— Verses One to Five of The First Lay, written testament of the Herald.
This was the world’s beginning and the start of life upon it. The four forces that shaped the world after the pure and ordered example of its designer rebelled against their creator. Yet their profligacy was only in keeping with their nature and their purpose: to harness the powers of change and motion and chaos to the yoke of making and unmaking. And so without the Word’s encompassing oversight, the four Winds created in their own image.
Life. As mutable, unstable, fickle, untempered as the Winds themselves. From the Gross Matter that comprised the world – from admixtures, dilutions, derivations of Fire, Earth, Air, Water – they shaped the bodies of all living things. Yet to quicken them they shared more directly of themselves, imbuing shaped matter with their final gift. This was the gift of the Cambia: an imbalanced balance of four humours, each comprising the essence of a Wind of creation. And they gave to none more generously than they gave to Man.
Man was made to be more sentient, more sapient than any other living creature, filled with greater potential and subject to greater change. The humours are the source of all virtue in Mankind. Yet by the Cambia all life is tied to the whims of the Winds. And though they gave Man thought and feeling, the Winds do not think, the Winds do not feel. They simply are. And what they are is change, creation, destruction, and revolt.
For their rebellion, the Winds and the world were orphaned by the Word which no longer spoke through them, ordering and balancing. Left to the Winds, all creation was marked by sin. None more so than Man.
So the savage eons turned, and a Dark Age took hold. The world was a wild place, unordered, subject to the whims of the Winds.
They blew through the World and in their wake brought change, twisting old creations into new and monstrous shapes. The landscape itself was made strange in places. Simple beasts warped into the blood-mad nightmares known as Kine. A worse fate was reserved for Man when the winds blew strong with change. He would become Kin, doomed to hate and hunt all that he once was.
And Mankind sought mercy. In the Dark Age they erected idols and invented gods, giving the Winds names to cry out in praise and fear, and carven faces to plead to. Yet the Winds are unthinking, unfeeling, nameless, faceless, and though they spared some the fate of the Kinchange, their hold on the hearts of Man only grew.
It was in this time that Man received the Winds’ second gift. This was the gift of Magick: the means by which to direct and control the powers of the Winds, at cost of taking that power into oneself. A terrible cost, for that way lies madness first, and finally it warps the body.
Yet the Word took pity, and gave Mankind one chance at salvation. It would speak again through the World, but the power of its Word would destroy even as it saved. And so the Word spoke softly, and the first Herald was born, with the will and power of the Word in their mind.
Centuries ago and far to the East, the Lay began with a prophet who called himself the Herald. He claimed to speak for the Word that made the world, and for the One who was the Word turned godhead. The One who was the Word’s pity, the Word’s mercy, and the world’s one chance for salvation. The One who was the Word’s promise to speak through the world once more.
The Word spoke through the One, who in turn spoke through the Herald. Mankind was created and born in bondage to the Winds. Every humour that gave thought and life also gave an inheritance of sin. This sin fed the Winds, and made them strong. It gave them the sway and power to change and twist the world. For fear of that change, Man had set up cruel gods through which to placate the Winds and beg to be spared. But that was the greatest sin.
In the One and its Herald, Mankind had been given one chance to free themselves. By rejecting the last sin of their false deities, the other smaller sins could be forgiven. By turning from the many and worshipping the One, and spreading this message through the world, the Winds would starve, and weaken, and fade away.
For you were made by the Word’s own hands. Yet did those hands prove profligate and renegade. Yet in you is the power of creation, worn as mark of sin. Yet what in you is sinful, through the One shall turn to grace and absolution. Your minds shall be eased from the skew of your Cambia. In your thoughts there will be peace.
And then shall your hands be the new hands of the Word. By these unnumbered hands, you shall rebuild the world to be a living paradise. And only then shall the wilds be tame. And only then shall the nights hold no terror. And only then will the Winds fall still, and your fates and bodies and minds shall be your own. By the mercy of the One and the toil of your hands, it shall be done.
The Herald preached deliverance through praise of his new old god. But the Herald had been born in a land of witch-kings and priest-queens, mired in submission. There was no place for the words of the One in this land. The Herald led his followers through the unpeopled Windstricken wilds of the world to carve out a new land for themselves.
They travelled three years in the wilds. The Herald turned away the terrors of Kin and Kine, and saved his followers from change and madness. Finally they came to a place where a great river mouthed into the sea. Where stony hills stood on the edge of a vast twilit steppe. There they built a seven-walled city and called it Cor.
From Cor outwards, the strength of the Winds lessened with prayer. Pilgrims flocked to Cor to join the world’s liberation. But the witch-kings and priest-queens ceased to hear their gods, and their sin-won power slackened and waned. Cor found enemies in them, and soon the city was surrounded and besieged.
For seven years the siege wore on. Each year a new ring of walls fell. And for seven years, the Herald heard the Word through the One, and dictated to scribes. When the city’s central citadel fell, the dictation was complete. The Herald gave himself up to his enemies, asking only that his followers and the city be spared. He was buried alive and drowned; he was burnt and torn asunder by crows. The Herald died. Yet in his wake he had left the dictated work: a text known as The First Lay. Its last words read, “And though the Herald dies, a Herald there will always be.”
Within months, another Herald had risen. The preaching began again, and a new pilgrimage came to Cor. Once again, Cor was conquered, but the Lay sprang up anew, and another Herald preached in place of the second. The Lay spread. Slowly, as the new succession of Heralds worked with scribes and priests, another text was written. A book of rules and laws and proverbs derived from The First Lay. This new text came to be called The Last Lay.
The First Lay was the book that survived the seven razings and rebuildings of a single city. The Second Lay was the book that birthed an empire. With The Second Lay finished, the faithful of Cor went to war, to spread their new faith by the sword. And so, with the founding of a religion called the Lay, an empire grew under the same name, ruled from a city renamed Cor Lantanstin. And the salvation of the world began.
…Or so the Lay teaches. This is the Lay’s world history, and the Lay’s vision of its future. The Lay once reigned all through the Lantamark, and even now the truth holds true by its grace alone.
This massive reach of land has been many things in the past. In what’s termed the Dark Age by the Lay’s calendar, it was called Tethica, Morain, Lauranta, Soth, and many names more, forgotten, or remembered by few. As the Lay set out to unify it under one faith, the Lay became an expanding land empire. Over the following centuries the Lay conquered, and so referred to all lands West of Cor Lantanstin as ‘The Lantamark’ — ‘The Land of the Lay’.
But today this name is all that remains of the unified empire that Lay history teaches once reigned supreme. Centuries ago, the Lay conquered and civilised out to what it reckoned to be the world’s absolute limits. But to bring thousands of miles, hundreds of peoples, trackless wilderness and pockets of settlement under the yoke of one faith and one culture is no simple thing. The empire of the Old Lay fractured and split, leaving shards and remnants throughout the nations of the Lantamark.
In the East, a fertile flatland is bounded by the Tethic ocean to the South, the barren steppes of Sithie to the North, with Cor Lantanstin seated at its far eastern edge. This land is all the empire the Lay holds now. As a nation and a religion, it’s called the Coric Lay.
A dynasty of Heirophants rule from Cor Lantanstin, as secular and religious leaders, based on a claim of direct descent from Dasilt, the seventh Herald. As Dasilt was responsible for leading the first conquering forces out from the city and founding the Old Lay, the Coric Lay sees itself as the successor of the ancient empire. The rest of the Lantamark sees it as a clutch of heretics, squatting in the ruins of a fading world, on the edge of civilisation.
In the West, the Old Lay’s fall left behind an intricate patchwork of diverse cultures and peoples, united in theory by what at first glance seems to be a shared faith. These are the Orphan Lands. The land-hungry sovereign kingdom of Gallais. The ten smaller bickering kingdoms that span the mainland coast and islands of Eska. The city-states of princes and merchant-lords that divide up the peninsula and isles of Kotali. The republic of Naica, the lands of Doura, Tonavra, Vetovica. Baronies and duchies and backwater kingdoms, absent on maps but home to many…
The Orphan Lands vie for territory amongst themselves. By turns they trade with, attempt to colonise, or resist invasions from the many pagan peoples of the Tethic archipelago to the Lantamark’s south. But they all pay homage to the same god, the One, who speaks through the court of the current Herald in the independent holy city of Tor Avoss. The common people keep their own native tongues, but in worship and diplomacy they all speak Lantic, the tongue of The First and Last Lays, and of the faith they all share: the Avosi Lay.
Just as the Old Lay failed to unify the world under one just and fair empire, neither branch of the modern Lay’s faith – Avosi or Coric – has yet fulfilled its promise to build a free paradise in the Lantamark.
Though the so-called Dark Age has ended, its darkness yet remains. This is a world shaped and haunted by strange forces. The pagans of the present and the past made gods of them. The Lay termed them the Winds, or the Maelstrom. And perhaps these terms have some truth in them. They’re as natural as the wind or a storm, beyond the power of humankind yet holding humankind in their power.
This is a world where humans crowd themselves in traps of their own making, and restrict themselves to never venturing far from the familiar. Towns, villages, cities, roads, in these places humankind is safe from all but itself. But in the wild parts of the world, beyond the edges of the beaten track, the Maelstrom reigns and the Winds blow strong, and monsters walk the earth…
Let us consider first the Cambia. That is, as the common man would say, the four humours. But it is also to say a good deal more, as well a scholar knows.
To the uninitiated, to say the word Cambium is simple shorthand. For Blood, for Biles both Yellow and Black, and for Phlegm. The balance, imbalance, and dynamic of these four fluids within a man — that is his Cambium, and he may well think Cambia to mean the same thing.
This is no small mistake, and yet the Cambium itself is no small thing. For we observe and know from childhood that nothing is so key a factor in determining the temper, the body, the whole person of an individual than is their Cambium. A thing so strong as to be downflow and distillate through the generations of a family. Is it any surprise, then, that in the theology of our Lay, the Cambium is thought of as the seat of all a person’s thought and sense? All virtue and all vice?
But a scholar knows the import of these humours is not essential and inherent. Rather their power and sway comes from the four essences they each contain and circulate through the body. Sankua, Kholei, Melakhol, and Philakhma — sky, fire, earth, and water, in absolute alchemical form.
A scholar knows that these four essences are the stuff our world is built on. They are the Cambia. And as the Lay teaches that the Cambium makes the man, so too does the alchemist know that the Cambia comprise the world.
— From Alkemikhei Organika, by Emeril of Quainselt, Undermaster of Physick at the Scholarium of Caudeval in Gallais.
In the Lantamark, philosophy concerns itself with the learning and knowing of everything that religion doesn’t already elucidate. Hard philosophy examines and analyses what can be seen, touched, counted. Supple philosophy investigates and hypothesises all the uncertainties left out of that purview.
Alchemy is the pursuit that binds all branches of philosophy together. Or so its proponents would claim. Their theories unite the practical and the abstract, the inanimate world with the organic, and this world with what lies beyond. Modern alchemy would seem at first to owe much to the Lay in borrowed terminology, shared world orders. It is however a study older than that young religion. Like much in the Lantamark, it has adopted the Lay’s trappings for survival’s sakes.
Known variously as the Allstudy and the Eternal Work, alchemy both begins and hopes to end with a theory of all things. Though there’s much disagreement among alchemists across the Lantamark, the foundations of alchemical scholarship remain the same. While some of these truths are hoarded up as secrets of the learned, many are accepted as common knowledge by even the lowest of folk.
What is generally called ‘the world’ refers to everything encompassed within the celestial sphere. That is to say, the realm of physical things contained inside and beneath the utmost limits of the sky. Beyond that is what the Lay states was once the Void, but has since the dawn of creation been the unknowable infinite realm of the Word.
In the world, alchemy states that everything is comprised of four essential elements known collectively as the Cambia.
Sankua is the element of air, wind, sky; gaseous states of matter; pervasiveness, lightness, and flux; the White Wind. Melakhol is the element of earth and stone; solid states of matter; stability, density, and constancy; the Black Wind. Philakhma is the element of water; fluid states of matter; mutability, adaptability, and protean things; the Blue Wind. Kholei is the element of fire, light, heat; states of energy; volatility and catalysis transformation into dynamic forms; the Red Wind.
While none of the Cambia is found in raw pure form, all matter in the world is built from mixtures – and mixtures of mixtures – of those four essential elements. This hierarchy of amalgamated dilutions and derivations is referred to generally as gross matter, ordered according to the relative purity of the Cambia within a given substance.
Mud or rainwater are comprised of base and mongrel medleys of dilute muddled substances known collectively as dross, rating low in the alchemical order. Sulphur or silver, for instance, might be valued more highly, being comprised of reagents or being reagents in and of themselves — that is to say, the next order of gross matter: purer simpler alloys of things closer in nature to the Cambia. Then come the potent vitriols, gathered for example from lightning. Shortlived as the bold may be, lightning is seen as a near-direct fusion of Sankua and Kholei. Though degraded by contact with the earth, powerful vitriols are still gathered from freshly thunderstruck places and objects.
The value of these substances is not only philosophical or aesthetic, and neither is their ordering. They have more tangible applications in the art of practical alchemy. The uses of the art are as follows:
Searching out higher and purer orders of substances in pursuit of the Cambia themselves. Whether through attempts to find them in the world as ready resources. Or by refining, rendering, splitting or purifying more base forms of matter into their constituents, and repeating, and repeating.
Alchemically combining higher orders of gross matter to create new samples of lower substances. In theory, if the order of Reagent were high enough – if the Cambia were ever harvested or harnessed – any substance could be mixed from them.
Mixing and distilling of certain forms of dross, reagents, and vitriols into elixirs, oils, hale-fumes, infused with any number of virtues and made to a multitude of purposes. This final application is the most ubiquitous and widely appreciated.
However, there is also another strain of theory in alchemy. Judged heretical by the Lay, some ambitious practical alchemists still pursue it for the sake of its potentially great rewards. The theory runs that beyond the celestial sphere is a fifth essence, of a higher order than the four Cambia. It is the essence of the Word itself, older than the four elements, and therefore translatable into even the pure Cambia themselves — and anything else afterward! It is what makes the stars and sun and moon shine. It is their light that brings new essence to existence as it mingles with the Gross Matter of the world and takes new forms, new shapes. And if that fifth essence were ever to be harnessed..?
But of course, to assault the Celestial Sphere; to find in the realm behind it absolute proof of the Word’s existence or absence; to harvest and harness the power of creation itself? The Lay would not approve.
All worldly things trace their composition back to the Cambia. Life is not an exception to this rule. In fact, the Cambia are essential to life itself. Circulated through the body in highly concentrated and relatively pure fluid media called humours, the Cambia are the catalyst for motion and sentience. Taken together, the essences contained in the humours are known as a given creature’s Cambium.
This is true of all living creatures. However, simpler beasts have simpler and more dilute Cambiums, generally with a prevalence of one particular humour. Being the most complex of creatures, the Cambiums of humans are concentrated and diverse. Theory suggests that this accounts for human longevity and intelligence, compared with other animals. But it also gives rise to the variety of character and appearance that make each human being unique.
It is worth noting the implications of this fact for a practical alchemist. The humours of any animal contain many potent reagents. As such, the tissue and organs of creatures are some of the most readily available and efficient alchemical resources one can lay hands on. None more so than the humour-rich bodies of humans.
The balance, dynamic, and proportions of the humours in a human’s Cambium determine a wide variety of factors to one extent or another. Physical appearance, personality, susceptibility to particular ailments or particular sins, and even vulnerability to the affects of a certain Wind.
Generally speaking, the balance of a person’s Cambium is inherited. It is the combination of their parents’ Cambiums, and theirs ancestors before them. While all the humours are present in each human being, and while there may be a relatively even mix, one humour will always take precedence as the dominant force in their Cambium. According to their dominant humour, everyone in the Lantamark can be grouped into one of four temperaments: Sankuin, Kholeic, Melakholic, Philakhmetic.
The Sankuin have Blood for their dominant humour. They are known to be airish in their features, though this can have a wide variety of effects. Thin wispy hair or hair thick as clouds. Birdish bones, pale irises, wide-set eyes are all common, as is restless body language. Skin-tones and hair colours across the temperaments are very variable but the Sankuin tend towards extremes of very pale or near-bluish black in warm shades. They are generally open-hearted, their trust easily won and easily lost. Words come fluent and easy to them and many great linguists have been primarily Sankuin. Often they are brim-full of ideas, and can be very imaginative. However, they can also tend to be forgetful and flighty. The Sankuin find commitment difficult, are easily bored, and find wanderlust hard to resist. The Lay teaches their most common sins are hedonism and inconstancy.
The Kholeic have Yellow Bile for their dominant humour. They are fiery-featured. Hair often has some wildness to it, whether in untamed straight tangles or smoke-twisting curls. Red-hued hair is more common amongst the Kholeic, though ashen shades and dull charcoal-blacks are also prevalent. Likewise, complexions tend to be warm, ranging from ashen to copper to jet. However, tones are often desaturated except when blushing, which Kholeics do fiercely. Eyes can be wide and intense, often light-brown, deep amber, or sepia. Kholeics are generally spontaneous and driven when devoted to a task. They can be ambitious and passionate in a way that’s almost infectious, making many quite charismatic. However, their moods can be volatile and harsh, leading them to speak or act impulsively, often cruelly even to those they value. The Lay teaches their most common sins are wrath and pride.
The Melakholic are ruled by their Black Bile. They are earthy in appearance. Hair and skin-tones tend towards the deep cool brown of clay, oak, umber. Irises are often near-black or deep green. However, albinism is also more common among the Melakholic. Hands tend to be broad and strong-fingered, eyes deep-set and thickly lashed. Stature is often solid or well-grounded, though willowy hickory-limbed physiques are not unusual. Melaholics are generally serious, deep-thinking, long-planning, with strong analytic minds and a visionary flair towards ideal outcomes. They have a rigid sense of the standards they, the world, and those around them should meet. As workers they are diligent, tenacious, and fastidious. Melakholics are prone to perfectionism, as both a blessing and a curse. They form bonds with others slowly and can tend to doubt their intentions. While Kholeics are quick to anger and quick to calm, Melakholics hold grudges and have long-rising slow-receding moods. The Lay teaches that their most common sins are solitude and despair.
The Philakhmetic are born with an excess of Phlegm. They are known to have watery features. Their hair is often thick and glossy with a heavy hang to it. Hair colouration is variable but tends towards darker shades of existing colours: deep honey blond, midnight black for instance. Complexions are also diverse though tones are often deep and cool, with a certain translucency and smoothness to them. Eyes are most commonly blue, whether light, or shaded with slate or flint, or qith ocean-green. Faces and features tend to be long and fine. Philakhmetics are patient, careful workers, thinkers, and speakers. They are inwardly consistent but practically adaptable, and learn quickly. Their emotions tends to be placid and they are often known as effective mediators between more tempestuous people and positions. Philakhmetics are insightful into the emotions and mental states of others, understanding them easily and proving to be receptive listeners. However, this insight often does not always translate into sympathy or empathy, and Philakhmetics are thought of as cold or distant — fiercely loyal to a select few, manipulative towards many. Their adaptability leads to a social mutability, and they can be accused of having many faces. The Lay teaches that their most common sins are covetousness and callousness.
Most people’s temperaments are blended, with one dominant humour and one or more as a close second. Those of too pure a Cambium can be otherworldly in appearance, unbalanced in their minds, and may be unable to reproduce successfully. In wilder parts of the world, such people are distrusted or ostracised. They my be called Kinlings or Changelings for their unusual appearances, and for their deep-rooted connection and susceptibility to the call and pull of the Winds…
Part Three. Winds and Wild Places; Kin and Kine.
“…Crow fly, cat wail.
Night-black feather and catkin tail...”
She sang hoarsely to herself. The world around was too wide to sing back. Not an echo, not a slip of sound from the broad pewter sky or the gaping circumference of horizon. She’d skirted round the pinewood. Hadn’t da taught her, Kanna, never trust any herb too stubborn to die in Winter. Besides, any forest held its own dangers. She sang on to herself hoarsely.
“The turf pelt-thick in Springtime,
The Winter thatch makes moan;
The fords Spring-hid with snowmelt,
Come Winter dry as bone.”
Now underfoot she trod dry gorse, turning from Autumn gold to brown Winter rot. Under that, a thin starved skin of soil. Under that, the bones of the land were changing. The seethed through leaden clouds, slithering to set on her right. Hadn’t da warned her, Kanna, travel more than a day from home and you’ll be travelling through the night. And what had he said about bearing northward too long? She was thirsty. Her singing voice came rusty-dry.
“The Autumn bread is golden,
The Summer sweet as wine;
I’ve sweethearts through the harvest,
Come Winter I’m alone.”
The borderlands wait for those too far gone North. That’s what he’d said, and Kanna had always heeded him. But her da had been a hunter too long, and walked the forest paths he’d warned against. They’d not gone hungry, but he lay abed now, and wouldn’t rise, except to heave up spine-wracked and cough up the black pleurisy he’d caught from the trees. And then the hunger started. Her da might not last long enough to starve but the babe would, Heralds look kindly. Kanna had come out looking for simples at first – cures – but time wore on. She was hunting now.
The Winds and the Wilds
In the Dark Age before the first Herald, the Lay tells of a world ruled by the Winds. It imbues them with capricious whims, hungers, desires — as if the pagan gods of the age were the truth behind the Winds, and not the reverse. In that time, nowhere was safe.
Perhaps it truly was the mercy of the One that changed things. Or perhaps it was the burgeoning rise of human progress. Whatever the cause, the Winds do not have the sway they used to.
Throughout the Lantamark places that once were wild have now been tamed. Great cities have grown from the wastes. Towns, villages, hamlets. Fields and roads and border-keeps. In these settled places, humankind has little to fear beyond humanity itself, or natural misfortune: war, banditry, harsh winters, meagre harvests.
Still, people gather and build their homes close, dense, concentrated. Walls, manmade works, dense population; the weight of years since a settlement’s founding and deep foundations; old superstitions and, sometimes, prayer to the One. All these things help keep the Winds at bay. In the Wilds, things are less certain.
In certain places, far from any settlement, the Winds gather and pool. Sacred perhaps to the old gods, or marked by nothing but chance, these eerie places are called hallows. Places where the landscape itself is twisted and a breeze disturbs the air as if something were breathing there.
Or else, seemingly at random, one of the Winds may briefly seethe through a place in sudden gales known as squalls. In their wake come strange tastes and scents, carrying odd sounds across wild distances, all gone as quick as they came.
But the Winds are not capricious gods or greedy demons. These are the Lay’s personifications of a more abstract alarming truth, simplified for the common man. Nor are they the actual winds in any literal sense. Most breezes in the Lantamark blow without incident. The Winds are not the weather, though their comings, goings, and lingerings are equally mysterious. They are a part of this world, and the only honest definitions they brook are vague ones.
The Winds are a quartet of formless invisible forces that move through the world and bring change in their wake. It’s quite possible they are everywhere, though weak, growing stronger the further one goes from any concentrated civilization. Their sway also grows the further North one goes, greatest beyond the point known as The Line.
Exposure to them acts on the Cambia present in all things — living things in particular. The effects can be temporary. In squalls or hallows, a potent Wind may amplify the negative effects of its corresponding humour. The forgetful White Wind; the lonesome Black; the wrathful Red; the callous Blue. All feature in folklore throughout the continent, with rumours and real evidence to reinforce them.
Prolonged or repeated exposure to such phenomena, uncommonly grave exposure, or even extended time in the wilderness – particularly alone – may leave more serious or permanent marks. Mild effects include the mental unbalance of an intensified, more volatile Cambium. The affected humours may cause physical illness and psychological damage.
In serious cases, the Winds can twist the body as much as they do the mind. Scars, deformities, and other oddities may develop first. But the absolute outcome of exposure is a more monstrous transformation.
Almost all of the Lantamark’s wild fauna and flora are touched by the Winds in some way. None but domesticated beasts and plants can be considered truly normal. Birds call out in mocking human voices. Fishes glow in coruscating patterns, or change the flavour of their flesh with the phases of the moon. Foxes are born sometimes, white as snow and twin-tailed. Trees grow huge, or else with strange fruit hanging from their boughs. Some mushrooms bring on lucid dreams. There are few roots or herbs, animal organs or tissues in the wilds that are not useful in some way to a practical alchemist.
But these oddities are ordinary to residents of the Lantamark. If they are parts of the landscape, Kine are its aberrations and dangers. Some may be born as monsters while others are twisted and warped later in life. Some Kine can and do breed, on occasion founding lineages and entire species of outlandish monsters. Others seem to be unique. All, however, are uncommonly aggressive when confronted with non-Kine, and very territorial.
The following are some breeds common throughout the continent, featured in bestiaries, and widely feared.
Manfisher. Seen at first as a glowing torchlike beacon, hung above the watermark of fens and swamps. This bauble is the manfisher’s lure, held on a slender prehensile stem above its gaping submerged mouth. The creature itself is a huge fat leechlike beast that uses the gases resultant from slowly digesting its previous prey to burn the beacon that lures its next meal. Also known as a will-o-wisp.
Kateel. A body like a featherless vulture, long flightless spiny-quilled wings used to hop and dash at remarkable speeds across short distances. For a tail it has a horizontal splay of webbed fingerlike bones, held up in outspread threat — a ghastly mimic of a peacock’s plumes. Its neck is long and sinuous, ending in a hook-beaked snakelike head, though with a plucked bird’s skin rather than scales. Its talons feature cruel spurs used to disembowel or disable prey. Full-grown, a kateel’s wingspan can come to roughly the height of a man. They are found mostly in high craggy areas.
Starveling. Shaped like a large emaciated wolf with thin dark greasy fur. Its head however has the appearance of being peeled, with the skin stripped back to show raw muscle, white skull, staring eyes and long muzzle. Starvelings gather pack animals to themselves – most commonly canines – and are known to somehow force those creatures to hunt and kill for them. The starveling’s motley pack feeds every last scrap of every last kill to their master till death by hunger releases them. They are rarely seen clearly, for usually they are at the heart of a tangled pile of heaving animal bodies: their pack heaped close to keep their bare bones warm, or thronging and attacking to protect the starveling.
Selker. Sleek black seal-like creatures, though with mouths of sharklike teeth, and long serpentine tails like leathery flats of seaweed. Selkers hunt and live communally in coastal regions or large lakes. They mimic the cries of a drowning child, luring in human prey or some other animal searching for an easy meal. The pack then tangles the prey in their tails and begins a feeding frenzy as the water boils red.
Gobling. With bodies like spry spider-limbed monkeys, goblings are agile scamperers and climbers. Their skin is slate-grey, their eyes cattish and sickly yellow. Their mouths open vertically, spanning the full length of their sharp little faces, lined with small needlish teeth. They consort together in large nest-clans, hoarding baubles and bones, and using found objects as rudimentary tools, much as crows do. They are ravenously omnivorous, and are dangerous for their numbers, their speed, and their surprisingly strong long-spindled fingers.
Lampwort. A hump-shelled dust-coloured creature, about a foot across. Shaped like a horseshoe crab but with beetlish filmy wings under its carapace. One of the few Kine that actively pursue human presence, even into densely populated areas. They crave heat, absorbing it like an alchemist’s brimstone. Often they’re found buried in the embers of a campfire, oven, or forge. They are harmless if undisturbed. When threatened, they can vent stored heat from their shells in scorching waves, then fly away to seek out further sources of warmth. Some have also been known to lay on the chests of sleepers and leech the body heat from them with their two forked probosci, one at the front of their body and one at the rear — a habit that is decidedly not harmless.
And many many more. Not to mention manticorls, wyverns, mylings, spinnerqueens, and leviathan…
Where Kine were once beasts, Kin were once human. And where Kine are sometimes born monstrous, all Kin once had lives, families, hopes, fears. Almost as horrifying as their awful appearance is the vestigial semblance of humanity they maintain: their humanoid physique and faces.
They do not form packs or colonies, but certain common features may manifest among Kin that once had similar Cambiums. Usually these commonalities are in how the Kin in question hunt, rather than being a superficial family resemblance.
Janglers for instance guard narrow gulleys, caves, tunnels and mountain passes, rigged with networks of noisy hanging detritus. They use the sounds of this dangling debris like a spider uses its web. Hearing any disturbance, they scamper to the source and move in for the kill.
Chokers are slow and lacking in stealth. They cough and heave out great palls of black eye-stinging smoke to incapacitate their prey. Invisible in the smog, the last thing their prey hears is their rattling rasping breath drawing nearer and nearer.
Underns lie submerged in bodies of water, appearing like bloated floating corpses, only to drown and devour their prey. Wraiths are known to guard particular hallows, weaving the Winds of the area into phantasms and nightmares that shatter the minds of their catch before the kill. Shrykes inhabit high places and murder their prey by throwing them from peaks and cliffs to fall, shattered and easy to devour on the ground below. Rustmaves haunt battlefields, by turns masquerading as corpses and bedecking themselves with the trappings of the slain before shambling across country – a scraping mess of iron embedded into their flesh – to search out more sites of carnage.
However, many more Kin are unique and bizarrely individual, whether haunting one place or migrating to their own mysterious patterns. Unlike Kine, full-fledged Kin are almost always solitary creatures. They are pariahs and abominations, in the wilds as much as among their former kindred. Ghasts are the exception to this rule.
Theorised to be a miserable middling stage between human and Kin, ghasts are those who have lost their minds, begun the Kinchange, but not yet completed the transformation. They are the most eerily human-seeming kind of Kin, moving mostly on all fours, clothed in rags if clothed at all, filthy and diseased in appearance, with raking hands and bared teeth in their lipless mouths. Ghasts somehow find one another over great distances and group into swarms that roam in search of corpses to eat, before slipping away to continue on alone and finish the Kinchange.
Both Kin and Kine can be hurt by ordinary weapons. However, they quickly heal any wounds except those made by cold iron: brittle, hard-worked without the fire of any forge. Kine must be thoroughly destroyed – dismembered, immolated – by anything save cold iron, but mundane means can kill them, including starvation or simple old age. The same cannot be said of Kin. Once the Kinchange is complete, they do not die by any means unless killed properly, finished with cold iron. Otherwise, they will always heal, and always return.
Thankfully, throughout most of the Lantamark few humans suffer sufficient exposure to the Winds to begin changing. A plague of ghasts in the wake of disease or war. An incursion of hungry Kine. These are the worst most in the South will face.
But in the North, in the barren open steppes of Sythie, and in The Spit, the Winds are powerful and cruel. In such lands, humans cloister themselves in fear. Under northern skies, the land belongs not to man but to Kin and Kine.
“Crow fly, cat wail.
Night-black feather and catkin tail.”
The song ended, though like most songs she knew could start again where it ended. Crow fly, cat wail… But Kanna stood on the edge of a fen now. She’d seen something standing knee-deep in the water. Stuck maybe, or if not it would be hobbled, ill-fit to run. A buck. Scrawny, but still with more meat on its bones than she and the babe combined, young growths of antler crowning from its brow.
Her sling wouldn’t be enough, for all she was a surer longer shot with it. She tucked it into her belt and crouched low to the ground. Slipping her da’s bow from her back, she bit her tongue to be quiet as she strung it, selected and nocked a broadhead. Rising a little, she sighted, tested the wind.
It smelled ripe with plant-rot, tasted raw with soot. A black tang in the back of her mouth, reaching down her throat. She heard something. A child’s sob carried in the air. The buck turned. Like it felt her eyes upon it; like it could feel where her arrow would land. Its face was wrong. Eyeless, jaw missing and a black forked tongue lolling, twisting down. Its branched antlers shifted and searched forwards, writhing like the eye-horns of a snail.
Kanna laxed the bowstring and stowed the arrow. Something thick and silty gritted at the corners of her eyes. Like sleep-sand but coarse and biting. “Gurtaya,” she prayed, whimpering, Lay forgotten. “Black Mother, mother of tilth, have mercy..!”
A voice echoed back. Her voice but not her prayer. Stolen words from before:
“…Crow fly, cat wail.
Night-black feather and catkin tail…”
She ran. Ran through the night. Came home sweat-drenched, wild-eyed. When she tried to speak again – to greet her father, sing to her child – no words would come. Just a turned-dirt rasp from her throat.
Part Four. Magick: High Arcana and Hedge-Witchcraft.
The water had known moonlight. A full month the leaden dish had sat full under the night sky. In his sanctum now, it no longer mirrored the full moon’s face as it had outside, atop the tower. Still Donselt spied a shadow of it. The smallest silver shiver afloat on the water’s surface.
Four pyramids of lead, inlaid on each of their four faces with silver runes. Runes to speak to the cardinal directions, to the leys of the land, and most of all to call out to each other. He’d overseen the burying of them, each at a point of the compass round the manse — four pits filled in with stones and saltwater.
He’d carved and silvered the runes himself. There were precedents, fragments of formulas from bygone times. Enough to know the magick must be tied to the place — writ into its bones, so particular that it could work nowhere else, and no other spell could work here. So he devised the spell personally.
Donselt’s sanctum was more a workshop, altered to his purposes. A cluttered dusty tower-room. It was a place for the lord to keep him, out of sight and out of mind — a curiosity at times, a guilty potent tool at others. That would change.
Reciting from the open book, in a piebald polyglot of tongues – some stolen from the East, some borrowed from the North – Donselt began the incantation close to midnight. He chanted till his tongue was sore and his mouth was filled with the taste of salt, his throat crying out at an unslaked thirst. Something stirred through the chamber like a long deep sighing. He uttered the final words.
Donselt slipped his hands into the leaden basin. The water was a cold nothing at first. And then it came. Not sight or anything like seeing. More awareness. Like being deep in the bottom of a wide dark lake and feeling every ripple and every current of motion through it.
Knowing. He knew what the watchers were saying on the walls. He knew the sculler’s girl was slinking to her quarters from a night at the stables. He knew the Laypreach was on her knees in the chapel, praying for a cure to her sleepless sickness. He knew.
Coming out of the knowing was like surfacing from the lake. His eyes streamed. For a moment he forgot how to breathe air. His skin was cold and clammy. But Donselt was grinning. It had worked. The lord would be pleased.
A blessing and a curse as old as humankind, magick is the ability to call upon the four Winds and attempt to harness and direct their power.
At its core, magick is a matter of exchange. This truth was at the heart of the old pagan faiths that preceded the Lay. The priests would give praise, make sacrifice. In return their gods would spare the faithful from the cruelties of the world, offer the power to make their people prosper and to rain down ruin on their enemies. Though magick now has many faces, and is achieved by many means, that rule lives on at the heart of the matter. Give to one of the Winds and it will give back as it can.
But what do the Winds offer?
The White Wind. Power over weather and wind, storm and fog and sky. Influence over birds and flying creatures. Powers to assist travellers and wanderers, to ease journeys, and to find things visible under the sky and above the earth. The power of languages, of speaking over distances, weaving sound from the air, and of making even silent things speak. Oneiromancy: power over dreams and power through dreams, influence over sleep and the stealing or unstitching of memory.
The Black Wind. Power over stone and soil, earth and metal; to shape them, mend or sunder them. Influence over creatures that walk on land, and plants that grow upon it. Power over the pull of the earth, and the means to find things hidden beneath its surface. The crafting of tactile illusions and of replacing sound or speech with silence. Necromancy: power over the bodies of the dead; ageing, decay, and the means to preserve against them.
The Blue Wind. Power over river, lake, ocean and ice. Influence over fish and all swimming creatures that live under or in water. The power to quell or calm emotions and instincts, and the restoring or enhancing of memory. Power over blood, bone and flesh; the magick of fertility, healing, and harming. Clairvoyance and farsight; scrying and expanded awareness.
The Red Wind. Power over heat and light; their manipulation, creation, and negation. The power to manipulate luck and fortune, chance and probability; the enforcing of vows and punishment of oathbreakers. The power to incite emotions and instincts, and crafting of illusions to trick the eye. Prophecy, the reading of omens, and insight into possible futures. Pyromancy: the power to create and control flame.
Every spell and ritual has a short-term cost that must be paid. Scholars of the arcane call the initial price of a spell its trappings. Whether physical offerings and sacrifices of feathers, candles, herbs, particular metals or stones, blood or bones, pain or pleasure. Or tools such as crystals, wands, knives or bowls. Or investments of time and effort such as the chanting of incantations, the inscribing of runes or sigils.
Just as the Winds themselves are weaker in settled places and to the South, so is magick. Similarly, magick is at its most powerful in wild places, further North, in hallows and squalls — places where the Winds are strongest and can bring more of their sway to bear. In such places, the initial act of calling and controlling the Winds may seem easier. The trappings required may be lessened. But these places are dangers in themselves.
Furthermore, repeatedly calling upon the Winds and seeking to control them also has a long-term price. Many deny the existence of such a price, except as an effect of unwise casting, or overstretching one’s arcane reach. But practitioners of magic and sermonising Laypreaches alike both give the phenomenon a name: witchmarks. The same physical and mental deterioration and transformation that comes from overexposure to the Winds, but accelerated as the working of magick invites them in.
Magick in the Lantamark can generally be placed in one of two categories. Hedge-witchcraft or high arcana. In truth however they’re not separate things, mutually exclusive. They’re two ends of a spectrum, and everything on that spectrum can be called magick.
The magick of scholars. Learned magick, tame magick, modern magick. Proponents and practitioners of high arcana would claim that it is the only safe form of magick — indeed, they might go so far as to term it the only true form of magick, all else being volatile and pale imitations.
Arcanists work through their trappings. Their rituals may take hours to cast, and longer still to assemble and prepare the necessary components, create or acquire the right tools. The research that goes into bringing these things together into functioning magick is the work of a lifetime.
This host of trappings has a useful effect. It allows for the control of the Winds from a safe remove. Every layer of detail, dogma, ritual and material is a bulwark between the arcanist and the raw power of the Winds themselves. As such, arcanists work magick with a lessened risk of witchmarks — lessened danger to themselves and those around them.
However, throughout much of the Lantamark they still face prejudice, misunderstanding, and suspicion. Reception of arcanists through the various lands of continent may change from town to town, and from year to year. They are praised one moment and kept as advisers and powerful allies to lords and kings; then they are lynched or banished the next.
Under the rule of the Coric Lay, all use of magick is an abomination and no employment of magick is safe. They have tried to turn what was once a land of sorcerer-kings and oracle-queens into a land where mankind need not fear the night, the shadow, the wilderness. Yet the valleys and hills of the once-great empire still hold terrors, and users of magick still live and thrive in secret.
By contrast, the Avossi Lay that reigns from Tor Avoss condones arcana, after its own fashion. They sell writs of license known as indulgences: proclamations that a given arcanist does not traffic with the Winds themselves but employs the will of the One and the power of the Word to bring the Winds to heel. Technically, the law of the Avossi Lay terms all other users of magick heretics. Still, powerful people through lands that follow the Avossi faith employ arcanists from time to time, whether as court oddities or powerful tools, with or without writs of indulgence.
Due to the learning and resources required to study or use arcana – and the added investment required to do so legally – acquaintance and ability with the art is generally concentrated among the highborn or at least the wealthy. Arcanists are often accomplished scholars in fields beyond magick, such as philosophy, alchemy, physik, linguistics and the arts — if only in so far as these other disciplines assist their arcane studies.
Because of the long years of study arcanists must put into their work, mocking jokes state that arcana is not magick without price after all. Where a hedge-witch sacrifices mind and body for power, an arcanist sacrifices their youth.
The Avossi Lay forbids hedge-witchcraft, yet witches still dwell on the fringes of many communities. They are variously called fugai, brujen, talteks, thennings, veltirs, pellar, cunning-ones, kanlens, aedun and more in the many languages and dialects of the Lantamark. Witch, however, is the general term regardless of gender or culture. Whether as respected secret priests of the older faiths, or as useful eccentrics, witches live as revered pariahs as often as they are hated exiles.
Witches with a mind for history may state that they practice magick as it once was. Some still view their work as continuing the traditions of their ancestors, following and worshipping the gods that came before the Lay. They see it not as barbarism or subservience to dark forces, as the Lay would claim, but as secret freedom. Their spells are in fact prayers to the only gods that listen.
Others still fall into hedge-witchcraft out of necessity or desperation. The will to survive, or to save a loved one, or take revenge upon an enemy may all give a person cause to turn to witching. For compared with arcana, hedge-witchcraft is simple, practical, intuitive.
In theory, anyone may work witchcraft. It’s the magick of the common people, and the trappings of its casting are more meagre, more open to interpretation. A blood-stained feather, a swallowed stone, an offering of salt and spit, a rune burnt into the palm of your hand, animal sacrifice. Pain or death are the quickest ways to call upon the Winds, but they’re not the only paths available.
That said, while anyone can work hedge-witchcraft, a strong witch will also have a firm will, a creative mind for drawing connections and correspondences, and often enough a relatively pure Cambium. Arcanists work magick with the Winds at a safe distance. A witch invites the Winds in, giving a little more of themselves with every use of their power.
As the witch calls more and more upon a particular Wind, borrowing more potent effects from it, that Wind takes a larger stake in their being. They develop a stronger connection to that Wind, becoming more effective at harnessing its power. For this reason, many witches focus on one Wind’s lore, where arcanists are often more widely versed. Witchmarks are the price a witch pays for this deepening bond. Erosion of physical wellbeing. Slow fragmentation of sanity. A witch who overextends themselves may even invite the Kinchange.
This outcome can be staved off by casting only in moderation, and by more ritualistic careful spells: more trappings, more preparation. Many careful witches laugh off the dangers of their craft, stating that they’re the result of foolishness and intemperance, or of offending the gods. Any tool is dangerous, they say, if used poorly. There’s as much wisdom in learning when not to use it as there is in learning how to do so.
All the same, the proverb runs that one is just as likely to find an old witch as one is to find a young arcanist. Whether due to human prejudice or the repercussions of their craft, many witches die young.
She stained her fingers with umber. Darkened her forehead with earthen pigments, the colours of gravedirt. The spell didn’t need it – not in any absolute way – but it helped. It made her feel safer and stronger somehow.
Weyla they called her. For so long it had become a name as much as a title. Weyla, witch, crone. But when a go-between was needed – when a delver needed to delve into things they feared – they’d come to her dug-out on the village edge. All bent knees and bowed heads, bowls of milk and pouches of tin, they’d come. And they’d ask.
This time they’d brought a dead boy. Looked like he was sleeping if not for the blue lips, the stiff waxen skin and sinking eyes. And they’d asked her ‘Why?’ knowing she had her ways.
Vetivert, parched rye, horehound smouldered in earthenware dishes around him. Their smoke filled the air. Not needed, but helpful, to ease the recalling.
She closed her eyes, licked her palm and laid it on his cold brow. Then she reached. And she heard it like a pulse in the ground beneath them. Like a voice made of turning gravel. Like a pressing feeling, the scent of deep dry soil – opened sod – above the burning herbs. The trick was in knowing not to recoil, not to give way.
“Easy now. Easy,” she said softly. “You can come out now. Wake up now. I just want to talk a while…”
The boy opened his milky eyes.