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South of the Kalyptian jungle, where the mists of the White Ramparts begin to clear, silty rivers from beyond the Veil cut through fertile and muddy wetlands. The marshes are speckled here and there with tall karsts, lush coral forests, and cliff-coasted islands. One day, when their reefcrusts finish developing, the islands will crack off of their moorings and take flight as true cloud-skimming ayrlands. Until then, these remote and hallowed domains belong to the dragons, who have appointed themselves the guardians of Karthinia'a unspoiled wilderness. And under their mighty shadow thrive strong and disciplined folk who call themselves the Karathi.   The Karathi are strange and wild people whose lives are governed by a rigid and complex tapestry of rituals and taboos. They place a high value on hierarchy, loyalty, and martial ability. Everyone is expected to pull their own weight and be able to defend themselves against the threats of the jungle. Crimes are punished harshly, and exile is practically a death sentence. Children are taught to hunt for food at an early age, military training is only to be expected, and entry into the mystical arts merits no exemption from this duty.   The dragons may be arbitrary and ill-tempered, but deep inside the temples nestled in the forest, the pictograms enshrined on the mosaic walls reveal why it pays to stay on their good side. To hear the lorekeepers of the Drakkengard Compact tell it, the dragons' millennia of stewardship over the land's natural bounty has frustrated the avaricious intents of southern colonizers who would bring corruption to their paradise. Entire ayrmadas of battle zeppelins have met a swift and fiery end after attempting to cross into forbidden skies. Not to mention the dragons' crucial role in driving away amphibious Leviathans that lurk in the mires, and the dire beasts and undead monstrosities that emerge from the Mist Frontier. Moreover, the dragons do not seem to care whether the Karathi worship other gods, so long as the humans respect their territory, keep the nesting ziggurats maintained, and the offerings of fresh meat coming.   So it is that the Karathi prefer to keep to themselves, knowing full well that most other gahls look upon them as barbaric savages. Even the Sayr'Rahan bird clans and the shamanistic Mor'Rahans have trouble understanding the strict and stifling customs of these mysterious people. Where their own symbiotic relationships to creatures like the archaves or the reef-turtles are more loose and cooperative, the subservience demanded by the dragons of Karthinia seems bleak and oppressive to all but the Karathi themselves. The Karathi remain unperturbed by how they are perceived. Most Karathi have no business on ayrlands, or the wide open skies and seas of the south. Karthinia may be treacherous and unpredictable, but at least in their homeland, there is a semblance of solid ground, and places to keep history alive and safe from the pull of the abyss.   As for the Chainlanders, better to leave them trembling in terror, for nothing good can come of their acceptance. A visitor from the chainlands once remarked that Karathi would make exceptional field servants and laborers due to their tough physique and obedient temperament. He soon found himself in the belly of one the Karathi's reptilian patrons. In any case, few Karathi could stomach the acrid stench of the smoke and chemical gasses that waft through the cities of the so-called civilized.   The Karathi's aversion to urban industrialism is not merely an aesthetic choice or philosophical disagreement. In order to survive in the treacherous wilderness, the Karathi have over the centuries developed a supernaturally keen sense of smell and taste, with particular sensitivity to poisons, foods, and pheromones. While this sensitivity does lead them to avoid spicy foods, their cuisine is by far the most complex in all of Gahla, featuring rich and layered blends of seasonings and aromas that taste different from one bite to another. It is even said that Karathi can communicate with one another through their food infusing it with brief messages such as "Come home early today, my love, for a surprise awaits you…", or "Beware, the man seated to your right is a traitor".

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Cover image: by Otto Marseus Van Schrieck (PD)


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