(Author’s Note, 5/3/2021: here’s another old article refurbished to bring it in line with the rebooted lore of the Expurgated Edition! Lots of very tasty additions mean 3400 new words atop the updates to the old version’s 2500, putting our new total at almost 6k words!)
The Grast are a human ethnic group originating from the fertile wetlands swathing Taifen’s narrow middle on Canno’s equator. While it rarely does anyone any good to speak about an entire ethnic group, the Grast are something of a special case. Despite spreading out far from their origins, all surviving Grast cultures share some traditions in common.
Of course, any historian worth their dust has to wonder how much those bonds owe to Ten Zul. Twelve hundred Cannoan years after her death in 65 V.R., the Inferno Matriarch’s influence on Grast culture remains stronger than that of any other monarch in history. The very name given to the deepest of these bogs, the Grast Kgor, comes from the Chieragt language spoken by Ten Zul’s people, the Chiiraik.
Wilier scholars have to wonder how many of these “truths” might be pure Enclave Chiir propaganda.
Either way, during prehistory the Grast lived as fisherfolk and hunter-gatherers in Taifen’s enormous primordial bogs. The abundant plant and wildlife left them little need for agriculture–moreover, made it outright dangerous!–and the early Grast learned a taste for ample free time.
They put it to use working copper and later bronze. They scorned iron for its tendency to rust beyond use in the humid haze of the wetland summers, despite ample bog-iron supplies in several Grast heartlands and early meetings with iron-equipped Tresar showing the element’s merits.
As with most non-industrial human civilizations, the Grast of this era gathered into close-knit villages. Many lived on stilt-houses or shallow-water docks covered by tarps. They meticulously sealed the bellies of their homes with two forms of clay which hardened rock-solid when mixed and moisturized, while remaining light enough to float. This prevented smaller wildlife from infiltrating Grast homes, kept out the heavy spring and fall rains, and prevented sudden belches of bog-gas from poisoning families through the floors.
This is the tale of their past the Grast present to outlanders, with a ready smile and the affable boredom of retelling a familiar truth. Yet there’s a second side to Grast heritage. Told without words, felt without senses, known without study. Deep behind vines wreathed by pale fog, past the dark trunks claimed by moss and mold, the bogs blend into the godless realms which an ancient tongue names the Garzdum Urtaga: the Untrammeled Ways.
The tongue’s own name and the names of its shapers fell long ago into the abyss of lost history.
More even than Ten Zul’s leadership during the Loar War and her long decades of imperial dominion, the mystical, the occult, and the eldritch are the true uniting thread among the hundreds of millions of Grast. Even the free-spirited coastal Grast cultures, such as Enclave Chiir’s quasi-vassals in the protectorate kingdom of Kaokar, still festoon their ships with black-iron charms and and hang a thurible of eye-watering incense from the bowsprit whenever they must sail in fog.
Even among the Chiiraik, many of whom pride themselves on remembering the ancient rites, the reasons for ritual have often been forgotten. Those who keep the old ways do not all see this as lessening their power. As a Hymnless Sister once advised Matriarch Vairun Serai: “True power remains true, and needs not name nor nascent reason to justify. It is true because it is felt, and felt because it is true, in the deep self that seizes life before the inventions of words and reason.”
The Sisters themselves deserve their own entry. Though they mutate their attire by the traditional clothes of whichever Grast culture a particular coven tends to, these bog-witches dwell beyond the reach of the gods in the utmost depth of the spiritual no-man’s-land that they call the Garzdum Urtaga.
Always masked before outsiders. Often tatooed, scarified, or both. Lent color by paints and phantasmagoric charms bound on their limbs by shining metal, rough leather, and dried animal guts. Their bodies, always half-hidden beneath shifting robes as thin and ethereal as gauze yet as opaque as storm-clouds and the grave, nevertheless hint at altered spines, otherworldly limb-arrays, segmented or multiple jaws, and a thousand other possible changes making every Sister unique to herself.
“We are as human, and as Grast, as you,” they insist to their kin. Some embrace them. Some do not. Yet embraced or rejected, a coven of sisters can always be found by a wayward Grast traveler who steps over the colored barriers of divine light that Canno’s gods use to mark the borders of their domains, and enters the Untrammeled Ways.
Unless that Grast has profaned the old ways, that is, and denounced them for the new. Then they will find no safe haven in the fog and mire. Only the shifting spirits, if spirits is even what they are, to whom the Hymnless Sisters can give no name other than “those who watch.”
Few who meet the watchers have returned to speak of it. Those who claim they did can never offer proof.
Whether north, central, or southern, this constant closeness to the eldritch grants those Grast who have lived in the bogs for any length of time a well-earned reputation for being difficult to frighten. Outlanders mistake it for something inborn, a matter of bloodlines or–to those who prefer a little more science in their pseudoscience–genes. It is both less and more than that: the learned understanding that so many of the “laws” held by wider Canno are nothing more than spiritual scaffolding thrown up in frightened denial of how huge and unknowable the universe truly is.
Small wonder that many Grast cultures have a reputation for being abrasive when they idly offer truths such as this!
Aside from their congress with powers now hard to find elsewhere on Canno, the Grast of that first ancient age were pallid to the point that many may have had true white skin. Incredibly dense trees and undergrowth, bog gases which regularly blot out the sun, and an early love for caves as watertight and easy to keep vermin out of, bleached them utterly.
In those days the northern Grast embraced a peculiar marriage custom: any siblings of the appropriate age and sex at the time of a marriage were added to it. The groom’s family sent all eligible men, and the bride’s all eligible women. No scholar, Grast or otherwise, has found writings to explain this. Perhaps it’s because the Grast of the time depended on oral traditions.
Perhaps it serves some purpose of the inscrutable old ways, now lost. More than a few Chiiraik towns in Enclaves Chiir and Huag keep this custom against that very belief–nor do even their Matriarchs question them in doing it. Even those who do not keep the old ways have enough wisdom not to march against them.
Wider Canno insists on knowing better, and some Grast scholars have sought to explain the marriage custom by more worldly reasoning.
One theory suggests it was meant to maintain social order in the bogs as ample food but sparse living space led to frequent overpopulation. Having unmarried, jealous siblings floating around could cause all kinds of problems. So the scholars propose.
How, for example, a nine-way marriage composed of three brothers and three sisters respectively could possibly cause anything other than mass bloodshed has never been answered.
Otherwise, most Grast villages kept to themselves. Their members went out of their way to avoid offending one another. A few surviving villages speak of long-vanished communities who forbid speaking certain words for the bad feelings they caused, or doing anything in a household without asking everyone’s permission.
This seems touchy to many modern Grast, divorced from their ancestors’ ways. Historians point out that most crimes at the time meant exile into the bogs and an excruciating death by exposure, disease or malicious beasts beneath dark trees, just to name a few “options.”
Among Chiiraik occultists, some believe that these same customs must be adopted for a month in advance before any pilgrimage into the Garzdum Urtaga. What benefit they expect this to provide, and whether
First contact with explorers from Anseth changed the Grast’s priorities, particularly after these smaller foreigners demanded that the Grast give fealty to an unheard-of empire–that of the Southern Seal, as the northern Ansethi kingdom of Naibora had by then become an empire ruling most of the continent.
Though slightly shorter in stature, the Naiborans brought with them the world’s first professional armies and steel weapons enchanted against rust, as well as the first of the Noble Steels, emerald-steel, named for its hardness and a very slight green tint.
Hostilities broke out. Though the Naiborans prevailed in the early battles, the Grast rallied and formed a large coalition to drive out the invaders. The Naiborans were also devastated by tropical diseases and run-ins with the local wildlife. Extant accounts often mention such standbys the Lungworm, Knifestail Snake, and the now-infamous rukmog tree, which drops thrashing, venomous barbs when its trunk is shaken.
As to the horrors they encountered in the Untrammeled Ways, only the vaguest mentions exist. One account remains only as a fragmentary page at the Museum of Imperial History in Naibora’s capital city, Tushirsi. Almost all its lines have been rubbed out. One reads simply:
“The gods do not answer. The gods do not answer, and They are coming.”
The museum’s placard mentions that, as the collective Pantheon of Canno’s gods will not intervene directly in mortal conflicts, this fragment likely refers to nothing more than an especially vicious band of Grast raiders.
Its writer, Kenban Essura, mounted an expedition to the Untrammeled Ways in Enclave Chiir to test this theory in 1282 V.R. His party arrived in the capital at Tuhvak Chiir and hired local guides with the blessing of then-Matriarch Heilach Chiir. Heilach herself infamously said, “And may you put those aging powers in their caskets at last!”
After a month of planning and preparation they entered the nearest band of the Garzdum Urtaga on the 11th of Aboseyl that year. They were never heard from again. Heilach died in battle against Enclave Huag just a month later: a division of ten thousand Huag warriors outflanked her by emerging unscathed from a desperate suicide march through the Urtaga, cutting off her command group from the rest of her army.
To this day, occultists whisper that they were allowed to live as the instrument of the old powers’ retribution for the arrogance of Heilach Chiir.
As for the ancient Naiboran explorers, they retreated after two years and a number of lost souls that will never be counted in full. They did not make another military expedition for centuries. They found the Grast much changed when they did.
Based on captured documents and the testimony of Naiboran prisoners, the Grast began experimenting with metallurgy, agriculture, and specially-built fortresses at shallow points in the wetlands. Their class system mutated and complicated. They elevated warriors and craftspeople above the rest of the community so long as they practiced their trade dutifully. Among the ancestors of the northern Grast, the earliest forms of their warrior mythos emerged. Grast men and women armed with the first steel weapons in their society tested themselves against the animals around them as well as each other.
The second Naiboran invasion of ten thousand soldiers was met twenty miles inland from its landing site on the shores of the Glimmering Bay by a well-trained (though loosely organized) force of twenty thousand Grast warriors. The battle ended in a bloody stalemate; both forces lost around half their number. The Grast rightly regarded this as a victory considering the greater experience and coordination of their enemies.
Over the next two hundred years, the Grast expanded and fought the Ansethi, sometimes winning and just as often crushed. But as the Grast moved further from their ancestral homeland, their people began to lose their sense of unity.
While still closing ranks against the Ansethi, they came to identify with the families of their individual leaders rather than as one people. Frequent exposure to the sun returned pigmentation to Grast skin, and within a few centuries the old near-white paleness came to be seen as the mark of the primitive: a hut-dwelling creature cut off from the ennobling challenge wider Canno presented.
Grast culture began a mass shift from hunter-gathering to agriculture and city-building in the millennia before the Age of Splendors. Village leaders became warlords. Then princes. Queens and kings. Finally, woman rulers took the fore. To this day most Grast cultures from the Chiiraik in the north to the Lianmus in the south are matriarchal.
The warrior class became hereditary. Soldierly service became a civic duty for many others. Steel usurped copper and bronze. The Grast themselves developed sapphire-steel somewhere around -2182 V.R., which supplanted all. After the Loar War, only a few Grast enclaves retained the knowledge of forging sapphire-steel, granting them a repeat of this early monopoly when civilization healed enough for trade with other continents.
Spearfighters went from unarmored to wearing some of the heaviest and most ornate lamellar on Canno. Archers became revered for their accuracy and killing power.
Then the Loar came.
After shattering the population of the Eastern continent, the Loar assault swept over the whole of Canno. Even on the opposite side of the world, the Grast were dragged into the war. They suffered greatly in hand-to-hand combat. But with no choices beyond victory or death, they fought on.
In this bleak age came Ten Zul the Inferno Matriarch. From her words to her deeds, her impact on modern Grast culture remains so outsize that it can, ironically, be difficult to trace back to her with certainty. The Chiiraik remain proud that they alone could birth a matriarch fierce enough to stand strong against the Loar and unite the fearsome Grast beneath her banner, a union they had not known since the first near-forgotten wars with Anseth.
Ten Zul’s achievements during the war are as legendary as they are impossible to prove. The accepted stories include that she fought the Loar general Kedrul in single combat and nearly sheared him in half with her mythic reaping spear, Skybleeder–a weapon of such awful and mind-enthralling power that after her death it was sealed miles before Tuhvag Chiir in a vault guarded by all the deadliest traps her mages could devise.
The most dramatic accounts claim that Ten Zul could outrun a bullet from the speguns whose making was lost during the War, be burned, ripped, and torn a hundred times and heal so cleanly it was as though she was never struck, and cause the very spells of the Loar mages who stood against her to collapse. All these have been dismissed as the sorts of fables any culture tells about its most famous hero.
No historian of the Grast or any other people dares dispute that Ten Zul was an outstanding spear-duelist and martial artist–one aided by some supernatural power that even her closest allies did not fully understand. The northern Grast still broadly follow her staunch beliefs in a matriarch’s power as a tool for the good of her people, and in the rights of those people to exercise their own free will. To follow their own path in life as long–as they don’t decide that freedom means undermining the collective health of their society.
Ten Zul fought, with ever more lending their voices to her battle-cry, until the last of the Gaunt Ones fell. On that day the Grast stood taller than most. Ceslonian scholars claim that they fought the Loar further from the invaders’ center of power, and so their losses were not quite so grievous as those of others. T
rue or not, Ten Zul’s strategic and tactical genius played at least as large a role: surviving Grast accounts portray something verging on a sixth sense, a supernatural instinct for when to march and where, when to divide her forces into a thousand tiny columns to minimize the devastation from Loar sky-fire and how to bring them together against just the right time and place for a single massive onslaught.
During the sixty-five Cannoan years of her post-war reign–longer than most humans live from birth to death!-Ten Zul instituted the tradition of enclave invokers which persists to this day. Under it, all mages receive free education through their enclaves. As part of this training, they are instilled with the belief that their power exists for their community’s benefit as well as their own. It’s no coincidence that the Grast now benefit from the most developed arcane infrastructure on Canno.
Ten Zul’s Sunburst Empire, sadly, did not outlive the Inferno Matriarch herself. It depended too much on her cult of personality to hold itself together, and within a few years her daughters began to split it between themselves. The brief utopia Ten Zul created collapsed within a decade.
The modern Grast live in many complex societies of which most remain organized around matrilineal families. The old marriage custom died out during the Loar War, but its echoes lives on to the present.
The northern Grast have taken to the stock system–warstock bred and raised for battle and rule, peacestock as entertainers and producers of luxury goods–more strongly than any culture besides Temana. Despite a common Chiiraik belief that a mother’s womb combines the virtues of all her husbands, most matriarchs take care to have at least one purebred warstock daughter.
While most Grast societies stratify themselves by stocks just as other human societies do, the ancient reverence for craftspeople and mystics puts both groups largely outside the stocks’ influence. A male warrior would count himself just as lucky if a skilled peacestock painter chose him for her husband as he would if a war-matron hauled him from the field.
It might take that warrior time to get used to being on the other end of the size difference scale, though! Warstock women of the northern Grast are the tallest on Canno. Fewer than one in a thousand stand under six feet or 1.82 meters, most average six foot three inches to six foot nine inches, or 1.92 to 2.05 meters, and the tallest can reach up to eight feet or 2.44 meters with no ill effects from their immense stature!
Most warstock Grast men are somewhat shorter, running the gamut from a low average of five foot ten to six foot two–that is, 1.78 to 1.88 meters.
Aside from height, the Grast warstock have the same far superior musculature as warstock elsewhere on Canno, regardless whether they’re from one of the northern, central, or southern Grast peoples. The coastal Grast never actually adopted the stock system, and thus are one of the few remaining human ethnic groups who have the same stature as their ancestors from the Age of Splendors. Though it’s folly to define any ethnic group by one immutable list of features, the Grast do trend towards relatively full cheeks, smooth, gently curved noses, slanted eyes, and fine dark hair with a few redheads.
The lead Grast woman of a family goes by the title “Matron” no matter her age. Only the ruler of an enclave may call herself matriarch. In the Grast meaning of the word enclave, translated from the Chiiraik “Shumurlk,” this refers to a nation with a unique cultural identity shaped by its terrain and contrast with its neighbors–important ideas to all Grast, as these were largely the factors which determined where enclaves carved out their borders from the remnants of Ten Zul’s empire.
Each matriarch straddles a range of possible selves. Some prefer to lead the house by martial prowess, others by masterful political maneuvers, economic initiatives, or even vicariously through the best of their children.
The martially-inclined become feared warriors and cunning generals. For these childbirthing begins at the age of fourteen and continues until four children, at least one a woman, survive to strengthen the dynasty. Socially-adept matriarchs devise elaborate rituals based on music and dance to express authority within the house. Canny choices allow them to elevate favorites or put rivals in their places, with choreography as the excuse and the method both.
Among many other customs still shared in common from the Sunburst Empire, the Grast believe no tool is so simple as to be complete without art. If a toolmaker wishes to produce a hammer, they must either embellish it with engravings or imagery, or make its every line so beautiful, its handling so perfect, its head so strong, that these things become art in themselves. This custom easily gets out of hand. Some Grast wonder if a shovel engraved with tossed-earth imagery isn’t a waste of everyone’s time and money.
Of course, they’ll still dunk an outsider head-first in the nearest stagnant pond for suggesting that!
The Chiiraik, the Lianmus, and many other Grast cultures use dance and music as a means to structure society. This in turn gives musicians even more influence in their society than that of other artists.Some nobles have started feuds by insisting their rivals take the most embarrassing parts of certain dances.
Ten Zul had a special love for music, so naturally Enclave Chiir itself takes this to the utmost extreme: in Tuhvag Chiir, a skilled songstress can make or break fortunes by deciding who sits closer to her. The mere whisper of her favor may be enough to persuade someone’s enemies to leave them alone for fear of being torn apart by the singer’s followers.
The matriarchs of Enclave Chiir have no reason to fear this prestige: they’re the ones who pay for the common houses where so many singers get their starts. More over, Enclave Chiir funds and manages the famed Lilac Singers of Enclave Chiir. State sponsorship, far from making them spoiled, has turned them into one of the most ruthless meritocracies on Canno. The climb from the early contestant’s iron pendant, to the accepted singer’s bronze, the silver of an expert,then the gold of a master Singer can take decades.
The wise see no reason to rush once they’ve made it in. Even a Bronze ranking in their guild effectively guarantees the singer who earns it will live in luxury for the rest of her days–hence the Chiiraik proverb, “In Tuhvak Chiir, Bronze is worth its weight in gold.”
Nor do they forget the generosity of their patroness. It’s often said that to whisper in the hearing of a Lilac Singer is to shout in her matriarch’s ear.
Since the Loar War, the majority of Grast Houses worship the same pantheon. Most of the smaller and middle-strength deities who once numbered in their hundreds and set apart the countless cultures of north, south, coasts and center died with their worship under the Gaunt One’s guns. Their crumbling shrines sink forlornly in the bogs.
The Great Five remain.
First comes the goddess Enlaig the South-mother. She represents matriarchs both as women and as rulers. Her exact depiction changes from House to House. Sometimes robed, sometimes armored. Sometimes loving, sometimes wrathful. Always, she’s a tall, starkly beautiful woman grasping the long, heavy reaping spear reserved for Grast matriarchs and their immediate female family.
The spear itself is a peculiarity. No surviving pre-war shrines to Enlai show her with it: more often three meters long than two, with a heavy single or double-edged blade at its head and an armor-crushing counterweight at its bottom. Most scholars believe it’s the inevitable result of the cultural shift in the Loar’s wake. What use a mother who lacks the strength to defend her children against such evils?
Each of her four husbands encompasses several aspects of Grast culture:
Shieb, shaggy-haired but clean-shaven, potbellied but strong-armed, his shirt sleeveless, his trousers hiked up. He clasps a bowl of skinned eels, fruits, and, since their import during the Age of Splendors and the farmland needed to grow them, grains. Shieb represents Grast foragers, hunters, and farmers, as well as bakers, cooks, and the others who feed their fellow Grast.
Tumi, with his thoughtful expression, spectacles or goggles, hammer and toolbelt, represents every form of Grast craftsperson. His robes are always stained in oils and grease, sawdust and grit, but lovingly-made and free of damage. He’s particularly revered among the Grast’s architects, who are forever at war with soft ground, water intrusions and aggressive plant or animal-life when building against the bogs, and the merchant nobles of Enclave Chiir, whose wealth and prestige come from their early monopoly on sapphire-steel.
Raith is both the most widely beloved of Enlaig’s husbands and the most frustrating for sculpters. In all his incarnations he dances, robes swirling around his slippered feet, laying a reed flute or strumming the thick-bellied guitar treasured at Grast celebrations. He represents artists, entertainers–including prostitutes and other kinds of intimate companions–and free spirits.
Intei is the war-god. Dour, hard-faced, leaner and taller than any of the others save Enlaig herself. Always said to be her favorite husband. Obviously enough, he represents all forms of Grast warrior. More subtly, he represents spies, ambassadors, and mages. He always carries his “twin” spears, one a war-spear built to match the tastes of whichever Grast culture depicts him, the other a four-foot throwing spear. He wears a heavy suit of lamellar, laminar, or plate with a plumed helm in his left hand.
Enlaig’s bushel of husbands imply much about the Grast ideals of marriage. Theoretically, every warstock Grast woman has the right to as many husbands as she may entice. Roughly equal populations of men and women mean that in practice only matriarchs or exceptionally powerful, wealthy or attractive women are likely to have more than one.
This often causes friction between a matriarch and her daughters. Many matriarchs start birthing very young, and aren’t yet in their thirties by the time they finish. Their fully-refined womanhood often shames the teenage awkwardness of their daughters before suitors, with resentment sure to follow. A number of Grast plays, both tragedies and comedies, revolve around the struggle between a group of Grast women for dominion over a particularly enjoyable man.
To this day when asked to explain themselves to outlanders, scholars of the wider Grast first divide themselves by the four major sub-ethnic groups, each delineated by region, then by specific culture.
Of course, any given culture’s customs, clothes and architecture may show up among others. Both Chiiraik and Liangmus noblewomen show their rank by wearing metal torcs with segmented layers of platelets hanging down over the chest. The same conceit of adding two entrances to a civic building or compound, one accessed by narrow high-road for important guests with a rail enchanted by kinetic runes, the other at ground level by a broad foot-and-cart path for ordinary visitors, exists among both the Kaokar people and the Hingal of the central Grast.
The northern Grast were forced into a leading role against the Loar by mere fact it was their land the Loar first attacked! Their mage-talent ran sparse for a time from Loar culling, but families carrying it showed it frequently, and with alarming strength. Ten Zul urged a system of constant arranged marriages to share this talent.
After her death and her empire’s fracturing, the northern Grast held to it while the new rulers of other domains chose the short-term profit of hoarding the power arcane for themselves. Thus the northern Grast cultures now have the highest rate of mage-born children of any realm on Canno.
Their struggles against the Loar inspired an especially stringent warrior ethos. If anything, many northern Grast warriors need to taught to train a little less hard. Exhaustion and burnout remain endemic among young warriors, and and northern Grast commanders usually need to plan around excess courage rather than cowardice. As trite as this may sound, it’s a legitimate and often disastrous problem.
Young war-matrons are infamous for compromising entire battle-lines by inciting their entire battalion to charge at the wrong time, leaving devastating weak-points in their formation, or refusing to give ground and being killed to the last only for their commanders to lose later battles when they’re no longer available to die at the right time. Enclaves Chiir and Serai also have a reputation for the strictness warstock mothers show their children.
In Enclave Serai, this tends to be exaggerated due to the harsh appearance of their highland dwellings. In Enclave Chiir, the reputation is both well-earned and all too often borders on cruelty.
A long history of violent conquest has taught the northern Grast much about maneuver warfare. By seizing farmland emptied in the Loar’s genocidal onslaught, they enabled an early population explosion and ultimately came to have half again the numbers of their closest rivals, the central Grast.
Because they’re the only Grast most nations in the upper non-Grast third of Taifen will ever meet, these especially occult and warlike folk have given the rest of the continent a fairly distorted idea about what “Grast” actually means.
Their customs, foibles and flaws also tend to overwhelm perceptions in other nations, especially the ever-insular Tresamer. Northern Grast garb is dominated by richly patterned color-coordinated robes, short pants, and light-weight, intricately carved and shaped metals for adornment–always padded with silk on the inside to keep the sun from burning it to one’s flesh!
Chiiraik clothes exemplify this trend: sleeveless and knee-length by default to account for the heat and humidity of the Grast Kgor. Any loose fabric is tied at the hems with metal plates to prevent it from snagging as easily on thorns and other protrusions in deep foliage. For journeys in the bogs, the Chiiraik have special lamellar sleeves for the limbs with solid metal plates to shield the joints as well as specially-shaped helms which can be tied on with bands under the arms. These
Their fashion also includes varying layers of other clothing depending on context, taste and weather. In Enclave Serai, which has only a few lowland outposts in the bogs at the edges of its territory, long robes, veils, furs, and cloth bands or scarfs tied around the neck and limbs create an entirely unique mutation of the lowland aesthetic.
It’s both a conscious expression of their separation from the lowlanders whose tongue and beliefs they otherwise share, and a biological necessity to stay warm: the highlands of Enclave Serai are far colder than even their significant difference in elevation would suggest.
Some would say that it’s supernaturally so: Enclave Serai has been the traditional nemesis of Enclave Chiir since time immemorial, and Enclave Chiir’s people love to say the Serai are cold because they’ve abandoned Ten Zul’s fire.
The central Grast are comparatively tame in learned temperament and customs both. Their inland location and the dense ravines, caves and fire-resistant bog flora of their heartlands made them especially obnoxious for the Loar to hunt. These factors proved even more successful in deterring pre-Loar invaders up until the Age of Splendors, when military invasion came to be frowned upon and the Hingal people brought the central Grast onto the global stage through a booming arcane industry–one whose actual export has been forgotten.
All this meant that the nations of the central Grast lacked anything like the warrior traditions and military development of the other cultures, which likely convinced the Loar they were best left to be slaughtered after final victory. The Loar focused more on other groups, leaving the central Grast second highest in numbers and with more of their ancestors’ customs intact.
The central Grast favor mid-length robes either sleeveless or with elbow-length sleeves as well as shirts and vests. They supplement these with light, tight limb-wrappings in place of the day-wear armor favored by their northern cousins. The central approach makes moving in the dense (and frequently venomous!) environment of the bogs easier, but offers less defense against predators. It’s clothing for people who appreciate the common sense of just avoiding problems, rather than burdening themselves with so much gear they feel obligated to plunge head-first into danger just to prove a point.
The coastal Grast, comprising populations on both the east and west coasts of Taifen and strips of land connecting the two, are the most diverse in beliefs due to their nautical links with wider Canno. They’re also the wealthiest and most technologically developed, though sparse living space and a relative lack of local metal have hampered them militarily. They are by far the smallest of the four major subgroups, with only about a quarter the numbers of the southern Grast.
They wear sleeveless robes or shirts and baggy pants, with various forms of jacket for sailing in bitter seas. Otherwise, their clothes are a pastiche of everything they’ve ever found appealing from every culture on Canno–not necessarily with the blessing of the people whose ideas they’ve adopted.
The southern Grast are the most insular, least technologically developed, and least influential in the politics of the current age. They were most numerous just after the Loar War. They quickly fell behind other groups for want of good farmland. It might have something to do with their isolation from the rest of Canno, but an outlander would be foolish to press the issue too far: killing mouthy foreigners is legal in many southern Grast houses.
It’s worth noting that the southern Grast, typified by the nomadic Lianmus, don’t see any of these things as bad. Most of them feel that their people’s best attempt at expansion came under the Serpent Matriarch Simu Tilar, herself Lianmus. In the 8th century V.R. she attempted to recreate Ten Zul’s feat, leading a vast army of horse-mounted warriors that she named the Unbreaking Tide in a bid to seize all Taifen.
She was “forced” to content herself with half. Her cavalry were simply incapable of breaching the natural barriers created by the bogs while the northern Grast matriarchs could never force her army to a decisive battle, creating a stalemate that lasted the rest of her life.
While the Unbreaking Tide was able to conquer large portions of Tresamer, Sarn, and other lands of northern Taifen by riding around the bogs along the western coast, this gap was too narrow to allow a full-bodied northern expansion. Simu herself came to accept this with good humor. “You surly blood-guzzlers are nuisance enough to rule,” she told her old guard in later years.
Just like Ten Zul, Simu’s empire revolved around her own cult of personality. It disintegrated as soon as her daughters inherited it.
Since those days the southern Grast are content to hunt in the steppes and wintry taiga covering the southern peninsula of Taifen. They disdain the various robes of other Grast houses for heavy, lovingly stitched shirts, coats, jackets, and pants trimmed with furs. Their territory starts in the last stretch of the ancestral Grast bogs, and ends in the final vaguely-temperate bits right at the edge of Taifen’s tundra.
Past them lie only disunified tribespeople, struggling drybed citystates, and a driven handful of fisherfolk and hunters who ply the waters between Taifen and the continental ice-fields known as The White Nothing.
The last fifth or so of the Grast population comprises holdover tribes clinging to their ancestors’ ways in reaches of the bogs too isolated for a full enclave to assert its dominion, remnants of enclaves shattered in the Loar War, and other subcultures who live some blend of the four regional models.
Regardless where they live, modern Grast spend more time fighting their rivals than any power of wider Canno. Perhaps a few aspire to the imperial unity of the past. Most cherish their own ways far better.
(More from Canno)