Sapient Species of Blantyrre

Although the lizardmen hold unquestioned primacy over the continent of Blantyrre, they are not alone there, or even free of rivals. Their presence is strong on the coast, and along river valleys, and only growing stronger due to the influx of human technology and magic, but Blantyrre is still a very large continent with a sizeable interior and a diverse set of environments.

For instance, it is well known that Blantyrre and its surrounding islands are home to a great many dragons. Although rising in strength and sophistication, the lizardmen have never been able to seriously threaten dragon territories, and the dragons remain just as influential there as they always have been. Some of the more naïve humans assume that since both lizardmen and dragons are reptilian in nature, they must get along better than humans and dragons, but that doesn’t appear to be the case in the slightest. Lizardmen cities and settlements often get raided and attacked by marauding dragons, and so lizardmen hold little love for dragons.

There are rumors of a smaller lizardman species living in the surface layers of the underworld in Blantyrre, but it is hard to tell what connection it has to the more common lizardmen. It could be a simple variant of the species, like morlocks are to humans, or it could be a completely different reptilian species. They seem to be quite rare, as no expedition has managed to find hard evidence of their existence, but stories of them are common among the lizardmen that they are probably not just an idle fabrication.

Aside from that, this article will discuss the three most important sapient species on the continent, other than the lizardmen themselves: Murgur, Mlok, and Nantek.

Murgur:

Murgur are curious blue-skinned humanoids with an elephantine trunk on their face. Their skin is hairless, much like that of a human, and they have a similar body build to them as well. Their eyes are pitch black, covered in some kind of protective film that shields them from bright light and dust, and they have a long, thin tail that ends in a tuft of hair. The tail is usually very active and expressive, even when the murgur is standing still, and likely has some role in their communication. They are clearly mammals of some sort, but it’s unclear where they fit into the tree of life. They do not have any innate magical ability. 

Murgur do not speak words like humans do. Instead, they speak in a deep, vibrating mumble that most humans find hard to understand. The name ‘Murgur’ is reportedly an onomatopoeia for the sound they use to refer to themselves, and translates to ‘Splendid Ones’.

Murgur live exclusively in the mountains, where they build sprawling, elaborate mountain strongholds. These are partially carved straight into cliffs and mountain faces, and partially made by very precise stonework that borders on supernatural, but is apparently done with little to no magic involved. Murgur are masters of sculpting and stone working, and seem to consider their mountain homes and the rocks around them sacred in some way. They don’t bother trying to expand out of the mountains and into the lowlands below, even when they have the chance to do so.

Murgur do not eat meat and find offers of animal flesh to be very insulting, but they are also not entirely herbivorous. They have been observed to eat eggs, drink milk, and consume certain insect larvae. They engage in extensive farming to feed their strongholds, and also hunt in the surrounding mountains for things they cannot grow.

Murgur have a complicated set of rules revolving around politeness and proper manners. They rarely explain these to outsiders, but often get upset when these are broken anyway. This probably contributes greatly to their isolationism and distaste for outsiders. Even murgur from other strongholds are not immune to this, as each strongholds has its own aesthetics and social rules.

Although Murgur architecture is highly impressive, they are a rather primitive people, all things considered. They have no knowledge of metal working, relying on stone and wooden tools instead. They are highly isolationist and conceited, and consider most outsiders to be uncivilized savages. Previously they were on par with the lizardmen in terms of magic and technology, but their lack of easily accessible ports, coupled with deliberate isolationism, has meant they are now noticeably behind them in both regards, and the situation is only getting worse. Murgur strongholds are increasingly getting the short end of the stick in their dealings with lizardmen and their societies are experiencing large upheaval as a result.

Mlok:

Mlok are basically sapient tree frogs with more dexterous hands. They are excellent climbers and swimmers, and their skin can change color over a period of several minutes, either to match their environment more closely or simply as an indication of mood.

Mlok are tribal and very primitive technologically. They live in small tree villages, making use of a special parasitic plant that naturally forms hollow chambers for Mlok to live in as it grows. The plant does not exist in the wild outside Mlok settlements, being entirely reliant on the Mlok for protection and spread. It is likely the two species evolved side-by-side during a very long period of time. The plant is mildly magical, being slightly tougher than a plant like this should be, and some tribes have special variants with additional powers.

Being frogs, Mlok require water to house their tadpoles and reproduce. As such, they fill some of the hollow chamber in their symbiotic plants with water for their tadpoles to live in. Because of this, they can live quite far from the rivers and lakes, so long as the place they inhabit gets enough seasonal rains to maintain their reservoirs. They actually prefer these water pockets as their nurseries, as the tadpoles are relatively safe there from predators, and will use them even if they live next to a more conventional water source.

Mlok are very notorious among the lizardmen for birthing large number of young during times of plenty, which often creates many desperate mlok when said times of plenty pass. Mlok tribes tend to simply expel any excess population and tell them to find a new territory for themselves, which is viewed by lizardmen (and most other nearby sapient species) as irresponsible and borderline hostile. Occasionally these groups of outcast Mlok have formed huge hordes that have swept across an area, eating everything edible and sieging any settlement or tribe they come across. Due to this, mlok tend to have a rather poor reputation.

Mlok are obligate carnivores, and can digest a wide variety of prey; they are willing to consume just about anything within reach. They normally shy away from consuming intelligent prey, but they have poor self-control and a starving mlok will often do things they are not proud of.

Like the murgur, mlok have been getting pushed back by the lizardmen lately. This is especially true because mlok like similar areas that lizardmen do, meaning they often compete for living space. Additionally, while the lizardmen somewhat respect the murgur and have only rarely clashed with them in the past, mlok are seen as disgusting savages that breed far too fast and have been known to create trouble for lizardmen since time immemorial.

Mlok have a decent amount of contact with humans, but their sensitive skin and tree-borne lifestyle make it hard to adopt the sort of lifestyle necessary to make use of human technology and magic-teaching methods. They are a very dynamic species, however, and not afraid to change, so things could easily change in the future.

Nantek:

Nantek are a strange type of large butterfly that are sapient in their chrysalis stage… and only in their chrysalis stage. Said chrysalises are psychic, and use telepathy to control caterpillars of their own species as workers and warriors. A number of them are also able to telekinetically move about and manipulate objects, but this appears to be a product of magical training and is not an inborn skill of the species. Usually when a Nantek wants to move, they have their caterpillar servants carry them around.

Nantek chrysalises are brown, with a complicated pattern of colors and pair of large ‘eyes’ painted on the sides. The eyes are non-functional – Nantek can only perceive the world through their caterpillar servants – and appear to be purely cosmetic in nature. Despite this, Nantek will usually try to orient their chrysalis to ‘face’ whoever they’re speaking to. The caterpillars themselves come in all kinds of colors, shapes, and sizes, for reasons that will become obvious later.

Nantek are a very mysterious species. They live deep in the interior of Blantyrre, and while they’re happy to entertain non-violent visitors, their societies are alien and hard for other species to understand. They are one of the more magically-adept species encountered by humanity – the relative helplessness of their natural forms has caused them to focus on magic more than most, and the need to work together leads to a lot of sharing of magical insight between them. This, in addition to their innate mental magic, means that they are able to engage human mages on a more even level than most non-human communities, and has made them somewhat feared among human explorers.

Nantek also have a strangely advanced knowledge of their own biochemistry and lifecycle, and often warp their caterpillar workers into specialized worker forms to tackle difficult problems. This ability does not seem to extend to other living organisms – their own catepillars are naturally susceptible to these kinds of alterations, and magic that works on them does not work on unrelated beings. However, there is ample evidence that Nantek are heavily experimenting on various beings around them anyway, trying to use their flesh alterations to manipulate their metabolism in the same way they do with their catepillars… often with horrifying results. Some of these experiments have been known to escape into the surrounding area, making the land around the Nantek hive prone to ‘isolated incidents’.

Because of their great magical abilities and relatively benign nature, they have long been considered wise and mysterious by the other races of the continent, who would often brave many dangers to reach their homes in the interior so they could consult them for advice on various matters. More cynical observers point out that was probably very beneficial for the Nantek, since they probably used their mind reading skills to get way more out of these conversations than the visitors did.

Despite their impressive achievements, the Nantek labor under many issues. For one thing, they suffer from the same problem that most non-human sapients do: they do not work together very well. While the Nantek work very closely and harmoniously within their own communities, different Nantek hives don’t seem to communicate much with one another. In fact, there is evidence that some of the hives are actively hostile to one another, even when they are physically very far from one another and they should realistically not care much about each other either way. Secondly, Nantek have rather short lives by human standards. After about 30 years as a chrysalis, a Nantek will become insensate and soon morph into a large butterfly.

As stated before, Nantek are only sapient in their chrysalis forms, so this transformation basically kills the nantek in question. There is no evidence that the resulting butterfly retains any kind of memory or personality from the chrysalis mind that made it. They are animal-level magical creatures, only interested in eating and mating.

Nantek simply let them live out their lives as they see fit. A female butterfly, when ready to lay eggs, will return to the place of her ‘birth’ and lay her eggs in the specially prepared chamber dug up by the Nantek. This seems to be part instinct, part the fact that Nantek know exactly how to prepare a chamber that the female regards as perfect for her eggs. On occasion, this process has been known to be disrupted, leading to the eggs being deposited elsewhere. Nantek hives will usually try to recover these and bring them into their settlement.

Nantek hives are not complicated. Although very sophisticated in many ways, Nantek are not particularly inspired builders. The hive is typically built underground, consisting of a series of tunnels and chambers. Each settlement has one major chamber, large and typically circular in shape, where Nantek spend most of their day embedded into the wall of the chamber. The chamber is usually warded as best as the Nantek can manage it, and tends to be deep underground. Outsiders are rarely granted entry to this chamber, as it holds the majority of the Nantek colony, and Nantek are not especially mobile and cannot flee quickly if the talks turn violent, but it has been known to happen. The chamber appears silent and eerily still to a casual observer, but Nantek are actually constantly chattering with one another telepathically and a skilled mind mage will find it to be a constant flurry of activity.

Nantek are very aware of how short their lives are, and how unusual they are by the standards of most creatures. They are a very philosophical people, and ponder the nature of their existence often. As a consequence of this, as well as their rather cloistered existence, their language has a great number of terms that do not exist outside their communities, and often refer to highly abstract concepts that do not refer to easily explainable physical concepts. They usually try to minimize these when talking to other sapient species, but it is inevitable that some of that bleeds through. As such, their speech patterns are often perceived as confusing, and this likely contributes to their reputation for being mysterious.

Ikosian Creation Myth

In the beginning, the world was a swirling, shapeless chaos. A domain of fire, thunder, and howling winds. The only inhabitants were the seven primordial dragons, who lived like animals and battled one another for dominance over this blasted land.

One day, the gods beheld this realm from their high places and saw potential for more. Resolving to reshape it into a more godly and wholesome form, they invaded the primordial chaos and waged war against the primordial dragons. With them, they brought their armies of angels and other servants, their numbers like grains of sand on a beach. Loyal, valiant, and diligent, the angelic host spread out all over the primordial chaos, reporting everything they saw and fearlessly throwing themselves into battles against dragons, no matter how hopeless.

The primordial dragons were truly vast in size and mighty beyond comprehension. Each one could take on multiple gods all on their lonesome and come out victorious. However, they were devoid of virtues; they knew nothing of kinship, mercy, or wisdom. They fought each other still, even as they were set upon by the gods. Exhausted by the endless numbers of the angelic host, outwitted by the wise leadership of the gods, and beset by their own kin, the dragons perished one by one. As they did, however, the gods had an unpleasant discovery. Each time a primordial dragon died, the world grew dimmer and colder. The dragons were the embodiment of the world, and both were intrinsically bound to one another. Each time a primordial dragon died, a part of the world died with them.

Once six of the dragons were dead, the war shifted. The last remaining dragon no longer had any of her treacherous kin distracting her from her enemy, and she could clearly sense her home realm weakening and dying around her, its natural chaos and vitality rapidly subsiding. As for the gods themselves, they could not afford to kill her, as that would truly signify the death of this realm that they came to claim as their own. Instead, they wanted to capture her and bind her to their purposes.

The battles that followed were fierce and numberless. The gods fought to capture rather than kill, and the dragon sensed their desire. As a creature of chaos and unbound freedom, she hated the idea even more than dying. She fought with everything she had, but she still lost.

The last primordial dragon was defeated and captured, her mind laden with restrictions and her body bound with layers and layers of god-silk. Her body was dismembered, her mind scattered, but her spirit could not be extinguished without extinguishing the world itself. The gods then took the remaining chaotic energies of the world and compressed them into a ball of fire, which they placed in the center of the realm, so that it may radiate the chaotic vitality of the realm in a controlled manner. The corpses of the six primordial dragons killed earlier by the gods and their angelic host were then fashioned into individual planets much like our own. Since the spirits of these dragons were long dead, the planets fashioned from them were likewise dead and doomed to remain forever barren. However, the gods learned much from these six failures and soon turned their attention to the still living remains of the seventh dragon and began the construction of the seventh, and final planet – Ersetu.

The pieces of the dragon’s body were reshaped into the world we know today. The blood the gods drained out of her body was turned into the rivers and the seas, her flesh and bones into the earth and rocks we stand on, and her breath became the air we breathe. The dragon’s veins, now empty of blood, became the vast network of tunnels that stretches beneath the surface of our world. Finally, the gods turned the dragon’s fire into mana, so that the mortals below could be given the gift of magic and experience a small measure of their divine majesty.

The only part of the dragon left intact – her fiery, still beating heart – was then buried in the center of the world. There it waits and seethes to this very day. It must ever remain beating; should it ever stop, our world will come to an end. Yet, so long as it beats, our world will also never be at peace. The dragon is a thing of chaos and violence, unbound by morality and hateful of the gods and all they have built. Though extremely potent, the restrictions placed by the gods could not be made perfect, and the heart of the world dragon rages endlessly against her bounds. Her struggles give birth to natural disasters like volcanoes and earthquakes, and pieces of the heart continually flake off from it, giving birth to horrifying monsters wherever they fall. These monsters then begin their long ascent towards the surface, seeking to bring ruin to everything the gods have built. Thankfully, just like the primordial dragons of old could never unite against the gods, so too the many monstrous children of the world dragon cannot bring themselves to work together against their enemies. From the very moment of their birth, they fight one another like bitter enemies, spending most of their time weakening each other and wasting their mother’s strength.

For all our sakes, may it forever remain so.

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This is the story that everyone knows. But what if I told you it’s only half of the story? No, I’m not saying it’s all a lie. It’s just… suspiciously incomplete?

In particular, did you ever notice this creation story doesn’t say where humans and animals came from? Supposedly we are the creation of the gods, but the actual religious texts recounting the creation story never actually state so. The angels never outright say so either, ever. The priests and other religious authorities assert that part, but what justification do they really have?

The Ikosians have long tried to draw a line between the world of man and the world of monsters. Today we know more than we ever did before, and we still can’t find it. One transitions into another so seamlessly they seem like a natural fit. Our flesh and blood is not that different from the flesh and blood of a magical creature. What really separates us from the beasts of the wilds and the abominations from the depths?

Nothing. Nothing separates us. We are all children of the Dragon Below, whether we are humans, animals, magical creatures, or denizens of the depths. And how could it be anything else? The gods have no power to create anything from scratch. They are mere brutes; scavengers that repurposed what was already there into the world we see around us.

Since everything we see has been made from the remains of a higher being, why should we be an exception? We aren’t. We are part of this world just as everything else is. We are children of the primordial dragon, and she loves us.

Yes, the Dragon loves us. She loves us like only a mother could. But the chains placed on her are many, and heavenly schemes have shrouded our minds and closed our hearts to her. She knows not what she does, in her desperate thrashing. And we know not what we do, blinded as we are by the so-called divine and their agents.

Do you want to know more? Do you wish to shake off the shackles the silent gods and see the world as it truly is? If so, go to this address after midnight and ask about the Esoteric Order of the Celestial Dragon. Tell them I sent you.

And if anyone asks, just remember: We are children of the Dragon, and a mother loves her children.

Magical Creatures and Materials

The world is a strange and dangerous place. A dizzying variety of creatures inhabits the world, staking their claim on every patch of land, no matter how remote or inhospitable it may seem. Anomalous areas and materials can also be found scattered all over the planet, some of them incredibly useful, and some of them lethal enough to kill anyone that approaches them. One might think that it would be difficult for people to distinguish between magical creatures and objects, and merely weird but mundane ones – after all, not everyone is a mage, and many magical phenomena do not have obvious tells that they are magical. However, there are obvious signs that a creature or material is magical, and the distinction between them and their mundane counterparts has been obvious to humanity since ancient times. It is only in modern times, with technology becoming increasingly sophisticated and wondrous, that people are starting to wonder where mundane ends and the magical begins.

Magical Creatures:

Magical creatures are, as their name implied, imbued with magical abilities. All of them are imbued with a powerful life force and a correspondingly powerful resistance to foreign magic. Most of them are noticeably tougher and stronger than their size and build would suggest. Many of them are also faster and more agile than they should be. Some have spell-like magical abilities, like being able to breathe fire, subvert minds, or make themselves invisible. A few are even sapient, equal to humanity in every way. Better, even, some heretical voices say.

With that in mind, a perceptive person might ask themselves – why have these creatures not wiped out humanity as a whole by now? For that matter, why have they not wiped out all mundane animals, which are not similarly blessed with more powerful bodies and potent magical abilities? And, if one takes this to its logical extreme… why haven’t the more powerful version of these creatures supplanted their still magical, but unquestionably weaker equivalents?

The answer is simple, and has been known to humanity since time immemorial. Magical creatures require ambient mana to live. Their magical enhancements and abilities are tightly integrated into their bodies and metabolisms, and their souls are incapable of naturally producing enough mana to keep them going. Should their innate magics ever stop, the creature they support will quickly die as well.

The more powerful and magical the magical creature, the more ambient mana it requires to keep itself going. They won’t immediately die if they move into an area too mana-poor for their metabolisms, but most magical creatures will quickly waste away in such circumstances. The effect has been described by sapient magical creatures as feeling either as drowning or starvation, depending on how severe the ambient mana difference is.

This dependence on ambient mana means that powerful magical creatures either stay in the deep reaches of the Dungeon or cluster around large mana wells. This is the primary reason why humanity (and mundane plants and animals) have managed to survive on the surface.

Humanity and the Wilderness:

During the Divine Era, while the gods still walked the earth and talked to people, human territory rarely increased. Sometimes a great hero or king managed to scour a particular region of dangerous magical creatures and made a new settlement there, extending the reach of human civilization by a small bit, but just as often that was soon undone by a loss of territory to the world’s monstrous inhabitants somewhere else in the world. Whatever area humanity ruled, they usually ruled for a reason, and if that territory was ever lost to the beasts it was usually retaken not long afterwards… but the reverse was also true. The deep wilds were dangerous lands that only powerful mages and divinely-blessed heroes could venture into, and it was rare for humanity to successfully colonize such places. The domain of humanity ebbed and flowed, but overall remained static over the centuries.

The rise of the Ikosian Empire was the first big change in this pattern. With their incredibly potent magical system that only grew more powerful and sophisticated as time went by, the Ikosian Empire suddenly had a large number of powerful people that were capable of taking on the powerful magical creatures of the world. Moreover, these powerful mages greatly coveted the areas that magical creatures inhabited, and had every reason to push into them as much as they could. For the first time in a long time, the domain of humanity started to grow.

Moreover, it did not just grow in the Ikosian Empire. The Ikosian system of magic was revolutionary for its openness and sharing, but this also made it impossible for the Empire to retain a monopoly on its use and teaching. It quickly spread outside the empire, to Hsan, Koth, and Altazia. Almost everywhere one looked, humanity was on the advance, pushing into every area it could and clashing with everyone they encountered there – including many sapient species that already lived in these lands and didn’t look too kindly on humanity’s attempts to push them out of their homelands.

The Silence of the Gods was, in the short term, a huge disaster for humanity. With societies everywhere struggling to reorganize themselves in the wake of this monumental change and the loss of divine magic and its miracles, magical creatures of all sorts began to aggressively retake their old territory. Their magical abilities had remained intact in the wake of the Silence, and many of the frontier settlements fell to magical creature attacks, making the already chaotic situation even worse.

By the time the dust settled, the territory held by humanity was much diminished. Many areas that had been painstakingly taken from the wilderness were reduced to ruins. Many overgrown castles, walls, temples, and outposts can still be found in wild areas of the world as a testament of this tragedy. Many predicted the situation would only grow worse in time, with humanity being constantly on the defensive, their territory getting smaller and smaller with every passing age… perhaps, some whispered, the age of man was at an end.

Such apocalyptic visions never came true. Although humanity had lost their divine protectors, their magic only continued to grow more potent and versatile. Little territory was retaken, but little of it was lost, either. It seemed that humanity had entered a new equilibrium with the magical creatures of the world.

This equilibrium lasted until recently, when the technological revolution in Altazia produced a new invention that would revolutionize the way humanity dealt with dangerous magical creatures.

We are talking about guns, of course.

With the invention of these gunpowder weapons, mundane humans with no mage support are able to deal with many of the magical creatures that would normally be too dangerous for them to handle. This has led to an intense period of expansion into previously wild territory – especially in Altazia, where guns were first invented and used most heavily in their recent Splinter Wars. Even on other continents, however, the knowledge of gun creation is starting to spread… and as it does, humanity is once again starting to spread.

Magical Creatures and Magical Resistance:

All living being are resistant to foreign magic. This seems to be a function of life force, which resists intrusion of mana that isn’t attuned to the soul of the person in question. This includes ambient mana, which is naturally repelled by living beings. Scholars speculate that without this protection, ambient mana would slowly seep into people and poison them, even if they aren’t actively trying to use it. It is well known that ambient mana can seep into solid objects given enough time, and there are rumors that high levels of ambient mana in the deeper reaches of the dungeon can cause people to drop dead from ambient mana poisoning even if they don’t deliberately draw on it, so the idea isn’t as farfetched as it may appear, but the question is not considered settled.

What is definitely a fact is that magical creatures has a stronger life force than humans, and thus also have an intense resistance to hostile magic directed at them. This magic resistance will not stop indirect effects created by magic (such as magic projectiles, lightning bolts, and the like) from hurting them normally, but it will disrupt attempts to affect their minds, souls, and bodies. A mundane animal is very easy to enthrall or paralyze through magic; a magic creature far less so.

Magic resistance is never an absolute thing. It makes direct magic directed at a creature harder and more expensive, as one first has to punch through the magic resistance and reinforce it more to withstand the pressure of more powerful life force, but in theory, all magic resistance can be overcome. It’s just a question if the mage in question is skilled enough to pull it off, and has enough mana to pay for the reinforced spell. In practice, however, there is a point at which no human mage can effort a powerful enough spell to counter the magic resistance involved. This point is generally not reached by surface creatures (not even by dragons, who are merely ‘extremely difficult’ rather than impossible), but some of the deeper Dungeon denizens have downright absurd magic resistances that even legendary archmages cannot overcome.

In any case, it is generally considered suboptimal to try and overpower a magic creature’s magic resistance with one’s magic. Most mages will instead look for a way to indirectly hurt such magic resistant targets. Mind mages are hard hit by these kinds of threats, however, as most of their arsenal involves directly targeting minds of creatures, and they have few methods of indirectly affecting them.

Magical Creatures and Ambient Mana Assimilation:

As noted, magical creatures need to absorb ambient mana to live. To that end, they have developed special biological and spiritual/soul structures that let them take in ambient mana around them at prodigious rates without poisoning themselves like a human mage would if they attempted the same.

For a long time, humanity was mystified how magical creatures can benefit from ambient mana when a human mage would quickly meet his end if they tried to do the same. Many theories were put forward, but there was no way to pick one or the other, and no practical benefits from any of them. It was only relatively recently, in the past several centuries, that this knowledge began to proliferate among mages. Some heretical voices claim that this is because, after the Silence of the Gods, soul magic use surged massively and necromancers were able to perform experiments that would normally bring divine wrath on everyone involved, but that is understandably a controversial idea.

In any case, the way magical creatures use ambient mana is by first attuning it to their own soul, converting it from ambient mana into their own personal reserves. Under no circumstance do they use raw ambient mana in their metabolism, since such an action would have identical results for them as it would for a human mage attempting to use ambient mana to cast a spell – the ambient mana would damage their tissues, poison them, and drive them mad. Magic creatures don’t literally consume ambient mana. They assimilate it.

For magical creatures this process is completely instinctive and thoughtless. They do not have to invest any attention to make this assimilation happen. Humans, lacking the organs and soul structures necessary for this, must resort to harder, more deliberate methods. It takes months of training for humans to be able to assimilate ambient mana into their personal reserves, and the end result is extremely underwhelming when compared to the standards of magical creatures. It takes years of practice for a human mage to perform the skill smoothly and easily, and even then it requires conscious effort, and is barely equal to the weakest of magical creatures. Despite this, the skill has become part of the standard skillset for any self-respecting mage, and is commonly taught to every aspiring mage across the world.

Magic Materials:

The flow of mana across the world produces many strange materials with anomalous properties. It is also speculated that some of the materials are products of living magical creatures, even if they don’t exactly look like it – places were large amount of magical creatures die and pile atop one another have been known to produce strange objects and magical zones if they are for some reason undisturbed by scavengers and looters. These processes generally take for too long to be observed or exploited by humans, so it’s hard to either prove or disapprove these kind of theories.

In any case, it is generally easy for a mage to tell when a material is magical rather than mundane. Magical materials resist magic in the same manner as living beings, and they cannot be reproduced through alteration. A spell that can shape normal steel will fail when presented with magical steel, and there is no known way to make a piece of normal steel innately magical. Magical materials can be combined and processed with alchemy to change and refine their properties, and certain procedures can strip them of their magic and render them mundane.

Magical materials are still made from normal atoms and molecules – no unknown magical elements are involved in their construction. Magical silver is still silver, and will behave like one in most ways. Rather, their magical properties seem to be a consequence of stable mana constructs imbued into the material. These mana constructs tend to be extremely complicated and hard to study, and have never been successfully reproduced by a human mage.

Crystalized Mana:

Mana is the mysterious substance upon which all magic rests, and usually it behaves like an invisible, odorless gas that has the ability to seep into solid objects given enough time. However, deep beneath the earth, where concentrations of mana are incredibly dense and accompanied by other, yet unknown environmental pressures, mana is known to crystalize and assume solid form. This ‘crystalized mana’ takes the form of translucent blue crystals, and seem to persist in this form indefinitely.

Though usually blue, it also comes in other colors. There doesn’t appear to be much difference between them, and patches of strangely-colored crystalized mana are no less or more effective than their more common blue counterparts, but some mages believe otherwise.

Crystalized mana has baffled humanity ever since it was discovered. It defies many of the properties one usually associates with mana. It has weight and acts like a solid object, but if it’s ground into small enough pieces it will vaporize and turn into ambient mana. It is not, as some people suspect, a regular rock imbued with mana – pure crystalized mana will evaporate into nothing when broken up into small pieces, with not residue left behind. Most crystalized mana isn’t 100% pure, however, so a certain amount of dust and gravel is bound to be left behind.

Crystallized mana has started to become intensively mined in modern times, as it is a very stable, convenient source of mana for magical machinery. While spell formula can be used to make mana batteries, these cannot match the densities present in crystalized mana and are prone to exploding if damage or sabotaged. Crystalized mana, by comparison, is relatively inert – hitting it with most attacks will simply cause it to evaporate into ambient mana, which is rarely harmful on its own.

The conditions under which crystalized mana is created are not currently understood by humanity, and cannot be replicated. Crystalized mana is thus mined from the ground, usually in dangerous conditions of the Dungeon, which makes it an expensive commodity to most. Finding deposits of crystalized mana is not terribly hard in the dungeon, but finding ones that are sufficiently abundant and accessible from the surface to be commercially mined is a rather rare thing. As magical machinery starts to become more common and more power-intensive, however, more and more countries are starting to scour their underworld for possible sources of this resource.

Author Notes:

Crystalized mana was originally connected to the idea that Zorian will eventually find a way to make external mana storage to overcome his small mana reserves. Just like the article says, mana will, under certain extreme conditions, crystalize into a stable and solid form. Zorian was originally supposed to figure out how to replicate this process, creating artificial crystalized mana. Now, by itself, this was not terribly useful – it was a complicated and expensive procedure, and it was still cheaper to just mine it out of the ground, despite the dangers involved in that. However, this was supposed to be a basis for him then applying the same principles to his personal mana, finding a way to ‘solidify’ his personal mana while it was still attuned to him. He couldn’t do it while it was still inside him (obviously), but he could basically spend his personal mana to make a mana crystal, let his reserves recover, and then keeping adding to the crystal. This would let him build up a potentially infinite external mana storage, though the crystal would keep getting bigger and bigger as he added to it, so it would obviously get too large to carry around at some point.

In another variation of that idea, I had witches possess knowledge of building a ‘heartstone’ – an external mana storage that was stabilized by the fact it was made with the help of the caster’s own life force. Basically, by imbuing a piece of crystalized mana with their life force, witches were able to use it to store a large amount of personal mana in it, in the same manner as above – dump some of your personal mana into it, let your reserves replenish, repeat. However, in order for the heartstone to remain stable, the user had to continually cycle their life force in an out of the stone – in order words, a portion of the witch’s life force was permanently invested into the heartstone, and if it was ever destroyed they would be immediately severely wounded. Zorian was supposed to learn how to make a heartstone from Silverlake and then combine it with his knowledge of how to make artificial crystalized mana to make a heartstone v2.0 – by crystalizing his life force, it would be able to persist outside his body indefinitely, allowing him to cut it off from his system, taking an immediate life force wound but allowing him to be free from future risk after he recovers.

Neither of those ideas got into the final plan, for two simple reasons:

A) I realized it was pretty unsatisfying to have Zorian overcome his lacking mana reserves in this fashion. They are his primary limitation, and removing or sidestepping it basically trivializes a lot of the plot.

B) I realized neither of the two ideas would be massively useful to Zorian to stop the invasion in the real world. Both required massive initial sacrifices in order to reap long-term benefits, which wasn’t that useful in the last arc of the story where they couldn’t afford to make such sacrifices. The real benefits would only occur after the invasion was stopped and the crisis had been resolved – and the story itself had ended. Pretty unsatisfying.

Additionally, the heartstone idea had the problem that there was no way the witches would keep something like that to themselves. The heartstone, while dangerous to make and a huge point of weakness, had so much benefits that everyone and their mother would rush to copy it. It just strained credulity that something like that would be widespread among them, yet completely secret from all outsiders.

Immortals

The dream of eternal life has been a constant since time immemorial. Immense efforts have been made over the centuries, by mages and non-mages alike, aimed at finding a method that would allow people to live in perpetuity. One might think that the existence of an afterlife where one could enjoy a life after death would dissuade most people from pursuing this path… but one would be wrong. No one had ever returned from the afterlife to tell people what it’s like there, and many are attached to their current life and place in society. With so many doubts surrounding life after death, many would prefer to linger on the material plane as long as possible.

Sometimes, these efforts produced results. Literal eternity was out of reach, of course. No method allows one to be completely invulnerable or be free of weaknesses, so getting killed is always a danger. However, agelessness – a state where a person no longer gets weaker and less able with the passage of time – proved to be entirely within grasp.

For the lucky and determined few, in any case.

The people who have halted their aging in some way are popularly called ‘immortals’. They can still get killed; they can still die in accidents or contract a lethal disease; but potentially, these people could live forever. Most will die after only a couple of centuries – the average lifespan of an immortal seem to be between 500 and 700 years of age – but even this makes the immortals the object of admiration and envy.

The methods of becoming an immortal are as numerous as the immortals themselves. The details of any particular procedure are guarded jealously by the immortals who discovered them, meaning that most people who become an immortal have to invent their own method from scratch. Additionally, the method must be personalized to a certain extent – for reasons that are unclear as of yet, the process of achieving immortality cannot be fully generalized, and must instead be tailored for a specific individual. Even if one managed to obtain a method from an immortal, it would likely be of no use to them – they would need skills similar to the immortal in question in order to modify the method for their own use.

Most of the methods for achieving immortality center involve extremely advanced alchemy skills. An ‘orthodox’ immortality method is a ‘potion of youth’, which will halt the imbiber’s aging process when drunk. Ideally it will also restore a person into their ideal age, since few immortals are good enough to make such a potion when they’re in their 20s or 30s, though this is of secondary importance. After all, once one has managed to halt their aging, they have all the time in the world to get this second part right.

Other than alchemical methods, there are also methods involving complex magical rituals – often ones involving soul and blood magic – which are proven to be effective. There are also hybrid methods that utilize both alchemy and rituals. Both of these are widely considered to be inferior options of immortality, especially by alchemists.

Some plants and animals, when eaten, are thought to permanently halt aging in people. The most famous of these is the celestial lotus, which is thought to be completely extinct in modern times, but which is still sometimes searched for by the ambitious and the desperate. It is speculated that most of these were actually artificial creations of the gods. They never seemed to grow in number, and were thus inevitably hunted to extinction after the Silence of the Gods. These days, some people openly doubt that they had ever even existed, and believe they were just fanciful fabrications by ancient peoples.

The eggs of the rainbow sea turtle were a crucial ingredient of the only potion of youth recipe made public in its entirety. The immortal who invented it decided to share his creation with his friends, but the potion recipe leaked out of the group and became widely circulated. Many of the ingredients were rare or very hard to acquire, but the eggs of rainbow sea turtles were relatively simple to acquire, as they returned to the same sites every year and did not protect their eggs after burying them in the sand. The species was promptly driven to the brink of extinction by would-be immortals and people looking to make a profit by selling the eggs. Rainbow sea turtles are vanishingly rare in modern times. It is unknown where their remaining nesting sites are, and this is probably for the best. The last time one of them was located, it was destroyed within five years, despite attempts to protect it from egg raiders.

The Immortal Eleven

During the time of the Old Alliance, when Alliance of Eldemar ruled unchallenged over the entirety of Altazia, a group of powerful mages from all over the continent got together and embarked on an ambitious project: they gathered 200 gifted teenagers from all over the continent and decided to see how great they could become if they were provided with best equipment, support facilities, and teachers that currently existed on the continent. The idea was that by gathering all these talents together and having them challenge each other while being provided for in every way conceivable, they would be able to reliably produce loyal archmages for the Alliance.

The project was very controversial. It was very expensive, it pushed the gathered students to excel so hard that more than more than 50 of them had dropped out within the first year, and the free sharing of magical secrets that was encouraged within the group made certain people very unhappy. Despite this, the project continued for nearly 10 years, after which it was shut down due to quarreling among the project founders.

‘The 200 Project’, as it is popularly known, has a mixed reputation among modern mages. On one hand, it is considered a giant vanity project that cost too much and provided too little in return. On the other hand, there is no denying that many of the students that came out of the program really did end up making significant contributions like the founders of the program had hoped they would.

And of these, the most spectacular was a group of twenty people, sometimes called the Twenty Inheritors. When the project disbanded, these twenty refused to separate and go home. Instead, they swore a pact of brotherhood and started a journey that took them across the entire known world – Altazia, Miasina, and Hsan. They had adventures, searched for forgotten magics, and sometimes even acted as thieves and raiders to acquire knowledge that people wouldn’t share.

By the time they had returned to Altazia, there were only eleven of them left. However, it didn’t take long for people to notice that they looked almost as young as they were when they first set off on their grand journey. As the years passed by and their youth never faded, the truth became increasingly obvious.

The Immortal Eleven were born.

The Immortal Eleven are very unusual by immortal standards. Most immortals acquired agelessness alone, and have only loose associations with other immortals. The Eleven, on the other hand, clearly helped each other to become immortal. Although by this point the group has fallen apart and each of the Eleven has gone their own way, they still retain close links to each other. Most immortals also try to keep their immortality a secret as much as possible, to reduce the number of envious people going after them, but the Immortal Eleven didn’t care to be so restrained. As such, the Immortal Eleven are probably the most famous and well-known immortals in modern era.

The following is the list of Immortal Eleven, with brief descriptions of each:

  1. Meren Lynti Ermazi

Meren is a generalist archmage, infamous for her extensive use of demon summoning and her brutal combat tactics. She is the most politically active of the surviving Immortal Eleven, working closely with her home country of Sulamnon to train their battlemages and prepare for future wars with Eldemar and Falkrinea. She spends most of her time in her large, well-warded tower that the Kingdom of Sulamnon built for her at their own expense.

  1. Tehanna Arta

Tehanna is most famous for specializing in a skill that most people consider insanely dangerous and impractical – casting her soul into the spiritual realms so she can explore the place. Since doing this places a mage into regular contact with demons while their soul is exposed to attack, this is generally considered a quick way to get your soul devoured, but Tehanna has seemingly found a way to reliably survive the experience. She spends most of her time in a heavily warded cave in the middle of the wilderness, exploring the spiritual planes while her body lays motionless on the special pedestal she made.

  1. Denen Shutta

Denen is a large, bearded individual who often wanders Altazia in search of novel drink and food, or simply amusement. He gets angry quickly, but forgives just as fast. He is a bear shifter, though not a born one, and he doesn’t have good relationship with the rest of the bear shifters. He is a master of transformation magic and has considerable soul and blood magic expertise.

  1. Lepi-Amurru Tusa

Lepi is always seen with a pair of giant scorpions. Their significance is unknown, as he gets extremely angry whenever they are hurt or killed, yet seems to replace them with new ones without any issues afterwards. Though they look normal, the scorpions are magically enhanced with some kind of ritual that makes them deadly opponents, though they usually focus on simply defending their master. Lepi has an intense interest in ancient history, especially pre-Ikosian civilizations. His specialties are warding and divination. He is currently somewhere in the interior of Miasina, far away from any known human settlement. He tolerates solitude extremely well, and often interacts with obscure sapient creatures he finds in the wild corners of the world.

  1. Nesir Kode

One of the more mysterious members of the Immortal Eleven. His abilities are unknown, though it is speculated they have something to do with information gathering, as other members often consulted him for advice and help. He has not been seen for several years, and his whereabouts are unknown, though other members of the Immortal Eleven believe he is still alive.

  1. Peleset Harata

An alchemist and a soul mage. Believed to be one of the more crucial members responsible for the whole group becoming immortal. It is known she is bitter at the rest of the group for some unknown slight made against her. She likes to teach, and is known to be rather vain and fond of flattery. Currently in employ as an alchemy teacher at one of the Falkrinean academies, though she has no real loyalty to the state of Falkrinea itself, and does not intend to get involved in their wars.

  1. Aidak Cren

Aidak spent a relatively short time in Altazia after the group returned there, and instead opted to return to Hsan, where he presumably remains to this very day. He is known to be fond of martial arts, sword fighting, and other archaic, mundane forms of combat. In an actual life-or-death battle, however, he fights with powerful combat magic like any other Ikosian mage. He is known to be an excellent alchemist, and it is thought that he worked with Peleset to make the group immortal. His current whereabouts and activities are unknown, though some speculate he is studying Hsan’s unique magical traditions.

  1. Manani Weshekari

Likely deceased. Manani was a combat-oriented mage, gifted with large mana reserves and skilled with a diverse arsenal of combat spells. At some point he decided to start organizing expeditions into the deep dungeon, as this has apparently been his dream since childhood. The first two expeditions went very well, but after he went down into the deep dungeon for the third time he was never heard from again. He and the rest of his expedition likely perished somewhere in the depths.

  1. Sherden-Anixua Zenich

Deceased. Sherden was obsessed with dragons, and it is known that his form of immortality involved heavy use of dragon parts in the creation process. After he returned to Altazia with the rest, he started joining every military campaign against dragons he could, and even organized a few himself. He was particularly interested in dragon mages, as he seems to have been studying draconic magic. As a consequence, he earned an intense hatred from dragon-kind, who considered him a butcher and a thief. Sherden’s efforts eventually led him to join the ill-fated campaign against a famous dragon mage who ended up killing him.

  1. Sakelus Arexino

Deceased. Another combat magic oriented mage, Sakelus participated in the first round of Splinter Wars where he suffered an ignoble death via gunfire. Most witnesses agree that his death had been entirely avoidable, but Sakelus considered rifles and other gunpowder weapons to be mere toys and deliberately walked into a trap that ended up claiming his life.

  1. Isek Kalko

Deceased. Isek was a specialist in warding and magical artifice. He was assassinated by an unknown group while working on the warding scheme for a royal palace in one of the minor Altazian kingdoms. The group triggered a massive explosion that ended up collapsing half of the building, completely vaporizing Isek in the process. It is unknown what the motive for this attack was, or who was behind it.

A Note on Undead & Spirits:

Although undead can also potentially continue existing in perpetuity, they are not considered real immortals. The same goes for spirits and other creatures that naturally don’t age.

Collected Snippets: Angels, Demons, Spirits

Author’s Note: This is a rather lazy post, not at all a proper worldbuilding article. All I did down below is collect answers to some of the questions about angels and demons and such, which already exist in the comment sections of my previous articles, and posted them together. I’m doing this because I’ve been getting a fair amount of questions about the topic and I don’t think I’ll be able to write up a proper article about the topic any time soon. This collection will allow readers some answers without having to hunt down various disconnected comments, and give me an article to link to when people ask me about the topic in the future. I will eventually turn this into a real article, but for now this will have to do.

Angels, Demons, Spirits:

Demons are just powerful, simple-to-acquire minions with very little moral standards. They accept life force and souls as payment, which may be easier to get than money or exotic merchandise needed to hire a mage, and they are a lot less reluctant to risk their lives because they don’t really die when their vessel on the material plane is destroyed. Aside from that, some demons have been alive for a long time and have interacted with many summoners – they know secrets that many mages badly want to acquire, and can show you spells that the state would otherwise want to stay restricted or lost…

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Angels and demons (and fey and elementals) are fundamentally the same thing – spirits. Angels are spirits that serve the gods as part of the angelic hierarchy. They are bound with a multitude of rules about what they can, and have duties they must attend to, but in return they live a relatively comfortable and safe life. Demons are spirits that have rejected the gods and their hierarchy, due to being unable to stomach the many rules that bind the angels. They live in the ‘wilderness’ of the spirit realm, which is a sort of dog-eat-dog world of constant competition and strife. Demons aren’t necessarily raging sadists, but they tend to be aggressive, deceptive, and opportunistic – those that aren’t tend to be weeded out very quickly.

Officially, angels (and other spirits) were created by the gods. Unofficially, people in the know wonder if that’s really true. No currently living spirit actually remembers the creation of the world, and it’s a bit baffling why the god set up the situation as it currently is if they created the spiritual worlds and the spirits that inhabit it. Some claim that gods merely found the spirits and co-opted some of them as their servants, though the angels and most mortals find this heretical.

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Native spirits are elementals and fey. They also originate from the spirit world, but they have since then descended into the material world and decided to settle there permanently. They’ve become ‘native’. You might say they are demons that colonized the material world, except that they left the spirit so long ago and are so different from modern demons that most people assigned them to their own categories.

Since they no longer live in the spirit realm, they are not involved in the conflicts between angels and demons. They were very powerful and influential in ancient past, but their reach and territories have since then been chipped away by human expansion and they are currently rather weak and withdrawn.

Elementals and fey have already been long native to the material plane by the time humans started building civilizations.

The Silence weakened angels, but they inherited considerable infrastructure from their divine masters and eventually learned how to deal with it. Their current situation can be considered stable. Their reach in the spiritual realm has shrunk considerably, but their stronghold still remain essentially unassailable. Modern demons are bolder and more more aggressive when dealing with angels, but since angels are mostly united and demons are constantly fighting among themselves, this hasn’t result in some huge loss for the angels.

Triumvirate Church has always been strongly against demons and demon summoning, both due to their ties with the angels and due to their dogma stating that demons are essentially rebels against the gods. Demons hate them back as a result, thought from their perspective the Church is just a lackey for the angels.

Yes, the Silence definitely created more demon summoners.

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Some demons are malicious, but mostly they’re just really violent, selfish, and domineering. A demon generally has little empathy for people they don’t share a personal bond with, tends to act on a whim rather than consider wider ramification on the future or society as a whole, considers preying on those weaker than them to be perfectly right and justified, and are obsessed with being the top dog and thus free to do whatever the hell they want. Having grown up in the violent, dog-eat-dog world of their demonic realms, they see virtually every social interaction as a struggle for dominance and are prone to attack people for slightest of reasons.

Of course, to the humans and other natives of the material realm, there is little difference between this and Evil with the capital E. Even a troll would consider demons to be bloodthirsty maniacs. Set a demon loose in the material world, surrounded by a multitude of beings too weak to stop it from taking whatever it wants, and it will create a trail of atrocities in its wake. Humans in MoL are aware of this, that demons have a… ‘different perception of right and wrong’, as you call it, but that only makes demons that much more evil and heinous in their eyes.

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>You can call the spirit from the spiritual plane, but can they get here on their own?

No. They need to be summoned by somebody.

>Can a called spirit call another one?

No.

>Can spirits get into the afterlife? What are the death criteria for them?

The afterlife was created by the gods, and only things they chose can enter it. This doesn’t include spirits, but spirits never die of old age and can only be killed through soul warfare. Demons are extremely proficient in soul warfare for this reason, in a way no human can really be. Humans neither perceive souls as clearly as spirits do, nor do they depnd so heavily on their soul magic skills just to survive on a daily basis.

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Elementals are native spirits. They are largely identical to other spirits, except they have left the spiritual planes in order to settle the material world a long time ago. They have no grand king or all-encompassing hierarchy – each elemental-inhabited region has its own hierarchy and organization, sometimes with an undisputed ruler and sometimes not.

An element is anything that some elemental is an embodiment of. Elements, in the magical sense, do not exist outside elemental spirits and abilities descended from them.

Fey: A type of native spirit. Unlike elementals, who build themselves bodies made out of soil, water, fire, magma, and other relatively simple materials, fey crafted themselves bodies made out of ectoplasm. They generally look more lifelike and biological, and often take on forms of animals… but their ectoplasmic bodies are extremely maleable and they’re very proficient shapeshifters. They can mimic just about anything if they set their minds to it.

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>Can humans enter the spirit world, even temporarily, how would that work

They can, but it’s difficult and very dangerous. It involves separating one’s soul from their body and traveling there in soul form. Since it requires superb soul magic skills, the spirit world is mostly a savage land inhabited by demons, and angels don’t allow these kind of soul travelers into their strongholds, almost nobody does it.

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>What about the local spirits who were born here?

They stay here. You have to either seal them in something or use soul magic to mutilate their actual souls (their bodies are easily replaceable) to actually get rid of them.

Mind you, native spirits are a fairly mysterious part of the setting. It’s unclear under what limitations they’re actually functioning under, but it’s clear they do have them, or else it would not have been possible for humans to supplant them to an extent they did. Most people suspect they either can’t reproduce here on the material plane or are extremely limited in their ability to do so.

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Yes, demonic possession is a thing. But more than that – once a demon is summoned into the material plane, it doesn’t go back to the spiritual realms until its current vessel is destroyed. A demon in a ectoplasmic shell or a puppet can stay and cause chaos as long as they wish, they just need to find enough mana to power their vessel and avoid anyone powerful enough to banish them back to their home plane.

Most demons don’t understand human norms and culture well enough to mimic humans, but yes, it’s entirely possible. Possession of a body by a soul that doesn’t match causes the body to degrade, though, so there is an upper limit to how long such a charade can go on. Though I suppose illusions and shapeshifting magic can prolong that period indefinitely.

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>What can we know then about the sense of morality of the angels

Very little. Angels are deliberately very mysterious when interacting with material beings, supposedly because they are under a lot of restrictions about what they can and cannot say to them. They’re clearly not human in mentality, because they clearly care more about obeying the rules, listening to their superiors, and staying true to their morals, and in general take their jobs far more seriously than 99% of humanity does theirs. They care about the ideals they are supposed to embody and the duty they have to the angelic hierarchy on a deep, instinctual level that humans would find next to impossible to grasp. As far as the angels are concerned, humans and other material beings are severely lacking in dedication, thoughtfulness, and selflessness.

Angels definitely try to live up to their virtues. It’s not just a matter of them being forced to behave as they do by divine restrictions. However, it is debatable how well their virtues line up with that of humanity and other material species. Angels rarely explain their philosophy and thoughts on ethics to people, and when they do it’s always somewhat cryptic and curt.

>How would they be different from say an ultra-utilitarian who is ruthless and methodical or a deeply sensitive person who is caring and empathetic

Hard to say. I guess a ruthless and methodical angel would be far more concerned about not crossing certain invisible lines than a human, who would see laws and ethical restrictions that get in the way of their ‘utility maximization’ as annoying and onerous, and try to weasel out of them in any way they can. A caring angel would be far more thoughtful and long-term about it than a caring human, who would be far more likely to be swayed by purely emotional appeals, short-term emergencies, and so on.

>can they even manifest emotions and desires the same way humans and other sapients do

Yes.

>are there fallen angels?

No. A ‘fallen’ angel is simply classified as a demon that used to be an angel by both angels and material races.

The Dungeon

If one were to take a look at the ground beneath their feet, they would surely conclude that the foundation of the world is a solid and unyielding thing. An impression that would only grow stronger if they tried to dig deep into the earth and stone, for most of our planet is indeed composed out of hard, solid material.

And yet, this initial impression would be mistaken. Beneath the surface of our planet, there lies a vast network of caves and tunnels that extend into seemingly every corner of the planet. Some places contain denser concentration of the caves and tunnels than others, but no one has ever found a land that was entirely free of them. People call it the Underworld, the Dungeon, the Labyrinth, and countless other names. It connects to the surface world though openings both large and small, and it descends into unfathomable depths below, creating a habitat full of dangers and wonders beneath our feet.

The Dungeon had captivated humanity since the beginning of recorded history. It is the source of magic. It is the birth place of monsters. It contains inconceivable wealth and cosmic secrets. A thousand expeditions had been launched into its depths – to plunder it, pacify it, make sense of it, or simply try and reach its bottom. Many of these had disappeared without a trace, never to be heard from again. Many more had returned with little to show for it. And no one had ever found a bottom. The interest never waned, however, and where there is a will there is a way.

This document is designed to give the reader some basic facts about the topic and dispel common misconceptions about the Dungeon. It is my hope that it will spark interest in the reader about this part of our world, which is so influential in how we live our lives and yet is so often taken for granted.

The Dungeon and Mana:

Probably the most obvious trait of the Dungeon is the relationship it has with ambient mana. The Dungeon is very rich in ambient mana, and the deeper one goes the higher the concentration of ambient mana becomes. This effect doesn’t appear to ever actually stop. No matter how deep one descends, the levels of ambient mana keep growing. It is rumored that if someone goes deep enough, the levels of ambient mana become high enough to passively induce mana poisoning in human beings, regardless of whether they try to draw in ambient mana into themselves or not. Reports relating to such deep expeditions are often highly confidential, however, so confirmation is hard to find.

Ambient mana in the Dungeon is rarely static – instead, it flows from some unreachable place deep underground and gradually rises towards the surface, thinning out as it is absorbed by the walls of the tunnels and the life forms that make their home in them. The bigger and straighter the tunnels, the less mana is lost during its flow towards the surface. This can create localized areas of atypically high ambient mana density, if a large vertical shaft connects a deeper portion of the Dungeon with areas near the surface.

This flow of mana is also usually accompanied by air currents that keep dungeon air from growing too stale and make the entire underworld far more livable than it would otherwise be. Since air is constantly moving upward from the Dungeon depths but never runs out, there is presumably a source of it somewhere in the depths. This source, much like the source of ambient mana itself, has never been found.

The Dungeon is connected to the surface in many places. These kinds of Dungeon openings are very easy to detect, because they invariably raise the ambient mana levels on the surface by their very presence. Even shallow portions of the Dungeon have significantly higher levels of ambient mana than most areas on the surface, so a Dungeon opening constantly spewing plumes of mana-infused air into the area is bound to raise its mana levels. Places where the Dungeon connects to the surface like this are called mana wells.

In fact, it is widely believed by mages that all ambient mana ultimately originates from the Dungeon. The main proof for this is that if one compares the map of known mana wells with a map of ambient mana levels, it immediately becomes obvious they match almost perfectly to one another. In the rare few cases where a high level of ambient mana is not matched by an appropriately-sized mana well in the center of it, there are usually traces of a mana well that collapsed (or was forcibly closed) sometime in the past.

The Dungeon and Magical Creatures:

The Dungeon has plenty of inhabitants. One might think that the number of living beings would be highest near the surface and then gradually grow thinner and smaller as one descended into the depths, but this isn’t the case. Every corner of the Dungeon is teeming with life. It just gets progressively more powerful and alien the deeper one descends into the tunnels below.

All dungeon creatures are magical in some way. Mundane creatures sometimes colonize new mana wells before Dungeon denizens become aware of them, but they are inevitably outcompeted and driven out by magical creatures in time. After all, magical creatures can do everything a mundane creature can, but with additional advantage of magic on top, and the only limitation is that they need a certain level of ambient mana to survive. Since the ambient mana levels in the Dungeon are high, even in very shallow portions of it, they can support very powerful magical creatures that outclass mundane ones in every conceivable way.

The shallowest portions of the Dungeon – those closest to the surface – are often inhabited by magical creatures that are clearly based on mundane animals. This is where one may find things like fire-breathing beetles, hyper-agile bats, spear-like worms, and so on. Some of them may be very unusual animals, however. For instance, land dwelling octopuses that can masquerade as rocks and mushrooms, or a type of flightless bats twisted into a small humanoid form. Although dependent on high levels of ambient mana to survive, most of these creatures can survive on the surface for a brief period of time, and will sometimes raid the surface if they are desperate or driven from their homes by other threats.

Near mana wells, many magical creatures that live on the surface will adopt a hybrid lifestyle, moving freely between the surface and shallower levels of the Dungeon. Large mana wells may also have specialized species that rely on this kind of lifestyle and cannot survive without the presence of both in the area.

Finally, there are creatures that live in different area depending on the stage of their life. Some magical creatures live their initial stages on life on the surface, where there are fewer things to threaten them, but descend into the Dungeon when they grow older and the levels of ambient mana on the surface can no longer support their existence.

The biosphere of the surface layer is not uniform across the world, and in fact greatly varies from place to place. Due to the great number of bottlenecks in the local landscape, as well as other factors that are poorly understood, dungeon denizens are often localized inside their own small areas. Entering a brand new section of the Dungeon is always a dangerous undertaking, because one can never be certain what kind of creatures they would find there.

The shallow, surface layer of the Dungeon is the one more extensively explored and exploited by humanity. Although no part of the Dungeon can be said to be truly safe or totally understood, this level of the Dungeon is considered fairly accessible and even non-magical people feel confident making limited forays into it. Sections of it are routinely pacified and section off from the Dungeon as a whole to serve as storage spaces, dumping grounds, experimental chambers, mining areas, and so on.

There are a number of sapient races making their home in the shallow portions of the Dungeon, though none possess the technical or magical sophistication of humanity. Their relationships with humans are complex, but surprisingly peaceful. Though humans are interested in exploiting the Dungeon, they have no ambition to outright colonize this space and are wary of sending significant forces into subterranean tunnels. As such, unless Dungeon races raid human communities on the surface, most humans would prefer to leave them alone or engage in trade.

Deeper into the Dungeon, in what is known as the middle layer, creatures become more and more removed from the surface, both in terms of appearance and in terms of behavior. They never venture out into the surface unless some major disturbance has occurred, and would not survive there for long even if they are displaced there. Their appearance is difficult to place among standard classifications of life on the surface. Many of them are recognizably bestial in basic structure, but do not correspond to specific known animals. A middle layer denizen can be said to resemble a frog or a crab, but they are also clearly not those things when studied in detail. Vivisections often produce bizarre results, such as a weasel-like creature that entirely lacks a spine, a jellyfish being that contains a bizarrely human-like brain in its cap, or a mass of pink gel covered in eyes.

Middle layer is viewed with great fear and caution by humans, since even experienced mages could easily perish here. Dungeon denizens that make their home here are powerful and poorly studied. Information about specific species is scarce, and what little of it exists in publicly-available libraries is often useless outside of very specific sections of the middle layer. The middle layer, just like the surface one, often has a unique species and variants living in different sections of it. This means that anyone wishing to go there will be faced with a plethora of strange magical abilities that are difficult to plan and prepare for. Only an archmage, armed with a wide selection of spells and mastered magic types, can reliably take on an environment like this and emerge victorious. These people are in short supply, so forays into the middle layer are rare.

Some of the dungeon denizens on the second layer are confirmed to be sapient, but none of them seem to form large organized societies. Most of them are highly territorial and aggressive, and will not respond to human attempts at communication – they are only known to be sapient due to mind magic. The few species that are willing to communicate are difficult to talk to, as their understanding of the world is entirely alien to humans. These creatures have never left their tunnels, don’t live in civilized societies, and often make references to magical perceptions that not even mages can make sense of. They often perceive humans as both weak and stupid, and are not shy about letting them know that. No long-term trade or productive interaction has been accomplished between humanity and middle layer dungeon denizens.

What lies beyond the middle layer is shrouded in mystery. Past a certain point, the monsters become so dangerous that even the best human mages wouldn’t last long against them. Their appearance is utterly alien as well, and they can no longer be described as weird animals but instead assume utterly alien forms that rarely resemble anything familiar. Like literal monsters conjured out of speculative horror stories, these strange entities increasingly challenge one’s common sense as one delves deeper into the depths. There are rumors of beings that can exist in two different places simultaneously, creatures that can trap people inside their own private pocket dimension that they can conjure and dismantle at will, elephantine-sized predators that are totally soundless and invisible regardless of what detection magic one uses, and eel-like parasites that can phase straight through unprotected flesh so they can slowly feed on the person’s insides. Truth is hard to distinguish from fanciful tales when it comes to the Dungeon depths.

Fortunately for humans (and other surface dwellers), magical creatures that dwell in these depths are such massive mana hogs that they wouldn’t be able to survive more than an hour on the surface and would never willingly ascend that high.

Beliefs and Theories:

As stated, the Dungeon and its place in the world is a mystery. Humans have only scratched its surface and can hardly unravel its deepest mysteries at this point in time. The gods rarely gave a definitive answer about what it represents, and many of their explanations conflict with each other. That is not to say that there is a lack of theories and supposed divine wisdom preserved from before the Silence. Most cultures and religions have an explanation about the Dungeon, and many scholars have put forward various theories about the place. Until someone is able to actually reach its greatest depths and return alive, however, it is likely that it will all remain speculative.

As noted earlier in this document, something in the depths of the Dungeon is responsible for producing nearly all ambient mana in the world. Since the only other thing capable of producing mana is souls of living beings, many people believe there is something alive down there. Some people believe the world itself has a soul, which reside in the center of it. Others believe the creator god that fashioned the world sacrificed his own heart to bring life to the otherwise barren soil. One group thinks the gods built the world around the body of a sleeping giant, and that the world is doomed to ruin once he finally wakes up.

In Ikosian mythology, the dungeon is a remnant from the time the world was created, when the gods took the last Primordial Dragon and fashioned her body into the land we live in. The tunnels are dragon veins, and they all converge at the very center of the world. There, bound in divine chains but still very much aware and seething in hatred, lies the still-beating heart of the primordial dragon. This is the Heart of the World, or the Heart of the World Dragon, and is supposedly the source of all the ambient mana gushing upwards from the depths, as well as the source of monsters that stalk the tunnels.

Many people have raised doubts about this story. Unlike ancient Ikosians, we have a pretty good idea about how big our planet is, and it’s big. Very big. The amount of distance the tunnels would have to cover in order to reach the center of the planet is mind-boggling. Furthermore, some of the scientific theories are suggesting that a large portion of our planet’s interior is actually in a molten state – a giant mass of lava upon which the continents float, basically. That would seem incompatible with the idea that there are tunnels crisscrossing the entire planet all the way to the very center of it.

Many people have raised questions about how the Dungeon can even exist in its current state. They claim that natural forces should have collapsed most of the tunnel network by now, citing both scientific models and the observed rate at which human-controlled sections of the Dungeon deteriorate. The simple answer to this is that we don’t know how this works. Magic is the obvious answer, but no mage can identify the actual mechanism by which the Dungeon maintains itself. Sections of the Dungeon do collapse from time to time, but it is clear that the Dungeon is both far more resilient to structural damage than it should be, and that it has some kind of unknown mechanism for creating brand new sections to replace the destroyed ones.

There is a persistent rumor among delvers that there is a gigantic cavern somewhere deep beneath Altazia, forming what is effectively a small underground continent. Such a place has never been found, and it is unclear where the rumor originates from.

Origin of Dungeon Denizens:

There are two main theories in regards to where the monsters that inhabit the Dungeon come from: the hybrid theory and deep origin theory.

The hybrid theory states that dungeon denizens come both from the surface world and the unidentified depths below. The deeper, more alien creatures are said to have no relations to surface creatures. They originate from the bottom of the Dungeon, whatever it is, and have gradually extended their influence upwards. The inhabitants of the shallow and middle layer, however, are clearly just magical animals. They are surface creatures that have colonized the Dungeon and gradually developed magical powers due to long exposure to mana. At certain depths, these two ecologies meet, though the exact point at which this happens is in dispute. The hybrid theory is currently the more popular of the two theories.

The deep origin theory states that all dungeon denizens originate from the depths of the dungeon. The more animal-like creatures in the surface layers of the dungeon are just monsters that learned to mimic the creations of the gods to better infiltrate the surface and lure the unwary into a false sense of security. This was once the more popular of the two theories, but it has fallen in disrepute in recent times, since greater exposure to the surface dungeon denizens has shown that these creatures just aren’t that hateful and duplicitous. They’re most just vicious animals with magical powers. The spread of magic and firearms has also made dungeon denizen raids on the surface a much rarer thing than it was in the past, which makes people a lot less negative about the place.

Dungeon Journeys:

One question that is often asked is whether travel through the Dungeon can be used to circumvent surface obstacles. The answer is yes, but with some caveats.

Surface sections of the Dungeon are often poorly connected to each other. Thus, if one wants to travel large distances through the dungeon, then at the very least they need to descend into the middle layer from time to time. This means that any person or group that wishes to travel through the dungeon must be uncommonly powerful and experienced. Because large sections of the Dungeon are poorly mapped and many dungeon denizens are fond of ambushes, progress is bound to be slow. If speed is desired, traversing large stretches of the Dungeon is a poor choice of action. Finally, although the Dungeon is teeming with life, very few of it is safe to eat by human beings. Dungeon denizens, especially ones from the deeper reaches, have highly magical flesh that has strange, usually negative effects on human that eat it. Thus, you will have to ensure a steady supply of edible food throughout the journey.

Finally, a question of whether it’s possible to travel beneath the ocean to another continent through the Dungeon is sometimes raised. Such a feat would require one to descent into the deep dungeon and stay there for a long time, which is suicide for just about anyone. No one has been reported to have even attempted it, much less succeeded.

Dirge Moths

Dirge moths are fairly large species of moths with distinctive colorations: they are black with white markings that can glow when the moths are agitated. The white markings are said to be rather skeletal in appearance, especially when they glow in the dark. They are highly poisonous and only active at night. Though folk superstitions claim they lay their eggs inside corpses of people who die in the forest, they actually lay their eggs inside rotting trees. They spend most of their life (about 23 years) as larvae, feeding on wood pulp and absorbing ambient magic, spending their chrysalis stage within the safety of their wooden home before emerging en masse one night. Dirge moths do not feed, subsisting solely on the mana reserves they stockpiled as larvae, and live for just one day before dying. Within this one day they mate and find a suitable place to lay their eggs. They possess highly developed soul sense, which they use to track down and judge potential mates. It is also useful for avoiding threats, though dirge moths are too poisonous for most things and rarely attacked.

The most useful part of the dirge moth is the chrysalis, which must be harvested in just the right moment. It is easy to recognize if the harvester picked the right moment for an experienced alchemist, because the contents of a properly harvested chrysalis are a milky white slime as opposed to an orange-tinted chunky contents of a too-soon harvested one, or a black jelly exhibited by a too-late harvested one. The chrysalis can be used for a variety of potions, but is most important as a component for potions that grant soul perception to people.

Although dirge moths are only active for one day every 23 years, they are actually quite numerous in the northern wilderness of Altazia. As such, their chrysalises can he harvested in great numbers when the right time comes. The Triumvirate Church uses this to create soul perception potions on a mass scale, turning many of its priests into soul mages every 23 years. The resulting abundance of soul mages has done a lot for keeping the Triumvirate Church a powerful and influential force in modern times, despite losing their divinely-granted powers in the Silence.

It was the Triumvirate Church who developed and perfected the dirge moth potion. However, the final recipe was so simple and reliable that it eventually leaked outside the Church hierarchy and became wildly employed in necromantic circles. The church is very unhappy about this and has tried for quite a while to hunt down these recipes and destroy them, without much success. These days they have mostly given up on this, as it has become obvious that this is a lost cause – too many people know the recipe now to truly suppress it – but they have still made actual usage of the potion illegal in many countries.

Even before the soul perception potions had been developed and become widespread, dirge moths have always had a heavy association with death and necromancy, likely because of their skeletal markings and highly poisonous nature. They were said to flutter about around dying people, waiting for them to breathe their final breath so they could steal their souls as it leaves the body.

Morlock societies, before their destruction at the hand of Ikosian refugees, considered them sacred in some way. This probably only added to their sinister, deathly reputation among surface inhabitants of pre-Ikosian Altazia.

Adult dirge moths and over-ripe chrysalises can be harvested for their poison, though trade in it is illegal. The larvae have very high mana reserves, but have no known use in alchemy – though many magical creatures consider them an absolute delicacy.

Hunters & Exterminators

Monster Hunters:

Mages who hunt and kill monsters that menace humanity from the wilderness. This is arguably the most important job of mages from the perspective of humanity as a whole, since non-magical humans have a hard time dealing with the tougher monsters out there without magical support. Without mage monster hunters, humanity would be limited to a handful of scattered enclaves, constantly getting picked off by creatures they could not hope to match.

Monster hunters almost never work alone. They move around in groups of 10 or more, both for safety and to make sure they cannot be easily brushed off when the job is done and it’s time to collect payment. Mundane people have a love-hate relationship with them – they need their services, but they often feel they demand too much in exchange. The line between monster hunters and bandits gets pretty thin, sometimes.

Hunter groups do not have to be made exclusively out of mages, and in fact usually aren’t. Especially in modern times, with guns having decisively proved their usefulness, the numbers are often padded with mundane people. In the past these people were clearly second-class members compared to the mages, but the advent of guns have changed this dynamic to be less lopsided. Not every mage is happy with this, but some mages have discarded traditional group dynamics and simply filled the entire group with gun-wielding mercenaries, with only one mage providing magical support.

Traditional hunter groups usually have several specialists working together – at least one mage skilled in projection to deal critical damage to the enemies, at least one diviner to track down their target, and at least one warder to stop any exotic magics from wiping out the group. Hunter groups usually inform themselves very well about the target in order to exploit its weaknesses and block its strengths. Many of them will refuse to go after completely unknown threats, or will require ruinous fees in exchange.

Exterminators:

A subset of monster hunters that deal with weak but numerous enemies that infest buildings, fields and the like. Rodents, birds and insects are the common target for this kind of thing. This is considered a less prestigious, but safer type of profession from the monster hunter. However, safer doesn’t mean safe. It is hardly unknown for exterminators to end up dying while performing their tasks. Unexpectedly getting swarmed by magical rats or hornet swarms can panic even the most experienced mages, and the true size of the infestation is easy to misjudge unless one has a lot of field experience.

Because of the reduced chances of dying, exterminators rarely congregate in large groups. They commonly work in pairs, and some even operate alone if they’re particularly experienced or confident. If a challenging job comes up, they may form into larger congregations, but many exterminators specifically chose their job because it was relatively safe and will refuse to risk their lives for money. If the infestation is very extensive, many exterminators will just advise the employer to scour the whole place clean with fire or write it off as a loss.

Exterminators often dabble in multiple fields of magic, having wide but shallow understanding of each. They usually have some knowledge of projection, divination, warding and mind magic. Mind magic is employed to manipulate their target, which are typically very vulnerable to mind magic and can thus be influenced by it very easily. This use of mind magic is considered completely uncontroversial.

Magic Users of Pre-Ikosian Altazia

Before the Cataclysm and the resulting large-scale migration of Ikosian mages to Altazia, the continent was a complex landscape of warring tribes and isolated city states. Well, the human parts of it, anyway. Altazian humans were far less populous and widespread back then, with many areas off-limits to human settlement. The forests and swamps were larger and darker, the territories of yetis and trolls more extensive and entrenched, and the various native spirits often claimed the choicest bits of land for themselves.

Regardless, although this human civilization was in many ways primitive and did not have the magical sophistication of the Ikosians that conquered them, they had developed several magical traditions of their own. Most of these were not anything special to the Ikosians, who had by this point already absorbed magical traditions of many other tribal groups. However, three traditions would prove to be exceptionally novel and influential, changing Ikosian magical tradition forever after. Specifically, the magical traditions of the shifters, the witches and the morlocks. For now, we will consider the witches and the morlocks in more detail.

Witches:

Altazian magical traditions, just like traditions of many other peoples, were heavily connected to their native religions. Only the priesthood was allowed to wield magic openly, and anyone dabbling in magic was condemned as foolish and a danger to society. This idea was not without merit, since such amateurs often made pacts with less-than-friendly spirits to gain their magic, but people often found themselves in need of a mage outside the existing power structure. Priests were only human, after all, and had their grudges and vendettas just as everyone else. Plus, sometimes one needed the sort of help that the local priest just wouldn’t be willing to provide.

Fortunately for such people, there was an alternative. Since most Altazian cultures were very patriarchal, women generally couldn’t become community priests. However, it was inevitable that some would come into possession of magic, either through simple accident of birth or through a mage father who decided to teach them what he knew for one reason or another. Such women were effectively outside the traditional power structure, since they couldn’t be recruited into the priesthood and trying to get rid of them was often unwise. Nobody wanted to make an enemy out of a mage whose powers they could barely understand, and this was doubly true in places like pre-Ikosian Altazia were magical education was rare and one couldn’t simply call the local mage guild for help if they angered the wrong person. Thus, so long as such ‘witches’ didn’t make too much of a nuisance of themselves, they were allowed to live their lives on the edges of their communities and offer their magical services to those who sought them out.

Of course, such a position was a rather precarious one. Many people who came to visit a witch did so because they needed access to shady or illegal magic, and those that didn’t were often desperate and had trouble paying for their services. Enforcing payment was a problem, since witches had considerable issues taking matters to community judicial systems. The priesthood was rarely entirely happy with the arrangement and did their best to work against them in any way they could. Unsurprisingly, this caused witches to acquire very unpleasant reputations. They found it hard to marry, weren’t welcome in polite company and were the first to be suspected when a supernatural crime occurred anywhere near them.

Shunned, yet armed with potent magic and prideful about that fact, witches began to tackle their problems by turning to each other for help. They befriended other witches around them, sharing their magical insights, caring for one another when sick or otherwise disabled and coming to each other’s defense when threatened by outsiders. In time these gatherings were formalized into what are today known as ‘covens’, and developed their own customs and traditions. These covens often ignored tribal lines, as witches came to think of themselves as witches first and members of their community second. They grew insular and secretive, with an attitude towards normal society that was often antagonistic or even outright predatory.

Of course, the covens only worsened the reputation of witches among normal society… but they also made people leery of targeting them. The covens policed their own members, punishing the worst of the excesses, but any attack on one of their members was met with immediate retaliation by the rest of the coven.

Witches dabbled in all sorts of magics, but they were most infamous for their potion making skills. This appears to be a consequence of their highly antagonistic relationship with the local priesthood, which forced them to figure out an alternative source of magical healing. Thus, witches took the rudimentary herbal remedies that were present in virtually every culture in existence and slowly refined them into downright supernatural cures. The initial versions of the potions were quite underwhelming compared to divine healing, and thus of little interest to outside mages, but they were relatively cheap and thus often used by the poorer segments of society. Eventually, witches developed these rudimentary cures and healing potions into ever more powerful versions and then started branching out into non-medical applications such as mind-affecting drugs (such as the infamous love potions), transformation potions and poisons.

In addition to their increasingly refined potion skills, witches were known to be skilled in soul magic – though not soul magic as most modern Altazians would understand it. Witches rarely went for actual animation of corpses, instead using soul magic for enforcing deals with outsiders through magical geas, forging familiar links and deciphering people’s true attitudes by studying their soul auras.

This common usage of soul magic, and the corresponding proliferation of soul perception, had great influence on the witches and their beliefs. Many a witch has obtained soul perception and then had a child, allowing them to observe the process by which souls are created in developing children. In short, the soul of a child seems to ‘bud off’ from the soul of the mother. At some point (quite a while before the actual birth of the child) this soul bud separates from the mother and becomes the property of the baby alone. Although children clearly do inherit things from the father, to anyone observing the process with soul perception, the soul itself seems to originate from the mother alone.

The Ikosians (and most other groups) believe this only means some parts of the process are invisible to humans, even with soul perception. They cite the fact that children can inherit magical abilities from their father as their chief proof that there is more going on beneath the surface. Witches, on the other hand, placed tremendous importance on the fact that a child’s soul seemingly comes from the mother alone. They believed only female children could truly continue their bloodlines. A person’s ‘soul lineage’ originated solely from their female ancestors, and sons are basically spiritual dead ends.

According to ancient Altazians, many witches had a habit of quietly killing off their male offspring because of this belief. It is hard to know how much of that is true, but it does appear some covens had a habit of doing that – especially during hard times when the witch had trouble supporting all of her children. Most witches had a more nuanced philosophy, however, and found plenty of uses for male children – they were often married off to witches from other covens to forge links and cement alliances, or just raised as loyal helpers and workers for the coven.

After the Silence of the Gods, witches rose considerably in prominence. Without divine healing, their potions became the primary source of magical healing and medical care on the continent, which put them in a position of considerable power. Although the breakdown of social order and traditional power balance that followed in the wake of the Silence claimed the lives of many witches, many more had profited immensely in the aftermath. Thus, in many regards, the century between the Silence of the Gods and the coming of the Cataclysm is considered something of a golden age of the witch covens.

Yet, it was precisely this golden age that created the fractures in the covens that Ikosians would exploit when they came to Altazia. Suddenly finding themselves in this new position of increased demand, many covens struggled to maintain direction and discipline. The leadership of the covens had always been very tradition-bound and based heavily on age. They disdained outside ideas and young witches with more ambition than experience. That had been fine in the past, when young witches needed the support of their covens and had nowhere else to go, but as the world around them started to change more in their favor, they found themselves less willing to tolerate the restrictions their elders placed on them.

When the Ikosians started flooding into the continent, they almost immediately started tempting these young, ambitious witches into their service. Having lost their source of divine healing just like everyone else, they appreciated the alternative that their healing potions represented immensely. Unlike the natives, Ikosian mages had no problems with legitimizing these ‘female mages’, giving them positions of authority, marrying them and even granting them the status of nobility in some cases. Though these ‘defectors’ tended to be young and only possessed the very basics of witch potion making and magic… it was enough. Ikosians took those basics and gradually developed them into what is today known as alchemy, eventually far outstripping the witches in terms of sophistication.

As Ikosians finished their conquests and started re-organizing their territories, they began to crack down on unlicensed mages. This included the witches, of course. Many skirmishes and wars were fought, with witches finding themselves on the losing side more often than not. Faced with a choice between fighting a losing battle or assimilating into Ikosian mage communities while they still could, many covens ended up disbanding or fracturing.

The Ikosians stopped hounding the witches once they had destroyed the bulk of the covens, believing that the remnants would quietly fade away in time. In this they miscalculated somewhat, since some covens survived the witch wars and exist even today. However, these covens have been irrevocably changed by the conflicts, and are vastly different from how they were in the past. Modern witches make considerable use of the Ikosian spellcasting system in their daily lives, and often even take inspiration from alchemy to improve their traditional cauldron-based potion making. They still exist on the margins of society, however, due to lingering prejudices among the populace and their own unwillingness to toe the line in regards to magical regulations. Their insistence on having their daughters inherit their surnames and insistence that the child inherits the soul exclusively from the mother do not help, either, as they are things that clash heavily with the prevalent cultural norms across most of Altazia.

Overall, the legacy of the witches is felt keenly across Altazia. Modern society would be almost unrecognizable without the existence of alchemy, and many of the powerful mage families and even Noble Houses draw their roots from ancient witch lineages.

Morlocks:

Although there are many varieties of humans in the world, few were as distinctive as the culture of subterranean humans that once built underground kingdoms beneath Altazia. The morlocks.

The most noticeable things about the morlocks are their white hair and their vivid blue eyes. Ancient records often describe morlock eyes as literally shining in the dark, but modern morlocks do not exhibit such traits – it is likely these were just cases of magical intimidation on the part of the morlocks in question. They do not have any innate supernatural abilities, but most of them see very well in low-light conditions and have excellent hearing. They also do not appear to suffer any health issues from spending prolonged periods of time in total darkness. Contrary to rumors, the sun does not burn them or hurt their eyes – at least not if they’ve grown up on the surface like most modern morlocks.

As one can figure out from the description, morlocks are a breed of humanity specifically adapted for underground existence. At some unknown point in the past, the ancestors of the morlocks colonized the surface layers of Altazia’s Dungeon, battling the creatures living there for living space and occasionally raiding the surface for things they could not acquire in their underground homes. What exactly compelled their ancestors into making that choice is unknown, and the morlocks’ myths are inconsistent and fractured about that point.

Regardless, the morlocks were surprisingly successful in their underground habitat. At their height, just before the Silence of the Gods, they had the highest level of technology and magical sophistication on the continent. They were extremely feared and hated by the other human groups, however, for they had the habit of raiding them for slaves and tribute. Worse, many of the slaves had ghastly fates waiting for them, for the morlocks excelled in blood magic and used it often… and had religious appreciation for cannibalism. They believed that through eating the flesh of their enemies they could steal their powers and that through eating the flesh of their ancestors they could preserve their wisdom.

It is likely that this widespread use of blood magic and belief in the benefits of cannibalism are linked closely together. After all, one could gain another’s powers through blood magic – and indeed, many of the high ranking morlocks were armed with at least one power they had stolen from someone through the use of such – so it’s not so farfetched to believe one could go even further by taking more than just blood…

The Silence of the Gods hit morlock society very hard. Although most known for their blood magic, the truth is that morlock society depended most heavily on divinely-granted powers, just like most human societies. Without the support of their gods, the morlocks found themselves struggling, and started raiding the surface humans more heavily for slaves and sacrifices. Thus, when the Ikosians came to Altazia, one of the first targets the locals pointed out to them was the morlock underground kingdoms.

The Ikosians didn’t have the numbers or the will to wage an underground war on the scale that would be necessary to thoroughly crush the morlocks. But they didn’t have to. Simply by virtue of stopping their surface raids and destroying their most prominent centers of power, they broke the backs of morlock kingdoms and left them vulnerable to assaults by underground creatures. In the end, the surviving morlocks were forced to abandon their underground holdings and journey to the surface in several waves, where they were forced to surrender to the Ikosian authorities and beg for mercy.

The terms they were offered tended to be harsh. The Ikosians found the morlock beliefs and practices odious and blasphemous, and the natives under them hated them to the core and advocated to have them exterminated outright. Thankfully for them, as much as Ikosian authorities expressed disgust at the very idea of their blood magic, plenty of powerful mages found the idea… intriguing.

In the end, the Ikosians decided to give morlocks a chance. As the various morlock groups streamed out of the Dungeon, they were presented with the same or similar deal – they would be forced to convert en masse to the Ikosian faith and scattered throughout the land to speed up assimilation, but they would be allowed to live. Some of the morlock groups were not willing to suffer this wholesale destruction of their culture and returned to the Dungeon, where they descended into the fathomless depths in search of something. They were never heard from again, and are surely dead now.

Though the Ikosians had hoped to quickly assimilate the morlocks by breaking them up and suppressing their culture, the reality proved to be not that simple. Altazian natives wanted nothing to do with the morlocks, and the morlocks themselves often found themselves turning to crime, alcoholism and the like. Today, they still tend to exist on the periphery of society and suffer heavy discrimination.

Their blood magic is also alive and well. Partially because many of the morlocks still retain some of their ancient magical traditions, and partially because many of the Ikosian mages secretly compiled many of their techniques and kept passing them around, and so blood magic refuses to die out.

And, though it is not said in polite company, it is well known that many of the modern Houses and magical bloodlines would not exist without the blood magic acquired from the morlocks…