We’re nearing the end of the #My30DayWorld challenge, and though we’re several days behind we are still going to finish. For this question about misunderstood races, we’re dividing the post into two parts. James already gave a glimpse of the rittauri, and for part 2 Æsc has written a grimdark short about the varukhiri.
The Legacy of Ash began as a role-playing setting for us, slowly evolving into fantasy fiction as the characters and cultures we created began to take on lives of their own. We hope you’ll follow us over the next few weeks as we reveal a little more about our world and the characters who bring it to life.
This post will cover day 25. We’re doing them all on our Legacy of Ash Facebook page as well, so head over and give us like.
4/13: What is the Most Misunderstood Playable Race?
The Legacy of Ash setting is certified 100% elf-free. But the nearest analogue to elves are the fierce and xenophobic varukhiri. Star-worshippers with a strict caste hierarchy, and wielding soul-fuelled sorcery, these beings are more “Elric” than “Legolas”.
The Celestial Path is the way of the high born caste, and the sparks and embers of their final passage ascend the Grey Stair to rejoin the god-stars.
The peasant, merchant and priestly castes walk the Path of Graves – when their souls have fled, the still clay of their flesh joins with the clay of the earth.
Those of the thrall caste walk the Endless Road. When a thrall’s living usefulness has ended, the bounty of their soul may be harvested by an xhacanta to fuel what spells are needful. Empty thralls, riven of their souls, shall be sent under the mountain to the Xhaeros, lifeless yet deathless, denied both the fires of the heavens and the restful clay.
– Jiruzati caste-law from The Tlanat Tablets
We are on a journey.
“Where…?” I look up at her.
She reaches down from her horse to where I walk alongside. Her hand brushes my cheek, strange yet familiar. “Shhh, love.” I face the road again, confused. The vashta – her house-warrior – rides ahead of us, in accordance with caste-law.
My thoughts are hazy, fragmented. I cannot recall our destination, where we have come from.
The road stretches ahead of us, raised and broad. It is paved with massive slabs of red granite, rutted by wagon wheels and worn smooth by the tread of footfalls over centuries. The road rises through the hills. It winds towards the mountains that stretch from north to south as far as we can see, a jagged wall crowned in cloud.
The horses’ unshod hooves clatter on the dirt-strewn slabs. Weeds grow up through cracks between the stones.
I struggle to remember. My thoughts are dark and shapeless.
I turn to her eagerly. My name. I am Qoh. I try to grasp the sound, to own it. Finding a single perfect pebble on the shore and pressing into the smooth mudflat.
“So formal? Ahh, no longer am I your Ysolque.” She sighs and lets her hand fall back to her side. “Too quickly do you leave me, Qoh. I am not ready.” She looks away.
The warrior turns back to us and frowns. “We must hurry, mistress. These hills are not safe at night.”
He is vashta, warrior caste, and muscled like a panther. Owl feathers hang from the queue of his hair, marking him as a champion. He bears a spear of polished ash. Its black glass point glints in the fading sunlight
“I heard you,” Ysolque says. “We shall reach the Gate before full dark. Our pace is adequate.”
The vashta’s angry stare settles upon me before he lowers his head in deference. “Of course, mistress,” he murmurs.
We walk in silence, the sun sinking slowly at our backs, sending our shadows out before us like questing fingers.
Xalle entering the Pits of the Underworld, on her unending quest to find Secchet, her lost lover. Xalle, Eagle of the Sun, with feathers of burning gold, setting the darkness aflame with her passion, with her loss.
I shiver at the first touch of evening breeze, soughing through my threadbare shirt. I can feel the last of Xalle’s heat shimmer up from the road’s red stones, warming my bare feet. My pace slows.
“Mistress, I…I can’t…” Unaccountably, the image of a bird fills my thoughts. A small, yellow bird. Its tiny black beak gleaming like a dagger.
My breath hisses out between clenched teeth. So small. Not even filling the palm of my broad hand. Black eyes shining, tongue darting. Preening with deft little movements, like a clockwork thing.
“A bird.” Ysolque’s eyes widen as I turn to look up at her. “I remember a yellow bird.”
“Yes,” she whispers. “In my room. In the cage overlooking the garden.”
“Mistress,” the vashta growls, having reined his horse in, dropping back to where we talk. “You do him no favours.”
“Silence, Auchtennica. Qoh, tell me more of what you recall.”
My temples throb. I close my eyes and walk blindly, trying to grasp the elusive images. Sifting through the mud for more pebbles.
An ancient city, sprawling and languid on the edge of an endless western sea. It refuses to give up its name to me, though I had been born in its seaside slums, never leaving its palm-shaded avenues until these past few days. Sweat-drenched days of labour that left muscles knotted and skin blistered. Hunger was a knotted cord cinched around my belly.
I run my fingers over my forehead. I know that the tattoo there is a blue crescent moon, with a single star caught between its upraised horns. The mark of a thrall caste menial.
But there is something else – a sliver of joy piercing through recent times. A diversion from drawing water, ploughing fields, hauling wood, shaping and firing the clay bricks that are the bones of the city. The grinding toil of my days rendered meaningless, for joy filled my too-short nights…
Then it is gone. I shake my head. What had I just been thinking of?
“It is a bad sign,” says Auchtennica, his low voice carrying on the evening breeze. “The reaving failed.”
Ysolque raises a hand to the long blue scarf that covers her hair. “No,” she murmurs. “It is done. But sometimes – very rarely – there are feelings so strong, the body remembers even after the soul is taken.”
I hear their words, but they carry as much meaning as the chirping bird of my memories. I walk along after the horses. For some reason, my feet are growing numb. I can no longer feel the warmth of the paving stones. Or even the stones themselves under my soles.
The warrior opens his mouth to object. She lashes out, clutching his throat. His hands lift instinctively, then drop.
“You forget your place, Auchtennica – you serve my father. You serve our House. You serve me. What you know of reaving you know from tavern tales and barracks whispers. I know my father sent you to ensure that the thrall reaches the Xhaeros – that insult I can bear.”
Ysolque leans from her saddle until her face is before his. “But what I have sacrificed in doing this, you cannot know. Whatever my past transgressions of caste-law, with this journey I am redeemed. Do you hear? Redeemed.”
She releases him and he sways back in his saddle, coughing. Auchtennica drops his reins, dismounts. Bows low, palms turned up in the formal obeisance of the chastened.
“Stand,” she snaps. Her voice crackles with power, flames curling up around dry bark. “I am a xhacanta now. Not the spoiled, sheltered child you guarded as I grew up. Question me again, vashta, and I will drain you like a waterskin and send two riven dead under the mountain. Now mount and ride, as you are oathed to do.”
Climbing back into the saddle, Auchtennica trembles.
I walk. They ride. Evening deepens, as does the wind I can no longer feel.
“Qoh, I know you cannot understand now, but…I had no choice.” Ysolque looks straight ahead as she speaks, but I recognize one of the sounds. She speaks to me.
“I pray to the God-stars that part of you can still hear me. Know that my love for you still burns as bright…” She lowers her head then, face hidden by the folds of her scarf. There is a catch in her voice when she speaks again. “I will have no other.”
We turn away from the stone road, venturing down a broad trail leading to a mountain. Stars glimmer in the pale violet sky, and the largest moon is almost full.
The wind is rising now, setting leaves dancing around us.
The trail ends at a massive gate set into the base of the mountain. The vashta works a lever and the gate creaks open slowly.
Wordless moaning from within. She ties up her horse and leads inside. I knew her name not long ago, but it is gone now. Waves have washed almost all the pebbles from the mud now, leaving it smooth once more.
In the gloom under the mountain, there is a ledge with stairs descending. Below I can hear things moving. He lights a torch and throws it down. There are hundreds of them down there. Thousands. Enough to fill a bright city built of clay. And upon their brows all bear the mark of an upturned crescent moon. Their eyes are ruined pits. Hollow, unseeing sockets.
Songbirds. I am thinking of yellow songbirds. Dark pits. A bright eagle descending, forever seeking her lost love.
“Had I not done what my father demanded, Qoh, another xhacanta would have. Your soul would have been torn to shreds and thrown to the wind. At least –” Her voice broke, “- I will have this much of you.”
My last sight – before the vashta takes my eyes – is of the girl turning away, a hand raised to her long hair where something is bound. Thin and torn. Whipping in the breeze like a ragged pennant.
The Challenge Will Continue…
Thanks for reading about the world we’ve built. We’ve fallen a bit behind in the questions, but we will answer them all and we’ll post more about the Legacy of Ash and the continents that make up the world of Celduras. This has been part two for day 25, but we’ll be posting the last five questions soon.