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Call of the eldritch one…
~ Art by haryarti ~ (DeviantArt)
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The Manudhe Desert - a desolate expanse of endless dunes, treacherous canyons, and dried oasis’. In Equarish it is known as the Forsaken Desert, a name deserved for such a wasteland inhabited only by madmen and monsters. It is the very core of Dahard and many claim the beating black heart of the land’s savage nature and woes. Such claims and warnings of course do not keep the most daring away, many of whom's bleached bones can be found buried in the sand still clutching their rusted swords and broken spears from when they drew their last rattling breaths.
Malachy of Ezain was one such daring man, but he was one who still lived. Having braved the dangers of the Manudhe Desert and relying on his wits and innate skills he had found what he had been looking for, that which had first driven him unto his travels and brought him to Dahard. Malachy had spent years searching for the ruins of an ancient city, one of many that had been lost within the great maw of the Manudhe over the countless centuries. This city however was said to be the final resting place of an ancient artifact. Already worth it’s weight in gold it also is a coveted prize among those with magic in their blood, the fabled relic said to give one great elemental powers.
Where so many had given up or failed Malachy had finally found the remains of the ancient city. All the time spent pouring through scrolls, comparing outdated maps to ancient tablets, and bickering with desert sages had proven fruitful in the end. Finding the ruins themselves would be a reward regardless. Even if the relic Malachy sought was not there or indeed just a tale the ruins would surely have a number of treasures and valuable items to be claimed. And as Malachy now trudged across the sands towards the cities’ towering walls he wished for the hundredth time he had never found the accursed place. For this was not his first arrival.
Malachy neared the massive front gate which stood as tall as any building, his eyes scanning the walls overhead. It was quiet as it had been when he had first came here and every other time after, the air as dead as the city itself. There were no signs of any people or animals to be seen anywhere, the only tracks being those of Malachy’s own two feet. He was just short of the gate when he heard an unwelcomely familiar voice.
“Malachy… you return.”
Malachy froze in place, eyes turning to a shadowy nook to the left of the gate. A dark look crossed his already downtrodden visage as he made out the silhouette of the voices’ owner within the shadow. “Yes.” Malachy said flatly.
“Well,” the voiced rasped, “what have you to present?”
“I do not answer to the likes of you.” Malachy retorted, jaw jutted out. “Let me through the gate.”
A hoarse chuckle, “No, you do not answer to me, tis not I who holds your leash. But I am the gatekeeper.” From within the darkness of the shadow Malachy could see two gleaming white eyes and a yellowed smile of cold spite. Malachy spit in disgust but knew he had to appease the curiosity of the creature before him if he wished to enter the city. He had to do so before after all.
“I visited the foreigner as told.”
“His army is small. He calls upon locals and sellswords to do his bidding. I imagine he hopes to gain the allegiance of the natives as well.”
“Hmm,” mumbled the hunched form, “what of his stronghold?”
“It is barely worthy of being called such, mere houses and tents thrown together around the remnants of an old ruin.”
“I suppose.” Malachy said saltily, lips drawing into a crinkle of contempt.
There was a moment of silence, Malachy stood impatiently as the shaded being remained quiet. He spoke not and made no effort to move forward from his tight cranny. “Will you open the gate now?” Malachy snapped finally having no interest in spending anymore time in the company of the hunkered gatekeeper. There was an amused chuckle followed by the call for the gate to be opened, the hunkered creature’s fried shouts even worse than his calmer tone. Like metal against rock it made Malachy’s hairs stand on end.
“Go slave, your owner awaits you.”
As the gate slammed shut behind him Malachy began the long walk through the damned city. Crumbling shells that were once houses danced with shadows and the fleeting shapes of those who watched the lone man pass by. They like the gatekeeper denizens of this lost city, and like him servants of the one whom Malachy now went to see. As bothersome as the constant movements from the corners of his eyes were what truly vexed Malachy the most was the empty silence. There were no gusts of wind, no caws or screeches of birds, not even the buzzing of an insect. The only sound to be heard was the scraping of his shoes against the sand laden stones and the rhythmic thump of his staff as he walked. One could say that the endless silence was near maddening, Malachy feeling his feet begin to glide beneath him as he was eager for both more sound as well as to be away from this place again as fast as possible.
Malachy had done as he had last been instructed which was to journey south to the coast where the foreign nobleman who had arrived a year ago had first raised his banner. He had since erected fortifications which soon had drawn in settlers as well as merchants and other travelers seeking the safety of walls and soldiers. Malachy was told to visit the colony site which had been named “Kaganja” and learn what he could about the foreigners, their leader, and the settlement. Having spent twelve days among the people he had learned much and now - like the lapdog he had become - returned to report to his superior.
As he ascended towards his destination atop the hill in the midst of the city Malachy’s disgust and seething had been reduced to wistful melancholy . He had felt often since the first time he departed this city, his fate sealed as he began his new life as an empty thrall. He wondered how long before he became like the gatekeeper and the rest of the malformed beings he had encountered here. Naught but a shambling husk that followed the commands of the ancient being that had snared him in it’s web when he had first arrived. In the end it was Malachy’s ambition and greed that had brought him here and thus placed him at the mercy of forces greater than his comprehension, and he knew this without denial. How arrogant he had been traipsing into the ancient ruins alone thinking himself a match for all that lie within only for his adventure to end with him on the ground pleading for his life in a spreading pool of blood. His pleas were indeed answered though it was hardly an act of mercy. This brief exchange for his continued existence was the signature on the contract that reduced him to what he was, a slave bowing to the voice of one most sinister. His body and soul theirs now.
As he clumb the great steps towards the sanctum of his host, or rather leash holder, Malachy gathered what composure and lingering hope he had held on to so far. What precisely he hoped for he had no clear picture, he just knew that it helped him to face the fear that came with returning to his subjugator as well as coping with the knowledge that he had a hand in their evil even as a mere emissary. The chance that he could perhaps escape from the snare in which he was caught. That maybe he could find someone to help free him from his imprisonment. This flickering hope and strained grasp on his self was all he had left.
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When Zemida Naakesh Kaanada arrived in Dahard he founded the first Baneghoran colony seen in the Lost Land in nearly four hundred years. He chose to name it “Kaganja” after his grandfather. The Zemida’s laborers toiled without rest to reconstruct the ruined fort that he now uses as both a court of affairs and an estate. A wall and towers were erected for defensibility and as the months passed the population of Kaganja began to grow. First traders came and then farmers and craftsmen followed by fisherman and sea merchants, the latter warranting the construction of dockyards.
In time the humble Baryakin began to visit Kaganja, arriving in small caravans to trade with the Baneghorans. The Zemida Kaanada, eager to gain allies in Dahard, began to offer protection for the Baryakin caravans as well as allow them to set up an outpost nearby to Kaganja. Emissaries often arrive with invitations to the Zemida’s court with gifts in hand for the nomadic folk. While receptive to their host the Baryakin remain cautious, as by nature they can be slow to trust. Kaanada does not let this falter his intentions and continues to do his best to make the Baryakin feel welcome and to warmth their trust seeing them as an invaluable people to be able to turn to.
As Kaganja grows the Baneghoran nobleman has begun to find that his defenses are spreading thin. He has less than twenty ships in his small fleet and his “army” is little more than a few score of infantry. Not yet willing to begin levying the locals he calls for volunteers to join the ranks and also asks for any mercenaries and drifters that might seek work or purpose. Many sellswords have come and are paid well to escort caravans and defend nearby outposts, others come as well offering their abilities as scouts, explorers, and even advisors. While discriminating in his choices the Zemida directs that any noteworthy visitors be directed to him or his ratham - or first advisor.
Anyone skilled and able enough seeking work or a calling for their abilities can find themselves piquing the interest of Naakesh Kaanada provided they are competent and loyal by nature.
From his palace in Tanupadet does the light of the Maatrho’s divinity shine far, even into the darkness of Dahard. Qadir was occupied by Tawr around twenty years back and was the only piece of land in Dahard that the Maatrho managed to cling to after the devastation of his expedition. While considered a vassal and not actually part of Tawr this has not stopped the heavy influence of Tawrish language, culture, and religion, the latter in particular at the encouragement of a whip or blade.
The Imit, the “overseer” of Qadir, enforces the Maatrho’s will without hesitation. Insurgency and deviance in any form is not tolerated, a life not dedicated to the Maatrho and his glorification is seen as sinful and local citizens are reminded of this by the presence of, not just Tawrish soldiers, but the Eye of Jhator - a militant faction in Tawr that revere the god of justice and balance as well as act as the Maatrho’s enforcers in state and religion.
Qadir is a popular rest stop and easily safer in regards to crime than Arilquas to the west. That said the laws are strict and range from trade imports to the amount of time one is allowed to spend at the inn. Good citizens that willingly embrace Tawrish way of life and accept the god-king as their lord have naught to fear, but any unbending visitor must always mind themselves even when buying a loaf of bread.
Nestled between Dahard and Esaad Arilquas is a popular trade post and rest stop. People passing along the northern border of Dahard will stop here to rest their legs, partake in the local establishments, and trade with fellow drifters, merchants, and visiting Baryakin.
Arilquas is best known for it’s diversity of custom and also it’s lack of a ruler. This has lead to something of local “individual laws” as well as the formation of militias and self asserted tribunals though most of these petty groups haven’t the power they like to think. Mercenaries are also manifold in Arilquas acting as neighborhood watch, caravan and post guards, and defenders from raiders and monsters.
Arilquas as of late has become rather plagued by ruthless bands of sellswords and aggressive merchants looking to seize anything they can from locals and rivals alike. This has lead to fights and skirmishes in some instances lately between merchant enforcers and local watch.