“Of the Hinterlands of Khuresh…
…In the beginning, Ind and Khuresh were mirror images of each other. Lands created, blessed and populated by the Thousand Gods, their sons and men. For as long as balance was preserved, so were they, and all was well…
…Then came the fall, the imbalance. Disorder spread from beyond and entered Brahmir’s domain. All lands suffered as corruption fell from the skies, but none as much as Khuresh. As the gods and their sons fought the hordes from beyond, Ind was saved but Khuresh was ruined. The fall corrupted man, the gods’ sons and the ground itself. Warpstone saturated the land until every living being became unrecognizable. Men fell easily to the whispers of the daemons, but more tragically, so did the sons of the Gods. So the rakshasas fell, the real rakshasas, the man-kin, the sons of the Tiger and the blessed nagas. They betrayed their brothers and sisters who fought and fight still, and when the gods retreated to heaven, away from the corruption that was inimical to them, no one was left to save Khuresh…
… if Ind is a man, Khuresh is a corpse. A jungle the size of a continent where the very air is saturated with the stuff of beyond and the afterbirth of a thousand generations of slaughter kill and die without ever learning of the outside world. Testimonies from the khureshi tell us every animal bears the stain of corruption and the trees themselves hunt for flesh. Disembodied heads drag their organs behind them as they float in search of victims; blooddrinkers make their nest in the ruins of bygone cities as they raise the dead and spread their infection to Ind and Cathay. Greenskin tribes and ratmen cannibalize each other in a vicious cycle of necrophagia. The bestial sons of chaos battle for supremacy and hunt the warpfire dragons towering over the canopy. Even they bow to the tigermen, the betrayers, whose bloodlust overcome their nobility and now rule over beastmen hordes, carving kingdoms and amassing skulls. All covet and fight for the warpstone deposits littering the land, where masses of mutated slaves work beneath the lash of inhumane overseers. This the khureshi have said.
But there are worse night-haunted legends emanating from those foetid jungles and deadly wastes. The wisest gurus and oldest scrolls speak of the Snake Men and the foul and nightmarish blood nagas whose lives are said to be counted as the ages of the world. They sold their divine heritage for power and now they are the blood queens of Khuresh, ruling from the Lost City of the Gods. It is a realm where men are no more than hunted prey, and blood and souls are the only coin in trade, where the terrible rites of the Naga preserve the memory of a forgotten age when the cold-blooded serpents of Chaos held the world in a stranglehold of terror.
Yet order and devotion have not entirely abandoned that cursed land. Since days unknown, the khureshi have been there, settling patches of coast and plain, hacking back at the jungle, beating back the horrors, rallying around the Last Temple, the last holy ground in the entire hinterland. The sea is their home as much as the land, and when they cannot hold their ground anymore, they sail to Ind, to the southern kingdoms where their kin live in great numbers, rebuild strength and return east to start anew. “Be the hammer or the anvil, destiny affords only these choices”. So says the khureshi proverb…
…The knowledge preserved by our predecessors tells us that in the past, only six times did Khuresh’s wars spilled over. Six times the blood nagas and the tigermen lead armies into Ind. Six times Ind stood on the brink and six times they were beaten back through uncountable sacrifices and feats of devotion like those of your land. At Chittor, six times did the watchmen fought to the last of their strength and when all was lost, they dusted their beards with saffron, burned their families and charged down the causeway to their deaths. To win another hour for those who would come after them.
There lies the wisdom you ask from us. Pray you never see such a time. But if it is your lot to see it, remember only gods and bloodsteel will count when Khuresh rises again.
Trust the Thousand. Trust the swords of Chittor Bastion.
The Illustrious Temple-School of Kollur.
To Pankajia Sowar, Kshatrapa of the Rathastan marches”.
On the matter of Messengers
As soon as the battle was done, the humans abased themselves in the presence of their victorious “deity”. They fell on their knees, bloodied veterans wept, and time seemed to freeze around me.
In the middle of all that stood the “messenger”, the being indyans describe as a living, breathing incarnation of a god. Twice my size, three faces in a single body joined by a single stony beard, it was the embodiment of Gilgadresh, an idol I had seen in a dozen temples, as if a statue had suddenly stepped down from its plinth. But that body was deceptive. It was soaked in so much magic it was akin to a siphon, far more threatening than the strength it had used to crush the druchii into pulp.
I thought the messenger would acknowledge its devotees. Much to my surprise, the being ignored them and walked right to me. It stopped inches away from my face and looked into my eyes.
The experience was surprising and quite instructive. I felt diminished. The body was otherworldly but the mind inside was as solid as a block of granite. I could feel the winds of magic warping under its presence. Its eyes showed mild curiosity, eyes like bottomless wells evoking abysses of time too deep to probe. An elemental intelligence was appraising me, maybe weighting my role in the recent victory, maybe wondering what kind of creature I was.
Then it vanished, body and mind, leaving me in the dull company of humans glaring at me with envy and grudging respect.
Later that night I witnessed a strange and rather morbid practice. The humans gathered every druchii corpse they could find. First they hacked them to pieces and threw the flesh into the river, where reptiles and fishes partook in a feast. Then they cracked the skulls and gave the brains to their tigers. Finally, they grounded the bones with hammers, mixed them with butter and left the mixture for the birds. This they did as if it was a joyous activity, something to celebrate.
I couldn’t help but feel revulsion when I saw elves so casually and thoroughly desecrated. Once the indyans were done, I diplomatically asked one of their chieftains if their hatred truly ran so deep they had to sink to such levels of abjection when we, who have more reason than anyone to hate the traitors, are above such pettiness.
The human, comically hostile to my question, grumbled and then told me it was not hatred but compassion. Many indyans who wish to give their bodies back to the land ask for a sky burial but “my kin”, as he called them with obvious malice, had to be convinced with steel to be so generous. The druchii reavers were paying, quite literally, for what they had done to Ind, and in death they had been given more purpose they ever had in life.
I will refrain from judging these primitive ceremonies. The more I dwell on it, the more I am convinced it has something to do with the nature of the land itself. It might be part of an unsigned pact between the humans and the spirits they call messengers.
Because I believe I have being in the presence of something similar before: the forest spirits of Athel Loren, the winter spirits kislevites appease with offerings. I am sure the answer must lie in that direction. That body in the shape of a god was a facade, an indulgence. The “messenger” was mimicking, reflecting (maybe even honoring?) the divinities of Ind.
Indyans claim their gods’ messengers walk the land. They are not nearly as right as they think, but not as misguided as I thought. Ancient things dwell in Ind, things humans worship as their gods’ vicars. They may be wrong, but it seems that for reasons of their own, those beings acknowledge said worship. I doing so, they fulfill the role indyan cults assign them, as a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.
Tomorrow we march to the coast, where the corsairs wait for the detachment I just saw “return to the land”. The humans gather around their fires as I write, sharpening their swords and vowing to do the same to their entire fleet. I no longer doubt they can.
I will be there with them. If I am fortunate, the messenger will return and I will be able to confirm my suspicions.
-Haledan, Loremaster of the City of Spires. Deceased-