masterghandalf: (Default)
[personal profile] masterghandalf


Chapter 11: Elders of the World

Taivaktri and her company lead the mercenaries and Meren through the streets of Dvarnaava, slowly making their way towards the city center. The buildings, constructed primarily of stone, were sparsely ornamented but superbly crafted, with smooth lines and an elegant air; the streets were straight and well-maintained; the people they passed went about their business in an orderly fashion, speaking little but smiling and nodding politely to all they passed.

Rinnean didn’t like it, and the further they progressed into the city the more he could define why. He was used to the bustle and noise of Khorvaire cities, like Sharn or Wroat; they were chaotic, they were messy, but they were alive, alive and unpredictable in a way that Dvarnaava, so far as he could tell, was not. The people – some of whom had the unmistakable but indefinable look of kalashtar, others of whom appeared to be ordinary humans – were so perfectly choreographed that it looked like they’d been practicing every day for a year to get it just right. This seemed like a place where very little ever happened that was unplanned or unexpected. Maybe Rinnean had misjudged it; maybe somewhere there were taverns where the normally-reserved Adarans let loose, dancing on tables and getting into brawls and otherwise doing things that were entirely improper, but it such a place existed, it wasn’t immediately obvious where it might be found.

He hadn’t expected a land halfway around the world from his home, a land that was locked in an eternal stalemate with the most powerful empire in all of Eberron, to be this boring.

Finally, with the suns last rays glimmering gold through the narrow valley where Dvarnaava was located, they arrived at their destination; a long, low building at the center of the city, larger than most of the others but otherwise unremarkable. A pair of kalashtar, a man and a woman, stood by its entrance like a pair of honor guards; Taivaktri approached them and had a quick, whispered conversation in the sibilant Quori language, and then she bowed. The guards returned the gesture and stepped aside; Taivaktri entered, her charges close behind.

Inside, the building was clean and cool, its walls unadorned save for the small crystal lamps that lined both sides. They were in a long, straight hallway with doors on either side; Rinnean watched them with interest as they passed by, hoping one might open and he would get a glimpse of what lay beyond, but none did. At the end of the hall was another, larger door; when Taivaktri reached it she pushed it open and the mercenaries followed her inside.

They found themselves in a larger chamber line with pillars, lit by the same crystal lamps, though these were hung in a chandelier in the ceiling. Here there was art along the walls, but it was art of a style that Rinnean was unfamiliar with. He’d grown up in a wealthy Dragonmarked House, and as part of his duties for that House he’d spied on and raided the homes of other wealthy people and groups; he fancied himself familiar with the styles used by the artists of Khorvaire. The Adaran art, however, didn’t depict humanoid figures, or even landscapes, but rather complex abstract patterns that suggested scenes and individuals somehow, but never showed them directly. He felt a pull towards one of the nearer pieces, a desire to try and examine it and figure out its secrets, but he shook it away. Rinnean was here because the captain had taken a job that brought them to Adar, not to study – or steal- their host’s art collection.

At the far end of the chamber was a raised awning beneath which were a number of low seats. They were empty as the group approached, but a few moments after Taivaktri stopped in front of them several people entered from side doors and took up their places on them. All of them were kalashtar, and they wore the plain brown robes that seemed so inexplicably popular among that people, but none of them looked younger than middle age, and they all had a quiet confident air, as of people who were accustomed to respect and obedience from others.

Taivaktri and her people bowed at the waist, as did Havaktri; after a moment’s hesitation, so did Len, and the rest of the mercenaries followed suit. When they raised their heads, they saw their escort was departing, leaving them alone with the seated kalashtar.

The one in the middle – an older man with a shaved head- spoke in the common language of Khorvaire; his accent was more pronounced than Havaktri’s, but his words were understandable. “Welcome, travelers, to Dvarnaava,” he said. “We are the elders of this city, and we each represent our lineage – our family, you might say. None of us has precedence over the others, but as I am more familiar with your language than my esteemed colleagues, I have been chosen to speak to do. I am Ganharath.

“Yesterday, we saw your coming, and that you would attempt to cross the Riedran blockade, though we did not know the precise time. Adar has been a land of refuge for time immemorial, since long before the coming of the kalashtar, and we could not stand by and allow you to be taken by the servants of the Inspired, our ancient foe. And yet we cannot help but be wary. Seldom do visitors from Khorvaire come to us; the rulers of your land more commonly treat with Riedra, who maintain that we are anarchists and rebels. Their words have poisoned many against Adar, and the kalashtar people. And yet you travel in the company of one of our own,” he nodded to Havaktri, “and it is clear you are no friends of the Inspired. So tell me, Captain d’Lyrandar, why you made this perilous voyage, and what, exactly, you seek in Adar.”

“Honestly,” Meren said, “this really isn’t my journey. I confess I took the job because it seemed dangerous and exciting – something I could tell the House when I got back home, add to my reputation a bit – and I brought some goods in Stormchaser’s hold that I wouldn’t mind trading, if possible. And my ship did get damaged, so if your people would be willing to help me fix her, I’d be most grateful to you. But really, it’s Captain Len and her people who wanted to get out here; she’s the one who hired me. You want to know what this is all about, ask her.”

“You may trade, if you wish,” Ganharath said, “and we will provide you with materials to repair your vessel.” He turned to Len. “And you – what I asked of him, I now put to you as well.”

Len shrugged. “Well, it’s something of a long story,” she said. “It all started for us, at least, when Thyra here showed up and wanted us to do a job for her, but if you really want to know why, I think she can explain it better. Thyra?”

The young human woman stepped forward, and Rinnean thought she seemed more confident now than she had when they’d first met in Sharn; it wasn’t just that she’d changed her hair and clothes, he decided, but that her whole bearing was different – harder, more determined. She spoke of the Overlords, the Lords of Dust, and, after a brief pause to collect herself, her own heritage – she spoke of the map to the Mournland and the Key that lay hidden there, of ir’Sarrin and the Emerald Claw, and the battle with the rakshasa. “And so,” she concluded, “we believe that the next piece of this artifact may be found in the far north of Sarlona. I don’t know how the Inspired found out about our journey, or what they think it has to do with them, but our real goal is to claim the Key, and hopefully to figure out how to use it to bind the Lords of Dust – maybe even all of them. We would humbly request your assistance.” Thyra bowed, copying a gesture Havaktri might have used; Rinnean thought it looked all right, though from Havaktri’s pained expression something wasn’t being performed to standards.

The elders glanced at each other, and Rinnean fancied he could hear the faint whisper of their thoughts as they spoke mind-to-mind. Finally, Ganharath turned back to the travelers. “My compatriots think that this is a fascinating story,” he said, “and they wish you will on your quest. But they want to know what this has to do with us?”

“What do you mean?” Thyra demanded, looking startled. “You’re Havaktri’s people, and she say that the kalashtar walk the Path of Light, that you oppose evil powers, just like the Silver Flame does. How can you say this doesn’t have anything to do with you?”

“Easy, kid,” Len said, putting a hand on Thyra’s shoulder. “These are our hosts; let’s try not to offend them. But I’ll admit I’m wondering the same things.”

“We walk the Path of Light,” Ganharath said, his tone still calm and even. “We oppose the agents of the Dreaming Dark, be they quori or mortal. But our war is primarily a spiritual war. We seek to perfect ourselves, to do good in the world, so that the wheel of ages will turn and a new age of light will be born, and il-Lashtavar die. But we are descended from another world, and though we cannot return there ourselves, it is to Dal Quor that our thoughts and dreams must turn. If the Dreaming Dark perishes and the Great Light is born, we believe all the planes will benefit. But we are not the Church of the Silver Flame; fighting evil in all its guises is not our purpose. So tell me again – why does this concern us?”

“Honored Elder, if I may,” Havaktri said, “I’ve seen the creature that opposes us – it is terrible! And from what I know of the rakshasa, they consider this whole world their birthright, and will not stop with Khorvaire. As one kalashtar to another, I humbly propose that they are the enemy of il-Yannah, whether they know it or not, and therefore are our enemies as well.” She bowed – rather more smoothly than Thyra had – and fell silent.

“Everything is connected,” Harsk said unexpectedly. “World’s all one whole, even if we try to chop it up and pretend otherwise – least, that’s what the druids say, and I’ve never seen reason to think they’re wrong. Maybe you think your private war is safe from interference, but I’d wager my bow and a year’s pay it’s not. Riedra and Adar can duke it out for a thousand years and pretend the rest of the world doesn’t exist, but the rest of the world sure as Khyber won’t ignore you.”

“I go where Len goes,” Ghazaan said, “and the boss hasn’t led me wrong yet. I don’t care if you help us or not, but I just want to say that we wouldn’t be on a job this crazy at all if she didn’t think it was important.”

Silence fell across the hall, and it seemed that the elders were once again conversing silently; Rinnean wondered if he was expected to stick up for this mess next, and was quietly hoping no one would try to make him, when Yhani suddenly stepped forward and cast back her white hood, letting the crystal lights play along her silver-blonde hair. She faced the elders confidently, her face as serene as theirs.

Ganharath leaned forward, his expression still neutral, but there was something curious in his eyes. “It has been many years since one of your people has set foot on our shores,” he said. “But the kalashtar know the Aereni elves, and respect them.”

“And we respect you and your people as ones who see far and possess deep knowledge,” Yhani said. “But now I say that you should hear my words. Your people are young yet in this world, Elder Ganharath. Mine are old. Not as old as the dragons or the rakshasas, perhaps, but old nonetheless, and there is much that we know that others have lost. I am Yhani of the family Eshenali, a daughter of Aerenal and a Soungral of the Undying Court. You ask why the matter of the Lords of Dust concerns you? I will tell you!

“You, whose ancestors fled from Dal Quor, know the power of dreams and of the mind; we know the powers of this world. We believe that there is one divine source that underlies all things, but that it is a force too vast, too… transcendent for any mortal to comprehend. Even as you do, we believe in the quest for enlightenment, but we hold that a mortal life – even an elven life – is too short to attain it. Existence is a journey of endless steps, and the mortal life is but one step upon that path. Thus we use great and secret magical arts to permit the souls of our ancestors to remain a part of this world, that they might progress further along this path, and yet still return to guide us with the knowledge of the divine that we could not attain ourselves. We do not seek to defeat death; that is the folly of the Blood of Vol. Death is. Rather, we embrace it, and through embracing it, we believe our ancestors transcend it.

“The Deathless teach us that in the beginning of time, the divine force – which we do not name, for we do not seek to cage or control the infinite – split itself into three. These are the three elders of the world, and their names are known to us still – Siberys, the Dragon Above, Eberron, the Dragon Between, and Khyber, the Dragon Below. From Siberys comes the gifts of magic and wisdom; Eberron is the mother of life, and all who live are her children; Khyber is bound far beneath the earth, and from her proceed all the fearsome things that dwell in darkness.

“Greatest among Khyber’s children are the Overlords, beings of extraordinary strength and infinite malice. They ruled this world when it was young, and were barely defeated. I see you nodding; you know this lore. Then you may also know that what Thyra has told you is true; the Overlords still have servants in this world, and the Lords of Dust ever seek to release their masters to reign once again with blood and fire.

“But what you may not know – the knowledge that we of Aerenal remember – is that the Overlords are not mere beings of flesh and blood. They are the embodiments of ideas – each a different form of evil or destruction. Their influence is not restricted to their bodies – if they were freed, the Deathless say, they could remake the world simply by being. Do you comprehend this? The Overlords and rakshasas are this world’s demons – they are to Eberron what the Dreaming Dark and its quori are to Dal Quor. The strength of the Undying could protect Aerenal from their power, for a time; I believe that the remnants of the sacrifice of Taratai would protect Adar as well. But at what cost? I do not know what Overlord our enemy serves, but imagine – if Bel Shalor, the Shadow in the Flame, is freed, shadows will deepen, words of treachery and paranoia whispered on the wind. If Rak Tulkesh, the Rage of War, walks again, the people of the world will become mad reavers who will bathe the earth in blood. If Dral Khatuur, the Heart of Winter, works her will, the world will be cast into a new ice age beneath which life as we know it will perish.” Yhani’s eyes glinted in the dim light. “Indeed, I have found texts that indicate that such a being – Ran Lishiv, the Unmaker – is bound somewhere beneath these very lands. Imagine if even one of them were loose! If Dal Quor reflects Eberron, you believe, and you seek to bring about a new light there by creating new light here, then think. If the Overlords rise again and remake Eberron according to their designs, the Realm of Dreams will not be spared, and I fear that the Dreaming Dark will perish only to be replaced by a deeper nightmare, one from which there will be no awakening. Your war is our war.”

Yhani bowed and withdrew; Rinnean resisted the urge to whistle appreciatively. He’d be damned if he believed half of what she said, but Sovereigns, she knew how to say it. Looking around and his companions, he saw Ghazaan, Harsk, and Havaktri watching with approval; Thyra seemed weary but determined, and Meren completely and utterly lost. Len, however, seemed pleased, but Rinnean thought there was a deeper wariness there at well, as of something buried deep that didn’t sit right with her. Odd; the Captain usually supported whatever Yhani said or did wholeheartedly; he wondered what had got into her today.

Finally, Ganharath spoke. “Your words have merit, Soungral Yhani,” the Elder said. “But I am curious as to what your fellow elf thinks of this. He has not spoken yet.” All eyes suddenly turned towards Rinnean, and he felt horribly visible and pinned down, desperate for a shadow – any shadow- to escape to. Finally, steeling himself, he looked up and spoke.

“I’m not Aereni,” he said. “My… family… left the island a long time ago. I never did believe much in any of what Yhani has to say; always seemed a bunch of traditionalist, superstitious bunk to me. But whatever our differences are, Yhani’s not a liar, and she doesn’t usually speak up unless she thinks she’s got something worth saying. So I guess what I’m saying is, you should listen to her.”

Yhani looked at Rinnean and arched an eyebrow; he merely shrugged in response. Traveler, what was he supposed to have said after that speech of hers? Still, the kalashtar elders seemed to approve; they appeared to be consulting with one another again, and then Ganharath spoke.

“We are pleased with your words,” he said, and Rinnean let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. “We have been reading your thoughts as you have spoken, and we believe you are all sincere – and we also believe that Soungral Yhani is correct. The Overlords threaten us all – human, elven, and kalashtar alike. Therefore, we will provide you what aid we can in your quest to reach this northern vault – “

His words were cut off by a sudden, faint sound of applause. Ganharath raised his head, and his expression tightened almost imperceptibly – but Rinnean had a feeling that it was a dramatic reaction from the reserved elder. The other elders seemed to have much the same expressions. Slowly, Rinnean turned in the direction they were staring, and saw that they were no longer alone.

A phantasm similar to the one Captain Tulchasar had used stood in the center of the hall, but Rinnean knew in his gut, somehow, that the man whose image it depicted was no mere Empty Vessel. He was tall and well-built, somewhat paler than most of the kalashtar but sharing similar Sarlonan features, and he wore rich dark robes over what looked like a well-wrought suit of armor plates. He was miming applause, and a faint smile played across his features. But his eyes – there was a power to them, a depthlessness, that no mortal being could match.

This, then, must be an Inspired – a human vessel with a quori spirit inside.

“Greetings, elders,” the phantasm said, speaking the common tongue of Khorvaire to Rinnean’s surprise. He must be able to see his audience, and he wanted them to understand him. “I see you’ve been speaking with some fugitives who fought their way past my servants earlier today. In the interest of fairness, I think it time I say my piece.”

///

This is a talky chapter, but one I felt was fairly necessary. I wanted to get a bit of a look into kalashtar culture beyond just Havaktri (not that Rinnean is the sort to fully appreciate it) and also needed to get the elders willing to help our heroes – the kalashtar are generally an altruistic people, but the Adaran kalashtar do tend to be more insular and traditional, and less proactive, than their Khorvaire cousins. Lucky Yhani was there; her little speech was something I’d envisioned for a long time, and the kalashtar and Aereni tend to see each other as having solid common ground, both being tight-knit cultures with strong spiritual traditions and a long view of history. Of course, there’s more going on here that we’ll see in later chapters.

And then Inharanath showed up. Projecting his image this far into hostile territory must be hard, but then, he’s quite powerful. I wonder what he wants, but I don’t think anyone imagines this is a social call…

-MasterGhandalf


From:
Anonymous( )Anonymous This account has disabled anonymous posting.
OpenID( )OpenID You can comment on this post while signed in with an account from many other sites, once you have confirmed your email address. Sign in using OpenID.
User
Account name:
Password:
If you don't have an account you can create one now.
Subject:
HTML doesn't work in the subject.

Message:

 
Notice: This account is set to log the IP addresses of everyone who comments.
Links will be displayed as unclickable URLs to help prevent spam.

Profile

masterghandalf: (Default)
masterghandalf

May 2017

S M T W T F S
  1234 56
7 891011 1213
14 15161718 1920
21 22232425 2627
28293031   

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Jul. 28th, 2017 12:43 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios