The Frogs of the Apocalypse, spawn of the Annihilator, who is called 'Tan-Te' who’s form is unknowable, who’s colour is Viridian and who is without Virtue
As the Nation Beasts descended from Heaven, or coalesced from the ether of forgotten time, one great beast alone came not from above, or from beyond, but from beneath; rising from the depths of the Chaos Sea.
This was Tan-Te, the Annihilator, Beast of the Abyss and enemy of all civilised worlds,
All stories end in death, and the destruction of Esh, had been long-prophesied; to fall to Tan-Te its awful spawn, the Krote. But the slow, tenuous decay of reality has denied the destined end. The Annihilator has been robbed.
Though the form of Tan Te is unknowable, he seems to be saurian, green and scaled, with sky-scraping spinal plates like shards of broken glass. Long and powerful, moving with slow sinuosity, his brutal face half-submerged, his golden eyes half-closed in slumbering but undimmed wrath.
Across his back range cold, towering forests. From his heart comes an irregular pulse of bio-tectonic heat which turns the grey rain to steam as it lands and sends endless curls of grey mist piling and rolling across the roaring rivers, waterfalls, stagnant marshes and the terrible cities of the Krote.
THE KROTE – FUNDAMENTALLY EVIL?
The most warlike, destructive and feared of all the Zoiterran peoples, the Krote were devils of old Esh. Ghosts in the rain, terrors in the mist.
Over time, direct experience has replaced this formless and overpowering dread with a more reasoned, detailed, textured and understandable dislike. Most Zoiterran cultures have warred against the Krote, most have also had cause to ally with them at other times. While they are terrifying monsters, they also hate Yggsrathaal and are dedicated to her destruction.
Over time, a slow trickle of independent escapees have fled Tan-Te and found uncertain refuge in other nations. A fragile consensus has arisen amongst the sages of Zoiterra; that the Krote themselves are capable of Virtue.
The same cannot be said for their government, a deranged and mysterious tyranny locked behind the endless mists of Tan-Te.
THE KROTE - FORM
The Krote are frog-shaped beings.
Like many Zoiterrans, they have a wide variation and many-sub-groups with slightly different morphology. The standard Krote is about five feet high and tends to be of a greenish colour, with smooth or only somewhat mottled skin. Beyond this, there are many other types.
Some are very tall and wide, almost seven feet high, with corrugated warty skin. Other forms are smaller, more gracile and very light. These can be vibrantly colourful, blazoned in bright contrasting colours.
It may not be that all Krote are inherently toxic, but it is assumed in Zoiterran culture that they are literally 'made of poison' and toxic flesh, blood and skin strongly assists a Krote in gaining status amongst its kind.
It is rumoured amongst the lower classes of Zoiterra that all Krote are cannibals and that the only way for a Krote to advance is for them to eat their superior, mimicking at a small scale what the Krote wish to do to all life; to consume it.
This is true. They are predators and carnivores. They will eat other intelligent species. They will eat their own kind. They wish to eat everything. Krote raised far from Tan-Te, or those in the few forest tribes beyond the reach of the Frog-Emperors rule, may not share this end-goal, but they are few.
The greatest enemy of the Krote is dryness, and for once Zoiterra is thankful for the Waste. A great sheet of parched, dry and alkali land serves to contain them. They have a process of 'waxing' by which they can make themselves resistant to dry conditions, various technologies to assist them in travel and a handful of sub-groups who are naturally resistant to dryness, but it is difficult for the Krote to move large forces beyond Tan-Te for long
THE MIST-CITIES OF THE KROTE
Little is known of the cities of the Krote. Ambassadors and handfuls of merchants or high-status individuals have visited them and made reports. Only powerful, and suicidaly brave magic-users will scry them; the Krote keep watch for astral incursions, and respond with lethal force. One clan of the Vulture-Ptak of Orxcea is permitted carry messages into, or out of Tan-Te. The content of their messages is minimal
The cities are amphibious, built in or around freshwater. Some are constructed in and around artificially extended and maintained waterfalls; tendrils of rushing water descending branchlike paths over ziggurats of carved viridian scale, black stone and petrified wood, cloaked in cloud and steam.
And loud. Rain plinks, pounds, steams and evaporates as it lands. Water rushes, roars, trickles and drips. The Krote emerge as darkness falls, they boom, croak, chirrup, cry and call in a great chorus of rolling and consuming sound which echoes through the dank and endless gloom. Waste-Walkers near Tan-Te hear the cities of the Krote as light dies away.
In and around these cities they farm giant insects as a staple diet. Tales speak of gigantic maggots, organised termite hives, huge worms and centipedes and the terrible conditions of a Krote insect plantation. They mine Tan-Te himself, delving beneath his viridian scales to draw up droplets of his burning blood, which they feed to their own young in terrible experiments.
THE TERRFYING CULTURE OF THE KROTE
The Krote live divided into castes and guilds, bound in obsessive hierarchies beneath a being known in Zoiterra as the 'Frog Emperor'.
These words would be considered a blasphemous insult to most Krote. To them, the ruler of all Krote is called "The King in Amber", "The Voice of Tan-Te" or "The Mouth". All loyalist Krote live absolute and unquestioned subjection to this mighty and sacred being who unifies the role of tyrant and prophet
Many Zoiterran Sages believe the "Frog Emperor" does not actually exist. The Qua in particular think they are a sacred prisoner who has died and been replaced many times. Others speak of an undead spirit of Psionic energy bound to a shrivelled mummy within an Amber sheath, or of something like the skeleton of a frog, haunted by memories and eldritch power. Only the highest members of each Caste and of the Toxic-Aristocracy are allowed audience with The Voice of Tan-Te.
Beneath the King in Amber, the Krote are bound in a culture of unending wrath. They rage, not to reclaim the worlds of Esh, but to reclaim their destruction. They dream of the day they will once again battle Gods and destroy all, before consuming everything. But that means they must first, survive, and then kill Yggsrathaal.
Towards this goal they accept no moral limits and submit to no philosophy except the doctrine of their own inevitable l victory and consumption of reality. Tan-Te will meet, kill, and eat Yggsrathaal, and they will eat Her children at His side.
THE KROTE MILITARY
The armies of the Frog-Emperor are rightly feared. Shuffling troops in Verdigris-stained bronze, copper-armoured spearmen and charioteers, Giant mindless war-tortoises, beetle-riding waxed Waste-Cavalry, and monstrous creations who have drunk the Blood of Tan-Te, all preceded by hordes of expendable monkeymen and orcs driven before their armies in drugged-up waves of expendable chaff.
The military technology of the Krote has few equals. From above loom 'air balloons' stitched from eel-skins. These deadly psychic zeppelins house Praetorians of the King in Amber protected by gliding and poison-skinned special forces. Below grind Geist Machines; Krote artillery, sorcerous and alchemical contraptions sucking in a spewing out moaning spirts which merge seamlessly into the choking mist which accompanies the horde.
The most loathsome aspect of fighting the Krote is their deeply en-cultured belief in sacrifice. So deeply are most Krote brainwashed into the cult of their own personal worthlessness that individuals, or whole armies, will willingly sacrifice themselves if they think it will bring the Krote as a whole one step closer to final victory.
An individual Krote might allow themselves to be impaled in a sword or spear, then grab the blade, or haft, controlling the weapon at the cost of their own flesh, while their compatriot uses the resulting gap to go in for the kill. In sieges they will build a ramp of their own bodies to the breach in a cities wall. This makes them utterly terrifying for most self-aware beings to fight, it is like battling a horde of intelligent zombies.
The family does not exist. The state has absolute control of fertilisation, child-rearing and education. The Krote breed in vast numbers of tadpoles, all of which are considered tools towards their eventual victory
Young are analysed and separated according to their potential then raised in tight, unified hierarchies and absolute specialisations. Many Krote often do not even learn of other classes and castes until they reach adulthood.
Some are sent to the Toxic Aristocracy, those with psychic or magical potential are raised in separate collages, split by even the school of magic they learn, some are selected to receive the Blood of Tan-Te. Some are raised as researchers, administrators and weapons-developers. A handful of those with potential are raised as scouts, trackers and special-forces operatives. Others are pre-emptively poisoned to limit their intelligence, making them more serviceable workers or obedient soldiers.
It is from these 'altered' Krote that the Empire will sometimes sell small populations. This highly-questionable trade, once more common in darker and more threatened years for Zoiterra, has now fallen to a trickle. The development of the Philosophy of Virtue has made the process more and more problematic in the eyes of Zoiterrans, and the government of the King in Amber has begun to worry that its methods for ensuring the sterility, low-intelligence and, crucially, the absence of psychic potential from its traded populations, may not be absolute.
This is exquisitely rare amongst Zoiterran cultures, and little understood. Entire generations can pass without any psion being born. There are no schools of psionics in Zoiterra and what little knowledge there is, is handed down from hard-sought, long-lived masters to individual students who may be lucky to find them at all.
The Krote are more naturally psionic than other peoples and their disturbing eugenics programmes have amplified this quality. Potential psions are carefully scanned for and hunted out when young
Zoiterran intelligence groups, especially the Qua, believe that the higher echelons of the Krote government are riddled with psychic mindworms; subconscious commands, loyalty locks, multi-levelled mind-labyrinths and memory-wipes crated to ensure total control. The Qua postulate that even the ruling Krote live in a state of mild and continual terror, never sure if their own memories or loyalties have been altered or changed, and seeking always to exert the same invisible control over their contemparies.
Those few Krote born with Psionic powers beyond Tan-Te, or those who escape or defect, live in terror. The 'Voice of Tan-Te' is obsessed with preventing the spread of psionic power. An independent, non-loyal, psionic population of Krote living beyond its rule is nightmarish to it. Any psionic Krote desiring freedom must live in total secrecy, or be pursued to the ends of Uud itself by the forces of the King in Amber.
TAN-TE'S POSITION AMONG THE NATION BEASTS
The people of Zoiterra say that Tan Te is without any virtue, while the Krote say his virtue is ANNIHILATION.
Tan-Te is a predator, and a continual danger to the other Nation Beasts. They tolerate his presence because they have little choice in the matter, none of them have the power to make him leave, and because, as dangerous as Tan-Te is, he is a still-greater danger to Yggsrathaal
For the Annihilator despises the Great Entropic Wym above all. She has stolen his fate, stolen his end and his meaning. And he is absolutely focused on revenge. Tan-Te desires nothing so much as to destroy Yggsrathaal, and to consume her. Once done, he will fulfil his purpose and end what remains of reality, as he is fated to do. But to end the world, he must first preserve it from Her.
So, for the moment, their ends align. Though their cause does not.