This week, we leave the Wanderer and the burning city of Rothin and travel south to the coastal city of Shadow’s Reach.
Along the northern end of the chain of mountains that by the peoples of Sentali were called Hawkwing, there lay the Claw. The massive tectonic pressures that forced from deep within the world a stone wall to shield the western edge of the Sentali plains had also bifurcated the strict line of peaks. The forked range, the Upper and Lower Claw, ran north and west along the coast, creating a shelter between their sheer cliffs. The Eragal Dwharvs had built their homes in the Hawkwing Mountains epochs before their race’s decline into barbarism, and it was they who had been the first to discover the shadowed stretch of land that lay grasped between the range’s two digits. It was these Dwharvs who enjoyed command of the breadth of the range and, at the height of their fleeting glory, opened the tunnels granting ingress to the harbor. Not satisfied with a single means of accessing this hidden refuge, two more grand thoroughfares were crafted through the Claws. Used as a port for their underground kingdom, this area grew into a vast populace center in its own right.
It called to merchants from the great nations of its day to bring their wares and earn their fortune. It gave to the Dwharven clan a market of desires, both for selling the prosperity of the mountain and spending its wealth. Gold, red iron, coal, and the bounty of the earth’s gems were mined, which the Eragal toiled constantly to bring into light. And Shadow’s Reach provided for the spending of these fruits of their labor. Long did Shadow’s Reach, named for the mountains that occluded the city in dimness during the whole of the day, grant its rulers wealth beyond imagining. But when the curse of the Dwharvs came to the Eragal and they fell into ruin, the Reach continued. It had grown beyond the need to tie itself to any one kingdom. Merchants still came to its harbor and traveled the great trade roads that stood at its heart, while avoiding the cursed ruins of the Eragal’s holds. The city began to extend its influence beyond the cliff walls that formed its bastion, and its power spread further outward. Soon, as they reckoned time, gods came seeking to call the Reach their home. For some, the lure of claiming such a great city and the prestige it would bring, was irresistible. The greatest of these was the High Father.
The High Father, Empyrean of Shadow’s Reach, looked down from a balcony on the temple mount of Hawk’s Roost, contemplating the city that had sheltered him for hundreds of years. The grand golden temple overlooking the shadowed city served as home for the gods of the city, among them the High Father and his twelve children. The High Father surveyed the city he had come to live in and the people he protected and received worship from. His heart was troubled, for though the city moved about its nightly business unaware, plans and plots were coming to fruition that would alter its destiny. The vastness of these plots’ reach and scope would perhaps change the course of the world. He turned away from his beloved city with a weary sigh, his hand trailed along wood railing polished over years of contact with skin and oil, till it was warm to touch and sight. The High Father moved away from the balcony and into his throne room. The hawk that was his own symbol alighted on everything in the room. It was worked into the arms and high back of the granite throne that was the seat of his power. It flew from tapestry to tapestry, hung from gold hooks set high on the throne room’s walls. The tapestries wove tales that spoke of a father’s love of his children, of a city’s grand achievements, and of petitioners’ worship. The hawks raced along the mosaics inlaid into the floor, swooping and diving among the marble designs telling the story of the High Father’s rise to divinity, his claim of Shadow’s Reach, and the birth of his children. The roll of his years and the sum of his achievements were laid bare out throughout the room.
Strange that any life, especially that of a god’s, should be captured so completely, incarnated so fully into the substance of the world. Some would claim it was the height of vanity, and perhaps they would be correct. But the High Father had no thoughts to spare on that matter. His mind was aware of all that was around him, yet it was strangely absent from the observation. As if his senses busied themselves with stimulus to offer a distraction to a troubled mind. Darkness moved in the halls of his palace, in the sanctuary he had built for himself and his children. A darkness that could only exist if it were invited in, welcomed, and hidden in this place of light. This fact caused a touch of fear to alight on the surface of the High Father’s soul. It was a great risk for a god to inhabit the world of Ta’nar anywhere but in the divine city of Cestario, the shining metropolis of divinity far to the north, for a god was vulnerable anywhere on the mortal plane but that glorious settlement where the law of reality was worn thin and those that mortals called gods could exist in the full expression of their power. This fear was not of the loss of the ambrosia of worship that threatened all gods. The essence of a god, who was starved of the worship that empowered them, lost his purchase on Ta’nar and when rendered irrelevant in the hearts of mortals was banished from this realm for all eternity. That threat loomed forever just beyond the eyesight of all who would lay claim to the razor-edged path of divinity and worship. No, existence within the realm of their worshipers brought with it different peril: being forced to contain all of his power in one mighty vessel rendered a god vulnerable to death by slaying.
Even as these thoughts threaded through the troubled substance of the god’s mind, he sat down upon the throne, resolving himself to receive the darkness. A darkness that moved through the golden halls of the Hawk’s Roost. It was carried in the hearts of half of his children. He could sense them, their shards of his power calling out to him, just outside his door. Just as he could sense his power in their brothers and sisters out in the city. Those outside his door had conjured some excuse to get those not included in the shadows of their conspiracy out of the way. Whether out of love or a fear of intervention, the High Father could not tell. But the fact that some of his children might be spared the coming confrontation gave him hope. Perhaps some spark of who these approaching children once were could be reached and the dark fate which loomed over this night might be avoided.
The vision of the Lord of Shadow’s Reach was not stymied by the physical realties of the palace he called home. Six of his children came into focus as they gathered in the atrium outside his throne room. All but one bore their weapons of choice and skill, though none were readied. The seeds of their desire had not flowered enough into intent to approach their father with weapons in hand. Oba’sansh moved at the head of his siblings, the mighty lord of hunters a striking figure in his forest green and gold tunic worked with the hawks of his father. These hawks clasped embroidered steel arrows in their talons, Oba’sansh’s usurpation of his father’s symbol. Bow in hand, a quiver of arrows was bound to his back by a plain leather strap. The bow was crafted by Oba’sansh’s own hand, a new weapon to replace the one he traditionally used. Black wood wrenched from some twisted tree had been shaped into a bow for this specific moment. Intent had stained the wood as it had stained the Immortal who wielded it. Amber eyes, which observed and absorbed everything in their environment, studied the door to his father’s hall with a mixture of poisoned fear and dark contempt. His face was the embodiment of his father’s, for Oba’sansh mien was a reflection of the High Father’s in his youth.
Behind him, to his left and right, stood the twins Bak’ith and Bak’oth, Lord of Focus and Lady of Ambition. The twins both wore sneers that were too new to their dispositions to sit comfortably. The expression had not yet had time to erode into the lines of their demeanor, to reflect the bitter changes that had rooted deep within their souls. That festering would take decades to come to fruition, untill they outwardly reflected their innermost convictions. Nevertheless, they stood with their brother in open opposition to their father, short swords sheathed at their hips. Gifts from their father, the blades were forged without peer on the continent of Sentali. Long use in their hands had awakened the spirits of the blades, and the High Father could hear their soft keening through the thick walls of his sanctum. They sensed their masters’ desires and ached to voice the blood call that embodied them. Bak’ith’s handsome demeanor only bore echoes of the High Father, his features cast from his mother’s face. His steel grey eyes bored intently on the door that secreted the High Father, seeking some imagined weakness or flaw in its surface that would justify this rebellion. Bak’oth’s expression was fluid, her face a softer replica of her twin’s. But where Bak’ith’s was consumed with a singular hunger, Bak’oth’s attention shifted, constantly looking for a more advantageous situation. Both however shared a rabid desire that promised impending gratification. So potent was this idea that it occluded their capacity for rational thought or familial bond.
The final trio in the wedge were the youngest of all the High Father’s progeny. Dren marched behind Bak’oth, Pat’sum behind Bak’ith, and between them strode Ganagal. Dren’s eyes hinted at the awareness of the honest shame of one who has attempted to deceive himself. It was a queer expression on the Immortal’s face, for Dren was the perfection of his parents’ beauty. As Shadow’s Reach’s Immortal of Love, he served as both muse and patron to beauty and the arts. Shame veiled this beauty, casting a pall of contradiction on his demeanor that threatened to desolate his soul. He carried a simple wand in the crook of his arm, its wooden shaft pure white, carved with soft lines that drew the eyes. The warmth of its sight excited the mind to creativity. With it Dren had crafted masterpieces of stone, canvas, words and music. He had also fashioned traps and strategies in defense of his city and family so perfect in their execution that the invaders were said to have gone to their deaths gladly.
Pat’sum, the Lord of Self-Control, exhibited none of Dren’s secret shame. He moved as though he were independent of the group, his poise flawless. While Oba’sansh was the focus of the wedge, Pat’sum radiated perfect conviction that both supported his siblings and brokered in them no doubt. At least not enough to stymie their purpose. He bore no weapon, for he needed none. Pat’sum was the weapon, body wielded with the same stoic control and precision as his countenance. His discipline flowed out from a mind and soul rigidly ordered into every iota of his body, affording him martial skill and prowess far beyond the need for physical weaponry and armor. At his side however, hung chains of rune-scribed black iron, the surface of which were inscribed with runes that bled darkness as if the symbols had been sliced into the metal, wounding in some fundamental way the chains’ very existence. The metal seemed to writhe against the form and purpose for which it was wrought. None of this escaped the notice of the Lord of Shadow’s Reach. But the High Father’s eyes were focused on Ganagal. It was he who had given his youngest daughter her name, which meant Justice in the language of the now extinct tribe that had birthed him. Of all his children, she had received the lion’s share of her father’s spirit. Sheathed on her belt were two knives, the braided metal grips intimately familiar to the Empyrean seated on the throne. From in the old Dwharven city under the Hawkwing Mountains, long abandoned by the time the High Father came to the Reach, the god had retrieved the knives from a vault beneath the expansive enclave. They had called to him, their subtle song drawing him ever deeper into the halls of the Eragal. Past warding spells, mechanical traps, and invading Var from the Deep Dark, the High Father had followed their pull on a path of conflict and blood. He found the twin blades thrust into the heart of a forgotten anvil that rested in the long dead heart of Dwharven forge. Though the blades should have been stuck fast, they pulled free as from an oiled sheath. The High Father had carried the blades with him for centuries, and when Ganagal had come of age, he passed the blades to her along with a portion of his power, to the child he loved most of all. The sight of her and those blades, among this pack, stabbed deep into the god’s heart. He forced the rising tide of emotion down. The time for regrets passed too quickly, as Oba’sansh threw his power against the doors in front of him, and the High Father’s vision retreated back into the room he occupied.
The looming gold sheathed doors that barred entry to the chamber of the throne room of Shadow’s Reach opened in mournful protest. The desolate sound was a realization that their purpose was to prevent such violations as were about to occur and the gates screamed out in warning. The heavy doors hit the walls to which they were mounted with a reverberating clang, the second and final warning the lovingly wrought guardians could utter. The risk that the High Father always accepted as possible moved from the realm of chance into the immediate existence of reality. Elaborately crafted golden handles crumpled against the stone walls, scoring the marbled as they were obliterated by the force of their opening. The explosion of pressure caused the tapestries to flutter violently on their rods and hooks. Six figures strode into the throne room, every bodily expression haughty and filled with the desire to claim dominance over what they had no right. The six children of the High Father moved across the room in an unassuming wedge, as if to empower the figure at the apex. They moved as a pack, by necessity becoming more than the sum of any single member for their prey outstripped the power any individual might hope to possess. Yet the Lord of the Reach sat in silence, outwardly unfazed by this brazen intrusion into his sanctum. Although he knew the hearts of his children, still he greeted them with a question instead of his might, hoping they would lose momentum of purpose if they were forced to answer their intent aloud in his presence.