Monday, May 2, 2011

The Falcon's Hood

This is the account of the travels and travails of the Alcurans Sharun hem Waltor, Seda hem Waltor, Gianbhar, Dratapn Alcura and Drinos as recorded at a later date by the acolyte Cermano at the Temple of Biladon in Alcus.

The Nameless Danavan

We were dispatched to the city of Hadaril to investigate a mysterious Danavan living in an inn without any apparent contact with his race. The Baron wished to ensure compliance with Treaty obligations and make sure that the demon in question was not a member of the exiled Sol Ka clan.

The Danavan in question was very mysterious. It claimed not to be able to remember its name. This made us suspicious and led us to question it most closely about its provenance. Its story was outlandish even by its own inhuman standards. It claimed to have been a standard bearer for the Gol Tar clan during the wars against the humans, and boasted of murdering and raping many humans. It said it had been a kind of squire during the wars, and that it was of no particular significance.

In recent years it had travelled to Darazi after the fashion of its race. This was evident to us anyway, for it had no colouration in its hair or eyes.

It said that it found the ruined city which had been the centre of demon civilisation in Darazi. The city had been ruined in the wars between demons (especially between the free Danavans and those whom the Harlequins had enslaved) and now had a great fissure at its heart. It claims an ancient black dragon still lives in the ruins of the city.

It told us about some of the lost demon races which had fought in that war. Most interesting was the Atonolie, a race which had the power to draw the life force out of creatures close to it. This power of the Atonolie was so great that (the Danavan believed) any humans present during the war would have been killed – implying that humans arrived in this world only after the end of the war between the demons.

While in the vicinity of the ruined city, the Danavan twice encountered a group of Danavans under the thrall of a Harlequin. This party attacked it and left it so badly injured that it did not expect to survive its wounds, but it recovered of its injuries in a manner which it could not explain.

It escaped Darazi and returned to Moldaeron but was bored there and eventually left, intolerant of the company of its own kind.

It shared with us some of its people's myths, including about the Great Players, which it said were great from the beginning and whose roles represented the great acts of their race, the things that needed to be done.

It denied any knowledge of Shalebrol being a Danavan and said that it believed our Gods did not exist at all. However, if Shalebrol had been a “dragon” as some stories suggest, then it would probably have been a Great Player.

While discussing these and other matters with us, the demon demonstrated the ability to read our minds. This manifested itself when we pursued certain lines of inquiry for lengthy periods, and it then started to volunteer information which it could not have known, and of which we had not spoken, but which were close to the surface of our thoughts. This frightening ability put us in great fear and we desired to terminate the conversation. It said our thoughts are “leaky” and easy to read.

However, the demon made us an interesting offer which we could not rightly refuse. It asked us about Aroks and where one might be found. We told it the little we could remember. It suggested that it would bring down the Arok which we believe to be close to the throne of Fontarbria. In return, we committed to considering an expedition to destroy a Harlequin (though not any particular Harlequin) should the Danavan succeed against the Arok. It said that Harlequins could not enslave humans, implying that humans might have a better chance of killing one.

We were as convinced as we could be that it was not a Sol Ka and thus had no further business detaining it. We accepted its outlandish offer and it went on its way to kill or capture an Arok.

To Vinaria

We went to Vinaria to see what we could learn from the Magus Sharun about Harlequins.

He wasn't there. His house was being cleaned out by some gentlemen who said he had moved to the far depths of Shanaras, far, far away. We made further inquiries and were eventually contacted by a young man claiming to be Sharun's student, one Bertan. He said that the strange men at the house had actually murdered Sharun and were stealing his property.

It was not clear to us whether Sharun was really dead. The student Bertan had seen lots of blood in the house, though it wasn't clear that he actually saw a body.

With little evidence, we were somewhat constrained in what we could do about Bertan's accusation. Things came to a head when some removal men were carting away Sharun’s property. We reported them to the local authorities, who commenced an investigation, delaying the men’s departure. Our story was given some credence by the murder of the young student, but he had fallen out with people over money and there was no firm evidence as to who had killed him. The authorities eventually let the men on their way. They travelled upriver on a barge, allegedly for Barasiumar

We kept watch on Sharun’s deserted house, hoping that someone from his order might arrive - the young student having told us that he had written to another member of the Order after Sharun’s death.

Someone did arrive, though not (he said) in response to the letter. He was a well-heeled looking Histran who claimed to be a messenger from the Order come to warn Sharun that the Artuli (Tokan Liod's order) were about to make some hostile move against Sharun’s order. The messenger's name is Pertan Acetana from Tomara.

Sharun hem Waltor (our Sharun) pursued the alleged murderers’ barge north. He learned that the barge was a ruse. The cargo had been transferred to a seagoing vessel, the Blue Gryphon, at a town up the river. We set our Sharun’s uncle to keep an eye on the Blue Gryphon's return and chat to a sailor on her to find out where she had been.

We learned that the Artuli Adrieste had left Vinaria about three years ago after having lived there for as long as anyone could remember. She left in an orderly fashion.

We considered the fact that Sharun (the mage) had started organising his departure over a year ago, whereas his visitors (and alleged assassins) arrived only a month or two ago. This raised the possibility that his departure was being kept secret by him from his apprentice (and thus his Order).

Xenor, Sharun’s body man, was nowhere to be found despite Pertan's searches.

The dead apprentice Bertan received a reply to the letter he had sent to the Order member resident in Kalmar. We opened it. It was sealed not with a personal seal but with the seal of the Order (of which Gianbhar took a copy). Their letter summoned Bertan to meet the Order in the Kalmarese city of Talistar. (The Order of Iarnos was formed to protect and defend the former kingdom of Histra. It seems they had broadened their mandate).

To Talistar

We decided to travel to Talistar.

On the way we heard rumours of war with Fontarbria. We also hear rumours that one of the Free Cities had fallen to forces not specified to us.

We met three members of the Order of Iarnos in the royal palace in Talistar. The king was not in residence. We were told that two other members were definitely dead, with the possible addition of Sharun, and the last two members were on a mission to the east.

One mage, a well-dressed Kalmarese called Laracer, told us that their colleague Waltor hem Tanath (our Sharun and Seda's father) was not dead. He had returned about 16 years ago with a party of followers. He had said that he had returned the Tonrar sword to its hiding place, but wanted to further study its provenance. He said that he planned to go to Dyria and Harmoria so to do. Laracer believed he may possibly be in Dyrasc or Ioltanar (in Harmoria).

Laracer told us that all Artuli have a talon as well as a dragon – though most have only one. A talon, Seedara, was seen in the vicinity of the assassination of one of the two dead order members (the one in Tomara).

He also said that the Order had a run-in with another Harlequin about 70 years ago. Members were in Kalmar hunting Shanir for experiments. A Harlequin arrived and took command of the Shanir, resulting in a huge battle. The Harlequin died and so did a member of the order. Harlequins seem to be of a different nature to Danavans or Shanir – they have no viscera and are made of obsidian-type material. They are faster than humans (though slower than Danavans) and stronger than humans (though weaker than Shanir). It takes a fair pounding to kill them – though lots of fireballs worked in that case.

To the Fontarbrian Marches

Town was abuzz with rumour that the King of Fontarbria had invited King of Kalmar to a parley at the border. We trailed the royal party to snoop on the parley. The day before it was due to begin, the Fontarbrians cancelled. Their King had been subject to an attempted assassination by a Danavan. The Danavan had been captured and was being put to the question.

We remained at a border town for several days, making inquiries about what was happening across the border. It appeared that the King of Fontarbria was safe and now protected by the Order of Irchilan, which is the militant order of demon-killers (whose name is based on the Fontarbrian word for Shanir).

The Fontrabrians had formed a belief that the Danavan was from Moldaeron, not Cathnaeron. Fontarbrian spies (part of a court-run network) were believed to be active in Kalmar, Histra and Ankheras learning more.

To the wild north of Kalmar

We returned to Talistar to learn more from the Order of Iarnos. We met a servant, Melrano who said that they had left for a mountain hold seven days north of the city to perform certain divinations. We were invited to join them there. We travelled north.

We arrived at the tower, located in a remote place, to find that it had been attacked by demons. The charred carcasses of two Aordi were amongst the eviscerated remains of most of the men-at-arms, servants and mages who we had expected to find there. The mage Laracer was amongst the dead, his arms and eyes burnt black. Another mage, Kassoda, was also dead. The third, Virtan, was nowhere to be found and one or two other men may also have been missing.

The place had not been robbed of food or weapons, but there were none of the books or arcana that one would expect to find around mages.

We buried the dead and left that place.

A half-day's march out, we came across a Shanir. It was seven feet tall, with coppery, scaly skin, big sharp teeth and a horny head. It wielded a huge stone axe, very ornately engraved. It wore stones bound in leather thongs around his arms and legs and a loincloth but was otherwise naked.

It was butchering the corpse of a dead man. We examined the man's remains after the Shanir was finished, though there was little of it left (to the extent that Melrano could not say whether or not the corpse was that of his former master Virtan). We took some shoes and some embroidered cloth in the hope that we might use them to identify the dead man.

Against all sense of logic, a further day's travel brought us back to the tower which we had left previously. There, roasting food on a spit, we met a man called Kirbur. He was a Histran-speaking Tibulani of about sixty who claimed that he had formerly been a priest of Vilcanat.

He said that he and we had been brought to this place by a powerful miracle of Vilcanat, suggesting that some great vengeance might have fallen due to be exacted. He said that if that was so, he would be the bridge for the miracle; we would be (or take the place of) the wronged parties; and the guilty party would arrive during the night. He asked us who we thought the guilty party might be, and Sharun and Seda suggested their father Waltor.

The Return of Waltor hem Tanath

In time, Waltor arrived, alone but for his familiar, a snow leopard.

He and we spoke for a while about the great matters of the day. He said that the Cathnaeron have frequent wars against Harmoria, Fontarbria and other places far from our ken. The most recent was 60 years ago, when the demons extinguished a Harmorian barony.

He said that Shaliok is the Free City which has fallen to a big new cross-confederation of tribes. Alfiok was suspected of complicity. He himself is based in Dyrasc but had not yet heard how great the devastation had been. He doubted that any grown men had been left alive.

He said that the Fontarbrians have started openly worshipping the Seventh – or at least the King and his Court have, which would soon mean that all would follow. In a generation or two, the Gods would be eliminated. He believed the Fontarbrians to be poised to launch a crusade for the Seventh against the Gods, which would be cloaked in terms of restoring the Fontarbrian Empire.

In time, Sharun and Seda made clear their identities as Waltor's children. There were harsh words and accusations between the three. Waltor said that he had stayed away from Alcus after returning the Tonrar sword because he did not wish to have hostile forces trail him back there. He said that these hostile parties (not clearly specified) had killed his wife and most of the travelling party; only he, Grond and Sevarax had survived.

He said that the Aordi who had attacked Alcus and later him had been in the service of a Harlequin which had established itself Highlands of Ilknakor with two Aordi.

He said that the reason for him being in Kalmar was because he thought that the legendary Taran Kun may be in Kalmar rather than Tibulanus. Although the myths about Taran Kun are Tibulani, and they speak of him leaving Bar Askenji (??) in search of a dragon, those myths do not specify where Taran Kun finished his quest. The mountains of Kalmar are similar to those of Tibulanus. Waltor hoped to find Taran Kun's sword, although it might not be precisely magical.

He told us bizarre and blasphemous theological stories. He said that Darazi Danavans are pure-blood but that the Danavans of Moeldaeron and Cathnaeron are somewhat cross-bred. They are the offspring of humans and Danavans. He claimed humans were created by Danavans with two particular attributes – to be resistant to Harlequins and to be able to breed with Danavans. The ultimate aim was to reduce Harlequin influence in the Danavan breeding stock.

He said Danavans had created the Gods to govern humans. He said the origins of the Seventh are unknown.

The discussion with Waltor dragged on inconclusively for a time. Though Seda once attempted violence, Waltor forbore retaliation and there did not seem to be occasion for the kind of bloody vengeance for which the miracle of Vilcanat had prepared us. The discussion petered out and Waltor and his leopard went on his way.

We questioned Kirbur on what he had heard. He seemed unperturbed by the suggestion that Danavans may have created the human gods. He gestured to his knife, which was of Danavan manufacture but serves him well enough to kill Danavans with. The allusion to our gods was clear enough. Sharun would later speculate that when Kirbur had said that he used to be a priest of Vilcanat, he might have been hinting that he had achieved a much higher status within the cult of Vilcanat. Major miracles are normally the province of saints. Perhaps Waltor's revelations were not unthinkable to those to whom the mysteries have already been revealed?

To Alcus

We commenced the long journey home, believing we had serious news to impart. Melrano was left in Talistar with little to console him. We rode the long leagues of Kalmar and Matora alert for Fontarbrian spies, but did not engage with those Fontarbrians we encountered. In Vinaria, we enquired of the Blue Gryphon, but heard nothing.

On returning to Alcus, we imparted our news to the Baron of the apparent capture of the nameless Danavan. After consideration, it appeared that the only prudent course was to inform the Danavan ambassador. Sharun attended to the ambassador (Ci Lar Shøl Dræv) and explained how the nameless Danavan had come to depart on a mission to investigate the human King of Fontarbria and how it appeared the Danavan had been captured.

There were surprisingly few recriminations.

The Ambassador was concerned with two matters. The first was the rise of the Seventh; the second was how the nameless Danavan might be rescued.

It appears that the Seventh is a long-standing enemy of the Danavans. At some point in history, long before our ken, the Seventh had risen in power amongst humans. The Danavans responded with a war of enormous severity, even by their inhumanly merciless standards. The power of the Seventh was eradicated at the cost of untold suffering. Discussions with the Ambassador were on the contours of how a similar war might need to be fought again, with the implication that Histra would fight alongside the Danavans. This war might be of a different nature to that in the past, when the followers of the Seventh were less clearly defined. Now, those followers are clearly identified with the temporal power in Fontarbria. Sharun suggested that the ability of the priests of Biladon to identify Aroks of the Seventh might also permit a more focused assault that that which occurred in the bygone era, which seemed closer to a wholesale slaughter of humans by demons.

In relation to the rescue of the nameless Danavan, the Ambassador pressed us as to where it might be held captive. We suggested that the most fruitful place to search would be the Fontarbrian capital, Tobara. We decided that a combined party of Alcurans and Danavans would travel there by the quickest route possible. This, it transpired would not be the landward route, nor the seaward route to the East. Instead we would travel by Danavan bark westward to the coast of Fontarbria, and overland thereafter.

To Fontarbria

The mission was arranged with surprising haste. We boarded a simple Danavan vessel soon after. It was crewed by four Danavans and a further seven demons were expressed to be the Danavan part of the rescue team. One member of that team, one Te En Gon Al (a young Danavan with colouration of cobalt blue) spoke Histran and interacted with us. There were two Shøl Dræv and four others whose clans we did not recognise.

The journey was wondrous fast. After only 13 days travel, we set eyes on the Eastern realms of Timoria, a mountainous land covered in jungles. We turned south and back to open sea.

After a few more days, we saw more land. This was rough territory of uplands, pine forest and heath. We were told we were in the territory of the Alkori, who once worshipped Danavans. The northern Alkori were the people who fled to Tibulanus after they had been displaced by the Kranthori invasion.

After several further days, we saw Tibulani-style longships, which we took to be Alkori. They kept their distance. Days later, we passed the Alkori islands, and then returned to open sea. After another week, we made landfall in Fontarbria.

The Danavan team of seven – all with the same style sword, bows, armour, led by a big revenant who seemed to be their war leader – debarked, as did we. Leaving the vessel, we made for Tobara.

Travelling under cover of night with the Danavan war party as guides, we reached Tobara with surprisingly little incident. The capital is a large city on a lake. The two places which most interested us were the citadel within the city and a royal palace on an island which is connected to the city by a bridge. These were the places most likely to hold a prisoner such as the nameless Danavan. We also wished to learn the extent to which worship of the seventh had spread beyond the Court. We decided that the Alcurans would infiltrate the city and spend a day scouting; the Danavans would infiltrate the following night with a view to making an attempt on the most likely prison.

The scouting mission disclosed a well-ordered city not in any apparent state of terror of the Seventh. We entered a shrine of Biladon and questioned a priest there with a view to establishing whether there is any resistance to the Seventh. There is not. It appears that the major cults have come under the sway of the subversive religion. Sometime previously, royal decrees had begun to issue, the tone of which indicated that the Seventh would be regarded as superior to the six major gods and would coordinate the efforts of those gods. The implication was one of reproach – that the established gods and their cults had failed to pursue their proper work, which is the annihilation of demons. Fontarbria was adopting a posture better suited to fighting demons, with a particular focus on Cathnaeron.

The tenor of the young priest's account gave us the impression that he was in agreement with the royal policy. By extension, this was a hint that there is not necessarily any great opposition to the agenda of the Seventh amongst the cults it has subjected. The priest himself indicated that his place would, in due course, be at the front, and he did not evince displeasure at the prospect.

The priest also indicated that the captured Danavan had been paraded through the city some months ago to the citadel.

We scouted the citadel and identified an appropriate place for infiltration.

That night, six of the seven Danavans entered the city. We brought them to the Citadel and, as a group, infiltrated it. The sorcerer was of great assistance in diverting the guards.

Our interest was piqued by a new building which had the impression of being a temple. We entered and investigated, searching both for signs of a prison and information about the cult of the Seventh. There was not much information about either. The prisoner was not detained in or under the temple, and the temple was devoid of statuary or other cult objects. The most distinctive element was a geometric pattern on the floor. (This was laid out as five squares by five squares inlaid in a larger circular depression with a recessed star pattern becoming deeper on opposite corners of the square.)

We were interrupted by two men who entered the temple from an internal door which linked the temple to the keep of the Citadel. We apprehended the men and put them to the question. One was a noble, one Count Karniad, and the other Kestute, a courtier. While we were questioning them a third man, also a noble, followed the first two. We learned from the three that the Danavan prisoner was being held under the keep. We used one to lead us through the internal door and into the keep where, after some engagements, we located the prisoner and released it.

For a prisoner which had been held for months by its enemies, the Danavan was in remarkably good condition. It laughed at the surprise which its former captors had endured at their failure to break him. He quickly confirmed that the Royal Court is deeply under the sway of the Aroks. The primary Arok is a courtier called Algirte, but the King of Fontarbria himself is also an Arok.

We asked how he had been captured by the humans and he said “They shot me full of arrows”, which was not really an answer to the question.

The citadel itself was by now roused by our incursion, and we egressed under arms and with the aid of Danavan sorcery. Our three prisoners were killed while trying to escape and raise the alarm. The nameless Danavan later told us that the third man we had captured, named Samotir, had been the leader of the loyal opposition in Fontarbria, the main faction set against the growth in power of the Seventh.

The city being roused, we left it quickly.

Outside the city, we conferred about the best route to safety. The Danavan party did not seem entirely at ease in the company of the prisoner they had travelled so far to liberate.

It was decided that the Danavan party of seven would return to their vessel in a manner likely to draw attention to themselves. Under this cover, we and the nameless Danavan would proceed in the opposite direction to Cathnaeron.

To Cathnaeron

On our travels, we asked the Danavan its views on the provenance of the Seventh. It reflected on the fact that the Danavan rescue party which had accompanied us had seven members, of which six entered the city and the seventh remained outside to ensure the success of the mission. It said this was typical of the approach of Danavans to such situations. Having regard to Waltor's story of the creation of the six human gods by the Danavans, the implication of this reflection was clear.

After hard leagues of travel, we passed through the heavily fortified Cathnaeron marches and reached the forests at the boundary of that demon nation. Accosted by frontier guards, the nameless Danavan engaged them in conversation. In a tone that we might have mistaken, but sounded like one of introduction, we heard him say:

“Ca Lai Brø Ol”

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Tyrant's Heart

Some months after our return from Sinarqa, Waltor, Tylora and I went three separate ways in order to pursue the various agendas of which I have written.

Waltor' s missions with mages

Waltor traveled to Bar Likan in Tibulanus with an etching of the Sinarqan stone. He hoped to gain certain insights in the process, but unfortunately Tokan Liod and his Talons were not present. It seemed that some pockets of resistance remained in northern Tibulanus which Tokan had not yet annihilated and he was eager to finish the job.

Tokan's man Skutan met Waltor and effected the exchange of quatrains. The two received by Waltor were as follow:

Quatrain 1
Reported to have been in the Imperial Palace in Kartaga

Across the Narrow Sea
With Earthen Shell in thrall
The Seventh ascends in
Fearful cataclysm

Quatrain 9
Located in the Chapel of Qor Rolanre in Fontarbria

Key to forgotten dead
Among skull and carcass
Near cities never free
Powerful Well of Souls

The first quatrain is truly terrifying, given that our continent is across the sea from Kartaga.

On his return to Matora, Waltor discussed various matters with his master Sharun, who indicated pleasure with Waltor's progress. Sharun told Waltor what his master piece was to be. Waltor's task is to travel to Apertus; recover the sword of Taran Kun which the legendary King of Shanaras used to slay the Dragon; and learn its secrets. This project was understood to be one which would take some years to complete. We later discussed the matter between ourselves, and I undertook to try persuading my father to fund the expedition in return for certain matters being arranged, including that Waltor would take up a residence in Alcus and that the sword would be made available if it ever needed to slay demons or servants of the Seventh.

Tylora travels to Karia

In an effort to gather more information on the sword of Taran Kun, Tylora travelled to Karia in search of Cermano, the priest of Iosre who had previously been most informative. The temple was deserted. Tylora made inquiries about the priest's whereabouts, but little information was forthcoming. It appears that Cermano returned home to Cuinar with little warning to his few friends in Karia.
The unreliable Danavan shares further information
I remained in Vinaria, awaiting the arrival of my father the Baron. I anticipated that my father would not delay in traveling, because the veterans of the Long March had succeeded in their great quest and returned to Matora with the remains of the late Prince Hemarl. My father would want to pay his respects.
While there, I had a lengthy interview with the Danavan Ke’Ala Sol Ka. He asked if we had met with Ambassador Ne'Ol Bre Os. Given that we had been sworn to secrecy, I did not disclose to Ke’Ala any element of our conversation with the Ambassador, despite that it is clear from the context that Ke’Ala is the one Danavan whom the Ambassador does not need to hide the conversation from. I did indicate that we were aware that Ke’Ala had not given us an accurate account of the facts known to him, and that he was a member of the Sol Ka clan. I also told him that we had been sworn not to talk about certain matters. From these things, he may well have drawn certain correct inferences about our trip to Karia, without my having forsworn myself.

He asked about the Kartagi knife. I said that it was no longer in my family's possession and that I could not, in honour, discuss its provenance. He was not pleased to hear this, but did not press the matter. I offered the information that his fellow Danavan had been hiding in Sinarqa, but gave the impression that this information was of no interest to him.
Ke’Ala, in response to my questions, asserted his belief that Shalebrol was one and the same as “Ca’Lai Brø Ol”, the Danavan Great Player. I asked him how a Danavan could become a Divine Servitor and he said: “In the same way as all other Divine Servitors; he was called and he answered.” Ke’Ala hinted that he knew even more revolutionary facts but he declined to share them on the grounds that to learn them would threaten my sanity. Whether this was truth, or hyperbole, or another of the outright lies which it is his wont to tell us, remains to be seen.
I asked about the myth which indicated that Shalebrol was a dragon. He explained this by reference to the ambiguous use of the word “dragon” in the Danavan language. “Dragon” is an epithet given to anyone (Danavan, human or otherwise) who commits some great act of creation or destruction. Shalebrol, prior to having being called to be a Divine Servitor, committed such an act when he destroyed a river flowing through a human city in eastern Apertus. Such earth-shattering actions were not unknown in the war between humans and Danavans.
Ke’Ala described the creation of the Harmorian Sea as the work of such Danavan “dragons”, who performed some terrible feat of sorcery in what was then a great plain. The sorcery broke the earth and created the Harmorian Sea.
Ke Ala said that he was about to depart for Darazi for the pilgrimage which many of his kind make. He revealed that some Danavans are native to Darazi, their forebears never having left in the great exodus. Those Darazi Danvans resent the descendants of those who fled. As a reward for my assistance in securing him passage on a ship for part of his journey to Darazi, Ke’Ala told me the seven Great Roles of the Danavans, which are as follows:
Keratok – she discovers the truth by stinging the conceited
Shaenastoi – he restores balance by betraying the mighty
Turachaern – he sacrifices himself to save his people
Vesa Kai - he makes mistakes so that others can learn
Danaktun – he does his duty no matter what the cost
Forusna – she keeps her promises
Maktunos (“the Drake”) - she creates, she destroys
I asked him about the Ygril, the demons who inhabit Darazi. He described them as being taller than Shanir, broader of arms, but not as squat. Their appearance is vaguely mammalian and they have thick, leathery skin.

He clarified certain facts about the Danavan island of Moeldaeron. He also said that the population of humans in Timoria is low but did not shed any light on the reason why those humans were subjected by the Shanir.
The Years Turn

At this time, the war against Shanaras took a disastrous turn for the Ankherans. At the battle of Montrelis, King Votlira was killed. Shortly thereafter, his son and heir, Sienan died during the siege of Shanmalik. The news threw the kingdom into turmoil, worsened by the fact that the surviving heir, King Sienan's son Nijhad, was a nine year old boy.

The consequences of the wars between the Kingdoms of Ankheras, Shanaras and Histra were many. One of the least significant for the kingdoms at large – but of great consequence for our small fellowship – was that our plan to travel to Apertus was deferred for a number of years.

Tylora and Waltor remained in Matora to develop their respective careers and to research the matters described below, while I returned to Alcus to assist my father. My focus was in developing the maritime commerce of the Barony, and to position Alcura among those who worked towards a diplomatic end to the wars.

Such a peaceful approach was very difficult in the early years. The humiliation of Ankheran arms at the hands of the Shanarans forced Histra to aggressively prosecute our own war against Shanaras. It was not until King Nijhad of Ankheras came of age, appointed Hadraden Matora his Marshall and resumed hostilities with Shanaras that a peace could be made with the Shanarans, albeit at spear-point.

We are Elevated

Sadly, our own dear father passed away some time after that. The duties of the barony – including providing for the succession by marrying and later siring children – kept us from pursuing the long-held dream of accompanying Tylora, Waltor and Yloe to Apertus on our mission. However, during that time we did not neglect the long-term objective of establishing a group within Alcus dedicated to continuing the study of the various arcane matters with which our friends, family and ourselves have been concerned for may years. A few trusted counsellors are part of this very discreet group, which is now based around the new Temple of Biladon near the citadel of Alcus, maintained by Bishop Gieron.

Researches Continue

Over the years, Tylora and Waltor's industry provided us with useful clues in advance of the mission we proposed to undertake. Waltor learned that the site in question is on a plateau region dominated by gorges east of the Free Cities and north of Delchara. That is to say, well inside Apertus, but roughly near where the tribes of Wagetal, Praghis, Getal and Relai were originally based before being transported to Kalmar. There is a ruined Niban fortress nearby. Waltor furnished us with a sketch of the area, based on long-term attempts by a Master of the Order to descry the location.

The Free Cities

Tylora's researches into the heathen barbarians of Apertus disclosed some means by which we might survive our trip into that country. The Apertans do not trade and raiding is the only common form of interaction they have with either Shanaras or the Free Cities.
They do not write, nor do they practice agriculture. If one sees them before they see one and one approaches them without weapons, one is their guest. They do not breach their own laws of hospitality. They will give one a decent head start before hunting one after one leaves their presence. Less contentious partings can be arranged if gifts are exchanged and promises made.

Tylora also made efforts to learn more about Sinarqua and its fate. The only hint she could find at the reason for Fontarbria's wrath is as "vilest treason". In Fontarbrian law this is a term used for violation of the King's person (his life, his wife, eldest unmarried daughter or heir). Other forms of high treason are the usurpation of the great offices of the Kingdom, levying war against the King, and giving aid and comfort to traitors or to the King's enemies.

Fragments and references to older texts exist which suggest (though not without contradiction elsewhere) that the name of the Kingdom was Sinarqa, but that the name of the city was Sinas and its port Torpedis. The royal line of Sinarqa was formed from a cadet family of the Kings of Kranthor and tallies of the line of succession vary from 10 to 16 Kings.

As we came closer to our departure for Apertus, Iavaran (the younger) volunteered as a guide, despite his father's misgivings. Our former guardian Ventakesh had formed a small mercer house of 6 lances since our last expedition, and we retained him for escort duty. We were to travel incognito, such that Alcuran men-at-arms would be entirely out of place, so Ventakesh was our only protection.

Final Preparations and Departure

In the period prior to our departure, Tylora and Waltor (who had since married each other) moved to Alcura to assist with the final preparations. They, Yloe and ourselves were to be joined by Grond, an adventurer with a colourful past and a strong sword arm who had proven to be a valuable man to have in many difficult spots during the years of conflict with Shanaras. We eventually set out for the Free Cities, from where we planned to move into Apertan country.

We made landfall in Shaliok, the largest of the Free Cities. It is one of the most impressive cities of the world, with impossibly high walls and vast fortifications. We did not linger long to see the many wonders there, but pressed on to Alfiok, which is not as great a city as Shaliok but nevertheless wondrous in many respects. We were anxious to move promptly, bearing in mind the death penalty for all mages who enter that city, and the fact that young Iavaran could only be regarded as a deadly enemy by his uncle, the Highlord, if discovered. We stayed only long enough to allow the Alcuran factor in Alfiok to arrange mounts and pack-horses for our group, and for him to purchase an Apertan slave called Xephirax, who proved to be a trusty guide during the months of our travels.

We travelled upriver for as far as we could, before debarking and pushing east across the undulating plains. The land was featureless but oddly attractive; the people were precisely the opposite. Squat, ill-featured and waddle-gaited, the heathen Apertans are people of rude manners and unpleasant food. We bribed our way into the good graces of many tribes and learned some of their customs. We learned that in times of peace, it is wise to approach an encounter openly, with hand raised in greeting and pocket full of silver. In times of war (that is, when the Apertans are fighting each other or the Free Cities), the wise course is to avoid encounters and ignore strangers who are armed for war; even a friendly greeting might lead to confrontation. Xephirax helped ensure that we caused no heinous offence.

Our Quest Successful

Eventually, we reached the highland region which (Waltor had been advised) contained the old Niban fortress which was our landmark. Rolling grassland gave way to scrubby hills and narrow gullies, and the land seemed deserted until we came across a grisly warning. A totemic structure of spears and skulls was (Xephirax said) a warning against entry into an area, which warning we ignored.

After several days of exploration, we discovered an old fortress of an architectural style we did not recognise but one may assume is Niban/Harmorian. The fortress was perched at the edge of a plateau within the highlands. Near to the fortress stood four large animal statues, which had weathered well and still retained shining jewels for eyes. Several gullies close to the fortress contained areas overgrown with ivy, which Ventakesh's lancers began to clear while the rest of us explored the fortress and environs.

The ivy concealed the two decisive clues we sought. Under one patch the lancers found the entrance to a subterranean tunnel; under the other was the skeletal remains of a mighty beast, the skull of which measured two yards in length, and contained fearsome fangs. Undoubtedly, this was the carcass of King Votlr's dragon. Excitedly, we entered the caves in search of the sword that killed the beast.

The tunnel was, for a few spans, submerged in water, and our exploration would have been unproductive but that the mage Waltor brought us through the depths by magical means. Pushing onward, we reemerged in daylight into a copse of trees. There we found the object of our searches. An ancient sword of a type we had never seen jutted from the trunk of an ancient oak. Waltor drew the sword, sure that his quest had been successful. We returned to our camp, making ready to depart at first light.

The morning brought unwelcome visitors. Five Apertan riders overlooked our camp, and one approached once he was sure that he had our attention. His words were curt; we could leave the place, but all that we had found must remain. Xephirax suggested that if we could see five then we should expect twenty or thirty tribesmen to be hidden around the hills, especially since the group we could see included a chieftain and a shaman. We could not beat such a number here, on their home ground, so fighting the apostate savages was not a realistic option. Instead, we outwitted them.

Returning to the site where we had discovered the sword, Waltor thrust it as deeply as he could into the same trunk from whence he had withdrawn it the night before. We broke camp and marched away, as if defeated. Several days later, when our party was safely distant, Waltor returned to the tree by magical means. Seizing the sword once more, he returned to us, successful.

Unhappy Homecoming

Our long march back to Alfiok was uneventful, and on reaching it we laid low for several weeks, wishing to avoid the attentions of the local authorities who are so fiercely hostile to mages and undesirable nephews. Our factor arranged passage back to Alcura by ship.

On reaching home, a new crisis presented itself. It appears a party of Danavans had, in our absence, arrived at the gates of our keep alleging a breach of the Treaty of Riklopej. Denied entry, they blasted the gates with dark Danavan sorcery, killing several men-at-arms. Entering the keep, they kidnapped our lady wife, one of her ladies and several Alcuran nobles. Their threat on departure was that they would return in a year, demanding an answer to their (baseless) allegation.

The demons were said to carry with them a trussed and bound Danavan, said to be their ambassador to Karia.

We endeavoured to learn as much as we could about the Danavan wars and the Treaty of Riklopej which ended the second war. We were aided in our researches by the mages Adrieste and Sharun and the royal chancery in Karia.

We learned that Iarnos, a mage and founder of Waltor's order was the one who brought Albert I (first king of Histra after the Fontarbrian period) back from exile. Iarnos died in the Second Danavi war.

Adrieste indicated that the Sol Ka clan came to power 50 years before the second war, deposing the Clan Skri Tai. She speculated that this fact, combined with the warlike approach of the Danavans a similar period after the demise of the Sol Ka, may indicate a trend to warlike behaviour early in the Danavan cycle of power.

A copy of the Treaty of Riklopej was sent to us from Karia, and from it we learned of a number of provisions of which we had previously been ignorant. These included the following articles:

“Seven- that any Moeldaeran exiles or outlaws shall be brought before the Ambassador unharmed and without delay.
Ten- that any Moeldaerans who break Histran laws shall be brought before the Ambassador unharmed and without delay.”

We inquired if there had been any known disputes over the Treaty. We found no disputes, but learned that several of the articles of which we had been ignorant had been invoked at different times. For example, approximately 100 years ago a Danavan ran rampant in an Ankheran town. The sheriff took him to King, the King to the ambassador, and penalty was administered.

We also learned that letters had been sent from the embassy to the successor kings after the Sol Ka exile, notifying those kings of that exile.

We learned a little of the manner in which the Danavans wage war. Their methods are monstrous and barbaric; they do not limit themselves to slaying combatants, but murdered all humans indiscriminately, to the extent that large swathes of Histra were laid waste during the Second Danavi war. Some parts of the kingdom never recovered.

We learned that Danavan traders had been paying (in aggregate) less tax than previously in both Karia and Alcus, which led us to suspect that many Danvans traders were staying away in expectation of hostilities.

The Danavans Return, Armed as if for Battle

In due course, a Danavan fleet arrived at Alcus. It was a fearsome sight, and from the number of fat-bellied alien craft, we estimated a thousand Danavan warriors had come to our modest port. We feared a savage treatment at the hands of the demons on foot of their trumped-up charges.

Most of the Danavans remained on their ships, and only a small delegation made its way to our keep. They were led by one Ci Lar Shøl Dræv – judging by his name, a kinsman of the Danavan whose death sparked the Second Danavi war. We thought that a pointed appointment. His colouration was reddish. Shøl Dræv and his guards were armed for war, an unprecedented sight for us.

One was dressed differently. We believed him to be a sorceror. He had an accentuated skull structure and bore no armour. He wore an oddly embroidered outer garment which appeared to bear some form of writing. Waltor later said of the garment that “The letters are Danavan, of an ancient mode, but the language is not one I will utter here....”

Shøl Dræv was hostile and accusatory from the start. He said that Ke'Ala, the Danavan ink merchant we had twice spoken to twenty years previously was in fact a member of the Sol Ka clan. He said that in failing to bring Ke'Ala before the ambassador, we were in breach of the Treaty of Riklopej. Shøl Dræv displayed an astonishing level of knowledge about our activities all those years ago an interrogated us in detail about several matters.

We defended our actions robustly and demonstrated that we could not have committed a breach. We had been aliens in a foreign kingdom and had no ability or authority to apprehend anyone. We had brought Ke'Ala's “letter” to the ambassador indicating that we did not have any inclination to conceal our contact with him. We did not have actual knowledge of the treaty article in question. These and other points, we advanced in our defence.

At the end of a long and harsh meeting Shøl Dræv appeared to relent. He indicated that the Treaty of Riklopej would need to be renegotiated to prevent similar issues arising in future, and that he would return some months hence to do so. The Danavans departed, returning to us the hostages they had taken, apparently unharmed.

We breathed again.

Preparing to Treat with Demons.

We judged that there was still a serious risk that the return of the Danavans would bring war, especially if the treaty negotiations were only to be a sham designed to give them the justification for war which our response to their earlier allegations had denied them.

We arranged to have the treasures of the Barony moved to remote parts of it, in case there was to be war.

We learned that the Go Nal are the new preeminent clan in Moldaeron.

In the intervening period, Waltor conducted further studies on the sword which had been recovered from Apertus. He found that it has some odd characteristics. It apparently is “null magic”, immune to magic effects, though it does not confer any such immunity to its wielder. He transported the sword to his master Sharun in Vinaria for further study and so that it could better be protected.

Travelling with him were Tylora and our lady wife, whom we thought would be safer in Vinaria than here in Alcus, presuming the treaty negotiations between Ankherans and the Danavans would take place at the embassy in Karia. (In that we were wrong – ironically, the negotiations would take place in Vinaria itself).

Foul Revelations

Tylora and Waltor's return brought two shocking and appalling revelations.

One was historic. Tylora's researches disclosed that, during the Second Danavi war, many thousands of human women reported defilement by Danavans and subsequently giving birth to Danavan offspring.

The other was more shocking still. Our beloved wife, recently returned from imprisonment in Moeldaeron, had herself been defiled in the manner of the the Danavan victims of old. Though she had no recollection of it, and though she showed nor felt any signs of pregnancy, she had since her return been carrying some demon's bastard offspring. One night while in Vinaria she took gravely ill and then gave birth to the creature.

Shortly after hearing this awful news – and seeing with our own eyes the wretched infant that Tylora and Waltor carried back from Vinaria – Yloe arrived from the outpost to whence she had brought the Barony's treasures and the other former hostages. Our wife's lady had also given birth to a Danavan bastard, though neither she nor any other hostages had any recollection of any defilement or opportunity for it to have occurred.

Quite apart from the mortal insult to our noble house, this development gave rise to a terrible dread. What if the Danavans periodically seek war against humans precisely because they wish to have the opportunity to sire bastards on our women? If so, we were in mortal peril; the treaty negotiations would be a fraud and would end in our slaughter.

We mobilised the Barony for war. The King arrived for the parley with some force, but declined to mobilise the entire kingdom. We sent a priest of Nebilo to warn the other kingdoms of these developments, and suggested they try to have a clause inserted into their respective treaties to prohibit the defilement of Histran women by Danavans.

Talons Reveal Provenance of the Sword

Shortly before the date on which the Danavans were due to arrive, two of Tokan Liod's Talons arrived unheralded to Alcus. Etrao and Billador expressed the grave displeasure of their master at the fact that we had brought King Votlr's sword from its resting place. They said the sword had been made by the Tun Rar, a demon race believed now to be extinct.

The purpose of the sword is to confer on its wielder a terrible power over other demons, giving the wielder powers like to a Harlequin, the demon Tyrants. Such a power is far too great to allow the sword to be at large. The Talons claimed that the ancient oak grove in which the sword had been hidden had a property which defied demons, and the sword could only be removed by a void-souled human.

Waltor did not accept their statements at face value, but agreed to make all speed with them to Vinaria, there to speak to his master for further guidance as to what to do. The three left at once, Billador pausing only to warn us that he believed that Danavans fight with poison on the edges of their exotic brown metal weapons.

Demons Return

The night before the Danavans were due to return, we faced a raft of difficult choices. Should we attempt to evacuate the city, so to send the demons a message that we would not make it easy for them to defile our women? Should we confront them with the evidence of the ravishment of our wife and her lady? Should we push to insert a clause against future defilement in any new treaty?

After much debate, the King agreed with our proposals as to how to proceed. We would enter treaty negotiations in good faith, hoping the demons would do likewise. We did not evacuate the city, but we briefed the clergy and nobles on Tylora's historical investigations, so that if war did break out, word could quickly be spread about the filthy habits of Danavans in wartime, the better to protect our women. We reserved judgment on how to address the issue of our wife, depending on how the demons behaved.

Shøl Dræv returned on schedule, though with far fewer Danavans than before – more an honour guard for negotiations, than an invading army. Negotiations commenced immediately; they were hard-edged but genuine, and we of Histra conceded relatively little. The Treaty of Alcus is well known and we need not recite its terms here, save to say that the concessions we made were enough to address the concerns the Danavans had raised in their previous visits. No vital interest of Histra was conceded.

Similar treaties were negotiated in Shanaras and Ankheras, though the terms were slightly different, as more onerous than on the human kingdoms. Kalmar concluded no treaty, and made it clear that they do not hold themselves bound by the Treaty of Riklopej, as Kalmar is not properly a successor kingdom to the former Kingdom of Histra.

Because the Danavans seemed to be acting in good faith, we (after receiving the approval of the King) privately raised the defilement of our wife with Shøl Dræv. We produced the issue, which proved our allegation beyond doubt. Shøl Dræv's response was immediate. He went to the docks, made summary inquiries as to which Danavans had been responsible for the custody of the human hostages, and produced two alleged perpetrators.

In an act that is no so celebrated that it requires no elaboration here, Shøl Dræv beheaded one of the perpetrators and we beheaded the other. Justice was done and good faith restored between the parties. The treaty negotiations were concluded.

In the course of those negotiations we established that the Sol Ka are the only Danavan exile clan.

A Demon Assaults the Keep

The night the Treaty was signed, we hosted the Danavans for a feast. It progressed well until the point that the Danavan sorceror En'Tol Shøl Dræv leaped to his feet and warned us that the keep was about to be assaulted. In the tumult that followed, we saw that our walls had been breached by a hideous beast never before seen by any of the humans present. It was dark brown with a mottled shell-like carapace, about 5 feet tall and as many wide. It was clearly a demon, having six limbs. Its two “arms” ended not in hands but in blades. Its insect-like forelegs had joints at an unnatural angle. Its hind legs were more normally structured. It had a great bladed skull with no visible eyes, but fearsome, monstrous teeth. It clearly was a beast of war, and quickly butchered every man-at-arms it encountered in its traverse of the keep on its way to, and through, the main tower. It was clearly headed to Waltor's quarters, so we stood aside from its path in that direction, but formed up for battle in case it came after us in anger when it found that Waltor – and the sword which must have been its objective – were gone.

The creature thrashed Waltor's chambers and then launched itself from their window, careless of the eigthy foot drop into the courtyard. We braced for a fight, but the demon ignored us, skittering with shocking speed from the keep, in the direction of the royal road on which Waltor and the Talons had departed a day before.

The Danavans looked rattled and were glad not to have been forced to fight the new demon. Shøl Dræv named it an “aordi”, a demon war machine used by the Harlequins as shock troops. The Danavans had thought them extinct. The Danavans were curious as to why such a hated enemy from their history should emerge to assault the keep of Alcus and we told them the minimum truth to assuage their curiosity; that Waltor's order had some dispute with the Harlequins which dated back many years. We implied that we were ignorant of the detail of the dispute and no further questions were asked, though we have no doubt that the Danavans will make further investigations; we will take such steps as we can to keep our secrets.

The aordi's attack was proof enough to our mind that the Talons had told the truth; clearly this sword was connected with Tyrants to some extent. Sadly, we had no way of warning Waltor of the coming threat, and we could trust only to his strength, and that of his Talon companions.

Waltor Returns and all our Friends Depart

Some months later, Waltor returned with the Tun Rar blade. He explained that the aordi had attacked him the night he arrived at Sharun's home in Vinaria. Waltor, his master and the Talons had combined to destroy the demon, though all sustained severe injury. The incident had been sufficiently frightening to have Sharun agree to the return of the blade to its resting place in the glade in Apertus. We had anticipated that plan, and had a ship ready to depart for the Free Cities. All those who had traveled on the original quest would return with Waltor, with the exception of ourself and the absent Iavaran. We decided to remain in Alcus to avoid the problems a prolonged departure might provoke in those turbulent times.

In particular, Alcus had been selected for the location of the new Danavan embassy to Histra pursuant to the Treaty of Alcus, and we were concerned to ensure that no difficulties arose in its establishment. Though the treaty negotiations had gone well, it could not be said that the Danavans were welcome guests, especially as word had spread about their rapacious nature in wartime.

We expected that our friends, under the careful guidance of Xephirax and protected by Ventakesh and his lancers, would be able to conclude their task. Waltor assured me that he had spent much time preparing and saving many spells which could quickly be unleashed to devastate any enemy, and this gave us great comfort. It struck us how strong and confident the man had grown, far removed from the scrawny lad we had first met so many years before in the University in Vinaria. With his beloved wife Tylora and our constant friends Yloe and Grond to protect him, we trusted that there was no danger on the road that could prevent this achieving his goal.

Sadly, as we write these words, we must admit that we were wrong. Two summers and two winters have passed since our dear friends left on their vital mission and no word has come to us of their fate. Our factor in Alfiok has heard nothing, though we have promised him a fine reward if he can bring me news of our friends' fate. We must now conclude that some awful fate has befallen them. While it is possible that they concluded their mission before meeting that destiny, we must assume the worst; that some agent of the Harlequins has killed them and stolen the sword of Tun Rar. Demon Tyrants may again terrorise this part of the world.

We must now turn to the unpleasant task of writing to Tokan Liod, Adrieste, and the Temple of Mantniaras in Karia to warn them of this development. Our vigils, already worried by the threat of the Seventh and the renewed rise of Fontarbria, will now be punctuated by a new terror.

May Biladon guard us from harm, and may the righteous ever keep watch against our enemies.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The 1st Quatrain

Across the Narrow Sea  
With Earthen Shell in thrall  
The Seventh ascends in  
Fearful cataclysm  

Reported to have been in the Imperial Palace in Kartaga
The first quatrain is truly terrifying, given that our continent is across the sea from Kartaga.


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