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Alphatia and Laterre - The Tribes of Manihkasby Rodger Burns
Not many mortals in Mystara are even aware of the world of Laterre. Most of those that do know of its existence think of it as the former homeworld of the d'Ambrevilles and McGregors of Glantri, and believe these two families to be the only emigrants to Mystara from Laterre. This is not true, though - not only are there others, but the d'Ambrevilles weren't even the first. That honour goes to the tribes of Manihkas, residents for more than eight centuries now of the borderlands of the Alphatian kingdom of Foresthome.
The history of the Manihkan tribes is a curious one. Their lifestyle on Laterre was an undeniably savage one - they called a half-frozen forested plain on the northern coast of Laterre's main continent their home, and passed their days in a state not far removed from half-feral savagery. But in spite of their lack of civilisation, the Manihkans did maintain a strong magical tradition - tribal warlocks, petty curse-chanters, and conjurers trained solely through oral tradition, but potent spellcasters nonetheless.
This magical gift served the Manihkans well when they first encountered the Neapolan Empire - aggressive, land-greedy warriors from the warmer lands to the south, skilled at building cities and conquering the barbarian tribes around them. Alphatian scholars have noted disturbing similarities between the historical descriptions of the Neapolans and observed activities of the Thyatians - but the Neapolans, for all their other vices, also hated and feared magic in all forms and refused to make use of it. When they came into contact with the Manihkans, the conflict was inevitable and bloody.
In the initial battles between the tribes of Manihkus and the Neapolan Empire, neither side had a clear advantage. The Neapolans had numbers, organisation and technology on their side; the Manihkans had individual skill, knowledge of their home ground and magical firepower. Manihkan chieftains bloodied Neapolan armies on several occasions, at one point capturing no less than three of the golden lion-head standards carried by Neapolan generals as symbols of their authority. But the Manihkan effort was purely defensive - they didn't have the strength to carry out any counter-attacks, and as long as the Neapolans had the will to keep sending armies into the Manihkus woods their eventual victory would be assured. And so certain Manihkan wizards came together and shaped an untried desperate ritual - which succeeded in opening a dimensional gate to Mystara, allowing the Manihkans to flee.
The Manihkans in Alphatia
The Manihkan tribes arrived in the Alphatian Empire during the early years of the eleventh century, in the western reaches of the kingdom of Foresthome. Another group, arriving at another time, might have quickly been enslaved, but the Empire was weak and its kingdoms intriguing against one another. The combat experience of the Manihkans proved to be invaluable in this time of turmoil, and earned them enough respect among the Alphatians to grant their people citizenship within the Empire and elevate their spellcasters to the aristocracy.
The next eight centuries are not that remarkable - there were intrigues, magical accidents, controversies, and all manner of strife and struggle, but nothing not unheard of in any other kingdom in Alphatia. Intermarriage with Alphatians thinned the Manihkan bloodlines, but the tribes' traditions and myths have remained strong and there are quite a few Foresthome wizards who are willing to claim Manihkan ancestry and spend a period of a few weeks or months acting out tribal rituals in the hopes of tapping into a new source of magical power. Most don't get any actual benefits other than the experience of sleeping on wet tree roots, dancing around peat-moss bonfires, and getting not-quite-drunk on foul-tasting homebrew liquor. The failures are often too embarrassed to discuss the experience, though, and the successes display new spells that are flashy and unique enough to attract a notable degree of attention, so the tradition will likely continue.
Dark Secrets and Other Adventuring Hooks
- Manihkan magical talents cover many areas, but are especially focused on spells that affect living creatures and living minds - charms and illusions, divination magic, and spells of transmutation and polymorphing. An adventuring group needing access to such, or threatened by an enemy with a talent in this area, might find themselves needing to find a Manihkan elder for aid. Of course, finding said elder and enlisting his aid is easier said than done.
- Another Manihkan magical tradition is blood magic and human sacrifice. Such is not unheard of in Alphatia - it's frowned upon, but not illegal as long as the subjects are all legally owned slaves. What's more, the rituals of blood sacrifice for magical empowerment are somewhat inefficient - for the cost and trouble of arranging a sacrificial ceremony one can usually find an equally effective and less sanguine means of achieving one's ends, making blood magic only useful to the depraved or the terminally paranoid. What makes the Manihkans different is their willingness to hire out their services to others and to turn a blind eye to customers' violations of the law - which means that any petty practitioner or would-be tyrant able to kidnap peasants or freemen might take them to the Manihkans as sacrificial victims, creating the need for a fast and focused rescue mission...
- The Manihkan elders may seem like backwoods savages, but they're very aware of the politics and intrigues of Foresthome and the Alphatian Empire. They frequently involve themselves in plots to protect a Manihkan-blooded wizard scion from judicial retribution or unwelcome attention, to weaken 'traditional enemies' with landholdings or interests in southeastern Frisland or southern Ar, and similar interests. Recently, though, they've started to aim higher - manoeuvring to try and name the next monarch of Foresthome, their preferred candidate being a Manihkan-blooded descendant of the present ruler's great-grandfather who they believe they can manipulate. For the moment, Foresthome's present monarch has a solid grip on power, but if this worthy was assassinated, killed in an accident or duel, or just shamed or blackmailed into abdicating the way could be clear for the Manihkans to make their claim for power. What they'd do with it is anyone's guess.
- The magical prowess of the Tribes of Manihkus isn't just due to oral tradition and inborn talent. A few of their most powerful wizards have maintained their powers over unnaturally long lifespans, through rituals of lichdom, possessing a succession of bodies via magic jar spells, or similar methods. Only a select few Manihkans know of these dealings, and they consider it a secret worth killing to keep - they believe (possibly rightly, possibly not) that mainland Alphatians would react with shock, scorn or horror if they learned of the Manihkans' dealings.
- The reason why the Manihkan tribes escaped from Laterre to the forests of northeastern Alphatia, so far from the Glantrian mountains that the d'Ambrevilles and McGregors travelled to, has never been entirely clear. Only a few sages have cared enough to study the question, but they are generally wizards of great power - counting among their numbers King Heldebaran of Aegos, Prince Volospin Aendyr, Maroc the Astrologer, and even the immortals Palartarkan and Rad. While these worthies don't openly collaborate, each is aware of the others' interest... and each knows that none of his rivals has found a satisfactory answer. The current suspicion is that some outside agency is blocking all attempts to unravel the mystery, and may have diverted the Manihkans to Alphatia for reasons of its own. Needless to say, any such agency would be extremely powerful, and almost certainly would not be acting out of the best of intentions - which may mean that direct measures to uncover more clues may need to be delegated to a group of independent, deniable adventurers...