A Treatise On The Darkness: How We Can Combat The Forces Of The Shadow
Valictus Tyrolar, Head of the Cerynian Council
Originally published May 19, 338 AC, republished with additions March 3, 350 AC
There are a great many things that the common folk hold attributable to the formation of the cosmos and its denizens. With theories ranging from the world being perched upon the back of a drake or cleaved into existence by wars between bitter rival deities with incomprehensible power to our mortal minds, it would seem to the untrained observer that all of these theories have one thing in common; a beginning, a certain story or fable, for how could culture persist without foundations upon which to build it, and thus make it malleable? This theme of concrete things being capable of change is the paradoxical way that only mankind can thus bring about, and yet most of us are unaware of our abilities. From the earliest writings of Drakonian philosophers to the thinking man of today, there is the accepted notion that if things are to be altered in our universe, only mankind can cause this, or at the very least, something that bears sentience. The untrained observer is typically also an ignorant fellow who is blissfully so because he knows enough to know that having certain knowledge can result in persecution or death, and one who shies away from the inane, insane, and undefinable.
Note, however, that an untrained observer may also believe in demons and sprites or other malignant forces that cause the world its problems, and be ever-weary of such things without a shred of proof to back up their existence. These peoples' lives are rooted in superstition and fate, and to dispel their thoughts and render them null would sadly rob the world of most of its seers, sages, and so called "bright thinkers" in which the many villages and hamlets of yore have placed their trust in, and effectively lead to a thought revolution of anarchic qualities -- see the Farmers' Revolution for a perfect example of this, where a land formerly guided by relationships that often lasted for a lifetime and seldom wandered farther than a day's travel were shattered and replaced with ideals that promoted loyalty to the state, a state in particular several thousand square miles large. This is comparable in a way to these creation stories; what I write may destroy them, and even further force one to consider their beliefs in a god or pantheon. My writing has no intention of accomplishing this, though I know those who would read this and take what they will from it will drive those who will listen, if only for a second, mad with interest and hellbent on restoring the "natural order" which they hardly even understand as such.
And yet, I digress; however, what I say still bears relevance to what this tale of mine -- treatise, pamphlet, rambling, whatever you would make of it -- is keen to report. Allow me to preface my next few statements by saying that these "untrained observers", as I've taken to calling them, are far more aware of the hidden truths of the world than one may presume. Though their beliefs are driven by fear of the unknown, it is yet a real entity that they fear, unknowable as it may seem to these individuals. My friends, enemies, colleagues, village idiots and wise men alike, I have a shocking and perhaps harrowing message to report; we are not alone on this world.
I will also take heed not to fear-monger; all the while, I have also painted my own writings as mere ramblespeak, so you are allowed, encouraged, eve, to take all that I say here with a grain of salt. However, I am inclined to believe that my many years of experience in this field, as well as the extensive research in the field and experience in rituals that no man faithful to any benevolent god should attend to, can attest to my accountability on this matter. I can thus assert that the demons and sprites which the peasantry believe inhabit this realm alongside us are in fact real, and more pressing, a real threat to wellbeing and societal order as we have known it since the Dragons fell.
I shall begin by chronicling the accounts of my expedition to the isles of Balbadia, a many thousand miles south of the Edranishman's last vestige, and by extension, all Andoras. I undertook the journey to these lands as a younger man in the early 4th century AC, keen to discover the secrets of this culture and their esoteric rituals which had been only spoken of in rumor and drunken muttering before my expedition landed and cataloged the details of the trip in remarkable and, as of the creation of this document, highest detail, as nothing had been effectively known of the Balbadian people besides their dark complexion and their comparatively dark mannerisms. As the thesis of this story may make you suspect, in a series of events, we would discover that the truth behind these rituals would have been preferred by the shamans who perform them to have never left their homeland, and that these rituals are connected to similar rituals that have been documented being practiced in the murky bogs of the Wetlands and believed to take place among the purportedly cannibalistic culture of Koshtahdivlann, or what remains of it. The latter territory has been shrouded, literally and figuratively, and is not only difficult to locate but perhaps doubly so to leave, and thus the men who still inhabit the icy land are shielded from the prying eyes of outsiders.
For the discerning reader, those in this circle may recall my essays on the bogdwellers of the Wetlands that were published some years prior to the penning of this work; I shall advise you to consider them a prologue to this work, or to consider this a sequel that divulges into such topics with ever-greater detail. At the very least, those works should be held in the same regard as this work, as what was discovered among the men of the swamp on Andoras bears shocking correlation to a culture which they presumably have no knowledge of. I shall revisit the key elements of the bogdwellers' culture for the purpose of linking them and the Balbadians in due time, but for now I shall continue on with the tale of what exactly occurred in the isles and how they led myself to composing this document for the dissemination of this information everywhere, as I believe the single greatest threat to this world is not petty political conflicts over land or family, but a great evil force which must be understood in its fullest if we are to combat it somehow.
For the ease of understanding my journey and how I came to amass this knowledge for you to ingest, they shall be partitioned into volumes that are further organized by chronology.
Volume I: Balbadia, 307 AC
I am Valictus Tyrolar, a scholar of Cerynian birth whose one goal in life ever since my youth has been to discover the secrets of the world and, in my pursuit of this ambition, I discovered the writings of many ancient scholars far wiser than I who convinced me in their posthumous persuasion that should I come across these secrets, I should share them with the world to better society and mankind, rather than greedily hold the knowledge for myself and damn the masses with ignorance, which I hold to be one of the most frivolous crimes that a man can commit despite it being legal and acceptable in every society. Who I am is not particularly relevant to what I am to write here, but it gives you, my readers, the knowledge of why I tell you all of this and what I believe can be done to further solve the conflict presented here. The facts herein should not be taken lightly, and I encourage those of you who read this to spread this knowledge further. Paragons willing, we can finally destroy the darkness at its root before it sprouts and causes unchecked ruin -- the last thing we need, of course, is another War of the Shadow.
As I write, it is the year 308 in the Dragomárus Calendar, during the reign of King Aeramor II Dragomárus in the Kingdom of Andoras. Last year, I embarked on a journey to the isles of Balbadia, a region that was shrouded in myth for generations; prior expeditions to islands like these, much like those to Denemd, would end in tragedy as many months would go by without any word from those who went on them. Intent on settling the score once and for all about whether a trip to Balbadia was even feasible, and how we could prevent further loss of life regarding this, we acquired a large sum of money from nations and independent parties alike that was to fund the trip in order to promote its security, and to that end, the acquisition of the records that we'd be taking while we were there.
The Balbadian people are politically diffused and lack a central government of any sort, meaning that our journey to the island and back was uneventful in that regard; the tribes, as we noted, keep to themselves, and do not have any evident contingency plan to deal with intruders on their shores, nor did we face much conflict until the end of the trip. It should also be mentioned that not all Balbadians are practitioners in the rituals that I will describe, and that a broad generalization should not be made about them based on this writing. Furthermore, the perils involved in traveling to Balbadia are numerous, and all travel to this land should be advised, whether you embark on a research expedition like myself or are a thrill-seeking adventurer.
I was traveling in a team of archaeologists and researchers who represented almost all lands of the world in their diversity, though the entourage was primarily Cerynian-based, as Ceryne was the first nation to provide funding for our trip. To supply us with some degree of manpower -- as most of the scholars on the trip were not the most astute martial minds -- we also hired a battalion of mercenaries, totaling a few dozen men who were trained in combat but had little interest in the escapade beyond the prospect of payment and finding treasure. Being well aware of the pressures that had been placed on me as the leader of this expedition, I sought to not disappoint those who had invested their wealth into our discoveries and possibly end up debtors to that whole cadre of society, both in financial terms and scientific; that is to say, while the payment was to ensure a trip to Balbadia was possible to return from, I wanted to contribute to the discovery of this mostly-uncharted land, scattered as it may be. We departed in the early months of the year 307 AC as dated by the Dragomárus calendar, as we were aware enough of the land that whereas it would be brisk and wintry giving way to spring here in the Summerlands, the lands due south would be experiencing the opposite; sweltering, but progressing to a colder climate. As none of us were quite acclimated to jungles besides the Drakonteians who hailed from the Zyntano Rainforest, this was pointed out as an opportune time to get a taste of the land without running into troubles along the way.
However, as I mentioned before, the sea itself is fraught with danger for the oblivious sailor; we lost several days of travel, eventually adding up to weeks of lost time due to the unfavorable weather that we ran into. The entire team was tightly packed into three frigates that were armed only in a case of dire necessity, and while the weather was a very real obstacle, sea sickness also took many of those on the trip into hellish depths, and there was a concern that scurvy would set in depending on how long the trip would ultimately take. Departing from the port of Ceryne itself, it took us a month to reach Balbadia, landing on the northern shore of the largest island, known to the natives (through various pidgins that they inevitably developed due to their proximity) as Amalde. We had planned the endeavor prior, though already we had missed the scheduled time for our arrival; it was to be a fortnight to Balbadia, a month spent on the island studying the wildlife and the natives, and a week and a half to reach Edrane, where we would present our findings to the assembled council in Dragonspire. With our time overstayed on sea and no way to relay this information back to Ceryne, we presumed that it would be best simply to draw out our voyage and conjure up a wild tale as to why we remained for longer than before, as there was a running joke among the men that basically equated to the belief that we would find nothing of note on the island besides angry natives and all of the fugitives who had purportedly swam all the way to Balbadia, as well as a few Paragons for good measure. We did not, as conjecture would have it, have any need for a false story; what the natives revealed and what we discovered was alone enough to warrant a longer stay, perhaps one indefinitely.
We made a beachhead on Amalde, establishing a large camp near a boisterous river, and not too long after this the first Balbadians were spotted. We noted immediately that they were dark people, similar in complexion to the Altaean people who are also shrouded in a great deal of mystery -- or perhaps misinformation -- and that they did not immediately attack us on sight. This was a great relief to us, as we were hardly armed aside from the small sidearms that everyone knew how to use and the three frigates that provided us with potent firepower should we have needed it. Instead, we were greeted on the shore, and there was some commotion within the group that arrived; within an hour's time of that event, a Balbadian who had some understanding of the Common Tongue emerged from the jungle and came to speak with us as his people's emissary. He invited us to take in the sights of Amalde, but warned us not to venture too far into the jungle without first alerting them, as the natives would not hesitate to attack on sight if they believed one of the researchers or mercenaries to be a threat.
It was further clarified to us through our meetings with the emissary that, through the wisdom of their shamans, they considered our arrival a blessing and they wished to shower us with gifts and various baubles to bring back to our homes, which the sheer mention of made many feel a tad homesick. Many of the mercenaries, as you might imagine, perked up at the mention of tribute, and were immediately wiled by the silver-tongued devil that the emissary was. A few of us among the scholarly-minded realized what the Balbadian entourage was attempting, but we said nothing of it so as to not offend our hosts, as our presence on the island was tenuous at best and we were well-aware of how fortunate it was to have generous natives and not confrontational barbarians. With this distraction, many of the mercenaries were led astray and began following the directive of the emissary, who conveyed to us that he spoke for a god-king that reigned on a thousand-mile high ziggurat in the midst of the island. This was a more dangerous position to be in, as many of the mercenaries were also sufficient navigators and now were effective puppets of the Balbadians, who merely continued on as though nothing had changed. The uncomfortable realization that the Balbadians had already met people from the northern lands and knew exactly what ambitions drove them swept through the researchers, who had seen this manipulative practice in other cultures on the planet; most notably, I should add, the bogdwellers of the Wetlands, a group which are connected to the Balbadians through their rituals and also their tendency to grasp the hand of fate where they see fit. The fact that these Balbadians alluded to a god-king also confused us, as we knew of other cultures that kept their distance from us; it was this primary group of swindlers who would interact with us and attempt to drive us apart.
While in retrospect we were able to see that a darker hand was at play, at the time we merely thought that the mercenaries were gullible fools and that they'd see through the Balbadians' ploy soon enough, returning to camp and doubling their efforts to defend us from such intrusions. This never happened, of course; the mercenaries all but disappeared into the arms of the swarthy tribesmen and never returned. To this day, we are not entirely sure what happened to them, though it is very likely that knowing what we know now, they were sacrificed and their life-force used as a conduit to power their dark magic. A junior associate pointed out that not one single mercenary remained behind, which was an oddity in and of itself -- it was assumed that at least a few of them would remain to defend the camp. None of the researchers described feeling compelled to follow the Balbadians, though a few recall feeling a strange, ominous presence while staying on the island. Those who have researched the island of Denemd in the far north of the world will understand the connotation here; it was as though an evil force permeated the beach and occasionally targeted a new foe to torment. Many reports of poltergeist-like encounters were cataloged alongside extensive reports of what researchers felt when questioned about the force that they described. To reestablish chronology, I should mention that at this point we had only been on the island a week. We expected to remain another three weeks assuming no further disturbances limited our research, but with the scarceness of defenders and the odd happenstance of their disappearance, some argued that it was not even safe to leave, arguing that a culture like the Balbadians must have many more methods of manipulation, and that this element of deception was only one of their talents.
Nonetheless, we attempted to continue research. The archaeologists would go out in teams, being sure to bring a messenger or two who would write down all discoveries and things of note in case the team was somehow lost. During this time, the emissary returned, sorrowfully announcing to us that they discovered the dead bodies of our mercenary battalion as the poor fools attempted to rob crypts located closer to this alleged ziggurat-city that was residence to their god-king; as a result, the spirits rose and slew them for their transgression. No one believed it for a moment, but as I stated once before, what would we stand to gain from calling out the Balbadians on this matter? Being the head of the scholar's department, I took charge of a search-and-rescue mission that would recover the mercenaries -- or, at least, their remains, if they were actually deceased as the emissary claimed -- and brought alongside me those who I believed most capable to conduct this, to little success. I brought Swentin Derfold, a Gardorian man of some considerable expertise in tracking due to his lineage and upbringing, and Cassandra Burrol, a fine young lady who, although somewhat timid and introverted, was quite accomplished at reading emotion and intention. Her talents would come of use when we were several miles inland, where we were approached by Balbadian scouts who evidently started trailing us some hours prior and demanded to know our business. These men were clearly armed, and Ms. Burrol immediately gave a panicked look that indicated we were likely in real danger. I explained that we were only acting on the wishes of the emissary; we did not travel too far into the jungle to be hopelessly lost, and were unsure of how to contact the emissary when there was no sign of civilization aside from some crudely-paved roads that looked as though they had not been tended to in centuries and led nowhere. Though weapons were brandished at one point in the negotiations, the three of us all defended our actions in tandem, and eventually were sent back to our campsite with piercing glares and phrases which I can only assume were vile insults in their mother tongue. I resisted the urge to ask about the mercenaries, knowing that while the official answer of the Balbadians was that they died plundering graves, the real fate of our friends had to be much darker and perhaps even more far-fetched than what we were told.
I was struck with the feeling that we were only spared in that particular standoff because the Balbadians had realized their promise was impossible for either party to uphold without easily-defined borders and communications, and as a result we started to notice a far more constant vigil over our camp than before, though the emissary only sporadically made appearances and never said much beyond asking questions about our homeland. Whenever an opening for questioning was presented to us, the emissary spoke in riddles and often did not clarify anything he said; the emissary's odd demeanor following the mercenary incident all but confirmed our suspicions about the people, and our interrupted search-and-rescue mission was sadly abandoned as we planned to leave. No longer than it took for the first tents to be dismantled, a party of heavily-armored men marched onto the beach, accompanied by another emissary -- or a least, another Balbadian who spoke Common. An interesting tidbit of this meeting was that the emissary was a female; if nothing else, our interactions with these people confirmed that they have almost no defined gender roles, with them being almost completely interchangeable aside from the obvious biological roles of man and woman; though, with the magic of the Balbadian people, it would not surprise me to learn that they reproduced like plants or dragons. Obviously, we were not privy to this sort of information about them, but it was one of the few things that we were able to reiterate to those back home when we returned.
This new emissary was much more blunt in her mannerisms, and had almost no conception of idiom or metaphor; apparently, these elements of language do not appear in the Balbadian tongue, as all things are defined based on their proximity in a moral compass; that which is 'good' to the people is non-prefixed, while the 'evil' counterpart is often prefixed with an ah- sound. Had we been given more time and more normalized subjects, our group could have supported the creation of a codified alphabet for these tribes, though the circumstances did not give way to this possibility in light of the events. Investigating a culture's linguistic potential is considered a cornerstone of analyzing it further and potentially guiding their path to joining the world community at large, though we did not accomplish this with the Balbadians. While we discovered runes and other informational markings in our process, we cannot completely be sure that the people are composing their language in written form. Another interesting note for the politically minded; this would bar the Balbadians from the Dealing councils, unless they had another nation to sponsor them, as they are considered uncivilized by what constitutes a nation-state.
We were told by this emissary that we could not leave because there were important matters on the island that must be tended to and our presence had disturbed something beyond them. Contrary to the truth, she told us that the Balbadian people had nothing to do with it and that our men had committed some earthly crime to lead to this eldritch being's awakening, and that we would have to offer someone as tribute in order to keep it appeased. The presence of soldiers indicated that this was no laughing matter, and if no one was going to volunteer, it was likely that all of us would have been taken prisoner and coerced -- an understatement, to be sure -- into a courageous, selfless sacrifice. There were a few who attempted to play hero and volunteer themselves, but I spoke up and quickly shot down these ideas; the information we had gathered here was dispersed among all of us in small bits, and to lose one person's mind would potentially challenge the integrity of our body of work and make everything we had done thus far in vain. We also had the greatest strength in numbers, so I vouched for us all when I declared that we would not submit anyone as tribute. They begrudgingly accepted this; it seemed that they even expected it, and with a smirk, the emissary pulled back and began to walk back in the direction she came. The first truly violent encounter between us and the natives promptly ensued. A command was issued in their language by an individual who appeared to be higher rank than the others, and the soldiers, armed with spears and war cries, rushed into a flanking formation that surrounded us entirely in a matter of seconds. Any resistance to this encroachment was met with a beating, and I myself incurred a few blows in the interest of my men, much to my chagrin. We were marched for some miles to an encampment similar in size to our own, where we were interred for about three weeks until we hatched a plan to escape, using only what we had on ourselves and the last frigate which had not been burned by the natives. Surviving on very meager food and water, what we saw in that encampment is the entire point of my writing here, and the knowledge which I feel so inclined to disseminate, especially after surviving an encounter that, for quite some time, appeared bleak and hopeless.