Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Old Ones

A group of youngsters sit in a tavern, sipping small beer, and try to get old Marko to tell them once more about the world that was, and of the legends of the Old Times before the coming of Man. This night, one girl, an urchin from the streets, pressed him to speak of the Old Ones, the god-like beings who came before the Elder races (the serpentkin and the lizardfolk, and of course the Elves).

Marko was reluctant at first, but soon someone had bought him a bottle of strong wine, and he relented. Marko drinks a lot, but sometimes he says things worth hearing, so why not? Here's what he said that night.

So you wish to know of the Old Ones, the gods that ruled here in ages lost? Very well, though I warn you that such tales are conflicting and that different versions of the same tale have even been the cause of wars. So no fighting, you lot.

Long before Men walked the face of the world there had dwelled on Urth a variety of creatures, some native and some not. We call them the Old Ones, now, but they probably had names of their own. Legend has it that Urth has seen visitors from the skies, and from other, less hospitable places as well, and that their civilizations rose and fell for thousands of thousands of years. Among the last of these oldest civilizations, what we call the Old Ones, three main groups have left traces of their passing. I've certainly seen relics that were claimed to  have come from them, and I've seen other… things. In any case, they're gone now, that they are. Now, some say that the Old Ones are just sleeping, waiting for the stars to align, or for chicken innards to fall into a particular design, or for the 9,783,321 names of Gu'ul the Destroyer to be chanted so that the world might end in blood... They say a lot of things, but most of them is cranks and cretins, though maybe a few aren't, I suppose.

While the Old Ones certainly were here, and have left traces of their passing, there is no one alive who has encountered them. The stories you hear in the taverns are all nonsense, stories told to frighten young children. Who could believe, for example, that gigantic, tentacled beasts like armored octopi rose from the sea, and stole whole herds of goats, as they say happened in Redflood? No, certainly nothing like that happened. Those stories get retold over and over again, because they are the land's stories, and contain the hopes and fears of its people. Surely, there is some truth in them, for what story can we call "good" that does not have a bit of truth to it? There are accounts of Old Ones like great octopi and squids and fish o' various sorts.

Yorl the Elder, wrote that such stories might well have truth, as they relate to the Cephaploi, which is a word in a long-dead tongue for those Old Ones who lived in the sea in vast, underwater cities. Other stories suggest that the Cephaploi came later, after a race of beings men might remember a little better, as they are related to the races of Urth. Corag Loona, First Librarian of the Blue Spire Conclave, named that older race the Sauron, as they resemble races reputed to be descended from them, which included the thunder lizards still occasionally found in the jungles. And of course the serpentkin and the lizardfolk also are reputed to have sprung from them. It's said by some, though, that the Veridians, far to the west of Ur-Hadad, are the true scions of the Sauron, and that they attempt to raise again their gods from whatever slumbers they currently are pursuing. Folk suspect them of all sorts of things, though, so I'd discount such accounts as pure conjecture.

The ancient chants, as recorded on the Scrolls of Du Muk, tell of a great war in the sea, between the gods of that claimed power in that place (maybe the Cephaloi and the Sauron?), and that the Sauron came forth from the seas after a great defeat, to make a place upon the Urth and under its sun and moons. They raised great cities, vast expanses of gigantic constructions that stretched from horizon to horizon, even extending into the very Urth's depths. I've not seen such places, though some claim to have done so.

We do know, though, that the races descended from the Sauron were here, and that they held sway over the world for eons after the Old Ones are reputed to have retreated from the world, whatever and wherever they might be. Ur-Hadad itself sits on the very spot of one of their greatest cities. Parts of it can be found in the Undercity, and it may also be that other ruins, far older still, lay below, as well. Some even say that the First City of Men used to be at the bottom of a mighty ocean. I have seen the petrified remains of a variety of strange beasts and creatures that are supposed to be proof of that, but I have my doubts. You don't get as old as me in a place like Ur-Hadad by trusting folk who carry such tales.

It's even said that there is another group of Old Ones who aren't even from the same plane of existence as Urth. I personally have seen scrolls that were brought from ill-starred Lorgoroth, before the fires from the sky lay it to waste. They told of the Old Ones who first brought magic to Urth. They were said to have had blood like fire, and to have mated with humans to produce some of the demi-human races. That's unlikely, I think, for not even a horse and a goat can produce offspring. Why would it work otherwise with such beings and lesser races?

In any case, the Arkanoi, as they were called, sailed the heavens in ships without sails and left wakes of fire behind them. It's also said that they were great craftsmen, and that they build vast cities. Those cities were abandoned by the Arkanoi, and the lot of them left Urth before Men were even made. I've not seen those cities, though some claim they are there still, maybe beneath our very feet. I'd dismiss that as lies… but I know differently. I've seen them. They came to me when I was out late at night. I was returning from a piece of business I had outside of town, maybe five miles from the First City. My body was washed in a blue light, and I could not move, nor could my horse. I don't remember much beyond that except that there were bright lights, and I remember being in pain and screaming out for it to end. Then blackness. When I awoke, my horse was gone, and a lay naked in a corn field, stalked pressed down onto the ground in weird, arcane patterns. Along my spine were a series of small puncture wounds, and my smallest toe on my left foot was gone, but the wound full healed. I swear it all happened, truly I do.

So, at various times in the history of the Urth, the Old Ones were born here, or came later. They were gods, or they weren't, or maybe they aren't really but we worship as gods. Some say they were never here, and some say that they're only waiting to return, though they differ on whether the return of the Old Ones is boon or bane to man, but "bane" seems to outweigh "boon" by a wide margin. That, I think, is the most reasonable thing of all that I've heard on the topic.