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Beyond the Sighing Plain

[Friday, June 1, 2001]

Griflet's Report: "There is a new kingdom in Nehwon."

CALL OF THE STONE - Day of the Dove (12th), Harvest Moon, Year of the Gorgon

You make your way down the narrow steps from the rock spire, your black cloak whipping about you in the cold mountain wind. When you return to Red Rock Bay, Windwood is the first to spot you. "He's returned!" he shouts, immediately causing a flurry of activity on board. The longboat is lowered and soon you are on board the swan ship.

"The abomination is no more. We must head south to retrieve the lost Law stone and rebuild the three pillars of law. Captain! Hoist a fair sail and take us as to the Southern borders of Plea."

"Aye, aye, Sire!" replies Zhivias. He gives the orders. The others look at you in some awe. Helias looks stunned, but says nothing.

You stand on the bow with the law stone. It still glows with a warm orange glow, though fainter than it was at the top of the mountain. The dark clouds which clustered over the mountains yesterday have dispersed somewhat, and you watch the sparkling waters of the lake slip by you as you stand on the bow.

By nightfall your ship has arrived at an old stone jetty on the south-eastern shore of the lake. The stone is carved with images of elves at sea in swan-ships like the one you travel in. You recall that this jetty was where the 'Revenge' made its live deliveries for Tovilyis last year. That ruined city is fifty kilometres away. Just before you reach the jetty, you concentrate and replenish the rune of Celedril with magical energy.

All around the shore of the lake is the Sighing Plain and not too far to the south, the endless bleak desolation which is the Quarmall Barrens.

"The Stone still murmurs Southward. I must disembark here. Windwood, Arborius, Kellin and Helias come with me. Zhivias, take Buttercup North to the cities on the lakes of Plea. From there Buttercup you can catch a boat to return to your congregation in Antim Town. Take your rod and my blessings child. Once this is done return here with the boat and wait for us."

"Bye daddy, and good luck!" says Buttercup.

INTO THE BARRENS - Day of the Dove (12th), Harvest Moon, Year of the Gorgon

You and your four companions travel southwards on foot, after loading up with water and food from the boat.

For two days you march through the grasses of the Sighing plain. The weather is cool, but there is no rain here. A spur of the Mountains of Hunger juts out onto the plain and you travel towards it. Always in your hands you hold the murmuring Law Stone, and always it leads further south. There is not much conversation in your party, even Kellin seems subdued.

Gradually the sound of the wind in the grass subsides, as it grows drier and thinner. Grey earth is visible between tufts of grass. Now the dry mountains loom to your right, always darkened at sunset.

Days pass and you have entered the Quarmall Barrens. Black-grey cracked earth extends in all directions. The wind is bitter but dry as bone. Grey clouds scud sullenly across the sky but never is there a drop of moisture. Smoke rises from distant volcanoes in the mountains. Sometimes in the distance you see flashes of putrid yellow-green lightning. There is some life: snakes and desert rats, often strangely mutated or with demonic features. There are very large flies which buzz angrily around.

"This is a hellish place. A thousand curses upon the Quarmallian scum who created it." says Helias at one point, but no one replies and he falls silent once more.

Water proves especially hard to find, even with your skills. After four days in the Barrens, you no longer have enough to return the way you came without fresh supplies. Nevertheless, the stone leads you on, always whispering, another rise, a later horizon. At night the Nehwon stars shine brightly in clear black skies, more brilliant than you have ever seen them. It is cold, and there is nothing to make fire with, so you huddle together in your cloaks for warmth. The only light comes from the stars, the bright moon just past full and the dim glow of the Law Stone.

WHISPERING EARTH - Day of the Mouse (19th), Harvest Moon, Year of the Gorgon

On the day of the Mouse, seven days after your battle on Red Rock, you suddenly stop and look around. Your weary companions trudging behind you halt also. You look around you at the vast black undulating plain, the distant grey mountains, the low grey clouds. They look no different from days ago, but they are. This is the place, you are certain. You place the glowing Law Stone on the ground in front of you.

As it touches the ground, the stone grows and extends itself into the earth, you don't know how far. Now it is as if the tetrahedron in front of you is only the tip of a vast underground monolith. You feel electric energy pulsing through the air and the earth. Far away is a thin demonic wail, quickly lost. Water wells up at the base of the stone and a small pool forms. There is a rumble of distant thunder.

"Well done, Champion." comes the voice in your mind. "The taint of Chaos is removed from this piece of land. In time it will flourish once more. Already seeds long-dormant are awakening and when the rains come, life will return. You have served Law well. You may call on us if the need is great. Here is where you shall build your tower, with the Law Stone as its foundation. This land is yours. It came from unformed Chaos. Now you must name it."

The thunder is louder now.

Your mind moves over the land, you can feel it. From the Mountains of Hunger in the west to the placid Sea of the East; from the Sighing Plain in the north to the (now reduced in size) Quarmall Barrens to the south. Everywhere, life lurks just below the black crusted earth, waiting.

"From this moment onward this land will be known as 'Whispering Earth'. I will build my tower here and we shall forge a new homeland as Elves and re-establish the ways of our ancestors and develope greater arts and laws and philosophies so that the elves will never again be weakened by the machinations of others."

As you speak the name, there is a louder rumble of thunder, then a damp gust bringing rain to the long-parched land of Whispering Earth.

FIRST RAIN - Day of the Bat (25th), Harvest Moon, Year of the Gorgon

"Kellin, Arborius and Windwood remain here and remain low key, watch the Law Stone, but do not be foolish with your bravery. You are my eyes and ears, I need you to watch untill I get back."

"There's not much food - but maybe that won't be a problem soon." says Kellin. "We'll be all right. We can eat demon-snakes if necessary." Was that a joke from Arborius? He looks as solemn as ever.

"W-we won't let you down, S-Sire" says Windwood.

"Helias and I will return to the boat, we must then return North to the Elven Encampment and arrange for the elves to make their way with resources and tools."

The rain doesn't last long. You and Helias trudge back towards the sighing plain. The days and nights are cold and cloudy, but you are in good spirits. Within a couple of days, there is a thin carpet of green grass where a week earlier was only black dust. You spot other plants too; tiny trees which one day will become a forest here. The difference between Whispering Earth and the Sighing plain is no longer so great. On the Plain, you hunt small rodents and make a smallfire, musing that the grass will make travel across your new land quicker, as the earth is more solid.

The moon wanes and by the day of the Bat (25th) you spy the old stone jetty. The swan ship is moored to it. It's been almost two weeks since you left here. Shipmaster Zhivias and the warriors are pleased to see you and intrigued by your tale. They report that they dropped the Lady Buttercup at Lorn Velpa and returned here eight days ago.

FAREWELL TO THE LAKE-LANDS - Day of the Dove (12th), Harvest Moon, Year of the Gorgon

A few days later, in the elven compound, you meet with Corinth, Tolinthis and Gorianthas. They are awed by your tale.

"What now, Sire?" asks Gorianthas "Would you have us move again to this new land? It is not even a year since the Leavetaking. We are barely settled here. The humans aren't quite as bad as we'd first thought - they haven't bothered us."

"Our crafts and trinkets are highly valued by the humans of the lake-city." adds Tolinthis "There's no trade down south."

"What creatures lurk in the Quarmall Barrens and the Sighing Plains and the Mountains of Hunger, Sire? We don't have enough warriors to defend a large territory. What of the Beggars of Tovilyis? They attacked Lorn Velpa recently with the aid of demons. Human scum, but in numbers they could be a threat." says Corinth.

"Gentlemen I hear your words and the truth they bear. Now hear mine. When we moved from Sibilan we were at a loss. Where would we go? Who would accept us? What land must we conquer? Then it was that I brought you here to this encampment, under the generous acceptance from Vaardan and the Rangers of this forest. Our stay here as been safe, but we have always known that it is not our home. And you have always known that we would not long stay here. Trade has flourished and it is for that reason that we will leave a small group of elves here and maintain the site as a trading post and linking our new home to the south with the riches that move along the Hlal. As for the fears of that chaos that creeps the Barrens of Quarmall and can say only this. What land is there that no evil borders it? Only Imric, Coryon and Celedril know and live in such a land now. There is no more safety here than to the South where the Law Stone is grounded. What scouts have you sent into the forest of the beastmen? What plots do the Druids of the North harbour, Tolinthis? The humans have thus far been kind to us, and thus far we have kept a low profile, but what assurances can ou give me of an elven future here?"

"As destiny has made me Lord I command this: twenty Elven families shall be choosen to stay here permanently to maintain the trading post: seven from the House Mercantile, six From the House protector and seven from the reamianing houses. The rest of the elves shall come with me, and we shall build our future under the protection of the law Stone. Those in the first wave shall be skilled women and men, who will begin by building fotifications and infrastructure. the second wave shall follow later with those who have remained. News shall be sent to the Old ruins of Sibilan and the Elves there will be given time and the opportunity to come south with us. If you have no further questions or comments let us to work, there is much to be done."

The three are silent, much impressed by your speech. Goriathas is the first to speak. "Very well, my Lord, it shall be as you wish. We have been so long in inaction, in the twilight between kings, it is somewhat of a shock to be suddenly led hither and thither. I for one, however will travel with you to the new land of Black Earth's Bloom."

"I volunteer to remain behind and run the trading post." says Tolinthis.

"I will muster the warriors, determine who is fit for this mission." says Corinth. He rises and strides from the grove.

In the main court of the compound, you address the elves. At first there is silence, but then there is quiet applause. It seems your oratory has been successful.

A MEETING WITH VARDIN - Day of the Hare (1st), Black Witches' Moon, Year of the Gorgon

A pair of Vardin's rangers escort you quietly and efficiently to his dugout, which you notice is better-furnished and better-roofed than it was the last time you were here. Vardin is sitting by the fire on a comfortable looking chair, smoking his pipe. He rises to greet you, and waves you to another chair. He offers you a pipe, but you indicate your refusal with a brief gesture. A broadsword hangs over the mantelpiece.

"Greetings, Griflet. It is always a pleasure. What brings you to my neck of the woods, and what is the cause of the sudden activity within the Elven compound?"

He listens quietly to your tale. When you have finished, he leans back in his chair and takes a puff from his pipe. "An interesting tale indeed. Your fortunes continue to rise; you are blessed by the Powers. Having your people here has been somewhat of a trial for mine, though I think now things are settling a litle. I have no objections if some of your folk remain here. However it would make sense to me if our two people could come to some agreement on defense issues. Although our folk are different, we have a common foe all too near: the Beastmen. If your people would deign to talk to us 'lowly' humans, I'm sure there is much to discuss which would be mutually beneficial. Your bows, for example, are of exquisite make. And although your people may have roamed these woods hundreds of years before mine, it would not surprise me if my men couldn't teach them a thing or two. You are reasonable, Griflet, but not all of your people see the world as you do, and I fear that if you depart, relations may deteriorate between elves and men here."

THE CENSUS - Black Witches' Moon, Year of the Gorgon

Elven families are extended, but have few children. Over half the population fell victim to madness and death during the Nightmare, so you have correctly estimated family sizes to be about 3 individuals, though not necessarily husband wife and child, sometimes husband, grandmother and child or something similar. The Nightmare did no discriminate by age or gender.

Of the 1000 families 850 are able-bodied, neither too old or too young to work. Of those: 200, a relatively large proportion of Protectors survived.
300 from the House of Hands
100 from House Mercantile
80 from the House of Lore
50 from House Alchemicus
70 from the House of Beauteous Eyes (artists)
50 from other assorted (mostly scattered and broken) Houses including Gorianthas (House Steward)

THE SECOND LEAVETAKING - Frost Moon, Year of the Gorgon

The second great exodus of the elves begins. The two remaining Swan Ships begin ferrying elves and supplies southwards. It takes two trips and a couple of weeks to transport the thousand elves from the Elven Compound to the Stone Jetty. From there supplies are loaded on to wagons which roll slowly southwards to the Place of Whispering Stone. You accompany the first shipment and observe that the land of Black Earth's Bloom is now covered with a carpet of soft green. A small city of tents has been erected around the spring where the Law Stone sits. A small quarry of black stone has been opened in the side of a nearby rise.

It is the beginning of winter by the time all of the elves and supplies are in place. The weather is cool, but not freezing. The climate is warmer and drier than up north, protected from the fierce storms of the Outer Sea by the Mountains of Hunger.

Kellin, Arborius and Windwood greet you. They look somewhat ragged from their time in the wilderness, but they are cheerful. "Greetings, Griflet" says Kellin, "How goes the grand project?"

"It is slow my friends slow. Thanks for your efforts here, you are always trust worthy. What have you learnt about the surrounding area? What dangers do you anticipate?"

"We didn't venture too far from this area, Griflet", replies Kellin. "The vegetation grew quickly after the rains. We observed quite a bit of wildlife - nothing life threatening, I'm happy to say."

"Kellin, I need you to take what money you need from the treasury and men from the House Protector and House Navigator, go to the Lorn Velpa and purchase two merchant ships. From there make haste to the Trading outpost. Fill the ships with strong timbers and bring them back here. Here is a letter giving you the kings command. Show it to anyone who questions you."

"Yes Sire. You can count on me!"

"Arborius I need you to take a small scout patrol south into the Quarmall Barrens and report back to me of the dangers or hostile communities that dwell on our borders."

Arborius bows. "It shall be done."

"Windwood stay with me and help organise the defences here."

"Y-yes. I m-mean of course s-sire."

"Until we meet again."

A NEW YEAR IN A NEW LAND - Lovers' Moon, Year of the Lamia

A month passes, bringing you to the end of the tumultuous Year of the Gorgon. Winter is not harsh here. There is no snow, only a few frosts. The wall grows daily, as does the vegetation outside of the encampment. All around now are small saplings, especially to the east where a dense forest will one day thrive.

KELLIN'S REPORT

Kellin has returned with the ships and has been overseeing the first couple of shipments of timber.

"Kellin I'm glad you have returned. How goes the trading out post?"

"All's well there Griflet, so far as I could tell. Busier than ever with all these shipments we've been making. Tolinthis groans with every expenditure. Since most of our craftsmen are now down here, there is not so much to trade back to the Lorn Velpans. Humans have never been known to refuse gold though, which we have in abundance."

ARBORIUS' REPORT

Arborius returns to the campsite, dusty and weary. He drinks deeply from the spring then meets you in your makeshift hut.

"The Barrens are still dangerous, sire. There are storms and maelstroms, some of which seem to spontaneously generate demons. I saw shifting mirages of squat castles which we could never reach. There are tribes of water-starved humans or beastmen who ride giant featherless birds across the stones. They could be a threat if organised, though their numbers are not great. Salamanders, demon-lizards and basilisks sun themselves on the black rocks. It is an unpleasant place my lord."

"We must be wary. Corinth will ensure that patrols are maintained to the South. I need my Geomanceer but for now my hands are tied. Arborius I need you to return to the Trading post and take command there. I give you the seal and authority of the Kings command, you will answer to no one except me. co-operate well with Vaardin and his Rnagers, though do not be subservient if you feel the need for authority. Also be wearing of Tolianthius I fear he loves money more than his own people "

"Yes, Sire. I will leave tomorrow."

CORINTH'S REPORT

Corinth is unsmiling as usual. He has established watchtowers on the crests of the three hills and the ridge near the route northwards, and defences in the main encampment, and at the nearby quarry. Nevertheless he is concerned that the warriors are too thinly spread, and too far from each other in the event of attack.

"We'll need some defences around the Stone Jetty too, it will be vital if we are to flourish here. Can your men use horses? I know it is not traditional for our kind however they will serve us well until the forest has a chance to grow. I dont need to tell you that the safety of our fragile community is in your keeping, I trust you will honour this responsility with the best of your abilities."

"Sire, even with horses I fear we have too few warriors for this large territory. However I will do my best."

"Do we need Mercenaries? I fear to employ more than a handful, but perhaps that might help?" you suggest to Corinth. "In the event of any danger we should fallback to the defences of the Stone. It will protect us if needed."

"Who would we employ, Sire? Beastmen? Humans? Helias' kin of Tovilyis? None of those alternatives sound appealing to me and in fact we might well lose the small advantage of secrecy which we now enjoy. Much as I am concerned by our limited forces, I think mercenaries may endanger us more than they might help."

"What do you need? The only thing I can give for now is some hired help. If you feel its necessary, let it be done and let not our pride stand in the way of salvation. We could use the mecenaries to guard the Jetty and keep the main force of elves back at the stone."

"As I said Sire, I think our greatest military advantage in this position is secrecy. Few know of this land as more than a bleak desert, and here we are far from the kingdoms of Nehwon. Against small, disorganised attacks such as from the creatures mentioned by Master Arborius we are prepared, although thinly spread. Against a full-scale army we will suffer, but that seems unlikely."

GROGROMANTH'S REPORT

Master Builder Grogromanth, inspired by the surroundings and the new sense of purpose among the elves, has produced an architectural plan of immense ambition, decorated with sculpture and carving in every nook. It will take quite a few years before the plan can be realised in it's full grandeur, especially with the limited labour force here. In the meantime however, work is slowed by the need to get the quarry fully operational. Work has begun on the north wall, and some semi-permanent structures have replaced some of the tents near the spring.

"Master Grogromath, for the manual work around the walls I was thinking of importanting slaves, I know that there are few Elven people available. Let the Elves attend to the supervision and craftsmen ship. I will bring great labour if you will guarantee the sturdiness of these walls. What say you to that, good Gorgomath? And forget for now the gargoyles and arabesque carvings, for now, we need a wall!"

"Slaves, Sire? I fear that the use of slaves may poison the aesthetic I had planned, but I will see what I can do."

I smile "If you feel the aesthetic will be ruined we will make do with the labour we have for now. Personally I'm more interested in the Sturdiness and Practicalities of our defences for now. Can you guarantee safety in your grand scheme Master Groromath?"

"Well! I am not a dwarf or a niebelung but I believe that my design will hold back a horde of ravenous Ghouls if necessary. And all the while gleaming Magnificently in the morning sunlight..."

SETTING SAIL - Day of the Skunk (16th) Lovers' Moon, Year of the Lamia

You summon Corinth and the leader of the House Royal to audience. "I must leave for Zeçy once more and find my Geomancer. I plan to parley with the Elves who live there. I will try to loosen their grip on the dead and the past and join our vision of the new dawning. I know it is not fit to leave at such a time and my place is here with my people. However, I feel you are both highly capable and trustworthy men of honour. You will do a splendid job while I am gone. The learnings of the House Geomancer must continue and our hope lies locked in the Isle of Zeçy. Tommorow I will take with me a small crew of trusted men and leave for Zeçy."

"I know by now it is foolish to argue with you," sighs Gorianthas. "But I also have faith that you will succeed, Sire."

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