Bardic - October 2021
Of blood, death, and guilt
told by Caitria
A Fortnight Past
The ground rumbled and shook like a great beast sloughing water off its hide. Aeson came awake in a panic. His heart thumped headily in his chest. And when he opened his eyes, he thought he was blind. The dark was thick and cloying, a blindfold lashed tightly over his eyes. Quickly he touched the rawhide bracelet on his wrist, tapping the allsight enchant within. Still, his vision didn’t clear.
Where was he?
The usual comfort of his younger brother whom he shared a bed with was missing. Instead, the hard ground – barely softened by a blanket – bruised his young body.
“Shh,” Father said. Though Aeson couldn’t see him, he felt him close as he crouched beside his bedroll. “Shh, son. You need to be quiet now.”
Memory came slowly as his father’s soothing tones tamped down the panic trembling through him. He remembered now. They were on a journey and had made camp on the edge of Dun Valley, far enough away that the ogres, orcs, and odd demonic creatures that father warned him about wouldn’t smell them or their fire. Through his fear, the acrid sting of smoke funneled into his nostrils, but there was no light. Why wasn’t the fire lit?
His father’s palm snared his mouth, silencing him swiftly. “Ylem hunters,” he cautioned.
A different kind of fright wormed through Aeson’s belly. He nodded, and eventually the pressure eased from his mouth. Eventually, Aeson’s night vision brightened. What had been pitch-blackness, now showed signs of grey. He saw his father then, at least his silhouette, as the older Tsol’aa laid on his belly on the border of their campsite.
Another pulse rattled the earth beneath Aeson, followed swiftly by the aggressive baying of warhounds. At least three of them howled into the early autumn air, their canine voices eerie and mournful; the pitches blurred together at times, before others seemed to pull apart from their song, evoking a surge of battling emotions inside Aeson.
Slowly, he shook free of his leather bedroll, and belly-crawled to his father. If they were sighted within the area, there was nothing from stopping them from killing Aeson and his father. Strength in slaughter was the Carnifex motto, especially when they were drinking the chaotic lifeblood of Sapience from a source.
The uniformed shape of a knight stood above a glowing fissure. Ylem leaked from the line the leyline, absorbed in a rivulet into the odd-looking gauntlet clasped to the Carnifex’s arm. He watched, mesmerized. When the Ylem hunters came close to his village in the Ithmia forests, he was forced inside, the villagers choosing the sanctity of wooden walls against fighting a Ylem Hunter.
And the odd creatures that formed in the ley.
A crackle like lightning flashed from the center of the open leyline, before the ylem seemed to take on a emerald-encrusted shape. Hungering, mindless, and savage, the eld suddenly burst toward the Carnifex, clawing at the knight with its skittering claws.
Laughter boomed from the ylem-wreathed figure. In a motion far too swift for Aeson to follow, they pulled free a massive warhammer and swung at the creature. Spikes that looked like bone bristled from the sides of the weapon’s head.
The dance of war was shockingly savage. This was a battle of life-or-death, not the respectful rite of hunter and prey. The Carnifex battered at the Eld, pummeling it into tiny, crystalline pieces.
As the Eld fell, the leyline collapsed around the Carnifex, leaving the valley eerily quiet.
Aeson held his breather until the Carnifex secured their weapon, and agile mounted a giant ant-like creature. The pair – and the hounds – heading towards the path that would take them into the Vashnar Mountains.
“It’s safe now,” Father said as he sat back. “Try to rest some more. We have a long day ahead of us.”
Aeson obediently laid down, but his mind refused to quiet. Fright and superstition tangled inside of his chest, a deep foreboding that the Carnifex would be the least of their troubles on their pilgrimage.
As his eyes closed, Aeson thought Father should have listened to the Bakers.
The Morning of
Firelight painted the back of Aeson’s lids. He came awake slowly, aware of the crackling of flame in the hearth and soft murmurs of conversation. It was that time before he and his younger siblings awoke, where his parents began their morning ritual: chores, breakfast, and bonding. Often, he woke just like this, long before daybreak, stirring in the small bedroom set in the far corner of the kitchen that he shared with his younger brother, and groggily listened to the world awaking. As the eldest, he would soon be following in his father’s steps. His father was a ranger who hunted game for the village before the sun’s first rays touched the skies over the Northern Ithmia and patrolled the forest borders closest to Duiran in exchange for spices and metal.
He drifted, buoyed by the sounds of the household. The soft melody of mother sweeping the floor, porridge burbling in the pot over the fire, and the occasional giggle as father said something to make her laugh; the noises diffused by the curtain which divided his bedroom from the rest.
A soft clop of hooves on the stoop, followed by a quiet tap on the front door brought Aeson closer to wakefulness. He shifted on the straw palette of his bed and tugged aside the corner of the curtain. Gazing out, he saw the Baker’s – a Satyr couple surnamed thus because they baked for the village.
“Jhaan,” Mother greeted with surprise. “Amedee.”
Mrs. Baker passed a small basket to Mother. The scents of fresh journey rolls and warm kawhe seeped into the kitchen, invading his bedroom like a stealthy Syssin. He hated the acrid smell of kawhe and wrinkled his nose.
“Tidings,” Jhaan said. He shifted upon his goatish hooves as Mother welcomed them inside.
“What brings you by this early,” Father asked.
“We have heard murmurs that your son and husband will be journey to the lost forest.”
“Yes, this is right.” Tension and steel blended with Mother’s airy voice. Over the many weeks, others had visited just like this – questioning Father about returning to the blighted land.
“They shouldn’t,” Mrs. Baker whispered.
“Amedee, calm,” Mr. Baker murmured.
“There is no harm to be had. The Bloom has long been cured by the Hunter.”
“We have all put that accursed land behind us. We have welcomed the Tsol’aa refuges with us and started anew. So many were lost…”
“You do not have children,” There was a slight creak as Father stood from his chair. “When you do you will understand. They should know where they – we – have come from.”
“Can you guarantee that you will not bring any spores back? That what happened to the Aalen will not carry here?”
“Jhaan, we cannot live in fear. If the Gods will it…” Mother worshipped Haern, the Hunter, and faithfully followed the tenants of the Rhythm.
What lives must die.
Aeson had not yet decided on his faith and had been learning much about the different Gods from the Illuminai that often visited the settlement.
“Your children are Bloom babies; they do not need to know it!”
The slur caught everyone by surprise. Mother’s breath hitched, and she pressed a hand to her throat. Amongst the long-lived Tsol and the displaced population of the Aalen, there were many ‘bloom babies’, an attempt to rebuild the generations that had been lost, and honor those who had died during the plague. Though he was the eldest now, he had not been his parent’s first, or even second, child.
“We thank you for your offering to our journey, it’s time for you to be on your way,” Father yanked open the front door, standing like a Sentinel beside it.
Mrs. Baker wept softly as she turned into her husband’s arms, the pair departing into the brightening dark.
The sudden BANG of the door slamming startled Aeson. His elbow knocked against the sleeping form of his younger brother, who only groaned and rolled away.
“She is just scared, Erlan,” Mother said as she gathered Father into her embrace. “She lost as much as we did to the Bloom.”
Sleep stole Aeson away, carrying him off into the Imago’s color-streaked realm.
Time passed anew until a gentle shake on his shoulder brought Aeson swimming from his dreams again. He blinked against the brightness of the grey dawn seeping through the curtains.
“It’s time to wake, son. We have a long journey ahead of us.”
Excitement burst inside of Aeson. He swung off his bed, earning a bleating sound from his younger brother in the process.
“I’m ready, Father.”
“There will be danger for us, son.” Father’s emerald eyes were like steel.
“I’m ready for anything.”
At the time, Aeson truly believed he was.
The bright fingers of dawn teased the horizon, though night had not yet broke. The jagged angles of the Vashnars had gradually disappeared, leading into a gentle sloping hill that Aeson and his father had made camp upon. In the near distance, an ancient, grey forest spread before them.
“This used to be the home of all Tsol’aa,” Father said as he cradled a tin cup of kawhe between his hands. The bitter aroma turned through Aeson, adding to horror-induced nausea in his gut.
“Wh—what are those.” Aeson couldn’t believe his eyes. While he had seen many things growing up in a land as magical and war fraught as Sapience tended to be, nothing could have prepared him for this.
Apparitions drifted through a thick mist that clotted the forest ground. Their sobbing, wailing, and mournful screams were so filled with pain, that each time they rose in a cacophony toward the barren, wrecked boughs, goosebumps popped painfully on his arms and legs. Aeson huddled in on himself, watching the mass of lingering spirits as they wove in and out of the darkened trees.
“Those are your ancestors.”
“Why do they sound like that?” Aeson had seen spirits before. The Wardens of Duiran often brought their ancestors with them, spectral as they were, they did not make sounds as if they were being tortured; their faces had seemed jovial, not the pained rictus the spirits of the Aalen wore.
Father was silent for a time. “When I was younger, a few years wed to your mother, Sapience was invaded by a warring species called the Dreikathi. They had conquered their own continent, that of Albedos, and then set their sights on us.”
“They were the first of the Ylem Hunters, having spent centuries learning the ability to siphon it, and utilize it. When they came here, they came with bombs and abilities that left us with little hope of victory. The Dreikathi rained a foul purple sludge the Aalen, leaving ruin within their horrific wake of destruction. Mutations and sickness spread like a wildfire throughout the forest and our people.”
Father’s chest rattled in a swallowed sound of grief. “Your first sister and brother were victims of their attack. We were dying, painfully, swiftly. And when we thought all was lost, the Hunter came to us and attempted to clean away the sludge left by the Dreikathi bombs.”
A grim smile flickered across father’s face. “Unfortunately, it backfired. On the Hunter. On the Aalen. The Hunter’s link to the Dendaric plane was shattered and a sudden flood of energy ignited the Aalen Forest into a firestorm of destruction. From within the remnant sludge that yet coated the forest soil, numerous stalks of fiery crimson began to grow upward, their bulbous heads growing ripe with discontent. From these stalks, clouds of virulent spores spread throughout the air.”
“The Bloom did not remain only in the Aalen. It spread, ravenous and terrible, past the borders of the forest and out into the world. What had begun here, became our legacy beyond our borders. The Bloom consumed, and many, many died before a cure was concocted. What was left of the Tsol’aa people dispersed. Some, like us, resettled in already established villages. The Satyrs of Abelaas welcomed us with open arms. Others seemed to vanish into the forests, hostile to the idea of outsiders.”
Father finished the rest of his kawhe in one gulp. “We thought that was the end of it. But the Aalen had always been a magical place. The very forest writhed in pain. The dead were restless, their fates sealed by the Hunter and His flame. They seethed and howled their suffering, as you see them now. Their very presence altered the once lush greenery of Aalen.”
Father waved a roughened hand toward the blood-tinged leaves and the odor of death that lingered in the air. “The Bloodwood, awaiting the return of its remaining children.”
His found found Aeson’s. “Us.”
Panic carved a home beneath his ribcage. Tears swam in his eyes. Aeson's quiet sobs were nothing compared to the ghoulish howls of the seething dead.
Father wrapped his arm around Aeson’s shoulders. Time passed. Dark turned into a weak grey. Night broke, and slowly, with the touch of the sun, the spirits vanished.
In the brightness of daybreak, amidst the barren and autumnal forest, a spot of forest green caught Aeson’s eye.
“Who is that?”
“That is Keeper Alia. She is our hope to find a way to settle these restless spirits and return them to the Underking where they belong.”
Father rose, and Aeson stood alongside him. He felt older than his thirteen-years. The weight of the Tsol’aan legacy pressed down upon him.
“It is safe to walk the ruins in daylight.”
Together, father and son left the safety of the mountains and entered the Bloodwood.
Five Years Gone By
The pained sobbing of the spirits clawed at Aeson. Ghostly fingers yanked at his cloak. They tangled in the trinkets and feathers braided in his hair. Surprisingly corporeal fingers passed painfully against the Sentinel's chainmail-clad chest.
He was older now. No longer the gangly teenager who had witnessed his people’s blood-soaked and haunted legacy. It had taken him years to understand why Father had chosen to tell him the story of what came before their home in Abelaas.
He knew now.
Keeper Alia's wan visage was tilted up to Aeson. The dark circles beneath her eyes made her gaze seem like pits.
"I am Aeson son of Erlan," he said in a voice like a storm; deep and rolling.
"I am Alia, once child of the Aalen, and now a keeper of the Bloodwood. Will you bring my people their release?” the Keeper said. Her voice was without judgement and tinged with a thread of hope.
Solemnly, Aeson nodded. “I will.”
Alia’s eyes closed briefly. Regret warred with the burdens of what must be done. “Bring me their essence, and through it they will find peace.”
Aeson gripped his dhurive tightly and turned to face the spirits that gathered like a pallid cloud around him. His nightingale song a soothing tune upon his shoulder.
He would help Alia, and all the remaining Tsol’aa, write a new legacy – for the Bloodwood, and the lost Aalen.
Legacy - by Teani
As legacies go, we are most of us keen
to leave behind marks of who we have been.
Our actions, our deeds, remembered well
as part of a story that someone will tell.
Not all become heroes, but there are a few
who managed to rise to the top and stand true.
Stories of those are meant to inspire
to make those who listen wish to reach higher.
Now to set the scene of legacy born
let's speak of a time when the world was torn.
The east coast forever changed on the map
and like stitches, the bridges now criss-cross the gap.
Rising up from the depths of the world
from the Abyss, this enormous horror unfurled.
Kerrithrim, almighty, warred with the Gods
while people below tried to even the odds.
Catapults brought the edge they would need
to get close enough that they could succeed.
That is when heroes rose to the task
Without anyone even having to ask.
Almighty though the creature might be,
it likely could not ever foresee
that against tiny mortals it best beware
for our heroes came sailing through the air.
After scaling the beast, they entered its core,
fighting their way through plenty of gore.
With skill and precision, a true work of art,
they severed the strings of the monster's heart.
Missari and Mazzion can both make this claim,
enough for librarians to bolster their fame.
As legacies go, there are stories to tell
and this one among all has truly aged well.
Yretz // Belladona - A legacy
Composed by: Grand Duchess Blodwyn Nehekhara
Lulled from the dark and distant past, veiled by the Grand Artifice.
Votarient, enticed, slipped free from magic and was recast.
A simple nudge, a carefully placed clue, led astray from book-learning.
Down a treacherous path she would rue, seeped in sanguine yearnings,
toward a tenebrific end; power amassed, exiled into tragedy.
Eons come and gone, the facade unwoven from mortal memory.
What secrets obstructed, now astounds in an immortal torrent.
Dawn forsaken for the cool embrace of eternal night,
and the heady delight of unhallowed, hungering debase.
The mysterious lady established upon a spiteful throne.
Belladona, the Queen, bloody and regally possessed.
Groomed, thrall, the first of us, Abhorash her childer.
Conveying a legacy of the elegant Undead, four royal houses arose; Progenitor.
Souls unfettered from life, darkly purebred by a blood-drenched kiss.
From the Consanguine's motionless hearts, a bastion conceived, constructed,
nestled at the heart of the Vashnar Mountains, rooted by coveting veins;
Bloodloch - the Sanguine Fist.
A quintet of rubicund jewels, behold, upon Bloodloch's craggy brow.
Sovereignty, the Imperium rules over this stronghold of the blood.
The politics of Undeath harsh yet schools, a usurper vies for the throne.
A cold conflict erupts with arrogance; blood thrashes against blood.
Schemes and statecraft toil in a macabre dance, until all but one dashes.
Conniver befouls the most royal lineage; cleansed.
Our Queen, immortality besmirched, torn from her coffin and throne.
Belladona, what sly trickery ruins you?
A fanged Lord, Zsarachnor, once adored; now abhorred.
No longer the mysterious lady with a mouth of red and fanged kiss.
Mortality beckons, her heart quickes anew, the Embrace a broken thread.
In egress, heinous deeds reap the Queen into history.
Yretz, from your legacy the Dominion prevails.
Blood Legacy - By Rebra
The years were once splashed in brightness:
the sands of the Mhojave reflecting the sun's heat.
A farmer girl, freckled in red,
sought the fire mountain that was darkness.
Houses steeped in story,
hidden in caverns carved by blood,
beckoned with promises of forever:
taken from the sun, the sweat, the impermanence
To be a servant
was to toil, head bowed, mind set
upon glory unpromised.
To impress pallid masters
with slit wrist, life draining
into the graven earth, undeath awaiting.
To be a thrall
was to thirst, back bent, will unyielding,
for the favour of fickle
peerage. The lightless eyes
of unbreathing nobility fixed
upon her fate: to remain as refuse
or to rise into eternity,
uplifted by an embrace pierced in fangs.
Drained of daylight,
she hungered for the darkness that filled her
in a bleeding pedigree from the nights of Yrtez.
Head high, she was the pallor
that trod on the skulls of the lesser living.
Earth and shadow and mist: the stuff of undreaming.
The years were once splashed in blood:
Abhorash's childer vying for favour in countless Houses.
A countess of the consanguine, pale in red,
slept the crimson centuries awash in earth.
Naked under sun,
burning with unbalmed flesh,
she awoke in the Mhojave sands:
taken from mouldered coffin, from Bloom, from slow years
To learn again
the toil of nobility
amidst the dominion of shadow.
To covenant with pallid mistresses
in devoted words, blood draining
into the panther's fanged lips, crown awaiting.
To learn once more
the unyielding thirst
for blood in spreading strength.
To rise amidst hissing impertinences
to impress the titanium-crowned beauty
whose blood flows unbroken:
a heartpulse for the pulseless, unbidden,
and so her hand taken in eternity,
clasped amidst blooms of splintered darkness.
Drowned in spirals,
she despaired of the jade that broke her
in a cascade of butterflies fluttered in pointed malice.
Head low, she was the poet
that slew her words for a mighty Goddess.
Might and avarice and fear: ungifted, unpromised.
The years are now splashed in darkness:
flickers of wakening in evenings of shadowed cold.
A once empress, bedecked in red,
delves deep for veins of the earth, forsaking brightness.