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A World of My Own, Part Three
The Fifth Age, the Great Awakening
According to Qymar Arazhdin, the Great Alchemist of the Tenth Age, all matter has properties of life, but this life sleeps until awakened, and the degree to which matter can be awakened differs with its nature, its location, and the Time of its being. To prove this he points to the creation of the Great Wyrms in the Fifth Age, during which Ensa, Kalos, and Hesper conspired, in dance and in song, actions to which Arazhdin applies a symbolic meaning, to awaken the very minerals of the earth and the powers of the sky as dragons. And the creation of the Great Wyrms ended the Kinslayer War in most parts of Mahdi by providing the Fey with a challenge greater than any single house. Dragons delighted in killing all Fey, as the Fey had previously found delight in destroying one another. They could no longer indulge the luxury of war with one another, House against House, but were forced to unite for their survival against the Wyrms.
Before the Fey could fight the Wyrms, however, they had to discover a means to kill them, and they knew none. The Fey did not use iron then, nor did they know its secrets. They had a horror of Belier’s Company whose underground kingdoms they had attempted to pierce to their regret. The weapons of iron and steel carried by the lords and ladies of the deep cut and killed too easily. The Fey were not ready for the Wyrms.
The peoples of the depths were not ready either, nor were the ancestors of man. Kalos had hidden his intentions well, for he was the instigator and mind behind the creation of the Wyrms, and the other gods had not been given time to prepare for the initial onslaught of the First Dragons. It was the Time of Reaping. Fields of bone covered Mahdi; the peoples learned to hid, to wait, and to pursue their objectives quietly and methodically. They learned to talk to one another, to compromise, to discuss, and to bargain. They learned to fight.
Sixth Age, The Delving
More than merely to fight, the peoples learned to value one another in new ways. The Fey learned the virtues of iron, and they honored the lords and ladies of Belier for their staunch hearts and their craftsmanship. The peoples of Belier learned the uses of the Fey’s speed and grace. Men learned to make do, to use what could be had without mind for what was not at hand, and to despise too much talk of odds and risk as a coward’s excuse for letting others bleed for the safety of his hearth. In time, the Great Alliance formed of Fey, Man, and Dwarf. Only the Kindred remained outside of it, unthreatened by the wyrms which did not go as deep into Mahdi’s heart as they dared go, and thus formed no threat to them in their isolation. The Kindred remained hidden in isolation, following their own path.
The Great Alliance would have failed, however, if it was not for Mithilgrayl of Belier, a great smith and charmer of ores. It was he discovered the means by which to craft mooniron into armor and weapons, making this wonderful blood of Mahdi available to warriors at last. (The Grayl, Mithilgrayl’s descendants, keep the working of mooniron secret still, forbidding its secrets from being written down, communicated in any language other than the crafttongue of the Grayl smiths, or from being conveyed by any means to one not born of the Grayl. Even other dwarven lineages are barred from the secret of the Grayl.) Mooniron withstands the acid of the darkwyrms, the fire of the flamewyrms, and the claws of all wyrms. Best of all, mooniron blades, charmed by the smiths and enchanted by gods and mortals, passed through dragonscale and, properly wielded, slew them.
Mithilgrayl saved the peoples of Anwyll, but his secret could not rid the world of dragons. Too many hatchlings had been born during the Great Awakening when the Wyrms were apparently invincible, and these matured, bred, and hatched more wyrms. It seemed Mahdi was a world of Wyrms, and the peoples merely husbandmen for the dragons’ cattle, horses, and sheep. It is no wonder then that some mortals sought to bargain with the Wyrms, and in the East of Anwyll they succeeded. After 1,000 years the Great Alliance broke into separate armies and tribes when the Mazhan of the East concluded peace with the Great Wyrm, making themselves his servants and rulers of the peoples under the shadow of his wings. Thus was the Empire of the Moon, Ska, born, and the peoples betrayed.
The Historical Ages
With the creation of Ska, the first of Empires, born of a Wyrm’s laziness and a man’s ambition, history begins. History begins with records, the written stores of what the peoples know, or think they know, their stories and their observations. Stories in the historical age are not lost merely because the tongue is stilled by death, but survive on stone, on skin, on parchment. Still, men lie, even make falsehood immortal by ethcing it into the record, and so history is prey to illusion, error, and deception, as is all that is touched by mortal hands.
The Seventh Age, the Dragon Wars
Qan Su Mazhan knelt in the lair of Ezhirrakagul and swore undying fealty to him, and Qan Su kept his word. Ezhirrakagul gave Qan Su power over all the peoples within the shadow of his wings, which meant in the Wyrm formalities of the time, rule over all peoples upon Ezhirrakagul’s hunting grounds, grounds that were subject to adjustment as the Great Wyrm fought other hungry Wyrms for the land. All Qan Su had to do, so far as Ezhirrakagul and his mate, Elzira, were concerned, was to deliver meat enough for them both and for their hatchlings, and to send them treasure—jewels, precious metals, enchanted weapons, and, most importantly, mooniron.
Qan Su and the dragons both kept to the bargain they made. Qan Su was harsh in collecting the tribute the Wyrms required, but his lands flourished, no longer laid waste by the raids of Ezhirrakagul and Elzira. The two hunted only for pleasure now, and this but rarely, for they enjoyed their treasure even more than the hunt, and Qan Su’s deliveries kept them satisfied. Qan Su’s son and grandson kept to the bargain, too, and in time the peoples under the Qans came to appreciate the cunning of their lords, for those who lived without the benefit of such a bargain continued to suffer from Wyrmraids, and their lives were never safe. Many people left their homelands to live in the peace of the Qans. Those who did not join in the Qans’ bargain, kept fighting, growing more bitter and enraged by the Qans and their success, a success which was in part built upon raiding other peoples, as the Qans always needed more gold, more mooniron, more of everything to satisfy their Wyrms. The peoples of the West grew to hate the Qans even more than they hated the Wyrms, and so it was they welcomed the great error of Qan Ma, great-grandson of the first Qan.
Qan Ma was ambitious. He was not satisfied with ruling the surface, the land in the shadow of his dragon masters’ wings. He would rule the depths as well. He had heard of a fabulous metal worked by the Kindred in the depths of Mahdi’s heart, and he wanted it for himself. He did not know what it was. He had never seen it. The Duergar, dwarven craftsmen who sometimes came out of the depths to trade with the peoples of the plains and forests, knew of it, admired it, and resented the refusal of the Kindred to share it with them. The Duergar thought the Kindred slighted them by holding this secret, for the very name Duergar comes from the Old Kindred word dergha, meaning ‘blood-friend of my mother’s chamber’, signifying a relationship of great trust and intimacy between a Kindred House and a non-Kindred ally.
Qan Ma could not obtain this secret metal of the Kindred from the surface. He would hae to go into the depths to gain it, and so he formed an army, tormented Duergar guides into leading him into the darkness, and began a doomed campaign. His Duergar guides, not yet so resentful that they were willing to betray their dark blood-brothers to a Qan, tricked him, leading him down false paths and into dangerous lairs where his soldiers died, went blind, or lay down to sleep never to awaken. The Kindred used their own paths and their ease in the depths to ambush his army, pick off his scouts, and steal his supplies. Qan Ma died heirless in the depths. The Empire of the Moon might have been destroyed by this single man’s stupidity in its youth, but it was not.
Qan Ma made the Kindred aware of the danger of the Qans above, and in holding the Qans to be their enemy, they made the Wyrms their enemies as well. This made the enemies of the Wyrms their friends. Traveling the Dark Roads, Kindred warriors and wizards began to leave the East, traveling West to join in the Second Alliance to defeat the Qans.
Qan Ma failed his people, and the Empire of the Moon might have died, but it did not. Qan Ma left no heir, but he did leave a wife, Hsu, and Hsu had a brother, Zhao In. Hsu adopted her brother as her son, to satisfy the cult of Hesper, so favored by the Qan family that it had become identified with that clan and no other, and In, now named Qan Zhao In, renewed the bargain with the Wyrm as the son of fallen Qan Ma. The empire was saved. The new emperor did not seek new wars, as his predecessor had, but war came upon him anyway. In the West a new alliance formed in a city built according to prophecy, Karnak, City of the Quartered Dark.
The Second Alliance served the cults of Rache, Ruhe, Audaz, and Grazhak. Battle became in this time a sacred action, and great fighters were venerated as holy men. People who dream of peace sometimes object to this glorification of death, but there might have been no other way to support the minds and spirits of those who had to fight the Wyrms at the apex of their power.
It came to pass that Ezhirrakagul died. It is said that his own hatchling, Uzttarragul, killed him in order to take his hunting ground. Uztarragul was new to the duels of the hunting grounds, however, and so the Empire of the Moon was weakened. The Second Alliance took advantage of this opportunity to fight the peoples of the Empire without their dragon lord, and marched into Ska by the Kindred’s Dark Roads, surprising Qan Zhao In in his tower. Most of the Emperor’s army was patrolling the Western border far away, and the tower was taken. Qan Zhao In died in his sister-mother’s chamber. Hsu was given to the leader of the Second Alliance army, Azkar Yshteroth, as a concubine, but, in a moment of ill-considered generosity, he gave her to his soldiers. Her curse affects the House Yshteroth to this day: it breeds more than its share of madmen and fools. Loaded with plunder, the army of the Second Alliance returned by the Dark Road to their homes in the West.
Uztarragul was now a Wyrm. Pampered by the Qans throughout his life, he was unprepared for an existence without servants. He did not raze the land as his ancestors would have on the fall of the Qan. Instead, he sought a new Qan. (Through the rule of the Qan clan, Qan had come to mean in itself ruler, or emperor, and so it is still applied in Ska to all noble men and the heads of the Great Houses.) Uztarragul decided that this time the Empire required a Qan of long-life and wisdom, not a short-lived man who would think only in short, human terms. He chose his Qan: Kim Sol, a Fey wizard.
Qan Kim Sol had his own concerns once upon the Throne of the Crescent Moon. The Second Alliance’s use of the Dark Road proved to him that he would have to bring the battle of East and West into the depths, or what had happened to Qan Zhao In could very well happen to him. He was a cautious, though, and he knew the army he had inherited was too small for what he would demand of it, and that it still suffered from the memory of Qan Ma’s debacle in the depths. Instead of attacking the Kindred in open assault, he worked on the resentment of the Duergar, making them his guest-friends and plying them with gifts, favor, and compliments. He made his friendship appear more valuable and true than that of the Kindred, those who would not share their knowledge even with their hearth-friends. The hearts of the Duergar turned against the Kindred, and, at long last, their blades turned as well. The Duergar and the Kindred fought in the depths, while Qan Kim Sol smiled above them.