From the writings of the Old Man
1042 Dolorum Reckoning
An epoch ago, when I was still an initiate in Ashderaku’s keep, I came across a traveling minstrel group from Ushibaresh, a kingdom far to the east of Callum. My mentor would take us on the long march to Petral a handful of times every year, trading with the caravanserai for goods and spices that would feed the whole monastery for months at a time. As initiates, we would create small baubles and magical gewgaws as we learned our craft, and the local folk would happily empty their coffers for a glowing necklace or a ring that boomed like the sea. We would fill our packs with hard bread and soft cheese, dried fruit and meats, only staying long enough to make our trades before hiking back across the Plains of Ennio and home.
One such trip, the Ushibareshi were performing for passersby in a corner of the caravanserai, plying their trade expertly upon instruments of the most fantastic and strange designs. The minstrels wore a motley arrangement of robes and colors, looking for all the world like court jesters equipped with brass, steel, and copper lutes, horns, and snares. They pranced from one end of a hastily constructed wooden platform to the other, circling about each other with such merriment that even nearby shop owners left their posts to clap and dance along with them. A small crowd had formed around the minstrels, townsfolk stepping in time with the energetic music and tossing coins into a colorful basket at the front of the platform.
I have seen nothing like the sight before or since. The Ushibareshi were as different from us as a sparrow is to a frog. Their skin was golden brown, and clear almost to the point of shininess, protected as they were in their rainforest cities from our sand and dust. Their hair, wrapped in brilliantly dyed scarves or under colorful hats, peeked out in hues of red and yellow, sometimes orange. Yet, what caught my attention more than any of their dazzling features were their eyes, all some variation of emerald, olive, or jade, winking luminously like the lush trees of their homeland.
I will never forget those eyes.
It strikes me as amusing, even ironic, that in this most dire hour of humanity’s struggle for survival, my mind wanders to those moments in Ashderaku’s care, seeing the Ushibareshi work their craft to the joy of all who participated in their revelry. I wonder about the state of their hidden cities as ours capitulate one by one to the Ravenii, and find myself hoping against hope that their music continues unharried. Our past kings, great-grandfathers of the likes of Mathias and Yarrow, long ago pulled away from the eastern demesnes of Ushibaresh, as they did with the Orugathi to the north, the Lefari to the south, and the Elegareth far across the sea to the west. Gular, Dolorrum, Callum, Multnomah, and Guin were all too happy to close their doors to foreigners and squabble among themselves over the admittedly vast amount of resources that our region has always had to offer.
Now, in this darkest time, we have no one to turn to, and no one to blame but ourselves. The Ravenii are here, and I know not the fate of the Ushibareshi, nor of their emerald orbs that once sparkled in the Petral sun.
The only fate of which I have surety is our own. The Sentinels have long borrowed against their past dealings with the Ravenii, and the ogres have come to collect. Humanity will pay the balance if we can’t find a way to stop them, or delay them long enough to make our escape.
We must prevail.
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