As the Fair Folk invasion ended and the Contagion died out, few noticed the miracle that occurred in an Eastern mountain range. Mount Metagalapa, the greatest of the Ravanashi Peaks, somehow ripped free from its earthen roots and soared several hundred feet into the sky, where it remained fixed. Modern savants explain this as a fusion of the raksha-borne Wyld energies in the region, the Essence from the Realm’s recently deployed defenses collecting in the valleys between the mountains and… okay, they have no explanation. Whatever the cause, Metagalapa’s mysterious ascent stranded a few hundred people on the mountain.
Those trapped on Metagalapa were a diverse lot: local miners and shepherds; a patrol of a Shogunate soldiers (by coincidence, another fragment of the Seventh Legion that was currently founding Lookshy); the bandits that patrol pursued; a walled retreat school for the children of the wealthy that had been carefully hidden from the Contagion; and a few other miscellaneous refugees from plague and the raksha invasion.
This motley population faced many trials from the alpine climate, the difficult terrain and the scarcity of familiar food. The greatest threat, however, came from savage birdmen who saw the flying mountain as a secure nesting site—and the people and their flocks as a convenient source of food. The new Metagalapans pulled together, though, and found a way to survive. In time, they even subdued the hawk-folk and made them servants. Most importantly, though, the Metagalapans bred the oversized hawks that also nested on their mountain, and the rocs—giant condors—that are some of the largest creatures in the skies.
About a century ago, these birds finally became large enough for a person to ride—and the Metagalapans finally restored contact with the rest of Creation. They found a world changed beyond recognition from the old tales they remembered. The rest of Creation found a strange new skyborne culture of eager traders and dangerous raiders. The tiny nation of Metagalapa has become an important player in regional politics and war. The Metagalapans found their lives changed, too, in ways that not everyone likes and that could tear their society apart.
The flying mountain extends about six miles by four miles, with the highest peak reaching a mile above its base. Several subsidiary crags and ridges surround that central peak. The whole enormous mass floats about 700 feet above the shallow crater that once held the mountain’s base. The alpine climate resembles that of the rest of the Ravanashi Peaks, with warm days but cold nights due to the altitude. The highest peak has permanent snow.
The terrain is a patchwork of barren, rocky crags, meadows and pockets of evergreen forest on the lower slopes. Very little land is suitable for plowing. The Valley of the Roc, a square mile of lush blue-green grass and hardy pines near the bottom of the southern slope, forms a notable exception. Unfortunately, this most temperate and beautiful region on the mountain is also the most dangerous, being a favorite haunt of its namesake.
Metagalapa sees little rain, but clouds frequently wreath the mountain and leave their moisture in the form of dew or frost. A few ponds collect in the mountain clefts; a few creeks tumble down the mountain, supplying power for water-mills. Metagalapan settlements include large cisterns for collecting water from the intermittent streams.
Metagalapans seldom think about the shallow crater left from where their mountain went aloft. “The Under,” however, is an area of more than 20 square miles whose interior stays in constant shadow. Shade-loving plants grow around the fringe of the Under, but the interior is barren. It’s also icy, as water collects in the crater but is never warmed by the sun. Only a few people have ever explored this uncanny place, and they didn’t stay long. No one really knows what the Under might hold.
THE PEOPLE Edit
Metagalapan humans look like typical Easterners, with tan skin and a preponderance of red-to-blond hair. Curly or wavy hair is notably more common than usual. What other Easterners find most notable, however, is that Metagalapans are short. In part, this is because the Metagalapans select small, wiry, lightweight people as hawkriders—but the average Metagalapan stands just five feet tall, instead of the six feet common in the East.
The hawkmen look like birds that someone didn’t quite finish transforming into human shape. Their legs bend the way birds’ legs do, with avian talons for feet, and their arms are wings with claw-fingers at the wing-joint. Their heads are completely those of huge birds of prey.
After more than 700 years, these avian folk still present many mysteries to the Metagalapans. They can learn Forest-tongue but prefer their own strange language, which some Metagalapans learn but seldom well. Raptorial instinct still dominates the hawk-folk’s thinking, giving them vicious dispositions. They use tools, but do not make them unless a human supervises; but the hawkmen who still live on the mountain peak, away from humans, weave shelters of twigs and branches, or use such wattle-work to make natural caves and overhangs more snug. Some hawkmen remain completely wild, either on Metagalapa itself or on other mountain peaks.
Everyday life on Metagalapa is full of toil. The flying mountain just barely manages to support 4,600 humans and about twice that number of hawkmen. About two-thirds of the hawkmen now live in association with humans, domesticated as a servile underclass.
Most effort goes into feeding the population. Most crops grow poorly in the mountains, but the Metagalapans manage to cultivate barley, oats, cabbage and turnips. Huckleberries and blackberries grow on the lower slopes. Only a tiny percentage of their mountain, however, is suited for any sort of farming. More importantly, the early Metagalapans discovered how to grow edible fungus in caves and played-out mines; this became the staple food of Metagalapa.
In the mountain meadows and scrub areas, the Metagalapans graze sheep, goats and alpacas. Human Metagalapans eat little meat; but they need their beasts for milk, wool and as pack animals (in the case of the alpacas). The hawkmen must eat meat, but the Metagalapans learned to stretch the supply by mixing blood and ground guts with fungus and flour to produce a cake that the hawkmen can stomach—but the hawkmen still prefer to hunt for their food as much as they can. Every day, hundreds of hawkmen fan out from Metagalapa to seek what game they can. The Metagalapans would like their hawkmen to start their own herds on the ground, but the hawkmen seem temperamentally incapable of tending a flock instead of eating it.
Most Metagalapans eat one major meal, dinner, at about midday, with smaller meals of bread and cheese in the morning and evening. A typical dinner consists of one part fungus, one part salad of cabbage or turnip and one part bread. For centuries, berries were their only sweets. Only in the past century have sugar and spices come to the mountain, and only to the tables of the privileged.
Mining is the next great industry of Metagalapa. Both humans and hawkmen work in the mines and the foundries. Veins of several ores run through the mountain, though chiefly iron and silver. They no longer use charcoal to smelt their ore; there isn’t enough wood on the mountain. Instead, they use sunlight concentrated by huge steel mirrors coated with silver. The diversity of ores—and a lot of practice—enables the Metagalapans to produce excellent steel and other alloys.
For all their burgeoning reputation for brigandage, Metagalapans insist upon both honor and honesty.
Telling the truth and keeping your word becomes very important when you absolutely cannot get away from people you betray, deceive or simply disappoint and annoy. Metagalapans shun people whom they feel have lied, cheated or slacked at their work (seen as cheating the community). They do not accept apologies: talk is cheap.
Anyone who wants to make good a slight must make amends through a gift of food, labor or some other concrete benefit. The Metagalapans also have a system of dueling to resolve conflicts: straightforward fistfights, throwing blunted javelins tipped with red ochre paint to show who could have killed the other, or—when anger grows deep enough that only real blood will do—fully armed and armored battles to the death. When true hatred arises, the Metagalapans prefer that one person dies quickly, than that a conflict festers to endanger the community. Dueling is one of the most frequent causes of death among Metagalapans… though it does help them control their population.
The Metagalapans judge outsiders by the same standards of honesty and square dealing. An outsider, however, has no access to the traditions that limit and resolve conflicts. Thus, the hawkriders feel no compunction at massacring outsiders they regard as enemies… or prey.
Metagalapans place little stock in formal education, though some families do teach their children to read and write, as a matter of tradition. The school that once graced Mount Metagalapa was dismantled long ago for building materials, but many books survive. They are available for loan from the Scholia. The Lookshyans were surprised to find some Shogunate-era books they’d never seen before. Merchants now find literacy useful as well, for recording contracts. Most Metagalapan culture, though, is handed down in the form of traditional songs, stories and pictures chased in metal plaques.
A smaller but highly respected segment of society cares for the giant birds upon which Metagalapan life now depends. Originally, the Metagalapans bred giant hawks for falconry—sending them out to hunt and bring back their prey. Increasing numbers of Metagalapans work as stablehands, plumers, feed specialists and trainers to maintain a healthy stock of riding hawks and great rocs.
The hawkriders themselves number about 200, with 50 or so merchants. This small elite brings in so much wealth, however, that several decades ago they became the ruling class of Metagalapan society. Up until 100 years ago, everyone worked simply to stay alive. The only significant social division lay between humans and hawkmen. They lived by barter. Since the Metagalapans restored contact with the surface world, some citizens—notably those involved in foreign trade— have amassed a wide range of luxuries. People without such goods feel increasing discontent, as their mining efforts largely make trade possible in the first place.
The hawkriders of Metagalapa are not merely a class of highly trained and gifted soldiers, they are an elite society that effectively rules the nation. Only hawkriders are eligible for election to the Council of Riders.
The hawkriders select recruits at an early age, usually six or seven, and raise them in close proximity to the hawks that will one day become their mounts. While the Council of Riders tries to select suitable children from throughout Metagalapan society, families who tend to be short and wiry naturally produce more hawkriders, and rise in wealth and prestige as a result.
Selection is cause for celebration for the family and, to a lesser degree, their neighbors. The Council provides good wine and hosts the family and its guests in a rite-of-passage celebration in the Publica. The selected children, called hawkrider-chosen, go the Scholia and spend every day learning the skills needed for battle and caring for their mounts. After one year, a hawk is entrusted to each child’s care. The hawkrider-chosen must care for their hawks themselves; in so doing, they form inextricable bonds of loyalty and friendship with the creatures. They also learn to communicate with their animals by means of subtle facial movements, hand gestures and stirrup manipulation. At the age of 17, a hawkrider-chosen becomes a hawkrider and goes out on trading and raiding missions. Metagalapa has more than 100 hawkriders in active duty; there’d be more, except for the cost of feeding the giant hawks.
At age 40, a hawkrider becomes eligible for the Council of Riders, though most do not attempt to join until age 50, the normal retirement age. All hawkriders are expected to run for Council at least once.
As hawkriders age, they typically retire from field excursions. Those whose hawks die in battle or through sickness typically go through a period of profound depression, but they are expected to bond with another hawk. Some especially talented hawkriders who lost their hawks turn to raising the great rocs as their new mounts.
COUNCIL OF RIDERS Edit
The Council of Riders is Metagalapa’s ruling body. It consists of 12 retired hawkriders. Members are elected for life by the hawkriders, and elections are held only when a vacancy arises. Any Dragon Blooded rider pretty much has a seat in the Council if she wants one, and the Council has three Dragon-Bloods already.
Some Metagalapans realize that the long lifespan of Exalts means that eventually, the Council may be all Dragon-Blooded.
The Council makes laws, but tradition remains a stronger force in Metagalapan society—wherein lies the Council’s weakness. The Council appointed itself to rule, and achieved its power through control of trade and military force. It calls itself an instrument of the people, and most hawkriders sincerely believe this; however, increasing numbers of Metagalapans left resentful by the growing disparity of wealth in their little nation regard it as a self-serving clique. If a large number of Metagalapans decide the Council of Riders has cheated the community, the strife could tear Metagalapa apart.
PROMINENT FAMILIES Edit
While there is no emphasis on lineage among Metagalapans, a few old families have risen to dominate certain aspects of society.
Wathustret: Many prominent guards, hawkriders and Council members come from Wathustret stock. The family dates back to Wathustret Ux Uree, a warstrider taizei of the Seventh Legion. He led a scale of men onto Mount Metagalapa in pursuit of the Gusho Foxes, a marauding league of bandits. The Wathustrets pioneered many aspects of Metagalapan society and designed many laws and traditions that guide daily life.
Since regaining contact with the Seventh Legion in Lookshy, the Wathustrets’ star has climbed even higher. They hosted the first foreigners on Metagalapa and commissioned the visitors’ apartments. Members of this family travel to Lookshy more than any other. Because of this, some Metagalapans doubt the family’s true loyalty. The few Wathustrets who considered rejoining the Seventh Legion in Lookshy found that without Dragon-Blooded members, they would never achieve any real status. While they admire Lookshy and all that the Seventh Legion accomplished over the centuries, the Wathustrets understand that they belong on Metagalapa.
Alibeth: This family dominates Metagalapan trade, with seven family members acting as trade ambassadors and 11 working as mine administrators. While they all spend part of their life in the mines, most eventually move on to business. This family’s history dates back over 400 years to Alibeth Surmoon, an ingenious miner who developed many time- and labor-saving procedures still used today. Some Metagalapans now criticize the Alibeths for the riches its members acquired as gifts from trading partners, items they display unapologetically.
Most Alibeths have no desire to leave Metagalapa.
Barrat-Su: The Barrat-Su are politically dangerous. They have a history as gadflies, and now speak out loudly against contact with the outer world. The Barrat- Su family is valued for its skill at mustering carefully reasoned arguments for whatever position they hold.
Their parents educate all Barrat-Su children, such that not only can they read and write, but also by adulthood they have mastered logic and oratory. The family’s hawkriders are famously loyal and know Metagalapan law by heart. As a result, they often find places on the Council of Riders. The Barrat-Su do not endorse foreign trade or the alliance with Lookshy; they argue that foreign powers will seek to exploit Metagalapa and perhaps destroy their nation in the process. Their loud and eloquent denunciation of foreign luxuries makes them popular with laborers and others in Metagalapa’s emerging lower classes.
Vallux: This once-insignificant family attained considerable power by managing Onibala’s temple for the last three generations. The family now includes a few of Onibala’s own God-Blooded (directly, or married into the family), while the goddess has enlightened the Essence of a few other Valluxes. While the Valluxes make a show of devotion to Onibala alone, behind the scenes their elders carry on a deep rivalry with both Metagalapa’s Dragon-Bloods and the Council of Riders.
Metagalapans are not particularly religious. They maintain a very basic prayer-favor relationship with local minor gods, though only the few priests who intercede between Onibala and the citizenry feel any real religious devotion.
The Immaculate faith many of the original Metagalapans shared died out centuries ago, though they keep the five pillars as guidelines for moral conduct. They maintain no belief in a reward for honorable behavior, considering honor a goal that exists for its own sake.
Onibala, the Mountain Princess
The only god regularly revered by Metagalapa is an eight-foot-tall, ice-winged woman with blue skin and seven haloes of colored wind. While she despised the Metagalapans at first, punishing them with icy weather, she soon warmed to them and allowed them to worship her. She lives in a cloud-borne castle above the highest peak; Metagalapan priests built her temple directly below it.
Onibala shows her favor by issuing rainbows and calm weather, while her anger is unmistakable as violent storms of driving hail and lightning. This moody goddess sometimes pays close attention to Metagalapa for weeks, reacting to the smallest misstep or noble act. Other times, she goes for years without casting the Metagalapans a glance. As a result, Metagalapans aren’t sure how best to honor her. She does appreciate prayers, which seems to be the only sure-fire appeasement.
Rage of the Birdmen
Every score years, Rage of the Birdmen comes for vengeance. In his fortnightlong visit, he slays and devours humans who have gravely abused his people. He arrives dematerialized only and acts through any convenient birdman, who attains a godlike strength and cunning when so possessed.
After the god slakes his thirst for vengeance, he journeys to the Council of Riders’ chambers to scold, threaten and extract oaths of gentle treatment for the coming years.
Birdman handlers, and others who frequently deal with the hawk-folk, quite rationally fear Rage of the Birdmen. His revenge does much to limit how badly the Metagalapans treat creatures that are—to be blunt—their slaves. Many poor individuals spend years in prayerful penitence to placate Rage of the Birdmen for some injury they did to a hawkman. Stranger attempts at appeasement include giving the offended birdman one’s daily ration, inviting the birdman into one’s home or even (in the case of those who live in Tushipal) going so far as to sneak the birdman into the city and illegally hosting it for weeks on end. Whether such elaborate acts of contrition always placate Rage of the Birdmen cannot be said, but some have breathed a sigh of relief after being passed over with only a glare.
FOREIGN RELATIONS Edit
For centuries, most Metagalapans were content to live a life of toil and simple pleasures on their mountain.
After all, it wasn’t as if they had any choice. Most Metagalapans still never leave the mountain: only hawkriders and traders can ever expect to visit the world below. Even these patriots are not overly fond of leaving the mountain, though. The outer world still seems very strange to them. Not many Metagalapans want to extend their little country’s rule; and although they now have the means to do so, no one suggests that they relocate en masse to the ground.
The Metagalapans have few friends, even among those with whom they do regular business. Thanks to their insularity and their reputation, however, their enemies are many. They have not had enough contact with most nations to determine any kind of definitive stance in the region, though.
COMMERCE AND BANDITRY
Metagalapa produces some of the best metalwork in their section of the East. The mountain contains high quality ore, and smelting it with sunlight possibly reduces some impurities in the metal. It is their only export. In return, they seek foodstuffs, cloth and anything else they cannot produce on their flying mountain—but the difficulty of transport puts the emphasis on small or lightweight, high-value items.
The hawkriders’ duties include scouting new markets. If a town, tribe or village seems amenable to trade, merchants come on roc-back with a load of samples for a trial barter. When the Metagalapans decide they have a trustworthy partner, they schedule additional pickups and deliveries. Since they still prefer to minimize contact with the surface, most trades take place below Metagalapa itself: the Metagalapans drop ingots of metal off the mountain’s edge to the traders below, and rocs or teams of birdmen pick up the payment. A heliograph system obtained from Lookshy helps the Metagalapans arrange these deals.
If the hawkriders feel they do not get a good deal— especially if they feel the surface folk insult them or try to cheat them—they bring in hawkman reinforcements and attack the town from the air. Once the Metagalapans crush all resistance, they bring in the rocs. The Metagalapans then strip the town of everything valuable, load it on the rocs and fly away. Such communities hardly ever get a second chance to make peace with the hawkriders, and the Metagalapans hardly ever give them reason to: every few years, the hawkriders return to the people they have defined as enemies, and loot them again.
LOOKSHY: Lookshy became a great friend to Metagalapa, in part because the mountain-dwellers’ folk tales turned the Seventh Legion into legendary heroes. Soldiers from Lookshy periodically journey to Metagalapa to train the mountain-folk’s soldiers and learn to coordinate their own tactics with the hawkriders. Lookshy also opened up several lucrative trading opportunities.
Some of the prominent families would like closer relations with Lookshy, though most Metagalapans are glad that their ally is a safe 2,000-plus miles away. Metagalapa recently obtained a heliograph system from Lookshy, which it uses whenever possible to contact customers, to take orders, to arrange drop-off points or for other business dealings. As Metagalapa and Lookshy are military allies, the heliograph also gets used for strategic planning, scheduling, intelligence updates and a myriad of other applications.
GREYFALLS: The Metagalapans’ only contact with the Realm comes through Greyfalls, a city-state with which they have traded amicably for decades. Thus far, the Metagalapans trust Lookshy’s lead in their dealings with Greyfalls and do not consider them exemplars of the Realm.
HALTA: The southern edge of Halta lies at the furthest reach of the hawkriders’ range. Early contacts went badly, despite both societies’ reliance on trained animals. The Haltans are outraged by the way the Metagalapans treat their hawkmen (a different breed than the Haltan hawk-people, but still). The hawkriders responded by raiding the Haltans’ southern allies. They have robbed the city of Kajeth a dozen times in recent years.
THORNS: Most Metagalapans do not understand the politics of death, as the ghosts of the Metagalapan dead never return to the mountain. Given this fact, the Mask of Winters is just a scary story from far away. Metagalapa agrees to loan a small number of hawkriders to Lookshy should the Mask of Winters invade, but otherwise, they are determined to stay out of harm’s way.