A Mountain of Dreams
Mount Ekthalon has ever been different from her brethren, though the low clouds that veil the Greytooth mountains (sometimes called the Greyteeth) from peak to vale with mist, rain and snow obscure her uniqueness from the eyes of most mortals: she is the largest mountain in the range, in width and in height. Such is her size that vast tracts of her bulk rise above the hanging cloudline to gleam like an island upon a sea of mist.
However, the strangeness of her physical aspect and the beauty of her form are the least of Ekthalon’s wonders. The Trolls of the Tulken tribe believe that when Wyrm and his children wrought the world into shape, some of their cosmic power lingered before sinking deep into this very mountain. Charged with supernal energies, it became an adequate gateway for the spirits of Aetherworld to slip into the raw reality of Midworld. Thus do the Tulken believe that the Race of Trolls and their Gnomish far-kin first entered Midworld through Ekthalon.
The Greytooth Trolls
Most of the Troll Race are brutish and rapacious creatures. They entered Midworld, found it to their liking and scattered across its width, breeding in great numbers and adapting to wherever they settled. Soon, they would become a threat to the pre-Wyrdic mortal kingdoms. The civilized Races of the world thought of Trolls as monsters whose intellect was little better than a wolf’s or a bear’s.
One breed of Troll would adapt differently to its environments. Unlike their brethren, the Trolls that dwelt amidst the Greytooth mountains were smaller in size and stature. The largest Greytooth Troll or Grey Troll grew to a little bigger than a human and their strength, while impressive, was puny when compared to the might of the other Troll breeds.
However, their physical disadvantages were more than compensated by their intellectual and social abilities: Grey Trolls were creatures more easily given to thought and more willing to cooperate with one another. They made tools and weapons, learned how to use magic and formed tribes and alliances.
The Tale of the Thinker
The legend most beloved among the Trolls of the Greytooth mountains is the “Tale of the Thinker”. The titular character was a Troll born differently from the rest of his kind. While other Grey Trolls focused on surviving the troubles and travails of the day and feeding the mighty hunger that all Trolls are known for, Tulken was a thinking Troll. For his bouts of contemplation and his incessant curiosity, his tribe dubbed him “the Thinker”. He thought of ways to make chores easier. He thought of questions to ask the spirits. And he thought of the world beyond the Greytooth mountains.
When he was no longer a fangling, Tulken the Traveler turned his gaze and his mind upon the rest of Midworld. He wandered Midworld from coast to coast, walking among beast and mortal and speaking with the wise and the foolish.
When he returned, he was scarred from the hatred, from the fear and from the knowledge he had gained. In most of the places he had gone, he was treated by the mortal Races like a monster for the color of his skin, for his fangs or for the strangeness of his ways. The other breeds of Troll were no better: they saw did not see him as a Troll – they told him that he sounded more like a tasty Human or a bony Elf than a Troll. And then, universally and unsurprisingly, they tried to eat him.
Despite the sorrows he had experienced, Tulken had seen wonders as well. With his own eyes did he see the majestic halls of the Dwarves, the cosmopolitan strongholds of Men and the silvery spires of the Elves.
He did not lie to himself. He could not lie to himself. Tulken knew that his heart was weighed down by envy. He wanted his people to build halls and strongholds and spires. Tulken the Thinker was Tulken the Troubled. He knew that his people were not builders of halls or strongholds or silvery spires. The Greytooth Trolls were far above the other breeds of Troll in mind but their Race was akin to mere fangling children when compared to the Kingdoms and the Empires of the other mortals. But Tulken could not journey again for he was far too old and he had no heirs.
He might no longer be Tulken the Traveler but he was still Tulken the Thinker.
And so, he bent his thought to it with all his might. He bent his thought to it and ignored everything else, even his hunger. He bent his thought to it until his mind almost broke. Only after many days of starvation, meditation and contemplation, did the solution fall into his claws like the fruit of a Jub-jub tree after it is struck.
Tulken the Thin gathered all the tribes that he could to a moot at the foot of Ekthalon and he told them his journey, his story and his vision. The days passed quickly as he told his tale in full, sparing not a single detail of his experiences. One by one the Greytooth tribes began to leave in boredom, in disgust or in confusion. When Tulken the Tired finished relating the heights of his vision and the end of his travels, his audience was only a handful of fanglings.
Tulken the Troubled, who called himself Tulken the Thin and Tulken the Tired, cast his gaze upon the fanglings arrayed before him. They looked to one another and at a hidden signal the foremost of their number approached the old Troll with a slow and unsure stride.
When she drew close to Tulken the Tired, she presented him with a Jub-jub fruit. There was sorrow and pity in her eyes, an apology that remained unspoken in her chest but for the offering of a gift. The other seven fanglings approached Tulken the Thin in the same fashion, each bearing a tiny morsel.
Tulken the Thinker, who had once called himself Tulken the Traveler, who had journeyed to the very ends of the world, who had survived the worst of its dooms, was pitied by fangling orphans that were left behind by the tribes- pitied by the most pitiful.
Tulken the Thin was too hungry to refuse so he ate what was given him, the last provisions of these orphan children. And when he had finished and picked through his fangs and his beard for each and every shred of food, he found that the fanglings looked upon him with hopeful smiles upon their faces.
“Can you tell us again of the strongholds and silvery spires and the halls?”
“Can you tell us again of the big fangs and the no-fangs?”
“Can you tell us again of what passed in your thoughts while you sat beneath the Jub-jub tree?”
It was then that old Troll saw in their eyes the same spark, the same will that had possessed him long ago. The nine fanglings looked to him for stories, for lore and for counsel. Tulken the Thinker had thought wrong: the food given him was indeed their last provisions, but the morsels were prizes of tribute not gifts of pity.
Tulken the Traveler was truly no more; he was now Tulken the Teacher… and he taught his disciples, his children all he knew and all he did not know. The nine fangling children succeeded him at his death, but each of them took his name and the myriad titles that he had borne:
But these nine became great in the shadow of the Thinker. They and their followers built a citadel upon misty Ekthalon. Their words and their thoughts spread across the Greytooth mountains until nine years and nine decades had passed: the tribes within the Greytooth mountains become as one people that lived among misty spires, serene halls and fortified strongholds.
Born thusly was the Tribe of Tulken, who bent to thought rather than hunger, believed in spiritual truth over the falseness of flesh and built the fabled Kingdom of Ixia.
Whispers in the Dark
The Race of Gnomes fled the chaotic dreamscapes of Aetherworld to find security and solace in a new, stable land. From the Greytooth Mountains, they split into tiny groups and disappeared into the wildernesses of Midworld. They avoided contact with almost all other mortal peoples, becoming unto whispers in the dark and rumors in the mist. For long centuries, the Gnomish Race was believed to be more myth than flesh.
Just as rumor beckons to rumor and dream beckons to dream, hundreds of Gnomes were drawn to the clouded vales of the Greyteeth and to the Misty Kingdom. By astral echo were they summoned. by whispered step did Gemling, Deepling and Warpling arrive in great number until a sea of blue crowded at the gate of Ekthalon called “Patience”. They beheld the mystic icons that warded the serenity within against intrusion and studied them silently.
Their sudden appearance and their disquieting vigil brought concern to the serenity of Ixia. These invaders to the Misty Kingdom were unlike any other and they would speak to no Ixian but the true King.
King Grellken stood at the tower of the gate and called to the sea of blue skin and gems below.
“Who are you?” he asked them.
“Seekers” breathed the Gemlings.
“Whispers” murmured the Deeplings.
“Breakers” seethed the Warplings.
At this, Grellken was troubled. He summoned to him those who were ready to maim and burn and slay for the sake of peace. When they were assembled, he bid them wait with blade and arrow and spell in their claws..
“How did you find us?” he asked them.
“Thought calls to actions” breathed the Gemlings
“Silence calls to whispers” murmured the Deeplings.
“Peace calls to conflict” seethed the Warplings.
A brash King would have called the assault and there was no doubt that the Gnomes, while numerous, would be defeated. But King Grellken was wise, having been chosen by the Circle of Thinkers and by the World Serpent itself. Thus did he not raise his clawed fist nor his Witch-blade but raised instead his voice.
“Why do you come?”
“Do I speak to one myth, three rumors or a thousand different dreams?” he laughed through his fangs when he had at last found their measure; only after asking three questions did he finally place them for what they were: the fabled Dwellers in Dream. The Thinkers and the Serpent chose well in this King; he was a ruler that knew his own people, loved the tranquility they had lived in but saw well the weaknesses of their isolation and the necessity of allies.
“Choose three among your number, the wisest, the smallest and the quickest, and send them to the gate”
The Dwellers in Dream did as their future liege had bid and three Gnomes were given to the open gate. King Grellken spoke to them and asked them more questions. The answers he received were disquieting as they were surprising. After five days of questions, the three were brought back to their people with a single message:
“The Gate is open. Find those who are willing to listen and bring them to safety”
As a whole, the sea of Gnomes scattered into the mist. When they returned after a year, their number had increased tenfold and they were allowed entry into Ixia. These newcomers were allowed to make their own places among the Tulken in preparation of what was to come.
Behind them, the gate to Ekthalon was closed.
The Bearer of Ruin
Nine decades and nine centuries ago, the demonic invasion had arrived just as it had been foretold. The Kingdom of Ixia was prepared just as the Wyrdic Empire and the other Kingdoms were not. Despite the warning however, the misty Kingdom did not fathom the fullness of the Daemon’s power.
From their hellish Vaults did the armies of the Daemon pour forth into Midworld. Their hosts covered the lands in shadow and flame and none could stand before them. Laid to waste was glory the Wyrdic Empire and the silvery spires of the Elves. Many Dwarf clans were broken forever in the wars against the Daemon.
It is known that one such army, named the Bearer of Ruin for the demonic warlord’s own title, came to Ekthalon’s slopes to break the misty Kingdom as it had broken so many others. Unlike other demonic hosts, this army was wrought mostly of half-breed nightkin, suborned beasts and shackled Shaedlings.
The hell-sworn legions and pact-bound hordes tore through Ekthalon’s Gate of Patience, its mystic icons and the combined forces of Troll might and Gnomish magic. Most feared upon the field of battle were the great-horned Nightkin known as Minotaurs – fiendish constructions of demon and troll with the cunning and power of the former with the hunger and strength of the latter. The Cambions, the Gorgons and the Shaedlings brought an arsenal of fire, frost and shadow to the battlefield, matching Ixian faith and witchery with dire sorcery.
The Bearer of Ruin fought their battle uphill, through night and day and snatched victory after victory from the beleaguered Ixians. Each success upon Ekthalon was paid dearly by the demonic army – their dark blood ran rivers upon the slopes and stained mist and cloud with their devilry. The magics of the mountain took their toll upon the fiendish forces: a limb-weakening languor began to settle upon the weakest of the legions and the most foolish of the hordes wandered into the mists and vanished.
The final fateful battle of that war against Ixia cast the final reserves of each faction against one another. The Bearer of Ruin himself, a gigantic minotaur that carried a war-standard wrought of the woven skins of his enemies, came afield alongside the vanguard of his personal legion.
The Bearer of Ruin had thought to make a new war-standard that day. He personally slew each member of the Circle of Teachers. When he turned his horrid visage to a Tulken King surrounded by the fallen corpses of his guardians and armed only with his Witch-blade, he expected to finish his newest craft by the day’s end.
But the Bearer of Ruin did not know that it was all a foolish, fanciful Dream.
Upon the command of King Grellken, the Nightkin turned upon the beasts and the Bearer of Ruin himself. The spells of dissolution that the Ixians had wrought upon their gate and their very mountain had worn away at the pacts and the oaths that shackled the Nightkin to the whim of their warlord. Their minds freed and their wills unchained, they wrought a bloody vengeance upon their former masters while the Ixians rallied beside them.
When the battle was done and won, the Bearer of Rui
n lay in a smoky, blackened crater – destroyed by the very weapons he had used against the Ixians, marking as true one of the misty Kingdom’s most common proverb “The bearer of ruin will often bring his own”.
King Grellken recovered easily from his wounds and cast his gaze upon the assembled legions and hordes before him. Their wills had been broken and they could barely grasp the carnage that they had inflicted. Some of them were made as engines of war while others had lived so long in darkness that a glimmer of light was blinding as the sun. These were bearers of ruin indeed, though the ruin they bore lay within their own selves.
Just as the fires of war had been gutted from the invaders, the fires of vengeance burned brightly in the hearts of Troll and Gnome. Countless friends and family were lost. Countless homes and goods were razed. Mount Ekthalon herself was wounded by the gravity of the magic that was used and the atrocities committed upon her slopes. While the mists and the clouds would continue to cover Ekthalon and the Greyteeth, Aetherworld’s songs would fade to whispers – many of the mountain’s wonders were lost by the Ixian’s own hands because of the potency of the spells of dissolution.
The Law of Grellken
He could see that there was pain everywhere, within and without, in Midworld and in Aetherworld. Ixia needed rebuilding and it needed to recover. To this end, he had the surviving invaders taken out of captivity and brought unarmed and unarmored in front of the shattered gate of Ixia. Beside him, Grellken gathered the remnants of Ixia’s defenders and the surviving families of Ixia’s fallen heroes – all those who would have cause to avenge their fallen comrades.
It is in this way that King Grellken of Ixia issued what would be known as the Law of Grellken.
“The claws and the fangs of the demonic invaders have been wiped clean of the horrors they had committed under the Daemon’s will.
They are free to leave Ixia and pursue their own fates or stay and follow the laws of the misty Kingdom.
Let, no one may raise a hand in vengeance against the members of the demonic invasion and remain in Ixia.”
The Kingdom of Ixia was almost broken by the weight of King Grellken’s law. Not even the Bearer of Ruin had caused as much dissension and disquiet as the King’s orders. But the it held true because of the first one and only one to break it.
The King of Ixia stood up from his throne and smote a nearby Minotaur lightly on the chest with his Witch-blade, the very same Minotaur that had feasted upon his son in the battle. He then vocally forsook throne and Kingdom for his transgression.
Thus was the absolute sanctity of his law established; not even the King was beyond its reach.
Many Trolls and Minotaurs followed Grellken into exile. Those who could not find the peace necessary to quell their love for war, those who could not put down their weapons after the war was finished and those whose thirst for vengeance begged for quenching followed the former ruler of Ixia or else left the misty Kingdom entirely. There were many who loved the King and wished to follow him in devotion, but he bade them to stay in the misty Kingdom, to defend it, to rebuild the Gate and close it behind them; their descendants would become the order of militant defenders known as “the Vigil over Patience” or the Order of Patience).
But no one, not Gnome nor Troll, broke Grellken’s Law.
The Nine-fold Virtues
Although the Kingdom of Ixia was brought to ruin, a great number of its invaders stayed to make their amends through its reconstruction. The spires, the halls and strongholds of Ixia were repaired as though made anew. The architecture of the Tulken intermingled with Gnomish craft, Nightkin perspective and Shaedling artifice in a melding of artistic styles that culminated in the strange aesthetic that colors modern day Ixia.
Foremost of all reconstructions was the gate of Patience at the base of Ekthalon. It was repaired and the new magics bound to it enchanted all but the most faithful of seekers with spells of forgetfulness and wandering. Thus, those who had nowhere to go could find Ixia but only through single-minded devotion.
The Circle of Teachers was rebuilt as well and their ranks consisted Tulken and the other Races, as a few non-Trolls individuals became renowned for their wisdom. The new perspectives and the eclectic insight of the former invaders brought great change and new growth to a broken Kingdom.
As the centuries passed however, the prosperity of the misty Kingdom became stymied by dissension among the Circle of Teachers. The population of Ixia was slow to recover their numbers but in this time of peace, there was little to slow their growth. Without a figure to unify their efforts and in the face of a vast populace, the Circle’s attempts at management were greatly diminished.
The differences caused by diversity came to a head when the differing religions and worldviews of Ixia threatened to conflict with one another in violence. The Tulken Trolls steadfastly believed in the World Serpent and the nine disciples of the Thinker while a few Shaedlings kept faith in their Celestial Church. The Gnomes had their own mysterious beliefs in the Keepers of Fate while the Nightkin remained impious and agnostic.
The impending catastrophe wrought by conflicting beliefs was headed off by a great thinker whose mind had found the various ways in which the different religions and their creation myths agreed with one another. It was then that he devised a philosophy that allowed all three religions to absorbed into a new one. Central to the precepts of this new religion was a renewed focus on the core virtues of the Ixian Kingdom that Tulken the Thinker himself had proposed. He laid these out in what is called the Nine-fold virtues.
I. Clarity – only with a clear mind, un-intoxicated by hate, fury or fear, can one do right.
II. Honesty – lies delude both the speaker and the hearer.
III. Mercy – mercy is free and lives are precious.
IV. Piety – to forget the gods is to forget the truth of our being.
V. Loyalty – the bonds of kinship, friendship and allegiance free us instead of binding us.
VI. Charity – those who have much only have more to gain by sharing their wealth.
VII. Propriety – those who speak and act in ill ways will only gain illness.
VIII. Chastity – those who continue to indulge in flesh will be consumed by it.
IX. Serenity – though violence may be necessary, peace is the true goal of any virtuous soul.
For his thoughts, his words and his actions in a time of confusion, the Circle of Teachers asked Malleus, son of Galveus who was struck in the chest by Grellken, to guide the people of Ixia for as long as he lived.
It was his fateful decision to open the gates according to Arcturus of Pendrakken’s counsel and reveal the Ixian Kingdom’s existence to all the eyes of Midworld. Though the reach and the resources of the Misty Kingdom are far from vast, the Horned King sends what he can to Freehold, to stymie the wars and the chaos within – so that the golden Dream of the Seventh Kingdom may become truth at last.