De esas cenizas, fénix nuevo espera;

Mas con tus labios quedn vergonzosos
(que no compiten flores a rubíes)
y pálidos, después, de temerosos.

Y cuando con relámpagos te ríes,
de púrpura, cobardes, si ambiciosos,
marchitan sus blasones carmesíes.

Francisco de Quevedo

jueves, 22 de diciembre de 2016

Rite of Passage - Tale of the First Era

Rite of Passage

Cycle 32, Northern plains of Utgard

It would still take 3 hours for the shadow of the water pole to reach the noon. Then, the shamans would officially announce the arrival of the Wind Season. The young Alzamag, an orc who had distinguished over his contemporaries, and his twin brother, Xaaz’al-Ungul, were the favorites of the Soth-Makar clan. The shaman Mag’Ushar guided his people through gigantic grasslands and cared about the youngest orcs until they were able to wield bows and hunting axes. Most of them loved him as a father, especially Alzamag and his brother. He had teached about divination through bones and entrails since they were kids, as his father, Alzaz-Ungul, would have done. Her mother was Agora Mul’Kar and their names were engraved in the log of memories, which was slowly being covered by the names of the departed. They would protect and guide them from the realm of the dead. Mag’Ushar educated them as if they were his sons and told them that he would tell them the story of their fathers the day of their rite of passage. The mourning of the kids was brief, and they soon accepted Ushar as a grandfather. Xaaz’al-Ungul was always bolder, with a greater sense of doing things. Alzamag was a bit more cautious, wiser, perhaps, and usually had a calming effect over his brother. The elder had noticed that, and he would have to separate them if they wanted to survive the plains of Utgard. They had to learn alone. That’s why he had chosen to make them take the rite almost 6 cycles before the usual. Each one of them promised great things, but they were not able of being alone. When they were far, far away, lost in the infinite grasslands of Utgard, without the shelter of the tribe to protect them, they would truly be alone.

            When he adopted them, he knew that those kids would change the history of his people. He felt how the cunning of Alzamag and the might of his brother combined to figure out the tests before them. Being only 12 cycles old, both were expert archers and knew how to weave the sinews of the animals to create ropes. They had learned how to track their prey through the pastures to the clear streams where they fed. They were respected for both their skill and prudence. No one doubted that they would be taken as the natural sons of Mag’Ushar someday, a thing that would allow them to become shamans in the future.

            But the Soth-Makar tribe was large, and there were orcs that not only had exceeded the deeds of the sons of Agora Mul’Kar, but also had the age appointed by the shamans of old in the times before the great horde left the frozen peaks of Eisgrind. Alzamag and his brother were but kids. They didn’t had the nerve to become hunters, least of all shamans. They would not convince them. Not Gokk Mor’kas. Not him, who had learned how to treat decayed teeth, how to apply leeches and how to read the future in the dust of the streets a whole cycle before Mag’Ushar himself had done so. Alzamag and Xaaz’al were a pair of spoiled imbeciles. They had lost their parents, and the tribe had pitied them. What they had achieved was not their work. He wouldn’t allow them to ruin everything when his triumph was so, so close.

            Two more hours. Xaaz’al-Ungul had asked him that same morning if he remembered their mother; if he remembered how she stayed with them until they finally fell asleep. If he remembered how her and dad spoke about the ice of Eisgrind. “They always spoke about the giants, Alzamag. We will meet them someday.” He was so nervous that night that he wasn’t able to sleep. He always had the same dream on the occasions in which tiredness beat him: Dark clouds, an endless beach struck by lightning wherever he fixed his gaze on and a single, bodiless eye, dislodged from the sanity of any living creature. He spoke about his dream with his grandpa, because his grandpa was good at decoding the messages of Yog-Sothoth. He did not answer. For the second time on his life, what he got was silence.

— That is unfair, young Gokk. We all know that you are the best éshar of the tribe.
— And Alzamag is better than me planning stuff. That is unfair for me too. Besides, you know that he and his brother Xaaz’al will never separate from each other. We are all in disadvantage before them. I almost feel as crippled as my father.
— Son of Ulth Mor’kas, you owe him a greater deal of respect to him than that. Don’t worry about the kids. You know that the rite states that it is each orc for himself.
— And it also says that no one under 18 cycles would ever take part on it. You help them because the only thing Agora and her husband were good at was at dying.
— You have a long tongue, young Gokk. If you still hold any respect towards me, go prepare for your rite and leave me alone.
— Yes, elder.

— Come closer, little ones. Approach. It is time to tell you the story of your fathers.
— Don’t cry, Alzamag.
— Shut up, worgen shit.
— Alzamag, get out. I will not tolerate that language here. Did you wait so long for this? Your father would be disappointed.
— Why did he die then? — Alzamag left Mag’Ushar’s shack cursing himself. How could he ruin that moment? Even worse, the grandpa would tell Xaaz’al and he would make him swear not to tell him. He had been acting odd lately, as if he did not love them anymore. He sent them to tend the few worgens they had captured over the cycles at different times. While Xaaz’al worked at day, when the hunters took them to explore, he was tending them at night, when they were especially short-tempered. Removing the feces from the cells was an almost impossible task. He had to throw some food on the other side of the cell and plead Yog-Sothoth that they did not kill themselves over a piece of flesh. He had barely enough time to take a few steps, remove a portion of the manure, and then he had to throw in more meat. He did not understood why. They had never failed him or yelled at him. But he knew deep inside that the grandpa was old and tired, and that the age was starting to take a toll on his character. Well, he wanted to know. He went to the back of Mag’Ushar’s tent and soon he was listening.
— I know that you love each other, Xaaz’al, but promise me that you will not help Alzamag on his rite.
— Why not? I thought that you wanted us to take care of each other.
— I do indeed, my child, but it is time for you and your brother to go each one his own way. You can’t go together through life. This tribe needs a strong leader, not two children that won’t give a step without the other.
— But we have always done so, dad, and look, we are about to go through the rite.
— That is exactly what I wanted to talk about. Each one does his rite alone, Xaaz’al. You can’t do it together. Do you know why?
— No.
— Well, let me tell you. The story of your fathers is quite complicated, Xaaz’al-Ungul. They were brother and sister. They loved each other so much, as Alzamag and you do, but once they loved too much. Ulth Mor’kas was betrothed to Agora since they were your age, but when he heard that she was pregnant of you, he decided he wanted to know nothing more about it. Your father changed his name, but they had already dishonored their family. They were exiled and wandered aimlessly for weeks, until they found me. I sheltered them. Why? Maybe because they never tried to deceive me. They told me their history since we met, and I was not able to kick them out, to tell them that what they had done was impure, even though tradition told me otherwise. Now that I see you and Alzamag I know I was not mistaken. Some cycles later, we found the remains of a tribe and some survivors wandering nearby. Yes, Ulth Mor’kas was amongst them. Their tribe had been ravaged by feral worgens. He brought his son Gokk, which was 7 cycles old, with him. The meeting was not pleasant. Do you understand now why Gokk hates you so much? Well, as I was saying, the cycles passed and one day, Ulth tracked down the worgens that had destroyed his tribe. He asked for volunteers and most of the survivors joined. Your mom and your dad joined to avenge their families. What? Oh, yes, they had dishonored them, but they wanted to prove their worth avenging them. That’s why they left. Agora told me to look after you if something happened to them, and for a long time I have wished that she hadn’t said those words. The hunt was a complete failure. The worgens annihilated the group and just a few survived. That’s why Ulth doesn’t have legs and an eye, and that’s why you lost your parents. If there was any glory that day, I don’t know about it. Since then we decided that each one would have to do his or her own things. Each one would have to survive alone. — They kept talking for a few minutes, but he was not listening anymore. Alzamag left his hideout without a noise. He understood that day why his grandpa had tried to separate them. He feared that the story of his parents could repeat itself. It seemed that Xaaz’al had also understood. They saw less each day, as if they had agreed that this distance was to be kept until the rite had passed.

Just a few minutes. The sweat in his bracers and the straps of his shield was unpleasant. At his left were a pair of orcs older than him, and a bit further away was his brother. He had Gokk at his right. The rite consisted in 3 parts: the first one was a demonstration of physical strength and basic combat skills. The second one was a medical knowledge test, which was supervised by the tribe’s best healers and the third one was always a secret. On the past cycles he had seen a group of orcs crossing a river and making a bridge together. He knew that the huntress Meshak An’mokar had suggested the idea of the bridge and she joined the explorers since that day. That time everyone succeeded on their rite, but there were some times in which they were asked to heal the sick and only those who were quick enough to find the treatment made it. Many failed on those occasions, since they had to approve two medical tests one after the other. Those that delayed too much or didn’t find it would have to wait for an entire cycle to try again. Alzamag knew that he had no chance on the physical test. Xaaz’al might do it, but he wouldn’t. A young woman smiled at him with a smile that might have said “Go on! Have faith!” He suddenly realized his age. He was 12 cycles. Everyone else was at least 18. He didn’t want to look at his brother. Both were terrified, alone, as they had never been before.

The rite of passage began with the sound of a horn. 60 young orcs were thrown into a circular arena, surrounded by the entire tribe. Alzamag was almost knocked down by the girl that had smiled at him a while ago. He knew that he would be out if he fell, but he didn’t have the strength to face anyone. He would have to cheat. It would not be the most honorable path, but he was sure he could at least disarm someone. Xaaz’al, at the other side of the arena, had reached the same conclusion. He aimed at the lower parts of his opponents. He was bleeding from the mouth. Someone had hit him with a shield. Alzamag barely had time to react. An orc around the 20 cycles of age ran towards him. He jumped to one of the sides and the orc tripped. He only had to push him. He heard the roar of the crowd at his back. The pup had knocked down someone. Gokk had an impressive strength. Any orc who stood against him was quickly subdued. He was an impressive foe. The rest of the orcs noticed that a few moments later. Two, even three orcs attacked him at the same time, but Gokk dissolved them attacking the leader first. The survivors retreated and engaged in combat with anyone but him. In less than eight minutes, 48 of the future warriors had already been eliminated. Alzamag brought down one with a kick between the legs and Xaaz’al had found a nice weapon in his shield. Dehka, the orc which had smiled at him, fought on. The shamans paused the combat for a few seconds so the fallen could leave the arena.

— You taunt it and I kill it. — said Xaaz’al, while both spied over the boar. Though it wasn’t the first time they did it, it was the first time they had met one so large.
— Why not the other way around?
— Because I am stronger, you moron, and besides, you run faster than me.
— But I shoot better.
— Yes.
— Then let’s kill it from afar.
— No, go and run. It’s your turn. I ran the last time.

— Boar’s upon you, Xaaz’al! — His brother, from a distance, nodded. He started taunting Gokk and he grew overconfident. He ran after Xaaz’al-Ungul without noticing that Alzamag had flanked him. Dehka also noticed this and ran along the child. Gokk did not wait for the child to react. He smote him with the border of his shield and knocked him down with a push. Blinded by pain, Xaaz’al was not able to see how Alzamag and Dehka tackled Gokk from the back. However, he did not fall. The orc turned around and floored her with a single hit. He finally had Alzamag before him, alone and dazed. He hit his face twice, thrice, even a fourth time with his shield. While he was staggered, Gokk crossed a leg behind him and finished him off with a single move. The test ended some seconds later, with the surrender of the three remaining warriors. Covered by sweat and sand, Gokk was the best of them all during the first test. The next phase would come the next day, after treating the wounded. Xaaz’al-Ungul and Dehka had it easy. They were bumped and had a lot of bruises. Xaaz’al had to be sutured where the shield had hit him. Alzamag got stitches in his forehead and the left side of his face, where Gokk’s shield had struck with special wrath. He had an hemorrhage on his eye; the shamans said he didn’t lose it by pure luck. He couldn’t sleep that night. The swelling of his eyelid and the pain he felt on his face kept him awake for most of the night. Dehka slept near him. She hugged him as if he were his little brother and Alzamag cried. He didn’t want to be there the next morning. He didn’t want to face Gokk again.

The young orcs were summoned to the arena some hours before the noon. The people had placed a big piece of fabric over them to shelter them from the sun. They had also brought several tables, leeches and plants. There were several wounded and the shamans of the tribe were also there. Alzamag knew that they would have to cure someone before everyone, and though he knew he could do it, he didn’t want to. The rite of passage was a show for the young ones, but it held no meaning. They could have killed them all and nobody would have done nothing. On past cycles, some orcs had died, but it was an “everything goes” event. If the wounded died, there would be no consequences. Yog-Sothoth had chosen them. They could try the next cycle. It had no sense they were there that time. They had not the age, nor the practice nor the strength.

The test began when the shadow of the water pole reached the base of the arena. They took turns in groups of 10. Each one of the orcs had the freedom to do whatever they thought was the best. Some just checked the wounded and instructed them how to take care of their wounds. Some others mashed some herbs, cleaned and massaged the wounded area, applied the salve and bandaged the area. However, none had tried an amputation for cycles. None of them wanted to cripple someone for the rest of their lives without holding the title of shaman. Those had the protection of their names, but they were mere kids. No, none of them would have dared to amputate the day of the rite. The last someone tried that, several months without food and scarce rain followed. Since then, every cutting instrument had been removed from the rite. Those who had gangrene or necrosis were treated by the shamans, not by the young ones.
— It’s your turn, Gokk. Mend Alzamag.
— Elder, please.
— Will you relinquish your test, Gokk Mor’kas, and dishonor your father and your family?
— No.
— Then go. You have until the shadow of the water pole disappears.

Alzamag saw the wrath inside the eyes of Gokk. He guessed that his grandpa saw that too, but he wasn’t able to guess why he had left him at the will of the one who hated him the most in the entire Utgard region. Gokk grabbed a pair of leeches and placed them on the most swollen zones. While they sucked out the blood, he got a mortar, gentian, red clover flowers, and garlic and crushed them. He was doing his job with a resolve and determination he had only seen in his grandpa. Even though he hated him, Gokk knew what he was doing, and that annoyed him even more. He did not know how to prepare such salves. He knew that gentian was used to help the healing process, but he ignored what the other two ingredients were for. Gokk pushed him against the table, knocking him, but soon he felt the hands of his enemy working in his wounds. He was unstitching him and removing the leeches. He was using their saliva to remove the pus that had formed overnight. Then, he cleaned the area. He applied the salve with a greater care than he had expected. He also chose the best fabrics they had on the arena and patched him up good. He finished quickly. Ten minutes after Gokk had begun, Alzamag was already heading towards Dehka and his brother. He would be in the fifth round.  His brother surrendered on his test. Dehka made a simple remedy. Alzamag knew that Gokk had also beaten them on that test. When his turn came, he decided to emulate the recipe of his rival. He crushed two small pieces of garlic, a piece of gentian and some clover flowers. He put leeches on the affected zones, cleaned and applied the salve. Then he cleaned again and bandaged him. He was not as fast or precise as Gokk, but he didn’t feel insecure either. The shamans sent everyone to rest that afternoon. None of them left the arena feeling comfortable: if there were any infections or complications, they would appear several hours after their intervention. The medical test usually lasted for two or three days.

— Follow me, Alzamag. — The young orc could tell that something happened just by the face of his grandpa. Some other orcs had been called to check on their patients, but most of them had returned a short time after, saying that the shamans congratulated them and had made minor corrections. But none of them was called by the leader of the tribe that late. At least, the pain in his face and the bruises had disappeared. Maybe he would be able to remove the bandages in the morning.
— Draw the curtain, son. Your patient has had a terrible fever for hours. Can you tell me what happened?
— I followed Gokk’s recipe.
— He has been practicing his doses and procedures for cycles. The death of one of our own can’t be taken lightly.
— I thought I could do it.
— You were not only reckless, but also prideful and idiotic, Alzamag. If you didn’t feel ready, you could have done the same thing as Xaaz’al and asked for a later date of examination. But no, you had to be the best. Your brother will keep his honor and the chance to prove himself, but you will never remove this stain from yourself. The first patient you ever tended to is gravely sick. The ravings of fever are horrible. The shamans have said they won’t grant your blessing unless you explain what happened through your head. It is either to explain and humiliate yourself or to ask Yog-Sothoth with all your might for his recovery. Anyway, you have until the end of the rite to choose. I am so very sorry, son.

Alzamag left Mag’Ushar’s tent. The elder knew that he was responsible for the mistakes of his young pupil. He forced him beyond his capacity. They were children. They were the best of their generation and maybe better than many older than them, but they lacked expertise. Yes, it had been his fault, but he was too old and tired to admit it. Sometimes the world turned its back on you. That lesson could save their lives at some point.

The next morning was tense. Everyone knew about Alzamag’s error by then. He was the chosen one of their leader. They would humiliate him at the end of the rite. The doctor kid. They gathered this time after the sunset. The third test usually dragged a lot of people out of curiosity. Alzamag saw a lot less orcs this time, maybe around twenty, which meant that they had been eliminated in both tests and had no right to be there amongst them. He saw Xaaz’al-Ungul and their friend Dehka near him and he felt somewhat relieved. He didn’t fear the test, but what would come after if he didn’t succeed. Gokk was also there, with a smile that deformed his face. He was staring at him. Several older orcs lit torches all around the arena. A shaman spoke about the value of the rite of passage and how they were about to leave the protection of their fathers to turn into orcs worthy of the name of the tribe and some other stuff. It was then when he saw the worgens. They had tried to hide them, but they had already torn the fabrics over their cell.

— It is time to reveal the third test of your rite of passage. — An old shaman, younger than Mag’Ushar, rose and extended his arms. Behind him, four large orcs, the largest Alzamag had ever seen, carried the cell he had seen some minutes before. — This worgen survived the slaughter of her pack. Her pups are now ours. You have the task to face her. You are twenty against one. No rules or consequences today, but bear in mind that we are watching. May Yog-Sothoth grant you courage and strength this day. Release Lug’Ka.

The worgen, seeing those that had imprisoned her approaching, thought that they would try to harm them. They had killed every last of them and only the three eldest worgen mothers had been spared because of their pups. She curled instinctively at the rear of the cage. Some orcs stung her from behind with some long, pointy sticks. When she noticed what was going on, she was already in front of some twenty lesser orcs. They had no animal skins over them, and most were terrified to death. She knew she didn’t have many options. If she returned she would be stung again and she would never see her pups again. Suddenly, another sting. She finally took a resolution. She howled loud and clear, as if trying to convey in that howl the message that the last one of the worgen mothers would never bend her legs or her head before anyone. They would be easy prey. They held none of the things they had used to slaughter her pack. They were alone, with a single piece of leather covering their arms.

Almost everyone retreated before the huge worgen. Xaaz’al-Ungul was one of the few that stayed on the vanguard. Gokk was on the other side. The worgen attacked him first, but he was able to hit her with his shield and she got stunned. Then, the worgen really focused on him. The remaining warriors surrounded them like an arena inside the arena, but the shamans and the people around pushed them back into the combat. Almost none dared to step into the worgen’s reach. Gokk knew how to defend himself: he was only awaiting for her attacks to counterattack. This was saving him a lot of energy and allowed him to measure her movements better. — Do we really have only one worthy of being a shaman? — Laughter and mocking followed. The sound of the laughter of the other orcs distracter the worgen and Gokk managed to hit her for a second time. Several orcs, wounded in their pride, finally advanced against Lug’Ka. When the worgen noticed that she was being surrounded, she retreated a bit, allowing Gokk a bit of a margin to recover. Alzamag was still on the rearguard. He saw that Xaaz’al and Dehka were already near the wolf. Then it happened. One of the orcs hit a distracted Gokk with his shield, knocking him down. He was about to finish him off when one of the shamans threw a stake at the center of the arena. The shamans had turned the rite into a death match. Dehka didn’t doubt it for a second and reached the weapon before anyone else. She impaled one of the orcs that had approached her without a second thought. The worgen was confused, but she took all the advantage that she could. She eviscerated an orc with a single claw attack. The screams of the orcs and the bloodlust filled each one of the assistants. Alzamag had never witnessed a fight to death. Gokk had already recovered and snatched another stake to one of the worgen’s guards. He smiled and left the arena, cheering on the young orc who had managed to disarm him. Alzamag couldn’t see Xaaz’al. He was near their friend. She had supported them since the beginning. She had smiled him and they had succeeded together in the past two tests. Or not? Would she betray them both that day? Where was his brother? The light from the torches was dazing him. He hadn’t moved since the worgen was released. He didn’t react when a hit struck him in the temple. Someone had used a stake as a stick to bring him down. Several of the fallen were bleeding. They were red, with their gazes lost, fear and life absent from them forever.

Gokk had recovered three spears and had changed his shield at least twice. He was overwhelmed by bloodlust. Dehka had also knocked down a pair of warriors. There were six orcs standing. The worgen was circling around the arena, preying on the wounded. She had killed four and had a wounded orc huntress before her. The orc was terrified. A pair of blows at the correct height and she would bleed out. A young orc, too young to be a warrior, picked up one of the wooden weapons and ran towards her. Maybe, just maybe, if he hadn’t screamed, maybe he could have harmed her. But the adrenaline betrayed him. He hadn’t the strength nor the reach of bigger orcs. She tore apart his head with a single bite. With that one, she had killed five.

That vision would be carved inside Alzamag’s head to the end of his days. Xaaz’al-Ungul ran to protect someone they barely knew. He saw how the worgen pulled his head off and how his body, which was similar to his own, kept running until it collapsed into the sand, trembling, and how it twitched while its life faded away. The blood flowed out of Xaaz’al-Ungul, barely illuminated by the light of the torches. Had they lit them again or just added more oil? He was his brother, and now also a corpse with his same weight and height but with no face. What was he doing there? What did those bastards want? They were kids. They were not prepared for the rite of passage. He was dead. Dead. They had told them that some worgens had killed their parents. What for? What did they achieve making the story to repeat itself?

Gokk took the opportunity brought by Xaaz’al-Ungul’s death to throw one of the stakes. He pierced her left flank with ease. Dehka threw another one, which pierced her left eye. The two remaining orcs ran towards the worgen. It was badly wounded, retreating. They were brought down by two well-placed slings. The guards of Lug’Ka interrupted the match to save the worgen. The shamans ran down to mend the wounded. Alzamag wasn’t responding. He was lost inside his head. Xaaz’al-Ungul was dead. He was killed before him and no one had moved a finger. A funeral was held for those fallen in combat. That night, however, there would be no feasts. The patient that Alzamag had tended to had died. He didn’t know how he got into his house, though it was not his house anymore without his brother. He cried for hours. It was until Mag’Ushar woke him up in the morning that the reality of Xaaz’al-Ungul’s death took body and shape. He was gone. Even if his body and his soul were burned, and thought the shamans said that the ashes in the wind would reintegrate him to the grass, the flowers and the rain of Utgard, the truth, or at least the truth he saw was that he was gone. That he was broken and alone. From that day on, Alzamag would never trust anyone anymore. Dehka became the bride of the damned coward called Gokk. They would be the first ones. He would gouge their eyes out. The imbecile of Mag’Ushar would follow. He would cut his body and feed it to the worgens. Eye by fucking eye. They told him that he was a disgrace as an orc and that the humiliation of his defeats would chase him forever as long as he lived within the Soth-Makar. Well, fuck the tribe.

He abandoned the horde the following night. He took a shield and a good amount of clothes. The night following the rite he snuck into the house of those that had died and stole as much food, bracers and jewels as he could. He also stole some clothes and earth from the homes of Mag’Ushar, Gokk and Dehka. He knew that there was another tribe nearby, some days to the west. He would reach them. Even if he had to walk six, eight or ten weeks, it was better than living amongst hypocrites and traitors. He would make a name for himself. History would remember him. No one, never, ever, would humiliate him again. He placed his hand upon a stump before leaving the encampment and pulled out a knife. He might not have been a shaman, but he knew how to make a damned curse. He placed three small bowls he had stolen upon the stump and the earth from the homes he had brought with himself. He gouged out the eyes and the entrails of a frog that was passing nearby and threw its corpse on the stream. He crushed them and mixed the animal’s blood with his own. He emptied the mixture in equal parts over the ground of the traitors while he prayed to Yog-Sothoth. You are the gate, the star, he said. He made small bags with the fabrics he was carrying and placed each one of the bowls inside them. He cried and cursed. He remembered his brother Xaaz’al-Ungul and swore that he would avenge them. He placed the bowl under a stone and kept going.

Several cycles went by and the news of an extraordinaire shaman who was heading west with his tribe spread through Utgard. The things for the Soth-Makar tribe went from bad to worse. Mag’Ushar was the first one to fall. A strange fever overwhelmed him. He died fourteen days after Alzamag’s flight. He died screaming something about a king that came down. The shamans were terrified by the message. They believed it was a prophecy and that the old chieftain had gone mad before dying. Gokk died soon after he married Dehka. They tried to have children for cycles. One morning he woke up feeling very sick, tormented by the same fever that had killed Mag’Ushar. Alzamag’s curse, however, did not kill Dehka. It might have been because she smiled at them or maybe because she was the only one who had really felt any compassion for the twins. She was also stuck by a potent fever, but did not die. She survived Alzamag’s hate and became the first female leader of the Soth-Makar. She would bring her people to an age of prosperity and she would found the city of Dor’Anmak some cycles later.

            Alzamag became choleric and subdued several tribes. No one doubted the power he held and no one dared to face him. He headed west, always to the west, in a frenzied race towards the sea. He was being called by a storm and a wrath which knew no boundaries. 

jueves, 10 de noviembre de 2016

Lo prometido es deuda

Necromancia: The first era has been published in both english and spanish.
Necormancia: La primera era está publicada en inglés y en español.

lunes, 18 de julio de 2016

Capítulo 8: Auge de la Tierra Necromántica de Thánatos (Necromancia: La Primera Era)

English version Here.

Como prometí hace unos días, les comparto un capítulo de la novela de alta fantasía Necromancia. La traducción lleva poco más del 50% y espero poder terminar de traducirla para principos de agosto. Gracias por su paciencia y aquí está el capítulo 8: Historia de los necromantes, quiénes son y por qué llegaron a la superficie de Úrim. Espero que les agrade!
(Nota al margen, este sólo es un fragmento del capítulo 8 :D )

Los capítulo 3-7 tratan con las historias de los siguientes pueblos:

Capítulo 3: Historia de los Enanos

Capítulo 4: Historia de los Hombres

Capítulo 5: Historia de los Elfos

Capítulo 6: Historia de los Orcos

Capítulo 7: Historia de los Gigantes

También se incluye este mapa en las primeras páginas del libro, y muchos más están incluidos en la página de Facebook de la novela:


Pueden conseguir su copia de la novela en español en Amazon y leer este mismo capítulo en inglés aquí.

8.1: Fundación

Hasta ahora se ha contado la historia de las razas principales de Úrim; de cómo los enanos deforestaron el norte y se expandieron al este de su territorio, de la batalla contra Mekános, la aparición de los hombres, la magia y el poder; las guerras del sur, del oeste y del este; el nacimiento de los dragones y los imperios orco y humano. De la fundación de varias ciudades de la antigüedad. Pero más allá de todo esto, lo que define el término de la Primera Era es lo que se hablará en este capítulo: La aparición del Círculo de los Necromantes y la tierra maldita de Thánatos. Como nota adicional, es también una de las partes que más trabajo me costó escribir, pues las fuentes son muy vagas; las fechas y nombres varían y, en general, lo escrito por los necromantes se perdió o se censuró a fines de esta misma Era dado el nivel de destrucción que trajeron sus prácticas.

Arrojado en Thánatos por el mar, e incapaz de morir, Nergal reptó por el terreno volcánico durante varios ciclos. Los necromantes que vivían en Úrim, ayudados tanto por los etermantes y los muertos, pronto se enteraron de la existencia de Nergal, el primero de los no-muertos, y no tardaron en seguir su rastro de peste a Thánatos. Antes de la llegada de Nergal, Thánatos tenía ya algo de mala fama: apenas un ciclo después de hallar el Maelstrom, la isla fue descubierta en 777 por los piromantes de Dhabi. La descripción más alentadora se sintetiza en la nota del capitán del Djinn, Raif Halal:

“[…] una roca negra, impenetrable, cubierta perpetuamente por la cenizas de un volcán que sólo tiene segundo en el monte Thor. Se eleva como una corona de fuego por encima del terreno casi plano de la isla. No hay vida sana que pueda subsistir aquí. El agua que cae de la lluvia se vuelve lodo al atravesar la atmósfera y antes de caer se ha estancado ya. Poco después, se pudre en el suelo. Algunas plantas han podido germinar, pero nacieron en muerte perpetua. Ennegrecidas. Intoxicadas. Desde el barco parece como si hubiera una fina capa de terciopelo negro sobre toda la isla. Tal vez sean las hojas de las plantas las que dan una ilusión de vida. Hay más variedades de hongo de las que puedo nombrar y mis hombres se alteran con la mera vista de la isla. Varios cráteres, desde los que parece brotar un humor ceniciento, forman el paisaje más común de las planicies negras de esta isla. De algunos otros brotan columnas de fuego que surcan la tierra con sus ríos de magma y dan montes a la planicie. De no ser por las emanaciones de la tierra, la isla parecería una segregación del tiempo; un hijo bastardo arrojado a una prisión inmóvil, una imagen estática de la muerte. Desde que la avistamos supimos que había algo torcido. No desembarcaremos. No soy idiota. Aún cuando en Dhabi me repriman por volver antes, no arriesgaré nuestras vidas en vano. Haremos un mapa de la extensión aproximada y daremos la vuelta.”

La idea de una isla de muerte agradó a diversos grupos y para el 800, Thánatos era la isla cárcel o isla de exilio de hombres y orcos. Los barcos los abandonaban a su suerte; los criminales más afortunados morían poco después de desembarcar. Los menos se veían orillados al canibalismo y terminaban aullando; enloquecidos de miedo, los orcos y los hombres se degeneraban hasta transformarse en gules. No es de sorprender, pues, que los necromantes que sobrevivieron a la lucha en Glitnir y que lograron llegar hasta Midgard —y quienes, a su paso, iban adquiriendo adeptos—, hubieran decidido establecerse en la isla. Muchos de ellos, parias ya en sus tierras, llegaron a Thánatos buscando saciar su adicción a la magia de la muerte. Nergal, atrapado en la isla desde hacía más de 100 ciclos, se había adaptado a las tierras calcinadas de la isla y encontró en Thánatos un ecosistema propicio para desarrollarse.[1] Los necromantes pusieron pie en la isla hacia la década de 790.[2]

Algunos ciclos después del desembarco de los necromantes, nació un pueblo costero llamado Heracleion[3], muy pequeño pero que había logrado soportar las condiciones extremas de la isla. Las casas y calles del puerto tenían la apariencia de algo que ha estado en el mar por una eternidad. Sería más correcto, de hecho, decir que a Heracleion lo arponearon desde las profundidades y lo arrastraron hasta la costa. Sus casas, tabernas y edificios fueron pescados, arrebatados del fondo del Gran Mar Océano y los prisioneros aprendieron a convivir con aquello enorme, sin edad y sin principio. Fue hasta mucho después que la intervención de manos mortales desbastó las piedras primigenias de su olor marino para cubrirlas de huesos.

El flujo constante de prisioneros de las capitales de Úrim, sobre todo de Mares Anthal, Shurub´Gul, Dhabi y Granada, proveía a los necromantes con potenciales aprendices y materia prima. Cabe mencionar que estos prisioneros no solían ser magos y tenían poca o ninguna capacidad de defenderse ante los necromantes. Con el tiempo, además de los exilados, las grandes ciudades de la Antigüedad comenzaron a enviar a sus enfermos, muchos de los cuales morían en el viaje.[4] Dhabi fue el principal conducto de las ciudades humanas; los orcos, por su parte, explotaron los astilleros de Mares Anthal al máximo. Se estima que, a la semana, al menos dos barcos de cada raza lograban llegar a las orillas de Thánatos para deshacerse de su carga. Algunos de los capitanes registraron ataques de la raza contraria; es famoso el incidente de 786 en el que un par de piromantes incendiaron la barcaza orca Yafraggan y del cerco que impusieron los orcos tras la pérdida. Los piromantes solían rodear por el norte, pues el punto sur había pasado completamente a dominio orco.

Con todo, la isla de Thánatos tuvo, gracias a los desembarcos, un atisbo de vida. Descubierto seis o siete ciclos después de que llegara la primera generación de exiliados, Nergal fue perseguido y acosado por los necromantes, hasta que lograron atraparlo en un foso que cubrieron poco después con rejas. Conocedores, algunos, de las ciencias alquímicas que Gilgamesh acababa de revelar a Úrim, los necromantes supieron a la criatura reptante[5] la única forma de vida adaptada a las condiciones extremas de Thánatos y buscaron extraerle sus secretos. La alquimia primigenia, derivada de los conocimientos de los jotuns, les proporcionó el instrumento esencial de su supervivencia: una poción que les permitió adaptarse a las condiciones climáticas. Varios ciclos más pasaron hasta que la alquimia que había surgido en Úrim —en donde se hablaban de las propiedades milagrosas de la Piedra Filosofal,[6] aunque ésta fue un rumor hasta la Segunda Era— llegó, por fin, a destilar un compuesto que permitía a los necromantes adaptarse paulatinamente a la ceniza volcánica y al suelo muerto. El ingrediente primordial de ésta, conocido como sanguis nigrum, se extraía del cuerpo de Nergal.

En realidad, decir “cuerpo”, en este punto, es inexacto. La criatura Nergal, dicen los textos más antiguos conservados de los necromantes —y que llegaron a Úrim a través de los mercados negros de Granada—, tenía sustancia en lugar de órganos; en vez de cuerpo o forma, poseía volumen. Aborto de los Guardianes, Nergal era una masa horrible e incompleta; acabado a medias, a veces se le podían distinguir, sin orden o estructura, dientes, ojos, intestinos y cabellos. Esta masa, en constante cambio y regeneración y oscilando entre lo vivo y lo inanimado, pocas veces fue descrita igual.

Aunque la naturaleza de la mayoría de los experimentos en Thánatos  era tratar con los muertos, otra de las grandes preocupaciones de los habitantes de Heracleion era cómo sobrevivir a los terrenos hostiles que, si bien no los adoptaron, tampoco los repudiaron. Hasta este punto, parecería sugerirse que los presos, los necromantes y los enfermos trabajaban, hasta cierto punto, en grupo y en paz, pero si pasó, el sistema comunal no tardó en colapsar. Los alquimistas y necromantes más hábiles se hicieron pronto con el control de Heracleion y monopolizaron las pociones basadas en la sangre de Nergal: quienes no podían pagar los precios exorbitantes —o tenían la mala suerte de enemistarse con los necromantes durante el trayecto— estaban condenados a volverse gules, como pasó en los primeros ciclos de la colonización, o a perecer en las estepas de Thánatos. 

            Las pociones necróticas,[7] como les llamarían los necromantes futuros —y como se conocieron hasta el redescubrimiento de las Bodas Químicas en el ciclo 1627 de la Cuarta Era—, permitieron a los necromantes extender su dominio y cerca del 830 se acercaron a las bases del volcán. Poco después, entre 835 y 838, habría de fundarse la futura capital del Círculo de los Necromantes: la ciudad de Thánatos.

            El cambio de poder entre las ciudades fue gradual. Al principio, el solo viaje entre Heracleion y Thánatos suponía una especie de rito de paso pues, quienes no hubieran podido hacerse de la Sangre de Cuervo no habrían de llegar hasta la nueva sede. El traslado de la criatura Nergal a Thánatos, hacia 850, marcó el movimiento definitivo. Heracleion quedó como puerto de llegada para los prisioneros, como en su primera edad, y Thánatos albergaba cada vez a una mayor cantidad de necromantes.

Se estima que en ese mismo ciclo, 850, los necromantes concordaron en crear una especie de poder mayor, llamado el Círculo, el cual estaría regido por 7 de los más poderosos magos de la isla. Cada uno de ellos guiaría un experimento particular, tendría sus adeptos y autonomía en todas y cada una de sus funciones. Las decisiones que tomara con respecto a su porción de la isla serían responsabilidad únicamente de ellos. El Círculo se reuniría cada tres ciclos a discutir los avances en la necromancia. Como se dijo antes, los necromantes venían de casi todas las razas de Úrim —con excepción de los gigantes— y, por tanto, el Círculo era un grupo bastante diverso. Entre los defensores de los necromantes, como un pueblo que pudo haber prosperado de no estar dominado por un afán ciego de destrucción, se encuentra el historiador granadino de la Tercera Era, Fahrid ibn Diab, quien argumentaba que, de no ser por la influencia de Nergal y la repulsión de muchos por la necromancia, Thánatos pudo haberse vuelto la primera gran capital del mundo Antiguo. Entre los argumentos de ibn Diab destaca que en ella se encontraron los primeros verdaderos políglotas —debían manejar el orco, humano y élfico a la perfección, sin contar, en especial, la tolerancia entre razas— y crearon, entre todos, una lengua nueva, perdida ya, que permitió a la larga la comunicación en un solo idioma. También verificó, recopiló y proporcionó los nombres y la mayor cantidad de datos que se tienen sobre aquel Círculo hasta la fecha, y los cito a continuación:[8]

  1. Osiris
    El Segundo Necromante —y primero en ejercer libremente la necromancia de hecho— fue un favorito de Nut durante la Primera Era y el que trajo la idea de dominar la muerte a la conciencia de los urímacos. En la Segunda Era se argumentó que tal vez él fue el que desencadenó el balance de las escuelas mágicas, pero lo cierto es que desembarcó —dato aportado por el capitán del Djinn, Raif Halal—
    [9] en Thánatos en 791, junto a un grupo de necromantes que se volverían parte del Círculo. Los necromantes elfos poseían la característica única, y tal vez la única delatora de su pacto con los espíritus y los planos astrales, de poseer la piel oscura; es decir, todos se transformaron en elfos oscuros. Osiris, además, se sabe fue un amigo íntimo del líder elfo Imhotep.

  1. Set
    Seguidor de Osiris desde la separación con los elfos de Iunu-Ra. Poco se sabe de este elfo, salvo que solía ser el ejecutor de los mandatos de Osiris. Se le asoció, pues, con el caos y la enfermedad, aunque el líder de hecho fura el Primero. Se estima que nació poco después de la batalla con Mekános relatada por los elfos y, aparte de su participación en los hechos de Thánatos y la Gran Guerra, no hay mayor registro de él en ninguna otra fuente.

  1. Fátima Abicarán y el Aquelarre

Originaria de Granada, es una de las primeras grandes etermantes sobre Úrim. Se sabe que fue una piromante importante en la corte de los Al-Hayek, aunque pronto se encontró con Osiris y ésta, conocedora del mito de cómo llegaron los dragones a Úrim, siguió a los necromantes en 789. Se sabe que mientras caminaron, ésta le preguntó al necromante sobre el éter, y al no saber darle respuesta, le garantizó espacio y tiempo para practicar sus artes en la isla de Thánatos. Parece ser que este fue el móvil final de Fátima al integrarse al Círculo de los Necromantes. Las criaturas que invocó la hechicera no tuvieron parangón sino hasta mucho tiempo después.

También se sabe que Fátima lideró a un grupo de brujas, mujeres humanas menores a los 21 ciclos al momento de su llegada a Thánatos,[10] pelirrojas y escapadas casi todas ellas de las cortes de Toledo, Granada y los pueblos aledaños. Las brujas poseían conocimientos extraordinarios sobre herbolaria y la reproducción humana —todas ellas fueron criadas como cortesanas de los sultanes pero lograron hacerse a la mar como amantes de los capitanes o camufladas con los esclavos. Sus técnicas de seducción, maquillaje y preparación de pociones y ungüentos les permitieron contactar a los necromantes a la llegada a Thánatos. Fátima eligió y entrenó personalmente a las brujas en el arte de la etermancia. Se cree que los espíritus de los tenochcas tuvieron cierta influencia en Fátima, y que ésta les habló y dio instrucciones a las jóvenes por medio de los sueños. El Aquelarre tendría un papel determinante en 939, cuando […].[11]

  1. Rashida al-Jalil

Descendiente de una familia de comerciantes, Rashida fue vendida como esclava a un par de piromantes cuando contaba apenas 14 ciclos, es decir, en 780. Los magos la mantuvieron como esclava sexual durante algunos meses. La joven, lejos de aceptar su destino, despertó la piromancia que le heredara su madre en 783 y pudo librarse de sus compradores. Durante varios ciclos vivió como ladrona en Granada y, tras ser detenida y violada por los guardias reales en 786, fue enviada a la cárcel de Toledo. Tras un ciclo de prisión, logró escapar en 787 y se dirigió de nuevo a Granada. Vagó por varios días a las orillas del lago Mizar, hasta que se topó de frente con el grupo de Set, Osiris y la recién llegada Fátima. La joven hechicera se unió al grupo y se volvió una necromante letal tras abandonar la magia que le salvara la vida.

  1. Ulreth Matharieth

El orco Ulreth fue descendiente de uno de los grandes berserkers al mando de Alzamag. Con la caída del Emperador orco hacia 582, los berserkers fueron retirados de la vanguardia, lo que dejó al Imperio con miles de orcos sin ocupación. El jefe del clan Matharieth enseñó el arte del berserker a sus descendientes, quienes lo mantuvieron vivo hasta bien entrada la Tercera Era. Ulreth, nacido en Insh-Muthar en 689, se trasladó a la capital poco después y aprendió la electromancia desde muy joven. Cuando los necromantes llegaron a la región de Utgard en 788, su clan fue llamado a exterminarlos. Sin embargo, una parte de los Matharieth, entre los que se encontraba Ulreth, decidió ayudarlos a salir de Shurub’Gul a cambio de que les enseñaran su arte. El orco se ofreció con escoltarlos hasta la base del monte Thor, desde donde podrían llegar a Lemuria y ver si los gigantes les proporcionaban algún método de escape. Logró llegar a Dhabi en 790 luego de que los gigantes le negaran ayuda en 789. Ahí, en el puerto humano, conoció a Osiris, con quien tuvo un choque y, tras ser derrotado por el necromante,  le juró lealtad absoluta.

  1. Xel-Ungor 

Uno de los grandes shamanes del periodo de los Golgoth, Xel-Ungor comienza a dudar de la capacidad del nuevo Emperador y busca a las Bocas de Morug[12] para asesinarlo. Sin embargo, los asesinos no aceptan, pues ven con agrado las decisiones de M’ur Golgoth y Xel-Ungor se emancipa de su tierra y su raza. Vaga durante varios ciclos, cazando en las planicies de Utgard y localiza al grupo que guiaba Ulreth en 788. Los sigue de cerca y logra establecer contacto con el berserker. Se alejan de Utgard a través del bosque Glitnir y siguen su carrera hacia el este durante varios ciclos más. En el camino se encuentran con el enano Jørmund Lokesson y juntos llegan hasta Dhabi.

  1. Jørmund Lokesson

No se sabe qué fue lo que llevó a Jørmund a formar parte del ejército de los necromantes, sólo que no adoptó la necromancia y cumplía las órdenes sin la duda más mínima, fuera cual fuera el mandato. Se sabe, también, que era altamente independiente y se recuerda en particular su fiereza en el empleo de la geomancia. Algunos historiadores de la Segunda Era, en especial M’Kor Kethal señalan los paralelismos entre éste y la del mítico traidor enano Mjødvitner. Poco después, en la Segunda Era, se sabría que Jørmund descendía del clan perdido al mando de los bjørn: los guerreros Nordstein. Esto lo volvería uno de los primeros enanos de dicho clan en ser visto en siglos.

Se sabe, gracias en parte a él, que éste clan, del que se mencionaron algunas cosas en el primer capítulo, se desesperó con el paso de los ciclos y con el bosque que se extendía al infinito. Cuando se dieron cuenta de que no hallarían una segunda Bael-Ungor —ignorantes del triunfo de Radsvinn y los suyos—, los Nordstein cavaron cerca del río Tláloc, muy, muy al norte de la ciudad humana de Midgard. Hacia el fondo cavaron y, al parecer, por lo poco que se recuperó de Lokesson, lograron establecerse y fundar una colonia.[13]

Tras la fundación del Círculo de los Necromantes, los pueblos de Heracleion y Thánatos tuvieron un  gran auge, del que se hablará a continuación.

[1] Aunque ya antes se dijo que los gigantes se adaptan, Nergal fue la primera evidencia de la ciencia moderna para determinar que ese cambio o adaptación parecía depender al cien por ciento de la estabilidad emocional y  mental del jotun. Sin ella, el cuerpo se congela en un estado y le resulta imposible adaptarse a un nuevo medio. En el caso particular de Nergal, al parecer, la parte emocional estaba tan dañada que es difícil decir que “aceptara” la tierra de Thánatos; mi creencia es que la mente entró en un estado de cierre y sólo encontrar una encarnación tan certera de la muerte —la muerte como la entendía Nergal, al menos; la muerte total, la devastación de una era, la separación quirúrgica de una especie del mundo— pudo sacarlo de su sopor, pues reconoció en ésta el mismo panorama de las tierras calcinadas de Tenochtitlán.

[2] Se sabe de cierto que Osiris desembarcaría en 791.

[3] Puesto que los necromantes preferían la experimentación al registro de hechos como tal, la fecha exacta de fundación de Heracleion no ha quedado clara. Sin embargo, las estimaciones más recientes creen que el hecho, cuando muy tarde, aconteció hacia el ciclo 810.
[4] De hecho, la cantidad de cadáveres llegó a ser tan grande que los mismos necromantes decidieron utilizar los huesos para crear las edificaciones de Heracleion.

[5] Se hablará a fondo de las transformaciones de Nergal en el capítulo “Resurrección”.

[6] La Piedra Filosofal, para los alquimistas de todas las Eras, es un compuesto en polvo, rojizo, que domina la energía vital de las plantas y los animales, permitiéndoles sanar –ingerido– o germinar –aplicado como abono– casi al instante. Sin embargo, su propiedad principal era permitir la transmutación del plomo y del mercurio en oro.

[7] Estas pociones están entre las más duraderas jamás creadas. Sus efectos, entre los que se encuentran prolongar la vida de quienes la bebían, aumentar las capacidades regenerativas y una mayor resistencia a la intemperie —que en el caso de Thánatos fue imperante desarrollar— podían persistir por más de cincuenta ciclos después de la ingestión original, y durante la Segunda Era pudo reconstruirse la receta que usaron los necromantes. Dicha receta desapareció durante la cacería de alquimistas durante la Tercera Era y reapareció hace poco. El ingrediente principal, la sanguis nigrum, ya no existe sobre la faz de Úrim. Aquí está la receta, como aparece en el tratado Las Bodas Químicas de la Segunda Era:

Poción necrótica (Sanguis Nigrum o, más frecuentemente, Sangre de Cuervo por su negrura):

Es vital comenzar la mezcla a las once y media de la noche, apuntando hacia el Este, el día previo a la luna llena. Si no se hace así, aunque se siga el resto de las instrucciones al pie de la letras, no funcionará. Ocho gotas de sanguis nigrum disueltas en medio litro de agua de mar. Se calienta la mezcla durante 22 minutos. Se regula la temperatura retirando el recipiente de las llamas por periodos breves. A los once minutos exactos, se añaden también ocho gotas de sangre propia. Después de agregar la sangre, es necesario redoblar la precaución con las llamas. No se permite que hierva o se arruina la sangre. A los veintidós minutos, gran parte del agua se habrá evaporado, y en el fondo, si se ha hecho bien hasta ahora, se verá una pequeña perla. Se deja reposar la mezcla, ya retirada del fuego, durante ocho minutos y justo a la media noche se extrae la perla con unas pinzas metálicas. Se coloca la perla durante 5 minutos a la luz de la luna y, al sexto, se coloca en el recipiente final: un frasco chico de vidrio. Si el proceso se realizó de forma adecuada, la perla se partirá por la mitad y brotará la Sangre de Cuervo, llenando el recipiente.

Si se coloca un recipiente mayor, sea por querer extraerle más sangre a la Sangre de la Criatura, o porque no se dispone de otro en el momento, la Sangre de Cuervo se evaporará dentro del frasco y se habrá perdido para siempre.

[8] Tomado de: Ibn Diab, Fahrid, “El Círculo de la Muerte”, capítulo 3 en Los Caminos de la Necromancia, pp. 36-38

[9] Recorto la descripción de Ibn Diab, pues yo mismo la anexé hace algunas páginas. De Raif Halal se sabe que, tras descubrir Thánatos, fue encomendado con la tarea de realizar un segundo viaje de ida y vuelta. Al regresar ileso, Granada decidió comenzar el exilio de prisioneros del que se habló y Raif fue uno de los barqueros más prolíficos de este periodo. Murió en el ataque que hundió el Djinn en Solaris de 799.

[10] El autor hace la aclaración de la edad original de las brujas porque, como se recordará, la poción de Sangre de Cuervo permitía a los magos vivir casi eternamente. A diferencia de otros métodos descubiertos en diferentes Eras, quienes bebían la poción de los necromantes no envejecerían nunca más.
[11] Recorto la descripción de Ibn Diab pues se hablará a fondo de las invasiones de 939 más adelante.

[12] Se sabía, en voz popular, un poco del gremio orco de asesinos. Era creencia de la gente que, quien preguntara por ellos podría acabar poco después sin lengua.
[13] Se hablará con profundidad del clan perdido de los Nordstein en la Segunda Era.