The Keeper Wars (Part Two)
- On the Eastern Continent, the Djinn had begun to settle into their new surroundings. Nine Libraries were raised, some on foundations of stone, others on thought. It is the nature of the Djinn to disagree, and the new continent provided a myriad of new foci for their everlasting debates. Most notable was the discovery of the Cyclops.
- The Cyclops people are in many ways the antithesis of the Djinn. They are a brutish, uncivilized people whose greatest accomplishment is the raising of some crude stone and thatch houses. There are a few Dwarves of the Coppersmith's Guild who value the craftsmanship of their simple bronze jewelry, but even their appreciation has its limits. Needless to say, once these freethinkers rise above the level of Bellows Apprentice they realize that any comparison to our own craft is at best overly generous. To compare these simple decorations to the Artifacts of our making, while perhaps a popular cause for our more excitable youths, is something a Dwarf should outgrow before he reaches his hundreds.
- The Djinn, not surprisingly, also embraced different schools of thought regarding Xia's people. There were those among the Sar'uli who took time away from their various pursuits of extremes to enslave a great number of the Cyclops. Led by Vizier Tha'al-Kharun-Sahdhar-Shanala-Qu'al'a'ash-Brzuk-Anaala, they began to systematically subjugate the aboriginal Cyclops they came across, and used them for everything from forced labor to victims upon which to undertake their loathsome experiments. The Cyclops are a guileless people, much like some members of the Potter's Guild I might mention if decorum permitted, and were easy prey for those Djinn that had use of them.
- But the Cyclops were not without their champions among the blue-skinned arrivals to their continent. The Ch'tai, known for their strict adherence to their code of discipline as much as for their penchant for reminding others of this moral high ground, saw the enslavement of the Cyclops as an evil that must be combated. Whereas a Human might reach for a sword or an Elf might employ a bard to humiliate his enemy, the Djinn chose to battle with ideas.
- Thus began the great Djinn Debate on the Relative Merits, Consequences, and Alternatives to the Subjugation of the Aboriginal Monoculars of the Eastern Continent. You'll forgive me, but I've forgotten the fullest and most recent nomenclature used to define that event, and it is my understanding that the proper title for it is still under deliberation by the Kumatru and Musqatbal Academies in any case. Regardless of what we call it, the Debate lasted some 12 years and had no real effect on the issue it addressed. By the time it ended, Cyclopean enslavement was as commonplace as tinner's rivets in a nursery.
- In the end, the Sar'uli removed themselves to an archipelago to the north, stopping only long enough to nullify a hole in the earth, much like that created by Fingle's Cultivator, which Djibari's dabbling had left along the shoreline of Hatha Jadeed. Their leaving prompted the Ch'tai to declare themselves victorious.
The Beginnings of a War
- Back in the lands around Arboria in the West, the power structure had realigned itself in the years after the Great Wasting. While we Dwarves were still influential well into Boorthorn's time in the Hall of Patriarchs, by the time Bes-Kandra assumed her place at the head of Keeper society it was the Seelie Court that had taken the forefront of the world stage.
- It is not generally believed that Keepers are prone to jealousy. However, where the sacred realms of the Underworld are concerned, they are as protective and proprietary as any Guildmaster is of his secrets. By following their vow of Life and restoring promise to my own people, the Seelie folk had earned the enmity of the Keepers of Death. This offense lay buried beneath the sands of Keeper society, as well preserved as Aan-Kandra's heart.
- Bes-Kandra was called the Silk Scarf in those days for her creative use of the garrote in all its forms. True to her silent nature, she did not raise the banner of war immediately, but rather she worked to heat the iron of Keeper resolve before committing herself to action. For better than thirty years she bided her time and trained her people in assisting souls to their rest. And in 473 by our Calendar, she mobilized her armies and set about to redress the balance of Life and Death.
- While sailing up the Acheron River to the west of the Jadyth Saltlands, Bes-Kandra's army happened across an isolated tribe of struggling Humans. Feeling it her duty to pause her war barges long enough to collect the souls of these obviously starving creatures, Bes-Kanra saw that every man, woman and child in the village was properly slain and given a burial according to their status. Humans were largely an unknown people, having only existed a few hundred years, and the Keeper Queen had no way of knowing that these people were of the Seulik tribe. Being worshippers of fire, the neighboring tribes were as appalled by Bes-Kandra's refusal to cremate the dead as she was by their horror at her refusal to do so. An impromptu war broke out, and the Keeper barges fought a skirmishing action up the Acheron to the edge of Arboria.
- It was only Bes-Kandra's firm commitment to resolve matters with the Elves that allowed her to ignore the unburied losses inflicted upon her army by the troublesome Humans of the river valleys. And while she did indeed pause when one of her generals, whose status demanded proper consideration and burial, fell to a Human raiding party, her progress towards the Seelie Court was accomplished in a few short weeks. By the middle of summer she disembarked her army in the shadows of Arboria. In spite of the losses along the way, her army still numbered in the tens of thousands.
- Lord Auberol, in whose court I still serve as envoy from the Hall of Patriarchs, was swift to react to Bes-Kandra's sudden appearance at the edge of his dominion. Having caught wind of the rumors blazing through the human settlements to the south of his lands, Auberol had doubled the number of scouts that watched his southern perimeter. The sandals of the Keeper army were not yet dry from their wade to the riverbanks before the first one fell with an Elven arrow lodged convincingly in his back. The Western Continent was again embraced by conflict.
The Wages of War
- The war continued for decades. While the Elves perhaps did not take the conflict as seriously as the Keepers, their knowledge of the forest and their incomparable skill with the bow stalemated Bes-Kandra's forces for several years. Eventually, however, the Keepers were reinforced with more troops from the south. Keeper slaves each brought a stone on their backs, and construction of a Keeper city was begun just outside the range of the Elven archers. As it grew closer to completion, it appeared that the Keeper legions might at last be able to gain the upper hand.
- However, not all shrewd politics take place behind the variegated panes of the Glassmaker's Guild. Lord Auberol invited a nomadic tribe of Humans to camp within the boundaries of Arboria. Given the Human penchant for combat, it was a matter of time before the Keepers found themselves fighting a war on two fronts. Hearing tales of Keeper riches to be plundered (augmented no doubt by Auberol's own bards who appeared like ghosts throughout the Badlands singing the praises of that all-but-forgotten village of Seulik martyrs) the fires of greed and anger were sparked within the warrior souls of the Human bands. They swarmed north to answer the call of battle, and flung themselves body and soul into the fray.
- A long and bloody battle ensued that lasted for nearly three years of uninterrupted fighting. The costs were enormous, and entire villages were sacrificed on both sides. The bodies of the dead, Keeper, Human and Elf, lay scattered across the plains so thickly the crows grew sick of the taste of them. Keeper defeat was finally within the grasp of the allies, and Human legionnaires readied themselves to storm the nearly abandoned fortress the minions of Death had erected on the plain. Victory seemed assured when a group of Vrathi berserkers stumbled across Bes-Kandra and her royal guard as they surveyed the fields for the upcoming battle. In the hours just before sunset, they ambushed her retinue and within minutes Bes-Kandra's head was hoisted on a pike and paraded back to the Human's encampment.
- In an ecstasy of victory, Vahrus, commander of the Human armies, carried the head out onto the plain and threw it to the dust before the gates of the fortress and demanded the immediate surrender of the remaining Keeper troops.
- Bes-Kandra's head rolled to a stop before the gates, and as the assembled Human tribes watched in horror, it righted itself and rotated to face them. Slowly, her dead eyes opened up and revealed a spectral light where her eyes once were. Her neck took root in the ground, and as the sun was setting over the trees a new body sprouted up from the earth like a dragon's larva from its egg.
- As the implacable Keepers watched from their stone walls, the reanimated Bes-Kandra raised her arms and spoke in the ancient tongue of the Underworld. From all around, the bodies of the slain Keepers began to twitch and writhe under their blankets of flies. Severed arms and hands clawed uselessly at dropped weapons, but where there was a complete corpse it rose up, eyes alit in an unnatural greenish glow that mirrored Bes-Kandra's own, and readied themselves. Some of the Vrathi in spite of their weariness and injuries threw themselves fanatically at the newly risen hordes only to be cut down where they stood. For the most part, the fighting spirit of the Humans had been broken, and the majority of them fled.
- Throughout that long night, the dead army walked the plains, killing those they found hiding or too frightened to defend themselves. The terrified screams of the dying were in stark contrast to the silent, methodical work of the undead.
- Although the Elves would not abandon their beloved forest, even in the face of such a supernatural threat, they lacked the means to carry on the fight alone. For the first time, the Keeper legions were able to penetrate further than a few miles into the forest as the Seelie were forced to retreat before a foe that would not stay dead. As the Faerie knights held off the onslaught, the Elves retreated to the heart of the forest.
- Lord Auberol, faced with nearly certain defeat and a population that had grown bored of warfare, appealed to his Fae cousins for assistance. As the vanguard of the Keeper army broke into the meadows that once contained the wealth and splendor of the Seelie Court, they were greeted by empty fields and roads that led nowhere. Through magics as great as those that allowed the dead to walk again, the Elven capitol had disappeared.
- Whereas an Impish Grand Miscreant might have ordered his troops to burn the forest down out of spite or boredom, Bes-Kandra simply gathered her army about her and returned home.
- While it bears little in the matter of the Keeper wars, it is important to note that at this time, 507 by our Calendar, Ogi was born into the Machinist's Guild.
Adoption of the Keeper Codes
- While thwarted in her attempt to bring the Elves to a true understanding of the Underworld, Bes-Kandra had not forgotten about the Human tribes that had so recently tested her understanding of the Hidden Paths. After taking a couple of decades to properly embalm and bury the casualties of war, each according to his understanding of the Code, she returned to the edge of Arboria where a large Human encampment had developed.
- Although largely nomadic, many of the veterans of the war had acquired significant spoils from the many battles and had settled down to form a large community just outside the forest's edge. Although formed by battle-forged women and men, the Humans count their years more dearly than we Dwarves do, and few were as formidable as they were in their youth. Nevertheless, the Humans live for war, and when the Keeper legions again appeared on the horizon they clutched up their arms with no sign of reluctance.
- But Bes-Kandra could not be provoked into a direct assault. Instead she lay siege to the Human city, and used her magics to turn their crops into sand. After months of starvation and thwarted attempts to break the siege, the Humans accepted their fate and cast down their weapons.
- Seeing that they were unready yet for Death, Bes-Kandra instructed the warriors in the ways of the Keeper Code. Upon receiving a promise from them to abide by the Code and to give proper burial and ritual to their dead, Bes-Kandra lifted the siege and began the long trek back across the desert.
- Although now separated by hundreds of miles, there is no doubt that the two nations remained somehow inextricably linked after the Humans accepted the Keeper Code. In the north, over the skies of the expanding encampment now called Acheron after the river of the same name, a double-tailed comet appeared in the midnight sky. In the year 815 as the Humans number years, at the exact time that the comet reached its zenith, Ngozi was born in Acheron as was Khobai in Bes-Tharal.
~ Borethu, Dwarven historian, envoy to the court of Auberol
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