Panthers

It is said that some panthers in the islands around Teleleli have a spot on their shoulder which looks like the moon, and waxes and wanes like the moon (they do so in unison with one another, but not with the real moon). These panthers are also said to sing sweetly, and to have breath that smells of honey and the Noble Spices.

>Foul Air

>Though Paste of the Spirits is sometimes held to be the opposite of the Noble Spices, they also have a naturally-occuring antithesis: miasma, more commonly known as ‘foul air’ or ‘bad air’.

Miasma is a gas formed when air mixes with the breath of poisonous animals or decaying cadavers. It is invisible, but may have an odor (which, if present, is always unpleasant). In other respects it is, unfortunately, indistinguishable from air. Unfortunately, because miasma is entirely harmful, causing sickness and death to whatever it touches.

The formation of Hollow Mockeries is a specific case of the action of miasma. Other, more common examples are the illnesses suffered by those who spend too much time in a swamp or in close proximity to corpses. Some have suggested that the curse that falls on anyone who robs a corpse is not in fact caused by vengeful spirits, but is the natural action of miasma.

Burning the Noble Spices will purify the air – although miasma is very cunning, and may flee the purifying fumes, to return when they have dispersed. Holding them to one’s nose, for example in a handkerchief, will purify the air that is breathed in. However some forms of miasma may cause sickness upon contact with the skin.  The essence that arises from old books is more effective (which is why librarians and the owners of second-hand bookshops tend to be incredibly old).

So-called Miasma Elementals are Air Elementals that have been corrupted by miasma.

(my thanks to M. Grognard, upon whose research I have drawn in preparing this entry)

>Paste of the Spirits

>Paste of the Spirits is an ingredient used in evil magic, especially Boko. It is said to be the opposite of the Noble Spices, as foul as they are fragrant, and to cancel their benevolent powers. It is said to resemble whale meat. One ingredient is ants which have been feeding on a grave.

Possession of Paste of the Spirits is, naturally, punished harshly almost everywhere.

>Boko

>’Boko’ may be used informally to mean perverted, wrong, un-natural, crippled or deformed (it is a grave insult in all cases, not to be used casually). However it more specifically refers to the arts of the boker, or necromancer, one who creates zombies.

Such people are also known as Planters’ Mates, from the belief that they sell their victims to work on plantations.

An assistant to a boker, who may procure the bodies, is called an Abra-Man (whether male or female). They may also be called Auntie Gunnysacks, after a villainous stock figure of the theatre who steals children for her boker husband.

Zombies must be created from a living person, who is killed during the ritual. It will do no good to steal a body from a graveyard. The main secret of the boker is the composition of their lightning powder (sometimes lightning power), which the victim must eat or inhale.

The exact ingredients of the powder vary from boker to boker. The number of ingredients is always an odd number less than fifteen, and it always includes Paste of the Spirits. Ground glass is a common ingredient, as is the dried and crushed corpses of small lizards. The other ingredients tend to be plants or fungi.

Any of the Noble Spices may act as an antidote to the powder. Some people carry a small amount of spice, or chew cloves or ginger, to protect themselves from bokers.

The ritual for creating a zombie is likewise secret and individual. However it always involves the victim dying from the powder. They are then buried, and after a time dug up, ‘reborn’ to undeath – or sometimes simply dead, if the ritual has been mis-performed or the victim has taken the wrong amount of powder.

Some reports say that the victim is lost from the time the ritual is completed; that even if rescued, they will be drooling and helpless like one in their dotage. Others say that there are a few months during which the boker must feed small doses of powder to the zombie, and that if they be rescued during this time, they may return to their senses after a long recovery.

Some say the creatures may retain a kind of will, and attempt to run away. For this reason many bokers cut off their toes.

It should be noted that zombies are not figures of fear. Indeed they are widely regarded as weak creatures, who will shrivel like slugs if covered with salt. Rather, the horror of a boker is being turned into a zombie. Zombies are believed to suffer an undending bone-weariness, and are pitied. Being turned into a zombie is seen as akin to slavery, and in fact both are referred to as “the fate worse than death.”

Some say that zombies may also be destroyed by throwing them a ball of rag soaked in fat. When they try to eat the rag it will become lodged in their throat. They lack the wit to remove it. Since they must breathe, albeit far more slowly than when alive, they will be destroyed in a few hours.

The ‘Boker’s Haircut’ is a term for decapitation. This seems to arise from the general association of bokers with murder; a headless corpse is in fact useless to a boker. Note that the sage He-Who-Should-Not-Have-Been-Born has a contrary opinion on the phrase, asserting that it arises from the danger faced by bokers, that their “tools without voices” will recognise and turn on them; apparently this inevitably involves the removal and consumption of the boker’s head.

>The Astral Plane

>The astral plane (or luminiferous ether) is a world which exists near our world (the material plane) but separated from it in an arcane and unknowable direction. Normally, beings in our world have no ability to see or influence the astral plane. However at least some creatures in the astral plane are either dimly visible from the material world, or can interact with the material world at will, or both.

Alas, astral creatures, at least those who interact with the material world, are very often malevolent. Or perhaps they perceive material creatures as a horrifying threat. In either case, the result is the same.

Some astral creatures have the ability to move unliving things, but not to directly influence living creatures. For example, they might be able to cause stones to fly at a person. Their strength, if we may call it that, varies widely. Some may do little more than cause a book to fall off a bookshelf, or a door to close. Others have superhuman strength.

Other astral creatures have the ability to influence living things directly. Some will punch a person across the face, or cause scratches to appear. Others will seem to stroke their hands across a person’s heart, causing all but the bravest to be overcome with fear.

If a person stands in a position such that they are occupying the same space, as it were, as any astral creature, it has the same effect on the heart, even if the creature cannot cause this effect at will. Astral creatures themselves never seek to cause this effect, and indeed will actively avoid it. Perhaps it has a similar effect on themselves.

There are some such creatures who seem not to perceive material creatures, and so pose no danger unless a person gets in their way.

There does not seem to be a similar variation in the quality of material creatures. If an astral creature can see any material creature, it will be able to see all. If it can stroke the heart of one creature, it will be able to stroke the heart of all. Whereas there are visible and invisible astral creatures, there do not seem to be visible and invisible material creatures. It may be that what we call by the one name of astral creatures, may be several kinds of creature.

The superstitious are known to mutter that astral creatures are unquiet spirits of the dead. There is some evidence that these creatures favour places of death. It is speculated that the presence of death in the material plane may provide life in the astral plane. Perhaps our battlefield or slaughterhouse becomes a pleasant garden or abundant forest in the astral plane. More horribly, perhaps a pair of lovers who stroll through a sun-filled park appear in the astral plane as dim figures in the thick smoke of a crematorium. However, the wise are not taken with stories of spirits, and know that astral creatures are nothing more frightening than eldritch extra-dimensional entities who may wish to destroy all life.

Certain weapons have the virtue of existing in both worlds at the same time, and thus are effective against astral beings. There are also rituals which will render an area safe against such entities. Whether they forbid them from entering, or merely render them invisible and intangible, is unknown. Such rituals are far more difficult, if not impossible, if such entities are already present; just as a bargain not made may with ease never be made, yet once made, what a labour it may be to unmake.

The smoke from wood sprinkled with certain of the Noble Spices is said to reveal some otherwise invisible spirits. It does not appear to harm them.

Astral cats are bred for the fact that they live in the material world and the astral plane, at the same time. This means they can sense, and interact with, creatures of the astral plane. Astral creatures, unused to any threat, will often flee in terror from them (or at least, it is assumed that they feel terror). However astral cats are no more fearsome in combat than any other domestic cat.

>Trade Outside Teleleli

>The shell, ‘salt’ and ‘namber’ are accepted in cities and larger towns, in inns and other establishments on the road between such settlements that cater to travellers, and by most travelling traders. But smaller towns and villages do not use money.

The Noble Spices are accepted as currency in many places, but in others it will be considered improper or even blasphemous to offer them in trade. Perhaps a temple may render what services they have if such spices are burnt on their altars, but they will look most unfavourably on vigorous bargaining. Herbalists and the like will of course be likely to buy or sell certain spices, depending on their needs at the time.

Barter is the most common form of ‘currency’. The traveller should bear in mind that very few people have any need for such things as weapons and armour, and those that do will have found more reliable sources. The only exceptions may be desperate groups such as bandits and rebels. Horses and other mounts, by contrast, will find a market anywhere, and canoes anywhere near the sea or a river. Good quality blankets and lamps are similarly useful for smaller trades.

In large cities, as in Teleleli, almost anything of value will be accepted in trade. A notable exception is the City of the Amazons. The Amazons have never taken to currency and so in that city only foreigners, if anyone, will be likely to accept it.

Thus an unwary adventurer fresh escaped from the underworld, loaded with clockwork statuettes and the most delicate and symmetrical corals, and expecting to be treated like a very prince, may instead find themselves in the position of the proletarian in the works of Mister Marx, having nothing to sell but their labour.

>The Noble Spices

> The Eighteen Noble Spices are those spices which are useful in magic. They are as follows:

  • cinnamon.
  • cloves.
  • cumin.
  • ginger.
  • grains of paradise.
  • liquorice.
  • mustard seeds.
  • nutmeg.
  • pepper.
  • peppermint.
  • salt.
  • star anise.
  • strawberry leaves.
  • sweet cicely.
  • tea bush.
  • thyme.
  • witch-hazel.
  • wormwood.

Some speak of Twenty Noble Spices, counting black, white and green pepper separately.

They are sometimes accepted as currency.

>Yafir and Yiraf

>Travellers in the underworld sometimes find that the layout of the place appears to make no sense. They might find a large monster in a room, with no way for it to get out, and no apparent source of food. Or they may find a kindly hermit living next door to a band of murderous cultists.

The explanation is that large parts of the underworld have more than the normal three spatial dimensions. In the first case there will indeed be an exit and a source of food, but it will lie in a direction that the monster can see but the explorers cannot. In the second case the opposite will be true: the explorers will have travelled in a direction that is invisible to the hermit and cultists.

A similar effect can prevail in the deepest forest where no humans dwell. This can account for the sometimes otherworldly or magical nature of events there.

The sage Isaac the Loquacious says that the extra dimensions are named Yafir and Yiraf. Each direction, he writes, may be entreated to reveal itself. He states that Yafir is like an adult, and must be wooed as one would a lover, with gifts of precious stones and the Noble Spices, and sweet music and poetry of appropriate subject. Yiraf, on the other hand, is like a child, whose moods and taste change from one day to the next, so that a toy or sweet which was a favourite today may be refused with angry contempt tomorrow.

The Glorious Hand of Arriving By the Nameless Path may allow one to travel these directions, or may work on another principle altogether.