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Old 06-14-2020, 11:57 AM   #4
Join Date: Jun 2020
Default Story so far, part 3

Arland is controlled by seven noble families, one of which is the king's family that the others are supposed to be loyal to. The peasants are even weaker and sicklier than those in the Cities of the Prince and the land is a wasteland with every tree cut down and almost all of it used for growing grain. This behaviour is similar to that of their hairy cousins, the apes, but I have not yet observed any cannibalism, even though they do not have any concerns about disease and will happily eat other mammals and birds. The majority of the land not used for grain is used for growing small fruits called grapes which are quite delicious. Unfortunately, most of the grapes are crushed and the juice placed in barrels to ferment, becoming a disgusting beverage called wine. Wine is highly priced among the mammals for its intoxicating effect and they will imbibe it in large quantities.

Most of the work here is done by slaves, individuals who are somehow considered the property of another individual and forced to do whatever the owner decides. Trolls are kept in similar arrangements the Cities of the Prince, but the owners are called guardians. Lunari is the guardian of Grogg. Naturally, the slaves are not happy with such an unnatural arrangement and are prone to uprisings, one such uprising was under way when we arrived. The whole area seems to tether on the edge of civil war and I wonder if war is their only effective way of population control. In any case, it is a brutal affair with farms burned and cities ransacked.

To the north of the Cities of the Prince and Arland are mountains and forests dominated by mammals called orcs. They have green skin and come in a range of sizes with the smallest about the size of a human and the largest considerably bigger and stronger. They live in tribes controlled by whoever defeated the previous leader in single combat. While an unstable form of government, at least it ensures a strong leader. Overall, the orcs are just as savage as the other mammals.

The Land of the Stone Circles is dominated by a great river with fertile plains around the river and arid deserts and mountains surrounding the plains. Our destination was the city of Guling in the far south west corner of Arland and we intended to travel by wagon to the river and take a boat from there. In the first city we reached, which took 5 days, I shadowed Nuur-Karif into an underground chapel dedicated to a god of snakes and death, Ashtar. Not expecting anything to happen, I agreed to join their cult in an initiation rite involving lying down on the floor with snakes. That night, I lost consciousness while studying the stars. My surprise was great when I regained consciousness the next morning and my tongue had forked. Clearly, I had come into contact with a power. Nuur-Karif seems to be quite fanatically devoted to Ashtar, but they are one of the least hysterical and materialistic mammals I have met. Physically, they have been blessed with poison fangs and night vision, but more importantly, they have been rewarded with a more reptilian temperament. I now believe that Ashtar is the god worshipped as Ssuxxakan by some of the Small People. A curious difference is that Ssuxxakan is depicted as a two headed snake or two entwined snakes while the Ashtarites always refers to Ashtar as a single female deity. I have also spoken with an ancient orc which claimed to have seen them and talked of two and I wonder if Ashtar is one of two or if the mammals are just confused.

We traveled further west, but already the next night I had a new vision. I was traveling with Kama and Taxini to hunt a great power they sensed in the far east. When we reached it, we found that it was the eastern wind itself. It was chasing the clouds westwards and was bringing destruction and chaos. When I told the others in the morning Grogg proclaimed that it was Palo, a dragon their ancestor, Orga, had defeated and chased away to the east. A dragon is an enormous creature that looks like one of us, but with wings and breathing fire. Lunari did not take my vision seriously and we traveled on in the sunny weather. Around noon, the horizon to the east darkened and we could see clouds coming towards us with an unnatural speed. We took shelter at a farm, but the roof would have blown off had it not been for Grogg. They seemed to be possessed by the spirit of Orga and held the house together. Through the ring I could see what must have been spirits in the wind. The wind passed as quickly as it had appeared. In its wake came a massive downpour which lasted for the rest of the day. Incidentally, this was the day of Mitra, which is held sacred in Arland. There had also been an assassination of a Mitra priest in Sulla, the city we reached the next day, resulting in the entire city being closed down and we proceeded to a small town in the area.

When observing the stars that night, my view was blocked by the clouds. Through the ring, I could see magical energies flickering in the clouds. Soon after, a dying raven came flying with a shining coin in its beak. Grogg was very upset, but there was nothing they could do and the raven passed on. I secured the coin, which Lunari and Grogg claimed to have seen in the forest. We spent 2 more days in the area and the second night, Grogg woke up with a silver key, also from the forest, and had heard cawing in the night. Looking at them through the ring, I could see a strange shimmering that had surrounded them in the beginning, but stopped the day the ravens left. It appeared that the spirit of the dead raven was now in them. Keys and locks, flimsy mechanical contraptions, are used by the mammals to keep intruders out, but are easy to open without a key. On our way back to Sulla, we were approached by a priest of Mitra that claimed a Mhalak had told the priest to tell Nuur-Karif that they must go to the prophet in the south. We still do not know who the prophet is, but a Mhalak is a creature that is supposed to be closely connected to Mitra. 4 days after the raven had died, I could see a spirit raven on Grogg's shoulder through the ring.

Close to Sulla there are three stone circles and I could tell they were in good positions to observe the stars from a days travel away. Nothing grew in and around them and the circles themselves were stone floors inlaid with mosaics. While the mosaics were broken, they reminded me of star charts and they were made with stones I had previously seen in the Azura temple. These stones appear to absorb star energy, or at least react to it. During daytime we could see spirit priests through the ring wandering around doing manual chores like cleaning. They did not react to us, but maybe to the spirit raven Grogg had named Kra. At night, we could see the spirit priests clearly without the ring. In the first we reached, I sat down and had a very clear view of the sky, as if the circle magnified my view. In the second, something seemed broken and Lunari claimed a magical spell must have gone wrong in it. We hurried on to the last and I remember nothing until Lunari woke me in the morning and I exclaimed "You must not disturb the threads of fate!". While I was out, my eyes had been glowing with star light and the spirit priests had seemed to notice me. The threads of fate is the concept the Azura priests use to describe the stars' influence on our lives.

After the experience in the stone circles, we found a ship going down the river and left the Sulla area on the 8th day after the great storm. I spent most of the journey under deck, except for a night and a day in a rowing boat because we had to evade some soldiers looking for Nuur-Karif whom had killed someone important to them as part of their duties to Ashtar. The reason Nuur-Karif was in the Cities of the Prince in the first place was to kill someone and bring their head back to Arland. We spent 3 days on the ship and got off at the southern city of Sam. On the last night on board, I could see a strange shimmer in the northern sky, but it was gone the next night.

Last edited by Stomoxys; 09-16-2021 at 09:57 AM.
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