The Veil of Secrets
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Faladmir Windhover was a respected cartographer at the end of the First Age. His ambitious goal was to map the southwestern parts of Ara, an enormous, ancient continent that would be destroyed in the Great Storm. The secrets he found, veiled by the dense forests, captured his soul and made him into something he never though of being possible: a guardian, a protector and a strong leader who would later become a legend. This story unravels the journey he took, what he saw in the deepest jungles of the South, and how he became founder of the famous, yet mysterious Darkmere Wardens.
From the diary of Faladmir Windhover, written approximately in 40 BTS (Before the Storm), during time when the Immortals walked among the mortal men, and the grim war between the Seers and Darklings was getting closer to its dreadful conclusion, which would begin the Great Storm and shatter the world into pieces.
Interested in cartography since very early age, Faladmir had been mapping the shores of Ara ever since he left his father's house at the age of seventeen. He was respected and valued among the northern nobles, especially among the other explorers and cartographers, who admired the courage and resolution he demonstrated in his voyages, hunting achievements that very few men dared to attempt.
Faladmir, like many others, believed that the war would eventually end, giving people the chance to see and appreciate the efforts of the explorers again. But as we know, this vision would never become reality. Nevertheless, he was willing to do what he loved most until the day he died, and thus, at the verge of doom, he equipped yet another expedition and headed southwest into the unknown lands of tropical conditions. This is what happened to him while struggling through the rain forests that would later be known as the continent of Narachel.
The diary uses dates that are marked in NC, which stands for Northern Calendar, the very same one that was used as a basis to create the modern version which has been used ever since. Several different calendar types were used during the First Age, varying strongly by region.
March 17th, 3844 NC
A strange disease has taken most of my men, and I am not sure how long I can carry on like this. The symptoms are rough and they appear very quickly. It begins with something that resembles a common flu before it escalates into high fever. Bleeding ulcers begin to appear all over the body as the sickness reaches the terminal stage in just couple of days. The victim becomes delusional, vomits blood and suffers from severe stomach pain. This illness has demanded the lives of over half of my crew, and I am afraid that soon I will have to head back home in order to save the rest. I was aware of the possibility that something like this might happen when traveling into the deep rain forests of the South, but the mere severity of this unknown disease has left me completely stunned. We will be camping and tending the sick as soon as we can find clean water and a location that can be considered safe.
March 18th, 3844 NC
Another case of illness broke out today, while Sir Themgar Frostbane, one of my closest friends and highest officers during this expedition, has apparently gone insane. A camp guard saw him running into the forest screaming something about curse of the ancients. I cannot recall to what he might refer with his words, but his sudden behavior suggests that this cursed jungle finally won the battle over his mind. Let it be known that Sir Themgar Frostbane was not a deserter, but merely a victim of hyperthermia and primitive conditions.
I have ordered the expedition to stop and build a base camp. We found a small stream running through the forest, which seems to be clear enough to supply us with water. I do, however, refuse to turn back, even though most of the officers are expressing their concerns over the situation, advicing me to do what majority of the men wish.
But great deeds are not achieved by cowardice, and neither will I stand back in front of the greatest challenge of them all, conquering the unknown southern jungles and bringing them to awareness of the people. I will expose the secrets that are hidden in these unfathomable thickets and return as a winner, not as a despicable dastard.
March 19th, 3844 NC
Everything is quiet, but I fear for the worst. I hear whispers in the dark - plots directed against me. I am not sure how real they are, or am I just seeing enemies where there are none. I am afraid the humid heat of this place is finally sneaking inside of my head as well.
Two more have died - good men. An officer and a worker. Both carried out their tasks with utmost courtesy and bravery. May Avareth bless their souls.
March 23rd, 3844 NC
I am alone now. I have not had the chance to write lately, for there was a violent rebellion among the workers, which could have been provoked by one of the officers. I will never find the answer, for I was outnumbered and had to escape.
I saw the men fighting against each other, saw the water turn crimson. I saw the blades stained by the blood of brothers, saw them fall - saw them die. They took all the food they could carry and turned around, but I fear for them. I do not think they will make it back in time, the illness will harvest the rest of them before they reach the edge of the forest.
I must continue. There are no other options. I am not ready to die yet, although I fear that day might not be far away. I will take as much supplies with me as I can and see how far I can get.
March 24th, 3844 NC
The miles I traveled today were long and heavy, like my feet had iron tied around them. I am feeling weak and cold, even though heat is extremely intensive. I believe what I feel are the first symptoms of the jungle fever, and I know that my time has come, but I will continue until my feet refuse to carry me any further.
March 26th, 3844 NC
I do not have much strength to write. The forest speaks to me - terrifying things. I can hear murmur in the dark, see figures in the mist, but I know they are not real.
I am dying.
I cannot continue any further, for my feet refuse to function. It is becoming difficult to breathe, and even the slightest movement exhausts me. I have finished mapping as far as I was able to, perhaps someone will discover my work and can continue the task that I have failed to accomplish. This is the end of Faladmir Windhover, an appointed cartographer of the Library of Nergil.
May 12th, 3844 NC
Words cannot describe the miracle that has happened, but I will do my best at it. I am alive and well, and on my way back from the heart of darkness, which turned out to be a blessed paradise in every possible way. I will describe the place I had a priviledge to see, but I fear it will not offer more than a faint glimpse of what it truly was.
June 8th, 3845 NC
Many things have been keeping me busy; the war, the errands of the library, and most of all, the new responsibilities, but I will write more about those later. I will go through the dream that I had in the deepest forests of southwestern Ara where I thought I was dying, but I was given a second chance by something much greater than I ever thought could be found from those forests.
I saw a dream, or so I thought at first, but as it turned out later, the dream I saw was as real as the disease I was suffering from.
I lost consciousness and drifted away, preparing to let go from the last strings that still attached me to this world, but then I saw something incredible. Misty figures, not taller than maybe four feet, approaching me. They were glowing some kind of strange, green light, like fireflies at night, except it was not night, not even remotely dark. These creatures were glowing softly in the broad daylight, and the forest around them seemed to glow vividly as well. The strange, green mist surrounded everything, and it was hard to see farther than my fingertips. Then one of the foggy figures reached down on me, and I saw her face.
I gasped, instantly mesmerized by the beauty of this little creature.
I had to swallow hard to keep tears away as those gentle eyes glanced at me. Her full lips moved, speaking words I could not hear. It seemed like she was singing quietly, but I could not tell the words. Her beauty made my heart bounce wildly in my chest, blood rushed in my veins and with the last of my fading strength I wanted to kiss that magnificent creature. She said something to her escorts, who turned away and returned to the mist, then she looked at me again and smiled lightly, and I finally heard the words.
”Brave you are for entering Melianar, but death is not far behind you,” she whispered with softest, sweetest voice I have ever heard in my life.
”Who are you?” I asked with a raspy voice, the disease must have been consuming my lungs by then.
”The Melyar of Innelieth, the one who makes all life,” she answered mysteriously, for I had no knowledge of terms she used. She noticed this and smiled again, shaking her little head, and I could swear she looked slightly amused.
”Please, do not talk,” she asked me as she leaned closer to examine my sickly body. Her braids sparkled in all colors of green and blue as the brightness of Solari caressed her silky hair. I was intoxicated by her smell, which reminded me of delicate, fragrant orchids.
”How have you crossed the border of Dalnaril, I know not,” she then said and continued, ”for the web we have woven around our shrine should prevent all outsiders from finding us, and yet you are here, at the edge of our most sacred grove.”
She seemed puzzled, perhaps a little chagrined, but there was no threat in her voice or in her gestures as she took my hand and led me to her paradise. I am not sure at which point I was cured of my disease, for time seemed very vague concept in that place, but at some point I became aware of my improved condition, and I knew that somehow it was because of this astonishing lady.
I marveled at the sheer beauty of the shrine. There was a lake, deeper than the oceans, and they called it Dalnaril. A peculiar name for my tongue, so I renamed the lake in my mind and called it Darkmere, depicting the great sacrifices it had taken to reach this mysterious place. Later I marked the lake on my maps by using the same inauspicious name, which, at least in my deepest wishes, would keep this enchanted grove better protected. I made the map purposely difficult to read, drawing it mostly for my own personal use as I never wanted to lose the path I had discovered.
I must also describe the trees, for I have never seen such enormous trees anywhere else in the world, and I have my share of miles behind me. I could not put my arms around them, I could not see the tops while peering up, and I could not help myself feeling rather uneasy around them, as if they were alive. Not alive like we know plants to be, but like they were intelligent beings, and these strange folks, Dryads I called them, for they seemed to speak to each other often by using a word that sounded something like ”Dryadais”, but it is once again something my tongue cannot comprehend. They speak to the trees, caress them, nurture them in ways that is not normal for even the most dedicated gardener. There had to be a deeper connection between the trees and these creatures, and later I found out while speaking with the light of my heart, the one Dryad that brought me to this place, that these wonderful beings are none other than the children of these trees. Nizzreth, the First One, the one who saved me, was the queen of this community. Once, several weeks after arriving to this amazing place, she took me to see her own Heartwood, the birthtree of the First One. It was a sight like herself, something I would never forget. She called it Tamalya, the first tree of the world, and it surely was the largest tree I have ever seen. Older than ages, sturdier than mountains and wiser than all mystics of the world together. I am forever in debt to her for showing something so personal and dear. This particular tree is Nizzreth's life. If the tree would die for any reason, so would the life of my love come to an end, and I cannot bear such thought.
Around the outskirts of the shrine I saw other kind of trees that Dryads called Mandragoras, and they were dreadful, sort of eery and fearsome plants. Lurking in the shadows of the longest and thickest branches, the Mandragoras seemed to be the caretakers of this misty lake and the peculiar dwellers of it. I had difficulties to see one properly among the timber, but what little I saw, and what little Nizzreth revealed to me, I understood that they were there to make sure that Dalnaril flourished and remained protected. Looking like very slowly wandering weeping willows, covered with thick bark and rustling leaves, these strange creatures seemed to be everywhere. I tried to avoid them as much as I could, for the sheer presence of those creatures made me feel most uneasy, even though I was assured that they would not harm me as long as I would not harm them.
On one beautiful, sunny day, a day like all days in this place, Nizzreth came to me, smiling her mysterious little smile, and told me that she had a gift for me - the final gift. I did not understand, but I followed her. I would follow her beyond death if I had to.
We walked to the water's edge, and there on the grassy shore of Lake Darkmere, she kissed me softly. I felt tingly all over my body, which I thought was pure excitement of the situation at first, but then she took my hand and walked into the lake! I had no other options but to follow her, and I have to admit that for a short moment I was resisting a little. But Nizzreth's call was undeniable, and so I immersed myself into the waves, throwing away the last remains of my survival instincts. Like I said, I would follow Nizzreth beyond death if I had to.
We dived deeper and deeper until the sunlight was not able to reach us, but still we continued to descend. At first I tried to hold my breath, but it became impossible as the minutes passed, and eventually I had to gasp. I trusted Nizzreth, Immortals be my witnesses, I would have given my life for her without questions, but old habits do not die easily. My sudden ability to breathe in water was still surprising, even though it was something I should have expected by now. Somehow she had given me this amazing ability with her kiss, and I could not do anything else but smile and see where she was leading me.
When I began to believe the lake had no bottom at all, we finally reached it. And there, in the middle of the darkness, I saw a faint light coming from a narrow cave entrance. Nizzreth pulled me toward the cave as she swam effortlessly through the water. Her grip never loosened from my hand and I felt myself safe down there, bathing in her soft, mysterious glow, mesmerized by the scenery that opened before me. Curious fish schools circled around us, wondering about the unexpected visitors, but they did not seem frightened or alarmed. In fact, they seemed to be greeting Nizzreth as an old friend, darting around her excitedly. They came in all shapes and sizes, colors ranging from darker hues to the brightest, most vivid shades.
After swimming through the cave we arrived to a small sandy beach. Behind the sand I saw long grass and ever strengthening light, which seemed to come from several narrow tunnels that pierced the ceiling of the cave. It was an enormous cave! My guess is that a fully grown Heartwood tree could fit in there without problems, but there were no Heartwoods in this cave, something even more magnificent was present there.
”Walk through the grass, head toward the center of the cave,” Nizzreth instructed me with her soft voice.
”What will I find there?” I asked, unsure of what to think about this new situation, but she smiled at me warmly, comforting me with the mere glance of her gentle eyes.
”You will find what you seek, only Innelieth, our beloved mother knows,” she said and nudged me slightly, encouraging me to take the first step.
And so I did.
Without presenting more questions, I walked along the narrow path that led me through the grass and a small grove before I arrived to a pond in the middle of the lush forest. As I arrived to the water's edge, a breathtaking beauty opened before me and I had to sigh in pure wonder. The pond was clear with blooming lilies floating on the inviting water. On both sides of the pond, steep rocks rose from the ground forming natural staircases leading high up near the ceiling. Small waterfalls purled down the steps before reaching the pond, creating a constant flowing scenery in front of me. Behind the pond, a pair of great willows were casting tepid shadows upon the water, delicate rose trees bloomed around the majestic rocks as the falling water shrouded everything in its calming song, The peaceful serenity of the place was captivating, connecting me with the most primal essence of my inner self, revealing me the delicate and sophisticated bond we all share with the nature itself.
I was so touched and moved by the beauty of this shrine, and it left me with a deep understanding of what we really are. I cried for all the ambitions I had, for they seemed like utter nonsense and waste of time now. I cried for the wars and the twisted nature of men, wondering how they can be so blind that they cannot see the beauty around them that deserves nothing less than to be praised and treasured.
Suddenly I realized that I was not alone anymore. A figure of a woman, clad in nothing but a thin, white veil that reached down to her ankles, and long, silvery hair that hanged around her waist. Every feature of her slender body was clearly visible through the veil, and the sudden realization of this made me blush deeply. I glanced at her shyly, trying to keep my eyes from wandering on her body, but while I failed miserably in my futile attempt. I noticed the same gentle warmness in her eyes that I had seen in Nizzreth's eyes, and an amused smile playing on her perfect lips. This woman seemed ageless, and despite her perfectly shaped body there was infinite wisdom in her eyes, which forced me to approach this lady with utmost respect, regardless of what she was wearing.
I bowed deeply before her and she answered with a smile and the most gracious curtsey I had ever seen.
”I have been expecting you, Faladmir,” she spoke with a voice that flowed like honey; sweeter than the sweetest wine, fresher than dew on the petals of a marigold.
”My lady, how did you—,” my sentence was never finished, for when she came near me my thoughts were momentarily scrambled and I lost track of them. I had never seen a woman so beautiful before, and only the fascinating, exotic features of Nizzreth made her stand out next to this lady, but that did not suprise me as I suddenly realized who this lady was.
”You are the Immortal Mariel,” I gasped, my eyes dilated in amazement as the sudden realization made me shudder. The lovely lady smiled again, nodding lightly.
”That is one of the names I am known for, one of many,” she said and glanced around the pond. ”And this is my shrine, the very same where the world was brought back to life when my sister broke the multicolored Sul'Awen, which was later made into the sun and the moons by my dear brother.”
All of a sudden I felt weak, and if that fair maiden would not have supported me, I would have fallen to the ground. The place I was brought to was none other than Dalnaril - the Emerald Abyss, the legendary fountain of youth where Mariel had revived the forests and animals of Falchrest at dawn of ages. And indeed, I saw them now. Thousands, if not millions of Sul'Awen signs carved into perfect formations all around the stones, faded over time, but the might of the Immortal made sure that they never truly disappeared.
I fell to my knees and prayed. ”Praised be your name forever, Immortal Mariel. Tell me what I must do.”
But she smiled and took my hand. ”Rise, Faladmir,” she urged, ”I do not seek blind adoration from you, or any other of my followers. Come here. Spend a moment with me and hear my humble wish, but keep in mind that it is all your own decision whether you choose my path or continue on your own.”
The Immortal Mariel sat on one of the ancient stones she had used aeons ago to prepare one of the most complicated and powerful spells that had had a major impact on the evolution of Falchrest, and I followed her and sat on the stone next to her. For some reason her barely covered features did not bother me anymore, I can only guess that it must have been because of her divine presence, which rose so far above such earthly matters that even I forgot my shyness and eagerly listened to what she had to say.
She told me that the world was changing, and the tremors that awaited in the near future would be so drastic, shaking the deepest bedrock of the world, that new ways were required to protect the secret land of the magnificent creatures that dwelled in there. I found out that Dryads were made as an image of her - they were the blessed children of Mariel, and that my presence in this place had been foretold by the stars long before my birth. She said there was strength in my body and deep love in my heart, and those were to be the foundation of my devotion that would drive me onward to secure the safety of the Melyar and protect them with my life.
At first I was terrified by this task and the enormous responsibility it brought upon my shoulders, but Mariel comforted me and told me that I would not be alone with this task. Then she gave me a small glimpse of the future by showing me what was to come, and I saw the storm that would break the world. I also saw new hope that dawned in the aftermath of this Great Storm, and I saw the meaning of my work and the expectations bestowed upon me. I was to become the first leader of a group of protectors who all would swear an oath to give their lives for this secret grove. I was to be the first warden of this shrine, and it would be my task to prepare the order to withstand the turmoils of the Great Storm, and to make sure these Wardens were fully functional once the winds calmed and the oceans settled.
I swore without slightest hesitation.
After my oath, Mariel formed a cup with her little hands, immersed them in the crystal clear water of the pond and brought a dash of cool water to my lips. After a brief silent moment, she kissed me gently on the forehead and left me, but her warm presence never left my heart again.
I returned to the shore where Nizzreth was waiting for me. She did not ask me questions, but smiled and kissed my lips again, leading me back to the dark water. We returned to the surface and I spent the night awake, thinking about everything what Mariel had revealed to me. And while I was lying there by myself, a plan began to form in my head.
I left Melendar a few days later, but with a promise of swift return. Nizzreth, along with other Dryads, came to bid me farewell. My heart was heavy from sorrow as I left Lake Darkmere behind, and even the blessing of Mariel failed to ease my inner pain. I was heading back to the cold world, where only a small spark in my soul, kindled by my sweet Nizzreth, would warm me at nights. But I knew what I had to do, and I knew why I had to do it. The cause gave me strength, for I had sworn to guard and protect Melendar with my life. I had awakened from my dream, but I stored a small piece of it in my heart, where I will keep it safe from most people I will encounter during my journeys.
This is my description of Melendar, and the Melyar - the Dryads. I am extremely busy preparing our order for the change, and also for the first group of recruits to travel south. Each and every Darkmere Warden will take this journey to the hidden lake where they swear the same oath before Nizzreth that I have sworn before the Immortal Mariel. It is the rite that binds us to the grove, and one by one the same flame is ignited in all of them.
I cannot describe the eagerness my heart has to see Nizzreth once again, to feel her soft skin against mine, to smell her mesmerizing scent in the night as her voice softly carries me through the dark.
- Faladmir Windhover, City of Nergil, Explorer, Cartographer and Grandmaster of the Darkmere Wardens
Note: Faladmir Windhover died at the age of 134, which is exceptionally high for a Huron. He was convinced that the water he drank at the Emerald Abyss caused the unnatural extension to his life. Despite his eagerness to return, the Sacred Grove kept him waiting until the end of his days, for the unstable condition of the world required his constant attention to help the Wardens grow strong. Sending freshmen into the southern forests sounded mad, but Faladmir was a cartographer, and he had prepared secret maps that would lead the recruits to the general area where Nizzreth would be waiting for them.
Before his death, Faladmir recruited nearly hundred Wardens to guard and serve the Dryads. He led the newborn Wardens through the turmoils of the Great Storm, helped the suffering people the best he could, saw that the Darkmere Wardens stood on their own as an order. And finally, near the end of his long journey, he traveled back to Melendar, where he died in the arms of Nizzreth, the one and only true light of his heart. She offered him another chance to visit the Shrine of Mariel, for her love for this man was as strong as his for the queen of the Dryads. But Faladmir refused, explaining to her that his time had passed long time ago and that he had earned rest. Nizzreth accepted this with a heavy heart. She understood the limitation of Faladmir's age compared to her own, but still today, after thousands of years since his passing, Nizzreth is still mourning the loss of her one true love.
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