There is a room in the east wing of the Nailo estate in Melenne where, tucked away in an inconspicuous drawer of a great bureau, half a dozen sheets of writing wait for anyone with cause to rummage through that particular compartment. Should the discoverer be of intellectual inclination, well versed in languages and with a taste for trifling riddles, then perhaps she might be excused if she didn’t immediately realize the eminent suitability of the notes as kindling. A cursory analysis would reveal that the author, a man judging by the script, has attended a lecture on the fundamentals of sorcery, or at least he has endured the beginning of it. These parts are trivial and would be discarded outright. But then the text assumes a more private style, not as hasty, one which speaks of aristocratic erudition (observe especially the two references to Zorasshper’s poetry) and of familiarity with High Dragonic idiom. Most intriguing of all, passages of Miner’s Cant in dwarven runes appear sporadically on these later lines.
Here are the contents of that manuscript, including strikethroughs. Words originally in Miner’s Cant are set in boldface.
Quill, you shall be my confidant.
In this head of mine, in its moonless mere set astir by chimeric serpents of atramental deeps — therein I find my inkwell, poured to the brim by uncouth Fate.
Here it spills.
When in my youth I played with the stable boys, I was always branded the Fancy Talker. I did not mind. Besides, there are children in the nobility who intone in a much more courtly style than myself. Such is their nurturing, and they soon learn to take pride in their long sibilants and refined turns of phrase. I vacillate — is it proper or preposterous?
My companions seem so cultured. Althaea has her music and her journal. The scholarly disposition of Carric is apparent to all. Even Borel, my brother, whom I took for an ordinary man in terms of mental capacity — carefree and unpretentious yes but studious? — has to my surprise revealed a keen interest in literature and, most recently, a passion to learn the lute, at which Althaea has provided him patient guidance. And what of myself? I am now the sorcerer’s neophyte on a miscellany of arcane matters, primarily academic at this stage as opposed to practical. I try to follow his rapid cascading of thoughts, sometimes failing utterly, at other moments sensing a glimmer of reason, but how near my understanding hits the mark I cannot say. He splays his mind over books and parchments with delight.
We are so unlike.
Actually, we share a common virtue, as I have discovered to my great excitement. How should I put it? He spoke contrastingly of sorcery and wizardry, the former drawn from a dragon-inherited inner potency — excepting wild magic? — whereas the latter may be unlocked by any adept who possesses its key. Could there be a more fitting metaphor for this venture of ours? The prevailing dominance of sorcery represents the rule of dragons, the old order. Hence the coming age shall herald the rise of wizardry. Alas, I am but a grain of sand in Sithrakh’s hourglass, and I cannot hope to see the Day that follows Dawn. Yet there is work to be done, here and now. Complete autonomy — that is the lofty ideal that unites myself and Carric.
Behold Dulkan the Philosopher! Perhaps I should grow a long beard and retire to a high chamber in some lonely tower. I wonder what new shade of red my appearance would conjure on Vulkan’s cheeks if he suddenly found me thus, rivalling his own venerable whiskers. I always take after you, my friend, eventually.
Here is another piece of wisdom: With my own hands, with my own mind. Those are the words I had engraved on this new ring. I have grown fond of the thing, I must say, though at times when my fingers play with it, as is their irremediable wont, they expect to find the Kiln signet. Then a deluge of memories. I wish I could have some assurance that I am going the right way, that what I am climbing is indeed a high peak on wide foothills. I see nothing but fog everywhere. Where am I to head?
There are the five Kiln precepts, which seemed sound enough when they were impressed upon me, and as they owe their origin to the hardships of the Age of War, they might be of some use at present. First, be true in your word and conduct. Bah! To my endless displeasure, all these affairs of statecraft require a rather oblique view on truth, so I have learned. One must be mindful of all facets of the gem. Let us consider the expedition to Assarna, for instance. On my part, it began with a sincere desire to help the locals, to instill in them some of that same enthusiasm that I feel, but now that the happy faces of Arry are not here to remind me of the direct import of our achievement, I see the dark outlines of a political stratagem. A dragonchess gambit — how cruel that the Sahuagin terror worked in our advantage, in the end. Timothy opened my eyes to Lady Ashinka’s machinations. Corrupt she is not, I would surmise, but I must fathom the depth of her principles. Question: directly or indirectly? Orc arse! Whose work is dirtier, peasant’s or his lord’s? Let Althaea figure it all out, she is the cleverest of us in such things.
The subject of the Dragon Knights also demands a subtle enquiry. Why did the appeals of Alexha go unanswered? I sense a clandestine power at work here.
The second rule: Master your craft. A respectable advice, without doubt. This more than anything distinguishes
us the Kilns and the varied peoples who come to their service. Each is allotted a rightful position, not by name or by influence, but on a promise of future merit. All dedicate their efforts on the practice of their own skill, earning praise in proportion to their attainments, working concertedly, each a strong link in the chain. This is how I see myself now: a sword hand for the cause.
But unlike an exemplar of Kiln discipline, I must be my own general also.
A lone ring. Along with three others.
Third: Honour the divines, your elders and the old ways. The dragon divines — if such forces truly exist, who am I to contradict their wills and whims? Mishra watch over us! However, I find it difficult to accept that such metaphysical beings would or could favour any particular form, dragonic or otherwise. The acolyte at the temple of Cruxis disputed this hypothesis, but clearly his spiritual imagination is fettered by the doctrine of his superiors.
One day a new vision of the divines Borel is sensitive to heterodoxy. Perhaps I should discuss the theory with him. As to the elders, in all likelihood they have grown rich in knowledge, and they have proven themselves worthy by their works. For these reasons I bow before them. But as to their traditions, I do not see the value of antiquated mores in times such as ours. Verdigris may ennoble a monument, but who would ask for a corroded cuirass?
But the curse — am I truly bound by its mysterious portent of doom? I fear to learn the answer.
Fourth: Remember your duty. Agreed! My duty is this: to assist in drawing around this humble tract of coastal land a new line of demarcation. All who are willing to work for the common good are welcome within, all who seek to impose tyranny and
pointless unjust hierarchies are to be driven out. Our realm shall parallel the Age of Splendour in prosperity and peace, and yet the citizens shall enjoy a degree of freedom without ancient precedent. This I swear on my word of in the name of Ashanti. For all my follies and shortcomings, I cannot see how I could possibly be on the wrong side on this point.
In the Age of War, the duty of every Kiln, and of every man and woman under their banner, was to defend Dusk Coast on its eastern ramparts. My own self-imposed commandment is hardly less weighty. On the contrary, have I not broken ranks for a higher calling?
Fifth and last: Remember the fallen. Oh, how I have brooded over them during these past days. And nights. You Kiln guard, who met your end by my sword, what was your name?
Heed me, Ashanti, I have committed a crime and the guilt torments me! But I cannot bring myself before your judgement until this work is done. I must keep my tunnels dark. My sole hope is that, by pursuing this cause to the end with all my energy, I may finally atone my transgression and have peace.
Vulkan, you were under this same yoke once. The passing away of young Duratha must have weighed heavily on you, I understand that now. And then you brought to your hearth a stray boy from some ravaged farmstead near Devil’s Needle, and you named him Dulkan. What was it in me that caught your sagacious eye? All those years you watched over me and crafted me into shape. Another treasure for the Covetous One, another living sacrifice — these were my thoughts when I learned the harsh truth, and so the bond between myself and the Kiln family was
cut completely. No free soul should be made an unknowing stretched uopn a rack. If you claim you know my tunnels, Vulkan, you know they lead out, to daylight.
[An entire paragraph here is thickly crosshatched in ink. The text is illegible.]
I have disturbed the slumber of dust in curious rooms in this elf hall. What an eerie quiet. I feel as if I have trespassed outside of Time and its worldly rush.
Thuelach, white captain of the mountain watch, your words have echoed in my mind since I returned from the threshold of death in Assarna. I was but a lad when I last saw you, but the memory is pure and clear. “You have a place in the Hallowed Halls when your time comes,” Lord Uratha said to you in a low and solemn tone, one that I had not heard before. And this was your response: “A great gift, my lord, but I decline. My true home has always been in the mountains, on their snow-bright slopes, close to the sky. My request is that I may spend my last years there. When the infirmity of old age takes hold, I wish to be glaciated into the eastern face of Falconwail Peak, as is the custom of my bloodline. There I shall greet every sunrise until the world itself ends.” Never before or since have I witnessed such stoic acceptance of mortality. I was awed and horrified, and still am, to a degree. But I would wager that, with strength and vigour such as yours, you still live and have many more years left to roam your high domains.
I wonder how my own end will arrive, how my name Enough of somber thoughts!
Edessa, whatever comes, our paths are fated to join.