Akavir: Strangers in a strange land
Being the adventures of Athelyn and Francoise
Notes from Athelyn.
We finally set forth on a cold and hoary 23 of First Seed in a modest ship and good crew – hand picked by Francoise’ father, who also loaned us the ship. We had goods and provisions in the hold that would last us six months, but were hoping to be able to trade as well, so we had brought gifts of various values, gold and rare stones.
Our, extremely fluid, plan was to make shore on Tang Mo, the land of the monkey people, who were said to be friendly, if not a little mad. From there we planned to trek west into Tsaesco, see how our luck held then travel north to the snowy wastes of Kamal, at least as far as the border and explore whilst the demons slept in their wintry inferno. From there we would trek southeast into Ka Po’Tun, land of the Tiger Dragons.
We would be going in as scholars, not warriors, so optimistically we would be able to gain safe passage, and with Kamal being in the grip of winter we should be safe enough, though it was true we knew nothing of the indigenous populations, we would be looking out for a guide.
15 Suns Dawn
Francoise came rushing into the galley where Athelyn was preparing a meal, “They’ve sighted land, we’ve made it. Akavir comes closer. Seasickness be damned, it’ll be good to feel solid land again, I think I shall kiss it.”
Athelyn, older and somewhat wiser than the young Breton smiled and wiped his hand, “We’d best go up and greet it then, eh? I’m glad you’re feeling better my friend, I feared you might die from the sickness, and all the glory would be mine”
Theirs was an unlikely friendship, Athelyn being a Dunmer historian of some note with an interest in the lands of Akavir. Twice married with one estranged son, he had outlived both wives and remembered them with fondness. Francoise, on the other hand, was a disaffected young man, twenty three, with no clear goals in his life, but a rich father who had allowed him to coast. But in a chance meeting in Reich Parkeep, Morrowind, their joint love of the unknown and reckless need for adventure sealed the friendship.
From a badly drawn, probably inaccurate, map of the lands, they had chosen a bay on the west side of Tang' Mo as the place to dock. They didn’t want to start at Fort Ionith as humans landing there might engender bad feelings amongst the Tsaesco – it would look better if they entered by foot.
Francoise smiled, a five week old beard hiding the smoothness of his face, “What are we going to find there Athelyn? What if the stories about the Tang Mo are incorrect, what if they like the taste of human flesh, or they’re more mad than friendly? We’re going to be the first humans to set foot on this continent in centuries.”
Athelyn knew better than to answer what would become a steady stream of question, “Just remember we’re the savages here. If in doubt, say nothing, let them think you a silent fool. They’ve not seen a human in centuries either; interest should stay their hand, at least to begin with.”
On the horizon a thin sliver of darkness grew slowly into a hilly green landscape, it was midday, and though still winter, the weather was warm with a strong south eastern wind, and the sea tranquil. As formerly agreed with the captain, the ship sailed into the harbour and came about a mile from the shore. Two longboats were lowered and the two men, the captains lieutenant and twenty seamen started rowing for the shore. There was a village somewhat to the south and the boats headed for it. Their arrival had been noted, much to the seamen’s consternation, and a group of hairy proto humans lined the shore watching their arrival with some excitement. Francoise noticed children amongst the watchers, and the fact calmed his beating heart; somewhat – here was a sight that no living man had seen before, this was history in the making, and he was making it!
The ape-man maintained a respectful distance as the longboats were pulled up onto the beach, some females, naked, noticed Francoise with an unexpected surge, pulled their children in closer. They were chattering excitedly in a high pitched nonsensical language and the lieutenant, a grizzled seaman of some fifty years, looked at Athelyn to take the lead which he did by grabbing some cloth, foods and beads and began moving slowly towards the aliens.
As a group, they shuffled backwards, their voices raising in concern at this stranger in their world. He paused, waited then gave a slight bow, he deposited the gifts on the ground and indicating them, then the group, he stepped back. Then something unexpected happened, from out of the group of ape-man stepped a half naked man, he looked at the goods then at the visitors.
He spoke, slowly, as though the words were barely recalled, “Welcome to Akavir, the Tang Mo thank you for the gifts. My name is D’roth Sanuur…”
D’roth Sanuur dispelled many of the myths of Akavir in the next few weeks. There were human settlements all across the land, even in the demon infested Kamal – at least along the southern borders. It was true the Ka Po’Tun hated the Tsaesci and wanted to wipe them off the face of Akavir; apparently for killing the dragon gods, but humans intermixed fairly freely with both races. Interbreeding between human and the three races was also a fairly common occurrence, especially with the mischievous Tang Mo who found humans desirable.
Francoise found this out when one female started paying attentions to him, much to Athelyn’s amusement. She would keep trying to groom him whenever he sat still for more than a few moments. Eventually he stopped running, and let her play with his hair and try to pick bugs from it. She had soft downy fur all over her body, it felt like silk, but her eyes were bright with intelligence, upturned nose and overlarge ridges above her eyes could not hide the beauty and gentleness.
As their relationship developed he also found himself going native, wearing a leathered skin loincloth like D’roth Sanuur, and letting his beard grow. Once a week Athelyn would throw him into the local river and force him to bathe.
From the notes of Athelyn:
With the anthropological curiosity of watching young Francoise become more native in his dress, attitude and vocal mimicking I have come to learn a lot more about the Tang Mo. D’roth has been inordinately helpful in this, and thanks to him, we now have a decent map of the lands of Akavir.
There is a strict code of honour amongst these people, but also a streak of perverse humour that stretches across the ages; when I found my bedspace littered with food crumbs, I came out of my hut to find both adults and children screaming with crazy delight running into the dusk. I believe these jokes to be a form of affectation rather than cruelty, for I am rarely alone in my musings, and they seem to simply enjoy being in my presence. There is an older female that I have begun teaching some words to, as well as learning some of their intricate language.
They have a strange ceremony here once a day, when they make a warm drink from the local fauna. There is a lot of bowing and murmured words and correct placement of items and the whole thing can take hours. At first I thought it a religious ceremony, but am now starting to realise they do not have a structure of Gods like we do in the west, but see themselves as living within the confines of a wheel, something that is eternal and that is part of them as much as they are part of it.
The Tang Mo accept that the demons of the north and the dragons of old exist, but they are simply part of the pantheon of life, and no more inured of the physical world than them, simply living on different spokes of the wheel. Also, they do not hate the demons of Kamal, but simply defend their territories against their incursions, and while they will fight to bloody death with any race that tries to take their land, any animosity is dropped the moment they are gone.
They also have a strange form of fighting, almost like a dance, yet I have seen them breaking strong materials with their bare hands. Francoise is learning these new fighting arts from his new mate, and can now swing a sword with breathtaking speed. His movement has also become more fluid, though this could be to do with the losing of his clothes, and any body fat he had at the start of this venture is now gone.
While there is a hierarchy here, it seems more instinctive than power driven. The young are obedient to the old, they to each other and all to the chieftain of the village; and an overlord who lives on the island to the north. I seem to have been afforded a privileged place next to the chieftain, though I’m unsure as to why. Francoise has taken to living with his mate in a hut along the river.
D’roth Sanuur has informed me that there are four types of Tang Mo: The Long’Mo are the dominant species, and the ones we are living with, they are to be found all over the islands of their home. The Jo’mo, or mountain monkeys, tend to live in the mountainous regions of the north, they are the hardy ones, big of girth and tend to be slightly more garrulous than their cousins to the south. The Ra’Mo are ocean dwelling creatures, more at home in boats and diving for treasures off the coasts; they have lost much of their body hair, but retain the facial and bodily characteristics of their race. And the last are the Wen’Mo, or jungle monkey; they live in the steamy interior in cities of tree houses that are a wonder to behold.
12 Second Seed
Athelyn was sitting outside his hut watching Francoise play with the local children: When these people ran, they forewent the shuffling of two legs and adopted an all fours stance, they moved with lightening speed, they were trying to teach him, with hilarious results. He rolled over on his back, playing dead and the children swarmed all over him, screaming and chittering and hooting.
They had been here three months already, and the ship, laden with exotic goods had returned to Tamriel with instructions to return in one year. The captain had been less than pleased, not returning with your bosses son was rarely a good career move but once Francoise had written a long missive, he took his leave with ill grace.
The boy was more Tang Mo than Breton now, a face full of shaggy beard, wild hungry excitement in his eyes and he could go for days without uttering a single human word. He stood, uttering a roar and loped over to Athelyn, he had also adopted their shuffling gait. He sat down easily on his haunches and smiled as D’roth joined them.
“Word has arrived from township, the Sky Emperor would meet with you.” The overlord of the Tang Mo.
Athelyn looked concerned, “But that is a weeks travelling to the north. We were hoping to travel into Tsaesci country from here.”
Francoise, “How did he know of our arrival?”
D’roth looked at the boy, “You will need to cut off some of those locks, else how will he know if you’re human or monkey? A messenger was sent a few days after your arrival here.” To Athelyn, “Of course you have the choice not to go, but things will be more helpful if you follow the tribal customs. Think: It will add a few weeks to your journey, but immeasurably aid your travels. The Sky Emperor knows much of these lands and can offer much insight into how best to survive the foreign climes.”
Athelyn nodded his head, “Then by all means we must go.” He turned to look at his young friend, “Do you wish to stay? I would understand-”
Francoise shook his head, “We came on this journey together, I’m proud to be part of this world changing expedition. These past few months have been the best in my life, I’m beginning to learn a new language and culture that the empire knows nothing about. I would once again see what is beyond the horizon. When we started this journey I was a dilettante, mostly asleep and unaware of what the world had to offer…”
D’roth laughed, “it is good to see you’ve not forgotten your mother language Francoise, I was beginning to think you had gone completely native, some of our people do.”
“How better to learn a culture than to fully embrace it?”
“So, D’roth, when do we start for township, and what will we need?”
“Athelyn, all that is needed is your good selves. You’re generosity when you first arrived was noted. We leave in two days, there is a trade caravan going north to township and we will travel with them. Once there we can travel with the Ra’Mo who will ferry us across the straits which will save two days walking across land.”
Francoise said, “Will we be travelling through the interior, will we see the cities in the trees?”
D’roth nodded, “Not only see them, but stay overnight in them.
Francoise smiled dreamily, “Okay… Athelyn, do you have a blade?”
16 Second Seed.
Thanks to the generosity of the Tang Mo, they were spared the trauma of walking, though Francoise would regularly swing off the wagon and join the people marching along, joining in their conversations, laughing and joking in their alien tongue. They were moving slowly through a steamy jungle that seemed to trap and magnify the wet heat. The caravan had been joined by a group of the local people, though whether they were trading, or simply being companionable, Athelyn couldn’t tell.
The Tang Mo were certainly resilient, they’d been marching two days with barely a pause in the journey, though every once in a while, some of the Tang Mo would join them on the wagon, sleep seeming for twenty minutes before joining their friends again on foot.
But, as D’roth promised, that evening the caravan stopped, whilst their jungle cousins came down to guard the wagons, the group were lifted by a series of ropes and pullies into the green ocean above. Thankfully, some of the heat dissipated once they’d reached the city in the tree, and truly, it was a marvel to behold; walkways, lights and houses married into the green landscape stretched off as far as the eye could see, whilst movement and sound and the most glorious smells of cooking permeated their tired senses.
They had obviously been forewarned of the travellers’ arrival for there was music, strange and discordant to Athelyn’s ear, but Francoise seemed to like it. As well, there was great good humour with much laughter and greetings, and food that lasted well into the night. Athelyn actually fell asleep as he attempted to write into his journal that night, his stomach groaning pleasantly to itself, his head buzzing from the local brew.
The next morning they were up at the crack of dawn, but the Tang Mo were noticeably quieter this morning, as was Francoise who fell asleep instantly the cart started moving. D’roth sat next to the old Dunmer.
He nodded at the boy, “he seems to have quite a tolerance for partying and mixing it up. I hope he also has a good head on his shoulder, for when we enter the Tsaesci or Tun borders it would be best to not be so noticeable.”
Athelyn smiled, “Believe me, he is a character of differing traits. I believe he will do fine on our journeys, and may even prove indispensable in our dealings with these people, for he seems to have the uncanny knack of becoming like they are.”
He glanced over at D’roth, “And what of you? At journeys end – will you return home with us, see for yourself the wonders of Tamriel?”
From the notes of Athelyn:
The sights and sound of township assaulted us as we made harbour therein, this truly was a cosmopolitan city. Proto-humans mixed freely with all four species of Tang Mo plus assorted animals of various persuasions - and such a cacophony of sound and colour I began to understand the accusations of madness. I thought it might be market day, maybe a holiday, or that they had come to see our arrival, but D’roth assured us this was a normal day in township, and I thought Silgrad Tower was bad…
The Sky Emperor was humility itself, and such a quiet dignity, I start to comprehend why these people will throw themselves on the blades of invading Tsaesci or the talons of the Kamal, for this way of life is very precious, definitely worth preserving. These people are completely at peace with themselves and their place in the world. D’roth was right; this man knows so much about the continent he lives in – he is after all, some five hundred years of age: And thanks to him, our travel plans have changed vastly.
The snowy wastes of Kamal are kept in the grip of a supernaturally long winter, some agency vastly older than the young races of men or mer created this prison to keep them subdued – but every three hundred years the winters must thaw for a short season. The Tang Mo sees them as a periodic nuisance that thins their number, rather than an implacable foe which should be vanquished.
Kamal is a landscape dominated by a central mountain, the reminders to Vvardenfell are unmistakable and also explains their fascination with our dormant volcano – recognition, and the underground heat would keep them awake for long enough to decimate our fair empire. The Tang Mo insist these demons are natural, and follow their own instincts, but as far as I can see, ultimate destruction leaves nothing to survive. Once they’ve destroyed all living creatures will they then turn on themselves?
We have arrived on the cusp of the thaw, but apparently we still have a few months left before they wake. This is important because up in the heights of the mountain, nestled in an unlikely valley near the peaks there lies an ancient city. The Tang Mo call it ‘the city of the old ones’ and it is like no structure ever seen before, the sketching’s testify to that. My historian blood boils with the need to see this artefact preserved in the wintry wastes, something no mer eye has ever seen.
We have been given a dozen Jo’Mo to help carry provisions, and they will lead us to a central lake that will take us to the lands of Tsaesco and Tun. From there we will be left to fend for ourselves, though we will still have D’roth who says he has had dealings with both races and knows where the human habitation lies.
Francoise slept with the Sky Emperors daughter, but luckily he found it more amusing than annoying.
15 Mid Year
For the first time in his young life Francoise finally felt like he belonged. These gently insane beings felt more like his own people than any he had met before. He had fallen in love, learned the fighting art of Ba, the science of the sword, where mind, body and weapon became as one, and was learning the discipline of Sa’Do, the code of the arts.
The old chief had asked him in private if he would like to stay, that there was a place for one such as him, but he had gratefully refused. He would not desert his old friend just as he was about to walk into the jaws of death. Francoise had a feeling about this trip to the snowy wastes, not a good feeling, but unformed, and he feared for Athelyn’s safety. He knew that D’roth would protect him, but he instinctively knew he must accompany them.
After all this, when Athelyn was safely on board his fathers boat, then he would see, for he knew now, that he wasn’t an adventurer, but someone seeking a home. Now he had found it, on the other side of the world.
He watched D’roth as he prepared and took lessons as to what was the best clothing to wear, and why, then he forced Athelyn to follow suit. His fellow Tang Mo didn’t wear anything, but Francoise was not so far gone, he didn’t realise it would be suicidal for him. He also took on a more sombre tone, especially as the mountain apes were not as fun loving as their plains cousins.
The landscape of the snowy wastes was a hell-scape of another world, like a realm of one of the Daedra, giant thrusting logs of ice piercing the sky, deceptive snow drifts that would drop you three feet with one step, and an incessant howling wind that might send you mad with the desperation in its voice. The small group were travelling in sleds pulled by a wolf like creature that pulled surely and with seemingly tireless strength.
The days merged into nights then back to days, though sometimes it was hard to tell which was which. The cold seeped into your bones and there were times the men thought they might never feel warmth again. They would camp by digging deep into the drifts and huddle close for warmth. Even the Tang Mo, seemed drained by this flight.
They became aware of creatures as the moved further inland, but none impeded their progress, and they made good time. They took the sled as far up the slope as could be considered safe then they prepared to climb the rest of the way with three of the Tang Mo. The others were to make camp and await their return. They loaded their packs with dried food, potions and scrolls and the six men set off
Francoise took the three Tang Mo to one side and offered them the chance of waiting at the camp for their return. One rebuffed him kindly and said that they’d promised the old chief to look after the frail humans and bring them back down the mountain alive: And in truth they might not have made the climb without their help, for they seemed able to almost glide up steep cliff faces, throwing rope down for the others to painfully climb up.
With the slower pace the mountain folk almost appeared cheerful, throwing insults and jokes at each other, calling Francoise a plains lover – was that a blade in your hand or are you just happy. It seemed to energise the group though, and after two days of aching muscles and frozen joints they stood on…
Francoise was at a loss, the six of them stood on a ledge, and where mountainside should have carried on up, it looked like a giant hand had scooped the side of the mountain out and place a palace that defied description. Francoise had seen the imperial tower, and been impressed by it, he’d seen Red Mountain, and been impressed, he’d seen and explored Ayleid ruins and been impressed… but this…
Athelyn whooped and hugged him, “By the Gods, we made it. If I died right now, I could not be happier. The misery of these past few weeks was nothing. This is the culmination of my life. We must go in, we ‘have’ to go in Francoise.”
Francoise turned to the mountain men and in their language, signed, “You know. We have to go in. My friend will not leave without some small memento. You may wait here if you wish, I shall drag him out as quick as can be.”
They graciously agreed, D’roth said, “You are a good friend to this man, and though I fear it, I also will come with you. Death lives here.”
The structure spread out in all directions from them, battlements carved into impossible faces one hundred feet in height facing all directions simultaneously. They were not human, nor beast faces, but they were haughty, and there was power in those dead stone eyes. Francoise could easily believe that Gods had built this, that men or mer were not supposed to walk those hallowed halls, but for his friend he would walk into death, protect him with his life if necessary.
They approached a crack in one of the closer walls. Within, blackness enticed, yet Athelyn seemed not to notice the utter pall of dread hanging over this mausoleum, instead, talking at great speed about bringing a proper expedition back, about how the timing must be right, about the thousand and one books he would write about this enormous find…
D’roth signed to Francoise, “Does he not realise this is a once in a lifetime trip?”
“He knows, but he’s being rational at the moment. Ages past are his great love.”
Francoise cast a low light spell – he didn’t want them to be noticed, and the three friends stepped forward as one… Francoise looked around, he was utterly alone; alone in this ancient city of the damned, and the dark was crowding in, almost like a malevolent entity, it became a living thing. He cast the spell stronger, but the darkness surged against it, he randomly thought, ‘ this is the first spell I’ve cast since leaving Tamriel’, which flooded him with memories of his family, who had tried so hard to understand, but always doomed to failure. His magicka skills were rusty, but damn if he wasn’t a Breton first and foremost. He cast the strongest light spell in his memory, and the darkness slunk back.
The fear kept trying to insinuate its way back in, the darkness at the edge of the light barrier seemed to be moving, roiling in ceaseless movement, trying to recapture the space it had lost. He was standing in a long corridor, the ceiling lost in the darkness overhead. He took a few steps forward, his steps echoing in the silence – except, it wasn’t utter silence. There was a whisper, at the periphery of his hearing, could it be the others? Trying to locate him.”
“Athelyn, D’roth?” Barely a whisper, he tried again, but his voice died in his throat.
“Francoise, I’ve been searching so long for you. I’ve hungered for your touch, for your lips. Where are you Francoise? I can’t see you in all this light.”
The darkness congealed and from the depths stepped out a beautiful naked woman: That woman that hovers just beyond perceptions grasp, the perfect woman, naked, glistening, wanting your caress to feed the fires, naked, free and in want…
The last part of his rational mind tried to remind him that he came here to protect his friend, but the fire racing up his spine burnt that thought to a crisp. As he opened himself to her, as the teeth tore into vulnerable flesh, as the darkness enfolded his mind, he finally screamed…
Notes from Athelyn:
When D’roth told me what Francoise had said to him, my shame was complete, that the Gods would have taken me then I would have been eternally grateful. I now know why the foreigners call us Dunmer, Dark Elves, for we are insular, thinking nothing of others. That those two should recognise the city for the damned place it is, and I did not, makes me weep in shame.
I accept complete blame for what befell my dear friend. When we stepped over the threshold a basic teleportation trap sent us to different parts of the castle, not that far apart, just enough to disorientate any invader. I lit a torch out of my backpack and ignored the gnawing fear – a simple spell to defend yourself against if you know how, I started walking east, since we had come in from that way, calling for my two friends as I went.
When I heard the scream I began to run towards it, almost colliding into D’roth as we both came upon the scene, a blood liche slaking his thirst on my dear friend, one of the older vampire clan, and extremely rare in Tamriel. I am uncertain whether his fears manifested him, or he chanced upon my friend, but the blood liche contains the vampiric disease upon its teeth and thus infects all those it bites with a most virulent strain.
D’roth carried him out and with the Tang Mo we fled that dismal place, left it for the darkness and fear to reclaim. If it was built by the Gods, or ‘the first ones’, they no longer lay claim to it, and I fear creatures even worse live there, in the dark depths.
1 Sun's Height.
Francoise finally came to to warmth and a gentle rocking motion. His head was resting in D’roths lap, he tried to sit up, but nausea and sickness assailed him and he fell back. D’roth laid a wet cloth on his forehead. The Tang Mo were sitting on the sides of a raft, keeping silent watch on the far sides of the shore.
“Please, Francoise, you must take it easy, your body is fighting a disease. I have applied some herbs that will slow its passage, but we must get to a human settlement where they will have stronger potions that should cure you.”
Athelyn said, “I’m so very sorry my dear friend. I have no idea what happened to me up there. Or… well…”
Francoise took his hand weakly, he whispered, “Do not berate yourself Athelyn. Have you not shown me a new world, and my place in it. Had I never met you on that day I would never have known true happiness. I would follow you into the realm of Mehrunes Dagon if you but asked it.”
D’roth tutted, whilst ruffling the boys hair, “Fear not gentleman, death will not claim anyone on my watch. We will be making landfall in under a day, then you can spend days trading insults with each other again.”
“D’roth, I also thank the Gods we met you, for I fear the adventure would not have taken this far. Are we returning to Tang Mo?”
He shook his head, “No, it was thought to be faster to make for Ka Po’Tun, directly by river. It runs south east towards the sea. There is a village close by…”
“But the Tang Mo?”
D’roth smiled grimly, they would not let us go alone, the Sun Emperor is worried about you. The Tun and them are at the moment in accord, so they will go with us to the village, ensure you are in good hands then return through Kamal.
Francoise signed his thanks then closed his eyes.
D’roth was quietly worried, the monster had drunk his fill of the boys blood, and he was very weak. He was also turning, his skin reacting unfavourably to the sun...
To be continued.
Copyright © 2006 Tony F Paulazzo All Rights Reserved