The Case of The Remembered Rider" Part One
Flocktime 20, 642 CY
Frederick, my friend and Unfailing, felt that I should record this adventure. He believes that it requires observations into the nature of undead that call for the hand of a necromancer. Given that he could have been the most promising necromancer of his time, had he not chosen to turn his magic toward the martial application of being an Unfailing; I think he was more than up to the task. But we do things for those we have known since childhood. That includes the uncomfortable chore of narrative.
After we hid the first set of chess pieces in the Ataphad Islands we debated where to go next so we could leave a clue. Our decisions were split but we decided on the Isle of Pearls for the next location. If things were not safe under the eye of the blood of a god, we really were on a fools errand. I have always been fascinated by the Isles. They really had only become a common fixture in our lives on this side of the continent since the Heroes of The Key. Before that occasional traders would go and come back with tales and riches. There were things the clerics knew about the nature of the Emperor. But on the whole we were still learning. I busied myself with learning more as we traveled to Geoff in order to secure passage by talking to Sir Christopher. The Lord Marshall of Geoff was good friends with the government there and could facilitate our travel.
What I was able to discover with the materials I borrowed from the Baklunish Royal Library was fascinating. It seemed that the Emperor was the grandson of Pelor in a different aspect. Arguably the country on Oerth with the longest continuous government, The Isle of Pearls had a history both stable and vast. The Grandson of the Sun has ruled the Isles for as long as anyone can remember. The first emperor was born at the end of the god war and aided the gods in defeating the mad god, or at least that is what the history of the Isles says. Some credence is given to that in some form since the entryway and guard post to the prison of the mad god is in the Isles.
After the first emperor rested from aiding the gods he made pacts with the Kami and other spirits (In particular the Great Spirit Dragons) to help in forming the Isles into a place that would be even more welcoming to the people who would be made. He then stood against the ancient Oni, their word for demons, who dwelt in a plane near the Abyss and Hells and made the land safe for habitation. When the human gods made life, he led the life in the Isles into the first human civilization on that side of the continent. After a few centuries the following emperors explored the continent nearby. They helped the other nations grow and tried to keep them from conflict. But over time they fell into war with each other and called on the Isles to join one side or another. Repeatedly the Isles refused.
A time came 2700 years ago when the nations of the continent, led by The Celestial Kingdom of Shaofeng tried to take the Isles by force. In a war lasting 30 years the Isles conquered the nations of the mainland. The emperor at the time consulted The Ever Present Light (Amaterasu) and decided to offer the nations a kind of confederacy where they could swear loyalty to the Isles for trade and protection. They would generally follow the Isles but each would maintain their own governments and not make war on each other. They would follow the guidance and leadership of the Emperor in all things. This confederacy (or empire depending on who you talk to) has existed for 3000 years.
The Isles helped maintain peace but occasionally has problems with the Realm of The Despotic Giant King on the northwest continental border. This hostile nation, led by a vicious line of giants meeting no known classification has been an issue for centuries. All known giant types live there, even the normally good ones in league with the evil unclassifiable leaders. 1,200 years ago the nation made war on the continent and it was only the direct intervention of the Emperor, engaging the Wizard King of the Giants in combat, that ended the war and pushed back the armies.
The people of the Isles still guard the shadowlands between the prison of the mad god and the world. The door to the prison exists as a physical reality near the palace and the area around it astrally is filled with all manner of demons and monsters. At times they try to cross between the worlds.
But most fascinating is how the line of Emperors continues. At some point he chooses a bride. There may be a marriage right away or she may be secret. But in time, after the official wedding, a child is born. This child is to become the new emperor. At some point the nature of the old Emperor is passed to him and the old emperor dies. This always happens when the new emperor is a child and they are raised by the Empress, who has been trained to finish the integration of the nascent godhood. The Emperor is normally long lived, sometimes over 150 years. Sometimes even longer.
Occasionally there are two children born, a set of twins. Along with the future emperor there is a twin girl who is connected to Tsukuyomi, who seems to be of the line of Nerull in the same way Amaterasu is of Pelor. Only in a very rare while is the girl born. When she is, at some point a tutor is appointed who has also been sent from Nerull in some fashion and is connected to him. It is said the girl lives longer than the Emperor and indeed there is always an Emperor and a Priestess of The Dead. She just goes into seclusion after the space of a mortal lifetime or so and must be sought. But for the space of a little over one mortal lifetime she is available to the people to consult on spiritual matters within her realm. I reflected that it was too bad she was not existing or at least accessible at the moment. She sounded far more to the liking of a Hollowfaustian heart than dealing with a sun demi-god
One evening, while I was researching at one of our stops toward Geoff I was explaining to the group some of the things I had discovered. Serena was the only member of our party who had been to the Isles and seemed interested in the existence of the girl twin.
“I’ve been there for the festival they have to honor the dead, I would have thought she would have been mentioned. But then again, my experience is mainly based on trade.”
“Festival for the dead?” Frederick asked.
She nodded while taking a drink and then smiled. “Actually it is more like your customs than anywhere else I’ve ever seen. They light a welcoming fire on the third night of the week and the dead come and stay with them until the end of the festival. Everyone leaves the big cities and goes to their ancestral villages. Unless, of course, the city is where most of your people are buried. But almost no one is unless they are from there for centuries. You are taken back home and buried even if you lived 80 years in the city. But the dead of your family come. Not all of them. Sometimes only a few. Sometimes lots. And they celebrate and remember together. The living ask the older dead for advice and blessings.”
Frederick and I exchanged glances. In a way some may think it bore a resemblance to what we are like. But really, even though we do have some family dead who remain special to us, we do not over personalize the dead once they are gone. We do not hold on forever. It is hard to remember your father as your father when he now walks on patrol not knowing you. He is gone. His body now serves the city. And even when our family members are around as sentient dead, they now have a duty to the city that is greater than the one to us. We still love them, but their life with us is over. There are some exceptions. On the whole what they do in the Isles was, although charming and reverent, a little horrifying to us. But we had our nanny, who we still loved and saw, so for the two of us it was a passible horror.
“Actually,” she said, “We should get there just in time for it to start…it is at the end of summer.”
“Well, in some respects,” I said, “it will be like home. There will be lots of undead.”
“Mostly ghosts,” Serena supplied, “But occasionally other things. They have odd undead there.”
Quentin shook his head, “All undead are odd. No offense my death’s head butterfly friends from the mountains of madness or whatever…but no one comes back normal.”
Having been raised in the realm that rested on the mad god’s prison I forgave Quentin certain prejudices. It must have been hard to grow up in such circumstances. I moved the conversation on to other matters. “No matter when we arrive and what is going on,” I said, “at least we can have unwavering trust in the head of state.”
There were general murmurs of agreement around the table. Frederick added, “Sir Christopher should be able to get us an audience and we can also tell him what is going on with this. But I have to wonder, if this takes centuries what other kinds of fail safes we can put in place to keep the Talons of The Mother from finding these.”
“Well,” Serena said, “they won’t be looking in places like the ones where we are putting them. But I think having things that we think are incorruptible and will last hundreds of years guarding places would work.”
“You mean like Golems?” Quentin asked. “Or undead?”
“No, I mean institutions and people.”
I made some mental notes then listed some, “The Sevestrians, The Baklunish Royals, The Emperor, Zagyg, Baryoi.”
“”Exactly,” she said, “One secret cabal deserves another. They can handle it however they wish. Communicate between themselves however they wish. But in the end they need to look after this until it’s time to get this stuff back. And they need to find someone who can beat a dragon or dragon’s chosen in chess.”
We finished our drinks and determined our route for the last leg of the journey to Geoff. The Sevestrian trade lines and caravans were well planned and protected. I was sure it would give me the necessary time to finish research. For some reason I could not identify, I felt time would be rather pressed after that point.
It was two days later that we sat in Sir Christopher’s office watching him process the story of our mission. The Lord Marshall of Geoff was a kind man with a good sense of humor. But he was known to be deadly serious when the situation required. The seemingly young Knight, who was really in his mid forties, sat in deep thought. A monk and a cleric he would live far longer, and with retained vigor and youth, in comparison to most. He was one of the legendary Heroes of They Key and, for good or ill, nearly everyone knew his story.
When the giants invaded Geoff and the King placed himself and most of the people in stasis, it was Sir Christopher’s family that remained behind to fight. It was their job to find a way to free Geoff, find the princesses, return the king and people and lead in rebuilding. But although a large family, and Sir Christopher was not even born at the start of the war, he was the only one left at the end. I had seen the graves of his family. Eight graves for his parents, brothers and sisters rested reverently in his castle courtyard in a modest but lovingly respectful crypt. Three without bodies because they were taken captive, and by now likely dead. At least no magic has revealed them, and the giants were not known to be kind to his family.
I felt for him and saw the shadow such trial has caused in his eyes. Sorrow was something we know. But to not know what happened to the body of a family member…this was a dreaded state in my city. We knew that the corpses of our loved ones served the city in some way. To never know, indeed to think with surety that they had been dishonored; I felt pity for him as I watched him deliberate over facts far removed from my musings.
“What do you know of the Emperor?”
“Generally what is known by most,” I answered, “that he’s good. The blood of Pelor.” I added some information from my research on the general history of the isles and the role of the emperors. .
Sir Christopher nodded in agreement and confirmation. He opened a desk drawer and removed an ornate scroll case. I have to say it was, if such things were rated, perhaps the most impressive scroll case ever made. It was made of Jade with ivory inlay and there were designs on it depicting a phoenix in a dance with the sun. Red and gold tassels hung from the mithral stopper on the top of it, and the entire object was of master craftsmanship. He held it up. It was Serena who recognized it.
“That is a personal message from the Emperor. I’ve had to carry one before. It has a host of magical protections and can’t be tampered with. The recipient can return a message in it as well.”
“Fancy,” Quentin said as Sir Christopher opened the scroll, “ever wish you could just touch something and turn it into the amount of money it was worth?”
Serena made an interested noise in response to Quentin’s suggestion as Sir Christopher unrolled the message contained inside and began to read:
To the emissaries of the lords and ladies of bone and flesh as well as the traveler from the land of mists and the representative of the Sevestrian family of the Free City of Greyhawk .
_It is the pleasure of His Ever Shining Radiance The Grandson of The Sun, to invite you to the Radiant Isles at your earliest convenience to discuss matters that weigh on your minds and have bearing on the course of the future for our world. I encourage a speedy arrival by means of one of the airships of Geoff. In this way you will arrive at a time of festival and it will be easier to explain your presence without revealing your mission. I have taken the liberty of arranging you passage through Sir Christopher on a ship leaving in two days from the city of Gorna to the City of Breaking Waves. From this trade port you will proceed to the capital with a group of outbound merchants who are instructed to treat you as diplomats.
When you arrive in the capitol you will be met by one of my personal bodyguards, Midori Tan. She will act as your liaison for all your needs while in the Isles. I look forward to our meeting and discussions on how to ensure the safety of Oerth. Please take this case and message with you on your journey as a gift from me.
His Ever Shining Radiance,
Sir Christopher waited a moment. “It’s in his own hand,” he said, “I hope you understand what this means.”
“That he is aware of the magnitude of the issue,” I said, “perhaps more than we are.”
He nodded. “It is not that the Emperor is not the type to write in his own hand. He is actually a rather nice man. In fact, on a personal level he is the most…” he paused, searching for a word, “normal.”
“Normal?” Serena asked. half a question and half a laugh, “The ever shining radiance. The grandson of the sun. The closest thing to a resident major divine power on the planet. Normal?”
“Maybe I remember the child too much and it’s made me partial to him.”
“That’s right,” I said, “you know him for a long time.”
“Not only that,” Sir Christopher said,”but his friendship with Princess Jenna has led to a fairly robust trade. But yes, I remember him as a boy. He and the princess rode his Ki rin. I saw the more human aspects of him.”
Serena reminded him, “You also saw him decimate undead armies and aid in the war with Vecna at…what nine or twelve years old?”
“Maybe normal is not the word.” He admitted. “Perhaps approachable works better. You’ll see when you meet him. He’s not some monolithic power.”
“Unless he needs to be.” Said Frederick.
“That’s the point of him isn’t it?” I asked. “Keep the final line against the void but do not overwhelm history with your presence. Seems that would require an almost supernaturally normal person to balance the…what to call it…non person…divine inside.”
Sir Christopher shrugged, “Not sure. You would have to ask a god about the internal struggles of their nature.”
“But he’s not a god.” I corrected. “He’s also not, not a god. He’s something else entirely. He’s the sun focused through a mirror onto the face of the world trying not to start a fire in the brain of his human descendant, who is also the same person as the first emperor in a way. It’s just wisdom that makes it a lineage thing.”
“Why is that?” Asked Quentin.
“Because,” I said, “Anyone who served in the role continuously for thousands of years would become mad or evil. But by passing it down like this the emperor can be, for the most part, human in outlook and morality. “
“Well,” Quentin shrugged, “I suppose in the end it comes down to the fact that you don’t get to meet a god, not god every day. So at least I’m dressed right.”
“Shining eye straining yellow?” Asked Serena.
“It’s a sun god.” Came his smiling reply.