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 TAK atlas - Veruna, Zhon, Taros stories

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PostSubject: TAK atlas - Veruna, Zhon, Taros stories   Mon Feb 20, 2012 1:05 pm

This is info from TAK atlas. It contains stories and places from the land of Darien. Enjoy them (special thanks to Spagg!):

TAK ATLAS:
"We follow the precepts of our father. His law is clear: 'use no magic when steel and muscle will suffice, or disaster will follow'. We keep the law, our armies enforce it! -ARAMON!"
"We travel the waves. We have seen sights our siblings can only imagine. Faraway lands share their secrets with us. We explore, we discover, we build wealth and power. We are, VERUNA!"
"Time has forgotten us and we have forgotten time. Our city is the forest, our road is the wind. Those who visit our shores uninvited will perish. We are, ZHON!"
"We seek the unknown. We find knowledge and power hidden from ordinary minds. Through skill and study, we will attain the impossible and the world will tremble! -TAROS"

VERUNA STORY:
The Travels Of Horvino, Merchant Prince Of Lendra,
As told by Abel, loyal servant of his most mellifluous and wise.


Plentiful greetings, dear Reader, to this record of the travels of my master, Horvino of Lendra.
It is I, Abel, who is charged with capturing a mere fraction of Horvino's greatness and preserving it for posterity, to all who would learn about my master and his exploration of Veruna and its wonders.
It is a heady task I shoulder, but it is a pleasure to celebrate the distinguished merit of my master, to whom I can only ascribe great excellence of character, name and taste. Some may call my master a naive boy, saying that he eats too much and belches too loudly. Others may call him a drunken boor, but I say only this: history shows us that great spirits have often encountered violent opposition from mediocre fellows.
As a mere servant, I give great thanks that I have been allowed to walk near such greatness as that of Horvino.
*Beginnings
Upon reaching his 27th year, the most decisive Horvino took it upon himself to see all the sights and waters of his birth-land, to sample its finest foods and wines, and to appreciate all of its Art and Nature. Certainly, our nation would be thankful indeed to have one such as Horvino gracing its beaches and marketplaces.
With his sizeable inheritance and with the blessing of his father, Horvino hired guides, valets, cooks and traveling companions to join him on the journey. I was lucky enough to be included among the group, hired for my skills as a scribe and assistant.
There was some question about the nature of Horvino's sudden depature from Lendra. Finer members of society spread rumors of my master's unpaid gambling debts and of an arranged marriage gone sour. Of course, these stories were nothing more than coincidence and signs of jealousy. Horvino remained steadfast in his decision to leave the city posthaste, and he and his entourage bade farewell to Lendra, the capital and largest city of Veruna.
Lendra -- a jewel set aside the bluest bay. All the wonders of the world find their way to the city -- for a price, one can acquire exotic spices from Zhon, orchard fruit from the Three Sisters, or even Aramon steel. It is said that once a man visits Lendra, a part of his soul remains there, forever wandering among the graceful spires and cobblestone streets.
Before our departure, my master and his entourage spent an entire day touring the piers of the Verunan Navy. Such beautiful ships! Armed vessels and Fire Ships, with towering masts, billowing sails and frightening engines of war. Horvino later impressed us all with what he had gleaned from the shipwrights and sailors.
Alas, the tour was cut short by certain naval officers - ruffians, really - who grew unduly concerned with the entourage crowding the piers and ship decks.
*From Lendra to Wyldon
Borne along on horse carts (thankfully the roads were level and well-maintained), our glorious leader traveled westward through the hills known as Lihr's Children. This land is truly a sight -- the hills are ringed with stone terraces in which the local populace farms rice and other grains. As their home is named after the God of the Waves, so do the people consider themselves equally blessed.
(Horvino was quite upset, however, when he learned that he would be forced to sleep in a tent constructed of mere vegetable fiber, and not fine silk. I was more than happy to remove the responsible valet, a worthless man, from our employ).
The city of Wyldon next beckoned my master's attention. Second in size to Lendra, Wyldon is a city of artisans and scholars. The people here have mastered the fine arts of masonry, pottery, carpentry and tool-making.
My master spent many days wandering Wyldon's narrow alleys, partaking in fine wines and spirited debate in the city's many sidewalk cafes. With Horvino's tendency toward bombastic speech, I am sure my master made an impression on the local scholars who often gathered in Wyldon's cafes. On one occasion, I witnessed my master hurriedly escorted from within a cafe by two burly scullery boys, while much laughter spilled into the street. Horvino said it was merely a misunderstanding over a game of dice.
My master was quite eager to tour Wyldon's most notable landmark, the Menagerie of the Aenir. One of Veruna's oldest and most powerful noble families, the Aenir have for decades housed and displayed exotic beasts from Darien and lands beyond.
In large glass tanks, there were strange and colorful fishes from nearby waters; next to that, cages held a pair of giant black wolves from the mountains of Aramon and a saber-toothed cat of Zhon. Further along, my master and his entourage were enthralled by the sight of other birds and beasts from Zhon, including the skeletons of a Troll and a Jungle Orc. Such fearsome creatures from that southern land!
Our guide would not put to rest one of the more fascinating rumors about the Menagerie - that it is also a prison for a live, fire-breathing demon which had been captured in Taros in days long past. Before I could get the man to answer, Horvino and the rest of the party were forced to leave the grounds. The Aenir animal keepers were most unkind in their rejection of my master's simple request that he be allowed to ride the Gryphon around the menagerie grounds.
Of Lothol, we saw not, as my master was firm in his decision not to travel to that southern city. As a young lad, he said, he had visited the city as the guest of the Iuli noble family, who are closely allied with the Guilds of Shipwrights and Blacksmiths. Horvino said he was no longer welcome in Lothol because of another misunderstanding, of which he would not speak, only saying that it involved a merchant's daughter, a cat, a lantern and a smoked fish.
I myself have not been fortunate enough to travel to Lothol, but it is written that the Lothol women are the fairest of Verunans, while the men are strong of muscle and long of bone. The men of Lothol are fashioners of bronze and iron tools and weapons, and often appear in tales as gallant soldiers who will not cower from a fight, no matter the odds.
*To Meredoc by ship
My master and his many attendants next traveled southward to Meredoc by hired merchant vessel, a large masted ship with a carved horse-head on the prow. The passage was simply horrendous, as the ship was tossed about by rough waves. Worse, Horvino discovered that the ship was not stocked with his favorite cheeses.
In one of the calmer moments, the ship passed close to the island of Karitia, stopping along a few beaches of white sand and crushed coral to take on fresh water. Sailors brought back a number of tasty, melon-like fruits that were found growing atop tall trees, and Horvino forgot the missing cheeses, if only for a few days.
Meredoc's beauty soon overwhelmed the party, pushing the troublesome time aboard ship out of our minds. Rumored to have been settled by a Kandran wizard of particular might, Meredoc is the largest settlement in the southern islands, sitting astride the major trade route to Aramon. As the closest Verunan settlement to the western lands, it can be said that the people of this island are more like Aramon folk than Verunan. Meredoc's people are a rustic, florid folk, and speak the Verunan tongue with a distinctive, guttural accent. They are also quite religious, likely the result of influence by the noble house of Jatha, which is known for its piety. The worship of both Lihr and Anu, and other lesser gods, is practiced openly.
Unfortunately, my master was unable to secure transport to the other Southern Islands - Varro, Greif, Altus and Ettan, the ancestral homes of the Berserkers, those fearsome men of many a Verunan legend. Our leader was kept from these islands partly due to inclement weather and a few unruly ship captains who refused to meet Horvino's traveling requirements. Although merely a scribe, I fail to see how our leader's group of personal minstrels could do anything but help make the journey a joyful one.
However, from conversations in Meredoc's few inns, I learned in earlier times, the islands of Varro and Grief were once ruled by the nation of Aramon, and the Verunan navy has sailed more than a few times in support of the Berserker tribes to turn back the southern folk. These days, the islands populated mainly by common folk who make their living as fishermen and goatherders. It was probably for the better, as it seem highly unlikely we could have found an inn suitable for Horvino's delicate slumber, or a public house that serves the finest cuts of spiced beef.
Of the dark island of Irgiron and the city of Estoril, the innkeepers of Meredoc had little to say. The former capitol of Garacaius the Mage Emperor remains a mystery, populated only by an isolated community of priests. Horvino scoffed at the tales of Kandran artifacts still hidden in the city. My master is quite wise in these matters, and we are lucky to have him guiding our thoughts!
*To Vanoc in the north
From Meredoc, my master booked passage on three fine ships bound for Vanoc in the Northern Islands. As this passage would be the longest ship-borne leg, three ships were necessary for the large amount of provisions, fresh water and Horvino's stockpile of favorite cheeses. The passage would take us northward to the western shores of Karitia, north-by-northwest to Fionbar and Athri, then due west to Vanoc.
Horvino spent most of his days in deep slumber, having been banned from the foredeck by the captain - something to do with the man's wife, as far as I could tell. Most nights, Horvino spent belowdecks in glorious revelry with minstrels and storytellers.
During the journey, I set about making an accounting of my scrolls, preparing fresh ones and conversing with Captain Lahar and the ship's officers. Here, I will attempt to record their knowledge of the seas of Darien.
1)-The Sea of Mannan: Some sailors call these waters "Lihr's Garden" for they are cool and calm and stocked with vast numbers of tasty fish. This sea is the most heavily traveled of Darien's waterways, and is very well charted.
2)-The Kuvera Straits: Captain Lahar said these waters are a good deal rougher than the Mannan, with rogue waves large enough to swallow a man-o-war, and frozen northerly winds that blow vessels off course, frustrating even the most experienced navigators. But many strange lands lie beyond the straits, the captain said, strange lands that lure many Verunan sailors to attempt the passage.
3)-The Sea of Mokanna: Only the ship's first officer, a man named Sculpin, had been to these northeastern waters. Sculpin said he would not do so again, "no, not again in this life." By day, said Sculpin, the ship was followed by sharks, some longer than the ship's mast is tall, he said, and daring enough to bump the vessel itself. At night, ghostly lights would flit this way and that, and the crew could see many bonfires in the hills of Taros.
4)-The Bay of Mist: Not mist, but steam, gives these waters their name, said Captain Lahar. A river of blood-red lava pours west from the slopes of Mt. Angvir, and where the lava meets the water, a great quantity of steam is produced. As a bosun's mate in earlier days, Lahar's ship put in at northern cove to take on a horrible cargo: slaves captured in Taros' inner lands. "Rough trade, that," said Lahar. "Not for me. I jumped ship as soon as we returned to Veruna."
The Strait of Geryon: The waters are calm here, but they are the most dangerous of Darien, according to the captain. Only well-armed naval vessels make the passage east to the Sea of Tapas. The Strait is home to sea creatures larger than the northern whales, and creatures of the sky and wind fly north from the Zhon jungles to pluck sailors from the decks of ships. Survive that, and a ship still must avoid pirates from both north and south.
5)-The Sea of Tapas: "If ye can make it past the Geryon, the Tapas awaits you," said Captain Lahar. "And then you be surely doomed." First officer Sculpin said at night, the Tapas was black as coal, with no stars in the night sky to guide you. He said other sailors had reported that bands of Tarosian tribesmen lit false signal fires on the shoreline, leading ships to founder on sharp reefs. Other sailors told tales of meeting a tribe called the Kiniket who made their home on the northeastern shores of Zhon. The Kiniket, they said, provided the only safe haven in these parts, a peaceful place of warm, verdant beaches.
6)-Vanir's Breach: The ship's navigator, a woman named Anemone, related a Vidaran legend concerning the Vanir sea. Anemone said that long ago, before the rule of the Kandra, the nations we call Aramon and Zhon were actually parts of a single land, with one people, the Vanir, living there in peace. And in a fit of rage, the god of these people split the land asunder, and the waters rushed in to fill the emptiness.
7)-Edamothi Sea: Captain Lahar said the southernmost of Darien's seas turned perfectly clear in the eastern reaches, so much so that one could see bright coral reefs passing beneath ships. The fish here are of unearthly colors - reds, purples and yellow. Other travelers, Lahar said, spoke of finding civilized lands farther south, populated by a strange folk who erect great stone temples to their many gods.
After the long passage, the sight of land and the Verunan city of Vanoc sent a cheer through all three ships. Vanoc's younger folk rowed animal-skin outriggers to greet the ships, calling out to us in their peculiar, singsong accent. The island of Caora is truly Lihr's most beautiful work, with rocky cliffs giving way to beaches of black sand and tall graceful trees called marcas in the local dialect. My master and the rest of the party spent three full fortnights on the island, the first few days of which Horvino spent in a heady stupor from drinking prodigous quantities of moisina, a sweet drink made from marcas fruit juice and distilled spirits. My master is quite the trencherman, and is certainly developing a lordly belly!
Horvino was quite impressed with the Vanoc tribes of shark-hunters, brave young men of only 14 years who headed out to sea in smallish canoes, armed only with their wits and a single harpoon. My master loudly shared with them stories of his own hunting skills and of dangerous excursions where he was protected only by a small group of his father's armed guards.
The Vanoc shark-hunters were so impressed by Horvino's tales that they eagerly invited him to join one of their next shark hunts (one said that only yesterday he had spotted a specimen that was no less than 30 hands long, from toothy maw to tail). The hunters were ready to provide Horvino with his own canoe and harpoon, but my master declined, perhaps swayed by the more conservative members of our group.
*Onward to Thiabara...and a dramatic end to the journey
It was with sad hearts that my master and his followers left Caora and the city of Vanoc, but with our three hired ships fully stocked with water and provisions, we prepared for another ocean voyage. Onward 'round Athri we sailed to Thiabara.
Apparently, the party left none too soon, as Horvino's personal manicurists were gossiping about how our leader had angered a few of Caora farmers and fishermen. Of course, I scolded the manicurists for spreading such idle tripe. I'm certain that Horvino at the very least offered to pay for the damaged granary and sunken canoes.
Athri is quite different in flavor than Caora (indeed, each of the Three Sisters has its own distinctiveness), being heavily forested with fragrant trees of reddish wood. Whereas Vanoc folk remain close to the sea (and therefore "rural," in their own sense), the people of Athri are as cultured and noble as the Lendran folk. The Athri-folk also enjoy a large amount of trade with unnamed lands to the far north; local merchants offer for sale furs from strange beasts, colorful fabrics and weapons of iron and other fine alloys than are not easily found in Darien.
The Yddyn family lays claim to the entire island, riding herd over the local townships with an iron fist. They are known as a haughty, arrogant family; not a one paid respect to my master during his visit. Indeed, Horvino's troupe of valets found it difficult to secure lodging in the city's inns, leaving Horvino to merely make do on beds of straw, instead of his preferred featherbed of fine goose down.
Of the island of Gudrun, we saw only the misty mountaintops in the distance from our ship during the return voyage. I inquired among the crew about this island, and the ship's cook related an interesting tale concerning a privateer and adventurous sort known as Ferrix. It is said that Ferrix met his death in a Thiabara public house, but not before securing a hiding place for a great treasure somewhere on a Gudrun beach.
Our journey's end came days later, with our leader's triumphant return home to the piers and streets of Lendra. The return was marred by the fact that Captain Lahar at first simply refused to relinquish the ship's wheel to Horvino, who wished to demonstrate his newly won prowess as a sailor and navigator. Lahar claimed that the shifting winds at this time of year made the passage into the bay somewhat difficult, and with the possibility of reefs or sandbars below, perhaps dangerous, as well.
Horvino would have none of it, and bravely took command the wheel (my wise master had, of course, picked up a few tricks during his time aboard). Strangely, Lahar and some members of the crew dove overboard as the ship approached the Lendran docks. It made for an odd sight; perhaps in some parts it is traditional for ship's captains to swim ashore, but I had never heard this particular sort of ritual.
But if there was any hint of danger, Horvino remained unaware, docking the ship with a resounding crash! The captain of a galleon thankfully cleared a space for us along the pier's wooden rail just in time - how courteous!
Thus ended Horvino's Travels - round the world and back, saving the best for last.
Abel, humble servant and scribe, gives thanks to you for joining my master through this record.
-- Fin --

ZHON STORY:
Being The Final Journal Of The Adventurer Ferixx The Finder


*Prologue
May the waters of Lihr calm and greet you, Reader.
The journal contained herein purports to be the final writings of the adventurer Ferrix the Finder, the subject of many Verunan legends and tales who supposedly last sailed the waters more than 100 years ago. The journal has been housed by the Order of Letters for the previous 50 years, having been deposited in the Order's vaults by an unnamed Verunan naval officer. The officer claimed to have found the journal in a locked valise that had been salvaged from a shipwreck on the island of Gudrun.
The journal consists of 42 leaves of a stiff, scroll-like material that is unknown among the Verunan islands. Most of the leaves are covered on both sides with intelligible letters of black ink that correspond to the characters of the High Speech. The leaves themselves, colored a dull yellow, seem to be composed of some kind of vegetable fiber. They are as thin as scroll-paper, but they are quite durable and shed water like a duck's feathers. While the tale they contain is certainly astonishing, it is this monk's humble wish that the Order of Letters could locate the creators of the leaves, as the material would be invaluable to our work.
Ferrix the Finder, the alleged author of the journal, is an apocryphal figure at best. In the many tales of Ferrix, he appears by turns as a heroic naval officer, a foolish dilettante, a dastardly scion of a noble family, or a humble scholar on a continuing quest for knowledge. It is interesting to note here, however, that in the dialect of the island of Greif and certain eastern portions of Aramon, the word "finder" can also be translated as "a bad man," "a scoundrel," or merely, "a thief."
It is also interesting to note that Gudrun, the island where the journal is said to have been found, is also rumored to be the final resting place of Ferrix the Finder. A notable legend holds that Ferrix stashed his final treasure on the island, where it remains undiscovered.
What makes the journal a valuable item to the Order, however, is its detailed description of the southern land of Zhon, as well as its inhabitants, flora and fauna. Here the document has a ring of truth, as other works describe similar places, animals and creatures of magic. However, the existence of the item known in the work as Takkawaw's Hand has never been verified, nor has it been mentioned in any other work known to the Order.

-- Ahuzach, a brother of the Order of Letters

*Pages 1 to 6
Left Gudrun a fortnight after Gloaming time as passenger on hired vessel. Under a merchant's cloak, for fear of ship being boarded and searched by agents of Yddyn family. Perhaps should have not switched that blood-gem with red glass, eh? Huh.
Bigger task in mind now, last one for this finder. After this, will stay in Vanoc for good, live with gilded women, swim in clear waters. Raise a boy. Tell my stories. Grow old and laugh.
Arrived Aramon town of M'Hari, but left the city that very same night, this time dressed in the white robes of an Acolyte of Anu. Traveled overland to Glyn to meet Remy for trip 'cross the Vanir waters to Zhon, to the city of Iapur. Will meet with a guide Remy has hired for me. Hopefully, he is a man with enough wiles.
Fast crossing, reached Iapur only a few days later. Lihr forgive me, I've come to the end of Darien-land for sure this time. Through the bay leading to Iapur, I can see land on both sides, and it seems the dark forests reach right into the water. Trees with ropy roots, strangling vines. Now and again I see something move in the dark. They call this the Impassable Wood. They are certainly right.
Iapur and Lahun are the only Zhon cities where travelers to this land do not fear for their lives. That is, they do not fear the daylight hours so much, but night brings the sound of leathern wings beating the air and scratch, scratch, scratching on your roof. Make a man shudder. Iapur itself is not much by Verunan or even Aramon standards, just a dock on the lagoon, a few wooden longhouses, an inn without a name.
Met the guide in the inn, as Remy instructed ... Shocked to see it isn't a man at all. Some of the Aramon folk call these types the Near-Men, but they have other names. Should have known - in this land, the half-beasts far outnumber the men.
This one, a rough hairy thing with a man's limbs and a twisted back, calls himself Harken. His face - can I call it a face? - is that of a dog, and black horns that would look best on a ram curl 'round his ears. But he moves quick enough, with a loping scuttle, and Remy says he's fair. But then Remy himself is only a fair man after you've paid him in silver and gold.
I'm carrying my bow, strong arrows of Kandran wood, waterskins, a leathern coat. My blade, of course, at my belt. Haven't yet started this journey, already I'm straining under the heat of this southern clime.
Harken carries only a long stave, but the claws at the ends of his long arms look sharp, sharp, sharp ... well enough to open a man's belly. He speaks like a dog does bark, and says it will be cooler as we climb the mountains to Ulasem. When he smiles, his lips curl back to show crooked, yellow fangs. It's still a smile, I figure.
But the Hand is the prize here. Always the Hand now, and I have the map showing the trail from Ulasem and the hidden realm of the Zhon ruler, Thirsha the Huntress.
Takkawaw's Hand, the emerald as big your fist! And within its facets, will I see the future, as the legends maintain? I hope. I want. I want. I want.
*Page 7
Cairbray is dark, dank, wet. Slow going. Lots of animals scuttle in wood -- colorful birds, snakes and rodents of all kinds. At night, heard pair of cats bite and scratch and scream. Not cooler yet, have not seen foothills.
*Pages 8 to 16
Betrayed, I was! Escaped by the skin of my teeth, I did.
Lucky, lucky old man.
Harken led me astray, away from the mountains and deeper into the Cairbray. I should have known, for each morning we tramped toward the rising sun, though I thought we were merely moving east before pushing south to the mountain pass leading to the hidden city of Ulasem.
My fool trusting sense and the humid midday hour conspired to keep me unaware ... I found myself at the point of a Goblin's rusty spear before I even touched my blade. Of Harken, I saw not. Only later, I saw him in the camp of these gibbering creatures ... Harken the Betrayer, now giving the Goblins orders, all the while chewing hunks of roast ... roast pig? Roast dog?
The Goblins and other things camped in a clearing of the wood, a dirty place, and noisome, for in the trees I could hear the screeching song of the Harpies. I had not heard their song before, and I pray Lihr never to again.
Goblins, though - huh - were all that I expected. Not even half men, they were, rather all poking and prodding and gnashing of fangs. They were eaters of offal, and I had half a mind that I was to be the next offering of food to the Zhon goddess known as Tammuz.
They tied me to a tree and set a guard of three of their kind. Darkness came, and the squabbling ceased. I was alive, and I since was not currently gutted and dressed for dinner, I had my wits and hope.
Any Verunan boy can loop knots better than the Goblin-things, and soon I wormed my way free. I still had my boots, cloak and satchel, no waterskins, not any more. Stole a short bow and quiver of arrows. My blade and gold purse I could not find - will dearly miss the blade. Crept out of camp, nearly stumbled into the body of a Troll, whom in the dim campfire light I mistook for a fallen tree of considerable girth!
Lihr spoke! If Trolls be trees, I would surely tremble to see a Stone Giant!
I made it perhaps half a league onward, northward by the stars, before I heard alarums and rabble behind me. I waded in streams and tracked backward like the rabbit does in winter. Reckon I lost my pursuers. Or else they lost interest in two-footed food.
Will keep north and east by morning light and evening star. Mayhaps I can reach the coastal city of Lahun, find a Verunan vessel or a party headed for Ulasem. The Cairbray I leave far, far behind.
*Pages 17 to 20
Many days later is this, and many dollops of good fortune later, as well. For I write this from a bed of real straw, and I am munching on a fine strip of salted perch.
I reached Lahun in fair enough time, with the beasties far, far behind. With no gold coins to light my way and no friends in this corner of Darien, I wandered the city, which smacked much more of civilization than Iapur. Houses of wood and stone. Taros folk mingle with the Near Men.
I was perhaps in search of a miracle. Found one, I did.
A Verunan merchant vessel had put in to the city for fresh water before heading to Khusra in the south. I called out to the vessel's captain in Lihr's Tongue and shared the story of my predicament. The captain, a man named Moar, took me aboard in exchange for work and I happily set about with the running of lines and scraping of barnacles. Huh. Every Verunan boy is taught ship-skills - I am no different. Only to Khusra, the captain said. Only closer to Ulasem, said I. Closer to the prize. The Hand. The Hand!
Happy to be ship-borne, away from the Goblins and Harken the Shaman, whose name appeared to be well known among the I'homazan tribes of Lahun. Harken, they said, hailed from the tribe Uru, a particularly warlike bunch. The I'homazan ruled Lahun in peace, preferring to deal with traders from Veruna and Taros rather than stalk and hunt each meal.
Anoeth's Neck is east of us now, Moar said. Keep watch for creatures of air that are said to make a nest of this part of Zhon.
This is last Zhon journey for Moar. Trading steel for Near-Men spice is lucrative venture, yes. But he has heard rumors of Kraken in Zhon waters, be enough to swallow ships whole.
*Pages 21 to 23
The fires of Khusra still burn to the west of me. I will get the tale on these leaves before I push farther east.
Ship's lookout saw smoke first, grey-black, yellow and red on horizon over Zhon's inland sea. Captain Moar thought the haze and smoke were from the nearby Tethrian Jungle, and so we sailed unaware, up to five arrow's distance from Khusra's docks. Then we saw the city afire.
Moar had a sight-glass -- tube of bronze with carved glass at either end that allowed a man to see faraway sights as if they were at the end of your nose. Through the glass, we could see flying shapes ... belching fire ... darting through the city smoke. Wyverns ... flying reptiles like the great dragons ... Harpies worse; even far, far away, their song set my teeth a-grinding.
Moar turned east for safer haven, but for naught. We ourselves were set upon by the flying things.
They fouled rigging and sails with wing and claw, and Harpies hovered like doom-angels, beating the air with their wings and calling men overboard to a death with water filled lungs.
Moar stood fast at ship's wheel, but I went belowdecks for my bow, quiver and satchel. I had traded work for passage, but I would not trade the promise of Takkawaw's Hand for pride. Call me a rat. Spite my father. I am not proud. But never saw a rat die for pride.
Abovedeck once again; Wyvern breath had set ship ablaze. There was a rush of air, a blur of feathers, and a man was snatched away screaming for Lihr. Gods did not come.
Moar was gone too; just bloody streaks in place next to the wheel, which spun slowly. No rudder, and now there was a race to see what would happen first - either the ship would burn or sink.
Close enough to land, said I. Praised Lihr and dove overboard. Kicked and kicked and kicked my way toward land.
Hid among rocks. Stole bits of sleep and dreamed of black things that howl and fly. Lucky. Lucky old man.
*Pages 24 to 31
Noticed something ere noon today. Past pages start good, end bad. These ones will not.
I tired of hiding in rocks like a fat marmot. Headed east across the Tethrian Jungle -- much different than the Cairbray. Cooler, not as dark. It is more forest than jungle. More hills.
Planned to walk east and south to avoid Khusra, but stumbled upon well-worn trail running east-west. Mulled decision, then headed east, away from Khusra. Hoped trail led to settlement on shore of Tapas sea. Maybe a ship? Maybe a city of Near-Men and Trolls?
Found something, I did - the Kiniket.
The trail led across hills for a few days, until I lost track as jungle gave way to trees and grass. Made sight of Tapas ocean soon after and a beach of pure white sand. From ship to jungle and fire and back again, I wondered if I had died and reached the Palace of Shells beyond death. But I thought that if Lihr's heaven exists, there would be more things to eat.
Spent three days on the beach, eating crabs and ocean grasses from tide pools. On third night, I spied the light of a camp fire to south. I had found the Kiniket tribe.
While the Near-Men of northern Zhon were dirty and foul, the Kiniket were gentle, curious and kind. Pelts of straw, eyes of deep brown. They spoke the Zhon tongue with a lilting accent. Plied me with food, they did. Fruits and fishes, and a fine drink brewed of a grain they called sorat. Spent a fortnight among them; the Kiniket children seemed to especially like me for my beard, black hair and leather clothes.
They worship Tammuz, like all Zhon folk, and revere the immortal Huntress as their ruler. But they not evil like the rest. A strange, strange land this is.
But the Hand ... Takkawaw's Hand calls me. The map feels hot and heavy in my satchel - I have committed it to memory, lines burned in my head. The tribal elder, Uary, has offered me escort through the southern Tethrian. Promised me escort to foot of the Haemus Mountains and the trailhead that leads to Ulasem. It's a trail they use for pilgrimages to honor Thirsha's throne in Ulasem.
I will have difficult time leaving the Kiniket camp. Should return someday by ship, trade goods and weapons for these people, trade for sorat.
But the Hand calls. The Hand reaches. I go west. Grasp the Hand tight.
*Pages 31 to 42
Not much time now. Blood has been spilled. Lost some blood of my own. Goblins and Jungle Orcs tracking me by smell. Harpies and Griffons overhead. Where's your luck now, eh Ferrix?
Through the Impassable Wood to Iapur. My journey is a circle.
The Hand weighs heavily in my satchel. I have the prize. Question now is escaping with it and all me parts intact...
Start at beginning, old man.
The Kiniket escorted me to the Haemus Mountains, where the jungle reaches into sky. This far, no further they said. They showed me the trail to Ulasem, bade me to 'ware the cliffs and the Stone Giant homes, and not to walk in the clear else the Roc make me supper for Roc-ling birds. I filled waterskins from spring. They gave me a blade, a fine one of steel. Wondered if I would see their kind, or their kindness, again.
Reached the outskirts of Ulasem in a fortnight. Spied the buff stones of the mountain lair, then spent rest of day hiding. Saw ... things ... in evening light. Shapes silhouetted in camp fires. The map shows a trail leading from Basilisk Gate next day; found it ere the next sundown. From the Basilisk Gate to the Stone Graveyard, found the Upper Falls ... the cave was just as the map portrayed. The emerald. Takkawaw's Hand was there.
Velvety and warm to touch is this stone. Luminous green. Swirling clouds within, forming shapes as if dancing in campfire light. The Hand offered me no visions of the future.
Not then, at least. No, not then, when I could have used one.
Harken, the mongrel man, was waiting for me outside with a trio of Jungle Orcs in tow. All hair and pig tusks and muscle they were. Massive fists fit to pound a Finder's bones. And now white crackling fire curled from the stave in Harken's claws. Huh. Seen worse odds.
You see, I had a blade. And sometimes a blade is enough, though I notched this one on the last Orc's skull. Pity. It was a good blade. Pity, too, that I could not take Harken's head as a trophy for my mantelpiece.
But soon I heard whoops, hollers and screeches among the canyon walls. Reached the treeline just as I heard wings beating the air. I left a trail of red behind me - the Orcs gave as good as they got, and Harken was not nice enough to go down without taking a payment of blood.
Reached this outcropping of rocks. Fallen tree limbs to hide me. Enough time for pen and ink and paper. Lucky old man. Now I can see Takkawaw's Hand in the open satchel beside me. Visions of future I see ... I know now that the story is true. But visions are not always good ones. For in the stone now, I can see myself. My own face, but with eyes unseeing. Unblinking.
No matter. Tomorrow, I will see if the Impassable Wood lives up to its name. Iapur is north of here. Perhaps Remy is waiting.
No. Perhaps not.

TAROS STORY:
The Tale Of Grandmother Eder


Hear the tale of your Grandmother Eder. I may appear before you as a wrinkled crone, but once, long ago, I was a long-haired girl just like yourself.
Listen close and remember closest. That's what Mother always told me. Remember closest and 'ware her words, else meet Mr. Dead and his dogs, and they'll take you away to the House of Pain.
Don't frighten! These are only words, only a tale. Taros is far, far away, across the ocean, and good Lord Anu protects us here in Aramon-land. Not fear the Necromancer, for he is locked in his tower in Elam.
But Taros does exist. It lives among your grandmother's memories, along with her memories of the smell of magic.
*This is ago...
You've never seen magic, have you? Good King Elsin says not, and the good king knows well. "Use no magic when steel or muscle will suffice." But in Taros, this is not so. Not so at all.
Chance you didn't know magic has a smell, did you now? Oh yes, a rotten odor, like the air around a tree that has been laid low by lightning. The air clings to your nostrils and makes your head swim. Makes you want to run and find air -- real air -- to breathe, so you can spit out the smell of magic. But the smell stays on your clothes, and in your hair, too.
Your grandmother was born in Ugarit, on the southeast shores of Taros, between the southern Kaf Mountains and the Namtar River. I swam in the Namtar -- I did! -- as a girl. Ugarit was near where Garacaius himself lived as a boy. He was a fisherman, just like the men of my family. The waters off the Great Delta were long ago rich with fish and crab. The green grass of the Delta islands, the mountains, the forest to the south -- it was all quite beautiful and temperate, not unlike fair Aramon is today.
But this world was like a fragile glass globe, one that shattered when struck by Baron Leimar, the Necromancer and the Bad Times, when Mr. Dead and his dogs went a-running. That perfect glass globe of the world I lived in was bursted, and the sharp, sharp pieces fell here and there along the way for you to step on.
Now, the nights had always been different, as the walls of the great city were closed, and horror befell those locked outside. "Never go out at night!" I can hear Mother insisting even now. But slowly, not all at once, it seemed Ugarit slipped gradually into the sewer ditches. Grandmother Eder remembers the night-wolf howling outside the city walls growing louder in the summer. I remember the coronation of Baron Leimar, as well as the first executions of those who spoke out against he and his clan. I remember skies the color of fireplace ashes. I remember voices talking from the sewers, beckoning. I remember men marching from the Academy, never to be seen again by their families.
Those families were the lucky ones. For in Taros, the dead often crawl from their graves, standing and walking yet again. The first time I saw a dead man walk, it was a neighbor boy, home from a far-off war, lurching and babbling and screaming in the street outside his family's home.
His own father cut him down with a sword, right before my eyes.
*Escaping the southern city...
In the second year of the Baron's rule, my family joined a small party of neighbors who wished to escape the Leimar lands and crawl out from under the Baron's mailed fist. Our goal was the city of Shekelesh, which lay just to the north at the foot of the Greater Kaf. Father hoped to find work in the tanning of leather; his brother, my uncle, had ventured north three years earlier. In his last letter, my uncle said he was able to build a small home just outside the city walls. Shekelesh, and family. It would be safe.
We dressed in quiet one night, so as not to be heard by the city guard. There was Mother, Father and myself, and we left that morning with only the items we could carry. Our home, our fishing boats, our precious nets -- all of it left behind as we made our way north along the Namtar.
The road ran along the foothills of the Lesser Kaf; Father told me these mountains were once called the Spine of Taros, for they near split the land in twain from north to south. It was the farthest I had ever been from Ugarit, and soon enough I could see evidence of the Necromancer's passing, for Lokken's magic had twisted and broken the very land itself. The smell of magic hung in the air; trees were bent and broken, oozing yellow pus. Cawing black birds abounded, each large enough to attack the horses. Farmers' fields were overtaken with biting, stinging insects, the likes of which no one had ever seen before.
But it was the people that were the worst, for the ones we encountered on the road and in the city of Shekelesh were in the thrall of the Necromancer's dark god, Belial. Driven mad, they were, for Mind Mages had whipped them into a frenzy. Gangs of men and women went about screaming, "The Dark One has risen again in Elam! Hail the Necromancer, the Grinder of Bones!" Overhead were those same black birds -- Iron Beaks, I learned they were called -- and men mounted atop dragons, fearsome reptiles that breathed fire and swooped among the ash-clouds.
Once, we saw a group of worshippers gathered round the feet of a well-dressed priest. Right before my eyes, the priest rose up and flew away over the city, borne aloft on nothing more than a carpet. A carpet! I rubbed my eyes and had to look again. In my mind's eye, I can still see him, flying over the rooftops.
But it wasn't the last time I saw one of his kind, those Dark Priests of Taros.
Of my father's brother, we saw not; Shekelesh itself had been ripped asunder by the madness of the Belial-worshippers. The men of the party furiously debated what to do. Some blamed Father for leading them north -- surely Ugarit was not as bad as this damned place, they said. Others wanted to drive east to the water and perhaps bargain for passage to the islands of Zakum and Siddhi. Zakum was rumored to be settled by those friendly to those escaping Taros, but Father said that could not be so, for it was not long ago that Baron Leimar had routed the Zakum people in a bloody conflict.
The other island, Siddhi, was near-empty of men; the few who lived there were tenders of goats. The family of my friend Tuli opted for that route; they left the following morning. I never saw or heard of them again.
Perhaps Tuli was the lucky one, though, for later that week, we were captured by the Shekelesh guards, and that's when this young girl, your grandmother, found herself in a servant-girl's tunic at the foot of the Dark Priest, the one who flew on a carpet.
But I was frightened then, for the guards were Taros Executioners, with their long pole-blades that went snickety-snak. Cut you to pieces they would. But the Dark Priest that commanded them had a need for servants, and he singled out my family and some others. Soon I found myself within the castle walls, carrying jugs of wine and frothy beer to the Priest's table as he conferred with the nobles of Shekelesh. Can you imagine me, dressed in rags with a dirty, smudged face, while the noblemen and magicians tore apart hunks of pork and fowl and wiped their greasy fingers on long, dark tables of fine wood.
*The Spires of Elam...
My time as a servant girl in the Shekelesh castle was not long, for soon the Dark Priest was called back to Elam by his master, the Necromancer, and at the point of a pole-blade, my family and I were ordered to carry what we could and march north.
The road to Elam was hot and harsh and very long -- your grandmother likely could not survive such a journey again. There were about 20 servants and perhaps twice as many soldiers and attendants, as well as Mage Masons, through whose magicks structures were built right before your eyes. At the head and foot of the procession rode Black Knights, keen-eyed archers, atop horned steeds.
My mother became very ill from bad water, but fear of losing our heads to an Executioner's pole-blade kept us all moving. The Priest was there as well, either walking among the guard captains or hovering above us on his carpet. But while he was a quiet figure, he was quick to anger, once dispatching a wayward guard n a crackle of lightning.
The other guards never looked twice, but poked and prodded us with a little more urgency.
Round the eastern foot of the Greater Kaf we marched, gazing upward at the mountains' rocky spires only when we were allowed a snatch of water and a moment to catch our breath. Father said the Necromancer's magic had awakened the Kaf, and like mighty Mt. Angvir in the west, the Kaf now rumbled and belched fire and smoke.
In days, we had reached the rim of the Acid Bog, and for days afterward, the smell of the sulphur pots lingered in my hair. Among those badlands, we saw geysers of boiling water and lakes turned yellow and crusty. We were hungry much of the time, for few edible plants, animals or people lived here -- just the numerous insects that seemed to flourish in the boiling pools.
I should say, no men lived there 'cept the dead, for nights we could hear the moaning and screaming of the dead-who-walked. Sometimes the pitiful undead creatures attacked the party, only to be beaten back by the Executioner's poles and bursts of fire hurled down upon them by the Dark Priest. It seemed that the madness of the people of Shekelesh was just the tip of land's growing, miserable infection.
Through Lambro's Gap we marched; I asked Father how the area got its name, but he only knew the Gap by another name -- Elam's Graveyard, named for the fact that the long, flat valley had been the scene of many a battle through the ages. Many kings had tried to capture Elam by marching up the valley, and many kings had died here, their golden crowns now long buried 'neath the valley soil.
But nothing could have prepared me for Elam, the very abode of the Necromancer.
I can see the city now, in my mind's eye. Dark sky, always choked with smoke and ash. Where once were forests were now only fields of thorns. Thorns that leapt at your shins, thorns that tore your skin; where your skin was torn, the itching near drove me mad.
There was blood on the road to the city. Then, bits of shoes. A scrap of leather, an empty bridle, a shovel. And the closer we got, the more gruesome it became. Overturned oxcarts, with heads and legs and hands spilling out. The driver, burnt to a crisp, still in his seat, birds poking at the holes of his eyes.
Even before you saw the city proper, you saw the Mage Towers high above -- black spires, where grizzled men sat staring, ready to hurl lightning and fire. In the distance to the north, beyond the city itself, were the fiery peaks of Ladron's Wall. The mountains rumbled with fire and smoke, and everything was mired in their ashes; all was as black as a nightsack.
There were no people to speak of, for Elam was a city of the dead. We passed columns of skeleton soldiers walking clickety-clack in crisp formation. Herds of dead men, their flesh still attached, wandered the alleys. Above, there were reptilian Gargoyles, either flying on leather wings or sitting stone silent on castle walls. Ghost Ships hovered over Lake Dagon, and I saw a demon, I did -- a brick-red monstrosity that carried a wicked blade. I shudder at that memory.
Even our captors, the Executioner guardsmen, were visibly frightened, and we were hurriedly ushered into a stable. There we were held without food for three days; all we had were each other to cling to, which was cold comfort indeed from the chaos and suffering outside. It was as if we were trapped within the gates of Hell.
*Home no more...
On the fourth day, the Dark Priest returned -- the nature of his mission we never discovered, and certainly the Executioners said nothing. But they trundled us out soon enough, through streets piled high with garbage and muck, with rats and worse scuttling over our shoes. Soon we found ourselves high on a wooden platform, with crowds of raggedy men shouting ... prices.
We were being sold! Sold as slaves, the three of us as "a family of fine house servants" according to the Executioner captain. Minutes later, we were purchased by, as I learned later, a young rake of the Ontinor clan, who had designs to take us west to the lands of his ancestors.
Mother and Father remained at my side, each with their own grim outlook. We were together -- that was a blessing -- but now headed west under new guard. Our journey had only grown more nightmarish by the hour -- only the gods knew what lay ahead.
The scion of Ontinor and his party, we among them, left that very night. Mother and I were pressed into service as cooks, Father as a drover of oxen. West we headed, past dead Reygos Lake, where no fish, no weeds, prospered in its brine. Past Lake Archeron, where it was said the Black Dragon of Belial makes its roost. Past the distant vista of mighty Mt. Angvir, with its river of lava tumbling into the Bay of Mist.
And though it seemed our nightmare had passed, there were still wolves in the Granith Wood, big enough to steal young oxen, or a young girl. Iron Beaks passed overhead, and we counted our blessings and asked the gods for our deliverance.
But this was Taros, remember closest. Deliverance was not coming for people such as we, for our Ontinor master was the enemy of a member of the Balistan clan. At sunset, with the gates of Quilp in sight, our party was set upon by an army flying the Balistan flag -- a sideshow of horrors, the sight of which I will take to my grave.
Beetles as big as horses seemed to materialize from a copse of trees, each of them spitting flame that engulfed our guards. The worst of the horrors I saw as my father dragged me behind a nearby rock, as the Ontinor-man was set upon by a skeletal Lich. The monster seemed to drain away the very soul of the Ontinor-man before scuttling off to find another victim.
Alarms went up in the city distant, and soldiers rushed from the city gates to beat back the Balistant attackers. But nearly as soon as the attack had started, the beetle-things had vanished, and the Ontinor-man and his followers lay dead.
All was not lost for us. For in the chaos of the moment, we entered the city unchallenged. Quilp was not unlike Ugarit, a city of merchants and smiths, all of them speaking the Taros tongue. The first night we spent wandering, but Father soon found bedding in an empty stable, and later found work unloading ships on the nearby docks. And when the Verunans arrived to trade, we traveled with them to Lendra and then to Aramon.
So now you know the tale, and know why your grandmother still jumps at the sight of a blade.
But we are safe here, young one. The good earth of Aramon protects us.
Yet ... sometimes I look east. The Necromancer, the immortal king of Elam ... he still lives.
I look east and wait for Mr. Dead and his dogs.
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PostSubject: Re: TAK atlas - Veruna, Zhon, Taros stories   Wed Feb 22, 2012 11:23 am

Wow I'll take someday to read all these stories Surprised

Nice post ARTHAN
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