“Seek answers to the riddle of Ket and Kasille in the Light in the Darkness.” The Last words of Tiresias to Eminides, Captain of the Guard of Haven
“The Sea of Sands, says ye! The dead hills, the endless heat, the Scorched Lands? What in the Night would you want to know about that blasted wilderness?”
“There’s nothing there but death, and I don’t give a Blighted piss what the Flame thinks about that!”
“Superstition? Oh well, there’s no better place for superstition I suppose, except of course for Ket itself. Why just ask the Order, they’ll tell you! There you will find naught but starvation, thirst and agonizing torture, and then you’ll die, even though ye be in the Light. Here the Light takes from you everything you are, and gives nothing back.”
“Of course you’ve heard of the Souls of Sin, those poor bastards, devout and orthodox, who have taken their vow of the Flame and then betrayed it. Instead of waiting for their Inquisition, they make the pilgrimage to the North, to the Seas, there to have the heat and light remove their sins, to wash away their depravity in wretched thirst, and dust coated agony.”
Legends tell of their endless wanderings, of their endless suffering. Such is the stories of those who pass the gateways, past Almagesh to the East, and past Pylos to the North.
There have only been two campaigns into the Sands. You’ll recall the first, sent in Borindin’s early reign, sent a whole battalion through the Gateway at Pylos. Never seen again. Then of course, there was the incursion from Almagesh, unsponsored, nearly began a war with the Ala Madin it did. A garrison, led by Borindin’s youngest child, the hotheaded Koratus. I don’t need to remind you of their fate. If it weren’t for the Ala Madin granting access to the city of Almagesh, so that His Majesty could see his son’s fate for himself, it might very well have began a war with the Easterners. Those were trying times for diplomacy.
But what lies in the Seas? And who are the Ala Madin? Who else lives there? I’ll try my best to tell you what I know, but it may only be partly true, and if you are thinking of venturing there, you’d better find the trail of the Sinners, for at least they know the truth. There’s no coming back.
Denizens of the Sands
The sands are endless wastelands, barren of nearly all life as we would call it, and devoid of green or plant life of any kind, at least on the surface. However, below the sands, in the coolness and chill of the tombs and underground crevices of our ancient ancestors, creatures live and crawl and feed. These few outcroppings in the sand, lure wanderers, and there they find their deaths. Stories are told of insect men, the so called Thri-Kreen. These monsters take slaves from the Ala Madin into the sands and trade with them for all manner of treasures. This relationship is said to be ancient, and conducted only by the Circle of Masters, the leadership of the Ala Madin.
Only a few stories escape the sands and it is hard to know what is truth, as dead men usually do not tell tales. Nonetheless, of these stories, several commonalities exist. First, the sands are home to larger animals then we are used to here in Celn lands. There are reptiles and insects that are enormous. Many of these are actually used as mounts or “domesticated” by the Thri-Kreen or Ala Madin.
Since night lasts only a few hours in these lands, (and is rumored to not exist at all father North if the Thri Kreen are to be believed) there is but a short period in which the light diminishes. This is the time of danger, when these massive crawling and winged beasts, exit their hideous hiding places, and seek food upon the surface. Those foolish enough to wander into the Sea, are dragged screaming back into their lairs, to be consumed in the only dark these lands know of.
Blood Demon, The Vam Pier
The Ala Madin have many stories, stories that are told in their brothels and trading ports. One of the more famous of these stories you will not hear of in Celn lands, for the Order would be most displeased if they heard it’s falsehood is of the Vam Pier, the Demons of Blood.
Let’s assume it is just a story to frighten the Madinese children, just of course as Celn parents tell of Ket to frighten theirs.
According to the tales, the deserts of the Sands, are so parched that there exists a way in which a man may quench his thirst, permanently. One of these ways (and the stories tell of several such as the Mum Aih and perhaps the most horrific of all, the Searcher) is through an unholy ritual that gives the recipient a thirst for blood, but not for water. It is said that in this ritual, when the thirst for blood replaces that of water, a person may prolong their life indefinitely. The Ala Madin tell of those who have wished to prolong their lives in this manner. Unfortunately, as it said among these tales, the power of blood is that of darkness, not of light. These creatures thus become a creature of the night, shying their once natural way.
I have seen both Madinese children and adults listen with wide eyes to these tales, if they are not true, you wouldn’t know it among the twilight fires in Almagesh. The howls and screams that lie past the fires, in the dunes and hills beyond, make the hairs on your neck stand up. For whom has the Vam Pier come this time?
Whispering Winds, the Sa’lahuni
Another legend among the Ala Madin is more often encountered, and in fact, even Celns maintain much of it’s validity. The Order uses it as a source of warning and for good reason most Celns would agree. Whether or not the legend of the Whispering Wind is true or not, I couldn’t tell ye, but hearing the winds themselves, is something nearly every traveler to Almagesh will first talk of when they return. If they return.
According to the legend, there was once a young Master of the Madin Circle. He was haughty and arrogant, and found his seat there only because of the power of his father, who subsequently died and left his son in a precarious place among the elders. He began to make inroads with the Safre Ha’roum, the Legion of the Scorching Rays, the Madin’s army as he was brave and often volunteered for duty. As he grew in fame, the other members of the circle, wanted him dead, and so they sent him on a fool’s errand to investigate the Sands into the northern lands. Not one to refuse a challenge, he of course accepted.
Four years went by, and the prince was presumed long dead. His position in the council was taken by his enemy, chosen by the other Masters, as they had planned. But then, something miraculous happened. He returned! But not as he was. With him was a maiden of blackened skin, and with them a tribe such as the Ala Madin had never seen. They were dark of skin color, and spoke in a strange way. The prince, as was the custom, was awarded his position back among the Circle. His rivals, now older, saw their power diminish nearly over night as the people of the Sands idolized their returned prince.
In time, the prince of the Sands, Madin Sa’hur, as he was now known, replaced the Circle’s guardian legion with his Dark Warriors, the women of the Northern Lands, or Se’haroum Sadin. The people of the sands were prosperous. All seemed well. But not all were happy. The men, who had traditionally held the Master’s Circle were unhappy. They plotted against the Se’haroum Sadin. And in a terrible betrayal, they slaughtered them and retook their power. The prince took to refuge in his complex, and years went by.
But then, a great Sandstorm crept upon the cities of the Ala Madin nation. For forty days and forty nights it blocked the sun. Families stayed indoors, many perished for lack of supplies. As if that weren’t bad enough, those who ventured outside reported hideous beasts among the sandstorm. Demons that ate men. Demons that took them away screaming never to be seen again.
When the dust settled, the men of the nation of Madin were reduced to only several thousand. So many had been lost in the weeks of the winds and sand. The Circle of Masters was no more, for nearly all of these men had been taken as well.
The citizens of the Maden Empire thus gave to their prince a new edict. The Circle of Masters were once more to be women and he would choose them himself. He chose 12, and their rule has been prosperous since. Even the army is composed of nearly half women, a fact that the Order of the Flame despises.
Legend holds that the Whispering Winds are of those men who were once taken by the sandstorm. Travelers are wise to offer them offerings for a safe journey through Madenese lands.
Winds of the Ancients
Other legends of the winds do however exist. In one such tale, the winds are a carryover from the people who built the structures found deep in the sands. The Madenese fear these places, rightfully so, and never use them to build from. Whatever happened to them must have made them angry and hateful, as they were clearly destroyed. These winds are different, they come from the North, not the East. Ala Madin fear these voices and believe that travelers who do not offer tribute to the winds will be left in the desert for dead, devoid of the means with which to travel via wind in their sails.
The Circle of Masters
The circle of masters is a council of 12 women, all chosen by the reigning Emperor, currently Mufantin III. Each woman is found worthy through a ritual conducted in the spring. A woman chosen by her elders in the community as a likely candidate for the Circle is given libations of truth and given a series of trials.
If she passes these trials, she may be elected to either the fighting warriors, or the circle, if a need exists.
Matriachy in the Sands
The Madenese do not worship as Celns do. Nor do they god worship as the Trebians or some Orst do. They do however worship what they refer to as the feminine, or in Madenese the Se’har.
To the Ala Madin people, Se’har, is the core of humanity. The driving force is to procreate, to prosper for one’s children. It is the driving force of humanity. When one has children who survive and go on to reproduce, then one has led a successful life. Some might call this the worship of fertility, for it is often connected with their harvesting of underground crops such as mushrooms and other staple crops grown well below the surface. In this way, the Se’har is worshipped. There are no temples dedicated to Se’har, priests are housed in the Royal Palace, and are assigned seats around the Circle of Masters. Since the Circle of Masters has become Se’har however, it is in fact an idolization of worship for each and every citizen of Almagesh and the Sands peoples. Careful and observant rituals are pervasive in society. During these rituals, all in Madin lands are to observe these rites, in some cases not doing so is punishable by death. These include daily tributes and offerings to Se’har.
Ala Madin travel best by using their greatest resource. Wind. There is constant winds in Madin lands. Ships loaded with wares are placed on ships made of hollow timbers from jungles in the north. These ships are placed on skiffs, and are topped with immense sails. The Madin merchants who man these ships are quite proud of their ability to navigate these “waters”, and because of this technology the Madin have learned to trade for what they need, and gain much wealth in the process.
Trade winds exist and are counted on by merchants. They are quite dependable although when the winds shift disaster can strike. Typically however, winds from the East carry for several weeks and then shift West for several more, before continuing this cycle anew. The Ala Madin note these times and travel accordingly. A constant Northerly wind blows southward, but a wind in the opposite direction has never existed. Travel North is considered taboo and treacherous.
The Lost City
The sands peoples are fascinated by tales. Traveler’s to Almagesh will be greeted by a great many “wise sages” with maps to countless treasures buried below the sands. A common theme among these maps is a “lost city” which still keeps records from the “Before Days”. The days of the The Three, the Four, the Seven, and the Twelve. According to much of these stories, the lost city will contain ancient treasures, and show the Madin people the secrets of the Northern lands.
A place of superstition and mystery, said to be to the North, or to the East, always just beyond a map of the known world. Roh’m al”Drok, or “place of dragons” is that spot which according to the Madin story of the Prince, the demons came from. These were said to be demons of every color and hue. When the storm left the city, the demons returned to this place, and await in slumber still. Should the Ala Madin ever forget their mistreatment of the women that the prince brought with him to Almagesh from his days upon the sands, the demons will return, to take their vengeance on the men once more. This story thus reinforces the practice of Se’har, the worship of the feminine in Madin lands.
The Shadow River No society can exist in a desolate place like the desert seas, unless they had access to water. A “Shadow River” is said to be the life blood of the denizens of the deserts here. It’s source, and true locations are unknown to Celns. Visitors to Almagesh, or the seas who go in search of it, or asking too many questions about it, are often noticeably missing sometime thereafter. The river is a closely guarded secret to those living there. But, it is rumored to be like that of a spiderweb, and is said to have many branches, hidden, deep below the scorched surface.
The Madenese maintain strict control of their water reserves. These are taken from wells deep within the earth and well-guarded by the Scorching Rays. Citizens that pay their taxes and bestow the blessings of Se’har are granted water rights. Those who do not are left to suffer thirst and with it, death.
A story amongst the Madin exists that explains the source of these pools as a great river that flows under the sands. Whether this is true or not, is anyone’s guess.
The Madin are obsessed with the history of the world, in a way that the Celn is obsessed with superstition. No other story in their history is as intriguing or hotly debated as the Library of Theunatos.
In many lands, not just Madin lands, tales exist of a library so vast, that the learnings of the Kasillians are arrayed in book after book. Anyone finding this library would gain incredible power. Legends and stories tell of keys that unlock it, or paths that reveal it’s location. Should one find it, they would cure the world of the evil that exists in the darkened places.
Borindin himself was intrigued enough by these tales to launch an expedition into the North in his youth. It is said that his son, Koratus, did the same some years later, to no avail.
If the library exists, there have never been traces of it. But don’t tell that to peddlers in the streets of Almagesh selling you scraps of parchment that have come from Thenuatos!
Almagesh lies beyond the reach of the Great Realm of Cellinor, and the Flame’s mighty glow. For that reason, tales of heroes still exist and are told amongst the population, just as they are in Trebian lands, or Oorst. In these tales, which vary from one culture to the next, stories of three evil spirits are often defeated by four wise and powerful heroes. Sometimes, seven animals, each bearing a different virtue tell and teach of some higher wisdom. There are also tales of 12 magnificent dragons, who can change themselves into humans to manipulate the doings of people. They are ruled by a giant serpent, she of many hues.