TW: some gore
Virgin births are not a terribly rare occurrence on the ring, and generally result from the movement of planets or other celestial bodies. In fact, the astromancers of Starhome can predict such occurrences with their usual accuracy.
This myriad celebrated varieties of starborn exist beyond the scope of this work, that arrive at fixed intervals, but instead the unpredictable and strange cosmites.
They are born with hair so pale blonde as to nearly become white, either wholly replacing their natural color or intermingling with their regular locks. Their eyes are a bright, soft yellow, or an airy pale green, though heterochromia with their natural color is again rather common.
No known astronomical body corresponds to their birth, but it is believed that infinitesimal particles that travel through void and air at great velocities are responsible. They occasionally streak the observation plates of astronomers, who first proposed this theory. These cosmic rays conceive by striking a woman’s egg and bring forth the cosmite.
Aside from their strange coloring, the cosmite tends towards thinness and fleetness, and have better than average sight in darkness. No other physical differences are apparent.
Emotionally, these folk are prone to silence and solitude. They take little joy from the presence of their fellow man, and consider themselves as separate from other men. Of course, other men consider them separate as well, which contributes to their isolation, but even in the best of cases, the cosmites tend toward reclusion.
Most cosmites end up in professions that take them a long way from home. Shepherding and courier services are common occupations, but the cosmites’ proclivity to wander means they often travel even beyond any need to do so. Indeed, common folk knowledge holds that cosmites do not die as other men do, but instead are taken up into the stars by their elder brethren, to wander forever the great open void.
A charming tale that explains the cosmite’s tendency to disappear permanently, which is more naturally attributed to them meeting an unfortunate fate in one of their voyages.
A disease of the mind and soul, a compulsion to violence against other, unaffected men. The affliction seems localized, but does not spread like other diseases. All those struck are affected at once, inciting violence against those nearby that escaped the infection. A sudden night of violence, a dusk or a dawn pierced with shrieks, then life as normal. Breakfast over floorboards stained with blood, a father, brother, or neighbor drowned in the trough the horses drink from.
The afflicted become possessed with murderous intent towards the unpossessed, it is true, but treat their fellows as they ever did. When questioned on the murder of family or neighbors, they simply scoff (the questioner is usually uninfected) or say plainly that it must be done, and that the humans they once held dear disgusted them. No regrets are ever voiced. None escape, and those that do often wish for death. When the authorities fall to the affliction, great pogroms are organized to kill the normal humans.
Entire communities have been emptied by the affliction. Half or more of the population is killed, along with any unfortunate enough to wander through, while the town collapses from the population loss. The Maleficiones become wandering bandits, damned and damning, till they are hunted down by neighboring communities. In rare cases, the folk of some village so afflicted manage to come together and defeat the Maleficiones. Only rarely does this occur, as the Maleficiones have great advantage in surprise and often strike at night.
The Maleficiones have a distressing habit of using whatever is on hand to carry out their murders, but will seek out weapons if given the time. However, there are reports through history of them gaining strange, diabolical powers to subsume the flesh of other humans into them, or break limbs with a look and scent other humans over many miles. Such stories are uncorroborated in modern history, but the volume of such accounts and depictions in art makes ignoring them perilous. These stories are also considered a great count in favor of the theory that some forgotten, ill-considered act of Diabolism is origin for the affliction.
Indeed many serious events have been recorded in history, with reports of as much as 60% of an entire kingdom’s population being afflicted. The collapses of 26400 in the Elven Count was once attributed to the work of Maleficiones but is now believed to have been caused by an event called the Red Hour*. Some nonetheless believe that there exists a precedent for incredibly widespread outbreaks. Sometimes, when Maleficiones wipe out half their own settlement, they lose all aggression towards other men, seeming to have been “cured.” Many natural scientists suppose simply that the rest of the population is infected as well, with a more widespread incidence rate. In cities or other villages, the murders are only light in comparison to the hemicide in isolated areas, and pass unnoticed in the hustle of urban life.
* the Red Hour, a ill-named event, consisted of over 85% of the human population from Arxact to Xul dropping dead of no apparent cause in a series of hour-long episodes interspersed over a period of a decade.
You may see them from the high hills of any country, the beautiful marble facades of their airy homes fixed in space, clouds whirling around them. They may be hard to spot; either the marble itself matches the clouds color, or the pure white marble is so thickly veined with color of the background – clear blue, moody grey, placid white, burning red, liminal purple. Rest assured, they are there, and are ready and willing to trade, for those that know how.
Knowing how no simple task. In the nations situated at high altitude, simply throwing a bridge from the cliff face to the cloud bank or vice versa is well enough. In other lands, complicated systems of pulleys, cables, towers, and the occasional hot air balloon are usually necessary. Most peoples, having no ingenuity or taste for trade with the cloudfolk, simply let them pass by, forming no compact with the people they attribute to myth.
Once you arrive at their doorstep courtyard (they never descend to the ring) you will see a race of men pale as snow, with straight dark hair. They are, for the most part, rather expressionless and seemingly humorless, though in many places they have become renowned for their sardonic wit. A great many bear the signs of albinism, with the red eyes and pale hair, yet are not held accursed for it as in other places.
The big men of the houses will want to trade. Each doorway into the clouds hides anywhere between four and fifteen families, and they usually negotiate as a group. Food, fodder, and fuel are there main concerns, these being the hardest to come by in the clouds. The longer it holds, the better. Pemmican and charcoal are better than fine meat and rare woods. Salt and coal are worthier than gold to them. They drive a hard bargain; they have to, to live. Their main trade good is the voluminous quantities of guano produced by the bats and starlings that roost great chambers, opening out on the top of the clouds.
All this will occur over and around the hubbub of the household. Small boys and girls will take down rain collectors, carrying them on their heads to the houses, or furiously scrub away the house’s laundry. Second sons and elder daughters will drive their herds toward the ground to pasture. They are often oddwings, an aptly named creature for its three, five, seven, or even nine wings that make it a sadly inept flyer that will eat anything, and are thought to be a distance relative of inspiration of the dreaded zagbird of the equinox. Other animals include the cloud dolphins, which are more manatee shaped and sometimes big enough to ride, or what appear to be regular geese. And lastly, they open great ways in the clouds from which emerge thousands of bats or starlings or other birds, to feed and produce the guano they so need to trade.
The first son will haggle for anything they can not provide for themselves, but don’t strictly need. Pottery and stone, fruits and raw meats. They offer excellent horn bows, better arrows, rare feathers, and the rare herbs, fungi, and fruits they grow within their voluminous stone homes, their great greenhouse roofs opening likewise to the sky. Notable among their agricultural produce is a medicinal mushroom looking like nothing but green straight strands of hair, and s fruit containing velvety white innards split into sections like citrus, and which commands ludicrous prices on the ground.
Their greatest treasure, however, are the woven goods said to be spun from pure air itself. This art of theirs is their best kept secret, a primal magical art similar to bloodwork or sea sculpting for surface dwellers. This craft is the sole occupation of the adult women, whose sightings could be counted on a hand. The hot air balloons, parachutes, and long ropes many of their trade partners use are, in fact, the creation of such fine arts. Fine threads so light they cause no change in an arrows course is what allows them to hunt bird from their cloud top homes. The weaving can be any color the sky is, and be made thick as fleece or lighter than air. Their finest works of weaving can be found on the bed tops of kings and emperors, the great works adorning men and women of the court both. Even their tawdriest clothes are the pride of any meaner person. In Gembor for many years, no bride’s dowry was considered compete without a veil or cap of cloud silk. Myth has it that the cloudfolk themselves are woven from this same material, and for this cause they remain in the clouds, as upon the ground they would surely unravel. Absurdity, given that their other goods persist well enough on the ground.
It must be said also that the cloudfolk are great collectors of curiosities (most particularly timekeeping mechanisms and lenses devices, these being well-loved) and excellent map makers. Many a rich merchant has made the trip to isolated hilltops, purely for these premium goods. It is likewise suspected that the homes of the cloudfolk are filled with gold and gems, as they sometimes accept these as payment but never or rarely give them away. This has inspired a great many would be thieves, who can sometimes be found shattered against the hilltops or strewn across trees.
All of this trade happens in the course of a day, or even half of one. Trade can only be sustained as long as there are clouds to constitute the facades and bay doors of the cloud folk colony. Traders, diplomats, and thieves are well advised to be standing on solid ground when the skies clear. For their part, the cloudfolk sense changes in weather, and soon calls their animals with their great windstring harps. The children return inside quickly, the men hauling the goods before them, and in a matter of minutes the lively exchange gives way to cold marble, then clear air.
Indeed, despite longstanding trade relations, much of this folk’s ways remains mysterious. No one knows where their houses go when the clouds disappear, and the question is often posed as an intractable, teasing riddle to students of philosophy. Asking the cloudfolk have only rendered vagueties such as “away,” “gone,” or confusingly, “flat.” They do not seem able to control their house’s appearances, but seem to know when and where next they can be found. The irresolvability of this quandary and others is owed to their curious habit of communication, where each compound uses its own form of sign language. Many similarities exist between one compound and another’s, but learning the language such as it is is also learning improvisation and interpretation. The same cloud home only rarely reappears in the same place, and so communication is greatly stymied. They have both writing and a spoken language. The latter is never spoken to outsiders as an inconsiderable taboo, and the former employs runes, sensuously flowing and intricate and so finely patterned that each writing piece must be woven, ink and paper being foreign to them.
They also have a supplementary system of record keeping involving knots on many pieces of string, but this system is much less used in this era – households scarcely require so specific management. However, we know that at one time the cloudfolk once had at least one city, from marriage records and other histories. Even now, it is sometimes sighted in the breaks and eyes of storms, graven from the thunderheads as a series of stairs, doorways, plazas and arcades, looking down onto the world below, magnificent as their facades are now plain. They stare sullenly at the world passing below, empty and abandoned in some unknown calamity.
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