Legends of the Three Pillars
Harken to me, children, and hear my words. These are the stories of our people, tales of strength and honour, malice and cowardice. These are the tales of how the nine tribes survived the Suffering, before the sands came. Yes, Shuri, there is a princess in this story.
Our story begins in the lands of the Shaitar, three hundred years after Dark Krish and the other champions secured peace at the Council of Khans. While the other tribes still fought from time to time – over water, wealth and pride – the Shaitar prospered. Their jewelled islands were rich, and their ships carried incense, spices, gems and silks to every port in the land. It was often said, at the time, that the Shaitar were what all men should aspire to.
So, when the Caliph of the Shaitar asked for the hand of an A’mai princess, our people were pleased. Surely all men would see what a worthy and respected people the A’mai were. Just so, Shuri, this is the story of Princess Aneksi…now hush and let me talk.
Aneksi travelled from Jasper in the company of her brother Darius, a Swordmaster. Although he had but twenty summers his exploits were becoming legendary, and it was whispered that his Orrenai tutors regarded him as the finest warrior and scholar since the gods walked among us. Aneksi herself was as beautiful as the first rains, with a voice so pure that even songbirds hid themselves in shame.
Upon their arrival at the port-city of Lhaksal, the pair were awestruck. Lhaksal was a city like no other. The city hung from cliffs that reared straight up from ocean, the Caliph’s palace an alabaster beacon swathed in cloud at the peak. Flowering jungle vines draped the cliffs like a living tapestry of blooms, and birds of every hue. Drums and flutes and horns announced their procession as they ascended through the city, and the Caliph had assembled five hundred youths, the most beautiful in his lands, to lay petals at their feet every step of the way. They were escorted by the personal bodyguard of the Caliph – one thousand warriors of the Sea-sworn.
For a month Aneksi and Darius were fêted by the Caliph. No expense was spared in the feasting or entertainment. Finally, assured of his sister’s safety and honour, Darius returned to the lands of the A’mai. The Caliph was kept busy with matters of diplomacy, trade and the upcoming wedding, leaving Aneksi free to wander the palace and the island. As clever as she was beautiful, it wasn’t long before the Princess discovered that things were not as they appeared.
Where our people – and the other tribes on the mainland – value tradition, laws and honour the spirits of our ancestors, the Shaitar made pacts with demons. The wealth of their lands was not due to diligence and fortune, but to unholy deals and sacificial ritual. Aneksi saw demon elementals providing water and fire, she saw cripples and animals given over to vile spirits, and even men and women laying with abominations as man and wife.
Shocked at what she had seen, Aneksi flew to the palace to demand answers. The Caliph brushed off her questions, telling her that the Shaitar were beyond other Men, that the traditions and laws of the other Tribes were for lesser people. When Aneksi demanded to be returned to her people, the Caliph scoffed. “What nonsense”, he cried, “In time you will come to understand what has been done here. In time all men will bow to the Shaitar, and your A’mai will be the first.”
“Never!”, cried Aneksi. “I will not submit to you. Nor will my people – nor will any Man. Your Tribe is an abomination and I will not rest until all righteous Men know it.”
At this the Caliph flew into a rage. He struck her to the floor and, in a fit of malice, gave her to his Sea-sworn to do with as they wished. The thousand warriors were not gentle with Aneksi, treating her brutally and dishonorably. Even so, lying broken and bloody by the end, Aneksi would not submit. She dragged herself to a balcony and looked towards the mainland, her crystal voice rising in song. The words are lost to time, but they carried all of her pain and sorrow as well as her love for her people and her family. At the end, as her voice dwindled away and her last tear fell, Aneksi cast herself from the balcony into the hungry sea far below.
The song was carried by the ancestor spirits of the A’mai across the waters to Jasper – and to the ears of Darius. The young Swordmaster did not shed a single tear, nor did he waste a single moment. Even as he girded himself for war, Aneksi’s lament was heard all over the city. As he saddled his horse, the people of Jasper raised a cry of anguish and rage, that was taken up all across the lands of the A’mai, until the heavens shook with thir fury. And as he took ship, the drums of war began beating.
Darius was implacable. When the Shaitar sorcerers turned the winds against him, he rowed. When water demons smashed his oars, he fished up a sea serpent and forced it to tow him. And when fire demons killed the serpent, Darius swam until he came to the shores of the Shaitar. There, from port to palace, the Sea-sworn were arrayed against him. One thousand warriors, among the greatest in the world, stood between Darius and the Caliph. No, Jakir, they would not be enough.
Darius danced among the enemy, delivering to each a single cut. He flowed like water, dodging and deflecting the enemy strikes. Each cut was fatal, but such was Darius’ fury and skill, he had reached the steps of the palace before the first man fell. He had defeated one thousand warriors singlehandedly – a perfect and deadly dance – without uttering a word, and now stood over the quivering Caliph. Behind him the armies of the A’mai swarmed ashore, and Lhaksal began to burn.
“We will kill your people and salt your islands, dog”, proclaimed Darius, “and the ghosts of the Shaitar will suffer a thousand years for each dishonour my sister suffered.”
With those words, Darius’ sword pierced the Caliph’s heart. The armies of the A’mai were possessed of a righteous anger and the Shaitar were purged. Every man, woman and child was put to the sword that day, their fields razed and their cities laid bare. When the last infidel lay dead, the soldiers returned to thier ships. No A’mai has ever set foot on the cursed lands of the Shaitar since, except for Darius. He remained to search for Aneksi’s body, so that she could be laid to rest in a manner befitting a princess of our people.
Alas he never found her, and never returned to our lands. Some say that he stalks the islands of the Shaitar to this day, searching for his sister.
So, children, that is the tale of Aneksi and Darius and the Dance of One Thousand Cuts. The folly of the Shaitar – allowing tradition to fall to the wayside and dishonoring the laws of the Nine Tribes – stands as a warning to all Men.