Clans of the Northern Badlands
As you move north across the Swaying Veld, the tall gold-green grass becomes yellow and brittle, then brown and stunted. When it gives way entirely to alkali salt-flats and red-rock canyons, you’ll know you’ve entered the Northern Badlands. Danger is everywhere in this barren place: bands of merciless ghostmask raiders hide among the hills, waiting to ride down travelers on their sickle-clawed huxli lizards. Giant boneweaver birds wheel overhead, searching for the sun-bleached remains out of which they build their homes, and for prey with which to feed their voracious offspring. Redshell kruutara sit motionless among the outcroppings, their coloration making them indistinguishable from their surroundings; while these beasts are smaller then their desert-dwelling cousins, their claws are still strong enough to crumple a steel helm and crush the head inside. Heat and lack of water kill the unprepared as quickly as the ravenous shunshi packs and venomous rock vipers. Even seeking shade from the brutal sun can be dangerous — giant phasmid insects twist themselves around the hardy spinecrowns that grow among the rocks, becoming part of the tree and waiting motionless for prey to approach.
It is in this brutal, unlikely environment that the fierce Warajadi of Feasting Dog Reach and the inscrutable Aryukujadi of Dustmaw Reach make their home. While the territory controlled by these clans is vast, much of it is barren and inhospitable. Most of the larger settlements are located along the southern edge of the clangrounds, where there is access to arable land and the plentiful game of the Highgrass Sea. Deeper into their reaches agriculture is minimal, with scattered settlements of hardy hunters found around water sources and along caravan routes.
The Warajadi of Feasting Dog Reach
The gods made the bow. Then they made the Warajadi, so that it might be used properly.
— Vanni saying
In the center of Warajad, capital of Feasting Dog Reach, stand the Trying Pillars. These ancient columns soar 300 paces into the sky, dominating the low wood, bone and hide buildings of the surrounding metropolis. About a third of the way up the pillars, their sides begin to bristle with thousands upon thousands of arrows, their shafts tied with colorful ribbons and feathers that drift in the hot winds. These are the arrows fired by generations of young Warajadi hoping to join the distinguished ranks of the Pathshaper’s Huntsmab.
All Warjadi youth learn to hunt and shoot out of necessity, as most Feasting Dog families rely on game for their survival. During festivals, the outlying communities host contests in which these young hunters compete at target shooting, tracking and woodcraft. Promising candidates from these contests make their way to Warajad, where they are instructed further by former Huntsmab who have retired from active service.
Once their training is complete, candidates partake in the Pathshaper’s Test. Each young hunter is blindfolded and brought to a remote, dangerous area of the badlands, several days’ ride from the capital. Each is given a bow, three arrows, a waterskin and a knife, and told to make their solitary way back to the capital on foot.
Those that survive the punishing journey are now part of the Pathshaper’s Huntsmab. At the swearing-in ceremony, each newly-minted Huntsmab fires an arrow at the Trying Pillars, attempting to place it as high as possible. The higher the arrow hits, the more auspicious their future; should the arrow fail to sink into the pillar and fall back to earth, it is considered a terrible omen.
The Huntsmab ride with the Warajadi ohun on grand hunts, act as her personal guard, and lead units of jagun during actions against the Ghostmask raiders or rival Vanni clans.
Unlike the clans of the Highgrass Sea, the Warajadi do less hunting on striderback, preferring to kill from a distance with longbows. Their bowyers and fletchers are considered the best among the Vanni, and Warajadi-made longbows are highly prized by archers and hunters across Modui.
Warajadi can usually be identified by their cloaks, which are made from the skins of the giant lizards that roam the scrublands.
The Aryukujadi of Dustmaw Reach
Endshaper, take up your sharp paring knife and cut the rot from his soul. Burn up these rotten parings in your blue-flame fire. Take what is left and grind it to paste in your black-stone mortar with your yellow-bone pestle. Deliver the paste to the Clayshaper, so that they might mix it with red earth and water and remake it in finer form.
— Vanni last rites
Ask most outsiders, and they’ll tell you the followers of Endshaper Aryuku — shunshi-headed god of death — are bone-collecting, blood-drinking savages. While the Aryukujadi do have some fearsome practices — such as their custom of going to battle chewing mouthfuls of dirt and sand so that they “know the taste of the grave before they reach it” — they are much more then a bunch of barbaric death-worshippers.
Like all the Vanni gods, the Endshaper has many aspects. He is indeed the terrible god of famine, sickness, plague and death, patron of executioners and repentant murderers; but he is also the merciful god of medicine and healing, comforter of the widowed, the orphaned, the sick and elderly. The healers of the Aryukujadi are unparalleled, and Vanni from other clans come from all across the Veld to consult them, both as patients seeking help, and as students looking to learn their ways. Aryukujadi apothecaries are constantly testing new plant and animal extracts to divine any medicinal properties they might hold, and the sale of their potions and tinctures via Kutubi caravans and Saltsong ships brings a steady flow of coin into the clan coffers.
The Aryukujadi are unique in their relationship with the crocotta bondpacks that roam the Swaying Veld. While the other Vanni consider the dogfolk nuisances, rivals and enemies, Dustmaw has cultivated alliances with the crocotta tribes, and the resultant cultural exchange has informed the philosophies and practices of both groups, especially with regards to death and healing. The crocotta view the shunshi-headed Endshaper as an avatar of their principle god, the First Ancestor, while the Aryukujadi have a (somewhat self-aggrandizing) myth that the crocotta are actually Dustmaw Vanni who wore their shunshi pelts so long that it adhered to them like a second skin. When the Aryukujadi meet rival Vanni in battle, their armies are often bolstered by crocotta warpack auxiliaries, eager to strike against the clans that hold them in such contempt.
Art by Thomas Dimitriou