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 Post subject: Aralheim [Plane][Public]
PostPosted: Tue Aug 12, 2014 7:26 pm 
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Aralheim
by Tevish Szat
Status: Public :diamond:

~A History Known Aralheim~

Known civilization on Aralheim began in the north. The sundered, icy landscape of Aralheim's polar region, beneath a midnight sun, was the birthplace of five peoples, three of which, known to each other as the Builders, founded a civilization of permanent settlements. The known races of Aralheim are as follows.

The Jotun: a proud race of people who stand around ten feet tall, blessed with massive strength, long lives, and great fortitude. The Jotun live on the longest timescale of the Builders, and have in the north created the greatest works. They are, however, a rare people, for they were never numerous nor inclined to spread their seed far, so their holds have not changed much since the early days. Most Jotun are comparative loners, though, so outside their few "cities" (towns, by any standard other than defensibility), it's not unheard of to find a lone wandering Jotun. In the old myths of the Builders it is said that the Jotun are the race of stone, crafted from its absolute solidness.

The Dwarves: Dwarves are something of the midpoint of the Builders: they are not as strong as the Jotun, but nor are they as slow or insular. The Dwarves value the clan above all else, and are powerfully inventive with a natural affinity for artifice. Dwarves tend to build few, larger settlements, and their fortress-cities extend down from the north into other lands. The myths of the Builders call Dwarves the race of metal: hard but sharp, wrought in the forge, a people that are made and tempered.

The Humans: Humans are, compared to the other builders, short-lived, short-sighted, and full of ambition. the Builder myths call them the race of fire: Quick, hot, ephemeral, but possessed of great potential to either create or destroy. They are not exactly wrong -- Humans have ranged the farthest from the cradle of their civilization and have become by far the most numerous, though they build outward, with few large cities and many smaller towns nestled in the backwoods of the land. As a general rule, the further south you go the more Humans you'll meet compared to the other races.

The Selkie: The merfolk of Aralheim are called Selkies. They have human-like upper bodies and seal-like lower bodies. Selkies know a peculiar magic that lets them shed their flippers and gain legs to go upon land, imbuing their true form into a mana-woven shawl or other garment. As long as the garment is in the Selkie's possession, they can resume their natural state, and will revert automatically if it is destroyed. Stealing such an item has been used from time to time to blackmail a Selkie. Selkies are not builders -- they are content at times to remain in the sea and do not want for many human comforts, though quite a few keep hollows or tide pools as homes where they store trinkets that have caught their fancy. Mistaking a Selkie for a human would be difficult, though, as they have entirely black eyes, skin with a pallid or even bluish cast, and while they can possess blonde or brown hair can also have hair in the blue or blue-black of the deeps or the green of moss or green-black of kelp.

The Ulfr: Ulfr -- werewolves. Most think that Ulfr are wolves with the ability to take the shape of other peoples for a time. In fact, the opposite is true. Most Ulfr begin life as members of other races (even those born to Ulfr parents don't have a wolf form at first, and some never attain one), only to be called one way or another by a wild, lupine spirit that inhabits their bodies and changes them in a fundamental way. Most Ulfr are or rather were Humans, but there are some Jotun and Dwarf Ulfr too (though Dwarf Ulfr are rare relative to population and Jotun Ulfr are very rare because Jotun themselves are). Ulfr can be called spontaneously, through devotion to wild cults, by having at least one Ulfr somewhere in their family tree, or sometimes by mating with or being bitten by an Ulfr, though transmission is highly suspect and it's likely the new Ulfr's soul had to be already open to the tainting. Ulfr are the enemies of the Builders from whose stock they come.

In the beginning, the Dwarves, Jotun, and Humans fought bitterly, but the growing ranks of the Ulfr in time threatened all three peoples. Their leaders swore a pact to not make war for the cause of extermination upon one another, and thereafter turned their focus outward on the packs of Ulfr in the deep woods. Over many years, the scourge was bled and the first walled fastnesses of the north constructed. By the time the Ulfr threat was reduced to a manageable level, the three Builders were a somewhat unified culture.

Thousands of years have passed since then, and the peace has not always held perfectly, for Dwarves have separate clans and Humans their fluctuating kingdoms, and they have made war on each other or even their own kind, but never has one race again sought the death of another, and never have they failed to repel the Ulfr when those creatures grow too many.

At first, most of civilization was confined to the north -- the Lands of Midnight Sun, where the auroras dance in the sky an either night or day can last for what would be many cycles in southern lands. However, intrepid Humans ventured farther and farther south as the Ulfr were driven back and, past the harsh mountains at the southern end of the Lands of Midnight Sun, discovered the Heartland -- a dark, green country of rivers and backwoods in which they could build their own culture. Some Dwarves followed, slowly built more and more holds, but the Jotun have remained largely in the north.

~The Lands of Midnight Sun~

The Lands of the Midnight sun are characterized by fjords, peninsulas, and islands between the great mountains in the south and the Lands of Ice in the farthest north where spring never comes. Surprisingly, there is quite a bit of arable land there. None of it is great, but harvests of grain and husbandry of goats and great catches of fish from the bountiful northern seas support many people

Rettrborg: The place of the great law, Rettrborg is an impressive fastness constructed by the Jotun, supposedly on the site where the treaty of the Builders was agreed to. It is sacred ground for Jotun, Humans, and Dwarves alike, who hold council here at all times. By ancient tradition, each race has three ambassadors and thus three votes on the council (though in practice, Dwarves and Humans usually send three delegations rather than individuals). Competition, even conflict, between dwarven clans and human kingdoms to decide which group has the right to send an ambassador to the council is fierce.

Thursborg: The greatest holdfast of the Jotun lies near the northmost extent of the mainland. It is usually home to a few hundred Jotun, but as their capitol it is designed to host well over a thousand if the wayward banners need be called in defense of their homeland. As a castle built for giants, it is a truly impressive edifice in scale.

Siglaborg: Siglaborg sits on a large island. It is the nearest substantial settlement to the Straits of Summer, the seasonal sea-passage that provides the easiest passage between the Lands of Midnight Sun and the Heartlands. As such, Siglaborg is the wealthiest and most influential port in the Lands of Midnight Sun.

Vindstadr: A small kingdom in the Lands of the Midnight Sun, situated on a peninsula between the sea and the mountains. It consists of Vindstadr Port and Castle, the Vindstadr headland, and a few inland townships including a small, well-patrolled wood before rising mountains make habitation undesirable (for humans, at least. No word on the locality of dwarves).

The Selkies and the Sailors: Relations between those who live on the waves are sometimes fine and sometimes strained. Most communities support themselves at least partly by fishing, but the Selkies rule the seas and can, in theory, deny that right to other folk as part of their long-standing good relations with the Builders. It is quite seldom that they do. On the other end of the scale, there are rumors of half-selkies. Though all such tales are unsubstantiated, it's easy for a fisherman to boast or dream or a fishwife to grumble or suspect.

Ormr: Ormr are gigantic serpents. They can either slither upon the land (in which case they usually prefer the shelter of the forests) or swim in the sea, but other than their choice of habitation the two sorts of Ormr are little different, being vast (though sea Ormr are larger), limbless, and sometimes potently venomous beasts. Rumors persist of a "World Ormr" -- a Sea Ormr with coils said to be as long as the auroras, more than encircling the world. Ormr exist in the Heartland as well, but seem to breed in the Lands of the Midnight Sun, and are more numerous there.

Dragons: Sometimes erroneously called Winged Ormr, Dragons are unrelated to the earthly serpents. Dragons are, like Ormr, long and reptilian, but the resemblance stops there: dragons, despite their serpentine shape, possess both forelegs and hind legs as well as their broad wings of stretched skin. Dragons are associated with the storm, for they often fly when thunder rages, often possess scales black as thunderclouds, and most of them spit lightning while only a few breathe fire -- pale, blue-white flames hot enough to melt stone. None are known to possess the venom that Ormr sometimes do. Finally, Dragons, unlike Ormr, are intellectual creatures. They are capricious, potentially destructive, and have no love for the civilization of the builders but neither do they hate it. Sometimes they maraud and rage, but sometimes they come among the Builders, particularly the Dwarves, and dispense pearls of their ageless wisdom. Indeed, it is said that the secret of steel that the Dwarves guard so jealously was first taught to their race by a dragon. Dragons are found throughout the world.

Valkyries: Valkyries are the angels of Aralheim and the patrons of the Builders, though their connection with the Dwarves is somewhat limited as Dwarves in their delvings shy away from the sky and Valkyries are inherently connected to its open expanse. Valkyries appear as human or sometimes Jotun (for the two are little different excepting their scale) women with great wings of silver feathers that burn with the heatless, many-colored flames of the Aurora from whence they descend onto the world. The vast majority of Valkyries are warriors, and descend clad in glinting silver armor to give battle to the Ulfr, Ormr, and sometimes Dragons of the world. A few appear instead clad in dresses with the prismatic sheen of the Aurora and bearing scrolls if anything instead of arms – these few come to teach or to heal. Valkyries, regardless of their occupation, are tightly tied to the Aurora: it is their home, or the bridge between Aralheim and their home. They can only descend onto the land or depart when it is in the sky, though its presence needn’t be obvious to mortal folk, so daylight is no hindrance to them. A Valkyrie that dies a violent ‘death’ while the Aurora is in the sky will dissolve into light and presumably return to their realm, but one that dies when removed from it by either time or great distance from the northlands will die as a creature of flesh and bone.

~The Heartlands~

As the few passes through the mountains that separate the Heartlands from the Lands of Midnight Sun are still very difficult to traverse and almost impossible for families and caravans, the southern half of the continent has been largely explored and settled inward from the coast. The Heartlands are therefore characterized by bright spots of civilization radiating outward from this, into the primeval blackness of the tangled backwoods of the world.

Architecture: On the coast there are some port towns of significant size and wealth, antique and fading. While some human settlements in the north are built of wood, with roofs that speak to their designers’ experience as shipwrights first and architects a distant second, and other settlements where Jotun aided in the construction are made from megalithic blocks, the settlements of the Heartlands use ‘small’ stones, red bricks, or are constructed of straight boards of wood with high-steepled and shingled roofs rather than ones covered by sod if at all and shaped like a ship’s hull.

Civilization: There are several human kingdoms of the south, and some few Dwarf clans that have made migrations overland from the Lands of Midnight Sun. They are largely peaceful, though no king or council is fool enough to dispense with a military lest their weakness be seen and some skirmish escalate to conquest. However, owing the vast tracts of land available in the Heartland, civilization has become quite spread out. There are isolated villages in the backwoods, even counties, that know no king because no king properly knows them. Still, most people live in the port cities or the townships in those safer counties.

A Precarious Position: The Jotun claim that the Builders should not have gone to these lands, where the Aurora never shines and the ice binds dark things only rarely in the dead of winter. Perhaps they are right, in a way – the folk of the Heartlands seem given to peculiar madnesses and ailments, though it is perhaps simply that in the harsher lands of the north one who went mad would simply die. Whether a real effect or an observational bias, the kingdoms of the Heartlands have built here and there asylums and sanitariums to care for those sick in mind or body respectively. Those in the port towns are respectable but those inland are built in high places, close to the sky, and many of them, particularly the asylums, can be little better than dungeons that would drive sane folk to madness.

Ulfr, Satyrs, and The Wyldcult: Ulfr are stronger and more numerous in the Heartlands than in the Lands of Midnight Sun, for there are deep, dark woods here that no Builder has ever explored, that have never known axe or fire, and it is to these places that the Ulfr can retreat and multiply. In these southern lands though, the Ulfr packs have also taken on a different character: the Wyldcult. The Wyldcult is hostile enough to outsiders that little is known of the details of its practices, but it is known that the worshippers consist of Ulfr and indoctrinated Humans, and that other beings unknown in the north are part of the Cult: Satyrs. Satyrs seem to be seen as emissaries for the force the Wyldcult venerates, but are themselves flesh and bone, living and dying and reproducing as normal peoples do (and not by conversion as Ulfr do), though contact, hostile or intimate, with a satyr is as likely to make someone Ulfr as the same contact with an Ulfr. Members of the Wyldcult live in the deep, trackless woods, far from civilization, and gather around crude stone altars perhaps altered from nature only by painting them with the blood of sacrificial offerings, animal or… otherwise.

Demons: Demons of Aralheim are strongly inhuman creatures. Little is known about what they look like, in a precise sense, because they shun light above all else. A demon’s power is associated with darkness, and too much light seems to banish them from the world until they can emerge again from darkness. Still, they do not often possess humanoid frames. There is no doubt a great variety among them -- they might be smaller than a man or bigger than a Jotun, have tubular or insectoid bodies, any sort of collection of limbs or sensory organs from familiar eyes to compound or even lobed or stalk eyes, seem to most often possess some mouth though sucking appendages like dangling lampreys have also been reported, and can universally fly though only some possess membranous wings. Demons do not exist in the Lands of the Midnight Sun, for while they can withstand even the full moon, and the light of the stars, the Aurora banishes them instantly. Some have suggested that the mountains separating the north and south by land are, whether natural or by covenant, a border between angels and demons.

The Demoncult: Demons speak and, indeed, corrupt telepathically, and some of them seem to be able to exert a sort of suggestion, which is perhaps how they’ve founded the Demoncult. The Demoncult exists within civilization, though it is more common near the borders where the light is less as even a candle can cause a demon discomfort. Demons offer power and knowledge, but bring with it madness and damnation, and sometimes profess to dark hungers that must be appeased. Strangely, the Demoncult and the Wyldcult seem to be at peace with one another, and there have been some vile suggestions that both are sects of the same, larger worship of something dark and wild, older than civilization and entirely opposed to it. The ramifications of such a suspicion being truth, when the Ulfr could exist deep in the north where angels dwell, are quite frightening to most folk.

The Mysteries of the Backwoods: Demons and Wyldcult are not the only strange things in the Heartlands. Again, the Jotun grumble that nature itself is unnatural so far south, but Humans are stubborn and persist in settling there. Very few of these things are known throughout the world -- in fact, the vast majority of strange happenings remain affairs of the township in or near which they happen, and by and by rumor of the more marvelous or horrific might trickle over to the rest of the county or be mentioned in passing in one of the old port-towns when at last some weary traveler speaks of the unbelievable events of wherever he had most recently been. Aberrations of birth or nature, strange lights, strange blights, restless dead, prophesied curses, or scarecrows that cavort beneath the gibbous moon -- these and more have been spoken of in the Heartlands, here and there. It might be a wonder that anyone could be deemed delusional when strangeness strikes with damnable consistency, but one must remember that in any village you'll tend to hear that those things might happen in the next town over, but not here. It's quite easy, if too few people see a happening, to write it off as madness and remove the insistent "lunatic" if their protestations are too vehement -- easier at times than admitting that the happenings were or are reality.

Halfbreeds: While not unique to the Heartlands, it is worth mentioning that some of the species of Aralheim seem able to cross. The Builders cannot cross with each other, and a member of a Builder race crossing with an Ulfr who was a member of their same race results in a child of that race who is probably vulnerable to becoming Ulfr. While marriages of Selkies and Humans are rare but confirmable, halfblood children are more frequently attested but never positively identified. If they do happen, the child is unable to take on a seal form and lives as a human with, perhaps, an odd look about him or her and an affinity for water.

Then, there are demons and angels. Both demons and angels have created halfbreeds, but very rarely. Half demons are the marginally more common, and are the result of either normal mechanisms (though decidedly abnormally), or a deep demonic influence on a woman, often a woman already with what would have been a normal child. Half demons are often badly mutated, possessing some of the ill-matched parts of their inhuman ‘half’ or missing some of what a human ought to have. Even those who look perfectly normal most find strangely offputting. Half demons don’t have demonic telepathy, but do seem able to project a sort of empathy that can overcome the repulsion most others feel and even begin an insidious influence.

Half angels can be born to Valkyries who choose to remain on the mortal world long enough to conceive a child with a human or Jotun lover, but this has happened only a handful of times in the whole of history. More often, they are the result of a woman (usually with child as it would take vastly more power otherwise) being influenced heavily by angelic power, such as somehow coming into contact with the Aurora. Such children have no natural wings (though they may learn magic to fly by), but their shadows do, and their eyes burn with the light of the aurora. They have a great affinity for both martial and some magical pursuits. While they cannot ascend to the Aurora like angels, they can also operate unimpeded outside its reach.

~Notables/Connections~

Lourima visited The Lands of Midnight Sun in "Kinship"

Illarion Vale (and by extension Kyara Vale and Marina Ells) is from the Heartland – a sleepy town, near enough to the ports to not be prey for the Demoncult and Wyldcult, but far enough that it features a largely inland culture, divorced from the nautical and trading traditions.

Marina was committed to one of the lonely, out of the way asylums.

Rangrid ("Rani"; :w: ♀ Valkyrie; Age ~100): A Valkyrie warrior whose wings were severed while fighting a Demon, preventing her from returning to the Aurora but allowing her to pass among humans without being recognized. Currently intent on using her new-found stealth to hunt evil that hides in the lands of men. Goes by "Rani" among humans.

Skogul ( ♀ Valkyrie; Age Like a Thousand): A Valkyrie who has chosen, for the time at least, to act as a teacher rather than a warrior. She has settled in Vindstadr and acts as advisor to its king and personal tutor to his child(ren).

Sigdrifa ( ♀ Valkyrie; Age Really Freaking Old): One of the eldest and wisest Valkyries in existence.

Larus ( ♂ Human; Age ~25): Prince of Vindstadr and heir to its throne. Seems to be a hands-on sort of person. Possibly has a thing for strong-willed, witty, potentially insane women. Learned most of what he knows (in an academic/arts sense, at least) from Skogul.

~Creator Comments~

Aralheim is sort of a norse mythology/Lovecraft county mashup. It's sea oriented without being land-negative, and full of haunted backwoods without being full of Eldrazi or their relatives. It's sort of two places in one, but the expansion and settlement narrative really worked for the Heartlands, I felt: I’m not sure they’d function quite as well without civilization having come from somewhere else to make inroads into that landscape. Really, though, I started from both ends -- I'd wanted to do something vaguely Nordic for a while (hence the backdrop of Kinship), and I knew Illarion's home had some Lovecraft county vibes, what with small town plus insane asylum. Having the brainwave that these were compatible ideas was... well, I'm still not sure how right I was.

One inclusion I feel wary about is that of the half demons and angels. The half demons seemed natural enough (Wilbur Whateley or Machen’s Helen Vaughan) and wouldn’t be unprecedented in the Multiverse, but I wondered if there couldn’t be some parallel to them. Deciding that there could be, I quickly drew up the half-angels, and I’m still not sure if this was a good idea.

There are, effectively, three ‘factions’ in Aralheim. The Builders exist in :w::u::r: and represent the force of civilization, containing the Humans, Dwarves, Giants, and Angels. The Cult exists in :b::r::g:, containing Demons, Satyrs, and Werewolves. The Other exists in :u::g: and contains mostly the Merfolk and Serpents: it’s not so much a cohesive faction as a grouping for well, others. Overall, :g: would probably be the most ‘inhuman’ color here, with even black having more representation in society. Dragons are, oddly enough, entirely neutral, making red a very contested color.

Iconics for Aralheim would be Angels in white, Serpents in blue (and green?), Demons in black, Dragons in red, and Wurms or Snakes if not Serpents in Green.

As a specific note, becoming a werewolf (Ulfr) takes two things: A susceptible soul, and a vector for corruption. The less vulnerable the soul, the more wildness is needed to catalyze the transformation. Some, for instance, are very susceptible and will often simply hear the call and turn from simply being in the wilds, among Ulfr. Children of Ulfr are particularly likely to fall into this category. Others, who are still vulnerable but perhaps made of sterner stuff, could turn after acting in a beastly manner, particularly around Ulfr or other Wyldcult entities (such as Satyrs). The closest contacts between a normal person and a Wyldcult creature – mating with one or being savaged by one – will turn a victim who is able to be turned at all, but most who are susceptible at all will be changed before reaching that stage… unless of course they are uninitiated and unwilling, at which point the bite becomes a common means of corruption. Only adults seem to complete the change into Ulfr, and Ulfr seem able to tell, in a vague way, who is or will be vulnerable to the change. Mundane willpower and resistance to (or immunity to, as is quite common) becoming Ulfr are correlated, but not strongly: on average, a stronger willed individual is somewhat less likely to become Ulfr than a weaker willed or more indulgent one.


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