by Giulio N. Caroletti
"There is a mountain in the Hakgar, where the Immortals of Energy are known to descend on Mystara to settle their disputes. And the Immortals of Energy are often at odds with each other...so often, at night, it is possible for the desert nomads to see the powers fight each other on the mountains. Electric flashes blind the eyes, and it is dangerous to venture there...so we avoid the region, because no-one dares to risk the wrath of the Immortals."
The Hakgar Mountains
Lost in the middle of the Plains of Fire, unknown to Sindhi and Eastern people alike, avoided and unnamable for the desert nomads of the region, lies the mountain range of the Hakgar. It is really not a mountain range...more a group of high hills, that is not more than 20 kilometers long.
This area is mostly avoided by travellers. Even the few that casually arrive in the region don't want to have anything to do with the Hakgar. The reason is simple: electric storms, clearly visible at night, hit the mountains very often. The electric storms manifest themselves in an extraordinary way: without clouds or thunder, only with a strong stench of ozone; rendering them difficult to see during daylight. At night-time, about 20 days a month, the electric storms are clearly visible.
Not many men are known to have visited the mountains, and of those few none have appearantly returned. But the problem are the vast remainder that have not been aware of the natural phenomenons of the Hakgar, who have lost their lives in the mountains, perhaps searching for shelter and bit of water.
All this makes the Hakgar Mountains a completely unknown, although small, area of Mystara.
The Gates to Skrap˛ini
The reasons for these storms are the gates (currently eleven of them) in the Hagkar, connecting Mystara with Skrap˛ini, a region in the Quasi-Elemental Plane of Lightning. Skrap˛ini is a small city that nears the borders between Lightning and the Positive Energy Plane. It is inhabited by the only sentient creatures that are native of the plane: lightning mephits. These are vicious and malevolent creatures, hardly controlled and dominated, independent chaos lovers...now under the complete control of a powerful and ambitious creature, a blue dragon known among the mephits by the name of Tarkus.
To avoid problems with the mephits, Tarkus, the res 'enak ("Master Overlord," in the mephit tongue) of Skrap˛ini, has not let them know that the gates actually exist. The barely intelligent mephits didn't bother themselves to figure out how the dragon arrived on the Plane of Lightning - the fact that he was much stronger than them was enough. Tarkus killed a lot of mephits by sheer physical might, eliminating the leaders of their small war bands and forcing them to build a "city" near the location where he found the eleven gates. To mantain his control on the Gates and on the mephits, and at the same time be able to plot and continue to successfully pursue his dragon quests, Tarkus has resorted to using giths, who he recruited from a planet on the Astral Plane.
The Giths of Innurdialn
Innurdialn is a three-dimensional planet in the Astral Plane. It is not particularly big, and it was settled by four races of creatures, who fought desperately for its control. There were gith pirates, who used the planet like a base for their raids in the Astral. There were githzerai, who had possession of mines of a mysterious material who was used to forge weapons by githzerai on other regions of the Astral Plane. There were githyanki, who had some colonies there. Then there were giths that, although bearing a similar name, seem to be of a completely different origin. The giths were the original settlers of Innurdialn, but they were ultimately slain during the long wars that ravaged the planet. A small band of giths, led by the hero Palin, managed to flee through the use of Astral ships, and then through a Portal which took them to the Ethereal, and finally to rest on the Prime Material Plane, in the region of the Salt Marsh on the western Sindhi border.
Tarkus has always considered the Salt Marsh a personal hunting ground, largely because he has special ties with the region. On one of his trips to the region, the dragon discovered the giths, who were in great confusion (obviously, given their situation!). The dragon was planning to use the gates to Skrapoini, but needed loyal followers to do this. Tarkus decided to bring them to the Hagkar, and let them thrive there in exchange for some service: controlling the chaotic mephits.
Currently there are about 90 giths that control a population of about one thousand. The leader of the lizard-giths, as this variant race of the gith will be known, is Clanmaster Mischa Palin. Palin is a cleric of the Pyton (in fact none other than Opal, the Neutral Dragon Ruler), and is also a skilled warrior. Palin is a charismatic lizard gith who had planned to leave Innurdialn before the war that ultimately destroyed the presence of the gith race on its home planet. So when things took a turn for the worse, Palin was able to leave the planet with his most faithful followers. When he understood that their faith was to serve Tarkus or die, he had no choice but to agree. This decision seems, for the moment, to be a good one for the lizard gith race. The mephits are too cowardly and weak to be able to pose a serious threat to them, and they are enjoying a situation that is much more pleasant than a full-scale, planet-engulfing war, like on Innurdialn.
The giths of Innurdialn are of a special race, and are slightly different from those appearing in the Monstrous Compendium.
Lizard giths are grotesque humanoids that seem a sort of lizard-elf: slim and slender, with long arms and thin legs. They have three-fingered hands, but are nevertheless able to use weapons and tools. Their hands and feet are clawed.
If Lizard Giths stood upright, they would be 2 meters tall, but they are generally not taller than 1.50 m, because they always walk hunched over.
Legends About Tarkus
Although there is no real proof that the dragon lives in the Hakgar, the fact that he is 1,200 years old, that he is very near to completing his Quest, and that he is one of the three or four oldest and most powerful dragons of Mystara haven't allowed him to pass totally undetected even in these central desert regions. Many desert nomad and dervish legends of the Plain of Fire and of the Great Waste mention him, although almost never do the legends seem to understand that there is only one destructive war-machine under the disasters and epical tales that they all share.
It is to be noted that what is mentioned in the legends is hardly true: as an example, the Master never beat Tarkus nor is Tarkus son of Athaksha.
It is also important to remember that the following are just a couple of significant examples about Tarkus; feel free to invent more [Expansions on this article are welcome at the Tome of Mystara - Ed.].
The Lizard over the Hagkar
"There is a mountain in the Hakgar, where the Immortals of Energy are known to descend on Mystara to settle their disputes. And the Immortals of Energy are often at odds with each other...so often, at night, it is possible for the desert nomads to see the powers fight each other on the mountains. Electric flashes blind the eyes, and it is dangerous to venture there...so we avoid the region, because no-one dares to risk the wrath of the Immortals.
"Moreover, I tell you that I saw the Guardian of the Mountains!
"I was just a young nomad at the time, and I was guarding a caravan from Darokin which was travelling westwards toward Slagovich. I will never understand why they risked their life in the desert instead of travelling south by sea, but probably they wanted to hasten their march.
"One day we were attacked by goblins and bugbears of the desert. Most of the members of the caravan were slain, but I managed to get away with two merchants and two dromedaries. We fled into the desert, trying to escape from the goblinoids. But they were soon on our trail, and when we saw the Hagkar mountains, I decided to try the impossible: reach them, praying to the Immortals and vowing to become a dervish if their wrath had not struck upon me. I trusted them because I was sure that they knew I was in a desperate situation, and the goblins would never follow me into a taboo region like the Hagkar.
"And then, I saw it!
"Like an answer from the Gods, who didn't want intruders in their sacred region but still couldn't accept that a faithful follower should be slain by those foul creatures, they sent their messenger and guardian: a blue flying lizard. A dragon who in a few moments killed the goblinoids. We watched in terror, fearing that he would devour us too, but the dragon twinkled his eye, and - I will never forget that tremendous maw - if a dragon can smile, then he had smiled to us, and left.
"Astonished, we returned on the caravan's trail, and after two hard days in the desert, we reached an oasis. When I finally got back to my tribe, I fulfilled my oath and became a cleric."
The Death of Rajah Vijay Pratikuta
"When the Sindhi were a young people, and the folk who lived in the Asanda were still divided among several families and tribes, the Pratikuta clan managed to, for the first time, unite large parts of the nation. It was not easy, though, and revolts and rebellions were frequent.
"But in the Salt Swamp, some rebels led by the Kandahari family joined their forces with the Dark Powers.
"A being of great evil lived in the desert - it was a powerful and intelligent desert lizard, strenghtened and protected by Athaksha, the Vulture God of Destruction. Athaksha had nurtured the lizard in his Dark Nest, and loved the evil lizard, so he had made it resistant to all physical damages. Brashan Kandahari was an experienced necromancer and priest of Kala, and it is well known that Kala and Athaksha are sometimes enemies and sometimes lovers, so he called for the Lizard to fight at his side to take the throne for him.
"The Lizard agreed, but at the condition of permanent human sacrifices, that were to be performed in the Salt Swamp. To prove his will to remain loyal to the pact, Brashan sacked a small city built on the Asanda river, and sacrified all the inhabitants along with all their goods to the Lizard in the Salt Swamp.
"The Lizard then visited Brashan in his dreams and told him:
'Thou hath done well, Brashan. To win the crown and seize the throne, lead the Rajah in the Swamp. I shall not forsake thee.'
"And Brashan confronted the Rajah's forces. The two armies were both strong and influential.
"The Rajah Vijay Pratikuta brought one-thousand footmen with pikes and scimitars, and strong leather armors. A hundred horsemen with spears and chain mail. Twenty were the nobles who fought at his side, bringing each one hundred men with them.
"The Rebel Leader Brashan Kandahari, allied with Killim of Nagpuri and with the Mahavarmans of Gunjab managed to have two thousands of men. Brigands and honorable Sindhi noblemen fought together, those for gold, and these for the honour and the freedom of their families. But no force allied with Darkness may call upon the Benign Judgement of the Immortals, and this shall be remembered when the Master will be thrown out of Sind.
"And Dark Powers may not be counted on, because the Lizard Son of Athaksha never appeared, and never came to help Brashan.
"The dark priest, dying in the Salt Swamp, cursed the Lizard and the Swamp where he fought, and so came to be the Malakaz, the Dark Presence that haunts the Swamp so that every honest man avoids the region.
"But the Lizard feared the curse, because Kala was disappointed by the outcome of the war. So it asked its father Athaksha what he had to do. And the Vulture God, from his Dome in the Clouds, pointed his azure finger toward the Rajah, and spoke:
'My son, his life is the price you have to pay to Kala, to avoid its eternal hatred.'
"And so Rajah Vijay was doomed."
The Nomad Princess and the King of Dragons
"Jahila Mednamet, Princess of the Kumnat tribe of the Desert Nomads of the Plain of Fire, was the most strikingly beautiful of all the maidens of the Desert. People from distant lands came to the Chief of the Kumnats asking him to let them see the Princess, because the legends of her beauty had reached even Sind, even Darokin and the Eastern lands. And all asked the Chief of the Kumnats for her hand in marriage, but he claimed that only she would be the one to decide on this matter.
"Jahila was ethereally beautiful. She had long curled hair of the darkest black, and eyes green like the water of the desert oasis, sparkling with life, happiness and intelligence - but with a cruel smile. And when she looked upon the men who sought her hand, she always did so with an air of superiority and pity.
"Jahila had not the least intention to get married - at least for the moment. So when potential suitors came to her father's camp, she always told them that she would marry them...if they could fulfill some nearly-impossible task. Most of the suitors left, realizing that they would never be able to complete the trials she imposed, but some (and still they were many, so renowned was the beauty of the lady) tried. And always failed, returning crushed and empty-handed, or simply dying in the quest.
"But one day, a strange man came to the camp of the Kumnats. He was one of the most beautiful men the princess had ever seen: his shoulders were broad, and his arms and torso muscular; his hair was kept short, and was black, his eyes of a dark blue. And the Princess immediately fell in love. And what was her surprise when she discovered that the man hadn't come to claim her hand, rather to deal with her father.
"The evening when he arrived, the man dined alone with the chiefs of the tribe. No women were allowed to enter the chief's tent, but Jahila sneaked out of her tent in the night, consumed by passion, and managed to reach the tent. Then she began to listen, silent and without moving, to the animated discussion.
"The man, called Ke-Skathis by the nomad chiefs, spoke in a low voice, so it was nearly impossible for her to understand. But the replies of her father were loud and furious, and she was able to understand that the man wanted her...otherwise he would destroy the tribe and kill all its members, and take her with him.
"Her heart beat even more rapidly, and her eyes were full of tears of joy, because she realized that he loved her too, and wanted her. She didn't mind if the cost would have been the death of her father, of her friends, of all her tribe. Full of plans of love for her future, Princess Jahila left for her tent, waiting for the decision of her father, waiting for tomorrow.
"When the morning came, Ke-Skathis took the Princess with him, much to the consternation of the father and the other chiefs of the tribe: because the Princess didn't know that Ke-Skathis was none other than the Great King of Dragons, come to exact his tribute.
"Why Ke-Skathis wanted her is not for us to know, although some say she was sacrified to the Infernal Immortals to obtain new powers, and others, few may I say, claim that she lived like a Princess in the Palace of Ke-Skathis."
The Destruction of the Abbey of Truth
"Far in the mountains of the west, toward Great Hule, lies the Abbey of Chaos. Once, the place was dedicated to the Truthful Essence, who looks upon the people of the desert from his Celestial Garden and is revered by the dervishes of the Great Desolation.
"The monks of the Abbey of Truth had a different view on the nature of the Essence, and they worshiped a great number of lesser Immortals known as the Hundred-and-Eleven Precepts of Comprehension.
"But the Master of Great Hule looked upon the monks with burning hatred: they were enemies of Bozdogan, too near to Hule, and they offered shelter and helped those from the East who searched for the way to enter the Lands of Bozdogan. So he decided to destroy the Abbey, or, better, to occupy it with blasphemous hordes that would twist the Holy Abbey to the worship of Chaos.
"To do so, the Master decided to resort to an external force: he was not willing to risk the Wrath of the Immortals for his impious act. And the Master knew that a powerful creature lived in the Desert: Se Tarku, the Thunder Monster. No one knows what the Thunder Monster was like, or wheter it still lives undisturbed among the fiery sands; the Master is the only one to have seen it and survived.
"So the Master went to the desert with caravans of food and meat, slaves and soldiers and desert nomads. For a long time they travelled across the burning sands, until the camels themselves where exausted by the march. And when his troops were beginning to lose the faith in the Master, and that he wouldn't lead them anywhere, the Thunder Monster came, and it ate his men and his animals, savagely destroying all things.
"'I knew you had to come,' said the Thunder Monster. 'And I longed for the food you were bringing. And I know you have come to request my service, so I'll let you speak, so I can laugh at your pettiness and stupidity before killing you.'
"The Master smiled under his kefiah, and replied, 'You don't know what you are saying. The power of Bozdogan is great, and with his hand at my side, I will bend you to bow to my requests.'
"The fight that occurred would surely be matter of legends, if there had been others than the vultures and insects of the sand to witness. But in the end, the Master won.
"Said Se Tarku, 'I truly am puzzled, and I must admit I've been beaten by the strenghts of Bozdogan. Yours is a great Immortal, and I shall bow to your requests. So I will destroy the monks of the Abbey of Truth.'"
Perhaps you are wondering whether I invented this article from whole cloth, or if I had Mystaran sources. Here I point you at the sky...ehm...at the references I used:
Respen ak Tarkis and Arentela were first mentioned in Gaz4: Kingdom of Ierendi, in the adventure on page 27. Respen ak Tarkis is a red dragon who enters the Crown Competition because he is in search of powerful adventurers (Companion level) that can help him recapture the title of Prince of Arentela, which has been usurped by another dragon.
I didn't care too much for this idea, although it is in character with the Ierendi Gaz, so I changed it a lot. Also because I had already created a dragon nation, Wyrmteeth, for Tome of Mystara issue #2.
The Abbey of Truth is found in the adventure X4: Master of the Desert Nomads, where bhuts (a shapeshifting humanoid race at the service of the Master) have killed all the monks and settled the Abbey. The legend I wrote has no direct relationship with this. I suppose Tarkus could even not be involved at all; I leave it all to the decision of the individual DMs, or to the fantasy and imagination of the curious reader.
Last but not least, the references regarding the Pratikuta clan are taken from Champions Of Mystara. They really did manage to unite for the first time part of the Sindhi region, but their last rajah died without being able to retain the unity of his kingdom. I simply decided that Tarkus killed him, thus ending the dynasty.
Copyright (c) 2000, Giulio N. Caroletti. All rights reserved. Used by permission.