Oliver D. Bernuetz's Stories
A Visit to Alkoth
This letter must date to the period before Fresser was exiled by Moonson but the exact date is unknown.
Thank you for your last letter. That juicy little bit of gossip you passed on has proven MOST useful. You asked how the Emperor's last progress went. It went well for the most part, a bit dreary at times, all that tedious ceremony you know. I say it went well for the most part and I'm sure that from Moonson's viewpoint the entire thing went well, lots of tributes, lots of accolades, nubile virgins, gold, magical gewgaws, etc., etc. The part that didn't go so well from the viewpoint of the rest of his train was the visit to Alkoth. (May the Goddess strike me down on the spot if I even consider setting foot in that place again. What a nightmare it was (and I mean that quite literally)). We approached the place from the north. I have never seen such a sight, absolutely enormous walls reaching far into the sky. We saw it from many key miles away. The locals say the walls are actually Shargash's girdle and having seen them I believe it. I swear on my mother's grave that there is no structure in Glamour that you would be able to see if it was transported behind those walls. The walls are covered on the exterior with giant runes and strange carvings which it is not safe to pay too much attention to.
As we neared the city a delegation of the locals came to greet Moonson. They acknowledged Moonson as the representative of Yelm and gave him a formal welcome to the city. Since the city is actually in the Underworld and entered easily only by the most powerful or those able to enter the Underworld naturally most of Moonson's entourage would have been unable to enter the city without the aid of a charming ritual the Alkothi have devised. Because of this most of His entourage was left in a camp outside of the city but a small group of volunteers accompanied Moonson. Why did I volunteer? Because it is my duty and my joy to walk beside Moonson (well, all right some distance behind Moonson). As we neared the gate guards grabbed us and dragged us before some priests seated on chairs made of human bones and hair. The priests examined us both magically and mundanely looking for signs of evil or chaos. Finding none the one examined was then dragged to a large block of some substance that looked like ivory. The person was forced down onto the block and held there by two or more of the guards. A headsman stepped forward and with one mighty blow brought an axe made of reeds down on the person's neck. The victim spasmed and shrieked and thrashed around like someone actually beheaded and didn't stop screaming until they were dragged over in front of a bronze mirror and forced to confront their image head intact. One of the priests fastened a collar made of twisted reeds around the person's neck and they were ushered inside the city. I say the guards grabbed us but of course they did not lay hand on Moonson or the Arch-Cenobite. They were going to do the same ritual to me but Moonson interceded and told them that my mother was perfectly capable of looking after me. After a quick exam they agreed and let me in. I braced myself and entered the city in Moonson's train. I felt the usual disorientation of travelling to other worlds and then I was in the city. I later spoke with one of the Yanafali who guarded Moonson and asked him what he had experienced when he was "beheaded" by the reed axe. At first he was reluctant to speak of the experience but after some cajoling and some stiff drinks he finally told me the following.
Because of the towering walls it is almost always perpetually dark in the city. The locals are forced to rely on artificial light almost constantly and this just adds to the charm of the place. Upon entering the city you are immediately struck by three things (if one of the locals doesn't first strike you with his mace, more on that later). The smell, as the whole city has a carnal reek (due to the omnipresent funeral pyres), the fact that every single male in sight, whether child, adolescent, mature male or doddering elder are all armed, and thirdly the oppressive atmosphere. The atmosphere doesn't seem to affect the locals, nor did it affect Moonson or the Arch-Cenobite (and why would it affect that bastard?) but it did affect the rest of us. We had been warned against using any magic that would allow us to sense or communicate with spirits as the place is said to be rife with the spirits of the slain. All of us followed the warning but it didn't help one of the more overly-sensitive Deezola priestesses who was driven raving mad by what she characterized as the incessant pleas for surcease by the lost souls crowding the place. (She seems to have made the switch to Jakaleel quite successfully though the constant giggles and shrieks of, "Stop tickling me!" are a bit much to take). Even I, who has never been accused of being overly sensitive could feel the oppressive weight of the dead there. (In fact I had miserable, terrifying dreams the whole time I was there). Moonson had left most of the healers camped outside of the city to spare them the stress. As oppressive, miserable and scary as the city was, it was nothing compared to the Alkothi themselves. Actually, the run of the mill denizens of Alkoth were not too bad (well compared to your average follower of Danfive Xaron say) it was the omnipresent Shargashi that were bad. Imagine if you will a dark, gloomy city, infested with unseen, unsettling presences and reeking like the charnel house it is. Bad enough no? Well, then to make the image of hell all the more real add some hellspawn. Picture hordes of cold eyed, dark, curly haired, bearded hellions armed to the teeth stalking the streets and the picture is complete. The Shargashi look at everyone not of Alkoth as a potential sacrifice to their dark god. (In fact Moonson was greeted with the sacrifice of a hecatomb of "prisoners", all volunteers we were assured. The screaming seemed to indicate otherwise). The Shargashi are very proud of themselves, their foul city and their dark god. They take great pride in their appearance and all of them have long curly hair. The adult men all have great curly beards hanging to their waists. They take their honour very seriously. Any slight, real or imagined was enough reason to start a fight. We lost two Scimitars before Moonson sent the rest of them out to guard the healers.
When it came time to leave the city (and not a moment too soon let me tell you) the entire train passed by a red and black pillar set up beside the gate. Atop this pillar sat a wizened old mystic who looked down at all who wished to leave and passed judgement on them. He had milky white eyes yet you could feel him looking deep within you. He asked all who sought exit whether they had committed crime or sin while within the city and all who answered nay where allowed to leave. I asked one of the attending guards what would have happened if anyone had said yea and he told me in a rumbling bass voice that they would have been dragged to something called the Enclosure and given to Shargash. I shuddered at the thought and was glad that I was blameless. As we left the city we saw Yelm's blessed brightness once again and all save the Arch-Cenobite shouted praises to Yelm and seemed gladdened, some to the point of hysterical giddiness. Moonson of course was unmoved though He too offered praise to Yelm. My informant the Yanafali told me later that exiting the city was like being reborn in the sense that he finally felt whole in body and spirit again.
Unlike the other stops on the progression Moonson was not gifted with anything I would personally consider all that interesting, unless you consider gilded skulls, war trophies and dejected prisoners of war to be interesting. All in all I consider the whole visit to be the low point in my journeys. Of course I have yet to visit Dorastor...
Yours as devotedly as is expedient,
Last updated September 25, 2016
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