I spent a lot of time talking to Bearskin before he disappeared. After some needling, he revealed that his birth name as Marak Westel. On his island, his people must earn a name to be considered an adult and gain the Totem’s Bond. To earn his name, he hunted and slew a massive bear that had been terrorizing his village’s giant cliff goat herds. He’d tracked the bear over the island for two days, and fought it with only his club. Little Marak had only been twelve years old at the time, but from the way he told it, he was at least six feet tall and already over two hundred pounds. Having not yet earned his name, he had no Bond tattoos and no ability to draw upon his tribe’s strength. He returned to camp with the bear’s pelt as proof of his deed and was granted the name Bearskin.
The man told me much about his home, all of it fascinating. As far as I can tell, his people are humans, but their size suggests something else is in the mix. They reside on a mountaintop turned island by the Flood somewhere far to the north where the days and nights can last for months. Rumors and legends of isolated bits of dry land far from the Continent exist of course, but it’s rare to find evidence of one, let alone first-hand accounts. The inhabitants of such places defend their homes fiercely, by necessity and tradition.
Of the pre-Flood history, I have read, the rising waters brought nothing but war and suffering. Slowly, the water drove the people of Kaltis’ shores towards ever higher ground. For some flatter areas, the floods were sudden and utterly devastating, wiping our whole nation in a moment. Those who lived far from the coast were not so lucky. As the water rose, those on its rising shores had no choice but to wage war on those on higher ground or allow the water to take them. When the water’s rise ended, those who had earned a home through bloody struggle were justifiably loath to let their presence be known to those wandering the seas.
I wonder how many stories were lost of armies that fought for mountaintops only for that scrap of land to in turn be swallowed by the seas.
Bearskin’s tribe, The People of the Iron Veins, were mountain-dwelling tribes before the flood. They lived on a mountain to the north, far beyond the bounds and machinations of the Midlothian Empire. They were a people of war, but the wars they waged were ones of rules and honor. In those times, they had not yet united as a single tribe. Endlessly they fought for position on the mountain and access to its abundant resources and for the fertile lands around it. When land was won, they did not destroy what they conquered, but took it over, lived in it, and used it. They believed that if others took it from them in honest combat, then they did not deserve to keep it.
Despite the constant war, the tribes gathered regularly for peaceful competitions and games, and members of tribes would even intermarry. It's fascinating that such a people could exist in such a state of war, yet remain on friendly terms. Bearskin tried to explain their concept of honor and fair combat, but he struggled to articulate it and grew frustrated. The dialect of his people has drifted from the Empire Rilith that dominated after the Flood, and he speaks best when describing more tangible concepts.
His people worship the ascended god Ganik, an orc pit fighter of great renown. Ganik ascended while captive in the arena of the Midlothian Kingdom, before the gods left and the fires of their ambition for empire were lit. Ganik fought in the arena for twenty years, and never lost a fight that hadn’t been rigged against him—though he even won most of those. The first time he’d lost such a fight, the city revolted and almost overthrew the King, the crowd’s love for him was so great. He values The Contest above all else, and the tribes live to emulate him. Aside from warring, they would compete in athletic sport regularly at the celebrations that brought them together. The best I could understand Bearskin’s explanation, The Contest is about competing on even ground with consent. Again, I didn’t understand the nuances of it. I posed examples I assumed would qualify, but I was only right half the time. I don’t know how this isolated people learned about a Midlothian god and Bearskin had no history to shed light on the mystery.
They called the mountain of their home Riloth’s throne, for in every passing storm the peak flashed under the barrage of endless lighting strikes. The ore veins of the mountain, once a resource to be fought over, became a giant lodestone over the centuries of storms. The veins became magnetic and pulled weapons from the grips of the strongest warriors, forcing the wars for the higher cliffs to be fought with weapons of bronze, bone, and stone. Eventually, some threshold was surpassed and the Primordial of Bonds took residence in the heart of the mountain. The veins that once ripped iron weapons from hands that ventured too close now dragged the metal up the mountain, and anyone who stepped on such a vein became trapped, unable to move without severing the trapped limb.
The tribes adapted, and the peak became less desirable. They forewent iron entirely and developed weapons of bronze until even non-ferrous metals began to fly up the mountain. By the time Bearskin was born, only gold and its alloys could resist the pull. For centuries, they waged their strangely civil war with weapons of wood, bone, and stone. When the water began to rise and the first outsiders came to their mountain, the tribes united in its defense. Those that came to their home had no respect for their concept of honorable war and destroyed all that they conquered. Though they didn’t yet see themselves as one people, they knew that failure to unite would see the end to their way of life.
The fleeing armies of Kaltis came to their door and were met with a united people. The tribe was pushed up the mountain, but as they rose the veins stole the iron weapons of the invaders. Whole armies were destroyed when the mountain claimed their plate-clad knights, to be imprisoned on the veins and crushed by the force of their gear trying to push ever closer to the ore. Eventually, the invaders understood what was happening, but without their iron weapons, they were left to wage against the warrior tribes with crude clubs; bereft of armor or even implements with which to cook their meals.
The invaders drowned as the waters rose, and the tribes, now the People of the Iron Veins, kept them at bay with ease. Once the water had surrounded the mountain and no more invaders arrived by land or sea, threats from below rose out of the caves. Forsaken forces, having lost their tunnels to the flood, found their way to the dry caves of the mountain. This new threat united the tribe that may have shattered in the absence of an outside foe. With the aid of the mountain caverns as a fortress, the Forsaken forces inside the mountain learned to adapt to Primordial's presence, and have eked out a tense stalemate with Bearskin’s people that is maintained to this day.
Bearskin’s people had developed some few primal abilities in the years leading up to the floods. It began with some children finding they had the ability to will objects to stick together in their play. As these children grew, they learned to adapt their abilities to war and sport. Leading up to the flood, their abilities were limited to this binding of objects to other objects or themselves They used it to great effect while scaling the sheer faces of the mountains in retreat of invaders and to descend upon fortified locations in the dead of night.
During the time of the flood, Totemmaker, one of their elder’s created the Totem that granted him a rare second name. The Totem he created was a massive wooden carving depicting the trials of the tribes leading to the Flood and was erected in the center of the village. In the Totem he set a single stone that Bearskin described as a plain iron sphere. I suspect this totem is an ensouled artifact made from this elder’s soulstone, but Bearskin’s people did not have any such terms in their lexicon.
The Totem granted the elder the ability to draw upon the power of the tribe, if they were around it and allowed for him to do so. Totemmaker was a frail man of over sixty years when he built the totem, his warrior days well behind him, but after its completion, he regained the strength of his youth and more. He became their greatest warrior in centuries and lived to be ninety-eight. He spent the early years of this second life leading the defense of their home from the intrusion of men and Forsaken, but when the stalemate was reached with the Foresaken forces, he spent the remainder of his days experimenting with their tribe’s connection to the Primordial. He developed more ways to use the Bond by developing the tattoos used to Bond the Totem.
The symbol at the top of the sketch is the symbol of the Font of Bonds. This symbol is emblazoned upon the chest of any that Bond the Totem and required for the more involved primal magics the tribe wields. The tattoos, along with a ritual, allowed those connected to the totem to draw on the power of the Totem to a lesser degree and also allowed members to give their power to the Totem, no matter their proximity to it. On his death, a tournament was held in his memory, and to the surprise of all, the winner gained access to the Totem’s power in full.
Bearskin’s weapon is also an ensouled artifact. Though he says his people do not know how the secrets to its creation, his tribe has a handful of such items.Using their innate primal magic, they check the level of compatibility between an item and user and pass them out to those who can Bond them. When a bearer of one such item dies, or a tribesmen gains a name, a test is conducted. When a tribesman dies, the Totembearer, the leader of the people, will check the weapon to each member of the tribe, and grant it to any who are found to match its temperament. When tribesmen gain a name, they are checked to each unwielded item. Bearskin was checked upon his naming and granted his weapon Spirit Maw. This weapon had belonged to his family for as long as it had been in the tribe. Upon Bearskin’s father’s death, the weapon sat unbonded until the day of his own naming.
Spirit Maw gains abilities based on the enemies Bearskin defeats in a “Contest.” When he Bonded the weapon, the brown stone set in its face appeared immediately, and the oversized canine of a bear replaced one of the obsidian blades on its side. This granted Bearskin enhanced strength, and his ability to hibernate and recover his strength and health. Without this ability to hibernate, Bearskin says he would not be able to draw upon the Totem as deeply as I have seen him do. The Totem grants those who draw upon it strength and energy but does nothing to protect the body if it is pushed beyond its limits.
The shark tooth he earned when a great white shark pulled him from a catamaran while competing in a race. He fought and slew the massive shark with only a flint knife. and when he reached shore after the Contest he found that the tooth and watery stone were set in his weapon. This addition granted him the ability to breathe underwater, and the ability to smell blood in the air from a remarkable distance.