Three More Things

Catdog

An abomination, yet another creation of wizards. No one is quite sure what the hell they were thinking when they made them, as they aren’t obedient, cute, or loyal like other crossbreeds. They delight in treachery, are horrific to behold, aren’t particularly dangerous (in a physical sense), and are only as intelligent as they are petty.

Friend by Jillian Dolan
yes, like the cartoon

In truth, catdogs are little like other crossbreeds. For example, most crossbreeds hybridize their unfortunate principles into an – if not elegant – than at least sensibly constructed beast. Random limbs, misshapen face, and sudden gradients from feather to scale to fur are considered marks of the amateur amongst biomancers and animancers. Crossbreeders aspire to a natural aesthetic – the final product should have all the grace of a true wild beast. These aspirations often fall short of the mark, but the attempt is visible nonetheless. The creator of the catdog had no such qualms. The catdog has the front halves of the cat and dog attached where each animal’s rear would be, fur blending into fur. Their long midsections they are forced to drag between their ambulatory sections, accumulating dirt and grime and creating a shuffling sound, the signature of their shambling presence. They move in zigzags, one end leading the other in turn, their path normal to the line of their body.

Catdogs are also explicitly magical, more so than other crossbreeds. To be sure, no sane person can gaze upon the tortured visage of an owlbear and claim that it is mundane, but magic was a midwife, but the beast itself is much like many other beasts. It has to eat. It hibernates. It fucks. It tries to fly, but it isn’t magical, so it can’t. Catdogs can at least eat, but they can’t digest anything, merely retching it up, and only sometimes the way it went in. They lack genitalia, and reproduce via bisection of their halves, followed by forcible separation of each half, which will otherwise try to rejoin. They never stop growing, and the eldest specimens have heads as tall as a man and bodies as long as trees are tall. They can also talk, and this is their main defense mechanism and chief cause of death until they grow large enough to defend themselves.

The catdog is a creature attuned to contradiction, hypocrisy, conflict, and self-deception, which they can sense telepathically*. They seek out and take perverse pleasure in stoking, inflaming, and prolonging. If they can not find these from other sources, they instead turn on themselves, the two sides nipping, biting, and arguing with each other. That’s why they tend to die young. They either destroy themselves or goad someone so mercilessly that they kill the catdog. They are resilient to damage, but they get their murderers into such a rage that it usually doesn’t matter. Catdogs that survive make excellent blackmailers – some of the most successful criminal enterprises in history are built on their huge, buckled, sagging backs.

The corollary to this is that they hold no power over those with a truly clear conscience. This is often conflated with being ‘free of sin’ or ‘pure of heart.’ More often, this means someone with no conscience to torture – no shame, no guilt. Sociopaths, criminal or not, can not even see the catdog without the aid of psychadelics, nor can the catdog perceive them. Young children raised in sufficiently gentle households can see them fine, but the catdog only sees them as an indistinct blob. Most non-mammalian animals, and any children raised by them, are likewise invisible and insensate to the catdog, though they can usually smell each other.

When using your own psychology to torture you, the cat will use cutting, incisive remarks to expose your faults and hypocrisy, while the dog will bray hurtful mockery at you. The combined effect is nigh impossible to ignore, and the target will either collapse into helplessness or strike out in furious rage, cutting away at the creature and anyone between them. If the catdog is small (i.e. human-sized or smaller), they will take about a minute to hack or bludgeon to pieces. If it’s mature… best of luck to you. Your weapons will break and your bones will crack before you can kill or even seriously inconvenience it, depending on the size. And it will laugh the whole time.

* in truth, this sense isn’t telepathic, but far more general. They can also sense contradictions in treatises, speeches, political systems, societies, and even shabbily built structures. Catdogs also make excellent editors and philosophers. Catdogs have on a few occasions come to rule nations and kingdoms, but all the details of these instances have been expunged from the annals of history.

The Titansbody

The Titans were precursors to the giants. They were overthrown and cast down. Most of them were around 600 feet tall on average, and their indestructible skulls litter the landscape, titan-stakes poking between their eyes to prevent their regeneration.

However, not every titan met this fate, nor was every titan the same size. Some of the greatest of their number eschewed rebirth and regeneration, growing to unmanageable sizes. They went into deep hibernation before the war to preserve themselves, and were never awakened or staked staked, with one exception. This is not that exception.

The Titansbody islands are what they sound like – parts of a submerged titan’s body, sticking up in the shallow waters between continents. There isn’t any topsoil, in the traditional sense, nor any vegetation other than moss. Instead, the surface of the island is sand and birdshit, the latter of which is quite valuable in other areas that can support intensive agriculture. Most of the ‘natural’ resources of the islands are under the water, in the coral reefs that grow on the titan’s body. Pearl diving, coral harvesting, fishing, and shit-shoveling are the occupations of the lucky convicts chosen to serve the island masters. The rest descend into the titan.

Sleeping Giant by cobaltplasma

You see, all that other (literal) shit isn’t even that rare. Reefs are common on the ring, since the temperature is similar everywhere. Same with guano islands. These islands were (probably) uninhabited for most of human history, for reasons we’ve covered. But the true bounty is the titan itself. Sebum from the face is plentiful, easy to extract, and reducible to an incredibly high quality oil. Leather from the skin is stronger and lighter than cow leather, and shards of bone can be shaped into jewelry and weapons stronger than steel. The meat can be eaten or sent to fleshcrafter cults. Even the fingernails can be ground down and added to concrete mixes to strengthen them. I won’t document all the uses, because a lot of them are obscure and many are even more gross, but you get the idea. It’s a meta-material bonanza down there.

‘Down there’ being the operative phrase. Beyond the inherent grossness of the job, and the desolation of the island, extracting all of this is incredibly dangerous, because the titan is mostly buried under sand and saltwater. The largest features above water are the three longest fingers of left hand, the tip of the nose, a bit of temple, and the top of kneecap jutting straight of the water. All the other islands are sandbars built around the reefs and body parts below the water. Working on the hand to cut fingernails is probably the least nightmarish job, but the flume of fingernail dust at all times means respiratory illness is constant here. The sebum gathering at the nose was better before the demand for oil skyrocketed, and they started having to tunnel through sand to get deeper in. Meat is no longer gathered from the knee, to preserve the best source of guano in the island chain, and the most stable ground for more permanent structures relating to storage, trade, and governance.

So these days if you get sent to the island – usually reserved for criminals, debtors, slaves brought from afar, or the insanely, suicidally desperate – you’re probably going to be carving tunnels through sand, or working in those same tunnels, which are liable to collapse at any moment. This is because a) tunneling through sand is a fucking terrible idea, and b) this is the only place on the ring known to have regular and noticeable earthquakes. As mentioned, the titan isn’t dead, but sleeping, and like most sleeping things it shifts a bit in its sleep. These events happen once a month, nowadays. They used to be less frequent and more gentle before widescale exploitation began, with years passing between quakes. Many scholars believe further expansion of the extractive activity will likely awaken it. This would kill everyone on the island, and a probably a great deal many more people on the coasts of either side of the ocean. The masters, for their part, deny that the frequency of waking quakes is increasing, or that the titan could ever wake up. The workers from the early days aren’t around to testify to a change in frequency either way, and the writings of these times appear as small notes in travel almanacs and maps. They are discredited easily enough. The titan is too big for human activity to affect it.

Ocean Atlas by Jason deClaires Taylor

It is in fact huge, though no one is quite sure how large. The nose is the size of a mountain, though only a paltry fifty feet sticks up above the waves. They’ve been digging for near on a decade now and haven’t even hit a nostril as of yet. True, every time a quake hits they have to redig it all, but still. The furthest island from the nose is 30 miles away, but whether this is a toe, ankle, errant shin, or related at all is still a source of debate. Some enterprising masters, hoping to reach other organs, have begun sending slaves into the titan’s blood vessels, which are tapped and the blood turned into an anti-agathic*. The blood in arteries is so oxygen rich that you can breath it, though the heavy fluid tires your lungs, killing by exhaustion, and the blood is so thick that light lets you see only five feet ahead. Most slaves don’t come back from this, and those that do just report more winding, dark, syrupy tunnels.

The slaves all believe the titan will wake up, though the masters have begun removing tongues for discussing this. Despite these efforts, the belief persists. They almost look forward to it – making it to ‘breakfast’ (their slang for the awakening, and also the only meal they regularly receive) is an aspiration for many of them. Most of them will die before then, from overwork, exposure, or in a collapse. The quakes usually come at night, after work concludes, but not all of them. Even outside the mines, the slaves are forced to live on the island surface, where a big enough quake can suck down a tent and all their occupants, drowning them in sand. (The masters live on pleasure barges.) So, living until ‘breakfast’ has become a point of pride. It eases the mind, during their toils, maybe.

* at a calamitous rate, it must be noted. Nearly ten gallons (not including losses!) of blood must be extracted for a single half-week dose of the final compound, making this the most expensive of the titan’s byproducts, and also possibly the greatest reason it is now waking.

The Great Geodes

The synthetic geology of the ring leads to many strange formations, possibly the least of which being the great geodes. From the outside, these look like hard gray, spherical stones, varying greatly in size. The largest are as big as cities, the smallest only big enough to hold a man. The largest aren’t hollow, with only a few vacuities spread through their volume.

All this was made changed with the inventions of an alchemist, which made conversion of rock into edible, if not palatable (nor nutritious), food* comparatively cheap. It became something of a fashion and diet plan among the idle rich, which soon spread to the displaced peasantry. At that time, droughts had swept up great masses of rural folk and deposited them in the cities. Demagogues and prophets found fertile soil for their works. The beliefs of the geodites are too varied to fully document here, but a common thread connected them all. The outside world is dangerous, brutal, and sinful. The geodes are vessels of salvation. The chosen, saved people have a duty to carve new realms in them, and flee inwards, to await their journey to heaven. While a historical footnote these days, this movement was widespread in its day, and bears itself in the architectural history of many cities, where stoneworks were dissolved to feed the urban poor. Their adherents included at least one real, actual king, hoping to lead his entire kingdom to the promised ‘land.’

Most kings, however, were far less abiding. Following a period of persecution, the various subcults and sects packed up what believers they could, headed to the geode sites, and started carving out an entrance and tunnels. This was a period of intense violence amongst the cults, as they quibbled over who got which geodes, the largest being the most favorable. One example had two separate groups tunnel in from either end. Even after they started inhabiting the geodes full time, schisms and acts of conquest meant that the early years saw a lot of shuffling around, like a bunch of militant fanatic hermit crabs. But eventually the isolationist tendencies of the cults got the better of them, and everyone settled in, and most of them are presumed to have starved in the following years – surviving on rock slurry was known to be incredibly unhealthy. However, over time evidence of their ongoing habitation has cropped up – orchards, hunters, wells, and sudden disappearances of those who wander to close to the geodes.

Exoplanet 22J17 by Denis Kornev

All of the cults are presumed xenophobic and mistrustful of outsiders, and no outsider has seen the inside of their cities for the past 500 years. Presumed, because only a few people have ever seen them, they are almost always hostile, and because xenophobia is kind of a the center of their philosophy. Generally, they only enter the outside world under cover, at night, to hunt, raid, or tend the orchards that surround the geodes.

No one knows what life is like in these places, but scholars speculate it is dark, cramped, mean, and short. The geodes usually have airholes interspersed, but they seem to have an aversion to making actual windows. They tend to emerge hooded and masked, but scattered reports suggests a great deal of inbreeding (extra toes and fingers, deformations), and all agree that they stand no taller than 5 feet. Pale skin is also a common thread. And while accurate metrics of population are difficult to get a handle on, the size or their orchards and range of their hunters suggest that as many as two hundred people cram into some of the smaller castle sized ones, and up to ten thousand in the largest.

It is assumed that their physiognomy is the result of living in horrific conditions, but a few have proposed that some of their mutations are the result of alchemy. This supposition isn’t ridiculous, as every sect had at least one person at least familiar with alchemy, as a necessity to dissolve rocks. There is also the possibility that they’ve tunneled into the earth below their spherical realms and are now exploiting the ring’s considerable underworld. While it is generally accepted in localities near to the geodes that people are living inside them, reports of geodites from delvers are so few that this remains little more than speculation. Those that wander the earth are prone to superstition and madness, and the Undercities and volume folk keep their secrets, as usual.

Some of the geodes show no sign of human habitation on the surface, but no one has been inside yet to make sure. Their aversion to other people makes them dangerous to wanderers in their territory, but also makes their territory quite separate from humanity. In one case, when the course of regular human settlement brought society to close to them, one geode-cult used their home’s spherical shape ** to escape. Their neighbors came upon the former site only to see the enclosing ringworks of stacked and grown over spoil tromped over by the geode’s passage to the north.

* the process for converting rock to water being well known at this time

** and the geode’s lack of soil coverage. Most have much of their volume buried under the earth, and some are entirely underground.



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