Kantalar and the Hikazi
Kantalar gathers his things, restocks his supplies and heads out at dawn on a frigid and overcast day, unaware of the turmoil brewing in the east. He decides not to follow the main road northwest, which would have eventually circumnavigated Mt Cremon via the Pass of Illithis. Instead he cuts across the farms and villages to the west of Rolo, and makes straight for the foothills of the great mountain, camping in barns, or out on the open prairie.
The great face of Arken-Sule, looks down upon him as he climbs the jagged slope below it, the waning sun glinting off the flecks of silver in its eyes. The bas-relief carving in the side of the cliff is as tall as a storm giant; its features neither human, nor elfin, nor dwarven, nor goliath or halfling, but an ambiguous hybrid. Kantalar searches at the base, and just as Leskan promised, an invisible staircase winds its way up behind the face from a gap in the rocks.
The stairs emerge from the gap and continue upwards, scaling across sheer bluffs and zigzagging around spires. Kantalar struggles with the waves of vertigo crashing over him as he climbs the nothingness; a falling death the only sight below. Gusts of freezing wind threaten to bully him over the edge, but his footing remains deft and sure.
Twice the dark of night halts his progress, and forces him to make camp on precipitous ledges, binding himself with rope and pitons to the rock lest he doze off and roll over. But on the third day he spots his goal, the Hikazi temple, clinging to an outcropping; round white buildings with red domes hang like barnacles, nestled amongst hanging gardens. Kantalar wends his way up to the temple, finally able to relax with visible steps once again underfoot.
A heavy, immovable stone door bars entrance to the temple, but Kantalar soon gains entry, rotating the midsection of a totem pole nearby. The door grinds aside revealing a cold, dim entrance hall, and somewhere a heavy bell tolls, pealing long and deep. Kantalar steps inside and a voice greets him from the shadows as his eyes adjust to the gloom.
“Kantalar, welcome to Jyanmar, home of the Hikazi. Please divest yourself of your worldly burdens. Where you stand is fine. There are robes hanging upon the wall behind you. When you are ready, I shall cleanse your weary feet.”
The avenger enjoys the brief respite from his harried travels, the peace and isolation of the temple a world away from the turmoil playing out below. After a meal of highland shiitake mushrooms and leeks in hot broth, Kantalar is finally shown to where Quan meditates. From one of the Hikazi dojos a series of wooden planks jut from the building out over nothingness. Figures perch on some of the planks, each locked in a contorted pose. Kantalar’s guide motions towards a small dog flap in the wall that leads out to one such plank, and looking out he can see a gnarled and grey haired old man, legless, gripping the beam with his thigh stumps and raising his palms to the sky.
Kantalar looks at his guide, then back at the little dog flap and the narrow beam beyond; the vast vista of eastern Pharanathia spread out below.
Seeing his reluctance, the guide opens a trunk against the wall, takes out a rope and proceeds to tie it around Kantalar’s waist, fastening the other end to a support beam. Kantalar crawls through the dog flap and gingerly inches along the beam until he is behind Quan. Strangely the air here is still, and Kantalar tries not to look down.
“Kantalar, you must be very weary from your travels. Put your feet up…relax!” Quan chuckles without turning around. “Tell me your troubles.”
Kantalar pours forth his questions…
“Is it right to sit on a mountain when the world is in chaos?”
“What is the cause of all this chaos?”
“How is it that Menon dominates the other gods in Pharanathia?”
“Are the prophesies real or mere tools of someone manipulating certain events?”
“How much do you know about the Avendi?”
“Can there be peace between Dragons and Men?”
“Why is it that the church and state want the Hussians captured or dead?”
“Are the Hussians really just another group contributing to the chaos?”
“How can we protect people without knowledge?”
“What is the book of Asuras and where can it be found?”
“What is so important about he marked boy and what will he do?”
“How is it that knowledge is kept hidden from the people of Pharanathia?”
“Our ignorance will cause many to die unnecessarily.”
… after which Quan draws in a deep breath that he lets out as a long low hum. There is a long, still silence and Kantalar starts to wonder if Quan has stopped breathing. He leans forward, about to tap the old man on the shoulder when the answer comes.
“There once was a woodsman that lived with his young daughter in the vast sylvan forest of the Deepmist Wilds. One day the daughter was playing near the cottage when she saw a rabbit, and she chased it. It led her deep into the woods and then she lost it. She tried to return home, but soon lost her own trail. One tree looked like the next. It was getting dark, and the shadows soon obscured every path, every landmark. She could see no way through, and the more she searched, the most lost she became.
Darkness swallowed her and she was so afraid. She cried and wallowed in helplessness and fear, and finally implored the gods, Melora, Correlon, any god, to aid her. At first there was no answer except the creepy sounds of night, but then a miracle. Woodland fairies appeared out of the trees, surrounded the girl and lifted her off the ground, higher and higher above the canopy. When she looked down she could see the whole forest, and all of the landmarks marking the way home were revealed.
The Hikazi long ago rose above the forest and came to live here. By rising above the world we make sense of that which is obscured while amongst the trees. What you describe as chaos is simply the order of things that you cannot yet rationalise. The Hikazi remain detached so they may be your woodland fairies, helping you to make sense of your predicament and find your way home.
To answer your other questions, you should know a little more of the history of the Hussians; specifically at around the time the Hussians had completed their epic mission to free the world from the tyranny of dragons. The Hussian movement brought together many powerful individuals with different motivations, but bound by their common enemy. But once that enemy was defeated the movement fragmented. Big egos clashed. There were fights and wars over how to restructure the newly freed societies. Some individuals simply sought power, and were corrupted by it. Indeed the very act of defeating the dragons greatly enhanced their strengths, magnified their abilities and magics, and in some cases also their malevolence. At the end of their lives some of them sought to cheat death, delving into forbidden and ancient arts to preserve their life force. It seems that some may have succeeded.
Menon may be one of them.
Menon came into the consciousness of Pharanathians about 500 years ago. He first shows up in their writings around the time that the Laureths took power, uniting the five tribes of Lo’mere, Laureth, Tarkan, Rolo, and Valford. But there is more to the story than what can be found in the recorded histories.
The Hikazi practice memory transference. Before a monk passes from this world, his memories are transferred to another through a series of shared meditations. That is how we preserve the history of our order, and it’s how I recall the story of the Hussians. By searching those memories I have found an event that predates the Laureths coming to power: a cataclysm that killed tens of thousands of people. It occurred northwest of this mountain range, and left a great scar in the land; a chasm so deep and wide that no one knows what lies at the bottom, ever is it obscured by fogs and mists, its sheer walls miles high and fatally treacherous.
This chasm is known to the Pharanathians as Menon’s Scar, and in the teachings of Menon it is heralded as a sign from the god; a stamp of his authority over Pharanathia. The first writings of the faith originate from regions around the chasm, though they make no mention of the devastation wrought by its creation. There is no firm evidence of a divine link, except that it is said that an injury to the earth like that could have been generated by perhaps the powerful ritual known: the Ascension ritual. Such devastation could have been unleashed by the creation of a new god. Whether or not that is true, Menon’s agents, starting with his arch-prelate of the time in league with the Laureths, have managed to sway the people of Pharanathia to the new faith.
And why do the other gods allow Menon to dominate? That I cannot answer, except to say that Pharanathia is but one small corner of the world. Menon is little known outside of it. Perhaps that would change if his influence were to spread. But then it is also true that the power of the other gods has waned. Perhaps Menon masks the prayers of those he would name heathen.
As for the Avendi… They are a brutal people with little honour or compassion. Their history has little to do with the peoples of Kestria. Their people came up from the hot and steamy jungles of the south thousands of years before the time of the Hussians. It is said that their ruler, only know by the name of Qarathis is an immortal and demigod, but is also not of their people; a foreigner. The demigod thing may be just a story perpetuated by the Avendi to instil fear in their enemies, but given the power their agents wield in the form of potent arcana, that hardly seems necessary. Whereas Menon seeks to withhold magics from the general populace as a means of keeping them docile, the Avendi foster it as a means of building their strength. The Avendi Striders that you encountered are their scouts and saboteurs. They always come in threes, wield great power, and are blessed with the ability to Shadow Walk at will, unless they are pinned down in combat. Thus they may cover great distances quickly, and penetrate deep into enemy territory with ease.
I have meditated long on the things Leskan has told me, and on whisperings on the wind. What I keep coming back to is the link between the Avendi and dragons, both true and false. We know that at the time the Hussians overthrew dragon rule, much to our shame we never truly eradicated them. The order was given to kill every dragon, every dragon-kin, every egg. But in the memories of the Hussians I see that some eggs were carried off from dragon lairs by those who were corrupted by greed. The eggs would only hatch by deliberate action. So the question is posed, is the Avendi ruler a former Hussian, preserved in undeath, in possession of dragon eggs that he seeks to wield as weapons? It seems that question may be answered very soon.
The mystery of the alliance with the false dragon, an agent of primordial chaos, is one that so far escapes my deepest meditations. The Lord of the Rimefire, Umboras, as the legend holds is perennially trapped in a vault within the labyrinthine corridors of the otherworldly realm of Pandemonium, lured there by the Raven Queen. The primordials are the losers of the Dawn War, and eternal enemies of the gods. An alliance between a demigod and a commander of the forces of Umboras seems a tad unlikely. Rumours and whispers float far on the wind, but truth stays grounded, physical and real.
The more immediate riddle we need to solve is that of what Qarathis is after. I would answer that by asking what do all those who wield great power seek? More power. If we presuppose the demigod rumour is true, then what else would a demigod seek, but to become a god.
Which brings us to the marked boy and the book of the Asuras.
These are tools it would seem. The prophetic book like a volume of dinner recipes, instructions and lists of ingredients. The boy; one of the ingredients. Without the book we cannot know the rest of the recipe. We may not be able to stop Qarathis directly, but if we had the recipe we could stay a step ahead him. There is a small chance the Pharanathians have a full or partial copy in their libraries. Smaller chance the Jodanians, who tend to keep precise military records, but naught else. To obtain the book from the source will not be easy. Even where the Rakshasi exist in familiar society, they are near impossible to expose, such is the strength of their deception. There are some free cities to the southwest and on the islands off the south coast not on Pharanathian maps where the Rakshasas live more openly. They are dangerous places where common folk are little welcomed.
There is a Hussian named Mathule Tolemy in Tarkan who could find a ship and captain to grant you passage to one of these free cities. Ask of him at Southbank Shipwrights. He is a ship builder of some repute there.
But it may be more important at this stage to secure the boy. Snatching him from under the nose of the Striders and hiding him will give us the upper hand. At the same time be mindful of the seeds of chaos that the Arch-prelate sews. He marches on So’ren under the pretext of unity, well aware of the ill feelings it will stir within the kingdom and without. Cut off from her precious trade in valuable reagents, Queen Merriwen may well strike back, unaware that such an action will leave both peoples at their most vulnerable to Avendi invasion.
The Arch-prelate is as dangerous as he is likely evil. His actions are more treasonous than the treason he claims to fight. He is not what he seems, and must be stopped lest he hand all of Kestria on a platter to the avaricious forces of destruction.