mist and silvery plasma streamers which vaporize armor and flesh at a touch, yet barely raise a heat-glow on the unnatural structures–here the bitterest end arrives.

The account recorded by Naleva Miriskovja is among the miniscule archives written by a heroine–or former heroine, rather–who was confirmed to have survived a direct encounter with a Marrow-Shade. She and her friends, known as the Hallowed Broken, had up to that point lived illustrious and rightly celebrated careers as defenders of the downtrodden. They defeated rogue demons, a malevolent warlord, and lesser eldritch horrors. They pushed through the Coronal Mire using Naleva’s own design of planar anchors to stop their escape route from shifting behind them.

After stiff resistance from Marrow-Mangled beasts and humanoids, they entered the Deep Marrows, and successfully defeated a swarm of scythe-wielding spirits, then pushed through a spectral battlefield. There many factions of war-ghosts strove for supremacy amid the husks of a colossal dome-city, all armed with strange lengthy devices which spat fire and hurled metal, all wearing sleek plates articulated by jointed spars and gears. The party’s healer, the Latren-Laprani Yilkren, a cleric of the ancient god Prengk, even managed to lay a swath of the war-ghosts to rest.

Though they’d encountered close scrapes, with Naleva’s all-ward being breached once or twice as she shielded the party–Naleva was among the best invokers of that century–they pushed at last into Hopeless Infinity. Stepping through a series of winding archways which could be found only by wandering a maze of crevices which swelled larger or shrank as one approached–always threatening to “grow” so sharp they split a passerby in half–they passed a blue-light threshold and stepped out upon the surface of a mammoth construct.

Its halves twisted slowly amid a sprawling debris field. Other such constructs floated, than bleak silhouettes, against a distant reddish-pink cloud of gasses. Somewhat dagger-like in shape, the construct had been split clean in half by an astounding force which ripped its silvery metal open–the torn lips of this breach reached hundreds of feet high. Working to a low point, Naleva’s party discovered the construct’s interior had multiple floors. “No,” Naleva recorded herself as saying, “they’re decks! This is a ship!”

So Naleva cast a spell of light, and revealed that the construct’s surface was speckled by angular sub-constructs with protruding tubes, all concave diamonds in cross-section–all geometrically perfect, each featuring spiral grooves in its cylindrical, hollow center which were lined with black metal that pulsed faint light in intermixed blues, golds, and oranges. Every inch of the construct-vessel held such wonders. This perfection entranced them, and the adventurers determined to push deeper into the vessel and uncover its secrets.

They never had the chance.

“A-and I remember we didn’t believe our eyes for a second, because it… it stepped through an edge on one of the sub-constructs. It, it unfolded itself into being, you see? All its form from that single line, sharp as a pinhead.” a tearful Naleva recounted, with cobalt steam still gouting from perfectly even gashes in her silken red fur.

For a Marrow-Shade was come, and the party’s chances, gone. This Marrow-Shade stood seven feet tall, black shadows and ultramarine-blue plasma and three baleful eyes. Silhouetting light streamed from the outer angles of armor encasing its hulking form, casting unholy highlights through the body’s miasmal surfaces.

Its head bore a stark pronged crest, and it wielded a ten-foot spear, with a double-edged blade wrought solely from power brighter than the sun. Naleva’s lover, the Marrowscour warrior Wact Beslet, was considered as masterful with the spear as the Novgori woman was with spellcraft. He seized the initiative and lunged against the Shade. “I never saw it move–just suddenly its spear had brushed Wact’s aside, and… and its blade was in his eye,” Naleva wrote.

Screaming, Naleva hurled a tangling coil of nine lightning bolts towards the Shade, every strand wide as the entity’s abyssal head. Its form blurred and wove between them–not teleportation, not some trick, but dodging lightning itself. When she tried to converge the bolts to ensnare it, light and sound distorted in a rippling wave around the murderous entity, and her bolts fell apart and streamed over the alien ship’s deck in searing bronze-light waves that devastated the party’s wards–wards Naleva herself cast, wards which should have better resisted their own maker’s magic.

“Except it wasn’t my magic anymore,” Naleva wrote.

Wact somehow survived the first wound, and with several others he attacked the Shade from all sides–futility. The entity never needed to look at them, contorting itself and whirling the spear so that a block against Wact struck another in the jaw with the spear’s back end and delivered a gut-opening thrust against a third person, all faster than an eye-blink. The Shade always flashed back and forth to position itself so each technique deflected or wounded every opponent–one move to defeat three, or six, or ten. A truly perfect warrior.

In the time it took Wact to bellow the order to retreat, the Shade snapped in two directions, splitting a skull open and shearing a torso clean in half. It disemboweled him a moment later. It was left to Yilkren to hurl Naleva back across the cobalt threshold. “RUN, YOU TINY IDIOT!” he screamed, before calling the power of his god to annihilate himself and–he must’ve hoped–the Shade. To her shame, Naleva ran, escaping back along the party’s path, using her spellcraft to jump between her planar anchors. In the distant, a catastrophic blast consumed the archways.

Then the Shade appeared next to Naleva, the Deep Marrows thundering and swirling into horrid shapes at its presence, and almost cut her in half with the spear in the fractured instant before she cast another panicked spell and continued her flight.

At every step the Shade reappeared, always a single instant from splitting the helpless Novgori in two, and at every step it still managed to carve into her with the sun-fire spear, until the weeping adventurer arrived back at the expedition’s camp well outside the Coronal Mire. She expected to see the dread entity staring at her from the depths, but witnessed only the placid blue seep of the outermost Marrow.

“That was worse,” she wrote. “Because then I had time to think, and to understand that we never mattered. We were never special. We just went deeper before our grace ran out.” It took seven years for the fell energy inflicted by the Shade to dissipate entirely from Naleva’s wounds, and she died from latent disease three years later.

What little the Fringe’s peoples understand about the Uncanny Marrow and the Shades comes from accounts such as Naleva’s: every inch and every sentence bought with the blood of heroes. To this day, no pattern has ever been determined for the Shades’ appearances, no communication with them successful. And to this day, no matter what forces marshalled against them, no Marrow-Shade has ever been defeated.

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Woo, that ended up being twice as long at the end than I intended, but sometimes I just get the bit in my teeth! Anyway, that’s it for Day Twenty! As always, let me know your thoughts down in the comments, leave a like, and share this post with anyone you think might enjoy it. I remain on Twitter, god help you all.

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