Guys, it is time to start wrapping up the Ravenflight series. Here are the three final races: Centaurs, Gnomes and the Celestials. They are all markedly different. Centaurs are mostly good guys and kinda awesome. Gnomes are neutral but strange, alien and not very much liked. They do questionable things, but there is a reason for it. Celestials look like angels but are pure condensed evil. But I didn’t just want to say “these guys are Lawful Evil™” because that’s how their brains work. I don’t like that. It is not that their race is evil. I think that any race has capacity for evil. What makes them evil is the way their society and culture is set up. They are evil, but they have capacity to be good. In fact individual Celestials might actually be OK dudes. But they live in a very fucked up society.
Like Ravenkin, the Centaurs of Black Forest are indigenous to the islands. They have been tending their forest dwellings for many centuries, and have successfully fended off all of the Celestial incursions into their domain with a combination of fearsome martial powers, magic and uncanny connection to the forests themselves. When the Centaurs go to battle, the Blackwood trees seem to fight with them, shifting, bending and snaring the enemies with their roots and branches.
When talking about Centaurs, one has to briefly discuss the Blackwood Trees which are unique to the island, and have innate magical resonance. Most mages who see the Black Forest for the first time describe it as a swirling vortex of magical power, with every tree being a small focal point that pulses with magic. The entire forest seems to be breathing magical energy in and out like a living thing. The trees seem to be semi-aware of their environment, and seem to be able to channel this magic in a limited way to move their branches and roots into more advantageous positions, often re-locating entire copses and re-shaping the terrain. Those who are foolish enough to travel through the forest are bound to get lost as it shifts around them.
The wood of the trees is said to be as hard as iron, and can only be cut with Elven mithril, or the Volcanic Steel produced by the Clockwork Domminion, though centaurs seem to know how to enchant bone daggers in such a way that lets them penetrate the bark and extract the tree sap. The sap is known to have potent healing properties which Centaurs use to tend their wounds and extend their lifespan.
No one really knows how long Centaurs are supposed to live, because eating the fruits of the tree and using the sap as an ointment seems to prolog their life indefinitely. That said, it also seems to change them quite drastically over the years. Most members of the species are born with blueish or tan skin, and a set of horns that grow throughout their lifetime. However ingesting the products of the tree seems to slowly tint their skin green, and cause small floral growths sprout out of their skin. These growths seem to be perfectly symbiotic and they actually make their host stronger. They share the products of their photosynthesis with the host, allowing him to grow larger and stronger, and eventually start to circulate something akin to the Blackwood Tree sap through their body giving them regenerative powers.
The longer the individual lives, the larger he becomes. The Centaurs that are centuries old are usually refereed to as Elders and they are hulking giants, tallest of whom can actually see above the tree-line when they rear-up on their hind legs. The transformation however also makes them more sluggish and lazy. The oldest centaurs tend to find nice, peaceful glades in which they curl up and slumber for months or years. Some hill formations within the forest are actually known to be ancient Elders who have been comatose for so long they have become a permanent part of the forest.
Centaurs view the trees as an integral part of their life cycle. They play a major role in their rituals, their medicine and function as one of the fundamental staples of their diet. They are also revered as a source of magical and mystical powers. They are not as much worshiped, as held in deep respect and reverence. They are central to the Centaur lifestyle, and without them there would be no Centaurs. They would have been either wiped out or subjugated by the Celestials many centuries ago. They are bound to the trees, and the trees seem to be bound to them. It is said that when a centaur dies a Blackwood Tree copse will eventually grow in the spot where their body fell to the ground. The Raven Island is actually littered with many such small copses.
Most copses are tended to by the order of Clerics. Depending on the size of the copse there could be one or more Clerics present. They are not necessarily protectors of the trees but more of an order of gardeners. They will often sell or trade branches or even saplings of their trees to outsiders in exchange for goods and services. Also, unlike their Black Forest brethren they actually are very eager to help others, be it the locals or travelers. Their doctrine seems to emphasize non-violence. Thus Blackwood copses often function as makeshift hospitals where centaur healers tend to the sick and wounded of any race. This actually seems to be quite effective way of preventing locals from just cutting down all the trees altogether. Most rulers consider it to be more beneficial to have a renewable and steady supply of the wood and magical healing sap available for trade on their territory.
Among the Centaurs joining the order of Clerics is known as “donning the white cloth” and it implies leaving the Black Forest and taking vows akin to the Hippocratic oath. It is a noble calling, and the flowers of this doctrine are treated with great respect. They however do not operate within the forest. In the Centaur homeland, healing and magical arts are studied by the Wierdwood Mystics.
Just like the Order of the White Cloth the Mystics tap into the magic of the Blackwood Trees, but they are not bound by oaths of non-violence. Thus they use their magic both for healing and for defense. They seem to be able to control the trees, make them move, shift or even wrap around each other making rain-proof canopies, bridges and other constructs. They are healers, architects and if need be also battle mages.
Very little is known about the Centaur culture as it is practiced within the Black Forest. Outsiders are rarely permitted to enter deep into the forest and those who do see the fabulous living dwellings of the centaurs usually learn very little about the inner workings of the Centaur society during their stay. Centaurs are hostile to outsiders, but courteous to their guests, but they rarely involve members of other races in their sacred rituals, or invite them to study their mysteries.
It is known that they organize themselves into tribes known as fellowships. It seems that these groups are organized around sets of common beliefs. Each one has a creed, it’s own code of conduct and privileges. Membership seems to be completely voluntary, and individuals seem to be able to move between them without restrictions. The common thread between them seems to be the idea of sacrifice: members must take some sort of an oath, commit themselves to certain idea or give something up in order to join. Each of the fellowships is typically managed as a small commune in which all members have the right to take part in the decision making process.
It is not uncommon for individuals to get expelled from their fellowships, in which case they may or may not be able to join another one. Those Centaurs who have burnt to many bridges, or those unwilling to make the proper sacrifices in order to become a productive member of the society will often become wanderers and adventurers.
Those wanderers can be frequently seen traveling throughout the Third Empire, Orzimar and the Land of Hob. They often seek work as trackers, rangers or even mercenaries. Some take up the cloth, and become Clerics. Others make it a point to regularly visit the Blackwood Tree copses to receive their life prolonging sacred rights. Those who fail to do so typically start to slowly age, though their lifespans can vary from few dozen to few hundred years without the renewal rituals.
Sometimes wanderers will band together and create their own fellowships. Some of these are genuine social units, complete with their own code of conduct and a sacrifice. These tend to be orderly, and well organized nomadic tribes and they typically either become hunter-gatherers and traders. Most however tend to be just loose social groups without the underpinning social structure. These are typically known as Centaur Marauders and they are looked down by the mainstream centaur society because they are not “proper” fellowships. The loose social structure of Marauder groups and their “easy” lifestyle typically attracts a specific kind of people and many Marauding groups take to crime: banditry, highway robbery, smuggling and less frequently armed raids on villages and settlements of other races. Their criminal operations which often cause a lot of friction between Centaurs and other races. There however exist Marauder groups uninterested in violence or crime but rather choose Marauding because their ideals do not align with those of the mainstream society.
Most prominent of these is the Mercantile Society which is composed of many loosely connected groups of traders. They subscribe to 80’s style “greed is good” philosophy and they reject the idea of fellowships which share property and resources and the idea of “sacrifice” on principle. Their caravans are a common sight in all the prominent port cities, and they have reputation of being very shrewd and efficient salesmen. They like to identify themselves by wearing red sashes, and gold jewelry.
There also exist marauding hero cults. Every once in a while, a Wanderer gains enough notoriety through their exploits that they gain fans back home. It is not uncommon for young centaurs to leave their homeland and become groupies for a prominent hero forming an ad-hoc marauding unit.
Centaurs have very unique views on sexuality. Unlike many other races they consider romantic love and the biological drive to procreate as two distinct and mostly unrelated things. This is perhaps because procreative sex among centaurs does not offer much in terms of intimacy. Male typically “mounts” the female from behind, and the encounter is typically rather brief and markedly un-romantic. Centaurs however do frequently engage in passionate “face-to-face” sexual activities, but these are usually not part of their procreative rituals.
Centaurs typically mate once a year during Spring Festival when all Fellowships come together, drink, dance and engage in procreative sex. After the festival everyone goes back home, and breeding pairs typically do not interact much. The child stays with the mother and is raised within her Fellowship until it comes of age and can choose to make the sacrifice, or leave the community.
On the other hand, there exist the concept of “soul mates”. Centaurs usually pair up into monogamous, romantic couples who live together, engage in romantic sexual activities, and help each other rise their children, but typically do not procreate. It is considered proper to seek out breeding mates from other fellowships, and romantic partners within your own, which encourages genetic diversity and strong, healthy children. Centaurs do not seem to have a taboo against homosexuality and biological sex does not seem to matter much when it comes to choosing romantic life partners.
Centaurs seem to become infertile after about a century, probably due to the use of Blackwood Tree sap. Elders who start sprouting vines out of their skin typically cannot conceive children. The continuation of the species is therefore completely in the hands of the youth. Young centaurs however frequently do not want to think about having children. Many wish to leave the forest and explore the would for a bit before commuting themselves to a Fellowship. This is one of the biggest issues, and points of concern for Black Forest communities. Each Festival seems to be smaller, and there are less and less children in the Black Forest, and there is nothing the Elders can do about this.
Black Forest Centaurs have rather friendly trade relations with most of their neighbors. They trade with Savage Dwarfs, and they seem to tolerate their presence in the outskirts of the forest (and the Dwarfs seems to have enough common sense not to venture deep into the ever-changing magical wilderness). They also frequently trade with Imperials, Elves and Hoblites. The inhabitants of the Land of Hob tend to be especially interested in the life prolonging properties of the Blackwood Tree sap and fruits. Unfortunately the strange symbiosis that makes Centaurs virtually immortal, seems to be unique to their biology. The sap will heal wounds and cure sickness of just about every race, but only Centaurs seem to sprout vines and leaves due to prolonged use. This of course does not stop Hoblite kings from importing vats of the sap and bathing in it regularly trying in vain to buy themselves few more years of life.
Gnomes are known under many names throughout the land: The Golemists of South Island, The Flesh Dancers, The Cursed, The Damned, The Profane… Most of these are said with a mixture of fear and disgust and deservedly so.
Unlike most other races who have sailed to Raven Islands across the oceans, Gnomes came from beyond. They are descendants of fey who have ripped open the reality itself and poured forth from the lands beyond time. The legend says they were running away from something so terrifying and sinister that they have collapsed their magical portals trapping themselves in this world, rather than having to face it. Being literal aliens from beyond, Gnomes are fail and sickly people. Once immortal they have cut themselves from their source of power, and lost the gift of eternal youth. They age quickly, and few of them live beyond their 50’s. Those who do, are ravaged by allergies and ailments that make life unbearable. After about four to five decades living in the hostile environment their bodies literally starts to slowly rot off their bones and fall apart. While they may still appear youthful to other races, they are usually in excruciating pain most of the time. Because of their alien biology, the Blackwood Tree sap is poisonous to them, and provides them with no healing effects whatsoever. In fact most healing, and life extension spells that work on other races seem to have little to no effect on Gnomes. The only healing magic that seems to work on them is their own, and so far they have been unsuccessful in preventing their bodies from slowly deteriorating over time. Thus it is traditional for most Gnomes to commit a ritual suicide on their fiftieth birthday.
The Last Day Alive is typically a great celebration. Friends and families gather and have a huge all-day party commemorating the life and accomplishments of their comrade. They all cheer when the 50 year old drinks the traditional poison at sunset, and then take his body to the Golemists to see if he or she can be resurrected as an Immortal.
When Gnomes arrived in this world, they have lost a lot of their magical powers, and they found themselves unable to function in this new world. Their bodies were not designed for this plane of reality and they felt weak and frail. They still have retained the ability to channel magic, and so the have decided to use these powers to make their lives easier. They have quickly realized that they could easily dominate and control local wildlife to do their bidding. One of the oldest professions on South Island is beast mastery. Unlike the Savage Dwarf beast masters whose craft is mostly instinctive and innate, Gnomes have it down to an exact science. They not only can completely dominate animals but have also learned to synergize their abilities. Most Gnome beast masters control multiple animals at the same time, and can use them as extra limbs or weapons.
Controlling animals however was not enough. South Island had few large terrestrial beasts that could be used for heavy labor, and even fewer animals had the ability to both lift and manipulate heavy object with any degree of accuracy. Thus Gnomes have turned to the art of Golem making to create artificial laborers and defenders. One of their most famous creations are the Clay Golems – not necessarily because they are the best, but because they provide most utility for the price and effort involved in making them. To create a Clay Golem one only needs some regular mud (doesn’t even have to be proper clay) and a short incantation which will cause it to form into a humanoid shape and give it some remedial intelligence. They typically will follow any orders given to them by a Gnome, though they can be “programmed” to listen only to a specific person, or even to ignore all orders until their assigned tasks are finished.
When it comes to maintenance, the owner simply has to pour a bucket of water on them from time to time, to prevent the clay from drying out in the sun, and cracking and breaking. Gnomes also make other types of Golems, but the Clay ones are ubiquitous. Iron Golems for example require building and maintaining an armored chassis that is then animated by magic which is rather expensive and time consuming, whereas mud based Golems can be created on the fly without much preparation.
Golems are typically mute, and incapable of responding to questions. They seem to be able to understand basic or even moderately complex commands, and be able to interpret and execute them, but responding simple yes/no questions is typically beyond their grasp. After the assigned task is complete, the Golem will typically just stop and wait for new orders, until he crumbles up and falls apart. This is mostly by design, because Gnomes do not want their magical servants to take initiative or develop sentience of any kind.
One of the most controversial creations of Gnome Golemists are the dreaded flesh golems. The practice of manipulating flesh was developed as an attempt to use golemcraft science to create “better” animals that could be used in regions where clay golems were impractical. The project was a marginal success but it did produce rather fearsome monsters that Gnomes started to use in battle. They have discovered that randomly combining animals could not only produce very efficient killing machines, but also demoralized their enemies. These war-golems have been dubbed “abominations” and became the preferred shock troops in Gnome armies. They are all the more frightening because unlike beasts who snarl and roar, these monsters are completely silent.
One of the most frightening types of abominations is the Juggernaut construct created by sawing together bodies of dead or dying enemy combatants into a gigantic mound of flesh, often mounted on top of clay based golem feet. These monstrosities are instructed to scream or call out with their many mouths. They typically plead for mercy, or apologize trying to induce pity in the enemies, even as the Juggernaut is attacking.
The absolute pinnacle of flesh golem engineering however is the art of reanimation of the dead. Gnomes have figured out how to take a recently deceased person and bring them back to life via a combination of electric shocks, golemic magic and alchemy. While the procedure is imperfect, it does have about 75% success rate meaning that most Gnomes can potentially be brought back to life after they die. This has become part of their tradition and culture. On their fiftieth birthday Gnomes imbibe a poison, and their body is handed over to golemists. It is cleaned up, embalmed, alchemically treated and then re-animated back to life. Those who awake from death on a golemist laboratory slab are known as the Immortals.
Unlike most golems, Immortals appear to be intelligent, aware of their surroundings and they retain the memories of their past life. It is however uncertain whether or not they are fully sentient or if their cognitive processes just an act of mimicry. Immortals certainly behave as if they were in control of their thoughts and actions and had free will and agency but there are those who believe they are merely puppets in the hands of the golemist masters. They cite the fact that the personality of the Gnomes who go through with the ritual changes quite significantly as if their minds were replaced. Immortals themselves usually explain this by pointing out that death is a pretty traumatic experience, and life as a reanimated corpse changes the way you look at things.
Living as an immortal is indeed a rather unique experience. The reanimated do not require food or sleep to function at their peek condition. They feel no pain, and are actually stronger and faster than when they were alive thanks to alchemical treatments which re-invigorates and alters their bodies. Their minds are sharper, and they never experience the fatigue, grogginess and allergic symptoms which tend to plague living Gnomes. There are also downsides. The bodies of the Immortals do not heal in usual ways. While they do not bleed, Immortals can still be wounded and open gashes in their skin will begin to fester, unless closed up by a skilled golemist. Only the best flesh-molders know how to treats wounds without leaving nasty scars, so many older Immortals look very much like Frankenstein’s monster, covered with scars, and with pieces of their body replaced with spare parts from other cadavers. The magical spells that hold their reanimated bodies together tend to wear off over the years and must be renewed. Most Immortals visit a golemist once or twice a decade for that very reason.
Most gnomes have white, pasty skin and spiky ears. The Immortals are typically very pale and their skin has leathery, parchment like texture thanks to the embalming process. Many are covered head to toe with scars, though the wealthier individuals can afford flesh-molding treatments that remove scarring. The hair of living Gnomes is usually brightly colored – typically blonde, bright red, light brown, pink or purple. They typically start going gray in their 20’s or 30’s and many start dying their hair to mask this.
Gnomes have a rather unique anatomy among the sentient races of Raven Islands. They have no belly buttons or genitals, and only one of their three genders develops nipples. The individuals who possess mammary glands and can nurse children actually not capable of getting pregnant. It is not entirely clear how exactly do they reproduce, but it is known that 3 participants are needed in order to conceive. The only description of Gnome mating rituals in Imperial libraries described it as “inconceivably revolting and obscene spectacle of writhing flesh, magical discharges and unearthly singing”.
Immortals are naturally incapable of reproducing, and death seems to free individuals from marital responsibilities. The three-person marriages in general seem to be rather temporary and tend to be dissolved after giving birth to, and raising children. It is not uncommon for Gnomes to be involved in several relationships at the same time, though this practice is generally frowned upon (though not considered immoral).
The political structure of the South Island harkens back to the ancient times beyond the veil. The Gnomes are ruled by the Two Courts: The Winter Court and the Summer Court, each of which reigns over the entire island for half a year. The Winter Court is in power during the dry season and the Summer Court presides over the rainy season. Both courts are ideologically opposed to each other and are in constant tug of war conflict, each trying to codify their worldview into law. This push and pull is supposed to balance things out. If an active court yields to the desires of the dormant court, it can expect similar concessions later that same year. If it tries to push their agenda too hard, there will be a similar push back from the opposition later.
Each court is composed of the Triumvirate – a three person council which has the executive power and the Members of the Court – a gathering of nobles who have legislative powers. Triumvirate is elected each year from among the Members on the first day the court becomes active. Nobles can hold titles in the Winter Court or the Summer Court but never in both.
The Winter Court rules from the White Peak high up in the Spider Mountains. It was built above the permafrost area specifically so that the members of the court could gaze out the window and see snow, which does not fall anywhere else on the sub-tropical island. The Summer Court resides in the Green Glades in the South-East coastal region of the island which is luscious and extremely beautiful during the rainy season.
The beliefs of each court can be hard to summarize, because they are not single-issue parties, or good/evil type distinctions. In general, the Winter Court is expansionist and xenophobic and seeks to push Armadans off the island and eventually expand the Gnome empire to the archipelago and beyond. Barring that, it seeks to pass separationist policies that will prevent the Gnomes from getting involved in foreign conflicts and limit foreign trade down to minimum. Many members of the court have ties to the Golemist Guild and they are very concerned with the rights and treatement of Immortals. At the moment death strips one of the noble titles and so all Immortals are considered commoners despite of their wealth and/or familial ties to noble houses. They are excluded from participation in the political life, and the Winter Court seeks to change that. One of their most radical idea is breaking up the Members of the Court into a House of Lords and House of Commons which would be open to both commoners and Immortals alike. They are also very pro-industry and want to give more rights to the growing mercantile middle class in the cities, and aid the manufacturing guilds.
Summer Court on the other hand is more friendly to outsiders. They seek peace and trade relations with the Armadans, and want to open up the South Island to immigrants from other races to facilitate trade and cultural exchange. They are very interested in building trade monopolies on exotic goods and services. They are in favor of South Island being an agrarian society ruled by wealthy oligarchy and they seek to minimize the influence of the middle class and the manufacturing guilds. They are tied to the Beastmaster guild and are concerned with the amount of influence the Golemist Guild has over the Winter Court. They consider Immortals to be untrustworthy at best, and mindless puppets controlled by golemists at works. They are opposed to breaking up the courts and letting commoners get involved in politics. They fear that House of Commons would become dominated by ancient immortals tied to the Golemist Guild and Winter Court and thus ruin the balance between the two political organs. They also seek to ban use of flesh golems (especially Juggernauts) which they consider obscene and inhumane.
Celestials are the primary antagonists of this setting. They are “classically” beautiful to look at, but other than that they have very few redeemable qualities. Many races consider Gnomes to be strange because of their obsession with death and their flesh golems, but Celestials go beyond that. They are almost universally hated. At one point or another, they have been at war an tried to exterminate just about every race on the islands. This is what they look like:
Most of the Celestials you will see out and about in the world look like white, blue eyed, blond haired angels with white wings. These are the members of the highest social caste of the race and they call themselves as simply the Celestials and they live atop of gigantic white spires scattered throughout the kingdom. Each of the spires reaches high above the clouds, and has no stairs, ladders or any other climbing implements. The only way to get to the top is to fly, and anyone incapable of flying is considered to be undeserving to visit the top. Each spire culminates in a flat area known as the Garden. The Gardens are extremely beautiful and meticulously maintained places of leisure. The Celestials themselves live in hollowed out chambers inside the spires, and they congregate in the Gardens. The more important members of the society live higher than the less important ones.
The taller the spire, the more prestigious it is to live in. The tallest and largest spire in the center of the kingdom is reserved for the King of Kings and his court and it is off limits to everyone else. Even the members of the court are only allowed to enter or leave it by invitation and permission from the King himself. Lower ranking Celestials have been known to been beheaded merely for gazing at the spire without proper reverence. It is customary to avoid looking directly at the King’s Spire to avoid offense.
Each spire is ruled by a Lord, who lives in the Garden itself and has absolute power over the life and death of all his subjects. Slightest disobedience is typically punished by cutting off the offenders wings and tossing him or her of the edge of the garden. Failure to show proper reverence or respect to the Lord on the other hand is typically punished by blinding the offender. Celestials have no courts and justice is delivered by the Spire Lords.
After the Spire Lords, the most powerful Celestials are the Magi. They are few in numbers, but they make it up in power. There is typically one or two Mages per Spire, the second one typically being an apprentice. They act as advisers to the lord, and their heavy hitters during war time. They are known for spells that cause scorching, blinding liquid light to rain from the sky destroying everything below in an unstoppable fiery conflagration. They typically wear ornate armor an masks and carry staffs that denote their social status and power.
Below them live the Celestials proper which are the warrior and aristocrat caste. Their society is very rigid, and orderly guided by tradition and ritual, but built on concepts of social Darwinism. The society pushes the strong, ruthless and unforgiving individuals to the top, and stigmatizes and punishes any sign of weakness, empathy or compassion. Those in power are encouraged to abuse their position and bully their underlings, whereas any push-back is considered a mortal offense and severely punished (typically by death or physical maiming). Any sign of physical infirmity is considered unacceptable. Those who become permanently disabled, or are too old to fly are considered parasites and usually ordered to be tossed over the edge by the Spire Lord. Temporary illness is tolerated, but usually results in getting dropped few floors on the spire and having to work your way back up after you recover.
Disabled children are culled right away, unless parents manage to hide their infirmity. Children who do not have desired characteristics (blond hair, blue eyes, proportional body, white wings, etc..) are typically consigned to lower castes. Sometimes parents will secretly dye the hair of their child if it is the wrong color, but hiding an undesirable in your house is typically punished by death.
Celestials are mostly patriarchal, though women are expected to fight alongside men. They can be military officers, but not mages or Spire Lords. When they become pregnant, they typically retire to dedicated chambers in the middle portion of the spire, where they are cared for by the lower caste of Watchers. Unlike Ravenkin who lay eggs, Celestials give live birth. A celestial Woman typically gives birth to a litter of between six to twelve children, though the expectation is only two or three will survive the rigors of Celestial society into adulthood. Few days after being born the children are inspected, measured, assigned names and caste. Those with “proper” features can move in with the parents. Those with darker hair or wrong color of the eyes are raised by the Watchers. Those with black hair and black plumage are taken to the bottom of the Spire to be raised by the Unclean.
Watchers are the middle caste made up of the individuals who do not meet the eugenic requirements set forth by the Spire Lords. This typically includes having blond hair, blue eyes and white wings, but taller and more prestigious spires are even more stringent and measure the proportions of the skull, the size of the nose, the distance between the eyes, and etc. Most commonly, Watchers have white, blue or purple hair and slightly tinted plumage on their wings. They are permitted to live in the mid-section of the tower, but cannot visit the gardens. They take care of those who fall ill, and pregnant women and act as expendable troops in battle. Swords and shields are noble and sophisticated weapons, the Watchers are not permitted to use them and instead fight with pole-arms.
Because they are considered to be genetically inferior, they are not permitted to breed themselves. Some spires however will tolerate occasional breeding to bolster their Watcher population. The taller Spires however pride themselves on being “purer” and having small to non-existent Watcher population.
The lowest caste are the Unclean who live at the bottom of the spires. They typically have dark hair and dark plumage. They are not permitted to enter the gardens under any circumstances. In fact, the tradition holds that if an Unclean would step a foot in the Garden it would become tainted and it would have to be re-consecrated. Many Spire Lords order the wings of the Unclean to be clipped in such a way to prevent them from flying properly to make sure this never happens.
Unclean are tasked to work with the slaves and “lesser” races. Celestials rarely trade or have any diplomatic relations with other races, because they prefer to take things by force. But if they do, they typically bring an Unclean to do the actual talking. If the diplomats of another race desire to present a Celestial noble with a gift, they would hand it to an Unclean, who would then take it to a Watcher standing about ten feet away. The Watcher would then take the item further away, wash it with the water from the Garden and ritually consecrate it. Only after then would it be proper for a Celestial to gaze upon it. Most high ranking nobles and Spire Lords would never actually consider touching something made by a untamed savage.
The Unclean are the slave masters of the Celestial society. Many of them do not enjoy this position, or even openly resent it, but many relish it. It is considered improper for Celestials and Watchers to touch or interact with slaves, but someone has to build their spires, and work the fields which supply the spires with food. That job belongs to the vast hordes of slaves who live in the shadow of the spires. Most of the slaves are members of other races. A good number are Unclean or Watchers whose wings were cut off for some transgression. Upper caste Celestials typically do not survive this type of punishment because they are thrown off the edge and plummet to their death. Only those who live and/or committed their transgression near the bottom of the tower tend to live long enough to become slaves.
As a rule, anyone without wings or ability to fly in Celestial Kingdom is automatically considered a slave, and property of the Spire Lord who controls the territory. Orc and Ogre slaves are most sought after because of their physical strength and resilience. In fact, Celestials are one of the few races that figured out how to enslave the ridiculously stubborn race of Ogres. Their trick involves torturing the slaves to the edge of death, then healing them with magic, over and over without a moment of respite over the course of few weeks until their will is completely broken. The bottom section of each Spire is usually reserved for torture chambers used for breaking in, or punishing the slaves.
The slaves are treated very poorly. Those who work in the fields are forbidden from eating the crops they grow. They are given minimalistic rations, and their main source of protein is waste thrown from the spires. The de-winged bodies of celestials who have angered the Spire Lord in some way and of fallen slaves are almost always eaten by the starving masses. In fact, the area directly under the spire tends to be a graveyard full of bones. Celestials do not bury their dead – they simply throw them off the edge, and they leave the bodies to rot or be eaten by slaves or animals. Slaves are also not permitted to bury their dead, partly because it is considered waste of energy, but also because Celestials enjoy watching their slaves to canibalize their own out of hunger, and they think that bones littering the ground beneath the spire sends a powerful message to those who would want to oppose the authority of the Spire Lord.
In addition to being very innovative and efficient torturers, Celestials also like to apply their eugenics to slave breeding. Captive Orcs and Ogres are bread for size and strength. Humans are mainly bread for obedience, but are considered to have poor genetic stock. The Celestials who live for around 300 years are especially fascinated by Hoblites. While they are weak and frail, their short lifespan allows the breeders to iterate over many generations selecting specific traits and observe the results. Over the years they have transformed their captive stock of Hoblites into a blind, savage and fiercely violent species known as the Houds:
Hounds have no eyes, but a very acute sense of smell and taste. They possess basic animal cunning that makes them excellent hunters, but most of their higher cognitive functions are gone. They are unable to speak but can follow orders and quickly learn to recognize and fear the voices of their celestial masters. Their maws have multiple rows of sharp teeth, and their claws have serrated edges making them very dangerous. They are trained to track, chase and devour escaped slaves. They are typically used in large packs coordinated by an Unclean slave master.
Not all Celestials are happy with how their society is being run. There are those who would wish to end the caste system and end the tyranny of Spire Lords. Some even object to slavery and torture. Few however dare to speak out because dissent is punished very harshly. Because they are raised to believe other races are inferior and repulsive, most dissatisfied Celestials never leave their society unless they have to. There are a few rogue Watchers and Unclean living in The Pit. The Gnomish Summer Court has given refuge to the families of general who have disgraced themselves in the war with the Empire during the Green Tide. There is also a former high ranking Celestial noble living in the Imperial palace. The Empress put him in kitchen, peeling potato and washing dishes. Other than that, they are rarely seen outside their own territories.
There exists a secret society among the Celestials known as the Knockers. They have developed a secret knocking/tapping language which allows them to communicate in secret simply by tapping their feet or knocking at the walls. They seek to eventually overthrow the King of Kings and end the caste system, though for now they concentrate on spreading their message throughout the Spires and recruiting as many members of the upper caste as possible.
To Be Continued
As usual, let me know what you think in the comments. Please note that while I used the concept of angels as they are depicted in Christianity to represent the rather reprehensible Celestials, this was not intended to be any kind of metaphor or commentary on the Christian faith. They are not angels, they are not connected to any divide power – they are just dudes with wings. I just thought that it would be interesting to take an image that is traditionally associated with Lawful Good alignment and instead make them Lawful Evil.
I think I have one more of these articles in me, but it will be just tying up the few remaining loose ends. I want to talk about the Undead, the Sea Nymphs/Sirens, the Unicorns (not these ones though) and maybe few other monsters.
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