Uther the unhinged:
T9A: A Account of my Travels amongst the dwarves of Virentia
My studies of the many dwarf cultures documented in earlier chapters have emphasised the similarities in culture, religion and practice between widely geographically separated enclaves. You can therefore imagine my excitement, dear reader, at hearing of dwarven enclaves in Virentia.
These enclaves would appear to have been separated from the general dwarven culture since the time of the collapse of the Saurian empire. Therefore they provide an excellent opportunity to study how a dwarven society might develop under different ethnoenvironmental pressures. Thus with the help of a grant from the University I embarked on a joint venture of exploration with Mr Emman Peaseiro. Needless to say his interest had less to do with anthropological research than reports of fabulous riches. Fortunately my command of multiple dwarven dialects as well as rudimentary Saurian among other languages recommended me to his expedition.
The trials and tribulations of our expedition are recounted in my book �?oA Trek through Time. Travels in a Savage Continent�?�, available in most good bookshops. Suffice it to say, dear reader, that it was a much reduced a desperate company that staggered from the jungles onto the foothills of the Wrathfull Mountains.
These uplands rise rapidly towards the great peaks to the west. Grasslands dotted with deep cold lakes. The Flora was different to any I had seen before, although admittedly I am no expert. More striking were some of the animals. Small herds of what, at first, I took as sheep roamed these slopes. However when they raised their heads to observe us it was clear they were not what I had thought. Their heads, though like sheep were raised upon impossibly long necks, 2 or even 3 feet long. Some of these strange creatures (larmars and the smaller alpackers as I was later informed) were clearly used tho people for that regarded us with some degree of disinterest. Later again I was to learn that these are farmed much like sheep by the locals and the larmars, though not ridden, used as beasts of burden. We did find signs of habitation. Huts and shelters. These were deserted when we found them. I am not sure if that was to avoid us or whether they were only used at certain times of the year when those looking after the herds were up on slopes. That they had been used fairly recently was clear as was their clearly dwarven sizing.
As we moved deeper into the mountains it became clear that our approach had been noted. It was Heinmar who noticed the lights first. Flashes high up on the slopes above. Clearly some form of heliograph system was being used. Two days later we saw our first giant condor. The size of the thing was astounding. Condors are culture like birds that circle these great peaks with a wingspan greater than the height of a tall orc. The giant condors however are truly immense. At first we we confused as the height it was circling belief it�?Ts size. Only when it passed in front of a peak were we able to get an idea of its size. I have thankfully never seen the great drakes of legend but this beast certainly matched them for reported size. The creature circled us for an hour or so then flew Southward. I was later to find that these great birds are used for scouting travel and war by the dwarves that call these Wrathful Mountains home.
It was some 3 days later that we were hailed as we struggled along a narrow track between two outcrops. The language was clearly archaic dwarven in origin but altered somewhat. I must admit I panicked at first. The rest of our small party were looking to me for a response and I froze. The same challenge was barked at us again from the rocks up ahead. Whilst I floundered our hailer switched to another tongue. I guess human in origin but unlike any I recognised. This too was repeated before they switched back to the dwarven dialect. My comrades were clearly agitated as the tone of our unseen �?~ �?~friend�?T was getting distinctly less friendly. Fortunately by now I was thinking more clearly. The words were clearly archaic dwarven as I had recognised originally. However the sentence structure and syntax were classic Saurian. A bizarre mixture which had originally confused me. I was able to construct some rough replies to their questions of who we were and what our purpose was in visiting the Wrathful Mountains. There followed a rather stilted interrogation. The outcome of which was (the rather reluctant) relinquishing of our weapons in return for safe passage and escort to Faztu Kharak the local city/hold.
How, dear reader can I express my excitement and amazement at my first sight of these dwarves. They emerged from the rocks on either side of us in almost elven silence. Rather than the chain, plate or scale mail which is almost ubiquitous in other dwarven cultures they wore heavy quilted tunics. These were intricately patterned with stylised beasts and birds. I was later to discover that this apparently flimsy protective gear is far from it. Each quilted panel has runes woven into the pattern providing protection at least as good as our finest Sonnstahl mail. Their weapons too appeared at first sight crude. Some carried bronze tipped spears adorned with bright feathers (indeed feathers are a recurring feature with their ornamentation referencing the sky god they worship). Others of presumably higher rank bore highly engraved wooden war clubs. These were augmented with bronze blades and wicked looking obsidian shards. Again these apparently backward weapons bear multiple runes rendering them quite as devastating as their steel cousins that we are familiar with. However most striking was their ornamentation. Their heads bore bronze helms sprouting feather headdresses of bright colours. I was again later to learn that there is an intimate system of headdresses which age, rank and status. Their immaculately dressed beards also dropped with ornamentation. Gold �?~charms�?T, rings and runic symbols were cunningly woven into their impressive facial hair.
Our escorts, or possibly guards, guided us for the next week through increasingly difficult terrain. That continued to regard my companions with barely concealed suspicion. I, however, was clearly an object of fascination to them. As much as I was interested in their culture and history they were fascinated by my knowledge of dwarven cultures they had never even considered existed. It was over this period that I learned much of their history and culture.
The dwarves of the Wrathful Mountains of Virentia refer to themselves as the Quezcuz. This is a reference to their chief god, Queznir. Although their lore does not stretch back that far I suspect they were brought here under the Saurian Empire to mine these mountains for the great deposits of silver, copper tin and gold . Their legends do recall an age of slavery under the Saurians and also the fall of the �?~Skyhammer�?T. However this event does not seem to have had the cataclysmic effect upon the Virentian Saurians that it did elsewhere. Possibly preparations dwarven revolt here were less well advanced when it hit. Certainly Saurian domination of the dwarves in Virentia continued far longer than on our own continent. This presumably explains the structure of the language being more heavily influenced by Saurian than elsewhere. Certainly their decorative style has drawn on a Saurian tropes. The history of their culture I have pieced together from their legends, myths, religion and the records I was given access to in Faztu Kharak. Sadly I was never allowed to visit the capital Khazkho let alone the fabled royal libraries there.
From my research it seems the initial attempts by the dwarves of the wrathful mountains were unsuccessful. The Saurians responded rapidly and ferociously (a grudge long remembered). Part of the Saurian response was to further ensure the isolation of the workforce�?Ts of the dwarves in each mine to prevent the coordination that unseated their rule in the east. However the Skyhammer had had an effect. Saurian invincibility had been questioned. Over the many centuries that followed the dwarves developed secret societies dedicated to the overthrow of their hated masters. These societies often communicated with secret sigils. These seem to have been usually stylised or totemic animals ( presumably to avoid suspicion of the Saurians). The Quezcuz themselves have many lesser gods and quasi-deities. These are mostly seen as totemic animal spirits representing different aspects of dwarven personality. Each hold or city of the Quezcuz has a local deity representing that settlement though subservient to Quezcuz. My theory is that these religions arose from the original secret societies. The animal sigils growing in importance and assuming totemic then mystical significance, all enhanced by the necessary secrecy. The Quezcuz clearly have a mastery of runic magic (something I will document at length later on). However my studies indicate that this knowledge came slowly to the Virentian dwarves. How they came by it is unclear. Their myths tell of divine inspiration, however I suspect, given the clearly Saurian influenced nature of their runic script, that their magic was inspired, learnt or stolen from their Saurian masters. Whatever the origin of their runic magic it began to turn the tide of the war in their favour. One by one individual mines would break free from Saurian domination. These new holds would usually face years of war as the Saurians attempted and sometimes succeeded in regaining control. Thus it was that the newly independent holds usually developed in isolation from each other. This as much as anything, I believe, explains the huge number of deities and quasi-deities recognised by the Quezcuz.
Initially it seems that the worship of Quezcuz was restricted to the city/hold of Khazkho. However the worship of Queznir began to spread under the ruler ship of the priest king Dakhaztutek Hinkha. It was under his leadership that the dwarves of Khazkho first learned to capture and tame the giant birds of the Wrathful mountains. The presence of these great avians had long benefitted the dwarves as they would protect their territories fiercely. This had prevented the Saurians from using their flying reptiles against the nascent dwarf kingdoms. However it was the taming of the great condors by the dwarfs of Khazkho that proved decisive in their development. The condors provided control of the skies allowing them to project power. They could outmanoeuvre their enemies on the field of battle and when the other dwarves retreated to their cities they allowed the them to control the terraces that produced their food eventually Forcing them to come to terms. The condors also allowed the forces of Khazkho to control their vast empire once it was established. Only the great condors could travel easily between the isolated dwarven cities situated high on their mountain peaks. The spread of this Hinkhan empire (they refer to the ruling class as Hinkhans after the founder) was accompanied by the spread of the Quezcuz religion. Originally the local sky god of Khazkho he rose to dominate all other deities. Some becoming courtiers in his heavenly court others being absorbed into his worship. Thus he is worshipped as Queznir Akhtar in one hold Queznir Diztek in another and so on. The Hinkhans seemed to have used the state religion of Queznir to bind their empire together, thus even their description of themselves as Quezcuz. The official histories describe the spread of the Hinkhan empire as being generally welcomed and embraced by other holds. However certain holds and cities did resist fiercely, a subject I will return to.
A Brief Note on the Quezcuz religion
The Quezcuz are a remarkably devout culture with a myriad and baffling array of gods, Demi-gods and quasi deities. There are hundreds of religious rites and taboos. However the underlying belief system is of two original Brother Gods, Queznir and Haztec. The Quezcuz believe that Queznir was the elder brother, lord of light honour, justice, the rule of law etc. He rules in a different heavenly realm which he watches over using great magical birds which tell him all the secrets of the realm. Haztec, mthe younger brother is portrayed as hunchbacked, devious cunning and untrustworthy. They believe that Haztec became jealous of his brothers�?T power and rebelled against him. Queznir quelled his treacherous brothers�?T rebellion and Hi bound him. Then he sent forth his servants to find a prison to hold him. Thus it was that Queznir learned of this world. Incandescent with rage at the treatment of the dwarfs by the Saurians Queznir smote then with fire and rock. Having shattered their empire he sent his servants forth in secret to aid the dwarfs and bring them the knowledge of his glory. He sent his courtiers forth in the form of animals (birds and mammals, never reptiles) to bring knowledge and runic magic to his people. Thus the numerous animal totems, Demi-gods and sigils in their religions. Haztec he buried deep beneath the earth in his eternal prison.
The religious rites invoke a practice of chanting and response with sacrifices of meat and valuables. The form of sacrifice varies from deity to deity but valuables are donated to the temples or occasionally cast into lakes. The food offerings to Queznir are placed on raised platforms atop the mountains to be taken by the birds that are viewed as His messengers.
On Quezcuz Arms and Armaments
The standard Quezcuz warrior wears a quilted tunic lavishly embroiled and protected by magic sigils, runes and stylised totemic animals as mentioned above. They bear bronze tipped spears and elaborate war clubs similarly enhanced with runes, bronze blades or obsidian shards. Bronze or obsidian knives are also common. Helms are bronze with elaborate feathered head dresses. The workmanship is as might be expected exquisite. What is noticeable is the dominance of stylised totemic animals. These are commonly birds of every description but many others beside. Notable by their absence are any reptile, snake or amphibian totems. These are considered Taboo and strictly forbidden due to g their association with the hated Saurians. Also noticeable by its absence is any iron or steel. Initially I thought this due to a lack of knowledge or available materials. However I was very wrong. I did try to ingratiate myself with our �?~hosts�?T by offering them the gift of a fine knife (actually of dwarven workmanship. However rather than accept with gladness or interest they recoiled as if burnt! Iron it seems and steel are also considered Taboo. They are felt to be materials that harbour evil spirits and bad luck. Whereas we �?~simple�?T manlings might be tolerated carrying such metal , no self respecting Quezcuz ever would. I was at first astounded querying how they could eschew such metal for �?~inferior�?T bronze and stone. This caused some amusement on their part and annoyance upon mine, until taking pity on me they demonstrated the strength of their �?~inferior�?T weapons. Their rune strengthened bronze sliced through a Sonnstaihl mail coif with disconcerting ease.
None of the warriors we met initially carried shields. This I was to learn was due to the nature of their work. They perform the duty of scouts and rangers, patrolling the rugged valleys and rough pastures that guard the passes to the Hinkhan homelands. As such they need to move fast over difficult terrain and shield would be an unnecessary encumbrance. Hinkhan warriors may carry shields, as I was to see in Faztu Kharak. These are constructed from some form of wicker like material. Needless to say charms and runes are woven in to render it quite as good as any of our soldiers boast.
Some of the Quezcuz warriors that accompanied us also carried back quivers containing heavy bronze bladed feathered bolts. This confused me at first as they carried no crossbows or bows that I could see. When I asked if they were throwing darts they became quite amused. They demonstrated that these �?~darts�?T were thrown using a wooden device they called an �?~Atlatl�?T. This was about 2 feet long with a handle at one end and a notch at the other where the rear of the dart fitted. The rest of the dart lay lengthways along the raise badly of the �?~Atlatl�?T. Using this device the Quezcuz could hurl these heavy darts, with surprising accuracy, some 70plus yards.
Warriors and �?~rangers�?T make up the bulk of Quezcuz armies. However the most dangerous elements (other than the great avians) are the Kharkhucuz. These I was to finally see in Faztu Kharak. I was looking forward to this as our guards had spoken of these so reverently. The Kharkhucuz are massive stone automatons animated by the Runepriests of Quezcuz. The method of their creation is a carefully guarded and sacred secret of the temples. The ones I saw were in the form of huge, heavyset dwarven figures, about the size of an ogre. However the heads of these creatures are animal in form. These apparently reflect the totem animals of the local deities and of course Queznir Himself. Hence bird headed Kharkhucuz are common, but also heads of big cats, Llamas and even monkeys. Needless to say the stone of these massive constructs is covered with intricate runic carvings which almost certainly provide the magical basis of their animation. Our guards believed each was animated by the spirit of a long dead warrior empowered by the gods to defend the Quezcuz. Although I never saw these creations in battle it is clear they would be most terrible foes. Even seeing them stride through the halls of Faztu Kharak on their inscrutable errands was enough to fill me with awe and not some little fear.
According to those I spoke to about them the Kharkhucuz perform several tasks in the Quezcuz military. Their role as shock troops is clear. However I was informed that their were larger specialised forms of these automatons that could cast great spears or rocks huge distances.
Interestingly the structure of the Quezcuz forces bears many striking similarities to other dwarven cultures I have documented. There is a reliance on heavy infantry with some lighter armed scouting forces (also on foot). There is also prominence given to great ranged weapons, in their case thrown by automatons rather than propelled by cordage or gun powder. However the use of great avians and the automatons themselves is more striking as is their taboo on iron. This latter seems to have driven their development of runic magic to heights unseen in other cultures. Truly necessity is the mother of invention.
The only hold I was to see was Faztu Kharak. Sadly we were not permitted to travel to the great royal Hinkhan city of Khazkho. However Faztu itself was fascinating. The hold sits atop a ridge with only one clear path to the top. This winds between great terraced pastures and fields and precipitous slopes. The path itself winds like a great serpent up the ridge making any direct assault impossible. Each switchback turn is guarded by a pair of squat stone towers manned by Quezcuz warriors. I first thought the gateways were marked by totemic statues until they turned their great stone heads to regard our party as we passed.
Unusually for dwarven holds, the top of the ridge was carpeted with large stone buildings. These were various temples to Queznir and other lesser sky gods. These were adorned with statues that I now recognised as Karkhucuz. The
greatest of these buildings (Queznirs�?T temple) guarded the entrance to the hold proper.
Interestingly, once through the stone doors the structure of the hold was remarkably similar to many I have visited before. I suspect that the base design is in fact Saurian. Most probably the design follows ancient Saurian mine plans, bearing in mind that these mines would have had to provide accommodation for their dwarven workforce and Saurian masters. This seems the most likely explanation for the ubiquity of the design across so many cultures and indeed continents. The only differences really were cosmetic involving the style of the cravings and bas reliefs. There was a subtly more rounded or at least less angular nature to the architecture as well.
Brief notes on Quezcuz culture
The Quezcuz are a distinctly religious people. The rigidity of dwarven culture usually associated with age in those cultures we are more familiar with is mirrored in the Quezcuz but with piety replacing age. Admittedly these two attributes did seem to go together rather often. Religion affects and controls almost every aspect of Quezcuz lives. Each arrogant they create from quilt to axe to pillar must be dedicated to Queznir or another lesser god with decoration, inscription or runes to signify this. Progress through the various artisan societies depends as much on perceived or demonstrated piety as craftmanship. A poor craftsman will not progress, but neither will a less observant one. There are multiple dietary restrictions based upon the many holy days that are strictly observed. Marriage has to be sanctioned by the clergy and even the names of the children are decided by them rather than the parents. There is a very strict caste system policed by the clergy as well. Marriage between or movement between castes is extremely rare. The highest caste is Royalty, below this is the priestly caste, then the warrior caste before the various artisan castes. The lowest caste contains the farmers and herders who provide the food for the hold. The priestly caste itself is split into three main branches. The most important officiate at religious festivals, reading omens (a matter of great importance to the Quezcuz) and provide moral and spiritual guidance. The second branch effectively acts as a judiciary, arbitrating on both spiritual and temporal matters. The third branch acts as scribes, historians and �?~bards�?T guarding the social religious and cultural history of the Quezcuz. The dominance of the religious caste and is control by the royal caste allows a level of control of the populace unique in dwarven cultures. Although the control can be seen overtly it is also quite insidious. The third branch of the priestly caste by acting as cultural historians can censor this history carefully and use it to cement Hinkhan dominance across the Wrathful mountains
Of the Hazcuz
I had been in Faztu Kharak nearly 4 months, with free access to the official libraries before I realised that the Quezcuz were not the only dwarven inhabitants of Virentia. Indeed it was from no history or informant that the initial knowledge came. I had been ensconced in the main library as usual when I became aware of the commotion. The normally quite environment was disturbed as Quezcuz began excitingly whispering to one another. Clearly there was some important event and news of it was spreading like wildfire. I finally managed to speak to one of the dwarves who was rushing out of the library. In the rush of oddly syntaxed dwarvish that followed I lost much of the meaning. However it was clear that some sort of enemy had been caught and was being brought to the main hall. I must admit I was caught up in the excitement and soon found myself in one of the viewing galleries overlooking the main hall. There though I was not in the front my extra height proved useful. However my first clue something was happening was the noise. The chattering crowd erupted into howls, roars and obscenities. A moment later I saw the object of their evident hate. A squad of 20 or so Quezcuz warriors had entered the hall surrounding their prisoner. He was clearly dwarvish but their the similarities ended. His beard was dark curled and clearly oiled and without the multiple beard ornaments that afforded most Quezcuz beards. However the lack of beard embellishments was made up for by his lavish head gear. A tall conical hat rose from his head topped with a snarling reptilian head. The hat dripped with gold charms and his ears and nose sported other golden piercings. Having spent so much time with the Quezcuz I was shocked to see multiple reptilian and snake motifs embroidered onto his quilted armour and repeated in his jewellery. Despite his status as prisoner and tied wrists he bore himself with haughty pride and seemed to regard the taunting Quezcuz with a mixture of distaste and disdain.
The howling of the crowd was silenced by the ringing of the great bronze gong that announced the arrival of the Hinkhan ruler of Faztu Kharak. When he was seated on the Feathered Throne the leader of the warriors abased himself before him and announced that the prisoner was the leader of a group of �?~Hazcuz�?T that had been discovered on the western border. The word �?~Hazcuz�?T produced a most striking effect on the crowd. Their was a mixture of hisses and spitting, something I had never before witnessed in Faztu Kharak. The Hinkhan governor then announced that for his crimes against �?~Queznir, the Quezcuz and the World�?T the prisoner was to be sacrificed at the next solstice. This was as much of a �?~trial�?T as the prisoner was to get and he was led away to the jeering of the crowd.
Obviously my interest was piqued not only into the �?~Hazcuz�?T but also as to the silence surrounding them. However repeated searches in the library revealed nothing and all I talked to about the Hazcuz or the prisoner would merely spit (to avoid bad luck as I later found out) and walk away. Finally I persuaded Takhatu, an aged librarian I had enjoyed many a lively discussion with previously, to talk to me. The Hazcuz, he explained, were the Quezcuzs�?T secret and their shame. He described how all Quezcuz learn of them in their youth. However their disgust and shame make discussion of them effectively taboo. Furthermore the common people believe that merely mentioning their name will attract the attention of evil spirits or even Haztec himself. Though not affected by such superstitions himself Takhatu was clear that he felt far from comfortable discussing them himself. No official records of the Hazcuz are kept on the orders of the priesthood. Whether any might exist in the capital, he was unsure but he doubted. The information was passed down in oral tradition in the schools under the clear understanding that it was necessary but �?~dangerous�?T information. The story so far as Takhatu knew was as follows.
�?~When the Skyhammer�?T fell Queznir began to speak to his people to strengthen them in the fight to come. He or his servants would speak in dreams or signs. However some dwarfs did not listen to these messages. Instead they heartened to the seductive whispers of the fallen god Haztec. These dwarfs turned to him for aid and were taught dark secrets. Haztec, in hatred of his brother, persuaded these dwarfs to collide with their Saurian overlords seeking the position of valued slaves rather than free dwarfs. When the Quezcuz finally won their freedom the worshippers of Haztet fled to the last Saurian held mine in the Wrathful mountains, the cursed city of Hazcu Picu. Here they were besieged by the righteous armies of Queznir. The siege lasted 2 bitter years. Eventually rather than surrender and renounce their Saurian masters, the surviving Hazcuz claapsed the city upon themselves as one great tomb. The Saurians army that had been dispatched to relieve Hazcu Picu arrived to late but fell upon the Queznir igniting the �?~Great Patriotic War�?T which was to last the best part of a century. Initially the Hazcuz were thought to have been exterminated. However it became clear that some had survived and had fled westwards over the mountains.�?T
Takhatu told me that the Queznir will regularly destroy the settlements of their evil kin. However he explained, like weeds they spring up again a constant reminder of what happens should you stray from the path of Queznir.
I suspect that Takhatu had hoped this information would satisfy my thirst for knowledge. Yet, dear reader, that could hardly have been further from the truth of the matter. The thought of actually talking to such an exotic individual as the Haztec prisoner tormented daily. Initially on my own and later with Takhatus�?T reluctant help I began to petition the authorities for permission to interview the prisoner. Finally they relented and granted me three, one hour meetings in his cell. Why they relented I am still unsure though I must admit to somewhat exaggerating my influence in the imperial court and political contacts there.
The first interview was, I have to admit, extremely disappointing. The prisoner merely sat in his shackles and stared at me impassively. He never responded to any question or explanation of my interest. I have to admit to resorting to begging him to speak to me at one point.
The second interview was a week later. This time I decided upon a radically different tack. I started the interview by talking about myself, my studies and some of the many dwarven cultures I have studied. Despite the prisoners�?T silence it was clear he was intrigued by the stories of other cultures. I studiously avoided asking any questions throughout the first part of the interview. Then I began to tell him what Takhatu had told me of the Hazcuz. This was the key. The prisoner was clearly outraged by what I was saying and after only a few minutes could no longer restrain himself.
The prisoner, who was to l