Geography and Other Kingdoms
The closest barbarian tribes are kept in check from the relatively defenseless cities by their deeply held religioius beliefs -- that the sorcerers of the Mirrored City can steal their souls should their reflection fall within their power. They obey and serve out of superstitious fear that the sorcerers will come for their souls, leaving them one of the living undead. None will go to the Mirrored City willingly if unblinded, and those taken there as servants are mourned as though dead -- even if they later return, they are regarded as unquiet ghosts, and driven away.
Although the tribes do not fear sorcery from the Crystal City, they avoid it too -- for it is thought that the inhabitants are the sorcerer's souls exiled from its sister-city, sent away as the price of the sorcerers' powers. This is well-known to be true, for it is said that mirrors are forbidden in the Crystal City because its inhabitants fear being captured by sorcerers once more.
--by Kakita Kojiro
 The Thousand Flowing Waters
The Ruins of the First Age are scattered throughout the world, however the Largest, most dangerous and best preserved Lies in the region known as the Thousand Flowing waters, a Marshland bordering the Ocean that stretches for miles, and littered with islands and estuaries. It is claimed to be where a thousand streams and rivers empty into. The Region is heavily grown over, inhabited by large aquatic predators, littered with ruins ranging from piles of sinking stone to well preserved towers, and inhabited by more ghost, shadows, and other things than any other place in the known world. It is also a place where shallow pools lead directly to the Mirror lands, and where time acts differently. Stories are told of brave or foolish youth looting the dead cities, and coming back to find everyone who remembered them being dead and gone, and there town unrecognizable. Others claim that the ruins are from the future, not the past. In all the tales, one detail is consistant, and that is that the Twin Sisters originated there, and that things are buried which can make a man wiser than his fellows, or a gibbering fool. The Major rivers are clear for travel, but going further than a few miles into the Tangled Jungle can lead to trouble. The region periodically floods, and many places are covered by the tide, or sink beneath the muck. Some however rise up and fall according to strange magics or half remembered commands from the long dead inhabitants. This Region is far to the East from the Civilized Cities, but the Twin cities do send teams of researchers and explorers to salvage what lore can be found. These are usually well armed, well supplied, and very specific in where they go. Those citizens with wanderlust or a thirst for adventure are drawn to these expeditions, and though dangerous, it a respected and rewarding field.
The Four Cities are dotted like constellations along the intertwining trade routes that provide the raw materials, and are located on high points along the curving paths of great serpantine rivers that snake over a large plain. The Plains are dotted with canyons and cliffs, gradually becoming drier until the Western edges dry into sandy waste and inhabited by nomads and less definable entities. To the East lies the vast sea, clustered in the Marshes and Jungles by the Coast, and edged by mountains that catch the rainclounds, with large passes carved by rivers and edged with ruins. The rivers from the central highlands serve as flowing highways, and the Mountains where the herdsman and small villages of farmers each out an existance in the valleys and glens of the slopes of the towering mountains send forth there goods South. The southern plains stretch to meet the sea, and from this direction, tribute, spices, slaves and raw materials flow, as manufactured goods, cloth, and wonders of the craftsman of the cities are peddled south, and tribute North. The great carvavans, barges and cities to the south allow for large fortunes to gather, and decadence to thrive.
 The Enkidi, people of the marshes
A small group of villages and hamlets tucked away in the Marshes, near the center of the thousand flowing waters, and hidden in deep with-in ferns and brackish water, far up river. The Enkidu people prize concealment, and are masters of the use of poison blowguns and elaborate traps and deadfalls. They know there home well, and have tamed many species of birds to hunt and guard their watery homes. The people are few in number, and rarely interact with outsiders, outside of raids for slaves, loot or to preserve artifacts from the ruins. Their villages are built in the sinking remains of a large Stone ruins, or around statues with a rounded face of a god, half buried in the marshes, and one of the few large solid structures around to build on. They dress in a large number of bright feathers and fearsome masks, and are feared for there practice of taking the heads of their victims as trophies. They lack any shamans, and claim that magic is left for the Gods alone to know, and so guard the secrets of the ruins in their lands well. The villages are ringed with the severed heads of trespassers, and the beat of there drums they use to communicate with one another, and the shreik of their war cries fills the heart of the unwary exploreres of the region with fear. Those who encounter them are advised to avoid making sudden movements, and the best tools for bribery are any brightly colored fabrics or strong poisons. Some say they are led by an officer of an Iridos military unit sent to explore the region, who went native and is said to no longer be sane.
-- by stephen_dean
 The Tomb Cities of Achrum
Every schoolchild knows of the drowned ruins in the Thousand Flowing Waters, which are now the tombs of the dead and undead of an ancient civilization. That civilization now lies submerged beneath the rising waters of the Gulf of Achrum, which the Thousand Flowing Waters surrounds and empties into. Few know that these ruins are actually the remnants of several cities, of which very little is known or has been learned. There are names given in old texts – Areatha the City of the Loom, Hipece the City of Waters, Marish the Named and Unnamed City – but none have been defined beyond mere conjecture. The marshes near Astomo and the city of Omphalo are most-accessible, but also the most perilous, as they are haunted by vampires and watched by the Silent Brotherhood. Most explorers who seek out the tomb cities are lucky to return with sight and sanity intact. (There is a note here in the text telling of a Wanderer of the Wastes, who returned from the tomb cities whole in mind and body, but speaking an unintelligible language which no one could fathom, and he unable to learn any other.) (nb. "Achrum" was not the name of that drowned land, but of one of the rivers that flowed into the land. scholars and explorers still attempt to determine which current-day river was once the River Achrum.)
 Colossus of Chasus
The most well-known of the lost cities of the ancients is surely the so-called “City of Statues.” It lies in the waters between the island chain on which Iridos stands, but its location is easily found as some of its largest monuments and pillars still stand above the waves, with their statues above or partly above the water. Largest of all these is the colossus, an enormous statue that once stood astride the harbor entrance of the drowned city. It still stands there, knee-deep in the waterway between two islands, to mark where the City of Statues once was. The colossus was made of bronze, but with a concrete core that has remained as the bronze has corroded and eroded away over centuries. Observers claim that the colossus and other statues slowly change their positions and expressions, the colossus much more slowly than the lesser statues here. It is said to be bad luck to sail between the legs of the Colossus, and the reports of empty ghost-ships which sail the nearby waters on foggy nights are said to have be the remains of those who have dared to do so.
 Petty Kingdoms
 Omphalo, sapling colony city
Omphalo is a city of many religions. It was founded as the fortress city and headquarters of the Second Great Crusade, and still persecutes the forbidden cult of the Hollow Men. According to legend, this was also the birthplace of the Twin Sisters, and although scholars doubt the veracity, it is still a pilgrimage site for many people. In the time since the Second Great Crusade, other religious cults have come to the city for their own reasons. As have adventurers and scavengers, hoping to glean ancient wonders from the ruins in the marshes.
Each rainy season, Omphalo and the marshes flood when the seasonal rivers of the grasslands flow. Buildings in Omphalo are build on stilts, and during the flood season people get around by flat-bottomed boats. These same boats are used in the marshes as well. Although the city subsists off pilgrimage, it also produces a surplus of crops that require flooded fields. These crops are generally sold to one of the three northern cities. The crusaders of Omphalo have found patrolling the undead-haunted ruins of the Thousand Flowing Waters easier during the flood season, and so when the waters rise boats of armed Silent Brothers set forth for their sacred mission.
Occupations: Crusader, Priest, Boatman, Farmer, Fisherman Suggested Skills: Area Knowledge (Omphalo), Boating, History, Religious Ritual, Theology, Occult (vampires) Social Background: Cultural Familiarity (1 pt., Twin Cities), Glossa (native language), Literacy Suggested Quirks: Careful, Code of Honor, Vow Sample Contact Groups: Silent Brotherhood, Seven Sisters, Cult of the Opaque, other Cult Suggested Spells: Sort Living from Undead (IQ/Average) Rumor: “It is said that the Opaque Tree, the Tree of Many Shadows, the fourth and dark Crystal Tree, was discovered or hidden in Omphalo. The Cult of the Opaque has become very influential in Omphalo recently because so many of its followers have come to the city seeking their mystic tree.”
 Heliade, tributary petty kingdom
Heliade is known as the Amber Kingdom. It is located on the Pleione river, which flows from the south, and borders on the marsh ruins of the Thousand Flowing Waters. Its inhabitants scour the river and marshes for spells and spirits frozen in amber from ancient times. These talismans are valuable wealth for trade, and Heliade is often subject to tribute to one of the three great cities of the north. Occasionally they go to war over this imposition of tribute, but although their archers are armed with devastating amber-tipped arrows, they are no match for the sorcery of the three cities on the battlefield.
Heliade magicians take dross amber and make use of it in many ways. It is dissolved into amber lacquer that hardens their armor against danger. It is used to trap images within, that may be seen at any time by peering into the amber. It is also melted down and gathered into vats of molten amber – through which, they hope to peer into the spirit-world. There is a belief in Heliade that there is another Crystal Tree – this one, of amber, weeping jewels – and the Heliades believe that if it is found, their city will rise to preeminence.
When Heliade marches into a Flower War, its warriors wear amber-laquered armor. They are armed with amber-tipped arrows and spears. Some of their amber arrows hold trapped within them hostile spirits, or ancient lightning-strikes. When these strike an enemy in battle, they cause considerable havoc and panic.
Occupations: Ambergleaner, Archer, Flower-Warrior, Lapidiary, Merchant, Amberwright Suggested Skills: Area Knowledge (Heliade), Bow, Current Affairs, Jeweler, Occult (amber) Social Background: Heliadic (native language), Glossa (accented language), Literacy Suggested Quirks: Dreamer, Obsessions (amber), Thin-Skinned* Suggested Spells: Capture Image In Amber (IQ/Average), Smelt Amber (IQ/Hard) Rumor: In Heliade they have learned to enter the spirit-world through vats of molten amber. Therein they say the spirit-world is upside-down; you walk upside-down with the ground above your feet and the sky below your head. However, they have not discovered how to leave the spirit-world, and as the amber hardens, the explorer is trapped, entombed alive in a block of amber, upside-down.
 Amber Magic
mantra: time is frozen in amber tools: amber talent: Amber Magic (10 pts/level) spells: capture image in amber (IQ/Average) see within amber (IQ/Average) free from amber (IQ/Hard, req. Amber Magic 1+) smelt amber (IQ/Hard, req. Amber Magic 1+) capture magic in amber (IQ/Very Hard, req. Amber Magic 2+, capture image in amber) capture spirit in amber (IQ/Very Hard, req. Amber Magic 3+, capture magic in amber)
 Astomo, tributary petty kingdom
Astomo is called the Mute Kingdom, for long ago it was ruled by priest-kings whose lips were ritually sewn shut. It is still ruled by their inheritors, holy men known as Voices, whose lips are also sewn shut. Astomo lies on the borders of the Thousand Flowing Waters, and believe themselves to be the proper heirs of the ancient civilization that lies in ruins there. The people of Astomo are fascinated by the ancient ruins, and most will study some aspect of the ruins at some time in their life.
The Voices who rule Astomo do so by religious decree. There are a bewildering variety of subsects, all with teachings that confuse outsiders who cannot determine if they are philosophies or religions. As with the priest-kings of old, the Voices have their lips ritually sewn shut. Their ritual asceticisms allow them to survive without the need for food or drink, and to speak without speech, among other wonders.
Occupations: Archaeologist, Interpreter Suggested Skills: Area Knowledge (Astomo), Gesture, History, Linguistics, Stealth, Hidden Lore (ancients) Social Background: Glossa (native language), Backaric (broken language), Literacy Suggested Advantages: Silence Suggested Quirks: Cautious, Humble, Obsessions (ancients) Sample Contact Groups: Sect Rumor: “The old mouthless priest-kings of Astomo were, in fact, heretical offshoots of the Hollow Men. The Voices who still rule Astomo keep this secret carefully guarded, lest fanatic crusaders hear of it and Astomo be destroyed.”
 Pharsus, tributary petty kingdom
This is the Land of Masks, between the rivers Cephissus and Maiandro, near to the Thousand Flowing Waters. After their coming-of-age, each adult here has at least two special masks, which they wear at all times. Each mask has its own identity and personality – it is the mask that is considered to be the real person, not the body that the mask is wearing. Each mask may have a different job, different spouse and family, different friends, and always different dress and mannerisms. If crimes are committed, it is the mask that is punished or destroyed. And sometimes one mask will fall sick or die, while the others continue on unaffected. Should all of an inhabitant’s masks be lost or destroyed, he or she becomes only another faceless foreigner.
Foreigners can become very confused in Pharsus, believing that they have met someone because they recognize the body, and not realizing that they must be introduced to the new mask. Of course, the people of Pharsus will politely ignore the presence of anyone with a naked face, so outsiders must learn to wear masks if they wish to be acknowledged – and to not change masks, lest they be regarded as a completely different person. Interestingly, Pharsus became a satrapy of the Narcissus hegemony voluntarily after being astounded by the first emissary from Narcissus, who donned a mirror as her mask.
Although they have been a satrapy of Narcissus for centuries, the inhabitants of Pharsus practice no magic of any kind – other than their masking. In some way that baffles magicians, the mask is the person, and any magic affects only the mask – and that magic ends when the mask is removed. Most of the masks of Pharsus are styled after birds or beasts, and mask styles tend to be similar by profession. Generally, a newly-made adult will receive one mask from each parent, but children of important people will be given additional masks by other sponsors.
Occupations: Boatman, Fisherman, Farmer, Maskmaker Suggested Skills: Area Knowledge (Pharsus), Acting, Body Language, Fishing, Mimicry (speech), Masking (IQ/Very Hard) Social Background: Pharsic (native language), Glossa (accented language), Literacy Suggested Quirks: Personality Change, Staid, Incompetence (magic skills) Sample Contact Groups: Sponsors Advantages: Pharsic Mask (Magic Resistance – access requires mask, -10%) Rumor: “The people of Pharsus claim that they and the Enkidi are distantly related, even though their languages are dissimilar and the Enkidi do not acknowledge any kinship. However, it is known that while the Enkidi will indeed take the heads of trespassers from Pharsus, their masks are always sent back even though the heads are kept.”
-- by Kakita Kojiro
 The Western Mountains and the Deserts of the West
The Huge birds, such as the Thunderbirds, are the scavengers of the Western Deserts and grasslands, and use the gust from the mountains to range over the vast undalating plains in search of the many beast that wander its relativly untouched expanses. The varied terrain is home to vast herds of gigantic Bison, the Forest along the Mountains to stranger beast still. However the numbers are thin near the cities, and grow the further afield one goes. The Mountains to the West are the largest in the Known world, and the other side is an area explored at the peril of the unwary, do to the vast spaces inhabited by huge creatures of myth and legend, some claim to be larger than the armored beast that wander the waste. The reason for the lack of habitation is due to the low population following the devastating fall of the previous empires in the past, and the frequent wars between the city-states. The attachment of many people to there principle city-state or ideal, or the threat of strange conditions has led many to stay in the civilized regions, rather than risk expanding to the terrain of the tribes of head-hunters and beast riders beyond the Mountains. It is through the collective resources of the Cities that the walls, pits, and special huntsman keep the lands and tradeways safe. However, recent droughts and a change in climate are causing some stange beast and raider to prey at the edges of the Twin Cities, and the many smaller city-states. For now, these have not been signifigent, however, rumors are spreading of tribes beyond the mountains who ride great beast, and are forming an Empire of the wandering bands to pillage the glittering wealth of the settled peoples. These are rumors however, and cartomancers are exploring to add to the Crystal Globe, to see if these shadows of truth are to be trusted.
 The Sandstone Empire
As is commonly known, the Sandstone Empire was formed from a series of bordering regions and Kingdoms set between the Spice Kingdoms to the South, and the Twin Cities to the North. While many of the neighboring peoples submitted or were aligned to one of the two spheres of influence, it was the Sandstone region that developed the strange system of a militarized mode of life, and the selection of the majority of it's population for the pursuit of war, and eventually conquest.
The origins of it's founder, a man whose name is lost to history, can be traced to around 600 Years post Darkness. It is known he commanded a group of refugees from the West, a group of soldiers who claimed to be remnants of a large force from the Far West, across a sea, where monuments of stone stood over a city of sleeping elders, dead kings and courts held in perfumed wrapping and served for all eternity, and a great city grew, the largest in all the world, a paradise that faced cataclysm, as the very earth rebelled against them. The strangers swept aside opposition as wheat before a sickle, and subdued the villages and towns of a wide swath of territory, wearing scales of strange metal, in wheeled carts pulled by strange beast.
They enslaved all around them, and expanded their holding with each harvest, more and more land and water beneath there banners, more sons and daughters toiling to create the stone temples where they lay there dead, to sleep until their city rose again. The cities were placed in the dry west, where the earth turns to dust, and sand becomes stone, stone sand. The slaves watched well however, and the helot revolts began first in their lands. All the master's were slaughtered in their beds, their legions of overseers and slave soldiers united in a vision of equality, one night of blood wiping out their rule in the Night of Bitter Waters.
The resulting state, called the Second empire, and the Beggar's empire, was founded on a view of equality through work, a collective society where children and property were to the state, all males were trained to be warriors, and wars were fought to free helots and slaves of the master's lash in all directions. This led to the misguided policy of attacking all slave owners, and getting involved in providing sanctuary and arms in foreign entanglements. The collapse of the 2nd Sandstone Empire in the South can be linked to alliances with the barbarian peoples and complicity in the helot revolts in The Twin Cities at 300 years post shattering. The resulting collapse of the Beggar's Empire, as it was known at the time, and the decree to purge it's mention from from all records following it's cleansing during the second crusade, as well as serving as the sight of the larger battles of the barbarian wars, led to it's decline to it's current state.
Now a poor region of dry lands, burnt and looted ruins of cities, and mud walled sullen villages where the proud decedents of the survivors of that time still scorn the civilized peoples. The are rumors that the so called Seven Legions, who fled west rather than be enslaved again, and who are said to have created a refuge for escaped slaves and helots. Many whisper that the day may come when helots go west, to a new city, where all men walk equal before the other. The bleached bones of that path are well known, so only the truly down trodden make the attempt.
-- by stephen_dean
 Barbarian Tribes
 The Bammenides, nomadic barbarian tribe
The Bammenides are one of the nomadic barbarian tribes of the northern taiga. They live on the edges of the northern glaciers. They are known as the “painted men” to the Twin Cities, because they tattoo their bodies, faces, and hands in bright colors. They tend small herds of dire elk, from which they get milk, meat, fur – and most importantly, transportation. Their dire elk are domesticated and trained to pull sleighs large enough to transport an entire Bammenide family and all their goods. Their clans migrate south in spring and summer to graze and mate their herds. As rivers freeze and snow covers the ground, they migrate north and stay the winter snowbound, keeping the herds safe from the hungry predators of the south. In spring many clans gather in huge meetings to mate their herds; this is when the Bammenides trade with outsiders. In winter they live in homes built of snow, while their herds are hidden in sheltered valleys with some vegetation, or forage brought by their herders.
Shamans of the Bammenides work their magic through wands of many kinds. Each shaman has an assortment of wands of antler, bone, or wood, which must be carefully chosen for each specific purpose. Most shamans eagerly trade for wands made of metal from civilization. One of the few spells that shamans need no wand for are their eating magics. When someone in their clan suffers bad luck, or is afflicted by illness, or haunted by ghosts, the clan’s shaman will ritually consume the offending spirit. They can often scare off troublesome spirits with demonstrations of their eating prowess, by eating stones and other formidable things.
Occupations: Herder, Hunter, Trader, Warrior, Shaman Suggested Skills: Animal Handling, Area Knowledge (tundra), Driving (sleigh), Spear, Survival, Tracking, Occult (spirits) Social Background: Low TL, Bammenic (native language), Illiteracy Suggested Quirks: Likes (metal), Humble, Uncongenial Sample Contact Groups: Clan, Warrior Lodge Suggested Spells: Eat Anything (IQ/ Hard, req. Shamanic Magic 1+), Eat Ghost (IQ/Very Hard, req. Shamanic Magic 3+) Rumor: “The slow retreat of the northern ice and its gradual melting has gradually forced the Bammenides away from their ancestral summer and winter lands. Their herds do not thrive in the warming lands, and the remaining cold lands are too barren. The herds do not grow, and so more and more young men become warriors to gain wealth and status – while the defenses of Narcissus and Diaphane are in decline. If they join with other wandering tribes, a barbarian horde may bring the next Shattering from the north…”
 The Makhlyes, nomadic barbarian tribe
The Makhlyes are one of the nomadic barbarian tribes of the western grasslands. Their ancestors followed thunder beast herds, but the great herds from ancient times are no more, and only solitary beasts survive now. They now follow hornbeast herds across the grasslands. They are frequent trading partners with the Twin Cities, bartering furs and hides, ivory and horn, in return for civilized goods. Every few generations their warriors band together with other barbarian tribes and raid and pillage into civilized lands.
The shamans of the Makhlyes are known as Inverts because they live their lives as the opposite gender. Because of this, they are regarded as spirits by their people – and also regarded as spirits by spirits. Once each year in the spring, all the hunters will dress as the opposite gender as well, for the sacred Inverse Hunt. Their magic allows the hunters to hunt the now-extinct herds of megafauna as though they still roamed the grasslands. The hunters bring back much meat and many trophies from an Inverse Hunt, but every year one hunter does not return from the hunt. Because of these strange customs, people of the Twin Cities think that all Makhlyes change genders, and take precautions against touching them, lest this is contagious.
Occupations: Hunter, Trader, Warrior, Invert Suggested Skills: Area Knowledge (grasslands), Mimicry (animal sounds), Spear Thrower, Stealth, Survival, Tracking, Occult (spirits) Social Background: Low TL, Makhlyic (native language), Illiteracy Suggested Quirks: Broad-Minded, Responsive, Tolerant* (not bothered by quirks) Sample Contact Groups: Clan, Warrior Lodge Suggested Spells: Hunt Megafauna Ghosts (IQ/Average) (note: penalties if not an Inverse Hunt), Change Gender (IQ/Very Hard, req. Invert, Shamanic Magic 4+) New Advantage: Invert (5 pts., live as opposite gender, spirits react as though you were a spirit yourself) Rumor: “The Makhlyes say that when one of the Inverts goes on a spiritquest and returns of the opposite gender, that he or she has not really returned at all. Instead she or he has been replaced by a spirit, that will pretend to be the Invert for the rest of its life, until it pretends to die and returns to the spirit-world.”
 The Gorgades, nomadic barbarian tribe
The Gorgades are one of the nomadic barbarian tribes of the distant steppes to the west of the grasslands and mountains. They are known as the “hairy ones” to most outsiders, because they do not cut their hair. When meeting strangers, they also veil their eyes with their hair so as to not make eye contact, and they will also not look into mirrors. They claim that all these taboos protect them from spirits – and, curiously, they believe that the inhabitants of the Twin Cities are actually spirits who lie about their true natures. They rarely trade with the Twin Cities, but their leather goods often make their way east through trade with other barbarian tribes (such as the Makhlyes).
They have actually domesticated herds of megafauna, and roam the steppes to move their herds to new grazing. Each clan in the tribe typically has its own type of megafauna that it specialized in. Clans often take the opportunity to raid the herds of other clans while nearby, to eat some of their enemies’ beasts instead of their own. Their shamans wear headdresses of the skull and hides of their clan’s beast, and generally know a very odd assortment of spells.
Occupations: Herder, Hunter, Raider, Trapper, Shaman Suggested Skills: Area Knowledge (steppes), Animal Handling, Bow, Knife, Leatherworking, Survival, Occult (spirits) Social Background: Low TL, Gorgadic (native language), Illiteracy Suggested Quirks: Uncongenial, Vow (do not cut hair, do not look into eyes or mirrors), Unhygienic* (does not bathe) Sample Contact Groups: Clan, Warrior Lodge Suggested Spells: Find New Forage (IQ/Average), Foretell Weather (IQ/Average) Rumor: “Gorgades are not actually human – they are abhumans who were once used as servants by the ancients. They escaped back into the wild after the downfall of the ancients, and still fear civilized men.”
 The Nethsras, nomadic barbarian tribe
The Nethsras are one of the nomadic barbarian tribes of the western Steppe Wastes. They range further west and south than many other tribes, and so while only rumors to the Twin Cities, are better known in the Spice Kingdoms. They specialize in hunting hornbeasts with bolas from ambush. Their clans roam following the hornbeast herds, living in well-hidden temporary camps. Although they have joined barbarian hordes in times past, they are generally peaceful and not warlike, and usually maintain good relations with neighboring tribes.
It is an oddity that the Nethsras have no shamans among them, and claim they are never troubled by ghosts. This is because, they say, all Nethsras are the same souls of all the Nethsras who ever were, and those souls reincarnate as Nethsras after their death. They know exactly how many Nethsras souls there are, and each clan tells the others of deaths so that they know which souls to look for when new children are born. In times when their birthrates fall below deathrates, though, they must send scouts to nearby tribes, and even into civilized lands, seeking the newborn children that have souls from their tribe. Once identified, the scouts either buy (from other barbarian tribes) or steal (from civilized lands) these newborns and return them to their true people. The worst thing for Nethsras is when their birthrates rise above deathrates – for children born then will be born soulless. In such times it is traditional for the Nethsras to seek some pretext to go to war, so that there will be souls for the newborns.
Some Nethsras do seem able to recover fragments of past lives – although most never progress beyond achieving strong paramnesia sensations. These hints of past lives are usually cherished and encouraged, so Nethsras may seem erratic and mercurial to outsiders. The few who do manage to recover memories of past lives are the Awakened Ones. They are capable of astounding skills, but must struggle with sorting through a confusing mix of memories and personalities that have no context in their present life. Scouts sent to find wayward reborn souls are always young Awakened Ones.
Occupations: Gleaner, Hunter, Scout, Awakened One Suggested Skills: Area Knowledge (steppes), Autohypnosis, Bolas, Camouflage, Stealth, Survival, Forbidden Lore (soul recognition) Social Background: Low TL, Nethsric (native language), Illiteracy Suggested Quirks: Delusions (past lives), Likes, Personality Change Sample Contact Groups: Clan, Past Life Suggested Advantages: Reawakened (10 pts) (note: may use to learn Blind Fighting, Body Control, Breath Control, Invisibility Art, Light Walk), Split Personality (-15 pts) Rumor: “Most of the Awakened Ones of the Nethsras are aware that their numbers are slowly dwindling, as each generation a few reborn souls are never recovered. They believe that someone has stolen their secrets of soul rebirth, and so polluted the way to rebirth such that some souls simply become lost in being reborn. They have heard of the distant Twin Cities, and plan to send scouts there to search for reborn Nethsras souls, to bring back, or to kill if they are too old to bring back.”
-- by Kakita Kojiro
 Other Places
 Labyrinth of Metuse
North of the Thousand Flowing Waters, in the foothills of the Eastern Mountains, are hidden the miles-long cave system known as the Labyrinth of Metuse, after the goddess that lives there. The goddess Metuse is a gorgon, one of the first spirits who escaped or fled from the spirit-world in ancient days. She is said to be terrible in her beauty – golden scales, brazen wings, and serpents for hair. Any who see her unreflected are turned to black glass. She once had the company of many blindfolded priests, who carved the caves into vast maze with her temple at its heart. Her last known supplicant was in the years of the Great Purge, a mirror sorcerer from Narcissus who it is said returned to Narcissus to speak prophecies from the gorgon to the Diet, and after all further supplication to the goddess were outlawed he returned to her labyrinth to become her mate and husband. No one who has sought her since has found their way further than the galleries full of statues of black glass...
 Lost City of Light
There is a legend that the Twin Sisters had a prodigal brother, who ventured further than they in seeking enlightenment, and founded a city of his own in the icy wastes of the north where the sun rarely rises. The City of Light, it is said, glows of its own luminescence, lighting the way across the ice plains like a distant lighthouse. The Wandering Peoples of the tundra, however, say that is a city of spirits, and lies in the spirit-world. The shamans say that any mortal who finds it in the physical world will soon sicken and die from the city’s unnatural radiance, while anyone who finds it in the spirit-world is dead already. Nonetheless there are legends of heroes who journeyed to the City of Light and returned, digits and noses frozen off, but having been given magical lamps which reveal spirits who are within the lamps’ illumination. In all these legends, the hero either dies soon thereafter of tumorous growths, or out of grief after several malformed stillbirths.
 Shrine of the Sharp Mother
In the north of the Loess Plains, on the edge of the tundra, lies this old shrine, which is said no human hand built. The shrine is a ramshackle affair, buildings built of bones of every kind. The structural bones are of megafauna – aurochs bones, mastodon bones, and older and stranger bones from now-unknown monsters. The walls and roofs are the bones of humans, hornbeasts, and other beasts. The smaller bones of dogs and birds fill in the gaps. There are always only two inhabitants of the shrine – the Sharp Mother, and her oracle child. The Sharp Mother is always a monstrously large Bear-Dog, seemingly unintelligent and untamed, but who permits supplicants to come as long as they do not threaten her child. The oracle is always a human girl-child; when she grows to maturity, the gift of prophecy leaves her and so she leaves, while the Sharp Mother goes to find a new girl-child to bring back to the shrine. Petitioners come bearing gifts of raw meat for the Sharp Mother, and food for her child as well. If pleased, the Sharp Mother allows them to approach her oracle, who enters a seizure-like trance to answer their question. The oracle is never wrong, but her prophecies are also open to different interpretations – and few petitioners have guessed the correct meaning until too late.
The disreputable Cult of the Opaque claims that their adherents have built their own, hidden city, somewhere in the Western Mountains or beyond. This city is said to have been carved out of the ground, out of ashen soil. Aboveground it is marked only by monoliths and angular blades of metal, which serve to cast shadows so as to mark the sun’s passage overhead. Many odd stories are told of this mythical place – that the desert shakes for miles around in sympathetic vibration with the deep music of Gnomon, that the conjunctions of angles and shadows open up ways into the spirit-world inaccessible in the Three Cities, or that there actually is no such city, but it is instead an allegory or tale meant to illustrate the blindness of the Three Cities because of their hidebound traditions.
 Stone Forest
Fragmentary records said to be from ancient days speak of this place, somewhere in the west of the Steppe Wastes. No one since before the Cataclysm has found the place. It is said to be a forest of strange trees, unlike any now known, but all petrified and turned to stone. Nothing living grows in the stone forest, and no water flows there. Some believe that this is the place from whence the Crystal Trees were brought. Others believe that the trees here were a different kind of Crystal Tree, now lost. The priest-king of Astomo is said to have once had a polished disk of stone wood, proving the existence of this place – but the Voices that rule Astomo now claim it was lost long ago. The Wanderers of the Wastes avidly seek clues as to its location, but the Wandering Peoples of the steppes all say that they know of no such place, and that if it did exist it would surely be haunted by dangerous and powerful spirits. (Actual records recovered from the Wanderers of the Wastes seem to show that most of their would-be explorers end up getting eaten by sabertooths, monster birds, or cannibals, long before they find any clue they were seeking.)
 Gates of Ivory
Tales in Bachariko claim that there is a hidden kingdom in the uttermost west, beyond the southern savannah, past the southern deserts, on the western coast of the southern mountains. In a mountain valley there is a wall of ivory, with gates of ivory, all built of the tusks of countless myriads of mammoths. It is said that this wall is patrolled by strangely-colored people, who speak no known language, and who are unwilling to unbar their gate to any visitor. The last explorer who returned with the location to tell the tale, died while being feasted by one of the god-kings – and after his sudden death the entire court of the god-king was stricken by a strange and sudden illness that caused their blood and tears to run white, followed by death. No one has since sought to find this distant hidden land.