Tuesday 12 February 2008

The Lords of Midnight

Background to our Arrival in Vinaria

I, Wodarn Salosa-Alcura, wrote this account pursuant to the instruction of my father Roan, the Baron Alcura, to chronicle my activities in Vinaria. This injunction was given as I departed Alcus for Vinaria to commence my candidacy at Prince Hemarl's College.

The kingdoms of the former Histra had, for several years, enjoyed a peace unknown in the younger days of my father. With the exception of raiding between Histra and Shanaras, the Kingdoms were at peace amongst themselves. The threat which so concerns my father – from the Fontarbrian Empire – had (and has) yet to result in any tangible ill effect. The Fontarbrian King, Talzim, had concentrated his military efforts on the closer countries, Harmoria and Tuonetar.
I arrived in Vinaria with my companion Yloe, a postulant of Mantniaras. By arrangement between our three fathers, Yloe and I were joined in halls by Waltor Hemtanath, a child prodigy dedicated to becoming a magus. After taking up residence in our hall, we met another candidate called Tylora Hemtanath, a postulant of Mantniaras.
We chose as our master for the year one Melrano, a Dyrian with an interesting perspective on various matters over and above his core subjects. We had trouble making our lectures on time. Young Waltor, on being upbraided for tardiness, refused to accept that he was late. “A wizard is never late,” has said “nor is he ever early. He always arrives exactly when he wants to!”
Adrieste's Hospitality
Not long after commencing college, we four were invited to dine with the magus and historian Adrieste and her assistant Vol. An exchange was made of the Akharoli quatrain of Alfiok for the quatrain of Aleso, further to an agreement previously made between Adrieste and our fathers. Adrieste also imparted some news which greatly troubled young Tylora, being that her true father was not Tanath, but rather a man called Garryl.
On visiting the Temple of Belgris, Tylora contacted the spirit of this Garryl, thus establishing the truth of Adrieste's statement. This Garryl was a member of the companionship of our fathers which had slain the Arok. The spirit suggested that the Arok had been his own father, Garryl Taresadar.
Learning this surprising news, we had a long discussion with Adrieste. She speculated that, as Aroks must somehow be created, perhaps the original Arok which had been captured in Karia had infected Garryl at some point and then moved to Fontarbria. The two would then have been able to communicate. However no light was shone on the timing of Garryl's transformation into an Arok, so it is unclear whether he was in that evil state during the period when he was a companion of my grandfather, or only entered it at a subsequent point.
Our discussion turned to the meaning of the Alfioki quatrain. Adrieste had a surprising insight that the Son of Fire, if translated to Danavan, would read “Ca Lai Brø Ol”, the pronunciation of which is very close to “Shalebrol”. This led to a discussion of whether the divine servant Shalebrol could have been a Danavan by birth or adoption. This in turn led to discussions of what we knew about Danavans.
Adrieste said that the Danavans originated in Darazi, in the great central desert of the Northern continent. It was in Darazi that the gods and humans first arrived. The Danavans were driven from Darazi and divided into their two nations, Moeldaeron and Cathnaeron. The nation of Moeldaeron, despite living on a faraway island, is the nation with which Histra has most dealings; very few of the nearby Cathnaeron Danavans travel in our lands
(The northern continent is now occupied by the demon Ygril to the north, and by humans in settlements on the southern coast. The great central desert of that continent is now reputed to be largely empty.)
In the context of that discussion, we considered the attack of the Harlequin (in the time of my great-grandfather) on the magus Laracer, who had been investigating the decline of the temples of Shalebrol. A Danavan connection to Shalebrol might explain why the demon-general Harlequins might take an interest in a member of the pantheon (presuming Laracer's studies were the reason for the Harlequin's attack). It was also noted by Adrieste and Waltor that, at the zenith of the Moon of Shalebrol, magic is more difficult to perform. Adrieste said that in times long past it was easier to perform when the Moon of Shalebrol was full. This led to further hypothesising that the Harlequin(s) might somehow be suppressing Shalebrol to the detriment of human magic.
Adrieste, on being told of our grandfathers' meeting with a Danavan elder, suggested that his lack of coloration indicated that he was a “revenant”, a venerable Danavan who has lost his clan-distinguishing features. She was skeptical of his being an “emperor”, but suggested that he may have been a clan leader. She also said that Danavan sorcery is unlike human magic, and involves capturing using the magic of others, of the by taking their hearts or other organs.
Our conversation with Adrieste ended with a question that she could not answer, namely how it was that the Arok in Karia in our great-grandfathers' time found itself captured, bearing in mind its formidable powers. Adrieste did not know. We asked a number of questions which Adrieste thought impertinent, leading young Waltor to warn us: “Do not meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger!”
Whether as a result of these discussions or otherwise, Adrieste later sent us word that we had been invited to discuss these various matters with Tokan Liod or his representatives. Choosing to interpret this as an invitation to Tibulanus, we accepted it as such, and made plans to travel to that place at the end of the college year.
Assassinations and Invasions
Not long after this meeting with Adrieste, the lad Waltor, by magical means, overheard a conversation between three veterans of the Thousands Swords in which they discussed a plan to return to Fontarbria, recover Hemarl's remains and assassinate King Talzim.
We disclosed this discussion to Tanath, Waltor's father, who brought us to Prince Hadraden to be questioned about what we had overheard. We were not told the outcome of our revelation, but were treated most hospitably at court from that time on.
Through our contacts at court we learned news of developments in Otgaidar. Hadraden's neighbours in Iaradar, apparently taking advantage of the last fine days of autumn, invaded his Kingdom. They may or may not know that word of the invasion reached Vinaria by ship before the winter came in, and Hadraden will therefore be in a position to send a relieving force as soon as spring comes in.
Dining with a Danavan

Our interest piqued by our conversation with Adrieste, we sought out a Danavan ink merchant with the intention of luring him into conversation. He was far more forthcoming than we hoped. After a conversation in the marketplace, this Danavan, whose name was Ke'Ala, agreed to join us for dinner, at which we learned much about Danavan politics and mythology.

The Sol Ka, members of whose clan our fathers encountered, were the pre-eminent clan of the nation of Moeldaeron for many years. The Sol Ka remained too long in their privileged position. The other clans turned on them and they were exiled, a process which is akin to outlawry. If members of the other clans of Moeldaeron meet with members of the Sol Ka, they will kill them if they can.

Other clans have been exiled in Danavan history, perhaps as many as six. Ke'Ala said that he was not able to name all of the exiled clans. He said that he had never heard of a clan called Brø Ol, so it is possible that a clan by this name may have been exiled long ago (thus fitting in with the hypothesis about Shalebrol).

The Cathnaeron Danavans almost never travel in the human lands. Ke'Ala said that he meets one occasionally, often posing as a Moeldaeron Danavan in order to avoid taxes. For every 20 Moeldearon Danavans here, there might be one Cathnaeron Danavan. Cathnaeron Danavans are identifiable to humans by the way that they dress in rustic fashion and travel armed.

To explain the answers to our questions, Ke'Ala gave us some insight into Danavan history and religious/ethical structures. In these matters, the most important historical figures include the seven Great Ancestors, and the important religious/ethical positions are held by the “Players”, including the most important of these, the “Great Players”.

The seven Great Ancestors led the Danavans from Darazi. When the humans and their gods triumphed over the Danavans, the Great Ancestors split. Three went with the Moeldaeron Danavans; three with the Cathnaeron Danavans; and the seventh returned to Darazi with some plan for glory in mind.

Tylora pointed out the symmetry between this seventh Great Ancestor and the Seventh who opposes the gods.

In relation to the religious/ethical figures, we learned that each of the seven Great Players plays a “role”, which we speculated might be analogous to the division of spheres of influence which the human gods have achieved. Ke'Ala was extremely reticent about what these roles might be, and declined to admit any correspondence with the spheres of the human gods.

In addition to the Great Players, there are 42 Players. These play the same roles as the Great Players, such that for each role there is one Great Player and six Players. To our mind it appeared that Players might be the equivalent of human Saints, and Great Players the equivalent to human gods. That analogy may be somewhat flawed, as players do not necessarily serve the Great Player corresponding to their role. Also, Players have a political significance. For example, Cathnaeron is troubled by Harlequins, about a dozen of which are active in that country. Resistance to the Harlequins is led by the Players.

Ke'Ala was dismissive of the idea of the Danavans ever returning to Darazi. He felt this would (among other disadvantages) lead to conflict with humans. He also said that Danavans are not friendly with the Ygril who live on that continent.

Ke'Ala was unable to answer all of our questions, so we took the audacious step of asking whether we might be introduced to the Danavan ambassador in Karia (who may be the same gentleman whom our great-grandfathers met after witnessing the Harlequin assassinate the magus Laracer). Surprisingly, he agreed to write a letter of introduction which was to gain us admission that coming midwinter break.

After this long and interesting discussion, I asked if there was any trade opportunity in Alcus which might interest Ke'Ala. I had expected him to request some concession in honey or the like, but his answer was very surprising. He said that he had heard about the incident in which some “demons” attacked a ship in Alcus some years ago. He also described the knife which one of the "demons” dropped and which was recovered by our family.

He wanted to trade for the knife and hear all about its provenance. He clearly has heard about the knife of the Kartagi Imperial Assassin held in Alcus.

Looking for Guidance

We sought guidance from Tanath, who expressed great displeasure at the idea of dealing with Danavans in any respect. He referred us to the Kartagi Haakesh, who runs an inn under sign of an Elephant on Vinaria. We sought out Haakesh and explained the situation.

Haakesh was most adamant that the Danavans should never see the knife, which he intimated has some function or property other than the obvious one. He said the knife would be marked in a way that would identify it to its maker, but probably not to an outsider. He suggested that the knife either be returned to its original owner or himself. He seemed to prefer to retain the knife himself and expressed skepticism that the Talon who lost the knife would have survived the fight in which it was lost.

We said that we would suggest to my father that we endeavour to find out, on our visit to Tokan Liod, whether his Kartagi companion still lived. If so, we would offer the knife in exchange for a quatrain of Akharol; if not, we may return it to Haakesh.

At that point I wrote to my father asking for his instructions in the matter, indicating that I would prefer his reply not to issue in haste, so as to give me a defence if any of the interested parties were to complain at my own delay in giving them an answer. Ke'Ala had told us that he would be leaving Vinaria in the spring, to return in the late summer, and I certainly wanted no answer before the spring in case it was bad news for Ke'Ala. I expressed to my father young Waltor's concerns about the safe keeping of the knife. Waltor had asked me: “Is it secret? Is it safe?” but I had been unable to answer.

Conversation with a Veteran

One afternoon, not long before our departure for Karia, we were interrupted in our common room by the arrival of Jarnad, who was looking for Brannan, the warden of our hall. Young Waltor recognized the man as one of the veterans of the Thousand Swords who had been plotting the recovery of Hemarl's remains and the assassination of Talzim. Feeling somewhat guilty about having reported the veterans' plans to Hadraden, we accompanied Jarnad on a social visit to a local inn. He regaled us with many stories of the war, and impressed us with his hatred of Talzim, but shed little light on the details of any plot.

Jarnad had a perspective on the activities of Talzim since the end of the war. He thought that, in waging war against Tuonetar and Harmoria first, Talzim might be following some strategic logic similar to the logic followed by the early kings of Fontarbria in the sequence of their conquests. Jarnad had been traveling outside Vinaria since the time we discovered his plot and was unaware of developments in Vinaria since then. We left him on good terms.

Tylora later observed to young Waltor that it may have been a mistake to report the plot to Hadraden, as Talzim so clearly deserves death. “Deserves it?” rebuked Waltor. “I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement!”

At the Temple of Mantniaras in Karia

Our journey to Karia was uneventful. On arrival, we decided first to pay homage at the temples of gods relevant to our inquiries. We first went to the Temple of Mantniaras, where a priest spoke to us about the nature of the gifts of Mantniaras, including the ability to know secrets and mysteries. We observed that this tied in with Mantniaras' title (the Keeper of Secrets) but the priest counseled us against taking too literal an interpretation of the titles of the gods, as they can sometimes be misleading.

Young Waltor admired a scroll-case held by the temple which was said to hold a scroll on which some great secret was inscribed. The rest of us admired a huge Shanir war-axe and other more compelling heirlooms.

We asked to speak with the Bishop of Mantniaras, who was at first unenthusiastic about admitting us. When I mentioned that I wished to discuss the matter of the killing of one Garryl Taresadar 20 years ago, he immediately admitted us to his inner sanctum of the Temple – a great library – and discussed many matters with us. His predecessor as bishop (the man who our fathers dealt with) had predicted (before his departure from Karia) that some day someone would return to investigate such matters.

It appears that the temple has been conducting inquiries over the years to determine the identity of the Arok, though with little success.

We postulated the involvement of an Arok in the death of King Vanam, based on the extraordinary fact that no priest of Belgris had been able to contact Vanam's memory to determine his will in the matter of the succession. The Bishop (as his priest had done before him) admitted that this fact was surprising. He thought other possible explanations for this fact (such as the possibility of a descendant, having contacted Vanam, heard unwelcome news, and killed the priest to suppress the story) were unlikely. He agreed that it was possible that an Arok courtier may have persuaded Vanam to entrust the secret of his chosen successor to that courtier, who then suppressed it for his own reasons.

However, the Bishop did not accept the basis of our belief that Aroks can interfere with the priests of Belgris in contacting souls of the dead. The failure of the former Bishop of Belgris in his attempt to contact Mictila's memory was not sufficient to prove that matter to him, as that attempt was made many years after Mictila's death. He also said that it was not known how Vanam had died – there were conflicting rumours, though it was known that Vanam had been campaigning the year before, so a very slow draining of his life by an Arok seems unlikely.

We addressed the question of the decline of Shalebrol. The priest of Mantniaras had previously mentioned that the decline had commenced c.1,400-1,300 years ago and seemed to have been completed by about 400 years ago. We asked whether there had been any significant event corresponding to the start of the decline of Shalebrol, and the priest had said that he thought it might correspond with to the death of Taran Kun which occurred c.1,400 years ago.

The young priest had agreed that the decline of divine servitors sometimes does correspond with significant events. He used as an example the decline of a divine servitor who had been associated with fertility, particularly in the Niban Empire. In the centuries following the conquest of the Niban Empire by the Fontarbrians, the Niban identity began to go into decline, as did the significance of this divine servitor. By the time that no-one remained who considered themselves to have Niban heritage – that is to say, after centuries of Fontarbrian dominion, and by the time of the emergence of a Harmorian national identity – that divine servitor had disappeared.

Young Waltor raised the issue of dragons, which led the Bishop to refer us to the old lay of Shanaras composed by Cermano, reciting the killing of a dragon by a King of Shanaras and his Earls. Waltor observed that the guide who led the King to the Dragon's lair was called “Iosr”, a name very similar to “Iosre (the Master of Dragons).”

We mentioned to the Bishop that we hoped to speak to the magus Arnoal on our visit to Karia but we did not know where to find him. The Bishop said that Arnoal visits the temple most days and we could find him there.

At the Temple of Iosre

We proceeded directly to the temple of Iosre, which is as low key as one would expect for the temple of such an obscure divine servitor. A young priest, Cermano, greeted us there. Cermano was far more knowledgeable and forthcoming about historic matters than the Bishop of Mantniaras had been. He shared a name with the composer of the lay about the king of Shanaras slaying a dragon and confirmed that the “Iosr” therein mentioned was the divine servitor Iosre.

Cermano emphasized the point previously made to us by another priest that we should not take the titles of the gods too literally. In this context, we took him to mean that Iosre may have acquired his title (Master of Dragons) only because he helped destroy one particular dragon. Cermano did not contradict that interpretation. He said that the gifts of Iosre do not relate to dragons. They relate to do mastering beasts, path-finding in the wilderness and being in the right place at the right time.

At one point in the conversation, he referred to Iosre in the first person (“I am a divine servitor...”) leading one to wonder whether there may be more to this “Cermano” than meets the eye.

Cermano's comments about the titles of the gods may lead us to rethink our assessment of Shalebrol. Could he be Lord of Magic in the same was as Iosre is Master of Dragons, that is to say, that he has or had a negative influence over magic? This is not a theory favoured by young Waltor, who has emphasised the point that, in the time when Shalebrol was still influential, he had a positive effect on magic. Only since his decline has magic become harder to perform at the moon of Shalebrol. Waltor believes that it seems fair to suppose he had a positive relationship with magic – while it lasted.

Cermano told us that the order of magi dedicated to deciphering the quatrains of Akharol are called the Artuli and that their order is 7,000 years old, having been established not long after the arrival of humans into the world. The order is based on a distant continent which is not any continent of which we have ever heard. He declined to name the continent.

Cermano said that he believed that Akharol is not dead, but hiding for purposes of his own. He may or may not have been joking when he said this.

Cermano discussed with us the legend of Taran Kun, the last member of the great Niban demon-slaying order. He mentioned that dragons are the top of the chain of “demons”, being the most powerful of the original inhabitants of the world.

Young Waltor raised the issue of the number of dragons in the world. Though the answer he received was not clear-cut, Waltor was not corrected by Cermano when Waltor mentioned that there may be 40 in the world, though it was not clear if this includes tawny dragons.

Cermano did mention that there had been as many as six wild dragons in Tibulanus, though slayings such as the recorded slaying of a dragon by Taran Kun, and other slayings by the Belydi have reduced the number to perhaps one or two. (The Belydi were a people of the apostate kingdoms Alkor, which is a region on the continent which also includes Kranthor and Kartagakeen. Fleeing from Alkor on the invasion of their country, the Belydi conquered Tibulanus. They gradually integrated into the Tibulani population over the following centuries, rejoining the faith in the process.)

Arnoal the Magus

On the following day, we approached Arnoal the magus in the temple of Mantniaras. After we introduced ourselves, he brought us to his home, a building full of arcane devices. He and his assistant Raliol were helpful in the information they gave but appeared intent on intimidating us.

Our questions related to the Arok(s). Arnoal was able to confirm that there had been two Aroks, as he had set eyes on both of them. The Arok Garryl Taresadar was not the same Arok as had previously been imprisoned in the dungeon of the royal palace. He confirmed that he could not use magic directly against the Arok, but that he had detected the presence of the Aroks indirectly, through certain experiments.

When asked how the Arok could possibly be kept against its will, Arnoal mentioned that there are a small number of people in the world who are impervious to the power of the Aroks. He speculated that the Arok's gaoler may have been one. He also said that the older and more powerful Aroks can influence people outside their immediate presence.

Interview with the Magus

Unfortunately I was forced to depart from Arnoal's home at this stage, having previously made an appointment to attend at the temple of Biladon for that time, on an errand which proved fruitless. I understand from conversation with Waltor and Tylora that they had an extensive conversation with both Arnoal and his companion, Raliol.

After some time, the Magus had to excuse himself and attend to some business. My companions were allowed to peruse the workshop under Raliol’s supervision for a while. Then my companions went on their way.

The salient facts to emerge included the following.

● The Danavan ink merchant Ke'Ala is of the Sol Ka clan. His sending us to the Danavan Ambassador was most likely a sign from the Sol Ka to the other clans
● When Raliol examined the invitation baton given us by Ke'Ala Sol Ka, he dropped it, there was some kind of momentary change in him, too fast to see clearly
● The invitation baton was made of “moonshard” - a euphemism for Danavan bone
● In response to a direct question, Raliol indicated that he is at least 900 years old
● Each member of the Artuli has a dragon familiar – implying that an Artuli is to Waltor as a Dragon is to a cat. Raliol denied that dragons are shapechangers
● It is unusual for an Artuli to retain more than one companion of great longevity

● Arnoal’s workshop contains a great store of arcana, including: a large volume of Shanir lore; a puzzle sacred to Roslof which entranced Tylora and the original acceptance of surrender and re-grant of title by the Fontarbrians to the line of Alcus
● Taran Kun, from the fallen Niban Empire, was the last of the Order of the Thousand Swords. He did not have his mighty Niban blade with him when he arrived in Tibulanus. The Niban blade once possessed by Arnoal was found along the likely route of Taran Kun’s travels from the Niban Empire to Tibulanus. Though it cannot be proved, it seems likely that the two blades are one and the same. The blade Arnoal had was number 713
● Taran Kun translates as ‘Mighty Taran’ or the ‘The Mighty’, further connecting him to the quatrain in which it is written ‘The Mighty slays scores...’

● The magus Laracer, killed by the Harlequin, was mentor to Sharun, Waltor's master

The Ambassador's Hospitality

With some trepidation, we presented the letter of introduction – written by an outlaw, encased in Danavan bone – at the Danavan embassy. We were not received into the embassy, but the ambassador, one Ne'Ol Bre Os, came with us to a local inn, serving us fine wine. Through lack of knowledge about Danavan etiquette, we failed at first to serve him in turn as we should have done, but that matter seemed not to cause any great offence.

The ambassador was remarkably forthright in his discussions with us. Part of the reason why he spoke frankly was that we took oaths (by our own gods and ancestors, not by any demonic means) not to divulge the contents of this conversation with any other Danavans. I was deeply concerned about the making of such an oath to a demon. I remain concerned that some hidden implication may cause me harm in the future. However I am less concerned about this than I was. Having heard what the ambassador had to say, his concern seems to be based in his fear of his own people, arising from his friendship with the outlaw Ke'Ala Sol Ka. In deference to the ambassador's apparent openness toward us, I implore any future reader of this document to maintain the secrecy of the conversation. The ambassador will live for many generations of men; it would be unfortunate if some future revelation of our conversation were to cause him difficulty.

The ambassador indicated that several of the things said to us by Ke'Ala were not correct. It appears that, in feigning ignorance of information which he must certainly have known, Ke'Ala was engineering a situation whereby we would be led to ask the same questions of the ambassador. This, it appears, was Ke'Ala's way of indicating to the ambassador that our questions might be worthy of his (the ambassador's) own investigation.

The ambassador explained some of the causes and consequences of the exile of the Sol Ka clan. Such exile seems to be the (ultimately) inescapable fate of the pre-eminent clan of the day. He said that two great sorcerers of that clan had escaped Moeldaeron. One was En'Nos, who appears to have been in reality the senior member of the group of Danavans met by our grandfathers on the road from Ertures many years ago. The reference to one of that party, Il'Ona, being the “Emperor” of Moeldaeron appears to have been a ruse on the part of the Danavans to conceal the significance of the real leader of the group.

The other great sorcerer to escape was the “ink merchant” himself, Ke'Ala. The ambassador put Ke'Ala's power into context by saying that if Ke'Ala had presented himself at the embassy, the embassy staff would have been obliged to attempt to kill him. That attempt which would probably have led to the deaths of all the Danavans at the embassy.

The greatest of all the Sol Ka to escape was Ala'Ra Sol Ka, the mysterious Danavan who received the assistance of our grandparents in Tibulanus. Ala'Ra is a Great Player. His role is Danaktaen - he who does his duty no matter the cost. The last the ambassador knew about Ala Ra was that the six Players who hold that role went to find him, in an effort to kill and supplant him. We were able to recount the story told by our grandparents, indicating that Ala Ra had killed his pursuers.

The two questions which had led us to the embassy were:
(a) whether there might ever have been a Danavan called Ca Lai Brø Ol and
(b) whether anything further had been learned about the assassination of Laracer by the harlequin.

Regarding the first question, the ambassador confirmed that there was a very important historical figure called Ca Lai Brø Ol. He was a Great Player. His specific role was Vesakae – to make mistakes so that others can learn.

The Brø Ol clan spent themselves in the exodus from Darazi.

Regarding the second question, the ambassador was unaware of any further information. The Harlequin in question had left Karia after assassinating Laracer and returned to its hunting grounds in Cathnaeron.

In respect of both issues, bearing in mind Ke'Ala's evident interest in these points, the ambassador said that he would investigate as best he could, consistent with his duties as ambassador. He thought himself unlikely to learn much while he remained in Karia, which he was likely to do for the next 20 years or so. He suggested that we return at some point, years from now, and confer with him. To ensure secrecy of any future meeting, he gave us a medallion, which he suggested we should hang on the gates of the embassy if we want to meet him. Hanging the medallion means that we want to meet him at the White Corvette inn (or at the site of it, if the inn itself no longer stands at that time).

Return to Vinaria

We thought it prudent to return to Vinaria immediately after our meeting with the ambassador. On reporting what he had learned to his master Sharun, young Waltor learned that the order to which Laracer and Sharun were members is dedicated to learning about the fate of Shalebrol. He was pleased with Waltor's interest in the matter but declined to shed any light on it at that time, implying that Waltor would learn more in due course.

For the next number of months we focused on our studies. Over the next number of months, bad news came from the war. The invasion of Otgaidar was not a mere raid by Iaradar; it was joined in its efforts by the Kingdom of Sheodar and the northern Tibulani province of Requan. This major invasion would be enormously difficult to defeat. Hadraden ordered Matora stripped of every man at arms who can be spared with the intention that a force of 2,000 men would follow the 500 already sent there.

I received a letter from my father which included the Kartagi knife. He gave me liberty to me to trade it to Tokan Liod if the magus was willing to make an appropriate offer for it. I placed both the knife and the Danavan medallion in a strongbox which I rented for an indefinite period at the Dyrian house in Vinaria.

To Tibulanus and Tokan Liod

After we had passed our summer examinations, we set sail for Tibulanus. After a difficult passage, we arrived at Bar Anonn. We were met by a big Tibulani warrior called Skutan Tarani, who guided us on the road to Tokan Liod's capital, Bar Likan.

Tokan Liod received us hospitably. Though he was not forthcoming in every respect, he gave us a certain amount of information.

On the tribes and gods of man

There are 4 tribes of man. Each tribe has one apostate scion. The tribes are as follows:
● The dark-skinned Asdaroi who live on the northern continent
● The Niban-types, including Apertans, Harmorians, Dyrians, Petraeans and inhabitants of the Free Cities. The Apertans are apostate
● The Kartagi-types, including Timorians, Tuonites and Fontarbrians. The Timorians are apostate and are also enslaved by the Shanir
● The Kranthori-types, including Histrans and Alkori. The Alkori are apostate

Insofar as their origin can be established, it seems that Divine servitors tend to come from the primary tribes (i.e. the Kartagi, Kranthori, Niban and Asdaroi peoples) more often than from the other descendant peoples. Iosre, Vilcanat and Hoskoli were Kranthori. Biladon was Kartagi.

On the Quatrains of Akharol

We made an agreement with Tokan Liod that he would give us one quatrain in return for the return to him of the knife formerly possessed by Kirigino, the female Kartagi King's assassin who is now a talon. He then showed us the stone he himself possesses in Bar Likan.

There are 24 quatrains, 6 for each of the 4 tribes of man. The quatrains are believed to be specific to the tribe which possessed it. Of the 7 we then had, 5 or 6 appeared to be of the Kranthori tribe. These are the quatrains located in:

● Barasiumar in Shanaras (though this may be Niban),
● Tenaril in Kranthor,
● Karia in Ankheras
● Vinaria in Matora
● Bar Likan In Tibulanus and
● The Fortress of Aleso which is located in Timoria but which was built by the Kranthori against the Timorians (though this stone may be Kartagi)

The seventh we then had is from a Niban-type dominion, Alfiok

Tokan Liod told us that if we do not have all six of them, then the last Kranthori-type quatrain may have been located in Sinarqa, the principal city of the former dominion of Sinarqa. That city was long ago razed by the Fontarbrians. As part of the above-mentioned arrangement relating to the knife, we also committed Alcura to mounting a mission to the forbidden city of Sinarqa in Fontarbria. If that mission resulted in us finding another quatrain, we were to trade it with Tokan for two more quatrains.

There is no known Danavan connection with Shalebrol. There are ancient apocryphal myths suggesting that Shalebrol may have been a feral dragon.
The decline of Shalebrol has been followed by an unusually long period in which the vacant position has not been filled by another. This, coupled with the fact that the Taran Kun death-myths lack an absolute confirmation of the dragon's demise, led Tylora to speculate that perhaps
(a) Taran Kun fought Shalebrol-as-dragon and
(b) did not kill Shalebrol but severely wounded him and
(c) Shalebrol has been kept alive by some nefarious trick of the Harlequins in order to suppress the emergence of another divine servitor.

On Dragons, Danavans and Demon Spirits

Tawny dragons can be taught to change shape; feral dragons cannot do it.
Dragons don't have a verbal language of their own, but can learn the languages of those they encounter.
Ca Lai Brø Ol translates as the “eldest son of fire”, the personal name of a member of the Brø Ol clan. It implies a strong affinity with fire. I suggested that, if dragons don't have names of their own, perhaps the Danavans might have referred to a powerful feral dragon as the “eldest son of fire”.

In relation to elemental forces, Danavan sorcery involves compelling the elements. Human magic uses a more technical process of influencing the elements. Apostate humans tend to worship or make deals with spirits or ancestors. Spirits are native to the world and might therefore be classed as demonic.
Wights are not dead humans; they are pagan humans who expect to die achieving one enormous act of vengeance or hatred. It was not made clear precisely how a human becomes a Wight, but covering the body in a phoenix tattoo is part of the process. A Wight is enormously strong and able to withstand violence which would kill a normal person.

On the Fontarbrians

Tokan Liod believes that the favour which led King Votlira to ask King Talzim for the death of Hemarl Matora was the release of the elder Arok from its prison in Karia.
The feasibility of putting a spy into Tobara to observe Talzim's court was discussed.

On Tokan Liod and his Dominion

He claims to have been born in the first year of the interregnum. His father was a smith, thus his name “Liod”, which means “smith”.
He made deferential reference to the masters of his order.

His main hall has a geometric pattern on the floor. The pattern is arranged in a square, five flagstones long by five flagstones wide with a margin around them. The pattern is similar to the puzzle sacred to Roslof which Tylora previously saw in the quarters of Arnoal the magus. Waltor noticed that the flagstones are the size of the stones on which the quatrains of Akharol are inscribed and indeed it transpired that the Bar Likan prophecy stone is on one of these same flagstones.

The 19th Quatrain
Where deep shadows lie
An endless ancient stands
It holds a mighty glaive
And there it will remain

There is practically no circumstance in which Tokan Liod or the other southern governors would assist Otgaidar, even against their mutual enemies, the Requani. The Raven emblem of the Otgaidarese causes a reaction of intense primitive hostility on the part of the Tibulani, arising from their pagan past. The Belydi who once ruled Tibulanus regarded the raven as an evil symbol because of its association with the gods. Return to the faith has not softened this hostility on the part of the Tibulani.
Tokan's man Skutan described killing a chieftain who had the effrontery to propose peace with the northern provinces. He described Tokan Liod as being first among equals among the southern governors.
Tokan denied that there was anything odd at his having infiltrated his man Bilador into the confidence of my great-grandfather Wodarn and leaving him there for several years. He implied that it was the easiest way to put a Histran like Bilador close to Ertures. Bilador's accent is faintly Alcuran.

On Taran Kun

We found an old Tibulani called Kener who seemed better informed and more discerning in his interpretation of Tibulani sagas than the average. (It later transpired that this man is a priest of Iosre). He believed that Taran Kun was Kalmarese of the old (pre-Apertan) nobility, not Niban. He believed a Niban would not have been able to do what Taran Kun had done because ethnic resentments would have prevented his integration.
Kener said that Taran Kun settled in Bar Askenji, at first helping one faction to achieve victory in a civil war in that province. After achieving notable feats, he eventually went hunting a dragon which had plagued Ra Karat in a time of famine. Though he tried to go alone, he was accompanied by men of Bar Askenji who died performing various feats of bravery in his company.
The sagas do not record any evidence of the remains of the dragon being found. Neither is there any evidence that Taran Kun sired any children in Tibulanus.


The talons of Tokan Liod's court appeared to us to be very much at their ease in his presence. We saw Kirigino and Bilador at games and Soros giving Tokan lessons in swordsmanship.

We did see one instance of a talon “on duty”. While returning to the keep at night, Tylora and I witnessed a demonic shape perched close to the keep, apparently on watch. The creature was easily recognisable as a talon from the earlier descriptions we had read.

Despite our unease at the thing's frightening appearance, we took a moment to look at it. The demonic appearance is not created by the artifice of a cunningly designed mask or helm; we were looking at an actual face which was demonic in nature. We passed through the gate and returned to the main hall where, judging by Bilador's absence, we speculated that the talon on the wall must be him.

We awaited the return of Fenroln so that we might get the measure of him as well. That Fontarbrian talon was then monitoring the border area between the northern and the southern provinces. The border had been quiet thus far this year. As it was then half way through the campaigning season, it was thought very unlikely that there would be any fighting more serious than skirmishes along the border this year. Many of the soldiers mustered in the early summer had been sent home, and most of the remainder were spread along the border. There were rumours that next year would bring very substantial fighting, and that the southern provinces would invade the richest of their northern neighbours.

War and Assassins beset Bar Likan
Fenroln Itkoviro returned several days earlier than expected and in great haste. He brought news of an unprecedented invasion by the northern armies. Having concentrated in secret, the northerners had punched through the border area and were marching directly for Bar Likan, ignoring other possible targets on the way. It seemed that they were intent on a massive battle at Bar Likan, hoping that Tokan Liod would not have time to muster sufficient forces to beat them. Victory here would have given them a fighting chance against the remaining provincial armies of the south, and thus the war might be prolonged or conceivably won by them. Defeat for the north here would surely end the war in short time. The stakes were enormous, and Tokan's keep sprang to life in anticipation of the coming blow.

The next day, on his way back to further scout the enemy army, Fenroln raced past Yloe and I as we stood speaking to Bilador in the Keep's courtyard. As he exited the gate, we heard the whinnying scream of a dying horse. Horrified, we looked out to see Fenroln fly from his mortally injured mount, which had been felled by the axes of two big Tibulani warriors.

Thinking myself safe even from such assassins because I was in the presence of several talons, I reached for my own sword, but was surprised to see Bilador turn and race into the keep. Yloe and I followed, running to our room and barricading the door. Minutes later, a heavy thudding tread descended the stairs and someone – or something – banged at the door, but did not break it. We called out, and the person (or thing) plodded away.

We looked out through the narrow windows of our second-floor room. Our view was limited to a stretch of courtyard, a portion of the wall, and the Fontarbrian-style chapel located in the keep. Walking along the wall was a Tibulani man, almost naked, covered in heavy black tattooing in the image of a phoenix. We recognised the pattern as that previously described by my grandfather as the tattoo of a man who had given himself over to pagan spirits to become a Wight. The thing was headed towards the chapel. Aware as I was of the terrible, ungodly, strength of such things I sought to raise the alarm to any that could hear, calling out that there was a Wight on the wall.

I had not intended to draw the Wight’s attention, but that was what happened. The thing turned to look up at me and then reversed its direction, trudging back across the wall and towards our room, a single story above. Reaching a point directly below us, the Wight began to climb towards us.

Not trusting the narrow window to keep us safe, I drew my sword. Soon, the clawing hand of the Wight appeared at the window, dragging the rest of its body behind. I lunged, hoping to sever the arm, but the beast caught my sword in one hand, holding himself to the wall by the other. The only damage I had done was to sever a small finger.

The beast dragged me close to itself. It flung my sword away and grabbed my tunic. I was pressed so tight to the wall that I could not draw my dagger. Yloe grabbed it and tried to slash away at the back of my tunic, that I might be free of the thing, but there seemed no chance that she would succeed in time. For a moment I believed that the Wight would crush me to death.

Then something enormous crashed into the keep, knocking mortar out of the walls and causing bricks almost to pop inwards. The Wight was wrenched away from its perch outside and tossed aside. A noisome, sulphurous smoke gushed in through the window but we did not immediately jump away. We were, for a moment, entranced by the pupil of a huge eye, tall as a man, which was peering at us through the half-destroyed arrow-slit window. It seemed that we had been rescued by a dragon.

Tokan Liod's Fury

As events transpired, the Wight which attacked us was only one of 14 such creatures who had invaded Tokan Liod's keep. A massive bloodletting was taking place around us. In the aftermath, all the Wights had been cut down, as had dozens of Tokan's soldiers. Tokan himself was unharmed and no other Talons had died.

While taking shelter in our room during the fighting, we were accosted from without by a woman's voice speaking in a Kalmarese accent. She demanded that we open the door but declined to identify herself. When we did not open, the stones around the door began to grow warm and glow in an unnatural way, and through some magical means the woman began to thrust her arm through the locked door without breaking the wood. We opened the door, at that point believing the woman to be the dragon who had saved us. She had some conversation with Waltor without speaking, and he indicated that she had entered the room to recover a fang which had fallen out when she struck the Wight. The “lady” later declined to tell us her name. We later observed that all the Artuli companions (Vol, Raliol and this lady) appear Kalmarese.

During the fighting, Tylora explored the keep. She encountered Tokan Liod, who was in a mighty rage, almost beyond the point of reason. His dragon had also warned Waltor not to use any magic in the keep, except in direst need, because Tokan in his rage might lash out at him if magic were used. Later, when people gathered in the main hall amongst the debris of the battle, Tokan's rage was still evident. Even his Talons feared where his rage might carry him, and only his “lady” seemed to be able to calm him down.

Over the next few days, Tokan's rage did not abate. He caused the remains of the 14 Wights to be strung up on the keep's walls, and gathered the people of Bar Likan before them. He delivered an enraged oration culminating in his beheading the Wights with his axe. This clearly stirred the crowd, causing them to hunt the city for those suspected witches who had created the Wights. Some people were found and unceremoniously killed; whether they were innocent or guilty I do not know. No-one was in any doubt that the northerners were responsible for the outrage, and Tokan's oration also served to strengthen the resolve of his troops for the coming battle.

Several days later, the northern armies met Tokan Liod’s forces on a ridge outside the gates of Bar Likan. After a hard fight, the superior resolve and elevated disposition of the southerners outweighed the fact that many of their men were inferior levies, and the northern army was routed.

Pausing only for a day or two to give his friend and general Fenroln a dramatic funeral (burning him in his boat with all his possessions) Tokan made preparations to hunt the remaining northerners all the way back to their homes. He was particularly intent on killing the northern governors who must have hatched the plan to create the Wights. Talk around the keep was to the effect that “because we no longer have the knife, we will have to take the old-fashioned way of denying their soul to Belgris”. This led us to conclude that the function of the Kartagi knife is precisely to deny the comfort of the afterlife to those killed by it. (This may offer a different explanation for the fate of King Vanam – it may be that the failure of the Fontarbrians' clergy of Belgris to contact Vanam after his death was due to his death at the hands of a Kartagi assassin).

At this point we left Bar Likan, hoping to use the last winds of summer to bring the news of the battle to Hadraden in Otgaidar, on the chance that it might have an impact on the way in which he was dealing with the Requani, the only northerners not to have been thrashed at the battle of Bar Likan. We found that Hadraden's war was progressing well for him. Forced to winter in Otgaidar, we returned to Matora in the spring, after seeing how Hadraden had suppressed Sheodar and Iaradar, and was investing Bar Requan. Victory for him seemed only a matter of time.
Consolidation and Preparation

The next few years saw us pursue our studies at university, while making plans for our journey to the lost city of Sinarqa. In that time, Tokan had successfully conquered the north and Hadraden had reduced Bar Requan. The northern governors had been very harshly dealt with, including the governor of Marin, who fled as far as Vinaria before being butchered and strung up by Bilador, unshriven.

Kirigino's knife was given to Bilador at this time.

Waltor told me of a conversation he had with his master Sharun during this period. Waltor had noticed a stone in Sharun's study which was of similar dimensions to Tokan Liod's prophecy stone, expect that it was sliced diagonally through the center and bore floral decorations instead of an inscription. Sharun told Waltor that this is one of two keystones to the same set of prophecies. Sharun warned Waltor that the Artuli's obsession with the prophecies of Akharol was dangerous and had led to many tragedies and at least one disaster – that being the suppression of Timor.

After completing our degrees, and after a long period of preparation and study, we set out for the lost city of Sinarqa. Tylora had, through her temple, obtained some very helpful information which gave us a number of possible avenues for discovering the city. We took with us Ventakesh, a nephew of Haakesh, as well as three trusty young men vouched by Tanath (Waltor’s father).

To the lost city of Sinarqa

After a number of incorrect landfalls, we eventually landed at a site which was clearly the lost city for which we had searched. Almost entirely ruined and overgrown, the city was barely identifiable amongst the overgrowing forest and brush. We spent an entire summer, clearing the city and making our searches.

From what remains, it is clear that the city of Sinarqa was enormous. The maps and charts I attach demonstrate that the area of the city was a multiple of the area of the great cities of the current day, such as Karia; Sinarqa must have been one of the most populous cities in the world.

The size of the city was not immediately obvious to us. When we initially landed, we explored a place which at first seemed to us to be the main city (being of a similar size to many cities we have visited) but which later turned out to be merely the port attached to the main city.

The Port City

The port consisted almost entirely of great warehouses and government buildings, identifiable as such from their thick walls and huge floor areas. The most interesting element of the port was a series of subterranean rooms and corridors which we explored at length. Some of the rooms seemed to have been for storage purposes; others had strange designs and layouts which we did not understand. The tunnels contained the several corpses, including one of a long-dead person which – through several magical and mundane observations – we concluded was decomposing at an unnaturally slow rate. That partially decomposed corpse bore an amulet with a representation of a hawk, together with four words, two unrecognizable (possibly proper nouns) and the other two “Through” and “Amity”. Our magical observation indicated that a shade may have been haunting the area around the corpse.

The tunnels also contained a ghoulish ossuary (or at least a room in which many skeletal remains lay) and a small shrine of Vilcanat.

The only intact buildings in the port were temples of Soek and Tomarto, which were full of human remains. It appeared to us that many people had taken refuge in the temples and had been left there to die by the Fontarbrians.


The main city of Sinarqa was clearly enormous. It contained large temples to all the major and minor gods (apart from Soek and Tomarto); a large fortress, a huge palace complex and several large squares. Almost every building had been leveled by the Fontarbrians. A mound of thousands of human skulls, piled dozens deep in one of the main squares, bore eloquent testament to the extent to which the Fontarbrians hated the citizens of this place.

Most of the temples were in poor condition, having been damaged by fire or decay, but had not been violated by the Fontarbrians. The temples of Korak and Belgris were in the best condition. The palace complex had been thoroughly destroyed but for a statute of a king, Waltor, who we deduced was the king responsible for bringing the wrath of Fontarbria on this place. The statue wore armour which bore a hawk emblem similar to that which we had seen on the corpse’s amulet in the port city.

Detailed examination of the floors of every building which was to any extent intact failed to disclose the prophecy stone which we sought.

A Mysterious Danavan

In the last days of summer, half of us we rowed across to the small island close to the port city. Tylora’s researches had led us to believe that an earlier Alkori settlement may have existed on that island prior to the foundation of Sinarqa by the Kranthori. We failed to find any such settlement, but we did find definite signs of life on the island – recently trapped fowl and a strange, cunningly made boat. No-one made contact with us, but Tylora on watch was sure that someone approached our camp in the night. On Tylora’s instinct, we spoke some Danavan names aloud, but the visitor did not respond.

That same night, while coming back to our main camp in the port city, Waltor had a brief encounter with a Danavan who did not respond to his greeting but instead slipped away into the night. We know nothing more about this strange neighbour.


During the days immediately before we expected our ship to return, we revisited many of the buildings previously cleared, checking for some clue we may have missed. Though we wished to avoid the haunted tunnels under the port city, Tylora’s instincts led us back to the shrine of Vilcanat located there. The shrine contained a life-sized statue of that Servitor perched on a plinth. Moving the statue, we found under its feet that which had eluded us for so long; the prophecy stone. The plinth also contained some relics, which we were careful not to disturb. Taking the stone back to our camp, we waited for our ship to return us to the comforts of Vinaria.

The 16th Quatrain
Dreams advances slowly
As Fire reaches its ebb
God and Demon will rule
Once conjoined and blooded
On Shalebrol

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