This region of Kakhabad is a vast wasteland that stretches from the Jabaji River in the south to the Forest of Snatta in the north. It's comprised of the Baddu-Bak Plains (just north of Kharé) and the Klatta-Bak Steppes (between the plains and the forest). To the east of those, extending all the way to the coast, are the Vanti-Bak Wastes, which are presumably also a part of the Baklands. The book doesn't cover them, though, so it's impossible to say. There's not a great deal to distinguish the Baddu-Bak Plains from the Klatta-Bak Steppes, so I'll look at them collectively as the Baklands.
The Baklands - at least in the area north of Kharé - are eerily silent and featureless, sparse in vegetation and signs of life. There is little in the way of civilisation here. The region is completely unknown to the map-makers of Analand, as no Analander has ever crossed the plains and survived. Most of those that live in the Baklands are solitary creatures or nomadic tribes, with little in the way of organisation. It's probable that those tribes banded together in the past to attack Kharé, causing the city to lock its North Gate with a spell, but at the present time the tribes are scattered and without leadership.
The most numerous of these tribes seem to be the Klattamen, who live in crude villages in the Klatta-Bak Steppes. They're a barbaric people, communicating in grunts and wielding only clubs as weapons. It appears as though they value physical strength and prowess in battle above all. Visitors to their villages will be shown some hospitality, but must fight the village's champion, and if they win they are seemingly hailed as the new champion.
If there's one thing that's in abundance in the Baklands, it's magic. Strange phenomena and weird happenings abound, and even the passage of night and day is said to be governed by supernatural forces. It's probably no coincidence that so many of the inhabitants of the place possess powers of sorcery: Shadrack the Hermit, Manata the Snake Charmer, Renfren the Illusionist and the sorceress Dintainta all make their home in the Baklands, and all of them are magic-users of one sort or another. It's probable that something about the Baklands has drawn them there, as such a high concentration of sorcerers is unusual. (Scorpion Swamp seemed to be similarly crowded, and it also had some weird phenomena going on.)
THE FOREST OF SNATTA
This forest lies north of the Baklands and south of Lake Ilklala and the Kharabak River. It's seems to be not all that unpleasant at first glance, and full of life: small animals scurry through the underbrush, and small birds sing in the trees. The forest has its own hidden dangers, however.
One of those dangers rests among the plants themselves. The Stranglebush is a man-eating plant that uses its vines to immobilise its victims before devouring them. But the greater danger lies in what is seemingly the forest's most numerous inhabitants, the Snattacats. Around the size of a large dog, they roam in packs as large as a dozen, and use their innate power of invisibility to stalk their prey.
The forest is also home the the sorceress Fenestra, but I'll discuss her further below.
This lake is fed by three rivers - the Ilklala, the Tinpang and the Vischlami - and the wide Kharabak River flows out of it all the way to the Earth-End Coast. From the southern shore it appears as a vast expanse of still water that stretches to the horizon. Despite this stillness, the water of the lake is described as being thick and heavy.
It's evident that some great beast lurks beneath these waters, as the Analander is dragged below by something that grabs his leg if he should fall overboard. The map of Kakhabad depicts Lake Ilklala with a tentacle rising out of it, so it could be some sort of octopus or squid.
The lake is also home to Flying Fish. Although they are small, their razor-sharp teeth and ability to fly out of the water can make them deadly predators.
The only sure way across the lake is the Ferryman, a scruffy, unwashed, overweight but broad-shouldered individual who will row travellers across the lake for a small fee. It's possible that he has an arrangement with Fenestra, as the Analander is only able to summon him by using a whistle given to him by the sorceress. He is said to patrol the lake shore every morning, but for some reason he doesn't appear unless the whistle is blown.
This large area of swampland lies between Lake Ilklala and Low Xamen, the foothills of the Zanzunu Peaks. It's home to leeches that will attack themselves to travellers and drain their blood. There is also a tribe of Marsh Goblins that live in the swamp. It appears they've adapted to their environment, as they have webbed fingers. They're also friendlier than the more common goblin varieties, as they have dealings with Fenestra on the other side of the lake, and seem happy enough to aid the Analander so long as he helps them in turn.
THE SEVEN SERPENTS
Rumour has it that the Seven Serpents were created twelve years ago, after the Archmage of Mampang fought and slew a hydra that lived in the caves of High Xamen. So impressive was this foe that the Archmage took all seven of its heads back to Mampang Fortress, and used his black arts to resurrect them as winged serpents. As an act of faith he assigned each to one of his gods, and turn those gods infused the serpents with their own powers. The Archmage used them as his own personal messengers and servants.
The Seven Serpents are as follows: the Sun Serpent, the Moon Serpent, the Earth Serpent, the Fire Serpent, the Air Serpent, the Water Serpent, and the Serpent of Time. Each has powers given to them by their god, but each one also has a closely guarded secret. The Sun Serpent cannot abide water. The Moon Serpent is defeated by fire. The Earth Serpent must remain in contact with the ground, and the Fire Serpent can be smothered with sand. The Air Serpent can take the form of a puff of gas, but will die unless it can return to its body within minutes. The Water Serpent is defeated by oil. The Serpent of Time's only weakness seems to be a specific spell that was given to the Marsh Goblins by Fenestra in the form of a scroll.
The serpents also know many secrets of Mampang Fortress, and are compelled to give them to the bearer of the serpent ring, which is wrought in the shape of a serpent biting its own tail. The ring's origin is unclear. It was found in the possession of a beggar who was once the Seventh Noble of Kharé, who believed that it gave protection against snakes. Possibly the creation of the ring was a side-effect of the magic that created the Seven Serpents, but that is pure speculation. How it got into the hands of a noble of Kharé is also unknown.
Its apparent that the Serpents venture out into Kakhabad with some frequency, to serve as the Archmage's eyes and ears. They must also venture out of Kakhabad from time to time, as they learned of the Analander's mission by spying in his homeland. They were discovered, and fled to give this vital information to their master.
RELIGION IN THE BAKLANDS
In the Baklands, somewhere roughly north-west of Kharé, is a ruined temple to Throff, goddess of the Earth. She's depicted in statue form as a woman in leather armour wearing a bronze helmet. The people who built this temple are described as priests of Yadu, and probably came from the Daddu-Yadu Caves. It's not really clear whether the temple has worshippers. The only priest who lived there was a man named Shalla, who was recently locked in the basement by a raiding party of Klattamen who ransacked the temple. (Presumably this is the same trio of Klattamen that can be encountered elsewhere in the book, one of whom is carrying a Sun Jewel.) It seems likely that this temple was just a place for priests of Throff to practice their worship in private rather than one that was open to a congregation. What is clear is that Throff is very much real, and has great power within her temple. She will strike down any non-believers who speak her name within the temple, causing it to collapse on top of them.
Fenestra at one point swears by Gredd, who is otherwise unmentioned so far in the series. A look at the Titannica wiki tells me that this is another name for Sindla, the goddess of luck.
Last of all, are the strange entities known as the Seven Spirits, who try to trick the Analander into thrice-damning the name of his own goddess, Libra. They appear as hooded figures with skeletal faces, although when forced to reveal their true forms their heads are like those of snakes. They are apparently spirits sent by the Archmage to entrap the Analander, which doesn't quite ring true: why would the Seven Serpents be rushing back to him with such urgency if he was already aware of the mission? I suppose that the Archmage suspected someone from Analand would be sent, and dispatched these spirits just in case. But what of their true nature? They seem to have a connection to the Seven Serpents, both visually and in their number. This is speculation, but I think of them as manifestations of the gods that empower the serpents, or possibly spirits serving those gods. Whatever their nature, they have little power over the Analander unless he divests himself of the protection of Libra.
NOTABLE INHABITANTS OF THE BAKLANDS AND BEYOND
Shadrack the Hermit
Shadrack lives alone to the north-east of Kharé, in a cave in the Fishtail Rock. He has some magical powers, displaying the ability to communicate through trees, and he is aware of the Analander's quest before they arrive at his cave. He is also known and trusted by the King of Analand, who directs the Analander to seek the aid of Shadrack.
Manata the Snake Charmer
Manata lives in a pit in the Baklands, somewhere to the north-west of Kharé, with only his pet snakes as his companions. He has enough of a reputation that the Baklands Horsemen won't go near him. He is willing to trade, but if he becomes hostile he will control his snakes with a musical pipe to attack. He can also use this music to transform his victim into a snake. Manata describes the snakes in his pit as his sisters; whether he's being literal here is unknown.
Renfren the Illusionist
Renfren is an illusionist who tries to trick the Analander with the image of a Deathwraith. He claims that this is his idea of a practical joke, but he is willing to use this illusion to kill, and has probably done so before. (How this is done is unclear. Does the illusion actually wound those who believe in it, or is Renfren doing the fighting while under its guise?) He is cowardly, though, and when sufficiently wounded will surrender all of his treasure in return for his life. The encounter with Renfren also includes a Rock Demon; whether this demon is also one of his illusions is unclear.
Dintainta of the Steppes
Also known as "The Sham", this sorceress roams the Baklands in the illusory guise of a fast-moving gnome, and displays great knowledge of magic. She is fond of gifts, and will help anyone who gives her a gift that she likes. She is mentioned in a rhyme that was given to the Analander by Shinva, the Fifth Noble of Kharé: For sleeping of the sleepless ram, seek out the one they call The Sham. This rhyme is said to go back to ancient days, so it's likely that Dintainta is much older than her middle-aged appearance would suggest. She must also have at least some knowledge of Mampang Fortress to know about the Sleepless Ram.
Fenestra is an elven sorceress who makes her home beneath a hill deep in the Forest of Snatta. Given her skin tone on the original cover of The Seven Serpents she may be a Black Elf, but I don't think it's mentioned specifically. She is brusque with those who intrude on her lair with violent intent, but to others she will freely give advice and trade, especially to those who practice magic.
She has a special hatred for the Seven Serpents, especially the Water Serpent, which killed her father. She intends to avenge her father, and keeps a special store of oil for the occasion. Recently she gave some Marsh Goblins a scroll containing a spell to defeat the Serpent of Time. She also recently entrapped the Sun Serpent by luring it down with a rain spell and offering it sanctuary, trapping it inside a glass orb.
The Caravan of Cesstar
This caravan of Black Elf traders is making its way across the Baklands to Kharé, where the elves intend to do business. I'm not sure exactly what they intend to do once they reach Kharé; the North Gate is locked with a spell, and nobody currently there knows the whole thing. Besides, the gate is locked precisely to keep the denizens of the Baklands out. Perhaps Kharé has a way of doing trade with the Baklands' people without opening the gate.
The caravan is led by an old elf name Cesstar, and its master of trade is named Oolooh. It seems that these elves have some dealings with Mampang; they are quite happy to sell the Analander out for a reward. But they are much fonder of gold they can have here and now, and will trade with the Analander instead of betraying him.
CREATURES OF THE BAKLANDS
The Seven Serpents has perhaps less variety in the creatures that can be encountered than some other books - I'm not certain, it's just a gut feeling - but most of the creatures that can be encountered within it are unique to the book, or have some twist that makes them interesting. About the only creature in here that I would class as filler is the Wild Bear in the forest. I've already covered the Black Elves, Snattacats, Stranglebush, Flying Fish and Marsh Goblins above, but here are the rest:
At the beginning of his journey through the Baklands, the Analander is attacked by a quartet of Nighthawks, black birds with talons and piercing cries. I've always thought of these birds as being sent by the Archmage's forces, but there's no evidence for that. They fly from the south, so it seems highly unlikely. It's more likely that they're simply predators, either bold or hungry enough to attack humans.
These birds are raised and trained in Analand as messengers and birds of war. These birds have the ability to hide themselves with a shroud of invisibility. Whether this is innate or something gifted to them by the sorcerers of Analand is unknown.
This large beetle is native to the Baddu-Bak Plains. It hunts its prey by burying itself in the earth and bursting out to surprise those that pass by. The spit of a baddu-beetle is acidic, and it will send a stream of it from its mouth at anyone that wounds it.
This tribe of centaurs are native to the Baddu-Bak Plains. They are not exactly friendly, but are wary enough of lone travellers not to attack those who don't attack first. They are especially wary of sorcerers, and steer clear of Manata the Snake Charmer.
This Rock Demon seemingly inhabits some rocks in the Baddu-Bak Plains, and will attack anyone that disturbs it. There's a good possibility, though, that it's really an illusion. The whole encounter happens while the Analander is fighting Renfren the Illusionist, so there's a likelihood that none of what occurs is real.
This snake has golden skin, and lives in a well near the Temple of Throff. It's otherwise just a regular snake with a venomous bite, although the venom is deadly enough to kill someone within a day.
OTHER MYSTERIES AND TIDBITS
- In a previous post I'd theorised that the sorcerers of the Femphrey Alliance would freely share their magic, given that someone who knew all the spells in the series are known as Imperial Sorcerers. In this book it's made clear that this is not the case: the Analander finds a spellbook from his homeland and burns it so that its secrets cannot fall into the wrong hands. It's made quite explicit that the sorcerers of the various nations of the Old World guard their secrets jealously.
- Holy water in Kakhabad apparently comes from the holy springs in Daddu-Yadu, the Croaking Caves. Evidence continues to mount that these caves, and the neighbouring Daddu-Ley, are places of religious worship.
- At the end of the book, the Archmage is referred to several times as an Archduke. This is probably just a self-given rank, but who knows?
NEXT: I move on to my wrap-up posts for The Crown of Kings, and am finally near the end of this long sojourn with the Sorcery! epic. It'll be fun to finally get back to playing through the main series.