THE AMAAN KITH
The human kith of the Vast Land, ranging enormously in build, features, and complexion, as well as culture and custom. In the earliest histories, hailing back to an unfathomably distant past, the Amaan were one and all the slave-stock of the ancient race of Aath’Nhaga, or Snake Lords. When the Aath’Nhaga were overthrown by the Thar’i giants, Amaan served them as well until they rebelled in turn.
Their primacy in the interior began eight millennia ago, after overthrowing the Thar’i dynasties in a thousand year war that diminished both races enormously. The Amaan lived in primitive fashion after that, scattered across the face of the Vast Land, forming cities and then small nations. These nations gradually absorbed one another, until the Amaan kith ruled the Interior from five mortal empires; Avahn, Hatan, Tier, Uhl, and Vhaar. The Imperial Aera fell apart through a series of mutual betrayals, and centuries of warfare led to the rise a single monolithic civilization known as the Amaan Dominion. So proud were the Amaan of their Dominion that they named its capitol “Triumphant”, and swore oaths between their one-time nations and kin that could only be broken by the five centuries of horror that would follow; the Cannibal Wars.
Despite the millennial history of slavery and warfare that preceded them, the Cannibal Wars are considered the dark ages of the Amaan on the Vast Land. A glorious culture spanning the whole of the Interior, under the primacy of a single kith, sundered and torn apart in a protracted massacre that once again scattered the Amaan to the winds. To add spiritual insult to physical, when the dust of the Cannibal Wars cleared, the gods of the Amaan had abandoned them.
In the modern aera, Amaan eschew kingship and empire. The great city-states strive to avoid alliances and revere neutrality above all else. The provincial estates and townships of the old Dominion Nobility are now independent trade kahls, their governing “shrieve” reporting to no external lord or master. While city-states and territories may war between themselves, their neighbors will no longer leap to join the fray. The Amaan of this aera will only ally en masse if they believe that a neighbor’s ambition will lead to the burgeoning of a new empire.
SUBRACES OF THE AMAAN KITH
Amaan Graad’i: Gaunt, grey-skinned Amaan isolated during the Imperial Aera in the broken lands of the southwest. The Amaan Graad’i are regarded as vicious scavengers and cannibals, though this is only true of certain excessively aggressive border clans, most of which would be considered war-bands or harriers by the Graad’i community at large. They earn their livings primarily by harvesting useful fungi and ancient relics from the ruins of their home territory.
Amaan Hatan’i: Renowned for both ingenuity and depravity, the Amaan who hail from the volcanic landscape around Hatan Forge are immediately noticeable for their rust-toned skin and slight build. It’s thought by some scholars that the ancient Thar’i masters of Hatan Forge may have either selectively bred or ritualistically altered their Amaan slaves to inure the Hatan’i to the wild forces of the manufactory city, which houses a captive shiftland. Amaan Hatan’i give birth to litters of up to five children at a time.
Amaan Thaga: Considered barbarians by most of the interior, the Thaga are nomadic hunters of the northern steppes and mountains. White skinned, dark haired, and blue-eyed, they stand seven feet tall on average and are rumored to be the descendents of pairings between Amaan and Thar’i parents. Under the constant pressure of the northern powers, many Thaga have been pressed into slavery or soldiering and are considered exceptional mercenaries.
Aath’Amaan: The Vagrant Clans constitute a wholly formed sub-race in their own right, expressed through hereditary shiften traits and inclusive rituals. The Aath’Amaan do not share their formal name with other kith, considering the title sacred and carrying a long held belief about the power of names. When a soul leaves the Vagrants, they forfeit their name back to the clan, as with the ex-Vagrant warlock Wayward.
THE THAR’I KITH
An ancient race of giants who ruled the present day Interior for five millennia after overthrowing the Aath’Nhaga in the distant past. Though they follow the rough body-plan of the Amaan, each is individually varied, possessing any number of divergences from the anthropomorphic form. Multiple arms, oddly jointed limbs, different numbers of eyes, ears, even bifurcated jaws are all common, and all are heavily inured to the effects of the shiftlands. Thar’i vary between twelve and twenty feet tall, with a few growing to truly enormous proportions in any given generation. The average Thar would have a life expectancy of three-to-four-hundred years, and might breed only two or three times in that span.
While their culture is considered by contemporary kith to have been entirely martial and driven by the design of the Aath’Nhaga, they were as complex a people in their own way as any society among the Amaan. The Thar’i went to war with the Aath’Nhaga some fifteen millennia ago, and warred for over a thousand years, annihilating much of the evidence of the Snake Lords’ civilization in the process. The Aath’Nhaga who survived these wars retreated into the borders of the shiftlands, and into subterranean sanctuaries scattered throughout what is now the southern Fringe, taking their most valuable Amaan slave-stock with them.
The Thar’i were largely satisfied with allowing the Amaan to go on with their farming and modest living, collecting the lion’s share of the smaller kiths’ labors. They built enormous and nearly indestructible monuments to their glory and victory over the Snake Lords across the Interior, and dug deep mines to practice their metallurgy, the most advanced in creation. Meanwhile, the Aath’Nhaga conditioned infiltrators among their Amaan slave-stock and sent them into the Thar’i kingdoms to foment rebellion among their kith. This intrigue went on for millenia, until the immortal Aath’Nhaga decided that all of their resources were properly arranged in the Thar’i civilization. The five-hundred year long insurrection they sparked came to be known as the Thar’i Wars, and led to the complete militarization of both Thar’i and Amaan kith. The massive numbers of Amaan and the enormous geographical region involved stretched the warfare on and on, obliterating most of Amaan history and leaving them with only the vaguest ideas of having been a slave race dating back to the creation of the world.
When the dust of the Thar’i Wars finally cleared, the surviving giants fled into the borderlands, and it’s rumored that many of them followed passes through the shiftlands shown to them by the Vagrants in a simple exchange; that they use them to leave, forever. In the modern day Interior, Thar’i are known to exist in the borderlands, but are thought of as only primitive and monstrous descendents of the tyrants that once ruled the known Vast Land. Most Amaan kith will pass their entire lifetime without encountering a Thar, and would think it only a ravening beast if they were to see one.
THE AATH’NHAGA KITH
The most distant ancestral memories of the Amaan reach back to the primacy of the Aath’Nhaga, who enslaved, and some say even created, their entire race. The Aath’Nhaga are referred to as both Serpent Lords and Law Givers, and are considered the most primordial race among all-kith, the first to emerge with the Aath from the chaos before creation. Though very little is known with any certainty of the Serpent Lords, they are thought of as a race of immortal, shapeshifting, god-kings. Among contemporary Amaan kith in the Interior, the Aath’Nhaga are known only through stories, and referred to as a legendary race, synonymous with gods and ancient wights. None have been encountered in living memory.
Their life-cycles are incredibly complex. While the Amaan are born and grow according to a single body plan, and the Thar’i vary according to the individual in question, Aath’Nhaga go through several life-stages. The process is equivalent to metamorphosis, and involves long periods of stasis, in which the Snake Lord “sheds” its current physical body-plan and emerges reformed. The wisest scholars say that this process continues indefinitely throughout their life-span, and that Aath’Nhaga are functionally immortal. By this theory, it is thought that a Snake Lord begins life in a physically powerful, but perceptually limited form, transforming progressively into an increasingly delicate, though sorcerously potent, wight-like creature which must eventually return to the shiftland to support its own existence.
Mythology surrounding the mysterious K’ell is ubiquitous among all-kith throughout the history of the Interior. Though it is accepted by nearly all scholars and common people that the K’ell have been extant in the Vast Land since the beginning, knowledge about their qualities and culture is scant at best. Their presence in history is ephemeral, indicating that they are as much a part of the shiftland as of the Interior, that they are possessed of potent sorcery, and that they are in contact with powerful wights. Sages have interpreted the word as being cognate with “reflection”, “echo”, and “shadow”.
While belief in the existence of the K’ell is common, opinions on their nature are widely conflicted. Among those kith who believe the K’ell to be a benevolent race, it is held that they are a secretive and magical people, living in remote wilderness on the fringes of the shiftlands. These legends are full of unexpected healing and guidance, sorcerous patronage for heroes, and glorious kingdoms hidden behind the veils of the shiftland. There are other legends, though, which suggest the K’ell are insidious infiltrators, changelings who walk among the throngs of other kith unsuspected, working nefarious intrigues and undermining the stability of the Interior for the wights they worship. Those who believe in the darker side of the K’ell are prone to label them a race of loskith, more wight than kith, and to attribute all manner of superstitious dread to their presence in the Interior.
The K’ell do indeed straddle the margins between the shiftlands and the Interior, and many of the legends of them are true, though their actual intentions have never been ascertained. They move freely between the created world and the shift, a talent they taught in part to the Aath’Amaan long ago. K’ell are beings of balance and of curiosity, who must carefully poise themselves between worlds to maintain their substance. If they are too long out of the shiftland, they will become trapped in whatever form they have taken to travel the Interior. The opposite is also true, in that they must keep one foot in the Interior if they would avoid being subsumed by the wild forces of the shiftlands, becoming wights in truth.
When within the shiftlands or their own sanctuaries, a K’ell may resemble nearly anything at all, as they are consummate shapeshifters. However, when they enter the known lands, they must assume a form which will not be rejected by the awareness of all-kith. The youngest and the elderly among them will tend to take the forms of animals, and to avoid other kith except in the most dire of circumstances. Those who are in their primes, however, are inclined toward the forms of other kith, particularly Amaan during their current primacy. This allows them to explore and sate their curiosity. While most K’ell are somewhat capable in matters of illusion and misdirection, only the most talented among them are able to change their forms while outside of the shiftlands.
When any mortal kith are exposed to the wild forces of creation surging in the shiftlands, they risk not only their sanity, but their physical integrity as well. Transformations resulting from this exposure are seldom pleasant, as the soul being changed is not often able to maintain awareness of their own identity against the assault of chaos. A soul who has been transformed by exposure to the shiftlands is known as a shiften. Most of the traits that result are debilitating deformities or the taint of madness. To make matters worse, any aberration picked up from exposure can be passed on to one’s children.
Occasionally, however, most especially when one is born in the influence of the shiftland, beneficial traits or unusual abilities may result. It is even possible that one may be born of a shiften parent with such qualities intact, without ever having been exposed oneself. Senses, reflexes, and intelligence are likely to be effected, and though it is not well known in the Vast Land, all who practice sorcery have at least a touch of shiften heritage. Even a shiften who is unable to grasp the extraordinarily complex metrics of the sorcerous arts may be able to benefit from them, as they may be trained to embrace the effects of a ritual working placed upon them by a true sorcerer.
Opinions about shiften vary from region to region and household to household. There are those who think them wicked and refer to them as wightspawn, believing them to be inherently dangerous or even possessed. But for each soul that holds to such beliefs, there is another who sees the shiften as somehow blessed by the womb of creation, closer to divinity than other kith. Neither belief is wholly true, and neither is wholly false. Shiften are as individual in their motives and morals as anyone else among all-kith, though their differences in ability may have any number of effects upon their thinking and priorities.
Loskith are what the ignorant and bigoted think of when they hear the word “shiften”. While some sages may argue that there is no fundamental difference between the two, loskith have been transformed beyond the ken of mortal kith. Whereas shiften may still relate to peers among their respective kith, blend in among them, and even think along the same lines, loskith are either too psychically deranged or too physically altered to ever be counted among their kith again. Most retain enough of their mortal makeup that they are unable to survive unaided in the shiftlands proper, but are inextricably bound to its energies, weakening and eventually dying if they stray too far or too long into the Interior. Therefore, they live on the borders of the shiftlands, on the Fringes of the Interior, often roaming in wild packs, hunting anything made of flesh and hopelessly searching for whatever of themselves it is they have lost.
Known commonly as the “lost”, loskith are often hideously deformed, and they seldom maintain a coherent enough identity to develop complex social groups. There are those among them who may still reason as mortal kith, but their dependency on the currents of the shiftland precludes any possibility of them rejoining the societies that birthed them. Most have descended into true savagery, worshiping whatever wights may choose to manipulate them, and living from moment to moment according to whatever desires may drive them.
THE WIGHTS & GODS
The true native denizens of the shiftlands, wights are the intelligent components of the chaos of creation. They do not possess inherent identity as mortal kith do, but rather experience themselves as the expression of a body of concepts, elements, passions, and desires. While they may assume nearly any physical form imaginable, or unimaginable, when expressing themselves beyond the shiftlands; their true substance is that of spirit or awareness itself. The created world of the Interior is as anathema to a wight as the chaos of the shiftlands is to mortal kith. They must practice extreme concentration, or be aided by mortal sorcerers, to maintain themselves outside of their native habitat.
The expressions of wights are nearly infinite, and thus impossible to list, but they are the beings from which all else has sprung, the primordial ancestors of all life. There is no possible comprehension of their individual experience, intention, or agenda. As such they are shunned by the majority of mortal kith, revered for their primal nature, but held at bay as something that does not belong in the created world. If the whole sum of all wights were to be taken into account, it would amount to the thoughts and emotions of all life, but when one emerges individually, existing outside of that context, it is almost always a devastating event. Wights need not be malicious in intent to work destruction in the world, they need only be ambivalent.
The ultimate controversy among sages regarding wights is the nature of the gods. Deific beings are known, with historical certainty, to have walked the Interior of the Vast Land as recently as nine centuries ago. They are known in the contemporary aera by their epithets; “The Dawnrider”, “The Unseen Hand”, “The Invincible Defender”. These beings were myriad, and provably divine. The controversy emerges when discussion turns to their origins. The pious, both among the cults and among society at large, will argue that they were born of mortal origins during the first few generations of life after emergence from the shiftland. The sceptics, be they educated or merely cynical, rejoin that they must have been merely wights with exceptional arts at their disposal. It is accepted by all that there is a fine line between god and wight, and that mortal minds are not meant to grasp the difference, but the debate still draws blood in drinking halls and scholars’ forums alike.
Regardless of the origins of the gods, one thing is absolutely clear to all-kith in the modern aera; they have abandoned us all. No deity has been encountered in the Interior since the Cannibal Wars, and no true priest or venerant has proven a divine working at their own hands in as long, though false claims are quite common. This lack of miracles has given rise to an acceptance of–or even reverence for–sorcery among certain cults. Some among the populace will say that it is because the divine powers were disgusted by the millennia of warfare, while the worshipers of war-gods can offer an obvious counterpoint to that argument. Others say they have gone on to some other creation, this one having been completed to their satisfaction. Still others contest that they must simply have lost interest. The arguments are likely to go on without resolution, unless the gods themselves should deign to give answer.