A rarely-encountered people due to their tendancies towards xenophobia and isolation, bladelings are among the only planar natives of the plane of Acheron. Having immigrated to this plane only within the last two centuries, they set up kip in the harshest environs it has to offer, the layer of Ocanthus with its endless storms of razor-sharp shards of black ice.
The origins of bladelings are murky thanks to their reluctance to discuss themselves, although it's likely that either they are descended from the spikers, or the two people share a common origin. Sages have theorized they originally dwelled on the planes of Baator or Gehenna; if true, the occasional tales from them of a years'-long journey across the planes to find their home suggest the distant reaches of these planes untraveled by most planewalkers. What little they have said is that wherever they originally lived, they were tormented and neglected. On direction of their priest-king, Iron Feather, said to have been influenced by a voice from afar, they departed their home and began a journey across the Outer Planes, seeking somewhere they could call home safely.
After many tribulations they eventually came to Hriste, the Blood Forest, a strange wood within Ocanthus that is said to have spoken directly to Iron Feather, the one that originally bade them begin their sojourn. Here they were to settle, he told his people, the woods themselves protecting them from those that would do them harm. Their first years on Ocanthus were harsh, almost bringing ruin to their society, as they found themselves constantly beseeched by rust dragons and rust monsters during their attempts at settling; deadly threat to a partially-metallic being such as them.
Still, their priest-king Iron Feather kept them strong, using great magics to imbue within their species an immunity to all forms of rust or deterioration, while directing the construction of the great city of Zoronor within the woods, built both from the strange, rubbery flesh of the plants and from the black ice underfoot. And true to claims, the wood seemed to shield them from all but the worst of the layer's storms. Once their city was complete, they were able to live in peace, always watchful of outsiders that would seek to violate their sanctuary.
In large part due to their origins, the bladelings are a people very slow to trust. Most never set foot outside Zoronor, and some of the most violent are quick to attack any of another species that seek to enter. Those few that do depart their city for the greater planes tend to be more comfortable with unfamiliar people, less paranoid, but earning the trust of a bladeling can still be many years' work.
Among one another, though, and for those few that do earn that trust, bladelings form extremely tight bonds, quick to forgive any number of things other individuals would consider a trespass knowing that their companions will do the same. Personal relationships of all sorts among bladelings tend not to be thought of as conglomerations of two-person interactions the way most cultures view them, but rather clouds drifting and intermingling with one another where all members of each cloud are on equal footing. This extends even to the romantic; for bladelings, polyamory is the standard way of life, and family units most often consist of an entire cloud raising the offspring of any of its members.
Despite the terminology of individual clouds, one must keep in mind that things are not quite so simple; the use of this metaphor as translation is deliberate, as various bladeling clouds merge, exchange members, overlap, or even split as the relationship grows and changes over time. And it must be emphasized that bladelings tend not to form relationships with one another of any sort, but instead each considers itself as related to the entire cloud as a single unit, however that cloud may change over time. A splitting of clouds, for example, happens when a group of bladelings finds themselves most often staying in concert with one another, forming a subset that soon drifts from the larger whole. However, in general clouds of smaller than four tend to be looked at askance, and though it can happen, a "cloud of two" (as monogamous relationships, whether platonic or romantic, are refered to) is almost always a subject of great gossip, pity, and shunning.
While individual concerns can get ignored or overwhelmed in favor of the good of the cloud in this system, most bladelings believe in good of the cloud over good of any one member of the group, to varying degrees of extremity from cloud to cloud. Individualistic bladelings are extremely rare, often ostracized for their leanings. As such, many bladelings encountered outside Zoronor tend to be individual travelers unhappy with the way of things in Zoronor, although occasionally a small cloud decides to depart the city and explore the outside world as a unit.
Core to bladeling culture, the "cloud of all", is the faith and worship of Hriste, or the "Gray Whisper" translated from the bladeling tongue. They believe it a sentient being that protects and sustains them, her will given through the seemingly-immortal Iron Feather; although if true, Iron Feather seems to be the only one to have ever heard her word. In many ways a druidic faith, its core precepts are to help Hriste protect and defend both the bladelings and the forest itself. Although Iron Feather himself has largely withdrawn from society (a strange and worrying act indeed among bladelings), leaving his current general Nightsilver to issue his decrees, he has always seemed to act for the best of the bladeling people. Still, while priests of Hriste do receive the same boons any other priest does, some wonder if this is truly given by her will or if there's some dark yet to be uncovered. (Of course, regardless of evidence, many seem to always think there's some dark yet to be uncovered.)
Despite their vaguely fiendish appearance and their metallic physiology, bladelings are wholly mortal and physical, not spiritual as many take them to be. However, they need little in the way of sustenance to survive, able to live off of the minor amounts of farming and hunting they're able to do within the Blood Forest. Thanks to the ritual performed centuries ago by Iron Feather, they are completely unaffected by any sort of degradation of the metal components of their being, immune to both rusting and acid, although they are still vulnerable to heat and cold. More so than many species, their metal makes them quite uncomfortable with temperature extremes, with Ocanthus just teetering on the edge of habitable for them.
Bladelings age slowly, not reaching adulthood until near the age of 20. Their spikes don't emerge until the age of 10, at which point they begin growing through their metallic skin somewhat like teeth in other species; unlike teeth, however, their emergence causes no discomfort beyond a general itching. On average, a bladeling will live to the age of 80.
Most of the time a bladeling's spikes lay flat somewhat like a porcupine, but when in danger, under emotional stress, or consciously, they spring rigid into conical stems usually an inch across and two inches long, and very sharp. The spikes, despite their obvious use in defense, also help to deflect all sorts of weaponry, though they do render most forms of armor unusable unless specially made to accommodate them; their skin itself, although metal, is as flexible as hide, nowhere near that of an exoskeleton or carapace and so itself unsuitable as natural armor to any great degree.
A bladeling's spikes can be removed with about as much pain as pulling out a few dozen hairs, but regrow quickly, within two weeks' time. Spikes regrow where removed; after the initial growth a bladeling's spike pattern stays fixed. Unique, in fact, to any one bladeling. Further, a bladeling can actually expel its spikes when necessary, firing them outward to strike at foes. Doing so requires much effort and does cause a degree of pain to the bladeling, and as such they cannot do this very often; about once a day or so. The average bladeling possesses about 100 spikes, distributed evenly across their body.
Bladelings are close in size and profile to the average human, with males and females alike averaging around 6 feet tall. Their skin ranges from light purple to dark black, and keeps a sheen to it at all times; thanks to its nature, it can even be polished, which some more vain bladelings try to keep for greater effect. The sheen also partially comes from their blood; black and oily, although no more flammable than any mortal's blood. As all mammals, they do have hair, its color in the same ranges as skin; a bladeling's hair and spikes are usually of the same color, as the latter is similar in physiological nature to hair. Some even possess facial hair, but its coarser nature causes it to be more similar to spines than that of other species. Eyes tend to be bright purple with the occasional vivid blue or white, with an elven, pure-black sclera; additionally, bladeling eyes tend to be even more reflective than their skin, even seeming to glow under the right lighting much like cat eyes.
Bladeling clothing tends to be well-tailored, specially made for the individual bladeling wearing it and fit to their unique spike pattern. Due to the extra effort needed, their clothing is rarely ostentatious, but this is more out of time concerns than a lack of appreciation for aesthetics. (In fact, something all bladelings seem to enjoy of the outside world is the wider variety of clothing available.) Instead, personal expression tends to be through accessories, with most clouds tending towards a similar, but rarely identical, overall style.
- Monster Manual II, pg.31
- Planar Handbook, pp.14-15
- Planes of Law - Acheron, p.24-25
- Planes of Law - Monstrous Compendium, pp.14-15