Honored Ones, this parchment was found in the Thieves’ City, in one of the old bases for the Seal of Red and Black on the border of the Onyx Desert, not long-abandoned. It’s assumed that the text is not complete, for there are editorial remarks in the margins and whole sections have been struck out or blotted through on every page. It provides a stark and vicious account of Thressan events dating back to the first appearance of the Viskani.
A final note, this chronicle is ugly and blood-soaked, a villain’s apologia for atrocities both remembered and forgotten. Read this as you would the half-hearted confession of a condemned murderer. Further, read not onward unless your stomach and nerves are steady and true, and know that the veracity of certain elements of this narrative are still in hot debate within our Order. Read with caution and an appraising mind.
Ever your most humble servant, Thelles, apprentice to Magister Nurreold, Fraternal Order of Cinnabar. Stronghold of the Scroll, Thanksday the 28th of Deondrian, year 212.
Image credit Shabazik, Deviantart.com: https://goo.gl/dOZcqH
Before I begin the tale of my lost and unlamented people, it’s important to understand the world we came to dwell on. Say what you will of us, it was ever our drive first to understand destiny, and then to defy it with all of our being. In our own way, we were dark and blasphemous heroes, and that was our undoing.
Our ship drifted through space for uncounted years, one of the last arks. Ten, a dozen, a hundred thousand years after civilization came to exist on our homeworld, we stretched our hands forth to collect the jewels of the night sky, and star by star, we built our empire. Every people dreams of such, and of course when such juggernauts meet, there is bloodshed on an unspeakable level.
I can say little of our enemy, for truthfully, I know little of them beyond rumor and speculation, tradition and propaganda. Did I mention that my peoples’ word for our language is “venom-speech” and “venom-script”? There is no concept of impartiality in the Viskani tongue or mind; it is a concept I have learned from walking among you. In any event, the enemy are said to have been our opposites in every way. Blindly subservient to their massive hierarchy rather than striving and ambitious and individualistic as we are. Unthinking slaves to cthonic powers rather than seekers after truth and power in spiritual matters. Dwellers in the depths rather than walkers on land. Even their propulsion systems and basic technology was radically different from ours. Even if we were a peaceful people (and we were not), I think that war was inevitable.
And so, war. And so, our ship was damaged. And so, drifting through forevers to come to orbit, through fortune or some navigators’ mate’s overlooked skill, a blue world, a precious treasure we’d overlooked in our mad scramble to conquer, in a forgotten corner of the Black Void. A new home, a new fortress!
We survived the landing … barely. One engine lost far out in the oceans to the south; another flipping end-over-end in a soft blue fireball to light up the forests away east. The main hull alighted in the soft white atop a majestic mountain. Not easily defensible, so we disassembled it and moved it to another, making of it a fortress. A tall thing, a cluster of domes and dagger-towers, our digging machines moving deep below in twisting worm-depths beneath. We took our time, until our new home was impregnable.
While we took our time building our new home, we surveyed the land, we found native species, and settlers that came before us. A low level of technology, but the local magneto-etheric barrier levels were low, and relatively advanced spiritual techniques were not altogether unknown. A local war for survival, and some conglomeration of ugly brutes were about to conquer a feeble coalition of civilized, advanced, more educated and altogether more attractive colonists of various species. We charged our weaponry and assembled our troops. Battle was life, and after ages in frozen sleep, we longed to see blood and hear mewling agony and wretched cries for mercy that would never come.
I was not there, but the records I have read are complete, and the last great-grandsons of those who were present have told me the stories passed to them. I am Tethamere, and I believe that I am the last Viskani conqueror to survive this accursed world.
The Ogre Wars
The names of the local tribes are well-known to you, and you don’t look like you need a taxonomy lesson, so I won’t bore you. Suffice it to say, tall and short, pointed ears and round, skin dark and light and blue and purple and whatnot. A few with horns, the blood of beasts. The defenders were dying off, making a pathetic showing for themselves.
The attackers were of similar stock, less closely related to our noble blood. Enormous, tusks. More of these were beast-blooded, tending toward the monstrous scaled and pincered. Blood adulterated by demons and imps other foul and crawling things. Disgusting. Ravening hordes of these things, mutants of magic and ill-advised surgeries and toying aimlessly with the basic laws of life. They circled the last bastion of civilization, hemmed them in, licking their pale and pebbled slavering jowls, yellow eyes glowering.
We were hailed as saviors. The smell of burning meat and melted bone soaked into the air like grease into porous stone, entire settlements reduced to dust with a thunderclap. How we laughed! Fine toasts in our name, with our own inebriant beverages. And sidelong glances with one another at these feasts, and on the bright abrupt tomorrow, we presented our bill: enslavement, of course. Not all, but most. They could keep their own, personal servants, but the fat of the land would be ours. This bluesphere our right as conquerors. Life, and not death; an easy bargain, no?
They struggled. There were many words. We pretended to banter and parley while we brought the wild and savage ones firmly under our heel as our own personal army. We turned them loose when it suited us, to hasten negotiations along. In the end, they did not meet our terms; there were no terms. We simply took what we wished. The first Dynasty began.
And, nervously, we looked to the new stars above, watching for the tentacles of the Throng, for we knew they would be coming.
The First Dynasty
The locals called their world Thressa, and we landed on the middle northerly latitudes of the continent called Eparra. Not that we cared, for we were still confident that in a year or two or ten, relief ships from the Viskani Stellate Imperium would arrive, to trade and carry away any who wished. Of course, the Imperium suffered sorely, but how were we to know that the latest weapon of the Throng destroyed the very fabric of the universe itself, making travel across the Black Void a million times more deadly? We ruled indifferently for the first hundred years or so, until an uncomfortable feeling leached into our hard hearts. My kind, we are familiar with fear, but dread is something else, the thought that things have changed forever, that we have utterly lost mastery of our surroundings, forever. This is when our servants began to learn how cruel we can be; angst twitched in our hearts, our red eyes, and our whip-hands. At last came the summons to a Conclave.
I won’t bore you with the details of the many meetings held in the highest tower on Kingskull Mountain, like a needle erupting from the stone and steel of our city of New Viskan, and when the novelty wore off and memories of the homeworld turned bitter, simply called Viskan, those long centuries ago.
The magnates that assembled, and their varied deeds could fill a tome. Garchan Karn, the mutilated general, his right hand reassembled into an ugly copper stump that shot blue lightning. His heart would be a holy relic among us for many years … after it found its way out of its red resting place. Jiatara Jagarath, orbited by flickering ghostly eyes, each one a fragment of consciousness from some mind she tortuously disassembled, its victim still alive, a fragment she could use at will to amplify her own fierce brilliance. And others.
I think they all knew to fear Nybrem Lasgj, knowing his family held the most land and operated what remained of the Viskani medicinal facilities, but they thought little of young, quiet Altaleth Sudarios, his bride-to-be. The Sudarios were an old family in the Imperium, with extensive holdings, but that counted for little on Thressa, and the Viskani have always been eminently practical when it comes to prestige and reputation. I think this is where their mistake enters the crimson-wrapped stage, for they knew little of the Sudarios gift for negotiation, backing up melodic words with a sudden and energetic edge.
Altaleth attended many meetings, listening demurely. Her maids plied house guards with gemstones or stolen kisses. Her slaves replaced the tower’s staff. A dozen throats were slit in one night, and instantly began the Sudarios Dynasty. Long Live Empress Altaleth!
And let it not be said that Altaleth was ungrateful. The Viskani have always understood that metaphysical science, astrology, the charting of ley lines along the spaceways, and the value of mythological mnemonics. Did you know that beings from the Gray Void take on the forms of beasts from our minds, assembled like building blocks from the virtues and vices we would ascribe to them, per their connection to the Logoi of the White Void? These are the beings we learn to fear and respect — and you lesser races worship — as gods. But no, I’m babbling, forgive me. The important thing to note now is that the astromancers declared an official calendar and recommended schedule for all Viskani practitioners, and the new Empress was kind enough to declare that Nybrem Lasgj was an incarnate aspect of Iskanix, the Chimera God, and he chose to die to usher in the new era of her reign. Quite thoughtful of him, actually.
Altaleth and her children formalized the Viskani reign, including the houses, their borders, their responsibilities, and the consequences for failure. A tiny few of your people dared to escape and live free. The rabble of the Onyx desert were the first, I believe, followed by those barbaric nomads of the Splinterclaw Tribes. In between there somewhere were those who would found Tesh Para, those incomprehensible mercantilers. Imagine their daring, striking south through the Dagger Wastes, through goblin-haunted lands and the very densest jungles! The fear of the ogres was fully supplanted by the fear of the Viskani, we bitter tyrants, and it feels good to know that their — our — memory will never fade from this land, not in a thousand years, and probably not until the end of the Eighth Age.
The Eternal City Below
The survivors had clustered together, pathetic, in their City of the Pact, against the onslaught of the beast peoples, and when loss seemed inevitable and their tears could flow no more, their mightiest sages brought the city of Arota Lan below the depths of the earth, forming a mighty cavern where their metropolis would be safe forever.
And it was, for a time. If the surface fell without incident, Arota Lan cost us dearly, but in the end, the greatest among us, the immortal and unguessable, ghastly and splendid, dubbed the new city Arota Zoth. Our elders would go here on their ascension to study new blasphemies forever, and those above would slay and pray to earn the dark redemption to send us down below.
The Tightening Grip, and the End of the Beginning
The Viskani turned their attentions to rulership of the world, and as in all things, their fiery spirits drove them to new heights, or to utter depravity. It’s all the same thing, isn’t it? Altaleth and her children tolerated her designates to make war on one another, to hold gladiatorial arenas, to breed their slaves for strength and beauty and power that could be harnessed in the sacrifices held at the public festivals every season. A pure heart of a young and well-bred child brings much occult power when consumed by the light of the full moon in spring!
The Sudarios began to breed new monsters for the games, both in the normal sense and through the electric and philosophical sciences. After naming the stars for monsters, after communing with spirits in the shapes of those monsters, visitors from the Gray Void, they made bodies for those visitors and, to seal treaties for occult power, fed them the blood of mortal victim after mortal victim. How caked the sands must have been with the scarlet of so many noble victories!
The Sudarios Dynasty ended with no great dramatics; the youngest son died of some untreatable genetic abnormality, probably caused by inbreeding, and the throne fell to a beloved cousin. In deference to her noble forebears, Thethana of House Kuharlek changed her name to “Lla-Sudarios”, an ancient and effete bit of twaddle that implies a continuation of strength and purpose. The Lla-Sudarios Dynasty continued for a century, marked mainly by consolidation of militaries and infrastructure within the Viskani Empire.
Fever Grips the Land
The seeds of the end lie in the beginning. The rebellion, long-whispered, was organized by favorite slaves at court, elf maids dragged to harem and human men conquered and made humble by bemused and vicious lords from other stars. The Lla-Sudarios continued the Sudarios in their investigation of living weapons and horrors of disease. Did the rebels release the Moon Fever, or did they simply capitalize on its release? Either way Their uprising coincided with the release of a horrifying plague, the Moon Fever, that swept the streets of Viskan clean.
There’s no way to tell how many died, and most of them were slaves, to be sure. Among the Viskani, a terrifying prospect, to die of frothing and debilitating madness, feverish, lost of faculties, helpless before one’s families and household, brought low. In the horror and the atrocities that followed, the entire Lla-Sudarios family died. For a period of almost two years, there was no central government in Viskan, a period called the Interregnum, and for the first time ever, it looked like the Viskani might lose their chokehold on Eparra.
The legendary sorcerer-general Denrak moved to the capitol and began to clean up with cold and heartless precision that would have made a healthy Empress Altaleth proud. Denrak sent the afflicted, and anyone suspected of carrying the Moon Fever, to the southern port city of Shattarath. Trapped within its walls, he expended the last of the precious Viskani weapon energy reserves putting the city to the torch. The city blazed, and everyone within died.
The Viskani love their intrigue, and they love war, but they rarely combine the two, and Denrak was clearly a man of war. The Viskani are built rather like your “elves”, tall and thin, and no, I don’t believe any of the stories that they and elves clearly must be related because they look vaguely alike. I can enumerate many pellucid reasons why another time. For now, know that Denrak was sun-weathered, not quite as worm-pale as the other Viskani, muscular and direct of speech. How the nobles at court must have despised him!
All sources agree, though, that the enormous circumference of the great and high outer wall of Viskan was ringed with tarred heads of elvish and human slaves suspected of releasing the plague from Viskani laboratory-sanctums. Between each elvish or human head was a Viskani head, as well. This was a message the nobles understood plainly. The Denrak Dynasty lasted longer than that of the Lla-Sudarios.
And so began the short dynasty before the Interregnum, the ascendancy of the dwarves among the slaves and the rebels, and soon, a human founds a cult that brought the slave rebellion together.
A New Vision and a New Threat
My story is of the Viskani, but now I must give you my perspective on a series of events you know all too well, and yet, perhaps not as thoroughly as you might. A slave named Yshial escaped from an ice mining operation in the north of the White Mountains and, turned around in the frost and cold, proceeded not down and southwest into the Trackless Forest, instead proceeded down and southeast into the Onyx Desert. Onward he wandered, parched and delirious, until he collapsed to the glittering black razor floor of that place and, seemingly, he was gifted with a vision. He wandered to a slave encampment and there proclaimed the sun god visited him, and gave him new hope, visions with which to fight the alien oppressors and conquer them once and for all.
I’ll tell you what I think. The Viskani played host to many blood-fond spirits, ambassadors from far realms, to trade strange secrets with, and when the Moon Fever decimated the Empire and the games and sacrifices grew infrequent, these envoys grew restive. Denrak and his kin were sorcerers par excellence, but magicking was a weapon to them; not for them the blood rites and the Long Ascent. Rebellion means slaughter, and slaughter means a mighty feast to these greedy things from elsewhere. That’s my theory anyway, you need not believe, but it fits all the facts nicely.
Yshial made his way back to a small camp of escaped slaves, a rag-tag gathering barely worthy of a name; but that name was Malthireon, and long its tiresome shadow has since grown. He preached and prayed, and many followed. Denrak’s spies brought him worrisome reports about the Cult of the Three among the slave escapees, and similar mutterings from far to the south. Death Chanters were dispatched, and Malthireon struck tents again and again, evading capture, their desperation feeding the fervor of their prayers.
Denrak and his children fought in vain to squelch the organization of the dwarven and human rebels, but soon, their kindest, gentlest, oldest friend would come calling. The Throng would come, bearing their tokens best-known, calamity and decimation.
Denrak left explicit instructions for his children to have Yshial captured, and tortured until he denounced the revolt and embraced his loving protectors, the Viskani, as humanity’s ultimate friends; but he was reported to have died in a hail of arrows when Malthireon was found by the Death Chanters for the third time. We all know that it is said he rose into the heavens, where he lives at the right hand of Alsian as the archangel Gloriant, the Bearer of the Word.
As you know, though, this whole sun and moon and earth business is not exactly the dominant religion among humans. Not even now that the Three have been pared down to the Two, for efficiency! For you see, escaped slaves had been making their way to elvish settlements in the Trackless Forest for years, and had taken in the more cogent of the elvish beliefs about the immanency of an intelligence in nature, and the spirits of the trees, and other such nonsense. Nonsense I say, but it is a truth that spirits and powers lie dormant in all things; but the humans could see the uselessness of veneration of such things, and they gave the elvish prattlings their own heroic spin, and reinterpreted the greatest human heroes of the Ogre Wars as spirits of the seasons. Humans learned from we Viskani so well! The heroic spirit is the source of all true power, not some self-annihilatory prattle. To be sure, we Viskani have our prophecy of the eight ages, and our Eight Beast Gods, and how each will rule an age until the universe ceases to be, but rest your head with certainty each night that each Viskani swore, knew they would personally each achieve our godhood that would preserve one through the Long Dark Age between cycles.
But, about the expeditions to Malthireon … it occurs to me, that had Denrak led the expedition himself, the slaves would have been denied the hope they bore, and who knows? We might have ruled the world still. And yet, it is the forsaken earth, not the mighty sun, or the mysterious moon, or brute nature, or slave hands that contributed the most to ending our rule. If it was the will of the gods, they chose a circumspect route; and the role of the lessers in besting their superiors has been so overblown, I only mention it to correct a historical mistake. I suspect this chronicle will find its way into a brazier when discovered, so perhaps I am only amusing myself with this quill and parchment, ink and time. And yet, what else have I to do while I wait for the wheels I have set in motion to complete their revolutions?
Perhaps I will speak more of that, in time, as well. If it is intelligence you seek on your dearest foe, you will have to read between the lines of this historical account. Read on, then, I say!
A Time Without Mercy
The Denraks were masters of war on land, with the weapons available to them, but a couple of generations had passed since the Viskani had shed the blood of the Throng, and their greatest weapons were all gone. The Throng arrived in numbers, fresh, and near to the capitol of Viskan. They choked off the ice mining operations on the northern White Mountains and lay siege with patient malevolence to every Viskani holding outside the capitol. The full impact wasn’t clear to the average spear-carrier, but the end was crystalline to the elite in the domes and towers of the capitol; a slaughter without glory was coming, and soon.
The Denrak poured their immense wealth into developing new weapons of magic that could be turned against the invaders, spells and sorceries that the inscrutable star-things might not have defenses against. For the first time, they tortured the dwarven adepts until the secrets of rune magic were laid bare to them, and Viskani mystic theory showed how the glyphs made use of the runecaster’s own mystic threads to access the power of the Logoi in the White Void, mostly bypassing the need for treaties and bonds with deceitful kings of far Gray realms.
The Viskani adapted the dwarven runes to their venom-script, and their war-magic was revolutionized, and just in time. Ensorcelled skirmish-beasts of the Throng, wet with saltwater and covered in eyes, stormed the lower temple-mazes beneath the city, desecrating the holiest of Viskani altars as they worked their way up to tear apart and consume the citizenry. Eight weapons were forged, and eight Death Chanters were sent, one for each of the Viskani Gods; Garganos Karn, the mighty axe of the minotaur-god Mukram, tore the fishy things apart, its wielder turned into an unstoppable machine of pure slaughter. Jardanes Argarak, the claws of Dastaan, the chimera-god of change and shapeshifting, turned the enemy’s flesh against them, causing their veins to bubble and explode; a pity the gods have always found the foul ichor of the Throng offensive, for the sacrifices that could have been made that day, the howled prayers of carnage, the glorious steps up the Long Ascent, wasted! I’m told their ichor doesn’t even taste good, that it is, in fact, rather repellant. The very existence of the Throng is an offense to the cycle of the ages and that is all.
The Viskani won, as I said, but it was a near thing, and as always, the nearest advisors were sure it could have been done faster, better, more. The losses! The Emperor, Izith Ostenes Denrak XII, was an old man by that time, and his personal guard had died accompanying the Death Chanters into the temple-maze of Ualth Aarith. You may not understand as of yet how seriously the Viskani take revenge. The shaking and aged Emperor was bathed and dressed, and then, lying in bed, one by one, the members of his harem were trooped before him and burned to death, in order from least favorite to most, followed by his children and wives, and in the end, he was allowed to join them.
The architect of this atrocity was Sadhana, the Duchess of the West, and she immediately began scavenging what machines and power she could from the ruins of the Throng, to solidify her power base and protect her Empire from another invasion. Say what you will of her, her plan to build the Walking City of Ahnmesth was nothing if not audacious, and in her reign, the Viskani plumbed the depth of rune magic.
There are untold dangers in the White Void, and it is not for nothing that there are innumerable guardians before those gates, and so very many oaths the fraternities exact before teaching the proper contact spells, and such stringent requirements to join such cults as still know some shred of these old ways. The Viskani have ever sought power, perfection, godhood: The Long Ascent. Dwarven rune magic was, for them, like the cloying drugs of Tesh Para; prepared or not, strong or not, a Viskani sorcerer could never turn away. The Viskani lost their practical and cynical nature and dove into this untested field head-first, seeing only glory, and many, many souls were unbalanced, diseased, twisted, shattered in the process. It’s no exaggeration to say that rune magic had a worse long-term effect on the Viskani Empire than the Moon Fever did, for it caused them to betray their ideals in service to those very ideals. They became a shallow mockery of themselves, slaves to their own self-flattery, their own stumbling block.
When the Rites of the Long Ascent were modified to include rune magic, and public mass executions occurred on a regular basis, outside the appointed festival days, the end was, as the poets say, well nigh. The Emperor Vitrium Sadhan IX was the first to appoint such a slaughter, and it is at his decrepit feet I lay the blame for all that follows.
Instability, Disaster, Fall
A massive earthquake rocked Eparra, and caused terrible damage in the capitol of Viskan. By now, the rebellious slaves rose up and, in the confusion, slaughtered many of their Viskani overlords. The season-worshippers were organized by the elves, the worshippers of celestial bodies by the elders in their cult and their own ridiculous drive for martyrdom, the dwarves by their remembrance of torture in the taking of the rune-secrets, and their own bitter obstinance. That last point is especially important, because the short and bearded stinking folk had been granted so much power, too much, to maintain the systems of the cities. They were thought a thoroughly beaten people, subservient, splendid servants. They were simply masters at cloaking their own bloody intentions until the appointed hour. Masterfully played.
Your chronicles tell you that Viskan fell in a day, and yet it didn’t happen all at once. First the city walls fell and the lights faded to dimness, and the slaves from outside poured in and liberated their brothers. The Viskani sealed their towers, and some took months, even years, to break open. The fastness you now know as the Stronghold of the Scroll was one of the last of these, and it was only through the basest treachery that it was taken. Allow me a moment to shudder with loathing and gut-turning rage before I describe that moment of infamy.
The Viskani were, in their own way, wise in the ways of building a culture and civilization, and there was a place for everyone somewhere within its strictures, even for the crippled and weak. The Keepers of the Moongraal were an order of healers and mystics, and it was to them that the idiots and madmen, retired soldiers with shattered nerves, and most pathetic dregs of our people were consigned, there to learn the healing arts and tend to the dying. They were kept busy and away from matters that didn’t concern them, we gained a body of semi-reliable leeches and scholars, and all was well enough. I am certain they had no part in the rebellion, because no true Viskani liked or trusted them enough to grant them any real power, and yet, they may have aided with intelligence and through such deviousness as I am about to describe. Simply, the Keep of Vradan, a vault of magic and college of practical mysteries, could have stood alone for a thousand years, but one of the Moongraal adherents within unlocked the doors of one of the towers, and a bloody battle stained the floors of that shrine of learning, until at last the teachers and students were all dead. What, did you think the rebellion spared the children, and they went to some happy place elsewhere, to live out normal lives? You underestimate the rancor of the revolutionaries; your Free Cities Compact was written in the blood of Viskani children, as it were. You should be proud, children, for you learned well from us, your elders.