The Wyrd and the Datu
When fell the Wyrdic empire, the daughters and sons of humanity spread across the far reaches of the world to escape its death throes. One such group found their refuge in Bahag-hari, (called the Thousand Rainbow Isles by the Wyrdic) an archipelago the southwestern fringes of Midworld. The shamanistic, indigenous tribes welcomed the refugees with open arms.
The people of the islands were a folk possessed of a love for stories and songs, so they were eager to share and learn from the strangers. However, altruism was far from the minds of the Datu, the brightly-mantled kings of each tribe. Before the Wyrdic refugees arrived, the Datu were in a state of perpetual feuding. The entrance of the foreigners adversely affected the delicate tribal politics of Bahag-hari with inevitable culture clashes and with the introduction of lores that would otherwise be unavailable and unnecessary into the Rainbow Isles. Perhaps the most drastic of effects were the emergence of an imperialistic mindset and the introduction of the necessary means to that end.
The Unification of Bahag-hari
It was Datu Sulai-man who rose above fear and distrust to ally himself with three Wyrdic Sorcerers who called themselves the Triune. With Sulai-man’s tribe and the Triune’s power, blood, death and vengeance were wrought across the Thousand Rainbow Isles until the seas were red with the blood and fire of conquest. Those who acceded to their dominance were accorded dignity and an opportunity to join Sulai-man’s legions. Those resisted until the very end were destroyed then remade in twisted mockery by the Triune.
Unification took ten years to achieve. Sulai-man’s enemies were clever and vicious, but Sulai-man was moreso; furthermore, the power of the Triune assured victory in almost every engagement. It was Sulai-man’s first wife however, that allowed for unification to truly occur. Through Sihlang’s spells did the seas favor her husband’s ships and through Sihlang’s words did many a tribe unite beneath Sulai-man’s sails without violence to coerce them. Key to solidifying the unity that Sulai-man had established were the three laws of blood, of gift and of loyalty.
With the spoils of war did they build the fabled city of Tihluuran, an edifice to the unification of the Rainbow Isles with speech, spear and spell. It is said that Tihluuran was unto a crowning jewel upon the Glimmering Sea. Its streets and buildings were inlaid with precious stones and metals. Arauan, the exalted tower of Tihluuran, rose high above the city and shone with prismatic brilliance upon sea and sky, rivaling even the sun itself in its beauty.
The Betrayal of the Triune
The alliance between Sulai-man and the Triune did not last long beyond Tihluuran’s completion. Sihlang discovered the Triune’s betrayal almost a moment too late; the Wyrdic sorcerers had built Tihluuran so lavishly in order to fashion the city and its citizens as components in a dark ritual.
Though she suffered grave injuries, Sihlang warned her husband successfully. The Datu moved quickly to rally his forces against the Sorcerers, but he was not quick enough to finish the battle before it could begin. Tihluuran’s streets and building were split asunder by the terrible conflict between Datu and Triune. On one side were the Datu, his magicians and their elemental allies. Against them were arrayed the Triune and their power over shadow, blood and flame.
The end was inevitable: Sulai-man’s forces took victory from the Triune and left the Sorcerers to sink to the darkest depths of the Glimmering Sea. Sulai-man did not live to see the Sorcerers drown, having being destroyed by them in the final moments of the last engagement. It was Sihlang who took the reins of command and ordered the vicious destruction of the Triune. She also ordered the fair treatment of those Wyrdic who did not participate in the combat and those who surrendered.
The Rise of the Riverfolk
Sihlang consolidated her power and in the passing of years, the bloodline of the Wyrdic seeped into that of the Rainbow Islanders. Beneath the light of Arauan, Wyrdic power melded with Islander cunning, becoming unto a terror upon the high seas for those who dared oppose them. Legend has it that when her time grew short, Sihlang left power to her son, Vargas, and leapt from Arauan into the depths of the seas to seek out Sulai-man’s spirit.
Datu Vargas and the rest of Sulai-man’s bloodline thereafter continued their conquest beyond even the Thousand Rainbow Isles. From Tihluuran did prowl painted galleys full of raiders, wending across the seas to plunder coastal settlements. In time, their reach grew so long that Tihluurani galleys swam up-river and wrought their terror upon the hapless villages they found. The people who dwelt in-land began calling them Riverfolk (or Tagalog in the Tihluurani dialect), for it seemed that the raiders sallied forth from the very depths of river and sea rather than from land.
Just as stories and myths an important part of Tihluurani culture, so too did they don mantles of terrible aspect. They were as ghosts in the mist, rising up from winding currents or crashing wave to plunder villages and slay defenders. The Riverfolk became figures of horrid tales and nightmare; villages and towns alongside rivers and seas lived in fear of their coming. Earstwhile, the coffers of the Tihluurani grew fat with wealth and their pride rose higher than even the tower of Arauan.
The Curse of Writhing Darkness
The fall of Tihluurani was the first strike, but it would not be the last. The legends conflict in this matter: there are tales claiming that Datu Markus wrought this misery upon the Riverfolk by slaying his elder brother and his closest friends and wedding his sister Mesha. Some say that this was the Triune’s vengeance enacted. Others point to the gods and declare that it was hubris that laid low Tihluurani and Arauan.
However all the legends agree that Tihluuran fell without true warning. From the depths of the ocean, a horror of gaping maws and grasping tentacles took hold of Tihluuran and dragged it beneath the waves. The accursed creature continued in its rampage, leaving the Thousand Rainbow Islands and the coastal settlements of the Riverfolk bereft of life.
Even the mighty armada of the Riverfolk could not prevail against this nameless hate and the Riverfolk were scattered to the seven winds. Without leaders and with little hope, the Riverfolk wandered the length and the breadth of Midworld, chased by the Writhing Curse wherever they fled. Their settlements became completely unpeopled but for shadowed ghosts and the writhing marks of its passing.
The Seven and the Seal
The Curse’s reign of terror lasted centuries and the ways of the Riverfolk adapted to their new circumstances. The Writhing Curse had made the Riverfolk into a nomadic people, which wrought much variety to their ranks and made unification an immensely difficult process. While many Riverfolk retained piracy and banditry as a means of survival, a rising minority began to turn to trade – it was simply more profitable in the long run. The Riverfolk’s reputation was far from redeemed but it began to take a softer turn. Midworld began to believe that these nomads were named so for the rivers they camped beside instead of the reavers and raiders that they were feared as. Their stories and songs became more than mere past-times, but ways to preserve the legacies of their forefathers before they were exiled from Bahag-Hari.
The Riverfolk’s hopes were renewed when seven heroes arose from among the river-faring nomads and granted the blessings of the spirits. They called themselves the Pintados, and they were leaders as well as heroes, rallying forth the Riverfolk to a unity unseen since Tihluuran sank to the depths of the sea.
But for one, the names of the Pintados are known to all Riverfolk as saviors and martyrs.
Marya of the Green Mountains
Riza, Reader of Runes
Andares the Pure
Gabriella, Witch-Queen of the East
The seven heroes gathered seven ships and sailed to sunken Tihluuran to fight the shadows therein. Only six ships returned, each severely diminished but alive. The tale goes that the Pintados confronted the Writhing Curse within shadowed Arauan and tried to destroy it. After many a trial and a tribulation, Riza gave up her very soul to fuel the ritual of destruction that would liberate her people from the curse.
But something went awry: a word was misspoken, a gesture misplaced. The Writhing Curse did not die. It was only weakened, it sent slippery tendrils after the six and without her guidance, Riza’s ship did not survive the journey home. The Curse did not continue its pursuit, however. It returned to Tihluuran and slumbered soundly, coils wrapped around Arauan.
The Curse was diminished, not slain. Its power was gravely diminished such that the Writhing Curse would not the Riverfolk so long as they did not stay overlong in one place. Though they were only partially successful, the remainder of the Seven were exalted among the Riverfolk. Each desired to rule and had no desire to follow the others, so the six were raised up as Datu, the mantled Kings of old, and many Tihluurani swore fealty to them. And then, each with their own thought and opinion regarding the survival of their Kingdom, they parted ways, passing down their mantles and their kingship to their descendants.
Without someone like Sulai-man to unite the Riverfolk, they would ever be divided…
The Betrayer in Black
A hundred years ago, the Datu of the Painted Flotilla gathered to decide the fate of their Kingdom. They needed a leader to rally beneath and the Datu would decide among themselves who would rule.
It was a trap.
The King in Black, Datu Karimlan, arranged the meeting to slay the rest of the Datu and take their power for himself. Karimlan intended to become Sulai-man reborn, uniting the Riverfolk and using the flotilla to plunder Midworld at his whim.
But he underestimated his rivals. He slew two of them and was grievously injured by the remaining three. He and his retainers fled the scene but not before giving his enemies a dire warning: “Fools! Simpletons! This was accomplished un-alone. There are those among you who bear the corruption of the Curse in their hearts. It is they who allowed me to do this and it is they who will doom our people because you did not allow me the ruler-ship I deserve!”
Departing with Datu Karimlan was the entirety of those who swore fealty to him: the worst sorcerers, brigands and pirates of the Riverfolk. The Riverfolk soon lost the reputation for brigandry and piracy that their ancestors had incurred. Some Riverfolk, such as the King in Crimson (called the Corsair by some), continued to ply arrest sea-farers and trader ships, but these were few and far-between to be totally associated with the Riverfolk and their methods were far less blood-thirsty than previous. Datu Karimlan’s minions would claim that ill-repute for their own.
But gone too from the Riverfolk was the hope for solidarity and unity. Though many believed that Datu Karhimlan’s lips dribbled with poisoned lies, he had sown the seeds for distrust that would pit the Datu of the Riverfolk against one another and prevent the unity that would raise the Kingdom above the dictates of their curse.
The Concord of the Seventh Kingdom
The next gathering of Datu would be ninety years later when the King in Crystal, Datu Nikolas, sent to his fellow Datu, Arcturus’ message of alliance and hope. The Seventh Kingdom would be open to those who are willing to work toward its success. The response was better than he expected. His fellow Datu sent resources and people aplenty to consolidate their holdings in Freehold, establishing a place where Riverfolk could gather and stand united as one people against the other Kingdoms.
Wealth, power and lore lie in wait for those Riverfolk willing to take them. For some, it’s merely an opportunity to distinguish one’s self among peers and elevate their status with the Datu. For others, the Wyrdic ruins may hold the key to the future of the Riverfolk… and the resurrection of Tihluuran.