A successful Vykvirii feast will incorporate eight courses, six different sizes of fork, three costume changes by the host and at least two beheadings.
– From The Travels of Nychti Splitsnout
Sail directly south from the Five Claws across the crashing waves of the Ironshroud Sea and you will eventually come to a place both oppressively forbidding and hauntingly beautiful. Enormous blue-green icebergs the size of mountains rear out of black water towards a night sky lit by dancing aurorae. Be wary navigating the treacherous waterways between the Krakenteeth: the hard-bitten warriors of the Clinging Crab clans stalk the overhangs, ready to leap onto the decks of ships passing below, wielding ice picks and climbing grapples as deadly weapons.
Make it through these dangers, and you will come to a greater impasse: the waterways narrow until the ocean is locked completely in a vast sheet of thick ice. An icebreaker hull may be able to ram its way through; otherwise you will be forced to traverse these white wastes on sleds. Be warned, however: in places the ice of the Verglas Sea is less solid than it appears, and a sudden shift can swallow an entire party in an instant.
When the black cliffs of Vykvir come into view, be ready for the pirates. Rimerunner raiders sweep along the Verglas on great sledgenoughts, their black sails filled by the constant winds that howl across the unbroken expanse. While your dogs might be able to outpace these larger vessels, you’ll almost certainly be forced to fend off a swarm of two-man outrunner ice-skiffs, their pilots hurling harpoons and attempting to wrench you from your sled with hooked polearms.
Escape the Rimerunners, and you’ll finally reach the shores of far Vykvir. The country is made up of four small islands rising out of the Verglas: Murmuration, Crookedness, Exaltation and Unkindness. Bizarre, hyper-localized weather patterns and strangely rich soils have allowed verdant forests of massive coniferous trees to sprout in what should be only frozen tundra. This abnormal vitality extends to the Vykvirii wildlife as well: direwolves the size of horses and scimitar-clawed bleakbears stalk megacaribou among the trees, while spearbeak ravens with twelve-foot wingspans build elaborate nests in the canopy.
Considering the savagery of the environs, a traveler may find his first encounter with its inhabitants somewhat bewildering. Vykvirri dress, mannerisms and customs are an odd blend of exaggerated refinement and violent barbarity. A lady of Unkindness might wear a stunningly elaborate ball gown, fit for the finest Rhadamian courts; however, she will accessorize with bone trinkets, streaks of blue war paint and a pair of war hatchets. A lord of Murmuration might step out in an embroidered justacorp and silk stockings, but will complete the look with a direwolf-skull helmet, a cloak of giant raven feathers and the severed head of an enemy tied to his belt. Vykvirii are overly concerned with politeness, etiquette and manners, and a Vykvirii host will generally be the most gracious, considerate dinner-mate one has ever encountered — until a guest fails to properly observe some esoteric social nicety, at which point a brutal duel to the death might ensue.
It is speculated that this paradoxical dualism arises from a deep-seated belief among the Vykvirii that human society is false and fleeting. Surviving in an inhospitable environment, with its daily reminders of the awesome, overwhelming power of the natural world, has made the Vykvirii skeptical of the significance of human undertakings, and indeed of human life itself. They see nations as teetering castles of cards, ready to collapse at any moment back into barbarity. The overelaborate Vykvirii dress and manners can be seen as a way of expressing this distrust of society through a mocking, ironic adoption of its most ostentatious trappings: pretty skin stretched over the violent threat of blood, muscle and bone.
Most Vykvirii, including children, wear the skulls of animals as a sign of their relative station. Commoners wear the skulls of elk and other herbivorous prey animals, while soldiers wear those of predators such as direwolves, snow tigers and bleakbears. Only the aristocracy and highborn are allowed to wear the skulls of the various giant bird species that inhabit the islands.
Each island is ruled by its own Roostlord: the Murmuring King, the Crooked Queen, the Exalted King and the Unkind Queen. Every five years, one of these potentates is elevated to the position of Roost Mother or Roost Father, supreme ruler of Vykvir. This eminence arbitrates disputes between the four islands, coordinates action against the Rimerunners and other outside threats, and oversees Vykvirii trade and diplomacy (what little there is).