Lanterns in the Mist
Clenched in the teeth of the Hungry Mountains, Amaans careens from the heights of Ulcazar to the hill country of the Ghorcha Passage. A land of seclusion, storms, dense mist, and deadly beauty, Amaans refuses to yield easily to either plow or blade. Something of the mountains’ cold, unrelenting stone pervades every field, tree, and stream, relegating the land’s few settlers to faltering edges and quiet hollows of the hardwood wilderness. The hearty residents of tiny hamlets and homesteads eke lives from the valleys and forests only at the leave of the land’s grim spirits, and do all they can to avoid the heights’ supposedly unnatural storms or the ghostly servants of the fallen lich to the west.
Amaans served as one of the first battlefields in Ustalav’s ill-fated war against the Whispering Tyrant. After the swift fall of Grodlych and Virholt, the skilled horsemen of Amaans were quick to harass the invading undead and are remembered as heroes—if not for their victories, then for the time their lives bought their people to flee the undying hordes. After the Tyrant’s defeat, Amaans became a land of succor and renewal, as those seeking escape from past horrors found it easy to disappear amid the mountains. It also became the birthplace of the Pharasmin Penitence: In the time before, the word of the healer Kavapesta, called Sister Sorrow, swept from the shores of the lake formerly called Divirmis— later renamed for the holy woman—extolling suffering and stoicism as weighing in one’s favor during Pharasma’s final judgment. Many Ustalavs embraced the promise of a greater reward after life’s pains, adopting the particularly somber, ceremonious worship style still practiced today.
Although mountains cover most of Amaans, its infamous Hundred Haunted Vales hide diverse ecologies. Dense forests prove most common, yet some valleys hold foggy bogs, expanses of jagged scree, or depthless mountain lakes. Folk legends say that faeries and witches make their homes amid the vales, altering the land to suit their bizarre whims. Such tales also explain the peaks’ frequent storms as these ancient inhabitants’ attempts to drive off trespassers.
Amaans’ ruler is as rugged and wild as the land he rules: Count Lucinean Galdana is a renowned hunter of fearsome, big game.
Since the Tyrant’s defeat, the nobility of Amaans has taken up the duty of guarding the east from what lingering horrors remain within the ruins of Virlych. Bands of hired horsemen astride the land’s native fell ponies tour the western borders, alert for strange creatures or suspicious wanderers.
Amaans has relatively few inhabitants when compared with counties like Canterwall or Caliphas. Most of these relatively few inhabitants huddle against the border with their more civilized neighbor Ardeal in the lowland region surrounding Lake Kavapesta. From their relatively safe homes, the inhabitants of Amaans tell tales about the horrors of the land, including the Hundred Haunted Vales of the Hungry Mountains, and rumors of the restless dead that haunt the Ghorcha Pass.
The people of Amaans distinguish themselves as either Kavapestans or vale folk. The residents of Kavapesta devotedly worship Pharasma, living austere lives wary of passions and excess joy, fearing that surfeit pleasure might weigh against them when the goddess of death judges their lives, condemning them to afterlives of penitent suffering. The stern people mistrust worshipers of other faiths, artists, and lighthearted visitors, fearing moral pollutions and “the temptations of the quick.” Vale folk, too, are looked upon with suspicion. Dozens of tiny hamlets dot the slopes of the highlands of Amaans, where quiet, courteous folk live in islands of relative tranquility amid the mountains. While those from the lowlands see little distinction between vale folk and the witches of legends, the residents of these sleepy communities merely value their privacy and seek not to offend the myriad nature spirits, fairies, and hags of their rampant folklore. In such lands, it’s not uncommon for travelers—especially non-humans—to be mistaken for mischievous fey in disguise. To such ends, vale folk often carry neck pouches of iron dust, old horseshoes, or bent nails to cast at strangers to prove their nature, as local superstitions say that iron burns treacherous spirits and forces them back into their true shapes.
Terror of Galdyce
The terrors inflicted by the Whispering Tyrant are not the only tales of horror the people of Amaans can tell. In the last century, the county was ruled by the Viscount Galdyce, an aged nosferatu vampire who took countless vampire brides in the vain attempt of siring a male heir. Galdyce is thought to have been slain by the adventurers Duristan Barlhein and his fiancée Ailson Kindler in 730 and Castle Galdyce was destroyed. Rumors say that lately, lights have once again been seen in the ruined castle, leading inhabitants of the nearby village of Sen’s Pass to worry that Galdyce or one of his brides has returned.