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(Here I begin my description of Minaea, I like to use the form of a story, following a traveller who is discovering this land, hope you'll like it, comments and discussion appreciated. The map is here
I'll use fonts color to point out relevant geographical/cultural informations
The Search: on the shores of Minaeaby Francesco Defferrari
Greetings my friend,
I can barely write straight and properly due to the excitement I feel, because I've found the most incredible and valuable treasure. That's not gold nor magic for scholarly types like us, but a wonderful book. The story of how it came into my hands is for another day, now I just tell you that it has unique and valuable informations on the mysterious continent of Skothar. I'll send parts of the book to you as soon as I'm able to translate them: that has been a very difficult task in itself because the language was so difficult and strange. I hope you'll forgive is there are some grammatical errors in the text, it's a double translation from the mysterious language to my mother tongue and then to thyatian.
Imir Ibn Salim, teacher at the School of Krakatos
The 1627th day, that in the calendar of Minaea is named the 3rd day of Elaphebolion waning, 1120 After the Arrival.
The waves didn't claim me as I had hoped. My body was washed on a little beach of yellow sand under high yellow cliffs. It was a fine day of late winter that tasted like early spring. All was well and good under the sun but me. I walked between the sand and the foam, crossing rocks to the next little beach nestled among the cliffs, searching for a way to climb them. I've been for years in the land that is called by its inhabitants the Known World, and I've traveled the Norwold and the Alphatian sea. Crabs, coastal fish and seabirds were almost the same here, but I realized that this new land was even more wild and untouched by human corruption. How barren and devoid of life seemed now my home world by comparison, our beaches dead, our sea empty. I saw dolphins, sea turtles and seals so near to the coast. I spoke with all of them, obviously.
Crabs and fish were so unaccustomed to humans that they seemed more curious of me than fearful. But there isn't much you can know from them beyond the reach of their little patch of shore. A dolphin instead confirmed that humans live here, that sometimes they float over the sea in chunk of woods. He said sometimes they swim, but they never bother his people. They take fish out of the water, but not dolphins. The dolphin didn't know why, he just assumed that was right. No one should dare bother dolphins, the favorite sons of the sea. The same was said by turtles and seals, and by the only pilot whale I saw, when she came near the shore to speak to me. I guess the humans of this land, that I later found it's called Minaea, have a sort of taboo against killing these creatures of the sea.
That's was confirmed by the lone fisherman who found me after noon. He was sailing on a tiny boat and took me in when I waved at him from the beach. The boat had a white triangular sail with a red eye and a blue line painted on the hull. He was surprised by my familiarity with his language, but I told him I've sailed these seas since my childhood. His language sounded to me somehow akin to thyatian, but I think it's only an ancient relation. I told him my ship was attacked by a sea serpent and I didn't know about the fate of my fellow crewmen. He didn't have problems to believe this. He said that Protius sometimes take his blood toll and that's just the way it is. Humans can take his fish but he can take humans if he want to. This Protius is one of their Gods, or Immortals as they call them in this planet. According to the fisherman Protius is displeased if humans kill his favorite sons, that being precisely whales, dolphins, sea turtles and seals.
When I said I was alphatian he asked me if my crew did such a thing or worse, killing an albatros or a pelican. I told him they didn't, but I don't know if he believed me. Apparently Minaeans assume that alphatians are capable of any evil, and that I can't deny. Anyway he also said that sometimes Protius just take his toll because that's his will, and humans cannot know the will of the Immortals. But speaking with him I discovered there are two others reasons why Minaeans don't kill some creatures of the sea. One is that according to their history, whales, dolphins, sea turtles and sea birds guided them to this land when they we're stranded on the sea after the fall of the "Ancient Empire". The other is that they have a sort of alliance with the mermen who inhabits the sea, and the mermen regard these animals as allies, not food. The fisherman, whose name was Minas, told me that many people live under the sea, the thalassa: the mermen have their cities and there are the dragons and the giants of the sea, the fish men, the andrixti as he called them, and the karkarandri, the shark men, and the dragon turtle, Kelonadraka, sacred to Protius, and giant squids and octopus, the Megakalamari and the Megachtapodi, and sometime they may sink ships, because Protius wants humans to know that Thalassa doesn't belong to them. Such, it said, was the fate of the noble Alexandros of Traun and Princess Nausicaa on their wedding sail, lost at sea two years ago. But the mermen, the fisherman said, told him that the sea didn't take them. I assume he was implying some sort of conspiracy, but I didn't know enough of the story at the time to ask more. I was curious about the inhabitants of the sea and asked him if this area of water was dangerous, but he said it wasn't, because mermen ruled under here. I'd have liked to meet them, but it was not the time for me to search under the sea, so I stayed on the boat.
The fisherman told me also that actually the sea in this area is safer than land, because the high yellow cliffs are called The Cyclops Cliffs, and inhabited by many of those one-eyed giants. Minas said that they never bothered him, but some days he sees them looking unfriendly at his boat. Stories say that sometimes ships that come too close to the coast are the target of giant boulders that the cyclops can throw at an incredible distance.
The little boat sailed northward, the fisherman already had his catch of fish for the day. We were heading for Thamax, allied town of the city of Erineos.
As always I asked him about her, as I did with the crabs, the fish, the dolphin, the sea turtle, the whale. I told him about her name, her look, her habits, her behavior, the way she moves and laughs, the words she likes to use. But he hadn't seen her.
The 1630th day, that in the calendar of Minaea is named the the New Moon of Mounichion, 1120 After the Arrival.
The town of Thamax apparently got its name from a naval battle fought between minaeans and alphatians centuries ago. In the dockside taverns, fishermen, sailors, pirates and adventurers say that the sea floor in this area is littered with ship wrecks. Ships sunk in ancient battles, ships caught in a storm in the treacherous strait of Minaea, bellisarian ships sunk by pirates and pirate ships sunk by the alphatian navy. People in Thamax don't deny that piracy is a source of wealth for the town, famous pirates are celebrated in songs every night and played in the streets by children. But they also imply that piracy has been for centuries a way to defend Minaea from an alphatian invasion. It's quite obvious that minaeans have always feared they powerful and magic-rich neighbours and, in their words, a constant naval defiance was the best way to “keep them in their place”. In truth, from what I know of alphatians, I suspect they have always thought that conquering Minaea would have been more trouble than worth.
Nevertheless, bellisarian and alphatian wizards are not uncommon in Thamax. Some come here to hire minaean pirates against their trading or magical rivals. Some come here unwilling as hostages and other come here to ransom them. And some others come here to hire adventurers for the “Wreck ventures”. Sunken ships are so common in the waters in front of Thamax that local adventurers are specialized in the underwater search of lost treasure. I heard endless stories about the perils and the wealth men can find under the sea. Some of them have even willingly became weresharks to beat the competition. Almost all the adventurers agree that the most dangerous thing you can encounter under water are the undead, most of them victims of old wrecks, full of rage against the living who come from the sunlit land where they cannot ever return.
Still, adventurers mostly dismiss the peril of the undead with a show of bravado, but all of them fear Him (Ton, in minaean). When a group doesn't return from the sea, and that's happen quite often (yet, new fools came to Thamax every day from all Minaea to defy the wrecked sea), people in the taverns say that “they were taken by Him”, “Ton tous pire” in minaean. It's quite a common expression in Thamax that declines in a variety of ways, Him take you, be good or Him will come, it's a storm like Him is pissed, I'm not going to Him, and so on. “Him” has become even a generic image of death, and people sometimes say “We all must go to Him” to mean that all men must die. No one exactly knows who is “Him”. I don't think they even know the reason why a male pronoun is used instead of a female one. Some say it's an ancient sea dragon. Some say is a sea serpent, or a giant sea turtle, a giant squid, a powerful undead, even an immortal or a mysterious, undefined evil. Everyone agrees that no one ever has encountered Him and returned alive.
I don't know if “Him” actually exists or the adventurers who don't return from the sea have simply fallen victims of one of the many danger of the wrecked sea.
Like always, I asked about her in every tavern, to every pirate and every adventurer. I told them about her name, her look, her habits, her behavior, the way she moves and laughs, the words she likes to use, the light she has in her eyes. But no one had seen her.
Maybe one day I'll go ask Him if he has seen her. But not today.
The 1636th day, in the calendar of Minaea named the 6th day of Mounichion rising, 1120 After the Arrival.
The teslan and the tarystian civilizations dominated Minaea in the past, a priestess told me, before the arrival of the milenians in this land 1120 years ago. In Thamax anyway no one seems to know much about them, except for the common knowledge that milenian and native traditions found a way to coexist and mingle. That seems to be true at least in the architecture of Thamax, a blend between milenian and, I suppose, tarystian tradition, and probably this is the case for the rest of Minaea too. As in milenian lands, houses are painted in white or built with white stone when possible, but temples have often a circular plan and I also noticed that the designs on columns are quite different from milenian and thyatian ones, much more elaborates. As in many other western nations, statues of the immortals inside the temples are painted in bright colors, and the internal walls too, with scenes from the appropriate mithology.
In Thamax, Protius and Asterius are certainly the most revered immortals, but Valerias also as a large following and an important holiday in the middle of summer, when, people say, things get a little wild and much wine is drank.
Clearly, women in Minaea enjoy more indipendence than in milenian lands, even if the traditional role of a woman is still to care about the family and the household. Yet in Thamax I saw many women adventurers.
Clothing also seem to be a mixture of milenian and other traditions. Tunics, that they call chitons, are the normal clothing for men and women when they are in a “civilized” environment, like the streets of a town or their own houses, but trousers are always used for travelling, hunting, fishing or any other activity that leads outside the town. Minaeans also like to wear much more flashy gold jewelry than milenians or thyatians, and tattoos are not uncommon, not only among pirates but also among the general population, even women. But it might be that many apparently inconspicuous people in Minaea are in fact pirates or once have been, at least in this town..
Because of the great number of people seeking fortune in the wrecked sea, I was able to get a glimpse in Thamax of the various races that inhabits Minaea. Humans are the vast majority, but among adventurers (and pirates) there are some demihumans, mostly pardasta rakasta, goblins or hobgoblins, orcs and gnolls. There is also a strange race of medusas whose gaze doesn't turn to stone, of which I'll tell more later. Except for the pardasta, the other demihuman races always get a suspicious look from Minaea humans, and I think they may encounter downright hostility in villages or little towns.
I saw also one elf, but he was a foreigner of alphatian origin. The same is often the case for dwarves, gnomes and halfling. All of them are quite rare in Minaea and always spur curiosity among the general population.
I saw in Thamax that the minaean people are interested in and passionate about not just piracy, but also trade and politics. The border between the three activities is often blurred. Thamax is officialy under the authority of the bigger northern city of Erineos, but really they have a sort of executive body and a certain degree of autonomy. That's inevitable in a land like Minaea where cities and towns are far apart from each other. The ruling body of Thamax is dominated by the wealthiest traders, officially. Most of them, if not all, are also pirates or exclusively pirates. There is much annoyance about the political situation among fishermen, workers and the farmers around the town. Among them is spreading a sort of new political doctrine that call for the "liberation of the oppressed masses".
That would not be easy because the ruling oligarchy not only has in its pockets the city guards, but also pirate crews and many adventurers groups, and so any revolution will have a really hard time to win.
Between the wrecked sea ventures and other economic activities, particulary oil, wine and citrus fruits, Thamax is quite a rich town, but it's true that the ruling oligarchy amass almost all the wealth while the common people lead a simple or poor life.
Well, I've traveled many worlds and found plenty of unfair rulers.
Some say that the new unrest among the population of Thamax is leaded by a new faith. That could be related to the strange new religion of the immortal named Gareth who appeared recently far to the west, in Sind, or not.
I didn't encounter in Thamax all the philosophers I found in Milenia, where I traveled briefly years ago, but I listened to many aedoi in the town. An aedos is essentially a bard, and in Thamax they have quite some material, between pirates, adventures, politics and the wrecked sea. Unlike Milenia, where I had the impression that aedoi were often employed by the rich and powerful to flatter them and their ancestors, here in Minaea these poets speak freely and usually no one dare to bother them: they often mock politicians, powerful merchants, traders, adventurers, and their targets have no choice but to accept the criticism. The aedoi are the voice of the people, Minaeans say, so a smart man should listen to them and change his behavior accordingly, if he is too often the target of aedoi ' mockery.
But not all aedoi are tolerated by the oligarchy of Thamax. There is at least one who ended in the black list of the most powerful pirates and merchants of the town, and was forced to flee from assassins. According to the common people, he is preparing a revolution against the corrupted rulers that will spark off in a matter of days.
Certainly the aedoi of Thamax knew many beautiful stories and I haven't the time to write about them. Yet they didn't know her story.
Here is the map of the region I'm going to describe.
The 1637th day, in the calendar of Minaea named the 7th day of Mounichion rising, 1120 After the Arrival.
Walking north of Thamax to Erineos I traveled in the region that local people call Nemosar, that means "wind swept hills", a stretch of land at least 160 miles long and 45 miles wide, a territory big enough to contain a nation in the more populated areas of the world, but here in the vast lands of Skothar the most common inhabitants are not human nor demihumans, but the first children of the earth: plants and animals.
The force of the wind that blows over these hills and the dry climate is indeed enough to prevent great forests to grow, yet the land is covered with an almost infinite number of plants, flowers, bushes and low trees. Only around town and villages the human presence is detectable, but just a few miles far from them the region is effectively a wilderness land.
I could travel with the merchant's carriages that go every day from Thamax to Erineos, but to walk safely on roads is not the purpose of my Search. So I went south at first, stopping briefly in the village of Voskurios. This is little more than a hamlet where many cattle farmers live. Their cows have long horns unlike any other that I saw in the Known world. From Voskurios I went east, to Farangi, as the local call the place, a 25 miles long canyon that leads to the Stone Mountains, according to local lore inhabited by medusas, harpies, hydras, dragons and any other sort of dangerous creature.
The canyon itself is supposed to be guarded by an ancient sphinx who kills anyone unable to answer her riddle, but savage wolves, chimeras, cockatrices and by a dark, huge monster that hunts only in the night. In truth I didn't discovered all the ancient secrets of the canyon, but just a group of werewolves who were willing to speak with me. Apparently they are trying to build a haven for their people, because they aren't welcomed at all in the villages and towns of the region.
I indeed met the sphinx too, and answered her riddles. But she couldn't answer me about her, and the ancient teslan secrets she guarded were not part of my Search.
The 1642th day, in the calendar of Minaea named the 2nd day of Mounichion full moon, 1120 After the Arrival.
Strangely enough, in this land of Nemosar many adventurers come to explore the Wrecked sea yet very few walk the hills. I suppose that's because the hills are quite devoid of human presence and rather dangerous. After the canyon I went north passing with some difficulty a wild stream and saw a blue dragon fly over me. I waved at him and he came to speak to me.
He had not seen her so I left soon, but from the brief conversation I think that the dragons could be one of the reasons not many adventurers dwell here. Many wild goats with long horns inhabit the hills, and I think a saw a satyr too, but he avoided me and I wasn't able to speak to him. There are vipers, scorpions and spiders, but not more than in Brun. Many other animals were familiar to me from my past travels in the area called the Known World, even if many of them are local subspecies, but some probably are more common in Skothar or live only here. There is, for example, a specie of light brown furred monkeys that walk around in small groups, smaller than a human children, with a curious face that look like an old man. They are quite friendly and were willing to speak with me.
But both them and the goats had not seen her.
Still going north I arrived in an area of barren hills, filled with ancient tombs. I spent the night and met ghosts and undeads. It seems they have a sort of society they call the city of the dead. They seem to be quite wary of living strangers, but I listened to their stories, and they answered my questions about her. Yet she never walked over their tombs.
The day after I entered a dark wood and met some druids. They said to me the area was called "Maimos xefotos" which means Monkeys glades. And in fact many other species of monkeys lived here, some small and some big as a child, with strange noses and manes, of different colors and behaviours, many of them unknown in Brun. The druid said that also dryads, fauns and other fairies, that they call Dasolaiki, people of the forest, live in the glades, but only his people, the metraieoroi, the priest of the mother, could see them. Anyway after some insistence I was permitted to met one dryad, but she had not seen her.
The woods were the home of many other animals: wolves, boars, foxes, lynxes, wild cats, leopards, deers and light brown bears.
I asked all of them, and to insects, spiders, snakes, toads and lizards. I asked the druids, but no one had seen her.
I continued northward, to an area called Onoges where I saw many wild donkeys. There were also those fairy creatures that in Brun are called shargughs. From here I walked some miles to the north east and entered the lost city of Imy. Here I found a group of adventurers who told me something about the place. It was, they said, an ancient tarystian city deserted centuries ago and supposedly inhabited by monsters.
Once it must have been a city of some size, but now it's just made of ruins and underground lairs. There are hyppogriffs and wyverns around, a band of goblins and a tribe of frog men. And there are dark wing in the night. According to the adventurers a powerful dragon has his lair in the city, but if he exist we weren't able to find him. Another legend states that an undead tarystian prince is raising an army deep under the city to exact revenge on the descendants of the men who killed him. But I was unable to find him either.
I left the ruins of Imy to go westward to the village of Koinonia. That place was founded by priestess of various immortals, inspired by egalitarian ideals regarding gender and social status. It was a peaceful community and I'd wish to rest a little, but they had not seen her and so I had to go on.
North east of here I met centaurs. They were hospitable and open, and told me many stories of this land. There are manticores, gorgons and hydras in the area and the centaurs have occasionally some fights with them, yet they have also a sort of equilibrium that they don't want to jeopardize. So they don't like adventurers to wander around killing anything that breath as they usually do, and in various occasion had to drive away some of them, even if usually they have good relations and even trade with the local human population.
They also told me that mushroom men live in the high hills to the north east. I was very curious about such a strange race, so I went there to meet them. They are big as ogres with a white-yellowish skin. They were not hostile to me even if the centaurs said they could be dangerous if threatened. I spoke with them and even if they are quite slow in a conversation, they have some kind of intelligence. They consider themselves a part of the earth and have good relations with all the animals that live in their land, even if sometimes have clashes with the most dangerous creatures, as chimeras or manticores, and are wary of humans.
Still going north I entered a land of deep wooden hills that, as I discovered later, was the Elafi forest. That's quite a wild place with a complex non human society and many wonders. Could be a place fit for her, but she wasn't here either.
I am tired now, I will sleep and write about the forest another day. Maybe I'll see in a dream how to find her.
The 1646th day, in the calendar of Minaea named the 6th day of Mounichion full moon, 1120 After the Arrival.
The Elafi forest is so named because of the many kinds of deers that live here, small and large, most of them species that I've never seen in the west. Yet they are not, by no means, the only inhabitants of these woods. There are Jade dragons in the forest, lead by an ancient female who is known as "The Queen of the Shining Leaves". It's called with this title by her people, not only the other dragons (I ignore how many of them live in the forest), but also dryads, nymphs, sidhes, hsiaos, satyrs, giants, humans, rakastas, goblins and hobgoblins that inhabit the forest under her protection.
There are palaces and towers in this forest, and lakes, and underground adobes, yet no one seems to know about all this in the human cities and towns, and men could walk inside it for a day and seeing nothing but deers and animals. There are misguiding illusions, I think, or maybe the forest is some kind of portal to another world. There is also a green berry in this forest that can procure incredible visions, yet I'm sure that most of what I saw was real.
There are bears, wolves, lynxes, leopards and even tigers, in the forest, yet the people have a sort of friendship with the animals: anyone in the Elafi forest can speak with them. They call this ability "the gift of the Queen". There are also larger creatures, in the forest, like chimeras, gorgons, manticores, hydras, wyverns, hyppogriffs and other beasts, but the people in some way get along even with them.
Every people of the forest has some role here. The humans are mostly rangers and druids, but there are also aedoi among them. The rakastas, the giants and the humanoids are warriors, defenders of the woods. The fairy folks provide for wisdom, knowledge and wonders. There are many adventurers among the people of the Elafi forest. They walk Minaea and the world, even other planes, to bring gifts and news to the Queen. It is a reclusive, independent and self sufficient society hidden from the outside world, yet all the people I spoke to seem to have found solace here, fulfilment even. I envy them.
The people of the forest have no particular enemy, but they don't like human hunters when they come to the woods, and try to scare them away without revealing themselves. Also, some says that the Queen and her children have enemies among other dragons, that in the past have tried to attack the forest or send their minions to damage the harmony between the people.
Everyone who live in the forest has some story. Many of them escaped from dangers or enemies, some are survivors of lost times. There are teslan and tarystian who never integrated in the minaean society, former pirates with too many enemies, jennites who came from the north, even a couple of halfling who once lived in the Known World. There is a princess escaped from a far away, fallen kingdom, waiting for a brother who, I think, will never come.
Everyone in the Elafi forest has his or her story and she, the Queen of the Shining Leaves, has welcomed them all. She has welcomed me too and has listened carefully to my story. Yet even in the Elafi forest, where fugitives from so many places have gathered, no one had ever seen her.
Here is the map of the Elafi forest in 0,9 mph (detailed area).
The 1664th day, in the calendar of Minaea named the 5th day of Thargelion rising, 1120 After the Arrival.
Here is the Elafi forest, its wood covered hills, its ancient secrets. I spoke with many inhabitants of this land and traveled extensively through it. I would have gladly stayed here longer, but my search cannot be interrupted for too long. I met Xilok, a satyr, that was my guide of the land. He said that the forest has always been an independent kingdom under the rule of jade dragons even according to ancient fairies histories and memories. Many human and not-human empires in the past have tried to conquer the forest but they always have been defeated, even when they brought demonic powers or strange weapons. Sometimes the remains of armies defeated long ago surface in the less travelled places of the forest.
Xilok said that ancient humans and the fairy folk of the Elafi forest built many ages ago the dolmens that surround this land. The dolmens are standing stones that according to Xilok have magical properties and keep intruders away. Nowadays each group of dolmens is named according to the most common great creatures that lives nearby, as manticore dolmen, chimera dolmen and so on. There are also humanoid camps around the forest. These tribes occasionally try some raids against the inhabitants of the forest but these are mostly mock fights without much bloodshed. That much is true for the tribes in the west: Gripos, the goblins, Skupos, the orcs, and Kopos, the kobolds, but the ogres of the east, the Drakos tribe, are under the influence of red dragons not in friendly terms with the rulers of the forest, and so in the past have tried real invasions, always defeated. Xilok said that there is a threat also in the north east, from where hill and rock giants have come in the past. And occasionally there are human adventurers, that must be kept in the dark about the true nature and inhabitants of the forest. Well, I promised Xilok that I don't plan to share my accounts with the people of this planet, so the secrets of the Elafi forest are safe with me. And anyway I doubt someone of this land could understand the language I'm writing in.
(Obviously, our mysterious friend was wrong here, but surely you and me do not plan to share every bit of these informations with the outside world. If I'll publish this translation I'll respect the desire of the people of the Elafi forest and leave their secrets out of the book. Note by the translator).
There are some interesting places in the Elafi forest, like the great white obelisk whose purpose was unknown to Xilok (or he was unwilling to tell me), the beautiful Aos Si castle and the towers of the fairy folk, the temple, the sinking City on the lake, the towns of the clans, the palace of the Mother.
The great white obelisk is an impressive standing stone higher than the tallest trees of the forest. It was obvious to me the high magical power of the thing, and I think it is some sort of protection of the forest, maybe the source of the illusions that confuse unwanted visitors. The obelisk is also a sort of meeting place for the people of the Elafi forest, a gathering for festivals, councils and trade.
I saw one of those gathering and I was impressed with the different races that inhabits the forest: there are humans, pardastas, orcs, hobgoblins, goblins, kobolds, gnolls, bugbears, giants and many kinds of fairies like centaurs, nymphs, satyrs, drakes, brownies, treants, hsiaos, nixies, pixies, sidhes, pookas, unicorns, sprites, imps, redcaps, shargughs. Some of them are quite different from the fairies of the west, but I'll explain more later. There are also other strange creatures, half-dragons who call themselves dragonbloods and half elementals who call themselves planebloods. Yet all those races seem to get along under the rule of the Jade dragons. Truly magnificent creatures, with astounding scales that shine under the sun and the moon but most of all, really intelligent and wise. Many of them take often human or humanoid form to walk among the people of the Elafi forest, yet they usually maintain a jade color on the skin that reveal their true nature.
Many of the fairy folk of the Elafi forest live around the Aos Si castle or the two towers, the Western and the Eastern, that guard the land. The castle is a wonderful place of spiral towers and gardens where fairy rulers hold court. Sidhes, centaurs, satyrs and nymphs are divided into clans based on elements and there are indeed many mixed planeblooded among them. But the most important fairy rulers in the Elafi forest are actaeons, who work as a sort of local governors also in the town of the clans.
I met one of these creatures in the west and he had elk head, but here in the Elafi forest they have definitively deer heads, in many different lineages that match the different species of deers that live here.
There are seven major towns in the forest and two large camps, each inhabited by one of the most numerous people that live here. These nine communities are named after the more common deer breed that live nearby and ruled by an actaeon of the same lineage, who is usually also a powerful cleric of the immortal Metra, who in the west I believe is called Ordana.
Meemin is the town of gnolls, bugbears and pardastas in the forest. It's in the north eastern area around the Griffon dolmen and plain, an area surrounded by other two communities: Meryx, the camp of orcs and kobolds, and Muntjac, the camp of hobgoblins and goblins. These places take their name from deers, as I said before, Meemin from chevrotain deer, a really small animal that the inhabitants of the town keep often as a pet, Meryx from the musk deer, also small and without antlers, often kept as a pet too, and Muntjac from the muntjac deer, another little deer with small antlers. Even if their totemic animals are harmless creatures, the people of these three communities are the fiercest warriors of the Elafi forest, valiant griffon riders that face cockatrices, hydras, wyverns and dragons and any other danger that could threaten the forest. Many humans, dragonbloods, planebloods, drakes and pookas also live in these three towns. All the griffon riders have a special connection with their mount, empathy I believe, and share this connection also with a deer, usually of the species mentioned above, that is called “the guide”. The purpose of the deer is to guide the griffon and its warrior from inside the forest, warning him of any danger or ambush hidden among the trees. In the town of Meenin I saw a gnoll griffon rider, killed by a wyvern, “buried” in a tomb of wood among the high branches of a beech tree, according to their ancient custom. His griffon and his deer kept a vigil under the tree for days, I was told. After eleven days, other griffon riders were able to persuade the griffon to leave, promising it revenge against the wyvern. But not even the actaeon ruler of the town could sway the little deer, that refused water and food and starved to death under the beech tree.
I asked everyone in these places about her. I asked people, animals, butterflies. No one had seen her. I envied the chevrotain deer dying under the beech tree, because he had certainty. I search and never find peace nor death. So I went inside the Sinking City, even if Xilok told me not to.
The 1670th day, in the calendar of Minaea named the 1th day of Thargelion full moon, 1120 After the Arrival.
In the Sinking City I found many things, and some of them tried very hard to kill me. Xilok had told me many stories about this city, much of them contradicting each other and what I was told about the Elafi forest. The city would be more ancient than the forest, once the home of the first men, of demons and their sons, of the children of dragons, of a mysterious race came from other planes. The only certain fact is that the city is indeed sinking into the mudding ground. On the surface, most of its building are half buried and it's hard to recognize their original shape, but they seem quite different from the common minaean or tarystian architecture. Underground there are rooms and passages buried under the mud of floods and crashes, and a infinite maze inhabited by many different creatures. Navigate the sinking city is not easy and often the passages connecting different levels are vertical shaft or collapsed corridors. In addition, passages often crash or move, as the city slowly sinks. The denizens of the sinking city aren't strong enough to become a menace for the rule of the jade dragons in the forest, yet they try their very best to rob and kill any fool who trespass into their domain. There are undead in the city, and living magical statues, and giant insects, even creatures from other worlds, and someone has some control on them from the dephts. I could not reach the lowest level of the city where the mysterious ancient master, as the local denizens call him, is supposed to live. But I have some hypothesis about his identity. According to one story he would be an undead green dragon, defeated and killed centuries ago by the jade dragons of the Elafi forest. According to another story he would be a demon living under the city since countless centuries. Yet another story tell that he would be a she, an ancient hag who tried to destroy the forest several times in the past.
Whatever powerful creature lives under the city, I could not reach him or her, because undeads became more and more common and powerful on my way down, and planar monsters too. I questioned undeads, monsters, worms and insect as always and in the end I was quite sure that she never roamed these ancient halls. So eventually I left, because I had no interest in the great treasures, magic and secrets of the sinking city.
Xylok was very surprised to see me alive. Not many return unharmed from the sinking city, and certainly no one who was so foolish to descend alone. He asked me how I managed it and I told him the truth. That frightened him and obviously he became wary of me. He left me shortly after with an excuse.
The town of Elaphi lies at a short distance from the sinking city. It's inhabited mostly by humans and almost domestic tufted deers. It's a places for rangers, druids and the aedoi, the minaean bards. A place where lost people have found solace and persecuted man and women haven and peace. Here a jade dragon in human form found me and asked me to come to The Palace, that The Queen of the Shining Leaves wanted to speak to me. I followed him.
The 1698th day, in the calendar of Minaea named the 1st day of Skirophorion full moon, 1120 After the Arrival.
The Palace of the Elafi forest is a jade wonder of turretts and buttress that I cannot even begin to describe. It could well be one of the greatest wonder of this world. Inside the Palace there are magnificent trees and incredible works of art from many planes. Apparently the Palace is always open to any inhabitant of the forest, yet there are discreet guards, mostly dragons in human form and dragonbloods, who watch everyone and surely can identify quickly intruders with bad intentions. The Queen of the Shining Leaves received me in human form, more beautiful and regal than any human woman could ever be. She was interested in my story, and I told her everything. I was a guest in the Palace for several days, leaving often for short trips to the other towns of the forest I hadn't visited yet. Sambar is the town of the forest giants. They have a sort of game going on with the orcs of Skupos that live outside the forest: they compete in collecting hydra heads (without really killing the monsters), so all the town is decorated with these strange trophies. The giants too use the local sambar deers as scouts and guardians. Once in a while the orcs stage a mock raid and the giants answers with a mock battle of retaliation. By unspoken agreement, all this is more a game than a real war, participants are often hurt, even badly, but almost never killed. The nearby Underground River is also an endless source of adventures, with its hidden caves and lost treasures, and difficult passages in the waters under the earth. To the south east of the river stands the Great Temple of the Forest, the lake and the town of Chital. The Temple is dedicated to the immortals Opal and Ordana, and frequently visited by many inhabitants of the forest. A centaur also said to me that under the temple there are the sacred rooms, a sort of test that anyone can take, but usually not alone. If a group can reach the end of the rooms, they can become sworn adventurers for the immortals of the temple and be trusted with important quests to retrieve ancient magic and forgotten treasures. Obviously there is at least a group of people every week that tries the rooms, but the centaur told me that just one in a year usually can reach the end. Chital is the town of centaurs and the gentle spotted deers that live among them. It seemed a very peaceful town to me, and the centaurs are a welcoming people here. In the lake there is also a village of nymphs and nixies. The centaur said that they don't often invite someone of other races in their homes, and if you are invited, you could never return to the surface.
Axi is the nearby town of satyrs, dryads and hog deers, also quite attended by the sphinxes that live in the surrounding hills. Not very far there is the land of the red dragons and the ogres of the Drakos tribe, so here is one of the most dangerous area of the forest. Warriors and adventurers from other towns come here often to defend the forest when there are skirmishes with the ogres, and that happens almost daily, or a red dragon raid, and that also happens quite often. So in Axi there are dragonbloods or humans dragonriders, the humanoids and pardastas griffonriders of the north, the planebloods hyppogriffs riders of the southern town of Damma, centaur warriors and the unique Emerald Knights of Axi. Those are satyrs warriors and dryads spellcasters that ride sphinxes into battle. These three races are not usually known for being very warlike, but I can assure you that the Emerald Knights of the Elafi forest have survived many angry red dragons, and that's quite an undertaking. When the town of Axi is not threatened by battle, there is always a wild satyrs party going on. Strangely I saw here for the first time female satyrs. They were born times ago from satyrs and human females and now there are many of them, even if the male satyrs are still much more numerous. The female satyrs are just like the males regarding the immediate fulfillment of their desires, especially during the frequent wild parties. The town of Axi also has an impressive population of child satyrs and child dryads. They are really cute and really, really mischievous, especially with new visitors.
Damma is the southern town of the Elafi forest, inhabited by planebloods and fallow deers. The planebloods are a very different people: there are scions of elemental races, titans, servants of the immortals and any possible mixing of that, because the town has a permanent gate with other planes. Sile, a planeblood girl I met there, had red hair with sparks of fire and pure white skin: her mother had a lineage from the plane of fire and her father from the plane of air. And she had small horns on her forehead too, because one of her grandfathers had a demonic heritage. The planebloods of Damma tame and ride hyppogriffs and often go to battle in the east, aiding Axi against red dragons and ogres. The land west of the town is much less dangerous, even if it's inhabited by kobolds who are learning to tame and ride manticores. The Kobolds often raid Damma and its environs, but usually just to steal food, livestock and weapons, and therefore those clashes are rarely so violent to leave bodies on the field.
The last town I visited was Shika, the home of dragonbloods and sika deers, in the western part of the forest. The goblins of Gripos and the orcs of Skupos that live nearby aren't much of a threat, but the hills are heavily populated by chimeras, gorgons and dragonnes, and even if both the humanoids and the dragonbloods often try to tame or control these creatures, they are usually too wild and ferocious. When necessary, the inhabitants of Shika bring reinforcements to the Sunset Tower of the fairy folk, the western defense of the forest. Because the Jade dragons love arts, Shika is also considered the town with some of the best musicians and singers of the forest. While I was there I heard Melpomene sing. She has a milenian name but is a young female jade dragon, the daughter of the Queen. I never heard anything like this and I believe I'll never heard again. Her voice was the most beautiful sound I could imagine. Reminded me of her, and made me cry. I had not cried since she had left. Some nights, the voice of Melpomene still haunts my dreams like a melancholic, inescapable truth.
If only me and her could be in the Elafi forest, forget all and stay here, away from everything that tore us apart. But no inhabitants of the forest had heard her name nor her voice, so at last one day, before the sunset, I had to leave and resume my quest.
The 1721th day, in the calendar of Minaea named the 5th day of Skirophorion waning, 1120 After the Arrival.
From the Elafi forest I followed the Underground river, descending the hills along it toward the north west and the sea. The river disappears for miles under the earth and has created an extensive layout of underground caves. Some of them are inhabited by interesting creatures, like different species of giant insects, worms and fish and also a tribe of well hidden intelligent creatures, frog-folks. They tried to avoid me and to escape in the depths of the river when they realized I was trying to speak with them, and laid out traps to stop me, but eventually I succeeded in capturing one of them and ask him about her. He knew nothing useful to me, so I let him go. I was curious to discover more about this strange race, their history and culture, but I had spent already too much time in the Elafi forest and I knew I had to go forward with my search more quickly.
The Underground river led me to the Xilofidi forest, the snakes wood. There are indeed many kinds of serpents in that forest, some of them poisonous, but I discovered also other interesting intelligent inhabitants. A green dragon named Prasitrom rules the place, with the help of some snakelike creatures quite similar to the Yuan-Ti I've encountered in other planes. They call themselves Serpent men, Antrofidi in minaean and Odzmard in tarystian, and they would be an ancient race born millennia ago when a defeated group of snake creatures from another continent were accepted among a clan of forest drakes. The green dragon was willing to talk, probably because I believe he suspected I had come from the Elafi forest. But I didn't trust him with what I knew about that place and said nothing to him. He was however happy to hear about my travels in this region and in the west. Neither him nor the serpent men knew about her, so I left to the village of Kitroeides, just 20 miles toward the sea. The name of the place came from the citrus trees that grow everywhere in the valley. It's a peaceful community of farmers that make a stark contrast with the wild lands just a short distance from it. Between Kitroeides and another village to the south, Laiopolis, noteworthy for its production of olive oil, there is also the island of Foce Nisias, inhabited by wereseals. I heard stories about the place in Kitroeides and so I decided to have a short boat trip to the island. The wereseals are a peaceful community that no one bothers, except for the occasionally undead creature from the Wrecked sea. They have a village on the island and have left behind the human society to live among themselves. But they never heard of her so I went back to Kitroeides and then to another village almost forty miles to the east, Litokoris. The road was peaceful and I encountered only animals and some giant locusts that didn't bother me. Litokoris is a village nested among the hills where the main economic activity is the extraction of gems. Until recently there was some political conflict in the village because the gem trade was managed for a long time by Erineos merchants. That led to protests from the merchants of Thamax and from the local corporations of gem cutters and miners, so an agreement was decided to split the profits between Erineos, Thamax and the corporations. Yet not all is peaceful in Litokoris, because sometime disgruntled miners turn to banditism and attack caravans on the road to the coast. Quite often the local authorities hire adventurers to scare off particular persistent bandits, but recently some adventurers sent to capture thieves made common cause with them and so the merchants had to hire more mercenaries to hunt them too. Local politics and social issue in Minaea are quite complex and deep for a stranger in this land.
But the fact that captured more my interest in Litokoris were the stories I heard from the local population about the geonids. These are strange creatures that seems to be somehow related to the earth, they have a boulder-shaped shell that shield their bodies. They can easily hide in caves passing as normal boulders. For quite some time, the miners of Litokoris had difficult relations with them, because there was a strong competition between geonids and humans for the gems in the local hills. Some years ago all this changed when a druid of Ordana promoted a peace treaty that both humans and geonids accepted. Now the geonids cooperate in the mining of gems in exchange for a regular payment in precious and semi-precious stone. Some miners nevertheless told me that the peace couldn't last forever, because there are some geonids that still resent the exploitation of their hills and gems by humans. No one in Litokoris knew of her, but I was very interested in this strange creatures, so I went east in the hills to meet the geonids.
The 1727th day, in the calendar of Minaea named the 2nd day of Hekatombaion rising, 1120 After the Arrival.
I spent some days with the geonids. Their language full of clicking sounds like rattling pebbles would be very hard to understand and speak for someone without my abilities. I met the druid of Ordana who is protecting them, too, an old man who has developed a fondness for this ancient and half forgotten creatures. They are a gentle race with an interesting society, they have a sort of cults for gems and many other kinds of semi-precious and normal stones, that they consider sacred to the Earth Mother and also testimony of past times and ages. They can effectively "read" stones and tell you their stories, wonderful tales that usually go back million of years. That's the reason why they don't like that humans take these stones. They know humans cannot read stones and therefore they cannot understand why they keep searching for them. Nevertheless, they are a very peaceful race and fight to protect the stones was very hard for them. Now there is a division among them. Some are grateful for the peace and are willing to pay the price of letting humans take some stones. The earth is deep and rich and human will never be able to take all of it. Others are angry and consider a profanation the mining of humans and cowardly to do nothing about it. The latter are a minority, for now, but the situation could change if human mining will become too intrusive.
The geonids live in complex caves underground, carefully hidden but shaped on the inside in wonderful colors and drawings. They have indeed a form of art that works stone with a kind of mind power that is not magic but a sort of deep connection with the essence of the stones. They forge objects of metal in natural melting pot of lava under the earth, or shape in stone what they need, from walls to clubs and axes. They cultivate in their caves moss and mushrooms, that are the main elements of their diet, but sometimes also eat fish or other small creatures that live underground. In the underground caves and abandoned mines around Litokoris there are others inhabitants beside geonids, like small earth elementals, some medusas, piercers (a strange kind of gastropod), worms, snakes, lizards, slugs, insects, spiders, scorpions, toads, basilisks, rust monsters. They get along well with all these creatures, with some of them have even a sort of cooperation because some geonids are a sort of shaman/druids able to speak with animals and monsters. Apart from humans they have other enemies, however. These are the creatures that in the Known World are called ropers and rockfangs, and the mysterious demon-like monster called deep glaurant. These creatures sometimes have killed also humans and careless adventurers in this area.
I was happy to have spent some days with these people and the druid and I almost forgot to ask them about her. They knew nothing of her, but a geonid shaman told me that the stones must know, because the stones know everything. I told him that the stones know everything of this world only, and the person I was looking for was not of this world. He told me that she was in this world now, and so the stones could know of her. I let him ask then, even if a had very little hopes he could receive an answer from stones.
He did it anyway and he said she has been near here, in the caves to the north, and the stones knew she had met glaurants. The geonid seemed worried telling me this, he obviously didn’t consider meeting glaurants a good omen for a lasting life. At first I was more astonished than worried. But after a few moment I pressed the geonid shaman for exact directions and I began to run. After five years, I had a trace. In the strangest place under the earth, where least I expected to find it. I had hope.
The 1760th day, in the calendar of Minaea named the 5th day of Metageitnion rising, 1120 After the Arrival.
More than one month has gone. I found a subterranean city of the deep glaurants. They are indeed a mysterious race and in different circumstances I would have gladly investigate their origin, but I went there searching for her and it wasn't very interested in anything else. They clearly resemble demons but seem to live permanently on this planet now, so maybe they descent from a group exiled in ancient times. In fact, I didn't see any planar magic among them, so it's possible that they are actually hiding in this world from something that threatened them in the outer planes. Maybe for this very reason, they aren't much friendly with visitors and ready to use their magical darkness and any other sort of ambush to get rid of them. It's wasn't so easy with me, however, I hid in their city and they could not find me even if they tried in every way. It was like to spend days in a hornets' nest, but I always avoided them and I was even able to question a few of them, and obtain answers.
Yes, they encountered a female-looking human but never captured her, and as much as I asked them to describe her, they were simply unable to mention traits useful to me, because humanoids are all alike to them. Neverthless the means the female human used to escape them were enough to give me hope. The glaurants described some peculiar magical halos that I remember she had used in the past. Unfortunately, they didn't know much about her direction, only that she had gone to the north.
There I went, walking and crawling through a maze of tunnels and ancient ruins of forgotten kingdoms and people, each of them worthy of books and treatises that I haven't the time to write, because my search for her consumes everything else. In another life I would have found these dungeons and buried palaces some of the most interesting discoveries of my life, yet now nothing mattered but to go forward and find her.
Elementals, demons, humans, dwarves and stranger creatures had inhabited these places under the earth, from what I could gather from sculptures, objects and ancient faded paintings on crumbling walls.
Now there were obviously other inhabitants, like oozes, giant insects, rats, mushrooms and, occasionally, undeads and living statues, forgotten guardians of secrets no one cares about anymore and of treasures that will probably claim the life of some unwise adventurer.
After so many days under the earth finally I came back into the sun, in the hills north of geonids land, over the great valley ruled by the city of Erineos. I looked back for just a moment toward the region of Nemosar that now I was leaving, a place where I wish I could stay more, but I had to go on, to the end of the world or the end of time, or until I find her.
Here is the map of the region I'm describing in 8 mph.
The 1786th day, in the calendar of Minaea named the 3rd day of Boedromion rising, 1120 After the Arrival.
The valley of Erineos is inhabited by humans mostly near to the coast, while the rest of the territory is important to them just for the road that from the city goes to the eastern town of Dasos and then to the great city of Thanasis. This road is the main link between the capital city of Minaea and the east, so is heavily traveled by merchants. I will tell in details about the interesting lives of minaean traders another time, for now let's just note that the caravans are a great temptation for many kind of raiders, like hobgoblins from the northern woods, lesser medusas and harpies from the south and other creatures from the mountains, more interested in easy meals than in gold and merchandises. Obviously the caravans are therefore heavily armed and guarded but mostly the people who travels with them are usually quite proficients with weapons, and I mean everyone, from the stable boy to the head merchant. Beyond that on the road between Erineos and the eastern town of Dasos there is also the fortress of Dronofros with a garrison of well trained fighters who usually keep hobgoblins, medusas and harpies in check. Yet despite all that there is still a group of bandits who have robbed caravans for years and always get away with it. They are called Brasmas by minaean merchants and city folks, a word that means more or less "scum", but Yerkivors by tarystians, a word that means "Earth sons". From what I understood of minaean history normally the milenian migration from Davania was peaceful and minaean and tarystian merged without too many fights, but in some occasions a milenian leader alienated the tarystian people with his arrogance, or a tarystian clan was determined to drive away the strangers, and so years of clashes, grudges and revenges ensued. That was the case in the interior lands around Erineos, where minaean merchants soon bought lands and started plantations, driving away tarystian farmers. This history has roots that are a thousand years old, yet the bandits of the Erineos road still refer to their tarystian ancestry. Actually, they are a mixed bunch of humans who could or couldn't have a majority of tarystian blood, with some hill giants, rakastas and hobgoblins. They steal from caravans, merchants and rich plantation owners and share part of the proceeds of their stealing with local poor farmers, presumably of tarystian descent.
For such reason they are indeed folk heroes, protagonists of many ballads sang on the notes of the baglama and the kamanca, typical tarystian and minaean instruments that are alike to a lute and a lyre. Their chief is named Apstam, a human warrior with dark hairs and skin. His name is in reality a title, because a string of Apstams apparently has led this bandits for centuries. He didn't tell me his original name.
The village of Azatut, which means "freedom" in tarystian, is the historical hideout of the bandits, and for this very reason in the past was burned down several times by Erineos troops or private armies of angry merchants. Neverthless, the local inhabitants still aid the bandits in any possible way, mostly with hiding places, provisions and healing, and in return receive from them gold and goods. The village indeed has become quite prosperous due to the friendship with bandits, so there are merchants that go there from Erineos to trade, and such caravan obviously are never assaulted by the Yerkivors.
The other villages of the valley are more law abiding: Indzapoli, "panther town", bear an ancient tarystian name from the kind of rakastas that still live there, among the human population. The Yerkivors anyway have supporters in this village too. Prokyonis, the village nearest to Erineos, is a quiet place that takes its name from the racoon dogs that live in the area. The bandits never bother village folks anyway, while pirates have not such moral concerns. The Erineos coast indeed has been targeted by pirates quite often, not pirates from the southern Thamax, that is under Erineos sphere of influence, but rather from the far away Enkimmu and other cities. Raids have been so frequents and bloody that one village on the coast near Erineos, Peiratana, which means "pirates death", has specialized in pirate hunting. Adventurers, bounty hunters and even former pirates, sponsored by rich merchants' money, go pirates hunting in the Erineos sea and often they become folk heroes too.
I didn't find trace of her in the villages, nor along the road, but one rakasta among the Yervikors told me that a strange enchantress was seen by some men in the Nokvog Antar, "the changing forest" between the road and the mountains, and so there I went.
The 1800th day, in the calendar of Minaea named the 8th day of Boedromion full moon, 1120 After the Arrival.
The changing forest is avoided by most intelligent creatures because of several rumors according to which the woods would be inhabited by evil fairies or infested by undeads and demons. The forest indeed had a eerie mood, but I encountered only animals there, deers, rabbits, mice, birds, insects and many others and they couldn't tell if she had traveled in the woods. They knew that some other creatures do inhabit the changing forest, but they were unable to explain to me what sort of creatures, and in spite of all my abilities I could not spot any of them, even if I often felt uncomfortable, as if someone was spying on me. I think the woods could indeed be inhabited by some sort of fairies. Later I heard an ancient tarystian legend according to which the changing forest would be the home of an evil court of fairy creatures that in ancient times made an unholy pact with demons to exact revenge upon the immortals. I tried to find them, but these creatures somehow escaped me, and that doesn't happen often. Maybe, as the legend says, they prey only on those they think weaker than them, and somehow they sensed I wasn't, and stayed away.
The changing forest has some other strange peculiarities: it appears that there are no dangerous monsters in there, even if, as I experienced, Minaea usually has plenty. Also the forest gets its name from the strange phenomenon visible at dawn and at the sunset, when the trees and leaves seem to change colors with the rising and setting sun. I don't know why this happens, yet I find it to be a beautiful phenomenon rather than a creepy one, but it is one of the reason why humans and other intelligent creatures stay away from the woods.
North of the forest there is the great mountain massiff dominated by mount Olympus, the home of the immortals in minaean mythology. A young men, who is more or less a sort of bard for the Yerkivors, told me that the mountain was sacred to the tarystians and to the more ancient teslans before them, and the milenians just "stole" the place making it the home of their immortals. He also told me that not too far from the changing forest there is the Asthovit, the valley of the gods in tarystian mythology.
I planned to visit those places later, but at the moment I was following the tenuous lead of some animals of the forest that saw a "female human surrounded by lights" going to the west. I left the changing forest toward Erineos stopping in the village of Ieropoli, sacred town in minaean. It's indeed a village full of priests of the milenian gods, the starting point for a popular pilgrimage to a shrine at the footsteps of the Olympus mountains, where the stories tell that immortals sometimes appear. In Ieropoli a priest told me that a strange "sorceress" was seen going toward the city of Erineos. I didn't trust much these unspecific rumors but, still hopeful I guess after the clues found among geonids and glaurants, I followed them to the city.