We’re not quite halfway through the month, but we can see it from here–welcome to Day Fourteen! This time around: the benefits and risks of replacing your limbs with magical versions, the nomadic riders of the Southern Ton, and a peculiar breed of herbivore native to the fertile hill country of Cumas. So!
Snippet #1: Arcane Prosthetics in the Twin Spirals (Worlds: Any)
It’s tempting for young mercenaries on many a fantastical world throughout the Twin Spirals to say, “Why would I need to armor my hands? They get cut off, I’ll just have ’em built of steel the next time!” This is troublesome if the arrogant sellsword in question is referring to a simple mechanical hand; a set of gears and pulleys form-fitted to the surviving flesh make challenge enough.
Those readers who have been following certain patterns involving mages and the arcane can guess the next part: an arcane prosthetic is outrageously expensive! In fact, any piece of enchanted wear or arcanatech–a prosthetic is often purely magical–commands a staggering price. Many factors drive this, from the rarity of mages to the complexity of the enchantments to actuate fingers and joints, simulate muscles, and so on. The most vital derives from the fact that raw magic hyperbolizes what’s already present–mutations in organic flesh.
A prosthetic must in some way, shape, or form fuel itself via the current, and this means that it’s always pulling some amount of raw magic. Controlling the current’s exact entry point into physical reality is so difficult that even Morsibrand never felt he’d mastered it. He believed he had developed enough control that it mostly appeared in his right arm. “I’m not about to botch a fireball on purpose to see if that’s the only thing that explodes!” he said, when pushed on the subject.
In other words, an arcane prosthetic that hasn’t been properly sealed will dump waste magic into its wearer over time. More than a few folk have been conned by grifters offering cheaper prosthetics. Oh, the prosthetics work, of course–that helps nothing when the wearers develop lesions, bone infections, and all manner of other degenerative diseases.
Yet, those who can afford to do so and know a trusted professional often have perfectly-functional limbs hacked off and replaced with arcane prosthetics? Why? Some of the answers are obvious: an arcane prosthetic does not tire, and while a good one should be enchanted to convey sensation, it doesn’t feel pain. Moreover, the best arcane prosthetics don’t twitch. While this makes their movements eerie, it’s difficult to overstate the fine-motor advantages conveyed by a limb which moves by gentle gliding rather than living muscle’s sudden jumps.
After warriors, the main buyers of arcane prosthetics are thus wealthy artists!
Snippet #2: The Southern Ton (World: Canno)
In the waning decades of the 8th Century V.R., the Serpent Matriarch Simu Tilar led her Unbreaking Tide north across Taifen. Armies shattered, cities fell, and for the last thirty years of Simu’s lifetime, she ruled the whole of Taifen as Empress. Upon her death of old age the empire broke apart; its outlying provinces regained sovereignty, foreign invaders cannibalized the rest, and the other Ton reassured themselves that this proved the supremacy of their ways. Whether that’s true depends on one’s perspective.
Simu’s conquest could only have been carried out by the southern Ton, for no other culture on Canno had then achieved quite the same blend of numbers, brutality, and martial excellence–that is, when it comes to fighting from horseback. The southern Ton populate a vast range of verdant steppes and subarctic forests comprising almost the entirety of Taifen’s southern peninsula. While their numbers have become less impressive in recent years with wider Canno’s population resurging after the Loar War, they remain a formidable military presence.
This cannot be understood without looking at the southern Ton’s lifestyle. Nomads since time immemorial, they roam about the grasslands of their home country upon stout, shaggy ponies renowned for their endurance and poised temperament. Herding and hunting across huge distances are everything to the southern Ton; in the process, they became fearsome horseback archers.
If a north Ton warrior prizes her spear above all things, for her southern cousins it’s the bow. The skills needed to coordinate with multiple other hunters and loose arrows with accuracy at long range are the only way to survive on southern Taifen’s steppes, especially once its bitter winters set in. In battle, the same skills translate to baffling and disorienting enemy formations, with the southern Ton using their exceptional sense of direction to outmaneuver and divide the enemy into easily-destroyed fragments.
In fact, Simu’s forces only had to engage in a direct charge against the enemy once–the Matriarch’s over-ambitious daughter, Menjun Tilar, thought she could seize one of House Huan’s fortresses as a foothold to invade the Ton-Ga. This was never among her mother’s plans. The southern Ton’s tactics could not have been more ill-suited to fighting in the bogs, however, and as for siege warfare they had no way to bring engines against the fortress even though they’d captured siege engineers by this point.
A Huan heavy infantry force soon moved in to close the net. Furious but unwilling to let her daughter die–Menjun was still a competent general in most regards, and Simu was still her mother–the Serpent Matriarch was forced to lead her forces into direct combat against heavy infantry in rough, swampy terrain.
No encirclements or feigned retreats could be used because the slightest deviation from the safe paths led to riders and ponies alike plunging among and tripping through dense trees or right into bog-waters and mud. The north Ton were larger, more skilled in hand-to-hand combat, more heavily armored, and every last one equipped with a mighty-war spear: it was a massacre. The Unbreaking Tide only reached Menjun by weight of numbers, and many died holding an escape open.
This debacle was the only serious defeat of Simu’s later career, and convinced her once and for all against attempting to conquer the Ton-Ga Bogs. Menjun took the lesson to heart; her sisters did not, and repeated attempts to “humble the swamp swallowers” were a major factor in the Tilar empire’s prompt collapse. The north Ton have been insufferable about it ever since.
Snippet #3: Separs
A curious species of semi-bipedal herbivore native to the kingdom of Cumas, a typical separ has a short thick tail, hooved back legs, and hook-like formations for front feet which curve inward, letting them be used both as secondary feet and to grasp food for easier consumption. Their heads are broad, with big bony snouts and long narrow eyes making them look malicious–the opposite of the truth.
Separs are amiable creatures whose early relations with agricultural societies were nonetheless rocky. Separs have voracious appetites, and will consume any plant matter they can. In desperate times, separs have been found chewing on shahir wood–a hardwood so sturdy that among Cumasi nobles, armor made from slats of the stuff has long been considered almost as good as steel laminar!
The separs’ appetite, and a typical animal desire for easier morsels, obviously didn’t endear them to early Cumasi farmers. In fact, one of the earliest Cumasi comedic plays, a one-act run of gags entitled “Maved Loses His Beard”, features a separ as a recurring primary “antagonist” which is forever eating Maved’s crops the moment his back is turned.
Eventually someone discovered that separs could be persuaded to feed on the worst of a community’s food, and that they even seemed to enjoy rotting plants better. This ended much of the active hunting: separs tended to shriek awfully when wounded and no hunter enjoyed killing them. Soon the Cumasi learned that separ dung was a far more effective fertilizer than anything else, and that plants fed by it proved more nutritious than otherwise possible. A few plant species even developed new curative properties!
Since then the separ has become partly domesticated; the herds do sometimes try to steal crops, but it’s easy enough to redirect them. This isn’t to say no sacrifices must be made; later versions of “Maved Loses His Beard” have added a twist–instead of his frustration at the separ causing him to tear his beard out, all his facial hair is burned off by the smell of feeding his fields!
That’ll do it for today–I think this balance of content what they call “eclectic”, no? As always, leave a like, give me your thoughts down in the comments, and please share today’s post with your friends. Twitter? Yes, I do in fact know ‘er. Anyway, you could follow me there if you wished!