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Sankur and Iselgin, Islands of the Northwest

03 Feb 2015, 21:14

This is a place and people profile that will, hopefully, be connected to a forthcoming story. This material is intended to be compatible with 3e, as nebulous a prospect as that is, and is tied to a specific location on the 3e map - specifically the two coastal islands in the large tundra bay one reaches by going north and west from Grieve.

Comments are always appreciated.

Sankur and Iselgin, Islands of the Northwest
As seen by Thousand Shades Blank, representing the Forbidding Manse of Ivy

The islands of Sankur and Iselgin are located in the far north, off the coast of the Whitescrub Tundra and north of the Knife Hills, past the Flatside Penisula as one travels north. They are large islands, but isolated. The Whitescrub tundra to the east lacks urban settlements this far north, while the Broken Fang lands to the west, across the sea, are also poorly settled.

This is a long, narrow land, defined in part by its shape. Iselgin, the southern and smaller of the pair, stretches some one hundred and fifty miles north to south, but averages a mere thirty miles in width. Crossing a very narrow strait, sometimes no more than a mile depending on the tides, and frozen much of the year, one reaches Sankur to the north. This island is roughly the same length as its counterpart, but is considerable wider. The blocky northern half of Sankur has a width of roughly seventy miles. These islands are mostly low, flat territories, physically resembling the soggy and open tundra to their east. The center of each island rises slightly, but also includes dips and ravines where water and ice have carved tight valleys. The terrain is considerably rockier than the peat and permafrost bogs of the mainland, but still quite wet.

The most remarkable feature lies on the eastern coast of both islands, where sharp cliffs of exposed black stone and narrow coves form a twisting, nibbled coastline in the close up, but one dramatically straight overall. A narrow channel, no more than fifty miles wide at any point, known as Sea Dragon Run, separates the islands from the mainland. This channel has a great impact on the cycles of life on these islands. Each spring the ice between the islands and the Whitescrub Tundra melts faster here than on the open ocean side. As a result the open water drives a powerful current northward every spring, and the path here stays open longer in the fall, with ice cover present for only five months and not eight.

A great many of the migratory creatures of the sea, birds, seals, whales, even certain varieties of fish, utilize this passage in the spring and fall, seeking a route to the summer feeding grounds opened earlier than elsewhere. A great run of salmon also utilizes this path to dash by the islands and up into the rivers of the Whitescrub Tundra every year.

Flora and Fauna
The flora of the islands resembles that of the Whitescrub Tundra. Bogs are filled with arctic mosses, small flowers, hardy sedges, and a few short-lived floating plants. The drier uplands, more common here hidden among the cracked and stony boulder fields, shelter large quantities of white rock willow and a number of small ground-hugging berry plants. There is also a variety of vine that seems to be found nowhere else. Called Palebulb, it has long, narrow runners that crawl across the boulders. The roots anchor in natural impressions where the water pools. These roots exude a toxin into the pools that kills insects drinking from them. This strengthens the vine. These vines are cultivated by the people who live on the islands, as the roots can be made into a nutritious mash if treated properly.

Stony and uneven, the islands host no populations of the great wandering mammals of the north, neither caribou nor mammoth nor any of their relatives. Instead they are home to small, grubby balls of fur such as lemmings and hares, and the weasels and foxes that prey upon them. There are many birds as well, with loons a well-known local presence among the sheltered inland pools. A handful of pools, heated by warm springs deep beneath the earth, even shelter a variety of toad. Bright orange and smelling of sulfur, this thumb-sized creature is deadly poisonous.

Larger animals can be found on the western coast. During the summer the residents of the sea ice come ashore. Certain isolated rocks poking from the sea on the edges of Sankur and Iselgin shelter tremendous populations of birds, loud, raucous, and covered in the white of their droppings. Predatory birds, including a small population of Great Eagles, shelter on the heights. In secluded coves polar bears lounge and fight while they wait for the sea ice to return. Each island also hosts a single lineage of Ice Weasels. These creatures prey upon the marine life of the coasts during the summer, only to retreat to the inland regions when snow begins to fall. These two lineages fiercely oppose those from the other island, and should any weasel cross the straight it will be viciously hunted down by the others.

The eastern channel, when open, is a highway to an immense quantity of life. A dozen types of seal, at least as many of whale, and countless forms of fish chart the path through this realm each spring and fall, with some lingering all year. It is an immense concentration of life, and only the relatively warmer water allows the great kelp beds of the shallow channel to sustain growth in the face of so many mouths. The living beings of this channel are often skittish, however, for they know that the channel hides the massive jaws of a family of sea dragons that has long claimed this as their hunting ground. Above the waves, human hunters with sharp harpoons circle endlessly as well.

Landscape Features

The Tunnels of the Bog
There is a great bog in the northwest of Iselgin, over a mile on a side. It is positioned atop a strange bowl in the landscape, hovering above a great stony platform. Below this, deep within the lower permafrost, lies a series of tunnels, long and narrow pathways shaped as the tracks of great worms. Eerie places these, forbidden by the laws of men on the island. The water here does not freeze, though the tunnels grow terribly cold in the winter. Why this place should be as it is I cannot say.

Sea Dragon’s Rock
A great hill exists in the central channel, parallel to the strait between the two islands. It does not rise to the surface, topping out in a flat platform twenty-five yards below the surface. It is marked well in the winter, for there is always a great hole torn in the ice, no matter how thick it may grow elsewhere. A hole shaped by mighty jaws.
The rock is the chosen lair of the dominant sea dragon of the channel, the male who claims this land as his territory. While females and young may swim within the waters at his sufferance, no other males are permitted. The waters atop the rock churn red with blood when there is a challenge between males, and the plateau itself is strewn with the skeletons of the fallen.
By ancient agreement the sea dragon ruler of the rock has a pact with Cold-Rush-Gouge, god of the channel. He will not attack human ships or attempt to steal their kills, and in return, the God will prevent any elementals from doing the same.

Torn Hole
This is a set of ravines near the west coast of Sankur. Fully inland, they do not connect to the ocean. They are sharp and deep impressions, with ice on the walls and sides that never melts. Sheltered from the winds, these cuts in the landscape harbor the only true soils and trees on the islands. Willows grow dense on the ground and their roots seek out purchase along thin soil dropped from above and made of mashed leaves of years past. These trees may reach five yards high, an astounding height in this landscape. The trees themselves are strange, for their leaves are tinted deeply, almost blue, and their bark has vein-like markings of the same.
This wood is valuable for many purposes, and deeply prized by men, but the spirits of the forest, led by a quintet of blue-leafed dryads, fright hard against any attempts at harvest. Most eerily of all in the strange and nearly silent forest is its shape from above. Looking down from on high, the ravines resemble a giant, clawed footprint, the impression of a tyrant lizard the size of mountains.

Demenses and Manses
*Sealed by Order of the Forbidding Manse of Ivy – Not for Release*
By my count these islands harbor five confluxes of the dragon lines. Four are in the free state, only one has been capped by a manse.

Sea Dragon’s Rock
This location is also a water manse, of the weakest variety. Bubbles extruded from vents within the plateau empower the growth of living things. The resident male monopolizes them, breathing deep from the bubbles and increasing his puissance and power compared to others of his kind.

The northern end of Sankur is marked by a single, massive outcrop of basalt. This black rock is festooned with bright clear crystals the size of a man, hundreds in total. The stone and crystals are both exceedingly hard, unsuited for mining. By day the sight is impressive, but at night it is far more so. The crystals glow in starlight or moonlight, a beacon that pierces any cloud or fog. Northpoint serves as a major navigation point for hunters ranging off of Sankur.

This mighty stone is a weak demense of the earth. Tiny stone-shaped insects can sometimes be found crawling on the crystals, cleaning away bird droppings and sea spray. If captured and ground up, they serve as a channel for the manse’s power.

Green Ice Arches
On northwest Sankur, at the edge of a rise where a small glacier nestles among the stony pile, five bright emerald strands, luminous arches as wide as a man and four times as high, streak brightly between great boulders. The roughly star shaped area within the boundary of these arches, a handful of acres in size and universally filled with narrow cracks between boulders, is a demense of air, of the weakest variety. The wind perpetually howls through these arches, playing a mournful song in low registers, similar to the sounds of whales mating.

The Rolling Peat
This is a wide bog, many acres on each side, in southern Iselgin, in a low area of the land. Earth seeps and accumulates here, producing a deep and thick layer of peat, covered in sheets of moss on the surface. Unusually the surface is broken up in places by long tree trunks and massive branches. All are stone, petrified and quartz-like, many colored. The earth of this place is strange. A footstep strikes it as a water droplet into a still pond. Ripples flow across the peat spilling outward across the bog. These motions impact against the embedded petrified remnants and set them to rolling. Motion swiftly multiples as each rolling tree sets of ripples that impact against each other over and over. In minutes the entire bog is whipped to a frenzy, churning and rioting as the sea in a storm, tossing the stone trees about as ships at the mercy of the hurricane. Such events are extremely dangerous, as it may take over an hour for the energy to dissipate to the edges of the bog.

This is a strong Earth-aspected demense and is well-known as a sacred location. To brave the bog and return with the berries of shrubs that grow only near the center is sometimes undertaken by shamans for the purpose of healing.

Pillars of the Strait
This manse occupies a tiny rock in the center of the narrow straight between Iselgin and Sankur. It is only the size of a house and tops the waterline by mere inches when the tide rushes through. When there are heavy winds or a storm water washes over the floor. The currents on all sides are the deepest and strongest of the straight, making it difficult to reach by boat. While the strait rarely freezes heavily due to the tides, there are always a few days each year when there is a path of ice that allows access to this point for an unencumbered human.

Those who built here chose resounding strength. The stone floor is flattened to be precisely level, and covered with a layer of reinforced steel. Seven pillars rise on the edges, a distorted circle. Each is formed of a slightly different gray-shaded metal, of types known only to alchemists, and marked with traced runes of starmetal in the form of constellations. These shift and reflect, forming oddly distorted mirror images with color filtration to those who look upon them. These pillars are incredibly strong, armored heavily against any strike or blow.

This manse dates to the decades following the contagion – the prior structure was leveled by Fair Folk invaders. It is weak Water-aspected Manse, but has been consecrated to Akavi, Queen of Salt Glaciers and Goddess of Sea Ice. Shamans from both islands journey here in the winter to sacrifice to the goddess (and other gods of ice, winter, and ocean) for success in the winter hunts and protection until spring. Heroic tales speak of those who have brazed this place in summer and won great boons.

The two islands are host to a single people, the Berar. They are a semi-nomadic population that rely heavily on marine resources, particularly the abundance of life that passes through the Sea Dragon Run in spring and fall. The population is generally striated in bands of territory that wrap across the island like stripes, with each village of a few hundred claiming a stretch of coastline on each side and the land between. They generally migrate overland in the fall and spring, moving from permanent housing on the west coast to the hunting and gathering camps of the east. However in the northern portion of Sankur the people have taken to migrating south by sea before the ice closes in, and hauling their ships through the strait with lines. In time this practice may be adopted by the whole of Sankur, which is wider and makes overland travel more difficult.

Yearly Cycle
Berar society is organized around a series of season migrations and hunting patterns. Major hunts are undertaken by all able hands during the marine life migrations of the spring and fall in the Sea Dragon Run, with the people setting up their seasonal camps, launching their boats from protected coves where they winter above the ice, and struggling to hunt, land, butcher, and dry as much meat and fish as possible. During the height of summer the strongest hunters remain in the channel hoping to land walrus, whales, and other large prey to produce ceremonial items, oil, and retrieve goods for export. Some also dive in the coves for shellfish. The young and the old move inland during this time, harvesting berries, flowers, the stems of certain sedges, and the roots knots of the palebulb. They also trap for birds, rabbits, and mustelids. While much of this is eaten immediately there is a constant push to store all food possible for the lengthy winter to come.

Only during Calibration does this fervent hunting and gathering cease. A great many ceremonies are held during this time, led by the shamans. Great feasts are also held, using up spare food that cannot be preserved. There is much wild romance as well, as children conceived of during Calibration will be born during the plenty of summer and not the fury of winter.

For the Berar on Iselgin there is time for a brief final hunt before the migration to the winter grounds, while those native to Sankur usually shift into motion as soon as the year has turned. Winter houses are cleared and prepared, open water boats are put into secure hidden shelters, and the people proceed to haul their accumulated stores by sled, ship, and lake across the landscape. This process takes upwards of a month and requires many trips. This is a vulnerable time for the Berar, as they must move in smaller groups and travel the inhospitable inland region. The ice weasels of the inland territory may prey upon them, and restless polar bears roam the western coves, hungry and potentially willing to attack men.

Once into their winter housing, Berar society stratifies in a way not evident during the brief warm months. Women, children, and elders remain in the sheltered dugout houses, performing various crafts mostly indoors. The able-bodied men, ranging from teenagers to middle-age, take narrow boats out onto the ice, powered by winds and sharpened runners. They seek to find the elusive holes of seals and trapped whales upon the edge of the ice, hunting amongst the polar bears and great eagles. This is a risky enterprise, but it can bring great windfalls if a group of trapped whales is found or some other bounty. The shear risk, and the losses to the arctic and to the predatory Fair Folk who occasionally ride across the ice, reduce any surplus in the population.

In the First Age this territory was controlled by moderated weather and the cooler oceanic currents made for a highly productive fishery, and that was their primary purpose, separated from the great northern pastures to their east. When the Solar Deliberative fell much of the weather moderation lapsed, and the land grew cold. The Shogunate, preferring to utilize large sea vessels and relocate the First Age fish processing infrastructure to more populous regions, abandoned the islands as marginal habitats.

During the Contagion a small population of pastoralists from the Whitescrub Tundra crossed the frozen Sea Dragon Run to Iselgin, hoping to outdistance the plague. This did not happen, but the sweeping armies of the Fair Folk passed these desperate souls by for the most part, leaving the survivors whole when the Empress scoured the Fair Folk back and the Contagion subsided. At the same time a Shogunate lieutenant, barely surviving a battle with the Fair Folk at sea, pointed his crippled vessel at the only indicator on the horizon – the glowing crystals of Northpoint. These few survivors gradually struggled south, hoping to meet anyone alive.

A year later, at the straits between the islands the shipwrecked sailors, reduced to five individuals, two of whom were dragon-blooded, met with the mainland refugees as they struggled to fish in improvised and poorly made sealskin boats. In an episode that looms large in the myths of the Berar the two dragon-blooded dove into the straits to save a floundering vessel. The first succeeded, righting the vessel and towing it to shore. The second washed into the current but was able to scramble out onto the tiny island of the Pillars of the Strait and recognize its power. The names of these individuals have been lost, but in following tales the successful lieutenant would be associated with the northern island, while the other would be joined to the south, and their names, in corrupted form, became the names of the islands.

These two dragon-blooded, recorded in the legends of the Berar as the Wise Mariner and the Willow Priestess, worked with the survivors, teaching them how to build and sail boats on sea and ice, and how to hunt the marine life, how to gather the berries and purify the medicinal plants of the harsh land, and to treat the skins of their kills so they could build houses. Using sorcery to tame elementals they raised the Pillars of the Straight and established them as a sacred site. They are further credited with negotiating for the Berar before the gods, notably Akavi, and Cold-Rush-Gouge, the god of Sea Dragon’s Run who tears the ice open each spring.

The Wise Mariner stayed some time with the early people, aiding them in finding the best cove sites to set their permanent villages on the western coast of the islands, and mediating disputes over hunting grounds, before eventually sailing away, never to return. It is probable that this officer attempted to make contact with civilization elsewhere, but if successful, he never returned in the memory of the Berar. The Willow Priestess remained longer, but when the marauding Kad-Men came she negotiated with their leader, ultimately sacrificing herself in return for a treaty that stands to the present.

Life has proceeded mostly unchanged ever since. While the expansion of the Berar population has resulted in the occasional skirmish between villages, and sometimes honor duels over lands or fishing grounds, life is too hard here for the people to engage in warfare. Trade is regular with the Kad-Men to the north and with the pastoral populations of the Whitescrub Tundra to the east, but otherwise the land is very isolated. Occasional arrivals of people in great ships from the south, apparently traders from Fajad or Grieve blown far off-course by storms, are of significant importance.

Occasionally, roughly once every generation, the Berar population produces a dragon-blooded. These figures tend to become religious leaders of great importance, and many feature in the oral tradition of the Berar for fateful quests undertaken, usually far out on the sea ice or in the untamed lands to the north. On at least one occasion Sankur was attacked by Bearmen of the northern tundra, and Iselgin recalls a battle with demons on the waves, and their summoner, whose depiction matches that of an Apheliotrope. In both cases dragon-blooded shamans led the defense.

Social Structure
Berar society is similar to many northern hunting societies in that it divides power between a chief and a shaman. Among the Berar a chief’s primary role is as the leader of hunts and defender of the hunting grounds, occasionally to the point of fighting ceremonial duels for this purpose. Chiefs may be challenged by a suitably successful hunter in a non-lethal contest – usually wrestling – witnessed and sanctified to Cold-Rush-Gouge. A similar dueling process is conducted when the chief dies or steps down.

The Shaman holds a role of vast importance in Berar society as intermediary between the people and the gods, elementals, and animal spirits that are of importance to them. Becoming a shaman requires a visit to one of the sacred sites of the Berar. The Pillars of the Straight are the primary choice, but others such as Northpoint and The Rolling Peat are considered acceptable. These secondary choices have become more common for shamans representing villages on the southern and northern edges of the islands over time.

Shamans are trained extensively from a young age, having been chosen by the previous shaman, or the shaman of another village if the shaman unexpectedly dies (this is rare, the Berar’s gods work to protect their shamans). The position of shaman is deeply associated with the Willow Priestess, and therefore all Berar shamans are expected to be female. Should a man be chosen as shaman they undergo ritual castration – most commonly at the Pillars of the Straight as this is considered a great sacrifice and is generally well rewarded by Akavi. Due to this restriction male dragon-blooded cannot become shamans and are generally encouraged to leave the islands.

Knowledge among the Berar is preserved by the shamans. This is mostly an oral tradition, with long sagas of heroism memorized and recited during the long winter nights. Tales of the past are also carved onto walrus tusks and whalebone, but aside from simple pictograms used in thaumaturgy the Berar have no writing.

The Berar speak their own language, a derivative of Skytongue that has grown unique during the long period of isolation. There are two dialects, one for each island, but they are mutually intelligible. A small number of chiefs and a majority of shamans speak Skytongue, if haltingly, and some also speak the tribal languages of the Whitescrub tundra.

Among the Berar shamans and chiefs are deeply respected and lead their small village societies with great authority that is rarely questioned. Aside from these leadership posts the society is quite egalitarian. Every hand shares in the work and every hand benefits. Food is divided evenly, as is housing and valuable metal tools, with priority of place given to ability to undertake certain types of labor. Should a village begin to outgrow its resources and suffer hunger, the men undertaken ever-more far-ranging winter hunts, which either provides the necessary food, oil, skins, and bone, or shrinks the population and frees up resources. To die at sea is therefore not considered a failure, but an honorable death, and an infirm elder may request this right as a way to make his or her peace with death if they wish.

Protected by the isolation of their islands, the patronage of Cold-Rush-Gouge, and the treaty with the Kad-Men, the Berar are generally quite friendly to outsiders and are very open to trade if approached peacefully. The trade regularly with both the herding peoples of the Whitescrub Tundra and the Kad-Men, and would actually like to see more outsiders if that meant greater chances to trade for metal goods – their islands have iron in the bogs, but they lack the time and fuel to process these deposits.

While welcome in the short term, outsiders are by no means allowed to settle on the islands, and any visitor who remains for more than a season will be politely driven out, or forcefully removed if they resist. Very occasionally an outsider may be allowed to marry into a Berar village, most often a shipwreck survivor washing up to Iselgin.

All Berar consider themselves one people, but over time the affiliation with the individual villages, which are largely patrilineal clans, has grown strong, and the slight climate differences between Sankur and Iselgin are only partially counteracted by the meetings of shamans at the Pillars of the Strait twice each year. In time the cultures may divide into two slightly difference peoples, especially if access to the Pillars were to be lost for any significant period.

The Berar are simply not in the business of warfare, their lives are too hard and territorial disputes are decided through well-established contests. They have no time to spare for raiding others. If attacked, however, they form a militia to defend themselves, led by their chiefs, with the villages uniting behind the guidance of their shamans – some of whom have the ability to bargain with elementals for supernatural support. They fight with bone-tipped harpoons and arrows, and the chiefs have ceremonial war axes. They fight either in small boat war parties or by retreating into the countryside and fighting harassing actions in the rugged terrain. In honor of their treaties the northern villages of Sankur have occasionally sent warriors to aid the Kad-Men, and over the centuries several male dragon-blooded have taken this path as well.

Beyond their immediate environs the Berar have very little understanding of the outside world. Even their shamans have only a vague conception of what the Realm is or the existence of vast cities to their south. Fajad and Grieve, the nearest powers of consequence, are thousands of miles distant, far beyond their ability to reach.

Sexual Politics
A patrilineal society, the Berar consider marriage an import bond among families used to trace lineage and decide living arrangements in large, extended families. Monogamy is stressed as a means to prevent distrust and ill-will among hunting parties, where men must stand side beside their fellows in perfect coordination. Divorce is not allowed, but women are free to leave their husbands and return to the households of their fathers. Remarriage is both accepted and actively encouraged in the case of death – usually it is the woman who remarries when the man dies.

Love is considered valuable and a blessing, but not a necessity. Marriage is a means of stabilizing society and producing the next generation to carry on, and women who choose to go unmarried or who fail to produce children will find great pressure applied to them to correct these states, with shamans fighting hard to eliminate fertility problems. Woman can, however, marry outside of their village and often do so, as bridal exchange is a way of cementing bonds and negotiating changes in hunting lands as animals move or populations change. Exchange across the straits is limited, however, as the Berar slowly slide apart on their respective islands.

Infidelity does occur, of course, but it faces harsh punishments, applied equally to the women and the men. The shaman administers severe beatings to those caught out in infidelity, often inflicting permanent scars on the face if the wronged party wills it. Illegitimate children are taken from their natural parents and given to a barren couple known to the shaman to be raised as their own. Repeated failures in this regard are grounds for banishment, the most terrible of Berar punishments.

Law and Order
Berar society is small and tightly knit. Disputes are generally handled informally, with each clan serving as an extended family to all. Part of the duty of the shaman is to counsel and guide people in order to avoid conflict. However, these are a people accustomed to terrible violence and constant loss, and so criminal action does occur.

Issues occurring in the public eye – such as assaults – are resolved by the chief, often by manipulation of the hunting order so that the offender will be scorned by others, or by straightforward corporal punishment. Private disputes, especially those between men and women, are resolved by the shaman, though corporal punishment is again often the rule. The most serious crimes, especially murder, are investigated by both shaman and chief, and the culprit is likely to face banishment, the most serious of punishments.

Banishment is generally a death sentence, since other villages do not take in wrongdoers and there is no easy way to leave the islands. Those banished in summer face a desperate attempt to cross Sea Dragon’s Run on a hand-built raft, while those banished in winter must make the journey across ice. In either case, the goal is to reach the Whitescrub Tundra and shelter with a tribe there, but this is astonishingly unlikely. Those sentenced to banishment are more likely to throw themselves into the ocean, considered an honorable choice, rather than attempt the crossing.

The Berar are a people of many gods, but certain key figures make up the principle objects of worship. The most important of their gods are Akavi and Cold-Rush-Gouge, who bless the sea ice and Sea Dragon’s Run hunts each year. These are the most important gods and are tied to the cycle of life and death. Each child is made to suck a piece of sea ice during their first winter, signifying the bond to Akavi, and a piece of channel kelp in the summer to bond with Cold-Rush-Gouge. When the Berar die their bodies are cast into the ocean to fertilize the lands of the respective deities.

They also honor the gods of the islands themselves, Sankur and Iselgin, relying upon them for shelter from storms and dangerous elementals and raksha. Beyond these they primarily honor their various prey animals, including whales, seals, and fish, and the corresponding plants on land. Small sacrifices are left aside for all of these at the end of each season. The gods of the great predators Polar Bears and Great Eagles are deeply respected by the Berar, who propitiate these beings by refusing to hunt them and leaving food on the ice in an act of brotherhood.

There is a god of the Berar as a people, and of the individual Berar villages, but these are not important figures in the life of the hunters. They prefer to focus on gods essential to the provision of their sustenance rather than more abstract concerns.

Though they feel kinship with the elementals of sea and sky, the Berar do not worship them, having been taught that they are not gods by the Willow Priestess. They will rely upon their shamans to attempt negotiation and potentially trade with these beings. In particular, shamans are often willing to use their bodies as bargaining chips for the favor of certain elementals. The occasional wood elementals that emerge from the bogs are much despised and the Berar work to drive them away or kill them.

Heroic ancestors are honored in Berar sagas, none more so than the two dragon-blooded founders Wise Mariner and Willow Priestess, but they are quite pointedly not worshipped. There are few ghosts among the Berar, as their bodies are returned to the sea in all cases and usually devoured, and they regard the worship of ghosts as wrong and ghosts that do appear on the islands are usually driven off. Demon worship is generally unknown among these people.

Certain of the gods the Berar worship occasionally mate with successful hunters or attractive young women who become lost in the inlands. Similar trysts occur with elementals, especially of lost hunters or with shamans who specifically use this as payment. God-blooded offspring from such relationships are uncommon but appear regularly. Officially they are treated just like anyone else, but they are usually groomed for shamanism and others become leading hunters. At any given time perhaps a third of all chiefs and shamans will be god-blooded. Berar do not have congress with ghosts or demons, and any fey-blooded who occur as a product of rape are burned alive.

The Berar are a compact people, with thick skin often cracked by long exposure to bitter winds, and robust frames. Their countenance is pale, though their hair is blue-black. They have little facial hair and most men go clean shaven. Their faces are flat, but narrow, with pointed chins. Their eyes tend to be dark, small, and slightly slanted. The residents of Iselgin have an ochre tint to their skin that the paler Sankur villagers lack. They have wide nostrils that are generals slightly upturned.

Furs, sealskins, tanned whale-hide, and limited knitted fabric crafted from bog mosses form the attire of the Berar. Bright colors are used to mark their clothing for successful achievements, with these dyes generally taken from marine organisms harvested by divers or crushed plant pulp. The brilliant orange dye of the hot springs toad produces exquisite impressions and is most valued by shamans. The fur of the ice weasel is also highly prized, but those animals are difficult to hunt. Siakal, whale, and sea dragon teeth are often used as adornments and in ceremonial tools. Walrus and narwhal tusks, possibly elaborately carved, may be utilized similarly. Great eagle feathers, when found, are highly valued.

The Berar may paint their faces for the hunt – particularly common on Sankur – but they do not engage in tattooing or ritual scarification.
Some Berar will have green hair, a legacy of the Willow Priestess’ bloodline in the population. This emerald coloration is considered a blessing, and such individuals tend to be given a favored place in Berar life – partly in the hope that one of their children might exalt.

The Kad-Men are Wyld Barbarians who roam the northern portion of the vast bay containing Sankur and Iselgin. They are covered in a thin layer of black fur that turns red around their eyes, mouth, and ears. They live in Wyld Zones that taint the shorelines of the northern coast of the bay, places where the plants and stones are completely black but have red flowers. Kad-Men hibernate through the winter only to emerge in the spring as the ice begins to break up.

They make rafts of black wood and take to the sea, sunning and feasting upon the rafts and diving into the water to hunt for prey. They have high endurance and are surprisingly agile in the water, where they use barbed nets to capture their targets. They prefer the shallow waters near the coasts and often range great distances. Should they see prey on shore they do not hesitate to attack. They make black-chord ropes from the vines of their homeland and place dangerous poisons on the barbs and weights. Kad-Men are quite happy to devour humans who leave themselves vulnerable, though they are generally cowardly and their small rafting parties do not attack large groups unless pressed.

Kad-Men worship the Great Sleepers, members of their race who have developed beyond the need for sustenance and now sleep and dream endlessly, shaping their dens in accordance with their desires. The mightiest of these beings, the First Sleeper, is a powerful raksha noble who has not actually awoken in centuries. His last was to conduct a treaty with the Willow Priestess for peace with the Berar. The Kad-Men understand that the Berar are not prey, and will trade with them instead, often providing resources scavenged from the ancient north, such as metal weapons and tools, and even bits of First Age leftovers taken from shipwrecks, in return for food or for the toxins of the hot springs toad, which acts as a potent hallucinogenic to these beings.

Kad-Men often fight with Bearmen of the further north and with other Fair Folk of various varieties. The Berar have been known to aid them in these endeavors, striking down goblins side by side.

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