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What People Say

by Geoff Gander

Olan of Gathol, mercenary captain, speaks to a recruit

“C’mere, boy, we’re going over the hills tonight and I’ve got something important for you to learn about Mogreth, and why we’re fighting.

“Look at my hands. See the brands on my palms? See how I’ve got no little fingers? That’s how you can tell when a man’s been to Mogreth. When they take slaves, the first thing they do is bring them to the nearest town or city, and there they’ll strip you of everything you’ve got and cut off your little fingers, to mark you as property. Anyone caught roaming the kingdom with eight fingers is an escaped slave – that’s a trip to Isshum, and you don’t usually come back.

“Then they’ll take you to a slave market, and like as not some fat lizard man’s factor will buy you. Then you’re marched off to your new home, and branded with your master’s sign. Most of ‘em just do your palms, but some do the face, too. Then you’re put to work – from sunup to sundown, most likely. If you’re lucky some trog’ll clout you with a club if you’re too slow or tired, but some masters like the scourge. Tie you up to a post and flay you with a great whip. In a strong hand, one cut’ll slice you down to the bone. Sometimes, if a master buys a batch of new slaves, he’ll have some of the older ones flayed to death as an example. If you’re a lucky slave, you’ll be working on a farm or in the forests. It’s hard work, but there’s more food for you out there, and you’re closer to the wilderness so you can escape a bit easier. That’s why I’m here now.

“The unlucky ones go to the cities. They’re all bad, but Isshum’s a hell of its own. That’s where the sorcerer kings have their arena – every month they hold a game – all the slaves who escaped, were disobedient, or unwanted get thrown into a huge ring and have to fight for their lives. Sometimes they throw wild animals or monsters against them. It’s said that the last surviving slave wins his freedom at sundown, but no one’s ever lived that long. Some slaves just end up as the toys of their masters, and the Immortals help them.

“Mogreth needs slaves to survive. That’s why they keep expanding west, and why they do business with the Shimmering Lands. They’ll keep at it, pushing their borders out and grinding down anything that stands in their way. That’s what happened to Gathol, my city. Nothing left there, now. Know that because of what you are, there can be no peace with Mogreth. We fight, any way we can, to survive. Remember all that, and maybe you won’t end up a slave, as I did.”

A Taymoran trader speaks to a companion

“If there is one place where one may become truly wealthy, it is in the markets of Isshum. I know what you have probably heard about the city, and I can tell you that much of it is true. It is no place for humans, unless you bear a plaque. Even so, there are lizard kings who would enslave you despite that protection. But, if you stay in the Merchant Quarter after dark - or better yet, on your vessel - very little harm should come to you.

“The lizard kings of Mogreth are an indolent lot. They have grown too used to being waited on by their trog serfs and human slaves, that few will bestir themselves to any great effort. Left with so much leisure they interest themselves in whatever happens to catch their fancy. And some of their ‘hobbies’ do not bear discussion here, but it is in, shall we say, ‘facilitation’ that your wealth may come. I would not get into the slave trade – the dwarves have that sewn up, and of course our people officially frown on betraying our own race in this manner. Wars have been fought over it, as you know.

“What I speak of are magical items, exotic crafts and produce from the south – especially those of elven make. Those are the things the lizard kings currently adore, and for which they will pay handsomely. But move fast, for the tastes of the elite are fickle. We also do a brisk trade with the free companies of the mountains and the west, as well as the reavers of the Dawn Sea. Many of these are escaped slaves, and they are always seeking weapons and information for their cause. We profit, and injure the lizards in the bargain.

“But back to Isshum. An ancient city, thousands of years old at least. It is said that Isshum was old even before the rise of fallen Thonia, and I can believe it. The city seems to have settled on land and sea, like a tarp over a jumbled pile of merchandise. Streets go every which way and the city itself rises and falls like waves. In the lower portions it is literally a swamp, as much of the city is half-sunken into the surrounding mire. Isshum was no so much built as grew out of the boggy ground, like some sort of fungus. The buildings are tall and spindly, with many walkways bridging the streets below, but in the core of the city – the Old City, as it is called – the buildings have a different aspect. There, everything is obsidian and basalt, and the proportions seem designed for things much larger than currently live there. I will not speak of the bas-reliefs and statuary; gaze upon it yourself, and you will understand the minds that built Isshum. But in the centre, surrounded by the grandest palaces, is the arena.

“It is said that a temple to the beings worshipped by the people of Mogreth once stood there – the first temple. Whether that is true or not, what stands there now is much worse. If you are invited to attend a game (and you must not ever refuse), you will see sports far worse than anywhere else. Men forced to fight against beasts and other slaves, and worse yet are the games of the dead. In the arena, death is not the end, and the corpses of those who fell fight on, dismembered as they are, for the audience’s enjoyment.

“There is a prophecy, that one day the dark stain of Isshum shall be washed from the land. The kings of Mogreth denounce it as blasphemy, but it persists. Despite the wealth that I have made, I pray that it shall come to pass.”