The Blurs are the descendants of once-uplifted coleoid cephalopods, though centuries of self-modification through gene splicing and cybernetic augmentation have left it difficult to determine what species or even order their forebears might have belonged to. Their bodies are highly flexible, often shifting between spherical and cylindrical forms, and the number, length and shape of their tentacles can be changed on a whim, to the point that they can form pseudopods that allow them to easily move outside water. The only parts of them that remain stable are their beaks and four eyes, disposed at right angles from each other to allow for all-round vision. Unlike their ancestors, the Blurs are not asocial by nature, and live in small packs of five to ten individuals, which in turn are part of habitat-spanning communities. Combining their collective tendencies with an almost stereotypical curiosity, it was them who originally established contacts between the members of the Concord, and they remain to this day the main force holding the loose confederation together, as well as its most populous members. The Blurs owe their moniker to their method of communication, which consists of shifting their body's hue through instinctive control of their mimetic abilities in rapid and sometimes intricate patterns. Other species have sometimes described the display as enthralling, and edited versions of the Blurs' analogue of literature have been known to be used as hypnotic visual drugs.
The Scalders are the result of an attempt to produce partially organic life capable of surviving in, and eventually colonising, Europa and potentially Titan. However, these projects were aborted when disaster struck, and the prototype creature were left to their own devices in their testing habitat. Over time, they adapted to the use of the machinery left behind by their vanished creators, and, having the potential for intellectual development despite the lack of starting instruction, established a functional accord among themselves to unify their now growing population. The Scalder genome has much in common with that of tubeworms and some deep-water crustaceans, though, unlike these animals, they do not need to rely on geothermal activity to survive in cold oceanic depths. Instead, they are each equipped with a miniaturised internal furnace, which safely spreads its heat through their bodies by the means of a biomechanical network of hollow tubes. Outwardly, Scalders look like large, barrel-like worms with segmented chitinous shells, rows of segmented legs and two pairs of limbs, one large and powerful and the other minute, suited for fine manipulation. While they are amphibious and can control the activity of their internal furnaces to an extent, they find warm environments disagreeable, and often use external cooling apparati when not in their native element.
Drifters are the product of an even more ambitious sister project of the Scalders' creation: the colonisation of gas giants themselves. Unlike the Scalders, however, they had the fortune of coming to fruition somewhat ahead of schedule, and their first generations were trained in the use of the instruments needed to establish a hold in the treacherous swirling skyscapes of the gaseous worlds. While much of this knowledge was invalidated by the shattering, which wreaked havoc on vital infrastructure (not to mention the means of ferrying the necessary equipment to Jupiter, let alone beyond), the Drifters were able to reverse-engineer what they salvaged from the fall, and repurposed the nearest habitats to make them viable for themselves. Thanks to this timely expansion, they are now one of the Concord's most powerful and influential parties, second only to the Blurs; unlike the latter, many of them are suspicious of the alliance, fearing that it might threaten their autonomy. The Drifters appear as brown-greyish bell-shaped figures, about half as large as an unmodified human, with several broad, thin fins, or wings, extending radially to all sides. Outside their habitats, they usually move in special spherical modules which can roll without trouble over any magnetic surface, no matter how inclined. The Drifters are sometimes referred to as Floaters, after hypothetical gas giant-dwelling lifeforms imagined in the distant past; however, they see the word as a misnomer, seeing as any similarities are superficial at best, and many consider it derogatory.
Before the great immaterial intelligences collapsed, a number of beings, including both humanoids, uplifts and simpler synthetic constructs, attempted to reach a similar, fully digital state of being, believing it to be the ultimate form of development a sapient entity could reach. To that end, they converted their consciousnesses into code and fused them with specially built programs. For a while, it seemed to work: they found themselves capable of existing on a virtual plane, and gained incredible memory and mental agility, as well as seemingly unlimited potential for even further growth, as a result. But, when the authorities disappeared along with the systems that had allowed them to exist, these Transcendants discovered that they were the most vulnerable. Those that survived the first network failures scrambled wildly to download themselves into anything that could hold them in the last few nanoseconds left to them; as luck would have it, the vast majority of those who were not hopelessly damaged by the experience found themselves in the orbital factory of Usnis, where a stock of experimental mainframes had been abandoned after having been activated for testing. From these bulky machines, the Transcended were eventually able to transfer themselves into more or less improvised mechanical bodies, but they were shadows of their former selves. Their immense minds had been forcibly compressed and fragmented, leaving them mangled and often not entirely stable. Nevertheless, many of them retain useful skills and knowledge, making them a valuable resource. It is not uncommon to see bizarre metallic figures of all shapes and sizes throughout Concord habitats, either alone or in small groups, minding their usually incomprehensible business in remote nooks and corners.
The research network that produced the Scalders and Drifters did not limit itself to sapient life. Several subsidiary worlds were devoted to cultures and ecosystems of simpler creatures, speculated to have been designed to be used in terraforming efforts. To ensure that the small biospheres would not be damaged by accidents or unexpected internal imbalances, they were put under the watch of a special body of advanced custodians, known as Shepherds. Since then, decades passed, and still the dutiful machines continued to look after their charges. When supplies began to run low, the custodians, who had been left with rather sweeping commands, began to raid passing ships and nearby habitats, drawing the attention of the Concord. It was not without difficulty that the Blurs eventually persuaded them to abandon this crude approach in favour of trade (strangely, the Shepherds are not opposed to selling what they cultivate, as long as the losses are easily replaceable). Their current status respective to the Concord is problematic, as there are doubts on whether they are fully sentient, and thus qualify as possible members at all. The Shepherds' bodies are almost flat, rectangular stripes of flexible metal, capable of movement by slithering and interfacing with various devices by contact with their controls.
Points of Interest:
2866E0-45147B (Twenty Eight)
A large, partially aquatic cylindrical habitat, Twenty Eight is where the Blurs originated from, and remains the main hub of their communities to date. Additionally, having a central position in Concord territory, it serves as a provisional common ground for the alliance's members, with sections allotted for the needs of delegations and makeshift embassies from the entire sparse network. Much of the world's internal surface is submerged in saline water to suit the Blurs' (and in some parts the Scalders') preferences, though, considering the versatility of the Concord species, the dry segments are only there for the sake of diversification. Twenty Eight is often cited as a symbol of unity and cooperation, though it is obvious it is less suited for the role than the as yet incomplete Omonoi and its position in it is provisory at best.
Though the Drifters have spread to five worlds to this day, Iural remains the core of their small dominion. The interior of this cylinder, somewhat smaller than Twenty Eight, has been fitted to simulate the helium-rich upper atmosphere of Jupiter, with a series of stabiliser mechanisms simulating reduced gravity and the violent winds that rage over the swirling surface of the giant. Here resides the leadership of the most cohesive society in the Concord, conferring in tightly bound clusters suspended at the core of this landless habitat's baffling geography, or rather lack thereof. Unlike their allies, few of whom have any real government at all, let alone a centralised one, the Drifters are heavily dependent on their administrative class; Iural is therefore the most heavily defended world in the entire Concord, regarded as the beating heart of Drifter society - an analogy more applicable to their politics than their anatomy.
While most of the Transcendants have scattered across Concord space and continue to roam it without a stable abode, the industrial complex where they returned into the corporeal dimension is nonetheless an important location for them, and some other parties besides. Some of the formerly virtual entities still dwell in the factory's computers, preferring to remain in a comparatively more intact state over mobility. More importantly, the facilities of Usnis are the only ones in Concord space capable of producing the exceptionally efficient circuits a Transcendant needs to enter a synthetic body, and the assembly line is much too complex and expensive to replicate elsewhere. Thus, the machinery there is necessary to provide replacement forms; as well, the quality of its products makes them highly prized on the common market for other, less specific purposes.
It would seem that, in the new age, any great ideal worth its salt needs an impressive enough symbol to endure. The unity of the Concord is no exception, and its symbol is Omonoi - or it would be, were it not still, more fittingly that the Blurs would care to appreciate, in construction. This imposing toroid is without a doubt the largest of the Concord's artificial worlds, and appears to have once been a luxurious residence centre, though it has since been abandoned to its blind, tireless caretakers. For some years, it has been a pet project of the Blurs to transform it into a fitting core for the alliance, with ample diplomatic and trading grounds far beyond what the cramped conditions on Twenty Eight can provide. While the enterprise has so far encountered little real opposition, the greatest obstacle to it is the sheer scale of the restructuring involved, as well as the difficulties of designing an environment where starkly diverging ambient conditions would be properly balanced. While work has officially started on the refitting, it remains unclear when it will be completed, or even if it might not after all prove beyond the Concord's capabilities.
The Sidereal Concord is a loose alliance of beings and communities based in a web of former experimental trial habitats and orbital industrial facilities. Its formation is comparatively recent, only reaching roughly half a century into the past. As a result, its members, most of whom were already insular on their own, are as yet far from fully integrated, and are still held together more by the mutual protection and trading agreements that first motivated its founding than any other factors. While the Blurs, and with them most Transcendants, continue to push for stronger and closer relations between the Concord's components, other fractions, such as the Drifter leaders and some Scalders (who, it is presumed, are largely under the former's influence, given their usual lack of political initiative), resist this to varyingly direct extents. The unification efforts are made yet more difficult by the fact that the Concord still has very little in the way of global policies or even a proper definition of a more than strictly geographic sort, which leaves many who could otherwise have been favourable to the undertaking puzzled as to what exactly they would be joining.
The alliance, such as it is, has its roots in the Blurs' exploration of habitats outside their own. As the shattering left many artificially grown creatures unattended before they were fully inducted into their purposes, it took centuries for many of them to develop socially and scientifically to the point where leaving their purpose-built environments became possible, and years more to learn to operate the machinery their creators had left behind, which was besides only partially intact and often in need of repairs more sophisticated than the custodians could administer. The Blurs, being an adaptable and inquisitive people, were the fastest in restoring the spacecraft they found docked on their world, and it was not long before they could navigate their way from module to module. The Transcendentals and Scalders were discovered soon afterwars, and persuaded to band together for greater safety and the sharing of knowledge and resources - an exchange that was, at the time, distinctly beneficial for all parties involved.
The early years were, however, not without complications. The Blurs might have been the fastest in the region when it came to crossing space, but they were not the first. The discovery of the Iural Cluster, the six habitats controlled by the Drifters, was a shock for both sides - the Blurs and their allies feared they might have found one of the forces they had joined for protection against, while the Drifters initially mistook the explorers for invaders. While armed conflict was narrowly averted despite some casualties during first contact, relations remained uneasy for some time, and some years had passed before the Cluster formally became part of the growing Concord. The timing was on that occasion almost providential, for it was around that time that the Drifters finally readied a punitive expedition against the unidentified ships that had begun attacking and plundering some of their convoys. Concord members followed the avenging fleet, and it was owing to their mediation that yet another potential war was averted - this time against the Shepherds, whose appearance has placed new problems before the nascent coalition. While even some of the Concord's detractors admit that it has great potential for growth and prosperity, the shaky accord is yet in its infancy, and thus still dangerously fragile.
Inheritor of Lynnde, Bastion of the Old Gods, the Three Eyes
Despite being nominally a monarchical state, Lynn-Naraksh resembles a feudal oligarchy (with strong theocratic undertones) more than a true imperial order. Its lands are divided into Demesnes, regions of roughly comparable size, each of which is under the rule of a member of the aristocracy, known as a Blood Lord. The Lords hold almost unlimited authority within their domains, being capable of creating and altering laws, issuing decrees and levying militias on a whim, as well as wielding immense power in individual fields of administration. They are free to command the imprisonment, execution and conscription of whomsoever they wish, as well as to pass judgment over any dispute, whether called to do so or not, levy armies and command the undertaking of grandiose projects such as building a castle or dam. All that is formally required of them is that they pledge their loyalty and obedience to the imperial throne, observe the tenets of the Order of the Divines, which are few and liberal, and bolster the armies of the suzerain with their own forces in the event of a war.
In practice, however, all is not so simple. While the Emperor is indeed the highest authority over all matters temporal and spiritual, being, by virtue of position, the head of the Order, they rarely act directly or even pronounce themselves on any subject short of those affecting the entire nation. Instead, all necessities below this threshold are administered to by the Imperial Court, a gathering of the most disparate figures in the realm. Advisers, commanders, high cenobites, members of the imperial bloodline, envoys from the Kuraxxi bog-folk and the Vurogg tribes, executioners, kennel-masters, magisters of the militant orders, even some influential (and high-blooded) guild council members form complex but rigid hierarchies bound together by even more complex webs of codes and statutes. The Imperial Demesne, vastly larger than any other, is virtually a small empire within an empire, with various court dignitaries presiding over sections of it even as the Blood Lords do over their feuds. Knowing who of them can issue commands, who can give "advice" that is more or less worth heeding, and who can be disregarded altogether is vital for a Lord, lest they incur the displeasure of the Emperor or the scorn of their peers.
Emperor and Lords alike generally come into their position by succession. As the Blood Lords' title indicates, for one to be admitted into the rank they must be of sufficiently "high" blood, that is, with strong enough traces of Primordial lineage. Prospective heirs are placed through gruelling ritual trials by priests of the Order, in the course of which their blood is sampled and their force of will, desire for power and mastery of the magical craft are put to the test. Should any of them fail, they are quietly done away with, and a suitable replacement is drawn from the ranks of the Deathless Guard. The procedure for heirs to the throne is similar, though the trials are harsher and carry heavier symbolic connotations. Candidates for substitution are numbered among the more prominent Lords, though to this day there are no records of it ever having been needed to call upon them.
While, as far as most people in Naraksh are concerned, the power of the Blood Lords is absolute, there are nevertheless certain forces in the realm that are exempt from their rule and answer to the Emperor alone. The most notable of them is the Order of the Divines, the clergy of the state-mandated Primordial-worshipping religion, along with its affiliates, the Deathless Guard and the Scourge Knights. Tasked with upholding the old faith in the lands of the Empire and the minds of its subjects, the adherents of the Order can be spiritual guides, inquisitors and enforcers as the situation requires.
The other parties not subordinate to the Lords are the Kuraxxi and the Vurogg, who exist as semi-independent polities within territories allotted to them by the imperial administration. Their only duty, aside from the universal pledge of obedience, are to offer a regular, yet not greatly onerous tribute to the throne. However, it is a tacit assumption that they are to support the Empire with force of arms should they be unofficially called to do it, and so far they have never disappointed. Internally, the two races are loosely organised into, respectively, a cult-like structure and a confederacy of minor tribes; owing to their small populations, such simple systems can exist in relative stability.
"What usurpers of dirt can claim what is fit only for gods to rule?" - Krovris Naaher, Exarch of the Order
Even as its name is a dissonant amalgam of reverend speech from the east and the harsh accents of the region, the lands of Lynn-Naraksh are a patchwork of stridently unnatural contrasts. From the north, covered in cold, barren tundra and icy hills rising, here and there, into strange isolated mountains capped with glaciers, long and narrow stripes of frozen ground stretch like talons to clash with dry, scorched barrens. In the south, the soil is dry and smothered in ash perpetually rising from innumerable calderas and pits of restless magma which irregularly surge up and withdraw with no apparent rhyme or reason. These fiery regions have their own mountains - monoliths of bare rock, rich in valuable ores, yet perilous and volcanically unstable. Deep beneath the earth are vast chambers, once the abode of a Primordial, and now little more than glorified catacombs. Only the inhuman Lords of the land, the fanatical Order of the Divines, and hardy and ferocious beasts willingly make their home at these two unforgiving extremes. However, many fertile patches of volcanic ash in the more temperate central regions are inhabited and cultivated, and most of the subjects of the southern Blood Lords have little choice but toil in the mines to make a living.
The west is an anomaly all unto itself. There, swamps, marshes and damp moors intersect and mingle with perfectly flat salten wastes, pitted with bitter lakes and veined with torbid rivers. They are no more welcoming than the tundra: the swamps crawl with all manner of pestilential vermin and venomous foulness, the lakes are tainted with divine blood, and miasma chokes the skies, too heavy for any wind to disperse. In sparse and unlikely places, thickets and small forests of twisted trees rise from the white desert, and they are replete with perils of their own. None but Kuraxxi and Vurogg lives here, for the land is too wretched even for the Lords to scavenge; yet those monstrous beings seem to thrive here, festering in the traces of their fallen progenitor like the parasites to which they have a strange affinity.
Of the four corners of Naraksh, the east is beyond a doubt the least harsh for mortals to inhabit. While it is not without its oddities, for rocky plains cluttered with strange growths are common there, its soil is rich and well suited for tilling, and far fewer horrors plague it than the rest of the land. It is thus little wonder that most of the Empire's human population should be gathered here, both spread over fields and assembled in towns and cities. Several forests, less forbidding than those in the west, provide for many of the population's needs. Yet every blessing has a counterbalance: the fertile nature of the region is such that the Empire has deemed it ideal to sustain its war-beasts, and what the east lacked in monstrosity is amply compensated by the many kennels and stables that have grown across it over the years.
While Lynn-Naraksh's population has always been divided since the days of the Great Beasts and their hybrid spawn's cruel rule over the resentful masses of their subjects, the passing of centuries and the weakening of the Empire's rule have greatly aggravated this. The two formerly monolithic strata have fragmented into numerous splinters, sects and factions; while the dominant class remains mostly united by its enduring common cause (with the notable exception of the heresy of the Charnel Prophet), the larger populace has become divided by discordant faiths and causes. This separation notably only extends to the Empire's human population, since the Kuraxxi and Vurogg minorities have, as far as anyone can recall, always been cohesive not only internally and with the Lords, but, curiously, between themselves as well.
Superior to all in the imperial hierarchy are the Blood Lords, direct descendants of the Primordials that once held sway over the lands of Naraksh. Their efforts to maintain their bloodlines as pure as possible have led to virtually all of them being related to some extent, and generations of inbreeding, along with the strength of their elder lineage, make many doubt whether they are truly human at all. None has ever seen a Lord's face; all of them invariably appear clad in more or less ornate suits of armour. This is as much a tool of intimidation as it is a natural consequence of their abilities: the invariably high magic potential of the Blood Lords allows them to exert particular mastery over metal, ash and magma, which they are adept at conjuring and manipulating for their purposes. This enables them to wear their armour as nothing short of a second skin, reshaping it at a whim and not suffering any apparent ill effects from remaining encased in it for most of their lives. Due to the impossibility of discerning what is beneath their helmets and their own silence on this matter, the terms "Lord" and "Emperor" carry no connotations of gender in Narakshi, a peculiarity which has gradually spread to include most other titles and ranks in the Empire.
The staunchest supporters of the Blood Lords' regime are the clerics of the Order of the Divines, recruited for the most part from offspring of the aristocracy not in line for succession and those portions of the people who, through either cultural inertia or misguided loyalty, remain genuinely faithful to the Old Gods and their descendants. Though politically united, the Order, as well as its militant offshoots, is doctrinally split into two main currents. The Successionists maintain that the demise of the Great Beasts is final and irrevocable, and that the sacred duty of Lynn-Naraksh is to produce worthy inheritors of their legacy, who will eventually become deities themselves. They are ideologically opposed by the Resurgentists who hold that the absence of their Primordial lords is only temporary, with them having disappeared to face threats unknowable to mortals and fated to rise again when the time shall come. While the latter sect is somewhat influenced by Tranquilist doctrine, the latter is clearly heavily distorted, as some of its core tenets - animism and personal closeness to the divine - are fundamentally incompatible with the centralised and rigidly hierarchical religion of the Three Eyes. It is worth noting that the two currents do not violently clash with each other, and several syncretic teachings exist.
The colossus of the Empire's ruling faith is contrasted by the haphazard collection of what most of its subjects turn to for hope and support. While the worship of any entities, or even ideals, other than the Great Beasts is forbidden, the masters of Lynn-Naraksh have long since lost the power to effectively control the private lives of their citizens, and can only attempt to maintain appearances through terror and the occasional string of inquisitional trials. In the comparative safety of their homes, many revere the unnamed Primordials who struck down the Great Beasts and crippled the Empire's iron fist. For many, their number has been joined by the Prophetess, who is seen as a bringer of hope; tales of her being of humble origins are popular, as is the belief that the Silver Legion would have dethroned the Blood Lords, who scorned it, had it triumphed over the darkness in the east.
Strangely, the Serene faith has failed to obtain much of a hold in Naraksh, despite having been at the roots of the rebellion against the masters of Lynnde. Its support of a strong aristocracy is regarded negatively by the land's inhabitants, who have long grown weary of the uncontested excesses of tyrannical rulers and firmly believe that power will corrupt any who holds it, regardless of any codes they might try and impose upon themselves. Nonetheless, those remains of the ancient bonfires of rebellion the Blood Lords failed to stamp out have not fully abandoned their erstwhile religion. Most of them have come to embrace Protestant Serenists doctrines, which continue to slowly gain support at somewhat irregular rates as their proponents conduct clandestine evangelism.
Outside religious matters, life in the harsh environment of Naraksh, under the enfeebled but still vicious dominion of demigod-like figures who scorn them and treat them little better than slaves, has left many of its common folk hardened, if a little cynical. Though it will rarely find truly hostile manifestations, a distrustful, somewhat secretive and at times irreverent "us-against-them" mentality is a common sight among them, as are pragmatism and a strong attachment to family or small community ties. The Narakshi folk work hard when they must, rest when they can, preferably without being noticed, and celebrate quietly. Given the dismalness of the public order enforced by the Empire, the ability to find reasons for hidden joy in small things is valued and almost necessary.
Far removed from most of this, the monstrous races of Naraksh are for the most part culturally insular. The Kuraxxi, creatures combining insectoid, reptilian and a number of other, not better identified traits are the less human-like of the two. Little is known about these hideous, agile beings, said to be the offspring of the Bogwraith, the Primordial of the west. They live in moderately large clades in some of the most perilous places of the swamps and gnarled woods, refusing to speak or even show themselves to anyone other than the Lords and the Order; anyone else attempting to discover more about them inevitably fails to return from their expeditions. Among the few things they are noted for are their skills with poisons, pestilential curses and the taming of many of Naraksh's terrifying beasts. The latter makes it so that they are often sought after as handlers for the imperial army.
The Vurogg are believed to be descended from men touched by the vile blood that spilled from the Bogwraith when it fell. Large and strong beyond what most humans could hope to achieve, yet clumsy, feral and freakishly deformed, these brutish horrors are barely intelligent enough to congregate into tribal communities and follow the commands of the Blood Lords. Like the Kuraxxi, with whom they seem to understand each other quite well, much about them remains unclear, including how they reproduce - given that they are difficult to distinguish from each other in any way, and no one has ever seen anything that could be recognised as a Vurogg child.
The bulk of Narakshi forces in times of war is made up of troops, or more accurately militias, levied by individual Lords from their Demesnes. Their rank and file are far from an impressive force: they are sparsely armed, as each is required to assemble their own equipment and weapons (mostly consisting of pikes and the occasional crossbow), poorly trained, and their morale leaves much to be desired, seeing as they know full well they are fighting for interests far from their own and they will be fortunate to make it out of it alive at all. And yet, it would be dangerous to deny that the armies of the Empire are capable of tremendous destruction and bloodshed.
The truth is that the strength of the hosts of Lynn-Naraksh does not reside in their bulk. The imperial armies are infamous for their use of monstrous beasts of war and of small units of individually tremendously potent combatants. Their tactics are invariably of the aggressive sort, regardless of their position; while this would be suicidal for a more conventional force, the sheer brute strength they can bring to bear is such that no obstacle seems too great. This might, however, comes at a price. Terrifying though the Narakshi forces might be in direct combat, many of them are unwieldy and difficult to control, and collateral damage tends to be significant whenever they take the field.
At the core of the imperial hosts are horrifying creatures of the accursed lands of the Blood Lords, tamed and trained by the arts of the Kuraxxi. From the immense bonejaw terrors of the northern tundra and the cinderhide wurms of the south to the less describablemonstrosities of the swamps, the most lethal and horrifying dwellers of Naraksh are fielded against the enemy, some even clad in plates of armour to add to their already fearsome resilience. Their handlers are often close by, with envenomed spears and plague-enchanted claws at the ready.
Next into the fray are the troops proper. The Blood Lords themselves are seldom far from the heat of battle, either tirelessly marching on foot or, depending on how close their Demesne is to the tundra, charging astride monstrous armoured boars who have little to envy to the creatures unleashed by the Kuraxxi. Those without such a mount are typically accompanied by small, heavily armoured retinues, who, while they might lack the magical potency of their lieges, are for the most part well-trained and superbly equipped. Reinforcing them are the forces of the Order. For the most part, they are comprised of Scourge Knights, skilful and zealous warriors sworn to the Old Gods. Despite not having exceptional numbers of magic wielders among their ranks, the Knights are redoubtable foes, capable of combining hefty armaments with dangerous mobility on the field of battle. More rarely, they will be joined by Deathless Guards. This cryptic order, largely made up of Blood Lord offspring, is usually tasked with the defense of sacred sites in Naraksh; however, its members have been known to march to war when summoned by an Emperor. Completing the Narakshi ranks are Vurogg auxiliaries, poorly disciplined yet savagely effective if employed by a skilful commander.
In the long-gone Age of Legends, Naraksh was part of the sprawling Lynnde Empire that covered most of eastern Askor. It might have been one of many unremarkable provinces, had it not been for its vicinity to the Empire of Huayuan, which time and again repelled the invading armies from the north. Perhaps curious about the force that could withstand the advance of the mightiest dominion in the known world, or perhaps simply drawn by the smell of battle and bloodshed, three of the Primordials that ruled Lynnde, known as the Great Beasts, came to join the fray in person. They are remembered as the Ashen God, the Bogwraith and the Iron Maw, their names either lost to the ages or never having existed. The Great Beasts reshaped Naraksh to suit their unfathomable tastes, and begat monstrous spawn to serve as their lieutenants. At their command, legions were marched off to the south every day, accompanied by unnatural creatures of magic and ferocity, yet still they could not overcome Huayuan's defences. The war dragged on, amid the torments and vexations with which the Primordials prodded their more reluctant subjects, until rebellion struck. Over all of Lynnde, mortals rose up against their divine masters, seeking to break their brutal rule, and so it was in Naraksh.
Yet the Narakshi rebels did not possess the secrets that allowed their fellows in the east to overthrow the Emperor, and the blood-spawn of the Beasts, loyal to their progenitors, stood against them with their own forces. The uprising would have been crushed had it not been for the unexpected intervention of five other Primordial beings. Of those, much less is remembered than of the masters of Lynn-Naraksh; only their number remains in myth and chronicle, and it is said that they came from the sea. The five fought and slew the Great Beasts, supposedly due to taking pity on the plight of their thralls. They did not, however, take up arms against the Blood Lords, either deeming it dishonourable to battle such badly outmatched foes or hoping that even they might be brought to embrace freedom, and withdrew, leaving nary a trace of their passage.
From that point, the tide of the war had turned in favour of the rebellion. The Blood Lords of old were said to wield each the might of an army, but they were few, and their enemies were many. But, once again, a force from outside Naraksh stepped in to alter the course of the conflict. The Empire of Huayuan would have rather aided its old foes than seen the Serene faith triumph, and so it happened. With its support, the Blood Lords were able to rally and soundly defeat the rebels, shattering the resistance, it seemed, once and for all, and bringing Naraksh under their sway once more. After the Huayuan withdrew into its borders, they spent years consolidating their rule and stamping out the last vestiges of the rebellion. Though the Empire of Lynn-Naraksh is but a shadow of its former self, the ambition of its rulers has not changed over the generations, and, now that war and chaos are stirring through Askor once more, they prepare to reclaim what is rightfully theirs.
Lifespan: Theoretically indefinite. In practice rarely exceeds one year outside scoured zones.
Description: While most of Osveril's artificial life is designed with an express purpose in mind, the hollowborn are an exception to this rule. They have few practical uses to the demigod's goals at all, and the role they do serve could be filled far more efficiently by more specialised constructs. At the same time, they are, aside from that failing, the closest extant thing to an ideal entity by the Absolute's standards. Considering this and their origin, it may well be that their existence is, paradoxically enough, nothing more than a statement or a form of expression.
Created from the contamination of a Holy Wisp with the void, hollowborn bear some resemblance to their source in their abilities to serve as extensions of Osveril's senses (though only in its immediate vicinity) and spontaneously multiply by draining their surroundings of energy. Beyond this, however, similarities are scarce. Hollowborn have no actual substance, being pockets of absence of matter, energy and dimension imbued with a basic mote of activity by divine power. They have no more of a mind than unicellular life-forms and usually remain static, unless attracted by other Osverilian anomalies or sources of Gap energy, to which they flock. Their fissional reproduction is unchecked by any limits except for the need of catalyst in the form of ambient energy of any sort, and their population in an area will swell until most of its heat, motion and magical potential have been depleted. The only factor limiting their spread is their extreme fragility: being insubstantial, the hollowborn have no meaningful defences, and are easily destroyed by contact with dense solid matter. Conversely, more rarefied environments do not provide them with enough subsistence, meaning they cannot expand into higher atmospheric layers.
As such, the only environment in which hollowborn can thrive are the stretches of land left barren by the passage of dust crawlers. In a form of engineered symbiosis, the living rifts repay being provided with a safe breeding range by preserving its despoiled state. While a single hollowborn is not much of an obstacle to anything, vast masses of them intercept wind and precipitation, preventing them from scattering the dust. Likewise, they keep living creatures and even moderately powerful djinn at bay by siphoning their vital heat and sapping their magical power, severely hampering any deliberate attempts at restoration.
Appearance: Due to their non-physical nature, hollowborn are imperceptible to most senses; however, they are easily detected by their effects on their surroundings. A spot occupied by a hollowborn will be the focus of an optical distortion that makes objects around its appear shrunken and twisted and disrupts perspective. The space surrounding them is unaccountably cold, and moving bodies in their vicinity seem heavy and sluggish.
Grey Shriekers: Species (animal, vegetal, semi-sentient).
Lifespan: Around 20 years on average.
Description: Similar in purpose to dust crawlers, but far more specialised, grey shriekers are both a weapon aimed to eradicate Galbarian fauna and a defense for their sluggish brethren against forces capable of outmanoeuvring or overpowering them, such as fiberlings or mortal trappers. They are predatory beings that, while more selective in their appetites, are no less voracious and invasive, and almost as capable of destroying an environment's ecological balance through their habits.
Amalgamations of the most successful large hunting animals to be found in nature, including, among others, fleet-footed manglers and heraktati, with the anomalous traits of the crawlers, shriekers are fast, resilient and capable of surprisingly complex pack tactics. While they do not usually gather in stable groups, but rather sweep through territory in a sparse order, they remain almost always within hearing distance of one another. The rasping cries (in truth produced by an organ similar to a cicada's tymbals, albeit far larger and more articulate) that lend them their name, though seemingly monotonous, have a range of subtle inflections. This allows for a variety of definite warning and coordinating calls, which, remarkably, are usually combined in short sequences (for instance, "large prey-surround-pass this on") to build a veritable plan of action, however crudely. Despite this uncommon ability, the creatures are not consciously aware of the meaning of those signs, and act purely by reflex.
Shriekers, unlike crawlers, are carnivorous and possess a fully developed digestive tract. However, its organs are supplemented by minute internal void rifts, which allow them to decompose tougher or normally incompatible elements such as bone, hainshell or hair, a useful ability given their predilection for hunting fiberlings. Those rifts can likewise be shaped into a means of attack by fragmenting and expelling them through an orifice. In addition to being greatly harmful to beings sustained by immaterial energy, whose flow they disrupt, such disturbances can disintegrate pieces of solid objects they touch, thus giving shriekers a fighting chance against foes impervious to their natural weapons.
The reproductive cycles of grey shriekers are irregular and frequent. Along with their hermaphroditic physiology, this causes their populations to grow in dramatic leaps rather than at a steady rate. Rather than being an evolutionary drawback, the ecological unsustainability of this process only makes them more useful for their creator's plans. Impregnated specimens lay clutches of between three and six eggs and burrow them into the ground, deep enough to be safe from dust crawlers. After a gestation period of roughly two months, the newborn emerge as subterranean larvae, which spend between two and five years underground before emerging and moulting into adult forms. During that stage, the nascent shriekers already exhibit redoubtable aggressiveness and appetite, often surfacing to attack unwary prey aboveground.
Appearance: Grey shriekers are quadrupeds with backward-jointed limbs, as large as an adult herakt and covered in an angular, ligneous segmented exoskeleton akin to that of dust crawlers. Their bodies are elongated and relatively sleek, surmounted by a leathery, retractable sail-like crest. Despite the creatures being tailless, this organ still serves a steering purpose: rather than running like manglers, shriekers move in locust-like pounces and bounds, and catch sufficiently strong winds to adjust their trajectory, or ease the load on their hind legs (which are appropriately larger and more powerful than the fore ones) for longer leaps. Their short, blunt heads are dominated by multiple eyes, protected by translucent membranes, and an imposing pair of horizontal mandibles distantly resembling the pincers of a whip scorpion. Although their bite is itself dangerous, their main purpose is to protect the true mouth, placed at the tip of a muscular extendable proboscis, from penetration by fiberlings. Similarly, their respiratory orifices are located on their backs, as in heraktati, and concealed among junctures in their carapaces.
Shrieker larvae have longer, bulkier bodies, with short flat limbs suited for burrowing. Their soft and flexible shells are a paler shade of grey, and their eyeless heads have noticeably less developed protective mandibles. Nevertheless, save in their earlier stages, where they resemble little more than monstrous bloated grubs, they are clearly recognisable as similar to the adult individual should they be observed in full.