Monday 2 May 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”

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