Distant Lands: Half-Light

“…and there the author found himself staring west into the great maw of Nuria, the purportedly endless caves that wind beneath these parts of the Earth, or the whole Earth as some claim. Carved into the base and the walls of the massive ingress was the city of Half-Light, home of the Curuim, the monstrous spider-folk that inhabited these caverns, and named by the miners that work in the caves beneath it. Traders from all across the land flock over hilly forested wilderness to these twilit stone halls, to exchange foodstuffs and slaves for the riches of the Earth, particularly the rough-hewn gems and geodes so prevalent in the caves. Moreso then traders, many peoples flock from all the lands on this side of Cataclysm and especially the lands immediately surrounding Half-Light, so as to partake in the wealth of the caves below, albeit at heavy tax. An entire settlement of humans has been founded downriver by one rumored to possess magical abilities suggestive of The Gift, and whose lands the author shall seek when time permits.

Related to that settlement is Half-Light’s enigmatic condition, not the least owing to its economic situation. Despite their monstrous appearance and nocturnal habits, the arachnoid inhabitants of Half-Light subscribe to the teachings of the Most Luminous Maiden of Heaven, Erien Anorwen, praised be her name, though time has made their teachings heterodox and strange. Doubt not this account, dear reader, as the author did upon hearing it. In the gaping mouth of the cavern of Half-Light stands the Cells of Carimibara, a massive structure that serves in different places as fortification, storehouse, armory, public space, brothel, living space, and church. It is here also that stores the offices of the Tansiric Church, which rules and runs the city.  The primary tower, called the Spire of the Holy Wheel for the sun cross at its middle- has its base at the bottom of the cavern, and stretches upwards hundreds of feet to the roof, acting seemingly as a column of the cave. Other towers, courtyards and buildings crowd around it, and serve as de jure border demarcating where the city ends and the cave proper begins- though the prospector shanties, dwarrow communes, and leper villages have long since pushed further in. The Spire provides access to the network of tunnels carved into the roof of the cave, a smaller version of those carved in the bottom, used only by the Church and its members for quick access to the higher districts, and the watchtowers on top of the cavern mouth. At sunrise, the light of the sun shines unimpeded into the cave and illuminates the reflective metal of the sun cross, providing hope and relief to wayward pilgrims such as the writer of this account.

However, many travelers may be perturbed by the gallows- great stone shelves carved into the higher regions of the cave wall and all along the cliff face surrounding the mouth- where criminals or their corpses can be hung until dead, their “term” is served, or their body decays. The sunlit-gallows within the cave are fewer, smaller, and reserved for the very worst criminals, while those deeper in are larger, accompanied by artificial light below where criminals hang, and more often reserved for lighter crimes with supposedly non-fatal punishments. The condemned here are forced to hang by their hands, feet, or other body parts, with quantity and specific organ determined by the nature and severity of the crime. The cliff face gallows are most often used in auxiliary to the sunlit gallows, but are filled with prisoners of war during wartime. Some may say that it makes little sense that the worst criminals are given the luxury of light in their sentencing, but remember, dear reader, that the beings who made these cruel laws are nocturnal, and the climate of the region means that those gallows often lead to the victim’s skin burning abominably. These sun-gallows besides employ greater numbers of censors -whose sole responsibility it is to torture those living still, cutting away or forcing open eyelids being practically ubiquitous- than others. The bonfires of the subterranean gallows seem cheerful hearths in comparison, at least by estimation of the city’s inhabitants.

The primary road leading into the city directly follows the path of a mighty river flowing out of the caves, a river called the Gilkuin in Elvish tongues, supposedly transliterated from the original language of Calador, the original meaning “silver river”. The name fits admirably, as the cave water is so white as to be nearly reflective as a mirror. From there, the beautiful and austere stone facades of the city are open to viewing for all along the river path, with stone buildings and thoroughfares carved directly from the cave floor in some places and risen up with moved stone in others. The height of the buildings follow a general stair-step structure, their base emplacement agreeing with the natural curvature of the cave walls. Even the nearly vertical sections follow this architectural habit, with the steps merely being far narrower and taller than the ones below. These vertical sections are typically forbidden to any humans or outsiders without explicit permission and accompaniment of a high-ranking Church member or citizen of the area, though other spider-women of the city may come and go as they please. The most prestigious and wealthy citizens live in these areas, which incidentally contain much the same of what can be found in the Cells, though with a far lesser focus on public areas. Bridges run from each side of the cave towards the raised towers of the Cells, so it is entirely possible for the inhabitants of those vertical districts to reach the Cells without ever touching the cave floor or having to rely on their wall-climbing abilities. All doorways and roadways are far wider than most normal human cities, on account of the bodies of the primary inhabitants, and throughout the earlier and later parts of the day natural light casts stunning yellow, orange, and red swathes of color on the sheer stone surfaces. Sun crosses carved of stone stand at every crossing and termination, and the brilliance of the Gilkuin or massive symbol on the Spire of the Holy Wheel seem almost to create a second or third sun depending on the time of day- appropriately, the native language distinguishes between morning, midday, evening, and night based on how many “suns” are shining at those times.

But of course, questions have emerged that must be proper addressed, and you should forgive this author’s disjointed ramblings, dear reader. Undoubtedly you have surmised the basic form of Half-Light’s founders, and are unequivocally certain of their holy worship of the Goddess Erien Anorwen, but the details must be established to give a true accounting of the characteristics of this land, much like bases and posts must be placed and erected to create a truly sound structure. The inhabitants of Half-Light are creatures with the lower half most resembling arachnids, with 4 sets of legs. The frontmost of these legs do not touch the ground, and are primarily used in the gripping of their “prey”, while the other three allow for locomotion similar to their vermin cousins, including on sheer surfaces. Their upper body is that of an attractive maiden, though their arms end in claws, and are covered with the same carapace that covers the entirety of their lower body and overall makes them frightful to behold. Their bodies are formed in this way after the fashion of their creator-goddess, a foul seductress who birthed the various races of Curuim by luring men in with her fairer half. However, their lower halves despite their unholy appearance are equally useful, and indeed make the spider-maidens some of the most fearsome warriors of all the Earth. The gifts of blurring speed and freakish strength make them deadly enough, but the addition of hardened carapace and the ability to scale walls and ceilings as easily as they walk upright makes matching arms with them in their natural environment a fool’s task. The foremost martial order of their church, the Sisterhood of the Torch, employ all these talents in addition to the deadly flaming greatswords that all members wield in battle This natural martial skill and the contributions of the mentioned order in particular once allowed the Tansiric Church to bear sceptre over all their caves, and would still if not for their current state of dissipation.

The author upon his arrival then came into the prospector shanties nestled beneath the Cells and lodged with the rest of his company. On the next day, he surveyed the shanty town in fullness and saw the immense discomfort of those present. Few standing structures existed in any wise, for the ground was poorly fit to bare posts for support- most lived in tents and pavilions carried with them, or otherwise in the back of wayns, and for this reason the settlement is called the Canvas City. The author was advised not to on any compulsion venture into the town unaccompanied or unarmed by his companions, for despite the harsh recriminations of the Curuim crime had greatly infested the shanties. Further to be avoided were the leper villages that were deeper in, for fear of contracting that dread disease. The author, desiring to know whether the profusion of sun-crosses and other symbols of faith was not some mischance, and after some mischief was led to an Erienite church, in truth a small section of floor near the boundary enclosed by some raised cavern wall. Therein the author did meet the priest Zigin, and he was one Nibinyrch, those orchs well peopling Anorylvien and Laimladen and the other lands of Forcalador. And here the author learned the truth of the faith of the spider-maidens, and that indeed they followed the word of Erien Anorwen. Young Zigin was not of their flock, however, and did reveal that he was instead a member of the terranean church and here at his lady’s behest to provide services to those within the prospecting camps that do follow the faith. The spider-maidens are loathe to deliver any sacraments or any other service, or to admit any not of their kin to the church in any way. However, they allow though begrudgingly that other church to do service within their domain, for sake of friendship between that church and their own, and for the common religion they share, as the church here begat the one above.

He also told the author of how such a thing came to be, that is how not a hundred years past the city and its faith were well covered from the rest of the world, and now how hopefuls flock in their thousands to do business in the city, and the faithful have brought their light to the surrounding countryside. In times past, the holy church of the city saw fit to admit no men but those few such that had goods and services that they deemed useful, and were willing to pay “beorgild” which was an entrance fee. But the Supreme Presbytrix before last, or the one perhaps before that one, for the internal workings of the church are so indiscernible to outsiders that not even the name of the current church head is known, decided that the city would be best served by allowing more of those outsiders within their walls, primarily for the use of labor. For even in those days as now, gems are used for trade of the slaves, food stuffs, and luxuries that the inhabitants desire, but now any man who so wishes may go prospecting or mining in the caves neath the city. Prospectors are well rewarded for the discovery of new veins, the which is rare, and even have the right in case of discovery to bring forward limited numbers of miners with special dispensation, for those signed with prospectors have nine tenth parts withheld by the spidermaidens, and the final part’s composition of their yield chosen by the miner, typically those most valuable, and that part’s taxation is then the choice of the prospector. And those miners may well mine any vein found by the prospector, or any vein at all, excepting from either those deemed most valuable even amongst the rest, typically those areas bearing sapphires, for the spidermaidens wish always to maintain economic supremacy. But the independent miners are subjected to great taxation, that for every certain weight of they may fill a small bag which would not hold the hand fully with the least valuable of their own yield, or failing that then some portion of their findings not amounting to even the equal of a twentieth part of the whole sum. For this reason, smugglers oft attempt to move the gems from under the harsh impositions of the spidermaidens, but only the most experienced ever meet success in these ventures. The gallows are well peopled with those who failed in their attempts.

And as the prospectors laid down camps for their miner corps, those more desperate and less trained came also for the prospectors and even the least of their companies did acquire great wealth. First they clung around the well-organized camps of the miner corps and sought employ by the prospectors, but soon the unsigned miners outnumbered them, and then the artisans and grocers came, as did thieves and the mercenaries to counteract them. And now those miners in organized corps are outnumbered one to thirty by those without, and miners as a whole are matched in quantity by those of other trades, such journeymen as gem cutters and jewelers especially being well present. As a consequence of the taxation where any collection over a certain weight returns only a fixed amount, miners only take back some small amount and thus prevent the exhaustion of the mines. But likewise they are rendered destitute and only the desperate remain for any length of time, for also there are dangers in the caves-collapses, rivers, and wandering monstrosities all claim miners each day. Many of those afflicted by leprosy make homes deeper into the caves, for the spidermaidens are immune to their disease and find themselves sorely wanting for labor, even sullied. There also Zigin’s mistress finds most of her converts, the Canvas City being given over primarily to lawlessness and apostasy.

Zigin also shared greatly with me the history of his own people, and how they came to be in service to the Maiden, and of the native religions and peoples of the world above, and the wars between his mistress and them such, all divulged in that section. But then knowing well that the maidens were sisters in faith, the author endeavored to know more closely their history and how they came to be so far removed, and with Zigin’s blessing and apprehension was admitted to their presence. His fear stemmed from this writer perchance bearing the Gift, and that he would come to great danger if when the author went before the spidermaidens they suspected such. And he said unto me that despite their faith, no spidermaiden bore the Gift ever in their long history, and that their envy burned them and warped their hearts to frightful hate. Such was their dolor that his mistress’s bearing of the Gift has made that society’s alliance with this one frigid despite their natural sisterhood in faith and the profusion of common enemies. So rife and frightful is their hatred against her that none who keep to the Mistress’s flock durst come in any way or length to this city, saving those lepers who are most desperate, and those under explicit protection of her church. Zigin advised the author well not even to speak at length of the Mistress, for many of the Tansiric Church can not even bear to think on their apparent disfavor in the eyes of their new goddess, and that the author had best seek petition alone, for his presence may poison against this one those he wished to inquire with.

Thus forewarned, this writer did find his way at last to the Cells, and then to the base of the Spire of the Holy Wheel, and then within found a clerk. And there the author had put to use his diplomacy, by no means the match of those more personable or trained, but by necessity somewhat well developed, for such skills are oft preserving on journeys to distant lands. And by recitation of the Holy Prayer of Luminance, did prove himself of the faith, and found himself admitted eagerly to a higher official, to which questions could be tendered. That official, one Sister Gita, did prove eager to answer questions so posed. First, the history of the church was illuminated to the author, and recorded here. For the race of the Curuim, as they were called, did not always follow the Maiden’s light, and indeed began their existence as an entirely subterranean race, only dimly aware of the Maiden’s mercy and glory and rarely exposed to it. They began their existence as the spawn of foul demi-goddess named then as now Marglaez, whose form the spidermaidens take after to such an effect that no males are born to them. This goddess kidnapped, tempted, or otherwise collected many male consorts birthed each their own bloodline of Curuim to her, and each of these bloodlines would live on their own by taking their own consorts and thereby propagate their own lines, for any children born of their mother’s line. Thus Marglaez’s descendants came to control these parts of the Nuria for the large part, though even then Marglaez did not hold sceptre over all her children. And into this way of things came, by way of sunlit realms, the prophet Tansir, who was of the Maiden’s faith. Shorty he was captured by a certain bloodline, later called the Sokaisi and whose descendants now rule Half-Light, though at that time they went by otherwise. Such was Tansir’s conviction and charisma that he after nine and ninety days of captivity, he not only converted the entirety of the bloodline that held him, but took control of the tribe, and led them up into sunlight, to the place that now is the city Half-Light. Tansir gave his flock the secret of flame, which was not had before, and taught them much to defend themselves, though he himself swore an oath to do no living creature any such harm, and saw to their prosperity. On the day of his ninety-ninth year, Tansir passed from this world and was immortalized as a saint and Prophet, reckoned by them as the 6th in their own chronology.

His chosen successor, First Supreme Presbyterix Carimabara did assume her office as was ordained, and mobilized her sisters in pursuit of Holy Crusade after the fashion of the Prophet- Kings of the West or the Old Kingdom. The object of the crusade were those parts of Nuria below them, and they who lived there, for those all lived without the sun, and by the doctrine of their Church were sinful by nature. This distinction applies also even to the Sokaisi and all their sister bloodlines, who as said are creatures of primarily nocturnal habit as well, and are blinded somewhat and burned easily by daylight. This one Carimabara did lead her troops into the depths and was joined also by three other bloodlines of Curuim, who Tansir did convert in his own time. They gave the subterranean inhabitants much ado, for they then as now were doughty fighters in their native caves. A race of dwarrows were among the first to fall, and were forcibly converted and put into subjugation, where still they serve, though they are rarely seen. From them they learned swordcraft, and here founded the Sisterhood of the Torch. And with those deeds done, the Crusade did push further in, and eventually ran against the other races of the Curuim, where the Sokaisi dispensed their usual destruction towards sinners and heathens, and completely destroyed those bloodlines that they met. It was long before Marglaez heard of this new threat extinguishing her bloodlines and destroying her daughters, and did try and organize a defense to put back the Erienites, but then she did not well know or control all her progeny, and they were far scattered and much afraid of the Crusaders, and thus the defense was poor. Bloodline by bloodline the rest of the Curuim were put to flame and sword, and or long those Crusaders were near enough Marglaez to threaten her. Marglaez then called to her all the warriors of her chosen bloodline, the Glaeth, who were most numerous, and did await battle, which was soon joined. And there the crusaders saw and did many great feats of faith, and cast down the Glaeth armies by the power of the Goddess undid entirely the false deity Marglaez, casting her into a great pit of despair, said to lead down to the depths of Hell. After this, no quarter could be found for those bloodlines who remained, and they were exterminated utterly. Only the four bloodlines that were first to convert and one bloodline who joined them during the war survived the bloodbath, in addition to Glaeth, who were far too great in number to be exterminated entirely; left of the nine and ninety bloodlines of antiquity were merely six. At this victory, Carimibara converted all the Glaeth, and organized her wayward sisters into cities, and put over them Bishops to rule them rightly and in the name of the Maiden. Also she completed her crusade against the rest of the inhabitants of the caves within a certain area, the span of which none but the Church heads can be certain.

All this was generations ago, perhaps five or six; historical records are not kept in the city, for the Sokaisi have no interest in scholarly histories. And as mentioned, a generation or two ago, the city of Half-Light opened to the wider world, and these are the extent of the histories shared to the author. Gita did say that the once great Sisterhood of the six Curuim bloodlines to survive had been reduced greatly such that only four now remained, and also that only the Sokaisi kept the true faith, as it was widely believed by the dwellers of the city and the Church heads that paganry, heathenry, and worship of the false mother-goddess exists still in the other three cities, which stand now partially deserted against the directives of the church. No Bishop in living memory but one has held their rightful seat in the cities established for the other bloodlines, instead residing in Half-Light within the Cells. No miners are allowed to wander within the domains of the other bloodlines, for it is said also that they practice the old way of kidnapping men for their own usage, as opposed to purchasing them as is now done. And of these other three extant bloodlines, the author could learn only their names, such was Gita’s evasion to his questions. These were the Glaeth, who were mentioned before, and also the Saihin and the Gyosti, who were converted in the time of the Tansir. Of the other races that perished during or after the crusade, little was said, for their names were not well recorded. Gita insisted that all other bloodlines were monstrous, without the fairer upper halves of the Sokaisi, in reflection and punishment of their apostasy. The author then did depart, and was invited back the next week after next to converse again with a higher official, but he sadly found the matters discussed to concern mostly the surrounding lands and also on matter of employment which he did accept.

During his employ as a diplomat and messenger to the outer lands, the author did learn of a most curious habit of the spider-maidens, in that they sleep a great part of the day and night. He was told this was a result of their large bodies and many legs being tiring to carry and use, but the sloth extended even beyond this, for he found that most of the spider-maidens had no employment, in Church or otherwise, and instead whittled days away in lounges and brothels, discussing this or that and drinking with friends or entertaining traders while receiving food for free from traders in the Canvas City and from the Church in the city proper. The Sokaisi are capable of producing strong silk and once were excellent weavers, but this trade is now derelict within the city and seen as base by the inhabitants. And those that do turn to trading or brokerage experience great benefit at the hands of the Church’s preference for them, yet still most choose to waste away, enjoying the finer imports brought by the traders. But even beyond this great profusion of unemployed, the Church acts at a leaden pace, and the author found himself weeks between his assignments. Indeed, the primary reaction of the lower church to some development within the caves or the lands outside is to report to higher church, and the higher church -whomever that may comprise- reacts mostly with indifference. And tidings even as dire as an encroachment of subterranean beasts on mining areas did not stir them, till at last it could not be ignored, such were the protestations of the miners and the losses experienced. Likewise, the lives of their human allies on the surface seemed to mean little or nothing to them, despite inflamed hostilities against common enemies. Despite their great displeasure with the other bloodline’s cities they take no concerted action to control them, for paralysis or inability this author knows not, but in war the Sokaisi are certainly as fearsome as they ever were.

The next section appears to have been written later, undoubtedly once Boridhren was out of the reach of the city and the Tansiric Church, as his earlier passages suggest they would take unkindly to his sharing of the secrets therein.

The author during his time in the employ of the Church was found by gem smuggler of the Canvas City who had heard of the author’s visit to the Cells. And he was named Dark Alan, and was well acquainted with the caves deeper down owing to his profession, and claimed to have dwelt for some time in each of the other cities of the other bloodlines, whose danger he said was far overstated. In addition to Weavertown and Black Tunnel, the cities of the Saihin and Gyosti respectively, he claimed to have gone as far as Heathen-Pit, the deep city of the Glaeth, and even the dead cities of the two faded bloodlines. He also knew the names of those bloodlines, those were the Sensha and the Gijit. Of them he knew little, other than the first were a race of arcane oracles who joined the Sokaisi during crusade, and the other a pygmy race that was converted before. But of the three extant bloodlines, he knew much, that the Gyosti were a race of burrowers and the strongest of all the bloodlines, and the Saihin were excellent weavers and produced the finest silk, in addition to having many eyes. And of the Glaeth he said the most, for he spent the most time with them, as they have the most interest in dealing with the world above, from which they have long been constrained. All the bloodlines of the spider-maidens had beautiful upper bodies, in contradiction to Gita’s claims, and that the Glaeth who were chosen by Marglaez were most beautiful of all, as a sign of her favor, and that the Sokaisi were well known to be jealous even of this paltry token of divinity from a heathen god. He said that in truth the Glaeth are now as they were in the past the most numerous of the bloodlines by a wide margin, and even half-deserted their city of Heathen Pit is larger than Half-Light proper, though a great deal poorer.

He also told the author that accusations of heathenry are for the most incorrect, in the cases of the Gyosti and Saihin, but that the span of Nuria belonging to the Glaeth has been consumed by civil war. The rightful and few adherents of the Church now quarrel bitterly with apostates that claim Marglaez is not dead and will regain her dominion over her daughters. And he has said that once they requested help from them of Half-Light, but were ignored, and the hatred between the two cities now means contact is all but severed. He claims also that some within the city of Heathen Pit, even those faithful, say the pagans are right about Marglaez’s return, and the end times will descend and deprive the corrupt and insensitive clerics of Half-Light, then a new Carimabara but of Glaeth blood is born and reforges the Church in better image and truer faith, and them of the church were kidnapping men and other Glaeth for the hopes of procreating their savior. Dark Alan himself was spared this by matter of advanced age and also his use being far greater as parley and ally. And thus by indifference and negligence of the Tansiric Church which the author knows well, heterodoxy was spread through the faithful Glaeth.

Dark Alan claimed lastly that the histories of Sokaisi were built on lies; Tansir taught them true and puissant swordcraft, and the three converted bloodlines were done with force, not persuasion, and it was his plan all along to lead his flock in bloody destruction against their own sisters. More damningly, Tansir did not simply stumble upon the Sokaisi, but in fact was their progenitor, and himself a consort of Marglaeth, who turned his daughters against her for being set aside, though of such a man of obvious faith the author can scarcely believe it. Also the bloodlines that survived the war did not merely fade, but were destroyed by the Church with mighty hatred for perceived slights. The Sensha were all brutally slaughtered for rebelling against the rule of the Church, or perhaps trying to flee their sceptre, whilst the Gijit were destroyed utterly for no reason other than suspicion on the part of the Church. The Crusades were genocide not merely against their own sisters, but also against subterranean races such as dwarrows, of whom’s citadels more than one was undone completely by them. And even those creatures such that could be reasoned or converted with were burnt and unduly murdered for their heathenry and not the least mercy as appropriate of the faith was ever shown them. And Dark Alan said that even humans were not free from these depredations, for he remembers a time when he was but a boy that the Canvas City rose in peaceful and pitious demand of better conditions for work and payment, and the Church responded by sending in the Sisterhood of the Torch and burning all to the ground and killing many, and since he has hated them and sought to undo them in all ways and even brought the author great treasures and promises to bring him into the fold of the Glaeth, and thereby the author came to great misadventure by the hands of the Church and pagans and heterodox Glaeth all, and soon after was forced to quit the city.

Of the truth of those claims, the author can not say. However, his employ with the Church did seem to suggest that the whole of it was not true in faith or fair in governance, though it did give him good opportunity to travel across the lands all around Half-Light, which indeed have changed since the opening of the city. First he was sent as envoy to the court of a popular Erienite prophet….”


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  1. Distant Lands: Previews – Profane Ape

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