The Etter (ET-ter) (s. Etter, adj. Etter) are a subterranean race of magically apt and psionic creatures that first invaded Highfane perhaps as early as 1,000 BF. They enslaved the vast majority of sentient races of Highfane and ruled a world-spanning empire for at least seven centuries.
While the Etter are shrouded in mystery, they were certainly warlike, expansionist, and despotic. They regarded other races—and their own lower caste—as little else than tools: through transmutation and alchemy, they permanently changed the psionic and magical make-up of many of their slaves, and their reign of terror brought about mass migrations and the eradication of entire tribes, clans, and peoples. Altogether, the Etter permanently and drastically altered both the people and the world of Highfane and left a mark that is still easily seen today.
No known Etter remain in Highfane today. For unknown reasons, they withdrew from the surface—and perhaps from Highfane entirely—at the end of the Age of the Etter and left their former realm in disarray.
In story Priests & Kings
During their time in Highfane, the Etter avoided public appearances; business with the outside world was mainly conducted through trusted slaves. These slaves departed Highfane with their masters, and few others ever saw an Etter and lived to tell. Those that did are today long dead. As such, sources on the Etter are limited to depictions in their own art and what few unreliable stories have been handed down the generations. In these, the Etter appear as arachnid creatures, a mixture of scorpion and spider. The exact details vary: some Etter have the bulky, eight-legged body of a spider from which rises the segmented abdomen of a scorpion. Others are bipedal and almost wholly segmented but have spider-like appendages extending from their bodies. Most common, however, are the Etter that appear as upright walking scorpions, with foldable spider legs that should allow for extra speed, and heads similar to those of spiders. All Etter have multiple arms and manipulators on at least four of them. These manipulators are remarkably similar to human hands.
Most scholars assume that the depicted varieties of Etter are different strains or sub-races. There was most likely an intricate caste system based on race. Since the Etter were known to magically alter their slaves through transmutation magic and alchemy, it may be possible they altered themselves as well.
Etter of higher echelons are known to have worn robes in dark shades, preferably green, while the lower ranked Etter generally went without clothes. Warriors were always battlemages and made use of armor and weapons made of Fanhule steel, an alloy forged in Fanhule whence the Etter hail. Artifacts found by explorers imply that the Etter may have worn jewelry and pierced parts of their body or even embedded precious stones in their segments and carapaces. Whether this was done for decoration or for arcane or ritual purposes is unknown.
Little is known today of Etter society. The Etter were secretive and took their inner circles of slaves with them when they left Highfane. What is known today is based on the study of their surviving settlements and the writings they left behind. However, all agree that the Etter were a race of dominant and magically apt psions that ruled through both sheer terror and magical manipulation. Its members were highly individualistic and given to scheming.
It has never become clear who ruled the Etter or if they were even ruled centrally. Scholars generally assume that the Etter maintained order through a rigid caste system and that Etter society was a combination of meritocracy and magocracy: the most powerful and ambitious mages advanced and commanded those of lesser skill. There was at least one Etter in each fortress, city, or settlement who served as supreme commander, but it is unknown who commanded these in their turn.
In the Etter caste system, foreign slaves—humans and Gyta—were of lowest rank. They were used for physical labor and employed in slave armies. Their standards of living were generally modest but not poor: slaves received the necessary victuals, lodgings, clothes, and care. They were rarely worked to exhaustion or death. Some slaves, such as the Aedligs, received favorable treatment due to the importance of their role. Slaves were also used in rituals and experiments, which were sometimes fatal or altered the subject permanently. During the latter years of the Etter empire, many of the lowest caste of slaves were magically and alchemically modified to serve as battlemages due to an increasing demand for soldiers. Today, descendants of such altered slaves are known as the Etterkin and Ettergyta.
Directly above the foreign slaves stood the domestic slaves. These were either Etter of a specific sub-race or favored foreign slaves elevated to higher rank by their masters. Such favored slaves were always modified through transmutation magic and alchemical processes, granting them an aptitude with magic to ease their labor and make them more efficient. Domestic slaves were stimulated to procreate in great numbers, thus creating whole populations of them. Today, the descendants of such favored slaves are the Etterkin and Ettergyta. Domestic slaves did not generally perform physical labor. Rather, they held higher functions with more responsibilities: among others, they tended to the personal needs of the Etter; served as elite guards and battlemages or regimental commanders; assisted the Etter in their research and magic; and performed administrative functions.
There is little information on what echelons stood above the slaves. There was likely a warrior caste of Etter, some of whom fought in battles in Highfane, most notably against the ancestors of the Yslings at Three Rivers and at Havnar’s Pass. The Etter battlemages combined martial prowess with magical skill, but the general assumption is that Etter society had little respect for warriors who resorted to weaponry and melee combat, valuing those who could bend reality to their will instead.
It is unknown if the Etter adhered to any family structure or ties. It is even unknown how the Etter procreated, although they are believed to have done so in great numbers through select members of the higher castes. Tales of slaves who tended to the Etter tell of entire broods raised simultaneously and succumbed to cruel trials and alterations, significantly thinning their numbers. Whether Etter cared for their broodparents or felt familial ties to members of the same brood is unknown.
Religion played a large part in Etter life. The Etter revered their god, the Infinite, vehemently despite it being uncaring and unfathomable. Worship took place in temples, sanctums, and at altars and revolved around the uncovering of arcane secrets and catching glimpses of the works of the Infinite in hopes of understanding them. The details of such rituals are lost to time, however, and only the darkest and most hidden cults of Highfane seek to emulate them today.
In Highfane, the Etter were subterranean. They rarely appeared above ground, and some scholars theorize they disliked the sunlight. All Etter settlements were fully underground; the larger ones had slave quarters on the surface, sometimes sprawling and vast, rivaling today’s metropolises in size. The knowledge of the Etter, on matters both arcane and mundane, by far surpassed that of any civilization today. The Etter were excellent metalworkers, tunnelers, and masons especially, and their buildings and artifacts have stood the test of time magnificently. As for magic, the Etter were and are unrivaled. They had vast knowledge of the arcane and are believed to have frequented many planes of existence. Many scholars theorize that Fanhule, their home, is located on another plane of existence, making the Etter outsiders from another world.
Based on ancient folklore and myth, the first forays of the Etter into Highfane took place during the Unspoiled Age on the mythical southern continent of Semna, home to the southern people known as the Stedda. When the Etter began their conquest of Semna, which may have been concluded around 1,000 BF, many Stedda fled north to Oest across the Sea of Teeth, which was at that time less plagued by ice. The Stedda that remained were likely all enslaved by the Etter; they were used to form the slave armies that would assist the Etter in the conquest of Oest.
During the Age of the Etter, the Etter began their offensive on Highfane in earnest. Rifts in the earth opened on every major landmass, often more than one, to serve as passageways between the home of the Etter, Fanhule, and Highfane. The Etter had carefully planned their invasion: they first captured and enslaved large population centers, often from the inside and by treachery, and steered clear of major armed confrontations until they had crippled their enemies’ infrastructure and communications and were able to field large slave armies.
The purpose of the invasion never became clear and is the subject of wild speculation. However, the Etter focused their efforts on the densely populated areas of Highfane and ceased expanding once these were brought to heel, giving rise to the assumption that slaves and resources were their major objectives. Those who fled into the wild and untamed regions of Highfane often maintained their freedom. Strongest resistance against the Etter came from what few Stedda proved immune to their corruption, from the Yslings in the south, and from the Alps, Gyta, and Ulder who had taken to the hills, forests, and mountains. During the Tunnel Wars, some of these free peoples even achieved several meaningful victories against the Etter. The Etter responded by allying with the Hidden Folk—such as the Pysk Jorr Thukka and his band of Trow, Bugganes, and Pyske—who emerged behind the lines and laid waste to the free peoples’ homes, forcing them on the defensive.
At the end of the Age of the Etter, the Etter slowly but steadily withdrew from Highfane for reasons unknown. One by one, generally patterning a retreat toward the rifts whence they came, the Etter gave up their settlements and fortresses, abandoning them to those slaves they chose to leave behind. Accounts of these slaves describe how they simply rose one day to find their masters gone. The dwindling of the Etter has always remained one of the great mysteries of Highfane, especially since the Etter were poised to destroy their opposition and assert complete dominance over Highfane. The fate of the Etter since their retreat is unknown; it is likely they now remain in Fanhule.
The only religion known among the Etter is that of the Infinite. A creature similar in likeness to the Etter, the Infinite sits atop a Silken Throne of its own creation, ever expanding it as it spins webs of shadows and secrets. It works in the dark, creating and destroying wantonly, for purposes no mortal mind can grasp.
Most scholars today—as well as what few secret worshipers remain—agree that the Etter saw in the Infinite an all-powerful entity that spun the universe, which they call the Great Web or the Silken Throne, the strands of which cannot be seen for the size of them. They believed that everything around us is but a side-effect of the Infinite’s endless labors: in its vast web are contained the burning stars and the worlds that hurl themselves about them. Whatever life crawls from the slimy pits of such worlds is but puny coincidence, just as a forest of trees that ever strive to touch the sun may unwittingly offer home to a spider.
The Infinite itself is uncaring of such life. It pursues its own goals, chittering madly in the dark as it spins and spins and spins. Intelligent beings, which most agree include the Etter, must recognize that worship of the Infinite is not traditional worship: the Infinite cares as little for prayers and supplication as the moon cares for the baying of the dogs. Instead, worshipers of the Infinite strive to follow in its footpaths, to learn what is hidden, and—through understanding of the Silken Throne—learn to weave their own strands of reality. As their efforts focus and the universe yields its secrets to them, one of the Infinite’s many eyes may fall upon them. Whether this brings enlightenment or doom depends on the individual and the whims of the Infinite, but the Etter strive for it regardless.
There is little known of how the Etter worshiped the Infinite, but it is certain that they were deeply devoted: every fort or settlement has at least one temple, nearly always braving every other section of the settlement in wealth and size. The Etter offered sacrifices on the altars of the Infinite, but it is unlikely that these were given to attract the Infinite’s attention; rather, the act of destruction for its own sake—as well as creation for creation’s sake—may have held religious significance to the Etter.
Since the dwindling of the Etter, the worship of the Infinite has persisted mainly among some of their former slaves: the Etterkin and the Ettergyta. Under the iron fist of the Etter, their ancestors were made to worship the Infinite, although they understood not what they worshiped. Some were even sacrificed or used in rituals that involved the Infinite. Today, some Etterkin and Ettergyta that shun civilization still roam the ruins where their ancestors were born in bonds, toiled, bled, and died, seeking answers to questions uncountable. Some peer into the many-jeweled eyes of the idols the Etter raised for the Infinite and at times, they may feel the strands of the Great Web straining through the cosmos: out of reach, yet so close.
Throughout their time in Highfane and ever since, all people of Highfane have considered the Etter a universal enemy most nefarious and foul. The only exception to this hatred and animosity are some Etterkin and Ettergyta who look upon the Etter as their rightful masters still. These individuals worship the Infinite in secluded cults or plot madly from lairs built among the ruins of their former masters.
The Gaufolk, while resentful of the Etter, are most open to researching the Etter and learning from them, acknowledging that the Etter were wise and powerful despite their reign of terror. Some Gaufolk scholars even claim that the Etter have a different, more cosmic moral outlook; the conquest and enslavement of Highfane may even have been a necessary evil in some vast cosmic plot, the significance of which by far surpasses the mental capacity of the mortals of Highfane.
The Etter ruled nearly the whole of Highfane during the Age of the Etter. Only wild regions—mainly hills, mountains, forests, and wetlands—were spared from their reign. Since they have dwindled, the Etter are expected to reside at least in their home world of Fanhule. However, many scholars hypothesize that the Etter have conquered many worlds, just as they conquered Highfane. Their holdings might stretch across worlds and dimensions uncountable.
The Etter spoke their own language. They rarely taught this language to slaves, and then only to the most trusted ones. They had no reason to: psionic understanding allowed them to communicate with all species on those species’ terms. None since have mastered the tongue of the Etter; it is almost impossible to grasp and certainly impossible to pronounce to those lacking the Etter’s alien mind and physique. Still, the Etter used writing, and there are some in Highfane that have an understanding of their characters and words.
The naming customs of the Etter are unknown. They gave slaves names to address them, but these were always very simple. It is unlikely that the Etter gave each other similar names. The names that slaves remembered were exotic, lacking likeness to any other names known in Highfane and impossible to pronounce correctly without the Etter’s physique. To their slaves, they were known by nicknames they made up themselves, consisting of an adjective and a noun that often referenced something the Etter admired or believed similar to themselves, such as Ascending Fire, Endless Reign, or Shadowed King.