A SHADOWCASTER'S LETTERS
BY SMITH IN EXILE


In the year 857 b.S. an expedition sent by the Arkhaeon Guilders from Ehebion to investigate the rumours about a new prophet, found a lost collection of letters belonging to one of their envoys in the Moon Hills. These letters will reveal the story of a young Murmillion, a descendant of one of Ehebion's greatest and ancient Houses, Kalas Karonn.

Departed to find a wife that will save the Karonn lineage, he unwillingly became the prophet and leader of a Murmillion uprising on the Santerran lands. The story revealed by his unsent letters, follows a web of political and religious intrigues as well as the fate of the first Sarvonian sailors that reached the shores of Nybelmar, who were caught in the turmoil. Later on, Ehebion's scholars have acknowledged this collection of letters as the first sign of a new era in their religious thinking.
 


CHAPTER I: THE DASANS LETTERS

-1-
First Letter to Kassian of the House Karonn,
Overseer of the Karonn Mines at the Red Dragon Peaks

 

ay Mari bless your walks, brother.

I should apologize first, for leaving you like that, without any warning. Yet I hope you feel the same as I do about our little nightly escapade... Quite some wine we had, didn't we? Oh, but what am I talking here, you were still sleeping when I left the compound - and please observe my grin between these words. If somehow it will make you feel better, hear this: I am writing you these lines right here, in the infamous Nightowl Tavern, in the city of Dasans.

Yes, my brother, I rode like a madman, a day and a night, and now it's morning and I am in our beloved capitol. Yet just a cup of tea in front of me... I really think I won't be tasting anymore wine too soon. Actually I envied you when I left, I can't possibly describe how my mouth tasted that morning, besides that very well-known "small helmet on my big head" feeling... I can say that my ride was heroic indeed, oh, and wait till you hear what happened to me on the way here. Although I really hope that you will be hearing it from me only. You see, a wild warg picked up my trail. Oh, I know, I know, everybody would say, "Hey, you're a young drakkar officer, aren't you? So what's the deal with this warg then?"... Yeah, but not everybody knew what was going on inside me (and I won't tell you about the times when I had to stop the horse because the woods were circling around me at some astonishing speeds). I was in no condition to fight a warg! Really. Good thing our horses don't drink such beverages, so I guess I can say I was lucky. Poor horse, galloping like it would have a warg on its tail...

Well, anyway, the bad thing was that just before morning, when I was approaching Dasans, the warg finally caught up with us. I was hearing its growls and heavy breath in the bushes and I knew that I was that close of being attacked. Shame on your little brother... Yet I swear, I was about to stop and face it with whatever odds I would have had in that condition, when I saw three shadows moving swiftly beside me. I heard then a few arrows flying and finally the pitiful squeak of a hacked warg, dying. Yes, the city guards at the Bridge of Mists saved me.

I really can't tell you how I felt after that. As I walked out of the forest I found myself facing the First Tower of the Bridge of Mists. And you know how it is, especially at night, that dark ominous shadow towering over you... The distant lights of Dasans covering the mountainside... The chasm opening under the bridge, as if to swallow you for all eternity... And as I stood there, mouth open and looking up, stunned, I heard the first voice: "May Mari bless your walks, traveller. State your purpose." And then a second voice: "I think his sole purpose was to run... Quite some warg you had on you, young one." Those were the guards, returning with the slayed warg. Well, until now everything was fine (if I may say so), but then one of them noticed the drakkar glyphs on my right arm and everything changed. If only you would have been there to see them laugh. One of them was laughing so hard that no sounds came out of his mouth anymore, and he was just sitting there crouched to the ground with his hands clenched on his belly. But what am I saying here, even the dark and great ominous First Tower of the Bridge of Mists was filled with the guards' laughter. And all sorts of them, you name it, and it was there... I had to bribe them with almost everything I carried to make them solemnly promise that they won't spread the news in Dasans that a son of Karonn has been caught running from a warg. I even promised their captain that I would talk for him to our good uncle for a promotion...

But it's over now, or at least I hope so.

Well, still wondering why I left? I thought so. I left with an errand for our Family. An errand that, to be honest with you, I don't know where it will take me and for how long. I know my purpose and my first step. But I will be writing to you about this tomorrow, after my meeting with... yes, mark my words ...with the Arkhaeon Master. Actually I can't even send you this letter today anymore, how could I have missed that guy? This must be some tricky tea...

Kalas

 

-2-
Second Letter to Kassian of the House Karonn,
Overseer of the Karonn Mines at the Red Dragon Peaks

 

ay Mari bless your walks, brother.

Do you remember me as a child? Do you remember the way I was born? I know that no one in our Family ever dares to talk about this, yet I also know that I owe my life to you - my Family, my beloved merciful Family. Maybe you don't remember, because you strived so much to forget and believe me, brother, I also wish I could have thrown those years into oblivion. Yet I cannot. For I am one of the marked. Born with pointy ears. With a skin too pale. With a face too odd to pass unnoticed. And I know, such a child is meant to be forgotten, cast out, to be engulfed by the Mourning Mountain. And if I wasn't to be a Karonn, perhaps that would have been my fate as well. Our most skillful healers cut my ears, making them look almost normal, spoiled my skin with wondrous mixtures and tended the wounds of my soul for years, yet who were we fooling? I fear to think what would have been if it wasn't for you, brother... Such loneliness is not meant for a child, and perhaps your love altogether, or all the healers of Ehebion would have not sufficed to drag me back from the abyss to which I was destined. Yes, I know, as I passed into adulthood, the traces of shame slowly faded away. But not completely. And what about my memories? They will always be here, burning inside my mind, consuming me in my hours of despair.

I am telling you all these things, because this is the reason for my errand. I am the living proof that our lineage is getting weak. The sickness of time has finally embraced us. Now, usually, I would have been prevented from marriage, but our good uncle came with the strangest idea. I am not the exception, he said, the unwanted visitor, but merely the manifestation of something that lurks deep inside our blood. I am not the curse of the Karonns, but their blessing. Because I am a messenger. Think of our descendants, Kassian. I might be removed from lineage - that's the easiest thing ever - but what if that thing that made me the way I am will speak again for your children? We have the same mother and the same father, Kassian. And we are sharing their blood.

Now you have a beautiful wife of ancient lineage, so no more is to be done for you. But I am still young and suited for marriage. Or so our good uncle suggested. I am to embark on a journey to save our lineage, brother. I am to travel west, beyond the Gates of Ehebion, and I am to seek the health of our blood among the Fallen Ones. Does it seem like a madman's ravings to you? Because this is what it seemed to me when I first heard about it. I even suspected a tainted influence from within the Guild's ranks, you know how our uncle changed since he joined the Arkhaeons... But then I sat and pondered, what if this is indeed the right thing to do? Arkhaeon's past might be troubled, that's one thing for sure, but they have always aimed for Ehebion's glory. What if indeed I am but a messenger? What if my purpose is to return the love with which I was surrounded? What if I can drag the Family away from the abyss? And where else if not among our Fallen brothers? Who would accept me in Ehebion? Oh yeah, I'm sure that any of the young Houses would do anything to plant one of their daughters among the Karonns, but that would not solve the problem. We need new blood, we need health, we need something different.

I will meet with the Arkhaeon Master as soon as the sun will set today. This is why I came to Dasans, rushed by our uncle.

Kalas
 

-3-
Third Letter to Kassian of the House Karonn,
Overseer of the Karonn Mines at the Red Dragon Peaks

 

ay Mari bless your walks, brother.

I have met him. The Arkhaeon Master, or rather "Master Arkhaeon" - like his lackeys are calling him... Oh, but how can I begin? I guess you do wonder above all, if any of those stories that we heard about the Guild Leaders are true... Well, I don't know about the ones before this "Master Arkhaeon", but in his case they are true. All of them, I think... You know, he is that very rare kind of man that leaves a deep mark within your memories, like a burning iron pressed against your skin. Oh, remember all that usual Guild mumbling about how the "spirit" lives in each of their masters? I don't think I understand exactly what they truly mean by that, but this was my strongest feeling, ever present in our conversation. It was like he had all the memories of those before him... Or like he actually was older than time, like the Guild had just one leader since their very beginnings. Yet none of his words might be held as proof for that. There were just my feelings.

As dusk approached I was already standing in the Great Hall at the Arkhaeon Quarters, the letter from our uncle in my hands and (yes, again) mouth open, as I stared at the huge colonnades. Such a waste of space I have never witnessed in my entire life... A huge mosaic on the floor was depicting a scene from the ancient battle on the Fields of Tears. And I was standing right on the feet of our ancestor, King Sylas of the House Karonn, "The Slayer of the Infidels". If I laid down on the floor I would have probably been as tall as his knees. But wouldn't we all, brother? Lots of Kings Ehebion are found in our House, yet who among them can match the majesty of Sylas? However, maybe you might be able to imagine the vastness of these Halls, but can you believe that except a clerk at his desk and just two drakkars guarding him, there was absolutely no one else? No one and nothing, just emptiness and silence...

The clerk kept me there for quite a while, pretending that I had arrived too soon. Too soon? How could have he even thought about such words? Especially there, in the Arkhaeon Halls, where time and space really seemed to have a very different meaning... And then he arrogantly asked me about my purpose. What else if not to meet the Arkhaeon Master? But I guess he did it so to - even more arrogantly - correct me: "Master Arkhaeon. Speak properly and show respect, young one!" Anyway, I was too eager for the meeting so these insults didn't seem too harsh at that time. Then I walked perhaps the longest walk of my life, passing through all the other Halls and "corridors", going deeper and deeper inside the mountain. Now I really believe that the Guilders had actually managed to find one of the ancient Silver Domes, how else could they have "built" all those marvels? And through the tightest of tunnels I finally arrived in front of a silver door. The clerk opened it for me and left without a word. Beyond the door a dark room was waiting. A simple small room it seemed, just a simple wooden table in the middle, two simple wooden chairs and a single simple candle. A deep rugged voice spoke from within a dark corner: "May Mari bless your walks... young Kalas of the House Karonn." Then I saw him, a rather tall man, dressed with just a common shirt and common pants, short haired and with a short and well kept beard, no amulets, no weapons, no dark hooded cloak... simple clothes, simple room, after all that display of grandeur, what was he trying to tell me? - He took a seat at the table while I struggled to appear as calm and strong as I could. Yet only a mumbling came out of my mouth, something resembling of "May Her name be blessed and known... Master Arkhaeon..."

"They called me Menon, before the final initiation. You may call me like that if you think that 'Master Arkhaeon' would be uneasy for you..."

He invited me to take a seat at the table, so I sat down. That's when I saw his eyes. Remember how we used to joke and laugh about the stories telling that all the Guild Leaders have eyes that glow in the dark? Well we were wrong, brother, so wrong. His eyes were so not of this world I could say... An intense purple, a color that seemed to have a life of its own, changing different shades and intensities without any noticeable connection to his possible thoughts or emotions. And I couldn't help but staring into those eyes, mesmerized.

"All our life is a series of initiations," he told me then. "Small steps on our path to that World of Dreams we all long for. What if at some point we might realize that we have reached our final step? Our final initiation? And what would become of us after that? A change beyond the common comprehension perhaps..."

Yet I kept staring into his eyes, so I had to shake my head and take a very deep breath to escape that purple grip. I tried to approve him, letting him know that I understoof, though that change he was talking about was indeed beyond my "common comprehension". But then he kept quiet and although I was waiting for him to say something, he just looked at me, silent. So to avoid that really uneasy silence I brought up our uncle into discussion.

"Oh, but your uncle told me about you, Kalas of the House Karonn. I already know of your... errand. That's why I summoned you here." And then he asked: "The question is, do you know of your errand, young one?" How come? And then I understood that it was a test. Actually during the entire conversation I think he actually kept testing me. But I really can't say why, or if I passed the tests, and I also have the strong feeling that a lot of his tests I didn't even notice. Like this one here: I knew it had to be a test, but I had no clue about its nature. So I just told him that I was to travel to the Moon Hills looking for a wife. He bowed his head hiding his face in shadows and I knew that I just failed the first test.

I threw down all my thoughts about this errand, thoughts that I wrote you about in my previous letter. Ah, but I haven't managed to send you that one yet... I guess you'll get them all in one after all. So, while I was trying to explain what I understood of my mission, I noticed a faint smile cornering in his mouth. And then he interrupted me.

"Your mind is young and untrained, though you show the skills of your ancient lineage." He looked at me as if trying to reach for the deepest corner of my mind. We both kept silent for a while and then he smiled again, as if... Oh, but this would sound so strange, brother... as if he remembered something. Or someone. "Kyras, the first hero of Ehebion, the one who taught us how to carry on the legacy of Menemronn... Kyras, our first King... I can almost see him in you. He is the first of the Karonns and you are the last. Showing the prophecy of your end. It's... beautiful, like a magic circle..." And, oh dear, I couldn't resist not to ask him about the meaning of this bitter prophecy. He clenched his fists on the table throwing me an answer between his teeth: "When they cut your ears down, did they remove your hearing too?" He knew. Of course he knew, he is Master Arkhaeon after all. He should know... everything. "Pride might be a wonderful feeling," he continued, "yet pride is the downfall of the unwary."

"Let me tell you something", he said. "I didn't want to listen all your thoughts about your errand because they are not important. They really don't matter, especially now. You haven't even begun your journey, so how do you expect to understand it now? You see... we all ride in search of answers, we ride the paths longing for that final enlightenment, for that final truth. Yes, that might be our purpose, yet what do we know about it, since we have not reached it?... It's on the question that we ride, Kalas, remember this and you will succeed in your journey." Well, at this point I think you can probably imagine that I started to believe that this whole meeting was indeed quite a bit beyond my "common comprehension". I mean what were all these teachings all about? I was just trying to find a wife after all. Yes, of course, a wife that will save our Family from shame, but it wasn't like I was just about to go to war. But then again... who knows what is really going on among the Fallen Ones? And thinking about all these things I even started to consider the idea of looking for that wife among the commoners right here, in Ehebion. What, don't I have any chances to find a nice daughter of a miner at the Red Dragon Peaks? As I was protected against evil gossips, perhaps we can protect her too against the disapproving eyes of the other great Houses... And then I saw him looking at me again. Smiling. I blushed and looked down. Curses! This man was reading me like an open book. He had that kind of look, as if to tell me "hey, just stop for a moment and look at what you were thinking" and indeed he was right. A commoner? Have I gone insane?

He stood up and started to walk slowly across the room. "Five hundred years ago a great darkness engulfed the lands," he said. "And no one saw the sun anymore, not for a day, not for a week and not for a month. As time stood still... waiting... for our doom to come. In our foolish pride we saw in this darkness our salvation, our moment of destiny. We thought it was the time for the Shadow of the Burning Mountains of Ehebion to veil the lands and bring every lost soul on the true path." He laughed shortly and quietly. "Yet, tell me, Kalas, have you seen any shadows in a complete darkness?" I was about to tell him that I knew these things, as I was a drakkar officer after all, but he continued his lesson. "We fought our last war during the Year of Darkness and we have witnessed a majestic... defeat. A defeat worthy of the one witnessed by your ancestor, Kyras, the first of the Karonns. The Santerrans, the fishermen from the south, were the victors. Because of that defeat we are now as we are here, today. Isolated in our heartlands, in these mountains, in this peninsula. We are the last free Murmillions. Or so the historians say." I asked him if he wanted to suggest that our Murmillion brothers, living under Santerran rule on the Moon Hills, were actually not as fallen or subjugated as we seem to think. He looked at me, smiling, and said: "Wrong, Kalas, wrong. What I am trying to tell you here is that it was not the Santerran fishermen to defeat us, but it were we. We once forged a great dominion, and our Shadow Realm extended to the far west, right into the core lands of the infidels, at the city of Kormendale. Yet from what I know, just before the darkness came, there was no Kormendale in the Shadow Realm anymore. Just the Legates of our Great Houses walking their paths oblivious to Ehebion's destiny. Santerrans might have just hurried the inevitable, as the flaw was hidden deep inside our very own construction." And then he asked: "Do you know what Lords of the Sickle means?" I told him that this was the name applied to our forefathers, the ones that had established the Kingdom of Ehebion. "Yes, some of the commoners are still naming this peninsula The Sickle, instead of Ehebion. Can you see then? We started as Lords of the Sickle, here in the shadow of the Burning Mountains, and here we are now, in the shadow of the Burning Mountains again, Lords of the Sickle for once more... it's like... a magic circle."

He returned from a corner with a sword wrapped in some fine cloth. Then he sat down putting the sword on the table. "What are you, Kalas of the House Karonn?" This question came so sudden that I needed quite a long moment before I even started to think about its possible answer. What was I? A drakkar officer, I answered but he kept staring at me. A drakkar officer of the new breed, I completed. "Ah yes, the new breed," he said, "my breed." Of course, as opposed to the old school guys, we were trained under the direct supervision of the Guilders. And he was their Master. So I figured out (a bit late though) that this wasn't the right answer. "I can tell that," he continued, "with my eyes closed... So, what are you, Kalas of the House Karonn, drakkar officer of the new breed?" Don't ask me how the right answer came to me, it suddenly did, just like a stroke of lightning. So I told him, probably with a dumb smile on my face and my heart beating up my throat: a Shadowcaster, I am a Shadowcaster.

"The traces of shame that you bear are only a mark. And that thing that causes them usually does a great damage to your spirit. Yet you had part of good healers, Kalas, I can see that already. From which of the Cults were they?" The Resurrection of Menemronn, of course. "Oh, but of course," he said, "always The Resurrection for a Karonn... I didn't know they were that good, though. A Shadowcaster indeed you are, Kalas, a shepherd always bringing the lost flock to the true ways of the Burning Mountains..." He paused as if waiting for me to complete his thoughts but I had no clue about what he expected me to say so again an uneasy silence settled over us. I noticed though that the shades and nuances of his purple eyes were changing more rapidly now. Then he suddenly pushed the sword on the table: "Here, take a look at this." I unwrapped the cloth to find the finest piece of craftsmanship that I ever saw. The hilt was a work of art by itself, as for the blade, well I think it could have simply split a hairline in two. But when I turned the blade over I saw the glyph enchantment: it was a drakkar's sword. So I smiled and confident that this should have been another test I told him: "But you know I can't use it, however wonderful it might be, this sword is already engraved and it doesn't belong to me." But it wasn't a test.

"It's the sword made for Theodunn, the Prophet King of the House Pheronn. And I want you to have it." The Tyrant's sword, brother! Imagine that! And he really expected me to take it? Dumping the sword on the table I told him with all my anger: "A Pheronn blade! I will die first!" Yet he continued to stay calm. "Die if you must, Kalas, but you will not leave Ehebion without it." No! I shouted. I will not taint my mind with a Pheronn's enchantment! "Kalas believe me, I know of the bitter rivalry between your Houses, I know more than you do, perhaps. And I will not trust you with such a splendid artifact if I wouldn't know something. You see... before you came to me I tried to walk my dreams with you and I did see you traveling the Moon Hills, but I also saw this sword as well. I am not asking you to use it, I just want you to carry it. And you will, Kalas." I couldn't understand any of this, in what way a Pheronn blade might help me, a son of the House Karonn? Not to mention that it was hard to believe that this was indeed the Tyrant's sword. If this was true than the weapon should have been about two thousand years old! "Yet it is true, Kalas, and if you would dig deeper you will see that a lot of the Pheronn artifacts survived that age." It couldn't be, no smith of the House Pheronn could forge something like that. "No smith of the House Pheronn indeed..." he said. How come? From where did they have these weapons? But all these questions started to fade away as I found myself engulfed by those purple eyes again. And I could almost hear his voice inside my head, whispering "take it take it take it..." banging on my forehead "take it take it..." rolling like a boulder between my temples. Until I heard myself saying "I will."

Yes, I took the sword. I still have it with me. I could have tossed it in the nearest fountain, but I didn't. Even if that sorcery, or whatever it was that he did to me, was long gone. The Tyrant's sword... and I have it with me. I wrapped it back in its cloth and strapped it on the horse and I didn't try to read the glyphs on the blade. And I hope I'll never be forced to read them. I have my own weapons and my own ways. Yet I dream of this sword, hanging over my head, like a bad omen. Tomorrow I should pass through the border fort, leaving the High Shores Road. The Moon Hills await.

Kalas

 

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