These legends come from the old, very old scripts of the monks in the castle monastery high in the forbidden peaks of scraa, the eagle mountain...
To those that may peruse these scripts, be ensured that this is the only truthful account of the surviving descendants of Garth, hero of the sun kingdom, knight of the sun king of the realm of the crossing of the rivers of Valgyria, now and until the return of the Crown Prince of the Emperor of the Sun...
The Valgyrians were deeply involved in a struggle to bear a cross they created themselves. I, second Lieutenant of Garth, also known as John the planner, was the only survivor of all the generations of the Tempest of the Sun. Now I am a fugitive monk, scribe and Holder of the Key of the Secret Hall of Records of the Sun King, have the honour to guard and protect it for the descendants of the Realm of the Sun, and resurrect it with the Liberation of our people. I am now under the Protection of the Wings of Guevara, Messenger of Princess Lodrigha, the Rain Queen, in the Forbidden Zone of Scraa, where my earthly soul falls under her sanctuary. Here is our story, and may it be a lesson to all who are of the same ilk...
The outstretched wings of Guevara, the Messenger Eagle, provided a moment of brief respite to the struggling band of warriors down below. The eagle muttered briefly to himself as he recognised Garth, the Tunnel Rat, and John the Planner, his right hand and deputy, amidst the band of stalwarts far below.
The merciless sun glared down upon on her subjects in a silent promise of fury as the Mountain Princess Lodrigha withholds her life-giving Rain in punishment. The Punishment has a long history. The Sun King was the first recipient of the Wrath of the Gods when his treachery caused them to invoke the Punishment in Valgyria.
The kingdom's far-flung Northern Plains were the breadbasket of the Valgyrian Crossing of the River Empire. Great herds of cattle roamed amongst the thorn bushes of the savannah landscape. Bands of coal black young herd boys looked after their charges with a ferocity that was indigenous to the Hima people, the main inhabitants of these endless stretches.
The Hima is a people renowned for their cattle husbandry. They are a proud race with black skins that shine like wet coal. Their princely bearing left them standing out among the other peoples of this savage land. A Hima chieftain would move with customary regal bearing amongst his possessions and never will be hurried up to do an outsider's unsolicited bidding. This characteristic made them unpopular amidst the other races, especially the Valgyrians.
The San people, a mysterious race with uncertain origins, were the Hima's primal enemies. The lithe little yellow warriors had a fierce hunger for meat, especially beef, and the Hima bovine beasts among the thorn bushes were favourite targets. Nothing whipped up a Hima tribe's anger more quickly than discovering the theft of one of their priceless oxen.
A San raiding party would more often than not eat the unfortunate beast on the spot, leaving the Hima herd boys nothing more than the head and entrails. If one of the herd boys should be so unlucky to happen upon a San raiding party, he could be sure of a quick poison arrow and a slow and painful death. This would automatically ensure extreme Hima wrath and the subsequent revenge killing of at least one member of the San. The Hima would burst forth from the homestead where the killing occurred, whipped into a premature frenzy by their masked Demon Keepers, and head for the nearest San settlement.
The Hima Demon Keepers were the custodians of all Hima religious ceremonies. All weddings had to have their approval, and all Hima men had to go through an initiation school at their hands. This sinister brotherhood of spirit talkers and medicine men left many of the Hima youth scarred for life, or even dead.
The Valgyrian King and his people had a long and amiable friendship with the San people of the Northern Plains. The San supplied the City of Light with their exquisite beadwork and had often invited the King to visit their city of Namib, where their King Xao resided. Xao had a daughter called Liana, who was also a Water Goddess of the Northern Plains and a favourite of the Sun court. The Water Goddesses of the San could bring forth rain from the sky by performing a mysterious dance ritual. It was rumoured that they prepared for this by going into a trance, chanting to any one of the many San deities and dance until the skies opened.
Many people thought that these little yellow people possessed the power to talk to the earth in many ways, but nobody really knew much about it, or ever saw them doing it. A San Water Goddess was highly valued by all, as water was always a scarce and expensive commodity in this arid land. For this reason, and this reason only, the Punishment burst forth upon the land with discovery of the foul treachery of the Sun King.
Garth and his band of Intrepids were on their way to Scraa, but Guevara cannot know that. He only knows that he must observe, and not help, nor attack. He glides silently above the humans, content in his mastery of the uncaring sky.
Boundaries, formed by formidable barriers, circumscribed the Crossing of the River Empire. The great Northern River formed the only obstacle between the realm of the Sun and the land of the brutal Fire King, Nimrod the Slayer. The limitless Desert of Sand is the boundary in the far-flung eastern reaches and the cold Coastal Sea stops the land in the west. The mighty Southern River far down south formed the boundary between the Realm and the unknown lands of the Dark to the south.
The Messenger Eagle could not care. He knew about the exploits of the Intrepids. He also knows about the Punishment of the gods that clouds this land like a mortal disease. His cold black eyes flickered briefly towards the swimming horizon where the City of Light, Capital of the Realm of the Sun and home of the Sun King, remained held captive in a layered pool of heat. The two rivers that formed part of the Valgyrian Crossing flanked the City. The Sun King's folly has led to the infestation of the docile rivers by demon fish mutations with razor sharp teeth that threw a steel-like ring of captivity around the hapless City and its inhabitants.
The Sun King, back in the former glory days of the Empire, descended into practices of which the origins remain hidden in the mists of Ignorance and Fear. Dark magic soon infested the corridors of the Sun Palace when the Sun King's folly started to spread.
His Magicians tampered with the work of the Almighty, the Source of All Life, who was the primary Figurehead of Valgyrian Presbyterianism religion. The result of their foul deeds was the monster mutations that appeared in the waters of the rivers around the City of Light one day. Mercilessly swift, scaly monsters with voracious appetites and razor sharp teeth.
Matters came to a head one day when the King despatched the Crown prince on a mission to capture Liana, the daughter of the San King. His Magicians convinced him that a sacrifice of her young flesh to the devils in the rivers around the City would pacify the raging ailments that started to plague him. It was a common sight to find the Sun King in some corner of his palace, railing at unseen devils and monsters that he believed were out to destroy him and his kingdom.
The San were furious when news of the death of Liana reached Namib. Xao vowed to use this opportunity to destroy his hated Hima enemies and the Valgyrians in one blow. He was plunged into much discomfort and soul-searching when the news of his beloved Liana's death hit him. He never understood why his Valgyrian friends did this to him, but he took an oath that all of them would pay.
The gods agreed with him. The Mountain Princess, Lodrigha, agreed to invoke the Punishment. Xao went one step further. One night, when all of the River Empire slept, the by now deranged San king slipped across the great Northern River to pay a visit to the court of Nimrod the Slayer, the warlike Fire King. Three days later a San trade delegation obtained entry to the City of Light by deceit. They opened the Gates to the brutal Fire Knights.
The massive eagle glided silently into the foothills of Scraa. He settled on a rocky tooth and observed the struggling Intrepids far below. Visions of thirst and pain beset their tortuous path through the Desert of Sand.
"Stubborn fools," Guevara muttered to himself and the spirits of the air that may, or may not accompany him at this moment. If they cared what the Messenger thought, one hastens to add.
Garth would not know what the Messenger was thinking, but that would not influence this Narrative in any event. He struggled to the crest of another endless mountain of sand. This seemingly endless tale of mindless endeavours started so long ago, and still no end to the woes in sight. If only the Emperor had listened to his son, the Crown Prince.
"I wonder what happened to the Prince," Garth said absent-mindedly when his first comrade reached him. Nobody answered this rhetorical question. The dark stain of the Boundary Forests lies like a spent life across the yellow sands.
"We need to get into the city," said Mogul, the legendary Thief and chief scavenger of the party.
"Forsooth, it is but a miracle that you did not end up as dinner to the sabre - toothed devils," said his friend and partner in crime, Loki, the Noisy One. Loki was always chattering and playing the fool like some noisy forest sprite, but now his spirits were as low as the rest after the events of the last few days.
"Maybe the Bearded Ones had better taste in meat than you gave them credit for," Garth remarked.
"Aye," Mogul consented. "Maybe it was your scrawny carcass they were after," he informed Loki with a malignant glint in his eyes.
"Hah! This scrawny carcass has netted his owner many a good night with the wenches of River Street Market, I'll have you know," exclaimed Loki disgustedly.
"Only because they were street women and you had to pay them in gold, you miserable troll," Mogul snarled.
Garth smiled. He ignored the good-natured bickering of his comrades. They were always squabbling like a couple of old hens. Many an adversary had mistaken this for discontent, and had died with the sound of their laughter in their ears. He turned into the shadow provided by the first of the Scraa foothills for a brief respite. The other members of his group set themselves down. Silence soon descended upon the Intrepids. They slept.
Garth winced as the smell hit him. By all the gods, it was a long time since he last stepped down here. The foul tunnels beneath the City of Light, home to countless rats and other dark-eyed creatures, provided ample sanctuary from prying eyes. The filthy tunic scraped raw abrasions across his shoulders and his stomach loudly protested its enforced lack of sustenance.
The four men stopped at a niche in the tunnel wall. A crude wooden ladder descended from the darkness above.
"This is it," said Garth. He pointed upwards. The ominous sounds of rustling little feet reached their ears.
"Ye gods," muttered Mogul. "Your little friends are still here in many numbers, Tunnel Rat." He stepped on to the ladder. "Will this rat trap hold up, or will I break my neck here among your disgusting little rodent friends?" he asked.
"The only way to find out, is to get up there," Garth said impatiently. He pulled Mogul off and clambered up into the darkness. Minutes later the four men were making their way to the River Street Market Square. The results of the Sun King's folly were painfully visible. The Fire Knights had visited their excesses in many ways upon the City of Light.
A patrol of Fire Knights turned the corner ahead of them. A dark figure, clad in an undistinguished tunic, followed in the shadows behind the Intrepids. He saw the unhealthy interest the Fire Knights were paying to the four men ahead of him, and retreated guardedly into the darkness. He waited. His time will come. Those four fools ahead will just have to learn the same lesson again.
The dark-skinned leader of the Fire Knight patrol studied the four men in their filthy habits. He turned his helmeted head towards his lieutenant.
"Look at those four scoundrels, if you will," he directed the officer. Another set of eyes followed the Intrepids.
"Mighty fine specimens of Valgyrian meat, if I may say so, sir,"
"Aye, indeed. Too fine for those rags they are presenting themselves in," the officer muttered into his gleaming metal mouthpiece.
"Spies, you think?" The subordinate winced as he realised too late he forgot to attach a "sir" to that last sentence. The patrol leader cuffed him viciously behind the ear with the guard of his sword.
"No, you illiterate son of a San hyena, they are Fire Knights who mislaid their uniforms!" the leader thundered. "Of course they are spies. Go get them. It is a long time I had a chat with a Valgyrian down in the Keep."
The patrol took off. Their huge black horses kicked sparks from the cobblestones.
John saw them just in time. "On guard. We have drawn attention!"
Garth did not wait. He sprinted away. "Come on. Back to the tunnels."
The four men rushed down the street. The city walls towered above them. Other Valgyrians walked past them, but the Punishment has cowed them too much to help a fellow Valgyrian in this kind of trouble. Everybody kept to his own little world and hoped that the Fire Knights will not take any kind of interest in them.
"Come on! We have to loose these scum in the Maze before we can go back to the tunnels," Garth shouted.
"Forsooth, sir tunnel rat...my dear old mother will go into any kind of conniptions when she sees how her fine young son has gotten himself into this kind of trouble again..."
Loki grumbled and complains to the air spirits, but he felt the rise of excitement stirring the warrior's blood in his veins. He briefly touched the old arrow wound on his backside.
"Ye gods, but we have been here before, John the Planner.... remember our last conversation with these dark fiends of the Slayer?" gasped Mogul.
"Yes, Thief, but that time we escaped with the help of the Prince.
Garth rounded the last corner at the city wall. In front of him, the Maze unfolded like a multi-coloured cloak. Hundreds of street dwellers have built shelters here, creating a devil's warren of little streets and dark corners where hungry assassins waited.
"Let us hurry up," he gasped. They can hear the thundering hooves of the black knights rushing up behind them.
"In here," Mogul, the last man, screeched urgently when he saw one of the trapdoors to the tunnels. The entrance was only partially visible and covered with rotten foot and other rubbish.
"Here!" he screamed again. The other three slammed to a stop and bundled back into the alley between two shacks. Mogul ripped the rotting wooden door off the leather hinges and peered urgently into the dark maw that appeared.
"Ye gods," he sighed when the stench hit him. He closed his eyes and jumped into the hole. The other three swiftly followed.
The four men landed in the foul-smelling sludge below. They staggered to their feet in the dark, clinging to each other.
"Keep quiet," Garth urged frantically. They froze. The opening above stared back like an unblinking eye. They waited fearfully, but soon relaxed when they realised that the Knights had lost them.
"That was far too close for comfort," Loki said. "Speaking about comfort..." He glanced around as he became aware of the deadly smell around him.
He started to take stock of his surroundings. Garth and Mogul moved down the tunnel. They were ankle-deep in the same foul brew that covered their habits and faces. Loki hurried after them.
"Do you know where we are?" he asked. Garth muttered something, but did not reply to the question. Mogul pushed his comrade in the back. "Who cares? As long as it is not in the hands of those barbarians up there."
Garth shuddered as he remembered the last time he fled before the attentions of the Fire Knights. It was not so long ago, mind you...
He glanced at the Planner. John returned his glance with a wink. He remembers too, Garth realised.