Vercingetorix is a young warrior of Dalpok, committed to resist oppression by pirates and outsiders of his native homeland. Vercingetorix took his warrior name from an outsider legend of a resistance fighter of antiquity. Vercingetorix is the son of the now deceased Dappled Shadow, the former Raktam warlord and erstwhile Empress of the Three Lands, conceived and raised during her exile in Dalpok.
Vercingetorix is a member of the Native Resistance Front, in the tradition of all Dalpok warriors. Dalpoki tradition postuates the existence of star gods, rather than sky gods as advocated by Raktami belief, and that the star gods control the behaviour and fate of all on the island.
Vercingetorix is an ultra-conservative follower of the Path of the Revered Elders. The Path of the Revered Elders is a tradition of behaviour, rather than a formal philosphy: to exercise xenophobic suspicion of all outsiders and revere the jungles and grasslands of the Great Dalpoki Plains. The Revered Elders are, witout order of precedence, Azuma, Ropata, Stargod Tinxiweewee (a holy incarnation of one of the deities), Gridflay, and Isolation. These five Great Ones by their example have preserved the way of life in Dalpok despite ongoing assaults by nearby pirates.
As an ultra-conservative follower of the Path, Vercingetorix refuses to cut a blade of the jungle, nor harm a single animal. It his belief that the grasslands west of Dalpok are a sacred place, the playgrounds of the star gods.
The journal below was written in the ink of poisonous berries upon the dried and pressed leaves of banana trees.
Journal of Vercingetorix - Resolution on the Path of the Revered Elders
My childhood playing amongst the grasshoppers and dragonflies of the Great Dalpoki Plains ended as the constellation of the Red Stranger loops over the hoizon of the plains.
My arms are tattooed by an ancient crone, so long in the village people have forgotte her name, with ink drawn from the venom of the deathadders of the holy grasses. This was once done with the tooth of tiger or the tusk of a wild boar, but in recent years since the pirates endeavoured to sell Dalpok to the outsider Maevar, it has been executed wth bone fragments of from the corpse of that unfortunate man.
The story is fairly interesting and so I recount it: a small horde of pirates seized control of the south of Dalpok and purported to re-name it "New Amsterdam". For barely 150 gold coins Maevar bought all rights, title and interest to New Amsterdam, and then rather naively endeavoured to live in the village and act as its benevolent quasi-governor.
Maevar's sun-dried corpse, reduced to a state of partial mummification, is in the weapon's hut, an edifice identifiable to visitors by the motto inscribed on the doorway, "Live Free or Die". By using Maevar's shattered bones as tattooing instruments for warriors as they depart to fight, we remind ourselves as a culture that we are owned by no one, that we have allegiance only to ourselves, and that human longevity is a condition which may end at a moment's notice.
I brace myself with a blowpipe carved from the ivory of an elephant. This is my first blowpipe, and I treasure it as a novelty, fully aware that I have little ability to use it. Animals in Dalpok all have some significance to different sects within the vilage, but elephants, by reason of their nuisance value in stripping the bark and leaves from essential trees such as mangoes and bananas, are quite freely killed, with little remorse. Some meagre efforts have been made over the years to domesticate the beasts, but it is far more likely that you will see a Dalpoki eating the meat from an elephant's corpse (which is quite delicious) then riding precariously upon a bull elephant's back, other than, perhaps, as a dare or a gesture of courage in the course of a courtship.
I head north. The road between the pirates' haunt and Dalpok is called Corsair Boulevard by both the natives and the pirates. It is usually in various states of disrepair. Discarded rubbish such as broken pottery, rags of cloth and the leftovers of meals has created an avenue of detritius. Civic-minded individuals from both sides periodically lay straw or long grass on the road so as to allow ease of passage, and this has slowly intermingled with the rich soil of the island and the manure of passing animals. The remarkable result of this is that the road itself is three feet higher than its surrounds. One almost feels as if one is riding on the back of a tiger when traversing the Corsair Boulevard, both literally and figuratively.
Corsair Boulevard is used for the convenience of both sides of the conflict to find the other's camp. As a consequence of this mutual destructive convenience, the road is occasionally tended. The Dalpoki statesman Woo Elephant Yeah is the person who seems to be most active in this exercise. I know that he also tends a road down to York. The "Woo Elephant Yeah Network", as some people call it, takes some effort on his behalf.
At one stage pirates laid signs to mark the Corsair Boulevard so as to assist the less experienced of them to find Dalpok during periods of spikes in aggression between the two sides. Dalpoki warriors tended to remove them as they were erected, and often killed the outsider mercenary road workers responsible, but in more recent times there is an strange understanding that the road is of joint advantage, and so it stays relatively intact.
My part in the holy war on pirates thus begins, and my first step on the Path is actually upon the rotting timbers of the deck of the wreck, the unholy vessel known as the Hellborn Strumpet. It is a single-masted sloop, as the outsiders call this type of vessel, something we often see out to sea, but never have I seen one so close as to stand on it.
It lies more-or-less horizontally on a sandbar, a great gouge cut into its side, perhaps by reef further out to sea. It seems to my untrained eye that it might be capable of repair with driftwood, if only the pirates had the tools to fix it. The star gods grant them this boon, I say, for then they may leave Dalpoki territory.
High above on the mast, a repellant facsimile of a great tree, is a black rag bearing the image of a skull. The stench is enormous, eminating from the wood, beneath which various pirate sailors slumber in the moonlit night.
I can hear muttering in the vulgar outsider tongue, a vocabulary I do not understand, and do not like for its gutteral phrasing. The ship is a diseased place, diseased of the spirit, far worse than as described to me by my mother, who raided the vessel when she was Warlord with the Royal Court of Greater Raktam.
Three pirates and a nearby Yorksman felt the pain of my darts, despite my novice skill. Moe specifically, they are the pirate called Red Will, a broad man with jagged scars around his neck and hair the colour of the sunset, a shortish, surly man with ruffled sleeves called Cryptrocket, and a darkhaired woman pirate, called Nicolette the Fierce, my first kill.
I looked closely at the woman as I poisoned her in her sleep. She wore the clothing of an outsider man, but had long hair and pouting lips. The unwashed smell was the same, though, irrespective of the gender.
The Yorksman, notable by the red-coated dress worn by many of the people of that town, is called Vinzenz, an overweight settler, not a fighter.
I try to take their heads as trophies, but have no knack for it. Perhaps I should practice this more.
In the beginning of this month, I was in the weapons hut and saw Gridflay the Grim, one of the Revered Ones. I could barely bring myself to hail him. He was standing near some refugees from Raktam, people fleeing a new war with the outsiders. I identified the Raktam Royal Advocate, Quest, in the traders hut, where I received a letter.
My mother sent me a note from Raktam, where she had recently repatriated. Apparently the King of Raktam had acknowledged her presence and more or less welcomed her back to the fold, but she still felt compelled by the Raktam sky gods (who are, frankly, a petty bunch and inferior to our star gods) to take up the mantle of Empress. But the blood-frenzy of the Greater Shartak Unification Coalition, as a particularly organised and vicious gang of outisders are know, had recently torn the heart from the royal city, and so, in her capacity as Empress, she felt compelled to make amends to her deities by sacrificing herself.
I personally have never heard of greater foolishness, but the Raktam heart is full of grand gestures and melodrama. The more pragmatic Dalpoki have never been compelled to think in such a fashion, let alone act like that. You apologise to the gods by killing your enemies, not by killing yourself. It does not please the gods to engage in self-mutiliation. But she has a mind of her own: a mind, I suspect, somewhat divorced from reality since her sister the Queen died, and I am hardly the sort of son to dissuade her from what she regards as an imperial act of devotion by sacrifice.
The message nonetheless invited me to join the Raktam forces under the command of Raktam's warlord, Jace Daskull, the fourth to hold that title, to the south of the moutain, building up for a great melee. I had never travelled south before, the vegetation slightly more lush, perhaps.
The mountain's shadow when perceived from the south seems quite strange, the sun focussing its effort from an odd angle. And there is white ice, which my mother told me is known by the outsiders as "snow", at the very pinnacle. I had never seen this wonder before. It looks to me, from my distance down below in the jungle, to be as if a cloud as congealed to the tip.
And so I participated in the Battle of the Crazy Falls, my journey twice interrupted by a corsair called Pirate Bay, lurking to the south-east of the village. Blood stained the foam and by the grace of the star gods, manifesting as lightning, the native forces won the day. I was dispatched earlier by a giant parakeet, glory in the war deprived by the outsiders' blackguard actions.
My mother died in the action, apparently assassinated by Rex Feral on some sort of contract. As I said, it was her wish to shed her blood to appease the Raktami skygods, but I dout she thought it would end like that. Perhaps she did appease the gods who have recently frowned on Raktam by causing the outsider horde to ravage the royal city, for I hear things have been quiet there of late. I will mourn her once I avenge her.
Afterwards I travelled to Wiksik to pay my respects to the King of Greater Raktam and the Grand Tyrant of the Kingdom of Skulls. I did this, first, by way of the tunnel known as Armadox's Cut,named after the now long dead Butcher of Raktam who terrorised the kingdom for years and then as warlord died in bleak and far-away Durham on a mission for the Raktami queen.
And, second, then to Wiksik via Raktam itself. The royal city is still grand, despite its recent wars. Briefly I stopped in the throne room of Sofaking, the ruler of the Royal Court of Greater Raktam. I bowed to the king as he seated himself on his amethyst throne, but did not present myself, as a mere commoner from a place outside his realm.
I did stop by to see the Royal Treasury of the Royal Court, north to the trader's hut, the gold gleaming and improbably heaped high but protected by a magic spell cast by the King's royal physician, Nyarlothetep, so as to be rendered intangible. It truly is a wonder, and amusing, too, to try and touch the gold and fail entirely. The Treasuery is not even guarded. Perhaps it is just an illusion, and the gold is elsewhere.
The tomb of the founder of the Royal Court, Blue Hummingbird, sits between the treasury and the throne room. The tomb was once her throne room, but upon her death at the hands of an assassin, it was converted into a royal mausoleum. The body of the dead queen was in a stone sarcophagi. If the carving of her body as it appeared on the tomb was accurate, no wonder men lusted after her: the strong thighs of a acrobatic performer and the full breasts of a pregnant woman with nipples like the horns of a goat.
I placed an orchid at the tomb's door by way of paying my respects to my royal aunt, who I never met. Probably just as well as one should not be physically enamoured of one's relatives: we leave that sort of behaviour to the cannibals of Rakmogaki Collective.
I also obtained healing herbs from the local trader. The trader seemed pleased to see me, a new face, but you can never trust the Raktami with their obsession with commernce and money and I watched my gold coins closely. I also steered away from the slums to the south of the city: I have heard they are dangerous since the Grand Vizier's Markets closed. Someone said the Red Stranger himself was to the south, in a grotto. I decided to see this scarlet demon, which I had heard of but did not quite believe existed.
I killed some more outsiders on this journey to see the Red Stranger. There are fewer pirates in this part of the island, only more overweight outsiders from the southern encampments. Abruptly, in a clearing, there was a proliferation of people - more outsiders than I have ever seen, grunting in their language. I met a Revered One, Ropata the Twin-bladed - I was in awe of this great general of our people, who was in the company of a cadre of warrior-devotees, heading south. One of the other Great Ones, Azuma the Magnificent, was outside the grotto, also with some companions. He gifted me with a boars tusk necklace - a truly great honour. I then entered the grotto. It was crowded. One of the Red Stranger's goblins pushed me into a line, so I killed him. And then the Red stranger himself - corpulent, with the albino beard and white features of a corpse, threw money at me, as if I was a prostitute. So I killed him too, and left for Wiksik, running out the door of the hut while the other occupants stared as if amazed at the sight of the dead devil.
I headed north west crossing the Armachu Trail, past and through some beautiful lakes. I reached Wiksik, a vibrant place, less grand than Raktam but more dense with population, and with much political intrigue. It is the home of the otherworldy culture of the native people of Shartak. Those of us on the west side of the mountain have little time for ghosts and the like, but here in the city of the tyrant and the Necromancer's Guild it is all the rage. They even have a Spirit Hut - why, it is not clear to me.
The throne room was unoccupied save for courtiers. I then received word from one of the Grand Tyrant's concubines to travel to the far western plains to participate in a Kingdom of Skulls event - some sort of festivity, apparently.
While hiding in the water en route to this festival, I was in turn killed by a giant squid. I reincarnated and tracked the beast down. An abomination in the eyes of the star gods, with giant arms and eyes as big as the full moon. Diamond Joe Quimby of Wiksik and others dispatched the beast, in shallow water due north of the far eastern swamp, called the Marl-Pit by the Raktami, and some other name by the Wiksik (I forget).
I met some paid mercenaries of the Kingdom of Skulls near the western marsh, but there was no sign of the promised event. The mercenaries were identifiable by wearing a flower on their chests. I did not attack them out of respect of the Kingdom of Skull's ceremony.
Faced with the option of heading home, or going south to prey upon the people of Derby, I instead travelled to Rakmogak. It is a dangerous place, and the passage across the Ash Channel, as it is known by some, is perilous with sharks. I managed to make my way to Mandible Island, the banana-shaped stretch of land to the south, and then finally got to the village itself where I slept in a cave.
The village is very small: I assume the cannibals are not the type of people who construct huts. It is littered with human bones. A sign with a bleached skull specifically warns members of the Kingdom of Skulls to stay away.
I collected some fungi from the tunnel to the far north, evading the local Rakmogaki Exotic Sports Hunting Club members farming the mushrooms near the entrance. The fungi have miraculous properties, it is said, and I was pleased to have gathered so many.
Once I saw the great Wicksick warrior Foo Fighter in a tunnel near the settlement, and gathered that Anthor, Avatar of the Kingdom of Skulls, and his Dalpoki liegeman Daigo Smash, had recently visited. Disguised in a cloak as a woman, I bought some wooden clubs from the trader, better weapons in melee combat than machetes, but rarely found outside Rakmogak.
I was faced with the option of killing cannibals when I was on the island. I asked myself where the Path of the Revered Ones lay. Certainly Ropata the Two-Bladed One would not have hesitated. The Rakmogaki, it is said, are the rejected ones from the easterners, the Raktami and the Wiksik, the isolated and more pure culture of the Dalpoki on the western side of the mountain not having been infected with their illness.
From a tribal perspective, then, the Dalpoki have had no hand in the establishment of this dangerous outpost of perversity - our tradition would not have been to cast out anyone who dabbled in cannibalism. We would instead have neutered them, to prevent the disease from running rampant through their loins to their children.
At the end of the day the Dalpoki, while disliking the Rakmogaki way of life, such as it is, have no quarrel with these people, and so I let them be.
I have returned from a sojourn to Rakmogak, hving been dispatched in the northern tunnels by an outsider, of all things, named Derby.
Dalpok is quiet, and a cool breeze carries over the grassy plain. It is the shargle season, and I suspect many of the women folk are in the mountan ledges collecting eggs. The eggshells are used as cooking utensils, much to the horror of a small sect called the Shargle Riders of he Mountain which regards the shargles as sacred, sentient creatures. I have never seen a shargle, and don't especially wish to, notwithstanding my vow never to kill an animal: the birds are 7 feet high with talons on each webbed foot, and a hard red and blue caraprice on their head beneath which night black eyes glare. The star gods help us all if they are sentient, for they would secede us on this island. The talons are frequently a source of infection to those who are mauled and the disease from such a scratch, even if not to a vital organ, can be fatal. I once saw a small boy ravaged by one of the birds and broght down from the mountain. He was looking for a lost goat, a pet. The infection from the talon scratch manifested itself as a glaring red swelling, and he died several days later despite the best efforts of the village shamans, his body fevered and bloated.
I restock with darts. The darts are made from the carefully filed antlers of stags, and weighted with dried cartledge around the head. The cartledge soaks the poison. The poison is a mix from sickly berries (called Samedi berries after a long dead warrior who first extracted the poison from these fruit) and snake venom. It is quite deadly, and as children we are taught to keep well away from the gourds of poison which are found around and near the weapons hut.
Dalpoki warriors milk the snakes for venom, to show their bravery. I understand the people of Raktam and Wiksik have a separate caste who attend to this, although I could be wrong - certinaly, snakes are less abundant in those places by reason of a lack of proximity to grasslands. Smalls tuff of shargle feathers as a tail help guide the darts, and make them spiral as they fly. The spiral action assists with distance.
I head north up Corsair Boulevard. I meet the famed cartographer Woo Elephant Yeah, who I have mentioned before, and give him a spare blade to assist him in his efforts. I also assist a very young warrior named Megagaw with healing herbs to various wounds on his arms and legs, and then later discover him on the beach, and then again on the deck of the wreck. The novice is now very wounded and easy game for the buccaneers, who have only not dispatched him because of the influence of rum and their lack of sleep. I kill one of them, the notorious deathdealing Cownose, and adminster healing herbs to my fellow warrior. But Megagaw is in a bad way, his life's blood spilling over the wooden deck from a deep and jagged wound to his upper torso: I whisper to him to move but it is probably too late.
In slaying the malign Cownose, I have sudden inspiration: I learn how to collect the skulls of my enemies. Using a machete, I cleave the skull away from the spine, and then use a knife to strip the flesh away from the face so as to reduce it to bare, wet bone. This is necessary so as to weave twine through the (now empty) eye sockets, which makes the skull much easier to carry. Weaving the twine through the nostrils of an intact face runs the risk that the twine will eventually cut through the flesh of the nose- the cartlidge is not strong - and so the skull will be lost, especially in combat or while travelling.
I also learn the very best way of using my blowpipe, to measure my strikes between heartbeats, so that my pulse does not jolt my aim.
I am now a fully fledged warrior, although I have much to learn about how to travel through the jungle. An additional tattoo, the tiger shadow insignia, will need to be inked into my back upon my return to signify my elevation to the ranks of the warrior class of the Dalpoki.
There seem to be many cannibals about, preying on the shipwreck. I do not trust them. Some of them, viewed from a distance, seem to either wear or carry the tattooed skins of the Dalpoki dead.
A pirate kills me in deep water north of the wreck, a novice named Fiery Fred. In our atavistic warrior society, hatred of the enemy in war is less pronounced than in more nationalistic indigeneous societies east of the mountain, to whom war is so disagreeable a phenonomon that the foe has to be ipso facto demonised. I find hatred of the enemy to be a wholly alien concept. He was doing his duty, just as I am doing mine.
I reincarnate back in Dalpok, and kill a pirate who has strayed into the village boundaries. Curiously he has some Wiksik kills, and a York kill, but no Dalpok kills evident form his person. I collect his head - my second skull.
Its apparent from items I find on his corpse that he is being supplied by the people of Durham. The pirate's sharpening stone is of the type found on the rocky beaches of the peninsula, and which were used to create the fort north of the Durham settlement. There are no such resources in and around the wreck - nothing but soft sand and the stones supplied by the trader. Could the people of Durham be supporting the pirates? A pirate invasion is rumoured within the village, and striking pirate supply lines would be a nice rearguard action. I resolve to travel to Durham to ascertain the truth of this and interrupt their logistics.
This entails either a long walk, or using a roaming shaman. The roaming shamans are ancient people, mysterious in their origin. The Oral Tradition of the Dalpok warriors cadre says they were from the island of Bahbikuryah (called Barbekuria by the Wicksick, and Grand Hummingbird by the Raktam). Raktam, with its romantic tales created by its famed storytellers, has different legends of some of them:
- Movak is a roaming shaman originally from Dalpok. Many years ago he was a simple hunter, who ascended the mountain in search of food. Movak stumbled upon a sacred temple, and met Skulu, the high priestess of the mountain temple of the Unseen One. Skulu taught Movak the powers of the shaman, and the two dared to fall in love. The Unseen One became furious, and cast them from the mountain temple. By reason of the Unseen One's wrath and the peculiarity of his magical curse, Movak and Skulu are doomed to look for each other across the breadth of the island, but are invisible to each other's presence.
- Igoban and Zakano are identical twin sisters from Wiksik who detested each other from birth. The jealousy and anger harboured by the twins of each other culminated in a fearsome oath, the only matter the two sisters have ever agreed upon: they have vowed never to rest upon land where the other has set foot. And so by reason of their respective restlessness have never ceased walking the island, sustained only by their magical shamanic powers and all-consuming bitterness.
- Atok says he is the husband of Shartak, a beautiful mermaid. She is charming and warm, and loves all her children. Her only flaw is a voracious appetite. She ate and ate and ate until she became the size of an island. Too big to scratch herself, she commands Atok to run about her body and scratch where it itches. But Atok has always had a dry sense of humour, and no one can be sure if he is telling the truth, or not.
I personally have never encountered evidence that the island is a giant mermaid, so I doubt the truth of this latter legend.
I cannot be sure which roaming shaman will attact my spirit. I resolve to think about this.