Partie 1: An arrogant ElfEdit
Kaarad grant only three gifts, death, poison and water, and it isn't as generous with water than with the other two.
It was a common saying among the Kaaradi, as Friedrich Grunderbogën had learnt in the recent days. The young, rich, arrogant and, some said, extravagant Wind Elf from Gelbenburg*, capital of the Flachenland Duchy and most populated city of the Ashtari was still certain that it was a gross exageration, especially since those Kaaradi talked in a strange Urshari dialect. Friedrich had gathered wealth since six years, in order to launch this expedition in the mighty Kaarad, having passed this time studying the arts of firearms, sword and learning everything he could about the most ancient stories from the secretive Urshari, travelling in all the Windlands, going as far as the colonial city of Westereichen to wander in the oldest colony of Urshari among his people. And all told him to stay away from the so called Land of Terror, still hiding even in their dark habitations behind their veils and masks.
Now, he understood why the Urshari hid their faces, and respected them for doing so. By Zethus, those Kaaradi were ugly! Their grey skin, their ears, a mockery of the gracious elven ears, their huge, spear-like nose and, worst than anything their jaws, with their eight canines! They were even uglier than the Goblins or Orcs in his eyes. And primitives, to boot! Those stupid creatures didn't even mastered the steel! The steel! Even humans mastered it aeons ago, and their brains were less than half as able as elven ones, as the täjaran had demonstrated since millennium.
What a disappointment, after all the drunken whispers about the place reputed to be "the deadliest in the world", deadlier than even the Grimwater Raiders holding, if he had to thrust very old mercenaries who had travelled with merchants around the whole world. Even the place was a disappointment: it was silent, cold, wet, and so dark that Friedrich couldn't even see at more than ten meters with torches... and the ugly mongrels inhabiting the Kaarad had forbidden light of any kind since the first day... and two days in the dark, it was already too much for him!
Suddenly, he heard a faint noise, somewhere in the distance, and his elven companions smiled for it was probably a callling from a sentinel near them; however, the grey-skinned aberrations froze, and they began to draw their lances, bow and arrows, as if some danger was coming. For all his disgust of the creatures, Friedrich had to admit that they were probably incredible warriors, for even the masters in the Windlands wouldn't have been able to get to draw their weapons so easily and quickly, neither they would have been able to make already on-their-guard stance appear as relaxed ones with such a natural ease. Yet, it wasn't really to the comfort of the elves, who understood soon enough that danger was coming. Friedrich draw his sword and pistols, and his acolytes did the same. They hadn't come this far, evading the Täjaran ships and patrols to enter the Kaarad to die because of some ridicu...
Friedrich never had the time to end his thought, for an atrocious and extremely shrill scream pierced through his mind, and the even more abominable thing which screamed appear mere second latter. Friedrich Grunderbogën, in all the years who followed until his death, centuries later revealed that it was then, in this very moment that a part of his sanity simply vanished, for no sane creature could endure what he saw and remain sane. The Thing had a body, looking close to one of the most beautiful elven woman that he had ever saw, that what he thought in the first seconds, but then this body literally opened in half, revealing an awful nest of red, stinky, tentacles seeking to crush, main, devour anything but themselves. And they had eyes of all colours, and maws which were screaming. And its limbs! It had arms longer than an Aldash was tall, made only of sharp bones and deadly claws, while it's legs were fused in a disgusting serpent-like tail, except that it was made of bare flesh, ligaments and bones twisted.. and it had faces, who were weeping, smiling, laughing, screaming.
Thankfully, Friedrich was so absorbed by the abomination before him that he never truly saw the others who were coming behind it. he merely heard Vakar Turkil, the chief of the Kaaradi patrol escorting him and his fellows growling at the Thing, with his voice as deep as a thunderstorm.
Partie 2: A dedicated WarriorEdit
Vakar Turil had no time to care for the surface dwellers at the moment. A large group of Those from Below, roughly twelve of them, this close to the surface, was a very bad omen. It had been tens of full Laek'tal Cycles that the aberrations hadn't lurked this close to the Lands of the Bright Sun above them, in a time well before his birth; therefore, as the Eternal Vigil commanded, they had to be killed, to prevent bloodshed in the Overworld. Thankfully, Vakar and his troops were well trained and while they were only ten, the three first Things were dead, poisoned arrow piercing their leather-like skin and granting them death in mere seconds.
Yet, it wasn't enough to stop the others, and some of his warriors had to charge them. A risky task, but the most enthusiast of their Gathering, Kolaruk Jurgal moved to strike the fourth abomination with his spear; the creatures looked like a dwarf who would have grown ten times his size, at first glance, but Vakar perfectly saw that the thing was a female and that it's huge beard was composed of worm-like ligaments which moved as if they had their own conscious, linked to a body without bones. Kolaruk trusted his spear, piercing the hide of the beast moment before the creatures caught him with its hands and beard and, in it's agony tore apart the proud Kaaradi, sending his guts, intestine and other organs in all directions, without even letting him the time to scream.
"Koraal dan-il ur tal!"
The curse escaped Vakar's lips before he new it. He was the Tel-Aräm of his Gathering, Sogarën-Tur, and it was his duty to kill and fight and die, but this fight, without his slaves to fight alongside him made him uneasy; a part of him was angry at the Kaaral orders, brought by a royal Irska, one of the giant bat species haunting Kaarad, and had prevented them to take their slaves until they reached their Gathering with the surface dwellers. It was an absolute order, for those "Wind Elves" would be able to help the Kaaradi in their Vigil.
Still, for now, they were all but useless, using their strange amalgamations of "wood", a strange word for a strange material, and metal which made noise and light, and nothing more, and then charged as blind fools into the fray. He would now have to avoid scratching one of those imbeciles with his skudra anointed with the deadliest poisons of his Gathering. An easy task, in fact, but still unnerving one in such a fight, even for a Kaaradi who had seen 27 full Cycles of Laek'tal since his birth, but an hindrance nonetheless in such a fight.
. . .
The fight had lasted roughly ten minutes, and only Kolaruk and Juni Lirodu, one of the four women in his troops, had died. It was an incredible success, in Vakar's eyes, for it was rare when ten Kaaradi faced was happened to be thirteen of Those from Below and that even one came back to tell the tale; even if he had to admit that the elves had helped, if only in diverting the attention of the enemy. The Tel-Aräm was sure that the Monster-Gods wished to see them survive and possibly the elves too; but even with this knowledge, Vakar would pray them once they would all have reached Sogären-Tur. He watched at his comrades, ans as always, especially looked Nuliku Olak, his second in command, a woman who was so curvy that even the surface dwellers had managed to tell that she was a woman without anyone explaining it to them, contrary to the other three, a fact that made Nuliku angry, since she used to think that only slaves made this much fat. Vakar couldn't more disagree with her: she was wonderful.
It was only when she blushed, her almost black skin becoming even darker that he understood that he had thought out loud. The look in her eyes made him understand that she hadn't really like it, believing that it was a mockery. So, the dedicated warrior pushed further: "Once we will get back to our Gathering, I will marry you, Nuliku".
The look on her face was so funny that neither him nor the other Kaaradi could do anything but chuckle, even if they now all knew he was serious. The elves looked at them as if they were insane.
Partie 3: A place to Heal and GrowEdit
The renewed silence of Kaarad shook Friedrich Grunderbogën maybe just as much as the shrills of the abominations which had attacked them. He watched at the Kaaradi acting as if nothing worth mentioning twice had happened, and then his acolytes, who were all obviously terrified and seemed ready to flee at any given moment. Friedrich knew that he had to divert their minds, reassert that he was in charge of the expedition. he then walked to the gathered greyskins, seeking to get informations.
"In the name of Raman! Why didn't you, grey-skinned mongrels didn't told that you were leading us to the clutches of Shalangesh!"
The scream surprised Friedrich, who darted to look at Hanz, apparently the more stupid and brutish of the thugs he had chosen to protect and accompany him to the Kaarad. Apparently, because he always thought that Hanz was a lot more wise than the others; but Friedrich was now proven wrong: the others twelve had proven to be wiser by remaining silent. Indeed, his scream had apparently made the Kaaradi upset and the only female in the group -Friedrich still refused to believe that their was another one in it- looked at Hanz as if she was ready to eat him alive. However, a gesture of Vakar send her tending to the two dead for their squad.
Then, the one who said to be Tel-Aräm, whatever that word meant, moved past Friedrich to gaze at Hanz, coming so close that he almost touched the Ashatari, forcing the taller elf to move back, obviously afraid. Before he could talk again, Vakar spoke:" I do not know any... Shalangesh", the name presenting difficulties to the Kaaradi, "and this God of you would be powerless here. The Gods of the surface are without any kind of power in the Land of Terror". There was certitude in this voice.
Still, Friedrich was uncertain that the Kaaradi understood really what they had faced and thus talked to him "The... aberrations that you and your brave warriors have killed, they have to be slaves of Shalangesh, one of the Trinity of Shadow, who rule above such... monstrosities from his kingdom below the earth." Friedrich take a quick breath but even before he could talk, Vakar began to talk again "Those from Below do not serve any Shalangesh", he said, with his voice deeper than usual and an obvious anger on his face, where the strange icy blue scars carved on it seemed to move of their own in the weak light of Kaarad, "they serve only the Gods who are no Gods, those who have no names. We are at war with them since 13,427 Cycles of the Laek'tal, more than 11,000 years the surface. Do not even imply that we could not know what we stand against in the Eternal Vigil, Elf."
Before Friedrich could answer to this, a strange noise caught his attention. it was as if somebody was using a butcher knife on a carcass. He looked to were the two dead Kaaradi were and shouted "What are you doing", with a shrill voice, and he had reason to have such a voice now, for the female Kaaradi was slicing through the flesh of her former comrades and gave the parts to the others. She didn't even care to look at him, and it was Vakar who explained her behaviour "She get back the meat. No true Kaaradi would let any of his kind rot in the earth or elsewhere. We will eat them and their souls will ascend to the Monster-Gods Realms, where they'll prepare themselves for the Final Battle against Those from Below and their masters".
Friedrich was now speechless, and even Hanz now looked as if he would faint at any time. The Ashtari understood that he had to make a move, so he asked when they would reach the Gathering of Sogarën-Tur, the first and, despite his self-loathing for making this choice, last destination in the Kaarad. When Vakar told him that it would take three more days, Friedrich knew that it meant more death.
. . .
It looked like a small rift in the dark stone of Kaarad. Nothing to distinguish it from any other one that they had seen in the last three days, if day meant anything there, so far below the earth that even the memory of the sun was like a vague dream, yet, Friedrich hoped that Vakar was right. No, he was sure that the Kaaradi was right, he just wished that he could still believe that the grey-skinned warriors were his inferiors, when they were at least his equals.
Those three days in the Kaarad had been worst than any other in his life. Firstly, he had to support the maniacal laugh of Katerine, his Blademistress, who seemed to have lost all semblance of sanity, muttering to herself for hours before laughing without reasons. Then he lost Hanz and Zimmer to what the Kaaradi called the Death Swarm, a swarm of thousands of little insect-like creatures which devoured the two poor elves in mere minutes, Amatera tended to their souls, as Friedrich was sure, since they ceased to scream after less than three minutes. And finally, they were here, before the Gathering.
The Wind Elves followed the Kaaradi, hoping to discover a place to rest and die. Friedrich understood that he had talked out loud when Vakar answered "You will rest here, but not die. Sogarën-Tur will be your place to heal and grow, Friedrich Grunderbogën". The smile on the Kaaradi face seemed almost friendly; that's how Friedrich knew that he was now insane.
Partie 4: A never-ending VigilEdit
It had been two weeks since Vakar Turil and his squad had brought back the Ashtari to their Gathering of Sogarën-Tur, the closest to the Overworld, at roughly four days from the surface, for the Kaaradi and their slaves, and the Tel-Aräm was forced to admit that the strange, palish, elves had already began to get better after their travel in the Land of Terror. Somehow, they seemed made of something stronger that he had thought before; he was certain that even his ancestors, who had followed Kor ra Ath to the Kaarad wouldn't have stand this well to the terrors below the earth.
Obviously, it was not the case of all the elves; the one called Blademistress Katerine seemed to had lost her grip to sanity; even the Priests of Sta'geshal hadn't managed to repair the damages done to her mind by Those from Below; she was always whispering to herself in her tongue, only interrupting to laugh or cry. Vakar wasn't an expert, but he was almost certain that the female had been tainted by the Gods from Below and would thus need to be killed; it meant that the other elves had to learn more about the Kaaradi that they had already learnt.
The Tel-Aräm groaned, for except the insane Katerine, the others elves never seemed to stop before asking questions, about everything, from the food, to the faith and even the sexuality of their host. Those two last weeks had been harder than any fight he ever underwent, made even worse since Nuliku Olak, the poison on his blades, which meant the one which whom he wished to make a family, as he had to explain to the Ashtari, insisted to marry him as soon as possible, arguing that men were always ready to use the Ukrin, the Eternal Vigil, as an excuse to fuck with a girl and then get themselves killed as brainless Ralkish in a fight.
Vakar touched his scarification from his Choice, the Brand of Koraal, the Queen of Fury, and Head Goddess of the Monster-Gods, praying her to give him the strength to survive long enough to convince the elves to get back to the surface and marry Nuliku. She was a Chosen of Kalan'fuelak, and he had heard stories about what said Branded did when the one they wished to live with made them wait for too long. He would have hated being tied to his bed and only used for sex during as much weeks as he would have made her wait in days...
. . .
All the Wind Elves were gathered in the Hall of Memory, the place were the Ancestrals, those Kaaradi who had lived at least one hundred Cycles of the Laek'tal, gathered to tell stories and legends to the younger generations of their people, thus insuring that they would always remember who and what they were. The Hall was vast enough to allow the whole population of Kaaradi and slaves to gather, but tonight, there was only the elves, two Deathsingers, their melodious voices singing in ashan, to the bliss of all, and the Council of the Gathring, composed of the Tel-Aräm, the head of each Slave Bloodline and the more important of the Kaaradi from Sogarën-Tur. All were gathered to listen to Urok Oluji, the elder of the Gathering, with more than 127 Cycles of the Laek'tal, who had chosen to explain to Friedrich Grunderbogën and his followers the Ukrin.
Urok was one of the greatest spokesperson that Vakar had ever heard; even the Kaaral couldn't compare with him, in his opinion, but the old Kaaradi seemed tired and even lost when he appeared in the Hall, as if he had forgotten that he should talk in this day. However, this moment of weakness quickly ended and the elder moved to his place. His missing right arm and twisted left leg forced him to walk slowly, but even then, he gave an impression of wisdom and peace. He cleared his throat and began to spoke, his voice frail in comparison to those of the younger Kaaradi and still deeper than any from the elves or humans.
"Our welcomed guests, the Wind Elves, wish to learn about us, the Kaaradi", the old man begun, "but how could we explain what we are? What is our core? What are we?"
Urok posed an instant to look at the faces before him and smiles when he noted the expressions of the elves, their thrist for knowledge obvious to all who looked at them.
"I won't talk to you about the legacy of the Ath, nor the History of the Kaaradi. No, I'll tell you what make us apart from any other species, even our poor, lost, brothers and sisters the Urshari: the Ukrin. Some of you asked me if this world translated into "Blood Oath", or "Eternal Vigil". The answer is both and none."
The Ashtari began to shift, obviously perplexed, but a glare from their leader insured that they would remain silent. Urok Oluji smiled, the numerous scars on his face almost hiding the Brand of Sta'geshal that he wore, carved in his flesh, since so long.
"Ukrin mean more than any oath; it is a duty much heavier than any vigil. Ukrin created the Urkind'daram; Ukrin made us Kaaradi, not the other way around. Ukrin is the pact forged with the Monster-Gods, Ukrin is the never ending war with Those from Below and their masters. The Ukrin is rewarded in blood, your own and the blood of your enemy. As long as a Kaaradi breath, the Urkin is upon him; none can end it without dying or turning his back to his brethren, as the Urshari did. Know the Ukrin and you know the Kaaradi"
The elves seemed baffled; the idea that some could undergo a never-ending vigil, a duty which couldn't know any end seemed alien to them. Vakar felt a little pity for the poor creatures, who lacked such common devotion.