By: John Page
The crowd was restless. Though the tent was massive, it felt small from the dozens of people that had crowded inside of it. Despite the lack of space, the feeling in the air was jolly. Everyone was talking about what would happen when the shadow singer arrived. The chatter was in dozens of tongues but the feeling was the same for each person. We all were excited and anxious for the performance to start. Many members of the crowd had never seen a Shadow Singer at work and had come from all over the world to see him. I was especially excited due in part to how and why I am sitting in large smoky tent.
I had traveled for hundreds of miles across sea, mountain and plains to reach the tent city of Ur Za Lux (the city of the people in west Ur as it is called in Ur). I am a professor of Cydilin languages and the myths of pre- Gonor civilizations. My interests were seen as arcane by many but most are eventually swept up in my enthusiasm for my work.
Still, maybe I shouldn’t have gotten into an argument with the Professor of Prospin myths as that is why I had gotten the year off from the University of Pinso so I could study the peoples of the Great Basin and advance our understanding of this part of the world. I had decided to focus on the Ur tribe of the Western Plains as they were the most open to outsiders. I figured that picking a head hunter tribe might be a fatal mistake. Plus, I didn’t mind the cold of the Ur’s homeland.
The Ur tribe was one of the oldest continuous societies on Sargullic. Their language was the closest to the root language that spawned almost every language spoken west of the Thirty Rivers. Thus linguistically, they are speaking a gold mine of root words and the core grammar of hundreds of tongues- both dead and alive. The extreme cold of their homeland also seems to have in some ways preserved their culture and language. Plus ,who has not want to see the famed tundra warriors in the flesh?
I knew the Ur tongue as well as any could, but I wanted to hear it spoken by someone who lived the language. What was a better way to learn more about a language than to hear it spoken by a story weaver? Writer is not a word that fits what I knew of a Shadow Singer’s art. I had heard of the skill of this man. His name was Wuh GloYon (his name means brave man/hunter and beloved of Glomes) and as far as I could tell he was the only Shadow Singer alive today.
My musings were interrupted as the flap of the tent signaled the arrival of the Shadow Singer. His appearance was somewhat unexpected. I assumed that he would be like the other Ur tribesmen I see in the crowd. They are tall men with the distinctive split hair colors and orange eyes of the Great Basin. Wuh was dressed in the furs and bandanna of his tribe, but his hair was jet black instead of red and yellow. He was also taller than the others, almost as tall as me and I am seen as a tall man even in Catan. Still, despite those minor differences, he clearly belonged here, everything else about him radiated the icy wastes that the Ur thrive in.
“My friends and brothers,” he began in a voice that seemed completely normal and yet was exotic to me as he spoke in archaic Ur that I had only heard in academic conversations or on the oldest of tablets crafted in the age of the Glomist Empire around 11,550 years ago. What was a dead language to me was clearly a living one here beyond the Ring of Stone as no one seemed surprised or confused by his language.
“Thank you coming to see me. I know many came from all over to hear this tale. I will tell the tale exactly as I was told it. Thus it shall be the style and tone of the first Ur. Our tongue is supposed to only be spoken to fellow men of Ur. It is important that this tale not be distorted so everyone here will be honorary men of Ur today. That includes the women and the Outlanders,” Wuh said with a somber tone but with a grin on his face.
This statement got a few chuckles and claps from his fellow Ur. The rest of us smiled with various degrees of unease and didn’t say anything to avoid offending our hosts. We were not sure if we had been insulted or not. He paused for a second to look at his audience.
“I am here to speak of the history of our people up to the rise of the Glomest Empire. This tale has been passed down from singer to singer since time immortal. This story is true as any fact of men can be. Listen with your heart and you will know the past. Men came late to this world. Twelve ages of the world had passed before men. After the Maker decreed it was time for men to walk the earth, he put us within this land. Before the taint of sin brought us low, we lived in peace. The land was warm then. Food was plentiful, and men lived away from the strife of other races.”
As he began to speak, I noticed that an inky blackness emerged from his hands and formed a cloud in front of him. I was getting to see shadow song at work! He gestured with his hands and the cloud turned into an amazingly clear picture of a primeval plain. I then saw the Ring Mountains that surrounded the plains and the passage of ages. I could clearly see figures of savage men moving in packs hunting game. This was amazing! This was so realistic. This was beyond what you could see on a computer or T.V. It felt like I was there in the millions of years he had mentioned.
“This time lasted for millions of years. Countless species came, built cities and societies and then fell. When it was men’s turn, we had one important difference from the others. While most races lived and died beyond the holy mountains, Men were protected by the great mountains. The only ones who might have been able to influence men were the Yawi of the underground world, the Giants of the west and the Tallen’s from across the sea. Luckily the mountains of the Ring kept them away. Thus we grew mostly free from others. Men developed into hundreds of tribes and many went beyond the mountains to find new lands to live as even then humans always wanted to know more about the world. Those who remained built cities along the rivers of the basin. Our own people settled along the banks of the river Saik and founded the first city of men, the lost of Ur.”
As he spoke, the shadows morphed into hundreds of faces representing every nation of humanity. One of the faces grew into focus, it was that of the stereotypical Ur tribesmen. The faces split into hundreds of smaller figures who turned into thousands who then built a city. It was a small city at first but the pride of its builders was evident. We all felt proud that this city had been built. Its very existence meant something profound.
Wun continued, “Men not only built in the physical world, they grew in the spiritual world. The secrets of creation and the divine were uncovered. With secret arts life became both harder and easier. While spells of healing saved life, spells of harm brought death and destruction.”
The City of Shadow grew bigger yet was not as harmonious as what had come before. Men moved in fear of each other instead of in love and harmony. Blades were drawn and whispered spells were unleashed for even the most minor disagreement. The age of war had come to the formerly peaceful men.
Wun’s voice grew very quiet as he spoke, “The period of growth and strife went on for generation after generation until he came to the world and nearly damned us all to the fires of the dark ones.”
All grew silent at that part. The shadows focused onto one man. He seemed like simple man but something was off about him. The man seemed bitter and angry at the world beyond what a mortal should be able to feel. He seemed like hate incarnated. The shape of things followed him. At their bidding, the man had entered a small building and emerged with a different air about him. He moved with a purpose and left the city and went into the wilderness for many cycles of the three moons. The crowd started to grow restless with fear and loathing of this men and the things that walked with him.
Wun grew somber but resumed talking. “This man is known as Zarcaus. He was the first men to hear the voices of those from beyond our world. We do not speak their name but know they are as far from the Maker’s holy light as possible. Zarcaus spoke with the voices and learned terrible secrets of unholy power. He used this power to wreak havoc upon his fellows.”
Now the man returned to the city with a dark power around him. The power swept into the city and transformed into dark shapes of horrific beings. The thing that had followed the man had taken on physical forms. The beings flung themselves into the city and began killing. The people of the city suffered greatly and tried to fight back. They fought with courage but could not fight this power. The carnage was horrific. Many who were watching this started to weep from the pure horror of what they were seeing before them. I felt my own heart tighten in my chest as I watched tens of thousands die due to this man.
“The people suffered for thousands of years. Zarcaus spread his reign from the hot sands of Kemis to the icy plains of Icil. The people fought back over thousands of years of conflict. Zarcaus grew in power and became something inhuman. The forces he had allied with changed his body to better match his heart. This granted him even greater power which he used to inflict greater suffering. Countless men rose up to stop him but each were cast down and suffered gruesome deaths. The seemingly endless massacres and strife was known as the wars of suffering. The most famous defeat was of the High Pharo Ramez whose army was slaughtered in the pass of Uthcaks to a man.”
The shadows showed dozens of different images of war and strife. The most gruesome scene was of tens of thousands Kemis warriors dead in a pass. Their king was in chains and was being dragged off to a mound of bodies. Above all of the images of suffering and death lurked a fearsome face that turned over time from man to monster.
“All hope seemed lost until the great one came. He was the son of a simple trader who at first tried to avoid the endless war but was forced into the struggle to defend his family. The trader was killed a so many others had been but with one important difference. When the humble trader had been slain his son took up the struggle. The son was not the strongest of men or wisest, but he was the bravest and had sense of duty that propelled him to the Annals of Legends.”
The shadows banished the scenes of doom and instead the mist presented a strong man. He had a strong jaw and looked haunted by death. He had a strength to him that was remarkable even more for the grief he bore. His sorrow was his blade, his tears were his armor.
“This hero was called Glomes. Glomes had a quality that had allowed him to find a blade of holy shadow. The blade is known as Sekun, the blade of the moon. Where he found it is unknown, but its power was undeniable. This blade burned the power of Zarcaus. He rallied the people and they fought with a new vigor as victory had become a possibility. He took the warrior bands of the Ur and drilled them into disciplined forces that overcame the horrors of beyond through cunning. The Things from beyond were fierce but could be overcome with trickery. Glomes gave men new laws and taught them to forge metal in manner similar to the Yawi. The war was long and bloody, but the people won under Glomes’ leadership. Glomes sacrificed himself to destroy Zarcaus and rid the world of his evil at the last battle of the wars of suffering.”
The shadows presented two figures in conflict. One was a massive fiend surrounded by dark power, the other was the haunted warrior. The two fought each other with a blind fury. The demon seemed to overwhelm the warrior but the warrior drew strength from within and flung himself into the monster with an explosion of light. The audience was silent in awe of what had just happened.
“Thus the first Great War of men against evil was won but at a terrible cost. Our greatest hero had been killed and our society was nearly dead. Still with great trial can come a rebirth, and mankind was able to rebuild and reach greater heights then we had dreamed off before.”
Wun ended with a solemn bow. “Let this story sink into your bones. Evil must be defeated through sacrifice. Heed the past. I will speak of the next ages soon.”
Wun then turned to leave. Everyone was sitting quietly . It was a story that we had all heard some version of before but never with an intensity that Wun had brought. I could not wait to tell everyone in Pinso about this. The shades of history had never seemed as real as when told by this man. Everyone at the university had to him speak. I had to go find Wun and convince him to come to Pinso with me.
I got up to go find him but I could not. I wondered where he went. I felt a despair as I had to know more. Wun could show us so much about Ur myth and magic, and I could spend my entire career unpacking the meaning and symbolism of his shadow stories.
I asked one of the Warriors of Ur where Wun could be. He only looked at me and told me, “The Shadow Singer is not like me and you. He is not from our world.”
I was confused and I asked him “What do you mean by that?”
He replied “He is not of the world as he is from the shadow.”
I stare at him in confusion. What does that mean?