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The Land of a Thousand Pagodas

by Patrick Sullivan

Hey everyone! Here's a little something I thought up in a kind of story form. It's based on a Mystaran version of the nation of Myanmar, better known as Burma. Sorry that it's so long, feel free to skim over as much as you like. If anyone is interested, there are some incredible pictures of this culture at the Myanmar government's home page. It reads like the propaganda of a third world dictator, but it still contains great pictures

If you find this at all interesting, I advise you to check out this site and to also reply to this post with comments/criticisms/whatever :~)

An excerpt from the diary of Taferias of Mafertat, Captain of the Glorious ; Faithful Explorer to Her Imperial Majesty, Eriadna the Wise; Wizard Extraordinaire; etc.; etc.; etc.

...We believed all was lost once the ship ran aground, for everyone knows that this area of the world holds nothing remotely resembling civilisation. We couldn't determine our exact location due to the storm, which was still as fierce as ever, but we knew that we were somewhere on the jungle coast of the Sea of Steam or perhaps the Gulf of Tangor. At any rate, our chances looked grim: even if we did somehow manage to repair the ship, we still could not get away from this place without facing THEM again. At this point, I think I'd rather take my chances with the jungle.

Daylight finally brought a clearing of the storm. The damage to the ship was not as serious as I feared that it might have been, but it would still require about a month of hard labour to repair, and we needed provisions. Even if it were repaired, could we get away from here by sea? I certainly had my doubts, but with the sun came new hopes for survival. I decided to lead an expedition up the coast a few miles in each direction in order to see what could be discovered. After a couple of miles we spotted something shining in the distance ahead of us. You can imagine my surprise when I saw, as we drew closer, a full-fledged town. Here! In what everyone knows is the absolute middle of nowhere! At first glance, I would have to guess that this town is about as big as home, back in Mafertat, Frisland, Alphatia. The homes were primarily made out of wood with straw and mud to seal them, and many small fishing canoes were moored along a full half-mile stretch of the shore and along the slow mouth of a wide river. The people going about their business in the town were undoubtedly human, but their complexion was unlike any other that I have seen. If I had to guess, I'd say that they were closest to the Jennites. They wore fairly typical clothes for this climate-- scant and brightly coloured, but not indecent. Aside from its size, it seemed to be a fairly typical native village, except for the great temple or palace structure of some sort at the centre! It's gracefully soaring, curving architecture towered over the rest of the town, dwarfing it in comparison. But the most astonishing thing was that this structure was covered with what appeared to be gold! When we came closer and the peasants noticed us, they seemed somewhat frightened, but more an uneasiness of strangers than the panic of terror. They backed away, until three men in red robes with completely bald heads came toward us. Despite what appeared to be a great treasure here, we didn't appear to be in a very good position to take it by force, so I made the obvious choice to try to befriend them. They three bald men bowed before us, and we returned the gesture. I cast a spell so that we could communicate, hoping that they wouldn't interpret it as a threatening gesture. They never batted an eye, and I began to speak to them. I explained our situation (they were most impressed that we had actually made it here across the sea), and asked them for whatever help that they could give us. The monks, as they turned out to be, and the peasants gladly and freely welcomed us into their homes, despite the fact that almost none of my men could communicate with the natives. I sat on the floor at a low table with my monk/host and shared a meal of rice and chicken with a strange, foul-smelling, though pleasant-tasting, spice. We also shared several cups of a delicious tea, and then he allowed me to rest the night in his home. It never occurred to me until I was already lying on my bedroll that they never once asked us to surrender our weapons.

It turns out that the palace is actually something called a "Pagoda". Apparently it's a holy sight for their religion, which seems to involve extreme pacifism and kindness to all beings. They do not "worship" their patron immortal, as so many other primitive societies do, but look up to him as a role model and mentor in their own quest for enlightenment. They call their patron "Rohindartha," but I have never heard of such an immortal. Everyone in the town seems to be a fervent philosopher; Allanmyo, my host, explains that every boy of the town, as well as many of the girls, join the monastery for at least a few months of their lives. If it is their calling, they will spend their lives at the monastery. The monks and nuns (I met a few nuns today) seem to actually be people from all walks of life: many are typical clerics, but there are people reminiscent of Sindhi mystics, and there are even a few magic-users! They follow their philosophy of pacifism and respect for all life very rigidly, though it is believed to be each individual's responsibility to determine right or wrong for himself. Most of my men, along with some of the natives, went back to the ship today to try to repair it, but I decided to stay to learn what I could of this land.

The dome of the Great Pagoda is real gold! What's more, the natives tell me that this is only one town in the great Land A Thousand Pagodas. Allanmyo told me that there is a great king of this land who rules from his capital at Pantang, the Glorious City of the Hundred Pagodas. The city I'm in, by the way is called Rangyon. Anyway, Allanmyo says that there are hundreds of pagodas throughout the Kingdom. Not all of them are made out of gold; there's not that much gold in the whole world! But this is obviously an incredible kingdom nonetheless! From how the monks describe the Kingdom, it sounds more like a very loose federation of tribes united in their faith and their symbolic allegiance to their King at Pantang.

Today I awoke to the sounds of shouting in the village. I quickly drew on some clothes and then rushed outside to see what the commotion was. A pair of tigers were in the centre of the town, and townspeople were running helter-skelter to try to avoid their fangs and claws. I rushed forward and fired a lightning bolt from my wand. Unfortunately my aim was off in my haste, and it only grazed the side of one of the tigers. I prepared to shoot again, this time more accurately, when I heard a spell cast from behind me and felt myself unable to move. Me! An Officer of the Imperial Alphatian Navy! A powerful wizard! ME! HELD?!? Allanmyo ran from behind me and began calling orders to the peasants, who, instead of panicking, listened and followed his orders. They all ran in the same directions, leaving an open path for the tigers to escape, which they quickly did, running back into the jungle. They poured some sort of tea which, in retrospect, must have been drugged into my mouth. It released me from my paralysis, but also seemed to relax my tension and calm my nerves and my fury. Allanmyo explained to me that the tigers were simply passing through town this morning when the townspeople began to awake, scaring the tigers, and accidentally herding them towards the centre of town. The tigers had eaten well that night, and, being one with nature, had no desire to kill. As this was the case, all that Allanmyo had to do was allow them to escape to go back to their cave and rest, all they ever wanted in the first place. This excitement (and probably the tea) helped convince me to go back to bed for a long nap. After my peaceful rest, I had much of the night to converse with the monks. They explained many things of this part of the world, claiming that great empires exist where Alphatian textbooks have always taught exist nothing but barbarians! They also explained some more about their philosophy, which sounds fairly good (and similar to the Great Immortal Alphatia's) except that it is horribly impractical. Late this evening, one of the monks spotted something moving quietly through town. When we went to investigate and discovered three ghouls prowling the night, I restrained my impulse to attack, remembering last time. You can imagine my surprise when the monks all raced forward and fought the ghouls with such incredible fury that nothing I've ever fought could stand up to their combined might...

These are a strange people: peaceful, yet powerful; knowledgeable, yet unknown; full of seeming contradictions. This diary does not do them justice, with all the complexities of their society, but it at least sheds some light on what until now has been a completely unknown kingdom, right under the nose of Great Alphatia! I for one am certainly glad to consider these people my friends, and I will never spread word of this land to those money-grubbing gold-seekers who would try to rob them blind. Besides, I might be able to turn a healthy profit off of trade with The Land Of A Thousand Pagodas!