My Introduction to Tekumel, by Chirine ba Kal
[1.0001] Preface: Saint Maries, Idaho; Summer, 1939 C.E.
The late afternoon sun shone on a scene of carnage; on a hard, flat plain, armies marched and counter-marched in their serried formations, closing in places to engage their enemies in deadly melees. Here, a clump of armored men were trapped against some rough ground by a larger group of kilted slingers; there, a force of spearmen pressed home their advantage against an opposing force armed only with shields and swords and courage. The fighting forces were commanded by hierophants in jeweled robes and heroes in glittering armor; they led their soldiers to victory or defeat, and cried their triumphs or their defiance as the fortunes of war and the chances of battle took them. The vast plain resounded with their battle cries, their soundings of braying trumpet and thundering drum; their standards proclaimed their glory to the world. The armies fought, men died, and such as it had always been on that great plain…
An expert observer, schooled in the niceties of warfare, would have noticed something odd about the contending forces; there were none of the cavalry formations that one might of expected of the time and the place which the garb and armor of the fighting men – and women, for there were also priestesses and queens amongst the armies’ commanders – would suggest. No armored knights in their glittering plate and mail, no chariots thundering down the field; instead, there were strange beasts of war, most unlike those which had served mankind in warfare for so many millennia. These beasts looked more like those described in the recent works of some of the authors considered to be ‘not of the best’ by more established and more conservative writers of history, and more like the illustrations done by artists for the luridly-colored covers of these new authors’ publications.
A less expert observer, or a more casual one, would perhaps not have noticed this at first glance; a more casual look across the plain would have revealed it to be a floor in a room lit by the late afternoon sun. The mighty generals, and their equally mighty armies, would be seen as toy soldiers; some from the manufacturers of the time, and some – the hierophants and heroes, the strange beasts – carved of wood and painted. The rough ground would be seen as no more then a rug, and the low hills simply the stacked books and magazines of a library both extensive and eclectic. Many of the low ‘hills’ that edged the ‘plain’ bore the cover illustrations that had been regarded with distain by more ‘serious’ writers. Titles like “Amazing Stories” competed for space on the room’s shelves with much more scholarly tomes on the languages of long-dead civilizations such as that of the Egypt of the Pharaohs, or the feathered rulers of the Mayans of Central America.
Scattered in amongst these books and magazines were scraps of paper, with the writings of a spidery cursive script that had no known counterpart in the historical lexicons; these seemed to be centered on a desk, which in turn bore on it’s wooden surface a large map of a land marked with the locations of cities and towns, rivers and oceans, mountains and forests. There were notations on the map in the cartographer’s own language, as well as more of the cursive script. The land bore the name “Ts Solyánu”, and the cities bore names like “Jakálla”, “Khirgár”, “Tumíssa”; marked with dot of gold ink were the names “Béy Su” and “Avanthar”, places which the cartographer must consider to be of special importance.
The desk also bore documents and drawings; some in the relatively more familiar hieroglyphs of the scribes of Ancient Egypt, some in a blocky script that was unfamiliar and seemingly less refined then the cursive script of the map. The drawings, done some in pencil and some in ink, depicted scenes of tales and wonders that were both strange in their setting but familiar in their themes of love and war, heroes and heroines, cads and cowards; there was an obvious element of artistic imagination at work, but there was also a sensation of tales that had yet to be told.
“Philip! Dinner!” The woman’s voice drifted up the stairs, calling the cartographer, and artist, and storyteller.
A boy, about a decade old, looked up from the musty and ancient scroll he was holding – and had just finished inking the delicate cursive script upon – and adjusted his spectacles. He rose from the desk, picked his way through the groups of soldiers still locked in combat, and closed the door to the room behind himself. The armies would still be here on the hard flat plain, as would their stories and legends; there would be more time, later on, to tell them…
Since before the beginnings of recorded time, humankind had looked up into the night sky at the myriad points of light and wondered. Eventually, in the fullness of that time, the first steps were taken out into that starry night. Humankind went, in a single bound, from being alone on their homeworld to being part of a galaxy-spanning community of beings of diverse shapes and sizes. Some were friendly, some were hostile, and some plainly disinterested in the doings of humans and neutral to them.
Humankind spread across the stars, and established their own empire; the Lords of Humanspace assimilated many technologies and sciences, and eventually became masters of matter and energy. This mastery brought them in to alliances and conflicts, and in one particular case brought them a contract with another of the galaxy’s races; they wanted to have an entire planet adapted for their use, and this the Lords of Humanspace could do.
One of five worlds orbiting a bright, hot star, the chosen planet was at the juncture of several important trade routes between the more densely-populated areas of space; the world was wanted as a trading center and a place where the rulers of the galaxy could rest from their labors.
It was of little matter that the world was already inhabited; the Lords of Humanspace did not consider such minor things as being worthy of their notice. Mighty weapons were deployed, even mightier engines of change and transformation were brought into play, and the new world became a place where humankind and their allies could call home. The inhabitants were allowed to survive; to survive, and nurse their hatred of the alien beings who had transformed their planet and confined them to the more remote regions of it.
The Lords of Humanspace, and their allies, for all their power and mastery were not the most highly endowed races in the universe. Others, older and more alien yet, held that position, and they too had their rivalries and conflicts. To these older races, the all-powerful Lords of Humanspace were as toys to a child.
There came a time when these older races had a mighty conflict, and employed powers unimaginable to Humankind. The newly-transformed world was cast out of space and time, and the trapped peoples of the new world looked up into a sky without stars.
The high civilization that the Lords of Humanspace had brought to the new world collapsed - here, suddenly; there, slowly. Humankind is, however, nothing if not adaptable and resilient; civilization began a long, slow climb back into the light and out of the utter darkness that had befallen it. New technologies of the mind, which became known as ‘sorcery’, replaced the lost technology of the Ancients – as the Lords of Humanspace had become known – and empires and kingdoms rose and fell as the centuries passed into dust.
Humans and their alien allies built and strove, and created new civilizations out of the ashes of the old. Heroes and villians abounded, and new legends were born out of the tales of their battles and quests. In every generation, new heroes and heroines were born, and their legends added to the mythology and history of their world. Gods and goddesses, some based on the memories of the old races that has cast the world into darkness and some created by the mnds of their worshippers, abounded and made their presence in the world known to their worshippers and their competitors.
Some traces of the old technology survived, and became highly sought-after and coveted treasures. Some of what was left of the old world was beneficial and useful; other devices could kill at a touch. All of the inhabitants of the world understood this, and the quest for these wonders was left to a new breed of ‘adventurers’, who took the most horrific risks in order to obtain the most generous of rewards.
And so it begins; tales of wonder, and of people not yet born, and of lands not yet known…
Come with us; our journey is just begun…
[1.0010] Prologue: The Chákan Forests; Spring, 2354 A. S.
The young man turned to look behind him as he came up level with the porters’ lodge, his flame-crested helmet held in the crook of his arm; the view across the shallow depression was an inspiring one to any worshipper of Lord Vimúhla, Lord of Red Spouting Flame and Lord of War, as the mighty towers of the First Temple, sacred to that same deity, rose tall against the setting sun. The sound of the temple’s deep-throated gongs came on the westerly breeze to his ears, announcing both the evening rituals of the temple and his own departure; he was borne east, with the wind, for the central part of Tsolyánu, on the Temple’s business and that of the Seal Imperium that ruled Tsolyánu from the political capital at Béy Sy and the imperial capital at Avanthar.
He was, perhaps, not remarkable in that time and in that place; dressed in the armor of a military priest of Lord Vimúhla, he looked like may of the other worshippers of the Lord of Flame on that road. His face, admittedly, was less then perfect; at some point in his career, his nose had come into contact with a blunt object that had caused damage that the Temple’s healers had been unable to entirely correct. It added what some felt was a rugged counterpoint to the smile that seemed to flit across his face regularly; he seemed to be perpetually amused by his surroundings and the people he met on his travels.
His armor, too, was of the same serviceable look as himself. Nothing special, it seemed, with the usual decoration and engravings that showed his Temple rank and the glyph of his small and relatively unknown clan; the Clan of the Eye of the Flame was an ancient one, but (it had to be said) one that was not as powerful or prosperous as it had been in ancient days. Likewise, the weapons slung from his belt looked serviceable and slightly worn as if from service; there was nothing that savored of the courtly about the solidly efficient mace, nor the long dagger. These were weapons that were meant to be used, and had been used in a score of melees.
Below him, the fading sun touched the horizon; the towers and buildings of the First Temple began to shimmer, and slowly faded into transparency. The Temple returned to the phase of reality that it dwelt in during Tékumel’s nights, and as it vanished the man turned and looked to the east. His road lay in that direction, and it was time to depart. He gestured to the porter, who in turned signaled the little caravan of travelers that it was time for them to depart. No palanquins, just boot leather and time, and the road beckoned…