作者 主题: 背景资料:各种族的详细背景  (阅读 2369 次)

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« 于: 2006-04-08, 周六 23:19:00 »

The Aelfborn: Their People

The offspring of Men and Elves, Aelfborn (there are other names for them, but few so kind) show a balanced blending of their parent's features. No matter the stock of their Human parent, Aelfborn always have fair, pale golden skin, although their hair is quite varied. The child's face also tends toward Elvish features, although their eyes are not quite so large and their faces less sharp. Their large ears are distinctly pointed. Aelfborn inherit an Elf's sharp eyes and keen ears. If their faces favor the Elf blood in them, the bodies of the Aelfborn are more Human. Aelfborn, though taller than most Men, are shorter than Elves, and tend to be more muscular as well.

Aelfborn are more agile and quicker of mind than Men, though they fall short of an Elf's speed, grace, and reason. They also inherit the strength of their Human parent, and are hardier than most Elves. While the traits of an Aelfborn might seem an ideal blend of Human and Elf, their great weakness lies in Spirit: the conflicting virtues of the Human and Elf blood leave the Aelfborn with weaker Spirits than either Humans or Elves. Their mixed blood gives rise to other flaws as well. Aelfborn inherit the mortality of their Human parent, and actually live shorter lives than men due to some instability in their blood (since the Turning this shortcoming has been eased somewhat). Also, Aelfborn are incapable of siring or bearing children: like a mule bred from a horse and donkey, these hybrids are sterile. Born of mortal enemies, Fate denied the Aelfborn the immortality of either of their parents until the Turning, when true death ceased altogether.

The Aelfborn: Their Ways

The Aelfborn are not truly a race unto themselves, and as such have developed little in the way of a unique culture, at least so far as the rest of the World knows. Their infertility has ensured that there are no Aelfborn nations or kingdoms, and the animosity between Elves and the Sons of Men has always kept their numbers low. Rare in the extreme, most Aelfborn tend to be loners, wondering from one place to the next, and only rarely finding a permanent home. A Half Breed must choose the ways of one of his parents: thus, some live, dress, and speak as Elves, while others take on the culture of Men. As many seem to choose a Human life as an Elvish one, and each Aelfborn chooses for his own reasons.

Whichever parent a Half Breed emulates, Aelfborn tend to be unanimously rejected both by Humans and Elves alike. Most Aelfborn are automatically deemed illegitimate, and forced to live at the fringes of society. Humans fear the touch of fey blood in the veins of the Aelfborn, while Elves believe that the hybrids have been corrupted by the "lesser" blood of Men. Rarely trusted and almost never befriended, most Aelfborn are outcasts, and come to hate one side of their heritage for giving them birth at all. There are some places in the World, however, where the lot of the Aelfborn is easier. The Church of the All-Father has always been tolerant of all Aelfborn, especially those who take up the cloth. Aelfborn are also drawn to the deeps of the wood, where the Druids and Rangers welcome them into their ranks. The Amazons are probably the most tolerant of all the people of the World when it comes to the Aelfborn, and more than one Aelfborn Huntress has ruled as Queen of all Amazons.

The reputation of the Aelfborn is hurt even further by the Curse, which strikes many Half Breeds as soon as they reach adulthood. As an Aelfborn grows older, they become subject to a strange, lingering madness that strikes each Aelfborn differently. Some hear voices, while others are tormented by hideous nightmares or waking visions. Many rock between violent rages and fits of despair. No one can say with any certainty why those born of Men and Elves should be so afflicted, but most Aelfborn battle the Curse all their lives. Throughout the World, the parents of Aelfborn children have intricate magical tattoos inscribed across their scalps and other places on their bodies when they are born to keep the Curse at bay. Their effectiveness is uncertain, but they look very striking, and many Aelfborn shave their heads to keep them visible. Most Aelfborn try to bring peace and balance to their troubled souls by taking professions which demand focus and calm - many have calmed their inner demons by living the contemplative life of a Druid, tempering their focus as a Warlock, or devoting themselves to the discipline of Blademastery.

The days since the Turning have been times of both hardship and change for the Aelfborn of the World. It is widely believed that the Traitor who dealt the Woeful Stroke was Aelfborn, a Half Breed turncloak who betrayed his father's people, became one of Cambruin's Champions, but finally had not the heart to destroy the Elvish Empire forever. The Traitor's deeds have brought down the wrath of all the Men of the Petty Kingdoms on all Aelfborn, and the Grand Inquisition Against the Misborn, pursued with fanatical precision by the followers of the Cleansing Flame, will soon celebrate its one hundredth anniversary. The Elves, for their part, have been no kinder to their wayward children, and have shunned all Aelfborn since the Turning. In most lands, Aelfborn try to hide their natures, for safe havens are few and far between. It is hardly surprising, then, that bands of Aelfborn outcasts have begun congregating in the wilds, forging new nations of their own. What will become of them remains to be seen.

The Aelfborn: Their Lore

"Wake up! Yeh you! Wake up! Stop yer drooling, it's disgusting!"

"I think he can hear us. There is no need to shout so. There you are. Now open your eyes, and look about you. No? Very well. Just listen, then. You don't remember anything, do you? Do you even know who you are? Be not troubled. The Curse has finally taken you. Memories will come back, with time. It's not my place to tell you who you are, but I can tell you what you are."

"You're a HALF BREED! A witless, cursed bastard! That's what ye are!"

"Do shut up! Don't listen to my vulgar brother here. You are an Aelfborn, the same as us. If he's a cursed bastard, dear my brother, he's no more of one than you!"

"That's as may be. We're all cursed, all three of us. Where are his bones? Where are my father's bones, you strumpet!"

"I'll not play that game with you now, simpleton. Do try to compose yourself. 'The Low Blood is sluggish, the High Blood sighed,'"

"'While the High Blood brings madness, the Low replied.' I know all yer riddles, you peacock. Don't waste my time with 'em. I know all about Rydall Rhimetamer, the half-blooded Bard who was cursed ne'er to forget a single word he ever heard, or the slightest thing he'd ever seen. The knowledge filled his head to bursting ?all them songs and rhymes and tales and simple memories trapped inside his skull. They drove him mad, and they burned him for it. But then, we all go mad, we Aelfborn, don't we?"

"I fear he speaks the truth. We are all Aelfborn, hybrids of fair Elf and stubborn Human, doomed to be outcasts wherever we go. Our race is no race at all, for never shall any Aelfborn sire or bear a child. Our parents, be they Fey or Man, they remember their long histories with pride, writing chronicles and telling legends of better days and mighty deeds. Not so with us. We have no history. The heritage of both our parents is denied us.

There have been a lucky few, it's true, who have made a mark on the flow of history as our dear parents record it, but they are the exception, not the rule. Like scraps from their high feast tables, sometimes Men or Elves actually allow their misbegotten pups a footnote in their histories. More often than not, an Aelfborn's name is only remembered to be reviled. Like Sesherin, Cambruin's Champion who some say turned traitor. Nobody will ever know if his hand actually drove Shadowbane through Cambruin's back, for the high Confessors that hold him in chains cut his tongue out every day at dawn. I wonder, how many times will poor Sesherin be flayed alive before they decide justice has been done?

We have no past, nothing more than the dismal or sordid stories of our conceptions and our births. Can you remember yours? Was you mother some Human princess, seduced by a shining fey in the midst of a forest glade? Or was she some Highborn Elf child, taken at sword's point by a gore spattered soldier? Were you born of tragic love or the horrors of war? You don't even know, do you? How typical. Most Aelfborn live as orphans, abandoned by both their parents, treated like beasts by any kind enough not to slay us out of hand."

"Ye may as well stop askin' this one questions. It's clear as ice, the Curse has his tongue. What's that? Oh, ye do speak! It's a miracle, praise the Archons! What's the Curse, you ask? Why, it's the reason ye can't remember yer own name, an' why yer too scared to open yer eyes. The Curse is what drive all us half breeds mad. It takes some sooner than others, an' never touches any two quite the same way."

"Why are we so afflicted? The tale is an ancient one, and tragic. The wisest Magi and Loremasters call the Curse by it's true name, the Mother's curse, for it was the Elvish Queen Silesteree Allvolanar, daughter of Gilliandor himself, who pronounced our Doom in the Age of Twilight. After the Dragon had been defeated, the All-Father lingered long among the shattered spires of the Twilight Kingdom's greatest city. There He recovered from his grievous wounds, and Silesteree herself tended Him. In return for all her care, the All-Father wandered away again, but not before He had wooed the queen and left her with child. When Silesteree learned that it had been the All-Father's hand that had roused the Dragon in the first place, she seethed with anger, and pronounced a curse of madness and ruin on any born to Elves that had not pure Elvish blood, even her own son. Saedron the Fate Weaver heard the queen's cry, and wove her words into the tapestry of fate. Draethen, her son, is revered by many of our kind as the first of the Aelfborn. And while the True Son was troubled by the Curse throughout his life, he learned to master it through the discipline of steel. Is it any wonder that so many Aelfborn walk the steady path of the Jen'e'tai? Perhaps someday the rigid focus of blademastery will calm the fevers in your mind."

"Fah! I've heard that tale as well, an' I didn't believe it the first time. Nor should you. Everyone with a whit of sense knows that Draethen weren't any manner of Aelfborn: all Aelfborn are of Human blood! No other mixture will take. The All-Father (blessed and praised be His holy name) may be the maker of Men, but that don't make Him a Man himself. He's a God. And before you bring the wording of that Elf witch's curse back up, explain to me why Elf-blooded babies born to Human mothers also fall to the Curse! No answers, eh? Yer eloquence has failed ye? Save yer fairy tales, for I know the true cause of the Curse. It lays in the blood itself, the mixed blood that leaves us all brothers and sisters. Haldogrim of Nordanwick, the finest Alchemist who ever lived (who, let me hasten to add, was of mixed blood himself) distilled Aelfborn blood into its basest essence, and found the root of madness in it. Elf blood, said he, holds too much Bile (hence the traditional surliness of the Elvish temper), and nothing exists in the Human blood to balance it. The Elf blood poisons the half Human flesh, and breaks the mind. It's no legend that drives us mad, 'tis our very natures."

"Alchemy is a sham, a refuge of charlatans and tricksters who pass themselves off as true Magi. Not that I believe Haldogrim's ludicrous explanation for one moment, but even if I did, it is obvious that if anyone has poison in heir veins, it is Humans, not Elves. Why, there is even proof of this to be found in ancient history. As it is sung among the ? "Not another fairy tale!"

"Do be quiet! Call it a fairy tale to the Invorri Skalds who sing it, I dare you. Among the Northmen, it is still told how the All-Father was bitten by the great Serpent, paying agony and madness for wisdom. The serpent's venom lingered in the All-Father's blood, and is it a mere coincidence that the All-Father quickened the Titans with blood drawn from his left hand, the very hand the Serpent smote? There's your bile, brother alchemist."

"Oh, so now it's the All-father that's cursed us? There's no new tune there, either. Malorn and his torch wavers have been crowing it from rooftops ever since their Temple was first founded. To them the Curse is a divine punishment, the bitter price of miscegenation. Empty vessels are we, so they say, full of Spirit, but vulnerable to Chaos and possession by bodiless demons. Hogwash! They quickly forget that there've been Aelfborn far longer than Confessors or Templars, an' that there were learned folk who heard the All-Father's will five thousand years ago. If we Aelfborn all be abominations in the All-Father's eyes, why has the Holy Church always been so kind to us? Prayer and faith can also calm a tormented soul, and the routine of monastic life can cool fevered blood. Indeed, was it not Kellast the Aelfborn, Saint Kellast the Conciliator, who first convinced the Bishops of the Elvish Church and the Cardinals of the Human Church to join together into the Holy Church as we know it? In the Testaments of St. Kellast he presented a lengthy parable that likened the conflicts of Men and Elves to the Curse that torments every Aelfborn. As prayer saved him, so devotion to the All-Father might foster peace. Another fairy tale, no doubt, but I like the sound o' this one better."

"As many of us have found peace living as Druids, the Mother's Curse tempered by the hand of the Green Mother, Mother of All. Some still even claim that the marks work. What marks? Here, open your eyes. Do you see your face in the glass? Those marks. No, not the blood - what's underneath it. The tattoos. Almeus the Young was charged by Paolus, the first king of Brethild to cure his son, an Aelfborn born of an Elvish concubine. The wizard tattooed the boy from scalp to sole in scarlet signs, woven with spells to calm the child's spirit. According to legend, the spells worked. And so it is that Elvish and Human parents alike tattoo their screaming babes, warding them against possession by demons or the Curse of an angry ancestor. Many Aelfborn succumb despite the tattoos, but our parents keep painting us all the same."

"Aye, it's the pain of it that does the trick, I'll warrant. Here, look at me arms ?see these scars? When the voices get too loud and too many, I draw a blade across the skin. The pain and the blood bring the World back into focus. For some half breeds, the thrill of battle is the only calm they have left, the only time when they can truly be themselves. But with all this talk of cures and curing, dear sister, there's one question ye haven't even asked. Who says this Curse is even a Curse at all? Our esteemed parents, the very ones who are ashamed to even look upon us? They don't like the way we rant and gibber, so they brand us as accursed. How like them. In the days since the War of Tears, there's some among the Aelfborn who've turned their backs on Elves and Men, and gone into the Wilds to live. They let their madness take them, and live like feral beasts, painted from head to foot and armed with deadly bows. Wyldkin, most folk call them, and they leave any who trespass in their woods hanging from the tree boughs, scalped and bristling with arrows. Good riddance, says I."

"Savage! Don't listen to him, child ?you are a Child of Aerynth, not a beast. Savage treatment by our parents need not breed savagery in us. Of all the folk trapped on the fragments of the World, we Aelfborn alone found hope in the Turning. Once we of mixed blood all died young ?rare indeed was the Aelfborn who lived two score years, and most died in half that time. Some say that the Curse kills us with age, but more blame the cruelty and strife of the World. Since the Turning, no Aelfborn has died."

"Not even poor Sesherin himself, try as they might!"

"Yes, brother, not even him. For the first time, Aelfborn can achieve true age, and some have found wisdom waiting for them. There are now Aelfborn walking the fragments who have lived for more than a century, and some of them claim that the Curse is a storm to be endured, but one that passes with time. We had not the means to survive it before, but now we have no alternative. With the passing of our madness, these elders say, comes a new awareness of the World and an appreciation of the Now. Some of them have sent out the call to their scattered kin, and for the first time in history thousands of Aelfborn have gathered together and founded new kingdoms, kingdoms of our own. The greatest of these is ruled by a Ranger whose name has been carefully hidden. Folk call him the Briar King, and some say even the Wyldkin answer to his will. Tales say that all who come to the Briar King's land draw lots, and the token drawn grants them membership in a family, a group of Aelfborn who drew a like-colored token. Elders serve as mentors to the young, and the wisest help all endure the Curse. For the first time in history, Aelfborn are building a home, and forging ties of kinship. In time, we orphans born of war shall make our proud parents tremble, and regret every wrong that Elf or Man ever did to us. They have denied us any past, but we shall seize a future!"

"More fairy tales! We're half breeds ?no more, no less, and we always will be. As if I'd trust any other Aelfborn anyway. Even the Briar King and his dear subjects can't escape the curse. All the Turning has done is make our torment eternal."

"We shall see, dear brother. We shall see."

"Where are his bones, my father's bones?"

"You should know, you dullard! 'Twas your hand that buried them!"


"Aye, search your feeble memory. And your hand staved in his thick skull!"

"I never did! It was you, all the time! You're the murderer!"

"Haven't you forgotten, my dear brother? We're the same, you and I ?and this wastrel here! Can't you remember?"

"No! Never! I'll kill you! I swear it!"

"For that you'd need hands, dear boy. I remember the smell of the flesh boiling off of father's bones as we burned him. How he sizzled! The flesh withering and dying, revealing the black bones beneath?

"No! You demon, you hag, get out of my head!"

"It's my head too, dear brother. Don't you remember?"

At this point the Aelfborn prisoner ceased talking in either of the two voices, and only wailed and sobbed. After some time, the prisoner rose to his feet, and tried to strangle Inquisitor Heveron through the bars of his cell. Luckily, the Templar bailiffs quickly intervened, and the prisoner was dispatched.

I have sent this transcript to you because the revelations regarding the so-called Wyldkin and the mysterious Briar King sort well with rumors that have plagued my diocese this summer past. I respectfully request, honored Lictor, that you pass word of these tidings to the Temple leadership at large, for surely the prospect of an organized nation of misborn half castes may pose as great a threat to our righteous flock and the salvation of all Aerynth as the plague of stillborn Shades. The council of Justicars must know of this impending threat. I see no other recourse but to launch a full crusade into the Elder Forests, as soon as sufficient Templars can be gathered.

Humbly rendered this ninetieth day of the ninety-seventh year of the Ascendancy of Malorn the Just, the Living Saint, Kindler and Keeper of the Cleansing Flame.

Korwin of Mangarth, Confessor

Tribune of the Order of the Iron Cage,

Monastery of Saint Eldarn the Thrice-Martyred
« 上次编辑: 2006-04-09, 周日 01:37:41 由 blas »

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« 回帖 #1 于: 2006-04-08, 周六 23:20:35 »

The Aracoix: Their People

Like the Centaurs and Minotaurs, the Aracoix combine the physical features of Humans and animals, in their case, hawks and eagles. The bodies of Birdmen are very similar to those of Humans, only with a large, Avian head atop the shoulders and a pair of broad wings sprouting from the shoulders. Instead of hair, Aracoix possess thick coats of feathers that cover their heads and wings, forearms, upper chest, midriff, and lower legs. Aracoix stand taller than Men, and their body frames are so heavily muscled that it at first glance it seems impossible that such a creature could fly. Yet fly they do. Aracoix tend towards dark, stern plumage of scarlet, brown, or deep black, and their faces resemble hawks, with large, keen eyes and wicked beaks. Aracoix also have remarkably light bones, and weigh less than a Man of comparable height. Light as Aracoix bones are, they are still remarkably resilient, and many tribes among the Twisted Breeds cherish Aracoix bones, using them to fashion weapons and armor.

Perhaps the greatest and most obvious feature of the Aracoix is their ability to fly. The Birdmen's broad wings can easily carry them into the air, even when fully armed and equipped. Aracoix fly faster than a Human can run, and are capable of brief bursts of speed where they can outrace a horse at full gallop. The Aracoix are clearly, however, more Man than bird. They glide more than they fly, and they are incapable of a hawk's dives or aerial acrobatics. Flight is solely a means of transportation to the Aracoix, and they must return to the ground to enter battle. Unlike many birds, the Aracoix spend most of their time with their feet firmly on the ground. Limited as the Aracoix's flight may be, their wings have still freed them from any concerns about terrain, and hunting wings of Birdmen can move faster than any grounded army, for they travel as the crow flies.

Aracoix are the only race who can compete with the Elves in terms of nimbleness and agility, and are also surprisingly strong. Some Aracoix are also remarkably tough, and flight requires that Aracoix have as much or more stamina than the average Half Giant. Mentally, Aracoix seem at first to be little more than savages - their beaks and throats are incapable of pronouncing any language spoken in this World, and their skittish nature defied all early attempts at communication. In recent years, however, the Children of the World have discovered that the Aracoix are as strong in Mind and Spirit as the Sons of Men, and very adept at fashioning buildings and tools. The silence of the Aracoix has also finally been broken: recent reports indicate that an Aracoix can, if it is willing, project its thoughts directly into the mind of a "listener," provided that the Aracoix can learn to fashion its thoughts into forms that beings of this World can recognize. As more and more people have begun to communicate and even befriend the Birdmen, the true picture of their nature has emerged.

The Aracoix: Their Ways

Two factors dominate the Aracoix mindset and stand as the pillars of their culture, and are the keys to understanding the ways of the Birdmen. First, Aracoix fear and mistrust any and all enlightened beings different from themselves. Hints dropped by wandering outcasts seem to indicate that the Aracoix were the only civilized race to inhabit their homeworld, and that they therefore regard all "heavy ones" (any beings who cannot fly under their own power) as dangerous pests to be subjugated or destroyed. Secondly, Aracoix possess profoundly ordered minds, and tend to be highly meticulous, fastidious, and stubborn. The few Aracoix who have left their people behind tell tales of the Law, a compilation of laws, rules, and customs that dictates every aspect of an Aracoix's life. Most Aracoix are absolutely devoted to the tenets of the Law, which fosters a sense of duty, honor, and absolute loyalty to family, empire, and species. While some younger Aracoix have rebelled against the Law's restrictions and turned their backs on their people, most Birdmen are bound to it with a fanaticism that rivals that of the Irekei.

Aracoix fear of outsiders and their absolute devotion to the Law have combined to create an incredibly warlike, regimented society. Birdmen live in small communities called Aeries, each inhabited by a Kh'ree (the closest translation into any of our World's languages would be 'squadron'), an allied group of families related by marriage. Every Kh'ree is ruled by a commander with absolute authority, and the roles and duties of every member of the Kh'ree are rigidly defined by the Law. Flight is one of the central aspects of Aracoix architecture: their Aeries consist of tall towers with elaborate landing platforms and walled compounds without gates. In recent years, the Aracoix have constructed even larger Aeries as their influence has spread. Aracoix unable to fly due to injury or disease are immediately abandoned by the Kh'ree and given a ritualized funeral. Defense is paramount in Aracoix communities, for every Kh'ree must function not only as a social entity but as a military unit as well. The commanders of every Kh'ree defer to a supreme commander, a Grand Marshal of sorts, to which of all the Aracoix in our World are held accountable. This Marshal, it is rumored, is subordinate to some kind of supreme council or emperor on the Aracoix homeworld, the closest thing the Birdmen have to a god.

It may be that the first Aracoix that entered the World came as conquerors, not explorers. Their lack of magical ability led to the initial defeat of the Birdmen, but in years since the Aracoix have withdrawn to their unapproachable Aeries, gathered their strength, and recently renewed hostilities, showing a tactical and strategic acumen worthy of the Centaurs. Slowly and methodically, the Birdmen are extending their territories through conquest. Aracoix are highly disciplined in battle, and perfectly willing to go to their deaths for the success of their squadron. They employ some means of communication that is not yet understood but seem, in all accounts, to be fast, easy, and silent. Aracoix show an almost uncanny organization in battle, and are able to easily coordinate even the most complex battle Laws and assaults. Masters of hit and run tactics, the Birdmen disdain large engagements, preferring to wear their opponents down through lightning raids. Most Aracoix become Warriors, and even those Birdmen who serve their Kh'ree as providers or craftsmen must spend a portion of their time in military service. Aracoix seem to despise organized religion and the study of magic above all else, and single out both temples and arcane libraries in lands that they conquer for particularly brutal treatment.

Recently, a new phenomenon has swept through Aracoix society, a trend that has indirectly provided the peoples of the World with all that we know about the ferocious Aracoix. Hundreds of young Aracoix have renounced the Law, decrying its restrictions and endless regulations. Apparently, this is the first wave of dissent the Aracoix have encountered since the Law was formulated untold millennia ago. Exiled from their people, these young outcasts have wandered far, mixing with the other peoples of the World and charting their own destinies. They have revealed much about the culture of the Aracoix, but have also kept quite a bit hidden.

Even these rebellious Aracoix refuse to reveal any of the secrets of their people, or talk of their homeworld. Hints and inferences seem to indicate that their entire world is ruled by one vast Aracoix Empire, but no more details have been forthcoming. Even when enchanted or tortured, Aracoix reveal nothing of their original homes. These outcasts have also proven unable to shed any light on the Aracoix disdain for gods and religion. They are certainly familiar with the concept of deities, but will not comment about religion, other than dismissing all gods as dangerous. Some comments seem to indicate that the Aracoix may practice their own forms of the magical arts, but so far no hard evidence has been reported. Finally, the Aracoix are absolutely silent when asked why they have come to our World. Given the attitudes and activities of most of the Aracoix who have come across so far, their plans for the World are likely far from pleasant.

The Aracoix: Their Lore

Sixty years have passed since the War of Talons ended, and now the Aracoix are on the move. Agents of the Empire, including dreaded Skydancer attack troops and Savant mindlords, have come in secret through the Runegates. From the shadows, these intruders have organized the Birdmen into new legions, the first Kh'ree to darken Aerynth's skies in decades. A few Aracoix agents have been captured, and the Conclave of Wizards has managed to wring from them more of the secrets of the Runegates, expanding the Traveler's arts. The other aims of the Aracoix Empire remain unseen, but it is clear the Birdmen are looking for something. In the deeps of the deserts, the Aracoix have found an ancient citadel of the Ardani, a ruined library filled with arcane texts unread by any in thousands of years. What secrets do the Aracoix seek there? The few ancient scrolls and tablets brought back by plunderers and adventurers hint at magical arts and theories unseen since the birth of the world. The Aracoix claim that their Empire shall soon take new Glory in the conquest of Aerynth!

Many among the Wise are worried by the new machinations of the Birdmen, but few of the Nations pay their warnings any heed, for the face of Aerynth is aflame with new strife. Working tirelessly, the Dwarves have managed to reopen the ancient Mines and Lodes of old! Gold, enough to maintain empires, lays waiting for those with the patience to exploit it. Greedy for the wealth these new resources offer, the warlords of all lands are scrambling to claim and hold these goldmines and every mine is now the scene of constant raids and daring struggles. How will this new gold rush reshape the face of Aerynth? Which Nations shall gain the most in the fight for Glory and Gold?

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« 回帖 #2 于: 2006-04-08, 周六 23:29:24 »
The Centaurs: Their People

Among the largest of the World's Children, Centaurs possess the trunk, head, and arms of a Human, wedded to the lower body of a horse. The Human half of their bodies is no larger than that of an average Man, but their horse bodies ensure that Centaurs stand at least a head taller than most Humans, though they are not typically as tall as a Half Giant. In terms of coloration, there are three main varieties of Centaur: Bays, whose horse parts are covered with rich, golden brown coats, Dapples with chalky gray coats, and Blacks, whose coats are the color of night. Interestingly enough, the hair on a Centaur's head need not match their coat, and runs from fair to honeyed-gold to red, brown, and black, as with Humans. Centaurs place no special value on the color of their coats - Blacks, Bays, and Dapples have equal status in their eyes. Centaurs whose hair and coat match, however, are considered purer of breeding, and tend to rise to positions of power and status among their fellows.

Centaurs place a high priority on grooming and personal cleanliness: their men favor closely cropped, well kept beards, and both sexes tend to tie their hair back. Centaurs disdain tattoos and piercings of any kind, and rarely wear jewelry or other ornaments. Such practices, they believe, imply that one is insecure about one's natural beauty. The only exception to this rule, however, is their use of horseshoes. The Hooves of a Centaur are virtually identical to those of common horses, and most Centaurs employ horseshoes to minimize wear and increase the effectiveness of their kicks in battle. Shoeing and re-shoeing ceremonies are a serious occasion among the Horselords, and Centaurs who can pass through the entire ordeal without any outward sign of discomfort are accorded high honors. Unlike horses, Centaurs are perfectly capable of eating meat, though they tend to eat less meat than Men, favoring fruits, breads, and rich, spicy stews. They have little love for oats, and never eat grass. Mocking a Centaur's diet is a sure way to earn his wrath.

Centaurs are remarkably strong, with endurance equal to that of the hardiest Dwarf. Their equine bodies leave them somewhat less agile than the average Man, but can take an enormous amount of punishment in battle. Centaurs are not known for their keen intellects. Indeed, the average Centaur is cleverer than a Dwarf or Half Giant, but not exceedingly so. In Spirit, however, Centaurs surpass all the Children of the World. The devotion of the Centaurs to Kenaryn and the All-Father is legendary, and the Horse-men master matters of Faith as easily as Warfare. Centaurs can run as quickly as any other horse, and often use their hooves as weapons in combat. Any Warrior who faces a Centaur in combat quickly learns to fear their powerful kicks, and a battalion of armored Centaurs is almost invincible on the field of battle.

The Centaurs: Their Ways

Centaurs are gregarious and jovial, quick to laugh even in these grim days. Honorable to a fault, Centaurs are more tolerant and trusting than most peoples of the World, up until the point they think a stranger has wronged them. Centaurs are as earnest and forthright in war as there are in friendship, and have long memories when it comes to holding grudges. Elves are the only folk Centaurs will meet with hostility, for the memories of the bitter war the Horselords fought with the Deathless Empire two Ages ago have yet to fade. Masters of combat and battlefield tactics, Centaurs favor lances and greatswords in combat, charging into battle in organized units called Waves that are more destructive than a body of heavy Knights.

A proud people, Centaurs are prone to boasting, and are highly competitive. Foot races are considered a common form of greeting between old friends, and jumping contests, tests of strength, and all manner of physical sports and games are a mainstay of Centaur culture. Centaurs compete to keep themselves at the peak of skill, as well as to test the mettle of friends and acquaintances. Warriors and Hunters are the backbone of Centaur society, and many of their more militaristic games have had a profound impact on the culture of other races. The Human sport of jousting, for example, is clearly a crude imitation of the Centaur sport called Valtos, where Centaur warriors pluck metal hoops from the bodies of their opponent using a lace or spear. Two-legged visitors to a Centaur encampment are not expected to join in these games, but those who do earn respect from their hosts even in defeat. Centaurs are also great lovers of music, stories, and wine. Their celebrations tend to be loud, raucous affairs lasting days at a time.

While Centaurs are fierce in battle and earnest in celebration, Piety and Faith form the cornerstone of their culture. Centaurs learned their concepts of honor from Kenaryn himself, and have never wavered in their adoration of the Hunter and the All-Father. Centaurs see a wide line between their pride and the arrogance of the Elves, for even at their most boastful, Centaurs never forget from whom their strength comes. "Hunter give me speed, Father give me strength," is a common litany among Centaur Warriors. Centaur Priests and Prelates are often the most cherished members of their community. Centaurs pray before every battle, and often ride to combat invoking the name of Kenaryn their father. Centaurs bear an unwavering hatred for anything that defies the natural order, and every Centaur's highest duty is the ongoing crusade against such aberrations. The Twisted Legions of the Orcs, Drakes and all Dragonspawn, all other monsters born of chaos, and the Undead are all attacked on sight by Centaurs, and many young colts leave their cohorts behind to prove their valor on personal crusades that can last for years.

The basic unit of Centaur society is the Cohort, a small band of anywhere from twenty to sixty Centaurs who are bound by strict oaths and ties of honor into the service of a Liege Lord. Membership in a Cohort often is passed down through generations, and the bonds of friendship and loyalty between members of a Cohort cannot easily be measured. The most purebred and ablest Warrior in a Cohort serves as its leader, and is in turn advised by one or more Priests. While Cohorts often band together to build cities and fortresses, some of their members are constantly riding away to follow personal quests or as part of a crusade. According to ancient Centaur legends, Kenaryn commanded the first Centaur to catch the wind in order to teach him humility. Ages later, Centaurs are still trying; whenever a Centaur rides away from his home, he is said to have "gone to catch the breeze," a euphemism for the never-ending hunt against all that is evil. The heartlands of the Centaur kingdoms boast great strongholds where Cohorts and questers gather to trade, marry off their children, and above all compete with other Centaurs. Centaurs favor tall, massive architecture with ample interior spaces. Their equine bodies pose certain difficulties for Centaurs when traveling to the cities of other folk - they rarely fit inside small buildings, and typically shy away from tight, enclosed spaces.

Centaurs value honor above all things, and will knowingly lie only in the direst of emergencies. Of all the peoples of the World, they have befriended more of their fellow beings than any other. Centaurs have enjoyed a long friendship with the Sons of Men, and many Horse-men are drawn to the Church of the All-Father as Prelates or Crusaders. The Dwarves taught the Centaurs the secrets of iron work long ago, and the greatest Centaur princes still wear magnificent suits of Dwarf-forged plate mail that have been handed down through countless generations. The Centaurs have even managed to forge friendships with Giants in the past, and were the architects of the Great Alliance of Men, Elves, and Giants that banded together against the hordes of Chaos in the War of the Scourge. The Centaurs fought at the forefront of that war, and suffered more losses than any of the World's other children. In the days since the Turning, the Centaurs have been dismayed by the disappearance of the All-Father and Kenaryn their sire. The great Princes of the plain fear that some great new conflict is brewing, and the Centaurs are gathering their strength once again, watchful for the coming storm.

The Centaurs: Their Lore

Bring forward the Sacred Scrolls, and hold them high. Unbind the scrolls and look upon them: there you shall see the saga of our race back unto the beginning: in those graven words the deeds of the Mighty and the Wise shall live forever. Hearken to my tale, for in it the hooves of fallen Heroes and vanished Cohorts still echo. Hearken to the breeze ?in it you can hear the voices of the Paragons, guiding us to glory and honor. You have come to me for knowledge, Son of Man, and I shall gladly give it to you. Long we waited for the birth of your people, foretold by the Father of All, and when the Titans were born we rejoiced at the news. Listen, then, and learn: twice before our elders shared their wisdom with your kind, and we shall do so until the ending of the World. It is up to you to hear, and listen, and learn. I pray to the All-Father that it may be so.

The tale is long, full of glory and despair, but it is the legacy of every Centaur to remember it, and keep the Watch. Without wisdom, how shall we know the Path? Without the examples of our Heroes, how shall we know Honor? Listen to me then, and learn of the Burden that Kenaryn our father placed upon us. But enough of the future: that is not ours to know. Now I must look to the past, to times of joy and glory. Set aside the scrolls, for I have no need of them. Age has taken my eyes from me, but rest assured: there was a time when I could see?and I have seen.

I look back now to the Beginning, when our race was born to Twilight. Many are the tales of Kenaryn, the God you Humans know as the Hunter. Indeed his greatest love is the hunt, but he is also the Protector: it was his arrows that held the hosts of Chaos at bay before the creation of the world, when Kolaur the Demon Prince shed even the All-Father's blood in battle. Bravest of the Companions, Kenaryn slew the Dark Lord, and took his mighty spear, Callanthyr, as his prize. When the world was new and empty Kenaryn raced over its face, sprinting to every corner and running even among the stars. As Braialla awakened and the new world flowered, the Hunter made his way to Saedril, the Silver Moon, and there found out mother, Saedron, entombed in a column of ice. At the mere sight of Saedron's beauty Kenaryn's heart was enthralled, and his love for her has never wavered. Kenaryn's hot tears melted the Saedron's icy prison, and the Fate Weaver woke when she heard his honeyed voice. And so our Father and Mother found each other, but born was a love that would be tinged with sadness.

Kenaryn longed to return to Aerynth, to serve his master Helgeron, the Father of All who the Elves named Pandarrion. But Saedron was loath to leave her icy home, for to linger too long away from Saedril would mean her death. Finally the Silver Goddess consented to Kenaryn's wish that their children should be of Aerynth, and so Saedron came down from the skies and the first Centaurs were born on Aerynth. The first of our kind were the Paragons, strong and true, in whose veins flowed the blood of Gods. Never again shall their like be known on the face of Aerynth: Ennon the Thunderer, Olroi Shadowchaser, Nandra Goldencoat, Trilius Truespear and many others rode as the First Cohort. Mighty were their deeds!

Our mother taught us Wisdom, and gave to us the art of writing, so that acts and words might never fade. Beyond this, we knew little of our mother's ways: indeed, she showered many more gifts on our cousins the Sidhe. But the Paragons felt no envy or spite, for truly we Centaurs have ever been our father's children. Thurin the Shaper, second only to Kenaryn in his devotion to the All-Father, taught the Paragons the ways of stone and iron. Our eyes were not so keen as those of the Firstborn Elves, so Thurin taught us the secrets of fire, and we kindled great lamps and torches to banish the gloom. Kenaryn taught us the skills of the hunt, the love of the chase, and the ways of the bow and spear. The Hunter taught us also song and sport, and wondrous were our revels in the Age of Twilight, when the Gods walked among us.

Of all the things that the Hunter taught us, there are two we Centaurs cherish most. The first was our place in this world, which we learned early. For the Children of the Gods were not alone in the long twilight. Beasts appeared and lurked in fen, thicket, and forest: Kenaryn was quick to teach us their ways, that we might hunt them. "For the Beasts," Kenaryn told his children, "are born of no God, and their lords are terrible and treacherous. All that the All-Father and the Seven Gods have wrought they would corrupt. It falls to you to confound the savagery of Bear and Wolf, Boar and Snake. Of all the Children of the Gods, the Centaurs shall be the wardens and protectors: you must keep the Beasts at bay." And so we joined the High Watch, which we keep to this day. And the second lesson Kenaryn taught the Centaurs? We remember it as Ennon's Chase. Of all the tales of that age, it is the most important story of all.

Ennon the Thunderer was the greatest of our kind, first born of the Goddess and the first Tiros of our race. Countless legends echo with his strength and valor, and it is said that he was the swiftest thing ever to run on four legs: Ennon once outraced an arrow shot from Kenaryn's bow, just to prove he could. His gifts made him prideful, and then brash. Ennon challenged all of his brothers to tests of strength and speed, and humbled them easily. He then rode to the glades of the Sidhe, and mocked his cousin Elves when they could keep up with him. When one of the Sidhe challenged Ennon, the mighty Centaur kicked the Elf to the ground. The Elves were roused to anger, and Gillestin Keeneyes shot Ennon with her bow, grazing his perfect face. Thus was the First Blood spilled upon the soil of Aerynth, and this act moved the very Gods to action.

Kenaryn chided Ennon, and warned him of the dangers of false pride. "But my pride is not false!" the brash Tiros replied, "I am better and stronger than Paragon or Sidhe ?who then shall oppose my will? I can do things that even you cannot do!" Kenaryn scowled, but then he smiled. "So my son. You have grown swifter, stronger, and more cunning than I? Prove it ?chase you the wind, and snare it, and bring it back to me alive." Ennon laughed at the challenge, and sped away like lightning. And so Ennon's Chase began. The All-Father had not yet fashioned Time, and so there is no way to measure how long Ennon rode in his quest, but it was long indeed. From the pillars of ice in the utter north to the boiling fens of the south Ennon ran, but he hunted in vain. And so the first Tiros learned the Ways of the Wind, and learned the difference between Pride, always born of virtue, and Hubris, which can only destroy virtue. Ennon learned that there is a Right beyond mere strength, and that only Honor brings true glory. By the time Ennon returned to his people, he had found a wisdom to match his strength and speed. With tears in his bright eyes he humbled himself before Kenaryn, and then rode to the Sidhe he had wronged. King Giliandor forgave Ennon his earlier slurs, and in the spans that followed Gillestin and Ennon became sure friends, and Ennon bore the archer Sidhe on his back in many hunts and quests. Gillestin's kin were less forgiving. The Elves kept to their mistrust, and so the Centaurs and Elves came to dwell far apart. Unto the end of his days Ennon bore the scar upon his face with humility, and never again questioned his father's will. The Paragons and every Centaur born of them shall always strive to follow Ennon's example.

Ennon did many great deeds in the Long Twilight, but the memory of them is tinged with sorrow, for we also remember Ennon's fall. The Centaurs lived far from the Sidhe in those days, but the Elves were not the only ones who suffered when the Dragon stirred in the deeps. Tremor and storm ravaged our cities, and Kenaryn rallied the First Cohort, shouting that some unknown doom was at hand. And so our father led us out onto the plains, and we raced the wind to bring aid to the Elves. From afar the Paragons saw the light of the Dragon's flame, so bright that it dazzled their eyes. They saw the Golden Moon consumed in flames, and heard the dying wails of Volliandra. Their hearts were filled with despair at the sight, but that despair soon turned to terror, for before Volliandra's screams had even ended we heard Saedron scream in pain. A black mark appeared on the Silver Moon, and something hideous fell from there onto the face of Aerynth, into the midst of our devastated cities. The cries of their women and children tore the hearts of Ennon and the Paragons. "Look to your own!" Kenaryn called. "I shall aid my Lord!" And so Kenaryn raced away with the speed of a ray of starlight, to drive the Dragon away with his mighty spear. Ennon and the Paragons ran back to their broken hearths, and found Grallokur waiting for them. I will not speak of that horrible battle, except to say that when it was done our race had lost more than half of its numbers, and Ennon the Thunderer was dead. Even the might of the Paragons could not slay Grallokur, but they did manage to wound it, driving the terror away into the wilds.

When Kenaryn returned to the first city from the field of Hennan Gallorach, his despair and rage knew no bounds. After burying Ennon with honor and dignity, the Hunter cried out to the heavens for vengeance, and began the Long Hunt to take revenge against the Devourer. Many of the Paragons went with him, but only the swiftest and cleverest could match their father's pace. The Long Hunt continues to this day, and each year the champions of the Karredani Games, bravest and brightest of our race, leave the Cohorts to seek the Hunter and join his chase. No mortal can tell how many times Kenaryn and Grallokur have faced each other, or how many hunters have fallen to the Terror's venomed claws. At the End of Days the Long Hunt will finally end, and Kenaryn will face Grallokur in a final battle to determine the fate of Aerynth. The Centaurs have trained for that final battle since the first age of the world, and we shall be ready.

And what of Saedron? The pain she felt at the death of her twin, the pain that manifested as Grallokur itself, has driven her to madness. It broke Kenaryn's heart to learn that his beloved was the source of so much pain, and our father and mother have rarely spoken since. Some Paragons wise in the ways of healing journeyed to the Silver Moon in the wake of Grallokur's attack, ferried there on the White Ship of the Sidhe. They found our mother raving in her sleep. Their arts could not calm her, and the prophecies that flew from Saedron's lips terrified them. Thirteen Dooms our mother spoke, so the legends say. The wisest of the Paragons have kept them secret, and in all the Ages since these prophecies have not been revealed until they come to pass. Alas, far too many of them have. When our mother awoke, she was not herself. She banished the Paragons from her silver palace, telling them that Saedron, Mother of Night, had no children ?especially none so twisted and ugly as these. We remember our mother, and we honor her, but the Ages have given us precious little reason to sing her praises.

And so our ways changed. The Centaurs were transformed in the light of the newborn sun from one cohort to many, and each Tiros led his band far into the wilds, to hunt beasts and search for traces of the Devourer. The new sun singed the face of Aerynth, giving rise to deserts that divided our lands from the Elves. We have always dwelt apart from the other Children of the World, for this is the place Kenaryn ordained for us. Whenever dire threats have risen to imperil all of Aerynth, however, the cohorts have always left their mark on the history of the world.

The first time came near the end of the Age of Twilight, when the Sidhe turned their back on the All-Father. In our distant cities we heard rumor of the wickedness of the Elves, how the despair the Dragon left in its wake poisoned their souls. For a long while we did nothing. But when the Tiroi of the Cohorts learned that the Deathless Empire had taken traffic with the dreaded Beast Lords, we acted. Our emissaries to Emperor Sillestor were met with scorn, and the Elves denied their very heritage, claiming a Beast Lord as their father. The offense was too grave to be endured, and so all the Cohorts assembled, and we made war against our cousins. The Elves called Demons to their aid, and Elemental spirits, and even the Beast Lords themselves took the field. It was too much for the Paragons to endure. Many of Ennon's kin fell in that dreaded war, and our people suffered losses second only to the coming of Grallokur. The magic of the Elves was too powerful, yet our faith never wavered. Golladar Grimhelm, Marshall of the Cohorts, managed to hold the Elvish armies at bay with his tactical genius, while Olroi Shadowchaser raced through the wild seeking our father. Olroi found the Hunter and brought him back to the wide plains, but even the Hunter's strength could not turn the tide, for he was but one God, while the Beast Lords attacked in legions. All hope faded, and Golladar sent word to all our armies that there was nothing left to do but to die well. But at the last our faith and our virtue were rewarded: Helgeron the All-Father returned to Aerynth with His Archons, and His wrath tamed the Beast Lords and broke the Deathless Empire. The treason of the Elves was punished, and their blasphemous ways were mended. The few Centaurs who had survived withdrew to the vast plains, and there we took up the Great Watch and the Long Hunt again.

It was long before our people regained a shadow of their former strength and glory, but our diligence never wavered. When the All-Father set the Sun in motion and began the count of time we Centaurs rejoiced and praised his name. We realized soon after that all Centaurs born to this new age had lost the immortality of the Paragons, but still we praised the All-Father. Our scouts and hunters had seen the Burning Lands, and we knew all too well the threat the fixed Sun posed to all of Aerynth. Grallokur and the Taming had taught us the necessities of sacrifice. In those early days we met the Titans of Ardan, wandering in the wilds, and we taught them archery, hunting, and the way of arms. We also taught them of the All-Father, and told them tales of the Dragon and the Taming and the treachery of the Elves. We also met the Dwarves, Thurin's sons, who of all the World's children are closest in their temper to us. In time the men of Ardan came to war with the Deathless Empire, but we knew little of that conflict, for we dwelt far away across endless deserts and plains, and our attentions were diverted. Other things awakened on that first dawn, things far fouler than Titans.

The Paragons had found many strange and wondrous places while they roamed the long twilight: strangest of all were the ancient places, sprawling ruins of grim pyramids and monuments. The forlorn heaps of stone seemed older than even Braialla's awakening, and Kenaryn could not tell whose hands had raised them. We stood watch over them, for they were places of ill omen. Thus it was that we were there when the builders of those forlorn monuments awakened, stirred from sleep by the beginning of time. They were the Scaly Ones, tall reptiles that walked like men, and they were quick to move against us with dark weapons and foul magic. Many Centaurs were captured and sacrificed by these elder horrors, and we were shocked to learn that these Scaly Ones worshipped the Dragon, and called themselves its children. The Cohorts quickly gathered, and we rode to war against this new enemy. The effort took years, but finally our virtue bore us to victory. We put all of their hideous priests to the sword, burned their libraries and pulled down their cities. But even in our victory we were guided by virtue, and still knew mercy: Trilius Truespear, last of the Paragons and Marshal of the Cohorts, decreed that the last of the Scaly Ones should be spared. The warriors and servants of the scaly breed were strong and valiant, and knew little of the dark paths their masters walked: Trilius deemed their lives worth sparing. Once the reptilian theocracy was broken, the few Scaly Ones that remained descended into savagery, withdrawing into the marshes and jungles. The Scaly Ones are still fierce, and hostile to all who enter their lands, but their dark ambitions pose no threat to Aerynth. Should this change, the cohorts will be quick to ride to ride to war again.

There were other conflicts fought in those days, unseen by the Men of Ardan or the Elves. Many cohorts launched raids into the Burning Lands against the Khalinviri, the forsaken Elves who, in their madness, had also taken up worship of the Dragon. Trilius Truespear met his end in battle with an exiled cult of Ardani wizards who sought to open the Gates to Chaos. The last of the Paragons had died, but their memory lives on in song and scroll. Every Centaur lives their life in the hope that we may prove ourselves equal to their shining example. Long was the Age of Days, and most of it passed in peace and harmony for our kind. Then we found the Free, wandering Humans who had escaped the yoke of Elvish slavery. They told us their story, and in turn we taught them our laws and the ways of the All-Father, for all of Humanity had forgotten. The Wise Ones looked to Saedron's prophecies, and found the answer to this riddle: the Blood Curse of the Elves had ruined Ardan and humbled the Titans. We told our new charges all that we remembered of Ardan and their lost heritage, and armed them so that they might take their vengeance. Many Cohorts rode with them when the time came to strike back at their masters, and Torvagau the Liberator was borne to battle by Hyrkos the Huntmaster, one of the mightiest Centaurs of that age. The Cohorts were so scattered in those days that it took years for the word of the Human's plight to reach them. But the messengers rode hard, and the Centaur legions gathered again for war against the Elvish Host. The war that met us, however, was not the fight we had expected.

You are a student of history, so you must know of the Irekei and the Chaos Gate. With sorrow in my heart I look now to the War of the Scourge. Countless Centaurs died in that bitter war, and our cities were laid waste by hordes of demons. The crucible of war forged many heroes, and doomed most of them. The Dark Lords twisted the very flesh of Aerynth, and it looked as though all the World's Children might perish. Our wisest called to Kenaryn for aid, but our father did not come, and we feared that the Hunter had fallen to the scourge of Chaos. Never have we known a darker hour.

The Tiroi gathered in a great council, and most believed that a good death was the only hope for our people. A young Tiros named Vargos spoke last, and turned the tide of history. Vargos counseled that the only hope was an alliance of all the races of Aerynth, that the friendships we knew of old must be rekindled. The other lords heard his wisdom, and so began our greatest mission. For most of a decade our emissaries sped across the hideous battlefields, trying to gather the lords of Aerynth while the Cohorts fought for their very survival. The way was hard and fraught with many arguments, but Vargos finally succeeded in forging the Grand Alliance. The Sons of Men came quickly to our side, and in time even the Giants joined us. The Elves, their hearts still full of spite, were the last to join the common cause. Alas, the Dwarves never emerged from their hidden holds. Their strength might have turned the tide, but it stayed hidden.

The Grand Alliance was our greatest triumph, but alas, even it came too late. The Dark Lords were too many, and too strong. Our generals rejoiced when we heard the news that Shadowbane, the Sword of Destiny, had been recovered against all hope, but the treacherous Elves turned on Beregund and took the blade. Their folly caused the mighty weapon to be lost, and the dark deeds nearly shattered the Alliance, but wisdom prevailed. All hope was lost, but then Aerynth was delivered, just as it had been in the times of the Taming. Helgaron the All-Father came again to Aerynth, and before His strength and the might of the Archons no army could stand. Kenaryn returned to fight at his Lord's side, and at last the Centaurs were reunited with our father. When the All-Father invaded the very pits of Chaos, a phalanx of the mightiest Centaurs rode in the first ranks of the assault. Alas, Malog's treachery nearly sold them all to doom, and Vargos died by the Traitor God's hand, blocking the axe stroke meant for Helgaron Himself. The All-Father and most of His legions escaped the Maimed God's trap, and the Chaos Gate was shut.

On the fields of victory Helgaron praised the Cohorts for their valor and their wisdom. It pleased Him that we had aided the Men of Ardan, and forged the Grand Alliance. As reward He gave our kind dominion over all the plains and the wilds, but elevated Men above all the other races. The Elves were bitter at His word, but the Centaurs felt no spite: our cousins were truly the All-Father's favored children, and who were we to dispute His will? Your race has always seemed young to us, young and brash. There is much you have to be prideful for, but too often your pride becomes hubris. You have yet to learn Ennon's lesson. When at last you do, there could be no greater rulers upon Aerynth. May that day come soon!

As we had advised the Sons of Men before, so the Centaurs offered counsel in the new age, the Age of Kings. Our Sacred Scrolls served as one foundation of the Holy Church of the All-Father, and we were overjoyed when the Human, Elvish, and Centaur churches united into one body. Many of our folk serve the Holy Church to this day. Some foresaw that the Age of Kings would be a time of harmony, with the Grand Alliance keeping the peace and the All-Father's vision of plenty and happiness finally fulfilled. Alas, it was not to be.

While the Elves withdrew into the courts and the Sons of Men scattered across Aerynth, we Centaurs returned to the wilds and the vast plains and took up the Great Watch again. Some three hundred years after the War of the Scourge ended, new threats cast their shadow over us. Grallokur returned to civilized lands, leaving havoc and death in his wake. Kenaryn roused the mightiest among us, and they drove the Terror away, but at a terrible cost. As Kenaryn and many of the Cohorts chased the Terror, and new threat revealed itself in the depths of the wild. The Beast Lords, long barred from Aerynth after the Taming, had at last found new ways to make their mark upon our world.

As Saedron's prophecies had foretold, the Beast Lords were no longer content with their mundane children, and bore new spawn: Beast Men, hideous fusions of their forms with the shape of the All-Father, their greatest enemy. Wolf, Bear, Bat, Wolverine, and many more now walked on two legs, and turned claw and fang on all the Children of the World. The Tiroi sent warnings to the lords of the Alliance, but there was little heed ?the Elves could not be stirred from their reverie, the Holy Church was slow to act, and the Sons of Men were too embroiled with their own feuds and troubles. At last the Cohorts dealt with the beast spawn ourselves: after all, Kenaryn had set his children to the Great Watch, and never have we neglected that duty.

The hunt was long, and our numbers were too thinned by the hand of Chaos for complete victory. We broke the petty nations of the Beast Men and scattered their dark cults, but the effort pulled us far from the lands of the Grand Alliance, and in the end only drove the beast men into every corner of Aerynth. Victory eluded us, but our next war would have a different outcome. As all the World's children know, in the eighth century of the Age of Kings, Malog returned from Chaos, bearing a new name but filled with old hatred and treachery. He brought hordes of new horrors with him: Orcs and Grobolds and mighty Ogres, and was quick to find new allies on Aerynth. The Minotaurs flocked to his dark banner, as did several clans of Giants and even some savage Men. Again we warned the lords of the Grand Alliance, and this time they all roused themselves. As it had been at the last age, so it was in the War of Ashes: the Children of the Gods stood together, and finally Kenaryn himself fought beside Torvald the Titan in the final battle. Their efforts sent Morloch to his richly deserved doom.
But victory brought little comfort, for ancient tensions poisoned the friendship between Humans, Elves, and Men. The Holy Church grew narrow in its views, and our wisest ones found more quarrels with the Patriarch than commonalities. The Cohorts withdrew from the affairs of Elves and Men, and we withdrew our advice and counsel from our cousins.

All too quickly the Deathless Empire fell to warring with the Ten Kingdoms of men, and the Cohorts renounced the Grand Alliance. The Tiroi were so entrenched in their grief at its failure that they were blinded to the consequences of their actions. Tired of bickering and vendetta, the Centaurs returned to the Long Hunt and the Great Watch. We thought that what we did was just and right, for we were only following our father's will. Alas, without even seeing it, hubris had corrupted us. It was not pride that led us to make our gravest error, but despair. For the Eighth Prophecy of Saedron came to pass soon after, and Aerynth shattered when King Cambruin fell. And with the Turning came plagues unimaginable: pestilence, isolation, cataclysm, undead, new beasts, all were unleashed.

The Cohorts found themselves cut off, scattered across the fragments of our world. But each wise one and each Tiros knew what we must do ?the shock of the Turning shook us from our Hubris. If our wisdom and our voices had been present in the courts of the Elves and the halls of Cambruin, might not this disaster have been averted? Who were we, the sons of Kenaryn, to grow impatient with the hubris of Elves and Men, both the children of Helgaron our father's lord? To withdraw and despair, that is the Elvish way. To rage blindly against hardship is the Human way. We have always followed a different path. And so, as the Gate roads opened, we have returned from our seclusion to help drive back the darkness.

Ours is a mighty destiny, fraught with hardship and sorrow, but we Horse Lords have always borne it without complaint. If we do not, who can? Darkness and Chaos have always stirred, thirsty for blood and souls. Without the Long Hunt and the Watch they would surely have triumphed long ago. Indeed, the test that awaits this generation shall be the darkest ever known, and many of our bravest and wisest deem that we cannot win the coming battle. So be it. The Centaurs have faced dire odds before.

There are many who think us fools, that we Centaurs live for ideals that have no place in this world. That may be, but I say this: the world is as the Gods have made it: all we who are mortal can do is to live our lives with honor and strive to fight for virtue. If all we can hope for is to die, then we must die well. To do less would mean betraying the Father of All. It is a hard course we ride, but we shall not waver. We seek an ideal, as intangible as the wind itself. But so long as the winds blow, we shall chase it, and we shall never tire.

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« 回帖 #3 于: 2006-04-08, 周六 23:34:56 »

The Dwarves: Their People

Of all the children of the World, Dwarves may be the most remarkable, and they are certainly among the most recognizable. Whereas all the other races are made of flesh and blood, Dwarves are fashioned of the stone they love so well. Individual Dwarves are made of different stones, from ebon shale to gray granite to pale marble, expertly crafted into a form reminiscent of Humanity. Short of stature, Dwarves are the smallest of the World's races, yet also among the strongest. A Dwarf's stocky body seems nearly as broad as it is tall, covered in thick masses of carved muscle. While not quite as agile as the average Human, Dwarves are stronger and much more resilient by far. The fortitude of the earth is worked into them: Dwarves are blessed with incredible toughness and almost limitless endurance. Created for life underground, the glittering gemstone eyes of the Dwarves can see in the dark (though without detail: for fine work, Dwarves still kindle lights in their halls). Dwarves do not age: all of them were created at once, and no one Dwarf is significantly older than any other. While they never grow older, Dwarves do show signs of wear - many Dwarves have visible cracks that run across their bodies, or chips missing from their features. While this wear is almost always repairable, many Dwarves wear their cracks as a badge of honor, the way other Warriors cherish scars. Dwarves also show an uncanny uniformity of appearance. Though there are some variations and each Dwarf is unique in some small way, all Dwarves are short, heavily muscled, bearded men with long, thick hair.

When first encountered by the other peoples of the World, there were many who questioned whether or not Dwarves were truly living beings, or some kind of fabulous magical automata. The evidence was confusing and contradictory: while clearly made of stone, Dwarf limbs move without seams or joints. Furthermore, Dwarves require food and drink like other living things, and they sleep (albeit rarely, for only the greatest exertion seems to tire them). Dwarves are incapable of reproducing themselves, one criterion traditionally given to living things. No new Dwarves are born, and Dwarves who were destroyed in previous Ages can never be replaced. Many Elvish Magi considered Dwarves nothing more than complex constructs like the murgolems their Animators fashion, not truly living at all. Conclusive proof did not come until the Turning, when it was discovered that slain Dwarves rise anew from Trees of Life, just as all the other races do. Dwarves are still baffled by this phenomenon, but not nearly so baffled as the Magi and Loremasters who have tried to explain it and draw therefrom some conclusion about the nature of the living soul.

The Dwarves: Their Ways

Dwarves have always enjoyed a sense of unity that the other children of the World have lacked. Isolated groups of Dwarves toil in the deeps or under the mountains, each ruled by a Thane, but never in all their long history have two Dwarf nations warred against each other. Dwarf holds may nurture rivalries between each other, to see which can finish an engineering project or produce finer steel, but these rivalries never turn into conflicts. Because all of the Dwarves were fashioned by Thurin, every Dwarf is a brother to every other, and the Dwarven family is likely the most harmonious in all the World.

Dwarfholds are ruled by Thanes, but many of the most important decisions are made by the community as a whole. Every Dwarfhold has within it a massive hall called the Hall of Voices, large enough to hold the entire local population. In frequent meetings, minor matters are decided by votes of acclamation, with the Thane having final say. These meeting are usually subdued, but not always - loud arguments have been known to break out, and there are no rules of decorum: every Dwarf may speak, and give his opinions as loudly as he wishes. Thanes are chosen by community vote, based on merit and ability. The post of Thane has no fixed term, and Dwarves will frequently resign from the post as conditions change. A warrior might become Thane when the hold declares war on a nearby Orc tribe, for example, and remain Thane until the hostilities end, when he willingly steps down. Thanes are advised by a council of the best and wisest Dwarves in the hold, one of whom must be a Priest of Thurin. Outsiders are often amazed at how harmonious Dwarven politics can be, and at how much shouting and bellowing there is when parties do actually disagree!

Of all the children of the World, none can match the Dwarves in skill and craft. To them alone did Thurin reveal the deepest secrets of the forge, and Dwarven steel is still the finest in the world. Only their Forge Masters can craft weapons and armor of adamant, hardest of all metals. Masters of all forms of metalcraft, Dwarves are cunning goldsmiths, drawing gold and platinum into wire or crafting chains of precious metal as thin as human hair. Dwarves are also natural born miners and masons, with mines and tunnels that extend hundreds of miles under hill and mountain. Dwarvish architecture is stunning is its scope, yet remarkably uniform. Dwarves love symmetry, and favor grand spaces and heavy columns. Many lords who live beneath the sun and sky would pay dearly for a Dwarf's help in designing or building a castle.

Other races tend to regard Dwarves as stoic and grim, as emotionless as the stone they're carved from. These impressions may be correct at first glance, but belie a Dwarf's true nature. Dwarves live for work, and have an amazing resolve that is easily misktaken for stubbornness. Dwarvish minds are not so keen as those of Men or Elves, and tend to follow lines of reasoning that baffle Roofless Folk (what the Dwarves call all people who live their lives under the sky). Once a Dwarf has set himself to a task or purpose, however, he acts with absolute resolution, and a single-mindedness few beings can comprehend. It seems as if Dwarves have a physical need to complete tasks assigned to them, whether by themselves or an authority they respect. If interrupted while working, a Dwarf will do whatever he can to end the distraction, and may finally fly into a rage if the interference continues. Dwarves have long memories, and are very good at holding grudges.

Despite their strict focus, Dwarves are far more than stoic machines. Dwarves have a love of beauty and art that rivals any Elf's, and have a tireless appetite for music. Dwarves sing while they forge, while they mine, and while they make war. Dwarves have spent most of the World's history in isolation, and hence know little of the ways of surface dwellers. Dwarves are on their guard when dealing with tall folk, and the sight of the open sky makes them nervous. Most humor is lost on them, and most surface dwellers can find Dwarves difficult to communicate with. The few who have truly befriended a Dwarf, however, or ventured into their halls, have seen a very different side to their demeanors. A Dwarf is forthright in everything he does: loyal to a fault, dedicated to his work, merry at feast, and grim as death in battle.

The Dwarves: Their Lore

"You have done me a great honor, worthy host, while I have stayed and studied here. I thank you, Loremaster, for the gift that you have given me. The history of Suns and Stars and Men passed by my people as we labored in the deep, and we saw it not. Now, through your gift to me, the Sons of Thurin shall know much that has been hidden to us. We shall be richer for it. I shall repay you with as dear a treasure. I, Gourim Granitehammer, son of Thurin, servant of Thane Dolmurg of the Halls of Barankoll, shall tell you the long tale of the Dwarves. Listen, learn our long history, and be richer for it.

We are the Children of Thurin the Shaper. Our bodies were wrought at the heart of the World before the Sons of Men were created, before the Sun was kindled, before the Elves were born and before even their Green Mother awakened. While the World first flowered we worked at the forge. While the Dragon brooded in darkness we worked at the forge. While the hordes of Chaos ravaged the World, we worked at the forge. As the Elvish Empire perished, we worked at the forge. Only when the World was sundered stone from stone, only then did our labors pause. Through all the World's Ages we have honed our Craft, and we alone have forgotten nothing.

I will tell you all that I have seen, and what my brothers told me of events I did not witness. Mark my words well. I am a Dwarf. I do not lie.

Few made of flesh know that the Dwarves are the eldest of all the Children of the World, older even than the Elves. The hands of the Shaper wrought my brothers and I in the Age Before, when the surface of the World was dark and barren, and Braialla the Mother of Elves still slept. Thurin went into the deeps at his Master's command, and there he fashioned us to help him in his great work. The Dwarves were created under stone, wrought of the stone, and we have always felt at ease in the deeps, under the Roof of Aerynth, at home in the dark and stillness. To us the open sky is strange and terrible. Thurin gave unto us his Strength, his Will, and above all his love of Craft. From him came our desire to shape the World of Matter into new forms, to bring order and meaning to all we touch. In the beginning we were little more than tools, knowing only what our Maker had taught us. We existed then only as extensions of his will, yet we were at peace with our labors. In the Ages since we have learned, and grown, and changed. We are not murgolems, stones that move through Magic. We are not Mortals, who have both male and female forms, and to who must sire children to live forever. We are Dwarves, and that has always been enough.

As long as Dwarves have existed, we have served Thurin's will, doing great labors in his name. The Shaper's children do not reckon the same Ages as the dwellers of the Roofless World. Our history begins with the Age of the Hammer, when with hammers and chisels we accomplished the first great task Thurin set before us. At the core of the World we delved the Halls of Haganduur, grandest of all dwellings, mightiest of fortresses, first home of our people. Haganduur is lost now, broken and cast into the Void by the Turning, but I can remember it well, for I aided in its making. As we worked Thurin taught us the ways of stone, how to smite it and carve it and shape it, how to see its nature, hear its whispers, and love its wisdom. As we learned the craft of masonry we learned about ourselves. Thurin worked beside us, and told us many tales of his Master, the All-Father, who had taught our father all his Craft and given him the love of creating and making. As Thurin served His will, so we served Thurin's.

When at last that work was done, Thurin sent many of my brothers out into the deep. For the depths of Aerynth were deeply flawed, filled with faults and fractures and rivers of ice. Thurin ordered the greatest masons to refashion and repair the deeps; shoring up weak places, widening narrow rifts, and buttressing the walls of the World. The stonewrights tunneled their way through the heart of the World, delving great halls and holds, building walls and braces, and bridging chasms unfathomable. So we came to know and love the eternal stone body of Aerynth itself. Tireless in our labors, we sang as we worked, and the deeps resounded with the music of our hammers and our voices.

As we worked, we found the bones of terrible beasts locked within the stone, bones made of iron and silver and adamant. These we showed to our creator, and Thurin led the wisest and keenest of the Dwarves to the greatest hall of Haganduur. There, with their aid, he built a mighty forge, and the Chosen worked beside him, learning from his skill. Their hands wrought the anvil, hollowed the furnace, and made the tools, all under the Shaper's watchful eye. When the work was done, Thurin kindled the fire in the mighty furnace, and he was glad. Under the Shaper's guidance the seven Chosen became the Forge Masters, and they were given the greatest part of Thurin's Craft and Wisdom. At last we brought the metal bones into the forge, and Thurin taught us how to break them, and grind them, and smelt them into ore. We learned the ways of metal, how to mine it and smelt it and shape it, how to see its beauty, hear its wisdom, and love its power. As we learned the craft of metalwork we learned about our destiny.

In the World above Braialla awakened, but we saw her not, nor heard her song when the world flowered. There was no great Twilight in the deep, no Spring. The Elves and Centaurs were born, and the Gods walked the face of Aerynth, but we knew them not. They had no time for stifling darkness, and so they never saw the wonders that we wrought. They did not thank us for shoring up the mountains and the plains, for stifling the tremors of the ground and quenching the volcanoes' fury, but we did not miss their gratitude. The Dwarves did not do any of these things to earn thanks or gratitude. At first we worked because our father had commanded us to, and we knew nothing but his will. But as my people mastered the ways of Craft, so did we discover Joy. We needed no shining Moons or glimmering stars. All we needed were our hammers, and the stones of anvils to ply them on.

While the Elves of the Twilight Kingdom built their mighty palaces under the Moons and stars, a team of Dwarvish miners delved deep into strange, foul caverns, and came into a vast chamber. There, far from the Halls of Haganduur, they found the coiled, sleeping form of the Dragon, terrible even in its slumber. The miners quickly returned with the news, and we called for the Shaper, who went and looked upon this thing. Thurin summoned the All-Father, and He marveled at the great beast, asleep at the core of the World. The All-Father wondered what lore this hidden thing might know, but Thurin was troubled, and liked it not. The Shaper commanded all his children to withdraw into their halls and prepare for disaster. We readily obeyed. So it was that we waited in hiding when the Dragon rose. Its fury rocked the deeps and shattered many of our greatest works, but our halls and holds were built strong and sure, and we weathered the terrible storm unharmed.

I am told that a mighty battle was fought on the surface of the World, a fight that destroyed a kingdom, killed a Goddess, and ignited a Sun. No Dwarf saw that struggle, for we held true to our father's command. Finally Thurin returned to the Halls of Haganduur. There, with the Forge Masters to aid him, the Shaper undertook the greatest of his works, and all of Dwarvenkind helped him in this labor, and wondered at the Shaper's skill. So it was that Thurin forged the Sword of Legend, the blade an Elf named Shadowbane. To finish the blade, Thurin maimed himself, and when his work was done he sundered the great anvil in the heart of his forge. So it came to pass that the Shaper ruined his craft for the good of the World. We, his children, watched Thurin and remembered his sacrifice, and so we learned Responsibility and Honor. Thurin vowed that he would never raise his hammer in a forge again, and so it has fallen to us, his children, to craft the weapons of power to overcome darkness and evil. The Shaper bid us heal the hurts the Dragon had done to the deeps, and dam the flow of the Terror's foul blood before it marred and poisoned Aerynth's heart. He also commanded the Dwarves to forge other mighty weapons, and guard against the Dragon's return. Then Thurin left us, wandering down roads none have ever known.

The childhood of my race had ended, and the World had changed forever. So ended the Age of the Hammer, and so began the Age of the Forge. For the timeless span of the Age of Twilight and through more than five thousand years after, we have honored our father's command. The enchanted blades you folk of the Roofless World cherish so much are our work, and the least of our works. The greatest still lie hidden.

We kept to our labors, unseen, unheard, and undreamed of by the children of the Roofless World. Those of us who did not keep to the forge went back into the deeps, and delved through the core of the World again, repairing much that had been broken and marred when the Dragon awoke. The Master Masons and Forge Masters worked together, devising mighty works that channeled the flow of the Dragon's blood and barred the way to its foul lair. We were alone in our labors, as we had always been, but soon the Dwarves found new company in the darkness. Malog the Warrior had come to live in the shadows of the deep, huddled in a cavern, mourning all that he had lost. My people found him there and praised him, for he was the brother to our father, a Godling Companion to the All-Father Himself. If we had known the pain and bitterness that would come of that meeting, we would have left the Warrior to rot in darkness.

Once Malog had been the handsomest of all the Gods, but when the sun was kindled the Warrior had been horribly maimed, and his face was ravaged by the Dragon's fire. In his pain and shame Malog hid from sight, but our father had come to him and given him a jeweled mask to hide his terrifying visage. Malog was grateful for the gift, and so he met the Dwarves gladly, and held us in high honor. Saying that he was anxious to repay Thurin's generosity, the Warrior came to the Halls of Haganduur, where he lodged among us with great honor. There he received many rich gifts and took comfort from our hospitality. There he taught us the ways of Arms, and so Thurin's children came to know the discipline of steel. We learned how to fight and how to kill, and the ways of mace and maul and axe. As we learned the Arts of War we Dwarves discovered our Power. All the while Malog carefully studied our ways, learned the secrets of our halls, and laid the foundations of future treacheries. If only we had known! How many Dwarves would have been spared their place in the Song of Mourning? How many of our holds and halls would still endure?

The Warrior was cunning, but even his fair mask and clever words could not hide the darkness in his soul. As he taught us the ways of War, Malog ever warned us against the treachery and guile of the surface dwellers. Malog reviled the Elves above all, cursing their arrogance and wickedness. He praised Thurin with shining words, but repented that the Shaper's greatest work should be sullied by giving it to an Elf instead of someone more deserving. The Warrior tried to plant seeds of envy and avarice in our hearts, but these took no root. Finally, Malog urged the Thanes to march against the hateful Elves and take back Shadowbane. Why, asked the Thanes, should the Dwarves do such a thing? Shadowbane was a gift given to the Elves by Thurin himself. At this Malog flew into a rage, and cried out the Thurin had been wrong to squander his mighty gift. The full measure of Malog's evil was finally revealed, and the first of his great wrongs against the Dwarves was thwarted. The Thanes looked beyond the Maimed God's deceptions to the truth: Malog had not taught us to be warriors for our good, but for his. The Warrior intended that we should be his unwitting pawns, and win Shadowbane for him, so that his hand alone would wield the Sword of Destiny. Malog had tried to lure us from our labors and turn all Dwarvenkind against Thurin's will. He failed. And so Thurin's children gained their first Enemy, and the Maimed God has always been the most hated of our foes. The Thanes exiled him from our halls, for it was not yet in our nature to punish or kill our enemies.

When Malog had departed we set aside our weapons and returned to our labors. Thurin finally returned to us, and his homecoming was joyful and glorious. The Shaper told his children the long tale of all that had transpired above, of the treachery of the Elves, the rise of the Beast Lords, and a terrible war called the Taming. We listened, and afterward the Thanes told Thurin of Malog and of the intrigues the Warrior had tried to spin among us. Thurin was troubled at the news, for some of Malog's words had proven true. Thurin had indeed judged the Elves unworthy of the Sword of Destiny. The blade had taken Thurin's maimed left hand in battle, but Thurin did not mourn its loss. And then the Dwarves were freely given the prize Malog had bid us take in battle, for our father had taken Shadowbane from the field, and brought the Shining Sword with him to Haganduur. Thurin commanded us to keep the sword safe forever, and so we delved a great vault to keep it in, deep, strong, and hidden. The Forge Masters fashioned a new hand for the Shaper, a strong, shining hand of silver. We showed him all of our works and accomplishments. Thurin was glad, but kept to his oath and did not return to his forge.

Soon after, the All-Father set Time into motion. Deep underground we felt Aerynth tremble, and we sensed the mighty change. Thurin told the wisest among us the meaning of what had happened, and commanded all Dwarves to henceforth keep the count of days. And so we did. We carved all that we had seen and heard onto the walls of our halls, fixing our history into stone forever. We also bored great shafts upward, from the heart of each Dwarfhold through stone and earth to the very surface of the World. These shafts looked up into to the strange and endless sky, and beneath each shaft we placed great crystals, and mirrors of polished bronze. And so each day, from the very first even unto this, the Sun in its wandering shines down upon the deeps, and its light is seen even in our darkest vaults. We mark its passing, and carve a sign onto walls of the hardest stone.

Even as we began to count the days Thurin gave his children our next great task, a labor we came to rue. Thurin chose the hardiest of our kind, and led them out of the deeps to the surface, under the terrible sky. Only once before had any Dwarf left the world of stone to walk under the endless sky, when Therron Bellowstone beheld the creation of Men and learned the Art of Animation. Thurin led nearly a hundred of our mightiest to the very foot of the Cliffs of Fate. There lay the fragments of the weltwyrdangssaga that had been carved and broken by the Giants. Thurin bade his children gather all the fragments, which he named Runestones, and bear them back to Haganduur for safekeeping. Then Thurin left his children again, and soon we learned the true scope of the great task set before us. The Runestones lay scattered all over the wide face of Aerynth, and would be long in the gathering. Thurin made us well, however, and we were undaunted by the difficulty of the task. Alas! We had hardly begun our new labor when it was cruelly interrupted.

Our work quickly drew the wrath of the Giants, who claimed the Runestones for their own, and refused to hear of our errand. Nearly a hundred of the first gatherers were killed that grim day, broken by the Giants. Never before had any of Thurin's children died. When the grim news reached Haganduur, all Dwarvenkind was stunned. Thurin was gone and could give us no guidance, and so for the first time we found ourselves hindered in our labor. We had known labor, and wonder, and joy. Now we learned anger. Thrangdan Stoneshoulders claimed the name Thrangdan Giant Killer, put down his pick and took up an axe. Legions of Dwarves followed him, and soon the frozen North flowed red with Giant's blood, and our foes learned to their sorrow just how well Malog had taught us. The World had changed again: Dwarves had been killed, and for the first time they walked in the Roofless World and made war with its folk. The Age of the Forge was gone forever, and in its wake came the Age of the Axe, the longest and most terrible Age my people have ever known.

Our quarrel with the Giants exploded into war, the great conflict your Scholars call the War of the Stones. Your folk know only one war, but we Dwarves remember many. They raged for nearly a millennium, and by the time they ended the Dwarves would count all the other Children of the World among their foes. The Age of the Axe was a time of many changes for my people: we learned quickly to adapt to a World that was strange to us, and we learned quickly to steer our own course, for Thurin was not there to guide us. In the beginning the War of Stones went well for my people, for many and mighty were our weapons. Master Animators carved legions of murgolems to defend our halls, and our Warriors had learned many secrets from Malog. But suddenly the tide turned, and the Giants began to win unexpected victories. Entire holds fell to their ruinous attacks, and the Song of Mourning grew long indeed. The Thanes and War Masters were sorely troubled, and soon we learned how the Giants had come to press our folk so sorely.

The Giants had found a new savior and Patron, a God that granted them great power and promised victory in battle. Their new master was none other than Malog the maimed God, who had finally found a set of pawns. Malog had learned that Shadowbane was now hidden in the Halls of Haganduur, and so he drove the Giants against us, hoping to batter his way to the Sword of Destiny. The Warrior remembered well all the maps he had seen in Haganduur, and led the Giants to many of our hidden holds, where they broke down our gates and walls and plundered our works to feed the Maimed God's greed. Entire mountains were broken in that war, and in the face of the great assault we withdrew, using the body of Aerynth as our fortress and shield. No Giant could walk the narrow road to Haganduur, and our defenses held against the terrible onslaught. In time the Giants drew the wrath of both the Elves and men, and were forced to turn their attentions away from us. I am told that their feuds with the Elves and the Northmen nearly destroyed the entire Giant race, and that in time they renounced Malog, turning their back on the Maimed God. As for the Dwarves, we had learned two powerful lessons: it is sometimes better to outlive your enemies than outfight them, and the peoples of the Roofless World will forever be divided, warring one upon the other. It is a weakness.

In the wake of our war with the Giants, groups of Rune Gatherers journeyed far and wide over the surface of Aerynth. For the first time since our creation Dwarves walked among the other peoples of the World, who found us strange and wonderful. The Gatherers met the Centaurs, and engaged in trade with the Northmen and the Tall Men of Ardan. Remembering Thurin's tales, we were cautious in our dealings with the Elves of the Deathless Empire, but even they were willing to trade Runestones for the secrets of Craft. All the World's Children entered into bargains with us, and we traded our knowledge of Craft, stone, and steel for the Runestones we had been tasked to gather. Master Smiths served Human Kings and Elvish Lords, forging weapons and armor for them the likes of which had never been seen under Sun and Sky. It was a time of peace and prosperity, but all too soon it ended.

The Elves, as is their nature, were suspicious of our errand, and wondered why the Runestones were so important. In time, their Wizards learned to sense and master the power locked inside the stones, and soon all the Children of the World were bonding themselves to Runestones, changing their natures and their destinies. The lure of power was too great: the Centaurs, Elves, and Men suddenly turned against us, breaking their word, shattering our agreements, and hoarding the stones. Where once all the Races but one had been our friends, we now found ourselves beset on every side. The greatest Dwarves living all gathered in the Hall of Voices at Haganduur, and there we argued over our new dilemma. Deceit and deception are not in Thurin's nature, and they have ever been anathema to his children. We were baffled and dismayed that our former friends and allies had broken their word to us, and without the guidance of Thurin we knew not how to proceed.

And so it was that as before when the Dwarves first felt the wrath of the Giants, one Dwarf stepped forward and chose a new destiny for our people. Doran Diamondeyes, mightiest and wisest of the Priests of Thurin, shouted out over the din, in a voice like thunder. The deeds and motives of the Roofless Ones mattered not, for they were beyond all reckoning, the great Dwarf said. Only the end result of their action mattered: the Surface Folk were trying, in their greed, to thwart the will of Thurin, as the Giants had before them. The children of Thurin, he proclaimed, must deal with this new threat as they dealt with the Giants of old: with the Axe! And so all Dwarvenkind mustered again for war, and we surged out of our hidden holds and fought the Men of Ardan, the Elves of the Deathless Empire, and even the Centaurs of the Vast Plains. The War of Stones began anew, and in earnest. We emptied the armories of Haganduur and bore our mightiest weapons into the fray.

Our courage and our resolve never wavered ?we are Dwarves, after all. What fear had we of death, provided we could die in the service of Thurin's will? And die we did, by the hundreds and thousands. Our weapons were powerful beyond reckoning, and our might and skill were great indeed, but even the greatest Warriors of the Age of the Axe could not hope to stand against so many foes. The power of the Titans, the spells of the Sidhe, and the might of the Horse Lords were more than even we could withstand. Many of the greatest and mightiest Dwarves who ever lived quickly fell in the conflict, and the scourge our enemies visited on our holds made the former onslaught of the Giants seem feeble and weak. Thus began the darkest chapter of our history, though we knew not just how dark it would become. Finally, the Elvish Hosts carved their way into the deeps like a sword of fire, and drew nigh even unto Haganduur. Doran Diamondeyes led the final great sortie to meet the foes, and so two great armies met in a vast cavern, and there they joined in the final battle of the War of Stones. In that bitter fight the full extent of our doom was finally revealed.

The eyes of the Elves are keen, and the spells of the Sidhe have the power both to conceal and to reveal. So it was that in the midst of the fray, Elvish sorceries pierced the veils woven about Thurin's highest priest, and his true shape was revealed. In the midst of our lines stood no Dwarf at all, but Malog the Maimed God, who had learned to hide his true shape with the very mask our father had wrought for him! And so all of Malog's treacheries and schemes were made plain: the Warrior had failed to destroy Thurin's children from without, so he tried a second time to destroy us from within. Long afterward we learned how we had been deceived: how Malog had killed Doran Diamondeyes years before and stood in his place, hoping to gain access to the vault where Shadowbane was kept. When this failed, he goaded our race into a hopeless war, thinking the Sword of Destiny would fall into his hands once we had been destroyed. But the Maimed God's plans miscarried, for he was revealed too soon. In his rage he fell upon both Dwarves and Elves, and none could withstand his fury.

At that darkest moment Arak Helmsplitter, second only to Thrangdan Giant Killer in the ranks of Dwarvish heroes, took his mighty hammer and struck the great column that rose in the center of the cavern. The entire roof collapsed, burying Malog along with both armies, Elvish and Dwarvish alike. It was a bitter sacrifice, and many great Dwarves died, but the invasion of Haganduur was thwarted and the schemes of Malog were undone. When word came back of Malog's treachery, the Thanes decided that Dwarvenkind had lost its way, and that the War of Stones was not Thurin's will but utter folly. We abandoned all our holds save Haganduur, shut fast their gates, and hid their doors. As we had done before against the Giants, the Dwarves would withdraw to our great fortress, and leave the Roofless Ones to slaughter each other under the terrible Sky. Thurin had given us eternal life: we would use it as our weapon, and when all our foes were long dead we would emerge, and gather the rest of the Runestones from our enemies' tombs.

And so we remained locked in our hidden fortress as the Hordes of Chaos raged across the face of Aerynth. We felt the shocks and tremors of the War of the Scourge, but the legions of Chaos never reached the deeps, and when the call went out for all the Children of the World to join the Grand Alliance, we heeded it not. We waited, and from what you have told me it sounds as if the scourge of Chaos nearly did destroy our enemies for us. We waited and worked at our forges, safe and secure, confident in our self-imposed exile. We were perhaps too confident.

The War of the Scourge had nearly ended when we discovered that Shadowbane's vault was empty. The Sword of Destiny, our sacred charge, had been stolen! We feared that Malog had finally triumphed despite all our efforts, and the mightiest among us left Haganduur, returning to the Roofless World to seek news of the sword's fate. The few who returned bore grim news indeed: they told tales of a ravaged world, defiled and despoiled by Chaos. We learned that a Human hero had stolen Shadowbane, only to have it taken from him by an Elvish queen. Though our heroes searched far and wide for her, divinations revealed that Thurin's sword had passed beyond the bounds of Aerynth, out of our reach forever. As we realized that we had failed our father, the Dwarves at last learned despair. We sealed our gates again, and waited for the final victory of Chaos. The All-Father returned, but we saw Him not. He called Thurin to His side for the final battle, but we heard Him not. We waited in the darkness, pondering long the lessons that history and fate had taught us. The War of the Scourge ended, but we kept to our seclusion. No Dwarf joined the celebrations, or helped the Roofless Folk rebuild. We waited, and we watched, working at our forges and brooding in our halls. Though the Dwarves had known peace in our seclusion for centuries, the Age of the Axe had not yet ended, for there was one war left for my folk to fight, when our greatest enemy rose against us for the third time. We had hoped that Arak's sacrifice had destroyed Malog's evil forever. We were wrong.

You have told me tales of the War of Ashes, when the Fallen Thing that had been Malog the Maimed God returned to Aerynth with his Twisted Breeds. The conflict that ravaged the world of Sun and Sky early in your Age of Kings was but the faintest echo of the true fight that raged in the deep. While Morloch sent swarms of Orcs and Ogres to trouble the Children of the World, he led the great hosts of the Twisted Breeds to the ruins of Dwarfholds left empty since we felt the fury of the Giants. In hordes innumerable they clawed and fought their way through our tunnels and caverns, seeking the way to Haganduur and Shadowbane. When Morloch's brood came at last to Haganduur we broke their siege, and our Warriors rushed forth again to battle, and their might had not diminished. Morloch's new servants were no match for our Warriors who had been tempered by the War of Stones, and the caverns were choked with the foul bodies of our enemies. At last Morloch himself came forth, sweeping through the deep like a plague, and none could withstand his fury. In shadow and flame the Maimed God reached the gates of Haganduur, and cracked them with his mighty fists.

The strength of the Fallen God would have broken our first and greatest hold, but then he stopped, for Thurin was there. At long last, after millennia of darkness and doubt, the Shaper returned to his children in their hour of greatest need. Thurin asked the Maimed God why he came to Haganduur where he was not welcome. Morloch hissed in his rage and envy that he had come for the Sword of Destiny. Shadowbane could never have been forged without his help, he raved, and the greatest of Thurin's works should never have been squandered on mere mortals. Morloch was the Warrior: the sword should have been his by right. Thurin said but four words to the Lord of the Orcs: "It is not here." And Morloch's rage abated, and he turned and walked out of the deeps, for he knew that Thurin would never lie. Morloch returned to the Roofless World, and you have taught me what befell him there. There are many of my folk who will be glad to hear it.

After the Fallen God departed Thurin came again into Haganduur, and there we told him of our pride, our errors, and our loss. Thurin only smiled, and proclaimed that at last his children had come of age, for we knew now both Glory and Sacrifice, and while we knew the joy of Duty, we had learned how destructive blind loyalty could be. He forgave us our errors, and for the first time since the creation of the Dwarves, he asked for our aid as friends, not as servants. Our World had changed again. The Age of the Axe had ended, and the Age of the Chain had begun.

You seem surprised, honorable host, by the name. Do you think that somehow my people became slaves after Thurin's return? Quite the opposite. Our father's return freed us to earn our destiny. Nay, this Age gains its name from the first request Thurin made of us. He asked the Dwarves to set aside their axes and return to the forge. Instead of blades or weapons, Thurin asked us to fashion chains, great chains of adamant with links the size of horses. Even though Thurin had freed us from his will, we were still honored to be his children, and happy to comply. As we worked, Thurin withdrew to the lowest vault of Haganduur, where all of the collected Runestones were kept. There he set his great mind to pondering the fragments of the All-Father's great saga, a puzzle that could, if pieced together properly, reveal the course of the future. And so we worked, and all the while we waited, and our Priests worked auguries and divinations, for Thurin had said that Shadowbane would return to Aerynth, and that we must be ready for that day.

Nearly three centuries had passed when at last the auguries of the wise were answered. Shadowbane had returned to the World: the voices of Archons and the very stones themselves whispered to us the mighty tale of the Field of Rennelind, where Shadowbane laid the Deathless Empire low. The shame of Beregund's theft still burned in our hearts, and we longed for the chance to finally avenge that black deed. The Dwarvish Hosts assembled, ready to make war on Cambruin's High Kingdom, but Thurin emerged from his studies and bid us stop. At last the puzzle had fallen into place, and though many fragments of the future were lost forever, Thurin had learned Cambruin's true nature and his grim fate. The Shaper saw the storm that was coming, and knew what must be done. Thurin revealed some of the grim destiny he had read to a few of our Thanes and heroes, but the whole story he alone knows. With dread and fear in his voice the Shaper bid us put down our weapons, and take up instead the great chains we had fashioned for him. Thurin declared that the time had come to abandon Haganduur: he urged us to take all of our treasures (save the Runestones, which he claimed) and return to the wider deeps, taking back our holds long abandoned. The great chains must run from hold to hold, and be braced against the strongest parts of Aerynth's core.

As the War of Tears raced toward its bloody end we worked, and soon miles of heavy chains looped through the deepest tunnels, anchored to the oldest, hardest stones. When this work was finished, Thurin gathered all his children together for one last time. He told us to return to our halls, and seal them, and wait. A storm was coming, greater and more terrible than the rising of the Dragon, and the times ahead would be dark and terrible. We must endure, and work one last great labor, the hardest our race shall ever know. The Shaper warned that he would not be there to guide us, but he knew our Skill and Craft and Will would be enough. Then Thurin left us for the last time, and all of my people scattered to their holds, and waited for the storm. It was not long coming.

Thus came the Turning, when the World was shattered. For four Ages we have toiled in the deeps, secure in the certainty that the Stone, the hard flesh of Aerynth, was eternal and unchanging. To see the core of the World broken was more terrifying for us than the Dragon. Countless Dwarves were destroyed, for the deeps were ravaged worse than the lands of the Sun. The Halls of Haganduur were broken, flooded with the Dragon's blood. Countless halls were lost, as the fragments of the World drifted away into the Void. But the Dwarves were ready. The great chains they forged had long been finished, and when the World was broken the chains held fast, keeping the fragments close, if not together. When the storm had finally passed, the Thanes and heroes Thurin had counseled told the rest of us that a new labor was at hand. The Shaper had given one final task to his children: we must return to the Roofless World, and walk among strangers who had been our bitter enemies. Somewhere amidst the chaos and turmoil, there exists the secret that can make Aerynth whole again. Why had the World had broken? The portions of the giant's saga that might have given the answers were too badly broken to read, or else they have been lost forever. We must learn all we can of the history of the Roofless World, so that we might finally understand this calamity and reverse it.

And so the Age of the Chain, as we call it, continues, and shall until Aerynth is reforged and the chain is needed no more. For a century Dwarves have walked the surface of the World once again, hiring out our skills as masons, mercenaries, and blacksmiths, listening carefully to every piece of news and legend we can find about the Turning. Our piety and devotion has drawn many to the Holy Church of the All-Father, where as Prelates we can read ancient histories unguessed by our folk, and as Crusaders we can hold the tide of blood and darkness at bay. The restoration of the World may seem an impossible task, but we have set ourselves to it, and we remain as as steadfast and determined as we were the very moment we first drew breath. Thurin waits for us at the broken World's heart, and we will not fail him."

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« 回帖 #4 于: 2006-04-08, 周六 23:37:27 »
The Elves: Their People

The most beautiful of all the Children of the World, Elves are tall beings, lithe and graceful, with slight frames and long, delicate fingers. Never renowned for their physical strength, Elves are fair and frail, yet possessed of keen minds. No other race can match the Elves in intellect, and only the bird-boned Aracoix are their equal in speed and agility. Born in the Age of Twilight, that dimly remembered time before the kindling of the Sun, Elves can see quite clearly even in the dimmest light, and their large, haunting eyes are as keen as any cat's. Elves' pointed ears are instantly recognizable, and grant them superior hearing.

Though the distinction is lost on most other races, three distinct types of Elves have emerged over their long history. Only the wisest Human mages have learned the names of the Elvish peoples, though to Elves the distinctions are painfully distinct. The Dar Khelegur, or 'High Ice Lords' in the old speech, dwelt of old in the frozen mountains of the North and founded the Deathless Empire. Their fair skin is as white as alabaster, white as the snows of their homelands. Tallest of the Elves, the Dar Khelegur are known for their mastery of magic and their limitless cruelty. The second Elvish race call themselves the Gwaridorn, 'Masters of the Sea,' and in their skin the green of the seas can faintly be seen. Of old they dwelt by the shores of the great Western Sea and built mighty ships, and were the strongest of the Elves in battle. Last of the Elvish peoples are the Twathedilion, the 'Elves of the Forest,' whose faces are touched with the brown of the trees of their homelands. Stealthiest of all the Elvenfolk, the Twathedilion are also their greatest artists, and are known for their mastery of the bow.

The first Elves were born before the creation of Time, and are thus immortal, though few of these Firstborn have survived the tumult of the Ages unto the dark present. Every Elf born since the beginning of the Age of Days was born mortal, although their lifespans measure many centuries. Of all the peoples of the World, the Elves have had most cause to accept the Turning, for with it their immortality has been restored. They greatly resent, however, that in this dark age they must share their immortality with the lesser races of the World.

The Elves: Their Ways

Most Elves believe that they are the most perfect of the Children of the World, and their arrogance knows no bounds. The Elves remember that they were the first to walk beneath the twilight, and try to ensure that no other race can forget it. Every Elf regards their culture and civilization as naturally superior, having matured for millennia before the other races were even born. Elves are creatures of passion, and tend towards the extreme in everything they do. Elvish songs are almost hypnotic in their intensity, their revels are unrestrained, their loves fierce, and their wars are grim and terrible. Lovers of wine, starlight, and music, Elves appreciate all forms of art, though their tastes tend toward the decadent.

The Twilight Kingdom once reached a pinnacle of refinement and advancement, but the Ages since have seen Elvish society grow corrupt and cruel. Grotesque magical experiments, torture, and debauchery became commonplace. Assured of their innate superiority to all of the so-called "Lesser Races," the Elves have, over the course of their long history, enslaved many and fought bitter wars of extermination against the rest. The grim outcome of the War of the Tears has fueled the resentment of the Elves even further, and most Elves today are bitter and spiteful.

Once the undisputed masters of the World, the Elves built mighty cities of alabaster, silver, and crystal, or dwelt in hidden glades at the heart of the great forests. Now their glorious towers have all been shattered or pulled down, and the forests dwindle as the kingdoms of Men expand. Their numbers decimated in the War of Tears, what few Elves remain are prone to melancholy, and wander as outcasts in the wild, far from the eyes of Men. The Sons of Men remain implacable in their suspicion and hatred of all Elves, and the Temple of the Cleansing Flame has proclaimed a perpetual crusade against all of Elvish blood. Their long lifespans and immortal beginnings leave most Elves unconcerned about the problems of the present or the immediate future, and Elves seem therefore easily distracted, lacking the focus to carry a project or an idea through to completion. Once an Elf becomes convinced of a course of action, however, their pride gives rise to an implacable resolve.

In the wake of the War of Tears, some Elves have been consumed with hatred for the Sons of Men, and are marshalling their forces for a renewal of that bitter conflict. Others, more fatalistic in their view, mourn the loss of their great empire and have decided that it is far better to outlive their enemies than engage them. Many of the oldest Elves have withdrawn from even Elvish company, vanishing into the wilds. Their destination and their plans, if any, remain a mystery.

The Elves: Their Lore

"I greet you, Children of Twilight, all of you who have come so far and gathered here beneath the stars to hear my words. It stirs my heart to see so many young ones, for I have witnessed three great cullings of our people, when the flower of Elvenkind's youth was slaughtered, and it seemed all our race was doomed to death. Many of you are too young to remember much of the glorious history of our kind, and few chronicles of that lore remain. Why should we, the Elves, ever write our history down, we who are blessed to live through so much of its great span, and doomed to always remember it?

It is the cruel whim of Fate that the Deathless Empire was cast down, that so many of the old and wise were killed, and their wisdom lost to the young forever. The Sons of Men write great volumes of history, but do not believe them. It is the doom of Men that they forget, and their chroniclers compile only rumors, legends, and half-remembered tales. I am Teldaniel Thilandrae, son of the grandson of one of the glorious Sidhe. I was birthed in the Age of Twilight, during the great glory of our people. I shall recount for you now the long history of the Firstborn, a history I myself have witnessed firsthand. Listen and remember, for I shall only say it once.

Elvish history is a complicated dance of achievement and loss, tragedy and triumph. Most of the World's civilized folk have grown mightier over the long march of the Ages, but we Firstborn have waned in power, and now our civilization is little more than a shadow of its former self. Indeed, the great Loremaster Tophalion once wrote "the true extent of Elvish greatness can only be measured by understanding what the Elves have lost." He was a dear friend and colleague of mine for centuries, and alas, he proved himself correct when I saw a so-called "Champion of Virtue" dash Tophalion's head against the walls of Kierhaven. We Elves take great pride in our knowledge of ancient lore and Ages past, for we the greatest of all historians. The oldest of us have memories that stretch back five thousand years and more with perfect clarity: what other "historian" would dare dispute us?

The first Elves, the great Sidhe of legend, were born of Braialla just after the flowering of the World. Fierce and fair, they were nearly as powerful as the Gods themselves, and all the race of Elvenkind sprang from them. The Sidhe and their children reveled long in the mingled light of the two moons, and wrought the Kingdom of Twilight, remembered in Song and Legend as a realm of unsurpassed tranquility and beauty. The Gods themselves dwelt with the Elves in that bygone Age, and taught the Firstborn much lore, skill, and wisdom. Volliandra taught the Sidhe to sing and love music, and Saedron revealed the ways of magic to the wisest. Malog taught the Sidhe skill at arms and the arts of War, and they quickly learned Kenaryn's love of the bow and the deep forest. The mother of the Sidhe taught them the lore and love of growing things, and the Elves were content to live in their paradise. Only two of the Gods, Thurin and the All-Father Himself, remained strangers to the Twilight Kingdom, and from them the Sidhe learned little. Many tales of that glorious Age survive, describing the fabulous cities that grew in the Kingdom of Twilight, with towers of alabaster and crystal taller than the trees. I recall the sight of those cities, more wondrous than any tale of words can ever describe. There was as yet no concept of Time in that sunless, bygone World: only peace, beauty, and splendor, mingled all together and suspended in eternity. The Elves were born in the fullness of their power, and wrought the greatest realm the World has ever known. It would not last.

The Kingdom of Twilight is gone now, swept away by the tides of Time and Terror. It died in chaos, pain, and fire when the Dragon, Terror of Terrors, awoke from its slumber deep within Aerynth, and thrashed within its stony prison, shaking the World as it clawed its way free. Tremors shattered the glittering cities, and Gilliandor, first of all the Sidhe, died in that cataclysm. Countless Sidhe and lesser Elves died with him. But this calamity was only the prelude of the disaster to come. For the Dragon emerged in fury from the deeps, and all the hosts of the Twilight Kingdom marshaled against the Terror to slay it and win their vengeance. But all was for naught: for the Warriors and Magi of the Twilight Kingdom, the greatest the World has ever known, were swept away in the briefest instant by the Dragon's fury. The beast held even the Gods at bay, and the fire of its hellish breath consumed the Golden Moon, transforming it into the Sun, ending the glorious Twilight forever. At last the might of Kenaryn and the All-Father drove the Dragon back into its lair, and the Elves that had survived were left to mourn all that they had lost. I was fortunate enough to be among them. Was it good fortune? Some years it is hard for me to say. In any case, the Age of Twilight had ended, and the Age of Dawn had begun.

Students and scholars of the Lowborn Races often question the existence of the Age of Dawn, dismissing it as fiction: an Elvish invention. Nonsense! The Sons of Men, in their arrogance, dismiss all that happened before their births and the beginning of Time as one great Age, but we Elves have always known better. Who are the Loremasters of Men or Centaurs to dispute the Elvish reckoning of Ages, when the oldest among them cannot even recall the fury of the Dragon, or the blistering light of the newborn Sun? The World had changed forever, and even the Gods were mourning one of their own, for Volliandra had died in agony when her palace on the Golden Moon was destroyed. The Kingdom of Twilight was no more, and soon most of Elvenkind fled its ruined boundaries seeking new homes, far from the hateful Sun. Some say that our race never recovered from the calamity that ended its first age.

The Age of Dawn was as trying for the Elves as the Age of Twilight had been glorious. The Dragon had fallen, but the First King of the Elves and all his sons were slain, along with many of the greatest minds and artists the World shall ever know. Our race itself was not what it had been. Where once there had been one Elvish people and one kingdom, in the Dragon's wake Elf Lords debated and feuded over the First King's succession, and the Elvish people were shattered as tragically as their great cities had before them. During the Long Parting the Elvish race divided into four great nations, and reunion seemed impossible. Finally, the great Elf Lord Sillestor, King of the Dar Khelegur, waged a great campaign of conquest against his cousins, and founded a new realm that came to be known as the Deathless Empire. Sillestor decreed that his dominion should regain and even surpass the splendor of the Kingdom of Twilight, and all Elves strove to drown the griefs of the past with new wonders and diversions.

Elvish Magi reached out into the Void, calling Elemental Spirits and other things to help build new cities, more splendid and ornate than those lost to the Dragon. Many arcane secrets did they pry from the strange entities that lurk beyond the boundaries of our World. In time, the opulence of the Deathless Empire matched the grandeur of the Twilight Kingdom, though the hearts of the Elves were hardened by memories of the Dragon, and in time we grew bitter and spiteful.

As the Age of Dawn progressed, Emperor Sillestor and the mightiest Elflords began to resent the meddling of the Gods, and the Wandering God in particular. It was the All-Father's bumbling, they reasoned, that roused the Dragon from sleep to slaughter, and even His solemn word and Thurin's mighty sword were slim assurances that the Terror would not come again. Despite His best efforts, the All-Father failed to quench the fires of the Sun, which threatened to scorch the entire World into one great desert, as they had scorched the Burning Lands. The greatest Elves began to turn away from the Gods altogether, and soon found new Patrons to ask for guidance. The Beast Lords, they were called, mighty entities from beyond the Void who granted great boons to the wisest of our people, and driving tangled bargains to divulge the deepest mysteries of Magic and Arcane Lore. Well do I remember the excitement of that time, when learning and knowledge ran unrestrained, reaching dizzying new heights, and powers undreamed of came into our grasp.

It was then that we learned at last that we were not the children of the All-Father at all. Elvenkind was born of Jackal the Trickster, craftiest of the Beast Lords, who had taken the Wanderer's shape and semblance and so begot the Sidhe upon Braialla. The Elves rejoiced at the knowledge, and resented the deception we had lived under for so long. So began the Great Enlightenment, when the masters of the Deathless Empire pulled down the temples of the All-Father and we began to steer our own destiny, free of the meddling or influence of the so-called Gods of the lesser races. Here is the darkest tragedy of all: had we been allowed to follow our enlightened road to its end, we would doubtless have become Gods ourselves. But it was not to be. Our birthright was stolen from us. The other Children of the World, still blinded by the deceptions of the Gods, looked upon our actions as vile and black, and called them Treason. Who among that rabble was ever worthy to judge our vision?

It was the Centaurs, blinded by their outdated conceptions of Duty and Honor, who threw down the gauntlet for their beloved All-Father, and soon the Elves were at war with Kenaryn's children. There were, as yet, no Humans in the World, or else they would doubtless have fought us as well. The Deathless Empire was strong beyond measuring, and we easily defeated the armies of the Horse Lords. Finally the Gods themselves entered the fray, when the All-Father and Kenaryn stood against the power of the incarnated Beast Lords, who our greatest Magi called to Aerynth in time of need. The All-Father brought with Him a host of Archons, and in the end won out over our greatest through sheer weight of numbers. Thurin the Shaper slew Sillestor, and then cravenly took back the sword Shadowbane, which he had freely given to the King as a defense against the Dragon. So ended the conflict the Loremasters of the Lesser Races call the Taming, when the power of the Beast Lords was cowed, but not broken.

The All-Father demanded that the Firstborn return to the paths of "righteousness," and there were some in the Deathless Empire who regretted the excesses of the past. They returned to the All-Father's worship, building a new Church to honor Him. Most Elves, however, were content to say or do anything so that the meddling Wanderer God would simply leave us in peace. A new dynasty was founded, and the Deathless Empire endured in peace until the ending of the Age of Dawn, when Time began. The shame of the Taming was difficult for us to endure, but the trials of the Age to come would prove far worse.

The Age of Days (the scholars of Men and Elves do manage to agree, at least, on the name of the new Age when Time began) was an era of endless conflict and war for our people. The Giants, first children of the All-Father, expanded into the icy North, claiming the lands of the Dar Khelegur as their own. The war that followed was brutal but brief, and finally the Magi of the North cursed the Giants, breaking their power and ruining the future of their race. Shortly after, our kind first met the Dwarves, Thurin's children, who came to the Deathless Empire seeking the strange artifacts known as Runestones. We were glad to trade the baubles for secrets of stone and metal craft, and for a time Elves and Dwarves lived together in friendship, until the greatest Magi discovered how to tap into the Runestones' tremendous power. The simple Dwarves, too greedy to share this newfound power, still demanded that the treasures be given over, and refused to listen to reason. War quickly followed. At the height of the conflict, a crazed Dwarf actually managed to abduct Lilliandra the Fair, one of the last of the Sidhe, who all Elves still revere as the source of beauty and the mistress of love. The vile Dwarves tried to keep Lilliandra as their hostage, but the Deathless Empire's retribution was so terrible that the Dwarves gave up their prisoner, sealed their realms, and would not emerge from them again until the Turning.

Another great evil that was visited upon our people in the Age of Days, and though it came no from war or strife it was the cruelest cut of all. The All-Father, unable to quench the wyrmsfire still burning on the Golden Moon, created Time so that the Sun might move, that the World might be saved from the Sun's dreadful heat. As ever, the Wanderer was short-sighted in his vision! I can recall the jarring moment when Time started, when the infinite possibility of every instant was frozen into a bleak succession of seconds, marching relentlessly, painfully forward. Those born after the Great Change will never understand everything we lost when the First Moment ended, when the magical eternity of our lives was suddenly enslaved, yoked with tedium and mundanity. Indeed, the Dwarves and Centaurs were too dull witted to even perceive much of a difference. What was it like before Time? Glorious and wonderful, and that is all the description I can give you. The beginning of Time had another effect upon our race, however, that stirred our hearts with rage. Every Elvish child born to the new Age was born mortal, a slave of Time. Though it took them many centuries to reach their end, our children began to wither with age and die. When Time began, Elvenkind was robbed of eternity. Once again, the All-Father had wronged us. At the Turning we were finally avenged.

Even as the War of the Stones reached its end, we Elves finally met the "true" children of the All-Father, the Men of Ardan, and relations between the two mighty peoples quickly became strained. The Humans were all too glad to bear the grudge of the so-called Great Betrayal and the Taming, events that happened long before the first Man was ever fashioned. The arrogance of the Ardani provoked the Wars of Spite, and for centuries the first great realm of Humanity hid behind the power of the Titans and the All-Father Himself, attacking and raiding the Deathless Empire with impunity. Finally, the All-Father departed from Aerynth on another vain quest, and the Firstborn were quick to strike, taking our vengeance and removing the threat to our glory forever. Or so we were wont to believe.

The greatest Magi of the Deathless Empire unleashed the Blood Curse upon the Men of Ardan. Many of the Titans died in blinding agony, and the Sons of Men were consumed with madness, and quickly became mindless savages. After all of the affronts, assaults, and atrocities of the Wars of Spite, it was a fitting end for our foes and a glorious victory for our people. Some, however, were dismayed at Man's plight, for indeed the Curse had worked too well. It was decided that Mankind should be brought under our dominion, before they died in ignorance and savagery. Thus the Deathless Empire enslaved the pitiful remnants of Humanity, and many found it only right and just that the World's usurpers should learn their rightful place, and serve Aerynth's true masters. As the Wanderer's meddling had enslaved our children to the tyranny of Time, so we enslaved His.

In time, the Humans recovered their faculties, and through treachery and deceit managed to escape from bondage. A handful of them fled to the Vast Plains, where the huddled remnants of the Centaurs quickly taught them to hate us, and to fight us. The vengeance of the Firstborn would have been swift and final, but the attentions of the Deathless Empire were just then drawn to the Burning Lands, where the last Elvish nation, the Children of the Sun who had never joined in the Deathless Empire's glory, had just transformed themselves into hideous mockeries of Elvish perfection. The true extent of their madness and treachery was then revealed, for they declared their intention to rouse the Dragon and destroy the entire World. For their treason, the Khalinviri were renamed Irekei, or "outcasts," and our people unleashed the War of Flames against them. For generations we decimated the hideous traitors, and much of the World was ravaged. But on the eve of their total defeat, the Irekei worked one last treachery. An Irekei Wizard opened the Chaos Gate, and the hateful hordes of Chaos were quick to invade, and in the war that followed the World was nearly destroyed.

All of the World's Children lament the War of the Scourge, but it was the Elves who suffered the most grievous losses. Never doubt it, and never forget it. I saw that hideous War, and though at times the horror of it made me beg for death, I was fortunate enough to survive. When the dread onslaught began, the Deathless Empire was shaken to its core. Many cities were destroyed or tainted by the foul invaders, and Elves died on a scale undreamed of since the Dragon rose. Our dire need led us to deeds I would have never thought possible. Elves, Centaurs, Giants, and even the Sons of Men came together. I know it seems an impossible roster of allies, but we saw the World's great need, and were able to graciously put aside the wrongs the other Children of the World had done to us. We led them in the Grand Alliance, fighting side by side against the power of the Dark Lords. But even with our strengths united, the battle against Chaos went poorly. Thurin's Blade returned into the World from its long exile, but when Sillestor's rightful heir tried to take back her birthright she was destroyed by Chaos, and the jealous Sons of Men nearly sundered the Alliance. Finally the All-Father descended into the World with his host of Archons for a second time, and drove the invaders back once and for all.

The rest of the Age of Days (which the Sons of men, in their pride, call the Age of Kings) was a time of cautious hope, but in the end our people found only ruin and despair. A new dynasty took control of the Deathless Empire, founding the Hidden Court in the depths of the last uncorrupted forests. For a brief span peace endured between Elves and Men, and trade even sprang up between the Deathless Empire and the fledgling Human Realm of Ethyria. The short-sighted Humans quickly fell to feuding, and Ethyria splintered into a rabble of smaller realms, but the peace with our kind continued. For centuries it seemed as if the Grand Alliance might endure forever, but no one could foresee the dark times that lay ahead.

When Humanity began to encroach upon the Elvish lands, building new towns in the sparsely populated woods at the edge of our Empire, the lords of the Hidden Court swallowed their pride and did nothing. When a Human madman opened the Chaos Gate a second time, allowing Morloch and the Twisted Breeds to escape into Aerynth, the lords of the hidden Court said nothing. But when, at a great feast celebrating the thousandth anniversary of the Grand Alliance, Konrad the Human King of Alvaetia insulted the honor of the Elvish race in the midst of his boastful toast, the patience of the Elves finally reached its end. The Grand Alliance crumbled, the Hidden Court expelled the Humans from its borders, and the Men of the Ten Kingdoms responded with bloody raids and slaughter. Valdimanthor, King of the Hidden Court, roused the Elvish Host a final time, and the War of Tears was joined.

I can remember the Twilight Kingdom, and Sillestor's glorious Empire that came afterward, and endured the Taming to finally fight the Hosts of Chaos. The power of each of these great realms was diminished from the heights of its predecessor, and the power of the Hidden Court was least of all. But do not think that just because the power of the Gods was no longer ours, that the Elves of the Age of Days were weak. Far from it, even in our waning days we were more than a match for the Human rabble and their Ten Kingdoms. Victory was ours, and if the cruel hand of fate had not intervened, our Empire would endure still.

As battle followed upon battle, atrocity upon atrocity, King Valdimanthor became consumed with hatred for the Sons of Men, and repented the weakness of Kings past that had led them to take pity on Mankind in Ages past and allow them to live as slaves. The error of the Age of Days would be undone: Valdimanthor vowed to exterminate Mankind outright. After Konrad the Boasting King was slain, the Elvish hosts withdrew to the depths of the forests and prepared for the final stroke, gathering strength for the last battle. Valdimanthor renewed the ancient pacts with the Minotaurs, and with their strength the armies of the Court became unstoppable. Cambruin, young upstart King of the reunited realms of Men, sent heralds to Valdimanthor asking for the return of lands lost in the War of Tears, unaware that the war was not yet over. The Elfking repaid past insults with new affronts, and goaded the so-called High King into a deadly trap. For two years Valdimanthor's armies ravaged the lands of Men, and even the High King and his Champions could not stem the tide of Elvish vengeance.

Everything changed when Shadowbane was delivered to the High King upon the field of Rennelind. There Cambruin slew Valdimanthor in single combat, and the last great kingdom of the Elves died with him.

With the Kingslayer in his hand, Cambruin was invincible. And so the Sword of Destiny, forged for an Elvish hand, was bathed to the hilts in a river of Elvish blood. Defeat and ruin fell upon our great cities one by one, and countless works of art and wisdom were destroyed. Entire libraries were consumed by fire, and ancient Elves brutally slain by the Human marauders, the light and wisdom of their memories snuffed out forever. The last vestiges of the Twilight Kingdom died, and our world became a pit of barbarism and savagery. In despair, we sued for peace, but Cambruin's thirst for blood and plunder was not sated until the last bastions were broken at Kierhaven. With that hateful battle's ending Cambruin himself was slain. But even in the death of our dreaded enemy we Elves could take no comfort, for the death of the Deathless Empire broke Braialla's heart, and her grief shattered the World itself. So began the Turning, and the Age of Strife.

Now we Elves are few in number, scattered among the fragments of the World by the winds of war and disaster. Hate still burns unabated in the hearts of Men, and what few of our kind remain have been locked in a constant struggle for survival. A few great Elflords endure, but none to date have tried to unite the stragglers and try and forge a new kingdom. Indeed, it has only been a few decades since our Magi unraveled the secrets of the Runegates, and the scattered refugees of the Hidden Court could at last be reunited. It is only through their labors that you are here now, listening and learning. Rumor has it that in recent years large groups of Elves have begun congregating at the ruins of the great city of Diveryand, talking of glories past and vengeance yet to come. Here my history ends, and to you I give the gift of knowledge, to guide the present and shape the unborn Future. The Elvish race has lost more than can ever be reckoned, but we have never forgotten who we are.

We are the Highborn, we walk through eternity. We still recall the fixed and glimmering stars, in that first Twilight before Time and Fire and Fear and Death. The meddling of Men and Gods has broken all the beauty that we wrought, and stolen the glory and power that is ours by right. But we have not been idle, and our memories are long. Where now are the Gods who humbled us of old and denied us our destiny? Where now is the invincible High King who tried so hard to destroy us? Verily, long has been the Winter of our shame, but in time, soon perhaps, Spring shall come?

Our Spring."


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« 回帖 #5 于: 2006-04-08, 周六 23:38:35 »
Half Giants

The Half Giants: Their People

Standing almost nine feet tall and covered with muscle, the sight of a Half Giant is unmistakable. Towering above any crowd, Half Giants have broader faces than Men, with pronounced brows, deep set eyes, and thick, massive chins. A Brute may be born into any of the six nations of Men, and bears the same skin tone as his parents. The overwhelming majority of Half Giants are born to the fair Northmen, but over the years the Giant blood has spread to all the Human lands, so that Half Giants have come to be born even among the dark-skinned Irydnu of the far South. The skin and hair of Half Giants are as varied as their Human parents, although Brutes tend to be hairier, with thick, coarse beards. The blood of the Giant ancestor has been so diluted over time that no hint of the Giant's variety remains - beyond their massive strength and endurance, Half Giants have none of the special qualities or powers of any of the Giant breeds. Whether born of Fire, Ice, or Swamp Giant blood, only the height and bulk of the Giant ancestor remains.

For reasons not even dimly understood, only Human sons grow to be Half Giants. There are no women Half Giants, and no Half Giant has ever been born a Shade. Unlike the Aelfborn, Half Giants are capable of siring offspring, though many a Half Giant father has been disappointed by the stature of his children. The Giant blood is fickle and elusive, and has been known to skip as many as a dozen generations before manifesting itself again. No one can say why one son of ten is born a Half Giant, and why some families will be graced with many and others none at all. Astrologers, diviners, and mystics have been trying for millennia to devise a foolproof means of predicting or engineering a Half Giant birth, but none have met with success.

Of all the Children of the World, Half Giants are easily the strongest, and their endurance is second only to that of the Dwarves and Centaurs. Here the list of their virtues end. Massive though they may be, Brutes are also the least agile of all the World's peoples, and the mixture of bloods also tends to blunt their intellects and Spirits. Half Giants show almost no magical aptitude whatsoever, and while some show a brutal form of cunning, none have ever been considered clever. Many Magi believe that their Hybrid blood is inherently unstable, for many Half Giants are prone to violent rages and fits of temper, especially when they feel confused or baffled. Half Giant tempers range from merely grim to outright belligerent, and most become convinced that they are naturally superior to the "little people" that surround them. Few Half Giants ever know true friendship, and most are consumed with contempt for the weakness of all other beings.

The Half Giants: Their Ways

While their appearance sets Half Giants apart from the rest of Humanity, they are hardly a race unto themselves. While the Aelfborn and Shades have recently shown the first hints of a new way of life unique unto themselves, Half Giants have yet to take even these tentative steps. Brutes are content to live out their lives alongside their Human kin, adopting the ways of the kingdom or tribe that gave them birth. Human attitudes towards Half Giants vary wildly, depending on the region. Among the Northmen, Half Giants are praised for their strength, and often rise to positions of prominence among the Barbarian Clans, while the Irydnu view them as unfortunate freaks and often drive them into exile or subjugate them into a life of endless menial labor.

Half Giants' immense strength and incredible toughness make them masters of the battlefield, and few Half Giants ever pursue any profession other than Warrior. The nimble dance of the Duelist or the Blade Master's stern discipline are beyond them - Half Giants simply wade into a fight, crushing and smashing everything that strays within their reach. In the Petty Kingdoms, most Lords and barons have at least one Half Giant to serve as their champion and enforcer, and it seems as if every Warlord is continually trying to recruit Half Giants into their army to form elite Half Giant units commonly known as "Brute Squads." While few can deny the impact a cadre of well-trained Half Giants can have on the course of a war, surrounding oneself with incredibly strong Warriors can prove dangerous. Most Half Giants are more arrogant than they are loyal, and seem to have, if anything, more ambition than the average Human. More than one Lord has found himself usurped by his trusted Champion, and many Commanders still remember the Iron Avalanche, a Half Giant military corps that ended up toppling the Kingdom of Sorwenfells and seizing it as their own, leaving it in ruins within a year.

While most Half Giants have gruff demeanors, some manage to escape the hateful rages that so many Brutes succumb to. Many Half Giants rise to positions of prominence, while some actually become heroes. There are loyal Half Giants willing to lend their strength to a worthy cause, and the stern Half Giant companion is a popular fixture of heroic ballads. Half Giants tend to gravitate to the fore in wars or quests, and always seem to be on hand when great deeds are done. Also, more than one Wizard has noticed that the number of Half Giant births seems to be rising steadily. Some Prelates believe that a Half Giant's stature is a product of destiny, not breeding, and that their strength is not the legacy of a Giant ancestor, but rather a gift from the All-Father and a sign of His favor. Half Giants, according to this view, have larger destinies to match their larger statures, and are born to play a crucial role in the History of the World. Few scholars give this idea any credence, although many Half Giant Lords and Dark Knights are understandably fond of it.

The Half Giants: Their Lore

Ah, good evening, lord ?I must say I love what you've done with the great hall ?those tapestries never did truly suit it. I? I am Agramont the Artiste, master Bard and court retainer ?er, former court retainer to the until recently Duke Nestor Fairwind. Oh yes, I agree! He was a coward, and a pig! I suppose he still is, but you can bet that he won't show his ugly face around these parts again any time soon! Truly, your strength and?uh?wisdom will serve these lands much better. You coming in with your?large?friends and giving the Fairwinds a good thrashing is beyond doubt the best thing that ever happened to this worthless little kingdom. Worthless, did I say? Of course not! I'm sure a Warrior such as yourself must have very discriminating taste, and would never devote yourself to the conquest of a worthless province. I meant, of course, that the full?er?potential of these lands lay hidden, withering under a cloak of hideous mis-management, until you came to set them right. What was that, your immensity? Ah. The Fairwinds employed me as their court minstrel and entertainer. Would your immensity perhaps care for a song while you dine? Oh, I suppose not. Don't worry about the lute, your majesty, I'm sure I can find another?

What was that? Ah. You ask me why I should keep my tongue, or my head for that matter?Well?I assure you, my services could be of great value to a lord so mighty and?refined as yourself. I agree, the notion is a bit humorous when you consider it, but ?oh. What a lovely vintage of wine. Not to worry, mighty one, I'm sure this doublet will clean right up. As I was saying, what Warrior cannot draw inspiration from the examples of legend and history? Indeed, even a conqueror as great as you must learn some standard against which to measure your own greatness. How else will you know when to stop conquering and campaigning? I know countless tales and poems of great deeds and mighty heroes from every Age. No poems, you say? That's perfectly fine: my best stories require no rhymes at all. Incidentally, may I just say that those are some fine halberds your guards have?my compliments.

Now, where were we? Ah yes! Heroes and histories. I am not too far afield when I surmise from your stature that you indeed bear the Blood? You are, I presume, a Half Giant? No, never a brute! Did I say brute? A vulgar term, your excellency, and one that I've never been fond of. Well, I assure you ?I know the names and deeds of hundreds of Giant-born, names that resound down the ages. Of course, unlike most of the other children of the World, Half Giants have no real history of their own. 'Tis no disrespect, I assure you, and nothing to be ashamed of! Quite the contrary: the?uncertain birth of Half Giants has prevented them from forging dynasties or carving out nations, but many Half Giants have left an indelible mark on the history of Men and Elves all the same. There was, of course, one time when a large band of Half Giants did come together to rule a kingdom. The Iron Avalanche, yes, I see you've heard of them. Judging by your entourage, perhaps you wish to take up their example. Well, how much of the tale do you really know? Certainly, the King of Sorwenfells did hire the tall and brawny mercenaries to defend his kingdom during the strife that came before the rise of the High King, but do you know why Golrudd their leader came to quarrel with his lieutenants, or which of his policies reduced Sorwenfells to a wasteland? Rest assured that I do ?without me to teach you Golrudd's follies, you may be doomed to repeat his tragic story. Can you and your comrades afford to take that risk?

Again, I mean no disrespect! Of course, you are doubtless much more clever than Golrudd was, I can see it in your eyes. Oh yes ?to me, you seem cast from the same mold as Danvor the Wolf. Haven't heard of him? Well, there are those who say that Danvor was the wisest Half Giant who ever lived. Originally from Ghand, one of the smallest of the Ten Kingdoms, Danvor became a soldier and rose quickly through the ranks. During the War of Ashes against the Fallen God Morloch and his Orcish legions, Danvor's strategic genius was revealed. Many of the Giant blood serve as soldiers, but only a few are remembered as Commanders. Danvor's great lure and feint at the Battle of Jagred Pass is still praised as one of the finest tactical maneuvers ever seen, and many Scholars think that that victory alone helped turn the tide of that vicious war. In time your fame will match even Danvor's, I'm sure of it! That final assault in the Inner Court was?a brilliant bit of soldiering.

Of course, there have been other Half Giant heroes, of even more famous name. Surely you've heard of Sir Gondegrain, the Red Knight, who was among the first to wear the mantle of one of Cambruin's Champions. Pilgrims still journey to the site of the Red Willow, where the brash Half Giant first met Cambruin in combat. The two jousted, and it is said that the young king's mighty buffet hurled Gondegrain off his horse and into the tree, felling it with a mighty crash. You can still make out several scars on the felled tree, stained red by the lacquer on Godegrain's scarlet armor. Once defeated by the "beardless boy," Gondegrain became one of Cambruin's most loyal and dedicated followers. His temperament never allowed him to achieve full Knighthood, but many tales of his courage are still told. His valor on the field of battle was unquestionable, but the Red Knight is thought by many to have shown the most courage at the end of his life. When Gondegrain realized that the Wizard Lorgannon had tricked him into killing Gamlin, his own brother, the Red Knight took complete responsibility for his crime, and even refused a royal pardon, going willingly to his death for the murder of one of the Champions. Thus the Red Knight proved that even Cambruin's Champions were bound by the laws of the High Kingdom and the demands of Justice. I should add that Sir Goindegrain was knighted, albeit posthumously. A very moving story.

Well, yes, there are also some who think that Gondegrain was rather stupid in so readily accepting his fate. That's a perfectly valid opinion, your lordship, though "worm-brained idiot" seems a trifle harsh to me. Loyalty is never a quality to fault in a person, or so I believe. Speaking of loyalty, many have heard the tale of Torvagau the Liberator, who crept back into the Deathless Empire to free the Human slaves and unchain the Titans, but have you heard of Vurgom, Breaker of Chains, the mighty Half Giant slave who helped Torvagau evade capture, then led the Human slaves in their final, bloody uprising? His is a long tale, and glorious! He never forgot the Liberator, and served him well through war, revolution, and the building of Ethyria. What's that? Oh no, of course not ?you, my?large lord, are obviously meant to be a leader and not a loyal follower. Oh yes, you've the mark of greatness upon you, if ever I've seen it.

Keeping my survey of famed Half Giants to leaders, I would be remiss to leave out Olwenn Orridwane, the Half Giant chieftain of the Gwendannen hill folk. In the War of the Scourge he turned the tide of the siege of Algoram, and is said to have managed to actually wound Vranaxxas the Flayed God, one of the dreaded Dark Lords, with his great mace. Legends recall that Olwenn spit into Vranaxxas' skinless face just before he died. I have also learned many songs and redes that tell the tale of Shragin Storichsson, one of the mightiest heroes of the Northmen, who killed the great Ice Wyrm and slew the sons of Ymur the Old, avenging Cuthric Grimskold and ending the great war between the Norhtmen and the Giants. Would these stories be more to your liking? I'm glad to hear it! Naturally, I am not prepared to recite them without a bit of revision before hand. They are poems, and you have made your feelings about verse and rhyme perfectly clear. Perhaps later, when I've had some time to prepare.

Of course, not all of the Half Giants of legend can be called heroes. Turn you recollection to Hagnor the Black, the terror of Lambourne, who Caeric Blackhammer fought while questing for Shadowbane. It was Hagnor who slew Heloise, Caeric's true love, and the Half Giant villain paid for the deed with his life. Ever afterward, Caeric endured the wrath of Hagnor's cousin Henegrim, a Man of normal stature and vassal knight of the High King. Some say their feud was the beginning of the High Kingdom's doom. And many chronicles still tell of Ivard the sixth of Ethyria, called Ivard the Grim, who tortured his own subjects and was infamous for his hideous temper. Fearing treachery from all sides, he kept the children of his bannermen as hostages, as is said to have ripped all their limbs off in a fit of rage. Among the Northmen, there is one Half Giant whose name is not revered: Vidurr the Slayer, a master of Rune Lore, who served Cuthric Grimskold faithfully for years, and then finally betrayed the hero to the sons of Ymur. In return for his treachery, the Barbarian ruled the Invorri briefly as Thane of Thanes, but he was the last in the North to ever hold that title. Legend has it that Cuthric's kinsmen scattered Vidurr's bones to the winds. I'm sure, mighty lord, that you would never take any of these dark names as the inspiration for your rule. You are far too noble for that, methinks.

What else do I know about Half Giants? Well?er, good of you to ask. While many Half Giant names are remembered and celebrated, there is still little lore about the race as a whole. Some scholars tend to group Half Giants with Shades and Aelfborn, the so-called "lesser branches" of Humanity. Now now, my good lord, no need to rise! It's their opinion, not mine. And quite obviously false, too ?one glance at a Half Giant clearly shows that they're clearly not "lesser" branches of anything. As to why some men are born so great of frame and strength, I've heard a few different reasons. Each tells an interesting story in itself.

The oldest (and most accepted, I might add) of the tales is the one that gave Half Giants their name. The oldest stories of Half Giants can be found among the Invorr, the Barbarians of the frozen North, who are always on the watch for men who bear the Jotensblut, the blood of Giants. Long ago, the skalds of the Northmen sing, Torvald the Titan left the Blessed Realm of Ardan, and led the Invorri north to conquer a new homeland. In time the Father of the Northmen subdued the Mother of Winter and led his folk in a bitter war against the Alfar, the cruel Elves also called Dar Khelegur, the High Ice Lords. While Torvald and the mightiest Northmen heroes were away fighting their fey enemies, the Joten, the Ice Giants of the North, came upon the villages of Torvald's people, left nearly defenseless. The Giants did not come to conquer the Northmen, or even to slay them. Instead they burned their halls and took many captives, bearing them away to mighty fortresses that crowned the tallest peaks. There the captives learned the Giants' greatest sorrow.

The Northmen, sagas tell, were not the first to war with the Elves of the uttermost North ?years earlier the Giants had also fought the Alfar, and lost. The Giants were terrible in battle, but the masters of the Deathless Empire broke their strength with powerful magic. After the final battle that ensured victory for the Dar Khelegur, Elvish Wizards invoked a mighty Curse against the Giants, a tactic similar to the one they would later use to humble the Men of Ardan. The spell tainted the blood of their enemies, and was devised to drive the entire race of Giantkind to extinction. From that day forward, only one Giant in a hundred was born whole and healthy: the rest were abominations that died quickly or, were exiled from the lands of their parents forever. Without new blood, the race of Giants was surely doomed. And that's where the Northmen came in: the Invorri prisoners were bred with their captors. Some of the progeny that resulted were no different from other Men, while most had the strength and stature of Giants, only slightly reduced. The race of Giants was saved, but they paid a grim price for their deliverance.

Toravld, Herogar, and the Warriors of the North returned home victorious from their battles with the Elves, only to learn of the treachery of the Giants. The Northmen freed their kin, and took many of the more Human seeming giant children back with them. While no taller than the average Northmen, these children had children who showed the Giant blood, and sired the first half Giants when they came of age. Ever since, they say, the blood of Giants has flowed in the veins of the Northmen clans, and through them the Giant blood has spread to the other the Sons of Men. Over time the mingling of bloodlines has diluted the Giant blood, so that the Half Giants of today are far shorter than the Jotenkinder of old. Now, only rarely does the Giant blood breed true, and has been known to skip many generations before manifesting again in a given bloodline. Both the Giants and the Elves dismiss the tale as lies devised by the Northmen, but the Invorri still tell the tale in their meadhalls. While you might think that the Northmen would hate or despise Half Giants, born of shame and capture, Torvald's children value strength above most things, and are too pragmatic to throw away an advantage in their bitter struggle for survival. Half Giants are celebrated among the Northmen, and often become Thanes or chieftains.

While many believe the ancient tale of the Northmen and the Jotenkinder, others think that Half Giants are not hybrids at all, but Men. Look to the Book of Staves - there are several passages that support the idea. In the Parables of Ardan, one of the few accounts of that lost realm, scripture tells that "Men were as Giants in those days, so truly did the blood of the Titans flow in them." Later in that same passage, the Men of Ardan are described as fighting against the Elves "with the strength of Giants." Indeed, the first sons of the Titans are described in the Psalms of Reckoning as standing "nearly as tall as the trees of the wood." These passages have led some scholars to believe that Half Giants are simply Men who show the heritage of the Titans of Ardan, undiminished by the Blood Curse of the Elves. According to this view, all of the Ardani were quite literally Titans, who stood much larger than Humans do today. The mighty spell that destroyed the minds of the Adani is also thought to have withered their bodies. Some Magi claim that the recent increase in Half Giant births is evidence that the Elvish curse is finally lifting. Perhaps in the centuries to come, all Humans will be born with a Half Giant's stature, and the glory of Ardan will return. Not even the oldest Wizards claim to have ever actually met one of the Men of Ardan, and ancient Elves are quick to claim that the Ardani were not any taller than the Humans of the Age of Strife. But then, when have Elves ever felt any qualms about lying to their enemies?

Another notion, also favored by many in the Holy Church, is that Half Giants are ordinary Humans who, before their birth, are blessed by divine powers, the source of their great stature and strength. Late in the Age of Kings, Patriarch Heberon of the Holy Church ended the great civil war in Alvaetia by anointing Clarius the Half Giant as King of that fractured realm. In his written proclamation, the Patriarch wrote that "His Celestial Majesty the All-Father has placed among us, his children, those few Men of transcendent virtue, whose great stature matches the purity of their souls. Truly in these Giant Men is the true design of the All-Father fully revealed." The Temple of the Cleansing Flame was quick to embrace Heberon's view of Half Giants. Scholars in the Temple have long claimed that Half Giants are superior Men, blessed by the Archons with their great strength. To this day, Half Giants are the only beings arguably not Human that are allowed into their ranks. As you might expect, many Half Giants are particularly fond of these ideas, and happy to count themselves blessed. Oh, I agree, the notion is very sensible, and probably the truth.

There are, however, some other ideas, none of which are as kind. Some scholars, no doubt deluded in their arrogance, claim that Half Giants arose during the Cruel Years, when Humanity was enslaved to the Deathless Empire. The Elves, they say, bred some of their slaves for bulk and strength, and tried to breed cleverness and disobedience out of the strain. Some Loremasters go so far as to assert that the Elves actually used magic to help in the process, and that Half Giants were the first clumsy attempt to create a race of laborers and soldiers, efforts that eventually led to the creation of the Minotaurs.

The Sages and Loremasters of the Irydnu have a very different opinion. According to their researches (which, I must add, are contradicted by numerous sources), Half Giants did not appear until after the War of the Scourge had begun. The dark-skinned philosophers believe the forces of Chaos subtly tainted the Sons of Men who fought beside the Elves and Centaurs in the War of the Scourge, affecting their progeny. Just as Grobolds are twisted versions of Men, so are Half Giants parodies of Human perfection, born of Chaos. Proponents of this theory point to the blunted intellects and erratic behavior of Half Giants as evidence of corruption by Chaos. This negative view of Half Giants has led to intense persecution against Brutes in the lands where the Irydnu rule. Wait! There's no need to shout, good my lord! I am but a humble Bard: I only tell the tales, it is the work of others to prove them true or false. No, I'm certain that the Irydnu are all quite mistaken and?Please, I beg you, sheathe your sword! I meant no disrespect! You did ask me what I'd heard about Half Giants?

What's that? I get to keep my post? Ah. Lucky me?

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« 回帖 #6 于: 2006-04-08, 周六 23:40:27 »

The Humans: Their People

Of all the Children of the World, Humans are the most diverse. Whereas the differences between Elvish nations are barely discernable to outsiders, and Dwarves tend toward an uncanny unanimity in their features, a scholar who knew no better might mistake the Sons of Men for five great races, not one. There is no such thing as a "typical" Human, from the Northman, pale as snow, to the ebon skinned Irydni, difference is the rule. Scholars have identified six great Human tribes, although the passage of time has blurred the lines between them.

The Ethyreans: Mightiest of the tribes of Men, the Ethyreans are fair of skin, with hair tending towards deep brown or black. The chieftains of the Ethyreans became the first Kings of Men, and founded the Ten Kingdoms that Cambruin united. While not the strongest or most learned of Men, the Ethyreans have left the greatest mark on the World, and the Petty Kingdoms, humbled as they were by the Turning, are still the mightiest in the World.

The Invorr: Tall and strong, the Northmen are fairer even than the Ethyreans, with pale skin that rivals even that of the Elves. Invorr hair is bright, favoring either gold or fiery red. Feared and reviled as Barbarians and savages, the Northmen know little of reading, lore, or religion, yet take fierce pride in their heritage, and believe themselves to be High Men, the true heirs of the Titans.

The Irydnu: Dark as the Northmen are fair, the Dark Sages of the South have skin that ranges from dark brown to the color of pitch. Only the Irekei, dwellers in the Burning Lands, are darker. Before the Turning the Irydnu kept to themselves, and only rumors of their ways reached the rest of Humanity. It is said that they are the wisest of all Men, and that Magic runs in their blood almost as freely as it does with the Elves.

The Horwathi: The savage tribes of the Great Steppes are lean and short, with black hair and skin the color of honey. Most Men think the Howathi even more bestial than the Northmen, but there are few who can match their hardiness. The Horwathi are survivors above all else. Rumors persist of great empires beyond the Steppes, Horwathi Empires of silk and magic. Since the Turning, however, the trails to these lands have all vanished.

The Gwendannen: Stout Men of the Hills, the Gwendannen have ruddy, tan skin and dark hair. The Northmen and the Men of the Ten Kingdoms have long warred against the Gwendannen clans, and their numbers have dwindled. It is whispered that the Old Ways are still remembered among the Hill Folk, who revere the names of the Titans and worship alongside Druids in the deeps of the forests.

The Taripontor: Quick and nimble, the lusty men of the Free Cities have brown skins tanned by the Sun, and dark curly hair. Passionate in war as they are in wooing, Taripontor do nothing halfway. Their craftsmen are among the greatest in the World, and they are master sailors. If the Men of Tariponto were not so busy feuding amongst themselves, they might make even the Petty Kingdoms tremble.

Obscure legends mention a seventh race of Men, forgotten history, a wandering tribe known as the Anomani. Very little is known of them, though they are believed to have been dark skinned and prone to revelry. Long extinct, Sages have named Anomani the "Lost Men." Ancient legends also claim that all seven of the Human nations are but shadows of their former selves. The First Men, which ancient fragments call the Ardani, were perfect in both form and faculty. The Ardani lived as Titans, masters of craft, war, and magic. These Titans, tales say, were destroyed long ago by the Elves. Today, the heirs of the Ardani are known as the Sons of Men, and all the glories they have wrought are but an echo of splendors long faded.

Scholars and Loremasters have long troubled over the question of Humanity's greatness. The Sons of Men are not the strongest, nor the smartest, or even the hardiest of the World's children, yet they have thrived in the harshest of climes, and prevailed in war over all the other races. While short lived (at least before the Turning), the Sons of Men are clearly the most fertile of the World's Children, and have recovered from disasters more quickly than other peoples. Humans may not be the greatest of the World's children, but neither are they the weakest, dullest, or most sickly. While most of the other races will surpass Men in one quality, in others they invariably fall behind. Some Prelates believe that Humans are uniform of spirit if not of body, with characteristics that are more balanced than those of the other races. Alchemists have furthered this notion, hypothesizing that Men offer the perfect balance of humors in their blood. The unlearned believe that the Sons of Men have built so much because they are the All-Father's truest children, wrought by His hand in His image, and proclaimed by Him to be the masters of the World. How then, they reason, can any stand against them?

The Humans: Their Ways

Humans are as variable in their characters as they are in their looks. Most of the World's children favor one pursuit or profession above all others: Dwarves favor the forge, Elves the Mystic Arts, and Centaurs are masters of warfare. The Sons of Men, however, practice all three with distinction, and ply many other professions besides. Curious and tenacious, Humans are avid questioners and quick learners, unwilling to leave a mystery unsolved or a method untried. As a result, the Sons of Men have taken up more professions than any other race, and are constantly enriching the World with new innovations.

Just as their skins range through both light and dark, Man's nature leads him to both creation and destruction. The Sons of Men built the Church of the All-Father, whose holy saints are renowned for their sacrifices and good deeds. Human Magi have revolutionized the Arcane Arts, devising new theories of magic and discovering new sources of power. The High King devised the Code, the purest expression of justice and virtue ever known, and Human Artists have created works whose beauty rival the greatest masterpieces of the Elves. For all the beauty the Sons of Men have brought into the World, they have also wrought uncounted terrors and calamities.

While Men may fall short of the Elves in arrogance, they tend not forgive any slights, and have remarkably long memories when it comes to holding grudges. For three Ages Men have feuded with the Elves, a bitter rivalry that culminated in the War of Tears. Conflict comes as naturally to Men as breathing, and most scholars deem that it was the folly of Men, particularly the High King Cambruin, that brought about the Turning and all the darkness since. For their own part, the Sons of Men tend to be too short-sighted to think in such terms. Most Men fight to win what they think they need, or to protect what they hold dear. Historically, their mortality gave Humans an urgency and impatience that have eternally frustrated the Elves. The new immortality born of Turning could lead Humankind to a higher level of maturity, or the Sons of Men may become even more reckless now that they no longer need fear death. Alas, the conflicts born of the Age of Strife seem to indicate the latter.

The societies Men build are, as one might expect, far from uniform. While most Men speak the same language, derived of old from a simple form of the Elvish merchant's tongue, the customs and traditions of each of the races of Men are very different. Some live in Kingdoms, where hereditary monarchs give land and titles to their loyal vassals, while others follow the rule of coalitions or councils. Many Men live in clans or bands, while others live in great Free Cities. Cambruin is the only hero in all of history who has even come close to uniting all the Sons of Men, but his work has been mostly undone since his death and the Turning.

The Humans: Their Lore

"Greetings, your grace, and welcome. Your father the Lord Duke was most pleased to learn how far you have advanced in your studies, and has instructed me to begin your tutelage in matters of history and Lore. Yes, I am sure that your sessions with the swordmaster seem much more important, but you must understand: to rule others you must first know and understand yourself. How can you know yourself if you do not know the history of your race, and the great legacies that have been bestowed on Humankind? Take heart, my child, this first lesson shall be brief enough. And the tale is quite engaging, if you let yourself truly hear it.

You have listened attentively in chapel, and so you have heard the great litanies recorded in the Book of Staves, and know the story of Mankind's origins. I can do little to improve upon the account given in Holy Scripture. The first Humans were the Titans, created by the All-Father's mighty hands just after the beginning of Time. The number of the Titans was thirteen: seven great men and six women, fashioned from clay and earth and imbued with the All-Father's Grace, Spirit, and Power. Fragments of ancient legend recall their names ?Ardan the King, who married Kathellerin the Matron, Torvald the Strong and his willful bride Lashava, Mistress of Storms, Golgerim the Smith and his wife Gillaya the Healer, Gorum the Hunter and his proud wife Hevralis, Lady of Beasts, Wendol the Plowman and Colwynne the Midwife, and Arnomus the Rogue who married Virenna, Fairest of the Titans. The last of the Titans, the Magician, was given no name, and took no bride. Some ancient legends say that the All-Father was interrupted before he could finish the last Titan's bride, while many Wizards claim that the Unnamed One was built precisely to his Father's will, and embodies the boundless potential and eternal restlessness of all Humankind.

Humanity was the first Race born after the beginning of Time, and thus we were born mortals, slaves of age and death. The Titans live lives that can outlast Ages, yet we their children are short lived, and were truly mortal until the Turning. Of all the World's Children, we are the only ones born wholly of the All-Father and His Will: He fashioned us to rule the World that He had made, and when the Titans were finished His great vision of Aerynth was finally complete. The favor He bestowed upon Mankind has earned us the wrath and envy of all the other Children of the World. More than once they have tried to take our birthright from us, and rob us of our destiny. They shall always fail. I fear I digress: this is to be a lesson in Lore, not spirituality. I'm sure Prelate Korvin will answer any questions you may have about the spiritual purity of Humankind. I must now return to the Titans, and the mark they left upon the chronicle of history.

After they were fashioned, the Titans journeyed to a bountiful valley, and lived there as kings. The First Men quickly settled the valley, and named it Ardan, for their King, and it became the first realm of Men. Ardan ruled in the kingdom that bore his name for more than two thousand years, a period of time Scholars have named the Shining Years. Tragically, the memory of his reign and his realm has been lost to us. Little is known of that blessed land, for it came to a cruel and bitter end. There are, however, some things that can be surmised from the few legends and fragments of Ardan that remain.

We know that the Realm of Ardan was a paradise of beauty and enlightenment, where the Titans dwelt among their children, and were as Demigods in power and majesty. The six nations of Men were born of the six families of the Titans, each with its own virtues. We know also that the Men of Ardan fostered great friendships with the Dwarves and Centaurs. We know from ancient records in the keeping of the Holy Church that the All-Father dwelt among the Titans and Men of Ardan for a time, but that He had to leave them and undertake a great quest, for a Shadow fell upon Ardan early in that kingdom's history. Darkness sought to enter the World, and it poisoned the spirits of the Dead. They rose up in restless hordes, banding together in an Unholy Legion that plagued the living. The All-Father journeyed into the Void to confront Death itself, while the Men of Ardan fought the War of Shadows against the Dead. Victory was finally achieved, but the All-Father stayed away, following His quest to unknown ends.

The war against the Dead was won, but the Blessed Realm of Ardan was not devoid of strife: even in those days the natures of the Titans were not always in accord. There are hints, hidden in the legends and sagas of the Northmen, of Torvald's many quarrels with Ardan. Finally the willful Titan led his children from the Blessed Valley to the Frozen North, searching for a land they could call their own. They were not the only Men to leave the Blessed Realm: sometime in the second millennia of Ardan's race the mysterious seventh race of Men, the Anomani, arose. Dismissed as Thieves and scoundrels, their parentage remains uncertain. The Anomani were exiled from Ardan by the King's command, and no tale recalls their fate. Yet even these divisions were as nothing compared to the strife that was to come. The Elvish Empire soon became aware of the Ardani, and the very sight of the All-Father's true children filled the Elves with envy and malice. The Elves quickly made war upon the First Kingdom, but the might of the Titans was enough to hold the Elvish host at bay. Frustrated by the failure of their arms, the Elves, as is their nature, resorted to sorcery and vile treachery. Their greatest Magi and Loremasters devised a mighty curse, a ritual so powerful that it would doom all of Humankind.

As the armies of Elves and Men continued to skirmish, the Fey Magi worked their great spell in secret, and a great Doom fell upon the folk of Ardan. A plague swept the Blessed Vale, a sickness that burned in the blood, killing countless Men outright and driving the rest to madness. The destruction of Mankind would have been complete but for Ardan, the Shining King. He bore the brunt of the terrible spell, drawing its power into himself to spare his kingdom. The Elvish spell was too powerful even for him, and so the First Man died in unspeakable agony. The other Titans, raving in their madness, were captured by the Elves and bound in magical prisons. There are some who claim that Torvald and his children were spared the bitter taste of the Curse, but the truth of these legends will never be known. Most of the Sons of Men died in agony, and the few who survived were stricken dumb, their minds reduced to those of beasts. The Elves were quick to follow upon the heels of their great spell. They plundered the great palaces of Ardan, and destroyed or stole all they could. Legend has it that a few ruins of the Blessed Realm remain, lost somewhere in the wilds, but none now living can remember where. The Doom that came to Ardan was swift, terrible, and final. Thus the Shining Years ended, and the Cruel Years began.

Men lived as beasts in the Cruel Years following the Curse, and the wicked Elves hunted them for sport, or took them in chains to live as pets and slaves. Whipped and driven to endless toil, the lot of the Sons of men was cruel, and we must never forget the bitter fruits of Elvish envy and ambition. The cruel Elves had unmade the minds of men, and stolen their memory and their history from them. In time, they also strove to unmake even their bodies. Foul magery was loosed upon some unfortunate thralls, who became the victims of all manner of hideous experiments: thus were the Minotaurs born of Elvish wickedness. The great Captivity of Man was to last a decade less than two thousand years, and though through all that time the Elves tried to destroy Humanity, the Will of the All-Father will not be denied, and even their Magic could not thwart it. Even as they served in chains, the Curse began to weaken, and the Sons of Men were quick to learn from their captors. The arts of speech and language were stolen back from their Elvish masters, and soon a clever band of thralls managed to free an entire legion of slaves. These rebels fled from the Elvish Empire, and though the pursuit was swift and terrible, they were finally able to reach the Vast Steppes, and took refuge there. Wandering the plains, they named themselves the Freed, and longed to find a way to free the rest of their kin. In their travels they quickly learned to survive in the wilds. There they also met the Centaurs, and the course of Human history changed forever.

The children of Kenaryn taught those Human refugees many things. At last the Sons of Men learned of their true heritage, for the Centaurs had traded long with Ardan, and remembered the Blessed Realm well. The Horse Lords taught the refugees to worship the All-Father and Kenaryn, his loyal Companion. They also taught Men much about Law, and Warfare, and History. Centaurs have long memories, and still remembered both the fall of Ardan and the Great Betrayal, when the Elves had first turned their backs on the All-Father's grace. And so at last the treachery of the Elves was undone, for Mankind had reclaimed its stolen identity and legacy. The Freed grew mighty in arms, and left the Steppes, founding a Hidden Kingdom near the Elvish Empire. The Men of the Hidden Kingdom worked long and hard to free their brethren still in chains. For decades they launched raid and skirmish across the boundaries of the Elvish Empire, and the strife between Men and Elves intensified.

Finally, as the Sun darkened in the sky, a great band of raiders led by Torvagau the Liberator sacked an ancient library. From its ancient texts Torvagau learned where the Titans had been imprisoned, so long ago. As the Elvish kindred turned upon each other in the War of Flames, Torvagau and his band of heroes crept into the very heart of the Deathless Empire, spreading the message of freedom wherever they went. Throughout the Elvish Empire, Humans rose up by the thousands, breaking their chains and turning the tables on their former masters. In the chaos, the Liberator reached the Titans' prisons, and broke the mighty spells that held them shut. The Titans were freed, and they led the Sons of Men out of slavery and into the wide World.

And now the history of Humankind becomes not one story, but six, for the nations of Humanity scattered to the corers of the World, each seeking a homeland of their own. New Kingdoms, realms of Men, arose. Much could be told of the histories of the Invorri of the North, or the savage Horwathi of the East, or the mysterious Irydnu. Perhaps, in time, you shall learn more of them. For now, I shall tell you the tale of the Ethyrian Race, born of Ardan and Kathellerin, mightiest of all the Sons of Men, the true heirs of the Blessed Realm. The Ethyri journeyed far to the south, and settled along the coasts of the Sea of Gwalinnen. There they founded the kingdom of Ethyria, and made Torvagau the Liberator their King. To his splendid court came Draethen Truesword, immortal Son of the All-Father, and he gave King Torvagau a mighty sword called the Trueblade, greatest of the jen'e'tai, which legends say shone with the light of all the stars. The Cruel Years ended, and the Time of Heroes began. For a few generations the New Kingdoms prospered, and Heroes arose whose names are still celebrated today. The Time of Heroes was the time of Dangorn, of Almeus the Young, Sesheth the Hunter, Finn ap Cummil, and Diarmid mac Roan. So the Sons of Men enjoyed a second golden age, but it was all too brief.

In the third century after their foundation, the New Kingdoms were washed away in a tide of blood. The Hordes of Chaos had come to Aerynth, bringing with them the War of the Scourge. The Irydnu fled to lands far beyond the ken of Man, the Gwendi were nearly destroyed, and the War Lords of the Ethyria fared little better. Three of the Titans fell defending the World, and entire tribes and kingdoms were blotted out, destroyed by the Hand of Chaos. The terrors of war can drive even dire enemies to work together in the face of destruction, and so it was that the Elves first approached the Human Kings with offers of alliance. Some of the Fair Folk had not forgotten the wisdom of the All-Father, and proclaimed that His children must stand together or all would surely perish. Two thousand years of bitterness and suspicion were not easily forgotten, however, and it was not until the Centaurs urged the same that the Sons of Men listened. The Grand Alliance was finally formed, and Men fought beside Elves, Giants, and Centaurs against the tide of Chaos.

Our strength served the Grand Alliance well, and Human soldiers stood ever at the fore, and many Ethyrian heroes gave up their lives for the good of all. Human valor, coupled with the Giants' strength, Elvish magic, and the Centaurs' cunning, was enough to halt the spread of Chaos. Indeed, the first Dark Lord was slain in battle fell to the hand of a Human. Beregund the Bladeseeker, the Hill Man who lost his tribe and found the sword Shadowbane, he brought the Great Alliance its first true triumph. Alas, at the very threshold of victory ancient hatreds arose anew. Beregund was murdered, slain by an Elvish queen who took Shadowbane for her own. The cruel woman was consumed by Chaos and Shadowbane was lost. The Sons of Men roused themselves in anger, for this new Elvish villainy was too much to bear. Ivard Kandorian, greatest of the Generals of Men, marshaled his troops and prepared to avenge Beregund's death. The Grand Alliance teetered toward collapse, and it seemed as if Aerynth was doomed.

At this, the darkest hour of the War of the Scourge, Aerynth was finally delivered from the hand of Chaos. The All-Father returned, and with Him came His host of Archons, who fell upon the legions of the Dark Lords and decimated them. With the All-Father came Ardan, delivered from Oblivion by his Father's hand. The All-Father called all of the Titans to Him, and all of His Companions as well. So it was that Kenaryn came, and Thurin too, though the Shaper's children stayed hidden in the deeps while the Sons of Men bled for them. Even Malog came, for the Fallen Warrior could not defy his Master's will. The Grand Alliance was renewed, and Gods, Titans, and Archons led its armies in the last glorious campaign. They drove back the forces of the Dark Lords, even unto the dreaded Chaos Gate. Yet these triumphs were not enough, and so the All-Father led an invasion of Chaos itself, with Ivard Kandorian fighting at His side. But Malog's treachery put an end to the glorious battle, and the All-Father withdrew before a final victory could be achieved, leaving his fallen Companion to rot in the pits of Chaos. Hedrusiel the Archon sealed the Chaos Gate, and at last the War of the Scourge ended in victory. Aerynth was saved.

Grand and joyous were the celebrations after that last battle. The All-Father proclaimed that He would leave Aerynth again, and four of the surviving Titans would go with Him to His Holy Refuge. The governance of Aerynth He gave to the Sons of Men, His true heirs. The Grand Alliance was declared eternal and everlasting, and the Kingdom of Ethyria was forged anew, with Ivard Kandorian as its first King. The All-Father then departed, leaving His children to their destinies. The Age of Days had ended, and the Age of Kings began.

The New Kingdoms had all been broken, as had the Deathless Empire of the Elves. The Fair Folk withdrew to mourn what they had lost, while Humanity rebuilt. Ethyria, despite its glorious beginnings, did not long endure. The Bards still sing ballads King Konwyn, the seventh King of Ethyria, and of Konwyn's Folly. For the love of a woman the King betrayed his bannermen, and feuded even with his own kin and most trusted aides. Konwyn's lust threw all of Ethyria into chaos, and shattered the Kandorian Line. When at last the wars had ended, Ethyria was no more. In its place stood ten new kingdoms: the realms of Alvaetia, Brethild, Carloon, Caledorn, Escalandor, Ghand, Lambourne, Melvaunt, Sorwenfells, and Vanderlund. Some claimed that the Ethyri had squandered their greatness, and sullied the gifts the All-Father had given us. This was not the case. Our mighty race but slept, dreaming of future glories, of a time when the Ten Kingdoms could be united again into one.

Centuries passed, and the Sons of Men reached new heights of glory. Many Arcane Arts were rediscovered, and soon the lands claimed by Men were expanding faster than they could be mapped. And yet strife always plagued the Sons of Men, for the Nations that had been born of the Titans seemed doomed to fight their fathers' quarrels for eternity. The Men of the Frozen North raided the Men of the Ten Kingdoms, who in turn fought long wars with Irydnu and the Free Cities of Tariponto. The Church of the All-Father, which had existed as two separate faiths among Elves and Men, finally was united, and early in the Age of Kings a Human Prelate took his rightful place as Patriarch of all the Faithful. The Church grew mighty indeed, spreading messages of peace and brotherhood that drowned out all other creeds. The Age of Kings was a time of wonder and glory, a thousand years of legend that ended with a century of slaughter. And with its end came the sundering of Aerynth, and the death of Greatness.

The time has come at last to tell you of the War of Tears, and the coming of the High King. Much of the tale you have heard already, I am sure, for it is the stuff of legend. And yet the harper's verses can blur the image of past deeds, and sometimes the past can only be viewed through the eyes of a Chronicler. Listen then, to the accounts that have been left to us, and learn.

Though countless sagas have been written of the treachery of the Elves and their brutality during the War of Tears, it should not be forgotten that the Kingdom of Ethyria and the Ten Kingdoms that came after it lived in peace with Elvenkind for nearly a thousand years. Indeed, there was trade and commerce between the Ten Kingdoms and the Hidden Court, such accord as had not existed since before the fall of Ardan. As the Age wore on, however, new stresses would be placed upon that fragile friendship.

At the dawn of the ninth century of the Age of Kings the Chaos Gate opened for a second time, vomiting forth Morloch the Fallen God and his Twisted Breeds of Orcs and Ogres. Once the threat to the World was discovered, the Sons of Men fought alongside the Elves a second time in the War of Ashes, united again against Chaos. The Maimed God was a terrible foe, and wrought ruin wherever he tread, but finally Torvald the titan descended from the North, and joined with some of the dreaded Elves called Sidhe to face Morloch in combat. The scars that battle left upon the World still linger, so the tales say, and at last Morloch was defeated. With their master broken, the Orcs and other Twisted Ones were no match for the armies of Elves and Men. Victory came at last, and with it peace. And yet this great peace was but an illusion, for base pride still festered in the hearts of the Elves.

In the nine hundred and thirteenth year of the Age of Kings, all Aerynth resounded with a piece of mighty news. A great celebration was to be held, commemorating the thousandth year of the Grand Alliance. There, at a festival of friendship, friendship between Elves and Men died forever. The great festival was held in Mellissar, capital of Alvaetia, the largest and mightiest of the Ten Kingdoms. There came the Ten Kings, the Lords of other nations of Men, the Princes of the Centaurs, the Elfking in his splendor, and even the Chieftains of the Giants. All of them came together for the first time in centuries, to feast, revel, and remember the past. On the fourth night of the feast, King Konrad of Alvaetia made a mighty toast before the banquet. The Bards have remembered it as Konrad's boast, a speech that would make all of the Ten Kingdoms bleed.

"Grand and wondrous guests," the King began, "I welcome you, in the name of Peace and Brotherhood, to this my hall. It is only just that so grand an assembly should gather here, in the mightiest kingdom of the Sons of Men, whom the All-Father in His wisdom has granted dominion of all Aerynth."

At this, the tales say, there were murmurings from all of the guests, Elves, Centaurs, and even foreign Men. But King Konrad proceeded.

"We children of the Titans may not have been blessed with the long and glorious histories that some of our allies so cherish: we are, indeed, a young people. But Fate and Time have granted us a wisdom beyond our years ?for truly, of all the Children of the World, the Sons of Men have endured more sorrows and more suffering than any other. So our vigor shall ever be tempered by wisdom, and our memories of war shall ever ensure the peace."

At that point, Valdimanthor and all of the Elvish delegates sat down, and overturned their cups. In the outcry that followed, Valdimanthor was heard to speak but once.

"Suffering, you say? Tell me, mortal, do you recall the rising of the Dragon?"

By the morning, Valdimanthor the King of Elves had left the festival, and within the year the War of Tears had begun. Elvish hosts led by Valdimantor surged forth from the depths of the forest, strengthened by legions of hideous Minotaurs. The entire Kingdoms of Escalandor and Ghand were consumed by Elvish wrath, and the rest of the Ten Kingdoms fared little better. All Ten Kingdoms might have held against the Elvish onslaught if they had stood together, but each King saw only profit in the destruction of his neighbors. And so for decades the Elves ravaged the lands of Men. Finally when King Konrad and all his sons were slain, the Elvish host returned to their forests, their pride avenged. This bitter conflict should have roused the Sons of Men to action, but greed and Elvish spies ensured that the Ten Kingdoms would mount no reprisal. Every petty Duke and Baron scrambled to win the throne of Alvaetia, spurred on by false advisors or sheer avarice. Two brother Knights fought for decades, dragging the rest of the Ten Kingdoms into their feud. The remnants of Ethyria were consumed by strife and drowned in blood until the coming of Cambruin, the High King.

Born of a lesser noble in the kingdom of Caledorn, the blood of Kings flowed in Cambruin's veins, for he was of the Kandorian line, the last true scion of the Kings of Ethyria. Cambruin's virtue and strength of arms won him fame throughout Caledorn. When the realm of Brethild laid siege to Caledorn, Cambruin's daring tactics saved his homeland. A young man of only seventeen, Cambruin single-handedly drove back the armies of the Brehtildi invader, and his fame was assured. Essengal the King of Caledorn abdicated his throne, yielding the crown of Caledorn to Cambruin as his reward. Some say that Essengal had been visited by Archons who foretold the youth's coming glory. After Cambruin's coronation, ancient documents were discovered that proved Cambruin was truly born of the Kandorian Line, and word quickly spread throughout the Ten Kingdoms that Cambruin was the chosen of the All-Father, the instrument of Humanity's salvation. The young King proclaimed that the time had come for Ethyria to rise a third time, and he took the Golden Lion of Ethyria for his coat of arms. Countless Knights flocked to the young king's banner, and the kings of Brethild, Esclandor, and Ghand named Cambruin their overlord. There were many, however, who denounced this upstart boy, and they all joined together in war against him.

Cambruin and his army of Champions waged a quick and brutal war, remembered by Bards as the Contest of the Seven Crowns. None of the other kings of Men could hope to prevail against Cambruin, who finally defeated his enemies at the Battle of Saint Wend's Hill. Cambruin was crowned High King, and under his rule the Ten Kingdoms became the High Kingdom. Merciful to his foes, Cambruin brought more than mere armies to the lands he conquered: he brought Law, Order, and Justice. Commoners loved him, and only the pettiest warlords feared him. The Code Cambruin devised is still regarded as the pinnacle of chivalry and decency among Men. Thus the Ethyri reclaimed their ancient glory, and the High Kingdom shone as the fairest realm in all the World.

The High Kingdom was sorely tested, and fought wars against the Orcs, the savage Northmen, and even the Men of faraway lands. Cambruin was always victorious, until the War of Tears resumed in the tenth year of his reign. Cambruin invaded the Elvish forests, trying to take back large tracts of Escalandor and Ghand that had been seized when the war began, but he rode straight into a trap. For twenty years Valdimanthor had been waiting and gathering his strength, and he had followed the High King's rise with contempt. Legions of Elves and Minotaurs savaged Cambruin's armies, while mighty spells wreaked havoc and unleashed disasters throughout the High Kingdom. Cambruin and his Champions escaped the steel jaws of Valdimanthor's trap, but they could not prevail against the army that invaded the lands of Men again, and in the years that followed it seemed that Cambruin's glory was doomed to fade, like a dream born too soon. But Humankind had eluded the cruel hand of Fate before, and the High King's reign was far from over.

Just when tidings looked darkest, Caeric Blackhammer, First Paladin of legend, achieved the Second Quest for the Sword, and delivered Shadowbane into the hand of King Cambruin. The High King met Valdimanthor in personal combat at the Battle of Rennelind Field, and slew him with that mighty blade. The entire tide of the War of Tears changed with that single stroke. As Valdimanthor died, so died the magical pacts between the Elves and Minotaurs, and the morale of the Elvish Host was broken. In the long years that followed, Cambruin and his Champions enjoyed victory after victory, and cut their way into the very heart of the Elvish lands.

But even as the High King's Elvish enemies fell in droves, new perils beset the High Kingdom. Caeric the Paladin's holy calling offended many worldly knights, and feuds between the Knight of the Sash and several of the more worldly Champions soured the court. The Holy Church, who had been quick to crown Cambruin, grew nervous once the High King held Shadowbane in his hand. Fearing that Cambruin might eclipse the glory of the Patriarch, the Church withdrew its support from the War of Tears, and even offered up safe haven to many Elves. Tariponti freebooters, hordes of Northmen, Orcs from the wastes, and even the mysterious Amazons were quick to raid the unwatched flanks of the High Kingdom as Cambruin campaigned far afield. Vicious plots born of jealousy nearly split the court, and Queen Bronwyn herself was accused of Sorcery and Witchcraft. And yet, no matter the odds, Cambruin prevailed against every trial, every hardship. His will and virtue brought contentious Knights and Champions back in line, and his military might repelled all invasion. The Queen's innocence was discovered, her malingers punished, and finally, after nearly a decade's distraction, Cambruin undertook his final campaign against the hidden Court.

The Elvish Empire was dying, but Mankind's direst enemies had one last treason to perform. As they had with Ardan and with Beregund, the Elves destroyed Cambruin through treachery. It is whispered that prisoners taken in battle poisoned the ears and heart of one of the Champions with lies and promises, and so one of the Champions sold his King to slaughter.

Who was this Traitor? Not even the wisest of scholars can answer with any certainty: the tumult of the Turning and the sundering of Aerynth have left few clues. Saint Malorn of the Temple of the Cleansing Flame has testified that the Traitor was Sir Sesherin, the Aelfborn who turned cloak to became one of Cambruin's Champions. The Living Saint claims to have seen the deed, and has proclaimed that Sesherin's Elvish blood could not endure the final death of his true people. More than one critic of the Temple has suggested that Sir Malorn himself did the foul deed, fearful that Cambruin intended to call a truce before the last Elf was destroyed. Others have put forth the name of Sir Hurrigan the Huntsman, who had renounced his calling as a Ranger to ride under the High King's banner. Hurrigan, it is whispered, feared that Cambruin's thirst for blood would not end with the destruction of the Hidden Court, and slew Cambruin to prevent an endless crusade against all the Children of the World. Many chroniclers have sought to prove Sir Eric guilty. Eric was the son of Essengal, former crown prince of Caledorn, whose sister Essenmay Cambruin had pledged to marry but then passed over in favor of Bronwyn. These scholars (most of whom, it should be noted, work in the employ of Eric's current rivals) have gone to great lengths to prove that it was Eric's sister Essenmay who started the vile rumors that culminated in the accusation and trial of Queen Bronwyn, and that Eric killed Cambruin to regain his stolen birthright. Some have raved that Cambruin's murderer was not a mortal man at all, but Morloch the Destroyer, working in the enchanted semblance of one of the Champions to try to steal Shadowbane. If this was indeed the case, the Fallen God's own strength betrayed him. All of those accused of the vile deed deny it, though many of them stand at the forefront of the struggle to regain Cambruin's crown.

The identity of the Traitor may never be known, and in the end may not even be important. One certain fact is known, and cannot be forgotten: on the day of his greatest victory, Cambruin died on the point of Shadowbane. So ended the Age of Kings, and so began the Turning.

Mountains crumbled, seas surged, and entire realms vanished as great fragments of the World spun off into the Void. The Sun darkened, the Moon froze full, and the voice of the All-Father fell silent. Nearly a century has passed since that dark day, a time of chaos scholars have named the Age of Strife. In the wake of the Turning, Mankind has found a sort of immortality, for the dead now find themselves returned to flesh thanks to the Trees of Life. The High Kingdom is shattered, and the original Ten Kingdoms are broken as well, their lands split into great fragments and scattered in the Void. All that is left are the Petty Kingdoms, dozens of tiny states ruled by Guilds or Warlords, each vying with all the rest for supremacy. The Sons of Men are now as divided as their World ?the Irydnu war upon the Petty Kings, the Horwathi raid with wild abandon, and war bands of Northmen are on the move again. The Church of the All-Father is wracked with schism, and the new Temple of the Cleansing Flame has embarked upon a crusade to destroy all that is evil and weak. Humanity stands at a great crossroads ?will the achievements of the Titans and Cambruin be lost in a frenzy of destruction, or will new Heroes arise to bring Order out of Chaos? Only time will tell.

And so, your grace, now you know much of Human history; the glories we have won, the Kingdoms we have forged, and the tragedies our enemies have loosed upon us. Some have said that all Hope is broken since the Turning, and that the final Doom of the World is at hand. I say no. The Sons of Men have faced bitter losses before, and endured hardships unnumbered. Each time we have overcome our enemies, and risen to new heights of civilization. Your blood is of the race of the Ethyri, and it is not much diminished from the glorious Men who walked in the Blessed lands of Ardan. Will you take up Sword and Crown, and undo the shame that has been thrust upon your people and your World?"


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« 回帖 #7 于: 2006-04-08, 周六 23:41:35 »

The Irekei: Their People

Once the fourth great nation of Elvenkind, Irekei are practically identical to Elves in their physiology. If closely examined, however, some startling differences appear. While all Irekei have the same slight frame, pointed ears, and large eyes of the Firstborn, their bodies are leaner and harsher, covered with taut muscles. Irekei features are harsh and angular, a stark contrast to the sleek smoothness of an Elvish face. Their life in the harsh desert demands both strength and fortitude. As a result the Irekei, while not quite as agile as Elves, are both stronger and hardier. Desert life has resulted in other unique characteristics. Constant exposure to the Sun's glare has dimmed their night vision somewhat, though their hearing remains as keen as any Elf's. Irekei do not perspire, and their bodies radiate far more heat than the other peoples of the World. There is no mistaking the hot touch of an Irekei: even if their cruel natures had not earned the Irekei the name "Devil Men," their burning touch surely would have.

The greatest difference between the Elves and Irekei is also the most visible. Where Elves are pale and fair, with a slight hint of blue, green, or brown in their coloring, an Irekei's skin is dark, their coloring harsh and intense. Irekei skin tones vary from blood red to crimson to jet black, with hair running the gamut from pale white to gold to deep ebony. Irekei loathe tattoos and refuse to deliberately mar their skin, though they proudly wear any scars gained in duel or battle. Irekei faces are harsh and stern, for they rarely smile.

Life in the empty desert has left its mark on the manner of the Irekei as well. Used to having an uninterrupted view of the horizon, they grow nervous in enclosed spaces. Irekei find forests unsettling, and large bodies of water terrify them. The heat of the desert has taught the Irekei to conserve their energy and strength: all Devil Men act with a utility of movement, wasting little motion. When action is required, Irekei move with an uncanny speed, directness, and intensity. Even when at rest, Irekei project an aura of menace, of furious action restrained by intense concentration. When dealing with fir'khanim (literally "rain bleeder," a derogatory term for any being weak enough to waste water through sweat) Irekei seem stoic, and tend to brood and scowl. Among their own kind, however, Irekei are as capable of laughter and frenzied revelry as any Elf.

The Irekei: Their Ways

"As the Flame burns and the Sun burns, so must we. To do less is to die." This ancient Irekei proverb forms the core of Irekei culture and philosophy. In the parched wastelands life is a continual struggle, and only those mobile enough to scavenge and brutal enough to pillage can hope to survive. The strong must prey upon the weak, and the weak must be either clever or quick to escape death. To be weak is to die - the Irekei test their children rigorously after birth, and any who cannot keep up are left to the mercies of the desert. Constant strife between Irekei tribes and the continual threat of desert predators have given rise to a brutal, militaristic culture. Most Irekei are Warriors, and every Irekei child learns the basics of knife fighting before they learn to speak.

Even though the Irekei no longer consider themselves Elves, they still boast the arrogance of the Fair Folk. In some cases they take Elvish haughtiness to even greater extremes. As the Irekei see it, the Sons of Flame live in the desert not because they are forced to but because they choose to. While most Children of the World wither in the deserts, the Irekei thrive there, a testimony to their superiority and worthiness. When the Dragon rises, only the fiercest will be spared his wrath - every Irekei believes that his highest duty is to prove himself worthy. Every day the desert tests their strength and will - if the Irekei were to live in the Greenlands, surely they would become as soft and weak as all the other peoples of the World.

The concept of khar'ika is central to Irekei thought. Khar'ika does not translate into any non-Irekei language (including Elvish): "soul flame," "blood," "heart," and "toughness" are all valid yet incomplete translations. The khar'ika is the flame of Khalikryst, the holy fire that transformed the Irekei from Elves into superior beings, and the reserve of strength and endurance that an Irekei calls upon to survive at all costs. Battle and tests of fortitude can kindle an Irekei's khar'ika, making it burn brighter, while death snuffs out the khar'ika forever (since the Turning, death diminishes the soul flame, but no longer extinguishes it). Non-Irekei have no fire in their souls, their flesh is cold and their bodies are weak. While most Irekei prefer to fight with wickedly curved blades, some Warriors walk the Shining Way instead. These Warriors, called Sun Dancers, fight without any weapons at all, harnessing their khar'ika to turn their bare hands into deadly weapons.

The Irekei are nomads by nature, roving from oasis to oasis and ruin to ruin. Every Iriekei is a member of a Virakt, a tribe composed of several allied clans and family groups. The bond between Irekei tribemates is the strongest in their culture - no Devil Man would ever willingly harm or betray the others of his Virakt. Most tribes (the Irekei plural is Virakt'al) have only a few dozen members, although the largest tribes number in the thousands. Every Virakt has its allies and blood enemies among the others, although the patterns of trade, marriage alliance, friendship, and vendetta shift constantly, like the ripples on a sand dune. Every Virakt also makes a living through raiding, taking goods and captives from anyone weaker than themselves. The goods are consumed and the captives forced to serve as Jov'uus, or slaves. Only fir'khanim are kept as slaves - any true Irekei would rather die than be a thrall. Irekei build great buildings of sandstone, intricately carved with runes and decorative designs. Around these structures stretch vast awnings of canvas or silk, and Irekei of lower castes live in great tents. Ancient Elvish ruins, remnants of the Twilight Kingdom, rise up out of the desert sands here and there, and are held as sacred by the Irekei, forming the nucleus of every Devilman city.

The peoples of the outside World believe that the Irekei are all wanton, barbaric savages that eat the flesh of their enemies and drink blood. While most of these stories are exaggerations (if not outright lies), the truth of the matter is that the Irekei have a highly advanced culture, rich in history, folklore, and art. True equality exists between Irekei men and women, for any who can prove themselves under the harsh Sun are worthy of respect and power. Poetry, storytelling, and music come easily to the Irekei, and their festivals are wondrous to behold. Among the Irekei rigid protocols and elaborate systems of etiquette govern everything, from greeting to eating to declaring war. All Irekei have a highly developed sense of honor, which they see as a product of their khar'ika. To break with custom or violate tradition is to declare oneself too weak to live by the ways of the Irekei, a fate all Devil Men regard as unthinkable. Of course, it goes without saying that the fir'khanim are unworthy of courtesy of any kind. Any ruse, deception, or brutality is perfectly acceptable if used against rain-bleeders: indeed, deception and cruelty are considered the honorable means of dealing with weak beings.

War is the only time the constraints of honor break down between Irekei. Khan'jallakar, or Blood War, is one of the Irekei's most ancient traditions. Wars are not to be confused with duels: in Irekei cities fatal fights between Warriors are frequent, and governed by strict traditions. Dire insults or crimes against a Virakt can, under certain conditions (which are, again, rigidly defined by tradition) lead to Khan'jallakar. There are precise rituals for declaring a Blood War, but once declared there are no rules, and the conflict turns as bloody as any raid of the Greenlands, if not more so. Entire Virakt'al have vanished because of Blood Wars, yet they must not always end cruelly. Usually, within a few months of the Blood War's end, the two tribes are neutral towards each other again, resuming trade and possibly even becoming allies. To the Irekei, War is a passionate diversion, like wine or song, meant to be savored to the fullest, then set aside before it distracts them from the business of survival. Since the Turning, Blood Wars among Irekei have decreased in their ferocity, while the number of Blood Wars called against fir'khanim has increased drastically.

The Irekei: Their Lore

Look, young one, look to the East. In one hundred heartbeats KryKhalin, the Blessed Sun, shall rise, and bathe us in her radiance. It was not always thus. Once the World was bathed in Eternal Night, and all that lived was as cold as the sands beneath your feet. Once our people, They Who Endure, were as cold and weak as a breeze at midnight, as empty as the Sky. Today you are Urikhan, and the Holy Fire in your blood still sleeps. Soon you shall endure the Testing, and if you are worthy your khar'ika will flare, and you shall be transformed as all our people were transformed of old. On that day you shall join the Irikhan, and the Irekei will know another brother.

There! The Sun rises! Look into her burning eye, young one, and do not be afraid. Without the Sun's light and heat, the Deserts are empty, cold, and devoid of beauty. Beneath her light they burn. As the Sun burns, so must we. To do less is to die. If you are to endure the Testing, if you are to burn, you must learn how. You must know yourself, know who you are, and why. Today you will learn. Let the Sun be your first teacher. Look into that fire, and feel its warmth, and always remember that you are born of that fire. That blaze, and the Terror that loosed it, brought Strength to our bodies and Wisdom to our souls. The Rain Bleeders, the fir'khanim, cannot look long upon the Sun, our Mother's palace. Their eyes bleed water and are blinded, their skins redden and are burned, and their spirits wither and faint. But you are born of the Irekei, born to endure.

You have looked, now listen. In the beginning of all things came the Time of Darkness, when there were two Moons instead of one and there was no Sun. All the World was wreathed in Wood and Water, for the Deserts had not been born. The ancestors of those who would transcend, the Unfinished Ones, lived in the darkness, enslaved by ignorance. So it would have endured forever if our Father, Kryquo'khalin, the Holy Source of the Sun, had not heard the voices of the Hateful Ones raised in song. Their arrogance stirred the Terror into wakefulness, and so the Dragon roused itself, and punished the unworthy. The World shook, entire armies perished, and the crystal towers of the Hateful Ones shattered and fell. In their ignorance, the Hateful Ones could not understand the Dragon's power, and called upon their Gods to save them. There was one among them, however, who was different. Darivastor was his name.

Say his name, and remember it. It is a hard name, strange and convoluted as all the names of the Hateful Ones are, but it deserves your reverence. As legions of warriors wept in terror and hurled themselves to the ground in fear, Darivastor stood. When the Dragon's power raced across the sky and ended the eternal night, he laughed. For the shackles of his ignorance had been broken, and in the new light born of Dragonfire he saw true Wisdom. Here was a thing mightier than the Wicked Empire of the Hateful Ones, mightier even than their Gods. Here was the true Power in the Universe, the Scourge who had consumed the World before the Time of Darkness, and someday would again. Alone among the Hateful Ones, Darivastor looked upon the Dragon, felt its power and terror, and endured. The Meddler God and his thralls fought with all their strength, but they could not harm the Terror. The Kryquo'khalin created the Sun, and then returned to its lair, and Darivastor despaired even as the Hateful Ones rejoiced.

The Time of Darkness had ended, and the same flame that had kindled the Newborn Sun had touched Darivastor's heart. So began the Time of Embers, when our hearts glowed with the khar'ika, but the Irekei were yet unborn. Darivastor the Elflord buried his new found Wisdom deep within his heart, for the time was not yet right to reveal it. In time the Hateful Ones, shattered by grief and despair, scattered over the face of Aerynth, fleeing from their grief and the light of the Sun, which they were too frail to endure. The Children of the Sun remained, enduring the heat to guard against the Dragon's return. The Hateful Ones named them Children of the Sun, never guessing the prophecy that lay hidden in their words. Darivastor was the greatest among them, and slowly began to spread his revelation to his kinsmen. There were many who listened, and cast aside the Young Gods in favor of the Dragon. Those whose minds and spirits were too weak to embrace the truth were destroyed. Soon only those touched by the khar'ika remained, and their skins reddened as the land withered around them. While the Dragon's Wisdom had illuminated their spirits, their flesh was still weak, and so the Sun's Children remained in the very heart of the growing deserts, strengthening themselves through ordeal. Our elders remember them as the Unfinished Ones, for their long journey towards perfection had only begun.

Life in the Burning Lands was even harder then than it is now, Young One, and many of the Unfinished Ones did not survive the ordeal. Those who did were forced to learn new ways, for the weak traditions and lazy life of the Hateful Ones were useless on the Sun's Anvil. We cast off all the trappings of the Hateful Ones, devising and fashioning everything we needed to live in the new world born of the Sun, from blades to our own language. We were the Khalinviri, Children of the Sun, no longer. Darivastor's folk gave themselves a new name: Irekei, They who Endure. And endure they did, singing the praises of the Dragon and the Sun. Darivastor, the first and greatest of the Prophets, led the Chosen deep under the ground, searching for the sleeping Dragon. They found stout bars and walls of solid metal that even their greatest spells could not unmake. The Chosen were not daunted, and waited in the deeps for a sign.

Their wait was long, but not in vain: the Holy Source of the Sun was not dead, but asleep in its lair at the core of the World. The Hunter and the Meddler God were not strong enough to slay the Dragon, only to wound it. The Chosen, in their meditations, began to hear the Dragon's dreams, and those who were not driven mad by the touch of the Kryquo'khalin had their wisdom increased a thousand fold. They learned the secrets of the Kharikryst, the Mystical Blood Fire, which has the power to heal and transform as well as destroy. They also learned the dark secrets of Ages long past, before the Meddler God and the Mother Goddess ever walked on Aerynth, when the World was consumed by Ice and Fire. Visions were given to them of the future, the time of the Krykhan'jallakar, the Blood War of Blood Wars, when the Terror would rise again from the deeps, and only those it deemed worthy would be spared. So the greatest Magi of the Irekei became the Khanarch'alarl, the Blood Prophets, heralds of the Dragon whose wisdom has always guided our people.

The Blood Prophets emerged from the vigil in the deeps, and their mighty spells awakened Khalikryst, Phoenix Goddess, the Transforming Fire, dread Lady of the Sun. The Dragon's Daughter taught them much, and the Irekei prospered, growing mighty even in the midst of the Burning Lands. And so we survived in lands that were the bane of all living things, learning the ways of the Drake, the Scorpion, and the Serpent. The Virakt'al wandered the dunes, following wind and game and water, moving between the Holy Places, the ancient ruins where the Prophets guard the paths to the Deep. Our progenitors, the Hateful Ones, quickly forgot us, and we lived unseen by all the Children of the World. We cared nothing for their ways, their Gods, or their works, at least until those works changed our lives forever.

The Elders still recite litanies of the Change. In that dreadful time the Meddling God, fearing our strength and the might of our Father, cast great cords about the Sun and tied it to a great team of beasts, who pulled it into motion. So the first long, glorious Day ended, and the Burning Lands were plunged into Night. So the Meddling God tried to rob us of our Mother and her wisdom. The Irekei were enraged, and the weak among them were filled with fear. Those whose blood was hottest, however, acted quickly. Darivastor himself and the other great Prophets wove mighty spells, casting our greatest Warriors into the sky, where they ran among the stars and fought the Meddling God's design. You have heard the songs of Trodralikar, the Sky Warrior, who every night slays the Meddling God's servants and draws the Sun back to the sky. Every day while the hero sleeps a new team of beasts comes to draw the Sun away. So it will continue until the End of Things, when the Sun shall move no more.

Strife and dissention fell upon the Irekei, for the coming of Time had brought with it a price. From the time of the Change onward, death would come with old age. Some Prophets deemed this a curse born of the Meddling God and the Hateful Ones, while others claimed that the Dragon had laid a new and greater test before his children. The voice of the Dragon is subtle, and even the Prophets can mistake its meaning. The division of Day from Night had also severed our link to Khalikryst, and her voice fell silent. Differences of opinion turned to dissention, and rivalries spawned Blood Wars. Many of the Eldest were slain, and their wisdom was lost forever. A time of heroes, feuds, and intrigues followed, when entire Vriakt'al were forged and broken. The desert sands have drunk more blood than you can think of, Young One, and you could study with the Wise for the rest of your days and never learn the names of every hero or tribe who fought and died in that glorious age.

It was to take thousands of years, but finally the Irekei passed the great test that the Change had brought before us. Jall'kroda the Blood Lord endured the darkness of the Deeps, overcame the traps and devices of the Living Stones and brought an entire conclave of Prophets into the chamber where Darivastor had first heard the Dragon's speech. The Prophets called, and the Dragon stirred in his sleep, and answered them. A great vision seared their minds, and at last they learned how the Khar'ika could be made manifest not only in their souls, but in their flesh as well.

Jall'kroda and the Prophets emerged into the light again, and the word of their vision spread quickly to all the Virakt'al. Hosts of Irekei journeyed to the center of the Burning Lands, where the Dragon had first emerged so long ago. Jall'kroda was named the first Kryqhi'khalin, master of all the clans, and all of the Magi gathered together to cast the mighty spell our Father had revealed to them. The ritual took days to intone, but finally when it was done the fetters that bound Khalikryst were shattered, and the face of the Sun darkened. The Flame Goddess left her shining fortress and descended to the face of Aerynth. There the Irekei bowed before her, singing praises to the Dragon, and worshipped her. The Dragon's Daughter was pleased, spread her fiery wings, and unleashed the Transforming Flame upon the Unfinished Ones. Their blood boiled, the flesh hardened, and the khar'ika kindled inside them, never to be quenched. When the flames cleared and the ashes fell away from them, their skins were as red as blood or as black as onyx. The Unfinished Ones were swept away forever, and at last the Irekei were truly born.

Now you know the truth: the Sun was our mother, the Dragon our father. The fire it unleashed upon the Sun was in turn unleashed upon us, and even now it quickens in your blood, young one, waiting for release. Khalikyrst's coming ended the Time of Embers, and began the Time of Flames, when all Aerynth would tremble at our wrath. Jall'kroda and his people rejoiced at their transformation, and immediately set about working an even greater ritual that would rouse the Dragon from its sleep and begin the Great Burning. But just as the Change in the outside World had shaken us, our transformation did not go unnoticed in the green Lands. The Hateful Ones were stirred to action by the darkening of the Sun, and their Magi quickly divined that something tremendous was happening. The legions of the Deathless Empire raced across the face of Aerynth, even into the heart of the Burning Lands. There they found the transformed host, diligently working to rouse the Dragon. They quailed with fear and cut our people off from their empire forever, lacking the wits to see that we had left their kinship far behind. Irekei their king named us, which in the tongue of the Hateful Ones means "outcasts." And the Blood Lords laughed to hear the name, and praised the Hateful Ones for naming them properly.

The Hateful Ones had long lived in the delusion that they were the mightiest of Aerynth's peoples, and though they had managed to shake off the yoke of the Meddling God, their minds were still too small to comprehend the Dragon's power or see true wisdom. When confronted with the strength, perfection, and majesty of the Irekei, they lashed out in terror and envy. So began the War of Flames, when the newborn Irekei fought for generations against the things that had once been their kinsmen. We had endured the testing of the Sun and the Dragon for centuries, and the Irekei fought with a strength, skill, and deadliness no rain bleeder could match. Alas, the easy life in the Green Lands had made the hateful ones abundant beyond imagining. Every Irekei Warrior was worth two of the Hateful Ones, but they had three entire nations to bring against only one. The Blood Prophets ravaged their armies with Dragon Magic, calling up sandstorms and twisting the creatures of the Desert into terrors that live only for slaughter, and the Sun Dancers leaped through storms of arrows and blades to kill the foe with their bare hands. And yet, despite all our strength and skill, the fight was not ours to win. Through chance, deception, and sheer numbers our enemies prevailed, and Virakt after Virakt fell to their spells and shining swords. After decades of bitter fighting, some Irekei began to lose heart, and cried out that the Dragon had forsaken its children. Others went grimly to their fates, content in the knowledge that they would trade their lives for a dozen or a hundred of the enemy. The khar'ika of the Irekei burned bright, but it seemed certain that it would burn out quickly.

There was one among the Prophets, however, who looked into the carnage of the War of Flames and found true Wisdom. She was named P'reklabhar, the last survivor of the Prophets who had first followed Jall'kroda into the deeps, and legends say that she learned her craft from Darivastor himself. P'reklabhar realized that the War of Flames was, in the end, a test of strength, the greatest test the Kryquo'khalin had ever unleashed upon his adopted children. The Irekei, intoxicated with the power born of their transformation, had forgotten that there had always been things stronger than themselves. She realized that might, skill, and power would never be enough to defeat the Hateful Ones. To endure, the Irekei must turn to the Dragon itself for aid: to have the strength to admit their weakness. As the final battles raged on the surface, P'reklabhar left the bloody fields and descended into the darkest caverns, crying out for the Dragon's aid. And so the dire test was passed, for the Dragon stirred again, and whispered to the Prophet the secret that would deliver the Irekei from destruction.

The rain bleeders never learned her name, but P'reklabhar gave them cause to curse her for all eternity. The Dragon's visions guided her to the Chaos Gate, and the incantation the Terror had whispered to her gave her the power to open it. The Blood Prophet flung wide the Chaos Gate, and the Dark Lords who wait Outside were eager to destroy the Meddling God's children and all of his works. The endless hosts of Chaos streamed through, corrupting all they touched. P'reklabhar was consumed by their power, but her sacrifice ensured the survival of our people. The Dark Lords ravaged all of Aerynth for nearly a century, and their teeming hosts outnumbered the armies of the Hateful Ones even more than the Hateful Hosts had outnumbered the Irekei. The Hateful Ones were drawn away, so busy defending their homelands that they quickly forgot their quarrel with the Irekei. In payment for their release, the Dark Lords spared the Burning Lands, and left the Irekei alone. And so the few surviving Virakt'al vanished into the wastes, and quietly slew any rain bleeders who fled to the Deserts for refuge. We returned to our ways, and waited for our appointed time. The Irekei had passed the Dragon's test, for indeed only the boldest, strongest, and most cunning Irekei had survived the War of Flames. Our people had learned patience: it is not our place to wake the Dragon?until the appointed time.

Young One, I believe that time may soon be upon us. You may be privileged enough to live to see the Krykhan'jallakar. More than a thousand years after P'reklabhar's sacrifice, the ground shook, and storms swept across the wastes. A fell wind blew, scattering the tribes, and the face of the Sun darkened. The Blood Lords were dismayed, and the Prophets soon divined what had happened: the Turning had come to Aerynth, and the globe of the World had shattered into many fragments. The curse of Time had also been lifted, and death no longer quenched the khar'ika of fallen Irekei. The dead now return to flesh, weakened but with their fire still burning. Many have questioned what these strange tidings mean. Some believe that the Dragon has blessed us, and forever robbed the rain bleeders of their advantage in numbers. There are also tidings that the Meddling God has died, and all his children now live unprotected. Some cry out that the Krykhan'jallakar is at hand, and the Virakt'al must come together as they did of old, and finally invade the lands of our enemies and take revenge for the War of Flames. Few Blade Wielders or Blood Lords can agree, however, on who should wear the holy title of Kryqhi'khalin. The Blood Wars of old have begun again, to prove which leader is strong enough to wear Jall'kroda's crown. And there are other, stranger tidings.

I have heard tales of a strange, withered old Irekei, his face hideous to behold, who wanders from Virakt to Virakt, spreading word that the End Times have come. Some believe this so-called Burned Prophet is none other than Darivastor himself, returned to guide his people to glory, while others denounce him as a deceiver. The Burned Prophet's tales are grim tidings indeed. He claims that the Dragon no longer sleeps beneath our feet, for its cavern now lies beneath some other fragment of Aerynth, lost in the Void. The Dragon will remain asleep, and our destiny unfulfilled, until we find a way can to reach the Terror's lair. The Sun, he says, is darkened because Khalikryst has left her palace, and will not return until the Irekei prove that we are worthy. This new age, the Time of Strife, was never foretold in any prophecy, and the ancient writings of the First Prophets offer little help in these troubled times. Some mighty Warriors have left the Burning Lands behind them, leading their entire clans on Khan'Jallakar against the rain bleeders, while others have dared the Runegates, taking up the Quest for the Dragon. Other Blood Lords see treachery lurking behind these outlandish tales, and cling to the old ways. Blood War between the Virakt'al has spread like plague, and our folk raid the green lands now more than any time in memory.

Will you fight the Holy Blood War against the Hateful Ones and the fir'khanim? Will you take up the quest for our Mother and our Father, and strive to bring the final reckoning? Or will you follow the ancient paths of tradition, kindling your khar'ika through battle, test, and glory? You must decide, young one, but first you must rouse the ancient fire in your blood, and survive the Testing. Look into the bonfires, and beyond the gauntlets of blades. See them as Darivastor saw the Dragon, and as P'reklabhar saw the War of Flames. You will find the strength within you, and you will endure. Or you will die. There is no other way for us.

May the Dragon guide your path!

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« 回帖 #8 于: 2006-04-08, 周六 23:42:39 »

The Minotaurs: Their People

Of all the Children of the World, none are so fierce and terrible as the Minotaurs of the Northern wastes. Indeed, many Magi and Loremasters refuse to call Minotaurs "Children of the World" at all, for of all the civilized races (save possibly the Aracoix), the Minotaurs were not sired or crafted by any God. However to the learned who wish to classify them, Minotaurs are imposing creatures, dreadful to behold. Standing as tall as Half Giants, a great bull's head sprouts from their shoulders, complete with long, wickedly sharp horns. Minotaurs also possess a bull's hind legs in place of a man's, covered in thick, dank fur and ending in great cloven hooves. Short, vestigial tails grow from the base of their spines, the final testament of the Minotaur's bestial nature. Their crude throats can barely approximate the common speech of Men, and Minotaur voices are guttural and harsh. Few who have heard the hideous bellowing of a Minotaur war party ever forget the terrifying sound.

As terrifying as their appearance may be, a Minotaur's physical nature is, if anything, even more formidable. Bred for combat and heavy labor, Minotaurs are even stronger than most Half Giants, and are the only race known whose stamina and endurance surpasses that of the Dwarves. The Minotaurs pay a price for their physical superiority, however - their massive, unnatural frames are hulking and clumsy, and Minotaurs are the least agile of all the enlightened races of the World. Minotaurs also have the dullest intellects of all the World's races, and the ordeal of their original creation has left the entire race with withered, broken Spirits even weaker than the troubled souls of the Aelfborn and Irekei.

Originally created in the Northlands, Minotaurs are well-suited to life in the frozen wastes. Their thick hides and shaggy fur keep them well insulated from the cold, and groups of Minotaurs have been seen moving through even the direst of ice storms unfazed. Minotaurs are uncomfortable in hotter climes, and, fortunately for many of the World's peoples, have never tried to live in the warm lands of the South. Their large hands are not suited to precise or delicate work, and only a few Minotaur tribes are enlightened enough to fashion their own implements. Fearsome as a Minotaur's face may be to look upon, their bovine heads can be deadly to the unwary. Minotaurs' thick skulls and powerful strength let them smash their foes with the force of a battering ram, and many a foe has died skewered on a Bull Man's wicked blade.

The Minotaurs: Their Ways

To understand the savage culture of the Minotaurs, one must first discern the secrets of their origins. The first Minotaurs were created early in the Age of Days, when the Deathless Empire was at the height of its power. Wizards of the Dar Khelegur, cruelest of all the Elves, took some of their Human thralls, infused them with the blood and strength of Giants, and then twisted their bodies into bestial mockeries of Men. The unspeakable magics that wrought this dark transformation have, thankfully, been lost in the tide of history. Minotaurs were originally bred for use as laborers and shock troops, and they excelled in both counts. Powerful spells backed up by the threat of torturous punishments kept the Beast Men in line, but eventually the Minotaurs broke free from Elvish control, and have been a scourge to all civilized peoples ever since.

In the beginning, hatred was the driving force behind the rise of Minotaur culture: hatred of the Elves who had created them, hatred of the Men that they could never be again, and hatred of any other race who sought to tell them what to do. While there are still savage bands of Minotaurs who still roam the North, spreading violence and terror in their wake, over time some of the Beast Men mellowed a bit, and began to build societies of their own in crude imitation of the other peoples of the world. These "civilized" Minotaurs (note that many Scholars still hesitate to apply that name to any of the Bull Men) are known as "lesser" Minotaurs, for they tend to be of smaller stature than their savage cousins. Be advised, however, that few who call them Lesser Minotaurs to their face survive the mistake!

Minotaurs live in great tribes, composed of several clans. The warriors of the tribe, as well as the heads of every clan, swear oaths of loyalty to the Chief, who rules the tribe by virtue of his strength and prowess in battle. All who serve the chief do so voluntarily - Minotaurs hate nothing more than the idea of slavery or servitude, and every Minotaur would sooner die than claim to be any creature's servant. Every Minotaur is free to leave their tribe at any time they wish, and they make it very clear that they do not serve their leaders, but rather merely follow them. Minotaur Chiefs, lacking any institutionalized authority, must walk a fine line, vigorously defending their position through force. Bloody duels over tribal policy are a daily occurrence, and the moment a Chief shows weakness, one or more of his followers invariably engage him in a duel to the death. Where once death settled all arguments, in the days since the Turning the Minotaurs have become even more cruel. When a Warrior challenges the Chief, the loser of the duel is tortured and abjectly humiliated, so that when he is finally allowed to die (after a period of days), nobody would even think of following the humbled loser again. Losers of Tribal duels often leave the tribe to follow a different Chief, and a few even journey to the baffling lands of the "Ten Toes" (the Minotaur term for the other races of the World) to find their fortunes there. Minotaur Warriors can earn even greater wages in a Lord's retinue or a mercenary company than a Half Giant, although employing one can be just as dangerous.

While more and more Minotaurs seems to be setting aside their hatred of the Ten Toes and living their lives among them, most folk still only know of the Beast Men through their savage raids. Like Orcs, most Minotaurs produce nothing, and survive by stealing from anyone weaker than themselves. As brutal as the Centaurs are honorable, Minotaurs stoop to any trick or ruse that will bring them victory, and legends whisper of the atrocities committed by the Bull Men on battle fields both old and new. The Beast Men have little time for tactics or stratagems, relying instead on brute force and their toughness to carry the day. One universally reviled Minotaur custom is their ancient practice of trophy taking - Minotaurs will butcher the bodies of their fallen foes, bearing away heads (usually with the jawbone torn away), ears, hands, feet, and even grislier trophies to adorn the walls of their strongholds. Every Chief's hall is decorated with his tribe's trophies, and Minotaurs are always eager to expand their collections.

The Minotaurs: Their Lore

"Listen! The Moon is eaten by the dark, and the fires burn high: it is time. Stand! Make a ring about the fire and hear the Tell. Still your axes! There will be time for blood and brawl after. Let the flesh burn on the fire. There will be time for eating after.

Be still! I am Yurko Bloodeyes, son of Yegash. I am Doomsayer, Keeper of the Mask! Mine is the knowing of hidden things. From time out of count I have led the Tell ?I, taught by my father, he taught by his and so on back to the beginning. Listen then to names and deeds long past. Would you be slaves? Would you serve? Then listen! Hear the Tell, and remember who you are.

I talk now of the Hateful Time ?when the Pale Ones made us. Dark words come down of those days ?tales of crystal towers and dank labyrinths. The Ten-Toes were already broken, and the Pale Ones had made them slaves. But cunning were the Ten Toes, and hard to control. The Pale Ones are strong in knowing but weak in flesh ?they needed warriors to guard their Empire, and workers to build it. Finally, they took some of them as was in chains and made a great talk to them. These slaves they chose was the best of them, the strongest ?not like the rest, whose souls were all broke with pain. The weaklings lived as animals, without even the knowing to make words. Power the Pale Ones offered, and Strength, and Freedom. The slaves accepted, but they did not know what price the Pale Ones would ask.

So began the Birthing. With magic and blade the Pale Ones shaped us, cut us and twisted us from the flesh of the Ten Toes. No pain of fire or axe or horn can match the torments those slaves knew. When it was done they were ten toes no more: they were Minotaurs, strongest and toughest of all the creatures in the World! Our race was birthed, but birthed in treachery, for the Ten Toes had lied. Strength they gave, and Power, but no Freedom. Fearing the Minotaur, they made the Maalra, the Words of Pain, magic sounds that touched our limbs like fire. The Maalra was their weapon, their whip, and so the first-born of our kind were still slaves, bullied and kept in line with the threat of pain. We resisted, for what fear have we of pain? They were strong, those First Ones, and they meant to crush their masters, but the Pale Ones are full of the knowing of dark magic. They wove the Soulchains, magic to bend mind and break will. And so the Minotaur were slaves, made for bruiting and for working, and for beating them ten-toes as still wore chains and toiled in their first shape. Our fathers were turned against them as had been their kin, made to beat them and slaughter them. And so they began the Great Hate: they come to hate the weak ten-toes, too stupid to resist, but they hated the Pale Ones even more.

I will not talk long of that time, and of how the Pale Ones used us. They painted the glaciers with our blood in wars with the Giants of the mountains, and when their own dark kin turned on them, it was the Minotaur who burned in the furnaces of the deserts. Still the Pale Ones gloat of their victories in the War of Ice and the War of Fire. Hah! It was our bones that shattered in those wars, or blood as flowed in rivers, our flesh as was torn from us! Never forget it! The Pale Ones are cowards and deceivers! Hate them! Let your hate burn as this bonfire; let it be so until the ending of the world!

Nobody, not even the Masked God, knows how many of our kind died in those wars. Our numbers dwindled, but still we fought, dying at the pale Ones' orders. But a change was coming! The time of Reckoning had come. The ten-toes, spurred to courage by the sight of us, stole back the knowing of words, and broke their chains. The Minotaur were all away, fighting and dying on distant battlefields, and the Pale Ones learned too late the price of cowardice. And all that sound of war and carnage roused the Maimed God, master of war. The Maimed God looked out from his cavern, and he, mightiest of warriors, looked on us with pride. He saw as we'd been wronged, and he was angered. The Masked God knew the ways of the Pale Ones ?he had hated them and their wicked Gods since the Before Time, when Day and Night were yet unborn. The War God reached out with his power, and with his mighty axe he broke the Soulchains. At last our people were free! We turned on our masters and broke them. They lashed us with the Maalra, but still we cleaved them. They turned all their magic upon us, but still we crushed them, and drank the marrow from their bones. One Minotaur, mightier than all the rest, led our people out of the Pale Ones' cities and away from the hellish deserts. His name was Kordo Skullcrusher. Every clan of Minotaur still chants his praise.

The Pale Ones' doom was at hand ?their slaves turned on them, their kin burned them, and then the great Black Gate opened, and all the Chaos spawn came through to destroy them. Oh how they wailed! How they lamented the loss of their strength, for without us they had no warriors at all! The Pale Ones called to us with their magic and begged us to return, but we did not listen. Kordo led our people to the north ?to the land of eternal ice, and here we made our home, far from the ten-toes and the Pale Ones. The lands were harsh, but what beast is stronger than we? The wolf and the bear learned fear when we walked the snows. In the fullness of time Kordo grew old, and he died as any great chief should; in a blood challenge, axe to axe. After many duels the Minotaur divided, and the Clans were born.

The Clans went their own ways, each with a long and glorious litany. Many are the names of our chieftains, our hunters, our warriors. We will sing their names later. We found new enemies to fight, for the Icelands were far from empty. Soon the Minotaur met the Giants and the Red-Hairs, those Human ten-toes that the Pale Ones never enslaved. They sought to drive us from our new home, but we were too strong. Many feuds did we fight with the Red-Hairs, and even the Giants learned to fear our strength. Food we took from them, and women, and lands, and we made feasts of their very flesh. Some of our kind, bred to shatter stones in the mines of the Pale Ones, dug deep into the mountains for ore. There we met the Stone Men, the Dwarves, and we crushed them. For a thousand years we knew the Time of Clans. It was a glorious time for our people, for we grew mighty in our freedom, and all who lived in the North lived in fear of us.

Listen! I speak now of Gurrok Gravenhorn, Gurrok the Grim. Know that name, and fear it! Some say Gurrok was born of Giant's blood, and that no Minotaur who had ever lived had known his strength. Alone he went into the lair of Vragallak the Ice Drake, and slew it after a mighty battle. Gurrok bore a mighty axe, stolen from the Stone Folk, an axe named Doom. Never shall Doom's match be known ?for it is the King's Axe, mightier than every axe but one. Gurrok went from clan to clan, and with Doom in his hands he bested every chief in combat. And so all the clans were united, and Gurrok became a king. Strong he was, and mighty. Yet wise too, for he had the knowing of a King, and those as followed him followed out of glory, not fear. No Minotaur served Gurrok, for we do not serve! Never has a mightier host marched to war ?their hooves shook the earth and their battle howls tore the very sky! The Hordewar had begun.

The Ten-toes and the Giants were as weeds before our axes. Gurrok's horde scattered our enemies, and the north was ours. But in the very moment of our triumph, the glory of the Minotaur was stolen ?so mighty was our horde, the Red-Hairs and the Giants met in council, and buried their ancient feuds to strike as one. A great hero of the Northmen came, protected by the strange magic of the Giants. I will not say that hero's name: Bloodbraid is his only name to us. Bloodbraid and his host attacked, even as the Giants called forth blizzards and shook the snows of the mountains down upon us. Remember! Never trust the Ten-toes, especially the Vorri of the North! Never trust a Giant, for they are cowards who fight by magic!

When the fight was done, Gurrok was slain, his axe lost. Many exiles from the clans have gone to seek it, as have many chiefs. Some day Gurrok's axe will be found, and the Horde will rise again. But not now. After the Hordewar, the Minotaur returned to their old ways. Generations passed in the snowy north, and the Ten-toes and Giants stayed clear of our lands, for they feared our vengeance. In the Warmlands the hordes of Chaos ravaged everything, and the Ten-Toes and the Pale Ones fought them to the death, but what did we care?

I talk now of the time of my grandfather's grandfather, the time when the Warrior came into our lands. Fearsome he was, and all of the clans roused themselves at the news of his coming. Dozens of chieftains came and challenged him, and every one of them died on the Maimed God's axe. And then Morloch the Destroyer removed his mask, and spoke to us. He told us of the sufferings he had endured at the hands of the Human's God, how his true face had been ruined, his wife destroyed, and his legacy taken from him in shame. The Deceiver God Pandarrion had lured Morloch to destroy him, but his plans had failed. Morloch lived, and hungered for vengeance. The Maimed God had no children, he said, but he had seen us warring in the Hateful Time and he realized that we Minotaurs were his true children. Who else but we, maimed by Pandarrion's children as he himself had been maimed by Pandarrion's folly? We were the only warriors worthy of his legacy. Morloch told of how he had shattered the Soulchains and freed us from our slavery. And then Morloch showed us his power: at his command, all the slain chieftains rose from death and were whole again. They had found the knowing of terrible things, and some of Morloch's magic was in them. They were the first Doomsayers, and their children's children's children still heed the Maimed God's will and keep the clans within the sight of his mask.

Morloch told us of Shadowbane, the Black Blade, stolen from him by the Pale Ones and the Stone Folk. He led us south, and we joined the hosts of Orcs and Trolls. For the first time since the Birthing, we raised arms against the Pale Ones, and grim indeed was our vengeance! But Morloch's other followers were too weak. His armies broke, and three Gods working as one to drive Morloch from the field. The Minotaur withdrew to the north again. The ten-toes think that Morloch is dead, but they know nothing! Our great war drew the eyes of the world, so that Morloch could continue his search for the Black Blade out of the sight of Men and Gods.

Many chieftains reviled Morloch's name. They called him a deceiver, and slaughtered their Doomsayers before returning to their ancient lands. Many feuds and wars were fought, and the mightiest clans stayed true to our adopted father. Those who threw aside the Masked Gods' gifts met the cruelest fate of all ?in the time of my grandfather's father, the Pale Ones re-forged the Soulchains. Only the magic of the Doomsayers could break the mighty spells - those clans true to the Mask endured, while the rest went south to be slaughtered in another war for the Pale Ones.

That war broke the world, and plunged all the lands into chaos. What do we care? Has not suffering and hardship always been our way? Our world changed little ?we live as we have always lived, by strength and raid and blood. The Pale Ones and the Ten Toes and all the rest have lost their precious empires. Good! I say they taste the fruits of their own wickedness! The very Gods, some say, are dead. Good! I say let them die. The Warmlands are weak, and our axes are sharp. This is a Time of Blood, when the world will come to know our strength again, and fear it. The empires that sought to break us and enslave us are no more. In time Morloch will return to us, and lead us in the Last Battle. On that day the Sun will die, and all those who have wronged us will know our vengeance. We will be ready!

The Tell is told. Remember it! Now, let us eat?

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« 回帖 #9 于: 2006-04-08, 周六 23:43:31 »

The Nephilim: Their People

As the first century of the Age of Strife draws to its close, another strange, new race has emerged onto the face of Aerynth. Often called the Tainted Ones, most who are learned call them Nephilim, the name they use among themselves. The ongoing strife and confusion of this new age has left even the wisest Sages and Wizards unsure of their origins, but one thing is certain: the Nephilim are here.

Tall and graceful, the Nephilim are obviously kin to Humanity. Their skin ranges from gold to deep blue, and the Nephilim might be the most beautiful of all the Manlike races if not for some disturbing differences. Parts of their bodies are covered in serpent-like scales, and cruel horns sprout from their brows. Most shocking of all, batlike wings sprout from their shoulders, letting the Tainted Ones fly like an Aracoix. Nephilim are renowned for their strange beauty, uncanny strength, their cruelty, and their aptitude with magic.

The most frightful of their powers is their ability to alter their appearance, donning a magical guise indistinguishable from an ordinary Human. Master spies and infiltrators, none can say how long the Nephilim have worked on Aerynth in secret. Perhaps only the Dark Lords themselves know precisely how many there are.

Some say that the Nephilim are the result of magical experiments, similar to the rites that created the Minotaurs in the Age of Days. Others believe that the Nephilim are the offspring of Humans and summoned Demons, hybrids who work to spread torment and Chaos through the ravaged lands of Aerynth. Still others claim that the Tainted Ones are not Human at all, but Demons born of Chaos, the first wave of a new invasion. Whatever the case, the Nephilim have emerged into the Age of Strife as staunch supporters of the Dark Lords of Chaos, devoted to the destruction of Aerynth as it once was.

The Nephilim: Their Ways

Little is known with any certainty of the Tainted ones, for indeed their presence on Aerynth has only recently been revealed. When the broken lands of Maelstrom were somehow reflected across every fragment of Aerynth, the Tainted Ones simply appeared. Many, it seems, had been living among the Sons of Men in disguise for decades, and threw off their sorcerous masks to celebrate the Rise of Chaos. In the year since, the defenders of law and light have come to know them all too well.

Nephilim are cursed with natures as primordial and mutable as the stuff of Chaos from which they sprang. Their moods shift as quickly as a dancing flame, from lunatic mirth to blasphemous rage in a single heartbeat. Some are little more than savage killers, lashing out with inhuman fury at all the works of the Gods. Others are clever and cunning, as subtle in their machinations as the most jaded Elf. All of them share a limitless disgust for convention, tradition, and the morality born of the various creeds of Aerynth: many have made it their life's mission to poison and corrupt as many of the "law-bound sheep" as they can. Temptation and deception are their weapons, and the Tainted Ones do their work very well, drawing the faithful away from the light through greed, lust, or fear. Those who cannot be tempted or tricked into betraying all they believe are driven mad.

The Nephilim look upon all the races of Aerynth with a sneering, mocking arrogance. Only the Minotaurs, staunch servants of Chaos, are held in any esteem. Even the Elves are seen as thin-blooded, spoiled children of lesser gods who aspire to true evil but are doomed to fail. The only gods they venerate are the Dark Lords of Chaos, and the Nephilim live to spread their worship to every corner of Aerynth. In the wake of Maelstrom's appearance, dozens of cults devoted to Chaos have sprung up like weeds across all the fragments, despite the best efforts of Church and Temple. Almost all of them are led by a small coven of Tainted ones, doing the divine work of their masters. Nephilim have also teemed to the shores of Maelstrom itself, where they work side by side with the demonic troops of the Dark lords. As befits their nature, many Nephilim seem to wander without any purpose, joining mercenary groups or fledgling states without any apparent agenda. Whether they are vagabonds or agents of the Pit remains to be seen.

Rumor has it that other cadres of Nephilim, still hidden in Human guises, have infiltrated the Holy Church, Malorn's Temple, and even the Conclave of Wizards, rooting through libraries and ancient archives for the secret spell that will let them fling wide the Chaos Gate, admitting their dark overlords to Aerynth for the second scourge.

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« 回帖 #10 于: 2006-04-08, 周六 23:44:58 »

The Shades: Their People

Widely viewed as aberrations, Shades are easily the most distinctive and the most mysterious of the breeds of Humanity, if they are indeed a "breed" at all. Unlike the Aelfborn, Shades are not hybrids born of mixed blood: both of a Shade's parents are Human. Also, a Shade's physical appearance does not depend on the race of his parents. Whether born to a pale Northman or an Irydni with skin the color of pitch, Shades are uncannily uniform in appearance. Often called "the Stillborn" or "the Children of the Damned," Shades seem touched by death itself. The skin has a pasty, corpse-grey pallor, with sunken eyes that give their faces a drawn, skull-like appearance. Few can look directly into the strange, pitch black eyes of a Shade for very long. Shades are born hairless, and never grow any hair throughout their entire lives, even lacking eyebrows. A Shade's flesh is cold to the touch, like the flesh of a corpse. Shades have thin, chilling voices that rarely rise above a whisper. Despite their light skin, Shades show an uncanny aptitude for stealth, and blend easily into darkness or shadow. Shades creep through the dark so easily, in fact, that many simple folk believe them to be practitioners of evil magic.

Except for their bizarre and frightening appearance, a Shade's physiology differs only slightly from their Human parents. Shades are slightly weaker than the average Human, but are slightly more agile. Shades also show a profound weakness of Spirit, having even less spiritual aptitude than the average Aelfborn. Some claim that the Shades' lack of Spirit contributes to their greatest flaw - Shades are incapable of siring or bearing children. Magi who have researched the issue claim that the spark of life of a Shade is too weak to transmit life into a child.

Shades are also the youngest of the Children of the World, having only appeared in the wake of the Turning. Shades were born rarely at first, but have become more and more common as the Age of Strife has ground on. Why some infants were born Shades while others (even in the same family) were not was a mystery at first, but eventually the patterns were surmised by Magi and Loremasters, who now understand the method (if not the cause) by which an unborn Human is transformed into a Shade. If a Human man is slain while his child is yet unborn, there is a chance (each expert disagrees as to the exact likelihood) that the child will be born a Shade instead of Human. The more often the father dies and returns to flesh, the more likely the transformation becomes. If a woman who is with child is slain, when she returns to flesh the unborn child inside her will almost certainly have changed into a Child of the Damned. As time has passed since the Turning, the number of Shades in the World has risen sharply. Whether this is simply a product of the endemic wars of the Age of Strife, which slay so many mothers and fathers-to-be, or whether some other force might be at work remains unknown. The Shades themselves do not seem to know or care.

The Shades: Their Ways

Shades follow the customs of their Human parents, and have yet to develop any true culture of their own. Indeed, despite almost a century of persecution, most Shades still dwell among the Sons of Men. It is far easier to measure the impact Shades have had upon Human culture than it is to define any kind of unique ways of life practiced only by Shades.

Immediately after the Turning, an entire host of rituals and traditions sprang into being to eliminate Shades, who most of Humanity viewed as abominations. Once the Sons of Men discovered that Shades remained Shades no matter how many exorcisms were worked upon them, and returned to life no matter how often they were burned, banishment became the preferred solution. Today Shades -are tolerated, if not accepted, and most cities allow their Shades to dwell among them, though few Humans will admit to liking their company. An entire subculture of Healers and Magicians has arisen, who try to prevent the transformation of unborn into Shades. Strict regimens of fasting or prayer, exotic candles and incense, foul smelling potions, and magical talismans all figure into their methods, which they claim can keep the shadow of Death at bay. Surprisingly, these so-called "Shadow Chasers" number many Shades in their ranks and claim to bring a personal insight to the problem. Whether the Shadow Chasers' methods are truly effective remains uncertain. Some consider them to be well-meaning philanthropists, others see all Shadow Chasers as greedy charlatans.

While Humanity has been quick to weave a tangled web of superstitions around Shades (it is considered bad luck to drink from the same cup as a Shade, be unexpectedly touched by a Shade, cross a Shade's path, etc.), Shades themselves are, for the most part, a pragmatic people. They have no fear of Death: indeed, some Shades claim a unique understanding of it. Shades who work as Assassins or Rogues are quick to use the widespread dread of Shades to their advantage, cowing and intimidating their victims. When not "working," however, Shades do not embellish their macabre appearance the way an Irekei might.

The oldest Shades, born immediately after the Turning, are also the most eccentric. They bore the full brunt of persecution and inquisition, and as a result many have come to hate Human civilization. These grim specters lurk in the shadows of Human cities, spreading whatever madness and terror they can to avenge the cruelties and tortures of the past. Some of the Aberrant Shades, whom whispered rumors call Shadow Lords, are said to be able to speak with spirits long dead and manipulate the very stuff of darkness. The Shadow Lords, it is rumored, often go mad, haunted by visions and nightmares of times long gone, memories that are not their own.

The Shades: Their Lore

The following is the transcript of the lecture given by the Honorable Magus Brendar Kolanthis to the assembled fellows of the High Collegium of the Arcane Conclave, during the Collegium's 4,796th official assembly, held in the ninety-fourth year of the Age of Strife.

Esteemed Magi, Archmagi, and assembled Seekers of Wisdom, I am honored to once again have the privilege of presenting my findings to such an august assembly. As all of you know, the event popularly called the Turning has left an indelible mark on nearly every aspect of life in the fragments that remain of sundered Aerynth. One of the most striking developments has been the appearance of entirely new races, strange beings heretofore unknown to Arcane Scholars or the Wise. As most of you no doubt recall, I have most of my life after the Turning to the study of one of the races, the mysterious Shades, also called the Darkborn or the Soulless Ones. When Shades first came to the attention of the High Collegium in the early years of the Age of Strife, I devoted all of my efforts to an intensive study of the physical nature of these new beings. After much exhaustive research, I presented my initial findings to this august body more than five decades ago, at the 4,743rd official assembly. I am not here to speak regarding the "who's," "what's," or "how's" of Shades ?for that information I would refer you to the eight volume compendium of my previous research, now more than fifty years old and which remains, I add with all modesty, the definitive work on the subject.

(muffled laughter from the assembly)

No my esteemed colleagues, today I shall concern myself with the "why's" of Shade existence. Why are some Humans born Shades in this new Age? Why have they only been born since the Turning? Answering this question can help determine what, in the final analysis, Shades truly are. Despite the typical Shade's lack of proficiency in the Arcane arts, the High Collegium, in its wisdom, has seen fit to allow their admission into the Conclave, and one worthy Wizard has even attained a seat here, in the Collegium. I would like to begin my discussion by recognizing High Magus Knellerict the Pale, whose assistance, guidance, and unique insight into Shade existence proved invaluable in the second phase of my Shade research. Thanks to innovations brought about by the diligent work of Wizards like Angillor the Blue and Vesper the Erudite, I have been able to travel to more than a dozen separate fragments of Aerynth, trying to unravel the riddle of the origin of Shades and the enigma of their ultimate destiny. After extensive interviews with scores of Shade informants and thousands of others who claimed some knowledge of the issue, I am finally ready, after fifty years of research, to present my findings to this august body. Why are some Humans born as Shades? I have found a wealth of possible explanations for the origins of Shades, but I fear that none of them, not one, has emerged as a conclusive answer to the question.

(agitated murmuring from the assembly, with some shouting from irate members)

My esteemed colleagues! If I may be allowed to continue?I must remind everyone present that Shades have existed on Aerynth for less than a century, at least that we can verify. As Rummandorn the Elder once wrote, "the true nature or destiny of anything can best be divined by observing its place within the natural World and the Universe, and its interactions with all of the other elements of the cosmos." Shades have yet to claim a place in the natural or supernatural order, and have yet to make a significant contribution to the flow of history as we know it. Until they do, this question may remain unanswered and indeed unanswerable. Early in my research I found that the more conventional means of inquiry were completely ineffective. All of the Spirits, Intelligences, and Demons that I have been able to call and interrogate on the subject have given conflicting answers, if they could give any answer at all. Associates of mine in the Holy Church have assured me that a similar indecision also plagues the Archons themselves.

While we still lack a certain answer to the question of why Shades exist, we are, of course, free to speculate and theorize. My research uncovered hundreds of stories concerning the origin and nature of Shades, though most of these are obviously little more than rabid superstition and local folklore. After lengthy consideration, I have compiled a list of ten theories. I shall describe each in turn, and then demonstrate what evidence I have been able to uncover that supports or refutes each theory. The potential explanations tend to fall into three broad groups: those that propose a magical origin for Shades, those that declare Shades to be the product of divine or religious influences, and theories that claim Shades are the result of the Turning itself, a "natural" effect of life in the Age of Strife. I personally favor these last explanations, but all bear closer examination.

Magic, often in the form of curses or baneful spells, is one of the most common explanations for the origin and existence of Shades. The Archmage Fellistor of Mellisar has advanced an opposing viewpoint. According to his researches (which included countless rituals worked upon willing or unwilling Shades as test subjects), the blood of every Shade bears a faint magical aura, almost as if the Shade had been subjected to some kind of transmutation spell. I have tired many times, but I cannot duplicate the learned Fellistor's findings. If, however, we presume this theory to be true, it raises an interesting question: who is casting these transmutation spells?

Just who is responsible for the birth of Shades varies depending upon who you ask. Witches, some rural folk believe, are capable of casting ritual curses upon a Human man or woman that predispose them toward siring a Shade. An interesting notion, but why then do Shades not appear among any other of the World's races? Why is the birth of Shades so seemingly random, regardless of whether or not a given parent has ever offended a Witch, or even lives within an easy journey of any reputed Witch? As has often been discussed in this hall, the very existence of Witches has been notoriously difficult to verify (unless one is a Templar or Confessor). I was unable to find any firm proof linking Shades to Witches, but I was also unable to dismiss the theory entirely. It remains an unlikely possibility.

If not Witches, who then? There are some, mainly folk who dwell near shadowed or blighted lands, that claim the Vampyres and Lich Lords, masters of the Unholy Legion, have embarked upon a vigorous program of spells to prompt the transformation of unborn infants into Shades. Shades, according to this line of reckoning, are the advance troops of some unholy invasion. So little is known of these dire entities that this idea cannot be discounted: indeed, the undead-like nature of Shades is the greatest piece of evidence in its favor. On the other hand, I have been able to determine that Shade births are no more common near shadowed lands than they are anywhere else. Indeed, the same number of Shades are born on fragments that have never known the depredations of a Vampyre of Lich Lord. If this is some form of dark necromancy, it can function across the void between the fragments, and does not appear to follow any of the known laws of Magic. More study needs to be done in this area, but alas, I was unable to interview a Vampire or Lich on the subject.

(laughter from the assembly)

The final group often mentioned as being responsible for a magical origin of Shades is a very logical choice, though doubtless one that will offend many members of this audience. On many fragments I have heard both learned and ignorant alike claim that the Stillborn are the result of a final, retributive curse levied upon Humanity by the Elves.

(a furor erupts in the hall. The speaker attempts for several moments to regain order, and finally the repeated banging of the High Chancellor's staff quiets the crowd)

Offensive as the notion may be to some of the highborn members of this assembly, the notion is quite common, and does have some historical precedent. For example, consider the War of Frost, fought between the Dar Khelegur and the Giants of the North early in the Age of Days. The Elves won their final victory but invoking a terrible curse upon Giantkind, a curse which destroyed their ability to produce normal, healthy offspring. Most of the varieties of Giant we know today are only those mis-born mutations that managed to survive despite grave abnormalities and managed to breed true amongst themselves. The sterility that plagues Shades (coupled with the steady rise in the number of Shade births) was, according to this theory, intended to bring about the eventual extinction of Humankind. If the last Magi of the Hidden Court did indeed work some Shade-inducing spell just before the fall of Kierhaven, but alas, the Turning blunted the weapon ?in a world where no Human can truly die, sterilized offspring become a moot point. The greatest argument against this theory is the utter lack of any evidence. Such a curse would have required the life's work of many master Wizards, working together. Not the slightest hint of any such collaboration has surfaced. Indeed, Magi who experienced the Turning felt no great outwelling of magical power beforehand. Finally, every Elvish magus I have ever asks vehemently denies the idea, and knows no other Elvish Magus who ever worked on such a spell either.

Many more theories and legends claim that Shades are the result of some kind of metaphysical influence, either demonic or divine. Many village elders believe that powerful Demons, succubi and incubi, roam the fragments of the World in the guise of either beautiful people of specific spouses, tempting or seducing men or women. The children born of their union have no souls (for indeed, one of their parents did not), a condition that seems readily applicable to Shades. By this reasoning, Shades are not truly half Undead, but bizarre changelings born of Demons. It must be noted, however, that a very small number of Demons have remained on Aerynth since the end of the War of the Scourge. If Shades are demon born, why did the Demons wait until the Turning to begin siring their pale children? The idea seems profoundly unlikely, but I must admit that I was unable to directly question a succubus on the matter.

There are many who believe that Shades are somehow linked to Ardan, first king of the Titans, who died but was saved from the Shadow Outside by the hand of the All-Father. Some scholars believe that Ardan, who served as the shepherd of the dead from the time of his resurrection until the Turning, is trying to create a new race in his image, as so many of the Gods have done. An interesting notion, and one that might shed some light on the story of the infamous Shade Katullus. A fallen Healer, Katullus was the first and only Shade ever to become a Prelate of the Church of the All-Father. Sponsored by a powerful Bishop from Kurrvo, Katallus' admission in the ranks of the Holy Church was an attempt to bring the newfound race of Shades into the fold of the All-Father's Children. Alas, the attempt failed. Katullus was posted in the Holy City of Dalgoth, where he worked as a scribe and copyist of holy tomes. The young Prelate crept into the Patriarch's most sacred libraries by night, and read many ancient tomes denounced or prescribed by the Holy Church. None can say what Katullus found within the ancient books, many of which predated the foundation of even the Elvish branch of the Holy Church, but the knowledge seems to have driven him mad. The Shade Prelate became wild and erratic, and wandered the streets of the Holy City spouting heresies and blasphemies. He was promptly excommunicated from the Holy Church, and the Patriarch himself issued a ban on Shades serving in the clergy.

In the long years since, Katullus has wandered throughout the fragments of Aerynth and into the wastelands, preaching his insane gospel to any who would listen. A mysterious cult, the Brotherhood of the Shroud, has grown up around Katullus' teachings. The Brotherhood are fanatical followers of Ardan, and believe that Katullus is the chosen of the Grey Lord. It is whispered that Katullus still bears ancient scrolls from the realm of Ardan, stolen from the Patriarch's libraries, which reveal great secrets about the War of Shadows, when the Men of Ardan first fought the Unholy Legion. The cult exhorts the World to prepare itself for the great change that is approaching ?the Turning, they say, is but Dusk, and soon Night will fall. Death will return to the shattered World with a vengeance, and all who live will be consumed by the shadow to come. Rumors link the Brotherhood with Human sacrifice, cannibalism, and a host of other depraved crimes. I was able, after an extensive search, to locate several members of the Brotherhood of the Shroud, but they were too busy trying to kill me to explain the mysteries of their faith.

Katullus' more orthodox brethren within the Holy Church remain undecided about the origins and nature of Shades. The Patriarch has yet to issue a formal proclamation, and until he does debate will doubtless continue. Of all the theories I have heard voiced by various Bishops, Cardinals, and Prelates, the only one which we have not yet heard are the teachings of the Beata Lucretia of Evenford. She theorizes that the birth of Shades is direct, conclusive proof that the All-Father is dead, and not merely departed as so many of the Holy Clergy believe. The All-Father has traditionally been regarded as the source of all Human souls. Now souls cannot escape from their bodies even in death, and yet the populations of the fragments continue to rise. The Beata believes that the universe's surplus of "soul stuff" is running out, and that Shades are children born without souls. There are some obvious flaws in her reasoning: if there are no more new souls, why then is not every Human child born a Shade? Lucretia's ideas have made her something of a pariah within the Holy Church, but she continues to advance them through sermon, writ, and debate.

A very different theory, advocated by High Inquisitor Hegrannimous Dalt of the Temple of the Cleansing Flame, states that Shades are a perversion of the All-Father's will, creatures of sin and evil that exist outside His grace. Temple theologians have surmised that Shades are ordinary Humans who have had their Flesh and Spirit transformed by the influence of past sins. Under certain conditions (which seem to defy easy description), the sins of a family line going back up to seven generations can poison an unborn child, corrupting their flesh and leaving them more Undead than Man. Shades, therefore, exist as a visible emblem of their family's sin and shame, and more than one Noble House has had its reputation destroyed when one of its scions gave birth to a Shade. Saint Malorn himself has penned several Holy Writs that touch upon the Shades. According to Malorn, the unborn child who falls into the shadow of sin remains nonetheless innocent, cruelly chained to the evils of his ancestors. Shades, therefore, offer the Temple a wondrous opportunity: Templars and Confessors can, through the rites of Ordeal and Correction, cleanse the sins of Men long dead by purging Shades of the evil that has infused them. Shades are, therefore, singled out for special attentions from the Temple's Confessors, who hope to "cure" the Shades of their affliction and return them to the ranks of Humanity. Although many Shades have been taken into the Temple's dungeons, no successful cures have ever been reported. While this theory seems to me to be entirely spurious, I must add that of all of the religious groups I have questioned, the Temple is the only one that professes absolute certainty about the origins and nature of Shades. The Archons they invoke seem not the least bit confused.

Again, I must point out that I am not an expert on theology, and am therefore not qualified to judge the validity of any of these religious viewpoints. Perhaps some of my esteemed colleagues will be able to shed further light upon them. Now we move to the final group of theories, which seem to me to be the most likely. Many Scholars and Magi, our own High Magus Knellerict the Pale among them, believe that Shades are somehow a "natural" consequence of the changes brought about by the Turning. The exact cause remains undiscovered simply because all of the effects of the Turning have not yet been determined, and are still not understood.

The best-known of the so-called "natural" theories was first advanced by Cassandra the Anatomist, a Magus who resides in the Free Cities of Tariponto. She was able to determine, through extensive research, that the death and rebirth of an unborn child's father was much more likely to result in the birth of a Shade, and if the mother died while bearing an unborn child, the reborn child would almost certainly be transformed into a Shade. The precise details of the process are still unknown, and indeed Cassandra's findings have led many to suspect that death may not be the ultimate cause of Shade-birth, but that Shade-birth itself may be a symptom of some other process that remains invisible and unknowable to us. In an area where so much is uncertain, Cassandra's study remains the greatest pillar of understanding we have regarding these strange beings, and served as the inspiration for all of my work.

In conclusion, all we can say with any certainty is that Shades do exist, and that their numbers are steadily growing. While there are those who still dismiss the notion that Shades are a separate race unto themselves, we must remember that the powers and peoples of the World have reacted to them as if they were. In the first days following the Turning, before the advent of the Trees of Life, frightened commoners tended to torture, burn, or exile any Shades they encountered without hesitation. Magi of all races inflicted countless hardships and tortures upon them (vivisection being among the tamest) in a ruthless quest to divine their true natures. The Shades invariably survived these torments, but were left understandably wary of their fellow Men. Shades have tended to live as outcasts, or to favor the company of their own kind. So-called "pale quarters" have arisen in many of the larger Cities and Safeholds, Shade ghettos where other folk fear to tread, especially by night.

Shades have walked the fragments of the Sundered World for less than a century, and can hardly be said to have a history of their own: indeed, few Shades have been able, as of yet, to leave much of a mark on the history of any land or folk. This may be changing. I would direct you to Katullus and his followers, or to Sharledney of Ramarra, also called the Faceless One, believed by many to be the finest Assassin in the World. Some claim the Faceless One has adopted a political agenda, and that the future of the Petty Kingdoms may rest on her knife as much as it does on the swords of the Warlords. One of these War Lords, Hedrick Gesterl, is a Shade himself, and has finally managed to defeat his twin brother (a normal Human, I might add) and name himself the head of House Gesterl, the "Pale Prince" of Krallenmoor, What role does inheritance and pedigree play in the Age of Strife, and what need will Hedrick ever have of an heir? As you can see, Shades are poised to enter the Game of Crowns, and they seem determined to play it on their terms. Within another century, I am certain that the Shades will have carved a place for themselves in the World and laid the foundations for a Lore of their own. Perhaps by then the daunting question of their origin will have been solved.

This concludes my lecture. Any who wish are free to delve into the notes and accounts of my research, which will be bound into several volumes over the course of the next year. I humbly thank the esteemed members of the Collegium for their attention.

(applause from the assembly)

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« 回帖 #11 于: 2006-04-08, 周六 23:45:26 »
The Vampires: Their People

Whatever form they held in life, when a Vampire is Born to Darkness (as they themselves refer to their transformation) their bodies are completely transformed. Wiped away are any vestiges of their old selves - the old colored or tattooed skin crumbles into dust, revealing a pale, cold flesh that is as hard as granite. Vampires still retain the semblance of gender (though useless, since their soulless dead flesh can neither sire nor bear children), appearing as hauntingly beautiful, nearly perfect physical forms. Their pale skin, red glowing eyes, and bestial, bat-like ears offer visible testimony to their dark allegiance. Vampires most closely resemble Shades, though next to a Vampire's imposing form any Shade looks clumsy and half-finished, like an ill-wrought sculpture.

For thousands of years legends have sprung up around Vampires, wild tales that have attributed all manner of powers and weaknesses to them. Some say that any who drink the cold blood of a Vampire will become a Vampire themselves, while others claim that vampire blood degenerates any who drink it into hideous, feral beasts. Vampires, some say, can be held at bay by mirrors, burned by silver, or driven mad by spilling a handful of salt upon the ground! The Vampires of legend were burned by sunlight, though since the Turning none of them seem to mind the light of day. Now that so many Vampires walk the lands of Aerynth, many of these legendary powers and vulnerabilities have finally been proven false, or seem only to apply to a few Vampires. Though still mysterious, Sages and Wizards have been able to establish some vampiric powers with certainty.

The uncanny power of the Void infuses the dead flesh of all Vampires, making them uncannily quick, brutally strong, and unnaturally resilient. It is as if death and rebirth have swept away all the limitations of their old bodies, and even their minds are quick and keen, unconstrained by a lifetime of experience or emotion. Their soul, however, is lost to them, and Vampires lack great spiritual aptitude, though their wills remain strong and cold as adamant. Though their wills still animate their bodies in a mocking semblance of life, Vampires are wholly dead beings: they do not breathe, or eat, or sleep. Vampires are also incredibly difficult to kill, their marble-hard flesh deflecting blows that would eviscerate lesser beings. It is as if Death itself, already owning their souls, refuses to claim them again. This unholy Fortitude is not without limits: indeed, Vampires are still vulnerable to lesser hurts, and are especially vulnerable to fire and holy energies.

For all their mighty powers, the Vampires also bear a dreadful curse: their undead dead flesh also has no power to heal or sustain itself, and indeed without the infusion of new essence, a Vampire's powerful body would putrefy into a heap of foulness, or wither away into dust. Their unholy natures render Vampires almost immune to the healing magics of the Gods of Law and Light, leaving the Nightborn with only one means of sustaining themselves: leeching the life essence from others by drinking fresh blood. Vampires live in a constant awareness of the Thirst, craving the blood that is all that stands between them and true death.

The Vampires: Their Ways

Ever since mortals first peered into the dark voids beyond the world, there have been those who have longed to serve the baleful powers that brood and hunger Outside. The first Vampires arose among the Moraenarth, the Thirteen Elvish heretics who first contacted the will of the Void and laid the foundations of Necromancy. Since that fateful time, there have been others who have sought out the forgotten secrets of the Thirteen and forged pacts of their own with the Hungering Dark. There are also grim legends, still whispered among the Sons of Men, that mortals with black souls who renounce the Gods and commit hideous draw the notice of the Void, whether they wish to or not. The Dark takes root in them the very moment their mortal body dies, transforming them into Vampires without any necromantic pacts or rituals. However they are created, Vampires have one goal: to call forth the Darkness to Aerynth, where it shall quench all lights and be the death of all that draws breath.

Through the last two ages of the world, there have never been more than a handful of Vampires, lurking in ruined wastelands far from civilization. With the beginning of the Dark Crusades, however, the number of Vampires that walk the lands of Aerynth has grown at a terrifying pace. Where once they were content to scheme and plot in their remote fortresses, now they walk openly among the other peoples of Aerynth, spreading terror and mayhem, drinking blood, leading Shroud Cults, and proclaiming for all to hear that the final Doom of Aerynth is at hand.

Most Vampires renounce any or all ties of kinship with their birth race. The Dark has given them great power and a new birth, and their past lives are not even faintly remembered. Vampires feel a great affinity with Shades, whom they regard as lesser versions of themselves, worthy servants of their ambitions. For their part, Shades who have embraced the darker sides of their nature venerate Vampires as near Gods, the emissaries of the Darkness beyond the Shroud. Vampires are completely at ease with undead of any kind, and often marshal great hordes of spirits and moldering corpses to unleash upon the living. The Nightborn are divided in their opinions of "the Cattle" (as they call all living things); most feel nothing but disgust for all who still breathe, and despise the fact that they must depend upon the blood of lesser beings to survive. Others find the living to be convenient tools and slaves, and enthrall them with their strong wills or the promise of dark power.