Ghorreamund smashed the vile vessel housing the spirits of the Fallen, and with the companions on his back the lord of the venerable mountaintop, strode towards the Sanctum of the Stars in order to defend it against the onslaught of the Atranaar. The battle that ensued there was fierce.
The hosts of the sanctum fought valiantly against the Elves and their enthralled giant of frost, and managed to defeat them but not without great casualties as Ghorreamund himself fell in the mountains defense.
Now only the Nameless Atranaar, the orchestrator behind the assault, threatened the altar. Atop it, Elonkara was conducting a forlorn ritual to call upon the manifestation of the mountain Goddess. But she needed more time.
“Kiko go into the sanctum and retrieve the scroll of the Last Verse. It lies within!” She commanded, speaking inside the child’s mind.
Thalldon and Alkanke defended the sanctum against the Harkaanathite Lord. He descended from above, wreathed in magical protection, and coldly charged the former paladin. His two long blades gleamed in the frigid morning as the Nameless Atranaar overwhelmed the defenders quickly, using both sword and sorcery.
His powerful magic, turned wind, stone and fire against them, and even the might of Onxar, was not enough to turn this foe away.
Speechless and relentless the Harkaanathite pressed on, and just as Kiko handed the scroll to the Helmaer witch, he stroke the child brutally. Had it not been for Thalldon’s intervention, this time the bard’s death would have been final.
Elonkara started chanting the Final Verses aloud, and this timeworn ritual was now palpably manifesting around them. The mountain shook and the clouds thundered, and a figure of inconceivably monumental proportions appeared within the mist. Taller that the highest peak and wider than the lengthiest cluster of clouds. Her divinity tangible and present and her bright eyes piercing the foggy haze.
Kharathandara, Avatar of Samuth had been summoned!
"THE MOUNTAIN HAS CALLED OUT TO ME. TREMBLE BENEATH THE RAGE OF SAMUTH AND BEGONE, VILE AND DEGENERATE ELFKIN!"
That resonant and sonorous voice was enough to halt the flight of the wind itself, and even the mighty Elf lord desisted and summoned a gateway portal to serve as his timely retreat.
“He leaves! The day is won!” Alkanke shouted in joy.
The figure of the Guardian dissipated in the same majestic tone as it had appeared, and a marvelous rainfall showered the sanctum at her departure. It was then that Kiko rushed ahead to the now fading portal. The child was instinctively drawn to the High Elves. Their demeanor found Kiko more enthralled rather than repulsed, and so, it searched the snow for the magical residue of the portal magic the Nameless one had just used. There, as if a leftover of bewitchment, or a token of lustful admiration for the Atranaar, the urchin found a golden pin from a cloak brooch. It was smeared with some of the Atranaars blood. It took it and hid it, like it was a relic from a lost love turned to foe. Or the other way around.
Elonkara levitated down to the ground. Her eyes still blazing with the limitless capacity she had just tapped into.
“Come”. She instructed. “We should discuss our next steps.”
Inside the Sanctum they resumed the discussion concerning the Helmaer family and how King Kantagor would be dealt with, but also of the Glass and the fate of the world.
“I do not believe that the Golagond are considering allying themselves with us. Yes they have shown that they can take care of their own, socially and politically, but we should not expect from them to solve our own problems – we need to take action and do what we have to do ourselves.” Thalldon declared.
“The Golagond have no reason to trust us yet. We have always looked at their culture with suspicion even though their influence in various fields of life has been immense on us. Yet we still view them as the “others” just us they seeked to establish a connection with us. Those bridges have long been burned and their reconstruction is an effort to be undertaken by both sides, mainly by the ones who burned them in the first place. And that is us.” Elonkara deliberated.
The witch informed the companions that she is now able to depart from the Sanctum and return to the land of her birth in order to face, her father and King. Kiko and Thalldon spoke again of the first Stars and of the quest they undertook to unravel the mysteries behind them and to seek out the Movaru women who are out there in the world, with the same purpose – to reach the Glass with the power of the first stars- and so Elonkara agreed with them that before they all returned to Cewick Tower, the two companions should visit a very old and very mysterious monastery in the nearby plateau of Hanging Cliffs, a rocky grouping of large needle-like formations of granite, on top of which the castle monastery of the Sarakhil was built.
“Sarakhil?” Kiko remarked, suddenly remembering that race of dark skinned elves now nearly extinct.
“Yes, those dark skinned elves, in the years past, have been hunted down by the Atranaar and killed by the thousands. Only a handful of them, just a few social groups managed to escape the murderous Alabaster Supremacy of the High Elves and so they formed monastic orders, secluded from the world. Only the most daring of explorers and adventurers would seek out those places and if accepted, they would unlock the secrets found within and consult the wisdom of the monks. Now only one such monastery is left in the world. The one that you should be heading to. It houses a vast library concerning astral magic and lost history, and legend says, that within its confines one would even face their own inner demon. Travel to the east and take the Southern Road until you reach a cluster of huge tall rocks that pierce the sky like needles. In the middle of those formations you will find the monastery. You will recognize it as its candles flicker on the walls, forever.” Elonkara elaborated and bid them farewell. They would reunite in the days to come.
They immediately remembered the ruins were they met the Archangel Solarian.
And so the companions followed the directions of the witch and found themselves come Greylight, in the midst of this great plateau of huge cairns. In the middle, the monastery shimmered like a fiery crown atop a granite needle, a hundred levels in the sky, flickering ominously. They walked towards it and right beneath the massive rock, stood a figure. His skin was dark and his eyes were covered by a shawl. As they approached, he turned his head to the side as if to listen more carefully. He seemed to be blind. Suddenly he spoke in a welcoming manner, like he was expecting them. At his feet, a candle burned.
“Greetings Travelers. Judging by your steps, one is grown and tall and the other younger and short. Yet the steps of the young one seem more certain even though the owner would wish for the contrary, and the steps of the older, seem more uncertain even though he would also wish for a different opinion of him to be projected to the world. Is that not so? Forgive my ramblings. I am Al’ Fahrazul, Sharakhil monk.” Τhe figure said cryptically. He extended his hands forward, shaping forms like a sculptor while he spoke.
Kiko walked up to him, fascinated.
“I am Kiko. I am a Bard.”
“I am Thalldon. We seek to enter the halls of your order.”
“Is that so?” the monk asked smiling. His visage was beguiling. “Yes it is so. I can hear it in the soft tremblings of your voice. Since you seek to enter our Monastery, I will not deny you. Enter freely and explore whatever knowledge you seek to find. There is one thing you need to remember, never let your candle go out. Within, you will find alternate pathways to knowledge and wisdom. But you will also find your own demon. There's the basket that will bring you above.” He concluded and pointed to a large basket mounted on ropes that hung from the top of the walls high above the rock down to the cold earth, and the companions entered, silently succumbing to the mysticism that was already creeping inside their soul. As they ascended, widening below, they saw the valley. It already seemed like a shrunken distant memory.
Slowly they were pulled inside. Myriads of brilliant candles melted away on the battlements as they passed over. Inside the community, they saw glorious bronze structures, green gardens and running waters and yellowy walls, and monks both male and female were walking the pathways and entering those structures and conversed both verbally but also in gestures and sounds! In the middle of the monastery they saw a slim and tall spire, also made of bronze and on top of it they noticed a silhouette standing like it was a lookout on the mast of a ship, high above the ground of the castle. It was wearing golden robes.
Immediately they were given one candle each. Then the monks lit those candles with the flame of their own. Every monk within the walls wore one colored robe out of three categories. Grey, Black and Red.
Quickly they noticed that those who wore Red and had hoods over their heads seemed to be deaf and would only read lips or hand sign language.
Those who wore Gray and had their eyes covered by a shawl of the same color, were seemingly blind and would respond to sounds and speech for communication.
Those who wore Black had their mouths wrapped and covered and would not speak or couldn't. They would use their hands to gesture and to create sounds for communication.
Thus, apart from speech, an elaborate system of sign language, and the systemic use of coded sounds – a much deeper and profound connection was evidently also used by the monks to communicate. Therefore instead of a hindrance, the suspended use of their senses was a privilege. Thalldon and Kiko were baffled by this, as it was hard to grasp how a blind monk would communicate with a mute one, just through seemingly random sounds.
The sky above them burned blue and orange in the last moments of the Greylight as the triangular Sun departed from the skydome to give its place to the twelvemoon.
The two companions started walking around the monastery. Within its confines various structures served different purposes. Near the Southern wall three tabernacle roofed buildings stood next to each other. On their doors the following were carved. “The way of the sign” – “The way of the sound” – “The way of vision”.
Elsewhere within the walls, among the gardens and the pathways they saw an amphitheater, a large circular structure that they were informed was the mausoleum, a tavern, a large library, a barred and secluded graveyard to the right most corner the castle, various storehouses and other residencies and a very simple structure shaped like a dome, with a hole on its roof and a small door on its face that emanated a faint pulsating vibration from within.
“Lets go to those weird houses near the spire!” Kiko said happily and blew Thalldons’ candle out.
A dark shade in the form of the former paladin appeared momentarily and then dissipated. Thalldon was taken aback by the omen but pretended to be only rageful towards the child.
The Helmaer warrior, quickly reached out to the nearest monk and rekindled it, looking angrily back at the bard. “Why do you always do silly and random things? Go where you please and lets meet at the tavern in a little bit.”
Then Kiko visited The House of the Way of vision. It was an octagonal stained glass structure. Within it monks were marveling at the warmth of the light on the vitraux walls, showered by the defractions from the illumination, showering them while they meditated. Inside only those who wore gray robes entered. They could not "see" the depictions, but could they?
Thalldon went inside the House of the way of Sound. Inside the building, monks wearing black robes sat on benches arranged in a circular fashion around a pedestal where an older monk was gesturing through hand signs while at the same time clapping his hands, snapping his fingers and producing various sounds with his arms apart from pantomimic movements. The students and the lecturer seemed to be having a complete interaction. Thalldon sat down and observed.
Kiko then visited the house of the way of the sign. The Red robed monks inside, where walking around various musical instruments mainly of the percussion variety, from the tiniest bell the largest gong. They would use them in succession and then they would stretch their bodies to the sound that was produced through them. It seemed to be a process of attunement. They seemed to be trying to “listen” to the sound, not hearing it through their ears but rather feeling it through their bodies. The bard sat in the middle and used the best and most unique musical instrument of the whole wide world to assist in the meditative process. The monks fascinated, passed their palms over the pulsating object.
The Black robed monk addressed Thalldon gesturing to him to express himself. The former Paladin did not understand this convoluted internal classification of signs, but later began to grasp the main tenets of operation. He was offered a black robe, and was gestured that if he would accept it, no other robe would be available to him. He understood and accepted. This method was inclusive. He liked that. It was something he lacked.
Kiko was offered a red robe, and the child too, accepted and wore it.
Now both companions wore the robes of a Path and they met outside the library. Kiko had waxed its ears and Thalldon had covered his mouth.
“You cant speak?” The child asked.
Thalldon nodded affirmatively and pointed towards the urchins ears.
“Yeah, I cannot hear anything. I like that now! I am trying to feel the music.” Kiko yelled, unable to grasp the volume of its voice.
Thalldon pointed at the library and opened his palms in front of him, mimicking the practice of reading a book.
“Ok. I will join you also”. Kiko replied.
They entered the library. It was a very tall building, pyramidic in its architecture and full of bookshelves arranged in a labyrinthine manner. They had no visual index and no order. The wooden bookshelves themselves towered high towards the peak of this structure, and on their facade, equally tall ladders were attached to this mountain of books. Monks walked around the shelves taking and reading books, while others got lost deeper inside this entangling puzzle of wood, leather and papyrus.
Silently the two companions conducted their research. The former Paladin looked for books concerning demonology and the origin of demonic entities as well as the history of the Golagond peoples, while Kiko after playfully exploring this vast maze looked for books on the origins of Astral Magic, on the First Stars and on the origins of the Atranaar.
Miraculously, even before they would think of the book the desired to read, they would find themselves in front of it and as they opened them not only did they obviously contain inked words but each page was covered with protrusions possibly for the blind monks to be able to trace each letter and thus read the manuscript. In a nearby outhouse within the pyramid, other monks, scribes and illustrators were copying existing books or creating unique ones.
Concerning demons, Thalldon found the following information within a demi-rotten tome of thousands of pages. There are three schools of thought concerning demons – he read.
"One regards them as otherworldly manifestations of one's inner self, another describes them as mirror images belonging to an alternate dimension and a third school of thought portrayed demons as dark matter from dying Stars that fell from the cosmos and infested objects and subjects, living or otherwise, not necessarily with darkness or evil but with chaotic variation."
He also discovered an entry elaborating on the issue of possession, mainly of objects and he found the following passage:
“Onxar the invincible is the Black Blade of Legends. It is said that swordmaster Sareul – the demon king – once walked Barastir in the guise of a man teaching mortals the ways of the blade.
Some say in order to deceive and drive them into violence and others say in order to weaponize them against their true oppressors.
When Sareul departed the mortal realms and ascended back to godhood, he left behind his black bones. Ikhael, his son, picked up those remains and forged them into a greatsword of absolute power, which he then infused with the unified element of frostfire, as in those mythical ages, flame and ice were indistinguishable from one another, forever thawing, freezing and rekindling the passion for gnosis.
Ikhael chanted and meditated in the hundreds of years that it took for the blade to be complete – entwining the immortal atrefact with dormant attributes that seek to re-emerge.
Onxar – meaning exactly that, frostfire – then arose inside its own consciousness, because such primordial force is eternal and aware of its own immortality.
Its character is connected with those principles active in its birth but it will also seek to establish a symbiotic state with the moral compass of the wielder.”
Thalldon, shut this book loudly and gazed at his black gauntlet before opening the one about the Golagonds.
He collected information useful that were obviously severely distorted by the Helmaer teachings, as he recalled them.
“The Golagonds is not a race” the passage read “but more so, a form of social structure. Yes, it derives from the race of the archaic Golagonds, those who the humans and elves arrogantly dubbed "orcs" in mockery and jealousy of their advanced collective mind, but many centuries even before the Plunge, this race embraced anyone and everyone who wanted to accept and adopt their customs and their culture. This merge of tolerance and acceptance, known as the “Embrace”, brought the Golagonds to the forefront of world affairs. Their Arts and technology flourished and were preserved after the Plunge and the coming of the Glass, exactly because all their history and knowledge existed within their unified mind. They are the largest group of people in the world and the Golagondish is the common tongue, used everywhere.
Their society, credo and ethos, is formed around this collective conscious and unconscious called Shabathuk literaly “forever there.” The Golagonds of old, came into the world in the valley of Barad Dharma, where Ahraaserah – the mother thought & Mehattefar – the eternal pyre, the leading Matron/Patron deities of the Golagond nation, walked the world in a time before time and left behind their thoughts, experiences, desires, knowledge, vision and even their own souls, in the form of six babies, now called “Easlu” the Exalted Six, the venerable gurus of the Golagonds. Anyone can become Easlu as this title is not of a leader but rather of a consultant, an advisor.
The Goladonds are nomadic by societal norms, forever adapting to the terrain, living off the land and their instinctual and magickal connection with nature and the stars. They have two major sites of religious, political and spiritual significance that also serve as cities for those who seek a more solid lifestyle. Barad Dharma and The lay of Usham.
Barad Dharma is where the temple city of their deities exists, and where every six years the Golagonds gather to perform a massive communal ritualistic meditation and project their will for their future, to the heavens.
The lay of Usham is a tent city built around a massive sarcophagus, the sarcophagus of Usham, the first non-Golagond to join the collective. He was a dragon and is revered as a pioneer by them. In the Lay, young and new Golagonds receive their rite of passage where their new names and inclinations (or professions) are received.
The Golagond remain within Shabathuk at all times, even after death. They can, (depending on experience and mental power) communicate telepathically with any other living or dead Golagond, anywhere. Respecting other peoples traditions though, the Golagonds will converse verbally, even amongst themselves, when in multicultural cities or even in the presence of a non-Golagond. They are in a constant undeclared war with the Atranaar.
The Golagonds have, in the last 30 years, intensified their study of the astral dome, the stellar movements and the cosmos, for reasons unknown but possibly related to the aversion or the managing of an upcoming destruction of the world. They also gather and mobilize their Algaz, their warriors, against threats mainly by the Atranaar.”
Kiko opened his book on the Atranaar. Mystified, the child read on.
“The ancient Atranaar ( meaning “the Superior” in their tongue) is a race of white haired and fair skinned faerie elves, though they have detached themselves from this family of beings, regarding their race as unique and above all others. They are immortal and appeared in Barastir, when their firstborn, Zaor the immaculate, mysteriously emerged within Alarbaranshad “the plains of Alabaster” (now called Natazaad mountains). Zaor fashioned his kin from alabaster and marble, thus if an Atranaar is slain, it returns to the stone that bore it, becoming a statue depicting its own moment of death.
They were once a vast empire, but most of them perished in the Plunge. Now they are the fewest peoples on the land, but by far the most hateful and power hungry. Their elitist society is based on the glorification of personal prowess to climb the noble hierarchy. They regard all other species and races as inherently inferior, useful only as subjects or slaves. They are ruled by a triumvirate of Kings – the Umbra Atranaara – who claim to be gods on earth. Nobody has ever seen these three Kings. Some say that the King is indeed only one, others that Zaor transfers his consciousness forever, through Atranaar vessels he deems worthy, effectively ruling since the beginning.
Their two main fortresses are found in the Natazaad mountains and in their Necropolis, found in the basin of Turgush. The Atranaar have the ability to end their natural life if they will it, within the Necropolis. By doing so they emerge as Exhenar – White Lichs – able to shift dimensions and travel the planes. If an Exhenar faces the Greylight and the triangular sun, it is forever destroyed.
They have vast knowledge in magick and military affairs and have amassed great and dark secrets in their passage through the aeons.
The Atranaar travel the main trade cities in the last 30 years, applying hateful rhetoric to convince people to join them or conducting blood magick to get thralls to add to their imperialist cause.
Many deem the Glass as the big threat to Barastir, but others, more wise, realize that the Atranaar are equally, if not more, dangerous.”
The bard pulled out the golden pin and looked at it lovingly, before second guessing itself and putting it away. It then opened a book of the First Stars. The author described them as living entities in the form of tears that fell into the Corpus of the world, directed and perceived by The Voice Beyond the Stars. Their names and their last known locations are:
-Ontrothon –Tower of the astral thread
-Solathon – Wisper of Ø
-Valathon – the sunken pyramid
-Selkathon – Necropolis of the Atranaar
-Ixthathon – Unknown
-Algathon – Crown of the Fire Queen
-Xhalathon – The Glass
They closed their books and returned them to their original positions. While walking amongst the shelves, they reached the center of the library where display cases housed an assortment of relics and artifacts both magical and otherwise. Musical instruments and scrolls, and unknown stones and other marvelous obscure items were stored inside. In front of it, a woman, judging by her silhouette, wearing white wrapping everywhere around her body, stood holding two long fine blades crossed on her chest. Nothing was uncovered, neither her eyes nor her face not even an mere ounce of skin. They wanted to ask her what this cabinet was, but as if she already knew what they desired to know, she replied before they could even utter their question.
“This is a display case for the items the visitors to the monastery have a gifted to the monks. You warrior -” She said pointing at Thalldon, “are now going to ask me if I am a also warrior of sorts.” Indeed that was his intention. “The answer is yes. I fight without relying on the surface of my senses. Meet me at the amphitheater now.” She said and resumed her guardianship.
They both left shrugging to eachother. This place was everything they had hoped for.
Thalldon visited the Graveyard, there, amazingly how, he saw the same woman, standing guard. “Entry is forbidden.” She announced. Within the steel rods of the gate, Thalldon saw that the gravestones were mysteriously unmarked.
He then visited the amphitheater and lo and behold! The woman was there also. Unless she was a goddess of some kind, this feat to be at three places simultaneously, was uncanny. Indeed she instructed Thalldon on how to dive into the deepest layers of his senses where his emotions would serve as perception and understanding and while relying on other means of doing battle, he managed to grasp hints of what the woman warrior had achieved. He left the training wishing that soon he would be able to resume it.
While the bard visited the tavern and met with some other non-Sarakhil visitors inside, a tiny faerie and a troll faerie, and practiced his mischief in the process of cooking springrolls, Thalldon entered the dome shaped structure that hummed continuously.
Within it, a grand sphere levitated mere inches above the floor and rotated around itself on every possible axis. Its surface was smooth and dark, possibly made from some meteoric stone. Monks entered the room and placed candles beneath it. They would reach with their palms extended towards the surface of the sphere, but would not touch it. But Thalldon did.
Immediately he felt as if his body was ripped off of itself and was sent darting away into the atmosphere. He now saw the whole monastery from afar, hovering afloat in the air across it. Beneath the monastic castle, as if his eyes could pierce the stone, he envisioned like a refraction, that layers upon layers of areas extended downwards. Inside them he apprehended figures suspended in stasis.
Suddenly he returned back into his skin as if he had never departed it. The sphere hummed in front of his palm, a hairs length away.
Speechless, literally and metaphorically, he headed towards the tavern.
The two met inside the tavern yet again. Kiko had made new friends. This tavern was the only structure reminiscent of Helmaerite architecture. It had no patron or matron. Everyone helped themselves in there.
Thalldon noticed a middle aged man, sitting alone and reading a book. Using his basic grasp of sign language he tried to communicate with the man.
-“Ye –yes, I am from the south.” The man said. “I come from the Damorach lands. Eodoth lineage yes.”
Thalldon pointed at himself and then at the direction where the Helmaer lands extend.
-“You are a Helmaerite monk? Very good. Nice to make you erm, acquaintance.”
Thalldon rose and assumed a regal posture, imitating a noble and then pantomimed a crown on his head.
-“You are the King? No, you seem too young. What, the son? Oh! You are the young son? You are Thalldon!? I heard you were exiled. Makes sense!”
They both agreed on the danger of the Atranaar and Thalldon wrote a letter and sealed it with his signet ring and handed it to the man to be taken to the land of the Eodoth hoping this would set in motion a line of communication and the possibility of forging an alliance with the peoples who were hit harder by the coming of the Glass, having hundreds lose their homes, and forced to roam the lands as climate refugees.
As the Greylight ended and nighttime came, a mystical song fluctuated everywhere. It was not exactly sound but rather a pulse, an inner throb. A Calling. Everyone stood up and left the room without another moment wasted. Kiko and Thalldon, baffled, followed them out.
The monastery was suddenly empty. The night had come and only the golden figure atop the spire could be seen. Beneath it, hidden stairs leading inside the rock, had now opened. The two looked at each other and nodded and they descended holding their candles.
They found themselves in a cavernous room that lead deeper into the rock. Near the entrance they saw three stacks of folded robes. One of each color.
Kiko’s eyes widened. The child did not want to move further on. It felt constrained and depressed. Thalldon, not noticing the bards confusion, moved on bravely.
“I don’t want this anymore.” Kiko told itself and blew out its own candle. Immediately the shadowy mirror of the bard rushed ahead like a nightmarish shade and blocked its path above. It stood in front of the stairs holding a candle burning with a black flame.
The urchin rekindled its candle with the blackfire from its own projection, and burned the stacked robes, in an act of defiance!
“ENOUGH WITH THIS ALTERNATIVE ORDER. ORDER IS STILL ORDER.” It shouted and rushed down. Thalldon had already moved further into the misty cavern around what seemed to Kiko to be an arraying of naked Sharakhil, standing motionless with empty eyes. A hazy blue sun shone above.
In front of them a figure wearing golden robes stood. From his back, two gleaming foggy wings grew. He wore a crown of horns on its head and had the face of a Sharakhil.
Looking at Kiko it charged!