Game of Realms
Realm & Rulership
The "Devilmen," little is known of these strange, fierce, red-skinned raiders of the desert. Folktales claim they are the descendants of a long lost family of Elvish nobles who were banished to the Burning Lands for their ferocity and warlike nature. While Irekei and Elves are distinctly similar, the Devilmen deny any kinship, and respond to the suggestion with violence. Known primarily for their ferocity in battle and their ruthless treatment of all non-Irekei, raiding parties of Irekei are the terror of all settlements that border on the deserts. Renowned for their teachings in the mystic arts, Irekei also make cunning assassins. It is said that Irekei children are trained in the use of knives from birth, and learn to fight before they learn to speak. What outsiders see as cruelty, Irekei see as strength tempered by grim necessity. The crucible of the desert has turned the Devilmen into a grim, hard people for whom survival is the ultimate priority.
Once the fourth great nation of Elvenkind, Irekei are practically identical to Elves in their physiology. If closely examined, however, some startling differences appear. While all Irekei have the same slight frame, pointed ears, and large eyes of the Firstborn, their bodies are leaner and harsher, covered with taut muscles. Irekei features are harsh and angular, a stark contrast to the sleek smoothness of an Elvish face. Their life in the harsh desert demands both strength and fortitude. As a result the Irekei, while not quite as agile as Elves, are both stronger and hardier. Desert life has resulted in other unique characteristics. Constant exposure to the Sun's glare has dimmed their night vision somewhat, though their hearing remains as keen as any Elf's. Irekei do not perspire, and their bodies radiate far more heat than the other peoples of the World. There is no mistaking the hot touch of an Irekei: even if their cruel natures had not earned the Irekei the name "Devil Men," their burning touch surely would have.
The greatest difference between the Elves and Irekei is also the most visible. Where Elves are pale and fair, with a slight hint of blue, green, or brown in their coloring, an Irekei's skin is dark, their coloring harsh and intense. Irekei skin tones vary from blood red to crimson to jet black, with hair running the gamut from pale white to gold to deep ebony. Irekei loathe tattoos and refuse to deliberately mar their skin, though they proudly wear any scars gained in duel or battle. Irekei faces are harsh and stern, for they rarely smile.
Life in the empty desert has left its mark on the manner of the Irekei as well. Used to having an uninterrupted view of the horizon, they grow nervous in enclosed spaces. Irekei find forests unsettling, and large bodies of water terrify them. The heat of the desert has taught the Irekei to conserve their energy and strength: all Devil Men act with a utility of movement, wasting little motion. When action is required, Irekei move with an uncanny speed, directness, and intensity. Even when at rest, Irekei project an aura of menace, of furious action restrained by intense concentration. When dealing with fir'khanim (literally "rain bleeder," a derogatory term for any being weak enough to waste water through sweat) Irekei seem stoic, and tend to brood and scowl. Among their own kind, however, Irekei are as capable of laughter and frenzied revelry as any Elf.
"As the Flame burns and the Sun burns, so must we. To do less is to die." This ancient Irekei proverb forms the core of Irekei culture and philosophy. In the parched wastelands life is a continual struggle, and only those mobile enough to scavenge and brutal enough to pillage can hope to survive. The strong must prey upon the weak, and the weak must be either clever or quick to escape death. To be weak is to die - the Irekei test their children rigorously after birth, and any who cannot keep up are left to the mercies of the desert. Constant strife between Irekei tribes and the continual threat of desert predators have given rise to a brutal, militaristic culture. Most Irekei are Warriors, and every Irekei child learns the basics of knife fighting before they learn to speak.
Even though the Irekei no longer consider themselves Elves, they still boast the arrogance of the Fair Folk. In some cases they take Elvish haughtiness to even greater extremes. As the Irekei see it, the Sons of Flame live in the desert not because they are forced to but because they choose to. While most Children of the World wither in the deserts, the Irekei thrive there, a testimony to their superiority and worthiness. When the Dragon rises, only the fiercest will be spared his wrath - every Irekei believes that his highest duty is to prove himself worthy. Every day the desert tests their strength and will - if the Irekei were to live in the Greenlands, surely they would become as soft and weak as all the other peoples of the World.
The concept of khar'ika is central to Irekei thought. Khar'ika does not translate into any non-Irekei language (including Elvish): "soul flame," "blood," "heart," and "toughness" are all valid yet incomplete translations. The khar'ika is the flame of Khalikryst, the holy fire that transformed the Irekei from Elves into superior beings, and the reserve of strength and endurance that an Irekei calls upon to survive at all costs. Battle and tests of fortitude can kindle an Irekei's khar'ika, making it burn brighter, while death snuffs out the khar'ika forever (since the Turning, death diminishes the soul flame, but no longer extinguishes it). Non-Irekei have no fire in their souls, their flesh is cold and their bodies are weak. While most Irekei prefer to fight with wickedly curved blades, some Warriors walk the Shining Way instead. These Warriors, called Sun Dancers, fight without any weapons at all, harnessing their khar'ika to turn their bare hands into deadly weapons.
The Irekei are nomads by nature, roving from oasis to oasis and ruin to ruin. Every Iriekei is a member of a Virakt, a tribe composed of several allied clans and family groups. The bond between Irekei tribemates is the strongest in their culture - no Devil Man would ever willingly harm or betray the others of his Virakt. Most tribes (the Irekei plural is Virakt'al) have only a few dozen members, although the largest tribes number in the thousands. Every Virakt has its allies and blood enemies among the others, although the patterns of trade, marriage alliance, friendship, and vendetta shift constantly, like the ripples on a sand dune. Every Virakt also makes a living through raiding, taking goods and captives from anyone weaker than themselves. The goods are consumed and the captives forced to serve as Jov'uus, or slaves. Only fir'khanim are kept as slaves - any true Irekei would rather die than be a thrall. Irekei build great buildings of sandstone, intricately carved with runes and decorative designs. Around these structures stretch vast awnings of canvas or silk, and Irekei of lower castes live in great tents. Ancient Elvish ruins, remnants of the Twilight Kingdom, rise up out of the desert sands here and there, and are held as sacred by the Irekei, forming the nucleus of every Devilman city.
The peoples of the outside World believe that the Irekei are all wanton, barbaric savages that eat the flesh of their enemies and drink blood. While most of these stories are exaggerations (if not outright lies), the truth of the matter is that the Irekei have a highly advanced culture, rich in history, folklore, and art. True equality exists between Irekei men and women, for any who can prove themselves under the harsh Sun are worthy of respect and power. Poetry, storytelling, and music come easily to the Irekei, and their festivals are wondrous to behold. Among the Irekei rigid protocols and elaborate systems of etiquette govern everything, from greeting to eating to declaring war. All Irekei have a highly developed sense of honor, which they see as a product of their khar'ika. To break with custom or violate tradition is to declare oneself too weak to live by the ways of the Irekei, a fate all Devil Men regard as unthinkable. Of course, it goes without saying that the fir'khanim are unworthy of courtesy of any kind. Any ruse, deception, or brutality is perfectly acceptable if used against rain-bleeders: indeed, deception and cruelty are considered the honorable means of dealing with weak beings.
War is the only time the constraints of honor break down between Irekei. Khan'jallakar, or Blood War, is one of the Irekei's most ancient traditions. Wars are not to be confused with duels: in Irekei cities fatal fights between Warriors are frequent, and governed by strict traditions. Dire insults or crimes against a Virakt can, under certain conditions (which are, again, rigidly defined by tradition) lead to Khan'jallakar. There are precise rituals for declaring a Blood War, but once declared there are no rules, and the conflict turns as bloody as any raid of the Greenlands, if not more so. Entire Virakt'al have vanished because of Blood Wars, yet they must not always end cruelly. Usually, within a few months of the Blood War's end, the two tribes are neutral towards each other again, resuming trade and possibly even becoming allies. To the Irekei, War is a passionate diversion, like wine or song, meant to be savored to the fullest, then set aside before it distracts them from the business of survival. Since the Turning, Blood Wars among Irekei have decreased in their ferocity, while the number of Blood Wars called against fir'khanim has increased drastically.
Look, young one, look to the East. In one hundred heartbeats KryKhalin, the Blessed Sun, shall rise, and bathe us in her radiance. It was not always thus. Once the World was bathed in Eternal Night, and all that lived was as cold as the sands beneath your feet. Once our people, They Who Endure, were as cold and weak as a breeze at midnight, as empty as the Sky. Today you are Urikhan, and the Holy Fire in your blood still sleeps. Soon you shall endure the Testing, and if you are worthy your khar'ika will flare, and you shall be transformed as all our people were transformed of old. On that day you shall join the Irikhan, and the Irekei will know another brother.
There! The Sun rises! Look into her burning eye, young one, and do not be afraid. Without the Sun's light and heat, the Deserts are empty, cold, and devoid of beauty. Beneath her light they burn. As the Sun burns, so must we. To do less is to die. If you are to endure the Testing, if you are to burn, you must learn how. You must know yourself, know who you are, and why. Today you will learn. Let the Sun be your first teacher. Look into that fire, and feel its warmth, and always remember that you are born of that fire. That blaze, and the Terror that loosed it, brought Strength to our bodies and Wisdom to our souls. The Rain Bleeders, the fir'khanim, cannot look long upon the Sun, our Mother's palace. Their eyes bleed water and are blinded, their skins redden and are burned, and their spirits wither and faint. But you are born of the Irekei, born to endure.
You have looked, now listen. In the beginning of all things came the Time of Darkness, when there were two Moons instead of one and there was no Sun. All the World was wreathed in Wood and Water, for the Deserts had not been born. The ancestors of those who would transcend, the Unfinished Ones, lived in the darkness, enslaved by ignorance. So it would have endured forever if our Father, Kryquo'khalin, the Holy Source of the Sun, had not heard the voices of the Hateful Ones raised in song. Their arrogance stirred the Terror into wakefulness, and so the Dragon roused itself, and punished the unworthy. The World shook, entire armies perished, and the crystal towers of the Hateful Ones shattered and fell. In their ignorance, the Hateful Ones could not understand the Dragon's power, and called upon their Gods to save them. There was one among them, however, who was different. Darivastor was his name.
Say his name, and remember it. It is a hard name, strange and convoluted as all the names of the Hateful Ones are, but it deserves your reverence. As legions of warriors wept in terror and hurled themselves to the ground in fear, Darivastor stood. When the Dragon's power raced across the sky and ended the eternal night, he laughed. For the shackles of his ignorance had been broken, and in the new light born of Dragonfire he saw true Wisdom. Here was a thing mightier than the Wicked Empire of the Hateful Ones, mightier even than their Gods. Here was the true Power in the Universe, the Scourge who had consumed the World before the Time of Darkness, and someday would again. Alone among the Hateful Ones, Darivastor looked upon the Dragon, felt its power and terror, and endured. The Meddler God and his thralls fought with all their strength, but they could not harm the Terror. The Kryquo'khalin created the Sun, and then returned to its lair, and Darivastor despaired even as the Hateful Ones rejoiced.
The Time of Darkness had ended, and the same flame that had kindled the Newborn Sun had touched Darivastor's heart. So began the Time of Embers, when our hearts glowed with the khar'ika, but the Irekei were yet unborn. Darivastor the Elflord buried his new found Wisdom deep within his heart, for the time was not yet right to reveal it. In time the Hateful Ones, shattered by grief and despair, scattered over the face of Aerynth, fleeing from their grief and the light of the Sun, which they were too frail to endure. The Children of the Sun remained, enduring the heat to guard against the Dragon's return. The Hateful Ones named them Children of the Sun, never guessing the prophecy that lay hidden in their words. Darivastor was the greatest among them, and slowly began to spread his revelation to his kinsmen. There were many who listened, and cast aside the Young Gods in favor of the Dragon. Those whose minds and spirits were too weak to embrace the truth were destroyed. Soon only those touched by the khar'ika remained, and their skins reddened as the land withered around them. While the Dragon's Wisdom had illuminated their spirits, their flesh was still weak, and so the Sun's Children remained in the very heart of the growing deserts, strengthening themselves through ordeal. Our elders remember them as the Unfinished Ones, for their long journey towards perfection had only begun.
Life in the Burning Lands was even harder then than it is now, Young One, and many of the Unfinished Ones did not survive the ordeal. Those who did were forced to learn new ways, for the weak traditions and lazy life of the Hateful Ones were useless on the Sun's Anvil. We cast off all the trappings of the Hateful Ones, devising and fashioning everything we needed to live in the new world born of the Sun, from blades to our own language. We were the Khalinviri, Children of the Sun, no longer. Darivastor's folk gave themselves a new name: Irekei, They who Endure. And endure they did, singing the praises of the Dragon and the Sun. Darivastor, the first and greatest of the Prophets, led the Chosen deep under the ground, searching for the sleeping Dragon. They found stout bars and walls of solid metal that even their greatest spells could not unmake. The Chosen were not daunted, and waited in the deeps for a sign.
Their wait was long, but not in vain: the Holy Source of the Sun was not dead, but asleep in its lair at the core of the World. The Hunter and the Meddler God were not strong enough to slay the Dragon, only to wound it. The Chosen, in their meditations, began to hear the Dragon's dreams, and those who were not driven mad by the touch of the Kryquo'khalin had their wisdom increased a thousand fold. They learned the secrets of the Kharikryst, the Mystical Blood Fire, which has the power to heal and transform as well as destroy. They also learned the dark secrets of Ages long past, before the Meddler God and the Mother Goddess ever walked on Aerynth, when the World was consumed by Ice and Fire. Visions were given to them of the future, the time of the Krykhan'jallakar, the Blood War of Blood Wars, when the Terror would rise again from the deeps, and only those it deemed worthy would be spared. So the greatest Magi of the Irekei became the Khanarch'alarl, the Blood Prophets, heralds of the Dragon whose wisdom has always guided our people.
The Blood Prophets emerged from the vigil in the deeps, and their mighty spells awakened Khalikryst, Phoenix Goddess, the Transforming Fire, dread Lady of the Sun. The Dragon's Daughter taught them much, and the Irekei prospered, growing mighty even in the midst of the Burning Lands. And so we survived in lands that were the bane of all living things, learning the ways of the Drake, the Scorpion, and the Serpent. The Virakt'al wandered the dunes, following wind and game and water, moving between the Holy Places, the ancient ruins where the Prophets guard the paths to the Deep. Our progenitors, the Hateful Ones, quickly forgot us, and we lived unseen by all the Children of the World. We cared nothing for their ways, their Gods, or their works, at least until those works changed our lives forever.
The Elders still recite litanies of the Change. In that dreadful time the Meddling God, fearing our strength and the might of our Father, cast great cords about the Sun and tied it to a great team of beasts, who pulled it into motion. So the first long, glorious Day ended, and the Burning Lands were plunged into Night. So the Meddling God tried to rob us of our Mother and her wisdom. The Irekei were enraged, and the weak among them were filled with fear. Those whose blood was hottest, however, acted quickly. Darivastor himself and the other great Prophets wove mighty spells, casting our greatest Warriors into the sky, where they ran among the stars and fought the Meddling God's design. You have heard the songs of Trodralikar, the Sky Warrior, who every night slays the Meddling God's servants and draws the Sun back to the sky. Every day while the hero sleeps a new team of beasts comes to draw the Sun away. So it will continue until the End of Things, when the Sun shall move no more.
Strife and dissention fell upon the Irekei, for the coming of Time had brought with it a price. From the time of the Change onward, death would come with old age. Some Prophets deemed this a curse born of the Meddling God and the Hateful Ones, while others claimed that the Dragon had laid a new and greater test before his children. The voice of the Dragon is subtle, and even the Prophets can mistake its meaning. The division of Day from Night had also severed our link to Khalikryst, and her voice fell silent. Differences of opinion turned to dissention, and rivalries spawned Blood Wars. Many of the Eldest were slain, and their wisdom was lost forever. A time of heroes, feuds, and intrigues followed, when entire Vriakt'al were forged and broken. The desert sands have drunk more blood than you can think of, Young One, and you could study with the Wise for the rest of your days and never learn the names of every hero or tribe who fought and died in that glorious age.
It was to take thousands of years, but finally the Irekei passed the great test that the Change had brought before us. Jall'kroda the Blood Lord endured the darkness of the Deeps, overcame the traps and devices of the Living Stones and brought an entire conclave of Prophets into the chamber where Darivastor had first heard the Dragon's speech. The Prophets called, and the Dragon stirred in his sleep, and answered them. A great vision seared their minds, and at last they learned how the Khar'ika could be made manifest not only in their souls, but in their flesh as well.
Jall'kroda and the Prophets emerged into the light again, and the word of their vision spread quickly to all the Virakt'al. Hosts of Irekei journeyed to the center of the Burning Lands, where the Dragon had first emerged so long ago. Jall'kroda was named the first Kryqhi'khalin, master of all the clans, and all of the Magi gathered together to cast the mighty spell our Father had revealed to them. The ritual took days to intone, but finally when it was done the fetters that bound Khalikryst were shattered, and the face of the Sun darkened. The Flame Goddess left her shining fortress and descended to the face of Aerynth. There the Irekei bowed before her, singing praises to the Dragon, and worshipped her. The Dragon's Daughter was pleased, spread her fiery wings, and unleashed the Transforming Flame upon the Unfinished Ones. Their blood boiled, the flesh hardened, and the khar'ika kindled inside them, never to be quenched. When the flames cleared and the ashes fell away from them, their skins were as red as blood or as black as onyx. The Unfinished Ones were swept away forever, and at last the Irekei were truly born.
Now you know the truth: the Sun was our mother, the Dragon our father. The fire it unleashed upon the Sun was in turn unleashed upon us, and even now it quickens in your blood, young one, waiting for release. Khalikyrst's coming ended the Time of Embers, and began the Time of Flames, when all Aerynth would tremble at our wrath. Jall'kroda and his people rejoiced at their transformation, and immediately set about working an even greater ritual that would rouse the Dragon from its sleep and begin the Great Burning. But just as the Change in the outside World had shaken us, our transformation did not go unnoticed in the green Lands. The Hateful Ones were stirred to action by the darkening of the Sun, and their Magi quickly divined that something tremendous was happening. The legions of the Deathless Empire raced across the face of Aerynth, even into the heart of the Burning Lands. There they found the transformed host, diligently working to rouse the Dragon. They quailed with fear and cut our people off from their empire forever, lacking the wits to see that we had left their kinship far behind. Irekei their king named us, which in the tongue of the Hateful Ones means "outcasts." And the Blood Lords laughed to hear the name, and praised the Hateful Ones for naming them properly.
The Hateful Ones had long lived in the delusion that they were the mightiest of Aerynth's peoples, and though they had managed to shake off the yoke of the Meddling God, their minds were still too small to comprehend the Dragon's power or see true wisdom. When confronted with the strength, perfection, and majesty of the Irekei, they lashed out in terror and envy. So began the War of Flames, when the newborn Irekei fought for generations against the things that had once been their kinsmen. We had endured the testing of the Sun and the Dragon for centuries, and the Irekei fought with a strength, skill, and deadliness no rain bleeder could match. Alas, the easy life in the Green Lands had made the hateful ones abundant beyond imagining. Every Irekei Warrior was worth two of the Hateful Ones, but they had three entire nations to bring against only one. The Blood Prophets ravaged their armies with Dragon Magic, calling up sandstorms and twisting the creatures of the Desert into terrors that live only for slaughter, and the Sun Dancers leaped through storms of arrows and blades to kill the foe with their bare hands. And yet, despite all our strength and skill, the fight was not ours to win. Through chance, deception, and sheer numbers our enemies prevailed, and Virakt after Virakt fell to their spells and shining swords. After decades of bitter fighting, some Irekei began to lose heart, and cried out that the Dragon had forsaken its children. Others went grimly to their fates, content in the knowledge that they would trade their lives for a dozen or a hundred of the enemy. The khar'ika of the Irekei burned bright, but it seemed certain that it would burn out quickly.
There was one among the Prophets, however, who looked into the carnage of the War of Flames and found true Wisdom. She was named P'reklabhar, the last survivor of the Prophets who had first followed Jall'kroda into the deeps, and legends say that she learned her craft from Darivastor himself. P'reklabhar realized that the War of Flames was, in the end, a test of strength, the greatest test the Kryquo'khalin had ever unleashed upon his adopted children. The Irekei, intoxicated with the power born of their transformation, had forgotten that there had always been things stronger than themselves. She realized that might, skill, and power would never be enough to defeat the Hateful Ones. To endure, the Irekei must turn to the Dragon itself for aid: to have the strength to admit their weakness. As the final battles raged on the surface, P'reklabhar left the bloody fields and descended into the darkest caverns, crying out for the Dragon's aid. And so the dire test was passed, for the Dragon stirred again, and whispered to the Prophet the secret that would deliver the Irekei from destruction.
The rain bleeders never learned her name, but P'reklabhar gave them cause to curse her for all eternity. The Dragon's visions guided her to the Chaos Gate, and the incantation the Terror had whispered to her gave her the power to open it. The Blood Prophet flung wide the Chaos Gate, and the Dark Lords who wait Outside were eager to destroy the Meddling God's children and all of his works. The endless hosts of Chaos streamed through, corrupting all they touched. P'reklabhar was consumed by their power, but her sacrifice ensured the survival of our people. The Dark Lords ravaged all of Aerynth for nearly a century, and their teeming hosts outnumbered the armies of the Hateful Ones even more than the Hateful Hosts had outnumbered the Irekei. The Hateful Ones were drawn away, so busy defending their homelands that they quickly forgot their quarrel with the Irekei. In payment for their release, the Dark Lords spared the Burning Lands, and left the Irekei alone. And so the few surviving Virakt'al vanished into the wastes, and quietly slew any rain bleeders who fled to the Deserts for refuge. We returned to our ways, and waited for our appointed time. The Irekei had passed the Dragon's test, for indeed only the boldest, strongest, and most cunning Irekei had survived the War of Flames. Our people had learned patience: it is not our place to wake the Dragonï¿½ until the appointed time.
Young One, I believe that time may soon be upon us. You may be privileged enough to live to see the Krykhan'jallakar. More than a thousand years after P'reklabhar's sacrifice, the ground shook, and storms swept across the wastes. A fell wind blew, scattering the tribes, and the face of the Sun darkened. The Blood Lords were dismayed, and the Prophets soon divined what had happened: the Turning had come to Aerynth, and the globe of the World had shattered into many fragments. The curse of Time had also been lifted, and death no longer quenched the khar'ika of fallen Irekei. The dead now return to flesh, weakened but with their fire still burning. Many have questioned what these strange tidings mean. Some believe that the Dragon has blessed us, and forever robbed the rain bleeders of their advantage in numbers. There are also tidings that the Meddling God has died, and all his children now live unprotected. Some cry out that the Krykhan'jallakar is at hand, and the Virakt'al must come together as they did of old, and finally invade the lands of our enemies and take revenge for the War of Flames. Few Blade Wielders or Blood Lords can agree, however, on who should wear the holy title of Kryqhi'khalin. The Blood Wars of old have begun again, to prove which leader is strong enough to wear Jall'kroda's crown. And there are other, stranger tidings.
I have heard tales of a strange, withered old Irekei, his face hideous to behold, who wanders from Virakt to Virakt, spreading word that the End Times have come. Some believe this so-called Burned Prophet is none other than Darivastor himself, returned to guide his people to glory, while others denounce him as a deceiver. The Burned Prophet's tales are grim tidings indeed. He claims that the Dragon no longer sleeps beneath our feet, for its cavern now lies beneath some other fragment of Aerynth, lost in the Void. The Dragon will remain asleep, and our destiny unfulfilled, until we find a way can to reach the Terror's lair. The Sun, he says, is darkened because Khalikryst has left her palace, and will not return until the Irekei prove that we are worthy. This new age, the Time of Strife, was never foretold in any prophecy, and the ancient writings of the First Prophets offer little help in these troubled times. Some mighty Warriors have left the Burning Lands behind them, leading their entire clans on Khan'Jallakar against the rain bleeders, while others have dared the Runegates, taking up the Quest for the Dragon. Other Blood Lords see treachery lurking behind these outlandish tales, and cling to the old ways. Blood War between the Virakt'al has spread like plague, and our folk raid the green lands now more than any time in memory.
Will you fight the Holy Blood War against the Hateful Ones and the fir'khanim? Will you take up the quest for our Mother and our Father, and strive to bring the final reckoning? Or will you follow the ancient paths of tradition, kindling your khar'ika through battle, test, and glory? You must decide, young one, but first you must rouse the ancient fire in your blood, and survive the Testing. Look into the bonfires, and beyond the gauntlets of blades. See them as Darivastor saw the Dragon, and as P'reklabhar saw the War of Flames. You will find the strength within you, and you will endure. Or you will die. There is no other way for us.
May the Dragon guide your path!