The ridge cuts the land and leads north in an ever-steepening coagulation of hills.
Straight, slender ravines, the Arrow Valleys run as neatly as an arrow flies and are cut from the Ridge as a whole by the enormous straightness of their stone and scree-sloped sides. Very narrow, very steep rock-cut paths and vertical climbs with cut hand-holds are all that link the valleys to the Ridge itself. Where nature has provided no barrier, human craft has thrown up vast drystone walls pierced by low black passages
Conversely, each mountaintop holds, at its peak, an Ice Daemon meditating in Lotus position. The Demons have been meditating for a geological age, far beyond the record of any sentient species, each encrusted in a thick caul of Hyperblue Ice. They are difficult to see and occasionally crusaders, cultists and academics try to thaw one out or burrow in. They always get horribly frozen and the Crazed Theigns work hard to stop any organised attempts. The Demons exist on the ridge in the same manner as dormant volcanoes to other cultures. One day, presumably, they will 'go off', but since this will happen on a geological scale of time, the level of risk for any individual day is very slight.
So it is that, almost uniquely amongst mountain kingdoms, almost all of the population, agriculture and economy of the Ridge is held in a band of heather and gorse above the meta-monster-haunted, but unpopulated valleys, and below the line of Sociopathic Hyperblue Ice.
The intelligent and extremely evil Manticores of the Whetstone Ridge lair in the walls of the Arrow Valleys but are known to creep their way anywhere they can in search of food or the means to do harm.
Though they are few, each is formidable, with the body of a gigantic lion, the head of an ancient, evil and intelligent man, steel teeth, bat wings which provide (presumably magical) flight and the tail of a huge scorpion.
The Manticores are cursed so that they can only eat those who give incorrect answers to their questions, though they can simply kill those who give correct answers (they just can't swallow them) and can sting to death or drop from heights those who give no answers. But, in every case, a question must be asked.
They can also Ontomorph themselves into shadows, subtle sounds, snatches of song or strange moods, and thereby pass near-invisibly amongst mankind before emerging into their true form to feed. All of these aspects will leave a particular kind of sting in the tail of their expression and wise Ridge-dwellers have learnt well the particular tenor of experience that shows a Manticore is passing through.
The necessity of giving an incoherent answer to a Manticore, one neither true nor false, is one of the reasons that the rule of the Crazed Theigns is still permitted on the Ridge. The Theigns are expected to don armour and face any Manticores that threaten their Dukedoms, baffling them with insanity so they can be killed.
In most cases the Theigns are happy to fulfil their ancestral duty and in many cases they actually succeed.
Simply a very large fox with the proportions of an extreme wolf, the Meta-Fox is a cunning creature that prefers to eat idiots. (Though, unlike the Manticore, it has no supernatural restrictions.)
The Fox can crawl inside the skin of anything it has eaten and impersonate its behaviour, voice and form. It will use this ability, in either animal or human shape, to test the intelligence of those it targets, hoping to find someone or something stupid (relative to its species as a whole) to eat.
For this reason it is common practice on the Ridge to appear as intelligent as possible before strangers, especially lone strangers in the wilderness. The Intelligent Shepherds (and Pig-heards and Goat-heards, but the name is commonly applied to all) of the Ridge, as well as lone travellers, carry with them books of Philosophy and mathematics and when two meet alone they will often begin their conversation by talking about the ideas in the book they are currently reading. It is also a common, but low practice, for fearful people travelling alone to try to find someone obviously stupider than them as a travelling companion, resulting in rather complex social situations.
The Condors prey on the Plains of Anaesthetic Fire to the East and rarely bother locals so their nests are usually undisturbed.
The Condors themselves are bedraggled, downhearted but vicious creatures, rarely responding to anything other than the most extreme provocation, but insanely and suicidally violent once fully enraged.
Bristle Pigs ('Bristly Pigs')
Bristle Pigs are big fat boarlike pigs with huge porcupine spines. The spines only partially lie flat, making the Pigs look almost spherical. They are a natural herd species of the Ridge and largely domesticated but some wild examples do remain and can be extremely violent if they think their young are threatened. They do not predate on man, except in childrens tales, but can cause enormous problems if they invade a village or decide to dick about with a fortified orchard.
Every year a small handful of Ridgedwellers turn Cryomaniacal from the thawing Hyperblue Ice and, after doing cold murders, run off to the valleys, or even further. Their powers rarely persist and they are usually broken up and killed by Manticores, Foxes, Goblins, Hunger or expeditions from nearby Baronies.
The human culture of the Ridge is influenced hugely by the rule of the Crazed Theigns. Known in other lands for their lunatic embassies carrying irrational gifts and making impossible demands, the Theigns are largely tolerated by the people of the Ridge since, in their insanity, they have relatively little to do with them compared to any other ruler, as well as for their usefulness in combatting the Manticores.
Once these families ruled the Wodlands with a mad hand and kept it in feudal ruin, but they were driven off and displaced by the covert cults of the Mystery Masons, who worshipped reason. After the revolution they retreated to the ridge, to gaze impotently down on the developing lands, now freed from their lunatic rule, and to plan mad plans about re-taking a nation that did not want them back.
Since then the collapse of the Masonic Cults and the arrival of the Goblin Weed, smoked in the Goblin Pipes (which are addictive, and which turn the smoker into a Goblin), means the mad lords now look down upon a rubbished land almost as disordered as their own minds. Yet none have made any move to return to their much obsessed-over former country.
Yet, at night, there are a handful of places on the ridge where a traveller can look down onto the Wodlands and where the light of the Imaginary City on the shores of the Eastern Reach seems to merge with the lamps in the Masonic Mansions, and where the Painted Plain, the Maw and Goblin Cube are invisible in the dark, and the watcher can imagine what the greatness of that past time might have been.
The moors and scrublands of the Ridge support primarily herders. Rugged sheep, Goats and Bristle Pigs are moved across the maze of ridgelines by the Intelligent Shepherds. Yet, in a few places, isolated lakes, crossroads of mountain paths, defensible sites, natural springs or simple chance mean that villages and a handful of small towns exist.
These places are always built on a slope (everything is on a slope) with densely packed houses, roofs and walls piled upon each other, surrounded by terraced and built-up fields growing the careful crops.
The Whetstone'ers prize their individuality but each Village has a library, a Keep for a Crazed Theign, a huge Pig House and one or more fortified Orchards.
The main source of village pride and group identity is its Mystery Play and the size of its largest Bristly Pig.
The Mystery Plays were originally ordered by the Crazed Theigns but have transformed into a strong independent tradition. They involve a redemptionist re-telling of the betrayal and casting-out of the the Noble Lords of the Wodland by the treacherous and evil rationalistic mystery cults of the Masons.
Though the cults are now in ruins, along with the Wodlands, the plays all end with the 'fall' of the feudal lords and their heroic and noble suffering, and not with the present day situation.
Due to the popularity of the plays (all villagers either take part or watch in a day-long performance once a year, just after the dangers of Thaw and the Cryomaniacal Dreams have ended), most Whetstoners do have the vague but strong sense that the Crazed Theigns are and should be the rightful rulers of the Wodland and that the Masonic cults are evil and insidious institutions.
The other main source of village selfhood is their Bristly Pig. The pride taken in these creatures has lead to an arms-race breeding programme and resulted in some dangerously large, nigh un-controllable Bristly Pigs which exist as a kind of porcine nuke at the centre of each settlement. Everyone is quietly terrified of what happens if the Pig gets out or gets into the fermenting apples.
While the pigs, though dangerous, are civic business, at the state level, the pride and power of each 'Barony' is shown in the quality, number and defensibility of its apples.
Most crops can only be grown in on the Ridge through terracing and building-up flat areas of ground with drystone walling and moving earth. Arable land of this kind is a rare and treasured resource, built over generations. This is probably what initially began the fortification of valuable crops. All that was required was extending the supporting wall above the level of the plough.
Though the Crazed Theigns would prefer more glorious, violent and continual warfare between the Ridge-Dweller they have been persuaded to forgo this (essentially the Intelligent Shepherds refused to engage in organised intra-human violence of any kind) for a culture of ritualised apple-theft.
Though this initially began as a harmless alternative to war, the Ridge Dwellers may have been affected by the rule of the Theigns more than they know. There has been a massive intensification of apple cultivation, apple security, apple horticulture, guard dogs, 'Apple Knights' guard bees, guard geese, silver-tusked 'stick pigs’, apple mafias and the always-feared, sometimes state-actor, deniable apple bandits. Magic apples are obsessed over and commonly grown, treasure is melted into golden apples, the currency of the Ridge is called 'the apple’ and cider and apple pie are high-status, even sacred, foods. Fears and threats over apple security are a major source of inter-Barony conflict.
THE CRAZED THEIGNS
Though each of the Crazed Theigns is rarely more powerful than a small Knight or Village Squire, they refer to their domains as Baronies or Dukedoms and each has a store of ancient items, relics, tales, death-masks, heraldic devices and general expatriate sorrows. They affect a high mien and a tragic aspect which lends them enormous gravitas.
Most of their clothes and heraldry involved apples, goats, Bristly Pigs, Goblins (being crushed and killed), Manticores, Foxes, Gold and Silver apples, strange furs, large conical hats, silver-bound pseudo-books, harps, rich manticore hides, Bristle-Pig coats, apple pies, cider jugs and ceremonial pig-goads. Rather than a jester most retain a dour psychotherapist as a close adviser.
MADNESSES OF THE CRAZED THEIGNS
1. Paranoid about specific natural phenomena.
2. Thinks surrounded by replacements.
3. Thinks you are they and they are you.
4. Hides in corners.
9. Quadromania (Everything in fours, can develop into Octomania).
10. Deceives in speech but communicates truth through hand-signs.
11. Only calm while music plays.
12. Believes self to be gigantic, acts huge, ponderous and careful.
13. Compulsively and continually swaps clothes with all near.
14. Believes is 7 to 15 seconds in the future, they respond first and you have to fill in.
15. Trusts no-one who speaks their language, only happy around those they cannot understand.
16. Obsessively plays board games with small dozing animals as pieces. i.e. chess with sleeping black and white mice, backgammon with drugged snails.
17. Disguises self as member of own staff. takes messages to 'her Ladyship'. Rapidly changes disguise if found out.
18. Can't eat unless food represented in art. Sketches snacks, paints meals.
19. Lives as a 'prisoner of self'. Plays stern tyrant who will not release self and also rots in dungeon below (accessible through secret passage), checks with staff continually about security of 'prisoner', suspects escape attempts.
20. Communicates exclusively through life-sized puppets of self.