Salgothic

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Overview

What better death than facing unthinkable odds in defense of the ashes of our parents, the homes of our children, and the Throne of our god?

– Last words of Jodocus Selwick, the Final Battle of Fenristadt

There was a time when the Gothic Empire of the Throne of God on Earth laid claim to the vast majority of mankind. There was a time when thunderous voices were raised in a chorus praising God and the indomitable spirit of humanity. Marvels of architecture and engineering were crafted, and holy war beat back the terrors among the night and the hearts of men. There was a time when great families shouldered the responsibility and noble burden of guiding the populace’s mind, hearts, and hands toward a better life for all.

These times are now encased in moldering and dusty tomes, cracked and peeling murals, and the wistful tones in fairy tales. The once mighty Gothic people have withered, and now seem more to function as swarms of maggots stripping the carcass of their fallen Throne.

Yet there are those who remember and preserve what they can of the past in the hopes of resurrecting a future which may bring hope for all. Nestled in a city within a city lies a people within a people. The Salgothic are the wardens of the relics of the Old Empire, its faith, and its vision. While the world outsides burns and rages against itself under the cruel claws of Triumverati masters, the Salgothic alone maintain their freedom within their cage.

The walls and barriers that were built keep the infected, the greedy, and the tainted humans of the fallen world out, but it is the force of God and the Benali that keeps the truly evil out of the inner sanctum of the Salgothics. The form of their protected and isolated cities vary from Lethia to Fenristadt to Aquila, but the concept remains the same. An outer barrier serves to separate and protect the Salgothic and their charges within, followed by a neutral space that serves as a secured area for negotiations. This is then followed by a second, even more robust, barrier which guards the sanctuary of Salgothic society.

Most Salgothics can trace their lineage back to the great families of the Throne, either as members of the noble Houses themselves or as those who served them. The Salgothics are entrusted with the preservation of the ancient bloodlines just as they guard what monuments, books, relics, and art they were able to secure from times long past. They must, as a people, be extremely careful with what they share with the outside world, or what they allow inside. The Triumverati are numerous, powerful, forceful, and deceptive. While they themselves may not be able to enter the forbidden cities of the Salgothics, their agents may enter if one is not vigilant.

Breaches have happened before to disastrous consequence, and so for the good of all, newcomers and outsiders are not permitted to dwell among the Salgothics. There are, of course, consequences to this isolation and inbreeding has led to some issues over the years. However, in order to combat these effects, while still maintaining security, Salgothics often arrange marriages and courting from one of the other two cities. The transplant does need to pass through rigorous clearance and screening processes, and may possibly never see their original home again, but sacrifices for the good of humanity are nearly always worth it.

More than any other place in the known world, the Salgothics adhere to the teachings of the prophet Benalus, and collect as many of the old religious texts and artifacts as they can. It is a rare and pitiable Salgothic estate that does not contain at least a few depictions of the Lion God or pages of scripture. A Benali priest is a celebrated choice of vocation, and they are treated with much of the same honor and respect a Sacra, a Head of House, might receive. While a few other cults do exist among the Salgothic, they are considered somewhat unseemly, and it is considered in poor taste to discuss them openly.

A darker side exists to the walled off and regulated nature of the Salgothic daily life. While ritual, routine, grace, and propriety are elevated to an art form, the baser aspects of human nature are given little outlet. Perhaps as a consequence, the public shaming and punishment of those who have deviated from society’s principles have taken on the qualities of entertainment and serve as one of the few avenues for less reserved expression and outcry. An undercurrent of hedonism snakes and tangles its way through the people, though its expression is largely behind closed doors and not under the glaring stare of public scrutiny. Everyone knows what is expected of them, and how one is to act in order to preserve a functioning and moral society. To allow anything else invites the catastrophic ruin of the surrounding world to also collapse the last hope of mankind – for the Salgothic know that the secret to restoring humanity to its former strength and glory lies within their hallowed strongholds.

History

“What was destroyed by the fire, we will make from the ashes.”

– Gothic Saying

While the world outside may reflect the ripples and echoes of the fallen civilization of the past, the Salgothics alone are not content to merely observe and mourn the Throne’s remains. Others may view the corpse and wonder at its passing, but to be Salgothic is to dwell within the bones – to preserve and ward off the decay, and to keep trying to press and beat upon its hearts, in the hope that, someday, the empire rises once more.

People who do not understand say that countless years ago, the Salgothic ran – that they retreated from the slavering hordes that crashed through the cities’ defenses and smeared the streets in gore and ruin. And while each human is an individual, and some truly may have retreated in terror, in truth the Salgothic fought desperately. At the time, they were simply the Gothic people, and many of them were the commanders, the nobility, the ones in charge. They issued orders, attempted to make strategy out of chaos, and fervent determination out of terror. Some were at the front lines, and some were in war rooms, but all were keenly aware that theirs was the responsibility of preserving the holy Throne and the innumerable lives within that they were entrusted with. It was not death they needed to ward off, but destruction. They were the last guardians of the legacy that great men and women had died to build and protect, and civilization balanced precariously upon their backs.

The promised aid that had been long awaited from the surrounding countries of the Throne did not arrive in time, if they ever were going to come at all. The Salgothic have not forgotten what devastation can result when one relies on the promises of foreign allies. This was the War that mattered – this was the battle for which all citizens of the Throne had sworn to fight and trained for. And yet, when the hour came, the Gothic people stood alone. The stories say that word was received that the Herkheist, the greatest of men and blood of the Empire, fell after a three hour long duel against the strongest of the invaders, his sacrifice allowing his court to flee. When it became clear that the battle was lost, and the Triumverati, with their inhuman abilities fueled by malignant deities, were finally swarming through the last shield walls, Templars, and defenses of men, the Salgothic exercised their last option. They took everything they could manage to keep out of the hands of the God-hating invaders – the reliquaries, the tomes, the artifacts of significance, the things that symbolized all that humanity had fought for – and they ran to secure them.

It happened first in Lethia. The massive cathedrals, abbeys, and sacred grounds that formed the heart of the city blessed to the Benali were where the majority of the Salgothic fled. It would be their last stand, and they would make it upon the consecrated grounds of the holiest of sanctuaries. Their knights and priests readied themselves, prayers poured forth from the hearts of those waiting to defend and die – prayers partially to God and Benalus and partially for each other. And as the heretical Triumverati forces charged upon them with shrieks of victory, the screaming began. This story is the most-oft told among the Salgothic. The story of how the enemy forces burned upon the threshold of the holy sanctum, how they tried over and over to enter, to fly, to press through towards the Salgothic faithful on the back of the steaming dead. But they had found the limits of their reach. This was a place the forces of evil and decay could not enter. And the ravens flew to what remained of Fenristadt, Port Melandir, Aquila and Tenebraille. The instructions were simple: take all you can of your Houses, your supplies, and your tools of the Faith, and make your stand upon only the most consecrated of spaces.

Being already completely overrun by the enemy forces, the message to Fenristadt was received by only a few, but fortunately one of those was a Wolfram, and their knowledge of the hidden, forgotten places of Fenristadt was unparalleled. Till Wolfram is credited with leading the herd of surviving nobility, their retainers, and their necessities deep underground to places long ago abandoned and buried from memory. While the ground they retreated to was not sacred to the Benali, something in their doorways and barriers was. There were old sacred works buried down below the sprawling city, and the refugees were able to barricade themselves beneath the conquered city above.

By most accounts, none of the ravens ever made it to Port Melandir, and Tenebraille was silent. Aquila did not have any of the blessed cathedrals of Gotha, but it did have something else. It had a sunken citadel of unknown age – a monument far off the coast that rose up from the seafloor that had been present since as long as any history could recall. It was to the Drowned Citadel that the surrounding old families rushed to defend from. While the mechanisms of that place were thought lost in time, there was one thing the ruling dynasty, House Miranti, knew. They knew how to blast away the bridges, piers, and docks near the citadel, and arm its ancient defenses to bar entry.

The Triumverati forces have tried countless times over the years to overwhelm or invade the Salgothic strongholds, with mixed degrees of success. In the early years, many lives and relics were lost due to infiltration by dark apostles and agents. It did not take the populations of the isolated fortresses long to understand that they could only truly preserve their charges and existence if they enacted policies of true population quarantine. No longer would outsiders be knowingly allowed within the sanctuary. No longer would the Salgothic venture out unnecessarily. Within their prisons, they would find their freedom. They would be the last bastion of the truly faithful, and the custodians of the last of humanity’s triumphs, until the world proves itself untainted and ready enough for them to open their doors and arms once more.

Ethics & Values

“Righteousness is the most powerful and addictive drug.”

– Salgothic Proverb

The Salgothic are a strange, enviable people to some. From the outside, they appear to have all of the comforts that those held at bay outside the walls lack. Many a Gothic urchin has both scoffed and daydreamed about the imagined comforts of the great people who live beyond the direct grasp of the Triumverati, their lofty ideals, and their practice of a dusty religion.

The reality within the world of the Salgothic is a much more complicated thing. At the core of who they are is a deep sense of responsibility that is taught to them at a young age, and tied to that responsibility is often a sense of guilt that cannot help but be instilled as well, for they are striving for perfection… and who among humanity is truly perfect?

The daily charge of the Salgothic are to be paragons of humanity. They alone have been entrusted with the most precious remnants of the greatest achievements of the human race. They alone remember the holy scripture and religious practices that will save humanity from these evil, atrocious times. If and when they are able to bring God’s eye back onto the plight of the world, it is the Salgothic that will be seen first. And they seek to be worthy of that gaze; to not wither and burn under the scrutiny and search for perfection. Thus, they cannot allow themselves to grow lax or to strive for anything but to be the utmost embodiments of honor, rectitude, respect, benevolence, honesty, loyalty, and courage.

However, this pressure requires periodic release, and so while many Salgothic understand that errors will be made, and indiscretions will occur, it is expected that one will have the decency to keep these unseemly missteps behind closed doors. Indeed, some scholars worry that in creating a culture and society of pious, model citizens, the Salgothic have simply created a repressed people that look for opportunities to lash out or indulge their baser desires, so long as they are discreet. The counter argument to this is that the Salgothic knew they had a difficult battle of the soul in front of them when they accepted their charge to one day save mankind.

They will fumble and misstep, but they are ultimately working every day towards honing their edges, purifying themselves, and preparing for the day when they can take on the world beyond. And when that day comes, they must be beyond reproach and beyond temptation, or else they will surely fall, and the last hopes of a peaceful world will fall with them.

Geography & Architecture

“In a mirror, you see yourself where you are not. Just so, there are places you can see that are not, and there are places which are that you cannot see.”

– Tommaso della Zorzi, Philosophy of Angels

Major Cities

Lethia

The shining city of Lethia is the most well-preserved and oldest of the cities of Gotha, and one of the few where the Triumverati do not directly rule from. As they are unable to overrun and influence the Salgothic dwelling at the core of the city, they have established a stronghold within a great library at the outskirts of the city known as the House of Wisdom. Its shadow falls across the Gothic citizens barred from the inner sanctum of the Cathedral by two great walls. The Triumverati warlords have historically experienced a high turnover here, with some lasting as little as a few months before leaving or experiencing misfortune befalling them. Theories abound for why this may be the case, but the end result is that the House of Wisdom tends to be occupied by only the most brazen and fanatical of the devotees of Kuarl. As a result, the Gothic people here are generally subject to waves of violence and horrific demonstrations on the city outskirts as a new dictator asserts himself, followed by temporary peace as a change of leadership takes place. Currently, Emmanuel de Brisac occupies the often-cooling seat of power. It is said he hails from the Outlands, and while he does not appear to bear the obvious markings of a Kuarlite, the populace has been holding their breath and waiting.  

The city is something of a marvel as it bears the architectural influence of times forgotten, and no one is quite sure how old it is. Some say that the layers of the city and its foundations cut deeper into the earth than any other place known. It serves as one of the most well known strongholds of the Salgothic, and its classical religious history is seen and experienced everywhere. The catacombs that lurk below the city are said to stretch for miles, with many of structures built from mostly human bones, though much of what lies beneath the city has not been unearthed for fear of structural destabilization. Some Gothic find the catacombs a more secure and welcoming environment than the surface above, and it is fairly common practice to hideout, live, or have meeting places in these ancient tombs. The temples to the Benali, the old god of the empire, still stand, though they have for the most part been repurposed. Some say that this was his home when he was mortal, and it is his influence which keeps the more overt Triumverati from establishing their home within the enormous cathedral city at its core.

As in most Gothic cities, outer Lethia has a series of gangs and guilds for the purpose of providing some order to the chaos of the streets.  One of the most noteworthy gangs is the Invenires. Closely tied to the Salgothic families at the center of the city, the Invenires have the reputation of being able to find anything, no matter how rare or hard to get the item might be. They are noteworthy thieves and have absolutely no compunction about gathering things for their customers that might be considered morally reprehensible by others. They’re lead by the Quartermaster;  a tall, whip-thin androgynous figure who has only ever appeared wrapped in many layers of fine dark cloth, and whose voice is as haunting as it is beautiful.

Lethia is vast, with spires and columns and soaring towers, and is one of the few places in the world that is large enough to contain a city within a city. Beyond the core city composed of clusters of cathedrals and temples surrounded by an imposing wall, there lies a second city – densely packed with narrow streets, plazas, giant vault-like buildings, markets, alleys, and housing. The filth is ever present, but if one were to pause and see the city beneath the muck and press of humanity, they would see beauty.

Fenristatd

Fenristadt is a city in two parts: Fenristadt Above and Fenristadt Below. The city above, that of the common Gothic people, is a stone fortress sprawling with corruption, filth, and Triumverati taint. Foul alleyways and channels bring waste and offal into the stinking rivers that flow near the walls. Up there, lording over this loathsome domain from the Rapture Keep, are Sophia the Thresher and Sorath the Artificer. Their obvious devotion to the abominable god Kuarl has also flowed into the streets, infecting all who live and work near them. It seems impossible to dwell in Fenristadt Above and not be contaminated by it.

For this reason, the Salgothic of Fenristadt Below (simply called Fenristadt by them) are especially vigilant. They need to be. For them, the world outside, and its ravenous hordes who wish to destroy them are constantly pressing down on them. For this second Fenristadt is entirely subterranean. While great doors and gates, traps, and chokepoints are designed to offer security and peace of mind to the denizens of this undercity, they are keenly aware that they do not fully understand the sacred protections of the stoneworks that continue to shield them. Many are simply grateful for the old Benali runework and take it as a sign of benevolent favor for their devotion to the old faith. It is obvious that Fenristadt Below is an old place, and theories abound to who or what lived here and how long ago. The Salgothic have had a very long time to mold the place to their designs, however, though the old elements are still present if one simply looks – much like a new facade on an old house. The city is a maze of caverns with enormous, vaulted ceilings and tiny caves and crevices. Dwellings appear stacked on rock terraces and lookout towers and great mansions rise above it all on enormous stalagmite formations.

General lighting occurs through a series of complex mirrors and crystals that reflect light from the surface down into areas of the city below, giving the Salgothic a small taste of the sun outside. The small cracks and holes that break through to the surface are actually quite far away from the underground city, but long-forgotten city builders and engineers had laid narrow networks of crystalline gems and reflective surfaces that carried the light from a safe distance away to whatever Fenristadt Below used to be. The Salgothic have enhanced it by the use of additional mirrors, and now, during the day, the city has a soft, warm glow. But the light is short lived, due to the specific angles of sunlight required to light up the subterranean city, and the daylight hours are few compared to the world above. As a result, bioluminescent fungus has been bred and developed over the years, which bathes parts of the city in faint glow, and candles and oil are well used.

Underground waterfalls, streams, and grottos snake their way through the city, the natural rock filtration providing relatively fresh water and pools for bathing. Many bridges of rope, wood, and stone connect the various levels and parts of the city. Where they can, the Salgothic have constructed arching stone bridges, spires, and Gothic architectural stylings to their homes, but while the stone around them appears plentiful, Salgothic stories feature enough rockslides and cave-ins in them to discourage too much mining from the surrounding environs. For the most part, the occupants of Fenristadt content themselves with what they have, for to do otherwise is an exercise in futility.  

The hierarchy of the families that dwell there is visually apparent. The closer one is to the surface, the more well regarded one is. The manors that sit at the top terraces and stalagmites get the most reflected sunlight and are the most sheltered from the dangers in the dark. While the city has not been infiltrated in many long years, there are still horrors that find their way within the city – Malefic dead being the most common. However, beyond the city barriers, there are some older and deeper tunnels. Most of these were long ago explored for the possibility of metal and resources, but they are also sources of strange, sightless beasts and creatures best forgotten in the deeps. In the deep shadows cast by candlelight, it is easy for the Salgothic of the lower levels – those household artisans, servants, and more disgraced houses – to dwell on the fact that they would be the first targets of the monsters of the earth and night should they attack.

The gardens of Fenristadt are eerily beautiful, with mushrooms and fungi of dazzling variety, ferns, palm, potatoes, herbs, rhubarb, beans, and other low-light plants are tended to so that they grow in as much abundance as possible. For among all the Salgothic, those of Fenristadt are the most reliant on trade for what they lack. Difficulties present themselves in tending livestock or beasts of burden, and thus much of the focus of agricultural space is on small animals, crops, and the famous poison gardens. As afraid as they are of leaving the security of their sanctuary, increasingly the citizens of Fenristadt are aware of the fact that they are at capacity, and there is nowhere to go but up or deeper down – each option with its own terrible price.

Aquila

Part sunken mystery and part island fortress, the Salgothic of the broken coast have confined themselves to the ancient city of Aquila, and particularly to its main citadel rising high above the waves and plunging down to below the very sea bed. It has been called the Drowned Citadel for collectively known memory, and even the oldest of historical records of the area reference it. Surrounding the Citadel proper are rings of constructed, semi-floating dwellings, buildings, turrets, and smaller towers. Some of the construction is from the age of the Old Empire, when Aquila was the thriving capital of Hestralia – a neighboring country to Gotha in the sprawling empire called the Throne of God on Earth. But the Citadel itself, and parts of the greater city are relics of a much more alien construction. Many accounts in the vaults of Salgothic records speak to the fact that Aquila was built upon an Elven city from the dawn of the Age of Heroes.

War has ravaged and desecrated much of the splendor that old tapestries and murals depict of the city in its heyday, when it was a shining port city full of commerce and bustling canals. But much of what was attached to the mainland of what was Hestralia is gone. It is no longer a city sitting on the coast of a continent. It is now an island city, centered around the Drowned Citadel, and surrounded by ocean. A single bridge connects it to the mainland, and that bridge is heavily monitored and guarded. Multiple gates bar entry to the city proper, giving the residents many opportunities to slow unwanted invaders and guests – and everyone outside is unwanted save for controlled instances of trade. The bridge itself is wide enough where temporary stalls and small markets can set up, and it is a convenient place for the Nemien to make camp when they arrive looking for trade. Most exchanges with outsiders happen on the bridge. Honored guests, travelling dignitaries, and those desiring talks of treaty, allegiance, or war, are sometimes even allowed into parts of the city. Yet under no circumstances is anyone not of the Salgothic allowed to even approach the Citadel.  

The city itself is a twisted maze of canals and narrow alleys and bridges connecting the various floating wards, or rings, of the city. In many places, Aquila has sunken well below the water, and steps and paths can sometimes have the appearance of simply leading one down into the sea below. Part of this is from the original devastation that broke the city apart, and some of this is from the increasing weight and strain placed on the city over time. Some places are only accessible if one has a boat or is a strong swimmer, but the numerous sharks gliding through the deeps do much to discourage this latter option. Stories surrounding the countless dead that lie on the ocean floor also discourage too much exploration.

In terms of current architecture and materials, dwellings and buildings can vary wildly throughout the city. The most outer rings tend to have more rough housing constructed of driftwood, palm, and clay. As one moves inward, the construction tends toward the better preserved stone and marble. Scattered throughout are repurposed gardens and statuaries. What statues, art, and murals that have survived from the Old Empire and the times before are truly breathtaking examples of artistry and captured emotion. Whereas Lethia can claim the lion’s share of holy relics, and Fenristadt its hidden manuscripts and poison gardens, Aquila can claim the most heartbreakingly beautiful remnants of art in the known world. Many say that some of the the works are too skilled to be of human hands, and believe they are yet another artifact of elven civilization. The Drowned Citadel itself is constructed in a manner that has proved impossible to replicate or understand. Records from even the Earth Magician Guild have expressed deep puzzlement as to how it could have even been formed by magic, for they know of no spells that could have created such a mysterious wonder. For one thing, it’s rumored that the Citadel may have no bottom, and that it is far larger on the inside than it appears from the outside. The interior size has been measured many times in the past, and accounts vary drastically.  

The most high families of Aquila tend to have a more diverse heritage than those of Lethia and Fenristadt. Their proud blood is descended from Hestralian royalty of old, Old Empire Cappacione and Old Gothic nobility, as well as possibly even a bit of heathen Shariqyn blood… though no one would admit to it openly. This is a result of Aquila’s history as a cosmopolitan city of trade. At the time of the fall of the Throne, it is said that Aquila had been trying to preserve the Empire through negotiations, treaties, and trade agreements rather than through outright warfare. The Salgothic of Aquila recite proudly the tales of brave informants, assassins, and spy networks that kept the old kingdom of Hestralia relatively safe until the very end. When those who were capable retreated to the security of the Citadel and its immediate environs all those years ago, it was a large assortment of nobility, gentry, retainers, knights, and priests who entered the barricade and called it home. Since that time, the Salgothic of this region have certainly become more homogenized, but they still have the reputation of being somehow less pure and illustrious than, say, the more pure Gothic heritage of the Lethians or Fenristadtens. The flip side of this is that the Aquilans tend to have a healthier and hardier constitution. Many attribute this to the sunshine and warmer climate of Aquila. Though there is a mild stigma to Aquila within the Salgothic hierarchy, they have a certain robust mystique that can be appealing as a potential marriage partner. Many believe they are more fertile than the average Salgothic, and thus have a better chance of producing children from a union.

Floating gardens made of rafts of plant material like floating hyacinth, balconies, terraces, and large sections of the outer rings are dedicated to gardening for food, though diet is obviously supplemented by whatever seafood can be obtained. The inner ring gardens contain the majority of the trees and vines, while the outer rings are for more annual crops such as grains and vegetables. Fishing boats have had to venture ever further from Aquila over the years, due to overfishing of the waters leading to depletion.  Sharks, however, seem to have no problem staying numerous, and as such, they feature in the cuisine of Aquila for those bold enough to hunt them.

Most prestigious families dwell within the Citadel proper, often not even venturing beyond its walls for years or even decades. Those lower in the hierarchy will still maintain living quarters and apartments within, but their main compounds and estates might be right outside of the Citadel or even on one of the floating rings. The Citadel’s function is of the ultimate defensive fortress, repository for the most precious and fragile of objects, and as a center for religious ceremony, court, and important gatherings. It is a bustling place, but many feel there can be a strangely oppressive air to it, as though the inhabitants are tolerated but not quite welcomed. Many believe that there are still depths of the Citadel that have never been entered or uncovered by humans before.

Notable Houses of the Salgothic

For each of the notable houses listed here there are many vassal houses that fall underneath them – as well as other higher Houses that are unmentioned.

House Sauber

Coat of Arms: A white sword with rays of light over a black field

Maxim: Truth is Sacred

When the Catastrophe ripped the Throne asunder, House Sauber was in Lethia, bringing what they could carry of their vault of original documents and ancient records to the holy capital of Lethia to be protected. They still maintain a library of ancient texts regarding the Benali and are some of the foremost collectors of such materials. They claim to trace their lineage back to kings that predate the Old Empire, the Throne, but many records have been lost from those times. House Sauber guards their libraries ferociously, and claim that they hold the original Truths of the Benali faith. They fear that to allow those outside the family access only increases the chances of theft or alteration, and thus, they keep them contained for such a time as when humanity is ready to receive such wisdom.

House Wolfram

Coat of Arms: A black wolf rampant on a white field

Maxim: Glory is in the Hands of Mankind

Based in Fenristadt, House Wolfram owes a significant amount of their rank to the fact that their ancestor, Till Wolfram, led the people of Fenristadt to safety in the tunnels below. This House is expansive, with several vassal houses and diverging family lines, but it is believed that all of them share a piece of the secrets that protect the city. They also claim heritage that goes back through the ages, to the founding of Fenristadt. The Benali sigils and artifacts that have been passed down through their family sometimes feature lions that more closely resemble wolves.

House Miranti

Coat of Arms: An axe at the base of a tree in black on a field of blue

Maxim: Et victor est qui suffert (The conqueror is the one who endures)

House Miranti had been the royal family of Aquila at the time of the Catastrophe, but when they barred the citadel against all outside entry, they continued to secure their unquestioned role as leaders in Aquila. The Miranti were the first to introduce the quarantine procedures used today to rigorously inspect those returning to Salgothic cities after Triumverati forces managed to make their way close to the Citadel several generations ago. Their attention to detail, security, and ingenuity has continued to garner them admiration over the centuries. They are a martial lot, and it is said that the blood of the Miranti still runs hot – that they have not forgotten their Hestrali captains’ roots.

House Rosenberg

Coat of Arms: Three red roses over a white field

Maxim: With Fame We Triumph

Based in Aquila, House Rosenberg managed to bring much of their wealth to the Drowned Citadel with them, and they maintain it to this day – guarded by a squad of their knights, the Knights of the Crimson Rose. These knights, as much artists as they were protectors, helped to make Aquila the beautiful city that it is today. To this day, Rosenberg is one of the houses that regularly trains champions for Pilae. The House believes that artistic ability is a sign of God’s favor and human perseverance, and being able to recognize and acquire examples of manmade beauty, as well as create it, is a goal of most members of the House.

House Engel

Coat of Arms: A vigilant, white Archangel on a dark red field

Maxim: God Will Know

One of the oldest families within the Salgothic, House Engel had few representatives in Lethia when the Catastrophe fell and many died in protecting the holy city before finding safety. But the few who remained have since grown into a powerful House, especially since they maintain the prison in which the criminals of the Salgothic who are not banished are kept. They seem to take a dour pleasure in their responsibility and many comment that their methods seem unusually cruel.

House Vicinius

Coat of Arms: A gold rearing lion atop a green mulberry leaf on a white field

Maxim: In Unity Lies Growth

This House is the one most often approached when times are hard for assistance with food and other necessities. It is said that they rarely refuse a request, but their log of favors and debts owed to them is a tome that requires at least two people to lift. One of the first families to successfully establish a rich harvest of silk from silkworms, they remain some of the most prominent providers of Lethian silk and work extensively on trading agreements with the merchant guilds and the Nemien. They are exceptionally well-off and have one of the most extensive collections of Benali leonems and Testimoniums among the Salgothic.

House Eliseus

Coat of Arms: A sable three-sailed ship riding a wave against a green field

Maxim: Corvus oculum corvi non eruit (A Crow will not Pluck the Eye of Another Crow)

This Aquilan house traces its ancestry not to the Hestrali nobility, but rather to a family of fishermen from Hestralia that made its way to the Drowned Citadel, and through their truly impressive mastery of the sea, quickly became indispensable to the food stores and provisions of the city. They are heralded as an example of what any person can achieve if they simply apply their skills and knowledge steadfastly enough. They are also known for their glassblowing skills, which they have utilized over the years to create breathtaking aquariums featured around their manor- filled with strange creatures they have captured from the sea.

House Forgia

Coat of Arms: A blazing orange lantern held aloft in a field of black

Maxim: Fortuna Sequatur (Let Fortune be Attendant)

Forgia is known throughout Fenistradt and beyond as the house to talk to you if you are interested in the strange and unusual treasures buried within the depths of the city. They have been collecting artifacts from below for generations and guarding the city from the monsters they find down there, though critics of their activities have put forth that they find the creatures of the deep because they disturb what is supposed to be left well alone. They are a House that claims to be descended from a mingling of ancient Gothic House Vaus and the Capacionne House of Favager, but this heritage does not protect them from an increasing amount of hostility directed their way from those who fear they are doing more harm than good.

House Harela

Coat of Arms: Three silver apples on a green tree atop a field of blue

Maxim: The Descendants Pick the Fruit

The keepers of the first of the great seed vaults in Lethia, House Harela prides themselves on planning for the long game. It is said that the family keeps a book wherein they have calculated thousands of potential outcomes for the world, as well as the steps each generation should take in order to best position themselves. It is also widely believed that one of the Harela tests of adulthood is to act as the hand of Fate against another person and cause either a great tragedy or success to befall them. They then track the results of that act, and how it affects the world at large by how many lives are touched by this singular event. The truth of this is up to debate, but it is obvious that House Harela does its best to act with care and forethought in everything they do. There has never been a Parliament that has not had a member of House Harela sitting upon it.

Population

“I have seen what comes next, and I now understand why there is no death. I see now that we are becoming the angels.

– Justina Gottschalk, burned for blasphemy, now rests peacefully

While the Salgothic do not have the despairingly crushing population of the Gothic people outside, space is certainly at a premium, and they are running out of it. Each House is something of a community unto itself. The main family at its head also tends to have numerous subhouses and branching families. Each family will have those who are their stewards, servants, laborers, artists, guards, and skilled workers of various sorts. In essence, each House is considered responsible for the welfare of their own members, but petitions to other Houses and Parliament for protection, food, and other resources certainly have been made when a House falls upon hard times. It is considered something of a black mark against the honor and prestige of the House, however, to make such requests and pleadings too often. For some, only once is enough to tarnish the image of a House in the upper echelons.  

More and more, it seems that those who leave on the Vagary – the traditional once in a lifetime journey to the outside world – or those who must travel outside the walls for political purpose, do not come back. It is unclear which fate is more terrifying to the Salgothic – that their heirs and successors are potentially tortured, dying, or Malefic creatures out in the wide world, or that they have simply decided the outside world is preferable to their former existence. Currently, a topic of fierce debate in Salgothic society is whether or not one should wait until they are older to begin the Vagary – perhaps more clear in their sense of self and who they are; more firm in their beliefs and commitments so that they do not fall prey so easily to the harsh realities that await them. Others argue that the whole point of the Vagary is to allow the younger Salgothic to become more firm in their commitment to their charges and cultural ways. For surely, they cannot understand the importance of what they do if they do not understand the dangers of the outside world. Regardless, there are also some who wish that more would just leave permanently, and give more space to those who require it. In recent years, it has become increasingly common for punishments for crimes to be banishment.

In general, Lethia houses the most prestigious population. It is considered the foremost Salgothic city, and has the greatest and most valuable relics of the Benali faith. It is not forgotten in Salgothic history that it was Lethia that held off the hordes first. The social and holiday calendar of Lethia is the center of the wheel that Salgothic culture moves around. Combined with greater representation in the Parliament, the voices of the Lethian population tend to be the most far-carried and attention-grabbing. It is also Lethia, however, that most keenly feels the pressures of time and bodies. For its walls are finite, and no construction can happen in a way that is considered safe. Its inhabitants are also most aware that they are a prime prize and target for the Triumverati warlords who would love to once and for all wipe away the stain of Lethia as a symbol of resistance on their victorious vanquishment of the former empire. If the walls of Lethia strain or fall, the world is waiting to come rushing in, and the world is hungry.

Fenristadt can only grow down and outwards, but again, there are limits. The dark underground caves are full of their own exotic and strange dangers, and it is unknown how many additional tunnels or rooms are too many before the whole city is crushed by earth, waters, or invasions of who-knows-what. The views of Fenristadt’s population is mixed. On the one hand, many inhabitants can trace their lineage back to the glorious families at the right hand of the Herkheists and the heart of the Old Empire. On the other, underground living and a certain amount of expected inbreeding for many generations has created a people that can look strange and carry diseases of familial blood. Fenristadtians are completely necessary to Salgothic survival in that they provide many of the needed substances, herbs, and apothecarial ingredients that are essential to trade with the outside world, but there is a certain stigma associated with marrying one, if you are Lethian or Aquilan. As a result, the cycle of isolation and inbreeding is subtly encouraged to continue and worsen with time. It is said that Salgothic of Fenristadt are the most likely to not return home from their Vagary, though not by the inhabitants of Fenristadt themselves.

Aquilans have the largest population among the Salgothic by far, but they are limited more by ingenuity and defenses than anything else. Otherwise, their holdings are potentially as vast as the sea they float upon. Status-wise, Aquila is considered the least lofty of the Salgothic cities. Its heritage is more diluted by a hodgepodge of nobility and artisans from all over the former Throne, and their city being centered around a non-human ruin is the cause of incessant concerned looks and raised eyebrows. The Benali faith teaches that humans are the agents of a supreme being, and it is through them and their actions that the world can be salvaged. To have the artworks, riches, and artifacts of the greatest empire of human history dependent upon a supposedly elven creation is certainly frowned at. Yet no real options present themselves as alternatives, and the Aquilans seem to be slightly better off than the rest of the Salgothics in terms of health and outlook. While the status of the Aquilans is perhaps less lofty than the rest of their Salgothic counterparts, they are nonetheless considered attractive marriage options for those families wishing to have a higher chance at healthy and more resistant offspring. Aquilans likely have the highest return rate from the Vagary, and most, if not all, come back with something of worth to add to the treasuries of the Drowned Citadel and its city upon the sea.

One of the great questions facing the Salgothic people today is: “What happens when we truly are too numerous to be contained by the walls of three cities?” Some believe that the only way forward is to find other sacred cities or spaces out there in the world, or perhaps uncover the mysteries of architecture that keep them safe from the Triumverati, and then recreate it. Some Salgothic theologians and scholars believe that the ultimate win condition is to enclose every single saveable person in a protected city until the world outside consumes itself in evil, and no one outside the walls is left. Alternately, some believe that the ultimate outcome of all of this preparation is war, and once the Salgothic have enough good people protected, fed, and armed, they are to charge forward and liberate the world from its vile opporessors. Regardless of belief or vision of the future, the Salgothic are running out of space, and thus out of time. Some bold and brave few are even starting to venture out of the cities not on Vagaries, but on missions – to try to find other cities like their own, or the means by which to make them.

Power Structure

“A taste of power is all one needs to grow arrogant. A mountain of power is all one needs to grow terrified.

– Salgothic Proverb

Most Salgothics can trace their lineage back to the great families of the Throne, either as members of the noble Houses themselves or as those who served them, and are incredibly proud of this fact. Their influence and power may not extend beyond the walls, for the Triumverati and hunger do not care what their heritage is, but within the walls, blood is everything. It is a rare Salgothic who was not taught to recite their ancestors at a very young age – many families, in fact, do so every night before bed. But this pride of heritage can cut deep and long, for the acts of your ancestors are also not forgotten in the meticulous records of Salgothic historians. Thus, disgrace easily travels from parent to child to grandchild and beyond. Lives are long and harsh – memories even longer – and many have found themselves having to perform numerous noble deeds to outweigh a negative one from the past only to partially recover from it. If one’s ancestors were particularly well known or heroic, there is immense pressure to live up to those standards and not be the person responsible for diminishing the light of one’s House. The larger and brighter the light, however, the longer the shadow, and many a Salgothic from a respected House has had difficulties moving out and beyond the shadow cast by those who came before.  

Because of this, the power structure in Salgothic society is exceptionally rigid. It is difficult to move upward to a higher social bracket without marrying into one, and it is exceptionally challenging for someone to be recognized for their own merits. The society isn’t necessarily patriarchal or matriarchal, and when couples marry it is typical for the one who is lower rank to simply be absorbed into the higher ranking family and treat the new lineage as their own… though where they come from will certainly not be forgotten in the family records. Those who function as servants will generally always be seen as servants unless they manage to perform somehow exceptionally in the right circles of society, and arrange a marriage of upward social mobility. However, even then, their families tend to become vassal houses rather than full-fledged members of the original lineage. Some argue that being destined to serve the Salgothic High Houses for perpetuity is a frustrating fate, but there is still that hope of advancement based on merit and heroics, and most agree that serving inside the enclaves is far better than being free to die outside. After all, everyone within the walls serves a true purpose in being a savior of humanity and preserving a way of life thought by most to be lost.

Those who can trace their lineage back to the old nobility of the Old Empire imperial court have the highest rank in Salgothic society, although those connected to the leadership of House Wolfram and House Miranti are also highly ranked due to their actions in securing Fenristradt and Aquila. The next most valued are those that can trace their lineage to any Highborn of the old Throne, followed by those who have either gentry or true Benali priest blood somewhere in their line. While families from Lethia are generally seen as higher status in general, the two other cities often play up their unique achievements and contributions that make them invaluable to society at large. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t argument about which families are more prominent than others, or that families don’t rise and fall, but Salgothic society is more static than most and the rank of each family can be seen very clearly in Salgothic enclaves, with the powerful houses gathered together in the best locations – which are the most defensible and secure.

Law

“If you ask dangerous questions, you’ll get dangerous answers.”

– Common saying in Aquila

The Salgothic have a complex system of laws and regulations that are difficult for the uninitiated to fully grasp. Some of this is due to the nature of their quarantine and the persistent fear that their isolated protection hinges on the perfect preservation of their cities and way of life. No one is quite sure what defacement, graffiti, or scavenged stone may be the change that ultimately destroys the sacred protections that allow them survival. The archaic nature of some of the laws is also due to the fact that the Salgothic see themselves as the protectors of the traditions of the Throne of God on Earth and are committed to keeping those traditions and laws alive as much as possible in the modern world.

For example, destruction of public property tends to carry harsh sentences, and the definition of “public property” is quite broad and includes even private homes if they have a wall or floor or ceiling that incorporates materials of the original city. The laws also contain a vast list of materials and relics and items considered “protected” and that should never be traded away from the city to an outsider – generally these items are religious in nature, but tend to also include any art or embellishment that includes depictions of things such as lions or angels or decorative symbols that appear to be related to these concepts. The intent is to ensure that the Salgothic do not lose their heritage or inadvertently trade away something of true significance, but this section of law is likely the most often broken, and the most common to be exploited by political rivals looking to charge their opponent with something they think will stick.

Additionally, court protocols are legally dictated, as well as the mandatory nature of summons to Parliament or by a high-ranking Benali church official, as well as severe admonitions against telling falsehoods while giving testimony. Salgothic laws also deal with matters of inheritance, proper punishment, limits of taxation, or what each region of a city can ask its inhabitants for (only a certain amount of free labor for maintenance of streets, for example), the proper disposal of bodies that appear to be finally at rest, and so on.

Certain traditions are also backed up by Salgothic law as well. For example, each Salgothic child is tattooed with two marks – one which identifies them as a member of one of the major Salgothic enclaves and one which shows to which house they belong. These Signum marks are typically found at the base of their neck and are created by incising the skin and then dipping the claw of a lion into a holy ink and tapping it into the cuts. The ink itself is considered sacred, and is made up of burnt wood from the groves at the heart of the enclave, earth from the grounds of the cathedral, and the Tears of Benalus – among other ingredients. These marks are never changed- although they may be added to if someone is married into another, more important, house. Even if someone is thrown out or ostracized from the community the marks still remain, ever a reminder of the people they came from. Lethia’s symbol is a stylized, iconographic lion head, Fenristadt’s is a maze, and Aquila’s is a spiral. Each house’s symbol is usually a simplified version of their crest, but can be drawn differently depending on the family within it. 

The rules for leaving and entering a Salgothic enclave are particularly complex. Members who leave any enclave participate in the Profectio ceremony, which prepares the participants for the horrors and tribulations of the outside world. They spend one full day in meditation within the gardens, contemplating the beauty of their small world. Then, as they prepare to leave, in conjunction with a Benali priest, all who leave an enclave kneel and swear their loyalty to their enclave, the Salgothic, and the Old Throne six times, recognizing the Host and the six archangels as their authority. They must then receive the mark of the Sepharihim, during which they swear the oath a seventh and final time.

“I will not bring dishonor on my sacred arms or duty to my city and our legacy; nor will I abandon my family and people, no matter where I wander. I will defend humanity and fight for our ideals, and I will not leave my enclave smaller, should I die, but greater and better, so far as I am able both alone and with the help of all. I will revere and obey the words of my ancestors, of Parliament, of the Books of Law, and of the Testimonium. Should anyone seek to destroy these things I hold dear in my heart, I will oppose him with the ferocity of the lion. Witnesses to my words are my land, my people, Boundless God, the prophet Benalus, and the Arcangels Nuraniel, Cyaniel, Melandiel, Sepharian, Mithriel, and Lurian.”

After leaving, to re-enter any Salgothic city, a citizen must take an oath that they are without sin, and anyone who has sinned and has yet to complete their atonement is not allowed to enter the city. They place their hand upon the Testimonium and swear this oath before the Archangel Sepharian, Archangel of Kings, Authority and Judgment, that they are without sin and clean of any taint of the Triumverate.

“I swear that my soul is not burdened with sin nor any taint of evil. I am pure and not defiled by any contact with the Triumverate.”

Once they have taken this oath they are then bathed in a pool of clean Holy water and led to a ritual space surrounded by a ring of powdered gold within the outer ring of the Salgothic enclave. That ring of powdered gold is then anointed with the Oils of Benediction and are set alight. Each person entering the city must walk slowly through the ring of Cleansing Flame without being burned.

Government & Politics

“Those who say that politics is just war without bloodshed have never attended Tempus.”

– Luca of House Miranti

Within each Salgothic enclave is a Parliament made up of the most important members of the most important families, the number of members of which have not changed in generations. Lethia, being the city with the highest number of old families, has 20 members in their parliament, while Fenristadt and Aquila each have 15 member parliaments. These groups act as the governing bodies for each of their enclaves and both develop new laws as well as mediate issues that crop up within or between their cities – although at a very high level.

In the Old Throne, the office of the Emperor was not hereditary, technically speaking. Although the position often fell to the eldest surviving son of the Emperor, that heir always had to be personally elected by a group of very important members of society. The Salgothic have not forgotten this, and as such, each Parliament is led by an elected leader: the Chancellor.

Once a year, however, those separate Parliaments get together for Tempus, the holiday season,  in Lethia. It is during Tempus that the eligible children of the Salgothic elite get together to mingle and find suitable marriage partners. It is also the time for politicking, exchange, and trade between the enclaves, as well as meetings and debates between the individual leadership of each enclave to make decisions that affect the health of the whole Salgothic people.

At the end of each Tempus, the Parliament chooses who will host the next celebration. Nominally, this could be any city, and any member of the group, but given that the Tempus is always in Lethia it has always fallen to a member of the Lethia Parliament. And given the sheer amount of responsibility that falls to the Host – namely the fact that they are required to ensure the safety of the place in which Tempus will take place – the role has continually fallen to the Chancellor of Lethia.  

Currently, the Chancellor of Lethia is Theodoric Sauber and he claims to be descended from the Pontifex of Lethia himself, as well as a member of the great Sauber family. His family has been in charge of Lethia for as long as any one can remember. A deeply pious man, he dresses all in black and allows his hair to grow well past his waist. His speeches are heavy with gravitas and reflections on death. Fenristadt’s chancellor is Lady Frieda Wolfram, a woman of steel grey eyes and hair. She has publically maintained that she will continue to serve as chancellor until she can be bested in a game of wits. It has been a long time since she has been challenged. In Aquila, House Miranti maintains power, with Amadeus Miranti holding the position of Chancellor. Amadeus is a large man with a famous appetite, and he will often state that just as he does not starve, neither does his city. He is known as a jovial man who will know everything about a person before they have even opened their mouth.

When a member of Parliament dies or steps down, they can nominate a new member of their house – but it is up to the full Tempus Parliament to confirm that nomination. This process can take multiple seasons and is often fraught with infighting, scandal mongering, and good old fashioned sabotage. As such, the confirmation of a new member is often seen as the social event of the year with the rest of Salgothic society carefully taking note.

Crime & Legal System

“Shhhh. No need for fear here. Pain creates beauty. Pain creates life.”

– Father Jophiel of the Sepharihim

Within Salgothic society, the Sacrae of each family, the Heads of House, are responsible for the legal infractions of everyone who bears the Signum marks of their House, from the most lowly servant to their own spouse. With that responsibility comes a significant amount of power over those within their purview, and they are able to punish or deal with infractions within their house as they see fit.

In fact, it is considered a sign of weakness to not be able to deal with the issues, infractions, and problems which occur within your own house – and as such, most houses manage their own problems as best they can rather than bringing them before the Parliament.

It is often said that the true crime in Salgothic society is to be caught. For it is in being caught or revealing one’s own sins that they become a burden upon others. This is especially important if one is a member of a respected House or in a position of power, for you have people looking up to you for guidance and to be an example. Thus, in revealing an affair, for example, you place the weight and shame of that secret upon the one you disclosed it to, you tarnish your image and that of your companions, and you rob your House of an enviable role model.

As a House is often judged or tainted as a whole for the sins of the few, a Sacra or one in a position of power within an organization must take responsibility for those below them, in service to them, or in their care. Thus, most Houses attempt to reprimand and punish internally before crimes and scandals can become apparent to the public eye or dragged before the Parliament. If another House has been wronged, many Houses try to quietly negotiate payment or reparations in hushed tones and behind locked doors.

At the end of every seven day week the local Parliament holds Court, and it is during that day that the leaders of each House come and present any issues they cannot deal with internally, or any issues that crop up between Houses. In addition, Court also reviews any serious infractions of the quarantine laws and determines if a crime is worthy of grave punishment such as banishment or imprisonment. They are also responsible for approving any treaties or marriage contracts that the individual House leaders have put forth for approval. Although these contracts are very rarely turned down, the Parliament does consult their master lineage list to ensure that no two partners are too closely related or unfit for union due to deep scandal which the parties may have overlooked.

In addition, the Parliament and the leaders of the individual families will often seek the services of an iuris – an expert in the traditions, such that they are known, of the Throne of God on Earth. These experts do not sit on the Parliament themselves, but instead serve as deep scholars of the old legal texts of the Throne and are often asked to advise on how matters of the modern world might have been handled in the past. Their advice may not always be taken, but it is often sought.

Punishments for crimes are often harsh-seeming, and some speculate that the theatrical nature of the public humiliations, tortures, and executions are to give an appropriate outlet for pleasure and bloodthirstiness for a people that always have to be so very guarded. It is also believed that the more gruesome and upsetting the punishments are, the more people will understand the severity of the situation at hand, and deter further wrongdoing. Thus, punishments are often blended with entertainment to maximize the audience, and are sometimes even set up in “acts” – such as an opening ceremony of public humiliation that could range from an audience participation name-calling and spoiled-food throwing to head shaving or disfigurement. This could then be followed by a play in which people condemned to death must play roles assigned to them in which they are then truly executed on stage. It is generally assumed that most people killed in this way will come back to life, and the true punishment is the harrowing experience of facing death. Yet the Salgothic have unfortunately trapped many a Malefic inside their walls over the years. This keeps priests and intrepid Malefic-hunters busy and offers a test of piety and faith for many seeking conflicts to resolve.

The conclusion to the public spectacle may be a reading of the names of those to be banished, a ceremonial striking of their name from the tomes of family trees (usually just a line through it so that the record is still preserved), and the crowd jeering and hurling last insults before turning their backs and leaving the banished to their solitude before they are forcibly removed from the cities.

The temptation is ever-present within the world to convert or conform to the desires of the Triumverati overlords. The power, the allure of being on the winning side, the ease of which one could protect one’s family or solve problems, the security of eliminating a major source of fear are a selection of the countless reasons that one may desire to place their loyalties with those in control. But it is this crime that the Salgothic punish most severely and most often leads to immediate banishment at the first sign of potential sympathies or even loyalty to the Triumverati… for there can be no time to waste in removing the taint of that kind of influence from the city, and very often those closest to the offender must also follow suit and be evicted. The Sepharihim are often called in for these cases to ascertain how far the corruption has spread within a House or district, and how many people must be purified or banished.

Economy

“No, I don’t think you want the truth, dear one. You came here in search of something beautiful.”

– Remus the cosmeticist and alchemist

Despite their seemingly endless appetite for wealth and riches, the Salgothic are surprisingly circumspect when it comes to matters of economy. There is no true formal coin or monetary system within the Salgothic enclaves, and instead they work almost entirely within barter and trade. That being said, coins of the Old Empire can sometimes be used as marks of favors or boons owed, to be collected at a later date. The coins are often symbolic and are used in conjunction with log books, but their use means that the favor owed may be transferred fairly easily between people. Over the years, many Houses have cornered the market on certain types of coin, and some have re-minted the coins to carry the sigil of their House upon it. The type of metal of the coins can be used to denote the extent of the favor owed by the House. Gold signifies a large amount of goods or a large favor owed, silver lesser, and bronze or copper a smaller favor. Houses and organizations who have them tend to use them sparingly, as they are somewhat open to interpretation, and if it is determined that a House is not paying its debts appropriately, their esteem and standing within the community can suffer greatly.

For many Salgothic, the individual needs, such as food or shelter, are handled by the House to which they owe loyalty, and even those that may need to trade with other Houses for supplies often call upon a complex system of recorded favors and promises. For example, a House may have need of several hundred chickens to which they will promise to supply the providing House with several dozen bolts of silk, to be provided within two years’ time. The main items in demand for trade between Houses are the means of survival and necessity. Herbs, alchemical supplies, drugs, alcohol, and luxury items are often only traded among the Salgothic during times of surplus. Those Houses who produce more luxury items are often reserving them for outside trading partners who have needed supplies that cannot be gotten within their enclaves.

Natural Resources

“Never unearth something you can’t bury.”

– Common saying in Fenristadt

Locked as they are within their sanctuaries, the Salgothic have had to become creative in the utilization and creation of resources. In the early years of their isolation, inner courtyards were cleared and glassed over, often using the amazing pieces of stained glass that decorated their cathedrals that had fallen in the early battles. As the gardens expanded over time, space constraints caused many of the Salgothic of Lethia to dig down into the earth below these open spaces, creating beautiful terraced gardens that remain today. In some places there is very little earth between the terraced gardens and the bone of the catacombs below. However, a growing concern is present that digging any deeper may disturb the ancient Benali forces which keep them safe. The creation of the terraces did not disturb the stonework of Lethia, but over the years, the danger of cutting into stone or dislodging it has increased. The fear of unwittingly destroying the sanctity and safety of the Salgothic of Holy Lethia is so great, that the Salgothic consider there to be no greater crime than defacement of the structures. The Salgothic of Aquila, meanwhile, can only really spread out over the water, but the further they go, the more area they have to protect, and the more they will lose should they fail. Those in Fenristadt, being already underground, make liberal use of the terracing system as well to try to maximize their use of vertical real estate. After all, the further down they go, the farther away they are from any light.

Just as they keep the old ways of the Benali faith, so do they keep relics of the natural world from the times of the Old Empire.  Each of the three cities holds an archival record and storage of seeds, bulbs, and spores from every corner of the known world. They are stored in what is known as Firmamenta. These are well-guarded, cavernous, dry chambers that house the thousands of specimens collected over time. They await the day when the Salgothic can re-emerge into the world and repopulate it as it was intended.

The Seed Vaults are a particular point of pride for the Salgothic, and they are groomed and cared for as lovingly as any religious relic. Inside of each vault, there are scores of small, wooden drawers that line the walls, each with their own label. There is routine maintenance to ensure that the vaults remain dry and devoid of unwanted plant life. Records are meticulously kept in leather bound books about every sample, and updates are often sent between the cities in order to make sure every record is up to date.

There are seeds from as far back as the Lion Age, and possibly even older, passed down from trader to farmer to family. Some samples have been recovered from ruins, sealed away in clay pots or metal boxes. One to two plants are grown from each sample to ensure the viability of the seeds, provide a specimen to study in the real world, and potentially create more seeds if it appears they are needed.

These sunken glass gardens and indoor arboretums are the beating heart of the Salgothic. They are carefully managed by gardeners that can trace their lineage back generations and are as beautiful as they are functional. They are carefully maintained to feature edible flowers and fruit-bearing trees and bushes at the forefront, with less attractive grasses and grains more hidden. Nothing is grown that does not provide a practical use. Many social events take place adjacent to these spaces, although anyone who damages them, either accidentally or purposefully, is grievously punished.

Practical use plants are not just the foodstuffs and supplies which are grown within these spaces. The Salgothic are also known, if not notorious, for their herbs, including quite a few that are more intoxicating than medicinal and some that only bring death and suffering. It is these plants that provide the basis for a lot of the trade that occurs between the Salgothic and the outside world, for they have become the sole proprietors of the main ingredients for some rather nasty poisons and drugs. The methods of growing and propagating these plants is a closely guarded secret, lest the Salgothic find themselves having competition in the outside world.

The Salgothic also provide some materials that are difficult to find elsewhere in the world. In Lethia, a grove of black-fruited mulberry trees are kept for the sole purpose of feeding their expansive colony of silkworms, in order to create the much sought-after Lethian silk. Salgothic embroidery and painted silk is also highly regarded by those who are able to afford such luxury. Generally, these items are traded for things that the Salgothic have difficulty obtaining or making for themselves, such as meat from large animals, leather, and metals (as the Fenristadt Salgothic have mined about as deep as they dare). It is also well known that the Salgothic will trade for any relics and items of religious significance that have been uncovered in the larger world.

In addition, it’s rumored that some of the less ethical or well known families within the Salgothic make a pretty living for themselves selling bits of dirt from their homes to the Gothic and travellers outside – as the Salgothic enclaves are often built on the grounds of ancient cathedrals, and it is still believed by many that such dirt has great power at repelling malefic creatures. Those unscrupulous inhabitants who actually dare to sell objects of true significance find that they have a lot to atone and answer for – as while these objects might capture a lot in trade, the general view is that these acts betray the very foundation of what Salgothic society stands for… which is not to say that it does not happen. It simply happens very quietly, and generally under unfortunate circumstances.

Diet

If you are fueled by faith, you need never go hungry.

– Traditional response to Salgothic prayer before meals

The Salgothic fortresses are perhaps the last place on earth where food is treated as an artform. Food is precious and is never wasted, but among the Salgothic it is ritualized and elevated to be more than a mere meal. Despite their piety and devotion to the Benali, Salgothics can be hedonistic when the mood strikes. Dinners with family are comfortable and satisfying. Dinners with friends are grandiose, an obvious show of the bounty that each Salgothic house possesses in an effort to gain esteem in the eyes of peers and betters.

The central fortresses that the Salgothic have laid claim to are wildly different from any other place in the world. The lush gardens cultivated within are the main sources of food. Fruits and vegetables are the staples of the Salgothic diet. Through great care and patience, they have managed to preserve and grow more exotic and heirloom food from scavenged seeds, traded sprouts, and through generations of gardeners passing down their tools to others. The gardens grow dragon fruit, coconuts, peppers, persimmons, radishes, and fiddlehead ferns, to name a few. Blackberries are made into thick, sweet sauces, while potatoes and carrots are made into heartier meals. Flax and hemp are ground into flour and baked into loaves which are a regular dish at suppers.

It is a rare occasion when the Salgothic have a variety of animal products at their table, but they do breed their own special livestock with a special emphasis on poultry. Lethia is famous for their strange breed of chickens; every part of them is pure black. Their meat is a dark charcoal, and their feathers are lampblack. Their flavor is similar to regular chicken, but has a hint of earth in its flesh. The meat is seasoned with the many herbs grown in the Salgothic gardens. The feathers are often used in garments and hats. The chickens also supply the people with eggs, heavily featured in Salgothic cuisine because of its many uses.

Aquila, on the sea, is blessed with a bounty of all sorts of marine life. Mackerel, swordfish, octopi, sharks, eel, and giant clams are just a few of the many animals available. The sea snails that live along the cliffs can be ground into a fine, purple dye that is popular among the rich. Octopi can have their ink extracted and made into dyes and writing ink. The citrus fruits cultivated inside the city are often paired with the fish, along with a white wine.

Fenristadt’s caverns below the city house many tunnels and caves that are covered in a wide variety of mushrooms. Some are delicate, some hardy. To find these delicacies, the people of Fenristadt have taken to raising hogs in order to harvest the fungi. These pigs were bred to be smaller than their ancestors in order to fit through small spaces. They are not often eaten, as they serve a valuable purpose, but on the occasions that they are consumed, they are served with butter and a bed of rice.

Desserts are often fruit based, and those with dairy are served on rare occasions. Custard and cakes with frosting are some of the more special desserts, as dairy products most often have to be traded for from the outside, as goats are far too destructive to safely raise in the enclaves, and cows require far too much room. Stewed pears, berries with sugar, and simple, sweet biscuits are more common. Honey is often used as a sweetener, as the Salgothic are fond of their bees, who are efficient pollinators for the gardens. The honey ranges in color from a light gold, to a rich, syrupy brown.

Another luxury that the Salgothic produce is alcohol. Hops, grapes, fruits, some wheat, and potatoes grow in the soils, and gives the brewers a wide range of options for their work. The most common alcohols are wine and mead. The mead comes from their large stores of honey, and the wine, delicately crafted from the varieties of grapes and fruits grown in the small vineyards and orchards. They export the wines to other cultures, fetching quite the price per bottle. Often enjoyed at dinner parties, Salgothic wines are well known among those who can afford it.

Dining Customs

A painted face hides many scars.

– Common saying in Lethia

Dinner parties are a favorite pastime behind the walls of the central cities, especially among the great Houses. They are a way to socialize, share news, and give opportunities for displays of piety, respect, and social standing. The Gothic people outside complain bitterly that Salgothic festivities provide only laughter that drowns out the suffering of others. The Salgothic would argue that it is gatherings such as these that strengthen the bonds of friendship and the interconnectedness of humanity, for there are few better ways to get to know someone than to share a meal with them. These affairs can range from an intimate, six person meal, to grandiose affairs for fifty or more guests.

Daily meals spent at home are a more quiet and humble affair, held in one’s own home with family or close friends. Water and weaker ale are served in place of spirits, and the meals are heartier and simple. Dense, brown breads and warm stews are favored, as well as vegetables such as roots and leafy greens. Before the meal, hands are to be scrubbed with a rough cloth dipped in water, the head of the household prays to Benalus, then the meal begins. Meat is generally reserved for more social or formal affairs, and the day to day meals are more often than not vegetarian in nature.

It is not uncommon for the average household of lesser status families and artisans to have a servant or two. As these servants are also Salgothic with a history of their own, they are supposed to be treated fairly and almost like kin. Salgothic custom looks down upon the abuse of one’s assistants that a household should be caring for in exchange for their labor. For example, while a servant may be expected to prepare meals and serve them, it is understood that a sizeable portion of the food should also be used for the servants’ meals.

Parties are often a perfect place to display one’s fashion, wealth, and strong moral fiber. There is a very strict etiquette tied to the events; unmarried women must be accompanied by a matron chaperone, married couples are placed across from one another, and seating arrangements are, of course, made with social standing and importance in mind. The host and or hostess sit at the head of the table, and their most honored guests are seated on either side of the table, ranked by importance. It is an honor to sit close to the hosts, but it is an obvious statement of where the other guests think you belong in the banquet hall, as well as outside of it. Of course no one would say this out loud; manners are paramount. They show good breeding, and can serve as a sort of silent language. Emphasis on certain words, purposeful eye contact, and embraces can all communicate potential relationships, the shunning of a certain person, or even to let someone know to speak to you in private later. It is also required that guests wait until the lady of the house places her napkin in her lap, and then you and the other guests should follow suit. All Salgothic meals of any significance have small finger bowls with which to clean your hands, but it is important that you must not use the same bowl as someone of higher rank than you unless specifically requested to do so.

Once seated, the host will give a prayer to Benalus, a long offering that wishes a bountiful harvest and safety from the night malefic on the Salgothics. After the prayer, the guests are greeted with complex place settings, many different utensils to be used in a specific order, and varying goblets for different beverages. There can be anywhere from three to eight courses, all served in small, exquisitely crafted portions that are more art than food. One does not eat until the host has started, one does not drink until the host has been served their first glass. In addition, what is served depends on the host. Dishes are presented to the host first to try, and if they wave it away, then no one else can try it.

The courses are generally served in a specific order: a small salad of leafy greens, often topped with edible flowers. It is followed by a cheese course, served with flax biscuits. The fish course, meat course, and grain courses follow, finally ending in a dessert. While eating, bread should be torn into smaller pieces before eating as it is considered very impolite to take a bite directly from a piece of bread.

The number of courses and types of ingredients are often indicative of the wealth of the host, though stories tell of exceptionally well-respected families such as the Sauber at times serving very humble foods (still on gorgeously jewelled platters and glassware) to remind their guests to turn away from gluttony and self satisfaction. Wine, mead, and fruit juices are served during the meals while the entire affair is finished with a cup of tea or coffee.

Toasting at events is just as structured as eating. When toasting, it is necessary that you wait for the host to lead the way, and for everyone to be served a drink. Once everyone has been served a drink, the host will generally make a short toast after which the glass-clinking begins. It is polite to make eye contact as you say, “Prost.”

The guests stay and socialize until the host gives them leave, often public so that no one feels obligated to stay, and so that no one overstays their welcome. The guests then offer gifts they have brought as a show of gratitude as they leave. The gifts should not be food or drink, but something more intangible – preferably something with a lengthy story behind it. If anyone has made an appointment for a meeting, this is the time, as everyone filters out into the night.

Fashion & Dress

“And I gave unto them what Lurian had imparted unto me: rites and ornament, and ways to cloak oneself that they might be shielded from sin…”

– Gospel of St. Istra

The rest of the world may judge the Salgothic as peacocks with their by-comparison opulent clothing. They consider their clothing and dressing style to be another symbol of mankind’s history which must be honored and preserved wherever possible. These people know that they are fortunate – they know that they are spared many of the horrors of the world due to their walls, purity, and community. And they also know that to not care for one’s appearance – one’s dress and cleanliness – is to be spiteful of that fortune and privilege. The Salgothic must appear at all times to be figures worthy of respect and that the rest of the world can look up to as examples of what humanity can be. They are charged with caring for the Empire of Man, and looking the part can be just as important as acting the part.

The Salgothic try wherever possible to recreate and acquire the rich, sumptuous fabric and jewelry from ancient times, many originally plucked from the rubble and debris of war, and buffed until one could see their reflection in the stones. These symbols of the height of the Benalian society are treasured and worn with reverence. As any metal or jewel without sentimental value has all likely long-ago been traded or repurposed, most jewelry that does exist is either a family heirloom, or a religious relic, kept safe and hidden from the catastrophes of time. A few pieces have been scavenged from the ruins of churches long gone, and those who are lucky enough to possess these objects of beauty and religious significance are sure to regularly wear them in order to emphasize their piety.

Many articles of clothing have been passed down in families as well, with each generation adding embellishments and repairing damaged seams. It is not uncommon for a brocade coat, heavy cloak, or fur-trimmed gown to be recognized as a staple of a particular House, passed down from parent to child when the time is right. For many, being able to wear the same gown at dinner that their many, many years removed ancestor wore in her portrait hanging over the dining hall table is a clear statement of lineage, respect, and importance. Clothing is very rarely damaged for long, as the Salgothic, ever rooted in tradition, take the utmost care in preserving and repairing their belongings.

Each city has its own aesthetic that is very distinctive, if one is up to date with the latest trends. Lethia prefers the contrast of blacks and whites, indications of their piety and spiritual status, and an homage to the religious dress and stylings of the nobility of the Old Empire. Black is a popular color as it indicates a certain humility – it acknowledges that the wearer is a sinner, and mourns that sin, but continues to strive for forgiveness. However, as many historic depictions of important religious figures in Lethia’s history wore white as a sign of their purity, whites and creams are very popular among high-ranking Houses and families. Aquila, having historic influences from more surrounding cultures, has adopted colorful garments and patterns into their dress, sporting saffron yellows and woad blue. Fenristadt, the subterranean and perhaps most serious of the cities, dresses almost exclusively in blacks and greys, and other dark colors. They do not paint themselves to be something they are not; no one is above sin, and each person must be reminded of this continual struggle.

Almost all Salgothic will accent their clothing with the colors and ornamentation of their Houses and affiliations, however.

The Salgothic prize tailoring in their fashion, and while the aesthetic and fashion trends do change over time, there are certain consistencies in preference. Layers of fabric and flowing silhouettes are favored, with loose sleeves often hanging to the waist (or lower for more high-stationed House members), and robes that are elegant and modest. The profession of a tailor is held in very high regard. It takes years of skill to learn to work with, create, and repair all the old and exotic materials available to the Salgothic and to hone the craft of the needle. Tailors become apprentices around the age of 15, though sometimes younger. Those with smaller hands are preferred, as they are considered more deft with the tools of the craft.

Silkworking is another revered occupation. The care for silkworms and the harvesting of their cocoons forms the foundation of a key trade item and needed material for the Salgothic. The silkworms are mostly raised in Lethia, and the fabric is traded among the Salgothic cities and with the outside world. The silk is also used to create very effective armor if one has enough of it, though the cost is high. Other fabrics, of course, are more commonly used to create daily clothing, and include cotton, flax, and hemp. Dyes are cultivated from exotic flowers, roots, and berries that grow in the gardens; rich purples, verdant greens, dark blues, and deep blacks are popular colors among the elite for accent pieces and special occasion wear. Bird feathers, are very often used as trim for all manner of clothing and accessories. A master tailor is also often requested to sew in hidden pockets and compartments to house more illicit substances that the Salgothic often trade to the outside world, and sometimes utilize for their own purposes.

Cosmetics are used, but they are carefully applied. It is often used to mimic a youthful, healthy flush, further trying to create the illusion of vitality in a world deprived of well-being and abundance.

Education

When all who remember events have passed on, it is only the written word that becomes truth. Be mindful of this when you fabricate your history.

– Cassius the Blind

The Salgothics are aware that they have knowledge and records in their possession that few others in the entire world have access to. As such, their young people go through a rigorous education process that ensures that they will be able to carry on the weighty traditions of their culture as well as be a graceful addition to society. Theirs is the burden, and theirs is the responsibility.

Children are expected to enter the Alteschule, their organized school, no later than the age of five. Their earliest years involve directed instruction by the Benali so that moral foundation is laid, upon which to apply higher learning. Descendants of ancient nobility that they are, the Salgothics consider themselves one of the few cultures who value literacy and mathematics in the modern world. These are taught along with what is remembered of the history and religion of the ancient Empire.

However, children are only in a co-educational environment for a couple years. As early as eight or nine, they are separated by gender and, along with their more academic pursuits, are taught the complex code of tradition and customs that they are expected to live for the rest of their lives. This includes information about the other Salgothic enclaves, the steps and bows necessary for dozens of different dances, how to politely engage in dinner conversation, and the language of the flowers, among other more arcane topics.

When Salgothics start to enter their majority and reach the age in which they would be married off (generally around their 19th or 20th year), they are given a series of tests that are nominally supposed to show their proficiency in all of the arts that they were taught to master. In actuality, these tests vary in difficulty depending on the rank of your family. A fair amount of expectation is placed upon those children of the highest rank, and while their tests are actually a bit harder than lower ranks (as they are held to high standards), they also are far better prepared than lower ranks. It is not uncommon for a high ranking family to be informed of the contents of the test well in advance so that they can adequately study, memorize, practice, and prepare. These scores are then tabulated and presented to the community as a whole, and it is considered a great upset if a lower ranked youth scores higher than his or her social superiors, for after all, this means there is potential for political upheaval, however small.

The result of these tests are used primarily in establishing marital matches, and are given to matchmakers to determine the potential suitability of a potential husband or bride. A youth with high scores are considered to be in a positive place to negotiate a marriage from, though skill will likely never outrank lineage in importance. Be that as it may, many Salgothic youth firmly and unequivocally believe that failing the tests will result in them being alone forever and shunned by their society – if not ostracized altogether, and the perception of pressure on them can feel immense.

Manners

You dare to speak to my face? Who are you, coming to my home and acting as if you own the place? I can trace my line back to Albretch Selwick and Lady Eleanor Fafnir, descended from the Throne Emperor’s chosen, the Herzogs! Who are you to ask me such questions about my children? I can assure you they are never going to be your concern…but I can make certain I will become a concern of yours.

– Sascha Engel

Salgothic society is nothing if not a coordinated dance of complex interactions. The way you greet another, the length of your stride, the tilt of your hand during dinner – all of these are telltale markers of what level of society you are from and how you were raised. Worst of all, however, is the fact that in the cutthroat world of the Salgothics the bar is always being raised. What is polite to do one season is uncouth the next and it is a rare house that doesn’t have at least one person whose sole responsibility is keeping track of what is popular, what is polite, and what is avant garde.

When being sat at any event with food one cannot sit simply wherever they would like. Even if seats are not assigned it should be assumed that those seats closest to the host are reserved for those of greater rank, favor, and birth.

Greetings between people is similarly fraught. While it is generally appropriate to call any man that you meet Dominus (Master), if they are your social superior it is typically necessary to bow deeply when addressing them. Part of one’s social status is communicated through the depth and duration of bows to one another. For women, the honorific is Domina. The noble titles are considered a safe bet to make if you do not know whom you are speaking with, since if you are going to err, it is better to err on the side of more respect than less. If one is for a certainty your social inferior and unmarried, it is generally appropriate to use prima (feminine) and primo (masculine) instead. However, it is also appropriate to address anyone with a political or judicial position as “Vos”, no matter their gender – as all public officials are part of the general plurality of power.

It is only with actual ranking House members, however, where Domina and Dominus are part of their official name. While this can be confusing to outsiders, social status, and familial ties are so important that they have become an integral part of the naming conventions of the Salgothic populace.

At birth, everyone is bestowed a given name by their family. They tend to be similar to Gothic names, like Anna, Gertrud or Ursula for women and Ernst, Hans or Klaus for men. Only actual family members of the Houses have surnames, with the appropriate honorific attached. For men, it is Primo (later Dominus upon marriage), for women it is Prima (and later Domina upon marriage), for Heirs it is Heredis and for the heads of the house it is Sacra (Sacrae is the plural word). It is considered very rude to exclude the appropriate honorific unless you are extremely closely acquainted.

After the given name, or House surname, you list out your most intimate familial tie. For women they say they are the daughter of their mother, and for men the son of the father. For example: Hildegard Domina Wolfram felia Clara, or if she was not of a House it would be Hildegard felia Clara.

The Salgothic also have preserved the practice of the Old Empire of taking on a holy name – a special name meant to convey your adoption of the Benali faith. Once a person has taken a holy name, that is included at the end. Holy names are only used during religious ceremonies or by the priesthood. It is considered odd for anyone to use your holy name outside of those situations. The holy names usually follow the naming style of the Old Empire, like Decimus, Ignatius, Livia or Octavia. Those who intend to join the priesthood adopt their new name for all uses, along with their priest rank: Brother Cassius, for example. The holy name is usually chosen once a Salgothic has completed their Vagary. For instance, once Hildegard has completed her Vagary she would become Hildegard Livia Domina Wolfram felia Clara, however most would simply refer to her as Domina Wolfram.

In addition it is considered rude for a social inferior to leave a conversation first, no matter what else you may be doing – if someone more important than you wishes to speak to you you cannot leave until they give you leave to do so. This can result in rather complicated and drawn out conversations, especially when there are multiple people in a conversation or the social standing of someone is unclear. Many Salgothic have the expectation that outsiders should know their place as far lower than any Salgothic, but some are indulgent and and dismiss the poor manners of other cultures as ignorance.

In general, whenever a Salgothic is in front of others they are careful to watch to see what everyone else is doing and what honorifics are being used before they take any sort of action themselves – unless they are very high rank indeed.

Science & Medicine

There are some truths that the soul has deep difficulty bearing; There are some truths it was never meant to.

– Canon of Health by Boethius

A cornerstone of Salgothic medicine is the belief that one’s piety, purity, and faith dictate the state of one’s health. Illnesses and maladies are often the result of immoral lifestyle, divine punishment, or possession by a demonic or malefic being. Health and wellness of appearance are generally considered to be indicators of one’s virtue and moral fortitude. This does cause illness to have something of a stigma associated with it, and often Salgothic prefer to retreat to their private quarters to recover, feigning appointments and work, rather than be seen in public while sick. It also necessitates the need for cosmetics at times and herbal drugs to mask symptoms.

The long years and generations of isolation have led to some extra sickly Salgothic, especially amongst some of the most ancient and influential Houses. The meticulous bloodline and family record logs try to weed out these weaknesses, and prevent their spread where they can. But sometimes they fail, especially when a particularly stubborn family gets their way on an ill-advised marriage to ensure inheritance is kept to a select few.  The heavier use of cosmetics can be seen among some of these older Houses in order to mask pale, sallow skin, or facial asymmetry. Increased difficulties over the years in reproduction among some of the elite has lead to increased calls for medical and religious assistance.

Some of the outside world’s influence is felt in the practice of today’s medicine, and the knowledge of the Four Humors is generally well understood by medical practitioners. In general terms, some disease is caused by the humors being out of balance in the body. This is not incompatible with punishment and possession theories of disease. For the humors are merely the switches and mechanics of the body’s health, and their imbalance is not believed to happen spontaneously. There is a cause for everything, and the most common cause of humor imbalance is living one’s life not in accordance with the Testimonium. Black bile is thought to be produced in some organs such as the spleen, and is responsible for chills, depression, and melancholy when it is in excess. Yellow bile is produced in other organs like the gallbladder, and can cause rage, alcoholism, and fevers. Blood, coming from the bones, heart, and liver often carries disease within it, spreading it everywhere, and causing fatigue and inflammations. Phlegm, produced in the head and lungs, is associated with tumors, growths, ennui, and apathetic behavior.

Access to a vast array of plants and herbs means that the Salgothic are quick to turn to their medicinal qualities. Doctors are also often apothecaries or at least well versed in the application of chemical and herbal remedies. These doctors have taken a leaf out of the Gothics’ tome, and regularly wear masks when tending to their patients. The long, bird-like masks worn by the these priests are generally made out of imported leather, brass studs, and glass; all rare materials that are costly to purchase. It is a worthwhile purchase, as it keeps the illness at bay so they can continue their good work. The long noses and beaks of these masks are filled with bits of cloth that have been soaked in holy water (not so much as to inhibit breathing) and herbs designed to ward all manner of sickness and malicious spirits away and at least keep the medical practitioner safe and able to continue their duties.

The study of cures and remedies has a dark twin, in that a wide variety of poisons, drugs, and other illicit substances are also created from the plants and chemicals the Salgothic cultivate. Often, those who know how best to heal, also know many ways by which to injure. This is a large revenue stream for the cities, as many of the other cultures are desperate for not only remedies, but also a high, a poison, a way to ease the pain. Chemistry has become akin to an art, although the apothecaries who deal in more clandestine items are not known for advertising their wares openly among the Salgothic. This would be most unseemly. One must make connections and bribes to even get near a laboratory.

While the practice of medicine is held in high regard, the healing arts of the priests of the archangel, Lurien are the most widely respected among all the Salgothic. Lurites, a group that follows the old ways of the angel of healing, are often called upon to cure serious diseases and life-threatening injuries. They are spiritual guides, cleansing the soul and body by using the healing methods outlined in the Testimonium such as prayer, blood letting, sanctified wine, and even calling upon Lurien and god to restore vitality into dead and useless limbs. For just as sin corrupts the mortal shell, purification and holy ritual can restore and heal the same. They are adept at grafting the dead flesh onto the living, setting bones, and complex surgeries sustained during fights, which the Salgothic do not participate in lightly.

Lurites can do what many others cannot, and this comes with a higher cost than an ordinary doctor. Lurite rituals require rare components at times, as well as human parts that carry a steep price tag. If one is to call on the Lurites, one must be prepared to part with quite a few dear supplies and treasures. The training of these priests is also expensive, and takes years of reading, practicing, and apprenticeships before they are able to move to a patient on their own. Thus, it is common to call upon a doctor for most common maladies and injuries, and a priest when it is truly serious.

Religion

I am not sitting around and waiting for nothing! I’m waiting on a prayer that just hasn’t reached god yet.

Waiting for intervention does little. Seek to be the one changed through patience and prayer, for it is not god who will change.

– Dialogue between Alleke Harela and Father Laelius

One of the core tenets that defines the Salgothic people is their devotion to the faith of the past. They may not always fully understand the nuances of the Benali practices and rites, given how much the years have robbed and lost, but they tend to devote themselves to its study nonetheless. The prevailing assumption is that it is infinitely better to practice as close to the original as they can, and potentially make some mistakes, than to not practice the faith at all.

It is their vigilance against the Triumverati (also called Blasphemers by the Benali faithful), their defiance, and their unique resources that make the Salgothic a particularly tempting target for infiltrators and invaders. The threat of the encroaching, frenzied destruction the outside world plans for them serves to firmly bolster the faith of the Salgothic, or at the very least the appearance of it.

The Benali faith centers around the belief in a vastly powerful god who created humans to be the physical manifestations of bravery and virtue upon the earth. Attending to god and acting as intermediaries are his angels and saints, but at the forefront is a martyr and prophet named Benalus. The books speak of him being the foremost among paladins, kings, and holy men, so great was his virtue and piety. He is viewed as the example of the true and pure excellence of mankind to which all should aspire to and whose wisdom lends insight into the true nature of god, its plan, and reality itself.

Adherence to prayers, confessions, atonement, and rites of purification are central to the Salgothic weekly schedule, and they are often focused on ridding themselves of the taint of sin. To be virtuous and cleansed of sin is always a worthy endeavor among Salgothic society, but there is a delicate balance in confessions. Confess too much, and it is obvious that one lacks the self discipline and devoutness which should be present in a citizen – especially one with any modicum of respect or power. Confess too little, however, and it gives the appearance of dishonesty or a lack of remorse for one’s actions… for to be human is to make mistakes and learn from them. The sins of Greed, Sloth, Violence, Blasphemy, Degradation, Defilement, and Passion are vigilantly watched for and preached against, and it is not uncommon for those eager to tell on their neighbors to alert a priest or head of house to sins they suspect or have witnessed that have gone without confession. For truly, if the sin runs so deep that atonement is not desired, it may be a sign of something far more sinister. It is partially through adherence to these shared morals that Salgothic society remains unified and minimizes the infiltration of enemies of the people such as Blasphemers.

Many believe that the current state of the world, with the dead often refusing to rest and coming back time and time again is god’s rejection of the deep stain of sin that has seeped into the souls of humanity everywhere.  It does not matter if the taint is a result of the horrors inflicted upon the world, or if those same horrors are the result of corruption of mankind. Regardless of what came first, it is rare for a person to die peacefully anymore and meet their reward in the hereafter. It cannot be a coincidence that the fall of the Throne and the destruction of that most holy empire seems to coincide with the restlessness of the dead. The world cannot contain this many undying people and rejected, hollowed Malefic creatures for long. Eventually, it is thought, humanity will either be exterminated by its own evil, or the Salgothic will find a way to purify the world and glorify god enough that they will be saved.

Just as there are six angels within the faith, there are six orders of priests among the Benali.

Sanctum

The Sanctum, devoted to the Nameless Saint and the angel Nuraniel are a much needed order for dealing with the Malefic creatures that lurk in the shadows, halls, and tunnels of the Salgothic cities. These Malefic serve as a stark and bloody reminder that the Salgothic have not always lived up to their own lofty expectations. They are the echoes of past wrongs that have only increased in volume and intensity as the years have passed. Given the confined nature of the Salgothic lifestyle, the treatment and resolution of Malefic creatures is of paramount importance, and the Sanctum are well equipped to do just that. Theirs is a complicated relationship within society, though, for to be Sanctum is to give up one’s family name and often their given name in exchange for something more akin to a title or descriptor such as Brother Long Teeth or Mother Reeds. As their Saint was nameless, it is common for adherents to relinquish their names as they believe that focus on oneself can distract one from their devotion to freeing the world of Malefic. This act of giving up one’s identity can also be seen as a rejection of Salgothic heritage, and thus, while the role is a necessary one, you would be hard-pressed to find a family that would desire this occupation for their children. There is also the uncomfortable contradiction that while the Sanctum is necessary within the walls of the Salgothic, and they protect the holdings and lives of the people within, there is a wide world outside overrun by evil and wrongdoing, and some feel it is their responsibility to eventually leave to fight in that world. After all, one of their core beliefs is that no person is irredeemable, and that all evils can be righted.

Melandim

The Melandim, of the angel Melandiel, are an Order that is more often studied than adhered to. The few priests and priestesses of this Order that live among the Salgothic are primarily called upon once a year during the times of travel and pilgrimage to Lethia for the season of holidays. The Melandim who do dwell and practice among the Salgothic tend to be cared for by Houses who act as patrons. As the Order forbids ownership of worldly possessions, most adherents to this branch of the Benali faith will agree to live with a House, be fed by them, and cared for by them in exchange for religious services and to help ensure their safety during the time of pilgrimage. In exchange for long periods of care, some priests will also agree to accompany high status Salgothic youth on their Vagaries. It is generally considered a sign of prestige for a House to be able to essentially have a Melandim on retainer. Historically, the Melandim were a travelling order, and the Salgothic are aware of this, but for those who choose this faith, it is generally agreed upon that times have changed and once a year is plenty to be on the road spreading a message of hope.

Cyanites

The Cyanites, following the patron angel Cyaniel, and some of the most feared assassins known to man, believe that it is their holy charge to root out and destroy the evil that lies within the hearts of humanity. They are not an order that is practiced openly among the Salgothic, and those who are adherents tend to keep their affiliation quiet and their identity hidden. As their function is often public executioner or private assassin, keeping themselves hooded spares their families and affiliates the taint of association. For even though their work may be intended by god, they are still agents of murder, and even holy murder carries with it a certain stain that at minimum tends to make polite company uncomfortable. The hands of an executioner will always carry a strange, cursed power in the eyes of society. Their viewpoint is also distressing to some in that they believe that the nature of mankind is evil, and that it is impossible for god to view us any longer now that our nature has changed and fallen so far from its original shape and design. They believe that through the nigh impossible task of destroying all evil in the hearts of men and fundamentally changing who we are, that we may once more bring god and that peace back among us. It is not uncommon for at least two fully masked and/or hooded Cyanites to accompany a member of the Sepharihim whenever they are in the public sphere.

Sepharihim

The Sepharihim, of the angel Sephariel, historically were a small Order, but nowhere are they more numerous in these current years than within the cities of the Salgothic. Their calling to destroy blasphemy and heretical practices is needed more than ever when the last bastion of the faith of the Old Empire and the future of mankind must be safeguarded from any sort of vile infiltration. History has taught them that they failed humanity before, and they are loathe to do so again. The preservation of the Salgothic and what they represent are now the main charge of the Sepharihim. There are certainly those who adhere to the Order who consider the outside world to be their responsibility, and where they must do their work, but the vast majority who claim the title of Sepharihim reside within the walls of the Salgothic people. This Order excels at determining the truth at the heart of matters. Their rites press for truth in all things, and they are often called upon to interrogate and investigate matters of faith and security. They are also integral in a Salgothic’s successful return from the Vagary, for once a person has left a Salgothic city, they cannot return if they have sin and blasphemy upon their soul that might spread to corrupt the rest of the city. Should sin and wrongdoing be found, they will offer atonement, though their order tends to demand harsher penance than other Benali priests. They firmly believe that the purity of the soul is of far more importance than the body, so if a lesson is remembered and retained because it is imprinted on the flesh, then they have succeeded, and humanity is stronger for it.

Mithrites

The Mithrites, following the patron angel Mithriel and his great hammer, are an Order of priests hardened by and for battle. They are not numerous within the Salgothic cities, but they are certainly called upon at times to guard the faithful on the yearly pilgrimage to Lethia. Members of this Order will sometimes sign on with mercenary groups that they believe are involved in battles and jobs which would please god. Their focus of worship is upon the prophet Benalus as he was in life – a man elevated by strength and conflict and doing the right thing even when it was the most difficult thing. The Mithrites believe that through every act of bravery, they can increase the presence of god in the world and within themselves. Among the Salgothic, the Mithrites are often called upon to fight as a champion for a respectable House, to guard the repositories of holy and significant relics, and to stand vigilant against the threats from without and within.

Lurites

Finally, there are the Lurites who dedicate themselves to Lurian and the words of St. Istra. They are highly respected among the Salgothic for having some of the most direct and practical application of the Testimonium – the holy book of the Benali – in their rites. Their knowledge of the healing arts is ancient and comes from Lurian directly through the pen of St. Istra. Over the years, Lurite scholars have studied and deciphered the word of gospel, and deep truths were uncovered. With enough prayer and sacrifice, it is believed that no wound cannot be healed. Indeed, many can attest that Lurites can restore function to body parts that should have rotted off, and that they can heal wounds which should have bled the body dry. Some find their methods painful and distasteful, but their training comes from the holy book and its practitioners, and therefore is often above open critique. The Lurites are a rare exception in Salgothic society in that they periodically leave the cities to both help others, and obtain needed supplies for their healing arts when they run low. They are loathe to allow anyone outside their order to obtain the specific materials they need, and this leads to a certain amount of suspicion at times.  This is tempered by the fact that their ritualistic healing services are in incredibly high demand, and they are, of course, priests of the Benalian faith. They are not exempt from the close examination of the Sepharihim, and some would argue they are even more closely interrogated given their repeat exposure. But the Lurites do not seem to live in fear of Inquisitorial practices. They believe that a mastery over the body can lead to a mastery of the soul, and pain is merely a temporary state of being. They place emphasis on the healing of the body primarily so that one may continue to learn and exercise lessons of the soul as well. They pride themselves on only using their blades to heal, and never to bring deliberate injury to another. You may not be able to control what happens to your body, but you can control your actions and the care of the body – the vessel of your soul.

But the Benali are not the only faith within the Salgothic. Other cults from around the world, such as Mama Mort, have touched the Salgothic very lightly given the extreme stigma of what might appear to be worship of any deity that is not of the Benali faith. However, there are a few cults based more on searching for wisdom and enlightenment within oneself. Many Salgothic would argue that these cults are philosophical affiliations rather than religious ones, but they do have enough ritual and secrecy within them that most members still do not flaunt their involvement.

Rimari Sensorum

The Rimari Sensorum believe that life is nothing but the sum of your experiences, and if you wish to know the world you must go out into it, engage it, explore it. If humanity was not meant to experience something, god would not have created it. Therefore, pain must serve a purpose, as with pleasure, grief, hunger, desire, and the entire spectrum of everything a human has the capacity to feel. No path is too taboo for these seekers of knowledge; rather, they think that the sweetest fruits and truths of life are for those who step forward into the unknown and work to experience everything – the bright and the dark, all the edges of the five senses. To feel something – to experience it firsthand – is to know it, and feeling is found through our five senses. This is obviously a radical belief to be held among the sheltered, isolated Salgothic, and practitioners of the Rimari are viewed with disdain at best, and as a danger to the enclaves that must be eradicated at worst. The idea that they advocate for experiencing everything the outside world has to offer on an ongoing and extensive basis is abhorrent to many.  According to critics, the Rimari Sensorum are potentially a tool of Triumverati infiltration, as they end up inevitably experiencing the sin and evil that the world offers up freely. The deep concern is also present that the Rimari may have found means to leave the protection of the cities and return without being detected – exposing the entire enclave to danger.

The Rimari Sensorum, themselves, believe that the ultimate goal of our existence is to experience every possible sensation, emotion, and experience that god provided us in this world. We have been given a gift in our extended lifespans now, and are better equipped to continue this quest. The inability to die easily is a gift from god to humanity that we may be able to finally achieve the goal of experiencing everything. Rimari seek out experiences to grow in understanding of the world, people, and themselves. It is impossible to understand something you have never experienced. It is impossible to know what makes life worth living unless you have sought to learn what it has to offer. And once one truly understands everything in this world, something surely waits beyond that final door of understanding: an enlightenment that can only be attained through this perfect understanding of creation.

The Rimari have historically defended the safety of their ideology by explaining that they do not need to actually leave the Salgothic cities to practice their beliefs. They partake in rituals which allow them to touch and live the experiences of others, as well as make connection to other Rimari Sensorum who belong to other cultures beyond the walls. This is, however, not reassuring to the general populace, and the Rimari have found it generally safer to simply stay underground. They identify one another by the symbol of the diamond – a stone whose cut facets shine and reflect light once it has been given shape. They may have a small, discreet tattoo of this symbol, or simply adorn themselves in the jewel. They also are known to use the symbol of the curved horn and liberally use the color white in their clothing.  While no experience is taboo, and the Rimari Sensorum do gleefully explore the pleasures of life, by no means do they ignore its pains. Decadence and indulgence are only a small part of life. Suffering and deprivation are a far larger part in their fallen world, and they well know this. But the world has changed, and even death is not the end any longer. They believe this is not by accident, and is a deliberate change to the world so that more people may understand suffering and pain.

Broken Bough

The Broken Bough are known for using certain herbs and resins cultivated almost exclusively by themselves, to achieve a state of altered or higher consciousness. They believe that wisdom is imparted to them in these states and trances. They say that true knowledge of the self, what drives you, what heals you, and what destroys you is imparted, as well as insight into the lives of others. Many adherents swear that when they feel lost or unsure of what to do next, these intense, meditative experiences almost always offer guidance. Some insist that ways to deal with Malefic and other monsters are imparted to them as well.

An eerie side effect of these visions, and one of the uniting factors of this cult, is that at a certain point, everyone who engages in the cult’s rituals has a vision of a creature called the Rootbound King – a man fused with a tree so that his feet and toes are stretched and travel through the earth like routs, and his upwards reaching arms spreading out to form branches. The details of the vision can vary – sometimes with blood running from the tree in rivulets, sometimes eyes appear in the branches like strange fruit, and so on. The emotions stirred in the vision-seeker also vary wildly from a peaceful calm to an abject terror that haunts them for years. Once the visions of the Rootbound King begin, they tend to continue with increasing frequency in the ritual visions. The Broken Bough teaches that this specific vision is a guide of sorts, and that once you have seen the Rootbound King, you are firmly on your path towards enlightenment. Critics of the cult, however, say that the path is one towards madness – for those who stay within this cult are usually forever changed in ways that make it difficult for them to return to or continue the life they once lived. Many adherents to this cult become priests and Malefic fighters, believing that they possess unique insight and tools in the battle for humanity’s salvation. They willingly sacrifice their sleep, their peace, and sometimes their sanity that they might understand what lies at the roots of this world and how it may be healed.

Their symbols are the broken branch, the twisted tree, and hands cupped around a candle flame in a protective circle. Those who follow this cult often wear a bracelet of twisted branches around their left wrist and, while cold and distant will do anything they can to protect innocents around them from being tainted by the night.

Folklore & Superstition

Stories stop being stories as soon as someone believes them.

– Salgothic Proverb

Within their protected enclaves there is less direct threat to the Salgothic than to the inhabitants of the world outside. However, the Night Malefic and creatures of the dark still creep in the dark and at the scenes of great crimes. Rumors, superstitions, and tales still spread within the enclaves.

Cross over Toasting

If you are in a group of four or more, you shouldn’t cross over others’ arms while clinking after a toast, as that is said to bring bad luck. Rather, clink above or below the other people doing the clinking.

Night Gardening

It’s rumored that herbs harvested under the light of the night sky are much more potent than those that are harvested in the light of day, especially where poisons are concerned. It’s not uncommon for certain gardeners to work extensively during the dark of the moon for this reason, although manners dictate that they do their best to keep their activities nominally secret – leading to many masked and robed figures surreptitiously heading to the gardens during this time.

Sickness

Sickness can be devastating to a Salgothic city, but it can also be terrible for your reputation. Many Salgothics believe that sickness is the direct result of wicked actions or trafficking with members of the triumvirate or evil spirits, and anyone who starts to get ill tends to isolate themselves so that no one might judge them for their potential sins.

Dark Mark

In such a limited community, it is important to properly track who marries who in order to avoid outright incest. Sexual liaisons outside of marriage are shameful and forbidden, but everyone knows that they occur. It’s rumored that if a child bears a large birthmark this is because their blood is weakening due to their parents being too closely related to each other, or because one or both of the parents have committed shameful acts. It’s not uncommon for a child with such a mark, should it become known, to be the cause of a minor inquisition into the sexual practices of their parents and grandparents.

Sign of the Lion

When coming across a stranger at night it is common for Salgothics to make the sign of the lion: the right hand raised, palm forward, with the fingertips pulled tightly down above the palm in the form of a lion’s paw with retracted claws. This symbol is generally considered a ward against evil, and it is believed that no malefic creature could make it easily. As such it serves as both a greeting as well as a reflexive action whenever someone feels as if they have drawn the attention of something dark.

Mad Madeline

One well-known tale that many of the young people tell is that of Mad Madeline, a girl who was desperately tormented by her classmates. Some say she was bullied because she was a lower rank and did exceptionally well on the Alteschule tests, others say she had just run afoul of a group of uncaring older girls. But either way, she met her end tortured and killed in a small room off the main corridor of the bathhouse. Some stories even go as far as to say that she was locked in during a game of hide-and-go-seek and left to starve. However, upon death it is said that she returned as a vicious malefic creature, one that appears in the water next to you while you bathe and drags you down to drown you. It’s rumored that she looks for girls like those that caused her death, but that she only takes those who are alone. A sheath of notes from Altschule classes, filled from top to bottom, can allegedly ward her off if she materializes next to you.

The Spider Queen

A familiar story among the Salgothic of Aquila is that of the Spider Queen, the spymaster in charge of the network of informants, assassins, and spies that kept the old Kingdom of Hestralia relatively safe until the very end. It is said that as the end was coming and people retreated to the Drowned Citadel, the Spider Queen stayed behind to buy everyone else some time. With a combination of mirrors, chimes, masks, costumes, mannequins, and a handful of trusted servants, she made the enemy think that the vast majority of the nobility were with her within a fortified building on land. She and her few followers mercilessly waged guerilla war upon the invading army for three days, silently moving unnoticed among the hordes and quietly dispatching leaders and key warriors as they went. When the armies of the Triumverate finally maneuvered through the traps laid for them and beat down the great doors to the central room of the fortress, they found the Spider Queen smiling broadly atop a pyramid of crates of flammable oils and within a room liberally coated in the same. She didn’t survive the resulting inferno, but neither did any of the Triumverati.

The Avorsus

Those within Fenristadt have a tale about something called the avorsus. Many people there talk about how, no matter what, if you hear someone call your name in a deep tunnel you should not follow it to find who is calling for you. If you do, you will be lured deeper into the tunnels until you encounter what is calling you, the avorsus, and will be driven mad by what you find. The avorsus also appears in some other locales as well – but in most other Salgothic cities it takes the form of an indiscernible white object at the end of long hallways or in the distance. It appears like a loose white textile sheet or pillar of fog and mist, and shimmers and wiggles as if moved by a strong gust of wind even within the windless halls of buildings. It is claimed that anyone who tries to get a closer look at it is driven insane or dies when touching it.

Forbidden Love

Cautionary tales are also told of young Salgothics that fall in love with outsiders while on the Vagary, and they decide to never return to their home. Generally, the story takes one of two variants. In one, the outsider love interest turns out to be completely duplicitous or unworthy of the Salgothic’s love and the relationship falls apart. Regretting their decision to not go home, the Salgothic tried to return many years later, only to find that they are unrecognized or too tainted to re-enter. In the second, the Salgothic somehow trades identities with a kind outsider savior figure (with a startling resemblance to the Salgothic) who had rescued them from some great danger. As the Salgothic has no intention of returning home due to their aforementioned love interest, they offer their identity as a reward for the heroics. The outsider journeys to an enclave and after being tested for purity is admitted to the Salgothic city. Years later, the true Salgothic regrets their choices and failed relationship and tried to return home, only to be told that they have been replaced by someone more pure of heart.

Holidays

Take pleasure in the verdant paradise we have cultivated. For out there, only cruelty grows, and only sorrow is reaped.

– Common Salgothic saying at the start of the Tempus pilgrimage

It is estimated that among the most high ranking Salgothic that are not actively practicing a trade, 40-60% of their time is spent in preparation for or participation in holidays, religious ceremonies, and events of political and social importance. Each meeting of Parliament, each court, each social dinner, or family meeting is a showcase for elegance, tradition, honor, and the maneuvering of a complex series of social rituals. The bulk of their official holidays revolve around the yearly trek to Lethia, when the Parliaments meet to discuss politics and the direction for the coming year. The various ceremonies and parties serve as both a distraction from and enhancement of the official meetings, negotiations, and talks. For each of the events the attendees are expected to wear a different outfit that is to be perfectly synced with whatever theme has been chosen for the year. Woe unto the individual who wears the wrong colors or fabrics, for they have marked themself as an inattentive and uncouth person, and they will likely find themselves at least partially shunned for the majority of the event. The different Houses of the Salgothic celebrate their own unique holidays over the winter, but spring is often when the Tempus season begins, the season of holidays. Given the Salgothic need to vary their migration times, Tempus is not always a spring holiday, and depends on the predictions and calculations of the Augurs. It does often lasts for several months, though. Thus, the “season of Tempus” is often a literal expression.

Hortus Diem

Tempus begins with Hortus Diem, when the Sacrae of the Houses arrive with their eligible sons and daughters in tow in Lethia. The event begins with a formal introduction of each of the attendees. Their name, and lineage is recited for all to hear. If they do not arrive in time, and are not properly introduced, it is considered poor form to participate in any of the other festivities. Because of this, rival Houses will occasionally attempt to interfere with the arrival times of their competitors.

During the introductions, each of the Houses will present a clipping from their Garden to the Host. After the clippings are presented, a brief tour of the Hosts garden is performed. The tour comes to an end in the Arboretum where a large banquet is served after the Host says a prayer to Benalus. There are five elaborate courses, beginning with an amuse bouche (a small bite often with symbolic ingredients to set the tone of the meal) and ending with dessert. Traditionally there is entertainment that performs throughout the meal. This can vary from musicians, to sin plays. The image presented is supposed to be friendly, but there is always a tense undercurrent. Everyone is watching, and just one wrong word can be held against them for the rest of the season.

Pilae

Pilae is a grand tournament where people engage in games of martial prowess, like archery, wrestling and sword fighting. While technically anyone can compete, traditionally each House puts forth a single Champion who will compete on their behalf. Most Champions are groomed from a young age to compete in these fights. The majority of the Champions are members of the Houses themselves, however some of the smaller Houses who do not have the resources to train their own fighters will acquire their Champions from House Rosenberg.

The winner of the tournament may request a single favor of the Host. While it is the Champion who requests the favor, it is considered poor form for the Champion to request something not previously approved by their patron House. The favors range from being able decide the order of the Houses for Die Fidei, to support or silencing of a political issue. Occasionally, a Champion will request something physical, like supplies, armaments or access to a relic, but that is considered a waste of the favor. It is rumored that some of the Champions have gone against their Houses and requested to be released from their duties. But that is so scandalous that it has never been publicly discussed or confirmed.

Die Fidei

Die Fidei, also known as Confession Day, is the day when the Sacrae of all of the Houses gather together to confess their sins. The Sacra is considered a good representation of the House as a whole, therefore whatever personal sins they choose to confess is reflected on each member of their House.

The order that the Houses confess in is determined by the Host. It is common practice for the audience to comment on the confessions made by the Sacrae. Generally, it is considered poor form to openly reference or critique a person for their sins after they have already been atoned, but no one forgets, and the memories and record books of the Salgothic is very long. It is common practice for priests to record the sins confessed and what atonement was assigned, that they might forgive the sin upon the atonement’s completion. These records certainly do not disappear unless under quite strange circumstances. Because the sins confessed in this ceremony are guaranteed to have a large audience of peers, it is very important for a Sacra to determine what the other Houses might know about them before they take the stage to confess.

In the weeks leading up to Die Fidei, the Houses reaffirm their alliances by presenting gifts to the other Houses as well as private gifts to the clergy. These gifts are officially tokens of good will, but unofficially they are bribes for lenient and expedient atonements, as well as an opportunity to confess more serious sins in private – a deviation from tradition that is greatly frowned upon, but that some priests will perform for sufficient donations. The goal of the Houses is to have their confessions be minor. Small infractions that everyone commits. However, there is always the fear that a rival House might know about their more egregious sins and will mention it during their confession. Because of this, the Houses will jockey for what they perceive is the best position in the order.

Tressertag

Tempus ends with Tressertag. It is a grand ball where the eligible sons and daughters are formally introduced and accepted as grown members of the Salgothic society. They are presented in pairs at a formal ceremony. The pairings are always discussed and agreed upon prior the the event by their families. These discussions officially begin after their children have completed their Vagary, but unofficial talks can start much earlier – especially if an heir is involved. If you are not paired at Tressertag, then you cannot participate in the event and will have to return again the following year. It is considered a negative mark upon you and your families reputation if you cannot be paired in your first year, though historically some extremely venerated families have withheld their eligible singles if they deemed no suitable matches to be available with little ill effect. Less well-standing families cannot afford the luxury of this eccentricity.

During the ceremony, the daughter is introduced first, and then her escort is ushered onto the stage who then presents her with a woven cuff. If the union is to be between two women or men, the one presenting the cuff enters second. Marriage between same or similar genders is not frowned upon, provided the couple produces or raises an heir by some means, and the union generates or preserves resources for the families. For this is, after all, the point to a Salgothic marriage. The cuff presented in this ceremony symbolizes their expected union. While not an official marriage proposal, it is expected that whoever is paired at Tressertag will marry within the year. Once each of the pairs is presented, they perform a formal dance for the audience. After the dance is completed, the audience takes to the dance floor as well and the entire community dances together. After the formal dancing is concluded, the Host for the next year declares the date for the next Tempus. The rest of the event proceeds as any party would. There is dancing, eating, drinking and many couples discreetly leaving. It is the last day of Tempus, with each of the visiting Houses scheduled to depart Lethia the next day.

For many, Tressertag is a sad day. It is customary for the couples formed at Tressertag to leave together, with the member of the weaker houses leaving with their match from the stronger family. With how difficult travel can be, this is frequently the last time they will see their own families.

Sautag & Messis

While the Sacrae and their eligible sons and daughters are away from home, life continues. While descendants of those who served the Great Houses, artisans, and laborers do not engage in parties as grand as their leaders, they do celebrate two holidays that often fall on times while families of the Houses are away. These are Sautag and Messis, or Planting Day and Harvest Time.

Sautag begins with a morning of work. It is the day they start transplanting small buds into larger pots to grow. At noon, however, they put away their work and go to their homes where they bathe and change into their Sautag outfits. There is an edge of humor to the outfits. The women wear outrageous gowns, and the men fitted suits. They tend to pin particularly beautiful leaves to their lapels and have live beetles attached with pieces of twine or delicate chain to their bodices. They return to the gardens to then share in their own feasts where they gossip and tell stories of what their masters and houses have been up to, and what news may return home with them.

Messis is much like Sautag. It begins with a day of work. It is the day they start to harvest the plants that have grown all summer. Messis also functions as a sort of Tressertag for those not in lofty positions in Houses. It is a time of gift-giving, especially with foods and sweets based off of the harvest. Sometimes, a fruit studded with cloves is offered to a person as an invitation to kiss. This game can range from light-hearted and chaste to a lead-up for more serious offers and proposals. Some particularly bold individuals might present woven cuffs to their intendeds. Families eat together and people sneak off together, ostensibly for harvest-holiday games, but many turn a blind eye to the more hedonistic pursuits of possible lovers. Like Sautag, fine but often outlandish clothing is worn in an attempt to replicate the high fashion at Parliament. It is a light hearted day, meant to be a celebration of the outcome of hard labors.

Traditions

The Nemien carry their stories on their flesh, and that is a fine thing. But we carry our stories in our blood, that they may never be lost.

– Sister Decima, Alteschule instructor

The Salgothic focus on tradition extends to their birthday celebrations, courtships, weddings and their holy rite of passage, the Vagary. Each house has a calendar they maintain, which lists all of the important dates such as holidays, social obligations, and the birthdates of all living members. These calendars are maintained in the entrance hall of the Houses main estates. Due to this, it can be a common occurrence for impromptu house calls from other Houses and their representatives. The different Houses will visit each other, under as plausible circumstances as they can muster, and while they engage in conversation they will attempt to catch a glimpse of the other houses’ calendars. They do this to confirm that they have been invited to all of the important parties, that their own events are considered a priority, and to measure their relative wealth and prosperity against their neighbors. A full calendar indicates that your House has the resources to maintain a busy social life.

Birthdays

Birthdays are important events in Salgothic society. An odd numbered birthday is considered auspicious. It is a sign of strength, because they can not be so easily divided. Therefore, many mothers will hide newborns birthed on an even day for an evening, to claim a more favorable date. Because of this, it is very common for the elite to be born on an odd numbered day.

Until they have come of age, birthdays are private events celebrated within the immediate family. The only other guest allowed at these occasions is a priest. The family will gather together in their ritual room where the celebrant will light some incense and offer a prayer to Benalus and the angels. Sage, sweetgrass, lavender, or rose can be burned in the place of incense if it cannot be found that year. The celebrants most commonly wear white, as a sign of purity. It is a simple ceremony, but one which must be performed with precision. There are specific movements that must be performed, and a specific family prayer that needs to be recited. Each of these birthdays is rehearsal for the ceremony that is to be performed at their coming of age party.

Once they have completed their Vagary, they have a coming of age birthday party in which they are considered to be full members of society. They invite as many people as they can afford to host. The evening begins with the attendees witnessing the lighting of the incense and the prayer. The celebrant then serves the first course of the meal to the attendees. The remaining courses can be served by others. After the meal is concluded, the attendees will give small gifts to the celebrant.

For most, the coming of age birthday party is the only one celebrated outside of their immediate family. For the following years they return to the small intimate ritual. The only exception to that is the Sacra. Every year, they celebrate at a large party that is very similar to the coming of age party.

Courtship & Weddings

Courtships and weddings vary greatly depending on if you are a servant/artisan, a member of a House or an Heir to a House.

Servants have the most relaxed of the courtship rituals. There is very little oversight, though many artisan and laborer families still take their unions seriously and would not want a marriage that would bring dishonor or a stain upon the family’s reputation. Still, many marry for love. These weddings are usually private events overseen by a priest, with only their closet family and friends present. The partners exchange small tokens of their union, usually in the form of wooden rings. Since there is frequently not much fully owned property between the parties, the only legal documents involved is their signatures in the marriage log, the necessary updates to the family trees, and permission from a member of Parliament.

Marriages involving a member of a House are much more complicated. Every marriage is negotiated and agreed upon, frequently without the future partners meeting. The courtship is formal, with very little romance involved. The focus of these marriages is on preserving family holdings, bloodlines, and honor. Once the preliminary negotiations are concluded, the future partners are paired at Tressertag. The member of the weaker house returns home with the member of the stronger house where the deal is finalized. The time between Tressertag and the conclusion of the deal allows the more powerful family to determine if the new prospective member is appropriate. Marriages involving members of Houses require permission of the Chancellor of the city the union will take place in. They are required to sign the marriage log, update the family tree and sign a legal document outlining ownership of property, and how it will be distributed in case of death or divorce (though the latter is frowned upon). While over the long years, some spouses may stray or entertain dalliances, it is considered extremely bad taste to flaunt this, or air out a marriage’s dirty laundry publicly. It is far better to seek the counsel of a priest and repair or preserve the facade of union, than dissolve a contract so painstakingly created. Some marriage partners simply agree that they need only take steps to produce heirs, and beyond that need not involve themselves in each others’ intimate lives – though, again, this is not a matter for public consumption. The actual marriage ceremony is a large social event, with a dinner party after the ceremony has been performed by the priest. The partners also exchange tokens of their union, usually in the form of simple metal rings.

Marriages involving Heirs to Houses are even more complicated. While the negotiations surrounding the marriage of regular members usually begins after they have returned from Vagary, the negotiations for Heirs begins much earlier than that. Marriages involving Heirs have to be approved by the Parliaments as a whole so the courtships tend to be drawn out. Once approved, they are required to sign the marriage log, update the family trees, sign the legal documents outlining ownership and are sometimes required to sign non-aggression pacts. The actual marriage ceremony is even larger, and is usually the event of the season with almost the entire city in attendance. The partners also exchange tokens of their union, usually in the form of signet rings to represent their new partnership.

Vagary

The Vagary is a coming of age rite of passage that young Salgothics go through. It is a journey of rediscovery. Salgothics are an insular society, but when they are about 15 to 24 years old they leave their homes to explore the outside world. The usual sins and behavioral restrictions of their society are relaxed, and they are encouraged to acquire knowledge about the outside world.

Most youths do not travel far from home. The vast majority only visit the Gothic slums outside their front doors. The particularly bold will set off, and explore places as far off as Seravia or the Heshan islands and coast. Very few are bold enough to delve into Outlander territory, and even less of those return. The length of the Vagary varies by participant. The youth is expected to be gone for at least six months, but no longer than eighteen months. When they return, they are to confess their sins, undergo a cleansing ritual, and be recognized as full adult members of society. The vast majority of Salgothics return, though a few give up their culture and remain outside the walls. Because it is shameful not to return from Vagary, most families will assume you have died before they would acknowledge that you have abandoned your own culture. For those who do not return after eighteen months, families will hold a funeral. Those who eventually do find their way home after a funeral undertake an extensive trial of cleansing, interrogation, and suspicion before they find themselves welcomed again.

At the conclusion of the Vagary the Salgothics reaffirm their religious beliefs and take on their holy name. The name itself is picked by the youth during the Vagary, however in some particularly overbearing families the name is chosen by a parent. For those who do not return, a reaffirmation ceremony is performed on their behalf post mortem.

Calendar

You carry with you every deed you have ever done.

– Salgothic Proverb

The Salgothic people track time in two very different ways. For the standard tracking of time, they count twelve months in a way that is very similar to the Gothic, and it is one that is based off of the Old Empire’s manner of tracking the days. The months themselves are basically the same, though the names have changed slightly over time:

Martius, Aprilis, Maius, Iunius, Quintilis, Augustus, Septiember, October, Noviember, Deciember, Ianuarius, Februarius

Each month has roughly 30 days.

The current year is Cinis 319, marking the era of the current political climate. It is often said that it was House Engel of Lethia that first began counting year 1.

For scribes and those in care of official documents, the dating style is Month, Day, Cinis Year. The dating style itself is called quotidie and is commonly understood.

The second kind of calendar is much more arcane and is only truly understood by a few. The nova stolarius is a complicated calendar that is used to determine when Hortus Diem, and the great migration of Fenristadt and Aquila families to Lethia occurs. It is purposefully complex, so that only the Augurs of each enclave, through a process of cleromancy and study of the Testimonium and stars, can determine exactly when it will occur. The Augurs have a complicated device known as an astrolabe. This device measures the distance between a celestial body and the horizon, with a complicated tumbler that can be set to a specific number which all Augurs can use to measure whether the distance of a specific celestial body above the horizon matches that number. At each Hortus Diem each enclave sends a group of Augurs to Lethia to work their arcane calculations to decide on which celestial body will be used, and a positional number. This determines when the next Hortus Diem will occur.

This complex process is both to determine the most auspicious time for the holiday migration as well as for protection, for if the Triumverati outside had a predictable time and place they knew the migration was due to occur, they could wreak havoc and destruction upon the important families traveling to Lethia. Generally there is anywhere between six months and a year between events, although it has been as little as four and as many as eighteen.

Art & Recreation

Pray you never stand before a hungry audience.

– Marcus the playwright, author of the sin play Mysteries and Passions

Salgothic artwork is precise and intricate. They view each stitch, each bead, each brush stroke as a prayer to Benalus. Due to this, artistic expression has not changed much over the years. To change the process might change the prayer, and their prayers for safety appear to be working. Since the creation of art is often with religious themes and distinct humanism, to them art is a devotional necessity and not just a luxury. The creation and maintenance of art is a cornerstone of their society, and a homage to the great works of their ancestors.

Traditional Art

Salgothic cities are filled with art. They are dotted with sculptures, stained glass windows, tapestries, mosaics, and carved Benali runework. Sadly, they no longer have the resources to create vast new works of art like these. Each year the quality pieces of stone they are able to bring into their cities become smaller and smaller, and outside Aquila the creation of glass is almost impossible. Therefore, a large portion of their artistic community is simply dedicated to the maintenance of what came before.

Those who dedicate themselves to the preservation of art are followers of St. Cornelia, who cautioned against allowing any outside influences to change Salgothic society. They believe that there is danger in allowing anything that may have been shaped by nonhumans or agents of the Triumverati, into their society. To them, the preservation of art, and the human techniques that created them are of utmost importance. They take their role as art preservationists and historians very seriously, to the point that they tend to police the artistic community as a whole. Not only do they maintain and preserve art, but they also watch over the creation of any new artwork. If it does not follow their guidelines, they will publicly ridicule the artist and any family that may have supported them, and potentially advocate for censorship. The followers of St. Cornelia are highly critical of the Salgothic of Aquila due to the heavy non-human influences of the architecture and art that they preserve and live amongst.

One of the traditional artforms that is still actively practiced is painting. While suitable stone has been difficult in recent years to import, clay, vellum, and paint are materials that can be made or traded for inside their own city walls. The materials they paint upon vary city to city. In Lethia, they have a small supply of livestock, mostly chickens, that they use to create vellum. The animals are small, so the artwork that can be created is also small. The sheets of vellum are thin and fragile, so most families have the work bound into books. In Fenristadt, the people have ready access to clay. With that they create plates, jugs, and other earthenware that they paint upon. Aquila, on the other hand, being an island city-state, has access to sand which their skilled artisans turn into glass. One technique their artists utilize is to take two sheets of glass, paint upon one side and then fuse the two layers together with the paint trapped inside.

The most common types of paintings in all three cities are portraits and depictions of scenes from history. Portraits are painted after a youth has come of age or before a wedding. It is common for the subjects to be looking upwards, towards the heavens, or to be in some sort of prayer position. The books, plates and glass are displayed during formal events with the important members of the family taking prominent positions in the display.

Another form of traditional art that is actively practiced is music. Most Salgothic music is performed by choirs, although they are sometimes accompanied by harps or pipe organs. How to create the pipe organ, however, has been lost to time. No new ones have been built in at least a century, so the few families that still own one usually have someone on staff specifically to deal with its maintenance and repair. Simple stringed instruments and drums can be created by Salgothic artisans or traded for.

Much like other artforms, preserving history is important in the music of the Salgothic. Most formal events repeat the same songs that have been played since before the cities walled themselves off. There is comfort and community in shared music and songs, and most everyone is at least familiar with most music that is performed. There are some artists, however, who specialize in “rediscovering” lost songs which are enjoyed primarily by the youth. Plays as well are given more merit if they are billed as re-workings of Old Empire tales or newly discovered historic works.

Crafts

Unlike Salgothic traditional art, their crafts are almost constantly evolving. As patience, perseverance, and skill are highly regarded among the Salgothic, their crafts are intricate and precise. However, these items must also be used as every day decorations and adornments, and therefore must keep up with the times and social trends. Embroidery is the most common past time among respected Salgothic, and is practiced by almost all high-standing House members, as well as those employed as tailors and weavers. The designs change year to year, though a few consistencies remain. Many people embroider their family crests, plants that are distinct to their families garden or lion faces. The most common colors are black, white, yellow and red.

Bead work is also very common. Beads are sewn into gowns, edges of pillows, and strung together into jewelry. Beads are made from what they have on hand. Most beads are made from pieces of bone, clay, shells, or from crushed and processed flower petals. Like embroidery, Leonems are a staple of design. Many crafters use molds to shape petal beads, or clay in the lion face; while others will carve them from bone.

Another common craft is the creation of mosaic tiles from materials on hand. Smaller mosaics as art for the walls of homes can be created by anyone, but many of the larger houses like to create large, beautiful mosaics on the floors of their entryways. Crafters will labor for months to create all of the tiles. It usually takes a month to lay them out, and glue them to the floor. The patterns change every few years. While it is a considered a sign of wealth to have a mosaic floor, there are actually many families that use the installation of a mosaic floor as relief from their usual social hosting obligations. You cannot be expected to throw a party, when your home is under construction. So while a mosaic is a considerable investment, if installed at the right time of year it is an investment that pays for itself.

Recreation

The Salgothic celebrate humanity, which includes the human form. This is seen especially in their recreational activities. They enjoy sporting events, and while they do not have a lot of space, they have adjusted. Most of their sports do not require a large area. Wrestling, boxing, handball, and sparring are the most popular, and often bring a large crowd of spectators.

While sports are popular, the inclusion of sin plays in sporting events add an air of pious morality to the events, which makes them even more respectable for polite society. There are a few wrestlers and boxers who have made a career out of their athleticism. They fight in the ring, and then they take to the stage to perform in sin plays for the populace. Most of the participants in sin plays are there as an atonement. It is a form of public shaming, where the participants act out their sins and are publicly punished by the athletes. The punishments vary, depending on how egregious the sin is, the mood of the audience, and the creativity of the director. It can be something as simple as verbal harassment, to flogging and in extreme cases, executions.

The View of Others

“My lady! They outnumber us twenty to one! They have a fire magician, and over one hundred cannon. The walls will fall within the hour. What do you plan to do?”

“Right now? I’m going to close my eyes, pray, and hope for the best.”

– Marsilia Miranti, survivor of the eleventh siege of Aquila

The Salgothic are an insular group – both because of the nature of their cities as well as the fact that their very lifestyle is so very different from those outside. They look out at the world and see how far it has fallen from its past glories and mourn the loss of the Throne, but also know that they cannot protect everyone when they can barely take care of themselves.

Such a view tends to breed a paternalistic attitude, where Salgothics tend to look at the rest of the world as if they are poor children who just don’t know how very backwards they are. It is an attitude that can create friction with outsiders, and likely worse than that if there wasn’t so much that they have to offer in trade.

The Gothic people are the closest outsiders to the Salgothic and are their biggest market. Many of the illicit substances that make Gothic life more palatable come from the Salgothic enclaves and the Salgothics often hire those outside their enclaves to run errands and tasks that are seen as unsavory. But partially due to the masks that the Gothics wear as a matter of course they are often viewed less as individuals and more as a faceless horde, teeming and hungry at the gates and lacking the necessary will to rise above their current station. Many Salgothics treat these people as a cautionary tale, and some prefer to ignore the presence of the Gothic people altogether, hoping that they may eventually starve themselves into lesser, more manageable populations that will be a future generation’s issue when it is time for the Salgothic people to finally re-establish the Throne.

The Nemien have some of the most involved relationships with the Salgothic. The two are active trading partners, and the Nemien have taken the time to learn the oddities of Salgothic society in order to ensure that they are allowed within their outer walls for trading purposes. But while the Salgothic know that the Nemien are necessary they find their lifestyle confusing and backwards. They admire the Nemien loyalty to family but cannot understand their devotion to travelling light – nor do they trust their ability to travel freely, for surely within their travels they have become tainted by the Triumverati. They also are obviously not well-versed in the ways of the Benali, and thus could never have the kind of moral lifestyle that the Salgothic adhere to. Even so, the Nemien seem resolute, independent, and comfortable within their way of life, and Nemien-led mercenaries are often hired to escort groups of Salgothics from one enclave to another. Parents will also sometimes send their children out on the Vagary journey with a well-paid caravan of Nemians in the hope that they will return mostly unharmed.

With the exception of the sea enclave of Aquila – who are neighbors with the Hesha, and sometimes contract with them for transport and trade – the Salgothic do not interact overmuch with the Hesha. When the two cultures do mix they often find themselves at odds, because despite their shared love of beautiful things the Salgothic see the Hesha as overly brash and untrustworthy, especially when it comes to keeping their hands off of artifacts of the Throne. However, the Salgothic do admit that the Hesha can be brave sorts – in a manner of speaking – and many find the stories of the Hesha to be quite titillating indeed. But overall, the impression of the Hesha is that they are morally bankrupt and constantly placing the needs of the individual over the needs of the whole. They cannot be trusted, and in any negotiations with them, one must come wary and equipped to prevent thievery.

If there is one culture that the Salgothic feel the most kinship with, it is the Seravians. The Seravians, like the Salgothic, are keepers of the books, relics, and laws of the Throne, and those Salgothics who have made their way to Seravian lands have waxed poetic about the reserve and order that permeates them. They are a composed people who understand social hierarchy, respect their elders, and have ancient records that date back beyond most of Salgothic recorded history. The fact that many of the Seravian leaders are either in service to monstrous vampires, or are such monsters themselves, is mostly ignored by the Salgothics or seen as an unfortunate condition of the world the Seravians live in. Because of the fear of evil taint, however, most dealings with them are via agents, and only within the outer walled trade area when absolutely necessary.

The Forgotten Ones are never formally dealt with, and are only rarely featured in the reports and stories of Salgothic returning from the Vagary. Thus, very little is known about them. The term “Forgotten Ones” may have been popularized by some stories and songs featuring wild tribes of people in the woods that the world seems to have misplaced or forgotten. They are certainly not considered an organized people, and if encountered on travel are considered to be unfortunate examples of what can occur to mankind if they are left without the guiding hand of god and law. They are sometimes depicted as innocent barbarians who are ignorant to the true ways and potential of mankind, and at other times as little more than beasts who are only focused on survival from one day to the next; in league with the Triumverati either willfully or because they do not know any better.

Within the close knit community of the Salgothic enclaves there is no place to hide obvious marks of taint, and any sign of such is seen as a potential weak point in the protections that keep the Salgothic safe from the horrors of the Triumverati. Thus, any child or person bearing any cursed marks are immediately abandoned to the outside, likely to become Outlanders. However, due to the Salgothic focus on lineage and family, it is not uncommon for parents to do what they can for the children who are exiled from them. They are often given to Nemian caravans to escort out rather than simply being abandoned to make their own way to the land of the Outlanders. Some Outlanders still bear the Signum marks of their house and enclave despite being sent away. For obvious reasons, the Salgothic do not treat or consort with the Outlanders. Some believe it would be a kinder fate to place them all to death, rather than have them all clustered together in the most unforgiving and dangerous lands known to mankind, but that, like other aspects of the outside world, is a problem best left to the future.