I decided not to try to finish the "Tarn Am Kran" piece-- or, rather, to consider it finished as is. Our narrator goes up the mountain and never comes back. So I'll just tell you the backstory.
The concept of the Vaayim (that's the plural, BTW-- masculine singular Vaaya, feminine singular Vaakeh, the masculine would stand for single person of unspecified gender) comes from the fact that I never organize my bookshelves. See, I saw Lovecraft's Call Of Cthulhu and Other Stories sitting on top of my Encyclopedia Of Judiasm and I thought, "huh... what if?"
What is known in the world at large about the Vaayim: There are a small, olive skinned, black-haired people, Semetic-looking, on Earth could pass for Gypsy, Jew, or Arab. Like Gypsies and Jews, they tend to wander amid other people-- the mountain villages described by the narrator in the story are the minority, most were scattered by the Diasporia following the fall of Deodanth. There have a reputaion of being very civil, very polite, honest in their dealings with other peoples, but not really friendly. They live surrounded by strangers, but they live apart in all important things. They do not eat with strangers, they observe odd cerimonial laws, they never intermarry, they never teach their customs and very seldom their trades to outsiders.
They live as craftsman, mostly, tinkers, metalsmiths, scribes, trades where being clever and deft and well-disciplined lead to excellence. Seldom are they farmers, and never soldiars. As traders they are known for being shrewd but fair-- once a deal is made, they will abide by it to the letter, but you had best make sure you understand the letter exactly before you agree. They are not known to be magicians, in the classic sense of the word, but they have rituals and arts that are closed to others, and a society that persecutes Witchcraft would tend to dislike Vaayim on general principles.
What is not known to the world at large: The Vaayim were the slaves of the N'shee, a warlike mountain people who build the capital city of Deodanth. The N'shee were violent and haughty-- similar, say to the Aztecs in style. For centuries the Vaayim worked for the N'shee, as builders, as servants, and as miners in the diamond mines beneath the volcanic mountains. It is in the last capacity that they found their way to freedom-- of a sort.
Deep under Deodanth is the Tarn Am Kran the dwelling place of something older and more powerful than anything human. It has no name-- or at least no name that a human mind could grasp. It is refered to by many euphamisms, the most common one, perhaps, being Mother Of Plagues.
[grumble-- gotta go to work, I'll cut to the chase and backfill later]
Okay, the Vaayim cut a deal with the Elder God under the mountain. For one night, the Vaayim were granted the power of shapeshifting, and they rose up and slaughtered the N'shee. However they price of this power was that they gave up a part of their humanity for themselves and their decendants. So the modern Vaayim are not quite human-- I'm not sure exactly how this taint will manifest itself, something like the "fishmen" of Innsmouth, but not so obvious (and related to insectile underground dwellers rather than fish, of course.)
Okay-- I'll play with this more later. But I wanted to give the Vaayim to this world for anyone to use in stories. Any thoughts?
- Mood:just thinkin'
- Music:Sheikback "Oil And Gold"
I never did grow accustomed to the Ulidil Ovoshu—and now, suspecting what I do, I would fear for the soul of any outsider who did. But I learned to bring strong drink with me onto the barge on those nights—my hosts provided me with excellent brandy, which they make from plums—and to bury myself beneath my furs. They allowed me only the warmth of a charcoal burner, which provided heat but almost no light. Light, they explained, was absolutely forbidden. I also began to cease from work on the mornings following the new moon, and my hosts respected my wishes, although they themselves were always filled with energy and good cheer, they left me alone until I had recovered.
It is now that I hesitate to continue with my tale—-not from any sense of personal modesty, but from the fear that the events I relate will make the conclusion seem base. Perhaps it will seem that I am no more than a cad, who showers base calumny for the very worst of reasons—-because a maiden’s family repulsed me.
For, as men in foreign lands do, I fell in love. She was the daughter of a minor official, the Navshith Dar Ayaama, or collector of records. Her name was Aeshal. Like all of her people she was small and dark, with lustrous black hair and skin like bronze. Her eyes—a rarity among her kinsfolk—were a brilliant and startling blue. It was her eyes that first drew me to her, and it was with some surprise that I learned that they were not considered attractive in the village, and that blue eyes were, in fact, believed to be unlucky. So in a sense you could say that her eyes drew her also to me, for none of the local youths persued her, despite the wealth of her father and the gracefulness of her slight form.
Aeshal was herself employed as a clerk for a merchant family, for among the Vaayim it is not considered unwomanly to have a trade, and both boys and girls are taught letters. It was in this capacity that I came to know her, for her employers purchased several of my barges.
By the time of my friendship with Aeshal I had grown accustomed to life in the hills. I no longer ate apart from my hosts, as I had learned and followed the peculiarities of their diet-—they will eat no food that has been cooked in iron, nor any meat from an animal killed with that metal, they keep one set of utensils for meat and another for all other foods, will not serve both cheese and wine in the same meal, and a dozen other laws that cannot be reasoned but simply obeyed.
Many of their other peculiar laws I also obeyed, from habit, and from a desire to respect my hosts. The Vaayim do not bathe their entire bodies at once, but wash their face and chest in water that does not touch them elsewhere. In addition to the dark of the moon they revere many other nights, and mark the rise and set of many stars. Their calendar is complex and astrological and some actions-—speaking to someone of the opposite sex, eating meat, drinking wine, working for pay, lighting a fire—-are forbidden when certain stars are in their ascendancy. Again, I learned to follow, but not comprehend, these laws.
In the company of Aeshal, however, I began to feel that the hills were not simply my lodging place, but my home. Those mysteries that would remain closed to me—-the locked rooms, the curious script, and the ritual of Ulidil Ovoshu-—seemed small things, easily overlooked. With Aeshal I began to walk the hills above the village, to see the wild stone through her clear blue eyes.
It was she who first showed me the Tarn Voshim, the mountain stair. Above the village, which sits at the headwaters of the Gyariane, a valley runs upwards to the peaks above the hills, the true mountains. Through the center of this valley runs the remains of a road. The road is ancient, huge stone slabs laid by some art now lost. For the first time I saw with my own eyes the truth of the stories I had heard of the lost kingdom of the Vaayim.
I had heard, of course, that the Vaayim once ruled an empire—-there is no people on the world, I would venture, who do not have some such tales of vanished glories-—but had counted it for little. But with Aeshal as my guide I began to see evidence that in the case of the Vaayim, at least, it was true.
We followed the road for some distance into the broken landscape. It was not precisely forbidden, for either Aeshal or myself, but it was not done. What was up there was gone, lost forever. My hosts had a reticence regarding the upward slopes of the mountains. Of course, they had a reticence regarding so many things that it was only after I began to exercise my curiosity in force that I learned how unwilling they were to speak of the past.
There was a city, once, far above the hills. It had been called Deodanth, and it was abandoned. Why it had been abandoned, how this exodus had come about, I was given no hint. The subject was closed-—they once had lived there, and now they lived here, and they would say no more. Even Aeshal professed to know no more, although by then I could tell she was lying.
I think now that it was the transparency of the lie that so enraged me. A wiser man would have let the matter drop, would have accepted the gulf that separated her people from his own. For I was not one of them, and would never be one of them. No matter how Aeshal cared for me—and I remain certain that she did—I was Deshvora, an outsider, not of her people, and not, in the final analysis, to be entirely trusted.
The anger of valiant men can drive them to acts of great courage—-the anger of a fool can drive him to an act of great foolishness. At times these can be hard to tell apart. In my anger I swore to Aeshal that I would find the answers she denied me. I would go to Deodanth, and learn the secrets that she would not tell me.
At first she laughed, and I grew more enraged still. Then she divined that I was serious about my intention, and she grew pale, horrified that I would even speak of it.
"You will die" she told me.
"Will your people kill me?" I asked.
"No." she turned away, and spoke in a whisper those words, "Tarn Am Kran."
"What," I demanded, "is Tarn Am Kran? What throne is within what mountain?"
"I cannot say. If you travel in search of Deodanth, you will not find it. If you find it, you will die."
She would not speak another word to me.
In my heart I was then resolved. I would leave the next day at dawn. I would tell no one of my intentions. Perhaps Aeshal would tell them, and perhaps they would seek to stop me, but I thought not. She, I was sure, did not believe I really would go.
The next day, as the village woke, I slipped my travelling cloak about my shoulders and my haversack on my back, and headed up the vast stone stairway that lead to the throne within the mountain.
The phrase Tarn Am Kran literally translates as "[the] Throne within [the] Mountain", in the tongue of the Vaayim, the people who dwell in the foothills of the Anaayamashir range. It is a phrase that few outsiders will ever hear. The Vaayim are a private people. It is not that they dislike those they call Deshvorim ("people of the plains"). Outsiders are welcome in Vaayim villages, and trade is brisk along the lengths of the Gyariane River. The Vaayim are renown for the quality of their metalsmiths, traders travel long distances for tools, weapons, cookery, and of course, jewelry forged in the Anaayamashir hills. The same traders are delighted with the Vaayim hospitality. There is a saying, "A hungry stranger is a disgrace to the village" and in the more remote towns it is said that families will quarrel over the honor of taking in a weary traveler.
However, the place prepared for the stranger among the Vaayim is a place apart. They will feed Deshvorim, but they do not eat with them. Within even the poorest of Vaayim houses there is a room that remains locked whenever an outsider is near. And while it is not difficult for a long-term guest to pick up much of the spoken language, Vaayim script-—an odd looking language composed of rows of angular, star-like figures—-is never taught to anyone born outside the hills. Of late, most of the people have taken to writing casual communication only in the Ucival characters of their plains neighbors, to avoid any chance of Vaayim script falling into Deshvorim hands.
I lived among the Vaayim for three years before I first heard the phrase Tarn Am Kran. I was, by trade, a boat builder—-specifically, I oversaw the construction of river barges. I’d grown up on the river, in Eldenstadt, where the Gyariane cuts through the marshes of Malcroix on its way to the sea. As a young master of my trade I was given the chance to go upriver to the mountains, and there to build barges for the Vaayim to ship their wares.
I found the hills congenial, and the people, while unskilled in woodwork by my standards, hard-working and eager to learn. I grew fluent in their language, and learned to enjoy the food that I ate alone, and the music I heard—-save for strange melodies which were played only during the dark of the moon.
It is on the dark of the moon that the locked room with every Vaayim home is opened. Strangers, such as myself, are politely yet firmly informed that they must not stay in the house during Ulidil Ovoshu—the period from sunset to sunrise on the new moon. For me, this was no hardship, as I could sleep onboard one of the barges that was nearing completion. From my youth I had slept aboard boats, and the slow rocking of the water never failed to sooth my spirit.
And yet, that first night of darkness among the Vaayim was one of strange moods and stranger dreams. Shortly after sunset I first heard the music. The Vaayim play many instruments, lyres of eight or twelve strings, whistles of tin, the horn of the great mountain ram, and others whose use they have learned form trading on the river. The sounds which fill the village on the night of the new moon seemed, however, to issue from none of these.
To begin with, there was a drumming, but such a drumming! The beat was slow, funereal, and the tone was of a timbre and volume the seemed impossible for one person to produce. It was a sound like a battering ram being applied by a squad of soldiers against a castle gate—-or a giant’s footsteps. Next to that was added a sound like a ram’s horn, but deeper, and with a odd buzzing. It sounded like the droning of a water beetle in flight, close to the ear, but it carried across the whole of the valley.
Worst of all, at irregular intervals, there came a cry, or a scream, or a screech. Sharp and echoing, it troubled my sleep and left me restless until dawn. I convinced myself that it could not have come from any human throat, but whatever instrument produced it mimicked all of the pain and despair of one in the last extremis with a diabolical skill.
That first night I huddled beneath my furs on the deck of the barge (the pilothouse having not been constructed yet) as frightened as a child. My mind grew strange fancies then, as the night seemed to stretch out forever. By custom not a single light burned in the town, and even the stars above seemed dim. I began to feel as if the night would last forever, that the sun had died and the sounds from the village were the funeral mass for all light, all warmth, all hope.
And yet, the day did come, and with it the return of the world I knew. The people seemed unchanged—if anything refreshed by their night of strange song. The work continued as before, and that memory of the sound and darkness and fear faded away. Even the knowledge that it would be repeated in a month did not disturb me. I was sure that I would grow accustomed to it in time, and in all other respects my hosts were the most gracious of peoples.
When her knees gave out, she had lost track of how long she had been walking.
The days had passed, and she had not stopped. A hint of smoke and burning rode the air as she walked eastward, as fields smoldered, as leaves turned to dust, as branches turned to bone.
Ellanora knelt on the ground, her feet splayed out behind her slightly, her hands on the dry dirt in front of her. She cupped her hands together, breathing heavily, feeling the empty ache of hunger through her ribs, through her heart. She tilted her head up, to look at the cloudless sky, to try to remember what rain felt like, what water tasted like.
The day darkened as she crumpled there, wilting, her chin to her chest. The wind picked up the dry earth and danced it through the sky and with it came a trembling of sound, like coins falling in the distance.
Ellanora couldn’t raise her head, but hoped that the sound would come closer. Her legs had no feeling, her fingers were caked with dirt, and her lips were cracked and dark with dried blood.
A glitter of sound and light was there, at her shoulder. A jangle of copper and brass slid into Ellanora’s vision on a dark arm, darker than damp earth.
It hadn’t rained in months. The wind carried the soil from the fields faster than a thief with a purse. Life in the small crossroad village had dried up as fast as the wells.
Ellanora had stayed. Her husband would be back for the harvest, he’d said. She hadn’t wept when he left. She hadn’t wept when the first month of harvest slipped by. She hadn’t wept when her firstborn and only babe had succumbed to a wasting disease brought on by the drought.
The land burned flat and sear before her. Sunsets had once been a thing of beauty, but no longer for Ellanora. She stood in the field, staring eastward, staring over a small grave. Her gritty fingers ran through hair sheared short for the heat. Her grey eyes squinted in the last light of day.
She tightened her hand on the hoe she held, and she walked east, leaving her door open, her bed unmade, and her town empty.
Ellanora would not weep.
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2) Community World Building Project:
This community will build a world through a series of stories. Stories can be in the format of historical tales, folk tales, myths, legends, anecdotes from character perspective, or simply landscape vignettes to build areas of the world.
At the inception of this project, no cultures or countries have yet been conceived. I encourage community members to not only build stories based on the cultures I will outline, but to expand the world if they are so inspired. The map, when it’s “completed” and scanned in, will have dark places (“Here be dragons!”).The basics
: I would like to build a high-fantasy world with a low-fantasy feel. That is, a world where the supernatural and magical can happen, where non-human races do exist; however, you cannot go down to the local wizards guild and hire a powerful sorcerer. Magic and demi-humans should inspire awe in the common citizen.
At this time, I have not established any demi-human races.
Technology - assume early middle ages. No indoor plumbling, no computers, no air conditioning. Metal tools are common, but not cheap and a well made sword probably costs more than a slave (if the culture has slavery). Now, at the same time, I expect tech levels to vary from culture to culture. Some may be slightly more advanced than this, some less so.
A map will be posted as soon as I have it completed and scanned in. I actually expect there to be a series of maps as the world is built. If you have an idea for a community, please don't hesitate until the map is drawn. I can always add it later.3)
I'm not going to place a restriction on content or feedback. I'm going to trust each of you as artists and adults to handle your writing and any feedback in a mature manner.4)
At dawn fog shrouds the shoreline. It softens the outlines of the ship behind me, its rigging reduced to scraps of spiderweb, the fo'castle latern dimmed by the approaching sun. The air is chill and the oars in my hands are slick with brine. Sounds are lost and warped in the salt air, the voices of the sailors left on the ship are murmers, whispers without meaning.
Through the fogbank, shapes loom, then fade away. Shadows, perhaps, of things to come. For a moment I am lost in a white world, wrapped in cotten, at an infinite remove from both my ship and the shore, then sand grits against the keel of my boat. Fear touches me then, and for one moment my heart tells me to flee, to return to the pitch and tar of my waiting ship, to give the order to raise sails and run for known waters.
I don't listen to it. The shock of the icy waters snaps me out of it. Knee deep in foamy brine I drag the boat onto the shore. My eyes, starved for color, scour the beach. No fottprints save my own mar the lone and level sand. Raising my gaze I see that the beach seems to rise up before me, leading to a ridge above the water line. A vague shadow-- a man, a tree, my own shadow? darkens the fogbank before me.
I can feel the wind lifting, bringing me scents from the interior, the smell of leaves replaces that of salt. To the east, gold has seeped into the white. The sun is rising. Soon the mist will burn away, and I will see this land I have voyaged so long to walk upon.