Section I: Sapient Races
Section II: Beastly Races
“Ain’t much I can tell about’em forest elves. There’s a bunch of’em in the big forests to the south, an’ they got one good thing about’em. Ain’t ever been one of ‘em undeads from Rek’atrednu what made it through their forest up here to the north. Them elves must be cuttin’ ‘em down something fierce, whenever one dares t’get in there.
“Wouldn’t surprise me a bit if they did a couple of forays just to make sure the undead’s stayin’ well away from their forest. After all, that’s what they used to do around here a coupla centuries ago. When they figured that nobody’d be stupid enough t’come within a mile of their home, they stopped. But the Rek’atrednu fools, ‘em don’t fear death. They already are dead, so they probably don’t learn too well.
“As for my folks, we ain’t been troubled by the elves in a long time. You don’t go near their forest, and unless you got a death wish, you don’t enter. Them forest-lovin’ blueys stay inside, an’ all’s well.”
“Although there are probably communities of arboreal elves in several regions of Gushémal, there are only two confirmed tribes or clans. One lives in the forestal area between the Blue Land and Kraznyczar, one inhabits the woods separating Rek’atrednu from the Twisted Land.
“About the former there is little to be said. The Romanii of the Blue Land scarcely venture into the area; the last time was some two centuries ago when warning markers were set around the elven forest. The Romanii say they don’t even know whether those signs are still in place. ‘Could be the Kraznyczarii tore them out,’ one told me and shrugged with a malevolent grin. ‘Maybe they didn’t believe us and tried visiting the elves.’
“It is different, fortunately, with the so-called Fatal Forest north of Rek’atrednu. I suppose that this is the largest of their communities in Gushémal. Yes, the northern locals stay away from them, just as much as the Romanii do. The people of the Twisted Land are peasants, a goodly number of them of elven blood. As far as I have been able to find out, they all descend from the clan of Se’chan, diluted by human blood in varying degrees. They are a strange people, quite secluded from the rest of the world – it is a miracle that some of them speak meantongue, although in such a garbled way they are difficult to understand.
“Their farmland only runs for some fifty or so miles from the Fatal Forest to the mountainous region of the Karuskians – an errant branch of the Laru’sedna, raising an impenetrable barrier more than two thousand miles high. There are villagers in the Karuskians, toughing out a life with poor farming, constantly troubled by cúchulain, rat people, orcs and the numerous beasts found there. And beyond the Karuskians, there is the realm of the Chimerians, a race so strange and foreign that the gods must have been mad when they created them.
“But I wished to write about the arboreal elves who live in the Fatal Forest. It is not the name they use but the closest translation into meantongue of the term that the crossbreed peasants of the Twisted Land use. Some three years ago I was shipwrecked on the coast of the Twisted Land – I had been journeying to the Tonomai Empire, to follow up reports of arboreal elves there. It was a faint trace I was following. After all, the Tonomai land is arid and dry, hardly are there forests to be found that would support a meaningful community of Arboreals.
“Later on I would learn that there had been trails leading to the Twisted Land – trails that I had ignored because so little news from there has ever been substantiated. I was very surprised when the villagers who rescued me from the ocean reacted with solemn nods at my questions about arboreals – probably uttered in a fever fit -, and explained that they were the scourge of the Fatal Forest. ‘None go there,’ one villager told me, in his mangled meantongue. ‘You’s gonna die, too, if you’s mad enough t’try it.’
“Well, I have hardly ever been disencouraged by such a warning, and once I recovered my strength, I set out for the Fatal Forest. I suppose it is my truly elven blood that made the arboreal scouts hold their arrows when I crossed the threshold. I traveled through the forest for a few hours, making sure not to disturb the peace and quiet around me – keeping from any of the ordinary tasks a journeyer would undertake, such as hunting or finding firewood. The latter in particular would have probably cost me my life right away, for such are the ways of the Arboreals. Wood is as sacred to them as it was to the ancestors.
“In the evening I wrapped myself into a blanket, shivering mightily in the cold without a fire. I tried to find sleep, but couldn’t. All the time I stared into the darkness around me, clutched my sword – bought from the locals, unfortunately -, and hoped that no beast would use the absence of fire to attack me.
“All of a sudden I heard a voice. ‘It is foolish to enter this forest, woman. You should have heeded the warnings of the villagers.’ The voice spoke in the old elventongue, a dialect so ancient that I hadn’t heard it outside a classroom prior to that day.
“Excitement grabbed me. I had found an Arboreal! ‘Please show yourself!’ I cried, embarrassed at my voice shaking.
“’To which clan do you belong, woman?’
“There was coldness in that voice, as cold as the iron of the sword clasped beneath my blanket. ‘My clan are the Des’Epaes,’ I answered firmly and proudly, ‘the Swords of the Forest that cut down the invaders of the Aionios Dasos.’
“The Arboreal laughed. ‘So you still believe that myth. The Aionios Dasos? There never was such a thing; it was invented by the pink ones. Our ancestors lived in real forests like this one, and they defended them as all elves should. When the pink ones enslaved our ancestors, they gave them this ridiculous tale to deter them from the good lives they had led – their purpose was to make our brethren their soldiers. And you, woman of the Des’Epaes, your very name means you still believe in that.’
“I was stunned for a moment. All the while I had believed that Arboreals tried to re-create the Aionios Dasos for themselves – and now they rejected the very idea of the Eternal Forest? How very strange! ‘Perhaps you can teach me about what I have done wrong?’ I ventured.
“’Teach you? You are infested with false beliefs,’ the Arboreal said.
“’Cure me of them!’ I pleaded, thought for a moment, then I said, ‘Is it not like the disease of a tree? You do not ignore the infestation, you try to heal it. If my beliefs are false, then you should cleanse me of them, so that I can find the truth.’
“There was silence in the wood around me. I clutched my sword closer to myself, and hated myself for fearing an attack. It is a reflex born of countless decades of drills that my mother insisted on; she never understood my quest for knowledge and my desire to join Darawk’s temple – yet her training had paid off more often than I care to remember.
“’You are impatient,’ the Arboreal said slowly. ‘Does not the tree take its time to grow? Is not an elf like a tree that time is not its limit?’
“I raised myself a bit, squinted into the darkness to see where the Arboreal was standing. He had to be close, judging by his voice. ‘But you have to remember that the tree is governed by the seasons. Its leaves have to grow in the spring, and they fall off in the autumn. Is it not proper then for an elf to find herself as governed by the seasons? Compared to the life of a tree, we are but brief flames, and our seasons are shorter.’
“There was another pause. I felt a shiver run down my back as I imagined what the darkness might hold. Was the Arboreal clutching an arrow to his bow, much as I was clasping my sword? Was he ready to shoot the arrow into my breast?
“Finally he said, ‘There may yet be hope for you outsiders. Rise, woman, and feel the forest around you. Feel the trees, feel the branches and leaves, feel the forest’s life.’
“I did as he asked. Cautiously I cast the blanket aside and got to my feet – and was shocked to hear a gasp escape from several throats around me. ‘Iron!’ some cried, others called, ‘She is touching metal!’
“I felt as naked as if I wore nothing, and my eyes fell to the sword I still held in my hands. Made of raw iron it was, not even steel, primitive by the standards my mother would have employed. But the Arboreals, just like the ancestors, abhorred metal. And here I was, holding the vile substance in my hands – evidence of my infestation of human ideas, as they thought.
“The voice issued from the forest once more, colder than it had ever been. ‘Woman of the Des’Epaes, you are to leave this place right away. You have until the light of morning.’
“’But I can’t see! How can I make it out of here?’
“There was no answer. I heard noise that sounded much like the rustling of wild animals – or of arrows nocked to the bows. Unconsciously I tightened my grip around the hilt of my sword, ready to fight – and then I realized that I was only inviting death.
“None of the Arboreals spoke to me again. I never saw any sign of them, but I know they followed me closely as I mounted my horse and tried to find my way out of the forest. Perhaps they even guided me for my horse never stumbled, never lost its path, and by the time the sun rose over the horizon I was back in the Twisted Land, the trees of the Fatal Forest behind me.”
Forest Eternal, oh Aionios Dasos,
our ancestors sinned,
punished they were by the Gods
gave Aionios Dasos to the faeries.
they were by the Gods,
have no honor,
cannot understand life,
give and take in whims.
Aionios Dasos, thou art closed from us,
Elvendom will live without you,
the true Aionios Dasos lies in the elven heart,
from that heart we shall create a new Eternal Forest,
that no god can ever take from us.
“What’s the big difference between druid elves and the others? The way they kill you, that’s all.
“Personally, I prefer to fight an ordinary elf. Let him be armed with an elfwood sword, I don’t care, at least you can fight. You can understand how you are attacked!
“But the druids? Holy Keshmire, have you ever seen one with a sword? Well if you have, that wasn’t a real druid elf. Why ever would they want to use a blade? They control plants! I’ve seen it with my own eyes how trees came alive, how their branches hewed at friends of mine and cleaved them with edges that had suddenly appeared in their wood. I’ve seen it!
“I’ve also seen how the trees crumbled to dust after a few moments. They just broke apart, like there was nothing left to hold them together.
“They’re evil, I tell you. Kill them before they know you’re there, that’s the only way to deal with them. Honor be damned – there is nothing honorable about these creatures, and there never is any honor or glory in vanquishing them.”
“Ahh, Lestrovar, it hurts so much to be associated with druid elves. I cannot tell you how often I have come to a place and found myself close to a hanging when I said that I am a druid. By the holiness of the trees, one would think that the color of my skin and hair distinguishes me from an elf – not to mention my round ears.
“But the simple folk, they rarely know that druids and druid elves bear little more in common than their name. We care for plants, for trees, for life – but druid elves, they only care to bend all nature to their wills. How dare they call themselves druids? Cursed be they, and cursed be the druids who taught them all our knowledge!
“Yes, I should not treat the memory of those druids that harshly. Of course they had no idea how the elves would twist their teachings – they probably thought the elves no different from other students. Still, they should have known that elven minds do not comprehend the sacredness of a forest! All they care about is their precious Eternal Forest, which has as much in common with a real forest as an idealistic painting has.
“The druid elves have learned about plants, how to speak to them, how to instruct them. Yes, instruct them. That is, in fact, what we real druids do as well. Studying plants, we can aid their growth and help them find the best niches for their existence. Never would we stoop to the perverse things that druid elves think up!
“Why, they try to make plants move at speeds the naked eye can see! They try to grow special things from trees – such as the swords and arrows that supposedly were formed in their Eternal Forest. The elves go against the nature of the plants, and there is always a price to be paid. Making a tree’s branches move like a man’s arms – it’s akin to speeding up the aging of the tree! No wonder then that the poor tree will wither away in minutes while it might have lived to a ripe old age if it weren’t for the accursed druid elves!
“Have the druid elves understood how they hurt nature? Yes, surely they have – but do they care?
“To that the answer is a clear ‘No!’. It doesn’t matter if they destroy a tree, a bush or any other plant, if that’s what it takes to achieve their goals. They are an evil breed, evil to the core!
“If you hear one of them drone about the lofty goal of creating a new haven for elvendom, don’t let yourself be fooled. Their idea of a new Eternal Forest means exterminating everything on the face of Gushémal that doesn’t suit them – including man, beast, plant – and replacing it with their own vile creations!”
“Hard as it may be to believe, there is a kind of elf that I am happy to meet any time of the day. They look the same as their cousins on the continent. Blue skin, cyan hair, pointy ears; that’s all identical. They are also elegant and noble in appearance, perhaps even more so. Yet there is no mistaking them – oh, none at all! All you have to do is take one look at their eyes and lips. If the lips are turned upward, without the trace of cruelty in their turn; if the eyes sparkle as lustily as the sun, enjoying the mere sight of you without any more thought – that’s when you see a chara.
“The only weapons they touch are stage props for one of the many plays they love seeing and acting in. Poetry, writing, tall tales – that’s what chara excel in. And in other areas as well, in everything that brings joy to people, chara and other races alike. Joy, that is all they care about, in every form encountered.
“It’s a pity that there are only the few chara who live on the island of Milonisi, before the southern coast of the Arrufat peninsula, also known as Havencoast. The fabled Apple Island of old is a place of legends – both those born there as well as the ones that chara re-tell over and over again, always finding a way to make them feel fresh and new, no matter how often you have heard the tales before.
“Let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you have visited Milonisi! To see the island of the chara, that means to feel peace and rest. So, come here, see it for yourself. And maybe you’ll want to settle down and stay here for the rest of your life! The chara don’t mind, provided that you find a way to give joy as well as receive it.
“But don’t worry about that. The chara are a kind people. If you find that sitting in an ale and regaling the people with tall tales is entertainment, why, you’ll be welcome. And should you be of the brawling kind as far as inns are concerned, you shouldn’t be surprised if you find yourself invited to put on a show for the visitors! There’s all kinds of entertainment one can find on Milonisi, and the chara love every one of them.”
“Not everyone can reach Milonisi. The chara are peace- and joy-loving, but they are not stupid, either. A rich city, be it on an island or anywhere else, whose people never use weapons, it would be razed and plundered within hours. Granted, if anyone would manage to land troops on the shores of Milonisi, there would be plenty of defenders – all the visitors and permanent residents from the races of Gushémal who are very willing to kill to save their place of sanctuary.
“Milonisi would still not survive very long, and the chara are very much aware of that. So they erected several layers of magical forcefields around their island that repel any ships trying to pierce it. ‘Repel’ is indeed the best description one can find for the function of those forcefields for they do not harm any ship, they merely push it back a few hundred yards.
“Obviously there is a way to reach Milonisi but it is a secret the chara share with no one. There is a corridor cutting through the forcefields, one that allows a ship to sail all the way to the island – but that corridor is never in the same place twice. And neither is it constructed in a straight line, rather it is a maze that would be confusing if the walls were visible. In all the centuries of Milonisi’s existence, not a single ship has made it to the island’s shores unless it had been invited.
“The invitation can be obtained at the chara’s temple at Fowgelstadt, a city on the shore of Havencoast. Fowgelstadt was probably built around the temple, a place where peaceful people accumulated – and those who wished to turn a profit from the chara. Milonisi has no farms, no herds of cattle or any other source of food. Historical records show that there used to be lots of them, but as time went by and the city expanded to cover nearly the entire island, all agriculture vanished. Fowgelstadt has taken up the slack, and the merchants there are quite busy providing Milonisi with all the goods required for their daily lives and for a good deal of their luxury. Those merchants have indeed grown rich – and become the fiercest of defenders of the chara island. There are fortresses scattered all over Fowgelstadt, paid for by the various merchant houses, with vicious mercenary forces who are ready to eradicate any danger to Milonisi – and, incidentally, their employers’ income. Let us not forget the war galleons permanently stationed at Fowgelstadt’s harbor, a formidable force that regularly patrols the waters in the area. As a result of those patrols, the pirate activity around Milonisi is virtually nil. (Every now and then a foolish pirate will venture into this area. On average it takes about three days before said pirate will be strung up on the market place of the city.)
“Occasionally the merchant houses war with each other, using their massive armies. Regularly, though, the chara will send emissaries to each of the involved houses and inform them that all business will be cut unless they stop their war. If a house should prove very offensive – for instance by initiating war every few months -, they will never receive another order from the chara.
“As a result all feuds between the houses – of which there are many – are carried out in secret or in the halls of politics, by the means of constant intrigue which commonly ensures the feud to endure and fester for decades and generations. If one were a cynical observer, one could say that this actually ensures prolonged entertainment for the chara who observe the proceedings closely.
“At any rate, there is the temple of the chara, a large, domed building with three spires that is surrounded by a small park. (Right outside that park, there are fences controlled by burly, heavily armed guards. Wizards are stationed at the watchhouses, none of which is less than seven hundred paces from the next. These defenses, of course, are paid for and maintained by the merchant houses. The chara have resigned in their attempts to keep their temple perfectly open.) It is a beautiful place where every visitor is welcome.
“Some have likened this temple to one consecrated to Alyssa, for there is the same sort of constant festivity in swing. Chara wish to have joy, and they have created their own niche of Milonisi in their temple where they pursue the same kind of life. (In fact, a number of the chara at the temple are priests and priestesses of Alyssa, so the visitor can find the same kind of solace.)
“Nonetheless, there is business being conducted there all the time. The temple is where you can find an invitation to visit Milonisi, this is where the merchants negotiate their trade agreements. (Said negotiations are tougher than one is led to believe by all the tales about chara. Some of the elves have taken enjoyment in haggling. As a result, those elves are veritable ‘cut-throat’ negotiators and very likely to use dirty tricks to get the better of their opponent. To be honest, if those tricks are recognized by the opponent, the chara is likely to laugh heartily and offer a very good deal as a reward to a crafty negotiator.)
“There is a group of chara in the temple who rarely take part in the festivities and never imbibe alcohol or any other kind of drug. They are a sober group of people who seem unlike any other chara – but they are so out of necessity. For these are the pilots who guide ships through the shifting corridor in the forcefield. They need to be sober, since they never know when their services will be called on, and they have to constantly study all the changing parameters of the passageway. After all, if the pilots forgot the way to reach their home island – Milonisi would be cut off from the outside world, most vitally the food supplies. (It has to be said that the pilots only serve for three years at a time. After that they can rejoice as much as their brethren, just barely keeping up to date with their chosen craft before they embark on their next tour of duty.)
“In order for a visitor to receive the invitation to Milonisi – and thus the services of a pilot -, he or she has to succumb to an investigation by one of the priests at the temple. There are clerics to most gods here, not just the Alyssians. That is not to say that all the chara here are clerics. The numbers change, but there are probably some sixty or seventy clerics out of every hundred.
“Investigating a visitor is a very painless affair for it does not involve a more rigorous inquiry than the name and hometown of the visitor. If that seems ridiculously lax, one needs to know about a special ability that the chara have. They cannot read minds, no, but they are able to detect general tendencies in another person’s mind – such as the intent to harm someone else. Of course, if such intent is found, the person will immediately be asked to leave the temple and never receive a pass to Milonisi. Granted, those who are likely to get involve in bar brawls are not barred from the island – most of those don’t intend to do any serious harm to their opponents. (The chara also have a temple of Decalleigh on their island. Their priests are very much used to cleaning up any damage that was unintentionally brought about. In fact, the screening process at the temple at Fowgelstadt is so effective that the Decalleigh priests have not had to heal anyone who was intentionally hurt in more than fifteen years.)
“Anyone of a good mind is happily invited and if he or she desires, a ship will be ready to take them to Milonisi, the island of joy and wonders, within an hour or two at most.”