The Origin of Shadowken (from Ravella)

Before I begin the telling of this story, I feel I should let you know that I question its veracity. Even looking beyond that that I know to be in error, the whole of the tale appears dubitable at best, and you would do well to treat it as such. Indeed, on a subject such as this, it would seem wise ever to be skeptical of all that you hear, as all that you hear has likely passed through a hundred ears on its journey to your own and changed just that much along the way—and that does not even touch upon the probably suspect outbreak of whatever natter pulls at your lobes. Stories of the darkness that lies where the Northern Peaks and Eastern Forests meet abound in such a way across Mercanthia—and with such close but muddled relation in each account (‘I have a cousin who has a friend whose greatfather’ and the like)—that one can only assume the vast majority of them are all-out invention.

But this you are about to hear has, at least, claim to a morsel of truth, for it is told, in like manner, over all Ravella and in every manor. Though, therein lies its problem. For, in every manor, it is told as if that fal was the hero of the story; yet, the laws of time and space and souls—however bent they may be on other shores—would preclude that from being so. As such, I have decided here to relay the largely Dawnbright telling of this tale, for its geography seems to fall most in line with the known constrictions of reality.

So, without further ado and despite its questionable nature, I present to you, fellow travelers, the origin of Shadowken as it is told in Ravella, to those young ears that need hear it.

After all, the beasts must have come from somewhere or something, and while we know better than this yarn, I think you will find it is as fine and entertaining a guess as any other made by them of the world in which they live.

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It was in the year after that they came. The longsnouts. Their stench. It is said that all the high families smelled them long before they ever saw them, as their odor rolled over the hills like a sky of dark clouds from the sea. And when finally they appeared, the valley wept, and its beauty was marred forever.

They set camp on their unfortunate hill, and soon, they set to building that atrocity they call home—a sure sign of unwelcome and disinvitation to any who could have been friend.

Then they started digging.

One could not have believed the noise. The howling. The striking. The loud echoes of the land as it moaned and begged them to stop. They did not, and the smoke soon followed. Plumes of ash and cinder wrought from wounds in the sides of mountains. It was disgraceful.

The Curs do not care about such things. They know not of beauty, of elegance. They know only crave and dig. And so they did.

Down and down, farther and farther, they dug. Their canid wantonness knowing no end to its thirst for the metals they prize. They dug, and the fires blazed. Until they dug too deep, and the fires were snuffed out.

The land shook in anger. It was felt all the way in Gail, where they are known to feel nothing, and mighty Thundercrash paused its deluge to note the violence with which the heart beneath the ground had struck back against the meddlesome and covetous muzzlers. They were buried by their greed.

Sadly, for you and me and all the world, they did not stay so. The canid love of digging, that which had got them into their trouble, set them free of it as well. Only, when the dust was cleared, it was realized that those who had been trapped had also been changed. The smoke and soot and blackness had had its way with them. They had breathed it into their lungs. They had worn it on their skin. They had lived in it for days. And they should have died from it. (And lucky so many would have been if they had.) Instead, they had sought refuge in their magic, and that turned out to be the greatest trap of all. For when they emerged into the light, they found they could not change back.

True was lost to them; true was no longer theirs to be.

As it would anyone, the loss of their true selves drove mad the beasts from under the mountain. And, having already given over to their animal halves for survival, it was easy for them to do so in escape. They ceased being folk. They came wild. And Curbinnis was made to pay for their lust of things material.

The captive souls turned on those that had liberated them from under the rock and soil, turned on them with teeth, and many a muzzler fell to the ground they had despoiled before the dark creatures could be wrangled.

The Curs tried to keep them. Mayhap, they even tried to help them. But then one of them offered a different solution to the snag they had tangled themselves in: Why cure them? Why risk ourselves and our own in a vain effort (which is just the sort of effort Curbinnis loves) when we could, instead, turn this trouble to our advantage by setting it loose upon those we despise? Why keep this curse to our borders when letting it cross to others would cause good for us in their sorrow?

So it was that those monsters first visited our hill.

The men on valley watch the day they came never saw them come. They did not come straightway. Not across the flat. Not over the Red. And they did not come in day at all. They did not come in light. They came behind the sun, from the East, and they came as shadows.

It started at the horseyards, where extra men had been put to stay the recent wandering of stock. It started with the screams of a mare. The snouts had come for our mounts, so to remove our advantage. But the wickedness of them they sent was not satisfied with thief or kill. They were satisfied only in bite and gnaw and feast. Our horses, our majestic breed, they turned to feed. And that was how they were found.

Our greatfather, Chaucer Dawnbright, he was on the grounds with his men—the Lords of the other high fals tucked warmly away in their beds, and he and his hurried to the yelling of the mare. They came upon a trail of blood and followed it to where the canid beast had stopped to start its dinner. It did not quit its meal upon their arrival. It just stared at them from dense and glassy eyes and went on feasting. It cared not for their presence. It cared not for their numbers. It cared not, even, for how they roared and threw stones at its hide. It simply fed.

Chaucer and his men gave up their threats when they saw they had no effect. They changed full and attacked the beast. But they were turned back. The shadows behind the cursed canid showed eyes and grew legs, and the sky filled with an unholy howling. Then our brave Ravellan men were assailed by the dark.

It was only Chaucer and one other to evade death, and only just.

All the Town was waked by the racket. Alarms were raised, soldiers abandoned the Red to climb the hill, and Chaucer called all of fal Dawnbright from their rest, servant and blood alike. They did not know what they fought. They could not see what came. There was only Chaucer running toward them and the black of night at his heels.

Many Dawnbright were lost then. Most, the signified sort. It was a dark night on the hill, and growing darker, for once past our fal’s land, all Ravella would open to the uncaring cruelty of Curbinnis. So our fal fought, even as they were torn, even as they were ended, even to their leaving breath. But Chaucer could see their cause was failing. He could see their overwhelming was inevitable.

He watched one of his men fall to shadow, the one other to have survived the first encounter, and he ran to him with a torch from back of the manor. He knelt beside him, in time to catch the last shine in the man’s eyes, and before he could close them, he saw the night descending upon them both. He swung his torch at the glinting teeth that sought to pierce his flesh. It exploded in spark against the black maw, and the muzzler it struck was sent moaning and rolling. Chaucer went after it in all-passion, flame and claw, and the dark beast showed its first sign of quaver, staring at and shirking from the light burning in Chaucer’s heart and hand.

Another of his men rallied to him, and he tossed that one his torch before grabbing another for himself. They lunged at the longsnout beast from both sides. It snapped back at them, but never close enough to frighten. It confounded by the torches, Chaucer spotted an opportunity and burned the beast on its back. Its tail was set ablaze. Snarling, it tried biting it off, turning mad circles of flame and shadow, while Chaucer and his man sliced at it and gashed its fiendish fur. Then, with a wail of strain and gargle, it fled.

Chaucer and the one he was with called to others to grab the torches, to use them as club and sword, but the fal and theirs were too spread and too caught in the fight to hear or heed their words. So Chaucer did the only thing that was left to him; he called for the sacrifice that would save his people and all Ravella.

“Burn the vines! Set fire to them all!”

They lit the vineyard. They burned the Dawnbright lands.

They set fire and drove away the shadows.

Our vines were gone. And more. But Ravella was saved.

The Shadowken were driven back to the East, but their way home had been closed to them. Curbinnis had forsaken those they had created and cursed. So the beasts made a home of the darkest and most inhospitable corner they could find, the only that could suit them. They made a home of pit and thorn, where their darkness could belong. And there they lurk. Waiting. Waiting for the time when their hunger overcomes them and they must return to this hill, for whatever food they can find—be it horse, pig, or felly.

In that, they are no different from all canids—they want and want, until they take and take. But, thanks to our greatfather and those brave men of Ravella, we know that we need not fear the shadows of men or beasts—we need only shine a light on them.

So heed me well, young one of the forest and hill, and keep with you these lessons…

Steer clear of thorns, for you know not what they hide.

Seek not the dark, for it will always find you first.

Stay in the light, for the light is as home.

And do not dig, for digging is for those discontented with their lives as they are, and discontent is a disease.

So love what you have.

And want for nothing that is not yours.

Fable of the Crumbling Giants (from Bogdyn)

Many and many seasons ago, before the coming of folk to this land and long before the coming of Magic, five young souls awoke on the world. They woke, and they lifted their heads, and they stretched out their limbs, and they stood. And they did not recognize where they were.

You see, this was not their world; it was not their home. They had been transported here, unawares, and they did not understand how it had been done. Truly, there was not much they understood—only that they were here and that here was not where they had been.

And so they ran all over, looking for what they had lost, looking for what they remembered, for what they had used to know and for where they had used to be. And it did not take long for them to search the whole of this new world, for these young souls were not mere folk as you and I; they were great giants. So one of them went to the North, one to the South, one to the East, and one to the West, and when they had traveled so far that they ended up back with the one who had stayed in place, they knew that their home was gone, or that they were gone from it, and that, regardless, all they had known before was lost and beyond them.

Not quite apt to accept this fact, they stared off into the distance and pined away the darkness of night they had waked to. As far as they could see—and they could see much farther and deeper than you and I, there was naught but rock and sand. The whole world was rock and sand, and, of course, this they knew, for they had traversed its barrenness.

So the young giants began to moan. Then they began to wail. And their wailing drew the attention of the sun.

From the other side of the world, he came to look over them, to see these new arrivals to this world of rock and sand, and when the giants looked up to the light in the sky, shielding their eyes, he asked of them, “What is wrong, my young friends? What causes you to moan so?”

And one of the giants answered, “This is not our home. This is not our world. We do not like it here. It is uncouth to us.”

And the sun darkened at the giant’s reply, for he thought it a fine world. Indeed, he thought of it as his world. And, yet, as the young giants were now upon it, he thought of them as his too, and so they were his to take care of.

“Why do you not like this world?” he asked them, leaning close for their answer. “What did your other world have that this world does not?”

“This world is all brown,” one of the giants groaned, striking the ground in a huff. “Our home was full of such color that you could not escape it, no matter where you looked.”

And then another of them added, “One cannot live without color.”

And the sun wondered if that was true, for he had never had to ponder such a question, as he was the very bringer of color. So he went away to think on the matter, and when he returned, he made the green grass to grow up from under the feet of the giants, and he dotted the green ground with wildflowers of every color in his touch, and he smiled and said to the young souls new to his world, “There. Now you have your color. And it is quite good.”

But the giants did not share his smile, so he asked them, “What is wrong now?”

And one of them grumbled, both his hands casting shadows over his face, “On our world, we had cool places to lay our heads. We had rest from your attentions.”

And then another of them added, “One cannot live without respite from the day.”

And the sun wondered if that was true, thinking it very strange, for why should someone want to hide from the light he brings. But, as they were his to care for, he went away to think on what they had said, and when he returned, he caused large and wide trees to grow tall from amidst the green grass he had already given them, and he laid a soft floor underneath that he thought would be ideal rest for a body’s head. And he called out, “Come. Come, and see what I have made you.”

And the giants joined him in the West to see the Wood he had grown.

“There. Now you have trees under which to lie your heads on the soft ground, while I am here or not,” he said, sounding bright as he shone. “You have your respite, and it seems quite good to me.”

Then the giants stepped to the trees, and they towered over them. And they began to moan again: “This is not like our home. These squat trees are not tall enough for such as us.” And the sun realized the mistake he had made.

So he went away to think on how to better his idea, and when he came back round, he grew other and different trees, and he grew them taller, stretching them toward himself as high as the wood heart of them would allow, until they stood like giants themselves over the land he had made for the others. And from the morning he spoke, “Come to the East, my friends. Come, and see what I have made you.”

And so the giants travelled to the East, and they walked among the Forests there, and the shade of those tall trees covered their heads from the heat of the caretaker sun, yet allowed them to talk with him still.

“There,” he whispered, through leaves as broad as two hands, fingers spread. “Now you have your respite. And it is quite good this time.”

But the young giants were not uplifted.                                                

“Trees are fine to run around in,” they said, “but where are we to build our houses? These trees will not hold us.”

And to prove it, one of them pushed one over, and it fell easy.

“On our world, we built great manors from stone, not this brittle wood of trees. And we set them high in the sky, so that they would float on clouds.”

And another of them added, “One cannot live without a place to call their own.”

And the sun wondered if that was true, for he had never needed any place beyond that where he had always lived. So he went away to think on it, and when next he came to visit the young giants, he came with a great rumbling, and his rumbling caused the ground to move and to shake and to splinter, until it began to shoot upward, land crashing against land, so that its wreckage grew higher even than the giants’ trees, so that it soared into the morning clouds. And the sun called to the giants, “Come, my young friends. Come, and see what I have made you.”

So the young giants went to the South, and they hopped up the Mountains that had been made for them, and the sun brightened in anticipation of their joy. But, as they looked around, the giants would not brighten in return.

“This is not our home,” one of them said, kicking at a boulder—though it was not like a boulder to them. “These mountains are too close to one another, and they are too easily reached.”

And another of them repeated, “One cannot live without a place to call their own.” And all the giants nodded as one when that one made a special point of saying “their” and “own”.

The sun frowned at the young giants, and the sky greyed. For how big of a place could a body need, he thought. But, still, he did want to be a good host to those who had been brought to his world, so he went away to think on their grousing over the Mountains he had thought quite good, and after some time alone, wherein he realized he could not be one to judge another over want of space, not when he had so much of it to himself, he came again to all he had made, and this time his rumbling of the land was twice as loud as before, and the ground shot ever higher into the sky beneath him, ever deeper into the low clouds, so that the echoes of it spread out at the feet of the Peaks it created. And the sun shouted, “Here you are! Mountains! Tall, and each one standing as their own!”

And the giants came to the North. And they climbed the mountains here, each to their own Peak.

“There,” said the sun, satisfied in his work. “Now you have your places to call your own. And they are surely quite good.”

Yet the young giants were not satisfied.

“What shall we eat?” barked a voice from a mountain. “On our world, we had all manner of meal! A great variety of delicious meats!”

“This is not our world,” shouted another peak, and, “I am so hungry,” cried a third.

And then another of them added, “One cannot live without feed for the tummy.”

And the sun wondered if that was true, for he never needed to eat anything, and never had. So he went away to think on the matter, and when he came back to them he brought with him animals of all sort. He brought the swine and the cow-beast, he brought the bear and the bighorn, and he brought the deer and the coney. On the ground and in the air, he brought meats of all variety and set them out on the land before the young giants, and he said with a triumphant blast of his great voice, “There! Now you have your feed. And it seems quite good to me.”

The giants looked around them at all the food now theirs, and they ate, and they ate, and they ate. And the sun joyed at their partaking, shining bright as ever, but the giants, even in their feasting, showed no joy.

“What is wrong now?” the sun commanded, burning so hot that much of the green to the West and the North withered away back to brown.

And one of the young souls moaned from their peak, “On our world, we always had something to drink with our eats.”

And another of them added, “One cannot live without a quenching of their thirst.”

And the sun wondered if that was true, for he, of course, had never drunk a drop in all his long life. So he went away to think on what the giants had said, and when he came back round to them, he gathered all the sky together to wring its wet out onto the land, and that sky poured a rain like had never been seen before or since. It crashed upon the Southern Mountains and sprang over their edges, rushing in a stampede over the green grass and wildflowers and cutting through the brown soil underneath. By the giant trees, through the echoes of the Peaks, the Water from above stretched itself Long over the land until it wound up here, as the sun had directed, at the foot of the giants’ dwellings. And the sun proclaimed, “There. Now you have your drink.”

And the giants came down from their mountains, and they gathered round the mouth of the river, and they cupped it in their hands, and they slaked their thirst.

“Yes. It is quite good,” said the sun, proudly watching over his world and those who now called it home.

Yet the young giants would not call it home. And, full up on water, they began to cry.

“What is wrong?” the sun begged of them. “Have I not given you everything you asked for? Do you not have all that you need?”

But the young giants hardly heard him.

“It is not our home,” they whined. “It can never be our home.”

And another of them added, “One cannot live without a home.”

And the giants, all five of them, cried yet more and louder.

Then the sun realized it did not matter what he made for the young giants. They would not brighten, whatever he did for them. They were resolved to be unhappy.

So he left them to think on all that had been done for them, on all that was theirs to live with, hoping their sadness would pass. But when he came back to them, they were still crying and still in the same places they had been the day previous. Indeed, all that had changed was how their tears had collected at their feet, had saturated the rock and sand beneath them, and had begun to turn those browns to deep blue.

And the giants cried on, wailing, “This is not our home.”

So the sun left them again, and returned again. And again, and again. Each time hoping they would come to some acceptance in his absence, and each time finding them still weeping at the mouth of the river, just beyond all he had made for them, crying over what had used to be and could never again.

And no matter the words he offered them, whether encouragement or condolence, the young giants would not hear him, for they would not give up their pining for past days, for old homes, and for gone ways. They would not be happy where they were and thought only on where they were not. So the puddles that were their tears joined together into a pond. And then that pond became a lake. And then that lake became an ocean. And then their tears began to eat away at them.

Until, one day, when the great light in the sky came back to them, hoping still that they would have gotten off their sadness and started living, he found instead that their sadness had crumbled them to pieces and that their tears had overtaken his world in a Wide Blue, all the way from the far edges to the near shores of the land he had made for them, the land which would never be their home even though they could never leave it and, now, could never step foot on it either.

The young giants had gone to waste and age just beyond, the salt of their tears held back from the lush land only by the mouth of the river, and the sun decided, then and there, that the land would not also go to such waste. So he protected it, and he nourished it, and he grew it. For, truthfully, he thought it quite good, his little world and the little land he had made on it.

And he thought, too, that it would make a nice home for someone, someday.

And he hoped that, then, his young giants would lift their heads from their tears, stretch out their limbs, and stand. And that they would see. And know. And learn.

If, by the time that day dawned, they had not yet wholly crumbled away

The Dark and Purple Flower (from Gail)

Many seasons ago, there was a wild woman who lived outside of the village, Mountainside and away from the Water. She was a coarse soul with frazzled hair and milky eyes like frosted grass, and she was known to all as one to be tiptoed around and one whose glare you should not wish to catch overlong. And yet, despite, folk hastened to her small cottage at every budding, for her gardens were the most magnificent in all the land, and they yielded the most remarkable of cuttings and the heartiest of bulbs. Why, it was said that a flower from the wild woman’s beds grew twice as tall and endured twice as long as a flower from any other nursery, wild or no. How she got them so, she never told, and no one ever asked, for it was said that her secret was in the soil round her home, which was made from the ground bones of those that had done her ill or cast a wayward eye in some direction she deemed them unworthy of.

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