A Mad World:
I can really only use one word to describe the vast experiences of my companions and I. Madness.
I do not know when it first set in or if indeed we are all turning mad. Perhaps it was when we crash landed in the forests of Lhaa and ended up being taken in by what can only be described as a superior race of Mabden which Ardan took great delight in discovering. Indeed if it wasn't for his presence we may not have survived this encounter, he became our communicator with this new race. Although I personally can not say if it was for better or worse as he ended up agreeing us all into performing some kind of rights of passage for the Na-og as they called themselves.
So it was that we were lead into the unknown, were harassed by large flesh eating creatures within a river and discovered the presence of three female Vadhagh yet they seemed unnatural compared to my own fair figure. Sadly Owain, who was the first to cross, had killed two of the females by the time the rest of us reached the small island which was our destination. He claims they were 'charming' him; well it is unlikely that his definition of 'charming' matches with my well scribed chronicles on the origin of meanings. He was very reluctant to express details otherwise. There was one survivor but just as I was to discuss with her about her apparent unusual situation Marrigan swiftly took her head off much to everyone’s displeasure.
It was then that our strange friend reappeared, Krem Skathar. He claims we have aided him yet again and so granted us all his favor if we should ever need it further convincing me of his unusual and mysterious ways. It is hard to truly apply the word friend to him. He gave us three tasks to do and said we need not look for them for we shall come across them without doubt. This statement puzzled me for surely he could not be suggesting that such a thing known as ‘fate’ exists?
So once our rather simple task was complete we made our way back towards the Na-og village, through a rather depressing landscape of horse bones. Even now I can not imagine a creature of any kind realistically able to devour so many beautiful and innocent creatures. Maybe that was indeed a symptom of madness, yes, for the events that soon followed clearly must have been chaos of the mind as our young guide was being some how mentally dominated by an elder Na-og who carried a staff and chanted enraged curses towards us. Then something unexplainable happened. My companions and I were separated by some fog like force that somehow repelled us all into different planes. It was truly confusing for I am sure none of us could come to any logical understanding of how the situation occurred.
Thankfully that nightmare was soon over and we were reunited with each other to find Bellar with his spear stuck in the old man’s throat. It is hard to clarify whether the old mans death ended the swarming fog or not for truly a merely intelligent Mabden could not conjure up such potent illusions? For surely that was all there was to it, an illusion, a trick of the eye upon the mind. Our guide thankfully seemed to gain control of his sense again and led us speedily back to his village where upon we were attacked yet again by the Denledhyssi – through later research with the Na-og I learnt that word meant ‘murderers’. It was a vicious battle with them as they had gained control of a stolen Vadhagh chariot which they used with some skill. Although the impression was lost upon me as I waged combat with one who had a most unusual weapon I had not come across before in training. It appeared to be a large ball adorned with spikes and fastened to a heavy chain which was tied around the man’s hand as he swung it challengingly towards me.
Eventually we won the battle as we should do being one of the Elder races and not the demons that the Mabden believe we are. So we were welcomed back into the Na-og society, however I suffered a very damaging injury to my back which needed proper Vadhagh medical attention and so my tall spear became more like a walking staff. Ardan received a great sword in our honour as we completed the given task without fail and had done a benefit to Na-og society by providing enough evidence against the Denledhyssi who were led by a foul big man who had enslaved nine poor chaotic souls to a chain around his neck. Unfortunately he made no visible or obvious threat against me directly so I could not have the pleasure of his head upon my spear.
Once we were all as recovered as could be we decided to carry upon our given quest to relocate other fellow Vadhagh and to visit Melhua. Thankfully Ardan’s sword proved useful in summoning great steeds which we used to find other Vadhagh settlements but these had been long empty of occupants – it seemed they had all faded away from at least 3000 years ago judging from the library records I discovered. I could not help but shed a tear for all the books that had crumbled to dust without much needed care and attention. Reminding me yet again of our noble library back home at Castle Karendeniz.
So having seen such a sorry state our society is falling into we rode across the seas to our final destination, the island of Melhua, island of flowers. Unfortunately Belar, who is becoming the most unreliable of my companions, despite his fellow love of words and language, somehow fell off his steed and was dragged many, many miles through the sea until we reached Melhua’s shores. We managed to revive him enough so he was able to walk as we headed towards the glittering and familiar marble structures of the city known as Henlis Thom.
Oh the pleasure, the happiness and the relief! To be back amongst Vadhagh society again was truly overwhelming on my part. For I could not stand with my back in agony much longer and here on Melhua I knew it would soon be remedied.
Yet again though madness seemed to have found us once more for not only did we re-encounter fellow Vadhagh, mostly inhaling some form of relaxant that would be found in the Chamber of Vapors, but also Mabden and not the Mabden that we had encountered before but Mabden serving Vadhagh as slaves. This to me was not completely impressive as I assumed they would be leading a much better life amongst us as servants then their counterparts in the forests. Ardan on the other hand was a water spout of questions, it was like his mind and mouth had no self control. I immediately asked a doctor be summoned who announced himself as Berlewen Jhaelan Kru, who as a Vadhagh should when a lady such as me needs attention, had me lifted upon a litter and taken quickly to the healing chambers where my back was tended to personally by him as he was the resident doctor.
Answers were soon provided when we met the Krem of Melhua, Krem Mulias and his daughter Princess Y’Chadee. Although they all too appeared to be heavily inhaling this new strange relaxant, I did find her pleasant company even though her ode on the morning lily was so unbearable and poorly scribed; luckily I was able to save her dignity by correcting the hundreds of mistakes in grammar, syntax, and poetics she had made.
Soon after I was refreshed, relaxed, free from pain and dressed in finest silks and glittering silver. My companions and I convened once more to discuss our plans for the future. In the end we agreed to try and relocate the survivors from our last adventure in the sunken city to see how they fared. The group that Armen had flown here himself seemed to be happy and content in their new home and too enjoyed the habit of Golden Lotus fumes as we learned it to be called. Owain though was the first to notice that although many of the Vadhagh had sworn Avocations they appeared to be spending more time drug induced than actually studying and doing something productive. Their library seemed to be quite out of order and ill used, pure signs of fading habits amongst them. This I feared may mirror perhaps the failings of the previous empty settlements we had visited. So in order to further understand the flaws of the Golden Lotus fumes I casually tried some and was quite stunned by the hallucinations it created before my eyes. It actually froze my mind in a vain struggle to think of words to describe the ‘free’ feeling which overwhelmed me even now it is an experience one must go through in order to understand my genuine loss of words.
It was in fact during my first drug inhalation that I had an interesting conversation with Taran, Prince of the Sea Green Robe. He revealed to me that he himself and Berlewen seek the hand of Princess Y’Chadee in marriage and he asked my opinion of Berlewen as a worthy suitor. I admitted quite openly without hesitation that if I were Princess Y’Chadee I would not consider him suitable simply because of the fact that he seems to have no focus in his academic life, he studies all sections of Avocations and not a chosen one. This is most uncoming of a Vadhagh I felt and expressed it so. Taran agreed with me also and so I agreed that I would support his suit for the Princess Y’Chadee.
However whilst I was enjoying the refined more suitable life back amongst our own civilization my fellow brethren were busy doing some investigation of their own regarding the origins and uses of the Black Lotus that was being grown in vast amounts equal to the Golden Lotus. I myself have enquired with other Vadhagh yet they remain adamant there is no such plant growing all around Henlis Thom, their great and beautiful city of marble and silver towers. This makes the presence of this dark plant all the more disturbing. Yet Ardan had a clever idea to our lack of information, he called upon one of the Mabden servants that have been following us and tending to our every whim and need ever since we have arrived here. His servant went by the name of Menda and asked him regarding the Black Lotus. At first Menda was extremely hesitant and I did what I could to ease his concerns about the truth which were already proving to be sinister to make a Mabden to hesitate when asked. Ardan promised Menda no harm will come to him if he told us what we needed to know. And eventually we learned of how the Black Lotus is harvested and taken to a tower called Roth Bogancas, it meant Fortress of Death to our surprise it was the residence of Berlewen. Menda went on to reveal that it was Berlewen who was the affective governor of the Mabden slaves and that old and sickly Mabden were taken to this tower and never were heard of or seen again.
All of us realized that something indeed was extremely wrong with the power behind Berlewen. Unfortunately much to my shock Owain got into his mind that poor shaken and terrified Menda would inform Berlewen of our enquiries even though he had sworn not to and so knocked him unconscious with his sword scabbard, tied and gagged him and then shut him in the wardrobe. After that disagreement we all discussed what our next plan of action was. We all agreed something must be done to help our fellow cousins to stop their drug habits and regain their passion for their Avocations. It was during this discussion that Ardan reminded us all of a dinner invitation from Berlewen the previous day in which Ardan had been rather bold and invited Princess Y’Chadee also to join us. It was becoming clear that my half-brother intended to claim the Princess for himself. Before we departed for the dinner Ardan made an unusual enquiry regarding the condition of my back which had healed remarkably well since our arrival within civilization. I agreed to show him under hesitation and in the privacy of a separate chamber from the others. I heard him grumble to himself when he inspected my back for I could not see and presumed he was merely noting the scars and bruise marks that I did not doubt still remained even though the muscles underneath had mended. We returned to the group where he quickly whispered something to Owain who glanced at me with a hint of surprise yet neither would inform me of what was intriguing them so.
So we attended the dinner although Owain and Ardan carried their swords upon them but merely based it upon formality as champion and Krem titles. We walked nobly into the tower where we were greeted by Berlewen and led into a vast circular chamber in which the centre stood a large statue in grotesque form with bat like wings. We enquired into its form and origins and Berlewen proudly told us it is his own design made from brass and glass; a figure of the mythical Shefanhow, to Mabden it means demon and they fear it greatly. In our previous encounters with the Na’og it is the name we were called until we had proven our worth as friends and allies.
So the meal began rather pleasantly, Ardan sat dominantly close to Princess Y’Chadee as I fear who was rather not present due to her constant inhalations of the Golden Lotus flower. Berlewen seemed slightly offended by such an act as my foolish half-brother had forgotten to officially declare himself as a suitor yet he was always a determined character. It was at that point that Berlewen summoned a Mabden who brought forth a slim box which Berlewen opened and brought out a fine, long rapier sword.
He announced its name as the ‘Red Poet’ and that didn’t take an established Philologist such as me to discern it meaning a writer of blood. During our noticeable interest and curiosity into the sword Armen enquired about how he created such a weapon as it is unlike common Vadhagh swords. Berlewen said he created it from the laws of order and the power of chaos. This immediately struck us as unusual for it as absurd as a Vadhagh declaring there is such a thing as ‘magic’ and ‘gods’. It was this comment which began a long and fierce debate regarding the subject of law and ‘chaos’. Berlewen offended us all by remaining adamant that the ‘laws of chaos were winning the eternal battle against the laws of order’ and how we should join him in ‘chaos’ for we are as refined and unique as he is compared to his family in Henlis Thom. Upon this remark Princess Y’Chadee expressed her weariness and was eagerly escorted back to her quarters by Ardan. After their departure I asked Berlewen about the population’s apparent dependence upon the Golden Lotus. He replied rather coolly that he implemented the inhalation of such a drug in order to sustain them as they were, apparently, ‘dying out’ in his words. I quickly retorted him that if he did indeed think the population was fading away then surely preventing them from becoming so drug induced is a better action to take. This he never game me a reasonable and logical answer to in reply but merely shrugged his shoulders saying he didn’t ever force them into taking the Golden Lotus and they do it of their own free will. Clearly such an answer doesn’t help his position in this argument. It appeared to me that madness had found us again in the more tangible form of a fellow Vadhagh no less. So the debate continued to become more and more agitated with our opposing view points. Owain finally called it to a head by requesting a duel between himself and Berlewen using his own sword as metaphorical representatives of law and ‘chaos’. After the two agreed the dinner finished and we all returned back to our quarters unsure about what now was going to happen.
The following day Ardan tried some experiments with the Black Lotus in order to discover its use within Berlewen’s tower. He didn’t learn much but understood enough that it was a Narcotic certainly suggesting an unnatural usage. I myself helped Owain, Tharis and Armen in the library looking for books, records, journals on the Golden Lotus as well as the Black Lotus. We find plenty on the Gold Lotus but nothing on the Black furthering our dark suspicions about its uses. Yet during the records of the inhabitants we learned that three Vadhagh were no longer counted for, we enquired with others about this but they all claimed the missing occupants were probably away deep in their avocation. This we greatly doubted and dismissed entirely.
Later that afternoon Owain called upon Berlewen for the duel to begin. I watched with some disdain as I did not agree with the idea of applying a logical debate to common violence. At the first blow Berlewen was easily defeating Owain’s defensive maneuvers with his thin rapier. Eventually after much effort he nicked Owain’s shoulder ending the match yet all was not over. Berlewen said he had a surprise for us and more evidence for his argument. Brought before us was a severely drugged Mabden strapped to a trolley. He claimed that the ‘Red Poet’ could prophesy when blood is drawn upon its blade. Apparently it was how he learned of our arrival.
Ardan became enraged! He spoke so defiantly and aggressively towards Berlewen that even I was impressed such a loud demanding voice could come from such a Vadhagh of short stature but then again our mother did always claim ‘big things come in small packages’ usually meaning that she could grow a large bouquet of flowers from tiny seeds. Ardan demanded the Mabden’s release at once and claimed that this was a clear act of torture and of holding the Mabden against his will.
What Berlewen said in reply further convinced me of his insanity. He claimed that the Mabden was willing to die under his command and would do so without hesitation because they believed him to be a god! I merely shook my head in utter despair at what I can only call blasphemy and implore him that there is no existence for a Vadhagh if we should stoop so low as to pretending to be something we firmly don’t believe in and so manipulate others by it. In the end we all firmly denied to witness such a horrific act of pretence and madness and so withdrew back to our chambers, myself privately hoping that Berlewen didn’t harm the poor creature once we had departed.
It was whilst I was enjoying a nice calming hot bath that same evening that things finally reached a climax. I heard a knock at the door and so hurriedly getting into my bathrobes greeted my visitor. To my surprise and shock I was met with the firm yet slightly anxious gaze of my fellows and Berlewen’s harrowing figure behind them with a most painfully pleasant smile. It seemed that whilst I was relaxing and pondering the events of the day my brethren failed to use the logic in their minds and decided to go gallivanting off to sneak into Berlewen’s Tower once more. Of course judging by their appearance at my door with Berlewen’s presence they had so clearly failed yet all were kindly asking, well pleading is a better word for their current situation but as we were the only sensible ones in the whole complex of Henlis Thom they appeared to be asking, me to join them for a contest Berlewen wishes to hold for our pleasure.
Of course I told them to wait whilst I assembled my things together, my dependable tall spear included for I did not fail to notice all were armed for a war rather than the secret invasion of a tower but as I said they seemed to have lost sense and logic at this point.
So it was that we were all led back into the Tower and down through narrow winding tunnels, turning in a wide spectrum of directions, in order to confuse any escape plan I believed. Yet we all noticed that there were strange, almost claw cut grooves lining these tunnels in the roof and floor. We soon learnt the reason for their existence as we passed what appeared to be a Mabden but his limbs were all twisted, converted and seemed to contain more bones under his skin than logically possible. Attached to his arms and legs were chains which were then attached to links connected to sliding pads upon the grooves on both floor and ceiling. Such a sight was not one I wish to behold again to see a creature so disfigured and enslaved was one of true desolation and made me all the more firm in my belief that no matter how long it takes or by what means Berlewen’s dark practices upon the Mabden species must be stopped and I am sure my brethren and half-brother felt the same.
We eventually came into a balcony of sorts over looking a rectangular arena. Berlewen went up to the banister and announced we were going to have another fight regarding the matters of Law and Chaos. He would pit his creature of chaos against, to my horror, Ardan who would represent Law. I could only hope that Ardan wasn’t being overly bold to show off at this point and truly realized what a great feat he was attempting to make for it was only then that I noticed his opponent on the arena floor. It was a cat like creature yet its head was that of a rook or even a raven with a jet black beak and feathers down to its neck line. Yet it too, like the Mabden previous to this room, seemed to have more joints than naturally required of such a beast. I shuddered to think what Berlewen must have been doing to create such a creature.
Ardan went to the floor below leaving us all tense upon the balcony. I noticed Owain have a quiet word with Berlewen which I am sure he was making his already apparent antagonism towards him all the more clear if any harm would come to my half-brother. Upon closer inspection Berlewen seemed more, excited is the only word suitable, regarding the contest giving me the impression he clearly presumed he was going to win. Obviously he failed to realize that even if he did defeat Ardan, harm him or indeed kill him, he would still not gain our consent to join his insane circus of experiments and sinister ways.
At first the fight was of the opponents weighing each other up on strength and weaknesses as they circled each other. It was the creature who made the first move, lunging right for Ardan with his claws outstretched and mouth open wide enough to swallow his head upon landing. Thankfully he rolled out of the way just in time but found himself backed up against the far end wall. The creature made another attempt and this time Ardan darted sideways creating a tear along the beasts front flanks. It was clear to all of us that each attack and defense was taking a lot of strength out of the fighters and soon one was going to fail. That point came soon when the beast made one great final leap, not following Ardan’s feign leap to the opposite side and collided with him and his sword against the wall. Belar, Merrigan and Armen immediately jumped down to aid my brother, Berlewen did the same but he ran to the side of his deeply injured cat. From the balcony I watched as Belar attended Ardan’s wounds, Berlewen interestingly enough doing the same to the beast, both opponents seemed to have only just survived the final collision. After seeing to Ardan, Belar walked slowly towards the creature and Berlewen, who upon noticing Belar’s tall spear stood up protectively over his beast. I heard raised voices between the group below upon which Berlewen’s seemed to echo unusually louder than the others around the arena. I heard him call names of unusual origin and meaning which was preceded by several large bangs against the shut doors upon the balcony. Tharis, always quick to respond to trouble leapt down into the arena heading towards the others. I followed suit leaving Owain who stood ready for attack by the door.
I arrived to find Belar’s spear stuck in Berlewen’s chest, a strange similarity to the fog creature’s appearance in previous weeks gone by. With Berlewen lying bleeding heavily on the floor Ardan managed to stand and deal the final death blow to the beast causing a great cry of anguish from Berlewen. I tried my best to staunch his wounds because none of us as yet wished him to die only to change, in his last breaths he whispered the words “death is only the beginning” at which he went deep into unconsciousness.
Unfortunately at the same time the doors of the balcony were thrust open, we all heard a large thud of metal and saw two more cat creatures come leaping over the balcony heading towards us. We all formed up for the attack when surprisingly enough another loud thud with the strength of thunder informed us all of the presence of another Shefanhow golem who came pounding towards Berlewen with his arms outstretched. Ardan who already had his slumped body across his shoulders tried his best not to surrender him to the golem but in the end strength won over size. With Berlewen in the contraptions arms it went crashing into one of the barred exits of the arena but instead of carrying on it went straight down with an even louder crash. But as I said, we didn’t exactly have time to run after him what with two half cat half bird things trying to claw and peck at us.
The first cat launched himself at Marrigan but it was quickly wounded by Armen and Tharis’s flying arrows into its haunches. The other one was a bit more cautious and missed my lunges several times. Quickly with a joint effort of more or less everyone else but Marrigan my foe was swiftly dealt with. I soon charged in to aid Marrigan and luckily just missed his own head as my spear point collided with his opponent who also soon perished at our hands.
Having finally time and chance to regroup we did so attending to Ardan’s wounds enough so he could work without sufficient pain. We decided to follow the trail of the Shefanhow golem in order to locate the body of Berlewen or at least to officially proclaim his death. We went towards the broken metal barrier and looked down upon what seemed to be a platform at the bottom yet could not find a button or switch in order to activate this lift. It was Marrigan who decided to go investigate the balcony for such a thing and low and behold he called back that he had found the button but it must be operated from the chair. After another discussion we decided that Marrigan should bring it just under half way up which was in safe jumping distance and close enough to the following tunnel so we would pass into it.
What we discovered in the tunnel and beyond was a sight so horrid, so uncivilized, no Vadhagh would believe one of their own would create and use such a place. The corridor as we found it was full of small chambers, small enough to only fit a mule inside let alone a Mabden as we presumed from the scattered groups of boned lying behind each locked door. Some clearly in huddled positions out of fear and isolation, others lay prostrate in a strange star like sign upon the floor and some even seemed quite formal in death lying out straight upon their rags. In some alcoves along the right hand wall were shelves containing instruments of pure wretched torture, not torture to bring about death but almost to prolong Armen reckoned when he was brave enough to inspect some closer. Tools to cause pain yet never release someone from it? At that point in time I truly wished death had claimed Berlewen for if we come across him again I will give him the same treatment I wanted to give to the so called ‘priest or advisor’ back amongst the Na’og who also displayed such cruelty, the point of my spear inside his corrupt and most foul head.
As we walked on Owain lost all track or sound of the Shefanhow golem, it had got out far out of our reach. It was as we paused to decided whether to carry on or not that we noticed that one of this inhabitants of these calls was indeed alive, if only just. We tried to get in but the door was locked but before Armen could have an attempt at unlocking it with his vast knowledge of contrivances Owain, always brutal to the point in whatever means, went and hacked the door handle away with his sword, breaking it in the process. However once we had shoved the door out of its frame and gained entry we discovered that this Mabden, although he seemed unusual to the other Mabden we had encountered for some indescribable reason, was wrapped entirely in vines with black thorns and flowering Black Lotus buds.
The person stirred beneath the horrendous vegetation murmuring the word ‘Corum’ before falling back unconscious again. It actually meant ‘champion’ or ‘champions’ but I could honestly not place such a word in that present situation. We all carefully helped cut away the vines entrapping him and gave him a rejuvenating drink to wake him up a bit.
We informed him that we meant him not harm and rescued him before asking the question of what he was doing here.
“I don’t….remember.” was his reply.
“What do you mean you don’t remember? Were you drugged before you were brought here?”
“Drugs? No, not at least this time. I have tried many drugs before but nothing like this at least not in this life time.” With that he quickly grabbed his belongings which were on a shelf behind him, adorned his long feathered hat, opened his bag and to my mutter delight but everyone’s bemusement a flying cat leapt out and onto his shoulder. “Ah Whiskers, there you are. No worse for the journey I see.”
“So how did you come to be here?” Owain asked a bit more firmly this time as all of us were completely curious and bewildered with this most unlike Mabden like character before us.
“I told you I do not remember. They just put me here. They fling me back and forth wherever the balance becomes unbalanced. Don’t tell me you guys don’t know who you are?”
“We don’t even know who you are.”
“Ah pardon me for forgetting my manners that drug is quite dominating you know. I am Jaree O’Connell, vagabond to the forces that be and Corum’s loyal companion.”
“Are you saying some great god like force put you here?”
“Yes entirely correct young sirs and madams. I am sent here in order to help you restore the balance. The things up there don’t like it when one side becomes to powerful.”
“Help us? We were the ones helping you.”
“That is often the case sadly; I haven’t been Corum for who knows how many millennia or worlds now. Sometimes I am you with a big sword and a young maiden on my arm but more often than not I am just a companion but a pivotal companion none the less for I am often the one that somehow manages to you lot smiling if not indeed laughing.”
“Other worlds? Don’t you mean planes?”
“Planes? Ah yes, they’re fragments of your world but I have been to many others.” He paused. “I’m guessing that isn’t making things any clearer for you so let me explain it simply and do try to understand that I am not in any way mad, just a bit drugged that is all. Right, Corum, champion of the forces that be, sometimes one man, sometimes a woman even,” He said so with a slight shudder as he looked at me. “Or most commonly, much to my private annoyance, a group of people who are really all the same person, the same Corum. The same champion. Corum is called upon, summoned or created when the forces of chaos, darkness, wrongness call it what you may becomes slightly more powerful than the forces of law, order, organization and general good people and things. This is what’s happening in your world. So that is why the great forces that are far bigger than the forces we will fight fling me here into this time, this moment, this place and in a most unusual situation, in order to aid Corum in his quest to restore the balance.”
“Have you by chance come across anyone known as Krem Skathar?” Owain asked interestingly for many of us were still wondering what on earth the drugs had indeed done to Jaree’s brain.
“Skathar? Can’t say I have but then again I may have done in another place, land, time or person as I said sometimes I am you but,” he sighed most mournfully. “It seems I am commonly with or at least part of you.”
“Well as much as this conversation has been the definition of the word interesting I really think we should start finding our way out of this labyrinth.” I suggested anxious to leave the smell of death, decay and pain which lingered on every surface in this corridor.
“Ah yes right you are madam, come on this way.” Jaree announced rather boldly before anyone could speak and quite nimbly for someone who was drugged for who knows how long, led us out of his cell and further down the corridor to a T junction.
I paused to only wonder whether the type of madness in this fellow with his adorable flying cat was better or worse than the type which had driven Berlewen to such a dishonorable death.